Title: Shadows and Dust
Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 2, following Episode 2.03, “Bloodlust.”
Summary: Written for zine, Blood Brothers 2. Ghosts from the Civil War wrap around Sam and Dean and take them through a different kind of vanquishing.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story title a line in the movie The Gladiator.
“I’m starving,” Dean announced, to Sam’s count for the tenth time since leaving the motel.
“No, really?” Sam commented dryly as he pulled the door open, stepping into the diner under the ringing bell.
“No one made you stay,” Dean pointed out, dropping into the nearest booth and plucking the plastic-coated menu from behind the salt-and-pepper shakers.
“Dean, I wasn’t going to just leave to get food while you were sleeping after that… that…”
“Dream, Sam.” Dean’s eyes didn’t meet Sam’s as he scanned the selection of food. “You can say it.”
Sam leaned forward, fingers tightening on the edge of the speckled table. “It was more than just a dream, Dean,” he snapped. “There is something going on with you.”
Dean flicked his eyes up, and Sam saw a wall reflected in the green that effectively shut him out. “Nothing’s going on with me.”
Sam stared at his brother. Dean stared back.
“Get you boys something?”
The squeaky female voice startled Sam, and he looked up to see a heavyset woman with too-bright lipstick calling attention to a dusting of hair across her upper lip. She pulled a pencil out from behind an ear framed by close-cropped, bottle-blonde hair, and tapped the lead on a pad of paper.
“Uh, yeah.” Sam cleared his throat. “I’ll take a chicken sandwich, house salad, and a Coke.”
“Sure thing, hon. What about you?” She glanced at Dean.
“Burger with everything, fries, chocolate shake, and a piece of that cherry pie.”
“On a diet, are ya?”
Dean looked up at her. “Always.”
She smiled, charmed by Dean’s roguish grin, then headed back to the kitchen.
“We gonna talk about this?” Sam pressed the minute she was out of earshot.
Dean’s eyes roamed the sparsely populated diner. The breakfast crowd had departed and the lunch crowd had yet to arrive. “Jesus, Sam, leave the dream—”
“Not the dream, Dean,” Sam snapped, irritated at his brother’s seemingly placid disinterest. “We need a plan.”
“Uh-huh,” Dean replied, eyes catching on something across the room.
“We don’t know where the bodies are, besides the house, and we don’t have any—Dean! Are you even listening to me?”
“You see that?” Dean asked instead of answering.
Sam sighed. “What?”
“That…display thing over there.”
Sam followed Dean’s eye line, frowning as his brother rose from the booth and crossed to the Confederate flag hanging on the wall on the other side of the room. Beneath the flag, a glass display case sat open.
“Hey,” Dean called to the waitress who had taken their order. “You guys keep this box open all the time?”
“Nah.” She shook her head. “Billy’s adding some stuff to it. That’s his collection of reenactment memorabilia.”
Sam stood and began to head toward his brother, eyes darting between Dean’s back and the waitress’s profile.
“Does, uh… Billy know who all this stuff belonged to?” Dean asked.
“You got me,” she replied. “Just a bunch of Civil War stuff.”
As Sam watched, Dean’s hand hovered over the opened case, his fingertips lightly brushing the books, gloves, spurs, pausing above a silver harmonica. To Sam’s surprise, Dean lifted the instrument from the case and rested it in his open palm, fingers lightly stroking the outer casing.
Sam looked from Dean’s hands to his face, puzzled by the vacant, lonely expression that seemed to capture his brother’s features. Before he could ask him if he was okay, Dean lifted the harmonica to his mouth and closed his eyes.
Sam’s mouth hung open, amazed, as he watched Dean cup the back of the harmonica, press his lips tight to the instrument, and begin to play. The mournful, sweet melody trembled through the air, silencing the murmurs and clinks of silverware against plates as the patrons remaining in the diner seemed to hold their collective breath to listen while Dean slid his mouth along the old instrument.
Dean’s face drew together as the notes bounced and slid through the air, touching Sam’s ears with memory, drawing a pang of longing from his chest that confused him. Dean’s lashes lay dark against suddenly pale cheeks. Sam blinked, realizing what he was hearing: the tune Dean had been humming was now being drawn from an ancient instrument by the caress of his brother’s lips.
When Dean stopped, the diner sat still and silent. Blinking, Dean looked up at Sam, uncertainty dancing a tango across his features.
