Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, nothing related to this story anyway.
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1 between "Something Wicked" and "Provenance". I can't yet seem to disconnect myself emotionally from Season 2 enough to write anything set then.
a/n: many heartfelt thanks to IMTheresa for allowing me to refer to events that took place in her story "Scars of the Past"… I will be referring to different events from that story later on as well. Also this chapter and later chapters refer to characters and events that took place in my other story "Holding On to Let Go." Not necessary to read to understand, though. BIG thanks also to Kelly for the beta read. This go-round will be much cleaner than HOTLG because of her. Hooray!
This story contains phrases spoken in Louisiana Creole. I've worked the translations into the sentences when it seemed to make sense, and when it didn't, I put the translations at the completion of the chapter. Let me know if you think it's too distracting. My intent is to try to make the OC characters feel real.
The story title (and all of the song excerpts at the beginning of the chapters) is from Metallica's "All Within My Hands". Hope you enjoy!
Love is control
I'll die if I let go
Within My Hands Part 1
"Okay? Okay what?" the voice was a teasing purr, confidence in his inevitable submission evident in her words.
"Okay, you win."
"Dean, no," Sam's voice was strained, his lips swollen and bleeding and his eyes heavy with pain and exhaustion.
"Sam," Dean ground out as a warning.
"We win? We win you?"
"Yes, yes already! You win me. I'll go with you," Dean struggled to keep his voice even, to keep his eyes on Cale and her snake of a bodyguard, Riggs. He couldn't look at Sam, at the nameless, faceless men holding his brother's arms to their breaking point, at the defeated slump of his little brother's head. If he did, he would lose control and that would do nothing to help Sam.
"Well, how about that, Riggs," Cale simpered. "We win."
"Let him go," Dean growled between clenched teeth.
Cale turned in a fluid motion, the black scarves draped over her shoulder and around her neck swirling with the motion. "I'm sorry, but it sounded like you just…demanded something."
Dean strained against Riggs, the massive forearm against his throat nearly cutting off his air. He ignored him and pinned his dangerous eyes on Cale.
"Let. Him. Go."
Cale stepped up to Sam and grabbed a fistful of his hair, jerking his head up. Sam clenched his jaw, but cried out from the sudden pain. His eyes squeezed shut and his lips quivered from a mixture of rage and helplessness. He forced his eyes open and looked to his brother. Dean wasn't looking at him – purposefully keeping his eyes averted. His entire focus was on the Voodoun who was holding Sam's head captive. Dean's body visibly trembled with rage, his jaw was clenched, and the bruises around his eye and on his forehead only accented the deadly gleam in his green eyes.
"He is important to you, wi?"
Sam watched Dean freeze. He knew instantly what went through his brother's mind. Either way he answered could spell doom for Sam.
"Dean," Sam tried again. It was hard to talk through the pain in his throat from the treatment Dean was currently receiving at the hands of Riggs. "Don't."
At that word, Dean's eyes shifted to Sam's. He couldn't help it. He could never deny his brother, and that broken tone in his voice almost shattered Dean's resolve. He met Sam's eyes and saw there the hard determination he had expected. He wouldn't allow it. He couldn't let Sam go, not if there was something he could do about it. Dean looked back to Cale, knowing what she wanted to hear. Knowing she wanted one thing: to cause him pain for taking her sister from her.
"No," he answered, straining to keep the hard edge to his voice as Riggs pressed him harder against the wall. "He isn't important to me, but it's me you want, right? So just let him go."
Cale let go of Sam's hair, allowing his head to drop back weakly. She seemed to study him for a moment, then with a twisted, almost maternal expression she gently stroked his head and cupped his chin so that Sam had to look at her eyes, their vertical pupils flashing wide with wicked glee at her words.
"He lies, to konprann? You understand?"
Sam said nothing. She continued.
"He thinks it will save you," she said, and stroked Sam's cheek. Sam pulled away with disgust and he heard a painful breath huff out of Dean as Riggs apparently felt the need to slam him up against the wall again, unnecessarily reminding him who was in control.
