Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Set in Season 2 dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.
Summary: On the run from the FBI, the brothers are sidelined by a snowstorm and find themselves at the mercy of a sheltered town filled with secrets. Staying alive means staying together as they fight to stay on the surface.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
...continued from Part 5A...
"Is he actually asleep?"
Sam sat with is back to the headboard of his bed, one leg drawn up, the other hanging over the edge of the bed. Early morning light filtered through the slightly parted curtains turning the room gray.
He watched Cooper adjust the blanket around Dean, his brother's shoulders bare, one arm pulled free from the comforter, and IV tubing running from it to a bag of fluid and medicine above him. An oxygen mask was covering his nose and mouth; it had been hell to keep that thing on with Dean fighting them at every turn.
"I think so, finally," Cooper sighed. He checked the IV bag he'd hooked on the nondescript picture above Dean's bed. "I think he's sweated out the worst of the fever."
Sam relaxed slightly, unable to pull his eyes from his brother's still form, thankful for the quiet that had finally come over Dean's tortured body. It had been one of the longest nights of his life.
He'd slept for a few hours after Cooper's arrival, waking at the sound of a bullet sliding into a chamber. It was one of the only sounds that could wake him from a sound sleep. He'd opened blurry eyes to see Dean sitting upright, pointing the .45 Cooper had set on the nightstand directly at the M.E.'s forehead.
Cooper had been frozen, his eyes steady on Dean's.
"Who the fuck are you?" Dean had demanded, his voice low, dangerous, his eyes flat and feverish.
Sam had risen slowly, seeing from his angle that the safety was off of the weapon and Dean's aim was sure and steady.
"Dean," he'd said, quietly. "It's Cooper."
"Answer me," Dean had demanded as if Sam hadn't even been there.
"I'm Cooper," the M.E. had replied. "I'm here to help you."
Dean had jerked his chin sideways as if considering this information. "You're not here for Sam?"
"Say no," Sam told Cooper in a low, hurried voice. "Tell him no."
"No," Cooper replied. "I'm just here to help you."
Dean lowered the gun and, to Sam's horror, his eyes had rolled back in his head, his body turning boneless as he sagged back against the bed. Sam had retrieved the weapon as Cooper took care of Dean. Sam was ordered to stay in bed, drink water, and eat the food Cooper had set on the nightstand next to him.
"I got enough to deal with here," Cooper had nodded toward Dean. "I don't need you getting sick, too. You're wrecked enough as it is."
Sam had more or less obeyed; at one point in the night he moved to Dean's bed to sit next to his brother and calm him when he struck out, sooth him when he fought, agree with him when he cursed, and warn Cooper when he got too close.
The fever brought out the fight in Dean that Sam had been so afraid he'd lost somewhere beneath the ice.
The warrior who put himself between Sam and the darkness, the man who'd stood up to every nightmare, the brother who'd willingly stayed behind when Sam thought he would be taken over by a demonic virus, all variations had appeared that night as the fever burned down Dean's walls, exposing him.
Sam had never loved his brother more.
As morning crept across the horizon, Cooper insisted Sam return to his bed, giving him more ibuprofen, checking his pupils, his pulse, his blood pressure, and forcing more food and water onto him.
"After you finish that," Cooper said, pointing to the half-eaten sandwich in his lap, "I want you to sleep."
"I wanna be awake when Dean wakes up," Sam protested, leaning his head back against the wall. It was too heavy for his weary neck muscles to hold erect.
"If I have anything to say about it," Cooper sighed, dropping into one of the chairs positioned next to the small table, "he'll sleep for a good long while." He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "That was a helluva night."
Sam nodded wordlessly.
"If you don't mind me asking," Cooper said, dropping his hands and peering with narrowed eyes at Sam. "Why is he so protective of you?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "Always has been. My dad drilled it into him." He looked over at Dean, his half-masked face appearing achingly young. "Watch out for Sammy." Sniffing slightly, denying himself emotion, Sam looked away. "We're all we got now. And Dean's…never really had anyone else but me and Dad."
"He said some…weird stuff, though…."
"You mean all that stuff about demons and deals?" Sam asked, sliding his eyes askance.
"You sure you want to know?"
Cooper nodded again.
"Why?" Sam asked.
Sam set his sandwich on the nightstand and swung both legs over the side of the bed. He rested his elbows on his knees and hung his head low for a minute, feeling the muscles there pull from tension.
"Curiosity isn't good enough, man," Sam told the M.E., his voice directed toward the floor. "You can't…unlearn this stuff. Once you know it, it stays with you and," he lifted his head, looking directly at the older man, "it changes you. It changes everything—how you look at the world, how you see other people. It changes what you believe."
"Maybe I need that changed," Cooper told him, his wiry eyebrows pulled close, the lines around his eyes deepening to crevices. He pushed out his lips, glancing down. "Maybe I need to know the Devil exists."
"But…why?" Sam asked, hearing his own voice crack against the word.
Why would anyone want to know what lurks in the dark? Why would anyone want to see behind the curtain? There were so many times in his life that Sam wished he could just go back to the moment before he learned the truth and pick door number two.
Especially now. Especially with the weight of his unknown destiny waiting to greet him every morning.
He said I might have to kill you, Sammy.
