Purest of Motives
"Dean!" Sam shouted, grabbing his brother’s arms, trying to pull them away from the older hunter, who was turning an interesting shade of red. "Let him go!"
Frustrated that he couldn't seem to penetrate Dean's fog, and very well aware that he was running out of time, Sam cried out his anger and shoved at his brother as hard as he could.
It was like someone flipped a switch. One minute Bobby was desperately trying to dislodge Dean's hands, the next he was on his knees, gasping, while the young hunter appeared to be unconscious.
"Bobby! Are you okay?" Sam asked, even as he knelt next to check his brother’s pulse.
"I'm fine," Bobby croaked. "How is he?"
"His pulse is a little fast, but his breathing is steady. He's never done this before." Sam moved his hand to cup Dean's cheek, trying to wake him gently. Instead, he frowned. "He's feverish."
"Has that happened before?" Bobby asked, his voice still raspy, but his concern taking over his own discomfort.
"No." The one word answer was clipped as worry for his brother took over Sam's interest in analyzing the situation. Whatever was happening to Dean was obviously getting worse. Damn his brother for not telling him sooner!
He felt the muscle spasm under his hand and looked up to see Dean blinking, as though the light hurt his eyes too much to keep them open. "Dean?"
"Sammy? What the hell?" Dean asked, trying pushing himself upright, immediately regretting it as the room spun. He settled back onto the floor.
"Easy there," Bobby called. "Don't let him up too fast."
Sam nodded, and saw Dean take in his surroundings, his green eyes sharp and focused at last. He watched as a frown formed.
"Bobby? What are you doing on the floor? Did something attack us?" His eyes widening in horror, Dean pushed up against Sam's restraining hand, sitting up and latching onto his brother’s arm. "Sam? Are you okay?"
"What do you remember?" Sam asked, avoiding the question. No, he wasn't okay. And he wouldn't be until they figured out what was happening to his older brother.
"I was tuning my girl, then came inside for a cold beer." But he wouldn't meet Sam's eyes.
"Nothing else?" Sam hinted, knowing his brother well enough to know that something was niggling at him, something he couldn't quite put his finger on, and was therefore willing to push it aside until later.
Dean shook his head slightly, being careful not to shake too hard. He was still dizzy, and the room hadn't yet decided to settle into one place. He did a mental inventory. He had a massive headache blossoming, and his muscles ached the way they sometimes did after a fight. His hands were cramping too, as if he'd had a death grip on something.
Looking at Bobby, who was only now slowly pushing himself to his feet, Dean saw the red marks around the man's neck. It didn't take a genius to add everything up. They'd been attacked, all right, but not by any monster. By him. Why? Was he possessed? Would that explain the lost time? The blackouts? The weird dreams?
"Sam," he started slowly, raking his eyes over his brother. "Are you sure you're all right?" He didn't think he'd hurt his brother, but if it was a demon possessing him, then he wanted to be sure.
Sam nodded. "I'm fine, Dean. A little worried about you, actually."
Dean looked back and forth between the two of them. Their expressions were of concern, and Sam especially seemed more than a little freaked. Eager to soothe them both, Dean for once found himself without any way to do it. He couldn't muster up a joke, at the moment, not if he had been the one to hurt Bobby. "Help me up, Sammy, then I'll grab an icepack for Bobby's neck. You guys can explain what happened."
Sam did as he was asked, despite his instincts that Dean should stay lying down for a few more minutes. He'd carefully checked for signs of a concussion since Dean had hit the floor pretty hard, but had found none. The warmth he had felt earlier seemed to be dissipating quickly. He watched as his brother disappeared down the hall to the bathroom.
"Do you think he really doesn't know?" Bobby asked, drawing Sam's eyes away from his brother's back.
"I don't know. He knows something is up, and I think he made the connection that he hurt you somehow. But he doesn't have all the pieces yet, so he won't mention it. As guilty as he feels about what happened to you, he won't admit to anything until it becomes a danger on the job," Sam growled bitterly.
