Chapter 5. Control
Chapter 5. Control
When Dean was younger, he heard his father talk about the threshold of pain, how it was different for every person, how it could be managed. John never meant his sons to do anything about it; it was only a passing piece of knowledge he shared with them, just as the many names of dream walker spirits, or the correct way to pour holy water over silver bullets before loading a gun with them. However, for Dean being able to put a name to it meant that he should be able to control it.
It wasn't easy, but it was something that had to be done. In their job he was constantly exposed to all kind of wounds and injuries, and it was too dangerous to give in to ache before finishing whatever they were hunting at the time. For Dean, it became a matter of discipline. He trained himself in secret, using anything he found at hand, blades, needles, fire… One day Sam found out what he was doing, and he really hit the ceiling. The kid made him promise he'd stop. And Dean promised. And Dean lied.
He took no pleasure in self-injuring. It wasn't about that at all, but about making sure he would be able to hold a gun even if his hand was broken. To recite a Latin exorcism while a demon tried to gut him with a butcher's knife. To take his brother outside of a house on fire, even when the flames were already burning his flesh. Those were things that mattered, and they were worth a white lie.
He repeated the drill. One, two, three, four…until he was able to count up to five without flinching. And then he started it up all over again. Breathed in, ground his teeth, explored the pain, one to five, breathed out. And, boy, it hurt like hell, but every time he got to five was a little victory, a shot of confidence, a test of a strength he knew how to find and so a challenge he knew he could win.
Fear was a different thing, far more slippery. It was true that Dean was barely scared of anything, but it was also true that a few things scared him to death and made him unable to overcome those fears. Instead, he had learned to mask them. His most terrible dread —losing John or Sam— was kept at bay under layers of denial and a fierce readiness to throw himself between them and danger without a second thought. His second most terrible dread was losing himself. He was used to dealing with that fear from behind a thick wall of cockiness that had become virtually unbreakable and with a fierce avoidance of any situation that could make him feel vulnerable or exposed.
They were back in Lawrence, and his smug façade had been shattered just a while ago in such an implacable way that he was still shaking like a five-year old child. There was no point in denial or a fake attitude, but there was no need for Sam to witness it either. Dean needed to collect himself before going back to his brother, but so far the feeling of having no solid ground under his feet had been too much for him to bear.
Well, after all, that's why he hated flying.
He needed to know he would be able to control the vertigo without putting Sam in danger. So, once running away had been ruled out as an option, Dean reacted in the only way he knew. He went back to the drill. The drill was safe ground. The drill meant control. Except that, parked across the street in front of his old house, the more he tried to discipline his fear the same way he had learned to discipline the pain, the more miserably he failed. Breathe in, grind his teeth, tear his eyes from the wheel, look up, start counting…
How was he supposed to do this, when his mom could be in there?
When Sam wasn't there?
Three…Jesus, Sammy, I can't. I just…Dammit. Goddammit!
Breathe in, grind his teeth, tear his eyes from the wheel, look up.
"Dean? Dean, baby, I'm so glad you came back."
The words echoed in his head, and all his determination was wiped out along with the air he kept in his lungs.
"Sweetheart, why do you keep fighting me?"
Focus, Dean. Try to…
Fight tears back. Breathe in…
"Dean, please. You can't do this."
She was too right. He couldn't.
"Dean, come to me. We'll be together, the two of us. Together at last."
For heaven's sake, where was John when he was needed? All those times he had entered the house, all those times Dean couldn't follow, had John gone through the same pain? Where was he now? Why wasn't he here? WHERE WAS HE?
How did you do it, Dad?
Defeated, Dean swallowed hard and turned on the engine to drive away.
When Sam left the bathroom, he found out that both Dean and the Impala were gone. The younger hunter frowned and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. It was around 1:30 PM, so maybe his brother had gone out to grab some food. Although he seriously doubted Dean was in the mood for eating now, he could have used the excuse to go for a drive. Sam knew his older brother well enough not to bother him about his wanting some space after what had happened. On the other hand, exactly because of what had happened, Sam couldn't help but be a bit worried about having Dean out of his sight.
He should have left a note, that jerk.
