Disclaimer: Supernatural doesn't belong to me except for in my mind where schmoop abounds.
A/N: As this story comes to an end I'd like to take a moment to thank my reviewers. Many of your comments have impacted this story. In fact, several of your comments played large roles in the way this last chapter played out. Thank you so much for your support and interest in this work of fiction. I appreciate you more than you will ever know.
Bonded and Broken
Chapter 20 The Train Whistle
He's being carried. Dean can tell he's being carried by the way he feels all weightless and floaty yet anchored at the same time. There's a slight jostling as though the surface he's being carried over is rough and uneven. His cheek is mashed against soft, well-worn leather. The comfortingly familiar smells of leather and gun oil are strong as is the overriding smell of wood smoke.
His nose twitches and he wants to rub it, but his hands are too clumsy and strangely heavy and it's just not worth the effort it would take to lift them so he sighs sleepily, rubbing his nose into the leather his head is resting against.
Scraps of conversation drift from above and around him. Male voices, but that's nothing new. There haven't been many female voices in his life for some time now.
"Lean on me, Sam. That's it. You're doing fine."
"…cut it a little close, doncha think?"
"Yeah well, the force field was stronger than we bargained for. Took us two tries…"
"What happened to you two anyway? Those burns…I've had steaks less well done than your nephew."
"Jeez Dustin. Tact – get some."
"What? It's true."
The wind blows and Dean shivers. Whoever is carrying him tightens their grip. It feels kinda nice. Safe.
His face is numb and he's really tired.
Really, really tired…
"Wake up, kiddo. We're here."
Dean blinks a couple times, tries to rub the crusty sleep from his eyes and frowns when his brother catches his hand by the sleeve on its way to his face.
"Nuh uh, you're not going to be able to touch anything for a while."
"Why? Where are we?" The blurry image that is his brother begins to come into focus and Dean is surprised to see how worn out Sam looks.
"Dad seems to think we need a little R&R and Steve has generously volunteered his place."
"We're at Steve's?" Dean asks, confused and wishing Sam would talk slower or something because nothing is making much sense.
"Yeah, you slept through the whole thing, the trek through the forest back to the cars, grabbing our stuff from the motel, transferring into Steve's car and the entire drive to his house." Sam gestures out the window and Dean realizes he's lying in the back seat of Steve's car with his head in his brother's lap.
Okay, that's embarrassing.
Shuffling his feet down to the floorboard, he quickly gets both his hands underneath himself so he can push off Sam's lap. The pain is immediate and fierce and steals the air from his lungs. He snatches his hands protectively to his chest. The skin from his wrists to the tips of his fingers feels like it's been charred and flame broiled. In spite of the pure white gauze wrapped thickly around his hands he swears the flames are still searing his flesh. Gasping for breath, he hunches forward and squeezes his eyes shut.
"Oh God, Dean. I'm so sorry. I know that hurts." Sam places one large hand on his back and just moves the thumb back and forth until the pain eases off a little and Dean can breathe normally again. "Didn't you hear me say you wouldn't be able to touch anything for a while?" Sam asks softly.
Dean thinks he might remember Sam saying something like that, but it's easier to go with 'no' for now so he shakes his head and gives his brother a miserable little shrug.
"Lesson learned the hard way then, huh?" Sam's smile is more of a grimace as he reaches for the handle, opens the door, and helps Dean out of the car.
Steve flings the door of his house wide before they even get the chance to knock, an eager puppy dog look on his face. "Oh good, I was just coming out to see how you were doing. I've already brought your things in from the car and put them in the guest room."
"It's really nice of you to let us stay with you, Steve. After everything you've already done this is just…" Sam trails off and Dean knows his brother is as worn out and overwhelmed as he looks.
"Don't mention it. You know I wanted to do it. And besides, I like having you both here." Steve bustles them into the living room, getting them settled on the comfy couch that Dean remembers from their last visit here. "Now you guys take it easy and I'll bring you something to eat."
As Steve heads into the kitchen, Dean leans into his brother and asks, "Why did Dad send us with Steve? Why didn't he take us home?" It's not that their dad has never left them with other people before. He has. Lots of times. Most of the time when he goes off to hunt something he gives them the money he thinks they'll need for groceries while he's gone and gives them strict orders to take care of each other. But there have also been plenty of times when they've stayed with Uncle Bobby and even a few times when they've stayed with a babysitter. Of course, it's been a while since they've needed a babysitter and with Sam being a grownup – for right now anyway – there's really no point. So this is different. It feels weird.
