Title: Save Me From The Dark
Characters: Dean, Sam
Genre/Pairing: Gen, H/C
Word count: 8,700
Spoilers: Up to 7x11 Adventures in Babysitting
Summary: After Adventures in Babysitting, Sam finds Ben's Halloween Wendigo mask in the trunk of their borrowed car and a drunk Dean catches him with it.
Notes: Written for hoodie_time's Dean-focused h/c fic and art challenge for prompt #28 by turquoisetumult.
Disclaimer: The characters of Supernatural do not belong to me and no infringement is intended.
Author's Note (17th Feb): I've done a bit of editing and made a few adjustments to this story, so here's the new, improved version.
Sam opened the trunk of the car and began rooting around in the dark for the gun he knew was in here somewhere. They might only be stopping in a bar for the evening on their way out of Kansas, but you could never be too careful and he liked to have at least some protection on him at all times. He reached one hand into Dean's duffle bag, looking for a flashlight as the other felt over the trunk's interior for the weapon he was looking for. He jumped, however, when his fingers ran over something distinctly un-weapon-like wedged down in the corner of the trunk, something distinctly rubbery and squishy. With an exclamation of disgust he quickly withdrew his hand and shuddered at the thought of what kind of gross things the rightful owner of the vehicle might have been keeping in here.
Upping his search for the flashlight, he finally dug it out of the bottom of the duffle bag and switched it on. With a cautious movement, he leaned further into the trunk and shone the torch in the corner. At first he could see nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual crap people kept in their trunks: papers, maps, trash; but then he frowned when his eyes caught on something else buried in the corner. Carefully, he eased the offending article out of its hiding place and held it up to the light.
He made a face at the object in his hand. It was a kids' Halloween monster mask… no, on second thought, it wasn't just any monster, it was a Wendigo mask. The Wendigo mask, the one he'd seen in the trunk of the Impala last year, back when Dean had started hunting with him again. It was the mask his brother had made with Ben when he'd been living with the boy and Lisa.
But what on Earth was it doing here?
With a grimace, he shoved the mask into the pocket of his jacket, before resuming his hunt for the gun. When he eventually dug it out of the back of the trunk, he tucked it into his jeans and closed the trunk. With a quick glance up and down the street for any suspicious movements, he locked the car and headed over to the dive of a bar that Dean had insisted on patronising this evening.
Sam rolled his eyes as he pulled open the door and was hit by the stench of cigarette smoke, sweat and booze. Why on earth his brother still liked to frequent these kinds of places, he had no idea, but with Bobby and everything, Dean was in one of his moods right now and Sam knew he probably wouldn't listen to him if he broached the subject anyway.
Glancing round the smoky bar, he eventually located his brother sitting at a round table in the corner, nursing a beer. Sam frowned in concern as he made his way over to him. Dean had been looking so tired lately; his eyes were constantly filled with sorrow and there was so much emptiness in his expressions these days that he almost didn't recognise his big brother anymore.
What had happened to the cocky, self-assured, confident man who used to spend all his time teasing him, flirting with every pretty girl he came across and kicking demon ass with as much relish as possible? Sam knew that Dean was hurting, that he was grieving over Bobby's death—after all, Sam knew how he was feeling, because he was grieving too—but this man in front of him, the big brother who'd always been his hero, was now just a shell of his former self.
Dean looked down at his pint of beer despondently. He watched as the small bubbles made their way up through the dark liquid and came to a stop when they reached the head of foam at the top of the glass. With a heavy arm, he lifted the glass to his lips and took a long sip, savouring the feel of the cold, soothing fluid slipping down his throat. He let the beer drown out his thoughts and feelings, focusing all his concentration on the warm, tingly feeling the alcohol was giving him.
It was all he could allow himself to do; focus solely on the right here and right now, because if he didn't, if he let himself think about the hell that was his life now, it would truly suffocate him and he didn't know if he was strong enough to survive it.
Like Frank had said: Do it right, with a smile, or don't do it.
"Getting an early start, huh?"
Sam's voice cut into the haze surrounding his brain and Dean scowled into the glass, taking another large swig before placing it on the table and shooting his brother a glare.
"Don't start, Sammy."
Sam just raised an eyebrow, apparently unfazed by Dean's gruffness and the death stare he was being given, and glanced pointedly down at the other three very empty pint glasses sitting beside the now half-full one Dean was clasping.
Sam just looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, the steady regard of the gaze causing Dean to feel unnervingly exposed, before he slid into the seat opposite him and nodded to the barmaid who was passing their table. A few moments later, an identical beer was placed down in front of Sam and he reached for it, taking a small, careful, deliberate sip. Dean fought the urge to roll his eyes before he lowered his attention to his beer again
"You okay?" asked Sam, the soft tone causing Dean's head to snap back up again.
The second his eyes met his brother's, he wished he hadn't looked up. Sam was wearing this expression… Dean didn't really know how to describe it; pitying, maybe? Or perhaps it was empathy, mixed in with a touch of reprimand? Whatever it was, it was making him uncomfortable.
"I'm fine," he ground out.
"Dean—" his brother started and Dean's heart clenched painfully at the vulnerable tone in Sam's voice.
