Author: K Hanna Korossy PM
Sam's gone...right?Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Angst - Words: 5,196 - Reviews: 61 - Favs: 94 - Follows: 6 - Published: 07-30-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4434405
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Previously appeared in Road Trip With My Brother 3 (2006), from Agent With Style
K Hanna Korossy
Dean Winchester drove alone in the silent car.
No music could drown out the memories, or the empty passenger seat beside him. Nothing could or ever would fix that, and so he drove.
It's just a simple exorcism, Dean.
Yeah, of a fire demon. Dude, we don't exactly have the best history with fire.
So, what, we're just gonna walk away from this one? Dean?
Passing headlights in the other direction made him tighten his grip on the wheel. The dull ache in his hands briefly flared, died down again. He was probably leaving blood and who knew what else on the steering wheel, but he couldn't seem to make himself care. Nothing really mattered anymore, not the car, not the job. Maybe finding Dad, but he couldn't think about that right now. Dean didn't cry, but facing his last surviving family member might just break him.
So, why do we have to split up again?
It's a top-to-bottom cleansing—I do half the ceremony here, you do the other half upstairs, and it cleans the house.
I don't like it, Sam. You and fires? Talk about dynamite and matches.
Would you quit worrying? I'll be fine.
There were statistics—Sam would know—how long somebody could go without sleep without going crazy. Dean wasn't looking to push the envelope…exactly…but he was closing in on forty and couldn't seem to stop driving. Nowhere in particular at first, just away. Then, eventually, he'd hit a coast and turned back, and found himself heading for home. Kansas. The heartland, where his family had lost its heart. Or so Dean had thought until two days before.
Sam! The fire's spreading—we have to get out of here! Sam? Where are you?
He hadn't called his dad. Not in any actual decision not to tell him, not because John never got back to them no matter what the message, not out of any kind of punishment for the same, because that had always been more Sam's gig than his own. Dean just hadn't.
Two simple words would be all it would take, but he couldn't figure out what to say.
Sir, you can't go in there.
Get off me—my brother's still in there!
Sir, we dragged you out once—you try going back again and we will have to restrain you.
You don't under—
I'm sorry, sir, but nobody could still be alive in there.
The fuel light came on again and Dean pulled into the next gas station to fill up the car. Gas prices were high; all the aimless driving would have prompted a complaint from Sam about wasting their fake credit cards. Dean almost found himself smiling at the thought, but the aftertaste was vicious, and he swiped a hand angrily over his burning eyes. Dean Winchester didn't cry. Not when he was dying inside, not when Sam—
He paid in monotone motions and got back on the road. The Impala was the only place he seemed to be able to tolerate, even though his little brother was all over the car, even though there was no outrunning the demons that were chasing him this time. But that didn't mean he would stop. Oh, no, Dean never gave up.
Sir, we found a body.
Sir? I'm sorry, it's unidentifiable, but there's paperwork…
He'd turned and walked away. He could come back later and give Sammy a proper burial, next to Mom's equally burnt remains. But right now, face impassive, soul dying, he'd turned and walked away.
And come back to Kansas alone.
He'd only been here once—well, that he remembered—but his body seemed to retain the memory he didn't even try to dredge up from his mind. Exit here, turn here, another turn… Dean pulled up in front of the house without a single clear memory of when he'd decided to come here or the route he'd taken.
He sat in the car and stared at the windshield. His hand finally stretched to turn off the ignition. Then he just sat.
Everything he did now needed a reason. Moving, talking, thinking, breathing. There was no more effortlessness, no pleasure in anything; darkness and fire had swallowed up all the good in his world. He'd come to Kansas out of some apparent default setting, as if this or any other place were home. As if he hadn't left his home back in smoldering ruins, twice now. But getting out, walking, interacting? Dean could find no motivation, neither the strength nor the willpower. The mantra of his life, his and Nike's—just do it—had stopped at driving.
God, he was tired. And scared, and heartsick, and…not going down that road, either, because he really never would find the strength to come back from that.
Dean dropped his face into his hands. If only he cared. Or didn't care so much.
