Love Demons College Baby
Sam couldn't remember actually being terrified on a hunt. When he was a child, and was allowed to tag along on stakeouts and bone burnings, he felt nothing but the unadulterated joy that children felt when they were being included in something special and cool that broke all of the rules. So he forced himself to be brave like Dean and his dad, and he was wasn't scared because they never were. When he was a teenager, growing like a weed and aware of how normal families looked and behaved, he was more interested in studying and escaping than weapons training and credit card scamming. So when his drill sergeant father forced him to go hunting, he felt nothing but anger and teeth-gritting frustration, molten and deep beneath the surface that teenagers felt when they realized how unfair life was.
But right now, as they tried to put down the ghost of Abby Monroe, who was far more powerful than any vengeful spirit they'd faced, he felt the unfamiliar lilt of fear licking up his back as they dug the grave. It was too quiet, too dark, too still. Her husband murdered Abby seventeen years ago, and now she was back, frying bad husbands throughout a Detroit suburb where she once lived. She took her husband first, searing him like a flank steak in his recliner during a blackout. After a bit of investigating and a ton of subterfuge, they located her grave and prepared to salt and burn her bones. Most burnings were easy grunt work with John timing the boys to dig the six feet to the coffin, pushing them to do it in less than an hour, and Dean grumbling the entire time. Forty-seven minutes later, they hit the warped and rotting mahogany lid of the coffin. That's when the ghost of Abby Monroe got mad. Spirits, like all creatures alive and undead, had the base instinct to survive above everything else. She marched up the rounded hill of the green siphoning out all of the moonlight from the sky, gathering it into her hands. She was corporeal with a grisly burned face and singed, stringy hair. The air around them crackled, supernaturally hot and charged. Inside the grave, Sam felt goosebumps puckering over his skin, hair standing erect and snapping with static. Sam watched at his father shoot at Abby with the sawed-off shot gun filled with rock salt, and she vanished in a tangle of sparks and thunder. Gale winds swirled above their heads, despite the cloudless sky, and blew a curtain of dirt ontop of Abby's coffin.
"She's trying to re-bury her coffin?!" Sam wowed, inhaling a lungful of dirt. No ghost had ever done that before.
"Ya think?" Dean snapped as dirt cascaded directly on his head. "That Abby chick, what a bitch!" He growled, staking his shovel into the ground to wipe his eyes.
John peered into the grave. "Try to burn the bones!" he ordered before disappearing.
Obediently, the boys fell in line. The earth around them trembled and screamed, and the only thing louder was the pop of gunshots and the crash of Abby Monroe's lightning. They dug as fast as they could, until their muscles burned and shook, but the closer they got to the coffin, the faster the dirt plummeted down and the walls of the grave fell away. They were suffocating in the grave with dirt coating their eyes and throats. Sam called for Dean, unable to see or breathe in the midst of a dry drowning. The dirt was up to his knees now and digging was pointless. Dean snatched him, pushing him towards the shallow end of the grave. "Go, go, go!" He ordered.
And Sam climbed, so disoriented, he could barely tell if he was going up. He scaled the unstable wall with the uncanny speed and strength that came from adrenaline and was relieved to feel Dean boasting him up with his own heightened strength. It was fight or flight, and the Winchesters always fought.
Coughing the grime out of his lungs, Sam plunged his hands into the dirty darkness of the grave, groping for Dean. His fingers brushed over Dean's grit-covered collar of his shirt, grabbed and heaved him up. They both wheezed and coughed. Blinking dirt out of their eyes, the two brothers beheld a sight neither of them would ever forget: Abby Monroe and the flashing shadows of a dozen other spirits advanced on John Winchester, but he fought them off with two shotguns. He'd shoot with one gun, pumped it single-handedly while shooting with another, rocking backwards from the powerful reports. The sky behind him strobed as Abby's anger became kinetic energy, blue fire and a shrieking wail. He looked like a hero, a larger-than-life, primally cool action star.
"Of all the unholy…" Dean gasped, taking it in. He had the same wild glint in his eyes that John did whenever they were on a hunt, and he even laughed before he dove into the duffle bag. He tossed Sam a gun and a pack of salt rounds, and they shot their way through the ghosts Abby had summoned.
It was actually fun, cathartic for Sam who was irate more than he wasn't, because he didn't have a mother, and because of that he didn't have a future. So he shot and reloaded and relished in the destruction, the noise, the strange comfort of his favorite shotgun in his hands. "Hold them off; I'll be right back." John yelled. He turned to see him tearing through the rows of headstones towards the Impala.
The ghosts mounted and swelled, an army of vengeful spirits with shadowed faces and garroted necks, mangled limbs and bullet-riddled chests. Sam and Dean sprayed rock salt in a circle until they were back-to-back, guns empty and out of shells.
Sam was flying, hurtling through the air after being catapulted by an invisible force. Sam felt the wind rushing into his eyes, like he was underwater, before he heard the sickening crack of his face thwacking against a headstone. His vision streaked with comets of blinding white, and then a stupefying static buzzed in his mind as he lay there, unmoving. As he knew, his mind caught up with his body, and his cheek bloomed with a throbbing pain down to the jaw. He forced himself up, like he'd been trained, moving through it. And when he looked up, stars still popping in front of his eyes, he was finally assaulted by complete and utter terror. Dean, with blood dripping into his eyes, was writhing on the ground, recovering from his own crash-landing, and Abby stuttered across the graveyard, advancing feet at a time in seconds…and she was mere inches away from Dean, a maniacal mischief twisted her decaying features. Sam bolted across the grass, hurdling headstones, moving faster than he'd ever had in his life, fueled by desperation and chilling fear. But he was trapped on a mortal plane, and Abby wasn't, Sam knew he would never be able to move fast enough, and his empty gun was useless.
