Author's Notes: This is for Kalliel and the rest of the moderators at Hoodie Time on LJ. They're a really gracious bunch.
Special thanks to my beta, Casy Dee for her incredible editing skills, her great feedback and her unending patience.
Thanks also to Kalliel for her invaluable input.
Warning: This story deals extensively with depression and there are several mentions of suicidal thoughts. If this is an issue for you, please proceed with caution.
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural of any of these characters but it sure is fun to act like I do.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
After the fire Dean's world turned gray. At first it seemed it was because of the smoke that hung in the air; but soon the gray clouds were everywhere and nothing he did would make them go away. When Mommy had been around the world was full of colors; but now it was so hard to see the blue in the sky, the gold in the sun or even the green in the trees. Now, Daddy didn't smile, he didn't laugh and he didn't play games. He stopped giving hugs or kisses and there were no bedtime tuck-ins or comforting words when Dean was hurt or sick.
Sammy was a baby so he couldn't see, but Dean was four so he was old enough to notice that a world that had once been bright and exciting was now covered by a blanket of gloom. And Dean didn't really want to be here anymore, not without Mommy. So every night, as he lay on the hard bed in the strange single room that had become his home, he prayed that when he fell asleep he would wake up with Mommy. It just wasn't fun here anymore so it was better for him to be wherever Mommy was.
When he mentioned it to Mrs. Charles, the lady from across the hall she looked surprised.
"You can't be with Mommy sweetheart," she said kindly.
"Why not?" Dean asked.
"Because Mommy's in heaven."
"So I'll just go there," Dean said, eyes wide with hope.
It took several moments for Mrs. Charles to answer. "I'm afraid not, dear," she said, desperately hoping that would be the end of the matter.
"Why can't I go?"
"Because people can't go to heaven unless they die."
"Then I want to die."
The words were said with such insistence that Mrs. Charles brought the problem to John's attention immediately.
Dean never knew exactly what happened; but later that day he heard his father yelling at Mrs. Charles who was yelling right back. Soon after that, Daddy took him and Baby Sammy to another room in a different place. Dean never saw Mrs. Charles again so he didn't get to thank her for telling him how he could get to see Mommy. But every night before he went to sleep, Dean prayed to die.
Dean didn't get his wish and by the time he turned six, he stopped asking because it didn't seem like now was a good time for him to go. Daddy wasn't really good at taking care of Sammy so Dean had to help out. Sure, Dad could feed Sammy and change his diaper, but only Dean knew that you could get Sammy to fall asleep real quick if you rubbed his feet. Or, you could make him laugh if you poked his tummy. Then when Sammy was being really fussy, the way to get him quiet was to snuggle up with him and pat his back.
After a while, Daddy would just hand Sammy over to Dean instead of trying to figure him out. And since Dean knew all the tricks he just handled everything. Plus Dean really didn't mind helping because Sammy always said thanks. He'd said it in a thousand ways before he could even talk. He would giggle when Dean tickled him, snuggle against Dean during feeding time and most times when Daddy was holding him, Sam would try to wiggle out his arms and stretch for Dean.
Deep in his heart Dean knew Daddy was the one missing out because Sammy was the sweetest. It was fun to watch him try to do new things like crawl or talk. He gave the best hugs and cuddles so even on bad days Dean always felt a little better when his brother was nearby. Besides, Sam was always trying to do something goofy like chew his toys or put clothes on his teddy bear and that made Dean laugh.
Best of all, Dean knew Sammy could see colors. He knew it from the way Sam giggled and laughed and got excited about even little things. For Sammy's sake, Dean tried hard to see colors too. If the world was looking gray he tried to imagine he was seeing it through his baby brother's eyes. It worked, and for a while Dean didn't think about dying. Not until he turned eight.
Dean didn't know what it was so he called it gray clouds. It hung over him mercilessly, dimming the sunlight and any other source of cheer in his life. There were times when it left and he laughed more and had a little fun, but it always returned and he just didn't understand what made it come and go.
He especially liked that the clouds seemed to ease up on him when it was summer. That was the time when everyone talked about taking a break and getting away and Dean often thought maybe the clouds needed a break too. The summer he turned eight had been really nice. He and Sammy got to stay at Uncle Bobby's and he let them play non-stop.
