Spoilers: Through WIAWSNB
Disclaimer: All things Supernatural belong to Kripke not me (Rinse & Repeat)
A/N: Unbeta'd so all niggles, wtf's and humdingers are mine, all mine. Inspired by challenge #9 at foundficspn
'When I can't walk He's there to carry
And when I speak He hears my words
And when I wake and I have nothing
He sends me gold, frankincense and myhrr…'
- "I Still Pray", Kasey Chambers
Dean lay in the darkness listening for sounds of his father's truck coming up the winding gravel road through the woods. Three days, he had said. If he wasn't back in three days, Dean was supposed to call Pastor Jim. He turned onto his side, cupped the cell phone's LED display. 9:57pm. Come on, Dad. Three minutes. He watched them click over, had to press the menu button twice to revive the screen when it darkened into saver mode. At 10:01 he pushed the phone back under his pillow and it chinked against the blade there.
Okay, Dad. We're on my clock now. You got until morning. Then I call.
He turned over onto his back and lay there straining for the familiar rumble of the exhaust. It wouldn't be the first time their father had stumbled in late, or drunk, or both. Dean knew he'd cop it for not calling Pastor Jim on schedule but he figured he could make up some lame excuse. I fell asleep. Battery ran out. Forgot you were overdue and maybe dead. He'd get raked over the coals - the speech about Taking Responsibility, probably the Trust one too. But it was preferable to the alternative. Dialing Pastor Jim was an admission that something had happened. It felt like a nod to the dark, and Dean wasn't ready to wrestle with that kind of black.
That was when he heard Sam.
He was trying to be quiet, in that loud-ass way only eight year olds can be quiet. It took Dean a second to figure out what he was doing on the bed against the far wall. When he realised he hooked an arm down to the floor beside his bed and felt for the torch.
The beam caught Sam full in the face, sitting at the end of his bed near the closed window.
'What're ya doin', ya little dipshit?'
Dean wasn't sure why he was whispering when they were the only two in the cabin. Sam scrunched up his face and shielded his eyes with his hand.
'You're not supposed to say shit.'
'You're not supposed to be awake.'
'Not back yet. Go to sleep. He'll be here in the morning.'
'Dad said –'
'-Dad's not here, ya little ass monkey. You want me to come over there?'
Sam rubbed his hip where Dean had pinned him down and given him a dead leg the night before. He said it again, with feeling. 'No.'
'Then go back to sleep.'
'I can't believe you don't remember this place. We were here for like, nearly two months or something. Dad was tracking that black dog for weeks through these woods.'
'We stayed in a lot of places, Dean. You remember every single one?'
'I remember the ones we stayed longer'n a couple of weeks. You got a brain like a sieve, bro.'
Sam chuckled. He surveyed the exterior of the log cabin through the windshield of the Impala, grimaced at his brother.
Dean cocked an irritated eyebrow. 'What?'
'Nothing, I'm just a little…surprised is all. When you said you wanted to lay low for a few days, I just figured there'd be more…' Sam gave the heavily wooded national park a sweeping gaze and slowly shook his head '…neon? At the very least I thought there'd be a bar.'
'Yeah, well, this place is free and it's smack in the middle of WhereTheFuckAreWe which is exactly where I wanna be for the next few days.'
Sam turned his studious attention to his brother, chewed the inside of his cheek. Dean returned fire with a titanium-cleaving glare.
'Don't get all Dr Phil on my ass. I told you. I'm fine.'
Sam raised an eyebrow. The Djinn wasn't far back enough in the rear view mirror that you couldn't still see the damage he had done. And when Dean Winchester touched the brake, you paid attention. Looked around for other signs of the apocalypse. Frogs falling from the sky, water circling the wrong way down drains…that sort of thing. Dean endured the appraisal with a scowl and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Sam completed his inspection and delivered the findings. 'You really do look like crap, you know that?'
'Look, Sam - I'm beat. We start another job when I'm fucked halfway into next week? I'm liable to get us both killed. So we're gonna hang here for a couple of days. You can fuck about on your laptop or sharpen your pencils or re-split the fuckin' atom. I don't really care. I'm gonna sleep, drink some beer, then sleep some more. Sleep. Beer. Sleep. Questions?'
Sam raised a finger. 'Just one: What've you done with Dean?'
Dean kicked open the door of the Impala. 'Very funny, shithead.'
'No, really. This whole bowing to logic thing? It suits you.'
Dean got out, leaned in over the backseat for his duffel.
'You got the rest of this?'
Sam nodded. 'Sure, man. I got it. Pencils, sharpener, everything. Go crash.'
Dean gave him a sharp, grateful nod. He turned as he headed up the porch stairs, took them backwards.
