Disclaimer: I own nothing Supernatural. All characters belong to the CW and Kripke Scrap Metal and Entertainment Company.
A/N: Chapters will alternate between Dean pre-season and Sam early Season 1, after Phantom Traveller. My thanks as always to my beta's: Merisha and Scotia. This story is infinitely better because of them. All remaining errors are entirely my own.
A/N 2: I mentioned that Dean hated Florida in my first fic, Mesmerize. You do not have to read that to understand this story, although if you haven't read it, I hope you will.
A/N 3: My beta Merisha has informed me, and many of you, that this story is HERS. She's adopted it and made up a little bed next to hers for it to sleep in. I would not dare argue with that kind of devotion, I only hope this final product lives up to her expectations. I hope you'll review and let me know.
ooooo January 2004 ooooo
Dean and his father had just finished clearing out an infestation of chupacabra near Kissimmee when Dean heard about a Black Dog on Dog Island. It was so freaking perfect he couldn't get over it. And God, he couldn't get enough of that name – Kissimmee – either. It was like an engraved invitation to annoy Sam. He'd left him a message about it and being in Florida for Christmas, thankful they were both finally somewhere warm that month. The little shit probably wouldn't call him back for weeks, but that had never stopped him from leaving messages before.
Turned out chupacabra were nasty, ugly, and filthy. And fucking insane when you hunted them – all teeth, and claws, and sharp bits, any one of which would slice you into ribbons if you let it. The tube with teeth they used to suck blood was so gross it reminded him of the remake of The Fly when Jeff Goldblum puked on his food and drank it. He'd tell Sam that but he more than likely wouldn't remember the movie, just like he managed not to remember most of the movies and old TV shows they'd watched. Except for Thundercats – that he remembered. Hell, he'd probably decided not to remember his childhood at all now that he was at Stanford, telling his friends he had simply dropped to earth fully formed when he was 18 and 6'9" or whatever tall he would end up being.
He and Dad had killed about twenty of the suckers with wrought iron and holy water, and bled a lot before they were done. It didn't seem possible but chupacabras smelled ten times worse burning than they smelled alive and he'd been absolutely positive that living they were the worst smelling things he'd ever hunted. Dad would be able to tell Dean exactly how many. He'd probably ticked them off on some 'I killed this many evil creatures this year' list he'd hidden in a pocket while Dean was patching them both up. Then he'd carefully transfer it into his journal in his code - XXII ch'p 1/04 K,FL.
Dad didn't know Dean had called Sam once they got to Florida. OK, he probably did. Well, actually, Dad could probably tell him the date and hour of every one of his calls to Sam since he left two and a half years ago. Dean never could hide anything from Dad, even teensy stuff, yet here's Sam, the open, hostile, yelling one, hiding a freaking scholarship. Even though he didn't really have to hide calling Sam from Dad, because it wasn't like Dad was going to ground him or anything - he was twenty four - but talking about Sam was Number One on the hit parade of Things He Did Not Want To Do Around Dad. It was like poking a bear with a stick, if you liked that kind of thing, and the bear always eviscerated you. Every single time in those first couple of months after Sam left when he forgot and said Sam's name out loud, it was like sinking in quicksand, and he would end up spread eagled on the surface desperately trying not to sink any further under the weight of Dad's self recrimination and fear stacked up on top of his own.
Not that Dad would admit he shared Dean's anxiety, he wouldn't even admit to Dean that he'd done anything wrong when he pointed Sam at the door and told him not to come back, but Dean knew. If he could have found a way to rewrite the past, Dad might even consider scripting those words into Dean's mouth just because they tasted so bad in his own. The only good part was that the bear didn't ask, and Dean wouldn't tell, so they managed to scrape by most of the time this last year without removing too much skin. They'd both been by Stanford every time they were in Cali, just trying to find out if Sam looked OK, and renewing the wards and protective charms in his dorm and later his apartment building. The last time he saw him must have been October - Dean wasn't sure but if anything the freak looked taller, wrists sticking out below his cuffs, which was just icing on the 'let's make Dean feel short' Winchester cake.
