Dedicated to Cathy, and a midnight dinner at Denny's.
First appeared in Rooftop Confessions 3 (2008), from GriffinSong Press

Airport '07
K Hanna Korossy

He hated airports.

Not just because of their inevitable connection to the tin boxes of death that he could see even now taking off and landing through the large windows, although that would have been enough. But no, on top of that they required him to get rid of all his weapons, go practically naked, and if that wasn't adding insult to injury, Dean didn't know what was. All in all, airports were out to get him.

But Sam had been insistent. The attacks on several people inside the Nevada airport hadn't been fatal, just severe and unusual enough that they'd caught the younger Winchester's interest. Escaped dog, Dean had insisted. The victims were gored with horns, Dean, Sam had shot back, and next thing Dean knew, they were headed west.

It still didn't exactly explain why he was the one who was going through security with a forged boarding pass to check out the bowels of the airport, while Sam interviewed staff on the outside. He could be sneaky that way. Exposure therapy, he'd called it with a grin, whatever the heck that meant, and Dean wouldn't have gone for it except that stewardesses were way hotter than airline counter reps. One particular blonde in a tight navy United uniform had looked him up and down with totally inappropriate interest, and…yeah, maybe this wasn't such a bad idea. Had to hold his end up of the job, after all, right? Dean had snatched the boarding pass out of Sam's hand with a smile and queued up at security.

Or the line from Hell, whichever.

People with suitcases the size of the Impala's whole trunk juggled for place in line, banging into his shins and running over his feet. Tired, overstimulated kids bawled, and idiots with a full half-hour in line to get their paperwork out fumbled through a dozen pockets at the checkpoint to find their IDs. Dean tried to focus on the blonde and resist the urge to go postal on the guy in front of him who was yakking into his cell phone even though the security guy was waiting to see his ticket.

Up ahead, on the other side of the metal detectors, there was a stir and murmur, momentarily cresting over the normal flow of airport noise.

Dean cast a mild eye that way, both curious and not. The sooner he could get this little fact-finding mission out of the way, the sooner he could get out of there and get back to his car. Now there was civilized transport. On the other hand, anything that could distract him from the jackass in front of him and the hundred others pressed behind wasn't a bad thing. Cell phone-guy had switched to his other ear so he could dig into his jacket, and Dean leaned forward and whispered "Christo" to the back of his head.

No reaction. Darn it, he'd been really hoping he could let loose on the jerk.

The commotion beyond the security point increased, and someone cried out.

Dean's attention instantly jumped forward again. There were a few murmurs of reaction in the line; screams could be pleasure and surprise as well as fear, and what was there to be scared of in an airport, right? Well, besides the planes. Dean's eyes narrowed as he searched for the source of the cry and quickly checked his fellow travelers. A few others looked as concerned as he did, every one of them alert, short-haired, straight-backed. The cops and the soldiers. It was never a good sign when all the military and paramilitary's radars were going off. Everyone else was too occupied to worry about the commotion, busy taking off their shoes and unpacking their laptops and being totally oblivious to danger.

Another scream, and what sounded suspiciously like a growl, and Dean's hand dove into his jacket to wrap around a knife that…wasn't there. Naked; he'd forgotten, and Dean also growled.

The TSA people weren't really trained to do anything other than search passengers and confiscate evil nail clippers and bottles of water. Dean surveyed the security checkpoint. His senses had sharpened, his balance light on the balls of his feet, and tension strummed through his nerves, waiting for something. But the heavyset black woman and the skinny white guy manning the x-ray just stared at each other, looking faintly worried.

The sound of running and a cry for help nowcame from a dozen feet beyond the security gates. Over the heads of the people in line, Dean saw something blur by. Past the murmuring, shifting, but otherwise unresponsive people in line.

Oh, for God's sake.

"Sorry, dude, gotta go," he snapped at the security guy who was just reaching for his boarding pass, then Dean was already flying past him. He ducked under a rope, squeezed through between two x-ray belts, listening to the shouts behind him. Yeah, now they were doing something. Shaking his head in disgust, he kept running, following the commotion ahead.

An alarm started blaring through the terminal.

Terrific.

Way down the corridor, something red was moving fast. Too close to the ground to be a human adult, too fast to be a kid, and so oddly disjointed in its movements, it couldn't be natural. Senses honed by a lifetime of hunting knew without doubt what didn't belong in this picture. Dean couldn't see if it was fleeing or chasing, but considering he and Sam were there looking for a supernatural and, hey, look, there was something supernatural running down the concourse, there wasn't much of a decision to be made. Dean chucked the whole research-only plan and set off instead at full run for the oversized Elmo loping away from him.

In another life, one where he liked all the academic crap Sam did, there probably would have been a study or paper or something in how people reacted to the unknown. The faces Dean was passing were either oblivious to the chase they were witnessing or just stared blankly. They'd probably go home and tell their families about the wild dog they saw loose at the airport. The fact was that maintaining innocence in civilians was easy. Saving it in, say, someone who'd been disillusioned young like, for instance, Sam? That was a lot harder.

Of course, Sam would be telling him I told you so for realizing there was a hunt here when Dean had doubted, so his sympathy for his brother wasn't exactly at a high just then.

He was gaining on the blur. Maybe security was gaining on him, too; Dean didn't look back to check. One threat at a time, and the kind that stabbed sharp horns through your body outweighed the stupid and slow human kind. Besides, he was in much better shape than any airport cop who ate donuts and gave parking tickets for a living. They wouldn't catch him.

The creature Dean was chasing seemed to have the same philosophy. It wasn't performing any sort of evasive maneuvers, just running full-out, and Dean was finally catching glimpses of its prey. A small woman dressed in pink, dark hair streaming behind as she dodged clusters of people and ran. Pretty fast, too; Dean was impressed. If she was pretty enough and grateful enough, maybe this hunt would even have some unexpected rewards.

They were at the gates now, and the masses of travelers thickened. A sloppy path parted the crowds, letting the creature through, but Dean still had to push past some knots and lines of people. Stupid…didn't they see the danger?

