“Another one bites the dust,” Gordon says, lifting up his shot glass. Dean does the same and clinks his own against it.
After he tosses the shot back, Gordon chuckles deeply and says, “Dean, you gave that big ass fang one hell of a haircut, man.”
“Thank you,” Dean answers, grinning.
“That was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
“Yep. You alright, Sammy?” Dean asks, glancing over to where his brother’s not even sort of managing to mask the bitch face and the fact that he might as well be sulking in the corner.
“Well lighten up a little, Sammy!” Gordon cries jovially.
Sam glares. “He’s the only one who gets to call me that,” he grinds out, nodding his head sideways towards Dean.
Somewhere, underneath Dean’s exasperation that Sam’s doing everything he can to ruin their good time, Dean feels a little spark of something warm and tickly in his gut. Much as he’s irritating as hell, a pissed off Sam is kinda hot, and there’s nothing Dean loves more than the fact that Sam only tolerates the nickname coming from him.
“Okay. No offense meant. Just celebratin’ a little. Job well done.”
“Right. Well, um … decapitations aren’t my idea of a good time, I guess,” Sam says icily, and Dean has to grit his teeth to hold back a laugh. When it isn’t directed at him, Sam’s epic bitchiness is sort of funny.
“Oh c’mon man, it’s not like it was human,” Gordon points out with a smile. “You gotta have a little more fun with your job!”
Dean snaps his fingers. “See? That’s what I’ve been try’na tell him. You could learn a thing or two from this guy,” he adds to Sam, and the look Sam sends him is so full of disbelief and hurt and unmistakable concern that suddenly Dean’s really dreading going back to the motel. There’s something on Sam’s mind, something Dean probably did that’s got him so upset, which means Dean’s going to get an earful from Sam when they’re alone, whether he likes it or not.
Sam shakes his head and huffs in incredulity and annoyance. “Yeah, I bet I could. Look, I’m not gonna bring you guys down. I’m just gonna go back to the motel.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” Sam mutters, getting up and walking away.
“Sammy,” Dean calls after him, tossing him the keys to the Impala when he turns around. “Remind me to beat that buzzkill outta you later, alright?”
Sam shoots him another look, this one full of something like disappointment, and then he’s gone.
“Somethin’ I said?” Gordon asks, watching warily at Sam’s retreating form.
“Nah, he just gets that way sometimes. Tell you what, I’ll match you quarters for the next round.”
“Tell me about your first kill and it’s on me,” Gordon says with a wink.
Dean laughs. “Alright, seems fair. It, uh, it was a Wendigo. I’d gone on hunts before, lots of ‘em, especially if it was just a simple salt and burn. But Dad always did the dirty work, I was mostly there for backup. This time, he let me take the lead.”
“Bet you were scared as hell.”
“Oh, completely terrified,” Dean agrees, smiling. “It was good too, though, it was like …”
“Exhilarating?” Gordon suggests.
“Exactly. Anyway, we’d been trackin’ the thing for a few days, finally we had it backed into a corner. It was the freakiest thing I ever saw, man. I mean, spirits are kinda whatever, but this thing … you ever seen one?”
“Never. Heard they’re like you’re worst nightmare.”
“Worse than. So. I pick up this crossbow. And I hit that ugly sucker with a silver-tipped arrow, right in his heart. Sammy’s waiting in the car, and uh, me and my dad take the thing into the woods, burn it to a crisp. I’m sitting there and I’m looking into the fire, and I’m thinking to myself, I’m sixteen years old. Most kids my age are worried about pimples, prom dates. I’m seein’ things that they’ll never even know. Never even dream of. So right then, I just sort of ….”
Gordon grins. “Embraced the life?”
“Yeah,” Gordon repeats with an even more knowing smile.
“Yeah.” Dean shakes his head a little. It’s been a long time since he’s thought about that night. “How’d you get started?”
“First time I saw a vampire, I was barely eighteen. Home alone with my sister,” Gordon begins. “I hear the window break in her room. I grab my dad’s gun, run in, try to get it off her. It was too late. So I shoot the damn thing. Which, of course, is about as useful as snapping it with a rubber band. It rushes me, picks me up, flings me across the room, knocks me out cold. When I wake up, the vampire’s gone, my sister’s gone.”
“And then?” Dean asks quietly.
