Chapter 8. Together
Chapter 8. Together
Sam and Dean put themselves to work efficiently as soon as the decision was made. They were used to getting ready in a matter of minutes. Choosing the suitable equipment, cleaning it, loading it, and packing it was something they could do in their sleep. As Dean checked the rock salt gun, Sam tossed a look around the room in search of their father's journal. At first he was just mildly surprised not to find it within sight, but he assumed it would be somewhere among the rest of the papers on the table. While he racked his brains trying to remember the last place he had seen the journal, he dug up a bit of the pile but still had no success in finding it.
The memory came to him first as an unconscious thought, but it was enough to make Sam turn to inspect the opposite wall. After a minute of staring blankly at a peeled spot over the headboard of his bed, he realized why he was doing so. He was staring at the spot where John's journal had hit the wall the previous day when he had thrown it. Praying that journal was still intact, Sam scanned the floor with a quick, worried glance, but still he couldn't find it. Regret clenched his stomach, and while the rational part of his mind told him he shouldn't tell Dean what he had done —despite the difficulties involved in fabricating a reason for why he was about to kneel on the floor to search below the bed—, the irrational instinctive part made him shamefully look up at his big brother for help. Dean sensed his little brother's eyes on him and frowned.
Sam felt as if he had been caught red-handed, and his heart jolted. But at the end of the day he was the only one to blame for letting his damn instincts take priority over rationality.
Dean's frown relaxed, but his expression remained cryptic. He nodded his head vaguely at his duffle bag on the floor and then continued checking on the guns. Following Dean's indication, Sam finally spotted the leather book among his brother's belongings and felt guilt-ridden relief rush across his spine. He crouched next to Dean's bag and took the journal. Grabbing one of the chairs, Sam turned it around so that he could sit with his elbows on the back and started clasping and unclasping the fastener of the book.
"Don't be mad at Dad," Dean said all of a sudden.
Lost in thought, Sam startled and pursed his lips. It didn't escape him that for the journal to be in Dean's bag, it must have been Dean who picked it up from the floor.
"I'm not," Sam replied tightly.
"Are too," Dean retorted calmly. "But it won't help."
Sam met his brother's eyes contritely. Dean sounded too calm, considering what they were about to go up against, and he had been exceptionally composed since he had returned from his "head clearing" walk. Far from feeling reassured by Dean's composure, the contrast with his big brother's previous display of openness was giving him the chills. Sam didn't know how to decipher Dean's calm response. It may have been acceptance, resignation, exhaustion or a combination of all three that kept Dean cool. It was also possible that his older brother had simply managed to bottle up his emotions again. In any case, it felt wrong, since Dean would either be defeated or unreachable.
"Sam, I'm serious," Dean pressed.
"We should call Missouri," Sam said, changing the subject. "I told her we would."
Dean held Sam's gaze intently. Finally he seemed to give up and consent to let the subject of their father drop for now.
"Okay. I'll do it," Dean said, referring to the call to Missouri.
"You'll do it?"
"Yeah," Dean said, shrugging. "Give me the number."
Clearly not liking the idea, Sam studied his brother warily. But when Dean held out his hand matter-of-factly, Sam's determination weakened. After Dean had forgiven Sam for having stolen Missouri's card, the very least Sam owed him was shutting his mouth and complying. Moreover, Dean wasn't only asking him for the number but also for a proof of trust.
The fact was that Sam trusted Dean implicitly, so he might as well prove it to him.
The younger brother took Missouri's card out of his pocket and handed it to Dean, who scanned the card and flashed a look at his little brother before stepping out of the room to speak with the psychic. Sam merely bit his lip and didn't try to follow him, because he knew that getting some things right with Missouri by himself was important for Dean.
Instead, Sam remained sitting, fixed his eyes on the journal and tried to ignore the weird sensation that was creeping in the pit of his stomach.
Dean couldn't understand.
