To say that the truck ride back to the shanty was a quiet one was like saying the sky was blue. Stuck between his father and his brother, Dean tried to breach the silence twice before giving it up as futile.
Between his old man and Sammy was a position he found himself in almost constantly lately.
Like warring nations, John and the surly teen required constant monitoring to ensure they didn't end the uneasy peace. Dean, the tiny country caught between the superpowers, lived in fear he would be destroyed should war finally break out.
It didn't help that each faction seemed to speak another language, leaving the twenty year old to act as both buffer and translator.
Living under the constant threat of war, a war that would destroy his already damaged family was a strain that was beginning to take its toll. Every word, every decision, he now made must be analyzed from every angle to ensure that neither side fired that first shot.
The fact that neither John nor Sam seemed to sense the precarious edge they were living on, wasn't a surprise to Dean. Both his father and his brother, for all that they would deny it were mirror images of each other. Only a differing of circumstances led them to want different things.
John, having lost everything in the blink of an eye to a nameless enemy, had chosen to protect what was left of his family by cutting himself off. By centering his life to a pinpoint upon which only the boys were left. Having cut off family, friends, and any dreams he might have once cherished, he was able to devout himself completely to two things. Preparing his boys to make certain they would never be blindsided by fate, and to finding the thing that had destroyed his world. If he happened to save people along the way, well then it was a good day.
Unlike his father, Sam had never really lost anything. Dean was sometimes afraid that his constant presence in Sammy's life had made him dismiss John's fears. Only now that Dean had begun to hunt, had his brother begun to understand the threat his family was under. Only to Sam, the threat wasn't the world that John had run from, but the one he'd created for his sons.
To Dean it seemed as if he was the only one to recognize the truth.
There was no safe place. Not here on the fringes of society, and especially not in Sammy's dream world of normal. Every day of their lives was proof of that.
So, the way he figured it that left a person with a choice. You could pretend. Live the lie right up until the moment something slithered out of the dark to pull you under, or you could face it head on.
Dean had chosen to fight. Now, if only he could convince Sammy to give up his fairytale ideals, they could get on with some serious ass-kicking.
Determined to keep the kid alive long enough for him to experience his epiphany, Dean focused his attention on their surroundings. To his surprise, John was even now pulling up alongside the Impala, her black coat gleaming in the early morning light, a welcomed sight that soothed his heart in so many ways.
His one last link to a mother he'd barely gotten to know. A reminder of good times, when Sam still considered the hunt an adventure, and a home on wheels that his father helmed, allowing them to stay together.
Taking comfort from the car, he turned his gaze toward the Subaru that rested by his baby's side. "That's grand theft auto, sitting there, little bro, I'm touched," Dean teased as he followed Sam out of the pick-up.
With a ghost of a smile, the kid shook his head. "I borrowed it. Brother or not, there's no way I'm risking federal prison, Dude."
"Borrowed it?" John's deep voice questioned as he approached the Impala. Gesturing to Dean for the keys, he snapped, "What the hell's that mean?"
"You know, Dad, borrowed it. Like from a friend. You do remember what a friend is, don't you?" Sam bated.
Tired, aching, and near ready to pass out from hunger, Dean found himself suddenly wishing he could just keep his head down and stay out of it. Allow the kid to receive the tongue-lashing he deserved for his smart-ass remark.
Problem was, John wouldn't just stop with a demand for respect. Instead, he'd allow Sam's lapse in manners to become a ten hour lecture on every way his youngest had failed in following the chain of command.
It wasn't lost on Sam, or Dean for that matter, that these lectures were always about being a good soldier instead of a good son. It was something that Dean was able to let go. To understand that his father was only human and one that was coping as best as he knew how.
Sam didn't seem capable of recognizing that fact.
"Good thinking, Sammy, always better to avoid breaking the law," Dean interceded, quoting one of John's favorite lectures.
John gave Sam one long hard glance before he turned toward the car and popped the trunk.
Looking slightly put out that he wasn't going to get the confrontation he was so obviously gunning for, Sam nodded and asked, "How's the hand?"
Having written the handbook 'Sammy Manipulation 101', Dean confessed to a measure of his discomfort. "It aches."
As expected, Sam eased an arm around Dean's shoulders and began leading the twenty year old toward the car. Happy to have defused the situation, Dean allowed the mothering. He figured if letting his brother play nurse kept the kid from needling their father than it was well worth it.
His brother, swung open the car door and eased him onto the seat facing outward. With his feet planted firmly on the ground and his shoulder leaning heavily against the black leather, Dean felt exhaustion tugging at him, urging him to give in.
