Title: From Yesterday
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Prologue
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for reading, reviewing, favoriting, following. I *think* I have some time off coming up end of November and hope to add "replying to reviews" to my non-work to-do list. Also, apologies *again* for this not being posted on Friday. This time it was not my fault, though. Really. lovinjackson is visiting from Australia and she had to be educated in the fantastic story and imagery that is "Warrior."
We're still in a react and recover phase of the story, but I am working to make everything that's happened to them have the proper amount of impact. I hope you enjoy!
From Yesterday, Part 1: Chapter 1
From Yesterday, Part 1: Chapter 2
From Yesterday, Part 1: Chapter 3
When Dean opened his eyes, he saw Sam standing on the left side of his bed, looking down, his face oddly shadowed.
Dean blinked, struggling to focus, not sure what he was seeing; Sam's face looked scarred, the right side lined with thick, raised tracks like claw marks, one eye blood-red and filled with angry accusation.
He started to reach his hand out toward his brother, when a voice from his right startled him.
"Hey, you're awake!"
Dean flinched, turning his head as quickly as the aching muscles in his neck allowed, and was surprised to see Sam emerging from a small room that appeared to be a restroom. Shivering from the after-effect of the false image of his brother's face, he frowned looking once more to the left side of his bed, but no one was there. He pressed his eyes tightly closed, the skin along the left side of his face stretching, the sting of stitches too familiar to ignore.
Dean tried to nod, needing instinctively to reassure his brother when he heard that tone in Sam's voice, but he found he couldn't. He was concentrating too hard on trying to lick his lips, realizing that he had to force his tongue out through teeth that wouldn't part as he ordered.
Sam moved closer to him; Dean could sense him, smell him, though he had yet to re-open his eyes.
"Dean? You want me to call the nurse?"
This time, Dean was able to shake his head. Barely a movement, but it was enough: he could tell that Sam relaxed slightly. Dean felt his body tremble a bit from the inside out. He felt…hollow. Like there was gaping hole at the center of his torso, pulling at him, sucking everything inside. He opened his eyes once more to get a better look at Sam's face and saw no scarring, no shadows.
Sam was clean-shaven, the skin beneath his eyes purpled with weariness, perhaps slightly paler than usual, but wholly Sam. Sunlight filtered through the room from somewhere to his left and bathed Sam's face with approving light. Dean felt a weak rush of relief that he didn't fully understand. Despite the shimmer that he felt just beneath his skin, he was foggy, his memory behind a veil of pain and medicine.
He wanted to physically push it away.
As he blinked up at his brother, though, Dean realized that something was, indeed, off – but it wasn't with Sam. Shadows still seemed to cling to half of the room, like a curtain that had been drawn across his face. He began to reach up toward his eye clumsily with his right hand, then saw that it was heavily bandaged and tried using his left.
"Whoa, wait, hang on," Sam started to reach for him, but then inexplicably jerked his hand back. "What are you doin', Dean?"
"The patch," Dean mumbled, his lips feeling as dry and cracked as his voice. He wanted to get the patch over his eye out of the way so he could really look at Sam.
"Over m'eye," Dean grumbled. What patch did Sam think he was talking about?
"There's no patch over your eye, man," Sam told him, and Dean blinked, his left hand half-way to his face.
"Then what…?" He carefully touched his cheek, running his fingers along his cheekbone and across his swollen eye to his brow and forehead. He could feel stitches there, the skin around them stretched. He traced his face, finding none of the same damage on his right side. He was running his hand along his jaw when Sam stepped away from the bed.
Dean frowned at first until his brother reappeared with a small shaving mirror he'd retrieved from the bathroom.
"You ready?" Sam asked him.
Dean nodded, needing a clear picture more than anything. Sam turned the mirror around and Dean stared at his reflection, feeling his breath catching in his throat. He didn't recognize himself: swelling aside, stitches framed his left eye and, beneath several days' growth of beard, his jaw where they'd had to put his face back together. Bruises painted both sides of his face, concentrated on his left and around his mouth.
He closed his left eye and saw his damaged reflection clearly. Closing his right and opening his left, he saw the curtain over half of his vision, his peripheral vision shadowed and murky.
"Fuck me," he breathed. "Two-Face."
"I'm…I'm so sorry, Dean," Sam whispered. Dean looked up at him and frowned, confused when Sam's eyes skated away. "If I could take it all back—" Sam broke off, choked, stepping back to set the mirror on the counter behind him. "I saw it…I saw what he was doing, I just…."
Tears swam in Sam's eyes and still Dean stared at him, trying to match Sam's words to the grayed-out images behind the veil in his memory.
Sniffing, Sam looked up, wiping at his nose with a heavily bandaged left hand. "You saved me, Dean," he said in a voice both young and old and so weary it made Dean feel heavy. "I don't know how, but…you did."
Dean closed his eyes. He needed to remember. It was so close…so close. He could almost touch it, but the harder he tried, the fainter it became. If he could just think…but everything hurt. Everything; more pain than he'd felt in a long time. He took a slow, shallow breath, trying to relax, trying to ease the hurt away.
Blackness took over, a sort of empty room inside of him, with deep corners and walls that tossed words around like they were devoid of shape or meaning. He felt himself moving through this room, his thoughts like a skipping record, the needle bouncing between sights, smells, sounds until he was bowed by it all, wanting to retreat.
But he couldn't. He knew that. Retreat, and they were dead. Retreat, and it had all been pointless.
He had to push forward, seek the light he knew would blast the darkness from this room entirely. The light he remembered seeing when he grabbed Sam's hand. When he held on with his last remaining strength – his body shaking, blood choking him, breath breaking off inside of him – not willing to let Sam fall, refusing to let Lucifer win.
