Chapter 4. Brother and Layer
4. Brother and Layer
Mary sat on the bed of her room, with her back against the headboard, as John affectionately caressed her belly. Both of them had tears in their eyes, but they were tears of joy. Laughing and crying at the same time, Dean's parents looked happier than ever, more in love than ever. At least more than any other time Dean could remember.
"It's a boy," Mary whispered, her voice shaky. "Can you believe it?"
With a rapturous smile on his face, John placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and then on her belly.
"Oh, Mary. I love you so much."
"A little boy, John…"
Mary laughed softly and ran a hand through her husband's dark hair while he rested his head on her lap. John gave a satisfied sigh and mused aloud.
"He'll be strong. You'll see. I'll teach him how to protect himself, and those he loves."
"Oh, John..." Mary shook her head and cupped her husband's face with both hands. "Listen to me. I know you're a marine, and you'll always be. That's who you are, and I love you. But you have to promise me you won't turn our children into little Winchester soldiers. I want a son, not a warrior. Promise me that."
"Alright, I promise."
Mary's expression softened instantly and her lips found John's for a long moment. When they broke the kiss, they looked into each other's eyes and communicated without words as only real soul mates were able to do. After a while, John rested again on his wife's lap, and she slipped down to curl up with him.
"We'll have to find a good name for him," John pointed out.
"Yes…a beautiful name."
"Have you thought of any already?"
With a cute, shy smile gracing her face, Mary rolled a bit and propped up on her elbow to nod at John. She motioned him to get closer, so that she could whisper it in his ear…
A soft moan escaped Dean's lips, but the older Winchester didn't open his eyes. He didn't know where he was. The more he tried to grasp the vanishing thread of the vision, the more it turned into a terrifying void with no points of reference to hang onto. A void where concepts such as up and down lost their meaning, where the only thing he could bring himself to do was let go and float adrift into the nothingness.
"Dean, wake up!"
It was Sam's voice that was calling him, but it sounded very far away. Around him there was nothing but darkness. It wasn't the kind of darkness he was used to fighting and beating, but a thick, empty, terribly scary one that was breaking him into pieces.
"Sam…?" Dean moaned.
Why? Why would you call him? A voice echoed in his mind. He choked on the smell of roses and lost the feeble grip on reality that the distant sound of his own voice had provided.
"I'm here, Dean. Open your eyes."
Sam's voice was laced with concern, and Dean thought that something must be wrong with his brother. Maybe he was in danger. Knowing that he should be able to do it, that he was wired to get to Sam when he called, Dean struggled to pick out Sam's voice over the fog. His name on Sam's lips was a key, a password, enough to get Dean back on track no matter how far he was or how lost he felt. But damn, he was so lost now. Dad was going to be mad at him.
No, but Dad is happy…he's happy with Mom…
"Open your eyes," Sam repeated.
Dean tried to comply, he really did, but his eyelids were unresponsive, and the effort drained him. His heart rate took off to the skies, and he felt the bite of panic as never before. Muttering a shaky sob, he reached out in a blind attempt to find Sam, and clasped his brother's forearm.
He felt his brother's hand placed over his, and that familiar contact brought Dean's senses back with a nauseous jolt. Up and down found their places in the order of the universe the moment he realized he was lying on the floor.
Mom's room, Dean thought woozily.
Sam's other hand was over his cheek, and Dean managed to roll his head a couple of inches to rest on his brother's palm. Then, he forced his eyes open and looked hazily around. But after doing so, the images of the vision blended with his regained consciousness, and the sensation of hovering over the void intensified. If Sam hadn't squeezed his hand in that very moment, Dean would have kept floating forever.
"W-where're we?" Dean slurred.
Trying to control his own fear, Sam took a second to reply. He had never seen his brother so disoriented, and he was clinging to him in a way that the Dean he knew would never do. But at least he was awake.
"In Jennifer's room, I think," Sam said.
Dean blinked and fixed a glazed look on his brother, who forced a tremulous smile to welcome him.
"You tell me," the younger said, his voice softer now but still shadowed by fright. "I heard you calling me, then the sound of something falling. I found you unconscious on the floor."
