A/N1: Before you read, RUN DON'T WALK to my profile page and check out the artwork I made for this story. It's a little spoilery for the story, but only if you're me, and you know what's going to happen. Evil Grin. Honestly, I worked longer on the art than on the actual chapter, so I would love to know what you think.
A/N2: Thanks to all my lovely reviewers, the comments mean so much. Not much Sam in this chapter, I'm afraid. I feel like Dean hasn't had much opportunity to play yet in this story, and I couldn't leave the pretty on the sidelines, so here we go.
Watching the Lamb
Ripa J. Sattva
Could ye not watch with me one hour? Luke 22:46
"No! No disrespect, sir, but HELL no!" Dean leaned as far forward as he possibly could and ran his hands over the back of his head roughly as he tucked his chin into his chest and away from his father's gaze. He'd never been any good at saying "no" to John, but it had to be said, nonetheless. He felt like a caged tiger, the need to stalk back and forth across the room was nearly strong enough to win out, but his entire right side felt like he was on fire, so he settled for shaking his head in denial and growling deep in the back of his throat.
His chest was one giant knot of tension that almost stifled the words in his throat. The suffocating choke around him was only partially due to the nearly-healed gashes the Demon had made in his flesh. The rest, he knew, was the lingering reminder of the grasp the bastard still had on his heart, his Sammy.
"Dean," John said, trying to keep his tone steady, though it killed him speak the words, "he wouldn't want to live like this. He'd want us to finish it."
Dean shook his head, still not looking up. "No! He won't survive an exorcism, you said it yourself."
"He might not survive, regardless," John's voice was determined but not demanding, not anymore. He was in no position to make demands. The last one he'd made had gotten him stripped of his stripes in the eyes of his son and made Dean a defector.
"You shoot me in the heart…"
"Dean, look what it's done to him."
Dean couldn't look.
"He gave himself to it, and now it's torturing him from the inside. It has everything it needs in there, all of him, and it knows how to use it. It electrocuted him for God's sake. His heart only beats because the son of a bitch won't let it stop. Hell, the quacks in this place got him hopped up on enough meds to jump start Jell-O just so blood flows to his other organs and keeps the rest from failing."
"But he's alive! That's all that matters! As long as he gets the medication, and doesn't try to do any PT, which I'm guessing ain't really a problem, he could get better," Dean insisted, hands fisting in the loose-fitting jeans he'd donned after being released that morning.
"It took his eyes!" John shouted, impatience finally winning over his need for self-control.
Dean winced noticeably and turned away from his father's glare to face his brother. That, right there, that was the hardest thing in all of this for Dean to take, and he was pretty sure that's what the Demon had in mind by doing it. Dean loved Sam's eyes. From the first time he'd seen his little brother, when only half his little head had peeked out from beneath blanket he'd been wrapped in, Dean had known Sam, known him better maybe, than he'd ever known himself. He was pretty sure that whoever had coined the phrase, "windows to the soul," had been looking in Sam's eyes when he'd said it.
Of course people, mostly chicks, and priests, and dudes with no business even looking, had told Dean the same thing about his own eyes, but Dean was inclined to disagree. Then again, he barely looked himself in the eye, ever. He shaved seated on the back of the toilet and looking at the floor, brushed his teeth the same way, fixed his hair with just a casual glance in the mirror. But he couldn't not look at Sam's eyes, at least, not until Sam looked back, really looked, and tried to see Dean.
Dean hated the Demon almost as much for Sam's eyes as he did for Mary. The eyes that gazed up at the ceiling, half-covered by the lax eyelids were not Sam's. Sam's eyes were bright, sometimes livid with wonder, curiosity, even rage, but rage that stemmed from caring, rage that burned from living and wanting more from life, rage that sparked from passion. Sam's eyes were intense with yearning and want, belief in what was right, and hope that what was wrong could be undone. Sam's eyes sparkled, they drank, and they ate of life.