Someone opened the passenger side door and climbed in. Not tentatively, but as if they had every right to.
His head shot up. For one single, wonderful, gut-tearing moment, Dean thought it was the one person who did have every right to sit shotgun with him. And then his vision cleared to reveal the frowning face of Missouri Moseley gazing back from the seat beside him.
"Dean Winchester, what are you doing sitting outside my house?"
He stared at her, then at the house. Right, Missouri's. His thoughts hadn't gone that far until now. Why he was at the psychic's, though, Dean didn't know, and the corner of his mouth that pulled up wouldn't have fooled anyone into thinking it was a smile. "Missouri." His voice cracked from smoke and disuse.
Her frown softened. She'd usually looked at Sam like that, not him. "Dean? Where's Sam?"
All the little muscles in his face fought the reaction. No crying, not even a grimace. Winchesters didn't cry except for Sam, but he'd been strong in his own way. Stronger than Dean sometimes. And the exception to all their rules, anyway. He glanced at Missouri, his eyes sliding away from the unbearable sympathy. Swallowed. Wondered if maybe she could just touch him and know, because he wasn't sure he could say it. Not that he thought he could stand being touched, either.
But Winchesters were strong, even if that strength, Dean realized now, came in numbers.
He cleared his throat. "Sam's…dead."
He could feel Missouri recoil. Wondered idly if she'd blame him as John was bound to, and didn't really care about that, either. Dean's mind was a far more severe judge and jury than anyone else, including his dad, could ever be. Sam was dead. Dean hadn't prevented it. The end. Really.
He was ready for anything…except for what Missouri leaned forward to say in urgent, strong tones.
"Sam isn't dead, Dean. He's screaming for you—can't you hear him?"
If he'd thought his mind had stopped before, it was nothing compared to the screeching halt it came to now as he stared at her.
Dean's eyes darkened in sudden fury.
"Funny? Boy, if you weren't grieving your heart out, I'd take you over my knee for that. There's nothing funny about this—Sam needs you. Why are you here?"
"He's dead," Dean growled, caught between rage and a frightening adrift place he'd never been. "I saw the house burn down and he didn't come out. They found the body." Sam couldn't be alive. If Dean swung back that way again, he'd never return intact. It was just string and chewing gum and the memory of Sam's smile holding him together now, and too many forces trying to pull him apart. Hope would destroy him completely. Winchesters went on, no matter how much they were bleeding or how precariously they were hanging in there.
"Dean," she was suddenly soothing. "I know it hurts to hear this, too, but believe me, Sam isn't dead. But he does need you. He's calling out for you right now—I can hear him clear as you sitting right next to me. You have to go back."
"Where?" he ground out. It felt like glass in his throat.
Missouri reached for his hand. Dean allowed it, although her touch felt was sandpaper on raw nerves. She tsked a moment over the burned skin, but soon clasped it gently and stared somewhere past him. "I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "I'm not sure what happened to him, either. All I know is, your brother's calling for you." Missouri refocused on him. "Now, are you going to answer him, or not?"
There was nothing he wouldn't have taken on for Sam, once upon a time, no threat he wouldn't have given his life to face in his little brother's place. Dean would just have never guessed the greatest risk he'd ever face would be hope.
He swallowed the ache in his throat and decided.
"I have to go."
"Yes, you do," Missouri said firmly, and opened the car door. She stepped aside, then leaned back down. "He'll wait for you."
Dean hesitated, then nodded at her, not even realizing he'd needed to know that until he heard it. That he wasn't too late.
That Sam wasn't dying on him while Dean had been busy denying and mourning.
She shut the door, and Dean peeled the Impala away from the curb, heading toward the nearest interstate.
It was maybe, what, seven hours back to the house? Which meant hitting it about nine, sooner if Dean broke some laws on the way. He didn't know how Sam could still be there, how he could have survived the annihilation of the entire house, but there was no other place to start. If he'd been snatched from there or…tampered with somehow, the clues would be there. And Sam would wait for him.
Dean flicked on the radio and drove, trying to drown out a different set of thoughts now.
