Where We Find God
By: Ridley C. James
He who learns must suffer.
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart.
And in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of
Sam Winchester finally tore himself away from his brother’s bedside sometime after midnight. They had told Dean’s doctor that Dean was checking himself out of the hospital against medical advice and to say the man was livid was a gross understatement.
Still, his brother had remained as stubborn as always even after the doctor went into great detail about what Dean could expect in the coming days. Sam, on the other hand, had almost caved. The idea of his brother’s suffering wasn’t something he could imagine, nor did he want to accept it as part of the whole dying deal-as Dean had so eloquently put it.
The only way Sam had gotten his brother to agree to the doctor’s request that they at least stay the night was by pointing out the fact that sleeping in the hospital was cheaper than a hotel, and neither of them was in any condition to drive through the night. Dean was nothing if not practical, especially when it came to his hard earned poker money.
It hadn’t taken long for his older brother to fall asleep after the doctor left. But Sam still had found it hard to leave him-to lose physical contact- if only for a few minutes. He struggled, even though the sterile walls were slowly collapsing in on him and the smell of sickness and antiseptic were threatening to send the contents of his meager lunch back from his stomach as an offering to the great porcelain god.
Maybe it was so hard because Dean had never seemed so vulnerable, even when he’d been hurt before on hunts. Even when a crazed serial killer had nearly succeeded in murdering him. No, to Sam, his brother had always been invincible-until now.
Now Dean just seemed broken. And it was that line of thinking that finally drove Sam away.
Taking a walk was better than journeying down a path that would only lead to a destination that Sam couldn’t face. A place without his brother.
The hospital was calm at night. Although Sam suspected that the ER was a different story than the patient floors. Here, on the top wing, he was free to wonder the halls aimlessly, almost invisible. Nurses ignored him in their rush as they shuffled past with clipboards and pushed carts of machinery and medicines-like worker bees preserving the hive.
Sam was glad for the anonymity. He didn’t feel like small talk.
Passing a small office that proclaimed it belonged to the resident patient advocate, Sam momentarily thought of Dr. Marilyn Castle and the conversation that he and the woman had shared. How odd and ironic that he had been so terrified of losing Dean to a hunt gone bad just several months ago. And now, here he was in another hospital in almost the same situation.
And he was still afraid.
Terrified of being left alone in the dark.
Sam shook off the feeling and continued his walk.
As unlikely as it seemed, considering the life he’d led in the past twenty-two years, Sam was a stranger to fear.
He had always felt protected-safe.
Even if a part of him recognized it as an illusion-he’d reveled in it just the same. He accepted it as the truth. Maybe even took it for granted. Counted on it to always be there. His own personal safety net with a bad attitude and a leather jacket.
But now that invisible barrier between him and all that could hurt him was crumbling and Sam wasn’t sure where to go to find the answers to fix it. What was worse was the idea that those answers might not even exist.
His morbid line of thinking was once again interrupted as he came to the end of the corridor. He was about to turn around when a flicker of light caught his eye.
A small octagon-shaped glass window seemed ill-placed in the middle of the brown wooden door, that stood out in contrast against the harsh, white hospital walls.
Sam stopped in front of it, noticing how the glow from inside illuminated the brilliant colors of the stained glass. It gave off a warm, inviting feel and seemed to beckon him inside.
The word Chapel sent both a wave of dread and one of anticipation through the young hunter and he hesitated before reaching out to turn the knob.
It wasn’t locked although Sam, for some reason, had half expected that it would be. When he entered he was relieved to find the room empty.
Dark wooden pews with crushed cranberry padding filled the small space and faced a modest alter that was lined with candles-each holding a tiny dancing flame.
Sam’s boots sunk into lush gold carpet as he made his way to the front pew and he caught the faint smell of cinnamon and some other spicy scent. Both were a welcome reprieve from the hospital aromas that had assaulted his senses during the last sixteen hours.
He took a seat and faced the alter. Unsure of himself and more nervous than he could explain, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Sam closed his tired eyes and tried to calm his racing heart- grasping desperately at the peace that so many people confessed to finding in such places.