To Sam, love wasn't a warm, feathery feeling that conjured up epic ballads and sappy poetry, it was a malignant tether to the person who kept you sane and calm; who cracked jokes at the worst of times to lighten the suffocating tragedy and grief they faced; who sparred with you, taking punches, just so you could vent your anger and breathe again; who was there even before you could remember; it was the thing that made you obey your father and live a rudderless life you hated when all you wanted to do was run.
It was the thing drove the instinct to risk your life just so they wouldn't have to.
Abby lifted her flashing hands to caress Dean's cheek, and Sam stopped. Panicked, he began hollering. "Get over here, you worthless bitch!" He sneered evilly, praying he evoked the evil of Abby's husband. He'd read the statements from neighbors, and remembered of the nasty way they'd overheard him speaking to her. "You come when I fucking call you, any good dog obey!"
From nearly twenty feet away, Abby's dead eyes slowly rolled in his direction and her lips, peeled away and rotting on one side of her face, curled into a devilish smile. Suddenly, Sam was staring into those evil eyes, level with this own. She moved wickedly fast, plunging her hands made of lightning into his chest. Sam jolted and jerked, cooking from the inside out. She was gripping his heart, changing his rhythms, and killing him the way her husband killed her. He tried to scream, but couldn't. Pure electricity tornadoed through his body. She tapped into his soul by unsheathing nerves, hardwiring herself to him. They were fused in a parasitic link, and Sam slammed into Abby Monroe's final memories. She was a vivacious redhead, beautiful and funny, but married to a monster of man who found the taser she'd bought to protect herself from him. And through Abby's eyes, he lived it as he raped her, then sadistically zapped her in sensitive places on her body to cause the most pain—her tongue, her fingertips, her nipples. He experienced the visceral despair and her ridiculously clear-headed realization that her husband was going to kill her when he dropped her onto the garage floor lined with tarp, doused her with water, clamped jumper cables to the her big toes, and pumped her with so much electricity that her body bent into a horseshoe, strained and taunt like a guitar string, and her organs shriveled and burned, branded by his hatred. He lived it all in the span of a second, shrouded a storm of lightning. And he was so dreadfully remorseful for hellish life that his heart broke for her and he cried for her. Abby pulled back, breaking the circuit, severing the bond.
"Sam, DROP!" Dean hollered.
Sam could see Dean powering through Abby's flickering form, gun aimed directly at him, and he screamed at him to shoot. Sam heard the report of the Dean's shotgun, and he was was slammed onto his back, falling into the starless sky.
Dean would never forget the last time he was scared: it was sixteen years ago, and their house had caught on fire. He was scared of the heat and the orange flames spidering across the walls and ceiling. He was scared of dropping baby Sam as he unsteadily wobbled down the stairs. He was so petrified when the house exploded, deafeningly loud, that he wet himself. But his father scooped him up in those big arms, and became his hero all over again. And he was earth-shatteringly frightened when the house burned to the ground with his mother inside. His father taught him to overcome fear, and protect himself and others. They trained to hunt down and kill the deadliest of evils, the root of people's fear, so they would never have to be afraid again. Now, as he dropped to his knees beside his fucking stupid little brother who'd offered up himself to save him, he was in the throes of complete terror. "Sammy?"
His seventeen-year-old brother lay prone on the ground, a heap of gangly limbs that trembled and shook, arms rocked at this sides, heels of his feet divoting the grass. It was like he was having a seizure, but Dean could tell Sam was aware. His teeth chattered and tears streamed down his face. His mouth opened and he exhaled sharp strangled breaths. He was trying to speak, but couldn't. Blood and saliva dribbled out of his mouth from Sam biting his tongue. Dean honestly didn't know what to do. He wiped Sam's mouth, and tried to calm him down. "Shh, Sam. Just hang on, kid. Hang on." Sam's skin was blisteringly hot as were the buttons on his jacket and the barrel of Sam's favorite shotgun. Dean cursed, checking around him to make sure Abby wasn't approaching. She'd vanished. The air was still besides the crackle of fire clinging to scrubs and bushes. Nothing about this hunt made any damn sense.
In that second, Sam stopped. He stopped those uneven hitching breaths, stopped quivering, and fell bonelessly limp. Dean turned back and pressed his fingers to the base of Sam's throat, checking his pulse. "Nonononononono! You do NOT do this!" Dean lowered his head to Sam's chest, right over his heart and instead of hearing the steady trip-hop of his little brother's heart beat, there was nothing but a fatal silence. "Motherfucker!"
To Dean, love wasn't a happy, soft feeling that inspired "you had me at hellos" or long walks on the beach at sunset, it was a sickness, a collective delusion that made people pathetic and stupid and illogical; that made people dance off curbs without seeing the bus bearing down; or dedicate their life trying to avenge the murder of their dead wife, even if that meant dragging your sons along with them to get charred by ghosts; it was the thing that made Dean violently angry when the one person who made your life make sense was on the brink of death and opened you up to the one thing you swore you were done with sixteen fucking years ago.
Dean balled his hand into a fist and viciously whacked Sam on the chest twice. He ignored his body shuttered from the force of the blow. He did it again, cursed at his fucking idiot of a brother. Dean dropped his head on Sam's chest again, and sighed when he heard his heart beating and felt him breathing. He went against everything he was taught and abandoned his guns, heaved Sam over his shoulder and literally ran towards the Impala. No man or vengeful spirit or any other evil son of a bitch was going to keep Dean from getting Sam to safety. He passed his father, averting his eyes and struggled to lay him out in the back seat as John barked angry questions, demanding answers. Guiltily, Dean climbed in the backseat, Sam's head in his lap, and said nothing.
