Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I'm Six-Feet Four
K Hanna Korossy
It felt unexpectedly sweet, leaving Sam behind in the room without being afraid of what he'd be up to on his own. Dean almost felt like humming as he headed back to the motel, paper bag tucked under one arm.
Okay, so part of the reason Dean was leaving him at all was that, fresh off going cold turkey after Famine's forced re-exposure, Sam was still baby bird-weak and achy. Light bothered him, smells nauseated him, and he'd slept most of the way from Bobby's. He'd been only too happy to stay in bed while Dean went out for some bland food, and Dean had been only too happy to let him.
After spending nearly a year with Sam sneaking out on him with Ruby and then the last few months worrying about his recovering-addict brother relapsing, it was awesome just to…chill. To line the nightstand with water and ginger ale and painkillers, tuck Sam in with a cold cloth over his eyes and hot water bottle against his stomach, lock the door behind him, and trust that Sam would be there when he got back. Because Sam had changed. He'd spent the last several months proving it with actions instead of words: at Dean's back whenever he turned, making the right choices with Jesse and Lucifer and Gabriel, saving Dean's bacon with the gambling warlock and in Gabriel's TV world, grieving the Harvelles at his brother's side. Dean had hesitated to cut Famine's ring off to see what Sam would do…and his little brother had delivered. Every time Dean was able to rely on him, every time he shared something that Dean hadn't known, their relationship got a little stronger.
True, it was the only thing right with his world now. Lucifer was out there cooking up the Apocalypse, Bobby was trapped in a chair, two of the horsemen were still on the loose, and Ellen and Jo were…were gone. Then there was the small matter of Sammy and him being destined to host Lucifer and Michael's little smackdown. And what Famine had said to him, what he'd seen in Dean… Dean drew a hand over his mouth. He wasn't thinking about that.
But Sam had always been his suspension system. Whatever the road threw at them, Dean could handle it if Sam was there. So even though they were neck-deep in it and Sam was stuck in bed and their lunch was pretty much pancakes and mashed potatoes and tapioca, Dean was still smiling as he stuck the key in the lock because at least Sam was…
…not there. The bed was empty.
Dean's smile dropped. "Sam?" he called, plunking the bag of food on the table as he passed it on the way to the bathroom. "Sammy?" He peered inside, but the bathroom was dark and empty. Dean looked around the room again, craning to see over the far side of Sam's bed in case the kid had fallen out or something. Every corner was empty, the room silent. So unless Sam was sleeping in the closet, he was…
Dean swore, lengthily and viciously. No way was this happening again! Sam was contrite, he was clean; Dean was just starting to really trust him again. No way was he pulling…
Dean stopped his circle of the room, hand frozen halfway through his hair. No. Sam would not do this; part of that regained trust was Dean being sure his brother would not leave like that, not again. Sam wouldn't have gone willingly. Which meant…some not so good alternatives.
Dean crossed to the still-open door, bending down to examine the lock. Then the floor, Sam's bed, his duffel, and the nightstand, looking at all of it with different eyes. No signs of struggle, nor of forced entry. Sam's shoes were missing, as was his phone and room key. But his wallet was still on the nightstand, and his bag hadn't been touched. The laptop satchel was also leaning against Sam's stuff.
"Okay," Dean muttered, "so he goes out on his own steam but…he's not going far. Ice machine, front office—someplace close." All the motel amenities were visible from the front door, but Dean looked out again just in case, searching shadowy corners for a huddled figure, the motel office for a tall silhouette. Nothing. But Sam hadn't taken his wallet or the Impala, or his baby, his PC. He had taken his phone, because part of proving himself to Dean had been that he didn't go anywhere without his phone, and Dean pulled his own out with a mixture of exasperation at himself for not thinking of it sooner, and hope.
"We're sorry, the caller you are trying to reach is not—"
Not even voicemail. Dean snapped the phone off with a shaky hand.
Still mumbling imprecations—directed at life in general instead of his brother this time—Dean stepped back outside and looked around again. But this time he directed his gaze upward.
