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City Lights Fading Fast, for Safiyabat

Title: City Lights Fading Fast
Recipient: safiyabat
Rating: PG-13 (language, violence)
Word Count: 5,900 words
Warnings: Graphic descriptions of violence
Author's Notes: I sort of really idolize the recipient of this gift, so I kept writing stuff and then throwing it out. Here is my attempt at writing some BAMF!Sam for a totally badass writer of meta and fic. The idea got a bit out of my hands... I really hope it's still something like what you wanted!
Summary: Stanford!Sam being a BAMF. Now with 100% more Tyson Brady.

For someone so dedicated to eventually becoming an adult who will serve and save people with his medical expertise and his glistening, toothpaste-commercial smile, Tyson Brady is strangely attracted to the undercurrent of violence in backwater highway bars.



For someone so dedicated to eventually becoming an adult who will serve and save people with his medical expertise and his glistening, toothpaste-commercial smile, Tyson Brady is strangely attracted to the undercurrent of violence in backwater highway bars.

It's just before Thanksgiving break of their sophomore year, and Brady is determined to have fun before he heads home to see his stuffy adoptive parents and their stuffed turkey.

"I grew up in these places when I was little," he tells Sam, and from his explanations, Sam gets vague impressions of Brady as the only child of a single mother who worked as a server in a bar just like this one before she died and left him to very well-to-do relatives in Washington.

Sam just nods. "And you like them?" he asks. He, too, spent a lot of time in bars, but they just make him think of Dean falling into bed after midnight with his shoes still on and lipstick smears on his chin. They make him think of the way Dad's breath smelled when he was drunk and barely standing but still had the grit in him to belt out a lecture while gripping Sam's arm tight enough to bruise. He thinks of drunk patrons smirking at him and licking dry lips, of homework half-done because the atmosphere and the noise and the smells gave him a pounding headache.

"Yeah, man," Brady says. "I can be posh as hell with the best of them, but sometimes I just have to chill out at a place like this for a while. Feels like home."

Sam suppresses a dirty surge of jealousy at the words. Sam isn't quite sure if he knows what home is. Sure, Funyuns and tomato soup sometimes elicit a fond smile, but whatever Brady had—whatever it is that's making his eyes look far away, his lips curved up in a smile—Sam can't remember if he ever had that. Maybe that's what moms are; maybe they can make even noisy, stinky bars feel like home.

A memory of Dean rises in his mind—well-intentioned Dean who could never really pick a side when John and Sam got right down to it. Dean, who tried. Damn it, Sam knows he tried.

Bars make Sam think of November 2nd, how John always spent the anniversary of Mary's death as far away from Sam as he could get, and sometimes when he came home, red-eyed and saturated with the odor of cheap beer, he'd look at Sam like he didn't even know him, and he'd start to say something, spit out "You—" before he bit his tongue and buried his face in a pillow.

Sam doesn't have many good memories of bars, but maybe he can make some. Brady orders beer and Sam orders ginger ale, much to Brady's amusement.

"It's too early for me. Later," Sam says, and leaves it at that.

Brady just shrugs and throws back a third of his beer like he was born to do it.

It's funny. Brady has been living the high life since he was eight and looks like a rich kid—all slender with aristocratic features—and it's Sam, really, with his scraggly hair and wide shoulders and shrewd, tilted eyes, who looks like he should be at home here. It's Sam who spent almost his entire life in and out of establishments like this one, Sam who learned how to pinch pennies and (sometimes) steal a few dollars from Dean just in case he lost most of it at pool or poker, Sam who stuffed it in Dean's socks or duffel bag or a dirty pair of jeans to make him think he'd just forgotten it there so his big brother wouldn't have to admit that he had nothing left to feed them with.

Still, though, Brady is the one who looks like he belongs here, and Sam's still fighting his fight-or-flight response, gripping his ginger ale like a weapon.

"C’mon, man. Loosen up!" Brady knocks back most of the rest of his drink and slings an arm around Sam's shoulders, whacking him on the back hard enough to make him choke. He sets his soda down, spluttering carbonated beverage over his lips and choking at the bite of it.