Bobby's expression softened. "He's only trying to protect you," he pointed out.
"No, selling his soul to bring me back, that I'll allow under the 'Protect Sam' Banner. Not telling me something is wrong is just Dean being stubborn. Bobby, he attacked you! I've only ever seen him move that fast on a hunt," Sam huffed. "And only when we're in danger."
Bobby wisely kept his opinion to himself. For all of Sam's devotion to his brother, he just wouldn't allow himself to see the truth. Lost as he was, Dean's first reaction had been to eliminate the perceived threat, not to himself, but to his brother. John Winchester had well and truly screwed his oldest son. Dean's conditioning ran deeper than even he had suspected. Deep enough to overcome whatever spell or hex currently had Dean in its grip.
"Dean, maybe you should lie down for a while," Sam suggested as his brother returned with the promised ice pack.
"Dude, lay off. I'm fine. What the hell happened?"
Bobby took the pack and carefully placed it around his neck, feeling how deep the bruising would be by tomorrow. "You came in for a beer, and didn't come back out. When I came to find you, you were staring off into space. You wouldn't react, even to Sam."
Dean frowned. "So how did that happen?" He gestured absently at the older hunter, but still refused to meet his eyes.
"For some reason, you decided Bobby was the enemy," Sam took up. "You moved so fast I didn't have a chance to stop you. Then you passed out, and when you woke up, the trance was over."
Dean shook his head. "There has to be something more. Bobby's family. I wouldn't have attacked him unless I-" he stopped as his eyes widened. Noticing Sam's curious expression, and feeling uncomfortable under Bobby's knowing look, he cleared his throat. "So, am I possessed, or what? I don't feel possessed."
"We don't know. We could try an exorcism, but I doubt it would do any good. This looks more like a hex. Sam says you haven't come up against witches lately, though."
Dean shrugged. "That doesn't mean one didn't target me. I mean, come on, we've pissed off a lot of big bads in our day. It's not outside the realm of possibility."
"Then why not target me too?" Sam pointed out.
Dean grinned and slapped his brother on the shoulder. "It's the puppy eyes, Sammy. All natural protection from anything female."
Bobby rolled his eyes and walked away from the now bickering brothers. Those boys would be the death of him one of these days, he was sure of it. Once out of sight, he allowed himself a sad smile. He wouldn't have it any other way, but fuck if it didn't come with a heavy price tag.
Dean groaned to himself as he felt his brother’s eyes on him again. It was getting damned irritating, having Sam and Bobby keeping such close tabs on him. Hell, he couldn't even go out into the yard without feeling their eyes on him.
And the Impala was running out of things to tune. He'd already disassembled, cleaned and rebuilt her engine, and her under carriage was as smooth as skin. He couldn't stay out here hiding from them for much longer. A fact he suspected they knew.
He ran a tired hand over his face, not caring about the grease that smeared as he did so. Okay, so yeah, he'd been acting a little weird lately, but Sam and Bobby had both tried every anti-hex mix they could either think of or discover. He'd had more gross concoctions poured down his throat in the last two days then he even wanted to think about. It was time for this to end.
Grabbing a rag to wipe his hands, he called out to his younger brother, knowing Sam was, as always lately, within earshot. He had to hide his annoyance as Sam obediently came outside to meet him.
"Man, we've been sitting here for a while. I think it's time to get back to work. The Impala is as right as she's ever gonna be, and I'm growing roots," Dean huffed, unable to hide his true frustration at their immobility.
Sam hesitated. "Dean, look, I know it sucks, but we need to figure out what's going on with you."
"I just told you what's going on with me. I'm gonna lose my edge if we stay here playing happy family for much longer. You said you needed a break, and you had it. Now it's time to go," Dean insisted.
"Dean-" Sam tried again, knowing it was already a lost battle.
Dean slammed down the rag. "No, Sammy, not this time. Find us a hunt," he ordered, moving away before Sam had a chance to object again.