Sam scrubs a hand down his face before relaxing into the couch cushions and sighing heavily. "It might have been all the begging and pleading."
"When has Dad ever caved to begging and pleading?" Dean raises his eyebrows in disbelief. The movement causes the skin on his face to tighten and stretch painfully as though he has a really nasty sunburn, so he quickly lowers them and vows not to look in a mirror any time soon. "And who was doing the begging?"
"Steve mostly." Sam chuckles, a low, quiet sound of amusement that only lasts a second. "When he found out about Dad's plans to drag us to Colorado to track down some information on the spell he and Bobby think the Lich was trying to invoke, Steve nearly fell to his knees, begging Dad to let him take us back here. I didn't think Dad was going to go for it, but then Bobby argued that we needed some down time and Dad finally agreed."
Dean thinks about this for a while, careful not to move his hands from where they're resting lightly on his thighs even though they itch and sting, making him jittery. "Steve is a good friend."
"He's a very good friend," Sam says, meeting Dean's gaze intently like he's searching for something. "I think you remind him of his son, Matt."
Dean nodes because yeah, he thinks that's probably true. "Matt died when he was just a little older than me and now Steve doesn't have anyone."
"I know," Sam says solemnly. "But now he has us."
"I'm glad we met him."
When Steve comes back he has a tray stacked high with hot dogs and chips and cans of soda. "It's the best I can do on short notice. Anyway, I figure you guys are probably hungry enough to eat whatever I put in front of you at this point since someone slept through breakfast and lunch." He smiles at Dean and puts the tray on the coffee table in front of the couch.
Looking at the food and then down at his hands, Dean groans, long and loud. His stomach is so empty he thinks he could eat everything on the tray all by himself. There's just one problem. Even if his hands didn't hurt so much, he still wouldn't be able to pick anything up with the thick bandages making his hands about as useful as horses' hooves.
"Don't worry, kiddo." Sam shoots him a sympathetic grin. "I've gotcha covered."
Having his brother feed him is humiliating. Maybe not as bad as being carried around like a preschooler when his knee had been dislocated. Still, it's pretty bad.
The embarrassment doesn't stop him from taking huge bites of hotdog and bun drenched in ketchup and mustard every time Sam holds it up to his mouth though. It's not like he can help himself. He's starving.
After they've all eaten their fill, Steve turns on the TV and they watch sitcoms until Sam announces it's time for bed.
"I slept all day, Sam. I don't wanna go to bed." Dean sits up from his slouch against the sofa cushions.
His brother simply cocks his head to the side. "If you're not sleepy why do I keep catching you with your eyes closed?"
Opening his eyes as wide as they'll go, Dean shrugs like he has no idea what Sam could possibly be talking about.
Despite his protests, Sam shoos him off to bed.
Dean doesn't remember anything past lying down in the large, springy bed with the fluffy pillows and the warm blankets piled high on top of him.
Sunlight streaming through the window wakes him up in the morning and the first thing he sees is his brother, pulling the homey curtains aside and grinning at him mischievously.
"Up and at'em, sleepyhead, unless you want to sleep another day away." Sam's cheerful greeting catches him by surprise and he takes his time sitting up to study his brother's face.
Sam looks much better than he did yesterday. The tiny curl of a frown which hasn't left Sam's forehead in days is nowhere to be seen and the dimples are out in full force. The emotions Dean can feel when he opens himself up to their bond are happy and carefree in a way they rarely are when Sam is an adult with the burden of responsibility firmly on his shoulders. There must be something about being at Steve's house, giving in to Steve's need to fuss over them, which agrees with Sam. Or maybe it's just the fact that he can finally let his guard down. Not all the way. But a little bit.
"What are we gonna do today?" Dean asks around a yawn, stretching his arms over his head and wincing at the tug of gauze around his burned wrists.
"First thing we're going to do is change those bandages." Sam points to Dean's hands.
Changing the bandages doesn't sound like fun and Dean would rather do just about anything else so he looks at his brother hopefully and says, "Breakfast first?"
"Breakfast after." Sam uses his 'I'm not kidding around' voice, but he softens it with a smile on his way out to find Steve's first aid kit.