He opened his eyes once more with a gasp, the moments in Stull flooding back to him with such intensity he reached out, grabbed the bed rail to steady himself. He saw Sam standing to his right, as if waiting for him, and turned to tell his brother that he remembered, he knew, when he suddenly realized that the room was dark, quiet.
Sam wasn't next to him; he was sleeping on a fold-out couch to his left.
Frustrated, Dean rubbed at his face, careful to avoid the stitches, and willed his mind and vision to get on the same freakin' page. His breath caught once more as he tightened his grip on the bed rail. He felt oddly weightless, as if gravity had deserted him, and without Sam's hand gripping his, he was left with nothing to cling to but dust.
Movement to his right had him jerking his head to the side, needing to see who was coming toward him. A nurse pushing a computer on a tall, wheeled stand slipped quietly into the room. She met his eyes with a smile, then looked past him to the couch.
"Asleep finally, huh?" She whispered quietly with a nod toward Sam. "Stubborn brother you've got there."
Dean simply nodded. His mouth was too dry to try much else.
"It's good to see you're awake," the nurse continued. "Every time I came in today, you were asleep."
She made some adjustments on the monitors attached to him, to his IV, and to his catheter before returning back to his line of sight. "We've cut back on your morphine," she informed him. "Doctor has approved some liquids. You feel like a drink?"
He wanted to snap out a sarcastic response, but all he could do was swallow, painfully, his eyes on the small, pink pitcher of water. She slipped the straw between his lips and cautioned him to take small sips. It felt like liquid heaven, skipping down his parched throat. He ached to open his mouth wider, but was prevented by what he could feel with his tongue were thin wires along the inside of his mouth.
"What's wrong w'me?" he managed. It sounded clearer this time, though still clenched and raspy, as if someone had been strangling him.
Concern creased the nurse's youthful face, but her eyes were soft. "You were beaten pretty badly. Do you remember any of it?"
He remembered all of it. Every punch, every word, every broken bone. He simply blinked at her, letting her draw her own conclusion. Experience had taught him to say as little as possible until he knew what angle they were playing.
"I'll let your brother or the doctor tell you about the circumstances that brought you in here," she sighed, "but I'll let you know that we're all pretty impressed with how you're doing."
"Always been a quick healer," he said.
She smiled. He decided he liked her smile. "Your brother said the same thing," she told him. "He's still recovering from a gunshot wound and a damaged hand, but he wouldn't let us stick him on a floor away from you."
Dean rolled his head to the side to regard his sleeping brother. When Sam slept – truly slept, not the tense, troubled rest riddled with visions and nightmares – he looked like a child. Legs akimbo, mouth open, hair swirled around his head, the lines on his face vanished and innocence regained ground lost by experience. He looked…peaceful.
So much so that Dean felt a pang of envy and looked away. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt that sort of peace.
The dark behind his eyes had been filled with nothing but Hell and regret and memories of the atrocities he'd witness and visited upon other souls since he'd climbed out of his own shallow grave.
He longed for a night without dreams.
"What's wrong w'my hand?" Dean asked, lifting his bandaged arm slightly from the pillow it rested upon. He'd seen Sam's hand wrapped almost exactly the same way.
"You have a wound on your palm," the nurse told him, holding her hand up and tracing a finger in a circular pattern on the inside of her own hand. "It's about the size of a half-dollar, and it was quite deep. Whatever weapon caused it damaged nerves, tendon, and bone."
She tilted her head. "His is similar, but not as deep."
Dean nodded slowly. The amulet. He'd felt it burning through him, fusing them together, lighting the air around him on fire.
"Your jaw is wired shut," she continued. "But I suspect you knew that. I'm afraid you'll have to get used to milkshakes for a little while."
Dean leaned back, looking up at the ceiling, listening as she continued to report his list of injuries. They sounded vaguely familiar; he was pretty sure he'd heard it before, but couldn't remember if Sam had told him, or one of the nurses. His back hurt with every breath. He couldn't really feel the fractured hip, but then again, he hadn't really moved around much. His head felt muffled, wrapped in cotton, but with a strange sort of lingering weight that told him the moment the good drugs wore off, he was going to want them right back.
"You should try to get some rest," the nurse told him. "Doctor usually comes in at shift change in the morning, and I suspect the police will be back now that you're awake."
That caught his attention. "Back?"
"To talk with you about…how you came to be here."
"They were here?" Dean felt the stitches around his eye pull as he frowned.
"I believe they talked to your brother…?" She shrugged. "I'm not sure; I wasn't on shift at the time."
He needed to talk to Sam, soon. Nodding his understanding as the nurse left the room, he looked over at his peacefully sleeping brother. Part of him wanted to wake Sam, talk through what the hell they were going to do now. He was all busted up; Sam had a bum arm, and Bobby—
Dean's breath caught, hearing once again the sound of Bobby's bones breaking under Lucifer's hand...seeing his friend's body simply fall to the ground, lifeless, the Colt tumbling uselessly beside him...feeling the wrenching scream - NO! - tear through his heart.
Bobby was dead. Gone.
More than likely lying in a drawer in the morgue, cold and still like so many other bodies he and Sam had viewed in their years handling the family business. Dean felt his throat close up, tears burning the backs of his eyes. He tried to swallow the emotion, shove it back down inside that dark room where the shadows would eat it up, but it was too big.
He tried to mentally pray to Cas, hoping the need in his heart would be loud enough the angel would hear him. But he'd seen Castiel explode. His vessel gone. Could he return? Would he? If only to whisper the answers Dean so desperately needed?
Closing his swollen eyes, he felt a tear trickle through his lashes, spilling down his wounded cheek to slip through his whiskers, another following in its wake. His chest burned with a sharp, clear pain.