The woman veered off suddenly toward the bathroom, maybe her version of safety. To Dean's surprise, the creature didn't follow, pelting past the restroom entrance and only turning in at the next corridor. Huh. Maybe it was male. Dean shrugged with his face and kept going, casting one regretful glance at the ladies room as he passed it.

He made the tight turn after the creature, and was surprised to find himself in an otherwise empty service corridor. Red was nowhere in sight. Dean slowed, casting his senses forward, seeking where his quarry had hidden. Behind him, there was the thunder of running feet, and Dean threw himself into an alcove, flattened in the shadows as security stormed past in fruitless pursuit of him. Dean grinned, then slipped back out into the service hallway and kept looking.

Janitor closet, check. And, also, a broom, which he snapped against the doorway to make a sturdy bat. Weapon, check. Next door: supply room. Check. Employee lounge, locked. Side entrance, locked. That left only the door at the end of the downward sloping hallway, and Dean listened briefly at it, then cracked it open and slipped inside.

The room was cavernous, lit high above by hanging fluorescent lamps. It felt like a warehouse, an effect amplified by shelves and platforms and semi-circles of conveyor belt all full of luggage. The baggage room, apparently, empty as far as Dean could see. Probably pulled the people out when the security alert began. Now that he thought about it, the alarm still pulsed faintly in the background.

Dean tightened his grip on his makeshift weapon and advanced, clearing each row of bags and suitcases as he went.

"Nice doggie," he said in a pleasant sing-song. "Come on out so I can bash your skull in."

There was an animal snuffle a few rows down and to his right, and Dean immediately redirected. He advanced slowly, deliberately, and wished Sam were at his back.

Which reminded him. Dean loosened his grip on his bat and slipped the hand into his pocket. He flipped open his phone without looking, fingers finding the right buttons by feel.

A low growl was his only warning as the creature jumped out at him.

The phone went flying, but Dean's swing was true. His quarry yelped, then hissed and darted away again.

"Crap," Dean grumbled. Now it was just mad. It was corporeal and it hadn't liked being hit, but it didn't seem especially vulnerable to physical blows, either. There was probably some special way to kill it. It also wasn't an animal, despite its speed and the sounds it made. It was vaguely humanoid in shape, in fact, besides the red skin and the horns on its head. It almost looked like a stereotypical devil, actually, and that nudged something in Dean's head. Devil, devil…he knew this. Couldn't remember if Dad had faced one or if they'd just had to learn about it, but it was there in his head somewhere. Red, horns, looks kinda like an animal until you got close. Dean wondered briefly if some stupid tourist had brought it home thinking it was some unique pet, only to find "Baby" was a bad dog. Great, an urban legend and a Japanese myth all in…

Oni. Oh, duh. Of course, the Japanese demon fit completely. And Dad had fought one once, a creature that was eating its way through a Japanese immigrant family. Now if Dean could just remember how to kill it…

The next growl came from above.

Before Dean could do more than twist in surprise, hot breath and a hundred pounds-plus of demon weight shoved him to the ground from behind. The air went out of Dean with a whoosh, and his face left a few layers of skin on the rough concrete. Just great; Dad would have been so proud.

Dean rolled hard, managing to dislodge the weight from his upper back. Now he was lying supine, staring right into a painfully ugly red maw that bared sharp yellowed teeth at him. Dean winced. "Dude, you ever hear of breath mints?"

It gave an odd bark, and went for his throat.

The broken broomstick made for a good oversized toothpick. Dean wedged it into the creature's jaw, then wrenched its head away from his face. The oni growled in the back of its throat and arched up.

That gave him some extra maneuvering space, and Dean quickly took advantage, sliding out from under the weight that had him pinned. But the wood was cracking under the strain of the creature's jaws, and black eyes gleamed malevolently at him.

"Come on, Dean. What kills a Japanese demon?" he prompted himself. Bad sushi? A couple rounds of kabuki?

Fire. Dad had burned it.

"Sweet," Dean made a face, "now I just have to find where they keep the matches." He cast a quick glance over the room, seeing little but luggage. Some of which was bound to contain something he could use, but it wasn't like he had a lot of time to go looking. Stupid airport security and its stupid no-lighters rule…

The broomstick splintered and caved in Dean's hand, and he groaned and leapt away, catching a high shelf with one hand. He was already halfway up before the oni managed to crunch its way completely through the wood and growl up at him. But for all its four limbs, it didn't try to climb up after. In fact, after a few seconds, it jumped away out of sight.

Which would have been just peachy except for the fact that Dean was supposed to be hunting the thing. With a sigh, he perched on the edge of the shelf and pulled the nearest bag to him.

There was actually a lot more to work with than he'd expected. Aerosol hairspray was a good start. The silver scissors were also confiscated, just in case Dean was wrong about the fire. It took four more bags before a side pocket revealed a pack of cigarettes and a Harley-Davidson lighter. Dean grinned. "Awesome." Party favors and everything. If he could find Pretty-in-Pink when this was over, it might even prove to be one of his better hunts.

Dean doused the silver scissors in the holy water he had on him—less than three ounces, of course, or that would have been confiscated by security, too—jammed the aerosol can into his jacket pocket, and held lighter and water in either hand as he slid off the shelf. There were some packets of salt in another pocket, too, but this was as loaded for bear—or oni—as he could get.

"Here, doggie," he coaxed into the quiet room as he crept forward, senses tuned to any movement. "Nice dog. Look what I've got for you."

Red and black shifted down at the end of the row of shelves.

Dean crept forward in full hunter mode, wishing once again Sam were there. They had this maneuver down cold, one distracting while the other moved in for the kill. It was a lot more fun that way. And safer.

Dean rolled his eyes at himself and picked up the pace.

The red shifted again. Dean's eyes raked it, looking for the best place to hit it with fire.

Wait. That wasn't—

The shelf beside him exploded, and Dean barely had a chance to start turning before something hard and sharp shoved with horrible pressure into his side. It seemed to steal all his air and make his body go nerveless and numb. Dean stumbled back a step under its weight, staring dumbly down at the narrow horn buried several inches under his ribs.

