This is a tag for Crossroad Blues AND a Secret Santa gift for DreamHorizon. Merry Christmas (early) DH!
Thanks to gemini grl11 for being a great beta!
I must admit I borrowed the title…it is from a 1968 Swedish movie by Ingmar Bergman…but that's not where I first heard it. (Extra credit to whoever can guess!)
The Hour of the Wolf is that hour around 3or 4 a.m. when you can't sleep because you're worried about one thing or another...but it's a little known fact that the wolf can be chased away…with alcohol.
The Hour of the Wolf
Dean startled awake, emerging from his chronic nightmare…a young, beautiful girl, in a hospital, asking him to come with her...only he never wanted to and couldn't understand why it terrified him so much…or why Sam was always nearby but he couldn't talk to him. He'd been dreaming that off and on for weeks now, ever since his Dad died. It confused the crap out of him, since he'd never seen her before...and he was honestly becoming a little worried that Sammy's visions were rubbing off on him.
It wasn't the dream that had roused him though.
He glanced around, wondering what it might have been, when he noticed that Sam's cot was empty. The little room in the back of Harvelle's wasn't large enough to hide in, so Sam was obviously somewhere else. Dean shook his head, trying to get his brain working.
He remembered driving here. They were a little low on cash, and all the recent legal trouble they'd been having made using fake credit cards more problematic. So, he had sweet-talked Ellen into letting them crash in her back room. She had offered it to them before, but the revelation that her relationship with John Winchester wasn't all that pleasant…well, he'd had to turn up the charm a little bit more than usual. Jo was avoiding him, but frankly he couldn't care less about that at the moment.
A glance at his watch told him it was almost four in the morning. He'd left Sam out in the bar, sometime around one.
His brother had been strangely quiet during the trip to the Roadhouse. Dean suspected it had something to do with their conversation about the demon and the deal he'd been tempted to make. He knew Sam didn't understand, but Dean had almost done it. The only reason he hadn't…well, was Sam. Sam had been standing between Evan and the Hellhound, and no matter how much he'd wanted to make the deal, he couldn't leave Sam in harm's way like that…not even for John Winchester.
The muffled sound of a gunshot crystallized Dean's thoughts. He scrambled off the cot, dug through his duffle for a gun, then raced out towards the bar room. He wasn't exactly sure what alarmed him, but Sam's absence plus gunfire in the middle of the night wasn't a good thing, no matter how he looked at it.
He reached the main room, and saw Ellen standing by the door leading out to the back lot. She didn't look happy, and spared him only a brief glance before looking back out the door. Dean came to a stop behind her.
"I don't care for people picking the locks on my coolers, Dean."
Dean blinked, "What?"
They both flinched as another gunshot shattered the silence. Dean followed Ellen's glare out the door...to find Sam taking aim with his .45 at an empty beer bottle propped up on a stump. There were three or four more empty bottles lined up, with the remains of three more littering the dirt around the stump. It was the same game their Dad had used to teach them marksmanship. It was one of Dean's fondest memories, and he had almost forgotten that he and Dad had taught Sammy the same way. But why was Sam re-enacting it now?
What the hell's he doing? He thought. Then, he repeated the words aloud.
Ellen shrugged, "He won't talk to me…all I know is at some point, he picked the locks, got a case of beer and went outside…then he seems to have decided on some target practice."
"He wouldn't talk to you?"
Ellen shrugged again, "Nope. I'm not the one he wants to talk to, I guess. I'm going back to bed…he's your problem, Dean. Deal with it would you?"
Dean glanced at her as she went back into the building, then stuffed his own weapon down under his waistband and stepped out into the surprisingly warm night air. He moved over to Sam's side, careful to make noise and not sneak up on his armed…and likely very inebriated younger brother.
"Sam?" Dean called before Sam took aim again, Sam didn't respond, "What the fuck are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"
Okay, that came out a little grouchier than he had planned….
Sam didn't even look back, just adjusted his aim slightly. He had a remarkably steady hand for someone who was normally passed out on his big brother's shoulder after four beers…let alone seven.
"What does it look like you're doing? Err… I'm doing?" Sam slurred, taking no heed of the edge in Dean's voice.
"It looks like you're drunk and----Whoa!" Sam spun around to face Dean with the gun lazily pointing in his direction, "Sam! Give me the gun, okay?"
Sam shrugged and handed the gun over as if he couldn't care less. Dean switched on the safety and tucked it into his jeans as well, "What the hell's the matter with you?"
