Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
Sam jerked awake at the sound of his brother’s voice. His body felt stiff, his leg swollen, and his eyes gritty. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep. Dean was lying against him, his eyes wide, glassy, and confused as he looked around the clearing.
“Dean?” his voice was rough from the exhaustion that hadn’t been assuaged by sleep. He shifted slightly, noticing Dean’s wince. He realized that the cuts on Dean’s back had stopped bleeding, but now his shirt was stuck to the open wounds.
“Dean, you okay?”
Dean blinked again and the glassiness began to clear. He lifted his head off of Sam’s chest and looked around. Sam watched his memory slam back to him, hitting him with brutal force.
“Aw, shit,” he moaned, rubbing his forehead with his right hand. Sam watched him look over to the pile of ashes formerly known as the wendigo. “How the hell –“
“You’re damn heavy, man,” Sam said quietly.
Dean seemed to finally realize where he was. He tightened his stomach muscles and pulled himself to a sitting position, then turned so that he could look at Sam. He cradled his left arm against his chest.
“Dude, you look like crap,” he said, his voice as rough as Sam’s had been.
Without raising his head, Sam liked an eyebrow. “Hello kettle, I’m Dean. You’re black.”
“Funny,” he looked at the red gore on Sam’s shirt. “Holy shit, Sammy. Did it get you?”
“Huh?” Sam looked down at his chest. “Oh, no, man that’s from you.”
He honestly hadn’t been conscious of it until Sam said that. Had only felt the pounding in his head, the horrible ache in his arm, but now, like something so hot that it was cold, the pain in his back sucked his breath away.
“Shit,” he breathed. This was not good.
“You called for Dad,” Sam said, partly curious, but mostly to regain Dean’s attention. He saw his eyes lose focus and needed to keep his brother with him.
“I, uh, I think I was remembering… something.”
Dean rolled carefully to his knees, moving Sam’s legs together. Without using his left arm, he slowly emptied the pockets of the jacket and piled the contents by the tree, rolled the jacket up, and put it at the top of the travois. Then, without saying a word he helped Sam ease back so that he was once again laying on the travois.
Sam let him. He hurt everywhere. The pain in his leg now throbbed when he blinked, when he took a breath, when he swallowed, when his heart beat. He was exhausted. And Dean was here. Dean was here and he was handling it… He blinked his eyes open.
“Dean, we have to figure out a way out of here.”
“What do you think I’m doing, man?”
“No way you’re pulling me out of here.”
Dean didn’t reply.
“I think you’ve completely lost your mind.”
“Gee, thanks, Sam.”
“Dude, you can barely keep your eyes open. You aren’t pulling me out of here.”
“Gotta try…” his voice was a whisper.
“I said I gotta try.”
Sam knew he couldn’t say anything to stop Dean. When he got like this the only person he ever listened to was John. And even then it was a struggle. He lay still, watching Dean fight to stand, hurting for him, knowing it was the only way.
Dean got as far as one foot under him when his vision doubled and he had to drop a hand to the ground. He tried again. This time he got both feet under him and took two steps before going to his knees with a curse.
“Dean, please,” Sam tried.
“Sam,” Dean's voice shook with the realization that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. He wasn’t going to be able to pull Sam out of there. And now, he couldn’t even walk for help. “If I don’t do this…”
“Dean,” Sam’s voice was low, pulling his brother’s eyes to him. “Just… just stop, man.”
Dean looked at him and swallowed. He could see the effects of the fever and infection were wearing Sam down. His skin was pale and shiny with sweat. But his eyes were hard for Dean to look at. They were shadowed with pain and dull with resolution. He knew they weren’t going to make it. He knew.
“God, I’m sorry, Sam,” he whispered. He let his body relax back so that he sat next to Sam’s chest, facing his brother.
“You tried, man,” Sam said, swallowing. He reached out a shaking hand to grab onto Dean’s sleeve. “You did everything you could, Dean.”
“It wasn’t enough,” Dean’s voice was hollow. He’d failed. He honestly never thought he would fail Sam. “I was too confident. I thought we could track that wendigo, help that reservation, save those people… I thought we would win, Sam. I really did.”
