Day of the Dead Chapter 6

They hightailed it out of there before dawn. Not only because several graves had been disturbed, but the Winchesters didn't want to be anywhere near the area for the final day of the Día de los Muertos celebration. Conveniently borrowing a bedspread and pillows from their motel room, Dean made a comfortable bed in the back seat while John carried Sam out to the car.

The kid had been sleeping off and on for the past two hours, although both John and Dean kept glancing back. When John finally pulled into a gas station and shut off the engine, Sam came awake like he'd just heard a gunshot, his eyes wild, darting around and John felt the tip of an ice pick chip off another piece of his frozen heart.

"Hey, bubby." Dean was already on it, kneeling and leaning over the seat so he could reach Sam's wrist with his brace-covered arm. "We're just at a gas station. Everything's cool. You remember?"

Sam nodded and sagged back into the pillows. His other hand slipped onto his neck and he grimaced.

"Bad?" Angling sideways in the car, John reached over the bench to ruffle Sam's sleep-touseled hair. "There's bound to be a microwave in there. How 'bout I get you some warm milk with honey?"

Sam nodded, trying to stretch his lips into a tight smile that wasn't anywhere near convincing, yet still made a direct hit to John's chest. Such a little thing shouldn't have the power to warm the cold layers of his heart.

Dean patted Sam's arm. "So you want anything else?"

Sam's expression suddenly changed, face collapsing. His fingers locked around Dean's wrist. John didn't know what happened, but apparently Dean did. With that uncanny way of reading each other, Dean got it. He shifted back against the seat. "I'll, um, Dad, I'm tired. I think I'll stay here?" His oldest gazed over at him meaningfully.

Now John understood. Sam was afraid to be left alone. "Yeah, sure, son. You take it easy. I'll be right back." He ruffled Sam's head again for good measure before getting out of the car.

#

A couple hours later, John pulled over again into a trucker's rest stop. He glanced again in the rearview mirror at his boys. The morning light cast a sharp beam across both of his boys' faces. Dean had finally given in to exhaustion. At the last gas station instead of taking his spot in the passenger seat, the seventeen-year-old had slipped in the back with his brother and shifted Sam's pillows, head and shoulders onto his lap. He couldn't be comfortable wedged against the door like that, yet Dean was sleeping like an infant, head flopped sideways where one of the pillows rode up high. Even in the awkward position, John knew Dean slept more peacefully knowing he was near enough to feel the slightest movement from Sam.

John scrubbed a weary palm across his stubbled jaw. He understood Dean's fierce protectiveness well, the same rooted deep within his own soul. He'd risk anything for his sons. He sighed, exhaustion making him a sappy old woman. They were far enough north into the canyonlands to leave any traces of the Mexican holiday behind them. He was beyond tired and should probably stop at the next motel, get some sleep, let his boys rest in a bed, but John couldn't get his mind to stop, couldn't shake the cold sweat seeping from his skin with the feeling of being murdered over and over replaying through his system . . . A tremble rolled through him because he knew, he knew that his son had experienced it far worse, and for far longer than he had . . . and if it was having this effect on him . . . Aw, Sammy.

John couldn't stop his tears anymore than he'd been able to stop Sam from becoming Diego's victim. He opened the car door as quietly as he could, which wasn't easy on the squeaky old girl and eased out, closing the door again. He walked over to the nearest picnic table, sat down and cradled his head in his hands. Oh, Mary, I'm so sorry. I'm screwing up. I really need you on this one.

He jerked when a hand feathered over his arm and looked up into the anguished eyes of his youngest. The kid had moved quietly, getting right up next to him without John knowing.

"Dad?" the tiny voice croaked.

"No, son, don't try to talk yet. Your vocal chords need to rest."

The expressive lips turned down, mirroring the dark eyebrows above. "Gotta call . . ."

John reached over, swallowing Sam's thin wrist within his large hand and drew the kid to sit down beside him. He knew where Sam's thoughts were going. "I'm sorry, Sam, but you know the job. We can't alert anyone. It would cast too much suspicion our way . . . or more likely Caleb's way since he was in the hospital and left the same night. You wouldn't want to do that to Caleb, would you?"

"But . . ." The raspy plea was painful to hear.

