Let it Go
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I would love to see them in a third season!
A/N: If you're looking for a story with a lot of mystery and twists like I normally write, don't read this one. If you want to explore both Sam and Dean's inner demons and follow them through an emotional journey, then by all means, give this one a shot. I'll warn you right up front that there isn't really a gig in this story and Kristine plays a major role. She, too, has her demons to battle. I first introduced her in Breakdown and The Hunt, but you'll learn much more about her here and get a little more insight into why Dean likes her.
I couldn't have written this without Susan's help. She's great to bounce ideas of off and her insights as a therapist are invaluable. Her encouragement is truly intoxicating! I also want to thank Kelli who has been in my corner for over a decade. We met on the 'Net and a better friend couldn't be found.
This is a bit different than anything I've written before and I'm really curious about what you'll think. By all means, review!!!
Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero - Marc Brown
Dean Winchester had a six pack of beer in one hand and a bag of junk food in the other as he somehow managed to get the motel room door opened. His younger brother was lounging on his bed, ready to watch a pay per view movie when he'd left half an hour ago, but now he was sleeping with his arms wrapped around his pillow.
Sam wasn't getting much sleep these days; not since forcing himself to kill Madison. He had finally moved past Jessica's death and had found a woman he felt enough of a connection with to sleep with her, but nothing was ever easy for the Winchesters. In the cruelest twist of fate, she had been turned into a werewolf only a month before meeting Sam. She thought the attack was an average mugging and had no idea that she'd been turned into a monster. Once she understood, she realized she had to be killed. She didn't want to hurt anyone else and she asked that Sam to be the one to kill her.
Dean would have done it for him, he offered to do it, but Sam insisted. And now, just like after Jessica died, there were nightmares. Any progress Sam had made was reversed when he was forced to pull the trigger just a few weeks ago.
Sitting on the edge of his own bed, Dean watched his brother. Things had just started to improve for them when Madison came along; the pain of their father's death was fading and they'd begun to deal with the secret he left them with. Not perfect, their relationship was, nonetheless, strong and they trusted each other implicitly.
Sam shifted and moaned quietly. Dean wanted to smooth his hair and whisper that everything was okay, but he knew that it wasn't. Nothing was okay and he wasn't sure it ever would be again. He was worried about his brother and now it wasn't just because of the secret their father shared just before he died. Now Dean was afraid the guilt he knew Sam felt would overwhelm him. The loss of Jessica nearly destroyed Sam and Dean wasn't sure he would be able to survive this.
Sam always felt each loss was a failure, but after finding out that their father thought he might turn evil, he was intent on saving as many people as he could. He'd gotten it into his head that the more people he rescued, the more chance he had of changing his destiny. Dean knew that Sam felt he should have been able to save Madison and for him to be the one to kill her….
Sighing, Dean got up and put the beer into the small refrigerator, then flipped off the television before going into the bathroom. Sam was writhing and talking in his sleep when Dean came back into the room. Before he could react, Sam bolted up, calling his brother's name.
"Right here," Dean said quickly as he sat on the edge of his own bed.
Sam glanced at him for reassurance and then looked away, running a hand through his hair.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Don't," he said looking back at his brother pleadingly. "Just don't."
"Fine." Dean settled back in his own bed, trying to appear unconcerned while keeping an eye on Sam. Dean knew that Sam needed time to process things on his own; he would come to him when he was ready to talk.
"You feel like watching that movie?" Sam asked quietly.
"Yeah, sure. The stuff I got is on the table; beer's in the fridge."
"Sorry I fell asleep on you," Sam said as he padded across the room.
"It's okay," Dean called as Sam walked into the bathroom.
Sam closed the bathroom door, almost missing his brother's words. He knew Dean was worried; he remembered what it was like when they first reunited and he was plagued with nightmares. Dean was as supportive as he knew how to be, but Sam was resistant and ended up in a very bad place. At least this time the dreams weren't as frequent or as vivid. He didn't like that he sometimes dreamed of Jessica's death again, but considering what happened with Madison, it made a strange kind of sense.
He wasn't really ready to talk to Dean about the dreams, and there was really nothing to say anyway. There was something else he needed to bring up though, but had been putting off because he knew Dean wouldn't like it.
Sam left the bathroom a few minutes later and stopped at the refrigerator. He opted for a soft drink instead of a beer, but grabbed one for Dean. Settled with the junk food split between them, Dean turned on the movie. When it was over, Sam considered bringing up what he had to tell him, but it was getting late and he decided the morning would be soon enough.
The brothers had no place they needed to be, so they had decided to spend a few days in Tulsa. They'd been in a nearby town working a job, but once they were done, it was clear Sam needed to take some time off. He carried his weight, but his heart wasn't in it and every decision seemed like torture. After finishing the job, they went to the next city where they could be anonymous and Sam could get his head together.
