Title: Nice Boy
Author: Emily Brunson
Pairing: Gen/het (pre-series).
Rating: PG-13-y for language.
Warnings: None.
Summary: Sam's gone, and Dean is marking the days.
Author's notes: Complete; 3,299 words. My thanks to innie_darling for the swift and ever-helpful beta. This is sort of an empty-nest story, or that is how it began. Hope you enjoy.

He gets hurt on the banshee hunt. Claws in the muscle of his calf, knee shot to hell, and a head bonk that lays him out cold. He wakes up in a chilly hospital room twelve hours later, his bed ringed by nurse, doctor, and Dad, all looking equally uncertain and relieved.

“Good to have you back with us, Mr. Polk,” the doctor says, the cute nurse nods, and Dad stands there with his hands in his pockets, a sympathetic expression pasted on his face and his eyes already a thousand miles away.

Turns out he missed the stitches, something he doesn’t mind at all, but he’s wide awake for the prognosis. Blah blah, the knee might need arthroscopy, the head might explode, the calf might get infected. Whatever. Dean nods, signs his discharge papers the next morning, and doesn’t really mind the wheelchair down to the lobby.

In the car Dad says, “Better stay put for a while.”

No “Well, how do you feel, son?” No nada, just the muscle in Dad’s jaw ticking like a frustrated metronome, and Dean’s head throbbing with a completely different syncopated beat. They aren’t in tune. Haven’t been for a while.

Sammy’s been gone two months, fifteen days, and seventeen hours. Staring out the window of the car, Dean is pretty sure he could calculate the minutes too, if his head wasn’t aching quite so bad.


Dad’s rented an apartment down by the river. It’s one bedroom, furnished after a fashion, and the couch is still made out, which makes the single bed Dean’s by some kind of weird default. The reason becomes clear over takeout Mexican food.

“I figure we’ll bivouac here,” Dad says through a mouthful of taco. Bits of shell are caught in his beard, and he brushes them absently away. “You keep your head down, see if that knee doesn’t heal up right.”

“And you?” Dean asks, although he’s pretty sure he knows this new song by heart already.

“Gonna head on over to Lincoln tomorrow. Be gone about a week, two tops.” Dad crams the rest of his taco in his mouth and chews while he gets out his wallet, puts some money on the table. “That oughta keep you in grub while I’m gone. Keep your phone charged.”

Dean thinks about whores when he looks at that pile of cash, and the last of his vague appetite vanishes. He swallows his bite of burrito and wraps the rest of his food, puts it back in the bag. Mexican’s gross for leftovers, but he doesn’t much care.

It’s November first. That night, unsleeping in the too-soft bed, listening to Dad’s low garbled voice as he talks endlessly on the phone, Dean feels the throb in his knee and calf and doesn’t let himself think that it might have been better if the banshee had taken out his throat instead.


Dad’s gone three weeks. When the first week is up, Dean sits at the linoleum table and realizes he hasn’t worried at all. Dad’ll be okay, or he won’t. There isn’t a goddamn thing Dean can do about it either way. He’s lame, without wheels, in a town he doesn’t know from Shinola. He watches crap tv all day and crap movies all night, and his knee is better and calf almost healed, and sometimes he can’t quite remember his name.

The second week, he picks out his stitches and makes himself walk. It hurts; the knee is wrecked for the moment, and he’ll be limping for a while. But it’s looking like surgery might not have to happen, and at night he ices the joint and drinks cheap bourbon from a tiny child-sized glass and tries to remember Sam’s favorite color. The name of that stupid bear he carried around all through first and second grade. Bo something, not Bojangles but Bo, Bo Peep, Bhopal, some shit. Never thought he’d forget; kid was so attached to the thing Dean told him he oughta have it sewn onto his hand.

Sam had cried at that, and moped for about two hours before Dean brought him a Popsicle.

Bo Diddly. Something.

By the third week he has a route of sorts. He keeps to himself, so the nods he gets on his lumbering walks sort of surprise him. A lifted hand here, from the guy at the newsstand on the corner of Fifth and Franklin; a smile and a g’morning from the lady with the bright pink hair at that dumb-looking florist’s shop on Markey Avenue. The chick at the coffee shop knows his name, and he knows he’d have had her number in ten minutes if he hadn’t been gimpy. Could have it easy, now, but he just doesn’t give a rat’s ass.

