Tipping the Scales
I suppose this is not really and epilogue, more unfinished business, but it doesn't really fit with what's been happening over the past 9 chapters so I'm treating it like a tag.
Thanks to everyone who is reading this, and thanks to those who reviewed and renewed my confidence when I felt this was getting away from me. Massive thanks to Heather03nmg for humouring me, and educating me in the ways of American kids TV when what was supposed to be a throwaway comment got a little bit out of control.
It took them three days to make it back to the school. Dean hadn't wanted to go, at least not yet. He had spent too many hours pounding those streets, had viewed it from every camera angle and it had done nothing but mock him with its silence. The pain was still too raw to venture back there, and they had another seven years to finish the job. But it was all he could do to talk Sam out of setting off there and then, so first light saw them back on the road and there would be no more lazy stops and detours, no more convincing Sam they should picnic in the fresh air, because this time they had a destination in mind.
Sam had had the computer out before Dean had really come to terms with what had just happened; the sudden shift in the mood of the room. They both knew what he would find but for some reason Sam felt the need to confirm it. As if having a face and a name were going to make him sleep better that night. Sam seemed entranced by her photo, but Dean couldn't get his mind past her age. Fifteen.
Sam was under the impression they could finish the job unseen. Dean figured he didn't want to have to meet the gazes of all those people that had helped them, that they had told this would never happen again. Dean wasn't sure how he planned on doing that since the last he'd heard they were still corpse-less and cursed object free.
"I found it." Sam whispered, and Dean really wished he hadn't, wished like he'd never wished since he'd found out Sam wanted to leave for Stanford that his brother hadn't been that smart. That eager to learn. Because the guilt really was unavoidable now.
"It was in her bear. Alison's bear. She carried it everywhere with her when she was alive, and McAlister had it in his hands when he hung himself. They found it… they found it at his feet when they discovered the body."
"And they left it in the school?" Dean wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Remember the upstairs classroom… with all the toys?" Dean just nodded. "God, I was so close. I stood there and… it was daylight and the kids would have been in the room. If I'd just called you and told you then you could have… I should have just called you."
"You tried." Dean suddenly realised something. "You had your phone in your hand when the spirit attacked. Was that..?"
"I was debating. I didn't know whether to wait until you got back… if I'd just…"
"Sam. You were gone, okay." And damn if just saying it didn't make that moment all the more horribly real. Like Sam sitting before him tired and drained wasn't enough of a reminder of that. "I walked in that motel room and you were gone. If you had somehow got a message to me before I got back I can't guarantee that it would have made any difference. Because you weren't there, and nothing else mattered outside of that fact." In all honesty Dean had not once stopped to consider McAlister since this whole nightmare had begun. Sam's absence had wiped any other fact from his mind.
If Dean had been aiming to lessen Sam's guilt it didn't work. Dean could tell a lot of Sam's focus was not on what had been done to himself, he didn't want to have to think about that, but on the effect that had on those around him. Especially on Dean. He was telling Dean what had happened less to ease his own demons, but because the full story might ease Dean's. And this was just one more consequence of that. A casualty of Dean's devotion to him.
The bear had been in the school for the last 100 years, he doubted it was going anywhere, and with this new death the cycle for this year was complete. As long as they salted and burnt it before November 2014 they would avoid another death. May and they would prevent any further attacks. There was still too much he felt they needed to deal with here before they turned their attentions to anything else.
He wanted to deal and move on, not give Sam any excuse to sweep what had happened aside; he was still shaky, he could barely walk, and his current appetite combined with the amount of body mass he had lost was not conductive to their recovery. But it was muscle and not weight that had left him. Dean hated to admit it but he couldn't deny Kane had monitored his brother's health. Sam's ankle was sprained because he'd tried to escape, but Kane had tended to the damage he'd inflicted and the wounds were clean. And he couldn't help but wonder with a pang what Kane had said to be able to get Sam to eat when Dean could not. Not that Sam didn't eat, but it was entirely on his own terms, if and when he felt like it. Dean wondered at times if anything he said made any difference to Sam's desires at all.
