For Pen for her birthday
K Hanna Korossy
He'd been expecting it sooner or later. There'd been that constant prickle on the back of his neck and whisper in his ear that he'd learned to pay attention to. Not loud or certain enough that it wasn't startling when it came, but sufficient to gather supplies and Sammy in less than thirty seconds and go to ground.
"Hey, Sammy." The curious, expectant look on the five-year-old's face usually made Dean to smile, but this time it made his stomach feel like a tight fist. "C'mon, you wanna play campout?"
Sammy nodded eagerly and left his coloring to slip his hand into Dean's. It made it easier to tug him into the closet.
Dean dropped the blankets in the far corner, a nest Sammy immediately settled into, and clicked on the flashlight. He did one last check of what he had: extra batteries, a handful of packaged food, Dad's spare canteen filled with holy water—drinking water if necessary—Sammy's latest read-aloud book and a handful of comics, the hunting knife Dad had given Dean only for emergencies, and the bag of M&Ms he'd put away for a special occasion, just in case his brother needed extra bribery. Then, satisfied, Dean gave the room a last worried look, and shut the door. The lock was on the inside on this one; Dean had sussed it out earlier, so he didn't have to wedge something underneath the door.
He set the flashlight down so it illuminated Sam's face from below, making it look just like the ghost at that house Dean had watched his Dad clean out a few months before. Wincing, he moved the light so it shone on Sam from the side. "Yeah, Sammy?"
"Can we tell ghost stories?"
"Sure." He settled on the edge of one of the blankets, half an ear tuned to the room beyond. No sound yet, but he knew it was coming.
"An' make shadow monsters?"
Dean smiled, unable to resist his little brother's enthusiasm even though he himself felt like throwing up. "You always make the same one, doofus."
"Bunnicula's funny!" Sammy insisted, already giggling at the thought.
"Okay, but listen, we've gotta be quiet. We don't want to wake up the grizzlies while we're camping, right?"
"Right." The loud whisper almost had Dean rolling his eyes. "Dean?"
"An' can we eat marshmallows?"
Was that a noise out there? Dean's whole spine felt kinda itchy, his fingers tingling with cold. "We don't have marshmallows, Sammy, but I brought Slim Jims."
He flinched at the exclamation. "Sam!"
The small face immediately dropped. "Sorry, Dean. Sorry." A real whisper now.
Dean sighed, reaching out to tousle the ridiculously floppy dark curls. "It's okay. Just don't forget the grizzlies, okay?"
"Okay." Forgiven, Sammy showed his gratitude by shifting over to lean against his big brother's side. "Can we do shadow monsters?"
Still silence from the other room. Dean swallowed. "Yeah, sure, Sammy. You start, okay?"
It was hard to pay attention to Bunnicula, though.
They exhausted every animal Dean could think of and several he'd made up, including the possessed parrot he'd have to show Dad, before moving on to Sammy's book. It was Ralph S. Mouse this week, which Dean had to admit was kinda cool. A mouse that rode a motorcycle he could relate to.
That's when he finally heard stirring in the other room.
Heart suddenly beating hard against his chest, Dean swallowed and finished the sentence, then carefully folded down the corner of the book, totally ignoring Sam's frown at the desecration. "Okay, Sammy, your turn. Which one do you want to read?" He spread out the comics while pressing one ear against the door. Definite movement. His hands prickled, and his face felt like it was freezing. Where was Dad?
"Ummm, this one," Sammy said, pointing to Spider-Man. Dean nodded, letting Sammy slip it free and open it. He still needed help with some of the harder words, but for a five-year-old, he was a terrific reader. It wasn't like they had a lot else to do, some of the places they stayed in.
The shuffling outside the door became a definite thump, then several. Footsteps. Coming closer.
"Start reading, Sammy, but not loud, remember? Quiet, like when you're telling a secret."
Sammy's eyes lit up at the last word, and he bent over the comic, starting to read in halting syllables. Dean's gaze slid back to the door.
He thought he could hear breathing over the sound of Sammy's soft reading, and Dean squeezed his eyes shut, hand creeping over to his brother's leg. Sammy either didn't notice or didn't care, already immersed in the adventures of Peter Parker.
