Disclaimer: Not mine. Wouldn't do this to them if they were...
Author's note: Anyone who's read my other stuff knows that I use fanfic to deal with my endless stream of emotional crap I encounter in my job as a paramedic. Sometimes my job sucks, and I kinda think these guys would understand. Not all monsters can be run off with rock salt and a Latin incantation. And from the inside, I know that sometimes things just get to be too much, no matter what it looks like on the outside. Please read and review.
Sam had seen Dean get quiet when he was mad. Long hours of feeling his brother simmering in the driver's seat, waiting for the inevitable explosion where he yelled, punched a wall, picked a fight in a bar (picked a fight with Sam), or just smashed the hell out of something was not an abnormal thing in his life. Dean had no clue how to express his anger properly (neither did Sam, really, for that matter) and he had known for a long time that it was better to keep quiet.
Sam had seen Dean quiet when he was in pain. Blood flowing or bruises swelling through badly abused flesh that would have a normal person blubbering in agony met the Winchester brothers head-on and lost; both bore pain stoically. Sam couldn't even count the number of times he had stitched up wounds, set broken bones, done other torturous first aid on his brother that left him swallowing through a constricted throat and brushing away tears simply from causing Dean that much pain. But he was the only one shedding tears, Dean would be the strong one.
Sam had seen Dean quiet from exhaustion. Too many nights on the road, not enough cash to stop for the night. He knew if he was sleeping soundly, Dean would never wake him up to take a turn at the wheel. Hunts didn't always go as planned, sometimes they took all both of them had just to survive, and sometimes there was just no energy for pointless discussion. Sometimes there was no energy for any discussion past "You want the first shower?"
But this, the weird silence that was coming from the driver's seat, the strange tension in the stony set of his brother's shoulders was different. It wasn't anger, pain, or exhaustion, and Sam was pretty sure he had never seen it before. Metallica was playing, but at nowhere near the usual volume and Dean wasn't singing along. If there was ever a dead giveaway that something was bothering Dean, it was him not singing along with his mullet-rock favorites. If it was only at a quarter volume… it was bordering on apocalyptic. And you know, if something that major was going on, Sam needed to know about it, right? So he could kill it. That was how this worked… Something hurt one of them, the other killed it. Sam liked that idea, but he was pretty sure whatever was going on in his brother's head wasn't something he could kill. But there was always the chance…
"Spill it, bro," he said, going for casual but instead ending up with that weird 'trying for casual' tone.
He motioned to Sam with his can of Mountain Dew that had been sitting untouched in the cup holder for over an hour. "Either of us spills anything, you're cleaning it up."
Sam made a face. Of course Dean would be deliberately obtuse. It was practically encoded in his brother's DNA, and for the millionth time he casually wondered if he was adopted. "Okay, let me be a little more clear then… What's on your mind?"
Dean shrugged in an almost robotic motion, barely moving his ultra-tense muscles. "Wondering if we reloaded the shotgun with rock salt before we put it up. Thinking about our next job, what we might run into. And do you think the Flyers have a shot at the World Series?"
Sam narrowed his eyes, but couldn't keep the smirk off his face. "Yes, I reloaded the shotgun myself, after cleaning it. I'll do some research when we stop and see what I can come up with for our next job. And no, the Flyers don't have a chance in hell of making the World Series, because they play hockey. Seriously, Dean, I can tell something's bothering you. Talk to me."
Dean stared straight ahead, not once turning to look at Sam. "So, you wanna do the whole Dr. Phil thing, huh? Relax, Sammy. I'm fine. We got the bad guy, neither of us got injured, killed, or possessed, neither of us tried to kill the other, we're good."
Now Dean cast a glance at Sam, but it was forced-casual, for appearances only, he didn't meet his eyes. "Unless you did try to kill me? The poison in my Mountain Dew the slow-acting kind? Well, is it gonna hurt or will I just drop dead?"
"Relax, Sammy, I'm just messing with ya."
