"The One Thing He Can’t Lose" by: Ridley C. James
Timeline: Pre Season 3 Finale. After the episode Jus Ad Bellum. After the Brotherhood story Principle of Distinction and before Reaching Out.
The more I search for my significance, seems the more I disappear.
And I wonder… have I made a difference in anybody’s life since I’ve been here.
I can hear your laughter. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever known.
I don’t know how love happens, but I know I’m not alone.
And I do have faith in you.
And after all this time, sometimes I see the truth.
And I’m touched by your innocence and now I’m not confused.
You give me your love, the one thing I can’t lose.
You believe in me… and I still have faith in you.
I do have faith in you.
Dean could do contemplative and broody as well as his brother and Caleb without the need to go full out emo, spewing his feelings like vomit or splattering his emotions on a canvas for the world to see. Dean was just better at hiding it-keeping his internal cataloguing to himself.
He would lose his life. So what? What did that mean anyway? The job had taught him not only how fragile life was, but also how unending it could be. He’d seen his mother more than twenty-two years after her death, heard her voice, witnessed her sacrifice herself to save her sons.
Dean had been saved by his dead father after the man served his own sentence in Hell, watched him disappear into a bath of light with a peaceful go hither smile. Shit, Dean had even taken to having regular conversations with Pastor Jim on a watery realm somewhere in the vast regions of his mind. So, really, what did it mean to die? What would Dean be losing? And was it possible to pine for something after you were gone?
Between the countless hook-ups with the beautiful women, his un-yielding quest for the world’s best cheeseburger, and the constant search for a way, anyway, to keep him out of the pit, Dean had found time to actually contemplate the checks and balances.
For instance, he figured his body for a goner. At least if the demon dogs had their way.
As sad as that would be for all the deprived women who never got to enjoy it, Dean could deal. Physical agony was well within his field of expertise. He was far from masochistic, but he’d broken bones, lost a few unnecessary organs, and gained scars of varying magnitude over the years. Jim warned him a long time ago that it was painful to become real. Dean guessed he had earned that right. He was as real as it got.
It was doubtful his sense of humor would survive. From all the research Mackland had dug up for him, Hell most certainly did not sound funny, no matter what religion painted the picture or how you turned it over or twisted it. It just wasn’t meant to be a good time. Dean was pretty sure his jokes would fall flat in the face of eternal torment and damnation. His wit had served a purpose over the years. It had been an effective tool to help those he cared about most-a way to protect them from seeing his suffering. So fuck it. He’d leave the stand-up comic routine behind. It could be tiresome anyway. Dean would not mourn its loss.
Although kickass, the leather jacket would be as about as useful as
The Impala was a different story. He’d miss her.
He was currently working on said car in Missouri Mosley’s front yard, and took a moment to caress his baby's engine, running grease-covered fingers lovingly over the V-8. Yeah. It would be hard to say goodbye, although the old girl might look sharp with some flames on her hood. Dean snorted at that. Dad would roll over in his grave. He smiled, remembering his father’s rant when Caleb pressed to paint an eagle on his Jeep. A vehicle needs some goddamn dignity, Junior.
The Impala had that and more. She had been Dean’s constant, his pride and joy, a home away from the farm-the closest he’d come to loving a woman. He’d brought her back from the grave. She’d never left him. But now he would be forced to leave her behind. Even if it was in the very capable hands of his brother, it still stung.
As important as his car was, it was still a car-a sweet piece of steel, chrome and leather. But something he could bear to lose. Not like his humanity.
Dean tightened a plug. That consequence had consumed his thoughts since his experience with the dream root and his time with Rose. Torture could do things to a man, change him.
It didn’t just give a guy a physical scar he could brag about to chicks. At best it fucked up his head, leaving him an emotional basket case complete with the ever popular psychotic twitch. At worst, it had him foaming at the mouth like some kind of rabid beast willing to chew off an appendage if it would warrant an escape. As it was his looming expiration date had him acting a bit like a cornered wild animal and less and less like himself.