Cale leaned in close to Sam, and to his horror, licked the blood from his lower lip. She pulled away and ran her tongue over her own lips with obvious pleasure, reminding him very much of the cat he now knew she could make herself be.
"What he doesn't realize," she continued, her voice a low purr as she turned from Sam and walked toward Dean. "Is that we could care less about you, young one. You were never to be killed." She stepped up behind Riggs, their duel presence crowded together and forcing Dean to take short, quick breaths due to their proximity.
"Say adyeu to your brother, Dean Winchester," she said, rolling her shoulders slightly to the left so that if Dean moved his eyes in the slightest he would see Sam. "You are never going to see him again."
With those words, Riggs stepped back suddenly, releasing Dean. The abrupt release of pressure momentarily surprised Dean and his reaction was one breath too slow. He started to reach behind him for his knife, but before he could move Riggs' mallet of a fist swung and caught him on the temple. Dean collapsed on the ground, but wasn't completely out. He shook his head once, trying desperately to chase the grey from his vision. Riggs' boot met his ribs and flipped him to his back with the unmistakable sound of bones cracking. Dean tried to get a breath and push himself away. He heard his name in Sam's desperate voice, and knew as he watched Riggs' fist descend at an alarming rate toward his already bruised face that he had done the right thing. His life for Sam's. It was the only way.
Three Days Earlier
"You didn't say we," Sam's voice was a low rumble in the close confines of the Impala.
Dean had been randomly spinning the radio dial trying in vain to find a classic rock station in nowhere Missouri. His eyebrows went up in twin inverted V's and he slid his eyes sideways to Sam.
Sam's right arm was resting on the window ledge, his left casually draped across the back of the Impala's bench seat. He'd been looking out the front windshield and turned to regard his brother with calculating brown eyes.
"You didn't say we."
Finally tuning in a Kansas City classic rock station promising a 60 minute rock block, Dean sat back in his seat and rested his right hand back on the steering wheel as Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" flowed through the interior of the car.
"There a beginning to this conversation or do I have be psychic to follow you?"
"Back in Fitchburg," Sam said, his eyes pinned to his brother's profile, "when I said that I wish I could have the kind of innocence that Michael lost… you said you wished I could, too."
Glancing at him again, Dean's expression plainly said "yeah, and…" When Sam didn't continue, Dean lifted a brow again looking back at the road.
"You lost me, Sam."
"You didn't say we. You said you wished I could…not that we could."
Dean shrugged. "So?"
Sam sighed and sat back against the passenger seat, pulling his left arm into his lap. "Why do you do that, Dean?"
Dean sighed. "Do what?" he said in a wary voice.
"Put me in this different class than you – make me more important than you?" Sam asked, looking over at his brother again. He saw a muscle in Dean's jaw jump.
"'Cause you are."
"Sam, stop. You just are. End of story."
Sam shook his head. "You're wrong."
"Not about this," Dean's voice was low, clipped. He lifted his chin, indicating a sign for a diner two miles ahead. "Ahh, coffee's calling my name."
Sam rolled his neck, grateful for the break. They'd been driving – rather Dean had been driving – all night and were out of Wisconsin, through Illinois, and were now nearing the Kansas/Missouri border. He didn't know where they were headed yet. Just…south. Away. From the memories the strega forced Dean to face and from Sam's harsh realization of the truth he'd always known and never paid attention to: his brother's sacrifice for him. The sacrifice of an entire life – not through death, but through choice to live for the betterment of another.
"This isn't over, Dean," Sam muttered as Dean pulled off the highway and into the diner's parking lot.
Dean shut off the engine and the sudden silence caused his ears to buzz. He looked at Sam, leveling his eyes. "Yeah, it is."
The creak of the driver's door silenced any retort Sam could think up, and he joined his brother at the door of the diner. They dropped simultaneously in the opposing booth seats, reaching for the menus stacked between the napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers. A young, tired-looking waitress slid up to their table, and to Sam's shock and Dean's amusement, dropped into the booth next to Sam.
"Don't mind, do you? I've been on my feet all night."
"Uh, no," Sam said, almost shyly, shaking his head. He didn't miss Dean's wide grin or the ornery twinkle that gleamed in his eyes.
