Spoilers: Season 2, set after 2.15, Tall Tales and before 2.16, Roadkill. Anything prior to the first appearance of that darn Trickster is fair game.
Summary: The trickster left the brothers in need of a clean hunt. An explosion turns a routine spirit hunt into anything but clean. Dean must deal with the ramifications, while Sam tries to finish the job and help his brother pick up the pieces.
For a moment, he had no idea what to do.
Staring at the back of Camilla Cooper, her dark blue burial dress slit up the spine, her legs crossed at the ankles, her hands tucked under herself, Sam felt his world shift.
"This isn't right," he said out loud, unsure why but needing for a moment to connect with reality. Of course it's not right, you idiot, he chided himself.
Had she been alive when she was buried? Had she tried to get out, only to give up and roll over?
"What the hell…" he shook his head, hesitating before reaching for the body, grasping it with the fingers of his wounded hand, and rolling Camilla to her side in the silky confines of the coffin. His breath stalled in his chest—not even reaching the base of this throat.
Camilla's eyes were open.
"Jesus!" Sam gasped, pulling back his shaking hand as if the body had burned him. Camilla's body dropped back into the hollow of the coffin where it had been resting with a dull thunk.
"What the hell?!" Sam wiped his hand nervously on his pants, smearing blood on top of the dirt that was already present. Closing the coffin lid, Sam clambered out of the messy hole, stumbling away from the open grave with a shudder.
He was cold. Bone-cold.
Her eyes were open, Sam shook his head, automatically looking up and around for his brother. He suddenly, desperately wanted Dean's you gotta be kidding me to precede an entirely inappropriate comment. The quiet chirping of the night mocked him.
What the hell would have made her open her eyes and roll over…after she was buried?!
A sharp stab of pain in his palm grabbed his attention and he looked down. His wound had torn open and was bleeding freely, filling the creases and life-lines on his palm, spilling between his fingers, dripping to the ground. Pulling his lips up in disgust, Sam made a fist, feeling the blood squish between his fingers.
He couldn't leave her like that. But he wasn't burning her, either. Struggling with the now-slick shovel handle, Sam began the laborious effort of filling in the grave, hissing through clenched teeth at the pain in his hand.
"Didn't want to wake you… you stay there, I'll go dig up the body… by myself," he grumbled, panting as he worked. "Damn you and your stubborn… idiot… hero... complex," he growled, hefting dirt into the hole. "This is all your fault."
He knew Dean would have driven to the cemetery half-conscious rather than let Sam go alone, but for a brief moment, it felt good to blame his brother for his exhaustion, his pain, his ruined clothes.
The image of Dean, limp, bloody, in the remnants of the burning house shot through him like a stab in the gut. What was he going to do if Dean didn't get his hearing back? He needed his brother, needed him whole and annoying and present. He needed him to watch his back, keep him sharp. He needed Dean to be there when he fought free of his tangled dreams and visions into the clear space of a reality where nothing made sense.
Panting, Sam leaned on his shovel.
"Dean's gonna be fine," he muttered to himself, wiping the sweat from his upper lip with the back of his hand, smearing more dirt across his face. "He's gonna be fine."
Sam spun at the sound of his name, nearly toppling back into the partially dug-up grave. The beam of a flashlight caught him across the eyes, making him squint and look away as he raised a hand to cut the glare.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" Mike exclaimed, moving closer.
Scrambling, Sam sputtered, "I, uh, could ask you the same thing."
Mike stopped a few feet short of Sam, the beam still focused on Sam's face, his body a dark silhouette against the night.
"I'm here with George," Mike said, indignation plain in his voice. "Visiting his wife's grave, man."
"George is here?" Sam squeaked. "Now?"
"He's at the truck," the shadowed image of Mike jerked as he angled his head back. "I told him to wait a minute…'cause I thought I…dude, are you… did you dig up Camilla's grave?"
Mike launched forward until Sam was able to see his dark features in the backwash of the flashlight. His eyes were wide, his mouth set in a grim line of disbelief.
"I can explain," Sam started, belatedly pushing the shovel behind his back.
Mike bounced the beam of light from the rucked up grave dirt to Sam's face. "Oh yeah?"
"Well, okay, maybe I can't, but I swear it's not what you think."
"You better hope to hell not, man, because I'm this close to calling the cops." Mike held his index finger and thumb up together.
Sam rolled his lips in, tasting the tang of the salt sweat coating his skin. "Listen," he held out a placating hand, oblivious of the blood dripping from his fingertips. He jumped slightly when Mike's hand flashed through the beam of light to catch his wrist, just above the wound.
"What the hell'd you do to yourself?"
Sam looked down at the contrast of skin color and blood. "Oh… I, uh, tore my stitches."
Mike tipped the beam up so that Sam had to squint against the light once again. "You're telling me that getting into that grave was so damn important you did it with a bloody hand?"
Sam swallowed. "Yes?"
Mike dropped Sam's wrist, took one step back, and shone the light on the ground. "Start talkin'."
