A/N: A Halloween offering. It's AU because of the awesomeness we got from TPTB. This was written primarily because I felt and continue to feel that Sam's been getting the short shrift so far this year. This is about him. However, I'm bi-brother, so there's quite a bit of Dean too. You see, I think you can't have one without the other...
"We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar…"
Wear and Tear
Dean Winchester thought there was something wrong with his brother. He watched Sam put his knife down in the exact four o'clock position he always put it down in, not a trace of food left on it. The fork went down next, at eight o'clock, while he scrubbed his lips with a napkin. It was like this every time they ate anything but finger food. Dean didn't know when he'd first noticed it, but ever since he had, he couldn't not notice it. He stared absently at Sam, vision blurring slightly, as his brother answered the phone. Dean didn't pay any attention to what was being said.
The problem was, he thought, was he didn't know if what he was feeling in regards to Sam was in any way right. Since Dean had dug his way out of a six-foot hole, his days were a blend of pure joy to be alive and burgeoning memories of fear and panic and death. He didn't know who he was anymore, and he didn't know if that made him more or less qualified to know who Sam was, either. He was different. And different him thought Sam was different.
Nothing overt. It was in the way Sam's bed was always neatly made. The way he didn't leave his towel on the bathroom floor, but folded with precision across the rack. The way his smile hardly ever reached his eyes. Even at his most emo, the Sam he knew could smile with the best of them.
"Yeah, I think we can get it. Thanks, Bobby," Sam said, clicking his phone shut.
Dean pulled himself from his reverie. Bobby still tended to default to Sam, something he tried not to take personally. The best he could figure it was because even while Sam was out of touch those four months in Hell, Dean was even more out of touch. A dead man wasn't the first on anyone's speed dial list. Except, apparently, God's. He barely held back a grimace. That freaked him out if he thought about it too much.
"He got a gig for us?" Dean asked, stomach doing that equal-parts-excitement-and-dread swirl.
"Yeah, a couple of unusual deaths in Naples, Maine."
"Maine? Aw, are you kiddin' me?" Might as well be freaking Alaska as far as Dean was concerned. "Isn't there anyone closer who could take care of this little problem, whatever it is?"
"Apparently not." Sam folded his napkin and tucked it under his plate. Folded. "I can call him back if you don't want to do it. It's up to you, man. We've got nothing else on the radar."
"For a change. I doubt vacations are going to happen while the angels are literally battling the demons."
"There is that," Sam said, looking mildly disconcerted.
Dean scowled, glancing away. His gaze landed on a splattered, slightly charred calendar handing in the greasy spoon's kitchen. The last day of the month was circled in orange, cutesy artwork forming a jack o' lantern. God, he hated Halloween. Nothing good ever happened this time of year. When they were kids, Halloween fell in a week when Dad would get drunk, hard, cold, and so unbearably sad. No begging for candy for the Winchester boys, oh no. Halloween was but a prelude to death and fire.
Surely, Sam would understand if he used that as an excuse to toss this on someone else's lap. Sam of all people should. Dean returned his gaze to his brother, who simply returned the look with a bored, maybe impatient expression on his face.
"No, it's fine. What could be better than a trip up to Stephen King territory on the cusp of All Hallow's Eve?" Dean asked, his voice hollow. He cleared his throat. "If we end up fighting a giant spider in a sewer, though, I'm going to have some serious words with Bobby. I hate spiders."
Sam raised his eyebrows, confused by the reference.
"You know. It. They all float down here. Pennywise the clo…" Dean paused when he finally got a reaction shot from his brother, and finally a memory that wasn't brimstone – Sam as a seven-year-old, screaming about a sharp-toothed clown that was going to eat him. That wasn't much better than brimstone. "Oh. Never mind. Touchy subject."
Giving Dean a sigh and glare, Sam slid out of the booth. He grabbed the check and stalked over to the cashier, methodically taking out his wallet and paying the bill.
Dean had to run to catch up, Sam already at the driver's side of the car by the time he did. Sam's tendency to head for the wheel was yet another thing that reminded Dean things were different now. Some things weren't. This was his car again. He gave Sam a gentle shove away from the door.
"Hey, man, I really didn't mean to bring up, you know," Dean said, waggling his hands at invisible Krusty the Clown hair, and honking an invisible big, red nose.
"Clowns? It's okay, man." Sam laughed. He walked around the car, opening the passenger door. "Only kids are scared of clowns."
Frowning, Dean couldn't help but be perturbed. He swore he'd seen Sam go pale and twitch back in the diner, a far cry from the nonchalance he now displayed. He stood there for a second, uncertain which version of Sam was the most real. He thought maybe he was losing his mind, and it had nothing to do with Sam at all. Shaking his head, he slid into the car and started her up. He was having too many conversations with cryptic angels, that was all. He couldn't tell what was truth and what was metaphor anymore.
"Bobby say anything specific about what's going on up in Maine?" Dean asked. "Nix? Gargoyle? Mothman? Please don't say another shifter. I'm getting kind of tired of hunting them."
"Tell me about it." Sam shifted in his seat, the vinyl squeaking. "Bobby said there've been two mauling deaths in the past three weeks, and a half dozen or so serious injuries. No one attacked has been able to specifically describe what clawed them or how they survived. Local cops and Fish and Wildlife suspect black bears."
"Yeah, well, I suspect Black Dogs."
"That's definitely a possibility. We probably won't know until we get up there, but I can poke around online first. Bobby said he'll send me what he's got."
"You're excited about this, huh?" Sam asked, a tiny smile trying to play across his lips. He didn't quite sell it. "A boy and his Black Dog."
"A boy, his gun and his Black Dog, Sammy. Never forget the big-ass gun."
Sam laughed in earnest this time, and Dean was so glad to hear it he couldn't help but chuckle himself. He felt better, like an itch slathered in a fresh coat of calamine. Not completely soothed, but the urge to scratch was temporarily relieved. Eventually the itch would go away on its own.
"We need to leave right away, or should we take off in the morning?"
"Morning works for me, man."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Figured we could grab a few beers at the bar down the street, play a few darts. It's more of a break than we usually get."
"You could hustle some pool," Sam said softly. "You haven't done that yet since you … since you've been back."
Sam sounded small. He hardly ever sounded small anymore. It sobered Dean up, and he sneaked a glance at his brother. Sam had his face averted, looking out into the quickly darkening sky. Once again, Dean's insides were torn. He was glad when Sam cracked his façade some, but then he always felt bad for being glad. Sometimes he wished the world were black and white again, wondered if it ever would be again. He had a suspicion that was a pipe dream. He thought the world was meant to be neither black nor white nor gray, but blood red.