The door knob turned a tiny bit until the lock stopped it, and Dean's hand bunched in the corduroy of Sammy's pants.
His heart jolted, feeling like it would break through his ribs at any second. Oh, God, it knew he was in there, knew his name. Maybe he should have stuck Sammy in there and stayed out there to draw it away…
"Dean, can you hear me?"
Go away! his mind yelled back, but he couldn't say it, not with Sammy there next to him not knowing what was going on. Besides, maybe it was bluffing. Maybe it wasn't sure he was there and was trying to get him to reveal himself. Dad had told him about tricks like that. Dean pressed against Sammy's side, feeling his little brother's warmth and stupidly comforted by it.
"Dean, I… God, I don't even know what to say to you. This room—you're, what, less than ten?"
Dean blinked. It didn't sound evil. But it didn't make any sense, either. Maybe it was crazy?
"Look, I know you're scared. And you've got…Sammy in there with you, and you're trying to protect him. But you know what? The best way to protect him is if you come out."
Dean snorted softly under his breath. Yeah, right. Now he knew it was crazy or evil.
Sammy looked up at the sound he made, giving him a quizzical look. Dean just smiled a little and rubbed the narrow chest with his knuckles. "Keep reading, kiddo."
"Listen to me, your dad…your dad sent me. All right? John. He's on a hunt and he wanted me to make sure you were safe. I know your dad—I know what he does. You can trust me, Dean."
Dean narrowed his eyes. Uh-huh. What's the password then, ratface?
It seemed to read his mind. "The password's, uh…"
It broke off to say a word that made Dean's eyes widen and he automatically looked down to see if Sammy had heard. But Sammy didn't seem to hear anything at all, happily reading on. Was it there only for Dean?
Dean felt a prickle of heat go through him. It wasn't the password, not even close. But it had been about six months before. How did it know so much?
"No, huh? Han Solo? Broccoli sucks?" A sigh that sounded sincere. "Look, I don't remember exactly, but those sound like your kind of passwords, don't they? Dean, believe me, please. I just want to help you."
And Sammy? Dean thought with a curl of the lip.
Dean gulped, staring hard at the wood he could dimly see in the periphery of the flashlight's beam. This wasn't like any monster his dad had ever told him about. And that was really frightening.
"Okay, listen, uh…your mom died in…Sammy's nursery when you were four. You and Sammy and Dad have been moving around ever since, right? You've lived for a while in Reno and Tulsa and…uh, some place in New Jersey. Sometimes your dad leaves you with Pastor Jim. If you come out, we can call Jim and he can vouch for me, okay?"
"No," Dean breathed before he realized it. It knew too much, but even more so, the voice was so…persuasive. Like he should trust it, like it didn't even scare him, although it did. It wasn't Dad, which meant it wasn't trustworthy.
"Keep reading, Sammy."
"Sammy," he said sharply.
Silence. It took a few seconds to sink in, and Dean finally dragged his eyes from the door to look at Sammy.
His brother was looking at the book with tear-filled eyes.
"Sammy," he said more gently, bumping the kid's shoulder.
"I don't wanna play campout anymore." It was a murmur, barely meant for his ears.
Dean ignored the voice for once. He blinked, his own eyes prickling, too, which was plain dumb. He was too old to cry, certainly for something like this. He and Sammy were still there, together and safe, right? It hadn't even tried the door again, let alone shown any signs it would try to break in. They just had to hang on until Dad got home.
"Sammy. Hey." Watery eyes met his. "I'm not mad, okay? I just…I was listening for ogres. Remember them, from that book?"
New life leapt into Sam's downcast face, transforming it. "Yeah! Ghost stories, right, Dean?"
"Yeah, Sammy. Ghost stories. Can you think of one?"
Lips pursed in deep concentration, Sammy considered it.
Not listening to you!
"Dean…you're playing campout in there, aren't you."
Not listening, not listening…
"Ghost stories and…shadow monsters? And junk food. Right?"