"Are you trying to kill me?" Sam rasps, coughing between breaths. Sam Winchester, destroyer of rogue werewolves. Cause of death: ginger ale.

Once he’s sure Sam isn’t going to die from aspirating soda, Brady gestures for another beer and turns his attention to the game of darts in the back.

The old TV mounted over the bar is off, but a few men have gathered over games of pool or darts while others watch. Sam keeps seeing the same, harried waitress scurrying back and forth to deliver drinks. Twice, he watches her pluck hands from her ass.

Sam wonders what kind of job Mary had, if she had one. Would she have been like this woman, smiling but firm in her refusals? He imagines that she was strong. She would have to have been if she married someone like John Winchester.

Even Dean got angry when Sam tried to talk about her, though; the topic was absolutely forbidden in front of John.

The best Sam has is some research he did using local records.

Brady’s arm locks around his neck again, and he gestures to the pool table with his chin. "You play?" he asks.

"I…" Sam considers whether he should answer honestly. He can play, but he prefers not to. He wriggles so that Brady’s arm falls away. "A bit," he finishes.

"Pool?" Brady asks, arching his eyebrows. "Poker? Darts? ‘Cause those fools at the dartboard are laying down some real money out there and I’d like to have a go at it."

Sam sighs. "Brady, in case you forgot, I’m not rolling in cash like you."

Brady snorts. "I’ll cover you."

"No."

"Nah, man. I’m gonna get you a beer, and you’re gonna drink it, and then we’re going to show these old men what we’re made of. Come on."

Soon, a beer sits in front of Sam, and he takes a deep gulp under Brady's approving stare.

"Drink up."

"If you want to make money tonight, you don't want me to down all of this at once."

Brady shrugs. "I'd also give money to watch you stumbling around drunk off your ass, so...."

Sam absently reaches out to punch Brady's shoulder, earning a complaint as the blond boy's beer splashes out over the top of its glass, and Sam pays careful attention to the dirty grains of wood on the counter and to how the beer soaks into Brady's jeans, how very much Brady's voice doesn't sound like Dean's, even though this whole routine was theirs. He downs another gulp of the beer—not sure if it's bringing on or drowning this sudden bout of nostalgia—and stands. Screw silent contemplation.

"I'm ready," he says.

Brady sets down his drink with a belly-deep, guffawing laugh. "Don't get ahead of yourself, young Padawan. Don't you want to practice? Bit of a primer? I mean, I'm no pro, but I've played."

"Nah, I think I'm good." Sam shows all his teeth when he tries to smile, but a part of him thinks it must look like a grimace.

"Your funeral."

"Just wait and see."

They make it into the room, Sam in a worn Stanford hoodie with extra layers underneath and Brady looking like the rich boy he is in a soft wool sweater over a baby blue button-down. Brady lends Sam a lot of the cred he needs. All alone, he looks a little rough around the edges, just the right amount of awkward that it's a bit of a toss-up—they'll either think he's an easy target or be wary of him. With Brady here, he can play off of the other boy's natural self-assuredness.

They start a game all on their own, Brady all crooked smiles and confidence, and Sam exaggerates the looseness of his lips and limbs. Brady is either stupid or a genius scammer, because he ends up slamming a handful of cash down on the table. "Sam, I'll bet you I can wipe the floor with your ass at darts."

Sam grins. By this point, all eyes in the room are on them.

It doesn't take long for a guy to come up to them, built like a tank and tanned like a trucker—darker on the one arm than the other. "Stanford, huh?" He gestures to Sam's hoodie. "What brings you boys so far out here?"

"Bars in the area got boring," Brady says.

"You lookin' for a game?"

Brady shrugs. "I'm pretty good, you know."

The stocky guy snorts and waves a hand like he's batting at an annoying fly. "Well, I don't mind a challenge. You and the other kid against me."

Success. The guy obviously thinks nothing of them.

Turns out that even a bit tipsy, Sam is one hell of a good aim, whether he's using a gun or a dart.


