Set in Season Two, this one-shot fic takes place directly after "Everybody Loves A Clown". Great gushing thanks to Kender Rock My World for the 'made of wonderful' beta job. Any and all remaining mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer – Kripke owns it all, I just like to play.
Guess Things Happen That Way
The brothers sit in silence. Awkward, suffocating silence but neither of them makes the effort to speak a word and break it.
Sam's face is soiled with dirt, a little crusted blood and things he doesn't even want to begin to think about, terrible things. His clothes are ruined, what was once a smart pale blue shirt is now missing all of its buttons bar one which he has fastened at the stomach in a feeble attempt at modesty.
Dean's attire isn't faring much better. Sections of his black t-shirt are torn into thin strips, the neck hanging loose around his shoulders. His prized leather jacket is gone, absent without leave.
There are two cups of coffee sitting on the table in front of them, untouched and now clock cold.
Marie, the pretty middle-aged waitress who had served them, is relieved it's early enough in the day for her diner to be otherwise empty, or else she might have been persuaded to ask the bedraggled pair to leave. The battered young men huddled in the far corner booth, reminiscent of refugees from a war-torn country, look defeated; she saw it burning like smouldering coals in their eyes the second they walked through the door.
She can't quite believe it's the same two men she'd served lunch to just the day before. Two huge helpings of meatloaf with vegetables and creamed potatoes topped off with thick onion gravy. All of which had been enthusiastically devoured amid bouts of lively animated chatter. The older guy—Dean?—had been all swagger and effortless charm; he'd even slipped her a decent tip along with an invitation to go for a beer sometime. She had been tempted, sorely tempted, but she'd declined. She had someone waiting at home for her; although that certain someone was snuggled up asleep in a bed shaped like a racing car, was wearing a pair of Spiderman pyjamas and had just turned five-years-old. The tall brown-haired guy, Sammy—she'd overheard his name spoken several times from the older one's lips—was soft dimpled smiles and shy eyes. Face as cute as a proverbial button.
The drastic change in the two men is disturbing and Marie can't decide whether to phone for the cops or an ambulance. Hell, they've barely moved a muscle in the last hour so maybe an undertaker would be more appropriate.
"More coffee?" Marie asks, putting the steaming jug down on their table with a not-entirely-unintentional bang.
Dean glances up at her, wraps his hands around his still full cup of cold black coffee and shakes his head. "No. No thanks."
"Well then. Give me a shout if I can get you boys anything." Marie frowns to herself, concerned by the dark shadows under Dean's dulled eyes. She had been hoping to start a conversation, maybe get the young men to tell her what's happened to them. That's Marie all over, 'good at listening' or so her regulars tell her. It's not like she doesn't get plenty of practice. Twenty-three years she's worked in the diner, serving hot meals with a side order of sage advice. 'That's why we're born with two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.' At least, that's what her Pa always used to say.
'Too damn nosy for my own good'. Marie pauses to wipe at their table with her cloth, waiting, but they both avoid her penetrating gaze and eventually she takes the hint, tucks the cloth into the waistband of her grease spattered apron and disappears into the back kitchen.
Dean's fingers fidget with the plastic menu, needing something to do, his napkin already torn into tiny white squares. Sam sucks in a long deep breath, eyes focused on the formica tabletop but turned inwards.
Dean takes the opportunity to give his brother a quick visual once over. It's obvious that Sam's left arm is hurt—his face is lined with pain and the injured limb is being held protectively against his body.
Dean goes to reach into his jacket pocket for his hip flask, belatedly remembering that his jacket is long gone. Diverting its course, his hand falls to rub at the frayed knee of his jeans. His mouth feels dry and it hurts like eating razor blades to swallow. Coughing is agony but Dean coughs once to try and clear the lump, which has lodged itself high in his throat. "I—I should take a look at your arm Sam."
Sam's eyes darken. 'Not "Sammy" tonight, then, huh, Dean?' It hurts more than it should, worse than the chunk of flesh that has been cleaved from his arm. "I'm fine." It's terse but it's the only response Sam can spit out. He wants to talk, wants to say a thousand words but if he starts he might not stop and it'll only serve to make everything seem too real. That's the last thing Sam wants to feel.
"Sure you are." Dean is clutching the menu again, scanning the contents for the hundredth time. 'Blueberry pancakes with ice cream.' Dean can remember how good they had tasted, nicely finishing off the giant slab of meatloaf he'd wolfed down. Heaven on a plate, sweet enough to put all the world to rights. At least, that's what Dean had thought yesterday. Today is a whole new day and there aren't enough blueberry pancakes on earth to make things right.
