Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
“Dean,” Sam shifted his shoulder when he felt the weight of his brother’s head shift to him.
“Yeah,” Dean mumbled, pulling his head up and tightening his grip on the flare gun in his lap.
They had been sitting in near-silence, watching the cave entrance for several hours. Sam alternated between shivering and ducking as much of his body under Dean’s jacket and the duffle blanket and burning up and trying in vain to move away from the fire. The ache in his leg had increased to a teeth-clenching pain, but Dean had been rigid about the painkillers.
During the weak hours of the early morning, Dean sat between Sam and the entrance, moving only to add more wood to the fire. He’d kept his mind purposefully blank, focusing only on Sam’s fever and the cave entrance. At one point he remembered that there was another entrance to the cave – the one the wolf had managed to get in through and the wendigo had rolled the boulder from, so he alternated his watch.
His body wasn’t cooperating with the singular focus of his mind. His vision wavered whenever he moved his eyes, and his arm was on fire. If they’d had more antiseptic, he would have cleaned it out, but he was afraid for Sam… afraid of the infection he knew was setting in his brother’s leg. And they were so far from help…
“Gotta check your leg,” Dean muttered. He used his right arm and pushed himself away from the wall and Sam, noticing how cold he immediately got when away from Sam’s fevered body. He felt himself shivering, not really aware if it was from the early morning air or from the pain in his arm. He didn’t want to focus on either too long. He needed to check on Sam.
“You okay?” Sam’s voice was low, tired.
Sam swallowed and looked at Dean. His brother should have left when he had the chance. When he didn’t look so pale… when his hands didn’t shake so much.
“Why didn’t you leave me, Dean,” he said quietly.
Dean had worked his way down to Sam’s feet. He lifted his eyes at Sam’s question.
“Why didn’t you just go?” Sam said, watching the firelight dance across Dean’s features casting shadows that altered perception. When Dean blinked, the shadow from his lashes gave Sam the illusion that his brother’s eyes were black, opaque… deflecting emotion rather than reflecting it.
“Don’t be an idiot, Sam. I wouldn’t leave you,” he looked down and around himself for the flashlight, flicking it on and lifting the duffel blanket to look at Sam’s leg. The tear in the skin below his knee had stopped bleeding long ago, and though the leg was swollen and bruised, pressing against the sticks that splinted the bone in place, Dean could detect no other signs of infection. He let out air he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.
“Yeah, but why?”
Dean draped the duffel blanket back around Sam’s leg and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Sam was relentless with questions when he was healthy. Sam sick and questioning him was sometimes more than Dean’s nerves could stand. Humor him, he’s not himself, he needs reassurance… resist the urge to tape his mouth shut…
“Right now, Sam, I’m asking myself that same question.”
Sam swallowed again. He was so thirsty, but he didn’t want to ask Dean for water. He knew they only had one bottle of water and no idea how long they’d need it. He ignored his brother’s snark and looked over at the fire.
“You could be out, safe. You could have someone take care of you. Make you better.”
“I’m not broken, Sam,” Dean said.
“Yes you are, man,” Sam said softly, staring hard into the fire. “You just won’t admit it. You will run yourself into the ground before you admit it. You just…”
Dean listened as Sam’s words tapered off, looking harder at his brother’s profile. Sam’s face was pale in the firelight and there was a fine sheen of sweat on it. He was blinking slowly, his eyes on the fire. Every so often, Dean saw him shiver. Dammit… I have got to get him out of here.
“You with me, Sammy?”
“Not to me it isn’t.”
Sam rolled his head slowly back and turned his eyes to Dean. His head dipped briefly, then he jerked it back up quickly, opening his eyes wide.
“Easy, kiddo,” Dean said, his worry spiking as Sam’s eyes blinked slower.
“Damn,” Sam rubbed a shaking hand over his face. “This sucks.”
Dean crawled back up to his place beside Sam. “Why don’t you go to sleep, Sammy? It won’t be light for another hour or so.”
Sam shook his head. “Can’t.”
“Sure you can. You’re practically asleep right now.”
“You can’t sleep,” Sam sighed rolling his neck.
