Dish It Out
Disclaimer: Property of Kripke and co. Just borrowing for a little while.
Summary: Sam and Dean are roped into working a haunted house that other hunters have been forced to give up on. Post 4.14.
At long last, here you have the wrap-up... Been a pleasure. Thanks for each and every review. Love you guys to pieces!
Sam woke faster than he would have liked thanks to a roaring headache that rivaled the leftovers of a vision. After a few seconds, he remembered it was due to being repeatedly clocked by dinnerware, not to mention blood loss and a couple of sets of stitches. Apparently, the ghost hadn't liked that he was working with Ruby any better than Dean.
Sam braced himself and turned his head on the pillow. No Dean. He reached out a hand and felt that the bed beside him was cold, might not have been slept in at all.
After Dean had pulled himself back together, he'd helped Sam upstairs and patched him up before tucking Sam in like he was a two year old. Sam had been out as soon as his head touched the pillow. He felt guilty now knowing that after what happened he'd left Dean alone to deal with what the ghost had said. The POW had hit Dean right where it hurt, Dean who'd spent thirty years on one end of the torturer's knives, but ten on the other.
The sight of Dean on his knees, frozen with shame and pain, had been almost more than Sam could bear. Directly or not, Sam was the reason his brother had gone to hell. Sam was the reason his brother had suffered beyond what he could bear. Sam's failure to save him had broken a man who had always been the strongest person he knew.
Sam pressed a hand over his eyes. He wanted to talk to Dean about it, he needed to, but he had no clue how to go about it. Getting Dean to talk since Sam had called him a whiner was about as easy as getting Dean to take ballet lessons. Things had already been messed up between them. A freaking siren bent on killing one or both of them had been all they needed. Sam's only consolation was the knowledge that the siren was trying to get them to kill the person they loved most in this world. No matter what they'd said, that one basic truth still held.
Sam rose from the bed, his head throbbing painfully. He was still wearing the jeans he'd worn the night before, but Dean must have forced him to change out of his bloody shirt at some point and cleaned him up, not that he remembered it. Sam headed straight for the door, not bothering to find his shoes, and gingerly made his way down the stairs. He paused at the bottom and then stopped at the sound of a voice.
Sam crept toward the living room door and listened again.
"Hearts… hearts… There's gotta be a heart in this freakin' deck somewhere," Dean growled, then added triumphantly, "Ha! How do you like them apples!"
Now that he was closer, Sam could hear the cards being flipped. Dean must be playing with Walter. Sam stayed where he was just listening.
"Dude! You change it to hearts one more time, we're gonna have words!" Dean coughed. "Well, not words exactly, since you got the whole silent thing goin' on, but you know what I mean." Sam heard a few more cards being flipped. "Clubs, huh? I can deal with clubs." Another card. "You did not just throw that. Wally, what did I just say?"
Sam had to smile listening to Dean keeping up the running commentary as he and Walter continued to play. After a few more seconds, Dean must've lost the hand because Sam heard his brother start counting. "Forty. Your son was right. You're kicking my ass," Dean grumbled. There was a slight pause. "Let me guess. Still your deal? I keep tellin' ya, you're gonna get carpel tunnel if you don't let me deal one of these days." Dean sighed. "No, huh? Fine. Have it your way. Again."
Walter shuffled and began dealing. There was a pause while both players arranged their cards. "I'm feelin' good about this one, Wally, feelin' good. Two of spades, huh? How about a two of clubs? Whadya thinka that? Sam," Dean's voice rose, "if you're gonna watch us, could you at least have the decency to come in the room?"
Sam grimaced, embarrassed that he obviously hadn't been as stealthy as he thought. He walked into the living room to see Dean sitting at the little table across from Walter, who was looking just as vacant as he had before.
"Hearts again? Wally, you are seriously driving me nuts here and I do not need any help with that." Dean started drawing cards, going through four or five before finally drawing what he wanted. He looked up at Sam. "Crazy Eights. Seemed appropriate since we're both a couple of head cases. There a reason you're lurking out in the hall?"
"I wasn't lurking," Sam said, unsure whether Dean was annoyed or not.