They seem like nice people. And he doesn’t belong, can’t see how they don’t see it, too. What is he, some nice boy who got hurt in a car accident or something? He’s nobody’s nice boy. Not even when he was a boy, he’d been rough and crude and quick with the jokes and just as apt to make people furious as make ‘em laugh, and no, he was never a nice boy. He’s a shady drifter with a six-inch blade in his boot, a modest criminal record, and a dad who’s got him beat in the shade.

At the table, gazing over his uneaten supper out the smudged window, he blurts, “I had a brother.”

Bolero. Bodunk.

Sammy’s been gone three months, twelve days, and twenty-two hours. The nice boy is gone away.


Dad returns on the wings of the first big storm of the season, blown in like dusty leaves off a burning heap of trash. It takes him twenty minutes to tell about the hunt, show his couple of modest new battle scars. He’s invigorated, looks ten years younger than when he left. His grin shines bright in the kitchen light, white teeth and less gray in his beard than Dean remembers.

“Leg ain’t so good,” he observes, watching Dean get around the kitchen. “How’s it feel?”

Dean shrugs. “Better.”

They sit in the living room when it gets dark and drink beer. The tv’s on, but neither of them are watching. It’s just senseless noise in the background. Dad’s scribbling notes in his journal, smiling at something he doesn’t share with Dean. Dean holds a folded-up piece of newspaper, one of those puzzles eternally half-finished. Sam had sprinted through these, Sudoku. “You’ll like these better,” he’d said one time. When? Two years ago, maybe longer. “Not a crossword.”

Dean’s pretty good at them, too, but he’s had this one half-done for days and now he stares at it, sees the patterns like spoor in fresh snow but can’t bring himself to finish filling in the numbers. It’s like he and Dad have nothing to say to each other anymore. He wants to say, There was another person here not so long ago. Remember him? Big guy, pretty smart, the one who liked peanut butter and bananas on his sandwiches and drank a whole gallon of milk in a day if you let him?

If Dad remembers, he doesn’t say it. Dean stares at his puzzle, sees Sam’s long agile fingers gripping a pen too tight, and Dean thinks, Did ‘em in pen because you could, because you never had to erase anything. Need a fucking big eraser for this do-over, Sammy. Big old college-sized eraser. Rub it all out, make it not have happened. They sell erasers that big at Stanford?

He has nothing to say, but that’s okay, because Dad doesn’t want to hear it anyway.


When he wakes up the next morning he feels a kind of imminence in his forehead, like staring at the horizon and seeing black clouds looming, the kind of morning that makes you shiver and zip your jacket and think, Batten down the hatches, storm’s a’comin’.

Over coffee it arrives. Pain like distant dull hammering behind his sinuses, behind his eyes, a slow throb in time with his heartbeat. He can smell oranges, but there aren’t any in the house. The kitchen light has a halo around it.

“Feeling all right?” Dad asks, and Dean nods and drinks some coffee.

By noon he can’t do anything but lie down, hide behind drawn drapes and close his eyes. He gets headaches, everybody does, but he can’t remember a headache like this one. Sam was always the headache king, ever since he was a kid. That teacher when Sam was in first grade, her face sober and pitying while Dean took Sam’s hand.

“He’s just so – intense,” she’d said, sounding surprised and concerned. “I think his head hurts.”

Sam had worried his way into headaches, concentrated into them, squinted and strove and embodied them, and it had been Dean’s job to distract him, to give him aspirin and try to make the pain ebb, or disappear entirely. By junior high they’d been migraines, days-long epic marathons that puzzled and frustrated Dean. Who was this high-strung stranger in his brother’s body?

Migraine, he thinks, watching the fireworks on the insides of his eyelids. This is how he felt. In the face of the pain it feels abstract, though, and after a while he goes into the bathroom and barfs, cringing with the clutch of agony in his head with every spasm.

Dad stands uncertainly in the doorway, mouth drawn tight and unhappy. “Headache, huh.”

Dean wipes his eyes and then his mouth, flushes and stands. Now I know how Sammy felt, he thinks, and he might have said it aloud because Dad’s expression hardens, turns distant and professional. “I got stuff,” he says, shifting from one foot to the other. “Lemme grab it.”

Dad’s got decent drugs, and Dean sleeps, wakes up at midnight to silence, the echoing feel of an empty house. His head is made of glass, and the pain is still, too, motionless and hotly sullen in his skull.

