Post All Hell Breaks Loose, pts. I & II
"Dean. This is Jo. Call me back as soon as you get this."
Jo's voice was sharper than Dean ever remembered having heard it before.
There was a pause before she continued.
"I mean it, Dean. Call me back immediately."
The message ended without a good-bye of any kind.
Dean bit the inside of his cheek. He'd left his phone in the car during this latest pit stop.
"Have you talked to Jo?"
Sam shook his head as he got settled in the driver's seat.
His brow wrinkled, and he glanced over at his brother.
"That was her. She sounded pissed."
He was careful to keep any accusation out of his voice.
"I didn't call her, Dean," Sam said.
"I didn't say you did," Dean returned.
Sam didn't say anything as he started the car.
"You think she knows?"
Dean narrowed his eyes out the windshield.
"Yeah," he said, anxiety settling in his chest.
There was silence between them.
"Bobby," Sam said in resignation.
Dean gave himself a few minutes to get his thoughts in order as they got on the road again, Sam pulling carefully into traffic as Dean absently fingered the keys on his phone.
They'd left Bobby and Ellen in South Dakota just the day before, not sure where they were headed, but needing to be gone. Dean couldn't take the tension that seemed to radiate off Bobby, who watched Sam with worried, determined eyes.
Dean didn't want to think about the potential ramifications of bringing Sam back, didn't want to do anything except be happy that Sam was there. And he couldn't do that with Bobby and Ellen casting concerned, judgmental looks his way all the damn time.
Sam himself hadn't seemed to notice anything amiss, but had been restless as well, keeping close to Dean, trying without success to raise the issue of figuring out how to get Dean out of the deal.
But Dean didn't want to think about that either. He wasn't in denial. He knew there were things they needed to do. But, God. The demon dead, Dad freed from hell, Sam alive? Couldn't he just take a couple of days to be happy for a little while?
"Dean. Where are you?"
"I need you to come home," she interrupted.
He didn't respond directly to her statement.
"Bobby called you."
Her voice was tight.
"Jo, let me…."
She wasn't going to let him try to explain.
"Come home," she ordered.
Dean slanted a glance at Sam in the driver's seat. Sam was darting quick glances his way, and Dean brought up a hand to rub at his face.
"Now, Dean," she snapped.
Dean could tell Jo was only barely holding onto emotions that he wasn't sure he was ready to deal with. But there was no point trying to avoid it.
He heard her take a shaky breath and let it out.
"Dean." Her voice broke on his name.
"Dean, I can't… I can't do this on the phone. I'm sorry."
Her voice was choked, and his throat ached in response.
"OK," he said softly. "I… We'll be there soon."
Jo's hands were trembling as she hung up the phone. She was thankful beyond measure that all three boys were gone for the next week – Jake and Tommy to church camp and Michael working at a retreat in Colorado for the summer. She didn't think she'd be able get any sort of handle on her emotions with the three of them around.
Sam dead, but now alive.
Dean making a deal with a demon for his brother's life.
Bobby had been gentle, but matter-of-fact as he'd told her. Underneath his gruff recitation of what had happened, though, Jo had been able hear his own grief and concern. She'd handed the phone to Luke numbly when Bobby had finished and watched her husband's face go gray as he'd listened to Bobby's story.
"What the hell was he thinking?" Luke had asked hoarsely after he disconnected the call.
"That Sam's life was worth more than his own," she'd said, heart breaking.
Luke had nodded, but stayed quiet for a long minute.
"He couldn't see past his own pain," he'd said finally. "To what this would do to Sam. Even knowing what it did to him when John did the same thing… He thought he couldn't live without Sam, so he's going to make Sam live without him. Knowing that he's suffering…"
Luke's voice had broken, and he'd stood abruptly. They hadn't even touched on what Bobby had said about Sam maybe not being right. Hadn't been able, either of them, to think about that.
"I… I need…" Luke had looked down at her and Jo had nodded, taking his hand and squeezing it.
"I know," she'd said. "Call me."
He'd bent down, kissing her almost desperately. "I will."