The waitress pulled a pen from behind her ear and a lock of dark blond hair fell into her eyes. She blew it away out of the corner of her mouth, then tilted her head and blinked her large brown eyes at Sam.
"What can I getcha, sugar?"
Sam shifted in his seat and looked back at the menu. He waited for Dean to speak up, but one glance up at his older brother had him now hoping that Dean would never speak. Ever.
"You were just saying how much you were looking forward to some pancakes, weren't you Sammy?"
The waitress' eyes lit up. "Your name's Sammy? MY name's Sammy!"
Sam glowered at Dean, who was in the better position to read the waitress' name tag.
"It's Sam, actually," he pouted. "But, yeah, pancakes would be great. Blueberry."
Dean kept his eyes on Sam, as did Sammy, and chimed in, "Make that two, with coffee. Lots of coffee."
Sammy grinned, and pushed herself from the booth. "I'll keep it comin' as long as you're here," she said, still looking at Sam.
As she walked away, Sam kicked Dean under the table. "What the hell, Dean?"
Dean, grinning, spread his hands wide in an innocent gesture. "What, Dude? You need to loosen up. She radared in on you the second you walked in the door."
Dean rolled his eyes and shook his head. "God, Sam. I am going to get you laid one of these days and you're gonna thank me for it."
Sam tightened his jaw and looked out the window to his right. "That your answer to everything?"
"No," Dean said matter-of-factly. "But it is the best way I know to relieve stress. And damn if you aren't wound tighter than a –"
"I get it," Sam interrupted before Dean could proclaim his most likely dirty metaphor in front of Sammy. She plunked two mugs down, poured the coffee, gave Sam a grin and a wink, then sauntered away. Sam couldn't help but watch her. She was cute. Looked a bit like Jess. At that thought, Sam shook himself. He didn't want to go there now. Or…ever. He saw a newspaper box outside.
"I'm gonna get us a paper," he said, getting up before Dean could respond. He returned a moment later with a USA Today.
"Goin' national, Sam?" Dean said, gulping down his coffee and signaling for more.
"Well, unless you have a burning desire to stay in Missouri –"
"— I thought I'd see if anything looked…y'know… interesting."
Dean sat quietly and ate his pancakes as Sam searched through the paper. He was rarely quiet, but the coffee was hot, the pancakes were surprisingly good, and though he would be loathe to admit it, he found comfort in Sam's presence. He could be quiet around his brother once in awhile without a reason. He just watched – watched Sam read, watched Sammy make her way around the now busy diner, watched the patrons eat and converse, watched the cars on the road outside go by at different speeds, all with their own agendas and worries. So many people. So many lives. And none had a clue what he was, what he did, what he was capable of.
Dean shifted his focus back to Sam, sipping his fourth cup of coffee. He was slowing down now that his body was reaching its maximum caffeine load. "What?"
"You been to New Orleans, right?"
Dean nodded. "Just before I got you at school. I was there when…"
Sam looked up when Dean trailed off. "When what?"
Dean cleared his throat. "When Dad took off."
Sam nodded sagely, knowing his brother was thinking about Chicago and the decision they made to separate again. As angry as that decision had made him, he had seen how much it had hurt Dean to say those words. Dean needed John more than Sam did. He needed them both, Sam realized, more than he wanted to admit.
"Well, I think we might want to think about heading down there," Sam said.
"You have a cravin' for crawfish, Sammy?"
Sam simply lifted an eyebrow at that. "Apparently there's been a rash of deaths in the French Quarter."
"Four men so far – not connected to each other as far as the police can tell."
"How's this our type of problem?"
Sam looked up from the article. "They all look like they've been mauled by a wild animal, but there's a note attached to each body."
Dean pulled his head back in surprise, his eyebrows pulling together. "A note?"
"Yeah, according to this report, the note just reads 'not him' in Creole."
"Yeah, they're French descendants who –"
Dean pressed his lips together and gave Sam an exasperated look. "I know what Creole is, Sam."
"Oh," Sam said, sitting back.