'Anything short of a nuclear explosion, you're on your own. We clear?'
Sam waved brightly. 'Crystal.'
Dean clicked off the torch and lay back against his pillow. Silence. Sam didn't move. After a long minute the whispering started again and Dean sighed, flicked the torch back on.
'Sammy, shut up!'
'I forgot my prayers!' Sam hissed indignantly.
There was determination in that bundle of shadow on the foot of the bed. Dean flailed beneath his blankets in frustration.
'For cryin' out loud – hurry up then, Churchy. I'm tryin' to sleep here. '
'I am not a churchy,' Sam protested hotly.
'You're sayin' prayers aren't ya?'
'You shut up.'
Dean killed the torch and jammed it down between the wall and the bed. He lay there for a while, listening to Sam laboring through a litany of names, people, animals, places requiring divine and undivided attention. When he heard his name for the third time, Dean snapped. He grabbed wildly at the torch and came off the bed onto the cold floorboards in a thrash of sheets, landed a foot from Sam's bed with the light right up in his face.
'You about done?'
Dean's knuckles ached to be pummeling his stupid-ass little brother through the mattress into the floorboards. But he didn't see how that was going to get anyone asleep any quicker so he let the threat hang there, implied in the air between them.
Sam shrank back against the wall, his hands flying protectively to his bruised hip. His lips did a couple of laps round the word before he found his pitch.
'Nearly,' he quavered.
He sounded pathetic. Dean stood there in the cool of the room, his temper leaching out of him, the torch tapping against his thigh. The beam bounced around the corner of the room at the foot of the bed.
'You don't have to name every single person, Dumbass. It doesn't work like that.'
Dean's tone was concessionary. Being a pathetic little churchy with a whiney-ass hour-long prayer wasn't a capital offence. Not tonight anyway. Sam sat very still on the bed and gave him a wide eyed, open mouthed stare. Dean could tell he was poised in readiness for an unexpected attack. He felt a pang of brotherly guilt that this distrust was borne of hard earned experience. But it wasn't his fault Sam was always begging to have his ass handed to him. If he asked for it, what the hell was he supposed to do?
'Why don't you just ask for everyone to be safe and be done with it?'
Sam looked at him as though he was stupid. 'Not everyone's allowed to be safe, Dean.'
'Oh, and you're in charge of pickin'? That it?'
'No.' Sam made his whatever face, prompting Dean to momentarily rethink the stay of execution. 'Anyways, how do you know? You don't even say prayers.'
'I dunno. It's like at the diner in town. You don't have to ask for the pancakes because you always get the damn pancakes. You never get anything else. It's like a standing order. You just think "everyone" and he'll know.'
'But if I say everyone, then I know.'
'That I said 'em.'
Dean didn't really have an answer for that. He looked at Sam's pale moonlit face and thought maybe he understood. Swinging the bat when you knew the ball had gone wide over the plate? Sometimes you couldn't help it.
When Dean woke the muted daylight was struggling around the curtains of the cabin bedroom. He had a pounding headache, the kind that reared its ugly head when you chased not enough sleep with far too much. He rolled and stretched, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and a hand through his hair.
Pounding-on-an-anvil-with-a-gigantic-metal-ball-pin-hammer headache. Firecracker-embossed anvil. Bonus dynamite.
He spanned his forehead with his thumb and forefinger, squeezed to stop his brains coming through his temples.
11.17am by his watch, when he dropped his wrist to see the face. He'd been out for fifteen hours straight. Holy shit. Get up, Winchester. Lazy ass son of a bitch.
Sam wasn't in the cabin. Dean lay there listening to the silence long enough to be sure he was alone. Silence that had someone sitting in it, just being quiet? That was an altogether different sound to true solitude.
Dean rolled out of bed and snagged his jeans off the floor, paused to let the pounding in his head catch up with the sudden change in altitude. First stop, codeine. He pulled his jeans on and padded shirtless out into the kitchen.
Sam hadn't left a note but the Impala was gone. He dug a blister pack of painkillers from the front pocket of Sam's duffel and popped a coke from the fridge, downed three of the pills standing in front of the windows out onto the porch.
Douglas Firs. They were green and brown and vivid and everywhere. That should have been your first tip, Einstein. Everything looked so…perfect. He took another swig of coke. Except that girl. That was definitely south of perfect. He tried to concentrate on the trees, but once he got started he couldn't stop thinking about her. First hanging from the ceiling, then standing on the roadside. Lying half dead in his arms in the Djinn's lair, Sam not really knowing how important it was that she wasn't dead. And Dean not being able to explain it to him.
Get some rest, Mom said. Her palm against his cheek.