It'd been a habit he'd gotten into after Sam let Lucifer out and lost all credibility with Dean in the process: he'd started looking for motels with security cameras. Something they'd avoided all their lives, but Dean now sought them out as another pair of eyes to help him keep tabs on Sam, make sure he wasn't going Dark Side again. Lucifer seemed to prefer keeping tabs on Sam through dreams and demons instead of modern technology, and to the law enforcement world they were once again dead, so it was a low-risk chance to take. Dean was extra grateful now for his paranoia, especially as he spied the glowing red light on the unit mounted at the end of the row. It pointed out toward the parking lot and should've caught any action a few feet out from their room.
Dean paused long enough to fish an old Fed ID out of the Impala, then strode toward the motel front office.
The same college-aged guy who'd checked them in a few hours before still sat at the counter, flipping through a dog-eared tabloid. At Dean's entry, he straightened up, polite smile quickly shifting into something more uncomfortable at the sight of him. Because of Dean's determined look, or something more?
He stepped to the counter and slid his finger inside the ID, ready to flip it open and demand a look at the security tapes. The kid's opening words, however, stopped him cold.
"Dude, sorry about your boyfriend."
"What?" Dean said dumbly. Not over the boyfriend part, which he was sadly used to, but over the sympathy that lurked behind the sorry.
"I mean, who can compete with Keaton, right?"
"What?" Dean felt like a broken record, but he was completely lost. "What're you—?"
The guy's eyes widened. "Oh, sh—You don't know! Crap—sorry, buddy, I didn't…" He winced, clearly at a loss as to where to go next.
Dean blinked, feeling like he just stepped into the Twilight Zone. Except, this guy knew something about Sam, that much was clear. His eyes narrowed, voice dropping. "What're you talking about? What did you see?"
"J-just…" The tabloid twisted in a nervous grip. "You know, your boy, leaving with Brad Keaton." Off Dean's look, one blond eyebrow rose. "You really didn't know?"
"Geez! Okay, look, I didn't see much, all right? Just Goliath coming out of your room with Keaton and getting into his car. That's it, man, I swear!"
"Brad Keaton?" Dean prompted.
"Yeah, you know. King of the Indies for, like, the last ten years? Hottest thing to hit Sundance since Parker Posey?"
It was like he was speaking Sumerian, but Dean took a stab at it. "You're talking about an actor?"
The kid slumped. "Yes! Geez, man, what kinda movies do you watch? Keaton's, like, sick."
Dean agreed, even if he doubted they meant the same thing. And as little sense as this was making, he pressed on. "So this…Keaton, he was forcing my brother to go with him? Pushing him, holding him, had a weapon?"
"Your brother?" The clerk's eyes widened again. "Goliath is your—?" He swallowed at the glare Dean gave him. "Uh, not that I saw. I mean, he wasn't crowding your bro or anything, just went out to the car with him and got in. Keaton was driving. He has a sick ride, too, Porsche 997…" He cleared his throat. "I mean, if you like that sort of thing."
Dean's thoughts were already racing ahead. "And you're sure it was this…Keaton?"
Motel guy's eyebrows danced to his hairline.
"Yeah, okay," Dean conceded. "Uh, thanks for your help." He spun about, heading out of the office.
"Hey, if you see them, you think you could get Brad's autograph for—"
Dean let the door slam behind him.
Okay, so Sam had left on his own steam. With a famous actor. Yeah, that made all kinds of sense.
Dean stalked back toward their room, glad that at least Sam had left the laptop behind. He had some things to look up.
So, yeah, Brad Keaton, "King of the Indies." His face was vaguely familiar, probably from some movie Sam had watched, because his list of credits was the kind of stuff Dean would only watch if a very hot redhead was involved. But Sam would have probably known the guy. And if this Keaton had come to their room and asked Sam for…something, Sam probably would have gone with him, famous dude and all. Question was, why would a movie star who lived five hours away be out in the middle of nowhere, let alone knocking on their door? And what would he have needed Sam for?
A call to Bobby offered no help; Bobby hadn't heard of the guy either. Cas didn't answer, probably too busy Upstairs dealing with the whole Lucifer situation. Dean wrote down some contact info to start with in tracking down Keaton, put out a BOL on the guy's Porsche, and hacked into enough traffic cameras to see the car heading for the nearest freeway. Then he turned back to digging.
King of the Indies for, like, the last ten years. Dean's fingers paused above the keys. No way…
A minute later, he rocked back in his seat in disbelief.
