Tipping the Scales
SUMMARY: SEQUEL. The brothers deal with a haunting, a series of violent attacks, and learn why it's not a good idea to even half make a promise you didn't really want to keep.
DISCLAIMER: This story is not official in any way. Supernatural still belonged to Kripke and CW last time I checked.
As the summary sates this is a sequel, and it really would pay to read 'Restoring the Balance' first because most of the first couple of chapters is spent establishing their physical and emotional states, which means reflecting on the events and aftermath of the last story without actually going into any details about what happened.
I have no idea where in the time line this fits. Somewhere in series two. Wherever you chose to slot it.
"Well that was easy." Sam sounded almost disappointed.
"Speak for yourself." Dean flung his shovel wearily over his aching shoulder and picked up his pace to match his younger brother's long strides.
"Hey, I offered." Sam protested, breaking off at the warning look that was being thrown in his direction. "It's not my fault if 'grave digging' doesn't make it onto the list of hospital approved activities." He joked, referring to the booklet Dean had been given before Sam had been discharged, and which he studied and coveted almost as religiously as he did their father's journal.
"Yeah, well setting dead guys on fire isn't on the list either, and I let you do that didn't I?"
And you've been bitter about it ever since, Sam thought with a smile. Dean burnt the bodies. It was what he did, like some unspoken rule. Sam could apply the gas but it was Dean that lit the flames. Sam didn't know if it was because Dean had determined a long time ago to keep his brother away from fire, or because he was a closet pyromaniac. Hopefully it was a happy medium between the two, but he couldn't remember a time when it hadn't been true. And Dean's emotions very rarely came in happy mediums.
"Yes you did." Sam relented with a smile of thanks. The smell of burning bones aside it had been very satisfying.
"And you're getting to carry the gas can." Dean pointed out.
"Dean, it's empty." Sam waved it about in front of Dean's face to emphasise the point. "It doesn't actually weigh anything."
"I let you drive yesterday." Dean was on a roll now.
"For four minutes. And you were drunk."
"I was not." Dean exclaimed in mock outrage. "That was merely a front so those biker guys didn't make such a big deal about you dragging me out before they could win their money back."
"What about the part where you tripped over your own feet and ended up head first in that poor bar maid's breasts? Was that a front too?"
"No. That might have been deliberate." Dean admitted sheepishly.
"Yeah, well I'm the one that had to drag you out of there and navigate past her husband."
"And expertly done it was too."
Sam just shook his head. He wasn't going to win this. He wasn't even sure what 'this' was. It had pretty much been a certainty that Dean wasn't going to let him dig, and he had promised Bobby before they left that he wouldn't push the matter or take offence if things played out the way they were both expecting. There would no doubt be numerous other salt and burns in the future, Sam could be a spectator for one. And he hadn't felt at all guilty sitting idly by and watching his brother do all the hard work. It was Dean's choice, and he seemed perfectly content with it.
They made their way back to the car in a companionable silence, and after they had stowed their supplies in the trunk Dean threw Sam the keys. He accepted the gesture in silence but with a smile, knowing it was Dean's way of apologising if he had made Sam feel useless on their first hunt in months. An attempt to pacify if he was angry. Sam had thought he would be, but was surprised to find that he really didn't care. They had been away from Bobby's for three days, and were still very much easing themselves into this new routine. If it took one job watching from the sidelines for Dean to adjust to the idea of them both being in the thick of it together again, then it took one job. That had been Bobby's thinking behind sending them here.
If it took two jobs, it took two. Sam was still 'research boy'. Had been even while sitting, or even lying, still, sending Dean and Bobby out better prepared on the few hunts they'd found in the local area. Dean wanted him to take it easy, and he would respect that.
If it took three jobs, then that was when they would have a problem.
"You gonna call Bobby tonight or wait until the morning?" he asked, drawing to a stop in front of the room they had checked into on the way to the cemetery.
"He told us to call him when we were done." Dean stated, as though confused as to why Sam would even bother to ask.
"Yeah, but maybe he didn't mean 'as soon as'" Sam attempted, "Like four in the morning."