"Dean please." He'd been unsure at one point if Sam would show interest in anything that wasn't pointed out to him, so he couldn't ignore the beseeching look on his face. And he couldn't deny that Sam had always shown a much higher degree of interest in this case than he had. Even when they'd both known Kane was in town, even after the merchant had visited him that night, Sam had been determined to see it through.
"There might be someone else in the area, or any time anyone passes through in the future…" Dean attempted. He was surprised that Sam felt able to return there knowing what had happened the last time.
"No, can we just…" he sighed. He had admitted to more confusing thoughts than this over the last couple of nights, he didn't understand why this one should be so hard. "I just, I need to know I can do this, okay. It was our first hunt. That salt and burn didn't count, and…"
"I told you you had nothing to prove…"
"I wasn't trying to prove anything to you. But I needed to know. It's just… everything was getting out of hand and it just seemed important somehow to do this. I needed to know everything wasn't always going to be about what happened that night. About the accident or Kane. It had been the focus of everything for so long I just… I can't have that be the reason we don't go back. You get that right? It's not just me being crazy?"
"Well I wouldn't go that far." But Dean got it. He didn't want to go, but Sam was right. He didn't want Kane to be the reason they didn't. He wanted to believe it was over. He wanted Sam to believe it was over. And perhaps Sam was right about that too. It wasn't about throwing themselves back into their usual routine as a way of repressing what had happened, but as a way of showing themselves that they could still do it. That this didn't have to define them or how they approached everything from this point on.
But they would not leave until morning, and since it made no difference to the spirit whether they did this within the next week or the next year, they would not rush into it to the determent of other things. So it took them three days to get back.
The first day was a nightmare because Sam was antsy and despondent, and Dean marvelled at his ability to both fidget and sit unnaturally still, clearly alternating between the need to break out and do something and lamenting the fact that he hadn't done it already.
By the second day he'd calmed down, or maybe just absorbed the guilt of this death where it could fester with the rest of the guilt he carried around. But for whatever reason it was no-longer manifesting itself physically.
With only one of them fit to drive they needed to break regularly and stop over night, and they seemed to slip without question into their old routine. Sam seemed determined not to let Kane's influence have any lingering effect, and maybe having talked events through with Dean this time instead of keeping them in had lightened the burden somehow. That and the fact they now had something pro-active to work towards. He could prove he could do something right. So Dean didn't need to raise the issue himself, and he didn't comment on it when Sam woke that second day wanting to go for breakfast – he wasn't sure how long it would take before either of them was willing to make a solo run to fetch it.
Dean could tell that he was warring with his instincts, that he didn't really want the food just wanted to want it. Wanted to not have to need it, to be back to that stage where he didn't have to monitor what he ate; or carry out his exercise routine, the majority of which would still have to wait a little longer. Sam was right about another thing; Dean could barely remember a time when they didn't have to do it, but in a weird way it gave their days structure.
The third day was remarkably relaxing given the circumstances. They had pushed over the past two days to cover the distance, so some creative timekeeping was required to ensure they didn't arrive in town before dark. He was aware of the need to go back, but Dean would not spend more time there than was necessary. The idea of killing time milling around those too familiar streets waiting until it was safe to do a little breaking and entering didn't bear contemplating.
Six days away from Kane and Sam was less notable in his hovering. That didn't mean Dean was going to let him out of his sight any time soon, not that Sam had cottoned on to this fact yet. Because while Dean might have been able to keep Sam safely in the corner of his vision the entire time he was collecting supplied in the giant superstore he selected as a time consuming aid, Sam looked up after having been engrossed in the book department for close to half an hour to realise Dean was no longer within reaching out and grasping distance, and was close to a full scale panic attack before he caught sight of Dean waving madly at him from the checkouts.