Brad Keaton hadn't been in so much as a kindergarten play when he was "discovered" in a coffee shop. His first movie was a big hit, and he'd become an instant star. Dean couldn't find the exact date of his debut, but it was very close to ten years.
He chewed on his lip, thinking.
Lucifer wanted Sam. Lucifer really wanted Sam in Detroit, saying yes. But he wanted to find Sam sooner so he could entice him with the same offers he made in Sam's dreams, to coax, threaten, and bribe him, wear him down until Sam said yes. There was a demonic bounty on Dean's head, but there was probably an even greater reward offered for a gift-wrapped and delivered Sam.
Maybe even enough to get someone out of a crossroads deal.
Dean picked up his phone and started calling. It took five different people before he was finally talking to Keaton's personal assistant, and even then it took some serious threats of financial ruin and physical danger before the woman would give Keaton's private number to "Special Agent Wayne." But Dean had always been extra persuasive when it came to Sam's life.
He dialed the number, getting a generic voicemail after four rings.
An unfriendly smile stretched across Dean's face. That was exactly what he'd been hoping for.
Brad Keaton had obviously thought this one through beforehand. He'd found a crossroad in the middle of the desert, tracked Sam down even though they were still changing names as fast as some people changed their underwear, and had even thought to turn Sam's phone off.
Shame he hadn't thought of doing the same to his own.
Dean had left the Impala a half-mile back and hiked in, knowing how much his baby's engine would carry in the desert night. There were still plenty of hills and mesas and crags to crawl over and around and take cover behind until he was nearly on top of Brad and Sam. Dean hunched behind an outcropping, taking in the scene with rising fury.
Brad was on his hands and knees not thirty feet away, just burying a box Dean could guess the contents of. And next to him, Sam lay on the ground on his side, arms pulled behind his body, ankles together, twisting sluggishly.
It was too easy. Dean got a bead on the actor, started to squeeze the trigger. As Brad stood up, however, dusting his hands against his thighs and looking—no, smiling down at Sam—Dean's jaw tightened and his grip loosened fractionally. Instead, he stepped around the rocks and out into the open, aim unwavering.
Brad wheeled sharply, hand moving to his side pocket.
Brad cried out, winged arm whipping back. He quickly yanked it in to his side, blood already black and shiny in the full moon's light, and cursed long and hard. "What the—who are you?!" he moaned.
"Oh, come on, you must've done your homework," Dean said easily, moving forward one deliberate step after another, gun not dipping from where it was now pointed center mass. "You couldn't have known about Sam without knowing he had a brother."
"That's right, sugar," a new voice interjected. "That's Dean Winchester on the wrong side of that gun, and he tends to go a little…crazy when something happens to his brother." To Dean's left, a woman in a strapless black dress stepped out of nowhere.
Dean didn't shift his gaze to her. He knew his aim was true when he slid the Colt with one motion out from the back of his jeans with his left hand and pointed it her way. "You got no business here, bitch—go back to Hell before I make it a one-way trip."
"Such a sweet-talker," the demon answered, more sour than before. She wasn't stupid, however, and a moment later she was gone.
Brad stumbled a step toward where she'd been standing. "No! I need—"
Dean fired the 1911 again, this time at Brad's no-doubt expensive shoes, as he tucked the Colt away. "You trying to move up the deadline on your deal?" He started closing in once more, enough to see that Sam had jumped with each gunshot but otherwise hadn't reacted to his presence.
"How do you—?"
"You're not the only one who's signed in blood before," Dean said impatiently. He jerked the gun barrel to the side. "Get away from him."
Moaning weakly and clutching his arm, Keaton crept a half-dozen feet away.
"Stop," Dean ordered. By Sam's side now, he crouched, eyes on Brad even as he felt Sam's pulse. "Sam? Sammy, you with me?" At the lack of response, he risked a downward glance for a second as he thumbed up one of Sam's drooping eyelids, frowning when he saw the glassy, contracted pupil beneath. Dean's gaze swung back hard to Keaton. "What did you do to him?"
"He's okay—wouldn't have been much good to me if I'd hurt him. J-just gave him something to keep him under control."
"What?" Dean growled, feeling Sam jerk at the sound. He flattened his hand against Sam's too-hot cheek as he glared a hole in Brad Keaton.
"Just some downers, okay? Sleepers—no big deal."