Dean hated hospitals. He hated any enclosed space—the product of growing up in a boat of a car with big, big windows, he knew—but he hated hospitals the most. Death was everywhere, and that meant spirits there, too. His EMF meter tucked inside his coat was whirring and vibrating happily inside his coat pocket. An overzealous nurse corralled Dean, who was covered in his own blood, into another treatment room, and forced into a stupid c-collar. He tried to tell them that he needed to be with Sam, because it was his fault and that when Sam woke up, he was going to fight, but he was dizzy and sleepy and not nearly as strong as he was just an hour ago. The adrenaline was gone, and the exhaustion that followed got the better of him. Dean watched as a doctor sutured the jagged gash on his forehead, a dance of practiced movement—like loading a gun or threading a crossbow—and studied it. He could stitch himself up if he had to, but it always left an angry, puckered web of scar tissue. This was seamless and would definitely heal without a scar.
The doctor who treated Sam explained that Sam had to be sedated because of his "erratic vitals" and the stress it put on his body. He'd probed John with questions about how Sam had gotten caught in the freak electric storm, and Dean slipped away to sit by Sam's bedside even though the nurses told him it was going to be a long wait.
Dean didn't do the beside vigil like the men did in ridiculous soap operas playing on the hospitals television: tears in their eyes and stupid memories of happier times flashing through their heads. He did what real men did when things were on the brink of disaster, when your brother—who you were raised to protect with everything you had—almost dies, Dean drank. He drained his flask in the bathroom of the ER, hoping the vodka would burn out the image of Sam sprawled out on the ground, mouth parted, eyes open, heart stopped. He emptied it a second time in the ambulance bay after John assaulted him with accusations, and twisted the knife with a coldherted, "how could you let this happen, Dean?"
He'd taken it like a man, so when eighteen hours later, he was slumped over the edge of Sam's bed, head flagged between his shoulders, holding Sam's hand, and those fucking memories of tiny Sam playing soccer, a ten-year-old Sam wondering when he'd grow, Sam trying to smuggle a puppy into the Impala, Sam shooting his first gun, started blasting through his head more vivid than Technicolor, he blamed it on the alcohol. When he was weighted down by leaden guilt in his stomach that he couldn't leave Sam's side not to eat or shower or even stretch his legs, it was of course, because of the alcohol. When Sam did indeed wake up fighting, ripping out his IVs and clawing at the electrical leads on his chest, punching a nurse and screaming for his brother, Dean was there to calm him down, the silver of tears on his cheeks, Dean licked his lips, and laughed, "cheap ass booze, ya know?" to Sam's drowsy, but still incredulous face.
I'm never fucking hunting again.
It echoed in Sam's head—a mantra, a promise. He woke up in the hospital with his own words on his tongue.
The hospital room was painted in twilight. It made everything look a serene blue. Sam woke up, adrenaline still pumping through his system. He'd nearly broken the nose of a nurse, and then Dean was there, talking him down. He was sure his family had a hard time explaining his unnaturally quick reflexes and the bruises peppering his chest. Sam blinked up at the ceiling, listening to the monitors beep and wheeze and buzz. For the first time in his life, he seriously wondered if he could escape this life. He would go somewhere warm and sunny where it never snowed or rained, where even spirits could be happy.
"You should be sleeping." Dean said grittily in the same place he'd been for two days, slouched in the chair, flask in his hands.
"And you should…be rehab, boozey," Sam hissed. "I think…there's one on the…fifth floor." His chest was tight and breathing made him want to tear his hair out. He felt like he'd been cracked open and reassembled wrong. "What happened, Dean?" Sam asked for what had to be the fiftieth time that day. The last thing he remembered was trying to distract Abby to keep her from Dean.
Dean lifted his haunted green eyes to his brother. "I told you, Sammy, Abby came after you with her mojo, and I shot her in the back, but she's a spirit, so um, the rock salt went through her and hit you. That's why your chest looks like my noggin." He tapped his bandaged and bruised forehead. "We brought you to the hospital to get you checked out."
Dean was lying, protecting him like he always did. The sheer amount of monitors and contraptions flanking his bed and the damn IV in his neck told him it was a lot worse than anyone would ever tell him. His skin was tight and stung like he'd been sunburned and he felt old in a way he was too young to even imagine. Beneath that, he felt wrong, branded by evil, like a seed had been planted inside of him and he would grow into something nefarious and wrong. The memories he had of being beaten, mauled by monstrous hands, made no sense to him. There was also undo tension between John and Dean. Dean was more obedient than normal, and John wouldn't even look at Dean and snapped at him over his shoulder or with his back turned like he'd been shunned.
"You got something you want to share with the class, Sammy?"
I never want to do this again, Sam thought, and even opened his mouth to say it, but snapped it shut. "Nope."
"Liar." Dean sighed. "How are you feeling? "
"Like somebody shot me," Sam whimpered, smirking. He tugged at the oxygen tube out of his nose and shifted on the mattress, feeling restless and caged. He wanted to get out of the hospital. He wanted a hot shower and a homecooked meal. He wanted Dean to know that he was okay. "Dean, don't feel guilty about what happened. You did what you were supposed to do. I know Dad probably reamed your ass, but I'm not mad."
"Good to know, Sammy."
"For the hundredth thousandth…time, it's Sam!" He hissed, coughing.
Dean leaned forward, and swatted him on the shin. "Calm down or they'll never let you out of here. And put that thing back on."
When Sam refused, Dean stood up to lean over the bed and loop the oxygen back around his ears, adjusting it under his nose. His rare gentility told Sam just how worried he had been. It was radiating off of him in waves, louder than his exhaustion or frustration at being in such a small room. Sam pulled his brother into a one-armed hug, overwhelmingly grateful that he was alive. "I'll be fine in a few days," Sam promised him. "This isn't your fault."
Dean nodded, awkwardly positioned over the bed. He patted Sam's shoulder, humoring him. "I'm supposed to be in this bed, not you," he confessed.
