Disclaimer: The TV show Supernatural and all characters therein are owned by assorted Americans, not me. This fiction is purely for the enjoyment of readers; no money is being made. All Original Characters remain the property of Catherine D. Stewart and may not be used without the express permission of the authoress.

Summary: A hero is someone who commits an act of great bravery. But what price is paid by those who are heroes day in and day out…?

Rating: 'T'/15 because the story deals in part with sensitive subject matter, but there is no gore, graphic or gratuitous infliction of suffering and few bad words. Feedback as always is requested. (Please see Author's Note after Epilogue).

Dedication: For Rona, my BETA and fellow appreciator of cute guys, even if they are young enough to be our baby brothers…damn.

LIVING LA VIDA LOCA

Chapter 1

It was a dark and stormy night…

…which was perfectly usual, and therefore unremarkable. Despite the pitch-black maelstrom and the torrential rain that ricocheted back from every impact like liquid bullets - and .44 Magnum ones at that – Sam's slightly reclined posture in the passenger seat was relaxed, because his brother was behind the wheel. Of course shit could happen, but if it ever did, you could take to the bank the certainty that it would not be the result of driver error on the part of Dean Thomas Winchester.

Sam had long been too wise to directly scrutinise his brother, and so apparently simply stared out into the night wool-gathering, studying Dean's face via the other's reflection in the windshield. Sam was only too aware he himself had issues with their father – enough to wallpaper a cathedral – but had never really thought that Dean might, recalling now his taunting of Dean during their not-fun impromptu tour of Dr Ellicott's Roosevelt Mental Asylum (pity nobody had realised that a lunatic was in charge of the asylum)…daddy's good little soldier, he'd accused then.

Now observing Dean's clenched jaw and the obvious grinding of molars, Sam had to reappraise his opinion. Though of course it might be just this yank of the filial chain that had got Dean so pissed off, as Sam knew he was at the peremptory paternal diktat. No please, no thank-you, no would-you-mind, just an urgent summons to get to Nowheresville, New England stat…and of course they had, which was why they were driving Dean's old Impala in the middle of what had to be the worst summer storm in recorded history at three-thirty in the morning. Talk about your Pavlovian responses.

In view of this new food for thought, Sam wondered if he should use this rendezvous with John Winchester to try and force some of their issues into the open for once? After all, outdoing Vulcans in the repression department was a significant battle tactic for the Winchester men. It had taken him a month of deep breathing exercises and private panic attacks before walking in the door one night at seventeen and stating that he was going to college that Fall like any normal eighteen year old American. His estrangement from his father had not been a battle of sound and fury but one of attrition - freezing silences and hissed, cutting words until John had made his tactical error.

If you go, stay gone. It had been the get-out clause Sam had been hoping for and he had seen that epiphany clearly in his father and brother's eyes as John's harsh words had hung almost visibly in the air over the dinner table, but by the following morning he and his already packed holdall were on a bus to his pre-arranged campus dormitory. The only emotion he'd felt as the dilapidated house they'd been renting for those few months shrank in the bus's side mirror was one of profound relief and a peculiar floating feeling as if he'd spent years walking around holding an anvil in his arms that he'd finally been able to put down.

Sam allowed himself to be slightly mesmerised by the driving rain. He'd been frantic to fit in during his Freshman year. He'd got a job to support himself and met Jessica and joined the debating society and the football team and devoted himself to being the most ordinary student possible. Most importantly, it had worked. He risked a quick sidelong glance directly at his brother's profile from under his lashes. In his Sophomore year, he'd taken some Psychology classes to earn ever-useful extra credits (idly he wondered if Dr James Ellicott had had any inkling dear old dad was more psychotic than half his patients). Sam had actually learned some things as he'd sifted the psychobabble; enough to know that a photograph of the Winchester men should accompany any dictionary entry for 'dysfunctional'.

It was a pity in some ways that he'd had to jack the classes but it had become too risky. His class professor had become too interested in Sam's psyche and too pressing about more precise details of his past. A burgeoning problem that wasn't helped the day Professor Heald happened to be in the locker room when Sam and the team were showering and changing after a game, causing the man to draw some understandable if entirely erroneous conclusions about the faded scars on Sam's back. Fortunately Heald had set Coach Green up to do the probing and Green had been as transparent as glass in his fishing. Green had swallowed whole the same fiction that Sam had told Jessica about a multi-car Interstate pile-up that left several people including his mother dead.