Barbiturates. Great. Non-lethal and no long-term effect, if you didn't overdose on it. Dean didn't have a lot of faith in an actor's pharmacological knowledge, however. "Just a minute, Sam," he breathed, then stood, dipping into his pocket to pull out the cuffs he'd come prepared with. "Got some trash to take care of first."
Keaton cowered away as Dean strode closer, fumbling with his good hand at the same side of his jacket he'd gone for before. Dean reached him just in time to grab what Keaton pulled out: a taser.
"Son of a bitch!" he roared. "You use this on him, too?"
"You don't understand," Keaton bawled back. "I wasn't going to hurt him—they just wanted to talk to him. I'm dying, man—I got two days left before they drag me to Hell. I just wanted to—"
"—trade my brother for your sorry hide," Dean finished furiously, wrapping his hand in Keaton's lapel to pull him up. "Right? You get the fame and someone else pays the price, is that it?"
"I didn't know!" Keaton was sobbing now. "I didn't know it would be like this! Ten years—it was forever. Now they're gonna… Please! They said they weren't gonna hurt him!"
"No," Dean agreed, "they wanna do a lot worse than that." Disgusted, he shoved the doomed man down and took a breath. Then smiled, twisted and grim. "You know what's funny?" He pointed back to Sam. "He would've done whatever he could to save your miserable life if you'd just asked him."
Keaton curled into himself, pleas mixed with sniveling.
Dean shook his head, jamming the 1911 into his belt and grabbing Keaton's nearest arm. With the cuff on, he dragged the writhing man to the nearest tree, a prickly Joshua, and pulled his bad arm around the trunk to snap the other cuff on, ignoring the resulting scream.
"No, wait! Wait, you can't leave me here!" Awareness of his situation seemed to yank Keaton out of his stupor. "Please, please—"
"Don't worry," Dean tossed off. "Not gonna be here longer than two days, right?"
"God, please, don't—"
Dean was done. He paused just long enough to tear off a piece of Keaton's bloody sleeve before turning his back on the indie king and returning to the side of his brother, the would-be demon king.
There was no question which he'd choose.
Sam was still shivering and moving in slow motion, legs pawing weakly at the ground like he knew he should be trying to do something but couldn't figure out what. They stilled, trembling, under Dean's hand when he gripped Sam's knee.
"Hey, kiddo, let's get you outta here, huh?"
Sam, gaze still heavy lidded, blinked at nothing, his fingers contracting and loosening behind his back.
That was first. Laying his palm on the crown of Sam's head, Dean peered over his back. And rolled his eyes at the fur-lined cuffs on Sam's wrists. Keaton really had been using what he had on hand. Thankfully, handcuff keys were pretty universal, and Dean happened to have one on him for the cuffs he'd used for Keaton. He unlocked Sam's restraints and eased them to the front, glad to see the fur and Sam's drugged state had kept them from doing much damage to his wrists. "But that's gotta feel better, right?" Dean asked, tucking Sam's hands more comfortably against his chest.
Sam whined softly.
"Almost done, man." Dean moved to the end of the long body, and saw what looked suspiciously like a computer cord wound around Sam's ankles. Shaking his head, he pulled out his knife and made quick work of the makeshift bonds, rubbing Sam's ankles until he was sure there was no injury there, either, and circulation had returned.
Working his way back up, Dean couldn't find anything else off besides a taser burn on Sam's pecs and a needle mark on his neck. And the hazy eyes that were maybe, sorta looking at him now, if with a deep furrow of confusion between them.
"Sam?" He bent so he was in Sam's low eyeline, looking for any sign of awareness behind the drugged stare.
"'Ss meeee." It sounded like the words were being dragged through the sand Sam was lying in.
"Yeah, I got that," Dean said dryly, taking Sam's chin in one hand to turn his head up. "Y'okay, dude? I can't carry your heavy ass to the car—you gonna wait for me here while I bring her closer?"
"Hhhher?" Sam blinked in confusion.
"Never mind," Dean said fondly, patting his cheek. "I'll be right back, okay?" The desert was really starting to cool down with nightfall, and so he shucked his jacket over his shivering brother before standing. One final glance at Keaton to make sure the guy was no threat, and Dean hurried off.
It bothered him to leave Sam there, helpless and out of his head in the middle of the road. But Dean set a record pace back to the car, and it was less than ten minutes before he was pulling up to the crossroad, just feet away from where his brother waited.