If it hadn't been for the distracted tone in Dean's voice, Sam might have believed his overused 'I'm fine'. But he didn't. Not for a second. He knew his brother better than he knew anyone in the world, and there was something boiling under the surface that could boil over and scald both of them if it wasn't watched carefully.
That only left one option. If a patient wouldn't tell the doctor where it hurt, that left the doctor to pretty much poke around until he got a reaction. "That was one intense hunt though. I mean, how often do we encounter something that dad's got nothing about in his journal." He watched for a reaction. Maybe it bothered him that this was further evidence their father wasn't omniscient. Wouldn't be the first time that sent Dean sulking. Not this time… "Talk about a lucky break with that old woman knowing the local legend. If we hadn't stopped it when we did, she would have been next. Then it would have taken out every elderly person in the area before anyone could have stopped it."
There it was! Tiny, almost imperceptible, but a twitch in Dean's right eye. He was close. "And we got there just in time to save Mrs. Mills. Two minutes later and-"
Bingo! Dean's face tightened fiercely. "Drop it, Sam. It's over, let's move on."
Okay, he got a reaction, but had no idea what it meant. Dean was right, the hunt had gone okay. So what was messing him up like this? Usually blasting something with the shotgun while Sam did a banishing spell made his night as long as neither of them got hurt. This was going to call for drastic measures. "Dean, tell me what's going on, please?"
Dean rolled his eyes, for the moment impervious to his kid brother's puppy-dog face. "Fine. Just tired."
"I don't think so," Sam said. "Now, come on… you gonna tell me, or am I gonna have to torture it out of you?"
Dean smirked. "You're gonna torture it out of me?" He made a show out of setting his face in a grimace. "Do your worst! You'll never make me talk!"
Sam pulled something out of his jacket pocket, hiding it carefully in his huge hand. "Remember, Dean… you made me do this. I didn't want to be this cruel, but you leave me no choice."
Dean played along. "Bring it on, I can take it."
With that, Sam reached over to the stereo, popped out the Metallica tape and put the one in his hand in, turning it up to full volume. Dean watched his brother curiously, until the music started. Sam couldn't hide a grin he watched Dean twitch a little, then start to squirm as if really being tortured. Sure, it was bad, but some of the crap Dean made him listen to…
Dean tried to be tough, tried really hard. He was not going to break. But by the second song, he was on the verge of cracking. "C'mon, Sammy! Barbara Streisand? Dude, turn it off!"
Sam shook his head, trying and failing to keep the smile off his lips. "IT doesn't end until you tell me what's bothering you." Dean looked pained, but kept his mouth shut.
By the third song, Dean let out a little whimper. "Sam, please! My ears are bleeding, here. Not to mention what you're doing to my baby. She'll never forgive me. You can do what you want to me, Sam, but don't punish the Impala!"
It was all Sam could do to keep from cracking up, because that would just break character. "It keeps going until you tell me what I want to know. You want to spare the car, you'll talk." He crossed his arms behind his head. "I can do this all day…"
Dean cringed, then pulled the car to the side of the road. "Alright, I'll talk. Just turn that off!" Sam snapped the stereo off. "Now take the tape out before it gets it's… cooties… in my tape player."
Dean didn't respond to that. "Dude, you have a cruel streak I seriously underestimated."
"I learned from you. And the tape's not coming out until you tell me what's bugging you."
Humor vacated Dean's eyes like it had never been there. He killed the engine and got out. Sam followed, and they leaned carefully on the back bumper. "Sam, first of all, I am only admitting this under duress, and it would not me admissible in court. You are forcing me to do this, and once it's out, I never want to hear about it again. Understand? I am about to have a full-on chick-flick moment, one that the girls would whimper and want to hug me over, and it gets left here, got it?"
"Do you want me to hug you?" Sam asked. Because he really couldn't resist…
"Do you want to die on the side of the road in Indiana?" Dean shot back. He straightened and turned fro the car. "Screw it. I can take whatever crap you dish out, it's better than this!"
Sam grabbed his arm. "I also have an Enya tape. And earplugs."
