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.
a/n: I have come to appreciate the viewpoints and thoughts expressed by those to take the time to investigate my journal here. However, I also realized with the posting of Chapter 3 that I may have inadvertently offended some people with my attempts at detailed descriptions and humor in this story. After some soul-searching and effective conversing with some really good friends (thanks them sincerely), I decided to keep this story as I'd planned, not go back and change anything, and continue with the detailed descriptions.
However, I would just like to say that nothing in this story was written with the intent to offend or insult. My admiration for the differences in our human natures runs deep, and I hope only to show that through the art that is storytelling.
*music plays on*
There's more to the truth than just the facts.
Words spoken in unison died between them as the morning sun turned his brother's pale skin translucent.
Sam was on his feet, his stomach a block of ice, crossing the room just before Dean's knees buckled. He caught Dean's elbow with his good hand and turned him smoothly, sitting him on the edge of the bed as if the moment had been choreographed.
"Whoa…" Dean's voice was weak; his still-wet body shuddered once beneath Sam's fingertips. His hands sought the edge of the bed in a clumsy grip of balance. "Think I, uh… stood up too fast…"
Sam pressed his hand on the back of Dean's clammy neck, easing his brother's head forward, encouraging him with touch to keep it low. Watching the blood drain from Dean's face had momentarily erased his epiphany-like flash of discovery. His brother had had concussions before, but had always been able to ride out the pain, shoving it smoothly behind that indestructible wall he'd built around everything real.
The loss of hearing, though, seemed to add a vulnerability to this injury that even Dean was unsure how to deal with. With a frustrated groan that seeped up from deep in his throat, Dean braced his skull with the heel of his hand, his eyes clenched tight, drawing crevasses at the edges of his lashes.
"Son of a bitch," he uttered on a shaky exhale.
Patting Dean's neck to signal that he was moving away, Sam crossed the room and grabbed the Tylenol and a bottle of water. He returned to Dean, crouching in front of him, and tried to push two pills into his brother's tight fist.
"Dammit, Sam, I said no!" The protest was weedy, ragged with simmering anger.
"You idiot; it's Tylenol," Sam muttered, shoving at Dean's shoulder to get him to open his eyes. "If you'd stop being so damn stubborn you might realize that I listen to you once in awhile."
Dean blinked at the pills in Sam's hand, realization dawning slowly. He sighed with obvious relief, grabbed them and dry-swallowed both before Sam could twist the cap off of the bottle of water.
"Guh, Sam…" Dean wrinkled his nose as he took the bottle and swallowed noisily. "You smell like a grave."
Sam blinked in surprise, taking the bottle back before Dean dropped it. Dean had returned to holding his head and his eyes were directed at the floor in an unfocused gaze that spiked Sam's worry to a cresting point.
"I… I can actually smell… the dirt on you. And… dude, I think I smell… blood."
Sam automatically glanced at his bandaged hand, seeing the pinkish tinge on the white gauze as the sutures seeped through.
"It… it smells like… metal," Dean continued. "And salt. You think I could smell blood?"
Dean looked up and Sam was struck by the defenseless expression ghosting his brother's too-big eyes. Sam swallowed. Dean's eyes never revealed this much, were never this exposed. He wasn't sure how to deflect that, how to balance in the wake of raw need from the one person who was supposed to be his anchor. He stood shakily, reaching out for the wall and leaned one shoulder against the edge by the bathroom door, the sunlight streaming through the empty window heating his bare back and tossing his shadow across his brother's pale face.
"What the hell is happening to me?" Dean dropped his head into the palm of his hand and carefully rubbed his fingers through his wet hair, standing the dark strands up in spikes.
"You're just human, man," Sam said softly to his brother's bowed head, aware that Dean took in none of his words, of his worry. "That's all. You're…" Breakable. Fragile. Real. "You're gonna be okay."
Dean rubbed his forehead against his palm, addressing the floor. "It's like what Dad said, y'know? About taking one sense away and using the others?"
Sam frowned. "Dad said that?"
"I just always figured… I don't know… I'd hear something more… close my eyes and listen harder, but…" Dean groaned again, tightening his fingers in his hair and curling his stomach muscles until his nose practically touched his kneecaps.
