K Hanna Korossy
"Now it's over."
Sam said it calmly and with relief, the house no longer feeling uneasy for the first time since he'd stepped in it yesterday. No, it was just everything else that bothered him now, including a battered body struggling just to stay on its feet.
And Dean, standing there looking like he'd been run over and didn't even know what had hit him.
Sam wobbled again where he stood, putting a hand back to support himself on the wall he'd just been glued to by invisible forces. Before his mother—hismother—had made the poltergeist let him go. She'd only been a face in a photograph for Sam, and it had still hurt to see her. For Dean, it had to be a fresh knife in the gut. And Sam really would have liked to let his brother have time to process, except the room was starting to waver.
"Dean?" He put his other hand out, just intending to find something steady to hold on to, but there wasn't anything in front of him except Dean, who didn't look too steady.
The tremor in his voice was probably what snapped his brother out of it, and Sam's hand was grabbed, then his elbow, taking his weight easily as Sam's knees finally gave up. Dean's eyes were still a little shell-shocked, but there was no distraction in his tone as he said gruffly, "Sit down before you fall over."
Right. Why hadn't he thought of that?
He was manhandled over to the nearest chair, a fat lounger Sam sank into the depths of and didn't know how he'd crawl from again. Dean's worried face hovered in front of him. "You okay?"
Sam blinked, feeling every bruise. But no tearing pain, no double vision, no difficulty breathing. He nodded. "I'm just…really, really tired." He dropped his head back, eyed his brother. "You?"
Dean's face shifted, or rather, the bones shifted under his skin, like there was something going on below the surface he was trying to contain. "I need to get Missouri. Will you be okay here?"
Sam probably should have been nervous, staying in the house, but it held no memories for him and was finally clean. He nodded. "It's safe now. Dean—"
"Not now, Sam." Dean stepped back, his face hard. Sam could have gotten a lot more from his eyes, but Dean wasn't looking at him, staring at the spot their mother had stood, then at the ceiling. Sam followed his gaze, wishing he knew what Dean was thinking, or even what he himself felt. Of all the things he'd expected to find in Lawrence, his mother had not been one of them.
Then Dean visibly pulled himself together, the good-bye squeeze of Sam's shoulder, probably meant to be encouraging, leaving bruises of its own. And as Sam rolled his head against the back of the chair to keep Dean in sight for as long as possible as he walked away, he realized his brother hadn't answered his question for the second time.
Or maybe he had.
But Sam hurt and was exhausted, and this wasn't the time to sort out what had just happened and what it meant. Dean would be okay for the moment, and that was all he needed to know as his head sank to one side and he surrendered to the softness of the chair.
The call was low and kind, but it yanked him out of sleep as if it'd been a yell. Sam blinked to clear his eyes and figure out where he was.
The living room wasn't familiar, but Missouri sitting next to him, watching him, brought it all back. Right, the house. Sam rubbed a hand down his face.
"What's going on?"
"You were about to dream again," Missouri said, not without compassion.
He gave her a wry smile, wondering if she could teach Dean to wake him before the nightmares instead of watching him worriedly after he roused gasping. "What time is it?"
"A little after seven. Dean didn't want to wake you yet."
And speaking of his brother, as Sam glanced around, he was conspicuously absent.
"He sat with you most of the night while you and the girls slept but…" Missouri looked like she was considering what to say, or maybe how much. "It's hard for him to be here."
Sam nodded tiredly, rubbing at his sore ribs. "I know. I can't even imagine what it was like for him, seeing Mom yesterday."
"Can't you?" Missouri asked with a raised eyebrow.
Sam stared back. He had to watch what he thought around her.
Dean was outside, waiting, probably more than ready to go, and with a sigh, Sam started inching out of the chair to go join him. Muscles had stiffened up overnight, his throat tight with swelling, and he bit back more than one groan as he eased himself to his feet. Missouri also stood. "I'm going to take a walk through the house one more time, just to make sure."
Sam nodded, hearing her footsteps retreat but intent on his goal of making it outside. Now that he thought about it, he'd had enough of this house, too.
He moved with slow steps, sides and back aching and his head throbbing. The sleep hadn't helped much; he had no idea what the poltergeist had against him personally, but it had taken it out on him with a vengeance. And then Dean had come to the rescue, and Mom. His family was protective even beyond the grave. Sam almost smiled.
He passed the ravaged door, testimony to Dean's desperation to reach him the night before. The cheerful sunshine kicked his headache up another notch, but Sam kept going, sinking down on the front steps to catch his breath. And to watch Dean, who stood by the car talking to Jenny, something in his hand. Sam studied him from across the yard and decided his brother was doing about as well as he was. Yay for them, the Winchester wounded.
