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 #12 at foundficspn. Thanks to Motherlyclucker for the heads up on the French translation. Much appreciated. :-)
He's thinking about paprika, God knows why, when it comes back to him. The conversation with Rob in his office. And it's weird, because he's had enough concussions to know that usually? When it's gone, it's gone. But a couple of days after they leave Maine, just as they're crossing into Ohio, he remembers the note taped around Rob's mug on the desk. Like Hell It's Yours! PUT IT BACK and Take Another.
And then the rest of it comes back, like water spilling over the top of an internal dam.
'Did it change you?'
Rob couldn't stop talking about coming back from the dead. Dean was really wishing he'd never let it slip about that semi T-boning the Impala. What is this? Fuckin' Oprah? Hand me the shotgun and just point me at Casper. I mean, Jesus. He passed a hand across his chest. He didn't know why but thinking about it sent a whisper of cold along the scars there. It was uncomfortable, like someone dragging the tip of a cool knife along them. This wasn't the kind of thing he had any interest in talking about with a sheet metal worker in an iron shed that smelt like sweat. But Sam was still a ways off with the gnats eyes or whatever the fuck he'd gone to get. Why didn't these freakin' spells have normal ingredients? Like paprika. Why didn't any spells have paprika in them? Dean's stomach grumbled. Oh great, now I want a steak.
Rob was looking at him expectantly. Okay, Dean thought, you wanna talk about it? Let's talk about it.
'I didn't hear any harps playing or see any white light, if that's what you mean.'
Rob seemed disappointed, and for a second Dean almost felt bad. But it wasn't really a lie. He just didn't want to have the conversation that would follow Oh, did I mention the deal my dad cut with a demon to unfuck my shit up?
Rob was talking again and Dean let him go. It was new territory for this guy. Near death experience and now a homicidal ghost in the mix. His boundaries had been blown wide open and he needed to get that shit out. It struck Dean as kinda odd. That this guys brush with death had opened up his world. For some reason, his had closed doors. Made the world seem smaller, somehow.
'When I came home from the hospital, I felt like a different person. All the things I thought were important? They weren't. Casey, my daughter? She's a stubborn mule, like her mother. I used to butt heads with that girl all the time. And now, I just can't raise my voice to her. It seems so pointless. It sounds like a cliché but it's true. It really does feel like a second chance. So why would this…this thing be trying to take that away from me? I mean, you think if I was supposed to go, I would have died in that car accident, not come back right? Like it's maybe not my time, you know? You'd have to believe in that stuff, right? Your line of work?'
There was an irony in that. So much order, so many rules and laws in the chaos, and Dean still had no idea if anyone was behind the wheel. And if he had to guess, he'd say whoever was supposed to be driving had baled a long, long time ago.
But he threw the guy a bone anyway.
'Well, I used to think when your time's up, your time's up. But I gotta tell ya Rob, the last coupla years, I've dodged me some bullets.'
Maybe there wasn't much hope in that, but there was some. And for all his con-artistry, Dean wasn't one to tell a lie where he could help it. Rob gave him a searching look, and Dean returned it evenly. He didn't know what the guy was looking for but Dean was pretty sure whatever it was, he didn't have it to give.
This is it dude, he wanted to say. Look around. What you see here? This is what you can know. The rest of it? It's all smoke and ashes. More smoke than ash, when you get into it.
'It has changed you.' There was an air of resignation in the way Rob said it, and Dean felt a flare of guilt at the statement. He wasn't sure if it was for Sam, or his Dad, or because this guy was maybe going to die and he could see it somehow in the hunch of Dean's shoulders across the desk.
'So if it's not when you're time's up, you're time's up, then what do you believe now?'
Dean gave him an flat, guarded stare. He didn't know if they could stop this spirit, if they could save this guy's life. He knew sometimes things seemed to be already written in stone, long before he or Sam came along with a sandblaster and tried to un-write them. But he suddenly wanted Rob to live. He stared at his boots on the guy's desk, liked him for being okay with that. Some raggedy-ass hunter just plonking down in his office and heeling up beside his in-tray. He picked at a loose thread on the seam of his jeans near the knee, then leant back against the chair, crossed his arms.
He thought: I am the wrong guy to be talkin' to about time and debts. Ask me any other year.
'Honestly?' He gave it to the guy straight, his eyes a little narrowed from wishing there was some other way. 'I think it all comes out in the wash, man. Sooner rather than later.'
Behind the wheel of the Impala, he remembers all of this and rubs his palm absently across his mouth.
