In truth, he wasn't faking; his arm was really bothering him, and the repeated treks up to the Buell farm had taken a toll. Dean dropped heavily onto his bed and unclipped his hospital issue sling, and carefully arranged his injured limb on the stacked pillows. He threw his good arm over his eyes, sighing with weariness. Sam searched and found a bottle of painkillers, shaking out a few and handing them his brother.
"Here, take these, they'll help." He poured out a good measure of bourbon and passed it over.
Dean sat up and accepted both. "Aren't you supposed to be nagging me not to drink while I take these now?"
Sam snorted. "Like that ever had any effect on what you decide to do. Besides, after everything that happened, go right ahead, knock yourself out."
"I just might." He swallowed the pills with a deep draught of the drink, feeling the welcome warmth in the pit of his stomach. He settled back again. "That was good, though, wasn't it?"
"What, the pie, or Nathaniel's passage..?"
"Both." he sighed.
"Yeah, Dean. Very good...one for the diary."
Dean smiled. "You keep a diary?"
"Yeah, right! Not with you around!" Sam poured another drink for him, and one for himself. Dean accepted it without comment this time. As soon as it was empty, Sam poured a healthy third.
"I'm not that easy, you know. You gotta at least buy me some flowers."
Sam snorted. "That's not what I heard." He sat beside him and took the opportunity to check out the pins. Dean groaned in annoyance as Sam looked him over. "Don't bitch, Dean. If we don't keep an eye on this you could get serious infection."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I don't know how; I'm still so pumped full of antibiotics." But he stayed still while his brother dealt with the six points of entry. He was secretly glad that it was being looked after. Lord knows, if it were up to him, they'd be gangrenous by now. Two in his hand, two above his wrist, and two in the thick of his forearm. If the break hadn't been so damned close to the end of the bone, they wouldn't have had to have it put on. The lower four hurt more, as they were prone to movement. He couldn't wait to pull the stupid thing off. He barely let Sam finish his ministrations before he shrugged him off. "Ok, you're done. Any more is just sadism." he growled.
Sam produced a bag of smarties, a pair of shot glasses and a deck of cards. "Ok, dude. The game is 21. Winner gets a smartie, loser drinks one shot." He shuffled expertly.
"One smartie? Well that sucks. How about five?"
Sam weighed the sack. "Fine; five. And no picking colours." It was a calculated risk. Dean was already two generous glassfuls ahead of him, and the effects were going to be magnified by the painkillers. And while Dean had a capacity for drink that bordered on legend, Sam was bigger, and was cultivating a decent tolerance himself lately. He felt fairly sure he could control the evening to achieve his goal.
When the smarties were gone, and a number of shots had been consumed by both sides, the interest in the game had run its course. Dean was slurring. Sam himself was feeling considerably less constrained. He decided to play his real hand now.
Dean lay on his bed. Sam sat on the floor, his back resting against the side of his brother's bed. They were quiet for some time before Sam began. "Hey...Dean..?"
"I really need to talk to you about something-"
Dean sighed in irritation. "Not now, Sammy."
"Yeah, now! C'mon, Dean! You keep pushing me away. I really need to-"
"Aw crap! Sam, we were having a good time here. Don't start-"
"No! Don't do that! This is important-"
Dean turned away and curled up. He was really feeling the effects, and he did not want to start an argument now, for fear of losing his carefully crafted control. "I said not now!"
"Dean, just talk to me, please! I need you to know how I feel, and I want you to tell me-"
"I'm tired, ok? And I'm freaking loaded! Man, why do you always have to go on and on about shit? You're draining the life out of me, for christ sakes!" He turned the clock radio up loud, its out of tune screech filling the room.