"Dude, we're professional lurkers." Dean continued to stare at his cards. "I know it when I see it."
"Loitering, maybe," Sam admitted. "You… feeling ok?"
"Fine," Dean answered, his tone clipped. Sam didn't know why he asked. These days, Dean would have to be missing a hand before he'd admit to having a problem. "You ok?" Dean asked instead. "Your pills have probably worn off by now, but we're out. Need to pick some up at the drug store."
"S'ok," Sam said. "I have some stashed in my bag."
Dean looked up at that, frowning. "When'd you get those?"
"What? I don't know. Sometime." Sam's brow furrowed in confusion. Dean actually looked annoyed that Sam had some pills.
Dean returned to staring at his cards. "Just didn't know you were keeping your own now."
Sam fought the urge to growl. "Dean, I'm not-"
Mrs. Stockton bustled into the room. "Sam! You're up. Would you like some breakfast?"
"She made waffles," Dean said, the sudden cloud over him lifting at their hostess' arrival.
"You already ate?" Sam asked.
"Dude, it's almost eleven. We ate a couple of hours ago."
"In the dining room," Mrs. Stockton said happily. "Gil had to leave for work, but Dean and I picked up the dishes. He took them to the cemetery up the road and buried them, then we had a nice, long breakfast."
"Paper plates," Dean chimed in. "Just in case."
Sam looked at his brother and wondered what it had cost him to go back in the dining room. He wondered if Mrs. Stockton had even realized what she was asking of him. Watching him now, Sam would never have guessed at the state Dean had been in the day before. He was too good an actor. Sam had always known his brother was good, a well-trained con man, but it was only since Dean had come back that Sam realized just how good he really was. Dean had looked him straight in the eye and said he didn't remember a thing from his time in hell. Sam, who'd always prided himself on his ability to read his brother when outsiders couldn't, had looked right at him and believed him. Sam liked to tell himself that it was because he'd wanted to believe it, but deep down he knew. Either Dean was a better actor, or their connection wasn't as strong, or... something.
"I'll just be a minute," Mrs. Stockton said, unaware of Sam's inner monologue. "I still have some waffle batter left."
"Thanks, Amy," Dean said when Sam didn't answer. "Sam gets a little surly when he's not fed properly."
Sam smiled belatedly, and the woman hurried away toward the kitchen, no doubt pleased that she would be able to use her dining room again.
"Dude, rude much?" Dean shook his head, then muttered, "Been hanging out with Ruby too long."
Sam purposely ignored the last part. He didn't want another fight this morning. The night before had been more than enough and he didn't want to start again. It wouldn't get them any farther today than it had yesterday. "Sorry," he said instead. "Was thinking about something else."
"Whatever." Dean set down his last card and Walter started thumbing through his cards then wrote his score down on a piece of paper beside him. Dean had to lean forward to see since Walter wasn't going to share. "Crap. Still losing."
Sam stepped closer to them as Walter dealt again. They played in silence for a few seconds before the man set down an eight, a wild card in this game. He immediately pointed to a small card with the four suits on it. It looked worn around the edges and Sam guessed that it was a well used tool for playing cards with the man since he wouldn't speak to indicate what suit he was calling.
"Diamonds?" Dean said, pretending surprise. "Gettin' frisky, Wally. You know you get into trouble when you pick diamonds."
"What's with the cards?" Sam asked. He doubted Dean had played anything but poker since they were little kids. He couldn't help a grin. "Walter talk you into playing?"
"We're gettin' along pretty well." Dean glanced up, a wry twist to his lips. "Wally and I are about the same age. They can put us together in the old folk's home."
Sam felt his heart stutter painfully, but he fought not to let it show. Dean had always been his older brother, but now...
Sam watched as Dean set another card down, pleased with himself. "Let's change it to spades. Cause, Wally, my man, I'm thinking you don't have any." Walter's only reaction was to start drawing cards, his expression still vacant.
Two old soldiers. The difference between the two players couldn't have been more startling. Dean was smiling, laughing, interacting. He'd spent forty years being physically and mentally torn to shreds. How long had Walter been in the enemy's hands? Months? A couple of years even? And he'd come home to his loving family an unrecognizable mess.
