Hey All! Thanks to everyone for the reviews and the terrifyingly large numbers of story and author alerts. I'm overwhelmed by the response. Especially since I was fairly sure this story was going to have the opposite effect (as in, I expected it to go largely unread).
Anyway I wrote this story in one piece and then split it into two parts. Don't know how you're going to feel about the second part though. I'm kind of feeling the pressure here... Heh.
As per the first part – all grammar and spelling mistakes are my own. Unfortunately.
Sam has no time to process. He picks the lock, flings the door open and sees Dean about to plunge a very big knife into his thigh. Sam is under no illusions as to the mess that's going to cause – and he just reacts. Dean throws a few weak punches at him but Sam grabs him from behind and pins his arms. After that Dean is efficiently subdued. Then Sam hauls Dean out of the bathroom as fast as possible.
Only now he isn't sure what to do with a pissed off, semi-hysterical, definitely suicidal older brother. Dean isn't physically injured but he isn't in any fit state either.
Instinct takes over. Sitting down, he pulls Dean onto the carpet with him. Sam is behind Dean, restraining him in a semi-wrestling position. He wraps his arms around Dean's upper arms and torso and then uses his own legs to wrap over Dean's legs. Then holds on for all he's worth. Dean does his best to break free but Sam can bench press twice as much weight as Dean. In a contest based on sheer strength, Sam always wins.
Dean screams blue murder.
"Let me go!"
"No," replies Sam, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
"I told you to let me go! God damn it, why are you doing this to me? Stop it!"
"I'm not letting you go. Not until you calm down."
"You're not calm," says Sam as Dean tries to bite him. Fortunately Dean can't get his mouth low enough to sink his teeth into a forearm. "I'll let you go when you stop fighting me."
Dean attempts to ram the back of his head into Sam's nose but Sam sees it coming and manages to get his face out of the way. Instead, Dean's head connects with Sam's shoulder and part of his neck.
Sam continues to clutch at his brother until he senses that Dean is running out of steam. Dean's lack of appetite is working in Sam's favor because he doesn't have the energy for a prolonged fight and Sam can feel the movements growing weaker. The shouting stops unexpectedly and then it's like watching a clockwork toy wind down. Dean goes from fighting to placid in the blink of an eye. Sam refuses to relax his grip.
"I can't do this," says Dean.
"What can't you do?"
"This. I don't want to do this any more."
Sam doesn't get it. "I'm sorry, Dean. I don't understand."
He hears his brother sigh. "It's always about... Others. I don't mind, Sammy, I never did but there's you, and Dad and you need me and then there's the world and I don't think I can give any more. I don't think there's anything left in me to give. I'm empty."
Sam's brain puts all the pieces together and comes up with, "Oh, shit." He's always classified his brother as damaged and half crazy but he has the sudden revelation that they've never really been the right words. They're just convenient labels that he uses when he can't understand whatever behavior Dean has locked into. There's a better word to describe Dean, a far better match and Sam has never wanted to consider using the word because it carries a greater sense of vulnerability.
His brother is wounded. Wounded in ways that Sam can't fix with a needle and thread and advice from a first aid manual.
But was any of that a surprise when viewed from an adult perspective? His brother has spent his entire life taking care of everyone else and has come to the conclusion that the only way he exists is for other people. There's nothing in Dean's life that has ever contradicted his carefully crafted formula that says Dean can't win. There's not one shred of evidence that says anyone even knows who the real Dean is. That includes his little brother. The same little brother who got a scholarship and was being praised for his smarts and his talent while Dean got to be a High School dropout drifting from place to place with John Winchester. Dean has learned long ago to shut up and refuse to say what he wants or needs.
Sam, however, learned very early on that he needed to grab everything he could lay his hands on. So the equation was this: Sam needed to be willing to give and Dean needed to be more willing to receive.
They were both a sorry assed pair.
Sam loosens his hold on his brother but doesn't move. Just briefly puts his hand to his brother's forehead and then shifts again so he's supporting Dean, rather than holding him down.
"I'm sorry big brother. I didn't know. I should have, but I didn't and there aren't enough words to tell you how sorry I am."