"It's my turn," Sam smiled. "I thought you and Dad would throw me a parade. Injuries, cheating death, it's a Winchester Rite of Passage. Today, I am a man."
Dean sat on the bed. "Do me a favor?"
"Never again," Sam teased, sinking down into the bed. He knew Dean appreciated the levity, knew Dean torturing himself.
"Tell me whatever you're not saying. You know I'll find out sooner or later."
Sam scratched his matted hair and proved he was just as stubborn as Dean. "You first."
If it had been any other time in Sam's life, he would have been ecstatic. After, he left the hospital, John surprised him by checking them into the Sheraton by the airport. With its bedspreads smelling of Downy and décor that didn't involve disco balls or stuffed animal carcasses, it was the nicest place Sam had ever been besides slack-mouthed visits to friends' homes for study sessions or sleepovers. John announced that they were going to stay in Detroit until at least the summer, so Sam wouldn't have to recuperate on the road and could finish high school. John even talked about getting an apartment and a job. It was everything Sam had ever wanted and he couldn't wait to feel better, so he could enjoy his new, normal life. But he was too weak to do much besides watch daytime TV and sleep…and that's when the nightmares started. At first, they were ambiguous, formless memories of a man Sam had never met, screaming about things he never did or about Dean dying, killed by a spirit or a werewolf or a trigger-happy cop. But they became specific events not from his life, but Abby's. Abby made spaghetti for dinner, but the pasta was too soft for Michael, her husband, and he thought it would be a fitting punishment to make her eat it the entire pot and when Abby spent two days throwing up, it was Sam's reflection in the mirror and Sam who awoke stumbling to the bathroom. Abby spent too long getting the mail, towards the end of her life, and Michael beat her with the leg of a chair he'd broken as soon as she stepped in the door. She was pregnant at the time, and miscarried in the bathroom at a department store. But it was Sam who woke up with such an overwhelming sense of emptiness and loss that he didn't get out of bed for two days, told Dean he was just really tired.
He dreamed of Abby's death, felt every second of it as if he'd died. He knew that when you died, the pain gave way to light and colors that didn't exist on earth, and all of the things you cared about in life, your car, your job, your favorite sweater, don't mean anything. He knew that when you were murdered, those beautiful lights ebbed into black, inky darkness that stunk of revenge and cocooned your spirit, until you couldn't remember what you were before, only that you were a force forged of anger and lusted for revenge, snapping with electric rage. Sam knew that Abby never got to live the life she deserved, that she lost the child dreamed of having, and died alone, knowing that the world wouldn't miss her. He was heading down that same path, trapped in a life that would ultimately lead him to death or watching his brother and his father die, and that made him burn with rage, livid and unable to break free.
School was only Sam's only reprieve, but now, even that was tainted, because everyone was preparing for college. Sam already knew that he couldn't go.
Sam headed into the principal's office, head down, hands in his pockets and stood at the principal's desk. He was exhausted and irritable and wanted nothing more than a big fucking drink. "You called me in here?"
Ms. Piper grinned and rubbed Sam's back as he entered the room. "I sure did, Samuel, have a seat."
Ms. Piper was a sweet, forty-something woman with curly strawberry blonde hair and a face bespeckled with freckles. She was a little bizarre, but led with a loving touch that made Sam wonder what it was like to have a mother. She seemed to genuinely care for Sam, and even pushed him to his SATs two weeks after he'd arrived at the school for his senior year.
"I have to get home, so…"
"This will only take a minute, Samuel. I know you were in the hospital a few weeks ago, something about the freak electrical storm. How are you doing? You haven't been in to see me in while." She asked, moving around her desk to shut the door and pat the seat behind him.
Sam rolled his eyes and acquiesced, folding himself into the small chair. "I'm okay, playing catch up, ya know. Oh, and thanks for the cookies you sent to the hospital. My brother ate most of them, but that was really nice of you."
Ms. Piper smiled, and Sam felt himself doing the same. "I'm glad you both liked them. What happened?"
"Struck by lightning," Sam scoffed. "Believe it or not."
Ms. Piper clutched her heart. "I don't think I do, Samuel!"
Sam pushed him up sleeve, and showed her the shiny, reddish new skin forming on his forearm. "Point of exit." It was actually a burn from the his scalding shotgun, but close enough.
"Well…wow. That must mean you're good luck. Lightning strikes are quite rare. I hope you bought a lottery ticket."
Sam exploded into unchecked laughter. "My mother's dead and my dad's crazy, I'm incredibly lucky, yes." He deadpanned. "What is this about, ma'am? I really need to be going."
"Well, Mr. Sunshine, I came to tell you that you did amazingly well on your SATs. You scored within the top 99 percentile in the country, and the highest of any student in your class." When Sam didn't crack a smile or even flinch, Ms. Piper continued, "Sam, you scored a 1549. You can go to any school in the country with scores like those. With a scholarship."
Sam clenched his fists and heard Abby's screams echoing in his head. They were always there, but now she was shrieking and crying because Sam couldn't. "I really need to go." He said, and trying to flee.
Ms. Piper hopped up from her desk, pushed the door shut and blocked it with her body. Sam was genuinely surprised she could move that fast in heels. "This could be your way out, Sam."
"Out of what?"
"I've seen how many schools you've been too. It has to be an unstable life at best. I also know that you're a brilliant student, and that is a gift, Sam. It can take you anywhere," she explained with buzzing eyes.
Sam shook his head. "You don't understand, Ms. Piper, I can't leave him behind…"
"Kids leave the nest, Samuel, your father should understand, and if he doesn't then he's not doing his job. A lot of kids wouldn't have the strength to leave, Samuel, but I know you do. I know you want to."
