Measure of a Man
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or its awesome characters, no matter how much I wish I could.
Summary: Sequel to Deanzilla vs. Hydros. Post ep 4.16. Sam doubts him. The angels use him. The demons mock him for breaking in Hell. Dean has been pushed to the brink. Unfortunately, his giant problems push back.
A/N: Hey everyone! If you're following me from Deanzilla, welcome back! If you're a newbie, you absolutely have to read that story before you read this one. Sorry, dem's da rules. Otherwise you'll be completely lost.
As in DZ, this story is set in season 4, although this sequel is later in the season, right after ep 4.16, "On the Head of a Pin." But I'm cautioning for spoilers for ALL of season 4, as I will be going slightly AU in this one. It'll be the usual mix of crack and angst, though more angst this time, I'm afraid. Rated T for language. Thanks and thanks and gravy thanks to Katiki for her always amazing beta work. And away we go…
Chapter One: Intentions and Deceptions
La Crosse, WI
The Winchester brothers sit on a dusty chaise lounge in an equally dusty house, waiting for the boogeyman they've been hunting for the past four days. It has already kidnapped six kids. Dean and Sam are going to make sure it ends tonight.
Sam sits like a human rabbit: ears perked, eyes sharp, long legs ready to jump into action. Dean, on the other hand, is a dog in a pound: fierce, tense, and shaking. Sweating, too. Sam knows his brother isn't afraid—far from it. Dean's been stabbing his silver blade at the air all day in preparation for the real deal at midnight. But he has been shaking often the last few days—in the car, at motels, even at breakfast that morning. Just…shaking, jaw clenched and fists shut tight, like he's riding out some sort of private pain. Sam knows he has to confront him about it. Of course, he also knows what answer (read: brush off) he'll get if he bothers.
The antique clock ticks over—one minute to midnight. Dean sees it too and gets his blade ready, only to huddle over his knees, shaking even harder than before.
"Sam, if you ask me if I'm okay one more time, I'll shove this knife down your throat."
"Didn't know you were into that sort of thing."
The temperature in the room drops, and the boys get up and move to their positions in opposite corners of the room: Sam by the huge, green marble fireplace, Dean by the ornate bookshelves. The boogeyman has been grabbing local kids from their beds and vanishing with them through their closets. They only discovered where he disappeared to out of sheer luck: Sam was wrestling with it at a different house the night before and got thrown into the closet. He caught a glimpse of the very fireplace he's standing next to through a portal behind the children's clothes, just before the creature grabbed him again and threw him back out. A quick Web check of local history and green marble fireplaces brought up this Victorian house-turned-historical site just outside of La Crosse, and the guys found all six kids in the basement, miraculously still alive.
"Probably keeping them all for Sunday dinner," Dean quipped morbidly. "Sick bastard."
Dean had wanted to take the kids home right away, but Sam argued, sadly, that they had to stay put for now. Dean was livid, but Sam reminded him that they were setting a trap. "And if it finds out all the kids it took were returned, it won't come back here. It'll probably skip town and go find other kids, Dean." Dean had conceded Sam's point, but he insisted on being the one to tell the kids they couldn't go home yet. Sam didn't know what hurt more after that: hearing the kids cry, or seeing the destroyed look on Dean's face when he came back up the stairs.
"I'm killing that son of a bitch tonight, Sam," he growled. "Count on it."
Now both brothers watch as the clock ticks over, and the chimes start dinging out the time. Midnight. Somewhere in La Crosse, the boogeyman is entering a little kid's bedroom. Sam and Dean get ready. A minute passes by. Then two. Dean whispers "Come on already," and the closet door flies open. The guys press into the shadows as it walks in, a squat monster carrying a little boy and girl in its overlong arms. Razor-sharp teeth grin down at them from an impish face covered in mangy dark hair, and it kicks the door shut with its bare, hairy foot. The kids scream, and the beast snarls back.
"Not today, Frodo."
