Blue Moon Rising, Part 4 of 4
"Shhhh. Don't wake Sam."
Dean still didn't realize that those words were almost guaranteed to pull his brother out of a deep slumber. If Dean and Dad were plotting in the front seat of the car on those long trips in the dead of night while he dozed in the back, all it took was for one of them to lower his voice and say "don't wake Sammy" and that sent a subliminal jolt that brought him fully aware. Not that he ever admitted to listening, afterward. 'Don't wake Sam' usually meant secrets he wasn't meant to hear.
It was different this time. He felt sunlight on his face. He could tell he wasn't in a moving car but stretched out on his back on a lumpy mattress. And he knew, from years of experience, that even though he didn't yet remember why, he shouldn't move because it would hurt.
So he lay there, eyes shut and motionless, trying half-heartedly to figure out why he knew he shouldn't move, and trying with a little more curiosity to figure out who Dean was whispering to.
"The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
his mother called him 'WILD THING'
and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!'
so he was sent to bed without eating anything…
That very night in Max's room a forest grew…"
It came back to Sam in a rush and his eyes flew open. Dean was sitting in a rocking chair in the corner of the room, and the tow-headed little boy they had rescued in the night was curled in his lap. Timmy, that's what Dean called him. Timmy was cradled against Dean's chest, clutching Duck's afghan tightly. Dean's arms held him securely, and Sam saw that his brother wasn't reading from a book. He had the story memorized.
A small smile spread across Sam's face, realizing that Dean knew the words by heart – and why. Funny - until this moment, Sam hadn't remembered a time when he couldn't read. But he remembered now, being curled up under Dean's arm while Dean turned the pages of the book, pointed out the words, and imitated the wild things when they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws….
That's a helluva story to be telling to a kid who was just attacked by a werewolf! What was Dean thinking?
Sam struggled to sit up, to say something, and then sagged back as pain stabbed through his shoulder and pinned him to the flat pillow. Breathing shallowly through parted lips, he cracked his eyes open again and watched his brother.
Dean was rubbing Timmy's back with one hand. The deep timbre of his voice was apparently soothing and not frightening at all as he described Max saying, 'BE STILL' and taming them "with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once."
In a crazy Dean-way, it made sense, Sam realized. No-one knew better than he did that his big brother was an expert when it came to comforting a little kid. Especially a kid who had seen horrific things – things no child should ever have to see.
"… Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye
and sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot."
It was a kid's classic, the story of a little boy conquering the scary wild things, and then returning home to find his mother waiting to take care of him again. Timmy's fingers loosened their grip on the afghan, and he snuggled deeper into Dean's arms. His eyes fluttered shut as he lost the battle to stay awake.
Sam felt himself snagged by the same undertow. Sleep pulled at him, his thoughts floating away like grave mist as he slid toward unconsciousness again. He imagined himself as Max, and embracing the temptation to just run away, to sail off to another world, away from family and everything he knows. Ironic - that he would be sailing away from the wild things instead of toward them …
Duck came back mid-day, sweaty and smelling like soot. He found Dean in the rocking chair, and Timmy was awake and curled up in his lap. Dean was demonstrating how to solve the Rubik's cube. Duck was sure the child wasn't listening to a word Dean said, but the words were calming, and he was mesmerized by the colors revolving into place.
"Cold snap last night," Duck reported. "Glad I just had to burn, and not bury. But I've gotta shower before I take the kid into town," he added, wrinkling his nose as he examined the black streaks on his hands. "How's everything here?"
"Sam hasn't woken up," Dean said, worry laced through his tone.
"Rest is the best thing for him." Duck placed his fingers against the inside of Sam's wrist, nodded at what he found. "He'd be hurting if he was awake. Speaking of which, how's the leg?" Duck had noticed the cane propped against the bunk beds – understood that it must be pretty bad if Dean would admit to needing support to move around.
"The bone's not broken," Dean answered, noncommittal. He looked from the cane back to Duck. "Wasn't sorry to see you had that handy though."
