Dean slammed his fist into the door of a mangled car. He couldn't hurt it any worse than it was already, and he had to find an outlet for his emotions. He'd been wandering through the yard, avoiding whoever was following him for at least ten minutes, but he couldn't keep it up. He had to let loose, even though it meant pinpointing his location.
Dean turned, startled, to see that Bobby guy behind him. "I didn't hurt the car," Dean said, dusting off the dent he made. "I mean, not much."
"Hell, I'm not worried about the car, boy, I'm worried about your hand. You only got one in full operation at the moment, so you need not to dick around with it."
Dean rubbed his left fist with his right fingers. "I'm okay," he said. "What are you doing out here? I half-expected John. I didn't expect you."
"John's with Sam," Bobby said. "He saw you take off like a bat out of hell, and I think it freaked him out a little."
Dean grimaced and looked away. "Maybe they'd be better off without me."
"Like hell they would," Bobby growled, and Dean took a step back in surprise. "Let me tell you, Sam and John would be devastated if you took off."
Dean shook his head. "I don't get that," he said. "They treat me like I'm one of the family, and I'm not."
Bobby glared at him. "Family don't end with blood," he said.
Dean sighed. "It's obvious that you guys all feel that way," he replied. "But I can tell you, most people don't."
"What about you?" Bobby asked. "How do you feel?"
"If you'd asked me a month ago, I don't know what I would have said," Dean said frankly. "But ever since Sammy and I . . ." He shrugged, turning away. "I've never felt this way about anyone, which sounds weird and geeky, and I don't know why I'm telling you, but I never have. The shrinks said I had trouble bonding and seemed to think it meant I was going to grow up into a serial killer or something, but I think I just never ran into the right people."
"More than possible," Bobby said. "Look, I didn't mean to freak you out back there."
"Good job with that," Dean said sourly. "Why the hell do you want to look at my . . ." He shuddered at the mere thought of showing anyone.
"I can assure you that it's not morbid curiosity, or anything prurient."
"Anything . . . what?" Dean asked.
"Salacious," Bobby said, and Dean shook his head. "Kinky."
"Oh," Dean said. "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?"
Bobby shrugged. "Does it matter?" Dean shrugged back. "Honestly, I meant what I said. I think those things are spells."
"The shrinks said my memory loss was from trauma," Dean said.
Bobby grimaced. "That's entirely possible, but those things on you do something, that I'm sure of." Dean touched his abdomen, feeling the marks beneath his shirt. "And if one of them does block your memory, don't you want to know that?"
"Could you . . . I don't know . . . fix it?" Dean asked.
"I might be able to, but I'd have to examine them to do that."
Dean's hand fisted in his shirt. "Well, I'm not taking my shirt off out here," he said, his voice unsteady.
"No kidding," Bobby replied, sarcasm heavy in his tone. "For one thing it's awful cold. For another, if you bumped into something out here, you'd wind up with tetanus." He reached out tentatively, and when Dean didn't object, he put a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, let's get back to the house before we freeze to death."
Dean nodded, and they walked back towards the house. When they got inside, they found John and Sammy in the kitchen, making hot chocolate. "You don't have marshmallows, Uncle Bobby," Sam announced as they came in. "What's wrong with you?"
"Well, excuse my dreadful transgression," Bobby said. Apparently sarcasm came naturally to him, something Dean could appreciate. "Someone will have to go pick some up in town tomorrow."
Dean accepted a cup of hot chocolate, then said, "Well, I've had all the fun I can take today. I think I'm going to hit the sack."
"Me too," Sammy said instantly, and Dean winked at him. Sammy looked like he'd been crying, but then Dean probably looked like crap, too. A flashback yesterday, nightmares off and on for nights, followed by the ruckus with Bobby and John that they'd just cleared up. He decided not to ask what was up with Sammy. Probably something to do with his brother.
"Let's go, kid."
"It's not kid, it's Sam."
"Whatever, short stack."
Bobby took down a bottle of rum from a cabinet. "Want a shot?" he asked, and John held out his mug. Bobby treated them both to a generous shot of alcohol, then put the bottle away. "I think I've got him convinced, by the way," he said. "All depends on if he changes his mind in the morning."
"You think he will?"
"What do I know about the minds of adolescents?" Bobby growled.
"As much as any other adult," John said.
"Sounds like he had a whole lot of really stupid psychiatrists," Bobby said. "I swear, they should test the psychiatrist's intelligence before they assign him to a patient. When the kid is smarter than the shrink, it's never good."
"What are you saying, Bobby?"
"Well, I somehow doubt that any of them came right out and said they thought he was going to grow up into a serial killer, but whatever they did say, that's what Dean got out of it. Stupid, arrogant sons of bitches, messing with people's heads and sending them out worse than they were when they started."