She'd been unable to focus her own thoughts enough to think about things logically, and after 20 minutes of fuming, she'd picked up the phone.
Now she let herself cry.
Luke called a little over an hour later, and Jo told him that Dean and Sam were on their way.
He sounded steadier.
"What are you making?" She could hear the smile in his voice. He knew she cooked when she was agitated. Cooked and prayed. He drove. She cooked.
"We've got that brisket you smoked, so I thought potato salad. And beans." She bit her lip. "Plus, Dean likes macaroni and cheese." She paused. "And Sam's favorite is lasagna, so…"
He laughed at her.
"Shut up," she muttered.
He laughed again.
"Are you on your way home?"
"I'm fixing to head that way. I need to pick up something at the office, and then I'll be there. You need anything while I'm in town?"
She did a quick scan of the fridge and pantry. "No. I think we're good."
"OK. I love you."
"Love you, too. Drive careful."
"I will. See you soon."
When they pulled up in front of the house, neither Sam nor Dean got out of the car immediately. Sam eyed his brother, who was tugging on his lower lip as he watched the front door.
"You want me to go in first?" Sam asked with a faint smile. "Maybe if we get her focused on me alive, she won't remember how it happened."
He'd started out easily enough, but by the time he finished, there was an underlying bite in his voice.
Dean's eyes went quickly to Sam before they dropped. His little brother wasn't going to let go of that anytime soon.
"Yeah. You said you'd do anything to protect me, right?" He was only half-kidding.
Sam swung open his door. "Yeah, I did," he said softly, meeting his brother's eyes seriously.
The door of the house opened, and Dean saw Jo step out. Gritting his teeth, he reached for the handle of the door. He'd just straightened when Sam stepped between him and Jo.
"Hey, Jo," Sam said. He had a shy, oddly uncertain smile on his face as he ducked his head to watch Jo through his bangs.
"Sam," Jo said as she reached out, touching him carefully. Like she was afraid he might break. Or disappear. He moved closer, and she opened her arms to him. Sam stepped into them like he was coming home.
"Baby," she said, and Dean heard a broken sound from his brother as Sam clutched her.
Dean leaned against the car, suddenly afraid that his legs wouldn't support him. He and Sam had been operating with a carefully constructed façade of being OK with the events of the last few days. And Dean realized with a sickening jolt that he'd been so focused on Sam being alive, that he hadn't really thought about how Sam might be feeling about being dead. And then not.
Sam was alive. How could that not be OK?
But Sam's shaken gasp had been a sign of just how not OK he really was.
Dean turned to see Luke standing at his shoulder. He hadn't noticed the other man approach.
"Hey," Dean said roughly, clearing his throat. He dropped his chin almost to his chest and watched Luke warily out of the corner of his eye. He hated that he cared so much what this man thought of him, knowing that he'd disappointed so many people with the decision he'd made to trade himself for Sam.
Not that he'd change it for a second.
Luke's concern made Dean move his shoulders uncomfortably.
"Yeah," he said, not meeting Luke's gaze.
He felt a broad palm on the back of his neck, and without really being aware he was doing it, Dean turned toward Luke. And let himself be pulled into a surprisingly fierce embrace.
"We'll make this right, Dean."
Unable to speak around the tightness in his throat, Dean nodded his head briefly against Luke's shoulder. Then pushed away, back against the solid comfort of the car. He slid a brief, grateful look toward Luke.
"Yeah," he whispered, not able to believe it yet, but wanting to be OK with that.
Luke leaned against the Impala with Dean, arms crossed, shoulder brushing the younger man's. Dean felt some of the pressure in his chest ease, and he mimicked Luke's stance, watching his brother with Jo.
She'd pulled back from Sam, a hand on his cheek, whispering something that Sam, head bowed, nodded to. Her attention on him was worried, but the gentle words seemed to be meaningful to his little brother, and Dean watched as the tension along Sam's shoulders, tightness that Dean hadn't registered before, loosened. He could hear the rumble of Sam's response and Jo's soft reassurance.
Sam nodded and started to turn toward Dean. Dean pushed himself away from the car, unconsciously squaring his shoulders at the same time.