“That was amazing,” the waitress commented. “I haven’t heard ‘Lorena’ in years.”
“Yeah.” Dean’s voice was rough as he worked to shrug off his uncharacteristic behavior. “Sometimes I amaze even myself.”
Sam closed his mouth, pressing his lips together in a tight line. He was fully aware this hunt had been his idea. And now, it seemed, the spirits they were here to vanquish were haunting his brother. Sam pulled in a slow breath as he watched Dean set the harmonica back into the display case.
“You still hungry?” Sam asked softly.
“No.” Dean shook his head but headed back to the table as if he didn’t know where else to go.
Sam joined him. “Y’know, Ross had a ton of weapons back in that shed.”
Dean nodded, the idea of guns and knives seeming to settle him, infusing his too-pale face with normalizing color. “Yeah, he did.”
“I’m thinking…maybe that’s not all he had back there.”
Dean looked up at him. “You think he knew more than he was telling us?”
“Seems like that’s usually the case.” Sam shrugged.
Dean sat back as the waitress set their food in front of them. Sam dug hungrily into his salad, watching his formerly-starving brother stare at his burger.
“Eat,” Sam encouraged.
Dean sighed suddenly. “This hunt is not normal.”
Sam shrugged, sucking down a gulp of Coke through his straw. “What’s normal?”
“You getting all into research, me flirting with an actually good-looking waitress, digging up bones and burning them, just…normal.”
“You’re just spooked by your sudden burst of instrumental talent.”
Dean looked up, and Sam forced himself to keep breathing. The abyss of fear and pain in his brother’s eyes was unexpected and heavy. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Dean admitted. “But sometimes…sometimes I just want it to be easy.”
“I know.” Sam nodded. “But I think we left easy behind when we decided to look for Dad.”
Dean nodded silently, picking up a French fry. “Aw, hell,” he said, popping the fry into his mouth. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Easy would be boring.” He grinned. “And I don’t do boring.”
Sam grinned back, watching as the wall slid firmly back into place in Dean’s eyes, cemented by the rakish twist of his brother’s lips. Normal for Sam was Dean inhaling cherry pie. Normal for Sam was Dean moving forward in an all-go-no-quit manner.
Normal for Sam was Dean.
“What the hell are you looking for?” Sam exclaimed, grabbing the dashboard as the large Chevy swerved across the two-lane road toward the Bethel house.
“My Motorhead tape,” Dean growled, hand flailing along the floorboard, one eye over the dash.
“Dude! Seriously, I’ll find it. Geez.” Sam pushed Dean up and back in front of the wheel. “You suddenly jonesing for some ‘Ace of Spades’ or what?”
Sliding his long arm under the passenger seat, Sam came up with the worn cassette and stuck it into the Impala’s cassette deck.
“Just need to get this fuckin’ song outta my head,” Dean snapped, turning the volume up and thrumming Sam’s blood with the insane beat of crazed rock-and-roll.
“There’s the turn for the house,” Sam yelled over the music.
Dean muttered something in return, but Sam missed it. They pulled up to the end of the drive, dust mixing with the afternoon sun to shield the house from sight for a moment. Sam looked from the house to Dean, watching as his brother hung onto the wheel. Hesitantly, Sam reached for the radio, turning down the volume so it didn’t blast them the next time Dean turned on the car.
“You ready to go?” Sam asked, anxious to get this hunt over with.
“I, uh…” Dean looked at Sam askance. “Yeah. Yeah, sure.”
“What is it?” Sam reached out to grasp Dean’s sleeve.
“Nothing.” Dean shook his head. He twisted the keys in the ignition, silencing the comforting rumble of the powerful engine. “Let’s go smoke us some spooks.”
Dean grasped the handle, paused, then pushed the door open. Sam watched him go, suddenly feeling an overwhelming urge to hide in the car. He glanced over his shoulder at the back seat. Memories of his youth, lying curled on his side wrapped in a blanket, head on Dean’s lap while Dad drove them across Hell’s half acre, bled into memories of leaning his face on the opened back window while Dean played air guitar to Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone.”
Where other people remembered bedrooms and meals around the table when they thought of home, Sam thought of Dean and the Impala. That was all he needed to feel at home, even after all these years of wandering.
“You coming?” Dean called, his voice muffled through the windshield.
“Yeah,” Sam said, climbing free of the car and following his brother toward the shed behind the house.
