By: Ridley C. James
Sam knew it would take some adjusting. After all, it had been three years, since his family had tried to function as a unit. And even then, they had been on shaky, tumultuous ground, giving dysfunctional a whole new meaning.
Sure, he knew that his friends from college had even had difficult experiences when they had gone back home after just one semester apart. They’d come back from long vacations, complaining about how impossible it was to deal with their parents again after being on their own. Sam didn’t really empathize back then, not even with Jess , seeing as how he didn't even have a home to go back to.
But, when he and Dean had went back on the road together almost a year ago, he’d kept expecting to have that same type of experience, for things to be strained, difficult, uneasy even. Strangely enough, it never happened. Instead, it didn’t even seem like the two of them had been apart for more than two weeks, let alone two whole years.
Sam and his brother had slipped right back into the comfortable, and sometimes prickly, positions that they’d filled their entire lives. And it had felt right, and welcomed. It had felt like Sam had come home from being away for far too long.
But living with his father again was impossible, to say the least.
The man ordered, and demanded, and slept less than Sam did, roaming the room like a displaced spirit all hours of the night. Sam should have remembered where his insomnia habits had come from in the first place. John picked where they ate, when they ate, sometimes even what they ate. And he was in complete charge of when they stopped for breaks and where they slept for the night. At least, he and Dean had perfected Rock, Paper, Scissors, and the tried and true, Heads or Tails. John only understood one game, My Way or the Highway. Which Sam seriously considered after the first forty-eight hours of being reunited with John-The Enforcer-Winchester.
Sam loved his father, even idolized him a little, but if not for Dean, it could have been a real blood bath. But as usual, his brother had found ways to diffuse the situation. Although, it took all his well-honed mediation skills to do so.
For one, he used the classic redirection strategy by finding them a simple hunt on the way to the ‘Big Gig’, as Dean had dubbed it. Then there was the tried and true deflection maneuver with his sadistic and idiotic humor about said current hunt. And last but not least, there was his latest technique of ‘scaring Sammy so shitless that he didn’t have time to argue with their beloved patriarch’. The last one was definitely the most effective, albeit Sam’s least favorite by a landslide.
And it was all John’s fault.
Sam had only volunteered to go out for dinner because he needed some fresh air and space from his father. But if he’d known the man was just waiting for a chance to teach him a lesson, he’d never had turned his back on him. And as usual, the forfeit had been his brother.
After all, Sam really should have known the bitching, and criticizing was just the tip of the iceberg, but apparently three years had dulled Sam’s instincts where his dad was concerned. Honestly, he should have taken in the blatant warnings. What good was being a freaky psychic if the ‘mojo’, as Dean liked to call it, didn’t even work on your own damn family.
To begin with, his father had sent Dean out to break into a funeral home by himself, with vampires on the loose no less, and then he’d went against Sam’s repeated objections and used Dean as bait to capture one of the said vampires, Kate. But the younger man had never imagined that his father would break one of the cardinal rules that he and Dean had established in their partnership.
However, he should have known his father had his own set of rules and now that he was, at least in his own mind, back in charge, that Sam and Dean‘s playbook was null and void, and easily tossed out the proverbial window. Unfortunately, that was one adjustment that Sam wasn’t willing to make. He only wished that he’d shared that little insight with his father before leaving Dean alone with the man.
“I’m back,” the youngest Winchester called as he managed all three bags, three drinks, and the key to the hotel room, “don’t worry about getting up to help me, I’m good.”
John Winchester lifted his head from the book he was reading, an uncharacteristic smile on his hard features as Sam stumbled through the door and dumped their dinner on the table near the window. “Ahh, it’s nice to have room service again. I knew there was something I missed about having you boys underfoot.”
“Funny,” Sam smirked, stripping off his jacket and tossing it on one of the double beds. “Where’s your straight man?”
“He went out,” John rubbed his eyes and stood, stretching before making his way over to his son.
“Out?” Sam frowned, dropping the keys to the Impala on the table. “Why the hell did you tell him he couldn’t go with me to get the food, if you were just going to let him go out on his own? You do realize he’s probably at that bar down the street-right?”
“No he’s not,” John picked up one of the grease-smeared bags and a drink and started back for his perch on the other double. Apparently not seeing the need for further explanations.