Flipping through the pages, Sam found the old picture of his family, the one in which his parents, Dean and himself were all happily smiling in front of the house. Setting his hazel eyes on the image of his mother's face, Sam swallowed and rubbed her features affectionately with his thumb.
Dean took the cell out of his pocket and stole a glance at the room in an absent-minded attempt to distinguish Sam's silhouette through the curtains. Of course, it was a pretty vain attempt, and luckily so, since otherwise he would have to start thinking about the suitability of keeping weapons in a room with such a low level of privacy. With a sigh, the older Winchester moved away from the room and, with the phone in one hand and Missouri's card in another, strolled around the parking lot and up to his car. Once there, he sat on the hood and braced himself. Eyes fixed on the room where Sam was, Dean dialed Missouri's number and waited tensely for an answer.
"Hello?" the woman's gentle voice sounded at the other end.
"Hey...Missouri? It's me, uh..."
"Dean? Oh, sweetie, I'm so glad you called. I was hoping we could talk."
"Yeah, well," Dean said and then cleared his throat. "Sorry about not calling earlier. Sam told me he dropped by."
"Yes, he did. Is he okay?"
"Yeah..." Dean fidgeted uneasily. "Why shouldn't he be?"
The memory of Sam calling out to him that morning crept back into his consciousness. At the time, the fear Dean had sensed in his little brother's cry had been enough to draw him out of the shower, but afterwards the situation had grown too overwhelming and he had refused to give it too much thought.
"Oh, no reason," Missouri said after a pause. "I just worry about you, boys. Did you two have the chance to talk yet?"
"Yes. I just -I guessed you should know we...we're going to the house tonight. We're going to...we'll try to finish this."
Another pause followed, and Dean could have sworn he heard Missouri sniffling. When the woman spoke again, her voice sounded profoundly moved.
"Honey, I'm extremely happy to hear that. I knew you'd do the right thing."
Dean exhaled dryly but when what was intended to sound as a chuckle threatened to break into a sob, he covered the receiver with his palm and drew in a deep breath.
"I was..." Dean started, forcing a steady tone. "I was just wondering if you could get Jennifer and the kids out of the house for a while. It shouldn't take long."
"Of course. I'll take care of that."
"It's okay, dear," Missouri cooed. "It's there anything I can do for you?"
Muffling another sobbing laugh the source of which was unknown to him, the hunter wet his lips and shook his head.
"Honey," Missouri prompted him, painfully soft and gentle.
Dean blinked away the forming tears and tightened his grip on the cell.
"Why didn't he tell us?"
The words escaped his lips before he could stop them. At the other end of the line, Missouri remained silent.
"Missouri? It's our mom we're talking about here. We deserved to know!"
"Yes, you did," the woman said, trying to appease him.
However, Dean sensed the hesitance in her words, and he had the impression that there was something else that Missouri wasn't telling him.
"Dean, don't be angry with your father."
"I'm not..." Dean started and then laughed in dismay. "I'm not angry with my dad. Sam is. But I..."
"I understand him."
"And why do you think that Sam doesn't?"
"Because he's different!" Dean exclaimed. "He's just..."
Better than us.
"Sam's disappointed with him, Missouri. I can see that. And I can't let him down too."
"Really? Is that your psychic foresight talking?"
Missouri laughed softly.
"I told your brother I don't have visions," she remarked. "But I do have damn good instincts."
Dean gave out a little snort, but the urge to burst into tears subsided considerably and he was able to release some of the tension caught in his throat.
"Well then. Do you have any tips for us? Because, let me tell you, we could use some help."
The sound of the door opening startled Sam when his brother came back into the room. Sam stood up and put the journal on the table in expectation, but Dean's expression was as unreadable as before. He met Sam's questioning look with a sideways glance.
"She'll take care of getting Jennifer and the kids away from the house while we do our thing," Dean informed Sam, as he fastened the zipper of his bag.
"Didn't say," Dean said, shrugging.
