Disclaimer: Standard stuff. I don't own them, but I can't wait to see them again in season three!
A/N: I have no idea where this story came from. I usually at least have some memory of when the thought first occurred to me, but this time I have nothing. It almost – almost – wrote itself. Sometimes I wonder if my computer even really needs me, LOL.
I guess you could say this is a sequel to Scars from the Past, but you don't have to read that one to get this one. I'm not saying not to read it, though, LOL. You'll find plenty of angst in here and for a change of pace, there's Protective!Sam and Hurt!Dean….though he's not hurt physically. I hope you enjoy it; let me know what you think!
And for those of you who just can't get enough fanfiction, check out my profile for something I'm very excited about.
Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future - Lewis B. Smedes
Sam Winchester looked up from his laptop when his brother walked into the motel room. Dean was carrying a plastic grocery bag and a six pack of beer. They were in between jobs, having finished getting rid of a ghost causing problems in a small Nebraska town. The spirit was attached to a former brothel that had been remodeled a decade before and reopened as a boutique hotel. At first, the antics were almost amusing and didn't cause any problems. If anything, the notoriety was good for business, but the intensity of the behavior slowly increased over the years and what had begun as an interesting backdrop began to take a violent turn. The owners of the hotel were friends of an old contact of John Winchester and.
"You were in bed when I left," Dean commented as he put the bag on the table where Sam's computer was set up.
"Yeah," Sam went back to the laptop screen, avoiding the questioning look in his brother's eyes. "I couldn't get comfortable; I guess I'm not ready to sleep."
He didn't see Dean's skeptical look, though he wasn't really looking at what was on the computer screen.
"You want a beer?" Dean asked as he pulled a bottle out of the cardboard container for himself.
"Did you get the sea salt ones?" Sam asked, looking at his brother.
"Yeah," Dean grabbed the bag of chips and tossed it to Sam. Instead of reaching for it with his right hand, which he would normally do, he used his left. He hoped the pain he felt when he opened the bag didn't show on his face.
He noticed that wasn't a question, but he said nothing.
"Let me see."
"What?" Sam asked, intentionally trying to keep his tone innocent.
"Yeah, right. Your wrist. You've been favoring it since we finished that job and I saw the ghost throw that coffee table at you. You hurt your wrist again?"
"It's fine," Sam grumbled.
"Why are you being such a jerk about it?" Dean asked. Sam saw he was trying to evaluate the possible injury from across the table and he put his hands in his lap.
"I'm not being a jerk," Sam insisted angrily. "I'd know if it was broken."
"Broken? Who said it was broken? I just asked it if it was hurt again."
Sam glared at him and Dean held up his hands in surrender.
"Fine," he took the beer and a second bag of chips to the bed closest to the door and flopped down. He opened the beer and put it on the table between the beds and turned the television on with the remote control he'd left on his bed earlier. "You want to watch a movie?"
Sam sighed. He didn't actually want to do anything on the computer. He had wanted to lie in bed and maybe fall asleep early, but his wrist had been throbbing, so he'd gotten up to take some ibuprofen and found it was more comfortable to rest his arm on the table than in the bed.
"Pick one and I'll watch while I do this," he nodded vaguely at the computer screen he knew his brother couldn't see.
When Sam originally broke his wrist, Dean hadn't been quite himself. Their father's death was still new and he wasn't paying attention to a lot of things. The zombie case bothered him a lot because of his own brushes with death and his growing suspicion that he should be dead, that, somehow, their father had traded himself for him. Even if that wasn't true, Dean had already gone up against one reaper and an innocent man died so that Dean could live.
After they had reburied the former zombie, Sam had mentioned that he thought his wrist was broken and Dean off-handedly said they'd get it checked out later. Sam suffered in silence for two days until he finally couldn't take the pain anymore and insisted they go to a hospital. Dean had felt incredibly guilty for not paying even enough attention to notice his brother had all but stopped using his right hand and was keeping it wrapped in an elastic bandage. Finding out that Sam had a broken bone went a long way to snapping Dean out of his self-destructive funk, even if just a little bit.
