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.
California smells different than every other state we've been in. And we've been in pretty much every state. Even drove up to Alaska once, Sam whining the whole way. He liked Vancouver, though.
There's a used scent for a place that, in comparison to the East coast, is so new. It smells…lived in, but not in a way that feels comfortable. Every time we do this, I can't wait to leave. I'm excited to arrive and anxious to go within heartbeats of time.
I parallel park between a minivan and a pick-up truck, two blocks from Sam's apartment. Dad is asleep in the passenger seat. His slurred instructions to keep the car hidden were as unnecessary as his continued admonishment to 'watch out for Sammy.' I know why—there was no way Sam wouldn't recognize the Impala.
I just don't know why.
Why bother checking on him if you don't want him to know? I look at Dad, the words like a bubble of thought between us. After their heated accusations thrown like weapons, me standing in the middle without a bullet-proof vest, I thought Dad was ready to give up on Sam for good. And yet, here we are again, sitting in the dark, hidden from sight, checking on Sam. Fourth time in as many months.
Dad never warns me. Never tells me when, and I never ask why. I figure I already know. We're all Dad has. He pushes his friends away, keeps his lovers, if there are any, a secret, hides so much from us. But yet, we're his family. His obligation. His responsibility. His last connection to reality.
And Sam? Sammy is his baby. I'm not so much a fool that I don't know how important that makes him. I've seen it in how Dad looks at him. How Dad talks to him. How he talks about him. Sam is special. In a way I'll never be.
But none of that matters now. Because Sam left us. Left me. And there's still a fucking job to do.
Pink Floyd creases the quiet of the night with musings about regret, softly strumming through my lonely thoughts like fingers of memory.
"How I wish, how I wish you were here. We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year. Running over the same old ground. What have we found, the same old fears. Wish you were here…."
I hear his laugh. It's low and throaty and shy. I know instantly that he's with a girl; he only sounds that needy and cautious when a woman is around. I glance in the mirror almost instinctively. The back seat is empty, as I know it will be, but I can't stop myself from checking.
I hear Sam talking and slide low in the seat. I can't make out his words, but he's explaining something complicated. I can hear the excitement in his tone. A soft, female voice responds, and Sam chuckles again. My heart tightens. I can almost smell him. We'd been on too many night hunts for me not to know my brother in the dark.
They are approaching the minivan and I hold my breath, almost wanting the confrontation. They turn right and I see a flash of a white shirt on my brother, blonde hair on the girl with him. They head up the walk and enter the apartment building.
I've done my job. He's okay. We can go.
Just… I don't want to leave. Not yet. I look at Dad once more. He's out cold, the road and the whiskey adding to a beating he won't admit to getting two nights ago on a hunt I didn't even know he'd gone on. Licking my lips, I make my decision, reaching through the open window and pulling my lanky body through, knowing the creak of the Impala's door will give me away.
Floyd continues to feed my Dad's dreams as I swing my legs over the edge of the window, jogging quickly across the street.
"Eat your heart out, Dukes," I whisper, feeling the utter coolness of the situation. I am freakin' velvety smooth.
The necessity of stealth causes me to fall into hunt mode and I feel my body responding. Crouching low, I scramble across the lawn and press my back against the wall. I pick the lock on the main security door around the apartment, and find the back stairs. I know from prior visits that Sam is on the third floor.
The stairs are a metal, fire-escape sort and it's hard to maintain stealth while my booted feet thunk upwards. I hold my breath, listening, but no warning call echoes from my brother's room. I pause just outside of Sam's window, hesitating before I open to watch for the shadow of my brother's unmistakable form.
"…nightmares about algebra," Sam is saying, that damned grin still in his voice. "I mean, that's just not normal."
"Oh, like your nightmares about monsters are?"
Her voice is a light-hearted mocking, but I feel myself still. Sam is having nightmares? Again?
"That's different," Sam says, and while his voice remains light, I hear the edge. The edge that always said 'enough, Dean.'
"It's just the stress of finals," the girl replies. "I'll be okay when they're over."
There is a pause in conversation, a rustling, and I lean back against the wall, pressing my hands flat and listening with my whole body.
"It's a dream catcher," Sam says, his voice sounding heartbreakingly young. "My brother made it for me."
"He made it?"
"Yeah, when I was a kid."
Damn, Sammy, I think. You're still a kid.
"Did it work?"
"For awhile," Sam replies.
"What happen? The monsters get too big?" Her voice has a throaty quality that I easily recognize. Women change tone when they're turned on, attracted, ready. I learned to recognize it long ago. I know she is stepping close to my brother, probably looking up at him, touching his chest. I know I should leave. This is not my place. Not my time.
"Something like that," Sam says softly. "It's the only thing he ever gave me that I kept."