Sam’s frown deepened. “He said he was starving,” he pointed out. “He didn’t even want me to take a shower before I went.” That hadn’t been an option though considering they’d been traipsing around dilapidated buildings all afternoon, and Sam was covered in a mixture of dirt and cobwebs. “Where the hell did he go?”
“Back to that last house you two checked where the first victim was found, the Munsey place.” John dumped his food out and picked up the book on demons once more.
“Why?” Sam felt a slight prickling sensation at the back of his neck, as he glanced out the window of their room. It was already dark. “Did we forget something?”
“No. I found a record of a Levon Munsey in the police database. Seems he was arrested in connection to several attacks on young college co-eds back in the sixties. They never had any hard proof so the old man was let go.”
“And you found all that out while I was gone?” Sam asked incredulously. Sure he'd taken the long way around and stayed at the diner longer than had been necessary, but he still couldn't have been gone more than an hour and a half- two at the very most.
John took a bite of his burger. “No. I knew that yesterday.”
Sam sighed in frustration and impatience. “And you didn‘t mention it?” Again with the need to know basis shit.
“I didn‘t have all the information. I had a call in to the investigating officer, but he hadn‘t gotten back in touch with me.”
“And,” John raised his voice, apparently not happy with the cross examination he was receiving, “he called back right after you left. It seems that some of the girls’ fathers got together and decided to dole out some justice of their own.”
“They killed him? Munsey? ”
John nodded. “Looks like. Nobody ever found any hard proof of that either, but this cop thinks so. Old man Munsey was found at the bottom of the stairs in his basement-blunt trauma to the head. The coroner ruled it accidental, but the detective said he’d never seen a person take a beating like that from some old wooden stairs.”
“And this has to do with Dean going back to the house-how?”
John sighed. “The man was buried on the property. It’s in the vicinity of all the recent attacks,” he said as if that explained everything. “We didn’t want to risk another night and another innocent girl being attacked.”
Sam’s mind pulled together the gaps and his face paled. “You sent Dean to burn the body. Alone?”
“Yes. Your brother could do a simple salt and burn in his sleep, Sammy.”
“But you don’t even know for sure that Munsey is who’s doing this." It wasn't like his father to be careless. The man was methodical, verging on obsessive compulsive. "There’s been four attacks in the last month-each one more brutal than the last. Who‘s going to watch his back while he‘s digging up the grave? What if that thing goes after him?”
“Sam-I don’t know how you and your brother have handled things this last year-but I can assure you that Dean’s capable of taking care of this without you holding his hand. He did it for two years while you were at Stanford.” It was a low blow, but John had never been above a little underhandedness. “Besides, all the victims have been women. You’re brother will be fine. ”
Sam ignored the jab at his desertion of the family. “ Since when does four make a solid pattern?" His Dad never jumped to conclusions. "We don’t hunt alone, Dad. Ever! That’s how we handle things. Dean knows that. We agreed on it a long time ago. ” His brother knew better than to go off on his own, damn it. He would have chewed Sam’s ass out if the situation had been reversed.
John shrugged,“He didn’t seem too upset by it.”
“Meaning you ordered him to go, and he didn’t refuse.”
“Your brother does his job,” he replied, harshly.
“Yeah-even if it kills him.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“That means that Dean does his job too well, Dad. You don’t even know how many times in this last year that he’s almost done himself in by doing your damn job.” Sam picked up his coat. “I’m going after him.”
John was on his feet in an instant, moving with the cat-like reflexes that Sam was always amazed by. “The hell you will. He doesn’t have any idea your coming. It’s a good way to take a chest full of rock salt.”
Sam flinched. Had Dean told their father about the incident in the asylum? “I’ll call him on his cell.”
“He didn’t take it.”
“What?” Sam couldn’t believe his ears. “Dean always has his cell. We never turn them off. It’s his number one rule.” Damn if Sam hadn’t had to hear that one enough to know how his brother felt about it.
“I told him to leave it here. He had some calls into some of our contacts. They’ve gotten use to going through Dean instead of me.”