The small silver bell above the diner door chimes as a man walks in. Neither brother lifts his head to glance at the customer, although the man's eyes immediately zero in on them. Marie appears behind the counter,but the man waves a hand and shakes his head, dismissing her and instead he ambles slowly across the diner, grabs himself a chair and puts it down by their table. He swivels the chair round and sits backward on it so that his elbows are resting on the chair's back. The man takes a moment to appraise their appearance before sighing and lifting up his trucker's hat to scrub a hand through unkempt graying hair.
"Hey Bobby." Dean feigns a smile with a minuscule twitch of his lips.
"Jesus, boys, you look like death warmed up." Bobby grunts and he doesn't miss the way Sam flinches at his choice of words.
"Thanks for coming." Sam looks up but doesn't meet Bobby's eyes.
"You really think I wouldn't? Not that I enjoy getting woken up at the crack of dawn, mind you,but you're Winchesters, so I guess I should be used to it by now." Bobby's eyes flick between the brothers with a troubled expression. "Now are you going to tell me what's going on or have I driven for the last three hours just to see if the coffee in Wyoming really is as good as they say?"
A muscle in Dean's jaw tics. He runs his tongue along the back of his teeth, trying to rid himself of the feeling that he's chewing on a mouthful of cotton wool. Realizing he can't delay the moment any longer, he turns to look at Bobby with weary eyes. "We thought we could handle this hunt, Bobby. I guess we were wrong…."
-Ten hours earlier-
They park the Impala a few blocks away from the house they have come to visit. The car is just too conspicuous and while it's easy enough to get a new number plate, Dean would hate to do it. Having had no fixed address for a long time, the Impala is the one constant thing in their nomadic existence and changing anything about her would be too damn painful.
As Dean climbs from the car and starts walking, Sam hurries to catch up and quickly falls in at Dean's side, matching his step. Sam can't stand the way things have been between him and his brother lately but supposes that maybe it's just the way it always goes for them when things turn sour. Dean burrows inwards and Sam reaches out, all his emotions simmering at the surface, threatening to bubble over. But this time, 'sour' doesn't do their situation justice; 'fucking catastrophic' doesn't even cover it. Dad made a deal with the Yellow Eyed Demon, a deal for Dean's life but a deal all the same. A deal with the thing he'd spent every single day since Mary's death hunting down, planning to destroy. Dad's dead but he's far from resting in peace. Dad's in Hell so yes, 'fucking catastrophic' doesn't really begin to scratch the surface.
So they don't talk—at least, not about dad. Bobby finds them a new hunt, a possible demon possession of a young boy living in Wyoming, and it quickly eats up every waking minute of their time.
The Impala is fixed, they clean their weapons, trawl through mountains of books for exorcisms. Dean shoots pool, plays a hand or two of poker for ammo money and they break just a little bit more every time they look at each-other only to find their dad staring back.
They wear their game faces so frequently now Sam's almost afraid to find out what hides underneath. In the end he decides the masks are better left undisturbed. At least until the dust has settled, until the ashes from dad's funeral pyre have had time to cool.
A new town and a new hunt. Slap on a smile as you scratch ancient sigils with your knife into the plaster above your Quality Inn motel room door, crack a joke as you load your shotgun with salt rounds and maybe, just maybe, Dean will be okay. You'll be okay. But Sam knows it's not working. A new town and a new hunt, but old pain. The Impala is a speed queen but even she can't outrun the devastation that trails after them like a bad smell.
Sam glances at his brother but Dean has his eyes locked on the house across the street and they make their way towards it. The neighborhood is a bad one and the house isn't pretty. It's seriously in need of some renovation work, but the wooden boards which make up the majority of the structure look to be infested with woodworm and bulldozing the place would probably be kinder. The garden is overgrown and there's a discarded BMX bike resting on its side in amongst the weeds, one of the wheels bent and the chains caked in heavy brown rust. Someone must have loved it, once.
Sam reaches out a fist and knocks hard on the pea green door; his face reddens a touch when his fist drops away at the same time as several slivers of green paint. Dean snorts loudly but hurriedly replaces his huge shit eating grin with a polite smile as the door opens and a young girl peers out at them.
Her eyes—huge soft blue orbs—study the brothers. Sam duplicates Dean's smile and shifts himself forward a touch. Dean takes a step back, letting Sammy take over. Old ladies and children—his brother usually has them licked with one flash of those patented Sam Winchester dimples. Sam bends down so that he's face to face with the girl, who can't be more than eight. She tips her head to one side watching him, gnawing on an already bitten down thumbnail and he observes the fading rainbow of bruises on her cheek with quiet concern. "Hey, I'm Sam.This is my brother Dean. Is your daddy home?"
