Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language and themes
Spoilers: Set pre-Series and in Season 1. No spoilers beyond Season 1
Summary: They didn't have many ; they didn't have many friends. Pastor Jim had been both. A look at how one man's life and death affected the Winchester family.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story name comes from Alter Bridge song, Wayward Ones.
Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1987
"You lost? Or just unlucky?"
"Depends," I answered the disembodied voice, punctuating my word by chambering a round. I hadn't shut the trunk and was prepared to reach into my newly furnished arsenal if he came closer.
"Hold up there, soldier."
He stepped into the light cast by the faded yellow bulb attracting moths and illuminating the Impala on the side of the road. His hands were raised, but in one I saw a late-model Colt revolver. I tilted my head. He wasn't dressed like a military man, but I recognized something about the way he held his body.
"I'm just offering help."
"Where the hell did you come from?" I asked, looking over his shoulder for some sort of transportation.
"I was, uh," he looked beyond me, through the back window of the Impala, and I knew he was seeing one of the boys. His eyes changed. With one glimmer of emotion, they turned hard and his fingers closed over the butt of his revolver, though his hands stayed raised. "I was tracking something in the woods."
"At night?" I asked, skeptical.
"What I was tracking travels at night."
I kept my gun level, holding my breath, hoping the boy he'd seen was Dean and not Sammy. A four-year-old on a hunt was most definitely frowned upon.
"They yours?" the stranger asked.
"Not sure that's any of your business," I replied. Shit, they're both awake….
He moved quickly, I'd give him that. His gun was lowered and focused on my heart before I was able to take my next breath.
"It is if I say it is."
I heard the unmistakable creak of the Impala's door. Before I could turn, Dean stepped in front of me. His scrawny eight-year-old frame barely cleared my belt buckle, but the set of his shoulders spoke volumes.
"Dean, get back in the car," I ordered, my finger ticking on the trigger of my own gun.
"No, sir," Dean responded.
"Son," I said, wanting to turn him to face me. "I said, get back in the car."
"Not until you do," Dean said, not taking his eyes off the stranger.
"Dad?" Sam's sleepy voice from the back seat wrapped around us.
"Damn it," I muttered.
With a calculated study of Dean's face and a glance into the back seat, the stranger lowered his weapon. "They're yours."
"Yes," I replied. "They are."
"Why do you have them out in these woods at this time of night?"
"Gimme a second, Sammy," Dean and I replied at the same time.
The stranger rolled his lips in, glancing over his shoulder toward the woods. As if deciding something, he stepped forward, thrusting out his hand. "Jim Murphy."
I looked at his hand a moment, then lowered my shotgun. "John Winchester. This is my son, Dean."
"Dean the protector," Jim nodded.
"You could say that," I answered softly, resting a hand on Dean's narrow shoulder.
A sudden haunting cry punctuated by several odd-sounding yips echoed in the night, and Dean startled, stepping back against me.
"We should get somewhere safe," Jim said, looking over his shoulder again.
"You got a car?" I asked.
"What?" Dean piped up. "What kind of a grown-up doesn't drive?"
Jim lifted a shoulder. "Didn't need to in the Marines. Turns out…don't need to as a pastor."
"I thought I saw the Corps in you," I replied, though in truth, I hadn't been able to place the stance.
"You serve?" Jim asked.
Jim nodded. "Semper Fi."
The yips sounded again, and Dean turned to me. "Dad? Can we go?"
"Give you a ride?" I jerked my head to the car.
Jim looked skeptical. "You got something that'll work against spirits?"
I couldn't stop my grin. I had finally gathered enough information to hunt down the creatures that sought shelter in the dark. I had finally gathered enough weaponry to make a stand. And now, I had a hunter to show it to.
"This oughta do," I said casually, tipping up the Impala's trunk with a finger.
Jim looked in. His eyebrows went up, and he looked back at me. "I call shotgun."
Closing the trunk, I steered Dean to the back seat and his brother while Jim climbed into the front. Starting up the engine, I glanced in the rear view mirror, as was my habit, to check on my boys. Sam had settled back to sleep, his head on Dean's lap. Dean was watching the newcomer with a mixture of fascination and suspicion.
"You really a pastor?" he asked suddenly.
