For Harrigan, who asked for Sam-whumpage, but no big guilt trips, no Winchesters-as-damsels-in-distress, no total incapacitation. 9200 words, PG-13 for violence and Dean’s filthy mouth. For the
record, I really like Gerber’s peach cobbler, too. Beta’d by Maygra and Angie, title by Maygra.
Broken down and beaten in
And yet we've tried to keep our grin
The necessary words
Sam didn’t want to try and think of how many times he’d found himself sitting in the dark with Dean, usually in the middle of nowhere. It was an occupational hazard, obviously, because some monsters enjoyed walking amongst the prey, right in the open, but many did not and liked to hole up out in secluded and dark places that were hard to get to.
At least it was never the exact same place twice. That would sort of imply they hadn’t done well enough the first time.
It was nice not to have to be the one sitting in the dark for once, even if it would have been a little less boring. They wouldn’t have been talking, but they would have been shoulder to shoulder and that was often its own conversation. Dean was out there in the woods on his own, this once. Sam was standing by the car, which was partially pulled off the road. He had one door open and the dome light and headlights switched off to save the battery. The hazard lights were blinking and briefly illuminating the beginning of a bend in the road and the trees and brush on each side, a slow strobe that revealed little but suggested miles of dark isolation.
Dean had no coffee, no food, wore no deodorant or aftershave or cologne. Nothing that had a scent that might carry was allowed. Out in the woods, they had to smell like the woods. He was going all out that time, dark clothing and rolling in the freakin’ dirt and absolute silence. It was early autumn in the Unaka Range, the southern part of the Appalachian mountains. They were in North Carolina, on a mountain road off the Joe Brown Highway, about a half hour away from Murphy and the nearest civilization, waiting. For anything.
Three breakdowns after dark on these winding and scattered mountain roads between Unaka and Bates Creek, each spaced months apart, each leaving behind cars and nearby asphalt splattered with blood. Bloody handprints along the metal, bloody drag marks across the road and into the woods. The blood trails ended where the donor ran out of blood. Search parties had been dispatched each time, but no bodies were ever found, not even bones or teeth or bits of clothing. It had been hard to tell whether there was a serial killer out there or an opportunistic predator living in the range that had grown weary of venison and rabbit.
Someone had fashioned a wooden sign on a stake on the part of the Joe Brown turnoff for Beaver Dam road that read make sure your tank is full and you checked your engine.
Three separate crosses, painted wood and handwritten names, plastic flowers surviving the weather.
Humans: the other white meat.
“I hear we taste like pork,” Dean had said a couple of days earlier, reading the articles online. “I mean, I would never try it, right? If you just put aside the whole part where cannibalism is gross and wrong, and just think about it? We’re full of chemicals and preservatives and stuff, and people take all kinds of medications or dope or whatever and have all kinds of diseases and shit, so that’s why we shouldn’t eat each other anyway. And I read that people now take a lot longer to rot because of all the stuff we’ve soaked up. A lot longer than our grandparents, like years longer. We’re already kind of embalmed, right now.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. He had nothing to add, for once. Dean was doing just fine on his own.
“It’s dangerous, is what it is. Yeah. So, you know, if we had to be eating each other, we should eat vegans. Really healthy vegans. Vegan virgin chicks.”
Sam snorted. “Starting with which part, Dean?”
“Oh, I think you know,” Dean said.
Sam had known that conversation would go a lot further downhill if he added to it, so he quit right there.
There were all sorts of legends in the area that fit the type of attack that was happening out there, so the best thing to do to narrow it down was try and catch the bastard at it. So Sam was standing alongside a supposedly broken down Impala, watching the hazards flash, trying to stay alert as the night went on. It was partly overcast, so he wasn’t even able to really amuse himself by stargazing. It was unnervingly silent out there, devoid of the sounds of night birds or even smaller predators rustling in the underbrush. There should have been something.
He opened and shut the doors of the car occasionally, making purposeful noise. Here I am, all alone, very delicious.
Rock, paper, scissors in Murphy the day before, and Dean had stuck with scissors again like he couldn’t help it. He’d wanted to win, this once; he was a sore loser in general, but he was close to calling the entire thing off to avoid allowing Sam to play bait.
“Stop being such a baby.”
“I’m not bein’ a fuckin’ baby,” Dean had growled. “We don’t know what the hell it is, or how big it is, and –“
“And you’re acting like maybe I can’t handle anything that comes at me,” Sam said. “What, you wanna stand out there? That’s okay? It’s okay for me to sit in the woods and freak out over what might get you?”
“I’m older,” Dean said, like that was a catch-all excuse and an irrefutable explanation for his behavior.
“You got to offer yourself to the Wendigo,” Sam countered. “And a couple of other things I can’t remember right now. It’s my damn turn.”
“You...” Dean grimaced as if regretting the words before they were even out. “You’re the better shot.”
Sam laughed. Threw his head right back and laughed, causing several people in the diner they’d stopped in to look at him and smile automatically. Sam did that to people, made them want to be in on whatever joke had caused him to laugh like that.
“I wish I had that on tape, but now you’re just reaching,” Sam said, the mirth in his voice only aggravating Dean further. “I’m a big boy. You’re not usually this goddamned overprotective. So what the hell is wrong with you?”