Dean flipped through a few channels, paying more attention to his brother than to anything that was on television. He knew something was wrong and he didn't understand why Sam wasn't admitting it. Dean decided on an old horror movie that they'd both seen several times and after a few minutes, Sam nonchalantly moved to his own bed. He was good, but Dean still noticed as he carefully laid his arm across his lap.
Dean decided not to push him for the time being. Clearly, his brother didn't want to admit to the injury just yet, but Dean knew he couldn't let it go on for too long or there could be permanent damage. And Sam certainly couldn't hunt with an untreated injury.
They left town the next morning and headed generally west. They weren't going anywhere in particular, but there'd been no reason to stay where they'd been. As he often did in the car, Sam fell asleep after a couple of hours. Dean never minded, especially when he knew Sam hadn't slept well the night before. It was always easier for Sam to relax in the Impala than in any motel room and Dean suspected that was because it was the most familiar place in his brother's life.
Dean made a decision when he saw the sign just outside the Gothenburg city limits and when he parked and turned off the engine, Sam woke up.
"Where are we?" Sam asked, looking around.
"Still in Nebraska."
Sam sat up and rubbed at his eyes with his right hand; Dean saw him wince.
"Let's go, Sammy." Dean reached for the car door handle.
"Wait….Dean, where are we?"
"I told you. Nebraska. Specifically, Gothenburg Memorial Hospital. We're getting your wrist x-rayed."
"Bull. I know it hurts and I can see it's swollen from here. Now, stop being such a baby and get out of the car before I pull you out."
Sighing, Sam complied.
Sam was taken to radiology for an x-ray while Dean settled in the waiting room. Two hours later, his brother had been diagnosed with a severe sprain and fitted with a Velcro wrist splint. He'd been given a prescription for pain medication and instructions for a follow-up x-ray in two weeks.
Dean noticed the disappointment on Sam's face as they left the hospital and without a word, he pulled into the parking lot of The Dairy Barn on the edge of town and got out of the car.
"Sammy? Come on, let's get some ice cream."
"I'm not hungry."
"You don't have to be hungry for ice cream."
The younger Winchester didn't move. Dean hesitated, then leaned into the open window. "What's wrong?"
Sam glanced at him and then looked down.
"Sam, come on, dude. What is it?"
Dean looked at him. "For what?"
"Getting hurt. Again."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Dude."
"I just….I feel like I let you down."
"What? That's crazy. Besides, it's just a sprained wrist. You'll be back to the normal pain in my ass in no time."
Sam grunted, a slight grin on his face.
Dean tapped the car door. "Come on. There's a cone with your name on it in there."
Sam got out of the car and followed his brother to the door. "Dude, it's like 30 degrees out here."
"So? We'll eat the ice cream inside." Dean shrugged and Sam smiled at him.
Inside, they each ordered an ice cream cone and then sat at a corner table. There were only a few other people in the dining room and cheesy 80's music was playing through hidden speakers. Dean tried to ignore it, knowing he'd be back to his own music in a few minutes.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam didn't look at him.
"Making me get the x-ray." He held up his ice cream cone. "And for this."
Dean shrugged. "You always wanted ice cream when you were a kid and you got sick. I figured it might work for a sprained wrist, too."
"So, uh, I might have found us a job," Sam said after a few moments of contentment with the ice cream.
"I didn't think you'd really been looking. Every time I saw the computer, you were playing Minesweeper."
Sam smiled, embarrassed. "I was looking. Just not real hard."
"We don't need to jump right into a new gig," Dean said.
"It's in Montana." Sam's eyes were still cast downward.
"It could take a couple of days to get there."
"Not the way you drive," Sam joked.
"What's the job?" Dean asked, ignoring the barb.
Sam glanced around to make sure no one was sitting too close to them.