Dean refuses to respond and Sam feels his brother's body convulse like he's about to throw up. He feels Dean lean forward and tremble and then he makes choking sounds as if something is stuck in this throat.
Sam knows one thing with all his heart and soul. His brother nearly killed himself and it's time for Sam to be a grown up.
He places his hand on Dean's back, rubs along the spine, wonders when the vertebrae became so obvious, when they got to be so sharp.
"Shhhh... It's okay. Dean, it's okay." Dean tries to shrug off the contact but Sam refuses to be pushed away. Not any more. He keeps his hand on Dean's back, deftly grabs the other hand by the wrist as Dean struggles to retreat. "It's okay. Dude, just let it go. It's okay to let go."
Sam keeps up the litany of reassurance even though he's always dreaded this moment because he's always feared what would happen if Dean finally broke. Part of him thinks there isn't enough mental super glue in the world to paste Dean back together again. The other more selfish part of him has always wondered how he was going to keep hunting if his brother was incapable of functioning.
He puts those concerns aside. It has to happen because the more they delay it, put it off, shunt it to one side, the worse the outcome will be. Sam thinks that if Dean doesn't do this now, he'll do it anyway. And whether it's one year in the future, or five years in the future, Dean won't just break - he'll shatter into a thousand tiny pieces and Sam will have to use a magnifying glass to find them all.
Dean makes another sound like he's gagging and then there's a strange keening wail. It scares the crap out of Sam but as far as he's concerned he's here for the long haul. And then, there it is - the sign that Dean is actually crying. Sobbing to be more precise. An uncontrolled plunge headlong into the depths that contorts his face, makes him screw up his eyes and open his mouth. There's drool, and tears and snot and Sam just holds on for dear life and lets him get on with it.
He's curled up in a semi-fetal position on the carpet of all places, feeling like a herd of elephants ran over him. Sam puts a pillow under his head then heads for the bathroom. He returns with a towel and a handful of tissues. He wipes Dean's face and makes him blow his nose and Dean doesn't have the energy to tell Sam to fuck off and stop treating him like he's two. Turns out, you can't cry forever. Not really. Just seems like forever.
Sam helps him sit up, then helps him get to his feet and lie on the bed. Humiliated, Dean rolls over, away from the sight of his little brother. His Man Card has been well and truly revoked.
His little brother is Mr. Bossy all of a sudden. He puts an arm on Dean's shoulder and makes him roll back so he faces Sam.
"You feeling a little better?" Sam's voice is gentle and Dean doesn't remember the last time he heard Sam use that tone. Maybe never.
Dean thinks he should reply but he's having a hard time summoning any energy. Besides, he doesn't know what feeling better is supposed to feel like.
"I'm going to see if we can get you an appointment at the clinic today," says Sam.
Dean shakes his head. He's horrified at the thought. He clears his throat, tries to sound rational. "No. Sam. They'll... You know. Lock me away."
Sam reaches over to stroke Dean's hair, which is very odd and very girly and Dean would have said so if he had the get-up-and-go necessary for sarcasm.
"That's not going to happen. We don't need to talk about you trying to...," Sam pauses a moment and then seems to decide that saying the truth is better than pretending it never happened. Maybe he thinks it's time they stopped pretending for a change. Denial has managed to get them nowhere. "We don't need to tell them about the suicide attempt. Just that you're seriously depressed. It's a free clinic. They're not going to do anything that costs them too much money."
"Hurray for free clinics," says Dean. He's trying to be funny but failing.
"In the mean time, I'm going to make some breakfast and you need to try and eat something. Then you can take a shower."
Dean is puzzled and he's not really connecting any dots at all. "How come you're doing this?"
"Being nice to me," he asks.
Sam briefly looks like Dean has pulled a gun on him.
"Because you're my brother," replies Sam, "and I love very much. Now close your eyes and get some rest. I'm making oatmeal."
"I don't like oatmeal."
"You're getting oatmeal anyway. It's good for you."
Well, no arguing then. Sam seems to have assumed command and Dean thinks that maybe he's happy about that. It's nice to have someone else worry for a change.
