|i cannot rest from travel
||[Jul. 13th, 2010|10:09 pm]
Title: i cannot rest from travel|
Rating/Warning: Adult (language)
Summary: Curtain-hunter-school-future fic
Disclaimer: Written for entertainment purposes only. No money, no sue.
They decided what they were going to do with the rest of their lives on a Wednesday morning over bacon and eggs.
"I don't really want to... y'know. Stop," Dean said, cutting his bacon into perfect squares and then piling them up on his fork. He'd always eaten any kind of processed meat that way. Never really knew why, didn't know where he picked up the habit but the way Sam's mouth quirked just the tiniest bit to see him do it was enough reason to continue.
"How about..." Sam started and then rubbed his tongue over his front teeth the way he always did when he was trying to phrase something he wanted to make Dean think that he wanted it too. Dean ruminated on the fact that the one thing Sammy had never truly gotten about him was that whatever Sammy wanted, Dean already did want too. It was fun to make Sam work for it though. "Y'know, maybe a school."
"Like Sam and Dean's School For Kids Who Don't Read Good?" Dean asked, smirking and Sam grimaced at the Zoolander quote.
"I mean for hunters," Sam said, blowing out a breath that pushed his bangs away from his face for a moment. "Teach people that want to learn, people that will most likely get themselves killed otherwise."
"I thought you hated this life," Dean said and when Sam opened his mouth, Dean put up a hand. "I'm not making a dig," he added quickly. "Just, you're the last person I would've expected to want to encourage people."
"I don't want to encourage anyone. I'm perfectly willing to send people home that really shouldn't be doing this. I meant for people like Dad, hell bent on doing this no matter what. You know how lucky Dad was to have survived his first couple of years when he was still green and didn't know anything?"
"Yeah, 'course," Dean said, even though he couldn't really picture it. Their dad had been sure and confident for as long as Dean could remember but now that the idea was there it took root. John Winchester had been a badass, it was true, but at some point he had been mechanic and even his years in the military wouldn't have prepared him properly for their life. Their dad's journal had always been a cheat sheet Dean had taken full advantage of but John wouldn't have had a guidebook at first.
He would've been making it up as he went along.
Dean remembered Bobby griping more than once about new hunters, stumbling in and almost getting themselves and perhaps other more seasoned hunters killed. Bobby helped out when people came to him, always had, but maybe those kinds of people needed a little more than that, some kind of actual preparation. There was definitely an upside to the idea but with all things in their lives, there was a downside too.
"So, how you gonna feel when someone you taught goes out and gets themselves killed?" Dean asked, because no matter how good a hunter you were, you never got good enough that you wouldn't die. Dean knew that there had been dozens, possibly hundreds of times he and Sam had escaped by the skin of their teeth and a couple of times they hadn't managed even that much.
Sam pondered on that for a moment, tapping his chin with a finger. "Of course I'll feel like shit," he finally admitted. "But at least they had a chance and that's better than the alternative."
"We'd really turn the people away that just... shouldn't be doing it?" Dean asked and Sam nodded.
"There might be those that would be dissuaded just knowing someone was doing something, maybe even take on their cases, pass them to other hunters. I know Dad wouldn't have rested until he killed yellow eyes himself but not everyone's like that, not everyone's that guy."
"Okay," Dean said and Sam blinked at him, like it was a surprise that it was that easy.
Like it was ever a surprise.
They said the big Yes, just not the way either side was expecting.
Sam said yes to Michael and Dean said yes to Lucifer and the two were so completely itching for a fight and desperate by that time that they jumped at the chance. Turned out host was just another word for cage if you turned things upside down and inside out that way. When everything was said and done, Sam and Dean found themselves still in control of their own lives, just with a little added mojo.
Plus immortality, but they discovered that much later.
Pastor Jim had a few properties abandoned to time and the elements on his passing. Dean remembered the way to one of them, a small farm in a town called Robe and despite its ramshackle appearance from afar, it really only needed a little patience, elbow grease and love to bring it back to livable.
It didn't have electricity or running water, at least yet, but Dean had lived in worse. There was an old pump out the back for water and a wood stove that took care of the heating and cooking. Sam griped long and loud about the lack of a shower, especially when he had to make the two hour round trip to use the facilities in a tiny gym in town, making the drive every two days if he was able.
Dean just dunked himself in the river that cut around the farm and called it good. The weather was still warm enough that it wasn't a hardship but Dean had also stumbled across a large old style tub in the barn amongst the rusting farm equipment so when the temperature dipped enough he'd change tactics. If he was feeling charitable he'd even let Sam go second.
The farm house wasn't exactly big enough for him and Sam let alone any people they might need to put up once the students started trickling in so Dean set to the task of converting the barn into a passable dormitory. The accommodations would be a good way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, people not willing to rough it in a barn probably wouldn't be ready for the hunting lifestyle. More than once Sam and Dean had shared a sleeping bag under the stars on a night miserable enough that a barn would have seemed like the Ritz in comparison.