"You're not going to believe me."
Mike crossed his arms, the beam of light shooting off into the nothing that he'd materialized from. "Try me."
Sam shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Time was ticking like an audible clock in the back of his mind. Time away from Dean. If Dean woke up too long before he got back…
"Y'know how I said to George that, uh, the thing with his wife was what my brother and I did?"
"Come again?" Mike, once again shadowed by night, tipped his head to the side.
"Yeah, that didn't make much sense. Okay," Sam stabbed the shovel head into the earth. "George's wife is haunting him. The best way to get rid of a ghost is to salt and burn the bones."
Mike was silent. Sam heard the night sounds rush in to fill the space the absence of words left behind. He waited, sweat trickling down his back to gather at the base of his spine.
"So… what you're saying is… not only do you believe George," Mike's deep voice broke the quiet with disbelief. "But you decided to help him out by… torching his wife's body?"
"Well," Sam shrugged a bit helplessly. "I tried, but… something's hinky about this case."
"The body—Camilla—is on her stomach, and her eyes were open."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," Sam nodded, steamrolling over Mike's slow saturation of the truth. "See, I think there's more going on here than a simple haunting… Something or someone tried to kill George and Wren, and—"
"Ease up there, cowboy," Mike waved the flashlight in the air. "A… simple haunting?"
Sam sighed. His hand was throbbing and his body was starting to join in. "Is there any way we can finish this conversation later? I left Dean back at the hotel and when he finds out I'm out here—"
"At least one of you has sense."
"—without him he's gonna be mad enough to spit nails and kick my ass. In that order."
"Okay, scratch that."
"Seriously, man, I'm beat, and my hand is killing me," Sam almost whimpered. "Let me just finish filling the grave and I promise I'll explain everything."
Mike held still for a moment, then finally sighed, shaking his head. "I gotta be outta my mind," he muttered. "Hand me that shovel."
Sam traded Mike the shovel for the flashlight, gratefully standing at the graveside while Mike helped him complete the task he'd started.
"I'm surprised George and Wren are still waiting for you," Sam commented as Mike patted the small mound of earth with the back of the shovel.
"Not Wren. Just George. And he's a good ol' guy. He trusts me."
"Not Wren?" Sam took the shovel back, slinging it over his shoulder like a rifle and resting his uninjured hand in the handle. "He left her behind?"
Mike nodded. "That's why he's out here so late. Said he wanted to wait until she was asleep so that he could," he tossed a look over his shoulder as they started for the truck, "talk to Camilla alone."
Mike looked over at him. "What?"
"Just surprised he'd leave her alone, is all. After how scared she was in the ER."
Mike shrugged. "Their business, not mine," he said.
"You drive him everywhere?"
"Nah." Mike shook his head. "He has his own wheels. He's just been shook up a bit… I thought I'd, y'know, look after him a bit."
"Nice of you," Sam commented.
"Yeah, well, I'm a nice guy. Who should still call the cops on your ass."
"But you won't?" Sam asked, pulling his bloody hand close to his grimy shirt. The throb had increased and he could feel it dig into his bones, travel up his arm, and sink into the base of his teeth.
Mike sighed. "I won't. If you explain to George why he can’t go talk to Camilla right now," he continued as the truck came into view.
Sam smiled tightly. "Swell."
"Mike?" George's confused voice met them from the dark and Sam looked over to see Mike's F-150 parked under a street light.
The dusty yellow cone of light drew moths and motes and turned the blue of Mike's truck a teal green. Sam braced himself as George stepped from the truck to balance on the running board.
"That Sam with you?"
"Hey, George," Sam called wearily.
"What are you doing out here?" George stepped down and hurried over. Sam saw that the bruises on his face looked almost black in the surreal light. "And what the hell happened to your hand?"
Sam licked his dry lips. "It's a long story."
"C'mere," Mike ordered, heading to the back of his truck bed. "Both of you."
Sam sighed, wanting to bow his shoulders, not looking forward to the pending conversation. Their lives were unbelievable enough in the living of them; explaining reality in a world that twists truth was not easy. Shuffling to the now-open tailgate of the truck, Sam tried to think about how Dean would handle this situation.
With a quick hop, Mike was up inside the truck bed and pulling a silver-studded toolbox toward them. Sam realized that George was staring at his mud and blood-covered shovel with trepidation.
"Sit up here," Mike said to Sam, indicating the edge of the tailgate with his head.
"What are you going to do?" Sam asked warily.
Mike lifted an eyebrow and Sam watched his full lips quirk in brief amusement. "It's not what you think," he teased.
"What are you doing with that shovel, Son?" George broke in.
"Give him a second, George," Mike said, indicating once more to the tailgate. "He's gonna explain everything. I just need to take a look at that hand before it gets much worse."
Sam used his good hand to leverage himself up on the tailgate, his added weight sagging the truck slightly, the toes of his muddy boots scuffing along the ground as he swung his feet.
"You got a med kit in there?"
