A big heart-felt thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review, it really is the only thing which keeps me writing some days...that and a strange burning desire to whump Winchesters.
Once again this is for the ever wonderful birthday girls Gidgetgal9 and Kokoda2007. Huge thanks to my awesome talented beta Olivia Sutton. Hugs & cookies to Tammitam and sendintheclowns (who might claim they didn't help much but they really did, they always do and I'm eternally grateful for that and for them).
Disclaimer and Summary: As Part 1. I still own nothing though after seeing the Red Bull soapbox vids and pictures, I wish I owned a pair of pretty, shiny Texas boys more than ever.
Walking Home A Crooked Mile – Part 2
Harper opens his eyes to find Dean staring down at him. "Fetch Jack for me?" He grinds the words out and closes his eyes again. His voice is frayed at the edges but not as exhausted as his body feels.
Dean's eyebrows rise in an arch. "Okay sure, I can do that. What's his number?"
"No you idiot, Jack." Harper lifts a hand and points at the sideboard behind Dean's head. Dean twists to look and sees a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting there.
"Oh. OH." Dean disappears from Harper's line of vision and quickly reappears brandishing the bottle.
Harper takes it and pulls himself up off the floor staggering over to collapse, splayed out, on his battered cherry-red couch. His eyes quickly find Sam who is sitting in an equally battered armchair, long legs tucked up underneath his body, staring off into space. "Is Sam okay?" He asks shakily.
"Well, he didn't do a nose-dive onto the carpet like you did." Bobby's voice snarks from somewhere in the room.
Harper doesn't have the energy to lift his head and find out where from so he returns to staring at Sam. The kid doesn't appear to have been hurt by the experience; which is a relief because he's clearly been fucked around with quite enough already. Harper kneads his fingers into his tense shoulder-blades, trying to work out the knots in the tight muscles there. The kid's okay—physically, at least—but Harper's whole body hurts like a bitch. He's never been electrocuted before but has a sneaking suspision that the bolt of pain he felt when he tried to connect with Sam must be pretty damn similar.
Out of the corner of his eye Harper can see Dean fidgeting; adjusting the sleeve on his button-down shirt for what must be the tenth time in a row. Dean clearly wants to fire off a round of questions but is giving Harper the time to compose himself; the polite restraint is evidently something of a struggle for him.
Harper takes a long draw from the bottle and then nods his head in Sam's direction. "He's still your brother."
Dean's brow furrows, "I know that."
"Yeah but you've been wondering, haven't you?" Harper watches the young hunter's efforts to maintain a calm demeanour. Dean glances over at Sam and then lowers his head so that he's staring fixedly at the tops of his shoes. "He's in there, he's just buried deep. I couldn't reach him because there's a barrier." Harper continues.
Harper grunts and pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Like the freakin' force-field on the Starship Enterprise. Only I reckon it's not a shield, it's more of a cage."
"I don't understand."
"Sam is under some sort of lock-down. The demon, the one you reckon took your brother; I think he worked some serious mojo as a means to incapacitate him."
"Incapacitate..." Dean echoes softly. The word leaves an instant bitter taste in Dean's mouth and a distinct desire to start making dents in the walls with his fist.
"Can you undo it? Can you make Sam okay again?" Bobby asks bending down to rescue the bottle of whisky from Harper's hands, replacing it with a mug of piping hot coffee. He shoves Harper's feet over and hunkers down, taking a seat on the couch beside him.
"Not without risk, it'd be like walking into a minefield. The barrier could be booby-trapped. Once bitten twice shy, you get what I'm saying?" Harper rubs at his arm as he speaks, the residual tremors caused by the pain he went through are ebbing away now. He only picked up on the presence of a barrier, to actually try and take the damn thing down would be a whole different ball game and one Harper is convinced could turn him into worm food in no time.
"Loud and clear." Dean's stern response is followed up with a frustrated gesture at his brother's oblivious form. "So, what, we just leave him like that? He doesn't even know who I am."
