Peace, by its Battles Told
By Scientist in the stars
AN: Last chapter. Finally the epic struggle is complete. I hope the story served a good purpose and I would like thank everyone who reviewed as well as those who didn't. I deeply appreciate your comments and thank you for taking your time to read, for a lack of better words: pieces of my soul. Hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: They're not mine but I had fun pretending they were...what can I say? I live in my imagination.
"From this day forward, we shall join forces for a common purpose, and come to each other's aid in times of crisis—are you serious with this? Because if you are, you've just reached a new level of lame."
"Just keep going. You promised me anything and this is what I choose."
"Fine…We shall avenge the nation from above, and pacify the citizenry from below—dude, this doesn't even make sense. We don't rule anything. Maybe we should update it a little. How about 'we shall avenge bad cookie-cutter pop music, wanna-be punks with safety pins in their ears, and of course the classic damsel in distress…'
"Okay, okay. Chill kiddo….We seek not to be born on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. We merely hope to die on the same day, in the same month and in the same year—a little morbid but relatively cool and definitely true. There's no way I'd ever let you upstage me. Besides mourning is overrated and though I look amazing in black, the grieving look was so last season."
"I love you too, Dean"
"Chick-flick much? Sometimes I swear you were supposed to be a girl. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah… May the gods of heaven and earth attest to what is in our hearts. If we should ever do anything to betray our friendship, may the gods in heaven strike us dead—well actually it's more likely that the demons in hell would strike us dead but you get the general idea."
"Okay, now let's bury these things…Aw, come on Dean. It's only a shirt."
"Dude, it's from my first concert. Dad gave me the tickets for my twelfth birthday. It was the only present that wasn't hunting related. We dropped you off at Bobby's because you were too young to come along and spent two days driving down to Mississippi. It was so cool."
"And I'm the sentimentalist?"
"No, you're the one whose most sacred object is a book. No wonder you're not getting laid anytime soon."
"Dean, I'm eleven. I don't care about that stuff."
"Yeah well, you should. There's nothing more important than girls. Or in your case, guys."
"Dean, I'm not gay."
"Whatever floats your boat. I'm not one to judge, little brother."
"Let's just finish the damn ritual."
"Yeah, yeah. Speaking of which, where did you get the crazy pledge from?"
"It's the Oath of the Peach Garden from the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In it three warriors Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei became sworn brothers in a ceremony amid peach blossom trees—stop laughing Dean."
"Sorry, kid but you're making it too easy. Okay, we'll do your little brotherhood ceremony but how about we do it Winchester style?
"What did you have in mind?"
"Just listen and learn, baby brother…During the witching hour on this night of Old Hallows Eve….
"It's not Halloween, Dean and it's the middle of the day…"
"It's called dramatic effect and don't interrupt me…we brothers Winchester stand upon these holy grounds to sanctify our brotherhood. Blood makes us family but a choice made us brothers. Heart to heart we pledge our loyalty to the cause and each other. Friends for life, brothers for eternity. Not even hell itself can split us up.
"Thanks Dean. That was really nice. See, I knew you could act like a normal person if you just tried—"
"And from the houses of the holy, we can watch the white doves go/ From the door comes Satan's daughter, and it only goes to show/ You know…"
"I give up. You're unbelievable."
"Come on, Sammy. Sing it with me. I know you know the words. There's an angel on my shoulder, in my hand a sword of gold…
Sam sighed. "Let me wander in your garden/ And the seeds of love I'll sow/ YOU KNOW!"
"Atta boy. Okay, this sucker is buried. So how long until we come back?"
"Another ten years or if one of us dies. Which ever comes first. Though, with our family's luck, I'd say the latter."
"Don't worry, Sammy boy, I'll take care of you. It's my job and it's also the one thing I won't screw up."
Dean had screwed up badly. He had let down his guard, dropped the ball, and Sam had almost died. Granted logic told him he couldn't have stopped it. Sometimes life happened and all you could do was let go and move on. Unfortunately logic didn't do much to pacify the guilt.
His guilt was a shadow demon that hid in his subconscious mind, waiting for moments of fatigue or sleep. It wove nightmares and hellish scenarios, where a hundred futures and a thousand possibilities lingered in its crevices. It induced paranoia and damaged his instincts. If he let it take control, it was powerful enough to end him.
But he had Sammy to watch out for and so he learned to fight against it, to bury it instead of confronting it. He wasn't strong enough to win against it but he had learned avoidance from John Winchester, the very man who made it an art. And denial—well Sam, with his dreams of normal, thrived in it, and often tried to drag Dean down the rabbit hole as well.
Regardless of the circumstances and the weirdness that was Sam, Dean had still screwed up. It had been years since Dean had dealt with the possibility of his brother's death. 10 years in fact. Ever since the Striga incident, Dean hadn't let Sam out his sight. And when Sam needed him the most, his heart stopped. Literally.
"Dean?" A voice groggy with sleep and sounding a fraction of the actual age of the owner jerked him from his self depreciative thoughts.