"Son of a—" he hissed.

But he wasn't John Winchester's son for nothing. Even as the oni yanked its head back, unimpaling Dean and nearly sending him to the ground, he locked his knees, dragged his hands up. The aerosol button was easy to depress, the lighter a little more difficult. But the homemade flamethrower was soon lit, hitting the demon right in the face. With a shriek, it tumbled back.

"Too late, sucker," Dean murmured, leaning heavily against the shelf as he watched the oni writhe and stumble. The fire spread along its skin, burning nearly white in its intensity, turning flesh black as it went. Death cries rent the air.

And then with a shuddery wail, it was gone, literally going up in smoke.

Dean slid to his knees before he realized, head suddenly too heavy to hold up.

His phone—he needed his phone, needed to call Sam. And to get out of there, because he was a wanted man. And, oh yeah, maybe stop the bleeding, because his shirt was already saturated under his jacket, cool and tacky against his skin, and it was starting to puddle on the floor. That wasn't good.

But his phone was gone, nowhere to be found as Dean muzzily glanced around. Just the red bag nearby that the oni had tricked him with, and Dean was so going to add a footnote to Dad's journal about how intelligent these things were. He'd do it later; first he had to go find Sam…

Dean managed to get one leg underneath him, started to push up…and sank back with a groan. The jar turned the throb in his side into something sharper, and it was getting hard to breathe. Soon, the grace period of numbness would be gone, and when the injury manifested completely, he wouldn't be going anywhere.

"Sam," Dean said helplessly, wondering where his brother was. Sam was always there…well, since school. But they hunted together now. He would fix this, get them out of there and Dean patched up, if only Dean could find him.

The puddle of red was starting to spread. Red, but not oni. Blood—he was bleeding. He had to stop bleeding so he could find Sam. Dean tipped his head up, considered all the bags and cases around him. One fell at his feet as he pawed restlessly at it, and he grabbed the first soft thing he could feel in it. Pink…he liked pink, Dean nearly smiled, and she had been pretty. Pink was close to red, already turning dark as he pressed it against his side, sucking in a breath. It was soft but it hurt. Pressure, tie it off. More pressure. God, it was starting to burn. He was running out of time, needed Sam.

Needed to get to safety so Sam could find him.

The hunter in him took over, just waiting for the invitation. Dean struggled to his feet, wavering a moment before he steadied. He ignored the blood, the pain, just pressed hard against his side and stared at the blurry landscape around him, assessing, calculating. Then, making his decision, he started to move.

Safety, Sam, whatever: Dean was going to ground while he figured out how to get out of this.

00000

"…but it didn't turn out to be a cat—it was a little mountain lion. I tell you, people are stupid. They bring all kinds o' things into the place, then they're surprised when it turns on 'em."

Sam tried to swallow a sigh. Just about everyone had been willing to talk to him, between his press ID and his smile, but nobody seemed to have anything useful to say, just a lot of airport lore. Which would have been interesting another time, but not when Dean was inside probably having a lot better luck than he was or, even worse, coming up empty and more sure than ever this wasn't a hunt. Sam really wanted to have the chance at an I told you so. But for now, he smiled at Gary the skycap and pretended to listen with interest.

Sam couldn't even say he was that surprised when the first alarm sounded.

Gary startled at the sound and turned to stare at the doors behind them. By the time he looked back, Sam was gone.

Long strides carried him to the nearest airport entrance, and Sam craned futilely to see his brother through the glass walls as he went. As expected, no Dean. Either his brother was already after whatever had set off the alarm, or he was the cause of it, and Sam was as unhappy with either possibility as he was sure of them. No way was this just a coincidence. It never was with the Winchesters.

Heaving a sigh, he stepped up to the sensored door. And nearly smacked into the glass.

Sam frowned, pressing lightly on the barrier, then striding a few steps down to the regular push-to-open door. Those weren't budging, either, and beyond them, an airport cop was shaking his head at all those who were trying to enter.

The alarm. They were shutting down the airport.

Sam stepped away, cursing fluidly under his breath. Great, Dean was caught up in the middle of something, and Sam was trapped outside. Perfect. This wasn't the I told you so he'd had in mind.

Sam moved back, eyeing the terminal, then craning to see inside again. Several security people were dashing toward the back, and the security lines had completely ground to a halt. What the heck had Dean done this time? Sam had warned him against terrorist jokes and everything.

He looked both ways along the sidewalk next, caught sight of a cop talking into a radio. As good a possibility as any. Sam slipped through the growing crowd and moved close behind the man.

"…past security. Static until suspect can be apprehended and any possible areas of sabotage searched. Remain on alert status two."

Suspect? Sam groaned. That was all they needed. It meant that everybody would be looking for Dean, who it sounded like had broken security for some reason, and they probably wouldn't let anyone in or out until they found him. Which was way too late for Sam, especially if Dean was on the trail of something. No, he had to get in, and now.

Sam's head swiveled again, searching for the pieces of a plan. Starting to form one as he caught sight of the officer's patrol car, a few dozen feet away. Cops usually carried extra uniforms with them, and this guy was only a few inches shorter…

Five minutes later, a gangly airport police officer in an ill-fitting uniform stepped out from behind a van. Attitude was everything, however, and it was with swift, confident strides that Sam headed for the closest entrance, conveniently far down the sidewalk from the cop he'd "borrowed" from.

At the door, Sam rapped sharply on the glass, gaining the attention of one of the neon-vested men inside. The door was quickly shoved open for him.

"Gotta report in," Sam said tersely, and headed toward the security office with sure steps. Unlike Dean, he actually liked checking maps and blueprints and knowing where he was going instead of relying on instinct and, okay, a wicked-good sense of direction.

Inside the terminal was controlled chaos. People with scared, tight faces pressed against the walls in shrunken lines. Security and cops and airline personnel milled about in force, scrutinizing faces and barking orders. Sam's uniform earned him no more than cursory glances except for one snapped command from another uniform, which Sam nodded to, then ignored.