She looks over her shoulder into the poorly lit house behind her and Sam steals a glance, peering around her thin frame, but he can't see anything in the gloom apart from a darkened hallway lined with torn wallpaper. Suddenly from the darkness lumbers a man, a huge man with the rare ability to make even Sam look small in comparison. The guy isn't just tall, he's wide, like a wagon, a veritable brick shit house. But his eyes—there's something off about his eyes and as Sam draws himself back up to full height he doesn't so much as see but feel Dean bristle behind him. The guy is afraid, 'wet your pants' terrified and it's radiating off him like bad BO. "Mr. Collins?"
The guy rests a hand on the girl's shoulder, squeezes once and she disappears back into the house. He nods, brief and tense, his neck muscles so taut they look set to snap.
"Mr. Collins, Bobby Singer sent us."
The guy, Mr. Collins, softens his stance but the fear remains in his eyes, subduing any other emotion into insignificance. "Thank God for Bobby." It's a near-whisper not intended for their ears but Sam still hears it and smiles gently, reassuringly.
"You want to fill us in on what's been going on?"
Mr. Collins holds out a giant paw and takes Sam's hand, pumping it like he expects Sam to start spurting water. "I'm so damn glad you boys are here. Come on in."
The man steps aside. Sam glances back at Dean who gives him a barely discernible nod as his hand moves underneath his jacket to tuck the back of his t-shirt into his jeans; Sam knows full well that his brother's hand is in fact moving to check on the .45 resting there. "Thank you." Sam gives Mr. Collins another quick smile as he steps past him into the house.
They're led into the kitchen at the back of the property. There's an old heat blackened range and a sink piled high with dirty dishes, some still covered with congealed food. A small table with four mismatched chairs sits in the corner and Mr.Collins points a beefy finger at the chairs, motioning for the brothers to take a seat. They sit down as requested and look expectantly at Mr.Collins. Dean wonders if they'll be offered coffee, earnestly wishes he'd taken the precaution of grabbing himself a cup of Joe before they left the motel and after spotting the badly stained chipped mugs sitting in a row by the side of the sink, decides he can manage without.
Mr. Collins doesn't talk, just stands wringing his hands, staring absently at the wall above their heads. Sam speaks first, looking for an opening. "Bobby told us your son Luke is possessed."
Mr.Collins' face drops almost instantly.
Luke Collins doesn't look much older than his little sister. He's laid out deeply asleep or possibly unconscious on his bed, tied to his bed, and Dean pulls back the heavy curtain, letting a thin shaft of moonlight filter in. Mr. Collins lowers his head into his hands and moans. Sam puts a hand on the man's back, leads him from the room and away down the stairs. Alone now, Dean reaches for the exorcism ritual folded in his pocket. He removes his jacket as he also digs out a small vial of holy water. He starts reading, not wanting to dawdle when there's an evil son of a bitch demon playing puppet master with a child, and he's almost through the first verse when he notices that nothing is happening. The boy is out of it but surely the words should be causing some reaction? He removes the stopper from the vial and splashes several drops lightly onto the inside of the child's wrist but there's no effect, no sizzle or hiss, no burning flesh. But the boy's eyelids flutter open and cloudy eyes gape up at Dean. Cloudy blue eyes.
The bedroom door creaks opens and Dean turns, confusion marked on his face, asking for answers without speaking a word but it's not Sam standing behind him, it's the boy's sister. She smiles directly at Dean as her striking blue eyes turn ink black. "No!" Dean makes a panicked grab for the holy water but he's suddenly airborne and colliding with the wall. He pulls himself up on all fours, shaking his head like a wet dog, trying to clear it. As he struggles to get to his feet, he's lifted into the air and thrown again. This time his head smashes against the corner of a solid oak dresser and he doesn't get up.
Mr. Collins is still whimpering as Sam sits him down at the kitchen table, placing a glass of cold water in front of him. But he doesn't take a drink; instead he mutters softly, "I'm sorry. She said she would gut my son." Sam's eyebrows arch and as the dots begin to connect, his heart pounds loudly in his chest. He spins to run back up the stairs but the little girl is stood, framed in the kitchen doorway. A pair of pitch-black eyes blink rapidly at him.
Mr. Collins pushes back his chair and sinks onto the floor, trying to curl his huge trembling bulk into a ball. Sam's tongue starts forming Latin; it slips effortlessly from his lips, but he doesn't get beyond "exsurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici ejus," before he's slammed against the wall, pinned, mouth clamped shut.