Missouri came out to join him a few minutes later, and the news sank his heart. Their mom was gone for good this time, destroying herself to save them. Another family legacy, and Sam's abused throat worked a second time to hold back tears. Ultimately, Missouri had no more answers than they did, and he was almost relieved when Dean called and asked if he was ready.
They got in the car without looking at each other, and drove away faster than usual.
Dean seemed calmer than the night before, expression almost bland, but up close Sam could see that was deceiving. It wasn't obvious, but he knew how to read his brother: the tension in the way he sat, the stiffness of his arm on the steering wheel, the unbending neck. What had happened the night before bothered Dean even more than it did Sam.
Sam shifted tiredly in his seat, the old springs not doing his bruises any favors. He saw Dean's eyes flick to one side, noticing, and his grip on the steering wheel tighten fractionally.
"I've been better," he said softly.
A wrench of the lips. "I hear ya."
Sam knew he did. It wasn't the point. "Dean—"
"I don't wanna talk about it, Sam."
He paused. "I was just going to ask where we're going."
Succinct. But more informative than he'd expected.
They reached the edge of town, and Dean flicked the radio on, as if he hadn't wanted Lawrence to sully his music. Sam smiled faintly and leaned his head back against the seat, letting the throb of the bass and the muted roar of the car engine lull him.
He lay back on the bed smiling, happy to be home, happy to have seen his brother.
Something dripped on his face.
He opened his eyes, and started to scream.
And jolted awake.
This time it hurt physically, too, and Sam rode out the wave of pain in teeth-clenched silence while he willed his heart to settle.
It took him a minute to realize Dean was throwing him sideways glances, and as soon as enough cobwebs cleared from his head, Sam realized why. "Jess again," he murmured.
"Sure? No more freaky visions?"
Dean always had a way of making him feel so much better. Sam's mouth twisted. "No. No freaky visions, just freaky memories."
Dean's expression flattened. Another time, he probably would have smoothed the tension with a tease, apologizing in his own way, but they were both feeling battered that day. Sam pulled a little further into himself, wrapped his jacket closer around his aching body, and tried to rest without falling asleep.
The miles slid past his drowsy eyes, and he finally realized they were heading west, possibly to the California job Dean had mentioned. He hadn't really listened to where the deserted boat was, but if it was near Palo Alto, maybe he'd ask Dean to stop so he could visit Jess's grave. He longed to see his friends, too, but wouldn't be able to explain the fresh bruises or shadows in his eyes. Jess wouldn't ask questions, at least.
Dean's voice startled him, the first words either of them had spoken in at least a hundred miles. Sam blinked at him, and saw Dean still wasn't meeting his eyes, his tone carefully neutral. Sam sighed. "Sure, why not?"
The Impala slipped over into the exit lane without further discussion.
The rest stop was an unusually nice one, with an actual little seat-yourself restaurant instead of the usual fast food court. Sam eased himself out of the front seat while Dean was busy filling up the car, and made his way slowly inside, sitting at a table by a window and leaving the chair against the wall for Dean. It had taken a lot shorter time to fall back into old habits than it had taken to shake them once he'd gotten to Stanford.
Dean came in and over without even looking around, and sat down across from him. "What looks good?"
"I haven't checked out the menu yet." Sam picked it up and flipped it open, and quickly found he wasn't as hungry as he'd thought. After a minute, he set it down again and rubbed his eyes.
And found Dean watching him with a frown, expression unusually opaque. Or maybe Sam was just too tired to read it.
"Your throat still bothering you?"
It occurred to him belatedly they hadn't exactly had time to compare notes the night before. Sam smiled fleetingly. "It's not that—the poltergeist threw me around a little last night, before it got me against the wall."
He'd thought Dean's face was hard before, but that was nothing compared to the planes and angles it took on now. His menu also dropped back to the table, forgotten. "What, were you saving that for a surprise for later? How bad is it?"
Sam shrugged, uncomfortable now with the very attention he'd been trying to court earlier. "Just some bruises—I'm okay."
"Let me see." Concern disguised in sharp impatience.
Sam glanced around the nearly empty dining room. "Dean…"
"Show me, or I'll look for myself," came the flat response.
Sam's lips thinned; even a concerned Dean only got so much slack. But it wasn't worth the fight, and wearily and with an attempt at being discrete, he rolled his shirt up. He hadn't looked to see the damage and didn't now, but his brother's face was mirror enough.
Dean's eyes flicked up to his, then, without a word, he got up and walked out.
Sam's mouth stretched into a humorless grin, and he propped his arms on the table and his face in his hands. Over the last few months, he'd nearly been strangled to death by his brother's double, killed by his own reflection, and lost his dad possibly for good, but still they kept reaching new depths of screwed up. Maybe he shouldn't have told Dean about his dreams and the house, except he couldn't have lived with the consequences if Jenny and the kids had died as a result. But he wasn't doing a lot better with this fallout.
