"See this is why I didn't want to tell you." Dean growled from the passenger seat.
Sam scoffed, "No, I'm not."
But Dean was having none of it. He had been watching his little brother all morning. Leaning against the passenger door, he crossed his arms (ignoring the twinge from his chest) and glared at his brother. "Would you prefer to use the word mope? How about stew? No? Sulk then."
Scowling, Sam tightened his grip on the steering wheel further, causing it to creak in response. "I'm not brooding or sulking or whatever, Dean."
"Right? So there's a perfectly valid reason you've been so quiet this morning. That virtually every muscle in your body is practically vibrating with tension right now. And if you grip the wheel any tighter you're going to buy me a replacement when it cracks." When Sam hesitated to respond, Dean grinned with satisfaction. "That's what I thought. If I smacked you in the back right now, you would be stuck with a permanent scowl on your face."
"Shuddup," Sam grumbled. Expanding his lungs with a deep breath, he slowly released it and felt some of the tension he hadn't realized he was bottling up inside him, slip away. Annoyingly, he had to admit that Dean was right. Since the moment he woke up, his thoughts had dwelled on all the information Dean had shared with him the day before. When they changed his dressing, the sight of those old scars only reinforced his inner turmoil. His imagination tried to visualize the cause of each mark. What it had shown him, disgusted and infuriated him.
As they resumed their journey west, Sam's mind kept replaying the worst of these scenes over and over in his head. His brother's pain was just a tool to the werewolf. And it had also been a tool for the shapeshifter. Only that was worse because not only did it inflict that pain again, it used Dean's feelings and memories against him as well. With each second that passed, anger and rage and… and… Well, it built up in his body along with a burning desire to find a way to resurrect that bastard pack so he could kill them over and over again just so he could repay just a little of the pain that had been inflicted on his brother. Because there was no way it would ever be enough.
Damn it. Dean knew him too well. He had been brooding. Inhaling and exhaling again, he forced his body to relax- which was such a contradiction of terms. Still, Dean had warned him that knowing what happened doesn't help, just makes it worse really. And he accepted the risk anyway. If he didn't calm down now and show Dean that he could handle this, then he doubted he would get his brother to open up again. Willing the tension to drain away, he uttered a quiet apology. "I'm sorry. You're right, Dean. It's just … what you went through, you didn't deserve it. Any of it. And it kills me to know there's nothing I can do to fix it."
"There's nothing for you to fix. It's my problem, I'll deal with it. I have dealt with it. I didn't tell you because I was looking for some sort of pity party. I told you because you're like a dog with a bone. You'll gnaw on the thing until you've gotten down to the marrow and don't anyone dare take it away from you until you're done."
San shrugged, "I'm not that bad."
"Yeah, you are."
Sam ignored him and pressed on. "And I wasn't throwing you a pity party. If anything I would through you a bonfire party, where we get to throw every bastard that hurt you up on the pile."
Dean chuckled, "Man, you and Dad are so alike."
"What? No Way."
"Yes way," his brother teased. "It's like you two were cut from the same cloth." When Sam went to protest, Dean cut him off. "Revenge, dude. You two think that's the answer to everything. But it's not. Vengeance begets a vicious cycle of further vengeance. Or something like that."
"Really, Dean, begets?"
"What? Heard it on a cartoon I think. Anyway, it's true. That werewolf lady wanted to kill dad because he killed her mate because he hunts all supernatural things because some supernatural thing killed mom. It keeps going and going. And I get it, I do. I want whatever took mom to pay for what it's done too, but that's not the only reason I do this. I want to rid the world of all monsters. To end the cycle of suffering. That's why I do this, Sammy. Hunt things. Because I don't want anyone else to ever have to go through what we did."
Driving along, Sam regarded his brother thoughtfully. In all the years they traveled together, he had never heard his brother talk so openly before. And he never understood the older man's motivation before now. As kids, Sam had assumed it was a mixture of revenge, loyalty and a deep seeded need for approval from their dad that motivated his brother. And while most of that may be true, there was so much more to Dean than he ever imagined. He also realized how unfair life was.
Since their reunion, Sam had learned more about his brother than the 18 years they had spent together prior to Stanford. Sure they could predict each other's moves and thoughts but that was only one layer. He had always seen the older man as simple and two dimensional. But what he knew now, was that was merely the top layer, the outer coating the man portrayed to the world. Underneath there were layers and layers of so much more. And Sam looked forward to learning all about his larger than life brother. A quirky grin played at the corner of his mouth.
"What?" Dean asked defensively, noting the weird expression on his sibling's face.
