Disclaimer, Summary, Rating: See Chapter 1.
NB – thanks to Pizzpixie and Phx for pointing out that I had written "Ilsa" instead of "Iola" in reference to Joe Hardy's girlfriend (who was, of course, Iola Morton).
Warning: This chapter may cause emotional distress. If you have lost a loved one to suicide or have had a loved one attempt suicide or if you are contemplating taking your own life, please be aware that this chapter deals with sensitive material.
THE SCENT OF YOU
Dean was hot…
In the overheated not the gorgeous sense of the word.
His face was pressed against something black and irritating and he pulled back slightly from what seemed to be a T-shirt but his ability to see did not improve and he realised that it was still the middle of the night.
And he was too hot because he was being tightly cuddled against Sammy's chest, like the time he had unwisely pretended that the laundrette's washing machine was eating Sammy's beloved Mr Fozzy (which by then would have been more appropriately named Mr Baldy) and Dean had nearly 'lost an arm' saving the comfort toy, only for Sammy to practically hold the teddy bear in a 24/7 body-lock-of-doom for days and scream if Dean or Dad tried to remove the thing from his grasp. Since Sammy had still been of an age when more food went on his surroundings than into his mouth and toilet training had been more of a miss than hit affair, Mr Fozzy's inconveniently absorbent fur had turned him into Mr Whiffy by the following weekend when Dean was finally able to cajole Sammy into letting him borrow the bear for a few hours and wash the thing again.
Dean had been alone when he'd crawled into bed, asleep before his head slumped onto the pillow, and presumably at some point after that Sammy had decided that Dean's bed was large enough to accommodate his 6' 4" lankiness as well as Dean's own full-grown frame.
Dean leaned and rolled back slightly; if he could put a few inches of space to let some cool air between them…
"G'ba't'sleep, Dean…" Sam mumbled.
Whoa, Sammy was awake? "Sammy…" Dean protested softly, moving slightly. "This is ridiculous."
"Terrific," Dean wriggled away some more, glad for the impenetrable darkness hiding his embarrassed blushes - they were adults for pity's sake, not scared kids clinging together fearfully in the dark…any more.
"I don't care." Sam's voice was suddenly wide awake and clotted with suppressed emotion. "Right now I need this, so deal with the chick flick moment and just. Go. Back. To. Sleep."
Dean was unable to bear the distress in Sammy's voice but couldn't help his chagrined reply, "Moment? Dude, this is an entire Disney movie…this is the scene where Bambi's mom got shot!"
"And I still don't care." Sam said flatly. "I could do diddly squat but watch my brother about to blow his brains all over the walls of this room a few hours ago. I could see you asleep from my bed but right now that is damn well nowhere near enough. I need to know that you're not some mad fantasy projected by my brain while I'm really…" covered your blood and brains…" I need to hear you breathing, I need to feel that you're solid and warm and alive and not…"
Suddenly being a bit too hot didn't matter as Dean closed the gap back up and put his own arm around Sammy and who gave a damn anyway if this could only be classed as snuggling. With an effort of will Dean banished that Technicolor image of Sam sat in his own blood with his head blown apart, but knew it would never really move that far away from his inner vision.
"However you managed it, if you hadn't snapped out of it…" Sam whispered the words in the darkness, voicing his terror in the knowledge that his big brother would comfort and soothe and understand that from now on, Sam's nightmares would include unpleasant little vignettes where Dean did not snap out of it.
Dean could have given a flippant answer about how the elder Winchester was more than a match for any skanky mind-controlling demon, and in the light he probably would have, but this was not the time and place for flippancy and sarcasm; in the protection of cocooning blackness emotions could be admitted to without having to risk looking into a face that might register scorn, or contempt or disappointment, regardless of how much you 'knew' those emotions would never be shown against you.
"I smelled you."
"What…!" was indignantly spluttered.
Dean was still Dean; a tiny smile curved his lips wickedly before he hastened to elaborate, "I don't mean as in having a B.O. issue, I mean I managed it because I smelled you. You hugged me when I was about to…I closed my eyes and I smelled your scent and then I could feel you hugging me."
"I don't have a scent," Sam protested dubiously.