Dean walked up to the door, grasped the metal handle, and yanked it open, letting it bounce off the wall before catching it again with his hand. They entered the darkened shed, eyes searching shadowed corners, swallowing against the ever-present dust.
“Ross!” Dean called. “You here?”
Silence returned their answer. Sam stepped up to the uniquely-shaped table. The display of weapons was still impressive, even in the dim light allowed in through the open door. Knives, bullets, guns… Sam’s eyes scanned them, searching for something in particular.
“What’s going on in that ginormous brain of yours?” Dean asked, flicking on the overhead light.
“We don’t know where the bodies are,” Sam said.
Dean stepped up beside him, waiting.
“And we can’t burn down the place.”
“True.” Dean nodded, lips pressed out. “Would kinda defeat the purpose.”
“Ross said he went after them with salt,” Sam remembered, “but…I don’t see it anywhere.”
“Maybe it’s in the house?”
“Maybe,” Sam said, wondering.
“So, let’s get our own gear and go in there to find out.”
Sam turned, grabbing Dean’s arm as he started to head out. “Wait.”
“What?” Dean looked down at Sam’s fingers, then up at his face, irritation and confusion warring for dominance.
“I got a bad feeling about this.”
“You can have the bigger gun.” Dean grinned. “C’mon, Sammy, let’s get this done.”
Leaving the light on and the door open, they exited the shed, heading for the trunk of the Impala. Sam thought it was better to not call attention to the fact that Dean hummed Lorena the whole time they gathered their gear, but when they stepped up onto the porch and Dean went pale, Sam realized his mistake.
“Cold, ain’t it?” Dean said softly as they stepped inside the dusty entryway.
“Huh?” Sam narrowed his eyes, sawed-off shotgun gripped in his right hand.
“Can, uh, smell the snow…” Dean’s voice faded as he moved farther into the house.
Snow? Sam tried to reach out to stop Dean, when he suddenly realized he could no longer see the interior of the house. The long hallway faded into a cluster of trees, the stairs fell away to reveal a hill, and around him were men and horses.
Sam blinked, shaking his head hard. What the hell?
He stepped forward and both felt and heard frozen grass crunch beneath his feet. He looked over his shoulder, wanting, needing to see the opened front door but instead watched shadows shift over white canvas tents as the sun rose.
Sam moved forward through the acrid stench of gunfire and blood, searching, hoping. Not Robbie, not like this…
Blinking away the confused tangle of thoughts, Sam leaned against a tree, gripping the shotgun. It felt small, narrow, heavy. He looked down and realized he was no longer carrying the sawed-off, salt-filled weapon. He was holding a musket, a bayonet fixed to the tip.
The voice was both foreign and familiar. Part of him responded to it, while the other worked to break free. He turned to see a figure clad in gray approaching him at a run.
Joe, it’s me! It’s me, I’m here!
But he was alone. He was alone because Robbie wasn’t with him. He was alone because Robbie was gone. He wasn’t with him. He’s not with me…
The blast startled him. The sting of pain in his arm dropped him to his knees. He looked up, blinking through the haze, his weapon falling from numb fingers.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
Dean… Dean is here… I’m not alone because Dean is here…
Sam felt himself pitch forward, vague, disorienting images sliding inside and around him, strong, familiar arms catching him, holding him.
“You fuckin’ shot my brother!” Dean bellowed above him, and Sam worked to break free of the muck in his head that was fighting to pull him back. Dean held him close, Sam’s face pressed into this brother’s strong chest, Dean’s scent filling his nose, drawing him back to the solid base of the present.
“It’s rock salt.”
“Yeah? Well, he’s still bleeding, you crazy son of a bitch.”
“The spirit was taking him, couldn’t you see that?”
“I could have brought him back.”
Hands shifted him around, probed at the sting in his arm.
“You sure this is rock salt?”
The voices were beginning to separate. As the sensation of falling released him, Sam realized Dean held him, gripping his upper arm to staunch the blood flow. A few feet from them, Ross stood with his shotgun lowered, watching them.
“What the hell happened?” Sam slurred. It was darker in the house; shadows had shifted on the wall, and he and Dean sat in a pile of remodeling dust in a room he didn’t remember entering.
“Y’know that, uh, dream I had?” Dean said softly.
Sam blinked. His arm began to burn, an ache that spread slowly from his shoulder to his fingertips. “Yeah.”
“I think you had one, too,” Dean revealed. “Only, uh… I think you were Joe.”