That had been almost a week ago and Dean was getting anxious to move on. It was never a good idea to stay anywhere for very long, especially now that they were wanted by the law. He didn't mind taking more time off, but he wanted to leave Tulsa. He planned to bring it up after breakfast that morning, but Sam had his own agenda.
"Hey, Dean?" He began after they finished breakfast in a diner near the motel.
"Yeah?" the older hunter glanced at him as he took a sip from a large coffee cup.
Sam knew Dean wouldn't like what he had to say and considered having the conversation in private, but decided that maybe his brother would be more cooperative if they weren't alone. He took a deep breath before beginning and his eyes didn't leave the table.
"I – uh – I want to go to California."
"I've been keeping in touch with Rebecca; just an email here and there. She went back to school after we helped her brother in St. Louis –"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I remember you told me that."
"She's graduating and asked me to come. I figured with what happened with – with Madison- and the dreams starting again…"
"Sam, if you want to go, we'll go."
Finally, he looked at his brother. "That's the thing. I, uh, I want to go alone."
He saw a flash of pain in Dean's eyes just before he put the mask in place. "Oh."
Sam continued quickly. "It's just – I need some time away from the hunt. Completely away."
"And that includes being away from me?"
"Yes. No," Sam looked at him. "No, not from you. But I need some time alone."
Dean nodded stiffly, staring at his coffee. "For how long?"
"A week? Two? The graduation is next weekend and I want to spend some time with Rebecca and just – I don't know. I want to hang out with people I went to school with for a while. Please try to understand."
"It's fine, Sam. When do you want to leave? I can drive you –"
"I have a bus ticket for tomorrow."
Dean looked at him, surprised, then busied himself with his coffee.
"Dean –" Sam stopped when the waitress stopped at the table with their bill. Once she was gone, he looked back to his brother. "Come on, man. It's just for a few days. It's not like I'm leaving for good."
"It's fine," Dean said again, concentrating on the coffee.
Frustrated and afraid he'd hurt his brother, Sam grabbed Dean's wrist. He glared at Sam, his eyes flashing in anger.
"Don't do that," Sam said, releasing Dean's wrist. "Don't shut me out."
Dean calmly folded his hands in front of him and looked at Sam. "Fine, Sam. You want to go back to California? Go. You want to take a bus? Even better. Good for you. What do you want from me?"
Sam was hurt, but he knew Dean hadn't meant what he said in anger. His leaving for college was a sore spot between them; it was something that wounded Dean and he still refused to talk about it. Sam had no intention of staying in Palo Alto, though he knew if he did return to school at some point, Dean would support him. But he also knew that Dean hated to be alone, which is one reason Sam had put off telling him what he was planning.
"I'm coming back, Dean." Sam looked into his brother's eyes. "I just need a few days to myself and I want to see some old friends."
"How long have you been planning this?" Dean asked quietly.
"Not long," Sam answered truthfully. "I've been afraid to tell you."
Dean seemed to shrink in front of him, making Sam feel worse than he already did.
"I don't want you to be afraid to talk to me," Dean almost whispered.
The honesty surprised Sam. It wasn't that Dean frequently lied to him, but he was convinced that his brother wouldn't let him behind the walls he'd built over the years if he hadn't been there when some of them went up.
"I wasn't afraid to talk to you," Sam countered. "I was afraid to hurt you. As much as I need this, I didn't want to –"
Dean held up a hand. "It's okay. Let's get out of here."
Sam watched as Dean grabbed the bill and walked to the cash register near the front of the café. He hesitated a moment, then followed him outside.
"Dean!" Sam exclaimed, catching up to his brother. "Wait!"
His brother got to the Impala and turned around to face him. "I said it was okay, Sam."
"I can see the look in your eyes, man. You may say it's okay, but I can see that it isn't. Dean, I swear to you that I'm coming back."
"I know you are."
"I know you don't like being alone, but –"
"That isn't it, either."
Sam looked at him, confused. "I don't understand."
Dean leaned against the driver's side door and looked away, trying to organize his thoughts.
"I'm worried about you," he said quietly.
"You're afraid if I go off on my own, I'll go dark side," Sam said sadly.
"I've told you before, Sam, you're not going to turn evil."
"Well… I can take care of myself for a couple of weeks."
"I know that. But –"
"But what, Dean?"
"What about the dreams? What if you have one on the bus? It's got to be a two day trip out to California. And once you get there? I've seen how they affect you; I've sat up with you for half the night after you've had one –"
"I know you have and I appreciate it. Some days –" Sam looked away for a moment. When he turned back to Dean, he had tears in his eyes. "Some days I don't know what I'd do without my big brother. But, Dean, I need to do this."