He was making odd little noises that made Dean grin anew as he realised Sammy was delicately sniffing the air. "Which of us is college educated again? Every human being's fingerprints are unique, like their DNA or their retina pattern, and every human being has their own personal body scent, even though it can't be consciously smelled – why do you think perfumers have existed for thousands of years and can make a fortune if they market a scent that supposedly is a sure-fire aphrodisiac?"
"What do I smell like?" Sam asked.
"Hot chocolate with ginger," Dean promptly responded, "and…just you…" there was no adequate way to describe the combination of scent that made Sammy smell like…Sammy.
"And that smell when I hugged you made you see through the delusion," Sammy finished.
"More or less," Dean prevaricated.
The scent of Sammy had surrounded him, true, but it had been much more than that. The sound of Sammy's heartbeat had been joyous music to the ear pressed against Sammy's chest; where Dean's face was buried against Sammy's neck was to touch faintly stubbly yet glorious silk and his lips had tasted the faint tang of salt as they brushed against the soft warm skin of Sammy's throat. Too raw, those details; too intimate and exposing to ever be uttered aloud, even in the disguising comfort of night.
So Dean just expanded, "I opened my eyes and you were dead, but when I closed them, you were alive – and you felt alive and solid. I had to make a choice between my eyes and what all my other senses were telling me instead, and I went with the majority…and at least the thing'll never do it to anyone else."
Sam growled inarticulately with vengeful satisfaction. Struggling with the dichotomy of the two apparent realities had enabled Dean to see 'Vernon Wirth' reflected in the wash basin mirror. Dean had been incapable of rational thought but as long as there was breath left in his body, he would instinctively strive to protect Sammy from any threat. So in a move Sammy would never know was copied straight from Max Miller, Dean had simply swung his arm and shot Wirth once between the eyes.
The bullet was lead, plain, unadorned, unsanctified bog-standard lead; but it was totally unexpected and sent Wirth crumpling to the floor in wounded shock. That was all Sam had needed to go psycho on the psycho; in an instant he'd snatched an Arabian scimitar from the holdall and frenziedly chopped Vernon Wirth into fun-size chunks he'd then dumped a tub of salt over and burned on the spot. There was an unsightly basketball sized scorch mark in the carpet but it was right in the corner behind the door and invisible once you put a waste basket on top of it.
Then Sam had eased Dean down onto the bed as he folded like a deflating balloon. Sam had simply swept the papers and test tube into the holdall to be disposed of tomorrow and eased off Dean's boots, socks and jacket, insisting he rest while Sam took care of everything. Feeling dizzy and as exhausted as if he'd gone ten rounds with a werewolf, Dean had been unable to resist, falling instantly into sleep.
"It was so real…" Dean tried to explain now, feeling – knowing – that Sammy deserved some explanation, and reassurance. "I remember looking at the bed and moving to grab the papers and then…"
"It must have been waiting behind the door and got you as soon as you came into the room," Sam theorised.
"But I burned the papers," Dean elaborated. "I mean, it was like those Virtual Reality total immersion games? Now I know that really I was here in this room just catatonic and not moving for five hours, but in my head…it was days that went past…so real."
"Yeah…I got the papers and the test tube, I walked out into the woods around the golf course and burned 'em and you came back and…" Dean cleared his throat, "…we had fun with the girls…"
"You're seriously saying the demon had us and the twins…cavorting?" Sam demanded.
"Uh yeah…" Again Dean was grateful for the darkness hiding his flaming face and the sensation of being over-warm did not now have anything to do with the simple physics of swaddling bedclothes and body heat.
Thinking of how 'he and Sam' had 'spent the night with Kimber and Kerry' Dean knew that the almost orgiastic excess should have been his first clue that perhaps reality was rather too good to be true…some of the things they'd done he'd never heard of despite an assiduous study of the Kama Sutra, never mind Sammy! And even as he was doing those things to Kimber and Kerry, and slyly to Sam, he had felt…
Distaste…as if they were just objects for his sexual gratification to be switched on, used and switched off again; in the dim recesses of his mind he had felt shamed and unclean, and a faint voice had urged that something was wrong, that Sam had never worn that look of deviant lust or exhibited that nihilistic cruelty, that while there was such a thing as eroticism, this was mere base perversion.