"It's not four there."
"It's not much better."
Dean just shrugged and pulled out his phone as they crossed over the threshold into their room, closing the door behind them and watching Sam sink down onto one of the beds. "Just obeying instructions." He assured his brother with a wicked grin. "Besides, he must be missing us by now, whether he admits it or not."
Sam just shook his head, feeling suddenly sorry for their friend. It probably would take some getting used to their absence, they'd been there close to three months after all, but even though he would never have admitted to it, never have pushed them into making a move, both brothers knew he must be relieved to have his solitude again. But helping them heal and move on had included wanting to see them on their way again. It might take some adjusting to, but if they couldn't hunt as a team again then they wouldn't really have learnt anything. The most useful thing Bobby could have done for them was to find this straight forward job and send them on their way.
Three days of driving later, a spot of digging and some flames, and it was over. He probably was eager to hear how things had worked out.
The research had all been done before they had left. Someone from the area had been familiar with Bobby's unusual area of expertise, had contacted him with the details of some bizarre occurrences, and between him and the scene and Sam on the internet it had been relatively easy to work out it was a spirit they were dealing with, whose was involves, and where the body was buried. But Bobby's informant was an accountant, who was familiar with the supernatural because he had once had the misfortune to own a haunted garage that Bobby had helped deal with. He was perfectly willing to ask a few questions and email the occasional photo, but drew a firm line at digging up a corpse and burning it. And Sam couldn't help but think that was a fair line to draw.
And that was where they came in.
It had taken them three days to get here, partly because Dean was reluctant to let Sam drive – he still hadn't gotten over the near lamp-post encounter that had left the Impala rattling for a day. Sam was less than pleased with Bobby when he explained to Dean what he had done to fix it. The words meant nothing to Sam, but Dean had gone strangely pale and not spoken to him for the rest of the day, and Sam couldn't work out if it was the fact he had almost killed himself or the car that Dean was so upset about.
He wasn't going to ask; he didn't think Dean had forgiven him for the admission he had been forced to make the last time Sam had suggested it was the car.
Neither of them were now used to spending so long cooped up in the vehicle, and Dean was still subtly monitoring Sam's eating and sleeping habits, so instead of driving through the night they had stopped and found a bed. But that had required money, and then they had had to stop to acquire more, and somehow a relatively short trip that they would once have just driven and thought nothing of had taken three days. Sam couldn't help but be reminded of the five days it had taken them to get to Bobby's in the first place, when he had managed to get home four days ahead of them.
This trip had a similar feel. Being on the road and being alone had made Dean strangely exuberant again, and that hadn't really faded the closer they had got to their destination, as Sam had feared it would.
Bobby answered the phone much too quickly to be able to fool either of them that he had been in bed. Sam had told him they would be arriving in time to get the job done tonight; he had obviously meant his words to have been taken literally and had been waiting up to hear from them.
"Ask how Dean is." Sam whispered after they had been talking for a while and Dean had assured the other man the spirit was well and truly dealt with. Dean just pulled a face and shook his head, and carried on talking.
"I don't know. We'll probably just keep heading west for a while. Keep our eyes open in case anything crops up along the way."
"Dean… ask about…" Sam fell silent at his brother's glare but his eyes continued to plead their case.
Dean relented with a mammoth sigh. "Sam wants to talk to you." Dean cut Bobby's rumour of a possible werewolf sighting off and handed the phone over to his brother, trying to keep his face suitably annoyed in the face of Sam's glee.
"Hey Bobby, ho…"
"The dog's fine." Sam wasn't sure if it was exasperation or amusement that he could pick out as Bobby's overriding emotion, but he didn't care.
"You sure? Did you...?"
"Sam. I have had a dog before you know. I do know how to look after them."
"yeah, I know, I just…"
Bobby sighed patiently. He had been just as worried about how Sam would take the separation from his dog as he was to how Dean would react to potentially leading Sam into danger. They had been almost inseparable since Sam had found it, despite Dean and Bobby's attempts to wean them both off the attachment before they were to be separated.