He might still have been limping slightly but he covered the distance to Dean's side with impressive speed, and hung close for the remainder of the trip. Dean had been torn between letting Sam know he was moving on or monitoring him from afar, but Sam had been pottering happily through the books and he hadn't wanted to disturb him. While his attention had been focused on something so Sam he hadn't wanted to draw it back to the reason he no longer liked the idea of being alone. To point out that for their first time in almost a week Sam hadn't noticed that he was. It wasn't that he minded Sam hanging close, it made his own need easier to achieve, but he wanted Sam to feel safe enough with him not to need it. The last time around his dependence on Dean had been the extension of a physical need, and while it had manifested itself emotionally at times knowing where it came from and how to fix it had made it easier to cope with. While building up his physique would be necessary and therapeutic, time and experience would be the only cure this time around.
They pulled into town long after night had fallen. The drive to the right place was automatic; Dean had memorised the entire layout of this place and it would be a long time before he would be able to forget it. They parked a safe distance and carefully made their way over to the building.
"What's with the bag?" Sam questioned. Dean was ducking in and out of shadows in a way he could not keep up with as long as he had the limp, but he was leaning against the wall to help him move so Sam figured that would have to do.
"Supplies." Dean replied evasively.
"For..?" They were breaking in to get the bear out; they would not be burning it in the school. Sam could understand the need for a bag, which was why he was carrying one – he was not keen on the idea of carrying the bear in his arms either – but he couldn't understand why Dean's bag was so full and lumpy.
Dean stood guard while Sam pried open a window and they slipped inside. Sam exhaled quietly beside him.
"Can you still feel it?" he asked.
"No." He smiled ruefully that they had both let their relief at that fact show.
The classroom was easily enough to find, and even though he was sure it was true Sam couldn't make the bear look evil. Decrepit and worn yes, but not the key behind so many deaths. It sat innocently on the shelf, head resting on the shoulder of the same neon clown toy.
Dean was obviously thinking along the same lines if the fact he asked twice if Sam was sure it was the right one was anything to go by. But he finally lifted it tentatively from the shelf and dropped it into the bag Sam was holding ready to receive it.
"You wanna burn this too?" Dean asked cheerily, holding the clown doll out in Sam's face, matching its insane expression.
Dean had to admit he looked tempted, so he gave it another little waggle just to be sure.
"Well… they are kept right alone side each other. Who knows what kind of transference might have taken place over the years…" Sam mused reasonably, holding the bag back open for Dean to lob it in.
"What about the doll?" Dean asked, indicating to the porcelain creature that had sat at the bears other side this time.
"What about it?" Sam asked absently, already fastening the bag back up again.
"You don't think it might be tainted too?" Dean smiled.
"No, I think it's good." Sam responded innocently, avoiding his brother's eye, but Dean was already striding away from him and examining the remaining toys on the shelf.
"Oh no way." He exclaimed in disgust, drawing a stuffed dog off the shelf and regarding it with more venom than he had the cursed bear. "Get the bag open."
"What?" Sam asked, mildly alarmed by the sudden seriousness of his brother's expression.
"Dollar. Richie Rich. Ringing any bells? Seriously. As if this has any place in a school. If anything needs to burn it…"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Richie Rich." Dean was staring at Sam as though he was insane now. "Prissy little rich kid. Flashing his money around. Buying his way into solving crime. What kind of message is that to give kids? All you need to be a hero is a big wad of cash and a…"
Sam had started to laugh but broke off at the serious expression on Dean's face. "For god's sake it's a toy Dean. Put it back." He said dismissively, but Dean continued to hold the dog at arms length waiting for Sam to take it.
"Dean. We can't just… okay, fine." He broke off as the bag was snatched from his hand and the toy shoved unceremoniously inside it. "It's just a…"
"We're not allowed to burn something that encourages children that money is the key to success and happiness, but it's okay to burn a clown on the basis that you're a wuss?
"Fine then, leave the…"
"No. They're coming with us."
"You're kinda frightening when you're like this, you know that right?" Sam responded.