"Yup," Mike answered, flipping the toolbox open.
Sam peered inside, his eyes going wide. It was more than a med kit. It was an entire ER supply closet, complete with syringes and bottles of medicine Sam couldn't begin to pronounce.
What they wouldn't give for a set-up like that in the back of the Impala. The hurried escapes from hospitals, the bathroom sutures, praying that all the blood on the outside wasn't more than what was left on the inside. Half of what Sam was seeing in Mike's toolbox would be enough to keep them on the road for months.
"I moonlight as a Justin Healer," Mike said, pulling out soft rags and antiseptic and snapping the edge of latex gloves.
"A what now?" Sam drew his eyebrows together.
"Mike was a rodeo cowboy," George bragged. "Rode bareback. Best in the state. Went to the finals."
Mike grunted. "Finals in more ways than one," he grumbled, gently cleaning the dirt and blood away from Sam's torn skin.
Sam hissed and tried to hold still, feeling his mouth go wet as the cleanser filled the punctured hole at the base of his palm. "P-put you out of the… game, did it?" He managed through clenched teeth.
"Broke my left leg in four places," Mike said, reaching into the box for a needle and clear bottle of liquid. "Was in traction for eight months and spent almost a year learning how to walk again."
"Ouch," Sam muttered. "Uh, what's that?"
"Lidocaine," Mike said. "Stitching this isn't gonna be easy."
"You have to stitch it?" Sam winced as Mike inserted the small-gauge needle near the wound and injected the numbing agent.
"You want a hole in your hand?"
"Not especially," Sam grumbled.
He darted his eyes over to George who was standing with his hands in his back pockets, shifting his gaze from Mike's task to the direction of Camilla's grave. Sam opened his mouth to attempt to reassure George that he was going to fix this, when he felt a cold swab on his upper arm. Looking over in confusion, he had two seconds to register another needle before Mike jabbed it into his arm.
"Ow! Hey! What the hell, man?"
"Antibiotics," Mike capped the needle, twisting it from the syringe and tossing it into a small, mobile sharps container. "Usually I'd give it to you through a saline IV port, but well, we can't have everything."
"What's this Justin Healer thing you do?" Sam asked, gripping his wrist to hold his hand steady and relishing the warm numbness that spread slowly through his aching fingers.
"I put broken cowboys back together," Mike said, getting the sutures ready. "They bust themselves up, I pick up the pieces."
"Huh," Sam muttered, watching him. "We could use a… Winchester healer," he said, laughing a bit at himself.
Mike raised an eyebrow, then gripped Sam's hand. "Start talking, Winchester."
Sam chewed his bottom lip a moment, then looked over at George. This is not going to be easy. "George," Sam started. "My brother and I… we have an unusual job."
George pulled his wiry gray eyebrows together, holding Sam's eyes relentlessly. Sam ached at the innocence he saw there.
"We take care of the bad stuff out there that no one else believes in."
"Ghosts. Demons. Werewolves, vampires…"
George looked at Mike, who didn't slow in his sewing, then back at Sam. "You're serious?"
"Wish to hell I wasn't, but, uh… yeah. We grew up doing this. Our father taught us."
George looked back toward Camilla's grave. "What's this got to do with me?"
Sam took a breath. "You said that your wife was haunting you."
"Yeah, but," George's face drew together, lines growing deeper before Sam's eyes. "Camilla's ghost isn't bad. She's… she's my girl."
Sam nodded. "I know, that, George, but a restless spirit is a restless spirit, and—"
"She's trying to tell me something, that's all. I just haven't figured it out yet. That's why I'm going to talk to her tonight."
"I wouldn't do that, George," Sam said, halting George's movement.
"Why?" George's innocence vanished with the hardness of that word. Sam shivered slightly, knowing that he'd messed with something precious.
"When you have a restless spirit," Sam tried to explain. "The best, most efficient way to, uh, get rid of them is to… to salt and burn the bones."
"Come again?" George tipped his head to the side, cupping a hand around the edge of his ear.
"Salt purifies the spirit and the fire releases it from this… plane of existence."
"Are you telling me you… you burned my Camilla?" George stepped forward and Sam felt his entire body clench up in reaction. The look in George's eyes caused Sam's skin to shiver, his being wary, prepared for attack.
Okay, Dean, I'm sorry I left you behind.
"No! No, George, I didn't. I swear!" Sam felt his thigh muscles bunch as he worked to not scoot away from the angry older man. "But… I did dig her up for that reason. I was… I wanted to help you."
"You should have talked to me first," George spat and Sam heard his knuckles crack as he curled his fingers into fists. "Don't matter how long you been doing this… this job of yours… you're always dealing with people, Son, and people matter. My Camilla mattered."
Sam swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "I know," he said roughly. "And I'm sorry."
George's eyes shone with angry, unshed tears, and after a minute of staring fire into Sam, he turned away, rubbing his mouth.
"What am I supposed to do?" he asked softly, helplessly.
Sam sighed. "I need to get back to my brother," he said. "This… there's something not quite right here, and I, uh… I need him."