"Dean?" Sam leaned forward, reaching out and gripping Dean's bare shoulder, his fingers sliding over the droplets of water that still clung to his skin. "What is it?"
Dean didn't speak, and Sam felt the muscles beneath his fingers quaking as he rode out the tide of pain, rocking a bit with the beat of his own heart. Sam grimaced helplessly. Dr. Wilde had told him that the pain could be severe, and it seemed that the wave of sound that hit Dean at intermittent intervals might be more than his soldier of a brother could handle.
"Easy," he found himself whispering, not caring that Dean couldn't hear him. Needing to say it. Needing to do something. "Just take it easy, Dean."
"Dude," Dean finally gasped, relaxing a fraction. "This sucks on so many different levels."
Sam nodded, feeling weak with relief as the grip of pain seemed to ebb and Dean slumped sideways into his bracing hand.
"You need to shower, man," Dean whispered, letting gravity's power pull him the rest of the way down to the bed, his feet resting on the floor, towel twisted around his waist.
"What about you?" Sam asked, unthinking. The idea of leaving Dean alone had the block of ice that was his stomach twisting until his insides felt like mush.
"Lemme 'lone a minute," Dean slurred, drawing in air shallowly, puffing it out between pursed lips. He rolled carefully to his back and draped his forearm across his eyes. "Jus' wanna… wanna lay here a minute."
Sam frowned, peering closer at his brother's profile. A thin line of crimson spilled slowly from his left ear and trickled down his neck. Sam grabbed a towel from the bathroom rack, dampened it with lukewarm water and returned to his brother's side. Carefully, lower lip trapped between his teeth, Sam started to clear the blood away.
"Dude!" Dean clumsily slapped his hand away, wincing as he tried to peer up at Sam. "What the hell?"
Wordlessly, Sam held up the pinked towel for Dean to see.
"Shit," Dean cursed, reaching for his ear and smearing at the blood.
"Don't do tha—argh! Jeeze, man, just hang on a minute," Sam muttered, reaching for Dean's hand and holding it away as he finished cleaning off the blood. Sighing, he speared the bed with his knee, leaning his weight there and watched as Dean let his body shift sideways into the resulting valley.
For a moment, they looked at each other, thoughts shielded by cautious eyes, need masked by uncertainty, pain buried gut-deep where it couldn't betray them. In the silence between them, Sam heard the tick of the air conditioning unit, doors opening and closing in the hallway, muffled voices calling to each other, his breath expanding the balloon-like elasticity of his lungs, his heart rushing his blood through his veins.
Watching Dean, he knew. He could see. He felt Dean hear…nothing.
"Lie still," Sam enunciated carefully.
"Why?" Dean replied, his green eyes pinned to Sam's mouth, hungry for communication, for a connection to the only normal he'd ever cared about.
"Just lay here and take it easy for a minute," Sam shifted free of the bed, turning away. "I gotta figure out how to finish this hunt without you," he said to himself.
He wasn't clear on what was going on, but they had been through too much—Dean had been through too much—to let the ghost of an old man's wife be the thing that took what little they had left away from them.
"Sam," Dean called after him.
Sam was halted by the ragged edge in Dean's tired voice. He looked over his shoulder, catching his brother's eyes with a question.
"I think… I think the… ala is back," Dean said slowly.
Sam rotated quickly. "What?"
"I remembered," Dean shifted clumsily to his elbows, propping himself up, the muscles in his stomach rucked up in ridges above the top of the white towel. "I remembered what I saw in the back of the house—just before everything blew up."
Sam stepped forward, tilting his head to the side in an unconscious gesture of encouragement. "What did you see, Dean?"
"I remembered… birds."
Sam felt his eyebrows meet over the bridge of his nose. "Birds," he repeated.
Dean sat up, the towel gaping open at his knees as he pulled one leg in to tuck it under the other. He leaned forward, elbows on his legs, one hand captured in the other, the pad of his thumb worrying the callous beneath his ring. His eyes were on the bedspread and Sam realized he had no intention of trying to focus on anything Sam had to say. His own words were slamming against each other in their rush to escape.
"I kept remembering birds… and it didn't make sense… I mean… what the hell, right?"
Sam watched a subtle shiver slide through Dean as the cooler air of the room left a path of gooseflesh across his shoulders. He stepped out of the direct path of the sun, letting the balm-like rays hit Dean's skin as his brother continued to talk.