A wary glance toward his brother's thundercloud expression made it clear that now was no time to give into the urge. Sam had something stuck in his craw and sooner or later the kid was going to out with it. Dean would have to remain vigilant.
Just then, their father came around the fender with the medicine kit in his weathered hands. "Sam, get your brother fixed up. I'm gonna get the gear from the shack."
The youth grudgingly accepted the kit, unable to find fault with John's orders. Not for lack of trying, Dean thought wryly, as he held out his arm without complaint. What an hour ago had been a tolerable throbbing pain, had now reached epic proportions. Then there was the steady ache in his shoulder, and what he was pretty sure was a bruised kidney from one of Smith's brutal kicks. Overall, he was more than ready to call it a day.
"Be gentle," Dean murmured in a high-pitched tone as he fluttered his lashes.
As planned, he was rewarded with a rueful headshake and a quip, "I always knew you were a girl."
Not ready to tolerate too much disrespect, Dean whipped out his good arm, and cuffed the kid upside the head. "Watch it, one funny-man in the family is enough."
His shaggy head bent over Dean's wrist, Sam asked without looking up, "If you're the comedian, what am I?"
"You're the drama-queen," the twenty year old teased.
Sam's answering snort of incredulity was nearly drowned out by another gruff reply, "You got that right."
His father's untimely utterance was enough to stiffen Sam's spine. The kid glared up at John, his hands tightening on the bandage he was wrapping around Dean's wrist and practically snarled. "Guess I'm just following in your footsteps."
Dean wanted to cry in frustration. Right there and then he recognized that he'd failed. As he watched John's expression turn stormy, he knew the uneasy truce had been broken, maybe even shattered beyond repair.
"Pretty sure, you're nothing like me." John growled as he muscled the skinny teen out of his way. "I know better than to wrap a wound like that too tight."
With the volley of shots gearing up, Dean watched what little color his brother had left in his face drain out as he realized he'd been wrapping the injured limb too tight. "It's fine, Sammy. You were doing a good job," Dean insisted.
A quick shake of his head was Sam's only answer as he distanced himself from both his brother and his father. Looking way younger than his years, the teen crossed his arms over his chest and refused to meet Dean's piercing green gaze.
Unable to bridge the chasm between his father and Sam, Dean just wanted the day to end. Focusing on his father's dark head, he asked, "We ready to hit it?"
John's work roughened hands, gently smoothed the stark white bandage one more time before he looked up to meet Dean's gaze. "You and Sammy can head on home. I'll be there in a day or so. I want you two packed and ready to go."
Never able to refuse an order, even one crouched as a request, Dean nodded in agreement even as his chest constricted in regret. He'd really hoped to stay in West Virginia for a bit longer. Sam had made some friends, and given the car he'd borrowed, maybe even a girl. His brother, who thrived in the world that Dean so carefully straddled, had wanted nothing more than to finish out school in one place.
It was a desire Dean didn't understand, but one he'd wanted for his brother.
"I'm not going." Sam's cold voice rang out clearly in the early morning air.
And there it was, a gauntlet thrown into the ring directly at his father's feet. Resigned to the fight that was about to happen, Dean prepared himself to at least prevent it from becoming physical. So far, John had retained at least a tenuous control over his emotions, despite Sam's bating tone and words, but the twenty year old knew it wouldn't last. Sam was simply too good at picking apart his father's defenses.
"Oh, you're going," John stated as he gained his feet in one smooth motion. Turning to face the teen, he pointed a finger and snapped, "And I won't hear another word from you."
With a snort, the kid rolled his eyes and straightened to his full height. Now looking his father directly in the eye, Sam spat, "You're gonna hear it alright. I'm not going. You said we could stay till the year was out."
"That was before you went and outed us, boy. You think you're so goddamn smart. Well, I might be as ignorant as you think, but at least I know better than to whine about my troubles to some piece of skirt."
Some of the starch drained from Sam's spine, as he worked to rally from John's accusation. "I didn't tell Jane anything. I just asked to borrow her car, told her Dean was in trouble."
Never satisfied to wound an opponent, John moved in for the kill, "You can delude yourself all you want, Sammy, but she'll talk and the questions will start."
Even as he stood watching his dad's words eating away at his brother's confidence, Dean said nothing. Really, there was nothing to say, his father would do what he wanted and all the arguments in the world would only serve to make the old man dig his heels in even deeper. So, instead of defending the kid, Dean dropped his gaze to stare at his now bandaged wrist and ignored the pain that was coming off of Sam in waves.
