Title: From Yesterday
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Prologue
Author's Note: I swear I try to keep up with the Friday postings. I'm sorry for being late. Again. *ducks handfuls of Peanut M&Ms thrown at me* Also, this is the first chapter in this story long enough LJ forced me to split it into two sections. Sorry about that; don't miss the rest of chapter 6 in post 7-B (link provided at the end).
This is both an exploration into Winchester "regular life" (such as it is) and the first steps into the situation they find themselves in Part 2. I hope you enjoy!Part 1: Prologue; Part 1: Chapter 1; Part 1: Chapter 2; Part 1: Chapter 3; Part 1: Chapter 4;
Part 1: Chapter 5
The mornings were the hardest.
Each day Dean woke, feeling slightly surprised to still be here, body filmed in the sweat of his nightmares, back aching, hip throbbing, jaw nightmares were kicking his ass. He'd had them before - all his life, really - but since Stull they felt...amplified. Increased. As if he were dreaming for two.
Dean would force himself to lie still, breathing, and staring out through the window as his body worked to ground him in the knowledge that he was here. The window in his room was a long, narrow single pane of glass positioned at the top of the wall; Sam had offered to cover it with paper, but instead, Dean had asked him to move his bed to the other side of the room.
At night, he could see the stars. In the morning, the sun woke him.
While he couldn't seem to sleep enough in the hospital, once released, he'd been unable to; even the cat naps his body forced him to take on threat of complete shut-down were really only skimming the complete darkness of real rest. He'd compromise by lying on the couch during the day, leg up to get pressure off of his hip, and zoning out to repeats of Charmed on TNT while Sam was out at his job, or running errands, or just...living his life.
At night, however, when Sam was home, Dean would retreat to his room and hope his mind would cooperate for just a few hours.
His brother was a smart guy; picking up on the fact that the quiet of their rented house amplified the noise of Dean's nightmares, Sam had started to play music at night. At first, Dean didn't pick up on it, so preoccupied by the aches, pains, and dread of night. But as he tried to force relaxation, he realized he was hearing Boston in the background, coming from the kitchen, and knew that Sam had turned on the AM/FM radio secured to the underside of the cabinet.
From that point forward, the start of the nights got better as Dean stared at the stars through his window, listening to voices as familiar as his own lull him into a sense of security deep enough he could let go and tip over the edge of consciousness. When the nightmares woke him, he heard them again to remind him he was safe, he was here.
And when that didn't work, Sam's voice wasn't too far away.
Each morning, though, he had to brace himself to face that day's allotment of torture: brushing his wired-together teeth, going through the physical therapy routine that worked his muscles loose enough he could move, stand, breathe.
The first few days, he hadn't been able to shave – he'd had help from the nurses in the hospital and hadn't quite figured out how to maneuver the razor with his left hand and avoid the scars along his jaw. Sam couldn't help him without touching his skin and they both knew if that happened, having a razor in hand wasn't the best idea. They solved that particular dilemma, however, by getting him an electric shaver.
He could get used to the miniscule amount of scruff the shaver left behind, and it served to help camouflage the thinning scars.
Each morning, it took him a good ten minutes to roll to his side and push to his feet. Sam had helped him there, too, for awhile – providing the anchor he needed to get upright and moving. Once on his feet, he was able to work out the breath-stealing stiffness in his hip and often let the soothing heat of a shower – and thank everything the house had decent water pressure – ease the rest of the aches to the dull roar he'd learned to live with.
The mess of scar tissue on the palm of his hand was still tender and he could barely bend the tips of his fingers – he looked like he was palming a cantaloupe – but the to-the-bone pain he'd toughed out the first few weeks since Stull had faded. The only time it ever caused him any real pain was if he attempted to curl his fingers inward.
Whenever he was foolish enough to attempt such a thing it felt as if he were gripping shards of glass, the sensation stabbing through his hand and sending shock-waves of pain shimmering up his arm.
His vision was still shadowed, but as he'd not been tested in a combat-like situation, he'd been able to compensate by shifting his position, turning his head, and making sure he kept Sam on his right side as much as possible.
The ocular specialist Dr. Randall had sent him to diagnosed nerve damage as a result of a severe concussion. It was pretty much anyone's guess if his vision would ever fully return. He'd not yet driven since the hospital, so he wasn't sure how tough it was going to be to have such limited peripheral vision, but he knew he'd figure it out, and shut Sam down fast when his brother dared suggest he think about taking a break from driving.
He was getting behind that wheel as soon as he got the windshield repaired.
He was slated to get the wires removed from his jaw soon; once that happened, Dean felt he'd be ready to move on. But Sam…Sammy wasn't too keen on going anywhere.