But of course, Dean wasn't the note leaving type. In fact, it was sort of a relief that he hadn't found one on his pillow, or he would certainly think Dean had been kidnapped and tortured into writing it. As much as he wanted to pick up the cell phone and check on Dean, Sam displayed enough self-control to take a deep breath and trust that his brother would be okay on his own for a while. In the meantime, the best he could do was to try to figure out what was going on in their old house. If he really wanted to do something for his brother, he should be proving to him that whatever was in their old house had nothing to do with their mom.
With this idea in mind, Sam buried himself into what he did best. Research. Using the information they had gathered earlier, Sam did some more digging into Rebecca's background and tried to find something, anything that might link the recent events with the family. But again, he found nothing. At least nothing useful in terms of justifying the existence of a pissed supernatural presence that wanted to mess with his brother's head.
And thus two hours slipped by. Sam's aggravated stomach growled, but he refused to go for lunch until Dean was back. He had to be back soon.
Flipping through his dad's journal pages, Sam searched for any reference to entities with power over his victim's memories that were able to create illusions and at the same time manifest themselves into several shapes, like a person, or a blaze of fire. But none of the entries mentioned any creature able to do all these things at the same time. Sure, a poltergeist would explain flickering lights and noises, but not Dean's visions. There were some spirits that could take several forms. But none of them had registered abilities to intrude on another person's mind and play with it. That seemed related more to the various forms of witchcraft and psychic stuff —Sam shivered against his will—which could also explain part of the other signs, but not the fire.
An hour and a half more. No news about Dean. Sam wasn't even hungry anymore, since his stomach had tightened with concern that he would not voice. Vocalizing concern would make it real, and he refused to do that.
Of all the strange creatures his family dealt with, including witches, spirits and poltergeists, demons were the most diverse and the least understood. And as sure as hell, for Sam and his family, they were the most wanted. As far as Sam was concerned, no evidence had ruled out the demon yet. Who knew what other powers it possessed besides fire abilities? Sam rubbed his eyes and sighed as a way to prevent the image of Jessica pinned to the ceiling from making him lose his focus. Dean's words suddenly came back to him.
You gotta be prepared to accept that this may be just a job, like any other.
"Yeah, right," Sam said to himself. "Prepared as in prepared to accept Mom's turned into an evil spirit that we've got to finish off."
The undeclared thought alone was appalling, and his mind refused to go deeper into it. Instead, his thoughts shifted to Dean, and after a quick glance at the clock, Sam's chest tightened even more. Five hours had passed. And it would soon get dark.
Still, he stood firm in his determination not to call his brother. Dean wouldn't like it. Dean would call him if he needed to. At least, that's what Sam hoped his older brother would do, because, honestly, after the last two days, he didn't know what to think anymore.
Where are you, Dean?
His determination faltered, and after an extra half an hour of pacing the room, Sam grabbed the phone and dialed his brother's number. But he got no answer. Not the first time, not the second time. And neither on the third.
He should be back soon...
Resuming his unconscious fidgeting with the cell phone, Sam forced his attention back to the journal. With a nervous sigh, he decided to go again through all the references his dad had written about Mary's and Jessica's killer. Line by line, syllable by syllable, in order to not leave any detail unexplored.
It was then that he saw it. If he had read it before, he didn't remember. Maybe he just hadn't noticed, or probably had given it no importance. But now it was so brightly obvious that it was almost painful to see.
"Go to Missouri."
Not only once, but written several times, in different pages and on different dates. "Go to Missouri," "Call Missouri." All written in his dad's familiar handwriting. Sam couldn't believe his eyes, and a lump started to form in his throat.
She wasn't lying.
Why was everything falling apart? Why did it always have to?
Frustrated, Sam threw the journal against the wall. And despite the pang of guilt he felt the second it left his hand, he made no move to retrieve it.
"I don't believe it," Sam said aloud, to the empty room. "I don't believe you!"
Suddenly, the room's phone rang, and the younger Winchester literally jumped. He had to take a moment to collect himself and to normalize his breathing before standing up and going to the bedside table to pick it up.
"Yeah?" he asked in a guarded tone.
He knew that it couldn't be Dean because his brother would have called Sam's cell phone. Consequently, part of him was really expecting to hear Missouri's voice on the other end of the line. And she'd probably be infuriated if she had psychically envisioned his outburst.
Sam frowned in confusion, but then remembered that 'Jones' was the name they had given during the check in. Still, he was cautious in his reply.