"We could always use the extra cash," he said. "It'll be good to see if I've still got the stuff."
Dean turned up the radio a notch, the deep tones of Jim Morrison singing about people being strange filling the car. It was one of those songs stations only ever played around this time of year. He turned it off. They were at the bar anyway, a divey, local place no small town could live without. Sam led the way, and Dean tried to remember when his brother had last gone into a bar without his laptop or without bellyaching about wasting time. He thought it had been years, and in some ways that saddened him.
There was cheap beer to be had, pool to play and money to win. That was all Dean needed, except maybe an easy woman or two. He headed for the back while Sam took to the bar. Sam knew what he drank, and the night was young. Dean could probably clean out this crowd and have a whole new one to play with in a couple hours. A couple tough guys in bad leather and dusty boots took his bait. Dean cracked his knuckles and got to work.
"Hey, watch it," someone called out, loud enough to wreck his third shot. "We will mess you up, punk."
It was okay. He didn't want to move too fast here. They had plenty of time. Dean made a show of looking angrily at the doofus who'd ruined his streak, stopping short when he saw Sam at the door with three guys all up in his space. His hackles raised, but as he was about to head over to lend an assist, Sam just kind of stared the guys down. No more words were exchanged, not a hand was lifted. That was good in Sam's case, Dean thought with an instant pang of something inexplicable and cold. No, Sam's look and squared-off shoulders were enough to cow the fight right out of the townies.
Dean was impressed. And, he had to admit, scared. His little brother wasn't like that, the bully on the playground. Yet it seemed he was now. He'd learned well everything Dean had tried to pound into him before he got ripped to shreds. That was a good thing. It meant Sam was as strong as Dean always knew he was. It didn't have anything to do with demonic heritage. Sam crossed the room, handing him a mug of beer without being obvious about it and made for the dartboards. Dean missed his geeky, computer-toting brother intensely in that very moment.
He didn't win as much money as he'd hoped.
The only thing Sam really noticed about Maine was that it was expansive and embodied loneliness.
After they left Portland, things became desolate fast. There was still some color left on the leaves in the New England states, what few of them remained on the trees, but he had hardly noticed it as they drove the many miles up. He wasn't excited about the trek into the middle of nowhere anymore than Dean was, but if it meant ridding the world of one more evil being he would do it without much complaint. He felt like anything he could do to keep his inner scale balanced, at the very least, the better off he'd be. Not just him. Dean would feel better for it, definitely. And lately, Sam thought more than just their little world depended so much on his inner scale, and Dean's as well. It didn't seem fair, how much it seemed they both carried.
"God, we are in the friggin' boonies," Dean muttered. "All I see are trees and water. Bobby really couldn't have found someone else to take this hunt? Hell, he could have even volunteered to take it himself."
"I think this might not be the kind of thing for a lone hunter to handle, Dean," Sam said tiredly. He was, frankly, not in any disagreement with Dean but he was getting a little sick of the griping. "From the news stories, these attacks are pretty horrific."
"I suppose. Wouldn't have killed him to have joined us, though."
Sam thought maybe Dean found a lot more comfort in Bobby than Sam ever had. He loved the old hunter, that was true, but it went deeper for Dean. He remembered accusing Dean of using Gordon Walker as a dad replacement once upon a time, an objectionable match if ever there was one. His brother did the same thing with Bobby, and it didn't bother Sam at all. Bobby was like a father to Dean, and an uncle to Sam. He wasn't sure he felt like he'd ever had a father for more than a few minutes at a time, so he didn't know how to see Bobby in that way. That was okay. He liked that Dean had someone.
"He's probably got his hands full. This time of year is busy for most hunters." Sam stretched his arms out, right shoulder cracking like it so often did. Resurrection hadn't healed him. "But it would be nice to have him along."
He also had to admit that with Bobby with them, he might have some reprieve from the looks Dean gave him. The ones Dean didn't know Sam noticed but which broke him a little more each time, the ones that showed Dean was scared of him even if he'd never admit it out loud. He kept the hurt locked in him somewhere until it starved and turned into nothing but cold and dark.
"Where the hell is this stupid motel?"
"It's still a couple miles up."
The information Bobby sent him indicated the attacks weren't all situated in Naples, but also in surrounding communities. The bulk of them actually happened in Sebago Lake State Park in nearby Casco, and at night. For them, was actually as advantageous as it was detrimental. This late in the season, he hoped there wouldn't be any campers or hikers to worry about; the rangers might have even imposed tighter park hours. They'd have a better chance of moving about unnoticed away from population centers.
The plan was to get a room, unload and take a few hours for more Internet reconnaissance. He hadn't had much chance to do anything in depth, and he hoped that the resort area would have access. He'd take dial-up if he had to. Most people probably came up here to get away from it all, including their computers.
"There it is, to the right," Sam said, pointing. They'd been driving forever and he was tired. He tried to stifle a yawn, failing spectacularly. "Man, I'm tired."
"You and me both, brother," Dean said as he steered the car into the West Shore Motel parking lot. "Friggin' Maine."
The sun was dropping in the west, hitting the reds and golds of the trees. To Sam, it looked like everything was on fire. He shivered at the unhappy reminder of horrible days gone by, closing his eyes and forcing those emotions away. There wasn't room for that. As soon as the car stopped, he opened the door and rolled out. His legs were restless from being crammed into the passenger seat for too long. Taking a few steps to get the kinks out of his legs, he spread his arms wide in a stretch. His muscles ached, and his joints popped.
"I'll get the room," Sam volunteered. He wanted to ask about Internet access, the message on the motel sign not explicit.
"Go for it."
Dean didn't need to stretch. Ever since he'd come back, he'd been reenergized, like Castiel had not only pulled him out (succeeded where Sam failed so miserably) but had also juiced him up with some angelic energy boost. When Sam was tired, he felt it in his bones. When Dean was tired, he needed a twenty-minute nap. That wasn't really true, Sam knew, but it felt that way to him sometimes, like he was always being dragged down by something he didn't want to name. He forced that feeling away, too, storing it where it couldn't hinder him.
