Age of Heroes
"No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.
Until the clock he wound up, winds down,
Until the wine she made has finished its ferment,
Until the crop they planted has been harvested.
The span of someone's life, they say, is only the core of their existence."
Loosely recalled from Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man.
As you can probably figure out from the quote:
tissues needed... but not 'til the end, I promise!
"I'm fine, Dean."
A cool hand pressed to Sam's forehead, startling him.
"Get off me! I don't have a fever!"
"Just checking, Sammy."
"Such a little bitch when you're injured."
"Oh, and you're the perfect patient, every doctor's dream, right?" Sam regretted it the minute the words left his mouth.
Dean chuckled. "You better believe it. Doctor Bethany sure seemed to think so."
Sam turned his head to glare up at Dean from his wheelchair, ready to point out that he was the patient, not Dean.
But one look was enough to keep him from talking.
Yep, his brother was oozing smugness. Sometimes it just wasn't worth getting into these conversations.
"Forget it," he said and turned back to face the front.
Dean wheeled him down the ramp to the parking lot as unobtrusively as he could. It was pure paranoia, Dean was certain, but Sam swore he'd caught a glimpse of a familiar face earlier through the half-open door to his room. He was convinced it was one of the cops from St Louis, and Dean wasn't going to risk arguing in case he was right. Sam's fever had subsided during the night, enough to allow the brothers to skip town, but Dean was keeping a close eye on his little brother's health.
So close, in fact, that every time Sam winced or whimpered in pain, they stopped just so Dean could check him over.
"Oh come on!" Sam huffed in frustration when they halted for the third time. "I didn't do anything and I'm not in any pain!"
Dean rounded the wheelchair and crouched down in front of Sam.
"You're lying," he said after a good, long stare. "This ain't gonna work if you can't be honest with me, dude."
Sam's mouth twisted. "Ok, yes, there's some pain, but nothing I can't handle."
Dean's eyes narrowed but he said nothing, that all knowing gaze telling Sam just what he thought of his claim.
"Alright!" Sam snapped, and huffed again. "It hurts like a sonofabitch, that what you wanna hear, Dean?"
His brother regarded him with no hint of amusement.
"What I want doesn't count for much," said Dean. "But I need to know if you're hurting, Sammy. I can't…" he paused and licked his lips, a sure sign of emotional unrest. "I can't ease your pain unless you tell me. I almost lost you, kiddo…"
Sam's features softened a little.
"Dean, c'mon man," he said, gently touching Dean's shoulder. "I'm doing fine. Great even. Yeah, I'm sore, and tired, and I want to get the hell out of here. But I'm ok. Really."
Dean's eyes searched Sam's face and saw no indication he was lying.
"Alright, let's go," he said, gently threading his hands under Sam's arms.
"Ready? On three. One, two..."
Sam pushed down on the arms of the wheelchair, while Dean lifted him at the same time. Between the two of them, Sam was soon swaying on his feet, face paling rapidly with the abrupt change in height.
"Oh shit..." Sam half-whispered, weakly pawing at Dean, while his knees buckled slightly, losing him a couple of inches on his brother.
"Yeah, I know," Dean assured the kid, wrapping both arms tightly round him and taking his weight. "I gotcha, Sammy. You won't fall, I promise."
Sam's head dropped onto Dean's shoulder. "I know," he said, breathlessly. "You won't let that happen, right?"
"Damn straight I won't," Dean immediately replied with a determined nod. He gave Sam a few seconds to recover first, and then assisted his brother's slow shuffle away from the wheelchair and towards the rear passenger seat of the Impala.
"No... wait!" Sam dug his heels in, forcing Dean to a halt.
"Sammy what is it?" Dean eyed him worriedly. "You ok?"
Sam shook his head, panting a little, and forced the words passed clenched teeth.
"Shotgun," he ground out. "Not the back."
"You'd be more comfortable in the back, dude; you can stretch out more, at least."
Sam shook his head again, puffing through his nose.
"Shotgun is my seat," he replied, and stubbornly refused to budge until Dean agreed to change course.
Dean rolled his eyes and regarded the kid with fond frustration. Sam made your average mule seem compliant once he'd made up his mind about something.
