Title: The Least I Can Do
Summary:Whenever he doubted himself,he drew on the memory of his son,battered but unbeaten on the stand,telling Social Services to screw themselves & just give him back to the best dad in the world.Dean is 16 and Sam is 12.The Winchesters fight to stay together.
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The Least I Can Do
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Epilogue and Afterword
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Ten Years Later
("Dead Man's Blood")
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"It shouldn't be taking this long," Sam said in that familiarly intense, low tone. Doing his Little-Napoleonic pacing again, except this time, there was nothing at all that was little about the towering youngest Winchester.
"Dean's got it," John assured him, was not surprised when the statement did not yield the desired, calming result. John knew it was partly because this was Dean and so Sam just naturally worried, and partly because John said it so it didn't carry quite a lot of weight in terms of being true. He watched Sam pace and agitate himself for a moment longer, before making a decision.
Sam's right, it shouldn't be taking this long.
He just wasn't sure if it was because Dean was in trouble, or because Dean was, once again, stepping back and letting his father move forward and find a way to reach out to Sam. Both possibilities had equal probabilities.
"Sammy," he called.
"Yeah?" distracted reply, but it was a fair enough start.
"I don't think I ever told you this," he said, with a small, earnest smile, willing his son to be more open to him, "But the day you were born, you know what I did?"
Sam looked wary, and decidedly unimpressed, "What?"
When did the things I say have to go through rings of fire before he believes them?
He pressed on. Beneath Sam's anger was a very palpable hurt, and when John was calm and the situation quiet, in the times he allowed himself to be father first and hunter second, he didn't ruffle as easily, didn't lash back out.
"I put a hundred bucks into a savings account for you," John revealed, "I did the same thing for your brother. It was a college fund. And every month, I'd put in another hundred dollars, until..."
Until your mother was murdered.
Until our lives changed.
They both knew what Until meant. Everything began and ended with Mary...
"Anyway," John said, knowing he was understood, "My point is, Sam, that this is never the life that I wanted for you."
Sam was intrigued enough to move closer to him. Or maybe there was something familiar to this conversation too, one of the rare times the two of them actually sat down and talked about the things they never could before.
"Then why'd you get so mad when I left?" Sam asked, but he looked earnest now, no longer accusatory in the way that used to rile him up. It was an honest-to-goodness question this time, not a loaded interrogation.
He's never been asked this before... not by Dean certainly, whom he expected already understood the answer because he felt it even more keenly than John himself did; fear. Evil everywhere, about to take away the people you love.
Dean took all his father's crap because he understood him, and tried to soften things for his kid brother because Sam didn't understand loss as well as the older two of them did. Sam understood deprivation more than loss. He understood the things he never had but had every right to, it was why he was always hungry, always wanting things, always running after things. Dean, on the other hand, understood loss more than deprivation, which was why he was always clinging to what little he had, instead of pursuing the things he didn't.
"You gotta understand something," John began, carefully, "After your mother passed, all I saw was evil, everywhere. All I cared about was keeping you boys alive. I wanted you prepared; ready. So somewhere along the line, I... I stopped being your father, and I, I became your drill sergeant."
Orphan, he remembered Sam saying, Orphan...
Self-awareness was a bitch. He remembered he had a conversation with Jim once, after that too-close-call with the damned FIA when he nearly got Dean killed about a decade ago. He was, finally, kicked-to-the-ground weary about the hunt and the consequences of dragging two kids around. Seeing your son bleed to death on a darkened, haunted basement, saying sorry to you for things that were not his fault was a new, new low. He was asking the pastor if he could leave the kids with him for awhile.
Of course you can, Jim had said, earnestly, I love those boys, John, you know that. But you gotta start thinking about this too. You started this thing because you loved your wife, right? But your kids, John... can you love them enough to stop?
It hadn't been a fair question, even then. He loved his boys. He loved them 'til he was blinded with the fear of losing them. 'Sides, it wasn't just that. What they were doing... it was right. It needed doing. People needed saving. Demons needed stopping. It hurt like a bitch but it was simply what it was. He knew it then. He knew it even more when Dean stood up for him at court, battered and unbeaten on the stand, telling them John was the best dad in the world, just a man who was doing whatever needed doing. He thought his old, dead heart had come alive again, and was set to burst, that day.
