Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language and themes
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1 after 1.16, Shadow
Summary: In an attempt to save a disillusioned hunter from himself, Dean and Sam are caught in a spell that sends them to 1870 Texas. Surviving the old west is hard enough. Escaping it could prove to be
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: This plot asks that you suspend reality a wee bit. I've worked to keep it as close to canon as I could, and I hope that you trust me to carry our heroes through this journey to a satisfying end. This is most definitely an area where "artistic license" lays claim. Though I've had several years' experience with horses, it's been awhile since I've been on one and I ask you equestrians out there to go easy on me. Gun-play, well, that's all been learned through movies, TV, reading, and checking in with my friend Thru Terrys Eyes. I've tried to keep it broad enough to not make blatant mistakes, but specific enough to paint a picture.
You be the judge.
Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? And cold comfort for change? Did you exchange a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?
~ Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here"
Maera, Texas 2005
The light hung low on a horizon that was miles away. Gray fingers of dawn drew tracks in the night and crawled across the flat land riddled with crab grass, tumbleweeds, and ancient, leaning posts that had once held yards of barbed wire marking territory and staking claims.
He could smell the tang of ozone on the reluctant wind as an early morning storm weighed its options; the coppery, metallic taste of blood lingered on his tongue from where he'd kissed it off the face of the one person in this world he'd ever truly loved.
He'd never wanted his boy to have this life; he'd done everything he could to protect him from it. But in the end it hadn't mattered. The bad guys found him. The bad guys won.
The bad guys always win.
"Not always, Jake," came a gruff voice over his shoulder. He hadn't realized the last thought had been out loud. "If they did…we wouldn't be here."
"Max, I just put my boy in the ground." Jake rubbed his hand over three days growth of beard, brushing at a smear of the cakey red mud that coated his boots and the cuffs of his jeans and was now drying on his cheek. "They won this one."
It wasn't the first grave he'd dug, not by a long shot. Years of ranch life and war had come before he'd ever learned what it truly meant to be a hunter. And with each bend in his road, graves had been necessary. He knew it wouldn't be the last, either. But it had been the deepest hole he'd ever climbed into. And he couldn't fill it; not even when he ran out of dirt.
He'd not dug this grave in the earth; he'd dug it in his heart.
"C'mon, Jake," Max said, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Time to go."
"I need another minute."
He felt Max nod; the brief squeeze by his friend's hand was meant to be reassuring, but Jake only felt the hard pinch of callused fingers.
"I'll just go tell Leo to get the truck ready."
"You do that," Jake replied, not taking his eyes from the low slope of earth that would soon sink and settle, eventually growing grass and weeds and erasing all sign that it had ever been disturbed.
That his boy lay beneath.
His body trembled briefly, a heart-sick pain rolling from the inside out. He had to stop this thing. He should have stopped it before this; before Sean had been the one to fall. He wouldn't make the same mistakes again.
"Eye for an eye," Jake whispered in a dull voice to the retreating night. "Fire with fire."
He didn't offer a hollow promise at the foot of his son's unmarked grave. He didn't even whisper a prayer. His pledge for vengeance was quieter; the unspoken vow all the more dangerous because he'd not said it aloud.
When he returned to Leo's faded, red pick-up truck, he regarded his two friends: men who had stood by him and stood up for him since before he'd been able to comprehend the weight of friendship. Working their father's lands had shifted to fighting for their country then spun into ridding the world of evil.
The thing they'd forgotten, though, was that in a world without evil, heroes die.
Under Jake's sharp-edged, scrutinizing gaze, Max reached up reflexively to stroke his thick, white handlebar mustache, his dark eyes peering from beneath the brim of a Stetson he was never without. Leo, a wiry build belying the strength Jake knew lay secreted in his friend's solid grip and powerful arms, simply looked back at him, round, rimless glasses covering mild blue eyes.
They'd grown up together, fought together, hunted all matter of prey together. And Jake was relying on those years of unity to support him in what he was about to do.
