Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Prologue
Part 1: Chapter 9-A
Dean was hurting.
It was more than just pulled muscles, bruises, bleeding side. It was more than just damaged nerves and shaking limbs. It was pride and will and need and the inability to do what used to come so easily to him.
It was failing so completely at the only thing he'd ever been good at.
When he saw Sam crash through that kitchen door, he'd felt a rush of relief and gratitude mixed with a shame so deep he felt it when he breathed. His brother had been right: he wasn't ready. And now, he'd gotten Sam involved. The only thing he had going for him was whatever the hell was going on with his eyes.
And even that seemed to be fading.
So when he was able to hold her off – even for a moment – before she dug her freaky-assed shadow-tentacles into Sam, Dean felt a surge of satisfaction. Which lasted until he felt that vacuum once more pull him away from the door and throw him across the room. This time, though, he wasn't able to tuck and roll.
He hit the far wall of the living room with such force that for a moment everything went black, silent. He lost time, unsure how long had passed between impact and taking his next large, choking breath. He lay on the ground, curled to his side where he'd apparently fallen, trying only to breathe, unable to determine what damaged he'd sustained.
When he was able to drag in a breath without the painful stabbing sensation in his lungs, Dean took inventory. He was fairly certain that while everything hurt, nothing was broken. His side was warm with blood and his head throbbed with unforgiving ferocity. He fumbled for his gun, but came up empty. The last he remembered it being in his hand was when he'd been facing the door. With his luck, he'd probably dropped it over there.
The most disturbing fact of all, though, was that he couldn't see or hear Sam.
"Sam?" he tried, his voice paper-thin and breathless. Clearing his throat, he tried again, barking, "Sam!"
And suddenly the spirit was there, hovering over him, staring at him with her dead eyes, her breath – if that's what it was – the stagnant stench that had overpowered them moments ago. He had nothing to fight her off – no weapons and little strength. She reached out with hands like rotting paper and stroked his cheek with an almost loving caress.
Dean groaned at the contact, trying to pull away, but with the wall behind him there wasn't far to go. Gasping out a trembling breath, he stared at her, hoping something of the light inside of him shown outward; if anything she got closer, seeming to seep into his skin, the darkness pressing close with damp intimacy.
"No," Dean growled, wanting to push her away, left with nothing to push against. "Not like this."
Needing to look anywhere but at that shadowed face, his eyes desperately roamed the room, finally seeing Sam curled on his side against the wall on the other side of the hall from him. Panic slammed into Dean with the force of a freight train. The ghost shifted, turning her attention from him toward where he was looking.
The shadows began to shift from Dean, turning toward Sam's still form and Dean growled again, only this time it was wordless, feral, and it pulled her attention back to him. He felt the air around him still, the shadows threading through his hair, his clothes, weaving around him like sea weed and he stared at her, searching for where her eyes should be, watching with satisfaction as she began to shrink away from his gaze.
In that moment, Sam shifted, rolling to his back with a pained groan and Maggie turned to him once more.
"Sam!" Dean barked, desperate to alert his brother, to bring him around enough he could grab a weapon.
He saw Sam's head rotated toward him, heard his brother curse, then saw him push upright, reaching for his rifle. Maggie's shadows reached for Sam, tentacles wrapping around his outstretched arm, causing his brother to gasp at the contact.
No fucking spirit was going to take Sam, not while he could stop them.
Moving on instinct, Dean used the wall to push to his feet, stumbling unsteadily forward until he was standing between Maggie and Sam, straddling Sam's outstretched legs, breaking off the shadows mid-grasp. He barely registered that he was weaponless; all he could think about was keeping the spirit away from Sam.
"Dean!" Sam called with a tone that Dean recognized.
Without looking, Dean reached back and felt the cold metal barrel of his Colt 1911 fall neatly into his outstretched left hand. Pulling it forward and aiming – remembering all of the recent reminders to make the weapon an extension of his arm – he fired, the iron slicing through the shadows and embedding into the wall behind Maggie as the spirit screamed.
Dean kept firing, sensing Sam rising to his feet behind him, but the iron wasn't enough to chase Maggie off, not this time. She was too angry, too strong, and his arm was tired enough many of the shots went wide. He could hear Sam moving around to his left, but couldn't see what his brother was doing, the curtain over his vision complete in the shadowed house.