He takes another two pills, and when Dad comes in an hour later, smelling like smoke and beer and cold night air, Dean asks, “Do you remember that bear he used to carry around? When we were kids?”

“Feeling any better?” Dad asks, reluctant, another sweet, artificial smile on his lips.

The codeine’s like warm honey on his skin, licking over the pain, sweetening it. He licks his dry lips. “Can’t remember what he called it,” Dean whispers. “Bugging me.”

Dad sits on the edge of the bed, staring at his dangling hands. Dean swallows sugar and bile and closes his eyes.


Dad splits two days later. Doesn’t tell Dean exactly where he’s going, although he mutters something about Saskatchewan and ranchers.

When he lays money on the table, Dean says, “Think I’ll get a job.”

“You up for that?” Dad eyes him, but there’s distance there, calculation, and Dean knows he’s not really interested.

“Knee’s getting better.”

Dad considers, then nods once. “Stay mobile. Don’t give me any song and dance when I get back.”

When have I? Dean thinks, and wants to ask. Wants it, tastes it like copper blood on his tongue. When the hell have I ever – EVER – given you any shit about this? What, you think because Sammy left I’m gonna split, too? Who’s doing the splitting, me or you? Come on, Dad, don’t give me that shit.

Aloud he says, “Nope. Call me when you get where you’re going.”

“10-4,” his dad says, without even a nod at honesty.

He goes job-hunting the next morning. He’s pretty hampered by having no vehicle, and his fucked-up knee aches if he works it too hard, but there are a few help-wanted signs here and there, and an agency on the main drag. He walks in, fills out some papers, trots out an identity that doesn’t have any warrants attached to it, and gets a slot manning a booth at a local hospital. Parking lot attendant, crap hours that don’t much matter, minimum wage. He wears a bright orange vest over his shirt and feels like the biggest fucking dork on the planet, and after a day of collecting five-dollar fees from annoyed visitors, he starts letting people slide on through. Here and there, what the hell. His supervisor doesn’t say much. Distracted, vague.

When he clocks out at work, he goes to a little bar down the street. It’s late, it’s never crowded, and there are no pool tables. Just a sticky brass bar and a bartender his age, with four kids and a pregnant wife, who starts to give him doubles for the hell of it. He drinks enough to feel like he can go home, and sleeps in the next morning because he can.

Sammy’s been gone four months, two days, and six hours, and Dean wonders where he’ll go at Christmas.


The coffee-shop girl’s name is Fran. He screws her on a Saturday, totally random, and the next morning he wakes up to the smells of coffee and toast, and Fran’s ample bosom jiggling under Dean’s tee-shirt while she brings him a cup. She’s pretty, and not very smart, and it’s easy to just let her ramble while he sips her too-weak coffee and wonders where his father is.

His knee is better. Barely making him limp at all now, so much for surgery crap. Nature’s best, Dean’s always thought. And time, time heals everything, isn’t that the saying?

He lets too many people park for free, and gets shitcanned on a Thursday, exactly a month after he got the job. It’s fine. He’s restless, an itch under his skin, and he’s tired of getting Dad’s voice mail. Come ON, he thinks, kicking Fran’s shit under the bed. Why’s she leaving that crap here anyway? It ain’t like he’s her freaking BOYFRIEND or something. If she thinks it means anything, she’s even dumber than he thought.

Two days before Christmas, Dad comes back. Doesn’t look young and energized this time. He’s banged up, pissed off, nothing but a grunt for Dean before he holes up in the bathroom for half an hour and finally emerges looking not a whole hell of a lot better.

“Let me see,” Dean says.


“Yeah, well, lemme be the judge of that.”

He doesn’t ask what Dad’s tangled with this time. He cleans the wounds, tries to gauge whether or not the ribs are broken. His hands and eyes don’t make very good x-ray machines, but he thinks it’s mostly surface damage.

Whatever it is, after Dean’s bandaged him up Dad’s mood doesn’t improve. He’s gruff, more so than ever, and won’t look Dean in the eye. He stares out the window, too much gray in his beard, shoulders down like he’s bracing himself for a blow that already happened.

Fran calls early in the evening, let’s go to the movies, honey, and Dean grits his teeth and says, “Don’t call me anymore.”

Fran is silent for a second, and then says, “What?”

“I’m done here. Moving along. No offense, okay?”

She sniffs, and then she cries, and he hangs up in the middle of not-listening to what an asshole he is.