If anyone had a right to be a head case it was Dean. He had a right to want to hide and never go out in the world again, never face the things that had hurt him. For that matter, he could have come back like the ghost. He could have been violent, lashing out at anyone he perceived as a threat whether it was justified or not.
Dean had come back... Dean. It had taken weeks and a nudge from Uriel before Sam realized something was really off.
Weak. He'd called Dean weak. Sam could still see him in the diner, fresh out of hell, facing down the demon. Sam had nearly had a heart attack when Dean slapped her. They'd had no useful weapons, nothing but Dean staring down one of the things that had been killing him over and over for forty years, daring it to try something.
If only Sam could convince Dean to work with him. If only he could convince him that Ruby was helping them, that Sam's powers were a gift to a hunter. Sam could get rid of demons other hunters couldn't and wouldn't go near. Yes, Yellow Eyes had given him the powers, but that didn't mean they couldn't be a useful tool. Why not use every weapon at their disposal? Because there was no way they could go up against Lilith without some sort of advantage. She might not be able to kill Sam, but Dean would be dead meat. Again. And Sam would never allow that to happen again. He had to be ready to go after Lilith before she came after them. This time Sam would be the one to save his brother, no matter the cost.
"Sam, either stop staring and pull up a chair, or go shower. You're giving Wally the creeps," Dean said, not bothering to look up.
Sam just nodded and headed for the stairs. He couldn't sit down. Sam wasn't sure he and Dean were playing the same game anymore.
Dean watched Sam's retreating form and sat back, letting out a slow breath. He threw his cards down. "You win, Wally. Good game." Without even pausing, Walter scooped up the cards and began shuffling before dealing himself a game of solitaire.
Dean ran a hand over his face, lingering over the stubble on his chin. He probably should've shaved, but he just hadn't had the energy. He hadn't slept. He couldn't in this house. As soon as Sam had breakfast, they were out of here. If they only got a couple of hours away before he had to shell out for a motel and crash, that was fine by him.
He'd managed to go back into the dining room when Mrs. Stockton had asked for his help cleaning up the mess. It had taken a few seconds of telling himself to suck it up and one horrible second of remembering Sam saying, "You're too weak," before he'd pushed himself forward. There hadn't even been a twinge of any leftovers from the ghost. It was a good thing, too. Dean wasn't sure he could handle another rerun. The things that they'd done to him... The things he'd done...
But of all the things he'd done, the worst thing was letting it happen again. The question. Why hadn't he just let Sam die? How many times had he asked himself that? Sure, he'd literally been in hell, but the knowledge that he'd asked it… It was a betrayal of himself just as much as anything else he'd done.
Dean felt a prickling sensation race down his spine and his eyes snapped open, already knowing who he was going to see. Castiel was standing a few feet from the table, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat, as if he had every right to be in the house.
"Hey, Cas. I was wondering when you'd turn up. You come to play cards or are you more the board game type?" When the angel simply stared at him, Dean cocked his head to one side. "Let me guess. Little of both. Cribbage?"
Dean almost laughed. Castiel sounded a lot like Sam when he was trying to get Dean to be serious. Of course, Sam wouldn't smite him for blasphemy. "Just drop by for a visit or did you need something?"
"You did well here," the angel said.
"Yeah. Sam nearly lost an eye, I nearly wet myself. Good times."
"You were uniquely qualified to assist the Stocktons," Castiel replied.
"The world is going to hell in a hand basket and your Boss is worried about the Stockton's dining room?" Dean asked.
"An angel wrestled with the Devil over Moses' bones," Castiel said professorially.
"Uhh... Good to know," Dean said. "So... you care about the poor guy's remains. Good for you. But pretty sure that guy wasn't Moses material. And I am no angel."
Castiel didn't even blink. "I am well aware."
"So the Big Guy took time out of His busy schedule to worry about some dishes?"
Castiel sighed. "Just because there are larger concerns, it does not mean He ignores other matters."
