Title: Things We Know
Summary: A salute to the classic episode Faith... would Sam still have taken a dying Dean to Reverend Roy LeGrange even if he knew that to save his brother would be at the cost of a stranger's life? Alternate ending. Warning: Character death and language.
Note:This is my first fic for Supernatural, and will be posted in 3 parts. Standard disclaimers apply. "Things We Know" is an homage to my favorite episode "Faith," and almost like a 'love song' for the entire series. Many of my favorite lines from the show will be recognized by fans as having been pulled from various episodes and then shoved into the fic's alternate situations (the reason why will be explained later). These will be attributed in the footnotes.
Things We Know
Chapter 1: Sam
You remember the weird things, Sam reflected, as he absently leafed through his father's journal, not really seeing anything of it, as his mind was situated quite far from the details in the ratty old book, and even farther from the insanely sterile, dead damn hospital room he was sitting in.
He glanced at his sleeping brother with a frown.
Wake up, damn it.
He sighed in familiar disappointment (he's been at this for hours), and looked back down at the book he wasn't reading.
What a long day, he thought miserably, feeling bone-weary. Today, after all, felt as if it began almost forty-eight hours ago, with him and Dean preparing for a hunt. And then that deal turned south and ended with his heretofore seemingly invincible big brother on the wet ground, not a breath or a heartbeat left in him. Lying on a puddle of water, looking life-dried and dead-and-out, precisely because that was what he was.
Dead as doornail, he thought, morbidly, experimentally, as if to say it many times would help him get over it, Signed off, shut down, lights out, fat-lady-sung...
He shook his head at himself in disgust, and reverted back to that thought,You remember the weird things.
He could still hear the agitated sound his booted feet made against the puddles on the ground as he pounded over to where Dean lay. He skinned his knees when she slid to land next to his brother. He could still feel the initial sensation of cold wetness on his knees, when the water diffused past his jeans to his skin. He knew he was alert and aware at the time, because the sensations were so acute, their memory so vivid and accessible. The other memories, the tougher ones, the harsher ones, were big, imposing black holes. Empty and overwhelming at the same time. He knew they impacted him heavily and yet he couldn't get a handle on them.
He couldn't remember the feeling of Dean's skin when he grabbed him. He couldn't remember the absence of the pulse on his brother's neck when he reached for it (though arguably, he couldn't possibly remember something that wasn't there), his brother's still chest beneath his palms as he pounded, and cried, and called him back from wherever it was his dumbhead-electrocuted-lazy-ass had hidden himself.
He did not think he was surprised that Dean had managed to claw his way back out that dank hole. If he had been surprised, he, again, couldn't remember. But he did remember Dean's hazel gaze settling on his face. Dean had opened his eyes, and found Sam straight away. Dean had always come whenever Sam called. And speaking of calling... Sam did not remember calling the ambulance either but it came. He could not remember remembering the number of 9-frigging-1-what-the-hell-comes-next-1 but heck, he supposed he must have.
He flipped a page. And another.
There was no rhyme or reason to it. Just flipping pages here. He read a few words, skipped a ton. Sometimes his mind and body were so disjointed that he knew for a fact he was reading something even as his hands decided to flip on over to the next page, impatient, uncooperative hands--
"Whatcha doin' over there?"
Sam jumped at the voice that grated – and there could be no other way to describe the sound than that – into his distracted, half-dreaming thoughts. He scrambled to his feet from the stiff-backed chair that would have been uncomfortable even if he didn't stand over six feet tall, and the miscellany of paperwork that had been on his lap fell to the floor.
"Dean," he said, face breaking into a nervous smile, as he stood over his older brother's hospital bed. Sam was always too tall, limbs too long, and they seemed more so today as his hands lifted from his sides and then sagged back, awkwardly, as if he did not know what to do with them.
"You should be..." Dean said, liquid, lazy gaze shifting away from his brother's face toward the floor, where papers and the all-too-familiar leather-bound, world-weary journal were scattered. He breathed a sigh, and closed his eyes as he said, "You should be more careful with that."
Sam's brows furrowed as he watched his brother go back to sleep. He looked out the window, and grimaced at the sun.
Anticlimactic, he thought inanely, I waited for you all night and this is the show? You're losing your touch, bro.