He hung onto the memory of that, a lot. Anytime he doubted himself or what he was doing, he remembered that. You weren't allowed to give up when helpless people depended on you, sure, that was partly why he couldn't give up the hunt. But more than that... he wasn't allowed to give up because there were people believing in him: Dean, blindingly, and maybe Sam too, when he wasn't pissed as hell. It was the least he could do, to put one foot in front of the other and trudge on. It was the least he could do, to keep doing what he knew to be right.
"When you said that you wanted to go away to school," John continued, "All I could think about, my only thought, was that you were gonna be alone, vulnerable. Sammy... it just... it never occurred to me what you wanted. I just couldn't accept the fact that you and me.. we're just different."
As opposed to, say, Dean, who just understood. His perfect little soldier's one flaw was his ability to understand, and his blind desire to accommodate, the two obsessive bastards in his family. John was therefore out-of-practice dealing with Sam's bull-headed insubordination, just as Sam was not conditioned to handle his father's harsh style, because Dean was always around to curb the rebellion and soften the orders. John didn't recognize how much Dean had lessened his younger brother's malcontentedness up until Stanford came along and nothing could soften the blow anymore. Sam had his way out, and John had no idea how to stop him.
We're just different--
His younger son began to chuckle, but his eyes were lonely.
"We're not different," Sam said, "Not anymore. With what happened to mom and Jess, we probably have more in common than just about anyone."
"I guess you're right, son," John said.
"Hey dad..." Sam said, tentatively, after he allowed himself a moment to recover from the bleak humor, "Whatever happened to that college fund?"
John smiled, all acid and mischief, "Spent it on ammo."
They laughed about that, up until Dean entered the room and looked at the two of them, knowing right away that something had changed. He knew it because he knew the two of them inside-out, sure. But he knew it also because it doesn't take that long to grab some dead man's blood, really, but he just stood outside the motel room and waited, because he knew it does take that long for John and Sam Winchester to sit down and start laughing together again.
August 24, 2008
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I. On The Title and Inspiration for The Least I Can Do
II. Alternate Versions of The Least I Can Do
III. On Child Protective Services
IV. On The Characters
a. John and His Doubts
b. Sam and His Rebellion
c. Dean and His Flaw
V. Massive Thanks and Replies
VI. My Next Project/s
I. The Title and Inspiration for The Least I Can Do
The title of the fic came from a song called "Belief" by Gavin deGraw. I was listening to the song in the subway and had the sudden inspiration to write a fic about John coming to a point in his life where he's doubting himself and his choices and how these affected his sons. The series shows us a very straightforward, single-minded guy, but he's got to have been shaken sometime. The Least I Can Do is my take on that self-doubt, and deriving strength from the people who believe in you. Here's just some of the lyrics to the song, but you really should listen to the entire thing because it just feels right for the story:
I'm gonna yell it from the rooftops
I'll wear a sign on my chest
That's the least I can do
It's the least I can do
Tonight you arrested my mind
When you came to my defense
With a knife in the shape of your mouth
In the form of your body
With the wrath of a god
Oh you stood by me,
and I'll stand by my
II. Alternate Versions of The Least I Can Do
The fic was originally a one-shot until I decided I might get more readers posting it in several parts, just to keep it active in the top-part area of 's list, haha. And so the original vision was very much affected by the desire to be more widely distributed. Is that selling out, haha :) That's also why the chapters were basically ready for posting one after the other, not twenty-four hours away from each other.
The original version started with the basement scene in April 1995 with John saying "Oh my god." The original fic was supposed to happen in chronological order, documenting the intricacies of the whole Child Protective Services nightmare, but it felt dragging to me, too much time, too much red-tape. I decided to go with the timeline-swtiching, one-shot version instead because it felt much more compelling to me, with the final hearing as the centerpiece, instead of it just being the climax of the story.
III. Child Protective Services
The fast forward version of the hearing process you see in this fic is the creative take on the truth, which is a much longer, much more red-taped process. The truth is, the court sees less of the drama and speeches, and there's a hell of a lot more paperwork, haha. But I'm raising creative license on this one, haha, which is a cop-out, but I was not in the mood for the more technical aspects of this, so I did the whole CSI-thing (you know, how in the series the forensic science part moves faster and the cases are solved quickly than in real life) and just used the process as an element of the family drama, instead of the story's primary event. I breached this same topic in afterword II above also.