My fingers slide over the amulet. The Egyptian adornment hasn't left my neck since I was twelve. As long as I was alive, it never would. It was my connection to my heart, separated from my body, walking around in the world.
"When you left home, you mean?" She asks.
"Ever," Sam reveals. "Mostly… well, mostly what Dean gave me wasn't something I could hold, y'know? It was all… words and actions and… well, you know."
"Sure, I know. He's your big brother."
"You miss him?" She asks, her voice tentative, worried.
My throat closes. I lean my head back against the wall, closing my eyes. I'm here, Sammy, I want to say. But I know that it's only because I'm not there that he can confess such a truth.
"Here," Sam says suddenly, bringing my head up his voice is so close. "I want you to have it."
"I want you to have it," Sam insists. "Keep your demons away."
"But, Sam, I—"
"Please? It would mean a lot to me."
She is silent, and I can guess at her answer. Those damn puppy-dog eyes are like fire on ice. I move swiftly away from the window, hurrying down the stairs, uncaring if I called attention to myself this time. I head back to the car and open the door, waking Dad with a startled jerk.
"What are you doing?" he mumbles, rubbing his face and looking around, confused. "Did you leave?"
"Had to take a leak," I say. "Sam's good. You ready?"
"He's good? You saw him?" Dad asks, straightening up.
I wrinkle my nose and look out the window. "Yeah, I saw him. He's got a girl."
"Oh really? Thought you were the ladies man of this outfit," Dad grins, his voice raspy with disuse and alcohol.
"I am," I say, grinning at him, effectively masking the sharp-edge sting of betrayal that wanted to scream through my skin. "Who do you think taught him?"
"Atta boy," Dad says. "Let's go. Got a lead on a spirit in Wyoming."
I shift to drive. "When were you gonna tell me about this?"
"Just did," Dad yawns. "Wake me when we hit the state line."
"Yes, sir," I say, wishing it was possible to leave a piece of myself behind to watch over my brother while I fought by my father's side.
Life without Sam wasn't really living.
He saw people in the sea.
Legless people with yellow eyes and reaching arms. They pulled at him, ripping Wren from his grasp as she held on to him, her china-blue eyes pleading for understanding, for forgiveness, for salvation. He held her tight, but only to drag her closer to their reach.
"Don't let them take me!"
"Saving you was never part of the deal, sweetheart," he said, hearing the bitterness in his voice, and surprised at its venom.
"But they won't understand! They won't let me leave! They'll never let me leave!"
"You should have thought of that before you hurt my brother."
"I wanted to love him!"
Dean brought her close, belatedly realizing that they were underwater, their voices bubbling from blue lips, their breath stilling in their lungs.
"I could have loved him," Wren said, her cold lips against his.
"You always hurt the ones you love?" Dean asked, wanting to be sarcastic, tripping over truth.
"Yes," Wren sobbed. "I'm sorry."
She felt tiny, fragile in his grip. Wings swept around them and the legless water people approached relentlessly, their yellow eyes stabbing him with real fear.
"Dean! Please! Don't let them take me."
Dean closed his eyes against her fear and let go. He heard her scream, heard their laughter, felt them rip her apart, felt her body buck and heave as they tore into her. He opened his eyes when he was sure it was over, searching for the water's surface, wanting to breathe again.
But the yellow eyes turned on him.
"No!" Dean yelled pushing against the wings, feeling fingers tangling with his. "I had to!"
The fingers were strong, wrapping around the tender flesh on his wrists, trying to hold his arms down, trying to keep him from the surface. Dean felt anger percolate within him, thrusting adrenaline upwards and giving him strength to surge away.
"I said no!"
He opened his eyes, panting, sweat matting his thin hospital gown to the contours of his chest, his hair plastered to his skull. He blinked sweat from his lashes, seeing them tent in arrow-like shapes in front of his eyes.
He couldn't catch his breath. He was spinning, falling, the sea was dragging him down. He felt a hand reach for him and he shoved it roughly away.
The voice cut through his confusion and Dean blinked again, this time focusing on his brother.
"Cut that shit out!"
"What?" Dean muttered, trying to piece together disintegrating thoughts and dream memories. "What?"
"Quit pushing me away, man!"
"Pushing you—" The hands, he realized. The hands had been Sam. "Sorry, Sammy."
He rubbed his face, feeling groves of healing cuts and the sticky residue of butterfly bandages. His neck ached, pulling with the motion of his arm.
"What the hell… what's going on?"
The quiet of the room slapped his ears with a tease of sound, as if he could hear the people four rooms over breathing. Sam's heartbeat echoed his own like a shadow. His own panting sounded like a train through his head and his teeth were chattering.