"Who is this?"
"It's uh…Michael Tyler, the motel owner. Sorry to disturb you, but there's a call for you, and it seems important."
"What is it?"
"It's the police. About your brother."
Sam Winchester drummed frantically on the door handle with one hand, while chewing nervously on the knuckles of his other hand. The police had called from Robert's, a bar located on the outskirts of town. It was only a short cab ride to the place, no more than ten minutes, but for Sam it felt like the trip took ten years. The fact that the phone conversation he had had with the police was playing incessantly in his head during the entire ride didn't make the time pass faster.
"Yeah, it's Sam Jones. What happened to my brother?"
"Your brother's name is Dean Jones?"
"Yeah!" Sam was near to yelling at the receiver by then. "Where is he? Is he alright?"
"He's at Robert's. We got a call about a fight, and I'm afraid he was involved in it."
"What?" Sam said as he tried to make sense of what he was hearing. "Wait, what's…where's that?"
"It's a bar, Mr. Jones, at the northern end of town…"
"IS HE ALRIGHT?" Sam said, cutting the stranger on the other line off.
The man on the other end hesitated slightly, but it was a pause long enough to make Sam's concern shoot skyward.
"He's fine. A bit beaten, but he seems to be a tough kid."
Realizing for the first time that he had been holding his breath, Sam exhaled slowly.
"What happened," Sam asked. Thanks to his many years of preparation, his voice could pass for steady, even when he was still shaking on the inside. In fact, the question was in part a strategy he used to gain some time to collect himself.
"Apparently he got into a fight with four guys. It was about a pool game."
Sam snorted and shook his head. Four guys? In a bar? About pool? God, he had to be kidding. Either that or his brother had gone completely nuts.
"Has he been arrested?" Sam asked, prepared to accept the unavoidable.
"Nah," the policeman answered calmly. Sam arched an eyebrow. If Dean wasn't being arrested and the cop wasn't lying about how badly beaten Dean was, why was he calling him in the first place?
"Listen, son," the officer continued in a paternal tone that Sam wasn't especially crazy about. "These guys I told you about? Well, they're a bunch of thugs, and they've been causing trouble for months. I don't know who started the fight, and honestly I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, your brother seems to be a good guy, and he was getting the better of the four when we got here. The bar owner's not going to press charges against him, but if I were you, I'd keep him out of trouble for a while. One of the guys had a knife, so believe me, it could have been worse. Your brother was lucky we got there before it got really ugly. Do you understand?"
"Now, I need you to come and pick him up. We can't let him drive in his state"
"But…you told me he was alright," Sam said, and his voice wavered a little. "Why can't he drive?"
"It's not because of the fight. Apparently he had some drinks beforehand."
The cab slowed down and pulled over. Sam carelessly tossed twice the price of the ride to the driver and got out of the cab almost before it stopped. He studied the surroundings as quickly and thoughtfully as the hunter in him had learned to do long ago and immediately spotted the Impala parked on one side of the lot and a police car parked next to the bar entrance. There were some people gathered there, but none of them was Dean. Then a uniformed policeman caught his attention and gestured him to come closer.
"Yeah, yeah", Sam nodded, recognizing the voice on the phone. He was starting to get fed up with that particular alias. "Where's my brother?"
The cop, a pretty well built man in his forties, furrowed his brow at Sam's unconcealed anxiety. Of course, he could understand the young man's concern about his brother. Yet he had expected Sam to be far calmer, especially since he had already assured him Dean was fine. Sam acknowledged his anxiety and tried to compose himself, but he couldn't conceal a look of impatience. Even knowing that Dean wasn't in immediate danger —other than Sam kicking his ass in a matter of minutes— he wouldn't be really relieved until he could see him sound and safe with his own eyes.
With an understanding smile, the cop, that introduced himself as Deputy Ted Jackson, stepped aside and motioned towards the alley at the back of the bar. There was a dimly lit wooden bench there, and finally Sam saw his brother. Dean was sitting on the bench with his body slightly bent forward and one arm wrapped protectively around his midsection. His head was resting in his hands, and Sam's body immediately tensed when he noted Dean's defeated posture. The only reason why the younger man didn't immediately run towards his older brother was the authoritative presence of Deputy Jackson.
"Where are they?" Sam grunted, without tearing his eyes from Dean.
