Title: The Tale of Jefferson Watts
Disclaimer: I do not own the Winchester family, their property, their friends or their enemies. If you recognise something, it's probably not mine.
A/N: Once upon a time I wrote a fairly epic story (Six Days). This is the backstory to that. Both stories can be read independently of each other though. As with all my stories, this is unbeta'd so any and all mistakes are mine. Feel free to point them out.
Sam's swinging his legs on the wall, head buried in yet another book, waiting for John to come pick him up. He's a little frustrated that Dad doesn't trust him to walk home alone yet. He's fifteen, for god's sake, and none of his classmates get picked up at the end of the day. And yes, he's heard the speech, he knows Dad does it for his own safety, that there are things out there waiting just for him. He thinks Dad's being over protective, over dramatic, and they've argued the point till they're both blue in the face and Dean has long since walked out the door.
So he sits quietly and waits, reading up on weather spirits because that's what Dad has sent Dean after. And how pissed is Sam at that? Dean's gone off on some wild goose chase at Dad's behest because he would never think to question their father's orders. But Sam knows he won't find anything except maybe a severe cold and soggy underwear. It's just a bad spell of weather. He's checked the weather reports going back several decades and, as far as he can tell, it's normal for this time of year. Okay, so maybe the rain storms are a little more monsoon-like than usual but it hardly qualifies as supernatural activity in his book.
He watches his classmates filter out into the autumn afternoon and sighs. Not only does Dad not allow him to make his own way home, he's never there on time either. Sam thinks he might have been on time last Thursday but other than that? Nope, not once this whole semester. Dad never seems to rush when it comes to his youngest son.
Which is why Sam is worried the minute he sees the Impala flying around the corner and Dad flinging the door open before he's even come to a complete standstill.
"Get in, Sam," he barks.
Sam would resent that tone of voice, the constant orders, the expectation of complete, unquestioning obedience, but he's seen the look on Dad's face and knows, just knows, instantly something's wrong. He scrambles into the car, casting a glance to the back to check if Dean is lying there, bleeding out. But it's empty and Dad has already engaged the gears and pulled away from the kerb. He looks sideways at his father, takes in the pale face and the pronounced worry lines around his eyes and his stomach flips, heart beating double time.
"Dad?" he asks, not caring how small and scared his voice sounds. "Where's Dean?"
But there is no answer forthcoming. Just an increase in speed and some muttered cursing Sam can't quite make out. It takes Sam several minutes to control the panic rising in his gut enough to push the issue again.
This time though Dad turns his head just far enough to get a good look at his youngest. Sam stares at him, as if he could pull the truth from him by sheer will power. As he watches, his father seems to wilt before his eyes and Sam knows the news isn't good.
"He's at the motel," Dad tells him and turns his attention back to the road. Sam's no fool though and he waits, silently, for the rest of that statement. "He's fine, Sam."
If the situation weren't so dire, Sam would laugh but he can suddenly see the years so clearly on his dad's face and he doesn't remember him ever looking so old, older than his years. There's only one thing that could have put that look there and Sam's blood turns to ice.
"Fine?" he repeats, disbelievingly.
"That's what I said," Dad snaps, and that's the end of the conversation.
By the time they reach the motel, Sam is frantic to get to his brother. Dad's definition of 'fine' is so far off the norm he can't help thinking Dean is seriously hurt, if not worse. He's tried telling himself if things were that bad they would be heading to the nearest hospital, not back to the motel.
He's out of the car before John's even turned the engine off and at the door, impatiently jiggling his leg up and down subconsciously. It takes a few long seconds before he realises Dad's still sitting in the car, hands clenched round the wheel so tightly his knuckles have turned white. It strikes him suddenly there's something wrong with this scenario. Very wrong.
Dad should have been at the door before him, should be inside by now tending to his injured son. The fact he isn't sets alarm bells ringing in Sam's head. He's been assuming Dean's hurt, badly. But if that were the case, why isn't Dad in more of a rush? Why aren't they in there already, first aid kit in hand?