They'd only been there a total of three months, hadn't even felt ready enough to put out the word that they were hanging a shingle when Dean woke one morning and found two girls sitting on their porch steps. Dean had a battered coffee cup in hand and was almost delirious with the need for it. Sam had let the fire in the wood stove die down too much and it had taken forever to heat up again, let alone boil water for Dean's first cup. He didn't even feel the least bit bad dumping the rest and knocking the fire back out so Sam would have to start over when he finally dragged his big ass out of the bed they grudgingly shared because they hadn't yet had the opportunity to go shopping for themselves. They'd only so far gotten the essentials for the dormitory and neither one of them was willing to be relegated to a cot bed when a perfectly good, though musty-smelling, queen was on offer.
Dean at first thought maybe the girls were asleep, slumped together like exhausted kids at the end of a school day but they turned as one, heads craning over their shoulders when the porch wood creaked under Dean's feet and the screen door slapped closed with a tired sigh. They had large eyes, but maybe it only looked that way because their faces were gaunt, features a little sunken and a lot grubby. One girl had on an overlarge flannel, fingers not even showing out the end of the sleeves and the other was wearing what looked like a man's undershirt with the bottom knotted tight around her thin frame. They both had on jeans and scuffed boots.
"Can I help you?" Dean asked, not wanting to presume that the two girls who looked like they might snap in half in a strong breeze were there for he and Sam in particular. He was hoping for a broken down vehicle of some kind and a need to use their non-existent phone.
"My name's Bonnie Anders and this is my sister Rebecca. We came because there's stuff that's real out there that shouldn't be and it..." Bonnie's mouth had been a firm little line up until her sister let out a watery-sounding sniff and then it trembled and her eyes, impossibly big to begin with, grew large, round and more frighteningly, wet.
Dean mentally cursed Sam's lack of presence because he had always been better with the crying girls considering most of the time he was one. Dean had never really gotten the knack of sounding the right kind of sympathetic. He was more likely to say something that made things worse. When in doubt, he resorted to what had always worked for him, which was silence and a very serious nod of I'm right there with you, you can trust me.
It seemed to work because Bonnie visibly pulled it together and nodded back, using the sleeve of her flannel to wipe over her face.
They discovered the immortality thing because Sam died.
On a routine hunt just to get back into the swing of things he'd said, Sam was jogging back towards Dean through long grass and Dean was turning. Sam was saying something like, “Doubled back I think. I lost- ” and that’s when the bullet had clipped him. Sam lost the rest of the sentence in a surprised kind of choked-off bark and then he was down on his knees and pitching forward, swallowed by the knee-high growth.
All Dean was left with was a burning No.
Dean caught sight of two men coming fast through the grass and he vaguely recognized them. Father and son from the farm they’d stayed at while tracking the Black Dog they were hunting because Dean had insisted they start off with something easy. He and Sam had told them to stay out of it, they were professionals.
“I think I hit something,” the son was calling back to his father and Dean brought out the revolver he had tucked into the back of his jeans and aimed it at them. The father stopped before the boy did, too surprised to bring up his own rifle and Dean nearly pulled the trigger.
“Run away from me as fast as you can,” he had growled into the darkness and his hand had been trembling with the effort not to squeeze, to put cold iron between the boy’s brows.
He wasn't sure how he knew that Sam was dead, that Sam would be dead before he even reached him. It wasn't like in the movies, they weren't going to get to say their last goodbyes. Sam was face down, one arm thrown out, hand curled loosely, surrounding ground already soaked with blood. Dean had rolled and dragged him half over his lap, wiping the dirt and blood from Sam’s face with the tail of his shirt.
Some part of his brain registered that he was in shock, in shutdown, but the rest didn't care. He had one task and one task only and as he had slid his arms under Sam, under shoulders and knees and lifted, grunting with the strain, not caring that his shoulders and back would be on fire the next day.
“Don’t worry Sammy, I got you,” Dean had said with nothing left but the darkness to hear him.
There was only one place Dean had been able to think of to go and Bobby had stopped dead when he'd reached the top of his porch stairs.
“Don’t suppose you could give me a hand here?” Dean had called, not really waiting for Bobby to move as he manhandled Sam out of the Impala.
“Survives being choked by how many ghosts and he gets himself killed by a seventeen year old kid who can't tell the difference between a man and an over-sized canine from hell,” Dean had snorted, carefully trying not to notice the way Bobby was looking at him. If he had stopped, even for a second… no.
“Dean, kid -” Bobby had tried again but Dean had already been shoving past him into the cool depths of his house, Sam over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Dean had found the guest bedroom on the bottom floor and carefully lowered Sam onto the bed, wincing when Sam’s icy hand trailed the back of his neck on the way down. Dean had just been glad that the night was a mild one and Bobby’s place was only two hours away so Sam had been mostly still pliant.
