Here’s the smell of blood still:
all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
The night sky slowly faded to the soft pastels of dawn in the east, but the colors were marred in their beauty by the spiraling grey trails of smoke. Dean was thankful what remained of his brother’s once normal life was behind them and the west stretched out in front of them. The distant scent of salt in the pre-dawn air told him the ocean was near as it rushed through the open car window. That they were facing west was probably all he was thankful for and the fact that his own gut was knotted, his body coiled into a finely tuned spring. The last thing he wanted right now was to lose his grip when he knew Sam needed him.
Even without looking, Dean could sense his brother next to him. Faint scent of ash and burning flesh clung to both of them as a haunting reminder of what one had lost tonight. A part of Dean took on blame for what had happened, although logically he had no way of knowing. How could he have known the same damn thing that had torn their mother away would revisit their family? That it would snatch what little of safe and normal Sam had managed to create for himself here in Palo Alto.
He glanced from the corner of his eye to where Sam sat silent, trails of moisture already drying on his soot-streaked face. The tears Dean could handle after all they were an intricate part of grief. Hell anger he could handle, but this eerie silence, the stillness unnerved him and made his gut clench tighter.
Sam turned his head just enough so he could see Dean, but he didn’t speak. No words were necessary if Dean were honest. Everything Sam needed to say was visible in his eyes, eyes that spoke louder than any words possibly could, and Dean felt his chest tighten with anger, an anger that he knew far too well.
"Gonna stop for breakfast--okay?"
The only reaction he was graced with was a subtle dip of Sam’s head, wind blowing through the window to catch strands of ash dusted hair, sending them dancing around his pale face. It was such a subtle movement, Dean couldn’t even be sure it had actually occurred, but he hoped it had.
He turned the Impala into the first McDonald’s drive-thru he came too. A too damn cheerful female voice chirped over the speaker and he could almost feel the flinch he knew ripped through Sam. Just that simple movement disturbed the suffocating air in the car and Dean swallowed hard, taste of ash and soot thick in his throat.
"Welcome to McDonald’s! My name’s Celia what can I get for you?"
Dean almost burst out in a hysterical laugh, biting his lip to lock it down, and cleared his throat. "Two large coffees, two sausage and egg--no make that four sausage and egg biscuits and two large orders of hash browns." he knew Sam had to eat whether he wanted to or not and he was starved himself, not remembering the last time he’d eaten. He knew he’d been going to get food when those dumb assed cops in Jericho had decided to arrest him.
He didn’t even notice what the young woman replied, honestly it didn’t matter because the only thing that mattered right now was setting next to him. His baby brother, his family, and for some reason Dean was reminded of the story of Lot and his wife. If Dean hadn’t been positive, he might have thought Sam had turned to a pillar of salt for daring to look back into the flames that had destroyed his home, his life.
The motel they checked into was cheap, but clean, and it faced the beach. When Dean returned to the car, Sam had actually moved which eased some of the tension twisting Dean’s gut into some sick Gordian knot. He was sitting on the hood of the Impala, long legs swinging idly back and forth, and sneakered toes scraping at the sand-dusted and cracked pavement of the parking lot. Sam’s gaze was fixed on some distant point over the ocean still shadowed by the fading night.
Without a word, Dean crossed the narrow parking lot, reached inside the car pulling out the two cups of coffee, and walked around to the front of the car. He leaned back against the hood and offered one of the cups to Sam. He was grateful when Sam took it even though his eyes never left the curling waves of the ocean as they rolled in, foam grey and white reaching out like ghostly fingers across the dark sand. They sat there silent hip to hip sipping coffee and watching the sky lighten to a grey blue promising rain, nothing unusual for winter in Northern California.
How long they sat there Dean couldn’t begin to say, but it was long enough the distant blue-grey darkened to an ash grey billow of clouds. He sensed rather than felt Sam shift as he sat the coffee cup down on the hood.
"Cookies," Sam whispered voice rusty with smoke and grief.
Dean turned his head and noticed Sam’s gaze had never moved from that distant point it had been locked on. He casually took another sip of coffee noting it was beginning to chill and waited for anything else Sam might say. It really didn’t matter what he said truthfully as long as he spoke because right now that meant Sam was still with him.
"She made me cookies…chocolate chip." his voice tightened, Adam’s apple bobbing as he tried to moisten his too dry throat.
"Your favorite," Dean finished.
Turning Sam blinked back tears that threatened, corner of his mouth twitching. "You remembered." He spoke, words thick with those unshed tears.
"That’s what big brother’s do." Was Dean’s only reply as he stood to stretch and gave Sam a glance that said it was time to rest.
Sliding from the hood, Sam stood on exhausted weak legs, and headed for the motel. Dean knew better than to offer a shoulder. His little brother had always been a stubborn bastard much like their father and for once Dean didn’t roll his eyes at that stubborn, willful streak. If anything, he was grateful for it because it meant Sam wouldn’t give up. At least Dean hoped he wouldn’t give up because he needed him. That might be selfish in the big picture, but Dean didn’t give a damn right now. He’d lost his mother, his father was missing, and Sam was all he had just as he was all Sam had left now.
No more words were spoken between them. Dean went about his usual routine as Sam sat silent watching with unseeing eyes. It was apparent from the vacant stare and tremors moving through his body Sam was in shock.
After locking up and laying the final salt lines, he grabbed one of his bags. He dropped it on his bed and dug through it until he found a pair of sweats and a clean tee shirt, his favorite one, a faded and worn black Led Zeppelin shirt he’d had for too many years to count. Glancing up he moved to Sam’s side and sat down, pushing the clothes into Sam’s hands. Sam looked down, thumb rubbing across the soft worn cotton and then he glanced at Dean. With a tiny hint of a smile, Dean nodded towards the bathroom.
Sam stood and went to the bathroom in silence not bothering to close the door and began to strip off his ash-coated clothes. Dean stood and pulled back the covers, fluffing the pillows up as he had in so many motel rooms when they’d been children. Sam had always been his responsibility and now was no exception, because to Dean he would always be that chubby little boy with a head full of tangled curls and dimples that could melt any heart.