“You sent him out on a hunt- alone- with no way to contact us?” If Sam had been angry before, he was livid now. What the hell was his father thinking? Or was he thinking at all? It was as if getting the Colt had switched his mind into overdrive. Only one thought permeated his thick skull now, and that was finding and killing the demon that had screwed all their lives to hell. “How could you do that, Dad?”
“I can do that because I trust your brother to handle himself.”
“Like he handled himself in New Mexico that time?”
John sighed. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?” Sam had a memory like a steel trap, especially if it involved some sort of fuck up where John was concerned.
“No-I’m not!” Sam yelled. “And I sure as hell am not going to let it happen again.” He’d almost lost his brother then, he’d be damned if he'd lose him now, not after all the shit they’d been through.
Sam reached for the door and jerked it open just as Dean was about to reach for the handle on the other side.
“Dean?” Sam stepped back in surprise as his brother stumbled across the threshold.
“Using…the force again, Luke?” Dean asked, shooting his brother an amused look.
“Are you okay?” Sam reacted sharply to his brother’s slightly slurred speech, and his glassy gaze, his instantaneous relief at seeing him alive and in one piece short-lived.
“Of course.” Dean weaved, smiling again. “If you look over the fact that I’m seeing two of you right now.”
“Dean?” Sam reached out to steady his brother, just as the older boy‘s eyes rolled back in his head and his legs gave way.
He would have kissed the unforgiving floor if not for those excellent Winchester reflexes.
Sam took the brunt of Dean’s weight, almost sagging to the musty motel carpet before his father took up the slack. “Let’s get him to the bed, Sammy."
They managed to move Dean to the closest bed, where John helped Sam ease the unconscious hunter onto the mattress. Sam gently lifted his brother’s head and placed a pillow beneath it, but when he withdrew his fingers they were covered in blood. “Dad!” The one thought permeating the young hunter's mind was the words his father had said earlier. Munsey was killed by a blunt trauma to the head.
John quickly looked up at Sam, who was holding his hand out in front of him. It didn’t take but a second to realize what had brought panic to the younger boy’s eyes. Dark, thick blood smeared Sam’s long fingers. “Let me see,” John moved with practiced skill as he rolled Dean gently onto his side, where Sam cradled his face, allowing their father access to the back of his son’s head.
"Damn." The large gash was easy to find, buried at the base of Dean’s skull. It was nasty looking, but fortunately the blood flow seemed to have slowed, but not before coating Dean’s hair, neck and shirt collar. “Sam, go get the first aid kit.”
Sam shook his head, his eyes lifting from his brother’s pale face to meet his dad’s concerned gaze. “No way. You go get it. I’m not leaving him.” Sam knew he was being petulant, but for some reason he couldn’t bare the idea of abandoning his brother at that moment. After all, he’d been the one with Dean the last year. It was his father who’d left him.
John glared at his youngest son but didn’t take the time to argue; instead he grabbed a towel from the sink in the bathroom, tossing it to Sam as he headed out of the hotel and to the Impala. “Use that to stop the bleeding.”
Sam caught the towel and shifted on the bed so he could reach the wound. He returned his focus to his brother once the makeshift pressure bandage was in place, checking his pulse and breathing, relieved that both seemed normal. “Damn it, Dean,” he breathed, running his hand over his brother’s hair, partially for comfort, partially to feel for other telling signs of unseen injury.
The motion had the older boy’s eyes fluttering, “Sammy?” he breathed, blinking rather slowly.
“Hey?” Sam let his hand slide down to the side of Dean’s face. “Dean? You with me?”
“What the hell hit me?” With much effort, his brother's eyelids managed to stay open.
"Well now, if I'd been with you, I might know the answer to that question, but seeing as how you went solo..."
"Smart ass," Dean mumbled, closing his eyes again and wincing as Sam's hand slid back through his hair again. "Stop with the touchy feely crap," he mumbled, but didn't attempt to move away.
"Don't flatter yourself, tough guy," Sam sighed. "I'm checking for any other injuries."
"Bastard only hit me once, before I toasted his ass."
"Thought you didn't know what hit you?"
"I didn't see him, but I sure as hell have a good hunch."
Dean nodded, but instantly regretted it as pain flared behind his eyes. "Damn. My head hurts."