Sam yanked the plug out. "Would you just stop it? I'm trying to-"
Dean glared at him. "You're trying to wreck this, is what! Jesus, Sam! Can't you give me my five minutes of warm fuzzy about things before you ruin it with your freaking whining? Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don't want to hear what you have to say? I already heard enough before! Nothing you can say to me now makes any difference! What, do you want to rehash the whole thing? Fine! Yeah, I sold myself to fry for eternity, and yeah, it was a stupid thing and yeah, I should never have done it! I threw away everything to bring you back, and yeah, I know, you never asked me to-! "
The bourbon had been more than effective. The iron lid was suddenly thrown wide, and the contents of his secretive container boiled up. He ground out the rest now through gritted teeth. "And if all that isn't enough to keep me from ever sleeping again, I get to sweat through my minute-by-minute countdown knowing that this whole deal is so totally f~~king lop-sided, that it was all a god-damned waste anyway! And why is it a waste? Because I know, no matter what you say, no matter how hard you try to lie your way out of the truth; tthat you would never, ever have done it for me! So why don't you tell me, Sam; what the hell is left to cover now? It's done! Live with it! I have to!"
Sam sat in open-mouthed shock at the outburst. He had no idea how deep and painful Dean's misplaced resentment was. He could not believe what he was hearing. "How can you even think that? Dean, you're wrong, about-"
"Just get away from me, you clueless sonofabitch! You know; right from the start, all you've done is let me know I screwed up again! You never once looked at me with any hint of gratitude! All you do is judge me, day-in, day-out! And I don't know why that surprises me; I should have expected this, it's just like always! As soon as you decided you weren't a kid any more, you rejected me and conveniently forgot every damned thing I ever did for you! All the times I protected you, all the fights I had to get into after you opened your big mouth to some bully, the times I covered for you when Dad was on the war-path, or all the things I tried to do to make up for our crappy upbringing! You got all the advantages, because I made sure! And the second that paid off for you, you took off to California so you could leave the trash behind, didn't you! Well guess what, Saint Sammy; you're made up of the same damned crap that I am! You can't escape it, and don't you dare sit there thinking you could have made it on your own, because it was me who cut your paths clear for you! And you've resented me ever since I took you away from it, never mind reality! So what if I'm damned now? That's nothing! You've been damning me every day since you left for Stanford. I'm used to it now, so what's a little longer?"
He was running out of coherent words. He sat, chest heaving, eyes shining with fury and bitterness and hurt. But he wasn't finished. The rest came out in a strangled whisper. "And do you wanna know the truly screwed up part of all of this? I'd still do it all over again! Knowing everything, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I wouldn't have to think, or weigh, or analyze anything! I'd just do what I'm supposed to do!"
Sam had heard enough. Recovered from his shock, he roared back. "Shut up! Just shut up, Dean! God, you're so full of feeling sorry for yourself, you can't even conceive of the idea that this could be hard on anybody else! Your stupid pride won't let you even peek over that bloody brick wall of yours! You did this thing, and it's so huge, so f~~king unbelievably heavy, and you did it for me! And I'm just supposed to kiss your ass in thanks, and keep my mouth shut and never ever talk about any of it-? You said I never showed a shred of gratitude, -well you never let me! You handed me your life, and I'm just supposed to take it and shove it in my pocket and go on as if nothing's different! Well I can't live like that, Dean! I won't!"
He swore and sat, shaking with the intensity of it all. "And yes! Yes, alright? I am angry! I'm pissed beyond telling you! I'm going nuts here! Christ, it's like I just woke up in the hospital and found out you donated your liver to me to save my life! So what if it means you're doomed; what the hell, it's only Dean, right? At least Little Sammy is saved! And now I can watch your life tick away in front of me, knowing it's all on my head! And yes, I am fully aware of every damned thing you've ever done for me, ok? Painfully aware! You think I never noticed Dad's uneven attention? God, the guilt suffocates me whenever I even think of our happy little family! You were the one looking out for me every day, I know that; and nobody ever did that for you! And this is your reward...this is what I brought you!"
He dissolved into tears. "How do you expect me to react to this, Dean? The guilt, and horror, and...everything! It's f~~king drowning me!" He broke down, sobbing. "I am trying to find a way to live with this, but I can't! I can't make any of this right, or better. Not in one year, not in a hundred! So you tell me how I'm supposed to get up every day and keep going? Tell me that!"
Dean sat in stunned silence, pained and confused by the depth of Sam's reaction.