The coldness in his voice could freeze the desert, and as a matter of fact, it made the older man shiver. Luckily for them all, the officers that had answered the call had already taken Dean's aggressors away.
"They're not here. Three are in the policed station, and the other was taken to the hospital with a broken wrist," he said. He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was low and serious. "Forget about them, son. I mean it. Let us do our job."
Sam didn't answer right away.
"Mr Jones," Jackson insisted.
"I get it," Sam accepted, releasing some of the tension. "Don't worry."
"We offered your brother a ride to the hospital too," the deputy said. Quickly, observing the worried glance Sam shot at him he assured "He's fine, but we thought that if anything we should, you know, get him properly checked out. But he didn't want to hear about it. Maybe you could convince him."
With a hint of a smile, Sam looked back at Dean's silhouette.
"No, it's okay. He hates hospitals." Sam said, shaking his head. "Thanks anyway."
"Okay then. Here," Jackson said, handing the keys of the Impala to Sam. "I had to take them from him, and I can tell you he didn't like that."
"I bet," Sam muttered rubbing the cold, steel keys absently.
"He didn't want us to call you either."
His eyes never leaving Dean, Sam chuckled softly. Deputy Jackson assumed it was time to let Sam take it from there.
"So, if there's anything you need…"
"We'll be fine," replied Sam automatically. "Thank you."
"Remember what I told you earlier."
"Stay out of trouble. We will, I promise."
Deputy Jackson nodded, and Sam started walking towards Dean.
"Sam!" the cop called him one last time.
The younger Winchester stopped reluctantly and turned around to face the deputy. He was taken aback by the piercing look the cop was staring at him with.
"The bartender said he…your brother was asking about this John Winchester guy," Jackson said, and Sam's expression turned as unreadable as stone. "I used to know someone with that name, and I was wondering…you wouldn't be related to him, by any chance?"
Both men stared at each other for what seemed like a long time. As good as he was at reading other people's minds —and not particularly through his psychic abilities— Sam wasn't sure if what he saw in the deputy's eyes was suspicion or rather a glimpse of recognition; recognition of the soft features he'd got from his mom, or the sharp glance both his brother and he had inherited from his dad. Regardless, at the end of the moment Sam pursed his lips and shrugged.
"No," he answered evenly.
The deputy studied Sam for a few seconds more. After that, he sighed and dismissed Sam with a tiny bow of his head before heading back to his car.
"You two take care."
Sam nodded and walked over to Dean.
Sam approached the bench slowly. The dim light of the alley allowed him to have a first impression of his brother's injuries: a split lip, a streak of dry blood across his temple, a black eye. Judging by the way Dean was holding his arm around his body, it was easy to guess that the bruising under his brother's T-shirt was extensive. The image of four guys bringing Dean to the floor and kicking him flashed in front of Sam's eyes and a renewed pang of rage flared inside his guts.
Jackson had been right; generally speaking, his brother was fine. Actually, Sam had seen Dean in a far worse shape too many times before, and so he knew there was no real reason to worry about the injuries. It was just that Sam didn't think that he could ever get used to seeing his brother hurt. And on top of that, Sam was too angry at the way Dean had gotten himself so stupidly beaten.
Even though the older hunter didn't move an inch, Sam was perfectly aware that Dean sensed him. Towering over the sitting man, Sam stood in front of the bench. At first, neither of them said a word. And then Sam broke the ice. With a bucket of cold water.
Dean raised his head slowly and Sam saw that his eyes held a weird look. They were glassy from alcohol and a share of pain, but still defiant. It was a look that clearly said: "Don't. Don't go there, little brother."
"Lots," was Dean's growled reply.
"Can you tell me what we're doing here?"
"I'm getting some fresh air," Dean replied cynically. "You?"
"Deputy Jackson tells me you were asking for Dad," Sam said impassively.
"Deputy Jackson? You mean the nice bastard that took my keys?"
Sam laughed humorlessly at that and held Dean's stare without flinching.
"So what's your story? That maybe, since Dad wasn't sitting at the bar you might find him in the bottom of a bottle?"
Dean's expression faltered, and in the moment before it turned really inscrutable, Sam glimpsed something else: a deep emotion he could not identify. It worried him and hurt him at the same time. But before he could do anything about it, Dean replied dryly with a cocky look on his face.
