Notes: A companion of sorts to 'Life at Sea' but you don't need to have read that. Probably the darkest thing I've written. Possibly irrelevant, but it was there, so I wrote it and here it is.
WARNINGS: are fairly spoilery and so are at the very bottom of the page. If you feel you could read without, go on. If you want fair warning of topics, please zip down to the bottom and check it out.
I promise, the next thing I write will be happier. Just have to get this stuff out of the system sometimes.
"You are sad now, in this moment, but then you will go and return to your life."-A.M.Q.
Dean dies early. I thought the hell hounds would come for him. I thought he'd just disappear. No body. No soul. Not here, anyway. Instead, I was at a Drug-Mart, looking at an entire wall of packaged socks when my phone rang. An unknown number.
"Samuel Winchester?" A severe tone that I didn't recognize. Warning bells rang. Very few people that know that name say it in that certain way. For a second, I thought it might be some collection agency, expecting some remittances on student loans.
"Uh…yeah?" I juggled the socks from one hand to the other, set a two-liter of pop on the shining, tile floor. "Who's this?"
"Mr. Winchester, I'm calling from Lucas County Hospital."
My heart tripled it's rhythm, began to pound. Bad news. "Yeah?"
"Are you a relative of a Mr. Dean Winchester?"
"Yes. Yes, sir. That's my brother." Dean, who I'd left at the motel—a glance at my watch—just about an hour and a half ago. That's not a lot of time. Not enough time to get in any serious trouble. I thought.
"Mr. Winchester?" The voice echoed across the line. "You should come down as soon as possible. Your brother is not doing well."
They're lying. By the time I get there, Dean is long dead.
He's lying behind curtain 7, I remember the numbers, always, the numbers. Curtain 7, six days before his expiration date, May 4th. The caseworker leads me back, and gestures inside.
"He looks okay," she reassures softly, reaching for the pale green curtain. "Don't be afraid."
That's not what I'm afraid of, I scream inside my head. That's not what I'm afraid of. My fingers feel tingly and I can't blink, my eyes dried out and wide. I think that I should call Bobby.
The area behind the curtain is empty, just the gurney and a side table and the buzzing of fluorescent lights overhead. The sheet is folded down to Dean's shoulders. He looks asleep, deeply asleep and utterly still, like a mannequin, a fake. His hair is dusty and blonder somehow, paler, his lips the washed-out pink of ballet shoes. I reach out to touch his forehead and I can't even say if it feels right. I can't remember, already, it's slipping away.
"You'll be able to have an open casket," the caseworker says. She glances at her papers. "Dean's files said that he is Catholic? So, I assume you'd want that."
I can't help the skeptical scoff that huffs out of me. Catholic, Dean? Really. I can't imagine why anything would say that, unless it's a leftover from Dad. He'd always preferred the Catholic blessings. And then I see the thin, brown yarn lying across Dean's shoulders. The scapular. A thin piece of twine and two pendants, meant to save his soul from Hell. Oh, God.
I reach for the sheet.
"Maybe you shouldn't--"
I fold it back carefully, overly starched cotton bending cleanly.
"Umm…it's, um, they cleaned him up already. And the doctor explained everything to you, right?"
There is a hole in Dean's chest, my brother. Oddly ragged and pale, the size of a dime. It sits just over his heart.
"Mr. Winchester? The doctor explained it to you, didn't he?"
"Yeah," I croak. Clear my throat and try again. "Yeah, I understand."
"I need some socks," Dean says as I'm pulling on my jacket. "Get me some socks."
I pause, turn to look at him. As if the list were not already long enough. Dean has apparently decided to do all of his shopping for the year right now, courtesy of me. "What kind?"
He seems confused and looks at me like I'm an idiot. "The…normal kind?"
"Magenta, Sam. Please. The brightest they have."
I roll my eyes and reach for the doorknob. "Okay. Socks. Normal socks. Got it."
"And some chips. The good kind."
I sigh and stop again. The list of items is already slipping from short-term memory. "Do you want to go, Dean?"
He sits back at the table. "Nope. Just don't screw it up."
I raise a hand in passing and he calls out as I'm closing the door. "Hey, Sammy?"
I stop, turn to see him sitting at the table, hands in his lap. "Yeah?"
He looks down and away and then right at me, green eyes shining. "Thanks."