These eyes were red where they should be white, and white, opaque, and dull everywhere else. These eyes did not drink or eat of life; they raped and pillaged it, devoured it and digested slowly in the rancid stomach acid of loveless, hopeless, faithless, broken emptiness. These eyes twisted reality, saw what they wanted, and forced the rest to conform to their vision. These were the eyes of the killer who'd murdered his mother and maybe, his brother.
The doctors couldn't explain it. They hazarded a guess that his corneas had been burned in the electrocution, but they couldn't explain how the scars had suddenly appeared in the triage room of the ER. But then, as Sam had said once, they didn't know the things the Winchesters know.
"Why?" Dean asked, and it occurred to him that it wasn't a question that felt quite right in his mouth. He couldn't actually remember asking it in the recent past, not of his father, anyway. His voice was strangled and low, larynx constricting around the foreign letters like a snake's esophagus around a rat. "It has him. It can do anything it wants, so why this?" He chanced another glimpse of his catatonic baby brother and his glazed features before jerking his eyes away with disgust. "It had you. It didn't do this to you."
John shook his head. "It's hard to say. Maybe it was weakened by bullet, and it needs a chance to recoup. Maybe it's gone back into hibernation…"
"Hibernation?" Dean asked. "I mean, you've mentioned that before, but how do you even know it does that?"
"I didn't," John said blandly, "not for a long time. But I always suspected, because right after…" He cleared his throat around the gorge rising up in it. "After your mother, it just vanished. I mean by the time I got things together enough to go looking for it, there was no trace of it anywhere. Then, last year it started again, and Bobby sent me this." He reached to the nightstand where his journal was lying, stray sheets of paper poking out from between the pages. He pulled one of the loose corners and removed a crinkled newspaper article, holding it out to Dean with downcast eyes.
Dean took the page and unfolded it, a second article slipping from inside the fold of the first. He saw it was from a Lawrence, Kansas paper and dated a few weeks after the fire that had killed his mother. He looked at the headlines with a crease in his brow.
Local Fireman Institutionalized, Brain Injury Thought to Be Caused by Smoke Inhalation
"So?" Dean asked.
John nodded to the second article, "Read the other."
Dean glanced at it, noting that it was from the same newspaper but dated only a year ago. He didn't miss the fact that it was from approximately the same time that Dad had left him alone to follow up a lead he had on the thing that killed Mom.
Fallen Hero Awakens from 22Year Catatonia
Dean met his father's gaze head on. "This guy was overcome by smoke in our house, fighting the fire that the Demon set, and he was completely catatonic for twenty-two years…"
"And he just woke up last year, mumbling something about keeping your enemies closer and good men doing nothing," John finished, returning Dean's look. "I went to talk to him, but his wife said he didn't remember anything, or at least he'd claimed to right up until the day he ate a bullet in his garage."
Dean sat back in the chair, suddenly very heavy and tired. "So you think this guy was possessed by the Demon all those years while it hibernated, and you think that might be what it's doing to Sam?"
"Maybe," John speculated, "Or maybe, like I said, it's just injured from the bullet, and it's recouping, but it does seem to fit the pattern. I went through institutional records for the last hundred years, Dean, and there have been three different cases this century of people remaining catatonic and unresponsive for exactly twenty-two years and then awakening again."
"But it's only been awake for a year. It spends twenty-two years sleeping just to wake up for one? Seems a little hard to believe," he cleared his throat again, "no offense, of course."
"None taken," John assuaged. "I thought it seemed far-fetched, too, but we have to remember that these things are ancient, they've been around for millennia; a couple of decades here and there would be nothing."
Dean nodded, slowly comprehending and accepting. "So what do you think it's waiting for, while it sleeps?"
"I have theories, but I don't know. It could be waiting for some harmonic alignment, or it could be planting seeds, so to speak, and waiting for them to ripen." Both men looked across the room to where Sam stared back at them lifelessly from his bed as they kept their vigil over him, as much for his safety as for the safety of those around him. "Do you really think we ought to discuss this here?"