"What I was doing," Sam murmured, in response to his now-sleeping and apparently oblivious brother's first, waking question.
"You've been out like a light since they brought you in before dawn today," Sam said, almost casually, pretending to have a decent conversation as he picked up the things he had dropped. His voice sounded strange, unused. This was fairly rare, especially since he's always been a vocal kid, and had been on the yakking path toward law school before his life took on another weird, tragic turn.
He let the loose sheets of paper settle on a pile in the seat he had just vacated. The journal Dean had been so concerned about he kept in his hands, as he walked back to stand by his brother's bedside.
"I've been sitting here waiting for you to wake up," Sam continued, "They said you're stable for now, but you need to do a few tests in a few hours. I'm not that worried--"
A lie, he thought to himself, But what's another...
"Or I guess I should be," he chuckled quietly, "You were never very good at taking tests."
He grinned at his sleeping brother's face. It faded quickly, when he realized it hadn't been very sporting of him.
"The cops are coming in a bit," Sam said, "They said they want to ask me a few follow-up questions, but I think they're really hoping to catch you awake. Your doc's tough, though. Barely even let me stay past the standard visiting hours, but I guess we get a break, you being a big hero and all... I guess we do get thanked sometimes.
"I was catching up on reading dad's journal," Sam cleared his throat, "You know I forget the man can be funny sometimes. I realized that since getting this, we only ever look at the things he wrote about in reference to a case we're working on – what a monster is, what it does, how to stop it... I started looking through it page by page. His thoughts escape the case when he writes sometimes, and I end up reading not just about monsters, but the way he thinks about things."
I really read that? He thought, inanely. He looked out the window. The sun was up. I guess I must have. And I guess it really has been awhile since I sat here.
He chuckled to himself, feeling slightly manic from exhaustion and worry, and both feelings were being eased the longer he kept up this pretend-conversation with Dean. He lowered the railing on the bed, and leaned his hip next to his brother's unmoving, miserably IV-pricked and peppered arm as he leafed through the journal in search of an entry that might be interesting.
"This one's a part of that log he kept on Aliases," Sam said, as he read his father's writing aloud to his sleeping brother, "I think I've been doing this job too long..."
I think I've been doing this job too long.
I think I've been doing this job too long.
The phone rings and asks for a stranger and all the time I assume it must have been one of those names I left behind somewhere and I say, 'Yeah, this is Mr. So and So,' even if I can't remember the name half the time.
Today I picked up a call from a frantic woman named Elsie from Maryland who says her seventeen-year-old was abducted by a witch. She was looking for Rodney Glaveholden and though the name was unfamiliar to me, I assumed it must have been one of those aliases that I just casually tossed out.
"Yeah, this is he," I said, not even repeating the name because I might have gotten it wrong, and she told me about her son and the witch and I said: 'Okay, then. I'm coming over.'
I drove four hours to her door only to find that sometimes, a wrong number is really just a wrong number. And when someone calls and you don't think it's for you, don't say so.
The "witch" was her only son's girlfriend. She said she was going to call Rachel the B-word but she's too much of a class act to do that. I told her to say that next time her punk-assed son is snatched up by his girlfriend, she should go right out and call that girl a bitch and ease all confusion in the future. Which of course confused her, because who else but a hunter would have expected that a "witch" is an actual witch?
From here on out, aliases must be monitored and more-or-less remembered. Each one's got a pretty decent cover story to tell, and besides, I gotta keep track of how much I'm milking off of each of them.
1. Bert Afranian and son Hector
2. Elroy McGillicudy and his two loving sons...
Sam looked up from the journal to find his brother half-awake and looking up at him, an odd light in his green eyes.
"I know that one," Dean said, licking his chapped lips as he breathed and his brows furrowed in thought, "But I can't remember...actually being around for it..."
"Maybe we were too young," Sam said, looking mildly embarrassed that Dean had been awake and listening after all. He shifted uncomfortably on his half-seated lean on Dean's bed. He made as if to stand, thinking Dean would be more comfortable having more space. To his surprise, Dean snatched up his wrist and kept him where he was.
"So how are you feeling?" Sam asked, after a hesitant pause. He sank back down on the bed, and Dean, looking slightly embarrassed, pulled his hand away. Sam could not help but note that he kept it near Sam's wrist, though, as if ready to re-use it at a moment's notice.