Sam walked into the small lobby, bell tinkling overhead. A pathetic-looking cornstalk arrangement was tucked in the corner, a few small pumpkins clustered around it and a ratty, ancient scarecrow decoration was slapped crookedly on the wall. He winced, unaccountably bothered by it. He glanced back at Dean, who was pulling the duffels out of the car. Turning his head, he found the front desk clerk eyeing him dispassionately. She was a short woman, on the curvy side, with her hair pulled back in a plain ponytail. She looked to Sam as if she'd been stuck here against her will, resigned to her fate, though he had no idea where that impression came from.
"A bit late for tourist season," she said, accent heavy. "The good color's long gone by now. So's Indian Summer."
"My brother and I," Sam said, applying well-practiced earnestness he now rarely meant in reality for anyone other than his brother, "have been on a road trip. We thought we'd get up here sooner, but didn't want to turn away when we got so close."
"Ayup." She didn't believe him, or didn't care. "You've sure got your pick of rooms."
"Actually, we'll just take one. Money's a little tight. Two queens, if you've got 'em."
"Oh. Okay, then. How about number nine?"
"That'll be fine. Your sign says you have Internet access?"
"WiFi's pretty decent, but if that's important let me put you in room 13 instead. It can make a difference," she said.
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
"Cash or credit today?"
"Uh, better do credit. Save the cash for food." He shrugged, giving her a lopsided smile.
Sam breezed through the rest of the transaction, keeping communication to a minimum. He thought about asking the clerk if she'd heard anything about the recent deaths, but judging from how reticent she was that would only take more notice of him. With he and Dean being the only people staying at the motel, they didn't need to draw any attention. They'd have privacy, but they also might have curiosity. He ducked out of the lobby into the gloaming. The sun had dropped completely from the sky.
"Lucky number 13," Sam said, tossing Dean a set of keys. "Looks like we're not going to get much done tonight."
"Yeah. Did Bobby say how often these attacks hit? If we're looking at a tight pattern, we need to hit the ground running," Dean said, fighting with the lock for a second before shouldering the door open. "Even if we've just spent about four billion hours on the road."
They hadn't spent much of those four billion hours going over anything. Or talking. Truthfully, Sam still found it unsettling to have noises in the car that were not his own. He hadn't been able to listen to Dean's music, falling back to what his brother loathed – indie rock and singer/songwriters. It had been less painful that way, and now with Dean back the classic rock evoked sensations both good and bad.
"No. It looks like wrong place, wrong time," Sam said. "We can scope out the park tomorrow sometime. Last death was only a couple days ago, so maybe we should find out where they're keeping the body and check that out later tonight."
Remote areas rarely had everything they needed in one small municipality. That wasn't something unique to Maine. Sam thought about telling Dean that, but he knew Dean already knew. He couldn't deny that it was a pain in the ass to drive all over the place, especially in the dark. More at the heart of Dean's ongoing disgruntled commentary was Halloween's approach. November second's approach, Sam corrected himself, when they'd lost so much. It would never be an anniversary to celebrate.
Sitting on the bed, Sam pulled out his laptop. Checking out the body would actually be one of the items higher on his list of things to do. Rather than waste time researching, they might find what they need on the corpse itself. Specific bite marks. A missing heart would tell them if it was a werewolf.
Talking with one of the survivors would also be a good bet. People who saw crazy things often didn't want anyone to know they'd seen crazy things, for fear of being labeled crazy. Sam thought about the things he'd seen in his lifetime, and considered, not for the first time, that he was crazy even though he knew the truth. He shook his head, getting it back in the game. Interviews would have to wait until morning, while a B&E of a morgue was best suited for midnight or later.
"Hey, you hungry?" Dean asked. "I feel like I haven't eaten in days."
He wasn't. Sam ate because he had to sustain his energy levels more than he did for appetite or taste. It had been awhile since they'd eaten – Twizzlers, Corn Nuts and Dr Pepper didn't count – so he nodded. Dean shot him an impulsive grin and made a comment he didn't really listen to. He didn't even know why he tuned out. Maybe that grin was too Dean for him to handle. Maybe he wasn't sure this was all real so it was better not to be invested. He gave Dean an amused-yet-exasperated smile, which usually worked as a response. This time was no different, and that made Sam's stomach hurt.
Dean disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Sam standing alone in the room. He closed his eyes and hunched over slightly to ease the pain in his gut.
Other than being so gruesome Dean almost lost his mooseburger dinner, the latest body hadn't revealed anything they could use. It really did look like an animal had mauled the poor guy, leaving the organs in the body. Some had been munched on, but nothing removed outright. Without any concrete evidence to point them in a particular direction, the morgue visit all the way in Portland had been a waste of time. Except for being in civilization for a little while.
After that, Sam had begged off interviewing the closest survivor, claiming that since he'd done the digging and located one Bethany Wannamaker, Dean could handle talking to her while he researched. It was a weak excuse, but Dean let it slide.
It was interview or dig into local history, and given the choice between the two … well, to Dean there only was one choice.
He trotted up the short stoop of the somewhat rundown home of Ms. Wannamaker. There were no festive decorations on the steps, the remains of a pumpkin scattered across the lawn. It made everything look forlorn. Knocking on the door, he surreptitiously looked through a curtained window. The door opened, recapturing his attention. An older woman stood at the door, glowering at him. She looked tired and drawn, her graying hair in disarray, but she didn't look injured.
"Hello, my name's Eric Bloom," Dean said, grabbing for his wallet. He flashed his credentials. "I'm a game warden for Inland Fishing and Wildlife. I'm looking for Bethany Wannamaker. Is she here?"
"Bethie's still in a lot of pain, mister," Granny McCranky snapped. "She's already answered questions for you all and the police multiple times. How's she supposed to get on with her life if people keep reminding her about the scars she'll have to carry with her the rest of it?"
Dean took a shuffling step back. This kind of reaction wasn't unexpected, but for some reason it struck him more now than it ever had before. He regretted causing this woman anger, and the pain talking about it was likely going to cause Bethany Wannamaker. Despite the intent behind what he and Sam did, it was never easy and even less frequently pleasant.
"I understand that, ma'am," Dean said softly. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but we need to do everything we can to keep this from happening to someone else."
"Mom, who's at the door?" a soft voice came from the interior of the house.
"You just stay right there, Bethie," Mrs. Wannamaker called, still frowning at Dean. She narrowed her eyes, and after a second her expression softened for some reason. "There's someone here to see you. I'll bring him to you."