"Because," Cooper replied, his lips flattening in an unfamiliar expression of grief. "If the Devil exists…then maybe so does God."
Sam swallowed hard, looking back at the older man, trying to order his words.
"And maybe…," Cooper continued quietly, "maybe I need to know that God's out there."
It was a thought Sam had held tightly in moments of true fear. It was a hope he'd let fill him when Dean lay dying in the hospital bed, when his brother's brokenhearted voice filled the air around him with their father's last words: maybe God was watching.
Maybe they could be saved. Maybe it wasn't all darkness and death and fear and fighting.
He nodded. "Okay."
"I'll tell you." Sam shifted back against the bed, looking over at Dean. The peace he saw on his brother's face was a direct contrast from the fierce fight, the obvious pain that had captured his expression through the night. "But you're not going to like what you hear."
Cooper sat back and Sam started talking. He left out the personal touches—Jessica, Mom, Dad. He left out the human element, too, like the back-woods cannibals that had kidnapped him and burned Dean with a branding iron. He stuck mainly to the supernatural, filling the morning with soft-spoken recounts of wendigos and banshees, spirits and pagan gods, zombies and vampires.
Dean slept. Cooper listened.
And Sam talked.
He heard himself speaking factually about Bloody Mary, about Constance Welch, about the times—so many times—Dean had pulled him free, pulled him out, saved his ass. He heard himself telling about the heart-crushing fear of seeing his brother tied up helplessly when he reached Dean just moments before he was sacrificed to a pagan god and when he cut him free from a wendigo lair. He heard himself talk of hellhounds and crossroad deals, of goofer dust and rock salt. He spoke matter-of-factly about Holy Water, silver blades, and consecrated iron.
He listened to himself talk about how he'd lived—how they'd both survived—and he almost didn't believe it.
They sounded like superheroes, not human beings. And yet, not twelve hours ago, they'd been poised on the brink, beaten and broken, unable to care for each other, unable to save themselves.
"Tell me about your Dad," Cooper asked.
Sam wasn't sure how long the silence had stretched from his last word, but he looked up in surprise at the sound of Cooper's voice.
"Why do you want to know about our Dad?" Sam asked warily.
"I want to know why you two…push yourselves. Past the point any sane person would go. I want to know what drives you."
Sam shrugged. "It's our job."
"No," Cooper shook his head. "It's more than that."
Sam looked away, the room suddenly feeling too small, the people in it too much.
"I have a son," Cooper said suddenly. "Jason. He's about your age now."
Sam shot him a surprised look. The questions that had stacked themselves when it came to this man—why he was in Lethe, why he was alone, where he'd been before—clattered back in Sam's mind as he tried to marry what he'd just heard with what he knew.
"He's not in Lethe," Cooper said. "Truth is…I don't know where he is."
Sam frowned. "You don't know?"
Cooper leaned forward, mirroring Sam's earlier position. "He was taken from us. When he was eight. I worked with the police on the case. Tracked down every piece of evidence. Every…fact." He huffed. "It was the only thing that kept me together. The facts. Because they all pointed to Jason being alive."
"You…never found him?"
Cooper shook his head. "My wife…she left. Couldn't bear to live the rest of her life with an emotionally distant man. Don't blame her one bit."
He stood, arching his back and moved over to Dean's bed. He removed the oxygen mask, checking Dean's pulse, then removed the empty IV bag and needle, tucking Dean's arm beneath the comforter. Sam watched this silently, thinking about the story behind the man who'd initially resisted belief and ended up risking everything to help them.
To save them.
"When Dean told us what Wallace Sanderson did…how he'd killed his children," Cooper stopped moving, staring down at Dean's sleeping form. He dragged his hand down his face, the loose skin along his jaw line folding and flattening with the motion. "All I could think was how desperate he must've been. And then I remembered all those years, searching for Jason, collecting facts, refusing to believe…anything…except what I had in my files."
Crossing his arms over his chest, Cooper looked at Sam. "I came to Lethe to forget about who I was. I was nobody. Had no past. Just my skills. They didn't care; turns out they had their own secrets."
Sam nodded. Lethe had been the perfect place for this man to disappear.
"Until a snow storm blew you two my way," Cooper said. "And I gotta say…I've never seen anything like you. Either of you. There's a…devotion here. It's deeper than just growing up together. Just being brothers. I've seen it in war vets and soldiers...but not in…regular people. Not like this."
Sam looked down. His brother was the other half of him.
Even when Sam left to go to school, he knew he was leaving a piece of himself behind. He wasn't himself without Dean in his life. Sam knew that he'd never have been able to fully commit to Jessica the way he'd been living; he needed Dean to be whole. It had often made him wonder if Jess would have loved the whole Sam, if she'd ever met him.
And though he put up a decent show and had a million masks to face the world, Dean showed Sam that he had no desire to try life on for size without him the moment he locked them both in that room—virus or no virus—back in Rivergrove.
It was the other side of the promise John thrust upon Dean that scared Sam to death. If Dean couldn't save him…if he did, indeed, have to kill him…Dean wouldn't survive it. Sam was sure of it.
"So," Cooper continued. "I'd like to know about your Dad."
Sam looked at Dean, wanting for just a moment, to see his brother's eyes. Needing that connection.
"I think that's Dean's story," he said. "You need to hear it from him."
