Dean couldn't get into the car soon enough. The engine wouldn't crank over fast enough. He couldn't get the car in to gear quickly enough. Tires squealed against pavement making the car fishtail and causing Dean to spin the wheel frantically, wasting precious seconds.
At long last he was headed in the right direction, to the home of Jeffrey Carver.
He had no way of knowing for sure why Sam was shouting his name and why his brother's voice had been cut off. Dean had a good idea, though.
The static and ringing in his head and ears suddenly cleared. Replacing it was images, clear and crisp, playing out on the movie screen in Dean's brain.
His mind jumped and skipped, heading back into the past. Sam holding an ice cream cone, he was maybe three or four. An accidental bump from John's knee and Sam's iced cream splattered over the sidewalk causing the little boy to burst into tears. John reached to comfort him, but Sam twisted away, arms out to Dean. Angered, John had grabbed the rest of the cone and flung it away, screaming at his small son to toughen up, take on his responsibility, do his job and stop balling. Fists shaking in the air so violently, Dean turned away, shielding young Sam with his own body, afraid his father would pummel Sam with those huge fists.
Dean shook his head and rubbed his forehead. "That never happened."
Before he could consider it much further his mind jumped elsewhere, he and Sam shooting at targets. Dean remembered how the deer bound into the clearing they'd set up as a range too quickly. Shots had been fired. It was too late. Devastated, Sam had cried. It was his shot that brought the deer down. John shoved against Sam's shoulders, shouting in the ten-year-old boy's face, "Grow up, do what you're told." Fear slithered through Dean, fear that his father was going to hurt his brother. Dean swallowed his fear and pushed between the two of them, forcing Sam behind him where it was safe. "You'll fall into line, or else." John pointed a finger at Sam before storming away.
The deer and shooting it by accident that part Dean remembered, but not his father's reaction. In actuality they'd all felt badly about the deer.
One after another memories, distorted and angry rolled through Dean's head. A comment Sam made to a witness invoking John's ire, a wrong turn taken while Sam was driving resulting in Sam being physically thrown from the car—all of which either never happened or never happened that way, but in each memory Dean was forced between father and brother, fearing for his brother's life. Fearing his brother's life would be ended by his father.
It was like being sent a message over and over, same theme, slight variations.
Sam will do what he's told or else.
Dean shivered. Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, he snapped, "It's all been a freaking set up!"
The mysterious killer in the Carver house, the way Dean saw John at every turn. He and his brother split apart. Dividing their resources and in doing so leaving each other open and at risk, alone. It'd all been a set up, a way to leave them vulnerable to attack. All of this conspired and set up by John. Their father was after them, had made it quite clear in a warehouse in Minnesota Sam would follow along or he'd die and force Dean to make a choice.
Foot pressing harder against the gas pedal, Dean kept an eye out for cops, barely slowing down for turns or stop signs.
The telephone pole looming up fast seemed to slide into the road and back to the curb again as Dean's foot left the gas, tapped a few times on the brake as he swung the steering wheel to the left in time to avoid collision. A quick glance to his right before his eyes trained back onto the road. "What do you want?"
"Dean, son, is that anyway to greet your father?"
"My father is dead. I put him in a pyre and lit the fire myself." Dean obstinately glared at the road in front of him. If he didn't look at this abomination, he could remember that, his father was dead.
"You know the truth Dean, you've known all your life, it's always been inside you. Sam is too unstable, he needs to be controlled. He's nothing but evil, but you and I can keep a lid on him, but we have to work together. If you don't, he'll pull you down."
"Sam's not evil," Dean snarled, fingers squeezing so tightly around the steering wheel he was starting to lose feeling in them.
John threw his head back and laughed. "You keep on telling yourself that. Why do you think I trained you like I did? Huh? You were so good, Dean, perfect soldier, perfect hunter, perfect student. Learned all your lessons so well and never once didn't follow an order. You want your brother alive so badly, want him with you? Then you follow this order. Sam falls into line or he dies. Sam gets with the program and lets me call the shots and you help me get that control, or Sam dies and he doesn't die quick and he doesn't die painless. You're the only who can keep your brother alive. We'll be the perfect team."