"But just now—well, earlier… in the shower… I kept seeing these flashes… talons, and wings and… it was just like… just like back in that water, back in South Carolina."
Sam sat heavily on the edge of the bed, the shift in weight drawing Dean's attention. He ducked his head, making sure Dean was looking at him when he said, "You lost me."
Dean sighed, rolling his neck in a motion Sam had learned to recognize as an attempt to release tension. Reaching up, Dean pulled at the knotted muscles at the juncture of his neck and shoulder, then regarded Sam through his lashes, his chin lowered.
"You remember I told you Dad hunted an ala before?"
Sam nodded. "I don't remember it, though."
Dean looked down. "Yeah, well. There's a reason for that. I made you forget it."
"Huh?" When Dean didn't react to his incredulity, Sam smacked the bed, snapping Dean's eyes up. "What are you talking about?"
"When Dad fought the ala back then, you and I fell in the water. I… I couldn't get to you right away," Dean looked away, an unreadable expression washing over his face and tightening his lips. "And when I did, I saw… I saw the thing reaching for you. The real form of that ala."
"A bird?" Sam wondered aloud. "I thought it was a storm demon…"
Dean shrugged as if he'd heard him. "I didn't really bother to look into it after we left Pastor Jim's, but the ala looked like a bird under the water, and it was reaching for you… I grabbed you, but I don't know, man. If Dad hadn't killed it… I don't know."
Sam rubbed his top lip, thinking. It didn't make sense. The ala was a storm demon—true form or not. There hadn't been any reports of storms, no lightening for the ala to travel, not even an overly-cloudy day. There was something else going on—something that Dean in his addled state related to that hunt so many years ago. Something that made him think of birds.
He felt Dean quietly berating himself and he rode the tide of his memory, but the comfort he knew how to offer came in a form Dean wouldn't be able to absorb. He watched Dean cup his head in his palms once more, breathing deeply.
"Dean," he said, softly, touching the back of his brother's hand. "Dean, look at me."
Dean lifted his face, his eyes luminous and blood-shot. He waited.
"Listen, I don't know about the ala, okay? I don't know, but we'll figure it out…somehow…" Sam promised, making sure to speak clearly.
Dean didn't move. Sam couldn't even tell if he was breathing. His eyes were fastened to Sam's mouth, ready for more.
"I found something out about the house," Sam revealed. "The Cooper's house. George said it had a history, so I thought…"
"What did you find, Sam?" Dean snapped, a shadow of his usual get to the point already self emerging.
"Well, the last two former owners died under mysterious circumstances. One drowned in the kitchen sink, the other fell down the basement stairs… uh… hang on…" Sam jumped up from the bed and went to his laptop, turning the monitor away from the sun's glare so that he could better read the last page he'd pulled up. "Let's see, there was an electrocution and another fire."
Sam jerked his head over in Dean's direction. "Oh, right sorry. I said electrocution and fire."
"Could all be just unlucky accidents."
"Yeah, but…" Sam crossed the room again to stand nearer to Dean, the sun slicing a warm beam across his face. He marveled at how aware he was of his own lips, the movement, motion, feel of them as they wrapped around thoughts to form words that brought his brother back into the now.
"You add Camilla dying of a heart attack when she was perfectly healthy, and the gas leak…"
"Camilla died at the house?" Dean asked, confusion drawing a line between his brows.
"No—church picnic, but it was her house."
Dean nodded sagely, squinting against the glare of the sun as he glanced out through the window. Sam buried an internal smile at the observation that neither of them had bothered to re-hang the curtains.
"Well, this could be something," Dean allowed. "We'll go back to the house, check it out."
Sam looked down, his hands on his hips. He had no intention of taking Dean back to that house. The bed creaked and Sam looked up to see Dean lying back with a soft groan, once again draping his arm across his eyes. His right leg was angled to the side, his knee sticking out of the gap in the towel. Sam saw total exhaustion in the cuts and lines that formed his brother's body.
"You shower," Dean mumbled. "Lemme lay here a minute."
Sam didn't bother to reply. He turned to the opened door of the bathroom, stepping carefully on the damp tiles and lifting his forearm to his nose and inhaling.