He could do this.
“I saw something in the Key of Solomon I can use when we were cooling our heels after the accident,” Dean had said, tone eerily conversational. Bobby had followed him into the bedroom and had been staring at Sam with the beginnings of deep sorrow on his face so Dean had stepped sideways into his line of sight because if he saw anyone else’s grief then he might not have been able to…
“Anyway, I just need a few days to sort things out.”
One of Sam’s legs had jerked, kicking Dean in the back of the knee and Dean had nearly screamed. Bobby had slapped a hand over his own mouth, eyes too large and bright and Dean had pasted on a parody of a smile. “Jerk is a pushy bitch even when he’s dead,” Dean had said shakily. He knew he needed to get away from the shell that was Sam and wondered why when last time this had happened, Jesus, last time, he hadn't been able to bear leaving the room Sam had been laid out in but this time he couldn't get away fast enough.
“Dean, you’ve gotta stop for a second,” Bobby had implored, hand dropping away from his face and expression folding up again. Dean had snapped a fist into the door frame, the pain sharp, bright and immediate and dulling everything else.
“No, Bobby, because if I do…” Dean had felt burning in the back of his throat and he'd choked it, pressing the pads of his thumbs into his eyes briefly, trying to get control. “If I do then Sam will be gone and I can’t… I won’t…”
“Stop saying my name like that goddamit!” Dean had yelled, not caring for the way Bobby had flinched. “Just let him stay here. Just do that one thing for me,” and he’d been pleading then but he didn't care. He would've gotten down on his knees if it would have helped.
“Okay,” Bobby had said, nodding fast. “Okay, De-…okay.”
The next morning Dean had been shaken awake by Bobby, looking ashy-pale in the dawn light. "Just what the hell did you do?" Bobby had been demanding before Dean was even fully awake. He'd been yanked unceremoniously from bed by the collar of his t-shirt and dragged down the stairs to the kitchen to see Sam sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of fruit loops in front of him and a pensive look on his face.
Sam had looked up at Dean and Bobby's noisy entrance and said, "I had the weirdest dream."
Their next potential was a father who'd lost two sons so Dean almost took him in just on principal. Sam didn't, instead sending the guy on his way after a hot meal and an ear for his grief which was actually what he'd needed rather than a traveling vendetta.
"You always going to know when to send them packing?" Dean asked, watching Bonnie and Rebecca circle the farmhouse in laps from the back stairs. Dean was munching contentedly on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had started life as Sam's.
"Sometimes they'll know themselves," Sam said, drinking Dean's coffee because fair was fair. "Don't be surprised when some of them we take in just up and leave in the middle of the night without a word."
"That'll just be rude," Dean huffed, reaching to take his coffee back but Sam held it away and up, the long-armed freak of nature.
"They won't want to disappoint us," Sam said and then barked out a laugh mostly covered by his hand when Rebecca clipped the back of Bonnie's heel with a foot and sent the older sister sprawling into the dust. Bonnie managed to get a hand up and out in time to catch Rebecca by the ankle as she tried to skirt around her felled sister and then they were both on the ground, elbows and fists flying.
Of the two of them, surprisingly enough, Sam had turned out to be the disciplinarian so Dean turned to Sam, expecting him to bawl out the girls for goofing off. Instead he was watching them with an expression on his face that reminded Dean so strongly of their dad that he got cold all over.
Dean had seen that exact same expression on John's face whenever he and Sam were sparring, watching with a critical eye for flaws in their technique, even when they got a little exuberant and one of them ended up actually bleeding. When Dean couldn't stand it any longer he turned to the girls himself and yelled, "Quit it ya dumbasses!"
The girls rolled apart immediately and took up their run where they'd left off, Bonnie favoring her right leg and Rebecca touching her face every now and again like something definitely hurt.
"You shouldn't be encouraging that," Dean said, seeing that Sam's attention was back on his pilfered coffee.
"They've moved past grief and fear into anger. They gotta let off steam somehow."
"Not on each other."
"Fine. You wanna hold still long enough for them to use you as a human punching bag, feel free." Sam still wasn't looking at Dean, eyes having tracked from his cup to the fence at the end of their property line. "They gotta get a little of the violence out of their systems to have clear heads and they are in no way ready for a real hunt yet."
"Sometimes you worry me, Sam," Dean said and kept staring at Sam's jaw until his brother's gaze finally swung back his way. Sam could never resist meeting his eyes.
"Thought you would've gotten used to that by now."
Even when Dean's year was winding down and his contract with Lilith coming due, it had been easy to refuse when Sam had found the monster doctor who had artificially extended his life. Dean had never seen the attraction of an eternal existence and it wasn't just because the Winchesters seemed to have a self-destructive streak built into their genes a mile wide, as inescapable as Dean's freckles or Sam's moles.
The idea of everyone he'd ever known being dead within a few precious years had been beyond his comprehension. After Dean took a header off a building in Montana and came back just like Sam a little over twelve hours later, he realized that just maybe it was something he and Sam would have to think about.