The taste of semi-sweet chocolate coated his tongue as he lay back on the bed, a soft sigh of relief escaping him as his lips curled in a contented smile.
He was home.
The sound of the shower in the other room was faint and the scent of Jess’ perfume lingered on the cool sheets beneath him. His smile widened.
This was home.
It was good to be back. Surrounded by everything he loved knowing nothing could take it away. This was who he was, everything he’d ever wanted, a world so far removed from what he’d known as a child nothing evil could touch him.
A tiny drop of warmth splashed against his forehead and he twitched. Great, he thought, a leak. He’d have to talk to the landlord about that, but in the--another drop, warm and thick.
Not water, he thought, as his lashes fluttered open.
His eyes widened until the whites showed and his mouth contorted in a scream of denial.
Jess pinned to the ceiling, hair spread out in a wild tangle of golden strands, white silk slip soaked with dark blood.
God, please not Jess.
Her lips seemed to move and the words echoed in his head as he scuttled back along the bed, trying to reach up, trying to pull her down.
Why, Sam? Why did you leave me?
I didn’t know Jess. Oh, God forgive me…I didn’t know.
And then the flames exploded outward, hot and alive with anger and vengeance. All consuming and powerful, licking at her skin, and all Sam could do was scream.
"Jess! No, Jess!"
Dean was ripped from sleep by Sam’s desperate screams and he rolled over, knife firm in his grip, but knives couldn’t destroy dreams. He was on his feet, knife forgotten, and to the edge of Sam’s bed in no time flat.
His brother’s eyes were wide and wet, face streaked with tears, as his arms stretched out towards something only he could see. Choked sobs and screams of terror ripped from Sam’s convulsing throat as he tried to scramble to his knees, still reaching out towards the ceiling.
Wrapping his arms around Sam and using as much strength as he dared, Dean pinned Sam to the mattress, eliciting an animal wail that shattered his heart. "Come on buddy…come on, Sammy, wake up!" He yelled even as he heard the neighbors banging on the wall.
"Jess! Oh, God…forgive me!" Sam wailed again, fingers clawing desperately at Dean as he tried to reach something forever unreachable.
"Sammy!" Dean snapped and it seemed to work. He went limp in Dean’s arms, eyes drifting shut, and the tears that had yet to fall caught in his lashes like sparks of fire. "Sam."
Dean whispered this time as he pulled Sam into his arms, stroking his sweat-soaked hair from his face. "Sam, can you hear me? You awake buddy?"
Sam began shivering in the circle of Dean’s arms, breathe coming in sob-wracked hitches, and his eyes flickered open. As his gaze met Dean’s, he whimpered in the back of his throat, and then burrowed his face into Dean’s chest. "She’s gone."
"I know." Dean held him tight, wishing with all his heart that he could take the pain away.
The next day was the strangest for Dean. It was as if the nightmare had never happened and although he knew it had he couldn’t tell by Sam’s demeanor. Dean woke to find Sam sitting at the small kitchenette table, Dean’s laptop open and fingers gliding along the keys, gaze never leaving the screen.
"Get any sleep?" Dean yawned.
Sam’s voice was raw from the smoke and the screaming, but nothing else seemed out of place. Of course Dean knew better and he was about to call Sam on it when his cell rang. Reaching over he grabbed the phone and flipped it open, "Yeah."
"Is this Sam Winchester?" a gruff voice came over the line.
"No, this is Dean his brother, Sam’s sleeping." Across the room, Sam frowned and opened his mouth only to have Dean silence him with a look. "Who is this?"
"Detective Charles Manning, Palo Alto Police Department, we need your brother to come down to the precinct and make a statement about the fire."
Dean rubbed at his eyes. "Sorry, I snapped officer. It’s just been rough on him. Any particular time you need us there?"
"Don’t worry about it. I’ve dealt with worse." Detective Manning sighed, sound of papers being shuffled in the background. "Look…is two okay?"
Glancing at the digital on the bedside table Dean yawned. "Yeah, that’s fine. Can you give me directions…I’m new to town." Legs swinging over the bed he snatched a note pad and pen from the table and began scribbling down directions. "Yeah, we’re at the Seaside Motor Inn. Okay…yeah got it. We’ll be there at two." He shut off the phone and dropped it along with the pad onto the tangled covers.
"Police?" Sam questioned.
"Yeah." yawning again, Dean stood and stretched, rotating his neck, and sighed as the muscles popped. "They need you to make a statement down at the precinct."
Dean spun on his heel and met Sam’s cold gaze. "What the hell are you talking about, dude? Have you lost all your senses?"
"You heard me." Sam turned back to the laptop and began scribbling notes on a pad. "I’m not talking to the police."
"Are you insane?" Dean’s brows shot straight up. "You have to do this, Sammy."
"It’s Sam and the answer is still no."
Dean sighed. "Man, I don’t like cops anymore than the next guy, but Sam we have to talk to them. Be fucking reasonable."
There was an audible snap as Sam broke the pencil he’d been holding. Standing up so quickly he nearly flipped the chair over, his eyes narrowed. "Reasonable? That’s fucking rich!" Sam snapped. "What am I suppose to tell them, Dean? Oh, yeah officer I came home to find my girlfriend pinned to the ceiling. Yeah, she was gutted and…" his voice cracked, "suddenly she burst…she burst into flames." He turned away his shoulders shaking. "Yeah," his voice cracked further, "don’t know exactly what did it, but my…my…"
"Sammy…Jesus…" Dean crossed the room pulling Sam around and ducking his head, catching Sam’s tear filled gaze for a split second. "We have to do this." He whispered as he pressed his forehead to Sam’s, fingers tangling in Sam’s hair as he cupped the curve of his skull. "I’m sorry about what happened, but we have to tell them something."
Sam nodded, breath hitching in his throat. "I know."
"Go take a shower--okay? I’ll dig up something for you to wear and we can get this over and done with."