Dean had fidgeted a little, mouth pressed into a line of dissatisfaction, eyes glancing out the nearest dust-streaked window.
“Could be another Wendigo,” Sam said. “Hidebehinds aren’t usually that aggressive, and if it’s a bugbear, it’s a pretty big one, to be able to drag somebody off. A Tailypo is about the size of a dog, and they don’t usually mess with anybody unless they’re messed with first. Three solitary, unarmed people, unprepared for something to run out and grab them – as opposed to you and me. There’s no comparison.”
“Seems there’s a better way than to go sit out in the middle of nowhere and beg it to come tear your head off,” Dean said. “Get an inflatable doll and set it in there, or something.”
Sam had rested his forehead in one hand, elbow braced on the table. He’d had to admit to himself that watching his brother go into a porn store and buy a goddamn inflatable doll would have been a true highlight of his entire life. But he’d had to resist.
“I’m warm and moving and breathing,” he said. “C’mon, let’s get this over with before someone else gets mauled.”
Dean had not been able to come up with any other viable arguments. But he was unhappy and made sure Sam knew it.
He was in the woods with a sniper rifle and a night vision scope, and sometimes Sam could feel his attention. There was no way Dean was going to waver from staring right at him the whole time. Sam had a gun tucked at the small of his back, and one just under the driver’s seat, should it come to that.
Sam yawned and stretched, walking the length of the car again in the dark and scuffing his feet along the pavement. As much as he didn’t really want to have something run out and gnaw on him, he was getting pretty bored. A few nearby trees had begun to shed their leaves, leaving branches standing stark against the night sky. The woods were fairly close on either side of the road, and with the Impala pulled over so far, foliage touched the passenger side of the car.
“You’re gonna eat me like the book says,” he said softly, quoting the punchline to an old joke. Something about Red Riding Hood that he couldn’t fully remember.
No one had come along to offer help. There hadn’t been a single car. There were very few homes or ranches out there. They probably just no longer wanted to attempt using any of the mountain roads after dark. One more legend for an area that was already crawling with them. The Appalachian range was home to more folktales than anywhere else in the continuous US, monster for monster. Maybe it was the weather. Or the miles of wilds to roam in.
Sam heard a crack off to his left as he faced the same direction the Impala had been parked in. It was the wrong side of the road to be Dean. He held still and listened, breath briefly held. It had sounded like a tree branch snapping, carrying a mild echo along the nearby trunks. He kept his eyes trained on the area, using his peripheral vision to try and catch any movement. It had come from maybe fifty yards inside the treeline.
After maybe thirty seconds or so, there was another sound: running.
Sam felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck and arms stand up. It was a steady, bipedal pounding, a full out run, audible because the ground was full of roots from trees and bushes and the fine spaces between allowed sound to carry along the ground as if it was hollow beneath. It moved from right to left as he faced the woods, receding without getting closer.
It was enough to make him get his gun out, but not to make him get in the car. He wasn’t going to lie to himself; getting in and locking the door sounded like a good idea. Someone or something was out there purposely making noise for his benefit. He kept his knees slightly bent, arms loose, listening hard enough to hear the steady click, click of the hazards flicking on and off.
More cracking sounds, further down to his left. Not as if something was thrashing in the bushes, but as if it was ripping branches off trees in some kind of frenzy. There was a hollow thud from the same direction, then silence.
The quiet stretched on long enough to make Sam check his watch and see that maybe seven minutes had passed. It was just after two. He stayed on the driver’s side, keeping the Impala between himself and the closest trees, leaning against the right rear quarter of the car to stay near the flash of the hazards. He was in the best spot he could be in to watch for anything approaching.
Hearing Dean scream for him startled him as badly as the first shot did, and he didn’t even get a chance to bring his gun up or turn all the way. He knew immediately that Dean would never have done either thing unless he had to, but his body could only move so fast and whatever hit him came from the dark at the front of the car without sound. His only warning had come from Dean, as quickly as it could be given, and it just wasn’t enough.
He rolled, feeling something like claws dig into his jacket and catch, trying to bring his gun up again and get a bead on it. It was large, not as large as he was but solid and grasping at him as he kicked out at it and shot into the air to try and scare it off. Dean was going to come running down there and he had to try and give him a clear shot if he couldn’t get one of his own.
He hit it twice with the gun, hearing metal strike bone, getting a brief look at lamp-like orange eyes glowing in a dark face, retinas reflecting the hazard lights, and his fist came in contact with a warm and furred surface. Fetid breath washed over his face and he pulled the trigger twice, and whatever it was let go of him for a moment and backed away.
He straightened and wrapped both hands around his gun, catching a glimpse of a dog-like tail, black fur and a canine form on two legs, half-circling him, pointed dog ears pinned back against a human-shaped skull. Flash of teeth and claws as it circled him. Sam backed along the side of the car, listening to Dean running toward him through the brush. Whatever it was, he wanted to get a look at it. They had the leverage to shoot it down, now, there was no way it was going to get the drop on him ag –
He was slammed face-first into the metal of the space between the Impala’s driver’s side window and the windshield. The world flashed bright red in pain and shock behind his eyes, and a distinctive crunch followed him into the darkness.
Coming back was slow and tedious.