Still, Dean has always managed to take the good with the bad and the very notion that he would never have to see Sam die...
Well, that just took the sting out of the whole concept.
Their little school had swelled in number by another three when Bobby came to check it out. He was out of the chair finally, although walking only with the assistance of two sticks and a lot of patience. Castiel had been able to scrape together enough grace after everything went down to put Bobby back on his feet, but barely.
Bobby passed a critical eye over the place and their five little students like a man looking over a used car. When he finally grunted and demanded a beer and a chair with some goddamn back support Dean took it as the only positive feedback they were going to get.
"You sure you know what you're doing?" Bobby asked over hamburgers, eyeballing the makeshift dormitory out the kitchen window.
"Do we ever?" Sam asked, nudging Dean's ankle with his foot under the table and smirking around his own beer.
The summer Dean was twenty-one Sam had shot up out of nowhere until he was annoyingly taller and more annoyingly smug about it. When they walked into town Sam would shrug his shirt off as soon as they were out of sight of their house while Dean had to suffer because instead of tanning he would just burn, freckle, blister, peel and repeat.
Dean was never sure how John kept finding the out of the way, off the map shitholes he did, but the town of Bega was a real prize even by John's stellar standards, a flat scrap of land from one end to the other. The residents were on water restrictions that year because it hadn't rained properly in months. Most school-aged kids attempted to escape both the heat and boredom in one of three places since the public pool had been forced to close down. There had been a small movie cinema showing decrepid copies of ancient movies, the library that Sam had taken to calling that place where books go that no decent library wants and the McDonalds which had been incongruously large for such a small population and had an overzealous parking lot that had maybe five cars in it ever, even at midday.
Dean and Sam had cycled through the three options together. One summer day they had been loitering outside the movie cinema, Sam with his Icee held against his forehead. For once the cinema had been playing something they had been willing to see, Rebel Without A Cause. Dean had been looking off down the road at some kids biking around an overturned trash can when something cold and wet had slid down his spine. Dean had turned to see Sam still holding his Icee straw aloft and grinning from ear to ear. "Dude, that better not have been in your mouth first," Dean had complained, arching away from the sticky sensation and the wall he'd been propped against. The Icee Sam had been working on was a violent blue color and Dean's shirt was white so the back had looked particularly spectacular.
Sam had laughed and danced away, abandoning the remains of his Icee to the sidewalk when Dean made a grab for Sam's clean shirt tucked into the front pocket of his jeans. Instead of getting his shirt, Dean's fingers had skated Sam's hip bone.
Dean had never seen the movie. Instead he had walked home with a sticky shirt and a horrified ball of shame sitting heavy in his stomach that for a second there...
He hadn't left Bega that day but many times, over the years, he had wished he had.
God he'd wished he had.
Six months after settling at Jim's farm, they got their first demon.
It wasn't a hunt. A demon had waltzed in, pretending to be a grieving mother who just wanted revenge. Dean didn't know what the Hell grapevine was like but obviously the bottom feeders had not exactly heard about Sam and Dean's very special passengers and something Dean had never really gotten used to was how he could see the demon, plain as day, through the guise of the human it was wearing.
When Hell had been close, a rabid dog licking at his heels, Dean had been able to see the demons through the hosts but his mind had shied away from the image he could see, only really getting a corner glimpse of the true horror underneath. Lucifer seemed to both make him be able to comprehend what he was seeing and also shield him from it. The true face of a demon was terrible but only because it was so alien, no common features with the human it was wearing. Their faces were ever-shifting, pain, fear and madness made physical.
They'd let the demon in and then bound it in the pantry with a devil's trap made of tar and salt on the ceiling, an old trick but still effective. Dean made sure to liberate the coffee and most of the perishables before they had Bonnie banish the demon back to whatever pit it had crawled out of, Sam making the others watch just to make sure they still had the stomach for it. Cybil, a girl Bonnie's age who had been wavering already, left that afternoon. At the end of the day the people that remained were Peter, a forty year-old travelling salesmen, Archie who was fifteen and lost six sisters and his widowed mother to the angry spirit of his father, Gwen whose fiancee had turned out to be a werewolf and not the kind interested in being locked up three nights a month and of course, Rebecca and Bonnie.
"Might've been bad luck," Sam mused later that night as he tried to pry some of the blanket from under Dean's body. He flicked the woman's purse open briefly, checking the driver's license and said, "Maybe Gloria was on her way here when the demon jumped her."
"Yeah, or maybe some evil sons of bitches know we've set up shop and don't like it," Dean countered. He rubbed a hand over his face and dug his elbow into Sam's side when Sam tried to actually roll him to get at the covers. "I just wish..."
"She'd still been alive when she got here?" Sam presumed and Dean nodded, knowing that even though it was dark he wouldn't need for Sam to see the gesture to know he'd done it.