Allowing his eyes to leave the road for a split second, Dean shot a look at John. This thing was completely serious. "As if Sam or I would go along with that, so if you have ideas of the three of us being some unholy trinity, guess again. For the record? Sam has kicked way tougher demon ass than you. He's a good hunter and an awesome brother. Sam doesn't care what I can do, or how well I can do it. You know the biggest difference? Sam loves me because I'm his brother, not for any other reason."
A quick check in the rearview mirror to be sure on one was behind them and Dean slammed on the brakes. He was disappointed John remained where he was instead of lurching forward.
"Maybe, maybe not." John picked at the edge of the dashboard. Dean reached over and slapped his hand away, making John snicker. "This is the complete truth, only you can keep Sam alive and safe, you're the only one with that answer inside you. You want him that way? You and I need to work together. Otherwise, the evil in your brother will end you both."
Dean dipped his head to the side, cracking his neck. It was easy, take himself out of the equation. That gave Dean a thought, he wasn't suicidal, but he was intent on keeping his brother safe. As fast as he'd stopped the car he had it in motion again. Another of the many bridge supports came looming up. Twisting the steering wheel slightly to the right so when the road curved the car would veer off the pavement, Dean pressed down on the gas. "You were never there for Sam, or me, other than for training sessions, for what you needed."
"I prepared you for life." John snapped. "Sam will never survive on his own. He's evil a weak link."
"He'll be fine."
"Imagine how good hunting will be when you can do things like appear inside a car or throw someone across a room and choke them without touching them. You can't protect Sam, together we can."
"You don't care about either of us. You're not my father. You're a goddamn, fucking demon! And I've had it with the lot of you."
Individual trees blurred into one single mesh of green and brown, red and gold. The scrape of brush along the passenger side of the car as tires left pavement and crunched over gravel made Dean shiver, and strengthened his resolve. Without him these demons had no reason to go after Sam. No Dean and Sam would safe…his own voice whispered in his head, and alone.
John laughed again, gaze focused ahead. "You'll die for sure. Me? Probably not."
Dean leaned forward, blocking out John's voice, gaze intent on the huge, solid cement bridge support coming up. He bit down on his lip.
"So, it'll be me and Sammy, cozy, cozy. Sam all alone, except for me. If not me, I have friends, they'll be sure to look after your kid brother."
Swallowing hard, wincing at how his dry throat caught on itself, Dean leaned back in the seat, gaze sliding to John. The demon smiled broadly. Dean's upper lip twitched up and he swore under his breath. Easing off the gas he yanked on the steering wheel, bringing the car back to the road.
"I knew you'd see it my way." John waved…waved at him. "Time to check in on Sam, make sure he's doing good. See ya 'round, son."
Dean slammed on the brakes, car skidding to a stop before he twisted in his seat, threats and accusations about to fly out of his mouth. He was alone in the car and blissfully for now, at least, alone in his head.
"Run!" Sam dropped his cell phone and shoved Colin at Brock, a hand on each boy's shoulder, ushering them out of the room. "Go to the basement, hide. My brother's on the way. Don't come out until you hear his car."
The door to the outside at the far end of the kitchen exploded inward, the upper half torn from the hinges before it slammed against the wall. John grinned broadly at Sam. "Daddy's home." He strode through the room, casting a glance back at the ruined door. "That is just so much fun. Really, Sammy, you gotta give in and give that a try. Oh, wait, it's Dean who likes to kick in doors."
"Go, now!" Sam pushed them along then turned to face down his father. "You're not going to hurt them. I won't let you hurt them."
"I don't care a whip about them. Time to get with the program, Sammy."
"No one but Dean calls me Sammy," Sam spat out, backing out of the kitchen, drawing John with him and away from the boys now in the basement. "No one."
John's lips curled up exposing white teeth and a frightening grin. Whatever tiny piece of John that he and Dean might have convinced themselves was left was nothing but their imagination Sam realized. As a human, with human feelings and care John could be one mean son-of-a-bitch when angered. This…this wasn't John. This was a demon with no humanity holding him back. All the dark John kept buried, the hate, the vengefulness that drove him as a man was let loose and up front in this thing. This demon.