Suddenly he was stumbling down the hallway and he almost didn't make it. He threw the coke and pills up into the bathroom sink, retched and spat until his head felt like it was going to split right open. Then he turned the tap on and cupped some water to his lips, ran his wet palm across the back of his neck. He glanced at himself in the mirror, sleep addled features and dark rings around his eyes.
Jesus H Christ, thank god Sam missed that.
He went back to bed.
When he woke four hours later, the headache had receded and he was ravenous. On the bedside table sat a sandwich and a glass of water. The note propped against the plate said: ON CELL. YOU NEED TO EAT SOMETHING in Sam's neat block print.
Dean would have signed the Impala over to him right then and there.
'You can't keep addin' everyone you meet, Sammy. Pretty soon prayers are gonna take you all day.'
'But what if something happens and I didn't say 'em?'
'That wouldn't be your fault, Sam.'
'But what if it was?'
Dean rolled his eyes. What if, what if, what if…? It drove him insane. He thought for a minute, rubbed his lips with the flat of his hand.
'Okay then, what if we split it up?'
'Like, every night we split it up. I'll take care of Dad, and you, and me, and Pastor Jim and Caleb and Uncle Mike and Aunty Kate. Then you just take care of whatever happens that day. How about that?'
Sam looked at him suspiciously. 'But you don't say prayers.'
Dean shrugged. 'What? I gotta sign up or something?'
'No,' Sam conceded. 'You'll say 'em every night?'
He looked hopeful - and somehow lighter - which was kind of the point. Dean nodded.
'Sure,' he lied. 'But I go to bed later'n you, so you're gonna hafta trust me.'
Sam was warming to the idea, eyes shining.
'I trust you.'
Dean thought about kneeling on top of him the night before, thumping him in the leg. He wanted to burst out laughing, or crying. He didn't know which. So he coughed instead, swung his legs back onto his bed and turned the torch off again.
'Deal?' he asked into the darkness.
Sam had one last question. Always with the freaking questions.
'But what if something happens to you?'
Dean rolled onto his stomach, stretched his fingers out beneath the pillow and closed them round the hilt of the blade there. He sniffed sleepily into the cotton sheet.
'Nothin's gonna happen to me.'
'You don't even remember the diner?'
Dean flipped his beer cap at Sam as he climbed the porch steps and it bounced off his forehead.
'Bullseye!' He raised a triumphant fist. Sam blinked at him, long suffering.
'What about it?'
'What about it? What about you, man. You ate pancakes every morning for six weeks straight, you little freak. They stopped even askin' what you wanted. They had 'em on the hotplate by the time your ass hit the chair. I can't believe you don't remember this stuff. Seriously.'
'So I ate a lotta pancakes. Big deal.'
Dean looked up at the porch overhang, did the math.
'Forty-two serves of pancakes. And you didn't eat 'em. You just took a few bites then pushed the rest of it round the plate till Dad fuckin' hit the roof and then I had to eat 'em.'
He took a pull on his beer, shook his head.
'Man, I was so sick of your pancakes.'
Sam pointed at the beer on the porch beside Dean's chair and his brother hooked two fingers around the neck, flipped it up to him. He caught it and twisted the top off, took a swig.
'So I was gonna head down to that library in town tomorrow. Get on the net, see what's what. If you're ready.' He raised his eyebrows at Dean, leant against the porch railing. 'I mean, you're startin' to piss me off so you look ready. Are you ready?'
Dean was. He was rested, relaxed even. He knew whatever buffer he'd created was going to be short-lived. Temporary. This job left scuffmarks that ran deeper than anything a fifteen hour cat nap and a few Heinekens could sand smooth. It was time to get his ass back in the saddle. The quickest way to get dirt out of your teeth was to mount up.
So he nodded. 'Yeah, I'm good.'
Their father had pulled up in the early hours of the morning, and it was more or less an accident. It wasn't as if he had meant to hit him in the face. But he was drunk and when Dean tried to help him with the bag his father had reached out to shove him away and the shotgun had swung down off his shoulder and taken him out.
He bled like a stuck pig, and by morning he had a pretty impressive shiner in addition to the cut on his cheekbone. He was admiring it in the bathroom mirror, feeling pretty tough despite the cracker of a headache, when Sam padded in and freaked right out.
'What happened to your face?'
Dad was drunk and he smacked me in the head with the shotgun. Department of Social Services, here we come. Dean went with Option Number Two.
'I helped Dad out with his hunt last night. It punched me right in the face.'
Dean fumbled, the cover story still in its infancy, incomplete. 'You know, the monster.'
Sam was studying his eye, aghast. 'What kind of a monster was it?'
'Just a monster. Don't worry about it. Dad killed it.' He jammed his toothbrush into this mouth, worked it around without much attention to the actual cleaning process.