It was the same tone he used to use as a kid when he was upset or scared and hearing it from him now, after everything that had happened, tugged at his heartstrings—just like it always had. But he couldn't go there right now; he couldn't let his guard down. He just wanted to forget.
"Look, Sam," he said in warning. "Just leave it alone, okay? I'm not doing this today."
He stared his little brother down, kept the eye contact up as long as he could, but after a few long seconds it got too hard. Sam could see his pain, that much was evident in the worried yet benevolent expression his brother wore, and Dean just knew what he was thinking. So he broke the gaze and glanced around the bar instead. He knew he looked like shit right now; he knew his eyes were bloodshot and tired, that his face was pale and drawn, that grief was threatening to overwhelm him, and he couldn't bear to see it reflected in Sam's eyes too.
"So, you're just going to drink yourself into oblivion instead?" Sam raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, maybe," Dean shrugged, gulping down another mouthful of beer to make his point.
"This isn't healthy, Dean."
"Can't say I really give a shit about healthy right now, Sammy."
Sam's jaw tightened at that and he shook his head slightly as he let out a frustrated sigh. Dean huffed; Sammy bore his 'pissed off, argumentative teenager' expression and he really wasn't in the mood for a lecture right now.
His brother leaned forward purposefully and stared Dean down.
"You're not the only one who's grieving right now, Dean."
"I dunno," he shrugged, a bitter expression in his eyes. "You seem to be handling things pretty well."
"Well, one of us has to keep it together," hissed Sam angrily. "And since apparently you can't function unless you're drunk these days, that person has to be me."
"I'm 'handling things' because I have to," Sam continued, the muscles in his jaw jumping again. "Because if I don't then everything will fall apart. And I don't think we can afford to let that happen right now." Sam shook his head, body taut with angry tension as he glanced down disdainfully at Dean's beer. "Have fun drowning your sorrows, Dean. I'll be waiting in the car."
He slid his large body off the stool and strode out of the bar. Dean cursed as he watched his brother's retreating back, before draining the last of his drink, slapping some cash down on the table and following after Sam.
"What the hell was that in there?" he demanded, throwing up a hand to gesture back towards the bar, as he caught up with Sam just before he reached the car.
Sam stopped in his stride, his back straightening before he turned to face Dean. His expression was blank, although Dean could see his jaw twitching.
"This has to stop, Dean," he said eventually. "All this drinking. It's killing you."
"Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do, huh?" retorted Dean, feeling anger—and a hint of something else, something he didn't want to acknowledge—bubbling up inside of him. "How the hell else am I supposed to deal with all this?"
"I don't know… by talking about it, maybe?" suggested Sam, his voice rising steadily with each word.
He stopped himself then, taking a breath before continuing.
"Bobby's dead, Dean. And yeah, it sucks to all hell, but there's nothing we can do about it. We have to accept it and move on."
Dean felt a flash of anger at the casual way Sam was speaking about the man who'd been like a father to them and he stepped up to him, grabbing him by the lapels of his jacket and pressing him up against the car.
"Don't you dare talk about him like that," he growled, his entire body shaking with rage. "Don't you dare."
"Dean—" started Sam, pleadingly, his eyes filled with sorrow. "Don't do this… "
"How can you be so calm about all this, huh?" Dean demanded to know. "It's like you don't even care that he's… gone. If I didn't know any better, I might say you were still—"
"Still what, huh, Dean?" retorted Sam, a hurt expression on his face. "Still soulless? Is that what you're saying?" He narrowed his eyes. "Well, I'm not. Just because I don't drown my sorrows in alcohol all hours of the day doesn't mean I don't care or don't feel anything."
He shook his head sadly, refusing to let Dean intimidate him.
"I care, Dean. I care a hell of a lot."
"Yeah, well you have a brilliant way of showing it," snarled Dean, tugging Sam even closer.
"I lost him too, Dean," Sam told him calmly, although Dean could see the turbulence in his eyes. "And you know what? It kind of feels like I'm dying inside right now. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to even think about him, but I can't let it consume me. I can't lose myself in it… because if I do, I'm not sure I'll ever make it back."
At the desperate tone in Sam's voice, Dean's grip loosened and he let the material of Sam's jacket slide from his hands.
Sam let out an internal sigh of relief when Dean released him. He was used to his brother dealing with the crap in their lives by drinking and lashing out in anger, and while he knew how to handle him when he got like this, he didn't particularly enjoy having to do so.
He knew Dean thought he was acting like he wasn't affected by Bobby's death, but the truth was, as much as he just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry right now, he couldn't afford to let himself break down. He was afraid that if he did, he would lose his grip on reality again and then Lucifer would win.
No, he had to stay strong. It was killing him to remain stoic, while Dean was obviously falling apart in front of his eyes, but he had no other choice.
He watched with a touch of wariness as Dean took a step back and ran a hand through his hair, dragging it down over his face in a weary gesture. On top of being drunk, his brother looked completely exhausted. The dark circles beneath his eyes were prominent against his pale skin and dare he say it, his big brother was actually looking old. Until now, Dean had always seemed kind of ageless to Sam. No matter how much they'd both grown up over the years, Dean's appearance had never seemed to change, but looking at him now, really paying attention for the first time in months, Sam could see that life was finally starting to take its toll on his big brother.