He filled up twice more on the way. The sun set. The dash clock hadn't worked since the night Jessica had died, but Dean glanced at his watch and did the math: they were closing in on fifty hours since the fire, since he'd last seen Sam. A lot of time for bad things to happen. The house had gone ablaze and collapsed in minutes. Sam could be anywhere.
But if he was alive… Dean went a little faster.
He pulled up in front of the house not long after the last rays of the sun had vanished from the sky, and just sat staring at it a long time. The house was just a burned, collapsed shell now.
Dean could relate.
He wasn't as good at hope as he pretended to be. He'd always been the practical one of the family, and with no one there to put on the act for, the bleakness, the hard fact of what he'd seen and knew, had been almost impossible to fight off. It had nearly snuffed the small flame Missouri had lit inside him. But if there was any chance Sam was still alive…
Dean didn't call it "hope." For now, he just settled on "duty." Even a tiny chance was a chance, and he owed it to Sam to check it out. But hope? Dean had lost too much to fire and fate already.
The emergency vehicles were long gone, crime tape strung around the lot and its blackened remains. He'd been half afraid of finding some fire inspectors or marshals or someone there, but the place was dead. Seemingly literally. Dean set his jaw and climbed out of the car.
For an ample two-story, it had left few enough remains. The fire had burned hot—the demon had been ticked off—and most of the wood was lumps of ash now. Stray metal window frames and clusters of fused brick stuck out like gravestones in the wreckage, otherwise the place was a flattened ruin. The firefighter had been right; no one could survive this. Maybe the body…
Unrecognizable. Dean squeezed his eyes shut. If there was life in it still somehow, through unnatural means, he wouldn't let it stay that way.
He's screaming for you.
Dean climbed under the police tape, not knowing where else to go.
Okay, there were other possibilities. Portals, teleportation, protection shields. If something from their line of work intervened to save Sam, he could be alive and somewhere else.
Dean pulled the EMF detector from his pocket with stiff fingers and turned it on, held it up over the ash pit. It stirred with faint residuals. Anything once there was long gone, demon or something else. How did Missouri expect him to find Sam if he'd been taken?
Dean traded the detector for a flashlight, and ventured forward.
He knew something about arson investigation. A fire that burned this hot could never be natural, and had left little to examine. The fire inspector had probably taken some samples and left it at that, at least until the clean-up would begin. Which meant no one had ventured into the unsteady remains of the house. Probably in part because that wasn't a smart thing to do, but that also meant some clue might have been missed, especially one only he would pick up on. Dean inched forward, testing each step, trying to piece together what he could remember of two nights before.
Sam, I don't think the circle's gonna hold it.
I just need another minute, Dean.
Yeah, well, tell that to the demon. Sam? Sam!
He'd been in the front corner room on the top floor, Sam in the back on the bottom. The kitchen, and Dean realized he was standing in the middle of the former room now. The melted remains of a refrigerator and stove were almost unrecognizable, but they rose from the slag like small monuments. Had they found the body back here? Dean hadn't asked, had just seen the black bag on the stretcher and left.
He's screaming for you.
I know, Missouri, I can hear him.
Dean sank to his knees in what was left of the room where his brother had died, and touched the ashy residue on the ground. Had he suffered? Had he even known? Had Sam been waiting for his brother to carry him out of this one, too?
"Sammy," Dean groaned, and felt the burn in his eyes again, harder and undeniable this time. Sam was gone; Dean was kneeling at his grave. And no wishful thinking or trailer-park psychic was going to change that. He leaned forward, wrapped in misery, and slammed his fist down on the blackened rubble.
And in the silence of his pain that followed, heard a whisper-soft, "Hello?"
Dean's head jerked up. "Who's there?" he demanded, hand sliding into the pocket of his jacket to curl around his gun.
It was faint, tremulous, scratched. And Sam.
Dean stared disbelievingly at the floor the voice seemed to be rising from, heart thudding against his ribs. Shock and that tiny, trembling joy only lasted a moment, though. The job had taught him to be pragmatic, and if Sam was alive…okay, rescue he could think about. Beyond that, not yet, not now.