"Everything is… damn, Sammy. Everything is so freakin' loud."
He felt his bed shift and he looked up, seeing Sam dressed in hospital scrubs and a white T-shirt sitting by his feet. He looked beat up. Worn out. Older than his twenty-four years.
"You okay, Sammy?"
"What were you dreaming about?" Sam asks, softly. Dean could have hugged him for remembering. Their voices were echoing in his head as if there was some kind of feedback in his brain.
"I don't know… water… and Wren… and people with yellow eyes."
"Yellow eyes… like the demon?" Sam asked carefully.
Dean shook his head, pressing the heel of his hand against his temple. "I don't think so. They looked like… birds."
Sam sighed, and Dean felt the weight of that sound settle on his shoulders. "What is it, Sammy?"
"You saved me," Sam said.
Dean blinked. Waiting.
"I did this, Dean."
"Did what?" Dean asked, feeling like he was missing more pieces to the puzzle. His worry for Sam was as good as a shot of caffeine and he sat up straighter in his bed, ignoring the twinge as his punctured skin shifted under his hospital gown. "What'd you do, Sam?"
"I… lost it, Dean," Sam said, staring at the calluses on his palms, his thumb running across old scars and new wounds. "I fell for her."
"So… you didn't."
"Dude, I couldn't hear her," Dean sighed, frowning and feeling his body collapse further into the rucked up pillows. "I am sure I would have if—"
"No," Sam shook his head, his lips pressing together. "That's just it, man. You wouldn't have. You're too good for that."
Dean bit back a groan as Sam shifted uncomfortably on the bed, pulling the covers across his over-sensitive skin. He shivered.
"I am good," Dean tried. "But you might be giving me too much credit."
Sam snorted, standing and moving toward the curtained window.
"Or not enough to yourself."
"You were chained to a freakin' wall, Dean."
Oh, yeah, Dean thought, looking at the bandages on his wrists. He'd forgotten that part.
"You still managed to get out, get away… almost choked me in the process."
"Whoops," Dean muttered.
"Don't fucking joke with me, man!" Sam whirled, his eyes hot.
Dean groaned and flinched. "Dude," he whispered. "Inside voice."
"You were wounded, deaf and you still managed to grab that siren from me and drag her to the ocean," Sam continued, his volume maintaining the head-splitting level of normal. He advanced on the bed with each word until his thighs were touching the railing, his angry eyes bleeding pain down onto Dean until he couldn't catch his breath.
"What do you want me to say, Sam?" Dean replied, biting back his plea for quiet. Sam was angry, and it had been building. The only way to fix this was to have it out. He just wished he could stand. "You think I should have just… let her get you?"
"So what, then?"
"You think that it was easy dragging that girl into the water, drowning her?"
"Of course not, I—"
"You think it's been a freakin' cake walk to be stuck away from you? Not be able to hear a word anyone said? Watch you talk to that guy, watching you run off into danger while I had to stay back at the goddamn car?"
"No! Dean, it's just that—"
"If you would shut the hell up I'd tell you!"
Sam's bellow did him in.
Dean almost whimpered as the pain rammed through him shaking him with the force of a seizure. He felt tears, hot and needy, force themselves around his burning eyes to traverse his cheeks, finding a home at the corners of his mouth. He shook until he was panting, until the only sound in the room was the twin beats of their hearts, his rough breath, and Sam's soothing, "Easy, easy, now, you're okay, it's okay."
"Son of a…" Dean tried, unable to release the full wattage of the curse.
He felt Sam's grip, but was unable to take comfort. His body rocked to the unique beat of pain and he felt every bruise, every cut, every pulled muscle, every hair on his body as the fire of fever intensified for a moment, drawing him in on himself.
"Aw, f-fuck… m-me…" he stuttered, his teeth clacking as he tried to stop, tried to slow the shaking, tried to quiet the noise. The only thing he could hold on to was a hand. A hand gripping his. A hand anchoring him. He shuddered out breath until he felt his lungs begin to cooperate.
He opened his eyes when the shaking subsided, realizing that there was another figure in the room. A nurse with a blurred face, injecting his IV with something clear that he felt surge through his veins with intoxicating warmth.
"What the hell…"
"Don't worry about it, man," Sam was saying. Dean registered suddenly that his brother sat next to him on the narrow bed, an arm around his shoulders, a hand gripping his in a wrestler's hold, bracing him and comforting him in one simple embrace.
"Whoa…" Dean muttered as the nurse left. He felt the world shift left in slow motion, taking his powers of speech with it. "Sam… what, uh… what you said… 'bout…"
"Forget it," Sam said, his voice like a record being played at half speed. "It's okay, Dean."