Nothing changed, however. No feeling of calm rushed over him-no profound understanding overtook him.
No. If anything, he felt inconsolably more alone in that moment and it sent an irrational need to get back to Dean coursing through him.
The youngest Winchester needed his brother- not this-whatever this was. Sam desperately needed to see Dean’s face and hold his warm hand and feel his chest rise and fall once more.
He rose quickly in his panic but a sharp, explosive pain in his head brought him up short. Sam couldn’t stop the groan that escaped him as he brought his hands to cradle his skull and sank back into the pew.
A white light flashed behind his eyes and that’s when he heard the voice.
“I always envied you, you know.”
The impossibly familiar accent had Sam blinking away the tears of pain and searching the room for it’s source.
A sudden drop in temperature in the chapel didn’t go unnoticed by Sam and he shivered as the cold air swirled around him. Then he was there-stepping out of the shadows looking exactly as Sam had remembered him.
It was just like his mother had appeared to them back in Kansas. Like time had frozen from the moment of death. He was corporeal like Mary had been and looked almost like any other normal, living person.
Jake McGhee was still seventeen, however. Even though he’d been dead more than six years. He even had the same Eminem T-shirt and faded jeans on he‘d worn the last time that Sam had seen him-minus the gore and blood. His red hair was as untamed and wild as ever, his smile sharp and his green eyes still brimming full with hidden ideas of mischief.
“How?” Sam slowly stood, bracing himself with the back of the bench, to ward off the sudden dizziness and nausea. “You can’t…you’re…”
“Dead?” The young man sighed dramatically. “Yeah, don’t remind me.”
“Great.” Sam swallowed hard and mentally cursed Dean for the whole Haley Joe comment. Now it seemed that he was seeing dead people.
“Don’t worry, dude, you’re not crazy.” Jake shook his head. “Although I did expect a ghost hunter to be a little less freaked out by a ghost.”
“Well, it’s been a long day,” Sam explained, straightening himself to his full height and trying to retain some of his professional dignity. “What are you doing here, man?”
Jake shrugged. “I think I should be asking you that. You’re the one that brought me here, John Edwards.”
Sam shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that one of his few high school friends-a long since deceased one at that-was now standing in the chapel with him. “I don’t know what you mean. I haven’t thought of you in years.” It was harsh, but true.
“Gee,” Jake brought his hand to his heart, “it’s nice to know I’m so fondly remembered. And after all we meant to each other, Kansas.”
Sam raked a hand through his hair-frustrated with himself that he was actually concerned with hurting a spirit’s feelings. Dean would have laughed his ass off. “I’m sorry, Jake. I just meant that I’ve been busy.”
“Yeah-living and all that.” The words were frosty but Jake smiled to take the sting away. “Chill, Sam, it’s not like we were best buds-I get it.”
“Yeah.” Jake was right. Sam and he were friends, but Sam had still been wary of getting too close to people back then-afraid of when he’d be jerked away. The hunter stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and resisted the idiotic urge to ask his old friend how he’d been.
“So,” Jake saved him. The ghost sat in one of the pews and motioned for Sam to do the same. “Aren’t you curious why a good-looking, brilliantly funny, and highly popular kid like myself envied a geeky guy like you.”
Sam sat down on the bench in front of Jake. “My calculus grades?”
When Jake rolled his eyes, Sam shrugged and his smile faded. “Because I survived the crash?”
Jake laughed. “You living guys all think you have it made-don’t you, Kansas?”
Sam snorted. He’d forgotten the nickname he’d been tagged with that year and the fact that Jake had a wicked sense of humor, almost rivaling Dean’s morbidity. “Then why?”
“Because of your brother.”
Sam’s brow furrowed in confusion and he shook his head slightly as if he hadn’t heard the other guy right. “My brother?” The hunter shivered as another chill passed through him and the air felt so cold that he was surprised that he couldn’t see his own breath. “You guys couldn’t stand my brother.”
It was true.
Sam was pretty sure that the friends that he’d hung out with as a senior had not only feared Dean Winchester, but secretly envied his hot car and uncanny ability to pick up any girl that he wanted-including their girlfriends if he so chose. But he was damn positive that they never-ever-liked him.