He backed further into the room. His hands were shaking, and sweat dripped between his shoulder blades. His ragged breathing made his chest hurt. Ms. Piper knew as much as she could about Sam's life, and she counseled him regularly after he'd disarmed a knife-wielding student in sheer reflex. "I can deal with leaving my father. He'll rail at me and yell, but I can take it. I can't leave my brother. I just can't."
Sam literally had force his mouth shut, because he wanted to tell her about demons and Abby and his mother's death and how even though they killed ghosts, John and Dean were more haunted by their mother's ghost than anyone they'd ever saved. "He'll die. I've never been more sure of anything than I am this, and if he does and it's because I'm not there..."
"Your father isn't abusive, is he Sam?"
"Oh god, not at all. He's the opposite, actually. My whole life is about learning to survive anything."
Ms. Piper didn't seem to like his answer. "Because of your mother's death?"
"Her murder, yeah."
"And he's taught your brother the same things?"
"Yeah, and Dean's four years older than I am, I'll never be able to do the things he can. I gave up trying years ago."
"Sounds like your brother can handle himself, Samuel." They both stood side by side, leaning against her desk. It was deafening quiet until Ms. Piper took her glasses off and stepped in front of him. "Can I ask you something?" Sam nodded. "If you could do whatever you wanted right now, what would do?"
Sam closed his eyes, resigned. "I'd leave and go to college, somewhere in California, probably. It's the only state I've never been to."
"And you won't go because of your brother?"
"Yeah. He's not going to leave, even if he wanted to, he won't. And I can't blame him, because he remembers her, and I don't."
"I'm sorry, Samuel." Ms. Piper sighed, and Sam knew pity when he heard it. But she lifted his chin, grabbing his eyes with her own. "If your brother loves you as much as you love him, do you think your brother would want to keep you from a life that want so badly?"
Sam dropped his head, feeling simultaneously relieved and defeated. "No, he wouldn't."
If it had been any other time in Dean's life, he would have been furious about John's decision to stay in Detroit and take a break from hunting, but Sam's recovery easily trumped Dean's chronic restlessness. It was dreadfully hard watching Sam fight to regain his strength. A seventeen-year-old Sam should have been banging hot high school girls and stealing the Impala, but instead he was wheezing after only walking twenty feet and dreaming of unspeakable things that made him weep and whimper before waking up with someone else's screams burning up his throat. His younger brother had always been more sensitive than Dean and John. He absorbed all of the evil they'd encountered and often suffered sporadic nightmares because of it. But this was far worse. Dean was jolted awake to Sam's shrieks, and he'd turn to find Sam running to the bathroom or face pressed into his pillow, nearly hyperventilating. At the worst of it, Sam missed two days of school—the one thing he lived for—and stayed in bed, mute and disconnected, curled in the fetal position. He wouldn't eat. He wouldn't talk. He'd just shut out the world, a hollow shell. If Sam hadn't pinned Dean to the floor he tried to manhandle him into the shower, Dean would have taken him back to the hospital.
When Sam hurt, Dean ached. He always thought they were like polar ends of magnets, repelling at any given turn, but Dean was reminded of just how connected he was to his floppy-haired, emo freak of a brother as times like this when he'd rather saw his own arm off than to have to watch Sam struggle just to get dressed or get breathless and dizzy after climbing the stairs. So he steeped in rage, hiding it from Sam with a goofy smile and an obscene joke. When John returned from hunts and benders, Dean left to raise more than a little hell. Detroit was filled with plenty of abandoned forgotten factories where criminals lived and dished out their poison, and while humans weren't his normal bounty, they did just fine. Breaking arms and spitting heads was just as cathartic as burning bones and eviscerating joint snakes.
Dean wanted to throw a party when the nightmares seemed to stop, but Sam's demeanor shifted and darkened the way it did when he was immovably focused. He was snappish, belligerent, and rebelled against John every chance he got, sneaking out, backtalking—the very thing that got Dean's ass kicked a few years earlier. Dean normally wouldn't have cared if Sam snuck out to get nookie and party, but he often came home wreaking of weed and alcohol—which were all signs of a great party for anyone but Sammy—and more often than not, he was hurt. He'd tiptoe around the room, trying to hide sore ribs or busted fingers. Dean knew the kid better than he knew himself, and Sam was gameplanning and preparing. Sam hadn't been the same since that fucking hunt gone to hell, and he needed to know why. He snooped when Sam had snuck out of their tiny, rent-by-the-week apartment. He poked through Sam's beloved textbooks, his school bag, and under his bed. Wedged inside the boxspring, Dean found a manilla envelope. "Gotta find a better hiding place, Sammy. Have I taught you nothing?" Dean said gruffly as he tore into the envelope. Inside, there was a bundle of form letters rubberbanded to a stack of cash. Dean counted more than six thousand dollars.
He unfolded the first letter and read it, "Dear Samuel Winchester, we are thrilled to announce your acceptance to the Notre Dame University..." "Dear Samuel Winchester, we are delighted to offer your acceptance to Princeton University." "Dear Samuel Winchester, we are pleased to announce your acceptance to Stanford University…your stellar academics have earned you a full scholarship…"
There were at least ten letters from fancy, prestigious schools across the country, half of them offering Sam their fancy, overpriced educations for free. The letters told Dean that Sam dreamt of life he knew he couldn't have. The money told him that Sam intended to have it, no matter what. Dean was suddenly nauseous at the thought of his brother leaving, pursuing a life Dean wasn't built for and the one place Dean couldn't guide him. Dean was a hunter, he didn't know how to be anything else, and never imagined he could be, but Sam was built differently. He was as unabashedly stubborn as his father, but for everything that wasn't hunting. Dean dropped the letters on the floor and reached under his own bed for a bottle of whiskey. As the liquor cut a burning path to his belly, a bittersweet realization hit him harder than the alcohol: this was the best way to keep Sam safe, to keep him from ever being hurt again. College was a way out.