In the two weeks since Dean had been released from the hospital, Sam secured a job at a bar downtown called Freestate Brewery – which Dean had to admit fit his brother's need to be around people and new habit of having to be moving unless he was asleep – and had made friends with his co-workers, their landlady, and the old guy who ran the Laundromat down the street. He'd even gone out with a group of people from his new job two nights ago, and while he'd asked Dean to come along, he'd been content with Dean's decision to stay behind.
Since the repair of the Impala's windshield was being saved for Dean, Sam accompanied him via bus to physical therapy. They'd found a grocery store, the Salvation Army, a coffee shop and even a bar – other than the one where Sam worked – they both agreed suited their tastes.
Sam was settling in.
But Dean…, well, it was odd, the claustrophobic feeling he got from staying in one place. He never thought he'd feel this way about having a home. It had been the one thing he'd wanted growing up. It had been the one thing his father had wanted for him. But now that it was a possibility, all he could think of was what he didn't have: the job.
He missed the feeling of accomplishment when he smoked a spirit or sent a demon back to Hell. He missed the search and the lore and the feel of a weapon in his hand. He missed the rush of danger and thrill he got from saving someone. He missed the brief flash that what he did mattered – that he mattered. He missed his friends. He missed the road.
Hell, he missed his car.
"You going in early or something?" Dean asked his brother as he made his way into the kitchen. It always took a bit before he could move without the tale-tell limp.
Sam sat at the small kitchen table, dressed, eating a bowl of cereal and reading the paper. It looked so normal that Dean had to consciously stop himself from asking Sam if he'd found a hunt.
"Nah," Sam said around a mouthful of Cheerios. "Gonna get some laundry done. Head to the store. Maybe the library." He grinned at Dean, dimples showing. "Get paid today."
"Freestate's pretty free with their money," Dean remarked, noting how pleased Sam was about getting paid for a legitimate job. "Didn't you just start?"
"Couple weeks ago," Sam reminded him, eyes following his movement as Dean grabbed a mug and poured himself some coffee using his left hand. "They pay every two weeks. Got lucky with my timing, I guess."
Dean kept the bandages in place on his right hand, though the wound had healed enough to render them unnecessary. Sam had removed his own bandages days ago; then again, Sam was also using his hand. Dean leaned against the counter, shifting so that he could see his brother clearly, rather than via the shadowed half of his vision.
"You were born lucky, Sammy," Dean grinned, breathing in the heady scent of the coffee before he carefully puckered his lips on the edge of the mug so that he could funnel the hot liquid through the narrow opening of his teeth.
"What are you doing today?" Sam asked.
Dean paused, considering how much to tell his brother. "Gonna find a windshield for the Impala. Get her fixed up."
Sam immediately frowned, his eyes darting from Dean's scar-lined jaw, to his hand, to his hip, then back to his face. Dean nodded to himself: Sam wasn't ready for the full truth. Like the fact that he'd found a mechanic's shop down near the river the first day Sam went to work at Freestate Brewery. Or the fact that he'd asked them to start looking for a windshield that same day.
And certainly not the fact that the owner of the shop also owned a shooting range and had offered to help Dean practice shooting left-handed as soon as he was strong enough to hold a 9mm again.
"Good," Sam replied, his tone careful, measured. "That's good."
Dean pretended not to notice the hard swallow and the line of worry that puckered Sam's brow.
"Want me to go to the Laundromat for you?" Dean offered.
He did occasionally feel bad for allowing Sam to do the household chores.
"I got it." Sam shook his head.
Dean grinned at his brother, barely feeling the scars pull as he did so. "You're a good housewife, Sammy."
"Bite me," Sam returned good-naturedly.
Dean set about mixing his power shake, loudly cursing each ingredient as Sam complained that he was trying to read the paper and could Dean please do that quietly just one morning when Sam's phone vibrated against the table loud enough they both jumped. Sam picked it up, and frowned at the screen.
"It's a text. From Rufus," he said. "You remember Jodi Mills?"
"Uh…," Dean searched his memory, coming up with a pretty, stern, dark-haired sheriff who'd lost her husband and son when the zombie pre-Apocalypse had hit Bobby's hometown. "Great figure, nice eyes, killer aim."
Sam nodded. "That'd be her. Guess she's helping Rufus go through Bobby's house. There's some stuff there for us."
Dean turned away from Sam, trying not to think about their mentor and friend…or the hundreds of books on lore stashed in Bobby's study. "Like what?"
"It's a text, man," Sam muttered, tossing down his phone and slurping the milk from the bottom of his cereal bowl. "Not a dissertation."
"Jeeze. Touchy much?"
"I'll call him later," Sam said, moving past Dean to rinse his bowl in the sink. "You got PT this afternoon?"
Dean nodded, slipping the straw through his parted teeth and sucking down the shake.
"Want me to go with you?"