The Wannamakers' home was casual and cluttered, which somehow made him feel worse for what he was about to put Bethany through. A spear of dread felt like it was stabbing from his stomach into his chest. In a blink, there was blood, screams and overwhelming heat. In another blink, Dean was looking at a disfigured twenty-something who used to be a girl-next-door beauty. Half of her face bore horrible claw marks, which trailed down her neck. He didn't want to think where else she was torn apart like that. A section of her red hair was shaved, an arcing wound stitched together. He'd seen any number of horrible things. He'd survived four months in the Pit. But this made him swallow hard.
"Ms. Wannamaker," he said. "I'm sorry to intrude."
"It's okay, I'm just watching soaps. Mom says you're here to talk about the … about what happened at the park," Bethany said, unconsciously reaching for her face to finger the scratches. "I don't know what more I can tell you, but if it'll save someone else I'll tell it again."
Any ego he'd had at the front door vanished. Finding his way to the loveseat arranged perpendicular to the sofa, Dean sat down. He looked up to the mother.
"Would you mind getting a glass of water?"
"For you?" she asked, standing behind Bethany, a sad expression in place of the angry one she'd given him.
"No, for your daughter," he said.
Mrs. Wannamaker left the room without a word, but not before Dean caught the tear tracks on her face. A perusal of the room and the pictures on the walls revealed Bethany was an only child. Part of him wanted to assure them both that they were lucky she survived at all, but the haunted look in Bethany's one good eye choked the platitude in his throat. That was more Sam's speed anyway. Even when Dean felt it, he had a hard time selling it in front of strangers. He'd spent a lifetime quelling those reactions.
"Bethany, I want you to go over what happened that night. You were camping with friends?"
"Yes. My boyfriend and I." Bethany's lip trembled. "The weather was so nice and we knew it wasn't going to last. We wanted to enjoy it, you know?"
"We don't have to go over everything," Dean said. "I won't make you do that."
"Thank you," she whispered. "I don't know what happened. We were making s'mores on the beach and looking at the moonlight on the lake one second, and the next it was chaos. I heard something moving in the underbrush. There was this growling noise, and screaming. Pain. Something dragging me toward the water, I think, I don't know. Kevin, he, oh god, he saved me."
"From what? Did you get a look at it at all?"
"I told the others I didn't s-see anything." Her expression crumpled a little as she looked away from him, toying with the tassel of an afghan thrown across the back of the sofa.
"Bethany, please. I think you did see something," Dean said, scooting off the loveseat and crouching next to her. "I need you to tell me what you can. It's very important we know what we're dealing with."
Kneeling there on the floor, Dean almost felt like Sam, the old Sam he used to know so well, had become a part of him somehow. The part he wasn't sure existed in his brother anymore. He reached for Bethany's hand, laying his on top of it gently.
"I don't know what it was," she said. "But it was wet, I think. It growled like a wild dog, but I couldn't really see anything but a white blur."
"Are you sure?"
Bethany closed her eyes tightly, reliving the horrible moments again. "No. I saw black. On its eyes. Ears, maybe. And it had p-paws, but they seemed more like flippers, like a seal. God, this is why I didn't say anything. It doesn't make sense. We don't have seals here. What was it?"
"I don't know, Bethany, but I don't think you're crazy." He stood, going through every creature he could think of and none of them matched this. "You did real good. Sometimes nature produces some pretty messed up things. It's my job to figure out what. "
Mrs. Wannamaker came back in hurriedly. Seeing her daughter so upset, she shot virtual daggers at Dean. She sat on the edge of the sofa, a hand going out to rub Bethany's shoulder while the other set the glass of water on the coffee table.
"Did you get what you wanted?" Mrs. Wannamaker asked between shushes.
"I did," Dean said past a tight throat. He put a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Thank you, Bethany. I know that was difficult, but I promise you we're going to find this animal and make sure no one else gets hurt."
Bethany nodded, unable to do more than that.
He let himself out, feeling like absolute crap. It wasn't often that happened – questioning the victims or their loved ones was part of the job, disagreeable but necessary. His pragmatism was out the window for the moment. That poor kid. She hadn't said it, but she'd probably watched her boyfriend get ripped to shreds in front of her. That kind of thing could do some serious damage to the psyche. She had probably been trying to forget everything, and he'd just made her experience it again.
Climbing behind the wheel, Dean took a second to get it together. He didn't know why he was being such a wuss about this. He'd seen worse. And like he'd said, he'd lived through worse. Dean wished Sam had come with him here instead of hitting the books. He wished Sam hadn't had to watch him get ripped to shreds. He shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Now was not the time to think about his and Sam's baggage.
After last night, Dean had thought there was still the possibility this was a wendigo attack. With the clinically insane shapeshifter they'd just hunted, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that other supernatural beings would break pattern, and they had found a wendigo far out of its natural territory before. Now, the only clue he had was that it was a water entity of some sort, which narrowed it down to a really big list of suspects.
He started dialing and driving at the same time. Sam might have found something by now. His brother picked up halfway through the second ring.
"Dean," Sam greeted. "How'd it go?"
"Well, I made some poor girl cry, but she did see something."
"That's great. What is it?"
"I don't know, but I do know you can scratch wendigo off the list. She said it was white with black eyes or ears, and might have had flippers. Could be a seal or something. That should help narrow it down."
"Yeah. I'll get working on it. Maybe I'll have something by the time you get here."
"I'll be there in ten minutes. Unless it's rush hour, and then I'll be there in fifteen."
"Great," Sam mumbled, and ended the call.
Dean overestimated the travel time. Despite the town being sprawled out, there was virtually no traffic. He was at the library in five minutes, spotting Sam in the back corner. A man who looked kind of like Edgar Allan Poe in an 80s-era sweater vest and Dockers hovered near his brother, looking pale, tragic and suspicious.
"Hey," Dean said, catching Sam's attention.
"Hey. You got here fast."
"I suppose that means you haven't found anything yet."
"I'm not a miracle worker, man," Sam said with a smile. "Give me another couple minutes, or you could be a mensch and lend a hand."
"Yeah, yeah." Dean pulled up a chair. This prompted the librarian to bristle. Leaning closer to Sam, he said, "What is up with that guy?"
"Apparently he thinks someone our age taking an interest in local history as skeptical behavior." Sam shrugged. "He's been circling all afternoon."
Dean wondered why Sam didn't just intimidate the guy away; he had at least half a foot on the librarian and was definitely in better shape. Then again, it was probably better if Sam didn't go hulking out. It only ended up unnerving Dean, anyway.
"Speaking of, anything in that to help us out?"
"Nothing. No obvious cycles to trace, just random and rare attacks attributed to hungry bears. If this has to do with water, it's possible it never surfaced before now. Literally. There'd have been sightings."