He'd seen Sam three times during his freshman year, only twice in his sophomore, the last time rocketing to Palo Alto after a hunt in Idaho to make sure he saw him just for a few minutes before he left campus for a break. Sam would be working all summer near school but was going to stay a few weeks with some friends in some swishy place south of LA first and Dean was just too beat up and sore to follow him down once he'd left Stanford. And of course he was way late re-joining Dad that time for their next hunt in Iowa, or Illinois, in fact it was just weird it was another one of those 'I' states so soon after Idaho. He might as well have stabbed the bear, poured salt on the wound, and then poked it. And man, had he paid the price, over and over, with more and more solo jobs, extra drills and training, and all the grunt work on their hunts 'cause 'late' was marine talk for lazy and poor planning. That and Dad must have known where he'd been. Sometimes he thought he'd rather have been eviscerated.
Sam wasn't in a dorm after his freshman year which meant two days each time to find the apartment he was renting first with some friends and then with a girl named Jessica. They were both nice places – better than a lot of the ones they'd ever stayed in growing up. Since October though Dad had moved them east and they'd been hugging the central and eastern states since then, crisscrossing the Mississippi and the Appalachians. He wasn't sure if Dad was deliberately moving them east to move both of them further from Sam or just him, and there was no way in hell he was going to ask to find out.
Christmas in Florida was no different than any other day with Dad, just fewer restaurants open, but at least it was warm. He loved Pastor Jim but Christmas in Minnesota meant blizzards and chores - chopping wood, clearing the cars, shoveling the driveway, or cleaning all of Jim's weapons with theirs. On one monumentally bad visit, he also got to polish the pews in the church because he suggested, well, OK mouthed off, that he was the only one in the whole family doing any work. It was true, damn it, but you would think he'd learned by then how much it never paid off to question Dad's decisions on delegating work when dissatisfaction became insubordination in Jim's company.
Dad didn't get drunk often, but when he did, once in a rare while with Jim, but most often alone, he'd send Dean out to dig fox holes in rock hard ground with a spoon or tow the Impala a mile with his teeth or some crazy ass thing like that. And hell if he complained, Dad would put the Impala in Park first. And there was Sam with his nose in a book in the warm house or later in the middle of screaming bitch-fests with Dad, still in the warm house, still with a book tucked under his arm, or down his shorts, or up his ass for all Dean knew, their voices reaching him despite humming and distance and earmuffs as he tried to keep his fingers and toes from turning black and falling off.
It was more of the same at Bobby's but Dad drank more with Bobby so he was grateful for Minnesota most of the time. His car hated snow, and he'd gone off the road more than once bringing supplies back to the house. The last couple of years Sam wouldn't even go with him and he'd used to love it, whooping and throwing his arms in the air as the car spun like a Teacup Ride at the state fair. So he stopped taking his girl, and instead borrowed his Dad's four wheel drive truck with the sensible chains on the sensible snow tires and made the trip alone only to return and be trapped inside with his geeky little brother, who had homework. Who the hell does homework during Christmas break? And when he wasn't doing school work, he was bitching about Dad and hunting and wanting to become a vegan or some girly shit only after he'd eaten bacon for breakfast, and Dean had just gotten back to the house through four goddamned feet of snow loaded down with milk, coffee, meat, bread, potatoes, beer, Lucky Charms, and canned fruit salad. He was amazed that Sam still liked that fruit stuff since Dean didn't let him eat anything but that and dry cereal for two days straight after that little incident.
He always had too much damn time to think when it was just him and Dad. What was it with all the pining for Christmases past? And it always led to thinking about Sam, and worrying about him, and god, he missed Sam so much it hurt, even though he really was a little pansy assed wanna-be vegan fucker sometimes. He needed a hunt. He wanted that Black Dog.