Dean shook his head. The walks and bus rides had been hell on his hip and back, but they had helped him start to rebuild the lean muscle he'd lost in the hospital. A diet of protein shakes had dropped his body weight until he was belting his jeans on the last available notch. He was more than ready to start eating regular food again, but if today was the day the wires came off, he didn't want Sam there worrying over him.
"I got it," he muttered around the straw.
"'K," Sam conceded, starting to turn back toward the bedrooms to, presumably, gather the laundry when a knock sounded at the door. Sam looked at Dean. "You expecting someone?"
"Like who?" Dean lifted a brow. "You're the one with the social circle. Everyone I know is here."
Eyes narrowing, Sam moved toward the door and Dean didn't miss how his brother's hand instinctively moved toward the small of his back, as if reaching for a weapon, before remembering and settling on his hip as he opened the door a crack. Dean watched Sam's shoulders tighten, relax, and then tighten once more as he stepped back, opening the door wide enough Dean could see who stood there.
"Sergeant Jackson," Sam greeted. "Morning."
"Mind if I come in a minute?" Jackson asked, nodding toward Dean.
Dean tipped his head back, turning toward the cabinets. "Want some coffee?"
"Uh, sure," Jackson replied, a burst of cold air following him as he stepped inside. He moving awkwardly into the small kitchen and cast his eyes around in what appeared to be a habitual casing of the room. His face was red from the cold and his hands were chapped where they gripped the wide brim of his hat. "Thanks."
"How can we help you?" Sam asked, solicitous as always.
"Wanted to let you both know you've officially become a cold case," Jackson said, nodding his thanks as Dean handed him a mug of black coffee. It didn't occur to Dean to offer him anything in it.
Sam leaned against the wall next to the door, arms crossed over his chest. "How's that?"
"Well," Jackson sighed, then cleared his throat. Dean noticed that he seemed almost too big for the small room – and that was saying something as Sam fit in there perfectly. "Since you both have doctor-verified PTSD and situational amnesia," Jackson said, "and since CSU hasn't been able to identify the blood or fingerprints at the crime scene…there isn't anyone to arrest."
"Situational amnesia?" Dean repeated, exchanging a look with his brother. "This a real thing?"
Jackson met Dean's eyes squarely. "It is now."
Dean didn't blame the man for burying the truth. He'd bluffed his way into enough police stations to know how the truth would have gone over had Jackson filed the story they'd told him. He had to admit, though, that the fact Jackson wasn't calling bullshit and hauling their asses into the station to hang out in a jail cell, now that they were healed enough to do so, suggested the Sergeant had seen more than weird weather patterns in his patrols of Lawrence.
He watched the cop sip his coffee. "So…that's it?"
Jackson took a deep breath through his nose, then nodded. "Long as I'm in charge of the investigation…and, until or unless the perpetrators strike again…. Yes."
"Any chance you won't be in charge?" Sam asked.
"Always a chance," Jackson admitted with a head tilt. "There's a few down at the station I wouldn't want to get a hold of this, so…keep your noses clean."
Dean glanced at Sam again, watching a muscle in his brother's jaw bounce at the thought.
"They might, you know," Dean offered, finishing his shake. "Strike again."
"No, they won't," Sam countered.
Dean rolled his eyes and turned away, rinsing his glass.
"Well, if they do," Jackson said, pausing long enough that Dean turned back around to see that the cop's eyes had caught on the sigils Sam had painted on the door, then above the door. "Uh…if they do…I know who to call first."
"Venkman and Stantz at your service," Dean quipped.
"Dean," Sam protested.
"What? Bustin' makes you feel good."
Sam shook his head, exasperated.
Dean quieted, but couldn't help a small smile. He knew it wasn't over, no matter what Sam wanted to believe. There was too much evil in the world to be quieted by one battle, no matter how big that battle had been. They still had a job to do.
"Thanks, Jackson," Sam said, crossing from the door and taking Jackson's empty cup from him.
"Figured you'd want to know," Jackson said, eyeing both of them. "You seem to be healing up okay." He looked at Sam. "I hear you got a job at Freestate?"
Sam nodded. "Work evening shift."
"Good people," Jackson told him. "They'll treat you right. How 'bout you?" He asked Dean.
Dean shook his head. "Nothing yet. Used to be good with my hands, but…."
He saw Jackson's gaze drop to his bandaged right hand. "Saw that Chevy out front. Classic."
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "Was our Dad's."
"Didn't stay in such good condition on its own," Jackson commented.
Dean saw where this was going and was going to head Jackson off, but Sam grabbed the carrot and sank his teeth in. "Dean rebuilt it."
"From scrap," Sam said. "He's really good with cars."
Dean wanted to kick him. He didn't need a job. Not that kind of job anyway. Not one he'd only be able to half-ass.
"My brother-in-law owns a garage not far from here," Jackson told Dean. "Mason's. Down by the river. When you feel up to it, stop by. Tell 'em I sent you."