"It was about dawn and we were mostly asleep," Dean hurried on past the memories that weren't sensual, just disgusting, "and the phone rang…Pastor Jim told us that Dad had been killed in Minnesota."
Sam's breathing hitched and his arms tightened reflexively around Dean; the older man rubbed his hand on Sam's back in gentle, soothing concentric circles. Dad being killed, alone whilst Hunting, because they weren't there to help him, was their mutual second worst nightmare after the death of each other whilst Hunting because one had been too slow to take out the bad thing in time to save the other.
"It was bad…it was the guilt, for both of us. We'd been…cavorting," he borrowed Sam's euphemism, "Enjoying ourselves hedonistically whilst our father bled out alone in the dirt in friggin' Minnesota."
"Which was what the demon intended in the first place," Sam conceded.
It made sense. In order for the demon to make the catatonics commit suicide, it needed to create a flawlessly realistic and absolutely plausible delusion. Like a continuity error that broke your 'suspension of disbelief' and reminded that you were only watching a movie, anything jarringly artificial could fracture the spell sufficiently for the victim to break free. Dean knew that for all his tendency towards melancholy introspection and self-castigating grim moods Sam would not 'just' kill himself 'one day', but after, supposedly, several days of Dean witnessing Sam wracked with guilt over their having fun and frolicking with pretty girls when their father had needed them…
"Yeah…But then Pastor Jim said Dad didn't want us to go to the funeral, he wanted us to finish the job here while Pastor Jim made all the arrangements. He'd put it in writing; Jim scanned the note and sent it to us as an email attachment."
"What was this demon, the Steven Spielberg of the paranormal?"
"It probably thought so."
"I bet Delusion-Me didn't take that well."
"Hardly," Dean obliquely did not deny the many issues that still existed between John Winchester and his younger son. "Over the next few days you just…shut down…you were so angry…you wouldn't eat, you wouldn't engage…and we were getting nowhere at all with this Hunt…one day I came back to the room before you and there was…this…p-p-pool of b-b-b blood –"
It was his turn to be held tightly against that wonderful, wonderful warm and alive body that was not dead, not dead thankyouthankyouthankyou.
Keeping it together, Dean managed to go on, "I opened the bathroom door and…you'd used my Glock to, you know – Max Miller – and you were sat there on the bathroom floor staring at the wall…your face was so calm and untouched…but the back of your head was gone…the rest you know."
"It wasn't me, it wasn't real…" For seconds, maybe minutes, Sam did nothing but rub his thumb gently back forth over Dean's hair, his rage burning in his veins at the thing that had tormented Dean so. "Dean…it will never bereal."
Dean felt a pain in his chest as something squeezed his heart unbearably. Nobody ever intended to kill themselves but then…"You can't promise that," the words wriggled past internal censors before he could corral them.
"Yes, I can," Sammy contradicted quietly but with adamantine certainty. He gave a soft sigh and when he spoke his voice was melancholy. "At Stanford, there was this buddy of mine…he was like you."
Dean had a bad feeling about where this anecdote was going but managed to feebly quip, "Well I guess there had to be one guy in the world almost as gorgeous as me."
"He was a black dude from Haarlem…he was short though," Sam added, and despite himself grinned when Dean gave that little huffing growl – thank you Lord, for these extra inches.
"I don't mean in looks…he was…competent. If your microwave went boom, or your computer suddenly disappeared 150,000 words of your dissertation or your car shuddered to a halt in the middle of nowhere near a town that looked way too much like the set of Deliverance, Frankie was your first call. He looked at any problem with a crisp, clear mind and came up with a workable strategy and never made a drama out of a crisis. He was…" dependable and loyal and caring …"also a depressive."
Dean didn't say anything, because sometimes there was nothing you could say. Sometimes the most important thing you could or would ever do in your life was to just shut up and listen.
"When he was twelve his family suffered some bereavements – he lost a sister at 23 to ovarian cancer and a few months later his nephew – his parents' first grandchild – was a SIDS fatality at fourteen months. His brother and sister-in-law had been trying for children for a year before they had the baby as well…"
"Must have been devastating for his family," Dean encouraged when Sam stopped and seemed to almost drift off into reverie.