Dean was nearly drunk when Sam eased into the apartment, and Dean was proud at how he noiselessly ambled through the apartment, stepping over the squeaky floorboards and over Dean's duffle bag. Sam stopped when he saw Dean sitting on his bed in the room they shared, bottle of Jack balanced on his thigh, letters spread out on the mattress. "I guess congrats are in order, Sammy. But Notre Dame? I know you're a prude, but that's a bit much even for you."
Sam whisked off the hood of his sweatshirt. He had a welt on his cheekbone and a backpocket filled with cash. If Sam was scared about being caught, he didn't show it. After Abby, Dean assumed nothing scared him anymore.
"Stop going through my shit, Dean," was all he said before stepping into the bathroom.
"We have to talk, Sammy."
"I don't want to talk. I have work in three hours and I gotta sleep."
He peeled off his sweatshirt and Dean saw his jeans were splattered in blood and dirty at the knees. "That's right, gotta keep those grades up for Princeton, Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Brown, Duke, NYU, Marquette, Northwestern and Notre Dame. Which one is it?"
Sam turned on the water in the bathroom and scrubbed his hands and face. "Stanford. They have a great law program."
"So you're really going to give all this up for pep rallies and pop quizzes?"
Sam regarded his brother, nostrils flared. "You mean this wonderful apartment with a rotting floor, no AC and ants? You mean the subterfuge and grave digging? It'll be hard, but I think I'll manage."
"Damn, Sammy, when did you become such a prissy? I can't believe you were just going to leave and not tell me." Dean could, actually, but was outraged nonetheless.
"I was going to tell you." Sam wiped his hands on a towel slung over his shoulder. "I want you to come with me. I was just working on my sales-pitch."
"I can't, Sam, you know that. What am I going to do at Stanford? Clean it?"
"Palo Alto, California? Um, beach, sun, bikinis. There are a lot of people you could do."
"He's making jokes," Dean shook his head, incredulous. "I can't friggin' believe you're making jokes."
"Well you're sitting there acting like this is some easy decision for me, Dean. It's NOT!"
"Clearly it's not. With the nightmares and the drinking and the sneaking out and…the fighting," Dean said gesturing to Sam's bruised cheekbone. "You're going through something, man, and I just want to know what it is. What the fuck are you pulling?"
"I could ask you the same question. We've been in Detroit for almost a year, and you haven't complained ONCE. You work at as a bartender at a strip club for Christ's sakes, and you haven't cracked one lame joke about it nor brought a stripper home. There's a reason why you're being so obedient and you won't tell me. What the fuck are YOU pulling?"
Dean and Sam stared each other down, locked in ornery anger. Sam finally cracked, because Dean knew he hated keeping things from him. More than that, Sam needed to talk. He'd approached Dean several times, and tried to explain but he couldn't. Dean knew he wasn't ready and that he couldn't find the words, and he'd waited until he did.
"Look, Dean, Abby did something to me. Something I don't even understand, and it's changed everything. I've always thought about leaving and living my own life, but I never thought I'd actually do it until that hunt. Until you almost died because of what we do. I'm done with it."
"I knew she did something to you," Dean hissed. "What was it?"
"I can't really explain it, Dean," Sam said.
"Try. Really. Hard."
"She electrocuted me, right? Like all of the other victims?"
"Yeah. She fried you pretty good."
"God, Dean, I'm not bacon." Sam laughed uneasily. "Well, somehow we, like, fused or something. I don't know what to call it, but all I know is that I fucking lived parts of her life and her death."
Dean was speechless and blank with shock. That was the last thing he'd ever expected to come out of Sammy's mouth. "Come again?"
"I know things about her that weren't in police reports. I know that she was pregnant and her husband beat the thing out of her. I know that he raped her before she died. I know that Michael's favorite food was risotto and he'd stabbed her with a meatfork when she made it wrong. I felt all of it, including her death. She's….in my head or under my skin or something, and I can't get rid of her. But there's a reason for it. Abby never got the life she wanted, Dean, and I'm not going to end up like her. I can't."
"Jesus, Sammy. You…well, here, you need this more than I do." Dean passed over the bottle of whiskey. He didn't think he could swallow anything past the lump in his throat. After that night in the cemetery, Abby never appeared again. Dean went back a month later, dug five feet down, dressed the soil in salt and gasoline and torched the coffin, the grave and everything around it. The trees never even rustled. His EMF never went off. Abby's spirit was gone.
"Thanks." He took a dainty swig, winced and handed the bottle back. "And dude, being a woman sucks."
Dean remembered the police reports. Abby lived through seven years of absolute hell, something he couldn't even imagine, but Sam LIVED it. Everything made sense now, and Dean was clobbered with insurmountable guilt. "I can't believe you took that for me."
"I'd do it again, Dean. In a heartbeat."
Dean winced and covered his mouth. He willed himself not to throw up.
"Dean, you okay?"
"I'm not I'm not drunk enough for this." He stood up and walked the length of the room.
Sam was confused. "What did I say?"
"'In a heartbeat.' Bad choice of words, brother," Dean tugged at his amulet and dug into his duffle, he handed Sam a wad of cash he'd been saving for emergencies, namely John's bail. "I saw that you still needed two grand for room and board. This should put you just under that."
"Dean, no. It's only July. I have more than enough time to get the rest of it."
"Just take it, okay? I don't want you hustling pool or playing Tyler Durden anymore. That's what you were doing, right?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Thanks to 'Fight Club', I've made a killing beating up spoiled suburban kids. And they LIKE it."
"Add it to your stash. You can still beat up kids if you makes you happy."
"Why are you doing this? And what did you mean, 'poor choice of words?'"
Dean stuffed his hands in his pockets. "You know why even now Dad won't look me in the eye? You know why he won't let me go on hunts with him anymore and why I work in that shittastic dive without one complaint? Because that night at the cemetery, you died. I'm getting what I deserve."