When the shotgun roared, Dean realized Sam had found his dropped gun and reloaded it with rock salt. Maggie's scream shook the house, a cry of rage that had Dean going to his knees with the intensity of the sound. He turned and saw it had the same effect on Sam. To his horror, the ghost surged forward as if sensing this was her last chance and her shadows blasted against Sam, pushing him back and away, slamming his body against the far wall.
"You bitch!" Dean roared, reaching for the broken bits of wood that had once been a wall and attempted to pull himself up once more, the sight of Sam hitting the wall angering him more than anything Maggie had attempted thus far.
And then, unexpectedly, Maggie stilled, pulling abruptly up into the far corner of the room. Dean blinked at her, surprised, and then he saw it: fire – a glowing, coal-like burn – traveling through the dark tendrils and encompassing her body until, with a last almost pitiful scream, she was gone, the house quiet, the stench and the darkness evaporated.
Dean dropped back against the wall. "I take back every bad thing I've ever said about cops," he muttered wearily.
The first rays of dawn were illuminating the sky outside and turning the destroyed interior of the house to a fine, light gray. Rolling to his side, he found Sam again. His brother hadn't moved. Dean started to stand, but his side protested vehemently.
He settled for crawling.
Grasping Sam's shoulder, Dean turned his brother to his back, trying to determine where his injuries were. He could see nothing sticking out of him that shouldn't be, but when he looked up at Sam's face, he saw a trickle of blood running down his forehead, across the bridge of his nose.
"Sam. Sam! Sammy," Dean shook his brother once, roughly, hoping for a groan, a complaint, a blink of the eyes. "Sam. Open your eyes."
When Sam failed to respond, fear stabbed through Dean; thoughts of a cracked skull, of dangerous head wounds, of losing his brother forever after sacrificing so much to keep him alive, here with him, flashed through him at lightning speed.
As if compelled to move of its own accord – knowing exactly what would happen and not caring about the ramifications – Dean watched his trembling right hand reach out and press against Sam's face.
Instantly, his world went dark.
He couldn't move; it was as if he were paralyzed by the bolt of electricity that shot through his system, jarring his damaged body and freezing his lungs. Unable to think, to move, to breathe, he was a prisoner within himself, aware that the thing keeping him here was his contact with Sam, unable to break it.
The only thing he could think to do was imagine light – brilliant light, pushing the darkness away, tunneling it to a pinprick, rather than filling his reality with a black void.
The next moment, he felt his hand knocked away and he collapsed back, his chest heaving as he sucked in great gulps of air. He could hear his name being called, but he couldn't open his eyes; it took too much effort. He needed all of his strength to breathe.
A voice filtered into his consciousness. He knew he needed to—
"…c'mon, Dean, please…"
—open his eyes.
"Hey," he rasped.
Sam was sitting next to him, blood smeared across his cheek from where he'd apparently wiped at it. He sagged in visible relief when Dean spoke, tears pooling in his eyes. It was getting lighter outside, Dean realized, because he could see Sam very clearly now.
"You jerk," Sam sniffed.
"What did you see?" Dean asked, knowing that when his world when dark, Sam's lit up like a movie reel on high-def.
"It was…weird," Sam told him. "It was just…you. Yelling."
Dean closed his eyes, huffing out a breath of air. That was weird. Well, weird-er than the other times they'd made contact.
"Probably yelling at you," he said. Sam laughed a small, teary laugh.
"I've never seen you before, Dean," Sam confessed, sniffing and wiping at his bleeding head. "I've just seen what you've seen."
Dean blinked at him. His subconscious was a strange one. "Maybe I was yelling at me."
Sam shook his head, not ready to let it go, but clearly without answers.
"You think you can get up?" Sam asked him.
Dean nodded, but in truth, he wasn't sure. He really was hurting. "Where're the grave diggers?"
Sam looked over Dean's shoulder toward one of the windows. "I think they're still outside."
"We're gonna have a lot of explaining to do," Dean commented as he managed to make it to a sitting position. The house was utterly destroyed. "Not much to auction off now."
"Let's just get outside," Sam replied, his voice tight.