"I don't smell that bad," he muttered, dropping his boxers and pulling the shower curtain back. "Was digging a grave for God's—"
He froze with his hand on the shower faucet. He'd forgotten to tell Dean about Camilla.
He could count beats of his heart if he pressed his hand to his chest.
He could feel himself breathing. Feel his ribs expand. Feel his blood rush with the intake of oxygen. Feel his head pound with the flow of life.
Eyes closed against the sunlight, he could see images against the black of hunts, demons, ghosts, beings spat up from Hell, determined to prey on mankind, forcing his family to take action.
This is it… this is what I know.
Dropping his arm to his side and bearing his eyes to the elements, Dean took a deep breath. Lying flat teased him with an edge of vertigo enough that he wanted to hold onto the bed and keep it from spinning. He knew from countless "mornings after" that he needed to move and he needed to eat.
Rolling to his side, he felt his legs sluice across the bedspread, knowing the sound that should accompany it… the shush of skin on polyester. He worked his jaw; the pressure in his ears increased for a moment and his gut tightened with the anticipation of the flood of sound, but nothing hit him. For a moment, aside from sitting in the middle of a muted world, he was free of pain.
He stood up, and the moment shattered. Slices of pain like broken glass beneath his skin shimmied up the sides of his face, framing his jaw and making a home behind his ears. Sighing, Dean moved to his duffel, dragging out boxers, jeans, and a gray T-shirt. Dressing quickly, he dug deeper for a long-sleeved shirt. His fingers brushed the leather sheath of his Bowie.
Frowning, Dean drew out the knife, turning its silver blade in the sunlight, watching it glint and glimmer, dazzling his eyes. The knife was generally considered a silent weapon. He could take out a bad guy without alerting others to his presence. He used it when stealth was essential.
If I can see… I can hunt. If I never leave my back exposed… If I'm always on guard… I can still protect him. I can still do my job. I don’t… have to hear danger. Right?
Moving over to their weapons bag, Dean pulled out his .45. Closing his eyes, he ran his hand down the barrel, letting the tips of his fingers find the grooves and lines as familiar to him as his own body. He ejected the magazine, setting it on the table, then calmly began to break down the gun.
When he had it in pieces, he took a breath, kept his eyes closed, ignored the stifling quiet that wrapped around him, and reassembled his weapon. His fingers moved confidently, gracefully. He lost himself in the motion, the repetition, the confidence that he could do this, he knew this, that this was as natural to him as hearing.
The scent of Ivory soap hit him a second before the hand brushed his shoulder. His body responded before his brain could catch up and calm him. Whirling, his eyes popping open, Dean pointed his loaded weapon at Sam's face, trigger finger spasming. Sam blinked in complete surprise, hands flying up as he staggered back a step.
Dean took a quick breath as he saw his name on his brother's lips, flicked the safety back on and lowered the gun.
"Don't sneak up on me like that, man," he growled, irritated at himself for reacting without thinking. You gotta be better, faster, sharper.
Sam shook his head, running a hand through his hair and as he turned away, Dean saw him say something. His chest tightened as he lost the meaning, but he didn't call Sam back. Puffing out a breath, he slid the gun in the hollow of his back, feeling better, normal, with its familiar weight there.
"Get dressed," he ordered, tempering his volume when he saw Sam flinch and duck his head. "We need food."
Sam looked over at him with a how can you think of your stomach at a time like this expression, but obediently dug into his duffel. Dean watched him carefully. He knew his brother better than anyone, and he could tell from the stilted motion of his hands as he tugged on his jeans, the indecisive way he rolled through the last three clean T-shirts in his bag, the frustrated way he kept blowing his bangs away from his eyes that Sam was hiding something.
And he was willing to bet he knew what it was.
"You can quit worrying, Sammy," he said, feeling the words slip between his lips, purposefully soft. "You don't have to figure out how to leave me behind."
Sam drew his head up sharply, a dark blue T-shirt with a non-descript design ghosting the front clutched in his unbandaged hand. Dean saw the question form on his lips, the irrational hope in his eyes.
"No, I’m not staying here. I'm just saying you don't have to figure it out. 'Cause I'm not going to let you leave me."