"Come on, let's get out of here," he suggested softly.
"And go where, huh?" countered Dean tiredly. "We're over a thousand miles from the cabin, and we can't check into a motel because we're not supposed to even be alive."
"I don't know… we'll find somewhere," said Sam, moving around to the driver's side of the car. "Or we'll sleep in the car if we have to."
"In this thing?" Dean looked down at their latest acquisition with disdain, as he opened the passenger door and slid into the seat. "It's barely big enough to sit in comfortably, let alone sleep."
Sam rolled his eyes as got in the car and he heard Dean mumbling to himself.
"Why can't we just get Baby back, huh?" he grumbled, opening the passenger door and climbing into the car. "I hate these freakin' piece-of-shit foreign cars."
Sam fought the urge to roll his eyes at Dean's tirade as he reached across his body for his seatbelt. However, when Dean unexpectedly broke off mid-sentence and the car descended into silence, he turned his head to find his brother staring at the small space between their seats with a look of horror on his face.
"What the hell?" demanded Dean, reaching down and picking up the Halloween mask that had apparently slipped out of Sam's pocket as he'd gotten into the car. "Why do you have this?"
"I found it in the trunk when I was looking for my gun," Sam replied, before raising an eyebrow at his brother. "Although maybe I should be asking why you have it."
Dean appeared not to hear the last part of his statement, his expression becoming angry again as he stared down at the mask in his hands.
"So you just felt the need to take it?" he questioned tightly. "What the hell, Sam?"
Sam just shrugged. "I was curious. I was gonna ask you about it."
"And what makes you think it's any of your Goddamn business, huh?" Dean went on the defensive. "What gives you the right to go through my things?"
"It wasn't in your things, Dean, it was just lying in the corner of the trunk," Sam tried to placate him. "It's not like I went through your private stuff or anything."
"Yeah, well…" Dean trailed off, his eyes glued to the mask now as he ran his thumbs gently over the rubbery material.
"You've been carrying it around with us, haven't you?" Sam realised then. "Moving it from car to car as we go."
Dean didn't reply, just kept his eyes fixed on the Wendigo's face.
Sam watched his brother press his lips together and exhale heavily before turning to look at him. He had to suppress his sharp intake of breath when he realised that Dean's eyes were full of tears.
"I needed something to remind me."
Dean cursed his fragile emotions as he turned to face his brother, mask still in hand. Why couldn't he just stay strong and unaffected like he usually managed to?
"Remind you?" Sam tone was soft, hesitant, as if he thought Dean would break if he said too much.
"Of Ben," Dean admitted quietly, looking down at the mask again, unable to maintain eye-contact with Sam.
"Oh." The word was just a whisper in the air between them.
Dean just inhaled deeply, his chin tilting up and his jaw clenching as he willed the tears, and the pain, away.
"You miss them, don't you?"
Dean could only manage a nod, his gaze roaming the parking lot as he looked anywhere but at Sam. As hard as he was fighting for composure, he couldn't stop the tear that escaped from the corner of his eye and began meandering down his cheek.
"I know I did the right thing," he murmured. "I know it was too dangerous for them to be a part of this life, a part of my life, but…"
"But that doesn't mean you don't love them, right?"
"Yeah." The word came out as nothing more than a choked whisper; it was all he could achieve.
"It's okay to miss them, you know," Sam told him gently, but Dean just shook his head, a sad laugh escaping his lips.
"I knew he wasn't mine, but he felt like my son," he said softly, finally admitting it out loud for the first time. "Maybe not at first, but I came to love him like he was my own."
"You know what he said to me when he called and I went to see them last year?" he asked, turning back to Sam again, almost cringing at the sympathetic look in his brother's eyes. "He said I was walking out on my family."
His voice cracked on the last word and Dean sucked in a breath, trying to get himself under control even as he felt even more tears rolling down his face.
"I couldn't stay, Sam," he muttered. "I wanted him to have a normal life. I couldn't bear the thought of him turning out like me, and he would have if I'd stayed."
"Dean, come on," said Sam, shaking his head. "You can't possibly believe that."
"What? It's true. I'm not someone anyone should be looking up to." He lowered his head and closed his eyes, admitting, "Being around me would only screw up his life."
"Dean, you're an idiot."
The blunt words made his head shoot up again and he turned to Sam, eyes now open and narrowed accusingly at his brother.
"What?" he demanded.
"I've looked up to you for, like, my whole life," said Sam with a small smile. "You were like my hero growing up. You raised me, Dean. You took care of me when Dad couldn't—you were more of a father to me than he ever was. Are you saying that I'm screwed up?"
"Well, you know, you're not exactly the poster child for normal, Sam," he replied, raising his eyebrows and giving his brother a pointed glare.
"Maybe not," agreed Sam. "But that has nothing to do with you, Dean. I was screwed anyway, didn't matter who was raising me."
"Yeah," Dean muttered in reluctant acknowledgement.