"Yeah, kiddo. I'm right here." But you deserve better, Sammy.
"You're okay." Sam said with a soft grin that belied the trained hunter that was hiding behind the innocent boy exterior.
"Of course I am. It'll take something a little bit more than cardiac arrest to do me in. Imagine it, Dean Winchester: hunter extraordinaire being taken out anything less than a supernatural baddie in a pyromaniac display of fire and maybe a cliff."
"Hunter extraordinaire? I help out too, you know. And I saved you that one time in Massachusetts. "
"Yeah and that's why you're my faithful sidekick: geek boy extraordinaire."
"What happened to you? No one really filled me in on the details."
Dean sighed. "It's nothing to worry about Sammy. Just a bunch of medical crap; its really not that important."
Sam shook his head. "Dean, you're my brother. If it involves you, then it's important."
"Aww, Sammy. I'm touched. I never realized you felt that way—"
Sam scowled. "Cut the crap, Dean. I'm being serious."
Dean ran a hand through his spiky blonde hair—he'd have to get it cut soon (the hair drama with their dad was Sammy's thing) — and was about to make another joke until he recognized the stubborn look his brother's doe eyes. Realizing Sam would exhaust himself trying to get answers, Dean gave in.
"When I was younger, I had a heart condition called ventricular septal defect. Basically, I had a hole in my heart. It was something I was born with but it didn't start becoming a problem until I was three. I needed open heart surgery to fix it. I really don't remember too much about the whole thing except that Mom and Dad were really freaked about it. I also think that's when Mom started her whole angels speech. She said they'd always watch over me, especially when she couldn't."
Dean cleared his throat and turned his head for a second, to blink away any moisture that was trying to accumulate at the edges of his eyes. There was a reason he avoided bringing up his Mom in conversations, other than the obvious fact that it made his father sad. He also couldn't control the emotions her memories conjured.
"Anyways, there weren't that many complications and it hasn't bothered me much since. I just guess all this stress probably aggravated it and reversed some of the work they did."
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered, avoiding Dean's emerald gaze.
"Damn it, Sam. Why do you think I didn't want to tell you about it? You couldn't control what happened and so, whatever. The men in white fixed it and now we can pretend this conversation never happened."
"Despite what this family thinks, ignoring things doesn't make them go away."
"It does in my book. So change the topic, vomit breath."
Sam sighed but instead of retorting, he smiled.
Dean raised an eyebrow. Granted it was a genuine lopsided Sammy smile, with a hint of dimples and laughter shining in shy brown eyes that were hiding under unruly bangs, but Dean knew better. He had seen that same devil smile before and had ended up getting grounded for two weeks because of something that he for once had nothing to do with.
"Can I go home yet?" Sam asked, hopefully and Dean cringed. He hated disappointing his brother.
"No, kiddo. They want to keep you for one more day just to make sure the poison pill is all out of your system."
Sam looked as if he wanted to argue but seeing the stubborn look on Dean's face, he rolled his eyes and asked, "Where's Dad?"
"He's out." Dean actually didn't know where or what he was doing. The man had disappeared a couple hours after Dean had been released and whenever Dean tried his cell, it went straight to voicemail.
"Is he hunting something?"
"I don't know kiddo. He didn't fill me in on the specifics. He's probably just getting some air or something."
Though, Dean was pretty sure that if his dad was getting air it was probably the smoky cigarette haze and alcoholic fumes of the local pool hall. Either that or the man was drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Jack.
"But I thought you were a hunter extraordinaire. Wouldn't someone with your high levels of merits be privy to classified information like that?"
"Shut up Creeper. At least I can make the hot nurses smile without having to resort to getting naked like you do."
The smirk slid off Sam's face faster than the watery pseudo syrup on the cardboard pancakes that the hospital had served for breakfast. Dean had devoured his portion in less than ten minutes, Sam's in less than five, and had given into his brother's puppy-dog-eyes request for some real food in less than three...seconds that is.
"Don't worry, Sammy boy. I'm sure they're laughing with you, not at you."
Sam gave him a down-cast glance and Dean shook his head. "Don't even think you're getting my pity, little brother. If I give you an arm, you'll end up taking both of my legs as well."
Sam ducked his head and shot Dean the same look that had gotten the kid candy from every nurse over the age of forty. "I learned from the best."
Dean grinned. "Now flattery—that will you get far. Dude, your secret weapon might not be a die-hard body and killer looks (like yours truly) but you've got something far better. The good girls go gaga over that 'innocent kicked puppy orphan boy' thing and they're the ones you want to impress."
"But I thought you said that the easier the lay the more fun the—"
"Yeah, well you should know better than to listen to me on that topic. You're a traditionalist and I like to experiment. Trust me Sam. I saw that candy striper give you the once-over; you're doing just fine. You'll get you're apple pie life." I make sure of it.
Sam nodded and then innocently asked, "So, when's Dad coming back?"
Dean groaned, his good mood fading as quickly as it had appeared. "Geez, you're like a dog with a bone. I don't know, okay Sam. He just took off and is probably knee deep in some mess he's cooked up thanks to his short fuse, loud mouth, and the excessive amount of alcohol that is probably floating in his system."