"Ok," he sighed in defeat. "But the journey's a little over four hours, so let me know if you change your mind..."
They shuffled onwards in silence, finally reaching the front passenger seat before the sun decided to set, much to Dean's relief. Holding Sam upright and opening the car door at the same time was a fun challenge he hoped he never had to repeat anytime soon, especially when he could swear he heard the kid stifle a soft whimper of pain. Knowing it would do no good to draw attention to it, Dean bit down on his tongue and began gently pushing Sam inside the car. Once his injured passenger was seated, and clearly uncomfortable by the looks of things, Dean crouched down and raised Sam's feet up to rest on the dashboard.
"Don't get used to it," he warned the kid with a mock frown.
Sam grinned tiredly and closed his eyes, only to open them a second later when he felt a soft blanket being tucked in around him.
"Thanks Dean," he said, softly.
Dean snorted, and grabbed a pillow from the backseat. "Lift your head a little... that's it."
Sam sank his head back down gratefully onto the pillow, noted the smell of antiseptic, and correctly assumed Dean had 'acquired' it from his hospital room.
Exhausted from all the activity, Sam let his eyes drift closed again. The last thing he remembered was the deep, comforting rumble of the Impala and the heart warming scent of his big brother's spicy aftershave.
He was home at last.
When Sam woke up, he was staring at the car roof and his head was resting on something warm and firm. The pillow was wedged under his neck for support, and his huge sock-clad feet were pressed up against the passenger window, with his knees bent at ninety degree angles, holding them in place.
"Wha...?" he blinked, sleepily.
"You slipped sideways 'bout half hour into the journey," said a voice from above and slightly to the rear of Sam's head. "You seemed to sleep better that way, so I left you alone."
Nevertheless, a hand in Sam's hair still hadn't stopped gently stroking his unruly locks. And it felt nice; Sam was a little embarrassed to admit. Reminded him of easier times when they were kids and Dean would comfort him during the dark nights, when their dad was off hunting, leaving them all alone to fend for themselves.
Sam tilted his head back slightly to meet the amused but concerned gaze of his older brother, and grinned sheepishly.
"Sorry, dude," he rasped out, and shifted with the intention of moving back to his own seat.
"Not a problem, Sammy," said Dean, eyes back on the road again. He coughed lightly, cleared his throat and tried to appear casual and unembarrassed. "You look much more comfortable, so... ya know, don't be a dork, and just stay as you are, huh?"
While driving with his left hand, he used the hand entwined in Sam's hair to gently keep the kid from getting up.
Sam huffed but kept grinning. "Yeah, it is pretty comfortable," he nodded, feeling himself relax again. "All things considered."
Dean quirked an eyebrow in his direction.
"What's that s'posed to mean?" he asked, in genuine confusion.
Sam's grin widened.
'Cos, ya know... goose feathers make great pillows, dude. Chicken legs however..."
"Shut your hole, bitch!" Dean protested at once. "I've got great legs, and you know it!"
"If you say so, jerk," Sam answered with a chuckle.
"You wanna get out and walk?" Dean threatened him, mouth twitching. "'Cos, dude! You're headin' the right way for it!"
"That's good to know," said Sam, closing his eyes and settling down with a contented sigh. "At least you ain't gettin' us lost. Again."
"When have I ever gotten us lost?" his brother demanded to know.
Sam's eyes shot open and he tipped his head back again.
"Magic Mountain, California, just after my sixteenth birthday," he rattled off. "We were supposed to be there for a haunting by two am. Tell me, Dean, where did we actually end up?"
There was a brief pause followed by a classic, petulant Dean answer:
"Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble... "
Sam cupped a hand to his own ear.
"I'm sorry. Didn't quite catch that?" he gazed innocently up at Dean. "Was that Lost in the middle of nowhere forty miles east in the opposite direction?"
"Shutup Sam!" Dean growled.
"I mean, it's a good job I woke up when I did, huh?"
"Hey! First and last time that happened, bro, and that was six years ago!"
Sam snorted with laughter and immediately clutched at his gut, groaning in pain.
"You ok?" asked Dean, all joviality gone, and his eyes flittered between the road and his ailing brother. "You want me to pull over?"