Sam sighed, bringing his hand to his brother's clammy forehead. "Stop moving it."
Dean finally opened his eyes and took in Sam's worried face. "Sonuvabitch used my own shovel."
Sam's other hand unconsciously tightened around his brother's wrist, but he forced a small smile. "That's why I should have been there. Idiot."
"Yeah, I would have had you dig the damn hole."
Before Sam could reply, the front door banged open and John stormed back in.
Dean reacted sharply, yelping in pain as his body defensively jackknifed into a sitting position. Sam reached out for him. "Easy," he said holding on to his brother's shoulder. "It's just Dad."
"Damn," he groaned, and didn't complain as Sam helped him ease back onto the mattress. “I forgot."
"I can understand blocking out the last few days." Sam glanced over his shoulder as John closed the door and made his way to them. "But here he is-your hero."
"How you doing, Ace?" John tossed the kit to Sam and sat on the other side of the bed near Dean.
"He has a hole in his head, how do you think he's doing?"
John lifted his appraising gaze from Dean to glare at Sam. "You want to patch your brother up or argue about how this is somehow my fault."
"Oh, it's your fault all right," Sam muttered under his breath.
"What'd you say?"
"Bleeding here," Dean interjected, in a weak voice that got both the other men's attention.
"Sorry," Sam mumbled, handing his father a bottle of sterile water, peroxide, and some gauze.
"What happened?" John asked, as he took hold of Dean's chin and turned his face towards his brother, so he could reach the gash. "Did you finish the job?"
"You've got to be kidding me," Sam growled.
John glanced up, "Hold his head still."
"It's done." Dean managed, before Sam got his hands in position. "I took care of Munsey."
"Looks like he almost took care of you." Sam snorted, as Dean's green eyes met his.
"Horseshoes and hand grenades, Sammy," Dean bit out through clenched teeth, as their Dad poured water over the wound, catching the excess in the now bloodied towel.
"Don't think it's too bad," John observed clinically, as he prodded the wound. "May need a few stitches though."
Sam rolled his eyes knowing that his father's evaluation at best meant there was no gray matter protruding.
Dean hissed, and tried to jerk away as John doused the gash again, but Sam held onto him. The younger boy shot his father a reprimanding glare. "Take it easy."
"You want to do this?" John asked, hotly, his dark gaze lifting to Sam's.
"I've done it the past year," the younger hunter pointed out, just as angry. And didn't make a mess of things, like you.
"Just forget it." Dean had really had enough. "I'll do it myself!" he used the momentary rush of anger to push away the pain. Managing to pull away from his brother, his frustration holding the weakness at bay,he sat up, the room spinning as he did. "Anything to get away from your bitching."
Dean made to stand up, surprising both men by pushing past Sam, but was caught by a sudden wave of nausea. "Great," he muttered, barely stumbling to the bathroom before losing the meager contents of his stomach.
"Nice job, sport," John threw the towel on the bed, and started for the bathroom, but the ringing of his cell phone stopped him. Sam could hear his brother retching, and sighed, as he watched his father falter.
"Get it, I'll get Dean." Sam didn't know why he felt so damn guilty, but he did. Maybe because this whole scene seemed way too familiar to countless similar scenarios that had played out in their years growing up-especially after Sam became a teenager.
John nodded, grabbed the phone and checked the number. "It's Caleb. I need to take it."
"Fine," Sam replied, grabbing the first aid supplies and not giving his father another look before starting for the bathroom. He couldn't help but to wonder at the times it had been his or Dean's number on the ID and his father had chose not to answer. "Dean?" Sam didn't bother to wait for his brother to respond before stepping into the cramped space. "You okay?"
The look the older hunter shot him from his perch by the toilet would have been almost comical, if the suffering wasn't so easily read on Dean's features. "Peachy," he managed, before gagging again.
Sam swallowed hard, fighting his own sudden onslaught of queasiness. He placed the supplies on the sink, before grabbing a washcloth and soaking it in cold water. He slowly rung it out and handed it to his brother, who had now rested back against the porcelain-tiled tub, looking even more pale and shaky. "Maybe we should take a trip to the ER?"
Dean placed the cool rag over his eyes, but not before shooting his brother a 'like hell we will' look. "No hospital, Sam."