"He's okay, but he's moping." Bobby grouched. "Puppy's aren't supposed to be that miserable. But he's a lot better behaved now he doesn't have his partner in crime distracting him from his duties."
"Aww. You'll have him fully trained in no time."
"Yeah. Just in time for you to come back and strip it all from his head."
"I won't, I promise. Has he got any…?"
"Why don't I just put him on for you" Bobby riled, "You can ask him yourself. DEAN!"
Sam could hear an answering bark, but it didn't seem like the little guy was making any attempt to respond non-vocally to the call.
"That still a work in progress then?" Sam smiled. Bobby might mock his level of attachment but he couldn't say the dog didn't come running when he called. To Sam's amusement his brother usually responded to. Or he had until he realised he was confusing himself with a dog, and then it became nearly impossible for Sam to get Dean to acknowledge he was wanted without having to resort to the wounded little brother tone. And under the circumstances he would not be that manipulative. Unfortunately by the time they had left, the dog was also starting to respond to 'asshole'.
"He let you dig?" Bobby was decidedly changing the subject.
"Ha. What do you think?"
"And you're okay with that?"
"For now." Sam admitted. "He's staring at me impatiently though; I think he wants the phone back. I'll talk to you later, okay."
"Take care, you hear me?"
"Always do." Sam assured innocently.
"Your half isn't sulking as much as mine then." Bobby stated when Dean came back on the line.
"No, we've been relatively brood free." Sam just scowled and pulled a face from the other side of the room. "He's probably about as emotionally mature though." He laughed, watching as Sam yawned and made his way into the bathroom. "Hey! Don't use any hot water. I'm having first shower, I'm the one that just dug a grave out after all." He yelled after Sam's retreating back.
"Way to tell the neighbours that." Sam poked his head back out of the bathroom door with his eyebrows raised and his head slightly cocked, listening to see if Dean's high decibel confession had caused any response from the adjoining rooms.
"I mean it." Dean mouthed threateningly before Sam could vanish from sight again.
"As if I would." Dean wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel remorseful or not. Sam's eyes and tone had suggested hurt, but his smile had been decidedly mischievous.
"Business as usual then." Bobby stated. "Talking of business, I thought you already had another gig lined up."
"What? No. we're just drifting for now. Unless you hear of anything interesting."
"He didn't call you then?" Bobby sounded surprised.
"Some guy was here looking for you yesterday afternoon. Sounded like he had a job lined up for you."
"He was looking for us there?" Why did that make Dean so uneasy? "Do you know who he was?"
"Martin somebody. Didn't recognise the name but he claimed to know your Dad. Said he'd helped him out once upon a time. Was looking for a return favour. I told him you'd just left; he just plain turned around and walked away. Didn't ask for a number or anything. I assumed he must have had it."
"Martin? He make it sound like we'd know who he was?" Dean was perplexed. More old hunting acquaintances of their fathers had been coming out of the woodwork, more than they'd been aware of when he'd been alive, but Dean's feelings of interested curiosity had since turned into wary suspicion. This man might legitimately have been their father's friend but Dean was not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Another potential ally sounded nice in theory, but it was not worth the risk. If Sam was willing to return to the hunt again, if they were both ready to continue the search for the demon then that was one thing, but Dean would not dangle him unnecessarily in harms way if he could help it, and if no-one trustworthy was in a position to vouch for this guy then he was not getting within a mile radius of Sam.
"If he's legit he'll have your number and call you." Bobby reassured, sensing Dean's sudden unease.
"Yeah. But how did he know we were staying with you in the first place?"
"I don't know." Bobby admitted. "I didn't advertise the fact. Don't want it to get out I'm getting soft. Who did you tell?"
"I didn't really. I'm guessing Sam said something to Ellen and Ash but other than that we're not really in contact with anyone."
"Yeah, well, I'd determine whether or not that woman said anything before you go getting jumpy"
"What did he look like?"
"Tall. Forties. Dark hair but mind numbingly average looking. No facial hair, scars, obvious tattoos. Carried himself with confidence, but didn't look like a hunter though. Hands were too soft."