"Oh, yeah," Dean said snidely. "Big help. There a reason Wally's still sitting here a vegetable? Pretty sure that would help the Stocktons, too."
"Evil men hurt this man. That cannot be changed. Humans have free will and they use it to hurt each other. Actions have consequences."
"He could change it if He wanted to." Dean cringed inwardly at how petulant he sounded.
The aura of power surrounding the angel became stifling and Dean involuntarily pressed farther back in his chair. "He could force every living thing on the planet to bow to His will." The moment passed and once again, Castiel looked like a tax accountant with a penchant for too much hair product. "But that is not what He wants. The Father wants only those who choose to follow Him. Would you feel the same about your brother if he did what you want because he had to? Because you could force him to?"
As appealing as the idea was, especially after their fight the night before, Dean knew Sam wouldn't be Sam if he didn't have the option to tell Dean to take a hike.
Dean cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Why are we here then? A POW in the living room, a POW in the dining room. Why fix one and not the other?"
Castiel's lips twitched very slightly. "Who said you were here for the Stocktons?"
"You said I was 'uniquely qualified to assist them'," Dean parroted.
"Yes. You were."
"This was for me?" Dean asked, appalled. He got to his feet and began pacing back and forth. "What's He tryin' to do? Give me a heart attack? Or a full frigging breakdown?"
"Actions have consequences, Dean."
"You wanna translate?" Dean frowned. "I don't speak Cryptic."
Castiel remained unmoving, his eyes not even bothering to track him as Dean paced. "You remember what you did in hell?"
"Kinda permanently burned into my brain," Dean snapped. "Didn't really appreciate last night's replay either."
"Are you sorry for what you did?"
Dean stopped and faced the angel, furious that he was even being asked. "Yes," he said through clenched teeth.
Castiel cocked his head to the side, his brow furrowed. "Have you asked for forgiveness?"
"Have you asked for forgiveness?"
Dean's heart was banging in his chest again, but he didn't have the ghost this time to blame for his impending panic attack. "What for? It won't change what I did."
"No, it won't," Castiel said, his tone implying Dean was being purposely dense.
"Then what's the point?" Dean demanded angrily. "I know what I did. I don't deserve forgiveness for something like that."
"No one deserves forgiveness. That's why you have to ask for it. That's why it has to be given. That," Castiel's gaze shifted to look Dean straight in the eye, "is why we are grateful that He is merciful to those who seek forgiveness."
Dean clenched his jaw shut tightly to keep from saying anything stupid. He couldn't forgive himself. Why should anyone else do it? Even if he hadn't deserved hell before he went, and that was a big freakin' if, the things he'd done there ensured that he'd been sent to the right place. He hadn't deserved to be pulled out of hell and he didn't deserve any kind of pardon.
"Do you know anything about the apostle Paul, Dean?"
Dean dug his fingers into his exhausted, gritty eyes. He wanted away from this house and these people and he wanted to shut his brain off for a while. "Cas, really not in the mood for a bible correspondence course."
"Before his conversion, he was a wealthy young man, very well educated, from a highly placed family, and devout. Before he became a Christian, do you know what he did?"
"I bet you're gonna tell me," Dean said tiredly.
"He killed Christians, Dean. He arranged for entire households to die. He thought they were heretics and had every last one of them that he could put to death. He went so far as to get permission to go to other cities and find more God-fearing people to be executed."
Dean grimaced. "Nice guy."
"Misguided. A good man. Devout. But terribly misguided until he was shown a better way."
"There a point to this?" Dean demanded. "Cause I wasn't good or misguided."
"The point is that Paul was forgiven for what he did. He was forgiven for murdering good people."
Dean couldn't seem to get his jaw unclenched. "And?"
"And despite being forgiven, he never forgot what he had done. He called himself the chief of sinners. It was a terrible burden, but it could not be changed. Actions have consequences."
"He could not forget, or change what had happened, but he was forgiven. It was a great consolation to him and made him all the more determined to do the Lord's will. A man loves much who is forgiven much."
"I'm already working for your Boss, Cas. You don't have to talk me into it," Dean growled. "Not big on the demons-taking-over thing."