"What can I say? The man is a slick one."
"Do you think that's funny?"
"You tell me, you're the one being a smartass here."
"Who the hell are you? And where's my brother?" Sam asked, barely keeping his tone even. "Because my Dean is many things, but he's sure as hell not this stupid."
Dean's eyes flashed dangerously.
"Don't you dare look at me like that."
"Like you pity me. I don't need your pity, Sam," Dean hissed.
Sam felt the frustration rising in him and shook his head. He felt the influence of the old magic formula that quickly converted fear into anger, the second emotion burning with a ferocity that could only be described as proportional to the intensity of the first.
"I don't pity you. I'd need to know what the hell is going on with you in order to pity you!", Sam screamed.
"Nothing is going on, alright?"
"Are you fucking out of your mind!" Sam exploded. "You take off without saying a word, don't answer the phone, get drunk in a hole and pick a fight with four guys!"
Dean narrowed his eyes and smiled scornfully.
"Oh, and why are you so sure I started it?"
"Ah, please, cut the crap!" Sam snorted. "I'm tired of it."
"Fine!" Dean blurted back. "Because I'm tired of you!"
"You know what? That's great!" Sam yelled, raising his arms in annoyance. "But remember, it was me, not you, who had to take a cab all the way here after the police informed me that my brother is a complete ASSHOLE!"
"I TOLD THEM NOT TO CALL YOU!" Dean howled back, standing up to confront Sam.
The sudden movement made the older brother wince in pain, and the little color he still had left was drained out of his face as he shut his eyes and tried to keep dizziness at bay. Sam bit his lip and an important part of the previous rage melted into a cold void in the pit of his stomach. Instinctively, he took a step forward, towards the unsteady form of his brother, and tried to hold Dean by the arm, but the older hunter roughly shoved him off.
"Don't touch me!" Dean shouted, jerking away from his brother's grasp and staggering back to find the wall against his back. Then, to himself, he slurred as he tried to catch his breath, "Dammit…"
The younger Winchester pursed his lips and tried not to lose his temper again, but when Dean swallowed hazily and used the wall to prop himself straight, Sam felt his bile rise and anger took another hold on him. Maybe Dean's day had sucked, but so had Sam's. For two times in less than 24 hours he had feared for his brother's life, and he didn't remember ever being that scared before. And although he thought they had sorted this all out in the morning, together, it was as if no matter what Sam did, Dean would find a way to do something brainless to put himself in danger. Sam had had enough. And enough was enough.
"Know what? FINE! I don't know why I bother in the first place."
"Good, you got it at last!" Dean sighed dramatically.
"But hey, next time you plan to get killed, leave a fucking note!"
"What for? So you can come and shoot me yourself!" Dean blurted, his words full of venom. "AGAIN!"
Sam froze. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He looked as if he had been struck by a sharp pain in his chest that left him breathless. Those words hurt, they hurt too much. His blood turned to fire, and he felt every fiber within him boiling with anger and begging to be unleashed. His eyes wet, his body shaking, Sam advanced towards Dean, who awaited him with 'challenge' written all over his face. Dean was daring him, begging him to take a swing at him. And Sam was so willing to humor his wish.
Until when, in the last second, a voice in his head whispered, "Don't."
Don't take the bait.
And the moment Sam listened to that voice, his eyes were able to see past Dean's provoking front. His brother's complexion was so pale that the blood across his temple looked strikingly dark in contrast, and his skin had an unhealthy, shiny quality borrowed from the sheen of sweat that covered the rest of his face. Dean's breath was also pretty irregular, and it seemed as if he was sick. Sam guessed that it was nothing but stubbornness that kept him on his feet. Dean was going to collapse at any moment, and Sam hated him for still trying to play the familiar exasperation trick despite that fact. Well, because of that fact. But in that moment, Sam didn't hate Dean nearly as much as he hated himself for being so close to falling for his brother's defensive tricks all over again.
"Just…get in the car, Dean," Sam said, panting and locking his eyes with Dean's. "We're going back to the motel."
Dean seemed confused and surprised by the sudden change in Sam's attitude. Was that disappointment? Yeah, Sam was sure that was exactly it but still couldn't understand why Dean wanted him to get mad at him so badly.
"That cop took my keys, remember?" Dean informed Sam with an irritated tone.