"But taking away all the demon crap, if it weren't for you, who knows how I might have turned out," pointed out Sam. "You taught me so much, Dean. You took care of me when I was sick, you taught me how to read and write, how to tie my shoe laces, how to stand up for myself, how to be independent and go after what I wanted . You did this incredible job with me...you think I would have gotten into Stanford if it weren't for your influence on my life?"
Dean's eyes widened in shock at that, but Sam seemed to ignore him and kept talking.
"I saw you with Ben too—you're a great father, Dean."
Dean just nodded slowly, Sam's words sinking in, wrapping their way around his heart. He sniffed, looking down at the mask again.
"We made this together, right before Halloween," he admitted quietly. "I didn't want to at first—you know how I feel about Halloween, what with Mom's anniversary and everything—but he begged me and I just couldn't say no." He looked up at Sam again. "He's a lot like you, you know. One wounded puppy-dog look from him and he could get me to do just about anything."
That drew a chuckle from his brother, easing the tension in the car slightly.
"Making this with him… it was the first time I really felt like a dad, you know? Like he and Lisa really were my family."
He shook his head sadly as memories of that day flooded through his mind…
"Hey, I'm home," called Ben from the hallway, as he slammed the front door behind him.
"In here," Dean returned from the kitchen, where he was cleaning a carburettor over the sink.
"You know, Mom's gonna kill you when she finds out you've been doing that in her nice, clean kitchen," said Ben knowingly as he leaned against the kitchen doorframe, arms crossed over his chest.
He was wearing jeans and a black AC/DC T-shirt… the shirt was one of Dean's actually. Although it was a good few sizes too big for him, Ben loved to wear it—said it made him look cool and Dean couldn't bring himself to deny him.
"Well, then, it's a good thing we're not gonna tell her, huh?" he replied, winking conspiratorially.
"Yeah," Ben grinned. "But you better make damn sure she doesn't find out or you'll be sleeping on the couch."
"Language," Dean admonished sternly, shooting him a meaningful look.
"Sorry." The grin stayed on Ben's face, but it faltered slightly and he stood up straight—a sign that he respected Dean.
"So, uh," Ben started as he made his way over to the fridge and pulled out some orange juice. Lifting it to his lips, he drank straight from the carton.
"Uh, dude?" Dean frowned, making a disgusted face. "Glass? Where're your manners?"
"It's almost empty, Dean." Ben rolled his eyes, lowering the carton and shaking it lightly as proof, as he licked his lips.
Dean just eyeballed him sternly for a moment before letting it slide.
"So," Ben started again as he popped the carton in the trash and leaned against the island. "It's Halloween this weekend."
"It is," Dean acknowledged with nod, finishing up with the carburettor and then wiping his hands on a towel as he turned to face Ben.
"I was hoping you could help me with my costume?"
Dean's heart skipped a beat at the timid request. Halloween was a touchy subject for him; for one, he'd never liked the holiday, especially as he knew what was really out there in the world and he wasn't particularly interested in celebrating it, but secondly, Halloween was just a crappy time of year for him: his mom had died just after Halloween.
"Oh, uh, I'm not sure, buddy," he stalled. "Maybe your mom can help instead? I've kinda got a busy week ahead."
"Doing what?" the boy scoffed, sounded eerily like a teenage Sam as he did so. "You're only working part-time at the garage, so it's not like you don't have time. Besides, you're here a lot more than Mom is."
"Ben…" he said warningly, but at the sight of the kid's disappointed pout and pleading expression, he found he was powerless to deny him. "Okay, fine. I'll help you with the costume."
"Yes!" Ben punched the air triumphantly. "Thanks, Dean."
Dean just gave a small smile, "So what do you want your costume to be?"
"A Wendigo," the pre-teen announced proudly.
"A what?" That had Dean snapping his head up quickly. "How do you even know what that is?"
Ben just shrugged, "I saw a drawing of one on this really cool myths and legends website I found and I thought it would make a great costume… and you're the perfect person to help me because you've actually seen one, right?"
"Not only seen one, but killed one myself," Dean corrected almost proudly, before he realised who he was talking to and sobered up, pointing a warning finger in Ben's direction. "Which is something you're never gonna do."
"Aww, come on, Dean," protested Ben. "I'm not a little kid… and it's not like I don't know what goes bump in the night."
"Just because you know about it doesn't mean you've gotta get involved in it," said Dean sternly, the idea of Ben getting caught up in the life scaring the shit out of him. "Hunting is no place for a kid."
Ben just snorted, "Says the guy who learned how to shoot a gun when he was seven."
"I knew I shouldn't have told you about that," Dean muttered gruffly, crossing his arms over his chest as he gave Ben a stern frown.
"Yeah, well, you did," the kid responded. "Can't take it back now."
Dean just crossed his arms over his chest and stared him down for a moment, willing the boy to just focus on something else and forget about monsters and hunting, but he should have known Ben would be curious.
Hell, at his age, Dean had been exposed to much worse than a few changelings and a picture of a Wendigo on the internet… not that they'd even had internet when he was Ben's age, but that was beside the point.
"So are you going to help me or not?"
Dean maintained his stare for a moment before he sighed and relaxed a little, "Yeah, I'll help." He raised a finger in the air again. "But just don't go telling your mom that Wendigos are real or that I told you anything about them."