Dean lifted a confused eyebrow. “Huh?”
“Your head, man. You can’t go to sleep.”
Dean looked back to the entrance, finally understanding his little brother’s logic. If Sam fell asleep, who would keep Dean awake? He cursed his own weakness. Sam shouldn’t have to worry about that – he needed to rest.
“I got it under control, Sam.”
Sam blinked, Dean’s words spiking a memory through his fevered brain.
“What did you just say?”
“I said I got it under control, you don’t have to worry about me.”
Dubuque, IA 1995
He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand what could have been so fucking terrible about this job that Dad had let what was normally an after-hunt drink to calm his nerves, to help him sleep, turn into the binge to end all binges.
He’d been gone for two days, one of them planned, and had called Dean to come get him. Sam could tell from the look on his brother’s face that Dad was in bad shape. Dean had called a cab to take him to the location his Dad had given him, telling Sam to lock the door as he grabbed his jacket from the hook.
“I know, man, I’m not an idiot,” Sam had grumbled, following Dean to the door.
Dean had turned around to face him. Nearly thirteen, Sam was almost as tall as his brother and could look him in the eye. What he saw there now was worry, and he could see that Dean was struggling with what concerned him the most – leaving Sam alone or what had happened to their Dad.
“Sam,” Dean’s voiced was laced with controlled anger that Sam realized covered a layer of fear.
“Okay, okay,” Sam said, not willing to apologize for being difficult, but also not willing to push his brother further.
Dean had been gone for almost an hour when Sam heard voices outside the door. Without waiting for the password – which his brother would ream him for later, he knew – he went to the door and opened it. Dean stood there, John’s arm over his shoulder, his arm around John’s waist. John’s weight was bowing Dean, but his brother straightened when the door opened and moved them both inside.
Sam had expected blood. Wounds. Something. He’d even gotten the first aid kit out in anticipation. But Dad wasn’t hurt, Dad wasn’t bleeding. Dad was fall-down-drunk. The smell of whiskey rolled off of him in waves as Dean moved past Sam and eased him down on the couch. He straightened slowly, rubbing a hand lightly over a bruised area on his back – at sixteen his body already bore scars he’d carry for life.
“Sam,” Dean said quietly. “Go make us some coffee, okay?”
“Dun need coffee,” John slurred. “I got it… I got it unner control.”
“Dad,” Dean started, but John waved a loose hand at him.
“I said got it! Lemme lone, Dude,” he started to struggle out of his jacket, seemingly intent on lying down on the couch. He ended up half slumped on the couch, one arm trapped behind him.
Dean sighed and stepped forward to help. John saw him coming.
“Said lemme lone,” John growled.
Dean ignored him. The second he touched John, though, John’s free arm shot up, catching Dean on the chin, closing his mouth with an audible click. Dean stumbled backwards in surprise, his hand going up to his mouth. Sam took a deliberate step forward. He’d had enough. His Dad expected perfection out of them and then does this? No way.
“Dad,” Dean said again, in the same even, soft tone he’d used before. Sam’s angry eyes shot over to him. His green eyes were pinned to his father sitting awkwardly on the couch. “Let me just… just get that for you,” Dean was saying as he eased John’s arm free of the jacket.
John seemed to give in, and Dean put the jacket over him like a blanket, easing his father’s feet up on the couch and starting to take his boots off. Sam fumed. How could Dean just…accept this?! He clenched his jaw, glaring at his brother, angry at him for being weak in this moment, for not calling their Dad to the carpet as he knew John would have done to either of them.
Sam turned from his family and walked back toward the small room he shared with Dean. As he exited, though, he heard his brother’s low murmur.
“It wasn’t her, Dad.”
“So close… she was so close...”
“It wasn’t her. You did good, okay?”
“Shoulda seen ‘er, Dude. She was beautiful.”
“Mom was,” Dean answered, and Sam heard a change in his brother’s voice. A hardening. “This thing was not her, Dad.”
“So close, Dean.”
“Close is crap, Dad. You did what you had to do.”
Sam stood still, holding his breath, waiting.
“Go to sleep, Dad.”