Dean snorted at him, and looked at him pointedly. Sam imagined the verbal equivalent of that look must be Is that a trick question?
"Awesome," Dean said, breathlessly, after Sam stared at him right back and effectively pressed him for an answer, "I just," he gasped, "I'll get over it. This is just... just like being tired," he winced, and corrected himself, "Dog-tired."
Sam frowned. He did not like how all of Dean's words sounded like sighs, how his breaths came in short and how lazy that heart beat as the machines that surrounded them beeped in reflection of its sluggish movements.
"What do the medicos say?" Dean asked, nodding toward the door, "Am I getting out of here soon?"
"You know the answer to that," Sam scolded him, mildly, "You were dead, Dean. Take a breath for a moment."
Dean waved the issue away wearily, but found he could not disagree. He had no inclination or strength to fight Sam off for now, at any rate. He shifted and winced in obvious discomfort.
"You need me to call someone?" Sam asked, anxiously reaching for the call button even before his brother could reply, "Are you in pain?"
"Don't have a cow, drama queen," Dean groaned, "Can't a guy scratch his ass without having to answer your questions?"
Sam's lips quirked into a smile that he smothered right away, before his cocky brother could spot the weakness and punchline all their problems away. It wouldn't be the first time Dean had conned Sam into making serious injuries into jokes and suddenly they were out the door, AMA, Dean passed out on the passenger seat, Sam on the wheel, scratching his head and wondering how the hell he got talked into that.
"Not this time, hotshot," Sam told him, seriously, "You got a few tests coming up. And then we'll see."
They rolled him away to this floor and that, for this test and this machine and that. Sam was deeply troubled by Dean's constantly slipping in and out of sleep along the course of the battery of tests that he was sent to. The again, an alert, energetic, belligerent older brother after being being fried to a crisp dead might be too much to ask.
Sam reflected that it wasn't his fault he thought of Dean that way, since he was certain it was Dean himself who had cultivated that image, after all these years looking after his younger brother. He got thrown around and spat out and he always came out kicking somehow, every time, kicking and throwing punches and running that mouth.
He'll be up and around soon, Sam thought, though of course he could still taste that blinding fear he had felt upon first sight of Dean on the ground. It wasn't only Dean's heart that had stopped that night.
Splashing water and cold knees, that was all he could clearly remember.
Dean was awake again by the time they brought him back to his room, and Sam settled his brother down and handed him the remote control, before taking the time to settle their bills at the admittance desk. The 'Birkovitzes,' care of corporate America, will be saving Dean's life today. Sam stopped feeling guilty about these things a long time ago.
Next order of business: grateful cops. Almost as bothersome as the stern ones that wanted him and his brother behind bars. Couldn't any and all uniforms just leave them alone? He rapped the cover-up lie like the true artist that he was. The two policemen never stood a chance. It was in the midst of this conversation that he caught sight of the man of the hour, the only one he really wanted to see. Dean's doctor.
Three Days Later
There were two pages missing from John Winchester's precious little leather-bound journal. Sam knew this very well because he was the one who had torn them out.
It was about three days into finding out that his brother had weeks left to live. Three days... he remembered thinking there was something vaguely biblical about that.
On the third day He rose again...
Patients suffering from heart failure had a tendency to breathe harshly some hours after sleep. Something about the left side of the heart and what it had to do with the lungs. The doctors were speaking to him in English but it could have been a whole other language. If he wanted to be a goddamn doctor he'd have taken up pre-med instead.
Ultimately, the doctors and nurses have effectively turned his world upside-down when they told him it was perfectly "normal" for his brother to sound that rough, labored way when he breathed. Perfectly normal for a normal dying guy at this stage of this illness, that is.
They gave Dean oxygen supply through a mask at night, something he did not put up with in the fewer and fewer hours that he stayed awake during the day. Sam liked drowning out Dean's drowning lung sounds by reading their dad's journal out loud. He did it partly for himself, of course, and also without a doubt for Dean, who seemed to enjoy them, and who would always wake up part of the time.
"It's like I can hear dad," Dean had drawled out, that one particularly bad night, three days into finding out he was dying, when his breaths were harsher and he looked as if he really thought he wasn't going to see life through to daylight.
