“A Brother Thing” by Ridley C. James


At times, life can be a war-a struggle to surmount the obstacles in our way, to avoid the wounds that leave us dying on the battlefield. Sometimes we must fight, but there comes a time when we must surrender.

The phone was ringing.

Even in his deep dream state he recognized its annoying chime. Even as Tyra Banks was slowing removing her last stitch of clothing, it kept ringing. And as she tossed her Victoria’s Secret lacy thong onto the front seat of the Impala, he allowed himself to be abruptly drug to the world of consciousness, his hand fumbling on the night stand beside of him.

“Yeah,” He growled, softly, even in his perturbed state not brave enough to wake the sleeping bear he was sharing the motel room with.

There was a pause and for a moment Dean wondered if he was going to have to kill somebody before he could get back to his dream hook-up. Then everything froze.


“Sammy?” He nearly choked on the name, not having spoken it out loud in over three months. “What’s wrong?”

There was a slight laugh on the other end, as if Sam had made a bet with himself on what the first words out of his brother’s mouth were going to be. Dean felt no need to disappoint him now. “Are you hurt?” Was the next predictable question.

“No…no, I’m okay,” The humor was gone, replaced with some other emotion that Dean couldn’t quite recognize, and that struck a chord. Since when did Sam have feelings that his big brother couldn’t peg instantly. “Are you?”

Dean glanced towards his father’s bed as the older man shifted in his sleep. “We’re good.”

He felt the need to include their dad even though his brother had not asked.

“That’s good. I‘m glad.” And Sam did sound relieved.

There was an uncomfortable lull in the conversation, where Dean focused his hearing to the background noises. Lot’s of muffled voices, music, laughter. “Tell me you are not at a party?”

He could almost hear Sam roll his eyes. “Not really. The party’s here.”

“Okay,” Dean frowned. “Where’s here?”

“My dorm room.” Sam sighed. “There’s always a party here on the weekend.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.”

“Yeah. You would definitely like it here.”

“And what about you, kiddo? Do you like it?” There were other things Dean wanted to ask. Was it worth it? Is it all you’d thought the apple pie life would be? But he was so damn glad to hear his little brother’s voice that he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Most days.”

“But not tonight?” Why else would Sam be calling. He sounded…lost, almost like he did when he‘d run away that time when he was twelve-all the way to Pastor Jim‘s house.

“No. Not tonight.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Nobody’s giving you a hard time are they?”

At that, Sam did laugh and Dean tried hard to visualize what his brother looked like in that exact moment. He missed Sam’s face. Almost as much as his voice.

“You going to come take care of the bullies, big brother-have a showdown on the commons?”

Dean snorted. “If that‘s what needs to be done. I‘ll kick some frat-boy ass.”

Sam sighed, and it didn’t sound like the frustrated sigh that he had heard from Sam so often the last few years. No. It sounded like the content kind, when Sam felt safe, or happy even. The same sigh he’d given when Dean had come and got him at Jim’s. That sigh he’d give when he was a little kid, right before he’d fall asleep pressed close to Dean’s side. The very kind that Dean hadn’t even realized was endangered, until it had disappeared all together, right out from underneath him. “Where are you?”

The question brought the older hunter back from his musings. “Ten Point, Montana.” At least that’s the last town sign he’d read before John finally agreed they could stop. “Home to the world’s biggest toothpick.”

“Wow,” Sam said, “I hate that I’m missing that.”

Dean grinned into the darkness, stretched out and rested his one free hand behind his head, beneath his pillow. “Don’t worry, little brother. I’ll send you a postcard.”

“Great. It will go good with the one I have of the biggest ball of yarn, and the largest meteorite crater.”

“Never say our childhood was dull, or without culture,” Dean replied, enjoying the banter tremendously.

“Dean! Who the hell you talking to?” John snarled from the other bed, and the younger Winchester winced, feeling stupid for letting his guard down. “It’s three o’clock in the fucking morning.”

“Caleb,” He answered automatically. “About the New Mexico thing.”

