mizpah1931: Latin Exorcism - don't leave home without it (Default)
Wow...it's been awhile. I had a long hiatus from all things Supernatural - I only watched the Season 10 finale a couple of days before the Season 11 premiere aired in the US. But I'm slowly dipping my toes back into the SPN pool, so let's see what happens.

At the very least, I'll get all the back catalogue stuff posted up.

Jules

Title: Happy Birthday
Season: 3
Category: General, Action, Horror/Ghost
Warnings: Winchester whumpage. Set between the Season 3 episodes The Magnificent Seven and The Kids Are Alright
Tagline: Tension mounts between the brothers – is it just Dean’s deal or is something more sinister at work...
Total Word Count: 52,583
Total Chapters: 9
Chapter 5 word count: 5078
Beta: ziggyuk
Story Banner: Chasidern

 

Chapter 5

 “Ohhhhhh…”

The soft groan from the occupied bed broke the silence, and Dean glanced up from the newspaper spread across the table, bracing himself before getting to his feet. He walked across the room and stood at the foot of the bed, his hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans. “Hey. How are you feeling?”

“Shoot me…” Sam groaned again, pushing the blankets down to his waist as he tried to roll onto his side. “Ohhh, man.”

“Need help?”

Sam held out a hand in answer. He sucked in a sharp breath, wincing as his brother helped him to his feet, and staggered like a drunk into the bathroom. Dean watched him go, shaking his head in mild amusement before grabbing the coffee pot to refill it.

Ten minutes later Dean heard the bathroom door open, and poured the coffee into two cups. He tossed a quick glance over his shoulder as Sam walked slowly to the table, one hand pressed to his side, the other hand held against his cheek. His face was damp; droplets of water running down his stubbled cheeks to splash onto his tee shirt. Dean winced at the sight of the bruise on Sam’s jaw, and slid one of the cups onto the table in front of his sibling. “You okay?” he ventured mildly.

The young hunter cleared his throat and ran a hand across his damp face, avoiding the cut above his eye. “Great,” he muttered hoarsely, wrapping his fingers around the cup.

Dean studied his brother surreptitiously as he grabbed a paper bag from the bench near the coffee machine, hoping that the spark of rage from the night before wasn’t going to re-appear any time soon. “Want breakfast?”

Sam lifted his head, squinting painfully at the bag. One eye was swollen half shut, ringed by a spreading black bruise. His top lip was puffed out, the cut healing over. Bruises covered his jaw and cheek, dark reds and yellows shading into charcoal and blue/black. “When did you get breakfast?”

“While you were still asleep. I got pancakes and sausage.”

“While I was drugged, you mean.” Sam’s jaw tightened briefly, his gaze dropping to his coffee.

“Sam…” Dean raised a hand in a prohibitive gesture before letting it fall by his side. “I don’t want to do this, okay?”

“No, you never do,” Sam muttered bitterly. “You should call yourself Houdini, since you’re so good at getting out of stuff.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? What stuff?” Dean spread his hands. “What is with you? You’re awake for five minutes, and you’re starting on me already? What the hell do I have to do, Sam?”

Sam glanced at his watch. “Fifteen.”

“What?”

“Fifteen minutes. I’ve been awake for fifteen minutes.” He got to his feet, glaring at his astounded sibling. “And you’ve managed to piss me off already! That’s gotta be a record, even for you!”

Dean stared at his brother’s back as Sam returned to the bathroom. “What the hell!” The bathroom door slammed in response, and the frustrated hunter fisted his hands in his hair. “Jeez!” Anger simmered in his gut, and he took a step toward the closed door, intent on knocking it down and having it out with his pissy sibling – even if it meant knocking Sam down too. But reason won out over instinct and he backed away, a frown creasing his brow as he left the room to head down to the motel office.

The motel owner glanced up; a smile wrinkling her heavily powdered face when Dean pushed open the door. “Oh, now, how are you this fine morning? You’re the brother, aren’t you?”

Dean hesitated for a beat, forcing his usual charming grin. “Uh – yeah. Yeah, I’m – the brother.”

“Such a nice, well-mannered boy, that brother of yours. And so handsome, too.” The woman simpered, a blush highlighting the rouge on her cheeks.

Well-mannered? Yeah, right – only around everyone else except me… “Uh, yeah. I guess. Look,” Dean rested an elbow on the counter and cleared his throat before continuing. “Uh – me and my brother – we kinda – need our own space for a while, so – do you have another room?”