Nodding, Dean realized the only computer in the library was Sam's laptop. They wouldn't have an extensive collection of books on mythological beings in a Podunk town like this. While Sam clattered on the keyboard doing his Boolean searches or whatever, Dean figured out the best way to help the cause. He pulled out his phone.
"Callin' Bobby?" Sam asked with a soft laugh.
"He's got all those damned books," Dean said, "And he made us drive all the way up here. He owes us this much."
The description Dean got from Bethany Wannamaker didn't really help the research, for him. Not for Bobby either, who was apparently as much a miracle worker as Sam was; he'd cursed at Dean and said he'd get back to them in a few hours. Dean had seemed to expect an instant answer.
Given the lack of material at the library and the creepy librarian, he and Dean decide to cut out. They scouted around Sebago Lake State Park for a couple hours to get a lay of the land, but it didn't take long for Dean to work up an appetite. Sam agreed to a food break because they weren't accomplishing much tromping around the woods, and he could return to poking around for supernatural suspects. He could search the Internet anywhere there was WifFi, which happened to include any number of local eateries on the Causeway. Dean had chosen the Black Bear Café. Sam suspected his brother had hoped bear was on the menu or something.
He stared intently at the laptop screen while Dean enjoyed a Reuben and a plate of sweet potato fries, and flirted with the moderately attractive waitress. Sam made sure to eat at least half of his chicken potpie, about the only thing on the menu self-contained enough to eat while surfing and not make a mess. It tasted more like chalk than chicken.
"Thank you, Marjorie," Dean said.
Sam looked up, catching the twirl of the waitress's skirt as she walked away. The sandwich and sweet potato fries were gone. Instead, a giant slice of pumpkin pie with a heaping dollop of whipped cream was in front of Dean. He couldn't help but smile at the eager smile Dean wore as he anticipated a plan of attack on the pie, and a flutter of emotion long dormant hit Sam's stomach. God, he'd missed Dean. There were moments he felt it so intensely it almost overwhelmed him, and he had to work that much harder to keep himself under control. His feelings were bipolar. He couldn't trust them. He wasn't sure he could trust anything anymore.
"What, I don't get any pie?" he asked gently.
"Oh, so you are here. I thought you were caught up in cyberland." Dean shoveled a huge forkful into his mouth before he started talking again. "Besides, you know the clean plate rule. No dessert unless you finish your meal."
Dean had made him believe that rule when he was six. That was how he ended up chubby at 12. Rolling his eyes, Sam nevertheless took another halfhearted bite of his now-congealing potpie if only to appease Dean. If his brother's expression was anything to go by, there wasn't much mollification gained from the act.
"I'm not that hungry, Dean, or I'd eat more."
"Hey, man, I just want you fit to watch my back when we finally go get this thing." Another mouthful of pie and whipped cream. "Whatever it is. Any closer to figuring that out?"
Weeding through searches online was hit or miss, and most of what Sam found wasn't from reputable sources. He hated to say it, but they were either going to have to get better intel the hard way, or hope Bobby found something soon. There weren't that many unexplained aquatic creatures out there, assuming it really had anything to do with water. The state of the witness didn't exactly make her reliable, so the fact she and her boyfriend were close to the beach and water might be incidental to the attack and not significant to the investigation.
"Damn, it's getting dark already. I wonder what's keeping Bobby."
"Well, we don't exactly have a precise description of this thing, and the bite marks could've been any number of animal," Sam said. "It would help if we saw it for ourselves."
"So, what, we risk getting mauled without knowing how to deal with it first? No, thanks, I'll pass. Been torn to shreds, lost the T-shirt."
It was like a punch to the gut, and Sam knew Dean knew it by the dismayed expression that crept onto his brother's face the second the words were out of his mouth. That was a look he hated almost as much as the fearful one, he decided. Too often since he'd come back, Dean was either afraid of him or protective of him. The first thing killed him, the last he didn't need.
"It's okay, Dean," he said. Sam was surprised and embarrassed when he felt tears burning hotly in his eyes, emotion sneaking up on him. "I just can't … I'll probably never be okay with that particular subject, you know?"
Sam looked away first, out the café window. Suddenly, he had a compulsion to get moving, to go hunt this thing. Like that would somehow prove to Dean he could handle himself, or it would prove he recognized evil and fought against it just as hard as Dean did. More now, even. It was his blood which pumped evil like an illness through his veins, and he fought it every day. Control was his way of life.
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes, Dean sliding his unfinished pie aside and Sam folding the laptop shut. The quiet was broken when Sam's phone rang. Pulling it out, he read the LED.
"It's Bobby," he said to Dean, sliding out of the booth. "Hey, Bobby. Just a second, okay?"
It was too crowded in the café to discuss the case in detail. The last thing they needed was a local getting suspicious. He signaled Dean to get the bill and join him outside. Heading for the car, he leaned on the hood while he waited for his brother to catch up. The small parking lot was full of cars but empty of people.
"All right, I'm in a better place to talk now. Crowded restaurant," Sam explained. "Dean's still inside paying the bill. He'll be here in a second. I hope you tell me you've got something, because we are coming up empty out here."
"There wasn't much to go on," Bobby said. "I think I got what you're looking for, though. If I'm right, and that's a big if, this thing is bad news, Sam."
"I didn't exactly think it was going to be good," Sam said wryly, spotting Dean exit the café with his laptop in tow. He waved his brother over. "Hold on, Dean's coming."
He swung around to the passenger side, sliding into the car and hitting the speaker button.
"We're both here now, Bobby," he announced as Dean steered them toward the motel.
"Good. Is everyone settled in? Can we get on with this now?" Bobby asked with a hint of sarcasm. "I think what you're looking for is a Dobhar-Chu."
"Gesundheit," Dean said.
"Cute," Bobby said. "It's Gaelic. Translated, it means water hound. Reports tell of a half-fish, half-wolfdog predator, white except a swathe of black across its back and black tips on its ears. There's a lot of speculation that this thing is or was a real animal long extinct. It's never been spotted outside of Ireland."
"Sounds like our thing," Sam said, shooting a glance at Dean, who nodded. "Is there any way it migrated across the Atlantic a thousand years ago and landed in a big lake?"
"I suppose it's possible. I'm not sure it matters much, though. If I'm right, it's there regardless of how it got there. Sam, I scanned the text I'm looking at, so I'll send it to you so you can see it for yourselves."