Another faint nod and Sam pulled away scrubbing at his face with the back of his hand. He turned away heading for the bathroom and he paused taking a deep breath, and turned to glance over his shoulder at Dean. "I’m sorry, Dean."
"Don’t be." Dean offered him a quick smile. "You don’t have any reason to be."
Sam smiled back, but it was forced and never quite reached his eyes.
Dealing with the police was never one of Dean’s favorite things. Sure, he should respect them for what they did, but he never could quite reach that point because of their inability to see the truth. Of course, that went for ninety-five percent of the world in general.
He sat in one of the two chairs in front of Detective Charles Manning’s desk and Sam sat in the other shoulders slumped and hair falling in his face. Manning was a forty-something African American man with close-cropped hair, streaks of white at his temples. He was built like a brick wall not an inch of fat resided anywhere on him. He was leaning back studying the two young men in front of him with that casual stare most cops his age had perfected, dark eyes intense and unblinking.
"So you dropped your brother off around what time?"
"Three or three-thirty," Dean cleared his throat. "We’d just returned from a weekend trip to Jericho—right, Sam?"
Sam lifted his head, blinking in confusion. "What? Yeah, I’m sorry…yeah we went up to Jericho."
"No need to be sorry, son." Manning tilted his head and studied Sam with gentle eyes. "You’ve been through a great deal. No doubt you’re in a bad state of mind…no doubt at all."
"It’s just…" Sam started and he dropped his gaze to his lap where his hands lay, "it all happened so fast and I can’t seem to remember it all."
Dean glanced at Sam and swallowed hard. "Hey, Sammy it’s okay. He just wants you to tell him what you can remember. Right detective?" he glanced over at Manning trying to keep a respectful expression on his face.
"That’s right, son. Just start from the beginning and tell me what you can remember."
Sam cleared his throat and looked up at Manning with shining eyes. "I remember Dean dropping me off and I watched him drive away. I went upstairs…yelled for Jess…she left me cookies and a note." His breath hitched in his throat and he glanced at Dean.
"It’s okay, son. Just take it slow and easy."
Swallowing hard, Sam leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. "Grabbed one of the cookies…and I went into the bedroom. I heard Jess in the shower and I…I dropped my bag…" another hitch in his breath and he closed his eyes. "I must have fallen asleep…then the next thing I remember is heat and there was flames on the ceiling…" a choked sob escaped Sam as his head fell forward. "I heard Dean calling my name and…"
Dean glanced at Manning a look of worry in his eyes, a truthful look because he didn’t have to fake it. "Is that all you need? He hasn’t really gotten much sleep and…"
"That’ll be fine, Sam." He glanced over at the young officer standing at the door. "Marion can you escort Mr. Winchester to the bathroom." He turned back to Dean. "I need to speak with you for a moment, Dean."
Standing up on shaky legs Sam swiped at the tears trailing down his face. His gaze met Dean's and he offered his brother a weak smile. "It’s fine…I’ll be fine, Dean." Then he turned away letting Marion escort him from Manning’s office.
"What did you need?" Dean turned towards Manning.
"Why did you come back?"
Dean frowned. "Sam left his wallet in my car and I went back to return it. I was outside his front door when I heard what sounded like an explosion. I kicked in the door and the place was filled with smoke, yelled for Sam, heard him screaming for Jess and I managed to get in. The place was like a wall of flames…never laid eyes on Jess, but I think Sam saw her cause he was trying to get to something when I grabbed him and drug him the hell out of there."
Tapping his fingers on the desk, Manning seemed to consider Dean’s words. "Everything matches up with what the fire department is telling me. Seems there was a gas leak in the pipes on the upper floor, concentrated in the bathroom and bedroom area. Pipes run through the ceiling and they think maybe it was a slow leak and an electrical spark from a light being switched on set it off. Your brother is damn lucky to have made it out of there." Manning stood and held out his hand to Dean when he stood as well. "Thank you for bringing him in. I know this must be hard on him, but I need to ask how long you’ll be in town."
"Maybe until the end of the week," Dean replied. "I’m sure we’ll be leaving after Jessica’s funeral. He just needs to get away for awhile."
Manning nodded. "I imagine so. Tell your brother I’m sorry for his loss."
Nodding Dean slipped out of Manning’s office with a sigh of relief and headed off to find Sam. Today was only going to get worse, he thought. The fire department had given them permission to go in and see if Sam could salvage anything from the gutted apartment. It couldn’t get much worse--could it?
He didn’t really have a clear memory of what had happened the night their mother died. All he could remember was his dad putting baby Sam in his arms and telling him to go. There were other things yes, but more often than not they were flickering images or tantalizing scents and sounds that crept along the edge of his mind. One scent though he would never forget. Because for him, it was always one of the scents he associated with death. Burnt wood and plaster, lingering smell of smoke thick and heavy, some things never left you no matter how many years passed.
Sam stood at the end of the sidewalk in the exact position he’d been in not even seventy-two hours before, but this time there was guilt and pain in his eyes. He was staring up to where he and Jessica’s apartment had been, windows broken out, and the pale stucco of the exterior streaked with black trails where smoke and fire had consumed what he’d always thought was ‘safe’. His thoughts drifted back to Jericho and the argument he and Dean had gotten into on that fucking bridge.
Does Jessica know the truth about you? I mean does she know about the things you’ve done?
No and she’s not ever going to know!
He sucked a deep breath in at the memory of his words. Maybe, Sam thought, the dreams hadn’t been a fluke. Maybe he was a freak. Maybe even then standing on that damn bridge he’d known what he wanted and what he would get were two totally different things. He swallowed back the lump rising in his throat, and thrust his hands deeper into the pockets of the jacket Dean had loaned him, fists clenched so tight the bones felt as if they might shatter.
"You don’t have to do this you know…at least right now."
Sam swallowed hard again, licked his lips and tried to work some moisture up in his dust dry mouth, "If not now when?" He choked out as he felt Dean’s hand settle on his shoulder, warm and strong.
"Okay then…" Dean sighed.
