“Sam, why’re there cops outside?” Dean grumbles sleepily. He draws his pillow over his head.
Every few seconds red light arcs through their window from the parking lot below. At least the sirens had stopped; somehow Dean had slept straight through those. They'd shown up around daybreak and hadn't bothered letting up for at least an hour. Sam sighs.
“I dunno, SWAT hasn’t called my personal number yet,” he replies.
“Well, if they do, remember I’m dead. Fuck.”
Dean resurfaces from beneath his pillow and throws it at the window. It arcs neatly over Sam’s laptop. “Gotta take a leak.”
“No, why are you dead?”
Dean winces as he slides his legs off the bed, massages his knee. “St. Louis? Your friend. Skinwalker--right, Becky, that’s her name. Mmm, Becky.”
“Oh, so not rawhead.”
“What would that have to do with SWAT? Fuck!”
“Sorry for confusing your mortal perils.”
“Not you.” Dean draws in a shuddering breath. His leg doesn’t seem to take his weight, and he crumples. Tries to catch himself on the side of his bed and ends up with his ass on the floor anyway.
“We should really get that looked at,” says Sam.
“Yeah, well. Next time I blow my load getting my heart destroyed, I’ll make sure I take that into consideration,” Dean snaps. There's such heat to the remark, and unexpected bitterness, that Sam jumps to attention.
Dean must mistake it for a flinch, because he backpedals. “Insurance is maxed,” he clarifies. He's quieter now, like this is an addendum he’s not sure he wants Sam to hear.
Second time’s the charm. Dean moves weight into his right leg more carefully this time, hands wadded in the blankets as he pushes himself upright. His knee holds.
With one smooth jerk, he strips the blankets clean from Sam’s body and dumps them on the floor.
Sam yelps, and his toes curl at the sudden chill.
“Asshole!” Sam shouts, as he drives over the side of the bed to retrieve the sheets.
Dean laughs, a muted cackle from the bathroom.
A few minutes later, he emerges shaven, towel-tousled, and starving. Forget knees; forget nightmares. Just like that, they've moved on to the next adventure.
Dean shoots a look at the possum bed, and chuckles. “I can’t believe you, Sam. Of all your strange-ass--”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“We can still ask for a switch, you know.”
“Well, now it’d just be weird.”
Dean shrugs. “Fair enough. Look, I’m gonna find that microwave and see about these pies,” he says, sifting through the plastic bags Sam had, at some point, tossed onto their ironing board.
“No, I can go,” Sam protests, because the way Dean’s moving suggests that he probably shouldn’t be. “I already know where it is.”
“This ain’t exactly the Overlook, Sam. I’m not gonna get lost.”
Sam frowns, but he knows a fruitless fight when he tastes one. “Microwave’s back at check-in; dunno if you saw it last night. Apparently some guests started microwaving the rats, so now they like to--you know. Keep tabs.”
Dean grimaces. “I’ll say it again: shitty motel.”
He pockets the two pies and slowly leans down to mess with his boots. He grimaces again and backslides solidly out of their new adventure and into the remnants of their last.
"Did you re-wrap?"
“We have more of those meds," Sam reminds him. "Seemed to help last night."
Dean lights up at this, which means either he’s forgotten his tirade against their side effects, or the balance has shifted, and they now are lesser evils. Even for Dean, pain will out.
“How many we got?” he asks.
“Dunno, they’re down by you.”
Dean rummages, retrieves, and shakes. Then his light goes out, and he puts the bottle back. Then out again. Then back. Then into his pocket, unconsumed.
“So how many was that?” Sam asks.
“Look, I’m just gonna go to the microwave, try and stretch this out again,” Dean replies, slapping his leg.
This suggests to Sam that the number, like their health insurance, is nearing the end of its usefulness.
Before Sam can object, Dean adds, "Also, you look like a sno-cone.”
Sam pulls the blanket tighter around himself. “It’s cold.”
Of course, when Dean doesn’t come back, Sam decides that yes, it’s cold, but he’s probably even colder if it turns out Dean’s slipped to his death on the icy stairwell and Sam doesn’t at least try to recover the body.
