Disclaimer: Supernatural doesn't belong to me except for in my mind where schmoop abounds.
A/N: I spent a ton of time just thinking about this chapter and procrastinating the actual writing of it because I really wanted it to be good and I kept psyching myself out. For better of for worse, here it is. This is the end of the story, but not the end of the 'verse. Thank you for reading, I hope you like it!
The Reason I Live
Chapter 7 Not a Sacrifice
It's surprise and shock that causes John to release Dean more than it is the force of the blow. Sam knows this because he'd pulled the punch at the last possible moment, refrained from hitting his father with every ounce of his considerable strength. It had been hard enough, as his bruised knuckles will testify. He'd accomplished what he needed to; John is no longer attempting to wrestle Dean into submission.
John recovers quickly. One of his hands rubs at the red mark on his jaw and the other comes up in front of his body in a 'come closer' motion. "Come on, Sam. Don't hold back, show me how you really feel." Although he's talking to Sam, he's watching Dean closely, a possessive, calculating gleam in his eye.
Dean staggers away from his dad, but he doesn't go far, just puts enough distance between them to avoid another grab from John's long arms should it come to that. He's unsteady on his feet, swaying slightly as if a gale wind is blowing through the room, occasionally buffeting him. Sam notices that Dean has strategically placed himself in between the two men, planning to stop any further physical violence, as if he could in his condition.
That's not where Sam wants him though so he steps around Dean and gets the boy safely behind him. Standing firmly in front of Dean and shielding him from their dad, Sam barks, "Don't you dare put another finger on him."
Both of John's hands fall to his sides and he shifts one foot backwards. It appears as if the hunter is getting ready to stand down and if Sam wasn't John's son he might be taken in by the relaxed stance. As it is, Sam knows they're only just getting started. "He's my son, Sam. Not. Yours. And no one tells me not to touch my boy. Not even you." John snarls.
"That's great. I'm glad you recognize him as your son because he could really use a father who treats him like one." Sarcasm laces Sam's words and he can feel a cold rage growing in his gut.
The angrier John gets the deeper and slower his voice becomes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you treat him like a soldier instead of a boy. You sent him off hunting alone. He's not ready for that! No matter how much you want him to be, he's not ready to go after evil, fear-projecting creatures all by himself." Sam waves one hand in the air to express how monumentally crazy he finds the entire situation. "And the thing is Dad, he'll do it if he thinks you want him to. He'll do it just in the hopes that you'll be proud of him. It breaks my heart."
"I didn't send him off to hunt alone, I told him to continue looking into the rumors. There's a big difference." John rationalizes. "Besides, I didn't think there was actually anything for him to find. I just wanted him to get the experience. It was great experience."
"Something tells me it didn't turn out to be a great experience and if you can't take care of him the way he needs you to, the way any child needs their parent to look after them, then you need to back off and let me do it."
A loud crash behind him has Sam whipping around to stare at Dean who is standing next to the sink, shards of broken glass and ceramic from the mismatched collection of plates and glass cups which came with the rental littering the floor around his bare feet. It looks like at least half a dozen plates and as many glasses have met their untimely death at Dean's hand and Sam wonders how the boy managed to destroy so many all at once. He has two more large glass tumblers in his hands and as Sam watches in disbelief, the boy throws them both into the growing pile of jagged wreckage on the floor.
"Stop it! No one has to take care of me. This isn't what I want. I didn't ask for this…for Sammy to give up bein' a kid for me." Dean's eyes are brimming with unshed tears, his bottom lip trembles even though he's trying hard not to lose control. "I can take care of myself."
Dean's bid to stop them from fighting works. Neither John nor Sam feels much like fighting anymore, not with Dean so close to the edge. The open cupboard to Dean's left is still half full of tableware and glasses, plenty of ammunition should he decide he's not yet finished throwing things.
Sam can feel Dean's agitation and he can tell the boy is on the verge of bolting out the front door. The hazardous material coving the space all the way from the cabinets to the exit and Dean's bare feet make it imperative for Sam to find a way to keep that from happening. "Okay Dean, we'll stop. Just don't move. There's glass all around you. Can I…I'm going to come get you…don't move." Using his socked feet, Sam starts clearing a path through the jagged shards by sweeping his soles back and forth and tentatively stepping closer to his brother.
An agonized whimper halts Sam's progress and he looks up from a particularly sharp piece of broken ceramic bowl that he's gingerly moving out of the way to see Dean's eyes glaze over and his feet slide out from under him. The cabinet behind him provides a back rest and his legs jut out in front of him.