Sam giggled, "Hahaha…straight to Final Jeopardy! I'll bet it all Alex!" he followed that by plopping down in a worn patio chair he'd obviously been using earlier and opening another beer.
Dean followed him to the chair and crouched in front of him, "What do you mean?" He was beginning to feel like a broken record. He noticed that Sam was studiously avoiding eye contact, even in his drunken state. That was unusual, as he normally became more touchy-feely when wasted, not less.
"Well, let's see," Sam said slowly, his lazy Midwestern drawl coming out full force. He counted on his fingers, "I'm cursed…I lost my girlfriend a little over a year ago…my dad's dead…I told him to go to hell the last time we argued and…he did...heh, ha-ha, that's my favorite part…um…my brother wants to kill himself…aaannnddd…there's a deeemon after me that wants to do horrible things to me…or with me…or as me…wow, that's fucked up anyway I think it…I-I'm just saying that you're asking me a loaded question is all…."
Dean just sat there open-mouthed for a few moments. Where do I start with that…? He tried to focus on one thing at a time.
"I don't…Sam…you didn't send Dad to hell…."
Sam finally raised his eyes, and the look in them made Dean wish that he hadn't. His gaze was so full of grief and pain…and utter rage…that it would stop anything in its tracks. Dean knew that people had snapped under far less a weight than Sam was carrying, and it was really beginning to worry him now. The look he was getting, though, was nothing compared to the contempt that spewed from Sam's mouth as he jabbed a finger at him from the chair.
"Hey. You know what, Dean? You were in a coma…and you still blame yourself. I was a helluva lot more involved in what happened at that hospital than you were…so…." He threw his hands up in the air, spilling beer as he went.
Dean just blinked, taken aback by the venom in Sam's voice. If he hadn't known what to say a moment earlier, he was surely lost now. Sam looked away, suddenly very interested in his surroundings. The dark edge he'd had disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared. Sam looked back at him and his brown eyes were back to normal. Well, they were glassy, but they no longer chilled Dean's blood.
"What were we talkin' about?"
"Sam…." Dean stopped. What could he say? 'It wasn't your fault'? What kind of hypocrite would he be if he told Sam that? 'I'm sorry'? That would just be lame and he knew it. Maybe, if he were honest with himself, he could tell Sam that it was BOTH their faults…for not stopping the hunt for the demon when they still could…before it had turned into a fight to the death. He chose to address something else entirely, "Maybe we should go inside."
Sam shrugged again, "M'kay…" Dean helped him up, and he suddenly beamed, "Hey! You wanna get some beer?"
Dean shook his head and sighed as he placed Sam's arm over his shoulder. His brother, oblivious to the elder's efforts, chugged back the last bottle of beer in his free hand and then tossed the drained bottle carelessly into the dirt along the back wall of the roadhouse.
"Sammy…come on, you need to get to bed…."
Dean wrestled Sam through the door, and down the hall, a task made a lot harder by his younger sibling's uncooperative bulk and height. Dean had preferred it when he was still literally the big brother…it had made tasks like carrying his sibling easier.
Finally arriving back at the small guestroom, he plunked Sam down onto his cot and gently laid his head on the pillow. He tugged off Sam's shoes, then kicked off his own boots and knelt down, pulling a sheet up over Sam. One look at his face, though, and Dean knew that they weren't done talking yet.
Sam was grinning at him, but there was something else just below the surface that Dean couldn't identify. Sam's hand snaked out and grabbed Dean's.
"Dean…you're my favorite brother, man…."
He rolled his eyes, "I'm you're only brother, Sam."
"…I mean…you're a total jerk…and a shithead…."
"…But I love you the best…."
"…and it kills me that you don't want to be with me anymore…."
"Sam, stop it."
"…but I understand…I wouldn't want to be with me either…."
"Sam! Just…" he sighed, "Go to sleep, Little Brother. Okay?"
Sam's grin returned, "Okay…just one more thing though, okay?"
Dean moved and sat on his own cot, facing Sam, "Geez. What?"
Sam leaned over as if to impart some secret, then abruptly tipped his head and vomited…right onto Dean's boots…before slipping into total unconsciousness at the edge of the cot.
Dean frowned and shook his head wearily. Perfect.
Dawn came entirely too early for Dean. Sam didn't notice, because for the first time in months, he slept right through the sunrise. And breakfast. That was very unusual. Sam was usually the first awake, no matter how tired they were, and almost always the first to get breakfast. Not that Dean had eaten today either. He had spent the remainder of the night watching over his brother, making sure he didn't puke again. It was mildly annoying, but it wasn't anything Sam hadn't done for him…and after the little backyard party the night before, Dean wouldn't have slept anyway.