"Lots of kids have been attacked –"
"A striga?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head. "No, not like that. They go missing for a day or two. Some of them are found and some just come home, but they all have bruises and scratches with no memory of what happened. Medical exams show nothing, but some experts suspect sexual abuse."
"And this is our kind of job?"
"I think so."
"You want to share?"
Sam finished the last of his cone before speaking again. "Same thing happened about five years ago and five years before that. Same pattern has been going on since the 40's, when a guy was caught molesting kids and strung up by the townspeople."
"Aw, jeez." Dean leaned back in his chair. "So you're thinking it's the guy's spirit coming back to hurt the kids?"
Sam shrugged. "Could be."
"That is messed up," Dean muttered. "Why the five-year cycle?"
"I found some news stories about him that suggest he took five year breaks when he was alive, too."
"That's weird," he commented quietly. "And if it's a spirit really hurting those kids….it's got to be pretty powerful. Maybe it's a possession instead. Do we know where the guy was buried?"
"His name was George Humphries and no, not yet. I figure maybe if we can look at the old records…."
Dean sighed. "This is the job you find when you're barely looking."
"We don't have to take it."
"Yeah, we do. You ready?"
Sam noticed a change in Dean's tone. He was more subdued and his expression had changed somehow. He knew that could be because of the subject matter – Dean always reacted strongly when kids were in danger and add in a child molesting spirit….But Sam had a feeling that the change in his brother was something else, but he had no idea what.
A moment later, he followed Dean back out to the Impala.
Dean was worried about the children in the Montana town where they were headed, but he was more worried about his brother. He didn't like that Sam was afraid he was disappointed in him; for him not to admit an injury because of that bothered Dean a great deal.
He'd been disappointed with some of Sam's choices before, like leaving for Stanford, but he couldn't imagine really being disappointed in him.
Dean glanced at him from the corner of his eye. Sam was reading some of the printed articles he'd found about the child molester and his expression was grim. Dean couldn't imagine it was a very enjoyable read. He shuddered involuntarily as that thought occurred to him and a vague image popped into his head.
"You okay?" Sam asked, obviously noticing the small movement.
"Yeah, just a chill." Dean made a show of pulling his coat collar closer around his neck even though he knew that wouldn't help. The image and sudden chill were gone, but he was left with an indistinct yet unnerving feeling the he couldn't explain.
Sam reached forward to turn up the car's heater, then tossed aside the pages he'd been reading. "This is very disturbing stuff."
"I'd imagine so."
"I found a book excerpt about serial criminals online. We should try to find it tonight; there's a chapter in it about the child molester. Anyway, according to the excerpt, he traveled around the country doing odd jobs. The author theorized that he would go back to the same towns for the thrill of it, but would wait five years in between visits so that enough time would pass that he wouldn't be immediately recognized."
"Why would he do that?" Dean asked, his mouth dry. "Why not just keep going to new places?"
"Like I said, for the thrill."
"Well, he was a child molester."
Dean shuddered again.
"Dude, seriously. Are you all right?"
Dean heard the concern in his brother's voice. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You're not getting sick, are you?"
"I said I'm fine," Dean growled, sounding angry even to himself. He glanced at Sam and saw the hurt expression on his face. "How's your wrist? It's about time for another pain pill."
"I think ibuprofen will be enough."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. We can save the stronger stuff for real injuries."
"I'll take the prescription stuff if I need it," Sam assured him.
"Damn straight you will."
They stopped in the next large town they got to, hoping to find the serial criminal book and got lucky with a large, independent bookstore. Dean found himself in no hurry to get back on the road, which was somewhat unusual, and made no move to get Sam out of the store. He knew his brother could get lost for hours surrounded by good books, but that didn't encourage Dean to leave. He left Sam happily perusing the new releases and went off on his own.
Each section had several places for people to sit and, after looking through the shelves for a few minutes, Dean got comfortable in an overstuffed chair in a back corner of the building and started paging through a book about American muscle cars that he'd thought looked interesting.