The middle-aged woman wagged a finger in Dean’s face. “Oh, now – you two boys haven’t been fighting, have you? My boys used to fight all the time when they were growing up.”

Growing up? How young does she think we are? The corners of Dean’s mouth twitched. It took all his willpower not to roll his eyes.

“Sometimes the only way I could separate them was to turn the garden hose on them.”

“Uh – no garden hose required, ma’am.” Dean held up both hands in surrender. “Just an extra room for a couple of nights.” He endured a pat on the cheek and waited with ill-concealed impatience while the woman consulted the register.

“Well, I’ve only got a few rooms vacant at the moment. There’s a single right here next to the office, or a double a few rooms down from the one you’re in right now.”

Dean pulled out his wallet. “I’ll take the double.”

Resting her be-ringed hands on the desk, the owner frowned, her over-plucked eyebrows drawing together in a thin line. “Well, all right – but if we get a couple in, I’m gonna have to –”

“We’ll move back into one room, okay? No problem.” Taking the register from the plump white hands, Dean scanned the previous entries for Sam’s distinctive spidery scrawl to check what name he’d booked them under. He handed over some of his hard-earned cash, signed the register and grabbed the key, deftly avoiding another pat on the cheek by knocking the heavy book to the floor in a seemingly clumsy move. “Oh – sorry.”

“Aww, that’s all right.” Wheezing a little as she bent to pick up the heavy book, the woman smiled at the tall young hunter. “You’re upset – I know. I can tell. Now, don’t you worry, honey – everything will settle down, you’ll see.”

Dean put on his best puppy dog expression. “I hope so, ma’am.” Stifling the chuckle that threatened to break out at the look of sympathy from the middle-aged proprietor, Dean beat a hasty retreat, glancing at the room number on the key tag as he strode along the corridor. As much as he hated the separation, it was the only thing he could think of to try to diffuse the situation until Bobby came up with something – or until Dean found the cause of Sam’s outbursts himself.

Dean walked past his new sleeping quarters to stop outside room sixteen, hesitating for a brief moment before pushing the door open.

Sam glanced up, his glassy eyes widening a little as his brother strode into the room. Dean avoided his gaze, grabbing his duffle and stuffing his scattered clothes into the brown leather bag.

“What are you doing?”

Pausing in his packing, Dean kept his back turned toward his sibling. “I got myself another room.” Stooping, he slid the confiscated laptop from under his pillows and shoved it into the top of the duffle.

“You don’t have to do that.”

Dean gritted his teeth at the slight tremor in his brother’s soft tone. “Yeah, I do. I think you need your space. And so do I.”

“Oh – so you’re ditching me, now?” Sam was on his feet, hot anger blasting through him. “That’s it? Things get a little tough, so you just bail? Story of your friggin’ life, isn’t it?”

His lips pressed into a thin line, Dean savagely shoved the last of his belongings into the duffle, swinging it over his shoulder. He picked up the weapons bag and strode to the door, slamming it behind him.

Sam let his battered body drop back onto the bed and raked his fingers through his hair. “Shit!” Shame poured through him in waves. He grabbed his cell from the nightstand and rapidly dialled his brother’s number. It was answered on the first ring. “Dean!”

"What?"

“I – I’m – man, I – didn’t…” Sam stuttered to a halt, not knowing what to say. “Please…”

“Sam – I can’t do this, okay? Every time you get within ten freakin’ feet of me, you want to chew my head off. I don’t know what else to do.”

“But…” Biting his lip, Sam stared at the wall, a tiny hint of fear over-riding the shame. “I – what if…”

A heavy sigh came through the phone. “Look – give me a few minutes, okay? I’ll call you back.”

“Dean – wait – I –”

"I'll call you back, Sam."

The call cut off, and Sam threw the phone onto his bed in frustration. It bounced, falling to the floor between the bed and the nightstand. Sighing heavily, he bent to retrieve it, tapping it against his palm while he waited anxiously for his brother to call him back. He couldn’t understand where his anger was coming from, and it scared him. Obviously it was scaring his big brother too, he realised, a sick feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. Demon blood… “Oh, God – what if –”

The phone shrilled in his hand, making him jump. Quickly he flipped it open and held it to his ear. “Dean?”

“Sam, listen to me – where’s the EMF meter?”

“What? The EMF – what…” Sam frowned in confusion.

