Title: The One Left Behind
Word count: 13K
Notes: With thanks to for betaing. Any mistakes are entirely my own. Also with thanks to nasos3 for their creative commons licence on the picture I used for the banner.
Content notes:[mild spoilers for the fic]
Summary: When Sam's thirteen and Dean's seventeen, John's hit by a curse that means he can barely function. Sam's desire to settle down turns out to be a monkey's paw of a wish and when he finally gets out, the only thing left to pull him back in is Dean - who doesn't even know what he wants.
"Sam's coming home," John says over breakfast. He's holding up a newspaper in front of his face, not to read it, just so Dean can’t see him. Dean doesn't mention that it's upside down. He just grunts an acknowledgement and takes the butter, spreads it on a piece of toast, the rasp of the knife grating on his nerves.
“Got the jelly?” he asks, because hell, he doesn’t want to talk about Sam.
His request is ignored. "Dean, I need to tell you something," John says, and the old sound is in his voice. The one Dean remembers from before all of this. It’s confidential, lowered, and John resorts to it every time Sam comes up in the conversation, like they’re entwined in his mind, like just hearing Sam’s name reminds him of the message he needs to drill into Dean again and again, scraps of knowledge picked up somewhere on the road and relayed for the fiftieth, the hundredth time in the utmost secrecy.
"Dad, is this about the demon?" he says, and he can hear the weariness in his own voice. "I know, okay," and he hears the newspaper rustle again, and his father slide the jelly over, keeps his eyes on his own piece of toast. "I know," he says again, quieter. It’s nothing new, just the same old dry chewed up facts and it’s nothing to do with them, because there isn’t one bastard thing either of them can do about it.
"Good boy," John says with only a trace of hesitation in his voice as though he wonders how Dean knows because John sure as hell doesn’t remember telling him over and over, and he puts down the paper and stretches his fingers out, knuckles cracking one by one, sad little pops in the almost silence of their dead kitchen. "Time for work?"
"Yeah," Dean says, clamps down hard on his tongue so he can say nothing else, taste of strawberry jelly artificial and sweet in his mouth, clinging to his teeth like all the truths he can’t tell. John stands and heads to his room to get ready, hums this tune while he does, that makes no sense at all. Dean waits for a few moments and then throws the toast into the trash. He fucking hates eating breakfast at night, but today's been a bad day and breakfast calms John down. Dean thinks it might be that feeling of getting started - getting out on the road again, an interrupted rhythm that hasn’t been picked up for years. It isn't like it hurts Dean to eat cereal and toast and pretend like it isn't pitch black outside. He just fucking hates bookending his days. Can’t stand to see his father’s shoulders relax when he hears the rattle of the bowls, like he’s some sort of dog.
He knows from past experience that John will have headed into the room, lain down and gone to sleep. Today’s verging on a bad day. Some days it’s like his dad is normal, his old self again. He’ll go down to work at the yard, where Martin'll give him jobs to do, things with his hands that don’t require anything but muscle memory and the sort of smarts that exist in a moment. Martin's a good man, he knows they need the work and he's got respect for John as a fellow ex-Marine. Sometimes he and John talk into the night, digging up old pseudo-war stories, reminiscing about boot-camp, talking about places and things Dean’s never known, Martin navigating John’s vacancies, his pain, with enviable care. The far past is a safe place, not near enough to hurt. Even better, he's built like a brick shithouse and he can take care of John if something goes down, restrain him until Dean can get there and talk the situation down. If Martin slips John a bottle of whisky every now and then, well Dean can turn a blind eye to that.
"You should've been a negotiator Dean," Martin told him after the last time, no word of the thought Dean was sure he had, not as good at it as Sam. "One of them police guys talking to the terrorists." It's a double edged compliment Dean guesses, because with no qualifications Dean can't be shit, and his smooth tongue don't work for much besides getting second dates and getting his father to put down the tire-iron and let go of Randy's neck. He took it as Martin meant it though, shrugged it off, dragged his father back home, put him in the one old rocking chair, and came as near to blowing his own brains out as he thinks he'll ever get.