He looked up blurrily to see Dean had returned and set something on the table in front of him. Painkillers. He hesitated a moment before reaching for the bottle. It wouldn't help what hurt worst, but at least Dean hadn't walked out on him in anger. Or if he had, he'd come back.
Sam swallowed the pills, washed it down with some water, and contemplated the menu with dull eyes again.
A sigh pulled his gaze up. Dean was shaking his head. "You're not hungry, are you?"
Sam grimaced. "No. I thought you were."
"Don't worry about me," Dean said shortly, tossing the menu down and rising. "I'll get some stuff to go. Wait here." He moved off before Sam could respond.
Sam sat and stared at the tabletop, feeling like everything he did was wrong.
Dean came back with a bag, then hooked an arm under Sam's. "Come on."
He let Dean do the work because he really was exhausted, and not surprised to find that despite his brother's icy expression, he handled Sam with care. The hand that guided him did so without leaving new bruises or pressing on old ones. It eased him into the Impala's front seat, and nestled the bag of food at his feet before shutting the door gently after him.
The driver's-side door creaked a few seconds later, but Sam's eyes were closed by then. He rolled his head blindly that way. "I'm okay, Dean."
"First place outside Kansas, we'll stop for the night."
His eyes opened. "It's still morning—I don't have to—"
The piercing stare cut him off. "I said I wanna get out of Kansas, not that we've got someplace else to be. You've got more bruises than skin, Sam—we can afford to take a day or two to let you rest up."
And then there were times when he didn't chafe at all at Dean making the decisions, because he knew it was what they both needed. Sam gave in gracefully and leaned his head back against the seat, noticing Dean hadn't started his music up again. He wondered if that was significant.
He hadn't realized he'd dozed off until the car stopped. Dean was eyeing him as if he were afraid Sam would fall apart if he said the wrong thing.
Sam grimaced. "You wanna get us a room?" he asked pointedly, as Dean didn't seem about to move. They were sitting in an almost-full motel parking lot. "I take it we're parked here for a reason."
Dean gave him another loaded look and climbed out of the car. Sam rubbed his eyes and forehead, trying to remember when he'd felt this tired. After the Skinwalker beat him up, maybe. That one hadn't left them unscarred emotionally, either, and sometimes Sam wondered if his spirit was as resilient as his body. Months of nightmares and demons' taunts and worrying about Dad and his brother had taken their toll. Sam often had doubts he'd be able to keep going at this rate.
And then he wondered what choice they had.
He was so tired, Dean returned without his even noticing. Sam's door swung open and then his brother was coaxing him out by the arm again without asking. Sam didn't argue, even when Dean carried both their bags.
There was no sign of impatience as Dean shuffled with him to the door, which he shut and locked behind them. "You want the shower?" He turned back to Sam.
Sam shook his head, looking longingly at the beds. Even the stiff motel covers looked inviting.
Dean nodded and turned one down for him while Sam slowly peeled off his jacket and shirt, then his sneakers. "Are you hungry yet? I got some soup and sandwiches."
He shuddered at the thought. "I just wanna sleep, Dean."
"Okay." Dean watched him crawl into bed, then turned away to get the blinds. It didn't cut out all the mid-morning sun, but it threw the room into a comfortable gloom that eased the pounding in Sam's head.
His brother could read his mind sometimes, but Sam was surprised when Dean disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a wet, folded washcloth he lay on Sam's forehead. The cold was a shock, and he reached automatically to pull it off, but Dean caught his hand. By the time Sam irately shrugged himself free, the coolness had dimmed his throbbing headache and he stopped fighting. His brother gave him a half-amused snort and moved away.
Sam had to fidget a while before he found a relatively comfortable position. Dean finished unpacking and had the laptop set up on the table across the room, his face lit by its glow as he settled in to work. The comfort of the familiar scene eased Sam's dejection a little.
He watched his brother, drowsy but unable to turn his thoughts off yet.
It was the first time he hadn't been immediately shut down, and Sam decided not to press his advantage. Yet. "What did Jenny give you?"
"Just some old pictures, couple of documents. We'll go through it later."
Dean hadn't looked up, and his answer didn't invite Sam to continue, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "Pictures of us?"
There was a moment of silence, although Dean wasn't reading. "Yeah."
"Do you remember any of them?"
Dean was lying. The fact cut Sam worse than this brother's curtness, and he rolled onto his side, away from Dean, sucking in a breath when it put pressure on sensitive spots.
There was a long silence, unbroken even by typing and clicking. Then Dean asked quietly, "How's your throat?"
Sam swallowed painfully. "It's fine."
Another pause. "Sam…I'm not…" He knew he would've seen Dean's jaw working if he'd turned around. Then his brother's voice firmed. "Get some sleep, Sam."
