And Burn the Long-liv'd Phoenix in her BloodAuthor: tabaquiRecipient: fonapolaRating:
Adult language - pg-13?Warnings:
Title is from Shakespeare's Sonnet 19.Summary:
*from the prompt* Mary never died, but she couldn't run from hunting forever (bonus if everyone in the family survives in the AU 'verse)Lawrence, Kansas, November 1983"Mary, can I tell you something? Even if this sounds really weird, will you promise me that you will remember?"
"On November second, nineteen eighty-three, don't get out of bed. No matter what you hear, or what you see, promise me you won't get out of bed."
Mary woke with a sharp gasp, dryer-sheet scent and blanket fluff in her nose. Her fingers clutched so tight in the pillow they hurt. That dream, that dream again...the one she tried to forget, most times, even though that hunter had made her promise –"...promise me that you will remember...."
Tears standing shimmering in his eyes, something desperate and longing and so very, very broken
in that wide, green gaze.
"Promise," Mary mumbled. She turned over, breathing out, slow and shaky. Trying to calm her pounding heart; trying to shake off the terror that dream always brought. Her gaze scanned the dim room, a faint bar of golden light coming in from the hall. She put her hand out to the side but the sheets were cold – John's side of the bed empty. Fell asleep watching TV again, I'll bet. Gonna wake up with a crick in his neck....
On the night stand, the baby monitor crackled softly, a stuttering hiss. And then a breathy little noise, not quite a cry, not exactly a snore and Mary held her breath. Waiting. Sammy wasn't quite
up to a full night's sleep, but sometimes they got lucky. Mary took another long breath, pushing the dream into the back of her mind and levering herself upright. Quick trip to the bathroom, quick peek in at the boys, and maybe she'd get another couple hours in.
She padded down the hall to the bathroom, frowning at the light over the stairs. It was flickering, on-off strobe with an accompanying little hum, like it was about to burn out. The orange-tinted glow of the street light filtered in through the sheer in the bathroom window and she didn't bother turning on the overhead. After, washing her hands, she kept her eyes off the mirror, focusing on the way her fingers curled around each other under the nearly invisible stream of water. Don't look into mirrors by moonlight....
The Farmer's Almanac calendar on the pantry door said moonrise wasn't until four a.m., but Mary wasn't taking any chances. She dried her hands, walked down the hall and pushed Dean's bedroom door open. He was lying in his typical sprawl, covers half kicked off, mouth a little open. Hair stuck to his cheeks, tarnished wheat, because the child was like a furnace. Mary grinned to herself, her gaze flicking to the window – to the closet door. Closed. Dean sighed, twisting a little, and she backed away and pulled his door nearly to.
From the monitor in her bedroom, she heard a faint little static-y cough, then a half-hearted whimper and she sped up, walking to the end of the hall and Sam's room. Sam lay on his back, kicking, the mobile over his head spinning slowly. And John was standing there, dark silhouette that hushed her as she hovered in the doorway.
"Will wonders never cease," Mary whispered, grinning again. She turned around, yawning – thinking happily of her pillow, her blanket, and sleep. But first.... She really, really wanted a big drink of that fresh-squeezed orange juice she'd bought yesterday. It was so good
- like drinking sunshine, she'd told Dean. Her mouth watered a little, thinking about it, and she went away down the stairs, wincing as the fourth one cracked with a noise that sounded gun-shot loud in the hushed quiet. The light on the wall flickered again and then went out completely and she missed the bottom step, landing heavily, clutching the newel post for balance.
"Jesus –" Her ankle twinged and she limped just a little, noticing that the TV was on – guns and tanks and men screaming silently; some film about war and death and hopelessness playing out with the sound off. She flinched a little, looking away. She hated those movies. Hated the blood and the fury, the shattered lives – the sorrow that couldn't be comforted. John must have been hard asleep, to let one of those come on: he never watched them.
She navigated the kitchen by streetlight and the reflected flicker of the TV, getting a glass and opening the 'fridge, squinting as she lifted out the juice and shook it. Her gaze wandered over – up – settled on the pantry door. On the calendar with the wobbly, red X's that Dean had made, crossing off the days. Counting down to Christmas already and it was only the second....