Dean ignored Sam's hurt puppy look and sat back, scratching the back of his head. "When I was working that job, I lived with a Creole family in a room above their bar. Good people – had two sons. Kinda…well, kinda reminded me of us."
Sam pulled the corner of his mouth up in a grin. "Yeah?"
Dean smiled, too, looking at the table and remembering. "Yeah. I was… well, you'd been gone for awhile by then, you know?" He shrugged, still not looking at Sam. "I was getting used to you not being around… and then Dad sends me on this job and I see these brothers…"
"Older one a pain in the ass?" Sam teased softly.
Dean's grinned softened. "Older one was a know-it-all, younger one was a pain in the ass."
"They know why you were there?"
Dean nodded. "Helped point me in the right direction, actually. It was a witch stealing kids – not like the strega," Dean clarified at Sam's surprised look. "She was actually taking them and, well, disgustingly enough, feeding them to her voodoo snake."
"Ugh, bizarro world's Hansel and Gretel."
"Tell me about it."
"You get her?"
"Yeah – it was messy, though." Dean stretched his left arm across the back of the booth seat, pausing while Sammy returned to fill their cups again, then absentmindedly toyed with the handle of his coffee mug. "I tried to call Dad at one point when I realized it was going to be a bit tougher to kill her than either of us thought."
"Let me guess, voicemail."
Dean nodded. "That was the first clue that he was AWOL."
"How'd you end up getting her?"
Dean shrugged and looked out the window. Sam had noticed awhile ago that when Dean was forced to relive a particularly painful or trying memory, he wasn't able to meet Sam's eyes or even focus on one thing for too long. His eyes would dart about, not really looking at any one thing, unfocused.
"She was from a family that practiced a weird mixture of black magic and voodoo. Hinky stuff, man. We had to trap her on holy ground inside a circle of blood and then use a blade of silver to cut off her head."
"Joss and Judah had to help – I couldn't get all the stuff myself, and, well, getting her to the church lot kinda took it out of me."
Sam pulled his brows together. "You were hurt?"
Dean shrugged. "Not like it was the first time."
"Yeah, but… you were alone." I wasn't with you…Dad wasn't with you…
Dean shrugged. "I had a job to do. I did it."
Something tickled in the back of Sam's mind… a memory that seemed to slide in and out of focus. He looked at Dean, watching him look blankly out of the window…
"How come I didn't know?" he asked suddenly.
Dean looked over at him. "Guess I never thought to tell you bef—"
"No, man," Sam interrupted. "How come I didn't know when you got hurt?"
Dean's expression emptied, purposely blank. "I didn't want you to."
He knew what Sam meant. A year after Sam started school Dean had been taken and tortured by a witch and her man to get back at John. They eventually returned him to John wounded, broken, and silent. Sam had somehow known. Dean had always thought Pastor Jim or Caleb had called him, but he later learned that his brother had just somehow known that Dean was hurt. Now, he realized that it had to have been through Sam's visions, but a year after that incident, when he was in New Orleans, he'd been cut, weak, and scared, and the last thing he'd wanted was for Sam to feel him like that time before and come looking for him.
"How did you stop it?"
Dean lifted a brow and shrugged. "Dunno, man. I just did."
Sam regarded Dean silently for a moment, thinking. He knew it was possible. He knew Dean had done it before, when the banshee had attacked them couple of months ago in Massachusetts. A sudden thought struck him. "Whose blood did you use?"
"You said you had to trap her on holy ground in a circle of blood. Whose blood did you use?"
Dean slid his eyes to the side. "Mine."
"It was a little circle," Dean said defensively.
Sam stared at him incredulous that the size of the circle should make a difference. "You're impossible," Sam grumbled, looking back down at the article. His brows pulled together suddenly.
"What were those boys' names?"
"Joss and Judah."
"What was their last name?"
Sam swallowed. Dean wasn't going to like this. He looked up. "One of the latest victims was a Judah Coulee." He bit the inside of his lip as Dean paled. He watched him look down, pull his lower lip into his mouth, chew on it a moment, then harden his jaw, looking back at Sam.