"Hurt my knee a couple years ago," Duck told him. "Haven't needed it since. Which reminds me - when was your last tetanus shot?"
"Just last year. Sam too. We're good."
Timmy tugged at Dean's arm and he turned back to his small charge with a forced smile. "So, one more twist… and ta da! Now we have the upper face finished," he said triumphantly. "All – blue."
Timmy looked from the cube to Dean with a skeptical face.
"D'oh! You're right! That's white, not blue! Okay. Okay. So, the top is done. Next we tackle the corners. What color do you think should go here?"
Duck stepped quietly out of the room, ran a hot shower, then took the time to scramble some eggs. They were all running on fumes. Dean helped Timmy back into his clothes, stiff but dry now, and cocooned him in a Hudson Bay blanket by the fire with some of the comic books he'd discovered earlier. Then, over coffee and eggs, he and Duck spoke with lowered voices.
"Was it Harper?"
Duck nodded. Silent, thoughtful.
"If you knew Harper was after you, why did we have to wait till a full moon to try to stop him?" Dean couldn't help asking. "I mean, I get that that you're opposed to killing, but this was self-defense, man!"
"It wouldn't have mattered," Duck said grimly. "The truth of the matter is that some kinds of werewolf are damned near indestructible in their human form. The only way to kill one of those is while it's in wolf form." He stirred the eggs on his plate into the puddle of ketchup, but showed no interest in actually eating them. "I'd heard the lore," he continued, "but I don't know that I believed it till I started researching the Harpers. There was a photo of David Harper in the newspaper in 1985, after he was first attacked. He hasn't aged a day since. And he was in a car crash a few years ago that should have killed him, but he walked away without a scratch." He set down the fork, appetite gone. "I think I told you boys there were a couple things different about Blue Moon werewolves. The first was the unique lunar cycle. The second is that in their human state, they're pretty damned immortal."
"You think he was the only one out there?" Dean was thinking of the other wolf howl they had heard. Could have been a normal wolf. Couldn't it?
"I think there's one more," Duck said. "I saw a shadow moving through the woods last night. About an hour before dawn. Too big to be a regular wolf." Duck took a long swig of his coffee, and sighed. "I found tracks where the shadow had passed. That was about a mile from where you killed Harper. Definitely werewolf."
Dean cradled his hands around his mug, but the warmth didn't touch the chill running down his spine.
"You know I'll have to go out again tonight," Duck said.
Duck drained his mug and pushed his chair back from the table. "I expect the authorities'll keep me tied up with questions for awhile. I'll try to stop back here, but if I get held up in town, I'll just go straight to the woods instead. I want to be in position before the moon rises."
"You won't be here…?" Dean's eyes darted back to the room where Sam slept. God, he never thought… This was all his fault. He had wanted a taste of the future. On the road together, hunting evil, just the two of them. And now it would be just the two of them alone together after all, and Dean desperately wanted a do-over.
"It won't come to that, Dean," Duck said quietly. "Sam's more like your dad than either of you realize. And we both know he's too stubborn to die."
Dean sucked in a deep breath, and sighed. "I saw that photo," he said, his eyes flicking to the journal. He hadn't recognized Duck among the men in the picture. "Is that where you met my dad? In Vietnam?"
"Not me. My kid brother Mark - he knew John first. They were in the same squad," Duck said. "Mark was a short-timer when that snapshot was taken, just before his last mission. A skirmish in a little village in the Quang Nam province. The VC had just melted back into the jungle, or disappeared down those damn tunnels, and the squad was cleaning up." He tilted his chair back, reliving the moment as Mark had described it, vivid details engraved in his memory.
"There was a kid, a young girl about 14. She was walking up to our guys, her arms covered in blood, and Mark ran toward her. Wanting to help, you know? He saw the grenade, too late. The look of hatred in her eyes. And he just froze. He couldn't move. Couldn't think about anything, except that she was just a kid." Duck's voice grew husky; he broke off and went still.
Finally Dean asked. "What happened?"
