It wasn't too long after Sam had gone off to Stanford that Dean noticed his father drifting further away from him, checking in less and less as time wore on. Part of it, he knew, was because John blamed him for Sam abandoning their family in the hopes of finding something normal. Better. And part of it was his inability to fully trust Dean, regardless of him being his son or the fact that he'd taught Dean everything he knew. John Winchester only ever trusted himself.
So, when John called him up, out of the blue, shortly before Sam's twenty-second birthday, he was caught slightly off guard – especially when the first words out of his father's mouth were, "I need you to do something for me." Almost a question, but not. Yet, it definitely wasn't an order.
"Okay," Dean agreed, slightly wary. He'd never heard his father use that particular tone of voice before.
"I need you to go to Windom, Minnesota, and check on something – someone - for me."
There was a long pause as though John were debating on how detailed he was willing to make his request. "Your brother."
"I was just in California a week ago – Sam's fine."
"April Fool's was nearly a month ago, Dad."
"I'm not kidding, Dean. You have a half-brother – Adam – in Windom. Look, I think I'm closing in on the demon and I just want to make sure he and his mother are safe. I'll call you when I locate it, but for now, I need you to do this for me."
Completely blown away, Dean listened to his father's instructions, scrawled an address on the back of a greasy burger wrapper, and promised his father that he would not interfere with the Milligan's life – that he'd observe them from a distance just as he would Sam.
However, John failed to mention that the Impala would prove to be his undoing, as Adam recognized the car as soon as he climbed off the school bus. He saw Dean inside and didn't hesitate walking up to the driver's side window; he reminded Dean of Sam at fourteen, just starting the growth spurt that would make him all awkward, gangly arms and legs.
"Where's my dad?" he asked, glancing around the Impala's interior.
"On a job. Asked me to come by and check in on you and your mom."
"So you're staking out our house like a cop in one of those bad detective TV shows? Why didn't he just call to check in on us himself?"
Dean shrugged. That was a good, valid question that he hadn't even bothered asking himself. "I don't know."
"And why are you driving his car?" There was something slightly leery in his eyes as he began drawing conclusions in his mind.
Dean sighed, knowing there was no way he could maintain his cover and keep the promise he'd made to his father about not interfering; he wasn't sure he wanted to, anyway. He climbed out of the car. "I'm Dean. Winchester."
Adam eyes widened slightly. "So, you're like my uncle?"
Dean shook his head, scratching at his eyebrow with his thumb. "Uh, no. I'm your brother."
Adam's eyes became impossibly large at that. "What?! No way! Are you serious? I have a brother?"
Dean rocked back on his heels. "Two, actually. Sam's twenty-two, as of yesterday."
"Awesome. Where's he?"
"He's at Stanford. He's...really smart. Wants to be a lawyer or something."
"That's so cool. I'm gonna be a doctor. What do you do? Why didn't Dad ever tell me about you guys? Did he tell you about me?" Adam had his thumbs hooked under the straps of his book bag as he walked backwards down the sidewalk, leading Dean towards his house.
"Just found out about you a couple of days ago. I don't know why he never mentioned us." That last bit was a lie – of course he knew why John didn't tell Adam anything, even if John didn't tell Dean explicitly. He didn't want Adam to grow up anything like Sam or Dean. Didn't want him to know anything about monsters or demons. Wanted him to be safe, normal, oblivious - all those things Sam always longed to but never would be. And he wouldn't take that away from this kid – no, from his brother. He followed Adam up the porch and into the house. "So, a doctor, huh? Why a doctor?"
Adam led him into the kitchen, where Dean leaned against the counter in front of the sink, and opened the fridge, holding up a carton of milk and a pitcher of lemonade. He poured a glass of each after Dean gestured to the pitcher, offered Dean the glass. "I want to be able to help people, you know?" he said, shrugging a shoulder. "My mom's a nurse – it's actually how she met Dad. I guess he got hurt on the job or something and she was the one to take care of him." Adam made the face most teenagers make at the idea of love or romance, then shook his head. "So, what do you do?" he asked again.
"I...do what Dad does."
"Auto mechanic," Adam said, nodding. "That's cool. Kind of like a family business."
"Something like that." There was a long, not entirely uncomfortable silence between them as Adam finished off his glass of milk and Dean studied the pictures – some including their father – on the refrigerator. "Where's your mom? Work?"
"Yep. She'll be home around six-thirty or so. You should stay for dinner."
"Oh, I don't think so, but thanks for asking. As a matter of fact, I should probably get going."