“You know, before it freezes to the ground, and things get messy,” Sam adds, after he finds Dean downstairs, not dead, rubbernecking the police action downstairs. Sam cups his hands over his mouth and breathes out hard to warm them.
“My cold, dead body appreciates that, Sam. Don’t wanna end up like your possum.”
Dean leans against him as he tries to crane his neck and get a better look at the crime scene.
They’re standing at the edge of a police barrier set up around the room directly below theirs. There’s an ambulance, but it’s not going anywhere. No rush, clearly. The medical examiner just showed up, and Sam suspects Dean’s waiting for the body to come out.
“They’re saying it was some kind of sex thing,” Dean puffs in disbelief, his exhalations warm against Sam’s neck. “How does that work?”
“Seriously, we’re out here rubbernecking because you’re an idiot? It’s like -40.”
“Please, 8 with wind chill, if that. How do you die from sex?”
“My god, you’re actually an idiot. Heart attack, stroke--”
“Sure, if you’re Sam Winchester shagging 90-year olds.”
“You’ve had a heart attack. Like two weeks ago, Dean.”
“Okay, but you realize the bedroom version of ‘I felt a spark’ is a line, right?”
“--succubi, thokolosi, encantados, lidercs--”
“Why do you just know those?”
“Do you know what the family business is? Or is this like, hypothermic amnesia because we’re still standing out here for no reason?”
“I’m just saying, I’ve had a lot of sex in a lot of places. Some of those places--ehhhh, selection was a little iffy. But I’ve never had sex with an empanada. Or an--”
“Encantado,” corrects Sam. “It’s uh, well. It’s a dolphin. Sort of. It--”
Dean caves into Sam, hard and sudden, and in spite of himself, Sam’s heart leaps.
But Dean’s just trying to lower himself under the police tape.
Dean wobbles as he rights himself on the other side of the barrier.
“Sam, we know this guy.”
Apparently, they were roadtripping with this guy. College buddies--Bellingham to St. Louis. Or at least, that’s what Dean tells the detective. Sam’s never seen this guy in his life. The most familiar thing about him is the mottled bruising around his neck, and that’s nothing personal--just the job. It's obvious Dean knows him--and just as obvious is Dean's easy slippage from "Dean" to "we," as though Sam had never been gone, had never lived his own, old, and other life.
And honestly, that pisses him off. About eleven seconds into Dean's college boy routine Sam pulls out, leaving Dean to his own histrionic devices. "College buddies," his ass. The whole charade burns; and it's not that Dean's rendition of college life is offensive or inaccurate. The whole thing seems so stupid, though. The dead guy's thirty, easy; Dean could have picked literally any other costume. But no, they're college buddies.
And maybe it shouldn't matter; it shouldn't bother Sam at all. But today it fucking does.
Maybe that's what it all was to Dean--Stanford was some weird college-themed acid trip of Sam's. Sam doesn't know and he knows he doesn't really care--not usually. He's never expected Dean to understand that part of him.
But today it grates. It makes his friends feel like costumes. It makes Jess seem--like she was just a part in a play. Exit, burned on ceiling. It's fucking infuriating. Or devastating. Or--
You'll never know her, Sam thinks, as he scans the detective. Dean will never know her. None of these people are ever going to get the chance to--
Then he sees something. Just a glimmer. Like light glancing off a penny.
"Hey, earth to Sam!"
Dean's voice is sharp, and his grip on Sam's wrist smarts. He's pulling Sam's hand away from the body. "Don't add necro to your Weird Sex 101 for the day, man," Dean hisses, more privately.
Sam jerks backward, suddenly aware again of the world around him. He'd had his fingers around the dead guy's throat.
Dean grips Sam's shoulder for a moment. He looks like he's about to speak, to offer his concern or to launch into some bizarre narrative of Sam and Dead Guy's mutually consensual throat-touching fetish or whatever, but Sam spares himself the trouble of either by speaking first.
"Do you know what--I mean, who--killed him?" he asks frostily.