He moved past the security checkpoint, turned left. The office was half the terminal away, and the atmosphere of fear and tension had the knot in his gut yanked tight by the time he reached the discreetly marked door. There, Sam slipped quietly inside, trying not to draw too much attention to himself.

He needn't have worried. The small suite of rooms was a hectic scene. Several leaders were clustered around a large screen that showed the layout of the airport, pointing to various areas as they talked in sharp tones. To the right, two guards scrutinized the bank of cameras, looking for, well, probably Sam's brother. Sam sighed softly and moved to lean behind them, doing his own search. He wouldn't need to see Dean's face to recognize him, knowing his shape, body language, even his actions better than anyone else's on earth.

But the cameras just showed lots and lots of huddled, worried people. Sam searched each screen, feeling sympathy seep into his bones at the sight. Maybe civilians didn't know about all the things that went bump in the night, but there was plenty else to be scared of in their world, and human fears were just as painful to witness as the inhuman ones.

The next row of screens covered some of the storage and back areas, mostly devoid of even employees now, and Sam almost skimmed past them until something caught his eye. He checked the designation over the screen—Baggage Room 3—then swept his gaze back to the screen.

Several opened bags littered the periphery of the image, odd in itself. But it was what lay innocuously on the floor near the top of the screen that had Sam's brows drawing together. A can of something, and next to it, the tiny oblong shape of a lighter.

Homemade Weapon by Dean; he was sure of it. Sam felt a small smile tug at his lips and quickly squelched it.

He snuck out of security as subtly as he'd come, no one paying much attention to yet another cop. Baggage. Dean was there, or at least had been at some point, in baggage. Sam fingered his phone again, decided once more against it. If Dean hadn't called yet, Sam wasn't going to risk whatever plan he had playing out. Instead, adopting the purposeful strides of security, he headed down to the other end of the building to the baggage room.

"Excuse me, Mister Officer?"

Sam nearly didn't realize the words were meant for him, not often playing this role. The voice, timid and small, caught his attention more than the appellation, and Sam swung back, then down to look at the little girl staring up at him, a backpack hugged in her arms. Behind her, her parents looked frazzled and occupied with two howling twin toddlers.

Sam itched to go on and find Dean, but he made himself stop. This was what they were here for, after all, right? The innocents? And there was no point in drawing attention to himself by not doing what a cop would. Or that was what he told himself, anyway.

He bent down, putting himself at her eye level. "Yes?"

"You're not gonna hurt the dog when you catch it, are you?"

Sam gave her a puzzled look. Dog? "I don't—"

"It looked like Clifford."

Clifford—Dean had read him some of those books when he was little, and then Sam had eventually been able to read some of them back to his brother. Dean had teased about the main character having to be a supernatural because no dog grew that big, but Sam would have none of it, just insisted he keep reading. And Dean always had.

Clifford, the big red dog.

Sam gave her a soft look. "Did…Clifford have anything on his head? Like…horns or something?"

The girl first looked at him like he was crazy, which, okay, fair enough. But then she got pensive. "Yeah. I guess. His head was funny."

Sam nodded swiftly, pieces falling into place, and offered his brother a silent apology. To the girl, he said earnestly, "Don't worry, sweetheart, we won't hurt the dog." Just kill it, but she didn't need to know that. "Stick close to your parents, all right?"

The girl nodded, and Sam nodded back at her, squeezed her shoulder gently, then turned away. And started running.

He scanned the faces of everyone in a uniform as he went: cleaning people, cops, airline people. Sam half expected to see his brother at any moment, masquerading just as he was to get out of there. But no familiar face, no cocky grin greeted his stare, and Sam's insides roiled a little harder with each passing minute of no Dean. A big red dog with horns. He was so going to rub this in when he found Dean.

Assuming Dean was all right.

Sam moved a little faster.

He glanced both ways before he ducked into the employee hallway, but everyone else was busy, too occupied with their security alert to notice a rogue, fake cop. Missing the real source of alarm, but there was nothing new in that. Sam crept up to the baggage room entrance and slowly edged inside.

The room was quiet despite its high ceilings and echoing size. Lines and lines of bags stretched to either side, and Sam realized belatedly he had no idea what part of the room Camera 3 had been pointed at. Grimacing faintly, he moved forward with stealth, looking both ways down the rows as he went.

It was only the third or fourth one along before something red caught his eye. Sam hunkered down even more, moved in silence between the towering shelves.

He was halfway there before he realized two things. One, the red thing was a particularly large and battered suitcase. And two, there was something else red on the floor a few feet away, amidst a turmoil of upset and opened bags.

Blood. A puddle of it.

Sam's nervous heart suddenly clenched tight, and his hands shook from the blast of adrenaline as they fished his phone out of his pocket. Forget Dean's plans: Sam needed to know where his brother was now. Even as he dialed, his eyes caught on the aerosol can, the lighter, the pair of scissors that lay nearby. None of them bloody, but…was that soot on the shelf beside it? Sam ventured absently nearer as he hit Dean's number and lifted the phone to his ear.

A blackened, charred spot spread from the floor to half on the shelf, still smelling acridly of burning ozone and more, something foreign and rank.

Tinny rock tones suddenly began playing nearby.

Sam's head jerked around as he searched for the source. Over there, under a shelf. He bent low, phone still to his ear, and fished around briefly, emerging with…Dean's ringing cell phone. "Sam's Cell" flashed on the caller ID.

Sam swore and clicked off his phone, sticking it and Dean's in separate pockets. This was really bad news, getting worse by the moment, and he was so going to wring his brother's neck when he found him for getting into trouble without Sam there to back him up. Even if, okay, it wasn't like Dean could ignore an attack in progress. Of course he rode to the rescue. "But would it hurt you to look after yourself just once, too?" Sam said with quiet despair.

All right, so, there were signs of a kill, so maybe at least the supernatural was out of the picture. But also human blood, a lot of it, which was most likely Dean's. There was no blood trail that Sam could see, which meant at least Dean had treated himself, but there was too much for him to have been able to get out of there and meet back at the car as they'd planned. Which meant going to ground, hiding somewhere to nurse his wounds and wait either for enough recovery to regroup or for his brother to show up. Some place tactical, instinctive even if Dean was too hurt to think straight. Sam swallowed at the thought and looked around, reassessing the large room through his brother's eyes.