"Easy, kiddo." Luke's low voice held a hint of amusement. "She's not going to eat you."
"Says you," Dean muttered darkly as Jo approached. He eyed her nervously.
And felt an unexpected frisson of defensive anger. Brought his chin up.
I didn't have a choice.
Jo stopped in front of him, an expression on her face he couldn't interpret, before she put her arms around him, held him close.
"I don't know what to do with you," she whispered brokenly.
Dean swallowed hard, letting himself sink into the comfort he really hadn't expected.
"I didn't know what else to do," he answered unsteadily. "I couldn't…." He stopped.
She shook her head against his cheek, not responding in words, tightening her embrace.
They'd just finished supper, Sam and Dean's bags stowed in their room, empty plates of brisket and potato salad and beans on the table. Jo had let the boys farkle over whether they'd have mac and cheese or lasagna the next night, and the comical look on Sam's face when Dean had produced "paper" to Sam's "rock" had made Jo smile.
"No so much 'always with the scissors' now, huh, college boy?" Dean said with a smug raising of an eyebrow. Dean's smile faltered momentarily, almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but the smirk returned when Sam shook his head ruefully.
"Whatever, jerk," he said, amiably, turning to finish clearing the table.
Cleaning the kitchen passed mostly in comfortable silence. Jo set dessert and coffee mugs on the table as they reconvened.
Dean cleared his throat, twisting his mug in a tight circle on the table.
"You sounded pretty mad on the phone."
He offered it hesitantly, and, surprised, Jo gave him a thoughtful look as she finished pouring coffee.
"Yeah," she agreed.
"You not any more?"
The question was uncertain and made Dean sound like her nephews when they were hoping a fight with her was over.
"No," she said. "Not as much." She sat in her chair.
"I'm not sure exactly what I am right now," she said honestly.
Anger at Dean felt horrifyingly like regret that Sam was still alive. And all she could manage in that regard was a stunned relief. The thought of losing Sam made her heart stutter in fear. But that Dean would sacrifice himself, that they would lose Dean instead…
She shook her head because she couldn't seem to maintain any kind of consistent emotional response to what had happened.
"We're going to figure something out."
Sam said it fiercely, not looking at his brother, focused intently on the coffee in front of him.
Jo felt her throat tighten at the desperation in Sam's voice, and her eyes moved to Dean, involuntarily seeking out his reaction.
Dean was watching Sam with a kind of awed tenderness that almost broke Jo's heart—grief and regret and love and pride.
Sam's head came up, finally meeting Dean's eyes squarely. And instead of masking himself immediately, Dean smiled.
"Nothin'." Dean shrugged and looked away.
"We will," Sam said belligerently, fear manifesting itself in his angry insistence.
"OK," Dean agreed, but it was placating.
And Jo saw Sam redden in a flash-fire rage. "Goddamnit, Dean," he yelled.
Sam's palms slapped on the table with enough force to make the dishes rattle. He got up abruptly, knocking over the chair behind him, startling Jo and Luke with his vehemence.
Dean had flinched at the sudden outburst, but he met Sam's gaze calmly in the quiet that echoed around them.
"What?" he asked, voice gentle.
Sam didn't – couldn't – answer, and he stood, trembling at the end of the table. His hands clenched and unclenched into fists as he stared dumbly at his brother. Sam couldn't seem to marshal any response to his brother's quiet question, and Jo watched his face twist in a combination of frustration and confusion before he turned and left the room.
He left complete silence in his wake.
Dean cleared his throat carefully.
"So. Sam's still pretty pissed."
Jo found herself watching Sam closely the next day.
The violence of his reaction the night before, coupled with Bobby's concern about the boy not being himself, put Jo on edge, and she kept vaguely unsettled tabs on Sam's every facial expression and physical movement until she had a stress headache throbbing behind her eyes.
But there was little to see.
Whatever had passed between the brothers after Dean had excused himself from the table last night seemed to have settled Sam down for the moment, though he kept doggedly on Dean's heels over the course of the next day, moving from room to room after his brother, sitting too close on the couch as they watched baseball in the afternoon, watching his brother so carefully that Jo expected Dean to bite his head off at any moment.