Jake nodded. “He was a cocky-ass sonuvabitch but he had a ride most guys would have given their left nut for, and the punk got more tail than atoilet seat.” He laughed. “But man, he had your back.”
Sam averted his eyes from Jake as he felt them begin to sting. He didn’t want to be here talking about his brother to a freakin’ ghost as if Dean too existed in the past-like Jake.
Apparently Jake was still slow on the uptake. “Dean was like a Pit Bull when it came to you, Sam. Man, I wish I could have lived long enough to see him beat Jeff’s ass.”
Sam turned to look at Jake, confusion playing across his handsome face. “Dean didn’t…”
“The hell he didn’t,” Jake snorted. “Do you think Jeff copped to everything out of the goodness of his heart. Man, you’re still as gullible as ever.”
“I know Jeff was a jerk.” Sam suddenly felt like the naïve kid he‘d been back then. “I just didn‘t think about it.”
The truth was that he‘d been in the hospital for a while and when he‘d gotten out Jeff Wilkerson had already been arrested and John had been more than anxious to leave the town behind them. The accident was something of a hot issue between his father and Dean. Sam hadn‘t really understood why, but he knew it had something to do with him. By the time Sam was well enough to leave, John had them packed and ready to go. He hadn‘t even gone to Jake‘s funeral.
The spirit seemed to read his thoughts. “Don‘t sweat it, man. You were there when it counted.”
“I was terrified.” Sam remembered that feeling with painful clarity. It was the first time he’d felt completely alone and vulnerable.
“No shit, man. We were bleeding to death and that asshole Jeff could have given a flying fuck if we died. He was more worried about his ride.”
Sam held Jake’s gaze, the pieces starting to fall in place. “I’d never been alone and in trouble before.”
Jake nodded. “Bingo, boy wonder.”
“That’s why you’re here? To remind me of what a fuck-up I am when I’m on my own?”
“You tell me.” Jake sighed, “Something about that night has triggered something in that freaky head of yours.” He tapped his own forehead. “What do you remember, Kansas?”
“Not a lot.”
Jake reached out and laid his hand on Sam‘s arm. “Try harder.”
Sam shuddered at the icy touch, but closed his eyes just the same. However, instead of merely recalling the past events, the years seem to effortlessly fall away and he felt as if he had tumbled back in time.
When he opened his eyes the paneled chapel walls were replaced with ones that were painted a pale shade of blue, with peeling wall paper lining their tops. Fading sunlight fell through the numerous kitchen windows chasing away the last of the chill from his body and Jake was no longer in front of him, but rather, John Winchester.
“Do not go out without your cell phone. And if you do go out, curfew is still at eleven, just like I was here.” John held his son’s gaze. “I’ll know if you were late.” The oldest Winchester continued to bark orders as he shoved weapons of various nature into his duffel bag.
Unbeknownst to him, his older son was mocking every word from behind his back.
“I put salt under the windows and in front of the doors but you might want to put some around your bed just in case, and…” John suddenly swung around and pointed a finger at Dean, “…you might want to act your age for a change before I throttle you.”
Sam laughed at the complete look of feigned innocence that crossed his twenty-one year old brother’s face only to find his dad’s hard gaze locked on him again.
“I mean it, Sammy. I want you to be careful.”
Sam fought the urge to remind his father once again that his name was Sam-say it with me Dad-Sam. Instead he merely saluted the man. “Yes, sir.”
“Smart ass,” John mumbled, shaking his head and zipping his bag. For about the hundredth time he wondered if he’d been too easy on his boys. Apparently they had no fear of him. He’d have to work on that.
John looked at Dean again. “You-I’ll deal with in the car.”
Dean only grinned as his dad brushed past him and headed outside. He raised an eyebrow and rubbed his hands together. “So, little brother, what are your big plans for this solo weekend.”
Sam rolled his eyes dramatically. “I told you that I’m going to be studying for end of course tests, jerk.” That was the whole point in Sam sitting out the hunt, after all. It was December and the first half of his senior year was almost over.