Sam closed his eyes, shifting against Dean until he could sit up next to him, clutching his arm above Dean’s fingers.
“I remember…a blue uniform. And…looking for someone named Robbie.”
Dean pulled his lower lip in, catching it between his teeth.
“It came to me,” Ross whispered. “After Frank…after you boys were here, in the shed…it came to me.”
“Care to share with the class?” Dean snapped, frowning at Sam’s still-bleeding arm.
“They’re brothers. The spirits—the whole war. A country divided. Brother against brother.”
Sam hissed as Dean adjusted his grip. “Robert Martin had a brother,” Sam said. “I just never found out his name.”
“I’m gonna take a wild guess and say it was Joe,” Dean drawled. “We gotta get this wrapped, Sam.”
“Yeah, okay.” Sam nodded, allowing Dean to help him to an unsteady stance. “It’s getting dark.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean slid Sam’s good arm over his shoulder, “you were playing time traveler for a while there, brother.”
“C’mon, Sasquatch,” Dean grunted.
“We can use some of the material in the room down the hall,” Ross said, leading the way.
Sam leaned on his brother, watching their feet shuffle through the fine white dust coating the floor. The toes of Dean’s boots were gray with dust, the holes in the knees and thighs of his jeans edged in it. Sam looked over at Dean’s profile and saw goose bumps scattering his jawline.
“He took you, too, didn’t he?” Sam whispered.
“Who did?” Dean asked, purposefully vague.
Dean shrugged, shifting Sam’s arm as he did. “I was ready for him this time.”
“What are we gonna do, Dean?” Sam sighed as he sat in the cane-backed chair, waiting while Ross cut down a floral-print curtain hanging free of the dust to wrap around Sam’s arm.
“We aren’t gonna do anything, Sam,” Dean returned, crouching next to Sam’s wounded arm. He used the tip of Ross’s sharp blade to cut away the tattered remains of Sam’s jacket.
“What are you talking about?”
Dean carefully wrapped the material around Sam’s arm, closing the slashes created by Ross’s special blend of salt. “You’re getting out of here.”
“Don’t argue with me.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
“Yes. You are.”
Sam hissed as Dean tied off the bandage.
“Ross, what’s so special about that salt?” Dean asked, standing up as Sam reached over to grip his aching arm.
“Made with holy water, lighter fluid, and some gypsum. Frank made it. Better than regular salt if you want spirits to stay gone.”
“Can’t make ’em stay gone unless we find the bodies,” Dean pointed out.
“Dean,” Sam tried to break in.
“I thought of that,” Ross said. “And if all this started when we broke into the walls, maybe the bodies are in the house.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Dean grumbled.
“Well, sorry, I was a bit distracted with Frank and Annabelle.”
“You’re a hunter.”
“Not for twenty years!”
Sam took a breath, having finally caught his brother’s attention. “It’s us.”
“What?” Dean’s brows pulled together.
“Brothers.” Sam tipped his chin forward. “It’s us. The spirits need us.”
Dean bent and peered at Sam. “You in shock or something?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Think about it, man. Joe went after Frank…only he didn’t actually let him go.”
“How do you know it was Joe?”
Sam slid his eyes sideways. “Because all I could think before Ross shot me was that you—Robbie—weren’t with me. And isn’t that what Frank’s been saying all this time?”
“Oh.” Dean looked down.
“Robert Martin sought you out,” Sam continued. “They’re trying to make it back to each other.”
“Yeah?” Dean stood up. “So what happens if they do?”
“Yeah, I don’t like those odds.”
“Dean, you need me.” Sam pushed to his feet, swaying slightly.
Dean caught him. “I need you to get out of here. I need you in one piece.”
“Enough, Sam. Ross, get him out of here. Gimme that…special blend.”
“You’re just going after them yourself?” Ross asked, incredulous. “It’s nearly sunset.”
“I can see that, thanks.”
“Dean…,” Sam pleaded.
“Sam, listen,” Dean released him, “I’ll be okay. I’ll be right behind you.”
Sam narrowed his eyes. He didn’t like this. It all felt wrong.
Ross grabbed his arm. “C’mon, kid,” he grumbled. “Lead an old man out.”
“Sam,” Dean called to their departing backs.
Sam turned in the doorway.
“Make sure you tell Ross about Serena,” he said.
“Well, this was a great idea,” Dean whispered into the darkness of the empty hallway. “No, no, you go ahead. I’ll stay back with the spooks.”
