Title: The Bough Breaks
Summary:E/O Challenge: This job is getting old, and Sam's had enough of his father's obsession, his family getting hurt, living in dump after dump and moving from town to town. Mirrordance takes on "worn" on the long, tired road that ultimately led to Stanford.
Thanks to all who read, reviewed and favorited Seasons; it hadn't been my most popular fic on this site, to say the least, haha, so I am especially thankful to all who supported the effort. Here's another one from me, with best wishes to Platinumroselady. I hope this gives her some cheer, and without further ado, my take on "Worn:"
The Bough Breaks
"He gets to play Rambo and--"
"Shut up, Sammy," Dean said without heat, as he dug up the grave. The rain softened the soil into miserable but at least manageable mud, and he just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, "Dad's playing decoy to keep that damn thing occupied while we dig, all right? This is the easy part."
"--and the two of us are stuck doing the dirty work."
"Anyone told you you're really snipey when you're sick?" Dean sighed, looking up at his younger brother, who was standing a couple feet above him, shotgun on one hand to play Dean's back-up and umbrella precariously held in the other to play sick little brother dragged out in the whipping rain for a hunt.
"Oi," Dean snapped at him, "Keep that over your head, brat. Put that thing down and I'll shoot you, I swear."
Sam rolled back his eyes and sniffed, but nevertheless adjusted his grip. "The damn rain can't touch me, Dean. You weather-proofed me."
Dean smiled a little, resuming with the work. He'd rather Sam was not there at all, but the ghost was a bad mother and their father had put his foot down. And so he made a mall pit-stop and purchased his younger brother a new hoodie, jacket, and slicker for the hunt; the good ones a guy invested in and kept for a long time, the kind that won't get worn out for awhile. He capped the shopping trip off with an impulse buy: an umbrella of all things, which he realized was the one protective thing that they did not have in the trunk of the Impala.
The last of his money went to the damn thing, and he reflected that he couldn't remember the last thing they owned anything that hadn't been previously owned by anyone else, and that if Sam would be in a better mood (as opposed to sullen teenager-y) more often if he had new clothes, new shoes, a few dollars to bring a cute classmate out to a date once in awhile. He dug the grave quietly, until his eye was level with Sam's worn, muddied shoes.
He needs a new pair of those monsters too.
Sam, living with the curse all little brothers had to live with, had started with just getting Dean's hand-me-downs. Which were for a fact - depressingly - hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs. Dean was almost relieved the kid hit a ridiculous growth spurt and grew taller and larger than Dean, such that even their frugal father had to agree that he needed clothes of his own.
"These are really pretty, Dean, thanks," his brother murmured from above his head, sounding a little bit listless, "New stuff."
Dean dug faster and harder, instead of wasting breath on a reply. He had to get Sam out of there. The remains burned minutes later, and he discreetly clasped his hand around his brother's elbow, steering him away from the fire.
"Let's get you back to bed Sammy."
2: On Your Sleeve
Sam was the first to say it, and therefore the first of them to lie – You walk out that door, don't you ever come back.
The injury had been bad. Dean ended up unconscious on the floor, blood seeping from a massive gash on his head.
"Ohgodohgodohgodohgod..." Sam said under his breath, as his brother's body jerked beneath his hold. He tore off his shirt, the sleeves getting stuck on his long arms as he trembled in panic. He set himself free, and pressed the cloth against his brother's wound. He watched Dean's legs stiffen, then tremble and shake violently as his body arched from the ground and seized.
There was no way John Winchester's motel room patch-ups could ever fix anything like this. And there was no way Sam would allow his older brother to be moved from there save by a professional. John Winchester's eyes were clouded – unbearable worry and also that inalienable fear of the law. He wanted to bring Dean in himself.
They argued for a second before Sam decided to drop the bomb: "Goddamnit, dad. Look at him, for crying out loud. He dies here, like this, and you'll have mom to answer to."
His father looked stricken, "You have no right to say that."
But he said nothing else as Sam called 911.
The doctors said that the likelihood that Dean would ever be the same again was poor. Sam found the phrasing ironic because days later, Dean would wake up calling for his brother, not remembering anything of how he got there. Sam patiently explained the situation and mistakenly thought that things were finally getting better. Except... Dean would wake up every morning after asking the exact same thing in the exact same way. For weeks.
Sam was... frayed to the core. Sharp focus had turned to weary, worn corners. Every damn morning, saying the same damn things. He blamed their lifestyle and so consequently he blamed their father, at the start. But then weeks of that and he couldn't even bring himself to be angry about the situation anymore because it was too tiring. It was like harsh wind and sand grinding down stone over centuries in the same, plain and tired, over-bright desert scene. It was a far more dangerous frame of mind, he reflected, this numbness. Anger had a fighting chance against despair. It was how his father survived their mother's murder, after all. But lately he was just... tired.