"Thanks," Sam said. They were pulling into the motel lot already. Sam noticed the clerk eyeing them curiously. He gestured toward her, eliciting an eye roll from Dean. They stayed in the car. "Anything else you can tell us?"
"This thing is fast in water and on land and the attack is usually unprovoked. It's hungry and smart, and once it's had a taste, it likes human flesh."
"That would explain the recent increase of attacks. Whatever was keeping it away from human populations must have changed, and it'll keep coming back for more whenever it can," Dean said. "How do we kill it?"
"It's pretty straightforward. Most of the stories I got my hands on said stabbing it straight through the heart will take it out."
"That means we have to get really close to it. If it's as deadly quick as you say, it would be better to keep a distance." Sam could not, would not let Dean anywhere near something that could strip the skin from his body. He clenched his jaw, nostrils flaring as he tried to keep his emotion in check, when he caught Dean giving him a sidelong glance. "Think a bullet would work?"
"Couldn't hurt to try that and have blades with you as back up. Oh, and one last thing," Bobby said, unaware of the unspoken conversation happening. "There's also indication this thing could have a mate, which remains hidden unless its partner is in danger. You boys be sure you're well set up to handle this. Be careful, and call me when it's done."
"Great," Sam said. "Thanks, Bobby."
"Yeah, thanks, Bobby," Dean echoed.
"I mean it, if this even looks like it's going south, hightail it out of there. We'll figure something else out."
"Yes, sir," they said in unison.
Sam grabbed his bag and laptop out of the backseat where Dean had tossed it carelessly. They tromped into the motel room. Now they knew what it was, but there were no guarantees they'd be able to locate the Dobhar-Chu before anyone else got hurt. He cracked open the laptop and sat at the small desk, figuring that whatever Bobby sent him would be best viewed on something bigger than his cell screen.
Dean stood behind him, leaning over his shoulder. As the text and images popped up, he started to feel better. The undocumented monster of Sebago Lake was probably relatively small, no more than seven feet. Some of the pictures made it out to look more like a giant otter than a water dog.
"So, now that we know what it is how do we know when it'll attack again?" Sam mused. He was thinking one or both of them would have to be bait. He wasn't happy with that idea at all, and wasn't going to mention it.
"I think I know. When you made for the car, I overheard some kids griping," Dean said. "Something about the park usually being open on Halloween night and a party they'd planned. Because of the recent wildlife problems, the park authorities decided to keep it closed."
Sam straightened, alarmed. He glanced at his watch, just to verify what he already knew. "Dean, that's tonight. I don't suppose they happened to say where the party was supposed to be?"
"Witch Cove Beach, naturally," Dean said. "God, it'll be like a friggin' smorgasbord."
The park was on tight enough lockdown he and Sam had to skulk like they never skulked before, so it surprised Dean to see there were people scattered all over Witch Cove Beach. The kids weren't being stupid about it, though. There was no fire, no music, just clusters of kids huddled together. He didn't quite get how it was a party, personally, but that was beside the point. They had to disband the kids without getting caught themselves, and they had to do it before the Dobhar-Chu got hungry for a midnight snack.
"I think they're doing a séance over there," Sam whispered, nudging him and pointing.
"Séance? I thought kids were supposed to egg houses and TP trees on Halloween. What the hell kind of freaking party is this? Bunch of hippy witches or something?"
"Who cares? They're being quiet, so hopefully they won't cause trouble when we kick them out."
Dean's palms were unaccountably sweaty with nervousness. They were adequately armed. Sam carried the Glock, Taurus and a Bowie. Dean had the Desert Eagle, figuring the higher power a weapon used would give them better chances of success, and the Colt 1911 as a backup to that. He flicked the holster clasp for the Muela he hoped he wouldn't have to use. To be honest, the reason for his antsiness was pretty obvious. The thought of going up something that was basically a giant water dog gave him the screaming meemies. His nightmares and flashbacks of hellhounds were bad enough, made even worse by the random bouts of vaguely awful Hell memories that beleaguered him. He'd do it; it was his job. But he'd be damned if he was looking forward to it.
"Then I suppose we should do this. You got your weapons stashed?"
Sam looked at him like he was an idiot for asking, impenetrable and hard around the edges. It felt like they'd switched roles somewhere along the way, though he didn't remember ever giving Sam a look like that. Maybe he had. It hadn't been so long ago Sam would've been the nervously jumpy one, and Dean would have been the one steady as a rock. He wasn't entirely happy about the circumstances.
Giving him a bare nod, Sam lifted his flashlight and stepped out into the open. There were a couple of startled gasps, the sound of liquor bottles clanking together, and finally a chorus of disappointed groans.
"All right, kids, break this up. You know the park's closed for the night," Sam's voice boomed.
"Aw, man, we're not doing any harm," someone whined, slurring at the end. "You're lame."
"Lame or not, you heard him. Park's closed due to the recent animal attacks," Dean said, moving to stand by Sam's side, swinging his flashlight to the left where Sam panned right. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."
"You guys are tools," another voice piped up.
Dean had to laugh at that; the kid had no idea how dead-on that assessment was. He talked to angels and Sam talked to demons, doing their bidding directly or indirectly. Yeah, tools was a perfectly acceptable way to describe them.
"Come on, let's move it," Sam said, shooting Dean an inquisitive, almost worried look. "If you clear out in the next ten minutes, we won't even press any charges."
"Big deal," said the first voice, belonging to a skinny bespeckled kid trying to be tough.
"Or call your parents," Sam added.
Twenty minutes of teenager-wrangling later, they finally got all of them out of the park. Dean didn't trust that they'd just drive off, and he didn't think Sam did either. They exchanged long-suffering looks and marched the kids to their cars. It was taking extra time, but Dean did not want the responsibility of anyone other than himself and Sam on his shoulders tonight. Not when that weight pressed heavily on him every waking minute of the day.
"That was surprisingly easy," Sam said as they hiked back toward the beach.
"Hippy witch wannabes have mommy and daddy issues." Dean flicked the clasp of his knife holster again. "You come up with a brilliant plan to lure this thing out of the water yet?"
"Yeah, maybe. We know it likes human flesh. I was thinking the easiest way to – "
Oh, no. No, no, no. There wasn't going to be anyone sitting there waiting for it to strike fast and easy.
"Don't you dare offer to play bait, Sam," Dean said, halting in his tracks.
"I wasn't going to suggest that, Dean."
Sam looked at him with that hurt little boy expression that now didn't go all the way to his eyes. The hell if Dean didn't buy it anyway. He relaxed his shoulders, but his thumb kept flicking the clasp of the holster. Sam's face flitted into something haunted and sad, but that was gone in a blink, and his brother was cool and collected again.