Gunfire erupted with sudden ferocity. Dean flinched, acutely aware that the bullets fired from those guns could actually harm him. Senses hyperalert, Dean pressed his back to the wall of the T-shaped hallway. He felt the skin of his back rub against the soft cotton of his shirt. He felt the heavy metal and wood of the two shotguns in his hands. He felt the air press around his face, crawling up his skin and spilling into his ears, eyes, nose, mouth.
They’re trying to get back to each other…
What would he do if life tore Sam from him? What would he do if he were forced to fight against his brother? What would he do if he were forced to kill his brother for some perceived greater good?
Ice collected around Dean’s heart, leaving it heavy in his chest, obstructing his air.
Don’t think, just move. Don’t think, just act. Do the job. Do. The. Job.
“Okay, boys,” Dean whispered. “You want a fight so bad? You got one.”
Closing his eyes, Dean listened, drowning out even the sound of his own heartbeat as he concentrated on the cries and curses coming from either end of the hallway that ran across the opening to the hallway where he stood. Cocking both shotguns, Dean drew them up so his hands were level with his shoulders.
Pulling in a steadying breath, Dean stepped out into the hallway. “Hey!” he called, jutting his hands to either side of his body and firing.
The kick of the shotguns shook through his frame, tearing at his muscles and spinning him off balance. One shell found its mark and a spirit screamed. The other went wide, and the ghost of Robert Martin stood at the end of the hall, his gray uniform shadowed with time, his eyes boring through Dean to the fallen spirit of his brother.
“Joe…” The voice was both empty and full, breaking like water on rock and surging forward with vengeance.
“Oh, shit,” Dean breathed, still teetering, his arm moving too slow to bring up one of the guns in defense.
The bullets sliced through his skin seconds before his brother’s roar shook the air, Sam’s body slamming into him and driving him with the force of a hell-bent hurricane into the safety of the far room.
“You’re always…with me.”
Sam froze, hands paused in the act of reaching for Dean’s bloody thigh. “What’d you say?”
Dean pulled the corner of his mouth up in a tired, lazy grin. The edges of the room were fading to soft gray. “You’re always with me, Sammy.”
Sam dropped his head, and Dean saw his chin tremble slightly. Keeping his face lowered, Sam silently reached for Dean’s leg, lifting it to slide the cloth beneath it and wrapping the bandage tightly around the bullet graze, wincing in sympathy as Dean hissed in pain.
“Could be worse,” Sam muttered, then caught his bottom lip between his teeth.
Dean lay still, pliant, allowing Sam to tie off the ends of one bandage before moving to his hand. Sam’s motions were slowing, his body rocking with exhaustion. When he reached for Dean’s side, balance apparently escaped him and he fell forward, catching himself on one knee and one hand, stopping just short of landing in Dean’s lap.
“It’s worse,” Dean asserted.
Eyes slipping closed in a pain-pale face, breath pulled in through clenched teeth, Sam pivoted slowly to sit next to his brother, shoulders touching. “I, uh…I just need a minute.”
Shouts echoing from time past slid in a Doppler effect through their ears. Another crack of a musket and a cry of rage, then silence once again held sway as the battle journeyed away from the room where they lay hidden.
“No regrets, okay?”
“Don’t talk like that. We’ll get out of this. We’re gonna…get out of this.”
“I mean it, brother.”
A pause. Heartbeats echoing, slowing, matching.
More cries. More gunfire. A scream shattered the subtle peace of the moonlit room.
“Can you hold your gun?” Sam asked.
“I think so.”
“’Cause I don’t want to die here.”
“You got someplace else picked out?”
Two hearts beating with the rhythm of brotherhood, of time, of family.
“Hand me the gun,” Dean wheezed.
“Want me to tie it to your arm?”
Ignoring the sting in his side, the sticky wetness that saturated his t-shirt and plastered it to his skin, Dean held his hand out for the sawed-off shotgun and positioned his stiff finger in the trigger guard. Sam tied one of the bandages around the butt of the gun, lashing it safely to Dean’s shaking arm.
“You ready for this?” Dean asked, ducking his head to catch his brother’s eyes once more.
Sam looked up, and Dean caught his breath. He saw their father hiding behind the determination reflecting back at him. He saw himself in Sam’s eyes. He saw fierceness and loyalty. But most of all, he saw love.