“Then … try explaining that one to your family. So I left home. And then bummed around looking for information. How you track ‘em, how you kill ‘em. And I found that fang. It was my first kill.”
“Sorry about your sister,” Dean says, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
“Yeah. She was beautiful. I can still see her, you know? The way she was.” He takes a long drag of his beer. “But hey, that was a long time ago. I mean, your dad. It’s gotta be rough.”
Dean’s insides twist around each other like they do every time lately when someone mentions that. For the most part, he’s doing a pretty good job of pushing it all away and pretending it didn’t happen. The harder he shoves it down, the easier it is to keep going. But when it comes up, he still feels like he’s going to be sick.
“Yeah,” he mumbles. “Yeah, you know. He was just one of those guys. Took some terrible beatings, just kept coming. So you’re always saying to yourself, he’s indestructible. He’ll always be around, nothing can kill my dad. And then just like that –” he snaps his fingers again “– he’s gone.”
Gordon sighs sympathetically.
“Can’t talk about this to Sammy,” Dean says with a humorless laugh. “You know, I gotta keep my game face on. But, uh, the truth is I’m not handling it very well. I feel like I have this …”
“Hole inside you? And it just gets bigger and bigger and darker and darker?” Gordon supplies, and Dean nods. “Good. You can use it. Keeps you hungry. Trust me, there’s plenty out there needs killin’, and this’ll help you do it. Dean, it’s not a crime to need your job.”
Dean doesn’t say anything. Honestly, he’s not sure what he would say even if it didn’t feel like there was a winch strapped around his throat.
“Know why I love this life?” Gordon asks.
“It’s all black and white. There’s no maybe. You find the bad thing, kill it. See, most people spend their lives in shades of gray. Is this right, is that wrong. Not us.”
“Not sure Sammy would agree with you, but uh …”
“Doesn’t seem like your brother’s much like us,” Gordon comments, and Dean looks up at him quickly, a little thrown off by the offhand remark. “I’m not saying he’s wrong, just different. But you and me? We were born to do this. It’s in our blood.”
“Sam just … he feels for ‘em, y’know?”
“For fangs?” Gordon asks incredulously.
Dean shrugs. “All of ‘em, I think. He … he told me one time, long time ago now, that sometimes he didn’t get why what we do was any crazier than someone huntin’ a lion just for killin’ a couple zebras.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, he still does the job,” Dean says hastily, not liking the look on Gordon’s face and feeling the need to defend his brother. “He’d’a cut that thing’s head off tonight if I hadn’t. But he just … I dunno, he doesn’t enjoy it quite as much. I guess he gets that vampires never asked to be vampires. He’s still a good hunter, I think it just weighs more on his conscience than it does on mine. That’s all.”
“Hm.” Gordon doesn’t really look convinced or particularly impressed, but thankfully he drops it. “How long you been huntin’ together?”
“Its, uh … a little over a year, I guess?” Dean answers. “I mean, sort of our whole lives, really, but my dad never really let him tag along much when we were kids, didn’t want him to get hurt. And then he went off to college. And then … well.” Dean sighs and drops his gaze. “That’s where it gets complicated.”
Gordon hums in agreement. “I’m no stranger to complicated.”
“Yeah. But, yeah, it’s been just me and Sammy for a while now. Dad was only with us again for a few weeks before …” Dean trails off, and Gordon reaches over and pats his arm.
“I’m real sorry, Dean,” he says, the tone of his voice genuine. “Tell Sam that too, okay? And tell him I apologize if I rubbed him the wrong way.”
“No, you … it wasn’t you,” Dean replies. “He’s pissed at me, I think.”
Dean sighs. “Who the hell knows. Hey, what’a’ya say we get outta here, see if I can give you a hand finding that nest?”
“This is the best pattern I can establish,” Gordon says, tracing a finger over the map. “It’s sketchy at best.”
“Looks like it’s all comin’ from this side’a town, which means the nest would be around here someplace, right?”
“Yep, that’s what I’m thinkin’. Problem is, there’s thirty-five, forty farms out there. I’ve searched about half of ‘em already, but nothin’ yet. They’re coverin’ their tracks real good.”
“Well I guess we’ll just have to search the other half,” Dean says with a grin. “What time is it? Where is Sam?”
“The car’s parked outside,” Gordon points out. “Probably went for a walk. Seems like the ‘take a walk’ type.”