"Your dad shot her. She fell on her own grenade and what was left – well – Mark said it didn't look like a little girl any more." Duck climbed to his feet, reached for his coat. "If it wasn't for your dad, my brother would've come home in a body bag." His eyes locked with Dean's. "I would do anything, anything, for John Winchester, and it would never be enough to repay that debt."
The cabin was quiet. Duck and Timmy were gone, and Dean sat at the kitchen table again, his hair damp from a shower, wearing fresh clothes, his stomach no longer grumbling. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink. Duck had made him take a break; said he could keep an eye on Sam. It gave Dean a chance to feel human again, but lack of sleep wasn't overcome that easily and, though he wouldn't admit it to Duck, his leg did more than just ache.
He didn't know how long he'd sat there – just numb with exhaustion. And his heart was still clenched in a cold fist of worry.
One boot on and one boot off, Dean propped his left leg on the other wooden chair and tugged up the bottom of his jeans. God bless Duck for updating the shower head since they'd lived there – now it had decent pressure and he'd been able to direct the spray on his injured leg long enough to scour out any dirt and debris. His shin was red, puffy … and the throbbing went deep, to the bone. He reached for some gauze and the Neosporin, and stopped when he heard a noise.
Sam was propped against the doorframe, his right hand pinning his left arm to his side, pale and trembling.
How can anyone so big look so fragile, Dean thought.
"You okay?" Even Sam's voice wavered. "That looks bad." He took a step forward and gestured at the ugly puncture wounds. Finally freed of the boot, Dean's ankle was swollen and purple too.
"Dude, you do not get to ask that when you're the one who looks like a feather could knock you over." Dean reached for the cane, and was at Sam's side just as his brother's knees started to buckle. "I'm fine. If you'd stay put, you'd be fine too. C'mon."
Dean steered him back to the bed.
"It's my turn for the top bunk," Sam said. "You had it last time."
Dean froze; panic blossoming in his chest that Sam was delirious. Then he heard Sam's chuckle, bitten off when the laugh bubbled out and jarred his shoulder. "Never mind," Sam said, still with a hint of a smile. "I'll just take this one." He twisted around and sank down to a sitting position on the lower bunk. Dean's hand hovered over the back of Sam's head to make sure he didn't smack it on the bed frame. He could feel the heat radiating from his brother's neck.
Sam sagged back against the mattress and let out a shaky breath. "Where's Duck?"
"Duck's fine." Dean dropped into the chair beside the bed and set the cane on the floor. "He came back and checked you out and said you're gonna be fine too."
The fingers of Sam's right hand fluttered over the bandage. "I remember … you found something in Duck's journal." His jaw clenched. "But I don't remember Duck coming back."
"Yeah, well, you slept through that part." There was a time and a place for razzing your brother about fainting like a girl. This wasn't one of them. "He went into town to hand Timmy over to someone who can take care of him. If he doesn't make it back before nightfall, he said he'd head straight for the woods again – take care of that other sucker we heard howling last night."
The fact that Sam was reduced to single syllables worried Dean, and he realized Sam was shivering even as his cheeks flushed a mottled red. Dean spread the blanket back over him. "Duck said to expect a fever - it's just your body's way of sweating out the werewolf's poison. He said we did everything right - you won't be affected when the moon rises. You just need to rest now."
Sam nodded, didn't answer. His eyes were dull, like unpolished agate marbles, and he finally gave up the effort to keep them open.
Dean hobbled back to the other room, and hastily finished wrapping his bad leg. It was a struggle to get the boot back on over the swelling and he winced and cursed, and finally slammed his heel home with a cry of pain and triumph. Then he hurried back to his brother's side. Helpless to do anything further now, but watch and wait.
The sun drifted down toward the horizon like a dying balloon and painted the sky with swirls of pink, like blood in a basin of water. Watching it though the dirty window, it seemed to Dean that as the sun sank lower, Sam's fever rose, fighting the infection but also burning away the wolfsbane and whatever painkilling effect it might have had. Sam clutched his left arm above the elbow, and Dean could see him tighten his grip as painful spasms rolled over him, leaving him pale and shaking.
"I'm here. I'm right here."