“Where is it? It’s not in the weapons bag.”

“Uh…” Getting to his feet, the young hunter made his way to the bathroom, the phone pressed tightly to his ear. He rummaged through the clothes he’d worn the day before, finding the small device in the pocket of his jacket. “I’ve got it.”

“Okay, now listen carefully. I want you to scan everything in that room – including yourself. The furniture, the walls, your clothes – everything.”

“What? Why?”

“There may be something affecting you. When you finish, leave the EMF outside the door and call me. I’ll scan myself and my stuff to make sure there’s nothing on me.”

“I can bring it to you.”

“No, Sam. Not until we find out what’s going on. Every time we’re together, you go all Rambo on me. We gotta keep separated until we can find it.”

“Okay,” Sam reluctantly agreed, ending the call. He swallowed, eyeing the EMF for a moment before turning it on and pointing it at his chest. The device stayed silent, and he moved it down the full length of his body, breathing a sigh of relief when the scan proved negative. Turning resolutely toward the door, he began to systematically scan the entire room inch by inch.

*     *     *     *     *

The hour that Dean waited for Sam to call back was one of the longest in his life. He paced up and down the new room, throwing a disgusted look at the bathroom curtain every time he passed the doorway. Making a pot of coffee to calm his nerves, he sipped the scalding hot brew while he resumed his pacing; his cell phone gripped in his other hand. He had already dumped everything out of his duffle onto the spare bed in readiness for his own scan.

Something was messing with his brother – he could feel it in his bones. Sure, he mused, he’d been pissed as hell at Sam the first night in town, after finding his little brother had deliberately ignored his orders about trying to find a loophole in the crossroads deal. And tensions were running a little high for both of them in the aftermath of the events in Cold Oak; Sam dying, Dean’s deal, killing the yellow-eyed demon and seeing the demon army escape out of the Devil’s Gate.

But Dean felt his outburst that first night was justified – the crossroads demon had warned him that any hint of screwing around with his contract would mean Sam’s instant death. Dean had already told his stubborn sibling that he’d stop Sam himself if the younger man tried to find a way out. And he would follow through on that promise. No way was he going to risk Sam being killed again.

No, the hunter decided, his brother’s uncontrolled bursts of rage, and going off half-cocked to get into bar fights – that had nothing to do with the deal, not directly. This was something else entirely.

Finally his phone rang, and Dean flipped it open. “Well?”

“I got nothin’.”

“You checked everything?”

“Everything. I even scanned my toothbrush.”

Dean couldn’t help but chuckle at Sam’s dry tone. The mental picture of his totally anal brother scanning his toothbrush for EMF readings cracked him up. “Well, the toothbrush might be okay, but I think your razor could be fakin’ it.”

“I checked that, too. And my shaving cream.”  Sam’s voice went from wry to worried in two seconds flat. “Dean…”

“What?”

“I need – have you got…” A soft sigh drifted down the line. “Can you bring me a bottle of holy water?”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You think you’re possessed?”

“I – I’m not sure – maybe. I dunno. I mean – it’s only been two weeks since – you know. Cold Oak. Maybe – maybe the yellow-eyed demon – I could have been – maybe while he had us all in the town – or – or at the Devil’s Gate…”

“Sam, you didn’t come away from Wyoming carrying a demon inside you, okay?” Dean wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and massaged his tension-knotted muscles. “The first diner we came to, I put holy water in your coffee when you went to the bathroom. You were clean.”

“You did? Oh. Right.”

Still doesn’t mean he didn’t come back wrong, a traitorous little voice whispered in Dean’s ear. Shut the hell up, he snarled silently. “Look, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll leave a bottle of holy water when I get the EMF, okay?”

“All right. Good. Then – you know – we can be sure.”

“Okay.” Dean hesitated, hearing the undertone of fear in his brother’s voice. “Sam – we’ll find it, okay?”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Well, if you’re gonna drink a bottle of holy water, I better listen at the door, huh?”

“I guess.”

“Look, Sammy – let me do the scan on my stuff first, then we’ll try the holy water. Sound like a plan?”

“All right.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. I’ll call you back when I finish my scan.” Flipping the cell phone closed, he walked to the door, checking the corridor before scooping up the small black case lying outside the door to Sam’s room. Returning to his room, he quickly and thoroughly scanned every item in his possession, including himself.

