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It's a Life

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Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? - It's a Wonderful Life

* ~ * ~ *

Now

Right before Christmas 2007, the Winchester brothers kidnapped, tortured and killed three random strangers in an elderly couple’s home before bizarrely staking the elderly couple with bits of a Christmas tree. In a bowl on the table, forensics found blood from both brothers and one of Samuel Winchester’s fingernails.

It’s a little weird, but Henriksen has been tracking the Winchesters for two years. It’s not even close to the craziest thing they’ve done on Christmas. And he knows, blood to balls to bones that Dean Winchester is a monster. A little weirdness is nothing.

* ~ * ~ *

Then, December 2007: 142

Dean turned the Impala south, the day after Christmas which makes Sam nervous. It feels like they’re closer to the Feds than they were before, not that that makes a lot of sense since, you know, Federal, but everything makes Sam nervous these days. They can’t go to jail, not now, they don’t have time. Sam’s scar itches every time he thinks about it, which has got to be psychosomatic but is also kind of annoying.

They have a lead on a demon. Half-signs and a newspaper article. It’s enough for Dean, enough for Sam too, who’s chasing his tail with those bastards these days.

The air feels cold enough to choke on outside, but all of the Impala’s windows are down and Dean is just far enough over the speed limit that the air rushing by seems almost hot it’s so cold. Sam’s hair stings his eyes and Dean has the music turned up so loud that Sam thinks that if there was anyone within a hundred miles they would be able to hear the only Tom Cochrane song that Dean has.

Everything is muted between the lead gray skies and the muddy snow. Sam feels dulled down, overpowered by the cold and the noise and the bright light reflecting from the snow. His scar itches constantly, no matter how he sits. He can’t do anything other than huddle into the seat and join in the chorus, mumbling his way through the lyrics while Dean belts them out, only slightly out of tune. Dean’s been enjoying the hell out of his tape collection, listening to them louder than usual and Sam doesn’t have the heart to tell him to turn them down. Sam knows the words, he has to know the words, he’s heard the damn song a thousand times, but whatever they are are pushed back by the chant he has in his head that says, “I have to save Dean,” so he only manages to catch “life is a highway” before he forgets what comes next.

“Dude,” Dean says, almost shouting so that he can be heard. “You should play this at my--” His teeth clamp shut before he can say anything else and Sam pretends he didn’t hear Dean over Tom belting out “Just tell ‘em we’re survivors” and pretends he doesn’t want to cry. He stares at the road ahead of them and counts breaks in the painted lines until enough time has passed that Dean starts singing again.

* ~ * ~ *

139

The lead turns out to definitely be a possession, but it’s a spirit, not demonic. Sam is disappointed. He thinks if maybe they kill enough demons, he can bargain with them, tell them he’ll stop if they let Dean go.

Dean is way too excited. Spirit possessions aren’t common and Sam suspects Dean’s enthusiasm is because hunters who’ve seen weird shit that other hunters haven’t get serious bragging rights. With Ellen rebuilding the Roadhouse, there’s going to be a place to do it, but Sam doesn’t want to go anywhere near other hunters. Not with his soul in question, and Dean’s damned, and both willing to do worse. They look too much like prey right now.

The bedroom they do the ritual in is floral, of all the hideous things and it looks more like it would belong to this woman’s grandmother than something a twenty-odd girl would own. Sam examines a figurine on the dresser. It’s a simpering shepherdess and, come on, who owns this stuff other than someone’s grandma? He says so to Dean and is rewarded with one of Dean’s genuine laughs. He thinks idly that he’s not very good at making Dean happy, which is a little weird since he’s pretty sure that he’s the only thing Dean wants.

Dean splashes holy water on the woman, just to be sure. She’s brunette, pretty face contorted with rage. “Fear the priest,” Dean says, grinning, “Merrin, Merrin.” Steam pours off the girl where the holy water touched her, but it’s thinner, not like with demons, and there’s no sulfur smell. Dean flips open John’s journal, his finger already wedged in the right page. Sam is fairly certain Dean has all the incantations memorized, but he never does anything without the book, chokes without it. John’s shadow, still crippling his son. The cute one, the troublemaker. Sam was the smart one. Dean has no reason to believe he could learn the rituals. He doesn’t think he can.

“That’s would make you Pazuzu, and this isn’t a demon,” Sam corrects, as Dean starts chanting. There’s nothing for Sam to do. He leans against the wall and watches his brother work, enjoying the smooth roll of Dean’s Latin. Dean flips him the bird, and pulls the ghost out of the woman. They’ve already salted and burned the damn thing’s bones and without a host it vanishes with a shriek.