The voice in his head insists, one last time, to anyone in psychic earshot, You'll never know her the way I did. Your loss.
"No sign he had any company, if that's what you mean," says the detective.
"So, doors locked, no one in or out, nothing like that?"
“Son,” says the detective gravely. “They found your friend with his pants at his ankles and a belt around his neck. Hanging off the doorknob by his own damn belt!
"I’ll let you two figure out what to tell his folks.”
Then there's a clatter of static across multiple police radios, and the detective excuses himself, marches briskly toward a uni. From what Sam can gather, a car spun out on Highway 2 like a marble and now the whole freeway’s a mess. That means this dead drifter’s dropped a thousand rungs on a couple ladders. So the cops haul the body off to the morgue and all they do to secure the scene is lock the door and tell the motel guy to cancel the maid service. Sam’s certain that won't be an issue.
And really, what was there to secure? Sam's seen no evidence of any other guests here, so it's probably just them and the motel guy--and frankly, motel guy's acting bored enough that this probably isn't the first time someone's died at his motel. He knows the drill. Not to mention the police probably expect him and Dean to follow them to the morgue, grief-stricken college buddies that they are.
“Guess I’m glad we got the possum room,” Dean murmurs, as the tide of police recedes.
“You think the possum’s connected?” Sam asks, dubious.
“Nah,” Dean says, as he makes a move on the door's lock. “I'm just saying, I'll take the random possum. Because it’s just like you said--only gets worse.”
“Let’s see how worse,” Sam mutters.
Because sure, maybe it's a natural death. Shit happens. But if Dean's interested, then the guy's probably some hunter. And if the guy's a hunter, then they don’t have a choice but to investigate. Statistically speaking, if there’s a hunter around, there’s probably shit going down. And 'probably' usually means yes.
Of course, all Sam wants to do is get the hell out of here. They have enough of their own shit to deal with; they don't need to inherit this guy's. But he knows Dean's not gonna let them leave. In Dean's book, that's just not something you get to do.
And--that glimmer. Which Sam may or may not have seen. But Sam's been seeing a lot of things lately, and he knows he can't rule that out, either.
When the door swings open, Sam’s half-expecting a wall of strange to greet them. Newspaper clippings, crime scene photos, scans of ancient texts. But the walls are bare and the room is empty, except for the fifth of whiskey on the nightstand and several empty boxes of those pocket pies, crumby traces littering the floor.
Sam picks one up. “Wow. You must have been best friends,” he deadpans.
Instead of a retort, there’s a whoosh as Dean drops onto the bed behind him.
Sam turns to find Dean with his eyes screwed meditatively shut, his jaw set. 11:45AM and it’s Knee 1, Dean Winchester 0.
It occurs to Sam, briefly and impulsively, that in this instance it might not matter what Dean would or would not let them do. He's in no position to make that call, let alone enforce it; and maybe some things are worth more than some dead hunter. Like finding Dad. Like helping Dean.
Who could easily end up just some dead hunters, Sam realizes. They all could.
So Sam doesn't argue for another game plan. They can't leave; it's hunter honor code, or something. It might be the one rule hunting even has--if a guy goes down, you gotta get the thing that killed him.
According to John Winchester.
Still, even if the guy was a hunter--and Sam's just assuming, since annoyingly, Dean has yet to volunteer any actual information--Sam's not convinced there's a thing to kill. By now all of last night's paranoias seem stupid, and this just feels like some guy who made a dumb mistake.
“See if you can find his bag,” Dean wheezes, when he realizes Sam’s staring at him expectantly. He slips their pill bottle from his pocket.
“Are you okay?”
“Ask me in half an hour.” Dean tries to raise his leg, as if to check whether painkillers were an instantaneous fix after all, but it’s as misguided as Sam presumed it would be.
“How many more of those do we have?” Sam asks again.
“I really don’t care.” Dean takes a deep, thirsty breath. “Just-- Go find something useful.”
“So you think he was actually working a case,” Sam says. "I'm just assuming he's a hunter. Since we're obviously not college buddies."
