Sam cleared his throat nervously before knocking at the door. He heard rustling, then a woman's voice saying "I'll get it." He almost changed his mind, almost walked away before the door opened and he had to face the two women. Maybe it wasn't such a terrific idea. He still wasn't sure why he was doing this, or what words would come out of his mouth if they let him in.
Just as he was about to turn away the door opened, and there was Layla, smiling in greeting, "Sam! What are you doing here?"
"I don't know…I…I just…" Great, Sam, real smooth.
"Well, come in. Are you OK? Is Dean OK?"
"Yes, I'm…he's OK."
She opened the door wide and he followed her in and took a seat on the sofa when she gestured. His mouth was dry and now he was inside, he was pretty sure this was a really bad idea.
Layla sat across from him, leaning forward, concern on her face. She waited for him to begin.
"Layla, I'm really sorry about what happened, that the Reverend couldn't heal you."
"Sam, don't worry. It's not your fault. I'm happy Dean was healed."
"I don't want to put any more on you, but I just needed to tell you something. Dean…he told me about the conversation you guys had outside the Reverend's house. About what your mom said."
Layla frowned, "She shouldn't have said that. She's worried and upset, but it wasn't fair. None of this is Dean's fault."
"I understand how your mom feels; why she's so angry. When I think about…when the doctor told me that Dean…just…I would have done anything." he took a deep breath. "Look, I'm not here to argue with her. I just thought it might help her to know some things about Dean. I wondered if you might tell her, when you think it's a good time."
"What would I want to know about him?" Sam hadn't noticed Mrs Roarke standing in the shadow of the doorway into the kitchen. Her voice was cold, hard. Very bitter.
"Mom. I think we should hear Sam out." Layla stood, holding a hand out to her mother.
"I don't see what he could say that would make this better."
Layla sighed, "Well. I'd like to hear it." She sat again and looked back at Sam. He cleared his throat again, and his eyes darted back to the doorway. Mrs Roarke was still standing there. Apparently she was going to listen, though by her expression, she had no intention of being moved.
He swallowed and started speaking, "Dean's four years older than me. When I was a baby, about six months old, there was a fire at our house. Our Mom was killed. Dad was trying to help her, and he put me in Dean's arms and told him to take me out of the house. Dean carried me out of the fire. He's been taking care of me, and taking care of Dad ever since.
"When we were kids we moved around a lot. After Mom I guess Dad couldn't settle anywhere, so we'd stay a few months, sometimes a lot less, hardly ever more, then move on. Cabins in the woods, ratty apartments, or sometimes just motels. Nowhere long enough to have any real ties or anyone to turn to if things were tough.
"Our Dad would go out of town on business, and leave us alone. He'd give Dean some money and then he'd take off; expect Dean to keep it together. Eke out money for a week, sometimes longer. You know many seven year olds responsible enough to budget grocery money? Dean did. I never went without food 'cos he'd spent it on candy and comics. He never let a penny out of his pocket that wasn't spent on something we needed.
"One time my dad was supposed to be back after a week, but he was gone for close to a month. Dean had looked out for me all that time. Made sure I had clean clothes, lunch money; helped me with homework and walked me to school, kept me entertained at home; even took care of me when I got a cold. He kept me calm telling me Dad would be back soon, that he'd called the night before when I was asleep. He didn't call. Dean must have been scared. He was only 10 years old. But he made sure he sounded confident for me.
"By the time Dad got back I'd just eaten our last half a can of soup. Dean gave it all to me. He kept telling me he'd eaten already, or he wasn't hungry but I'm pretty sure he went without food for at least a day or two.
"There was no one to call for help and Dad had put the fear of God in Dean about social workers. No way was he going to do anything that could lead to us getting split up."
"This is all very interesting Sam, but why are you telling us?" Sam looked up at Mrs Roarke. Her voice was still hard, but he could see from her expression she was doing her best to hold on to the anger. It wasn't as implacable as before.