The juice bottle slipped from Mary's fingers and hit the floor, gurgling. One side was cold against her foot but she barely noticed. Didn't care that the glass in her other hand had fallen, as well, cracking apart with a sound like a firecracker. 'Second. Second of November, 1983, second of November and I promised, I promised...don't get out of bed, don't...oh God, ohGodohGod....'
Mary let the 'fridge door fall shut – spun and ran, taking in the long sprawl of arm and leg in the recliner and realizing John was here
, John was asleep, John wasn't in Sam's room so who was, who was
, oh dear God, please....
She sprinted up the stairs, slipping, half-falling in the darkness and catching herself, her ankle throbbing a little, weak from her earlier mis-step and starting to ache. She ignored it – scraped her arm on the wall at the top of the landing and darted toward Sam's door, Sam's room, Sam
And then stopped, gasping for air. Shuddering all over, sudden icy sweat breaking out in a sickly sheen over her face – under her arms. Her stomach clenching tight, wanting to roil. She was supposed to be in bed. She was supposed to be asleep
"What do I do, what do I...oh God, Sammy, please be all right, please, please...." Her ankle gave suddenly – her knees – and she lurched sideways and hit the wall. Slid right down, her feet sticking on the carpet, her knees crushing up against her breasts, sending a dull ache through them. Her nightgown pooled around her and she twisted it in her hands, panting. Trembling all over, tears streaking silently down her cheeks and her heart pounding, deafening her.
"Please leave him alone, leave him alone, oh God, I'm so stupid, please be okay, Sammy, please be okay...." The monitor crackled again and this time Sam was definitely awake – making that fussy little coughing cry that would turn at any moment into a full-blown wail and Mary just didn't care anymore. She heaved herself upright, her nightgown catching under her foot and tearing a little as she jerked at it, the top cutting into her shoulders. She fought clear of it and ran
.Loogootee, Indiana, July, 1989
"Follow through with the bat, Sam. Don't stop dead when you connect, just let the bat keep swinging," John said, and Sam nodded, a little frown on his face. So serious and so focused and John had to grin at him. "Okay, here we go...." John wound up and pitched the softball; easy, but not too
easy, because Sam always, always called him on it.
But easy enough for a six-year-old's still uncoordinated swings. Sam swung, stepping forward and into the swing and connected solidly with the ball. John saw the infinitesimal hesitation and then the bat swung smoothly around, crossing over Sam's left shoulder before he brought it to a stop.
"Like that, Dad?"
"Exactly like that! Good job, Sammy."
Sam beamed, curly hair and dimples so damn pretty it was like something out a movie and John's breath caught for a moment, awe and love and a fierce, fierce joy making his throat ache – his eyes sting. Almost lost you, Sam. God, almost lost you....
"You're dropping your shoulder, Dean." John glanced over, toward the back patio and the freestanding heavy bag he and Dean had wrestled outside. Mary was standing behind it, hands curved over the black leather, and Dean was opposite her, his little fists raised, his right foot forward and his left back. Just like Mary had showed him.
"You have to keep your shoulder up, okay? Do it again." Dean nodded, serious – sweaty in the late-summer afternoon, t-shirt and jean-shorts, barefoot. He lifted his fists a little – tucked his chin – and hit the bag, onetwo
and Mary was grinning at him, nodding.
"Good job, buddy. Just right."
Dean grinned – did a funny little onetwothree shuffle, like something out of a Marx brother's routine, his bunched fists whirling in circles, his hair sticking up and curling with sweat and heat, freckles across his nose and sunburn across the back of his neck. "I could'a been a contender! I could'a been somebody!"
"You're a goofball," Mary said. She stepped around the bag, reaching out and rubbing her hand through Dean's hair, looking over at John and flashing him that smile. That bright, warm smile that always – always – made him feel like the king of the world. "I think he watches too much late-night TV."
"Could'a been worse," John said, leaving Sam to chase after the softball, walking across the summer-crisp grass. Meeting Mary at the edge of the cracked square of concrete, his hands going automatically to her hips, worn denim and warm skin under his fingertips. "Could'a been –" John dropped his voice, looking sideways at Dean. "Ghostbusters
," he rumbled, and Mary's eyes went wide.
"Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes
!" Dean shouted, and Sam wrenched himself free of the forsythia and ran toward Dean, grinning.