Sam shook his head a little. "Nah... It's ok... it'll soon settle down..." he groaned again and winced.
"There's a gas station right up ahead," said Dean, already preparing to pull the car off the road. "I'll check your stitches, and if you're a good boy I might get you some coffee."
Sam immediately perked up.
"You're on," he said, and solemnly added: "I promise to behave and be a good boy."
"So fake it's almost unbelievable," Dean rolled his eyes and helped his brother rest against the seat back.
When the boys finally showed up at the lake, Sam was trying his hardest to stay still. The last dose of Tylenol had worn off, and if he didn't hate the side effects so damn much he'd have begged his brother for morphine around thirty miles ago.
Dean knew, obviously. But they were out of meds, the last of the morphine had been used up months ago on a hunt and the boys hadn't been able to replace it since.
Besides, Sam just wanted to get to their destination so he could sleep in a proper bed.
Judging by the look of the cabins, he was in luck. They looked charmingly rustic, but there were signs of modern amenities, including a satellite dish on each roof, and a cell phone mast sat nearby.
"Wow!" said Dean, eyes sweeping over the lake. "Thing sure have changed up here. Looks like Ben completely overhauled the entire damn place!"
Over all, it looked like the kind of tiny village you might find on a Christmas card but without the snow. It made for an enticing lake retreat.
Surprisingly, though, the little village was virtually empty. No hoards of tourists, or families with screaming kids roamed around the place, just a single fisherman casting his line out over the water. He turned slightly when he heard the car pull up nearby and peered out at the brothers from under an olive green floppy-brimmed hat.
Sam glanced around, not recognising the doc. "Where is everyone? Not like it's out of season, or anything."
Dean waved at their host and grinned widely. "Maybe Ben reserved the whole place just for us." He gently patted his brother on the shoulder. "C'mon out and meet him. Guy's been dying to see you."
Sam nodded but followed Dean out of the car, trying to recall man and place. It did seem kind of familiar, but the memory was distorted almost beyond recognition, like seeing an old and faded photograph under water. And, as Dean observed, things had changed.
Ben put down his fishing rod and strode towards the Impala, eyes twinkling with merriment, and hand already held out in welcome.
"Howdy, boys!" the guy called out, beaming in genuine pleasure and firmly shaking Dean's hand. "Glad you could make it, though I didn't expect you quite so soon."
Dean shot Sam a look. "Yeah, well someone was impatient to leave."
Ben chuckled. "Yeah, I hate hospitals too. S'why I retired first chance I got. But I still practice family medicine occasionally, when the local clinic doctor in town needs extra help."
"So, you live up here permanently now?" asked Dean, curiously.
"In a manner of speaking," answered Ben with a wry grin. "I own this place. Bought it a few months back, found it had fallen into disrepair again, and decided to modernise it a little. As you can see…" his grin widened with pride "I spent way too much time up here! Planning to open the business officially next month, once the on-grounds grocery store's up and running."
On that note, he turned to Sam still holding out his hand, and eyed him critically, taking in his pale face and noting the pain lines around his eyes and mouth with concern.
His hand lingered on Sam's a few seconds longer than it had with Dean, testing the cool clammy skin
"Hmm. I'm guessing you're due another dose of medication, huh?" the old doctor told him, kindly. "Step this way, son. I've got just the stuff."
"The doctors at the hospital already gave me Tylenol," said Sam, shifting slowly from foot to foot as though the action would relieve the throbbing pain in his gut, which was making him feel sicker by the second. "But we ran out. Stuff doesn't seem to last."
"Yeah," Ben nodded and slowly herded Sam over to the nearest cabin. "Cut backs, savings, and new legislation… the medical profession just ain't what it used to be. And then there's godammed health and safety sticking their big noses in where it don't rightly belong either…bad medicine, I call it."
Dean followed the two of them, only half listening to the old guy's ramblings, and nodded along. Mostly, his attention was on Sam, carefully watching the kid in case he keeled over or something.
Just as they got to Ben's cabin Sam let out a strangled gasp of pain and bent forward slightly, stopping in his tracks.
"Sammy?" Dean stepped forward; eyes narrowed with worry, and wrapped an arm round his brother's waist.