"I know ya do," Dean sighed. "You'll call?"
"Of course. You, too."
"Sure." Dean pushed away from the car. "You need anything before you go?"
Sam shook his head and grinned. "No. But you're going to need shampoo and toothpaste."
"What are you going to do?" Sam asked the next morning as they both packed.
Dean shrugged. "I'm not sure. I'll probably look for a gig."
Sam looked at him sharply. He knew his brother had a tendency to be reckless and he didn't like the idea of him on a hunt alone.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I'm not going to sit around for a couple of weeks. I'll stick to simple hauntings or something."
Sam didn't feel any better. "Just be careful. And if you're going to be hunting, I want to talk to you every day. I want a scheduled call so if something happens –"
"I mean it."
Dean sighed, pretending to be irritated even though he was actually relieved.
Neither one felt like breakfast, so after making a stop for coffee, the brothers headed to the bus station. Dean was quiet and Sam could see his jaw was set. He didn't try to lighten the mood; Sam knew it wouldn't work and didn't want to make things worse. He knew he was doing the right thing for himself, but still worried for his brother.
Dean had once called him selfish, and Sam thought that might be true, but he also realized that if he didn't take care of himself he would be of no use to anyone. Dean hadn't recognized that yet and Sam was afraid that one day his brother would crack in a way that no one could fix.
They sat in the car for several minutes after Dean parked in front of the bus station.
Finally, Sam sighed. "This isn't like last time, Dean."
The muscle in Dean's jaw worked as he struggled to keep his emotions in check. "I know, but it feels like it."
"You'll come to pick me up in a couple of weeks?"
Dean nodded, still staring out of the windshield.
"You know, I was thinking," Sam began cautiously.
"Maybe you should head to North Carolina."
Sam saw Dean's eyes dart toward him for a moment. "Maybe."
"I can take a bus from Palo Alto to meet you there –"
"We'll talk about that later. I don't even know that's what I'll do."
"Okay." Sam looked toward the bus station. "I should go."
"Do you want me to come inside with you?"
"I think that might be harder."
Dean nodded. He hesitated a moment, then turned to his brother. "I do understand why you have to do this."
"Thanks." Sam got out of the car and pulled his duffle bag from the back seat. "Stay out of trouble."
Dean smiled and Sam was pretty sure it was genuine. "Why start now?"
Sam tapped the car door. "I'll call you later."
Dean nodded and called Sam's name as he turned away.
"I hope you find what you're looking for."
Sam was surprised by his brother's words. "Thanks, Dean."
Dean watched as Sam walked away. He waited until the door closed behind him before starting the engine and backing out of the parking spot. He had no idea where he was headed, but he chose a generally eastern direction which would take him to North Carolina, if that's where he decided to go.
Soon after Sam left for Stanford originally, Dean and John handled a job in Tennessee and were on their way to South Carolina where there were rumors of a potential gig. They were sticking to the back roads, not in any particular hurry because Dean had taken a bit of a beating and was in need of a few days of rest before getting back to work.
They came across a woman stranded on the side of the road outside of a small town in North Carolina and stopped to offer assistance. John was able to get her car started and they followed her to the garage in town. She insisted on buying them dinner for helping her and, to Dean's surprise, John accepted.
Julia Ryan took them to the bar and grill that she owned and where her daughter, Kristine, was a bartender and pseudo assistant manager while attending classes at the university in nearby Asheville. She wasn't the usual leggy blonde that attracted Dean, but she was pretty, had a great smile and could shoot almost as much tequila as he could. He felt strangely comfortable with her from the beginning.
As they talked one night, Dean and Kristine somehow discovered a connection between their families. Her sister and nephew were killed by the same thing that was responsible for his mother's death and, like his father, her brother-in-law became a hunter. Once they realized their lives were linked via the yellow-eyed demon, they knew they could talk freely with one another.
John recognized the attraction his son had for Kristine and talked him into staying around for a few days while he went off to investigate another job. It surprised Dean, but he was glad to have a little more time to spend with her. It wasn't long after he left to help his father and their friend, Caleb, with a hunt that the demon attacked again. This time it went after Kristine's mother and her brother-in-law was injured trying to save her. He was sentenced to life in a wheelchair.
Over the next couple of years, Dean spent time with Kristine every chance he got. After John disappeared and he reconciled with Sam, it was Kristine and Patrick who helped end the nightmares Sam was having about Jessica's death. Kristine changed her business major to psychology after her mother's death and in addition to her work in an Asheville clinic, she turned her mother's estate into a safe house for hunters. They came to rest and heal from physical, as well as mental, injuries.