Jim looked over his shoulder at Dean as I pulled away from the street light. "Yes, I am."
"Whatcha doin' hunting ghosts and stuff, then?" Dean asked. "Can'tcha just…ask God to do it?"
I smirked, waiting to see what Jim would say.
"Well, sure, I could." Jim nodded. "But God likes us to take care of ourselves. He just makes sure to…watch over us. He has…angels to help him out with that."
"That's not true," Dean said, and my heart panged against my ribs at the acid in his tone. Too bitter for a child.
"What do you mean?" Jim asked, turning almost all the way in the seat to look at Dean.
"God wasn't watching when my mom died. Guess those angels of his were off duty."
Jim looked at me, but I said nothing. He was the pastor, the man of God. Let him explain to my boy why God let his mother burn.
"Dean…is it okay if I call you Dean?"
"Whatever," Dean replied, his voice devoid of emotion.
I glanced in the mirror once more, but I couldn't see his eyes. Mary's eyes….
"Dean, there's stuff out there that we don't understand. No matter how hard we try. God's one of them."
"So…He watches out for us, sure. He doesn't want anything bad to happen to us. But…sometimes…it does."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Dean muttered.
I glanced at Jim, who was looking down. I couldn't be sure what he was seeing.
"Someday you'll learn that there's more to the truth than just the facts, Dean," Jim said quietly. "When you do…maybe then it won't sound so stupid."
"If you say so," Dean replied.
"Dean," I admonished.
He sighed, settling his head back against the seat. "Yes, sir?"
"That's not how you talk to our…our friends."
Dean looked out the side window, and I returned my eyes to the road. "Yes, sir," he replied sullenly.
Jim turned back around. "Friend, huh?"
"You help me keep these boys safe? You better believe it," I replied, unwittingly sealing a fate that would last Jim's lifetime.
Salvation, Iowa, 2005
I felt Dean tense as we watched his brother rub at the pain in his head. His protection of Sam was both satisfying and irritating. After all, I was here now. He didn't have to be on guard all the freakin' time.
"Yes," Sam sighed, as if he was tired of having to explain himself. Or…just tired. "I saw a demon burning a woman on the ceiling."
I felt myself grow cold as his words made me recall that moment. That night. The instant my life slipped away from me. I tightened my jaw against the rush of memory and heard my voice growl at my son. "And you think this is going to happen to this woman you met because…?"
Sam sighed, wincing as if the remnants of the pain his vision induced were sliding away with the ease of a serrated knife. "Because these things happen exactly the way I see them."
No…. My heart sank. It couldn't be. Not Sam. Not…not yet. The anger at what I knew to be true crowded with what the boys were telling me. I started to twist my wedding ring faster, grinding the heat of my denial against the post of resistance.
"It started out as nightmares," Dean spoke up, standing from the bed he'd been sitting on next to me and crossing the room to perch behind his brother, almost as if he felt the pending explosion as keenly as I did. "Then he started having them when he was awake."
Before anything could escape through my stunned lips, Sam nodded, relaxing back against his chair as soon as his brother was close to him. "Yeah…it's like…the closer I get to anything involving the demon, the stronger the visions get," he said.
My anger simmered higher, bordering on frustrated rage. "When were you going to tell me about this?" I looked from one to the other, demanding an answer.
I saw the subtlety of Dean's movement, barely registering what it meant at first. He stepped toward me, between Sam and I, his movements a forced casualness. "We didn't know what it meant," he said.
Son of a…I knew what it meant, boys. I know. "All right, something like this starts happening to your brother, you pick up the phone and you call me!"
Dean suddenly shimmered, incredulity resonating in his words as he approached, both pissing me off and shaming me as he spoke. "Call you? Are you kiddin' me? Dad, I called you from Lawrence, all right? Sam called you when I was dying. Gettin' you on the phone…I've got a better chance of winnin' the lottery."
They've grown so much, my boys.
Sam…Sammy is a man now. A man with a little boy's eyes. A little boy's hope. A little boy's belief. Dean…Dean had never been a little boy. He'd always been a man. My little man. My rock. And there was something cracking inside of him, and I didn't know how to seal it.
And he'd been dying. He'd been fucking dying, and I hadn't stopped this mission long enough to….