Dean rubs one eye. “Yeah, he is, but –”
He’s cut off by the sound of the door opening; Sam steps into the room looking like he’s seen a ghost.
“Where you been?” Dean asks, concerned.
“Can I talk to you alone?” Sam says quietly.
“Mind chillin’ out for a couple minutes?” Dean asks Gordon, following Sam out into the parking lot after Gordon shakes his head.
“Dean, maybe we gotta rethink this hunt,” Sam says heavily.
“What’re you talkin’ about? Where were you?”
“In the nest.”
Dean blinks. “You found it?!”
Sam shakes his head. “They found me, man.”
“How’d you get out?” Dean cries. “How many’d you kill?”
“Well, Sam, they didn’t just let you go!”
“That’s exactly what they did.”
Dean frowns. “Alright, well where is it?”
“I was blindfolded, I don’t know.”
“Well you gotta know something!” Dean insists.
“We went over that bridge outside’a town,” Sam relents, “but Dean, listen, maybe we shouldn’t go after ‘em.”
“I don’t think they’re like other vampires! I don’t think they’re killing people.”
“You’re joking,” Dean says bluntly, but he can tell by the look on his brother’s face that he isn’t joking at all. “Then how do they stay alive?! Or undead, or whatever the hell they are?!”
“The cattle mutilations. They said they live off of animal blood.”
“And you believed ‘em?!”
“Look at me, Dean!” Sam smiles and spreads his arms open. “They let me go without a scratch!”
“Wait, so you’re saying …” Dean can’t even wrap his head around it. “No, man. No way. I don’t know why they let you go, I don’t really care. We find ‘em and we waste ‘em.”
“Why?” Sam protests.
“What part of ‘vampires’ don’t you understand, Sam?” Dean snaps. “If it’s supernatural, we kill it! End of story! That’s our job.”
“No, Dean, that is not our job!” Sam yells. “Our job is hunting evil! And if these things aren’t killing people, they’re not evil!”
“Of course they’re killing people! That’s what they do! They’re all the same, Sam! They’re not human, okay? We have to exterminate every last one of ‘em!”
“No, I don’t think so, alright? Not this time!” Sam insists.
“Gordon’s been on these vamps for a year, man, he knows.”
“Gordon?” Sam says loudly.
“You’re taking his word for it?!”
“Ellen says he’s bad news!” Sam snaps.
“You called Ellen?”
Sam doesn’t answer, he just shoots Dean another bitchy face and that pisses Dean off even more than he already was.
“And I’m supposed to listen to her? We barely know her, Sam! No thanks, I’ll go with Gordon.”
“Right, cause Gordon’s such an old friend,” Sam scoffs, his voice dripping with distain. “You don’t think I can see what this is?”
“What’re you talking about?!”
“He’s a substitute for Dad, isn’t he? And a poor one.”
Dean sees red. “Shut up, Sam.”
“He’s not even close, Dean. Not on his best day.”
“You know what, I’m not even gonna talk about –” Dean starts, but Sam interrupts him.
“Y’know, you slap on this big, fake smile, but I can see right through it, cause I know how you feel, Dean! Dad’s dead!” Sam shouts. “And he left a hole, and it hurts so bad you can’t take it, but you can’t just fill up that hole with whoever you want to! It’s an insult to his memory.”
The thing is, Sam’s completely right. It’s that, more than anything, that makes Dean mutter, “Okay,” and then wind up and swing, his fist connecting against Sam’s jaw with a sickening crack. He doesn’t even feel bad about it, which is really just a cruel statement on how broken Dean actually is. He’s never, in his whole life, wanted to hurt Sam. Right now, he wants to beat the hell out of him. That alone should terrify him. What does terrify him, is the fact that it doesn’t.
“You can hit me all you want,” Sam says softly. “It won’t change anything.”
“I’m goin’ to that nest,” Dean growls. “You don’t wanna tell me where it is? Fine. I’ll find it myself.”
“Wish we never took this job. It’s jacked everything up,” Dean mumbles in annoyance.
“What do you mean?” Sam asks.
Dean leans his elbows on the roof of the car, and Sam does the same. “Think about all the hunts we went on, Sammy, our whole lives.”
“What if we killed things that didn’t deserve killing? You know? I mean, the way Dad raised us …”
“Dean, after what happened to Mom? Dad did the best he could,” Sam points out quietly.