Sam's eyes were open but unfocused, darting restlessly around the room. "The car. Scratched the car."
"You scratched my car?" Dean put down the Rubik's cube and sat upright. "When?"
"Werewolf. Scratched the Impala," Sam muttered, his eyes falling shut. "Need fire. Gotta cauterize the wounds in the fender."
Dean lurched forward, and laid his palm on his brother's forehead. Sam was burning up. Sweat plastered his hair to his forehead. Maybe he hadn't been out of it before, but he was now.
The car. Sam mentioned the car. Why didn't he think of that before? They should have some first aid supplies in the trunk. Something for the pain at least. He patted Sam's good shoulder. "Stay put," he said, grabbing Sam's gun from the top bunk. His own was still empty, useless in the pocket of his jacket. "I'll be right back. Everything's gonna be fine."
On the gravel drive, he couldn't resist trailing his hand along the flanks of his baby, illogically relieved to find no scratches despite Sam's incoherent hallucinations. He rounded the driver's side, and stopped dead. In the frost-tinged mud that fanned out from under the tire towards the grass, Dean could see a very clear track. Definitely canine, with its heel pad and four toes and indentations where the claws had scraped against turf.
Dean whipped around, muscles taut with strain.
Heart pounding, he looked back toward the cabin, but the gravel leading to the porch was hard-packed and revealed nothing. He turned and took a few halting steps toward the woods they had escaped a few hours before. Dropping clumsily to one knee in the mud and biting off a curse, his fingers traced the outline of Sam's boot print, bigger than his own. Superimposed on top of it, hoarfrost crystals twinkling in the indentation, was the track of a wolf.
Too large to be an ordinary wolf.
Dean had thought with Harper dead that they would be safe in the cabin. But there was another werewolf still prowling out there, one not satisfied with more defenseless prey camping in the woods.
It was hunting them.
He glanced up at the cloudless sky. The moon was just now peeking over the horizon, bone white. It wasn't safe to stay outside now, especially when he could hardly walk. Propping his cane against the bumper, Dean rummaged quickly through the trunk. No more silver bullets. Shoving aside a shovel, he found a small grease-stained paper sack, and remembered what it held. Iron rounds, picked up the last time they saw Pastor Jim.
Quickly, he fed the rounds in the magazine of Sam's gun and one in the chamber too. Then he found the first aid kit and unlatched it, snatching up a pill bottle and shoving it in a pocket. The wind picked up, trailing icy talons down his neck, as he limped quickly back into the house. Tree limbs scraped the outside walls, scritching sounds like rats in an attic. With a shudder, Dean hurried to his brother's side, and bent to brush the back of his shaking fingers against Sam's cheek.
It was cool. The fever had broken.
Dean felt something break inside him too. All the worry and fear had been dammed up, held back by a rigid wall of tasks and responsibility and focus. That dam cracked, and relief flooded though his veins.
Sam fidgeted and moaned, close to waking. Dean remembered it wasn't over yet; he took a shuddering breath, and shored up that inner wall. It would have to hold a little longer.
He leaned forward, and tapped his brother's right temple; just enough to make Sam's eyes fly open. Their father had trained him well. Sam reacted to Dean's expression and went from semi-conscious to alert and still in two heartbeats.
"What is it?" he whispered.
Dean stepped back and Sam held out his good arm, silently asking for help. When he was upright, his face was chalky white and pinched with pain, and Dean was biting his own lip to keep from cursing as his left leg took more of his weight.
"What's going on?" Sam asked.
"I think we're being stalked," Dean said. "Duck said the werewolf we killed was Harper – but he thinks there's another one out there, and he's gone out to hunt it." He took a deep breath, and felt his empty gun shift against his ribs. "I dunno, Sam," he said, sitting beside him on the bed. "We don't really know anything about how werewolves think. What made Harper track down Duck? Vengeance, because Duck killed Marie? Self-defense, because he knew Duck was hunting him? When he's in werewolf form, does he even remember those things?"
"Does it matter? You said Harper was dead."