Dean shrugged absently. "Why not? Don't want it to hear the plans we don't have, yet? I'm pretty sure it knows it's got the upper hand, and it's probably laughing it's ass off in there." It wasn't a lie. Dean was pretty sure the Demon already held all the cards and that they'd be giving it nothing it didn't already know by discussing their theories in front of it. But they weren't here for the Demon. They were here for Sam. And Dean was gonna make damned sure that Sam knew he was fighting for him tooth and nail, because he needed Sam to know, needed to make up for the times he didn't.
"Dean, tell him I can go to school and still hunt! Dean, stop taking his side! Dean, please!"
"If you walk out of this house tonight, don't you ever come back!"
Dean swallowed hard against the memory, as if all the things he'd wanted to say back then had suddenly roiled up into his throat in retribution for being stifled. He'd wanted to support Sam. He'd seen the desperation in his brother's eyes, the need for validation and acceptance, but Dean hadn't stood up for Sam. Despite what Sam had always thought about Dean taking John's side, what it had really boiled down to was Dean just not being able to let Sam go. Sam didn't know that the closest Dean had ever come to supporting Sam and letting him go was not saying the million and one things that were on the tip of his tongue that night that had all meant "Stay."
Dean stole a sideways glance at his brother and hoped, if there was still such a thing as hope, that Sam knew he was standing up for him now.
"Anyway, if the Demon is hibernating, then that's all the more reason not to try an exorcism. If it's gonna stay there for twenty-two years, then there's time for Sam's body to recover. The more time we give him, the more chance he has of surviving. I don't see why you're so gung ho about doing this now."
John sighed. "Did you read the articles, Dean? Did you look at the pictures?" The silence turned into a hollow shell of emptiness around quivering tension, not unlike the inside of a timpani drum, as Dean re-opened the papers and fought to keep his gaze diverted from his father's searching eyes. "Twenty-two years Dean," John said, recognizing the understanding in his son's features. "Twenty-two years of seizures, unexplained cuts, bruises, and burns…It tortures them. It toys with their minds and their bodies. Is that really what you want for Sam?"
Dean stood as abruptly as he could, given the stiffness in his upper body, and tossed the newspaper clipping back to his father. They caught an updraft and scattered unceremoniously at John's feet. "No! No, that's not what I want! All I'm saying is, we've spent my whole life, Sam's whole life, chasing this thing because of what it did to Mom. If we exorcise it, we'll kill Sam! Then who will be left? What will be left?" He wrapped his right arm tightly against his ribs and heeded his body's earlier urges to stalk across the room. "I get it, okay! I get that we help people, way more people than just us. But most of those people never know what we did for them, most of them would deny it if they did. I've given my whole life for this, and never asked for anything for myself. I've done everything you've ever asked of me, and I've never complained. So now I'm asking…"
His voice trailed off as he braced his hands against the window ledge and gazed absently at the parking lot below. "I'll take care of him, okay? I'll wait on him hand and foot. I've already gotten books, pamphlets, instructions from all of his doctors. I'll do it for twenty-two friggin' years if I have to. If it means I get Sam back at the end, then I'll do it. Sam's the only thing I've ever asked for…" He didn't say please, but John heard it just the same.
John stared at his oldest son's back, the muscles tight beneath his t-shirt, tense and aching, he knew from so much more than the injuries he was recovering from himself. "Dean, I know what he's going through. I know what it's like to have it in your head. Twenty-two years is too much to ask of anyone. Why do you think the man in the clippings committed suicide? A couple tours in 'Nam is nothing compared to what you're suggesting."
Dean leaned into the window, the cold glass pressing into the top of his head. He semi-convinced himself that the drops of moisture on the pane were just his hot breath against the freezing glass. "Not twenty-two years, then. We'll just…God!" He wanted to scream and tear down the cheap vinyl blinds, maybe put his hand through the glass, anything to stop the squeezing and churning inside him, but he was all that was standing between Sam and Death, and he had to keep his game face on. He took a deep breath, his chest shuddering, and pressed his free left hand to the back of his head roughly as he turned to face his father. "We'll just…just long enough for Sam to get stronger, for us to come up with a plan. I'll take him up to Joshua's cabin, and we'll hole up there 'til you can come up with something…" He took another shuddering breath. "Dad, please…" And damn if he wasn't begging again.