Cooper frowned. "Why?"
Sam rolled his neck. "When Hendrickson found us…he said some things. Some things about Dad. It…rattled Dean. Shook him up pretty good. I think," Sam shrugged, slouching against the headboard, "I think it would be good for him to tell you what kind of man our Dad really was."
When Dean next opened his eyes, he felt hollow.
His chest ached, his stomach muscles felt bruised, his lower back was fisted tightly. He could swear someone had opened him up and cleared out his insides, then returned them to him in a tangle. He swallowed, the sensation like that of cracked earth soaking up the first rain of autumn. He blinked, grit melding the corners of his lashes.
There was a sound coming from the foot of his bed. Voices—not familiar—and a low tone that told him the TV was on. He shifted slightly, looking at the stained ceiling, remembering. They'd stopped at a motel. He recalled Sam dragging him inside. He recalled making Sam promise to not go to a hospital.
And then…nothing else.
Despite feeling like he'd been run over by a dozen horses, he was alive, and they were still in the motel room, so Sam had come through once again. Saving his ass was becoming the kid's M.O.
He turned his head to the side, seeing Sam on the bed next to his, sprawled across the mattress, dressed in a white T-shirt and sweats, his mouth slightly open, a low snore slipping through his lips.
Dean smiled slightly at the sight, reaching up to rub at his chest, thankful that he didn't feel like coughing. Turning to his side to ease the ache in his back, Dean saw that there was another person in the room. Instinctively he reached beneath his pillow, finding the space empty. Pushing himself weakly to his elbow, he was unable to bite back a groan, and drew the man's attention.
"Cooper?" he croaked in surprise.
"Hey, there," Cooper stood and moved over to his side. "So you decided to join the land of the living again, have you?"
"When did you get here?" Dean frowned, dropping back against the pillow, amazed that such a slight movement could tire him out.
"Almost two days ago, now," Cooper replied. "You don't remember trying to shoot me?"
Dean blinked, looking over at Sam who huffed in his sleep, then rolled to his side, his back to them.
"No." He shook his head. "Guess I missed."
"Sam got the gun away from you." Cooper smiled. "Now that both of you have pointed a loaded weapon at me, I feel like I passed some kind of initiation."
Dean narrowed his eyes, looking around the room warily. "You're alone?"
Cooper nodded. "Alone, wasn't tracked, wasn't followed."
Dean sighed, then pressed his hand against his chest, breathing again. "I can...breathe."
"Finally," Cooper said, reaching behind him to shove another pillow under his head, then help prop him up. "Don't overdo it, though."
"Sitting up is overdoing it?" Dean replied, his voice still a bit strangled sounding, despite the fact that he was getting air without fighting for every breath.
"After the last forty-eight hours, yes."
Dean let his eyes track the room, taking in the medical supplies scattered across a table that on any normal day would have been covered with weapons. He saw small trash bags filled with take-out cartons, a pile of white towels—some splattered with red stains—in the corner of the room, and a few paper sacks with what he assumed were more groceries and supplies stacked next to the TV on the edge of the dresser.
"Thanks," he said quietly, returning his eyes to Cooper. "We…we wouldn't have made it if you hadn't found us."
Cooper looked down, crossing his arms. "You got it backwards, Dean," he said quietly. "If you hadn't found Lethe…who knows how many would have died. The whole town owes you both a big thanks."
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "I'm guessing they didn't send you to deliver it."
"No," Cooper shook his head with a small smile of regret. "In fact…no one knows I'm here."
Cooper looked at him then, as if working up to something, but shook his head. "You think you could eat something? Some soup, maybe?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, that sounds great, actually."
"Gimme two minutes."
Cooper moved away from the bed and dug something out of a paper sack before heading to the kitchenette. Dean followed him with quiet eyes, sinking deeper into the pillows, already worn out. Cooper returned with warm soup and a large spoon, sitting on the edge of the bed and handing the container to Dean.
"What are you watching?" Dean asked, sipping the broth and glancing at the TV over Cooper's shoulder.
Cooper half-smiled. "Ghost Hunters. Some show on the Sci-Fi channel."
"I've heard of it," Dean told him, enjoying the liquid gold feeling of the soup filling him up slowly.
"After what your brother told me the other day about some of the things you guys have…dealt with," Cooper said, glancing back at the TV, "I got curious. Wanted to see what these guys did."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "None of that's real, Coop. You've seen more than these guys ever have."
"Huh," Cooper chuckled. "How 'bout that."
"Where are they this time?" he asked, eating a few more bites of soup.
Cooper frowned at the TV. "Someplace called Roosevelt Asylum in Illinois."
Dean grinned tiredly, handing the empty container back to Cooper. "They won't find anything there," he said.
Cooper looked back at him. "Why do you say that?"
"'Cause," Dean yawned, rolling to his side and tucking his hands beneath his pillow. "Sammy and I already toasted that bastard."
Cooper's reply was lost as Dean succumbed to the heady pull of sleep.
Hours later he sighed himself awake, still weak, still achy, but relishing the feeling of filling his lungs.
"You look better." Sam's voice was soft in deference to the shadowed room.
Dean shifted to his side, rolling toward the sound of his brother's voice. Somewhere below him he heard the amusing sound of staccato snoring.
