A/N Many thanks to all who've read and reviewed. I decided to finish up before Show next goes out over in LuckyPeopleWhoGetSupernaturalFirstLand. Maybe this means I cut the story off in its prime *g* but I don't think so. The boys deserve a break. Which is not to say of course that things won't all go to crapola again at some future date *nods wisely*
Sam found his nine-hour round-trip to Winfield a bit of a blast.
For a start he was driving a beat-up Dodge Challenger which looked about as roadworthy as any car might that had been run off the road by a truck sometime in 1972. Bobby had got quite agitated about him not taking the Impala, and Sam had listened in the end. The Dodge was kind of cool, but it was a creaker and a grinder. Sam couldn't read engines so he was pretty much expecting it to roll to a halt any second.
He wasn't sure about the job he'd turned up either. It could be a steaming pile of nothing, or it could be something that he probably shouldn't even fantasize about tackling solo. The latter thought gave him a little stomach flip that he interpreted as a thrill.
Then there was the usual guilt-resentment combo jabbing him in the ribs every five seconds, for having left Dean when he obviously didn't know which way was up.
His brother hadn't improved much after the second time they'd picked him off the floor. Still pasty, foul-mouthed and tending to the apologetic. Sam had stuck doggedly with Dean's unsteady pacing back and forth across the ground floor of the house until a lucky combination of food and tylenol tugged him under again.
"I'm going, Bobby," Sam had said in a low voice, caught between a sharp desire to leave and an overwhelming urge to stay. Watching his brother descending from scrappy doze to unwilling slumber was painful. "We need a plan."
Sam was sure of that.
"Maybe this ain't it?" Bobby had muttered, but he hadn't come up with anything else.
There were layers of unfinished business awaiting beyond the confines of the Yard, Dean was shadow-boxing something that put his usual demons into the shade and making an unholy shambles of it, so Sam knew he had to take charge and Bobby knew he had to let him.
After breaking into a cellar where a man had allegedly self-immolated to the strains of Wagner, and talking to four material witnesses at two different addresses, Sam reluctantly consigned the job to the steaming-pile-of-nothing pile and spent the better part of three hours driving in blustery snowfall on I-90, bracing himself for the worst that could possibly happen when he got back.
When he was through the gates, he saw that the Impala had been driven out from under cover and was standing as if ready to take off any second. Dog was visible jumping up and down inside the house, over-excited but apparently tethered. Both these things told Sam that his brother was on the move. He slewed the Dodge to a halt and climbed out. Bobby got to him first.
"Woke up, found you gone, totally lost it," he summarized the last couple of hours hastily, while Sam let the door of the car clunk shut behind him and watched Dean picking up pace across the snowy ground as if it were happening in slow motion.
He got ready to be slammed, and slammed he was, back crunching against metal, arms pinned. The air whooshed out of him and Sam was totally surprised that Dean had that much gas left in his tank.
"You lying, freaking little bitch!"
"Hey," Sam began, both miffed and panicky.
"You've been screwing around with that black-eyed skank again." It wasn't even a question.
The diagonal brace across Sam's chest tightened. His right arm was sealed against the Dodge by the elbow, his left trapped by Dean's full weight.
"Oh you have," Dean breathed. "I can see it, I can smell it on you ..."
"Haven't," Sam said. When he took a breath he got a sense that his brother was a lot shakier than he sounded and knew, with an uncomfortable flush of energy, that he could throw Dean aside, through the air, on to the freezing ground, in one instant of momentum, if he so decided. "Get off me, Dean."
"Or what? You'll break my neck? Here, show us what you're made of, freak. Help yourself."
"Dean ..." Bobby warned. "Get a grip, boy. Maybe you should just listen to what he's got to say."
"Listen to him!" Dean whined. "You've got to be kidding me, Bobby. I'm not listening to him, I should be smacking some fucking sense into him."
"You two do any brawling on my property," Bobby snapped, "and so help me I will call the cops on your asses."
Sam filled his lungs and broke out of the hold. He wasn't sure if he'd done it by superior strength in the end or if Dean had actually decided to let him go. The snow was beginning to dance around them.
"I just went to check out something that could be a case," he began and Dean's face screwed up as if he was trying to follow a foreign language and not making any headway at all. "It was a bunch of weird, creepy bullshit, but it wasn't our kind of weird, creepy bullshit. And there's nothing going on, Dean, I've told you a hundred times. Just trying to get us back on track."