“As I’ll ever be.” Sam nodded, then twisted his lips into a rueful grin. “Always thought we’d go out…guns blazing.”
“Pull me up,” Dean commanded as Sam wavered to his feet. Sam gripped him under his arm, hauling him to his feet. For one moment, Dean leaned heavily against his brother.
Straightening with the strength breath offered him, Dean grinned, feeling his eyes crinkle at the corners as true joy shot through him. “First one to the Impala picks the music.”
“Oh, it’s so on.”
They broke free of the safety of the room into the darkness of the hallway, momentarily stunned by the lack of light and absence of sound.
“Where’d they go?” Dean whispered, planting his feet to keep from swaying.
“Dunno,” Sam whispered back.
“Outside,” Sam said.
“How come he didn’t come back with you?”
Sam sent Dean a silent look.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
“You feel that?”
Cold. Winter cold. A tune that beat relentlessly against the air.
“Sam…don’t forget who I am…,” Dean whispered.
Sam’s answer was lost as time raced backward, turning the solid wood beneath Dean’s feet into frozen grass, the stale, dust-filled air into frostbitten particles, the joy at being next to his brother into a fight against despair at seeing his brother at the opposite end of his rifle.
Dean turned, facing Sam alone on a bloody field, the distant sound of scattering rifle fire like a fingernail tapping on glass. Sam was dressed in blue and looked…small. But it was Sam. Dean looked down at himself, saw the coarse gray uniform, felt the itch of beard, the sweat flowing from beneath his cap down through his hair and trailing along his neck like the legs of a spider.
Sam lifted his rifle to point it back at Dean, his hazel eyes scared, hurt, and determined.
“I ain’t goin’ with ya, Robbie.”
“Why didn’t ya stay with me, Joe? I coulda watched out for ya.”
“’Cause what you want ain’t right! Ya gotta know that, Robbie.”
Dean gripped the rifle, pulling it tighter against his shoulder, eyes burning as he sighted down the barrel.
“Don’t make me kill ya, Joe, please.”
“I ain’t makin’ you do nothin’,” Sam replied. “Do what ya gotta do, Robbie. You were never with me anyway.”
Dean stood, listening to the cries around him, the screams of wounded horses, the commands of officers, the pleas for mercy. He looked at Sam and suddenly knew.
This is it. This is the moment Robert Martin regrets. These are the words Joe Martin wants to take back.
With trembling arms, Dean lowered the rifle. Surprise crossed Sam’s expressive face, mellowing his eyes and causing his arms to tremble. Dean watched as he tried to trust. Stepping forward on the field, Dean stopped only when his chest was pressed lightly against the point of Sam’s bayonet.
“I know what I have to do,” Dean whispered. “I’m the only one who can make that choice.”
“What are you…?” Sam’s eyes darted in thought. “They’ll kill you, Robbie. They’ll kill you if they see you.”
Dean reached out and moved Sam’s rifle to the side, gently so as not to startle a shot.
“You know who I am,” Dean said. “I’m not this.” He plucked at his sleeve. “I’m not a…cause. I’m your brother.”
Sam released the rifle, letting it clatter to the frozen earth. “Robbie?”
“I’m sorry, Joe.”
Sam’s throat worked against tears. “I thought you—” he tried, looking down, then lifted his eyes back to Dean’s. “I thought you worked with Mollie… I thought you killed me, Robbie.”
“Mollie did what she had to do. I didn’t know until it was too late.”
“You weren’t with me.” Sam’s eyes filled with tears, his chin trembling. “When I died, you weren’t there.”
“I’m here now, Joe.” Dean rested a hand on Sam’s shoulder, tightening his grip. “I’m here. I’m always with you.”
On a sob, Sam stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Dean, clutching his fingers against Dean’s strong back. Dean gripped back tightly, feeling the coarse material of the uniform rub at his throat and hands, then fade to a soft cotton. The cold in the air melted to a humid night.
As reality returned, strength escaped. Dean felt his knees vanish as he clutched his brother, trying to keep from landing in a heap in the dust-filled hallway.
“Whoa,” Sam gasped, trying to gather Dean closer. “I gotcha.”
Pain that had faded with the conquest of the spirits, returned with a vengeance, and Dean’s vision swam. His side burned and his leg ached. He clung to Sam, unwilling to end up on the floor. This fight he wanted to end on his feet. Sam shifted Dean up in a clustered tangle of hands and ruffled clothes. Dean looked dazedly around.