No sooner are Dean's words out that Sam shoots the thing in its foot. It screeches in pain and the kids scramble free. Sam grabs the kids as Dean tackles the boogeyman from behind. The creature rebounds and chucks Dean through the canopy bed posts. Sam starts to head back, but Dean gets to his feet and glares at him with urgency. "Go, GO! Stick to the plan!" So Sam carries the kids downstairs and outside to the Impala, unlocking the door with frantic fingers so they can join the other kids already waiting inside. The children are freaked out, and Sam does his best to calm them down and keep them quiet, trying not to shudder every time he hears a thud or swear from inside the house.
Okay, so Frodo's been working out, Dean thinks as he gets thrown to the floor. The short monster is a lot stronger than it looks, and its stupidly long arms can grab Dean no matter how far away he is. Grabby hands clutch his shirt, so Dean stabs his silver knife into the left arm. The boogeyman screams as blood sizzles out of the wound, and it uses its free arm to slam Dean clear through the floor and into the kitchen downstairs. The arms reach through the hole to grab him again, but this time something grabs the boogeyman instead. Tugged down into the kitchen, it comes face to face with a bigger version of the hunter it was just fighting. Dean has let himself grow a few feet. The creature looks confused, and Dean smirks at it as he holds it up by its long arms.
"Yeah, I only do this as a last resort," he explains as he smacks the boogeyman against the wall. "Didn't really need to today, but the kids you kidnapped are scared and hungry, so I figured I'd better hurry up," he slams it on its back on the floor, "and end you." Sam comes into the kitchen just as Dean plunges his silver knife through the boogeyman's heart. The monster shrieks, glass bursting all around them from the noise, until it melts from its own sizzling blood into a mushy, hairy mess. Dean, still eight feet tall, takes his knife back and walks over to the sink to wash it off.
"The kids all right?" he asks Sam over his shoulder.
"Yeah, they're all outside. Come back down and we'll take them home."
Dean nods and, following his brother out into the front room, releases his control so that he can normalize again. Instead, he grows another foot. "What the—?" they ask together. Dean tries again, and his head hits the high, 12-foot ceiling. He groans in pain, clenching at his stomach, and falls to his knees, still growing.
"Dean?! What's going on?" Sam shouts.
Big, scared green eyes look at him. "I don't know!" Dean grows again. "I can't stop!"
Then Dean expands so fast that Sam can't even comprehend it. He hears Dean yell at him to get out, but a huge knee covers the front door before Sam gets there. Dean is shaking again, and the old house shakes with him. His back bursts through the second floor, destroying the hole the boogeyman made and taking the bedroom with him. "SAM?!" Dean cries, trying to see where his brother could be, but new, sharp pain shuts his eyes tight. Bigger and bigger...his knees push through the staircase and it collapses into his lap. The furniture slides into the walls as Dean's body demands more room, kicking up so much dust that he has to fight a sneeze. Then CRASH! Dean's head bursts through the roof, showering the yard with shingles and old timber. Dean shifts his shoulders, trying to find his brother, and as he moves, the entire house falters, crumbling into ruin. His pain eases up at last, but Dean is too fraught with worry to notice. The kids are screaming somewhere close by; Dean prays he didn't hurt them on his way 'up.' Once the dust clears and the commotion dies down, Dean sifts through the mess with his gigantic hands.
"No...no, please be okay..." He hears a small cough, and he lifts a section of the roof off. Sam is on his back, so covered in sawdust that he looks bleached. Dean carefully picks him up and blows the dust off the little body. His brother is no bigger than the length of his palm.
"Sammy?" Dean asks gently. "You still with me?" Sam coughs again, so Dean rolls him over onto his side and holds him there with a finger. Sam holds onto the big finger and sits up, coughing a few more times as he brushes plaster out of his hair.
"Can't—cough!—take you anywhere," Sam rasps.
Dean grins with relief. "You okay?"
"Think so. Head kinda hurts."
"Headache or concussion?"
Sam squints up at him as he brings a hand over the swelling bump on his head. "You hit me with your elbow," he grumbles.