He did, feeling well and truly alone for the first time since he'd buried Jess.
Sam dreamed of his mother.
Her face was sad even as her whisper was tender. Sam swallowed with difficulty, and murmured the name he'd never called anyone in his life.
She reached a hand to his face, and he closed his eyes.
Cold. The iciness jolted him awake, to a dark room and hands turning him onto his side.
"Easy, Sam. You're just running a little fever."
The voice was low and steady, reassuring. Sam squinted in confusion. "Dean?"
Dean rolled him back, onto a mound of pillows, and pulled the blankets back up around him. "That poltergeist really did a number on you—you were having a hard time breathing. How's the throat feeling?"
His head still thick with confusion, Sam was more honest than he might have otherwise been. "It hurts."
"Hang on." Cold prodded his lips, and he opened them to what he thought was a drink of water but instead turned out to a piece of ice. "That might help, since you don't want an ice pack. I'll get you some pills in a minute when your throat's a little more numb."
He blinked hazily. "Dean, I saw Mom."
Only the slightest pause, then the cold wetness was back on his forehead, the icy hand of his dream. "I know, Sam. I saw her, too, remember?"
"No," he said frustrated, but his throat felt swollen and even words were a tight fit.
"Take it easy—you're gonna choke up again." A hand rested warm on his belly.
Sam tried to relax, letting the ice melt down his throat. He accepted another few pieces and sucked on them, the cold easing his throat by degrees.
"That feel any better?"
"Yes," he whispered miserably.
"Sammy…" He barely recognized Dean's laugh. "You're not gonna give this up, are you?" A deep breath. "Fine. What do you wanna know?"
He hadn't expected the offer, and opened his mouth to petulantly reject it. Dean's reluctance dripped from every word. But the questions ached in him, and Dean was offering, and probably wouldn't again. Sam tried to clear his throat and winced. "Are you mad I asked you to go back?"
The breath came out as a deep sigh. "No."
That was the truth this time. Sam strained to see his brother's half-turned face in the darkness. "If we hadn't gone, maybe Mom wouldn't've…"
"Then the poltergeist would've killed Jenny and the kids. Mom wouldn't've wanted that." Dean's gaze moved restlessly around the room. As much as Sam needed to hear this, Dean wanted to avoid it. Sam didn't want to push, but there was one more thing he needed to know.
"What do you think she was sorry for?" he rasped.
Dean licked his lips, shook his head. "You're starting to sound like when you were twelve and your voice was changing—you should get some more rest."
He pushed himself up on one elbow. "Do you think it was about Jess? Or the dreams? That maybe she gave them to me somehow?"
"Sam—" It was gritted and low.
"I mean, doesn't this freak you out, too, Dean?"
"Yeah, I'm just waiting for you to go to sleep so I can go off the deep end," Dean deadpanned.
Sam's smile was a grimace in the darkness.
The hand on his stomach slid down to his side and patted with unexpected gentleness. "Look at it this way, Sam. If Mom was still there and she was okay, Jessica probably is, too."
It took the words a moment to sink in, but when they did, they lifted a boulder off his chest. Sam took a lingering breath, mouth agape, and blinked back tears. "Yeah? You think so?"
Dean shrugged. "Makes sense."
The relief was a chain reaction, easing his mother's memory, the grief of Jess's loss, and the guilt over both. Sam laughed disbelievingly, then started to cough as his throat closed up in protest.
"I knew I should've knocked you out," Dean growled, but he shifted Sam forward, rubbing his back as Sam dropped his forehead against his brother's shoulder and tried to relax and just breathe. Déjà vu to the house the day before, Dean having just saved him from a possessed lamp cord.
Dean was always saving him.
They'd both done now what they'd sworn never to do: Sam had returned to the hunt, Dean to the house. Mary was an abstract memory for Sam but a real one for his brother, and no matter what Dean said, Sam knew the main reason he'd gone back to Lawrence hadn't been for Jenny and her kids.
He'd been selfish. Dean was struggling at least as much with all this as he was, and there was no one there to give him answers. Just Sam, always stirring up what Dean preferred to let lie, haunted by dreams he couldn't explain, asking and prodding and needing.
Sam stirred, realizing just how weak he was when he tried to push away and couldn't. Dean wouldn't let him, not when Sam needed him. And this was why he was able to keep going. As much as he chafed at being ordered around and at his big brother's reverence of their dad and even at how much he needed Dean, oh, God, he did need Dean. He just hoped he could return the favor.
"I'm sorry," he murmured into Dean's shoulder, only wheezing a little now as he breathed out his grief and breathed in his brother's presence. Others had soothing childhood memories of perfume and potpourri; he had leather and sweat. They had always been different. But family was family, and as a fragile calm finally settled over him, Sam started to drift.
And heard just before he fell asleep Dean's quietly baffled, "For what?"