The child (fucking thousands-of-years-old demon) walks forward, all smiles now because isn't Sam just the prettiest goddamn wall hanging she's ever seen? She runs a tiny hand across his chest, smile widening as he shivers under her touch before letting her fingers slip to his belt buckle and Sam freezes then, face stricken with alarm. Barbie pink painted nails stroke the buckle and travel on, sliding down his leg, pausing at his ankle to yank out the knife hidden in the back of his boot. She twirls it, a macabre baton, and with one quick movement stabs it into Sam's arm, carving at his flesh. Blood spills, she trails her fingers in it and Sam can't open his mouth to scream, although his teeth grind together until it feels like they might splinter and pain lances through his skull.
"Sam Winchester, Sammy Winchester." Her voice is soft, sweet as bird song. "I'm truly honored to be the one who will snuff out your pathetic wasted life." She reaches up, standing on tiptoes, and caresses the side of his face with the bloodied tip of the blade. "Such a shame. Such potential, I'm almost sorry, almost but not quite." The knife slides up the front of his shirt, slicing off the buttons one by one until it falls open. She hovers her hand over his bare chest, over his heart and Sam's face goes pale as white-hot pain begins to eat away at his insides. It's unbearable, a rapid succession of dynamite explosives detonating in his chest. Dean. His heart jack hammering, too fast thundering beats echoing in his ears. Dean. Warm blood begins to drip down from his nose and trickling steadily from the corners of his mouth. Dean.
Sam had expected his life to flash before his eyes but there's just one word blinking in his brain in bright neon lights, Dean, and then he understands. That one word does encapsulate his life. God, it hurts.
Powerless against the inevitable Sam closes his eyes and surrenders. Dean.
The kitchen door bursts open with a crash followed by the deafening blast of a single gunshot. Dean holds the smoking gun, his hand shaking as he looks at the girl crumpled on the ground, a bullet in her head. With no demonic force holding him up any longer, Sam slumps onto the vinyl-covered floor alongside her.
Dean is swift with the exorcism, despite the blood matting his short hair into sticky clumps. He reels it off from the scrap of paper held so tightly that his knuckles have turned white. The child's body twitches as Dean crouches down and quickly binds her hands and feet with duct tape. Faultless Latin continues to flow even as Dean's eyes flick back and forth between his brother's lax face and the girl who isn't just twitching anymore—her petite body is convulsing, horribly.
The demon is battling to stay but the exorcism is first-rate, taken straight from the immemorial pages of the 'Vademecum of the Exorcist', and finally the girl's lips fall open. Dean staggers backward as a stream of black smoke spews from her mouth, rising towards the ceiling where it swirls angrily and then trails away through the open window.
Dean crashes to his knees. His fingers frantically press against Sam's neck but his brother is lifeless, no heartbeat, and no hope. Dean is riding close to breaking point. The despair is crushing, no reserves of energy left to bury it this time. Dean doesn't think. His brain has stuttered to a halt. Hands moving to Sam's chest on autopilot, refusing to accept what fate has chosen for his brother.
He starts compressions, feeling nauseous at the way Sam's chest yields to the force he is exerting. He tips Sam's head back and breathes into his brother's mouth once, twice. He loses time. There's just Sam not breathing—and the continual one, two, three, four, five—breathe Sam, Goddamn it.
Sam's limp body unexpectedly jerks and his mouth gasps open, drawing in a breath. Dean lifts his brother into a sitting position so that Sam's back is resting against his chest. They sit like that for awhile—Sam attempting something akin to breathing and Dean relishing every single stuttered heave of his brother's chest—until Sam's head moves and his bleary eyes find the child, dead on the floor.
Dean is still shaky. The adrenaline crash leaving him wiped to the point where he can barely summon the strength to move. "She was trying to kill you Sam." Like he thinks he really needs to explain his actions. Sam wants to reassure Dean—'You did it to save me'—but he can't stop himself from wondering if his life is worth it. Worth the youngster dead at his side, worth Jess, worth his mom. How do you justify all that loss for one life? Sam certainly can't and he can't form the reassuring words to comfort Dean either. His eyes dart weakly around the room, everywhere but at Dean's face.
They don't stick around. Not to console Mr. Collins cradling his baby girl, or to see the blame surface in his eyes. They leave the house, stepping out into a blindingly beautiful sunrise. They sit side by side in the Impala, shoulders almost touching but a gap the size of the Grand Canyon yawning between them and for once Dean just drives. No music, no talking. Sam rests his pounding head against the window, he doesn't ask where they're headed and doesn't question it when Dean pulls the Impala to a halt outside of the diner they ate in yesterday.
