Â(c) 2007 b stearns
13,208 words, R for language and violence.
Before it can get better, it has to get worse.
Sam, Dean and John deal after the death of the demon.
For every life and every act consequence of good
and evil can be shown and as in time results of many deeds are blended
so good and evil in the end become confounded.
â€" T. S. Eliot
On reflection, it was probably all justified.
Sam figured he'd know that for certain if he could
remember what the hell had really happened the night they killed a higher
echelon demon, the demon. He tried to remind himself to just call
it by name, give it character and shape in his head with a designation
and without his brother's or father's faces. Azaz'el. How the mighty
had fallen, but he didn't remember it and he no longer thought it was purely
a matter of shock, of psychosomatic amnesia. He wasn't prone to stuff like
that. Things had either been so bad that his own mind had decided to try
and protect him, finally, after everything else he'd seen in his life -
or someone had decided to â€˜help' him misplace choice elements of the
The last thing he remembered with any clarity was
Dean screaming from the floor of that ramshackle cabin, choking on his
own blood but screaming all the same.
Don't you do it, Sam
Leave him alone and take me instead, he'll never
shoot me. Sam will never shoot me.
Sam remembered wanting to back out at that last
second, torn in half and hating the idea of killing his father but ruined
by the combination of demand and plea in John's voice. Twenty three years
of chasing, so weary of the whole thing, just wanting it all to be over.
God help them all.
The price that came with not pulling that trigger
only started with Dean on his feet again, amber eyed and leering and bleeding
to death, dying hands on Sam's face and in his hair.
They'd been willing to wager so much on the demon's
sense of self preservation. It had sent so many minions in its place in
those days leading up to the end. Sam knew it must have happened much like
they had planned, the demon able to shrug off the implied authority of
holy water but unable to withstand being caught between brothers. One willing
to shred himself away into the void and the other able to gather only the
pieces that were wanted before shaking the intruder out like so much dust.
But it had spent so much time making Dean almost
physically uninhabitable beforehand, and they hadn't prepared for or counted
on that, on its hatred for Dean.
Sam wished he couldn't remember that either.
Dean didn't remember the actual destruction of
the demon any better than Sam did, but he remembered days of Sam's catatonia.
While they didn't speak of it - couldn't - Sam understood that whatever
caused that much damage was worth not remembering.
His own memories of the days he'd spent not speaking
had faded over time. He had a sense of how useless words had been and that
opening his mouth to utter the smallest thing would have meant making the
scream in his head audible to everyone. He'd never have been able to stop.
There'd been no other way to do what they'd done. And God, Sam had tried
to think of other ways, of anything that didn't mean leaving the door open
to lose everything he had left. They'd ended up winging it like usual,
he knew they had, too much and not enough, but...left standing, somehow.
Then he'd drawn the symbol in the yard.
How many times had he tried to see the details
of that day, and found his mind wandering, deflected? Dean had recognized
their visitor, and they'd all wanted to believe her confirmation that the
demon was gone. Not everything she'd said had stuck - the words faded in
and out. Sam had a sense of Dean pulling him down inside the circle to
shield him, and little else. A couple of times he'd dreamed of an open
line on the endless space between, a rapid gathering toward them to fill
a vacuum he'd created. A world-artery, severed -
He didn't know what exactly had happened to them.
People - other hunters - asked them over and over
how they'd done it. He and Dean had resorted to sly smiles and shit like
Chinese secret or maybe family recipe or just plain old we
tricked that bastard good.
Even a slice of the truth would have had half of
them hunting Winchesters.
Sam knew Dean had said something to their father,
but not what; he didn't ask. It was pointless to talk about what couldn't
be properly described. And the marks on their backs, the smartmouthed grigori
in the yard, no, no one's business but their own now that the focal point
of their waking lives had been destroyed. Revenge felt like exhaustion,
in the end.
The price still lingered and exacted pieces of
them that Sam had never imagined.
He'd never wagered on the effect Dean's invitation
to the demon would have on them both, that willing violation of the promise
etched in something that predated light across their backs. Their father
had struggled with the effects of possession and the taint he thought he
could feel beneath his skin, the desperation of having been a passenger
of the thing he'd spent so much of his life hunting while it tore the life
out of his firstborn. There were ways to scrub it away, to heal, to take
the taste of blood out of the back of his throat -
he's gonna taste the iron in your blood -
- and for awhile he hadn't wanted to. Penance,
for things he hadn't used his own hands to do. Yet he still had the choice
to be free of it; while he was part of his sons, he was not made
of the same stuff they were. He was more firmly anchored to his time and
place, fully of that world and its restraints. What was left that was not
him would leave him eventually, leaving only the memory.
Dean had invited the potentially compatible.
It had left dark handprints across his soul on
the way out, the owner gone but leaving a foul aftertaste of lust and rage
and desperation after having slapped at everything it could reach in hopes
of saving itself.
Sam wanted to blame so many things on Dean's reluctance
to purge himself emotionally of the things that had happened, where rage
and worry could quit gripping his throat. But he knew Dean too well - better
than he had a right to - and there was only so much a man could take, even
without an acidic residue smeared across what was already scorched. Dean
had been the calm one in the weeks immediately after what Sam wanted badly
to think of as the end. He'd spoken to Sam without expecting verbal
answers, warded others away including their own father if he thought it
necessary, then herded their father around to keep him from floundering.
Having one's obsession rendered null and void after twenty three years
was a shock to the system; even Sam understood that, and he hadn't felt
the commonality of it until he'd lost Jessica. He'd tried to imagine holding
on to that kind of rage and pain for longer than the year and a half he'd
suffered it, worse than having his hands held to the heating elements of
a stove, and it humbled him. He couldn't begrudge his father of his fear
that the demon was only hiding, that his sons had been warped into something
he couldn't understand. That last was likely true to some extent and Sam
tried to shove the idea away, needing time to think about it. Dean, though,
Dean was bringing it to his attention all the time.
Dean's capacity for violence was nothing new to
Sam but it had always been reactionary, life and death. Lately Dean had
been the one to strike first, without warning, and occasionally without
provocation. There were fewer smartass comments and more dark silences,
far from his initial calm. The more Sam tried to draw him out, the harder
he was rebuffed. True to form, Dean was only coming to grips with his own
reaction to the whole thing after everyone else had found their feet again.
What do you want me to do, Sam, cry? Lay my
head on your shoulder and gaze at you with sad eyes and open my heart?
Get some closure?
The sarcasm was welcome but it seemed to be all
there was, suddenly.
Dean had been excited to go back to hunting at
first. Sam had been happy for something approaching normalcy, and for them
hunting was normal. The poltergeist just outside Omaha, then a rumor of
a Mothman near Dearborn a couple of weeks later. Then...vampires.
Sam wished they'd never run into Gordon Walker
so soon after, never gotten into it with the vampires again. Dean couldn't
wait to start working his way through a nest that hadn't even been targeting
humans; that was when he'd started to slip. Sam had almost wished their
father had been along on that one, because it had taken more than Sam had
wanted it to, to get Dean to realize there was no point in hunting things
that didn't hurt anyone. The vamps were poor substitutes for what Dean
really wanted: the demons that remained. Dean had gone so far as to give
father an order, you tell me what you hear when you hear it. I want
them all. Even John had backed off a little but Dean breathed it in,
progressively more frantic to stomp the rest of the fire out whether anything
was burning or not. With their leader and central source of power gone,
the lesser demons - Azaz'el's family - had scattered but been reluctant
to relinquish all hold on their place among the mortals, twisting, aimlessly
threading lives through their claws just under the radar.