His head hurt, like he’d expected; he immediately remembered what had happened, but his face felt mushy and loose and as if it was no longer quite part of him. There was the stickiness of blood, still warm along the lower half of his face, which ached and was numb in turns. He was breathing fine, but his tongue seemed to be out of place somehow.
He opened his eyes a little and found himself looking at one of the Impala’s hubcaps. The hazards were still flashing, and his head wasn’t resting on the pavement itself although he was lying on it. Something cushioned his head from the hard, cold surface. His vision didn’t swim, and he could focus fine; that meant only a mild concussion, enough to explain the lapse in time when he’d been knocked out. Dean would have been the only one to put something under his head.
He tried to roll but gave up immediately. His face flared into a sharp, grinding mass of pain.
There was immediately a hand in his hair, holding and holding still. Dean’s face appeared above, and Sam could feel the worry pouring off him. “Sam? Sammy, you with me?”
Sam opened his mouth to respond, but the moment he moved his jaw, something sharp tore into the muscle on the left side, and wincing made it worse. Bone shards, probably. He settled for “Ungh.” He brought a hand up to feel gingerly along his mouth. Everything felt bruised and hot. A few teeth felt a little loose, but he didn’t think he was missing any.
“It’s not dislocated,” he heard Dean say, and there was a combination of relief and worry in it. “I think your jaw’s broken. I couldn’t just toss you in the car, you know, because I couldn’t tell how much was broken, had to get you awake first, and you were only out for about a minute and a half, that’s not bad. Rang your bell, that’s all, right? Maybe tried to give you a makeover? You’re fine, you’re okay, there were two of those fuckers and no way to see the second one coming when they move that fast, Sam I’m sorry, c’mon.”
Dean was babbling, which was as much of a sign of fear from him as if he’d been screaming and huddling in a corner somewhere.
He let Dean help him sit up. Sitting up was actually a little easier, since gravity seemed to be pulling down on his jaw instead of sideways. His tongue still seemed to be in the wrong place, but he could swallow with only a little difficulty and he could breathe just fine. He tried to bring his teeth together and they wouldn’t line up.
He got to his feet as Dean pulled him up, and leaned on the car for a moment. Something about five feet in length and covered in thick, dark fur lay sprawled on the pavement about three feet to his left. Blood oozed from beneath it. Dean had shot at least one of them down.
“Dammit, I told you this was a bad idea, Sam, you asshole,” Dean growled. That was a sure sign he was bouncing back, so Sam opted to go around and get in the car.
“S’awr,” Sam almost-said, waving a hand at Dean and then pointing at the creature in the road. It’s all right. “Geh ih aw oh.” Get it off the road.
“Lock yourself in,” Dean said, the growl still audible. He dragged the corpse off the pavement and into the woods, dropping it several feet in. He kicked several rocks and branches into the road, marking the spot for later. They’d seen enough of it, and he’d taken several pictures of it with his camera phone. It didn’t matter if something came along and ate it. They just needed to come back to that area for another try.
Sam sat in the car and didn’t lock himself in. He held his head in both hands and tried not to move his mouth or jaw. He felt gingerly along the joints on either side, and Dean was right – it wasn’t just dislocated. He hadn’t hit the car straight on; he’d turned his head a little and taken the brunt of the hit on the right side. He’d had his jaw bruised before, but never broken; it was one of the injuries he’d managed to escape so far.
Dean returned and sat with him in the car for a moment, one hand gripping the back of Sam’s neck. It was a question. Sam nodded a little, then braced his palms under his jaw to hold it steady. Dean started the car and flipped the headlights on, then did a three-point turn and headed back for Murphy.
Emergency rooms were the same everywhere – you checked in and someone tried to decide how bad off you were. Sam could breathe and he wasn’t bleeding to death, so he was relegated to the waiting room for a while with gauze tied around the top of his head and under his jaw.
“You look like one of those old cartoon renditions of kids with toothaches,” Dean said. “That cut on your forehead where the weather stripping got you is gonna need a couple of stitches, I think.”
Sam settled for looking at him. Trying to say anything was pointless. He could say all he needed to with a few choice looks anyway. He made a gesture with one hand, come on, come on.
“What, you wanna know what happened?” Dean said.
“You fell out of the way and I plugged the one that hit you from behind,” Dean said. “First one was mostly just a decoy, I guess. So now we know what they look like, and we know there’s more than one, and we know they’re smart enough to plan the way they attack. Not werewolves, not hidebehinds. You didn’t hit the first one, by the way, and it was right there.”
Sam gave him another Look. “S’a aily-o.”
Dean shook his head a little. “Not your best swing at coherence, there, Sam.” He looked around for a pen. “Hold on, lemme...” He went over to the check-in desk and asked for a pen, then grabbed a flyer on STD’s that had awkward spacing between paragraphs. “Here you go.”
Sam looked at the flyer. He was officially having a very bad day. He clicked the top of the pen, sighed through his nose, and wrote TAILYPO.
“It’s not,” Dean said. “They’re about the size of a dog, Sam. These were bigger. And they had their tails, so since when do they wanna bug people who haven’t messed with them first?”
Sam underlined the word.
“Fine,” Dean said. “Don’t care what it is. It needs to be shot. How are you holdin’ up? It’s kind of swollen on the right side.”