Sam had finished the paragraph he was reading, counted to ten, and then ran to the bathroom, threw up, splashed his face with ice cold water, and gave his father another call.
He called John Winchester every day and night since finding out about Dean's situation, saying mostly the same words, the only notable difference being just the increasing anxiety in the tone of delivery. In the early days, he started with faux confidence.
They don't know things we know, right (1)?
Sometimes he said it with barely-restrained anguish.
Dean is sick, and the doctors say there's nothing they could do (1).
That night, it had even been delivered in outright antagonism.
You probably won't get this (1), you son-of-a-bitch.
It had been that bad a night. He went back to Dean's room, angry and queasy. And then he picked up his father's journal and lo and behold, the answer sat right there.
This entry he did not read aloud. This one got his hands cold and shaking. There was something in his gut that knew, just knew that this could be the answer.
God save us from the half the people who think they are doing God's work (1). I don't know what's worse. Those con artists who scam sick people and their loved ones out of their hard-earned money, or the honest-to-goodness whack-jobs who believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're the real thing.
Been to a few, of course, since I always appreciated a good scam and since if it does work it usually means I have a job to do anyway.
(Sam speed-reads over John's dissection of psychosomatic effects of faith healing, the impact of mass hysteria, and techniques of some common scams, including the use of co-conspirators and plants, hallucinogenic drugs, hypnotism, and hand tricks that involved simulation of tumor removal by using animal parts).
And then there's this guy, Roy LeGrange, up in Nebraska. Boggled the hell out of me how he did things like that. Joshua had been right when he told me to go take a look. Thought he might be the real thing. Even met a hunter up in Wyoming, said he brought his near-dead kid on over, took what the old man had to give, and then just up and skipped town.
What the hell? I think I asked, and he said things like that happen and you don't look it in the mouth (1) no more. You just took it and went (many people sure have). Because deep down you know there's something wrong with it, and you don't want to know what that is, not after you've already had your slice of the pie. I remember what he said after that, 'cos I thought it sounded damned true. He said it would have been like drinking really good pitch black coffee and then reaching the bottom of the cup and finding a ratty, bloody band-aid.
(Sam reads through the healer mythology, of shamans and witch doctors, alchemists and wizards, and Jesus and the Saints. He read through ancient remedies, magical cure-alls, potions and spells. John did not think anything fit. Sam was beginning to recognize the tone of his father, whenever he was ready to go hip-deep into a job. That was, until the efforts halted, stopped in its tracks by the only thing that could ever move John Winchester to distraction).
Heard somebody start talking about some shit going down about this Iowa... and I get that feeling again. The kind that assures me I'm getting closer and closer to Mary's killer. Like there's nothing else in the world. No job, no faith, no magic. Just me and the road and the goddamned yellow-eyed demon at the end of it.
(The entry on faith healers ended, cold, right there.)
Sam didn't tear the pages out right away, of course.
He went back to the nearby motel room he rented whenever he was bullied out by the nurses to rest, eat, sleep, bathe, whatever, and he used the time to do some research.
The first thing to do was call up this Joshua character from his father's journal and ask him what else he knew. And then he checked LeGrange's location, and estimated how long it would take for him and Dean to drive there.
Couple of hours, he concluded, Not bad.
That is, if he wasn't traveling with a terminally-ill heart patient. If he was pulling Dean out of the hospital, he had to be damn sure this was the real thing, because the risks to his brother's life were real. So real his stomach hurt thinking about it.
I don't want to risk you, he thought of Dean, If this ends up to be some kind of fluke.
LeGrange was just one of two things, as they say. He's either dead-right or dead-wrong. And Dean was the one at stake.
But maybe it's time for a little faith (1), he decided.
He read up on Dean's condition and the best means to keep him comfortable in travel. He read up on lodging accommodations in the area, thinking they could probably spend a little bit more this time for certain amenities that could be helpful to Dean. He scoped out nearby hospitals in case his brother needed emergency care.
He checked the weather for the next few days. He had even gone through looking at local attractions he and Dean could visit while his brother recovered, just to keep him away from hunting for a little while. He kept himself busy for hours, before he realized that his hands had been cold from the get-go because deep inside, he knew there was something wrong with this picture.