You're done here, Sam. Go back to school.
Dean had finally said it and seemed to mean it.
John had suggested it in kinder tones with a different motive. Dean was
busy self destructing and it was another way of saying what he'd said before
while slipping away: let go of me, Sam.
Sam had shot back countless times with Ever
occur to you I want the rest of them, too? I'm done when you are.
Dean was going to break sooner or later if he lived,
and Sam had to catch him.
The head's up came from Bobby, ultimately, of someone
in San Diego claiming they had no memory of slaughtering a houseful of
people or drawing on the walls in their blood. Sam and Dean had heard stories
like it before that pointed to drugs or insanity, but not every methhead
painted the sigil of Azaz'el on the walls and ceilings. The dumbass was
practicing the demonic equivalent of tagging, favored pastime of bored
middle class white kids everywhere.
They'd taken off without alerting anyone else.
Dean was nearly frantic with the urge to get his hands on the rest of that
yellow-eyed bastard's kids to the point where Sam realized he was an afterthought.
There may have been times where Dean didn't realize Sam was in the car.
Dean reeked of death, sometimes.
The most frightening part may have been the way
Dean centered right in on the demon they found. No holy water, no use of
the names of God, just Dean searching and watching and zeroing in. A guy
close to Sam's age and Dean's height was walking along the sidewalk on
the other side of a busy street, sandy-haired and looking tired. One of
many, and nothing out of the ordinary.
Dean had gone right into the street without looking,
had ended up rolling over the hood of one car and ignoring the shriek of
brakes. Ignoring Sam shouting behind him.
The guy had looked up at the commotion. Sam had
seen him meet Dean's eyes . . . and take off like the hounds of
hell were after him. The irony wasn't lost on Sam but it frightened him
all the same. All he could do was chase after them while Dean ran the guy
down in an alley without managing to bring a bystander dialing 911 down
on them. When Sam caught up, Dean had the guy on the ground and was hitting
him hard enough that he was sobbing for breath, blood on his hands, a discarded
knife feet away.
The guy was laughing.
Sam had a bastard of a time pulling Dean away long
enough to slap a pre-drawn Devil's Trap right on the guy's forehead.
He'd quit laughing right about then.
Sam had held Dean at arm's length and tried not
to shout at him, tried to remind him it was a person, a possessed
didn't kill -
He let it in, Sam, Dean had shouted. He
fucking LET IT IN.
Sam never bothered to ask how Dean knew.
He'd thought they'd drag the guy off, pull an exorcism,
and be done with it. But it was no longer good enough.
An empty, run down storage unit and a carefully
drawn circle, Devil's Trap on the ceiling, guy laying on the floor at their
feet in rigid paralysis from the symbol on his forehead. Nothing new to
Sam until Dean bodily threw the guy into the circle and tied him to a chair
and peeled the symbol away.
When Dean backed out of the circle, the figure
raised its head and showed them uniformly black, opaque eyes. One was beginning
to swell shut but it didn't detract from the malice. It started to laugh
again, a low snicker to accompany a blood-smeared sneer.
"All the same," it said. "All the same."
Sam had retrieved holy water and a copy of the
Vulgate from the car, leaving both open on the floor. He kept his distance,
watching Dean as much as watching out for him.
"You got anything ridiculous to say before I show
you the door?" Dean said, the tips of his boots an inch from the saltline,
arms folded across his chest, unaware that his voice was barely recognizable
to Sam. "Good old Azaz'el had plenty to say before we took him apart."
The grin widened. "He was always a talker," the
demon said, flexing the hands of its host against the arms of the old wooden
chair it was tied to. "War is hell, Dean Winchester. Did she try
and tell you your pretty bullseye â€˜protects' you? So sad, not even properly
Fallen, but so close."
"Like you'd know," Dean said. "You're so damn low
on the ladder that you're just sniffing around for scraps. Kind of hard
to wage war when you get snuffed so easily by the humans."
It laughed again. "Humans. Decades spent,
on just one of us, while so much went on behind your backs. Keep struggling
for the entirety of your small lives to chip away at nothing but edges.
You'll be gone soon."
"You guys'll probably wait until we're gone to
make another good move," Dean said. "So far you're pretty boring. You idiots
wanna trot out another true Fallen, go ahead. Just make sure you keep sitting
around your little hellfires making s'mores and reminiscing about what
we did to Az."
"Same can be done to you," it said. "Little tissue-paper
souls...like snowflakes on the tongue. John was so ready to kill your soul
right along with the lord of all your kind, wasn't he, firstborn?"
"What do you mean, â€˜our kind'?" Sam said.
It leaned over in the chair to see Sam better.
"We're still going to make use of you, Sam," it said, then used its human
vocal cords to scream in agony when Dean spun and grabbed the holy water
off the floor and splashed it across that leering face. Welts rose from
each point of contact, sizzling, steam boiling off while it writhed against
the restraints. It arched and hissed when Sam said Jesus Christ under
Dean tossed the empty plastic bottle away and stepped
over the saltline into the circle to grab the guy by the hair and yank
his head back. The demon was panting through gritted teeth, snarling, eyes
"See, first of all," Dean said, voice low as he
leaned close to the head in his grip, "You're not good enough to look at
him. Which means you sure as hell aren't good enough to say his name. We
The voice that emerged from the tied man was unearthly,
the guttural multi-toned buzzing of the hellborn. "Poor little sacrifice
on your chosen altar, put there by your body-father. It wasn't enough,
When we rise, your altar will break apart the rest of the way in
our hands after it summons the end." The eyes opened and the lack of iris
or retina didn't keep Dean from feeling its attention focus on him. "You,
we'll keep, stuffed with altar-ashes, hung for your soul-father to see."
Sam watched Dean's expression turn to an unspoken
what can you do before he planted a hand in the demon's face and used
the leverage to swing a leg over and straddle the chair. He lowered himself
to sit facing the demon.
"Dean," Sam said, grabbing the other bottle of
holy water, reaching for the Nova Vulgate. He wanted to say not
so close even if there wasn't much the demon could do. He and Dean
were not capable of being possessed unless they invited and Sam
felt a balance tipping. He wasn't afraid that Dean would initiate something
that would cause them to go through what they'd survived with Azaz'el.
He was afraid that Dean didn't know where to stop.
"You guys talk and talk about taking over for thousands
of years but never quite get around to it," Dean said, voice so low that
Sam came within a foot of the saltline to hear. "You just wear us around
and hide because you're a bunch of limp dick little cowards that can't
have what you really want. All you puppets just want to be real boys, don't
"He'd skin you and wear you right now if he could,"
the demon hissed. "Offer him your back." It leaned closer, lips inches
from Dean's, and Dean didn't flinch even if Sam did. "Arayot. Offer
him your back the next time you let him fuck you."
Dean struck like a snake, twisting enough to bring
his right elbow up and then across the head, the motion compact and brutal.
Sam heard the neck snap.
Head lolling, the demon laughed, the sound low
and malicious and delighted in sharp contrast to the functional death of
its host. "Good boy," it said. "More like us all the time." It lifted the
head, shattered vertebrae grinding against each other, tendons snapping.
"So many kinds of sacrifice, and you love them all."
"Yours'll be the best fun I've had in a while,"
Dean said. "I'll bet you feared your father. He was so much more
powerful, pushing all you little pawns into place. I'll bet you wanted
a taste of that, right? Closest you'll ever be is post-possession sloppy
seconds." He leaned forward a little again and lowered his voice further.