Backing down the hall, Sam gulped in huge breaths and shoved away awareness of cold sweat oozing down his spine, how the muscles of his back and shoulders trembled, his fists clenched and unclenched. "You're not my father. He's dead. I stood with Dean and watched our father's body burn. You're not my father." Sam shouted the final words as loud as he could.
John was on him in a second, shoving him against the wall, fists bunched in Sam's collar and pulling up until Sam's toes barely skimmed the carpet. Hot, fetid breath assaulted him as John spoke. "You're the smart one, the thinker. Dean, he's nothing but a mindless soldier, but you're the one who uses his smarts, why do you think I was so hard on you? You were always better. You want your precious brother alive and well so damn much, then you will do as I say."
Sam shook his head and struggled to find his voice, "No."
Pulling Sam away from the wall, John slammed him back into it. Pain blossomed between his shoulder blades and radiated around to his sternum. "Dean simply holds you back. That's why you run; you never stick with Dean…" A vicious, shuddering laugh bubbled up from John's chest, "…but I won't abandon him." Opening his fingers he stepped back and Sam dropped to the ground.
Freed without warning Sam crumpled to the floor, wheezing and pulling in huge breaths for a second before he was able to shove away from the floor and wall sprinting into the living room where there was more room to maneuver. Turning to face John as he stalked down the hall to where Sam waited, he growled, "You couldn't hold a candle to Dean on your best day. He's a better person—"
John grasped both fists together and swung them through the air. From a room away, Sam felt the impact along his jaw. Flipped over backwards he landed face first, hands down against the floor barely in time to keep his face from hitting full force. Shoving up, wiping blood and spit off his face with the back of one hand, Sam stared John down.
"I protected those two boys," John pointed back toward the kitchen as he advanced on Sam, "you're so damn fond of. Their babysitter, she was an uncaring bitch, treated them like shit. Just like I protected you and your brother, made sure you'd always be able to defend yourselves. Demons aren't all bad, son, we just don't have to get bogged down in all that right or wrong red tape."
Sam didn't care anymore about what happened to him. All the anger, all the hate for this thing, all those years as a child of never measuring up, it all came bursting out. "You aren't half the man or the hunter Dean is. He raised me. He loves me for who I am." Rising to his full height, squaring his shoulders, Sam glared straight at John. "And he's a damn better father than you could even dream of being."
"You ungrateful little bastard!" John's arms reached out.
Sam nearly got clear in time. John clipped his side with a blow, before flicking his wrist, fingers waved in Sam's direction then away. Sam was flung over the back of the couch and onto the floor arms up to stop the couch from rolling over on him. Sam scrambled away, but before he could catch his breath or make the world right itself he was thrown into a wall, jerked away and thrown across the room into the opposite wall.
He had one defense. There was no fighting this or any other demon physically and Sam knew it. Lips hardly moving, voice barely coming out, Sam began reciting an exorcism John had taught him and punished him for not memorizing fast enough years ago. He had one line out when he was lifted off the ground and dropped harshly on his chest on the floor. Despite all the air being forced from his lungs, Sam kept wheezing out the words.
"Won't work, Sammy." John crossed the room and Sam tried to roll clear but was picked up and tossed into another wall. "You're a pathetic excuse of a man and hunter. Won't work if I'm not trapped. Low blow, kid."
Sam spit blood from his mouth, shoved up on his hands and continued reciting the lines, coughing and gagging on each word. Every breath burned through him, every movement of his lips sent sparks of pain screaming through his head.
"Nice try, boy." John pulled back one foot and crashed his heavy boot into Sam's ribs, toppling him over onto his back and silencing him.
The sound of the Impala's engine growling up the drive made John stop and look out the window. "Oh, hold that thought, I'll be right back. Time for the three of us to have a family meeting."
Dean steered the car off the road to the shoulder. Throwing it in park, but not cutting the engine, he threw the upper half of his body over the seat and rummaged around in the books Sam kept back there.