The hell of it is of course that his daddy ain't lying. There's bad things in the dark, and sometimes they seek the Winchesters out, moths to a flame, sensing the weak, sensing the broken. Like there’s something that comes pouring off the whole damn lot of them and just screams target. That’s why the house is secure, there's shotguns loaded with salt that'd give any gun inspector a coronary, and Bobby Singer had drawn them the marks on the walls and the floors before John had chased him off with harsh words and a bottle of Jack thrown at his head, a waste of whisky if you asked Dean. Bobby hasn't been back since but Dean knows enough to keep the marks touched up and clear, and Bobby rings every now and then, to see if they're still alive. Still alive, Dean always says, and lets the unspoken questions go unanswered.
When he clears the table and tidies the kitchen, he finds what John was talking about. Sam writes to John, never to Dean. He hadn’t known this letter had come - John must have slipped out early to the mailbox and the thought of that sends a cold shiver down Dean’s spine, the reminder that he can’t be there all the time. It’s a letter in Sam's careful neat handwriting, the handwriting Dean remembers from a thousand assignments all over this same kitchen table. It's childish still, but Sam writes like a pro, like the lawyer he's always wanted to be. There's not a word of Dean, not a mention, and fuck you too Dean thinks. He tells John he's coming home for the summer. Not a word about not seeing them these past two years, and Dean is filled with a sudden, blinding anger. Sam's included his phone number but only because he doesn't expect them to ring. Dean still knows his brother like he knows himself, and there's a mean delight that fills his bones with how much Sam would hate that Dean gets him like that. So Dean dials his number on his shitty brick cell and gets Sam's voice-mail, bright and perky and sunshine filled, clicks off before he ever says a word.
He wants to tell him to stay the fuck away but he knows it’d sound like the lie that it is. Sam doesn't ring back and Dean thinks that is that. Steals a bottle of whisky from the stash his daddy thinks he keeps secret, right there under the stairs with a tarp over it, and makes a dent in it because it’s easier to knock back a bottle than it is to think about Sam. He's still up first, and he stinks, alcohol sweating from his pores into his clothes because he fell asleep just like that, chair in the front room and now his neck is giving him shit.
Hot water tank is broken again and he makes do with the cold, lets it splash against his face, raw lungfuls of air almost painful in between the water sprays. He prefers it this way what with the sun gearing up outside for another blindingly hot day. He wishes sometimes that if his father had to get fucked over by a witch he could've done it in a colder state. He thunks his head once against the tiles, and then twice because the first time didn't work, and tries not to think about Sam coming back, and John curled up in his room, head down and dreaming.
He'd thought today would be bad after last night, but it’s never as predictable as that, never as simple as bad following bad or good following good. John is lucid, almost full cognition back today. He knows Dean, he knows where they are. He knows they had to quit hunting because a witch got the drop on him, and that some days he ain’t all that, and he even knows enough not to apologize for it for which Dean thanks anything that might be listening. It’s like his dad is present again - even on good days when he’s fine for work, he’s not necessarily like this, and Dean hates the way it still makes him feel - hope ever present in his chest like today, today’s the end and his father will somehow stay like this.
John talks about heading in to work and Dean reminds him that it's a Saturday - Martin doesn’t do Saturdays though he opens on Sundays. Relief curls down his spine though, because John being this clear headed means Dean can head to work and be reasonably sure that nothing will go wrong. He slings his clothes from yesterday into the laundry basket and leaves, watches John settle down in front of the TV though that’ll only last for minutes - he knows that when he comes back the place will be fucking shining, laundry done, floors scrubbed and all the rest. Early training trumps witch induced brain injury, and his father is always restless whether it’s a good or a bad day, as though either way he knows this isn’t where he’s meant to be.
When he gets back, Impala parked up and safe in the tiny lean-to that serves as a garage, groceries to hand in the passenger seat, he knows before he even gets out of the car that there's something different about the house. Different only ever means bad. The town doesn't visit the Winchesters, even the ones who are friendly, even the ones who sympathize with their loss, even the ones curious enough to try and nose out their business. Dean's never even brought a girl back here, it's always her place or the car, or sometimes, if they're both horny enough and she's not picky, in a field somewhere on a blanket he keeps for the purpose. He shifts cautiously, so the concealed weapon he'd got a permit for ages back is ready to draw, and gets a silver knife out of the glove compartment. It's not enough but it'll have to do, and he tries not to think of all the ways he isn’t covered, back vulnerable and bare and open. When he opens the door though, nothing leaps at him. There's just laughter coming from the kitchen, and he knows then and there that Sam's home.