"What…?" Dean stirred. "H-How long have I been out?"
"Just a couple of minutes," Sam rubbed Dean's cheek when the older hunter's eyes drifted closed again. "C'mon, man, stay with me."
Dean nodded weakly and gulped. His mind was slowly sobering, and he was starting to remember what had happened. He also realized that he was still grasping Sam's arm like it was a lifeboat. Embarrassed, Dean let go of him and tried to stand up. But the too quick motion took away the remains of numbness, and his head throbbed so painfully that the experienced hunter let out a groan and slumped forwards.
"Son of a…" he grunted.
Sam winced at his brother's pained expression and tried to hold him, but Dean shoved him off.
"I-I'm…just give me a minute."
When Dean insisted on standing up by himself, Sam clenched his jaw and stepped back. It was no surprise to the younger Winchester when Dean failed miserably in his endeavor. Having to focus too much on synchronizing his own breath with the throbbing in his head, the most Dean was able to do was prop himself up to rest heavily against the wall. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Sam snorted and walked away. Dean wet his lips and watched his brother pace up to the opposite wall where Sam stopped, giving him his back.
"Dude, are you oka…"
The younger Winchester punched the wall, silencing a startled Dean.
"Dammit Dean, don't you ever do that again!"
Dean cringed at the not so repressed anger in his brother's voice, and his 'nothing-can-affect-me-smart-ass' brain started looking mechanically for a 'nothing-can-affect-me-smart-ass' comment to ease the tension. Unfortunately, his smart-ass retorting gears weren't functioning any better than his limbs yet.
"Fuck you," the younger man glared at him.
"Sam…" Dean started in a warning tone.
But in the last moment, he held his tongue —What the hell…?— dumbstruck by the tears pooling in his brother's eyes.
"Is everything okay, boys?"
Missouri's voice took them by surprise and both brothers turned to face her where she stood in the threshold. When she spotted the older brother sitting on the floor, she became immediately alarmed.
"Oh my… what happened? Are you alright, son?"
Lying on the floor, weak and exposed in front of her, Dean felt something similar to self-conscious terror, and he flinched when Missouri stepped towards him.
"I'm fine," he said quickly as he struggled to stand up.
His heart pounded hard against his chest when, for a second, he thought he wasn't going to make it, and he shot Sam a glance full of despair. Despite the tension that had built between the two, his brother took in the silent plea and was by his side in the blink of an eye.
"We had a little accident, that's all," Sam assured Missouri, as the two Winchesters grabbed each other's arms, and Sam hauled Dean up. Before the older man could stumble, Sam held him by the elbow.
"Are you sure? You look a bit pale, dear. Maybe you should come downstairs and sit down for a while. I'll get you something to drink."
Dean shook his head weakly to refuse the offer, and Sam sensed he wasn't talking because he didn't trust his voice any better than his legs. His muscles were tense under his little brother's steadying hold, and he knew that his older brother wanted out. Dean hated being helpless anytime, but with Missouri there the vulnerability would be frightening for him. For Sam, it was a matter of common sense that Dean was overreacting, getting carried away by a twisted Winchester version of a self-preserving impulse, but the situation was enough to make Sam automatically go into protective mode.
"Thanks, Ma'am. But really, don't worry," Sam insisted.
With Dean's body language being that of a wild, frantic animal wounded in front of a predator, the situation was quickly growing uncomfortable. Maybe Missouri didn't notice Dean's discomfort, but Sam could read his brother through as clearly as a book. And although at any other time he would have been more than happy to force Dean to get some rest, in front of a third person loyalty would always kick in first.
"Don't be silly, kiddo. Just come to the kitchen and let me prepare some…"
"He'll be fine," Sam said bluntly, before realizing that he had stepped forward to stand in between Missouri and Dean. What the hell was wrong with the woman that she wouldn't leave them alone? "We should get going."
Sam eyed his brother to make sure he was still with them and was surprised to find a grateful look. Dean being grateful? Well, that was worrying. They had to get out of that house and do it now. However, Missouri frowned, placed her hands on her hips and blocked their way.
