I have to thank imbreena for planting the seed for the sequel to Winter Solstice although I don't think it's necessary to read that fic first.
Thank you Annonie for the great prompt that lead to Winter Solstice and for your marvelous beta on Equinox. I couldn't have done it without you.
Equinox – Part 1
Dean felt like smacking his head on the kitchen table. He could already see where the conversation was headed and he felt powerless to stop it. He glanced around the dingy, faded kitchen, feeling just as worn himself, before his eyes settled on his dad.
Dean scrubbed a hand across his face. He let his mind wander to the day three months ago that he and his Dad had found fifteen-year-old Sam lying in the snow, stolen away and then abandoned by a crazed hunter seeking eternal life. As a result of the kidnapping Sam had suffered anaphylactic shock, hypothermia, frostbite, and pneumonia. The physical ailments had all healed but Sam was far from well. The mental scars were just below the surface.
"Dean, we've tried your way and it's just not working. If anything I think Sam's worse instead of better," John sighed in frustration before he paced over to the refrigerator and pulled out two cans of Coors Light.
John lobbed one of the cans toward Dean who was gracefully reclining on a hard, kitchen chair. Dean effortlessly plucked the can out of the air.
Dean had just turned 20 in January, too young to legally drink, but John felt that his oldest son had earned the right to kick back and have one with his old man. More and more John was relying on Dean – relying on him to bring in money to the household, to watch his back on hunts, and to take care of Sammy. Since Dean was shouldering so much of the responsibility John figured Dean had earned the right to have a beer.
Dean cracked open the can and took a long pull from it as he thought for a moment before responding to his Dad. Maybe Dean had been handling Sam with kid gloves but if anyone deserved it he thought it was his little brother. Sam had been a confident, smart teenager learning to navigate the world before the kidnapping. Now he was a pale shadow of his former self.
After JT's death the Winchesters had relocated about an hour northwest of Schaumburg to Rockford. For the first time since Dean could remember Sam hadn't made friends at his new school. He didn't go out for any extracurricular activities. He barely kept up with his school work. But it went even further than that because Sam, already lanky since he'd hit his teen years, lost interest in food and now was anorexic looking. And Dean couldn't remember the last time Sam had cracked a real smile
"It's only been three months. Maybe we should give him a little more time," Dean began, watching his dad carefully to gage his reaction. "He was doing better up until a month or so ago. We just need to be a little more patient," Dean implored, watching in dismay as John reached up and rubbed his forehead. Theclassic John Winchester tell. His mind was already made up and there was nothing Dean could say or do to change his dad's mind.
"I know you think you're helping him, but I knowthis mollycoddling has got to stop. You're right, he was getting better, but now he's in freefall. He's jumping at shadows, barely eating, and seems to have lost interest in everything around him. I think he needs to stand on his own two feet to regain some of his confidence and the only way we're going to get Sam moving in that direction is to leave him over night while we're on a job," John finished as he leaned back against the refrigerator. He loved Sam buthe wished Dean would loosen the apron strings just this once.
John wasn't saying it was going to be easy, but Sam needed to face some hard facts. The world wasn't going to slow down and wait just because his youngest had faced some tough times. In fact,it was quite the opposite. Sam needed to get a hold of himself before the world reached up and smacked him around some more.
Neither John nor Dean saw Sam approaching the kitchen door. Sam was finally feeling hungry and thought he'd see what was in the fridge. He heard his dad and Dean talking and was relieved that he wasn't alone. He didn't necessarily want to talk, but knowing they were around made him feel safe. He drew himself up short when he heard his name.
"Sam's still fragile. You've seen him! If you push him he's going to break," Dean was aghast at the idea of leaving Sam alone and tried to make his dadsee how close Sam was teetering on the edge. John's body language said it all to Dean – arms rigidly crossed over his chest and mouth pursed. If anything Dean thought his words had only convinced his dad that Dean was too soft on his brother.
"Don't you see? You're only enabling him. He needs to face his fears before they swallow him whole," John responded gruffly. He saw Dean's face fall in disappointment. He didn't like being made to feel like a monster, but if that's what it took to straighten Sam out then that was fine with him. Dean might know his brother inside out, but he was still Sam's father and he knew what was best for him.
Sam silently reeled back a step or two. His dad thought he was a burden, and Dean thought he was mental.
His knee jerk reaction was that neither one was right about him, he was fine. But deep down he knew he was broken in some fundamental way. Most likely both his dad and Dean were right about him. The thought of food suddenly turning his stomach, he quietly turned and trudged back down the hallway to his bedroom.
As Sam passed by an old mirror hanging in the narrow hall, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. His heart thundered so loudly he could hear it roaring in his ears, but he was able to stifle his gasp. The last thing he wanted was to attract the attention of his Dad and Dean.
Hands shaking he made himself turn around and look at the mirror and then down the hallway. Nothing. Maybe he'd been startled by his reflection. This had been happening more and more frequently so he really shouldn't dismiss it but if his dad and brother already thought he was losing it imagine what they would think if he told them he sometimes felt like he was being watched. He couldn't convince himself that passing by the mirror and catching sight of himself had been the sole reason he jumped yet he refused to allow his brain to contemplate any other explanations.