John curses and strides forward, heedless of the glass crunching under his boots, but as soon as he gets close Dean cringes away, uttering a choked off whine.
"John…" Sam warns and then kneels down where he is, facing Dean, disregarding the stinging jabs of glass poking through the knees of his blue jeans. A quick glance tells him that only a couple superficial cuts are seeping blood on Dean's feet. Nothing needs immediate medical attention so he turns to the more pressing problem. "No touching, huh?" He says it to reassure his brother that he understands the rule and also to make sure John knows what he's been doing wrong just in case he'd missed the neon signs and blaring clues.
Dean licks his bottom lip and it sticks out in a sad little pout. It's a rare expression on Dean's face and it takes Sam a minute to recognize it for the sorrow it implies. "The monster…it touched me a lot and I hated it so much. I hated it!" he exclaims vehemently.
"Hey, I get it." Sam says quietly. "What you went through was horrible and nasty. It might take some time before you start to feel better about things and that's perfectly okay. You just tell me what I need to do to make this better and I'll do it." He aches to place a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder, but he dares not make a move before Dean is ready.
Dean tilts his head to the side, the look on his face one of anguish and need. Sam holds his breath for a moment and watches as two tears race down his brother's cheeks and then he can't stand it any longer. "Oh Dean…can I come get you…please?"
A broom is shoved into his line of sight just as Dean gives a hesitant nod. Sam looks up to see the remorseful grimace on John's face and the broom held out like some kind of bizarre peace offering. The man had disappeared at some point during his exchange with Dean and retrieved the broom from the closet, but Sam had been too involved to register when exactly his father had left. As soon as Sam takes hold of the broom John backs away, turns and walks out the front door of the apartment without a single glance over his shoulder as he goes. Sam doesn't want to speculate as to what the distance his dad has just put between himself and his sons might mean. Is John turning over all parental responsibilities or only temporary custody?
It only takes a couple of seconds to clear away the bare minimum amount of broken glass with the broom, nothing more than a narrow trail through the wreckage, and then Sam is standing next to his brother in a way that precludes the boy from getting up without assistance. Letting Dean fall face first into a pile of glass shards because he's still too weak to stand by himself is not on Sam's top ten list of things to do today. On the other hand, he refuses to make John's mistake of rushing Dean into 'getting over it'.
Dean pulls his pajama-clad legs up to his chest and clutches his knees tightly, but otherwise seems content to stay where he is on the floor against the counter looking at his toes. Sam holds out his hand, palm up, like he's approaching a scared puppy and is uncertain as to how much contact the pup will allow before it skitters away. A tendril of nervousness seeps across their bond. There's no place they need to be and nowhere they need to go so Sam waits for Dean to make the first move.
Eventually the tension dissolves and after studying Sam's hand for a while, Dean grasps it in both of his and leans forward until his cheek is resting lightly inside the curve of it. He seems to be pondering something, mulling things over. "It's different…warmer…drier...nicer." Dean mutters quietly under his breath and then presses his check more firmly against Sam's open palm.
Sam thinks about what Dean just said for a moment and when understanding flashes he chuckles softly. "Are you comparing me to a slime-encrusted monster? That's great. I'm glad to hear there aren't many similarities."
A watery smile is his answer, shy and unsure. The guilt is still there, slicing his brother up inside, and Sam knows he has to talk this one out sooner rather than later. There are so many things he wants to say.
"You need to know Dean, this wish – me turning into a grown up - it's not a sacrifice. It's not and I've never thought of it that way. Never! I made this wish because I love you, because even when I was four years old you were more important to me than anything else in the world. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Do you understand that Dean? You're everything to me. You're my whole reason for being here. I-I don't know what would happen to me if it weren't for you. I don't think I'll survive to be this size, to grow up for real, if I don't have you to look out for me." Sam gestures at his long legs and body.
A twin set of eyelashes flutter closed over green eyes and a sigh escapes parted lips as Dean relaxes. "Are you sure you don't mind? You shouldn't have to. I wish you didn't have to."
With a sense of happiness Sam feels the guilt fade until his brother's inner turmoil reaches a more manageable level. "Dean, because of the wish our souls are entwined together, we're two halves of one whole, and we need to take care of each other."
"Sam, you know what I said earlier? About not wanting anyone to call me 'kiddo'?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Well, it's okay if you call me 'kiddo'. Only you. I mean you always have, from the very beginning the first time you turned big, and I know it's 'cause you love me. So…yeah, I want you to. Okay?" Dean is earnest and hopeful.
"If it's alright with you, I'd like that a lot," Sam smiles.
This is something just between them, one more thing they share only with each other, one more binding link in a very long chain.