Sam couldn’t bear to hear the defeat in his brother’s voice. “We did win, Dean. We did all those things.”
Dean shook his head. “Not if you don’t get out, Sam. Not if you…” He dropped his head, looking toward the ground, seeing nothing.
“What tribe was it?”
Dean narrowed his eyes. He’d read the name in the newspaper article… what was it? “Ojibwa.”
Dean may not have been to college, he may have avoided high school, but Sam knew no one with a memory like his brother’s.
“You think that’s where those markings on the cave came from?”
“What were you dreaming about, Dean?”
Dean shook his head. “Questions to the end, huh, Sammy?”
Sam knew he couldn’t think that way – couldn’t let Dean think that way. “We don’t know this is it, Dean.”
“Maybe you left during the last commercial break, man, but we’re up shit creek here,” Dean lifted his head a fraction, looking at Sam’s face. “No one knows where we are, we have no cell reception, I can’t walk more than two steps without doing a face plant, you can’t walk period… am I missing anything?”
Sam shrugged. “Only the fact that we went in the opposite direction from the Impala.”
“We did what?”
“I noticed it when you went to put the fire out. Sun was in the wrong position.”
“Must’ve happened when you were trying to avoid the wendigo.”
“Fucking son of a bitch.”
“That would be the one.”
Dean sighed. “We’re a mess, Sam.”
Sam licked his dry lips. “That we are.”
“The first hunt after you left.”
Sam turned to look at Dean. His brother’s eyes were once again fixed on nothing and they looked…old. So much older than twenty-six. Dean had the eyes of an ancient man.
“That’s what I was dreaming about.”
Dean lifted a shoulder. “Usual, but it was all… empty. Dad was wrong. I was wrong. Without you… it took a long time to get into a different groove, Sammy.”
“I know, man.”
Dean held his arm closer to his side. It was becoming hard to move the fingers on that hand. He didn’t want to know what his back looked like. Sam’s shirt was proof enough that it wasn’t good. He reached up and unconsciously scratched at the gash on his head.
“What about you?” Dean asked.
Sam looked over at him. “What do you mean?”
“How long did it take you?”
Sam narrowed his eyes in confusion.
“Dude, when I came and got you that night I picked your lock with a paper clip. No salt lines, no protection at all. How long did that take?”
Sam blinked. “I thought you didn’t… y’know, care.”
Dean looked at him. “Why would you think that?”
“’Cause I left, man.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s you, Sammy. Everything you do matters to me.”
It was said as such a simple statement of fact that Sam didn’t know how to respond at first. He gaped at Dean. When he’d thought of his family during those two years it had been with such a confusing tangle of rage and hurt and nostalgia that he gave hardly a thought to how they were adjusting without him.
“A-awhile. It took awhile.”
“You never told Jess?”
Sam shook his head, his eyes clouding at her name. “I wanted, y’know, to, uh, to start fresh.”
Leave it behind. “Leave us behind.”
“No, no man,” Sam protested, his fingers gripping tighter to Dean’s shirt. “Not you. Not ever.”
“You did, though.”
“Yeah, well, I was stupid.”
“Yeah, you were.”
“I don’t know how I would have told her anyway. How do you explain the Winchester definition of normal?”
Dean grinned, looking down. “Well, you don’t do it like I did.”
“Cassie just –“ Sam didn’t know how to finish.
“She just reacted like any normal person who believes that the creak in their floorboards is the wind shifting the house, and not a spirit,” Dean said pushing his lips together in a frown that belied his understanding tone.
“I think Jess might’ve suspected.”
Dean gave him a look. “Yeah, right.”
“What, did you mix your book on exorcisms in Latin up with her English Lit 101?”
Sam pulled his mouth up in a side grin. “Not exactly.”
“Well, for one, she loved music. Girl didn’t do anything without it. And I mean anything.”
“Dude, seriously,” Dean lifted the fingers of his right hand in a ‘stop’ motion.
“Never took you for a prude, Dean.”
“Yeah, well, listening to stories of the bedroom aerobics of my little brother is not my idea of fun.”
“Anyway, she put on BOC one time –“
Sam gave him a look. “Are you kidding me with this?”
“No way, man. Was she a skimmer or a fan?”