It's funny, that with all the bad blood between Sam and his father, that this meeting isn't more acrimonious Dean thinks, as he pushes open the door and walks on through. Funny that it's his blood shifting with resentment under his skin, where his father looks relaxed and happy to have his second son back. There’s something ironic in the fact that Sam gets on best with their dad when John’s only half there. I wonder if it's because today he just doesn't remember you leaving, he thinks of saying, of stripping Sam's smile from his face and replacing it with the guilt that's never gonna stop riding Sam's shoulders, heavy as a black dog pressing him down if he knows anything about his brother. Dean hates that after two years, he still can't do it. He doesn't open his arms though, doesn't hug Sam or draw him down those extra inches that divide them. Just leans back against the wall, arms deliberately folded and grins a grin that's secured him jobs even without a diploma to his name, watches Sam fold himself in a little more.
"Hey Dean," Sam says, but there's not a hint of bashfulness, even as he steps back from a clearly aborted attempt at a hug. He doesn't look ashamed, or ashamed of not feeling ashamed. He looks happy and well looked after, and beautiful, and if Dean takes that as a personal insult, well, he gave up believing a long time ago that he was a good person. He knows John is watching them, so he saunters forward and reaches for the ice-box, pulls out a sweating coke.
"How long you here for Sam?" he asks, like they're strangers and Sam's dropping by. He's not fooling himself even a little bit, and he probably ain't fooling Sam. Hell, he doubts that even John's convinced, and he feels hot and foolish and flustered in that moment, angry with resentment all coiled up and choking him. Dean doesn't know if he hates Sam more for leaving, for coming back, or himself for not being happy that one of them got out. It can't be healthy, he thinks distantly, to feel this much. He remembers health class and the teacher telling them about fatty deposits that clogged your arteries and squeezed your blood into narrower and narrower channels, and that's exactly what he feels like, like his blood is thicker, like there's something heavy in his veins.
"Long enough," Sam says and Dean finishes the coke in one long pull and tosses it in the trash. Sam twitches about that. Before he'd left, he'd been on a recycling kick, saving the earth and all that sort of shit, when he couldn't be bothered with saving his own little patch of it. Screw unfairness, Dean thinks, he's earned the right to make Sam feel uncomfortable.
There's a fraught silence where there used to be ease between them, that particular gift dead and buried under the weight of two years. John looks up from where he's sat at the table and looks at Sam narrowly. "How's that girlfriend of yours," he asks, and Sam shrugs.
"We broke up," he says, and there's so much unhappiness round his mouth, that Dean almost says the right thing - I'm sorry, Sammy. He's schooled himself better than that by now though, learned to tuck some of what he feels inside so that only he knows, just looks past Sam's shoulder like he couldn’t care less about that piece of news. Sam goes on anyway. "She wanted me to come with her this summer," he says in a rush. "Travel, stay with her parents, that sort of thing you know," and no, Dean doesn't know at all, but it doesn't stop a sneer from crawling on his face at the collegeness of it all, and he holds his tongue like he’s got used to doing over the last few years, doesn’t spit out the meanness of his thoughts.
"She finished it?" John asks.
"I did," Sam says, and it’s not the whole story, but he indicates clearly that that's an end to it by pinning on a smile all over again, only a little less bright than his real one, and asking John a dumb question about the weather.
They talk lightly and briefly about other things and Dean keeps silent, swallows back everything he wants to say, makes the dinner, enough for three no conscious thought needed, because he’s done it for the last two years and always had leftovers. He wonders where Sam's gonna sleep. They have a spare room since Sam left, but John's been using it for his woodworking shit since they don't have a shed. The question's answered when he glances in his own room and sees Sam's bag on the bed. He leans his head on the cool thin wood of the door, and tries not to think of anything at all, not Sam, not John or the heavy sick thrill of inevitability that pulses sweetly in his veins, like he always knew Sam would be back.
It's still hot outside, midges buzzing and John's looking tired and drawn when Dean comes back in the room, vitality fading as the sun does. The curse is worst around sunset, but Dean's hidden the keys to the Impala, driven inside the small lean-to garage he'd knocked up years ago, and if John wants to get anywhere, get angry at anyone, he's gonna have to walk to find them, and they'll catch up with him long before he gets anywhere. Dean finds himself thinking in plurals again already, can’t catch and restrain his reluctant hope.