"Shit, I'm sor—"
"And then your elbow pushed me through a closet full of mothballs. And THEN the closet and mothballs collapsed on top of me." Sam spits off the side of Dean's hand; his tongue is as dusty as the rest of him. Then he looks up and into Dean's apologetic face, and Sam's concern takes over. "What happened, Dean? Why couldn't you stop?"
"I don't know," Dean answers in truth. "I just…it hurt all over, and…" He shakes his head, as frustrated as he is flummoxed, and looks away.
"It hurt?" Sam repeats—he can't believe Dean just admitted he was in pain. Dean gives him a little nod. "Does it…are you still hurt?" This time he gets no answer, and Dean won't look at him. "Dean?"
"The kids are gone." Dean sets Sam on the ground at once, his eyes never leaving the spot where the porch used to be. "I heard them screaming…you don't think—"
"They're fine, Dean," Sam swears, and Dean looks down to him. "I locked them all in the car. See?" He points, and Dean looks. Several pairs of terrified eyes are staring at him, little mouths open in abject fear. Dean turns away and starts to stand up.
"Take them home, Sam." Dean hears the kids screaming again as he straightens to his full height, so he keeps his head down and his eyes on his shoes. "I've got a big night ahead of me."
Big Night—the most literal codeword they've ever used—tells Sam to wait for a phone call from Dean once he's found a place to lay low until he gets back to normal. The giant steps over what's left of the house. Sam unlocks the Impala and gets behind the wheel.
"Hurry up! Monster's gonna get us!" a little girl shouts in his ear. Sam winces as he starts the car.
"The monster's dead."
"Not that monster, THAT one!" She points past Sam's nose at the retreating giant. Sam sees Dean flinch and knows his brother heard that.
"He isn't a monster," Sam informs them. "He's my brother, and he just SAVED all you."
"Yeah, and then he nearly killed us by bringing the house down," a slightly older boy grumps.
Sam sighs. There's gratitude for you. He turns the Impala onto the road and guns the gas. Dean keeps walking in the other direction, head down and teeth gritted.
Way to fuck up again, Dean.
Dean has always been hard on himself. It's second nature to him. Two rules have defined his life since childhood: never let people down, EVER, and no mistakes allowed, PERIOD. John had probably only meant them as rules for hunting, but he never bothered to tell that to his eldest; Dean took them as Gospel. Spilling milk was just as bad as forgetting extra ammo. Being slow in getting the chores done was akin to being too slow to save someone. Giving 100% was not nearly enough—it was 200 minimum or don't bother. Dean's creed was branded on his heart long before he ever went on his first hunt. And making himself abide by such impossible standards only made his self-doubt worse.
Lately, Dean's inner critic has been downright merciless. Nothing he does is good enough, not on hunts and especially not with taking care of Sam, and his failure weighs on him like heavy chains, dragging him down and holding him back. And Dean knows exactly why. Like he'd ever let himself forget:
You broke in Hell. You tortured souls and brought on the end of the world. And all because you failed. You're a FAILURE, Dean. Always have been, always will be.
The thoughts crush him as much as they anger him to the point of wanting to prove himself. Why bother? Sam was right, he thinks in both grief and bitter self-loathing, you ARE weak. You ARE pathetic. It's a fucking miracle he even talks to you anymore. How can he stand to be in the same room with you? It's no wonder he sneaks out all the time.
Dean ignores the tears he can feel forming and tries to focus on the moon, but his dark thoughts refuse to be silenced. Just think how Sammy's gonna freak when he learns who broke the first seal. Well, if you ever grow a pair and TELL him, Chickenshit. Dean shuts his eyes as his shoulders droop from the impossible weight he carries. After all, having a demon tell you that you started the Apocalypse, and then having an angel tell you hey, you broke it, you fix it—that's a pretty damn heavy load. But Dean bears it—just adds it to the top of the humongous pile of problems he's carried his entire life, struggling to hold the teetering tower level and keep himself moving. But it's getting harder and harder every day.
And the giant thing? Yeah, so not helping.