Dean noticed there were always lots of men coming by to talk with his father and Bobby. Sometimes they'd lock themselves away in Bobby's study or Dean and Sam would have to go to their room so the big people could talk. But as the summer went on Dean got more curious and started listening in. One evening he lingered too long around the grown-ups and started hearing words like "kill", "shoot" and "burn." Then they would say stuff like "burn it alive","tear out its heart," and "drown it in holy water." Not only did it all sound scary but Dean was worried because his Dad always seemed to the one taking the lead.
Although Daddy went out at night all the time, Dean didn't really understand what he went to do. Sometimes, he and Sammy were left alone, other times they stayed with strangers or friends like Bobby and Pastor Jim. But whatever Daddy was doing was a big secret. Now, Dean was scared by the things he was hearing so he decided to ask his father.
John told him he was big enough to know the truth but the truth had scared the devil out of Dean. Daddy went out to fight monsters, sometimes in the dead of the night; and every time he left, there was a chance he wouldn't come back.
The bright, sunny, summer turned gray after that.
Now, a sick feeling of fright came over Dean every time he saw his father shoulder his duffle bag and head for the door. Now, whenever his father left, Dean couldn't get his heart to stop racing or his stomach to stop feeling like a million butterflies were in there having some kind of sick party.
One sad, dull evening, when Dean knew his father was preparing for a hunt, he sat by Bobby's front door waiting for his father to come out of the study where, as usual, he was talking to a bunch of men. When John stepped out and saw Dean he sent the other men outside ahead of him to get a moment with his son.
"I don't want you to go," Dean said when John asked him what was wrong.
"I have to, son," John patted his head. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"But I'm scared," Dean cried when he saw his father meant to leave anyway.
"Of what?" John asked.
"That you won't come back."
"Dean," John chided gently, "What did I tell you when we had our little talk about hunting? It's important for you to keep positive thoughts and not to worry about me."
"But I can't," Dean wailed as tears started filling his eyes, "That's why I want you to stay with me and Sammy, Dad; I don't want you to go."
"One of the things you'll learn son, is that we don't always get what we want in life."
John ruffled Dean's hair as if that was going to make him feel any better and then he was gone after saying he'd return as soon as he could. Once his father was gone Dean ran out into Bobby's huge junk yard, hid between two cars and cried his eyes out.
A long while later, when he'd bawled himself dry, Dean stalked back to the house. He went to the room he was sharing with Sam and found his little brother on the floor racing two toy cars his Dad had bought at a dollar store. When Sam saw Dean he broke into a mile wide smile and waved the cars at him.
"Play with me," he squealed excitedly.
Playing was the last thing on Dean's mind.
"Don't wanna," he said, throwing himself down on one of the twin beds.
All he wanted to do was pull the covers up over his head and block out everything. But that wasn't what Sam had in mind.
"Please," Sam asked, holding out one of the cars to Dean.
"Why? You looked like you were having a blast on your own."
"I was," Sam admitted happily.
"So then keep at it," Dean tried again to brush him off. "You can have fun by yourself."
"But it's always much more fun playing with you."
"Suppose I wasn't around?"
"Yeah Sammy, maybe I won't always be here."
"But where would you go?"
To Mom, Dean wanted to scream. To some place where the clouds will go away and stay away!
But how could tell that to Sammy? How could he ever tell anyone how bad he felt now that clouds had come back?
Then now Sammy was looking at him all funny like what Dean had said was making him feel frightened and sad. Dean knew the look on sight now, it was the one Sam got when he didn't know what was going on but he guessed it was something bad.
"Play with me Dean," Sammy asked quietly. "Please."
There was something about the way Sammy said the words that kinda made Dean feel like his little brother was reaching for him. It was almost as if Sam knew Dean wanted to leave and he didn't want him to go. Dean didn't know how to tell Sammy how bad it hurt and he didn't know how to make the hurt go away. But when he looked into his little brother's now sad eyes, he knew he had to figure something out.
"O.K," Dean said taking one of the race cars, "But if I beat you I don't want to hear any crying."
Of course the car racing started them bickering because Sammy could never stand to lose and always had an excuse when Dean beat him. The arguing led to a big pillow fight which sent feathers flying all over the room. As they scrambled to clean up the mess before Daddy or Uncle Bobby saw it Sam and Dean couldn't stop laughing.