"He's been all over me. Not for long, sure, and it was the last thing his
sorry ass ever did, but I'll just bet you can taste his death on me. You
guys live for that shit. Why don't you give it a try?"
"Dean," Sam said, a warning.
Dean didn't acknowledge him.
The demon was leering out of that burned face.
"Try it," Dean whispered. "I'm right here."
Sam was already shouting Latin when the demon tried
to leap across, regna terrae, cantate Deo, psallite Domino. Grainy
coalsmoke and destruction emerged from eyes, nose, mouth and ears, swirling,
Dean left his eyes open, waiting, never giving
any indication that he felt anything.
queo deceptiÃ³ne et nequÃtia -
The blackness spiraled along Dean's form for a
moment, obscuring him from Sam before slamming outward in a shockwave of
desperation, deflecting from the edges of the circle. Sam kept shouting
and the body in the chair convulsed, releasing the remainder of the demon
before slumping in glassy-eyed repose. The blackness rose, pulled toward
the symbol above, separating as it struggled. It made no audible sound,
not on the physical plane, but to the men in the room it was the shrieking
of cut glass, of what any imagination could believe light sounded like
while trying to escape a black hole.
Without bothering to glance up, Dean picked up
the words alongside Sam, matching his cadence but not his volume or the
anxiety in his tone.
The demon condensed into a writhing knot and stretched
to the ceiling, beginning to shred at the top, thinning and dispersing
at the edges.
The building shifted on its foundation, making
Sam take a step to his right to keep his balance.
There was a subsonic bass note they felt in their
bones when the demon lost its hold on their plane.
Sam's ears rang in the resulting silence, the bridge
of his nose humming with the energy left behind, a headache beginning in
his temples and between his eyes.
"Poor impulse control," Dean said wearily. "Every
single one of â€˜em."
Sam let the book slide from his fingers and raise
dust from the floor. Salt scraped under his boots as he broke the circle.
Dean's shoulders felt too warm when he bunched three layers of shirts in
his hands and lifted his brother straight into the air and out of the lap
of a corpse.
There was only the briefest look of surprise on
Dean's face when Sam hooked a leg behind his knees and put him flat on
the floor with a grunt. He knelt astride Dean's chest, clothing caught
close to the throat in white-knuckled hands.
Dean didn't even struggle.
"What was that?" Sam said, breathing hard around
a too-calm tone.
"I'm pretty sure you saw the whole thing," Dean
said. "What's this, Sam?"
"This is fucked up, even for you," Sam said, shaking
him by lifting him a couple of inches and slamming him back to the pitted
"What are you now, a fuckin' expert on me?" Dean
said with a grin, the chill palpable. "That's pretty arrogant, even for
"Yeah, Dean," Sam said. "That's a goddamn stupid
question, considering. What the hell'd you kill him for?"
"He let it in on purpose," Dean said, from grin
to snarl in a whiplash moment, hands gripping Sam's wrists bruisingly hard,
leaving marks on the one not protected by a cast. "He invited. That
makes him no better than the things we hunt."
"Bullshit," Sam shouted, slamming him to the floor
again, the impact jarring his shoulders as well as Dean's. "You don't know
that, you don't just - "
"He wasn't good for anything anymore," Dean said.
Sam let go of him. He stared for a moment, then
rose from his knees and stepped away. He looked at the body in the chair
and thought a
bout his father's voice saying he's in here
with me, trapped in his own meat suit, something else's words.
Little tissue paper souls.
Dean wasn't just acting out from cumulative stress,
and they hadn't forgotten everything that had happened on their own.
He untied the body in the chair while Dean continued
to lay on the floor behind him. It occurred to him to burn the body, but
it was only the hunter in him. Someone would be looking for that face.
Better to make sure they left no evidence on him and dumped him somewhere
he could be found. He stripped away the trap on the ceiling and tried to
pretend that it didn't cause pins and needles in his hands. They couldn't
leave anything behind.
If he could remember what had happened to them,
he could say for certain whether he'd wrapped Dean's soul back together
the rest of the way, that he hadn't caught any stray pieces of anything
darker when Dean had come apart in his hands.
He didn't dare try and look.
Even if invited.
In the end they left the body in the storage unit
while Dean burned it down.
They made it halfway back to the motel when Sam
decided he couldn't take anymore silence or avoidance. They were on back
roads and a watery sun made the previous night's rain glare up at them
from the pavement, made Dean keep the visor down and squint around it.
He'd had nothing to say and was acting like not much had happened, one
more salt and burn, another simple job gone by. To have been through what
they had and to have done what he'd just done and look so untroubled...Sam
felt the anxiety like a living thing under his ribs.
"I had a dream," he said, and he didn't mean to
sound so distant when he said it but the feeling of the dream still hovered
at his edges.
After a moment, Dean said, "Good for you, MLK."
"I had it while you were in the hospital," Sam
said, ignoring the remark but not ignoring Dean. "It wasn't a vision. But...it
was too real. It was about us, about what might have happened had anything
been different. There was...everything was the same but the demon got away.
Something else happened, I never saw what, but you weren't gonna make it.
Dad knew how to summon Azaz'el all along, he traded himself and the Colt
for you. We lost him."
"Doesn't make any sense," Dean said, but emotion
colored the statement, a tremble at the end. "He'd never do something like
that, throw everything away like that. It was just a dream."
Sam wanted to say the point is we won, Dean,
we're all here and we made it but he couldn't. They weren't making
it. It was still trying to kill them. So he settled for "What the hell
did it mean by â€˜our kind'?"
"Doesn't matter," Dean said without letting a beat
"Yeah, it does," Sam said. "It said it while it
was pissed off, so it didn't sound to me like something it wanted to start
"They lie," Dean said in a monotone. "Nothing they
say means anything. You know that, and I'm sick of explaining it to you."
"What does matter then, Dean?" Sam said,
flinging his left arm out along the back of the seat.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean said. "Whatever
it is, shove it, Sam. I'm not in the mood."
"Not a hell of a lot seems to matter to you lately,"
Sam said, pitching his voice low and keeping his eyes on Dean's face. "Except
demon-killing, and it sure as hell doesn't seem to make you feel any better."
"As long as that bastard's â€˜kids' are out there,
we gotta get â€˜em," Dean said, hands tightening on the wheel. "You still
think having the big guy gone means anything."
"It does," Sam said. "A balance was tipped by what
we did and how we did it. I know you heard what the grigori said in Bobby's
"The fucking grigori lie like everything else,"
Dean said with a growl, annoyance visibly increasing. "They've got they
own goddamn agenda, Sam, fuckin' grow up already."
"Pull over," Sam said evenly.
"What? No," Dean said.
"There's not enough room in here for me to swing
at you," Sam said in the same conversational tone. "Gonna knock some sense
Dean seemed to react mainly to goading lately,
so Sam goaded.
"Okay, smartass," Dean said, "I can go this alone,
since you don't get what's really going on, or you don't want to.
I don't need you chastising me or making stupid comments."
"You go this alone, you'll be dead in a week,"
Sam said, finally leaning toward being more angered than unsettled. "And
it seems like you're okay with that. You're acting like a goddamn lunatic."
"That's big, comin' from a guy who didn't talk
for weeks," Dean snapped.
Sam shook his head. "I get that you've been trying
to figure out how to deal with everything - "
Dean jerked the car off the road and hit the brakes
hard enough to cause the tires to skid on the roadside gravel and make
Sam grab for the dash.
Dean put the car in park and sprawled back against
the seat without looking at Sam. "Have I?" he said softly. Then he got
out of the car and left the door open.