Sam nukes the oatmeal in the microwave, spoons it into two bowls and tries not to have his own breakdown. With the crisis mostly passed he wants to run and hide and not deal with any of this, but it's not an option. His brother, the guy who always took care of him, tried to take himself out. Then again, it's not the first time. Selling your soul to save your own brother, and brokering a shitty deal on top of the soul selling isn't exactly the actions of a man who's willing to live to an old age.
He tries to casually glance over at Dean. He's deeply worried Dean will spring back into action and try for round two. At the moment though, he's just lying there, aimlessly watching the TV again, sans sound.
Sam pours some milk into both bowls, sprinkles the oatmeal with sugar and puts the bowls on the table. Something tells him to get Dean moving and active. Distract him.
"Hey, come and get some breakfast."
Dean shakes his head and that's the sum total of his reply. Sam crosses over to the bed and blocks Dean's view of Dr. Sexy, M.D.
"You need to eat. Come on, I'll help you." Sam won't wait for arguments, or a come back or protesting. He simply reaches down and insistently lifts Dean to his feet. He maneuvers him over to the table and then he makes him sit down.
Dean contemplates the oatmeal like Sam has served him a bowl of pus. Sam takes out his cellphone and checks the time. It's nearly seven thirty. The website for the free clinic said they opened at eight.
Sam begins eating the oatmeal. It's bland but it's comforting and Sam thinks he could do with a little comfort. Even if it's comfort in the guise of oats.
The guy sitting opposite him hasn't even picked up the spoon. Sam figures he needs to sound in control for both of them, but at the same time, supportive.
"I know you don't feel like eating but I think we could compromise. How about you eat half?"
Dean pulls a face but he manages to gulp down a spoonful. "This is gross."
"I know. Try anyway."
It's like watching a child being forced to eat brussel sprouts but at least Dean is doing as he's asked. That's all Sam can hope for.
Sam keeps a nervous eye on the clock. Dean gives up eating before managing to get to the half way point.
"I'm full," he says, pushing the bowl away. Then he sits there disinclined to do anything more.
Sam has some other things to take care of. He wants to get Dean into the shower, and that reminds him the knife is still in the bathtub. Standing up, he goes into the bathroom, picks up the blade, brings it back out and shoves it into his own duffel. Then he searches for Dean's gun and any other weapons, and tries to figure out what he's going to do with them. The trunk of the Impala is buried under snow and the last thing Sam needs is his severely depressed brother around a smörgåsbord of items that can end his life in a second.
Without really knowing what else to do, he stuffs his duffel forcefully into the only closet in the room, and shuts the door. Then he ties up the door handles with a belt. At least he's going to hear the racket if Dean decides to try for a sequel.
"Dean, you need to take a shower."
His brother shows no sign of moving, so Sam once again gently hauls Dean up by his arms and gives him a small push in the right direction. He's discovering that if he gives Dean some momentum, the action summons enough strength for Dean to keep going. Problem is that Dean seems to have lost the ability to do much in terms of completing a task when he arrives at his destination.
Sam goes into the bathroom with him and turns on the shower. He tests the water temperature and makes sure it isn't too hot. Dean stands there, completely still and then once again demonstrates the laws of entropy by sitting down on the lid of the toilet seat. He's clearly not going to get more active than that.
Sam sighs to himself, instinctively knows that Dean isn't trying to be a pain in the butt. He's at his lowest ebb, he's been through the wringer and he's ill. Sam bends down and starts unlacing Dean's shoes. Removes them. Then his socks.
Dean makes a comment, at long last, when Sam tries to pull Dean's t-shirt over his head.
"What are you doing?"
"You need to get in the shower."
"I can undress myself."
"Then that's what you should do." Sam however, doesn't stop. He's trying to get the belt undone.
"Dude, stop pawing me!"
"Then you do it," says Sam. He's managed to unhook the belt and he's sliding it through the loops of the jeans.
"Oh my God, it's true what they say about Sasquatch fondling unsuspecting hikers," says Dean. Then he slaps Sam's hands away and does as he's told.
That let's Sam back off.