"I know. But some time after he died, a little before dawn I think, a werewolf left tracks outside this cabin, Sammy."
And there's just the two of us, he thought. You're still in school. And we're both hurt. We've never faced anything like this without Dad. I thought I was ready for this – but I'm not. I'm not….
He looked at Sam, felt the familiar weight of Sam's trust in him, and it shored up his backbone with steely resolve. "I don't get it. There's no reason for it to target us when there's an all-you-can-eat buffet of folks camped out in the woods." He passed over the leather-bound book. "Maybe it won't be back. But take a look in Duck's journal. See if you can find anything that explains how they think."
He patted Sam's knee, then stood and headed out of the room. In the doorway, he remembered something else and reached into his pocket, pulling out a bottle he'd grabbed from the med kit. "Here."
Sam caught it in mid-air, glanced at the label, and set it on the bed, shaking his head. "Vicodin always makes me drowsy. I need my gun, not something that's gonna slow my reactions."
Sam simply held out his hand.
Dean hobbled back, and slapped the gun into Sam's open palm. "It's locked and loaded," he said. "Found some ammo in the trunk that we got from Pastor Jim awhile back. Maybe consecrated iron rounds will work better."
"What about you?" A gust of wind pummeled the cabin, rattling the rafters.
"We picked up some silver at the pawn shop last night, remember?" Dean said. "I'm gonna melt it down for bullets."
Sam nodded, and dove into the journal like the geek Dean knew he was. Dean limped off toward the kitchen, and once out of Sam's sight, he leaned against the table, head down. His leg hurt like a son of a bitch. After a moment, he sucked it up and moved on.
Converting the microwave hadn't been the hard part, Dean recalled as he searched the cabinets for what he needed. He'd just removed the rotating glass plate and taped over the holes that admit air to the cooking chamber. He'd used a lathe to create a router bit in the shape of a .45 caliber bullet. The real challenges had been the other components – making a bullet mold and crucible out of something that could handle the heat of molten silver.
Sam had asked why he never put that much effort into school science projects, but Dean had just laughed. School wasn't fun. Or practical. (Unless he was blowing things up in science lab.) This was. Duck had been so pleased with it that he'd traded for it with the really good stuff from his black market stash – morphine.
Damn Duck for his military sense of order – he wasn't a man to leave his tools out, and Dean had no idea where to find the things he'd built years before. He muttered a few choice oaths as he moved on to kitchen drawers, the pantry, and finally found what he needed after exhausting every other nook and cranny, under the kitchen sink.
There'd been a small sterling trophy in the pawnshop, about the size of a shot glass. Dean set it in the ceramic crucible, put that in the microwave, and cranked the timer to go off in 17 minutes.
The cabin was quiet, eerily so, except for the relentless ticking, counting down….
He was pre-heating the bullet molds when his peripheral vision caught a fleeting dark shadow outside the window. Then there was a tremendous crash, shattered glass flying through the air. Something huge-heavy-wet-hairy slammed into him, and carried them both into the main room.
Dean lay stunned on the floor and literally saw stars. Huh. Stars - indoors. And his gun. Where was his gun? Was it still in his pocket? Was it loaded?
His brain seemed to be disconnected from his limbs, but his arms reacted on instinct, swinging the cane with all his might at the werewolf's skull.
It didn't have any effect.
Dean forced the walking stick between its huge teeth and strained to lock his elbows.
He heard an incredible crunch as the cane snapped in two. Desperate, Dean jammed the short broken end of the cane between the slavering jaws.
The creature whipped its head away, jerking the fragment out of Dean's grasp and sending it spinning across the room. Dean twisted and flung out an arm, scrabbling for anything to use as a weapon. There - just beyond his reach - the basket of knitting. Fingers pawed at empty air, and then he had it - grabbed a long knitting needle and pulled it back. He knew it wasn't silver-tipped and would be as useless as a feather. But he had nothing else.
A lamp crashed to the floor on the other side of the room.
The other side of the room?
Dean craned his neck and saw Sam, listing against a table, arms extended, gun held in both hands.