"But you just got here! And all I know about you is that you're a mechanic like Dad. Mom'll totally be cool with it."
"Adam? John? I saw the car down the street..." she trailed off as she entered the kitchen.
Dean stood at the stove over a pot of boiling spaghetti, Adam beside him, both of them laughing. But the smile fell from Dean's face as he caught sight of Adam's mother, abruptly ending the story of how he learned not to check the doneness of pasta – flinging it against the kitchen wall, with Sam, as they'd seen done on TV.
"Oh. Hey, Mom," Adam said, completely not noticing the apprehension written on Dean's face. "This is-"
"Dean, right?" The expression in her eyes softened, became less worried. She offered her hand. "I''m Kate Milligan."
Dean, out of habit when introducing himself to women, scrubbed his palm on his thigh before taking her hand. "Yes, ma'am. Nice to meet you."
Kate smiled, the corners of her eyes wrinkling and making her look similar to an old picture Dean remembered of his mother. "Please, don't call me ma'am. Kate's fine."
Adam looked from his mother, to Dean, and back again. "Dad told you about Dean?"
Kate nodded slowly. "Sam, too."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
She sighed. "You'd just met your dad and you don't see him all that much. We didn't want to, I don't know, get your hopes up about having brothers or being able to see them. One thing at a time, I guess. Besides, Sam's in school and Dean- well, it's just an expensive trip to make for anybody and it was just...easier not to tell you."
"But you know now, right?" Dean added, looking pointedly at Adam. "So everything's cool?"
"Are you staying for dinner?" Adam asked.
Dean looked to Kate for an okay and, when she nodded, turned back to Adam. "Sure."
"Then everything's cool."
After dinner, Adam had gone into the living room to start on his homework. Kate watched him from the doorway to the dining room for a few long moments before turning back to Dean, who had busied himself with clearing the table. "What's going on, Dean? Why are you really here? And don't bother lying to me, because I know John's a hunter."
Of course she knew. "Dad's hunting this...this demon that killed my mom. He's been hunting it for years but he's getting really close to finally finding it. He sent me here to make sure you and Adam were okay – he didn't want it or something else coming after you if he got close. He said he'd call when he found it."
Kate nodded. "John told me about that – what happened to your mother. Said about as much as you just did. He's mentioned you and Sam, the life you kids had growing up, but not a whole lot else." Her eyes were soft. "I'm sure learning about Adam was shock, huh?"
"Understatement. Dad's always had his secrets but...I don't know how he could not tell us. Then, at the same time, I know exactly how."
"But it wasn't fair to you. Or to Sam."
Dean shrugged. "It's life. Life's not fair."
Kate clucked her tongue, that sound that was an equivalent to a shake of her head, like she disagreed, but didn't want to voice it. Instead, she changed the subject. "It'll be good for him to have you here. Like I said, he doesn't get to see John a whole lot. He's come to accept it, but...I don't know."
Dean understood what she was trying to say. "He still feels like his family's incomplete?" Dean nodded. "I know how it is. But he's got you."
Kate took hold of the back of one of the dining room chairs, sagged against it. "Sometimes it doesn't feel like enough." She sighed, weary. "You're welcome here, any time."
He felt something like pride swelling in his chest, not used to be welcome anywhere unless something needed to be killed. "Thanks. I really appreciate it."
She smiled at him and tipped her head towards the living room. "I bet he could use some help in there. I'll just be in the kitchen if you boys need anything."
"Thank you," Dean said again before disappearing through the doorway.
Thursday, Dean settled himself into a booth at Dino's Diner, just a few blocks from his motel. Kate was at work and Adam was still at school, and he hadn't heard anything from his dad. It was a nice change of pace to not have much of anything to do but spend time with the brother he never knew he had. Dean shook his head, still having some difficulty believing it, as he perused his menu.
The tired-looking waitress returned, taking his order of a cheeseburger basket after setting his glass of Coke on the scratched table in front of him. He was staring out the plate-glass window that made up the whole front of the diner, just watching people on the street and cars go by, when he overheard the beginnings of a conversation between two men up at the counter. The one had just entered, the bells hanging on the door still swaying, and slid onto a stool beside the other. Both were dressed in jeans, flannel, and baseball caps, looking a lot like half the ol' boys Dean had ever come across in diners just like this all around the U.S.
What caught his interest, though, was when the man that had already been at the counter turned to the other and asked, "You heard anymore about what happened to Schmitty?"