"Sam and Dean Winchester!" she exclaimed. "I thought there was nobody as stubborn as your father, but you're proving me wrong!"
The brothers froze immediately like deer caught in headlights.
"What did you just say?" Sam croaked.
Looking first at Dean, who was stunned and had lost what little color he had left, Missouri sighed. She then spared a glance at Sam who was fixing her with a distrustful look.
"I'm afraid we've got to talk, boys." she said softly. "Let's go downstairs."
Leaning on the handrail for support and backed up by Sam's reassuring presence, Dean Winchester made his way downstairs by himself. "Sammy is here," Dean tried to regain control of himself. "Sammy is here…" In fact, a minute ago it had been Sammy and only Sammy that had prevented Dean from going berserk when his whirling mind was only screaming, "Out, out, out!"
In the kitchen, Dean slumped into a chair and leaned his elbows on the table so that he could hold his head up with his hands. Standing by him, Sam was leaning against the edge of the table, his arms crossed and his body taut. He was no longer the sweet kid whose puppy dog eyes bent any lady with the smallest trace of maternal instinct. A hunter had taken the kid's place. A hunter who was ready to jump on Missouri if she gave him the slightest reason and whose fuming look was almost scary.
Missouri wasn't in the room yet. Dean could hear her rummaging somewhere on the first floor, but couldn't focus enough to locate the origin of the sounds. He wasn't feeling exactly weak. Actually, the short trip from the second floor had been better than feared, since his body responded after the first couple of steps. He was just experiencing a weird sensation of detachment, as if his limbs were no longer his and obeyed his wishes only out of some kind of funny crossed line. Probably it had something to do with the excruciating pounding in his head —oh yeah, his head was still his— that made it hard to think coherently. Dean bit his tongue after an especially sharp throb and managed to turn the moan escaping his lips into a low throaty groan. He hoped that Sam wouldn't notice. Right now, he couldn't deal with Sam's pity, or Sam's scowling, Sam's worry, Sam's 'You deserve it' look, or whatever his brother had in store for him as punishment for being such a reckless idiot.
Through closed lids, Dean intuited his brother coming closer and tensed. A moment later, he felt Sam's hands touching his head gently. His first reaction, of course, was to jerk away, but the motion blew a new wave of pain across his skull, and the older Winchester ground his teeth.
"What are you doing?" Dean hissed.
"Did you hit your head when you collapsed?"
"W-what?", Dean stammered, cringing under his brother's touch.
"Did you hit your head?" Sam repeated, as he stroked Dean's hair carefully.
The latter understood that Sam was looking for bumps or wounds and raised a hand to stop him, but Sam ignored both his whining and his too weak attempt to pull away.
"No…I don't know," Dean grumbled. "Please, don't."
"Dean," his brother said in a conciliatory way. "You can barely open your eyes. I just want to make sure."
"It's not a…" Dean's voice fell into a whisper. "It's not a concussion, all right? It's just a headache."
Missouri observed the boys from the kitchen door without intruding and took in their moving dynamics with a sad flash of pride.
"Ah, John," she thought. "If you could see them now. They're good boys. They don't deserve this." With a sigh, she stepped into the room. Immediately, Dean's eyes flew open, and Sam's lanky figure stiffened.
The woman's sharp mind evaluated the situation quickly. It was obvious that right now, both hunters considered her a menace and would stick together against her. In that sense, describing Sam's attitude as unfriendly was a huge understatement, and the woman's sympathetic glance did nothing to ease him. At least she was happy to see that the older brother had regained a bit of color, and his eyes were focused. That feverish, panicky look he had stared at her with upstairs was gone, replaced by a guarded need for answers. If she was able to find the right words, maybe he would listen, Missouri thought. Only, it was hard to think of any 'right words.' Actually, she was pretty sure there was no right way to say what she was about to say.
Aware of their discomfort, Missouri slowed down and offered a glass of water and a couple of painkillers as an omen of peace.
"I thought you could use something for your head, honey." she said softly, her words aimed at Dean.