Dean nodded his thanks. "Will do," he replied.
He didn't bother telling anyone he'd been there, done that. Was going back today. But for entirely different reasons.
"Okay, well," Jackson turned toward the door. "You boys take care. Stay out of trouble."
Sam started to open the door for him.
"Oh, one more thing," Jackson paused and rotated half-way, looking at Dean. "I remembered what you said about this," he reached behind his back and pulled their father's Colt free. Dean felt his skin ripple at the sight of it. "It should be in evidence, but…," Jackson looked down at the weapon, hefting it in his hand, "something tells me it would be safer with you."
"Thanks," Dean said, taking the gun and automatically opening the cylinder. "No bullets?"
Jackson shook his head. "I'm not saying I believe you," Jackson told them, glancing at Sam. "But I'm not saying I don't. Either way, I'm not handing you a loaded weapon."
"Thanks," Sam said, sounding heart-breakingly sincere. "I mean it. Thanks, Jackson." He held out his hand and Jackson shook it, then nodded at Dean before slapping his hat on his head and leaving.
Sam tossed his brother a stony glare as he closed the door behind Jackson.
"What?" Dean protested.
"Y'know…we live here, now, Dean."
"For now, Sam."
Sam shook his head. "This is our life, man. Like it or not, hunting is part of our past."
"You're wrong." Dean felt the heat slip from his voice, his face, his eyes.
"I'm not," Sam returned. "Sooner you come to terms with that, better off we'll both be."
Dean said nothing as Sam grabbed the two bags of laundry from the rooms, hauling them by their pull-strings over his shoulder and out the front door. Taking a breath, Dean checked the bandage on his hand while he waited for Sam to get far enough away from the house, then went to his room to open the footlocker that housed his weapons.
He set the Colt inside, eyes lingering on the warn, wooden grip, remembering for a moment the way it had felt in his hand as he'd killed the demon that was beating Sam to death, as he'd taken out Azazel in retribution for killing their mother…and as he'd shot Lucifer point-blank and watched the bastard rise up, unaffected.
Taking out his 1911 and two clips, he slipped the weapon into the small of his back, flipped his shirttail out to conceal it, then grabbed his leather jacket and tucked the clips into the side pockets.
Sliding his loose change for the bus from the top of his dresser into his jeans pocket, he headed out of their house, locking the door behind him. Though the day was bright and clear, the air had a definite bite. He remembered the Kansas wind; it wasn't something easily forgotten. But he had forgotten how brittle the air could be in the winter. He definitely didn't have enough clothes on and after being outside just a few minutes, his leather jacket stiffened until it was like wearing a suit of armor.
The walk from their house to the mechanic's shop seemed to crystallize his lungs and Dean could almost imagine frost collecting on the screws that kept his ribs in place. By the time he walked into the warmth of Mason's garage, the bell above the door announcing his presence, he was visibly shivering.
"Jesus H. Christ, kid," a voice boomed from the back of the shop. "You ain't got a lick 'a sense."
Dean blinked, shifting to his left so that he could see the full room. It smelled of oil, exhaust, grease, and, inexplicably, soap. The high-pitched whine of a drill echoed from beneath a big, black Dodge pick-up and Willie Nelson twanged about heroes and cowboys from a small radio high-up on a dingy, white shelf littered with boxes of nuts, bolts, and car parts. The two, large garage doors that faced Elm Street were closed, keeping the warmth in, and a red-headed guy about Sam's age was leaning over the engine of a maroon-colored Lincoln.
Drinking in the sights as if they were his first glance of home in years, Dean tracked the sound of the voice until he saw him. Scott Mason – a tall, muscular man in a grease-stained Nine-Inch-Nails T-shirt and rolled-down gray coveralls, jet-black hair and a seemingly permanent five-o'clock shadow – made his way toward Dean, his severely bowed legs turning his gait into more of a roll than a walk.
"D-don't know what y-you're talking 'bout," Dean managed. The warmth of the shop made his shivering more pronounced.
"Damn jaw wired shut and I still hear them teeth chatterin'," Mason grumbled. "The hell you think you are? Ari-freakin-zona?"
Dean blinked at the big man as he allowed himself to be man-handled through a creaky, glass-covered door and into a small office. Behind the paper-strewn desk was a leather chair, the surface cracked and faded from years of wear, and a small space heater. He winced as Mason pushed him down into the chair and turned him to face the warm air. Mason's perpetually ruddy face and slicked-back dark hair reflected in the mirror over the top of the desk. Dean met the man's eyes in the reflection.
"Sorry," he tried.
"Sorry, he says," Mason muttered. "Bet you're sorry. Bet that hip of yours is making you sorry."
Dean nodded. He wasn't sure it was safe to do much else.
"You been coming in here every day for a week now," Mason informed him. "And every day, what do I tell you?"