Dad decided, in the cheery glow of burning chupacabra bodies, to check out the reports of a haunting on Anastasia Island. The lighthouse had a history of sightings but no deaths or mayhem ever reported so if it was inhabited all it did was drive the tourist trade. Dean wasn't sure about spending the time because most everything else they'd checked out before the chupa's were wastes of time – the Mermaid was made of the same plasticine stuff the FX guys used, but they had known that before they ever made plans to look at it, and the love bug thing? Well, that was just stupid. So far, he concluded that a lot of Florida was made out of plasticine and film stock. A story about cows sucked dry of blood only a few miles from Orlando was just a frame or two to cut out of the fantasy documentary that was the non-stop movie of Mr. Disney's Florida.
Dean wanted to check out the Black Dog and it meant guns and silver bullets and tracking and sneaking up on things but Dad wouldn't go for it. He must have jotted down 'enough black dogs', or more likely "no mr blkdg" in his journal somewhere. Dean liked black dogs – they were vicious and unpredictable, and you saved a lot of people each time you killed one. And they went down easy if you got them just right. So when Dean had expressed a marked lack of interest in lighthouses, Dad called Caleb to do the seashore tour, and they'd agreed to hook up in about a week before heading north just in time for colder weather. Maybe Dad would get drunk and order him to carve a full size Taj Mahal out of ice or some such shit on his birthday 'just to get you over your issue with chainsaws, son'. And here he was thinking there was nothing to look forward to in the Land 'o' Winchester Post Sam.
He didn't make it to Dog Island, the black dog report was more than likely a bust anyway, but he did make it to Ocala and the Devil's Pit Sinkhole and Cave. He was just passing through, minding his own business, idly checking the local paper over a patty melt and onion rings, and there it was. Tourists going missing while visiting the local cave systems and their mutilated corpses found days later. The police were thinking wild dogs or alligators. Dean knew he'd found a job but caves? He hadn't even known they had caves in Florida. The only good thing he could think of about caves was how easy it was to avoid going into one. You stood outside in the daylight and looked inside and said, 'Sure enough, a cave' and you backed the fuck away waving anyone who wanted to right in front of you and right into the dark where there might be giant blind albino cave rats.
Who knew - here's Florida, up to its ass in caves and he wished they'd all fill up with the ocean that very minute so he wouldn't have to go into one. Instead he called Dad to update him and see how he and Caleb felt about caves and darkness and enclosed spaces that were like, dark, and really enclosed, and maybe full of tourist eating rats, but neither would take the bait. Dad did plenty of hunts on his own when Dean and Sam were small, son, and he'd probably walked barefoot to school in the snow and uphill both ways while chanting Latin exorcisms. He wouldn't say if they'd actually found something on the island so Dean was guessing the lighthouse had crapped out too. They'd be on to spooky college campuses next if they weren't careful. When Dean found out they'd checked into a motel in Cocoa Beach, he hoped that Caleb would drag John to the Space Center the next day. Dad didn't do beaches but he'd love that. Maybe they'd spelunk with him later, ha ha ha. Right - he got the picture and he got a motel room. He'd bet anything that Sam would have really liked the Space Center too if they'd ever got to do stuff like that when they were kids. Damn it, he was going to have stop thinking about him.
Then he found out a lot of the caves had water in them – not the ocean, but spring water. He did not want to think about diving in a cave. Fuck. The walls of the motel room shrank around him. Fuck. When he stopped hyperventilating, and the motel room looked normal again, he retreated to his car. He'd never been so glad the Impala was absolutely almost always above ground, and he and Dad never talked about the one time it wasn't. He drove to a bar, drank beer, and played pool, the ladies, and 70's rock on the jukebox until three in the morning, and never once deliberately thought about caves, underground rivers, or small spaces. He had to suck it up, be a man, Dean, rub dirt on it, anything but think about it. Fuck again.
It was a good plan, and if it'd worked it would have been even better. But it didn't, and when he got back to the motel, he paced for hours, only getting into bed and falling asleep after dawn.