"Sure, Dean. Thanks," Ben grinned, before hightailing it out of the kitchen and running upstairs, shouting back to Dean that he had some costume ideas to show him.
Dean just watched him go with a heavy sigh. Ben was a great kid, he really was, but there was no way he was ever gonna let him become a hunter. No matter how exciting the boy thought hunting was or how much he thought he wanted it, he was not gonna drag an innocent kid, who had his whole life ahead of him, into his world.
The next few days saw Dean and Ben working meticulously on Ben's costume after school each day, and to his surprise, Dean actually found he was enjoying himself. Before, even though he'd willingly helped Ben with homework and other projects, he'd mostly done it because he'd felt he should, that it was the right thing to do, not because he found it particularly exciting. But now, as he bonded with the boy over monster movies and superhero debates, he realised that he wanted to be here, that he actually felt like he belonged here, with Ben and Lisa.
As he smiled down at the young boy—the boy that could have very easily been his own son—eagerly poring over the mask, trying to get the details just right, he felt a strange pang in his chest. Right here in this moment, with Ben smiling up at him and hanging on every word, he actually felt like a father.
"Dean?" Sam's soft voice and gentle hand on his arm brought him out of his memories.
"What?" he mumbled, swallowing audibly as he regained his bearings.
"Are you okay?"
"No." Dean let out a shaky breath, pausing for a moment before looking back at Sam tearfully. "No, I'm not okay."
Sam's grip on his arm tightened at the admission.
"I lost them," he murmured, breath catching in his throat. "Lisa and Ben don't even know who I am now—all that time we spent together as a family and they don't remember a thing."
He could see Sam opening his mouth to speak, but then closing it again as Dean looked away.
"If it were just them, maybe it'd be okay, maybe I could deal, but then Cas too… and now B-Bobby—" His voice caught on the name and he stopped, trying to compose himself. "I just… I don't think I can do this anymore, Sammy."
"Do what, Dean?" Sam demanded then, his tone changing from sympathetic to alarmed. "Hunt? Work?" He paused for a moment, "Live?"
"I don't know, Sam." Dean lifted a hand to his face, wiping the tears from his eyes. "I just know that I'm freakin' tired."
"I'm tired too, Dean," admitted Sam. "You're not the only one who's lost people, remember? But I'm not gonna give up and let it destroy me. Not while there's still evil to kill and people out there to save."
"Damnit, Sam," growled Dean. "I'm not gonna just give up, all right?"
"Really?" came the retort. "Because that's what it sounds like to me."
"Sam—" started Dean, trying to keep a hold on his emotions.
"I saw the look on your face back in that hospital, Dean," Sam continued, cutting him off. "When Lee asked if we knew anyone who'd gotten out of the life."
Dean just shook his head, not wanting to go there. He'd tried getting out before, but that hadn't worked… and if he was tired of the life, but couldn't get out, then the only other option was…
"And what was that about Krissy and being so adamant about her quitting?" Sam's next question cut off the dark thought that had been forming in his mind.
Dean sighed, "When I looked at Krissy, I kinda saw myself at her age. She's strong-willed and cocky, just how I used to be back then. She could so easily go the same way as I did… and I don't want that for her." He looked down at the mask again, realising that he wasn't just talking about Krissy now, but also Ben. "Unlike us, she's still innocent enough to walk away, have a normal life."
"Like Ben was too."
"Yeah," he muttered, before exhaling slowly. "I mean, us? We were always screwed, weren't we? We would never have had a choice to really get out; there were too many things at play. But Krissy and Lee? They don't have Yellow-Eyed demons chasing them down or the fate of the world hanging over their heads; they're free to be normal if they want to."
"Yeah, but Dean…" Sam was shaking his head sadly. "You can't always save everyone."
"Maybe not," he agreed with a grim nod. "But I can damned well try."
He looked up then, his gaze fixing straight ahead out of the front of the car. Just a few hours ago, he'd been sitting in this car with Krissy herself as they drove to the hospital… and he'd actually opened up more to her than he had to anyone in a long time…
24 hours earlier
Dean shot a quick glance towards the young girl sitting quietly in the passenger seat of his borrowed car as he drove them to the hospital. When the ambulance had arrived at the warehouse, Sam had been bundled into it along with Lee, leaving Krissy and Dean to make their own way there. Krissy had protested, trying to insist on going in the emergency vehicle with her father, but the paramedics had been adamant that there was no more room.
Seeing the frightened look of worry on the young girl's face, he'd turned to her with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Come on," he said. "I'll give you a ride."
Krissy had looked torn, alternating between staring longingly after the ambulance as it pulled away from the curb and glancing disdainfully at Dean's shabby car, but then she seemed to realise that the choice was either ride with him or stay right there and reluctantly nodded, following him to the car.
They'd been driving for about five minutes in silence when Dean looked over to see her staring out of the windscreen, her jaw set and arms crossed over her chest defensively. He watched her carefully, in between glances back at the road ahead, a small frown of concern marring his tired features.
"You okay?" he asked, breaking the silence.