In the passenger seat, Sam turns his head a little on the backrest and opens one eye.
'Nothin'. Back to bed, Princess.'
But Sam isn't really sleeping. He's thinking about dead Rob, on the floor of the shed. About how stupid they both are. How unbelievably, incredibly dumb they had been. And marveling at how close Dean came to blowing his own head off in that shed. Holy freaking crap, he came close.
At the motel in Dayton, Dean takes a shower, and as he comes out of the bathroom and tosses his balled up clothes onto his bed he points to his temple and says: 'Nice stitches, Martha.'
Sam says: 'No thanks to you.'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
'Oh my god, you bitched and moaned like a twelve year old girl.'
'I did not.'
'Well, I had a head injury,' Dean tells him officiously, as though this explains it. And Sam doesn't miss the accusation there.
'You've always got a head injury. You should wear one of those helmets.'
'Do you want a head injury?' Dean rounds on him, annoyed. 'Cause I can give you a head injury. Why are you busting my balls?'
And Sam thinks: Because I can. Because I almost lost you again and this is how we get back to normal. I bust your chops and you get irritated. And then we're fine. Even after you get your dumb ass possessed and I have to kick your butt all over a construction shed.
'Hold still, man. You're makin' it worse.'
'Hey, you've got the needle and thread. How can I be making this worse?'
'Just….quit movin' around. You want a big scar or a little scar?'
'Will a big scar get you outta my face? 'Cause then yes, I'd like a big scar, please.'
Sam paused and blinked back his frustration, the curved needle poised between his fingers near Dean's crumpled eyebrow.
'What?' Dean's brow furrowed further.
'Quit doin' that with your eyebrow!'
'Doin' what?' Dean strained the words through clenched teeth.
'Screwin' it up, man. Just relax for a second.'
'Dude, you're sticking a fuckin' needle in my head. You relax.'
Dean closed his eyes, rubbed his palms up and down his thighs, worked the tension out of his features.
'Alright,' Sam hooked the needle through again and Dean blinked, wiped the side of his hand under his nose. 'Two more oughtta do it. You okay?'
'Do I look okay?'
Dean's eyebrow jumped again, taking the needle with it. Sam let it go, threw his hands in the air.
'I can't help it. Stop pissin' me off.'
The motel lamplight flashed off the needle in Dean's brow like a piercing, and Sam briefly toyed with the idea of leaving it in there. He leant forward again, lip between his teeth, and paused.
'Swear to God, Sammy, you don't hurry this up I'm gonna smack you up the side of your head.'
Sam tracked the needle through the cut, dragged the thread tight. Dean hummed an accompaniment, lip twitching.
'Sonuvabitch,' he whispered. Then louder: 'We done?'
'You know how much this fuckin' hurts, right?'
'Yeah, I do,' Sam reminded him pointedly.
He didn't remember whining this much the last time Dean had sewn him up, and his brother had none of the finesse Sam was applying to the task at hand. Dean sutured like he was petting a mouse with a hammer.
Dean closed his eyes again, rolled a hand in front of him. 'So then hurry it up.'
Sam tied off the thread and left him sitting on the side of the bed, antiseptic soaked gauze between his fingers and his temple, while he put the needle and thread away and tidied up. When he came back, he pried Dean's fingers away and checked his handiwork as he pulled the stool up closer and straddled it. He tilted Dean's head back and flipped the pen torch around his fingers. Dean endured Sam's pupil reaction test reluctantly, nose scrunching.
'How many fingers?'
Dean dabbed the gauze against his temple and glanced at the hand Sam raised in front of him.
'Three,' he clipped. When Sam nodded, he added a deadpan: 'Hands. My God, you have three hands.'
Sam ignored him. 'Okay, you wanna tell me what day it is?'
'Didn't I already take this test?'
'Yeah, you did. Half an hour ago. And you crashed and burned. So now you're humoring me on the stupid questions. Spill.'
'Good. Where are we?'
Dean frowned at his knee, rubbed a stalling knuckle under his nose. He glanced surreptitiously towards the bedside table and Sam reached out, flipped over the motel stationery sitting there. He raised his eyebrows at the top of Dean's head, knee jiggling.
'Auburn,' he barked. I'll take Fucked Up Towns Where My Brother Kicks My Ass for 100, Alex.
'Okay, so you can read. Last thing you remember before the spirit rocked up?'
'Uh, lamp post.' Dean chopped the air in front of him, indicating up and down. 'Big old wrought iron thing. Near the doors.'