"I've been doing this long enough to know that even though an anonymous tip appears innocent, sometimes you get a gung-ho officer and it backfires. You're going to have to trust me on this."

Sam's head lowered, not meeting his father's gaze. "I promised." It was so low and grainy, John barely heard it.

"I'm sorry, son, I really am." John understood keeping promises. But as far as he was concerned, protecting his children superseded any promise Sam made to a ghost. Putting his arm around the young shoulders, John drew Sam into his side and didn't it just break his heart all over again when he felt tiny shudders roll through him.

#

A week later they were back at it, back hunting, getting Sam back in the game, nothing incorporeal yet that could dive into your mind, but a young werewolf, solid and tangible. They'd changed up their usual hunting pattern. Instead of splitting up, coming around their prey from two sides, they stayed together. Even when not on a hunt, Sam grew anxious when Dean or John were not in sight, and truth be told, John didn't want Sam, either of his boys, out of his sight just yet either. Guess they all had a little trauma left over to work through.

They had the werewolf cornered in the alley. They could hear it growling and banging around behind the dumpster. Three guns were raised in readiness. And when Sam stepped forward, John placed a warning hand on Dean's cast, stopping him. Dean glanced up confused until John cocked his chin toward Sam. He needs this.

Sam moved hunter quiet, lean fluid lines of stealth and for a moment John saw the man his child had the potential to grow into. Sam took up a position at the space between the dumpster and wall, the position John would have picked out himself. The two older hunters trained their weapons on that space, prepared to back the kid's play.

Sam looked over at them, nodded, and then purposefully drew the bottom of his sneaker across the ground. The grating sound carried across the night and the growling behind the dumpster silenced.

John watched the werewolf leap out at his child, all teeth and fury, and every instinct in John's gut told him to fire, but he waited, his Adam's apple jumping with the gorgeous crack of a Beretta going off, followed closely by the bark of Dean's semi-automatic. The beastman thudded to the cement at Sam's feet. Kid didn't even flinch and John's rapidly beating heart swelled with pride.

Dean clapped his brother on the shoulder. "Nice shot, Sammy." But it was John Sam looked over to for approval . His features were tight and wary until John nodded and grinned, gaining him a quick flashing smile from his youngest.

#

John thought killing the werewolf would coax Sam out of whatever dark place Diego had forced on him, you know, take control over your environment, that sort of bull crap, it always worked for him, but apparently Sam was wired so completely differently, the successful hunt had little impact.

Another three days passed and Sam still wasn't talking as much as he had before San Miguel though his voice was back to normal. He threw himself into researching other possible hunts, making Dean go with him to the library where before he'd happily spend an entire day alone among the comfort of books.

But worse of all were the nightmares. The kid tossed and turned, crying out every night. None of them were getting much sleep. John lay in his bed, listening to his youngest whimper while his oldest whispered things that John couldn't quite hear beyond the enraged pounding of his own pulse. This had to stop. He had to fix it, that was his job, but for this, he didn't know how. This wasn't the kind of monster he could salt and torch or blow away with silver-tipped rounds.

Oh, Mary. He was fumbling so badly. She'd know what to do. He could really use some help here.

He came in the next morning with coffee and donuts. In the middle of tying his boot, Dean looked up, his gaze going instantly to the white donut bag and he smiled.

"Sammy in the shower?" Which was obvious since John could hear the water running. "I want to leave within the hour."

Dean pulled out a cinnamon cake donut and bit it nearly in two. "Which hunt?" In his research fervor, Sam had actually found three or four probable hunts for them.

"That possible black dog looks like it's doing the most damage." John went to the little table where Sam had been doing his research. He had several notepads and newspaper articles placed in tidy piles for each hunt researched. "It shows the most recent activity so the trail should be warm." He picked up one of the notepads on top of a sketch Sam had drawn of a snarling black dog and began flipping through his son's research.

He stilled after lifting one of the pages to find what looked like a letter underneath.

Mr. Renau Ruiz,

You don't know me. I wish I didn't have to tell you this.

Your wife Aimara Medina is buried one mile northeast of the city park in San Miguel by an old shack.

She was killed by a man named Diego who is also dead. I can't tell you anything else or how I know about this. I'm very sorry.