It all sounded entirely reasonable, but Dean was still looking at him as if he couldn't work it out, any of it. He began rooting around in his front jeans pocket and Sam felt a winding twist of anxiety.
"What are you ...? Dean, what are you doing?"
Dean produced the Impala's keys and shook them at him wordlessly.
"I think we should all go in out of this weather and just take a little stock," Bobby decided, looking as if being the voice of reason was starting to stick in his craw.
"Screw that," Dean said. He looked at Sam, long and hard, like he was evaluating him and Sam knew that the flat, emotionless tone was the cue for his brother to walk out, walk off, leave.
"Dude, the car hates the snow," Sam said, and his words began to tumble out as fast as the flakes. "I wasn't with Ruby, I didn't do anything wrong. Don't just .... he's insane, Bobby, where the hell does he think he's going?"
The Impala coughed into life. The wiper blades were waving crazily back and forth across the windshield. Sam could see Dean's arm slung across the back of the seat as he twisted ready for a violent reverse. The tires span, gripped, span again. Then Dean seemed to get her under control and gunned her forward, passing within inches of Sam's feet and executing a sliding right turn towards the gates.
"Car really doesn't like the snow," Sam repeated feebly as the tail-lights got swallowed up by the dark.
Bobby clapped two hands on his shoulders and began to steer him back towards the house.
The Impala really didn't like the snow.
And Dean really didn't like driving her in the snow and the dark when he felt so wired. The feeling of neurones firing off at will was kind of trippy and every time his phone rang it set his teeth on edge, made him want to throw it out the car. He knew he was driving a little too fast for the conditions, but thought he was being a bit of a damn hero all things considered, seeing as he was concentrating so fucking hard on keeping to the road instead of indulging the sizeable part of him that wanted to drive at speed into a wall.
He needed a drink.
No. What he needed was to draw a line in the sand. In the snow. Whatever. And then he needed a drink.
It didn't seem to do any good telling himself that. Before long he was striding more than walking into the Birdseye Saloon, covered in snow, feeling half frozen and breathing in the scent of alcohol like he was a bloodhound on the trail. It warmed his chest, sent endorphins skipping through his head.
Dean stood for a moment getting his bearings, scanning along the bar from one end to the other. It was busy in the Birdseye tonight, snowstorm notwithstanding. No Benedict though.
He moved a few steps, taking in every corner, just in case.
Just one lousy question and the emo-medium isn't freaking here. Bobby said he's nearly always here.
Dean re-focused. He sniffed the smell again, watched the bartender pushing a drink towards a guy in a red and blue plaid shirt. His hackles rose.
Four, five, six long strides across the floor. Dean couldn't believe he felt so clear-headed, given that he'd been alternately spewing up his guts or collapsing all over Sam not so many hours ago.
"Excuse me," he said, tapping the plaid-shirt guy smartly on the back of the broad shoulder. Chance let go of the drink he had just reached for with his big fist and turned around.
Dean allowed just long enough to be properly recognized, then he smacked him hard in the mouth, felt the jolt all the way along his arm, through his shoulder blade and down his spine. The blow was hard enough, and sweet enough, to send Chance toppling over a bar stool and backwards on to the floor, scattering people and chairs. Pandemonium broke out but it was all extraneous sound effects. Dean hardly heard it. He took one more step, leaned down. "That's what I meant to say the other day," he explained. "In answer to your question. Good hunting." He looked at his knuckles and frowned. Then he turned away, walked straight back across the room and out of the door.
He was amped, he knew it. Got a head-rush of euphoria so delightful that for a few minutes he hardly felt the cold.
By the time he'd put some distance between himself and the Birdseye, realized that he couldn't actually remember where he'd left the car and found himself on an unfamiliar street, it was too late. Lights that could well turn out to be a LiquorMart were already in his sights and he had change in his pocket.
Slow down, he told himself. But he couldn't.
Bobby didn't say anything until about the tenth call. He actually had a whole speech backed up and ready to go, but he was nervous it might find its way out before he was good and ready.
"Maybe he just needs to drive around in a blizzard until he realizes he's being an ass," he suggested as Sam jiggled his cell in his hands.