The needle on the meter didn’t so much as flicker. Sighing aggrievedly, Dean grabbed a bottle of holy water from the weapons bag and strode down to room sixteen, rapping his knuckles on the door in a swift tattoo.

The door was wrenched open seconds later, his brother’s tall frame filling the space. Sam frowned, his gaze flicking from Dean’s face to the bottle gripped in his hand.

“Room service?” Arching his brows, Dean passed over the bottle, watching carefully while his sibling took a hefty swig. “Christo.”

Sam’s frown deepened into a full-blown scowl. Wiping his lips carefully, he handed the bottle back. “Holy water isn’t having any effect.”

“How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been in a bar fight.” Retreating to his bed, Sam sat down, resting his hands on his knees. The tight knot in his stomach slowly loosened. And then it wound up even tighter as he remembered the yellow-eyed demon’s mocking words back at the cabin in the woods – “You think something like that’s gonna work on something like me?” Sam’s face paled. If he was carrying something major, holy water might not work.

Dean sat on his former bed and tapped his brother’s knee, his brow wrinkled in a concerned frown. “Hey, come on, dude. It’ll be okay.”

“Wish we had one more bullet for the Colt.” Sam glanced up at his sibling. “Then we could be really sure.”

“Sam, even if we did have the Colt working, I’m not gonna shoot you to see if you’re freakin’ possessed. You drank the holy water, I said Christo – you’re clean. End of story. I’ll give Bobby a call – see if he knows of anything else that might be doing this.” Pursing his lips, Dean glanced at his watch and got to his feet. “Look – I gotta go work on the Impala. You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah.” Wincing a little as he slid back against the headboard, Sam pressed a hand to his side. “Might hang around the motel – do some laundry or somethin’.”

“Yeah, good idea. I’m almost out of clean shirts myself. I’ll go get my stuff.”

Sam felt a tiny spark of annoyance as his brother returned with his duffle in his hand. He scowled, watching in tense silence while Dean dumped his dirty laundry onto the bed near the door. “Anything else?” he growled.

Dean looked up, a puzzled frown between his brows. “What?”

“Anything else you want done while you’re gone? Boss?”

The elder Winchester schooled his face into a carefully blank mask. He held up a hand and backed to the door, keeping his gaze on his increasingly pissed off sibling. “No, that about covers it.”

The door closed, and the tension ran from Sam like water down a drain. Giving vent to a frustrated groan, he leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. “Damn it!” He waited a few minutes, then grabbed his cell.

*     *     *     *     *

Dean shrugged into his jacket and dropped the room key into the pocket before heading out the door. He glanced worriedly up the corridor and pulled his cell phone from his jeans, rapidly dialling a number as he walked across the parking lot. A gruff voice answered on the second ring. “Bobby, tell me you got something.”

Grimacing at the negative response, Dean blew out a sigh. “Well, nothing showed up on the EMF scan. And he’s fine when I’m not in sight. As soon as I get near him physically, he just loses it.” A beep sounded in his ear, and Dean glanced at the screen. “Bobby, hold on a minute, will you? It’s Sam.”

Quickly switching calls, Dean held the phone back to his ear. “Hey.”

“Dean – man, I’m –”

“I know. It’s okay. We’ll figure it out, okay? I got Bobby working on it, too.”

“But what if – what if we can’t find –”

“We will, Sam, I promise. Just – get the laundry done, get some rest, and I’ll check in with you later.”

“All right. But, Dean…”

“I know. We’ll just have to keep out of sight of each other till we find out what it is, and how to get rid of it. Okay?”

“So – you’re affected, too? It’s not just me?”

Dean hesitated for a second, grimacing when his brother picked up on the slight pause.

“It’s not affecting you, is it?”

“No, Sam, it’s not,” Dean reluctantly confirmed. “It’s only when you get pissed at me that I get pissed back. Look – I got Bobby on hold. I’ll call you later, okay? Just sit tight, and stay away from redneck bars.”

Sam’s exasperated huff came clearly through the phone and Dean grinned despite the worrying situation. He ended Sam’s call and retrieved Bobby’s. “Hey – so, what now?”

*     *     *     *    *

The phone went dead, and Sam rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Redneck bars – right.” Shaking his head, he got up and headed to the bathroom, hoping a hot shower would ease the stiffness in his body. Twenty minutes later he emerged in a cloud of steam and pulled on his last set of clean clothes. Feeling marginally more human, he filled the coffee maker and switched it on, sorting the dirty laundry into two piles while he waited for it to brew. Stuffing the sorted clothes into the two duffle bags, Sam finished his coffee, rinsing the empty cup in the sink before slinging the bags over his shoulder.