The latter fixed her with scrutinizing look.
"Thanks, but I'm fine," he replied, his voice even.
"Are you sure?" Missouri decided to push a little. Then, remembering John's aversion to strong painkillers, she added, "These are very mild. I promise, they won't knock you out."
Dean frowned at that and clenched his jaw.
Don't you dare think you know me.
Missouri didn't need to be a mind reader to catch that.
"I'll take care of it," Sam intervened, holding out his hand.
His tone was unwavering, and the younger had positioned himself between his brother and Missouri once more. For some reason, Sam made Dean think of a lawyer in court, objecting firmly after a too vicious question directed at his client. Funny, he hadn't noticed how good Sam was at that. Too good to ignore that being a lawyer would have been his dream had he been allowed to have a normal, safe life.
"I want a son, not a warrior…" Trying to stay focused, Dean gasped and shook his head.
Dammit! It wasn't his fault. He hadn't asked Sam to represent him! He had only…allowed him to slip into a defensive role in a moment of weakness, but Sam had complied so naturally that Dean was feeling guiltier than ever for that distant job interview Sam had missed. For the life Sam had missed.
He would have been a good lawyer.
Not that Dean had ever doubted it, but when that certainty sparkled consciously somewhere inside his splitting head, it made him feel proud, and sad, and safe. Safe against what, Dean didn't know. But for someone who hated losing control over anything, the faith that Dean had in his brother's abilities was now as priceless as air.
Appeasing, the black lady handed Sam the water and the pills and walked around the table to sit across from them. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the brothers sharing a look. Dean's was defiant, just in case Sam wanted to take Missouri's side about the pills. Sam's was supportive, the most accurate translation being "Yes, I agree with her, but it's up to you." And then Sam left the water and the pills on the table so that his brother could make his own call.
After that, Missouri took a moment to start the conversation, because she felt the need to brace herself and because she was unconsciously waiting for Sam to take a seat. However, Sam remained standing, and he was the one who broke the silence.
"Who are you?"
And the accused takes the stand…
"My name is Missouri, as Jenny told you. And it's true that I'm a friend of the family."
"What do you know about our father?" Sam interrogated.
She wet her lips and spoke.
"I've known John from way back. Not long after Mary died, he contacted me."
"Why?" the younger pressed.
"I guess he wanted my help."
Dean's eyes flickered over his brother and then returned to Missouri.
"Well," she chose her words carefully. "He thought he needed me to figure out what happened to your mother, to know what took her and then learn how to fight it."
The brothers knitted a frown in unison. For them, it was hard to believe John had trusted anybody to such an extent. As far as they knew, he had no friends, let alone friends he would talk to about his quest. Let alone friends he would ask help from. Don't let people know what you really do. That had been a rule carved in stone for the Winchesters, since…as long as Dean and Sam were able to remember, really. And yet, this Missouri woman knew things; if they were to ask, she knew way too much. Sam felt cheated on; Dean felt unsettled, as if he were pacing a dangerous ground.
"And why…" Dean sounded a bit husky, and he stopped to clear his throat. Sam eyed him, then swallowed and stared at his feet. "Why would he think you could help him?"
Missouri didn't answer right away, and when she hesitated she felt Sam's eyes fixed on her.
"Who are you?" the younger Winchester asked.
And though Sam had already asked her that, Missouri knew for sure he was now expecting a different answer.
"I'm a psychic," she stated matter-of-factly. "Same as you."
Sam flinched at the word as if he had been smashed with a sledgehammer, and his heart —in which psychic, psycho killer and monster all sounded pretty much the same— ached so badly that his hazel eyes burned with tears.
"What the hell do you think you know!" he blew up. "You know nothing about me! You know nothing about us! I'm NOT like you!"
Dean tensed in automatic response and shot Missouri a deadly 'Watch it' glare. It was irrational, Dean knew, but as far as he was concerned, anyone who made Sammy upset was in serious danger of getting his/her ass kicked, regardless of whether they were telling the truth or not. Sam would only be a psychic if he wanted to —what was this thing everybody seemed to have against good old denial?—and definitely not if he felt that being labeled as one was an insult. And anyone who dared to contradict that opinion was going to have a problem with Dean. Period.