'That was here. After. Last thing you remember before?'
Dean squinted at the carpet, trawled back through belligerent mental files. He fluttered a hand between them.
'You ordered that fuckin'…frappe or whatever at that café.'
Sam rubbed his jaw, grimaced. 'That was 7 o'clock this morning Dean. You got nothing after that?'
Dean cocked his head a little. 'Not right now.'
'You remember anything about the office? Waiting there with Rob?'
'Only what you told me. You know, blowing my brains out? Really not my style, Sammy. I'm gonna off myself? There's gonna be a chick involved. And possibly rope.'
Dean was nodding carefully around an obvious headache.
'That's not funny, dude.'
'Well, anyway, I got frappe, then nothin'. What'd I say last time you asked?'
'See, the fact that you can't remember what you told me half an hour ago? That's exactly why we're doing this again.'
Sam dipped his chin, caught Dean's eye. 'Scale of one to ten…how bad's the headache?'
Dean sniffed, appeared to give the question due consideration. The edges of his mouth twitched downward. 'I give it a seven.'
Sam adjusted up the standard four points.
'Eleven out of ten, huh? That's a helluva headache.'
Dean looked up at him, narrowed his eyes. Sam slapped his hands on his thighs and the clap elicited a wince from his brother.
'Okay, so you need to get some rest, and we'll do this again in an hour.'
'-No, Dean. I think that's it for today. I bounced you off that desk hard, man. You were out cold for nearly eight minutes, and I mean full lights out. Completely unresponsive. That's a long time. I thought I'd fucking killed you. '
'Well, you didn't.' Dean sounded eager to head off Sam's guilt trip at the pass. 'And I'm fine.'
Sam gesticulated at him in wild frustration.
'You're not fine. You're concussed. I can tell the light's buggin' you, your pupils are all over the shop and you can't remember squat about what happened today. That's a concussion, dude. Rob's dead. Salt and burn can wait.'
And Dean flinched when he said it. Rob's dead. Time. Second chances. Debts. None of it mattered anymore for the guy lying on the floor of the shed.
But Sam had forgotten, Rob wasn't the only one on the clock.
At a gas station in Saratoga Springs, Sam calls Bobby while Dean crosses the street to get lunch at a diner. It's the first time Dean's said anything about food in nearly three days, and Sam thinks he should jot that down somewhere as the current record. Just for future reference.
Bobby doesn't have anything new for him and Sam nods at the phone after he hangs it up, stares a thousand yards through it.
He'd look it up later. The translation. He'd find out it meant: What is borrowed is your debt.
But at the time, the only thing Sam was thinking was: Dean doesn't speak French.
His Latin was pretty good. It lacked the polish Sam spoke it with but he could read and speak it fluently enough. And even Spanish. Dean could fumble his way around a conversation in Spanish, if needs be. Granted, most of what he knew would make a sailor blush, but if you were ever in Mexico and you wanted to start a brawl quick-smart, Dean was your man.
Sam knew he didn't speak a word of French.
So after Rob ate the handgun he pulled from his desk drawer and Dean started spouting Ce qui est emprunté est votre dette over and over like a native Parisian, Sam started connecting dots and thinking he'd like this picture a whole lot better if Dean wasn't holding a fucking Glock.
He launched over the top of the desk as the gun came up in Dean's hand. Sam clothes-lined him square across the chest, sent them both crashing to the ground beside Rob's crumpled body and his opened skull. Dean already had the muzzle up against his temple when Sam grabbed his wrist and wrenched hard back towards his chest. His trigger finger twitched and the gun discharged – an almighty CRACK! between them once, then twice, and Sam was suddenly all ringing ears and the muzzle flash was dancing where his field of vision had been. For a long half minute he couldn't see a thing.
They grappled on the floor of the shed, Sam's harsh breathing and grunted determination vying with the whistle and squeal of the EMF reader inside his jacket pocket. Sam heard it and thought No fucking shit. He had Dean's wrist with both hands, squeezed hard into the shallows an either side of his carpal joint. He felt Dean's grip on the stock loosen and risked a glance up at his flat, vacant eyes.
'Drop it, Dean!'
He knew this wasn't his brother. But he hoped he could hear him, maybe start helping out, because his arms were shaking. He was running out of steam and the spirit must have realized because Dean suddenly twisted his wrist and brought his knee up between them, launching Sam to the side.