"Might've been nice to have a win our first time out."
What's probably the most unsettling thing about the whole business is that while Lucifer squatted in Dean like a naughty child in a corner, not making a peep, it was Michael who brought on the nightmares, making Sam edgy and sometimes unreasonable.
Barstool was a weird name for a person, but then Barstool was a weird little guy who turned up at the farm with a beat up suitcase under one arm and a really bedraggled looking puppy named Porkchop under the other. He had an accent that wandered all fifty states and sometimes crossed the ocean into England on occasion but never really settled.
Dean liked him immediately.
Barstool didn't want to hunt, didn't want to kill things, but he wanted to help, said ever since he found out there were other things in the world that he'd wanted to do something but being handy with a kitchen knife didn't translate to being handy with anything else. He made a home for himself, converting a shed they'd been thinking about stowing weapons into as a room for him and Porkchop and even though Sam grumbled about not wanting to take on a staff, Barstool quickly made himself invaluable and his easy and open manner endeared him.
Dean was left really hoping he wouldn't turn out to be evil.
Being a little off-center and never backward in coming forward, it was Barstool who first asked about him and Sam, something Dean supposed everyone wanted to ask because stories about the Winchesters had become wild in the extreme and one of Dean's favorites was that Winchester was an assumed name, a hallmark passed from one generation to the next like they were the Dread Pirate Roberts or something.
Barstool was smoking and Dean had bummed one, savoring it because despite the little immortality thing they had going on Sam still gave him the face if he smoked. Sam was out with the recruits though, running drills in the paddock at the bottom of the property and so Dean had a lungful to almost choke on when Barstool said, "No one cares that you and Sam are together, in case you were being discreet for our benefit."
Dean managed, through burnt throat and streaming eyes to choke out, "What?"
"Don't get me wrong, I heard you were brothers before I got here but it's clear it's just one of those things. Hell, you don't even look that similar. Crazy the stuff people will come up with to make a story more interestin'."
Dean opened his mouth to say, of course we're brothers but it stuck in his throat like the smoke and burned almost as much. Dean knew it was all on him when people looked at he and Sam and said, huh, and it was unfair on Sam to let them keep thinking that but some small, selfish part of Dean clamped down and wouldn't let the truth out. Barstool interpreted the silence to suit what he wanted to hear which people often did and nodded. "Number of times I see you meaning to touch him or him meaning to touch you and stopping yourselves is probably worse than any overt display of affection I ever seen," Barstool said and got up, stretching until his back popped. "You in the mood for peach or cherry pie?"
Dean answered the way Barstool had come to expect him to when he said both and Barstool chuckled and moved inside the farm house. Dean was left staring at his boots, knowing that he definitely curbed his impulses when it came to Sam but wondering if the same was true for Sam. Since that one time long ago, Dean had never actually done anything and he hated the idea that Sam was holding himself away, like perhaps if he didn't do anything that Dean could misintepret then they wouldn't be back at that awkward place again where Dean was leaning forward and Sam was leaning back.
Dean added to his mental tally a downside for immortality; that he and Sam had plenty of time to get around to topics he would just rather were never broached.
Dean had died twice and Sam five times by accident or misfortune before they finally contemplated doing it on purpose.
Despite having ended, or more accurately having stalled out the apocalypse, there was still the small matter of the human authorities having them on numerous state and federal wanted lists. It sounded perfectly logical when Sam proposed that they go out in a bloody and more importantly public way to resolve the issue of still having to look over their shoulders whenever a local beat cop walked into a diner they were eating at. Dean knew there was a task force dedicated to them still thanks to Bobby so it was really something they had to resolve but Dean hadn't been able to shake the sick horror he felt every time Sam bought it because every time he was sure it was the time Michael would have found a way to slip free, leaving Sam behind, nothing more than a cooling corpse.
Sam took the decision out of Dean's hands when he called the feds with an anonymous tip and had their motel surrounded. Sam was about to stroll outside, guns blazing so the cops would have to respond in kind when Dean snagged the back of his jacket. "Hang on a sec."
"Dean, we talked about this," Sam said, sounding both exasperated and affectionate. They rock/paper/scissored to decide who would go first and as usual Sam had won and so didn't have to watch Dean getting shot full of holes. He had also griped about having to watch Dean repeatedly die in every configuration possible under the trickster's influence and he didn't need one more version of it to add to the mental collection.
"What if they shoot something off?" Dean asked, and when Sam frowned he rushed to add, "I mean, we've come back from dying but we don't know if we can grow stuff back, right?"
Sam smacked the hand not holding his shotgun over his face. "You're just thinking of this now?"
"My brain belches this stuff up when I'm under pressure," Dean said, shrugging. "You're the one who is supposed to think of downsides when we're in the planning stages and, you know, not at point of no return."