"You're right," I said softly, watching wonder cross my boy's face. "Although I'm not real crazy about this new tone of yours, you're right. I'm sorry."
Dean was silent.
Sam, however, looked from his brother to me and back with anxiety I regretted. "Look, guys, visions or no visions, the fact is, we know the demon is coming tonight. And this family's gonna go through the same hell that we went through."
I looked at him. My youngest. I remembered vividly grabbing him from the crib as his mother burned above him, thrusting him into Dean's arms, commanding Dean to take him outside. I remembered how his hair smelled—baby powder and that unique scent of infancy—as we sat huddled on the hood of the Impala, waiting for the fire to be put out. I remembered how warm he'd been that night when we all slept together in a pile in a motel bed.
"No, they're not," I vowed to him. To Sam. My promise to Sam. "No one is, ever again."
The ring of Sam's cell phone startled us from the moment, and I took a breath. I put my face in my hands as Sam answered, leaving him to his contact for a moment, gathering my wits, until I heard, "Meg. Last time I saw you, you fell out of a window."
I stood, approaching Dean, standing next to him as we watched Sam wrestle with the voice on the phone.
"Just your feelings? That was a seven-story drop." Sam's voice was filled with malice and disbelief.
Dean tensed beside me, and I wanted to put a hand out, touch him somehow. But I didn't move.
"My Dad…I don't know where my Dad is," Sam hedged, looking up at me. After another moment, he handed his phone to me.
Swallowing, I took it, turning from the boys. After Caleb's call about Jim, I thought I was prepared for anything this little bitch had to say.
"This is John."
"Howdy, John. I'm Meg. I'm a friend of your boys. I'm also the one who watched Jim Murphy choke on his own blood."
The words sliced through me as smoothly as if she'd used a blade. I felt my stomach bottom out and my eyes burn. I was glad I was facing away from the boys because I couldn't compose my face quickly enough.
Jim…I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry.
"Still there, John Boy?"
"I'm here," I replied, my teeth clenched.
"Well, that was yesterday. Today, I'm in Lincoln…visiting another old friend of yours."
Oh, God…. For a moment, I couldn't breathe. I felt the boys move closer and pulled in on myself, watching Dean from the corner of my eyes, still a half-inch in front of his brother.
"He wants to say hi."
"John! Whatever they do, don't give—"
Son of a bitch! "Caleb?" I saw Dean flinch and my heart beat hard against my ribs. "Caleb! You listen to me. He's got nothing to do with anything. You let him go!"
"We know you have the Colt, John."
Oh, shit. I hardened my voice, emptying it from the panic that filled my heart. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh. Okay. So, listen to this."
For a moment, it didn't register. I refused to comprehend the gurgles and gagging noises on the other end of the line as my friend choked and bled and died. Died because of me. "Caleb? Caleb!"
"Can you hear that? That's the sound of your friend dying. Now. Let's try this again."
I felt myself collapse inside, the corners of my heart folding in. I closed my eyes against the image of Dean staggering slightly to the side, out of my periphery, toward his brother.
"We know you have the gun, John," the demon continued. "Word travels fast. So, as far as we're concerned, you just declared war. And this is what war looks like. It has casualties."
Fuck you and your fuckin' casualties…. "I'm gonna kill you, you know that?"
"Oh, John, please. Mind your blood pressure. So, this is the thing. We're gonna keep doing what we're doing, and your friends, anyone who has ever helped you, gave you shelter, anyone you ever loved. They'll all die unless you give us that gun."
I can't. I can't. I turned slightly, looking quickly at my boys. They were standing completely still, silent, waiting, but their eyes were begging me for answers.
"I'm waiting, Johnny. Better answer before the buzzer."
"Okay," I replied.
"Sorry, I didn't quite get that."
"I said okay. I'll bring you the Colt."
I listened to her demands, tried to buy us more time, but in the end, she won. I closed the phone and turned reluctantly to face my sons, knowing they knew another of their friends had died. Sam's eyes swam, but Dean's were hard. There was something going on there. Something….
"So, you think Meg is a demon?" Sam asked me.
"Either that, or she's possessed by one. It doesn't really matter." I sighed, glancing down, the echo of Caleb's death rattle still clinging to the insides of my ears.