"Remember to use the soap and shampoo," says Sam, trying for humor. "I'll go get you some clean clothes." He turns to go but has second thoughts. "I'm leaving the door open."
"Pervert," says Dean without vehemence.
"Only around women," says Sam.
Neither of them laugh at his lame joke.
Sam fetches a pair of jeans, boxer briefs, and some thermals as well as a shirt and takes them back into the bathroom. Thankfully Dean is actually in the shower, and the shower curtain is drawn.
So far, so good but Sam finds himself worried, maybe even a little paranoid. He worries that Dean is standing behind the shower curtain figuring out a way to slit his wrists with a safety razor.
"You okay in there?"
"Yes. I'm applying soap to my body parts as we speak."
"That's good to know."
"No, Sammy, that's not good to know. Leave me alone."
Sam has no intention of leaving him alone. Probably not for weeks, if not months. "I'm going to be right outside the door."
Dean just grunts a reply.
So, he leaves his brother in the bathroom, the door wide open, and makes his phone call to the clinic. Describes the situation minus the fuck-he-almost-died details but with enough information to make the nurse wedge in an urgent consult. The next thing he knows, they have an appointment in 45-minutes. Enough time to get Dean out of the shower and dressed. The only bright side of the whole debacle is that the motel is about a fifteen walk to the main street.
Dean sits in the doctor's office and vaguely listens to whatever she's saying. Sam is there too, looking concerned and taking notes and collecting a boat load of pamphlets. Dean's been asked a bunch of basic questions and he's tempted to lie but then he totally gives up and just answers as truthfully as he can. No, he hasn't been eating. No, he hasn't been sleeping. No, he's not interested in sex either. Sue him. Before he knows it, the doctor – apparently her name is Susan – writes out a prescription and hands the sheet to Sam.
"Do you understand, Dean?"
He nods even though whatever she said didn't make so much as a dent.
"We'll try some buproprion – generic Wellbutrin. It's a slow release. It can take a couple of weeks to kick in. Sam, you're going to need to monitor Dean until then and watch out for side effects. There aren't too many but remember to read the contraindications."
Dean nods along with Sam, for the sake of nodding.
"You'll be okay, Dean. Your brother is going to watch out for you and you just need to do what he says for a while."
Dean wishes people would stop telling him that he's going to be okay.
They walk back towards the motel. The snow has been shoved into banks on the side of the pavement and the mini-hills are almost as tall as Sam. Some intrepid souls are using their skis to get around the streets but most of the stores are shut along with the diners and restaurants because people are keeping indoors, or simply can't make it to their businesses. Thankfully the pharmacy is open. Sam gets the scrip filled and then they keep trudging.
It's an extremely slow trip because Dean can barely concentrate enough to put one foot in front of the other. At one stage he just gives up and sits down on a snow covered bench outside a closed craft store. He's over it already.
Sam however, won't let him be. "Come on. We're almost there. Just a little further."
His little brother reaches down, takes his hands and pulls him to his feet, yet again. It makes Dean want to cry but he can't fathom the reason.
They make it back to their temporary home eventually. Dean sits down on the bed with a thud and refuses to move. He won't even take off his coat. Sam temporarily leaves him alone. Instead he bustles around the kitchen, cooks lunch. He makes Dean take his first dose of medication with a small bowl of soup and half a Nutter Butter so that he's got something in his stomach to buffer the pill. Dean thinks he's going to cry again, doesn't want to, and distracts himself by chewing on the inside of his cheek.
And that's how their lives go for weeks. No monsters, no devils, no angels. Sam takes care of things. Every morning Sam makes him take a multivitamin pill and at midday he makes Dean take his buproprion. Sam gets him dressed, makes him put on warm clothing, makes him wear a stupid hat and gloves and they go outside and Sam insists they walk around the main street for twenty minutes. He makes Dean change his socks, he even reminds him about clean underwear. Sam does all of the laundry and insists Dean helps even if it means that all Dean does is roll the socks into sock balls.
When Dean drops a coffee mug on the floor, and the coffee goes everywhere and he starts ranting that this is the sort of fucking shit that always happens to the Winchesters, Sam is the one that calmly cleans up the spill and just as calmly says that spilling cups of coffee happens to everyone.