With Sam's help, Dean was able to make it to his feet, but he realized quickly he wasn't even close to being steady on them. Sam wasn't faring much better, Dean realized when he caught the pained groan Sam tried to stifle as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"C'mon," Sam encouraged, looping an arm around Dean's waist and letting Dean drape an arm across his shoulders. As long as Sam didn't touch his skin, they'd be okay.
"What 'bout the guns?" Dean muttered.
"We'll get 'em later," Sam replied, and they shuffled toward the front door.
For a fraction of a second, Dean was afraid it wouldn't open just like so many times he'd tried it throughout the night, but as they approached it swung wide to reveal Jackson and Mason standing on the porch, dirty and soot-covered, shovels and a shotgun in their hands. The brothers stood, wavering on the spot, staring back at the two men, too tired to do much besides wait for the inevitable.
"Holy shit," Mason muttered, dropping his shovel and reaching for Dean.
Sam gave him over, then leaned heavily against the door frame. Dean allowed his boss to take his weight, knowing there was no way he was going to be able to stand on his own. He looked at Jackson.
"Help Sam," he asked. "Cracked his head pretty good."
Jackson was staring at him with such concern Dean wondered just how bad he looked. To his relief, though, the cop stepped forward and allowed Sam to sling an arm over his shoulder.
"Dean needs a hospital," Sam said.
"You both do," Jackson returned.
"Hey." Dean dug his heels in, stopping Mason from hauling him down the stairs to his truck. "Thanks."
"For what?" Mason replied. "Digging up hundred year old bones and setting them on fire?"
Dean nodded. "And for believing us." He looked at Jackson. "I mean it."
"You are two of the craziest guys I've ever met," Jackson replied. "But I gotta say…a lot more makes sense now."
Dean tried to laugh at Jackson's statement, wanted to say something appropriately sarcastic in reply to the cop's epiphany, but the events of the night were quickly catching up to him. The adrenalin that had carried him through the night drained quickly, leaving him dizzy and swaying. He knees buckled and he felt Mason shift to take more of his weight.
"Dean?" Sam's voice filtered toward him through a veil of pain and weariness.
He tried to respond, but his tongue wouldn't cooperate, his body rebelling, becoming limp and unresponsive. Dimly, he felt himself lifted up, an arm tucked under his knees, his head cushioned on a sturdy shoulder. He tried to turn toward where he knew Sam would be, but it was too much effort. The last thing he was completely conscious of was the sound of a motor turning over and the rumble of an engine sparking to life.
When he next became aware, everything was warm and soft, and he felt the strange, weightless sensation of drugs coursing through his system. The muffed chaos and sound of police radios nearby told him that he was in an ER. Opening his eyes he settled his gaze on the ceiling, trying to piece together what had happened.
He rolled his head to the side, blinking away the blurriness, to see Mason sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair next to his bed, reading a copy of Auto Week magazine.
"Hey," he tried, clearing his throat so that he didn't sound so weak. "Where's Sam?"
Mason sat forward and Dean felt a surge of panic. He tried to sit up and Mason quickly reached out, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, hey, take it easy, kid. Your brother's okay. He's in another room getting treated."
"What are you doing here?"
"What, you think I'm just gonna dump you at the ER and head off?" When Dean just looked at him, Mason blanched. "Kid, you got a lot to learn about people."
"Yeah," Dean muttered, pushing himself up in the narrow bed. "Guess I do."
"Can tell you this much," Mason lifted the head of the bed to help him, "I'm not gonna burn bones for someone and then not make sure they're okay after they collapse in my arms."
"Yeah, uh…sorry about that," Dean muttered, eyes shifting away. "And thanks," he continued. "You saved my life."
Mason let his eyes drop from Dean's face to his chest and hand. Dean looked down at himself. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost his shirt and a large square bandage had been taped to his side. He could tell by the tightness of his skin that he had stitches where he'd pulled the splinter out. He could feel bandages on his forehead as well. Aside from that and several visible bruises, he seemed to have come out okay.
"Nothing broken, the doc said," Mason told him. "All your screws are in place. But you're one gigantic bruise, pal."
"Tell me about it," Dean dropped his head back against the pillow. "Sam's okay?"
"He'll be fine." Mason rolled his magazine up and stuffed it into the inside pocket of his jacket. "Had to get some stitches in his head. Kirby stayed with him."