"Easy there, big fella," said Ben, rubbing Sam's shoulder soothingly. "Looks like you need to rest up properly, huh? Been a long journey for ya. Tell ya what. You boys head over to your cabin," he pointed to the building a few feet from his own and winked at the older brother. "Get him comfortable, Dean, and I'll bring my bag."
Sam just tried to breathe through the pain as best he could, and clung to Dean as they moved onwards again.
"S-sorry, Dean," Sam eventually whispered, shakily. "I guess it just got too much."
"Not surprising, you stubborn ass," Dean told him with an affectionate grin, arm still locked firmly in place around his brother. "Next time? Take the back seat, huh?"
Sam shook his head, tiredly. "Not a chance."
Dean pursed his mouth but said nothing to that.
When their trudging journey was over, Dean produced the key to cabin 6b and unlocked the door. Not even stopping to look around, he deposited Sam on the furthest bed and helped him remove his jacket and plaid shirt.
"Shit!" Sam hissed, teeth gritted and eyes scrunched shut.
"Easy," said Dean, gently lifting up the kid's tee-shirt. He glanced up at his brother. "No blood. Must be your lucky day."
Sam huffed a laugh and gingerly lay back on the bed. "Makes a change."
"Yeah, well," replied Dean, lifting Sam's feet up and removing his boots. "Don't get use to it. You know good luck ain't our style, bro."
"No kiddin'," Sam turned his head towards the door when he heard a knock.
"How's the patient?" asked Ben, dumping his battered black leather bag down by Sam's bed a second later. He didn't wait for an answer but placed his hand on Sam's forehead.
"You're a little warm, but nothing drastic. Let's take a look at the incision."
Sam closed his eyes, too tired do much else while the doctor checked him over and took his blood pressure.
"All excellent so far," Ben announced a few minutes later. "Now, how do you feel about morphine, Sam?"
Sam breathed out through his nose. "It's not exactly my best friend. Makes me loopy as hell."
Dean snorted. "Great entertainment, though."
Sam cracked open an eye and glared at his brother. "Hilarious, Dean."
"You said it!"
Ben hid a smirk. "Now, now, you two. Seriously though, Sam," he said, turning back to his patient. "It'll just knock you out for a few hours, that's all. Do you the world of good and we'll keep an eye on you."
"Make sure you don't climb up on the roof," said Dean with a grin. "See if you can fly, or somethin'."
Sam laughed and immediately winced. "I think I'll take that morphine now, Ben, before I kill my brother."
"Wise decision," the doctor intoned, smiling.
Hours later, Sam arose to the smell of grilling food and groggily followed his nose outside the cabin. He spied two familiar figures sitting at a picnic table by the lake and headed over, nearly tripping over his own feet.
Sam had slept well, but the lingering effects of the morphine were making him a little unsteady.
Fortunately, the fresh air was gradually clearing his head. Food was the last thing on his mind, but a light meal and some good company seemed like a great idea to Sam.
His brother was tending the food on a large outside grill, sipping a beer and listening intently to the old doctor, when he glanced up at Sam and grinned.
"There's fresh fish, steak, and just for you," he gestured to a large bowl on the picnic table with his tongs. "Your favourite rabbit food."
Sam eyed the crispy green salad as he sat down on the other end of the table, and smiled gratefully. "Thanks Dean."
"How you feeling, son?" Ben asked, and got up to pour something into a large earthenware mug. He handed it over to the youngest Winchester. "Hot ginger, lemon and honey tea. Help settle your gut."
"Thanks. Uh, ok I guess. Tired, but… good," said Sam, honestly and glanced briefly at Dean. "Haven't slept like that in a long time, in fact."
Dean stared pointedly at Sam, but said nothing. Both brothers knew full well why Sam had been dodging sleep the last few months, but discussing it in front of Ben would do no good. Talk of murdered girlfriends would only lead on to conversations they'd rather not have in front of civilians, and quite possibly ruin their entire evening.
The Winchesters rarely got a chance to relax and not talk about hunting, and Dean was determined to keep this evening light for Sam's sake.
Ben's gaze flickered between the brothers during their silent communication and he wondered about it, but Sam smoothly changed the subject.