Sam found Dean an hour later and stood behind him, surprised to see him staring into space with an open book on his lap. He'd been surprised that his brother left him alone for an hour; bookstores weren't Dean's favorite places and he usually got bored pretty quickly. Sam couldn't remember the last time he, or anyone, had been able to sneak up on Dean. He was always on alert and rarely missed any of the movements around him.
Sam watched him in profile for several moments. Dean didn't move save for the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. The expression on his face was odd. The rest of him looked relaxed in the big, overstuffed chair, but his face showed the signs of stress. His hands were resting on the book and curled into loose fists. Something was definitely bothering Dean and Sam had no idea how to approach him.
A moment later, Sam coughed and moved forward. He saw Dean flinch before turning toward him.
"Hey, you ready?" Sam asked, trying to keep his voice free of the concern he was feeling.
"Yeah. You find anything else you want?"
"No." Sam nodded toward the book on his brother's lap. "What about you?"
"Nah. I'm good." Dean stood up and laid the book on the nearby table before following Sam to the checkout counter.
"You know," Sam commented as they got into the car a few minutes later. "It's kind of early, but we could stop here for the night. It's been a while since we were in a town big enough for a choice of entertainment."
"If that's what you want to do."
Sam thought that Dean's voice sounded odd, hollow somehow. He shrugged. "Why not? I'm getting hungry anyway."
Dean nodded and turned the key in the ignition. "Okay. Let's find a motel first."
They rented a room in a motel slightly better than their usual standard. In addition to entertainment choices, another nice thing about larger towns was that they had more than one motel and competition tended to keep prices more reasonable than the lone motel in the small towns where they normally stayed.
Dean dropped his bag on the floor next to the bed that was closest to the door while Sam flopped down onto the second bed. He laid his injured wrist over his stomach.
"You okay?" Dean asked.
"Yeah; it's not as awkward as the cast was, but this thing is still annoying."
"You sure the ibuprofen is enough?"
"It's plenty. It doesn't really hurt, anyway."
Dean looked at Sam skeptically and sat down on his own bed. "Did you see any place on the way here that you want to eat?"
"I noticed a bar not too far away."
"That's no place to eat dinner."
Sam looked at his brother, sure the surprise he felt was showing on his face. "Since when don't you want to go to a bar?"
"I didn't say I didn't want to go. I said it's no place to eat dinner. We could order a pizza if you want to stay in; maybe hit the town later."
"Dean, what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're not acting like yourself."
Dean shrugged as he stood up and headed for the bathroom. He glanced at Sam as he went past, but said nothing.
In the privacy of the bathroom, he leaned back against the door and took several deep breaths. Sam was right; he wasn't acting like himself. He didn't feel like himself, but he had no idea what was wrong. He had an indistinct feeling of dread, but he didn't know about what. He'd learned to trust his instincts over the years, but this was different.
After a few moments, Dean pushed himself away from the door and moved to the sink. He splashed cold water on his face, avoiding his reflection in the mirror. He knew Sam was on the other side of the door, worrying about him and he hated that. He didn't like that he was going to have to back out there and see the concern in Sam's eyes. It wasn't Sam's job to worry about him.
Dean procrastinated as long as he could. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before reluctantly leaving the bathroom. Sam was sitting in one of the chairs with a book open on the table in front of him. Dean didn't know if he was reading or just pretending to, but he was glad the conversation they'd been having seemed to be over; at least for the time being.
"You ready to go find something to eat?" Sam asked after a moment.
"Yeah," Dean grabbed his keys from the bedside table and turned toward the door. He missed the worried look on Sam's face as he followed Dean out of the door.
They ate at a family restaurant near the motel. There were a lot of children around and Sam was surprised at Dean's patience. Sam couldn't help but think Dean was watching them with their parents almost longingly and assumed he was thinking of their own childhoods.
"You want to hit the bar on the way back?" Sam asked as they got back into the car.
"Yeah. Maybe I can get into a decent game of pool. You want me to drop you off at the motel?"