Sam wiped his eyes angrily. "And you're full of shit, you blind jack-ass. I do remember all the stuff you did for me, how can I not? It wasn't you I was running from, it never was! It was every new crappy town we woke up in, it was every dirty, bug infested motel, it was Dad, and his bitter, obsessive drill-sergeant crap, and this whole shitty life-!" He fought to get a grip. "Do I have to draw a picture for you to get you to understand? I didn't leave Stanford with you to find Dad. I just left with you. My life was falling apart! I needed you, and going with you was all I could think of that made any damned sense."
That hit it's mark. -I needed you- Dean stared at Sam for a moment. It dawned on him now, the effect he had, the impact his own decisions had made on his brother's life. He dropped his head into his hand, overwhelmed by his own emotions, and Sam's simple, but powerful statements. The room was beginning to spin. "F~~k." he choked.
Sam pulled himself together a little. "Dean, all I wanted to do was talk to you. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what you did for me, ever since that day. And how guilty and...undeserving...I feel. But you never let me do that, you shut me out at every turn. And then you asked me that question in the tunnel, and it totally caught me off guard. I was more worried about getting our brains blown out by Buell at that moment. I sounded so freaking lame when I answered... And I know what you thought after; I saw it on your face, clear as day, but you wouldn't let me talk to you to fix it!"
Dean turned away, not wanting to relive that. Sam pulled him back by a gentle handful of his hair. "Listen to me, you stupid moron! Let me finish. I hesitated, because the question was so...important, and I wanted to say this right. I didn't hesitate because I was afraid to say I wouldn't do it for you if things were reversed! All I wanted was to wait til the right time, and that sure as hell wasn't it." He sighed. "I've been thinking about this whole thing non-stop since it happened, Dean...trying to sort it out. I don't know where I was when you brought me back. I don't remember anything, bad or good. But what I came to figure out was that...if you were dead, and I thought you were somewhere better, somewhere... somewhere beautiful...I wouldn't try to reverse it, no matter how much I wanted to. But if I thought for a second that you were suffering, I'd dive into the pit headfirst to save you from that. Dean, please, you have to believe me..."
Dean stared at his brother. He saw the tears, the earnest intensity in Sam's eyes. He saw the truth. He crumpled under the weight of it and lay on the bed, crying and cursing. Finally he whispered, "I'm sorry...I'm sorry... I did what I'm supposed to do. Save Sam. I played my role."
Sam pulled him up and hugged him tightly. "I know. I know. Thank-you."
"I'm so freaking scared of this-"
"Me too, Dean." He released him and forced him to meet his eyes. "But I swear, Dean; I swear...you, me, and Bobby, we will find a way out of this! I promise!"
Dean said nothing. but his expression spoke volumes. Finally he nodded. He lay back again and covered his eyes. "God I'm totalled." he groaned. "I might not even remember any of this."
"I'll remind you."
"I'll probably hurl later."
"Yeah, I know."
"sssh...it's alright, Dean. I know."
He was sick. Spectacularly, exhaustingly so. It was a rare thing for him, but the circumstances at that time conspired against him. Codeine, prodigious amounts of bourbon, three quarters of an apple pie and an emotional roller-coaster ride. I was pretty much a given. Sam got him through that, and the two of them slept in the next day until well past noon. But that unpleasantry aside, they had made a significant break-through in terms of communication. They both understood now, some of the impact that this whole thing had. It was necessary, and it was good. But Sam had no illusions that it would continue to remain so open between them. It just wasn't the way things worked. He saw the brick wall back in place by morning, the iron lid clamped back down. And the truth was; he relied on his brother to play that rock-steady role.
When they finally did get up, Sam asked him; "So...how ya feeling?"
Sam laughed to himself and got up. He washed up, dressed, and headed next door to see what he could talk May into providing for breakfast. Her camp coffee was always on the stove, he brought back two cups of it. Dean accepted his with a grudging wince. "..ugh... Bowl of aspirin, please."
"Little hung over are we?"
"No." -not a little- "Why are you up so early?"
"It's way past noon."
