Spoilers: Pilot (pre-Series)
Summary: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Disclaimer: All SN things bright and beautiful, the Kripke made them all. Or the CW. Or someone who is not me.
With gratitude, as always, to the peerless Faye and irrepressible Kaly. Every time I say I'm out, they pull me back in . . .
A Thousand Words Unspoken
Dean could hear his father yelling as soon as he pulled into the driveway, and that was just never a good sign.
Damn it, Sammy. What'd you do now?
Sam had hit puberty with the force of a tornado, suddenly questioning every order, every decision, like he was an equal. Like he had the right. Even his 'yes sirs' now sounded suspiciously like 'fuck yous' and Dean knew Dad had about reached the end of his rope.
Didn't matter that a lot of Sam's complaints and questions were legitimate – things Dean was thinking too, words that were on the tip of his tongue. There was a hierarchy here, and maybe Sam had been the resident whiz kid pretty much since he learned how to talk, but that didn't change the fact that he was at the bottom of it. And giving Dad attitude was definitely not the way to rise up the ranks, especially not today.
Dean let the car idle for a minute and turned up the music, thanking God and Dave Mustaine for speed metal. Megadeth trumped a family argument any day, and he'd relied on it a lot lately.
The reprieve was short-lived, though. He saw Dad's face in the window, obeyed his gesture to come inside. He grabbed the bags of groceries and supplies he was sent for, used an elbow and a knee to work open the front door.
"Set it on the table." Dad took one bag out of his arms and left him with the other two. Sam was nowhere in sight.
"Did you get the silver?"
"Enough, I think. Prices weren't that good." Flea markets sometimes offered bargains, but they were close to a big city, and it was more of an outlet mall than a real market. Dad hadn't said how many bullets they needed to make, but Dean figured he had enough for at least a dozen. It had taken all their spare cash, but the silver was necessary; signs were pointing toward a werewolf hunt.
Dean unpacked the bags, put cans in the cupboard, milk and eggs in the refrigerator. They'd use the plastic bags for dirty laundry and for garbage – at least, what they weren't able to burn. There was more than one advantage to renting a place outside the city limits.
By the time he was finished, Dad was looking over his journal and comparing notes against some newspaper clippings he had scattered around the beat up table he was using as a desk. Dean shrugged off his coat, wandering down to the bedroom he shared with Sam to toss it on his bed.
Sam wasn't there, either.
He walked back toward the kitchen, not wanting to open a can of worms, but needing to know where things stood. "Where's Sam?"
Dad just glared at him for a moment, and Dean held it, not challenging but not giving up. Eventually, Dad dropped his eyes back to his notes, growling out his answer. "Your brother is doing laps."
Great. Dean grimaced, but didn't say anything. Laps meant a winding mile-long track that looped from their rental house around an unused pasture and back. It was open, easily visible from their sparse yard, fairly flat if you didn't count the odd mole run. And Sam would be running it until suppertime, at least.
Dean actually felt bad for him in that moment. Even though Sam'd likely brought it on himself, even though he'd made trouble on this day, of all days, the punishment would have a longer reach than Dad intended.
Growing pains had been plaguing Sam on and off for weeks, sometimes so bad they woke him from a sound sleep. Long runs always seemed to make things worse. Like most hurts, Sam had kept the pain to himself. Dad didn't know about it. Dean wouldn't have either if he hadn't stumbled half-asleep into the bathroom one night to find Sam curled against the tub, white-faced and nearly in tears. After, he'd made a point of keeping the ibuprofen on the nightstand they shared, had even bought a heating pad, for which Sam had been almost embarrassingly grateful.
Dean clenched his jaw in frustration. Why Sam couldn't just tow the line and do what he was told without making a federal production out of it was beyond him. Wasn't like Dad ever gave in. At best, he ignored Sam and at worst . . . he didn't. And yet, Sam just couldn't seem to stop pushing. Dean didn't know whether to throttle him or marvel at his utter stupidity.
He tried not to think about it as he started dinner and laid out the tools they needed to make bullets.