Dean shrugs. If he catches the venom in Sam's tone, he ignores it. “Notes, wallet, the rest of his booze. Figure he’s no good to any of it anymore, so it's all fair game if we find it. If it's a monster, we'll kill it. And if it's spoils, well. To the victors.”
Sam’s not sure what to say to that.
“I’ll call someone, if that makes you feel better,” Dean promises. "But I can guarantee you this guy doesn't have a will. His shit's going in our trunk or it's going in the dumpster."
Three seconds crumble between them and Sam's still not sure what to say, so he pushes deeper into the room, silent.
Two weeks ago, Dean was too noble to get help from a faith healer; two minutes ago, too noble to just fucking leave and deal with their own shitstorm. Now they're grave robbing, and from a hunter. Yes, the very same hunter they're now honorably bound to avenge.
Sam upends the guy's bathroom, the toiletries weathering the brunt of Sam's frustration. He finds the guy’s wallet, and more booze. There’s a toothbrush balanced on the lip of the sink, run down to almost nothing. It’s impressive; Sam’s already lost or forgotten seven toothbrushes in the last six months, which he’d always assumed was just a curse of the road. Not for this guy, though.
His name is--Sam glances at the ID in the wallet--Mackie Sutherland, from Keating, Nebraska--and he loves this toothbrush.
There’s also two different kinds of floss in the trashcan, balled up as though their user rubbed them between his palms before disposing of them. Sam gags a little.
The rest is unremarkable--a handful of cheap razors, bundled together with a rubber band; a bottle of dandruff shampoo smattered with bright orange clearance stickers; a Speed Stick. Maybe fifty bucks in tens and ones. There’s a Polaroid against the mirror, the guy and some woman--pretty, in a starched white shirt. She has a name tag, but it’s too blurry to read.
None of that is much to go on, if Sam's looking for some kind of biography. The sum total of Mackie Sutherland’s belongings is a ratty backpack filled with socks, a T-shirt, a pair of muddy jeans and several underwears (soiled, to Sam’s dismay). There’s a gun at the bottom of the bag, and a rosary. A fraying box of ammo, mostly empty. Other than that, he has a cell phone--plugged in, but dead. Bum outlet.
Or power surge, Sam reminds himself, because this could be a case. Still, he can’t shake the sense that it’s not; it’s a drooping feeling, heavy and sluggish. There’s no murder here, no vengeance to exact; no line of duty to validate his passing. Just a guy and his dick and a mistake. And two more guys, just robbing his grave.
He and Dean aren’t helping anyone with this. It's shameful to even pretend.
When Sam re-emerges with the pack, Dean’s on the ground, though it seems like this was more or less intentional. He is, in fact, checking under the bed--no possum. Just a sock. Dean lets the coverlet drop.
“You’re not going to get that?” Sam says.
“I’m sorry, were you not raised in this claptrap?”
One of these days, Sam should tell him that’s not what that word means, and that's not how it's used.
“It could be a poor man’s hex bag,” Sam points out.
“Your possum is a poor man’s hex bag,” Dean snaps, then shushes him.
It’s then Sam realizes Dean’s on the phone, presumably with Mackie’s “folks.”
He allows himself to be shushed.
Just another dead hunter or not, Mackie’s the first one Sam’s actually seen. Before he’d left, he’d never been welcome on a hunt where anything short of your own stupidity was likely to get you killed; his father was big on ‘Your training will save you,’ a mantra oft repeated. If John didn’t know what a thing was, or how to take it down, Sam was fifty miles away, in some library, doing bookwork at a distance. And Dean was with him. Usually. Sometimes. Sam’s actually not sure.
These last six months with Dean have probably been the most danger Sam’s ever headlined, even with the whole of his childhood in the running. If John’s ever buried a hunter, Sam certainly wasn't allowed to know. Because if you know what’s out there, and it gets you killed, that’s your own damn fault. In his father’s words: Your training will protect you. Listen to me. Don’t you ever walk away from this. This is what will keep you safe. You know how to hunt, and you will be protected.