Bobby had been the closest thing they had left to family, and with a flick of Lucifer's hand, he was gone. No parting words, no last glances, no goodbye. And Cas had been his friend – one of the few true friends Dean had ever had in his lifetime.
People like Bobby, like Cas…like Dad…no way had yet been invented that would ever allow Dean to say goodbye.
Dean took a shaky breath, working to keep as quiet as possible, but the sob tore through his defenses, fueled by exhaustion and pain and loss so deep he wouldn't ever find the bottom of it. Grief he hadn't felt even when John died washed over him; it wasn't only Bobby, it was Cas, their shattered security, the absence of a clear plan.
It was watching Sam disappear from his own eyes. It was the visceral memory of a fist against flesh.
It was Hell and sacrifice and the constant, constant struggle. And it was an empty road with no map and no destination.
Save Sam, or kill him. That had been his father's last order. It had shaped Dean's life since John's death. It had driven him to Hell. And he'd finally finished the mission.
Sam had been saved. The world had been saved.
And Dean was lost.
Morning brought with it a new chapter of pain.
Dean heard voices before he came fully aware, swimming up from the murky depth of dreams where Sam stood in a prison of flames, calling out for help with a voice that sounded like snakes hissing.
His bones aching, head pounding like the mother-of-all hangovers, Dean lay still for a moment, listening, wondering if this time when he opened his eyes, he would see what was really in front of him, or what his mind only thought was in front of him.
"…showing remarkable improvement. I'm really rather amazed that he's come this far so fast."
"He barely stays awake for a few minutes at a time, though, Doc." That was Sam, Dean knew. He sounded worried.
"His brain needs time to heal, Sam. It's not a simple as any other wound. A severe concussion like Dean's could take weeks, even months, to fully heal. Try not to worry."
"Worrying's his favorite," Dean muttered, opening his eyes to slits to see if the people matched where the voices told him they'd be.
He saw a tall, black man standing next to Sam at the foot of his bed. Both turned toward him at the sound of his voice and Dean opened his eyes the rest of the way, watching as they moved toward him. He blinked slowly, then looked again: still standing on the right side of his bed.
"Good?" Sam repeated.
"You're there," Dean elaborated.
Sam's face knotted once more in concern. "Where else would we be?"
Dean slid his gaze to the other man. "See? Likes to worry."
"I do not," Sam automatically protested.
"Are you seeing delayed images, Dean?" The doctor asked him.
"You mean…people where…they're not supposed…to be?" It was hard for him to force that many words through his clenched teeth, but it was the closest to normal he'd sounded in awhile.
The doctor nodded.
"Yeah," Dean told him.
"It's an after-effect of the concussion," the doctor nodded. "We see with our brains, not our eyes. Your brain is trying to reassemble the images it thinks it's supposed to be seeing." He stretched out his left hand so that Dean could shake it. "We haven't been properly introduced. My name is Frank Randall. I've been yours and your brother's doctor since you came in here last week."
Dean darted his eyes toward Sam. A week? Sam nodded, seeming to instinctively know what Dean would be worried about. He lifted his index finger, indicating Dean should wait; he'd fill him in when Dr. Randall left. Dean looked back at the doctor.
Dr. Randall held up a cup full of water, guiding the straw to Dean's mouth. "You'll be on a strict diet of clear liquids for awhile yet, but then we can move you to more substantial liquids like protein shakes and pureed meals."
"Yummy," Dean grumbled.
"You'll have to have your jaw x-rayed again in two weeks and we'll determine then how much longer to keep it wired."
"A mess, huh?" Dean asked.
"That's putting it lightly." The doctor looked at the computer to his left. "We've changed your pain meds; what's your pain level?"
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Six."
He didn't miss Sam's raised eyebrow, but unless the pain reached a truly unbearable ten, he wasn't going to request more pain medication. He needed to be clear-headed and alert, not gray-veiled and foggy.
"And your back?"
Dr. Randall used the bed controls to tilt Dean's upper body a bit more vertical, then helped him ease forward. The motion put pressure on his hip and he swore he felt each muscle and bone along his back stand up to make themselves known. His whole body felt suddenly on high-alert, ready to shift from ache to agony at a moment's notice. The doctor pulled a bandage away and Dean felt gentle fingers probing at a particularly painful spot along his back.
"It's healing nicely; we had to put four screws in your ribs to keep them in place."
"Gonna be fun going through airport security," Dean muttered tightly as the doctor eased him back.
"As if you'd ever willingly fly," Sam retorted, drawing a half-grin from Dean's wounded mouth.
"I need to look at your eyes, Dean," Dr. Randall told him, pushing a button and dimming the lights above Dean's bed.
A penlight moved across his right eye, causing Dean to flinch from the intensity of it. As it moved across his left, Dean wanted to flinch, but found that the curtain was still there, mottling the left half of his vision and filtering the beam of light.
Dr. Randall's face was pulled tight in concentration as he straightened up. "I want you to look directly forward at the clock on the wall over there. Okay, now, tell me when you can see my hand, Dean," he ordered.
Dean did as he was told and waited. The doctor's hand was almost directly in front of him by the time he said, "Now."
"What does that mean?" Sam asked.
Dean could see his brother watching him worriedly. He was right. Worrying was Sam's favorite.
"Well, your pupil is reacting normally; it doesn't appear to be damage to the eye itself. I believe this to be from the concussion, Dean. Your brain has swelled and it's putting pressure on your ocular nerve. Not to mention the amount of abuse the bones around your eye suffered from the beating and subsequent surgery to repair it."
"So…it'll get better?" Dean asked.