"Mom! Please, just listen. Sam, go ahead."
"I'm sorry Mrs Roarke. I'll get to the point soon. There's lots of stories like that I could tell you. Examples of Dean looking out for me. I could tell you about the time when I was twelve and Dean saved my life. He was nearly killed. He was hurt so badly he nearly bled to death. He was unconscious for days. He didn't hesitate to put himself in harm's way for me. All those times he watched out for me, or sacrificed for me and he never once asked for anything in return. A lot of it I didn't even realise until later. That's the kind of brother he is."
"And it's not just me he takes care of. The reason I brought him here to see Reverend Le Grange? His heart was damaged by an electric shock. It happened because he was helping two little kids. He saved their lives and he was going to die because of it. The doctor told us he had a couple of weeks, maybe a month at most. So you have to understand how desperate I was. I would've tried anything. But you know what? Dean had accepted he was going to die. He wouldn't have come here for himself. He came because I needed him to. He couldn't say no to that, because first and foremost, he's my big brother, and as far as he's concerned, no matter how old I get, it's his job to keep looking out for me."
"You asked why Dean deserved to be saved instead of Layla? Well, I'm not saying he did, or that he's a better person than Layla, but I will say, he is a good man. He's the most selfless person I ever met and if anyone deserves to be saved, Dean does. Even without faith he does the right thing, no matter the cost. Maybe God appreciates the effort to do good just as much as the faith."
"I don't know if this'll mean anything to you both, but he never would have taken anyone else's place willingly. If it was a choice between Layla and himself, he'd have chosen Layla every time."
Layla was silent for a moment taking this in. "You know Sam, I believe you."
Sam sighed. "Thank you. Look Layla, this is asking a lot, I know. You're sick and there's no reason you should want to go out of your way for us, but Dean... He's really beating himself up, thinking that he took your turn. He believes he should've refused the Reverend's offer. I made him go up there, but he's never gonna blame me for that, not really. If he'd known it was the Reverend's last gift, he wouldn't have taken it, even for me. And now it's just another thing he's gonna take on his own shoulders as evidence that he doesn't measure up."
"Measure up to what?"
"I don't know. His idea of the man he should be. The image he got from Dad; that he's only worth anything in relation to how much he helps others; how much he sacrifices for others. Anything less than totally selfless is a failure, you know?"
"So how can I help with that?"
Sam laughed humourlessly. "Honestly? I have no idea. I can't seem to cure him of it. I don't know what I'm asking you really."
"Whatever you're asking, you're asking a lot, Sam." Mrs Roarke cut in, her voice now weary and a little bleak rather than angry. Sam realised she'd been using the anger as a crutch to keep her fight going. He felt kind of bad he'd taken it away. He could certainly relate to her sense of the unfairness of it all. Hell, he agreed. How could Layla deserve what was happening to her? And as much as he'd been mad as hell when he'd heard what Mrs Roarke had put on Dean, he couldn't help but think he'd have felt the same way if the tables were turned and Layla had taken Dean's turn.
"No, mom. I don't think he is asking too much. I know you wish it'd been me instead of Dean. But you know what? Maybe that's what was wrong with this all along. We shouldn't have been competing for miracles. I shouldn't have gone there hoping to be saved when so many other people would never even be in a position to do the same. Sam's right. Dean deserved it as much as anyone, and I can't claim to have done as much for others as he has."
"You're a good person, Layla. You have faith and you do help people." Mrs Roarke was at her daughter's side now, smoothing her hair back with a gentle hand.
"Maybe I'm sick because it's my time."
"No, honey! Don't say that. I still need you!"
"I know mom. And we'll still pray for help, or for strength if God can't give more, but I don't think I can let Dean blame himself for what's happening to me." She paused, and shifted her gaze to Sam.
"Sam, what if I stop by before you leave? Have a little chat with Dean?"
Sam's heart lifted a little at her words, "God, Layla, I'd really appreciate that. I can't tell you. Thank you so much!"