John grimaced. "Sam pulled out all the stops," he said. "I had to tell him the bare minimum of what happened to Dean, but I hope we'll be able to get him to stay away from things tomorrow."
"If they happen."
"They'll happen," John said, and Bobby snorted. One wouldn't ordinarily peg John Winchester as an optimist, but he had his moments.
Sam woke up to jerky movements on the bed next to him. "Dean?" he murmured, but the movements didn't stop. He leaned up and turned on the bedside lamp. It threw shadows around the room, casting objects into sharp relief. He rolled over and looked at Dean, who was still twitching and jerking around. "Dean?" he said again, louder this time. He touched Dean's shoulder.
"What?" Dean's eyes opened sharply and he stared up at Sam in surprise and alarm. "Sammy?"
"You were dreaming," Sam said. "And it didn't look fun."
"Did I wake you up?"
Sam shrugged. "No big deal," he said.
Dean grimaced. "I'm sorry, kid." Sam raised an eyebrow. "Sorry, Sam," Dean said with sarcastic emphasis. "Thanks for waking me up. It was a doozy."
"You want to talk about it?" Sam asked.
Dean's expression closed down. "No, Sammy, I don't."
Sam flopped flat on the bed. "It's okay. I get it, I guess."
"What do you get?" Dean asked. He lay down flat, too, staring at the ceiling.
"Dad told me some stuff yesterday, about what's been going on."
"What stuff?" Dean asked suspiciously.
"Just that you got taken by a demon when you were a kid, and bad stuff happened, and that I'm better off not knowing. He said you didn't want me to have those images in my head."
Dean lay silent for a moment. "That's a really good explanation," he said finally. "I don't. There are some things no kid should see."
"But I'm older than you were when they happened, aren't I?" Sam asked. He thought it was an important point.
"Yeah, but Sammy, I don't have a choice about knowing it," Dean said. "You do."
"No, I don't," Sam replied. "You won't tell me, and you won't let anyone else tell me."
Dean shrugged. "You can avoid knowing it. I can't."
Sam sighed. "I guess, but I want to help you."
"You do help me, just by being around and being . . . I don't know, semi-normal. I'm such a freak that it makes me feel better having you around."
"You are not a freak!" Sam protested.
"Well, I feel like a freak," Dean said. "And you make me feel like less of one."
Sam shook his head. "I want to help a little more actively than that."
"Well, I know this won't make you feel any better, but it would actively not help me to know that what's happened to me has spilled over onto you."
Spilled over . . . Sam sighed again. "I won't pester you about it," he said.
"Thanks." They lay silently for a moment, then Dean cleared his throat. "Bobby and I – and if I know your dad, him, too – we're going to be working on some of that stuff tomorrow, probably in the morning." He leaned up on his elbows and gave Sam a serious look. "Sammy, you need to understand this isn't about trust. I trust you, I just don't want –"
"The images in my head, yeah," Sam said dispiritedly.
"Well, when your dad, Bobby and I meet about this stuff, I . . ." Dean paused, then he said, "I don't want you around, and I know you tend to sneak in to listen and watch if you can."
Sam grimaced. "But Dean, I . . ." He shook his head. "You're asking me to stay out of the way, aren't you?"
"More than that," Dean said. "I'm asking you not to try and listen in. Or sneak a peek or anything."
Sam blinked. "There's something to peek at?" he asked.
"Yeah," Dean said.
"Oh." Sam considered that for awhile. "Is that why you always get changed in the bathroom?" Dean nodded without speaking. "I thought you were just modest."
Dean snorted. "I never thought about it like that, but yeah, I guess I am." He rolled over and looked at Sam. "Go to sleep, kid. I'm betting your dad and Bobby are going to be up with the dawn."
"You don't know them if you think that," Sam said, but he turned off the lamp and tried to go back to sleep.
Much to his surprise, it was just past six when he woke up to his dad shaking the end of the bed. "Up an at 'em, boys," he said. "Rise and shine. Bobby's making waffles."
"Cool," Dean said, rolling out of the bed on the other side. "I get first shower."
"No fair!" Sam exclaimed, but Dean was already out of the room, a pile of clothes in his hands. "You have longer legs," he called after his disappearing brother.
His dad was watching him with amusement in his eyes, but that changed to concern, and he sat down. "Sam, I've got to talk to you. Bobby and –"
"You and Dean and Bobby are going to have a private meeting, and I'm not allowed to peek or listen in or anything. Right?"
His father's expression was almost funny. "Right."