“I’ll let you go, man,” Sam said, obviously having overheard their father.

“No,” Dean said quickly, “It’s okay.”

The bed squeaked and groaned under him as Dean pushed himself up and felt his way to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. “You still there?” He asked, wincing slightly as his skin came into contact with the cold porcelain of the tub.

“I’m here.” Sam hesitated. “What’s in New Mexico?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Dean teased.

“A hunt?”

“Yeah. I’m heading that way to check it out.”

“Just you?”

“I can handle a solo gig.”

“Dad’s okay with that?”

“His idea,” Dean answered, not wanting to talk about hunting anymore. There were too many other things on his mind. “So, you hooked up with any sorority girls, yet?”

“Dude, college isn’t just about parties and hot co-eds. You’ve watched MTV Spring Break one too many times.”

Dean laughed. “As I recall that’s what sparked your little ambition to go to college.”

“I was thirteen.”

“So…have you?”

Dean heard his brother groan dramatically, a tell-tale sign that he was hiding something. “You have. That‘s my boy.”

“Not really,” Sam laughed. “But there is this one girl in my Psych class. You should see her, Dean.”

“Is she hot?”

“Totally out of my league.”

“That’s the best kind.” Dean pointed out. “Now I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do. You got a pen to take notes with you there, college boy?”

“Dean, I didn’t call to get advice about girls.”

“That just shows how unobservant you’ve been over the years, Sammy. I’m like an Encyclopedia on that subject. You don‘t realize what you‘re passing up.”

“Really, man. I don’t want to talk to you about Jessica.”

“Then why did you call?” Dean tried to mask the slight hurt that he felt at the abrupt way his brother ended that line of conversation, but by the way Sam’s tone softened, he guessed he’d botched the job.

“I don’t know.”

Dean could almost imagine Sam pulling at his too-long hair. “I just…Have you ever felt completely alone, even in a crowd of people?”

The older hunter didn’t even hesitate. “Always.”

Sam paused. “Maybe I shouldn’t have called.”

Dean sighed. “Talk to me, Sammy. What’s going on?”

“This place…” He faltered for a second, but then it was like he couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out. “Everyone is so together here and so fucking normal, and I feel like I’m always pretending and that if I let my guard down for even a second, they’ll see exactly what kind of freak I am. My roommate is from Martha’s Vineyard for Christ’s sake. His grandfather has two buildings here named after him. He wants me to go home with him for Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think I can do any of this, Dean.” His breath caught, the next words coming out all choked with emotion. “I think I made a mistake.”

There was so many things Dean could have said at that moment. Things he wanted to say. More importantly-things he longed to hear. ‘Come and get me, Dean’

But Sam didn’t say anything else and when Dean spoke it was the unimaginable, and it sounded so much like the bitter words ‘Retreat…Fall back.’

It was like falling on his fucking sword.

But what else was a brother to do. “You didn’t make a mistake, Sammy. You can do this. Fuck what those people think. You earned your way there, nobody bought it for you, or handed it to you on a fucking silver platter. Nobody deserves to be there more than you. It‘s where you belong.”

“I wish you were here.” Sam said then and there was a desperate breathless quality to his voice that Dean recognized from when his brother was a little boy. From when he’d awake frightened after a nightmare, or from anytime he’d start a new school and he’d beg for Dean to be allowed to come with him to his classroom. It was the same during times when Sam had been hurt on a hunt and was scared of not only the pain and the outcome, but of disappointing everyone, including Dean-but mostly their father.

I wish you were here. So familiar, those five little words. Considering Dean had thought them about a million times in the last few months, they should have been an ingrained mantra by now. He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling the hot burning beneath his lids. “I miss you too, Sammy.”

“There you are.” A guy’s voice sounded loud through the phone. “We thought you’d gone on the beer run with Charlie.”

“Nah, man, just needed some air,” Dean heard his brother say, could almost imagine him straightening himself quickly, flashing his easy, dimpled smile. “I’ll just be a few more minutes, Pete.”