"Hey," Dean greeted quietly.
Sam smiled, pale light from a crescent moon shining in through slightly parted curtains illuminating his face, turning him a ghostly blue. He sat on the edge of his bed, leaning across the opening, watching Dean.
"How're you feeling?" Sam asked.
"Better," Dean answered honestly. "Thanks to you. Again."
Sam shook his head. "Wasn't me, man. It was Cooper."
The snore turned into a hiccup of sound for a moment, then returned to a steady cadence.
"Where is he?"
Sam tilted his chin. "He's got a bedroll; been sleeping on the floor at the foot of your bed."
"He said I tried to shoot him," Dean said, pulling the pillow closer, bunching it beneath his head and propping himself up to better see Sam.
"Yeah," Sam huffed. "You were pretty out of it."
Dean watched a shadow pass over Sam's face and felt a tug at his heart. What had he revealed? What had Sam seen behind his wall?
"Let me guess," Dean said, clearing his throat, "I gave you the rundown of the Impala's engine."
"Not quite." The breathless tick at the end of Sam's words told Dean that it had been worse than he expected. Much worse.
"Oh, God," Dean groaned, rubbing his face. "Don't tell me I told you about that night with Emma Curtis."
Sam frowned, momentarily going along with Dean's misdirection. "Which one was Emma?"
"Brunette," Dean said, rolling to his back and looking up at the ceiling. "Green eyes, full lips, legs that went all the way up." He glanced to the side at Sam's face. "Tits like—"
"I get the picture," Sam held up a hand, shaking his head good-naturedly.
Dean allowed a grin to slide into place, pulling the side of his face into a quirk of humor, his eyes narrowing, shielding the honesty that swam to the surface. It was a grin that he knew would always soften his brother's eyes with tolerance. It was a grin that always made Sam glance away, amused exasperation tugging at his lips.
It was a grin of protection.
Don't say it, Sam. Not yet.
"I'm just glad you're okay, Dean," Sam said, his eyes twin pools of emotion. He looked down, taking a shaky breath. "We really just need a break, y'know?"
"You got any plans next coupla days?" Dean asked, feeling sleep tug at him, eager to fold him back into its embrace.
Sam half-smiled. "Not really."
Dean yawned, pressing a hand against his still tender chest. "How 'bout we hang out here for awhile, then?"
Smile still in place, Sam nodded, rolling back to his pillow. "'Night, Dean."
Dean waited until he heard his brother's breathing even out. "'Night, Sammy," he whispered.
"Where've you been?"
Sam looked up as Cooper entered the motel room, three bags in his arms and a newspaper in his hand. He watched as the man blinked in surprise at the display of firepower adorning Dean's bed.
"Getting supplies," Cooper replied. "What's all this?"
"I was bored," Dean informed him.
"That's never good," Sam filled in.
Twenty-four hours after he'd first woken up, Dean was able to stand long enough to shower. Cooper was insistent that they both rest as much as possible, but keeping Dean in bed had been a two-person job. Even though he could see his brother's weakness creep up on him at regular intervals, Sam knew Dean would insist he was okay, he was ready to go at a moment's notice, unless given another reason to stay still.
So, Sam had obeyed Cooper's orders to the letter, sleeping often and late, making it impossible for Dean to do anything else but comply. They'd watched endless hours of TV, hustled Cooper in a dozen games of poker—playing for meds and pretzel sticks—and elaborated on the hunts they'd survived. Dean had added Lethe to John's journal, marking it as their first encounter with a spirit with enough strength to become corporeal.
Nearly two days later, however, and Dean was restless. He was still pale, his cheekbones more prominent than usual, his voice a bit raspy at times, and once in awhile, he'd press his hand to his sternum as if to hold himself together as he coughed, but Cooper's prescription of rest, food, and medicine had started him on the best course for healing.
That morning, they woke to find a note instead of Cooper's bedroll on the floor. After each of them had showered, and Cooper still hadn't returned, Sam offered to empty out the Impala's trunk if Dean would agree to rest. Cleaning their weapons always seemed to have a calming effect on his brother.
Dean had agreed and they'd spread a few shotguns—regular barrel and sawed-off—several handguns, and a multitude of knives on the bed by the time Cooper returned.
"Where do you keep all that stuff?" Cooper asked, setting the bags on the table and sliding the chain lock across the door behind him.
Sam saw Dean tip his chin up at that, but answered Cooper's question. "Hidden compartment in the trunk of the car. Our Dad put it in there. Long time ago."
"What's up?" Dean asked, clearing his throat slightly.
"Bad news," Cooper said, tossing a newspaper down on the bed across several weapons.
Sam peered at the article below the fold of the paper. His heart dropped. "Hendrickson arrested Marshall?"
"On suspicion of aiding and abetting a criminal," Cooper nodded. "Don't know how long he'll hold out under Federal questioning."
"How much does he know?" Dean asked.
Cooper shook his head. "I haven't seen him since he took Mead to look for you—the day after...it all happened."
"Who did you see before you left?" Dean pressed, his brows close, his mouth grim. He was in interrogator mode and Sam felt himself go on alert.
Cooper rolled his lips. "Sherriff Mead. And Mandy."
"Did you tell either of them where you were going?" Dean asked, his eyes hard as he waited for the truth.