You will always be protected.
It’s not that Sam’s ever believed this--living under Dean’s sky will inure you to the wonders of hyperbole pretty quick--but he’s glad, nevertheless, that Dean’s the one making this call. That he knows what to say. He knows how to explain, probably to that woman in the white shirt, what happened. Maybe he even knows her name. Knows what she'll need to hear.
Sam’s glad it’s Dean, and not him, making that call.
And then Sam’s not.
“Heya! Yeah, just looping you in. Mackie’s dead,” Dean says, without a hint of condolence. He's not even holding it--it's nestled casually between his cheek and shoulder.
“Yeah. Yeah, we’ll pour one over for him,” Dean continues.
If nothing else, that doesn’t sound like damage control for the earth-shattering heartbreak Dean just turned into a sound bite. The rest of the conversation sounds just as trite.
"Um, that’s complicated," Dean says. Yeah, he’ll keep them in the loop. Yeah, okay. Yeah, yeah. Thirty seconds later, Dean signs off with “You do you, Roy. Whatever,” and that’s that. Check bereavement off the To Do list. It makes Sam wonder how Dean even chose whom to call.
"Who was that?" Sam asks.
"A guy named Roy," Dean answers tersely.
"Another hunter?" Sam asks again.
"That'd be the circle we share, yeah," Dean says, still more terse. He's treating it like a stupid question.
"It's not like me and him and Mackie all went to book club," Dean continues. "What else would he be?"
“Okay, so you know these guys,” Sam redirects. It's an open invitation to elaborate, but Dean’s still checking the carpet for god knows what. “Like, Roy and Mackie. You all know each other. Is there some kind of hunter listserv I don’t know about?”
“You knew this guy, Mackie,” Sam revises. "There a story there, or…?"
Dean shrugs. “Not really. Never really knew him; don't plan to start now. You were the one getting literally touchy-feely with him, so--”
"Well, I mean. Are you okay? We're in his motel room, checking this out. You obviously care that he's dead."
"Don't you? He's a hunter, Sam. I dunno about you, but I don't want to end up like your little marsupial friend!"
“I'm just saying, you knew who to call. Like--”
“Not really,” Dean admits. “Roy's just another guy.”
"Are you doing this just to be annoying?"
Sam crosses his arms. "Answering with non-answers."
"He's a guy. He's a hunter. Odds are, something probably followed him here, killed him, and now we gotta finish the job. Where's the mystery?"
Sam wants to ask, Who is he to you? Why is this important to you? But after all the work it took to get Dean to divulge the bare minimum, Sam can't figure out how to phrase it in a way that doesn't make his curiosity sound like an inquisition. Sue him for wanting to know more about his brother.
"If Roy's 'just another guy,' are you actually gonna call someone who matters? Is Roy?" Sam asks.
All Dean says is, “Uh, probably not.”
“Then what's the point? How are you gonna tell his family, or his girlfriend, or--”
“Well, Sam,” Dean cuts in, exasperation burnt into the words. He doesn’t bother looking up. “He ain’t exactly a Jessica Moore.”
Sam’s mind stops. Like plowing into a stone wall.
He feels the crush in his chest and his throat and all too quick it blossoms at his forehead, too. Sharp pain in his sinuses. He barely registers Dean still talking. Dean says, Real talk, Sam. Mackie probably doesn’t have any of that shit. And if he does, Dean sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to--
“Whoa,” Dean trails off.
It's not an apology. He's not paying attention to Sam anymore. Instead, he's got his gaze fixed on the carpet.
Sam orders his heart to keep beating, his lungs to reinflate, his eyes to see. Don’t think about her, don’t
He looks down, too. There’s a trail of tiny, slender pins tracing the pattern of the carpet. They’re obvious where Dean pressed them flat, and Sam can see the ones standing by Dean’s fingers, dark against white skin. Dean presses down more, and there must be hundreds--all pointing the same direction, as if the carpet had grown quills.
“Well, that’s weird,” says Dean.
Sam tries to give a damn about weirdness.