The beast snarled and thrashed, sent them both rolling across the floor. Dean knew Sam didn't have a clear shot, and then his left leg smashed into the couch and his vision went black as pain rocketed up from his shin.
The microwave timer dinged.
The creature raised its head to stare toward the kitchen. Then it turned back toward Dean, midnight blue irises bloodshot and crazed.
Dean was still flailing, trying desperately to stab it in the eye when something clicked, and he suddenly choked in disbelief, "Duck?" Then he cried out as its powerful foreleg bore down on his sternum, pinning him to the floor like a butterfly. The creature's fangs inched toward the rigid column of Dean's exposed throat.
He couldn't move.
The werewolf recoiled as the bullet struck it in the chest.
The weight fell off Dean's ribcage and he coughed, scrambling to get distance from it.
The air was rent with a mournful howl that made Dean's bones throb like a tuning fork, and a body hit the floor hard.
And then Sam was staggering forward, collapsing to his knees, muttering 'ohmygod, ohmygod', while he grabbed the blanket by the hearth and covered Duck with it, pressing hard against the blood pouring out of his chest.
"Dean – help!" Sam was frantic, and he did what he'd done all his life – turned to his brother to fix things. But Duck raised one arm weakly, batting at him to stop.
"Sam – don't." His voice was strained.
Sam pulled Duck up so that his head was resting on Sam's knees. Then he bent closer to hear what Duck was trying to say while Dean crawled forward through the shards of glass to take hold of Duck's hand.
"Don't," Duck repeated, glancing down at the blood-soaked blanket. "I was a combat medic. I know when it's too late." A look of wonder crossed his face. "You did it. I didn't think it was possible."
"You broke the curse. Why did it work this time?" A cold wind whistled through the room, taking Duck's breath away. He shivered and looked toward the broken window - saw the full moon hanging in the sky, like a bright silver coin to pay the Ferryman for passage to the other side. "The iron, the blood, the name?" he said. "It didn't work with Marie. I couldn't get her back."
"We had consecrated iron rounds, Duck." It was Dean who answered. Sam was choking back tears. "I guess it mattered after all."
The furrows of pain in Duck's face eased a little. "It's over then."
"Duck – no - " Sam's voice cracked.
Duck patted Sam's hand weakly. "Sam? Water …?" The words came out in a raspy plea.
Dean inched closer; nudged Sam away, and took Duck's head and shoulders onto his lap. "Go," he whispered to his brother. Sam stumbled to his feet and moved hesitantly away.
Duck watched him go to the kitchen, then plucked at Dean's sleeve. "Dean, do you remember - how you felt when you made your first kill?"
"Yeah. Sure." Dean breathed out a sigh. His gaze shifted away for a moment, looking inward. "It felt – " he struggled to find the words to describe it. He didn't even need Dad's nod of approval, or the flash of pride in his eyes, to know that it felt right. "Like I'd found something. That I didn't even know I was looking for." There was a note of surprise in his voice.
"Dean – this, this, is Sammy's first kill. That one defined you - made you understand who you are. This could destroy Sam. Don't let it." Duck's voice had grown hoarse, and was starting to fade. "Promise me? You'll be there for him?"
Dean took his hand again; squeezed it. "You know I will."
Sam came back, sank to his knees, and held the glass while Dean supported Duck's head. They watched him manage a couple swallows. Then Duck sagged back.
"I guess you figured it out; I got bit when I was in the U.P. where I killed Marie Harper." He paused, grimacing.
"It's okay. Don't try to talk," Dean murmured, but Duck shook his head.
"I want you to know." The water seemed to restore his voice a little. "I quit my job after that, To try to find a cure. Just … ran out of time." Duck turned his gaze to Sam. "At least I found the one that saved Sammy." A coughing spasm interrupted him, but when it passed he added, "John would never have forgiven me - if anything had happened to his boys."
Sam turned anguished eyes toward his brother, found Dean's expression a mirror of his own.
Duck seemed to lose focus a little, his thoughts slipping down another path. "Losing your mom like that - just about killed him. The only way he could go on was to turn soldier again."