Sam shrugged. "Nothing."
"Nothing, my ass. I know that expression. That's your I-just-got-assigned-a-lengthy-research-paper-at-sc hool or your got-into-a-debate-with-a-teacher-and-won face. So spill."
"I've just never seen you like this before. You're a pretty amazing guy."
"Ha!" Dean burst out. "You been taking your pain meds and driving again?" he mocked.
"No smartass. 'Sjust I never realized how much more there was to you than-"
"Don't!" Dean warned, his hand snapped up to emphasize the command. Sam's mouth gaped open but Dean wouldn't let him continue. "Don't you dare turn this into some crappy transformers moment."
"Well, I have heard they are working on a live action version."
"Like that's going to be good." The brothers bantered, laughing. They let the mirth fill the air.
After a few minutes though, Sam felt the need to try again. He wanted his brother to know. "But I mean it, Dean. You're amazing. I mean, as kids we grew up virtually the same way, but what you lived through was vastly different from what I lived through. And it was because of you. I already told you how sorry I was for being a brat. Now let me thank you again for everything you did for me. Lesser men would have faltered in the same circumstances but you didn't."
"Oh I screwed up enough, I can assure you."
"That's not what I meant. You could have runaway and left me or beat me or turned to a life of drugs and crime, but you didn't."
"Right, cuz the cops and feds think I'm such a saint right now. More like the poster boy for the apocalypse, I'd say." Heavy laden sarcasm dripped from his words before taking on a firmer more serious tone. "And I would never hurt you, Sammy. Or let anyone hurt you, if I can stop it."
"And that's exactly what I'm talking about. So you skirt the grey edges of the law, but that's because they don't understand what you're doing. You protect people just like they do. You don't walk away from a fight, you stand up for what's right and good despite the cost. And I'm proud of you for that."
"Wow. I think this is the first time you've ever approved of my methods."
"Not your recreational bar brawls but what you do Hunting. Yeah, I'm proud of you and you should be proud of yourself too."
Laughing, Dean added, "Right Joe Law, just remember this little speech the next time I need you to bail me outta jail."
The brothers fell into companionable conversation for the rest of the drive, stopping as needed. Dean took his meds after lunch and slept for a few hours. It was evening when they finally hit the outskirts of Reno. Sam called Jenn and got directions to meet up with them.
"So what's happened since we left?" Sam asked after they arrived at Patrick's.
"Well, with a body and a stack of circumstantial evidence piled up, there was enough reasonable doubt to free all the men who had been wrongfully accused." Patrick informed them.
Anxiously, Sam pushed, "And Dean?"
"Don't worry, Sam. They weren't happy with your sudden disappearance but they got over it pretty quick. As each new layer of the investigation peeled back and revealed new bizarre evidence, the DA was pretty quick to dismiss the charges and clear all parties involved. They put the impersonation for the Federal Agent on the corpse. And like I said before, your other priors are more misdemeanors and come with some fines. Sam and Jenn should be able to help you work out a bargain for the charges and get them settled. Then you can start fresh again."
"That's awesome!" Dean cheered. "You two are my new best friends!" The group laughed at his enthusiasm.
"So Jenn, need a ride back?" While the stop had been welcome, considering they just spent another 12 and a half hours on the road with four more waiting for them, Sam knew this stop would be short and sweet.
Smiling, she declined, "No, thanks. I'll see you back at the office. I'm staying to help with arrangements."
"Oh yeah? What kind of arrangements?" Dean questioned, waggling his eyebrows.
She lightly smacked the older man on the arm. "I'm helping Pat and Gina with moving and then vacation."
Dean turned to the Marshal. "Where you off to this time?"
Patrick scratched the back of his head and glanced at Jenn while his face began to flush. "Well, I've built some vacation time up and I thought after this case I could use the time. Besides, we will need to take a few days to look for a new place. I put in for a transfer which has been verbally accepted, just waiting on the paperwork. Looks like we'll be seeing each other around after all."
"You're moving to Palo Alto?" Surprised and delighted by the turn of events, Sam smiled broadly.
Dean joined in the merriment, having watched the subtle interactions between the PR rep and the Marshal. "Yeah, I'm happy for you two. I had a feeling you two hit it off."
"Thanks," Jenn spoke as she moved closer to Patrick. "It's not like this was a typical set up. And it's not like we can share what's happened with anyone else. It helps having someone to talk to that understands what you've been through. And the fact we conspired to break the law, even if it is for the right reasons. From what you both have said, there's more supernatural things out there and other hunters that may need similar help. We kinda figured, Hunting's not our thing but you guys do a service to the world and we can help in our own way. So don't hesitate to call us if you need any help in the future. Just try not to make our jobs too difficult."