The ploy had worked because Green believed it, and his belief had been enough to sell it to Heald. But Sam had gradually petered off the courses citing lack of time. At the time, it had suddenly dawned on Sam the impossibility of Dean being able to do the college thing, even if he had wanted to do so…or more pertinently perhaps no matter how much he might secretly have wanted to. Sam's battle scars were few and relatively minor, but one glance at Dean coming out of the locker room showers in his birthday suit would have resulted in Child Protection Services descending en masse, because no way would anybody buy 'car crash' for those.

It wasn't surprising though; Sam had been six and Dean eleven when Dean began to accompany his father fully on John's hunts. Dean used to put Sam to bed with stern injunctions that he was to let nothing and no-one into their hotel room or rented apartment/house regardless of who or what or why. The instant the door closed Sam had scurried from his bed and peeked through the nearest window, watching the two figures disappear into the night with his heart hammering in his chest. Then he would climb back into bed and curl up in a scrunched, shivering ball; he'd been full of fear that neither would return…but it was Dean he cried silent tears for, Dean he would scramble up and hug tightly no matter how late they came back.

Dean would always hustle him back to bed and tuck him in with a wry quip and smug wink, brushing aside his own often vivid collection of scrapes and bruises. But by the time he was seven Sam had learned that if he pretended to be asleep when they returned then Dean would be much less cautious about how he moved about in the darkness and the sounds he made that indicated his true state of pain. By the time he was eight he could tell from the way Dean breathed whether he'd suffered a hit to his ribs and by the age of nine he could recognise the smell of Dean's blood under his clothing when his brother slipped wearily into the room and gingerly set about catching a little shut-eye in the fond belief his baby brother had been fast asleep for hours.

Couldn't you have at least waited until he'd dealt with puberty before you turned him into your clone? Sam mentally demanded of his father; he was eleven years old for god's sake. He should have been playing junior league and worrying about nothing more than the junior prom, not going up against wendigous and poltergeists – and being more of a dad to me than you were. Maybe it was time for that to be said; did John Winchester not realise the damage he'd done, or did he simply not care in his perennial obsession?

Sam again considered Dean's reflection in the windshield and prudently decided not to broach the subject of their father and his varied failings right now. Being in the middle of nowhere in appalling weather conditions was not the time or place to provoke Dean into contemplating fratricide. And since there was no way Dean would let him take a shift at the wheel in these conditions…he closed his eyes and let the howl of the gale and the sound of the lashing rain become almost like a lullaby.

Beside him, Dean shifted slightly in his seat as Sam's breathing evened out, even though he never so much as glanced at his brother. He didn't need to; he'd always had an inner 'Sam' sense. He continued to drive expertly, completely poised and ready despite the conditions to take any and all measures to protect his brother. It was a reaction beyond automatic reflex or even instinct, a response so deeply ingrained in his mind as to be primordial; the most precious thing in his world was currently drooling slightly in the passenger seat, and would be safeguarded at the willing sacrifice of self.

Dean had been concerned Sammy would never go to sleep, and at least one of them should be alert enough to string together a coherent sentence when they met up with dad. He wasn't worried – Dean Winchester didn't do panic, people – but he was familiar enough with his father's attitude when hunting to know that John Winchester's curt and urgent command was a thin veneer disguising anxiety.

His mouth compressed as he mused on what could be so immediately urgent. It wasn't necessarily an out-and-out monster scenario like a wendigou; as long as you knew the protective Indian symbols and had a handy instant inferno weapon available, the wendigou wasn't that hard to kill – all you had to do was get a single lit match onto a wendigou and it was done for.

Harsh experience had taught Dean that sometimes the nastiest situations were those that messed with your mind rather than battered your body. Having your own baby brother try and shoot your ass in a psycho hospital had hurt a lot worse than when sadistic Bender Senior jabbed a white-hot poker into his shoulder. He had a bad feeling about this one, and his body was already aching in anticipation of him ending up with yet another cracked bone or unpleasantness that resulted in a minimum forty-two stitches.

Continued in Chapter 2…

© 2006, Catherine D. Stewart