"I understand it's scary, son," Missouri went on. "But you don't have to be afraid…"
"I'M NOT AFRAID!" Sam exploded.
Missouri gulped and fixed a pleading look on Dean. Yeah, right, Dean thought, accusatory. First you call him a freak, then try to make it better by saying he's a pussy freak, and now you want me to get you out of it?
But the issue was that his little brother was distressed, and that in Dean's book would never be good. So, ignoring his headache –among other things–, Dean took his big brother role back.
No "Sammy," no "Take it easy," no "Jesus, you know she's right, suck it up already." Just his name voiced without any trace of condescension was enough to force reassuring eye contact between the two brothers. Getting a grip on himself and averting Missouri's eyes, Sam exhaled and sat down for the first time during the conversation.
"I'm not afraid," he lied, his voice tense. Missouri let him have his fib. "I just…I'm not sure I understand what I saw."
"You saw that Jenny was in danger," was her simple reply. "That's why you're here."
"Jenny…does she know?"
"No, she knows nothing."
"But you said you were waiting for us…" Sam remembered suddenly. "How did you know we were coming?"
Missouri wasn't oblivious to the hopeful edge in the young man's question, even if he was likely to ignore it himself. He wanted to know if she had visions too, because although maybe it wouldn't lessen the feeling of being a monster, he would at least be less of a lonely one. Unfortunately, Missouri was going to disappoint him.
"Your father told me"
Judging by the young man's face, it was the last answer Sam had expected. But whereas he was at a loss for words, Dean had raised his eyes and could barely conceal his emotions.
"H-He got my message…?" the older muttered.
Wide eyed, Sam stared at his brother.
"Did you call Dad?" he asked incredulously, with the stabbed look of a faithful lawyer discovering that his client was keeping vital information from him.
Unable to face his brother, Dean focused on Missouri.
"Is he alright?"
Too confused by the sudden turn in events to tell the difference between his bitterness for Dean's "betrayal" and his own anxiety to know about his father, Sam pursed his lips and turned his attention to Missouri as well.
"He's fine," the woman assured them.
Both brothers released the breath they had been holding at the same time.
"Where is he?" Dean asked.
"I'm sorry, honey," Missouri lamented truthfully, "But I don't have an answer to that."
"But…it doesn't make any sense." Sam mumbled.
He suddenly sounded very young, and his eyes were turned towards his big brother with such intensity that Dean felt his throat tightening.
"If he knew that we would be here…" he tried to elaborate, but, aware of how lame that case was, his expression hardened almost imperceptibly. After all, their father had probably known of their whereabouts before, and still he hadn't bothered to give them a lousy call. "I mean, if you told him we might have found the thing that killed Mom, why isn't he here?"
Dean swallowed hard. His headache was getting worse, and he had started to finger the pills without noticing. Eyeing the older hunter with concern, Missouri spoke.
"I'm afraid that is the problem, Sam. What's inside this house, what's after Jenny's family, is not what you are looking for."
Just a job…Dean's head started spinning.
"How can you be so sure?" Sam wasn't ready to let it go. "Because you feel it with your fucking third eye!"
"Because," Missouri replied, ignoring the boy's acid —and self-deprecating— remark, "I've been keeping an eye on this house for the last eighteen years, as John asked me to do. I've watched over every single owner it's had, and I've seen what the house has done to them. And I can say it is not the thing that killed Mary."
Sam stood up abruptly with a loud shriek, and Dean had to clasp his hands over the edge of the table to steady himself. Maybe the older hunter couldn't pick apart his feelings about the news yet —his was chest whirling into a turmoil of regret and relief— but Sam was definitely disappointed. More accurately, he was frustrated, and Dean had witnessed too many times how frustration affected his younger brother. Sam had expected this to be the hunt; he had needed it to be the hunt, because that and only that would make any sense in his guilt-ridden, normal-wannabe, psychic mind. Anticipating his outburst against Missouri, Dean couldn't help but remember all those terrible fights with his father. A great deal of them had been due to the fact that the old man had failed to understand that his younger son couldn't cope without seeing reasons and ends. Sam wasn't as good as Dean at accepting givens without seeking answers. And if Missouri considered that frustration wouldn't be enough to pitch an usually good-natured Sammy against a woman in her fifties, it was only because she hadn't seen much of the mess of anger, remorse and despair a frustrated Sam could be.