Dean despised the feeling. He’d been trapped before-alone and in
his brother had been there then, so had Caleb. This situation wasn’t so
It couldn’t be fixed by
Dean never thought the moment on the mountain would seem like a
refuge, but as scared as he was then, he'd had something that was
slipping away from him now. A die-hard belief they would come and save
Hell was a place beyond his brother’s grasp, beyond his best friend’s
Hell was a long way away from
A yell from inside
Sam laughed. “He’ll never see it coming.”
“If you put that frog in his bedroll, there’s not going to be anywhere you can hide where you’ll be safe.” Dean skipped another stone across the water, watching his ten-year-old brother out of the corner of his eye. “And don’t even think I’m going to take the blame for it either.”
“What?” Sam continued to stroke the smooth green skin of the small amphibian he’d found beneath a cropping of rocks. “I’m just looking at it.”
“I can see the wheels in your freaky head turning, Sammy.” Dean wiped his hands on his jeans. “Read my lips. Caleb will kill you.”
“No he won’t.” Sam unzipped his backpack dropping the frog inside. “You won’t let him.” He grinned up at his brother, as he slid into the straps. “Besides, I was thinking more like his boots, or maybe his jacket pocket. I don’t want anything bad to happen to the little green guy.”
“And I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” Dean shook his head. “I won’t be around to watch out for you forever.”
“Sure you will.” Sam scooped up a few rocks, trying unsuccessfully to mimic Dean’s actions in skimming them across the pool. “You’re my big brother.”
“But we’re faster.” Sam shrugged. “And he should have come with us on the adventure.”
The adventure was a two mile hike up the mountainside to see what
called a huge waterfall. Dean figured it was a ploy to get them out of
older hunter's hair when the natural wonder turned out to be more of a
Sam shrugged, showing little empathy. “Pastor Jim says we should make the best of a bad situation. Pouting doesn’t help.”
Dean snorted. “This from Mr. Puffy Lip himself?”
“I like camping,” Sam defended.
“Yeah. Because you don’t have to do any of the work.”
Sam grinned. “You’re just afraid of bears.”
“Am not.” Dean looked around the opening to the tree line behind them. “I just prefer city life, that’s all.” Give him a filthy motel room any day of the week. “If I want to see some nature or wild animals I’ll go to the zoo, or better yet the farm.”
“You know all sorts of creatures probably use this watering hole, like at Jim’s pond. Raccoon, deer, mountain lions…bears.” Sam pointed to the muddy banks opposite them. “They like to wallow. The mud cools them off. Probably a bunch of tracks over there. We could look for scat.”
“Maybe we should wait here until dark, see what comes out.”
“We’ll be long gone before then.” Dean grabbed his own pack. “In fact, we should head back now. Caleb will start wondering where we are. He’s already pissy and he told us to be back before Dad and Bobby.”
Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “But I don’t want to go back.”
“Did I ask you what you wanted? I’m in charge.”
Sam glanced at his brother and then to where the trailhead resumed on up the mountain. “But maybe this isn’t the falls Bobby was talking about. Maybe if we go just a little bit further…”
“No.” Dean shook his head. “It’s getting late. Put your friend Kermit back on his lily pad, and let’s head to camp.”
There were times when Dean regretted letting Sam get away with some of the things he did. Now was one such moment. Even before his brother spun on his heels, Dean knew exactly how it was all going to go down. Sam was determined to have his way. He took off like a shot before Dean could grab him.
“Sam! Come back here, now.”
“Come on, I’ll race you to the next clearing,” he called over his shoulder.
Dean glanced skyward, a growl deep in his throat. “Stupid…” It would serve Sam right if he left him, abandoned him to the consequences of his pigheadedness. But the idea of Sam running across a bear or ending up wolf chow erased all Dean’s thoughts of retribution. “Sam! Damn it, wait up!” They were supposed to stay together. It was Dad’s first rule.
Dean ran along the path, the limbs and branches pulling at his clothes. He heard the snapping of twigs off to his right and realized the brat had gone off-trail, tearing through the forest. Idiot. Sam knew better.
Dean did the same. “Sam! When I get my fucking hands on you…” One minute he was running full out, his eyes focused on the blur of red off to his side, the next he collided with the hard unyielding ground.
The viciousness of the unexpected impact stole his breath, left him laying face down in a pile of wet, dead leaves. Stars of black exploded in his head like thunder, a fiery agony rumbling through his body like a lighting strike, burning to his core.