He looked at the people LeGrange healed. He studied them carefully, trying to check if they were profiting at all from what had happened to them. Was it a conspiracy? Were they all pretending? But the only link they had were the healing hands of the Nebraska reverend. They even went on different, irregularly-spaced times. Some of them have never even been to Nebraska before the day they stepped into LeGrange's tent as terminally-ill, and then stepped out in perfect health.
It was by pure, cursed chance that Sam saw what it was that was making this whole scenario feel like a cold punch in the gut. The news of the healing of the sick was making waves in the local papers. Beside the front-page article about a man with cancer being healed was a small side bar that talked about a local gang leader dying of the same thing, suddenly, undiagnosed cancer, on the same day that the other was healed.
Sam had no trouble finding the same life-for-a-life pattern in all the other cases.
God, he thought, shaking, knowing that if he hadn't literally just stumbled into the pattern, he and Dean would be on the road this time tomorrow. And this time in the tomorrow after that, he'd have had his brother back already.
Why did you have to keep digging (3)? He asked himself, miserably.
Growling softly, he tore out the two pages in his dad's journal that talked about Roy LeGrange. He folded the sheets carefully, and then shoved them into his wallet. He knew it was a price he was willing to pay. If it should ever come to that he had no other choice but to go to Nebraska, Dean was never going to know what it had cost to save his life.
When they were growing up, it was Sam with all the tough questions and Dean with all the transparent quarter-truths. Dean would pretend to have the answers and for a time, at least, Sam would pretend to accept them. The reason they both could tell anytime one was keeping something from the other, after all, was through years of practice, sifting through each other's lies. They made great liars and great spotters-of-liars. The pretenses became their own truth, and they understood each other as only brothers could.
"You didn't call dad, did you?" Dean would ask, once a day, every day, the moment Sam entered his hospital room at the very crack of visiting hours. He asked this question everyday since they were told he was dying and had weeks left to live.
Dean looked bone-weary, as if the day was at its end instead of its beginning. As if he hadn't spent the entire day and night in bed. He looked exactly how the dying should look, Sam reflected with a dark scowl.
"You gotta ask me that everyday?" Sam sighed, as he stepped inside the room and settled on his usual post, by Dean's arm, on the bed. They looked at each other eye-to-eye that way.
Dean just stared at him, imploring, and earnest. Stripped and naked to Sam's eyes because he knew him, but more so because Dean was ailing and disarmed. Sam read the look easily, and it was easier than he had ever been able to, knowing from that very first time Dean had asked, that the question really meant, I know you called him. Is he coming?
One of these days, Sam knew, the unspoken question tailing that train of thought would mean something else entirely.
I know you called him. Why isn't he here?
"I didn't. You told me not to," Sam lied with a casual shrug. He would never admit that he called their father until he could tell Dean that the great and unfortunately scarce John Winchester was also coming. Hell, he called John twice, maybe thrice a day by now.
"Good," Dean said with a satisfied-for-now nod. If he had a mirror, he'd have recognized it as reminiscent of those half-skeptical looks a younger Sammy once used to give him and his lies.
Dad was here (4)...
Why didn't he wake me up? (4)
He tried to like, a thousand times (4)...
Sam wondered if his bastard father would give him the opportunity to try and toss back these lies to Dean, when the time came that his desperately sick brother was finally even more desperate enough to ask him, flat out, why their father hasn't come to see him, or help him.
The false answer to that unspoken question was the only agenda of any day that Sam visited Dean in this god-forsaken little hospital. False answers to unspoken questions sure sounded like fiction, but either way, it was that one thing that needed to be tackled before they could discuss or do anything else. That bit of nasty business being done, the brothers would move on to a miscellany of other discussions.
The fairly compelling topic of daytime television came up every now and then, and Sam could tell that Dean's initial and profound dislike for them, as he had expressed that first morning he woke up in the hospital and saw a few soaps, had softened to resignation, and then curiosity, and finally, genuine interest, in the past week that he had no choice but to watch them to amuse himself.
"He doesn't know she used to be a man," Dean pointed out, randomly, to Sam's ears, because he wasn't paying attention to the television at all. He seldom did. His older brother chuckled quietly, "Man. I sure want to be around when he finds out."
Sam winced. If that fucking soap takes its fucking time at the reveal, Dean probably wouldn't be alive long enough to see that.