"Nah, I'll hang out for a while."
Dean scoped out the competition at the pool tables while Sam found a table in the back of the bar. The place was busy for a weeknight and it took several minutes for a waitress to come for the drink order. After ordering two beers, Sam sat back in his chair and looked around. Most of the people seemed to be in their late 20's, but there were a few older men on stools at the bar. The music playing was coming from a juke box, the song a current top 40 hit. The small dance floor was full of couples.
Dean picked up his beer from the table when the waitress delivered it and went back to the pool tables. It wasn't long before he was in a game and Sam left the table to check out the song selections on the juke box and picked a few of Dean's classic rock favorites then went back to his chair to keep an eye on his brother.
As Sam watched from the table, Dean easily won several games, smiling as he pocketed the cash. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, which wasn't always the case when pool and money was involved. In fact, if Sam knew that Dean was going to be playing pool, he insisted on being there in case things got ugly. He was glad to be able to relax for a change and watch his brother have fun. He wondered how much of Dean's good time was coming from the pool and how much from the beer he was drinking. Sam belatedly realized he should have gotten the keys from his brother, though he knew it wouldn't be too hard to keep him from driving later.
A couple of hours later, Dean finally took a break and fell into the chair across from Sam, a big smile on his face.
"Looks like you're cleaning up," Sam said. "And no one is threatening to break your neck."
"Yeah, that's a nice perk," Dean agreed, his tone light. "You doing okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Is your wrist all right?"
"I'm fine, Dean," Sam insisted with a smile.
Dean turned as someone called his name. He waved, then turned back to the table and took a quick swallow of his beer. "I've got another ass to kick."
Sam laughed and shook his head.
Normally Sam was tired of the bar scene after only a little while, but something about Dean's good mood was infectious and he found he was actually having a good time. He usually read or worked on the laptop while keeping one eye on his brother, but tonight he was entertained with people watching and listening to the wide variety of music that was being played.
An hour later, Sam's wrist started to bother him. He wished he had some ibuprofen with him, but resting his arm on the table seemed to help. He noticed that Dean was still drinking, but somehow it wasn't affecting his game. He'd also collected several phone numbers that Sam knew he would never call. They planned to leave town the next day and it didn't look like Dean was interested in hooking up with anyone tonight.
Sam was watching the dance floor later when Dean joined him again.
"Hey, Sammy, you ready to take off?" Dean's words slurred a little as he asked the question.
"If you are."
"Yeah, I'm out of opponents. It's almost last call, anyway."
As Sam stood up, Dean handed him the keys and he wasn't surprised that Dean fell asleep during the short distance to the motel. After Sam parked, Dean woke up enough to walk to their room almost unassisted, but Sam kept a protective arm around his shoulders. Dean flopped onto the bed, his head not quite hitting the pillow and Sam took his boots off. He pulled Dean into a sitting position long enough to slip him out of his leather coat. None of this was easy one-handed, but Dean was able to help just enough.
Sam took Dean's favorite knife from his bag and slipped it under his pillow, where Dean would expect it to be when he woke up. As Sam stood, Dean reached for his arm and looked at him. Sam noticed that his brother's eyes were glassy and he wasn't entirely sure Dean knew what he was doing, but he laid his own hand on Dean's.
"You okay, Sammy?"
"I'm fine, Dean. Go to sleep."
"Make sure the door is locked."
Sam's brow furrowed. "Sure."
"Don't go out, 'kay?"
Sam moved Dean's hand from his arm and laid it on his chest. "I'm going to get ready for bed and then turn in. Go to sleep."
Dean rolled onto his stomach, his left hand resting under his pillow. Sam suspected he was touching the knife. He straightened and watched his brother for a moment, then went into the bathroom to get ready for bed.
Sam wasn't surprised that he was awake first the next morning. Dean looked comfortable in his bed, positioned in much the same way he had been when Sam last saw him. After a moment of listening to his brother's quiet snoring, Sam showered and got dressed. Dean was still asleep when he was done, so he left the room to get coffee and food. He didn't think Dean would want to eat, but he would definitely want coffee.