"He better at this than you?" George asked, glancing back at Sam over his shoulder.
Sam huffed out a laugh. "Depends on who you ask," he mumbled. "But Dean's pretty damn good at everything he does, I can tell you that."
"You gonna tell him the rest?" Mike asked softly, finishing up the wrappings on Sam's hand.
Sam looked down, flexing his numb fingers. Mike had wrapped it from the base of his fingers to his wrist, like a boxer ready to pull on gloves.
"George," Sam asked, still looking at his hand. "Do you know anyone who might want to, uh… to hurt you or maybe Wren?"
George blinked, surprise showing clear in his eyes. "Hurt us?"
"Camilla's body… well, I don’t want to worry you, but… it wasn't in the right… position for a spirit at peace."
George licked his lips. Sam desperately wanted his brother here for this. He could hear Dean's voice in his head. George, hate to tell you this, man, but your wife rolled over in her grave and we don't have a clue why… but I promise you we'll figure it out. Sam had always admired the fierceness in Dean's eyes when he said the word 'promise.' Not one person he said it to could doubt his sincerity.
"What do you mean, right position?"
"She was on her stomach, and, uh… her eyes were open," Sam said through dry lips.
George paled, taking a staggered step back. In an instant, Mike had hopped from the tailgate of the truck and was standing next to his friend, hand on George's elbow.
"Was she… alive?" George rasped.
Sam was tempted to automatically shake his head, his desire to reassure the old man heavy in his heart. But he didn't know anything… not yet. "That's what I'm going to find out, George. My brother and me, okay? We're gonna figure this out."
"You… you think maybe… maybe someone hurt her? Is trying to hurt Wren?"
"Or you," Mike interjected.
"But… we haven't… we never hurt anyone!"
"We'll figure it out," Sam slid from the tailgate. "We gotta get back to the hotel. To Dean."
"You can't drive with that hand," Mike frowned at Sam, looking menacing in the yellow light. Sam felt a chill as he was reminded of Gordon Walker's snarl as he held his bleeding arm over Lenore's fangs.
"Yeah, well, I'm gonna," Sam replied, hefting the shovel in his good hand.
"Climb in the truck," Mike insisted. "We'll come back for your car tomorrow."
"I'm not leaving her here," Sam shook his head. Dean would kill me.
"Our car," Sam clarified. "I'll meet you back at the hotel." He turned and started across the lot toward the Impala.
"Sam!" Mike called after him.
"I'll see you back there," he replied without turning around.
He heard their voices continue to argue as he moved further away, but he couldn't make out their words. As he reached the dark shape of the Impala hiding in the night, he heard the low rumble of the diesel engine. Dropping the shovel in the trunk, Sam opened the driver's door and slid gratefully behind the wheel.
The car smelled like his brother. Leather and sweat and a faint lingering smell of Old Spice. Dad has always worn that, and Dean picked up on it before he was even in high school. Only at certain times, though, Sam thought as he started up the car. Only when he wanted to leave behind a memory.
The radio came on with the car and Sam punched at the buttons, annoyed as each station brought him another commercial or DJ's voice. He wanted to drown for a moment. He was tired. Tired of moving and struggling and fighting. Tired of waiting to see what he was going to become. Tired of trying to fight the goddamned good fight.
What good was fighting when we just keep getting beat down? When good people get hurt?
Dave Grohl's voice punched through the air that wrapped around Sam and he tightened his one-handed grip on the steering wheel, taking a corner too fast.
"…I'm the voice inside your head you refuse to hear. I'm the face that you have to face, mirrored in your stare. I'm what's left, I'm what's right. I'm the enemy. I'm the hand that will take you down, bring you to your knees…"
The image of Dean's eyes, wide and scared, pain rolling in like the tide combated with the reflection of George's shocked expression, his panic at the thought of his wife having suffered. Sam clenched his jaw.
He wanted to get away, just leave. He wanted to fight them all. He wanted to find a way to win and he wanted to hide forever. His heart pounded painfully in his chest as he worked to regain control of his emotions before they won and spilled in hot, embarrassing tears down his dirt-streaked face.
The hotel loomed close and Sam whipped into the parking lot, an odd panic at having been away from Dean for so long gripping him at the throat and tightening its hold. He pulled past Mike's truck, parked in the front of the hotel, and found a space behind the building where they could see the car from their room window.
On autopilot, Sam grabbed the bag of weapons from where he'd stashed it in the back seat and locked the doors, his long legs eating up the blacktop as he headed for the side door. He saw Mike and George stepping on to the elevator, and without a word, yanked open the door to the stairwell and started taking them two at a time, thoughts pounding like relentless hammers in time with his steps.
Dad's dead because of me… what could you possibly say to make that all right?
Second floor… heart pounding. How long had he been gone?
When you were trapping that demon, you weren’t…I mean, it was all a trick, right? You never considered actually making that deal, right?