"Tuck in your skirt, Sam. We're goin' to New Orleans."
"Dean, you ready to take a break?"
"M'fine, Sam," Dean's voice was a low growl.
Sam had woken to see that it was dark again, and he'd managed about four hours of dreamless sleep while his brother drove at a relentless pace toward Louisiana. One look at Dean told Sam that he was on autopilot. His muscles knew how to drive that car without Dean's mind having to be engaged, he'd been doing it so long. But his eyes were shadowed, and his jaw was clenched and Sam could see that even if it wasn't focused on driving, Dean's mind was churning on something.
"You want to talk about it, man?" Sam ventured gently.
"About whatever has you chewing the inside of your cheek," Sam said.
Dean instantly relaxed his jaw, conscious of his brother's eyes on him. He drew in a long breath, forcing himself to relax his muscles. Now that Sam had made him aware of it, his eyes were burning, his back aching, and he had to force his fingers to uncurl from the steering wheel.
"Man, seriously, let's take a break," Sam said, sitting up straighter as he watch his brother force himself to relax. "When's the last time you slept?"
Dean opened his mouth to reply, and stopped. He honestly couldn't remember.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Sam muttered. "Pull over at the next exit."
"I'm fine, Sam."
"If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for me."
Dean lifted a brow. "You seem to be doing just fine in the sleep department, there, Princess."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Well, then think about your baby. You keep going like this and you're liable to run her into a guardrail when you get too drowsy." God, did he just call the car her?
Dean actually blanched at that. Sam stifled his exasperated sigh. If he didn't know better, he would swear this car was tied to Dean's very soul. However, it did convince his brother to pull over at the next roadside motel. Leaving Dean to gather their bags, Sam ran in to get a room. He returned to see Dean sitting behind the wheel of the Impala, staring straight ahead with hollow eyes. Sam opened the driver's side door, the squeak making Dean jump.
"You want to go in, or…"
"What? Oh, yeah. Dude. I was just waitin' on you," Dean said, swinging himself out of the car and heading toward the building. He stopped short at the line of doors when he realized he didn't know what room they were in, but couldn't seem to figure out what to do next.
Sam stared after him for a moment, sighed, and went to the trunk to retrieve their bags. When he led Dean to the door, he saw his brother's eyes track to the two duffels in his hand and he wordlessly handed one to Dean. Dean took it with an apologetic grin, then followed Sam into the room. Sam automatically moved to the bed furthest from the door, and dropped his bag on the far side. He turned and was about to offer Dean first shot at the shower when he caught sight of his brother, fully clothed, face-down on the bed, out.
Nothing, no reaction. Sam tried again, this time louder.
He was seriously out. Sam sighed and went over to his brother's bed. He dumped the open duffel on the floor, pulled Dean's boots off, then started to work him out of his leather jacket, fully expecting Dean to wake up and grouse at him for invasion of personal space at any moment. He got Dean's left arm out of the sleeve without dislocating his shoulder, but as he started to work on the right, he realized that his brother had his large bowie knife gripped in that hand. Sam shook his head. He hadn't the energy to shower, to get under the covers, or even to undress, but he'd grabbed that knife before he passed out. He had to wonder what it was like to be inside his brother's head. What was it like to feel like you always had to be the protector? What was it like to not only feel that way, but to have been put in that position more times in your short life than you could possibly remember?
Sam attempted to work the knife from Dean's grasp, but his brother's fingers closed reflexively tighter around the hilt. Sam sighed and managed to maneuver the sleeve over the knife. He pulled the covers off of the top and bottom of the bed, flipping them over Dean so that he ended up looking like a burrito. As soon as he was covered, Dean unconsciously burrowed a bit into the covers. Sam shook his head and went to take a shower. He took his time – mostly because he could, but also because the noise reducing effect of the water and the calming effect of the steam helped him forget for a moment why he was there, where they were going, where they'd come from, and just let him simply be a guy in a shower.
He shut off the water when it started to turn lukewarm, toweled off, and dressed. He was bent forward examining his sparse facial hair in the mirror when he heard Dean call out. He couldn't tell through the bathroom door what he'd said at first, just that the tone had been angry, panicked. He reached for the bathroom handle when he heard it again. Dean was calling for Dad.