Sam watched him come around the front of the car
with purpose in his face and a wealth of body language and realized it
was on, Dean was going to drag him out and whale on him, so he kicked
his door open and swung out with a hand gripping the edge of the roof.
He sidestepped Dean's first swing and swept a hand out to shove him with
his longer reach as Dean followed through. Dean stumbled a step to the
side but spun as he tried to recover, bringing both hands up and beginning
to get his feet apart, but he'd taught Sam everything he knew.
Plus, for once, he was emotional and Sam was not.
Sam wrapped a huge hand around the side of Dean's
head, making contact without slapping before Dean was even out of his stumble.
He used the leverage to slam Dean face-first against the side of the car,
putting an elbow between his shoulderblades and pinning him with his weight.
Dean never saw the hesitation Sam felt before making
"If I thought it would do you any good, I'd just
let you knock me around," Sam said. "But it won't, and hey, the least you
could do is wash the other guy's blood off your hands before you get mine
Dean didn't lose any of his tension, but he rested
his forehead against the car. Bullseye.
"This isn't how we do things," Sam said.
"We're still at war, Sam," Dean said through clenched
teeth, but he didn't struggle.
"You're still at war," Sam said. "Like it's
all you've ever had. We still have things to do, but not like this. We're
not like this."
"They still want you for something!" Dean shouted.
"Maybe it'll take â€˜em years to do something about it, but whatever old
Az started, they'll keep at it."
"I thought you told me nothing they say means anything,"
Sam said, letting him up. "I already know what side I'm on, Dean. They
can't do anything with me. Not with you breathing down my neck. But I need
you to keep breathing down my neck, just to be safe. So how about if you
don't go darkside on me?"
Dean straightened from the car but didn't turn.
He ran his hands through his hair, getting it back out of his face. He'd
quit cutting it and the result made him look younger right up until anyone
saw his eyes.
"Somebody like you goes evil, Sam, then evil's
the way to go."
Sam heard the note of honesty in Dean's voice and
didn't need to see his face to know he was serious.
"I'm sorry I let it have you for so long," Sam
said just above a whisper. It didn't matter what he meant - the revenant,
the demon, both.
"Shut up," Dean said without turning.
"He didn't really take the time to do everything
to you he wanted to," Sam said. "To us. He had everything for a moment,
there, I think, between us. I don't remember putting you back together,
so I don't know if I did a good enough job. I don't know if I got all of
you, or if I let him leave marks - "
"Shut up, Sam," Dean said again, and turned. There
was as much warning in his face as there had been in his voice, under the
"You're not yourself," Sam said. "You have every
right not to be. But quit fuckin' tilting at windmills, man. We're
all still here. You can't do this the rest of your life, and you don't
want to. Not even Dad is - "
"Don't compare me to Dad," Dean snapped, shoving
Sam a step away. "Dad's lost, he doesn't even know what to do with
himself. This was all he knew, killing that fucker, and he didn't even
get to do it. Look what we had to do, to convince him it was done. Look
what we got in the fuckin' yard without even trying."
"Yeah, yeah," Sam said. "And I'm an altar, and
we both got brands on us that could mean anything. There's nothing we can
do about that, or Dad, or what we are. I'm happy to help you get every
goddamn demon left, and find out why anyone would let one in. But whatever
was building, we cut it off."
"Azaz'el was way up there," Dean said. "Big
enough that the other big guys are gonna have a bad time ignoring what
we did. You don't think the rest of them are gonna be all over us, now?"
"They don't realize what we did, or whether we'll
do it again," Sam said. "They probably don't know or care that it fucked
us up so bad that someone else probably stepped in and wiped our goddamn
memories. But after we're done with the demons, what's next? The other
kids like me who aren't on the straight and narrow? That means it'll take
a long time to start that cycle again, a generation, and why take the chance
with any of them going evil?"
Dean shook his head and looked away. "Now you're
just being an asshole."
"Now I'm just being realistic," Sam said. "Should
I keep from having kids? Will someone or something come for them? Should
we just give up on doing anything we wanted to do because of what might
happen? I want something more than wandering around in the dark until something
finally gets me, and so do you. We've paid our goddamn dues, and then some."
They stared at each other for a moment. Then Dean
looked away, like he had the summer before when Sam was too bright to look
"You wanna keep doing this, we'll do it," Sam said.
"We'll do it. You, me and Dad will sit down and put together a game
plan. We gotta tell him the rest of it, about the grigori, what he needs
Dean shook his head, but Sam didn't get the idea
that it was in negation. Dean was shutting down and didn't want to talk
"Hey," Sam said, "Most of it belongs just to you
and me, though."
Dean waved a dismissive hand at him and rolled
up off the car.
They were through for the moment, but not through
with the argument as a whole.
Dean finally had his family together again, just
like he'd wanted, and he was reeling so hard from the blows he'd taken
that he could barely feel anything else.
They were in trouble once they got back to the
apartment they shared with their father the next afternoon.
John was waiting for them in the living room, seated
on the couch, hands clasped between his knees. "Neither of you could check
your goddamn messages," he said.
They recognized that tone. Neither Sam or Dean
felt it prudent to mention that he hadn't answered theirs for a good long
time. They'd been over that already and it just didn't matter anymore.
"Wasn't anybody'd be trying to reach us," Dean
said, throwing the duffle of weapons that needed tending inside the door,
away from the eyes of neighbors. "We were just checking something out,
"Bullshit," John said, rising and coming within
a foot of Dean, challenging him first. "I finally got it out of Bobby,
that he opened his damn mouth about a possession without telling me first."
"No big deal, Dad," Sam said, covering for Dean
as a knee-jerk reaction, concerned about where all the vehemence was coming
from. It had been a big damn deal, actually, but they'd hunted so long
and hard as a pair that their own father had become a third wheel. "We've
handled a lot of â€˜em."
Sam was the one John was used to tangling with,
but he ignored him this time. Of the two boys, Sam had been the more respectful
over the last several weeks, the one easier to deal with. John had ways
and means to deal with his younger son's many bouts of temper and rebellion,
but not Dean's. He had no practice with Dean.
"It wasn't just a possession," John said, eyes
locked with Dean's.
Dean smirked at him, something that made Sam of
all people want to duck. The shift in dynamic was not something he was
handling well. Dean being sullen and randomly violent was enough to handle,
but Dean purposely starting shit with their father for the fun of it or
because he just couldn't help it was nerve wracking.
"It wasn't gonna tell you anything it didn't tell
us," Dean said. "Trust me on that one. The only ones left are too
damn dumb to just go home. They didn't get the bulletin."
"Don't be smart with me, Dean," John said through
gritted teeth. "His kids are still out there, his family. You know
I want the rest of them."
"You're kind of running out of chances to get yourself
killed honorably," Dean said with barely restrained condescension. "Soget
another hobby, Dad."
John shoved him back a step, one hand planted in
the center of Dean's chest.
Sam stayed back, still uncertain about how to deal
with a father and brother who were no longer in step with one another.
He hadn't had to break them up, yet, but Dean pushed harder every time
John tried to regain control.
Dean shrugged like he'd expected the move, smirk
still in place. "That was the plan, right? Go out like a big hero and take
the demon with you? Instead you're stuck with us, a couple of freaks that're
closer to the stuff you kill."
"I'm tired of this, Dean" John said. "Your damn
attitude is getting old. When I tell you that we all go out for
the demons that are left, you goddamn do what I say."
"Or what?" Dean said, raising his voice. "You're
the one who cut us off so Sam wouldn't run the risk of getting turned,
you're the one who made things worse by keeping all that from us. We don't
answer to you anymore."