"No," Dean shook his head and blinked slowly as the room followed his vision on a five second delay. "Need t'lie down."
Sam slid his arm from beneath his shoulders, easing him back against the pillows, but kept his hand, forming a lifeline that neither brother took for granted. Dean blinked at his brother's tortured face.
"You're gonna b'ok, Sammy," he said, focusing hard to get the words out. "Not gonna… lose... won't let you…"
"If you say so," Sam sighed and dropped his head.
As the lull of painkillers seduced Dean to quiet oblivion, he tried one last reassurance. "You don't have… to know what… t'do, Sammy. We do't together."
It made sense to him. But he heard Sam's rueful chuckle as he slipped into unconsciousness, giving the miracle of modern medicine one more chance.
When he opened his eyes next, he felt clearer, not as hot, but just as sore. He turned his head slowly on the pillow, feeling the wounds on his neck crinkle with the motion. Sam sat on the opposite bed, his arms on his knees, his feet propped on the lower bar of his bed.
"How long?" Dean rasped.
"Couple hours," Sam replied. "Thirsty?"
Sam stood, lifting a styrofoam cup with a straw to Dean's cracked lips. He drank deeply, listening as the water fell down his throat in cooling waves. When Sam set the cup back down and settled once again on his bed, Dean took a deep breath.
"Lavender," he said.
"Someone wears it," Dean explained. "Someone who was just in here."
"A nurse. You gonna keep up this vampire scent thing?"
"You got me," Dean replied. "Hope not, 'cause you can get pretty gamey."
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Says the man who thinks clean is a state of mind."
Dean smiled softly, closing his eyes. "At least things aren't echoing so much."
"I won't yell anymore," Sam promised.
Dean slid his eyes to the side. "Right."
"Well, not until you're better."
They sat for a moment, breathing. Dean felt the lingering residue of Sam's words sitting like a ghost between them.
"Tell me about it, Sammy," he sighed. "All of it."
Sam dropped his head in his hands, fingers threading his long hair, voice focused on the floor. He spoke of Wren's draw on him, on wanting her like he hadn't wanted someone since Jessica, on it feeling so damn good just to hold her. Dean swallowed, Sam's pain like a punch to his already bruised body.
He remembered that need, that draw, that desire. Hadn't felt it since Cassie, but he remembered. And he knew Sam needed it so much more than he did. Always had. Because, Dean surmised, he remembered what his mother's touch felt like. He remembered that someone had loved him with every piece of her. He remembered her skin and her hair and her smell, even if he couldn't always remember her face.
Sam had none of that.
Sam went on to talk about Mike and his efforts to save them, his willingness to jump into the fray even when he didn't completely buy the reasons. Dean bit his lip when Sam recounted how Mike had been hurt. He wanted to growl in frustrated annoyance at not having been there, but remained silent.
It was when Sam told him of the trek from the sea, Dean limp and helpless over Sam's shoulder, that he couldn't suppress the groan of disgust.
"You were hurt, man," Sam offered. "You grabbed her and… you fought her. I watched her turn into the bird-woman and her talons dug into you and you never let go. You never let go… and then you disappeared in the water and I wanted to run after you, but…"
Dean watched as Sam rubbed his chest, realizing suddenly that the motion was now familiar.
"Anyway, you came out, without Wren, and I knew we'd won. I knew she hadn't gotten us—'cause you were there."
"I didn't do it alone, Sam," Dean reminded him. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"Not true," Sam replied. "You would have been better off without me."
Dean flinched, looking away, those words biting him back as his own thoughts. "What about George?"
Sam sighed. "That's where it gets weird."
Dean almost laughed. The Winchester definition of weird defied convention. "You said… Wren killed him?"
"The first time she, uh… sang, or whatever. It was like his… chest collapsed and his eyes liquefied."
"Tell me about it. I put my hand on his chest before I realized it was… jelly."
"Okay, so, dinner tonight is out."
"But, Dean, Camilla's ghost—"
"You saw her?"
Sam nodded. "She was… like water. Sad water. Does that make sense?"
"No, but when has anything we've seen made sense?"
"Good point," Sam bounced his head once. "She put a flower on his body."
"Let me guess: oleander," Dean said, rubbing at his head. Memories of the hunt, of research, of a computer screen with frightening facts swam before him.
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
Dean shrugged. "It's my job to know these things."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Anyway, she… kinda sighed, then disappeared."
"Wait, she… just… went? No burning of bones? No salt?"
Sam shook his head. "Nothing. I think lightning struck the house because—"
"It was burning," Dean interjected.
"Right. You remember?"
"Kinda… I remember… smelling it."
"I don't think they got George's body out," Sam said, sadness clear in his voice.
"Maybe it's for the better, Sam," Dean offered.