When John's in his room, fighting against the remorseless movement of his own blood, against the spell that means that he can't keep things straight in his mind anymore, that picks him up and sets back all progress like some endless rewinding clock, self-medicating with whisky as though not remembering is the better part of valour, Sam sits down at the table and looks at Dean. "How have you been?" he asks softly, and whatever Stanford taught Sam apparently it wasn't how to read a situation.
"Fuck you," Dean says, but it doesn't come out cold like he wants, just tired and tinny and raw. He doesn't know how he feels. He doesn't have words for what it sounds like in his head sometimes, for how on occasion he’s wondered if John’s curse is catching. It catches him again uneasily, how fast his father became John, hallmarks of all those doctors calling him by his first name right then at the beginning, and now Dean can’t think of him any other way. He stands up, can't bear another moment of this. Sam doesn’t try to stop him from leaving, just sits there at the table hands together like some fucking TV therapist, like he just wants to understand. Dean steps outside, walks blindly through the heavy softness of the humidity, gets lungfuls of something that isn’t quite air and fights back the urge that tells him to let it all out with breathless violence, because he solves things best, body to body.
When Dean comes back from the fields that surround the house, Sam’s already asleep on the bed. He doesn’t sprawl like he used to, he’s tucked himself in, long arms against his body, head curved into the pillow, and Dean can hardly look at him without a sick flush of want that burns hot and steady in him, like whisky runs raw through his veins instead of the blood that they share, and it kills him that two years haven’t crushed it or cured him. It’d been there when Sam left, just starting to put out poisonous roots, and maybe that’s why Dean couldn’t forgive Sam, the gnawing endless guilt that consumed him at the thought that maybe Sam had known what Dean was beginning to feel for his eighteen year old brother, the fear and self protection that wove itself around him as bitter resentment because it’s easier to think Sam left because times were tough, than because Dean drove him away.
It isn’t normal by any stretch of the imagination that he’s pulling off his clothes and getting in anyway with no thought of basic self-preservation, but what has ever been normal about any of this. They don’t touch at all, parallel lines with no convergence between them. When he closes his eyes, he can hear Sam breathe in and out, too careful to be asleep really, but Dean doesn’t call his bluff, just matches his breaths. There's an easy synchronization between them that nothing else has ever been able to match. He falls asleep like that, hostilities suspended.
When he gets up early because the hot water tank isn't going to mend itself and that at least is something he can fix, Sam does as well, tousled and squinty eyed, shrugs on clothes Dean’s never seen to go with his extra height, and follows him out, dogs his heels reminding Dean of the little brother who used to haunt his footsteps right up until he didn’t, until Dean can’t take it anymore. “Why are you here?” he asks, blunt and straightforward, and Sam’s eyes darken in something Dean can’t put a name to only that it scares him, makes his belly clench at the thought of what Sam might say.
“You know why,” Sam says, like it’s damn obvious.
“No, I really don't,” Dean replies, and throws Sam a toolbag. “Pass me shit when I ask for it,” he says, and there’s a sullen flare in Sam’s eyes that says there might be trouble, but Dean doesn’t acknowledge it. “You want to live here, you work here; you know the rules.”
“Fuck you Dean,” and now Sam’s pissed, “I’ve lived here almost as long as you have, don’t pretend like I don’t know the drill.” There’s no past tense in his words, Dean can’t help noticing, doesn’t know if he resents it or lives for it.
“Hey, you might have forgotten,” Dean says, and he’s itching for a fight because if he goes on any longer like this, he’s going to shrug out of his own skin from the need, anger all dressed up with nowhere to go. “And you ain’t been round here for some time.”
“So that’s what it is,” Sam says, and Dean thinks incredulously that for such a smart kid, Sam can be so fucking stupid that it hurts.
“What else would it be?” he says, and holds out his hand for a wrench. Sam slaps it into his hand, the metal cool against his skin for one brief second.
“You still hate me for leaving,” he says, and his voice holds something Dean can’t interpret, like the look in Sam’s eyes that he couldn’t name. “Dean, I had to, you know that.”
“Sure thing, Sam,” Dean says, aims for flippant and misses by a mile. “Had to get out. I get that. I do.”