"Then, if it's not what killed our mom, what is it?" Dean heard himself asking, before his brother got out of line.
Dejected by how easily Dean had given in, Sam took a ragged breath, and the older hunter could literally feel the daggers with which he was looking at him.
Missouri bit her lower lip.
"She…uh, it's a restless soul."
"Like a…haunted spirit, you mean?" Dean pressed.
"Yes, dear. A haunted spirit, if that's what you call them," Missouri shut her eyes sorrowfully. "A restless soul bonded to the place where she met an early death 22 years ago."
As Dean's eyes dropped to the ground, Sam froze in the middle of the room and glared at Missouri in shock. She couldn't possibly be saying what he thought she was saying, could she? Suddenly, the younger Winchester felt an irrepressible urge to laugh and stopped himself only because he didn't want the others to think he was hysterical. This was insane.
"How dare you?" Sam's voice was slow and dangerous.
"I'm sorry, boys. I know this is an awful way to tell you, but it's the only way. It's the truth. The spirit haunting the house is your…"
"Don't!" Dean yelled.
Sam jumped and turned to face his brother, who was burying his head in his hands.
"Dean, dear…" Missouri shifted to stand.
"Stay away from him!" Sam shouted at her.
Missouri watched wordlessly as Sam squeezed his brother's shoulder. Dean was pale, too pale, and was shivering uncontrollably.
"Dude, c'mon…" Sam whispered.
"It's okay, Sam," Missouri tried to reassure him. Then, Missouri softly asked John's first born, "Dean, honey, why don't you tell us what you saw?"
Sam frowned and glanced at Missouri. What was she talking about? But then he felt Dean stiffening under his hand and watched, stunned, as his big brother started to talk.
"I dunno…" he mumbled hesitantly. "There were these flashes, like memories. Memories I had with my mom. Having breakfast in the kitchen, or playing hide and seek. And also with her and Dad when she was pregnant…I just…I thought it was normal, you know, being here and all. But I couldn't control them; they just popped up in my mind."
He raised his eyes ruefully to meet Sam's, whose hand had dropped from his shoulder. Sam seemed totally stunned, and he had that heart-breaking expression of betrayed counsel plastered back on his face.
"What else?" Missouri coaxed, "What happened when you lost consciousness?"
Rubbing his forehead, Dean shook his head lightly.
"I don't remember," he lied.
His voice was unable to conceal the pain. His head was about to explode, and on top of that, Sammy was pissed at him.
"I said I don't remember, alright?"
"Leave him alone," Sam ordered Missouri dryly.
Pissed, but loyal.
"Sam, you must understand this is very serious…"
"It's you that doesn't understand, Missouri. We don't know you, so why should we trust you? First you lie to us, then you say you've talked with our dad but then refuse to tell us where he is. And now you want us to believe that…that our... For Christ sake!"
"I just want to help you."
"Thanks, but we'll be just fine."
This said, Sam patted his brother's back with his best defending counsel's authority to let him know that they were leaving, and that he wasn't going to take no for an answer. However, Missouri stood up too, and she locked eyes with Dean in a way that made Sam shiver.
"If you change your mind…" she said. "Here, take my card, so that you know where to find me."
Sam pursed his lips when Dean reached out to grab the card before standing up wearily and following his brother to the front door.
Neither of them said a word during the drive back to the motel, at least not if Sam's grunt at Dean's deadly grip on the keys didn't count as a word. Dean wasn't fooled; it was only a matter of time until Sam considered that the truce was over and confronted him. A pissed lawyer keeping it together until he was back in the interrogation room with his client, Dean thought. He chuckled humorlessly at the idea as they entered the motel room, and he slumped to the nearest chair.
