A Different Demon
They are twelve hours and nearly
700 miles from Ankeny when Dean makes the decision to stop at an exit that's
less than a town but more than a truck stop. Sam doesn't argue with him,
but Dean thinks his brother would be perfectly happy if they kept going.
They may have laid the restless and vengeful spirit of Reverend Carnes
to rest, but it only agitated Sam's own demons and those were proving to
be a whole lot more obnoxious and tenacious than pretty much anything Dean's
ever come across, and no combination of rock salt or holy water or incantations
are likely to lay them to rest.
The motel is a two-story, flat-roofed
structure that actually looks like it's been refurbished in the past decade.
The paint doesn't help make it any more appealing but it gives Dean hope
that the water will be hot, the cable working, and the mattresses more
comfortable than the floor. He could be wrong but he's gotten good at judging
The credit card goes through and
the key is a flat metal thing rather than a card. The room is small, but
it has two beds, a working shower head, and a mini-fridge. All the comforts
of home. Sam goes to get ice and Dean unloads the car.
There's a mental checklist Dean goes
through every time they stop. What they need, what gets kept locked in
the trunk. The list pretty much stays the same; he only ever adds or drops
something off the end. One gun. One knife. Extra clothes. Shaving kit.
First aid kit.
He glances up when movement catches
his eye; Sam returning from getting ice, carrying the plastic bucket in
one hand, still rubbing his shoulder with the other. The shoulder is bothering
him more than the gash across his forearm or maybe it's just that the shoulder
can be eased a little by rubbing it and the arm – well, nothing but ibuprofen
once the lidocaine wears off.
It probably has already and Sam can
be as stoic about physical hurts as Dean when he wants to be, which isn't
often. Sam doesn't exactly whine about it, but he doesn't ignore the various
aches and pains either. Not usually.
Today, though, today Sam's been as
tight-lipped as Dean's ever seen him and that never bodes well. Inside
the room, Sam puts the ice down and kind of stared at it, still rubbing
idly at his shoulder and that bugs Dean to a degree he doesn't want to
Dean knows it's not really the shoulder
or arm that's bothering Sam, but he can't do anything about the other stuff,
so focuses on what he can. In some other life, some other war, Dean's pretty
sure he was an amazing field medic.
"You want to ice that or balm it?"
he asks, and pops the top on one of the sodas they've already got in the
Sam looks at him kind of blankly,
then at the ice and shrugs. Bad idea, and Dean almost winces with him.
Dean doesn't offer and Sam doesn't
ask, he just starts pulling his shirt off and oh, wow. Hell, yeah, that
one probably does hurt. Right on the bone, the whole of Sam's shoulder
blade turning an interesting shade of grey-green in the shitty hotel room
lighting, and scraped, just lightly, but Dean doesn't have to even imagine
how Sam's shirt has been chafing.
He makes Sam sit on the edge of the
bed, because Sam's gotten tall. Dean can remember when his little brother
finally passed him in height, when all the preadolescent softness of a
kid gave way to the skinny, gangly teenager Sam still looks like as long
as you don't look at his face. Right now, Dean doesn't want to look at
Sam's face or in his eyes because Sam won't meet his gaze and Dean hates
that almost as much as he hates seeing his brother's bruises.
There are bruises on bruises here
because Sam's got them lower, too, around the ribs that didn't break the
last time he got slammed into a wall. The bruises at his throat have faded
though, and Dean doesn't even know how to express how glad he is about
that. But there's still a healing cut on Sam's temple and he's got a new
scrape on his cheek. Dean's got his own assortment of odd bruises and aches
and scars but somehow, it's always worse to see them on Sam.
The tension in Sam's shoulders eases
slightly when Dean rubs the tiger balm into his skin, but it's only the
first layer of tension, the physical layer. Sam has always, always
worn his feelings just under the skin. He can be stoic -- he learned that.
Learned it young, like Dean did. Learned it the hard way, because there
was no choice. You don't get to cry or complain about fatigue or pain when
there are things out there that can make you feel worse, or worse: can
make you stop feeling them altogether.
But it's not like Sam to be stoic
about how he feels -- at least it didn't use to be.
Watching him, Dean wonders if his
father was like this too, more like Sam; once upon a time, before pain
and anger and grief drove him to hide his feelings in silence and distracted
stares and fighting demons and ghosts.
"Thanks," Sam says when Dean recaps
"You want me to look at your arm?"
Sam stares at his arm like it belongs
to someone else. There's blood on the bandage but it's dried, and he flexes
his fist, stretching the skin across muscles and tendons. Thin skin that
slides over the knobby bones at his wrist, across his jaw when he tenses
"No. Thanks. It's okay."