The backs of his hands are revealed in tiny increments as Sam methodically removes the old bandages strip by strip. Dean finds that as much as he wants to look away, he can't. He's caught between fascination and repulsion. Many of the blisters have broken open, oozing blood and pus, making his hands look like they've been through a meat grinder. It's disgusting.
He clamps his mouth shut to trap the strangled, gagging noise in his throat where no one can hear it.
"All right, I'm just going to coat your hands with anti-bacterial spray and put some more burn cream on them before I re-wrap them." Sam starts talking, his tone calm and mellow like sun-warmed honey.
Breathing deeply through his nose, Dean latches onto his brother's voice, grateful for the distraction. The words aren't important at all. Sam could be speaking a foreign language for all it matters.
His brother keeps talking until he's gently patting the last piece of gauze into place. "There. Done."
Dean glances up in time to see Sam wipe a shaky hand over his eyes.
That won't do. Dean thinks quickly then grins and says, "Now I'm really hungry. What's for breakfast?"
The comical expression of amazed disgust and the dubious head shake he gets in return are exactly what Dean was hoping for. The short bark of laughter is icing on the cake.
For breakfast, Steve makes French toast with cinnamon and powdered sugar sprinkled on top. The maple syrup is warm and Dean suffers through his brother feeding him with a huge smile on his face.
"This is so good," he mumbles through a delicious mouthful.
"Dude. Chew first, talk later." Sam gives him a good-natured swat on the back of his head.
In response, Dean munches loudly, mouth wide open while he makes enthusiastic eating noises.
Sam grumbles, "Don't encourage him." The finger he points at Steve trembles with barely suppressed laughter as do his shoulders.
It's turning out to be a good morning.
"I called into the station earlier to let them know I'd be in to work later today," Steve says once they're done eating and Sam is rinsing dishes to be placed into the dishwasher while Dean practices picking up the salt shaker between his elbows, just to have something to do.
"Bet they'll be glad to have you back." Sam shuts off the water faucet, turns around and leans against the sink, arms crossed over his chest.
"Yeah, I talked to Tim. He sounded pretty happy. He asked about you guys."
"Yeah?" Sam asks, sounding both surprised and pleased.
Dean looks up from the salt shaker squeezed at the tips of his elbows.
Making an affirmative, thoughtful sound, Steve answers, "We thought you guys might want to come to the station with me. Take a look at the engines and maybe get around to pulling one of the train whistles since you sort of missed out on that last time you were there." He scratches the top of his bald head, looking hopeful and slightly awkward, as if he doesn't think they'll want to come.
The train ride and the train station make up some of Dean's best memories. Well…except for when the ghouls found them there. But other than that, the train station had been awesome. "Can we go, Sam?" He asks, so excited that the salt shaker slips from between his elbows, clattering to the kitchen table, spraying salt in a wide arc.
"Of course we can go. We're definitely going. Now stop making a mess and go to the bathroom. I'll help you brush your teeth before we leave." Sam smiles at him, all teeth and dimples.
Dean sticks his tongue out at his brother. Not being able to use his hands sucks.
Tim sees them and rushes over as soon as they walk into the station terminal. "Dean, you're walking!" the friendly shipping coordinator shouts, his wide smile quickly becoming a frown when his gaze takes in Dean's bandaged hands. "And now what's happened to your hands?"
Shuffling his feet self-consciously and trying to sound casual, Dean gives an off-handed shrug. "I burned them on a hot pan." He likes Tim a lot, but there's no telling how the man will react to stories of ghouls and human sacrifices. Best to keep the explanation simple like his dad taught him.
"He was trying to help me cook dinner," Sam says, stepping forward and placing a protective hand on the nape of Dean's neck while holding the other out to shake Tim's. "Good to see you again, Tim."
"Sam, glad you guys came out to visit us." Tim is kind enough not to dwell on Dean's supposed mishap any longer. The laugh lines in the corners of his eyes crinkle as he turns to his co-worker and good friend, Steve. "I see you finally decided to grace us with your presence. Did you enjoy your vacation?"
Steve's laugh is strained and Dean wonders if Tim can hear the falseness of it the way he can. "I don't know if I'd call it a vacation exactly. I'm glad I went though." The look the railroad worker shares with Dean is heavy with unspoken meaning.