"Dean and I talked about it last night. He had a nightmare, and when I woke him up out of it, we talked for awhile. He said you guys would be up with the dawn, but I thought he was nuts."
"So, you're okay with it?" his dad asked, looking surprised.
Sam shook his head. "No, but . . . but Dean really meant it. Maybe he'll tell me when I'm older, but anyway, he's having enough problems. I don't want to make things worse."
"Thanks, Sammy," Dad said, tousling his hair. "You're a good kid. What are you going to do instead?"
"I'm going to go scope out the old Talmadge place," Sam said. "Bobby said they've got a kid my age, so maybe I should find out a little bit about him before we go to school on Monday."
"Sounds like a plan."
After breakfast, Sam took off and wished he could convince Dean he could handle whatever there was to handle.
Bobby watched Sam leave the house like there were hellhounds on his trail and looked over at John. "How'd you convince him?"
"I didn't," John said, gesturing with his head towards Dean.
"You helped, actually," Dean said to John. John raised an eyebrow. "That stuff you said about me not wanting him to have the images in his head. I never thought about it that way, but it's a good way to put it." He picked up his plate and put it in the sink. To Bobby's eye, he looked tense and unhappy. He turned around. "But he won't stay gone forever, so are we going to do this?"
"Yeah," Bobby said. "I figured we'd go into the library. I've already got all the windows covered, and the fire built up. We can close the doors in case Sam comes back early."
Dean nodded, looking pale but determined. "Okay." He walked into the room, leaving John and Bobby staring at each other. "You coming?" the kid asked.
John went after him and Bobby followed, reflecting that Dean had always been like that. Once he'd made his mind up, he didn't want to wait for the next step. He went through the sliding doors and pulled them closed. He turned around. "Okay, whenever you're ready."
"I don't suppose those lock, do they?" Dean asked, looking at the doors.
"No, they don't," Bobby said. "Do you really think Sam would intrude?"
Dean shook his head. He put his hands on his shirt, but then he hesitated. "I . . . you got to understand, I lived with Jake and Louise for nearly a year and a half, and neither of them ever saw me with my shirt off. I only took my shirt off for doctors when they made me. I . . . no one's seen . . ."
"We aren't going to freak out, Dean," John said in a reassuring voice. He walked over and put his hands on his son's shoulders. Dean looked up at him uneasily, and John sighed. "Well, maybe we will, it'll be hard not to, but it won't change what we think of you."
Dean nodded and, closing his eyes, he stripped the shirt off in one fast motion. Bobby was reminded irresistibly of jerking a Band-Aid off in one go to get it over with quickly. Then he was just horrorstruck.
He'd seen the sketches, and he'd imagined what the glyphs might look like on a human body, but he hadn't been prepared to see quite how much real estate they covered. The scars were slightly keloid, but instead of a pinkish appearance, they had an odd greenish tinge. As John had said they were very precise in shape, unnaturally so.
John let out an odd sounding gulp and sat down. Dean looked over at him worriedly and started to pull his shirt back on. "No!" John said. "We need to find out what they mean, Dean. Ignore me. Let Bobby work."
This transferred Dean's attention to Bobby, and the boy's jaw tightened. He tossed the shirt down, his posture translating the act into a statement of defiance. Against what, Bobby couldn't be sure. It could be his own emotions, it could be the demon who'd done this to him, it could be the reactions he expected from the two adults he was showing himself to. Hell, it could easily be a combination of all three. He put his arms down at his sides and said, "Well?"
Bobby nodded and walked closer. "Do they hurt or itch?" he asked.
Dean shrugged. "They don't itch, but sometimes they do hurt. Like, after a . . . a flashback, I'll get what the doctors call phantom pain along them. I don't know why, but it always goes away pretty quick."
Bobby nodded again and examined the shape of the one on Dean's abdomen. He picked up the fax that was labeled abdomen and reflected that it might have been helpful to have directions labeled. It was an oblong, and Bobby had assumed, given the general shape of the human body, that it had been placed with the long side horizontal to the floor, but it was vertical. Bobby pursed his lips and tried to figure out how to tell Dean that he needed him to unbutton his jeans. Dean followed his gaze and flushed a little. He undid his jeans and took them off, kicking them to the side. Bobby turned and built the fire up a bit further. "Come around this side of the desk," he said gruffly. "It'll be warmer."
Dean did as he'd instructed and pulled his boxers down to ride just below his hips. He looked massively uncomfortable, and Bobby couldn't blame him. Nevertheless, now he could see all of the pattern that extended around his navel to about an inch above his pubic hair.
"Maybe you should take a picture," Dean said suddenly, and Bobby looked up, startled. "I don't really want to have to strip off if you have a question later."