In those few seconds it takes for John to finally uncurl his fingers from the wheel, Sam has thousand different thoughts running through his head, all concerning Dean. He'd know if his brother were dead, Dad wouldn't have said he's fine. Would he? So maybe he's not hurt. Maybe it's something else. Maybe Dean has just done something monumentally stupid which has pissed Dad off. It wouldn't be the first time; he seems to revel in causing mayhem wherever he goes. He hit sixteen and decided staying under the radar wasn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes the girl seems to be worth the risk.
But looking at Dad's face again Sam decides whatever's going on with his brother isn't something as harmless as an ill construed fling. So his mind goes into overdrive. It's not death, it's not a girl. It's something worse.
And then Dad is next to him, door key in hand, gently pushing Sam to one side and slightly behind him, which elevates Sam's worry to a whole new level. Since when did he need protecting going into a room?
He tries to peer round his father's shoulder as the door swings open. He can't see anything out of place and as Dad steps over the threshold he catches a glimpse of Dean's foot hanging casually over the arm of the only easy chair in the room. Sam looks up at Dad, confused, but Dad just moves into the room, as stealthily as when he's hunting.
Sam can't take this anymore and pushes past his father, easily dodging the hand that reaches out to halt his progress. He's round in front of the chair in one swift, graceful move.
At first he can't understand what the fuss is about. Dean has one leg flung over the arm of the chair, the other stretched out in front of him. His eyes are closed and to all the world he looks as though he's in the midst of some soothing dream. Okay, so there are fresh bruises down one side of his face and a trail of blood from a newly split lip, but nothing that warrants the look on Dad's face. On closer inspection, Sam notices his brother's knuckles are red and scraped and his jeans are sporting a new rip just below the knee. It's obvious Dean's been in a fight but it looks like he won.
Sam turns to his father for answers to questions he's not asked, doesn't need to ask. Dad shrugs a little and rests a hand on Dean's forehead.
"I don't know, Sam," he admits, voice rough and frayed by unspoken fear. "He's been like this since he got back."
Afternoon turns into evening, turns into night and still Dean doesn't wake. Sam and Dad debate whether to move him to the bed or leave him where he is. In the end they decide the bed would be more comfortable and so Dad scoops him up as though he was a child and lays him down, covering him gently with the comforter. Sam watches in silence, wondering where this tenderness has come from, wondering if it's always been there, under the surface.
They take turns watching Dean, checking his temperature, prodding him tentatively in a vain attempt to elicit some sort of reaction. But there's nothing. To all intents and purposes Dean is dead to the world.
By the time morning comes Sam and Dad are both worried and tired, irritable with each other and more than a little bit scared. Dean shifts in his sleep from time to time but he's still not made a sound. Sam suggests a hospital visit but Dad refuses. There's nothing physically wrong with his son, he just needs time to recover, he argues. Sam protests there must be something wrong or he would be awake by now. If Dad won't go to the hospital, will he at least call someone? Someone they trust, like Pastor Jim. Finally Dad agrees but it feels like a hollow victory to Sam.
But Dean saves them the trouble at the last minute by opening his eyes. Sam and Dad are both at his side in an instant and Dean shrinks back into the pillows as far as he can. Sam and Dad exchange worried glances and Sam puts a hand out to his brother. He studies Dean as the older brother watches the hand warily, not moving from it, but not quite accepting it either. Sam looks to Dad for reassurance and receives a helpless shrug in reply.
After what seems an age, Sam lets his hand drop on Dean's shoulder and Dean's eyes fall closed again, his breathing slowing into a rhythmic rise and fall as he succumbs to sleep again. Sam is reluctant to leave him but he has questions, questions he put to the back of his mind while Dean was unconscious but which he can't ignore any longer. He knows there's a confrontation to be had with his father but he's not prepared to do it in front of Dean, sleeping or awake.
He runs his hand through his brother's hair softly as he gets up from the bed and, passing his father, he just nods his head towards the small kitchenette.
John sighs as he watches his younger, more rebellious son. He's not quite sure how to handle Sam. He's so very different to his brother. Dean never argued at that age, never questioned orders, never needed to be told something twice. Sam though, he's a completely new creature to John. The streak of defiance Sam displays on a more regular basis these days kicked in about three years ago.