“Gotta take care of the…” John’s voice faded.
Sam heard Dean sigh, and could tell his brother had stood up from his crouched position on the floor. He quickly ducked into the bedroom to avoid being caught eavesdropping. He listened for Dean’s movement through the small apartment, but heard nothing but the methodical ticking of the clock in the kitchenette. Then…
“You’re gonna hate yourself in the morning for doing this… but we’ll never hate you. Sammy and me. That’s a promise.”
“You say that like he hit me on purpose,” Dean said, his face turned from Sam, watching as the grey light of dawn stole slowly through the canopy of trees outside the cave entrance. The increasing light outside made the cave seem even darker, colder, more menacing – despite the fire he had worked all night to keep lit.
“Well, he did,” Sam started to feel more alert. The angry fire that always seemed to burn hot in his heart when he thought of his father was sparking to life again.
“Dude, he was drunk,” Dean said over his shoulder. “You’ve been there, you know what it’s like…”
“I wouldn’t hit you, drunk or not,” Sam declared. You’re always right there with the excuses, aren’t you, Dean? Always willing to defend him… wonder if he’d ever do the same for you…
“Oh, really,” Dean answered. “I have a couple rock-salt scars on my chest that say differently.”
Sam froze. He literally stopped breathing. Dean hadn’t moved away from him – hadn’t moved at all. His back was still resting against Sam’s shoulder as he faced the cave entrance, but Sam suddenly felt like Dean was a million miles from him. He had felt the wall come down – the wall that was so much a part of Dean that Sam sometimes forgot there was much more to his brother than what he allowed people to see. The wall that had become almost transparent in the night, was solid once more. And Sam was on the wrong side. Again.
“That was different,” Sam tried.
“How so?” Dean’s voice was hard, clipped.
“I was… Ellicot had…”
“What are you trying to say, Sam? That you were under the influence of something… you weren’t yourself…”
Sam didn’t say anything. He could feel Dean’s anger. He felt it penetrate his fever and seep into his heart, planting seeds of shame. And that made Sam angry. He didn’t want to be ashamed of himself for his anger at his father. He wanted to be justified in it. And he wanted Dean to concede that Sam had a point. That for years John had been thoughtless in his words and actions toward them. That if it weren’t for Dean, Sam wouldn’t have had a father.
“Dad has risked his life for us, Sam.”
“After he put us in danger in the first place.”
At that, Dean turned around, breaking the slim physical connection that had given Sam a small amount of reassurance.
“Dammit, Sam, stop it. You will look for any excuse to tear him down.” Dean’s eyes were hot and his hands were fisted in his lap, as if he were physically keeping himself from grabbing Sam and shaking some sense into him.
“I don’t need an excuse, man, his reasons, as you call them, are enough.”
Dean started shaking. At first it was only obvious in his hands as he lifted one up to rub over his tired face, but when he dropped that hand Sam saw the tremor run through his brother’s entire body. As the light gradually increased outside, it threw their cocoon of safety further into darkness and drew shadows on Dean’s face that worried Sam. Dean was lit from behind, but his face was dark, and Sam couldn’t see his eyes. Something about that fact caused his heart to tremble.
“Sam,” Dean said, his voice cementing the tremor Sam had seen in his hands. In that one word his brother poured enough anger and pain that Sam wanted to take back everything he’d said in the last ten minutes. But, he remained silent. He was angry with John, and by default angry with Dean for always being the one to stand between them.
When Sam didn’t answer him, Dean pushed himself to his knees. He was so tired of this same damn fight with Sam. He’d been trying to keep the two of them from tearing each other apart for ten years. He used the cave wall for support and pushed himself the rest of the way to his feet, ignoring Sam’s eyes, ignoring the concern he saw there. Screw his concern. Sam couldn’t see that he was his father – just twenty years younger. And Dean had no idea how to open his eyes.
“Sam,” he tried again, his voice calmer. Unconsciously, he’d adopted the Keep the Peace tone he’d used so often in their youth when trying to calm his brother down, get him to go along with what John had decreed would be happening. “You gotta try to give Dad a break once in awhile, man. He’s doing the best he can.”