Bobby had been trying to come up with a way to broach the subject with him, but he wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth. He grabbed his camera and carefully focused on just the glyph. He snapped two pictures, just to be safe, then moved closer. "Okay, I'm sure this will sound very weird, but can I touch the skin?"
Dean grimaced. "Sure."
Bobby reached out and put his finger on the upper part of the design. Dean flinched slightly, but he didn't move away. The skin felt smooth, like normal scar tissue, and Bobby didn't know what he'd expected. Some remnant of energy, maybe. "What kind of sensation do you have?"
"Normal, I guess. It was really sensitive for a long time after it finally healed, but it's not like that now. It doesn't feel the same as the rest of my skin, but I have other scars, and they feel sort of the same."
"Not sure what that means," Dean said.
"The raised bump," Bobby said. He glanced at John. There wasn't much sound coming from him, and he hadn't come any closer when Dean and Bobby had moved around the desk. His eyes were focused on his son's body, and Bobby hoped he'd keep the tears in because they might be a little hard to explain to the kid. Before Dean could notice his distraction, he said, "What order were they done in?"
The color faded from Dean's face. "I . . . it . . . I think the first . . . was the back," he said, stumbling over his words badly.
"You think?" Bobby asked gently.
"I . . . my first clear memory starts during this one," Dean said, gesturing towards his belly but not touching it. "I already had that one then, so it must have come . . ." He shuddered. "I can't talk about this."
"It's okay," Bobby said, though it really wasn't. He needed more information. He needed every detail he could get, but he wasn't screwing up Dean's mental health to get it.
"The one on his left side was last," John said, and both of them turned to look at him. "The report."
Dean closed his eyes. Bobby grimaced. "You want a break, kid?"
"No," Dean said, his eyes flipping open. "Let's get this over with."
Bobby nodded. "Okay. I need another picture in front here."
Dean tensed, but he just stood still while Bobby moved in for a close up on the brand. It was intricate, but its lines were more clearly defined than seemed possible. He focused the camera in tight to catch every detail and hoped the picture would come out.
"Those were done . . . at different times than the . . . the other stuff," Dean said. "There was . . . a lot . . . of stuff."
Bobby looked closer and saw a whole lot of little tiny scars, no bigger around than a pencil lead. "I can see that," he said, his gut churning. John must have heard something in his voice because he was suddenly right beside him.
"My God, Dean," John said. "You said . . . but I didn't . . ."
"It's over," Dean said, and it was clear he was intensely uncomfortable with the close scrutiny. Bobby gave John a look, and he reluctantly backed off. Dean reminded him of a nervous colt, trembling slightly as he was examined. Bobby put a hand on Dean's shoulder as he went around behind him to help the kid know where he was. Once there, he couldn't help noticing a number of the same kinds of tiny, circular scars on Dean's back, too. He swallowed uneasily and stepped back to get a better look at the design. He picked up the fax and looked at it. This was the largest of the four glyphs, and Bobby realized, looking at it, that it was actually two glyphs, one of which he thought he recognized. "One minute," he said, and he went to the shelves to grab a book.
"What are you doing?" Dean asked, turning halfway around. "Hey, you can look at the books later. We are getting this over with as quickly as possible."
Caught in the middle of flipping through pages, Bobby looked up. "Balls . . . sorry." He put the book down on the desk and picked up the camera. "Sorry, Dean I wasn't thinking." He took pictures of the glyphs, together and separately, and then he got a picture of the brand. "Okay, the back is done. Can you lift your arm?"
Dean raised his right arm, resting his cast across the top of his head. Bobby leaned in with the camera. This one was narrower, and it was more blue than green in color. Bobby took the photos quickly, then moved around to Dean's left side. This glyph had healed less neatly, and Bobby wondered why. The lines were still clear and unbroken, but the edges weren't clean like with the others. He took his pictures and then backed away. "Get dressed, boy."
Dean dove for his shirt first. Not only was it easier to reach, it covered the part of himself that he most wanted to be concealed. That much was moderately obvious. He went around the table and got his jeans on.
Dean did up his fly, his hands shaking, hoping desperately that neither Bobby nor John had noticed. As soon as his clothes were straight, John grabbed his shoulder and turned him, then pulled him into a tight hug. The sudden closeness broke through Dean's barriers, and he found himself holding on to John, tears coursing down his face.
"You did good, Dean," John murmured. "You did great."
Dean heard movement, and he realized that Bobby had left the room. He just burrowed into John's arms. Later he knew he'd be embarrassed as hell, but right now the comfort felt really good. John backed them up to a loveseat and they sat down.
John was a father . . . something Dean had never known. No adult had ever made him feel this safe. Nothing had ever made him feel this safe.