Sam leaned down until he could peek out at the assembled force outside through the motel room window and then looked back at Dean, exasperation definitely having taken over affection on his face. "Now I'm worried they're going to shoot my cock off," Sam grumbled.
"I was thinking arm or leg but dammit Sammy, now so am I," Dean groaned.
Dean always explained, as best he could, to the new recruits about Sam's nightmares. He called them night terrors, said if anyone had gone through what they'd gone through they'd have them too but Sam still got nervous, dark-eyed looks from everyone except Barstool after an especially bad night. Dean thought it a little unfair that despite everything, what they thought they knew and the risks they weighed up when they'd first even entertained the idea of playing a game of switcheroo on the angels, Sam still got the rough end of the deal, still ended up with the shitty end of the stick even when Dean ended up with the devil inside.
Sam tried the holistic approach at first, trying to meditate and relax his way into Michael calming the hell down but it didn't work. The only decent sleep Sam got was when he was exhausted, and the only way Sam got truly exhausted was after a good old-fashioned hunt. Bobby and an ever-expanding network of hunters who would have put Sam down like a dog once upon a time kept them appraised of the easy hunts, the ones that wouldn't draw attention and Dean would drag them off to a salt and burn whenever he was able.
He knew Sam missed the research side of everything but it was nice to get to a place, know what needed to get done and just do it.
The last couple of hunts, the sisters had been nagging to go along but Dean always said next one for sure. He knew that wasn't gonna hold water forever, knew he was going to have to let his baby birds fall out of the nest at some point but he wasn't quite ready and Sam humored him. He was also pretty sure Sam liked the time they got to spend by themselves, just like the old days, nothing but the road, the car and them.
It was a routine haunting and they knew where the bones were buried but it still ended up being one hell of a clusterfuck. Later, Dean would ponder the idea that their edges had dulled, getting lazy and out of condition because so far as they knew they couldn't actually die but was no excuse for not being careful. Sam got thrown into a stand of trees that surrounded the little town cemetery they'd ended up at and one of the branches opened his belly like a fish. He was holding his guts in and groaning, there was a stink in the air that Dean would never forget and for the first time Sam actually asked Dean to kill him.
"What the fuck, Sammy?" Dean grated, trying to replace Sam's hands with his own because even though he knew Sam's body will eventually heal, knit new like nothing ever happened, he couldn't ever help trying to fix it when Sam was hurt. Sam groused every time he had to put up with stitches and the painful kind of disinfectant because he was right that only twelve hours later they were unnecessary. Didn't make any difference though, Dean insisted, every time.
It was the one bit of normal he could hold onto.
"Dean, I can't... the pain," Sam groaned, his feet digging grooves into the dirt under his heels. Dean's eyes fixed on those struggling feet, clad in sneakers Bonnie drew purple stars on before they had left.
"Sammy..." Dean choked out because what Sam was asking of him was horrific. Sam's struggles weakened but Dean knew a person could linger for hours depending on the type of gut wound. Dean breathed deep, searing that smell down to a deeper place and then raised one hand to Sam's face. He passed a shaking hand over Sam's temple and down his cheek before finally coming to rest over his mouth, thumb and index finger pinching Sam's nose shut.
Sam acquiesced at first, eyes wide and thankful but right at the last his body took over, recognizing the deprivation of oxygen and kicking into survival mode, primitive brain taking over logical. Tears burned in Dean's eyes as Sam bucked, Sam's hands coming up to claw at Dean's even though he held on fast and pushed down harder, pushing down always easier than pulling up.
Sam's whole back bowed and his feet drummed and then everything stopped as Sam's hands fell away and to the sides with dull thumps. Dean couldn't let go for a second, having had to exert so hard that his hand cramped when he tried and he let out a pained cry, finally ripping his hand away and scuttling backwards.
It was fortunate that the cemetery was a rarely-visited one because Dean sat cross-legged, holding Sam's wrist with his fingers right up until the next afternoon when he got the first flutter of a pulse. When Sam sat up, groggy and a little disoriented, Dean let him get all the way to his feet before he punched him.
Sam went down with a squawk of protest and Dean stalked away, getting into the car and waiting for Sam to pick himself up and follow. When Sam did eventually, he didn't even ask what the punch was for, because he already knew.
"I won't do that again," Dean said grimly and Sam nodded. Dean couldn't face Sam yet but he could feel Sam's gaze on the side of his face. "I won't."
"Okay Dean, okay," Sam agreed.
They'd left Bega behind them by two months when Dean almost kissed Sam.
Almost because right at the crucial second, when Dean leaned in, Sam leaned away.
Sam had tried to dissect every awkward or potentially uncomfortable moment in their whole existence up till that moment but he left that one alone, they never talked about it. Dean was kind of glad that Sam was willing to forget it but a month after that moment, Sam had packed a bag and left for Stanford. Dean liked to believe that the almost-kiss wasn't a deciding factor in Sam's ultimate abandonment but somewhere deep down he knew.
Sam didn't just leave the life that day, he left Dean.