He can't explain what happened to Dean, he doesn't know. They won't know until Dean is able to tell them for himself. John's been here before, waiting for Dean to break his self imposed silence but this time he doesn't think Dean is controlling it. He's worried there's something more to this. He's not really comfortable leaving his eldest alone, not when he doesn't know what happened to him, doesn't know what reaction there'll be when he finally comes back to them.
Sam is waiting for him though and he knows he needs to keep control of this situation. His youngest is too volatile, too hot tempered, although that temper only ever seems to be directed at him, never his older brother. John supposes he should be thankful for that, wonders if it's the same in every family, wonders if somewhere there are groups of fathers bemoaning their lot, worrying about their seemingly errant children.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, feeling like a ten year old being sent to the Principal, John casts one last look at Dean, sleeping peacefully now, and follows Sam. He ignores his youngest's glares and huffs and concentrates on boiling the kettle, making coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in, before turning to Sam.
"I can't answer your questions, Sam," he tells him, bluntly. "I don't have the answers for you. I wish I did." And he does.
"That's crap, Dad," Sam hisses, watching his brother out of the corner of his eye. "You sent him out there. You must have known what was out there, what did this to him."
John snorts a little at that. He sent his son on a recon mission. He didn't expect Dean to find anything, didn't expect him to return looking like a barroom brawl reject, didn't expect him to pass out the second he got through the door. But Sam isn't going to accept that explanation. John may not have a handle on Sam but he knows getting through to the boy is nigh on impossible at the best of times. Right now, it isn't even worth trying to be rational. He hates to quash Sam's spirit but there's a time and a place. Right?
"Sam," he barks, instantly regretting the volume but taking some comfort from the fact Dean slumbers on undisturbed. "I don't know what happened to your brother. I won't know until he can tell me. But when he can, I promise you we'll get whatever it was."
"Or whoever," Sam grunts. He's not stupid and he saw the marks on Dean's face. He's been living this life long enough to recognise bruises shaped like fists, to know when a bottom lip has been split by a backhander. He shakes his head in exasperation, sighs exaggeratedly and pushes past his father.
John's tired and had enough of Sam's attitude. Doesn't the kid realise he's got enough on his plate, that he doesn't need a teenage hormonal whirlwind right now? He can feel his temper fraying, splitting apart at the seams and Sam is pushing all the wrong buttons. Sam pushing past him is the last straw and, without even thinking about it, he's grabbed his son by the shoulder, spinning him round with a little too much force borne of exhaustion.
The look on Sam's face tells him he's overstepped the mark before he even realises what he's done. But it's too late for John now. The tension in the motel has been building for hours now, ever since Dean stumbled through the door yesterday afternoon. John clenches his fists by his side, an attempt to keep himself from making a bad situation worse. He doesn't hit his kids, it's not his style although, god help him, he's done it to both of them before and regretted it forever afterwards.
"Watch the attitude, son," he growls, warning lacing his voice.
If it were Dean, the tone would have been enough. But this is Sam. Sam who's worried half out of his mind about his brother and more than half pissed at Dad's cavalier attitude towards parenthood.
"Or what?" he hisses in response, eyes darting from John to Dean and back again. "What are you going to do about it, Dad?" It's a challenge he's issuing and even as the words spill from his lips he wonders what the hell he's doing. He knows he's pushing all the right buttons with Dad, or rather all the wrong buttons, but he can't seem to stop himself now. All the tension, worry, fear for Dean have to have an outlet and it seems Sam just found it.
But for once, John appears to be on the same level as Sam. He's pretty sure the boy didn't mean to challenge his authority, or at least not so openly. But it's been a hell of a day for all of them. Dean's condition takes priority. It has to take priority, and arguing with Sam isn't going to help him.
So he wills his glare to soften, forces his shoulders to slump slightly, commands his lungs to take a deep, relaxing breath and shakes his head slowly, almost sadly.