- oOo -




Sam is sort of expecting the evening to come to blows at some point, but not like this.

They don't even get to finish their game.

About halfway through, the waitress from earlier pushes past, face set and shoulders hunched, but she doesn't make it through before the big guy reaches out and snags the bottom of her black skirt. She staggers at the unexpected pull and jerks away too quickly, dropping the drink she was carrying, which shatters on impact. Jagged pieces skitter across the floor as lukewarm beer sprays out onto her ankles and the pant legs of everyone nearby, and the man wrenches the waitress's skirt up as she drops to her knees with a rag pulled from her apron. Her name, the tag on the left side of her polo announces, is Cheryl.

It takes a moment for her to realize why the men around her are laughing and catcalling, and she reaches back to find her skirt pulled up, tugging it down over her underwear just as Sam steps between her and the leering tank-sized trucker.

"Look, buddy, I don't know how you can think this is all right—and I know this isn't any of my business—but I can't just stand by and watch this happen. This kind of job is plenty hard enough without dealing with sick bastards like you."

The man's eyes narrow, lips drawing tight and whitening with anger. Sam knows the look. He's seen it before.

"So if you don't mind, let's just keep playing so you can fork over your cash." It's the truth—Sam is killing this guy at darts.

"How about you mind your own fucking business?" the trucker growls.

"I'd love to, as soon as you start minding yours."

The waitress gets to her feet, knees damp from the spilled drink, sopping rag laid out over the pieces of shattered glass. She sets a hand on Sam's arm. "I'll be back with a broom and dustpan. I appreciate your passion, kid, but this is just how things go."

Sam spent most of his life placating himself with those words. This is how things go.

It's the most insidious poison, because it just sits there, rotting the roots out from beneath a person because it never seems like there's any other choice.

"It doesn't have to be," he says. "It shouldn't be."

The woman shrugs, and the resignation cuts Sam to the bone. "I can take care of myself," she says.

"I know," Sam mutters. It's the principle of the matter, though—the license this man thinks he has to her body and her choices. It makes him angry—makes him remember. "I'm sorry," he says.

"I'll be back," The waitress starts. "Now be careful of that glass, you hear?"

She takes only a few steps before the guy grabs her upper arm, fingers wrapping all the way around with room to spare. "Y'know I didn't mean it, babe," he says.

Her lips press together. "Let go of my arm."

Sam's Sociology 101 professor has been going on about something called the bystander effect recently. It involves masses of people ignoring an obvious problem in hopes that others will take care of it.

Sam has always had the opposite problem, really.

Part of him doesn't care, though. He needs something to take his mind off of all the things this dirty bar brings back, and he can't bring himself to just stand by and let this guy do what he wants just because he's big.

You'd think you woulda learned by now, Dean had said once, a long time ago, when he walked into the living room to find scattered books and papers strewn all over, evidence of Sam's disagreement with his Dad over leaving this school district before his big soccer meet. Think you woulda learned. First words Dean had said.

And really, Sam should have learned his lesson by now, but instead of cowing him, his arguments with John just left him angry. None of that has changed too much.

Injustice and oppression make him angry. Big guys throwing their weight around make him angry. His anger has always driven him deeper into himself, made him quiet. Dad and Dean were never like that. They were always more expressive.

Sam shakes his head to derail that train of thought. He doesn't doubt that this waitress, Cheryl, knows exactly what she's doing, knows how to suck it up and survive. But she shouldn't have to, and Sam has just enough beer in him that talking back to a man twice his size horizontally seems like a good idea.

"Hey, buddy, she asked you to let go," he says, stepping forward. His voice comes out steady, reasonable—just barely louder than the steady beat of music coming from the other room.

Some people wouldn't even be able to tell that Sam is angry.

Brady can. He steps in behind Sam, the placating hand on his shoulder only succeeding in sending a shudder through Sam. "Hey, man," Brady whispers. "You sure this is a good idea?"

All in all, though, Brady doesn't look terribly concerned.

Sam shrugs. "Why not?" he whispers back.