"What are you doing?"
Dean looked over his shoulder at Sam who was hovering in their bedroom doorway with his eyebrows raised. Dean looked back at the mess he'd been making and shrugged. "Isn't it obvious?"
"Well, it looks like you're sawing our bed in half but that can't be it because that's insane," Sam said with a raised eyebrow.
Dean gestured at the mattress which was propped up against the wall and then at the disassembled pieces of wood scattered about. "Just the frame."
"Just the... Dean, what are you doing?"
"We were going to have to get singles eventually because this room isn't big enough for two queens. I'm just saving us some money," Dean hedged, trying to fight the urge to let his shoulders creep up around his ears which always happens when he felt defensive. Sam was looking completely exasperated and perplexed but what Barstool had said had been plaguing Dean, how Dean was obviously making Sam uncomfortable. He hated to think of Sam, curled into himself and miserable, sharing a bed with someone who he wasn't sure wouldn't try something in the dead of night. Intellectually he knew Sam probably wouldn't assume that Dean would but Dean wasn't so sure himself. The night before, Sam's broad expanse of back had been almost too much of a temptation, something to reach out and run his palms down, a firm sweep of hand.
Dean had always been a big believer in removing temptation rather than resisting it, taking it out of the equation altogether.
Dean felt like enough of a creeper as it was.
"Unless... did you want to convert the living room into another bedroom?" Dean asked. He'd always slept better in the same room as Sam but again, he couldn't really say the same for Sam. "I mean, we can convert some of the dormitory into living space and we can just use this for cooking and sleeping-"
"Dean, what are you doing?" Sam asked again, stuck on the same question like a skipping record. He passed into the room and knelt by Dean, removing the saw from his hands and brushing wood chips from Dean's shoulders. Sam's gaze flitted like a bird for a second, unsure where to land but then his eyes went large and round and his lips turned down. "Did... did I do something?"
"What? No! What could you have done?" Dean asked, completely mystified. Sam had edged away, closing off and Dean reached out for him instinctively, reeling him back in, pushing at Sam's angles and defensiveness until Sam was slumped against him. There was a part of him that believed it was a selfish thing to do, him just taking the contact he'd been craving when Sam was obviously vulnerable, but he was also sure that Sam was reaching out for him just as hard. "I thought this would be what you wanted."
"Why would I want this?" Sam asked, voice small and young-sounding.
"Because... because you're stuck with me and I'm just trying to make things easier for the both of us."
Sam pulled away now, brows drawn together and bottom lip wedged between his teeth. "What's that supposed to mean?" he finally asked.
"I know you left because of what I did and I-" Dean put a hand up when Sam opened his mouth to interrupt. "I know that you did and I don't blame you at all for that. I know it's hard on you to stay with me considering -" Dean's rambling was cut off when Sam leaned forward and mashed their mouths together, palm coming up to grab at the back of Dean's head and keep him where he was when Dean automatically tried to pull away. He only released Dean and moved away when Dean finally relented and started to kiss Sam back.
"You're an idiot."
"Excuse me?" Dean spluttered, a little taken aback and a lot flustered.
"Have you been thinking this shit for a long time?"
"Sam you... you leaned away," Dean pointed out and knew without further explanation Sam would get what he was referring to specifically.
"Oh my God Dean, I was seventeen and you surprised the hell out of me. I'd spent a year or maybe more thinking I was severely fucked in the head to even... want that and out of nowhere you just..." Sam let out a frustrated huff and stood, pacing the small floor space before circling back to Dean and knocking him gently on the forehead with his knuckles. "I was pretty sure by that point that you would do anything for me and y'know... maybe even that." Sam's gaze cut down and away now. "Even if you didn't particularly want to."
"And you call me an idiot," Dean said, exasperated.
"Yeah, because maybe I thought you'd freaked yourself out. You never so much as mentioned it afterward."
"If you haven't noticed Sam, of the two of us I'm not the big talker." Dean stood as well, swinging his arms at his sides, not really sure what to do with the impulse to reel Sam back in to him even though it looked like maybe, just maybe, he would be allowed. "Plus, you left."
"I knew I was going to leave already. I thought maybe you'd figured it out and that's why..." Sam shrugged helplessly then and grimaced, a look at how crossed our wires got kind of expression. "This is why we should talk about stuff. Outside of hunting, I think we're terrible at reading each other's signals."
"Maybe," Dean agreed and did reach out then, snagged one of Sam's belt loops with a finger and tugged him forward.
A while after they'd started up their little school, when their number had swelled to twenty-five and they'd had to add an extension onto the dormitory, Castiel showed up.
Dean wasn't actually sure what he was expecting after everything went down in regards to Castiel. The angel had burned a lot of his power and earned a lot of enemies in the fight and it didn't help that he'd chosen to side with the humans when it came down to it. Dean didn't really see Castiel living in a spare room or traveling around with them in the Impala for the long haul but being earth bound, he'd at least thought they would see Castiel more often.
