Disclaimer: I don't own them. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Set immediately after 2.02, Everybody Loves a Clown
a/n: This story was originally written in the fall of 2007 for the fanzine "Brotherhood 8," printed by Pyramid Press. It was only recently released for posting. I've not changed anything; if you purchased the zine and read the story, I thank you very sincerely. If not, I truly hope you enjoy.
"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in the lonely frustration for the life you deserved but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours."
-- Ayn Rand
Sam jumped at the unexpected sound of Bobby's voice, so intent on his watch of the morning light creeping over the quiet junkyard that he'd blocked out the surrounding noise of the earth coming once more to life.
"You been out here all night?" Bobby's heavy boots shuffled up behind him.
Sam shifted on the top step to make room for the older man. Bobby's knees crackled as he sat down, a mug of steaming coffee in his hand, the scent instantly making Sam's mouth water. "Yeah," he answered, his voice rough from sorrow and lack of sleep.
Bobby handed the mug to him, and Sam noticed he kept his eyes carefully hidden beneath the visor of his ever-present hat.
Sam blinked at him, wondering as he always did what Bobby was thinking. There always seemed to be a careful calculation in the hunter's eyes that left Sam feeling exposed and defensive. Taking the offered beverage with a small smile of thanks, Sam wrapped his long, cold fingers around the warm mug.
Sam slid his eyes toward the silent junkyard. "Dean." His brother's name was heavy in his mouth; it held the pain from his father's death and his brother's silence in one syllable.
"What about him?" Bobby asked, turning away, his voice guarded.
"He hasn't come back in. Sat out there all night. In the car. What's left of it, anyway."
"Give him some time, Sam. This…this is hard on both of you."
Sam felt his jaw tighten, and indignation leapt from him before he could temper it. "Like I don't know that?"
Bobby glanced at his shoes, and Sam felt him stiffen. He looked like he desperately wanted to walk away.
Sam suddenly thought about the fact that John's death affected not only him and Dean, but others as well. Others like Bobby.
"Not what I meant, Sam," Bobby said gruffly. "Your brother… He's…he's been through a lot."
"And I haven't?"
"No, no, you have," Bobby placated. "The difference is," he looked over at Sam, "you know it."
"He beat up the Impala, Bobby."
"He loves that car more than anything," Sam muttered, shaking his head. "Why would he do something like that?"
Bobby leveled his eyes on Sam, allowing the answer that lingered there to hang, silent and suspended between them. Sam clenched his jaw, the ache that had been beating unrelenting inside his chest since they’d burned John's body, intensifying at the memory of the hollow eyes staring from his brother's face.
"Maybe I should…try to talk to him again," Sam said, twisting the mug around in his cold hands.
Bobby shook his head. "Not yet, Sam."
"He needs to talk about this, Bobby—"
"No, Sam, you need to."
"Dean's not like you." Bobby looked away from Sam, toward the junkyard. Sam followed his eye-line, watching the rising sun glint off the chromes and burnished metals strewn about the yard in front of them. He listened as Bobby's aged grumble slid over his ears, seeping in and leaving pain behind. "Losing your daddy…it's hard for you, I know. But you've got Dean. Who does he have now?"
Bobby dipped his head in a single nod. "It's different, Sam."
"I know, but…" Sam rubbed the calluses of his right palm with his left thumb, wishing briefly that he had a ring he could worry as he'd so often seen his father and brother do when at a loss for how to articulate feelings so vibrant, they actually stung. "I know I can help him, Bobby."
"Sam." Bobby pressed his hands against his bent knees, pushing himself slowly to his feet. "There's just some things inside that nobody can fix for a person 'cept that person." He tilted his head, capturing Sam's eyes with his own. "And I hate to tell you this…but I think that, for Dean? This is one of those things."
Sam frowned, looking away. He tried to make out the silhouette of the Impala in the brightening light of day. After a minute, he heard Bobby walk back into the house, the screen door banging twice behind him, and felt the morning silence settle around him.
He needed Dean to talk about this, about Dad, about what they were going to do now. They'd survived that damn clown, but they'd been…disjointed, off-beat. Sam felt the distance between them increasing as the days wore on since John's death.
Sam closed his eyes, an almost physical need to reach his hand out and feel Dean at the edge of his fingers overwhelming him. He wanted the contact with his brother that had somehow gone missing in the time between No, sir, not before everything, and Did he say anything to you? Sam's darkened vision swam behind his closed eyelids; he was falling inside himself, and if he couldn't grab onto Dean…he was afraid there wasn't going to be anyone to catch him.
"Bobby, I’ve been all over this damn yard, and I can't find another trunk lid for the Impala."
"That's 'cause there isn't one, ya idjit."
"No. I gave you what I had."
"Well…I need to borrow a car, then."
"Last one you borrowed ended up on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere."