Dr. Randall nodded slowly. "It could. I would like you to see an ocular specialist here in town once you're released."
Dean looked at Sam. Would they even be staying in town? The job was done. When the job was done, they moved on. But, with the exception of Bobby's junkyard, where would they even go?
"Okay," he replied, still looking at his brother.
"We'll get you up out of bed tomorrow, Dean," Dr. Randall told him. "It won't feel good, but—"
"Sooner the better, Doc," Dean replied.
"You keep improving like you are, and you'll be out of here in no time." He turned to Sam. "We need to change your bandages, Sam. I want to check your wounds."
Sam's nod was stilted, anticipatory. "Sure." He moved around to the other side of Dean's bed and sat down slowly on the edge of the reassembled couch.
Dean watched carefully as the doctor first unwrapped Sam's hand. He could see the angry wound and winced in sympathy as the doctor touched around the edges, watching Sam's fingers respond. It reminded Dean of the Luke Skywalker getting his bionic hand in Empire Strikes Back. Sam's fingers curled in slowly as the doctor poked at them; he wasn't able to make a fist, but he could move all of his fingers. The doctor applied a clear salve to the wound, then re-wrapped it.
Next he looked at Sam's shoulder and Dean remembered the sound of the Colt echoing across the quiet cemetery, turning Sam's body toward Bobby.
"Two," he muttered.
Dr. Randall looked over his shoulder at Dean. "What was that, son?"
"Two shots," Dean looked at Sam.
Sam shook his head imperceptibly, but it was too late.
"You remember that?" Dr. Randall straightened up, Sam's bandage momentarily forgotten.
"I…I heard it," Dean finished lamely.
"The first creased his back," Dr. Randall nodded. "The second was a through-and-through. But you're mending well, Sam." He looked back down at Sam. "Keep taking the antibiotics, keep ahead of the pain, and we can probably start you on physical therapy in a week."
"I'll be back in to check on you both tomorrow," Dr. Randall told them. "Don't do anything to bring me back sooner," he smiled.
"You got it, Doc," Sam smiled back, waiting until the doctor had left before standing and moving closer to Dean's bed. "You remember?"
Dean nodded. "You?"
"Most," Sam tilted his head. "It's a little mixed up in here."
That'll happen when you have the Devil playing Twister in your noggin. Dean regarded his brother solemnly. "Tell me."
He dropped his head back against the pillows behind him. It was almost too heavy.
"I, uh," Sam moved around the foot of Dean's bed, seemingly unable to stand still. "I remember mostly hearing his voice. Inside, y'know? Not my voice saying his words. It was...strange. And it...it sounded like…hissing."
Dean brought his head up. "What was that?"
"Hissing. Words, y'know, but all…raspy." Sam cradled his sling-bound right arm with his bandaged left. "He kept trying to convince me that I'd been heading toward him all my life. Showed me things…," he shook his head. "Ugly things. Things he'd done all through our lives to lead me right to him."
"Sam. You beat him," Dean reminded him.
Sam turned to face his brother. "Because of you."
Dean shook his head. "No. You beat him."
"I beat you, Dean," he said softly, his eyes tracing Dean's battered face. "I remember that. I remember the rage inside me. I remember feeling your bones break." Dean swallowed but didn't dare take his eyes from Sam's face. "I remember that it felt…it felt good. It felt good because he wanted it so badly. He wanted you dead, Dean."
"'m still here."
"Barely counts, Sammy," Dean rasped, reaching for the cup of water. His throat was on fire. He wasn't ever going to be able to drink enough.
Sam stepped closer to help him. Before either of them had time to think, Sam's fingers brushed the back of Dean's hand and the resulting shock was enough to cause Dean to flinch away, dropping the cup of water to the floor.
"Son of a bitch."
It had felt like a surge – a power surge of emotion. It hadn't been long enough to form words that would describe it, but it was enough that Dean was shaking.
"I'm sorry," Sam gasped, stepping back. "I should have—I meant to tell you."
"Shit." Dean felt slightly ill, like the ground had unexpected shifted beneath him, leaving his balance dipping and spinning. "The hell?"
Sam grabbed a towel from the counter behind him and put it over the puddle on the floor, then poured more water for Dean. He carefully avoided making any sort of contact as he handed it over, Dean noticed. Dean sucked the cup dry waiting for Sam to elaborate.
"I noticed it the first time they let me see you. I touched your shoulder and it was like…getting sucked into a nightmare."
"A vision?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head, resuming his pacing once more. "No, not like that. It was like…," he shook his head again, as if hoping the right words would fall into place in his mind. "I felt…sick. I felt pain – but it wasn't my pain."
He looked back at Dean and his eyes pooled, his face losing years as the words he sought seemed to evaporate before he was able to anchor them.
The way his brother was looking at him sent a shiver through Dean, making him feel exposed, vulnerable.
"I tried it again. When I was a little stronger. I…I touched you. Your arm."
"This time it was more…focused. I saw…memories."
Dean blinked, trying to absorb what Sam was telling him, starting to get it. "My memories?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure. I mean, it's the only thing that made sense. I think I saw what you were dreaming about."
At that Dean felt bile burn the back of his throat. His dreams were too bent and broken for anyone else to witness. He rolled his lips against his teeth as much as his stitches would allow.
Sam simply shook his head. "It was too much to remember now, but it was like…walking through parts of your life, like your brain was trying to rebuild your memory bank or something."
Dean looked away.
"Dean, what if it's…do you think it's from...the demon blood?"
At that Dean frowned, searching his brother's face, asking with a glance for Sam to elaborate.
"Do you think I'm…poisoned or something? With all that blood?"
"No, Sam," Dean shook his head. "It's not that."