"This chick is toast!"
"We've been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft's okay! He's a sailor, he's in New York; we get this guy la-"
!" John and Mary chorus, and Sam laughed out loud, dancing around Dean.
"Dogs and cats living together –"
"Oh God. You're gonna pay for that, buddy," Mary said, mock-stern, and John grinned at her. Dean could quote almost the entire movie by heart, and Sam had learned about half of it, and they can say it all. Night. Long.
"Let's make 'em run around the house, wear 'em out," John said. "Ten laps widdershins, ten deosil."
Mary chuckled, but John saw the little glance she flicked at the sky – at the sun, sliding down and down in the west, already behind the trees. Getting late – getting dark. "How about you gimme a little massage instead?" Her voice was playful – flirty – but the bottle standing on the picnic table wasn't massage oil or even some kind of fancy lotion, it was hand-made salve with Vitamin E and olive oil, rosemary and chamomile and who knew what other herbs. Salve made especially for scars, and John smiled again, gentler this time.
"Sure, honey. I can do that." Mary settled on the picnic bench, straddling it; slipped her tank-top up and off, revealing the red-gingham bikini top she was wearing underneath. John sat down behind her and scooped some salve onto his fingers. He rubbed the green-smelling blob between his hands and then put them gently on her shoulders, rubbing at the fan of thickened skin that spread over Mary's back.
The fire had curled around her shoulders and down both arms to her elbows. It had mouthed her ribs and hips and buttocks and licked across her right breast and almost to her sternum. Her left thigh – calf – across the top of her foot but not so bad, there – not so bad. One tendril had snaked around her throat – her chin – and up her scalp a little. Those first couple of months in the hospital, all her long, gold hair had been singed crew-cut short, brittle and dark.
It hadn't ever really grown back like it had been. It was darker now – a sort of brown, an antique and tarnished brass. And it only curled to her shoulders, thinner – full of cowlicks – and sometimes John thought that Mary resented that the most. Cried over that the most. That her hair had never really recovered when the rest of her – the rest of them
Weren't doing too bad, John mused, rubbing with his thumbs while Mary's head nodded down and her shoulders relaxed Dean was showing Sam how to do the onetwo
punch thing now, his hands steady as he positioned Sam's shoulders – pushed Sam's fists up a little closer in front of his face. Teaching what Mary taught him, both of them so intent and so damn...serious. Almost lost my boys. My Mary. Almost lost you all, God....
"Got a call from Joshua. He said there's maybe a poltergeist a couple hours from here, nothing too fancy. I figure we can have Jeannie watch the boys, be there and back in a day."
John felt that instinctive tightening of his gut – the knee-jerk no
in his throat. It never got better – never went away. He'd replayed that night – that fire – over and over in his head. Saw his wife pinned, burning, bleeding, over and over. Something in the room – something full of malice and intent, focused and hateful, and he hadn't been that scared since 'Nam – since ever.
And then Sam had screamed
, an awful, rasping howl that had hurt to hear, that had somehow vibrated down in John's bones. It made his heart skip and jump – made his head feel like it was going to explode. And whatever was there, whatever thing
lurked in the smoky shadows – was gone, vanished. And Mary had fallen on him, screaming, and Dean had been utterly silent, rooted in the doorway, and John – John had hauled his wife up with his own burnt hands, and snatched his youngest son and shoved him toward Dean.
Barked at him to take your brother, run, get out, now
and then flung Mary over his shoulder. Staggering and cursing and crying, smoke in his throat, her blood in his mouth, Dean moving like a ghost in front of him, down the stairs – out into the cold, still night. The air had cut like a knife across John's seared skin and he could only imagine how it had felt to Mary and then, and then....
And then sirens, and firemen, and police. Mary on a gurney, Sam in his arms, Dean between his knees on the cold bed of an ambulance, shock and terror and anger making John shake so hard it hurt. Two weeks later, Mary had told him...everything. All of it. And he'd put his fist through a wall, and cussed her out, and then fallen down on his knees and swore revenge. Mary had just smiled at him, exhausted and cried out, covered in pressure dressings, and nothing had ever been the same again.
"John? That work for you?" Mary was half-twisted on the bench, looking at him, and John pushed his hands into motion again, massaging the salve in deep – easing the tightness of her skin. Taking a breath and nodding, because that's what she needed. Helping her to heal, the only way he knew how.
