Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
Sam tightened his grip on Dean’s shoulders as he pinned his eyes to the feral ones reflecting the crystal light above him. He knew almost immediately that it wasn’t a wendigo – he couldn’t smell the horrid, rank odor that gave the creature away in the small confines of the cave. But at this point a house cat would have set Sam on edge. He couldn’t move beyond a dragging crawl, and he damn sure wasn’t going to leave Dean, unconscious and defenseless.
Using the dancing light from the fire he cast his eyes around to see what was in easy reach. The only things he saw were the bag of peanut M&Ms – that will be a lot of help… what was he going to do, throw candy at it – and the flare gun he’d pulled from Dean’s hands. It was resting on the cave floor on his left side where it had fallen when Dean came to and set his leg. He remembered seeing Dean pull two other flares from the pack. That meant they had three total if the wendigo returned.
He looked back up to the ledge and was startled to see the eyes had disappeared. He looked frantically all along the ledge but could see nothing. He almost allowed himself to relax when he heard it. A low growl that lifted the fine hairs on the back of his neck. A dog? No, Sam, you idiot, he chided himself. It was a wolf. And from the sound of it, a large one.
He darted his eyes again but couldn’t seem to focus on anything except the light from the fire reflecting off of the crystals. Look away from the flames, the voice in his head that was Dean reminded him. Keep your eyes on the shadows. Move when they move.
“Dean,” Sam whispered, turning his eyes from the firelight and looking at the shadows until he was able to see more. “Dean, man, wake up.” His right arm was across Dean’s chest, his fingers tight on his brother’s left shoulder. He could feel something sticky there… blood? He put his left hand lightly on the top of Dean’s head, turning his brother’s face toward him. He didn’t look down at him – kept his eyes away from the firelight -- but he just felt better knowing that when Dean did open his eyes, he would be looking at him.
“Hey, man,” Sam shook him slightly. “C’mon… come on back to me, Dean.”
Dean was limp in his arms. He didn’t even groan in protest when Sam shook him. Sam closed his eyes and counted in his head, a trick he’d seen Dean do when he needed to hear something that he couldn’t see. Off to his right he heard the sound of small stones being tossed over larger ones. He heard what sounded like nails on the ground, and he realized he could hear the wolf approaching. There must be a ledge narrow enough to be missed when looking up, but wide enough that the wolf could work its way down to them.
Sam opened his eyes and jerked involuntarily. The large animal was standing about eight feet from them. Its fur was pitch black, its eyes large and yellow, and its lips were pulled up in a snarl vicious enough to make Sam’s skin crawl.
“Dean,” Sam said again, reaching down to pat Dean’s cheek, praying for a response. This is just…wrong, Sam thought desperately. They’d started this whole gig as an easy job. Read in the paper where some people were missing from a local Indian reservation, how there bodies were found near the cave, mutilated as if by a bear. Dean’s eyes had lit up, knowing exactly what it was, and how to kill it.
“We can do something about this, Sam,” he’d said. “We can stop this. No one else has to die.”
For Dean, the hunt was more about saving people then hunting things. Sam had recognized that long ago, when he’d first been allowed to come on the hunts. His father and brother approached the hunt with the same fierce determination and unwavering focus, but they moved from two different motivations. John wanted the bastard dead; Dean wanted to keep people alive.
The wolf didn’t move, didn’t advance, simply stared at Sam with the perma-snarl on its snout. Sam could tell that it was your basic garden-variety wolf. Pure animal. Werewolves were bigger, and they never took the time to study you as this one was doing. They were vicious killers; their only focus was to eat you or turn you.
The wolf took a step forward and Sam raised the flare gun. His arm was shaking, from fear, from the pain, from the painkillers…he wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t able to keep the wolf in his sights. He lifted his other hand from Dean’s shoulder and tried to brace it, but the barrel of the gun bounced from the wolf to the cave wall and back.
