The brothers take stock of the past, and the future.
"For the love of God will ya stop goddamn squirmin'?"
"Well mind what you're doin' with that freakin' safety pin then ..."
Bobby was sitting on the side of the bed manfully trying to change the bandages circling Dean's chest and fighting the urge to wrap the bandages around his mouth instead.
It was two days after the brothers' return to the real world and Sam stood quietly in the corner of the bedroom watching the exchange with a crooked smile playing across his bruised face. The misshapen swelling over his cheek and brow was diminishing rapidly, and Sam was relieved to be able to see out of both eyes now.
Bobby's work was painful to watch, but Sam couldn't look away. The bandages around Dean's torso had been covering up numerous knife wounds and a mass of raw grazing across Dean's back; Sam had put those wounds there; those narrow crimson slashes that were criss-crossing Dean's chest like some terrible road-map of their ordeal, the same way Dean had given him the thirty stitches Bobby had needed to put into his shoulder. He'd knocked Dean to the ground and torn his back to shreds in the rough arena sand, and Dean had battered his face almost beyond recognition.
And they'd done it because they loved each other.
Sam had done some seriously distressing and immoral stuff in his time, but distressing and immoral didn't even begin to describe the experience the brothers had just been through. He felt another deep gash under his tightly bandaged thigh twinge as his muscles tensed at the thought.
Blowing out a soft sigh, he winced as the livid swelling across his cheekbone throbbed in protest.
That tiny gesture hadn't gone unnoticed by Dean who abruptly interrupted his enthusiastic Bobby baiting session in his concern.
"Yeah, good," Sam smiled; "just a bit sore."
He took a deep breath; "how about you?" he asked, changing the subject.
"I'm fine," Dean snorted; "If Florence friggin' Nightingale and his hands of doom could keep his harpoon to himself 'stead of jabbin' it in me every five minutes.
Bobby rolled his eyes in Sam's direction; "yeah, well if you'd keep still, ya big girl, and stop ya goddamn yelpin' and pogoin' about, I wouldn't be havin' any problems."
Dean huffed and raised his arms as Bobby tightened the bandage, quickly and efficiently pinning it in place before Dean could cause any more dramas.
Sam knew Dean was hurting, just as he, himself was. Tormenting Bobby, eating everything in sight, teasing Sam - Dean's behaviour was utterly normal - abnormally so. That was the biggest clue; he was trying too hard to pretend everything was fine, that he hadn't just been forced to try to slaughter the person he had devoted his life to protect, and that these were just a few stupid injuries that they had picked up on just another hunt.
They'd had to do terrible things to get each other back to the here and now, but if either of them had fought another warrior in the fabled fight, he would have been comfortably back here in the twenty-first century thinking about his brother rotting away alone and helpless, looking forward to nothing but a grotesque and violent end in ancient Rome. However bad he felt about what they had experienced, that thought was infinitely more horrible, and that gave him comfort.
He hoped, in time, it would do the same for Dean.
A week passed before the brothers felt able to face the world again. Their facial injuries had healed to the point that the fading yellow splashes of bruising could be passed off as something mundane like an unfortunate sporting accident, and Dean's free spirit was champing at the bit for a reunion with the Impala and a few miles of open road.
Bobby didn't know what they had been up to. He just knew they had been spending time surfing the net researching he didn't know what, but whatever it was, they seemed to have found it because they were heading for some godforsaken little burg in the ass end of nowhere called Pikes Creek.
He listened to the Impala's engine fire up and disappear smoothly into the distance as he dropped heavily down into one of the chairs at his kitchen table and reached into his shirt pocket, drawing out the coin that had materialised on his floor the night the emperor had come to visit; the one physical object that connected the emperor Posthumus and Bobby across time. He stared at the tiny gold scrap as it lay dwarfed by the palm of his hand, and shook his head in resigned anger.
He now knew that his initial thought that the gift of the coin was an act of contrition, a compensation for harm done, was wrong; completely wrong. In keeping with everything else the emperor had ever done, it was a totally self-absorbed act - serving no purpose but to provide a physical object touched by the hand of the emperor; something Bobby would need to undo the binding spell. Bobby didn't need it, it he still had some stone scrapings from the big sculpture, but Posthumus was covering his ass; he wanted there to be no obstacles to him gaining his prized freedom.
Bobby felt the anger brewing within him.
It would be so simple to refuse to release the emperor from the binding spell, leaving him doomed to never find his longed-for glory in the pantheon of the gods, but to wander alone and bereft for all eternity.
What the boys had told Bobby over the last few days, about their abuse, and about that curator guy, Bobby was sorely tempted. Okay, so the brothers at least had some tricks to enable them to look after themselves, but that poor curator was helpless. He was done to death for no reason, except for the crime of not being strong or aggressive. In that sick, disgusting world, his exceptional learning, his sporting interests, his selfless charity toward his local hospice, had counted for nothing.
That alone was worth punishing the emperor for, and that was before Bobby even started to think about what those brothers had been forced to endure.
He stared again at the tiny gold disc, running a fingertip over its embossed surface as it lay in his palm.
Bobby rose with a laboured grunt and made his way slowly down to the basement. If he lost himself in thoughts of vindictive revenge, taking joy and satisfaction in thoughts of the emperor's suffering, wouldn't that have made him as bad as the man he was punishing?