Bobby looked up from the ancient text he was restoring to regard the boy in front of him. It wasn't the first time he'd really looked at Dean since the accident, but he realized he didn't do so often. There was so much anger and pain radiating off Dean that it physically hurt to look at him. The kid stood in front of his desk, gray shirt grease-smeared, torn jeans dusty from sliding beneath the Impala, rumpled pink shop towel twisted in his hands, dark smudges of dirt and exhaustion hollowing his cheeks and accentuating the emptiness in his green eyes.
Bobby watched Dean work his jaw, the muscle there rippling beneath the taut skin like it was trying to escape. The kid's eyes were directed at him, but they rested on nothing. Bobby knew Dean wasn’t really seeing him. He was seeing the shell of metal that held the last vestiges of his father. He was seeing fire and loss. Bobby sighed, giving in to the inevitable.
"Where are you gonna go, smart guy?" Bobby tilted his head, reaching up to pull at the wiry hairs covering his chin.
Dean lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "Find another junkyard. Get another trunk lid."
"For a '67 Impala? You think they're just lying around?"
"Hell, Bobby, I don't know." Dean turned from the desk, rubbing the back of his neck and staring out of the window. "I need to…I need to fix this."
It was on the tip of Bobby's tongue to say he knew who Dean had wanted to lay into when he’d taken the crowbar to the Impala's trunk, but he stayed silent. Those blows had cut as deeply into Dean's heart as they had the black metal, and Bobby ached simply looking at the hard set of Dean's shoulders as he stared outside, searching for the break he so desperately needed.
"I know where we can get one," Sam spoke up from the doorway.
Bobby looked over, surprised, catching Dean's quick turn out of the corner of his eye.
"I know where we can get a trunk lid," Sam repeated. "I, uh, did some research. There's this shop in Iowa. Near Des Moines. They handle vintage cars."
Dean blinked at Sam.
Bobby blinked at Sam. He remembered the kid's soft words more than two weeks before. Even if there's one working part…we're not just gonna give up on…
He turned and met Dean's eyes, knowing the boy's next words before they could tumble free from Dean's mouth. "Okay!" Bobby held up a surrendering hand. "You can take the Ford."
"Ford?" Dean tilted his head in question.
"The old green truck out back. Keys are on the wall next to the crucifix."
"Does it even run?" Dean asked, his brows raised in a cocky question mark.
Bobby raised an eyebrow. "That’s not my problem, is it?" he challenged Dean with a tip of his chin. He knew what made this kid tick: keep him moving, and he wouldn't drown in his own misery. Keep him moving, and he might be able to make it through this thing alive. "You get it running, you can take it to Iowa."
Dean grinned, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Thanks, Bobby."
"Get on out of here," Bobby grumbled. "I got work to do."
He watched Dean all but scamper toward the keys, then slid his eyes to meet Sam's relieved smile before he turned to follow his brother out the door.
"Be careful with him," Bobby whispered after Sam.
The old Ford was held together by a whisper. The front bumper clung precariously to the frame with several strips of duct tape. The floor-mounted gear shift was simply a metal pole topped off with a shop towel Dean had wadded up and also wrapped in duct tape so he didn't tear his palm up. The radio hung from the dash by connective wires, but at least it worked. Barely.
After several hours and a fair amount of cursing, Dean had been able to get the Ford running, but keeping it that way was proving to be more of a problem than he'd thought when they'd set out toward Iowa. Four hours later, his face was still folded in the same uncomfortable frown he'd chiseled deep into his features when Sam's duffel had followed his into the rust-lined bed of the old truck.
"Damn, it's hot in here," Sam said for the thirtieth time, tipping his forehead toward his opened window. The passenger window was the only one that would roll down—the driver's side window held fast, and the rear windshield was a plank of wood secured by large metal screws long ago—and there was no air conditioning.
"Nobody asked you to come," Dean grumbled.
Sam shot him a look. "What else was I gonna do?"
"Wait at Bobby's."
"I want to help, Dean."
"Don't need your help, Sam."
Dean watched from the corner of his eye as Sam pressed his lips tight, clamping off whatever he was going to say. Sam turned to look out the side window, his bare elbow resting on the sun-warmed opening.
Dean shifted his eyes back to the road. He didn't want the responsibility of Sam, the job that had always been Sam, right now, even if his brother's presence gave him a glimmer of peace just knowing he was okay, he was safe, he was alive. These days it was hard enough to be alone; taking care of Sam's feelings at the moment felt almost as impossible as the idea of doing what John had told Dean—ordered Dean—to do.
If you can't save him…
Dean pulled himself straighter in the seat, using the steering wheel as leverage. Sometimes the natural act of breathing proved difficult. John's voice screaming in his head didn't help matters any.
"We never had a car with air conditioning," Sam was saying. "Not even Dad's tricked-out truck. Why is that?"
Dean frowned, shooting an irritated glance in Sam's direction. We've been on the road for hours and he hasn't stopped…always with the questions… Damn, it is hot in here… Dean reached down and uselessly pulled once on the window crank. Nothing. The glass didn't budge. Shit.