Gently extracting his hand from Dean's grip, Sam helps his brother stand and when the boy leans against his leg as though he's having trouble finding his balance Sam lifts him up and carries him to the couch in the living room, Dean's legs wrapped around his waist and arms resting comfortably on his shoulders. They're easy together again, just as they always have been.
The front door clicks open, the ever present salt line across the threshold disturbed only slightly as John crosses carefully over it. They've all become accustomed to the unusual method of entering their home, wherever that may be, with a larger than normal step so they don't have to constantly retrace the salt lines.
The boys are startled by their father's arrival only because of his uncertain mood when he left. They hadn't been sure when to expect him back or whether he would be coming back at all. However, it's immediately apparent what the man had been doing while he was gone as soon as he begins speaking.
"I think I know why you haven't been eating Dean. It's because you can't eat, not because you aren't hungry. Am I right?" There's a pharmacy bag in his hand and a gleam in his eye as though John is pleased with the results of his outing. Perhaps he's just happy to have found something useful to do.
Dean nods from his spot next to Sam on the couch, watching his dad cautiously.
"That's what I thought." John goes on to ask. "Did any of the Bunyip's blood get in your mouth? Did you swallow any of it?"
"Yes," Dean hisses, his face a mask of disgust. "Every time I tried to talk it put its fingers in my mouth, down my throat. I bit them once and the blood…" Gagging, Dean burrows into Sam's side.
"Steady kiddo. It's over now, not gonna happen ever again," Sam sooths. He knows how easy it is for Dean to get drawn back to that nightmare place in his mind and all he needs is a grounding voice to remind him where he is now, home and safe.
John freezes at the mention of the forbidden nickname and darts shrewd glances between his two sons. When Dean doesn't blow up in anger, he shrugs one shoulder and holds up the paper bag, the product of his earlier excursion. The bag rustles as he gives it a triumphant little shake. "It's the blood in your stomach that's keeping you from being able to eat. Little known fact about Bunyips. The stuff adheres to the lining of your stomach, blocks anything else from getting in or out, forces your body to reject even the thought of food. So we just need to get rid of the blood. That's were this comes in." A brown bottle is removed and the bag discarded on a nearby table. "Syrup of Ipecac. Sorry Dean, we're going to have to make you throw it up."
This news is met with Dean's typical stoic expression, one part reserved indifference and two parts flippant devil-may-care. Sam can't be fooled any longer though, if he ever could, because he can feel Dean's horror, although he's not sure what part of his father's speech bothers his brother the most; the Bunyip's blood coating his insides or the fact that he's going to have to surrender to the frailty brought on by being sick to his stomach.
The best way to get through this is to pretend like it's no big deal, get it over with quick like ripping off a Band-Aid and it's over before you know it. The longer they spend thinking about it the worse it'll be. With that in mind Sam coaxes Dean into sitting up straight. "C'mon this'll be easy. Ten minutes max and the whole thing will be done." He chafes Dean's arm lightly, cognizant of the still raw skin, but wanting to reassure the boy as best as he can that there's nothing to worry about.
John reads over the label, unscrews the bottle and measures out a capful, handing it to Dean apologetically. "Down the hatch."
Despite his trepidation, Dean takes the cap from his dad and eyes it warily.
"On three, ready? One…two…three." Sam coaches.
The boy makes a choking sound, but tips the cap against his lips and swallows the entire mouthful, shuddering once he is done.
Motioning to the hallway, John says, "Bathroom, fast. It won't take long to work."
It turns out the man knows what he's talking about because they no sooner reach the tiny room, Sam supporting his listing brother, than Dean is hacking and puking up a dark purplish-black mass into the toilet. He's shaking so hard Sam is basically holding him upright while Dean quakes and moans and heaves, glob after glob of Bunyip blood appearing in the bowl. Sam suspects the vile stuff of multiplying and expanding in Dean's stomach. There's no way he could have swallowed that much of it.
"That's it. You got it. Almost done." Sam murmurs a stream of mindless encouragement, saying anything that comes to mind for the sole purpose of giving his brother something to hold onto in his misery. It's the most pitiful sight Sam has ever had the misfortune to witness and he hates himself a little bit for being any part of talking Dean into this, even if it is necessary and for his own good.
True to Sam's word, ten minutes later it's over and he carries Dean, now limp and beyond weary, to his bed and tucks him under the comforter.
"He needs to eat right away. We have crackers, right? And juice? I'll get them." John doesn't wait for an answer, instead heading immediately to the kitchen.