"What I was going to say was that we prick a finger or something and let a few drops of blood hit the water. Like chum for a shark."
"Oh. Sorry. I guess I'm a little jumpy." Dean ran his hand through his hair. He started walking again. "That might actually work."
"It should. One of us drips the blood, the other hides in case the thing is too fast," Sam said, following him closely through a narrow section of the path. "Like the Dobhar-Chu. We use its own tactics against it."
It wasn't an unsound plan, but something niggled at Dean. It could work without a hitch. Nothing they did worked without a hitch, though, and banking on that wasn't something he was comfortable with. Sam passed by him with a determined, unhesitant stride. He had to increase his pace to keep up.
"So, are we going to flip a coi – "
Dean's question trailed off when the night was filled with a terrified scream and a loud snarling bark. He was running without making a conscious choice to do so, eyes focused on Sam's back as his brother broke away from him. Damnit. He drew the Desert Eagle out, aiming it at the ground as he ran.
"Eli! Eli! Oh my god, help. Someone help us!" a girl's voice called.
A deeper, very human, cry of pain came next and the growling and snarling only increased. Dean heard Sam give a shout as they flew onto the beach. He had about a millisecond to assess the scene. All he really saw was a massive white shape, a smaller figure underneath it. His brother popped off a shot, which didn't do much to the Dobhar-Chu, and raced forward right into Dean's line of sight … and fire. Dean went for the girl, pulling her all the way back to the trail when she balked, though his eyes never left his brother for long.
"Run," he shouted at her, giving her a solid shake.
"Eh-eli," she stuttered, eyes huge.
"Go. Now. Run!"
He turned back in time to see and hear Sam shoot again. The Dobhar-Chu howled in agony, but its massive flipper-paw-appendage-thingies continued to try swiping at the kid pinned beneath it. It took a swing at Sam, but missed. Enough of the weight must have shifted, because Eli scrabbled backwards and out from under it. There was no need to for encouragement; the second he was free, the kid took off. Sam backed away, Glock still raised, but he didn't take another shot. Dean saw he had his Bowie out instead.
"We're gonna need a bigger boat," Dean muttered. That thing couldn't get his brother. He wouldn't allow it. The Dobhar-Chu bounded at Sam, far more quickly and agilely than it looked like it should be able to, just as he shouted, "Sam, down."
The Desert Eagle boomed.
The creature folded to the beach, collapsing like an accordion. An odd whistling noise emitted from its throat, somehow a sad sound. It jerked a couple of times before settling into death.
Breathing hard, Dean bent at the waist for a moment. When he stood back up, he looked over to Sam, who was still sprawled flat on his back in the sand. He gave Sam a tired but cocky grin. So things hadn't gone according to plan, they'd improvised and still come out on top. It felt good. He watched Sam break into his own lopsided grin. Then he watched it falter and morph into an open mouthed grimace of horror.
"Behind you," Sam called out, flipping over and scuttling across the beach.
Dean didn't think, just trusted the look on Sam's face and his words. He was halfway into a tuck and roll when a massive, bruising blow to his shoulder upended him. The flip he ended up doing was in no way controlled. Limbs flailing, he lost hold of the gun. He landed about five feet away, going gray for a second as his back connected with something. The night sky swirled a little. His ears rang, the sound deep and distorted. Bass. Wails, moans, appalling shrieks. His heart in his throat. Red and hot firehelhellhelll. He shook his head, trying to figure out what was going on. No, his ears weren't ringing. He wasn't back in Hell. It was that thing making that sound, and Sam. Sam. Scrambling to his hands and knees, Dean searched for his brother.
His stomach turned into a block of ice the instant he saw and understood. The mate. They'd screwed it up and forgotten about the mate just for a second, and now Sam was wrestling – no, oh shit oh hell, trying to get away from – the second Dobhar-Chu. Dean saw large black spots on the light sand, fanning out from Sam and the thing like splatter. Blood? Gun. Where the hell was the gun? The Desert Eagle was buried halfway in the sand, and he had no fucking clue where the Colt had gone. Must have jostled free somehow.
"Sam," Dean said, more to himself than anything. The answer he got was a strangled cry.
Fuck the guns.
Sliding his blade from its holster, Dean charged forward, issuing a strangled cry of his own. It was blood, slick and dark, all over Sam's neck, the left side of his torso and arm. Fueling him, adrenaline pumped through his veins as he lunged for the Dobhar-Chu. The thing was too busy clawing at Sam to notice when the Bowie pierced its heart, but it fell instantly, landing on his brother's legs with a sick thud. Dean dropped the blade and fell to his knees, shoving the Dobhar-Chu off his brother with a muffled curse.
Sam didn't move, didn't cry out in pain. He just lay there too still and too pale in the suddenly quiet night.
He saw Dean about to be attacked, and Sam's body moved of its own accord. There was no time to think. His vision was a wash of red and black, fury and fear spurring him on. He plowed into the creature as it knocked Dean away. He barely had the chance to see if Dean was clear before the Dobhar-Chu was on top of him, all around him, everywhere all at once. It didn't matter much what happened to him, now that he knew Dean was okay.
Instinct alone had him raising his arm in a defensive posture as he thunked onto his back. The monster knocked the blade out of his hand, and though it was roaring loudly he heard the skittering of sand. The Taurus was jammed into his back, unreachable. The search for weapons was moot. He grunted at the weight pressing down on him, turning his head as he shoved up with everything he had. It didn't even make the Dobhar-Chu pause.
Hot pain lanced down his neck, tearing at his shoulder. Sam couldn't withhold a grunt or maybe it was a scream, realizing now all he could do was try to get some distance from the monster. He wriggled fruitlessly, pinned where he was. The giant flipper-paws raked down his left side, carving into his flesh. He vaguely heard a howl that did not belong to the angry water hound, but he didn't know where it came from. Himself maybe. His throat ached. His head buzzed thickly, vision blinking in and out and in and then out completely at last.
He faded back to consciousness, partially, off and on. Something heavy on his legs. The crackle of fire, Dean disposing of the corpses. The choking smell of smoke and flesh and fur. There was harsh breathing, soft curses. Leather, aged and familiar, the only thing Sam could see. The nothingness reclaimed him and he welcomed it. After a time, the rumble of the Impala sounded at the edges of his awareness, a frantic hand pressed against his side, his neck, stopping only to brush his cheek before it was pressing, pressing, pressing again. Dean's voice spoke. To him, maybe. Sam didn't know. His world went gray and cold.