"Dad always turned it on in the motel rooms, remember? Made sure we had it at the houses we rented. I remember camping out in front of that window unit in that one house in Ohio—you actually built me a tent. How old were we?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"I don't think I was in school yet." Sam paused, chuckling. "I can remember Dad coming home from a hunt, sitting down directly in front of that window unit in his USMC t-shirt, and popping open a beer. He'd always say, Front and center, Sammy, let's hear it… I remember trying to salute."
Front and center…let's hear it, what happened while I was gone? You keep your brother safe? You keep the bad guys away?
"I remember riding in the back seat with the windows down and the air was hot…like today. Even the wind didn't cool us down. And I asked Dad about air conditioning…"
God, Sam, stop. Just friggin' stop!
Dean felt Sam filling the void between them with memories, recollections of John in normal times, in times when he'd been their father, when he'd been Dad. Each word was like a paper cut on Dean's heart: small, sharp, and painful. And the longer Sam talked, the worse they bled.
"How much farther is it?" Dean snapped.
Sam ignored his tone, peering at the folded map between them on the seat. "Dunno…couple hours, maybe?"
Dean sighed, rolling his stiff neck. Sam started talking again—this time about the merits of the houses they rented versus the motels they stayed at when they were kids—and Dean resisted the urge to reach out and clap his hand over Sam's mouth.
Don't you get it? He's gone, okay? Gone. No amount of talking is going to bring him back.
Pausing at a crossroads, Dean glanced in both directions, revving the sputtering engine, noxious blue fumes spurting from the back tailpipe and twisting up and around on the limited breeze until they started to waft into the cab of the old truck.
Sam pulled in a breath, coughing as the exhaust choked him. Dean allowed himself a wicked grin: Sam couldn't talk while he was coughing. He pressed the accelerator and bumped over a cattle guard to continue down the rough road, clearing the air with the wind through the opened window.
"You sure this is the quickest way?" he asked as Sam caught his breath.
"According to the map," Sam said, picking up the paper again.
"What's the map say we're on? Bob's Road?”
Sam grinned, shaking his head. "Highway 56."
"Highway, my ass," Dean grumbled. He looked out his side window. "There's nothing out here, Sam. Corn. I see a helluva lot of corn."
"We're still, like, an hour from Des Moines, man."
Dean sighed, bumping his elbow on the stubborn window as he tried to rest his arm against it. "Damn it."
He felt Sam go still next to him, his brother finally recognizing the fact that Dean was not in a happy place at the moment. He wanted to rear back and punch out the side window, just to get some air, just to be able to breathe…
"Let's see if we get any radio stations around here," Sam muttered, reaching for the dangling radio.
Dean twisted his fingers tighter around the steering wheel, trying to pull in a calming breath. The old radio had been able to pick up two stations of static this whole time; he didn't think Sam was going to have any luck. He shot his eyes to the dash in surprise when the last strains of the Stones' “Gimme Shelter” was caught in the net of the speakers and filled the cab of the truck with the tinny reverberation of Mick's wail.
Sam sat back, grinning. Dean allowed the pull of his brows to relax slightly, his scowl easing to a frown.
The song ended, and the first chords of CCR's “Bad Moon Rising” followed.
Dean's hand beat Sam's by a fraction of a second to the volume knob as they turned the radio off and sat in silence interrupted only by the harsh rumble of the ancient engine. Just to be safe, Dean grabbed the base of the radio and pulled it free of the connecting wires, setting the dead box on the seat between them. Friggin' song…
"Funny," Sam said softly. "I never really thought about music meaning so much."
Dean suppressed a sigh. Can't you just be quiet, Sam? Just…for once, just let it be? Dean straightened up in the seat again, arching his back slightly, trying to expand his lungs. It was as if they'd suddenly collapsed against his ribcage.
"Dad always listened to music, didn't he? Maybe that's where you got it. I always wondered why you liked classic rock so much. Now, I think it was your way of being close to him. Y'know, I never really thought about how much you needed that—"
"Jesus Christ, Sam."
Dean shot his eyes to the side, feeling an unfamiliar burn lingering there. "Shut up. Okay? Just shut the fuck up about Dad."
Sam blinked back at him, surprised. Hurt flashed quickly across his face, leaving a dark spot on Dean's heart, but it wasn't enough to suppress the sudden flurry of words vying for attention at the back of his throat.
"He's gone, okay? He's gone and I don't need you yammering about it over there all the friggin' day to remind me!"
Dean looked back at the road, centering the old truck in the worn ruts left from the millions of cars that had passed that way before. "Just… Just stop, Sam."
"You gotta talk to me someday, man." Sam's voice was certain.
"Oh, what, so it's better to beat the hell out of your car? That it? I don't get you."
Anger burst clean and pure inside of Dean's chest. He shot his eyes to the side, ready to tear into Sam about the sheer magnitude of things his little brother didn't get.
He had one second to open his mouth, one second to change his mind, one second to reach for Sam, one second to pull his brother toward him and away from the window, and one second to gasp in a breath he was sure would be his last.