Air ducts? Too much trouble if you were working off adrenaline.

Out the door to another room, maybe the supply room? Too much risk of exposure.

Upstairs to the row of offices Sam could see lining the back upper wall of the room? Too far.

He started moving, considering and discarding possibilities as he went. Then suddenly lurching up short as the small forklift came into sight.

It wasn't so much the machine that caught Sam's eye—although Dean pretty much loved everything with an engine and wheels that didn't fly—as the bank of suitcases behind it. They formed a wall, and behind them, just enough space for a person. Shelter, unsurpassed by any cave or brush Sam had previously seen his brother burrow into in the wild. He headed for it with certain steps.

Up close, he saw what he hadn't from a dozen yards back: the area behind the bags was cluttered with boxes and other debris, nearly filling the small space. With a sinking heart, Sam realized Dean would never have fit in there. He turned away, trying not to give in to despondency, searching for another candidate for his injured brother.

That was when he glimpsed the bloody print.

It was smeared but definitely a hand, painted in red on the hood of the forklift. Sam touched it with one finger, found the print still damp. "Dean," he prayed aloud, and cast frantic eyes around.

But there was nothing, no space that would remotely do for hiding in. Nothing but…

Sam dropped, flattening himself against the cement floor, and peered underneath the lifted fork of the forklift, under the boxes it held.

Dull, half-open eyes stared back at him.

"Dean," Sam sputtered in relief, reaching in for him. "You scared the h—"

Dean shied wearily from his touch, eyes rounding and growing a little wild. He made a sound that reminded Sam of nothing so much as a wounded animal.

He sagged, getting it now and hating it. But his voice effortlessly softened, reassuring, as he reached again, more slowly this time. "Dean. It's me—it's Sam. Let's get you out of here, all right?"

Dean blinked, little comprehension in his eyes, and pressed himself farther away from Sam.

Sam kept reaching, skimmed fingertips over cold, clammy skin. Shock, the part of his brain that wasn't panicking identified. Dean shivered under his touch, moaned. Sam's hand moved up to his arm and clasped it. "Come on, man, you don't wanna stay under here all day, do you?"

Dean trembled, eyes falling shut.

Sam took that as tacit permission, and he began tugging Dean out with careful motions, helping him scoot with a pull at his hips, his legs, his—oh, God, okay, not his side, not with the fabric of his shirt stiff with blood and Dean making that sound again as Sam brushed against him. Sam swallowed and kept trying, wishing he could just move the stupid forklift but not wanting to risk Dean bolting and hurting himself worse as a result.

So he just kept pulling and coaxing until Dean rolled out the last bit, right onto Sam's arm. He immediately curled his brother in toward him, lifting Dean up against his own, far warmer body.

Dean fought him just a little as he did, too weak and groggy to put up a real struggle, but proof he wasn't quite sure who he was with yet, either. Sam wrapped his other arm around him, held him close but not tight, lowering his head to talk into his brother's ear.

"Hey, hey, easy, Dean. It's me, it's Sammy, just me. I'm gonna get you out of here, just don't fight me, all right? Everything's cool, everything's fine." 'Cause his desperate embrace and the blood and the way Dean lolled against him was just another day at work, right? Sam cringed, looking around and wondering, now what?

"Sam." Dean's breathless voice interrupted his spiraling fear, and Sam crashed back down to Earth.

"Yeah." He cinched Dean a little closer, maybe possibly feeling his tremors start to ease. "I'm here."

"Got it…oni…burned that…mother…"

Oni? Japanese demon? And…that was about the extent of what he knew on the subject, but then, Dean knew all kinds of supernaturals—and ways to kill them—Sam didn't. He just nodded, Adam's apple bobbing. "That's good, Dean. Probably saved a lot of people." He was starting to pull himself together again, Dean's voice the steadying influence it always had been, even when it itself wasn't steady. Sam curled forward, trying to peer under the saturated pink—pink?—sweater that was wrapped around Dean's middle. "Now what do you say we get out of here, huh? Unless you want to hang around and go for a plane ride?"

"Mmm." Dean didn't rise to the bait, coughing painfully instead, and that in itself told Sam how bad it was. He didn't want to pull the sweater off, but the amount of blood he'd found before and that saturated the sweater gave him an idea of what they were fighting here. Sam had seen the pictures of the other gored victims.

"Okay," Sam said quietly, growing more calm on the outside as the panic ratcheted up inside. "You're still bleeding so we have to get that stopped, but then we're out of here, I swear. Get in the car and go, no more airports." He took a page from Dean's book and twisted a little in place to scavenge through the bags beside them, looking for additional bandaging material.

Dean whispered some sort of echo of his words, shifting in Sam's grasp. He groaned as his side rippled with spasms, muscles unhappy with being punctured, and Sam pressed a hand lightly next to the injury to try to ease the strain.

A long shawl turned up in an overnight bag, and Sam latched on to it gratefully. And a neatly folded woman's tank top—Dean would love that—made a fair compress. Sam centered them over the most blood-stained part of the sweater, then tucked Dean under his chin, holding him close so he couldn't move, and pressed down.

His brother bucked weakly, cursing, and Sam blinked back tears. Had to do this—he had to. Dean would understand when he was coherent again, but all he would know now was that his brother was hurting him. Or, worse, that some stranger was, Sam nowhere in sight to help.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, because he really wanted Dean to know. "I'm sorry. It'll be better in a minute, I promise. Hang in there, Dean."

Dean finally slumped back against him, breaths a warm pant against the V of Sam's exposed throat. Sam kept pressing, needing to make sure the bleeding really stopped. Dean had lost too much as it was.

"Almost done," Sam vowed, and finally peeled back his fingers from the makeshift bandage to check. The bottom layers of the tank topwere completely soaked through, but the top layers didn't seem to be turning red. "Thank God," Sam murmured, and carefully started winding the shawl around Dean's abdomen to keep the pressure bandage in place. "Almost done, Dean."