"Dean, what…I'm fine. I keep telling you that."
"Your fucking heart stopped, Sammy. You weren't breathing. It wasn't for more than twenty seconds, but it was twenty seconds too long. I couldn't think, I couldn't move. I was terrified, like piss-your-pants scared…I never want to be in that place again, Sam. I never want you to be within a 100 miles of that place, so I want you to go. And when you do, don't ever look back."
Sam placed a hand on his chest. "My heart…stopped? What happened after that?"
Dean shrugged. "I, uh, restarted it."
"With what? A hammer?!"
"My fist," he said matter-of-factly. "I was like friggin' Clooney on 'ER.'"
Sam snorted the way he did when he laughed at something that couldn't possibly be funny. Dean loved making him laugh like that, at times that offended Sammy's delicate sensibilities.
"First you shoot me, then you beat me to death." Sam giggled.
Dean scrubbed a hand through his hair, "beat you to life, Sammy. Sometimes, you sleep funny…or your breath changes…and I..." Dean trailed off. "That's why I want you to go."
"Come with me, Dean. I know you think you can't do it, you can. An apartment can't cost more than room and board, and we have nine grand! That's a great start."
Dean entertained the idea for a second. He imagined himself living on the beach, wearing nothing, but sunscreen and swimtrunks, dating sun-kissed girls and grilling steaks in the ocean air. It was a fantastic dream, but he knew it would only remain that. Years ago, he dedicated his life to finding the son of a bitch that killed his mother, the thing that took away his ability to see wonderful things like college and girlfriends and birthday parties as anything other than a reminder that she was gone. He wished he wasn't so fucked up, but his dysfunction was the one thing tying him to his mother. For that reason, he embraced it and he was desperately sad and overwhelmingly relieved that Sammy wasn't. But he was in it until the fight was over, even if that meant he'd die bloody.
"Come with you where, exactly?" John asked.
Dean finally watched as Sam's proud, confident demeanor melted away as John ventured out of the shadows and into the room painted in green neon light from the laundromat across the street. Instinctively, Dean gathered up the money on the bed, and pocketed it. He pushed the letters on the floor and kicked them under his mattress. "We were thinking about heading down to Chicago for a little debauchery, ya know, celebrate Sam's graduation."
John knew Dean was lying, so Dean really had to sell it. Sam wasn't ready for the shitstorm that their father would unleash if he knew what was really going on. Frankly, Dean wasn't either. "Where do you think would be more fun? Chicago or Summerfest in Milwaukee?"
John smirked and leaned against the doorframe, allowing himself to be entertained. "I'm pretty fond of Summerfest, myself."
"Good. Well, Sammy, Summerfest, it is. We can just take the cash and…"
"Dean," Sam interjected, "thanks, but really but you don't have to cover for me. I got this."
Dean's casual smile fell and he turned his head slightly, "shuddup, Sam." He warned in a whisper.
Sam sighed, but held his ground. "I need to do this." He patted his shoulder and gently pushed him from the bedframe. "No time like the present, right?"
Dean watched as Sam carefully and almost lovingly scooped up his letters. "We were talking about these, Dad." Sam eagerly crossed the room and handed then to John.
Dean almost couldn't watch what was going to happen. Sam was so proud of his accomplishments and needed the fatherly pat on the back. Dean knew it wasn't coming. John's dark eyes scanned the letters one by one, and he rolled his mouth into a grim line, buttoning in everything that wasn't "Good job, Sammy. I'm proud of you, Sammy. You've earned yourself a beer, Sammy."
"Sammy, this is…you should have showed me these earlier." He said gently.
Sam's eyes actually glimmered with hope. He was waiting for the hug and the congratulatory beer. Dean rocked on the balls of his feet and dropped his head. "I wanted to, but I wanted to make sure I had the money first, so you didn't have to worry. I earned a scholarship, but it's still a lot for books and room and board. Between my job and a little…stuff on the side, I have enough now."
"I meant that, you should have shown these to me, so you wouldn't have had to work so hard for that money. I'm not signing these, Sam. You're not going. You can't." John said.
Dean's heart broke for his brother and he opened his eyes. In that instant, he saw his younger brother completely lose faith and respect in their father. In that second, leaving became the easiest thing in the world for Sam. Right before him, Dean watched Sam truly become a man, because he fought.
"I don't need you to sign anything, Dad. I'm eighteen, your signature isn't needed. And if it was, I'd just forge it. I'm going, whether you approve or not."
"Oh, so it's that easy? Your mind is made up, huh?" John asked. He wasn't yelling. He was humoring Sam, because John thought he could wear him down.
Sam crossed his arms over his puffed out chest, and Dean wondered when the Sam got so tall. "Yes, it is."
John marched forward. "You have a job to do! We're on a mission here, we aren't just playing G.I Joe. Saving people, hunting things. It's what we do!"
"And you don't think I know that, Dad? You don't think I know that the month I spent recovering from that hunt was because we were 'playing G.I. Joe?' You have absolutely NO idea what I've been going through or what Dean goes through, because of this so-called mission. I'm not doing it anymore. I want to save lives too, just…not like this."
"It was Dean's job to protect you. You never should have been hurt."
"How the hell do you know, Dad? It's easy blaming Dean. Why don't you blame yourself? You weren't even there. You don't even know what happened. You left us, what kind of father does that?" Sam hollered with fiery malice. "She was coming after Dean, Dad. She was going to kill him, and she almost killed me. Why she didn't, I don't know, but we were in serious trouble, and you weren't there."
Dean saw John internalize Sam's accusations like a physical blow. "I'm a crappy father, Sam. You don't think I know that. You think I want this life for you?"