Kristine's life was interrupted once again when Patrick was possessed by a demon. Even though she used every covert trick she knew to hide from him, Patrick found her and was made to torture her. She survived only because Sam and Dean found her in time. While possessed, Patrick's body had been forced to do things it was no longer physically able to do and he was not able to survive the damage.
If Dean had gotten on the interstate, he could have been at Kristine's in less than fourteen hours, but he still wouldn't admit to himself that's where he was going. He meandered, playing classic rock music loud and stayed pointed generally east, ending up in Mountain Home, Arkansas late that afternoon. It was a little early to start drinking, but he saw the bar before he found a restaurant. He wasn't very hungry, but he was thirsty, and figured even the sleaziest bars usually had peanuts.
He wasn't the only customer, but the place was far from full. The floor was scuffed wood, the tables were worn and it looked like the walls hadn't seen a fresh coat of paint in years. He walked past the generally older male customers and sat at the edge of the bar, ordering anything on tap. The bartender set the glass in front of him; Dean almost smiled to himself when he also set a bowl of peanuts within easy reach.
Dean used the mirror behind the bar to watch the room behind him. He saw the young woman walk through the door a few minutes later. She wasn't particularly attractive, but she was trying very hard. He wasn't sure the material she was wearing could be considered a skirt; it barely covered anything. He watched as she approached the bar and slid onto the stool next to him.
"Hey, Mandy," the bartender said as he approached her. "The usual?"
"Yeah, thanks." She turned to Dean and smiled. "You're new here."
"I guess I am."
"Can't imagine what would have brought here," she said as the bartender put a pink drink in front of her.
Dean looked at it with disdain and took a long draw from his beer.
"Are you just passing through?" she asked.
"How long will you be here?" she swung around on the stool and smiled at him seductively.
"Probably long enough for another beer."
"You could skip the beer."
Dean looked at her.
She smiled again and, as she stood up, she grabbed the collar of his worn leather jacket and pulled him from his stool. He tossed a few bills on the bar before following her outside where she led him to the back of the bar. There were no windows and nothing but trees around them.
"So what's your name?" she asked, leaning back against the wall.
"So why are you all the way over there?" she asked, resting the bottom of a high-heeled pump on the wall. "We both know what you came out here for."
Dean had spent an entire day by himself. He'd listened to loud music and tried not to think, but without Sam to distract him, he had nothing else to do but think. He felt raw inside. He missed his brother, he missed his father and he was angry about nothing in particular. He always tried so hard to control his emotions, especially around other people. Occasionally he removed the mask when Sam was around, but not very often, and never in front of anyone else. But he'd spent the day alone, worrying about his brother, and he needed a release.
Without thinking, Dean walked toward Mandy. He grabbed her by the shoulders and leaned forward to kiss her roughly. Feeling her respond, he moved his hands down her arms as she began to tug on his belt buckle. Things progressed quickly, but Dean suddenly pulled away from her.
"Hey!" she panted. "What the hell?"
"Sorry," Dean said, feeling sick. "I can't do this."
"What's your problem?" she demanded, gripping his arm.
Dean easily pulled away and headed to his car, buttoning his pants as he walked. He barely heard Mandy's tirade of insults as he struggled not to vomit. He was successful until he'd gone about five miles down the road when he was forced to pull over and empty the sparse contents of his stomach into the grass.
He was sitting back against the car when his cell phone started to ring. He assumed it was Sam and considered not answering it. He wasn't sure he could force himself to sound all right, but he knew not answering would only worry his brother..
"Hello?" He didn't look at the caller ID.
Dean pulled one knee up to his chest to rest his elbow on as he held the phone to his ear. He laid his head back and closed his eyes. "Hey, how's it going so far?"
"Okay. The bus isn't completely full and I managed a row to myself."
"Good; somewhere to put those long legs of yours."
Sam snorted. "Yeah. Where are you?"
"I don't know exactly."
"Where are you headed?"
"I don't know exactly."
"Yeah. I – uh – I just stopped for something to eat."
"Dean, you don't sound okay. Are you sure –"
"Sam, don't worry, okay? I'm fine. Really. What about you?
"I'm okay. I've been reading, mostly. Staring out the window. Thinking."
Dean felt himself immediately slip into big-brother mode. "Thinking about what?"
" Madison. Jess."
"Sam, don't do that to yourself. You're not responsible for what happened to either one of them."
"How can you say that, Dean? Madison – I – "
"You didn't turn her, Sam. You saved her from being something horrible."
"Maybe. But Dad's journal – was he really so pig-headed to think he was right when so many other hunters –"
Dean was in no mood for this conversation, but anything was better than thinking about what had just happened. "Sam, you've said all your life that Dad was pig-headed."