"So, uh, I wanted to thank you for everything you did for us back at the hospital," he said, awkwardly. "Dean told me all about it. It's not often people are prepared to help out complete strangers."
Ben let it go. Sam wasn't truly his patient, and these boys owed him no explanations. He'd only had a glimpse into the lives of hunters years ago, but it was enough to tell him that these boys would be closed mouthed about the whole thing.
So he kept his questions to himself.
"No need to thank me," he told Sam with a smile. "You did a brave thing for that child."
Ben grinned when Sam ducked his head, face turning crimson.
"Did Dean mention what you guys did for me some years back?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I'm sorry, but I don't really remember much about it."
"Not surprising," said Ben, admiringly. "You were so young, still a baby really, the both of you. And look at you boys now. A couple of heroes."
Dean remained silent as he turned the steaks over, but his gaze remained fixed on Sam.
"I think that expression's a little strong…" Sam murmured looking uncomfortable, and Dean smirked at him. "Anyone else would've done the same."
"Nonsense," said Ben, abruptly. "And that's the whole point. People might say it, but not everyone would."
In the silence that followed, a light breeze blew off the lake, ruffling Sam's hair and bringing with it the scent of spring. Sam glanced down at his mug of tea, lightly fingering the glazed patterns on the side.
Somehow, he didn't think his father would agree with Ben. For all Sam knew, John Winchester still hated him.
After all, his youngest son had been shot, and where was he? Dean had left a message on their dad's voicemail, but heard nothing back. Not even a text.
John hadn't even been there for Dean when his heart was damaged beyond repair, so why should Sam, the rebellious, wayward son, expect anything different from the guy?
A hand on his shoulder squeezed gently, and Sam glanced up at his older brother with watery eyes.
Dean regarded him solemnly, knowing exactly what was going through Sam's mind.
"I know he's proud of you, Sammy," he said, quietly. "I am."
Sam's smile was shaky but grateful, and he swiped at his eyes with a nod.
They all stared out at the sun, hanging low over the lake.
Ben raised his beer bottle in salute.
"To heroism," he announced, softly. "So few truly have it, but maybe one day it will save the world."
On the far side of the lake, a black truck sat silently in the trees, its occupant watching the brothers with a sad smile. Though he couldn't hear what was being said, it was possible to hazard a guess.
He lifted his hip flask for his own toast, and took a healthy swig.
Without a word, he threw the truck into reverse and hit the road, happy the boys were safe.
Two months after the lake resort opened, Benjamin passed away in his sleep with no kin to leave his worldly possessions to.
The resort was partially sold on to other companies, and eventually became another victim of the new millennium recession, which was rather sadly ironic.
What was left over from Ben's estate sank into the usual black hole of such a time, and the cabins, once again, fell into disrepair.
But Ben didn't die entirely destitute.
All he had left was a scraggly twenty year old note in child's hand, and one cabin key enclosed in an plain, brown envelope, alongside a cheap wooden case with... something inside.
It arrived at one of Dean's old PO boxes days later, but Dean didn't actually discover it until long after Cold Oak.
It was addressed to Sam and Dean, and read:
For cabin 6b, should you ever need it again.
As for the medals? I don't have any kids to leave these to, but I know they're in good, deserving hands.
You both earned them, probably way more than me and will continue to do so, more than this world can, or will, ever understand.
Take care of each other, like you always have.
With love, always,
Dr Benjamin McKenna.
"Holy shit!" Sam gasped loudly, on opening the little case, and softened his voice with respect, eyes grown moist. "Holy shit... Dean, you should see this..."
Dean moved across the room to stare down at the contents over Sam's shoulder, and froze in disbelief.
The something special... the medals...
...turned out to be Ben's own Purple Heart, and Medal of Honor.
The mark of respect from this gesture alone was phenomenal, and it left both brothers reeling and shaking.
Dean stared unblinking down at the tiny pieces of history. Even his own father had never entrusted him with something like this.
And the line added to the brother's long ago note?
Just by Sammy's faded smiley face was written this...
"True Heroes never blow their own trumpet.
They hide their light under a bushel, and allow the world to dance around in its' modest glow of safety."
That's all Folks!
Love and hugs,