AN:This is a short interlude to my most recent story "Where the Shadows Lie." It takes place about midway through Chapter 7. While it's not necessary to read that story before you read this one, I do recommend you read that first: not just because I want you to read it, but because this story will be a lot more powerful with that story as background.

A brief summary of "Where the Shadows Lie": PG-13. Coda to 7.23 "Survival of the Fittest." In his quest to rescue Dean from Purgatory, Sam gets help from an unexpected source, and something that's been missing for a long time comes back.

The following is a brief excerpt from Chapter Seven of "Where the Shadows Lie." This provides a lead in to where "The Thing With Feathers" takes place, for anyone who would like some background:

Of course, the first thing Sam thinks of that makes his brother happy is women, and that's just not an option. The second, third, and fourth things are hunting, beer, and food. Hunting is most definitely not a good idea. Beer is out for obvious reasons, and since Dean doesn't seem to enjoy eating food anymore anyway that's also out. Sam's not sure what else to try.

Then it hits him. Those are all things Dean liked to do, but aside from hunting and beer, none of them are things he liked to do with Sam. What the two of them really have in common is movies. When they were little, Dean made Sam watch every movie that he ever thought was cool. Most of them involved guns and explosions, John McClane types and Clint Eastwood types and Steve McQueen types. Sam has a list a mile long in his head of all the movies they ever watched together. Movies they watched because "you're not a man until you've seen this movie, Sammy," or "because Steve McQueen is the man, Sammy," or just because "dude, I'm the oldest and I know what's best for you."

Sam writes down all the movies he can think of that they ever watched together, as kids or as adults. When he's done, the list takes up about five sheets of paper.

That night, he downloads "The Great Escape" and streams it on Jody's TV.

Dean smiles and laughs his way through the whole thing, eyes lit up like a five year old's on Christmas morning.

Sam's pretty sure Dean's laugh is the best sound he's heard in years.

The next day, Dean sits quietly in the park and draws a picture of the two of them sitting on the couch watch Steven McQueen dig an escape tunnel.

It's definitely Sam's favorite picture so far.

Over the next few weeks, Sam and Dean breeze through The List. They still go to the park during the day. Sometimes they see Anita and Baxter, and Dean plays fetch with the dog while Sam talks to Anita, or sits by quietly and reads.

The Thing With Feathers

Sam's spent a few summer weeks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (John was notorious for leaving him and his brother alone with Bobby for weeks on end) and it's always struck him as odd that a town so far north could get so damn HOT in the summertime.

This year is one of the hottest summers Sam can remember, and for whatever reason summer has decided to start early: too early for Sam's tastes. On those days when he takes Dean to the park and the sun beats down out of a cloudless sky, Sam's sweating within minutes. The heat doesn't seem to bother Dean as much. Or if it does, Dean never complains about it.

Not that Dean complains much about anything anymore unless it's related to Purgatory.

Sam rescued his brother weeks ago and Dean still hasn't said a word.

One particularly hot week, Sam and Dean are wandering through the park and discover a group of kids playing around in a sprinkler. Sam knows that school is still in session, but it's late in the day and it's HOT, and the crowd of kids is far too large for the dinky lawn sprinkler they're using.

Sam and Dean watch the kids play. Dean has a weird look on his face, a mixture of confusion and curiosity. Sam figures the idea of sprinklers is a bit unsettling for him, considering how much he hates showers now. Still, he doesn't run away like Sam expects him to. Perhaps all the kids playing around have convinced him that it's safe.

Suddenly, an idea strikes Sam, and he smiles wider than he's smiled in weeks.

"Come on, Dean."

It's the big, green clearing the kids are playing in that helps him remember.

Sam is eight, maybe nine years old one unusually hot summer in a park much like the one in Sioux Falls. A large group of kids have been hogging the sprinkler for a good twenty minutes while Sam sits nearby and sweats, hoping for a chance to get in there himself.

"What's the matter, Sammy?"

Sam looks up to find Dean standing over him, tossing a baseball up in the air. A group of older boys are standing near him, probably waiting for him to play a game with them (Dean makes friends easily, and Sam finds it particularly annoying).

"Nothing," Sam pouts. He's old enough now that he doesn't need his brother to fight his battles for him, thank you very much.

But Dean's not stupid. "Little bastards won't share the sprinkler, huh?"

Sam grunts in annoyance at how well his brother knows him, but in the end he nods.

Dean just grins. "Lemme show you something." He tosses the ball to one of his friends. "Just gimme a minute, guys."