Sam nodded and waited a moment for Dean to continue, but apparently his big brother wasn't going to share any more information from a conversation that had lasted around 15 minutes. The younger brother chewed his lip as he zipped up his own bag, and he repressed the need to press for further information. In the past, so many fights had been started when Sam had pushed their father too far in his interrogations. At the same time, Sam remembered how frustrated he had felt when his father had attempted to pry into his business, so he opted to give Dean some privacy. It also helped that Dean was the one standing in the room, and not John. However, that didn't stop frustration from rising inside Sam and emanating from him in silent, pulsating waves.
"You ready?" Dean's voice got past his inner thoughts and drew his attention.
Dean's voice always found its way through the tide of frustration.
Sam nodded before grabbing his bag but didn't look up. Regardless, he felt Dean's attention lingering on his sullen self for a moment longer than expected.
"C'mon, Sam," Dean pushed. Sam glared at him. "We still have to make a quick stop before going to Jennifer's."
"Yeah, there's some stuff we have to buy," Dean explained. "I'll tell you about it in the car, okay?"
Leave it to Dean to offer information as a peace offering. Still, Sam's jaw line loosened, and he felt instantly ashamed of his childish behavior. Dean would share whatever detail of the hunt Sam needed to know in good time. As for the rest of Dean's conversation with Missouri, Sam had no right to feel offended if his big brother decided to keep some things to himself.
"Maybe we should get something to eat too," the older hunter suggested.
Sam cocked an eyebrow and looked Dean suspiciously in the eye.
"If we can find a drive-thru on our way to the house, yeah," the older stated. "But we're on a tight schedule, so…"
"There was a diner near Jennifer's," Sam quickly said with a hopeful edge in his voice. "Their specialty was cheese burgers and apple pie…"
"Apple-pie?" now it was Dean's turn to arch an eyebrow and give his brother a pointed look.
Visibly annoyed, Sam shrugged and looked away.
"It's a diner, Dean. Not a four star restaurant," he defended himself in a whiny tone.
Dean's expression softened, and his lips curved up almost imperceptibly.
"Easy, Francis. Apple pie sounds good."
Noticing Dean's tiny smile, Sam's animosity fell as fast as it has climbed a second before.
Dean is smiling.
"Whatever," the younger man grumbled, with all the dignity he managed to scrape together.
Still, Sam couldn't help a smile of his own as he headed for the door. Dean rolled his eyes and let out a contented sigh before following Sam outside.
Hungry or not, Dean knew that it would do no harm to put something into his stomach. And, most importantly, he knew that having an apple-pie moment from time to time was important to Sam.
Missouri Mosley hung up the phone and sat down heavily on the couch. Unable to stop thinking about the Winchester boys and the hard mission awaiting them, she wet her full lower lip and stared into the distance sadly. She couldn't help worrying, because despite the distance and separation she had loved the boys just as she loved John. She was pretty sure she would have loved Mary too, as her family still did.
No, they didn't deserve to be forced to make such a terrible decision.
Unfortunately, life wasn't always fair, and the Winchesters, among all others, knew that too well. Now, she could only hope they'd come out of it unharmed. Physically, at the very least. She had to trust they'd be strong enough. Other than that, there was little else she could do to help.
Missouri dialed Jennifer's number and cleared her throat as the ringing tones followed one another.
"Jennifer, honey, how's it going?"
"Hi, Missouri! We're fine. I was meaning to call you too."
"That's great. Listen, I was wondering if you'd like to join me for dinner. I've baked a pineapple cake that I'm sure the kids will love!"
After filling Sam in on the plan, Dean drove the Impala through Lawrence once more. Eyes fixed on the road ahead, Dean let his mind gone blank, and trusted the familiar rumble of the engine to seep into the emptiness and block any other thought. Dean had always been able to isolate himself from everything else when he was sheltered inside his car. In his car, Dean felt safe, and in control, because his baby always responded and never let him down.