Tim clears his throat and swallows, looks like he's going to ask another question and then rubs his hands together in anticipation instead, asking in an overly merry voice, "So, are you ready to take a tour of the locomotives in the train yard?"
"You bet!" Dean and Sam answer together, anxious to move away from dangerous topics and have some fun.
They take the same winding pathway between the train tracks as last time. The only difference is that now Dean is able to walk on his own, without being pushed in the improvised wheelchair otherwise known as a rolling desk chair from Tim's dusty office in the warehouse.
Dean looks up at the coal cars, freight cars, and boxcars towering above him on either side. The diesel fuel smell is thick in what is beginning to feel like a very confined space in between the gigantic trains. He knows it's childish and stupid. All the same, a prickle of uneasy suspense runs down his spine at the thought of ghouls jumping out at them from inside one of the boxcars. Like last time.
Everyone is quiet, like they're all thinking the same thing, like they're all anticipating another attack. The only sound is the scuffing of work boots and sneakers on the concrete path, the occasional clatter of a pebble being kicked out of the way.
Before he can get too freaked out, Sam brushes up against his side, a subtle reminder that he's not alone.
They turn a corner around the last railcar on the track and all thoughts of ghouls are banished by the sight of five gleaming train engines, each one more impressive than the last. There's a sleek, silver engine that reminds him more of a space shuttle than a real train locomotive. Another is dark green with yellow stripes pained along its sides. There's even an old steam engine with a smokestack and everything.
"That's Old Sparky." Tim says with a chuckle when he notices which engine has captured Dean's attention. "He doesn't get much use anymore. The diesel engines have made him obsolete. We just keep him around for the nostalgia value."
"Can I see the inside?" Dean asks, excitement making him hop from one foot to the other.
Steve beams at him. "That's what we're here for."
Old Sparky's whistle doesn't work unless the fires are stoked and that's not going to happen today. Dean doesn't mind. He climbs inside with a little help, sits in the engineer's seat and looks at all the levers, imagining what it would be like to control something so big. Sam climbs in beside him and ruffles his hair.
It's so rare they get a day like this, a day of fun with no training and no worries. Sam's happiness bounces through their connection, feeding off Dean's and multiplying.
Next they visit one of the diesel engines. Inside are buttons and switches instead of levers. Tim points to a large red button, saying, "That's the whistle," right before his walkie talkie squawks with a message from one of the workers in the warehouse asking for his help.
"I've got to get back to work, but you guys stay out here as long as you want. Steve can continue the tour." Tim smiles wistfully like he really wants to stay with them then turns to leave, waving over his shoulder.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Steve asks. "Press the whistle."
Making sure to keep his hand flat, Dean puts his bandaged palm on the button and presses down.
The sound the train makes is high-pitched and piercing. It's the most aggressive, rebellious sound he's ever heard. It commands attention, making his skin vibrate. It makes him feel totally alive, powerful. He loves it.
"Do it again, Dean."
The voice is Sam's, but there's something different about it, something strange, something…younger.
Dean nearly gives himself whiplash by jerking his head around to stare at his brother, who is sitting next to him in the cab of the train engine. Sam's face is flushed with excitement.
And it's getting smaller.
His long, chocolate brown hair is getting shorter and curlier, his cheeks are getting plumper, and he's shrinking. With every second that passes, he loses weight, loses height, loses muscle. His long, strong fingers become tiny and pudgy. It doesn't take long, a minute tops, before six year old Sammy is staring back at him, slanted, hazel eyes wide.
This isn't the first time Dean has seen his brother's transformation from adult to child or vice versa. It still makes for a pretty spectacular show though.
"Dean!" Sammy squeals and throws himself out of his seat and onto Dean's.
Reflexively holding his hands up out of the way, Dean allows his little brother to scramble and squirm until he's planted firmly on Dean's lap, skinny arms wrapped around his chest, apparently trying to squeeze the air out of his lungs.
He relaxes into the hug and, since he can't use his hands, buries his face in Sammy's mop of hair at the top of his head. "I missed you, squirt." It strikes Dean as sort of strange how his eyes are stinging and his breath is coming in unsteady gulps.
"But Dean, I was with you the whole time." Sammy's upturned face is puzzled, his eyebrows bunched together in a funny little knot.