"Sam! Where are you?"
"Thank God," came the fervent response. Then, "Basement. I'm trapped." He coughed, voice growing fainter and cracking.
Dean was already assessing the debris, trying to figure out what he could move, what needed to be moved first. "Keep talking, Sam," he ordered, starting to throw smaller chunks aside. "Help me find you."
"I'm here." Weary relief now. Dean processed that but didn't feel it like he usually did Sam's emotions. It was just about getting him out now. "I've been here. What took you so long, Dean? I yelled until my voice went, and there's no water down here."
Fear now, a little anger. Dean tore at timbers and metal lumps and chunks of brick. His hands hurt and he didn't care because a little more work and Sam would be back from the dead. But not yet. Not yet.
Mutedly, "Man, I'm sorry, I don't even know how you made it out. Y'all right, Dean?"
"I'm fine," he answered automatically, not even thinking about the question. "Keep talking." He knew exactly where Sam was now, was working right over the voice, but the thought of it stopping made him cold.
"The fire cut me off. I couldn't make it out the door, so I went down into the basement to look for a back door, but there wasn't one, not even a window. Who builds basements without a window?"
Dean's laugh caught sickly in his throat. Had anyone even thought about a sub-level basement?
"It was…it was the owner of the house, Dean. He was behind the demon appearing. I think he called it up and it just got away from him." Another painfully dry cough. "He was here, too—I don't think he got out."
The body. Dean wondered if the autopsy would have revealed the truth, or if he'd have buried the stranger next to their Mom and never known, and suddenly that laugh had a lot of company in his throat.
"Dean? Say something."
And suddenly Sam was five and afraid of the dark and pressed against Dean's body in the bed, hearing Dean's heartbeat and breath, and the sound of him digging him out of that stupid burned wreck wasn't enough proof his brother was there. And Dean had to swallow twice before he could get anything resembling words out. "I'm here, Sammy."
Because Sam had come back, was alive, Dean knew that now. So he had come back, too. Where else would he be?
He'd cleared everything but the largest piece of wood from the area, and groaned now as he strained to lift that, every muscle pulled taut. Just…a little…more… And then it shifted, slid. He had to jump out of its way as it wedged itself into the spot Dean had been crouched.
There was no floor, not even a trapdoor as Dean had expected. The debris had apparently all been resting on that thick plank, and under it was just a black hole now, remains of stairs descending into it from what had probably once been an upright door. And there, like a white oval floating in the deep, Sam's pale and dirty face looking up at him.
They stared at each for a second. Then Dean silently reached a hand down.
Sam crawled out carefully but with relatively unhindered motion. He looked bruised and tired, and coughed wearily as Dean helped him up, but he was okay. Just stared back at him as Dean looked him over and held him up while he found his balance.
"It's good to see you, Sammy," he said, unable to match a smile to the tone, his grip tightening.
Sam's eyes shone. "Good to see you, too."
"Can you walk?"
A weak nod.
Dean's voice was gentler than his hands could afford to be. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
He held on to Sam's arm all the way out as they picked their way around obstacles and weak spots. Sam still coughed occasionally, but otherwise there was no sound, no communication. Nothing but the heartbeat thumping under Dean's hand, warm skin and working muscle under layers of sooty clothing. And the looks he could feel Sam keep throwing at him, like he was still trying to figure things out. Dean darkly related.
They reached the car. Sam sank down into the passenger seat as Dean dug out a bottle of water for him, and watched him drink the whole thing down. Sam's eyes closed with relief, dusty head tipping back against the seat.
"You need another one?" Dean asked softly.
Sam shook his head, pried his eyes open. Studying Dean like he was a bug now, or a particularly interesting supernatural. "Where've you been?"
There was no accusation in the question on Sam's part, just a cautious curiosity, but Dean heard it nonetheless. He pulled out another water bottle and held it out to Sam. "On the road," he said, curt.
Sam took the water, then grabbed Dean's wrist as he would have pulled back. "Dean, your hands," he breathed in quiet dismay.