“Is it midnight?”
“Not sure.” Sam started for the main entryway, dragging Dean through the dust next to him.
“I, uh, think it’s over…,” Sam whispered.
“But we didn’t…there wasn’t any…y’know…burning. Violence. Mayhem.
Dean felt Sam’s grin in the slight hitch of his breath. “Maybe some hunts end in forgiveness, brother.”
Dean was silent a moment. “Maybe.”
He hated drugs. But he hated pain more, so he was willing to deal a bit longer with the ten-feet-under-and-upside-down feeling the pain meds left him with. Especially when doing so erased the line of panicked concern from Sam’s face.
More stitches, more blood, and IV antibiotics. With no hazard pay…
Dean sat up in the hospital bed, scrub pants scrunched up to his calves, white shirt hitched to reveal the gouge in his side. He couldn’t stop messing with the gauze pad the doctor had placed over the wound to allow it to drain. The tape made his skin itch, and every time he twisted, he felt the burn in his side.
Flexing his fingers, he looked at the shallow cut across the back of his hand. The slice in his thigh was apparently the path the bullet that cut his side had taken.
“Magic musket ball,” Dean muttered, tugging impatiently at the IV line. He hated being tethered, contained, trapped.
Sam had been gone too long. One hour and seventeen minutes too long. Taking Ross Bethel to the police station after Sam’s arm had been cleaned out and stitched up had been at the forefront of Sam’s mind once he'd been reassured that Dean was in the clear. Sam was sure they could prove Serena Morehead had killed Annabelle out of a desire to keep Ross under her control, keep the idea of a haunted house alive, draw in patrons to the B&B.
Dean had been too loopy from pain meds to argue at the time, but he distinctly remembered Sam saying he’d be back before dark. It was now dark plus some.
Sighing, Dean slid gingerly out of bed, unplugged the IV pump from the wall, and looped the cord over the stand. Holding the stand that tethered him to the meds, he made his way to the nurse’s station.
“Hi.” He grinned at a young blonde behind the desk.
“Hi,” she returned. “Help you?”
“Can you tell me where Frank Bethel’s room is?”
She frowned. “Are you family?”
“Not exactly.” Dean’s eyebrows quirked. “But I got in here ’cause I was saving his brother.”
“Oh!” The blonde’s mouth formed a perfect circle. “You’re 494!”
“Uh…” Dean glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, that’s my room.”
“They told me about you.” She grinned, revealing deep dimples. “Quite the hero.”
Dean turned up the heat on his smile, leaning on the counter. “Yeah, well,” he glanced down, then slowly back up, “part of my job.”
“You want Frank’s room?” She glanced to the side, checking to see who was watching.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” Dean whispered, following her look.
“Our secret.” She pressed a manicured nail to her lips.
Dean let his smile hit his eyes and watched hers sparkle slightly in return as she told him the number. Nodding his thanks and pressing his finger to his lips in return, he moved toward the elevator and made his way to Frank’s room.
The private room was dark when he cracked the heavy door open. Pushing his IV pole through first, Dean peered around the curtain.
Well, at least he’s saying something new now…
“No, it’s uh…” Dean stepped forward so Frank could see him better. “My name is Dean Winchester. We kinda met at the library before.”
Frank’s blue eyes were clear, his lean face lined with worry and exhaustion, and his hair greasy but combed back from his face. He looked away from Dean. “Yeah, uh,” he shook his head, “not one of my finer moments.”
“You were trying to get to Serena Morehead,” Dean reminded him, easing down into the chair nearest Frank’s bed.
“All I could think about was keeping that bitch away from Ross…”
Dean nodded. “My brother, Sam, is with Ross now. They’re at the police station.”
“What happened to you?” Frank asked.
“Went up against your spirits,” Dean said, turning his bandaged hand around.
Dean licked his lips. “Truth is, I can’t explain it. Sam thinks it’s forgiveness.”
Frank rubbed at his face. “Maybe he’s right.” He sighed. “When I, uh…went away,” Frank looked up at Dean, “I felt this…pain.”
“Like you’d lost the only thing in the world that mattered,” Dean said softly.
“Yeah, and that it was my fault…but yet…”
“You were mad at him,” Dean finished.
“Yeah.” Frank nodded.
“Y’know,” Dean shifted in his chair, “I grew up hunting.”
Dean ran the flat of his fingers over his lips. “My Dad, my brother, and me. Until Sam decided he wanted to go to school.”