“Just listened to what everyone else listened to.”
Sam shook his head. “It was I Am the Storm.”
“Anyway, she was playing the song and I had a few beers in me,” Sam was looking away from Dean, his eyes soft with recollection. “And I started talking about this hunt, only I didn’t say hunt. I think I said… family trip or something lame like that.” He grinned at the memory.
Dean grinned in response.
“I said that we’d gone after this dog –“
“—and that you insisted that we had to have music to fire us up before we caught it—“
“—and Dad thought you were nuts, but you insisted and said that it had to be BOC –“
“Of course because it could potentially—“
Dean chuckled. “I remember that hunt,” he said. “We actually all made it out in one piece.”
“Yeah, even you,” Sam said his eyebrows up.
“Jess just listened to me with this little smile on her face. I think she thought I was drunk.”
“Enough to talk about you guys, yeah.”
“Our lives are weird, man.”
“Yep,” Dean sighed. “But, I guess I just never wanted anything else.”
“Really?” Sam blinked at him, surprised. His eyes felt heavier. “Never?”
“Well, when I was younger, maybe. But, not since… not since the shtriga.”
“Dude, you were, what –“
“How did you know then?”
Dean frowned again, looking out across the clearing, not wanting to look at Sam. Because you almost died because of me. Because Dad trusted me. Because I let him down. Because I could never feel like that again. “Because after that I had to protect you. And I did. Until now,” he finished, his voice ragged.
Sam swallowed, unsure how to follow that up. Whether or not Dean ever wanted anything else, Sam knew he would never have it. He didn’t know how to be anything but a hunter. He needed to be on the move, to be able to hurt something back for threatening innocence, to fight back the darkness in life he saw so clearly. He didn’t know how to do normal.
Sam sighed. He was so tired. He blinked. Dean turned to look at him when silence followed his confession and saw his heavy eyes.
“Go to sleep, Sam.”
“What ‘bout you?”
“I’ll be okay.”
Sam’s eyes drifted shut, then popped open again. “You sure?”
“I’m sure,” he lied.
Sam’s dark eyes closed, and Dean reached out with a trembling hand to push his shaggy hair away from his sweaty forehead. For a long while he sat and watched Sam sleep. It was nearing dark. He could see a full moon rising in the east. Well, at least now he knew what direction the car was. From where they sat, he figured they were closer to the Ojibwa Indian reservation than the car.
Sam shivered. Dean eased the jacket from behind his head, opened it and covered him as best he could. How many times had he done this very thing?
Blue Earth, MN 1988
“Why don’t you get some sleep, Dean?”
“Naw, that’s okay.”
“Your Dad won’t be back for while.”
Dean rolled his eyes to look at Pastor Jim. What? Did he think he was blind? “I know.”
Pastor Jim gave him a patient smile. The kind of smile that made Dean squirm. The kind of smile people gave you that said “I know how you feel’ when there was no way they could know. No way they could know how he felt this ache, this shame, this guilt. He was old enough to know that everyone felt it differently. Everyone reacted to it differently. Dad got angry, Pastor Jim went to his Bible, Dean got quiet.
“It’s not your fault, Dean.”
He wanted to tell him to shut up. He wanted to tell him to mind his own damn business. He wanted to tell him to leave them alone. He was watching Sam now. Sam would be okay now. He wouldn’t look away. But he couldn’t say that stuff to Pastor Jim. God was watching. So he said nothing, and kept his eyes on his sleeping brother.
Sam shivered a little in his sleep. Dad hadn’t given him time to get dressed when he piled them in the back of the Impala and headed to Jim’s. The shtriga’s attack had frightened them all, but it had seriously pissed off his Dad. And so Sam made the trip in pajamas. Dean shifted his jacket from his shoulders and put it across his brother’s small body, tucking the arms of the jacket around Sam’s narrow frame.
He felt Pastor Jim’s large hand on his shoulder, heavy, like an omen. “It’s not your fault, Dean,” he said again, his voice a shade softer.
Dean wished he’d quit saying that. Wished he’d quit talking. He wanted to move away – he was too close. But that would mean that he had to move away from Sam. And he wasn’t about to do that again. Not ever. He shifted his shoulders stiffly, trying to dislodge Pastor Jim’s hand.