John looked at Sam, and Sam could tell by the look
on his face that he knew it wasn't fair but that he didn't know what else
to do. "He speak for you, Sam? You ready to blow a chance to finish this
It was too much like that moment in the cabin when
Sam had walked in to find Dean leveling the Colt on John. He had instinctively
sided with Dean. He had done it out of trust then; he would do it again
a thousand times for love and loyalty, whether Dean was right or wrong
or crazy. He'd stand at his shoulder and defend him.
It was an all around unfair question, and didn't
deserve a response. Sam let his eyes drift to Dean's rigid stance and then
John's expression was so bitter and satisfied at
the same time that Sam let it confuse him. "This has to be done a certain
way," John said to Dean. "You boys have to trust me."
"We've done pretty goddamn well without your cloak
and dagger bullshit," Dean said angrily. "All the stuff you hold back is
more to string us along than to protect us, and you know it."
John's jaw set in a way Sam recognized, an old
pattern of reaching the end of his patience. Sam had seen it so many times,
caused it, hoped for it. For maybe the first time in his life, it made
him nervous. "I don't even know you anymore," John said. "You're out of
control, Dean, and you're gonna get yourself and Sammy killed for nothing."
Dean sighed in what sounded like annoyance, tilting
his head and looking bemused. The beat of silence was loud and made Sam
keep still to watch them. He later realized John was waiting for something.
Dean shifted his weight in one fluid motion, ducking
to slam a shoulder into John's chest. They crashed to the living room floor
in a tangle. John failed to avoid the first blow to his jaw but not the
second, and Dean snarled in pain when his fist met carpet-covered concrete
at full force. John took the opportunity to kick him off, and that was
how they lost the coffee table.
"Jesus," Sam yelled, unsure of who to grab
for first, startled into freezing. "C'mon, you guys, knock it off!"
"Stay out of it, Sammy," John said, watching Dean
untangle himself from the remnants of the table. "It'll be fine. C'mon,
Dean, let's go."
Dean made it back to his feet, favoring his right
hand, expression murderous.
It would have seemed so mild to anyone else, but
even John had known better than to insinuate that Dean would get Sam killed.
Sam briefly wondered if Dean had felt the same
watching him fight with John for years and years. He was caught between
running for the hills and a need to separate them, because sooner or later
they would hurt one another and neither of them was as healed up as they
thought they were.
Dean rushed again, meaning to knock John down again
in the process. They grappled for a moment, and then John got a hand under
long enough to deal Dean an uppercut to the solar plexus. Dean took it
better than most would have and kept it together enough to block another
blow with a forearm and use the same elbow to nail John in the chest and
hook a leg behind one knee.
John landed hard and took two more blows to the
face before he got Dean in the nose solidly enough to spray blood across
them both. John put a palm to Dean's forehead and got a knee between them
and rolled him off, then stood, knowing Dean would be slow to bounce from
a shot to the nose - he always had been - but when he did, he'd be pissed.
Dean wiped some of the blood off his face, eyes
streaming from the pain. Or so he seemed to believe. "You son of a bitch,"
he said without any trace of surprise.
"That all you got, boy?" John said, more out of
breath than he'd meant to be. "Thought I taught you better."
Dean circled him this time, hands up, the right
one lower than the left. His knuckles were already swelling, and John wondered
how many were broken.
It was John who lashed out first and Dean who leaned
away enough to take the blow on a shoulder before striking low and catching
John in the ribs with his left hand. John grunted in pain even as he caught
Dean'sstriking arm by the shirt and yanked him forward, into the momentum
of the blow, off balance, spinning him into the wall and slamming him into
it with both hands.
He expected Dean to kick him, to knee him in the
groin, to headbutt him. He was ready for any of that.
He didn't expect Dean to look at him with terror
or start hyperventilating.
It took him too long to figure out what was happening,
or why. By then Dean was trying to shove him away and Sam was moving for
them both. John pulled Dean away from the wall but kept a grip on him,
knowing he'd try to run and that it wouldn't be smart to let him. Not when
Dean couldn't shake the memory of the last time something using his father's
face had pinned him to a wall. He warded Sam off with one hand and said,
"Dean, sit down."
"Go to hell," Dean gasped, but his knees were already
buckling anyway and there was no strength in the grip he had on John's
"We'll see," John said. "Sit down. Now." He moved
Dean to the beaten couch under the windows that faced the parking lot and
eased him onto it before grabbing him by the back of the neck and making
him lean forward. "In through the nose, out through the mouth," he said.
"There's plenty of air in the room."
Dean did as he was told and John watched a cold
sweat pour off his oldest and felt a pang of sympathy. Panic attacks were
as painful as they were frightening, and he'd seen plenty of men sob like
children in the grip of one. He let Dean keep a grip on his other wrist,
let him struggle for purchase and reach for comfort while trying to make
it look like a threat.
God, he loved his kids.
"This is gonna sound like bullshit, coming from
me," John said, sitting on the couch next to Dean and glancing at Sam to
make him understand he was included. "But you were right, Dean. It's gonna
Sam was back against the wall by the door again,
looking cowed, eyes on the floor. His discomfort and worry were nearly
tangible. John wondered if it was a matter of watching his larger-than-life
brother finally come apart, or if Dean had been coming apart all along.
It had been a long, long time since Sam had been reminded that the understanding
between his father and brother went beyond the giving and taking of orders.
Of course, John had to admit he didn't know much
about what had really happened to them over the previous year. He'd heard
things - some of it had been unavoidable, when they'd accidentally made
the papers or news - but never the real details. And he was not going to
tell them what he knew about Sam. It didn't matter anymore. None of it
would come to pass. Sam had demonstrated that in Bobby's yard.
One day he'd stop reminding himself over and over
that he had reached a point where he had vowed to kill Sam himself if his
baby boy had succumbed to what had seemed inevitable.
One day he would try to forget pointing the Colt
at Dean, aiming for the spot between the vicious yellow eyes staring out
"I was your age when I started all this, Dean,"
he said softly. "Right in the middle of home, job, family. You've got a
sense of the third and no concept of the other two, because of me. Even
Sam got a taste of what regular life looks like, four years of it. So if
I'm walking around wondering what the hell to do with myself after almost
a quarter century of chasing things in the dark and ignoring the rest of
the world...can't imagine what it looks like to you. What else are you
good for, now, but stealing and killing?"
"Hey," Sam said sharply, eyes finally focused.
John held a hand up to him again with a tilt of
the head, asking him silently to wait. Dean's breathing was calming a little
and he shifted his hand on Dean's neck, soothing.
"You both know a hell of a lot more about the world
and how to move around in it than most people do," John said. "You guys
can do anything. You have to figure out what you want to do, and just do
it. I want you to get used to not looking over your shoulders all the time.
Dean. I'm trying to tell you to move on. You're good for much more than
this. You're too smart to make a career of this and you always have been.
you to do something for yourself. I need you to find another way to save
Dean chuffed a laugh. "I'll start in St. Louis,"
he said, voice low and hoarse. "They really need me, there."
"What about you?" Sam said before that conversation
"It's too late for me to stop," John said. "I'm
still one hell of a mechanic, and I can do that anywhere. But I don't want
to try and have the life I had. I've still got you boys. There are still
things out there that I'll need help with, but you guys have the option
of telling me no for the first time in your lives. All I want is for you
guys to humor me and go do something that isn't gonna add to your scars."
Dean sat up and John let him but left a hand on
the back of his neck. Dean looked weary and gray except for the splash
of red across mouth and chin.