Sam hurried out of the bathroom to find his brother on the floor between their beds, still wrapped in the covers from the bed, struggling as though for his life. Sam's chest constricted for a moment as he thought about the large blade of that silver knife stabbing his brother in his nightmare struggle.
"Dean, hey, hey," he said, crouching down in front of his brother, trying to get him untangled from the covers. "Wake up, Dean, it's just a dream."
He finally succeeded in getting Dean's arms free, and ducked as the hand clutching the knife swung out and wide.
"Whoa, easy, there," Sam crooned. "Hey, Dean, man, wake up!"
Dean suddenly stilled, and his eyes blinked open wide. He looked up at the unfamiliar ceiling, across to the side of the bed facing him, then rotated his head to meet Sam's concerned eyes.
Sam nodded, helping him to remove the covers tangled around his legs.
"What the hell?" Dean rubbed his face with his empty hand.
"Can I have that, Dean?"
Without removing his hand from his face, Dean mumbled, "Have what?"
Dean looked at Sam with confusion, then down at his hand. He seemed surprised to see it there. With an effort, he uncurled his fingers from the hilt and let it drop into Sam's open palm. Sam set it up on the top of the bed. Sam put a supporting hand on Dean's arm as he struggled to sit up fully and leaned his back against Sam's bed. Sam leaned his back against Dean's, facing his brother, his forearms resting on his bent knees.
"Now you want to talk about it?"
"Something's bothering you, man."
"Just a dream, Sam."
"You called for Dad."
Dean looked at him, surprised. "I did?"
"Well, it was a scary dream."
"Dean, you don't…" get scared he almost said. But he swallowed his words, knowing now with multiple evidence of certainty that Dean did get scared. He lived scared, but he powered through it. He ignored it. He used it. Whatever he had to do to get the job done.
"Have to lie to me."
Dean sighed and mirrored Sam's seated position. He then pressed his palms into his eyes so hard Sam was afraid he'd push them back into his head.
Without removing his hands, but relaxing the pressure somewhat, Dean said, "I think I started this, Sam."
Sam shook his head, puzzled. "Started what?"
"In New Orleans?"
Dean looked up, "No, in Kenya."
Sam ignored his sarcasm. "How could you possibly –"
"When Dad sent me down there," Dean interrupted, "it was to get me away from him so that he could hunt the demon. I mean, we know that now. And, well, he'd tried it once before."
Sam pulled his head back. "He did?"
"That time you called from school."
"The first time he really looked into the case, Caleb said. Really made sure it was something I could handle on my own."
Sam nodded, watching Dean's eyes shift as he remembered. "And this time?"
"I think he was just trying to get me away from him. He knew Paul Coulee, heard about the baby snatching witch, figured I knew what I was doing…"
Sam nodded again, waiting.
"I think that when I got rid of that witch, I started something else. Something worse. Something I should have known about."
Dean sighed and rubbed the tight muscles in the back of his neck, then flopped his hand back across his knees again. "But I didn't stay to check it out. She was gone, burned. And Dad was gone and I was…"
He stopped short of saying alone. He didn't look at Sam, but he willed him to understand. Sam clapped a warm hand down on his forearm, compelling him to raise his eyes and meet his brothers.
"We'll figure this out, Dean." He said, solemnly. "We'll fix it."
Dean sighed. "We'd better."
"Man, it's like…"
"Yeah," Sam said, looking around as the Impala slowly rumbled down the brick and stone streets of the French Quarter.
"That's what I thought first time I saw it, too," Dean said, glancing at his brother in amusement.
Sam was leaning slightly out of the lowered window, eyes wide, taking in every sight, smell, and unique sound that was the French Quarter in New Orleans. They drove down Dauphine Street, Dean looking for the bar, Sam just looking. The late afternoon air already had a distinct smell of beer and people, and raucous laughter floated out from various eateries. Sam tilted his head toward the sound of a saxophone echoing in a doorway and the muffled tap of a young boy shuffling in time to the song.