Like something from a nightmarish memory, the SUV approaching from the side road toward Highway 56 slammed into the front right quarter panel of the old truck, shoving the side mirror into the interior of the cab, propelling the truck sideways across the road and tipping it onto the driver's side into a ditch.
In the five seconds it took Dean to travel from anger to oblivion, he had one thought: Save Sam.
He heard a baby crying.
What the hell…?
Awareness returned to Sam slowly and in stages. The first thing he felt was something long and thin pressed against the inside of his leg, the rounded end digging painfully into his groin. The next thing he was aware of was that his left elbow was resting on something soft, and a hard edge was digging into the side of his face.
Opening his eyes, he saw at once that he was lying on top of Dean. His weight held his unconscious brother against the driver's side of the truck, which seemed to be flush against the ground.
Sam's right leg was tangled around the gearshift, his left shoved under the steering column. The broken radio was trapped between his face and Dean's, knobs bruising both of them. Grunting, Sam reached up and grabbed onto the steering wheel, pulling himself up and off Dean. With concentrated effort, he untangled himself from the gearshift, gasping as the release in pressure flooded feeling back into his leg, bringing with it a harsh stinging sensation on the inside of his thigh.
Gingerly, Sam wedged his back against the windshield, his knee against the steering wheel, and glanced down at his leg. The gear shift had torn through the inside lining of his jeans, raising a welt.
Taking a breath, Sam checked his balance, then looked back at Dean. His brother hadn't moved, but Sam could see the steady rise and fall of his chest.
"Dean?" His voice sounded loud in the close confines of the wrecked truck.
He picked the radio off Dean, tossing it to the floor—which was actually the side door at the moment—then grasped Dean's chin, turning his brother's face toward him. Dean's head rolled limply against Sam's probing hand. There was a rising bruise on his forehead above his left eyebrow, and the radio dials had cut into his temple. A small trickle of blood seeped from the cut in his hairline.
Sam shifted his eyes over the rest of Dean's awkwardly sprawled body and could see almost instantly that his shoulder was out of its socket. It didn’t look like anything else was broken, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to tell how badly Dean was hurt until he got him out of the truck.
"Shit, Dean," Sam whispered. Too soon.
Sam swallowed hard. It felt like just yesterday he was watching them shock his brother back to life, watching them tear open the Impala to pull Dean's bloody body free of the wreckage, watching Dean's tired eyes stare back at him from the rear view mirror. This is wrong. It's all wrong…
"Hang in there," Sam said, squaring his jaw. "I'm gonna get us some help…I think. Just gotta…climb out…somehow…" He heard the hesitant uncertainty in his voice and was glad Dean wasn't conscious to bear witness. Dean, who always had a plan. Always knew the next move. Was always one step ahead of the bad guys.
Raising his eyes to the opening above him, Sam pushed off the steering column, wincing as his jeans rubbed against the raw wound on his leg, and reached for the window ledge. He wasn’t sure if he could open the passenger door from this angle, but he was pretty sure he could climb free through the window.
As he levered himself up, Sam heard the baby's cries intensify, then the answering sound of a man's nervous voice.
"It's okay, honey, you're okay… I just gotta…damn it! No, no, sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell…"
Sam puffed out a breath, pulling his head and shoulders free of the truck, then resting his arms on the outside of the door. The truck had been pushed from the surface of the road, resting along the embankment with its driver's side door flush against the edging grass and the underside of the vehicle propped up by the slope. The passenger-side wheels were suspended in the air about three feet from the crumbling asphalt.
The black SUV that had hit them looked basically undamaged. There were no other cars in any direction. A young, sandy-haired man in a business suit was pacing outside the open driver's door, pulling out a cell phone. Sam watched as he flipped the phone open, then banged the uncooperative device against his open palm.
Sam shot his eyes to the interior of the SUV, angled across the rutted asphalt. He could see no one else inside, but he could hear the baby's wail clearly enough. Grunting with exertion and pressing his feet against the dash, Sam pushed himself farther from the truck, twisting around until he was able to sit on the outside of the door. Peering back in at Dean, he pulled his bottom lip between his teeth as his heart slammed once, hard, to see his brother lying so still in the interior of the cab.
Sam shot a look over his shoulder, his vision swimming slightly. The young man had shoved his cell phone into his jacket pocket and was trotting toward him.
"You okay? Hold on, don't move, okay?"
"I'm fine," Sam said, turning to pull his legs free of the cab.
"You sure? You're bleeding."
"I am?" Sam frowned at the man's anxious gray eyes.
Sam reached up, suddenly feeling a sting on his lip he hadn't noticed earlier. "Huh," he muttered, swiping his thumb at a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. He ran his tongue along the inside of his lip, feeling a decent-sized gash on the tender flesh there. "I didn't notice." He glanced down carefully at the decent-sized patch of skin the gear shift had scraped free from his leg. That's nice and…ugly.
"No, really," Sam shook his head, "I'm okay. My brother's hurt pretty bad, though."