Sam shifted his head up so that he could see Dean’s face. “The best he can? Are you kidding me with this?”
Dean had lifted his right arm and was resting the forearm against the wall, his forehead resting on his arm. His left arm hung loosely, and he held it at an odd angle to his body. Sam remembered feeling the sticky sensation of blood on that arm hours earlier and cursed himself for not checking it out.
“The best he can would have been showing up in Lawrence. The best he can would have been helping you after the rawhead and not leaving it to Joshua to give me the link to LeGrange.”
“Maybe he gave the info to Joshua,” Dean said in a low voice, muffled by the proximity to the cave wall. His shaking had increased and he couldn’t ignore the pain in his head as he clenched his jaw against Sam’s seemingly relentless rant against John.
“And maybe he just didn’t give a damn, Dean! Maybe he –“
“Shut up, Sam,” it was a low plea.
“—was so focused on getting that demon he didn’t even notice. I mean, the only reason he showed up in Chicago –“
“Shut up, Sam,” it was stronger this time, louder as Dean pulled his head away from the wall.
“—was because you told him we had a lead on the demon. If it hadn’t been for that we still might not know –“
“I said SHUT UP!” He turned suddenly, viciously away from the wall and faced his brother with fury in his eyes. Forgetting for a moment that his head was bleeding, that his arm was on fire, that Sam was only sitting because he couldn’t stand, Dean’s body tensed and he took an automatic step forward, bringing his right fist up to mid-level.
“Don’t you think I fucking know that?! I think about that every goddamn day, but it doesn’t MATTER.”
Sam’s breath stilled in his throat. He pushed himself back a little from the rage and pain that rolled off of his brother in physical waves. He couldn’t hold it. He’d opened a box he hadn’t meant to and was ill-equipped to deal with.
Dean stopped, looking at Sam’s large, dark eyes. He took a breath and dropped his hands, forcing himself to relax his fingers. His head swam and he closed his eyes against the visual of Sam pulling away from him in fear.
“It doesn’t matter,” Dean repeated calmer this time, turning from Sam as his voice shook. He stepped over to the pentagram on the wall, reaching out with trembling fingers to touch the fading shimmers from the crystals. “It doesn’t matter because… because it’s all I know. He raised us, okay? He taught us everything...”
“No, man,” Sam said, his voice hard enough to draw his brother’s gaze. “You raised me.”
Dean turned away from him, facing the wall, tracing the Indian symbols with a finger. He lifted a hand to his head, the pain in the gash had started to make it hard to think. Or maybe it was the conversation… this never ending quest to convince his brother that their Dad was worthy of their devotion… Dean knew that John had changed over the last twenty-two years… he wanted to believe that his father was proud of them, that he would sacrifice for them… but sometimes…
“Do you know what he was hunting that night, Sam?”
Sam shivered at the emptiness he heard in his brother’s voice. He pulled Dean’s jacket closer to him, burying his arms underneath. As he pushed the collar of the jacket up to his nose he realized it smelled like his brother. And it was that smell, that combination of leather and gunpowder, that he associated with safety.
“The spirit of… a woman?”
Dean’s back was to him, but Sam saw his profile as he turned his face to the right. “It was a mother who had died in her baby’s nursery.”
Sam went cold. “What?”
“She was killed, by a fire, in her baby’s nursery, and her spirit didn’t leave. The family relocated, but the owners of the house had been reporting all this strange stuff to the authorities. Dad got wind of it. Had to… well, you know what he had to do.”
“Do you think… was it… the Demon?”
Dean’s shoulders dropped a bit at the curious fascination in Sam’s voice. He sounded excited at the possibility that John had been that close to getting the demon. Just like he’d sounded in Chicago when he’d declared he’d sleep for a month then go back to school. Leave this life. Leave him.
“Who the hell knows, but Dad thought so.”
Dean turned around, holding his left arm against his body with his right hand. Sam noticed, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t think Dean was aware of the action. Dean leaned back against the cave wall, his body at a 45 degree angle, his eyes directed to the floor but Sam could see that they were years away.