The wolf took another step forward, its lips raised in a high-octane snarl, the growl building from its chest and rolling out through the night to settle on Sam like a blanket of nails. Sam took a deep breath, still working to aim the gun. The wolf took two quick steps forward, then paused again.
“Don’t,” Sam whispered, his aim wavering, his arms weakening. Suddenly, surprisingly, a hand braced his at the wrist from below.
“Aim to its left and close your eyes,” Dean’s voice was low and steady, and the relief that flowed through Sam at that sound almost caused him to drop his arms. But Dean’s arm was there, steadying him. Sam shifted his aim as Dean instructed, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger.
The flare illuminated the cave with bright red light just beyond the body of the wolf. The animal yelped, jumped, and sprang for the entrance of the cave, practically leaping over Sam’s legs in its fright. Coughing from the smoke emitted from the still burning flare, Sam blinked his eyes open and looked down at his brother.
“Nice timing,” he wheezed, his relief at Dean’s being awake overpowering his worry that his brother had collapsed again.
“Don’t mention it,” Dean coughed, curling over and off of Sam’s lap, holding his head as the force of the coughs slammed pressure through his broken skull. “Where the hell did it come from?”
Sam cleared his throat and shrugged. “I guess the tunnel that Wendigo Jones rolled that boulder from.”
Dean wiped smoke-induced tears from his stinging eyes and blinked up at Sam from his curled position. He stared at him almost a full minute before breaking into a genuine smile. “Nice one, Sammy.”
Sam smiled back, realizing not for the first time how infrequent actual smiles from his brother were becoming. Sam reached out and gripped Dean’s chin, turning his face so that he could get a glimpse of the cut on his head. The flare light was gone and the fire light threw disorienting shadows across Dean’s face.
“I get it, I get it,” Dean grumbled. “You can play Florence Nightingale all you want as soon as I check your leg.”
“Okay, well you pick the nurse name then,” Dean pushed himself to a half-sitting position with his right arm, but stopped when Sam’s hand fisted in his shirt.
“Goddammit, Dean, just stop.”
Dean looked at him surprised.
“You just keeled over, man. You’re lucky you were right here or I wouldn’t have been able to catch you.”
“You’re lucky I was right here or you’d be kibble.”
Sam’s lips flattened. “How the hell are you going to stop anything bad from happening to me if you’re unconscious?” he snapped.
Dean closed his eyes and sighed. “Fine, Sam,” he acquiesced. “But just clean it up; don’t worry about bandages or whatever.”
Sam reached for the first aid kit like Dean had just told him there was a steak dinner inside. “Why the hell not?”
“Because,” Dean said. “There’s not much left. We need to make sure we take care of that leg.”
Sam pulled his eyebrows together in confusion. Not much left?What was he talking about? The first thing they always did was restock the first aid kit. He started pawing through the box but slowed as he saw that Dean was right.
“I don’t get it,” Sam said. “After we left Sarah…”
Dean just looked at him. After they left Sarah at her father’s auction house, Dean went to get ammo while Sam restocked the first aid kit. Only… only he hadn’t… he’d gotten distracted researching this hunt, this job, something else to do, something else to fight, something else that was more than not finding Dad, not finding Jessica’s killer, more than just…existing.
“Oh, shit… shit Dean this is my fault,” Sam breathed. He lifted stricken eyes to Dean. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Dean lifted a shoulder. “I didn’t know until I got into it for your leg.”
A cloud of guilt settled on Sam’s shoulders like it was coming home. He lifted miserable eyes to Dean’s and to his complete surprise, saw no accusation there. He saw pain, weariness, and worry. Dean blinked his gaze down, then shifted so that Sam could better reach the cut on his head.
“You’re not mad?”
Dean lifted a brow and looked at him. “For what?”
“Dean, we started this hunt completely unprepared,” Sam said.
“Exactly. We did. This isn’t your fault, Sam.”
Sam lifted the first aid kit. “This is.”