Sam shrugged. "Well, all I know is, that old guy loved his wife. Called her his 'girl.' I just think that they should be buried next to each other."
Dean closed his eyes. "Sam, where you're buried doesn't matter. You know that."
Sam was silent. Dean opened his eyes, turning on the pillow to stare at his brother until Sam lifted his gaze to lock in on him. "We know better than anyone that the bodies are just… shells. Some of us have better looking shells than others, but… that's it. When it's over… the body is… well, good for only one thing."
"She forgave him," Dean said, relaxing back, and letting his eyes fall closed once more.
"You think so?"
"Why else would she have given him the oleander? White flag of peace..."
"I think she planted it to kill Wren," Sam said.
Dean nodded, eyes still closed. "Probably."
"People live sad lives," Sam sighed. Dean heard his bed creak as he laid back.
"Not all the time, Sam. They were happy."
"Didn't end that way, though."
Dean wanted to reply, to dig the sorrow from Sam's voice, but sleep was too seductive and he fell into its embrace once more. When next he woke, it was to someone checking his vitals once more. A fortyish woman, with tired eyes.
"Hi," he mumbled in his best sleepy-voice, his eyes blinking drowsily. "Think I can, uh, get this… thing out?"
"The catheter?" The nurse asked.
Dean nodded. "I really want to get up."
She turned, checking his chart, then nodded. "Think I can take care of that."
With a quick flip of his blankets, shielding his lower body from Sam's bed with her ample hips, the nurse put her latex-covered fingers on his thigh, then looked up at him.
Dean nodded again. A quick tug, sharp pain and it was over. He smiled his thanks, then closed his eyes as she finished her reports. When he heard the door click shut, he looked over at Sam. His brother was sleeping deeply, mouth open in relaxation, arm hanging off the side of the bed.
Dean smiled. Others might find it strange, living in such close quarters as they did, always around each other, rarely a break from each other's company. And there were certainly tensions there—the Trickster had found them and amplified them.
But there was nothing as comforting to Dean as the sight of his best friend at peace. It brought him solace that not even the arms of a good woman had offered.
Sliding carefully from the bed, unplugging his IV regulator from the wall, Dean moved around the room on weak legs. The air of the hospital was cool against his still-warm skin, the fever down, but not forgotten, and the gown made him feel vulnerable and exposed in ways he should never be willingly exposed, but there was something he had to do.
Grabbing a pair of the scrubs someone had folded at the foot of Sam's bed, he carefully slid them on, trying not to fall face-forward. Slipping from the room, he moved quickly down the hall to the nurse's station. It didn't take him long to find Mike's room. The elevator ride was nauseating, but thankfully short. He made his way to the door, leaning heavily on his IV stand. Mike was in a private room; one of the perks of being a hospital employee, he assumed.
His right leg was wrapped in a blue brace, hanging from a soft sling by the ankle. He had enough wires and tubes in him that Dean was sure he could easily jump-start a car. He was frowning at the TV, pushing the channel up button.
"Daytime TV sucks," Dean said, announcing his arrival.
Mike jumped, then winced, pressing a hand on his side.
"Sorry," Dean offered, moving closer. He watched Mike's dark eyes search his tray, then realized he was looking for paper. "It's okay, man. You can talk."
"You can hear me?"
"Shhh… not so loud, though. Seems my, uh… sound filter is still a bit hinky."
Mike nodded, and they regarded each other silently for a moment.
"You gonna be okay?" Mike asked finally.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "I'll live. You?"
Mike looked down at his leg. "My rodeo days are done," he said. "Can't rescue a cowboy from a pissed-off bull on a bum leg."
"I'm sorry, man."
Mike lifted the corner of his mouth in a small smile. "S'okay. Still got my day job. Saving people."
Dean took a breath. "About that…"
Dean's eyebrows went up. "How do you know I was gonna thank you?"
"'Cause you looked about ready to hurl, so I figure it must be either that or, 'you're right, I'm wrong.'"
"I'm sorry about your friends, though," Dean said, sincerity making his eyes burn.
Mike looked down. "Thanks."
"Sam told me, uh… what happened."
"It's, uh… really hard to believe."
"I imagine so. Guess Camilla was trying to tell George about Wren for awhile. Even after she was gone."
"Still can't get my head around that… Hey, where were you, anyway?"
Dean held up a wrist. "I was a little… tied up."
"In the tunnels, right?"
Mike huffed out a small laugh. "Camilla led us there… well, led Sam there."
"She's a real pal," Dean laughed slightly. "For a ghost."
"Guess George was right," Mike sighed. "They're not all bad."
If you say so, Dean thought, echoing Sam's earlier sentiment.
"Sam okay?" Mike asked.
"He will be."