Sam darted into the bedroom he shared with Dean and collapsed on his bed. He tried to relax but the adrenaline was still circulating in his system. Although it embarrassed him, he found himself hopping off the bed and crouching down on all fours to peer under the bed. Assuring himself that no one was there, he quickly crossed the room to pull open the closet door and flicked on the light before he could talk himself out of it. He covered his heart with a hand and forced his breathing to slow. He was alone in the room.
Slinking back across the room,he slumped dejectedly on his bed. He knew he was a mess but he wasn't sure how to fix it. Dean had been nothing but patient with him but for some reason three months after the kidnapping he was worse instead of better. Maybe his dadwas right. Maybe he needed some tough love.
Pulling the covers up tight around his neck, Sam resolved to take anything John dished out. He was strong. He was a Winchester. He refused to break.
It was coming up on midnight and Dean hadn't turned in yet. Sam lay on the bed, stiff as a board, willing himself to relax. He thought about turning on his bedside lamp,but he hadn't needed a nightlight since he was three. However, recently, there was just something about being in the dark by himself that put him on edge. He wished Dean would hit the sack already. Then maybe he could get some sleep.
He consoled himself with the thought that at least the days were getting longer. In fact, tomorrow was the Vernal Equinox. That was something he could think about for a distraction. The word equinox was derived from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night). Each March the sun spent an equal amount of time above and below the horizon so day and night were equal lengths.
On a previous Equinox, Dean had convinced him to try balancing an egg on its end. Dean claimed the Equinox gave the egg special properties on that date and Sam was convinced it made sense. After all, Dean never lied to him. Imagine his disappointment when the egg not only refused to stand up but fell over and cracked, leaving a wet, sticky mess for Sam to clean up. Dean had thought that was hilarious. John had pulled the same trick on Dean when he was younger and Dean though it was worth repeating on his younger, more gullible, brother.
Sam's thoughts returned to the next day. The official start to Spring. The time of rebirth. For some reason, thinking on these things depressed him. Everything would be coming to life around him but he would be left alone in the darkness. He kept trying to move on, forget about his experience at the hands of JT, but nothing seemed to work. Sometimes it all felt so hopeless.
Cringing against his bleak thoughts, Sam rolled onto his side and pulled the covers over his head.
Dean halted outside the bedroom he shared with Sam to compose himself. His dad had his mind set on leaving Sam alone while they hared off on some job. He could understand his dad's position, and even believed his Dad was doing it out of love, but Dean couldn't sanction leaving his younger brother alone at this stage of the game.
Dean opened the door, hoping he'd find Sam deeply asleep, but, as usual, he watched as Sam jumped beneath the covers. He also didn't miss Sam's startled intake of breath.
Dean noticed the way Sam was swaddled up to his head in blankets so that only his nose and eyes were visible. Dean knew his brother was more sensitive to the cold now, perhaps due to the exposure he'd experienced. Every little draft in the rented house seemed to find its way into Sam's bones setting off a bout of shivers. Sam had always been a restless sleeper, arms and legs thrust outside the bedclothes in a bid for freedom. That was no longer the case.
Dean also suspected that Sam bundled himself so tightly to ward off his nightmares, as if the blankets protected him from what lurked in the dark. Not that he thought his little brother got much sleep these days. The shadows under his eyes got darker with each passing day and his face became more gaunt.
"Sam, you awake?" Dean asked quietly as he perched on his single bed. Sometimes Sam played possum and sometimes he talked to Dean. It was hard to gage his mood these days so Dean tried not to take it personally if Sam ignored him.
Dean watched in satisfaction as Mummy Sam peeled back the layers of blankets to once again become his mop headed brother.
"What's up?" Sam asked in concern. Despite his recent decline,Sam was still attuned to Dean and could sense when something was bothering him.
"There's this job…Dad says…we'd be back…" Dean trailed off as he searched for the best way to tell Sam they were going on a job and leaving him alone over night.
"Dean, you're scaring me. Could you please spit it out?" Sam asked in earnest. He couldn't fathom what Dean was trying to tell him but it sure had his brother in a tizzy. He'd do anything, say anything, to make Dean feel better.
"Dad's making me go on a job with him tomorrow night and he wants you to stay here," Dean finished in a rush. Initially he kept his eyes down but as the silence stretched on he looked up at Sam.
Sam felt like he'd been punched in the solar plexus. Like his whole world was collapsing. Left alone. At night. All night. He hadn't seen that one coming.
"Well aren't you going to say something?" Dean demanded. He didn't like the lost look in Sam's eyes. And he saw a tremor shake Sam's body. The whole plan had bad idea written all over it.
"There's nothing to say. Goodnight Dean," Sam whispered before re-wrapping the blankets around himself and curling down on the bed. Maybe things would look better in the morning. He doubted the platitude would be true, but he wasn't above grasping at anything to retain his sanity.