He started to wheeze, color draining from his face, but he wasn't finished. "Things your daddy saw, things he had to do, in Vietnam? They still call up nightmares." Duck's eyes sought out Dean's, lingered there. "But he understands, always understood, you do what you have to. No matter the cost." Another cough rattled from his chest, and he gestured feebly for more water.
After a sip, he continued. "Maybe one day he'd drink himself blind again. When he remembered me, remembered this. What he had to do. If he did, you'd understand."
A small sound escaped from Sam.
Duck's voice grew fainter. "I just. Couldn't risk hurting anyone. When my time came. So. That was the plan." This time the cough bubbled up wetly from his lungs. Blood frothed at the corner of his mouth. "Then you showed up. I couldn't ask you - to do what I'd ask of John. I tried - at night - tried to get far enough away - not to hurt anyone…"
"Please, Duck – let us take you to town, to the hospital!" Sam pleaded.
"No! No." Duck grabbed his arm. "It's too late for me. I know that. You know what you have to do. The fire pit, out back. Burn my remains, when I'm gone. Just in case. You'll do that for me?"
Dean was silent, words stuck behind the lump in his throat, and it was Sam who finally took a shuddering breath and answered for them both. "You can count on us, Duck."
"I know I can. You're good boys. I couldn't be more proud of you - if you were my own sons." His voice was almost gone, the light dimming in his eyes. "Take care of each other," he whispered, "and your old man."
The room fell silent.
They burned his remains as he wanted.
"I should have – I don't know. I should have figured it out," Sam said, broken, staring at the flames. "There must have been something else I should have done."
"What Sam? What could you do?" Dean put his hand on Sam's good shoulder, turned him to face him. "You didn't know the consecrated iron rounds would bring him back. And we still don't know if it would have cured him for good. He might have turned again tonight." He tightened his grip on his brother, willing Sam to look at him. "He was going for my throat, Sam! Besides, you know better than to turn down a chance at a kill shot. How many times has Dad drilled that into us?"
"Dad. What are we going to tell Dad?" Sam looked horrified.
"What do you want to tell him?"
Sam couldn't answer. His throat was too raw with emotion. He only knew what he didn't want to tell him. He didn't want to tell his father that he had lost one of the few friends he had.
And he didn't want to tell his father that his youngest son was a coward. Because Sam knew then that he couldn't keep being torn in two any more. He couldn't live this life any more. And he couldn't expect Dean to always fix everything. He didn't know what options he might have after high school, but he was going to start looking. He couldn't be like Dean, and it killed him a little because his whole life he thought he wanted nothing more than to be like Dean. Now he was giving up. As far as his family was concerned, he was a failure.
He looked away from Dean, eyes glistening.
Dean left his hand on Sam's shoulder but gave him some space, tilting his head to watch the smoke curling up over the trees. "You gave Duck what he wanted, Sam," he said softly, wishing that could be enough. Thinking, you gave him peace.
There are some things Dean Winchester knows deep in his bones.
He knows the sky.
He recognizes Venus, gleaming brilliantly overhead, the brightest light in the morning sky, and he knows the adjacent spark is Mercury tagging along beside it. He knows they've been like that, only a degree apart, for the last few days, traveling across the sky like brothers on a road trip. But the two planets would inevitably part, and some months one would be seen in the evening sky instead, or disappear for awhile when its orbit took it behind the sun. They're rarely close together in the same sky for long. This week's special.
Of course, Dean Winchester doesn't think in metaphors.
Doesn't mean they don't apply.
What he does think about is his brother. His family. Always has. Always will.
Dean had begun to look forward to hunting with Sam. Had come to rely on his skills; had been discovering just how much his brother is capable of. And despite Sam's geekiness and the occasional teenage bouts of attitude, he really likes having Sam around.
But maybe that isn't what Sam wants, or needs, he realizes now.
Dean had promised Duck that Sam's first kill might define him, but he wouldn't let it destroy him. He'd promised Duck that he would be there for Sam – and he'll keep that promise.
Even if that means letting Sam go.
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