"I'm going after it," he proclaimed without preamble.
Max had been leaning against the truck bed; Leo sitting with one hip on the front bench seat. Both came to a startled attention at his words.
"Jake, what about what John Winchester said—"
"Screw John Winchester," Jake said, interrupting Leo's protest. "He's still got his boys."
"He ain't with 'em," Max commented.
"Think that's my fault?"
"No." Max shook his head. "John's got his own mind about that."
Jake made his way to the truck bed and tossed the shovel in the back. It clattered against the metal ridges with a ringing finality that was almost Jake's undoing. He had to pause a moment to grip the cold edge of the tailgate and find his center.
"Jake," Leo tried. "I'm real sorry about Sean. You know that. I—we—loved that kid like he was our own."
Jake simply looked at him.
"But…you can't just…go after it."
"I can if I know where it is," Jake replied.
He watched Max and Leo exchange worried, cautious looks.
"Nobody knows where it is," Max pointed out. "That's what John—"
"John Winchester ain't God," Jake snapped, his resistance hedging on a breaking point. "Might be a damn fine hunter, but that's pretty much all I can say about the man."
"It's because he's a hunter that we should listen—" Leo began, but closed his mouth with a click when Jake exploded.
"I don't want to hear another goddamn word about John fucking Winchester!"
Max folded his lips down and slouched against the truck bed, head bent low, eyes on the ground. Leo simply raised his hands in surrender and turned to face the sight of the sun chasing the reluctant storm, a wall of steel colored clouds turning the air heavy with anticipation.
"'Sides," Jake huffed, working to calm his voice. "I'm not talking about now. I know where it's been."
Jake could practically count the heartbeats in the silence that surrounded what was left of his make-shift family. As per usual, Leo caught on before Max.
He wasn't asking how Jake knew; he was asking how he was going to do it. With Leo it wasn't about where they'd come from but where they were going. He had to have a plan, a mission, a purpose. Without it, he panicked. And because of that, Jake knew his friend would be two steps ahead. He was counting on it.
Jake shifted his eyes to the figure hogtied and wrapped in burlap on the back seat of the truck. The figure responsible for Sean being in the ground and not standing here beside him. The figure they would return to Hell.
Max and Leo slowly followed his gaze and Jake felt them catch their collective breath.
"You can't do that." Leo shook his head. His glasses caught a glint from the rising sun as he turned back to Jake.
"It's black magic," Max pressed, moving closer to Leo as if to create a wall of humanity between Jake and the thing in the back of the truck. "It's everything we've been fighting against all these years. You're…you're talking about calling on the goddamn forces of darkness, here, man!"
"We all have a little darkness inside of us," Jake replied, watching with cold satisfaction as his friends' eyes went wide with realization. "You in or out? 'Cause I ain't waiting."
He simply looked at them, showing them he meant every word, declaring that this was one thing he was prepared to do with or without them.
Wordlessly, because that was the way it had always been with them, Max climbed into the truck bed and Leo behind the wheel, both showing with their actions what Jake had always known: they wouldn't leave him to fight this alone.
Jake circled the truck and climbed into the passenger side, shifting to look at the figure in the back.
"You better be worth the price we paid."
Gary, IN 2005
If he hadn't gone first, he would never have seen it. He was absolutely certain of that. Dean would have fixed him up, sent him out of the room with a snarky comment, and he'd have spent the day wallowing in self pity and nursing the sting of perceived betrayal.
They'd left Chicago in silence. Dean hadn't even turned on the radio—a sure sign that all is not right in his world. Sam had gingerly touched the cuts on his face, the blood turning first sticky and then stiff as it was allowed to dry. The night had gathered them close as their separate recollections of the previous hours kept them in their individual corners.