It took a moment for his mind to catch up with the sensations, his body reacting on instinct. He tried to disappear into a protective ball, but couldn’t move. His deprived lungs kicked in, mouth opened in a gasp reserved for those held under water too long. Dean cried out without conscious thought, the scream torn from some primitive dark place deep inside.
It frightened the teen, even before he understood the animalistic sound was of his own creation. He screamed again, this time his hands reaching for and finding perch on the cause of his misery.
The feel of cold steel and warm blood had his stomach rebelling. His breath quickened the pounding of his heart against his chest deafening. “No. no. no.” He was hurt. Seriously hurt. And trapped. “Help me! Somebody help me!” Dean clawed at the metal tearing into his skin. “Sam!” Dean choked. “Sam!”
“Dean?” Sam’s voice seemed far away and small. “Dean!”
Dean gained enough orientation to know Sam was behind him. He could hear his brother’s heavy breathing, sense the fear in his voice. But his pain took precedence. “Get it off, Sammy. Get it off.”
Sam was at his side on his knees, scanning his brother’s body for the source of his misery. “Dean? What’s…Oh no. Oh no.”
“Sammy!” Dean screamed. “Just get me out.”
“It’s a trap.” Sam moved to his brother’s leg. He hesitated only a second before grabbing the two sides of the steel jaws and attempting to force them apart.
Dean screamed at the jarring, fiery agony erupting from the puncture wounds where metal pierced his skin. “Stop, Sam! Stop!”
“I’m sorry,” Sam cried. “I’m so sorry.”
“Lever,” Dean managed. There had to be some kind of release mechanism. He’d seen animal traps before. Jim Murphy hated them. He’d spend weeks each hunting season scouring the woods behind his farm for the torturous contraptions. Dad said the only thing they were good for were to slow down Zombies. Dean had a sudden surge of sympathy for the living dead. He pushed himself weakly up on his elbows. “Find the latch, Sammy,” he begged.
Sam nodded, his fingers running over the trap. “I think this is it.”
“Push it. Just push it.”
Sam tried. He was crying now. “It won’t move. It looks old, rusted.”
Dean fought to control his emotions. Struggling wasn’t helping. “Look for the chain…it should be attached to something.” It was usually a tree. He only hoped it wasn’t…
“It’s padlocked,” Sam whaled. “I can’t get it off.”
Dean dug his fists into the cool earth, pulled in a short breath. “You’ll have to leave me. Go on by yourself.”
“What?” Sam crawled back to his head, his eyes wide and scared. “I can’t leave you.”
“Yes…you can.” Dean blinked away the tears. “Go back to camp…get Caleb.”
“No. No!” Sam grabbed his hand, clung to it. “I won’t leave you here.”
“Yes, Sam! You have to.” Dean bit down on a sob. “I…I need you to be brave, kiddo. It’s the only way you can help me. Find Caleb.”
“But you’ll be alone…I can’t leave you by yourself.” His brother lifted his eyes to the darkening forest around them. “We don’t know what’s in here…what might happen to you. And I don’t want to be alone.”
“I’m trapped, Sammy. I can’t move. We don’t have any tools to cut the chain, no way to get me out. There’s only one choice. Go on.”
“Okay.” Sam’s breath hitched, he wiped the back of his arm under his nose. “I’ll come back for you. I promise. Caleb and I will get you out of this.”
“I know you will.” Dean nodded, fighting his own emotions. He forced a tremulous smile. “Remember what Dad taught you. Stick to the trail. Remember what I taught you. Follow the creek.”
More tears fell, but Sam nodded, slowly making it to his feet. “Hold on. Don’t leave me.”
He tried for a smile, gestured weakly to the trap. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Sam clenched his fists, determination flooding his face. “I love you, Dean.”
Dean nodded. “Then get back here before Smokey the Bear invites me to dinner and you’re left alone with Caleb.”
He let the sobs come after he was sure Sam was gone, praying for unconsciousness to take him so time would go by faster. Two mile trip over rough terrain would take Sam an hour even with the down hill grade and if he ran. That meant at least two hours back up the trail in the dark. However, Dean was quickly finding out time worked differently when you were hurting. It already seemed as if Sam had been gone for days.