…told me that I had to take care of you… watch out for you… told me I might have to kill you, Sammy…
Fourth floor… hate this, don't want any more.
The more people I save, the more I can change.
It’s so damn hard to do this…what we do…all alone, you know? There’s so much evil out in the world, Dean, I feel like I could drown in it. And when I think about my destiny, when I think about how I could end up...
Almost there. What if Dean never gets his hearing back? How would they fight? How would they win? How would he make it without his brother always having his back?
Sam, when Dad told me that I might have to kill you, it was only if I couldn’t save you. Now, if it’s the last thing I do, I’m gonna save you…
He reached the landing for their floor just as George was inserting the key into his room. Mike stood behind George and looked up with surprise as Sam emerged, red faced and sweating into the hallway. Barely passing them a glance, Sam moved down the hall, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up when he realized the door to their room was standing open.
"What the hell—"
He started to reach into the weapons bag for his gun when his arms were suddenly full of a frightened, weeping Wren, trying desperately to escape the room. Sam felt himself start to click, as if his mind was immediately taking inventory as his body worked to hold on to Wren and not send them both to the ground.
Door open, salt scattered, curtains torn down, room empty.
"Where's Dean?" Sam asked Wren, gripping her arms tightly, turning her face toward him, her sightless eyes brimming with frightened tears.
"He's in the bathroom," she cried. "I'm s-sorry… I heard him yelling and I was t-trying to help!"
"Wren?" George's voice came from Sam's left, a Doppler of worry. "What are you… how did you get—"
"Hold her," Sam commanded. "And stay right here," he turned pointing a finger at George, his eyes hard. "Do not leave."
George wrapped Wren in his arms, nodding, his eyes wide and scared. Sam turned toward the room, stepping over the salt in a habit of protection and dropping the weapons bag on Dean's bed.
"I'm with you, man," Mike said quietly from behind him.
Sam nodded without looking. "DEAN!"
He didn't think about the fact that his brother wouldn't be able to hear him, to call back any sort of reassurance. He simply acted. He reached the bathroom and felt his heart stop when he saw Dean, his damp clothes clinging to the curves of muscles taut across his back, his fingers laced through his hair, his face pressed against the tile floor.
Sam crouched next to him, carefully resting a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Dean?" he said softly. "You okay, man?" He felt Dean try to flinch away, but limply as if he simply didn't have the energy to fight anymore.
Mike stepped around them and turned off the water from the shower, flicking on the switch for the fan to pull the steam from the cloistered room.
"Tell me that's you, Sam," Dean's voice was a whisper.
"I'm here," Sam tucked another hand around Dean's bicep, carefully easing Dean up. "Easy, easy, that's it, go slow."
Dean's face was red, sweat sluicing the bruises and staggering through the stubble along his cheeks. His lashes met in points, giving him an almost endearing, youthful expression to battle his confused, pain-filled eyes. The green was almost non-existent with the size of his pupils.
"I'm here, Dean," Sam soothed.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing?" Dean snapped, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. "Leaving me like that."
Sam sighed, bracing himself. Mike stepped back out of the small room, waiting in the doorway. Dean opened his eyes, his focus on Sam's mouth.
"I'm sorry, man, I—"
"Don't you say it, Sam," Dean growled, his voice worn as if he'd been screaming. "Don't you fuckin' say you were trying to protect me."
Sam closed his mouth.
"Help me up," Dean ordered.
"Dean—" Sam started to shake his head, but one look stilled him. Dean's eyes were coming back to him, the pain leeching away as his pupils narrowed, determination and anger replacing confusion. "Fine."
Sam tucked his wounded hand under Dean's other arm and slowly lifted his brother to his feet. Dean leaned forward, his shoulder against Sam's chest, as he caught his breath and his balance.
"Where is she?" Dean asked.
Without thinking, Sam jerked back, looking at Dean's face. "You mean Wren?"
Dean wavered at the loss of his brace and Mike's arm jutted out, catching him. Dean looked down at the dark hand on his sleeve, then up at the worried face.
"Denzel? What the hell are you doing here?"
Mike looked at Sam, but Sam ignored him, shaking Dean slightly and bringing his attention back. Speaking slowly, conscious of how his mouth formed the words, Sam asked, "Wren was here with you?"
Dean frowned, and Sam could see him filling in the blanks of what he couldn't understand from reading Sam's lips. "She got in somehow, went all Helen Keller on my face, and then…" Dean shrugged. "You walked in."
"All right, c'mon," Sam kept a hand on Dean's arm and turned them from the bathroom to the bedroom. Dean followed obediently, his body sluggish and heavy against Sam's. "George?" Sam called. "You and Wren come in. And close the door."
Dean sat on his bed, resting an elbow on the weapons bag, and rubbed at his glistening hair. Sam watched him scan the people in the room, his eyes shadowed and unreadable, his entire body tense and wary. Glancing at the clock, Sam sighed. It was past midnight.
He turned to the three people in the room. "Wren," he said, watching her body jerk in reaction. George had her tucked up against him protectively. "I need to know how you got into this room."