After driving for several hours, Dean had pulled off at the Sleep EZ Motel just south of Gary, IN; he'd gone into the motel office to secure a room, apparently counting on the weak light of early morning to shadow the effect of the wounds on his face. The quick patch job with the sleeve of a spare shirt in the car had done little to make him appear presentable.
Sam had simply waited in the car, letting the bitter echoes of abandonment poison each intake of breath until he fairly shook from it.
The moment they'd entered what was easily the smallest motel room Sam had ever seen, Dean had maneuvered him into the bathroom with a hand on his shoulder, shoving him down on top of the closed lid of the toilet and told him to sit still. Sam had silently obeyed, closing his eyes against the glare of reality, memories looping through his mind in abbreviated mental pictures of light and shadows, pain and smoke.
Dad at the window, Dean crossing the room, strong arms around him…tears, longing, regret, a flash of light…blood, screams, pain, the sudden cool of the night…suffocating pressure, wasted words, Dad driving away…..
"Sit still." Dean's voice was gruff, brisk, tight.
"If you were, I wouldn't have said anything," Dean shot back, applying more pressure than necessary as he cleaned the cuts on Sam's cheek.
Grunting in reply, Sam opened his eyes to fire back a strained retort when he saw the blood. It matted Dean's shirt against his brother's side in a wide swath from armpit to waistband, tucked around so that it was effectively hidden behind his jacket. If Sam hadn't been seated, his face level with Dean's chest, he wouldn't have noticed.
And Dean would have just gone on hiding it.
The sting of antiseptic made him flinch away with a hiss and Dean's touch immediately gentled. Sam watched his brother's careful movements as he reached over to his left and rinsed some of the blood from the towel he'd been using to clean Sam's face.
Sam wanted to know what Dean saw when he closed his eyes. If he saw Dad driving away.
Their first aid kit was spread out on the narrow counter next to the sink. The water was running hot, steam rising from the steady stream and fogging the small mirror mounted on the wall. Dean turned off the water and then held a blood-smeared white towel against Sam's cheek, the heat from the water stinging the raw skin inside the cuts. Several cotton balls saturated with antiseptic lay on the edge of the counter next to their make-shift suture set.
"Almost done," Dean said. "Hang onto something; this might…sting…a little."
Instinctively, Sam closed his eyes and gripped the edge of the seat. He felt liquid fire run in quick rivers down his cheek and he gritted his teeth, a groan escaping despite his best efforts. That last douse of antiseptic nearly sent him over the edge, but almost immediately he felt the burn lessen and the warm towel return to soothe his damaged skin.
"Don't think you need stitches. Few butterflies'll do."
Sam swallowed at the controlled calm in his brother's tone. His it's okay, I've got you tone. He opened his eyes, blinking away the sweat that had gathered his lashes together as he'd stiffened against the onslaught of healing agents. His eyes tracked immediately to the blood on Dean's side, trying to remember how he'd missed such a wound in the confusion of the fight with the Daeva.
"Shut your eyes! These things are shadow demons, so let's light 'em up!"
He remembered Dad screaming, pinned to the cabinets. He remembered someone shoving him aside, a cry.
Sam closed his eyes once more and recalled the moment just before the light from the flare illuminated their small world: Dean, on his back, curling over to his side, face fisted in pain.
"When were you going to tell me?" Sam asked, eyes still closed, holding himself still as Dean's blunt, rough-skinned fingers taped the bandages carefully in place.
"About the butterflies?" Dean's confusion was plain in his tone. "Kinda had to wait until I cleaned all the blood off, Sammy."
"About your side," Sam opened his eyes and looked up at his brother's face as Dean straightened slowly.
"I'll get it in a sec," Dean muttered through stiff lips, his eyes darting to the side, unwilling—or unable—to meet Sam's accusatory gaze.
"How come you didn't say anything?" Sam pressed, a brittle edge of control crumbling at the ends of his words. He'd been too still, too pliant. He felt a familiar burn of anger twisting up inside of him, hungry to escape. He wanted to pace, to move, to hit something—anything—hard.