Dean sighed and shifted his eyes to sideways to meet Sam’s. “Let it go, man. It’s okay.”
And Sam saw in his brother something that, for him, had always been missing from his relationship with John: understanding. Sure he screwed up. Dean knew it, he knew it. But he could see in the set of his brother’s shoulders, the tilt of his head, the softness of his eyes that he registered the lesson had been learned. Enough said. John never seemed to believe that enough had been said.
“Dad would have chewed my ass for this,” Sam said softly as he reached for the antiseptic and some gauze patches.
Dean shrugged. “It’s just his way, Sam.”
“His way of what,” Sam grumbled, gently wiping the blood from Dean’s face around the cut. He paused for only a second when Dean flinched.
“Being worried,” Dean said.
Sam lifted a brow. “Whatever.”
“I’m serious, Dude.”
“That makes as much sense as saying a boy pulls a girl's pigtails because he likes her.”
Dean looked at him sideways, his mouth quirking down. “You mean that doesn’t work?”
Sam just shook his head. They were silent for a few more moments while Sam cleaned Dean’s head, trying unsuccessfully to completely stop the blood. It continued to seep. Dean didn’t seem to notice, though. His eyes were directed at the fire, but he was looking a million miles away.
“He does, you know,” he said softly.
“Who does what?”
“Dad. He worries about you.”
Sam squirmed. There it was again. Dean left himself out of the equation without even thinking about it. Sam hated that. And he hated his father for making that the case. And he honestly didn’t understand why Dean didn’t hate him. Why he always saw reason behind John’s actions. Why he never broke, ever, when John leaned on him.
“Sam,” Dean turned and looked at him.
“If you say so,” Sam sighed.
The longer he was away from his Dad, Sam realized, the easier it was to convince himself that he didn’t care. He turned Dean’s head away from him, ignoring his brother’s annoyed flinch, and continued to clean the stubborn gash. When he left for school, he spent almost a year burning with anger at John, at the injustice of his non-childhood. Every time he automatically dropped into a fighting stance when surprised, or when he put a line of salt in front of his apartment door without thinking, or when he woke in the night drenched in sweat from a nightmare, he’d silently curse his father.
When he’d met Jessica his second year, the anger had drained and had been replaced by a strange sort of nostalgia. He would remember random instances of times when he’d been comforted, protected, safe, and loved – all within the shelter of his father’s arms. When Jess died and Dean showed up, finding Dad had consumed him. Each day that passed without contact turned the heat of his anger up a little more. Then they did find him. And for one brief, fleeting instant, he had been a son again. Not a soldier, not a rebel, not a force to be reckoned with, but a son.
And then he left again…because the demon was an evil son of a bitch… because Dad’s vulnerable when he’s with us… because Dean let him go…
“Sam, easy!” Dean flinched, pulling his head away. “Dude, when I said you could choose the nurse name, I didn’t expect it to be Ratchet.”
Sam blinked. “Sorry, man.”
Dean started to shove himself away.
“What now, you want to poke me in the eye or something?”
Sam tossed the bloody gauze patch aside. “I’m sorry, man… I was just…”
“Thinking about Dad.”
Sam looked up, surprised. “How did you know?”
Dean pushed himself to his knees, closing his eyes for a moment as his vision swam. He looked over at Sam, pulling the corner of his mouth up. “Who’s your brother, Sam?”
It was a familiar question. One that had pulled Sam out of nightmares, out of tantrums, out of anger. One that grounded him when he was lost. “You are, Dean.”
“’Nuff said,” Dean nodded, and lifted the duffel blanket to look at Sam’s leg. It was hard to see clearly by the light of the fire, so without thinking he reached with is left arm to grab the flashlight. The white-hot pain from the wendigo-inflicted cuts on his arm sliced through him like a punch.
Sam’s head came up at his brother’s gasp of pain. “What is it?”
“Nothing, hold still.”