With a sharp nod Sam forced his legs to move up the sidewalk, trying not to remember the look on Jessica’s face as the flames consumed her.
Pools of water were spread across the blackened floor, roof open to the late afternoon sky an azure blue that blinded him as he peered up through the blackened timbers. Nothing was right anymore. This had been his home for almost two years, a home he’d never had as a child, a place to lay his weary head after a long day. He closed his eyes and tried to picture it as it had been only days before. A tiny smile twitched at the corner of his mouth as he lost himself in memories.
He remembered the day he and Jess had found this apartment. She’d fallen in love with the three spacious rooms, the glass doors that separated the kitchen from the living room, and the hardwood floors. Behind his closed eyes, he could see her standing in the center of the living room dressed in faded worn jeans, wrapped in his Stanford hoodie that swallowed her, and hair pulled back in a high ponytail that bounced as she spun in a circle.
It’s perfect, Sam! Just perfect!
Her voice was a faint echo in his ears as his eyes drifted open to see the once beautiful oak floors coated in sludge. The walls he and Jess had painted now covered with soot and water stains. His throat tightened as he slowly moved through the ruins of his life and wondered what he’d done to bring this curse down on those he’d loved. First, his mother and now Jessica--his sweet, loving Jess with a smile like sunlight and laughter that sang like water tumbling over stone.
"Are you going to be okay?"
Sam turned to where Dean stood in the shadow of what remained of the bedroom door, the strands of beads Jess had strung herself, melted into unrecognizable blobs, and some scattered on the floor. Inhaling Sam nodded and then made his way through the devastation to the closet. The door hung at an odd angle and protested as he pulled it open. Most of the clothes smelled of smoke or had small burn holes from flying sparks, but a few he were salvageable. Pulling a trash bag from his pocket, he shook it open and began scavenging what he could and as he did, the tears began to fall.
I’m sorry, Jess. I should have known. I should have told you the truth.
He wasn’t even aware he’d been talking aloud until he felt Dean’s hand on his shoulder, a warm weight that brought him back to himself as he knelt just inside the closet door.
"Sam, you couldn’t have known." Dean’s voice was gruff. "There’s no way you could have known what was going to happen."
God, Sam thought, he wanted to scream. He wanted to tear his hair out and scream the truth to the heavens. He’d known. He’d known because he’d seen it all. A dream that haunted him for days before Dean had even showed up, before his life had been reduced to cold wet ash and a handful of memories that even now tried to escape like wisps of smoke. Instead, he lied because he didn’t know what else to do.
"I know." He whispered as he shoved another shirt in the trash bag. "How could I know?"
When they were done salvaging what they could Sam directed Dean to the closest Laundromat and they spent the remainder of the afternoon sorting through clothes. Sam didn’t speak as he sorted by colors and filled up two washers, mentally making notes about what he needed to get, and what his checking account held. When he was done loading washers, adding soap, and starting cycles he collapsed in one of the garish orange plastic chairs at the table and pulled his cell from his pocket.
He glanced up at the sound of Dean’s voice and blinked in exhaustion. "Not really." He replied wondering how he could have forgotten his brother was there.
Dean dropped into the chair across from him with a worried sigh. "Look, Sam…I know…well you might not feel like it, but you need to eat something."
He nodded absentmindedly and suddenly remembered the interview. Everything had happened and he’d totally forgotten. "I need to return my calls." He mumbled as he flipped through his voice mails. "Have to check my e-mail, too." Sam’s hands shook as his fingers wrapped around the stylus. "Jess is going to be pissed I’ve been slacking."
Suddenly Dean’s hands were folded over his, holding them tight, and he looked up into those familiar mossy eyes filled with so much love and worry. Dean took care of him, he always had and he counted his blessings it was Dean sitting here, now, in this Laundromat.
"Sam." Dean’s voice was calm as he squeezed Sam’s hands.
His brother sighed softly. "Sammy, she’s gone--remember?"
A look of realization flickered in Sam’s eyes and he nodded. "Yeah…right…I forgot. She died in the fire." He paused for a moment and then smiled at Dean. "You know I’m hungry after all. Could we have pizza, Dean?"
Dean’s eyes shone as he offered Sam a smile. "Anything you want lil’ bro."
"How about Spinelli’s…they make a great Chicago-style crust. A meat lovers with fresh tomato…" Sam’s voice trailed off for a moment and then he cocked his head, "you know Jess loved fresh tomato on her pizza. I always thought it was weird until she made me try it."
Swallowing hard Dean inhaled deep through his nose, "Spinelli’s?"
"Yep, down about two blocks." Sam nodded as Dean pulled away. "Jess and me we always get Spinelli’s on laundry nights." He smiled as he went back to flipping through his messages. "You know she’ll be annoyed I had Spinelli’s with you." Sam laughed. "That’s sort of our thing." He glanced up at Dean with a soft smile, "So you going or what old man?"
Blinking Dean stood, gaze never leaving Sam, and forced his smile to remain. He doubted Sam even noticed. "You’ll be okay--right?" His voice was tighter than he would have liked, but at least he managed to talk.
"Of course, I will." Sam rolled his eyes. "Now go before I waste away to nothing."
Dean barely made it to where the car was parked when he felt his gut twist and surge. Leaning against the trunk he turned and bent at the knees heaving until he couldn’t heave anymore. This was killing him, all of it, tearing him inside out. Twice in less than five minutes, Sam had sat there and referred to Jessica as if she were still alive--alive and breathing.
Spitting acid and scrubbing at his bloodshot eyes Dean slipped into the car and tugged his cell from his pocket. He sat there contemplating the screen then hit dial. Seconds later the phone on the other end was ringing. Dean held his breath and hoped he was there because honestly he’d never had to deal with this kind of thing. He’d only been four when they’d lost mom and what memories he had of that time were confusing at times and he didn’t like to think too deeply about them.
That strong yet gentle voice was one that had eased him through some of his worst moments, but he couldn’t seem to find his voice. What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to do?
"Dean? Is that you, son?"