But Dean wasn't listening. Instead he seemed to be having a bad reaction to the sight of a Thunderbird 2 model and was adding it to the bag, fixing Sam with a glare that was just daring him to try and stop him.
"What can you possibly have against Captain Planet?" Sam asked incredulously as Dean went in to claim another victim, "I used to love that guy."
"Exactly." Dean commented darkly, "If you had a little brother that was obsessed with littering and made you play at cleaning up the environment for two hours straight you'd be burning him too. That guys got a lot to answer for."
"I was just trying to teach you to be environmentally aware, that's all." Sam uttered in a long suffering voice.
Dean was standing back now, admiring his handy work.
"You happy now?" Sam asked tentatively, "You think maybe we could go before…"
"Go? We can't just go!" But Dean was smiling at him now and striding over to the bag he had carted in with him. "We can't just sneak in in the middle of the night and steal toys from children. What kind of monster are you?"
"What! I wasn't the one that just…" he fell silent as a Judge Dredd action figure emerged from the bag in Dean's hands. "Seriously!"
"Yeah. Why not. That lawgiver, man. And a motorbike with mounted side cannons? It's the perfect choice. What's not to love?" he replied, settling Dredd in pride of place at the centre of the shelf.
Dredd was followed by a replacement bear with a bright red bow, a particularly cowardly looking Scooby Doo and, Sam shook his head in bemusement, Airhostess Barbie.
"Richie Rich we feel sets a bad example, but you've got nothing against Airhostess Barbie."
"World needs those airhostesses." Dean answered with a grin.
"You don't even like to fly!"
"I'm sure they must have other… qualities I can appreciate."
"We're in a preschool Dean… that's just wrong."
"Oh lighten up Dr Feelgood" Dean griped good-naturedly, shoving an incredibly hairy squidgy mass – Sam assumed it was supposed to be in the form of a dog – into Sam's arms and striding away to position Barbie where she could best admire Action Man's abs.
Sam just smiled at Dean's enthusiasm as he carried on admiring his handiwork like a demented Father Christmas. It had honestly never occurred to him to replace the bear they would be burning, when it had clearly been loved.
"I can't believe you did this." Sam said watching him, part of him not believing it hadn't occurred to him that Dean would go to these lengths. "When did you even find the time to get all these?"
"I got them today, during that time warp when you had your head in a book. I was only gonna replace the bear, but there was a sale on and… maybe I got a bit carried away." He examined his hoard slightly guiltily.
"Well… they were gonna come in in the morning and…"
"Oh, you're bad to the bone." Sam whispered, smiling to himself at Dean's obvious enthusiasm, but as he reached to place his dog on the shelf Dean's expression changed to one of hurt.
"Hey. What are you doing? That one was for you." He said, looking affronted.
"You're way too cheerful." Sam shook his head, taking the dog back before it was flung at him. "Does the prospect of burning something always have this effect on you? Because perhaps that money would have been better spent on therapy…" he trailed off examining the dog in his hands. It would easily have been the size of a small child, and he doubted it would have fit on the toy shelf, but he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do with it.
"Belated birthday present." Dean muttered, avoiding his eyes. "Think of it as a substitute for…" he shrugged, "you know."
Sam just watched him finish off, shaking his head, not even realising that he was subconsciously hugging his new toy tight to his chest, face buried in its fur, until Dean's smirking pointed it out to him. But it was the easiest way to hold it so he ignored his brother and hobbled out of the room. Dean had been the one to fill it – he could take the bag.
They made it back downstairs and out of the window without incident, but one step away from the building and Sam had to throw himself back against the wall to avoid a set of sweeping headlights.
"This way." Dean whispered, taking his arm and leading around to the back of the building away from the sound of slamming car doors. He maintained his hold on Sam's arm as he rushed them across the school yard to the railings at the side of the property, wincing as Sam cursed and hopped, but they needed to keep up the pace to get back to the shadows before whoever had just arrived had time to turn the corner.