"You worry about your brother's soul." Castiel regarded him solemnly. "The Father worries about all souls. Even yours, Dean."
"So I get sent here to learn the value of forgiveness."
Castiel raised an eyebrow and if Dean didn't know better he'd say the angel was amused. "You were also able to help the Stocktons and see to the bones of the young man."
Dean rolled his eyes. "The Big Guy likes to multitask, huh?"
Castiel didn't bother to respond. "Think about what I've said, Dean. When you're ready to talk to Him, He will listen."
Dean turned toward the doorway, not even bothering to acknowledge it as Castiel disappeared. "Sam, this is getting really old. Will you get in here!"
Sam came in, again, looking sheepish. Dean knew he'd stopped as soon as he'd heard Castiel's voice. Sam was sneaky for a guy the size of a barn, but the boards squeaked at the bottom of the stairs.
"Dude, you've gone from lurking to skulking."
"I wasn't skulking."
Dean just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you were eavesdropping."
Sam grinned. "Ok, yeah. Maybe."
"You know you don't have to do that," Dean said seriously. "I tell you everything he says." That wiped the grin off of Sam's face, and Dean was sorry. Sort of. He was just tired of Sam sneaking around. He hated having to feel like he had to watch Sam, of all people. "So how much did you hear? Need to know where to start."
Sam swallowed, pulling himself together. "Heard it all."
"Great." Dean could feel the tips of his ears turning red, but he couldn't do anything about it. He'd think about it all... later. A lot later. He needed to get out of here. "So... go take your shower already. I'm gonna eat your waffle if you take too long."
"You know, Dean..." Sam shifted nervously on his feet and cleared his throat. "What I... After the..."
Dean frowned. He wasn't sure he could handle anymore well-meaning heart-to-heart time. Not even with Sam. "What?"
"What he said..." Sam cleared his throat again. "About what you did..."
Dean held his hands out to stop him, the hair on the back of his neck standing up. "Whoa. I don't wanna do this, man. What happens in the pit, stays in the pit."
"You did not just compare hell to Vegas," Sam said in disbelief.
"Sin City. Think it works just fine."
Sam sighed and took a step closer, then a step back. "You know I don't hold it against you, right? What you did there?"
Dean clamped his mouth shut. He nodded stiffly. That was the best he could manage.
"After the siren... what I said..."
"I don't think that." Sam ran a hand over his face in frustration. "I mean... I do, but..." He stopped and shook his head. Finally, he dropped his shoulders and just looked Dean straight in the face. "Dean, we're at war," he said quietly. "A war that's going to be almost impossible to win. I'm not gonna tell you to just get over it. I know that's asking too much. But we've both got to have our heads in the game. Not stuck in the past on things that can't be changed. I need you here with me. Now."
"I'm here," Dean said through teeth clenched so tightly they creaked.
Sam nodded. "I know. I know. But just... if what Castiel said will help... Just... If you won't talk to me, then..."
"Got it. You want me focused."
Sam smiled just barely. It was lopsided but it was there. "I want you to have some kind of peace, Dean... So you can help me kick some ass."
Dean felt an answering smile on his own lips, the tension in his shoulders easing. "You do know how to cheer a guy up. Me and the ass-kicking, we're old friends. Might even get myself some new boots for the occasion."
Sam laughed lightly. "Good idea."
"Go shower," Dean ordered. "Waffles are waiting."
Sam wrinkled his nose. "Do you... Would you mind if we just ducked out of here?" he asked. "I'll be glad to see this place in the rear-view mirror." He bit his lip. "We could drive for a couple of hours and then crash somewhere."
"Music to my ears," Dean replied, not bothering to hide his relief. Sam nodded and headed up the stairs to get their things.
Awkward. Things between them were just so awkward and it was killing Dean. But they were trying. They were both exhausted from trying and Dean would keep trying to his very last breath.
He sat back down in the chair across from Walter. Sam said he wanted Dean's head in the game. Problem was, Dean wasn't sure he and Sam were playing the same game anymore.
And there you have it. The boys are in for a rough ride ahead as we all know. We can only hope for something better on the other side. Until then... Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it.