The trucker still hasn't let go of Cheryl's arm. She's wrenching it, pulling, but the guy's grip has only gotten tighter, whitening the flesh of her upper arm.

"Look, I don't want anyone to get hurt here tonight," Sam starts, using the few seconds to calculate what he needs to do (he's never been the act-first type, not like Dean) but then he just reacts, lashing out on muscle memory, chopping at the guy's wrist in one, smooth movement. Cheryl gets free, but Sam isn't sure if it's because his hit was effective or if he's only succeeded in angering the beast.

The trucker, despite his bulk, is fast, too. Sam dodges what would have been a solid punch to the jaw only to feel the fingers of the man's other hand knotting into his hair and pulling him upright. He winces and blinks at the throbbing pain in his scalp, but he manages to glare as he's tugged up on his tiptoes to make eye contact with the guy.

"Y’wanna know who doesn’t wanna hurt anyone? Pansy bastards who can’t fight."

The man’s fingers twine into Sam’s long hair and all he hears is Damn it, Sam, long hair is shit on a hunt and you know it. Dean has threatened to buzz his hair in his sleep before.

Had. Dean had said that. Sam hasn’t heard from Dean since he hopped the bus to California last year, and he hasn’t had the courage to pick up the phone, either.

The man makes a fist with the fingers in Sam’s hair, pulling the skin of Sam’s scalp tight and making his eyes water with the pain.

"Whoa," Brady is saying. "Fuck. Hey, he didn’t mean it. Let’s just... why don’t we just…"

An arm closes around Sam’s neck, and that’s it. Too many creatures have tried to do that. Too many times, Sam has flipped up his collar or worn turtlenecks in spring to hide bruises. Once, he rasped his way through a rebuttal for debate despite the swelling in his throat. His teammates had thought he had laryngitis.

The man’s breath is hot against Sam’s ear and reeks of beer.

He stomps on the man’s instep and drives an elbow back into his ribs with all the force he can muster. Sam left the hunting life, but the hunting life never really left him.

He tells himself it’s for health, but he still wakes up early to run most days. He still keeps too much salt in his room and has a set of silver cutlery. He’s still in fighting shape, and the sparring moves Dean taught to him, ingrained into him over years of practice, come back as natural as breathing. They're a bit rusty for lack of practice, but not too bad.

The man is still reeling, breathless from a solid elbow strike to his solar plexus, when Sam slips free from his grasp and drives his fingers hard into the nerves at the elbow of the man’s dominant arm.

Dean never was a fair fighter. He used every single dirty tactic in his arsenal to make Sam lose, and he taught all of them to Sam. Nothing fancy—nothing that flashy. As soon as the man poses no threat, Sam stomps on his kneecap just hard enough to knock him to his knees, and he stares down at the huge, bulky man who is gasping and half-mad with pain. (At least he didn't fall on the glass.)

He wants to ask who the pansy bastard is now, but seeing the man there, clutching his damaged elbow and awash with greasy sweat from the near-dislocation of his kneecap, sends a wave of sickness through Sam. Instead, he says, "I’m sorry."

A quick glance at Cheryl reveals that she’s gone pale and is most of the way out the doorway into the main bar.

Everyone is staring at him. The faint music in the background continues as if it’s not the single loudest thing in the room. For a moment, all eyes are on Sam, and the world just sort of fades away into a distant buzz as Sam tries to make himself smaller. He doesn't even feel it when he backs into the pool table.

The illusion is shattered when Brady edges in, muttering curses. He claps a hand on Sam’s back, jolting him to full awareness, and when Sam blinks into the dim room, he realizes that most of the patrons have begun to talk again, even if a handful of them keep casting suspicious looks in his direction.

The trucker staggers to his feet and favors his left leg on the way to his table. Sam carefully doesn't look at the man, but he can hear muttered threats as he gathers his belongings and leaves without a word.

Brady guides Sam to the bar again, sits him down in front of his unfinished drink, and makes him finish it, and then another to boot.

While Sam is working on his second beer, Brady leans in close and blurts, "Shit, where did you even learn that stuff? I mean... I know you're pretty badass with your brain, but you totally owned that guy and he was like twice your size. I sorta pegged you for a pacifist."