"Sure, we can do that. They love it when Jeannie comes over."
"Jeannie's coming over?" Dean said, popping up at John's elbow and John laughed, a little strained, a little weary.
"Dean says Jeannie's pree-tty," Sam crowed, and Dean lunged for him. Sam dodged him, running around the picnic table. "Dean loooves Jeannie, Dean wants to maaaarry
Dean scrambled after him, face as red as his neck. "Shut up, twerp!"
"Dean and Jeannie, sittin' in a tree! K-i-s-s-i-n-g –"Chewelah, Washington, December, 1999
"Hey, Dean, Ghostbusters
is on tonight, you in?" Sam asked, glancing up from his notebook and AP Chemistry.
! Seriously? No can do, Sammy, I'm on call tonight." Dean twisted, digging down into the very bottom of the little chest freezer they had out on the covered back porch.
"Oh." Sam watched Dean lean over further – contemplated getting up and tipping him head-first into the freezer. But then Dean would have to retaliate, and Sam would have to fight back, and last time that had ended with a broken pitcher, three new dents in the wall, and a handful of minor flesh wounds. And Sam really needed to finish this paper. "That sucks, man."
"Gotta do what I gotta do. Jesus, where is it?"
"Where's what?" Mom came into the room with a heaped laundry basket, setting it down on the kitchen table and poking at the tangle of clothes and towels.
"That venison? I said I'd make chili at the fire station tonight." Dean was a volunteer firefighter, taking his turn with thirty or so other Chewelah residents at keeping the city safe. Sam was pretty sure Dean just got off on having a radio and a bubble-light in his car. Plus, they did controlled burns every year, and Dean got to indulge his pyromania to his heart's content.
"Should be in there," Mom said, and leaned toward Sam. "What'cha doing?"
"Chemistry." Sam made a little face and Mom smiled at him.
"You know you can do it, Sam."
"Yeah, I know, it's just –"
"It's not as fun as blowing up shit with Demi on the Rez." Dean gave Sam's hair a rough tousle as he walked past, fingers cold and damp from digging in the freezer. Sam's own left hand went automatically up and out, rabbit punch that Dean lazily twisted away from. "Mom, please, I'll do anything if you'll find that venison for me."
"Anything?" Mom's voice was light – teasing – and Sam grinned down at his notebook. The page was blurry and he blinked – rubbed his eyes. It blurred more, neat pencil lines warping – smearing – and then pain lanced through Sam's head. He gasped, dropping his pencil, his hand going to his forehead.
"I'll clean the gutters."
"You already do that."
The pain ebbed and then flared again, sharper –brighter – and Sam couldn't keep the little yelp of discomfort inside.
"Sammy, what's the matter?" Dean was there, close enough for Sam to feel the heat of him, and Mom was, saying something, her hand on his neck, but Sam couldn't talk – couldn't do anything but squeeze his eyes tight shut, his hands on his temples now, shoulders coming up, back bending. Hunching in tight as light flickered behind his shut lids. Flickered, strobed – dizzying and sick-making, fuzzing out and then sharpening into images that jumped and hitched like a worn out movie.
Every flash drove new spikes of agony through Sam's skull and he cried out, jerking half to his feet, the chair crashing away, his knees giving out and hitting the linoleum. He could feel Dean's arms around him, could feel Mom's hands, could hear them, echoing and muted and then too loud and Sam almost screamed.
The images were still jumping, strobing, stabbing into his head. Ugly images – bloody. A stuffed animal, a knife, a boy, his face twisted in horror. A bare light bulb, swinging over a filthy, broken room. Gouts of red like flung paint, and Sam did scream then, his knuckles digging into his skull. Twisting, fighting – something knocking into his elbow, his side, frantic voices, hands, blood
"Sam, Sam, Sammy, c'mon man, c'mon...." Sam blinked up at the dark blob that was hovering over him – blinked again and then squinted his eyes tight shut when the blob moved and light speared into his eyes.
"Aah, God, too bright –"
"Okay, okay, light's off, it's okay –" Mom's voice, and then something cool on his forehead – cool and wet – a washcloth, and Sam whimpered in relief. Opened his eyes again, slow and careful, but this time there was only dimness, and the solid press of Dean along his side, and Mom's hands on his neck, rubbing gently. "That better?"