Dean drifted in and out. The sun disappeared, stars taking their place in the blackness above. He looked for Orion to take his mind off the unfamiliar noises, the glowing eyes he could see watching him from the trees. The wind picked up, carrying the sickening smell of death and decay. It had to be the bait, probably only a few feet from where he lay.
That was how it worked. The predator placed something its prey wanted just out of reach, dangling it like a carrot on a string. Then just when the animal thought it was getting the prize, bam, poor idiot was caught as good as dead.
Dean tried once again to sit up, gasping as the metal bit into his skin. Sharp pain radiated from his leg, snapping over hyperactive synapses, spreading the misery like electricity through a circuit board. He cried out, panicking when a mournful howl matched his own. Understanding of how a bear or fox could be driven to chew through its own leg dawning cruelly with his overwhelming desire to get himself free.
Dean wanted his mom. He wanted his Dad. Sammy…Caleb. Anybody to come and make it better. To make it stop hurting. At this point, death was looking good, any escape. Then branches were snapping , leaves crunched. Dean’s heart hammered. He was terrified as images of huge teeth and sharp claws sprung unbidden to his overactive mind. Salvation rang.
“Help!” Dean shouted, surprised when his words came out more croak than scream. “Please.” He fell back on the ground, closed his eyes. “Please.”
“Shit.” Hands on his face, warm against his cold skin. “Dean? Can you hear me? Open your eyes.”
“Damien?” He blinked. Caleb’s anxious face came into view, glowing from the light of the lantern he’d placed on the ground. “You’re… here.”
Sam was there too, grabbing Dean’s hand, looking twice as scared as when he’d left. “We’re here. Caleb met me half way up the trail. He knew you were hurt. We’ve got you now.”
“What the hell, kid?” Caleb sighed. “You call this a fucking adventure?”
Dean didn’t want to joke. He wanted to go home. “It hurts…please…Caleb.”
“Shhh.” All humor vanished, Caleb slid his hand over Dean’s hair. “Just take it easy. Sammy and I are going to get you out of this mess. Right, Runt?”
Sam nodded and Caleb squeezed his shoulder before reaching for his pack. “Just let me get my trusty crowbar and we’ll have you out of there.” The older hunter handed Sam a blanket. “Cover him up, try to keep him warm.”
Dean focused on his brother’s touch instead of watching Caleb move towards his leg. Sam wrapped the blanket around him, pulled it snug, letting his hands rest on Dean’s chest. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
Dean licked his dry lips, shuddered. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
“No. I shouldn’t have run off by myself or off the trail. I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault…” Dean swallowed, shivering again. He was grateful it hadn’t been Sam who’d stepped in the stupid trap. Watching his brother suffer would have been worse than his own ordeal. “I should have been paying attention…it’s okay.” It was his job to watch out for Sam, after all.
“This is going to hurt, Deuce.”
Dean pulled his gaze from his brother’s face, met Caleb’s. Because he looked so worried, so un Damien-like, Dean forced a weak grin. “Getting out can’t hurt as bad as going in.” He knew he hadn’t quite pulled it off when his voice broke and Caleb glanced away.
“We’ll see, tough guy. But feel free to scream.” He cut his eyes to Sam. “Hold onto your big brother.” He returned his gaze to Dean, winked. “All rules against crying and chick-flick scenes are temporarily suspended.”
Dean thought his leg must have looked as bad as it felt if Damien was loosening John Winchester's rules. “Are you ready?” Caleb asked. “I need you to pull yourself out as soon as I get it open. I’m not sure how long I can hold it with my right hand. You help him, Sam.”
Dean nodded. “I’m ready.”
“We’re ready,” Sam parroted.
Dean was wrong. It hurt worse than stepping in the trap because it was slow going, the steel jaws reluctant to release his skin from their grip. Dean whimpered, biting his lip to keep from crying out as Caleb cursed under his breath. Sam tightened his hold, rested his forehead against Dean’s. “I’m here. It’ll be over soon. I promise.”
“Now, Deuce. Move it.”