Sam stood absolutely still for a heartbeat, staring at him, then dropped his head, addressing the floor. "You did something, didn't you? To us, I mean."
Dean glanced at Sam's left hand, dropping his gaze to his own right. I don't know the lengths to which the beacon will mark you, Cas had said. Dean had felt the power, felt the heat. The light had surged around them. Through him. He'd felt the amulet ignite something inside of him, blending with him and incinerating any shred of doubt or darkness outside of him.
"I had to," he said, forcing his clenched-teeth voice to be as clear as he could.
Sam's eyes slid his way; he shifted nervously from one foot to the other as he worked to find a way to confess thoughts he'd clearly been chewing on for several days as Dean worked to regain consciousness.
"When you grabbed my hand," Sam began, "it was me. Lucifer was there, but…it was me."
"I know, Sammy," Dean said softly, feeling his battered body shiver from weariness, the adjusted meds not nearly enough to cover the threshold of pain thrumming steadily through his head and jaw. He wanted to close his eyes, block it all out. But he couldn't give in now.
Everything was going to change with Sam's next words.
They were never going to go back to the way things were before they found out about their angelic destinies, before there was a sacrificial choice to make. With an ache that speared his heart, Dean wanted nothing more than to crawl out of his hospital bed, climb behind the wheel of the Impala, and just drive.
Away from the truth he caused. From the truth Sam had already realized.
"You…lit up. Like Cas did when he went all…Angel of the Lord. Light just…it came from everywhere. Your eyes, your mouth, your damn skin," Sam pressed on, moving closer to the foot of Dean's bed. "And it was hot. Everything was - you, me, the damn air. I could hear screaming. Inside me. Lucifer felt the heat, Dean. From that light."
Dean found that he was barely breathing. He was lightheaded and tried to draw in a ragged, shallow breath.
"Adam – or, I mean Michael, I guess – kinda…dove for me. But he didn't get me. He got—"
"Lucifer," Dean whispered.
Sam nodded. "He kinda…I don't know…tore him out of me. I felt him tear free."
"Damn, Sammy," Dean shook his head, looking down. "That…had to hurt like hell."
"It did. It felt like every muscle in my body was pulled at once. But…," Sam moved around to the left side of Dean's bed, forcing Dean to turn his head to fully see him. "Dean, he's gone."
Sam lifted a shoulder. "The Cage? All I know is a big-ass hole opened in the ground under those damn rings and Michael dragged his brother down there."
Sam shook his head. "Adam…," he sighed.
Dean swallowed. Cas had said Adam was an inferior vessel. They'd truly all been damned from the start.
"Dean," Sam said softly, leaning forward, blocking out the light from the window behind him. "What did you do, man? How did…with the light, and…," he held up his bandaged hand helplessly.
Dean closed his eyes. It was getting hard to see Sam from that angle. He leaned his head back. "The amulet."
"Move over here," he grumbled, nodding to his right side. "Can't see you."
"Oh," Sam sounded surprised. Dean felt him move around the end of the bed. "I'm sorry, Dean."
"Stop, Sam." He opened his eyes. That was better. "You didn't do this."
Sam looked a little sick, glancing down at his healing knuckles. Dean was too tired to drag his brother out of his well of guilt, so he simply continued.
"Cas dug it out of the trash can in that motel."
"How'd he even know—"
"Long story, different time," Dean sighed. His head was pounding. This was the longest he'd been awake in days. "Cas said...the amulet finds the power of God…in the righteous man."
Sam just blinked owlishly at him. "The righteous man?"
Sam looked toward the window with shadowed eyes. He was quiet for several minutes, then, "I drank gallons of demon blood so that Lucifer wouldn't burn through his vessel," he said almost too softly for Dean to hear, "and you were able to find the power of God?"
Dean didn't speak; there wasn't anything he could say. Forces more powerful than two guys from Kansas had pitted them as pawns in a game of chess where the universe was the prize and there had been little either of them had been able to do about it.
Had Dean said 'yes' to Michael instead of showing up as a mere human, the amulet in his grip, he and Sam would have fought to the death in a run-down cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas, while the world imploded from the power surge.
Death himself had been controlled by Lucifer; there wasn't much Sam was going to be able to do to stop the fallen angel from having his way. And yet, when it counted, Sam had been strong enough, his soul bright enough, to wrestle the controls away from the Devil.
There was nothing Dean had done or would ever do that could match that strength. He just wished he could find the words to help Sam understand that.
"So, what…you had the amulet in your hand?" Sam continued, his voice steadying.
"And that's what burned us?" Sam touched his bandaged hand to Dean's, careful to avoid skin contact.
Dean nodded again.
"Guess it's a good thing you weren't wearing it around your neck," Sam muttered.
Dean blinked. He hadn't thought about that.
"So…what's with the…Winchester mind meld?"
"Don't know. Cas didn't know what it'd do to me."
Sam bounced his head back. "Of course. 'Cause having all the answers would be too easy."
"Maybe it'll go away."
"Yeah," Sam looked down, "maybe. And maybe it won't. And maybe you'll grow wings and turn into a frikkin' angel."
"Sammy…," Dean pleaded. "Stop."
Sam rubbed his forehead. "There's gotta be somebody we can ask. Maybe try praying to Cas—"
"No," Dean interrupted, a stab of loss cutting through him. "We're on our own."
Sam frowned. "Cas isn't dead, Dean. He can't be. He's an angel. They can only be killed by one of their swords…right?"
"No more vessel."
Sam looked out through the window once more, the mid-day sun filtering through the blinds to paint lines across his face. "They didn't find the angel brands."
Sam glanced back at him. "On our bones. They operated on both of us, but…doc never brought it up. Not once."