"Yeah, but I got them back," Sam waved the keys in front of Dean's eyes.
The older brother snorted, then inhaled deeply and extended his hand. Sam gave him an astonished look.
"Give me the keys, Sammy," Dean ordered. His look was testing now, and Sam felt he was being sounded out.
"It's Sam. And you're not driving, Dean. You're drunk."
"I'm not drunk", Dean protested, reaching out to take the keys from Sam's hand.
"What is wrong with you, man?" Sam said, dodging him. "There's no way I'm letting you drive!"
"GIVE ME THE DAMN KEYS!" Dean said, lashing out and throwing a punch at Sam.
The blow took Sam by surprise, and the younger hunter stumbled backwards when Dean's fist connected with his jaw. He fell heavily on his back with a groan and before he knew what was happening, Dean was standing over him. Dean tried to pull the keys out of Sam's grasp, but Sam reflexively clenched his fists and struggled for them.
"Dean!" Sam yelled, forgetting about the throbbing of his sore lip. "Stop it! DON'T!"
Dean was strong, probably stronger than Sam, but he wasn't in his best shape and once the element of surprise had vanished, Sam was able to kick him away. As Dean crashed against the side of the bench with a low thud, Sam crawled back to his knees and glanced at his brother, who was curled and shaking on the ground.
Looking around and feeling at a loss for what to do next, Sam stood up and raised both hands to the back of his neck. Eventually he dropped his arms in despair and performed a self-assessment. His heart was beating so hard against his chest that he was amazed his ribs still took the pounding without breaking.
"Jesus, dude. What's your problem?", Sam panted.
Dean wet his lips and looked anywhere but at Sam. It was a clear sign that he was embarrassed. Grabbing the bench to prop himself up, the older hunter leaned back against the wall. After shoving the keys inside his pocket, Sam went back to his brother and crouched next to him.
"Now look at me, you jerk."
Dean ground his teeth and tried to avoid Sam's eyes and proximity by merging with the wall. Unfortunately, the damn wooden surface didn't let him in.
"That hurt. But you know what hurts the most?" Sam muttered with a dejected tone. Dean raised his eyes uneasily as Sam's tone of voice tore down all his defenses. "That you insist on trusting anyone but me!"
"That's not true, Sam," Dean said hoarsely.
"Isn't it? This Missouri woman appears and you believe all her bullshit. Just like that," Sam said, snapping his fingers. "And then you're upset, but instead of coming to me, you go off looking for Dad! Dad, Dean? He's been missing for months, and in all this time he's sent no sign whatsoever he gives a damn about us anyway."
Dean was going to retort, but Sam spoke before his brother could interrupt him.
"Why don't you talk to me, Dean?" his voice was near to breaking. He had to say it. He needed to ask, "Why not me?"
The older brother clicked his tongue and shook his head slightly, very slightly. The world was spinning too fast for him to push his luck.
"Because you wouldn't understand it, Sam," Dean replied warily. "You don't want to understand it. You don't want to believe it."
"Dean, this is crazy!"
"And you want to know why?" Dean went on, "Because you're a selfish bastard, Sammy, that's why. Just like Dad."
Sam stared at Dean in silence with a hurt look plastered on his face, a look that he might have worn if he had just been stabbed in the back. But the more he wanted to deny his brother's words, the guiltier they made him feel. Before he could stop them from forming, tears welled in his eyes, and he angrily wiped them away. Dean had suddenly found the ground extremely interesting, because no matter what the circumstances, he could never bring himself to watch Sam crying. However, when the younger man stood up, Dean anxiously tracked his pacing and didn't dare blink in case Sam magically vanished.
"Is that what you think?" the younger Winchester whispered, giving Dean his back.
Dean shut his eyes and buried his knuckles between his eyebrows.
"Maybe you're right, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you crash into a tree, Dean," Sam sighed and turned to face his brother. "Just…let me drive you back to the motel, okay? Please."
Too exhausted to keep on arguing, Dean leaned his head back against the wall and stared at the sky. After all, Sam had him after that damn little word. Please.