"Oh, shit, shit." The young man pounded a fist in the air. "I can't get any cell reception. I’m so sorry, man. I was distracted by the baby, and just coming back from the lawyers, and I wasn't watching where I was going and there's, like, never anyone on the road, seriously, and, oh, man, look at your truck and your brother—"
"Hey, calm down." Sam patted the air, trying to bring the man's focus back to him. He dropped to the ground, reaching a hand out to lean against the underside of the truck. His head was pounding. "Is your baby okay?"
The man shot a look over to the black vehicle. "I think so. She was in her seat. Those harnesses are pretty tight."
"Why don't you go get her, okay? I need to get Dean outta here…somehow."
"How are you gonna do that?"
Sam rubbed his forehead with a trembling hand. "Still working that out."
The baby coughed, worked into a frenzy from fear and uncertainty. The man turned from Sam and loped back to the SUV, pulling the back passenger door open. Sam watched him through the open door as he unbuckled the baby, pulling her from the seat. Sam could see blonde hair sticking up in a Mohawk on the top of her head. The minute she was free and safely in his arms, the little girl stopped crying.
Sam turned around so fast at the sound of Dean's weak call that he bumped his nose against the side of the truck. "Dean?"
"Wh-what the hell…?"
"SUV hit us. Hang on, man."
Sam thought furiously, trying to figure the best way back into the truck. He couldn't pull himself up and over the edge of the door because of the angle, but there was no way in to Dean except through the passenger side window. He finally climbed into the bed of the truck, then flipped his sore body up over the side and ducked his head into the open window. Dean had twisted himself sideways until his back was against the driver's side window, his face lifted to the opening. He held his left arm with his right hand, his shoulder at a wicked angle.
Sam met his brother's bleary eyes. "I'm gonna get you out, okay?"
"Bobby is gonna kick my ass for this," Dean muttered. And then to Sam's surprise, he began to chuckle, his laughter cut short by a wince of pain as his hand moved from his arm to press against his side.
"What's so funny?"
"Life, Sam." Dean shook his head slowly, his eyes slipping closed. "Life is funny."
"Don't close your eyes. Dean!"
Dean's eyes snapped open.
"You keep your eyes open, okay? Keep them on me."
"You broken?" Sam looked at Dean's side.
"Don't think so. Just cracked."
"Well, that's not much better."
"You're telling me."
Sam chewed on his lip, glancing around the interior of the cab.
"Is that a…a baby?" Dean blinked up at Sam, his green eyes beginning to clear.
"Yeah." Sam nodded, shifting until his legs were dangling into the cab. "Guy that hit us has a baby with him."
"Shit." Dean frowned.
"She's okay." Sam dropped into the cab, balancing on the steering column.
"How's your shoulder?"
"Hurts," Dean grunted out through clenched teeth.
"Can you move it at all?"
"No." Dean shook his head once. "Fingers feel like ice."
"Was afraid of that," Sam muttered. He licked his lips, glancing up once, then back down at Dean. "You're gonna have to kinda…climb me."
"Huh?" Dean tipped his head to the side, squinting up at Sam.
"Use me as like a ladder."
"How the hell am I gonna do that?"
"Just…" Sam shifted for balance, reaching down toward Dean. "Grab my hand and then, y'know, use my legs and body to get up out of there."
Dean slid his eyes up Sam's awkwardly balanced form, his lips quirking.
"Shut up," Sam grumbled. "You got any better ideas?"
"Well, get over your personal space issues and start climbing, then."
Dean sighed. As Sam watched, he turned to his right, using his good arm to balance while carefully shifting his body so his legs were folded beneath him. With a grimace of pain, he held his left arm tight against his body and used his right to reach for Sam.
Gripping Dean's forearm, Sam pressed his back against the windshield, easing Dean up against him, twisting his face away so he could still breathe in the close proximity. Sam could feel his brother trembling as he reached for Dean's belt, trying to leverage what room he had to shove Dean up toward the window.
His hand bounced against Dean's left elbow, and Dean cried out, the sound a harsh bleat of pain that tore into Sam. Dean's knees disappeared, and Sam found himself holding his brother up against him by his right forearm and his belt loops. He fought to maintain his balance, scared to death he would tip over and land once more on Dean.
"Sorry," Sam breathed, trying to get a more solid grip. "I'm sorry, man."
"'S okay, ’m okay," Dean panted, his head down, his body trembling. "Shit. This sucks out loud."
"I know, I know, just…gimme a sec…" Sam tried to pull Dean up higher, but his own arms were beginning to shake. He felt Dean push against him, trying to find his legs once more.
"Hey," said a voice from above them. Both brothers lifted their heads, squinting in the midday sun at the face that hovered in the open window. "Can I, uh, help?"
"Where's the baby?" Sam asked.
"Put her back in her seat. She's okay for now," the man replied, shifting so he could reach farther into the truck. "Name's Wick, by the way. Wicklow Bishop."
Dean dropped his head and met Sam's eyes. Sam could practically hear the snark bouncing around in his brother's head at that name, halted only by the pain that was currently making him pale as a sheet.