"She has a key," George answered.
"What?!" Sam exclaimed.
"When we checked in, I thought it might be best to be able to have access to each other," George offered, "so we got extra keys. I have one for our room to give to you."
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" Sam demanded.
George shrugged innocently. "It slipped my mind."
"I need that key, George," Sam held out his hand. "I'm sorry, but… we can't have you coming in… y'know, whenever you want."
Wren held the key out and Sam took it from her.
"What's with the salt?" Mike asked.
"Protection," Sam answered, sitting down on the edge of the spare bed. Dean's tension was beginning to wear on him, radiating from his brother as he worked to follow the conversation that had to be like watching the world on mute. "Against demons and… stuff."
"Demons?" Wren squeaked.
"I'll explain later, honey," George assured her.
"An extra key doesn't explain how she got down here," Dean said, a little too loudly. Sam looked over, surprised that he'd caught the exchange. "How'd she know where we were?"
"Dean's right," Sam looked back at George.
"George said you were in 733," Wren answered, sniffing. Remnants of tears clung to her thick lashes and seemed to illuminate her blank eyes. "I knew we were in 729, and I just… felt the numbers on the doors until I found you."
"Why, though?" Sam pressed. He found himself calming as she spoke. Her voice had been a balm in the ER, when not shot through with terror. His muscles were beginning to ease in their tension and in his periphery, he saw Mike lean against the wall next to the bathroom, George sink into a chair.
Wren stayed standing, her eyes looking over Sam's head, her voice directed at him.
"I heard him," she said softly. "He was calling for you, and he sounded so… lost. I knew George was gone, and if he sounded like that, I knew you had to be gone, too. I guess I just thought… I didn't want him to be alone. I don't like to be alone," she wrapped her arms around herself, and Sam felt cold. "I wanted… I wanted to help him. I didn't mean to scare him."
"Sam?" Dean said.
Sam watched Wren, wanting inexplicably to smooth the dried tear streaks from her porcelain-like skin. Wanting to wrap her up as George had done. Wanting to save her.
"Sam!" Dean shoved at his knee. Sam blinked and looked over. "What is she saying?"
Sam blinked again, feeling oddly as if he were waking from a dream. "It's okay, Dean," he muttered.
"What?" Dean yelled, his brows meeting over the bridge of his nose. "Look at me. Sam! Look at me."
Sam obeyed, turning to face his brother.
"What the hell is going on, here, man? This…" Dean shot a look at the three guests in the room. "This whole situation is seriously FUBAR'd, Sam."
Sam shook his head, unable to argue. He looked back at Wren and George. "You're right," he sighed.
"Sam!" Dean lightly slapped his leg. "Don't turn away."
Sam looked right at Dean. Right into his eyes. Focusing. "You are right, Dean."
"Damn right, I'm right," Dean muttered.
Sam held up a finger to Dean, who nodded after a moment's hesitation. He turned to the other three. "George, take Wren back and get some sleep. We'll find you in the morning and figure this out, okay?"
George nodded, standing up and wrapping an arm around Wren.
"I'm really sorry, Sam," Wren said softly. "I won't scare him like that again."
"It's okay," Sam replied, gentling his voice. He reached out and brushed her bare arm with the tips of his fingers. "Thank you for caring enough to check on him."
"He tried to save me," Wren said. "And… well, you guys saved George. I don't have enough left in my life to lose anything else."
Sam curled his wounded hand into a fist, feeling the pins-and-needles tingle of sensation returning. "I know what you mean."
"What about me?" Mike pushed away from the wall.
"Go home," Sam said.
"I'm not leaving this alone," Mike declared.
"Yeah, I kinda figured," Sam sighed, "but there's nothing you can do tonight. Go home. We'll call you tomorrow."
"You don't," Mike pointed a finger at him, "and I'm coming after you."
Sam nodded. Mike looked at Dean. "Be good, you stubborn son of a bitch," he said, almost as if he enjoyed the fact that Dean couldn't hear him.
"See ya, Denzel," Dean returned, eyebrow arched in a slight smirk as if he had.
Sam followed them and closed the door at their backs, this time pulling the chain lock. He used the inside of his foot to return the salt line back to its rightful place.
"What happened to your hand?" Dean asked.
Sam rested his forehead against the door. He wanted to sink to the floor, curl up, and stay there for the rest of the night.
"I tore it open digging up Camilla's body all by myself because you're hurt and I wanted to protect you like you always protect me but I'm in over my head because she was rolled over with her eyes open and I don't know why and I hate to say it but I need you and I'm scared to death that I'm gonna get you hurt worse and won't be able to save you like you've promised to save me." Sam murmured the words in a quick, quiet rush, facing the door, his back to Dean, his eyes closed.
"Sam?" Dean persisted when Sam didn't move.
Turning to face Dean, he said slowly, "I hurt it digging up the grave."