"Okay?" he asked as they lent against the railings to get their breaths back.
"Yeah, but we should keep moving." Sam replied, eyeing the fence with trepidation.
Dean threw the bag over and easily managed to scramble up after it, shifting to be careful not to impale himself on the spikes on the top of the railings, dropping safely to the other side.
Sam let out a long suffering sigh in anticipation of the pain, tucked his cuddly toy under his arm, and scrambled up after his brother. It was easier getting up than he'd expected, but on the slide over he was thrown slightly off balance and dropping to the ground he instinctively landed on his bad ankle.
He managed to stop himself crying out, barely, but his leg immediately gave way and he went down hard, or at least, he'd expected to. Dean had seen his brother falter and had instinctively reached for him, so when Sam opened his eyes it was to discover he was not face down in the grass like he'd expected, but instead his weight was being fully supported for him, and his cheek was pressed tightly against his brother's chest.
It took a moment to acclimatise to this new position, but apparently it was a moment too long.
"You wanna help me out here?" Dean grunted, trying valiantly to keep them both upright while Sam contemplated what had just happened.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. Thanks for that." He had just managed to get his good foot back on the floor and was in the process of retaking his own weight when a bright light was shone in his eyes and he instinctively buried his head back in Dean's chest to avoid it.
"Principle Wilson." Sam was suddenly hurled upright at an alarming speed. "Good to see you again.
"Mr er… Dean wasn't it?"
"Yes, yes. And you remember my… er.. brother..." Dean would have given anything for Sam not to have been still blinking in confusion and holding up a giant stuffed toy as though it offered some kind of protection from the light.
"What are you...?"
"Just out for a stroll." Dean said airily, collecting Sam by the arm again and attempting to whisk him away before he could open his mouth and make conversation. "Nice town. Great school. Still thinking about it." he called over his shoulder as he steered Sam away, spinning him forcibly back round again when he attempted to turn and offer his own explanation.
"Well, that's just great." Dean muttered darkly, throwing his bag of evil toys heavily into the back of the Impala and slamming the door shut behind it.
"Sorry." Sam offered, settling in the passenger seat with his new dog on his knee, then thinking better of it – not quite sure how annoyed Dean was – he discretely leaned over and placed it in the back seat too.
"You okay?" Dean threw out, as though suddenly remembering what he had been going to ask before the Principle had interrupted them.
"Yeah, it's getting better. Just took me by surprise a little bit, that's all."
"What do you think he was doing, prowling around so late at night anyway?"
"I don't know. He said security was tighter after the attack. Maybe we're not as stealthy as we think." Sam shrugged. They had left the town behind them; they didn't need to worry about that now.
Dean waited until they were a considerable distance away before pulling the car off the road. The area was deserted; they had passed no other traffic all night and no lights could be seen in the distance, just miles of endless boring scrubland. The perfect place for a bonfire.
They set too in silence, the familiar rhythm of what needed to be done, Sam retrieving the bag from the car while Dean collected a shovel, salt and gas from the trunk. Dean led the way to a suitable looking patch, not to far away from the car because Sam was limping more noticeably now after his near fall, not that he would say anything about it, but far enough away that they might be slightly concealed from anyone passing on the road and not looking too closely.
Dean dug a small hole ready to retrieve their offerings, bitching that Sam had wounded his ankle just in time to avoid further digging.
"Well, if you hadn't got so carried away you wouldn't need to dig such a big hole." Sam pointed out diplomatically, opening up the bag and pouring its contents unceremoniously into the pit Dean had dug. They landed in a tangle of arms and legs, part of a cape showing from under Dollar's ear, the oversized clown's head leering up at them from its position sprawled across the cursed bear's stomach. "Well that's just creepy." Sam commented, sprinkling salt over their mass grave.
"You wanna do the honours?" Dean asked, holding out a book of stolen motel matches.
"Oh please, you've been looking forwards to this all day. Just light her up."