"You see," Sam said flashing his huge grin again, "It's always more fun when you play with me."
When they turned in that night, they were both totally wiped out, but that didn't stop Sammy from climbing up on Dean's bed and asking for a bedtime story. He looked so adorable in his batman pajamas that Dean couldn't turn him down. He knew Sammy liked it when he made up stuff about super heroes so he babbled on about Superman fighting dragons while Sam curled up with his head on Dean's chest.
Before sleep pulled Sammy under, he piped up with a question.
"Why did you say you would go away?" he asked, fiddling with one of the buttons on Dean's pajamas.
"Nothing," Dean responded, stroking Sam's head. "I was just being stupid."
"Good," Sam yawned and snuggled closer to his big brother. "It's no fun when you're not around. Daddy tries but he doesn't like me as much as you do."
"Daddy loves you," Dean insisted, breathing out hard against the fluttering in his stomach as his mind ran on John. It had been hours and his Dad still wasn't home.
"You love me better," Sam mumbled sleepily.
Dean's heart beat so hard he wondered how Sam managed to fall asleep with it pounding against his head. He was happy for Sam that he could catch some Zs but for Dean it would be another fearful, restless night. Now that he knew what was kept his father out so late it was almost impossible for him to even doze until his Dad reached home. That made for haunting, sleepless nights and groggy days of panic and worry.
As the summer faded Dean didn't see the beautiful shades of fall. He only saw the saw the clouds, getting so thick and so dark that there was almost no light. On the bad days it was the small hand taking his and leading him off to look at some childish discovery that helped him to pull through. Other times it was a big grin on chubby cheeks and the sound of little boy laughter that had him thinking life couldn't be as miserable as it seemed.
On the most difficult days, when the gray threatened to turn black, he would remember Sam saying "It's no fun when you're not around" and he would fight to hold.
His brother was the only thing keeping him between this world and the next; but it was a tenuous hold at best.
Dean worked hard to hide it when he had dark days but there were times when he wondered if Sam could sense when the clouds gathered. His little brother was smarter than most kids his age and sometimes he was too perceptive for his own good. He never said a word about it but Dean noticed that whenever his moods got black Sammy stuck closer to him. On top of that, he tried to be really good, gave extra hugs and did everything Dean said without arguing.
Dean always thought he did a decent job of covering up when he felt like he was going off. Dad never noticed so he assumed no one else did. However the year he turned eleven and spent an entire semester at one school, his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Reason grew suspicious and brought the matter to John's attention.
"I think Dean might be suffering from depression," she broached one afternoon following classes. After three letters summoning him for a meeting John finally decided to show up. Dean waited outside the classroom, but with the corridors empty, he could hear every word.
"Depression?" his father made it sound like a nasty, communicable disease. "What the hell do you mean?"
"It's not as uncommon in children and you may think," Mrs. Reason explained. "And Dean exhibits several of the symptoms."
"Well for one thing, he's despondent. He hardly gets excited over anything."
"So what? You expect him to be jumping off the walls at the thought of extra hours of math?"
"I'm not talking about school work Mr. Winchester. In my experience at this age children rarely get excited about that. But usually they get energized about sports or computers or art and craft but Dean's barely responsive to anything."
"We'll work on his enthusiasm."
"What I'm trying to tell you is you shouldn't have to."
"So is that all?"
"No. He has no friends, he's not interested in getting to know any of the kids, if I hadn't seen the way he interacts with his little brother sometimes, I'd say he's totally anti-social."
"We've moved around a lot and he doesn't make friends easily. I guess his social skills need some work."
"His social skills are fine, it's his motivation that's lacking. And, I'm not one to pry but he never mentions his mother."
"She died when he was four."
"Oh, I figured it was something like that. Was it an illness?"
"What it was is none of your damn business."
"If I'm going to help Dean, I need to know."
"Who asked for your help? My son's taken some knocks but he'll bounce back. Thank you very much for your time."
"Mr. Winchester, children are resilient but sometimes it's not as simple as bouncing back. Now if he lost his mother tragically at such a young age he should have had therapy to cope with the loss and I'm guessing he didn't but it's not too late for him to get the help he needs. There's a good family counselor I can recommend."