It was early, but the sun had almost set, and with a glance at his watch, Dad bookmarked the journal and walked out onto the back porch. Sam must have been nearly done with a lap, because he was inside in less than a minute, looking worn and pale. His shirt stuck to him, as did his bangs, and his mouth was set in a hard line that made him look older than his thirteen years.
Dad muttered something to him that Dean couldn't hear. Sam turned without answering and headed for the bathroom. Minutes later, Dean heard the clang of old pipes as the shower came on. By the time Sam emerged, wet hair still clinging to his forehead, supper was on the table.
The meal was mostly silent. Sam kept his eyes on his plate and Dad only spoke to ask Dean if he'd cleaned the shotguns like he'd asked. Dean's yes was the end of the conversation.
Dad left the table first, dropping his plate in the sink before returning to his desk. Sam pushed around the mac and cheese for another minute before giving up. He wrapped the leftovers in foil and left the room, giving his father wide berth.
That in itself wasn't abnormal. Dad and Sam usually acted like matching magnet ends in the aftermath of a fight, veering away every time they got too near each other. At the same time, though, Sam usually pulled closer to him, culling some kind of solace or fortification from being united with his sibling, even if Dean usually took the opportunity to tell him he was a dumbass. Repeatedly.
It never ceased to amaze Dean, what Sam would put up with coming from him as opposed to their father.
But tonight, it seemed, Sam was avoiding both of them. Damn teenagers. And yeah, maybe he was still one too, but compared to Sam, it sure as hell didn't feel like it.
By the time Dean had finished the dishes, Dad had hit the staring part of the evening. He was bent over the journal, eyes unfocused, twisting his wedding ring over and over. After so many years, the pattern was pretty easy to identify, and Dean didn't even offer a token protest when Dad stood and said he was going out. It went without saying that he would be back late, that he'd expect the house to be buttoned up as soon as he walked out the door, that Dean was responsible for making sure Sam stayed in line until he was home again. And that he'd be drunk when he did.
Watching the Impala pull out, Dean couldn't quite keep himself from hunching, feeling defeated. Thirteen years. Sometimes it felt like a lifetime, and sometimes it felt like a day but it always, always hurt. The ache for his mother, the memories of life Before the Fire and life After the Fire that never went away. And seeing November 2 on the calendar never got any easier. He hated that Dad inevitably spent the night, if they weren't hunting, drinking. Getting lost in guilt and should-have-beens and pulling away from them – him and Sam. He understood, but that never got any easier, either.
Which was why, for the life of him, he couldn't understand why Sam had picked a fight today. Whatever his issue had been, November 2 trumped it, no question, and Sam should have kept it to himself. Dean marched to their bedroom, intent on saying just that, but the sight of Sam huddled on his bed, just sitting in the dark with his knees pulled to his chest, made him pause.
He flipped on the light, watching Sam wince and turn away. "What the hell, Sammy?"
"You could knock, you know."
"It's my room, too."
If Dean hadn't been walking around the bed, he wouldn't have seen Sam lift a hand and rub at his eyes. And that made him pause again. Sam wasn't crying, was he?
Dean didn't know what to make of it. Anger seemed like a good starting point, though. "You know, I think we've had enough of your attitude. I mean, God, Sam, you know better than to be mouthing off to him. You know what day it is, don't you?"
"Of course I do! Did you really think I wouldn't?" Sam's voice was hoarse, raw – and Dean didn't know what to make of that, either.
He changed tactics, softened his words and his stance, wanting to get to the bottom of whatever was bugging his brother. Wanting to get out from under the oppressive feeling of another anniversary and another damned night of Winchester disharmony. "Well then talk to me. Tell me what the hell's going on in that freaky little head of yours."
But Sam wasn't ready to share, apparently. He mumbled what sounded like 'nothing' and grabbed the book bag off the foot of his bed. He pushed past Dean with his head still ducked, making for the living room.
Nonplussed, Dean just let him. Sam was going to be the death of him, he just knew it. He should have come with an instruction manual. He grabbed a book himself, some novel he was supposed to have already finished for Lit class, and settled on the threadbare couch. He opened it to a random page, watching Sam surreptitiously over the top of it.