Through the years, the two brothers had learned to deal with their nerves in their own way and to respect the other's rituals. Dean always drove before a hunt, and Sam had never questioned it. Dean was used to being quiet, whereas Sam alternated being silent with long dissertations on information he felt was pertinent to the hunt. Those weren't always intended to elicit an answer from his big brother, but sometimes Dean humored him anyway, because although the older hunter didn't need the chit-chat to handle the tension, he did need Sam to keep cool, in order to stay calm himself.
Despite everything, this time was no different, except for the fact that Sam's remarks were less frequent than usual and sounded a bit forced, and Dean's responded with merely light nods or absent smiles that, at most, acknowledged his brother's attempt to made things "normal." They made two stops on their way to Jennifer's; the first one was at an herbalist's establishment and the second at the diner Sam had mentioned. On both occasions, it was Sam who stepped down and did the shopping. Although Dean hadn't told Sam that he preferred to stay in the car, his little brother seemed to understand wordlessly. He probably was oblivious though that, for Dean, hearing Sam appreciatively munching a piece of apple-pie in the passenger seat was even more soothing than the Chevy's roar.
"A single crumb on my upholstery, and I'll kill you."
About an hour before sunset, Dean pulled over across from Jennifer's house and turned off the engine. The Impala purred and obediently went quiet, leaving the inside of the car in a complete silence that screamed to be broken. At the passenger seat, Sam sighed quietly and bent to rest his crossed arms over the dashboard. With a slightly furrowed brow, he observed the house attentively. Beside him, Dean leaned back against the seat and let his hands hang loosely from the lower part of the steering wheel. He could have passed for serene had his fingers not been tapping nervously on the wheel.
At first, neither of them said anything, but as minutes passed by, silence made it harder not to think about Mary and what they were about to do. Sam started to fidget on his seat, and he glanced furtively at Dean before returning his gaze to the house.
"So, tell me again how we are going to do this," Sam said, his voice muffled by the way he was leaning over, with his chin buried on his arms. "We go in there and exorcise the house with holy water and sachets of houseleek and juniper. Then we wait for the spirit to materialize and shoot it with rock salt?"
"Yeah, that's it," Dean confirmed.
"And that will be enough?"
"What if it doesn't materialize?"
"Missouri said the holy water and the herbs would oblige her to. They won't allow her spirit to hide its presence anymore."
Sam nodded, but he didn't seem particularly reassured. Dean knew that the procedure for the hunt wasn't the only thing going on inside his little brother's head because they had both gone through it on the way to the house.
"Are you nervous?" Sam asked, without taking his eyes from the house.
Dean resumed his finger tapping and straightened up with a groan.
"Honestly?" the older brother asked, pressing the heel of his hands over his eyes.
"Yeah," Sam prompted, surprised that Dean was actually considering giving an answer. The younger Winchester turned his head so that his cheek was leaning against his arm and he could face his brother.
"I'm tired. I want to finish this, and get the hell out of this town."
Sam let his eyes drop.
"Yeah, me too," he whispered.
Dean rolled his head over the headrest to look at his brother, but he couldn't make out Sam's face below the mass of unruly hair that the younger man refused to cut. He could sense Sam's unease, and he knew by experience that Sam was unable to stay quiet for long when something was bugging him. All the signs indicated he would spit it out at any moment. However, the big brother in him was unable to bear Sam's silent brooding for long, especially since Missouri's words about Sam were still dancing around in the back of his mind.
"What are you thinking about?"
Sam looked up to find Dean's gaze set curiously on his. Immediately, he averted his eyes and erased all expression from his face.
"Nothing really," Sam assured.
Dean gave only a little shrug.
As he straightened against he back of the seat, Sam took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
"It's only that…" Sam started hesitantly.
Sam shook his head
Dean sighed and shifted to face Sam, but the younger brother kept his eyes fixed past the windshield onto the lawn in front of their old house. But he must have felt Dean's attention on him because he frowned and bit his lip nervously.
"Just say it already, man. What is it?" Dean asked, insistently.