Dean grabs Sam's shoulder and pulls him across the field toward a small building, more like a shack really, hidden next to some bushes near the fence surrounding the outer edge of the park.

"Parks this big have more than one sprinkler, you know," Dean says with his trademark smirk. He flicks a few switches on the side of the utility shed and within seconds all the sprinklers in the field are going off.

The kids playing in the first sprinkler look around in confusion. Dean's new friends curse as they quickly become drenched. A group of kids kicking a ball around nearby see the sprinklers come on and rush screaming onto the field in unspoken agreement.

Sam looks up at his brother and smiles.

"Thanks, Dean."

Dean smiles back, reaches a hand down, and ruffles Sam's hair because he know how much he hates it. "You're welcome, Sammy."

Once Sam has fixed his hair, he dashes onto the field.

Dean follows him.

They spent hours playing in that field. Dean's friends eventually came around once they realized it was too hot to be afraid of playing in the sprinklers "like a little baby." Kids young and old (parents, too) flocked to the field to cool off. Sam played catch with Dean and kickball with the first group of kids to come running out. In the end, the park service shut the sprinklers off, but not before Sam had the most fun he'd had in awhile.

Sam smiles at the memory as he leads Dean over to the restrooms at the edge of the clearing. On the side of the small building he finds the sprinkler system set up much the same way he remembers it from that summer long ago. With a few practiced flicks that he learned from his brother, the whole clearing explodes in showers of water.

Sam grins as the kids in the clearing begin to cheer and run around in glee. A few kids playing off to the side join them. It's just like that summer so long ago.

He looks over to gauge his brother's reaction.

Okay. Turns out it's NOT like that summer so long ago.

Dean is tense, body shaking, and his breath becomes erratic as he starts to have a panic attack. Sam reaches a hand out to his brother to calm him, but it only sets him off further. Dean whimpers quietly and backs away toward the fence. Once he hits it and he has nowhere to go, he crouches down on the ground and puts his hands over his head as if to shield himself.

Sam turns off the sprinklers, ignoring the protests of the kids on the field.

"I'm sorry, Dean. I should have realized."

Sam puts a hand on Dean's shoulder. This time, Dean flinches but he doesn't jerk away. Slowly, Sam moves his hand to Dean's back and rubs it gently. With his other hand he reaches down and grabs Dean's amulet, still hanging faithfully around his neck.

"Here." He offers it to Dean. Eventually, Dean takes his hands off his head and grabs it. He stays hunched over, but Sam continues to stroke his back, and he leads his brother through the calm breathing technique that has worked so well. As Sam breathes slowly and deeply, Dean begins to regulate his breathing along with him.

A few minutes later, the attack is over. Sam helps his brother stand and leads him out of the park and back to the Impala.

Back at Jody's house, Sam puts on Godzilla vs. Mothra, Dean's favorite Godzilla movie, in the hopes that Dean will forget all about the mishap with the sprinklers.

It seems to do the trick. Dean grins like a five year old throughout the movie. When it's over, he heads straight for his sketchpad and pencils. The art therapy Jody suggested really seems to be helping his brother. If anything, it has allowed him an outlet for his emotions.

Sam, however, has only one outlet for his own emotions.

That night after Dean goes to bed, Sam sits on the couch and allows himself to cry. He's allowed himself to cry a few times since he rescued his brother, but only after Dean has gone to bed. Tonight his tears are borne more of frustration and anger than the usual sadness he feels at the loss of the brother he used to know, but that doesn't make them any less painful. After everything they've been through, Dean deserves more. He deserves the chance to enjoy a day at the park like he used to, without having to worry about something as tiny as sprinklers setting him off.

Sam's so caught up in his anger that he misses the telltale creaking of the stairs, the shuffling of feet on carpet. He doesn't realize his brother is standing over him until he feels a hand settle gently on his shoulder and he looks up to find Dean staring at him quizzically. Sam has been nothing but strong for his brother since he got him back. He's never let Dean catch him in a moment of weakness, because he's afraid of what it will do to his brother's already damaged psyche.

But then Dean hands him a tissue, and suddenly Sam finds himself laughing inexplicably. The gesture is touching, and Sam knows that Dean is genuinely trying to help him, but he can just picture his brother telling him to blow his nose, suck it up, and deal with it, because life isn't fair and when did you ever expect it to be?

Sam blows his nose as best he can through the tears of anger turned to tears of laughter. Dean looks at him in confusion, and Sam can't blame him. Eventually, he calms down enough to say, "Thank you, Dean. I feel better now."