"Do you think I missed something? Some update or something in the journal?"
"I'm surprised you haven't memorized that journal yet. You didn't miss anything. If Dad thought, or even suspected, something else, you would have found it. Even Bobby said there's no way –"
"I know," Sam sighed.
"I'm sorry you had to do it, Sam. I am. I liked Madison, too. But she asked you to kill her because she didn't want to be a monster and she trusted you. You did her a favor, Sam."
"The bus is getting ready to pull out; I gotta go. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm sure. And you're okay, too, Sam. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yeah. I'll talk to you later."
"Take care of yourself."
"Go to Kristine's."
"I'll talk to you later."
Sam didn't like the way Dean sounded. He felt guilty for leaving him alone, but going to California was something he needed to do. He left almost two years ago; a couple of weeks after Jessica's funeral. He still kept in touch with some of his friends, but he hadn't been back. He used to think about returning to school often, it was like the light at the end of the tunnel, but school was the furthest thing from his mind these days.
He knew he hadn't loved Madison, but she was the first woman he slept with since Jessica died and that wasn't something Sam took lightly. He wasn't like his brother, who didn't even need to know a woman's name before having sex with her, and his attraction to Madison surprised him.
He slipped his phone into his pocket and reboarded the bus, settling into his seat and letting the soft vibrations lull him into a light sleep. It wasn't as comfortable as the Impala, and he was surprised at how much he actually missed the familiarity of that car, but the rest was still welcome.
Back in the car, Dean found a classic rock station and turned the radio up before getting back onto the road. Finally, too hungry to ignore it any longer, he stopped at a fast food restaurant in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He didn't trust himself to go into another bar and he didn't want to try to figure out what happened in the last one.
After forcing down part of a burger, Dean decided he would stop for the night. At 9:00 it was still relatively early, but he thought a bed and movie would keep his mind off of his brother. Of course, thinking about Sam isn't what he was really trying to avoid. There was a motel across the street with a vacancy sign flashing and he was in a room less than fifteen minutes later.
He paced for a few minutes, then took a shower. Still restless, he went to the vending machine for a cola, but decided what he really wanted was a beer. Remembering a gas station as he passed the town limits, Dean got into his car. He passed a bar on his way to the station, but drove past it with his jaw set. A six-pack later, he was asleep on top of the bedspread with a movie playing on television.
Sam jerked awake and it took a moment for him to figure out where he was. The remnant of a dream was on the edge of his memory, but he didn't clearly remember anything and he didn't want to think about it. The rest of the passengers seemed to still be asleep and Sam made his way quietly to the on-board restroom.
Back in his seat, he pulled out his cell phone. It was only 5:30, but Dean was probably at least at time zone ahead of him. He wanted to talk to his brother, to be reassured by his voice, but he would have to settle for text messaging if Dean was even awake.
He heard the familiar ringtone and reached for the phone, hoping he'd left it on the bedside table. He barely remembered plugging it into the charger, before his pity party started. His head wasn't exactly pounding, he'd only had six beers after all, but he'd felt better. It took him several moments to realize the call was actually a text message. Grunting, Dean sat up and turned on the light, wincing at the sudden brightness.
Hey, you awake?
Dean forced himself into alertness and responded to the message.
Dean sighed. He didn't particularly like text messaging, but Dean understood that was Sam's only option since he was on a bus; especially so early in the morning.
No. Where are you?
We should be stopping in a couple of hours. Can I call then?
When the phone rang later, Dean checked the caller ID display and, seeing it was Sam, he pulled to the side of the road and killed the engine.
"Hey," he answered, sounding more cheerful than he felt.
"Hey. Did I wake you earlier?"
"No," Dean lied. "Was it the same dream?"
"I don't really remember the dream, just the feeling."
"Yeah. I feel a little stupid though."
"For texting you before. I guess I'm just used to you being right next to me."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
"Maybe I made a mistake."
"Sam, I'll meet you if you want, but you seemed pretty sure about this yesterday."
He sighed. "I know."
"Nothing, I guess."
They were quiet for a moment.
"How I reacted when you said you wanted to leave."
"It's okay. Went better than I thought, actually," Sam laughed.
"Nice. So you want me to head your way?"
Sam took a deep breath. "No. Thanks, Dean."
"I got your back, okay?"
"I know you do. So, you okay? You're sounding a little rough."
"I made a pitstop last night before I found a motel."
"Spare me the details."
"Aw, Sam, I'm a gentleman. I don't kiss and tell."