Whereas adult Sam might understand the way he and child Sammy almost become two different and distinct people in Dean's mind, Dean doesn't think this pint-sized version of Sammy will get it, so he just smiles at his kid brother and says, "Yeah, you're right, you were with me the whole time."
The sound of a work boot shifting on the iron steps leading to the engine cab causes Dean to turn to see Steve, gaping at him and the small boy in his lap. The railroad man has been standing there throughout Sam's transformation, Dean realizes. He has seen everything.
Dean puts his arms around Sammy and pulls his brother in as close as he can without using his hands. But hiding Sam won't work. It's far too late for that. There's no way out of this one. He's going to have to tell their friend the truth and hope for the best.
Releasing his tight hold on his brother, he gazes steadily at Steve. "Ummm, there's something we haven't been straight with you about." he confesses. "Sammy isn't my uncle…he's my little brother."
The burly railway worker looks like he's about to fall over if Dean doesn't say something to make this all right so he quickly tries to explain. "It's okay. Sammy made a wish to be a grown up whenever I needed help."
Peering out from over Dean's arm, Sammy helpfully adds, "Yeah, and it came true."
"It-it came true?" Steve repeats, looking more confused than ever.
"Well, the gypsy gave me the wish. She was a good gypsy, but then the Black Imp came to take the wish back. He wasn't nice at all." Sammy babbles away happily, completely unaware that Steve is grasping the sides of the cab's doorframe in a white-knuckled grip. Then he twists on Dean's lap, probably trying to find a more comfortable position where he can get a better view of Steve, and grinds his elbow into Dean's stomach.
"Ow Sammy, how many times do I have to tell you – your elbows are sharp." Dean grumbles, because really, that's like the one thousandth time.
"Sorry Dean. I'm sorry." Sammy is quick to apologize before continuing on with his tale.
Dean is content to sit back and watch his brother's familiar child-like gestures as he talks, the way he covers his eyes with his pudgy little hands to indicate the darkness caused by the Black Imp and the way he bounces in place as though he can't contain his excitement.
He really has missed this.
By the time Sammy comes to a rambling end, Steve no longer looks like he's ready to either fall down or run from them screaming. He just rubs the top of his bald head and mutters, "I can't believe the two of you defeated the Lich…basically by yourselves. I mean look at you. You're just babies."
Dean bristles at that, but then he feels Sammy stiffen and looks down to see his little brother's bottom lip trembling. "What's the matter, squirt?"
One fat teardrop rolls down the small boy's cheek. "That skeleton man was really bad, wasn't he Dean?"
Nodding, Dean presses his forehead against Sammy's wishing his brother didn't have to remember what had happened while he was a grown up. "He was bad, but you were very brave."
"And then y-you tried to leave me. In the woods with the bad people, you tried to go away forever, didn't you? You tried to make yourself burn all up. You kept walking into the fire and you wouldn't stop." Sammy is crying in earnest now, tear after tear falling from wet lashes, and it feels like someone is ripping Dean's chest open.
That's not what happened. He'd never meant to go away forever. He hadn't thought about it that way.
"I didn't want to walk into the fire, Sammy. I didn't." Dean shakes his head.
Sammy sniffles. "If you go away I won't have anyone. I'll be all alone."
"You won't be alone. You'll have Dad and Uncle Bobby and a whole lot of other people. If I ever have to go away, they'll look after you and you'll be just fine. I promise." One thing Dean has always been sure of is that Sammy could get along without him. His kid brother is smart and everybody loves him; he has no trouble making friends. All anybody ever has to do is get one look at that baby face and they fall all over themselves to help him.
A chubby fist lands in the middle of Dean's chest and Sammy is angry now, furious. "I don't want a whole lot of other people to look after me. I want you. I just want you."
"Okay Sammy, okay." Dean really wants off the emotional rollercoaster and he'll agree to just about anything at this point.
Maybe, he has a few things to think over. Maybe
Sammy crashes into him, smashes his head into the crook of Dean's neck, curls his fingers into Dean's shirt and wipes his snotty nose on Dean's shoulder.
"Everything's gonna be alright, Sammy." He whispers into his brother's ear.
He hopes they never have to go through something like this again, but deep in his heart he knows – if it ever comes down to it, if it means keeping his brother safe – he'll make the exact same choices.
He wouldn't change a thing.
A/N: Thank you for reading. Now that it's over, I hope you'll leave a review.