"Oh, he knows." Harper watches as Dean's head snaps back towards him. "Sam's a stronger person than you give him credit for. He wouldn't have let that demon put up the barrier without a fight. Call it sixth sense, call it whatever the heck you like, Sam might not have trusted or understood your bond at first but he realizes that you're his kin. I don't know how to describe it...he's still Sam, he's just not running on a full programme."
"You're making him sound like a freakin' washing machine." It's not the solution Dean has been hoping for, hell, it's not any kind of solution but he feels a tad better in the knowledge that Sam understands and accepts they are brothers.
Sam is the one trapped but for awhile there, it had felt like it was Dean who was lost.
Dean feels more at ease around Harper now too because clearly the psychic hasn't been digging around in his head uninvited. If he had, he'd have known that Dean has never doubted his brother's strength, not once. If anything, Dean has always thought of Sam as the strong one, the one who had carved a place in the world for himself when Dean couldn't.
Bobby looks over at Dean, his expression grim. "If Harp can't help Sam, then we're running out of options here. We may need to summon Asag after all."
"Summon him? You're going to have to destroy that nasty son of a bitch because he's not going to let Sam go free." Harper mutters from his place on the couch, rubbing ruefully at his arm once again.
Dean strides out angrily, walking the length of the dusty yard behind Harper's house until he reaches the tall wooden fence at the bottom and then he turns to make his way back towards Bobby. "What if Asag tries to hurt Sam, or take him away again? It's too risky. I don't like it."
"Dean, you know Sam better than that. He wouldn't want this. Leaving Sam like he is now would be as good as him being dead."
"Not to me."
"So you're really going to carry on hunting with Sam trailing around after you like—like a damn space cadet? And when you're gone...what's going to happen to the boy then? Isn't it bad enough that you're going to be leaving him and now you're going to leave him stuck like this?"
Dean's face darkens. "Because you're my friend, I'll forget you said that."
Bobby sighs heavily, pushing all the air out of his lungs in one long exhale. He yanks off his trucker's cap, squeezing it to within an inch of its life between his two strong hands. "I—I didn't mean anything by that. I'm just tired, tired of seeing you boys hurting."
Dean turns away, taking a moment to glance towards the porch where Sam is sitting. Except that when Dean looks over, Sam isn't there. The old rickety lawn-chair where Dean had stationed his brother is empty. Dean's head whips back and forth as he quickly checks the surrounding area but Sam isn't anywhere in sight. It's then that a rush of near-hysterical panic hits him like a tidal wave of ice cold water of a scorching hot day. "SAM? SAMMY!? Goddamn it."
"BOBBY! DEAN!" There's a loud bang as the aluminium screen-door entrance to the back of the house crashes open, Harper is stood framed in the doorway shouting for them. "Get your asses in here."
Then run in a mad dash back into the house to find Harper standing in the kitchen full on open-mouthed gawking at Sam who has a large carving knife clasped in his hands—hands which are smeared bright red.
There are several gashes along the length of the top of Sam's forearm, deep and still pumping blood in time with his heartbeat.
"Sammy, give me the knife." Dean holds out his hand, waggles his fingers for added emphasis. "You're freaking me out, dude. Give it to me."
"I've tried asking already, he won't hand it over." Harper scowls. He knows he should be doing something—aren't you supposed to fetch a first aid kit when a person is bleeding like a stuck pig?— but he stays rooted to the spot hypnotised by the rivulets of blood snaking down Sam's arm and dripping onto the floor.
Sam's head tips to one side, eyes studying his brother and slowly he holds out the knife, handle pointing towards Dean. Dean takes it and instantly tosses the blade to the other side of the room. He grabs Sam's wrist and half-drags him towards the sink. As he turns on the faucet, he forces Sam's arm under the flow of water and flinches when the blood washes away to reveal the extent of the cuts Sam had been slicing into his arm.
"What the hell were you trying to do, Sam?" Dean grips Sam's shoulder and shakes him roughly. Sam doesn't respond, he simply stares with vacant eyes as his head bobs with the motion. The concern on Dean's face makes him look like he's ready to come apart at the seams. But instead, after a pause, Dean's alarmed expression withdraws and the shutters come down. "He's always been a drama queen." Dean says curtly to Harper and Bobby. "These fuckers are going to need stitching. Come on little brother, I'll get the kit outta the car."