It was the first time he'd really noticed them, or that they hurt. Dean brought up the other one to stare dispassionately at the burned skin, broken and crusted blisters now crossed with bloody scrapes and gouges from the digging. He shrugged. "No big deal, Sam, it's fine."
"No, it's not." Sam was sliding over toward the driver's seat. "Get in, man, I'm driving."
"No, you're not," Dean said evenly, grabbing his elbow. "You've been buried in a basement for the last two days—"
"Tell me you were better off," Sam challenged, staring him in the eye. "Tell me honestly it was easier for you."
Dean's gaze flinched a little bit. "Sam—"
"I didn't know if you'd made it out, but I was hoping. But you thought I was dead, didn't you?"
Dean wrenched his hand free. "Yeah, okay? I thought you were dead. The house burned down, they found a body, and you never came out. Can we go now?"
There was a pause, Sam's face unreadable. His voice gave no clues either when he spoke. "You're gonna get blood all over the steering wheel."
"You're not driving, Sam."
"Get in," his brother said quietly. "Please."
There was a pause, a silent battle between concern and pride. Dean reluctantly climbed in.
They drove in strained silence. Dean's hands were starting to throb, but he buried them obstinately in his pocket and ignored them. He suddenly felt the last two days of no sleep, the stiffness of driving for all those hours. Sam didn't ask where they should go and Dean didn't volunteer it, but it was with quiet relief that he saw them pull into the first motel they came across outside town. The dark restlessness of his spirit was gone, Dean's running ended. He'd found what he was looking for, and there was nothing left to run away from.
So why was he still so unsettled, eyes never able to linger on Sam for more than a moment, when he should have been drinking the sight of him in?
"I'll get us a room," Sam said, and, with one more look at Dean, he got out.
It was suddenly a lot harder to breathe in the car.
Dean climbed stiffly out, noting with little interest the blood he left smeared on the door. He didn't much care about his bag or clean clothes, just stood huddled against the side of the car, watching Sam in the motel office. Saw the smile he bestowed on the clerk, but didn't miss how his eyes only warmed when they turned back and caught sight of Dean waiting. Always so emotional, Sam was. Probably thought some big drama was going to play out now, when all Dean wanted was to fall into bed and forget the last two days.
Sam retrieved their bags from the back seat without a word, and the first aid kit from the trunk. He led the way to the door a few units down and wrestled it open before preceding Dean in.
It was the closest they came to Home. Dean took a deep breath, uncurled a little.
"You want a shower?" Sam asked, glancing at him as he tossed their bags on the bed.
One bed, a king, but Dean's bag went on the side closest to the door. He felt the momentary tug of a smile, before it was suddenly painful. He just shook his head.
"Okay, then change so I can take care of your hands."
Dean rolled his eyes, muttered something about mother hens, but didn't fight the inevitable. He pulled his jacket and top shirt off gingerly and kicked off his boots and jeans. He smelled like smoke, but it was good enough. Sam watched him intently enough to make Dean uncomfortable, then tugged him without a word into the bathroom when he was done.
The water stung, but not too badly. The numbness of soul seemed to reach into his body, too, and Dean felt disconnected, thoughts hazing as he watched the blood and dirt and dead skin sluice away. "You should have had the burns taken care of," Sam's quiet admonishment drew him back. It was the only thing he said as he worked, but Dean didn't answer him and Sam didn't seem to expect him to. He also didn't insult either of them by asking how Dean had gotten burned.
The broken skin flushed out as much as possible, Sam led him back into the bedroom and plopped him down on the bed. His touch was gentle as he toweled the damaged skin off and inspected it carefully. "Doesn't look like it's more than first and second-degree," he murmured. "It shouldn't scar."
Dean shrugged. "Whatever."
Sam stared him in the eye, on the verge of exasperation. "You should care, Dean—there could have been nerve damage."
Okay, yeah, that would have sucked. But he still couldn't seem to manage to mind.