"It's fine," Dean replied gruffly.
Feeling mean, Sam reached out and pressed two fingers against Dean's ribs. He didn't have to press hard. Dean flinched away, stumbling back a step.
"Think we need a new definition of the word fine," Sam snapped.
Dean stared hard at him for what felt like an eternity of heartbeats. His green eyes had gone flinty and shadowed and Sam knew he was being measured, that Dean was taking stock of both him and the situation. In his youth he'd alternately cowered and rebelled against that look. Since returning to the fray from his brief respite at Stanford, he'd learned to use it to his advantage.
But this time, it simply pissed him off.
"You think you're tougher than me, that it?"
"Grow up, Sam."
"Go to hell, Dean."
Throwing the towel directly at Sam's face with enough force its impact stung, Dean turned from the small bathroom and stomped into the equally small bedroom. Sam pulled the towel away and watched him walk into the other room, a familiar roll of shoulders that had always meant two things to Sam: home and safety. And because he was hurt—and the one he wanted to lash out at was gone—Sam started to poke at that safety net, widening any holes he could find.
Dean paused as he reached the break between two of the smallest beds Sam had ever seen. Sam watched as Dean's shoulders sagged, his head dropping low. The defeat he saw in that stance—the appearance of a weight that Sam knew his brother wouldn't have to carry alone if someone else picked up the pieces once in awhile—blasted away any remaining control and Sam shoved to his feet, dropping the bloody towel on the floor.
"He wouldn't have left if he knew you were hurt that bad!" Sam blurted out as he crossed the room behind his brother.
Dean half turned to face him, his expression one of disbelief. "What the hell are you—"
Sam continued to cross the room, not pausing in his stride, and reached out to grip Dean's shoulder, pulling his brother around roughly to face him.
"We had him, Dean! All this time…all these hunts…everything we've…survived—it's all been so we could find Dad. We had him! And you let him leave!"
Sam registered the shift in his brother's face, the quicksilver flash of heated emotion sluicing away to a practiced emptiness.
"Let go of me, Sam."
Dean's calm voice rode in contrast to Sam's roar, but it was just as effective at grabbing attention. Sam was two heartbeats from challenging his brother to make him when he saw the muscle along Dean's jaw bounce. Dean wanted the challenge, Sam realized. He'd missed the signs while cresting on his own wave of hurt feelings, but Dean was spoiling for a fight just as badly as Sam was.
He forced his fingers to open, releasing his grip on Dean's shoulder, and took a step back, but he wasn't through tugging open this particular hole. "He wanted to stay."
"Like hell," Dean said, shaking his head. "He knew he had to go."
"He was gonna stay for us, Dean," Sam protested. "You heard him! He saw how beat up—"
"Drop it, Sam," Dean ordered, and Sam watched as his right hand snaked up to press against the wound on his side as if on an invisible string. "Whoever Meg was working for? Wanted Dad. Not us, Dad. It—they—used us to get to him."
"So what?" Sam replied petulantly.
It didn't matter that what Dean said made logical sense. It didn't matter that Dad said the fight was just beginning, that Sam would have a part to play. It didn't matter that they were all safer apart.
What mattered was that he'd had just enough time to realize that he wanted his family together before it was ripped apart again so quickly it wrenched something inside of him. He ached deeper than the Daeva cuts, deeper than bruised muscles. He ached somewhere under his heart and he couldn't figure out how to breathe around that pain.
"Jesus, Sam." Dean rolled his eyes. He started to move past Sam. "How about thinking of someone other than yourself for a change?"
Dean's shoulder bumped Sam's arm as he made his way back to the bathroom; Sam snarled, reaching out and grabbing his brother.
"You mean like you did?" Sam yelled. "Who were you thinking about when you came and got me from school?"
Dean whirled with Sam's words, twisting out of his brother's grip, his face inches from Sam's as he shouted in return, "I am fuckin' sick of hearing about Stanford and your perfect life! You want to go back to that so bad, nobody's stopping you!"
