K Hanna Korossy
Dean knew they shouldn't have gotten lunch at someplace called "The Chip Shop." The cafe had questionable food with names like "Toad-in-a-Hole" and "Bangers and Mash," and didn't seem to offer much by way of drinks besides tea and Guinness. But most of all, Sam wouldn't have thought of the stupid tradition.
"Happy Boxing Day!" the waitress—who looked and sounded like she'd lived out in the British countryside about sixty years—cheerfully greeted them.
Dean winked back at her because, well, she could still be somebody's mother. But it was Sam who lit up with the childlike glee that always heralded bad news.
"I forgot! Dean, it's Boxing Day."
Dean eyed him narrowly, trying to remember when Sam had shown any interest at all in the sweet science. They'd watched a few bouts out of sheer boredom over the years, snickered over Tyson chomping on Holyfield's ear, admired Ali and Frazier in retrospectives, but Sammy wasn't particularly a sports fan, let alone a pugilist. Even Dean had to admit they had enough throwdowns in real life. He raised an eyebrow at Sam. "What, like, you want to go a few?"
Sam gave him that eye roll that had gone from prissy and patronizing just before and after Stanford, to pitying and pained after Dad died and Dean made his deal, to the fondness they seemed to have finally reached now, with seals cracking all around them and the world going nowhere good in a handbasket. They always had done things at the last minute. "Not that kind of boxing. It's a British tradition, the day after Christmas. Servants and masters would switch places for the day."
Oh, yeah, he kinda remembered a MASH episode about that. Dean huh-ed in total disinterest and went back to trying to find something edible on the menu.
Sam, of course, wasn't content to leave it at that. "We should do that today."
"Sure, Sam," Dean answered absently. They had pie, but what the hell was mincemeat? "You can give the servants the day off."
The waitress honest-to-God giggled. Which would have been cute from someone a third her age, but was kinda disturbing in someone who could be his grandmother. Dean warily watched her out of the corner of his eye as he read on.
"No, man, I mean, switch places. I get to be older brother for a day, drive the car, all the crap you usually get to do."
Dean squinted up at him, not forgetting to keep an eye on Mrs. Claus. "Yeah, that sounds awesome. And what do I get out of it besides your laptop?"
Sam held up his hand. Geez, he had fingers' worth of reasons to tick off. "You get to sleep while I drive. You…uh…" His face twisted up in amusing confusion as he tried to find some other perk to being the baby. He got the inner bed, the big bad brother protection detail, and those friggin' puppy eyes, but he wouldn't see any of those as pluses, and knew they wouldn't be anything Dean would want.
But Dean could think of a few things he wouldn't mind taking on. Like the crushing guilt Sam carried around for letting Lucifer out, or the nightmares starring the Prince of Darkness. "Okay," he said amiably, before Sam worked himself up into a self-righteous lather. "Starts now, right?" He turned up the charm on his smile and aimed it at the granny at his elbow. "What's the greasiest, meatiest thing you've got on the menu?"
The old biddy tittered again. Sam glowered at him. And Dean found himself not minding so much that he was probably going to be eating some bizarre British idea of a salad. It beat the crap out of whatever "Bubble & Squeak" was.
This could actually be fun.
Yeah, not so much.
Okay, so it had been pretty amusing to watch Sam defiantly choke down fat sausages and potatoes swimming in gravy and butter. Dean's plate had a few things on it he couldn't quite identify, but he gulped it down without giving Sam the satisfaction of a grimace. Then Sam paid the bill, and commented about hitting the local pool hall that night to pad their wallets a little.
Dean was maybe starting to see some of the benefits of this swap.
It wasn't that big a deal that Sam was driving, either. The fact was, he'd had the wheel the last few weeks anyway as Dean recovered from a serious attack by a hellhound left over from the carnage in Carthage. Sam pointedly put on country Christmas music when he started the car, two genres that Dean didn't like separately, let alone together, but he didn't comment. He just curled up against the door, arm wrapped around aching ribs as padding, and let himself doze. It was actually kinda nice not to have to make a face when Sam tucked something warm and soft around him, just gave a sleepy Sam-like, "Thanks, man," and drifted off.
It was a little less funny when they got to Omaha and Sam stopped at an honest-to-God motel chain to get them a room. Dean's glower was dismissed with a flip "Big Brother's Right" that Dean was quite sure he'd never pulled before. Fine, so the beds didn't feel like they were full of sticks poking at his tender ribs and the water stayed hot throughout Dean's lengthy soak. But he still stopped short, ready to mutiny, when he stepped out into the room and found his duffel on the bed farthest from the door.
"Big brother's prerogative," Sam said with a shrug and an unrepentant smirk.
"Not when it goes against standing orders," Dean growled back, tossing his towel onto the other bed.
Sam picked the damp towel off with two fingers and dropped it to the floor. "What orders?"
"Watch out for Sam."
Sam's eyes softened in that way that made Dean brace himself for something mushy. "You're still healing, man. Think you can leave the guard duty to me for one night?"