"Thanks for the offer, we'll keep it in mind." Dean replied with a wink.
"And don't worry," Sam glared at his brother, "we're going to be benched ourselves for a while with Dean's surgery and recovery." While Dean gaped with an expression that mingled innocence and irritation, Sam ignored him and turned back to the couple. "And count me in. With our contacts and backgrounds, you're right, we could help other hunters out there like Dean and my dad. I would like to help."
"Will do, Sam." The pair answered together.
The brothers didn't linger too much longer. They briefly met Patrick's daughter Gina and promised to see her around. Then the brothers headed out for the final stretch.
It was late in the evening now. Dean should have been sleeping after his last dose of meds, but instead he sat stiffly in the passenger seat staring out at the darkness. As they drew nearer to Stanford, the anxiety in the older man slowly became evident to Sam. Curious, he probed, "Hey, you ok?"
"Sure. Is your leg bothering you? Cramps? Shoulder? Head? Anything?"
Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. "Geez Sam, what's with the inquisition all of a sudden?"
"Just checking. You just seem pretty tense."
"Well, I'm fine," he snapped.
Shrugging, Sam let his brother be and continued driving. He had opened the door, all he had to do was wait for Dean to accept the invitation. It didn't take long.
"You should have called her."
"Jess. Let her know you were bringing your loser brother home."
"Stop that." Sam felt his ire spike at Dean's self-recrimination. His brother had a bad habit of hiding his own worry and frustration by making others angry at him. But he refused to take the bait Dean was dangling. Instead, he calmly spoke, "And we'll be there soon enough. I can tell her just as well when we get there."
"It's just a lot to dump on her all at once."
"Let me worry about that. And you'd be surprised, she's the best. She will understand. You'll like her."
"Still should have given her a heads up." Dean muttered realizing that Sam wasn't going to play this game.
"Well, it's too late for that now. It's almost midnight and we should be there in like twenty minutes. It's fine."
Dean shifted uncomfortably in his seat the rest of the drive. Soon they were pulling up to Sam's apartment building. He helped Dean climb out of the Impala, but Dean brushed off his help inside. Rather, he suggested, "You go up first and make sure it's ok. Once you have the all clear, you can come and get me."
"Come on, Dean."
"I mean it, Sam. It's been great having you back for the past few days, but before that you had made it very clear you didn't want our worlds to mix. I'm not going up there to force my life into yours, especially when you've had everything going great just the way it is. If you want me in it, then she has to know what she's inviting into her life and accept me - us for who we are. If she can't do that, then we both go find a room for the night and then a new place to live together."
Sam understood his brother's reluctance and relented to his steadfast position. For now anyway. "Fine. Give me ten minutes and then I'll be back down to help you up."
"Fine. Ten minutes. Now git, I think I'm ready for another hit of the good stuff and to pass out for 3 days. The sooner you get back, the sooner I can start my vacation in la la land."
"Ten minutes," Sam affirmed and then darted up the stairs to his apartment.
Dean watched him go then glanced at his watch once his brother had disappeared inside.
Moving with ease in the familiar surroundings, he unlocked the door to his and Jess's apartment. The comforting smell of vanilla wafted through the door. Jess must have been baking again, he thought absently as he stepped inside. "Jess, I'm back," he called, "Jess?"
- S – P – N – S – P – N –
Yes, this is really the end of this fic. I know, I know, there are still some unanswered questions. To be honest, this was exactly where I originally planned to end this fic. Mainly because I'm still not sure if I want Jess to live or not in this reality. I am open to suggestions, in case my muse decides this story needs a sequel.
As hinted, I have considered writing a sequel but right now I have several other projects in the works, so time is limited. Especially with school restarting soon although, not for me. Still, my daughter's life takes up a lot of my own right now so I'm still affected by it. I may not be posting a new story right away but I won't be far from the fanfic world. I still have fics in other fandoms that need finishing so you might see me posting there for a bit.
If you are in search of a new fic to read, might I suggest a few one shots I posted over the past few months. (I know shameless plug – sorry!) But my little ficlet Cruise Control is still reviewless which makes my muse sad. :( And I do have a few more short stories I will try posting over the next few months so keep an eye out.
I sincerely would like to thank everyone who took a chance to read this story. It has been my pleasure sharing it with you all and knowing it has brought some happiness to others. My family thanks you, my muse thanks you and I thank you for all the encouragement. Much love for you all!
Until the next adventure,