"So when did you call Dad?"
Funny that after all that had happened, that was what seemed to have hurt Sam the most.
"When we stopped for gas."
"Oh," was Sam's only response.
Dean shifted uncomfortably in the chair. He should have been grateful that was all, but suddenly Sammy's silence seemed wrong and painful to bear.
"What?" Dean pushed.
C'mon, Sammy, don't do this to me.
"So what is this? The silence treatment?"
Sam gave a laugh as cheerless as Dean's previous one had been.
"Nah," the younger answered plainly. "But I hate when you do that."
"Shut me out."
Dean's eyes lingered on his brother's for a second and then focused on the carpet.
"I wasn't…I just…Man, I dunno, al right? I should have told you before. Can we move on now?"
"Like you should have told me about your visions?"
Funny, you asking me that, shining boy.
"They weren't visions," the older retorted tiredly.
"I didn't want you to worry."
"Yeah, and you did a terrific job. But next time spare me the "finding my brother unconscious on the floor" part."
"Yeah right!" Dean howled. "Because you think you're the only one who didn't enjoy that!"
"Goddammit, Dean! You knew something was going on, and you didn't tell me! Not only that, you sent me away! How stupid is that?" Sam raised his voice.
How stupid was it?
"You scared me, you know?" Sam's voice wavered, and the boy walked away to sit on the edge of his bed. "Geez, I thought…I thought I was going to find you suspended from the fucking ceiling."
Dean's lips trembled but any possible retort died before being uttered when the torn words of his brother sank in, and he saw himself as the bastard Sam thought he was.
"I'm sorry," the older finally said.
Sam clicked his tongue and averted his eyes.
"No, you're not. You're not," he replied resignedly.
Well, he wasn't. Not for hiding his visions from him, because the kid was worried enough by his own. Not for wanting to keep him away from the danger, because that was what he did and would do for the rest of his life. But he was sorry he had scared him, because if he had been in Sam's shoes, he would have died of a heart attack.
And for a couple of minutes, neither of them said another word.
"She's not right, okay? Missouri. It's impossible."
It didn't escape Dean that Sam's voice was suddenly soft. Perfect, so now the kid was feeling obliged to comfort him?
"Who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"I'm not going to apologize for wanting this over, Dean," Sam stated. "But this is not about me being blinded by a revenge wish, if that's what you think. It's about you believing blindly in the word of a perfect stranger. Because I can see that you believe her. But I mean, why do you trust her in the first place? Just because she says she knows Dad?"
Dean sniffed and shook his head.
"It's not like that."
"The hell it's not."
"This is not about Dad, Sam. And this is not about Missouri either. It's about me. It's about what I saw."
"I know. Flashes of memories coming back to you, I get it. But you said it yourself, to a certain extent that would be pretty normal, given the circumstances…"
"No!" Dean cursed himself for the tears that stung in his eyes. "You don't get it. I saw Mom... I really saw her. And it wasn't a memory…she was there talking to me and then…"
His voice cracked, and Dean let it fall to control its trembling.
"And then you passed out," his brother finished for him. "She attacked you, is that it? That's what's been going on with you?"
Dean didn't answer.
"Dean," Sam said firmly. "Even if she did, that doesn't mean anything. Man, we've been there. Spirits that mess with your head and use what they find against you; spirits that take on someone else's appearance to materialize…"
"Yeah, yeah…spare me the lesson," Dean muttered under his breath and closed his eyes.
He didn't see him, but guessing from the silence that fell in the room, Dean could picture his brother rolling eyes and dropping his arms in exasperated renouncement. Good boy. How many times had he used the exasperation trick to get Sam off his back? After all, any sensible lawyer would eventually give up on his client if the latter was too fucked up to cooperate. Not that this client deserved so much attention in the first place, so why bother?
"How's your headache?"
Geez, this kid had a calling.
"Peachy," he mumbled.
Sam didn't buy it for a second.
"You look like crap."
Dean chuckled sadly.
"Thanks, Miss Kansas."