He was better than that. Bobby was a far better man than the emperor ever was, or could ever hope to be; and that would be his revenge. He wouldn't let his burning hatred for the callous sonofabitch make him any less of a human being. He wouldn't add his own name to the list of people destroyed and damaged by Posthumus' cruelty.
He would release the emperor's spirit; let the damn thing go wherever the hell it wanted – as long as it never darkened Bobby's life again.
Bobby tossed the coin into the crucible which stood in the middle of the basement, still soot blackened from the last time he had used it and tossed a lighted taper on top of it. He began to recite the releasing charm over the spitting, lavender flames.
The brothers parked up the Impala after a long, patient drive and walked silently through the small, uninspiring town of Pikes Creek. The place had nothing that would, in any way, interest either brother under normal circumstances, but these circumstances were far from normal.
"So this is definitely it?" Dean glanced at Sam for confirmation.
"Yup," Sam nodded; "Pikes Creek, Eric's hometown," he confirmed.
They continued to march through the little town and eventually found what they were looking for; an neglected and unassuming store frontage, tucked away between a bank and a grocery store. The faded sign above the door read 'Calloway's: Coin and Medal Dealership'.
Dean looked at Sam; "ready to do this dude?"
Sam's nod was accompanied by a smile; "yeah," he replied.
Roger Calloway looked up from his book-keeping as two strangers walked into his deserted shop. A brief spike of fear drove its way through his chest as he saw the strangers' faintly bruised faces scanning the racks of coins, medallions and sovereigns all around him, but as the taller one shot him a warm and undeniably genuine smile, he relaxed.
"Can I help?" he asked.
"I hope so," Sam replied with a smile; "we'd be interested to know what you think of these."
Dean produced two aged leather pouches from his jacket pocket and emptied them onto the counter. Calloway counted ten small gold coins as they tumbled onto the faded paintwork.
Picking up one of the coins , he stared at it through a magnifier, squinting quizzically before looking back up at the brothers, his mouth slightly agape.
"where did you get these?"
Dean shrugged casually; "our – uh – grandfather passed recently, we just found them lying around in his basement," he lied.
Sam couldn't help but notice the man's hand had started to shake.
Over the next half an hour Roger Calloway grew increasingly agitated as he consulted books, phoned colleagues, scanned the internet, picked up the coins and studied at them at length and then, drawing in a deep breath, he did it all again.
When he finally returned to his calmly patient customers, his face wore a half-ecstatic half-terrified expression that would have suited a lottery winner.
"Uh, I'm pretty sure th-they're genuine," he stammered; "you got any idea what you've got here?"
Dean nodded, "some old coins, my brother thinks they're roman."
"They're roman alright," Calloway burbled, skirting the edge of hysteria, "reign of emperor Gaius Posthumus," he explained, mopping his brow with a handkerchief; "these are unbelievably rare, because that guy almost bankrupted the Roman Empire, so there wasn't a lot of cash around."
Sam was sure he heard a cash register ring as Calloway blinked.
"So, what'll you give us for them?" Dean asked nonchalantly.
"Uh …" Calloway swallowed hard as his shaking fingers hovered over a calculator, his mind whirling as he considered what he would be able to sell the coins for. He swore softly under his breath as it took him three attempts to punch in the necessary numbers.
"How – um – h-how does thirty thousand sound?"
The brothers glanced at each other, then nodded calmly as if he was discussing the price of a cheese sandwich.
"Fine," Dean smiled; "make the check payable to Pikes Hospice, will you?"
There was a dazed silence in the Impala as the brothers sat and composed themselves before they began the long drive back to Bobby's place.
"That was a good thing we did there, Dean," Sam smiled.
Dean nodded, and his face lifted into a broad and genuine smile that warmed Sam's soul; "yeah, that should make up for a few of those charity half marathons Eric's not gonna be running in the future."
Sam nodded with a sad smile; "Yeah …" he agreed as the nod morphed into a shake of the head; "I can't believe we just did that; when I think of what we could do with thirty thousand bucks …" his voice trailed off into a soft whistle of disbelief; "just think, you could buy a whole new Impala!"
Dean turned toward Sam with an icy glare; "wash your freakin' mouth out, bitch!" He turned back and patted the steering wheel; "don't you listen to him baby, I'd sell him before I'd sell you."
They settled into a companionable silence as Dean started the engine and pulled the Impala smoothly out onto the highway ready to head back to Bobby's.
Sam watched Dean out of the corner of his eye, satisfied that they had made some good come out of their ordeal and had repaid in a small way their debt of gratitude to Eric. It was one healing step on their road to recovery and Dean seemed brighter already.
It was a good few minutes before Dean spoke again.
"You know how we were good to do what we did?" Dean asked suddenly, glancing shiftily across at Sam.
"Uh-huh?" Sam replied curiously.
Dean rummaged in his jacket pocket, and dropped two more gold coins onto the dash.
He shrugged; "I couldn't resist," a sheepish grin crept across his face; "if old Calloway was gonna give us thirty thousand for ten, I make these six thousand bucks – two for me, two for you and two for Bobby."
Sam barked out a shocked laugh; it seemed that, thanks to Dean, the road to recovery was for once going to be paved with a touch of luxury.
And that was fine by him.
AN: a couple of you commented on Eric, and if you spotted the connection you were right. Eric was named after a certain other Eric to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for our beautiful boys.