"What do we do?" Dean asked, his voice tight.
I looked up at him, prepared for his reaction. "I'm going to Lincoln," I announced.
"What!" Dean cried.
"It doesn't seem like I have a choice. If I don't go, a lot of people die. Our friends die."
I watched Dean's face grow pale, and I felt the shame of before licking at the edges of my conscious. He didn't have many friends. Sam, he had those few he'd made at Stanford. And he was likable enough that I knew if he needed to step back into that life, he'd be able to find some arms open and waiting for him. But Dean—
"Dad, the demon is coming tonight for Monica and her family. That gun is all we've got. You can't just hand it over."
I looked at Sam, his indignation at my audacity like a roadmap to self-righteousness on his young face. "Who said anything about handing it over?" Sam blinked as I continued. "Look, besides us and a couple vampires, no one's really seen the gun. No one knows what it looks like."
Dean drew his head back. "So, what, you're just gonna pick up a ringer at a pawn shop?"
"Antique store." I lifted a shoulder.
Dean worked his jaw. I recognized his expression. His no way in hell I'm gonna let you do this expression. "You're gonna hand Meg a fake gun and hope she doesn't notice?" He said the words carefully, his tone clipped, trying to get through to me, hoping I'd see how crazy this plan was.
Boy, I'm already there….
"Look, as long as it's close, she shouldn't be able to tell the difference."
Dean's anxiety drew him forward. I saw him shimmer once again, as if his heart shook him from the inside out. "Yeah, but for how long? What happens when she figures it out?"
God, Dean…. He had worked so hard to protect us, all of us, all his life. And I saw him losing ground. I saw him mentally clutching at air, wanting so badly to keep Sam and me behind him that his voice shook. The look in his eyes as he stared at me, I realized, was the slow siphoning of hope. And it had started when I slammed him with the news of Jim's death.
The death of our friend, our last safe place. The death of our last hold on innocence.
"I just…I just need to buy a few hours, that's all."
"You mean for Dean and me," Sam realized quietly.
I looked back at him, taking them both in. My boys. Growing up in chaos and standing amidst mayhem as men.
"You want us to stay here…and kill this demon…by ourselves?" Sam asked, the fear and skepticism in his voice breaking something inside me.
"No, Sam," I confessed, letting my eyes drop. "I want to stop losing people we love." I looked back at him. "I want you to go to school." I rested my eyes briefly on Dean. Watching him work to hold himself still, work to keep me proud, work to shove it all down. "I want Dean to have a home."
And as the tears pushed hot and hard against my eyes, I turned away, whispering. "I want Mary alive."
It took me a moment before I could look at my sons again. In that moment, I rolled through the ache, the longing, the lust I still had for my wife, twenty-three years after her death. I rolled through the love that burned on and couldn't be extinguished by time. The fire that fueled my fight, pushing me forward, pushing me away from my boys, pushing me to seek, to find.
I looked back at them, watching Dean's throat bob as he tried to breathe, Sam's tears glisten in his eyes. They were my boys. But they didn't belong to me. Not anymore. Not after everything I'd allowed to be taken from them.
"I just want this to be over."
My boys look back at me, and I felt their loss keenly. Their safe haven had been stripped away, its throat slashed by a demon, bleeding their hope all over the only other hands they'd allowed to help them. And now I was about to leave them. Again.
Please, I plead silently. Let this be right. Let them be strong enough.
Chatham, Michigan, 1993
Nobody is going to be as good as my brother.
Dean says that Dad is better, but he's wrong. I think when he taught Dean everything he knew, he let go of the good parts. He just let them slip out and sink into Dean and then he walked away.
I could see Dean through the crack in the door. I could see him holding the shotgun up, steady, as if he wasn't afraid of the thing pounding on the other side of the cabin door. As if he couldn't see the salt line getting brushed away as air puffed rhythmically under the door.
"You ready, Sammy?"
Hell, no. "Yeah."
"If it gets past me, you burn it, you hear?"
"I know, Dean," I called through the door. But I was glad to hear him repeat the words. I was glad to hear his confidence. Where the hell are you, Dad?