I just thought that her family deserved to know what happened to her.

Aimara was a good person.

She saved my life.

The shower turned off in the bathroom and John quickly closed the notebook and put it back onto its pile. Dean looked up at him curiously.

John twisted his lip between his teeth. "You and your brother be ready to go within an hour."

"Okay." Dean's brows lowered. "Where you going?"

"I'll be back."

#

Five hours later, John pulled into a little diner for lunch. Dean and Sam clamored out of the Impala, heading toward the beacon of greasy truck-stop fries and colas.

"Boys." John's call stopped them. "Dean, order us some burgers. To go. Sam, you're with me."

Both his sons eyed him cautiously. Shrugging, Dean turned to get the food while Sam shuffled hesitantly back over to his father, biting his lip and looking at the ground. He was acting the way he did when he thought he was in trouble.

John eyed the payphone on the other side of the gas pumps, near a weathered iron-wrought table and partially torn lawn chairs. Without an explanation he turned on his heel and started walking that way, hearing Sam plodding obediently behind him.

Dropping coins into the slot, John pulled out a crumpled piece of paper he'd written the number down on and began dialing.

With the receiver to his cheek, he turned toward his son. Curious, Sam watched him through the fringe of those too long bangs.

"Yes," John said in a lower tone than usual, making Sam's brows shoot up. "I . . . I got a tip. No, I won't say who this is. Let's just say my ante's come due and I wanna meet my Maker with a clean conscience. Yeah, yeah, that's right. Death bed repentence. Don't believe me if you don't wanna. Just tryin ta make things right."

Sam was leaning in closer, his nose scrunching up at his father's obvious lie.

"Sees, I had a cellmate told me 'bout another fella who killed and buried several people out in San Miguel, Arizona . . ."

Sam's face angled up to look at him fully. His eyes were wide, mouth slightly agape and just like that as John gave the San Miguel police station the location of the graves, his little boy's countenance completely altered into something John could only describe as radiant.

"Dad!" Sam exclaimed the moment John hung up the receiver, in a tone brimming with a happiness John hadn't heard in a long time. "I thought that was too dangerous."

John snaked his palm around the back of Sam's neck. "It is, but a few weeks have gone by and we're far enough away . . . Hopefully the police will be able to identify the bodies, but it's the best we can do. You understand that, right?" He leaned down close. "Families deserve to know what happened to the people they love."

Sam nodded, his expression thoughtful. "Yes, Sir."

John straightened, ruffled Sam's hair. He pulled an envelope from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to the boy.

Sam's forehead crinkled as he looked at it. It was already stamped and addressed to a Mr. Renau Ruiz of Tucson, Arizona.

"I believe you know what to do with that," John encouraged.

Sam nodded repeatedly, his lips tight, clenching off emotion he didn't want his father to see.

"Promises should be kept."

"Yes, Sir. Hey, Dad?"

"Sam?" John watched him, wondering what was going on in his youngest's head as Sam shifted from one foot to the other.

Sam's lips twisted, and then all at once he threw his skinny arms around John's waist, pressing his cheek against his chest. John stilled. He couldn't remember the last time Sam had hugged him like this. Years. John closed his eyes, letting the moment soak in. His palm lifted to the back of Sam's head, feeling the soft mop of hair on his skin and the closed off tightness that had become his heart loosened, unraveling like a spool of thread.

"Thanks, Dad," Sammy mumbled against him, and then was gone, running across the parking lot with the envelope clutched in his hand, and for once, John knew he had gotten it right. It wouldn't take away Sam's nightmares and the kid would still have to deal with what Diego had put him through, but killing werewolves and ghouls wasn't what Sam needed to cope with it. His son was better than that. Thinking about other people was Sam's way of dealing so if knowing that what he went through at least gave other families, even spirits like Aimara Ruiz peace, then John would find some way to let Sam write any damn letter he needed to.

He smiled at Dean's confusion as Sam plucked a cola out of his hand, practically dancing around him. Dean stopped in his tracks, seemingly mesmerized by his brother's sudden transformation. Before joining his boys, John pulled a tiny orange marigold from his pocket and placed it on the table. He glanced up into the cloud-tossed sky and whispered, "Thanks, Mary."

Fin