Dean convulsively pulled Sammy closer to him, body curled around the smaller one, between his brother and the door. Always protect Sammy, always—
"I never figured it out. I always thought we—you—were playing, but you were trying to protect your little brother, weren't you? When, Dean? When someone noticed the bruises and knocked on the door? Or when you heard something out in the night?"
Dean buried his face in Sammy's hair while Sammy started in on whatever story he'd finally put together. They never made sense but it didn't matter, had never mattered except that he was safe and happy and there. And Dean loved him, even when he was annoying enough to spit.
"I just thought we were playing." A long pause. "Dean…I was lying before, all right? I admit it. I'm not a friend of your dad's. It's me. It's Sammy."
His mouth twitched. Well, at least he knew that wasn't true.
"I just…I've gotten big, all right? So have you, but…something happened and…I really need you to come out, Dean. I need your help, big brother."
It was stupid. Right? No way that could be Sammy. Didn't sound at all like him. Not with Sammy's voice chattering in his ear, something about bunnies and blood. He really had to get the kid to stop reading Bunnicula.
"Hey. You told me once that whenever I needed you, you'd be right there, remember? And I asked you to pinkie swear, and you did, all of it, even the 'hope to die.' And then the next week…uh, Josh…Josh Bilder pushed me down the stairs and I hurt my wrist, and I was really mad at you that you weren't there. And Josh brought me in some jellybeans a few days later and he wasn't mean to me again, and that was because of you, wasn't it."
Dean's throat felt dry, his head a little spinny. How did it know? Dad knew about Josh, but not about the pinkie-swear promise.
"And you let me sleep with you until my wrist got better, and we didn't tell Dad. You said it was gonna be our secret, but you weren't ever going to let—"
"Stop," Dean whispered.
Both voices stopped. Both Sams.
He closed his eyes, felt the awful knot in his throat like when Pastor Jim had called once and said to take Sammy someplace safe and wait for him there and not let even their dad know because it wasn't really their dad, and Dean had had to choose whom to believe. For them both. To keep Sam safe.
"Dean." Soft. Kind of like his mom's voice in his head.
He reached with hot-cold shaking fingers for the doorknob, rested them on the metal. He could stay there until Dad came back, but it wouldn't help this panicky fear inside him that he was letting his brother down by doing so.
"I need you, man. Both of us do."
He swallowed, clutching Sammy so close that the kid squawked—but safe, happy, here—and he twisted the lock open. Dean found the knife on the floor and gripped it with one hand.
"That's it. Come back to me, Dean."
And he swung the door open to whiteness.
Dean woke, arms feeling oddly empty.
He groaned into the pillow, his lashes scraping against rough cotton as he blinked, then squinted. Pillow?
Someone else groaned nearby.
Dean's body reacted to the sound even before his brain did, pushing himself up on sore, wobbly muscles. Sammy needed him.
Or the tuft of dark brown he was guessing was Sam, anyway, just visible from above the edge of the bed. Dean frowned, puzzlement growing by leaps when the brown hair lurched, and suddenly Sam was scrambling away from him, all tangling limbs and clumsy motion.
Oh, not away from him. To the bathroom. To hurl, by the sound of it, and Dean grimaced.
He rolled to his feet, tested his balance. It felt okay, even though for a second it seemed like he was…taller than he should be. But no, same familiar broad and callused hands, same jeans and boot-clad bowlegs, as if he'd grown up on a horse instead of in a car. Same short peaks of hair under his hand.
Same brother, spewing in the bathroom. Dean grunted and moved, lurching like a drunk. He wasn't ready to think about why yet; Sam first.
He could walk nearly without stumbling by the time he reached the doorway. The bathroom was dark, but his brother's hunched figure was clear.
"Sammy? You okay, man?"
A hand rose and waved halfheartedly over one shoulder.
Dean sighed, turning away to collect a thin washcloth and wetting it. He smoothed it over the back of Sam's neck, filled a plastic courtesy cup with water, and dropped onto the edge of the tub by the toilet. When Sam looked in serious danger of baptizing the top of his head in the mess in the bowl, Dean slid a hand under his forehead. This, he could handle. This, he knew.