Sam cooks, makes sure Dean eats. Seems to think Dean will do better if he's eating a small amount every two hours instead of large meals less frequently. He makes Dean shower, makes him go to bed at the same time every night. There's a brief argument over the whole sleeping-in-his-clothes-situation and the sleeping-on-top-of-the-bed situation but Sam wins and manages to convince him to change into a t-shirt and some sweat pants and sleep in the bed. They aren't really arguments anyway. Dean gets cranky, protests, rants at Sam, calls him an asshole and Sam just stands there like a brick wall before he states in an even tone of voice that a regular routine will help Dean get better. Dean is pretty sure that Sam is quoting extensively from a variety of websites. Sam is the Google King.
The days keep ticking over. Sam makes him get up at the same time every morning. Asks him when he thinks he might be shaving off his beard and getting a haircut. When Dean shrugs, Sam insists on minimum grooming standards and trims his beard and hair while Dean sits on a chair in the bathroom and feels helpless. Sam doesn't comment when Dean starts crying. Instead he just hands over a couple of tissues.
Dean gets marched back to the doctor's office after week three so the doctor can monitor his progress. She takes a blood test. The test comes back normal the following day. The clinic calls to say that it's good and the two of them should just keep doing what they're doing.
Sam reads to him, insists he tries to keep his brain active even though Dean is sure his brain has been replaced by beer rags and sawdust. When they visit the supermarket to load back up on supplies, Sam grabs a pad of unlined paper and a box of pencils and announces that drawing would be good for Dean. He read about it on the Internet.
The old Dean would have protested and then he would have stormed off. Maybe later he would straight out punched Sam or pranked him. The new Dean just goes with the flow.
Their stay in the motel keeps extending and in monetary terms, the Winchesters are sailing fairly close to the wind. Sam just keeps the faith and hopes that somehow he'll manage to keep a roof over their heads and the supermarket will remain open.
The snow begins melting in the fourth week. By the fifth week, the roads are open again, and the Winchesters are free to go. Dean helps Sam pack the Impala. He doesn't talk much but at least he's active.
Sam isn't an idiot - in reality what Dean needs is a therapist on top of the medication - but they can't afford it. Even if they could, Dean can't tell the truth. So Sam keeps researching, and trying to do the right thing. He figures if he's smart enough to get into Stanford, he's smart enough to get some sort of handle on how he can help his brother. He doesn't push Dean but he figures he must be doing something right because Dean doesn't bother to cover up what he's feeling any more. Dean's emotional state is volatile and he's bouncing around between depression, anger and brief glimpses of stability but Sam can see that he's improving and that's all that matters.
After they pack, Sam decides that the decent thing to do is to visit Father Jack before their departure. Besides, he kind of made a promise.
Sam drives, and they pull up outside the church. Dean doesn't want to go in, but lately he's been willing to let Sam take the lead. Dean reluctantly follows after Sam gets out and starts up the steps.
Inside the church, Sam sits in the same pew. He makes Dean sit beside him, even though his brother looks ready to flee . He keeps looking at the stained glass tableau of the angel appearing to Joseph as if the angel is about to grow fangs and go on a killing spree.
It isn't long before Father Jack makes another appearance. He walks in from an entrance on the left, near the altar.
The priest smiles broadly at both of them. He slips into the pew in front of them, turns around and reaches over to vigorously shake Sam's hand.
"I'm so glad you came back! How are you, Sam?"
"I'm good," says Sam. Then he gestures to Dean. "This is Dean. My brother."
Jack holds out his hand to Dean. Dean hesitates, sizing the priest up before firmly grasping the proffered hand.
"You know, I was praying for you. Both of you," says Jack.
Sam raises an eyebrow at the enthusiasm. Then he sticks his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. Suddenly he's feeling shy and awkward. Mainly because he realizes that with Dean here, his talk with Jack will have an audience.
"I wanted to come back and thank you for what you said. I needed to hear it. If I hadn't... Things could have been... Bad."
Dean cocks his head to one side and seems to be sizing Sam up.