Sam sighed, his shoulders bowing, and pulled his shirt over his head, shaking the wet strands of hair away from his face. When on edge, Sam used his hands to speak. Spread them wide to encompass all the worries he carried on his broad shoulders, clenched them tight to illustrate his frustration—or his desire to strangle his brother—with the situation, shook them loose when he was searching for balance.
Dean watched him do all these things as a torrent of words spilled in rapid-fire descent from Sam's lips. The effort of pulling meaning from them was too much for Dean on an empty stomach, with nothing but pain pills and eardrops to sustain him. He looked away, not even bothering to watch Sam's mouth.
Sam stomped over, grabbing his arm in a rough grip and rotated him. Dean wavered slightly on his feet, the world tilting violently on its axis with the swiftness of that movement. Angry lines drew Dean's brows low, pursing his lips.
"Let go of me, man!"
Sam simply tightened his grip, drawing Dean's eyes up. This time he did focus.
You need to be rational about this.
"I am, Sam. I'm going."
No, Dean, please, just… please… think about this, okay?
"I have thought about it! I can't think about anything else." He wrenched his arm free from Sam's hand and turned away slowly, reaching up to press his palms against his burning eyes for a moment. Turning back to face Sam, he said, "I'm not just your brother, Sammy. This is not just about… about watching out for you. I'm a hunter, man. This is what I know. This is all I know."
Sam looked down, pinching the bridge of his nose. Dean watched him filter those words, watched him absorb. He picked up traces of stale cigarette smoke and sweat in the semi-filtered air, surmising that the air conditioner had kicked on in the silence. He swallowed. He had to get out of this room.
"Sam, c'mon, let's just… let's just check out the house, okay? I mean, you'll be right there. I can't get hurt if you're watching out for me, right?"
Sam looked up, eyebrow raised.
I was there when you were blown up, remember?
"Oh. Right." Dean felt the familiar sensation of nervous energy build up inside of him, pressing against his sternum, racing his heart. He started to pace slightly—four steps one way, four steps back—rolling his fingers into fists.
He knew Sam's eyes were on him, but the ache resting behind his ears wouldn't let him turn his head too quickly, so he worked to content himself with eyes front, feet moving.
Sam waved at him from his periphery and called a halt to his sojourn. He tilted his head.
Sam waved him over and sat down facing his laptop. Dean frowned, confused. Sam pointed at the blank screen and began typing. Dean grinned.
He watched as Sam's fingers flew over the keyboard, the story of digging up Camilla's body coming to life before his eyes in clear, Times New Roman font.
Easier to read than lips, that's for damn sure, he thought.
When Sam reached the part about rolling her over, Dean straightened.
"Hold up, you're saying she was buried face-down?"
Sam shook his head, typing, 'I don't think so. I think she rolled over in her grave.'
"Well, let's think about this a sec," Dean rubbed his upper lip. "Some practices believe that if a witch is buried face-down, she'll go to Hell."
'Camilla wasn't a witch,' Sam typed.
"You sure about that?"
'Spend some time around George and you'll believe me.'
"So, what, you think she was maybe… buried alive and… ugh, tried to claw out?"
Sam simply looked at him.
"Man," Dean shuddered. "I can't think of a worse fate… waking up in a box, trying to get out… I mean, sure, it worked for Buffy, but she had super Slayer strength."
Sam smirked. Dean narrowed his eyes.
"Don't even. I know you watched it, too."
For research purposes, Sam said.
"Research my ass. Oh, wait… research Buffy's ass…"
Can we focus?
"Right, sorry, okay so either buried alive, or… what? Someone did something…shocking enough that she literally… rolled over in her grave? Like that old saying?"
Sam turned back to the computer, pulling up a few sites he'd found that morning. He pointed to a paragraph that spoke of restless spirits and the manifestations of their need to communicate showing up in the decimation of their bodies. Broken bones post-mortem as if they'd been twisted, mouths opened in silent screams, backs arched in tortured positions.
"Dude… this is…" Dean shook his head, rubbing distractedly at his left ear. It had started to pulse in time with his heart. "I've never heard of that before, have you?"
Sam shrugged, typing, 'I was going to look it up in Dad's journal.'