Sam shook his head, and went back to his Florence Nightingale act, starting to spread antibiotic gel over the injured skin. And very quietly, in the middle of working on Dean's palm, said, "Thank you."
Dean frowned. "For what?"
A momentary glance up at him before the fringe of hair bent over his hand again. "For coming back for me."
He's screaming for you.
Did you hear me screaming, too?
Dean sucked in a breath, and found himself watching Sam as he worked. Catching the fine line of dried blood up near his temple, and the slight pinch of his eyes that betrayed a headache. Eyeing the pale bruise below it, outlined in soot, the mark of where something had struck him. Traced the finer scratches of his hands as he'd tried to dig himself out before realizing it was hopeless. Saw the dry skin that was still rebounding from mild dehydration.
Signs of injury, another time, but signs of survival now, of life. The anguished tightness in Dean's chest slowly loosened its grip, pierced by a furious relief that was almost as painful. Sam was alive.
His hand closed on his brother's, stilling his work. This mattered, this made Dean care again, this was reason enough for all he did, fighting and eating and talking and resting.
"Dean?" A gentle prod of a question.
Chick-flicks didn't have fire demons and families torn apart by flames and brothers who came back from the dead. To heck with that; Dean swallowed and pulled Sam into a rough hug, hands in fists against his brother's back. "Don't you ever do that again," he said fiercely when he could speak.
He could feel Sam's arms come up around him, surprised but unhesitant.
They sat that way for as long as Dean could tolerate it, then he pushed away lightly. Sam didn't say a word, just picked up the ointment and gauze and went back to work.
Dean raised an eyebrow at the bandaged extremities when he was done. "Dude, I won't be able to do anything with these."
"You can sleep," Sam said shortly. "I bet you haven't slept since the fire."
The fire. Dean looked away, jaw working. It would be a little while more before he could work up some indifference over that reminder. But Sam was watching him again, and, for his sake, Dean finally pulled himself together. "You're getting breakfast then."
A soft snort. "I haven't had anything but a granola bar in two days. I'm getting triple breakfast for both of us."
"Lie down. I'm gonna take a shower."
"Thank God," Dean said fervently, and got cuffed lightly in the arm for it.
He slid under warm covers, not even realizing until then how chilled he'd been. Sam snapped the lights off as he went into the bathroom, but he left the door half-open, light and sound streaming into the small room. Dean wearily watched the doorway, listening to the shower, then Sam drying off and dressing. His silhouette filled the doorway a moment, and then he pulled the door shut most of the way after him as he came out, leaving the light inside the bathroom on. Dean noted that for later, nonjudgmental when Sam met his eyes momentarily before crossing to the bed. He barely felt the mattress dip, it was so huge. But he knew Sam was there, at his back again.
He didn't answer, didn't need to. Besides, he was preoccupied with the tears pooling along his nose and dropping silently off his cheek.
Winchesters didn't cry. But sometimes they were allowed to vent a little in the privacy of darkness, and Dean couldn't have even said if it was gratitude or release or fear of losing this again.
Sam coughed once and rolled toward him. A hand knotted in the back of Dean's shirt, Sam's warm fingers resting against the bare skin of his back.
Joy came last and most quietly, after the exhausting violence of returning hope and relief. And without any chance of freeing himself from that tangling grip, Dean's soul finally quieted, and he went to sleep.
Thank you again for all who so generously took part in the auction, especially writers/vidders Adder574, Ames449, AuthoressNebula, Bambers2, BlackWingedbird, Brate, Brighette, CatchMe21, Deangirl1, Gaelicspirit, Geminigrl11, Gert, JJJunky, Katie, Kyriebess, MuffyMorrigan, NightSpear, PADavis, PagenGodessofTime, Phx, Raven524, Scullspeare, SupernaturalGeek, Swanseajill, TraSan, WineIntoWater, and Wolfpup, and donors Beena, Carocali, Cookie6, Devon99, Dolimir, Geminigrl11, Gil Hale, Lilacsigil, Nancy M., Point of View, Susan, and Anonymous. Special thanks to my partners in crime: Wolpup, Brate, and Jeanne.