"Yeah, I...a little bit." Sam was surprised at how weak his voice sounded and he struggled to sit up straighter, shoving at Dean a little. "Jeez, I'm...I'm okay –"
"Yeah, right. You always
collapse to the floor screaming. Regular Tuesday Special," Dean scoffed. But he let Sam sit up, pushing at him – propping him with a shoulder when Sam sagged. Dean's hand wrapped around his head, holding the washcloth in place.
"Sam, what happened?" Mom knelt there with a towel in her hands, twisting it a little; fretting, she'd say, but her gaze.... It was dark and flat and intense – a little scary – and any impulse Sam felt toward a white lie sagged as completely as he had, deflating.
"Everything got kinda...blurry. And there were these flashes. Like light?" Sam looked over at Dean and Dean nodded encouragingly. "And then I could see...p-pictures. Like...like watching a movie, kind of. But it...hurt. A lot."
Mom reached up and automatically smoothed Sam's bangs back and he winced a little. She patted his cheek gently and let her hand drop. "What kind of pictures? Like – you were watching us? Were you just seeing Dean and me?"
"No, I saw...." Sam tried to organize the images into something coherent. Into some narrative that would tell him what the hell
was going on. But it was just...chaos. "I saw just...bits of things, I saw...this room, like, in some old house, some abandoned house or something, it was all...." Sam gestured vaguely, the pounding ache in his head seeming to creep downward, making his neck burn – making his shoulders tight. He felt exhausted, like he'd just finished a run with Dad.
"Like – that house in Boise? The one with the tree in the kitchen?" Dean said, and Sam nodded – winced again.
"Yeah. Broken up and...dirty, just...junk. And there was this kid, there was...he was all...b-bloody...." Sam stopped and breathed – felt his stomach roil and his mouth flood and knew he was gonna be sick. "Oh, God, Dean, I'm –"
"Crap, okay, here we go –" Dean hauled him up fast – too fast – and Sam felt the bile rising, his stomach knotting and he clamped his hand across his mouth, the washcloth falling away. He flailed blindly when Dean all but lifted him off his feet – hustled them both across the back porch and out the door.
The December air hit like a silver axe, cleaving his skull – stinging in his eyes and his nose and Sam clawed at Dean. He twisted halfway out of Dean's grip, bent over and retched into the trampled snow of the back yard. It felt like his whole stomach came up: intestines, liver, kidneys – hell, maybe his balls, too. Dean was making unhappy noises, arm clumsily around his ribs and Sam heaved again and then hung there, panting.
"I think s-so." Sam's throat hurt. He coughed, spat – gagged a little, and then sagged against Dean. "F-fuck."
"Language," Dean said absently. He wiped Sam's hair back off his forehead and Sam felt the sweat there, freezing in the freezing air. Felt the clamminess of it under his layered tee and Henley and hoodie, felt how weak his knees were and the insistent, dizzying pound of his head that seemed ten times worse now.
"Wanna...God, it really hurts, Dean, wanna...lay down."
"Okay, sure, here we go...." Dean steered them both carefully away from the dark spatter on the snow. Back into the house and Mom was just putting the phone down, a can of ginger ale in her hand, her mouth drawn tight and thin. The overhead light was dazzling and Sam squinted his eyes mostly shut.
"You okay, Sam? Feeling any better?"
"Hurts," Sam said, and even talking made it worse, the vibrations of his own voice box making his head throb sickly and he closed his eyes and hung in Dean's grip, trying not to break down and cry like a baby.
"Get him up to bed, Dean. I'm gonna get him one of those Vicodins from before."
"I got him." Dean half-carried Sam down the hall, up the stairs and into their room, tipping him gently onto Dean's bed with a soft 'don't move'. Sam put his head down into his hands, squeezing his temples, hoping maybe he could squeeze the pain right out. There was a soft rustling sound, and then Dean was at Sam's feet, pulling his sneakers off – hauling him up again and swinging him, dizzying arc. Sam landed in his own bed and whimpered again when Dean tugged Sam's belt out of the belt-loops of his jeans. Then Dean was smoothing the covers up over Sam's chest and Mom was coming in, glass in one hand and pill in the other, and Sam sipped and swallowed and sipped again, relieved to have the sharp taste of bile out of his mouth. He shuddered at the scrape of the pill down his raw throat.