But he didn't.
In fact, Dean tolerated Sam's hovering with much more grace than Jo would've anticipated, seemingly content in the aftermath of their encounter with the demon just to have his brother close. Dean was easy with the company, apparently even enjoying Sam's nearness, making the most of the opportunity to poke or pat or smile at his brother. More relaxed than Jo ever remembered seeing him before.
And how could that be?
Sam seemed as baffled as Jo by Dean's behavior, and as the day wore on Jo began to suspect that subconsciously Sam was pushing his brother to react, using his physical presence to crowd Dean whenever possible.
"Dude. Personal space," Dean finally murmured, said it mildly as he shifted slightly to avoid being sat upon by his little brother.
"Man, what is wrong with you?"
Sam almost yelled it in exasperation, standing abruptly and stalking away. Jo had walked in with a basket full of clean laundry, preparing to empty it onto the couch for some folding. And not by her.
She stilled, watching Sam.
Dean frowned at his brother.
"I don't get it! Don't you even care?"
Jo saw Dean's face clear, understanding.
"No." Sam interrupted him roughly, jaw clenched. "You don't get to 'Sammy' me, Dean. Not about this."
They stared at each other across the length of the room—Sam desperate, Dean accepting.
After a minute, unexpectedly, Dean nodded. "OK," he agreed softly.
Sam blinked, mouth opening and closing. "O- OK," he stuttered.
Dean watched Sam. And Sam looked back before he slowly crossed to the couch, sitting on the end opposite from Dean.
"What are we going to do?" Sam asked softly, and Jo could hear the lostness tremble underneath it, wanting, needing Dean to be with him in fixing this.
Dean shrugged, settling back.
"You're the research queen, Sammy," he said, apparently unable to pass up a chance to needle his brother. But his expression was serious when he asked, "Where do you think we should start?"
Given a lifeline, Sam grabbed at it eagerly.
"There's wireless in the diner. I've… I've got some leads from Bobby and a couple of sites." He was watching Dean earnestly, almost stumbling over his words as he explained to Dean what he'd been doing, what he thought they should be doing. Dean nodded, eyes narrowing as he listened.
"You've been busy."
"I just… We don't have time…" Sam's voice cracked on the last and he cleared his throat almost angrily. His jaw thrust out, defensiveness snapping into every line of his body.
But Dean didn't give him a hard time, just nodded his head.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
There was sincerity on Dean's face, and Jo watched relief flood over Sam's drawn features.
Sam nodded, swallowing.
"I need you not to give up," he whispered tightly.
A muscle jumped in Dean's jaw, and he inclined his head in agreement.
That night, when Jo entered the kitchen she found Dean waiting for her. Two bowls on the table. He gave her a wry look as she sat down.
"Want some mac and cheese?"
Smiling, she raised an eyebrow. He got up and headed for the fridge, pulling out the casserole dish while she sat down. He thunked it on the table and spooned out a couple of enormous helpings.
"Whoa," she cautioned, trying to pull her bowl away. Dean managed to get another spoonful in before she got it out of his reach. He put the dish back and dropped into a chair next to her.
"How are you doing?"
She decided not to come at him sideways. He'd been here waiting for her.
He eyed her askance. Lifted a shoulder.
They'd get back to that.
That got his full attention, and he turned his head to meet her eyes straight on. He'd heard the tone in her voice.
"What'd Bobby tell you?"
She swallowed, took a shaky breath.
"That he might not be… himself."
Dean didn't say anything for a minute, concentrated on his food as a distraction before he asked.
"Does he seem not himself to you?" He raised his eyes to hers.
She bit her lip.
"I don't think so," she said cautiously. "He's mad and scared and…. He's yelled more than I've heard him before, but…. Nothing he's done seems too out of line. All things considered."
She looked at him anxiously. Scared herself to ask the question.
"Does he to you?" She couldn't not ask.
Dean brought up his hand to rub at his eyes.