"Not what you said yesterday!"
"Yeah? Well, things change!"
"If I wasn't here, you'd have made him stay!"
"If you weren't here, he wouldn't have come in the first place!"
Dean's bellowed confession halted them both for a moment and Sam watched something he couldn't name, but instinctually recognized, shift through his brother's eyes.
They stood toe-to-toe, chests heaving from pent up emotions and aggression, eyes hot with anger. Dean pressed his lips tightly closed as if willing the rest of his thoughts to stay back, keep quiet.
A muscle twitched in Dean's cheek and Sam knew then: the ache he now felt had been his brother's constant companion for years. He saw it in Dean's eyes. And it confused the hell out of him.
Then, as if someone had pulled a release valve, all fire, all anger, all pain disappeared from Dean's face and he lifted his chin slightly. "Forget it," he drawled. "It's not worth it. Not like it's ever gonna happen."
He half turned, ready to walk away and Sam suddenly, inexplicably saw red. The part of his brain that feasted on logic, that saw a clear path through the maze of emotion that often times ruled his world, knew that he wasn't mad at Dean. He wasn't even really mad at John. He was mad that any of this was real, that they were once again rendered apart because of circumstances beyond their control.
He couldn't fight the circumstances, but he could lash out at his brother.
"What's never gonna happen, Dean? Dad staying or me leaving?"
Dean looked at Sam out of the corner of his eyes, and the flash of vulnerability Sam saw there should have stayed his hand but instead it only fueled his fire. "'Cause I promise you that when this fight's over, I'm outta here."
Dean looked away, shaking his head once. "You go ahead and tell yourself that, Sam." He dropped his eyes to his hands; he was holding his right in his left, turning the silver ring around his finger. "But it's never going to be over."
Grumbling a low, "Yes, it will," Sam pushed Dean away from him, intending to only get space between them, suffocating on the truth that was twisting into something dark.
Whether his force was too much or Dean's balance was off, Sam never had time to really figure out, because Dean stumbled, a gasp escaping as the motion jolted his wounded side. Triggered by the pain or looking for an excuse, Dean used that push to launch at his brother.
He gripped the front of Sam's shirt and with a growl, turned him, slamming him with impressive force against the wall. Sam felt the impact rock through his body, reminding him that aside from the slashes on his face, there were numerous bruises and muscle tears that the Daeva had treated him to.
"You can't leave it, Sam," Dean said, his words slipping out through clenched teeth and brushing against Sam's face like acid. "You can walk away from me, you can forget about Dad, you can put away your guns, but this is your life. This will always be your life!"
Sam's eyes burned, his mouth curled into a snarl, his hands fisted in Dean's jacket and with disregard for wounds or bruises or pain, he shoved back, a cry of denial building in his gut and climbing his throat to wash over his brother as he forced him away. He shoved hard enough that Dean's legs hit the side of a bed and he tumbled backwards across it with a grunt of pain audible even over Sam's rage.
"You just want to believe that, Dean!" Sam took a step forward, heat licking his cheeks as he let the words build and tumble free, riding on a confused tangle of perceived duplicity that stemmed from the one person they were supposed to be able to trust: their father. "You just want this to be my life because you don't know what else to do!" Sam paused a moment to pull in a breath, looking at his brother with eyes blind to the understanding on Dean's face. "Well, I do! I know what else is out there! I had it, man!"
He turned away from Dean, shoving his fingers into his hair and curling them into fists against his temples. God he hurt. It was pervasive. It shimmered through him. He wanted to throw up to relieve the pressure, but he knew in the back of his mind it wouldn't do any good. Because this pain wasn't from a sickness or a wound.
"I had everything…for like this one perfect moment I had everything and then she died and I…I lost it…and Dad disappeared…and you…."