I shrug. "Don't worry about it."
And then I leave.
I find the M&Ms on the day Dean was supposed to die.
They're in the glove box, stuffed beneath mounds of papers, receipts, tickets, whatever garbage has been stored here for decades. Right next to a glove I lost when I was seventeen.
Dean is all around, every day, but this makes my muscles jump, my throat closes. This is food. Dean's food. Only alive people eat. It feels like forever since he's been gone already, but here is evidence, right in my hands. Dean was here. Recently.
I smooth the wrinkles out of the bag, fold the torn edge over carefully to keep the remaining M&Ms inside. That's when I see the writing. Along the crimped edge of the bag is lettering in Dean's sketchy block print, navy blue ink on the yellow bag. LEDZEP 4:7. Dean's notes were always fairly cryptic but this is a different style entirely. It looks like a bible verse but the only Led Zep I know was definitely never mentioned there. I know right away what Dean was talking about. I know what Dean's bible looks like.
The numbers, though, I can't be sure. Songs, albums, maybe lines. I don't even know why it's important, some cryptic note Dean made maybe months or years ago, but it's part of him and it's here and I want to understand.
Sitting there in the motel parking lot with the car door hanging open, I pull the laptop out. A search of Led Zeppelin 4:7 gets me nowhere. Led Zeppelin fourth album gives me a discography and from there the seventh track on it. Goin' to California. Very funny, Dean. I look at the bag again. I want to know when he made this note, when he was thinking this. When I was gone? When I was leaving? When he came to get me? But, there's nothing on the bag to give me a clue. I tuck the bag into my pocket and reach under the seat for the cardboard box of cassettes. They seem so fragile now, like relics, artifacts and I stack them carefully on top of each other, vowing to get a better case for them all. When I find the right cassette, I stick it in the deck, turn the keys in the engine, and wait.
Bobby arrived the day after. I'm supposed to go talk to the police that afternoon, fill in some holes in their report, pick up the gun. The motel room had been cleaned and scrubbed down. All of our stuff was put to one side in neat piles. Too neat, actually, like no one had been there. Like no one had lived there. So, I'd pulled everything out, tossed it around. Scattered clothing and books all over, till it looked like a tornado had gone through.
Bobby came through the door, looked around, raised an eyebrow, and shrugged. "Hey."
I shoved some clothes onto the floor to make room to sit on the bed. "Hey."
"How's it goin'?"
I didn't know what to say to that. I couldn't remember the question. I shrugged.
Bobby adjusted his cap. "We were close."
"Yeah. We were." My voice cracked and my throat was tight, like talking around a vice. Oh, God. I might cry. In front of Bobby. I pressed my hands between my knees and hunched forward.
"I don't know what to tell you," Bobby said. "Accident's happen."
I don't think it was an accident. Dean is careful. Way too careful for something like this. Don't you see that, Bobby? Can't you fix it? I shook my head, unable to say anything.
Bobby took a few steps into the room, shoved his hands in his pockets. "At least we know for sure that he isn't…you know, down there."
"You don't know that for sure."
He gave me a dry look. "Don't second guess it, Sam."
I nodded and pressed my lips together.
"How 'bout we go get something to eat, huh?"
I couldn't even entertain the idea. It felt absurd. Stupid.
"Did you eat today? Sam?"
"What did you say to him?"
Bobby paused, shook his head. "Say to who?"
"To Dean? When I died, what did you say to him?"
Bobby barely moved, poker face in place. "Wasn't anything I could say."
I nodded, settled farther into the bed. "That's what I thought."
When we have the fire, it's three days later and back at Bobby's. Bobby drives the Impala back through open fields, slow going over the bumps and rough spots. The windows are open and a chorus of crickets leads us on. I hold the pile of our accumulated research on my lap. It's no good anymore.
It's dusk; sky grayed out pink and the air is cooling fast. It was Dean's favorite time of day, he'd told me once. You can't hide in the daylight and there are monsters in the dark. It's best at the in-between.
Bobby's already built the fire. I can see the mound of logs and twigs up ahead.
Dean is in the backseat.
Bobby pulls up and parks the car, cuts the engine. "Here." He holds out his hands and I give him half the pile of research. My knees feel like rubber bands trying to hold me up as I walk around the car. I kneel beside the woodpile and tuck one of my books into the center, fold it open so that the dry pages flutter in the cool breeze.