The nod against his chest sent him gasping for his own relieved breath, the hand that curled into the edge of his police jacket pretty much all Sam could have asked for. Dean knew who he was, trusted him even in the midst of confusion and pain. It made this all a little more bearable, anyway.

Okay, that was all he could do for Dean there. He needed a hospital, God only knowing what kind of internal damage there was. But even as Sam chewed his lip and considered alternatives, he knew he couldn't just call for help. Dean was wanted, and had now broken security at a major airport. Terrorist-scare buttons had been pushed, and there would be no mercy for that, no chance of explaining it away. They'd throw away the key.

No, Sam had to get him out of there, take Dean to help instead of the other way around, otherwise there wouldn't be much of his brother's life left to save.

Sam had shucked his officer's jacket as he thought, and peeled off his own thin jacket he still had on underneath. Rolling Dean a little forward, Sam slowly eased his brother's bloody jacket off, then Sam's jacket on in its place. It wouldn't warm him much, but it would hide his red-soaked clothing. Sam made sure the jacket's pockets were empty, then dropped it in the puddle. Besides the inevitable blood DNA evidence, there was nothing else linking it to them. Let security make of it what they would.

Dean's breath hitched and caught, but he didn't make a sound, didn't fight at all. Too limp in Sam's arms, and a pliant Dean was almost as frightening as the one who'd fought him blindly earlier. Sam quickly put his jacket back on and then pulled Dean to him again, willed a little more strength and warmth into him. "I will get you out of here," he said fiercely. "It doesn't end here, Dean."

Dean coughed again, whole body shaking with each expulsion, then that rough whisper. "Just waitin'…on you."

Sam couldn't help the grin. "Lazy, man."

Dean trembled with what might have been silent laughter or fierce pain, or both. "God…" was his only trailing remark, and that really fit either.

They could do this. Sam looked around and caught sight of the brim of a baseball hat in one of the open bags. The Saints, he couldn't help note with irony. Sam pulled it out and down over Dean's forehead, shading his face. It had to do.

He leaned down to address Dean again. "Okay, time to go. Let me do the work, all right?"

"…always…"

Sam readjusted his grip so that he was pulling at Dean's hips instead of his arms and abdomen, and Sam slowly raised them both to their feet. There was no strength in Dean's legs, but Sam coaxed him to try to stand and he did try, locking his knees, blinking blankly at the concrete as Sam straightened his limbs, got him completely vertical. Well, if listing against Sam's side.

"We need to walk out of here, Dean—try to move your feet for me," Sam nudged verbally even as he pulled Dean along. One step…and Dean was folding, going down fast.

Sam caught him, grimacing at the low grunt of pain, got him back to his feet.

"You can do this, Dean. Come on, we need to do this."

Dean rallied a little at that, got three more steps in before going down again. Sam was pretty sure he heard a sob there as they hit the concrete.

But he couldn't afford sympathy, even though every sound of pain tore another hole in him. "Come on, soldier," he said more harshly. "On your feet."

Dean's spine straightened, and this time he made some attempt to rise instead of letting Sam pull him up. His eyes were at half-mast, his forehead beaded with sweat, but Sam saw determination in the dark hazel when he peered down to see.

"All right," he softened again. "We can do this. I'll be right here, just lean on me."

Dean gritted his teeth and they went.

Sam made some adjustments as they approached the door: tilting Dean's hat farther down, slipping his own arm under the jacket so it wasn't as visible that he was holding up most of Dean's weight, pulling the zipper higher to hide the ramshackle bandaging job. If this was going to work, Sam needed to do the best sales job of his life.

Almost at the door, Dean slumped harder against him. "Can't."

"Dean—"

"Sam…go." A dry swallow. "Can't."

"I'm not leaving without you," Sam declared. "So unless you want to give me up, too, we're going, Dean." Dean was already shaking his head, and Sam felt the cold fear nose a little further down into his gut. "Please," his voice fell, shaky. "Please, Dean, I need you to try. Come on, for me. Please."

Dean took a deep breath, the sound skating on a moan. "Girl," he finally whispered.

And that was the moment Sam believed they really could do this. "Jerk," he shot back, and reached for the doorknob.

"G'rrl," Dean repeated strengthlessly.

Sam's mouth twitched. They were in the hallway now, and he hustled them without pause toward the employee parking exit. "Wuss."

"G'rrrl."

He wasn't sure if Dean's mind just wasn't working well enough to think up another insult or if he was teasing Sam. Either way, it gave him a boost of confidence, firmed up his hope. Made all his past irritations with Dean melt into something close to pure love. His grip strengthened as it looped around Dean's good side and held on tight. "Jackass."

He missed Dean's answer in the sound of approaching hurried footsteps, and Sam's newfound self-assurance faltered. He quickly pulled Dean into a doorway with him and cast around for something he could do, something to distract…

He was in uniform. A police uniform. Complete with police radio at his side.

Sam snatched it, thought for a second, then thumbed the switch. "Unit 2-10"—the radio was conveniently labeled—"report of a fire at…," he mentally flipped through the blueprints, "Gate C-13. Request all available personnel to respond." Then he held his breath.

A pause, then, "Roger, Unit 2-10. All available units respond to report of fire, Gate C-13." Which, coincidentally, happened to be at the other end of the concourse. Sam dropped his head back against the wall and nearly got a little wobbly, himself, as he heard the footsteps turn and fade.

Dean started sliding down to the ground.

"Whoa!" Sam caught him, earning him a tense gasp, and readjusted his grip. "Just keep it together a little longer, man. We're gonna get you out of here, just hang on."

Dean's head was heavy against his chest, but he managed a hazy nod.

"Good. Just keep your feet moving and I'll do the rest. We'll go easy, no rush, all right? Dean? You here?"

Dean started shuffling.

Sam took a breath of gratitude. "That's good, big brother. Keep going for me." Because he knew Dean, knew what motivated him, what he'd fight for. Dean, heavy against his side and breathing hard with pain, would keep going until his last breath for his little brother.