"What would you do?" Sam asked him with a small, hesitant smile, indulging his brother and at the same time, not wanting to follow through with his darker thoughts.
Dean's nostrils flared and his eyes widened with his massively raised brows, "Seriously, Sammy! Give me some credit, dude! If it were me, it would never have gotten that far without my knowing, for chirssakes."
"I don't know, man," Sam laughed, finding his brother's severe reaction, as always, theatrical and comical, "Hard to tell these days."
"Maybe for you," Dean puffed, wincing as he shifted his weight, "I got a nose like a vampire on the hunt."
"I don't doubt it," Sam agreed, glancing minutely at the screens that monitored his brother's vitals when he shifted. He was not surprised that Dean caught the quick, worried look.
"I'm fine," Dean grated at him, "Can't a guy shift around in this god-forsaken uncomfortable bed? I can't believe I'm dying here. I've laid on motels with better mattresses."
Sam shook his head and frowned at Dean. Apparently, they could both know that Dean was dying, and they could both sit in this room and be surrounded by things that screamed that fact, but they were not allowed to talk about it.
We can try and keep him comfortable at this point, but I give him a couple weeks at most, maybe a month (1)...
"This place sucks," Dean muttered, "Wish of a dying man, Sammy. Bust me the hell out of here."
"You know what they say," Sam snapped, "Go call the Make a Wish Foundation. As far as I'm concerned, you're staying put right here."
"What the hell for?" growled Dean, hands fisting at the sheets, "No one's doing anything, I feel like people are just waiting around for me to keel over and die. They're all looking at me funny. So are you, but then if I were out of here, I'd just have to deal with one."
"We're not having this conversation again," Sam said, sternly, "Your best chance of surviving longer is to be here, all right?"
"Longer like this is like purgatory," Dean groaned, banging his head lightly against his pillows, "I just wanna have a bit of fun before the the reaper gets with the program. Besides, I'm not dying in a hospital where the nurses aren't even hot (1)."
Sam was torn between giving himself a heart attack and smacking his brother over the head in frustration and annoyance. But he always knew that that was not the best way to get what he wanted from Dean. Granted, Sam wasn't always in a strategic mood and gave in to the desire to butt heads with Dean (who had a talent for pushing people to their limits). But he knew very well that Dean had a weak spot for sad eyes and serious, earnest tones.
"I need 'longer,'" Sam said, quietly, looking away, "Please, Dean. If you're going to die anyway, it's not too much to ask, is it? I need any bit of time we can buy, okay?"
"Time to what?"
"Time to look for a way to save you."
"You won't find it."
"It would kill me not to look."
Dean stared at him, frowned flatly, the way he always did when he knew he had lost, once again, to Sammy's well-oiled, patented baby-brother-pleading. He is very, very good at what he does.
"I know," Dean said, half-growling and half-sighing, "Damn it."
Sam smiled at him in relief. He needed time. Time to be with his brother for as long as he possibly could, yes. And time to find solutions to Dean's illness that didn't involve killing somebody else.
Their father's tendency to sidebar personal thoughts alongside more academic, useful information eventually led to some mention of his sons.
It was strange, though, how he seldom even mentioned them, and Sam came to realize that in his own maniacally paranoid way, John Winchester must have done that deliberately, in an effort to protect his boys.
The first indication that the writer of the journal was not some loner psychopath but a decent man with children in his presence occurred during a case that just hit so close to home that John apparently could not help but write about his boys.
Sam held the journal open and took his usual post, sitting next to Dean's arm on the bed. During his stay in the hospital, Dean had recovered his old, adolescent habit of taking up as little space as possible on one side of the bed, always wordlessly making room for his younger brother.
"Dean," Sam called, softly, "You awake?"
A lengthy pause, before Dean sighed and cracked open an eye. "It depends. What's on today?"
Sam smiled tightly, shaking his head in amusement, "Have you ever read 1,001 Arabian Nights?"
"God," Dean muttered, "Count me out then..."
Sam looked at him wistfully, "Never mind."
Dean rolled his eyes at his younger brother in irritation, "What?"
"There's this king," Sam shared, "Who was duped by his wife. He had her executed and he decided every woman must be unfaithful, so he has his vizier find him a virgin to marry every day, spends the night with her, and kills her come the morning."