Sam just shook his head and left again for May's kitchen. Dean groaned and sat up. He felt lousy. Both his head and arm ached with a nauseating intensity. -God, I'm out of practice- He sighed, berating himself for acting like such a neophyte. But despite that, he felt...good. He felt lighter, somehow. He did remember the evening. He remembered the shouting, the emotion. He remembered the topic that brought it all to head. He lay back down, going over it all.
Sam returned, laden with toasted western sandwiches. He handed one to Dean. Sam sat down with his own, and wolfed it down. He waited patiently until Dean had consumed his. When they were both fortified, he brought it up. "So...Dean...are we ok?"
Dean looked at him quizzically. "Ok? are we ok..? What the hell are you talking about, Sam?" He knew exactly what he was talking about, but he wasn't about to make it easy on him.
Sam was crushed. All the gains they'd made last night, all the understanding... "Nothing...nothing, forget it."
Even Dean couldn't withstand that. He relented. "Aw Sam, I'm just messing with your head, ok? Yeah. We're good. We really are, ok? At least as far as I'm concerned. What about you?"
Sam nodded. He too felt better about the state of things after the catharsis of the previous night. He knew he shouldn't keep flogging it; both of them had had their time on the soap box. Both knew where the other was coming from...and headed. It was enough, for now. "Yeah...we're good. As long as you know that Bobby and I will gut ourselves to undo your mess."
Dean made a wry face. "I'm pretty much counting on it."
They were quiet for a moment.
"Alright then." Dean settled back. "Now all we have to deal with is this stupid metal rig."
Sam turned to him, successfully derailed. "What do you mean? You have an appointment in a few days; they'll probably take it off and put you in a cast then."
Dean sighed. Sam was always the optimist. "No...they'll probably put me in cuffs. Get real, Sammy. It'll have been two weeks. Don't you think they'll have figured out that the paperwork is bullshit by now?"
"Well, maybe not-"
"Sure. Maybe not. But if you don't mind, I think I'll pass on that gamble. I've been there before, remember? Unless it's done by a hot blonde in a black teddy, I don't ever want to be hand-cuffed to a bed-rail again. It's reality check time, Sam. This rig is coming off, and it ain't the good medics who are going to do it."
Sam swore. He hated it, but he knew Dean was right. He sighed in exasperation. "Yeah; fine. But can you at least wait the proper amount of time that they would have done it in? For shits sake; don't jump the gun on this, you could seriously affect your recovery. How are you going to be able to hunt properly with one gimpy arm?"
Dean stared down at the metal bars and pins. His gut instinct was to pull the damned thing off himself, later. It was an encumbrance, and he hated encumbrances of any kind. But Sam spoke the truth; he could really do some long-lasting damage if he gave in and removed it early. And he couldn't afford that kind of limitation; not with their line of work. "Alright. A few more days. But after that I'm ditching it."
It was at least a compromise. I was the best that Sam could expect. "So I guess that's why you bought the arm thing at the drug store. I was going to get rid of it so you'd have to do things properly, but unfortunately, you're probably right about the hospital."
"You nosy little bitch!"
"Uh huh. But I don't get the box of crayons."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about those. And that reminds me, we've got to get that stone off my seat springs before it flattens everything. Feel like a little tour of the countryside? I want to find the graveyard, and put up Nate's stone."
"Sure, I guess. But you didn't answer my question."
"You'll see." he said. He rose and made motions to join the living. "Sam, I need a favour...I need you to ask Angus if he knows what Nate's mother's first name was. And if he knows where the old church is. Do you mind?"
Sam groaned. "Aw, crap, Dean...don't make me go talk to him. He forgets who I am every time, and tries to brain me with his cane. Takes me fifteen minutes to convince him I'm not there to steal the silverware."
"C'mon, Sammy. Hell, I'd go, but you know... sore arm...ouch."
Sam rolled his eyes and mumbled something, but he went anyway. By the time he returned, Dean was waiting for him in the car.
''Geez, you're gung ho, aren't you?"
"That damned thing's wrecking the upholstery. Look at the wrinkles at the edge!"