Bobby works quickly, tucking loosely crumpled papers into the nooks and center of the fire. I can't see his face beneath his ball cap and I'm not sure I'd want to. He finishes before I do, but I'm taking my time. I know what comes next.
"C'mon." Bobby nods toward the car. He opens the back door and tugs at Dean's booted feet.
I'd given Bobby the clothes to dress Dean in. His boots and his jacket and his favorite jeans. I can't imagine how Bobby had worked out actually dressing him though, can't imagine him in the house, trying to work Dean's loose limbs through sleeves and pant legs.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time and when I see him now it seems okay, too. He's dressed like always, he looks like Dean; this is just how it is. I reach to take his shoulders, get a good grip on the worn leather and feel the bone beneath. No warning. My throat closes, I choke, and sob harshly, once, bite down hard on my tongue in an attempt to keep it in.
"Sam," Bobby says. "C'mon, now." He's hunched over a bit under Dean's weight, looking at me with wide eyes.
I can't stop. I can't stop and it has to be done and I don't even understand how it all ever came to this. I nod and cough again, it feels like I'm crying all over. Through my eyes, my nose, out my mouth. I shuffle toward the woodpile, can't barely breath, can't really see.
"Sam," Bobby says again. "Sam."
I think I'm going to die right here. My fingers are tingling, my head is light and foggy. Every exhale is a sob, every inhale, a choke and a cough.
I take the last step to the woodpile and we settle Dean on top. I can't let go though, dig my fingers into the leather, bow and press my forehead to his.
Bobby moves away to the car and comes back, white sheet in hand.
My ears feel clogged, like I'm underwater and far away. My stomach heaves and settles. My brain throbs. My eyes burn. I can't breath here.
"Here." Bobby steps up beside me after a few minutes. He unfolds a corner of the sheet and reaches up to scrub it across my mouth, dabs at my eyes, wipes the rough cloth under my nose. "I ain't got no tissues."
I take a breath, trying to get control. Control like a tub stopper trying to hold back a flood.
Bobby spreads the sheet out over Dean. When I hear the scratch of the match, I turn without thinking and start walking.
I don't look back and Bobby doesn't call.
Our socks never match. It's a fact of life, of traveling constantly, of living out of a car. Dean's socks are my socks, my socks are his. Clean socks are clean socks. That's that. Now, without him, I'm not sure which ones to wear. It's probably the last thing I should be worrying about, but I've got nothing except time now, so I dump our bags out on the floor of Bobby's spare bedroom and sort through them.
I still can't tell whose is what, so I just try and match them up the best I can, separate the clean from the dirty. Black from white.
There's a fairly new white pair and when I pick up one, I see a smudge of blue along the top. Dirty. I lick my thumb and rub it along the stain. It doesn't look like anything that will come out, except…I flip the sock inside out.
It's writing. ACDC 13:8 scrawled messily through the ridges of the ribbing in the sock.
For a second, I can't move. I don't want to know. Why would Dean take notes in his socks? Or, worse, in my socks.
Curiosity gets me though, and I find the cassette, fast-forward to the song.
These aren't just notes, I realize. I sit down on the bed, still holding the stupid sock, let the music wash through and over me. Dean knew he was going to die. Of course, he did. And he did this. Left this, for me? I turn the radio up a bit, try and listen to the words, but it's nothing I haven't really heard before.
I don't get it, Dean. I'm sorry.
I fold the sock carefully. It's never washed.
I'm fairly certain it's not what Dean would want.
I do it anyway.
The stone I pick is flat and dark, nearly black granite. I ask Bobby what he thinks and he just shrugs, says, "Looks fine to me."
I call the cemetery in Lawrence, tell them what I need. Tell them, while they're at it, they should add Dad's name to Mom's stone, too.
As soon as I walked into the police station, I started to sweat. It's a sympathetic reaction or something, can't really explain it. Wish I had the nerves of steel like Dean, but I don't.
The officer on the case, his name was Calloway. He knew I was coming and led me back to a quiet room. I sat in the straight-backed chair and waited as he shuffled through his papers.
"Is this going to take very long?"
Calloway paused and smiled at me. "I'll be as quick as I can." After a few moments, he laid out a few papers in front of me and pointed to the first. "You understand that the incident has been declared an accident. There was no evidence of foul play, no break in, nothing to indicate otherwise."