They stumbled out the door and went down in the elevator, a hand against Dean's chest keeping him from toppling as the car shuddered to a stop. Sweat rolled down his face and dripped onto Sam's skin, proof along with the labored breath of how hard Dean was fighting. Sam kept talking to him in low tones, in turns pushing and coaxing as needed to keep his brother going.

Two men were waiting for the elevator, and they stared at Sam and Dean as the doors opened. Sam shook his head. "Flight kicked him off—too drunk."

Knowing, exasperated looks. If only they really did know. Sam tugged Dean out the door, let it close behind them.

One more obstacle down. A few big ones left to go.

The employee parking was milling with people. Even as Sam looked around, confused, he realized why. Police were moving between the uniformed men and women, checking IDs, questioning each one, even doing a few pat-downs before allowing them to go claim their car. Not a full lockdown of employees, then, just heightened security, and Sam breathed fractionally easier. Maybe they really could get out of here. Except, the cops were dressed just like Sam was, and they'd probably know he wasn't one of them, nor "Gallagher" as his badge proclaimed. Sam grimaced, worrying the edge of his lip, looking around for Plan G, or whatever they were up to.

Spying the laundry truck about fifty feet away.

"Sam." It was a breath of sound.

"Yeah?" But there wasn't any response, as if Dean just wanted to make sure he was there. Or actually found some comfort in his name like Sam always had in Dean's. He pulled his shaking brother a little closer. "I'm here. Don't talk right now, okay?" Sam hitched him a little higher, continuing to whisper over the groan. "Almost there, Dean, then you can rest. I'll even let you sleep in tomorrow, all right? Just stay with me a little longer."

Dean mumbled something and Sam thought he heard the word "bitch" in there, but the rest was garbled.

"You better not be saying bad things about me, dude," he said quietly, close to Dean's ear as they navigated around waiting employees. They were getting a few looks, but the uniform and the other police were distracting. "When this is over, you are so gonna owe me. What were you thinking, going in without back-up?" As if he didn't know.

Dean was getting heavier, his feet dragging, his head propped only by Sam's shoulder.

The truck was close. Sam readjusted his grip, leaning down to catch a glimpse of Dean's face. His eyes were open but glazed, his gaze wandering. Barely conscious; Sam didn't even know how he was on his feet at all, but Sam ruthlessly nudged one cheek. "Listen to me, Dean, just focus on me, all right? Don't quit now, man."

"Is he okay?"

Sam's head darted up. A young woman in a custodian outfit was frowning at them in concern.

"I can get some help…"

"No. Uh, no, thanks. He's all right, just…takes these pills to fly and has a hard time shaking them off, you know? He's good."

The woman looked doubtful. Sam pulled the ball cap down a little further and marched them more insistently toward the truck.

When they finally reached it, he waited a minute until the woman turned away and no one else seemed to be looking. Then Sam quickly rolled up the back door of the truck and climbed in, hauling Dean in after him as gently as he could while hurrying.

The truck was half-full, Sam was grateful to see, both for camouflage and for a hopefully short delivery route. But even as he started to move them both to the back, Dean began coughing again, curling inward around himself. Sam leaned over him to hold him, and saw a fine mist of blood spray across the floor in the dim light of the truck. Oh, God. Dean was bleeding inside; he had to get medical attention and soon. Sam closed his eyes, praying for this ordeal to end, then gathered his brother up and towed him into the farthest corner, moving laundry bags to form a small barrier to hide them.

There, Sam sank into the corner, pulling Dean to him sideways, his legs tucked under Sam's bent one. Dean's feet pawed vaguely at the floor of the truck as he gasped and arched, fighting the pain as hard as he fought for everything in his life.

Sam shrugged out of his police jacket and wrapped that around Dean, too, then just pulled him close and held him desperately, unable to do anything else for now. "Easy, easy," he crooned. "You're with me—hang on to me. I won't let you go."

Dean reached over in sluggish movements to rub at the jacket over the injury site. "Pull…it…out."

"What?" Sam asked, face creasing.

There was a clatter in the cab behind them, then the motor started up. Sam's muscles felt stretched to breaking.

"Pull it…out…hurts…Sammy."

Oh. He dropped his forehead against his brother's damp hair. "It's not in there, anymore, Dean, I promise," Sam whispered. "We're gonna get you some help soon, okay?"

A long pause. Then, "…promises…"

Sam snorted, smile fading just as quick. "Just hang on, Dean. Hang on."

The truck paused at what Sam assumed was a gate, and he heard the back door roll up. He tensed, hand curling around his knife, the other around Dean. But then the door was shut again, and the truck moved once more. Sam breathed out slowly, letting go of his knife to hold Dean's head in place.

The road was uneven and the truck bed wasn't too shock-absorbent. Sam winced through some sharp bumps, trying to cushion the damage, to stifle Dean's moans against his shirt. His brother was starting to drift away, Sam could feel it, and while he also sensed some lingering interest whenever he talked, he could no longer elicit a response. It didn't stop Sam from trying, whispering soothingly low, rubbing his thumb along Dean's jaw line, down the bumps of his spine. Trying to absorb his pain along with the rattle of the truck.

And then finally, finally the truck stopped.

Sam didn't care where they were; he had to get Dean out of there. His brother wouldn't survive more rocky travel, let alone delay. Sliding an arm under Dean's legs, Sam scooted forward on his rear over the smooth metal floor, edging along until they were pressed against the door. Then he slowly slid it up, looking out.

They were parked in an alleyway behind a building. From the smells coming from within, Sam's guess was a restaurant. Better yet, at the corner was visible a parking lot with plenty of cars in it.

"Thank you," Sam whispered, and slid off the tailgate of the truck, grunting a little under Dean's weight.

There was no way he was picking a car lock with Dean in his arms, so Sam looked for an open door and found one easily enough. An old Ford with a bench seat; Dean would hate it. Sam opened the door and slid him into the front where he could keep an eye on him, then jogged around to the other side.

In two minutes, he had directions to a local hospital via phone. "Not far, Dean," he said softly, hand braced against Dean's stomach to keep him sliding off on steep turns.