"Good idea," Dean nodded, wincing. He drew his hand away, noticing the smeared blood on his fingertips. Turning from Sam he grabbed the stained towel he'd used earlier from the foot of the bed and wiped at his ear. "Let's look at it together, over breakfast…" he glanced at the clock, "or lunch."
Sam grabbed the towel from him, frowning. Dean stared back, a silent challenge.
"I'm fine, Sam," he said after a moment. "It doesn't hurt… much."
Sam's eyes were fierce when he looked up, almost sending Dean back a step with their emotion.
"Does it matter?"
Yes, it matters!
"I've been hurt before and still did the job. How is this different?" Dean felt the volume build in his chest. Sam didn't say anything and Dean growled low in his throat, pushing at his brother lightly. "Huh? Tell me. How is this different?"
"Because, why? Talk to me, dammit!"
Because I don't know how to protect you!
Dean stopped pushing. Stopped moving. Stopped breathing.
"You don't have to protect me, Sam."
Sam looked at him and Dean felt as though he could crack beneath the weight in his brother's eyes.
"This time… we watch out for each other."
Sam's chest heaved as he worked to quiet his emotions, pulling his liquid eyes away from Dean. After a moment, he looked back, nodding.
Okay, he said clearly. But only if you wait in the car.
Don't go back in that house, Dean.
"Dude… there's probably something in the house that's after George and Wren. Hell, the house could be after George and Wren."
Dean stopped, realization freezing his words in his throat. This was Sam's protection. This was his last line, his stronghold. This was where he'd been left for so many years, forced to watch his father and brother run off whole and return broken. This was the only thing he knew.
Sam blinked. Okay?
"You win," Dean nodded. "I'll behave. Now… can we please get some freakin' food?"
I know it is him before he says my name.
His footsteps give him away. He rolls his feet in a heel-toe manner, making his gait as soft as possible. It's a habit I had at one time thought he'd picked up in the Marines, until I realized that Jim walked just like everyone else.
Only Dad can approach so silently, yet still put my entire body on alert.
"How you doing, Son?"
I feel my body relax at the name. He's back. Dad's back. For the first time in weeks I feel sleepy and safe.
"Sam doing better?"
"Sorta," I confess. Sam's dreams haven't eased in their intensity, but they have become less frequent. "I been working on something for him, though."
"Good," Dad says, sitting on the edge of my bed and tipping me toward him with his weight. He doesn't ask me what I am working on. He doesn't say anything. Just sits. And breathes.
"You, uh… you get what you were after?" I want to ask him if he's okay, if he's hurt, if I can help. But there is something in the way he holds himself close that tells me without words that he wouldn't answer me.
"Not yet," Dad sighs. "But I got closer. I got real close that time."
I lay in the dark and listen to my family breathe. Sam's open-mouth oblivion wars with Dad's controlled puffs. I can feel him working up to something, so I decide to spare him.
"We're leaving again, aren't we?"
"Don't you think you've been here long enough?"
My mind replies with an instant yes while my heart wails a silent no. I haven't finished the dream catcher. I don't know how to fasten the three stones. And I'm not leaving without that protection for Sam. He has to be able to put fear behind him. He has to be able to keep it together. Or…
"'Cause, if you don't want to come, I—"
"No, Dad," I sit up hurriedly, appalled that my hesitation to answer brings him to that conclusion. "No, we want to come. I just, uh… I got something I gotta do."
I see Dad's dark eyes glint at me in the pale starlight seeping through the window between our beds. He's let his beard grow in during the weeks away from us and his mouth is shadowed by it. I can't see if he's frowning, but I feel it.
"It's for Sam," I continue, trying not to sound too desperate. I had to balance this carefully if I was going to get Dad to agree to stay here for just a little while longer.
Dad tips his head, asking a silent question. I look over at Sam and realize suddenly that he's awake. I don't know how much he's heard, but he's watching us, frozen, as if he isn't quite sure if what he's seeing is real.
"Hey," I say to him. "You okay?"
He nods, then his eyes shift to Dad.
Dad gets up and I slide my foot into the warm area his body left behind on my bed. He crosses to Sam and sits down.
"Hey, kiddo," he says softly, gathering Sam up in a soft hug.
My skin aches in reaction to seeing something I want but cannot have. Rolling my neck, I banish the rebellious thoughts that swim up at the sight of my father holding my brother.