Ignoring the remark, Sam walked up to his brother and looked at him intently. Dean sensed his presence but failed to open his eyes, an action which did nothing to ease his little brother's concern. After a moment of thought, Sam ran his hands through Dean's hair and brought them over his temples.
"Sam…I told you I don't have a concussion," Dean quivered. "Stop doing that…"
But however much Dean wanted to push Sam away, he couldn't bring himself to fight him, for fear that if he did the throbbing would get worse, and he would break into childish sobs. It wasn't that he couldn't stand the pain. It was that for the last couple of hours, he had only wanted to curl up and cry, and Sam's gentleness was making it harder to hold it together.
"Be still," Sam hushed.
The younger brother pressed his fingers over Dean's temples and the latter gasped and bit his lower lip hard when his entire world spun white. In the next second the hammering subsided a bit, and Dean found himself panting and on the verge of tears again. But that had felt good. Sam resumed the pressure, drawing little circles with his fingertips, as his thumbs rubbed the back of his head. Dean held his breath until his brother loosened his touch, thereby sending a new flood of relief across his system. Then, Sam stroked his brother's forehead next and succeeded in soothing Dean's frown.
Dean recognized the steps with a pang of longing. He still remembered the times when he had done that for his little brother every now and then. Sam used to have terrible migraines when they were kids, mainly because he insisted on reading for hours in the dim light in the back seat of the car. Their dad would warn him first and scold him next; sometimes he would end up really mad at him, yet the kid was too pigheaded to listen. However, some nights, when they pulled over at the next shabby motel off the road, Sam would fail to conceal the symptoms. He would end up walking around like a zombie, grimacing at the slightest sound, and curling up into a ball whenever Dad wasn't looking. At that time, Dad kept the meds and the kid was too proud to ask for a Tylenol.
Of course, he didn't talk to Dean either, but a big brother doesn't need to be told to identify the signs. So he'd just gesture Sam to come closer, and he always obeyed, sheepishly at first, gratefully when he realized Dean wasn't going to judge him. Sam would eventually end up snuggled up to his brother in silence and would allow Dean to massage his head. After his brother had patiently untied knot after knot and the pain had vanished, Sam would doze off into a peaceful sleep. The next morning would find them cuddled together, but they wouldn't talk about it, the same way they didn't talk about most things going on in their rare lives. But while they were growing up it was only the few moments of closeness like these that made sense and kept them sane.
Truth be told, Dean was shocked and moved that his baby brother remembered their little practice. It was the first time the older allowed Sam to pay him back, and he was relieved to find that Sam was very good at it. When Sam finished and laid his hands casually on his shoulders, Dean took a deep breath and gulped, as if he were waking up from a reverie. His head was a bit numb and there still was a sort of echo of the headache pounding lightly across his skull, but at least he was able to think clearly and the dizziness was gone.
"No prob. Need another round?"
Dean shook his head no and straightened up a bit —somehow, he had ended up tilting his head and was partially leaning against his brother. Sam didn't insist this time, but when he stepped aside he kept a hand over his brother's shoulder a bit longer than usual, as if Dean had forgotten to shrug it off, and for the same reason, Sam had forgotten to remove it.
"Listen, I think I'm going to take that shower," Sam informed. "We can do some research later and try to figure out what's really happening, okay?"
Dean nodded and heard Sam whisper, "Okay" before he stepped back and fumbled in his bag to look for fresh clothes.
"Hey, Sam," Dean called, just before his brother disappeared inside the bathroom.
"You know, you'd be a hell of a lawyer," he smiled.
Sam cocked an eyebrow and shook his head as if Dean had just gone crazy in front of his eyes, but still smiled back.
"Didn't you hear the latest news?" the younger played back. "It turns out I'm more into the psychic thing now."
"So what? You think that Perry Mason guy didn't have his quirks too?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam laughed. "See ya in a bit."
The younger Winchester went into the bathroom, and Dean was left on his own with a musing half-smile.
"Yeah, you too, little bro," he whispered.
And grabbing the keys to the Impala, he exited the motel room, closing the door behind him.