Dean narrowed his eyes on Sam's mouth. It was almost disconcerting, his brother watching him so closely. Dean pushed himself to his feet, and Sam wanted to mirror his wince, knowing his muscles had to be protesting. He moved toward Sam as if he were ninety, not twenty-eight. His brother's body had seen a lot of mileage in his years.
"And…" Dean prompted.
"Mike fixed it for me."
Dean nodded, his eyes seeming to drink in Sam's face, thirsty for information, for control, for a way to stay in the game. "I'm guessing things didn't go well at the cemetery."
"FUBAR doesn't begin to cover it," Sam sighed, leaning his head against the door. He rolled his neck, looking over at his bag of clothes and laptop. "I need to do some research into the Coopers. Figure out who might—"
"Hey!" Dean snapped, grabbing at the front of Sam's shirt. "Don't look away."
"Jesus, Dean!" Sam pushed his brother's hand away. Exhaustion had worn his patience to a nub, and his brother was beginning to erase even that. "Quit pulling on me!"
"You gotta look at me," Dean snapped.
"I forget, okay?!" Sam yelled back, pressing his face forward. "I freakin' forget that you're not—"
Sam stopped himself. He wanted to push Dean away. Wanted his brother to not need him so much. Wanted to unload onto Dean the fucked up facts of this hunt and have Dean tell him they'd figure it out. Wanted to be the little brother.
"It's just… this is hard, Dean."
"You think this is easy for me, man?" Dean yelled, and Sam knew that this time it was purposeful, not a matter of being unaware. The tendons in Dean's neck were taut and he was curling and uncurling his fists at his sides. If his body hadn't been so battered, Sam knew he'd be pacing.
"No," Sam shook his head. "I know it's not."
"I'm…" Dean swallowed, glancing away, then back again, and Sam felt his heart curl tight against his ribs at the lost expression bottoming out his brother's eyes. "I'm barely hanging on here, man. It's… too quiet."
Sam nodded. Dean reached up and ran a hand over his mouth, pulling at his lips.
"And then," Dean continued, his voice breaking. "Then it's not, and I hear… shit, I hear everything and I can't… I can't hold it all."
"It'll get better," Sam whispered. "It has to get better."
"I know that doctor lady said that it was temporary," Dean said, his eyes once again on Sam's face, "but we both know that… that our lives are destined to be screwed up."
Sam nodded, swallowing tears that screamed to be released. It's just not fair.
"So… I need you, Sammy." Dean confessed, his body visibly shaking with the confession. "I need you to… not leave me behind."
Sam dropped his chin, covering his face for a moment. "God, Dean," he muttered into his hands, then remembered and pulled his face up, meeting Dean's anxious eyes. "What if… what if you get hurt worse?"
Dean shrugged. "We could always get hurt."
"What if…" Sam licked his lips. "What if you can't…"
"Save you?" Dean whispered. "That's what you're scared about isn't it, that I can't save you like this?"
Sam nodded, clenching his jaw. He would not let the tears win.
"Aw, dammit, Sam," Dean shook his head, reaching for Sam's shirt and curling his fingers loosely in the dirty folds. "Don't you think I think about that? Every damn day. Every day since…"
Dean looked down. Sam could see the dried blood on his brother's ears, the blood in his sweat-soaked, matted hair. They were a collective mess, the two of them.
"I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you," Dean said to the floor, his hands still fisted in Sam's shirt. "But you gotta at least give me the chance to save you."
Sam reached up and rested a hand on Dean's shoulder, drawing his brother's eyes. When Dean was looking at him, he said very clearly, "Dean… you stink."
Dean paused for a heartbeat, and then as Sam hoped, the laughter burbled out of him in a pop of surprise and relief. "You want first crack at the shower?"
"It's too freakin' late to shower," Sam sighed, glad the sound of Dean's laughter had released the weight from the room.
He stepped away from Dean, moving to the table and picked up the bottle of pills. He held them up to his brother. Dean shook his head. "C'mon, Dean," Sam cajoled.
Dean's voice left no room for argument, and Sam was too trashed to even attempt it. He tossed the bottle of eardrops to his brother, stripped to his boxers, pulled back the sheets, and flopped face-first into the bed, his dirt-streaked, weary body crying with relief.
He heard his brother's clothes hit the floor, sensed Dean turning off the light in the corner of the room, heard Dean hiss and curse at the drops in his ears, then waited for the sound that he knew would lull him to sleep.
The steady rhythm of Dean's heavy, constant breathing.
"He's not coming back this time."
"He always comes back, Sam."
"It's been two weeks. Maybe he's dead."
"He's not dead."
"You don't know that."
"Yes. I do."
"What are you and Jim working on every night?"
"None of your business."
"I wanna work on something."
"Work on keeping your wrist straight in the follow through."
"I hate throwing knives."
"No, you don't."
"You don't know what I hate. I can hate this."
"You're too good at it to hate it."
"You… you think I'm good at this?"
"Hell, yeah, Sam, why do you think I make you work on it all the time?"
"I thought it was 'cause… Dad told you to."
"You think I do everything Dad says?"