In five minutes, Dean went limp, head heavy on Sam's thigh and arm trailing off the seat. Sam quickly felt for a pulse, swallowing the ache in his throat when he found it.

In seven minutes, he'd located a classic rock station, and Boston was wailing through the speakers. Dean didn't even stir, but Sam liked to think he heard and rallied from it.

In ten minutes, he had everything identifying him as a cop shucked off and thrown out the window, making sure to leave no fingerprints on the metal tags and buttons.

In twelve minutes, they were pulling up to the emergency room entrance of the hospital. And for the first time in what felt like eternity, Sam was no longer responsible for his brother.

And as much as that had scared him to be…it was a lot harder to give Dean up and entrust his brother to others.

Sam restlessly sat down to review and second guess his every move, and wait.

00000

He hated hospitals.

Not just because of the antiseptic smells and looks, although they did grate, or the no-nonsense, bossy staff. Even a hot chick lost a lot of her appeal when she was waking you up in the middle of a good sleep to check your temperature or pain level or—and he was mighty suspicious of this one—his "bowel sounds." Or worse. But no, the reason he really hated hospitals was that it meant someone was hurt, sometimes him, but sometimes Sam, which was so much worse. So while he was grateful for the places when Sam was leaking blood, Dean wasn't exactly going to be seeking out the county general for a nice place to hang out.

He didn't seem to have much choice this time, though, as the one thing he could remember since waking here was Sam's worried-grey face hovering nearby. Dean had squeezed his hand—because of course Sam was holding his hand—opened his mouth to say something reassuring, and promptly fallen asleep. At least twice now. So this time, Dean was going to make it count.

Until he shifted in preparation to speak, and discovered why he was in the hospital.

His groan shot Sam's head up in an imitation of a gopher peeking out of its hole that would have had Dean laughing any other time. Hair rumpled, face creased in red by the sheets and blankets, and eyes just this side of frantic, Sam assessed the danger in the room with one sweep, then latched on to Dean's eyes and didn't look away again.

"Hey, you're awake."

Dean's side throbbed in slow, molten waves of pain that nauseated him. He really did want to say something encouraging, but it felt like there was something sharp jabbed into his side, and the tight pressure was relentless. "Get…it…out," he whispered instead. Get it out, let him relax, then they could talk.

Sam's face fell. "Dude, it's not in there anymore," he said, and Dean heard the whisper of déjà vu in his words. "The…thing in the airport—the oni, you said?—it stabbed you, remember? You've got a hole the size of my knife in you."

Nice image. Dean squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to visualize it, although it felt like Sam's blade was buried in him. He could practically feel it shift when he moved on the bed, and he reached over to check for the hilt.

Warm hands around his wrist and flat across his stomach stilled him. "Dean, don't. You'll just hurt yourself."

Worse than this? he wondered, but grudgingly obeyed. And, actually, if he was totally still and didn't breathe too deep, it was almost bearable. His head still hurt, his stomach queasy, his cheek sore. But Dean could live with that, and his clenched jaw relaxed a little, his breath no longer coming out in whistling pants. The hand on his wrist moved to his shoulder. Thankfully not stroking, or he'd have to hurt Sam, but just…holding. And considering he felt like one wrong move and he'd fall into someplace deep, holding wasn't bad at all.

And then there was that pinched expression he'd glimpsed before on his little brother's face.

Dean pried his eyes open, winced at the light and just…too much, and shut them again. Hearing his brother's tired chuckle.

"You want me to turn the light off?"

He shook his head narrowly. "No." He didn't want Sam moving an inch. "'M good." He could hear everything he needed to know. Dean cleared his throat. "'S it bad?"

"Not anymore. They just, uh, weren't sure first. You had to have surgery, man."

He winced, more for Sam's sake than his own. "Oni?"

"That's what you said. I never saw it. Burned?"

It was starting to come back to him. "Yeah. How you kill 'em."

"I was gonna look it up." When he took a break from Dean's bedside, and if that hadn't happened yet, that pretty much answered the rest of Dean's questions right there.

He cast his memory back, to the fight with the oni, the sneak attack, crawling away to find someplace safe to hide. And then, more abstractly, Sam being there and pain and confusion overlaid with his brother's soft voice and those warm octopus arms and one very long walk he'd never have made it through alone. Dean grimaced.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, just…remembering. Airport security, dude—how'd you…?"

A huff. "People want to believe what you tell them."

Right. Simple as that. A whole airport on alert just let them pass through because Sam told them, what, Dean was drunk? Ill?

Then again, Dean was pretty sure he remembered Sam telling him everything would be all right, that he'd get them out of there, and Dean had believed him despite everything. And darned if his little brother hadn't delivered.

He turned toward Sam, sucked in a breath when his side stabbed again. That wasn't going to feel good any time soon. "You were cuddling me," he accused breathily.

There was a distinct unrepentant smile in Sam's voice. "Yeah, I was."

Dean winced. "Aw, man," he grumbled. "Next time just leave me there."

The pressure on his stomach increased for a moment, until he grunted. Sam immediately let up. "Sorry. And you say something like that again, Dean, and I'm taking your catheter out personally."

That really made Dean cringe. Besides, he hadn't meant that…exactly. The fact was, he'd been out of his head with fear and pain, and Sam had made it better more skillfully than Dean knew his brother was capable of. Dean knew without doubt he'd been running on empty when Sam had found him. No one else could have coaxed him out of there on his feet, and that included Dad. "S'okay," he whispered. "You did good."

He could feel his brother's surprise. "I, uh…thanks." Quietly. Understatedly, because Dean could hear the unspoken, too: I didn't have a choice. And he knew that feeling too well.

And knew when it was time to move on, because dwelling wasn't healthy, not to mention manly. "Next time, you take the airport," he murmured, sleep starting to pull on him despite his body's misery.

"Next time, I'm photographing you when you're wearing pink."

Now there was a story he didn't want to hear. "Next time, I get to save our asses." The last word came out kind of slurred, but oh well.

And before he fell asleep altogether, he felt Sam slip fingers inside his curled hand and didn't even mind so much, as his kid brother and emergency guardian angel whispered, "Deal."

The End