John looked at his son, eyes dark and dewy with emotion. "Dean, son," he said rising stiffly from the chair, his bad leg still unbending in front of him, "you've been a good brother. You know that, right? You're right. You always did everything I ever asked of you. You took care of Sammy, and you took care of me, and I'm so proud of you." Dean looked back at him like a deer in headlights and tried to turn away again, but John took him by the shoulder and turned him back around. "I'm sorry you've always had so much on your shoulders. I shouldn't have put that on you. I shouldn't have made Sammy your responsibility. I'm telling you I'm sorry, and I got it from here. You don't have to do this anymore, Dean. You can have more, be more. You got your whole life ahead of you, and I want to give that back to you, since I was the one who took it in the first place."
"No," Dean said, his voice barely a whisper, "It wasn't you, the Demon…"
"Was my problem, my obsession, my life, and I had no right to make it yours. Let me fix this."
Dean brushed his father's hand off his shoulder brusquely, eyes narrowing enough to nearly force tears to spill, but he willed them not to, and the damned things didn't dare cross him. "What the hell is wrong with you?! You can't talk about Sam like he's just some chore you gave me, and then just say, 'here's your allowance kid, now go to a movie or something while I handle the dirty work.' He's my brother! He's your son, goddammit! And no! I am not going to let you just throw him away like spent ammo!" He paused, chest heaving with the strain of his outburst as beads of pained perspiration formed on his brow. "Dad…" the word was soft and broken but still endearing and reverent. For all his bluster and determination, Dean needed his father to accept his decision, no matter how twisted and totally effed up he had to be to make it. "If I have to, I'll take Sam and go where you'll never find us. But I don't want to. Don't make me. I'm just asking for a little more time. Please…"
John's mouth almost opened to protest further, but he met Dean's eyes, the hazel darkened several shades by his intensity and desire, and for once, it was John who couldn't' say no. He dropped his head in concession, "Okay," he said to the floor. "You, you go and get what you need, and I'll see about getting Sam released into your care under the condition that you take the phone I gave you, and stay in touch."
"Yeah, sure, anything," Dean stammered, swallowing convulsively. He'd never asked for anything before, and he was only now realizing that it was mostly due to the fact that he feared he didn't deserve to have what he wanted. To have his dad actually grant him his request was more of a relief than he ever would have believed it would be. It was almost too good to be true. Almost.
John couldn't take the surprised awe in his son's eyes. He grasped the back of Dean's neck affectionately with his one good arm, and if they weren't both tired and sore, he might've gone for the hug, but he didn't. Insead they pulled away after a few seconds.
"I'll just go pick up a few things at the store for the drive, and I'll come back and get Sam. We'll go up to Joshua's cabin, like I said. I can hunt and fish. The pantry's always full. We'll be good for as long as we need to stay. And you'll get with your contacts and try to find some way to help him, right?"
"Yeah, of course," John agreed as Dean moved stiffly to collect his jacket off the back of his chair.
Dean took one last look at Sam before he turned to leave, the blank, white, eyes sending shivers down his spine. "Why do you think…? Why do you think it took his eyes?"
John shook his head slowly. "Could be to isolate him. Could be to hurt us. Maybe there's something he doesn't want Sam to see…"
Swallowing hard and mustering his courage, Dean placed a shaky hand on his brother's head, pushing the bangs back off of his forehead. "Well, we'll just get you some of those chick magnet designer shades, a'ight, little brother?" He smiled weakly, just the corners of his lips moving, and turned to leave.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind Dean, John walked casually over and clicked the lock shut. Feeling the Demon's gaze on his back every step of the way, he picked the journal up from the nightstand and turned to meet the glare head on. "I'm not going to let you have him," he said, and his fingers had no trouble locating the exorcism rites.
Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. Luke 22:42
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