It might seem oddly brusque behavior to someone who doesn't know Dean but Bobby knows exactly what this is, this is Dean's coping mechanism. His way of hiding the pain so that maybe he can convince himself it doesn't really exist.
But when Dean heads for the door—one hand keeping Sam's injured arm elevated—Dean turns back to look at the other two men. "We'll do it, we'll summon Asag," he says and his voice is thick with the fear that his face refuses to convey.
Bobby is knelt on the floor, copying the outline of a devil's trap onto the hardwood floorboards in thick white chalk. He stands up, dusts off his knees and casts a weary glance around the room. They're as ready for this showdown as they're ever going to be.
Bobby holds the book tightly as he recites the incantation, word for word; his pronunciation is practice perfect. The room quickly fills with plumes of wispy white smoke and the men exchange worried glances—all except for Sam who is leaning against the wall watching, a silent unmoving shadow in the room. The smoke slowly clears to reveal a man standing in the center of the devil's trap. A middle-aged man, dressed in a cheap black suit he looks like a used car salesman. His eyes are a vivid blue but as he blinks his baby blues become ink black.
Dean steps forward, his hipflask filled with holy water ready and waiting in his sweating hands. He unscrews the lid, flicks his wrist and a spray of water hits the demon who hisses his displeasure as the skin on his face sizzles and his flesh starts to smoke.
"What did you do to my brother you bastard?" Dean holds the colt pointed at Asag. Dean's a crack shot even on his worst days and today, his hand is rock steady.
"I gave him back to you when I'd finished with him. You should be grateful I've been that generous." Asag walks a small circle within the confines of the devil's trap. Sizing up in the hunters and their psychic friend he wears a grin as vicious as a shark.
"The only thing that you are is dead, the quicker you realize that the better. Fix my brother or I'll shoot you where you stand, I swear."
"Go right ahead, shoot me, but you'd better get used to your brother living out the rest of his days as a witless retard." Asag's lips quirk in amusement. "Dean, how long after your deal comes due do you honestly think it'll be before little Sammy ends up locked away in an institution."
"Shut up! Just shut up and fix him."
"Did I touch a raw nerve? So sad. He's not quite going to cut it as a demon leader now is he?"
Sam has edged away from the wall, moving forward to stand closer to his brother. He makes a soft mewing noise when Asag twists his head to look at him and Dean immediately reaches back to hook a protective arm around his brother's shoulders.
Asag snorts at the tenderness of the gesture; humans can be so transparently weak sometimes. This isn't what he had planned to do tonight, tonight his plans involved wearing some young girl's intestines like a scarf but seeing as he's here he may as well play. He lowers his head, closes his eyes and starts to mutter under his breath.
Dean shoots a confused glance at Bobby who mouths the word Meg and Dean's instant reaction is to think oh shit because it's patently clear Asag knows how to break the devil's trap in the same way Meg had done when she was possessing Sam.
Asag's mutterings end abruptly as he tips back his head and roars. The room shakes, the building foundations groan and a crack wide enough for Dean to fit his fist into splinters across the floor, splitting the devil's trap in two.
Right away Asag raises his hand and the four men fly backward, hitting the wall before falling in a messy heap of tangled limbs. Dean is the first to lift his head when he hears Sam whimper in pain and he crawls the short distance across the floor towards his brother. He looks up to see Asag staring at Sam, fire and fury evident despite his soulless black eyes.
"Stop it." Dean yells at Asag as Sam's face crumbles in agony and his whimpering grows into a disturbing guttural scream, the kind of scream which means you're being ripped apart inside. Sam is curled into a ball, his fingers locked together in his hair. Dean can hear Bobby starting to recite fluent Latin, quietly at first but then his gruff voice begins to grow louder.
But it's not going to be fast enough, not to save Sam.
Dean stands up on unsteady legs, lifts the colt and fires. "I told you to stop it." His words are cold and carved from stone; he's never meant anything more in his entire life.