“No, you don’t,” Sam says, and there’s a note there that gets Dean under his skin. Sam in pain always has and always will. “Jesus Dean, look at this life, look at us. Look at dad,” and he stumbles over that, because they both always will, first losing mom to the fire and then dad to a split-second’s poor timing that Dean’s never gonna stop blaming himself for. He stops for a moment and breathes deep. “Dean, if I could get out, could earn some real money, think of the difference it would make. An actual neurologist to look at Dad for starters,” and he seems to be about to enumerate all the reasons he’s always given and Dean can’t bear to hear them all over again, because Sam’s right, Christ Dean knows he’s right. Hell it’s why he’s angry, with the unjustified rage of someone in the wrong, but it doesn’t make any difference to what boils under Dean’s skin.
“I told you, I get it,” he says. “Only, I got left behind Sam, and it hasn’t been an easy ride.” It’s still not strictly fair because their father has been getting better, he has. From when Sam was thirteen and they’d stopped hunting, stopped dragging themselves all round America, to when he was eighteen and walked out the door, those were the bad years. John’s milder, calmer now, the bad days are less frequent, the good days are better. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Only, Dean was seventeen when they stopped here and he’s twenty four now, and it isn’t Sam’s fault that his life is this house and stopping his father from strangling strangers to choke the devil out of them, but there’s some days he feels like he’ll never get out himself. Like he's trapped in a box that's too small and still contracting.
“Dean,” Sam says, and he’s dropped the toolbag he’d been clutching like it was a lifeline. “Dean, I came back,” and he spreads his hands helplessly - huge hands that he still hasn’t quite grown into, not a teenager, not anymore, but not yet the man he’ll be, the one Dean can see in his face, in the way he moves, like there’s someone else just waiting behind his skin. Quieter, he repeats it, “Dean I came back for you.”
Dean can’t take it anymore. Not anything, not the love in Sam’s voice that’s going to burn him alive if he lets it, or the guilt of knowing that his brother’s still going to get pulled right on back in after everything he’s done to try and escape. He can’t take it. Maybe that’s why he does what he does next. Maybe it’s why he drops his wrench and gets right into Sam’s personal space, but Sam isn’t backing down, he’s waiting for him, for a punch or a hug or the moment Dean believes him, braced and ready for any of them, and Dean grasps his shirt, bunches it in his fingers for a second, working uselessly at it as though he can’t decide to pull Sam closer or push him away. There’s a steady awareness in his body that horrifies him, generated it seems by the smell of Sam this close, by the way Dean has to look up to meet his eyes, and he has to get out of there before he does something unforgivable.
That’s when Sam, panicked, does the stupid thing that Dean’s been running from like he doesn’t know how to stop, and kisses him. Splits his lip with a tooth because he's lunged too hard and Dean turned away, and that shakes something loose in Dean, destroys him. His lip is tender already, swelling fast, and Sam has horror in his face that Dean thinks matches his own, and all the answers are there, the gaps in Sam’s story, the girlfriend he broke up with because he came back here to the shithouse to end all shithouses, the place he’s been running from since he was old enough to sit his SATs. Dean should step back, and break the way their bodies touch, punch Sam for his own good, send him away for a final time.
He’s said it before though, and he’ll say it again, Dean is not a good person and he’s not strong enough to say no to this. Not to the way that Sam kisses him, tender and yielding now as though to apologize for the roughness of the first kiss, and Sam’s learnt all kinds of stuff in college, he must have, and Dean’s still the same stagnant mixed up fuck that he was when Sam left, and the bitterness of it gnaws at him, enough that he bites down hard on Sam’s lip, not a love-bite but enough to draw blood, the blood they share, and Jesus they’ve lived here too long if they’ve picked up the local country habits of incest. It doesn’t hit the way it should, fast jerk of a filthy word, no shot of adrenaline to the bloodstream because he’s been chewing it over for the past two years, head hunched under water in the shower as he blindly jerked himself off to the bitter taste of how much he’d fucked his own brother up - that he’d leave rather than stay close, always the worst case scenario as though that were some twisted comfort.
Sam groans under his mouth, pained, not any sound of lust or pleasure, the iron tang strong between them and Dean lets go and breaks away from him, wipes his own mouth with his hand, smears it with blood that isn’t his, doesn’t meet Sam’s eyes or look at how his mouth is swelling like he got punched hard in a backalley brawl. Now he can feel the fight or flight reflex spreading through him, mouth welling up with saliva like the taste of Sam’s blood had been good. Dean swallows stickily, and then again around nothing at all, and heads out into the fields, Children of the Corn style all over again, another job left half done behind him and he’s not talking about the hot water tank.