A screech swept over the house again, focusing on the front door once more, pounding with renewed frenzy. Through the small crack, I could see Dean stumble back, but the barrel of the shotgun didn't waver. Tiny spots start to gather at the corners of my eyes, and I realized I'd been holding my breath.
The pounding suddenly stopped. The screeching stopped. I blinked, staring hard through the door of the room Dean had hidden me in, the door my brother stood in front of.
"Oh, shit," Dean whispered.
And then my nightmare came true.
Dad had left us two nights before to hunt a rawhead with Pastor Jim. They'd been fighting when they left—fighting about leaving us alone. Dad said we were fine. Jim said we were just kids. I liked hearing him call Dean a kid. He was a kid. But most people we were around tended to forget that.
Dad won, of course, and Dean and I hung out down by the fishing pond near the little cabin. Then I had the nightmare. The nightmare about a bogeyman without a face. The nightmare about its fingernails ripping into Dean's chest and turning him bloody. The nightmare about it kissing me and turning me hollow.
Dean told me it was like a hangover…I was remembering the shtriga, and it was nothing. He couldn't find anything about a bogeyman in the books Dad left behind, but he let me sleep with him the next night. He woke me when the dream got bad and told me dirty jokes until I laughed so hard, I got the hiccups.
The third day, though, when Dad hadn't come home and Pastor Jim didn't call, Dean got worried. He wasn't worried about the bogeyman. But he was worried. I knew because he'd stopped talking, which was always a sign that something is Really Wrong. It wasn't until later that night that he told me he'd seen a…creature. Outside the cabin.
He said he'd been hoping Dad would get back before dark, but when the sun started to set, he'd made me put out the salt lines and started loading the shotgun. When the first screech echoed around the cabin, he shoved me into the supply closet with an aerosol can and Dad's Zippo.
The noise in the small cabin when the bogeyman burst through the door made me scream. I dropped the lighter as I covered my ears, falling to the ground and curling up tight. I heard the blast of Dean's gun as if from a distance, and then I heard Dean scream.
That sound shook me with a deeper fear than any nightmare. I knew, I was certain, that Dean's chest had been sliced to ribbons. I knew the bogeyman was going to kiss me hollow. I knew it. I knew it in my bones.
"No freakin' way some nasty thing is kissin' me," I growled, sliding my hand along the floor, searching for the Zippo. I found it and the aerosol can, and took a breath.
Closing my eyes against the sight I was sure waited for me, I flung the door open. The bogeyman from my nightmare was bent over my brother, who lay limp on the floor, the shotgun resting in his out flung hand. His chest wasn't bloody, but his face was bruised and his lip cut. The bogeyman was softly stroking Dean's chest.
"Hey, you freak!" I called, holding up the can and the lighter. "Leave my brother alone!"
The bogeyman looked up, and I saw what had made Dean scream. It was the face of nightmares, dark and featureless, with a gaping maw for a mouth and twisting shadows where his eyes should be. I felt it…suck…the air around me and I gasped.
Without thinking about how close Dean would be to the flame, I ignited my makeshift torch. The bogeyman screeched, flinging its burning body toward me as I dove out of the way, crying.
"Dean!" I called, seeing him lie in the shadow of the fire, the sleeve of his shirt ablaze. I ducked the bogeyman's swing and fell across my brother's arm, extinguishing the fire with my body.
I couldn't stop crying.
We weren't going to be kissed hollow.
We were going to burn up, just like Mom.
The sound of my Dad's shotgun was the best thing I'd ever heard. Another echoed it and I could hear a strange pop followed by a fizz and sizzle that reminded me of lightning. I heard orders being called out just before arms grabbed me up as I sobbed and clung to Dean.
"No! No, don't get Dean!"
My dad's bark stilled me. They were his arms around me, holding me tight. I pressed my sweaty face against his beard.
"It's gone, Son. It's not gonna get Dean."
"We need to get him out of here, John."
Pastor Jim, I realized as I held Dad tighter. Dad shifted me in his arms, and I felt him moving, felt the cool air of the night hit my face. I realized Dad was talking to me, but I couldn't understand his words. They were just meaningless, soothing sound. He was here, finally. That was all that mattered.
When we got to Jim's cabin, I looked around. Dad set me on a chair and started to peel away my clothes. It wasn't until that moment that I realized they'd been burned. I didn't hurt, but the skin on my chest was red, like I'd been standing in the sun. I started to shiver.