Closing the door behind him, he drew in a deep breath and headed down the corridor to the motel office. He groaned silently to himself when he saw the middle-aged proprietor on duty at the desk.

The woman’s jaw dropped in astonishment when the tall young hunter pushed open the door. “Oh! My goodness – what happened?” Rushing around the end of the reception desk, she grasped Sam’s arm and forced him to sit down on one of the comfortable chairs against the wall. She perched on the edge of the chair beside him and leaned forward.

“Uh – I kinda – got into a fight.” Sam tried not to wince as the woman cupped his bruised face between her plump hands.

“Oh, my. Not – not with your brother?”

“What? No! No – it was – in a bar. Dean – he…” Socked me in the jaw and hauled my sorry ass out of there, Sam recounted silently. “He got me out of there – patched me up. I’m okay.”

“Oh, you poor boy!” The motel owner pursed her bright red lips. “But – a bar fight? A nice boy like you? Surely you didn’t start it?”

“Uh, no – no, ma’am.”

“Call me Lucy.”

Sam gritted his teeth while Lucy petted his hair. “Um – ma’am – Lucy – we need to get some laundry done, so – can you tell me where –”

“Oh, there’s a laundry right here in the motel. No need to go into town to the Laundromat. You wait right here, and I’ll get you the key.” Giving Sam’s shaggy locks one last pat, Lucy beamed as she got to her feet and hurried through the door behind the reception counter. She returned a few minutes later, holding a key on a small length of chain. “Here you are. Just go right down to the end of your corridor, and turn left when you get outside. Go around the back of the building. The laundry is next to my garage. It’s got a green painted door – you can’t miss it.”

“Thanks Lucy.” Getting to his feet as quickly as his bruised frame would allow, Sam smiled his thanks and beat a hasty retreat, ruffling his flattened hair in annoyance once he got out of sight of the office. “Damned woman makes me feel like a friggin’ poodle!”

Hoisting the straps of the two duffle bags more firmly over his shoulder, Sam strode down the length of the corridor till he got to the exit door at the end. Following Lucy’s instructions, he soon found himself standing before the laundry, inserting the key into the padlock on the dark green door. Opening it up, he found a huge washing machine and dryer inside the small room, and smiled in satisfaction, wincing as the action pulled at the cut on his upper lip.

*     *     *     *     *

“So that rules out possession, too. I don’t know what the hell else to try, Bobby.”

“And the motel’s clean? No history?”

“I haven’t checked the history yet. Our room’s clean – well, Sam’s room now.” Dean flinched a little at the disgusted snort that came through the phone.

“You got separate rooms? Dean…”

“It was either that or hide the freakin’ weapons. I’m telling you, Bobby – the kid’s scary when he’s pissed. You should have seen those guys at that bar. He’d laid out three of them by the time I got there.”

“Three? By himself?”

“That sound like Sam to you?”

“Dean – your brother can fight, you know. You taught him.”

“I’m not sayin’ he can’t fight. But Sammy’s a pacifist. He’d never throw the first punch – that’s more my style than his. You know that.” Dean ran a hand through his hair. “There’s something wrong with my brother, Bobby.”

“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out. Look – that last hunt – are you sure you destroyed that thought form?”

“I made sure of it. What – you think that’s what’s wrong with Sam?”

“What did it do to him?”

“He said it got inside his head, and told him everyone he cared about would burn. That’s it.” Dean pursed his lips in thought as he neared the garage. “You think it messed with him a little?”

“I don’t know. Not that I could find out from my books. From what I researched, even if it had messed with him, it would have stopped as soon as you destroyed it.”

“Then what the hell is it?”

“I don’t know. I’ll keep looking. What’s Sam come up with on his own?”

“Uh – he’s – kinda – I banned him from the laptop.”

“You did what? What the hell for?”

“I caught him – researching the crossroads deal. I took the laptop off him and told him…” Dean’s face slowly suffused with red. “Uh – I told him he could have it back – when he proved to me he could be trusted.”

“Damn it, Dean! You just hamstrung your best researcher.”

“Okay – I’ll give it back to him. But you know what happens if we try to screw with this deal. Sam drops dead on the spot. I can’t let him do anything stupid, Bobby.”

“Have you told him that?”