If you're curious though, there's a lot of literature on the Internet, including actual stories of people who have gone through CPS processes. They talk about how they interacted with hospital personnel, like the doctors who report suspected cases and hospital social workers who take it from there. They talk about when the CPS workers come in and do some investigations by interviewing parents and children and watching them interact, getting family contacts and interviewing them too, then making a decision and a recommended course of action. Then there's pre-trials and trials and hearings that take place to discuss custody, visitation and foster home options, reunification plans, sanctions, etc. They also talk about what happens after, including the central registry that some states have, where offenders are logged permanently, or living with the termination of parental rights, things like that.
The hearing in The Least I Can Do would have been at the tail end of the process already, of course. But make no mistake, the reality is a much longer, more painful road from the time a suspected case is reported to the time they come to a judge's order than as it is depicted here.
Note, though, that I have a very firm belief in what this agency is doing toward saving the futures of many kids and families. They are just villainous in Supernatural fics almost incidentally; what they're doing, even if they're right, are roadblocks to what the Winchesters are doing, much like Hendrickson himself.
A. John's Doubts
You loved her enough to start, can you love them enough to stop?
As I mentioned above, The Least I Can Do is an experiment in dissecting John's self-doubts as a father. Its first component is that it's almost as if the entirety of the side of him that is a father to his sons is built of nothing but shame: he thinks his wife will be disappointed, he's embarrassed about being declared merely 'acceptable' as a father, and is horrified by the idea that he will be declared unfit while his children were around.
The second component is the very human, one-sided rivalry with Dean. He was upset that Sam had called Dean 'dad,' he recognized that Dean had a greater influence in Sam's life, he knew that he had lost all credibility with Sam, watching them was like watching a two-man show, things like that.
The third component is the synergistic effect of these two components, the dichotomy between (1) recognizing that he had lost the side of him that was a father and (2) that Dean had taken his place. It was as if he was torn down the middle, knowing what was lacking in him and at the same time unwilling to give up his place.
There was, however, one area in his life where John had complete belief in himself, and that was with his work. He was always so sure of what to do when it came to a hunt. And so, when Dean defends him and effectively unites his two personas (father and hunter), the internal conflict is resolved. Suddenly, being a father is not completely divorced from being a hunter. His children understood that what he was doing needed to be done, or else people got killed. A good father is the kind of guy a son wants to become. A good father is the one who does the right thing, and shows his children how to do it also.
B. Sam's Rebellion
Sam understood deprivation more than loss.
In this fic, I feel that the primary depiction of Sam can be most noted in two scenes. The first, during his conversation with his father in the car, and John thinks that Sam was far more candid than Dean... underlying the reply was the naked honesty that Sam did find their lives lacking in many respects, but that there was something right about it too.
The second is in the epilogue: Sam understood deprivation more than loss. He understood the things he never had but had every right to, it was why he was always hungry, always wanting things, always running after things. Dean, on the other hand, understood loss more than deprivation, which was why he was always clinging to what little he had, instead of pursuing the things he didn't.
I find Sam justifiably and unavoidably dissatisfied, even as he has a sense of morality and understanding that what they are doing is also good. He hates the work, he loves his family, he likes the purpose. There are many things he'd rather be, but he recognizes also that his father must be doing something right. Throughout the series, Sam is like this constantly torn character (I've discussed this in my previous story, Home Road also). Destiny and action, normal and supernatural, faith and logic ...It's so fascinating to me, and it would be so poetically just if he were part-demon, part-human physically too, like the physicality is just one aspect of his torn-ness.
I also wanted to write a fic that shows some beginning of an interest in the law. Technically, haha, the Winchesters are a bunch of rogues, so he must have had some interesting exposure that would lead him to want to take up, and possibly be good at, a profession in law.
The Least I Can Do is also a very subtle take on the strained relationship between John and Sam. I wanted this young Sam to feel like that kid depicted in A Supernatural Christmas: perceptive, with seeds of distrust against his father just barely growing, not like the full-on animosity depicted in, say, that infamous Dead Man's Blood confrontation. This is like, the beginning of that.