Alone with his thoughts, Sam drove in silence but tossed anxious looks at his brother in the passenger seat every few seconds. Dean was leaning against the window, eyes closed, but Sam knew he wasn't asleep, because now and then he stirred, blinked dazedly, licked his lips and swallowed. Sam also knew that his brother wasn't asleep because when asked if he wanted water, Dean automatically shook his head no and smiled weakly at Sam. The younger brother was glad Dean wasn't looking at him directly just then, or he would have noticed that the aftermath of anger had left Sam on the verge of crying. He just couldn't shake off the feeling that although his brother was physically sitting next to him, he was losing him to some place he couldn't reach. And it was all his fault.
We shouldn't have come here.
Dean fidgeted in his seat and absently grabbed the edge of it. Sam caught the motion out of the corner of his eye and glanced at him sideways. The way he grasped the fabric reminded Sam too much of the way he had grabbed his arm a few hours earlier, when he had regained consciousness in their old house. After a couple of seconds Dean loosened the grip, but pressed his forehead harder against the window. He was mumbling something, but over the roar of the engine, Sam couldn't tell the words apart. Somehow he sensed that he was not supposed to hear them, but he slowed down anyway. At the very least, slowing down would make the drive a bit smoother for his brother and his whirling world, since so far it didn't appear to be specially settling.
Dean was a good drinker. He enjoyed it, and many times it helped him relax and crack a few laughs. But Dean also knew when to stop and would certainly do so before letting it get out of hand. Dean and "out of it" were concepts that didn't coincide at all simply because his older brother was a control freak who was too strict with himself to let it happen. For good or for bad, that was just the way Dean was. Until tonight. Tonight and by his own hand, he had thrown himself into a daze. And judging by the way he grabbed the seat again, Dean wasn't enjoying the feeling.
A couple of seconds later, Dean released the seat, and breathed in and out. He hadn't opened his eyes in a while now, but his lips kept moving, forming soundless words.
It was then that Sam realized that his brother was counting.
Sam pulled over as close to their room as he could and walked next to Dean to help him to the door. Of course, Dean had every intention of walking on his own, but he didn't shove his brother's hand off when his staggering pace made him lean towards Sam's body involuntarily. The younger Winchester placed his hand loosely in between Dean's shoulders to steady him. Together, they made it into the motel room, and Dean sank wretchedly onto his bed. Sam closed the door behind them and turned on the lights.
"Turn them off," Dean groaned.
"Sorry," Sam apologized. "I have to check your injuries."
"They're just scratches," Dean slurred against the pillow.
"On your back," Sam commanded, retrieving the first aid kit and sitting on Dean's bed.
Dean complied and rolled on the bed with a grimace of pain. When he finally managed to lie on his back, he looked paler than the sheets. His breath was labored, and Sam warily eyed the erratic rising and falling of his brother's chest.
"Hard to breathe?"
"Not hard," Dean lolled his head to the side, as if he was going to shake it negatively, but failed to end the gesture. He ended up resting on his cheek instead. "Just aching."
Worried, Sam reached out to lift his brother's shirt. The sight of Dean's firm stomach raw and bruised made him gasp.
"Jesus," Sam croaked.
"Looks worse than it is," Dean said, playing it down.
"You knew you left the laptop on?"
Sam frowned at the unexpected question and followed his brother's eyes to find his laptop opened on the table with the screensaver flashing.
"Yeah, I was…I was doing some research when they called me. I guess I forgot about it," Sam said dismissively.
Surprised by Dean's sudden interest, especially after their fight at the bar, the younger Winchester fidgeted nervously. He didn't want to talk about his research now, because no matter what he said, all his theories would inexorably lead to him being labeled a selfish bastard. A selfish bastard who was unable to "believe" as Dean had so clearly put it.
"Sam?" Dean insisted.
"Nothing really," Sam said, shrugging. "Nothing able to mess with people's memories, appear and disappear, create illusions and manifest as fire."
"But I…I found these references to Missouri in Dad's journal. Apparently she wasn't lying when she said she knew him. Guess that makes you happy," Sam ended with a bitter edge.
Instantly regretting the comment, Sam busied himself with the first aid kit. Even though there might be nothing he could do with the bruises on Dean's torso other than wait for them to heal, he could still fix the cuts on his face.
"You sure you don't need a doctor? Maybe we should have gone to the hospital. You might have a broken rib or something…" Sam rambled as he found gauze and peroxide, in part out of heartfelt concern, in part to fill the uncomfortable silence.