"He really didn't want Wren to be a… whatever the hell she was."
"He saw something in her that we all missed."
"What was that?"
"Her soul," Dean said softly, causing Mike to look at him, a strange light in his eyes.
Feeling his legs begin to shake, Dean reached out a hand. "Thanks for your help, Denzel," he grinned.
"You're welcome, James."
Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "James?"
Mike jutted his head forward. "Hello? As in James Dean? Rebel Without A Cause?"
Dean's mouth dropped open.
"Dude, I figure you think I got me some of the flash of Mr. Denzel Washington, I had to return the favor. I think you got 'cause' in spades, though…"
Dean's laugh shook him from his toes up. "You're all right, man."
"Not so bad yourself," Mike smiled.
Dean kept that grin with him as he trekked back to his room to fall, exhausted and sore onto his bed, his brother snoring in a peaceful, nightmare-free sleep in the bed next to his.
I grip the steering wheel tightly, finding the worn grooves from my father's fingers, wanting to wipe the sweat from my eyes, but unable to move my other hand from my bleeding side.
The hot burn of the wound has faded to a trembling cold and my teeth are chattering. I know that's not good, but I can't stop until I get there. It's the only place I can think to go, the only home I've ever known besides the one I am in.
The Impala swerves, matching my blurred vision, and I tip my head toward the open window, drawing in air. The radio is on, decibel ten, but GNR's plea about having patience is not what I need at the moment and I yell at the radio to play something worth freakin' listening to.
I search for the elusive road sign, the only marker that will alert me that I must turn or pass his house, my refuge. I am starting to shake and grind my teeth, pressing the accelerator as Tom Petty stated that living like a refugee was not the way to go.
I groan, realizing too late that I'd passed the sign, and think furiously where I can go at this hour, in this condition, to find help.
"…Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some. Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon... it don't make no difference to me baby. Everybody has to fight to be free, you see…"
The lights of the chapel draw me in, and I end up curbing the Impala as I power slide to a stop. Shutting off the engine, I sit for a moment to collect my breath. This is all I have left, the only refuge I know. Because I was a refugee, despite Tom's admonishment. I laugh slightly at this thought, then sober up quickly as I realize my blood is spilling over my hand, down my jeans and onto the Impala's seat.
"Shit," I mutter, pushing the door open and staggering around the front, bouncing off the grill in my haste to get inside. Please be there, I find myself chanting. Just please… somebody, be there.
The door to the chapel is heavy, and I almost lose my grip, but manage to push it open. It swings wide, slamming against the wall and echoing loudly through the empty sanctuary. He's standing at the pulpit, an arm in the air, mouth open, mid-lecture. He looks older, time-worn and gray.
"I need your help," I tell him, my own voice sounding strange in my ears.
He stumbles down from the altar, approaching me in a cautious, shocked gait.
"Dean? What… Where's John?"
"On a hunt," I say, stumbling against one of the pews the noise of wood scraping on wood loud in the empty sanctuary. "I need your help."
Jim reaches me, his eyes watering from surprise or wonder, I'm not sure, his hands warm and strong on my shaking shoulders. He scans me quickly, taking in the dirt, the grease, the scratches and the bruises. His eyes widen when he sees my side, the gouge visible through my torn shirt.
"What the hell?" Jim exclaims. I am always surprised to hear him swear, though I've heard it often enough.
"Werewolf," I explain. "It's dead. I need your help." I need to get him to realize this.
"Dean, sit down," he orders, trying to turn me toward one of the pews.
"In a minute," I say, reaching a hand into my blood-soaked pocket.
"Where's Sam?" Jim asks.
I know with absolute certainty that if he hadn't been holding me, I would have fallen.
"Oh, dear God, is he—"
"He left," I say. It's the first time I've said it out loud in awhile. "He's at school. In California. He left us."
"He… left?" Jim repeats, shock plain in his eyes.
"I need your help," I repeat, my voice firm, my body betraying me. I can no longer stand and slide down the side of the pew to the wooden floor, Jim following me, still gripping my arms. I pull the amulet from my pocket, holding it out to him.
"It caught on the werewolf's teeth," I say. "Just before I killed it. I can't put it back together."
"What?" Jim asks, taking the amulet from me, confused.
"It tore… the…" My vision swims and I force my eyes wider. "The strap tore and it won't hold a knot. I think… I think because—"
"Of the werewolf saliva," he concludes.
Yes, I think. Yes, thank you. Finally, someone to help.
"Let's get you taken care of first—"Jim tries, shooting his worried eyes to me.
"No!" I cry. "I need. Your. HELP…"
"Okay," Jim soothes. "Okay, Dean. I'll help. I promise."