“Just my arm,” Dean said, holding the flashlight with his right hand. “It’s fine, I just… moved it.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “What a dumb thing to do. How many times have I told you not to move your arm?”
“Shut up.” Dean gently touched Sam’s leg beneath the bandage. The skin was swollen and had started to press against the sticks. Dean cursed under his breath. He’d been afraid of that. He set the flashlight down and grabbed the first aid kit.
“How you feeling, Sammy?”
Sam had tilted his head back against the cave wall. “Stupid.”
“I’m being serious,” Dean shuffled through the kit, but nothing new had materialized there since last he looked. No antibiotics. Nothing. He pressed his lips together. What they really needed was Brenna’s purple goo. It had saved his life twice over now.
“Fine then,” Sam snapped, lifting his head to look at Dean. “My leg hurts like a bitch, I’m cold and hot at the same time, I’m a fucking idiot for falling off the goddamn ledge and for not restocking the first aid kit, and I’m mad at Dad.”
Dean’s eyebrows went up. “That’s a lot of information to take in ten seconds.”
“You asked,” Sam swallowed and tilted his head back.
Dean covered Sam’s leg again, then slouched down to sit with his legs folded under him. He covered his face with weary hands, exhaling slowly and hoping the pain would escape with his breath. His head was pounding and he was getting tired of not being able to focus completely on anything. He dropped his hands and noticed a faint red smear on the left one. He reached up and wiped off the blood that was still seeping from the gash on his head.
“Why are you mad at Dad, Sam,” Dean asked.
Sam just closed his eyes.
“I thought we’d, y’know, moved past this,” Dean tried again.
“Moved past what, the fact that he’s been doing everything in his power over the last year to get rid of us?” Sam’s voice was low, but the undercurrent of pain and anger caused it to tremble.
“Sam, don’t do this,” Dean sighed.
Sam just clenched his jaw. Dean leveled his eyes on his brother’s face, but Sam refused to look at him.
“Look, man, I get it. I do,” Dean sighed, shivered, and turned to put more wood on the fire, building it up high to ward off the chills that started from his left arm and wrapped around his body. “This year… it’s been hard, but…”
But the two years that you were away were harder… but I can’t stand to see you so angry at him… but if you could just see how you are exactly like him …
“But you gotta understand that he –“
“Dean, I swear to God if you say he has his reasons – “
“He does! Sam, he does,” Dean moved to sit on the other side of Sam, putting Sam between himself and the warmth of the fire; putting himself between Sam and the mouth of the cave. He pulled the duffel with him, loading and cocking the .45 and setting it on top.
Sam’s jaw was tight, and his eyes on the fire. “His damn rules, and the fact that he never listens, and the fact that he’s always right…”
“I’ll give you the never listens,” Dean said softly, flashing immediately to Brenna as he did whenever he thought about trying to get his father to listen to him. “But the rules were made to keep us safe.”
“We do what we do and we shut up about it? How is that keeping us safe?”
Dean twisted his head sideways to stare incredulously at Sam. “I can’t believe you don’t remember.”
Omaha, NE 1992
“Just get your stuff together, Sam!” Dean’s voice was hard and heavy with worry. He slammed the door behind him, tossing the house keys on the table so that they skidded and settled in the middle. He chased Sam’s heels back to the apartment’s one bedroom. When Dad was home, he slept on the couch.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Sam grumbled. “Dad isn’t even here yet.”
Dean grabbed his brother's shoulder and turned him around, looking down at his sullen brown eyes. “We have to be ready to go when he gets here.”
Sam stomped away from Dean and into the bedroom. He wrenched open the closet’s accordion doors, grabbed his bag, and started pulling his clothes off of the hangers. Dean never really completely unpacked in any place they lived – apartment or hotel – so packing for him was a quick process.
Sam had just about finished when there was a knock at the door. Both boys froze. The knock came again, more of an irritated rap than the insistent pounding that would indicate it was John. Dean held his breath. Go away, go away, go away. Sam kept his eyes on his brother and mimicked his frozen stance. After about five minutes with no more knocking, they cautiously exited the bedroom and Dean stood on his tiptoes to look out of the peep hole.