Sam dropped his hands, unconsciously assuming a stance that echoed Dean's earlier defeated posture. His voice slipped to a whisper, one he couldn't be sure Dean even heard. But it didn't matter now. It wasn't about getting Dean to understand as much as it was about getting the ache to just stop.
"All I had left was finding Dad. Finding him and getting this…thing that killed Mom. Killed…killed Jess."
He felt the tears pushing against the words in an effort to escape first. "And then Dad was here…and for like two seconds everything was…was okay again. I really felt like it could be okay."
He sniffed and surrendered to the emotion that had been pursuing him since Chicago. Ignoring the shame he too often felt, he let the tears come, feeling their trail wet his cheeks, skipping across the fresh wounds, and tucking into the corners of his mouth. "And then he left. You told him…you told him to leave."
Silence pulsed between them. He could hear his harsh, sorrow-filled breaths. He tried to steady them, but too much had built up inside of him; his heart was a rebellion of emotion.
"You didn't have everything."
The words were so quiet Sam felt his body still in reaction just to hear more.
"You didn't have us."
Sam half-turned, looking at his brother laying across the foot of the bed where Sam had pushed him, his head back, his eyes closed, one hand resting on the now-growing red stain on his side.
"And I'm sorry, Sammy," Dean continued, his voice pulling Sam around like an audible hook. "I am…I am so sorry." Sam sniffed, swiping the back of his hand across his unmarked cheek and drying his tears. Dean's chin shook once and then steadied. "Fuck, man…," he almost sighed. "Don't you think I wanted him to stay? That's all I've been after—for us to be a…," Dean swallowed, seemingly forcing the words free, "to be a family again."
Sam took a step closer to the bed. Dean still hadn't opened his eyes.
"But when it comes to you guys—to you and Dad—it's not about that." He licked his lips. "It's about…I don't know. Keeping you guys safe, I guess. And if he'd been with us…they'da just kept coming until either we were dead…or he was."
"You think he's safe out there alone?" Sam asked, hearing the youth in his voice, the hope, the need for Dean to make it better.
"He's safer on his own than he is with us." Dean blinked open heavy eyes, looking up at the ceiling, not at Sam.
"You really believe that?"
Dean rolled his head to the side, meeting Sam's gaze. "No." He closed his eyes, then straightened his neck. "But he does. And that's what matters, I guess."
Sam wanted to sit down. He wanted to close his eyes. He wanted to sleep for a month.
"If you really want to go…y'know, when this is all over," Dean said suddenly, "I won't stop you."
And with those words, with that permission to be free of this one day, Sam felt the ache begin to ease. In truth, he had no idea if going back to Stanford was really what he wanted or not; he was just hurting, body and soul, and the idea that this life of death was really all he had to hope for was enough to defeat him in this moment. He wanted something else, something not tied to blood and death.
Something that didn't give him nightmares.
Watching his brother, though, he allowed himself a small, quiet confession: he didn't want to leave his family behind again in order to find that peace. Dean had been right. He hadn't had everything.
"I mean, I won't throw a party or anything," Dean continued.
"No party, huh?" Sam asked, quietly appreciative of Dean's method for putting them back on even ground.
Dean looked at him once more. "I kinda like having you around to watch my back."
"Save your ass, you mean," Sam corrected good-naturedly.
Dean folded his lips in concession, not moving from his sprawl across the bed. "Well, it's a nice ass. Deserves saving."
Sam narrowed his eyes at the shift in tone. "Yeah?"
"Wait until it's really over before you leave, okay?"
Sam looked down, tightening his jaw. "Okay."
They stayed quiet for a moment, Sam's quiet promise weaving an invisible bond in the abbreviated space between them. Finally, when Sam couldn't take the silence anymore, he looked up. "You need some help?"
The fact that Dean had stayed where he fell, that he hadn't been up, pacing the tiny room like a tiger on steroids while Sam blew angst all over them shifted his worry up a notch. Aside from a blood stain and a fragmented memory of Dean falling under Daeva claws, Sam had no idea how badly his brother was hurt.
