Sam Winchester knows a lot. In fact, mostly against his will, he's learned things that most people will never even know they need to know. He knows the usefulness of obscure plants and herbs. Knows how to draw sigils and symbols that attract or repel the entities that lurk below the surface of every day life. If there was a Banshee, Ifrit or Gana, he could kill it, trap it, banish it, or what have you. Sam had a good memory, and once he learned something, he never forgot it.
All that knowledge was useless, however, when it came to what he really needed to know. Because what Sam needed to know was how his big brother was doing. What was he doing? How was his life going out there, andwithout Sam?
So, yeah. He couldn't find any of that stuff out in ancient texts or on obscure websites. He couldn't call Bobby or Rufus, or any other hunters for intel. Dean wasn't lo-jacked or bugged or under video surveillance. For this information, he needed to do good, old-fashioned leg work. Covert, unseen, and completely-under-the-radar stalking, was really what was called for. And, once he got started, Sam kind of got hooked on knowing all the little details that made up Dean's new life.
For instance, Dean went to work every morning around 7:30. He was working construction, making $24.70 per hour, and driving a dark green Ford pickup. He did the soccer pick up on Thursdays (and, if Sam happened to drift into Cicero more often on Thursdays, well, he was a covert stalker, and no had had to be the wiser.) He'd hacked into the high school's computer system and now read the morning announcements every day. Ben's soccer team had a 2-3 record so far this season, and Ben had also raised $46.00 (3rd place) for the basketball uniforms in the big car wash last weekend. Lisa now taught yoga at the community center on Tuesday and Saturday nights, otherwise working at the bank on Harrison Street. She and Dean had gone to Vegas two months ago for a long weekend. (Following the credit card records was easy once Sam learned that Dean was using the name Hector Frampton…a fact obtained when he may or may not have gone through the trash.) Sam figured, if he was going to be a stalker, he was going to be a good stalker.
Sam let himself do all this, didn't talk himself out of it, didn't question why he needed all these details of Dean's life. He just knew that, knowing these things soothed him, somehow.
The thing was, there were times that Sam actually, just, really missed the fuck out of Dean. On those nights when his head was filled with images and echoes from hell, and he was alone and spinning, he kind of ached to have Dean next to him.
Still, he wanted his brother to be free more than he needed to have Dean come hold his hand. Even if Sam screwed everything else up, he was not going to go crying to Dean and wreck the life he had finally made for himself. Dean had a family, now. A real family, not a drill sergeant , father and a rebellious, touched-by-a-demon brother. Lisa seemed good for him. When Sam watched them through his high-powered binoculars she was almost always smiling. And, she directed most of those smiles right at Dean.
And Dean was taking to it. Those first few months, Sam had watched and even from a distance he would see how grim Dean felt. He was pretty good at hiding it, but Sam knew him too well to buy his too-ready smiles and hearty, hollow laughter. The events at Stull Cemetery, hell, the whole past few years, had been hard on Dean. Sam understood that. But, now, almost a year later, Dean's smiles came easier, and more often.
So, he didn't call him. He didn't knock on Dean's door. But, he did drive down to Cicero every so often and skulk around the edges of Dean's life until the need to talk to Dean, to just be next to him and feel everything that meant, passed.
Sam was a good ghost. He knew how to stay out of sight. No one ever spotted him. There was a hospital across from Dean's construction job. It hadn't been difficult to sneak in, climb up to the roof and find a perch that was hidden by the air compressors and vent outlets. He'd watch, eat a couple of sandwiches, sip a soda, and everything in him that was disconnected and shaky would settle. He'd watch Dean with a blow torch or a compression hammer, or whatever the hell else he used while he worked, and he'd just feel connected. Dean would joke with the guys he worked with, smile and laugh and work hard.
He was the same with Lisa and Ben, even with the neighbors Sam would see him wave at when he got home from work. Dean had a way with people, a way of making connections with people, that seemed so effortless and natural. Everyone that Dean let in, liked him. It's just that, for most of his life, it hadn't been safe or practical to let anyone in. Now, he was free to drop some of his walls, and let other people see the parts of him that weren't all about killing demons and protecting wayward little brothers.
Sam was proud of him, actually. Dean had gone from a soldier battling life and death and destiny to a guy joining a community, driving carpool and having cook outs. And, as with everything Dean did, he did it with a level of competency and confidence that thoroughly impressed Sam.