Sam for his part heads inside, dazed and shaken and the dim interior is enough to blind him for a second even though it wasn't exactly broad daylight outside - the clock reads a little past seven. There’s a curious dampening of his thoughts as though the shock of what he just did has rendered him incapable of processing it, horror and fear and shame just waiting for their turn. He can't hear anything from his father's bedroom and he looks through the cupboards incuriously on autopilot as though his body needs something to do while his mind shies away from what he just did.
He already knows what he'll find, the rows upon rows of cereal, an endless row of breakfasts waiting for consumption. He keeps his eyes on the shelf like that'll block out his thoughts if he wants it to hard enough, reads the back of the packets like it's his job. His lip doesn't just ache, it stings, little pulse of pain every time he forgets and licks his lips, a persistent reminder of an extra fuck up. Even in the row of Golden Grahams though, he can't forget the bleak appalled look in Dean's eyes when he broke away, mouth stained with Sam's own blood. In the quiet emptiness of the room, he can almost hear the panicked beating of his own heart, no slower now than it was then, as though the full enormity of what he'd done had only just hit.
Nothing's changed since he left. He's not sure if it surprises him or not; that the bowls are neatly stacked in the bottom left hand cupboard, that the spoons haven't migrated back to their drawer but instead cluster untidily beside the stove, the same old flypaper pinned up above. There's a comfort and an ease in the familiarity at least, as he makes coffee and eats cereal dry, tries not to think of Dean out in the fields, kicking through the corn, all rage and tension that Sam can't alleviate, never has been able to. At the edges of his consciousness lurks the things he can’t face right now, and just as he considers biting down hard on his already bruised lip as though the pain will drive the thoughts away, there's a slow tread behind him and he knows that it's his dad. All the old patterns hold true, not just the spoons by the stove, because Sam looks up once to gauge his face - good day or bad day the eternal question, then back down to his bowl when the answer is neither, it's just a day.
John sits down and there's silence again, air heavy and expectant like he's waiting for something. "Morning," Sam says, and thinks of where he could be. Jess beside him, beautiful and smart and funny. She raps his hand with a spoon when he reaches for the jelly ahead of time, perfect white kitchen in the sort of house that Sam had had wet dreams about since he was thirteen, her parents smiling at them both like some sort of idyllic magazine shoot - loving boyfriend meets proud parents. He remembers her getting angry when he'd said that, like he'd offended her in some way when he'd been offering the best compliment he knew how to give. It had been one of their only arguments. "You don't know anything about my family," she'd snapped at him, closed herself off, quiet and cold like a stone, not Dean's hot angry rage or Sam's own slowly boiling constant steam of fury, a silence that solidified until she broke out of it, shrugged it off and tried to explain - halting words about how much it sucked being the youngest sibling sometimes, about the brother in an in-patient facility, the sister who never phoned home.
Sam had listened, pulled her head down against him when she finally cried, bitter wrenched out tears that sounded like they hurt and wondered what the hell had broken in him that the best he could muster in return was a my family and I don't get along. Words as weak as the chamomile tea he'd brewed for Jess, hollow and empty, vessels that carried nothing but lies, and caught in his head still was that image of the Moores, clean scrubbed wooden table and all, dolls posed for a game of happy families that he’d so desperately wanted to join.
He realises he's poised with a spoonful halfway to his mouth, like time melts here, one moment enough to catch you in it forever, and his dad gives him a half smile. "You're good Sam," he says, and looks back at his own bowl like he doesn’t want to laugh at Sam's stupid expression. Sam wants to throw the bowl at his head, see the rage that had helped drive him out last time, a tiny spark of it, not this ancient remote man who sits there like he'd stare at the wall all day if he could. Instead Sam puts the bowl in the sink, and runs the tap, cold still, looks like it might be for a while, and he can feel the wrench in his hand and Dean’s fingers on his shirt, twisting in the fabric, like a double vision imposed on the room, the only real thing since he’s been home.