Bright light, softness underneath him. Motel. Cool air broke through his somewhat self-imposed numb, but just for a second. Sam turned his head, forcing his eyes open, seeking his brother because he was okay and Dean didn't have to worry. It didn't hurt if he didn't let it. Nothing hurt if he didn't let it, and this was nothing. But he was so damn tired. He closed his eyes again, only regretting he hadn't been able to tell Dean he was fine. He floated in his lonely, numb place, there but not there.
A knife cut away his jacket, his shirt and cold again pricked against the wounds on his body, stabbing at him like tiny razor blades. He had to control the pain, shove it away because there was no one to comfort him now. There was too much work to be done for pain to slow him down. Except that wasn't right. He wasn't alone anymore, but he was always alone, alone, lone, lonely. Sam wasn't thinking clearly, head muzzy and thick and shutting down while he tried to compartmentalize. The pain wasn't that bad, the shock wasn't making him feel like a block of ice. He was too damn tired, that was all.
"Goddamnit," he heard Dean whisper, voice trembling with emotion. "Goddamnit, Sam."
Instead of tending to the fresh wounds, Sam felt Dean trail a finger lightly across the scars he'd gotten in the past months. Dean's scars had been wiped out of existence. Sam's had multiplied. His brother's hand paused on the scar on his right bicep. He'd gotten that only days after Dean died. He didn't remember how or why or where. It was one of his smaller marks; Bobby had sewn him up. The vampire bite on his shoulder, ugly and welting because he'd fought a whole fucking nest of them and it had almost been too much for his rage and determination to handle. Another bite mark lower down, just below his ribcage, gaping, ugly and roughly stitched.
"Jesus," Dean said again. He sounded like he was ready to throw up. He traced the faded white line on Sam's wrist, from the surgery. Dean took a deep breath.
His brother's small exclamations almost made Sam want to surface again, but surfacing only brought pain. He'd worked his way up to functioning right through it, vacant but performing. Doing what had to be done because Dean was dead and he was alone. But now he was out of practice and it was all he could do to lay there still and not think about the blood still seeping a sticky path along his ribs, as Dean abandoned seeking out his old injuries and focused on the new.
There was warm water, a soft cloth against his neck. Dean moved down with gentle pats, making frequent pauses to rinse the cloth and begin again. He cleaned the wounds quickly and carefully. If he could feel anything, Sam might think it actually felt nice, only in that way of knowing someone cared enough to be so gentle. He started edging himself away from his inner darkness.
Dean stopped again when his cleanup brought him to Sam's shoulder, his collarbone. Sam heard another muttered expletive, and he knew Dean had found where a son of a bitch demon had almost gotten the better of him, in the early days. Before he realized he wasn't strong enough to fight by himself, and given in to Ruby. It had gone after his tattoo, using its fingernails, teeth, a goddamned spoon, Sam thought he remembered, trying to dig the protective seal right off of Sam's body the hard way. It hadn't worked, but the scarring was extensive, as much a badge as the symbol itself.
The tattoo incident was the near loss which had also made Sam realize pain could be controlled, like his powers. As Ruby helped him strengthen his control in one area, he learned physical and emotional pain were tied together, and both were impediments to him finding Lilith. Of just surviving. So he made himself dead inside. The cuts on his left forearm not bestowed by the Dobhar-Chu were evidence of him practicing to block the pain out.
"Four months," Dean murmured. "I was only gone four months, and look at you."
And the deeper in Sam got with Ruby, the more he began to doubt he was doing the right thing by existing the only way he could. He had thought maybe he could bleed the demon blood out of him a little at a time, scoring his arm over and over with Ruby's dagger.
"What the hell happened to you, Sammy?"
Sam knew he couldn't stay locked away anymore, not now and not later. The cuts on his arm were hot and they pulsed with every beat of his heart, and so did those on his side and neck. It didn't hurt much anymore, really, even without self-anaesthetizing. He heard the crackling of gauze packaging being opened, smelled the strange, almost antiseptic scent of medical tape. He opened his eyes, blinking against the lights. His focus came back in time to see Dean lean down to apply gauze to the smallest of the claw marks on his shoulder and neck.
"Thuh," Sam said, mouth dry and tongue feeling huge. He swallowed a couple times. "There was a steep curve on learning how to survive without you, Dean."
Dean stopped applying bandages, putting himself in Sam's line of sight. His eyes were troubled, his jaw tight with unhappiness.
"I tried so hard to fight the right way, the way you wanted me to. I've got the battle wounds to show it." Sam's eyes filled. He blinked again, this time to try to clear away the tears but they wouldn't seem to obey his bidding. "I tried so damned hard. You have to know that."
"I know, Sammy, I do," Dean said, lip trembling just a little. Just enough. But Dean looked away from him as he said it.
Sam knew Dean could never really understand, and god that hurt more than a few scratches ever could. There wasn't a single thing Sam could say to make his brother understand. He had already known that, but he didn't want it to be true.
"I don't think I could have taken it much longer. Something would have killed me. Then one day I was exorcising a demon that wouldn't tell me where to find Lilith. God, none of them would, Dean," Sam said, unable to keep from talking now that he'd started. Loss of control. He was terrified and hurting he wanted Dean to fix it like he was now picking up needle and thread to fix the cuts on his body. "None of them. It was all I wanted to do, to find her and make her pay for taking you. And it just came out of me, this thing I could do without hurting the host. Without getting hurt and bloodied and beaten down myself."
"And then Ruby showed up." Dean's voice was hollow. "To teach you how to embrace your inner demon."
"Dean," he said thickly. "It wasn't like that. It's never been … I didn't know how to live. Sometimes I'm not sure I do now, either. Everything was spinning out of control. You were gone. I couldn't get you back. I couldn't breathe. I felt so much I couldn't feel anything at all anymore. I was alone. And this was the one thing I had that I had any power over."
The expression on Dean's face, it was both fear and protection and something even more terrible as he assessed Sam's wounds. He began to stitch, careful and concise with the needle. Careful not to look too closely, skin paling if he did. Dean's eyes were so empty and so full.
Dean's body had come back from Hell without a scratch, but that look on his face told Sam he hadn't come back without any scars at all. Sam swallowed as he realized Dean couldn't understand, and he couldn't help him. They were both too scarred.
"Do you need something for the pain?" Dean asked.
"No," Sam said dully, breaking, bleeding. "It doesn't hurt."