"He could just answer," Sam said grimly, "'stead of being a complete jerk."
"Uhhh ...." Bobby found himself saying, "your brother was one marble short of a breakdown earlier today, kid ... you remember that, right? I'm not saying you shouldn't have gone, if you thought it was a job but ... Dean's not exactly thinking straight. You know ... not reading the map. He's about as messed up as you'd expect, and then some. I ain't surprised he's started bouncing off the walls, don't know why you should be."
That would be the speech then. Give or take a few clumsy additions.
Sam crumpled slightly, flipped open his phone. He didn't make another call though, just waved his thumb over the numbers.
"He'll find his way home again," Bobby said, deciding that anything but foolish optimism would be too much to stand at this point. He glanced at the window and the curtain of white flakes falling through the dark. "Wish he'd taken a fuckin coat though."
"Oh that is gross," said a girl's voice right across the motel room.
Dean found it weird because it had all been quiet a moment ago and he didn't know where the fuck she'd come from.
"Gross and sad and just all kinds of wrong," the girl went on.
She sounded young, and her voice was raspy and whiny at the same time, a twenty-something with a head-cold who just wanted to go home now please.
Dean shifted in the bed. It felt like his pillow was covered in broken glass.
"Huh?" Someone else was unsure if they were interested. Another girl, maybe older.
Dean didn't want to know what they'd seen, couldn't be bothered to work out why there were two girls in his motel room. Maybe Sam left the TV on. He just wanted to sleep.
"There! Look, there's a guy lying in the road. Ewww. Let's get out of here."
Footsteps crunched uncertainly nearby but didn't come too close to the bed. Dean kept his eyes shut, tried to hunker under the blankets.
"Oh my ... wow ... you ... god, that's .... bless your compassionate little heart, Suze, but we can't leave him, can we? It's minus frigging fifteen out here. He's covered in snow."
"So call 911 or something, but I'm not touching him. He might be dead. Or weird, or something."
"We should check he's alive, really we should."
"You check, Mother Teresa."
Dean lost the thread of the conversation, felt himself drifting, but then the older girl's voice sounded much closer to his ear and he wanted to tell her to shut the fuck up.
"Oh man ... this guy's a mess and he's not even an old guy. He ... oh yeah yuck ... he's thrown up and his head's all bloody and jeez he reeks of ... yup, he's tile-faced and he fell down."
"He probably does it every Saturday night, Lil."
"Yeah but maybe not when it's this freakin cold. I'm calling the cops. Shit, these gloves ... I can't get at my freakin phone. Come on, Suze, don't just walk off and leave me here with this."
"Someone's coming, Lil, let's just get out of here. Not our problem, babe."
A stretch of silence. Dean let himself roll towards sleep, pleased that the girls had gone. Then a new voice disturbed him, tantalizingly familiar.
"Oh God, you're cold, man. You feel .... cold." A palm lay against skin for a moment, pressing down on his forehead. Dean struggled to get his eyes open, knew he'd failed, knew he hadn't actually moved anything at all, worried about this parade of mumbling freaks wandering through his room.
"You're so cold," the voice repeated with a shiver. "And there's something ... it's not all .... but I can't ... I'm sorry, man." The hand sprang away as if burned. Dean was relieved they'd all finally decided to leave him alone The voice returned, softer now. "It's OK, Dean. I'll get you out of here. Just give me a minute."
You can have all the minutes you like, Dean thought. Just let me go to sleep.
Bobby got them from the Yard to the Jeffrey Weiner Medical Center in just under two hours, a journey that would have taken half that time if it hadn't been for the weather. Sam had spent most of the trip working himself up into a frenzy and while Bobby parked the pick-up he cut loose in a blurring sprint across the gritted car-lot, followed the blue signs like he'd been told, and nearly took out a pair of double-doors as he barreled through them.
There was an elevator. And there were stairs.
Sam's heart couldn't deal with the elevator, with the standing and waiting, the dings and the pauses. He began up the echoing stairs, white and shiny. On the third floor he had to wait for a gurney being wheeled in front of him up the narrow corridor, but when it turned the corner he saw Benedict twenty yards away leaning on a pay-phone with his arms crossed.
"Sam," said Benedict as he charged up, puffing and blowing with a head-tingling mixture of exertion and anxiety. "You came."