"Get a coat."
"Get a goddamned coat!"
"I got a coat."
"That ain't a coat!" Mason flicked his fingers against Dean's shoulder, his nails hitting the still-cold leather with a hollow-sounding thunk. "That's a…a mantel. A badge. You're gonna freeze to death 'cause of a damned badge."
Dean blinked in surprise, gasping slightly as his wounded hand began to warm up, the scar tissue ticking painfully. He hadn't told Mason one word about his father, or this jacket, yet no one had so accurately labeled the reason he wore it before. He leaned forward a bit, drawn toward the heat, and let Mason pointlessly stack the papers on his desk into piles as he grumbled.
Once he could feel his face again, Dean straightened and turned, catching Mason's attention. "I brought something today."
"Oh, you did, did ya?"
"Think I'm strong enough," Dean informed him, carrying on with the unspoken agreement to never directly come out and say that Mason would give him access to his shooting range.
Mason narrowed his bright-blue eyes – eyes that had reminded Dean strangely of Castiel when he'd first met the big man – and tilted his head. "When do you get those wires off?"
Dean swallowed. "Today, maybe."
"You come back then, and we'll talk."
"Ah!" Mason held up a hand. "My range, my rules." He put his hand on the knob of the door, then paused without turning around. "You been through enough, kid. Give it time."
At that he pulled the door open, stepped back into the noise of the garage, and closed the door behind him, leaving Dean to gape in confusion. On a hunch, Dean pushed to his feet, ignoring the twinge along his ribs, and moved around the front of the desk, rifling through the stacks of papers Mason had been seemingly shuffling out of nervous energy.
Below several invoices and receipts, Dean found a print-out of an email chain dated six days prior. Glancing up and around, he realized he didn't see a computer in the office, nor a printer. He picked up the papers and saw a note in decidedly feminine handwriting across the corner of the page: Babe, I think this is the boy who came into your shop today, asking about the windshield for the Chevy. Kirby's been worried. I thought you should see this.
"Worried?" Dean muttered, tilting the print out toward the light spilling in through the glass door so that he could read it better.
It was an email conversation between Sergeant Jackson and, apparently, his sister, Kristi – Mason's wife. Jackson hadn't mentioned Dean or Sam by name, but he'd recounted their story almost word-for-word. Upon Kristi's prompting, he'd elaborated his concerns not only about the history of Stull and the "crazies" he'd had to haul away from there each year, but mentioned several other mysterious happenings around Lawrence over the years.
Not the least of which had been the fire in the Winchester home twenty-five years ago.
As Dean scanned Jackson's stream of consciousness thinking to his sister, he didn't see the words domestic disturbance, suicide, or mental break. He saw haunting. He saw possession. He saw spirit.
He saw the job.
Glancing up, he realized that Mason was standing on the other side of the door, watching him through the glass, registering what it was he'd been reading. Dean set the papers down slowly, meeting Mason's eyes. The big man seemed to sink inside himself a bit as his shoulders lifted and Dean saw in the man's blue eyes a look of knowing and resignation.
Dean simply nodded. It's real. You're not crazy.
Mason looked away, glancing at the red-headed kid who was now singing along with Johnny Cash, oblivious to the necessary key, then turned back to Dean. He pushed his lips out in a silent sigh, then opened the door.
"I meant what I said," Mason grumbled, his voice maintaining the gentle gruffness Dean had come to appreciate in his short time knowing the man. "You get the wires off; we'll go out on the range."
"Is there something you need to tell me?" Dean asked, tipping his head back toward the email print out resting on the top of Mason's desk.
Mason looked at him, his eyes holding a filtered sadness that Dean didn't quite understand. "Nothing you don't already know, kid."
Dean frowned at that, but stepped out of the office, and joined Mason in the noise of the garage. The red-head stopped singing when he saw Dean and all-but dove headfirst back into the Lincoln's engine. The whine of the drill had stopped and Dean found himself instinctively looking for a third person.
"We got something you're gonna like," Mason told him, clapping a big hand down on Dean's shoulder.
From behind where the Dodge was parked, a slightly heavy-set, Native American woman of about fifty emerged, pushing a metal cart with a wooden crate balanced on top. Dean frowned, tilting his head to the left get a better look at the crate. The woman stopped in front of him and grinned. Dean saw she had two gold teeth that reflected the harsh, overhead lights.
"This is Mia Lighthawk. Mia, meet Dean," Mason swept his hand between them.
"You're one of those guys from out at Stull," Mia declared.
Dean shot a look at Mason. Surely he hadn't let anyone else see that email…?
Mason shrugged. "Lawrence is basically a small town, kid. One newspaper story and you're a marked man."
"There was a story?" Why hadn't Sam told him? Damn kid read the paper every day.