A few new passengers got on the bus, but Sam was still alone in the back row. He pulled out a book and started to read, pointedly ignoring the young woman across from him. She smiled at him and twirled her long blonde hair around one finger. When she leaned forward, Sam turned away from her. He wasn't in the mood for companionship; especially that of a woman.
While pretending to read, Sam thought about the time he spent in Palo Alto. He missed his family, even his father who had issued an ultimatum when Sam announced he was going to school on a full scholarship. The fight was loud and, instead of being proud of his son, John told him if he left he could never come home. Despite the rocky start, Sam excelled at school. At first, he found it hard to make friends, but Rebecca changed that. They were in a study group together and ended up being made partners on a class project. She liked the shy young man that he was then and took him under her wing. Like everyone else though, she had no idea what his life before school had been like.
He'd been on the road with Dean for a few months when he got an email from her saying that her brother, another friend of Sam's, had been charged with the murder of his girlfriend. She and her brother, Zach, were spending a school break at their parents' home and Sam convinced Dean to go to St. Louis to help them. They weren't expecting it to turn into a job.
The murder Zach was accused of had actually been committed by a shapeshifter. When the creature impersonated Dean and attacked Rebecca, she, unfortunately had to learn things about Sam's life he'd wanted to keep from the people at Stanford. She and Zach ended up going back to school, keeping Sam's secret as they promised.
Now, several hours past the nightmare, Sam was again feeling positive about his decision to go to Rebecca's graduation. She'd been a good friend and he was happy for her success. He wanted to help celebrate her accomplishments, but his decision to go wasn't just about his friend. Madison's death brought back a lot of old feelings about Jessica; feelings he thought he'd gotten over. He was beginning to think that maybe he never would; at least not completely. He had planned to spend the rest of his life with her and when she was ripped from his life, it left a hole he still didn't know how to fill.
Being with Dean helped. Even though his brother didn't know how to fix the problem, Dean did what he had done Sam's whole life; he took care of him. Dean made sure Sam ate, slept and had clean clothes to wear. He looked out for him on the hunts and pulled him away from the edge more than once. When Sam sunk down so low he couldn't see the light above him, Dean took him to people he trusted to help him.
But no matter how much Sam needed and depended on his brother, it was important for him to go back to California on his own. Dean hadn't been a part of that life; he didn't understand the person Sam was then. He wasn't a demon-hunter, he didn't kill things. He was just Sam and that was something he'd never been with Dean.
Dean continued to drive. He ended up skipping breakfast and now it was well past time for lunch. After too much coffee, he was jumpy. The music he loved was doing nothing to soothe his nerves and, in frustration, he ended up turning off the radio. He rarely drove in silence. Even when Sam was asleep in the seat beside him, the music played softly.
Late in the afternoon he stopped for gas and bought a six pack of beer. He followed the signs to a county park, but since it was a weekday and raining softly, he had the place to himself. He carried the beer to a grove of trees, from where he could still see the Impala, and sat at a picnic bench. The seat was damp, but he barely noticed it as he cracked open the first beer.
He was well on his way with the second one when he got a text message from Sam.
Where are you?
You know where you're going.
No. Things okay?
Yeah. Thanks for earlier.
Dean took a long drink from the beer. Anytime.
I'll call later.
Dean slipped the phone back into his pocket and finished the second beer. He reached for a third, but stopped and rubbed his face instead. He felt so weak; he hated that he couldn't seem to take care of himself without Sam to concentrate on first. Maybe instead of another beer, what he needed was a hunt.
Sam got off the bus and tossed his laptop case over his shoulder. A few minutes later, with his duffle bag in hand, he looked for Rebecca. He heard someone calling his name and turned to see his friend rushing toward him. Her long blonde hair had been cut into a short, corporate-looking style that flattered her.
She drove him to the apartment that she and her brother shared and left him alone to get situated and cleaned up.
Once he was alone, Sam sat down on the couch and dialed Dean's number.
"Hey, Sam," Dean answered quickly. "Are you in Palo Alto?"
"Yeah, I'm at Rebecca and Zach's apartment. She's giving me some time to get cleaned up before we grab something to eat."
"Everything okay so far?"
"Yeah, fine. So where are you?"
"Still in Tennessee. I found a gig."
Sam clutched the phone tighter. "Dean –"
"Don't worry, it's nothing complicated. A haunted warehouse in some dinky little town."
"How'd you find it?"
"I opened a newspaper and there it was."
"Uh huh. What are you going to do?"
"See if I can find out who the ghost is, then see if I can find the bones. If not, I'll do a cleansing and call it good."
"Just be careful, okay? And keep in touch."
"Aw, you worried about me?" Dean asked lightly.
"Research isn't your favorite thing to do, Dean. Don't skip any steps."
"I mean it."
"I won't," Dean promised. "So, you really okay?"