Whatever it was that had just happened? That, he wasn't so sure about.
Sam finally sagged, which Dean took to mean no more revisiting dinner. He hitched a fist in the back of Sam's shirt and helped him flop back against the side of the tub, before sliding down next to him. Then, nose wrinkling, pushed up just enough to reach the toilet bowl latch to flush before dropping back.
He offered the cup to Sam, who'd dragged the washcloth from his neck to his forehead and had his head tilted back against the porcelain, eyes closed. Blindly, Sam took the cup, tipping forward just enough to sip. The first mouthful was spat back into the tub.
"Bad burger?" Dean finally asked.
"Bad potion," Sam said wearily.
A beat. "Okay, if that's supposed to make sense…"
Sam opened his eyes and turned his head a little toward Dean. And smiled. "Good to see you again, dude. Y'all right?"
"Besides feeling like I missed out on the punch line? I'm super."
"Good." Sam's eyes shut again. "That's good."
"We weren't just playing campout, were we?"
Dean froze. Memory poured back in: the closet, Sammy, the thing outside. Sam? Dean groaned. "That was you." As if his brother didn't crawl into his head enough…
Sam pulled in a deep breath. "You remember the dybbuk? Took over little Aisha—"
"—Sennett. Yeah, I remember. Kinda blurry on what happened to it, though." Or himself.
A sudden tremor ran through Sam, and Dean pressed a little harder into his shoulder, brow drawing together. "The cleansing ceremony didn't…exactly go as planned."
"When do they ever?" Dean sighed.
"The dybbuk was kicked out of her, but it got in a last lick. The psychic backlash was aimed at me, you just sorta…got in the way."
Dean raised an eyebrow. That did sound kinda like him.
Sam made an exasperated sound. "You shoved me out of the room and took it yourself. Jerk."
Okay, that sounded totally like him. "Probably saved your life again then. Bitch. Backlash like that coulda short-circuited your psychic-powered brain."
"Dean, you were comatose for over a day."
"Oh." Dean stared blankly at the Daddy Long-Legs climbing the far wall. "Huh."
"Yeah. Huh. The only way I could reach you inside your head was through this…potion Missouri had me mix. Which, by the way, I don't think is meant for human consumption."
Right. Dybbuk, closet, potion. It was pretty sad how much sense that was making.
And the picture it was drawing: something whammied him, and he retreated into his childhood. Sam had had to come after him to coax him out of a friggin' closet. So much for his pride. It wasn't even like he'd hid with Sam a lot. As he'd grown older, Sam had become adept at defending himself, and they'd faced more than fled dangers.
Still, it wasn't one of the moments Dean had wanted to revisit from his past. Why not the time he did his first solo in the Impala? Or that afternoon with Marcy Slocum under the bleachers?
Sam's voice had softened. "I never knew. About the campouts."
"Yeah," Dean said uncomfortably. Nothing like your brother picking through your brain. "You said that already."
"What were we hiding from?"
Dean shrugged. "Landlord. CPS. A fox fairy once. I didn't always know."
"I had no idea."
"That was kinda the point, Sam," he said, gruff. Still, Sam had reached him in there. Maybe some part of Dean had recognized adult-Sam; it explained the odd trust he'd felt. Or maybe he just couldn't say no to his brother in any form.
Dean cleared his throat. The tile was cold under him and the room smelled faintly of vomit. He turned back to Sam.
"We done here?"
"You kept me safe, Dean," Sam said quietly.
Exactly the point, Sammy.
Before Dean had to hit him, however, Sam was pushing himself to his feet. They sort of ended up helping each other up, both a little wobbly, a little awkward.
Dean made a face. "Shower?"
"I wasn't gonna say anything…"
He shoved Sam out the door, waiting to make sure the kid wasn't going to fall over before shutting it after him and finally flicking on the light. His own reflection caught Dean's eye, and he stared for a moment at the mirror, and the face he didn't always recognize.
"Zeppelin still rules," he muttered to the mirror, and turned away to strip.
He was so finding Sam a vampire rabbit next town they hit.