"You're going to be okay, Sammy. You hear me?"
I nodded, looking over at the couch where Pastor Jim was laying Dean down. "Dad? Is Dean okay?"
Dad looked over his shoulder. "He's gonna be okay."
"You promise?" I needed to hear him say it.
"I promise." He looked back at me, and his big hand smoothed down my hair. "You want to go sit with him?"
I nodded once more, and Dad helped me up. I walked to the couch and sat down at Dean's feet. Dad said something to Pastor Jim, who nodded. Dad looked at me, then crouched down. I realized he hadn't yet set down his shotgun.
"I need to go get some stuff to help you and your brother. Jim's gonna stay with you, okay?"
"Is the bogeyman really gone?"
I saw him exchange a look with Jim.
"Yeah." Dad nodded. "It's really gone. You boys…," He shook his head, looking down. "You boys did a good job. Hell, you did our job."
I nodded, looking back at Dean. His face was pale, the bruises on his forehead and eye standing out like they'd been painted on his skin. Jim was cleaning the blood away from his mouth.
"I burned him," I said softly after Dad left. "I set him on fire."
Jim looked over at me, a smile changing his eyes from a hunter's to a preacher's. "You saved your brother's life, Sam."
"He was on fire."
"You put the fire out—you saved him."
I watched Dean breathe. Watched his chest rise and fall. I wanted him to open his eyes and give me hell for my aim. I wanted him to tell me I was a pussy for crying. I wanted him to let me apologize.
"You okay, Sam?"
Pastor Jim always called me Sam. Not Sammy like Dad and Dean. I liked that. "Yeah. Just…cold."
A blanket materialized as if from thin air and was wrapped around me. I burrowed into it, the skin on my chest starting to sting.
"You boys did a brave thing tonight," Jim said softly. I watched in awe as he stroked a soft hand over Dean's short hair. I hadn't seen anyone touch Dean like that. Like he was…special. "You're a good team."
"Yeah, well." I shrugged, scooting closer to Dean's feet. "Dad makes sure we know what to do."
"He wouldn't let anything happen to you," Jim said, petting Dean again. I was confused. I couldn't tell if he was talking about Dad or Dean.
I watched as Jim cut Dean's shirt away, exposing a red, blistered arm. I laid my head on Dean's legs and watched him. He moved like Dean belonged to him. He was careful and watchful, pausing when Dean's breathing changed, relaxing when Dean didn't wake.
When Dad came back, Jim stepped away, letting Dad fix us up in his quiet, efficient way. His hands were gruffer, his face hard. Not soft and sad like Jim's. I watched Jim watch Dad with Dean, and I realized that I was seeing loneliness.
Salvation, Iowa, 2005
"Did you get it?"
I stood next to Dad, watching Dean approach. Everything felt different about today. The air was too bright. The wind had edges. My Dad looked like a shadow while my brother stood out in stark contrast to the world around us.
I felt my mouth go dry as Dean pulled out a paper-wrapped antique Colt and handed it to Dad. "You know this is a trap, don't you? That's why Meg wants you to come alone."
My breath stuttered in my chest as I worked to look as calm and in control as Dean.
"I can handle her," Dad replied confidently. "I got a whole arsenal loaded—Holy Water, Mandiac amulets—"
"Dad…." Dean interrupted him, and the sound of need in his voice caused my heart to trip.
"Promise me something."
I looked at Dean. Watching. Seeing something there…something….
"What's that?" Dad asked, not willing to promise, seeming to know what Dean was about to ask.
"This thing goes south, just get the hell out. Don't get yourself killed, all right? You're no good to us dead."
I swallowed, looking back at Dad, drawing strength from the set of his shoulders.
"Same goes for you," Dad said softly, leveling his eyes on Dean. He glanced quickly at me, then seemed to shake himself. "All right. Listen to me."
He pulled the real Colt from his jacket pocket and looked at us, taking both of us in with a glance. "They made the bullets special for this Colt. There's only four of 'em left. Without 'em, this gun is useless. You make every shot count."
The response was immediate and instinctive. "Yes, sir," I replied.
Dean said nothing. He just watched Dad.