"Th-thanks, Mom, God, I'm...s-sorry –"
"Sshhh, now, hush." Mom sat carefully on the edge of the bed, stroking his head – running her fingers back through Sam's hair again and again and Sam sighed, feeling the pain settle just a little. Ease just a tiny bit. "You're fine, Sammy, everything's fine, just go to sleep, go to sleep, better in the morning...." over and over, and Sam remembered, muzzily, that she'd done the exact same thing to Dean a few months ago, when he and Dad had gone off to hunt a ghoul and Dean had come home with a couple cracked ribs and a dislocated thumb.
"What's wrong with me?" Sam whispered, and Mom's hand paused for a moment and then moved again, slow and soft.
"Nothing, Sammy, nothing's wrong with you. Just go to sleep now, go to sleep...." The pain washed over and over him, a slow and rhythmic tide, until the pill seemed to stifle it all like a heavy blanket, and Sam finally slept.
Later – he didn't know how long – he surfaced to the low rumble of his Dad's voice, somewhere near the foot of his bed. Mom answered, and then Dad again – Dean – and Sam heard his own name and twitched a little, weighed down by the blankets and the drug, still so tired.
"...sure he's okay?" Dad asked, and Sam felt a slight pressure on his foot, his Dad's hand, squeezing.
"He'll be okay when he wakes up. John, I called Missouri. She said...she said she's expecting us."
"Does she know –?"
"I don't know. Probably. She said she can help."
"She better," from Dean, his voice hard – scared, maybe. Not quite right. Don't be scared, Dean, I'm okay
Sam thought, and he felt Dad pat his foot again – listened while Dad and Mom told Dean goodnight, and quietly left the room. Sam heard Dean stripping out of boots and jeans and shirts – heard him crawl into his bed and shift around for a minute, and then the click of the lamp. He heard Dean sigh, little hitch to his breath.
"You're gonna be fine, you little geek. I'm gonna make sure nothing...nothing bad happens to you, Sammy," Dean whispered, and Sam believed him, one hundred percent.Palo Alto, California, September, 2005
The reek of burning was still thick in Sam's clothes, and Dean shoved them into a trash bag – upended an entire, super-sized box of baking soda over them and tied it shut. Then he checked his phone. Again. Two days – two days of calls, of voice mails, of worry and anger and terror and still – nothing.
The shower shut off with a clunk and there was the plastic rustle of the shower curtain being pushed back. A long moment of silence, presumably while Sam dried off, then nothing, for long enough that Dean was seconds from kicking the bathroom door in. The knob clicked and turned, and the door creaked open and Sam wandered out, flushed from the heat. A little dazed from it, his hair towel-dried and curling across his forehead, his cheeks pink. He had on the sweats and t-shirt Dean had laid out for him.
"Hey, though you drowned," Dean said, and then winced.
Sam didn't notice. He rubbed distractedly at his arms, looking around the room with a dull, flat gaze. "Where's my hoodie? 'M cold." His voice was rough from smoke and oxygen, painful to hear.
"I – it needs washed. Here – here, you can –" Dean dug down into his duffel and pulled out a thick flannel shirt. He offered it to Sam, who stared at it for a long moment before reaching out and taking it. Dean's gaze flicked over the puffy, blistered tips of Sam's fingers and bit back a snarl. "Let me fix your hands."
Sam ignored him, struggling into the shirt and wincing every time he tried to lift his arms. Dean didn't try to help him, though – last time, Sam had all but punched him. Dean watched as long as he could and then he turned abruptly away, digging down into the first aid kit and finding the Silvadene and gauze for Sam's burned hands. Sam wouldn't let him do anything for the blackening bruises that flowered across his back and ribs.
When Dean turned around again, Sam had the flannel mostly on and was sitting hunched at the foot of the bed, his hands tucked down between his knees, his shoulders shaking. "Here, I.... Sam? C'mon, man...." Dean tossed the supplies down onto the bed and just stood there, hands clenched into fists, wanting to fix it – to make it better – to do something
. Anything but stand there like an idiot.