In the end, I felt I had to tie in The Least I Can Do to their calmer conversation in Dead Man's Blood because I think that episode really showcases the John-Sam dynamic, and The Least I Can Do is an homage to that.
C. Dean's Flaw
Always there to curb the rebellion and soften the orders.
I was actually hesitant putting this up, because a vocal, open Dean felt damned uncharacteristic. The very perceptive Von, in a review, said that it's rare to see Dean taking front and center like this, and I agree completely. The thing that pushed me, though, was the realization that Dean was always ready to push the envelope for his family. This comes out in the series and in fics as willingness to get hurt, kill, or die. Conversely, doesn't this also mean he would also be willing to live for them? Or speak for them? The bottom line is he's willing to do everything... even act like a wuss in a chick flick once in awhile, haha. So in the interest of this alternate take on Dean's sacrifice, he lets himself be cared for, and he actually openly speaks about the things he feels.
But he does have a quirky flaw, and I had a great time thinking about this one. I think my thesis on Dean in this fic was summed up in John's thoughts in the epilogue: His perfect little soldier's one flaw was his ability to understand, and his blind desire to accommodate, the two obsessive bastards in his family. John was therefore out-of-practice dealing with Sam's bull-headed insubordination, just as Sam was not conditioned to handle his father's harsh style, because Dean was always around to curb the rebellion and soften the orders. John didn't recognize how much Dean had lessened his younger brother's malcontentedness up until Stanford came along and nothing could soften the blow anymore. Sam had his way out, and John had no idea how to stop him.
The Least I Can Do strips Dean from the situation, emphasizing John's lacking in his relationship with Sam, and inspires his self-doubt.
V. Massive Thanks and Replies
Thanks to all who read and especially all who reviewed so far: deangirl1, darthnikki, winchesterfan, sammygirl1963, samjacklover aka sammy, tomash, sosori, von, tears of trees, kelcor, happycabbage75, thru terry's eyes, friendly, rhesa, gala000085 and anjali23sk.
I don't get a lot of reviews so everything counts and it really, really is fuel to keep going and really has an impact on how I perceive the things that I write, so it also helps me improve. Thank you very, very much :)
Von: What you said about the rarity of Dean taking front and center really got me; I agree one hundred percent. If you read my note on his characterization note above, I make reference to your review and add my own insights. Thanks for the perceptive note!
VI. My Next Project/s
Working on a few plots right now, including a possible sequel to One Night (though not previewed here) and I'm not really sure what to focus on, but anyway, a couple of clips from the upcoming one-shots Stronger and Every Now and Then, which should be along the same vein as my previous fic The Right Stuff:
Summary:Post-Born Under a Bad Sign, Sam finds one thing he's stronger than his older brother at: getting a tattoo.
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At least I'm taller, he thought, inanely, watching his older brother sleep like a log for a change, just still and unshakable, barely moving, breaths even and deep. He supposed that was normal, after a week of desperately looking for a recklessly possessed runaway younger brother, then getting a concussion, then getting shot and going swimming, and then getting beaten and taunted and torn up, and then driving...
Yeah, Sam thought with a wince, Take as long as you want, bro...I sure owe you for this one.
Like he owed him for lots of other ones before that, but if he started counting he'd be in debt to his eyeballs, so he decided not to.
They stopped at the first out-of-state motel that they could find. The car was weaving; as always, an extension of it – her for now, since Sam owed Dean – an extension of her owner's personality, exhausted, on drained-out auto-pilot. The carefully-intricate parking drew out the last of Dean's reserves. He stayed in the car as Sam hopped out and got them a room, then suffered through being dragged in there by his younger brother.
"Just relax, bro," Sam murmured as he settled Dean in bed, "I gotacha. We're gonna patch you up, okay?"
"We?" Dean asked, his laugh a quiet, assuring breath, "You're gonna have to do all the work on this one, little brother."
Sam smiled tightly, feeling something inside him ease, "Just relax as much as you can Dean, go to sleep."
Dean shrugged noncommittally, at least tried to, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. He bit his lip, scrunched his eyes closed for a second before opening them again, staring at Sam.