"Here, Sam. Try this one."
"That's your knife, Dean."
"I know what the hell it is; I gave it to you, didn't I?"
"All right, fine, but if I lose it…"
"You won't lose it."
"Oh, man! Oh, my God, Dean, did you see that? I totally nailed the center!"
"Yes! Thanks, Dean."
"Keep this up, Sammy, and you'll be better than Dad and me."
"I won't be better than you."
"Yeah? How do you know that?"
"'Cause you're the best, Dean."
He heard voices in his dreams.
They were memories of voices, snatches of conversations, the sound of his father singing. He liked that one best. His father had had a great, gravely voice. The kind that could get under the note and draw out the emotion from the word. It was one of the only times he ever really saw his father show emotion while he was growing up.
He heard Sam. He missed Sam's voice. He let the drowsiness of the dream roll over him more just so that he could listen longer. There were so many thoughts inside of Sam's voice that he never really spoke. But Dean heard them.
The light from the morning sun streaming in through the uncovered window beat a harsh tattoo against his closed eyes and the first thing he was aware of upon waking was the stench wafting off of him. His mouth felt furry and full of glue. He pried his teeth apart, feeling his tongue grip the roof of his mouth.
He rolled from his back to his side and once again felt the sensation of liquid in his ears, shifting the world around him until he was forced to drop a foot from the bed to balance himself. He opened his mouth and saw Sam, asleep, sprawled on the opposite bed, sheets and blankets twisted around his waist, one leg out and his mouth gaping open.
Dean let his mouth relax into an indulgent smile. Sam even slept big. Biting back a groan that could have potentially jostled his brother awake, Dean grabbed his bag and stumbled to the bathroom, closing the door carefully behind him. The overhead light bumped and sparked, causing him to squint against the brightness of it.
He peered at himself in the mirror, groaning at what he saw. Bruises traversed his forehead and puffed out the soft skin under one eye. Small cuts held together by butterfly bandages graced his cheek and he looked ten years older with the scruff growing slowly into a full-on beard.
"Pretty," he muttered sarcastically, digging into his bag for his shaving supplies. The automatic, repetitive action of shaving seemed to almost put the world into perspective for him.
As he lathered up his cheeks, he let his mind blank, watching only the flash of silver in his straight razor as it scraped the hair from his face. Each swipe left a clear path, each clear path felt like another plank in the broken bridge between where he was and where he had been.
He felt a soft rumble in his chest, relishing the feel of the vibration there as it ambled up through his throat and bounced from his lips. He couldn't tell if he was anywhere close to being on-key, but it felt good, so he went with it.
"It starts out like a murmur then it grows like thunder until it bursts inside of you…"
Scrape. Walking to the house. Feeling uncomfortable in his suit. Ready to flash the badge and tell the story. And then what?
"Try to hold it steady, wait until you're ready any second now will do…"
Face is smooth; might even pass for human. Bruises are bruises. Flash a smile and give away nothing. Ready for that water to beat down, wash away the aches, and the memories that are not quite there.
"Throw the door wide open, not a word is spoken. Anything that you want to do…"
Dean leaned forward, one hand on the wall, his head bowed as the surreal sensation of silent rain slid in slick rivers down his battered body, chasing itself along the dip of his spine and skipping across his gluteus to tangle in the coarse hairs of his legs. He opened his eyes, staring at his feet, making fists with his toes in the basin of the bathtub.
He blinked as the image shot across his vision. Shaking his head, he tipped his face up into the water, running his fingers through his bloody hair, letting the pink wash away. He tipped his head one way, then the other to keep the water from filling his too-sensitive ears, massaging the blood from his lobes.
Wings spread, reaching…
"Shit," he muttered, turning his back to the water and letting it beat against the ever-present knots in his neck. He reached up, rolling his head and kneading the sore muscles there. The water beat against the small of his back, working on the tension, trying to release the ache.
Gotta get out, get Sam, we're in trouble, we're—
"Oh, my God," Dean breathed, throwing out a hand to brace himself against the shower wall. The memory of that last thought, that last realization, shot through him like an electrical current.
Shutting off the water, he stepped from the shower the chill of the air crawling in goose bumps across his bare skin, almost forgetting to grab a towel to wrap around him before stepping naked into the outer room. He opened the door of the steamy bathroom, the sunlight from the bare window reflecting off of the beads of water coating his chest and shoulders. He blinked the water from his lashes and looked to the bed for Sam.
Finding it empty, he looked over at the table where his brother sat, still clad only in boxers, dirt ground into his cheeks and arms, staring open-mouthed at his computer monitor. Dean had only to wait a heartbeat before Sam looked up, the expression in his eyes a direct reflection of Dean's own astonishment.
"Dude, I gotta talk to you," they voiced in unison.
a/n: Thanks for reading! I appreciate your time so much, knowing how precious it is to all of us.
The Pretender by the Foo Fighters
Wearing and Tearing by Led Zeppelin
Part 4 (A and B) can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/18049.html