It's not, but Dean lets it slide.
He knows Sam is different from him.
He's always known it. And not just in the "get away from hunting--have
a normal life" kind of way. When he doesn’t have a better explanation,
he thinks Sam must be like their mother. Not that Dean knows it,
but Sam isn't like him and he's not like Dad and that leaves only Mom,
who Sam remembers not at all and Dean only vaguely remembers in a way that
is less like memory and more like wishing he could remember.
"You want food?" Sam asks, checking
his wallet for what little cash they have left, and Dean wonders if they
shouldn't have hit Laurie up for a little something, or maybe a little
petty theft, but no. Sam would rather starve than have stayed for even
"Sure. Want me to go?"
"Naw," Sam says and there's a fleeting
smile as he puts on a clean shirt, long-sleeved to hide the bandage even
though it's warm outside. He won't take the car; there's a convenience
store a block away. Dean doesn't even tell him what he wants and Sam doesn't
ask, slipping out of the room without another word.
Twenty minutes, Dean guesses, bets
himself and sips at his soda, letting the caffeine and the sugar calm him
down. Calm him inside because he won't show the nerves to Sam, ever, if
he can help it. Both of them ready to fly apart would be very bad thing.
He doesn't even need to wait for
Sam to come back to know how it will play out. Sam will bring back as much
food as they can afford, twice as much for Dean as he ever gets for himself,
or in this case, he'll come back and tell Dean he already ate his, sip
at the extra large coffee he'll buy. He won't have eaten, but he'll lie
and Dean will let him get away with it for now.
Dean works his nerves out by eating
or tapping his fingers to music, or giving Sam a hard time. That's a new
coping strategy. It works more or less.
Later Sam will eat something; a granola
bar or fruit and by the next time they stop for a meal, he will actually
eat real food. But not now, even miles and hours away from Laurie and her
father, from the college town and the Hookman…right now, food isn't something
Sam wants or needs.
It's not the Hookman or his hook
that's hurting Sam. At best the cuts and bruising are distractions, and
Dean squeezes his eyes shut and rubs them, wondering if Sam hasn't been
rubbing his shoulder to keep the pain fresh rather than to ease it.
He doesn’t know and that bugs the
shit out of him. He'll need to watch Sam, see if he's throwing himself
in harm's way just a little too eagerly.
Sam returns right on time and Dean
knows he isn't prescient even though it plays out pretty much as he thought
it would. The only difference is that Sam, along with his coffee and Dean's
hot dogs, brought back one of those little plastic jugs of milk which he
drinks before he finishes his coffee.
Sam falls on the bed like he's actually
going to use it.
"What made you pick law?" Dean asks
him after the first hot dog is gone and he's pretty sure Sam's closed eyes
don't mean anything but that the ceiling is really kind of disgusting to
"I figured having a lawyer in the
family would probably be a good idea," Sam says, and Dean grins at him.
It's a lie and they both know it because Sam was done. He really thought
"Bail us out?"
"Plead your case for insanity." Sam
is dry and not angry or even sad talking about it because it is
done. That part anyway. It's not what hurts: not the career lost, not the
love of the law although Dean guesses both of them are real enough.
Dean finishes his hot dogs and tosses
the trash and flings himself down on the opposite bed on his stomach. Looking
across the short divide between the beds, Sam's eyes are open now, but
not tracking the patterns and stains on the ceiling, just staring upward.
"We need to do laundry," Sam says after a couple of minutes without ever
looking at Dean.
Dean hides a smile in his elbow.
Yeah, they probably do. It's a lull and a break, a couple of hours to sit
around and listen to bad music and read old magazines and wait for the
dryers to stop spinning. It's Sam's way of saying he needs a break, that
they're far enough away. He's gotten better at it, finding that pragmatism
works better than bitching -- not that Sam has entirely given up on the
"There's probably a laundromat in
"There is. I'll go." And suddenly
Sam is on his feet and gathering up the shirt he discarded earlier and
Dean's denim jacket, checking the pockets. "You want to change before I
Dean sits up because this isn't what
he expected, for Sam to want to do it right now. Maybe in the morning
after they've slept in a little, checked out.
"It can wait until tomorrow," he
says, and Sam shakes his head, stubborn.
"I'd rather get it done," he says
and he's out the door, leaving it open. He opens the door of the Impala,
reaches into the back to grab the bag of other filthy clothes and hauls
it out, shoving his shirt inside.
Dean watches him from the door and
Sam looks at him, not a single thing showing except for fatigue and that
tight-jawed look that distorts his face. "You want me to wash what you've
got on or not?"
Dean shakes his head and Sam nods,
shoulders the bag and starts walking.