"I'm sure," Dean confirmed tiredly, dragging his hand across his chest to feel the bruises. "I know how a broken rib feels, man," he said and then winced.
Sam rolled his eyes and gave up. Dean's arm slumped dismally on the bed.
"God…" Dean muttered under his breath, rubbing his clammy forehead.
Sam smiled briefly and gently moved Dean's hand away to have a look at the gash. Dean groaned, but this time he couldn't gather the strength to fight Sam. Suddenly his limbs were heavy and unresponsive, and the mattress felt definitely less solid than it was supposed to be. Softness embraced him and lulled him into letting go. Nauseated, Dean fidgeted with the blankets and tried to regain something similar to balance.
Dean mumbled something unintelligible, wet his lips and tried again. But after he achieved no better results, he gave up and hoped Sam would get the meaning anyway.
"Dizzy?" Sam asked softly, as he applied gauze to the gash.
The older hunter nodded as confirmation.
The cure finished, Sam applied a damp rag to Dean's bruised face and hoped that at least it would be refreshing. Dean blinked at the moist contact and fixed his hazel eyes on his brother, who chewed his lip nervously at the quiet examination.
"What?" Sam asked finally.
"Nobody messed with my head, Sammy," Dean's said with a thin voice.
"What do you mean?" Sam asked and arched an eyebrow.
Dean tried to answer but couldn't accomplish it. Instead he fell relentlessly into a most needed slumber.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam said, shaking Dean's shoulder slightly. "C'mon, big brother."
Dean shifted uncomfortably but didn't open his eyes. With a sigh, Sam gave up waking him. It was probably better this way, after all, he supposed. Trying not to disturb Dean, Sam stood and turned on the bedside lamp instead of the room's light, then went to switch off the laptop and put the first-aid kit away. He also splashed some cool water over his face. He ended up staying in the bathroom for several minutes, just looking numbly at his reflection on the mirror and trying to process what had happened during the last few hours.
And failing to do so.
God, I need to sleep too.
Just sleep, even if only for a few hours. Maybe when he woke up in the morning the whole situation would magically make sense. Maybe the whole vision thing would turn out to be a regular nightmare he could wake up from. They wouldn't be in Lawrence, and Dean wouldn't be so utterly bent on destroying himself.
Or at least, Missouri wouldn't have appeared and there would be another perfectly rational —supernaturally speaking— explanation for the danger menacing Jennifer's family. God, he didn't care anymore if it wasn't their demon. All he cared about was his brother and that it seemed as if their mom was trying to haunt them. And if there was someone who certainly did not deserve that, it was Dean.
Back in the room, Sam looked ruefully as Dean shifted restlessly in his sleep. He suddenly felt more helpless than ever. Not knowing what else to do, Sam sat again on his brother's bed and placed a tentative hand over Dean's to let him know he was there. To his surprise, Dean's fingers clung to Sam's fiercely, and the younger hunter could feel tremors shaking his brother's body.
"Hey," Sam hushed. "It's okay, buddy."
Without letting go of Dean's hand, Sam placed his other hand on his brother's chest —it was there where he remembered it being less bruised— and rubbed softly. Eyes moving behind closed lids, Dean stirred under his touch and gasped softly, but he seemed settled by the pressure.
"Couldn't make it to five, huh?" Sam said affectionately. "God, you're such a jerk."
Sam made a fool of himself when his brother's eyes fluttered open all of a sudden, and his first thought was to let go of him before Dean noticed he was holding his hand. But then he hesitated, because his brother's lids dropped a bit, and his green eyes, although shiny through his half-closed eyelashes, weren't focused. It was as if he wasn't really awake, at least not completely.
Sam let out a sigh, guessing his brother was reliving his visions.
"Just sleep, man," Sam said softly, squeezing his brother's hand. "Go back to sleep."
"No…she said Dean. She…my head, no messing," the older brother slurred groggily.
Sam's eyes narrowed.
"What do you mean your head…?" the younger brother repeated the previous unanswered question slowly, but trailed off when he noticed the deep sadness in his brother's drowsy eyes.
"My head, she wasn't messing with my head," Dean murmured. "She said that the baby…the baby would be named Dean…"
No, Sam wasn't going to like the answer.
"There's no way those could be my memories, Sam…she was just showing hers. They were her memories. It was her, it was Mom."