"Man," Sam said. "Unreal."
Dean pressed his lips together and smiled slightly at Sam's youthful enthusiasm. It took a lot to amaze or fascinate him these days, but it was refreshing for Dean to see that Sam hadn't completely lost the childlike wonder that had thrilled Dean to see in him when they were young. Maybe some of that innocence that he wished for his brother still existed on some level.
His eyes caught sight of the familiar brick front of the Coulee bar. He found a spot on the street and maneuvered the Impala between a blue pickup and a yellow VW bug. They got out and started across the brick street together.
"What's the name of the bar?" Sam said, tilting his head at the sign above the door.
"Katr. Means four in Creole."
Dean nodded. "Guess it doesn't fit anymore," he said softly, and then Sam understood. Four Coulees, until Judah's death.
They entered through the heavy mahogany doors, the dim light of the near-empty bar wrapping around them and ushering them into the world inside. Dean walked slowly ahead of Sam, setting the pace, as usual. They noted the clumps of two or three people scattered at various tables, a white-haired man at the piano, picking out a blues tune, and a young man leaning over the pool table at the back. Sam followed Dean up to the bar, and sat next to him on one of the worn wooden stools. A young man stood behind the bar, a white towel draped over his shoulder, another in his hand wiping out a pint glass. He was as tall as Sam, with mocha skin and dark hair twisted in a series of narrow braids.
He turned when he heard them sit and Sam saw that he had dark brown, almost black eyes. They slid across Sam and stuck on Dean with a surprised recognition.
"Winchester like the rifle," the man said, his deep voice rumbling out as though through his chest.
Dean grinned, "How ya doin', Joss?" he reached out a hand and Joss clasped it at the wrist, pulling Dean closer to him across the bar. He set the empty glass down, and pounded affectionately on Dean's shoulder.
"It's good to see you in one piece, Winchester," Joss said.
"You, too," Dean said soberly. "I heard about Judah. I'm sorry, man."
Joss's dark eyes immediately lost their sparkle at the mention of his brother and he glanced at a picture on the wall above the single malt scotches. Sam followed his eye line and almost gasped. Judah Coulee looked more like Dean's brother than he did. He even had the green eyes, which stood out in stark contrast from his tanned skin.
"Joss, this is my little brother, Sam," Dean said, clapping a hand on Sam's shoulder. Joss and Sam nodded to each other. Joss looked from Sam, then to Dean, then back to his brother's picture.
"You've come back to finish it, then," Joss stated.
Sam felt Dean sag a little with those words, but his expression never faltered. "So it is the baby witch then."
Joss shook his head. "No. Something worse."
"Worse?" Sam spoke up, remembering Dean's soft, worried confession the night before.
"Dean Winchester," a voice with a deeper rumble than Joss' interrupted them. Dean turned on his stool to face the voice while Sam struggled to place where he'd heard that voice before.
"Paul," Dean greeted him. To say Paul Coulee was a large man would be a significant understatement. He towered over Dean and was about three times as wide as his brother. Still, when Dean stood to shake his hand in greeting, Sam noticed that he didn't look small. Somehow, even with the obvious size difference, Dean still looked powerful.
"Where have you been hiding yourself, boy?" Paul rumbled.
Dean jerked his head over his shoulder, "My brother Sam and I've been… traveling."
Paul lifted an eyebrow. "Where's your Papa?"
Dean pressed his lips together. "He's, uh, he's on a long hunt."
"Sure he is," Paul said, nodding as if Dean had revealed to him a great secret. "Joss, get out the whiskey. We have friends to welcome." He moved away from Dean and around the bar.
Sam groaned inwardly at the thought of whiskey shots. It was his Dad's drink, and he noticed anyone who knew John offered them the same. Dean didn't like it any more than Sam did – for both the memories were hard even as they were different – but he always took it graciously, shaming Sam into doing the same.
As Paul worked behind the bar to get the shot glasses down, talking to his son as he did so, Sam couldn't take it anymore. He leaned over and whispered to Dean, "Where have I heard…"
Dean interrupted in an equally low whisper, anticipating his question. "Darth Vader."