"Think it was back when you were still in the hospital," Mason explained. "Big ruckus about unknown assailant, your brother shot, you pretty near beaten to death. You know. Basic stuff."
"Huh," Dean looked at the ground. "Right. Basic stuff." Filing back through the past week, he realized now that Mason had accepted Dean's story about his injuries a bit easily.
"Anyway," Mason continued. "Mia found your windshield."
Dean looked closer at the crate. "I'll be damned," he muttered. "Nice work. That ain't easy."
"You're tellin' me," Mia muttered. "Had to call damn near out to Boston to find one."
Dean looked at her, his face relaxing into a genuine smile for the first time in months. "Thanks, Mia."
To his surprise, the older woman returned his smile, then blushed and looked away, running a grease-stained hand through her short, black hair. Dean hadn't thought about purposely turning on the charm since before Stull – and if he were honest, he didn't know if the scars allowed for the same reaction a particular grin from him would have elicited before. But Mia's blush had him wondering….
Mason cleared his throat and rested a hand on the crate.
"'Spect you're gonna need some help replacing it."
Dean nodded. "I did it myself once, I just…," he trailed off, trying to find a way to say, I had two working hands then.
"I can help," Mia offered. "Not a problem."
Dean heard the grin in Mason's voice as he replied, "I thought you might say that." He turned to Dean. "You think you can bring your Chevy by tomorrow?"
Dean nodded. He didn't care if he couldn't see through the windshield. He'd hang his head out of the side window like a dog if he had to.
"I gotta go," he said, glancing up at the clock hanging over the office door. It was going to take him awhile to get to the bus stop and he had physical therapy in a couple of hours. He looked at Mia again. "Thanks. I mean it."
Mia smiled again, then turned and headed back to the Dodge. Dean watched her walk away, his eyes tracking to the red-head who'd been working on the Lincoln. At some point as they'd been looking at the new windshield, the kid had apparently gotten a phone call. He was hanging up his cell with a troubled look on his face.
"Mase," he said, his voice cracking as he approached. "I need the rest of the day off."
Mason frowned. "You need what?"
"It's my grandma, man," the kid said. "She just got brought into the ER."
Mason's expression instantly cleared. "Sure, Tommy. Whatever you need."
Tommy hastily wiped the grease from his fingers with a pink shop towel, tossing the towel back toward the Lincoln, then ran from the garage.
"Poor kid," Mason muttered as he walked with Dean toward the door. "That's my other mechanic, Tommy McMahon," he said to Dean. He frowned, his eyes sad. "He ain't got any other family. Hope the old lady's okay."
"Me, too," Dean said sincerely. He looked back at Mason. "Tomorrow."
Mason regarded him solemnly. "Windshield."
"And range," Dean pressed.
"We'll see," Mason muttered, as Dean gripped the handle, preparing to push the door open to the chill of the day. "And get a damn coat!"
"Yeah, yeah," Dean replied, stepping outside and wishing, belatedly, he'd thought to grab a ride with Tommy.
Sam would never admit it, but he enjoyed the hours spent at the nearby Laundromat. He liked the warmth, the smell, the monotone of the driers, the people all caught in the net of their own thoughts. He liked the time to himself to read, to think, to make lists and plans and consider possibilities.
It wasn't as though Dean wouldn't allow him time on his own; Dean pulled inside himself more and more each day, leaving Sam to ask the right question that would get his brother to expose his thoughts as more than shadows shifting the lines of his face. But that was different.
Alone with Dean was lonely. Alone away from him was…peaceful. Purposeful.
Sam nodded at Mr. Andrews, the owner of the Laundromat, who sat just inside the door, near the vending machines, and read a paperback – different book every time Sam came in – one hand leaning on the curved head of his cane as his rheumatic brown eyes unobtrusively tracked the movement of people in and out of the store.
"How's the book?" Sam asked, setting his two bags down at a line of empty washing machines.
"Read this one already." Mr. Andrews' voice was thick and chalky, like an alcoholic who'd reformed one year too late. His age-spotted scalp was framed by a wreath of wispy white hair and his wire-rimmed glasses were perched just at the end of a too-long, narrow nose.
"That good, huh?" Sam asked, starting to dig through the first bag for whites. He never really bothered too much with separating the loads. Whites and denim. Both in cold. They didn't really wear the kinds of clothes that would get ruined in the wash.
"Nah." Mr. Andrews folded the book around his thumb, marking his place. "Just forgot until I was half-way through."
Sam grinned at him, filling up one machine and sliding down to another. "You should come with me to the library sometime," Sam offered. "Get some new ones."
"Sometime," Mr. Andrews nodded, taking a drink from his thermos. Sam knew he wanted everyone to think it was coffee, but he could smell the whiskey from where he was standing.