"No," Cooper shook his head. "Mead was…well, it was not an easy conversation. I guess Marshall spent the time on that trip telling him about the night in the incinerator room. Mead came back, needing to know how much of it was true."
"What did you tell him?" Sam asked.
"I told him all of it was true," Cooper replied shrugging as he leaned back against the door, crossing his arms over his chest. "I told him what I'd seen, how I'd been hurt, what I knew you two had done. I told him about Wallace and he was…well, wrecked isn't even the best word."
"Why?" Dean drew his head back.
Cooper looked at him, his eyes sad. "Matthew Mead is not a bad man," he said. "He made a mistake."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "One person's mistake is another person's completely terrible no-good very bad day."
"He didn't know, did he?" Sam guessed. "I mean, he really didn't know."
Cooper shook his head, looking at his hands. "He didn't even know about the deal Judge McAvoy made with Josephine Sanderson. Not until after they blew the dam. He said the Judge called Tolliver into his office when they heard the explosion and was panicking, asking if they were back, wanting to know if he'd seen them." Cooper shrugged helplessly. "It took Tolliver over an hour to figure out who they were. The Judge hadn't been too with it even then. By the time he reached out to Mead, the whole town was underwater. Matthew said they all decided to assume Wallace was in the nursing home and Colin was in Iraq."
"And Josephine?" Dean asked quietly. "Where did they conveniently decide she'd been spending the last four years?"
Cooper sighed as if he understood Dean's bitterness, but felt the barbs dig deep none-the-less. "I honestly don't know."
"What'd you tell Mandy?" Sam asked, deflecting Dean's ire and refocusing the conversation.
It still managed to surprise him that his brother could find it in himself—after all this time, all these hunts—to get worked up over the evils of humankind. He took hope from the fact that Dean cared so deeply, despite his posturing to the contrary.
"I just told her I needed some food for a road trip," Cooper said. "That I wanted some time off after everything that had happened. Nothing that Marshall could have picked up on if he talked to her when he got back."
Dean looked at Sam. "What are you thinking?"
Sam met his brother's eyes. "I'm thinking you're not ready to travel."
"Yeah, well," Dean muttered, his quick fingers seamlessly reassembling the Beretta in his grasp, "I'm thinking I don't want to know what the inside of a Federal Prison looks like."
"What did you guys do to piss this guy off so badly?" Cooper asked, sitting down slowly.
"Got away," Dean replied, grimly, breaking down the next weapon—a sawed-off shotgun—his hand moving as if on tracks, nimbly removing each piece, examining it before cleaning.
"There's only so many graves you can dig up before someone finds you," Sam sighed, leaning back against the headboard of Dean's bed, leaving the guns to Dean and looking at the newspaper in his hand. "Eventually, you're labeled a freak."
"You don't think he'd be willing to listen to you?" Cooper tried, half-heartedly.
"Think how eager you were to believe us," Dean pointed out, reassembling the shotgun and moving to his Desert Eagle, "and multiply that by negative a billion. This guy? He's already made his decision about us. He's not interested in the truth."
"But, surely once the facts are laid out—"
"No," Dean interrupted Cooper, cutting him off. "He's got a file on us—on our Dad. He's labeled him some kind of…of whacko—his word, incidentally." He looked back down at the gun in his hand, speaking almost to himself. "The lives Dad saved? The things he took out? None of that matters. We're against the norm, outside the lines. We don't fit."
Sam exchanged a glance with Cooper. He'd not told Dean about Cooper's son, and he knew Cooper had yet to ask Dean about their dad. The focus had been on healing; opening old wounds wouldn't have aided in that effort.
But as it looked like their convalescence was nearing an end, Sam thought it might be the best time to bring everyone up to speed.
"Dean," he started. "Cooper—"
"Sam," Cooper interrupted, evidently guessing where Sam was headed. He shook his head subtly, but Dean saw, looking from one to the other.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Never mind," Sam shook his head, avoiding Dean's gaze.
Dean leveled his eyes on Sam, his voice heavy. "What is it, Sam?"
"I asked Sam about your Dad a few days ago," Cooper supplied. "He said you needed to tell me about him."
Dean frowned over at Sam. "He was your Dad, too, man."
"That's not what I meant," Sam tried, watching Dean's hands go still on the broken-down Desert Eagle. "Dean, when you were sick…you said some stuff."
Brows pulled close, Dean leaned toward Sam. "What kind of stuff?"
"You…you brought up Dad's deal," Sam said, ignoring Cooper's watchful eyes, the way the man had of listening with his whole body, and concentrated on Dean.
His brother was completely still, his eyes wide, barely any green around the pupil, his body tense. Sam swallowed before continuing.
"When you told me about Hendrickson…it was what he said about Dad that…that you wouldn't let go of," Sam said quietly, looking down. "And when you were…when the fever had you…you told me," he glanced up, meeting Dean's eyes, "that it should've been you."
Dean looked away.
"I know this isn't easy, Dean." Sam kept his voice purposefully soft. "I know what he did for you…what he made you promise—hell, what I made you promise—I know it eats at you. Every day."
"So?" Dean bit off the word, rolling his head—chin first—to challenge Sam with a dead-panned expression and expressionless eyes. "Doesn't change a thing does it?"