“He left you guys, huh?”
Dean swallowed. “He needed it—I didn’t know how much, really. He needed to find out who he was, figure out life. He met a girl, had a real job, all that stuff.”
Dean lifted a shoulder. “What always happens. Bad guys took it away from him. And I got him back.”
“Ross left,” Frank said softly. “And I hated him for it. Didn’t talk to him for years. But then…Annabelle…”
“You got a second chance, Frank,” Dean pointed out. “You got a chance to forgive.”
“Frank?” Ross Bethel’s voice trembled from the doorway.
“Hey, there, you son of a bitch.” Frank looked up, grinning, as his brother walked in, Sam on his heels.
“Man, you’re looking better.” Ross moved over to the edge of the bed, reaching out to clasp Frank’s outstretched hand.
“What are you doing here?” Sam asked Dean.
“Wandering.” Dean smiled. “You get it done?”
“Police opened an investigation on Serena Morehead,” Sam said. “They’re exhuming Annabelle’s body, going to look for toxins.”
“Good.” Dean nodded.
“I don’t know how to thank you boys,” Ross said, leaning on his brother’s bed.
“Well…” Dean looked at his bandaged side. “We could use some help with these hospital bills.”
“You got it,” Frank answered before Ross could speak.
“What are you two planning to do?” Sam asked, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets.
Ross looked at the floor.
Frank looked at his hands.
“Okay, I get it, charades,” Dean quipped. “Sounds like…a hideout for hunters…run by… brothers? C’mon, am I warm?”
Sam grinned, still watching Ross but leaning toward Dean.
“Not a bad idea,” Frank said.
Ross looked at him, surprised. “Yeah?”
“Give us a good chance to…catch up.”
Ross smiled. “That it would.”
“I can drive, you know,” Dean complained for the fifth time that hour. “Not taking those freakin’ pills anymore.”
“You expect me not to milk this?” Sam retorted, turning up the radio as Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” hummed through the interior of the car. “You haven’t let me drive since… Dude, I think you were unconscious the last time.”
“I would’ve had to be.” Dean slouched lower in the seat, looking out of the side window.
Sam hummed to Floyd, aware he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, hoping Dean would soon drown him out.
“You really think that worked? Those spirits are gone?”
Sam shrugged. “Yeah. But if I’m wrong, there are two hunters to handle it now.”
“Yeah.” Dean sighed, reaching into the glove compartment for his sunglasses.
“What’s with you?”
“Nothing.” Dean slid the shades into place and slouched again. “Just gonna take advantage of having a chauffeur. See what life’s like on Easy Street over here.”
Sam looked over and saw the playful smirk on Dean’s face. “What.”
“You think Serena will go to jail?”
“Why are you asking me questions I have no way of knowing the answer to?”
“What? I’m just curious.”
“Oh, my God.”
Dean chuckled, pressing his hand against his side. “Dude, I’m just messing with you.”
“Where is that Motorhead tape?”
Dean laughed, handing him the tape and settling back again.
“I would have come back, you know,” Sam said under the thrumming tones of the music.
“What?” Dean sat up straighter.
“I would have come back. Eventually. After Stanford.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Dean looked out the window.
“I couldn’t stay gone…not like them. Not for twenty years.”
Dean was silent.
“You think I could have?”
“I think,” Dean looked over at Sam’s wounded expression, “that we don’t know what we’re capable of doing until time tests us. Promises are made and broken every day.”
Sam thought about that, thought about his time away from Dean, thought about what his life would have been like if he'd not returned. “I would have come back,” he whispered into the music-filled car, unsure if Dean could hear him.
As they drove on, the road opening up before them, the sun chasing the shadows of the days away, the wind sheering away the dust of the past, Sam barely caught Dean’s quiet, “I would have found you if you didn’t.”
A/N: Thanks so much for reading. Next up is Wearing and Tearing, a pre-series story centering on John and Dean soon after Sam leaves for Stanford. Also, I have the unmitigated pleasure of co-writing with a good friend and great storyteller, LovinJackson. Refuto Monumentum is set in Season 4 and we are excited to bring it to you.
Playlist: "Lorena" is an antebellum song with Northern origins. Written in 1856 by Rev. Joseph Phillbrick Webster, after a broken engagement to his sweetheart.
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Aces of Spades by Motorhead
Ten Years Gone by Led Zeppelin