Dean lay back, thinking. The light…the heat had been so much. Could it have reversed the protection markings? Healed them, in effect? And what did that mean as far as angels finding them? Would any even be looking for them now?
"You haven't asked about Bobby."
Dean closed his eyes. He hurt. So much pain, rivers of it, running from his head through his heart.
"He's in the morgue," Sam continued. "We're listed as next of kin."
"There's more, Dean."
"I know," Dean whispered. There always was. It wasn't enough to simply lose someone; they had to lose someone and be screwed over in every possible way. "Tired."
"We have to decide what to do with him, Dean. We can't just leave him there. We're gonna be here for awhile…no way you're gonna be able to travel. I gotta figure out where how we're gonna stay here and—"
"Sam, please." He couldn't hear anymore, think anymore. The hollow space inside of him was pulling everything Sam said, all of his worrying, all of his fears close and Dean was aching with the weight of it.
"Okay." Sam moved away from the bed, finally hearing that Dean was spent. "We can take a break."
Dean opened his good eye. "You staying here?"
"Yeah, man," Sam smiled sadly. "Not gonna leave you."
With those hauntingly familiar words echoing in his head, Dean allowed his aching body to give in to the cloying dark.
The cop had them against the ropes.
Dean had been furious when Sam first recapped his initial conversation with Sergeant Kirby Jackson – and seriously, Kirby? – but now that he was here, facing them, all serious-faced taking no shit, and holding the goddamned Colt, Dean knew they were screwed. Sam had done the only smart thing.
"You still with us, Dean?"
The cop tilted his bearded chin, catching Dean's straying eyes.
"Yeah. Tired. Been a long day."
Jackson nodded sagely, as if, Dean grumbled silently, he had any idea what it was like to be beaten nearly to death by his possessed brother. Dean used his left hand to push up on the armrest of the chair he'd finally been moved to, trying to readjust the pressure on his hip. The pillow he sat on only did so much to cushion the weight of his own body on the weakened bone.
Earlier that day, Dr. Randall had signed off on his getting out of bed. Dean had envisioned walking around the hospital floor, stretching and strengthening atrophied muscles, getting himself closer to escaping the hospital. He hadn't anticipated how much it would tire him out to simply sit on the edge of the bed. Sitting up had put pressure on his screwed-together ribs and the suture wound on his back, so he'd had to roll to his right side – while not putting weight on his bandaged hand – and slowly bring his legs over to the side of the bed.
"That's it," the nurse had coached him when he gasped from pain, "go slowly."
"Mother fucker," Dean hissed, wanting to say so, so much more.
"Inside voice, Dean," Sam had cautioned him.
"It's okay," the nurse had replied. "I've heard worse."
Dean had balanced on the edge of the bed, waiting for the world to stop its crazy spin and settle down already. He gripped the sheets with his left hand, his right resting uselessly in his lap. He continued to swear softly through his force-clenched teeth until the waves of pain ebbed and he was able to take a shallow breath.
"We don't have to do more," the nurse told him. "You're doing great just sitting up."
Shaking his head, Dean had motioned toward the chair. "Help me."
"You don't have to—"
Dean cut his eyes over to Sam. "When's that cop commin' in?"
Sam had nodded. "Said around noon."
"Chair," Dean had demanded, not caring if his body lit on fire just to get him over there. No way was he meeting with some cop while lying in a bed.
He'd been upright in the chair for about twenty minutes when Sergeant Kirby Jackson walked in, nodded at Sam, and offered his right hand to Dean to shake. Dean had to shake with his left, which started everything out awkwardly, but he let it go the moment he saw the Colt.
Without warning, the image of Bobby standing next to the blood pool that had been Castiel, trying to save Dean's life by ending Sam's, had returned and the accompanying grief made his vision white out. He ended up missing the first several things Sergeant Jackson had said to them.
It didn't matter, though. Dean already knew what he was going to say.
Sam had caught him up on Jackson's initial visit first thing that morning when Dr. Randall informed them that Jackson was returning later in the day. He'd been braced for Dean to be pissed; that much had been clear. Dean wasn't so much angry, though, as confused.
Why tell the cops the truth? They'd always had a contingency plan, a way out. He'd get moving around, check out AMA, and they'd head out. To the next town, the next job, the next…whatever.
"Not this time," Sam had told him. Dean had leveled his eyes on his brother's face, noticing the lines of worry, the twitch at the corner of one eye, the weariness in the way Sam held his body. "Dean, man, we're not slipping out of this one."
"'ll be fine—"
"No!" Sam had snapped, loud and sharp, before tempering his tone. "No, Dean. Not this time. You're going to require therapy just to manage the pain in your ribs, let alone get your hand working again. And…Dean, Bobby's dead. There's no one…nothing to go to."
Dean had simply stared at him, any words of argument evaporating before his eyes.
"We stopped the goddamned Apocalypse, Dean," Sam had said, his teeth clenched as tightly as Dean's. "And we lost everything."
Dean had kept his eyes on his brother's; he could see where Sam was going, why Sam had felt desperate enough to scrap all their cover stories, all their safe guards, and just go with truth. Just, for once, be two brothers in need of help.
After all, they were in their hometown. If they were going to get help anywhere, he'd like to think it would be here. And Dean could easily see by the tremble in Sam's hands, the tightness around his brother's eyes…Sam was scared. He needed Dean to not fight him on this. Whatever his reasons, Sam had made the choice to jump and was asking Dean to follow him.
"I did what I had to, Dean," Sam declared while his whole being pleaded with Dean to back his play on this one.
Dean looked down. They'd been in tough situations before. They'd been at the cliff's edge, forced to handle what they could deal with while they figured out how to deal with what they couldn't handle. But before…there'd always been someone out there. Someone like Dad, Caleb, Pastor Jim, Ellen, Jo, Bobby, Cas….