Sam headed for the kitchen, for wet towels and
"Won't be easy," John said. "But easy's never been
Dean looked like he'd been given a death sentence.
It was Sam who took Dean in to get his hand taken
care of, Sam who said it'd been a bar fight. Two broken knuckles earned
Dean a splint. Sam told him that splints were for girls and having a short
arm cast like his own was the way to go. Dean asked him what part of him
Sam wanted to suck first.
Dean slept for the rest of the day and well into
the next, and John let him. He banned Sam from the room and diffused Sam's
immediate anger by reminding him that his presence sent Dean into automatic
caretaking mode. Sam relented far enough to do something he hadn't since
the age of fourteen: nudge his father with a shoulder in affection, in
camaraderie. A small thing, but large in the scope of what they'd been
That more than anything else made John believe
his own words. Things would be okay.
He left late that afternoon to double check on
something he'd handled a year earlier and an hour south of there, a neighborhood
built on what had been desecrated ground. If Sam thought it was an excuse
to leave he and Dean alone to work on things, he didn't say.
When Dean awoke he was frowns and grunts and monosyllabic
answers to questions barely asked. Food? No. TV? No. Painkiller? No.
"Asskicking? I can bring you a couple of those."
"Shut up," Dean said, without infusing it with
any kind of emotion.
Sam sat across from him at the little table in
the dinette off the kitchen and looked at him in the uneven fluorescent
light from the overhead. He wanted to ask him what the hell he'd been doing,
mixing it up with their father, when even Sam had never done more than
posture. But he knew. It wasn't even really about John, that much. Dean
was pissed at John, yeah, to some extent, but John was just a means to
an end. And Dean wasn't going to talk.
Not if asked to outright.
Sam didn't even argue when Dean eschewed painkillers
in pill form for one from a bottle. He had a beer while Dean started doing
shots in moody silence.
"You're gonna be sick," Sam said.
"Good," Dean said. "Where the hell did Dad go?"
Sam considered several smartass responses, then
settled for the truth.
"So there was...more trouble, or...?" Dean said.
"Nope," Sam said. "He's just checking."
"He that bored, or he trying to keep from pounding
my head in?" Dean said.
"I think he's bored," Sam said. "You'd have to
ask him yourself, though."
Dean made a noncommittal sound and scratched at
something on the table. He left his injured hand in his lap.
Back to moody silence. Drinking like he was on
an empty stomach was causing Dean's head to dip a little already.
"It's really great, this whole role reversal,"
Sam said. "You have no idea what I would have given to see you mouth off
to him, just once, while we were growing up. And now all I can think about
is that if you do it again, I'll lose it."
Dean looked at him with confusion. Sam wanted to
add hey I'm not sure I'm dealing all that well with everything that
landed on us at the end, I might lose it anyway, but he shifted gears
instead. "It called us nothus," he said, opening that subject while
Dean was off guard. "â€˜Mongrel'."
"So what," Dean said.
"I wonder what they actually know about us and
what they guess," Sam said.
"You mean are we the long lost hybrid descendants
of this or that or the other thing?" Dean said with open derision. "C'mon,
"That's not what I said," Sam said. He shook his
head. "Just...never mind. I don't wanna start shit." He sighed and sat
back from the table and watched Dean from beneath his eyelashes.
"Gotta admit it's pretty goddamn funny, a fuckin'
on us for being sinners," Dean said, but nothing approaching amusement
touched his face. "Az probably did a real number on Dad, because it had
him for what, a couple of days? Must have had a field day. â€˜Hey, John,
know what I'm gonna do to your boys? Know what your boys have been up to?'"
"Dean," Sam said, but it wasn't to get him to stop.
Getting Dean to talk - even just to make sarcastic comments - was rare
"Dad's not gonna listen to anything that fucker
said, and we've been up to worse," Dean said, tilting his head back against
the back of the chair until he could look at the ceiling. "You know what's
priceless? We didn't even do any of it for fun. And even if Dad decided
to take it up with us, which he never would, it wouldn't stop me from wanting
you right goddamn now."
Sam braced his elbows on the table and ran his
hands through his hair. He blew out a breath and let it pass. Dean wasn't
talking about the physical part of it anyway.
"Speakin' of busting," Dean said as if what had
come before was commonplace, "...you promised me. You promised me and you
fuckin' broke it and you'll break it this time, too."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sam said.
"Asked you to make sure I didn't get loose and
play for the other team," Dean said. "And you let me, for...what, a week?
It took Sam a moment to catch on, to realize Dean
was talking about the revenant. "I knew you were still in there," he said.
"Don't start this with me. It's way in the past. You're drunk, and - "
"No you didn't," Dean said, but there was nothing
obstinate in it. "You kept taking the gun out. It told me you did, because
it was trying to get me to come out, and I know it wasn't lyin' because
I know you. "
"I'm not gonna get into this with you," Sam said.
"C'mon, go back to bed." He was not going to think about words scrawled
in blood on the back of a door, words meant to look like Dean's.
"Dunno what I was out there doin', all that time,"
Dean said. "Maybe killin' people, maybe makin' up for lost time for that
goddamn thing, doing all the stuff it hasn't had a chance to for a thousand
years or whatever. Shoulda shot me, Sam."
Sam sighed and didn't respond, knowing it wouldn't
do any good, wouldn't allow him to get through.
"I don't think you got it all," Dean said. "The
demon. I think it's gonna eat away the real me and then you'll just keep
trying to save me all the time in all the wrong ways. It was worth it though,
right? Thing killed mom, killed Jess, killed us a long time ago, just walking
dead all this time."
"Dean," Sam said, rising. Jesus, it was what he
was already afraid of, and Dean was actually voicing it.
"Not meant to be thirty, Sam," Dean said. "No plans
for that, don't want it. Dad'll do it, if he thinks I'm tainted. All that
time he thought maybe you were the one he had to worry about, when you
wouldn't talk, like maybe you were ruined.. He was gonna do it, at the
cabin. I shoulda just let him. Still one bullet in the Colt left, for the
Sam was there in one long stride, the front of
Dean's shirt caught in his fists, and Dean didn't flinch even when Sam
leaned in close like he meant to make a point. When he pressed his mouth
to Dean's forehead, gentle counterpoint to the angered hold on his clothes,
Dean startled but didn't otherwise move. It was brief and adoring, and
Sam moved only far enough to whisper right against Dean's temple.
"Guy like you goes evil, then evil's the way to
go," he said. He untangled his hands from Dean's shirt and used them to
cup his face, not afraid to make contact this time, ignoring another startled
twitch and Dean's attempt to lean away. "I won't let you, though. You gotta
forgive me, forgive Dad, and go on. Not right away, â€˜cause you've got
time for once to just...heal from something. We can survive all this, and
we will." Then he slapped Dean hard on the forehead as he straightened.
"Ow, sonofabitch," Dean said, rubbing his head.
"Having to recover from all this doesn't mean you're
harboring part of the goddamn demon," Sam said softly. "Sorry to break
it to you, but you're human like me. Now shut the fuck up and go back to
bed, or I'll carry you."
"Can't," Dean said. "Pussy, no way you can." He
paused. "â€˜m sorry, Sammy."
"For what?" Sam said.
"Talked you into all this," Dean said. "Didn't
remember what it was like, the first time we did it, so I didn't think
about what it might do to you. I did this to us."
Sam shook his head. "It worked with the revenant.
We did what we had to do, and we didn't have many other options. You can't
play armchair quarterback on this one."
Dean winced and rubbed his eyes as if it pained
him to try and make sense out of Sam's analogy. "Doesn't feel like winning,"
he said. "S'pposed to feel like winning, like it's a big relief."