The bullet hits Asag in the chest. There's a moment where Asag's eyes widen in shock, disbelief radiating from him in undulating waves. His hands claw at the bullet hole in his crisp white shirt even as electricity sparks through his convulsing body in mini lightening rods. Then he collapses to the floor. The demon destroyed, gone, the empty shell body of some poor bastard left behind.
Sam is motionless; lying on his side, unconscious or worse. The colt slips through Dean's fingers and clatters as it hits the ground. He bends down and puts shaking fingers to the carotid in Sam's neck. There's a pulse, beating too rapidly but it's there and Dean sinks to the floor, overwhelmed and exhausted and entirely unable to hold himself up any longer.
Sam's eyelids flutter like butterfly wings and Dean catches a brief glimpse of red in Sam's eyes. All at once Dean feels sick, his brain is screaming "red eyes" and all the terrible things those two words mean. His legs are jello so he stays slumped over his brother until Sam's eyelids win the battle to open fully and Dean realizes then that only one of Sam's eyes is red. Also, it's not the whole eye, just the white. The sense of utter relief is crushing because one thing Dean's pretty damn certain about is that there's nothing demonic about a burst blood vessel. "Sammy?"
But Sam doesn't answer; all he does is stare up at Dean with lost empty eyes. Sam's not fixed. Dean leans over and surrenders to his body's urge to vomit because he knows now that by killing Asag he's almost certainly doomed his own brother too.
They salt and burn the body of the possession victim in a shallow grave dug into the soft earth behind Harper's house.
The fire quickly consumes the body and hungry flames lick at the night sky with tender kisses but the fire is far from beautiful. Harper stands by the edge of the unmarked grave and says a prayer, one Dean recognizes and starts to repeat quietly to himself but the words feel stale and meaningless as they leave his lips. He settles for a mumbled "I'm sorry" instead and stumbles back into the house to resume his post by the side of his sleeping brother.
The atmosphere is suffocatingly tense with weariness and defeat. Not wanting to impose on Harper's hospitality any longer, both hunters make the decision to leave and head back to Bobby's. Sam sleeps in the car and when they arrive at Bobby's place, Dean leads his brother inside and watches as Sam settles almost instantly back into sleep, laid out on Bobby's couch.
Dean takes a seat on the edge of the couch close to his brother's head, as close as he can get without actually sitting on his brother's head, and feels the worn-out cushions sag with his weight. Sam's eyes are moving underneath their lids. He wonders if Sam is dreaming and what he dreams about with the way he is now. The way he'll always be.
Less than half an hour passes before Sam starts to wake up. Dean can't help but hold his breath, his chest tightens with the hope that in the brief moment when Sam first blinks awake maybe, just maybe, he'll miraculously be himself again. Sam's bleary half-lidded eyes focus on Dean for a heartbeat and then drift away towards the wall.
Dean runs a hand through Sam's mussed hair before reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a candy bar and rips off the wrapper. Dean holds it out and Sam's eyes shift towards the bar like the chocolate is some kind of magnet. Sam reaches up to take it and he's smiling as he takes a bite but it's an unconscious reaction, a physical response to the simple pleasure of eating something which tastes good and sweet. There's no real communication expressed in that smile and Dean's heart goes cold at the realization of it.
While Sam eats Dean checks the bandage on his brother's arm. Blood is seeping through in places; he probably ripped open some stitches when Asag was playing human skittles. Dean curses and starts to unwind the bandage, revealing the wounds and then he stops...unravelled bloodied bandaged coiled in a messy heap on his lap. The cuts on Sam's arm, there's something about them that Dean hadn't noticed before.
"Bobby, these shapes mean anything to you?" Dean holds up a sketchpad and waves it emphatically.
"Can't say that they do, son." Bobby mutters pausing to glance over Dean's shoulder at the hastily done drawings.
"Sam drew them before, on the drive to Harper's and they are the same shapes he sliced into his arm with the knife. Do you think…" Dean pauses; insatiable hope bubbling in his chest making him want to pump his fist into the air above his head. "Do you think he's trying to tell us something?"
"Say what now?" Bobby says with a frown which makes him look far from convinced.
"Well, are we going to do something or just sit around on our pretty asses?" Dean grouses, standing up.