The fire was quick to take hold, and the fresh night air was soon overcome by the scent of burning foam and plastic. Coughing they instinctively took a step back. He had wanted to return to their routine, but Sam couldn't say he hadn't missed the usual assortment of funky smells that followed them through life. Even so they stayed until the fire had burned itself out; checking to make sure the bear had been thoroughly destroyed even if the wing of Thunderbird 2 was protruding from the rubble.
"You think that's really it?" Sam asked as they filled the hole back in, burying the charred remains.
"It seems likely. But there's no way of knowing for sure. Not unless we come back in seven years and see if the attacks have started up again."
Sam nodded wearily. Neither of them wanted to come back here.
Dean stretched with a groan, throwing the shovel over his shoulder and striding away from the burial site. Sam retrieved the discarded bag and gas can and scampered after. He couldn't explain why, but he felt strangely lighter for having got that done. They hadn't been able to save that girl, and Sam would avoid looking to see how many other attacks had occurred between that last one and his own, but they could be reasonably confident there would not be another. The pay off for their actions might be seven years in the future, but they would come, and that counted for everything.
Dean was already waiting in the car by the time he'd closed up the trunk, and his dog had somehow made it back onto the front seat.
"You want to call it a night? Find somewhere to turn in?" he asked, settling himself down under the soft toy as the engine roared to life.
"No, I'm good to drive a while longer if you are." Dean replied, and he really did look wide awake, as though the act of theft and vandalism had perked him up somewhat.
"Sure," Sam smiled, snuggling down for the ride. He turned the dog over in his arms to look at it, not quite able to account for it but the simple act of being able to cling to anything at all, especially something that was warm and soft but not living, something he couldn't taint… He might be 24 but it was more comforting than it should have been.
"Thank you." He murmured, catching Dean in that brief moment of silence before he turned the music on. "For…" he indicated to the dog but they both knew he was meaning the thing it represented. Dean's willingness to help Sam deal, to be there for him in whatever form Sam needed, whenever he needed, for however long.
"Yeah, just try not to let this one moult all over my seats okay."
Sam nodded, trying to stifle a yawn.
"You gonna sleep?" Dean questioned, hand pausing on its way to the radio.
"I can sleep with it on." Sam assured him. "Wake me if you get bored. Or if you want to stop."
Dean nodded, but knew he would never wake him. It was a long time since they had driven through the night but he was highly caffeinated and the road was empty before him, and he pressed his foot down on the accelerator, basking in the familiar rumble of home that surrounded him. He had classic rock screaming out of the speakers, the open road, and he was surrounded by the scent and sound of home. And most importantly he had Sam in the passenger seat. Safe and alive and looking impossibly young under his too long hair with his soft toy pulled close for warmth.
The smell of dirt and smoke still clung loosely to his clothes; the familiar sign of a job well done. Their first one in six months that they had found, worked and solved alone. And Sam was right; it was a good feeling. And Kane had not taken that away from them.
They still had a way to go. He couldn't claim his paranoid hovering hadn't been recurring of late, and Sam once again had weight and strength to regain, but it was treading a familiar path. The route had already been painstakingly cleared. The time and effort had been put in once, now all they had to do was follow their own breadcrumb trail once more. They already knew the destination was achievable. They had both taken a battering, but if there was one thing the past months had taught him it was his brother had a strong will to survive. Yes Kane was still out there, and it was possible they were yet to see the last of him, but Sam assured him he no-longer posed the threat he once had. And he wouldn't lie this time.
Kane had stolen Sam's sense of security. Warped the idea of what safety meant by adding himself to that equation. Sam was mending but Dean didn't doubt he still felt lost. But if what Sam had said that night was true, that his sense of safety was Dean, was knowing that Dean would never not be there, never not strive to help, never rest while Sam was left floundering in the dark… If all it took for Sam to regain his calm was Dean's presence in the next seat, the next bed, the same room, then they were not going to have a problem.
Pressing his foot down harder and giving in to the responding roar of power Dean smiled. They were going to be just fine.