“Can you see why that hunt might have been hard for him?”
“I-I heard him say…” Sam started, searching his memory once more for the words his father had muttered to Dean that night.
“She was so close.”
Sam looked up. “Yeah… did he mean… Mom?”
Dean furrowed his brows, “Sam, you just gotta look with better eyes, man. You are the smartest person I know. But sometimes… sometimes you just don’t see what’s right in front of you,” Dean’s voice was low, his eyes down, and Sam could see the tremor shiver through his brother’s body.
Sam sighed, not missing the fact that Dean hadn’t answered him. “Man, I just…” he didn’t know how to continue. He didn’t know how to tell Dean that all he wanted was for his brother to realize that he deserved more than a life of blind obedience, a life of a protector. He deserved a life. And Sam didn’t see John giving him permission to have that anytime soon.
“There’s just a lot of… a lot of shit here, Dean.”
Dean sighed and slid slowly down the wall, sitting opposite his brother, but with his eyes cast out to the entrance of the cave and the swiftly coming dawn.
“Sometimes I wonder if,” Sam swallowed, looking back at the dying fire. “I wonder, when we do see Dad again, if I won’t be able to let him go… or if… if I will just want him to leave. Just let us be, let us go our own way… I mean, it’s not like,” he swallowed again, searching for the words, “it’s not like when he was with us that night he was really there, y’know? He hasn’t been with us for a long time, man.”
Dean just looked at him. Sam waited. Waited for Dean to argue. Waited for him to accuse Sam of being the one who left… waited for Dean to rile at the accusation that John was anything less than the father he was supposed to be. But Dean just looked at him. Then, without a word he rolled slowly to his knees, crawled to the duffel and dug out the water bottle.
“Here,” he said, tossing it at Sam.
“Thanks,” Sam said sincerely and took a long swig, capped it, then handed it back to Dean. Dean put it back in the pack.
“Aren’t you going to have some?”
“Not thirsty,” Dean shook his head.
“Dean,” Sam started, knowing his brother had to be thirsty, knowing his brother was hurting. He could tell by the way he held his arm, the set of his jaw, the shadow in his eyes. But instead of saying anything to Sam, Dean reached into the duffel and pulled out his bowie knife.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, grabbing the flare gun as he stood up.
“Where are you going?” Sam couldn’t keep the sudden panic from his voice.
“I have an idea on how we can get you out of here,” Dean said, pausing just inside the mouth of the cave. Sam could see by his silhouette that he’d turned to look back at him, but again the shadows hid his face.
“I’ll be okay, Sammy.”
Dean turned to face him. “But what?”
Sam just looked at him, unsure of what he wanted to say. Dean wasn’t quite steady on his feet when he was still. He swayed slightly from side to side as though he were rocking a baby. His right hand gripped the flare-gun, his left hand hung loose at his side, and now Sam thought he saw blood slowly dripping from his fingertips.
“What about the wendigo?”
Dean held up the flare-gun, “That’s what this is for,” he said, then ducked out of the mouth of the cave, leaving Sam alone in the increasing darkness.
Sam wanted to move, to pull himself to the mouth of the cave to see if he could see what Dean was doing. To see if he could see Dean. Just having his brother in his sight calmed him. It had always been so, no matter how old he was. When he was a kid and couldn’t sleep, he just needed to know Dean was in the room. When he had first started to join them on hunts, John had kept the boys together. Sam felt invincible with his brother next to him.
When John decided that they would be more effective if they approached from three separate directions and split the boys up, Sam had been terrified. He knew what to do – John had trained him well – but he didn’t know if he could do it. Sam kept his eyes on the cave entrance, Dean’s jacket pulled up around him to ease the shivers that periodically shook him, and unconsciously rubbed the muscles of right thigh. His lower leg had long ago passed over the line that separated aching from pain, but he knew Dean was giving him all the painkillers his system could handle – especially on a diet of peanut M&Ms and water.
Sam kept his eyes on the cave entrance, watching for Dean to come back to him. He could vividly recall his first hunt without Dean at his side, closer than his shadow. It had almost been his last.
Part Six can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/10818.html