"Going to Martin's today?" he asks. He thinks Dean would have said something if John had got thrown out and told not to come back, though maybe he wouldn't have. Not like Dean gave daily updates, or weekly or yearly even. The only things Sam had known about home were from John's careful letters that he sent when he could, sometimes two or three a week and then nothing for months, maybe when John remembered, when he forgave Sam for breaking the cardinal Winchester rule, never leave a man behind. As much as anything else - their house, their dishes, their clothes, it was carefully recycled. It belonged first to the Marines and only then to the Winchesters, well-used, a maxim ground in and down, holstered alongside your gun and your pride. Sam itched under the heavy weight, can’t escape it still. He’d thought he had, thought Stanford would kick it out of him, wring him clean of all the accumulated guilt, sponge it from his bones, a fresh start, but he’s back like he can’t stay away, blood and sugar in his mouth, heat on his neck like the way Dean had got a hand round it had branded him
“Sure,” John says, like there’s no reason he wouldn’t, gives Sam a tolerant look that doesn’t belong on his face. John had by turns in their earliest years been stern, autocratic, a majestic figure whose authority had been absolute, his word final no matter how fallible he’d been, the first thing Sam had known to kick against. He’d never been tolerant. Sam doesn’t even think of wishing it was a bad day instead though because that would only tempt fate. “You and Dean fixing the water?”
“I guess,” Sam says, and in his memory Dean’s hand moves in his hair, the solid line of him pressed up close. Sam’s caught in the hideous hinterland of guessing what his father knows, whether he knew Sam had gone, would be going all over again, or if John’d drifted back a few years, memory as disordered as the rest of him. “Anything else I should do?”
“Guns cleaned?” John asks, and that placed him a little more firmly in time since Dean hadn’t let the key to the reinforced gun cabinet out of his own pocket in six years, not since the time with the rifle and the neighbours who dropped by to say hi.
“Sure thing,” Sam lies, though he hasn’t touched the guns himself since that time three years ago when the thing in the dark that even Bobby Singer couldn’t put a name to had almost killed them all. He wonders what his father sees when he looks at Sam, how he reconciles him in his mind with the memories he has, hates the nameless pity that wells up in him all over again as it always does, tainted with everything else he feels, and the voice that tells him that if John were himself that would be the last straw. His lip stings abruptly, and he tries not to think of Dean again, of his mouth sweet against Sam’s for one second before he got his wordless dig in. Thinks even if his father was cognizant enough to realise what his sons were up to, that Sam's pity would still destroy him faster. “Sure thing, dad,” he says again, like the first time wasn’t enough, like he can pretend to be the good son for thirty seconds.
John nods, satisfied, resumes his intimate stare at the wall, like chipped magnolia paint holds the meaning of the universe. With John fallen away somewhere deep inside himself all over again, Sam's left behind alone, and now there’s no way not to think about Dean, no distraction. When he drifts into what he supposes is now their bedroom, rifles through his bag in aimless search of something he knows isn’t in there, his gaze keeps sliding off the bed, no matter how much he taunts himself. It’s why you came back, the fucked up bit of him says. Tell yourself it’s dad, tell yourself it’s the guilt. And it is, it is those things, like Stanford never filled up all the emptiness in him that he thought it would, didn’t neatly polyfiller all the gaps and paint them over until he was clean and fresh and normal. It’s just not only those things.
He wishes they’d never stopped travelling, thinks he’d never have left if they hadn’t. Things would have been better, he imagines, if they’d had a purpose. He might not have needed Stanford if they were killing the things that hid in the dark, doing something solid and appreciable. It didn’t need to be like this, that half-wished for dream for a home come to fruition like he’d fondled a monkey’s paw before he ever thought it. Maybe if he’d grown up with no version of normality not this half-assed one, then he wouldn’t miss it, would have nothing to compare it with. He can remember being thirteen and self-righteously convinced that nothing could be better than one home in one town, not trailing across the countryside in pursuit of the thing that killed their mother.
That’s the one thing they’ve never talked about, him and Dean, not in all the years they’ve only had each other. They are the weirdos from upback with the messed-up dad and the whole town looking at them with its head on one side just waiting for the crazy to show, and they've never spoken about the fact that the hunt got left behind, that somewhere out there was the thing that had killed their mom. It gnaws at him now he’s older, that they never finished it, never tied off that loose end, never avenged her death. He thinks Dean feels the same way, but if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to send their father off the deep end, it’s even mentioning their mother. Last time, he’d got Sam by the throat, almost strangled him, eyes mad and unseeing like he was fighting something else in his head. The marks had stayed for days, choking him everytime he breathed in too deeply, and he’d worn a scarf to school, heedless of the looks people gave him like they knew exactly what he was hiding. It couldn’t have been worse surely, new schools every month, new faces. There'd have been none of the same endless undying judgement that came when a town was small enough that everyone knew everyone’s dirty secrets and then made up some more for good measure.
Link to Part Two