It had been enough time for Sam to figure out how to push himself up to sitting. And for something to have changed, because as Dean went around in front of him, Sam was staring at the ground with red, streaming eyes.
"Hey, hey." Alarmed, Dean tugged at his chin again, made Sam meet his gaze. "What's going on, Sam?" Downers were supposed to lower anxiety, not mood.
"D'nnn?" He was trying to focus on Dean but it had to be hard with those shrunken pupils. "D'nn?"
"I'm here, Sammy." He took one of Sam's restless hands and set it on his own knee, then pushed the disheveled hair out of Sam's eyes. "I brought the car—you ready to get out of here?"
"'M sorrrry, D'n. 'M so…pleassse don' leave 'gain…" More tears spilled.
Dean let out a long breath, feeling all kinds of pain and loss pushing at him inside. The drug hadn't depressed Sam; it'd lowered his inhibitions. This was what shone silently every day out of his eyes. "I know, man. I forgave you, remember? I'm not goin' anywhere without you."
It was true. It had taken a while, longer than he'd ever taken to forgive Sam anything, even for leaving for school. However, once Sam was apologizing without a "but" after it or out of guilt or anything besides sincere regret for how he'd hurt his brother, Dean couldn't stay mad at him. Honestly, he probably couldn't have stayed mad at Sam even if the kid had kept acting like a jerk. But Dean had finally decided to operate under the assumption that Sam's actions were always motivated by love, and that eliminated a lot of the hurt. Maybe it was wishful denial on his part…but at moments like this, Dean was pretty sure it wasn't.
He cupped Sam's face in his hands. "I didn't leave, I was just getting the car. We're hittin' the road together, all right? You ready?"
"Dunno," Sam said hoarsely. He snorted back what sounded like a nose full of snot, then closed and opened his eyes with real effort. "Feeeel weird, D'nn."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, I can believe that. C'mon, Puff the Magic Dragon, got a pillow with your name on it in the car." He started to lever Sam to his feet. It was like trying to stand a toddler up, and Dean remembered just how that felt.
"Yeah, Sam." Scratch that: it was like trying to stand an octopus up, long, floppy limbs everywhere.
"Famine was…was stoop. Id."
"Uh-huh." He was kinda preoccupied with getting the back door of the Impala open without letting Sam puddle back to the ground. "Don't think horsemen are known for their brains, man." With a relieved sigh, he plopped Sam onto the edge of the seat.
Sam had somehow managed to get two handfuls of his shirt, though, and he pulled him back down when Dean would've straightened up. "D'n?"
"Y'we're starved-d for somethin' too."
"Oh, yeah?" he asked, morbidly amused. "What's that?"
Sam gave him a dopey smile…and hooked an arm around Dean's neck, nearly yanking him into the car in the process.
"Whoa, easy!" When the grip—and Sam may have been higher than the moon and still coming off his previous detox, but the dude had muscles on top of muscles—didn't ease, Dean pushed at the arm. "Down, boy. Sam, c'mon."
Sam snored thickly against his throat.
Dean sighed deep, wriggling out of Sam's hold and letting him fall back onto the Impala's seat. With a grunt, he shoved Sam's long legs in after. It looked uncomfortable, and as much as Dean wanted to leave him crumpled up like that, he found he couldn't. Grimacing, he circled the car and reached in from the other side, tugging Sam up so his head was at one end of the seat and his legs spilled off the other. He hadn't really fit in the Impala's back seat now for fifteen years, but it would do. Dean patted his head. "G'night, Sammy," and he fell into the driver's seat.
Out the windshield, he could see Brad Keaton in a moaning heap at the base of the Jericho tree. Dean had been careful not to leave prints on the cuffs, but he probably should've taken the guy's phone. Oh well, even if they found him in the next two days, wouldn't do him a lot of good.
His gaze switched to the rear view mirror, to the sight of Sam out for the count, drooling onto the Impala's upholstery. Dean's chest twisted, and he drank his fill of his little brother, safe and sound for the moment.
"You were starved for something, too."
"Oh, yeah? What's that?"
And Sam hugged him.
Dean shook his head, but, man if that hole inside him didn't feel quite so empty. "Damn, kid, you are something else," he whispered, throat tight.
He put the car in gear and took them away from the crossroad.