"The weapon your brother was handling at the time will be withheld, though."
Calloway looked up in surprise. "Well, it will be looked over a few more times. If there is a malfunction that caused it to discharge, that should be repaired. Also, it's registered under your brother's name. I can't well hand it to you. After we've gone over everything, in a few months or so, you can have the paperwork filed to change the registration." He waited until I agreed to continue. "Okay. However, I do have this to give you." He reached under the table and brought out two, large Ziploc bags. One held a few rags, oil, cleaning tools. In the other lay Dean's keys, his cell phone, and a blank notepad. "We wanted to be thorough."
I took the bags from him, clutching at the items inside. "Thanks."
He nodded sternly and shrugged. "It was an accident, son. Tragic, and I'm sorry for that. Let us know if there's anything else we can do for you."
I stood and shook his hand. "I'll do that."
"And remember what I said about that gun. You call us up in a couple months if you really want it."
"Sure," I said.
Only thing was, I really, really wanted that gun. Desperately, irrationally. The last thing of Dean's.
Late that night when everything was dark, I went back to the station, and I got it.
I watch a lot of TV some days. Today isn't one of those days. Today, I sit at the kitchen table, while Bobby goes about his day. He pats my shoulder every time he passes, doesn't say anything though.
I try and work it out in my head, what I could do. Stay here, find a school nearby, graduate with honors, Bobby would cry at the ceremony. I could leave, keep doing the job alone, make a stupid mistake on a stupid hunt and get myself killed, lost to rot in the middle of nowhere. I could go back to Stanford, try and find the happy place I had there before, fail miserably, end up flunking or dropping out. I could…
Dean could have…
I can't decide. Nothing ends well. So, I stay here for today, sitting at the table.
The hospital was quiet when I ran in. I felt frantic, like the world was ending and no one else even realized.
"I'm looking for my brother," I told the man at the front desk. "Dean Winchester. I got a call…"
I turned to see a portly, old doctor standing next to me. "Sam."
"I'm Dr. Ruger," he said, reaching to shake my hand. "I handled your brother's case. Why don't we talk over here?"
I followed him numbly to the empty waiting area. Bad. Bad, bad news.
"Sam," the doctor said calmly. "I'm sorry to tell you that Dean's had an accident. I'm afraid he passed away earlier this evening."
My head rattled. "What?"
"Your brother has died. There was an accident at the motel where he was staying."
"What? An accident?" No…No…
"Yes. The police are investigating, but as of now, we believe Dean was cleaning a handgun of his?"
It was a question, he wanted confirmation and all I could do was stare.
He went on anyhow. "The weapon must have went off on him accidentally. The bullet entered his chest here--" The doctor tapped his white coat just above his heart. "The manager of the motel called 911 when he heard the shot. But, there was extensive internal bleeding. We did everything we could, but…it was too much."
"How?" I choked.
Dr. Ruger frowned. "I'm sorry?"
"How did he die?"
The doctor hesitated a moment, but then he nodded and explained. "The bullet pierced his lung and entered his heart. There was nothing we could have done."
He choked. He drowned. I wonder if there is a hole in my chest, too.
"Do you have any other questions for me?"
How could this happen? An accident? Are you sure? Why are you lying? When will I wake up? I had six more days…
I shook my head.
"I love this thing." Dean shakes out his shoulders and takes up a batting stance. The machine fires a ball and he swings hard and low, connecting solidly.
"Hey, Dean?" I cross my arms and slouch against the chain-link fence of the batting cage. "Can you listen for a minute?"
"I'm listening," he says. The snap-crack of bat on ball echoes through the cool night air, over the dead miniature golf course and open-air arcade.
"Really listening," he confirms and adjusts his stance. Snap-crack.
I sigh, consider taking the bat from him, but then he swings again and I figure it's probably not worth getting that close. "The thing is, it's about the whole, um, deal thing."
"What about it?" Swing. Snap.
"Well, it's just that, I've been looking and I haven't been able to find anything and we've only got a little time left, so I was thinking--"
"We can't break it."
"No, I know that, but I'm just thinking that we should look into some other options, you know?"
"We can't break the deal. We can't make a new deal. I'm not going to hell." Dean swings again and misses, momentum nearly turning him on his feet.