He'd followed the advice he got from Meesh to the letter at first: two nights a week, he'd let himself grow and sleep outside. Sam stayed with him every time, tucked in to Dean's shirt pocket and snoring away. It wasn't easy to maintain that schedule, what with seals breaking and hunts demanding their time and attention, not to mention both angels and demons on their backs. But for the first two months, they did their best. Dean was slowly starting to gain control over his powers, able to grow when he wanted and, most importantly, go back to normal with relative ease.
But then the siren happened. And everything changed when Dean heard what his brother really thought about him. Sure, Sam's said he's sorry, but Dean knows he doesn't mean it. Dean spoke the truth to Sam, after all. He knows in his gut that Sam did likewise, and all the siren venom did was loosen his lips.
Things have been tense since then. Sam is still talking to Ruby and keeping secrets from Dean, even though he knows how much Dean hates that he does both of those things. So Dean has been pushing them to take on as many hunts as possible, partly to keep Sam too busy to run off with that demon bitch, but mostly to prove to Sam—to EVERYone—that Dean Winchester is NOT weak and is NOT pathetic and is still the most badass hunter around.
Even if Dean himself has stopped believing that.
So a busier schedule has meant less and less time to deal with Dean's little growing problem. He went from having his Big Night twice a week to once, then to once every other week, until he finally just stopped having them. The shaking started in soon after that—a trembling that began in his fingers and soon raced through the rest of him, flooding his body with adrenaline. Dean would channel the energy into his hunts, but soon even that wasn't enough. This urge was building up inside him: a literally painful need to change, to grow, to get OUT. But he forced it down, just like it was any other pain or worry. He had people to save and a brother to protect, and as always, their needs came before his own.
But the shakes got worse, no matter how hard he tried to control them. And tonight…well, Dean still isn't sure how it happened, but when he let himself grow a few feet, it was like a crack in a dam. Energy rushed through him, and when Dean tried to fight it, he got hit by pain. The energy pushed back and soon the entire dam failed as Dean grew and grew and grew. Now he's stuck at 60ish feet tall. His usual tricks to force himself back to normal (first concentrating, then ignoring, then distracting) have failed, and Dean is still struggling to shrink when the Impala's engine rumbles into earshot, Sam following Dean's text messaged instructions to get to the bluff under which he is hiding.
The Impala drives up on top of the bluff and parks in front of the Scenic Overlook sign. Sam skips the moonlit view and peers over the edge. His brother's head is resting just a few feet below. Dean lifts his hand up and Sam steps on without a word—they've done this a million times before, after all, and the weirdness factor wore off long ago. Sam sits down in the big palm as Dean brings him in front of his face.
"Kids get back okay?" Dean asks just to make conversation. Sam yawns and nods.
"Yeah. Dropped them all off at the hospital just to be safe. Got out of there before the police arrived." Sam looks up at him. "How are you?"
"Oh just duckie," he mutters. "Couldn't be happier." Sam gives him a tired glare, and Dean drops the sarcasm. "I'm fine. Big," he looks himself over, "kinda headachy, but fine. Let's get some sleep."
Turning to the side, Dean lies down on his back and lifts Sam to his chest. Sam walks over to his usual spot on the left hand shirt pocket—well, jacket pocket this time around—and crawls in. Dean yawns a goodnight to his little brother. Sam sighs in reply.
"Dean, I've been thinking…"
"Dangerous habit," Dean quips, keeping his eyes shut. He feels a little, bitchy glare on him, so Dean frowns. "What's on your mind, Sammy?"
"Maybe…you should take a break."
Dean's eyes snap open. "What?"
"You've been pushing yourself for weeks, Dean. You barely sleep, you don't eat—"
"What? I still eat!"
"Not like you used to," Sam says evenly. "And now this…whatever it was that happened tonight...I think it's your body's way of saying Slow Down."
Dean sits up on his elbows and looks down at his brother. "Yeah, all right Sammy, I'll take a break. Find a hammock, drink something with an umbrella in it, and have a nap. I'm sure the Apocalypse will stop itself."