"So far." Sam said honestly. "I haven't had any more nightmares."
"Good. You know, if you need anything –"
"I know, Dean. Thanks."
Even with a job to concentrate on, Dean wasn't himself. He didn't want to spend hours doing research; he wanted to kill something. He almost wished he would come across a vampire or some other creature that didn't require investigation.
After a day of getting nowhere, he was ready to unwind. He decided if he couldn't work out his aggressions on some monster, he'd just have to find some other way to do it. Trying not to think about his last foray into a bar, Dean found a slightly busier establishment in a nearby town. It was another redneck place with a lot of bikers, but Dean could fit the part. He ordered a beer and walked to the pool tables in the back of the room. An hour later he was up a couple hundred dollars and ready to move on to something else.
He scoped out the other customers, the female ones anyway, and set his sights on one in particular.
"Hi," he smiled, taking a stool next to her.
She returned the smile. "Hi. I saw you playing pool. Not bad."
"Thanks. How about I use some of my winnings to buy you a drink?"
Dean motioned for the bartender for two more beers.
"I'm Dean," he said with a grin.
They tapped their bottles together.
"I haven't seen you here before."
"I'm just passing through."
"Where are you headed?"
"Nowhere in particular. At least not for a while."
She twisted her brown hair around a finger and leaned forward, her already low-cut blouse revealing even more skin. Dean couldn't help but notice, though it wasn't like he tried to ignore it. As they continued to flirt, though, Dean became more uncomfortable. After another drink, it was all he could do not to bolt. He was almost grateful when his cell phone vibrated in his coat pocket.
"I gotta take this," he said, making a show of looking at the phone. "I'll be right back."
She smiled and ran her hand down his thigh. "I'll be here."
Dean slipped off the bar stool as he answered. "Hey."
"Dean? I can barely hear you."
"Hold on, I'm going somewhere quieter" Dean walked out of the bar and headed for his car. He had no intention of going back inside. "Sam?"
"Hey, where are you?"
"A bar. I've been researching all day and came up with nothing. What are you doing?"
"I'm at a party with Rebecca and Zach."
"It's a quiet party." Dean heard nothing but his brother's voice.
"I went outside. It was getting a little crazy."
"Says the party animal," Dean sat behind the wheel of his car.
"Whatever," Sam muttered. "So you want to give me some information about this job you're researching? Maybe I can help."
"You've got your own thing going on there. Don't worry about it."
"It's not like I've got something to do every second of the day," Sam said. "Just think about it."
"I will. Thanks. So what kind of party is this?"
"One of about 100 graduation parties planned for the weekend. Rebecca arranged for a lunch tomorrow with some of my other former classmates."
"Former classmates? You usually call them friends."
"That doesn't really apply to people you do nothing but lie to, does it?" Sam didn't sound angry. Dean thought he sounded resigned; almost defeated.
"Okay, what's going on?"
"I'm fine. Really. It's just weird, ya know? We walked around campus today and I remember everything, but it's like they weren't my memories. It's like my time here was a whole other life; a whole other person."
"Well, in a way it was. You're not Joe College anymore."
"Yeah, I guess not," Sam said quietly.
Dean hesitated. "Do you want to be?"
"No. At least not right now. Not until the demon is dead; or until we figure out what it wants from me."
"Sam, if it's something you want to do, don't put it off. Until may never come."
"That was pretty deep. How much have you had to drink?" Sam joked, wanting to end the conversation.
"I'd better get back in there. Give me a call tomorrow."
"I will," Dean promised. "Hey, Sam?"
"If you have a nightmare tonight –"
"Yeah, thanks, Dean."
He slipped the phone into his pocket and looked back toward the bar. A moment later, and without regret, Dean started his car and drove to the motel.
Back in his room, Dean couldn't fall asleep and he couldn't help but wonder what was going on with him and the two women who most recently crossed his path. It wasn't that he didn't have any interest; far from it. And it wasn't that he was thinking about Kristine; hell, sometimes thinking about Kristine made it better with the random women he picked up in bars.
It occurred to him at some point later that he was hungry and he realized he couldn't remember his last meal. He briefly considered going out to find something, even if it was from the vending machine, but instead, he rolled over and tried harder to get to sleep.
The next thing he knew, his eyes were open and there was sunlight streaming in through the gap between the thick curtains. He looked at his watch and saw it was almost noon. After a shower and dressing in fresh clothes, he got a pot of coffee going and while waiting for it, he called Sam.
"Hey," Sam answered, sounding tired.
"Sort of. The party ran pretty late."
"Did I wake you?"
No; I'm up. Find anything on your gig?"
"Not yet. I kinda just woke up."
Sam laughed. "Spare me the details."