Sam nodded a little. It wasn’t like he was going to admit to being in pain.
One of the admission nurses was calling for Sam.
“He can’t talk,” Dean said. “It’s probably broken.”
“And you are...?”
“His brother,” Dean said. “Bar fight. You know how those go.”
The look she gave him said she clearly didn’t.
When they took Sam for x-rays, Dean watched him go, then went back to the waiting room like he was supposed to. Once there, he fidgeted and watched the six other people in various stages of needing an ER watch him pace. Finally, he went back out to the parking lot, unable to sit still or focus on anything except the fact that Sam was genuinely hurt this time. He’d never had a broken jaw, dad had never had a broken jaw, he didn’t know what it all meant or what to do about it or how long it took to get over something like that. He had an automatic urge to be pissed at himself for not getting there fast enough, but Jesus, he couldn’t take a shot with Sam tangled up with the thing, and Sam had shot at it twice without hitting it. He’d shot at it and missed. They’d both been doing exactly what they should have when the second one attacked. They were equally at fault on this one. They hadn’t planned on more than one. None of these goddamn things ever appeared in twos. None of them. The whole thing had been screwed up. Were they getting soft and beginning to assume things? Cases where they didn’t just waste something after doing a little research were few and very far between. They were getting cocky.
He should never let Sam play bait. Ever. It was always a bad idea. Sam was crummy bait.
He ended up kicking the shit out of a trash can that was chained to the building when he couldn’t find anything to throw. Then he went back to where he’d parked the Impala before someone could come out and bitch at him for attacking hospital property. He circled the car a couple of times, then got in and made sure there were no weapons visible to anyone that might come poking around. It would probably be light before they got done with Sam. They’d have to hole up for at least a couple of days so Sam could get some rest. He could go do that, find a place.
It only took him about half an hour to find a small motel with kitchenettes. He paid ahead a couple of days but didn’t leave anything in the room yet; he wanted to see what was going on with Sam, first. They both had fingerprints on file, and it was remote, but there was still the chance that someone would get weird and decide to check everybody in the ER for wants and warrants. Paranoid? Shit, why not. Sam was 6' 4" with blue puppydog eyes and ridiculous dimples; who the fuck wouldn’t remember seeing him on some national broadcast asking people to watch out for this fugitive?
He walked back into the ER with an eye on every angle, checking to see if the same people were there, the same staff, no visible security guard. Nothing had changed except that two more people had been taken back to be checked out. He asked the guy at the desk if there was any word on Chris Wylie and the guy checked his computer and said yeah, still being treated. Dean asked if he could go back there, which wasn’t their usual thing – ever. Somebody kept an eye out for cops or weirdness while the other was getting patched up, and it had been that way since they could remember. Dad had quit staying in the ER with them by the age of fourteen. It was no big deal.
The guy gave him a visitor’s pass and buzzed the door to Dean’s right open, telling him Sam was in room 5, to the left.
Once the door closed behind him, he balked. Sam didn’t need him, Jesus, what was his problem? He should just wait out there until Sam came out all puffy and grouchy and doped up on pain meds. Sam wasn’t twelve, he didn’t need to be babied.
Then he just moved forward anyway, because Sam had been shoved against the car face-first hard enough to rock it on its tires and that meant the circumstances were different. He glanced around, at blue soiled lined bins that looked like recycling containers and small desk/workstations with monitors showing patient info; an EKG machine pushed against one wall (God, by now he knew what they looked like), a couple of empty IV poles, a wheelchair by one door waiting for someone to get back in. People in scrubs milled back and forth from a central point behind an open counter.
He looked above the doors for the numbers and poked his head into #5.
Sam was straddling one of the beds-on-wheels that were standard hospital fare. They were made for normal-sized people and that was not Sam. He had both hands braced under his jaw again -- the gauze was gone, and a soft ice pack was caught between his hand and jaw on the right side. He had really begun to bruise by then, Dean could see. He was watching and listening intently to a woman in blue scrubs as she explained something to him. Sam was not twelve, but he really looked twelve right then. His eyes were large and worried.
“ – lateral mandibular fracture in three places,” she was saying, pointing to something just out of Dean’s sight, and another step into the room revealed it was an x-ray stuck into a light box on the wall.
Sam saw the motion and flicked his eyes to him, and the sudden relief in his face and the set of his shoulders made Dean glad he’d come.
The doctor turned a little to look at him, oval-shaped gray eyes and shoulder length chestnut hair. “Hi,” she said, and Dean glanced at her badge to see that she was Dr. Mason. “Are you...?”
“His brother,” Dean said, gesturing at Sam with a tilt of his head. “Just checking on him. Uh...so, how bad is it?”
“Well, I was just telling him he’s got multiple fractures of the mandible – the lower jaw.”
Dean nodded and came further into the room, standing alongside Sam and patting him on the leg.
“He’s not going to need to stay, since there’s no evidence of anything but a very mild concussion, and there’s no severe bleeding or lack of support for the tongue. I was just explaining to him that we’re going to give him a mild sedative, and then we’ll need to wire his jaw shut to stabilize it and allow it to heal.”
Dean nodded at first, because it hadn’t really sunk in. He was focusing on the whole part about Sam not needing to stay, no severe injuries, no real danger, etc.