"You mean a head shrink?"
"No, I said a counselor. She specializes in family situations and maybe, you might want to consider getting some help yourself."
"Me? Lady you got a damn nerve sitting there calling my son a head case and telling me to go see a shrink."
"Insult me all you want Mr. Winchester but that doesn't change the fact that your son needs help."
"Dean is not depressed. He's been through a lot and so he's not over-excitable like some of these kids who think that life is just one big trip around Disney World. Dean got admitted to the school of hard knocks a little early but I say, good for him. He won't get caught out later on like what happened to me."
"I know it can be hard when you lose a spouse. It's easy to think that there's no good left in the world but when a child loses a parent it can be ten times worse."
"It happened almost ten years ago, he's dealt with it. We both have but there's no going back to innocence now. So you'll forgive him if Dean doesn't get excited over finger painting. He's way past that."
That night, dinner was really weird and Dean couldn't stand the way his father kept looking at him. It was like Dad was watching his every move looking for signs of something. After a while Dean started to feel like he was exhibit A in some kind of freak show.
There was hardly anywhere to escape his father in the small, pay-by-the-week apartment they'd been living in for the last few months. So Dean's plan was to just hide out in his room once dinner was done. However, John had something else in mind.
"I want you to go to your room and read for a little," he said to Sam once the table had been cleared. "I need to talk to your brother."
The words stopped Dean in his tracks as he was trying to move away from the dining table. Reluctantly, he turned around to face his father.
"Have a seat," John said pointing to the chair directly across the table from him. "Are you OK?" he asked, once Dean was seated.
"What do you mean?" Dean responded.
"I want to know how you are."
Dean shrugged, looking down rather than at John. "I'm the same I've always been," he said tracing circles on the chipped surface of the wooden table.
"Well, that teacher, Mrs. Reason seems to think you're a little off."
Surprised, Dean looked up at father.
A little off?
Mrs. Reason said he needed a freaking head shrink and Dad took that to mean he was a little off?
"Off how?" Dean looked back down at the table. He couldn't stand to see the searching look in his father's eyes. It was like Dad expected him to suddenly grow horns and start wielding a pitch fork.
"She said you seemed out of it," John ventured further. "Has she said anything like that to you before?"
"Does she ever grill you about your home life or about us as a family?"
"Well she seems to have a pretty active imagination," John said scornfully.
"So you think she's making something up?"
"No, she just doesn't know you; but I figure you just think it's a lame school with a bunch of lame kids and there's nothing to really get excited about."
Uncertain, Dean edged towards the easiest way out of the awkward conversation.
"It is pretty lame," he said noncommittally.
"I thought so," John snickered and Dean swore he could hear relief. "But don't worry you won't have to put up with Mrs. Reason and her speculations anymore. We're going to be moving on?"
"You mean leaving town?"
"Tomorrow afternoon. You and Sammy can sleep late and then take the morning to get packed. We can hit the road at about two o'clock."
They were running, Dean realized, and it was because of what Mrs. Reason had said about him. She had figured out that something was wrong with him and Dad knew it. And what was worse, Dad was ashamed.
A knife cut wouldn't have been as painful as the stab of hurt Dean felt at the grim realization. Dad didn't want to deal with what was really going on with him so he was trying to make it seem like Mrs. Reason was a moron and if they got away from her that would be the end of it.
Except Mrs. Reason wasn't a moron, she was the only one who'd ever come right out and said that something was wrong with him. And not just that, she said it had a name and they could do something about it. The thought of talking to a shrink made Dean cringe but if it could help, he would do it. At this point, he'd do anything to make the clouds go away.
So although the easiest thing to do would be go along with Dad and pretend like nothing was wrong, for his own sake, Dean decided to speak up.
"Dad," he began, pushing past the inner trembling he felt when he looked up at his father. "Mrs. Reason wasn't that far off."
"What do you mean?"
Dean could see the alarm streaking across his father's face, his expression all but saying "Don't tell me you're a freak."
Swallowing hard against the sick feeling turning around in his stomach, Dean opened up.
"I mean, I'm not OK."
"Look son – " John raised his hand like he was warning Dean not to go there.