"I just—when you trapped that crossroads demon…I think you wanted to trade up…and then when we were dealing with the Croatoan virus…," Sam felt anger working its way to the surface, coiling beneath his words, "you were willing to die in there with me."
"What's your point, Sam?"
"My point is that Ronald was not your fault! Hendrickson isn't after us because of you!" Sam yelled, seeing Cooper flinch back with the force of his anger, but ignoring him. Ignoring everything but Dean. "My point is you're not Dad! He's not here. You are."
Dean stared at him for a moment, his expression unreadable. He slid his eyes to look at Cooper, his face tight, lips pressed forward. Sam felt his belly tighten in anticipation of his brother's words.
"You want to know about our Dad?" Dean asked the M.E.
Cooper stayed very still, watching them both.
"He was the toughest bastard I've ever known. Impossible to please; when you got it wrong, you knew it. But when you got it right," he looked down for a moment, a humorless half-grin ticking up the corner of his mouth. "He kept us with him, kept us as safe as he could. We were a family with him. If he was going down…we were going down together."
Dean swallowed, and rubbed at his forehead with the heel of his hand. "And then he disappeared. Just…gone, y'know? No note, nothing. With all the shit we deal with every day, all the time, I…had no idea how to deal with it. I didn't know if he was dead, or…," he paused, clearing his throat. "I got Sammy out of school and we started looking for him. He was our…Captain, I guess. Our glue. Without him, I—"
"That's where you're wrong, man," Sam said quietly, his anger cooling. "Dad wasn't the one that kept us together. You were."
Dean looked over at him, a flash of vulnerability cutting through his eyes. Sam held his gaze until Dean turned away, lifting his face toward Cooper.
"You really want to know who my Dad was?"
Cooper nodded silently.
"He was a hero," Dean declared. "He was selfish ass, but he was a hero. He drove us hard, but he taught us how to survive. He taught us to…be a family. He saved more lives than anyone will ever know. He sacrificed everything for us. For me. He traded his life for mine. And I…."
Dean shook his head, looking away. The room was quiet.
"No son of a bitch Federal Agent looking to level-up by bagging a grave-desecrating murder is going to change that." Dean's words were quiet, but their impact shook through Sam.
Sam wanted to reach out, touch Dean's shoulder, make contact somehow. But he knew that contact in this moment could shatter his brother's control, and there were times when that control was the only thing keeping Dean from falling apart so completely no one could put him back together again.
He had to settle himself with simply looking at Dean, his own face pulled into a fist of emotion rivaling his brother's.
"I think I understand something now," Cooper said softly. "I've spent all these years looking at the facts. Using them to prove to me what counts and what doesn't. But I missed seeing the whole story. The facts just show what's on the surface."
The brothers looked at him, waiting.
"I spent so much time…fact checking…that I missed…faith."
Sam saw Dean shake his head once in resistance.
"Not in God, maybe," Cooper continued. "But in people. This Agent Hendrickson…he's got all the facts. You two don't even try to say he's lying. But his story…it's all wrong." He glanced down, shaking his head slowly. "He's missed the reasons that give those facts meaning. And those reasons are fueled by the faith you have in each other—the faith your father obviously had in you."
Dean glanced over at Sam, questions in his eyes. Sam nodded, the corner of his mouth curling up in an answer.
The unfamiliar ring of Cooper's cell phone caused them all to jump. Dean looked up quickly, meeting Cooper's surprised glance. Sam stood, uncertain what he should do, but knowing in his gut this call wouldn't be delivering good news.
Taking a breath, Cooper answered. "Hello? Oh, hey, Matthew."
Dean and Sam exchanged a glance.
"No, I hadn't seen that. Not much use for papers on vacation."
Cooper looked at them, his eyes apologetic.
"What makes him think they're in Madison?"
"Shit," Sam whispered. Madison was too close. Madison may as well be here. He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with the flat of his hand.
"Matthew…why are you helping this guy?" Cooper asked, dragging a hand down his face. "Federal Age—so the hell what? What is he to you? Those two guys saved our lives!"
Cooper was quiet for a moment. Sam grabbed the duffel bag from the floor and tossed it toward Dean.
"I know you do. Well, thanks. Tell Marshall I'm pulling for him. No…I don't know when I'll be back. Don't know about you, but I don't think I can go back to business as usual after all that."
Dean began loading the weapons into the duffel.
"Yeah, okay. See ya."
Cooper closed his phone. "He's close," he told them.
"We, uh, picked up on that," Dean muttered, loading the last of the weapons and pushing himself to his feet.
"Where are you going to go?" Cooper asked, his shoulders bowing helplessly, uncertainty coloring his tone.
Sam looked his brother. Wherever it was, it had to be far, they both knew that. They were going to have to dead-head it away from here, not look back.
"Dean?" Sam asked, pouring more than just an echo of Cooper's question into that word. Are you well enough? Can we do this? Stay together stay alive, right?
Dean looked at him, his eyes shadowed. He opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by the sound of Sam's phone.
"Jeeze, Grand Central Station," Dean muttered as Sam dug his phone out of his pocket.
Glancing at the caller ID, Sam blinked in surprise, answering while looking at Dean.
The look of happy relief on Dean's face at that name was enough to elicit an answering smile on Sam's.
"What the hell are you thinking, Sam? Calling me twice and not leaving any message?"