“Yeah, I told him.”

“What did he say?”

“He got pissed at me and told me I was selfish – and that I should never have made that deal.” Dean shrugged. “He’s kinda been pissed at me ever since. But not like this. This – this is rage, Bobby. Pissed Sam I can handle. Psychotic Sam – that’s another story.”

“Well, keep in touch. I’ll look up a few more books and see what else I can find. You boys dig into the history of the motel and the town – see if there’s anything there. Maybe cursed ground, or a cursed object. And you say it’s not affecting you?”

“No. But if there is anything like that around, it’s more likely to affect Sam anyway. Everything freakin’ supernatural makes a beeline straight for him.”

“Kid’s a magnet, all right. Okay – call me if you find anything.”

“I will.” Flipping the phone closed, Dean strode into the workshop. “Dave – sorry, man.”

The young mechanic looked up from under the hood of the Taurus. “Don’t sweat it. It’s an easy day anyway – the bearing came in for your Impala on an overnight courier, so I can help you work on her when I finish the Taurus.”

“Great.”

“Oh – the jeweller called. It’s ready.”

“Yeah?” Dean grinned – that was the best news he’d had in days. The grin faded a little as he thought of his pissed off sibling’s reaction. “I’d better go pick it up.” Digging a hand in his jacket pocket, he frowned, patting his other pockets in quick succession. “Damn it – I left my wallet back at the motel. I’ll be back in a few, Dave.”

“Sure thing, man.”

“Thanks.”

Dave watched the tall hunter walk swiftly back the way he’d come, a puzzled frown between his brows. He’d seen Dean’s pleased smile lose some of its shine, and wondered what was going on in his new friend’s head. Shrugging, he went back to work after Dean disappeared from view.

*     *     *     *     *

Sam dumped the contents of the first duffle into the washing machine. He frowned; searching in the second bag for the soap powder before remembering it was in the back of the Impala. “Great.” A quick scan of the shelves proved fruitless, so he headed back to the office, hoping to beg or borrow some.

Lucy came from the back room in response to Sam hitting the bell on the reception desk, her face wreathed in smiles when she saw the tall hunter. “Well, it’s my lucky day, indeed. What can I help you with, honey?”

Sam stepped back out of range of her hands, smiling uneasily. “Uh – we ran out of soap powder. I was wondering…”

“Now, you wait right there. I just got a new box – haven’t had a chance to take it out to the laundry yet.” Lucy ducked back inside what Sam guessed was her living quarters. Muted thumps and rustlings came from within. A few minutes later, the owner emerged, an economy sized box of soap powder held triumphantly above her head. “Here it is,” she practically sang as she handed the brightly coloured box to the waiting hunter.

“Thanks, Lucy. I really appreciate it.”

“Aww, don’t mention it, honey. You just take what you need, and leave the box on the shelf above the machine, all right?”

“Thanks. I will.”

“Now, that machine’s a little tricky, mind. If you get stuck, you just give me a holler, okay? It took me ages to figure out what all the buttons were for.”

“No problem. I think I’ll be fine.” Backing away from the desk, the box held like a shield against his chest, Sam nodded to the beaming woman before beating a hasty retreat. Grateful that she hadn’t had a chance to pet his hair, he returned to the laundry, tearing open the top of the box as he walked across the open space at the back of the building.

With the soap powder added, Sam studied the dials on the machine before making his wash selection and turning it on. A shadow fell across the doorway and he groaned silently, not bothering to turn around. “It’s all right, Lucy – I figured it out.” He reached up to put the box on the shelf.

A sudden blow to his kidneys sent the young hunter reeling, the box falling from his hand as he collapsed against the machine and slid to the floor amid a shower of bright blue soap powder. A grunt of agony left his swollen lips and he flailed out a hand, reaching for the duffle of clothes to use as a weapon. As his fingers brushed the edge of the strap, a brawny arm snaked around his throat, drawing tight and pulling him onto his knees. Sam struggled frantically, his air cut off, clawing at the constricting limb in a futile effort to break free.

The young hunter jerked as a hard fist smashed into his already bruised ribs, sending a sickening pain through his body. He sagged helplessly in the relentless grip of his unseen assailant, black spots dancing before his eyes. The arm around his neck tightened mercilessly, and a harsh voice grated in his ear.

“No boyfriend around to save you now, Pretty Boy. Your ass is mine.”

*     *     *     *     *

 

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