A man and a woman dressed in suits and carrying some papers in their hands were standing outside, waiting patiently by the door.
Shit, Dean bounced his head once in frustration. He looked at Sam who stood silently next to him, as close as his own shadow, looking at him with question marks in his eyes. Dean shook his head once, waiting.
Through the door, slightly muffled, they suddenly heard, “Mr. Winchester, we’d like a word with you.”
“I’m going in to see to my boys,” John answered. “I’ll deal with you later.”
“But, Mr. Winchester –“
“Not now,” John’s tone left no room for argument. Dean grinned at that. Sam trembled.
They heard the key in the lock and stepped away from the door, back and to the left so that when it opened, they would be hidden from the people standing outside. John stepped inside, shut the door and turned to where he knew his boys would be standing. He lifted a finger to his lips and they nodded in unison.
The three Winchesters stood motionless for what seemed like decades to Dean, but then John looked out of the peephole and saw that they were gone. He turned to his sons.
“Dean,” he said. “Tell me.”
Dean swallowed. “Dad, it wasn’t his fault. He likes this teacher… a lot, and when she asked why I was meeting him after school and where you were…”
John’s dark eyes switched from Dean to Sam. Sam unconsciously tucked his shoulder behind Dean. “Sammy, what did you say?”
“I-I just said that you were gone a lot and Dean took care of me,” Sam said softly.
“Did you tell her what I did when I left?”
Sam looked up at Dean, who nodded at him.
“I-I just said that,” Sam swallowed, “That you kill monsters.”
John sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face, running them back over his hair and leaving finger valleys through the thick, brown hair. “Sammy, c’mhere.”
Sam hesitantly stepped out from behind Dean and walked up to his Dad. John put a hand on Sam’s shoulder, looking down into his son’s eyes. “New rule. You listening?” John’s dark eyes flicked up to catch Dean in his question.
“Yessir,” they both answered.
“We do what we do and we shut up about it.”
“Yessir,” they answered.
“Sammy, those people outside? They were from Child Protective Services. Do you know what that means?”
“They were gonna arrest me?” Sam’s eyebrows scrunched together.
“They could take you away from me,” John squatted down so that he was eye-level with Sam. “They could take both of you away from me, and they would put you in separate homes.”
At that, Sam’s eyes flew over to Dean. His brother stood silent, pale. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and his eyes, which always seemed too big for his face, were pinned to his father like a life-line.
“You mean, ‘cause I told?”
“Oh,” Sam’s voice shrank. He didn’t want them to take him from Dean. Dad was gone a lot of the time anyway, but Dean? What would he do if they took his brother away? “I won’t say anything anymore, Dad.”
“I know you won’t, because what’s the rule?”
“We do what we do and we shut up about it,” they said in unison.
“Now get your things, we gotta scram,” John said standing up.
“We’re ready, Dad,” Dean said. John blinked at him, slightly surprised that Dean would know to scuttle the ship so quickly. He didn’t know why he was surprised. His boy was 13 going on 30. He’d been grown up since the day he carried his brother out of the house and away from the fire.
“Good, okay,” John nodded, turning to get the guns and ammo from under the couch.
“Dad?” Sam’s voice stopped him.
John turned to see both of his sons staring at him. “Yeah, Sam?”
“You won’t let them take us, right?”
John swallowed hard, his eyes shifting to Dean who stood silently, waiting to see what John would say. John bent down so that he was once again eye-level with Sam. “Never, bud, okay?”
Sam narrowed his eyes. “You promise?”
John swallowed and wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders. He lifted his eyes to Dean’s worried hazel ones. “C’mere, Dude.”
Dean stepped forward and John rested his other hand on Dean’s shoulder. They just stood that way for a moment, connected.
“I promise. Now get your stuff and get to the car.”