Sam shakes his head without looking up. "Can we not talk about this now?"

Brady sits back, arms raised in surrender. "Yeah, man. Yeah, sure. It's just... I was a little surprised, is all. I feel like there's a lot I don't know about you, Sam."

If only he knew. Sam is pretty sure if Brady heard even a fraction of the things Sam could tell him about himself, the blond sophomore would run away and never come back.

Perhaps sending his mood, Brady pats him on the back awkwardly for a moment before coming out with a story about the quiet girl in his anatomy class.

Sam makes the mistake of assuming that the adventurous part of his evening is over at that point. He accepts a third drink and swallows too fast, berating himself between gulps.


- oOo -




They're heading out toward Brady's red Escalade when someone rudely interrupts them.

It's the big trucker, back with reinforcements.

Sam is drunk—drunker than he should be, and so of course he laughs, his breath fogging out white in the chilly November air. In the dirt lot behind the bar, diesel 18-wheelers rumble away, spitting fumes into the air.

It's the stupidest fucking thing, literally the oldest cliché in the world: disgraced loser comes back with friends in order to exact disproportionate revenge against the hero.

Sam shakes with breathless laughter at the ridiculousness of the fact that he's in the role of the hero in this particular cliché. Does this shit even happen in real life? The world is tilting just a bit. His buzz sailed right on by into tipsy and then just-a-tad-smashed without stopping at any of the lights.

It's thanks to his dizzy swaying that the first punch doesn't land. Instead of hitting Sam, who feels the rush of air and sees the movement in his peripherals, it slams into the side of Brady's skull, knocking him onto his knees and then onto his face.

He doesn't try to cushion his fall, and he isn't moving. Sam stumbles forward, but doesn't have time to actually check on Brady before this entirely unfair fight starts in earnest. One of the guys (there are four, Sam notices) comes in with a solid punch that would have slammed into his ribs if Sam hadn't managed to block it.

There are no lives to be saved here. There's absolutely no glory in this. It's just a bunch of stupid humans getting back at Sam for being stupid. His first thought is, maybe I should never have come here, and his second, bitterly angry, is, or maybe I should have dislocated this idiot's kneecap for real.

It takes only a moment for him to realize that only one of the men is coming after him, and he knows that's not right.

The other three are after Brady, who is still on the ground.

Sam definitely should have dislocated the guy's kneecap.

A vicious kick lands on Brady's side, dragging him to consciousness if the way he curls up and covers his head is any indication.

Sam doesn't waste a moment. He catches his opponent's next clumsy punch and uses the man's momentum to spin him around, landing a hit to the back of the man's skull to knock him out. (He knows a hit like that can cause lasting damage; at the moment, he doesn't care.)

As the man falls, Sam turns to the remaining three, delivering a brutal kick to the back of the trucker's already injured knee just before the bulky man attacks Brady again. Brady hasn't uncurled from the fetal position, thus far avoiding damaging kicks to his head or core.

As the trucker grunts and drops once again to one knee, the other two men turn and redirect their anger at him. They're both drunk—it's easy enough to tell—but Sam isn't perfectly sober, either, and his coordination was always the first thing to go with alcohol. His mind usually remains pretty clear, but his body never listens to the orders his brain gives it. He's taller than both of the remaining men but not nearly as wide.

Sam ducks out of the way of another attempt to grab his hair, putting him at just the right height to catch a knee that collides with his right temple. White lights and static explode in front of his eyes. The world swims around him.

His gaze flickers to Brady when he hears a low groan. Brady is trying to drag himself away.

The fact that the big trucker is on his knees doesn't mean that the rest of him isn't working just fine. He lashes out and snags Brady's pant leg, tugging him closer over the cold ground even as Brady kicks out in an attempt to escape.

Sam loses focus.

He won't let this guy hurt Brady. This is Sam's fault, Sam's fight.

He kicks out at the trucker, landing a kick between the man's shoulder blades and knocking him off balance onto the ground. "Brady!" Sam yells. "Get up. Run."