"Kid, are you sure you're not just seeing something that you want to see? I mean, they look like shapes sure but you heard what Harper said about Sam's state of mind."
"I know my brother and I know he's trying to tell us something."
"Give me the pad." Bobby makes a grab for the sketch pad, shoving it under his arm and with a disconcerted longsuffering look on his face he disappears abruptly from the room.
"Well, I'll be God-damned." Bobby's voice announces his arrival even before his physical presence does. "You were right about those shapes, they do mean something."
Dean's eyes immediately zoom in on the rapidly deepening purple bruise on Bobby's cheek. "You've contacted Jacob again, haven't you? That Casper the demon hunter friend of yours?"
"Friend is a mighty strong word but you're right I have been speaking with him. It just so happens that Jacob hates demons more than the pair of dimwit hunters who let the Hell Gate be opened."
Bobby lifts up his hands in a placating gesture when he notices Dean's riled expression. "Hey, his words not mine." Bobby slams the pad back down on the table. "Anyway, these shapes are Trabodian symbols, serious dark magic but then sometimes, you need to use darkness to fight darkness."
"We can use them to fix Sam?"
"I don't know how Sam knew about them, heck I've never seen em' before but it's got to be worth a shot."
Dean grins, Winchesters aren't exactly newcomers to facing near-hopeless odds. Winchesters don't get lucky, unless of course the circumstances involve a smoky bar, boobs and bottle-blonde hair.
Bobby follows the instructions given to him by Jacob and lights two red candles which he places next to a bowl filled with a mixture of potent herbs. The herbs smell so foul that Dean ties a bandana around the lower half of his face and scowls at the bowl while Bobby continues to add pinches of meticulously measured out ingredients into it.
The symbols are drawn on the palms of Sam's hands and the soles of his feet. He's compliant enough providing only Dean touches him...and the fact he's distracted with munching on a Hershey's 'Cookies 'N' Crème' bar, well, that helps too.
When Bobby completes the short ritual, they wait, drawing short nervous breaths and then Sam drops his candy bar mid-bite, looks straight at his brother and whispers, "Dean."
It's one word but one which speaks volumes and always has done.
Sam doesn't remember anything—or at least that's what he says but the not-smile Dean gives him proves that Dean thinks he's lying and if Sam's honest with himself he does remember, some of it at least. Not the missing week no, not that, the memories of that time are gone. They either died with Asag or have been buried away somewhere deep inside his head. But what Sam does remember is the brief time he spent aimlessly wandering alone and confused, before Dean found him by the road side.
Sam's been possessed before, knows exactly what that powerless disconnected feeling is like but this wasn't like that at all. This was like being pumped full of morphine or getting completely trashed on cheap tequila or the feeling you get first thing in a morning when you wake up from a deep deep sleep—that haze which permeates your body, making your head heavy and your thought process as slow as if your brain were filled with nothing but a thick, gloopy syrup.
Being saved was like being dragged back into the land of the living. Dean was first clear thought in Sam's head and Dean's face was the first face which swam into sharp focus, as the veil of fog lifted.
They tell Sam he gave them the key, that it was him who solved the puzzle and found a way to save himself. Dean prodded his arm with a finger and grunted something about demons being unable to remove something as deeply embedded as Sam's research geek superpowers. But when Sam sees the symbols, fading marks on his own skin, he doesn't recognise them.
Sam is always full of questions. Always needing things to make sense in his head, as though facts are the only solid things he has to hold on to, the only things which keep him grounded sometimes. But this time, questions seem unnecessary.
He's home. Nothing about that is unclear to him.
Bobby can't convince the brothers to stay, not even for a bite of supper. Dean is already painfully aware of how much he has been leaning on Bobby lately. Bobby's house has practically been Dean's 'Operation Find Sammy' base-camp ever since this whole nightmare began.
Sam gushes his thanks for the offer but the way he's just about as fidgety as Dean has ever seen him is evidence enough that he's itching to hit the road.
A warm goodbye—warm by hunters' standards—is exchanged in the form on rough pats on the back and mumbled parting words, which veer dangerously close to expressions of fondness.