Then he realized she’d actually said wire his jaw shut and he felt his eyebrows rise. “Excuse me?”
“It’ll need to be wired shut to allow it to heal. He’s not going to need surgery, since the breaks are so clean, but his upper and lower teeth will need to be wired together to keep him from moving it for several weeks. Small elastics – rubber bands – will hold his teeth together. After a few weeks, some of them are removed so he can start moving the muscles again. It’s a fairly simple procedure.”
Dean had dropped his head forward out of disbelief. Was this legal? This was like some sort of torture-thing they did to people at Abu Ghraib, right? Wait. Something clicked. “This is like that one episode of the Simpsons, right? Where Homer got his jaw wired shut. They really do this to people in real life?”
To his surprise, she smiled. “Like that one episode, right. We see it a lot in car accident victims or skateboarders. Wiring it shut is the best way to keep the bones from moving or getting further out of place.”
“Es ahkay,” Sam said. “I anna ay own, oh. ‘Et ih ower ih.”
“He says it’s okay,” Dean said without looking at Sam. “He just wants to lie down, get this over with.”
Who had translated Sam’s every utterance when he’d first started really vocalizing as a baby? Their dad hadn’t even questioned him on it. Dean had just known what Sam needed. He wasn’t always good at that later, when Sam got older and turned into a moody bitch of a teenager, but by then it was better for them both if Dean quit trying to decipher him. He hadn’t understood Sam at first in the waiting room because all Sam had really said was Tailypo, and who can fuckin’ translate that? It didn’t come up in everyday conversation.
“We’ll get started in a couple of minutes,” Dr. Mason said. “Then I’ll give you a rundown of what to expect and what to do for the first few days.”
“How’s he supposed to eat?” Dean said.
“Liquids and very soft foods only,” she said. To Sam she added, “You won’t be able to get a straw between your teeth, so you’ll need to stick with things like Ensure or anything that can be liquified. I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Dean watched her go. As soon as they were alone, he turned to Sam with a severe gaze. “Sam,” he growled.
Sam shrugged, and the hangdog look was back on his face. Big, sad, puppydog eyes looked at him, conveying large amounts of worry and concern. His forehead wrinkled.
Dean slumped a little as he relented. He ran his fingers through the hair on the back of Sam’s head, combing it back into place, allowing himself to fuss over him just a little. Poor kid, getting his jaw wired shut. No cheeseburgers, none of his dumb salads, nothing but crummy nutrition drinks and maybe baby food. The really mushy crap.
“You always loved that peach cobbler stuff that Gerber makes, when you were a baby,” Dean said. “You loved that. Shit, I loved it. We used to put it on ice cream. That is some good shit. You liked the turkey, with rice cereal mixed in it, and the peas, and the squash. This isn’t so bad, there’s a lot of stuff you can eat. We’ll figure this out. Milkshakes and whatever you can suck through your teeth. This’ll just be annoying for awhile, that’s all. We can do this.”
Sam narrowed his eyes at him a little. “‘We’? We own ‘ah our ‘aw wire ‘ut.”
“Thank God,” Dean said. “That would really suck. Does it hurt a lot?”
Sam shook his head a little and sighed. “‘ome.”
Dean watched them wire his brother’s jaw closed with rising trepidation that never showed on his face. He was kind of alarmed by the whole thing, really. It wasn’t like they were stitching his lips together or anything, it was just really weird. It was more like having braces except they made you lock them together. They gave him a small pair of blunt scissors to cut the elastics in case of emergency, such as if Sam needed to puke.
Dean did blanch, then. Dude, puking with your teeth all caught together. Gross.
They gave him Sam’s release papers and some dietary suggestions along with a prescription for a mild pain killer and some liquid antibiotics. It would be three weeks before any of the elastics could be snipped.
His poor Sam.
Sam fell asleep in the car, and Dean woke him gently to get him into their room. Then Sam sat on the end of his bed, feeling gingerly along his jaw. Dean made him lie down after putting all the pillows in the room behind his back and head, pulling his boots off and covering him lightly.
“Gonna go get ice packs and stuff,” Dean said. “Okay? Your scissors are on the nightstand. Don’t puke.”
Sam hmmphd, eyes already closing.
Dean locked him in and wandered out into the morning, looking for the nearest pharmacy. He hadn’t wanted the hospital’s pharmacy because they’d really seen enough of that place already and he wanted to get Sam somewhere he could lie down. He wasn’t babying him or anything. Hell no. It was just that he’d never known anyone who’d had to have their mouth wired shut before. This was crazy shit, and he was just trying to get used to the idea.
There was a small pharmacy about a block from the motel, close to the hospital. While he waited for the prescriptions to be filled, he picked out a couple of soft ice packs and a couple of six packs of Ensure, figuring the chocolate one would be least likely to taste like shit. He found a few magazines that Sam generally liked, stuff like Discover and National Geographic. Then, to show how normal things were, he also picked up a Women’s Day and a Cosmo.
He found a chain grocery store and picked up some juice and a selection of baby food for when Sam finally got hungry. How the hell did anybody decide how much baby food to feed a damn big adult? Shit, the checker was going to think he had septuplets at home or something.