Sam's words rolled over and over in his mind.
…I told him to go to hell the last time we argued and…he did...
…I was a helluva lot more involved in what happened at that hospital than you…
…it kills me that you don't want to be with me anymore…
How did it come to this? Dean wondered. He knew, on some level, that he'd been wallowing in grief and guilt ever since his dad died, and knew that it had been affecting his attitude and approach to hunting…but until now he hadn't realized that his downward spiral had been sucking Sam along with him.
Liar, you've known all along. You just didn't care.
The snide little voice startled him.
It was his own.
Thinking back, he realized that he had known all along…he'd known how much Sam was hurting ever since the day Sam had walked out onto Bobby's back lot and told him.
…I feel guilty as hell…and I'm not alright…not at all….
There it was. Sam had told him weeks ago, and then buried it. Sam buried it for my sake…so that I wouldn't have to worry about him. He buried it, because I stood there like a stranger, glaring at him while he poured his heart out. Glared at him like I didn't care….
Because you don't. Because Sam isn't the selfish bastard you accuse him of being…that's all you.
Dean pushed away the accusing voice. It wasn't true. It couldn't be. He was just tired. He loved his brother, and he'd do anything for him.
Like when he tried to help you and you threw his own guilt in his face? Like when he tried to warn you about Gordon and you sucker punched him?
You'd do anything for him, except be there when he needs you, because it's too hard and you don't care anymore.
Shut up! Of course I care!
The voice wouldn't stop mocking him though. He tried to simply stop thinking altogether, but the harder he tried, the louder the voice got. The truth was, he DID care…he wanted to help Sam. But how could he? How could he help Sam grieve when he couldn't handle his own grief? Dad asked me to watch out for him…one of his last orders…and I can't even do that one simple thing. The feeling of failure that accompanied that thought almost toppled him.
A soft sound from the other cot made his heart speed up.
The surge of relief Dean felt when Sam finally began to wake up was irrational, but he reveled in it. With Sam awake, the nagging voice of his guilt would be drowned out…and he could go back to pretending that things were okay between them. He hoped.
That was before Sam's drunken honesty-trip last night.
He watched Sam come to, and noticed right away how sluggish the movements were. His little brother was going to have a massive hangover. After a few false starts, Sam finally managed to open his eyes, and Dean was somewhat amused by the way Sam immediately raised him arm to block his face from the sunlight.
Those weren't the first words Dean had expected…but at least Sam was talking and not puking. Yet. "Well, it's almost eleven."
"Argh…don't yell, please…."
This time, Dean was very amused.
"I'm not," he replied, several times louder than was really necessary.
Sam groaned and tried to burrow deeper beneath his blanket. Dean rose and yanked the covers off his brother's lanky form.
"Uh-uh, You aren't sleeping all day, Sammy. I'm hungry as hell."
The glare Sam shot him reminded him a little too much of the look he'd gotten a few hours earlier.
…you know what, Dean? You were in a coma….
The grin fell off Dean's face as the memory resurfaced. The accusation in Sam's voice was still ringing in his ears. He had underestimated what Sam had gone through in that hospital. Sam had spoken little of it…Dad's death had totally overshadowed the events between the car crash and their arrival at Bobby's. Sam hadn't volunteered anything, and Dean hadn't asked.
"What happened?" Sam mumbled.
"Were we drinking?"
Dean glanced at him, "You don't remember?"
Sam shook his head. Dean wondered whether or not he should mention how or where he'd found Sam at four in the morning…then quickly decided against it.
"You were pretty plastered last night," he hedged.
Sam groaned again, this time with a tinge of shame, "I didn't sing again, did I?"
Dean couldn't stop the smile that tugged at his lips that time…his brother was hysterical when it came to drunken karaoke. He was so engrossed in the image that he didn't realize that Sam was watching him until he heard another distressed groan.
"Oh, please…tell me it wasn't country music this time…."
Dean shook his head, "You didn't sing, Sammy…." Not music anyway….
Sam sighed in relief, then rather comically sniffed at his shirt and crumpled his nose in disgust. He groped his way off the cot slowly and stumbled over to his bag. Dean watched him dig through the duffle, looking for clean clothes. He debated whether or not to let this conversation die prematurely. He knew, if he did, he would feel better, but that damned voice would go back to taunting him again. He was biting his lip and staring, not realizing until it was too late that Sam had straightened and was staring back.
"I must have done something last night to put that look on your face," Sam said with a small smile before turning back to the task of changing his shirt. Dean just looked at him until the shirt was halfway over and covering Sam's face. Somehow, not being able to see those brown eyes made it easier.