Dean didn’t have to be told twice. He channeled every bit of his energy into the escape, jerking his legs up despite the agony along his ankle and shin. The snapping of the steel jaws echoed in the night, punctuated by the scream Dean couldn’t hold onto.
Sam held firm, then Damien was there. “Easy, kiddo. Worst part’s over.” Caleb reached over him, grabbing his pack again. “Help me, Sam.”
His little brother moved away and Dean focused on his breathing as the makeshift splint was secured, bandage applied. Time had mercifully sped up, or he’d finally drifted off because it only seemed like he’d closed his eyes when Caleb touched his face. “Deuce, you still with us?”
He blinked. “Yeah.”
“You okay?” Sam asked, gripping his hand.
Dean nodded, squeezing back. “I am now that you’re here.” He moved his eyes to Damien. “Thanks.”
“Just another one you owe me and my sidekick, Wonder Brat.”
“I’m not a brat, Dick Head.”
Caleb smiled at Dean. “He’s getting sweeter and sweeter.”
Dean grinned. “Wait until you meet his new pet,” he whispered.
“Can’t wait.” Caleb slipped an arm under Dean’s shoulders, another beneath his legs and lifted him. “But right now, let’s get you out of here.”
Dean closed his eyes, rested his head against Caleb’s chest. “Out of here sounds good.”
And it was just that simple. The
For right now he heard more laughter, which drew him from his reflections. Sam laughed again, and a smile appeared on Dean’s face. Sam laughing was good to hear. There had been so little of it lately. His brother had a great laugh, like Dad’s.
Dean put down the wrench and wiped his hands on his jeans as the screen door slammed, heavy footsteps on the gravel.
“Oh man, you should have seen it.”
He turned to appraise his brother. Sam was wearing a goofy grin, holding his side still chuckling. “What did I miss?”
“And what did Damien do to warrant a caning?” They’d stopped by the
psychic’s house on a whim, Caleb needing to validate some theory he
tell Dean a damn thing about.
Sam leaned on the front of the Impala, his grin widening eyes
“Un huh,” Dean quirked a brow. “Caleb doesn’t like peaches.”
Sam laughed again. “Apparently
“You, on the other hand, should be covered in fuzz.”
Sam rubbed his stomach with a contented sigh. “A sad case of mistaken identity.”
“You’ll need a better defense than that counselor." Dean’s warning was cut off by the slamming of the screen door again. Caleb’s deep voice had Sam jumping behind his brother, shoving Dean in front of him like a shield.
“Hey!” Dean held out his hands as his best friend reached around him trying to get a hold of Sam who was dancing out of his reach. “Watch it.”
“Move, Deuce. I don’t want to hurt you in the process of kicking
brother’s ass.” Caleb ignored the oldest
“Dude.” Dean shoved Reaves, trying to keep from being plowed over by the two Sasquatch. “Back off.”
“Not until I wipe that stupid smirk off his face.”
“Stop smiling, Sam,” Dean said, biting down on his own grin. “How many times do I have to tell you not to poke the sleeping tiger with a stick?”
“He started it,” Sam defended.
“Me?” Caleb took a swipe at the younger hunter, nearly clipping Dean in the head. “I was minding my own damn business, you little shit.”
“Two words.” Sam held up his hands, middle fingers thrust high for visual clarification of the count. “Summer Raines.”
“What?” Caleb shook his head. “Is that some kind of fucking code?”
“It’s a woman,” Dean explained, remembering the red head from the bar where they had holed up the previous weekend. It suddenly all made sense. “She and Sammy were discussing the political prowess of that dude, Obama.” He took in Caleb's completely blank look. “Hands down the best ass you’d seen in at least six years,” Dean added to jar the other hunter's memory.
"Shit." Caleb frowned, but then his mouth twitched. “Was that her name?” He shot Sam an evil grin. “She seemed into you.”
“Until you opened your big mouth.”
Caleb snapped his fingers. “Right. I let it slip how you weren’t really that into girls.”
“It’s not as if you would have done anything but put her to sleep with all your talking, Runt. Leaving that body to you would have been a sin, like taking a blind man to the Louvre.”
“And really sad, too,” Caleb said. “Because besides having the best ass I’ve seen in at least six years she gave me the best bl…”
“Caleb Thomas Reaves!”