Dean shuddered. "Dude! You wouldn't!" Sam tilted his head, as if to say wouldn't I? and Dean cringed. "Okay, here goes…" He relaxed back down on the bumper, looking at the ground.
"It bothered me, okay? I'm used to seeing things… all sorts of things… do horrific things to people. And for some reason this one got to me." He chanced a look at Sam, actually met his eyes this time. But there was no recrimination there, no shock at his big brother's weakness. Only compassion and understanding. He went on. "I mean, old women, man! That is just wrong! Mrs. Mills was 97, a good woman with great-grandchildren. This isn't the way her story is supposed to end. She's supposed to die peacefully in her rocking chair on her porch surrounded by family."
Sam's brow creased. "But Dean, she didn't die. We saved her."
Dean shrugged, looking away. "Yeah, we saved her. Put her on a med-evac chopper with tubes sticking out of everywhere and a head injury." And blood everywhere, way too much blood, but he doesn't say that because he's baring enough of his soul right now, thank you very much…
"But the paramedics said she would probably make it."
Dean shrugged. "And if she does? She's gonna wake up in the hospital and tell them she was attacked by a monster, they'll think she's cracked in the head and not able to stay by herself anymore and she'll wind up in a nursing home somewhere, just a pre-morgue storage facility waiting to die! And until the day she does, she'll have to cope with the fact that all the things from nightmares really are out there." He turned back to Sam, anguish clearly written on his face, all self-consciousness forgotten. "It's bad enough when it's kids, man, but a kid's mind is adaptable. I mean, look at us…" He forced a grin, but when Sam didn't return it, he went on. "Adult minds just can't wrap around this stuff, especially one that has been around that long and seen things one way for that long." Dean let out a shaky breath, trying to regain some kind of control, embarrassed to be talking like this, letting this much weakness show. "It's just not the way her story should have gone!"
Sam's face twisted in sympathy, not just for his brother but also for the old woman and what Dean had seen but he hadn't. That was a switch. Usually Dean was the one oblivious to the emotional side of their jobs. Unless… Did Dean often feel like this and just had no way to show it? His anger and hatred for their father boiled up inside him yet again. All the things he had done to Sam could be forgiven, written off with the time he had been gone from home and the worry from him being missing. But the man had instilled in his oldest son the need to hide his feelings, his simple human reactions, to avoid appearing weak. Nausea flooded him and again he was sure his first act upon finding his father might be to give him a concussion. But for now, he had more pressing issues.
"Dean…" Okay, there was nothing he could say to that. Nothing at all. He was absolutely right. The old woman should have died peacefully in her own home with no more idea that there really were monsters than any other normal human. This wasn't the way her story should have ended. But there was a lot of that going around. Jess. Their mother. Every innocent they weren't able to save. "We do what we can. I wish like hell we could save them all. I'd give my own life for it if I could, but it doesn't work that way. We do what we can. And because of us, a lot of other elderly women in Maytown will have the story they deserve."
Dean nodded. "I know. And that's ok. That's what we do… but…"
Sam smiled a sad smile. "I know. Sometimes it doesn't feel like enough. But it has to be."
Dean straightened, and rolled his shoulders, shaking off the tension from the emotional moment. "So, now that we've had this big Oprah breakthrough, lets get out of here. If your big brother didn't drown you in estrogen just then…" He turned toward the driver's door when Sam caught his shoulder.
"Dean?" He said, waiting until he was sure he had his attention, two pairs of green eyes boring into each other. "You're human. And it's okay. You're supposed to be."
The corner of Dean's mouth twitched, and a second later, the full smile crossed his face. "Thanks, Sammy."
"It's Sam!" And just like that, they were back to normal. Sam headed for the passenger side, and Dean was already starting the engine by the time Sam folded his long limbs into a semi-comfortable position.
As they started to pull back onto the road, Dean broke into a full grin. "Hey, Sam?"
"You don't really have an Enya tape, do you?"
Sam laughed. "Of course not. Wouldn't do that to you anyway. That constitutes cruel and unusual punishment." He faced Dean, wide grin on his face. "Scared the crap out of you for a few minutes though."