Sam gulped in air, shocked that there should be any doubt. "What did you think?"
"First of all," Benedict said, uncrossing his arms and gesturing downwards to signal calm. "You're Bill. And he's Ted. You're my cousins. I kind of worked out a story."
"Bill," Sam said, following along, hoping Benedict was taking him somewhere useful. "Ted. Cousins."
"Good. And second of all ..."
"They think Sam is his best buddy."
"Sam. His best buddy." Sam breathed in and out through his nose, still hoping.
"Yeah. Ted and Sam. They were on the ... front-line .... somewhere. Helluva situation. Nobody's fault exactly, but the whole battalion were kind of screwed over. Ted got an honorable discharge. But he's kind of fucked-up."
A weird laugh popped out of Sam at that.
"Yeah," Benedict went on, veering back into what suddenly seemed like reality and making Sam's blood run several degrees colder, "So, when I got him here Dean was kind of giving them the whole balls of fire and exploding body parts thing and they decided they knew what it was all about so I just kind of went along with it."
"Let me get this straight," Sam said, holding both hands up in front of him as if it would stop the flood of disbelief, "They think he's back from ....a war, or from ... they don't just think he's crazy?"
"Oh, buckets of," Benedict said. "They'd really like us to leave quietly, deal with it in the family." He flexed one hand as if he was trying to get the circulation going. "Not that they said so, but when I met the doctor guy ... I could ... yeah."
"In the family?" Sam knew he was sounding like a dork but he couldn't help it and it was giving him time to process.
"Yeah, you know. Your Mom and Dad. My Aunt and Uncle."
Benedict had clearly woven a whole life for them all in the last few hours.
"All right, fine." Sam accepted the premise, decided he could run with it if he had to. "But what, Benedict, what the fuck actually happened?"
"Found him in the gutter down the street from the Birdseye."
"Oh crap," Sam said.
"Cracked his head open on the sidewalk. You know, I could deal with that, but he was cold, really really cold, like not shivering anymore cold. So I brought him here."
"And how is he?"
"Well you'd better go see. He's just in there, but I should tell you, he's not making much sense. I'd vote for getting him out of here as soon as we can, though. Before their computers start smoking with all the shit I've been feeding them." Benedict smiled mildly and then put his hand out and brushed the top of Sam's shoulder. "Maybe just take in your little brother stuff, leave all the rest for now." He took the hand away, flicked invisible dust from the palm.
Sam wasn't at all sure he could take the advice, if advice it was, but he pushed open the door Benedict indicated and walked on in.
Dean was lying in a bed with his eyes closed, and he was pissed about the IV line in his arm judging by his expression. He looked grubby and tired, bruised down one side of his face and he had stitches in his head. His breathing was fairly steady, as if he was concentrating on the action, and his lashes flickered and twitched in uneasy rest.
"Hey," Sam said quietly, resting a hand on the nearest arm. Dean's skin felt a little cool but his color wasn't too freakishly bad. He opened his eyes.
"Sammy," he said at once, like he had something urgent to tell him.
"So .. yeah, I'm here," Sam said, stroking up and down the arm as if it needed warming. "What's going on with you?"
For the most part of an hour or two, it seemed like everyone was reading from a different page.
Bobby didn't come in because Benedict hadn't thought to invent so much as a walk-on part for him in the broad and faintly homely drama he'd scripted. So he stayed outside in the pick-up waiting for bulletins and holding out for an early release and some dinner before dark descended yet again.
Sam got schizophrenic talking about his brother's best buddy Sam to a nurse who kept asking about him.
"God bless all our boys in the field," she said fervently, more than once, "And God help them."
There was a senior kind of a doctor who clearly thought Dean's nonsense was down to nothing but booze and the confusing effect of moderate hypothermia on the control centers of his brain. And then there was another, junior guy who'd just as clearly been on the receiving end of some pretty graphic babblings and didn't want to let Dean out of his sight until half the military's psych department had been shipped in to check him out.
As Dean got warmer and more hydrated, he got gradually more lucid, and finally wised up to the fact that Sam was hunched so near over the bed he was practically sitting in there with him, and holding one of his hands between both of his own.
It felt better than anything Dean could possibly imagine at that moment.