He hesitated. Not because he didn't trust Sam because, finally, he did trust Sam again. And not because the kid wasn't capable because, crap, somewhere along the way, Sam had become pretty friggin' badass. But because this went against what was hardwired into pretty much every cell of Dean Winchester, and no stupid little holiday was going to change that, even for a day. Yeah, he hadn't had much choice in letting Sam call the shots while he was in the hospital, and then at Bobby's he'd had two ugly, bossy, hovering nursemaids. Three, once Cas showed up for Christmas. But they were finally on the road, looking into a possible job even, and Dean didn't do coddling or the little-brother deal.
He also didn't do puppy-dog eyes, which apparently were a Sam thing, not a little brother thing. Because they were out in full force now, along with that helpless, guilty look Sam had been rocking since he'd inadvertently slipped the devil's latch.
Dean glared at the far bed and sighed. "Fine," he gritted out. "But I'm doing the lockdown." Wouldn't matter if he wasn't at point if nothing could get in the door in the first place.
Sam's mouth tugged up. "Little brothers always get the grunt work," he agreed smugly.
Right, this had been an awesome idea. They were never going anyplace British again.
They took a nap—more for Dean's sake than Sam's he knew, but if he pretended he didn't, it didn't count—and ordered dinner. Sam got a meat lover's and a veggie pizza and devoured the former without protest. It was totally worth the green stuff on Dean's own pizza to see his little brother eat up.
Then, under the cover of darkness, they went to the office building where three people had died over the last month under strange circumstances.
Sam had cheerfully stuck Dean with the job of looking up the building's layout—with some guidance, because Dean didn't inherit Sam's computer-fu with his shiny little-brother role—while Sam had gone out to do a quick walk-through before the place closed for the night. He'd also found out what cleaning company worked the building and had borrowed some outfits for them. Dean was a little bit impressed at his brother's intel-gathering and black-bag skills, but he kept that to himself.
There was too much electronics in a high-tech joint like that for the EMF detector to be any good, but Sam had figured out a good starting place. The three employees had worked on different floors and for different companies, but all had the cafeteria in common, so they headed there. And in deference to Dean's still-healing body, they were doing strictly recon.
That had been the plan, anyway.
Recon turned into combat enough that they always went armed for bear…or berserker, ghosts, demons, shapeshifters, etc. Sam's shotgun was loaded with consecrated iron, Dean's with salt, while they each had handguns with an assortment of rounds and shared between them a silver and an iron blade, and the demon-killing knife. Dean had the Colt tucked securely under his jacket. Flasks of holy water weighed down their pockets.
So, naturally, it turned out to be a rabisu. Dean would later find the small charm someone had tucked above the lintel, whether for innocent reasons or malevolent. But their first clue was the way their skin prickled when they went through the cafeteria door.
"Feel that?" Sam asked low.
"Oh yeah." Probably some of the office workers would have felt inexplicably uneasy as they passed through the door. Dean was willing to bet some of them had started bringing lunches from home. But a lifetime of being around the supernatural had made the Winchesters unusually attuned, and there was no question now this was their kind of job.
"Poltergeist maybe?" Sam said, eyes sweeping every corner of the room that Dean wasn't already busy studying. They'd moved back-to-back, ready for attack on all sides. Whatever they could feel could probably also feel them, especially with Sam's amped-up blood.
Dean had looked back at the doorway, puzzled. "Felt worse when we were coming in—maybe it's—"
The legs of the nearest cafeteria table suddenly buckled, scattering the chairs around it like massive shrapnel. One clipped Dean's hip even as he was jumping out of the way, jarring every healing joint in his body and making him groan.
A long arm slapped across his chest, pulling him to the side. Already off-balance, he had to go with it, tottering over to find himself behind a six-four wall of muscle and bone and protective little brother.
Or not-so-little brother, in every sense of the word.
"Get off me," Dean hissed, shoving at the tree branch Sam called an arm, then at the broad back. "Dude, I'm gonna box you if you don't—"
There was a growl, low and sounding like so much gibberish to Dean's ears. And then the light fixture above them exploded, raining down shards of plastic and glass and sparks on them.
With a hiss, Sam-wall became Sam-blanket, jerking Dean down to his knees and tenting over him. Even as Sam grimaced in pain, he barked out, "Rabisu!"
"Yeah, to you, too," Dean snapped, and shoved at Sam. "Dude, I can—"
He was doomed not to finish a sentence. With a terse, "Laugh and talk loud," Sam was suddenly showering him in salt and then darting back to the door.
And that wasn't even one of the crazier things he'd ever done.
It wasn't the time for questions. Sam clearly knew what they were hunting—because swapping places didn't change the fact that Sam was their walking encyclopedia of weird—and that was good enough for Dean. He broke out in a strained guffaw, followed by a thunderous, "Hey, Rabbi Sue! I'm talking to you!"
"Friendly!" Sam corrected behind him.