"If you didn't, you'd let me go. You'd let us make our own decisions. You'd stop risking your life and being a drill sergeant and be a damn father. But I know you won't. I can't make you stop risking your life. But I can take my life out of the equation. And Dean's too, if he wants to come with me. But that's HIS choice."
John's head rolled ominously in Dean's direction. "Oh, is that true? You're leaving with him?"
"I'm…Dad…Sam got into the best colleges in the country. You should be proud of him," Dean implored. He looked at Sam. "I am proud of you, Sammy. I didn't say that before. What you did is…amazing. I'm jealous, man." Dean admitted, because Sam needed to hear it. "I wish I could go with you, but I'm not…built for it. You know that."
Sam's eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "Thanks, Dean."
"Look, Sammy. I know you think this is unfair, and I'm the meanest son of a bitch you've ever known, but I'm doing this to protect you. To keep you safe."
"WHAT?" Sam yelled. "You can't possibly believe that!" He bit his lip and Dean was struck by how much he looked like his father. "Giving me a gun when I was nine-years-old isn't how you keep me safe. Dragging us to bars and strip clubs as kids isn't safe. Letting us kill evil is NOT HOW YOU KEEP US SAFE! What if Dean died protecting me? What would you have done then? He would have done his job and protected me, but your oldest son would be dead. My brother would be dead, just like Mom." Sam was shaking with rage that he obviously didn't expect to surface. He didn't anticipate John advanced on Sam, snatching him by his collar and hurling him against the wall. "You'd never forgive yourself, would you? Well I don't forgive you for doing that to him or me!"
"Oh you think you're a big man now because you have some fucking acceptance letters? You think you can say whatever you want to me, because you're a big college man?" He seethed inches from Sam's face. "You're just a selfish kid who can't see the bigger picture."
"That's right. I'm a man." Sam growled, arrogant. He thrust his arms up and expertly removed John's hands off his shirt and shoved him backwards. "And it's time I started making decisions for my own damn life. I'm fucking done."
John's face was twisted. "So getting revenge on the evil that killed your mother isn't worth your time?"
"My mother," Sam laughed. He said the word like it was unknown and strange. "I DON'T REMEMBER MY MOTHER! I don't know a damn thing about her. I can't even imagine what it's like to have one, so why would I risk my life for that?"
Dean was already running before Sam finished speaking, because he knew what was coming. John punched in his smart mouth with unchecked strength. Sam's head rocked to the side and he stumbled back against the wall and fell on his ass. Sam launched himself up from the floor with a low growl, preparing to fight back, but Dean stepped in-between them, looping an arm around Sam's waist and tugged backwards. Sam was six-feet and one-sixty pounds of lean muscle, and Dean had to plant his feet and throw everything he had at Sam to keep him from hitting his own father. It wasn't the first time any of them had traded blows, but it was the first time it was done out of anger.
"Your mother gave you life and she died protecting you! DON'T YOU EVER DISRESPECT HER AGAIN!"
"Avenging her death won't bring her back, Dad. NOTHING WILL!" Sam screamed, teeth stained with blood. He spit on the floor and wiped his mouth.
Dean wanted to deck Sam himself for saying such terrible things, but John was pacing back and forth, a hungry lion in a cage. "You hate this life so much, Sam? Get the hell out. Right now." John yanked one of Sam's drawers out of his dresser and heaved it clear through the glass window and down to the concrete patio below. He picked up Sam's letters and his cash and pelted him with it. "Get your shit, Sam, come on. You're out of here." John ordered, snapping his fingers.
"Sam, no! God, both of you just shut up and calm down! Screaming won't change this! And neither will leaving." Dean shouted. He loathed watching them tear into each other, even though he knew this wasn't avoidable. But witnessing eighteen years worth of torment finally and painfully erupt was horrifying. Words always hurt more than fists. "And Dad, if you hit him again, I'll take you down myself." Dean threatened.
John stalked away to the front room, pulling a bottle of tequila from the freezer.
Sam scrambled on the floor to pick up the money and stuffed it in his duffle bag ontop of the clothes that were lying around on the floor, and a framed picture on the bedside table.
"Whoa, Sam. It's July. Where are you gonna go?"
"Time's ticking, Sam," John catcalled from the front room.
"I don't know. I'll be fine, Dean." Sam stopped packing and regarded Dean with a face etched in seriousness. "You…you're not allowed to die. I'll never forgive myself if you do." Sam declared.
"You're such a wussy, no one's dying."
"Time's up," John announced and scruffed Sam like a little puppy, dragging him towards the door. It was raining, of course, and lightning crisscrossed the sky. John grabbed Sam's jaw with his massive hand. He squeezed his cheeks, and stared into his youngest son's eyes. "If you walk out that door, Sam, don't you ever come back. Dean, that goes for you too. I know you like to clean up Sam's messes, but he's a man now. Right, Sammy?" John sardonically posed, straightening up Sam's wrinkled tee shirt and slapping him on the cheek like he was the fucking Godfather.
Dean ignored John's warnings. "Let me drop you somewhere, a hotel. You can come back in the morning and sort this out," Dean offered.
"Dean, if you step one inch outside that door, you better stay gone."
Sam whisked his shock of dark hair into a baseball cap and shook his head. "Stay," Sam said softly, but to Dean, it sounded like good-bye.
Dean grabbed Sam and hugged him as tight as he could until he was breathless and he was sure Sam would have bruises. He knew he should say something sappy and profound and memorable, but all he could manage was, "stock up on rock salt, okay?"
"Love you, too, Dean." Sam said, embracing him just as hard. He broke away and left, walking confidently into the rain and into the future he deserved.
Dean watched him calmly pick up his clothes already drenched and soggy from the rain and stuff them into his dufflebag before he jogged across the street and onto a bus idling at the stop. All too quickly, it chugged its way down the dirty city street, all lights burning green.