"What...what did I do wrong? I thought...I did it all...right, I...there was salt and...w-wards and...." Sam drew in a wavering, ragged breath. "What'd I miss, Dean? How'd I f-fuck up so...bad
...." His voice dissolved into a cracked and breathless keen and Dean felt rage and grief and guilt well in him like a black tide. He put his hand on the bowed nape of Sam's neck, into the damp, tangled hair, rubbing and petting, feeling utterly helpless.
"Sam, Sammy, you didn't fuck up, we...we threw everything we had at it, you know we did. It wasn't your fault."
"How do you know?" Sam cried, and his voice was wet – thick – as baffled and broken as a child's, and Dean wanted to break something. Wanted to make something bleed and burn and hurt
as bad as Sam was hurting. "How do you – what if – I shouldn't have m-moved in with Jess, I shouldn't have...come here, Dean, I should never have c-come here. I killed her, I fucking killed
–" Dean crouched down, yanking Sam into his arms – crushing him tight, unconsciously rocking his brother's shuddering body as Sam choked out his grief and hurt. Ten minutes – twenty – and Sam finally pushed away, scrubbing the arm of the flannel over his face and wincing in disgust as he smeared wetness across his cheek.
"F-fuck, I'm all...slimy."
"You always were a snotty crier," Dean joked, half-hearted and aching at the misery on Sam's face. "Just...lemme...." Dean pushed himself to his feet, stiff, and got a washcloth. Soaked it down and wrung it out and handed it to Sam, who wiped his face off and then blew his nose in the white square. "Jesus, dude. Gross."
The corner of Sam's mouth twitched a little when Dean took the washcloth back between thumb and forefinger, carrying it to the bathroom held out away from his body like it was toxic. "It's already all over your shirt, dude," Sam said, his voice raspy, and Dean looked down at the dark patch on his shoulder and chest.
"Fucker." Dean flopped down on the end of the bed with an exaggerated sigh – reached behind Sam to get the kit. "Let me fix your hands up."
"Yeah, okay." Sam stared into some middle distance while Dean slathered on the burn cream and then wrapped Sam's hands in clean gauze. He finished it off with lengths of tape and shoved everything back into the kit.
There was a can of ginger ale on the bureau, a bottle of Extra Strength something or other next to it and Dean got up and dumped three pills into his palm – opened the soda and took them back to Sam. "Take these and get some sleep, man. There's...we have to talk to the police tomorrow."
Sam took a long, hitching breath and took the pills and soda out of Dean's hands. He drank and swallowed and drank a little more and then just sat there, the can tilting over in his bandaged hand until Dean took it away. Pulled down the covers and got his hand under Sam's arm and got him up – around – down again. Tucked snug under the clean sheets and blanket, the earth-tone, polyester duvet.
"Just go to sleep, Sam, okay? Go to sleep." Dean hesitated and then he pushed his fingers back through Sam's hair once – twice – and Sam blinked up at him, gaze bloodshot and dark-circled and utterly, completely devastated.
"Is M-mom and Dad coming?"
"Sure. Sure, they'll be here real soon, Sammy. You'll see. Just...go to sleep."
"Should'a been me," Sam murmured, his lids sagging shut, and Dean bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, the unexpected sting and ache making his eyes tear.
"No, Sammy, you're wrong. Never should'a been you...."
"This is Mary Winchester. I can't be reached. If this is an emergency, call my son Dean –
"Damnit, Mom, God damnit
, where in the hell are you?" Dean snapped his phone shut, ignoring how his hand was shaking – ignoring the way his throat felt, tight and aching. Nothing but the same on Dad's phone and he was pretty God damn sick of it.
Beside him, Sam was packing shotgun and rock salt and grimoire into a duffel, his lips pressed tight and his hands – still lightly bandaged – steady as stone. He hadn't said a word about Mom or Dad – hadn't said a word about Jess since that night. A week of fucking nothing and they were done here. Done in Palo Alto, done in California. Sam's life, the one he'd argued so passionately for – the one he'd dreamed about since he was sixteen and miserable from visions of death and horror – was over. Snuffed out as surely and completely as his Jess, and Dean wished he'd be pissed off.