"No, I got—" Dean tried to roll to his side, then groaned, falling back. "On second thought…."
Sam moved closer, gripping Dean's wrist and pulling gently until Dean was sitting up on the edge of the bed. Huffing out a breath, Dean listed to his right, away from the cuts.
"How bad?" Sam asked, concern tingeing his question.
"I'll live," Dean grunted. Without waiting for help, he pushed to his feet, and turned toward Sam. "Let's just…"
Sam felt his stomach drop as the color drained completely from Dean's face, his eyes falling closed. He instinctively reached out as Dean's knees buckled and caught him in an awkward embrace, carrying both of them to the floor.
In a flash, their actions caught up with him and he recalled Dean stepping across the room to hug John, watching as John embraced Sam, blocking the strike of the Daeva as Sam retrieved the flare, supporting John as they all stumbled to the car, driving through the seemingly endless night cloaked in quiet, hauling their bags and Sam from the car, forcing Sam to sit still so that he could clean his wounds first.
"You stupid…," Sam whispered, rolling Dean down his arm to get a better grip, noting the sickly, pale pallor of his brother's face. "You shoulda said something, Dean," Sam accused, pulling the jacket away from Dean's side, then carefully peeling up the sodden T-shirt.
Four claw marks to match the ones on Dean's forehead and Sam's cheek scored Dean's ribs, the lowest one digging deep into the flesh just beneath the curve of bone. The gashes were longer, the skin parting like lips around the opening.
And after their recent actions, blood now spilled freely.
"Dammit," Sam swore, getting his knees under him and boosting Dean up so that his back was against Sam's front. Dean groaned with the motion, but Sam ignored it. Pushing to his feet, he pulled Dean with him, and then dragged him onto the bed. "Goddammit," he cursed again as the blood from Dean's wound smeared along the bedspread with the movement.
"What'd you do that for, huh?" Sam asked his unconscious brother, worry and a fair amount of fear jacking up his blood pressure and increasing the speed of his breathing. "You don't just hide something like this from me, man."
Leaving Dean sprawled and still on the bed, Sam hurried to the bathroom and gathered up the first aid kit Dean had set out. Holding the package of needles, sutures, bandages, scissors, tweezers and cotton balls against his chest, he saw that there were two bottles of antiseptic. He picked up the heaviest one and then returned to the bed and set them next to Dean's wounded side.
A quick glance confirmed that Dean hadn't moved. He went back to the bathroom and gathered several towels, wetting one with hot water. As he did, he caught a glimpse of his own face in the mirror. Now clean and bandaged, the slashes in his face were little more than scratches, the third one down the longest.
The dark circles beneath his hazel eyes seemed to echo his earlier desire to lie down and just rest; he closed his eyes for a moment, jerking back in surprise when the hot water splashed from the towel onto his hand. Turning off the faucet, he carefully squeezed the excess water from the towel and returned to his brother.
Rolling Dean carefully to his right, Sam eased his arm out of his jacket, moving around the bed to repeat the motion on the other side. Taking a breath, he pulled out the scissors from their kit and cut away Dean's ruined T-shirt. He rubbed his forehead wearily as he examined the cuts in the yellowish light of the motel floor lamp, and then lifted the hot towel, gingerly touching it against the abused flesh of Dean's side.
The heat from the towel caused Dean to instinctively jerk away, but he didn't wake. Sam carefully cleaned as much blood from around the wounds as he could, returning to the bathroom twice more to rinse and re-wet the towel. As he worked, his anger evaporated leaving only a heavy sadness in its wake, the taste of regret coating the back of his tongue.
The pale light of morning slipped through the crack in the heavy curtain, the beam playing with dust motes and cutting a slash across Sam's hands and Dean's bare belly. Sam had to move the corner lamp closer to make sure he got most of the blood cleaned away from the wound. When he was sure it was clear, he wet a handful of cotton balls with antiseptic and pressed them carefully against the top cut.