He is. Never claimed otherwise.


He gives his dad a bottle of Jack for Christmas.

“Got me one, too,” he says, and grins.

They put a dent in Dad’s bottle that evening. Watching the snow, the crappy tv on some kind of animated Christmas thing Dean’s seen too many times before. Dad’s quiet, about one drink ahead of Dean, and when the news is over and Leno is playing, Dad says, “Merry Christmas, Dean.”

“Yeah, Merry Christmas, Dad.”

His father swallows another mouthful of Jack and wipes his mouth on his wrist. “We’ll hit the road tomorrow.”

Dean nods. The whiskey tastes fiery on his tongue, sweet and hot, like Tabasco laced with sugar. “Sounds good. Where to?”

“South. Arizona.”

“Tired of snow?”

Dad doesn’t answer. Drinks more bourbon, and he’s reaching for the bottle again when Dean puts his glass in the sink and goes to his bedroom.

He doesn’t know if Sam even kept the cell phone. He doesn’t turn on the light, hits Sammy’s speed-dial number and listens to it ringing. Going to voice mail, isn’t disconnected yet, but –


Sam sounds out of breath, like he heard the phone from a ways away and ran to get it. Dean’s mouth is dry. “Merry Christmas, Sammy,” he says softly.

Sam’s quiet for a second, and there’s a smile in his voice when he says, “Almost didn’t make it.”

Dean clears his throat, and again, and then says, “You doin’ okay?”

“Yeah, Dean. Yeah, I’m okay. How’s things? You all right?” Alarm creeps in like a drop of blood in a glass of milk. “Did something happen? Did –“

“Nah.” Dean clears his throat a third time. “Just – you know.”

“I was gonna call you,” Sam says after a moment of silence. “Christmas.”

Dean nods in the darkness. He can hear Dad’s boots on the floor, slow shuffle to the bathroom. “You need anything? Need some money?”

“No. No, man, I’m all right. You –“

“Good, good.” Dean swallows. “Just -- Yeah, good.”


“You remember that bear?”


“Yeah, the one you -- The one you used to carry around all the time. Long time ago. You remember?”

Sam gives a tiny snort. “Bo? Jesus, Dean, that was like, a hundred years ago. What –“

“No, man, it just occurred to me. You know, a while back, Sammy’s bear, what the fuck did he call that thing. Bojangles, or Bo Peep, or –“

“Bo. You know. Just Bo.”

Dean nods slowly. “Ah. Yeah, that’s right.”

“You were the one that kept adding to it. Remember?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I remember.”

“Are you okay, Dean? You -- I could -- It’s Christmas, I mean, if you’re around I could –“

“Nah. Dude, I’m half the continent away from Californ-eye-A.”


There’s a longer pause, and Dean thinks he can hear voices through Sam’s end, tinny echoes like a reminder that he’s not alone, there are real people there, people Dean has never met or even seen. People, and a place he doesn’t know. He closes his eyes, and says, “Dad’s okay, too.”

Sam’s voice is clipped, familiar. “Good for him.”


“It’s Sam, Dean. Sam.”

Dean listens to his father shuffling back to the living room, the creak of the sofa-bed. “Yeah. Okay, right. Sam.”

“I -- I need to go. They’re waiting for me.”

Who, Dean thinks. Who’s waiting for you? Why are they more important than this? How did this happen?

He coughs needlessly, and says, “Right, I understand. Places to see, people to do, right?”

“I’m not DOING any of them.” Sam sounds familiarly prissy, amused, sheepish. Dean can see his expression, as clearly as if Sam were sitting here right next to him. The roll of the eyes, the twist of his mouth. “Jeez, Dean.”

“Yeah, well, like I always said. Sucks to be you, dude.”

“Whatever.” But Sam’s smiling again, and Dean draws a sharp breath and pictures it, sees Sam’s smile bright and clear as midday.

“Call. You know. If you need anything.”

“Same to you, man,” Sam says softly. “Okay?”

“Later, Sammy.”

“Later, Dean.”

Dad is snoring, loud enough to hear from the living room. Tired, that’s all, he’s tired, it was a long hunt and he got whacked around a little, and now things are squared away. They’re hitting the road in the morning. Someplace warm. It sounds good to Dean.

He lies back on the too-soft bed and says aloud, “Bo. Just Bo.”

Sam’s been gone four months and something, or maybe it’s five by now. Dean isn’t sure. He closes his eyes.