Jack dismisses Sam's rambling thanks with a wave of his hand. "Only too pleased to help. Mind you, it was probably with a bit of assistance from upstairs." Jack winks at him, points with his index finger towards the ceiling. "Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways."
Sam doesn't reply to that because he doesn't want to burst Father Jack's bubble. "We're going to leave tomorrow. Go visit a friend in South Dakota."
"Yeah, but we're used to it." Sam stands up in a repeat of his actions from the first night that he stopped by. Dean follows suite. Jack also stands and he doesn't stop smiling. He shakes Sam's hand again. Then he seems compelled to pull Dean into an impromptu hug before letting him go.
"If you ever come back this way, make sure you drop by for a visit," says Jack.
"I will," says Sam. He means it. Dean has backed off. The hug has clearly weirded him out.
They both leave. Sam goes out the door and down the steps of the church. He's happy - even feels like whistling a tune and he's not much for whistling. Dean silently follows him.
He's just made the last step and he's heading for the car when the local Deputy stops him.
"You need to be careful around here, it's not safe."
Sam halts in his tracks, regards the Deputy politely and non threateningly, as he's been trained to do. No reason to give local law enforcement the chance to get suspicious.
"Yeah, I guess with all the slush around driving is going to be hazardous. I'll be careful."
The Deputy shakes his head. "No, I meant checking out the church ruins. They're due to knock it down when the summer hits. Until then it's a hazardous site. There's supposed to be a security guard keeping watch but I guess he's decided it's too cold."
Cold. The weather wasn't the only thing sending a chill down Sam's spine. He turns around. The building consists of half stone walls, no roof and a mass of blackened wood. Danger signs are clearly posted.
"What happened?" He can't keep his voice from breaking.
"Burnt down about two years ago. It was a tragedy, just a tragedy. Father Jack was in there when it happened. We think Toby Atkins must have set the place alight. He'd just got out of jail, long time addict. Father Jack was trying to help him out and then – well, we think things got out of control. Toby always did have a chip on his shoulder. Always angry about something or someone." The Deputy shook his head again. "Real terrible. The town lost a great man when the Father died. He helped anyone who asked. A true man of God."
Sam can't say anything, he just gapes at the wreckage. Dean has gone pale.
"Anyway, you should get back to some place warm," finishes the Deputy. "Stay safe."
Sam nods. Dean and Sam hurriedly get themselves into the Impala and Sam starts the car and concentrates on getting them out of town as fast as possible.
About twenty minutes into the trip, Dean speaks.
"Dude, did you actually take life advice from a ghost?"
Sam can't say anything. He's kind of mortified.
"Huh. And I thought I was supposed to be the crazy one," says Dean. Then there's a hint of a smile.
Sam relaxes because Dean isn't freaking out. He's relieved. The trip will be a long one but there's an easy going atmosphere. One that's born of companionship rather than enmity. Sam knows that tonight they'll check into another motel and he's going to continue to take care of Dean. Shoulder the responsibility the right way this time. He is his brother's keeper and Sam is more than happy to bear the weight.
He may have taken advice from a dead priest but it's the right advice. He's going to thank God.
Something he hadn't done in a while.
Father Jack always wanted to meet an angel. This one is slightly scruffy though, and looks like an accountant and Father Jack is more than a little astonished to meet him in the middle of an inferno.
The church is collapsing around Jack's head. He's trapped. The body of Tom Atkins is huddled against a wall, a gas can by his side.
"Do not be afraid. I am an angel of the Lord."
Jack has read that line many times in the Bible, so he's not afraid. He can't be – he's trapped in a burning building and it's far more terrifying than being confronted by a heavenly visitor wearing a tie and a trench coat.
The angel seems unaffected by the roaring flames that are trying to engulf them. "My Father greatly loves you for your service to him. He has assigned you a task. Are you willing to accept it?"
Jack is ecstatic at the thought. The angel comes closer and its dark wings spread and then envelop Jack's body as the flames begin to lick at his clothes like a perverted lover.
"Do not worry, it will be over soon. I will not let you suffer."
And despite the heat, and the thickness of the smoke, and the fact that death is only moments away, Father Jack Furbisher has never been happier.