"Yeah…it affected Frankie badly. As his teenage years went on he suffered more and more severe bouts of depression, but he never tried to get any help because he felt guilty. He was so angry with himself for being depressed. He got a job as an orderly at a local hospital to help with some of the expenses at Stanford and it only made him feel more of…he said, 'a fraud and a charlatan'. He was able-bodied and reasonably healthy; he had a close, supportive family and good friends; he was far from hideous in looks and physique-wise his girlfriend definitely had no complaints; he was popular at his church and his lecturers and boss liked him."
"He felt bad about being depressed?"
Sam shifted restlessly in agitation, "It was almost self-flagellation. He used to beat himself up about feeling depressed because he felt that he 'shouldn't' have those feelings – what did he have to legitimately complain about when he pushed the wheelchairs of people who would never walk again, or who had terminal cancer, or who had broken their necks in a car crash and were paralysed, or who were sixteen and had had unprotected sex just once and end up HIV-positive or with Chlamydia or something?"
"Sometimes you can't help the way you feel," Dean said, softly.
"I know…he felt guilty that he was depressed, which just made him more depressed which made him angry with himself which made him feel depressed which made him feel guilty, and it was Catch 22 and Ouroboros, the snake eating its tail around and around."
"What happened?" Dean asked, though he already knew.
"We used to talk sometimes; his roommate was a party animal who was always in Palo Alto's nightclubs so I used to drop by most nights…I thought I was an outlet, a pressure valve for him, and he seemed to appreciate it…" Sam's voice had faint tremor to it. "Then – one Monday morning after the weekend I called straight in to his room and - he'd…hung himself from the ceiling fan."
"Oh, sweet Lord, Sammy," Dean didn't give a damn about Bambi or Disney or anything else as he tugged Sammy closer, moving onto his back and wrapping his arms as tight as he could around Sammy as his baby brother clung to him and cried.
Sam felt Dean's heart beating as he lay against his brother's chest and he knew that Dean could hear his choked explanation, so he did not move away.
"When a person…strangles…the blood gets stuck in their head…it can't drain into the body and – and – their f-face s-s-wells up and itsallpurpleandblackandgreen and- and-God, I'm sorry, I can't –"
"Shush, it's okay, it's okay..."
Swallowing hard, Sam tried again. "He'd…he was cold...and…rigour mortis had set in. He'd obviously done it Friday night; his roommate had gone on a weekend bender in Tijuana and they found him in some whorehouse backroom on the Monday night, oblivious – the little shit got automatic passes without breaking sweat 'cause he was a suicide's roommate. I thought - you know…Frankie there, all alone, all weekend, hanging from that fan…But that wasn't the worst of it. What really hurt, more than anything, was that he'd left these letters for people. He hadn't just thrown his belt up over the fan in a moment of despondency, he'd written his Will, made all the arrangements, the works."
"Did he leave you a letter?" Dean asked, hearing the bitterness and anger in Sammy's voice.
"Yes. We – his family – we all read each others', trying to understand. But he said the same thing to all of us. That we shouldn't blame ourselves and it wasn't our fault. You did your best, all that you could. His grandmother was an old Southern Black Baptist from Mississippi and lived through some of the worst racist abuse you can imagine. I always remember when she read that in her letter she threw down the letter and declared that if Frankie was resurrected on the spot she'd take a birch switch to his butt."
Now, Dean understood. "He was basically saying that your best wasn't good enough."
"You're my big brother, and I know there's nothing you would not do for me. This life…what we do…it's hard and it's dangerous and I'm enough of a realist to know it's probably going to be short. And I know that sometimes no matter how hard you hold on, you're not strong enough, and no matter how fast you run, you're not fast enough…but I also know that whatever happens to me, it will not bebecause you did not try your best; I know that you will do anything and everything you are humanly capable of to protect me."
"Yes, I will." Dean vowed simply.