"Dad listen to me," Dean pushed, hoping he could just get it all out before his father made him shut up. "Something's not right."
"Of course not Dean, you're almost a teenager, you're bound to be moody. It's adolescent angst and that's all."
"But I've felt this way for a long time."
"Oh yeah? Like how long?"
"Since Mom died."
The admission had John pushing his chair away from the table and getting to his feet.
"That was a long time ago," he insisted. "We've all moved past it."
"Maybe you have," Dean said his voice cracking. "But I miss her every day and no one understands."
"I do understand son, believe me. But you can't spend the rest of your life grieving. So if this is what's getting you down then it's time you got over it."
"It's not that easy."
"Of course it is. Practically everything comes down to mind over matter. You're a Winchester, Dean. That means you're strong enough to handle anything."
Deep in his heart Dean knew he had tried to fight the clouds off. With all his mind, soul and strength he had tried to make them go away and they kept coming back. It wasn't mind over matter it was hell and he was losing the will to fight. So since there was no point trying to save face now, Dean jumped off the deep end.
"I'm not strong enough to deal with what you do," he admitted, facing his father although his voice quivered and his hands shook.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I can't deal with the fact that every time you leave for a hunt you might never come back."
"It's my job Dean."
"Only because you chose to do it, but there's no reason why you can't do something else so you don't have to mess with monsters."
"If I don't do it, who will?"
"Uncle Bobby, Pastor Jim and all those men that always go with you. None of them have kids, you have me and Sammy."
"And it's because I have you boys why I'm trying to make things safer for everyone."
"But what will happen to us if something happens to you?"
"I'm not afraid to die," John declared.
Dean swallowed hard but couldn't hold back the tears brimming in his eyes or stop the sob rising in his throat.
"But I'm afraid to lose you," he whispered, breathing hard as panic came over him.
The confession hung in the air between father and son bringing them squarely to a crossroads. In the end, John blinked first by backing away and heading for the door.
"You're stronger than you realize," he said, pausing to face Dean from the open doorway. "In time you'll learn that there really isn't anything you can't handle if you learn to overcome fear."
Then he walked out leaving Dean staring at the door he'd closed behind him. Dean knew that as far as his father was concerned, this was the end of the matter.
Left alone, Dean brought his hands to his head and began pacing as tension burned in his stomach. Panicked and frightened, he looked around the room like a prisoner desperate for escape. That was when he saw his father's duffle tucked under the makeshift coffee table in what passed for their living room. He grabbed the bag, pulled back the zipper and dug around until he found a small leather pouch.
This was where his father kept the really sharp stuff; the little things that could do damage at close range. The bag fell to the floor with a loud thud as Dean snatched the pouch and ran to the bathroom. With a resounding slam, he locked himself inside and dropped to the floor. Heaving frantically he unzipped the pouch with unsteady hands and gasped loudly when he saw the weapons inside.
At first, fear crept up his spine and he stared uncertainly at the tools. Then, resolve came over him and he picked up the sharpest one in sight.
The knock on the door was loud and determined.
"Dean!" Sam called, frantically trying the doorknob. "Open up!"
"Go away!" Dean shouted.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked his voice frantic with concern.
"Nothing," Dean lied. "Leave me alone."
However instead of backing away, Sam started banging even harder.
"LET ME IN OR I'LL BREAK THE DOOR DOWN!"
If it hadn't been so pathetic Dean would have laughed. At four feet, two and fifty pounds Sammy didn't stand a chance against the door. The way was clear for Dean to get the job done and lord knows he wanted to go.
But then what? Sammy would live the rest of his life knowing he tried but couldn't stop his big brother from going over the edge. Then he would be the one getting the pitying glances and having people rub his head and say "poor thing" just liked they'd done with Dean when Mom died. Worse than that, Dad would expect Sam to "just get over it" because Winchesters could handle anything.
With a loud cry of disgust Dean pulled the bathroom sink cupboard open and tossed the pouch inside. Then he fell back against the closed door sobbing. Outside Sam was still beating the door like a lunatic.
"Dean, open up now!"
It took him a moment to get his bearings, but Dean soon relented and unlocked the door. Pushing past his little brother he practically staggered into the living room where he dropped down on the couch and buried his face in his hands.