"Wha—?" At the inhuman growl from the opposite direction, Dean gave up trying to give Sam an incredulous look or figure out what was going through that ginormous brain, and rolled his eyes. This wasn't the craziest thing he'd ever done, either. "So, you heard the one about the priest and the call girl?" he called out, trying to sound as amicable as a guy armed to the teeth could be.
A gun went off behind him, Sam's Taurus.
Dean's hand was halfway to his back when he saw that his brother hadn't been aiming at a big ugly. In fact, he'd shot…the door. There was a wide, splintered hole above the door knob.
"Sam, what the—"
Fire flared from the kitchen across the room. There was the sound of a crash, and then a small avalanche of plastic tumblers rolled out from another door, heading unerringly toward the Winchesters. Napkins fluttered to the floor around them, a few of them catching sparks from the still-spitting light above and starting tiny bonfires across the room.
"Keep talking!" Sam yelled above the din. His voice sounded strained. Hurting.
Dean blocked it all out, focused on the malevolent presence charging the air in front of him. "So…yeah, you have a good Christmas? Hanukah—Kwanzaa? I'm guessing you're not a figgy pudding kinda guy, huh? Anybody make you a pie? Chocolate peppermint's pretty awesome this time of year…"
Wind whipped the glass and fiery debris into a hazardous cyclone, ever faster until Dean had to shy his face away or risk being blinded. He felt the brush of fire, the sting of a chunk of light fixture. And then Sam's heavy body was draped over his again like some freakin' shield.
Dean was really, really hating Boxing Day and little old ladies with accents and anything else that gave Sam ideas about who was the big brother here.
And then with a screech, the room fell silent and still.
"Sam?" He shoved at the ribs his face was smashed against, gentler this time because he was pretty sure Sam was injured. "Sammy, you with me?" It didn't feel like Sam's full deadweight was on him, although Dean's ribs and chest were deeply protesting.
Sam jolted, groaned, but pushed himself up. "Yeah. Sorry. Just a…" He started to flop over onto his back, but Dean grabbed his shoulder and slid him onto his side instead. He was pretty sure Sam's back had taken the brunt of the crap storm.
"Lemme see. Where'd Rye Biscuit get you?" He leaned over, one arm curved against his own aching side, the other clamped on Sam's biceps to peer at his back. Yep, definitely some blood and torn clothing.
"Rabisu," Sam corrected tiredly. But he was grinning.
"Gesundheit." The damage looked painful but not serious. He poked Sam's arm. "Can you walk? I'm not carrying your ass out of here."
Sam rolled his eyes but gingerly obeyed. Dean didn't do much of the lifting, but he did guide Sam which way to go, balanced him as he found his feet.
Then glanced around the devastated room. "It gone?"
"Yeah," Sam said tiredly.
"Good. Ditto." Dean stopped Sam after the first step with a backhanded slap to the chest. "Oh, and dude?" He smiled at Sam's suspicious squint. "I'm driving."
They limped into the room like they were coming back from the wars, not from facing down one little Babylonian demon. Dean had half-listened in the car as Sam had told him that Croucher rabisu often left if there was a hole in the door for them to go out through—because apparently the open door wasn't enough—and that loud, cheerful noises scared them away. There was also something in there about carrying brides over thresholds and the little knick-knacks Jewish people tacked to their doorways, but Dean had pretty much stopped paying attention by then. He was too busy watching the road, keeping an eye out for spreading stains of red on the towel Sam was leaning against, and thinking about how screwed up the day had become.
Sam, perhaps knowing for once not to push it, stumbled to the far bed when they arrived at the room and toppled face down across it like a felled redwood.
Dean snorted and went for wet towels and the first aid kit.
It wasn't too bad: Sam's jacket had fended off the worst. One scorched patch on his right shoulder blade and a few scratches, one with some glass in it. Dean didn't even bother with the lidocaine, and Sam's eyes were half-mast by the time the last wound was cleaned and bandaged.
Maybe then he'd argue less. "We're not doing this again," Dean declared, snapping the kit shut.
"Boxing Day. It's stupid. I'm the big brother, you're the little brother—that's the way it is, Sam. No more of this 'trading places' crap, okay?"
Sam snored. Or maybe snorted, because he then peeled an eye open to look back lazily at Dean. "You think that's why I was protecting you? 'Cause I was being you?" He brought up one hand to rub at his nose, looking about three and effectively derailing Dean's anger. "Well, okay, that is you, but, dude. I wasn't doin' it because of some tradition."
Dean frowned. "Then—?"
"You were already hurt, man." Sam sniffed, burrowing into his pillow. "An' you're m'brother." He sighed and, just like that, he was asleep.
Dean stared at him. Shut his agape mouth and blinked. Rubbed his eyes that were stinging from the crap heater they had in the room. Then he shook his head and got up—only a little unsteadily, thank you very much—and grabbed the coverlet from his bed to toss over Sam.
And smiled maybe just a little bit before climbing into the bed by the door.
"Big brother," he quietly amended.