They're still not talking as they stumble inside.
"Ah, damn." Bobby shifts in his seat, wipes at his mouth, pulls at his lips. "I'm sorry, boys, I—"
"Bobby, no. It's not your fault. This was our hunt, our fault." Sam puts added emphasis on the word 'our' but if Dean notices, he doesn't show it.
They leave the diner but not before Bobby drops a handful of bills on the counter. He doesn't even count the notes out, just hopes the tip is big enough for the waitress to consider not calling the cops on the ragged and bloodstained, almost certainly highly suspicious looking, brothers.
As they arrive back at their motel, Bobby takes off in his truck; he disappears without uttering a word. When he does return he's clutching Dean's leather jacket. Dean is standing alone outside the motel room, eyes closed, back leaning against the warm bonnet of the Impala soaking up the last of the afternoon sun. Dean reaches out a hand and takes his jacket, squeezing the worn leather tightly between clenched fists.
"Luke is going to be fine. You saved him, saved his dad too," Bobby states simply, leaning nonchalantly next to Dean.
'But we didn't save the girl and the terrible truth of it, Bobby, is that I'd do it again. I'd kill her again, without even needing to think about it, if it meant the difference between Sam living or dying. Now Sam can't look me in the face and..." Dean goes silent, finishing off the rest of the sentence only in his head. '...and whatever Dad told me I might have to do, I'm saving my brother. I hope you can hear me, Dad, because I will save him.'
"I should bash your stupid idiot heads together," Bobby says sharply.
Dean's head shoots up, snapping out of his reverie. "What?"
"You're the biggest pair of pains in my ass. Sam doesn't hate you; he could never hate or blame you. He's just so friggin' self deprecating that he doesn't believe he was worth the sacrifice and you...you did the only thing you could to save your brother. You did exactly what you had to do. There's no guilt lying at your door, boy." Bobby pauses as Dean stares intently at the ground as though an image of Christ's face had just materialized on the grubby asphalt. "Wait here," Bobby growls and stalks inside the motel room.
Dean resists the urge to put an ear against the door. He can make out the sounds of Bobby talking and Sam's voice, soft and pain-filled, the kind of tone which makes Dean ache to hear it. After what feels like hours to Dean but is only minutes in reality, the door opens again and Bobby steps out. "Get in there. Go kiss and make up because I'd like to head home, get some kip if that's quite okay with you?"
Dean scowls, his brow furrowing as he straightens up and reluctantly heads inside. Sam is sitting on his bed with his back to Dean, shoulders slumped like the whole weight of the world is pressing down on them. Dean closes the door quietly behind him.
Despite Dean's covert skills, Sam seems to sense his brother's presence and turns to look at him. "Bobby told me that you thought I was angry, at you. I wasn't—I'm not...I don't blame you." Sam's struggling, his eyes already brimming. There are still some specks of dried blood on his cheek which Dean tries not to stare at. Sam looks exhausted—dead, Sam was dead—and Dean realizes then that he feels something past the point of exhaustion running fine tremors through his own body too.
'Damn little brothers,' Dean sighs to himself as he picks up a bottle of Advil and shakes out two onto his palm, quickly dry swallowing them. "Sammy, can we please chalk this one up under the 'let's never mention again' column and move on?"
'Sammy.' Sam smiles faintly and stretches out on his bed, letting his heavy eyelids slip closed just for a moment. Before he knows it, he's drifting on the verge of sleep but isn't so far gone that he doesn't hear Dean's hushed voice.
"You're worth it, Sammy. All those lives you've saved and will save. You're worth it— to me. I wish we could've saved her but we tried, man, and...well, I reckon that ought to count for something."
Sam smiles again as he feels the bed shift when Dean's weight settles on it and a smell of peroxide assaults his nostrils as Dean begins cleaning out the wound on his arm. Everything's far from being fine but things are far from sour now and for the first time in a long time, neither brother puts on his mask.
Less than an hour later when Bobby sticks his head around the door, he huffs, more amusement than exasperation, when he sees Sam asleep with his head resting against Dean's hip and Dean lent back at an awkward angle against the padded headboard, mouth hanging wide open in sleep. 'Oh boys.' It's a good thing Bobby doesn't love them like they were his own sons; otherwise it might be them causing his eyes to well and not the dry air conditioned room.
The title is taken from a Johnny Cash song. Between writing this and having it beta'ed, Johnny Cash kinda became the unofficial soundtrack of choice.