"Guess I'd better take a look at that one first, huh?" Sam said, grimacing. He was going to stand up, get the first aid kit and wash his hands, when Dean reached out and grabbed his wrists in a death-grip. The feeling was disturbingly familiar; he had been awake for some of his possession, oh yes, and he recognized the sensation; Dean on the ground, Sam's fingers squeezing, torturing, and his brother's hands, clamped to him, clawing, please stop even when his face was set and his eyes were cold, his hands spoke volumes.
"I'm not going to hurt you," were the first things Sam thought to say, feeling the sting, that Dean was now afraid of him--
"No, you idiot," Dean snapped, loosening his hold, realizing it was what triggered the response, "You're gonna look through and think everything's your fault--" Sam opened his mouth to protest, so Dean insisted, "You are, so just shut up and listen to me. It's not your fault, okay?"
Sam stared at him for a long moment, blinked. He guessed with a sinking heart that it must mean there's a lot of wounds to find on Dean, after this last misadventure of the two of them.
"Sam," Dean barked, "You hear?"
"I hear," Sam said, under his breath, making no promises, feeling the simmering anger at himself again. Dean looked at him with narrowed eyes. And kept looking, as if ready to pounce out in argument if Sam should even think to look guilty about any wound he would find on Dean's body.
And so Sam worked, and Dean watched. And Sam did look guilty, and Dean did rag on him about it. And so went the whole exercise that eventually found Dean asleep, tanked up on exhaustion, medicine and Sam's good intentions, while his brother did the watching this time.
To be continued...
B. Title:Every Now and Then
Summary:In a random ER waiting room in California, a delusional Dean is waiting to be seen by a doctor after a job, and Sam enters with a broken wrist after moving into a new apartment with his girlfriend in Stanford. Collision. Pre-series.
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"You're good?" Jess asked Sam, as the two of them walked toward the emergency room doors.
"'Course I'm good," he said, and as if to illustrate the point, slinging his injured arm over her shoulders over her fading protests, "But now I'm even better."
"You sure have a cheek on you," she teased, but slid in closer, "I called up Remy and Troy. They'll meet us with the car."
He groaned, "You'd think I lost an arm. I'm never gonna hear the end of this one."
"Well I was worried," she said, simply. They passed by curtained sections and corridors lined on both sides by miserable and ill patients either waiting to be treated or waiting for friends and family.
"I kinda feel bad," Sam said, remembering that he didn't always get the express lane. It wasn't too long ago, no, that it was him and his brother and their father, sitting there. Waiting for hours, and hurt so much more than he was today. Waiting to be looked at, waiting for relief...
"Maybe I should have waited," he murmured.
"But your case was a simple one," Jess pointed out, "In and out, they might as well have gotten you out of the way. Besides, Marty said he was on break. It couldn't have affected anybody."
He shrugged, turning glum in introspection. Yeah, he remembered those days. Sitting hurt or sick, waiting, watching people who came in later than he did be seen first. It was far worse when it was his father or Dean injured. He was a teenager back then and he wanted to scream at them all.
See us, damn it...
"There you go again," she said, softly, almost casually except when he looked down at her head she seemed thoughtful.
"Sometimes, I really don't know what's going on in that head of yours."
What's going on in this head of mine...
He was seeing himself from the eye-view of his younger self.
'Sammy,' as the chubby kid would have been known as, was pouting alongside his shifting, wincing older brother, who was favoring his left side because his right side was cracked through and through and through. Their father was on the phone, already yakking about the next hunt. 'Sam,' as the Stanford preppie would be better known as, would be arriving through the double doors of the emergency room, as if he had carried a breeze in with him. Bathed in light. With an angelic blond on his arm. A doctor welcomed them straight away, and brought them to a private room. All because of an injured wrist. The chubby kid would think the Stanford preppie was a total wuss. The chubby kid could probably skewer the Stanford preppie like he would any other monster that had come into his life--
"Nothing," Sam said, under his breath, tightening his hold on his girlfriend. God, he really, really, really hated hospitals, didn't he? There was no salvaging them at all, not even with Jess in his arms.
They passed a few more waiting patients. Old lady coughing into her handkerchief. Catatonic man who looked surrealistically unharmed and healthy, reminding Sam of a ghost. New mother, looking harassed and windblown and trying to calm triplets with red noses and what looked to be bad head colds. A costumed mime with a busted lip and a swollen eye, who flipped a very quietly articulate finger at him when he caught Sam's gaze. A leather-clad, huddled figure in the corner, jeweled hands covering his face.