"Lilith will just give up on the seals, the angels will go bug someone else for a while…everything'll be just swell."
"I'll still be out there, Dean!" Sam says, voice rising in anger.
Dean gives a slow nod. "Oh that's what this is about. You want to cut me loose."
"I didn't say that."
"Don't need your weak, pathetic brother holding you back anymore."
Sam sighs again. "How many more times do I need to apologize for saying that?"
"Till you meant it," Dean murmurs.
"I DO mean it."
"Do you?" Dean challenges, staring him down. Sam stands up to better look him in the eye.
"All I want is for you to give yourself a break, Dean. That's all. I don't want you to stop hunting, and I don't want to hunt without you. But I DO want you to take care of yourself. Okay?" Dean rolls his eyes, so Sam stomps his foot on Dean's clavicle. "OKAY?"
"OW, yeah, fine, okay, whatever!" Both brothers bring hands to their aching heads, and both note the other's pain and concern. Neither one of them says anything though. Dean just lies back down, and Sam goes back to the shirt pocket and follows suit. Both pairs of eyes close on yet another touchy conversation. It seems to be the norm more than the exception these days.
Later that night, around 2 a.m...
Sam wakes up when his phone vibrates against his hip. He slips the phone out for a look, but it doesn't buzz again. He looks at the number at the top of the Missed Call screen and gets to his feet at once. His eyes go up to his brother's huge face as he stands completely still, waiting for any tell that his brother is awake. But Dean sleeps on, oblivious to his stirring brother. Sam jumps off the giant chest and freezes again, watching the slumbering giant. He waits an entire minute just to be safe before he runs off, rounding the bottom of the bluff and moving close to the woods. Only then does he finally return the call.
"What is it?" he asks before she can even say hello. He paces as she explains what's going on. "Now? Why can't I wait till—?" She cuts him off, and he nods while his free hand rubs his forehead. "I can't," he tells her. "I have…I WANT to stay with Dean." She sasses something back. "It wasn't his fault!" She hits him with some hard facts, and Sam heaves out a long breath as he looks at his watch. "Yeah. YEAH, fine, all right. But we have to be back before dawn." He looks back toward the bluff. "And we are NOT doing this again," he mutters. She hangs up, and so does he, stuffing the phone back in his pocket. His guilt and his sense of duty vie for control of the situation, each of them telling Sam what he should do. Ultimately he just shakes his head. "You won't even know I'm gone," he whispers, and then he turns and runs for the trail that leads back to the road at the top of the bluff.
Not far away, Dean blinks his eyes. "Like hell I won't," he whispers back, having heard the whole thing. A few minutes later, a car creeps up, and he hears Sam get in. Dean sits up straight once they've gone and watches the taillights disappear from view. The usual disappointment's there, of course. So is the annoyance at the lie he knows Sam will give him once he's back. It's become routine, and it pisses Dean off to no end.
He stands up and decides to save Sam the trouble of coming up with an excuse.
Soon after sun-up, around 6 a.m.
Sam is practically squirming in the passenger seat of Ruby's car. "Will you calm down?" she both asks and tells him. "You look like someone put scorpions in your underpants."
"The sun is up and we're not there," he says through his teeth. "I TOLD you we had to be back before sunrise!"
"Hey, it isn't my fault the demon didn't go peacefully. How was I supposed to know it had that much fight in it?"
"Because YOU'RE a demon."
"Yeah, thanks, Sam, didn't need reminding." Ruby pulls the car to a stop at the end of the road that leads to the bluff. Sam gets out at once but keeps himself from slamming the door like he wants to. Instead he leans down and uses the side mirror to make sure he doesn't have any blood on his face.
"You're fine, Sam," she assures him. "Your little secret's still safe. I'll never tell." She winks, and Sam stands away from the car. She turns the car around and takes off, leaving Sam behind to make that long walk up that short road. He knows a pissed off and possibly still giant Dean will be waiting for him. The cover story begins to form in his mind immediately.