Wick apparently picked up on the silent communication. "It's a family name," he offered, a shrug in his voice.
"I'm Sam. This is my brother Dean. And, yeah, we'd appreciate the help."
Standing balanced in the bed of the truck, Wick leaned his body over the side and reached down for Dean's right arm, gripping his t-shirt in sure, steady hands.
"Watch his shoulder," Sam grunted, pushing Dean up at the waist, then supporting his brother's legs and feet as Wick helped him from above.
Sam could hear Dean puffing out breath, working to maintain his composure, to keep up the tough exterior that protected him from the unknown. But every slight shift, every grip of hands from above or below, shot visible tremors through Dean's body, and Sam knew his brother was seconds away from crying out. Wick's head and arms disappeared from Sam's sight as they lifted Dean out of the truck, balancing him on the door for a moment with his legs dangling into the cab as Wick jumped down to the ground.
Sam paused, his hand on Dean's lower leg as Wick helped his brother turn, then drop to the road at the edge of the ditch where the truck sat tilted at a crazy angle. The minute Dean's legs were free of the window, Sam clambered out of the truck, dropping down to the ground next to his brother.
Dean sat in a heap, curled around his arm, swallowing convulsively. Sam regarded him, then used the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his upper lip as he tried to remember if they had any bottles of water in their bags. If the pain made Dean sick, he was going to need some.
"You need to do something with that shoulder," Wick said softly, standing off to the side with his hands on his hips, regarding Dean with trepidation. His sandy curls were damp with sweat, and his gray eyes were narrowed in concern.
"Ya think?" Dean growled.
Sam frowned, shifting his eyes between his brother's pale face and Wick's worried eyes. "Don't mind him. He gets surly when he's hurting."
"You want surly, I'll give you—"
"You get anyone on that cell phone?" Sam interrupted, glancing at Wick.
Wick shook his head. "This is a pretty remote place. My sister's house is about ten miles thataway.” He tipped his head toward the west. "I know a guy with a tow truck that could get your truck out of the ditch, but it looks like I'll have to drive you to a hospital—"
"No," Dean barked. "No hospital."
"Dean, maybe we should—"
"Sam." Dean looked up. "No. Just…no."
Sam stared at his brother, watching the resolution build in his eyes even as he sat trembling from the pain of a dislocated shoulder. Closing his eyes briefly, Sam relented. "Okay," he said softly, "but I’m going to have to try to set that for you."
"Just get it over with."
"What can I do?" Wick stood by uncertainly, clenching his fists.
Sam took a breath and met Dean's eyes, then addressed Wick. "I need something to immobilize his arm."
"I got a couple baby blankets in the car," Wick offered.
"That'll work." Sam frowned as Dean tipped forward slightly. He crouched in front of him, taking his chin into his hand. "Dean?"
"Hey, man." Sam used his thumb to wipe the blood from Dean's eye. "You gotta stay with me if we're gonna do this."
"I'm with you."
"I mean really with me." Sam dropped his chin, trying to catch Dean's half-opened eyes with his. "Open your eyes, Dean."
"More. Look at me."
Dean swallowed, and Sam watched him pull his eyebrows up, forcing his lids to follow. He blinked twice, then stared at Sam. "Anyone ever tell you you're bossy as hell?" Dean slurred.
Sam nodded, not in answer but with satisfaction. Dean's eyes were glassy with pain but aware and focused.
Wick returned holding two pink receiving blankets in his hand.
Sam followed Dean's narrowed eyes, grinning at his brother's incensed, "Oh, you've gotta be kiddin' me!"
"Hey, sorry." Wick shrugged. "It's all I got."
"It's fine," Sam assured him. "Give them to me. Take your jacket off and get behind him."
"What do I—?"
"You're gonna have to hold him."
Dean had dropped his gaze to the ground and was once again pulling in harsh breaths through his partially-open mouth. Wick swallowed, then nodded. Sam watched as he carefully positioned himself on the ground behind Dean, taking off his jacket as he did so.
Sam instructed him where to grip so he wouldn't do further damage to Dean's wounded ribs. "Use your jacket—twist the arms like, yeah, that's it. Wrap it around his mouth."
"His mouth?" Wick asked, puzzled.
"Give him something to bite on," Sam explained. "This is gonna hurt like a bitch."
"A bitch in stilettos," Dean panted weakly.
Wick turned the arm of his jacket into a rope, giving it to Dean as a brace to bite on. Dean took three quick, wet breaths, then clamped down on the cloth sleeve with his teeth, reaching up over his right shoulder to dig his fingers into Wick's forearm.
"You ready?" Sam asked, his voice low, steady. He had done this before, never to Dean, but once for John. It was not easy and had made him almost as sick as his father had looked. Sam knew where to place his hands, how to pull, but sweat ran down the sides of his clammy face at the thought of what was about to happen.
Dean nodded once.
"On three, then, okay? One, two—" Sam pulled once, hard. Dean's shoulder popped smoothly back into place.