Sam's books were spread around him like an academic buffet – math and history and Latin and biology, usually a potent enough combination to keep him enthralled for hours. But Sam wasn't looking at any of them, hadn't even turned a page or opened a notebook. Instead, he was turned in, chin balanced on fisted hands, elbows planted on his knees. He looked a million miles away, at least until some unhappy thought or other crossed his mind, giving him a wounded look he quickly buried in his palms.
Something obviously wasn't right, and Dean was just about to stand up when Sam beat him to it. He shoved his books back in his bag and headed back to their room. "I'm going to bed."
"Wait a minute – Sam? Sam!" Dean was hot on his heels, grabbing Sam by the shoulder and turning him around before he could lie down. "What is going on with you?"
From this vantage point, Sam's eyes were red-rimmed and dark, something hollow in them that Dean had never seen before. He wouldn't look at Dean though, even when Dean shook him a little. Just ducked his head again and hunched his shoulders. "I've got a headache, okay?"
"No, Sam. It's not okay. First you're picking fights with Dad and then you barely eat and now you're not studying, either." And under other circumstances, it might have been funny, knowing something was wrong with Sam because he wasn't doing homework. "You sick or something?"
"I told you, I've got a headache." But Sam still wouldn't look him in the eye, just stood impassively, waiting for Dean to let him go. So Dean did, and watched him climb into bed still dressed, burrowing under the covers like he was trying to hide.
Dean lingered in the doorway a moment longer, not sure whether or not he should push things any further. He knew his brother. Knew that he was lying. Sam very well might have a headache, but that wasn't why he had cocooned himself away in his bed. No other information was forthcoming, though, so Dean had no choice but to retreat to the couch, pondering hormonal little brothers and grieving fathers and wondering if this was the way things were always going to be. He figured they were. He figured that pretty much sucked.
He must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew, he heard the rumble of the Impala and then Dad's irregular footsteps as he stumbled inside the house. From the looks of things, this particular anniversary had been a doozy. Dad's eyes were barely at half-mast, his movements jerky and uncoordinated. He muttered something incoherent, clearly not in a good mood. But he submitted to letting Dean help him peel off his coat and boots, let Dean guide him to his room and push him into bed.
By the time he was horizontal, his mood had improved somewhat. He reached a shaky hand out, grabbing Dean's wrist. "You're a good boy, Dean. Mary always said . . . you were her good boy."
There was a protocol for things like this – Dad talking about Mom or about that night. It was called keeping his mouth closed and just letting Dad say whatever he was going to say without comment. Anything else led to things Dean wanted to avoid like the plague: Dad crying, or worse, Dad shutting down completely and not saying anything more about her. He held still, barely even breathing, wanting as much for Dad to keep talking as he did for him to pass out and let this awful night finally be over.
"'S not right, Dean. Shouldn't've been . . . shouldn't've been . . . You boys . . . She just wanted . . . " Whatever else Dad was trying for got lost in the pillow and a low half-snore.
Dean sighed, running a hand through his hair, then reached down to pull the covers over his father's sprawled form. It was a good thing the full moon wasn't for another four days; Dad wasn't going to be moving too well in the morning.
He went through the house, methodically checking salt lines and locks and making sure the lights were off. He stopped at the back window, staring out into the darkness and thinking about . . . too many things. He couldn't see her face anymore. He couldn't hear the way she sounded when she laughed, when she taught him his numbers and the alphabet song. He couldn't feel her hands or smell her hair. All he had left of her was an ache in his chest, something he felt down to his bones. Something missing that could never be replaced. He hadn't been whole since that night. He didn't really think he would be again.
He figured Sam was long asleep, but when he pushed open the bedroom door, Sam was sitting with his back against the headboard, both hands wrapped around his calf muscles, fingers digging in. His breathing sounded strained, like he was trying to control it but not quite able to. Dean turned on the light and sat on Sam's bed. "Bad, huh?"
Sam nodded, didn't say anything, but stilled his fingers, just gripping his legs instead like he didn't want Dean to see.