Then the second man glanced up and down the counter, lowering his voice when he spoke, "Sheriff says bear, but I saw Schmitty's...I saw what it did. Wasn't no bear."
They both fell silent as the waitress stopped and poured them each a cup of coffee. "What was it then, Wally?"
Wally scratched at his beard and shook his head. "Dunno. But Schmitty..." Wally shook his head again and reached for his coffee. "The way he was torn open - I know it sounds crazy, Pete, but it was like a man done it."
Now Pete was the one with the shifty eyes. "Maybe not. Gino said he heard a coupla hikers up in Bingham Lake gone missing a month ago. DNR guy found 'em torn up neck to belly just like Schmitty. Said PD up there's treatin' it like a bear attack, too."
When the waitress all but dropped his basket before him, Dean asked her if they had a local paper around he could read. She turned and reached for an abandoned paper on the counter and dropped it next to his basket. Needless to say, she didn't get a thank-you. He pulled the basket closer to him with one hand, squeezing ketchup onto his French fries with the other, before opening the Cottonwood County Citizen in the space across from him. He shoveled a couple of ketchup-soaked fries into his mouth as he skimmed through the paper. Looked like he might have a job after all.
Adam climbed into the Impala Friday after school, dropping his backpack in the space between his feet then pulling his seatbelt on. "So, I totally forgot about it, but it's my friend Tyler's birthday and we're all supposed to be going camping tonight."
Dean had his hand on the gearshift, but didn't put the car into drive. "Yeah? Where?"
"Kilen Woods. The state park. We go every year – his parents are big into nature, you know? But when you showed up...I guess it just slipped my mind."
"That's cool. Sounds like fun." Actually, Dean thought it sounded crazy and dangerous, knowing what he knew. Bear or no bear, something was out there killing people in the woods.
"Yeah, it totally is. Last year, we watched The Blair Witch Project the night before and scared the crap out of ourselves."
Dean snorted as he finally put the Impala into drive. The movie had kind of scared the shit out of Sam, too – mostly because Dean had convinced him to go on a bogus hunt in the woods a couple of days later and had spent the whole time trying – successfully – to freak Sam out. "Don't doubt it."
"But we can totally hang out tomorrow after I get back."
Even before the sun had set, Dean made his way over to county road 79 to where Dave "Schmitty" Schmitt was found eviscerated in a grove of silver maples where he'd been hunting spring turkeys. If there was a line of direction the creature was following, Bingham Lake to the spot on CR-79 lead straight to Kilen Woods State Park. Dean had to find it, whatever the hell it was, before it got to the park anywhere near Adam and his friends or killed anybody else. CR-79 followed the Des Moines River until it turned into CR-28. He turned right on CR-19 and that led him all the way down to the state park.
He stopped at the park office, but no one was attending it. So much for asking questions about any bear sightings. There were over 200 acres to the park and Dean wasn't even sure if the thing that had killed Schmitty and those other two hikers was there. So he just focused his search around the campgrounds, looking for animal carcasses and anything else he'd expect to see with a large predator or a potential monster in the area.
Only a couple hours after he arrived, he happened across the group Adam was camping with – there were seven or eight boys overall, plus a couple of adults that must've been Tyler's parents. The tents were set up and a campfire had been started in the middle of the circle they made. He smiled to himself as he watched Adam and a couple of his friends cooking hotdogs over the tall flames of the fire. A slight breeze carried their laughter towards him before a wind from the south picked up and stole the sound away into the trees, bringing with it a scent of old blood and death.
Dean started in the direction the wind had come in from, headed into denser woods, and could hear something large moving through the trees ten to fifteen yards ahead of him. Then the rustling suddenly stopped and the wind died down.
All of a sudden, something to Dean's left hissed – definitely not a bear – and, even more quickly than the sound, something hit him so forcefully it not only knocked the breath from his lungs but laid him out on the ground, too. It left behind a stench reminiscent of a just-opened, couple-of-weeks-old grave. He could hear it circling him in the darkness; as he climbed to his knees, it attacked him from behind. His shotgun knocked from his hand, somewhere in the underbrush, Dean reached for his bowie as the creature – almost certainly something that had once been human – clawed through his shirts, leaving searing gashes across his chest, shoulders, and back. Wildly, he swung the knife over his head and the creature shrieked, an ear-piercing sound and bolted off towards the campground. As he took off after it, Dean stumbled over his shotgun, but righted himself as he picked it up and bolted after the thing.