"You could have a concussion."
"Yeah-and you could be the most stubborn bastard ever."
"Pots and kettles, Dean."
Dean lifted the washcloth from his face and stared at his brother. "Whatever, Sam."
Dean tossed the rag away and tried to push himself up to the edge of the tub. "You're pissed at me?" he asked his younger brother in amazement.
"I didn't say that," Sam said, stiffly, grabbing the peroxide and stepping into the bathtub behind his brother.
"Yeah, and you're usually so forthcoming with whatever is going through that freaky head of yours," Dean winced as Sam pushed his head forward slightly.” What the hell did I do?"
"This is going to sting," Sam warned, uncapping the peroxide and pouring it over the gash in the back of his brother's head.
Dean swore, jerking as the flare of pain sizzled through him. "Son of a...," he breathed as Sam poured more over the wound.
"Sorry," Sam sighed, pressing another gauze to the wound. "But you kind of deserve it for going off on your own."
"Damn it, Sam! You sound like you're five and I just went to the movies and for ice cream without you."
"We don’t hunt alone, Dean.”
“I wasn’t hunting. I was just wrapping up loose ends.”
“That’s crap, and you know it.”
“I don’t give a shit what he wanted,” Sam pressed harder on the still bleeding gash, angry at both the situation and the fact that his brother could have just as easily been dead as sitting in the bathroom with him. “We aren’t kids anymore.”
“Ow!” Dean would have stood up if he had thought his legs would have held him. “Cut it out, Sammy.”
Sam let up on the gauze he was holding, and sighed. “Hold this,” he instructed, roughly grabbing Dean’s hand and placing it over the bandage, before stepping out of the tub to come around in front of his brother. He squatted in front of the older hunter, and stared into his eyes. “Your pupils are equal.”
Dean rolled the eyes under intense scrutiny. “I know what a concussion feels like.”
Sam ignored him. “How many fingers am I holding up?"
“Cute,” Dean smirked at the one middle finger his brother was waving in front of his face.
Sam shook his head, and dropped his hand. “You scared the crap out of me, man.”
“Yeah well, believe it or not, I didn’t get whacked on purpose, Sammy.” Dean motioned with his other hand. “As much as I enjoy yanking your chain, I'm not in to the masochistic stuff.”
“Things can’t go back to how they use to be, Dean. I can’t do it again.”
“Yeah, you’ve said that before, Sam. I’m not dense!” Anger was back in Dean’s voice, and he winced at his own volume. “After this is all over, you’re gone.”
Sam sighed. “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about you doing things his way. Following his orders, whether they’re right or not. This is our gig as much as his. Remember what you said that night at Stanford? We make a good team. A team-Dean. That means you and I work together, not that we work for, Dad.”
“It was a simple toasting, Sam.”
“And you got hurt, Dean.”
Dean sighed. “Dude, it’s nothing that a few aspirin won’t cure.”
“It could have been.”
“Yeah, and the same thing could have happened if you were there.”
“Damn it,” Dean swore, leaning over and letting his head rest against his free hand. He really didn’t feel like having this particular conversation when his head had the drum solo going on. “What do you want me to say, Sammy?”
“That you won’t do it again.”
Dean raised his head slightly. “I won’t do it again.”
Sam frowned. “It’s not that easy.”
“It never is with you.” Or Dad. “Look,” Dean lowered his voice. “I know this isn’t easy, but we all have to make adjustments, all right?”
“What if the situation had been reversed? What if I’d gone out after Munsey alone?”
“Are you sure?” Sam cut him off, knowing what his brother was about to say. John would never risk his baby. “Because Dad’s not really acting like himself, Dean.”
Dean held his brother’s pensive gaze, hating like hell that the younger man was right. He’d known it the moment that John had fired that Colt at Luther-with Sam still clutched in his arms. Dean's heart had stopped. “I gotta' admit, the William Tell thing was a little off.”
Honestly, it had scared the hell out of Dean. For all John’s talk about keeping them safe, Sam’s life didn’t seem to even register at that moment. So many things could have gone wrong.