"Are we gonna go now?" Sam asks, his voice muffled against Dad's shoulder.
Dad glances in my direction, but his eyes don't hit me. I wait, holding my breath.
"Soon," Dad answers. "I think I need a day or two to… regroup."
"But we'll go with you when you leave, right?" Sam asks, pulling away and looking up at Dad.
Dad nods, his eyes smiling. I see the folds along the sides of his face that give him away. And something inside of me breaks.
"You're coming with me. I need you two."
"You got a hunt?"
"Maybe," Dad answers me. "Go back to sleep. We'll talk more in the morning."
"Jim know you're here?" I ask.
"He knows," Dad asserts.
"Okay," I settle back against the pillows, watching Dad rise from Sam's bed, cross to the door and look back at us. "Dad?"
He shakes his head at my encompassing question. "You did good, boys," he says. "You did real good."
He steps from the room, and I look over at Sam. He's watching me quietly. I wonder what he's thinking. His face is just enough shadowed that I can't see the usual tells. Sighing, feeling warm, yet oddly empty, I pull the flannel sheet over my shoulder and burrow into my pillow.
"I don't hate him," Sam whispers.
There was one greasy spoon in Lynch Heights and Sam drove for it as if caught in a tractor beam.
They moved to the back booth, against the wall, and Dean slid into the side that faced the restaurant. Sam knew Dean needed to have his back to the wall, needed to be able to see, but he wished the end result didn't leave him feeling so exposed. He watched his brother with amusement as he quietly charmed the waitress, ordering his usual cheeseburger, fries, soda and pie.
Sam felt his own dimples digging into his cheeks in a reply as the waitress retreated from their table with a decidedly lighter step than she had approached.
"You're unbelievable," he said softly as Dean watched her walk away. "Didn't hear a word she said, but it didn't matter, did it?"
"Something about those short skirts does funny things to me," Dean said, loud enough that the man at the counter to Sam's left looked over at him. Sam kicked him under the table. Dean flinched and turned an automatic scowl toward Sam until he saw the finger covering Sam's lips. "Oh, right," he flipped his hands up on the table in surrender and rolled his eyes. "My bad."
Sam heard the bell over the door clang, but he didn't turn until he saw the shadow of distrust cross Dean's face. Looking over his shoulder, he smiled in greeting to see Mike approaching their booth. He held out a hand to shake as Mike slid into his side of the booth.
"Hey, man," he said.
"How's your hand?" Mike asked him, then nodded in Dean's direction.
"Good," Sam replied, immediately on-edge with Dean's defensive posture.
"What's he doing here?" Dean asked sullenly.
"I called him," Sam said carefully.
Sam looked down, licking his lip, searching for the words to answer his brother that wouldn't etch more cracks in his already bruised ego. He heard the weight of Dean's slow sigh and lifted his eyes to meet his brother's. The green of Dean's irises caught him with shame and he leveled his chin in retaliation.
"Forget it," Dean replied. "Do what you have to do, Sam."
Sam heard what he didn't say. He heard the quiet declaration of I'll show you I can still do my job…
Dean held up a hand, masking a charming smile over cold eyes as the waitress appeared and delivered their food, then took Mike's order.
"Just a salad, thanks," Mike requested. "And a Coke."
Sam looked over at him, taking a quick measure of the man who had put him back together and discovered him in a rather compromising position, yet still hadn't cried uncle—or worse yet, cops.
"Thanks for coming," Sam said, resolutely ignoring the dark clouds growing in Dean's eyes as his brother watched the exchange. He knew that if he wasn't facing Dean, there was little chance he'd follow the conversation.
"You said you needed help," Mike replied, also not looking at Dean.
"Yeah, uh, listen," Sam dug into his salad. "We think there's something going on at the house. Last couple of owners have—" Motion from Dean caught his attention. "—uh, have…"
Dean pulled out John's journal, flipping through it casually, looking, Sam knew, for something about being buried face-down or rolling over in a grave. Looking for what they'd agreed to talk about before Sam surprised his brother with a stand-in hunter.
"Have?" Mike prompted.
Sam cleared his throat, turning back to Mike. "Have died under strange circumstances."
"So… what?" Mike frowned. "The house is after George and Wren?"
"Maybe," Sam shrugged. "It's not the first time."