"Pastor Jim…" he finally managed.
"Dean, what’s happened?"
He ran his free hand over his face trying to get a hold on all the emotions and thoughts that were whipping around inside his head. "It’s back." Were the only words he could form.
"Lord, save us all."
Spinelli’s was a nice yet casual Italian restaurant, every surface spotless and shining. College students sat in groups and some by themselves eating, chatting, and laughing at tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. The scent of spices, meat, and cheese filtered through the air and the clinking of silverware, plates, and frosted beer mugs worked as almost a white noise in the background as the wait staff moved through the dining area. It was normal, safe, and it made Dean want to hit something.
He’d placed his order and then sat at one of the smaller tables with his ticket, fingers tapping against the well-worn cotton cloth that covered the table. He sighed as he tried to find the words to ask Pastor Jim what he needed too.
"Dean, I am truly sorry for Samuel’s lose."
"Yeah, I know." He would have laughed if the situation hadn’t been so somber. Jim was the only one who ever called his brother Samuel. "Jim…I have to ask…you were the first one who really helped dad out after mom--right?"
"Yes, son, you were too small to really remember being here, but you stayed with me for a bit after your daddy sold his interest in the garage. John was a mess and rightfully so. A man doesn’t go through something like that without having a hard time of it. Made it worse he tried to hide his grief from you. He was worried sick being as you hadn't spoken since your mother's funeral."
Dean nodded. "I remember a bit of it."
On the other end of the line, Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I remember how you refused to leave Samuel’s side. You even slept in the same bed with him. I do believe your name might have been his first word."
A faint smile twitched across Dean’s mouth and then faded. "Jim, did dad…well did he ever have times when he forgot?"
"Forgot what, son?"
Dean sucked in a ragged breath. "That mom was dead."
There was silence for a moment and then Jim cleared his throat. "Yeah, there were. It’s normal for people sometimes to forget, especially early on. Is your brother having those moments?"
"Yeah." he swallowed hard and turned staring out the window at nothing in particular. "I’m worried…I mean…"
"It is okay, Dean, to worry, but I know you. Samuel couldn’t ask for a better big brother and if anyone can help him through this, it’s you. You’re one of the strongest people I know," he paused for a moment, "…even stronger than your father." Jim cleared his throat and Dean could almost see him in his mind. "Now you listen to me Dean Winchester. If you and Samuel require anything--anything at all--you call me."
Smiling Dean ran the back of his hand across his eyes, rubbing the ache of unshed tears away. "I sure will, Jim…I promise."
"Good then. Now you go take care of that stubborn brother of yours." Jim’s laugh eased the ache deep inside Dean’s chest. "I’ll be talking to you--okay?"
"Okay, Jim. Later."
Hanging up the phone, Dean’s eyes drifted shut and he tried harder than hell to get a grip. He hadn’t wanted to call anyone, but Jim was like family to him and Sam--always had been. Dean had lied a bit to Jim and hope to all Heaven and Hell he wasn’t going to end up in Hell because he chose to lie to a pastor. He remembered far more than he’d ever told anyone, even Sam.
All the places they’d lived, been, and saved were a blur of colors, scents, sounds, and faces, but that one night was sharp and crystal clear. There was nothing—nothing—he didn’t remember about that night or the following days. Every tiny fucking detail stood out like the proverbial sore thumb in Technicolor, Surround Sound, and HDTV beauty. He didn’t understand why or how a small child not even five years old yet could remember that much with that kind of clarity.
Glancing up from his musings Dean stood and headed for the counter. Sam would be hungry and worried if he didn’t back to the Laundromat. Well, he would if he remembered where the hell he was and what the hell had happened. Collecting the food Dean paid the cashier, threw her a wicked devil may care smile, and was out the door.
Sitting on the table was a glass of beer--forgotten and untouched.
When he returned to the Laundromat, the two loads had been transferred to a dryer, two more loads were in the washers, and Sam was on the phone with what was probably one of his college friends. Dean had paused outside the window watching Sam talk and for a moment, he could have sworn he saw something, a faint movement, near Sam. With a shake of his head, he pushed open the door, faint tinkle of chimes causing Sam to look up and offer him a watery smile.
It was obvious Sam had pulled out of his momentary forgetfulness and was in the here and now. Dean smiled back though he knew it was filled with more worry than he might like to admit. Dropping the box on the table along with the bag holding two bottles of Coke and an order of fried mozzarella sticks, he settled in a chair and went about unpacking the food. He tried not to listen in on the conversation, but he couldn’t stop the urge too.
Sam sighed, running long fingers through his shaggy hair. "No…seriously Zack…yeah, my brother is with me. Tell your sister that’s a nice thought, but…well I just need some time alone. Okay, sure. Tell Jake thanks for contacting the board." Sam paused. "Yeah, I know. Haven’t talked to her parents yet…you know how they feel about me. Well, not her dad, but her mom…" he laughed, but it was strained. "Look, Zack…I’ll see you there. Yeah, my brother’s back with food and if I don’t eat it might get not so pretty. I know. Later, man."
Ending the call, Sam turned to Dean. "Hey."
"Hey." Dean offered Sam one of the bottled Cokes. "Everything…well are you…" he stumbled over the words knowing that nothing he said could possibly voice correctly everything was spinning wildly through his brain, "You, okay?"
Sam took the offered soda and lowered his eyes to the faded, scuffed tile. "Yeah, I guess. Was just returning some calls and…" he stopped, breath hitching, "e-mails." He finished, twisting the cap off his bottle a bit more violent than necessary, and then looked up at Dean with wide wet eyes. "We have to find it." It came out a bare whisper and then he tipped the bottle to his lips.
He knew exactly what ‘it’ was and he nodded in agreement. What was there to say that hadn’t already been said? Jessica was dead, consumed by the same evil they’d been hunting for their entire lives, and wouldn’t you know it would be found right here in their own backyard. He took a quick drink of the soda and sat the bottle aside, opening the pizza box, then flashed Sam one of his best smiles.
This time the smile Sam gave back was a little less painful.