"I, uh, didn't know you had caller ID."
"I got all kinds of ID, boy. Where are you?"
"Bobby, we've got some trouble—"
"I know that, you idjit. I do own a TV."
"Are you okay?"
"He is now. We…had a little help from a friend."
"Had me a few of those over the years."
"We're in Fennimore, WI," Sam told him. "Need to be somewhere else. Now."
"Well, too bad I sent my transporter out to be cleaned," Bobby grumbled. "Think you can get yourselves to Providence?"
"Rhode Island?" Sam bleated.
"I knew you were the smart one," Bobby teased. "Some gal stabbed a perfect stranger through the heart."
Sam blinked. "How is this our kind of case?"
"She claims it was God's will."
Sam looked at Dean. "Oh, this oughtta go over well."
Dean frowned. "What?"
Sam waved a hand at him. "It's gonna take us a day or so to get there, Bobby."
"Get you far enough from that Agent that's breathing down your neck?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "It will."
"You two really okay?"
"It was rough," Sam confessed.
"Dean being stubborn about it?"
"What do you think?"
"He's sitting right there, ain't he?"
"Give him the phone."
Sam handed the phone to Dean. "He wants to talk to you."
Dean glanced at the phone as if it were a particularly large rat, then took it gingerly from Sam's hand. "Hey, Bobby."
"Who's Bobby?" Cooper asked.
"Kind of an…adopted uncle," Sam told him. "He's one of the few friends my Dad had who's still alive."
Cooper lifted his eyebrows. "He wants you to go to Rhode Island?"
"Heard about a job there," Sam said, trying to focus on what Dean was saying to Bobby.
"You got it," Dean said. "We'll call you soon." He closed the phone and handed it back to Sam. "He said to tell you that I should find a massage parlor when we get there."
"What?" Sam drew his head back, his face twisting into an expression of irritated disbelief. "You're crazy."
"Said it would help me heal up quicker." Dean's smirk was threatening to turn into a full-fledged grin.
"Dude, we are not looking for massage parlor." Sam rolled his eyes.
"If I'm gonna have to hide out from Hendrickson while you poke around about this job, I gotta have something to do," Dean shrugged innocently.
Sam waved a dismissive hand at him, turning away to start gathering up their things. "I am not listening to this."
"A massage might actually be quite helpful," Cooper chimed in. "Help with the muscle strain from coughing for so long."
"See?" Dean lifted his hands in a told you so shrug.
Sam pointed at Cooper. "Don't you start. He doesn't need any encouragement."
Cooper laughed, turning to the bag of supplies he brought, and suddenly stopped. It was if he'd run into an invisible wall. The brothers paused and looked him, confused.
"I'm never going to see you again, am I?" Cooper said softly, realization drawing his face down. "You move on to the next hunt, the next town. Hopefully getting through that one relatively unscathed. And that's it. You'll just…continue to live this…shadowed life."
Sam and Dean exchanged a glance.
"It's the only life we know," Sam offered. And we have a demon to kill, he thought.
"And if we didn't do it…," Dean shrugged. "It might not make a big difference, but…we're not willing to take that risk."
Cooper huffed out a brief, humorless laugh. "I think I'm actually going to miss you two."
Sam had to admit, it was hard to get close to some people and walk away. Especially when those people had a hand in keeping them alive.
"Don't go getting all sentimental on us, Coop," Dean teased, doing his best to lighten the mood. "You never know when we might need a good M.E."
"Not funny," Cooper scolded, but Sam saw a reluctant grin tug up the corner of his mouth.
"Thank you," Sam said, sincerity turning his voice soft. "We don't make a lot of friends doing what we do."
"As many lives as you save, I'm surprised you don't have your own fan base," Cooper shook his head.
"We mean it," Dean said. "You're right. We do live in the shadows. And like I said, with a few exceptions, when we go…there won't be a lot of people who will even remember we'd been here once. So…meeting someone like you," Dean looked down, turning his silver ring around his finger, "who is willing to go out of his way to save our lives…," he looked up, meeting Cooper's eyes once more. "We won't forget it."
"Are you going to head back to Lethe?" Sam asked.
Cooper looked at him. "Not yet. I have some…fences to mend." He smiled softly.
"I hope it works out for you," Sam said sincerely.
He wanted to know the end of Cooper's story, to know if there was hope for finding his son again after all these years. He wanted, just once, to keep a friend close to him on the merit of their life experiences and not because he'd saved them from falling victim to a supernatural death.
"Well," Cooper said, taking a breath. "If you two are going to drive across country, we'd better make sure you're stocked up."
It took over an hour and some creative positioning, but they were finally able to fit the extra supplies Cooper had purchased—spare blankets, medicine, socks, sweatshirts, and two used canvass jackets—along with some food for the road in with their duffel bags and weapons.
Standing in the snow-dusted parking lot, the sound of the highway beckoning like a siren's call, the brothers regarded the M.E.
"You take care of each other," Cooper told them. "Try to stay out of trouble."
"I hope you find what you're looking for," Dean said softly.
Sam saw Cooper's eyes flinch, the lines deepening as Dean unknowingly hit a nerve. Sam glanced at Dean, momentarily wondering if Cooper had shared the story of his son with him. But then he realized it didn't matter. Dean could read people; he'd always had a knack for it. And in this man, his brother saw someone searching. And it was enough.