“Good. Because Jess and her friends just showed.”

“Great,” Sam said, but Dean could tell it was forced, like it was the last thing his brother had wanted to deal with. There was the sound of a door being closed, its echo a little too loud in Dean’s ear. “You still with me?” His brother asked him.

Always. “Yeah, but it sounds like you need to go, dude.” Even as he forced himself to say it, Dean’s grip tightened on the phone.

“I guess I should.” Sam sighed again, the familiar one, the one Dean had heard a lot these last few years.



“Everything’s going to be okay. It’ll all work out.” Dean swallowed thickly. “You’ll be fine.”

Sam laughed, wearily. “You haven’t seen me, man. I’m a wreck.”

That makes two of us. “Trust me. I know these things.” Sam was wrong about one thing, though. Dean had seen his brother. Just last week.


“Hey, I’m the oldest. I know everything.”

Again, the younger boy laughed, but this time it sounded less painful. “Then I guess I’ll just have to stick it out, huh?”

“Yeah,” Dean rubbed at his eyes. “ You do that. And I’ll tell you what else you need to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Go to Thanksgiving with your roommate. You get off on that whole Seventh Heaven shit.” And, at least you won’t be alone.

“I don’t know…” Sam started, but Dean cut him off.

“And there’ll be free food.”

“Well, since you put it that way.”

“Probably even pumpkin pie. That’s my favorite.”

Sam laughed. “Yeah, I might actually get a piece without you around.”

“Speaking of which,” Dean grinned, despite the sick feeling in his gut. “You also need to ask out that girl. Jessica. Being solo and all, you might just finally get lucky.”

“Maybe,” Sam sighed again, and Dean knew it was time to let his brother go.

“All right then,” He searched for a way to end things better than they had the last time.

But his brother beat him to it. “Thanks, man. For listening to me. For everything.”

Dean took a second, closed his eyes, waited for his heart to stop trying to beat its way out of his chest. He then said the only thing that mattered. The only thing he had every really understood. The only truth he knew. “I’m your brother.”

An image of Sam’s face appeared to him just then, a little sad, but so achingly familiar. It was like looking at a faded postcard of a treasured place you’d once visited, but returned to a thousand times in your thoughts and dreams. “You’ll always be my brother, Dean.”

Dean let the words bolster him, give him the strength he needed to surrender. “Bye, Sammy.”

“Bye, Dean.”

For a moment, even after silence filled the connection between them, Dean held the phone close to his face, the warmth of it against his cheek providing a strange comfort. Finally, feeling foolish and emotionally spent, he closed his cell, permeantly severing the brief reconciliation he’d been granted. In the morning he’d wonder if it had all been some sort of weird dream-a subconscious fantasy, like fucking a supermodel in the backseat of the Impala.

The hunter pushed himself from the tub, took a moment at the vanity to splash some cold water on his face, and then forced himself to go back to bed.

He’d just settled himself, when his father’s gruff voice startled him for the second time that night. “Since when you need to go to the bathroom to talk to Caleb?"

"I was trying to let you sleep." Dean knew it sounded lame.

His father was quiet for moment, and the younger Winchester thought he was going to catch a break. But then, " Is your brother okay?”

Dean closed his eyes, willed his voice to come out steady. “He’s fine, Dad.”

“Is he coming home?”

The words felt like razor blades across his bare skin, and Dean had the violent suicidal urge to scream, ‘Where in the hell might that be?’ But instead he rolled over, faced the wall. “No, sir.”

“He’ll realize he’s made a mistake one day, Ace.”

Dean pulled the covers up to his neck, silently wondered when his father would finally figure out the same damn thing he was waiting for Sam to discover. When he did, when he finally understood, Dean wondered if he’d lie to him, too.

Would he fall on that sword for his father?

“Goodnight, Dad.”

When there was no reply from the other man, Dean held onto his cell phone just a little bit tighter. Knowing the answer to his own question.

No. He wouldn’t.

That was a brother thing.

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