"Fix it," I implore. I can barely get the words out. I am so cold, yet my side is burning. I press my hand carefully to the wound, the claw seeming to meld with my torn skin. "Please…"
It's everything, I want to say. It's all I have. Jim looks at me, then cups the back of my neck, easing me to the floor. He removes his jacket and covers my shivering body.
"I'll be right back, Dean," he promises. "You stay here, okay?"
I allow him to tend to my wound only when the amulet is safely in place, its comforting weight like the back of Sam's hand against my heart. I allow him to soothe my fever, cleanse the cut with holy water, hold me down as the water burns like acid and I buck with pain, screaming because there is no other way to stop the heat.
I allow Jim to question Dad's choices and Sam's absence, as I heal, gathering my strength until I am able to cross the room unaided. I answer him succinctly, knowing that I need him, knowing his concern is for me. But they're my family, and whatever choices they make, and however those choices hit me, is my business. No matter who wants to care about me.
"You always have a place here, Dean," Jim tells me a week later when I'm finally strong enough to leave, though sooner than he wants me to. "All of you. Don't forget that."
"Remind your Dad."
"I will," I promise. "Thanks," I say, still unable to address him directly. He's aged, as I have. But time has worn him down like water on rock. Beating him and thinning him. He's been a shelter from the storm of life, but I know I won't come back again.
It would be too much risk; I feel my walls growing thin around Jim. I can't let him see me.
"Sam's gonna be okay, Dean," Jim says, laying a hand on my arm. "Sometimes… you gotta let someone find their own way home."
"Yeah," I say quietly.
But it never hurts to send them a map once in awhile, I think.
He stood on the edge, boots tied by laces and hanging over his shoulder, jeans rolled up, waiting for the water to climb higher.
The sea was supposed to be soothing, hypnotic, offering calm unlike any other. All Dean saw was loss. All he heard was weeping. All he felt was cold and the gritty discomfort of salt. The one element that should erase evil. The one element that held its prisoners in the fathoms of liquid fear.
"There you are!" Sam's voice was a forced cheer, as if he'd been giving himself a silent lecture on how to handle a recuperative brother.
"Here I am," Dean said softly, not turning from the sea. The water splashed against his feet, tugging softly at the sand. He felt himself sink.
"You didn't leave a note this time," Sam carefully admonished.
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean said, not looking at his brother as Sam stopped next to him. "Just needed some air."
They had been released from the hospital two days prior, Dean's fever broken, but his body weak, leaving him at the mercy of his worried younger brother. He was determined to build his strength so that they could get away from the gray heaviness that was Delaware. At least, Lynch Heights, Delaware.
"I was just… concerned."
"Well, don't be," Dean snapped. "I can take care of myself."
"What's with you?"
"Nothing," Dean lied. "Thinking."
"About what?" Sam persisted.
Dean sank a little more as the ocean collected the sand from beneath his feet. "You ever think about what will stop you?"
"Stop me from what?" Sam asked.
Sam was quiet for a moment. "I don't know. Getting that demon."
"You'll stop when we get the demon?" Dean slid his eyes to the side.
"What?" Sam asked, clearly off balance by Dean's melancholy.
The forced I'm always all right attitude Dean had held onto for the last few days was erased that morning when he woke and couldn't find his amulet. It had only been off of him two other times: once in a hunt, and once in the hospital. The clasp had rubbed against the stitches on his neck, and he'd loosened it to try to alleviate the discomfort.
He'd found it quickly under his spare pillow, but the moment of panic had brought him to a mind-jarring realization. A realization he wasn't ready to deal with.
"I don't think you'll stop then, Sam."
"How do you know?" Sam replied, petulant.
"I don't think you'll ever stop."
"I stopped when I was at school," Sam threw at him, his voice hard. "I stopped with Jessica."
"But you don't have Jess anymore," Dean pointed out, hating the flash of pain on his brother's face, but needing to say it. He sank a little deeper. "You won't stop because you need this, Sam. You need a purpose."
"Yeah? Well, what about you?"
"You're my purpose."
Sam looked away. "Dean…"
"I mean it, Sam. You and Dad… you're all I've ever really had."
"What about Cassie?"
Dean shook his head. "She was no Jessica."
They were silent for another moment, the sea happily filling the void.
"What would make you stop?" Sam asked softly.
"Losing you," Dean answered immediately.
"You said it yourself once," Dean said, looking at his brother, sinking a little more. "You lost Jess, we lost Dad… if I lost you, I wouldn't want to fight anymore."
"But, Dean… you love this life."
Dean simply shook his head, unable to voice a response. Unable to simply say that it wasn't the life he loved, it was the results. It was people alive because of them. It was evil defeated. It was Sam safe. This life… this life would be the death of him.