Dean was hammering and cursing, but he still heard the motel room door open behind him. He glanced back over his shoulder to see Sam squinting in the morning sun, but with color in his cheeks and steady on his feet. He clutched a newspaper in his hand as he dropped down on the curb between motel and car.
"What're you doing?" Sam hollered over the din.
Dean's lip curled. "Friggin' Gary," he growled, giving a particularly large dent in the bumper a hard whack. Friggin' teenagers who couldn't tell their Drive from their Reverse and who shouldn't have tricked Dean into being allowed to drive his car in the first place.
"Ah." He didn't look, but Dean knew his brother would be fighting a smile. And honestly, Dean probably deserved it, considering how long it had taken him to figure out Gary wasn't Sam.
"Did you finish the soup I left out for you?" he redirected the conversation.
Dean lightened his strikes to a few taps for the finishing touch. "Drink all the Gatorade?"
"Yes, Dean." Amusement still firmly in place.
"Done being a smartass?"
There was a full-on grin in Sam's voice now. "Yes, Dean."
Dean shook his head, a smile pulling at his own mouth. He sat back on the work stool and turned the bumper over to examine what remained to be done.
The newspaper crinkled. "You see that Brad Keaton died?" Sam asked, all surface casual.
"Couldn't've happened to a nicer guy," Dean answered blandly. As he'd expected, Keaton was too famous not to be quickly missed, and his discovery in the desert in "mysterious circumstances under investigation" had been reported just the day before.
"Found mauled in his bedroom? Weird how a wild animal got past the fancy security system like that," Sam said with no irony at all, no sir.
"Weird," Dean agreed. He smoothed his thumb over a pinpoint dent, then shot Sam a sideways glance. "How'd he get you to go with him, anyway?" They hadn't been able to talk much, what with Sam sleeping off all the junk in his system, but Dean had learned the taser hit had been in the car.
"Oh. Uh, said his friend was hurt down the road and he needed some help."
"So you just got in the car with him?" Dean asked. "What, he didn't offer you candy, or a puppy?"
"Dude, he was Brad Keaton, not exactly Creepy Serial Killer Guy. And he wasn't possessed, I checked."
Dean grumbled noncommittally. He attacked another dent with a flurry of blows.
"TV's running a marathon of his movies tomorrow in 'tribute,'" Sam yelled, never one to be ignored.
"Awesome. I'll be sure not to tune in."
Sam waited until he took a break from the hammering. "Hey, Dean?"
"Yeah." He tapped out an edge, then a tiny buckle. She was looking good, nearly back to fighting shape.
Dean twisted around at that, giving Sam a frown. "For what?"
"You know." Sam nodded at the paper.
Dean made a dismissive sound. "No need," and he turned back to the car.
"Yeah," Sam said. "Yeah, there is."
"There really isn't." He lifted the hammer, let it sag. Stared at the back of the car for a few seconds. "I shouldn't've let you go it alone in the panic room."
Sam huffed. "Dude, I didn't exactly give you a choice."
Dean shook his head. "I'm not talking about last week." Then he'd been there whenever he could, at least until Sam had jumped him and took off, leading him on a several-state chase before the madness finally cleared. Dean couldn't help thinking even that had been because of how things had gone down the first time.
There was a pause, Sam digesting that. "I was too far over the edge, man. I would've just gone through you like I did in that motel room." It was the first time either of them had mentioned that night, Sam leaving his brother bleeding on the floor amidst the broken furniture.
"Yeah? Well, I'm not so sure about that," Dean said quietly. That was something else he'd have to live with, and these days it often felt impossible to live with it all.
"Trust me, man," Sam said, sounding sad, older and wiser.
Dean turned on the stool, looked at Sam a moment. "I do," he finally said. Because this, at least, he could make right.
Sam opened his mouth, maybe to ask what he was talking about, before he seemed to get it. He suddenly flushed, ducking his head and scratching the back of his neck. "So…you need any help with that?"
Sam's ears were still pink. Dean felt his lip twitch and let himself enjoy the moment. "Dude, I think you did enough already."
"That was Gary!" Sam said in exasperation.
"Well, he drives as bad as you do."
"Moron," Sam grumbled.
"Stoner," Dean retorted, feeling a little lighter despite everything, and got back to work with his brother at his back…sputtering.