"Your lives are weird, man," Mike shook his head, watching Dean inhale his cheeseburger while reading through the journal. "What's he reading?"
"Our Dad's hunting journal. Looking for clues," Sam said around a mouthful of salad.
"Clues about… the house?"
Sam shook his head. "About why Camilla rolled over in her grave."
They stopped talking when the waitress brought Mike's lunch. Dean glanced up as she walked away, then back to the journal. Sam frowned. Dean's silence felt like a weapon wielded by an expert slicing through his conscience. No one knew better how to use quiet as the one who usually made the most noise.
"Find anything?" Mike asked, drawing Sam back into the conversation.
Sam chewed his lunch, watching his brother stare at the same page in the journal, his eyes not moving, his body tight.
"Yeah," he said softly. But he's not gonna give it up with you here.
"So, you wanna go to the house, then," Mike stated, spearing a hunk of lettuce with his fork, his tone clearly conveying that he wasn't interested in getting in the middle of whatever struggle was twisting between the brothers.
"Yeah, what's left of it," Sam nodded. "Need to check into a few things… didn't know if George would be up for it."
"He's there now, actually," Mike said.
"He is?" Sam replied, surprised. "Huh."
"I took them over there this morning to get some of their things."
"Hey, Den—er, uh, Mike," Dean said suddenly, drawing their eyes. "What do you know about how Camilla died?"
Sam looked at Mike, watching as the older man regarded his brother carefully, his dark eyes secretive.
"Well," Mike shrugged. "I only know what George said, really."
Sam felt Dean's eyes, realizing quickly that his brother wasn't able to absorb what Mike said. He held up a finger, trying to convey with his eyes that he got it. He knew what Dean needed.
"I know she had been worried about something, told him she wanted to talk to him, then went to the church picnic, died of a heart attack."
Sam repeated the information, feeling an odd sense of pride at his connection to his brother. The fact that Dean could understand what he said, and didn't follow anyone else made him feel…powerful.
"And she wasn't sick before?" Dean asked, eyes darting between Sam and Mike, looking for translation.
Mike shook his head. "Not that I know of."
Dean's eyes slid to the side. He pulled his lower lip in, working his jaw in a war against the tension that corded the muscles there as a line between his brows deepened.
"Dean?" Sam called, watching closer as Dean's color faded, his eyes seemed to fade a bit in his face, but his brother didn't move. Sam tapped the table twice under Dean's far-away gaze. "Dean."
Dean looked down at Sam's hand, then slowly raised his gaze. Sam felt his gut turn to ice once more at the pain echoed in the hollows of his brother's eyes, the tension in the way he held his body.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Fine," Dean answered tightly. "We checking out this house, or what?"
Sam narrowed his eyes, looking at Dean's half-eaten pile of fries and un-touched pie. Dean caught his gaze and pushed his plate away.
"Yeah, sure," Sam nodded, motioning with his head for Mike to slide out. The trio headed to the cash register and Sam and Mike paid, Dean waiting until they were done to step through the door.
He slid without argument, this time, into the passenger seat of the Impala, waiting on Sam to join him.
"What's with him?" Mike asked, folding his receipt and putting it into his wallet.
"You mean besides the fact that he can't hear anything?" Sam snapped.
"That'll go away," Mike said. "Give the eardrums some time to heal, and he'll be fine."
"That's not exactly reassuring when you're in our business," Sam said softly, looking through the windshield at Dean's sullen profile. "Besides… he gets hit with this… pain, and…"
"His ear was bleeding again this morning," Sam dropped his eyes to the ground, drawing loops in the dirt with the toe of his worn boot.
"That can happen," Mike said nonchalantly. "Just make sure you keep using those drops. He sure doesn't like me, does he?"
Sam glanced over at the hard edge to his voice. "It has nothing to do with you, man. It's what you represent to him."
Mike frowned. "What, help?"
"Exactly," Sam nodded. "Dean doesn't ask for help." He looked back at his brother. "He is help."
"Everyone needs something sometime," Mike declared.
"Yeah, well," Sam flipped the Impala's keys around his finger, moving toward the driver side door. "You get him believing that, you're doing better than me."
Mike shook his head. "I'll meet you at the house."
Part 4B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/18200.html