The next day was Jessica’s funeral and it hadn’t surprised Dean in the least the night before Sam was plagued by nightmares and bouts of emotional instability. When he finally woke at eight, he found a note left by Sam on the nightstand. Picking it up, he rubbed at his eyes and yawned as he swung his legs over the mattress.
Went to get something to wear to the funeral. Will bring breakfast back.
Crushing the note in his fist, he tossed it into the wastebasket across the room and stood stretching all the kinks out of his muscles. His first thought was that Sam had better not have taken his car and then he’d mentally slapped himself for being an ass although he still peeked out between the blinds to make sure the Impala was still parked in front of their room.
Satisfied his girl was where she was still suppose to be he was about to close the blinds when he saw an unfamiliar car stop behind her. Sam slipped from the passenger side and leaned in speaking to the driver before he stood up and closed the door. Opening the rear door he reached in, pulled out a couple of bags, and closed the door waving as the mystery driver slipped from Dean’s vision. Grabbing his jeans, he yanked them on and was at the door as Sam opened it.
Sam looked at him as if he’d grown a second head, "Uh…morning, Dean."
"Who was that?" Dean folded his arms across his chest, eyeing Sam and the two bags he held.
"Zack…he’s a friend of mine. He gave me a lift." Eyes lowering to focus on the floor, Sam poked his sneakered toe at the carpet.
"You know you could have woken my ass up, dude."
Sam stepped around Dean, but not before Dean caught the look of guilt in his eyes. "I kept you up most of the night." He whispered as he sat one bag on the kitchenette table and dropped the other to the floor.
"And your point is?" Turning Dean walked to the table and watched as Sam unpacked the bag.
"You needed your sleep."
"Damn it, Sammy you need yours, too!" He snapped, regretting it when Sam turned and held out a Styrofoam container and a cup of coffee.
"Breakfast?" he offered eyes wide and filled with an apology he had no business giving as far as Dean was concerned, "Pancakes and sausage with scrambled eggs."
What anger Dean had felt dissipated in a blink of an eye. This was insane. He was the big brother and should be taking care of Sam because he was the one who had lost everything. Taking the offered food and coffee, Dean nodded, and sat down with a quick glance at the second bag on the floor.
"When’s the service?" Dean tried to focus on the food that smelled so damn good to his grumbling belly.
"Three." Sam settled into the chair across from him and opened the lid of his container. "They’re having it at the campus chapel and then afterwards there’s a graveside service." He poked idly at the omelet, his expression telling Dean he was a million miles away. "Before the graveside service I want to stop at the florist."
Dean popped a bite of pancake in his mouth. "Do you want me…?"
Glancing up from his food Sam’s face looked far too damn pale and the dark circles beneath his eyes only emphasized the paleness. "Of course…" he stuttered out, "I mean…well you’re my brother and I…" he trailed off eyes shining.
"If you want me there you have me, Sammy."
Sam focused back on the food, trying to hide the desperation in his eyes from Dean. "I don’t know if I can do this alone, Dean. I mean…she was everything to me." He glanced up for a split second and in his eyes Dean saw that guilt he’d seen before.
Pushing his food to the side Dean reached out, one hand closing over Sam’s trembling fingers. "You don’t have to do this alone--I promise."
"How did Dad do it?" Sam whispered. "How did he survive Mom’s death? And he had us to take care of…"
"Doesn’t really matter, he survived and so will you, Sam." Dean smiled at Sam as his head lifted. "Now eat--okay?"
It was twenty minutes until the memorial service was to begin when Dean pulled the Impala into the parking lot. He’d been worried about Sam most of the day and his worry hadn’t ceased yet despite Sam’s calm demeanor. He’d spent the entire morning sitting at the table in front of the laptop, searching for something Dean could only guess about, but he tried not to think about it too damn hard. He’d seen the same look in their father’s eyes on more than one occasion and he knew what it was.
He glanced over at the passenger seat taking in Sam with no small amount of trepidation. Sam was dressed in a navy blazer with a matching tie, white dress shirt and khaki slacks, his hair combed neatly, and face set in stone. A part of Dean wanted to tell Sam it was all right if he didn’t make an appearance at the memorial service, although he knew Sam would argue. He’d loved Jess and Dean knew Sam would have done anything for her in life and the same was true of her spirit in death. He could see it in Sam’s eyes, in the set of his shoulders, and in how he slipped from the car and closed the door.
He’d loved her enough Dean feared he might follow her into the light if he didn’t hold on tight. That wasn’t a problem though because Dean intended to hang on until his final breath. He’d lost his mother to the darkness and even a part of his dad. There was no way he would lose Sam as well.
Slipping from the car, he stepped around to stand at Sam’s side as they both looked across the campus towards the chapel. After today, nothing would ever be the same, Dean thought. He’d wanted his brother back at his side, but he’d never wanted it like this, not at the cost of innocent blood and sure and the hell not at the cost of his baby brother’s heart and soul.
"Come on, Sammy…let’s go."
Without so much as a nod or a word, Sam headed across the quad, his back straight, and broad shoulders stiff enough to hold up the woes of the world. Perhaps, Dean thought, he did hold up those woes, perhaps they all had at the cost of their own dreams.
The chapel was filled to brimming and Dean’s thoughts drifted back to Saturday and his first and only meeting with the woman his brother had loved. He’d only ever wanted Sam to be happy and when he’d seen Jessica that first time standing in the door, blood hair tousled from sleep, dressed in boy shorts and a Smurf shirt he couldn’t help being amazed. Sam had always been shy around girls in high school, but it was obvious things had changed over the years they’d been apart.
Jessica was beautiful, fresh faced, and even though they’d only exchanged a few words he could tell she was smart and sassy. He wished he could give Sam back what he’d lost, but even big brothers had a limit to what they could do.