Sam had been able to maintain a measure of calm up until the moment he saw his brother drop his head in defeat. To watch Dean cave, without even a sigh of protest, only drove Sam harder, to defend not only his own dreams and hopes but also those of his brother. "You promised we could stay till summer, we're paid up on our rent, Dean's got a job, we can't just up and leave because you've got an itch."
At his confession, he would have sworn he heard his brother groan in protest. The sound brought him up short, reminding him that he'd promised Dean he wouldn't say anything about the job his older sibling had gotten.
"A job?" John asked, swinging his attention from Sam to Dean. "Since when?"
Knowing his brother would refuse to respond, even to defend himself, Sam dove in with both feet, "About the same time we ran out of food. Funny how that works."
John's face turned an unpleasant shade of plum as snapped, "And you figured I'd be okay with this. What part of stay under the radar don't you get, boy!"
"Hard to stay under the radar, when you're starving to death and the landlord's pounding on your door," Sam protested.
"Well, maybe if your brother wasn't so busy buying drinks so he can get up every skirt he passes, the money I leave might last a bit longer."
Memories of Dean refusing to eat so that Sam had enough, or risking his life to hustle up a game of pool to pay the rent, slammed into the teen making him forget everything but his anger toward his father. Intent on making the older man understand just what he was doing to his sons, Sam stepped up to him and opened his mouth, "Y-"
The sound of his brother's whispered plead, was every bit as affective as a slap in the face. As much as he didn't want to, Sam turned his focus on Dean.
His brother stood, swaying slightly, looking much younger than his twenty years. Without a word, Dean held Sam's gaze, his face full of pleading. He knew what his brother was asking of him, and for a moment Sam considered rolling right over his sibling.
His father's current course was set for self-destruction. Sam had no doubt of this. The problem was Dean seemed determined to ignore all the warning signs out of some kind of misguided loyalty. No matter how Sam argued and cajoled, his brother just wasn't willing to admit that John, intentionally or not, would end up taking his sons down with him.
Sam, however, knew better. When at last his father's head dipped down below the water, he had no intention of allowing the man to drag him down as well. He deserved better, Dean deserved better, even if his brother couldn't see it now.
It was Dean's green gaze, shadowed by dark circles of exhaustion that finally put an end to his anger. His brother was in no shape to defend himself, and that alone was reason enough for Sam to back down. Rallying around Dean, he ignored his father and moved to his brother's side. "Come on, man, let's get you settled."
Ignoring his father completely, Sam began to help Dean back into the passenger seat, only to have his brother protest. "Naw, I'll drive, Sam. Follow you back home."
Sam was about to protest when his eye was caught by Jane's little Subaru. He was half-tempted to just ditch the car, after all if they were leaving town, and really Sam had no doubt they were, what did it matter.
"I can drive, Dude. Besides it'll give you one last chance to work that Sammy-mojo."
His brother's whispered words, given with a roguish wink, nearly brought tears to the younger man's eyes. Leave it to Dean, to offer Sam one small defiance even as he accepted their fate. Accepting his brother's words, Sam helped him around to the driver's side and helped him get settled.
Then without a word to his father, he in turn got into Jane's car. With one last glance toward the black car that sat just behind him, Sam made a U-turn and pulled out of the old dirt driveway.
"You know you're not doing him any favors by babying him,"
Dean wanted to close his eyes at the sound of his father's voice, but knew it would only serve to get the man's temper going again. "I'm not babying him, we'll be ready to go by Monday," Dean replied as he cranked the engine to life.
John leaned forward, his gaze hard but somehow sympathetic. "If we don't rein him in tight, he's gonna bolt."
Afraid that his father had hit the nail on the head, Dean turned away and gazed out over the scrubby clearing. He was beginning to believe that his kid brother was going to bolt no matter what they did. It was a thought that popped up more and more lately and it left Dean feeling cold.
Unable to think anymore, Dean simply lifted one hand in goodbye.
On the road once more, the rumble of his baby's engine soothing his aches and pains, Dean nosed the car toward home. Toward his brother.
Chapter End Notes:
Well, guys, that's all. Thanks to everyone that has shown support for this story, I'm thrilled with the positive response. Not sure when, but I have a feeling I will be doing one more story in this set dealing with Sam's departure for college. I know it's been done before in so many wonderful ways, but I just can't help but give it a go myself. As always Thanks for reading - kel ;)