I thought I heard something, Dean. The kind of something we hunt. No I didn't wake you—I didn't want to bother you till I knew if it was a threat or not. Sam shakes his head, hating himself for being able to picture the whole conversation. The lies come so easily to him now. God knows I've had practice, he berates himself. But he has no choice in the matter: Dean will never accept Ruby, and Sam cannot let Lilith win. Not ever. He has to kill her, and Sam has to do whatever it takes to get to her.
Even drinking demon blood, his inner voice sings. Sam pretends he can't still detect the copper aftertaste on his palate, and that his body isn't still thrumming with power. Are the lies really worth it, Sammy? his conscience asks him now. Do you enjoy your secret double life? Cos if you're not careful, your secret life will be your only life. Dean isn't going to look the other way forever.
I'm doing this for Dean! he thinks back with angry justification. ALL of it!
How does snacking on demon blood help Dean, exactly?
Sam forces himself to look at his surroundings in order to quiet the noise in his head. He approaches the edge of the cliff...readies himself for a yelling…and looks down.
Dean isn't there.
"Dean?" Sam looks around and notices that the Impala is gone as well. "Dean?!" Sam gets his phone out at once, heart and mind already racing with dread and worst case scenarios. Dean's phone rings through to voice mail. "Dean, it's me. Where are you? I—" Sam cuts himself off before he lies that he woke up to find Dean gone, just in case Dean already knows. "Just call me when you get this, okay?"
Sam hangs up and dials Bobby. He knows it's early and he knows how cranky Bobby will be, but this can't wait. Bobby picks up. "Bobby, hey, sorry to call, but it's—"
"He's fine, Sam."
Sam blinks. "What?"
"Dean. He's here."
Sam can't believe what he's hearing. "What?!" he can't help but ask again.
"Yeah, strolled into the yard about fifteen minutes ago. Woke me up when he set the Impala down and lounged out behind the house. Didn't say much except to tell you he's fine if you called. I was just about to fall back asleep when you woke me up—thanks for that."
"Sorry," Sam says absently, still trying to wrap his head around what he's just learned. "So you're saying that Dean…walked to your house?"
"Looks like it. His legs are long enough…"
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Just have to find a car to borrow."
"Take your time," Bobby yawns. "Not like either of us is goin' anywhere…"
Sam pockets his phone and glares at the world. When I get to Bobby's, I'm so kicking Dean's giant ass…
A little before ten that morning, a maroon pick-up truck pulls into Singer's Salvage Yard. Sam gets out of the cab and storms around the side of the house. He sees the Impala first, and then, just behind her, a wall of green cotton. "DEAN!" he yells. The wall of green cotton wrinkles as the giant is startled awake. Sam stands fuming as Dean's torso and head slowly sit up.
"Mornin' sunshine," Dean drawls.
"You LEFT, Dean! What were you thinking? How could you do that to me?!"
"Oh that's rich, coming from you." Dean rolls his back down until he's leaning against the back of Bobby's house. "Like your double standards, don't you Sammy?"
Sam crosses his arms. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Dean hits him with a 'really?' look and licks his lips. "It's just funny that it's perfectly okay for you to sneak off in the middle of the night all the time, but the one time I do the leaving, suddenly it's a federal offense."
Sam is flattened by the words; he struggles to come up with a reply, but he knows there's nothing to say. Dean rubs a hand over his sleepy eyes. "Don't bother giving me your cover story bullshit," he murmurs. "Just put some coffee on, or let me get some more sleep. Or both. I don't care."
Dean lets his eyes rest as he readjusts how he's leaning against the house. He listens to Sam's footsteps in the gravel, and then the door to Bobby's house open and creak shut. Only then does Dean allow himself the tiniest of smirks.
Now you know how it feels, little brother.
He wishes he could enjoy his little victory, but it only makes him feel worse.
A/N Additional: Told you there'd be more angst, but I promise, there will also be crackitude ahead :) Also, PeaceJoJo already made a manip for this story. Check my profile to see her awesome pic!