Once they are back in the Impala the brothers' drive for awhile in silence, no real destination in mind just the lure of the open road for now. So Dean almost runs the car off the road when Sam's soft voice speaks for the first time in two hours. "You know what Meg used to like to do?"
Dean knows exactly what Sam is talking about right away; the joy-ride Meg took Sam's body for when she possessed him in West Texas. Dean doesn't know a great deal about Sam's experiences during that time, he remembers more about what he himself had been feeling. The overpowering flood of fear for Sam. Always for Sam. Not even when Dean had been shot or when Sam's fist was pounding his face into mince, the only thing running through Dean's brain was saving his brother. Dean shakes his head stiffly, feels himself growing tense.
"Sometimes, when she must have been bored alone at night in a motel room, no-one else around to torture, I guess..." Sam begins, eyes misting slightly. "She'd hold her breath. She'd lie down on the bed, not breathing and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I could feel my lungs burn but I couldn't move my own body, couldn't open my mouth and take a breath. She'd hold out until the room would go dim around the edges and then she'd breathe again. I want you to remember who's in charge, Sammy. That's what she said to me."
"Jesus." Dean is only vaguely aware that's he's balling his hand into a fist. It's old rage now but it has left scars nonetheless and not the ones caused by a bullet or a red hot poker either. Dean's powerless to do a thing about Meg but the anger still howls through his brain like a thunderstorm.
"I can't do it again. Let a demon control me. Be controlled. I can't..."
"Sam. It won't happen again. I won't let it."
"What about when you're not here, Dean?"
Dean runs his tongue over his lips; his mouth feels as dry as desert sand. "It won't happen again." Dean repeats, more firmly this time and prays to God Sam believes it. Nothing else matters, he just needs Sam to believe it.
"Sometimes I don't know who I am anymore, Dean."
Dean closes his eyes, opens then a beat later. "You're Sam Winchester...You like beef and tomato on rye with absolutely no relish. You were addicted to gummi bears when you were in the first grade and sometimes you wouldn't go to school unless I promised to make you gummi bear sandwiches for your lunch. You love black comedies especially ones with John Cusack. You drink foo foo coffees but hate that iced frappe coffee crap and you have a way with people, making people you've never met before, trust you. Which I happen to think is just plain weird and..." Dean stops talking, chews hard at his bottom lip. "You're my brother."
The corners of Sam's mouth twitch and they both shift in their seats uncomfortably as the moment passes. It's the Winchester way they know so well. Their cycle of angst; they brood, they deal, they move on.
"My brother—who is also still wearing my jewellery, by the way." Dean adds pursing his lips.
Sam rubs his fingers against the amulet hanging around his neck. It had been one of the only things to reach him when he was trapped, one of the few things which somehow made him feel safe, protected. "You want it back? I thought you'd given it to me." Sam asks seriously and then turns his face away towards the window so Dean can't see the smile playing on his lips.
"Relax, I'm kidding. You know you can pull off the Mr. T look better than me anyway." Sam slips off the amulet and holds it out.
"Dude, you did not just compare me to Mr. T? Screw that, I don't wear that much jewellery." Dean grunts, feigning annoyance as he pulls the cord over his head and the amulet falls back against his chest. Where it belongs, Sam observes.
"I ain't going on no plane." Sam mutters under his breath with a barely concealed chuckle.
"Quit it bitch, or I'll make you into a fool worth pitying."
Sam sniggers loudly as he reaches over to flick on the stereo and Dean warms instantly at the familiar sound of his brother's laugh. Dean puts his foot down on the gas and AC/DC fills the car as they peel down the highway at a speed Bobby would give them his best 'Bobby glower' for.
It feels good. It feels like being home again. Dean's grin spreads to fill his face as he drives because this, this is a dance he knows the steps to. With Sam beside him and the world flashing by the window, he can let himself believe that nothing can touch them. Dean could dance to this tune forever.
Or for his last few months at least.
A/N - When I first wrote this I fully intended it to be a 2-part story but now I feel like it needs an epilogue of sorts - something to fill in the gap of Sam's missing week and explain what happened to him and the nightmare Dean went though. I don't have anything written yet so I'll close this story for now but...there may well be more.