Sam might have left it at that, seeing Dean rejoin life and being successful at it. As far as Sam was concerned, he'd learned what he'd set out to know and he could have left Dean in peace. But, just when Sam was ready to say 'So long, have a good life,' the family across the street from Dean and Lisa's house had moved out. Their house was empty and right there. Sam couldn't resist. He kind of used it as his base when he was Cicero. He'd come in at night, sack out on the floor, and watch the little house across the street through the floor to ceiling venetian blinds. He could follow Dean's life whenever he wanted without him being the wiser.
He didn't know if he should be ashamed or not. But, he still did it. He watched as Dean, Lisa and Ben went in and out. He watched them tease each other, laughing as they unloaded groceries or carried a cooler and folding chairs to catch a soccer game. Friday nights, Ben usually had friends over and Sam could see Dean and Lisa in the kitchen making homemade pizzas for the hungry teens. Sam just smiled, adjusted his sleeping bag and felt sleep come easier than anywhere else.
Today, Sam had come down to Cicero because his last hunt had left him kind of hollow.
Before last week, what Sam knew of a Kobold was this: they were supposed to be good luck sprites. They lived in houses and teased and entertained the owners if they liked them. Sam had never heard of one going rogue, becoming angry and murderous. But, this one had. It had not taken to the family that had recently moved in to its house: Mom, Dad, five-year-old Seth and eight year-old Ethan. Sam had gotten wind of the case because the five year-old had been killed. He'd been tossed down the steps once, and when he'd landed, miraculously alive, the Kobold had flung him back up the stairs, spun him around, and thrown him right back down again. The second trip had snapped his neck. The coroner's report had caught his eye both because the boy had been tossed up the stairs before going down again, and because the mother swore she'd heard laughing and smelled evergreens when she'd watched it all happen. Cops had put it all down to hysteria. But, Sam had remembered hearing that Kobolds always laughed when they manifested, and that they brought some of the forest with them.
Two days ago, Sam had gone to the house intending to take a look around. He'd picked the back door lock, and seen both parents laid out in the foyer, still breathing but unconscious. He'd heard the giggling, run up the stairs just in time to see the Kobold about to toss the eight year-old to the same fate as his brother. Sam had wasted no time ramming the iron stake into the grinning thing's chest. When the spirit dissipated, Sam had gone over to the boy, wanting to reassure him that the evil spirit was really gone, and that his parents were alive and breathing.
The boy, Ethan, had looked up at him, not crying or shaking or anything. He'd just stood there, watching Sam with these big, incredibly sad eyes. He just stared at Sam, eyes pleading for something…And, it hit Sam. The kid wasn't relieved or thankful. He was disappointed that Sam had stopped the Kobold. He'd softly sighed, whispered, "I wish you could have waited…"
Sam put his hand on the boy's shoulder while he called 911, reported a break in, told the operator the family was hurt but alive. He knew he had about 4 minutes to help this boy make sense of the mess his life had become before the cops came. Sam sat down in front of the kid, put his hands on the little fragile shoulders, looked him right in the eyes. He spoke gently but firmly. "Listen to me. I know you've been through something unspeakably awful. You miss your brother, and you don't understand why anything would want to hurt him. Maybe you're wishing it had come for you instead. But, believe me when I tell you there is nothing you could have done to stop it. That thing was evil, and it went for the weakest victim. There was nothing you could have done. Nothing your mom or dad or brother could have done. Do you hear me? It was just, your family was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, you know? It wasn't fair, it wasn't right, but it wasn't anybody's fault. It wasn't your fault."
The big eyes blinked, tears started to form. Ethan's voice was soft, wrecked. "I should have helped him. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there. And, now, Seth is gone." He leaned his forehead forward until it touched Sam's.
Sam ran one of his hands down the small, bony little back. "I know it hurts. I know you loved him and would've done anything to save him. But, sometimes, there's nothing we can do. Sometimes, we just have to accept that a bad thing happened, and go on, you know?" Sam didn't really know what he was doing, but he kept trying. He heard the faint sound of sirens. "Your mom and dad are going to need you, okay? Your brother wouldn't want you to be sad, or to follow him. Trust me. I'm a little brother, too. And I would never want my big brother to get hurt, or to be sad because I was gone. I think your brother would want you to stay here with your mom and dad. Find a way to have a good life. I think that would make him happy."