"Man, I bet he's pissed."
"Sam? Or Kirby?"
"Sam," Dean clarified. "Jackson's pissed?"
Dean nodded. "It's a lot to take in."
"Actually," Mason stood and made his way over to the glass sliding door that separated Dean's room from the chaos of the rest of the ER. "I think he's confused how all of this has remained a secret for so long. That people don't – or can't – see what's right in front of them."
Dean thought about that a moment. Jackson had been willing to accept an awful lot based on their word. He'd been pretty sure the cop had seen some things he hadn't been able to explain over the years.
"Sometimes people just don't want to see," Dean sighed. "Or hear. Or…know."
"Seems damn foolish to me."
"Let me ask you this," Dean said. "If you'd never known Mike Guenther, had never seen that email from Jackson back when Sam and I first showed up here…if you suspected nothing about what we do, and Sam told you to dig up and burn some bones so a ghost wouldn't kill me, what would you have said?"
Mason rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah, I take your point."
"People are afraid of what they don't understand," Dean said softly. "I grew up around this stuff, man, and…some days there's still plenty I don't understand." He rubbed at his eyes, feeling a burn there.
The door to his room slid open and Dean opened his eyes to see Sam step inside, a bandage on his forehead, his left hand wrapped, and a tired smile on his face.
"Hey," Dean greeted.
"Hey," Sam replied. He nodded at Mason and stepped further inside.
"I'll let you boys catch up," Mason told them. "When you're ready to go, I can take you home."
"What about Tommy's house?" Dean asked.
"Kirby's writing up a report," Mason told him. "Vandals."
"Will this come back on Tommy and his grandma?" Dean pressed, worried.
Mason shook his head. "Not if Kirby has anything to say about it." He half-smiled, his hand on the sliding door. "My guess is, some insurance company isn't going to be too happy."
When he left, Dean looked back at Sam, pushing himself further up in the bed, his right hand still shaking with the strain of use.
"You okay?" Dean asked.
Sam shrugged as he sat down in the chair Mason had just vacated. "Yeah. Just a couple stitches. Got a stress fracture in my hand." He glanced up at Dean. "Probably from hauling around my big brother."
"Hey, now," Dean protested. "I lost weight."
Sam grinned, glancing away. "Yeah, you did." He looked up at Dean through his bangs. "You look like shit, y'know."
"Thanks, Sammy. Always count on your for a pick-me-up," Dean teased.
Sam tilted his head. "Your eyes look…regular again, though."
Dean frowned. He'd almost forgotten about the odd light that had seemed to echo from inside of him, keeping the spirit at bay.
"Yeah," he shrugged, the bandage on his forehead puckering as he folded his brows close. "Weird, huh?"
"That's one word for it," Sam muttered. "Add it to the list of things we don't know a damn thing about."
Dean sighed. "That list is getting as long as my—" he glanced askance at Sam and caught his brother's raised brow, "—arm."
They were quiet for a moment – long enough for Dean to feel self-conscious. He was still wearing his jeans and socks, but his shirt and boots had been removed and he felt the chill of the room. Sam must have noticed because he grabbed the blanket from the foot of the bed and handed it to Dean, who wrapped it around his shoulders with a smile of thanks.
"So," Dean tried, clearing his throat. "How was your New Year's Eve? Kiss anyone at midnight?"
Sam nodded, looking down. Dean saw the blush creep across his brother's cheeks. He grinned.
"Sammy, you sly dog," he teased, lightly punching Sam's knee. "Nicely done."
"Probably last time I'll see her, though," Sam muttered.
"What? Why do you say that?" Dean asked, genuinely puzzled.
Sam looked up and the expression in his hazel eyes had Dean's heart sinking.
God, Sam, I'm so sorry.
"Because we can't just be…just regular guys anymore, Dean," Sam said. "We can't just be a couple of brothers on a road trip who decided to stay for awhile. This…this changes everything."
Dean dropped his head, looking at his scarred hand where it rested in his lap.
"I wanted to…disappear into a life," Sam confessed. "I wanted to draw a line in the sand. End that part of my story and start a new one. I wanted us to be safe. I wanted…," he paused, swallowing hard. "I wanted a chance to be clean again."