The bullet could have hit Sam. The gun might not have even worked, leaving the vampire pissed and very much alive. Luther could have snapped his brother’s neck in a heartbeat. None of that had appeared to enter their father’s mind as he fired. Every horrific scenario had spun through Dean’s though, as he was helpless to do anything, but trust in his father’s decision.
“I’m all for making some adjustments, Dean, but I’m not going to be reckless or throw away everything we’ve done this year.”
“He’s our father,” Dean said simply, sounding almost defeated. What the hell was he suppose to do?
“And you’re my brother.” Sam replied, in the same of fact tone. “Are you asking me to choose?”
“Isn’t that what you’re expecting me to do?”
"No." Sam continued to hold his brother's gaze. “I’m expecting you to stay alive.”
“I ain’t got a death wish, Sammy.”
“I’m not so sure Dad can say the same thing.”
They stared at each other for another long tense moment, before Dean sighed, and removed his hand from the back of his head, tossing the bloodied bandage in the trash. “Then we’ll just have to double team him.”
“Team being the most important word.”
“I get it, Sammy. All right?” Dean said gruffly, as close as he was going to come to saying he was sorry. “Now are you going to fix my head, or do I need to get Mr. Sensitivity to do it?”
Sam smiled, accepting that things were once again on sure footing with his brother. “I’m the better doctor, admit it.”
“Neither one of you are Florence Nightingale in my book.”
“We could always go to the hospital,” Sam stood with a shrug, grabbing the first aid kit again.
Dean sighed, resignedly. “I guess I’ll take my chances with you.”
“You boys got it covered in here?” Their father’s voice and sudden appearance at the door had both of them looking up.
“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison, before they could stop themselves. Dean shot his brother a quick glance that spoke volumes. If even such a simple thing was so ingrained, how the hell were they going to manage anything on a grander scale?
“Good, I’m going out.”
“Out? Where?” Sam challenged, only to receive a full on patented Winchester scowl.
“To meet Caleb. He’s hunting close by. Thought I might want to tag along.”
“How convenient,” Dean spoke up, “Demon boy shows up as soon as you get your hands on the Colt.”
“Munsey knock something loose up there, Ace?”
“No, sir,” Dean said, standing slowly, ignoring the protest of his still rolling stomach. “I just think you need to be extra careful now. Give us a minute and we’ll go with you.”
“Right,” John laughed, shooting a look to his other son. “Is Sammy going to carry you?”
“If I have to,” Sam replied.
“For crying out loud,” John swore, “I’ve done fine on my own for more years than I care to count, boys.”
Sam glanced at his brother and then to his father. “We’ve all got to make adjustments, Dad. That’s just the way it is.”
“First rule,” Dean piped up, “No hunting alone.”
“And always answer your cell phone,” Sam added, his eyes hardening as he remembered the countless times he needed to speak with his father, and how easily Caleb had gotten in touch with him.
John, hands on hips, dark eyes unreadable looked from one boy to the other. His gaze lingered on Dean for a moment, taking in the pale pallor, bloodstained shirt, but defiant posture. Finally, he shook his head. “I’ll tell Caleb that we’ll catch up with him in the morning.”
“Good,” Sam nodded. “It’ll give me time to research whatever it is he’s after.”
“Because Caleb never goes in to things blind,” Dean smirked.
Sam frowned. “Said the genius with the extra hole in his head.”
“I knew what I was looking for,” Dean growled.
“And look how well that worked out for you.”
“Just like old times,” John said with a sigh, and another shake of his head. “If you two ten-year-olds can handle this little crisis on your own, ’m going to finish my dinner.”
“Dinner,” Dean said, wistfully, holding his stomach. “I don’t guess that’s in the cards for me tonight.”
John nodded. “Then you won’t mind if I eat your fries.”
“Some sympathy here,” Dean motioned to his injured head.
“I call dibs on his burger,” Sam called after their father, who had already started back into the main room.
Dean looked up at the younger hunter. “Don’t let the gaping hole in my head kill your appetite, little brother.”
“Oh I won’t,” Sam grinned. “I’m a Winchester.”
“And look how that’s worked out for you.”
Sam’s smile deepened. “Better than it could have.”
“Yeah, a few more adjustments, and we might get it down pat.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Sam said holding his gaze.
Dean nodded. "Neither am I."The End