"You take anything?"
Sam's yeah was more of a pained gasp than a reply.
"I'll grab the heating pad."
By the time he came back, Sam was curled on his side, under the covers again, hands fisted in the sheet. Dean plugged the pad in and handed it to Sam wordlessly, watching as he dragged it down to wrap around his legs.
Sam still wasn't talking, but it wasn't quite as frustrating anymore. Dean was tired. Damn, but he was tired, and he wasn't sure he'd have the energy if Sam suddenly wanted to open up. Whatever the deal was between his father and brother, he hoped they'd both just sleep it off and be human beings again in the morning. Annoying, frustrating, pain-in-the-ass human beings, but humans nonetheless.
He had almost nodded off – and didn't it figure? – stretched out on top of his bed, lights and clothes still on, when Sam's voice drifted across the space between them. Low, like maybe Sam thought he was already asleep. "I just wanted to see her picture." The quiet words had the weight of a confession.
Seemed Mom was on everyone's mind tonight, and maybe Dean shouldn't have been surprised, but in their day-to-day, sometimes he forgot Sam missed her, too. After all, he'd never really known her, had no memories to share, and she was a topic that rarely came up among the three of them. Dad talked to Dean about her once in a while – offhand comments he wasn't even sure Dad realized he was making, how she had loved mornings or fresh laundry smells, the songs Dad wouldn't listen to on the radio anymore. As far as Dean knew, he never talked to Sam about her. And maybe that was part of the problem.
"He used to keep it out but I haven't seen it since we moved here."
There was only one photo Sam could be talking about . . . Dad in his Marine fatigues, Mom wrapped around him and smiling at the camera. Happy. In love. It was one of the only ones that had survived the fire, and it used to always be out – the first thing they'd unpack when they stayed anywhere other than a motel, any time longer than a week or two. But it hadn't made it, this time. There was no way of knowing if that was conscious choice or oversight on Dad's part. Certainly nothing Sam would have felt he could ask for.
And just like that, Dean figured what the argument had been about. Sam had most likely gone into Dad's wallet, looking for the matching picture he kept there. Dad had probably caught him and assumed the worst, because that's what Dad did, a default setting that made it almost impossible to please him but had kept them alive for the past thirteen years. And Sam, being Sam – an absolute failure at the discretion part of valor – had probably handled Dad's accusations about as well as he ever did.
Sam drew a wet-sounding breath – soft and muffled, not the kind of sound he made when he wanted Dean to hear, to pay attention. Private grief. As private as it could be, at least, with Dean's bed only a foot and a half away.
Dean rolled to his side, facing Sam, his little brother a huddled lump of bedclothes. Only the dark mop of his hair was visible, baby-fine and a little floppy like it had been always been. Mom had liked it long. He remembered Dad teasing her about it, about cutting Sam's hair military-style so it matched his own. He'd never followed through, though. Even now, Sam's haircuts were the least frequent out of all of them, like Dad was reluctant to touch it without her approval.
"She used to tuck you in every night." His own voice surprised him, whisper-quiet and gruffer than normal. He drummed his fingers against the bed, recalling sight and sound and touch. "We'd all say goodnight to you, me and Mom and Dad. And then she'd go back in later, after I was in bed. She'd hum to you sometimes. She always said she couldn't sing very well, so she hummed instead."
Sam was so still Dean thought he might have fallen asleep. But then he moved, just a little, watery eyes peaking out over the top of the comforter. "Could she? Sing?"
Dean laughed. "No. Not at all."
More of Sam's face was visible now. There was a wistful, sad-looking tilt to his expression, but something hopeful, too. Dean wished he had more memories to share but most were too vague and some were too precious, even to give to Sam.
"We'll find that picture tomorrow, okay? Maybe put it on that shelf in the kitchen?"
Sam stared at him for a moment, then swallowed, hard. "Yeah. That'd be good."
Dean reached behind him, straining a bit for the light switch. Darkness washed over them and Dean closed his eyes.
And in the silence he could almost hear her again. 'Night my babies. Sleep tight. I'll be waiting for you in the morning.