Dean couldn't speak. The disappointment and resignation in Sam's voice weighed heavily on his heart.
"I did it, too. For awhile." Sam sighed. "But…it was all a lie."
Dean lifted his head, looking at his brother. Sam was staring at nothing, his gaze on the middle distance, eyes on something only he would ever see. His own version of Hell, his own demons, his own truths.
"I spent so much…so much time and energy hating the lies we have to tell to do what we do. I hated the person I had to become just to survive." He drew in his bottom lip, tugging on it with his teeth in thought. Dean waited him out. "I hated not being able to just tell someone about me…about who I am, why I feel the way I feel about things."
Someone not me, Dean realized. Someone not Ruby – not connected to this life and the darkness that surrounded them. Someone…, Dean mentally replayed Sam's words, someone clean.
Sam looked at Dean. "And then I met Stella," he said, swallowing, "and I realized I just told her a different set of lies. I couldn't be truthful even then. I didn't want her to see who I was...who I had to be. How is that a life, huh?"
Dean shook his head. "I don't know, Sam."
"You just…you never tried, did you? You never wanted to change. You just said you would because you wanted me to be happy."
"I tried, Sam," Dean told him. "I swear I did."
"How?" Sam's voice cracked. "You barely leave the house. You're always alone, except for me."
"I got Mason, too. And Tommy," Dean protested.
"Oh, swell." Sam flopped a hand on his leg in exasperation. "One of those two almost got you killed tonight, Dean."
"No, Sam," Dean leaned forward. "I almost got myself killed. You were right. I wasn't ready. I thought I knew what I was doing but I'm…I'm," he looked at his scarred hand. "I'm not me anymore."
Sam sighed. "You were right, too," he conceded. "There's still evil out there."
"I'm sorry, Sam," Dean stated honestly. "I know you wanted it to really be over."
"I did." Sam nodded. "I wanted to not feel guilty about quitting."
They were quiet a moment, both searching for words heavy enough to stand on.
"You don't have to lie to her, Sam," Dean offered. "Mason and Jackson…they know."
"She's been through a lot, Dean." Sam shook his head. "I tell her…she's gone."
"You don't know that," Dean protested. "If you're going to bail on her anyway, you might as well give it a shot."
"How about you, huh?" Sam challenged, tipping his head to the side. "You going to give it a shot?"
"I've never even met Stella," Dean deflected, uncomfortable.
"That's not what I mean and you know it," Sam snapped. "Why did you even do this tonight, Dean?"
Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed. This was not a conversation he wanted to have feeling helpless. "You see my shirt around here anywhere?"
He shucked the blanket and stood up on the opposite side of the bed from Sam.
"Why didn't you just let it alone? Why did you have to get involved?" Sam's voice shifted as he stood.
"Maybe they put it in one of those bags – oh, here it is."
Sam reached for him, clearly meaning to turn him around, but Dean saw him at the last minute and flinched away. He didn't want that shock, that darkness, and he did not want Sam to see anything inside of him in this moment.
His motion stopped Sam short.
"Sorry," Sam murmured, backing away as Dean worked to uncoil.
Pulling his shirt over his head, Dean rubbed at the butterfly bandages above his eyebrow. Whatever they'd given him eased the muscle aches, but there was enough stiffness in his hip and back for Dean to know tomorrow was going to be Hell. He sighed and leaned against the counter on the other side of the room from where Sam once more sat.
"I didn't want to lie to you, Sam," he started, trying to find the right words that would help his brother understand why he'd gone to that house tonight. "But…tonight had nothing to do with you."
Sam looked up. "It had everything to do with me! We're bothers, man! We're in this together!"
Dean shook his head. "No, we're not." Sam drew back as if he'd been slapped. Dean tried to temper his honesty. "We're not in it together, I mean. You…you've had the regular life before. You were good at it. You enjoyed it. And you deserve to have it back."
Sam slouched in the hard-backed chair, watching Dean with childlike eyes.
"I wanted you to have it. And for a little while, I wanted to have it, too. For you. Because I knew it would make you happy."
"It doesn't make you happy? To be safe? To have something real? A home, a job, friends?"
Dean looked down. "I want it to," he confessed. "It would be so easy if it worked that way. But…," he chewed on the inside of his lip for a moment. "It's not me, Sam. I've only been good at one thing." He looked up, meeting his brother's eyes. "Killing."