His brother smiles slightly and nods, then walks over to the dining room table. He rifles around in his sketchbook for a moment before gently tearing out a page and walking back to Sam.

He holds out the paper and Sam takes it.

In the drawing, he finds a version of himself drawn to Godzilla proportions, and he's standing in the middle of a city in triumph with one foot resting on a clearly defeated Mothra.

Sam smiles and looks up at his brother.

"Thank you," he says for the second time that night.

Dean nods again and smiles back.

Sam takes the paper into the kitchen and places it on the fridge along with Dean's other drawings.

That night in bed, his brother sleeping restlessly on the floor beside him, Sam has in idea.

Ever since Dean came back from Purgatory, he has hated showers. Hated them. Sam has no idea why; clearly something bad happened to him.

But Dean also loves baths. He loves them about as much as hates showers, which is saying a lot.

And so the next morning, Sam goes out and buys two pairs of swimtrunks.

Dean used to love swimming when they were very little, but as they got older he began to lose interest. On rare occasions, Sam would find a way to drag his brother out to the hotel pool, but Dean would never swim, choosing instead to sit poolside in jeans and a t-shirt. Dean claimed he had an image to uphold, but Sam still wonders if it didn't have something to do with the scars and bruises that covered his brother's body. Whatever the reason, it's been years since he's seen Dean go swimming, but after yesterday, Sam has a theory he wants to test.

He gives his brother the trunks and tells him to change into them before they head out to the park. Dean comes back five minutes later wearing the swimtrunks, his t-shirt, and a look of confusion.

"Don't worry, Dean. I have a great idea. Trust me."

Dean looks at him for a moment, then finally nods. Sam bundles his brother up into the car and hopes he won't end up regretting this.

Getting Dean to the pool is easy, and though he refuses to take his shirt off, it's much like Sam expected, so he doesn't push it. Getting Dean into the pool is another matter entirely. Quiet coaxing, gentle pulling, nothing seems to do the trick. Dean stands stubbornly at the side of the pool. He doesn't flinch away or show any signs of fear; he just flat out refuses to get in. In the end, Sam takes off his shirt and decides to just dive into the problem headfirst.


The sight of Sam jumping into the pool without hesitation seems to do the trick. Dean doesn't quite jump in the way Sam does. He sidles slowly over to the edge, sits down on the ground, and gently dangles his legs in. He sits like that for a few mintues before Sam decides to help.

"Come on, slowpoke. The pool's gonna be closed before you get wet."

Sam holds out his hand. Dean stares at it, then shakes his head. Sam's ready to give up when out of nowhere Dean pushes himself off the ground and into the pool.

He stays under the water for a full minute, but just when Sam is starting to worry, Dean comes back up.

It's like he's been transformed. His smile is so warm and happy that Sam has to take a moment to catch his breath, he's so taken aback. Then Dean laughs at him and swims away.

The next few hours are a blur. They play tag, race from one end of the pool to the other. Dean was never much of a swimmer, but the way he zooms around the pool makes Sam wonder for about the hundredth time just what happened to his brother in Purgatory.

At one point, Sam notices a group of girls staring at him and giggling. They're way too young for him, but that doesn't stop them from oogling Sam to the point of awkwardness. Sam looks over at his brother, but Dean doesn't seem to notice, and Sam finds himself missing the older brother who would never let him live this down. But then Dean tackles him from behind and shoves his head under the water, and his worries are quickly forgotten as he chases his brother around the pool seeking retribution.

As the day wanes, Sam lounges in a chair. Dean stays in the pool and manages to find his way into the middle of a game of keepaway with a group of teenagers. Sam smiles at how much Dean is like his younger self now, getting all the kids to like him without even really trying.

They stay until the pool closes, at which point Sam gets his brother into the Impala and drives. When they arrive at Jody's house ten minutes later, Dean is fast asleep, smiling softly.

That night, Dean spends an hour at the kitchen table, working hard on one of his drawings. When he's finished, he brings it over to Sam. Sam takes the picture from his brother, smiles, and then puts it up on the fridge with the rest. It's a simple picture, really. It's the two of them in the pool, Sam trying to dunk Dean under the water. They're both smiling, and happy, but most importantly they're together. It's one of the few drawings Dean has done of the two of them together. It means more to Sam than Dean will ever know.

It means that maybe, just maybe, there's hope for his brother yet.

...the end...

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