Sam was right. They were on their own. And if they were arrested for it, well, it wouldn't be the first time they had to figure out how to break out of jail.
"'K, Sam. You win."
"Just…answer his questions without any bullshit."
Dean nodded, lifting his eyes. "Bullshit-free zone. Swear."
Sam had frowned at him. "And try not to look like you want to shoot your way outta here."
As appealing as the idea had been, Dean got the message. The moment the cop walked in, he'd fixed his wounded warrior mask in place, closeting the fact that he knew he could out-cop this cop with his hands tied behind his back.
He worked to tune in as Jackson recounted what Sam had told him the last time he'd been in – which, it turned out, had been two days ago.
Jackson had been busy in those two days.
"Like I was saying," Jackson continued, once he was assured Dean was paying attention, "I did some research on the charges Agent Hendrickson had brought against you both. Turns out you were right, Sam. They were all circumstantial. There was no DNA that linked you to the crimes, and a laundry list of witnesses willing to testify that you saved their lives."
Dean brought his chin up. "Witnesses?"
"Uh…," Jackson flipped through his black notebook. "Let's see, there was a Detective Diana Ballard – she had the most to say in the reports – a Lisa Braeden, Becky Rosen, a Deputy Kathleen Hudak, Lori Sorenson, Cassie Robinson, some pretty sketchy guys named Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spengler, though they were pretty adamant that they had a hand in saving you…."
"They would," Dean and Sam muttered in unison.
"But, character reports or not," Jackson shifted his weight so that he could take both brothers in at a glance, "the fact remains that you two were found half-dead in a cemetery known for drawing occult activities, you've got grave desecration on your circumstantial rap sheet, we found a body, a shit-load of blood, and this—" he held up the Colt, "at the scene."
Sam had been standing next to Dean, but after Jackson wound up his pitch, he sank down on the edge of Dean's bed.
"So," Jackson shifted dark eyes from one to the other. "Somebody promised me a long story."
Dean didn't look at Sam. He'd told his brother he'd back him in this, and he was willing to let Sam roll out the start of the story. As it was, he was having a hard time keeping his focus on the cop and not letting his mind wander to that moment in Stull when his sense of safety had shattered with a flick of his brother's hand.
"That report is true," Sam started. "From one point of view. I mean…we've dug up graves, and once in awhile…we've broken into places. But only when we had to."
At that, Dean did slide a glance over at his brother. He wasn't off to the best start.
"Sergeant," Sam continued, apparently changing tactics, "you notice all the weird weather out there over the last few weeks?"
Dean looked at Jackson, watching him frown.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"It didn't seem strange to you, tornadoes in California, hail in Florida, earthquakes in Michigan?"
"You trying to tell me you boys had something to do with all that?" Jackson asked by way of answering.
Sam shook his head. "No. But we had something to do with stopping it."
"You lost me."
"When you looked up our names," Sam said, pushing to his feet, moving to the end of the bed where he had room to pace. Dean noticed that he didn't seem to be able to sit still; it wasn't like Sam to be so restless. "You looked up when we'd lived in Lawrence?"
Jackson nodded. "That I did."
"Anything jump out at you?"
Jackson looked over at Dean, perhaps wondering why he wasn't chiming in. "Your mother's death."
"It was never explained."
"House fire, wasn't it?"
"House fire." Sam's tone was filled with contempt and he looked at Dean, then turned back to face Jackson. "You ever see a report about a house fire where the victim had her belly slashed open and was pinned to the ceiling of her youngest son's bedroom?"
Jackson frowned. "That was never proven. Just an eye-witness account."
"Yeah, our dad's account."
"How about cutting to the chase, kid?"
Sam took a breath. Dean could see his hands were shaking. Adrenalin was skating through Sam with the force of runaway train. He was sweaty and on-edge and if he didn't stop pacing, he was going to make Dean dizzy.
"Here's how it is," Dean cut in, his rough, teeth-clenched voice grabbing the attention of the other occupants in the room. "There's shit in this world you might never see but it's real. Don't matter if you believe it or not; it'll kill you just the same."
Jackson tilted his head, not one to be rattled by vague declarations. "Like…?"
"Spirits, demons, vampires, witches."
Jackson's eyebrows disappeared under his hairline. "What just a goddamned minute," he held up a hand. "You two are telling me all this is about some Stull occult shit?"
Sam shook his head. "It's so much bigger than that."
"Kid, I mighta been born at night, but it wasn't last night," Jackson growled. "You think you can get out of this mess by blaming crazy Stull vagrants, then you—"
"Listen," Dean broke in. "You asked for the whole story. Well, here it is."
He might not have been on board with Sam's the truth will set you free approach at first, but now…now he simply didn't care. Something had switched off inside of him, the part of him that instinctively sought to keep the curtain pulled, to not scare the straights. He was hollowed out, empty, and maybe…maybe people should know.
Maybe they needed to.
Besides, he wasn't going to be able to stay upright much longer; he could feel his pulse behind his eyes and his back was spasming so hard he couldn't catch his breath. Sam was watching him, but Dean ignored him and kept his eyes on Jackson. He could hear the rasp increase in his voice as he talked.
"We hunt evil, simple as that. Dig up bones of spirits, salt and burn 'em, send their ass packing. That gun you got there is one of the only things we found that can kill a demon, that's why it was at the cemetery with us."
He gripped the armrest with his left hand, feeling the muscle spasms in his back move up to his neck, making it hard to keep his head level. Dimly, he aware that Sam was standing in the shadow of his damaged vision. He didn't like that he couldn't fully see his brother, but if he took his attention from Jackson now, he'd lose his momentum.