Again, the voice was a shade softer. “It’s not your fault, Dean.”
“Stop,” Dean forced out through stiff lips.
“Because you’re lying.”
“It’s not your fault, Dean.”
He said it again. Dean felt something shift in his chest, burn in his eyes.
“Yes it is.”
“It is. I left him. I left him and he almost died. Because I didn’t protect him.”
“There is evil in the world, Boy.”
Dean clenched his jaw. Really? No kidding. He had seen it first hand. He had seen his mother’s image reflected in his father’s terrified eyes as the fire that consumed her reflected there. He knew evil was in the world. But that didn’t excuse him for letting Sam down, letting his Dad down.
“Do you hear me, Dean?”
He said nothing. Pastor Jim was just Dad’s friend. He wasn’t Dad. He couldn’t make him talk. He couldn’t make him…
“I want you to hear me, Dean.”
Dean said nothing, just leaned in a little closer to Sam and laid his hand on his brother’s chest, reassured by the rhythmic rising and falling of Sam’s peaceful breathing. He shuddered at the memory of the shtriga bent over Sam, pulling his life away as Dean stood with the rifle in his frozen hands. What he wouldn’t give to roll back time… go back to that moment… he could have changed it all if he’d just moved. If he’d just gotten Sam out of there.
“I hear you, all right?”
“I don’t believe you do.”
“Well, what you believe doesn’t make much of a difference, Pastor Jim,” he said it belligerently – expecting to get a rise out of Jim. Jim didn’t take the bait.
“Why is that?”
“Because some things are true whether you believe them or not.”
He felt Jim’s hand on his shoulder again, but this time it was a softer touch, a hesitant touch.
“You want to stay here with Sam?”
“Yes,” Dean whispered. He wanted to stay with Sam. He wanted Jim to go. He wanted his Dad to look at him again.
“Okay, then. I’ll check on you in the morning.”
The bed shifted as Jim stood. Dean heard the door shut and only then did he allow his body to relax. He toed off his sneakers, then crawled up to lay his head next to Sam’s on the pillow. He kept his hand on Sam’s chest. Felt his brother’s breathing. Proof that he got another chance.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out of this, man,” he whispered.
He shifted slowly, trying to minimize the pull on his tortured back. He needed to be close to his brother… needed Sam to know that he was close. His pain tried to push to the forefront of his mind, but he resolutely hammered it back. He needed to be in control. He needed…
Lowering himself to the forest floor, he rested his head on Sam’s chest, just over his heart. Its quiet rhythm lulled him to a semi-aware rest.
And that is how he found them. Tracking the wendigo from his reservation after the last attack, he found the cave in the early afternoon, the carnage of the wolf’s body shocking and bewildering him. He went into the cave and saw the reconstituted protection charm. Unsure if he should be worried or relieved, he saw Sam’s discard pile, the strips of bloody T-shirt, the tracks of the travois.
He followed the tracks slowly, noting the scores on the trees where the wendigo had done the same. He was alert, watchful. He was the best hunter – the only hunter now – of the tribe. The rest were doctors, farmers, school teachers, shaman… no one hunted anymore. And that was, he asserted, why they were easy prey. Their arrogance and disdain for tradition, for the old ways, brought the creature to them. And now many were dead.
In the early evening, when the sky was still too bright to be night, but too dark to be day, he found the brothers. At first he wasn’t sure if they were alive. He saw the pile of ash and the distinct markings of a fierce struggle. He saw the travois with the tall, dark-haired boy stretched out on it. The broken leg looked bad; infection had begun. The other boy, though… he leaned forward carefully, not yet touching him. He was in a curled heap next to his brother, his head on the younger boy’s chest. He was bloody from back to front.
As he leaned in he could see a bare slit of green showing through thick lashes. He reached out to touch the battered face. The boy flinched, turning his head slowly. The green eyes caught sight of him and blinked. He could see they were glassy with pain and exhaustion. He started to open his mouth to reassure him, to let him know he was there to help. He wasn’t prepared for the word the boy uttered in a thin, broken voice.
Part Nine can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/11564.html