Cooper smiled, reaching out to clasp Dean's outstretched hand. He turned and grasped Sam's, smiling at him as well, before lifting his hand in a salute and turning toward his truck.
"He really doesn't like goodbyes, does he?" Dean commented as Cooper pulled out of the parking lot, heading west on the main road.
"Like you're a big fan?" Sam retorted dryly.
Dean pulled a face in his direction. "Hey, maybe we just find a motel with one of those coin-operated massage bed things," he suggested, an eyebrow raised.
"Get in the car," Sam ordered, rolling his eyes.
Happily allowing Dean to slide behind the wheel of his baby once more, Sam closed the passenger side door, a smile relaxing his face as Dean turned on the radio the moment the Impala's engine caught, the sound of Kansas welcoming them home.
Things were starting to feel normal again.
"They say the sea turns so dark that you know it's time, you see the sign. They say the point demons guard is an ocean grave, for all the brave. Was it you that said, "How long, how long, how long to the point of no return?"
"That's more like it," Dean sighed happily, clearing his throat slightly as they backed out of the parking lot. "Let's see what the east coast has for us, Sammy."
"Think it'll be warmer?"
"I'd be happy with no snow," Dean muttered, pulling onto the highway.
Not more than two miles off the exit, Sam saw the lights.
"I see 'em."
Heading west, a line of four police cruisers and a dark sedan passed them, lights swirling in the gray evening air.
"You think that was…?" Sam began, not wanting to voice his worry.
Dean was dividing tense attention between the road in front of them and the rear-view mirror. Bob Seger's whiskey-smooth voice filled the space Kansas vacated.
"…I was living to run and running to live, never worried about paying or even how much I owed, moving eight miles a minute for months at a time, breaking all of the rules that would bend…"
"No matter what, we do not ditch this car."
Sam nodded. "Agreed."
"Feel like taking the scenic route?" Dean's eyes were still bouncing to the rear-view mirror, his shoulders tense, his knuckles white on the steering wheel.
Sam dug the atlas out of the glove box. "As long as it doesn't start snowing," he complied.
Dean pulled off an exit onto a state road, coughing loosely into the crook of his elbow. Sam handed him a water bottle. After a few miles, Sam felt the tension begin to ease from the confines of the car.
"If that was him," Dean said finally, "he doesn't know our car."
"Let's keep it that way," Sam said. "Until we're sure we've shaken him, you two stay out of sight."
Dean grinned, rubbing the palm of his hand over the steering wheel, his ring skipping over the ridges. "Hear that baby? We stay together."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You have an unhealthy attachment to this car."
"C'mon, Sam," Dean reached over, punching him lightly on the shoulder. "She saved our lives more than once. You never know. She might even be able to save the world."
"Right." Sam's reply dripped sarcasm.
A familiar guitar riff rolled from the radio and Dean grinned. He turned the volume up until anything outside of music was rendered obsolete. When Ronnie Van Zant's voice kicked in with the lyrics, Dean joined in.
"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now 'cause there's too many places I've got to see…"
"C'mon, Sam," Dean demanded, smacking Sam's chest with the back of his hand.
"Naw," Sam shook his head, grinning at his incorrigible brother.
A week ago, Sam had almost lost Dean beneath the frozen surface of a haunted lake. Four days ago, he'd been convinced his brother was going to die from the fever burning through him. And now, while not as strong as could be, Dean was practically brimming with life. He was in his element—behind the wheel of his car, tearing down a back road in Wisconsin, through a winter evening, toward another hunt, another job, another place.
Maybe Sam had been wrong. Maybe this life wouldn't take his brother. Maybe his brother was made for this life.
"We're gonna be okay, aren't we." It wasn't a question. Sam said it with the knowledge that somehow, someway, when the world was done with them and the job was finally over, it was true.
Sam looked at Dean, catching his smirk, the light in his eyes.
"Long as we stick together, Sammy," Dean said, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, "we'll be just fine."
Taking a breath, Sam joined in, his off-key notes sliding around his brother's harmony.
"'Cause I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change. Lord knows, I can't change…."
Point of No Return by Kansas
Against the Wind by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
a/n: Fennimore, WI, is an actual town. I've taken liberties with its size; I have no idea how many hotels it actually has. *smiles* No offense meant to any Fennimore residents.
I am going to be taking a break from writing multi-chapter SPN fics for awhile. I made a resolution at the turn of this year to complete a draft of an original story by December 31, 2011, and with the load of real life right now, I don't have enough of me to indulge in the enjoyment of plotting out lengthy fanfics and make a solid attempt at an original story.
I will continue to write one-shots, though, to stay in the game (so to speak). In fact, I have a one-shot for yasminke's winning bid in the Australian Flood Relief author's auction (at fandom_flood_ap here on LJ) to be created and posted soon.
I can't express to you adequately how much writing fanfic has meant to me these last five years. These stories, these characters, and your feedback have changed me—for the better. The whole experience has made me into a better person and now I'm going to see if I can roll with it outside the amazing world of the Winchesters.
I hope you won't forget me. I look forward to your thoughts on any one-shots you see pop up in your reminders or LJ communities. Slán agus beannacht leat!