Dean jerked awake, immediately aware of his throbbing head. He carefully rolled onto his back, relieved that the room didn't begin to spin. He glanced at the next bed and sat up when he saw it was empty.
"Sam?" he called. "Sammy?"
Dean got out of bed; he couldn't explain the panic he felt, but it was definitely real. He found the bathroom was empty and was headed to the window when he heard a key in the door lock. He rushed forward, pulling the door open and surprising his brother.
"Sam…." Dean let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
"Dude, what is it?"
"I – nothing, I just….Nothing." Dean bent down to pick up the cups of coffee that Sam had set on the ground so he could open the door.
"How bad is the hangover?" Sam asked, following him into the room. He set the paper bag on the table and took one of the cups from Dean.
"I'm fine," Dean said, his voice shaking just a little.
"I didn't know if you'd be ready for food. I have some doughnuts and croissants." Sam sat at the table and reached for the bag.
"I'm not hungry yet. Thanks for the coffee."
Dean saw the look on Sam's face. It was a combination of curiosity and worry. Dean hoped he didn't press for a conversation. He wasn't in the mood and had no idea what to say anyway. It wasn't unusual for the first one up to go out in search of coffee and food and since Sam's sleep was often interrupted by dreams, he was generally the first one out of bed.
"Have any idea how much you won last night?" Sam asked as he picked out the doughnut he wanted.
"Last time I checked, it was about $400."
Dean sat on the edge of his bed, not meeting Sam's eyes. He took the lid off of the coffee cup and tossed it onto the bedside table before taking a long sip. He hoped Sam didn't notice that his hand was shaking, but was sure that nothing was escaping his brother's attention.
"I took a shower, so the bathroom is yours whenever you want it."
"Thanks." Dean nodded. "So, uh, you okay?"
"Yeah. I took some ibuprofen before I left."
Dean nodded again. He watched Sam from the corner of his eye as his brother reached for his laptop and set it up on the table. He knew that Sam was worried about him, but Dean was thankful that he wasn't asking questions. After a few more sips of coffee, Dean headed for the bathroom without a word.
They were on the road an hour later, Sam behind the wheel. Dean rested his head against the cool glass of the window and fell asleep.
Sam knew that he had to pick his battles with Dean. His brother wouldn't talk about everything and what he did talk about would be when he wanted to. Sam didn't expect Dean to be willing to talk about that morning any time soon, so he didn't even ask. He pretended not to notice his brother's shaking hands or the quiver in his voice. It could have been the hangover, but Dean had had much more to drink with less of a reaction before.
He didn't know why Dean would have told him not to go out the night before. Unless they were working, Sam didn't generally go out that time of night. In fact, he'd been at the bar with Dean much later than he normally stayed out. Of course, Dean had been pretty drunk when he said it, but Sam didn't think the alcohol was the culprit.
He hadn't been acting like himself since the day before and was being overly concerned about Sam's wrist. He knew any injury normally sent his brother into mother hen mode, but something about this time seemed excessive.
Sam glanced at his brother when he heard what sounded like a whimper. Dean's face was scrunched like he was in pain and the one hand Sam could see was clenched into a fist. Something was definitely wrong and Sam was worried. He wondered if he should wake Dean, but before he could decide, his brother's eyes opened and he sat up straight.
"Where are we?" he grunted.
"I'm not exactly sure. You were asleep for almost three hours."
"Sorry." Dean rubbed his face.
"No worries. There's a town coming up. Wanna stop?"
"No, I'm good."
"Dean, you can talk to me, you know?"
"I'm not; it's just –"
"Drop it, okay? I'm hungover. That's all."
"You sure you're not hungry?"
"Not especially, but stop if you want."
"That's okay. You wanna drive?"
"Nah. Just don't crash my baby."
Sam rolled his eyes.