Dean watched with amusement as the older hunter grimaced, his intentions to torture Sam further giving way under his fear of their father's old friend. “I was just waiting on Sam.”
“I’m not going,” Sam hissed.
“Oh yes you are, Baby,”
“I’m not an idiot,
“Don’t you sass me, boy.”
“You just had to get her riled up, Damien.” Dean slapped Caleb in the gut after the woman turned her back to saunter into the house. “Thanks a lot.”
“Me!” Caleb rubbed his stomach. “It was Sam. He framed me. Of course
“Don’t hate me because I’m so irresistible,” Sam said. “Sound familiar?”
“Shut up,” Caleb growled. “And go get in the damn car.”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
Sam sounded all of ten again, but instead of pointing out the childishness to his brother, Dean moved aside, allowing Caleb easy access.
Caleb lunged for the younger man, but Sam was quick, sliding around
of the Impala with another laugh. He scampered out of the older
reach, heading towards
“We’ll see how fast he is when I cut off his oxygen supply.”
Dean caught his arm as he started around him. “I’d like him back in one piece, please.”
Caleb smirked. “You’re no fun anymore, Deuce.”
“Somebody has to be the grown-up.”
“If you say so.”
Caleb sighed. “I’ll take care of him.”
“Do you really think I want to face
Dean crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.
“Alright. I swear it. Your little brother will be just fine with me.”
“That’s what I want to hear.”
Caleb frowned. “We’re still talking about a trip to the market, right?”
“Of course.” Dean glanced away. “What else would we be talking about?”
Gold eyes studied him. “I’m not sure. You tell me, man.”
Dean shrugged, lifting his gaze. He didn’t want to seem like he was losing hope. Not yet. Not now. “Just making a checklist of my own.”
Caleb’s demeanor morphed at his hesitation. Dean recognized the
gears, all senses on alert. So he forced a decent grin and cleared his
giving the older hunter a shove. “You two better get going before
A blaring horn broke the spell, leaving Dean thankful his brother was still caught up in his juvenile moment. Caleb swore. “God he’s a pain in the ass.”
“You promised,” Dean reminded him.
“Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.” Caleb pointed a finger at him. “But you owe me.”
“You bet I do.” Dean watched the older hunter go. Smiled when Caleb climbed in the car and a scuffle ensued for the keys. He watched them pull out of the drive, unable to look away. They disappeared into the distance. He felt compelled to stare at the last place he’d seen them while a cold chill tried to take hold.
“There are some things can’t be taken away, Baby.”
Dean turned, surprised to find
She took his hand, her touch warm against his cool skin, her dark eyes shining. “Love is sacred even in the darkest of places. Untouchable.”
Dean shifted under her scrutiny. “I thought my mind had The Guardian force shield now.”
Dean grinned. “I’m sure you don’t.”
“Just like I know they need you.” Dean didn’t reply, so
“I do have faith in them.” It was true that as time drug on without a solution, hope was waning. As Dean tallied up the costs, his fear and doubts grew. Some things would have to be forfeit but faith in those that loved him was the one thing he couldn’t afford to lose, not if he hoped to maintain even one shred of who he was. Even if he went to Hell, he was determined to hold onto that.
“Come on now.” She took his arm. “I put on a fresh pot of coffee; we’ll have what’s left of my peach cobbler and a nice long chat.”
Dean glanced towards the road again.
Dean laughed and it felt almost as good as hearing Sam’s laughter from before. He would have to make time for it, through the hookups, the quest for that cheeseburger, and the key to breaking the deal. Dean wanted nothing more, except maybe to keep on living. To be Sam’s big brother, Caleb’s best friend. He wanted to drive around in the sweet Impala, wearing his kick ass leather jacket, blaring ACDC, giving the supernatural baddies the finger. But Dean wasn’t sure that was going to happen.
Of course that’s where Pastor Jim would say that Faith came in. Faith was all about believing in the impossible when there wasn’t one damn bit of hard evidence that you should. It meant a guy had to accept that miracles happened every day and that he was as deserving of one as the next John Doe, maybe even a little more so. Not such a hard task, especially if it meant Dean got to keep on being Dean.