"Things aren't going to change with Dean for awhile," his father muttered, and Sam reflected that the old man didn't even have the grace to pretend he was ashamed about leaving, "And this thing is killing kids--"
No more arguments, Sam had decided. "We need you here," he said, plainly, without fire, "Dean needs us. If you're gonna go..."
"I have to go..."
"You never have to do anything," Sam said, "We need you here, dad. And I'm telling you, right now: if you go out that door, don't you even think about coming back."
He said it in the most plainly truthful way, matter-of-fact, like saying the sky was blue. John left nevertheless, saying, "You can't mean that. I'll be back in a couple of days."
Sam wept when he was left alone with Dean. He wept because he missed his brother. He wept because he needed his father. He wept because he hated this thankless life that they lived. He wept because if his dad left, he couldn't.
The acceptance letter from Stanford came a few hours before Dean got hurt. He hasn't broken the news to either his brother or his father, couldn't find the words to.
"Please get better," he begged of Dean, gripping his brother's forearm with one hand and clutching desperately at his sleeve with the other. He rested his head on Dean's shoulder, "Please, Dean. I need to know you're okay. I gotta leave. I'm dying, here. But I won't leave, not until you're okay."
Dean heard him – Dean almost always heard him – and blinked awake, turned his head toward Sam's. Dean didn't ask where he was, or what happened to bring him here.
"I got accepted to Stanford," Sam told him, warily, not sure what was going on with his brother, "But I won't go, not until you're better, okay? I won't go until you're better. I'll take care of you. Would you please remember this tomorrow?"
Dean nodded carefully, before going back to sleep.
Dean did as he promised, and Sam was unsurprised. Dean always did as he promised.
Their father returned days later, just as he promised, stunning Sam into letting him back in to their lives.
Sam left them weeks later, as he promised.
You walk out that door... his father had threatened.
But he did. Bang slung over shoulder, he left them. Dean's stricken look behind him, he left them. He left them. He left them because he was angry and determined. But he left them because it had to have been a lie...
Don't you ever come back?
It had to have been a lie.
Dean always did tell him he gets snipey when he's sick.
Older brother would say it with warm affection though, hazel eyes crinkling at the corners. Dean's usually evasive, useful hands – hands that shoot and kill and strangle beasts in the night – turn busily gentle. His miscellaneous pieces of jewelry would make these quiet, tinking noises as he tucked Sam in, pushed medicine and water on him, bought him warm clothes and offering them shyly, even as his big mouth made apologies for outdated styles or lack of money for anything better.
God, he missed his brother.
He stifled a cough.
Dean was the only person he could tolerate whenever he was ill, and likely, the only person who could tolerate him. When Sam was still hunting with his family, he centered his sickly, unproductive animosity on their dad. Now, though... he wanted to pin the guest speaker to the wall.
The man had taken over the lecture hall for his usual class, and was discussing interesting aspects of the cultural defense and religion in law, and how the courts dealt with damages and deaths caused by, say, exorcisms and refusal to seek or provide proper medical treatment. Along the course of the talk, his biases against the supernatural emerged in force.
He started bashing the efforts of a "so-called" scientific laboratory over in Boston that was investigating paranormal activity whose funding had just been completely cut, and similar institutions and even ghost hunters. He started ranting on the stupidity of human fascination for the supernatural.
The speaker was a bestselling writer and a professor from New York who made all his bread and butter on debunking the non-scientific. Sam was familiar with the type; standard, closed-minded intellectual douchebag. Granted, he was right about many things and could prove it. Regularly, Sam would have just let the fairly common narrow-mindedness just gloss past him. But the condescending, dismissive stance was ruffling Sam's feathers because he felt ill and consequently irritable. He felt defensive, felt that the man was dismissing the quiet hunters of the night who kept him and people like him alive and safe and blissfully ignorant.
He raised his hand.
"Yes?" Professor Sherwood called him.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to understand the supernatural," Sam said, "Didn't all science begin with questions about unexplainable things?"
"A fair assessment," Sherwood conceded, "But the preoccupation is unhealthy, the process of discovery is not systematic, reliable or open to tests of validity, the entire industry is open to abuse, the injection of faith and bias is prejudicial to the outcome--"
"If anything scientific is free from all that," Sam said with a ridiculing scoff that he could not, for the very life of him, stop, "Then nothing is scientific."
The douchebag was not above ridiculing of his own, "Did I offend a believer?"
Oh ghosts are real, Sam thought darkly, And so are a few other nightmare things I'm summoning to your bedroom tonight, you asshole...
"Are you poisoning the well?" Sam countered, "Believer or not, if my points are fair, then they deserve your response. Faith, love, belief... what's wrong with that? Science cannot be divorced from anything human. It's a human construct, a human exercise... or are you proposing transcending humanity to... whatever is out there? A higher discipline? A self-existing frame of mind that doesn't need us to exist? Doesn't that sound like a lot of faith too?"