"And we thought Roger had a rough love life," Dean commented, dryly.
Sam bit his lip at asking Who when he realized that was the name of the character dating the trans-gendered woman in Dean's favorite soap. Right. Sam wisely pretended not to hear it.
"So the kingdom eventually runs out of virgins except for the vizier's daughter," Sam continues, "Who volunteers for the job. Every night she tells the king a story, except she never ends it, effectively forcing the king to keep her alive until he could hear the rest of the tale, the next night. So she keeps giving him these stories and cliffhangers for 1,001 nights, always trusting that his interest in her stories can keep her alive."
Dean's brows rose, in realization, "Huh."
Sam knew that his brother understood what he was trying to say. Reading dad's journal to Dean was like Arabian Nights in reverse; If I keep telling you stories, maybe you'd stay around.
Dean's eyes darkened in introspection for a moment, before the usual glint of his deliberate brand of humor lightened his gaze perforce.
"So what, Sheherazade?" Dean asked him, blinking slowly, and Sam knew he was tiring again, "Is that it? That's the story for tonight? You're such a girl--"
Sam was surprised that Dean referred to the heroine storyteller's name, "So you have read it!"
"I didn't say I haven't," Dean pointed out, "I went to school too, boy wonder. Besides, her stories had lore on djinns and things like that. Only thing in lit class that made any real-world sense to me."
Sam grinned at his brother, "Aced it?"
"I'm not a freak, dude," Dean corrected, as he closed his eyes, "I got a B, which is a lot more than I can say..." his voice began to lower and drift off, "... for all the other stuff... I'm listening, all right?" he clarified to Sam, as he closed his eyes again.
"I know," Sam said quietly, looking away from his brother's losing struggle with fatigue, fearing that if he watched longer he would not be able to find his voice.
"This one's different, Dean," he said, clearing his throat, "It's one of the few times that dad even mentions us."
It shames me whenever I get to thinking how easy it was to make them happy sometimes.
When they were younger, it was raggedy old toys from here and there, people's trash, really, but the older one had a salesman's flair for pitching crazy ideas to his younger brother, and then that one's genius imagination took them the rest of the way. Dean insists the cardboard box is a magic carpet and eventually, Sam takes them to the exotic locales of Arabia.
They got a bit older, and Dean started getting a kick out of my hand-me-downs. Old music, old clothes, old knives. And Sam, in turn, got a kick out of getting Dean's old things. And then the feeling went around, because you get kind of suffused when someone looks up to you enough to want the things you used to own, even ratty clothes.
When the older one hit his teens and his occupations broadened the way a man's usually does, I suddenly realized I was going to be saddled talking about women and the fucking birds and bees to him. He sat there and pretended to be attentive, and then I saw with this mad glint in his eye and realized that he was also pretending to be a dumb-ass.
"Oh for god's sake," I remembered muttering, scratching my head.
"I was gonna let it go on longer," he had said with that infectious smirk, "But hell, dad, you fold so easy I just felt guilty about it. I know more than you'd ever care to tell me, dad. It's okay. You don't have to say anything."
I wanted to smother him. Kid had that streak, beautiful-goofy, just like his mother. He didn't lumber around looking awkward and forbidding, like me and the tall one, we tended to look like rain clouds.
(Sam didn't appreciate this commentary, pausing from reading it aloud. His half-asleep brother was smiling even with his eyes closed. "Stop it, Dean," Sam snaps at him, before continuing to read from John's journal.)
The job in New York had been a tough one. The boys were country folk, like me. None of us liked the cold, brisk bustle, and anyone who could make heads or tails of the subway had to have a third sense hidden somewhere. The Impala had to stay at overpriced parking. No way were we going around Manhattan in her. Drivers here are crazy, and coming from me, that's saying a lot.
A cluster of suicides occurred in this university. And I had two young sons in an excellent profile to fit in and find out what's doing it and why.
There shouldn't be anything supernatural about a cluster of suicides. It went alongside the increasing range of the media. Oldest one I've heard of was up in 1774, when this book about a guy who kills himself over a girl came out and a bunch of copycats found it sensible to similarly off themselves. Nonfiction stories covering suicides, like news items on television or print, have a greater tendency to inspire copycats. In Japan, Germany and Australia, studies have suggested that there is a correlation between news circulation and coverage of a suicide, and the number of copycats who follow shortly after. It's why the damn reporters have some sort of a suicide coverage ethical guideline. It seems the more people know about a popular type of suicide, the more people follow.