"Not that you were checking him out closely or anything." Dean said with a grin.
"Hey, I'm about as trusting as you are, what can I say. Seriously though, I wouldn't worry about it. Only two people know where you are, and this time tomorrow even that won't be true. If you don't know where you're gonna end up you're gonna be pretty impossible to track. Just keep your eyes open."
"Always do." He groaned stretching. "I'd forgotten how exhausting digging up bones could be" he grouched.
"Well, if you're gonna insist on doing it all yourself, you've gotta expect the pain." Bobby said knowingly.
"How did you..?" Dean sighed watching the closed bathroom door. "I know. It's just; it sounds easy in theory…"
"I know, but just remember, neither of you would be out there if he wasn't ready for it. And despite what happened last time he does know his own limitations."
"Yeah. We'll see." Dean relented. He knew Bobby was right but like he'd said, knowing and acting on it were two different things. Their last two hunts had not ended well, and Dean was not looking for a repeat performance. He no longer felt the need to hover over Sam or be on hand constantly to offer his assistance. Sam no longer needed it, and Dean was determined it was going to stay that way. But if he didn't let Sam participate soon he would no doubt go to desperate lengths to prove that he could. And that had not worked out well the last time.
"I'd say keep in touch, but I don't want to give Sam a reason to call and check I haven't killed the damn dog any more regularly than he will anyway."
"It tried to escape yet?" Dean asked, knowing this had been a legitimate fear of Bobby's, that if it realised Sam would not be coming back any time soon it would have to set out and look for him. He would not put it past the thing to find them either.
"No such luck." Dean ignored Bobby's grumpy exterior. He knew the older man had warmed to the puppy despite his initial reluctance to house it. But Sam and his eyes had given him little choice, and he had soon remembered that he liked having a dog around the place. And despite his attachment to Sam, Dean mark two had settled in well, and seemed to at least understand that Bobby was the boss, even if he didn't always want to acknowledge it.
"You like having a Dean around the place, admit it." He joked, although in truth he was still not happy with the naming situation. Resigned, but not happy. He knew Sam had initially named him in jest, but it had somehow stuck. Sam had been more reliant on Dean then, and the dog had seemed to think that only it was worthy of that much attention from Sam, therefore its name had to be Dean, whether they were trying to wean him onto something else or not.
"No doubt we'll be heading back in your direction soon enough." Dean relented.
"Yeah, well. Watch yourself until you do. And take care of that brother of yours too." He said, knowing there had never been a more unnecessary sentence.
Dean hung up trying hard not to hear a 'this time' on the end of Bobby's words. He knew that he was the only person that assigned him any blame, but while the hovering and need had diminished, the guilt was not fully gone, and Dean didn't think he wanted it to be. It was easier by far to accept that there had been some fault within himself and acknowledge he would be extra vigilant to ensure it never happened again, than it was to give in to everyone's assertions that it had just been 'one of those things' and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. If it was just a random occurrence then there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening again, and Dean would never accept that as true.
Sam emerged from the bathroom ready for bed the instant Dean hung up the phone, almost as though he had been waiting for the conversation to be over before feeling safe to come back in the room.
"Bobby have anything interesting for us?" he asked, scrambling into bed.
Dean shook his head no. He was suddenly ridiculously tired, but he was still conversed in grave dirt and if he didn't shower now his muscles would be murder in the morning. Sam had no such concern and seemed to already be half asleep even while waiting for an answer to his question.
Dean tried to tell himself this was why he never mentioned to Sam the figure that had approached Bobby looking for them. Bobby was right, he had no way of tracking them now and there was no point both of them worrying about it. If Sam thought Dean was amending their plans in any way to accommodate an unspecified threat to him that may not even exist, then the balance they were still so tenuously trying to achieve would be lost.
Dean showered quickly, and when he emerged Sam was unable to ask any more questions because he was already fast asleep, and feeling secure in his decision Dean collapsed wearily into his own bed, willing his now aching muscles to relax so he could get comfortable enough to join him in sleep.