Ahead of him, Dean could hear it tearing through the woods, snarling and wailing. It wasn't long before he was breaking through the tree line and could hear the kids screaming as they caught sight of the creature. With enough light to finally see it, he leveled his shotgun and took aim, but couldn't get a clear shot because the kids were in the way – surely the creature's intent. "Get out of here!" Dean shouted, flailing an injured hand towards the minivan and station wagon parked just beyond the campsite. He locked gazes with a surprised and terrified Adam, but returned his focus to the humanoid creature closing the distance between itself and his youngest brother. Without thinking, Dean unloaded the gun at the monstrous thing, only managing to wing it.
It seemed to know when he was out of ammunition because that was when it turned back towards him, but Dean had the bowie handy and shoved it deep into the creature's side. It screamed in pain but didn't back off. Dean could feel its claws tearing into his ribs, but he kept his grip on his knife and pressed it in to the hilt, tried dragging it up towards where the monster's heart would be.
Then it was suddenly off of him, hissing and shrieking as it turned on something behind it that Dean couldn't see – not at first. But flames were licking up the creature's back and, as it moved away from him, Dean could see Adam standing stock-still a yard or so away with branch from the campfire burning away in his hand. "Run!" Dean yelled to his brother as he struggled to his knees. Adam dropped the branch but didn't move, rooted in place by fear or something else, Dean wasn't sure.
The creature seemed torn as well, not knowing whether to go after the boy who had set it on fire or the man that had stabbed and shot at it. It must've sensed that Dean was wounded and, therefore, the lesser threat because it started advancing on Adam. "No!" Dean cried, forcing himself to his feet and flinging himself at the creature. But it was smarter than Dean had given it credit for and turned back towards him at the last second, claws ready, catching him in the gut again and Dean felt the bowie fall from his hand as they fell to the ground. He tried to roll out from underneath it, tried to push it off of him with his good hand, but it was heavy and had one hand firmly dug into his side.
Suddenly, the creature stiffened, its back arching as its claws pulled free from his stomach and it slowly stood, turning even slower, and Dean saw his knife protruding from its back. It stumbled towards Adam, taloned fingers reaching, but it fell to its knees and collapsed into the campfire.
Adam watched it burn, mesmerized and in shock, before remembering Dean. He rushed to Dean's side as his friends unloaded from the vehicles, all talking over each other. "Did you see that?" "What the hell was it?" "Is it dead?" "Adam, are you freaking crazy?!"
"You okay?" Adam asked, kneeling beside Dean and gripping his brother's good hand to help pull him up to his feet.
Dean coughed and wheezed but nodded. "Will be. You gotta get me back to your house. Call your mom on the way."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay. Come on. Where's your car?"
Kate met them at the front door, Adam supporting most of Dean's weight, and helped her son maneuver Dean into the kitchen. Blood spattered a trail on the wood floor the whole way and started to form a puddle beneath the chair once Dean had sat down. "Can you clean that up while I start on him?" she asked Adam, wanting to keep her son occupied and away.
"Uh, y-yeah, Mom," Adam stuttered, staring at the blood. "Of course."
"The Impala, too?" Dean requested. "You know how Dad is about that car." He offered Adam the best smile he could manage and hoped it didn't look too much like a grimace.
Adam took a breath, stood a little straighter, and gave Dean a wavering smile of his own. "Yeah. Okay." He busied himself with getting a bucket and sponge from beneath the kitchen sink and filled it with water and a mix of cleaning solutions as though cleaning up blood was something he'd done often.
Kate went to work cutting Dean's shirts away, but didn't talk to him until Adam was out of earshot. "What the hell happened?"
"When I was at lunch yesterday," Dean wheezed, "I overheard a couple of guys talking about a friend of theirs that had gotten attacked by what the police are saying is a bear. Not sure what the hell it was, but it wasn't a bear." He explained everything, from checking out the spot where Schmitty died to the thing falling into the campfire, as Kate cleaned and stitched up all his wounds. He couldn't have been more grateful that his dad had hooked up with a nurse.
"Adam killed it?" she asked, her voice shaking, unlike her hands.
"Yeah. Probably saved my life, too."
Adam stood in the doorway to the kitchen, bucket in hand, staring at his mother and half-brother, then the ringing of Dean's cell phone cut through the silence and he dug it out of his jeans pocket, biting at his lip as he glanced at the screen.
"Dad, it's not a good time. I'm gonna have to call you back." Ignoring his father's argument for him to not hang up, Dean did just that and turned his phone off, dropping it onto his shirts on the floor.