Sam had nothing to say to that. Dean was trying
to talk about the toll it had taken like he'd expected to get away without
permanent marks, and maybe deep down Dean had still held out hope that
good would prevail and leave them whole. He wanted to believe that Dean
had that kind of innocence left, anywhere. "What'd you call me?" Sam said.
Dean frowned over it for a moment. "Damn pussy,
you can't carry me."
Had John been in the apartment, the manhandling
that Sam did would have easily woken him. As it was, the next door neighbor
finally started pounding on the wall and there were muffled threats of
some sort, but whatever they were, Sam knew they paled in comparison to
what Dean was threatening him with.
They ended up in the same bed, still fully clothed,
and Sam wrapped arms and legs around Dean and stayed that way even after
his brother quit grouching and fell asleep.
If he could convince Dean that they were both okay
and that the demon hadn't succeeded in ruining them, then he could believe
John came in two hours later and found them that
way. He knew something had gone on - stuff was knocked over through the
whole apartment - but it didn't really matter except for the fact that
Sam was out-stubborning Dean. They handled each other much better than
he handled either of them now that they were adults.
Adults. His boys had lived to adulthood and he
was around to see it, and be confounded by it.
He went to sleep trying to wrap his head around
that idea yet again.
He awoke what felt like five minutes later to daylight
and the sound of Sam berating Dean in a tone he didn't remember ever hearing
from his younger boy. But, they had been apart for damn near five years.
We're going running, and then you're gonna shower,
and eat, and we're gonna get some things done. Get your goddamn ass out
Silence. John found himself holding his breath.
He heard Sam say something in a low voice he couldn't catch, but the tone
of it raised the fine hairs along his neck and arms. Sam had changed. They
all had, but Sam was bigger now in ways that had nothing to do with his
He nearly startled when Sam suddenly loomed into
"There's gonna be some shit," he said, face and
voice neutral. "Thought I'd warn you. Figured you wanted more sleep than
John sat up and put his feet on the floor, rubbing
his face and nodding. What Sam wasn't saying - but making very clear -
was stay out of it. "Don't break anything you don't have to," he
said. "Y'know, the furniture. Or your brother."
Sam smirked and left the doorway.
John got up and threw on jeans and a couple of
shirts and went out to make coffee. Then he stepped outside to wait for
it to brew, because it was a nice morning and he wasn't entirely sure he
wanted to witness what was about to happen. He wasn't quite sure how far
Sam meant to go, but he wasn't going to hurt Dean and Dean heard his little
brother much better than his father. That had happened during the time
he'd left them to themselves. He wasn't sorry for it. For the circumstances,
yes, but not how it had changed the way they dealt with one another.
John just didn't necessarily want to see everything.
The violence turned out to be emotional, rather
than physical. They both appeared in sweats and tees, Sam pushing Dean
in front of him out the door. Dean's arms were folded across his chest
and the creases between his brows were set deep with a resentful frown.
Nostrils flared and jaw set, he didn't so much as glance at John as he
stood hunched at the edge of the narrow strip of cement leading to the
parking lot. John was careful not to say anything. They were still so much
the boys he'd raised, but with hard and dangerous edges, remaining in step
even when hurt, when angered with each other. Halves of a whole.
Dean no longer had his defenses in place. No automatic
sarcasm, no jeering, no smug attempt to annoy. No bravado. He'd developed
those shields at five and had kept them polished to a high shine since.
They had cracked when Dean had begged him to keep the demon from killing
him, and they had never quite recovered.
John didn't think he really knew the boy beneath.
The man. With that came pride for his boy and shame for himself, but beneath
both came fear. Sam had shut down to protect himself. Sam had always done
that. Dean would go the other way, supernova, blue-white and galaxy wide,
visible to all and then never the same.
He had no idea that it had already happened, more
than once, in a literal sense.
They had all reached the limits of their endurance.
They had to recharge.
He watched Sam treat Dean with a rough respect.
There was no teasing or coddling. He didn't attempt to push Dean physically
or verbally. They were talking, in their own way, and John remembered and
recognized the signs of it. Long conversations without a word spoken, small
gestures and expressions, eye contact. He'd raised deadly - but not cruel
- men who loved each other beyond reason. He had to believe that if they
were together, they would be fine.
Dean stalked away suddenly, head down, shoulders
hunched. Sam watched him go, let him get a head start, then followed.
John went back inside and had coffee and let half
an hour pass before he started breakfast.
Dean did not argue when John told him he was done
hunting for a while. He didn't seem to care. For almost a week he ran with
Sam, he worked on the Impala, he read. He was pissed at them both and showed
That was good.
And then it wasn't.
Sam wasn't sure what the hell he was hearing at
first, a rhythmic and metallic beat somewhere outside. Somebody pounding
He rolled over and looked at his bedside clock,
squinted at it. Two a.m. The neighbors acted up on the weekends, sometimes,
but it didn't sound like that. People breaking into cars didn't sound like
He heard his father get up, heard blinds crinkle
as they were folded apart for a look outside. He didn't hear Dean get up
and figured Dean had been first up to make sure some idiot wasn't touching
his car. When he heard his father curse in surprise, Sam rolled upright
in one smooth motion and was in the hallway almost before his father was.
"What is it?" he said, and John was already heading
for the door. Sam followed, grabbing the top of the door when John flung
it wide open and took a breath. Sam's next move, once he saw what was happening,
was to grab his father by placing a hand in the center of his chest. "Wait,"
he said. "Wait."
Dean had a crowbar. Probably the one from the Impala's
trunk, probably the same one the â€˜shifter in St. Louis had used to knock
Sam down while wearing Dean's face. There was just enough light from the
safety spot on the top corner of their apartment building to watch Dean
whale on the Impala's trunk with every bit of strength he had, and just
enough darkness to watch the impacts raise an occasional spark.
No one in the building facing theirs came to any
windows. No lights came on. They knew carnage when they heard it and chose
not to investigate.
John started to shove Sam aside. To do what, exactly,
Sam wasn't sure and didn't want to consider. Sam caught him again and said,
"Let him have it, Dad. It doesn't matter."
John didn't say anything, just stared at Dean with
a helpless worry that Sam didn't remember seeing before. He figured either
his father had been better in the past at holding stuff back, or neither
of them had been any good at paying the right attention to each other when
they weren't locked in verbal combat.
It was quiet enough between each denting thud
to hear Dean wheezing, every intake of breath beginning to sound like the
precursor to a sob that never materialized. The back window went with a
bright cascade of sound and a scattering of safety glass across the trunk
and the asphalt below when Dean nailed it dead center. He choked up on
the crowbar and raised it over his head before he brought one end of it
down vertically on the trunk several times, damn near punching through,
exhaling with a growl. If he was aware of John or Sam in any way, he didn't
show sign of it.
Dean had taken his frustrations out on the demons
he could catch, on strangers who so much as looked at him oddly, on his
father, on every part of his life but Sam. The Impala was, in the end,
the one glaring symbol of the life they'd led, the one constant. Dean's
favorite material possession, his closest thing to home. The cornerstone
of the legacy his father had left him.
Sam watched the car take his share of Dean's anger
and felt guilt and relief.
I didn't mean to let it have you so long.
Dean went running with Sam in the morning like
nothing had happened. Neither John or Sam said a word about it.