Sam winced. "Dad's been drinking?"
"Yeah, well he's been under a lot of stress lately. You know how he gets around this time of year. Add that to the fact that he almost lost both of his sons…I think he deserves a little down time. I just wished he had taken me along so I could watch his back."
"He probably didn't take you because that would mean leaving me alone and we both know that I can't be trusted to be on my own."
The beginning of the sentence was riddled in guilt while the last part was stated with a sarcastic edge. Dean sighed. He was hoping the near death experience would silence the teenager in Sam but unfortunately someone in the universal karma department really didn't like Dean.
"Sam, he trusts you. It's just that your track record isn't that great. And I don't think Dad's ever going to let go of what happened back in South Dakota…"
"In my defense, the exorcism would have worked but I couldn't find real lamb blood so I substituted."
"Sammy, you used ketchup and you tried to exorcize a microwave." Despite the exasperation in his voice, Dean was fighting back the laughter that particular memory always caused. They were supposed to be tracking a water demon but after his brother's panicked phone call, he and his Dad had raced back to the motel room only to find a ten year old Sam standing in a circle of salt, clutching a bottle of ketchup, and chanting Latin.
"It was a possessed microwave and that only happened once. Why is Dad's judgment of me always based on solitary incidents, especially ones where I screwed up?"
Suddenly, Dean felt very tired. "Sam, I'm not going to get into this with you right now."
Sam looked like he wanted to argue but luckily recognized the starting signs of the migraine that was steadily growing in Dean's head and nodded contritely. The silence only lasted for a couple seconds before Sam began on a second barrage of questions: Does Dad ever talk about his past? Do you think that the reason he gets sad sometimes might not be related just to Mom? Did you actually eat that meatloaf last night because I'm pretty sure it was moving?
The list continued on and Dean couldn't help but flashback to earlier years when the questions were just as numerous in amount but simpler in context. 'Why is the sky blue' was a hell lot easier to answer than 'why do bad things happen to good people.'
Granted some of the questions five-year old Sam used to ask were difficult, such as 'why don't we have a mom?' but back then Sam was Sammy, a kid still stuck in his hero-worship stage who thought his big brother knew everything. Nowadays, Dean felt Sam slowly slipping away as he took refuge in normal rather than family. Dean would never stand in the way of his brother's happiness and Sam wouldn't ever be happy as long as they continued to hunt.
He saw the way it had almost destroyed Sam before and he would rather go to hell than let it happen again. Without Sam, however, Dean wasn't sure he'd be able to win in the fight against his inner demons. Oh well. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made for the greater good and in Dean's book—there was no good greater than his baby brother.
John took a swig from the bottle of beer and cast a weary glance toward the empty horizon. The broken gravel of an open road faded into a grassy field littered with faulted dreams and empty promises. Resting against the hood of the Impala, John tried to ignore the approaching darkness and glimmering stars that were indicating the late hour. He should have gotten back to his boys a long time ago but he couldn't seem to leave. He was afraid to face them.
He supposed that for once this mess wasn't his fault. Sammy's allergy to aspirin was unpredictable, random, frightening, and unavoidable but it wasn't his fault. He wasn't completely guilt free, however. His focused obsession on hunting and the supernatural had thrown off his radar in reference to anything normal. Had he been paying more attention, they might have caught it earlier.
But it wasn't the weight of responsibility or the fear of Dean's reaction, which wouldn't be as scary as it had been when the boy had first woken up from the medicated sleep but would still be relatively angry, that was keeping him from his boys. It was memories and issues he had thought he had buried along with the damn time capsule he and his brother had made, decades ago.
For once, John Winchester couldn't escape the fact that he was human nor could he run from his emotions. Currently, it was a buried sorrow, a forgotten pain that was resurfacing and he didn't want his boys anywhere within striking distance of it. He was their protector; it was his job to keep them safe. In another lifetime, he had been trained to be a soldier and now, amidst his most difficult struggles, it was the lessons of war that he relied on. He wasn't allow to be vulnerable but if it was inescapable (as it was right now), he couldn't allow them to witness it. They may grow in their reverence of him as a father but they would lose their respect for him as a leader. Right now, that forfeit would cost much more than it would provide.
Life is defined by moments, ones that are marked by memories and kissed by possibilities. His moments centered around one aspect—survival, because everything else was just a foolish game that idiots played in Death's playground where the consequences of falling are far greater than the price of happiness.
John was a smart man, whose innocence had been hardened by circumstance a long time ago. He understood his part and played it flawlessly but despite the image he projected, he wasn't a pawn in anyone's game. And his family wouldn't be a casualty in someone else's war.
Please review! And the song, the boys were singing is Houses of the Holy By Led Zeppelin.
Side note: Sam does not remember his "journey" because his astral self is a projection of the psychic portion of his mind; therefore the memories are buried in his unconscious and may resurface later (perhaps in future stories). Poor Sammy…as if his mind isn't tortured enough.