As Mr. Andrews turned back to his book, Sam started into the second bag, filled mostly with Dean's clothes. He'd not done a load of Dean's clothes in awhile. It had been weeks since Dean had amassed enough clothes to warrant a trip to the Laundromat. Sam stuffed T-shirts and flannel shirts into one machine, then began to pull out jeans.
Inside the draw-string bag, Sam realized, was a plastic bag. He removed it and blinked in surprise: Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Opening the bag, he could immediately smell old blood. It wasn't a scent one easily forgot. Removing Dean's blood-stained jeans, Sam stared, remembering.
Laying them flat, he saw that they had been the jeans Dean wore to the hospital. Something cold settled in his gut as he saw the smear of blood along the pockets. Sam's fingerprints; he'd been searching for a cell phone at the time. It seemed like so long ago, but it had been barely six weeks. Forcing himself to take a steadying breath, Sam started to ball up the jeans and stuff them in the washer when he felt something in the back pocket.
Frowning, he pulled out a worn, dirt-smudged envelope. It had been sealed at one time, but was now torn open, the ragged edged folded flat, the seams clearly worked over by repetitive creasing. There wasn't a name on the outside; Sam pulled the folded paper from the envelope, the cold feeling spreading from his gut to his heart as he looked at the letterhead.
It was from the same hotel where Sam had found Dean just before he'd tried to say 'yes' to Michael, nearly a year ago now. He'd found his brother in a motel room, boxing up his worldly possessions – which sadly had only consisted of his car keys, leather jacket, and gun – and writing a letter to Sam, Bobby, and Cas, ready to sacrifice himself and let Michael take out Lucifer, saving as many as he could. It had been the lowest point Sam had felt on their whole long journey toward the night at Stull.
Dean hadn't given in, though. He hadn't because of Sam. And Cas. And Bobby. And possibly a little bit of Adam. Because he knew they needed him more than he needed this to be over. And Sam had forgotten about the moment, and the letter, and the absolute despair he'd seen tucked deep into Dean's eyes when he'd opened that motel room door.
Sam looked at the letterhead for the hotel, remember distinctly how he'd panicked, how he'd tried to remember anything – anything – about his brother's habits, his needs. How he'd searched four cities before he'd found the right one, trying to figure out what Dean would need to say goodbye to if he thought he was going to die. He'd been truly scared that day. More than anytime he and Dean had gone up against the impossible together. He'd been more alone in that moment than any night he'd ever walked away from Dean, from their father, from his life, his family.
His hand was shaking as he opened the letter, puzzled as he remembered distinctly burning the one Dean had written to him. Symbolism meant a lot to a hunter. A suicide note burning in effigy went a long way in Sam's mind.
He never knew there'd been a second letter. And once he read the name at the top, he knew why. It would never in a million years have occurred to him that Dean would have thought of her, let alone written a letter to her, at his final hour.
Sam darted his eyes up and around the nearly-vacant Laundromat, as if afraid someone would catch him and snatch the letter from his hand. No one paid him one bit of attention. Not even Mr. Andrews, who had returned to re-reading his novel.
Catching his lip between his teeth, Sam shoved the letter back in the envelope, then folded the envelope and put it in his back pocket. He completed loading the washers, shoved quarters into the slots, and started up the cycle. He contemplated keeping the letter in his pocket until he got home, then setting it back in Dean's room.
"Who am I kidding," he muttered, pulling the letter out and hopping up on top of one of the washers to read.
Dean had had this on him at Stull – at the moment he'd thought everything they'd ever fought and suffered for was ending. He must have forgotten it was there, or thought the hospital had trashed it, because Sam knew that his brother would never let this letter out of his possession if he had remembered it.
Unfolding the paper, Sam first took in the sight of Dean's neat, almost block-like hand writing. It struck Sam that with Dean's right hand so damaged he might not ever see anything written by his brother again – at least not like this. They both had read their father's journal countless times, memorizing the coils and twirls of John's scrawl. Of the two of them, Sam was typically the one to take notes on lore they found in the library or at Bobby's. He hadn't had many occasions to see his brother's writing and it was oddly intimate to do so now.
Especially considering who Dean had written this letter to.
They'd first met Brenna Kavanagh years ago when their father had still been alive. She'd been raised by her grandfather, Declan Kavanagh, an…associate of John Winchester's. Sam wouldn't have gone so far as to call the old man a friend, but he'd known their father. Her druid roots had made her something of an enigma to the brothers – causing them to suspect her of witchcraft at one point, thanks in part to John's encouragement.
But Dean had known, Sam remembered. He'd known Brenna's heart the way Sam had known Jessica's. He hadn't needed her druid sight, her way of seeing inside a person with a touch, seeing the truth inside the lies. He'd connected to her with that first encounter in a way Sam had never known his brother to connect to anyone before. And, Sam realized, every woman Dean had been with since had been a pale reflection of Brenna.