Sam stood up. "That's not true, Dean."
"Yeah, it is," Dean nodded. "And it's okay. I was really good at it, y'know? But then…the Devil came along and fucked everything up. And now…I can't even do that right."
Rubbing his face, Sam turned his back to Dean, staring out through the glass door of the room. "I don't dream anymore. Did I tell you that?"
Dean started at the abrupt change of topics. "I, uh…I knew you weren't having nightmares, but—"
Sam shook his head. "Not just nightmares. Any dreams. I don't remember them, at least. Nothing."
"Maybe that's a good thing?" Dean hedged.
Sam turned back around. "It doesn't matter; I don't need to have nightmares. I just need to watch you. You limp or you wince, or your rub at your scars and all I see is my fist pounding on you; all I hear is the sound of your bones breaking."
Dean felt a fine tremor slip along his skin, shaking him from the inside out.
"I can still feel it, Dean. That rage. And that helplessness."
Sam stepped forward and Dean wanted to back up, but he had nowhere to go. "And I'm scared to death that something is going to happen to you and I won't be able to help – to stitch you up or set your shoulder or any of the four thousand other things I've had to do for you in the past – because I can't touch you without getting trapped in your head."
"You torture yourself with all these memories and I can't…I can't make it go away. I can only see it, watch it tearing you up inside. And the hell of it is, I can't stop it or change it or anything because you did it."
Sam was practically yelling, but Dean didn't stop him. He could only listen and wait for the fall-out. He didn't even register the tears burning the backs of his eyes until one spilled free and seared his cheek on its journey to his jaw line.
"You saved my life. Again. For what?" Sam asked, his chin trembling. "What did you do it for if you were just going to go off on another fucking hunt and almost get yourself killed?"
"I had to," Dean choked out. "I had to."
"Because you couldn't live with me dead, right?" Sam tossed his own words back at him. "Well, what about me, Dean? You think I could go on if you were dead? You remember what I told you about what happened to me when you were in Hell, right?"
"Because I got nothing else, Sam!" Dean yelled. "You said it yourself. This is it! This is all I am! If I'm not sending some evil piece of shit back to Hell, then I'm nothing. I'm…I'm no one."
Sam blinked, his own eyes swimming with tears. "You not no one, Dean," Sam retaliated. "You're someone. You're my brother."
Dean looked away, another tear joining the first. Emotion sat like a fist at the base of his throat and he was having trouble pulling in a full breath.
"Dean, you're the best man I know," Sam said, his voice steadying. "And it's not because you kill monsters. And it's not because you went to Hell for me. It's because of who you are. The guy who…knows me better than I know myself. Who turns himself inside out just to make sure people get another chance at life. Who…puts himself in harm's way just to stop some kid from losing everything he owns."
Dean looked down. He couldn't reply. There was nothing he could say. His whole self rejected Sam's words as truth, but denying them would just cause Sam to push harder.
"You were right," Sam said softly. "There's still evil in the world. And it will need to be dealt with. But…it doesn't have to be you."
Dean caught his breath, looking at his brother. "What did you say?"
"It doesn't have to be you, man."
The déjà vu was so intense it made Dean shiver. "What…you want others to figure out how to deal with it?"
"Why not?" Sam challenged. "There are some who know the truth. And it's not like we're the only hunters out there."
Unable to accept it could be that easy, Dean shook his head. "And how did retirement work out for you, huh? Keith? How easy was it for you to see a hunt and know what to do and have to call another hunter?"
"It wasn't easy," Sam squared his shoulders. "I'll give you that. But…it was the right thing at the time. And so is this!"
Dean rubbed at his aching head. He couldn't imagine it. Finding a spirit or a monster and going about his life while he called in someone else to do the job. "I don't know how, Sam."
"We'll learn together." Sam hadn't moved closer, but Dean was starting to feel the walls close in around him. "But you have to want to learn. Not just for me. You deserve this, Dean."
A voice from the doorway made them both jump. Sam turned and Dean shifted and both brothers stared at Jackson and Mason standing in the doorway. Sam glanced back at Dean, his eyebrows up.
"How long you guys been standing there?" Dean asked, dragging a hand down his face to banish the evidence of tears.