They were rarely sick, either of them. He couldn’t remember the last time Sam had been sick enough to have to really stay in bed since he’d been a teenager, since quite awhile before he’d left for college. He’d had a really bad case of the flu at fifteen, and really, nothing that bad since. Healthy as a horse, that kid. Broken wrist: twice, broken fingers, broken ribs, really messed up an ankle once, and his nose had been broken a couple of times. Sprained back, lots of bruises and cuts...nothing worse than a half cast for the wrist, over his whole life. They’d been pretty lucky. This wasn’t that bad, it was just new. He was getting rattled over something that just wasn’t that big of a deal because it should have been a simple hunt and he really hated being surprised.
He got coffee and wolfed down a McMuffin from a McD’s because he didn’t want to bring solid food back to the room if Sam couldn’t have it. Shit, that really sucked.
Sam was asleep when he got back, so he put the ice packs in the freezer and the juice in the fridge and settled on his own bed to watch TV with the sound down low. He read the instructions on the meds and wrinkled his nose at the droppers they came with. Cough syrup was bad enough; liquid antibiotics and painkillers were going to taste like nuclear waste. Good thing he’d bought that juice. Sam could sip that first and then gag down the meds.
There were still things out there, on those roads. They’d need to take another crack at it, when Sam was feeling better, but no way was Sam going to help.
Sam awoke a few hours later, grimacing. Dean mixed some pureed turkey baby food with broth and microwaved it, then gave Sam an Ensure to wash it down with so he could take his meds. Sam raised his eyebrows. “‘ot ‘ad.”
“For what it is, yeah,” Dean said. “Not too bad.” He leaned over a little and grinned. “In a few weeks, when you’re a big boy, we’ll try some teething biscuits! Isn’t that exciting, Sammy?”
Sam flipped him off and settled down with an ice pack and the National Geographic.
Dean screwed around on the laptop for awhile, comparing what he was reading with the pictures on his cell phone of the thing he’d shot hours earlier. The description fit, basically, but he was loathe to tell Sam he was probably right just yet. Serious claws, dog-like tail and ears. They were too damn big to be Tailypo, though – even though he knew not everything conformed exactly to its legendary parameters all the time. There had to be plenty to eat up in that area, so he couldn’t figure out why they were waiting for solitary breakdowns. Opportunity? Had a hunter taken one of them, and they were just evening the score? The legend said Tailypo didn’t take issue with people until they were messed with first, and especially if their tails were taken. That didn’t mean the whole legend was true. Whatever it was, Tailypo was a good enough moniker to give them for now. He’d seen them and knew how to get their attention. If they were that smart, then they’d be wary of tackling humans for a little while, so it was just as well that he and Sam would be taking it easy for at least a few days.
He read Sam’s release papers again, especially the part about no strenuous activity for a few days. True, they didn’t know how tough Winchesters were, but this once they could stay put and let things settle.
It occurred to him for just an instant to drop Sam at Bobby’s so he could really heal for several weeks, but he just as quickly shot it down. The idea of not having Sam with him was much worse than it ever had been; it left him with a hollow, sick feeling of impending loss. Maybe he was a little too dependent on Sam, these days, maybe they really were getting soft. He really couldn’t do this stuff without Sam. Plus, trying to convince Sam to stay put while Dean went off on his own? Right. He might as well get his own jaw wired shut since the argument would be about that effective.
The first night was pretty easy, considering. Sam was hungry and grouchy most of the time, but he adapted to the whole situation quicker than most people would have. He was a champion at adapting. It came with the territory.
The next day was full of checking for any local mention of missing people or bloodied vehicles, or peculiar furry corpses. Dean was forced to admit that they probably had been Tailypo. Sam had smirked with the left side of his mouth but hadn’t attempted a comment.
Dean wasn’t willing to admit it aloud, but after two days, he was missing Sam’s voice. Once the swelling went down a little more, he’d be able to talk as long as he enunciated carefully with his lips. Everything was going to come out sounding like he was pissed off, teeth all gritted and locked together.
Dean plotted routes on the mountain roads and picked out the next ‘breakdown’ spot. He wondered if he should rent a car. The bastards might recognize the car, and he couldn’t be too careful.
The third day, he ran his plot by Sam.
“No,” Sam gritted carefully from between his teeth. “You’re not going out there by yourself. Are you out of your mind?”
“Hey,” Dean said, “they’re gonna smell you and remember you. Plus, it’s my turn, now. Nobody’s risking one of these fuckers bashing your head in.”
“All I gotta do is sit up in the woods with a rifle,” Sam said. “I’m not gonna be moving around much. I’ll knock you out if you try and do this by yourself.”
His speech was slow and deliberate and occasionally slurred while he tried to wrangle with a non-moving jaw and a tongue that was still a little sore. But he made himself very plain.
“Worked real good that way the first time, didn’t it,” Dean said.
“Don’t you pull this stubborn bullshit, Dean,” Sam growled. He was an inch away by then, feet out at shoulder width, using his size to make a point about how serious he was. “I’m not that hurt.”
“You’re not getting nearly enough to eat,” Dean said. “It’s already showing up on you, you don’t have the energy to stay awake long enough to spend a whole cold fall night in the fuckin’ mountains. The damp and cold are gonna make you miserable. You’re not gonna be very sharp, and when I got you pointing guns in my direction, I prefer you at the top of your game. Now how much of that is bullshit?”