"And because I know that, if you ever walk in on something like that for real, you'll know I was murdered and you can start tearing the world apart for the bastard that killed me. Sometimes you can be the world's biggest pain in the ass, but I would never, never sit you down in a chair and tell you that no matter what you did, it wasn't good enough for me, that your best would never measure up, that no matter how long or how much you tried, you wouldn't be able to do or be what I needed. I know that Frankie never intended it, but that's how his letters came across to us, they made it seem like we could never have been good enough to help him." Sam took a controlling breath again, fighting the anger and grief. "If you try to kill yourself, whether you succeed or you fail is irrelevant, what you're metaphorically doing is telling the people who love you and care about you that they and nothing they do is good enough, which is cruel and an insult."
Sometimes Sammy could be stubborn and wilfully blind and self-centred, and sometimes he had the Wisdom of Solomon and depthless love and fierce, loyal devotion.
"So let's get some sleep, and tomorrow we'll toast those papers and that pebble, and then we're going to enjoy the rest of this week as an actual vacation, starting tomorrow night with the twins." Sam declared firmly, banishing the pain and the guilt and the grief – all would return soon enough, but for now they deserved peace.
"Works for me," Dean agreed gently. "Ah…although we're going to have swing by a drugstore tomorrow –"
"Taken care of; box of Trojan Ribbed in my jacket pocket." admitted Sam sheepishly.
"That's my boy…" Dean chuckled.
He felt Sam grin against his chest and within a minute, Sam's body had drained of tension and his breathing evened out. As it happened, Dean had lost any desire to move to the other bed.
Tomorrow they would be Sam and Dean the Hunters again, hiding love and fear and hope and despair one and all beneath sharp banter and sarcastic quips, but for now, for this night, each needed to know, to feel, that the other was warm and solid and alive still.
So Dean just lay on his back and let his baby brother use him as combination pillow, security blanket and cuddly toy, and as he closed his eyes and drifted off, he realised he felt more at peace and less afraid than he had done for years…
© 2006, Catherine D. Stewart
Author's Note (1): This story was…difficult…to write and on several occasions came within a Cat's Whisker of no longer existing as my finger hovered over the DELETE key. There are many valid reasons I could list for my indecision: too much angst, too depressing, too miserable, too schmaltzy, too melodramatic…too honest; in certain places this story was too autobiographical for ease.
I don't talk about suffering depression, but people seem to 'get to know'. I can always tell if they've 'heard'. Initially they get that First Panicked Look, the 'If I become friends with this woman she might be weeping and wailing down the phone all hours of the night.' (NB – Never going to happen; I am English, I don't emote, people. I do not cry; I don't know if I could anymore). Then there's the Second Panicked Look, the, 'If I don't become friends with this woman she might take a swan dive off a motorway overpass.' (NB – Never going to happen, not least because I hate heights as much as "Dean" does rats – ditto, would also rather face the unspeakable nasty than stand on a chair).
However, I've experienced both sides of the situation. Before the events which triggered my depression aged 23, I knew a young woman who confided in me after fighting off a rape attempt. But the incident preyed on her mind. After being caught with a knife in her purse by someone too foolish to look beyond the actual possession into possible reasons for her always being 'armed', she became more distressed. She talked to me and I believed I was a useful sounding board and provided comfort – until she attempted to kill herself. There is a terrible feeling of failure and guilt than never entirely leaves. You ask, 'Is there anything more I could have done?' and even though your mind knows the answer is 'No' your heart never quite gets the message. Despite some dark times, I truly believe to attempt suicide, whether successfully or not, is an act of cruelty, that you are telling those people that love you that they will never be good enough to help you; I can only apologise if that offends.
But what I find truly terrible about this story is that my last 'deletion excuse' for this story – histrionics – was exactly the opposite; my research intended to support my self-castigation for being OTT showed instead this story if anything is too realistic.
On 1st March 2006, Jensen Ackles celebrated his 28th birthday; on 19th July 2006 Jared Padalecki will be 24 years old. In Britain and Ireland, the leading cause of death for young men in their age bracket is…suicide. In America, it is the third leading cause of death amongst males aged 15-24. In 2004 over 3,000 continental American and 1,131 British young men between 15-35 years were killed in road traffic accidents, but over 3,500 American and 1,457 British men of that age killed themselves. In 2005 in Britain that figure had risen by 140 to 1,597 suicides and comparably in the USA. To put that in perspective, in Britain the number of young men in their twenties who died by abusing themselves with illegal drugs, etc., was less than 450 annually. In America, amongst young men aged 15-35, for every two homicides there were three suicides; in the USA, it was the more affluent, socially higher-status white men aged 15-28 that were more likely to kill themselves by a factor of one third than any other ethnic group, followed by Amerindians and blacks. Between 1962-2000, 800,000 American men, a large proportion aged 15-35, committed suicide; between 1902-2000, the number of American military personnel killed in direct warfare or associated conditions was over 100,000 fewer at 661,926.