"I don't want to kill myself, Sam."
Any other time, any other circumstances, and the way Sam froze in place with the shirt over his face would have been laughable, but Dean couldn't find the humor this time. Sam just stood there for a few long seconds before cautiously resuming his efforts.
"That's…that's a funny thing to say in the middle of a conversation, even for you…what brought…what brought that up?" Sam choked out before clearing his throat. Dean always could tell when he'd hit the mark by the way Sam stammered…sputtering like his hand had been caught in the proverbial cookie jar. It gave him no pleasure in this instance. In fact, it scared him.
Dean panicked and covered, "I, uh…I just wanted you to know that. That's all."
Lousy fucking coward.
Sam was already fighting his way back, though, and sounded worried, "Dean…Dean, what did I do last night?"
Dean didn't answer, making Sam turn fully toward him, "Dude, I must have been wasted…I mean…you know people say crazy stuff when they're drunk…."
Now you're hedging, Sammy…. Dean mused. He didn't want to do this…he didn't have the energy. But he needed to say something. He needed to stave off the horrible feeling of failure at letting down both his dad and Sammy all at once.
"Just…after this last hunt…with that demon…I don't want you to think that I…you know--- I went there to trap her, not bargain with her."
Sam stared at him for a minute, now biting his own lip, "So…you weren't tempted? Not even a little?"
Dean looked up sharply at that. He HAD been tempted…sorely tempted…to take that thing's deal and save his father. He would do anything to reverse what his dad had done. But he also knew what that deal would have meant to Sam.
"She made a good argument, Sammy," he said quietly, "but I couldn't…I wouldn't do that to you. I wouldn't skip out on my brother…not even for Dad. Even if my brother did puke on my boots last night." He smirked, hoping to diffuse the tension a little.
Sam blanched at that, and started looking around the floor, "I did? Damn…I'm sorry man…I'll clean them up---"
"You might want to apologize to Ellen first."
Sam looked back at him again, "What…why?"
Dean just raised his eyebrows, happy that the conversation seemed to have fallen back into safer territory. Sam thought for a moment, and then shook his head.
"I picked the lock to get to the beer…she was asleep, I didn't want to wake her…."
"Why were you drinking so late…and alone?" Dean asked softly.
Sam's eyes dropped to the floor, and a nervous smiled tried to form, "No reason…."
Dean's frowned deepened, but his retort died on his lips when he saw Sam's eyes begin to well up, despite the younger man's attempt to hide it.
"Dude, seriously," Sam scoffed, brushing his hair back in an effort to cover the solitary tear that Dean saw slip out, "I just felt like having a drink."
"Eight beers isn't 'a drink,' Sam…."
"It is for you," Sam rebuffed defensively. He still wasn't looking in Dean's direction.
Dean silently crossed the short distance between them, spurred on by Sam's continued refusal to look at him. He almost reached out, but stopped himself. Physical contact would probably make Sam bolt like a deer. He just came out with what he wanted to say instead.
Sam snorted humorlessly, still pretending that he didn't know what they were talking about, "For what?"
"You shouldn't have to do this alone."
Sam smirked bitterly at that, but kept his eyes on the floor, "I can drink by myself, Dean…I'm a big boy now…."
"I'm not talking about that."
Sam's eyes cut his way, trying to see without looking up, "Dean…seriously man, what did I say last night? I…I was just rambling, right?"
"What is it you didn't want me to know?"
"Whatever it was…just forget it, okay? I was drunk."
Sam sank back onto the cot, fidgeting with the cast on his arm and staring at Dean's feet, "You've been through so much Dean…I won't dump my problems on you too. I tried that once, already, remember? I was wrong then, and I won't do it now, not again."
Dean went from feeling bad to feeling worse. He shouldn't have been surprised, really, that that little tirade of his would come back to haunt him.
…these are your issues, alright? Stop dumping them on me!
It had made sense at the time…but now he wished he'd never said it. He should have known better than to give his forever-internalizing brother the perfect opportunity to do just that, internalize everything. The words, 'you've been through so much' cut him worse than any knife. Sam had lost a dad too…. What had he done to make Sam feel like Dean was the only one suffering? It sickened him to think that he'd really been that self-absorbed.
He sat down beside Sam, who was still finding anything to look at but him, and sighed, "Maybe I was wrong…maybe you could dump a few things on me…."
Sam acted as though he hadn't heard. "You ever wonder why we bother? I mean…we've got plenty of guns, right? Two bullets…and we could go looking for Dad again. Talk about taking it to the next level…."