He rubbed his neck carefully, wanting to rid himself of the ever-present knot, wary of disrupting the still-healing cuts. He hadn't even been able to protect himself from a yahoo and a broken bottle this time.
"You'd go on, though," Dean said. "If you lost me, you'd go on."
"No, I wouldn't," Sam said harshly.
"Yeah, you would," Dean contradicted, nodding toward the ocean. "And that's okay. It's what you do, Sam. You persevere. You'll never stop fighting until the fight's done."
"You're the one that saved me, Dean. You're the one that drowned the siren."
Sam grabbed Dean's arm, pulling him away from the slow seduction of the water, forcing him to yank his feet from the wet sand.
"You're the one that's gonna save me, Dean," Sam said. "So you don't have to keep your promise."
They stared at each other a moment, internal wills stepping onto an age-old battleground.
"You get me?" Sam released Dean's arm, but his eyes held fast.
"Yeah," Dean nodded, understanding beginning to brighten. Sam might go on fighting without him, but it would only be because of him that Sam could win the fight. "Yeah, I get you."
"It's freezing out here, for one," Sam said, turning toward the parked car. "And… I got you something."
"Huh?" Dean trotted to keep up with his long-legged brother. "I miss a birthday?"
"No, dumbass," Sam grinned back at him. "Just… consider this a… welcome back to the world of the hearing."
Dropping into the passenger seat, Dean used his socks to knock the sand from his feet as they dangled out of the Impala's doorway. He stuffed his nearly-dry feet into his boots, then turned to face Sam.
Sam turned on the car.
"What are you grinning at, you freak?" Dean grumbled. "You're starting to creep me out."
"Turn on the radio."
"You dedicate a song to me, Sammy?" Dean quipped, reaching for the dial. He realized just as he turned it to ON that there was a cassette tape in the player.
"Been dazed and confused for so long, it's not true. A-wanted a woman, never bargained for you. Lots of people talkin', few of them know…soul of a woman was created below, yay…"
Sam tossed the case to him. Dean caught it in mid-air, turning it over in his hand to read the cover.
"Zeppelin's anthology," he read in wonder. "You got me Zeppelin's anthology."
"Yep," Sam grinned.
"Who… how… where…"
"Uhh… Sadie, Internet, record store."
"It's a cassette tape," Dean said, amazed.
"That it is."
"But, Sam," Dean looked up, trying to keep the absolutel wonder from his eyes. "You can't just get these…I mean, with all the CDs... how did you pull this off?"
Sam grinned again. "Open it."
Dean flipped the plastic cover open. Two scrawled signatures in blue ink met his eyes.
Thanks for the memories. I'll never swim in the ocean again. – Denzel.
That's one sexy car. Next time you're out this way, we'll bypass Judo's and head straight to the backseat. – Sadie.
"Huh," Dean breathed.
"You like it?"
"I love it, Sam." He looked up at his brother, his face relaxing into his first grin in days. "Thanks."
"Welcome," Sam said, settling back in the driver's seat. "You ready to kick the dust off?"
"Think this time it's sand," Dean said ruefully, looking down at the floor boards.
Sam checked over his shoulder to make sure the way was clear. "Yeah, well, I've had enough Greek mythology and sea life for awhile. How about we just drive for awhile?"
"Works for me—only you're in the wrong seat."
"Chill out, brother," Sam said, his dimples flashing. "Savor the moment."
"…Many times I've lied. Many times I've listened. Many times I've wondered how much there is to know. Many dreams come true and some have silver linings. I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold…"
Dean acquiesced, leaning back and letting his still-battered body relax into the sound of his brother humming off-tune, the rumble of the powerful Chevy engine, the grind of rubber meeting road, and the balm that was Zeppelin.
a/n: So, that's it. Hope you liked it. Thanks so much for reading.
Next multi-chapter is a story called "Weapon and the Wound." The title was inspired by a Days of the New song of the same name. Set in Season 3 after Dream a Little Dream of Me, this story will return the druid Brenna Kavanagh to the boys. Feeling the pressure of sands running through the hour glass, Sam and Dean are leaving no stone unturned as they search for a way to save Dean from his deal. A chance encounter with Brenna both offers Dean some hope and strips him of all choices as they are pitted against a foe not even John Winchester had encountered.
With the backdrop of the Pennsylvania coal mines, trains, and an unseasonably hot Indian Summer, the Winchesters find that choosing to live could mean deciding to die. And the phrase, "You're my brother, and I'd die for you," has never held more meaning.
Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing by Chris Isaac
Rise Above This by Seether
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Patience by Guns and Roses (in a passing reference)
Refugee by Tom Petty
Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin
Over the Hills and Far Away by yet again, the mighty Zeppelin