Dean nearly came off the bed.
"Jesus Christ!" The words were ragged, breathy, panicked.
"Hey, easy." Sam caught Dean's instinctive flight, holding his brother down with gentle hands. "You'll start them bleeding again!"
Dean's wide eyes flew around the room, disorientation evident. "What the hell—"
"Daeva, remember? Cut your side? You fainted on me, man."
That caught his attention. Dean shot his eyes directly to Sam. "No, I didn't."
"Yeah, you did," Sam nodded, eyebrows up, and continued to dab at the open wounds. "You put your hand to your forehead and sank delicately to the ground."
"Bullshit," Dean groused, trying to get a glimpse at what Sam was doing. "Ah! Be careful, dude!"
"Dean, you've been bleeding off and on all night, man. You got some serious cuts here."
"Not serious," Dean retorted, dropping his head back and stiffening under Sam's touch.
"Serious enough," Sam grumbled. "I can't believe you made me go first."
Dean just shrugged as if to say it didn't occur to me to do anything differently. "Stitches?"
"Uh, yeah," Sam replied. "A lot of them."
"I hate stitches."
They were quiet a moment while Sam finished cleaning the deepest of the cuts. As he prepared the sterilized needle, he looked up at Dean's face, saw the lines of tension framing his eyes and snaking down his jaw.
"You want a shot of something?"
"What do we have?"
Sam stood and went to Dean's duffel bag. A silver flask was tucked into the end. "Whatever's in this."
Dean reached out his hand, unscrewed the cap, and took a long pull. He held it wordlessly out to Sam, who waved it off.
"I think you want me clear-headed for this, Dean."
"You want to burn the needle first?" Dean asked.
"Already done. Quit stalling, you big baby," Sam retorted. "Ready?"
Dean took another swig from the flask, then pressed his lips together and nodded. To his credit, the only sound he made was when Sam got the thread knotted and tugged a bit on the wound. By the time Sam was finished with the two deepest cuts, Dean had eighteen stitches in his side. His body shook in reaction both to the intrusion of the needle and the effort at holding still for so long. Sweat ran in dark rivulets through his close-cropped hair and beaded across his upper lip.
"I think the top two are okay with bandages."
"There is a God," Dean panted. He handed the flask back to Sam with a shaking hand. "Gonna…just pass out—in a manly way—for a minute."
A rueful grin tugging up the corner of his mouth, Sam nodded. He looked at the cuts across Dean's forehead, but decided they could wait. Dean needed rest, and the cuts didn't look deep. He started to clean up the supplies; as he was about to head to the bathroom, he heard his name.
Dean spoke with his eyes closed, a slur born of alcohol, exhaustion, and latent pain giving his words more meaning.
"You w're right."
Dean licked his lips, turning his head away. "I wasn't thinking 'bout you when I gotcha 't Stanford."
Sam stood still, listening.
"Jus din't wanna be 'lone," Dean whispered, and with those words, Sam watched him give in to sleep, his body sighing as it relaxed into the bed.
Swallowing past the tight fist in his throat, Sam turned slowly back to the bathroom, setting the first aid supplies on the counter, and then regarded himself in the mirror. He saw his father in his own face, the cut of his cheekbones, the shape of his mouth. He saw his father in the edge he detected in his expression.
He wanted to turn away, unable for one frightening moment to see himself.
Closing his eyes, Sam leaned his forehead against the mirror. He'd spent so much time hating his father, running from the similarities he couldn't help but see. But all he wanted now was to return to that moment in the Chicago motel room before the Daeva attacked. The moment he saw nothing but relief and love in his father's eyes. The moment he felt forgiveness ease the tightness in his chest.
Just didn't want to be alone…
"Me neither," Sam whispered to the mirror.
Continued in Part 1B, found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/80965.html