There was a long pause and for a moment, he thought she might refuse to answer, but then she gave a slight nod and shifted in the seat, although her gaze still remained fixed straight ahead.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" he started, trying to sound as sincere and serious as possible.
He had to admit that he'd underestimated this girl beside him. When he'd arrived at her apartment yesterday, he'd just assumed she was an innocent, clueless kid; then when she'd pulled a gun on him and insisted he take her with him, he'd thought she was just a stupid teenager who had no idea what she was getting herself into. But in the end it had turned out that she was more than capable of handling herself; hell, she'd even saved his life.
"What for?" she sounded genuinely curious and he could feel her gaze on his face now as he turned his attention back to the driving.
"For… treating you like a kid, I guess," he shrugged, shooting her a glance and a small, apologetic smile. "I should have given you more credit. I might be an 'old guy', but I do still remember what it was like to be 14. I hated when people treated me like I was just a kid."
"Hey, it's okay," she gave a non-committal shrug, "You were just looking out for me."
Dean looked away again, the car in front making an illegal manoeuvre and causing a welcome distraction. He eased off the gas to give it more space and used the extra time to try to formulate a suitable reasoning for his actions. He didn't want to sound condescending, but he needed her to understand the reasons behind his earlier behaviour. He and Krissy were more alike than he wanted to admit. She was confident and driven, wanted to hunt and apparently was determined not to back down from a challenge.
Wistfully, he recalled a time when he'd been about her age and had insisted on joining his father on a hunt that, in hindsight, had been way too dangerous for a young teenager to get mixed up in. John had known this and had done his best to prevent him from tagging along, even resorting to giving direct orders to look after Sam instead, knowing that his son would not disobey an order, but Dean hadn't been deterred and went along anyway. Turned out his dad had been right though—that particular hunt had been no place for a kid and all it had gotten him was a concussion, a broken wrist and several stiches.
He shook his head as the memory faded and with a sigh, he looked over at Krissy again.
"I've been doing this a long time," he told her, his tone soft. "Actually this life pretty much all I know. When I was your age I had eight kills under my belt already and I was just getting started."
"Really? Eight? Wow."
From her tone, he wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic or if she was genuinely surprised. Another look in her direction told him it was the latter.
"Yeah," he gave her an almost sheepish grin, before turning serious again. "I never had the chance to just be a kid, you know. I mean, I've been looking after Sam since I was 4 years old. Practically raised the kid."
He sighed, lifting one hand off the wheel so he could rub the tiredness from his eyes.
"I guess I just wanted to give you that opportunity, you know?"
He looked to her, hoping she would get his meaning. She was watching him carefully, her expression interested and her attention now focused solely on him.
"After that first kill, it's all too easy to get sucked into it all, let it take over your whole life… and chances are you never get out."
Dean shook his head sadly, further memories flooding through his mind; memories of his mom's death, of his dad's all-consuming need for revenge, of his sad, lonely childhood where he'd had to grow up way too fast.
"I get it, you know," he told her softly, lifting his eyes to hers yet again and sending her a gentle smile. "I watched my mom die too. I know how you feel, I get how much you want to hunt down the monster that got her, but revenge isn't everything."
"Really?" she seemed sceptical.
He nodded, "After Mom died, my dad spent the rest of his life hunting down the demon that killed her. He dragged me and Sam all over the country looking for it, and what did it get him? Nothing but a premature death."
His tongue snaked out to lick his dry lips before he pressed them together refusing to let the old, dragged up emotions get to him.
"And us? Well, Sammy and I were pretty much screwed from the start anyway." He stopped for a moment, before rolling his eyes with a bitter sigh "But you don't have to be, Krissy. You're young and you're innocent enough to walk away now and have yourself a normal life. Something Sam and I never got to experience."
He stopped then and frowned.
"Well, I guess Sam kinda got to experience it, for a while at least," he amended. "But then, unlike me, Sam always hated the life; all he ever wanted was to be normal. He worked hard in school and got himself a full-ride to Stanford." He clenched his jaw as he thought back to that day Sam left and the massive argument that had preceded his departure. "Dad completely blew up when he found out and I can't say I was too happy either: Sam was walking out on us, on his family, and neither of us could understand why he would do it."
"Your family is important to you, huh?"
"I would do anything for my family," Dean looked over at her solemnly, before continuing. "For a while I hated Sam for leaving, but then one day I stopped by Palo Alto and I saw him there; he looked so happy, and all I could think was: 'why does he get to follow his dreams and I don't?'." He sighed heavily, hardly believing he was confessing these things to a kid he'd barely known for two days. "I was jealous. All my life, all I'd done was follow my dad's orders. Yeah, I enjoyed hunting, but that, and looking after Sam, was all I knew. I didn't have the time or the opportunity to pursue my own dreams. I didn't go to college, hell, I didn't even graduate high school, I don't have friends, or relationships, or a home… God, right now, I don't even have my own freakin' car."
He emphasised his point by slamming his hand down on the steering wheel in frustration, before taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down.
Sheepishly, he looked over to Krissy to see her reaction, but she was strangely silent, just taking it in. Dean could see the wheels turning in her head, although she hadn't said anything yet. When she did speak though, her words surprised him.