Sam rolled, came up on his knees. Dean almost had the gun to his mouth and Sam went straight for his newly formed Plan B. Forget the gun, just drop him. Take him out. He shot a wild fist out, punched Dean hard in the face and the Glock came out of his hand. It went off again as it hit the ground and Sam's heart stopped for the second or two it took him to figure out that neither of them had been hit. But he didn't have time to thank any of his lucky stars because Dean was scrabbling across the ground towards the gun again.
He grabbed him by the ankle of his boot and hauled backwards, wrestled him up against the wall of the shed.
'Dean, stop it!'
'Ce qui est emprunté est votre dette.'
Dean brought his palms up against Sam's chest and shoved hard, sent him backwards over the desk with a preternatural ease. There was no malice in the act, it was pure functionality but when Sam took the in-tray, a pen caddy and about a month's worth of paperwork with him to the ground on the other side, it hurt. By the time he had pulled himself together enough to wish the freaking EMF reader would shut the hell up and think maybe he'd broken a rib, Dean was standing beside the desk with the Glock again. Sam took one look at his brother, still spouting French and hellbent on eating a bullet and hooked his foot around, swept his feet out hard from under him. Dean hit the corner of the desk on his way down, opened up his temple along his browline.
It slowed him down but it didn't stop him, and Sam thought Holy freaking HELL, just fucking STOP, man as he got a handful of Dean's collar and smacked his face back against the edge of the desk with everything he had left.
Dean went slack in his hands and the EMF reader growled into silence. Sam let him drop, didn't care how he landed, just that he wasn't moving. He bent, hands on his knees, and tried to get his breath back.
'See that?' he panted, dragged a finger under his nose. 'That was your little brother kickin' your ass, jerk.'
The spirit was taking back souls who had cheated death. What a couple of morons. Who's bright idea was it to let a Winchester in the fucking room?
'You think it's true?' Sam asks him, looking up from the laptop.
Dean's cleaning the guns, parts laid out on the motel bedspread.
'Think what's true?'
'You know, what that spirit said. What is borrowed is your debt.'
Dean sniffs, doesn't look up.
'I'm still here, aren't I? So are you, Mr Sharpy In the Back. It was just a ghost, man. Just 'cause you're dead doesn't mean you're right. Besides, she could have been reciting the fucking French national anthem for all I know. Desk? Head? Concussion? I don't remember any of it.'
'I did say I was sorry.'
'Yeah, well, payback's a bitch, Sammy. Watch your six is all I'm sayin'.'
Dean doesn't say the obvious. That his debt's coming due. And they both know when.
Sam doesn't say it either.
'If you're gonna puke, let me know. I'll pull over.'
'I'm fine, Sam.'
'Cause you look like you're gonna puke.'
'Swear to God, Sammy, you say puke again – I will.'
'Alright, alright. It's just…you still look terrible.'
'Can we just go?'
Yes, please. Sam was glad to be back on the road. They'd spent the better part of two days in that motel room riding out the migraine-esque side effects of a Dean Winchester concussion. Dean in a foul mood was one thing. Nauseous Dean in a foul mood with a crippling insensitivity to light? Now, that guy was a real pleasure to be around.
Sam had on more than one occasion guiltily wished himself back into that shed, his hands at the back of Dean's neck and the corner of that desk looming invitingly again.
Dean had slept most of the previous day in the motel bathroom, plastered shirtless on the cool tiles like a gecko. After his fourth round of digestive gymnastics, Sam had given up trying to coax him off the floor. He had instead carried through a pillow and thrown a blanket over him where he lay, fingers of one hand splayed through the hair on the top of his head, the other shielding his eyes.
'Handgun,' he had moaned, when Sam squatted beside him and asked if he needed anything before he cleared out. In light of recent events, Sam didn't think he was very funny.
Sam started the car up. The stereo came on and Dean sank down in his seat, one hand over his sunglassed eyes and the other flapping at Sam until he turned it first down, then off.
They got out on the freeway and Sam wound down his window, thought maybe some fresh air might get the chalk-white out of the less Technicolor side of his brother's face. He glanced at the bloom of purple, green and yellow down Dean's temple and across his cheek and thought: Whoops. He really had hit him hard
'I'm sorry 'bout Rob, man. I didn't say anything before. Seemed like a good guy.'
Dean shifted against the doorframe. 'Can't save everyone, Sam.'
'I know, but…still.'
Sam left it at that, let his brother doze while he ate up the miles. Dean was right. They couldn't save everyone. Sam knew that. But still.
What is borrowed is your debt.
Right about now, Sam could stand to see a way around pay day.
Thanks for reading :-) Pdragon76