His dad had promised him one year in the same school. A year in which Sam could take AP and Honor’s classes which he’d need on his transcript if he wanted to get into a good college, and to take the time to actually get to know teachers and counselors that could write reference letters for him-without Dean having to forge them.
So far, John had come through on the deal and Sam wasn’t about to screw it up.
“You’re going to be alone for the whole weekend, you have the house completely to yourself,and you’re going to curl up with a good book?”
Sam grinned at his brother’s look of baffled disbelief. “Yes. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” The youngest Winchester was determined to add a perfect 4.0 to his ACT score of 34. It was all part of his bigger plan.
Dean sighed. “Further proof that you are definitely adopted or maybe an alien life form from the planet- Boring!”
“Hey, one of us has to grow up to be an actual adult.”
Dean shook his head. “Maybe I should stay home just in case you stab yourself with a really sharp pencil, or strain your eyes reading, or get really crazy and bleed to death from a paper cut.”
Sam didn’t miss the flicker of emotions that flashed quickly through his brother’s green eyes. He may have been enjoying teasing his kid brother, but he was also half serious about the staying part. “I’ll be fine.”
“I know that.” Dean shrugged nonchalantly. “But maybe I could use a weekend off too.”
Sam raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “Dad might need your help.”
The older Winchester looked out the door and sighed. His brother was right, but it still felt wrong to be leaving Sam alone.
He turned to face his kid brother again and held his hand out. “Here- take this just in case.”
Sam hesitated, half expecting at best-one of Dean’s many female admirer’s phone numbers- at worst- a condom. “Dean, I told you…” The words died on Sam’s lips as Dean dropped his necklace in his babybrother’s outstretched hand.
“For protection.” So at least a part of me is with you.
“Dean, I got this for you.” Sam closed his hand around the pendant. “You’re the one out hunting. I’m going to be here, at home, studying.”
“I have Dad.” Dean forced a smile on his face, and cuffed Sam on the side of the head. “Besides you may change your mind and go out. That may bring you some of my luck with the ladies. Let’s face it, kiddo, you need all the help you can get.”
Sam snorted, but slipped the necklace over his head just the same. “You’re such a thoughtful and caring older brother-for a prick, that is.”
“Damn straight.” Dean winced as his dad laid on the horn of the Impala. He picked up his pack and winked at Sam. “Condoms are in the top drawer of my dresser- just in case. Protection and safety first. That‘s the Winchester motto.”
And here I thought it was Semper Fi. “Get out of here, you idiot.”
Dean turned to go, but stopped at the door. “Stay out of trouble, Sammy.”
He was gone before Sam could correct the nickname. As he listened to the roar of the Chevy’s engine as it pulled away from the house, Sam sank into the couch and sighed. He had a feeling he’d still be Sammy when he was eighty.
The phone rang about an hour later and Sam started for the kitchen, sure it was Dean calling to check up on him.
He picked up the receiver. “I am not having sex this weekend so give it up.”
“Okay.” Much to the seventeen year old’s mortification the voice on the other end did not belong to his older brother. “I wasn’t going to ask, Dude.”
“Oh, hey, Jake,” Sam cleared his throat. “I’ve been getting some prank calls. Sorry.”
“Heavy breathers, huh?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Cool.” Jake laughed. “Most of us guys have to pay for that shit.”
“So, what’s up?”
“Well, some of the boys and I are heading over to Kate Lundy’s end of the term party at the beach. We thought you might want to hang out.”
Sam looked at the pile of books and notes on the coffee table and then to the clock on the wall. It was already after seven. “I’m really buried in Calculus stuff at the moment but…”
“No buts, Winchester. You have all weekend to study-like you even need it-and you’ve been telling me for months that you’d hang out. People are beginning to think you lead some kind of double life or your one of those loner-Columbine school shooter types.”
Sam sighed. For some reason Jake McGhee had taken Sam-the new guy-under his wing and drug him into the fold of the ‘popular’ crowd at San Morgana High. Most of the kids were alright, but some of them went out of their way to make Sam feel like more of a freak and outsider than he already did. “I don’t know, Jake.”