"You know, you could take some of your advice," she said with a sad smile.
Dean frowned in confusion. "Huh?"
"'Revenge isn't everything?' Remember? No offence, but it sounds like you're dealing with a lot right now… and you know, you look kinda like shit." Dean opened his mouth to protest, his expression indignant, but Krissy just carried on before he could say anything. "Whatever this 'revenge crap' is that you're dealing with, are you sure it's worth killing yourself over?"
Dean's mouth snapped shit as her words registered in his mind. Maybe she had a point.
When they got to the hospital, Dean guided Krissy inside and they found Sam waiting in the lobby area for them, a small bandage covering the wound on his neck. Almost immediately, a doctor appeared and ushered Krissy off to see her father, leaving Sam and Dean standing there awkwardly. Unwilling to leave until they'd made sure that Lee would be okay and that Krissy would still have a father after today, they occupied themselves with flicking through the magazines in the waiting area and downing cups of coffee. Eventually, they were informed that Lee Chambers was now taking visitors and they headed down the corridor towards his room.
Just as they got there, Dean spotted Krissy sitting alone on one of the uncomfortable-looking chairs in the corridor and he gave her a small smile, nodding towards her as he and Sam headed in to see Lee.
"Yeah, I was hoping you'd stop by," said Krissy's father tiredly, his tone full of gratefulness as Dean and Sam entered his hospital room. "I wanted to thank you."
Sam shrugged, giving a small gesture with his hand, "It's no problem."
"No, you saved my life," said Lee meaningfully. "Krissy's, too."
"Actually, uh, she kind of saved ours," admitted Sam, pushing his hands into his pockets while Dean shifted, having to work not to roll his eyes.
"Don't thank us. Quit," he stated abruptly, not in the mood for pleasantries.
This case had hit close to home for him and hadn't the time nor the patience to beat around the bush. This was serious—an innocent kid was involved—and he needed to drill the point home.
"Your daughter's 14 years old," he continued, his thoughts briefly flitting to a certain young boy he'd begun to think of as a son. "She's already a hunter with a kill under her belt."
He could see Sam frowning and then shifting uneasily as he turned back to Lee. But stopping now wasn't an option, he needed to get this out.
"I'm not trying to be a dick, but"—he held his hands up slightly, attempting to soften the blow— "what do you think that does to her lifespan? She could still be a regular kid."
Lee looked down, not seeming too surprised by this statement, as if he'd heard it before, but Dean could also see the determination in his eyes, his set jaw. It was the same look his father used to get when he thought of their mom and what Yellow-Eyes had done to her.
"You know, I got into this for a reason," the man stated with a raise of his eyebrows, as if that would explain everything.
"I know," Dean nodded. He knew all too well. "Your family. That's the same reason you should get out now."
"I can't—" Lee started before stopping abruptly and instead gazing at Dean and Sam in curiosity. "You ever know anyone who left the life?"
Dean paused for a moment, resisting the urge to glance over at Sam as he thought of both of their attempts to leave at one point or another.
"No," he said firmly, resolutely, before taking a second and then amending his statement. "Well, no one who did it successfully."
Lee frowned, "What do you mean?"
This time, Dean did look over at his brother. Sam shared his look, before turning his attention to Lee.
"I got out… for a while," Sam told him. "Dean and I were raised in this life, but I just wanted to be normal. So, as soon as I could, I got out. Went to college. Led a normal life… well, for almost four years, anyway. Then my girlfriend was killed by a demon—the same demon that killed our mother—and that was it. No more normal life for me."
"Which is why you need to get out now," Dean added determinedly. "Before you draw too much attention to yourselves and give demons a reason to hunt you down; before Krissy has the chance to get sucked in too far, before it consumes her completely."
"I don't…" Lee looked torn. "I'm not sure that I…"
He trailed off with a sigh, his expression miserable. Dean felt a slight twinge of sorrow for this man. He knew what it was like to be in his position, to want—no, to need—that revenge so badly that getting out wasn't even a consideration, but this guy had a child to think of as well, a bright, sassy, still relatively innocent teenager who didn't deserve this life. Sure, he'd lived it himself, but he hadn't had a choice. Krissy did though, she could get out now before it was too late.
There was a long moment of slightly uncomfortable silence, before Sam cleared his throat and spoke again.
"Well, uh... we should probably let you get some rest."
"Yeah," nodded Lee, raising a hand in farewell as Dean turned and followed Sam out of the hospital room.
As Dean and Sam left the hospital several minutes later, they were interrupted by Krissy running out of the main entrance after them.
"Dean! Thanks for saying bye, asshat."
Dean looked to Sam, who just gave a slight nod and walked over to the car, before he turned to grin at the teenager in front of him.
"Oh, what? Now you're sentimental?"
"No," she smiled. "Just wanted to tell you that you're kind of amusing for an old man."
Dean resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her teasing, but he returned the smile anyway, remembering their conversation in the car earlier. Right now though, he decided to keep things lighthearted.
"How'd you get out of them cuffs, anyway?" he found himself asking.
"Girl's got to have her secrets," she grinned.
Dean glanced at her hair, suddenly realising what one of those secrets was.