In this cluster in New York, the index case – the initial case – came out of nowhere; normal guy, really. Just turned eighteen, just stepped into college. An aspiring musician and a promising student on the fast track of pre-law. No history of mental illness or drug abuse. No history of violence. As far as anyone knew he had no problems at all- not with his family, not with his pretty little girlfriend, not with any of his straight-arrow friends. No quirky habits, no secret life. And then he hangs himself in the shower, just like that.
His mom and girlfriend followed not long after that; nothing people found too strange. I know I didn't, the first time I heard about it. Maybe they were just really unhappy. God knows... these things cross your mind, once in awhile, thinking about losses and people being gone and... and...things like that--
And then his roommate bit the dust. Tragic, but the same could be said of why. And then the janitor goes. Followed by his son. And then it went on, amplifying like a damned virus. The toll was at a chilly eleven by the time the boys and I rolled into town.
Sam sat in on the dead kid's pre-law classes, even a Latin class. God knows how, but he had a tongue for languages, and it always amazes me how he could turn a phrase. Might have come from a lifetime of trying to pull one over his strong-willed older brother's head. But he shone like a light when he talked about things he's learned--
("Liar," Dean muttered, "He didn't really say that greeting-card-sissy shit."
"Read and weep, bro," Sam said with a laugh, turning the journal Dean's way, though his brother didn't even bother opening his eyes.
"Big head," Dean murmured, teasing Sam, "Let's get to when he talks about me."
"He doesn't," Sam lies, "All he says is that you're a knucklehead."
Dean just grunts out a rumbling, indulgent chuckle.)
Kid even started to do homework, as if he had to. Neither Dean or I made fun of him, or told him to stop. He took to it as if starved. I had a feeling he was killing the other kids out there. The realization was making me damn proud and damn scared. I knew we had to get out of there as soon as we could.
And then one day he came back from school, laughing half-mad. I looked at his older brother questioningly, who just shrugged, though his eyes knew something.
"Dad," Sammy had said, as he fought to catch a breath, "Technically, we're a bunch of criminals."
The realization was theoretically comical, especially since it was also very plain and obvious. But that thought, put together with his intelligence and presumably wasted potential, turned the comical into crippling. I knew then and there that things have changed for ever. That old toys and hand-me-downs wasn't going to do anybody any good anymore.
(Sam would not have read this part, if he wasn't sure it would keep Dean awake and alert.
"I've forgotten," Sam said, quietly, "When exactly things changed."
"I hate that damn job," Dean muttered.)
The cause of the deaths turned out to be a ghostly song. It was that "Suicide Song" urban legend come to life in this small college town. The aspiring musician has come up with this track, his one greatness, that touched him to the core. Every suicide could be traced back to this CD he had made and listened to. The mom and the girlfriend who had cleaned out his dorm room and listened to it. The roommate who heard them play it. The janitor who cleaned up the roommates' room and took home the record to his son...and so on.
I'm wondering if the index case had made a Demon Deal somewhere. Greatness and the truest, most beautiful, heartfelt piece of music in the world, in exchange for death. But the timetable is too quick. If this is a Deal, it's the shittiest one I ever heard of. I guess it could be that some things just come out of somewhere dark. The scary thing about a ghostly song, though, is that you can salt and burn whatever medium it came in, but once heard, it stuck somewhere in your head. If you listened to it you are dead, even after a bunch of hunters hit your town and tore it down looking for every damned copy of that thing. I know three more people died even after we discovered what was going on.
The Winchesters stayed three weeks more, just to make sure we didn't miss anything. At the end of those weeks, Sam looked different. He moved in this fast, efficient, impatient way, as if he was almost halfway away from this life.
TO BE CONTINUED...
NOTE: The numbers in the statements above correspond to having been pulled verbatim or slightly altered from the episodes:
(2) In My Time of Dying
(3) What Is and What Could Never Be
(4) A Very Supernatural Christmas
(6) Devil's Trap
(7) Red Sky at Morning
(8) Malleous Maleficarum
(9) Fresh Blood