Sam watched him enter the house, chewing his bottom lip. He had known this was coming. It just wasn't in Dean to stay somewhere for so long with no purpose. He had latched on to the car, but now that it was done, there was nothing left. His brother had given him a chance to find out what was going on, and he had now run out of time.
Frustrated, Sam entered the house and turned on his computer, listening as he heard the shower running. They weren't ready for this, and he knew it. But no force on earth was going to convince his brother of that.
Bobby walked in and found Sam frowning at his laptop, as though he well and truly wanted to kill it, viciously stabbing at the keys. He shook his head as he approached. "So he's laid it down, has he?"
Sam looked up. "He wants us back in the game."
"Well, son, you tried. It took longer than I thought it would have. At least that's something."
"Bobby, you can't seriously agree with him? We still don't know what's wrong with him, or how to fix it. Going on a hunt now is stupid and dangerous. Neither of which, under normal circumstances, Dean usually is," Sam growled. "It just proves he's not ready for this."
"Men like him and your Daddy, Sam, they can't be pinned down for long. Especially since Dean's clock is ticking. He gave you the time he could, and it wasn't enough. No point in fighting it. You'll never win," Bobby shrugged. It was a lesson he had learned the hard way, long ago.
"I have to. He definitely won't," Sam muttered bitterly.
"Sam, Dean can't fight for himself. He doesn't know how. And if you haven't figured that much out for yourself by now, then you need to ask yourself just what it is you're fighting for!"
Stunned at the unexpected rebuke, Sam blinked. "Bobby-"
"Listen to me! It's men like him that are gonna win this war, because theirs is a motive more pure than revenge or guilt. For those few, it comes down to what's right, and what's wrong. Sitting here wasting what little time he has left when he could be out there making sure he takes as many of those rat bastards with him as he can is wrong."
"I know that, Bobby, but he has to look after himself, first," Sam insisted.
"Well that won't happen, Sam. And there's no point in wishing it different. When you died, it shattered what little was left of him. Those eyes of his, they'll haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. Getting you back gave him life again, gave him a purpose. We may not like it, and it may be plain scary to know, but it is what it is, and we just have to accept that."
"I don't want to accept it," Sam hissed.
Bobby reached over and placed his hand on the boys shoulder, his tight grip making the younger man wince. "For once, Sam, just this once, it's not about what you want. It's about what he needs. It's about damn time someone took that into account."
He let go and huffed into the kitchen, bracing his arms on the sink. Looking up, he shook his head. "That boy deserves better than what you set him up for, John, and you'd better hope it doesn't destroy them both!" he growled.
"You're kidding me, right? That's the best you could come up with?" Dean asked incredulously, looking over the papers Sam had given him on his return from the shower.
"We've looked into less," Sam insisted. He'd given Bobby's uncharacteristically long speech a lot of thought, and decided he was right. Dean was going stir crazy. But he needed time to get to the bottom of what was happening with his brother. They couldn't do that if they were caught up in their typical hack and slash. So he'd gone looking with two set criteria in mind. One, that it was close. Two, that it needed more investigation then their usual salt and burn solution.
" 'Victim was found exsanguinated in their home residence at approximately seven am. Police have no leads, and are holding the autopsy results until the victim's family can be notified'. Okay, so a vampire."
Sam shook his head. "Nope. I hacked a copy of the police report. There wasn't a mark on the body."
Dean frowned. "How the hell does someone end up completely drained of blood without a mark?"
"You said you wanted a hunt."
"Dude, in a town called Faith?"
Sam nodded. "Population of less than 500 people. It's ranch land, lots of cattle and sheep. I've looked back over the years, and there have been five murders, all unsolved, all the same MO, in the past five years. Two years before those, there was a rash of cattle mutilations with similar results."
"But, come on- Really?"
Sam shrugged. "We could always stay here."
Dean threw the file back at him. "Pack up. We leave in the morning. Faith. Huh!" His mutterings followed him out of the house as he went to give the Impala one last check over.