Dean stared hard at him, "That's not funny, Sam."
Sam continued, oblivious to the interruption, "Hell, I thought about it last night too…in the car. Find a reason to drop you off somewhere…go back there and make the deal myself…switch places with him…I mean, I'm the one they want anyway…always have been. You never would have been in that hospital in the first place if it wasn't for me…."
Dean shook his head. Funny how what seemed like a good idea for me sounds so WRONG coming from him….
"I'd have kicked your ass if you'd done that," he said quietly.
Sam sniffed, "Yeah…I'd get to Hell just in time for Dad to yell at me for doing something so stupid," he paused, "I even miss the way he yelled at me…."
Dean couldn't help the burst of laughter that erupted out of him, "You didn't get enough of that when he was alive?" He ducked his head into Sam's downcast field of vision, hoping to get through somehow. It worked this time; Sam caught the glint in Dean's eye and looked at him, laughing softly and breaking out of his stupor.
"Pretty stupid, huh?"
Dean smiled sadly, "I really don't know what we're gonna do, Sam. I wish I did…."
Sam nodded soberly and smirked, "You aren't gonna tell me whatever I said to you last night, are you?"
"'Cause I haven't figured out how to fix it yet. When I do, we'll talk about it."
Sam shook his head slowly, raising a hand to rub his temple, "You can't fix it…."
Dean did his best to look offended, "Big brothers can fix anything."
Sam looked up at him, not hiding the tears this time, "Not this."
Dean held his gaze for a moment, determined not to let his foothold on Sam's well-being go this time. He owed it to Dad to fix this one. He wouldn't fail again.
"Okay," he nudged Sam's shoulder with his own, "maybe this one we can fix together."
"'Together' isn't something we've been too good at lately, Dean."
Dean nodded, unable to counter that, "I know. But maybe we can work on that too…it's what Dad would have wanted."
Sam just nodded, looking more miserable now than he had the night before. Dean tentatively reached out and rested his hand on Sam's shoulder. When the younger man didn't resist, as Dean feared he might, he slid his arm over Sam's shoulders. He could do chick-flick, maybe not as well as Sam, but he was capable of it. Especially if it showed Sam how he felt. It was rare, but sometimes Dean needed to show that.
"I really am sorry. I let you down big time, Sammy…."
Sam inhaled deeply, trying to regain control, and mimicked Dean's ability to deflect perfectly, "I guess I should go talk to Ellen."
"Why'd you…why were you getting drunk last night?" Dean asked haltingly, unwilling to let Sam evade that part of the discussion. Sam had never really answered the question earlier.
Sam deflated a little, his urge to get up and find Ellen seeming to vanish, "After you went to bed…I was just sitting there, you know? Watching Ellen clean up…I couldn't stop thinking about what you said…about what happened to Dad…I just wanted to stop thinking for a while…." he finished with a shrug.
"I remember, when we were little…Dad used to 'stop thinking' that way too. I didn't understand it at the time, but…." Dean trailed off when Sam put his face in his hands. The hangover was probably coming on hard about now. He didn't remove his arm; instead, he tugged Sam a little closer, letting his brother's weight fall against him as he sagged.
"You won't find your answers in a beer bottle, Sam," he added with a smirk.
Sam groaned, but Dean was sure it was only partly because of his growing headache, "Jesus…what is this, a public service message? From you?"
"No, expert advice," Dean grinned, "You find answers in tequila bottles. Beer's just for relaxing…."
Sam cranked one eye open and looked curiously at Dean, "Why tequila?"
Sam turned his head toward Dean and squinted in confusion, "What?" then the squint changed to suspicion, "Am I still drunk…?"
"No, seriously…those little worms…they're like Mexican Yodas or something. 'Stay and help you, I will…amigo.'"
Sam stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing, "Shut up, Dean."
"What? It's true!" Dean protested indignantly.
"You're an idiot."
"Yeah, well, you're the one with the four-alarm hangover. I'm making you drive too."
Dean released Sam and stood, giving them both some space. He felt the urge to tell his brother what their dad had told him…the secret about Sam…but he couldn't. Despite the easing of the tension between them and the moment of relief they'd found this morning, his Dad definitely wanted that kept a secret. He had to obey that order…Dad's last order…and trust that his father's reasons for keeping it a secret were enough. He went over to pull out some new clothes from his bag, when he heard Sam speak again.
Dean glanced back, holding Sam's gaze for a moment and smiling faintly.
"It's my job," he answered quietly, "and I'm gonna start doing it again."