"Long enough," Jackson replied. "And he's right. It doesn't have to be you."
"You don't understand," Dean protested. "We were raised to do this."
"From what I understand," Mason broke in, "that was a direct result of tragedy. No reason you couldn't do something else…call in reinforcements the next time a ghost tries to redecorate someone's house."
Sam looked back at Dean. "It wouldn't hurt to just…just try a regular life, Dean."
"But, Sammy, there's so much more," Dean shook his head. "I mean…what about the whole…." He lifted his scarred hand, waving it in the air between them, willing Sam to understand that he meant their connection and the weird light in his eyes and all the unanswered questions so he didn't have to reveal more in front of Mason and Jackson.
"We don't need to hunt to figure that out, man," Sam protested. "We just need to research. And maybe get some help from a friend." When Dean continued to frown, Sam scrambled to add, "Maybe just…give it at least until you're a hundred percent again."
"I can help with that part," Mason added. "Gimme six months with the heavy bag and you won't need to worry about that hand not working."
Dean looked down at his shaking right hand. When the room around him stayed quiet, he lifted his eyes to meet Sam's. He wasn't going to be the only one conceding defeat.
"Tell you what," he said. "You be honest with Stella – you tell her about our lives – and I'll give you six months so Mason can get me back in shape."
"Dean," Sam replied, his eyes tragic. "There's…it's too much. I can't tell her about how I—"
"Anyone can understand addiction, Sam," Dean said quietly, knowing exactly what his brother was worried about. "And that's all it was."
Sam stared hard at him. "Six months?"
Dean nodded. "Six months."
They held each other's eyes for a long while, memories, uncertainties, past lies and harsh truths passing through the slipstream of emotion that would forever bond them, no matter the distance or circumstance.
"Okay," Sam said finally. "I'll tell her tomorrow."
Dean smiled. "You'll do fine, man. Just be honest. Be yourself. There's no way she won't listen."
"Listen, sure," Sam looked down. "Understand…that's asking a hell of a lot."
"Don't sell yourself short, Sam," Dean said, remembering all-too clearly how well the truth had gone over with Cassie and yet somehow he felt sure Sam would simply…do it better.
"Same goes for you, y'know," Sam said quietly, glancing up at him. "You have no idea what else you're capable of."
Dean self-consciously rubbed the back of his neck. "Don't know about you," he said, shifting uncomfortably, "but I'm ready to blow this popstand."
"Maybe you two should shake on it," Jackson suggested, eyeing them doubtfully after their tremulous truce.
Meeting each other's eyes, the brothers shook their heads. "We're good," they said in unison.
Several hours later, once Doctor Randall first warned Dean about the dangers of multiple concussions and then cleared him with strict instructions that he was to stop playing the hero and should call the cops before trying to chase vandals away from a friend's house, Mason took the brothers home where they spent the remainder of their New Year's Day sleeping.
Dean woke the next morning with a renewed sense of purpose. As he breathed through the morning pain, he made a plan. Once healed enough that he could rise from bed and move through the house without short, quick gasps for breath, he would work at the garage, he would build up strength via the heavy bag, he would practice at Mason's shooting range, and if a hunt crossed his path, he'd take it to their newfound committee before rushing headlong into it alone.
He did his best to make good on his promise for nearly six months, despite drawbacks like Tommy being hauled in for drunk and disorderly – his ramblings resulting in time behind bars for Dean.
And despite Rufus providing leads on the amulet that set the brothers back on their heels.
And despite nightmares of Hell, and living in a supernatural hotspot, and his brother's worried, watchful eye.
Dean thought he might actually find a way to play Sam's game, make this normal life work.
Until one day in June when Sam checked his phone and saw a voicemail with a Denver, Colorado, area code and a message from someone out of their past:
Sam – this is Virgil. Listen, I'm sorry; I don't know if you even kept up hunting after your brother died, but…I need your help. It's about Brenna. I wouldn't call if it weren't important, but believe me…there is literally no one else I can call about this.
END PART ONE
Continued in Part 2: Chapter 10
a/n: Thanks so much for reading! First chapter of Part Two will be posted next Friday, and the brother's lives will begin to shift once more, taking them down the ultimate path they're destined to follow in this "what if" scenario. I hope you continue to enjoy!