The silence returned and stretched for countless seconds before Adam finally said, "You're not a mechanic like Dad, are you? You're something else. 'Cause that thing in the woods – it wasn't an animal. It was some kind of monster. Wasn't it?"
An expression that only worried mothers ever made crossed Kate's face as she shook her head, dropping her bloodied hands into the towel on her lap. "Stop. Just stop this. Adam, go clean up and go to your room. Dean, I – I think it's best if you leave."
Dean could tell, just by the tone of her voice, that she didn't just mean leave the house. She meant leave for good. He slowly stood, knowing better than to protest – it wasn't his place anyway – accepting the bloody bundle of his shirts and cell phone as Kate handed it to him.
"Mom? No. You can't do this. Dean didn't do anything wrong. He protected me from that thing! Why are you doing this?"
But it was Dean that answered. "Because she's scared and she's right to be. What I do, it's dangerous - really dangerous – and me being around here will just put you in danger too. It's safer for you if I go."
"But you're my brother."
"I know. I'm sorry." His chest felt tight, like his lungs were being crushed by some unseen force, making it nearly impossible to breathe when combined with whatever damage the creature in the woods had inflicted on him that neither he or Kate could see. He was doing to Adam what Sam had done to him only a few years ago, but this was different: Sam left because he wanted a better life for himself. Dean was leaving because he wanted a better life for Adam. It was going to crush Adam just the same, he knew. Didn't really matter the reason. "If I'm ever back up this way, I'll stop and we can hang out, okay? And you've got my number – you can call whenever."
"It's not fair." He was so upset, looked precariously close to tears.
But Dean didn't know what to say to that, because he knew 'fair' didn't really apply under the circumstances. "Well...I, uh, I guess I'll see you. Thanks for everything, Kate. It was nice meeting you." He turned towards his youngest brother, again not knowing what to say.
Which was okay, because Adam did. "I couldn't have asked for a cooler older brother. The past few days...the past few days were awesome. I'm gonna miss you." He surprised Dean by throwing his arms around his older brother.
Dean grimaced with pain, but didn't push Adam away, just hugged him back with one arm, wishing his last goodbye to Sam had been as promising as this. "I'm gonna miss you, too." He held Adam a moment longer before letting him go. "Goodbye."
Adam exhaled a shaky breath. "Bye, Dean."
He could still feel Adam's eyes on him as he slowly crossed the yard to the Impala and he forced himself to keep his eyes straight ahead – couldn't let himself look back. Instead, he opened the Impala's trunk and pulled a wrinkled shirt from his duffel of dirty laundry and carefully pulled it on before turning his cell back on and calling his father back.
Dean slid into the driver's seat and turned the key in the ignition as the phone rang. John answered, voice nearly drowned out by Van Halen until Dean reached over and turned the knob down.
"Are they okay?" was all John asked, accepting Dean's affirmative answer before launching into a new set of orders. Apparently John was still a couple of steps behind the demon, but he was getting closer, had worked out a few more pieces to the pattern. In the meantime, he'd found a job for Dean down in Tennessee while he'd head out to Utah – something about omens and a hunter named Jefferson. He told Dean to give him a call when he was done in Tennessee and, without so much as a 'be careful' or a 'goodbye,' hung up.
Dean tossed his phone onto the passenger's seat, shook his head and turned up 'Panama.' Nothing made sense. What was the point of his father telling him about Adam? Did John expect him to screw it up?
Dean thought back to that first afternoon just a few days before. John had to have known that Adam would recognize the Impala. It just didn't make sense. It was all he could think about as he returned to his hotel, all he could think about the following day as he started the fifteen-hour drive to Tennessee.
It wasn't until October when everything that had happened back in May with Adam started to make sense. His father had gone missing. Unanswered calls turned into disconnected numbers as days passed and what little information he could get out of other hunters was unsettling and unreliable at best. By then, he'd made it out to California, to Palo Alto, and found himself standing outside Sam's door.
He understood that, whatever had happened to his father, John had expected it and, no matter how much he didn't want to bring Adam into the kind of life Sam and Dean had been brought up in, Adam couldn't be protected if neither Sam or Dean knew about him.
It was only when Sam was inside the Impala and they were heading down the 101 that Dean finally turned towards his brother. "Sammy," he said. "There's something else I've gotta tell you."
Sam looked wary. "What?"
And Dean unloaded the biggest secret he'd ever kept from his brother.