"Nothing, Sam," he admits. "I'm not going to do anything. You win," and he slides gracefully past his son, pocketing the keys to the Impala. Stopping at the door he turns back and nods in Dean's direction. "Keep an eye on him," he tells Sam needlessly, and then he's gone.
Sam stares stupidly at the now closed door, trying to process what just happened. There was an argument and Dad left. Is that what happened? But, no, there was no argument. There was the making of one, but it never developed. 'You win' Dad said, and left. And now Sam doesn't know what to think. Confusion settles down on his shoulder and whispers conflicting thoughts into his ear. Dad doesn't care about Dean. Dad just gave in. He must be ill. Maybe there's something he's not telling you about your brother.
He shakes off the little devil sitting on his shoulder as Dean stirs and turns restlessly in his sleep. Thoughts of John flee from his mind and he's sitting on the edge of his brother's bed without realising he's moved. Dimly he registers the sound of Dad's car roaring out of the parking lot and wonders vaguely where he's going that could possibly be more important than Dean.
Dean, he reflects, looks better than when he first woke. He runs a hand gently through his brother's hair, half hoping to wake him, half hoping he'll stay asleep. He's reassured by the way Dean turns into his touch, however briefly, and for a couple of seconds his face smoothes out into a peaceful façade that makes Sam wonder what his brother was like as a child.
But the moment doesn't last and in the time it takes for Sam to move his hand from Dean's brow to the crest of his head, Dean is awake, eyes blinking blearily in the muted light creeping in through the drapes by the window. He turns his head left and right before settling his gaze on his brother. A wave of confusion sweeps over his features and he opens his mouth but all that escapes is a raspy croak.
Sam rests his hand on Dean's shoulder, gently telling him to stay put, and disappears into the kitchenette. Dean watches his back as he vanishes through the doorway which has clearly never seen an actual door. He's aware of a pounding headache and dry throat. He thinks there are aches and pains along his ribs, in the small of his back, up and down his shins and arms and he tries to remember what happened. Going by his injuries, he can only assume he was in a bar fight. The lack of clarity in his own mind worries him even more than the actual bruises and dried wounds on his hands.
Sam returns with a glass of lukewarm water and hands it over apologetically. "Best I can do," he mutters as Dean reaches out a surprisingly steady hand for it. He watches as his brother raises the glass to his lips and takes a tentative sip, wrinkling his nose in distaste as the tepid liquid dances on his tastebuds.
Dean hands the drink back to Sam, half untouched but Sam is happy with that. Dean lies back on what passes for a pillow and lets his eyes drift shut but his mind is whirring, ticking over what little he can remember of the last twenty-four hours. He feels the bed dip as his little brother perches carefully on the side of the mattress. He can hear Sam's gentle breathing and he feels the tenseness of his muscles.
"Hey, Sammy?" he mumbles, "What happened?"
Sam sighs and shakes his head, oblivious to the fact Dean still has his eyes shut and so the gesture is redundant. "We don't know," he admits. "We thought you would be able to tell us."
Dean takes a few minutes to process that information then picks up on the least relevant part of Sam's statement. "We? Who's we?" he asks.
"Me and Dad," Sam replies, quelling the spike of panic in his gut. Why wouldn't Dean remember both Dad and Sam are here? He reaches over and feels Dean's forehead, checking for a fever he doesn't think he'll find.
"Huh." Dean huffs, opening bleary eyes. "Dad?" and he pauses, looking round the room. "Where is he, then?"
And that, Sam thinks, is a very good question to which he doesn't have an answer.
"He'll be back soon," he tells Dean, trying to convince himself as much as Dean.
"He left again." It's a resigned statement and if Dean could sink any lower into the mattress, Sam thinks he might disappear altogether. He doesn't know how to respond to that.
"Get some rest, Dean," he says and raises himself off the bed.
"Only if you do," Dean says, watching Sam through lowered lashes. "You look like crap."
Sam smiles and nods, settling himself on the adjacent bed, intending to watch over Dean while he sleeps a little longer. But Dean always knows when Sam has reached his limit and within five minutes his breathing has evened out and he's sleeping peacefully, safe in the knowledge Dean is okay, if a little confused.