Wished he'd be crazy with it, wished Sam would shout and kick things and argue
, God. But he'd gone quiet and focused and grim, researching until he fell asleep over the keyboard of his laptop and forgetting to eat unless Dean forced him. So intent that he was pretty much scaring the fuck out of Dean, and the radio silence from their parents wasn't helping.
And now, today, a text message. God damn coordinates
like it was the summer of '01, he and Sam hop scotching all over the country, following the trail left by their folks. Coordinates, secret drops, coded messages. Running errands and getting supplies, meeting up with Mom and Dad for a couple days, a hunt or two, and then off again. The Winchester version of summer vacation and Ranger boot camp, all rolled up into one.
It was the last thing Dean wanted to do right now. The last thing Sam needed. Sam shouldered the weapon bag and then his own, new duffel, still creased from the packaging, smelling faintly of chemicals and dust. There hadn't been a single thing salvageable from the fire. Sam cast a short, disinterested look around the motel room and then he was gone, out the door. Dean snatched up his own duffel and followed him, digging down into his pocket for the car keys, trying to think of something – anything – to say.
Twenty miles down the road, and Dean was still wracking his brain for something, and Sam was slumped against the door, staring out blindly. So still, a negative of emotion and motion and life
and Dean snapped the music off and gripped the wheel, steeling himself.
"Sam, we don't have to do this. We can...we can go to Pastor Jim's or...Uncle Bobby's. Hunker down and research, you know? Figure this out instead of just...."
"No," Sam said, and his voice was still a little ragged. Lower, it seemed, weighed by grief. He turned his head like it hurt to move, and stared at Dean. "No."
, Dean. This thing...it's in my head. It's in my dreams. It was in my house
. It took...Jess, and I'm not going to let it just...get away. I'm not."
"What do you mean, 'in your head'?" Sam fidgeted in his seat, glancing out the window and down at his hands, avoiding Dean's gaze. "Christ, Sam, come on
. The last thing I need from you right now is fucking secrets, okay? Not with what Mom and Dad are pulling. Just – tell me."
Sam took a long breath – turned a little, facing Dean. "I told you about the dreams. About...Jess." Dean nodded, flicking his gaze back and forth between the road and Sam. "I dreamed some other stuff, too. I dreamed about a...man. A yellow-eyed man. He...tells me stuff."
"'Stuff'? What kind of 'stuff'?"
"Stuff like...he's waiting for me. That I...that I have power. That he can show me how to use it. Show me...all kinds of things. Incredible things."
Dean chewed on his lip, staring down the road, absently swerving around a piece of cast-off tire. Guilt and worry being swamped by rage. Rage and fear. "What the fuck, Sam? For how long? How long has this – yellow eyed man been talking to you?"
Sam shrugged – picked at the bandages on his hands. "Six months. Something like that. I thought...I just thought I was...finally goin' crazy, you know?" He laughed, humorless – pained – and Dean wanted to smack him. Wanted to grab him and hold on, keep him safe. Make it right
. "I thought I could feel him in the room that night.... I thought he was there. Something
slammed me into the wall." Sam snorted softly. "Pretty nuts."
"You're not crazy, Sammy. I mean – no more than the rest of us."
"Yeah. No more than that." Sam sniffed – rubbed a hand over his face and sighed, turning to stare out the window again.
"We still don't have to do this fucking snipe hunt, man. We can go to ground – figure this out." Sam shrugged again, and Dean squeezed the steering wheel, hard. "It's not your fault
, Sam. It's not."
"Yeah. You keep telling me that."
"Think it's gonna sink in any time soon?"
"Maybe." Sam opened the glove box and pulled out a battered map – dug around for a pen and then got Dean's phone out of Dean's jacket from where it lay between them. "Okay, so – lemme see where the hell we're supposed to be going."
"No, Dean." Sam looked up, and the expression on his face was one Dean had seen a hundred times before. Stubbornness – determination. But under that, and over it, like a grey and haggard ghost – grief. It hurt, to see that look on Sam's face. It hurt more than Dean had ever imagined anything could, and he made a small and private vow in that moment. Vowed that Sam would never have that look on his face again. Ever.
"What happened...happened. And why it happened, and the way to stop it.... The answer's out there. Somewhere. And we're gonna find it." Sam's mouth lifted in a wry smile, and he smoothed the map over his knees. "We've got work to do, big brother. Let's get to it."