He felt Sam’s hand reach out, fingers brushing his for a split second, and he turned to look into Sam’s eyes. He was as scared and lost as he’d been on his first day of school when Dean had walked him to the classroom. Dean took a deep breath smiled in encouragement and Sam tried to smile back, but the smile was watery at best and nonexistent at its worst. Sam headed down the aisle, pausing to speak to people here and there. Guys and girls alike reaching out to hug him as if he were a long lost hero finally come home. There were older staff members, teachers, and counselors who either hugged him or patted his back offering condolences. Whispered words of ‘so sorry’ or ‘take all the time you need, son’. Dean was amazed Sam had fit right in to the one place he’d never imagined he could.
As they reached the front of the chapel, he noticed Sam turning and glancing towards a middle-aged couple. The woman was dressed in a black suit, single white lily, the size of Dean’s fist, pinned to the lapel, and her blonde hair swept up in a French roll beneath a black hat. The man was just as tall as Sam was except broader built wearing a double-breasted black wool suit with a sapphire blue silk tie, dark hair streaked white at the temples. As Sam met his eyes the man offered him a sad smile, but the woman was looking at Sam with pure unadulterated fury. Jessica’s parents, Dean thought, although he couldn’t understand the anger in the woman’s stance and expression. It was the anger you saw in the face of a parent when confronted with their child’s murderer, but Sam wasn’t Jessica’s killer. Sam turned away tears in his lashes as he slowly made his way to the front row of pews on the opposite side of the aisle.
Sam settled on the end away from everyone and his eyes lowered to the floor as Dean joined him silently. He studied Sam’s profile witnessed the silent damp trail etched against his pale skin reminding Dean again of all that his brother had lost. For the first time in more years than Dean cared to count, he reached out, one arm curling protectively around Sam’s shoulders, and Sam glanced up for a moment guilt lingering in his wet eyes.
"Jessica Lee Moore was a talented and bright young woman. Ask all those who knew her--friends, family, and teachers. She worked hard and lived her life as we all wish we could; smile on her lips and never a cross word to those around her. Today is not so much about her death, but about remembering her life and the many ways, she touched our lives. This is a service of remembrance for as long as we remember she shall never be gone from our hearts or lives."
Dean swallowed hard as he stared straight ahead at the altar where the priest stood, voice rich and melodic as he spoke of a life cut short far too soon. One by one, he invited the people to step forward, friends and teachers, to share their memories of Jessica with her family. With each testament, Dean’s arm tightened around Sam’s shoulders and he prayed it would be over soon. He could feel the suppressed sobs vibrate through Sam’s body, but he didn’t speak a word nor utter a sound.
Leaning in close, Dean could have sworn he tasted the salt of Sam’s silent tears on the still air as he whispered in Sam’s ear. "We can go if you need, too."
"Samuel, would you care to speak?"
They both looked up at the priest who was gazing at Sam with gentle understanding. Sam swallowed audibly and it seemed to echo within the cavernous chapel. He glanced at Dean, back to the priest, licking his lips and shook his head.
"I can’t…I just…" his voice cracked as the priest nodded.
Stepping down from the pulpit, he walked to where they sat, and then knelt on the floor. He took Sam’s trembling hands in his and spoke softly. "It is okay, Samuel. I understand the wound is still fresh, but let me tell you she did know how much you loved her. Those we love always do know whether we realize it or not." He squeezed Sam’s hands and offered him an understanding smile. "May God bless you, Samuel and may you take comfort in the fact she is now in his loving embrace."
Sam blinked back tears as he looked up at the older man’s face, nodding. "Thank you, Father Mallory."
Father Mallory stood releasing his hands and smiled again. "If you need anything, Samuel, do not hesitate to call me." He patted his shoulder and turned back to pulpit.
"Grief is a powerful thing in all its forms, but to move on with our lives as Jessica would want us to we must accept death is a part of the natural order of our existence." Father Mallory continued voice booming through the chapel.
Dean turned to Sam and nearly choked at the emotion he saw in his expression. There was so much grief there and grief he understood. Every day as they’d grown, he’d witnessed grief burn in their father’s eyes, an all-consuming fire, but he also saw guilt. In that moment, he swore no matter what it took he wouldn’t allow the grief nor guilt to destroy his brother like it had their father.
"I have to get some air." Sam whispered and stood, walking away up the side aisle.
By the time, Dean had caught up with Sam he was leaning in the archway of the overhang. His eyes were focused on the small island of greenery to the right, towering palms reaching skyward as if in prayer. He stepped into the archway and leaned against the opposite post glancing up at the sharp cerulean sky and watching the fronds of the palms sway in the gentle stir of air. Not being able to fix this was killing him inside.
He’d had so many people tell him he was a hero, but if that were true why couldn’t he seem to save his baby brother from this pain? What had he ever done to deserve this? What had any of them ever done?
"You know Jess loved this place." Sam’s words were faint matching the faraway look in his eyes. "She always dragged me to services here…" he paused swallowing hard, "even though I kept telling her I was Agnostic. I remember the first Christmas we were together and how excited she was Father Mallory had decided to do the Midnight Mass in the original Latin." He sighed. "I even remember her words. Sam, you have to hear it…it is so beautiful it makes non-believers find God."
"Sam." Dean straightened up as the mourners began to exit the chapel. "There was nothing you could have done."
"I know that, Dean." His gaze never left the palms as they swayed. "I know, but…"
He started to reach out and pat Sam’s back when suddenly there was a black clad woman between them. Stepping back, he glared at her as she stared up at Sam with eyes filled with righteous indignation. Dean recognized her after a split second, the woman from the chapel, Jessica’s mother.
"How dare you?" She hissed face flushed with anger. "How dare you show your face in that chapel? If it weren’t for you my daughter would be alive right now!"
Dean watched as Sam’s face crumpled in the icy onslaught of her anger and grief. "I’m sorry." Sam choked out.
Pushing around the woman Dean placed himself between her and his brother. "I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure." His eyes narrowed.
"Who the hell are you and why is this any of your business?"
Dean nearly smacked her, but his father had taught him never to hit a woman in anger. "I’m Dean Winchester and I’m Sam’s brother. You have a problem with that--lady?" He spit out the last word as if it were poison.