“Come on, Kansas. Come out and play with us.”
“Who does us entail?”
There was a slight pause. “Well, me, Nick, Sham, and Jeff.”
Sam silently groaned. Jeff Wilkerson was captain of the basketball team, president of the student council, and just recently founder and chief of the ’I hate Sam Winchester’ club. Sam wasn’t sure if it was because the basketball coach had been salivating over the prospect of 6’4 Sam joining the team or the fact that Jeff’s girlfriend, Dana, had been drooling over Dean.
“Look, Sam, I know Jeff’s a jerk, but he has a really cool car and he knows how to have fun. Trust me.”
“I’m not really into the whole party scene, Jake.” That was a grand understatement. Sam hadn’t been to a party since he was in kindergarten and Kelley, the girl of his dreams at the time, had asked him to her birthday.
“Have you ever been to a beach party, Kansas? I mean you’ve lived most of your life landlocked, right-surrounded by corn or something.”
“I’ve lived in California before, Jake.” Sam had lived in more places than he could remember.
“But have you been to a beach party?”
“No.” There was no use in lying about it. Sam had hardly seen the need to make the kind of friends that invited you to parties-especially after being uprooted anytime that he did go out of his way to give a shit.
“Just as I thought. You have led a sad, sheltered life, my friend.”
Sam thought of his brother and sighed. Dean was always telling him that he needed to get out more-live a little. Have fun. Hell, what could it hurt? “I have to be home by eleven.”
Jake laughed. “Don’t worry, Cinderella. We’ll have you back before you turn into a pumpkin.”
Sam had regretted his decision the instant that he hung up. An hour later he could have kicked himself for being a moron and listening to Dean-even if Dean hadn‘t actually been there.
None of the kids at the party were in any of his classes except for Jake, some of them Sam was pretty sure weren’t even in high school, and most of them were either wasted or on their way there.
“You not into the whole party scene, pretty boy?” Jeff nudged Sam harder than necessary as he came alongside him. “Have a drink, maybe it’ll loosen your tongue.”
Sam moved closer to the bon fire and away from Wilkerson. “No thanks.” Sam wasn’t into willingly losing control of his faculties. Dean loved to call him a control freak-but Sam preferred to look it as being cautious. After all, he’d watched his father take a painful trip down that road and he wasn’t in any hurry to follow in the man’s footsteps.
Jeff snorted. “It’s Coke, Kansas.” He shoved the plastic cup in Sam’s hand. “I pretty much figured you for a geek-and we do need a designated.” The other teen shook his head and smiled at the look of surprise that crossed Sam’s face. “You didn’t think we invited you along for your fun and lively personality, did you?”
Sam didn’t reply, but merely sniffed the drink before tasting it. Jake took that moment to finally make an appearance. “There’s my two favorite tall people.” His words were slurred and it was obvious he hadn’t been drinking what Sam was.
“McGhee, I think your date's not having anyfun.”
“What?” Jake looked horrified. “Kansas-you aren’t having fun?”
For the first time in his life Sam was beginning to think that being a ‘normal’ teenager wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Look, Jake, I think I’ll just walk back to my house.”
“Now, now, now,” Jake roughly slapped Sam on the back, “you came here to have fun, and by God, man, you’re going to have some fun.” The red-haired teen pointed to some girls several feet from them. “I have it on good authority that those two lovely ladies are willing to share their blanket with us.” He winked at Sam. "I'm betting that they'll be willing to share a lot more, if you get my drift."
Sam glanced at the girls, who smiled and waved at him, and then back up the beach that would lead to the old house that his father had rented for their small family. He wanted nothing more than to be hunting with his dad and Dean at that moment.
“Come on, Sam, lighten up.” Jake grabbed his arm and started for the girls. “This is for your own good. Trust me.”
with the 'trust me'. Sam knew that rarely did anything good come after
the words ‘trust me’. But after he had finished his second Coke and
the world started spinning in an unnatural way, it was already too late
to do anything about it. The last thought that entered his mind before
he passed out was that Dean was going to be really pissed that he
hadn't stayed out of trouble.
Onto Part 2