Both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki seem very blessed. Not only does each have the Four 'H's – healthy, handsome, hunky, happy – but a close-knit family, supportive partner, good and enjoyable work, financial security. Looking at them, the idea that either one of them has ever in a 'place' of such pain and despair that they began thinking unsettling thoughts about daddy's old .45 (in America, 60 of male suicides shoot themselves) is ludicrous, yet their situation is typical – I repeat, typical – of the individual stories behind the above statistics.
We are not talking about alienated, socially parasitical hoodlums mugging pensioners for pennies and sticking a fatal needle in their veins in some reeking alley. The majority of these young men seemed to have everything going for them, like the 26-year-old who had the four 'H's and everything else, who'd just got a promotion and engaged to his girlfriend, who waved his family and siblings off on a day trip, called his girlfriend to tell her he loved her and hung himself in a bedroom. As a statistics-buff said to me, "'Going purely by the statistics, and with no other information to go on, the first thing I'd do is put Ackles & Padalecki on 24/7 suicide watch'". Statistically speaking, in Britain young men of their age group are more likely to be killed by self-destruction than bad driving, illegal drugs, drunkenness or diseases caught by sexual promiscuity.
Of course it's appalling, but on a personal level I find it tragic. Yes, my mid-twenties weren't fun, but…when I was in my late twenties some nice things happened, and some more in my thirties. I am blessed with great parents and a close and supportive family; my brother married a lovely woman; at 27, I was introduced to fan-fiction by someone who go me to write a story for her and discovered a release-valve that placed no pressure on me, unlike my other writing and genealogical work. At 28 I visited Vancouver and found it a delightful city, and one of those rare ones where a single female traveller can venture out at night (sensibly) and feel reasonably safe. There was even this great Italian place near Robson Street that did the best lasagne outside Italy.
And of course, jumping off the mortal coil before 2005 meant I would have missed the wonderfulness of the Triple J - Jared, Jenson and the yummy Jeffery Dean Morgan. A depressed mind is a self-absorbed mind, it thinks that there is never going to be any improvement…but if you hang on, if you ignore tomorrow and even today and concentrate on getting through the next 60 seconds, and the 60 seconds after that, you find that whole hours, entire days, have passed without the sky falling on your head and perhaps things are not quite as bad as they seemed.
If I could, I would impart this knowledge to the 1500 young men who kill themselves annually in Britain. In the five weeks it's taken me to write this and debate whether to delete the whole thing as whinging hand-wringing, 20 young men of Jared and Jenson's age have killed themselves every week. That 100 dead is matched by a 100+ more who have attempted but not managed to actually commit suicide. A few days ago, a colleague got home from work to discover that her husband had killed himself. That is partly why I have posted this story. Again I acknowledge that anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide may find my viewpoint distressing but I hope everyone takes this story in the spirit it was written.
Author's Note (2): I am aware that some of the religious aspects of this story may not be to everyone's taste, and I apologise if I seem to have been somewhat 'down' on the mental health professions. Yes, I am a Christian lay minister – and I have also studied Psychology at higher level, which I am afraid only confirmed my view that the psychological disciplines are not a genuine science and have a long way to go to escape the charlatanism and often nonsensical theories of their 19th Century origins. Knowing people who suffer severe mental and emotional illnesses I willingly agree that mental health professionals and emotional health counsellors can and do perform useful and beneficial therapy in many instances, but there is nothing more dangerous to a person suffering great emotional and/or mental turmoil than being descended upon by some over-confident, or inexperienced, or blasé-old-dog practitioner who thinks he or she knows best or is winging it. There is, of course, also the basic irritation of only realising after you've forked out £-or-$200-per-session of your hard-earned cash to some Jesus-sandal-wearing Call-Me-Dave/Diane that he or she needs therapy more than you do.