John found a local garage that would let them work
on the Impala after closing time. The owner's brother was a retired hunter
and gave them free run of the place in exchange for sitting around trading
tales over beer. Had Dean been in the mood, he would and could have one-upped
the guy - Ramsey - several times over with just the reaper and â€˜shifter
alone, but left Sam to do it, smirking over Sam's penchant for downplaying
a few things.
"It was actually a Wendigo?" John said.
"You drew one in your journal," Sam said, narrowing
his eyes in confusion. "You sent us up there...Dad, you had to know."
"Way too far west for a Wendigo," John said, frowning.
"Never actually seen one. Thought it was a nahual come north or
a huldra or something. Jesus, are you guys sure?"
"You sent your kids after a Wendigo?" Ramsey
asked in amazement, slamming his beer down on the table. "Y'outta your
"No big deal," Dean said around a yawn. "Killed
it with a flare."
"What'd you do to your hand?" Ramsey said, pointing
at Dean's splint.
"It gnawed on me just a little first," Dean said,
The three of them worked on the car together. They
never said much aloud but a hell of a lot was conveyed all the same, one
way or the other. It should have taken a day at most to repair what Dean
had done to the car, but no one was in a hurry.
John took every available chance to pat his boys
on their shoulders and backs, to smooth the hair down on the napes of their
necks. It convinced him they were real. Sam grinned under the affection.
Dean took it like it was something else he had to put up with, but he was
there every time John turned around, standing conveniently close enough
to accept whatever came.
When they were done and giving the Impala a final
wash, John turned the hose on Dean. When Dean tripped on it trying to duck
away, John took the opportunity to soak him from head to toe. Sam laughed
so hard he ended up laying across the car's hood, facedown.
"Are we done?" John said over the noise of the
water and Sam's laughter, and he didn't mean with the car.
Dean knew it. "Yes sir," he gasped, spitting out
a mouthful of water.
"Good," John said, and turned the hose on Sam.
Things were not okay, yet. Things were simply
different. That was good enough for the short run.
Sam watched Dean fuss with the splint. He had worked
one edge into a fringe by fidgeting with it.
They were parked on the side of a mountain road
looking over one hell of a drop, hills and trees and silence. They were
leaning against th front bumper, unaware that their stances matched.
Just gonna scout around for a few days, like
we used to, Sam had said to John. For old time's sake. Make sure
we've got our ears to the ground in the right places. We'll be back. Don't
pack up until we get back, okay?
Dean hadn't needed much more than a suggestion
to get on the road, even if just for a long weekend. He'd been housebound
long enough and just wanted out. Sam would never admit it, but he'd been
just as restless. The constant moving had been hard but had grown on him
all the same. They had no plan except to drive, and if they heard anything
or ran into anything along the way, fine. If not...it didn't matter.
"Hey," Sam said.
Dean turned his head and braced both hands on the
edge of the Impala's hood. He didn't quite meet Sam's eyes and hadn't since
they'd started out.
"You told me...when we were getting Dad, from that
apartment building. You told me you'd always wanted to be a fireman."
Dean shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. So? Kids always say
they want to be cops and doctors and firemen."
"I think you still mean it, though," Sam said.
"You'd be so great at it. I mean, if you can avoid starting any more fires
of your own. I think you like starting them more than putting them out."
"Yeah, well," Dean said, "I go anywhere near even
so much as a volunteer fire department, they'll do a background check and
I'll be screwed."
"You like saving people," Sam said. "You want
to save people. Something like that would never be a job, to you.
You'd do it for free, like you do this. And...everything else can be...adjusted.
You know. Your record."
Dean finally looked at him. "What're you trying
to do, Sam?"
"You have to look beyond hunting for the rest of
your life," Sam said. "Yeah, there'll always be something to kill. And
it's always been more to you than just getting revenge for what happened
to us. But there's gotta be more for you. You love it out here,
being the hero, seeing everywhere and everything and not getting tied down.
But it's still always for somebody else."
"Some nine-to-five life isn't my dream, Sam," Dean
said. "We've been over this already. You can make all the goddamn speeches
you want. I'm not like you."
"Then dream bigger," Sam said.
"You, me and Dad, just...hunting, forever," Dean
said. "That's what I thought about. Didn't even matter if I knew it probably
couldn't happen. I never really imagined this, Sam. I never imagined living
past the demon that killed mom."
Sam watched him without responding.
"I don't have something I've been waiting to do,"
Dean said. "I don't know anything else but this. I don't exist past this."
Sam sighed inaudibly, looked at the sky.
"You still wanna be a lawyer?" Dean said.
"Yeah," Sam said immediately. "I wanna finish the
thing I started. Dean...we killed the demon. We killed an
Anything else after this is so damn easy."
"No," Dean said. "It isn't."
Sam ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not going
back unless you come with me," he said.
Dean looked at him in derisive confusion. "What?"
"As long as you hunt, I'm hunting," Sam said. "I
leave the road when you do."
"Is that supposed to guilt me into doing something?"
Dean said, visibly annoyed. "Because you can't pin this on me, Sam, I'm
not gonna let you blame me for holding you back."
"I mean I can't leave you," Sam said. "I don't
really care how you take it, except that you have to understand you're
stuck with me. I can't leave you behind again."
"I don't need to be taken care of," Dean growled,
beginning to straighten from the car.
"Neither do I," Sam said. "But that kind of comes
with the territory, right? Needing you and needing you to take care of
me aren't the same thing. I don't wanna do anything without you again.
So maybe accuse me of being a selfish bastard like you usually do and we
can get on with life, huh?"
"I don't know if they were bluffing about still
having plans for you," Dean said. The demons. He meant the demons that
"Can you think of a single thing we can't face
down?" Sam said. "It doesn't matter if anybody had plans or still has plans.
I'm not gonna live my life worrying about it. I'm trying to tell you that
whatever it is, I'll do it with you."
"You can't be happy out here," Dean said. "You
never were and you won't be now."
Sam watched him struggle. Robbed of an excuse to
turn it into an argument, Dean was trying to figure out how to deal with
what Sam was telling him. "There won't always be an â€˜out here'," Sam
said softly. "It's already gotten quieter, and not like something else
is building, either. We slammed a door, Dean. There'll always be stuff
out here to hunt, but not enough to keep us busy forever. The little things...you'll
get bored. When you're ready to do something else, I'll still be here.
You can come with me back to Stanford."
"And do what?" Dean said. "Share an apartment,
work some creepy retail job while you go to school? If I'm gonna be a kept
man, it's gonna be for some hot older chick who's loaded."
Sam threw his head back and laughed. He couldn't
help it. Dean wasn't totally passing it off. He probably didn't completely
believe Sam, and Sam didn't blame him. But he wasn't refusing to discuss
it. "I don't know," Sam said. "Go to school with me. Intern somewhere and
find a field you like. Save people some other way. And, you know. On weekends
we kill stuff."
Dean shook his head and faced forward again, went
back to leaning against the car.
"I want you to do what you want," Sam said. "I
want you to be happy. I know that sounds dumb out loud, and I don't care.
I can do this without you, but I don't want to."
Dean glanced at him, just a quick look and then
away, but it was everything to Sam. It was Dean considering the option.
"Let's just see what happens," Sam said. "We still
have work to do, for now. We could show Dad a few things, right?"
Sam held his left hand out for Dean to shake, matching
his smirk. Dean looked at it for a moment, then straightened from the car
again and slapped it away. He leaned into Sam for just an instant, a one-armed
hug, there and gone almost too fast for Sam to realize what was happening.
Then Dean was getting into the car and starting it, leaning out the window.
"Would you get into the fuckin' car? We're late for something somewhere."
Sam turned his face back to the sky to grin. Then
he got in the car.