The kid was crying silently. He nodded and heaved a tired sigh. Sam pulled back, knew he had to get out of here. "Ethan, you can still love your brother, okay?" Sam tapped the little chest with his index finger. "You'll always have him right here."
The boy looked up at him, his eyes serious and measuring. He stepped back, too. Nodded again, wiped his nose.
The sirens were closer. Sam stood up. "You can tell them whatever you want, whatever you think happened, okay? Just, if you can, kind of forget what I look like, alright?"
The kid softly answered, "Okay."
Sam had taken off and headed straight for Cicero.
He knew that today, soccer practice started at 4:00. The team had a big game on Saturday. Their division rivals from someplace called Walt Whitman High. It sounded pretentious. Sam hoped Cicero kicked their asses. He drove over to the field, parked on the other side of the woods, walked in. He could watch from the trees and shrubs that surrounded the field. There was a nice spot under some hydrangea bushes that still had purple and pink blooms on them. He could sit pretty comfortably and watch through the binoculars while staying completely hidden.
Ben was playing with a little more confidence now that the season was underway. The kid wasn't very fast, but he seemed like a team player, passed the ball as much as he dribbled it, and the other kids seemed to like him. Sometimes Lisa would pick him up, but, today was Thursday, so it would be Dean.
Sure enough, after about a half hour of play, Dean's truck pulled into the parking lot. Sam trained his lenses on Dean and he absorbed every detail he could. Dean looked good, healthy. He'd put on a few pounds, was peeled down to just a t-shirt, and looked sweaty but happy as he walked over to the bleachers and sat down. He put his elbows on his knees and followed the play on the field intently.
Sam remembered Dean watching him play soccer when he'd been in middle school. They'd stayed in some small town in Indiana long enough for Sam to join a team. He had taken it for granted then. Looking up and seeing Dean sitting there the same way he was now, always in the same spot, always a little away from the other spectators. Dean had been old enough to drive, rangy and distant as far as the other kids were concerned. He'd sit in the stands, elbows on his knees, grubby from whatever summer job he was holding down, and watch with that focus he'd always had about anything important to him. Even Sam's stupid soccer practices. Sam would look up, see him sitting there, and just be happy. Happy that Dean was there, but also really stoked about the fact that could just be normal brothers for as long as Sam was running up and down the field. No monsters, no weapons, no training. Just, a big grassy field and a little ball to kick around. Dean had come to all the games, too. Dad hadn't made it to many. Maybe two over the course of the two years Sam had tried to play on organized teams. But, Dean had always been there. He remembered, even as a self-absorbed adolescent, appreciating that Dean took the time to give a crap about the whole thing.
Dean had a way of sneaking up on things like that. He wouldn't really ask much about it, but, he'd show up, take everything in. When Sam went three games without coming close to scoring, he'd thrown his cleats at the car and said he didn't know why he sucked so hard at this fucking game. Dean had shrugged as he checked the paint job, made sure Sam's hissy fit hadn't scratched the car. Then, he'd looked Sam right in the eye. "You hang back like you're waiting for those guys to give you permission. Just, go, Sam. Take the ball, outpace those slow-assed midgets and get it done."
In those years, Sam had listened to everything Dean said and taken it as gospel. So, he'd considered. Thought it was pretty good advice, and scored in the next six games, sometimes twice.
He should have remembered that these last couple of years. How Dean knew him, how he watched everything that related to Sam, and how he always had good advice. Instead, Sam had ignored all Dean's warnings, about Ruby and the powers and the demon blood and all of it. Should have just kept it simple and listened to Dean. For whatever problems they'd had between them, from Dean's perspective, he'd always had Sam's best interests at heart.
And, so, Sam was willing to pay the price of his exile. Because, he'd made enough mistakes to earn his place here, hiding in the damn bushes of a high school soccer field. And, Dean? He had earned his place in the sun.
Sam watched a little longer, until practice broke up and the kids started to match up with their waiting parents. Dean walked over to Ben, talked to him for a minute, gestured with his arms, then mimed a kick. Probably giving Ben some damn good advice. Sam hoped Ben was smart enough to listen.
Tonight, Dean would go home to Lisa and they would have dinner then go grocery shopping, get all the ingredients for the pizza they would make tomorrow night for Ben and his friends.
Tomorrow, Sam would take off for Arizona and an Acheri that seemed to be giving campers trouble. Because Sam knew how to take care of an Acheri. And, Dean knew how to make a life, without Sam, here in Cicero.