Sam knew exactly how that felt.
Jessica had been the one. His match. He'd been drawn to others. He'd desired others. He'd even followed through on a few occasions. But none of them had been Jess.
I shouldn't be writing this, I know. Last you saw me I was a dead man walking. One-way ticket to Hell.
Sam blinked, looking up, remembering the wizard and the blade that Sam had hoped to use to exchange Dean's soul with a demon's and save him from Hell. That had been the last time they'd seen Brenna. The wizard had nearly bled Dean out by cutting Sam with that blade: one the weapon, the other the wound.
"She doesn't know," he whispered, staring at the worn paper with sightless eyes.
How would she? Unless Dean had called her, which, clearly, he hadn't. As far as Brenna Kavanagh was concerned, Dean Winchester had died almost three years ago, having sold his soul in exchange for his brother's life.
I came back. I can't tell you how…or why. But I did. I didn't contact you because…well, what was I gonna say? I turned you away and you've gone on. Lived your life just like I told you to. Virge has been watching out for you. He's a good guy.
Sam smiled a bit, remembering the blue-eyed EMT they'd nicknamed 'Sinatra.' Virgil had tossed his hat in the ring when them the moment he'd seen Brenna. His brother had known there wasn't a future for them, so he'd done the only thing he could: he'd given her someone to keep her safe.
Thing is, something's happened, and it looks like I'm going away again. Pretty sure it's for good this time. I don't want to make this choice, but I can't see my way out of it. It's been made pretty clear that this is my destiny…and I can't escape myself.
I thought of everything I'd miss – Sammy, my car, my tunes, the night sky in winter, fishing off of Pastor Jim's dock, digging through Bobby's dusty books, wearing my dad's jacket – and I came around to you. I've missed you. I will miss you.
I guess I needed you to know that it was real. As short and mixed up as it was, it was real to me. You were real to me. Not your power or your sight or whatever the hell, but you. I've thought about you a lot over the last couple years. The way you see me; the way you make me see myself.
Sam looked up again, feeling eyes on him, terrified for a moment that it was Dean. He was seeing a side of his brother through these words that he hadn't paid much attention to before. A side of Dean's heart he found easier to ignore. If Dean caught him now….
But it was Mr. Andrews, motioning with his cane that one of Sam's machines was done. Sam nodded, waving, and then turned back to the letter.
I want you to have a good life. A safe life. A home and a family and nothing haunting you. But I also want you to know that there wasn't a wasted moment between us.
If I did have a choice in all of this, I would choose to find you. And I'd choose to stay this time.
Sliding from the top of the washer on numb legs, Sam mechanically grabbed the cart to empty the wet clothes into and push them over to the driers. I'd choose to stay this time. Sam had never once thought that Dean had would ever willingly choose to not hunt. He'd expected to have to fight his brother tooth and nail on settling down, on making Lawrence their home, until Dean finally submitted.
If Dean had thought once, even for a moment – even for a scary, going to die as an angel condom moment – that he'd voluntarily stay in one place, maybe he'd think it again.
Sam slid the letter back into the envelope, then stuck it in his pocket. Dean hadn't mentioned Brenna once since Stull. He hadn't mentioned her since Sam found him in that hotel room and Castiel brought him back to Bobby's. He hadn't mentioned her since he woke up over two years ago to find her gone, having left in the night with Virgil to spare him the goodbye.
For all Sam had known, Dean had filed Brenna away with Cassie, with Lisa, with any of the other possibilities and one-night-stands that helped keep Dean human. She was part of his history, part of what made him who he was, but in his past, none-the-less.
But he'd been wrong.
His seemingly gregarious brother had a well of secrets he hadn't wanted to share, for reasons Sam could only guess. There was more to Dean than Sam had really stopped to appreciate in awhile. More than brother, protector, hunter; more than soldier and survivor.
As he continued to finish their laundry, Sam's ever-churning mind began devising ways he could use this information to keep Dean out of hunting and create a real life for both of them. A life where Dean might find someone or something else he'd choose to stay for.
Because more than anything, Sam needed it to be over. Needed to be able to atone for every wrong he felt he'd committed by laying down his arms and turning away from that life. He was terrified of what hunting again might make him do – or what it might turn him into.
If he could force honesty from Dean, he felt certain his brother would say the same thing. There were times now that he'd catch Dean standing eerily still, staring at nothing, his hollow-eyed gaze reminiscent of the weeks after he'd returned from Hell, and of so many years of John's life. Sam knew that there were things Dean was seeing in those moments that frightened him, but he never broke in, never questioned.
Dean had to want the nightmares to end. He had to want some kind of peace. Sam was convinced the only way he could find it was to find that peace was to stop running into the burning building that was hunting.
And he was going to do everything in his power to make that a reality for both of them.
Part One: Chapter 6 continued here in post 7-B.