"I don't know," he admitted softly, and Jo felt her heart drop. "He's more volatile. But that's the way he always was with dad when he was pissed. And he's pissed. Really pissed. And scared," he acknowledged. "I don't think Bobby or Ellen have said anything to him about maybe being different. But he knows enough to know… to know that could be a possibility."
Jo watched him. There was something in his face, his voice, that made her wonder if he was telling her everything, and she bit her lip wondering if she should push for more. Decided against it.
"He's scared of losing you," she said finally, wanting him to recognize it.
To Jo, all Sam's terror was laser focused on Dean. And she couldn't help but wonder whether Sam had even thought about the consequences of what Dean had done beyond the deadline that had been set.
She saw the muscle jump in Dean's jaw.
"Dean what were you thinking?"
The question escaped before she could stop it, desperate and more accusing that she'd meant to be.
It took him a minute to answer.
She almost didn't hear him.
"I didn't think about…," he continued in a whisper. "All I could think was that he was dead, and I couldn't… I couldn't…."
His voice broke, tears tracking down his cheeks, and Jo reached out a hand to lay over his briefly. Moved to lay it against his cheek, when he turned toward her.
"It's going to be OK, Dean," she said softly.
It was over, and there was no point in chastising him about what he'd done. He knew there would be consequences, was just starting to understand the profound ramifications that that one choice was going to have on him. On Sam.
Dean closed his eyes and leaned into her touch.
Over the next couple of days Sam researched and Dean helped around the motel. A man on a mission, Sam was intent on the laptop that was rarely far from reach, running searches and muttering to himself at one of the back booths of the diner in a way that might have been concerning if people didn't already know him. And even so, he elicited a lot of curious stares.
Dean seemed content to let Sam immerse himself in the research while he himself did whatever physical jobs needed doing around the place. For all Dean's joking about not liking hard labor, he threw himself into whatever task Jo or Luke asked of him without complaint.
Luke suspected that Dean was getting ready for the coming fight in his own way, recharging by not thinking too hard about what was ahead, focusing on things that required little or no emotional energy.
Sam, on the other hand… .
Luke slid into the booth across from Sam, scooting a Coke across the table to the younger man. Sam had been staring, motionless, at the screen in front of him for the last 15 minutes.
Sam blinked up at him, dazed eyes clearing.
"Hey," he said. He reached for the Coke. "Thanks."
Luke smiled and took a sip of his Dr. Pepper.
"How's it going?"
Sam shook himself, frowning at the screen. He flexed his fingers, resting them again on the laptop. "OK."
"Take a break," Luke said.
Sam didn't lose eye contact with his computer. There was a deep crease between his eyebrows as he studied what was in front of him.
"Mmmm," he said absently.
No response. More focused frowning at the computer.
Luke kicked him sharply under the table.
Startled, Sam finally looked at Luke.
"Hey," Luke said brightly. Sam scowled at him, rubbing his shin.
"Take a break," Luke said again.
"I'm right in the middle of something," Sam said, annoyed. Already his eyes were back on the screen. "I…"
"Sam, you've been right in the middle of something for the last 36 hours. Come up for air. It'll help." Luke reached over and began to close the laptop.
With a growl, Sam jerked the computer out of Luke's reach.
"Don't," he said sharply, and Luke raised his eyebrows at him, though he wasn't displeased with the results of his rudeness. At least Sam had taken his fingers off the keyboard again.
Sam clasped the computer to his chest, apparently afraid Luke would try to close it again. He looked at the man across the table with hot eyes.
"I don't have time for this," Sam said angrily. "I have to…"
"Sam," Luke interrupted him gently.
The quiet concern in Luke's voice stopped Sam more effectively than yelling ever would have. He swallowed convulsively.
"You've been zoned out over here for almost 20 minutes, buddy. Get some fresh air. Come at it with a clear head."
Hesitantly, Sam put the computer back on the table. He looked at Luke with overwhelmed, hopeless eyes.
"There's not enough time," he said softly.
Luke spoke gruffly around the tightness in his throat.