"Bobby pin," he stated with slight amusement, before turning serious again. "You know, you could've gotten yourself killed."
Krissy just rolled her eyes, "I saved your bacon."
"My point stands," Dean stood his ground. "But yes."
"So... Guess I'm retiring – one and done," she told him.
"Really?" Dean raised an eyebrow, surprised that Lee actually seemed to have taken their advice to heart. "How you feel about that?"
"Who knows?" said Krissy with a shrug. "Maybe I'll go to Stanford like Sam."
Dean nodded, although a pang of both pride and sadness went through him at the mention of Stanford and Sam. He couldn't dwell on it though because Krissy held out her fist to him and he shook off the thought, giving a small smile as he bumped his fist against hers.
"We're so lame," she decided.
"Yeah, we are," Dean couldn't help but grin; he liked this kid.
"Take care of yourself," he told her before giving her a farewell nod and heading over to the car and Sam.
"Look, I get it, okay, Dean?" said Sam then, bringing Dean back to the present. "I know the last few months have been hard for you, but you're doing too much, drinking too much… you need to slow down here. Give yourself some time."
"Some time for what, huh, Sam?" Dean swallowed audibly, pushing his feelings as far down inside as he could. "All sitting on my ass sober is gonna do is remind me how fucked up my life is. How totally alone I am in this crazy world."
With that, he reached for the door handle and roughly climbed back out of the car, stalking across the parking lot and towards the row of trees on the other side of the building. He heard the other car door open and then close, before his brother's footsteps sounded behind him. He stopped a few feet from the trees, but didn't turn around.
"You're not alone, Dean," came Sam's soft voice from just behind him, his tone sounding hurt. "You have me."
"Oh, yeah," he scoffed, looking up at the sky before whipping around to face Sam, who was standing there, looking vulnerable with his hands shoved in his jeans pockets. "Right, 'cause it's not like you're not completely here or battling Lucifer in your head right now or anything."
"Dean, come on…"
"No, Sam," Dean shot back, his sorrow turning to anger now. "You don't get it, do you? Everybody leaves me. I'll always be alone."
"That's not true." It was a soft whisper, as if Sam himself wasn't sure whether it was the truth.
"No? Who exactly do I have left, huh?" he retorted, turning back to face the trees again. "Mom's gone. Dad's dead. Cas was the closest thing I ever had to a real friend and he betrayed us and then got himself killed. And Bobby…" he trailed off for a moment, the anger giving way to tears and choked sobs once more. He turned to Sam, feeling vulnerable and tired as he felt tears prick his eyes again. "Sam, Bobby was… he was like the father we never had, the father we always wanted. He was the only family we had left… and then he went and got himself shot in the head."
The Wendigo mask was still in his hand and his grip on it tightened as he closed his eyes, trying to keep from breaking down completely.
"God, Sammy… where the fuck do we go from here, huh?" he wondered, his voice just barely above a whisper. "What's left in this world for us now?"
Beside him, Sam was quiet for a moment and silence fell between them. For a moment, Dean thought he wasn't going to answer, but then he heard a long sigh escape from his brother's lips and saw him shake his head.
"I don't know, Dean," he admitted softly. "But I'm not gonna let you give up, okay? You're my brother and I'm not going to just sit by and watch you destroy yourself over this. What do you think it would do to me if you died huh?"
Dean opened his mouth to point out that he had died—several times, in fact—and Sam had always pulled through, but the look of pure anguish on his little brother's face had him stopping in his tracks.
"I love you, man," the strained, emotional confession caused a pang in Dean's chest. "I don't think I could survive without you." Sam looked at him earnestly. "Dean, I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you and I could have stopped it."
"Sammy…" Dean managed in a soft, pain-filled whisper, his tear-filled eyes locking with Sam's equally moist ones.
However, before he had the chance to formulate any other words, Sam took two large strides towards him and pulled him into a fierce hug. Dean's arms automatically came up and he held his brother to him tightly. It felt like an eternity since they had shared a real hug like this and he felt this enormous sense of relief at the familiarity and comfort of it.
He hadn't realised until this moment how much he'd missed his brother. As much as he liked to deny it, things just hadn't been the same between them since he'd made that deal with the crossroads demon in exchange for Sammy's life. Back then, things had been simple, they were just two brothers on the road, bonding again after four years apart, but after that fateful night when they'd finally killed Yellow-Eyes, things had changed. They'd still been close, but it hadn't been the same, especially after Sam's whole demon blood, Lucifer, no soul craziness and Dean's breaking seals in hell, being Michael's angel condom, normal life with Lisa experiences. Even after Sam had gotten his soul back, he'd seemed different and Dean hadn't felt that brotherly closeness so much anymore.
But this, this hug right here, it was like the last few years had been forgotten and it was just the two of them again.
No demons, no apocalypse, no Lucifer, no Leviathans… just Dean and Sam.
"It's gonna be okay, Dean," muttered Sam, gripping him tightly. "We're gonna be okay. You just have to believe that."
Dean had been having a hard time believing anything lately, but something in Sam's tone hit home with him.
Maybe, just maybe, with his little brother at his side, he could really be okay.
As always, feedback and comments are greatly appreciated :).