"Elenore!" They both turned to see the Jessica’s father push past the crowd of mourners. His eyes the same color as Jessica’s flashing with anger. "I told you to go to the car."
She turned on her husband in fury. "I told you I would have my say, Randall! If it weren’t for him," She glared back to Sam then turned on her husband again. "My baby would still be alive!"
Randall Moore straightened to his full height and hissed through clenched teeth. "You are making an ass of yourself Elenore. Our daughter died in a fire--a fire! Sam had nothing to do with that!" He snapped. "Now go to the car or I will, by all that is holy, drag you there!"
She seemed to consider her husband’s words for a moment and then exhaled, straightening her jacket with a huff. "Fine." her voice was cold as ice and only grew colder when she turned to speak to Sam. "You are not welcome at the graveside service and if you show your face I will call the police." Turning she marched across the quad, heels clicking on the pavement, without a backward glance.
Running his hands through his hair Randall glanced at Dean with honest apology. "I’m sorry about my wife’s outburst." He held his hand out to Dean. "I’m Randall Moore, Jessica’s father, and you must be Dean."
He had no desire to shake hands with the man, but he couldn’t help it. Dean could see the horror of what his wife had done in his face and he seemed to be a good man despite the harpy he’d married. Taking Randall’s hand he shook it. "Yeah, Dean." he stepped closer to Sam who had stood silent through the entire tirade, head down, and chin resting on his chest. "I was the one who reported the fire. I’m sorry about your daughter, but it happened so quickly…"
"It’s okay, son." He smiled a sorrowful look in his eyes. "Elenore never approved of Sam and Jessica’s relationship unfortunately my wife thinks herself above others sometimes. How I’ve put up with her all these years is beyond me." A self-deprecating chuckle escaped him and then he turned his gaze on Sam, "Son?"
Sam lifted his head, face streaked with tears, and eyes red and swollen, "Yes, sir?"
"Listen to me and listen to me good. I know you loved Jessica with your entire being and if you’d been able to save her, you would have. Elenore is an ass…she’s always been an ass." He offered Sam a smile. "God knows I wish this hadn’t happened, but it wasn’t your fault."
Nodding Sam swallowed back a sob as Randall pulled him into a fatherly hug, "Yes, sir." He whispered as Randall drew back.
Randall turned to Dean. "You take care of him, Dean." He shook Dean’s hand again. "And don’t be a stranger, Sam." With that, he excused himself and headed across the quad in the direction Elenore had moments before.
The next few days were spent in silence more often than not. To Dean’s chagrin, Sam had refused to go against Elenore’s wishes and so they’d returned to the motel. He’d excused himself and taken a shower, but even the pounding water couldn’t completely drown out the sound of gut wrenching sobs that reached Dean’s ears as he sat outside the bathroom door.
When Sam had exited the shower his eyes were red-rimmed, but other than that nothing gave away the fact he’d nearly cried himself senseless. As soon as he was dressed, he told Dean they needed to go back to campus because he had some research he wanted to do. Dean didn’t argue with him just nodded and excused himself to take a shower as well. What was the point, he thought? Sam was Sam and despite the horror he’d been through and the abuse he’d suffered at Elenore Moore’s razor sharp tongue he was still as stubborn and focused as always.
For that one thing, Dean was grateful. Inside Sam was a strength he’d hoped for since the moment he’d helped him take his first steps. Nothing had changed no matter how much he’d thought it had. Now Sam had to take his first steps in a new direction. And Dean swore as he watched his brother, no matter the cost he would hold Sam to his path. If anyone deserved vengeance, it was Sam. Not only had the darkness torn his mother away, but also it had claimed the woman he had loved more than life itself.
Across the table, Sam scrubbed at his aching eyes and glanced up. Dean’s head was resting on his arms and his eyes had drifted shut. They’d been here in the university library for the past three days from opening until closing. Sam knew he was sleeping, but even asleep Dean gave Sam a comfort he couldn’t voice. They hadn’t been raised to speak of those types of things; they’d been raised as men of strength, as warriors against the things that lurked in shadow.
His gaze drifted to the small leather bound journal, one of the few things he’d been able to salvage from the ruins of he and Jessica’s apartment outside of his clothing. It had been a gift from Jess when he’d announced his interview for law school. She’d been so proud of his accomplishments and her joy at seeing him succeed had only been supplanted by the love he’d seen shining in her eyes.
Tracing one finger over the cover of the journal, he pushed back the tears that seemed endlessly to fall from his aching eyes. Was this how his father had felt after laying their mother to rest all those years ago? Overwhelmed by desire to seek vengeance against the evil that had torn his lover away? Despite all his anger at his father for the first time he was beginning to understand why their lives had been the way they’d been.
Pulling the journal across the table, he opened the cover and read the inscription on the inside cover for the second time.
For every hero must make a journey, the story of that journey is what is far more important than the final stop. You are my hero, my brave warrior, and the other half of my soul. Never forget I love you, Sam with all my heart and soul. Never forget the tale of the journey is far more important.
Forever Yours, Jessica
Swallowing hard, his fingertip traced the soft lines of her script, and then he picked up his pen and with shaking hands began to write.
November 9, 2005
It’s been four days since Jess was laid to rest in the earth of Palo Alto. Seven days since the evil that claimed my mother so long ago came to tear her from my arms. The pain is like the razor edge of a blade honed to perfection--quick and deadly. It lingers still and I have to wonder if maybe it will never fade.
It seems impossible to wash away the stain of her blood on my hands no matter how hard I try and the scent of it still lingers. No amount of soap or water will ever erase that smell from my memory copper and ash, burning on the back of my tongue. If I’m honest with myself, she did die because of me, because I didn’t tell her the truth and because I left her alone.
I understand my father now far more than I ever did before. He was right to seek the darkness out because no matter how far or fast we run it always finds you. Now it’s my turn to seek out the darkness. To find the thing that tore my life apart twice in twenty-two years. I don’t have any tears left to cry. But that’s okay.
Warriors don’t cry.