The scream of pain that erupted from Dean through the cloth gag echoed between the vehicles and caused the baby to start crying again. Wick released his grip, and Dean slumped to the side, sweating and trembling, air sounding like it was skipping across his lungs, not filling them.
Sam instantly curled over him, a gentle hand on the small of Dean's back, his voice low and soothing, saying nothing and everything in that one moment. "I got you… I got you, man. It's over, okay? You did good."
Dean was pale, his eyes closed tightly, breath puffing out through tense lips. Sam kept his hand on Dean's back, rubbing slightly as the trembling seemed to shudder through his brother like a wave.
"Easy," Sam soothed. "Easy, man. It's over. You're okay."
Dean simply shook, his forehead rubbing into the dirt of the road, but he didn't push Sam away, and for that Sam was relieved. He needed to be there for Dean, at least once. He needed Dean to see he wasn't alone.
Wick stood quietly, leaving the brothers and heading over to soothe the baby. Sam waited until Dean's trembling slowed, then removed his hand, sitting up and glancing around. Then he looked back down, watching as his brother twisted his head to look up at him.
"Well," Dean panted. "That was fun. We really ought to do this again sometime."
"We've gotta immobilize your arm," Sam reminded him.
Dean blinked, dirt blending with the tacky blood on the side of his head and turning into a matted paste. "Got a better idea," he said in a rough, breathy voice. "Let's not."
Sam raised an eyebrow, reached over with his index finger, and lightly tapped Dean's left elbow.
"Gah! What the hell, Sam!"
Sam tried to pull off sympathetic and ended up with exasperated as Dean frowned fiercely at him. "C'mon, man," Sam said, running his tongue unconsciously along the cut on the inside of his lip. "Pink's your color. How about you let me help you sit up?"
"How 'bout you go screw yourself?"
They stared at each other for nearly a minute, each hiding thoughts behind different versions of the same wall, until an aggravated cry from the baby in the SUV pulled their attention.
"Sorry," Wick called from the back of the black vehicle. "She hates to get her diaper changed."
Dean sighed. "Fine. Gimme a hand." He reached up for the hand Sam extended and pulled himself carefully into a sitting position. Dirt clung to his sweaty forehead, causing his face to look even paler.
Sam waited until Dean was balanced, then looked over at the tilted truck. "We're not going to be able to get that out of there without a tow."
"Yeah," Dean sighed. "I know." He shook his head. "Bobby is going to be so pissed."
"You could come with me, use the land line back at the house," Wick spoke up. "I know you probably don't want to get in a car with the maniac that just plowed you off the road, but…"
Sam looked over at Dean, waiting for an answer. He knew what he would do, but this was Dean's call. It was his trip.
Dean swallowed, blinking once, then nodded. "Let's get this over with," he said, looking at the pink receiving blankets in Sam's lap. He was already clutching his left arm close to him.
Sam nodded, carefully wrapping one blanket around Dean's upper arm and chest, tying it tightly on his right side, then using the other blanket as a sling, knotting the ends behind Dean's neck. The pink of the blankets stood in stark contrast against Dean's gray dirt- and blood-smeared t-shirt.
"Thanks," Dean breathed, sliding his eyes closed.
Sam's lips slipped up into a smile. "Sure." He stood stiffly, the scrape on his leg rubbing against his jeans with the movement, and headed toward the ditch. "Wait there a sec."
Climbing down over the back of the truck bed, Sam tossed their duffels up and onto the road. Wick grabbed them and headed back to his SUV. Then Sam stood over Dean, grabbing his good arm before reaching down and wrapping his other arm around Dean's waist, gently lifting his brother to his feet. Once vertical, Dean wavered for a moment, allowing Sam to grip his arm tightly until he'd regained his balance.
"Yeah." Dean nodded, stepping away from Sam and leading the way to the SUV.
Sam watched him attempt to square up his shoulders, holding his left arm close to his side, the blankets doing a marginally decent job keeping the arm still. Dean walked with confidence, Sam observed, even when he had no idea where he was going or why he was going there. It was something he'd always admired about his brother.
"Why don't you get in the back," Wick suggested, eyeing Dean. "The seats separate and you can recline them."
Dean nodded and reached into the vehicle, pulling himself in. He frowned at Sam when he leaned in to try to help shove the seat back, and Sam stepped away, hands raised, eyebrows up. Shutting the door firmly, he jogged around to the passenger seat, climbed in, and closed his door.
Ignoring the sting along the inside of his leg, Sam twisted around to check on Dean, coming face-to-face with the largest blue eyes he'd ever seen. Long, thick lashes swept cheeks pinked from crying, and tears trailed down to a rosebud mouth. Sam swallowed.
"Hi," the little girl whispered.
"Hi," Sam replied, surprised at the candid expression on the small face.
"That's Kate," Wick informed them.
"Hi, Kate," Sam said, grinning at the cherub. Kate frowned, then looked away, toward the outside window. "She's gorgeous." Sam glanced over at Wick.
"She's her mother," Wick said softly, starting up the big engine and turning the wheel. "Lisa was an amazing woman."