"We been doing this our whole lives," he continued. "Started when a demon killed our mom. Same one killed our Dad. You got every reason to think we're full of shit," he shook his head slowly, "but we got every reason not to give a damn what you think. Those people on your list? They'll tell you what we saved them from. It's out there, it's real. And it wanted to take down the whole fucking world. But we stopped it."
"You're saying…what? Like…zombie apocalypse time?"
"Demons," Sam broke in. He'd moved closer, Dean realized, but he was still standing in the shadow.
"Demons…," Jackson hefted the Colt. "Demons shot you."
Dean heard Sam take a breath and he broke in. "Yes."
There was truth, and then there was truth.
Jackson looked at Dean. "And demons beat the shit outta you."
"Yes." Sam was the one to reply this time.
"And I suppose that blood we can't ID at the cemetery is demon blood."
Instinctively, neither brother answered, letting Jackson draw his own conclusion.
"You realize I write any of this up, I look like a freakin' nutcase," Jackson replied.
Dean thought it sounded suspiciously like the man believed them.
"Don't care what you write up," Dean told him, gripping the arm of the chair so tight he felt the tips of his fingers tingle. He was barely staying vertical. "But that's the truth."
"What about the junkyard guy?" Jackson asked. "He a demon, too?"
"No," Sam answered. He stood close enough his pant leg brushed against Dean's fingers, but Dean still couldn't see him. "He was our only friend. He…," Sam swallowed audibly. "He tried to save us."
Jackson was quiet for a bit, his eyes on the two of them. Dean felt the weight of his gaze, judging, assessing, clearly trying to decide if he bought what they were selling. Dean lowered his eyes, unable to keep his head level any longer. He could feel himself shaking; he needed to lie down soon or he was going to keel over.
"We got no reason to bullshit you," Dean said softly, his voice directed at the floor. He could sense Jackson moving closer to them, feel Sam hovering. "We got nothing left, man. We gave everything to stop them…."
He heard the worry in Sam's voice, felt Sam's warm hand on his shoulder through the thin material of the hospital gown.
"Believe us…don't believe us…," Dean lifted his head imperceptibly – just enough to look up at Jackson's concerned face. "Doesn't change the truth."
He closed his eyes and felt himself tipping forward, his back seizing up and causing him to gasp from the sharp pain of it. He heard Jackson curse and felt someone catch him just before he face-planted on the floor. It wasn't Sam, he knew immediately. For one, the grip was awkward and all-wrong; for another, he felt hands on his face, lifting it up and tapping his cheek.
Sam couldn't touch him anymore, not without his whole world turning inside out.
Noise blossomed around him and Dean felt himself lifted, moved, eased back onto his bed. Words swam around him, some making sense, others overlapping. He heard someone tell him they would give him something for the pain and then a warm sensation slipped beneath his skin, shimmying through his system and at last, at last easing the iron fist digging through his back so that he could take a full breath.
He blinked lazily at Sam standing to the left of his bed, belatedly wishing he had reminded his brother to stand on his right side. He hated seeing Sam half-shadowed as he was.
"Cop still here?" Dean asked, his voice noticeably slurred.
Sam nodded, flicking his eyes to the other side of the bed. Dean rolled his head and met Jackson's dark-eyed stare.
"Bastards did a number on you," Jackson all-but growled. "Tell me…was it worth it?"
Dean frowned. "You like your life, Jackson?" he mumbled. His lips felt numb.
"Got kids? Wife?"
Jackson nodded, his brows pulling together over the bridge of his nose.
"What kind of question is that?" Jackson barked. "Yeah, they're alive."
"Then it was worth it," Dean sighed.
His eyes slipped closed. This stuff was friggin' amazing. He felt like he was floating; not one thing hurt right now, not even his jigsaw-puzzle jaw. He could hear Sam and Jackson talk across his bed, but he didn't chime in anymore. He couldn't have if he wanted to; his eyes were too heavy, his body uncooperative. He didn't need to anyway, he realized. The truth was out there; they just had to ride it out now.
"You boys been through it, haven't ya?"
Dean wondered why the man refrained from arresting them. If Dean didn't know what he knew, if he hadn't done what he did, he wouldn't believe them. It was unnatural, unreal. And frightening.
"That's an understatement," Sam sighed.
He sounded sad, Dean thought. Sad and tired.
Dean wanted Sam to laugh again. Like, really laugh. He had kind of an awesome laugh: quick and bright with a clarity that was achingly sharp. It was rare, this laugh, but whenever he gifted Dean with genuine joy, Dean knew that they would be okay. Really okay.
"Reading these files…listening to your brother…," Jackson muttered, "I think I might be able to make sense of what happened out at Stull."
Dean wanted to bark out a sarcastic sound of denial. He wanted to sit up and tell the officer that there was no way he'd ever make sense out of the journey that brought them to that cemetery, facing down the Devil himself. No way he'd ever understand the loss along the way, the pain they'd both survived. No way he'd ever understand the sacrifice, the risk, the knowledge that death was waiting for them and there would be no deal, no trade, no way out of this one.
But he didn't have to. His brother did it for him.
"No offense, Jackson," Sam said softly, "but…that's pretty much like looking through the keyhole of a door and saying you can see the whole room."
Dean let the drugs embrace him, hoping as he slid under the black that whatever Jackson decided, he'd at least be able to see the Impala once more.
Continued in Part 1: Chapter 5
a/n: We're rolling on - a hospital-free chapter coming up next week. Those of you lamenting Bobby and Cas, I hear you. But with this "what if" scenario, things had to play out differently. Still, if you hang in there for the ride, I think you'll be satisfied. We've got a long way to go yet...
Thanks for reading!