"It's just weird…" Sam said in a low voice. "I keep watching the house and it looks so normal."
The older brother frowned slightly, not quite sure of what Sam was trying to say.
"It's hard to believe we used to live in a place like that. After all these years I'd forgotten that there was a 'before the fire' at all, and now I try to picture it, and I can't."
"C'mon, you know how it was before the fire," Dean started to protest, but his firm tone wavered at Sam's haunted expression.
Sammy, what's wrong?
"No, I don't know," Sam said, shrugging sheepishly. "How could I? Dad never talked about it, and you… I don't know, Dean, I didn't want to upset you. It was easier to pretend it had never existed. That Mom had never existed…"
"I know you think I don't care, but I wish I had known her, Dean," Sam continued, unable to stop once he had gotten started. "Not knowing her made me so different from Dad and you. I wish I wasn't different!"
"Sam!" Dean tried to cut him off again.
"I used to wonder what Mom would say to me if she could see me. Can you imagine? What would she say to me if I could talk to her just once. Childish, huh?" Sam asked with a sad chuckle. " I wanted so bad to have that one chance. And now, this."
Tongue-tied, Dean stared at his brother while Sam's words flowed unceasingly, as happened only when the younger Winchester was really distressed. Where was all of this coming from? Sam blinked and met Dean's eyes for the first time in a while. Noticing his big brother's puzzlement, Sam swallowed and collected himself in a heartbeat.
"God," Sam said, running a hand through his hair. "I don't even know what I'm saying. Just forget about it."
"It's nothing Dean, really," Sam said, apologetically, as he stared at the setting sun.
"Look at me, dude," Dean insisted.
His tone clearly said he wasn't taking no for an answer, and Sam obeyed ruefully. He had never looked so young as he did now, and Dean felt a lump forming inside his throat that made his voice hoarse.
"I know you care."
The thought that he could have caused his little brother to doubt it, made Dean's heart ache. He had caused this; it was all Dean's fault. He had been so blind and self-centered while focused on his own hell that he hadn't thought about how Sam must have been handling this hunt. The kid had been keeping it together for Dean's sake, and as a repayment, Dean had forgotten that beneath the strong, determined hunter he had practically raised, Sammy was still a kid.
"Sam, Mom loved you."
His little brother's lip quivered imperceptibly, but it only lasted a second. Dean sensed the lump tightening in his throat and swallowed hard.
"Yeah, I know," Sam said, unconvinced.
"No, you don't. 'How could you?'" Dean said, shaking his head as he quoted his brother's previous words. "But if we are doing this, you deserve to know it. Mom loved you."
"She did…right?" Sam asked with a shaky smile.
"Yeah," Dean said while nodding and fighting the burn of tears welling inside his eyes. "I need you to keep that in mind, no matter what happens tonight, no matter what happens inside that house. That's not going to change, Sam. You understand it, right?"
"Yes, I understand."
"She loved you too, you know."
Taken aback by the sudden change in the conversation, Dean didn't respond at first.
"Yeah…I know," he eventually croaked. "I know she did. And she loved Dad. She loved us all, Sam. And believe it or not, we were happy once."
"I believe it," Sam said awkwardly. Then his voice turned into a whisper. "I believe you."
Before Dean could retort, some activity on the porch of their old house caught his attention. Sam followed his brother's gaze and saw Jennifer leaving the house with her children. Sam and Dean lowered themselves into their seats so that the family wouldn't notice them when they passed next to the Impala on their way down the street. The Winchesters remained hidden until Jennifer and the kids disappeared around the corner.
"It's time," Sam muttered.
Stepping out of the car, Sam and Dean retrieved their bags from the back seats. Dean took the rock salt gun and Sam the herb sachets and the holy water. Both of them grabbed small guns too, and shoved EMF detectors inside their pockets. Sam looked around to make sure nobody had seen them and advanced towards the building. Before he could take more than two steps though, he felt Dean's hand grab his shoulder and turn him around so that he was facing his brother.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Dean said.