No reason to take care of laundry
now, except Sam apparently thinks there is. Dean doesn’t know why
that is, but he could guess. He guesses a lot around Sam and it's kind
of unnerving how often he's right. "Hey, Sam!" he calls and Sam pauses
and turns. "You want me to help?"
Sam hesitates, actually thinks about
it then smiles and shakes his head. The smile he gives Dean is so patently
false, it’s a wonder Sam can even keep it in place for more than a few
seconds. "No, I'm good. See you in a couple of hours."
Dean lets him go, closes the door
and settles back on the bed. A couple of hours. It's not that much or that
long. It's also not about laundry or needing a break really, except it
is. Sam wants a break from him, from Dean, his brother, even more than
from the job, or the hunt or the quest or whatever he wants to call the
unrelenting drive behind their lives.
Well, not "their" drive because Sam's
doing this for the same reason their father always had: one specific, end
goal in mind; and Dean does it because it's what he knows, and most of
the time what he likes.
Having Sam along makes things more
complicated. Dean never really thought about that part of it at the beginning.
Mostly he was thinking that Dad was gone and had been gone long enough
for that to be unusual and worrisome and, really, it wasn't like there
was a long list of people Dean could turn to when he needed help. Which
was pretty much why he never really thought about asking for help from
anyone. But Sam was different; Sam was family, Sam was smart and this was
Dad, for God's sake. And Sam had been good, back then, at eighteen,
seventeen. He'd been good at twelve and more determined than good before
And he's good now, but careless or
out of practice and Dean tries very hard not to think too hard on that.
He can't settle and the motel room
is really too small to pace in. Maybe he'd be better off alone, except
he knows that's wrong, that he doesn't work that way. Yes, he can hunt
ghosts and demons all by himself; lay their spirits to rest or kick their
asses back to the other side of hell with the best of them -- and the best
of them are all Winchesters. But he can't do this alone. He can'
t not have his father or Sam to come back to, to remind himself that he's
not alone, and he's not on his own, and he's not the only one who needs
an insanity defense for the shit they do all the time.
He takes the gun, locks the rest
of their stuff in the car, locks the door to the room and then walks. Sam
walked, so it can't be far and it isn't, just past the convenience store
and Dean hesitates outside. Sam needs space and sometimes Dean does too,
but not distance.
Sam's half asleep in the hard, molded-plastic
chair, but he's quick to wake when Dean stands in front of him. Still he
jerks and winces and Dean fights not to smirk at him. "You could be asleep
in a bed, you know."
"So could you," Sam shoots back but
just rests his head against the plate glass window and closes his eyes
when Dean drops into the chair beside him.
Dean doesn't even know which machines
their clothes are in. Not that it would be hard to figure out; it's late,
there aren't that many people here. There's a TV, though, and it's bright.
The chairs are hard as hell and Dean doesn't move, even when Sam's breathing
tells him his brother's asleep. A machine not far in front of them sounds
and no one else moves to transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer
and Dean doesn't move. Sam's not touching him or leaning against him or
anything but Dean stays where he is because any time Sam can sleep for
more than fifteen minutes at a time is a good thing.
He makes it all the way to forty-five
before he jerks awake, but he isn't screaming and Dean thinks Sam waking
up probably has more to do with the fact that been sliding down in
the plastic chair for the past five minutes than anything sliding through
his sleeping brain.
"Clothes need to go in the dryer."
Sam glares at him. "You couldn't
"Hey, man. You're the one that wanted
to do laundry tonight," Dean says and grins because Sam glaring and pissed
off is ten times better than Sam staring off into space or someplace inside
himself. The distance between them has closed and it doesn't matter that
Sam's annoyed and tired; he's right here again.
"You gonna stick around and watch
me fold?" Sam asks him once the dryer is going.
"I don't know, do you do tricks while
you're doing it?"
Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his
head but Dean doesn't miss the twitch of his lips.
"I'm hungry again. You want something?"
Dean asks him and Sam thinks about it then nods.
"Yeah, but not…"
"Not hot dogs. Gotta be someplace
else in town," Dean agrees. He'll go. Sam will eat and maybe, maybe he’ll
grab another couple of hours of sleep again. Dean can't fix that. He can't
stop the nightmares and despite the fact that he keeps asking, he's not
really sure Sam talking about them will help either.
But Sam's back with him now and really,
that's the only thing Dean wants most of the time. He can fight the ghosts
and the demons that lurk in corners and towns, under rocks and in shadows.
He can't fight Sam's demons for him, but he can sure as hell make sure
Sam doesn't fight them alone.
Personally he prefers the ones they
fight together. But like family, you don't always get to choose.
] [ comments
] [ index ]