"We don't know that for sure."
"Don't second guess it, Sammy."
"You quit wearing the scapular."
"I'll wear it when I need it."
"What if it's not enough though? The hell hounds, I really, I think they might not care."
Dean pauses for a second to glare. "You worry too much."
"Somebody has to." The fence groans as I lean further into it.
"Okay," Dean says. "No hell hounds, I've got the scapular on, and I kill myself. Problem solved."
"What?" I jerk forward. "You can't do that."
He rolls his shoulders. "I could."
"You wouldn't. You couldn't. Dean, you're not--"
"Suicidal?" He raises an eyebrow. "No, not really." He looks down and scuffs at the dirt with his boot.
"You've thought about it though?" I ask quietly.
He squints out at the ball machine and shrugs stiffly. "Yeah…I guess so. I mean, with this life, Sam?" He shrugs again and brings the bat up just in time to swing. He connects and I watch as the ball flies back the way it came, disappearing into the dark. "Anyway," he says in a loud tone. "Everybody thinks about it."
"Yeah." I nod. Fair enough. "Okay." I watch as the machine ejects another ball and it flies toward us. I wince in anticipation of the crack, but it doesn't come. The fence rattles as the ball hits it and falls to the ground. I turn to Dean and he stands facing me, bat held loosely at his side.
"You?" he stutters, mouth falling open. "You've thought about it?"
He looks angry and I take a step back into the fence. "You just said everybody does, Dean."
"Yeah, well, you're not everybody, Sam!" he roars. The bat falls to the ground as another ball flies by to hit the fence. Suddenly, he's in my face, grabbing at my shirt. My back hits the fence, hard.
"Not you! Okay? When was this? You should have come to me, Sam. Jesus."
"Dean, it wasn't--"
"I don't care!" He shakes me with every word and I bring my hands up to still his wrists. "If you ever hurt yourself, Sam, I swear to God, I'd kill you myself and keep your bones in a shiny, little box just so I could summon you up anytime I want and do it again. Slowly. You got it?"
I swallow hard and meet his bright eyes, flexing my fingers around his wrists. "And if you're not around?"
He lets go so abruptly it hurts and backs up to the other side of the cage. He grabs at the fence and looks right at me, opens his mouth and then shakes his head and closes it again.
Low blow, Sam. "Dean," I start. "I didn't mean it like that."
"No." He holds up a hand to stop me and picks up the bat. "You're right." He holds the bat out to me. "Here. You try."
Because there's nothing else to do, I take it, wrap my fingers around the warmed grip and hold on tight.
I don't even look at the gun until several weeks later, sitting on the bed in Bobby's spare bedroom. It's wrapped in a sweatshirt and I unfold it carefully. It looks the same, a weapon, a defense, not like something that killed my brother. Shining silver and rigid curves. I pick it up and check the magazine on instinct. It's empty, of course. No way I would carry it around loaded. No way Dean would have been cleaning it that way.
I flip it over in my hands, feeling the smoothness of it, looking for Dean's fingerprints. My fingers find a rough spot in the metal, just in front of the trigger guard. I turn the weapon over, rub at the spot with my thumb. It's not an imperfection though, it's carving, careful and precise. Letters and numbers. LYNSKYN 4:10.
Without thinking, I dig out the cassette, put it in the stereo that sits on the dresser.
I sit on the bed and hold onto the gun and listen.
Now, this is how I know.
Dean killed himself.
He orchestrated the entire thing, had planned it that way to look accidental, to get out of everything. To save me. To save himself.
Dean killed himself. I have the evidence in my hands.
I've known it in the back of my head all along and the truth of it doesn't hurt as much as it should. I couldn't have stopped him. Dean was going, any which way he could find. He was going.
I know. Mom gave her life for us, and Dad for Dean, and Dean for me, and it swells within my chest, all of them and their strength. I don't feel that important. There's no comfort in it, not now, not when all I want is my brother back.
At least, at least it was on his own terms and not those of any demon. He's free, finally, from the control of those that hurt us and scared us.
I'll find comfort in that thought later, much later. Right now, it just floats through my head, flimsy and weak, a dandelion seed caught on the breeze.
Warnings: character death, suicide
LEDZEP 4:7, Goin' to California
ACDC 13:8, Hell or High Water
LYNSKYN 4:10, Gimme Back My Bullets