Sam is sitting on the edge of the bed, slowly carding his fingers through his brother's hair when John comes in carrying a box of crackers and a mug full of orange juice. Their dad stops in the doorway, stares at the two of them and shakes his head. "How do you do that?" He whispers and he sounds kind of sad and kind of wistful.
Puzzled, Sam asks, "Do what?"
"Nothing. Forget about it." John clears his throat, hands the box and mug to Sam. "See if you can get him to eat and drink."
"How 'bout it? You ready to give this a try?" The crackers are a dry saltine-type generic brand. Sam hands a couple of them to Dean who stuffs them into his mouth with still shaking hands. The juice goes down next and then Dean holds his hand out for more crackers.
Sam watches his brother eat and has to give credit where credit is due, John may not have many parenting skills, but he knows his supernatural lore and cures. The Bunyip blood is gone and Dean will soon be able to regain his strength now that he's eating. It strikes Sam that he and John actually make a pretty good child rearing team, one of them handles the emotional, supportive aspects and the other handles the physical, training aspects. But then he has to laugh at the idea because really, it's ridiculous.
Cracker crumbs cover the comforter and Dean falls asleep with one cracker clutched in his hand. Chuckling quietly, Sam retrieves the cracker and brushes the crumbs onto the floor. He can vacuum them up later.
"Are you going to stay in here with him? He should be fine now. No need to watch him." The bed dips as John settles on Dean's other side.
"He usually sleeps better if someone is close by." Sam explains.
A thoughtful frown appears on John's face. "Hmmm, well you're good with him, anyone can see that."
Sometimes I wonder…" John sighs. "He's different. You've changed him, I've noticed it. Ever since your wish he's gotten - I don't know how to describe it - just different…softer maybe."
Sam knows what John is talking about. He's noticed it too. But unlike John, he doesn't think it's a bad thing at all. It's like some of the defensive mannerisms and barriers are falling away and the real Dean is ever so gradually emerging.
"I understand what you're saying, but you're wrong." Sam shakes his head. "I'm not the one changing him, you are."
John grunts. "How do you figure?"
"Look, I'm not saying this to be argumentative, I don't want to fight with you." Sam shrugs. "Just think about it. You're raising him to believe everyone and everything is more important than him, than what he wants and who he is. Almost as though his life is expendable. And he wants to please you, he loves you, so he hides how he feels and tries to become what you want him to be."
John's eye's well up. "He's always had a strong moral compass. Wanted to do the right thing from the time he was your age…or, you know what I mean."
"Exactly! At his core Dean is an affectionate little boy who cares deeply about those he loves and would do anything for them. And you're warping that, bending and twisting him to fit in a mold of your choosing. God dad, he's sensitive and funny and if he seems softer to you now I can only surmise it's because he's shedding little pieces of the protective armor he's built around his heart. He makes me think of a penny that's been handled too much, corrosion making it dull, but when it's polished up, it shines." Sam beseeches his father to understand with his eyes.
"I do what I do for a reason, Sam. I toughen him up to keep him alive and to help protect you. There's a lot of evil out there, no matter how much we might wish otherwise, that's never going to change."
"Yeah well, I'm not saying don't train him. He enjoys it and he's good at that stuff. I'm just saying let him know he matters every once in a while. You'd be surprised how far a little praise goes with him." Sam looks down at Dean's peacefully sleeping face, brushes a few stray cracker crumbs off his chin and smiles fondly.
John nods and stands, apparently done with the conversation. Sam counts it as a win that they got as far as they did
Enjoying the quiet of the room once their dad has left, Sam begins to make a list. The time he has with his brother when he's an adult normally revolves around catastrophe and trouble. The time after, when the trouble has been vanquished, is fleeting and therefore precious. He has to use it wisely. He wants to try to leave something lasting for Dean for once he changes back into the younger brother again, something that he wouldn't think to do or wouldn't be able to do as a five year old. His mental list looks like this:
Go to the school and meet Dean's teacher.
Take Dean somewhere for the sheer fun of it (no ulterior training motive).
Cook a big family dinner (vegetables included).
Help Dean get caught up on his school work.
Give Dean the best piggy back ride of his life.
He hopes he can get through the list before his time runs out and even though he doesn't want for there to be a next time because that will mean Dean's in danger or hurt or sick, he kind of does want for there to be a next time just so he can have the chance to check up on him and make sure John stays in line.
A/N: I have definite ideas for two more stories in this 'verse as Dean and Sam get older and the wish evolves to accommodate the age changes. I would love to hear any ideas you have or directions you would like to see any following stories take. Readers' ideas frequently make their way into my stories, so leave me a private message with your thoughts or leave them in a review. Please leave me some feedback on your way out. Reviews are adored.