Sherwood narrowed his eyes in appreciative amusement, smiled a little, even. Liked the challenge, admired the initiative, "Maybe we can agree that the search is fair, and the method is lacking."
Sam shrugged, still annoyed. The class ended soon after, and people began walking out of the room or lingering, introducing themselves to the guest. He stayed slumped in his seat, trying to find strength and inclination to get up.
He sighed in frustration and just pushed himself to his feet.
The sudden change tilted his world. He pressed a hand to his head. The lights burned brightly, dancing before his eyes, mixing with spots of inky black. Everything turned sharp, and then suddenly he was looking at people's shoes. Life was kind of weary, tired and fading, gradually turning into black.
" " "
"'Every ghost story begins with a love story, and usually more than one. Once they are untangled, you will always find eternal love, unbearable loss, and unconquerable fear.'"
Disembodied voice floated his way. It was familiar and warm, making the inky blackness of unconsciousness less like encompassing cold, and more like the sensation of being warm and safe under a blanket.
"'Everyone we love dies and disappears,'" the voice went on, ""'Something more substantial than a memory must survive of all that love.'"
An irreverent snort, followed by an even more irreverent, "Blahblahblah, 'It's unthinkable that the dead are truly and completely gone.'"
Dean? Sam wondered, even as he was aware enough that he knew it was impossible.
"'And if the dead are not completely gone, we, as every generation that came before, are compelled to look for whatever remains. What is death but the end of all we love? Ghosts are what survive of love. Real or unreal, they are a testament to love, and the hope that no matter what, love lasts.'"
Sam never had a problem wishing and fighting for the impossible.
"Dean?" he called out.
"I knew all that chick stuff would make you come around."
He opened his eyes, first saw a cup of water, attached to jeweled hands, attached to a wrist, attached to a worn green-gray sleeve stretched across an arm and so on, culminating in his brother's grinning face.
Sam took a sip of the proffered water, buying himself time before asking, "What happened?"
"You were really sick and just wore yourself out," Dean said, putting the cup down on the table by Sam's bed, and sitting down on the bed by Sam's arm, "Ever heard of a sick day, overachiever?"
Sam rubbed his face wearily; he still felt achy, but much better. "I used to go hunting sick."
"Yeah well you also used to have me around looking after your hide," Dean pointed out.
"How did you--" Sam stammered, "I mean, why are you--"
"I'm your emergency contact, doofus," Dean said, eyes clouding, "You gotta take care of yourself better, Sammy. Getting that phone call... almost gave me a heart attack."
"Pulled you out from a job?"
"Left dad to it," Dean said with a shrug, "He uh... he's worried about you too, you know. Just... never knows what to do about it, I guess." He glossed over the topic by raising up the book he was reading. It was entitled 'Unbelievable' by an author named Stacy Horn, "Hey, who you been screwing?"
"'For the believer on a search,'" Dean read the dedication, "'I saw this in a bookstore and thought these are sentiments you might share. Get well at the soonest possible time, Samuel, and we can talk about your future. Sherwood.'"
Sam groaned, "Ugh. I was giving this professor a hard time. Now I feel like an ass."
"Impressed him though, I guess."
"So..." Sam said, "You ah... you staying awhile?"
"I won't leave," Dean said with a shrug, "Not until you're okay. I won't go until you're better. I'll take care of you."
Sam frowned. The words sounded familiar.
Would you please remember this tomorrow...?
"Thanks," Sam said, smiling.
June 7, 2009
The uniting theme of this bunch of (un)drabbles is of course, things that are worn: clothing and jewelry, which is a play on the theme of "worn," a form of "wear," and then using its varying definitions:
1: Ready to Wear is a reference to clothes shopping, which is the theme of the (un)drabble;
2: On Your Sleeve is of course, referencing the phrase 'heart on your sleeve,' keeping the clothing theme going and the theme of the (un)drabble as feelings that are brought out there instead of kept inside; and
3: Attachments is just about jewelry and also figurative attachments: the ghost-book quoted, and attachments to family. The book, by the way, is mind-blowing. I have used the work of this author before for research in an earlier Supernatural fic, Underworld. She is absolutely awesome, so if you have a chance, grab her book! One flaw of my fic that I decided to gloss over, haha, is that the book wasn't published yet in 2003. But the words were so beautiful I just could not help but want to share it here.
"The Bough Breaks" is also a reference to 'when the bough breaks,' symbolizing some sort of end to childhood. 1:RTW is just Sam being annoyed at their lifestyle; 2:OYS escalates this and gives him his way out and standing up to his father; and 3:Attachments is just a kind of a glimpse of his life away from his family and how he still at times goes back to them.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope it went over all right. I tried my best and this was really fun and new to me :)
C&C's welcome as always and 'til the next post!