"Yes." He punched the air when he found the one he wanted. Next he flung himself over the seat and yanked open the glove compartment, finding the crayon stored in there.
Opening the book, Dean flipped through the pages until he found the one Sam had marked more than a year ago. He drew the image and symbols in the book onto the interior roof of the Impala. That done, he was out of the car and repeating the same action on each door, barely taking the time to admire his work beyond making sure the symbols and patterns were correct. No more unexpected demonic guests in his car. It made driving unsafe.
"Sam is so going to spend a whole day washing and waxing you for this, baby."
A second later Dean was once again speeding down the road, but this time he was heading for the Carver house, not a bridge support. He slowed down only as much as was needed to keep the car on all four wheels when he swung her into the drive. Dean's foot stomped on the brake when Brock and Colin ran right at the car. It was their quick reflexes, not Dean's that kept them from being run over by two tons of car.
"He's in there!" Colin shouted, jumping back when Dean pushed the car door open and nearly threw himself out. "You said, Sam said, your dad was dead, but that's him in there and he wants to kill Sam!"
"Sam showed us a picture of you guys and your dad, how can that be him?" Brock grabbed Colin and pulled him away from Dean.
Dean stood there for a few seconds, mouth open, brain trying frantically to catch up. He had to tell them something, but what, what the hell was he going to…then it came to him. "I told you I'm a cop. That guy in there is our uncle, my dad's twin brother. His whole family was killed and when my dad died he went nuts," Dean twirled one finger near his temple for emphasis. "His son and Sam, they look a lot a like. That's why I came with Sam, to make sure he was safe, to protect him. My uncle wants Sam to replace his own son who died."
Grabbing Brock's arm, Dean tried steering both boys into the car, "Get in, you'll be safe in here."
"No way!" Brock staggered back, breaking free.
"Listen to me. In case you haven't noticed, your kid brother and mine, they look a lot alike. Same eyes, both need a hair cut. Who do you think my wack-job uncle will want when he's done with Sam?"
It worked. Big brothers the world over were a predictable lot.
Brock shoved Colin at the car and all but picked him up and threw him inside. Sprinting to the trunk, Dean dug out a few supplies and ran back to the driver's side of the car where Brock and Colin had taken over Dean's and Sam's seats. "Okay, guys listen. My uncle is a religious freak as well as a regular nut. You take these, this is a rosary and holy water. If he comes near the car hold up the rosary and if he's close enough throw this holy water on him, he won't touch you. I promise, you're both safe in here."
Dean didn't give either boy a chance to speak, he shoved the rosary and flask of holy water into Brock's hands, slammed the car door shut and jogged around the car laying a salt line around the car before charging into the house.
The house was a shambles, furniture tossed around, holes in the walls. Yeah, typical Dad and Sam day together.
"Time to choose, Dean." John appeared in the hallway, blocking Dean's path to the living room.
"Where is Sam?"
John arched an eyebrow, half turned and held one arm out. "He's waiting for you."
Slipping past John, Dean ran into the room to find Sam on hands and knees swaying, mumbling words that sounded like an exorcism. Dropping beside his brother, Dean laid one hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sammy." Christ the kid had been beaten to a pulp, it was a wonder he was still conscious.
Sam's head lifted, his bangs dangled over his face and he looked at Dean with red, puffy eyes. A dark bruise was already forming along one cheek. Red, angry welts covered his neck and arms and a thin thread of spittle dripped from one corner of his mouth. It seemed to take Sam a few seconds, but the haze in his eyes cleared and he nodded. Easing backwards Sam settled on his knees, leaning back on his heels.
The only warning Dean had was the quick way Sam's eyes flicked to a spot over his shoulder before coming back to Dean's face. Twisting slowly on his heels, Dean shifted to the side so he was fully between Sam and John. As he turned he drew his gun. His other hand pulled a small jug of holy water from his pocket and shoved it behind him to Sam.
"I'm done playing nice with you two." John stood merely a foot from them.