"There will be, Sam. We'll make sure there is."
"How?" Sam asked, voice exhausted. He wasn't meeting Luke's eyes any more, focused instead on shutting down the computer, hand shaking slightly as he did so.
"I don't know," Luke admitted. "But we will. I believe that, Sam. We'll save him."
Sam continued to stare down at the laptop, smoothed his fingers over its closed top.
"Promise?" he asked in a small voice even as he looked up to smile wryly at Luke.
Sam spent the rest of the day with Dean re-shingling the roof over the lobby that had been damaged in a hail storm the month before. He felt the familiar sense of calm settle over him in his brother's presence. And he forced himself not to let the edge of panic at the thought of losing this, of losing Dean—strong and steady and home—overwhelm him and ruin the moment. Instead, he just let himself be, enjoying the easy give and take of working beside his brother.
Dean squatted at the top of the incline, studying the shingles that spread out below him. Sam sat on his haunches on the other side of the ridge pole.
"I don't see any more damage," Dean said.
Sam shook his head in agreement. "Me either."
Dean lowered his butt so that he was sitting, and Sam took a careful step over the ridge to join him at the apex of the roof. Dean rested his elbow on his knees, arms stretched out so that his hands dangled loosely from his wrists. Not even aware he was doing it, Sam shifted so that his posture mirrored his brother's.
Wiping his forehead on an already damp shoulder, Dean turned to Sam.
"Thanks for the help."
Lifting his shoulder in reply, Sam smiled, staring out across the flat landscape, low, rough-looking mountains crouching in the distance, purple and gold in the growing dusk.
They sat in silence until Dean's stomach rumbled grumpily.
"Ready for supper?"
Dean stood, reaching down a hand, and Sam let himself be pulled to his feet.
Carefully they made their way down the incline, gathering tools as they went.
"I talked to Bobby this morning."
Dean offered it casually, holding the ladder as Sam stepped onto it.
"Yeah?" Sam tried to hide the dive his stomach had taken. Always anticipating the worst these days.
"Said he had a job for us."
Relief. And disappointment. It had occurred to him a split second later that it might be good news.
Sam just nodded his head.
"You OK to get back on the road?"
Sam raised his eyes to his brother still squatting on the edge of the roof.
"Yeah," he said. "Are you?"
Sam deliberately made it a challenge.
"Dude, please," Dean scoffed, swinging easily onto the ladder.
Sam jumped the last couple of rungs to the ground to avoid having a booted foot step on his fingers as Dean clattered down the ladder. Then jumped back to avoid having Dean land on him when his older brother took a large, blind step off one of the middle rungs. Steadied Dean when he staggered.
"Idiot," Sam said without heat.
"Whatever," Dean said as he bent to pick up the toolbox.
"So." Sam picked up scraps of roofing materials, stuffing them into a battered old metal garbage can. "Are we leaving tonight?"
"Naw," Dean said pulling the ladder off the roof. "I figure we can leave after breakfast in the morning."
"OK. Does Jo know?"
"Yeah, I told her after I talked to Bobby."
Sam nodded, then frowned, suddenly understanding. He scowled at his brother.
"Did you ask for macaroni and cheese again?"
"She asked what we wanted for our last meal here."
"What we wanted," Sam bit out. "For our last meal." He couldn't help the pout. "I wanted steak and baked potatoes, you jerk."
Dean shrugged, still smirking, unconcerned.
"Dude, you suck," Sam muttered.
They finished cleaning up, Sam not speaking to Dean, who hummed happily to himself while they put things away and got showered.
When he entered the kitchen, Sam could smell the macaroni and cheese, and in spite of his frustration with Dean, his stomach rumbled in anticipation.
"Hey, sweetie," Jo said as he ambled in.
"Hey," he said. "Can I help?"
"Absolutely." She opened the fridge, reaching into its depths. "Would you take these out to Luke?" She handed him a plate marinated steaks. "The potatoes should be about ready."
Dumbfounded, Sam took the offering. She smiled at him.
"Did you think I'd think you wanted mac and cheese again?"
And Sam threw back his head and laughed.