“You’re babying me again,” Sam said. “I thought we got past this.”
“I hate it when you get hurt,” Dean said, looking away. “Okay? I hate it.”
“I’m not so hot on it either,” Sam said. “The longer we wait, the less energy I’ll probably have. So we’ve gotta do this soon, because me off my game is still a hell of a lot better than nothing. You wanna have Bobby come out and help? Admit we can’t do this even though it’s just a little jaw fracture? I did fine with a broken wrist, Dean, so what the hell is this all about?”
Dean shook his head and moved away.
“Are we done hunting for six weeks, then?” Sam said, arms spread wide. “This is just something we have to adjust to. I’m not gonna sit around for all that time. I’ll drink a dozen Ensure a day, the high protein weight-gain ones, I’ll carry them around in my pockets and take vitamins. I can’t believe we gotta have this conversation. Can I try the strawberry or vanilla ones, by the way? Chocolate’s getting old.”
Dean kept his back to him. “Fine. If I think you’re not up to it, though, we’re calling it off. I’m serious, Sam.”
Sam waited for him to turn back around. When he didn’t, he said, “It’ll be fine. You know it. We’re the only ones who really know what’s going on and can do something about it. So we gotta move on this before somebody else breaks down up there.”
Dean sighed. Sam would only get weaker over time if he didn’t get enough to eat; if they were going to get it done, they’d have to do it soon, and then take a little time off.
What if there was a whole pack or family or whatever of those things?
One problem at a time.
Dean ended up renting a car, a white two door ‘95 Honda Civic. Sam put as much nutrition in himself as he could about an hour before they headed out. It was an hour or so until dark, and Sam was dressed for a cool night in the mountains while pretty much smelling like nothing more than an evergreen. Dean had rubbed teaberry leaves into his hair while snickering.
He let Sam out about half a mile down from where he intended to wait, about three miles from their previous spot on route NC1331B. He watched Sam trudge into the woods until he was out of sight. It was beginning to get dark, and he didn’t want Sam navigating the woods in the dark.
He drove a half mile or so further, then pulled off and put the hazards on. He wasn’t sure the same ruse was going to work twice, only days later, but it was all they had. Entire search teams hadn’t been able to find anything, how the hell were he and Sam going to try and trap the things on their own?
He left the driver’s side door open and listened to the really annoying ding ding ding of the ‘hey, idiot, your door’s open’ alarm while he set a flare for good measure. “Goddamnit!” he shouted. “I hate this fuckin’ car. Worst place in the world to break down!” He reached in and flipped the radio on, loud. He didn’t want anything to pick up on Sam moving through the woods above. If anything was paying attention, all that attention needed to be on him and him alone. Some country station was the only thing that would come in, and some guy was warbling about how he should have been sleeping.
“I hate North Carolina!” Dean shouted. Okay, that was the truth. He pounded on the car’s hood for good measure. There had been a little bit of fog cropping up in the lower areas on their way up there, and he really hoped it didn’t roll in any further. The last goddamn thing they needed was fog.
He sat on the hood while it was still warm, before the metal could start freezing his ass. He looked everywhere but where Sam would be settling. He wasn’t thinking about the possibility that Sam had tripped and fallen and hit his jaw on something. He really wasn’t thinking about stuff like that, because it would make him try and call Sam, assuming there was any reception....
He looked. There wasn’t. Not even right on the road. Jesus.
Sam was fine and could take care of himself.
By an hour after full dark, the wood had grown cold enough and Dean got up to flip the radio off and save the battery. He whistled instead, taking a stab at Metallica’s Unforgiven. It really lacked something without a proper bass line, but hey. He flipped the safety off his sidearm and rolled his shoulders to loosen them, circling the car to keep his muscles warm.
Three more hours passed that way.
He had long since run out of pucker. He knew that if there was anything out there, it was already watching him. It had to be, if it was any kind of hunter. It was probably playing it safe.
He began to toy with just calling it off for awhile, shouting for Sam and heading back. It really could wait a few more days, a week or two. Maybe it was better to move on and come back in a couple of months. It wasn’t like the locals weren’t already aware that they had to be really careful on those roads. They’d already been half successful, assuming there were only two of the things up there.
He sat down in the car, turned sideways so that his feet were flat on the worn asphalt. He held his gun in both hands, listening carefully.
Had the victims all been sitting in their cars with the doors closed, maybe snoozing, waiting for daylight so they could try walking out? Had the things opened the doors and started chewing away?
He got out and stood with his back to the open car door, making sure the passenger door was locked. He only had three sides to watch, that way, with Sam watching the fourth. He would not underestimate the things a second time. If nothing happened this time, they really would have to pack it in for at least a month. It wasn’t like they could try this trick two nights in a row. They were already pushing it by trying it again several nights later.
He heard the scrape of claws on asphalt an instant before he saw it, a small, dog-shaped darkness that crawled toward him, low to the road, almost on its belly. He took that all in as he raised his gun and centered on it, finger taking up the slack on the trigger, and then....
The tail wagged.
It was not a dog. It was a small Tailypo, lamplike eyes gazing up at him unblinking, the size of a cocker spaniel, large ears pinned back.