"That goes both ways." Dean raised the gun and leveled his best don't-mess-with-me stare at John. "Now back the hell off. Get away from Sam. Get away from me."
"You will both come with me. Now!" John took a step forward and Dean cocked the pistol. "As if you'd shoot me."
Dean fired. John staggered back, shock and rage registering on his face. "You shot me!"
"Next one is rock salt rounds, Dad." Dean patted the second magazine he carried in his pocket.
"Time to pick your path." John snarled out, but didn't come closer.
Behind him Dean heard Sam shift closer and uncap the jug. Dean stood up slowly, never taking his eyes off of John's face. "Don't make me choose, 'cause there is no choice."
"You need to get with the program or else, both of you." This time John took a step forward. Before Dean could get off another shot, Sam shouted and lurched forward into Dean's back, nearly knocking him off balance. Waving one arm in a wide arch Sam sent a spray of holy water across Dean's shoulder to fan out across John's face and chest.
Hands slapping at his face, John sneered at them and backed away. Steam rose from his body as he batted at his eyes then rubbed them with his fists. "You'll both get in line or else." The repeated threat snarled out of John. Dean tried to suppress the shudder, but couldn't. Sam's fingers gripped his shirt and curled in tightly forcing Dean to concentrate on the slight movement of fabric across his shoulder.
The distraction Sam provided let Dean get his handgun reloaded. It was up and ready in seconds. He and John faced each other off for a few seconds, glaring but not speaking
Before Dean could react further, John turned, walked away a few steps and faded to nothing.
Behind him Sam made some odd hiccupping noise right before Dean felt more of his brother's weight against him. Tucking his gun away, Dean turned in time to slip an arm around Sam's waist and keep him from tumbling to the floor. "Hey, hey, steady. You okay?"
"Do I look okay?"
"You look just great." Dean reached up and ruffled Sam's hair, acutely aware of how he didn't duck his head away as quickly as he normally would have.
Holding onto Sam and helping him from the house and to the car seemed to make Dean feel better, so Sam saw no reason to protest. He even let Dean pile him in the back of the Impala and shove a wadded up blanket behind his head before going to the front seat and nudging Brock and Colin over far enough he could get behind the steering wheel.
The two boys looked at him wide-eyed their faces pale. Sam offered them a lopsided grin when Dean simply stated, "He's fine," before starting the car and driving away from the house.
Sam leaned back and let his eyelids drift shut, letting the movement of the car lull and sooth him as it always did. He was dimly aware of shadow and light flickering back and forth and the turns and stops the car took before coming to a stop and the engine shutting down. The creak of Dean's door made Sam pry his eyes open and sit up.
They sat in the parking lot of a large office building.
"You wait here, I'm taking them to their father." Dean opened Sam's door, reached in and patted his shoulder. "Oh, and we're going to quit."
"Nngh…no…'m coming with you."
"Sammy, you can barely move and you look like—" Dean's words faded, he straightened and rolled his eyes when Sam eased from the car. "Or, come with."
More than one person offered them curious stares as they made their way through the building and up the elevator to Jeffery Carver's office. Dean paid no attention to the secretary trying to block their path and Sam had to laugh when Brock waved at the woman and blew her a kiss.
"What the—" Carver stood up and in a few long strides was out from behind his desk and facing off Dean.
A quick glance back at Sam, Dean smirked, "Your boys are tough when it comes to tag football. Here's the deal, it was a good thing your people insisted on extra security, it seems there was a second killer. He's been handled. Your kids should maybe have a little more time with you, cause they're what's important, not your stupid job. No job is worth alienating your sons and if you keep it up one day they'll be forced to make a choice and that choice won't be you."
All at once Brock and Colin were in front of their father, replaying the story of how the psycho killer broke into their house again, how Dean and Sam took care of them and him. Carver looked from one to the other, before turning his astonished gaze on Dean and Sam. "I don't know—"
"Stow it." Dean turned away and wound his fingers around Sam's bicep. "C'mon, Sammy."
Sam dug his heels in and stayed put, making Dean stop or let go. Dean stopped and watched him. Sam rubbed the back of his neck. Saying more would simply call unneeded attention to them. He relaxed and let Dean pull him toward the door. As they reached it Sam turned back to Carver, "Oh you've got great kids."