Sam still seemed mortified. Dean spat out his toothpaste and took a swig from the tap, brushed past him into the hallway.
'I said, don't worry about it. It's nothin'.'
Dean ran. It'd been a long time since he'd run just for the sake of running. No precipitating life-threatening event. Just the easy thud of his hiking boots on the trail and the controlled rhythm of air in through his nose and out through his mouth. The path was overgrown and still damp with the morning dew and the undergrowth slapped wetly at his thighs as he headed up the side of the hill at a sprint.
It was steeper than he remembered.
About halfway up he slowed and found that stride where it felt like he could run indefinitely; a conservative, controlled pace that ate up the hillside for free, cost him nothing.
By the time he reached the top, he was only a little out of breath. He walked the pinnacle from end to end, bounced on the balls of his feet and rolled his shoulders. There was a fierce ache behind his right shoulderblade, the kind of deep muscular discomfort he knew had more to do with stress than anything else. He looked back down the hill to the knot of trees that hid the cabin near the lake and knew Sam was down there somewhere packing the car, keeping out of his way, giving him space.
Cowboy switching in and out of frame, like he'd seen this film a thousand times before.
They left that afternoon, and Dean took the hill at a dead run one last time right up to the top. By the time he reached the pinnacle his lungs were on fire, his damaged face throbbing. He didn't want to be couped up in the car all day. Not with his Dad in the mood he was in. He wanted to stay on the top of the hill, wait for that feeling in his gut to go away.
But it wasn't an option. He jogged dutifully back down the hill and Sam leapt out from behind the cabin as he rounded the back porch and hung off his arm.
He was pretty excited about something. Dean followed him through the back door down the narrow hall to their room. It was empty now, the beds stripped. It was like they'd never been there, like the last six weeks had never happened. Sam pointed under his bed.
'I fixed it.'
'I figured it out and I fixed it.'
Dean squatted down. 'What am I looking at?' Frustration forced his voice up an octave.
Sam pointed again. 'You have to look under.'
Dean got right down flat on the floor and shuffled sideways under the frame. It was engraved in the wood, a little clumsy but overall not bad for a little eight year old dipshit.
Dear God, he'd carved there, help my brother from monsters.
He raised his eyebrows at Sam as he shuffled out and straightened. 'What's that gonna do?'
Sam beamed. 'Well, you're gonna take care of everyone we know, right?'
'So I can't be saying you every night if I gotta worry about everything for the day.'
'And you can't say yourself 'cause when you did, that happened.'
Sam thrust a finger so close to Dean's black eye that he snapped a wrist up and slapped his brother's hand away harder than he intended. But Sam was too pleased with himself to care.
'So now God can just read it.'
Dean wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh at him or punch him. So in the grand tradition of brothers everywhere he did both. Then he shoved Sam out the bedroom doorway so hard he bounced off the hallway wall with a hollow thump.
'Churchy, you're an idiot.'
Sam was already in the car.
Dean had almost forgotten, had to duck back down the hallway at the last minute. He dropped down onto his knuckles and flattened against the floorboards, looked up underneath the bed. He didn't know why it was so important that he see it, and now he was frowning because there was something stuck to the wall over the carved letters. He shuffled his shoulder further in, reached up under the bed frame and pulled the square of paper free from the tape holding it to the wall.
Of course I remember, you jackass.
Sam's writing. He shook his head. Twisted his lips around a surprised smile. He glanced back at the wall.
Dear God help my brother from monsters.
He remembered the girl in the Djinn's lair. She was made of knives, holding her hurt. It was hard to believe anyone other than Sam and he had ever laid eyes on those carefully carved words. Dean wondered how it was possible to be so goddamn angry at someone who didn't even exist.
He taped the square of paper back over Sam's prayer. It felt a like a plaster, a bridge across the fissure the Djinn had opened behind his ribs.
Then he scooted back out from under the bed and headed out to the car.
'You think you're pretty stealthy, don't you Churchy?'
He turned the key in the ignition, gave Sam a pointed smile. Sam flushed, grinned down at his lap. The Impala rumbled to life and Dean let it idle, warming up. He gazed back at the front door of the cabin, thought about the post-it stuck beneath the bed over the engraving there and felt an odd comfort. It twitched the corner of his lip up.
'I always wanted to ask – he hit you that night?'
Dean winced, screwed up his nose.
'No, man.' He shook his head. 'It was an accident. He didn't mean it.'
Sam nodded. Dean knew what he was thinking and he was glad he didn't say it. He didn't want to argue. Not with Sam and not right now.
The silence got a little awkward, so Dean fixed it the best way he knew how.
'Jesus H Christ, Dean. Open a fucking window already.'
Thanks for reading :-) pdragon76