He felt the car shift when something heavy hit the roof of it, felt claws graze the back of his neck, heard both shots from the woods and then the adult Tailypo fell forward onto him, dead weight knocking him to the pavement, blood gushing from its shattered skull. He kicked out with both legs, trying to free himself from the weight so he could try and get a bead on any others nearby.
The creatures hadn’t had to open the doors, after all. Something small and cute had come up and looked like a lost puppy and caused the lone, stranded drivers to open the doors for themselves.
He rolled the adult off him in time to watch the smaller one stand up on its hind legs from several yards away. It was shrieking and hopping in place, panicking and probably too young to know what to do. The parents had been teaching the kids how to hunt, and humans were so easy.
He raised the gun toward it again and knew it was the best thing to do. It was being raised to hunt humans, goddamnit, he had to do it, no way he was coming back out there ever again to try and catch one more adult monster. Shit!
He sat there on his knees on the road and centered on it, watching as it dropped to all fours and bolted for the woods. The shot he heard never came from his own gun, though; it flipped into the air and then writhed on the pavement, still shrieking, spine severed by Sam’s third shot.
He got up, using the car to shove himself to his feet. Then he walked over and centered on it for the last time, watching small claws flash in the intermittent light from the hazards. He cursed when he shot it twice in the head.
It lay still, small and seeming almost frail.
He walked back to the car and checked to make sure the adult was dead. The fur was soft, as soft as the first one’s had been. He nudged it with a foot several times, gun held steady on its ruined head, then placed a hand flat just behind the foreleg. Nothing.
He leaned against the car and caught the breath he hadn’t realized he’d lost.
Sam came out of the woods less than a minute later, moving stiffly and with care. He stood next to Dean and listened to the dark, waiting to see if anything else came along. Then he walked over to the juvenile Tailypo and picked it up by the scruff of its neck. It couldn’t have been any more than 15 - 20 pounds, so Dean didn’t worry about letting him do it. Sam didn’t bring it closer, just headed for the other side of the road with it, where there was enough space in the brush to dig a decent hole. Dean didn’t need him to say anything to know what he planned, so he went for the trunk, for the shovel they’d brought just in case they had to hide any evidence.
He followed Sam just inside the woods with the shovel and began to dig. He went about three feet down into slightly rocky forest loam, and watched Sam fold the small corpse up and tuck it in. He covered it wordlessly, packing the dirt down as much as he could.
The adult he dragged off into the woods by a good twenty yards or so, same as the first, and left it as sign or warning to whatever else was out there.
They sat in the car for a few minutes while Dean let it warm up. Sam used a sleeve to try and get some of the blood off the back of Dean’s neck. It was already drying in his hair, and there was nothing for that until he could get back to the motel and into the shower.
“It was being raised to hunt humans,” Sam said, the words even tougher than usual since his jaw had tightened in the cold. There was no judgment in his tone, no sympathy, no scolding. It was a simple statement. “It doesn’t mean you’re soft. It means you’re human.”
Dean nodded. That was answer enough.
“Oh, hey,” Sam said. “This.”
Dean held up a jar of Gerber’s chicken and apples. “This one again? C’mon. How about this one, the veggie beef?”
“Needs salt,” Sam said.
“They all need salt, Sam. You know how weird this looks, right?”
They were down the baby food aisle again, trying to stock up. Sam still had about a week to go before any of the elastics could be snipped, and he’d become quite the connoisseur of first foods. Sam hadn’t lost as much weight as Dean had feared he would, but he’d definitely dropped a few pounds. Smoothies and yogurt and applesauce and pudding were beginning to get old. Strawberry Ensure tasted like crap. Soup was boring. At least the extra protein and calcium supplements would help him heal faster. Sam just really, really wanted to brush the inside surfaces of his teeth. Mouthwash would have to do for a while longer.
“Turkey and rice,” Dean said. “Mmm.”
“I could deal with that.”
Sam had also managed to stop sounding like he was half drunk and pissed off when he spoke. It was still strange to hear him talk through his teeth, but it was less disconcerting.
“So we look like a gay couple shopping for baby food,” Sam said. “We always look like a gay couple. Who cares?”
Dean sighed. That was an old argument and he didn’t want to have it again.
“You can eat solid food in front of me, you know,” Sam said as they headed for the register. “It’s okay. Quit hiding it.”
“You’d do it for me,” Dean said.
“No I wouldn’t. I’d eat apples right in front of you.”
“That’d be fine,” Dean said. “I hate apples anyway. Loser.”
“Then you wouldn’t care,” Sam said. “I hate most of the shit you eat anyway. Get it?”
“Whatever,” Dean said.
Dean put the groceries in the back seat, then watched Sam get in.
“You think there’s any more?” Dean said.
Sam looked at him for a moment. “You still worrying about the Tailys? Seriously, you gotta let this go. If one was a male and the other was female, sure, maybe there was a litter, but no way to find out.”
“I wasn’t about to look too close under the tails, Sam,” Dean said.
“We’ve done everything we can do. So can we go? I like the chicken and apples all stirred into that low sodium chicken broth.”
When they got back to the motel, Dean mixed it together for him, but made a point of testing it on his wrist to see how hot it was, just to annoy Sam.
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