Dean snickered and herded Sam through the door, closing it on Carver's questions.
Trailing alongside his brother out of the building and across the parking lot, Sam leaned against the car while Dean unlocked the door. Glancing down as his fingers wrapped around the handle, Sam froze.
"You drew on the car?" Sam blinked and squinted at the car door.
Dean grinned, "Yeah, I did it for you. Which by the way, doesn't in the least get you out of cleaning most of them off and shining her up."
"Deal," Sam opened the car door and sank into the seat, pulling his legs in after him. "Can I do it in another town?"
"You betcha, Sammy." Dean grinned and pointed up. Sam laughed when he tipped his head back, following Dean's finger and saw the same symbols and pattern on the ceiling of the car. "Think we're keeping that one. No unwanted visitors while I'm driving that way, makes things hazardous."
They rode back to the motel in silence and packed their belongings. While Dean went and checked them out Sam leaned against the car, chewing his lower lip. He had to set things right with his brother or they were both going to lose each other. Sam very much did not want to lose his brother.
"You ready?" Dean appeared at his side, elbow gently nudging Sam's arm.
"I've been thinking a lot the past few days of how much you did when we were little. You took really good care of me and I've never thanked you." Sam stared at the bit of ground between his feet, it shimmered and swayed. If he looked up and at his brother he knew he'd be unable to speak. "What you did then, it's gotten me through a lot."
"Sam." Dean's voice was wet, thick and raw.
"You didn't have to do all that, you still don't, but I'm happy I have a brother like you." He eased into the car before Dean could say anything, staring at his hands in his lap while Dean quietly slid into the driver's seat.
"You know, Sam, I only have one thing that's really important to me." Dean's fingers brushed lightly over the steering wheel, but Sam understood he wasn't talking about his car.
Finally feeling he could look up and at his brother, Sam turned slightly in the seat to face Dean completely.
The sideways look Dean gave him as he turned the key and the engine cranked over and the slight sheen to Dean's eyes spoke volumes to Sam.
"You can say what you want about things with me and Dad, Sam, but I know him better than anyone else does. Better than you do, better than Bobby and he's not going to quit and give up. You and me, we're a team and we need to remember that, stick together."
Sam nodded, "We're sitting ducks without each other."
"Yeah, my point exactly. Dad knows that. He tried to split us up for a reason. We can't allow that, not again, not ever."
"I guess it's going to piss Dad off to figure out he got exactly the opposite of what he wanted."
Dean scratched at his jaw, "I think so. Another thing, he's not dad, we can't call him that or think of him like that anymore. Our dad, the one who loved us, misguided as he was, he's gone. This is John, not dad. If we forget that, we're done for." He took a deep breath and looked at Sam. "I know you think I don't trust you, but you can't be farther from wrong. You're the only person I trust. I don't always tell you things because I don't know how or what to say or I want to think it through first, but it's never because I don't trust you. Back in Montana Da—John said he wanted me to join him willingly and you'd either follow along or suffer the consequences. I didn't want to believe it or think about it and I didn't know how to say it. I'm sorry I let you go on thinking it was because I didn't trust you." Dean's words were coming out in such a rush Sam had to concentrate to make sense of them. "He tried to kill you Sam. He said he was going to kill you if you didn't follow him."
Sam sighed, "I used to think because I didn't have a normal life that I didn't have anything. I was wrong. We've got a lot. We've each got a brother who loves him, is willing to do anything for him, and that's more than everything to me. Together we're a whole lot stronger and better."
Dean nodded and put the car into gear. Sam didn't need to hear the words. Dean's actions and his face told Sam everything he needed to know. They were stronger and better with each other. The world started and stopped for each with the other. John had tried to drive them apart and in doing so had solidified them, drawn them together and shown them what they really had in one another.
Sam leaned back against the seat, sliding down so his head rested against the seatback and gazed out the window at the passing scenery as Dean drove them out of town. As long as they had each other no one would ever beat either one.