He'd hidden the worst of what he'd been trying to do from Sam but there was no way to cover up the fact that he'd locked himself in bathroom to cry like a freaking girl. The humiliation of having Sam see him like this had Dean wishing the ground would open up and swallow him whole.
Yet scorn seemed to be the last thing on Sam's mind because he came rushing to Dean's side.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked, dropping to his knees in front of his sibling.
"Nothing," Dean lied, trying, in vain, to dry his tears with his bare hands, "Just go away."
When the little idiot didn't budge, Dean tried to put some mean in it. "I said get outta my face. I wanna be alone."
"No," Sam stood his ground, "I'm not gonna leave you."
There was something about the way Sam said it that made Dean feel even worse. That was Sammy for you, seven going on seventeen and far too stubborn for his own good. So now instead of running scared when his big brother yelled at him he was getting in Dean's face like some amateur shrink.
"Dean," Sam begged, "Please tell me what's wrong."
"I'm just being an idiot," Dean used one of the hard sofa cushions to wipe his face. "Dad and I had an argument and I'm being a wimp about it, that's all."
Looking frightened but purposeful, Sam grabbed Dean's hands.
"You don't have to hide it from me, Dean, I know," he said, sounding like he was on the verge of breaking down.
"You know what?" Dean demanded, tempted to shove the kid aside a run rather than have another confrontation.
"I know you're not happy," Sam cried, "But if you tell me what to do, I can make it better."
"Sammy," Dean sighed in despair, "It's not you kiddo, it's me."
"But I can help," Sam released Dean's hands to grabbed him by the shirt. "Please, Dean; just tell me what to do."
Dean could never refuse Sam anything when he asked like that, but he didn't know how to explain what happened when the clouds came over him. He didn't know how to put it into words but he did know he didn't want poor Sammy thinking this had anything to do with him.
Reaching out, he cupped his little brother's face in his hands. "This is not about you Sammy; this is something I gotta deal with."
"No," Sam cried stubbornly, squeezing his eyes shut. "You always think you're alone and you're not Dean. I'll do whatever you want; I just want you to be happy."
"Please, Dean; just tell me what I can do to make you happy."
Dean grabbed his little brother and hugged him hard. He knew the poor kid was probably scared out his mind that his big brother had turned into a wuss right in front of him. He shouldn't have let Sammy see him like this but he felt so powerless against the flood of his emotions.
After getting a grip on himself, he managed to look Sam square in the face.
"Please don't feel like this is about you. I don't know why I'm not happy Sammy; I try but sometimes it's just too hard. But I want you to know, it's got nothing to do with you. You're the best thing in my life and I want you to always remember that."
"Then don't leave me," Sam wailed, grabbing on to Dean's shirt again.
The desperate grip was enough was enough to break Dean's heart. It was almost as if his little brother felt if he held on tight enough Dean couldn't slip through his grasp.
"Don't think it's your fault Sammy," he pleaded. "None of this is your fault."
"Then don't go," Sammy begged. "I'll be good Dean. I'll do anything you want if you promise to stay."
The plea didn't break Dean, it shattered him. Pulling his little brother to his chest, he let go and wept. He cried for the mother he had lost and the joy and happiness that had been stolen from his soul when she died. He cried for himself and the life he had no idea how to truly appreciate or enjoy. And, he cried for his little brother, who was now prepared to shoulder the burden of Dean's unhappiness; a burden that should never have been Sam's to carry.
He couldn't leave, Dean realized, no matter how bad it hurt he had to stick around. The world had gotten gray when mommy left and if he went away he would only make the world dark for Sammy. As much as it killed him to even breathe, he couldn't bear the thought of hurting his little brother.
"It's OK," Dean sighed when the flood of tears subsided. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I mean it Sammy; I'm not gonna leave."
Now, Sam was the one crying, burying himself in his brother as he was overcome with relief.
Instantly, Dean shifted from being the distressed to his familiar role as comforter, whispering words of reassurance.
"It's all good kiddo," he soothed. "Don't worry."
He couldn't give up, Dean realized as he hugged his trembling brother. He'd find a way to beat the clouds and stay one step ahead of the darkness. Not only was he going to fight back against his demons he was going to win. Because if there was any point to this never-ending struggle called life, Sam was it.