A big hand snags the hood of his sweatshirt, pulling Sam back and then tightening the fabric around his fist until Sam can barely breathe. The gross sensation of lukewarm liquid on the side of his face lets him know that the knee to his temple from before must have broken skin. Already a bit dizzy from the hit to his head, Sam staggers on his feet as his oxygen gets cut off.

One man holds him while the other comes in to attack.

Thinking fast, Sam lets go of his own throat and catches the next punch, uncurling the fingers of the man's fist with one hand and grabbing his wrist with the other. The momentum of the incoming blow works against the man as Sam bends the fingers back as far as they'll go.

His attacker screams, trying to get Sam's hands away. He manages to grab a couple of Sam's fingers and wrench them, but Sam won't let go. He bends the man's fingers until he hears and feels a reverberating crack.

He has no time to feel guilty. He's barely getting any air, and his already wavering vision is little more than a washed-out funnel of blurred figures in the center of encroaching blackness.

The trucker is trying to get to his feet again, doubtless to join the fun, but he's close enough that Sam can use him.

He jerks his lower body up, kicking at the trucker's face. He feels the gush of blood from a badly broken nose, and he uses the trucker's bulky body to brace himself as he uses both feet to push off from the startled trucker's body. The man cutting off his air supply isn't ready to be thrown off balance, and he loosens his grip on Sam in order to keep from falling, giving Sam a single moment to duck all the way out of the over-sized hoodie and leave the man dangling the shirt from his clenched fist.

The man stumbles forward to try to regain his balance, and even while Sam's lungs clench and rasp with fruitless attempts to drag in air, he uses the opportunity, punching the man in the throat and pushing him backward. He hits his head hard on the ground, groaning and heaving out wet, choking coughs.

Coughing and nearly retching with his attempts to breathe, Sam doesn't see the last one coming. It's the one whose fingers Sam broke, and he uses his left hand to push Sam up against the nearest obstacle—the hood of someone's car—and then repeatedly slams his head against the metal. The first hit catches Sam by surprise, and his teeth crash down on his tongue, tearing into it. The hits continue, while Sam can do little more than strain his arms to try to find purchase.

Consciousness fades. He can barely breathe anymore, panic making his lungs and heart work overtime.

Suddenly, his attacker falls away with a solid, resounding crunch, and Sam thinks he sees Brady just before he slides down the hood and into blackness.


- oOo -




"Oh fuck," is the first thing he hears when he surfaces. He smells beer and blood and someone's aftershave, a familiar scent. "Fuck, Sam, this is bad. Hey. Hey, you hear me? Come on, man, hey."

"D'n?" he starts, and the voice is quiet long enough that he knows he was wrong. He tries to open his eyes (no luck; they seem to be swollen) and then tries to sit up (also a failure; it hurts like fire and he gives up). "Whh...?"

His tongue is not cooperating, and Sam feels something warm sliding over his lips; it's gross as hell. He tries to speak, but his mouth is full of ragged flesh and everything tastes like copper. He just manages to make a gurgling groan, and more blood—because that's what it is—froths over his lips and down his chin.

"Shh. Oh God just—don't talk. Jesus, Sam. You're bleeding from your fucking mouth." Brady. It's Brady. It all comes back.

Sam wants to tell Brady that all the blood is coming from his tongue. He doesn't think he's bleeding internally, though he wouldn't be surprised if he cracked a rib. He twitches his limbs in an attempt to triage himself. The worst is probably his head, which got whacked up against the hood a good few times. Even Dad always said head injuries were a big deal.

Next is the ribs: risk of pneumonia if not properly treated. Most likely, they're just bruised. He'll just have to remember to breathe deeply at regular intervals to keep his lungs healthy.

He'll have impressive bruising on his torso and he thinks he might have broken his pinkie finger when they idiot tried to wrench his hands away.

Really, though, the worst of it is that he keeps accidentally swallowing blood, and it tastes awful. His stomach is already unsettled from the hits to the head; he knows he's gonna freak Brady out if—

The hypothetical becomes reality when Brady tries to sit him up. Sam moans and makes a little noise in his throat as a wave of nausea fairly bowls him over.