Yes! Sam thought. That was it. He looked back at Paul Coulee with a little more apprehension. His large hands clunked four shot glasses down, and then he trailed the whiskey bottle across the top, filling each to the brim. Sam suppressed another groan. Just as he was about to bite the bullet and down the amber liquid, a sharp, angry female voice shook them from behind.
Sam jerked and saw Dean freeze out of the corner of his eyes. He turned slowly and Sam followed suit. A petite blonde woman with large green eyes stood just behind them with her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes. Sam knew instantly that this was Judah's mother. He watched warily as Dean again slid from his stool, standing carefully in front of the small, but formidable woman, his hands out to the side of his body to show he meant no harm.
"Beth," he began.
"NO," she barked again, and Sam found himself worrying for his brother. Her eyes were like daggers and they were digging in to Dean. "You don't get to speak in my home. You don't breathe in my home. You killed my son, and you do not deserve to be here."
"Dean, wait," Sam caught up with him when he was at the door of the bar and grabbed his upper arm to slow his trajectory towards the Impala.
"Leave me alone, Sam," Dean said, jerking his arm from Sam's grasp.
"No, man," Sam said, narrowly avoiding getting plowed into by a singing man on a bicycle. "Would you just friggin' wait!" He caught Dean's shoulder at the car and spun him around roughly, forcing his back up against the car.
Dean instinctually came around swinging, but pulled up short when he realized that he was about to deck his brother. "Jesus Christ, Sam," he growled. "You know better than to do that."
"Sorry, Dean, but," Sam panted, licking his suddenly dry lips. "You can't just leave like that."
"Hell I can't. You heard her, Sam."
"She's in pain, Dean," Sam tried.
"Yeah and I'm the cause of it!" Dean shouted. "Me, Sam. Judah is dead because of something I did!"
"You don't know that," Sam said, purposefully keeping his voice level to try to bring Dean's down a notch. They were drawing looks from the myriad of people passing by.
"Yes I do," Dean said, dangerously. Calm, but dangerous. He leaned against the Impala, and covered his face with his right hand, then dropped it against his side. "It's too many, Sam."
Sam leaned next to him, looking back at the bar. "What is?"
"Marshall Hall, Layla, Judah, those three other guys…"
Sam saw where he was going with this, "Marshall Hall, Layla, they're different Dean. You can't blame yourself for what happened to them forever. And this…"
"What Sam?" Dean challenged, a hard edge to his voice. "What magical words are you going to use to make this not my fault, make it all better?"
Sam pushed himself away from the car, suddenly angry. His brother saved people every day – he deserved to be alive, he deserved at least a chance at being happy. And Sam was sick and tired of people blaming Dean for their misfortune and misery. So, he decided to take it out on Dean.
"Fuck you, man. You want to feel sorry for yourself? Be my guest," he yelled and stormed past Dean and the Impala to start walking down the street.
Dean stared after him in shock. He didn't even move to follow at first. Was that was he was doing? Self pity was a weakness he couldn't afford.
"Sam!" he called out.
"Wait," a deep, breathless voice stopped him. Dean turned to see Joss jogging across the street toward him.
"What?" he asked, regarding Joss solemnly.
"My maman, she is hurting. She doesn't mean what she says," Joss said, peering at Dean's eyes. "And you remind her of Judah, Dean. She can't help it."
"I'm sorry about Judah, man," Dean said. "But I think your mom's right."
"You did not kill my brother," Joss said, his jaw hardening and his eyes going flat. "It was Cale."
"Who the hell is Cale?" Sam chimed in. Dean jerked around to see him, unaware that he'd come back. Sam looked at his brother and shrugged. "Sorry. I was being a girl."
"No kidding," Dean was relieved to hear the teasing tone in Sam's voice. He was just relieved to have him back.
Sam looked back at Joss. "So… Cale?"
Joss took a breath. "Cale is the witch's Voodoun shape shifting sister."
Sam and Dean were completely silent. They exchanged a blank look, then Dean cocked his head to the right and squinted his eyes at Joss.
"Who's a what now?"