“I know he did. But the man wasn’t perfect. And the way he raised us, to hate those things, and man, I hate ‘em. I do. When I killed that vampire at the mill, I didn’t even think about it. Hell, I even enjoyed it.”
Sam gets that half-sad-half-understanding look on his face that so often rips Dean apart at the seams. “You didn’t kill Lenore.”
“Yeah, but every instinct told me to. I was gonna kill her, I was gonna kill ‘em all.”
“Yeah, Dean, but you didn’t. And that’s what matters.”
“Yeah,” Dean mutters. “Because you’re a pain in my ass.”
Sam laughs a little. “Guess I might have to stick around and be a pain in the ass, then.”
Dean just looks at him. There are tears prickling behind his eyes, but that’s happened enough in the last little while that he’s become a master of not letting them fall. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Sam says with a tiny smile.
Dean stalls for a moment before he follows Sam into the Impala, lost temporarily in his own thoughts; most of which aren’t good ones. He misses Dad. It’s so bad it makes him feel physically ill, sometimes. And, now, he feels horrible about hitting Sam. It all adds up to his intestines feeling like twisted ropes of liquorice, and it’s really an awful feeling. Everything that happened with the vampires and Gordon is just making it a million times worse, and Dean has no idea how to even begin dealing with it. Eventually, he gets into the car and starts to drive, but he knows Sam probably isn’t ready to completely let this hunt go just yet, so a cold feeling of dread piles itself on top of the pit that’s already in Dean’s stomach.
Sure enough, they only drive for maybe ten minutes before Sam starts up again. “You really, really scared me yesterday,” he says softly.
“I don’t need you to be sorry. I just … I don’t know.”
“What?” Dean asks, even though there isn’t even an inch of him that actually wants to know.
“I know you like hunting,” Sam begins carefully. “And that’s okay. If you get a little too into it sometimes, and you need me there to pull you back, I’m more than happy to do that. But … the look that was in your eyes at the mill when you cut that vamp’s head off … that was different. I’ve never seen you look like that before.”
Dean sighs. “Not sure I’ve ever felt like that before, so.”
“You wanna tell me what that was about?”
“I’m sorry I hit you,” Dean says, trying to change the subject, but he’s smart enough to know that won’t deter his brother. Sam says Dean’s the stubborn one, but he’s wrong.
“It’s … don’t worry about it.”
“No, I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t’ve … we’re not supposed to turn on each other like that. It wasn’t cool, I should’a listened to you. Should’a controlled my temper.”
“It’s not like I’m some battered wife or something. Not the first time I’ve been punched in the face and m’pretty damn sure it won’t be the last.”
Dean exhales heavily. “Yeah. Well, still. If it’s some kinda monster that’s one thing, but it shouldn’t ever come from me.”
“It’s about Dad, isn’t it? That, and all the rest of it,” Sam asks gently, and Dean closes his eyes momentarily.
He feels the familiar burning behind them. There’s a part of him that wishes he knew the answer to that question, but there’s a much bigger part of him that can’t even let himself go there. It’s too much, it’s too soon. He wouldn’t be able to have this conversation without breaking down, and he can’t let himself do that. He doesn’t want to keep pushing Sam away, but he doesn’t know what else to do.
“I can’t, Sammy,” he barely whispers.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dean sees Sam nodding. “I get it, Dean, I really do. Just … remember that, okay?”
“Okay,” Dean answers, and if Sam notices the little waver in his voice, thankfully he doesn’t say anything.
“And when you can, you gotta come to me. You can’t keep this buried forever, it’ll kill you. And you can always talk to me. Remember that too.”
Dean nods, and turns away so Sam can’t see the wetness in his eyes. He doesn’t tell Sam that he already has opened up to someone – Gordon. It would just hurt Sam, and Dean himself doesn’t feel all that great about it either. It just seemed less complicated, that’s why he did it. Gordon was just a pair of ears that would listen to him, without wanting to talk it to death and afterwards want to hug him and kiss him and make him feel like shit like Sam always does when he’s too sweet and too understanding and too accepting of all Dean’s inadequacies. The truth is, Dean doesn’t know how he feels about everything yet. It was an understatement, what he said to Gordon about how he isn’t handling it well. In reality, he isn’t handling it at all. He doesn’t know how to. And he hates pushing Sam away. He really, honestly hates it. But he can’t talk about it. He can barely even think about it. So really, he’s run out of any other options.