A strange sort of sadness crossed Dad's face, and he looked up at us with a rueful smile. "I've been waiting a long time for this fight. Now…it's here and I'm not gonna be in it. It's up to you boys now. It's your fight. You finish this. You finish what I started." He straightened his shoulders once more. "You understand?"
I couldn't speak. My throat was tight. I had a sudden flash, an odd distorted flash of blood and tears. I tried to dismiss it, but a cold feeling started to grow in the back of my head, climbing down the back of my neck. A feeling that maybe…maybe we wouldn't see Dad again.
To hell with that. "We'll see you soon, Dad," I assured him.
Dad smiled at us. And the cold feeling grew. I was suddenly ten years old again and wanted to feel his arms holding me tight, wanted to press my cheek against his beard. Wanted him to tell me it was all gonna be okay.
"I'll see you later," Dad replied, turning and getting into his truck. He pulled away without a backward glance.
"Later," Dean said softly, and my heart cinched. He sounded like he'd felt the cold, too.
I turned to say something to him, to reassure him, but before I could open my mouth, he turned away, heading back to the car, the weight of the Colt tipping his jacket crooked on his body. I watched and waited for him to toss me a cocky, self-assured grin. To tell me we were gonna beat these sonsabitches.
But he stumbled slightly and thrust out a hand to balance himself against the car. I blinked. He was breaking before my eyes, and I found myself at a loss. I always thought my brother was the strongest person I'd ever meet. The one whom nothing got to.
Sometimes it's those we think we know best who elude us.
I've spent my whole life watching him. Watching, waiting, listening, absorbing. And I still missed it. I didn't know where the line was, or how deep the crevasse was buried inside him until one faded and the other broke him.
When I look back, I think, I should have seen, I should have known.
But life doesn't allow for rear view mirrors, and the moment we look over our shoulder to try to see what's being left behind, we turn into a pillar of salt.
Doesn't stop me from trying, though.
"Yeah, Sammy." His voice was barely audible, but he responded to me. As he always has.
"We're gonna be okay," I said, but it came out sounding like a question.
Dean simply nodded, then turned around and moved to the trunk. I stepped back, watching. When he opened the trunk, lifting the lid to the weapons cache, I thought he was going to put the Colt inside, keep it safe. But he surprised me.
He plucked the dream catcher from its hook.
The dream catcher Pastor Jim had made for him when he was a kid. When his nightmares were worse than mine.
"She killed him, Sam. Just…just slit his throat."
I swallowed. The pain and anger in my brother's voice scooped out my heart. "I know."
"Because of us." His fingers played with the beads at the center. I said nothing. "He was…one of the best, y'know?"
I knew he didn't mean hunters. I nodded quietly.
"He was the only…I mean, other than Dad, I…."
I heard tears in his voice. Tears. Dean doesn't cry. The last time he'd been close had been in Chicago. When he'd confessed to wanting to be a family again. When I'd told him no.
"He told me to come back. Did you know that?" He continued to stare at the dream catcher, so I didn't move. "He told me that we—all of us, even Dad—had a home there." He huffed out a humorless laugh. "A home. Said it would always be there for the wayward. The ones that were…y'know…lost."
He swallowed. I heard it. As if his pain had curled into a ball and he'd forced it down. When he looked up at me, all I saw in his eyes was rage.
"She's not gonna do that to anyone else."
I shook my head. Waiting.
Dean blinked; I had to stop myself from taking a step back. The heat in his eyes was frightening. "I'm not losing anyone else."
I shook my head again, helplessly.
"No. One. Else."
"Okay, Dean," I said, wanting to reach out, unable to do so.
He put his dream catcher in his pocket and I noticed a strange thing. The bit of twine and leather, adorned by several small beads, seemed to balance out the weight in his other pocket, straightening the line across his shoulders.
He closed the trunk and moved to the driver's door. I followed, my body tight.
We had work to do.
a/n: If you're interested, the tale of the dream catcher that Dean retrieves from the Impala's trunk—and of Jim making that for Dean—was told in my story Hear No Evil.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed. Your feedback helps make the hellatus bearable. I have one other 'zine story that is eligible for posting and I'll put it up later this month as I work through some more story ideas and bring some outlines to life.