Head injuries have always been a lot like this for Sam. He's got one hell of a hard head, but if he ever gets hit hard enough to make him lose consciousness, he usually barely surfaces into consciousness before Dean is holding a bowl underneath his chin and—

Not helping.

Sam hates throwing up.

At least the rib-jarring retching makes him stop thinking about his brother. He didn't eat much, so most of what comes up is beer and fresh blood (it hasn't had time to curdle, thank goodness).

He manages to curb Brady's panic with a few short syllables. Five minutes later, he can't remember what he said.

"Ss'get outta here," he slurs after his stomach settles. It's best to be gone before anyone comes out, drawn by the noise. Thank goodness someone has the music on nice and loud just before they left.

"Getting you to a hospital."

John Winchester might actually have agreed with Brady, Sam muses. Not even the mighty John fucks with head injuries.

Well. He does, but with less frequency than most other injuries.

Sam, however, doesn't have the same respect for them at the moment. He just wants hardcore pain meds and sleep. Brady helps him into the car and starts it up.

As they travel, the bright lights of the nearest town grow dim behind them, and with them, all the memories he's been trying to crush down also fade. Brady keeps casting worried glances at Sam whenever they pass under a street light.

"M'fine." He flops a hand at Brady to show how fine he is. "Juss'need sleep."

"Don't think you're supposed to be sleeping."

"Tired." And his mouth is like sashimi. "Ugh, juss'..."

"You gonna puke again?" Brady asks.

"Nah'sss good."

"Jesus, Sam. I didn't sign up for this."

Sam means to say something long and meaningful, but all he manages to slur out is an accusatory, "...pre-med student."

"I know. But this shit is real. I can't even remember most of the stuff I've been learning. Just... stay awake, I think. For now. Maybe."

Sam shrugs. Brady reaches over blindly as he takes the overpass, searching fingers ghosting over Sam's arm. He pats awkwardly at it, turning to give Sam a serious stare. "You saved my life back there," he says.

Sam starts to protest.

"Shut up. I won't hear a word of it. I'm not kidding. Those guys were totally intent on kicking my face in while I was down. At the very least, they may have utterly destroyed the beauty that is Tyson Brady if you hadn't interrupted, and that would have been a damn shame."

"You're..." Sam makes his aching mouth form the words. "You're prob'ly concussed. Prob'ly shouldn't be driving either."

Brady shrugs. "Live on the wild side." A pause, and Sam can hear the steady click click click of the turn signal. "Hospital right off this ramp. Gonna get someone a bit more qualified to take a look at your rattled noggin."

"You too."

"Yeah. Me too. You first, though."

Underneath the Escalade's wheels, the pavement makes the same old sound it makes under any car—an uninterrupted rumble as familiar to Sam as bars are to Brady. He listens to it until the car begins to slow, eyes drooping with exhaustion.

"Hey!" Brady reaches out with a hand. "Need you awake. We're almost there." He slaps Sam's knee twice and then looks over—a quick glance just long enough to meet Sam's eyes. "You probably don't wanna know how many brain cells those blows to the head killed off," he says.

Sam groans.

"But, you know—count your blessings," Brady says, huffing out a dry laugh. "At least you have some recovery time before finals."

Sam can't muster the effort to make a response, but his ribs ache with a burst of startled laughter.

"You and your bright sides," he mutters, groaning at the pain in his ribs.

"What? You love my optimism," Brady says.

"Keep telling yourself that," he says, but after a bit he adds, "Someone needs to have a glass half-full between the two of us. Never change, Brady."

The lights of the small town are barely more than an orange glow on the horizon of the navy sky behind them, eclipsed by the steadily brightening glow of the nearby hospital.

After a minute or two, Brady pulls the car to a stop in front of the small hospital, and the sudden silence lends his light-hearted response almost too much gravity. "You know I won't."

For a while, Sam lets himself believe that.
Tags: 2015:fiction
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