"Leggo," he said without pulling away.
"Oh hey," Sam said, and squeezed hard. "You making any sense yet?"
"Zit time I got up?" Dean asked, and yanked against the line.
"It might be," Sam said, "you remember what happened?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "I remember." He blinked, frowning. "I keep smelling it, Sam. Keep hearing it."
Evidently not quite lucid enough to have buckled on his armor yet. His hand still lay quietly in Sam's hold.
"No, no, no, " Sam said to him firmly, his heart thumping with a dull ache in the base of his throat. "You hit your head is all, got a little messy."
"Maybe." Dean moved uncomfortably, looked down at their hands. Sam could see a shift play out across Dean's face but he still didn't pull away. "How about you?"
"I drove to Winfield, looked into a job that wasn't a job and then I drove back again. And my brother called me a lying bitch."
"It kind of sucked."
"He sounds like a jerk." Dean pulled his hand free on the last word.
"So, Bobby's waiting outside, and Benedict's trying to confuse them in here, but I don't think we've got too much time left. You feeling like you can walk?"
Dean pulled in a breath, yanked again at the line and then grimaced as he tugged it right out. "I can walk."
"Here," said Sam, slapping a wad of tissue and gauze against the trickle of watery blood and fluid inside Dean's elbow. "I brought clothes. You pretty much trashed what you had on, though Benedict saved your jacket."
"Benedict," Dean said, dropping the wad and hopping barefoot on to the floor. His face blanched, just as Sam knew it would, and he put both hands out and clutched at Sam's sleeves to stop himself falling.
"I got you," Sam said, businesslike.
"I know you have, Sammy," Dean told him, working his jaw.
The door opened and Benedict put his head round. "We need to move," he said. "I think I've about run this thing into the ground. Hey, Dean, good to see you."
"Benedict," Dean said again.
"Try not to puke til we're out the building, okay, Dean?" Sam said anxiously. "You need help there?"
Dean's boots were the last thing on. They were still wet through, left a set of damp footprints across the floor of the room.
"Stairs," Benedict said, leading the way as they emerged into the corridor.
Down in the lot Bobby had been running the engine for the last twenty minutes with both doors open.
"Listen," said Benedict, when they'd more or less got Dean lined up to make it into the pick-up. "Sam, I got your car over the other side of the lot. Rescued the keys before they incinerated his jeans."
"It's not his car," Dean said, holding on hard to the roof. He made an ugly face. "Man, I loved those jeans."
"I'll come," Sam said. "See you back, Bobby."
"B-Benedict," Dean stuttered for the third time, not being able to get beyond that. He turned a little, put out his hand and then dropped it. "Maybe not."
Benedict gave another one of his slow, wise-owl nods. "I wasn't lying to keep you awake back there, Dean. Of course, I know people do that, but I don't do that." He looked at Sam, chewed his lip doubtfully. "I'm almost sure something else's going on in there besides all the ... well all the fucked-up stuff." Quickly he patted Dean on the side of the arm, made him jump.
"Ha," Benedict said, and then, "Ow."
He was still looking slightly pained when the pick-up pulled away. True to his word, he'd somehow gotten the ice-encrusted Impala parked neatly in a space under a tree. He didn't shake Sam's hand either to say goodbye, just touched his fingers lightly against his collar-bone.
"Really," said Sam, "We really ...."
"If I could tell you what's going to happen I would," Benedict said. "But all I know right now is that you're angry. Fit to be tied."
"I'm not ..."
"Yeah," Benedict said. "Yeah you are."
"You know what?" said Dean ominously, "We don't have time for this."
Somehow the duffels had been dropped in the snow instead of being loaded into the Impala. They had been walking across the Yard in a lemony morning sunshine, full of the last breakfast Dean was likely to cook for a while, when Sam just couldn't help himself and asked The Question.
"All I said was are you feeling all right."
"Seriously, Sam." Dean sounded beyond irked, never a good way to start a trip. "I mean, I get it, I get that there's a problem, that I'm a problem, but ...."
"Dude, you're not a problem."
Dean looked up at the sky.
"The fact that I need a fucking drink right now says you're wrong."
"What do you think, Dean? You were a ... jesus ... I mean, you think I would have done anything different if it'd been me down there? I wouldn't. No-one would. They'd have done the same as you, but they just would've done it sooner."