"About not asking this before," Dean said with a gulp. "Do you want to do this?"
His heart pounding wildly inside his chest, Sam arched an eyebrow. Did he want to do this? That was an unexpected question. He couldn't deny there was a part of him that wished that he and his brother could just turn on the engine and hit the road right away to leave Lawrence in the rear-view mirror forever. The other part…well, the other part felt pretty much confused. Unable to tear his eyes from Dean and feeling more exposed than he had ever been in his life, Sam was only capable of swallowing and nodding.
"We're together on this," Sam affirmed when he found his voice again.
The older brother nodded too and let his arm fall from Sam's shoulder after a short squeeze. They shared a look as intent as any psychically induced connection, until Dean tilted his head and smirked.
"Then, let's go, bitch."
Sam narrowed his eyes.
"You got it, jerk."
The brothers strode their way towards the house's garden. The closer they came to the silhouette of the two-story structure, the less confidant Dean's pace became. The safe shelter of the car had been left behind, and as the thin wall that kept his fear at bay started to crack, he found that he couldn't stop his spinning thoughts anymore. In spite of that though, Dean took a sharp breath and ground his teeth to keep the air in his lungs.
As dusk inexorably fell over the neighborhood, they stealthily entered the garden. The unnatural silence that surrounded the property felt definitely off, but Dean couldn't tell if it was indeed silent or if he was relentlessly shutting his senses off to focus on the next step.
They trod on the soft grass with muffled movements. Dean could sense Sam hovering near and felt his brother's eyes on him. He knew Sam wouldn't ask him if he was okay again. It was a pointless question unless there was a real doubt about the answer or if the person asking could do something to help. And for the time being they had already covered those bases. No, Dean wasn't okay, and there was nothing Sam could do about it.
At least, nothing else, because Dean wasn't sure whether his brother realized how his simple presence was keeping him together, and it would be way too embarrassing to let Sam know about that anyhow.
Sam shoved a hand inside his pocket and took a lock pick out. Checking around one last time, he quickened his pace to reach the door before any neighbor felt the sudden need to drop over. After all, Sammy had always been the cautious one. But now he was moving further and further away from Dean. It took Dean a moment to realize that this was because he wasn't moving while Sammy still was. He had frozen again, in the same damn spot that the vision of the fire had engraved in his four-year old mind.
"Dean, suck it up. C'mon, son."
"Daddy, I can't."
"Of course you can! Move!"
"Daddy, no! Please, don't. I'm scared."
"Scared of what?"
"Can you feel her? Dean! Look at me, kiddo! Can you feel her? "
"Oh my God," Dean whispered.
The realization hit him like a truck.
"I knew it. I've always known it," he breathed.
He had been terrified all those times John had brought him to the house, and it was because he had felt her presence but had failed to understand what it was or why he was sensing it. Later on he had just run away, as far away as possible so that he was better able to bury the memory as deep as a little kid was able to, hoping that it would disappear along with the terror. And he had sworn he'd never go back there...
He shouldn't blame his father. He had known it too, all along.
Then somewhere inside him, good old anger snapped and replaced fear. Now he knew what he had been running away from. And for Dean, being able to put a name to it meant that he should be able to control it.
"Dean?" Sam said from the door in a hushed voice. "Dude, it's unlocked. C'mon."
Dean blinked and focused his attention back on his brother. Slowly, the older hunter breathed out, as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Sam frowned and looked around nervously before turning his attention back to Dean. Dean was drawn by his little brother's gaze and finally made it to the door.
"What was that? More Proust stuff?" Sam asked.
"Freud," Dean retorted. "But screw them both."
Sam snorted, but said nothing. Instead, he pushed the door, and it opened inward without the slightest sound.
"I can feel her, Sam," Dean murmured. "She knows we're here."
Sam nodded tensely, and stepped aside to let Dean enter first, according to their set routine.
"I've got your back," he whispered, encouragingly.