Sam met Dean's eyes, mirroring his brother's frown. "Was?" Dean asked, shifting back into his seat.
"Kate's my niece." Wick eased the SUV over the cattle guard and onto the dirt road that led toward their destination. "My sister, Lisa, and her husband Paul were killed last week."
"Oh, man, I'm sorry," Sam said automatically, watching Wick's profile. He could see Dean out of the corner of his eye; his brother was watching the back of Wick's head, waiting for more.
Wick swallowed, shaking his head. "We're on our way back from the reading of the will. Lisa left Kate to me."
"Oh, wow." Sam sat back.
"I don't know what she was thinking," Wick continued, as if talking to himself. "I'm, like…the world's worst idea of a father. You ever see Raising Arizona?"
"Yeah," Dean replied. "Hilarious."
"Yeah, well, that could be me."
"Which one? John Goodman? Or Nic Cage?"
Sam shot a frown over his shoulder to Dean, then addressed Wick. "She must have known—"
"I got nothin', man," Wick interrupted Sam's attempt to placate him. "She's not even two yet. I've got no idea how to raise her, what to tell her… I mean, that's why we're heading back to their house right now. I would never take her back there, except…my place is so not ready for a baby…"
"Why don't you want to go back there?" Dean asked.
Wick shot his eyes up to the rear view mirror. "Because that's where they were killed."
Kate started to hum.
"What happened?" Sam asked. His whole focus was on Wick; he didn't see Dean turn slightly and pick up the hard-covered baby book lying on the seat next to Kate's carseat. Sam leaned forward, wanting to hear the details.
"I was visiting," Wick said, his boyish face tightening with tension. "Told Lisa I'd take Kate out for a while, give them some time alone. We were gone for…maybe four hours?"
Wick paused, and Sam heard Kate start to chatter a little but didn't pay much attention.
"The police said they were victims of a home invasion, a robbery gone wrong. I found them in their bedroom, and…man, it was like someone tore them up."
"God." Sam swallowed, hazarding a glance back at Dean, then froze.
Dean was holding the baby book up so that Kate could see, watching the baby's face as she pointed to different things on the page and rambled away in what sounded, to Sam, like Swahili. Dean grinned, and Sam pulled his head back with a sudden, fierce pain in his heart. He hadn't seen a smile hit Dean's eyes in weeks.
"That, uh." Sam tried to bring himself back to the present. "That sounds awful."
"I think they were being stalked, actually," Wick said.
Sam found it harder to focus on Wick; he could hear his brother softly asking the baby, "What's that one? Yep, and that one?" while she pointed to different pictures in the book, Kate's tiny voice answering.
Wick nodded. "Lisa said that she had been hearing voices outside around the property but could never find anyone, and there was all this weird banging on the doors and windows."
Sam lifted his eyebrows. Stalked, huh? It amazed him how many different ways people could find to explain the unexplainable.
"They moved into this house when Kate was about nine months old—haven't lived there a year yet. Lisa was going to fix it up while Paul worked in the city."
"Who lived there before them?" Sam asked.
Wick shrugged. "No one, I don't think. They got it pretty cheap. Think it was a foreclosure or something."
Sam shot a look back at Dean.
"Ouch," Kate suddenly spoke up. Sam shifted his eyes to her. She was pointing to the blood drying on Dean's face and causing his hair to stick together in dark red clumps.
"Yeah," Dean agreed. "Doesn't feel so good."
"Mama ouch," Kate said, her bottom lip protruding.
Dean blinked, glancing up at Wick. "She…saw?"
Wick shook his head. "No, of course not. But she knows. She's real smart. Been talking since she was about ten months old. Most of it is Greek to me, but she knows what she's talking about."
Sam looked back at Dean, who looked over at Kate. The little girl regarded Dean with solemn eyes, repeating, "Mama ouch."
"Yeah, I heard," Dean answered softly.
"Here it is," Wick said, turning down a gravel drive toward a white, wooden, two-story house, front stoop slightly crumbling, wide front windows flanking the door.
He stopped near the door, then shut off the engine. "I'll grab your bags after I get Kate out."
"Don't worry about it," Sam assured him. "We got it."
"Yeah, but, your brother—"
"He said, we got it," Dean all but growled.
Sam looked over at him. He knew by the pinched expression that Dean was hurting, not enough to keep him quiet but plenty to keep him grumpy. Sam shot an apologetic look to Wick, then got out to help Dean from the car.
Dean hissed as he turned to put his legs on the ground. Sam could tell he'd stiffened up in that short ride to the house, but at least he was still moving.
"You gonna make it?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "Gimme my bag."
"Don't be an idiot," Sam snapped. "You're not carrying a bag. You can barely straighten up."
"Dean? Shut up."
Dean glared at him for a moment, then turned to follow Wick and Kate into the house.
Sam sighed. He'd wanted to join Dean on this road trip for an Impala part in an effort to fix this situation between them. He had a feeling things had suddenly gotten much more complicated.
Part Two can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/29550.html