Sam picked up one duffel, threw it into the back feeling a little ominous himself.
"Oh," said Sam, hoisting the second duffel on to his shoulder, "is that what Alastair told you? That Dad held out because he's such a stand-up guy, and you're not? That's bullshit, man. Seriously, Dean. Bullshit."
"Whatever," Dean rumbled, sweeping Perdition away with a flick of the wrist. "The point is we've got stuff to sort out, Sam. You, for example."
"I can look after myself." Sam threw the bag in, slammed shut the trunk.
"Yes I know you can. And you do. You did. That's fine. But, you know, even though I shouldn't be here, I mean I'm not meant to be here ... I get to carry on looking out for you, Sammy." There was the faintest nervous twitch of one eye as he went on so Sam knew the words were pretty close to heartfelt. "Those dicks up there and those sonsofbitches down there can plan what they like. I can't not do that."
"Truthfully though?" Sam said. "I'm not exactly what you signed up for, Dean. Not anymore."
"Truthfully?" Dean repeated, the word delicate and unfamiliar in his mouth. His eyes gleamed. "You scare the crap out of me, Sammy. Yeah, you do. It's looking like the freakin end of days, man, and we're on our knees ... but .... always was a mindless kind of a jerk, so what the fuck else am I gonna do but get up and go again?" He shrugged. "And you're going to get up and go with me, Sammy. That's all."
However feeble the little nugget Benedict thought he'd detected, Dean seemed prepared to give it a bit of elbow-room and it was like a wash of airy light over Sam's shoulders.
"Yeah," he said, nodding obediently. "OK."
"We'll carry on doing what we do, until something stops us."
Sam nodded again, not liking the something. He realized of course that Dean always talked the talk most convincingly when he could hardly put one foot in front of the other to walk the walk.
"And, uh, just for the record, I'm not going to go all temperance on you ... so you can forget about that drying me out shit."
"What? OK, you can kick my ass from time to time."
"I will," Sam said.
Bobby and Dog had come out of the house and were wending a cautious way across to them. Something Bobby had in his hands was encouraging Dog to stick to him like glue. They could hear the animal growling a little in the back of its throat, a half-happy half-irritated sound that made Dean shrug inside his jacket as if it prickled him.
"Something for the road," Bobby said, pitching two packets simultaneously. Dog's eyes and nose followed both missiles, straining against the hold Bobby had on his collar. Sam caught his prize in one hand but Dean fluffed his completely, backed right off when it landed on the ground and Dog growled and scrabbled towards it.
"I got it," Sam said, moving swiftly. "Thanks, Bobby."
"And you're sure you won't stick around?" Bobby asked.
"We've got a job," Sam said. He looked a little embarrassed. "Might even be a real one."
Bobby sent Dean a doubtful look over the roof of the Impala. "You up to this, boy?"
"Really, Bobby, we gotta go," Dean said. He leant his elbows across the V made by the open door and the roof of the car. "Not that I'm not grateful of course. For you and your fugly dog. And all the chores. And the crappy bed."
"Well you know," Bobby said. "I'm just here."
Dean straightened, turned his palms upwards for a second, took a close look, and then snapped them into fists. While Sam and Bobby exchanged one of their covert glances that Dean knew all about, he rounded the hood nonchalantly.
"You're good to drive, Sam."
When he'd handed over the keys, dropping them with a jangle of shaking fingers into Sam's curled-open palm, he stuck the whole hand under his armpit and squeezed as if to shut it the fuck up.
Sam knew he was probably going to have to get used to these little tics.
Bobby watched them climb in the car. He was kind of glad he'd soon be able to let Dog off the leash again, find which corners Sam had left all his books and discover, at last, what in heck Dean had done with his old frying pan. His hand acknowledged them as the Impala moved away, and he cocked his head slightly to get one last look.
Dean - fragile, brittle and hollow as a drum. Probably more than a little bit psychotic. As good a hero as the world was going to get and a damn sight better than some.
And Sam .... Bobby waggled his toes in his nearly-new boots.
Hope he doesn't screw it up when his time comes.
Finally, when he thought the Impala was far enough away, Bobby let go the collar and Dog set off across the snow, barking wildly, pursuing the black car until it bumped round the corner and disappeared out of sight.