Sam looked over to where Bobby was standing, shaking his head. "I know what you're trying to do, Sam, but the two of you will have this one in the bag in a week."
"Then that gives me one more week to work with. I'll take it. Bobby, about earlier-"
"No need to apologize, boy. Just keep it in mind. Hunting isn't about revenge for him, like it is for the rest of us. It's a part of who he is. Don't try to understand it, you can't. No more than he can understand why we need a motive to do what we do. Just accept it."
Sam nodded, turning back to the file he had put together, but found his mind wandering, going over what Bobby had said. It was true, he thought. Every Hunter got into the business somehow, usually for revenge over the death of a loved one. So where did that leave Dean? He had never shared their father's obsession over the demon that had killed their mother, nor Sam's over Jess's death. He had been programmed, like a missile, to seek out and destroy this particular demon. And had done so with a cold efficiency that would leave most military commanders panting for a soldier like that.
The words he had spoken, 'this is for our mother', had been the end of a quest that had never really been Dean's to begin with, despite the fact he had been the one to end it. Azazel had been a large shadow looming over their family, and in Dean's eyes, his greatest sin had been to cause those few he held dear pain. For that, Dean hated. Because it was evil, Dean hated. Because what it had done to his brother was wrong, Dean hated. Hated, but never obsessed, never willing to sacrifice any and all to achieve its end.
Sam remembered their conversation the night they had ended, and started, the battle of their lives.
"Come on, Sammy, would you please celebrate a little? We just killed the big bad of our lives. Mission accomplished. Can't you even crack a smile?"
"At what cost, Dean? Your soul? You think it was an even trade?" Sam growled. He understood his brother’s feelings. The crusade that had been the center of their entire lives was finally over. But now he had a new mission. He had to save his brother.
"Yeah, Sammy, it was," Dean replied calmly. His blackened soul for his brother’s life? Yep. Easiest deal he ever made. "I'm sorry you don't see that. But, it's done. There's no going back."
"Would you, even if you could?" Sam spit out, knowing the answer. Of course not. Not if it meant Sam losing his life. At the moment, he very much hated his brother for that knowledge.
They drove in silence for a while, before Dean pulled over to the side of the road.
"What are you doing?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing. You told me once, Sammy, that when this was all over, you'd go back to school. Well, it's over. Ole Yellow Eyes is dead. So do I take the next exit?" Dean asked seriously.
Sam's eyes near bugged out of his head. "Dean, you know I can't do that!"
"Why not? It's over. Your vendetta is realized. Jess can rest in peace now, and so can our parents. Dad scrapped his way out of Hell to make sure it happened. Your life is your own now. So, I'll ask again. What are you doing?"
"I'm going to find a way out of this deal, Dean, that's what I'm doing. I'm going to save your ass, and then kick it for putting yourself in that position to begin with," Sam promised.
Dean's expression was sad as he looked at his brother. "So it's another quest, is it? Another obsession? It's not going to work, Sam. This life will destroy you if you don't have a better reason than that. You said yourself, you're not one of us. I believe that. Take the peace that's being offered, because it won't come around again."
"No. This is it. Decision time. Either you're a Hunter or you're Mr. Normal-apple-pie-life. You can't be both, you'll rip yourself apart."
"I can be whoever I want to be, Dean," Sam hissed, angry that his brother had targeted a little too close to home.
"Yeah, you can," Dean answered quietly. "And now you need to decide who that is."
Sam remembered that Dean had driven out again without waiting for an answer, as if he had known what it would be. The conversation hadn't come up again, but Sam had acknowledged the truth, if only to himself. Even without Dean's deal, he couldn't be joe college again. He'd seen and done too much. Lost too much. He wasn't that guy anymore. Could never be again.
Whether he liked it or not, he was a Hunter. Always had been, he'd just refused to see it. But his brother had. And had forced him to face it. It had taken him a long time to forgive Dean for that.