"What? You have a dirty mind, Sam."
"So what are your plans for the day? You've got that lunch –"
"Yeah, that's in a couple of hours. I thought I might go to the cemetery today; maybe call Jessica's parents."
"Have you even talked to them since you left?"
"Maybe it's not such a good idea then."
"Maybe," Sam conceded.
"You going to the cemetery alone?"
"I think so."
"I'll be around if you need anything."
"Do you think it's a little pathetic?"
"Do I think what's pathetic?"
"That I depend on you so much."
"We're brothers, man. And we live weird lives. Besides, what happened with Jess? That's a huge thing to deal with."
Dean wasn't sure what else to say. He never thought Sam was overly dependant on him; just the opposite in fact. He was certain that Sam could get along without him quite easily. Sure, he was worried about Sam in California alone, but Dean never thought he would fall apart. In fact, it was him that seemed to be handling being alone badly.
"We spend almost twenty-four hours a day together, seven days a week," Dean continued. "To go from that to zero overnight is an adjustment."
"I guess you're right," Sam sighed. "So how are you adjusting?"
Dean was caught off guard. "All right. I miss having my trusty geekboy sidekick nearby, though."
Sam laughed. "Gee, thanks."
Dean drank coffee while going over the information he found the day before. He wished he had Sam's computer so that he wouldn't have to spend so much time in the library, but he was grateful that the small town at least had one that was adequate. As he looked over his notes, he couldn't help but think about how much neater Sam's research was. He was good out in the field, too, but Sam had a natural talent with research.
He learned to read at an early age and fell in love with books of all kinds. Dean sometimes watched him when he was reading for a hunt; it was almost like the words floated off the page and into his head. Dean sat back in the chair and closed his eyes for a moment. He wished Sam had been able to finish school. What they did was important, but it seemed like such a waste for him to be a college drop-out.
Dean stared out of the window, not really seeing anything. It surprised him that he felt that way; he'd been no happier about Sam going off to school than John had been, but he realized now that it wasn't because he begrudged Sam the education. He'd spent every day with Sam since he was born and the thought of him not being there every day was frightening. He poured another cup of coffee, laughing sadly at the irony. Being without Sam still scared him.
He went to the library again and tried to find news articles about accidents that happened at the warehouse, but everything seemed to be a dead end. The building had been owned by more than one company in the fifty years since it was built and it appeared to have a spotless history. He knew that was impossible; ghosts didn't haunt buildings where nothing happened. After thinking about that, he went back further to look for anything that might have happened before the warehouse was built. He had a few more leads, but a developing headache forced him to take a break.
The library was almost in the center of the small downtown. There was a drug store across the street and Dean went inside to buy a soda. He was leaning against the Impala, drinking it and enjoying some fresh air when his cell phone rang.
Dean was immediately on guard when he heard the tone of Sam's voice. "What's wrong?"
"I'm at the cemetery."
"Oh," Dean said quietly. "Have you been to the grave?"
"You don't have to do this," Dean said.
"Yeah, I do."
"She's not there."
"I know she isn't. And I know you took care of it – of her – but it's still her grave."
"Tell me what you see."
"Where are you? Tell me what's around."
"I'm still in the parking lot. I borrowed Rebecca's car; she offered to come with me, but understood that I needed to come alone. She said she puts fresh flowers on the grave once a month."
"That's nice of her."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, slightly taken aback by his brother's sensitivity.
"So, the parking lot. If I remember right, there are tree-lined paths that lead off in each direction."
"Maples," Sam said quietly.
"Oh. And Jess's grave is to the east?"
"There aren't any trees near her grave." Dean wasn't entirely sure that Sam was still talking to him, but he listened anyway. "The path curves around, past a fountain, then you leave the path to get to her. It's to the right."
"You ready to get out of the car?"
"Let's go," Dean said quietly into the phone.
Sam took the path that led east, past a small rose garden that he didn't remember, and on toward the fountain where he stopped and stared at the water as it flowed from tier to tier.
He'd almost forgotten he was still holding the phone. "Dean?"
"Where are you?"
"At the fountain."
"Yeah." He squared his shoulders as he looked toward Jessica's grave. "I'll call you later, okay?"
Sam walked slowly, but with a purpose, as he left the path. He stood in front of Jessica's grave, the marker just as he remembered it, then knelt down and ran his finger over the small picture to the left of her name.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I should have been here to protect you and I should have told you what was out there."
He sat, cross-legged, at the grave for almost half an hour as good memories flooded his mind. He didn't think he would ever meet anyone like her again, but he thought he was finally in a place where he could be happy that Jessica had been in his life at all. Now if he could only find a way to put his guilt to rest and really move on….