Sam snorted. "It'll be fine. The church and grave yard are up May's road a few miles. She said they don't do services at it anymore; haven't for years, not enough people. But they still keep the grass cut."
"What about her name, did he know it?"
"Grace. Gracie Willard. He seemed pretty sure about it, and he made me pay him five bucks before he'd tell me, so it's probably right."
Dean smiled. "Good."
The small, rectangular frame building sat at the end of a short, gravel lane. It was old; white paint was peeling from the clapboards, and starlings were nesting in the holes in the eaves. It sat quietly on its postage stamp of trim, green grass, flanked by two massive sugar maples, each sporting patches where their leaves were beginning to hint at the crimson they would become later. The tiny grave yard was to the side, a collection of faded marble headstones sitting crookedly in the ground that they'd occupied for a century. Here and there, more modern ones had been fit between. The property was bordered by a simple old wire fence, rusting now. Lilacs, long past flowering, grew rampant at the edges, encroaching on the lawn. Sam began the arduous task of hauling the stone out of the back seat under the critical eye of his brother, ignoring his very vocal protests that it would scratch or break something on the way out. He huffed and carried it through the gate, and deposited it on the grass. "Ok, Dean. Shut up already. Where do you want me to put it?"
Dean looked the spot over. In one corner, a crab apple tree grew over the fence, it's branches hanging with small, red fruit. A shrub crowded at it's base, laden with greenish white masses of flowers that were turning to brown. May had the same one growing by her porch, she'd said it was hydrangea. It was idyllic, and Dean said as much. Sam grunted under the weight of the stone, complaining that Dean had chosen the farthest point on purpose. Dean just grinned.
Sam returned to the car for a shovel. Dean bent over the stone, brushing off the back of it as cleanly as he could. He pulled out his crayons, selecting a black one. By the time Sam returned, he'd neatly inscribed Willard onto it, followed by Nathaniel, and below that, Grace. He figured the wax crayon was the most enduring means of writing on the stone, short of actually carving into it, and he had no means to do that. It wouldn't wash away, and probably wouldn't fade. Sam stood and admired his handiwork. "Good thinking." he smiled.
Dean looked away, embarrassed over his sentimentality. "Yeah, well; Nate was pretty attached to that stone. But I figured he should be remembered by his real name. We can just put the sin eater side up against the fence."
Sam nodded, and he quickly dug a neat slot in the turf, and slid the heavy marker in place. He straightened it up and tamped the earth down until it was steady. "There. How's that..?"
Dean said nothing. He simply nodded. Nathaniel Willard finally got his wish. He was never able to bury his mother properly. Now, at last, her name was written here, in hallowed ground, along with that of her son. Sin Eater could fade from history and memory, while Nathaniel Willard's name lived on. Finally Dean shrugged off his emotions. "OK, Sam. I guess that about does it. I wouldn't mind grabbing our stuff and hitting the road now. I'm getting a little sick of Hooterville; how about you?"
"Kinda. I'm getting tired of reintroducing myself to Angus, and I have the feeling that May's about to adopt me. But maybe we should wait a few days, so you can just chill until it's time to pull your pins."
"Nah. I can do that anywhere, Sam. I'll just mail the hardware back to Bradford. I'd rather spend some time in my car, even if I have to suffer through your little-old-lady driving."
Sam knew it was pointless to argue. They drove back to the house, and gathered their things. May was disappointed, but they couldn't be swayed. They asked her to pass along their goodbyes to Russell, and they hit the road by late afternoon. Dean's tension lessened the moment there was road under the Impala's wheels. He sighed in relative happiness, resting his head back against the seat. He may not be behind the wheel, but this was home for him, nonetheless. For now, the big picture didn't matter...both he and Sam had worked things out, and he was going to simply live day by day, at least for the next little while. He closed his eyes.
Sam glanced at him. It pleased him to see the relaxed little smile that he wore. "Which way, Dean?"
"I don't care...just away. Maybe in a direction that gets warmer."
Sam smiled. "Warmer. Sounds like plan."
Many thanks to you all, for reading and commenting. It always lifts me.