He stopped walking.
He blinked at the vision. Once, twice. Imagination?
The man was still there.
Sam couldn't resist the question. He pulled away from Jess, peered at her intently and asked, "Can you see that guy?"
"Yes," she replied, warily, trying to read the intense expression on his face, "Sam?"
"Nothing, um," he took a deep breath, stepped away from her physically as surely as he was doing so emotionally, "You go on ahead, Jess."
"What do--" she hesitated, "Sam, what are you--"
"Jess, please," he insisted, "I'll find my way home, okay? I'm great, it's not a problem. I just... I think I see an old friend of my dad's."
"Oh yeah?" she asked, a light making her eyes shine. She was always so excitable about knowing more and more about his life. Even with all the walls he found he still had to pull up, she never wavered, never stopped trying, never let the disappointments and evasions break her enthusiasm.
"Not the kind you'd wanna know, believe me," Sam said, "But I gotta go look into this, all right? Don't worry, I'm fine."
She stared at him for a long moment, but just nodded. She looked troubled, but he always knew she'd back off. She always knew when to insist and when to step back, which was one of the reasons he adored her.
He watched her walk away, before cautiously approaching the huddled figure isolated in the corner, whose right hand was shielding his eyes from the light. There was no doubt in his mind, no, not at all, that the man before him was Dean. The only question he had the moment he laid hands on his brother was whether or not he was real.
He hovered over the form, noticed Dean's body stiffen a little, and his left arm slide somewhere beneath his leather jacket...
"Dean," Sam said, quietly, falling to a knee before his brother and making sure not to touch him, "Dean, it's Sam."
Dean's body visibly relaxed, and Sam waited patiently for him to get himself together.
"Sammy," came the breathy greeting, and the hand lowered, rewarding Sam with his older brother's lazy grin. Less gratifying were the pale skin and the fever-bright, hazel-green eyes.
"It's not very wise, is it, bro," said Sam, "To come in here packing. You could hurt someone."
Dean blinked at him, shrugged, "Think you should take it?"
Sam's eyes narrowed in thought and worry. Casual, Dean was too casual, like they just saw each other a few minutes ago, when it was more like a year. He had a feeling his brother wasn't all there.
"Sure," Sam said, a little warily. Dean drew the knife out with his usual stealth, and Sam took the knife and slid it into his jacket pocket. He was nervous as hell about bringing such a weapon in his person, but he had been trained by John Winchester too, and instinct took over what the mind had tucked away. It vanished in the folds of his clothes.
"Turn the damn light off, will ya?," Dean mumbled, wincing at the lights, putting his hand over his face again.
Sam's brows creased, worriedly. He reached out a tentative hand toward his brother's forehead. Dean saw the movement from the corner of his eye, pushed his head back to avert the casted hand.
"You all right?" Dean asked, opening his mouth to complain about the mothering until he saw the injury and addressed that instead. Sam had almost forgotten about it, until now.
"I'm better than you," Sam pointed out, reaching forward again, only for his hand to be gingerly held away by his older brother, wary of the injury.
"You're not here," Dean said, suddenly, simply, in realization. He looked lucid for a moment, like he recognized that his brother wasn't supposed to be there, that he wasn't supposed to be having conversations with him in casual circumstances, that the scenery was misplaced and profoundly wrong.
Sam took a deep, frustrated breath and rolled back his eyes. "I'm here. You're not."
"It's figurative," Sam muttered, "Never mind. Dean, listen, your brain is getting fried—"
"Nah," Dean said, releasing Sam's hand at last, relaxing back, lapsing into his dreamy state, "Nothing that dramatic, dude. I'm kinda embarrassed. Just a bug I can't shake. Been bugging me for weeks. Dad finally pulled rank on me when I coughed on a hunt and tipped us off, which was so not cool. I mean what did he want me to do? Not breathe?"
Sam smiled a little, hearing his brother talk in that familiar ramble that could have been easily mistaken by many for drunken talk. If he could yap like this, he can't be too badly off. He settled down more comfortably next to Dean.
"So I guess we're waiting, huh?" Sam asked.
"Yeah what's new," Dean muttered, sinking deeper against his seat. He coughed, and tightened his jacket around his body.
To be continued...