Castiel appeared out of nowhere but not exactly like he used to. Instead of popping into existence in the middle of the night, Castiel merely walked up to the main house, like he was out for a stroll and not approaching somewhere that was miles from anything. He was wearing faded jeans, an old Bon Jovi tour t-shirt and battered converse.
Castiel looked, for lack of a better description, lived in.
The only thing about Castiel's ensemble that was new was a back pack he wore and he swung it off his shoulder as he approached, on a rare day when the only person actually on the property was Dean. He was digging into it as his foot hit the bottom step of the porch, Dean watching him with a raised eyebrow. "Thought you might like this," Castiel said instead of a greeting and Dean accepted the awkward bundle that was thrust at him which he fumbled for a moment before working out what it was.
It was an old-style portable tape player. Dean hadn't seen one in years, let alone something that was a dead-ringer for one he'd had when he was fourteen, bright yellow with a set of headphones that would sit perched outside your ears instead of in.
"Long time no see," Dean commented and Castiel hmm'ed in agreement, pausing outside the screen door that led into Dean and Sam's house, face expectant. Dean leaned sideways and snagged the door, opening it and Castiel breezed through after a small pause and a haughty glance that reminded Dean of a cat.
Castiel went straight from their fridge and made a happy sound when he unearthed a coke from its depths, only turning and looking at Dean straight on once he'd drained half the bottle in one go. "I do like soda," he said, nodding at it agreeably as if it could appreciate his appreciation.
"Is there something up?" Dean asked when the silence between them was verging on the awkward.
"Yes," Castiel said and nodded but didn't offer anything more. Dean waited a beat before finally making a well? gesture with his hands. Castiel frowned for a moment, looking puzzled before his face cleared. "Oh right, no," he said quickly. "I mean yes, something is up but not in regards to you."
"What the hell does that mean?" Dean snapped and Castiel blinked at him.
"I think the expression is, the torch has been passed," Castiel said. "There is something brewing but you and Sam are no longer central figures."
"We're not?" Dean asked, not knowing whether to feel rejected or relieved. Castiel was busy tapping the fridge open again and relieving it of the final coke. Dean clamped his mouth down on a smirk because Sam was a girl and saved anything he had that was sweet and would be pissed that his soda supply had been stolen.
"I mean yes, you've had a part to play in training them, but this one, it's not your fight," Castiel elaborated.
"You're here for one of our students?"
Castiel held up a hand, two fingers in a victory sign. "The sisters," he said and shrugged. "There must be something about siblings..."
"Dean," Castiel said, voice mild. "Your inning is done. It's time to send someone out to pitch."
"Stop trying to use sports metaphors," Dean said, holding up his hands. "It's making my head hurt."
"This is not your fight," Castiel repeated.
"And it's yours? I thought you were the angel equivalent of retired?" Dean prompted and Castiel sighed.
"It seems not."
"Well, tell me what's up then."
Castiel looked at Dean steadily for a long time, longer than Dean was comfortable with and then shook his head slowly. Dean opened his mouth, ready to argue but Sam chose that moment to clomp through the door, toeing dirt-caked boots off and shaking leaves out of his hair. "Hey," Sam said and Dean startled, looking from Sam and back to the place Castiel had been up until a moment ago. Dean frowned and resisted the urge to pass his hands through the air where Castiel had been.
"How'd it go?" Dean asked automatically, still not able to take his eyes from the place Castiel had been standing.
"Went okay," Sam said, crossing to the fridge and opening it. He shuffled things around for a while before looking up at Dean with an exasperated expression. "Did you drink my coke?"
Dean chewed on his lip for a moment, clenching his fists around the Walkman in his hands, torn whether or not to tell Sam about their visitor.
The thing was, Sam's nightmares had either been getting better or he'd been getting better at hiding them. The purple bruising under his eyes was fading and for the first time in their lives Sam looked not exactly happy, but definitely content. Dean liked to think that happy wasn't too far off, that because the land had been swept clear between them they would get there eventually. Their life was far from ideal, and Dean really didn't know how it was going to play out considering they looked to be permanent fixtures of the ol' mortal coil, but he could see how their particular predicament might have removed them, retired them from the game.
Strangely enough, that old itch to fight and claw and scratch through life had been leaving Dean, probably the same way Sam had been settling. They had found a rhythm, an equilibrium and maybe it was time to pass the torch as Castiel had put it. Dean hadn't thought he'd been built to sit on the bench but looking at Sam in their kitchen, morning sun slanting across Sam's features and softening his face even if he was wearing a pissed off scowl, Dean felt such an all-encompassing love for Sam that it muted everything else. Made everything else background noise.
Dean had always been looking for a reason to exist, to keep going and it was here, with Sam.
Always had been.
"Yep," Dean answered, popping his lips on the 'p' and grinning.
This was enough.
Turned out, always had been.