They untie the girl – Sam can’t even remember her name – and she starts weeping and falls into Dean’s arms. Dean never knows what to do with this sort of thing and tries to hand her to Sam, but Sam steps back, lets the woman cry out her gratitude, clutching at Dean’s jacket. So few people show their appreciation to Dean these days that Sam thinks he should feel it, even if it’s just weeping and clutching.

She tries to make them coffee in a kitchen that looks like it hasn’t been refitted since the sixties but her hands shake too much, so Dean does it for her; spikes it with a shot of whatever’s in his flask. Probably a combination of holy water and something strong enough to strip paint. There’s no way the woman can’t tell, but she smiles, weak and watery at him and Dean does a sort of self-deprecating shrug and smile. He tells her to get some sleep, that the ghost is gone and she’s safe. The woman starts to cry again, this time in relief. Sam thinks about how much Dean has been drinking recently and how much John used to drink when the mood hit him wrong and wonders how much Dean will put up a fuss if he mentions it.

Dean punches Sam in the arm when they finally get away. “Damn it,” he says. “You’re better at that shit than me.”

Sam thinks back a few hours to digging up the corpse they needed to salt and burn; boring, sweaty work, and picks at the calluses on his hands. He let Dean drop the match, which seemed to be the highlight of his brother’s evening, apart from actually finding a spirit possession. They’ve started burying the ashes of the torched bones. The soil is all turned and it’s clear that the grave’s been dug up, but Dean insists it’s the best way of covering their tracks and, he says, it’s desecration otherwise. This way it’s not so hard on everyone else.

Sam is so tired of everyone else.

* ~ * ~ *

Present Day

Newark, Delaware – December 24 2008

Sam hates Christmas, he always has, but he’d hoped that this year might be different. They’ve had so many shitty years that he thinks maybe they’re owed two good days. Sam wants to take Dean to New York, stay in a nice hotel, skate on Rockefeller Center, and watch Dean fall on his ass. As the FBI's favourite crime couple, duo, whatever, they can’t just check in to the Ritz, and they’re trying to use fewer credit cards and more cash to avoid detection. This means that Dean is hustling a lot of pool and Sam a lot of poker, neither of which really pays the bills.

For all of Dean’s ideas, they didn’t gamble the money Bella gave them, over a year ago. Sam’s pretty sure Bobby has it, keeping it safe. For after Dean’s final hurrah. It makes him want to hit Dean. It doesn’t matter that the deadline is gone. Doesn’t matter that Sam’s buried the crossroad demon and got the contract away from her bastard of a boss for good. Dean’s safe. Apparently that doesn’t mean dick to his brother who still can’t believe Sam won that round.

There won’t even be any snow. It’s been nothing but freezing rain for two days, making the ground slick and icy and dangerous to walk on and worse to dive over. Between them, they have about a hundred dollars, less now that Dean’s bought dinner and enough liquor to drown himself in.

It’s too cold to sleep in the car. It’s too cold to sleep anywhere without heating but they need what’s left of the hundred so they’re squatting again. Sam doesn’t bring up Bella’s money because he’s tried that before and he’s way too cold and tired to argue about it again. The house is run-down; boarded up windows, broken glass, and dirt, and dust on the floor, graffiti, and a few needles. The rain gets in in some rooms. The wind gets in in all of them.

Dean broke up what was left of the furniture in the house and dragged in some branches from outside. There’s no fireplace, but there’s no fire alarm either and Dean went out with the shovel and came back with wet dirt and dumped it on the wooden floor so he wouldn’t burn the house down when he made a fire right on top of the bare boards. There’s a lot of smoke and not as much heat as Sam would like but they’re in the one room that isn’t made of broken windows and it’s the best they’re going to get. It’s worse than when John was alive. Much worse.

Sam doesn’t know where Dean stole the crappy, molting plastic tree that’s sitting in the corner from or what possessed him to use ugly women’s earrings as baubles. It’s not cheerful.

“It wasn’t the money,” Dean says, looking up from unrolling his sleeping bag on top of the decrepit mattress he’s dragged down from upstairs.

Sam, hunched up close to the fire in as many layers as he could comfortably put on, shrugs. “It’s okay, Dean.”

“I could have got it, Sammy. You know I could have.” Dean’s face is limned in flickering red and he looks tired and worn. His hands are holding on too tight to the sleeping bag, clenched in the worn fabric.

Sam knows what ‘Sammy’ means there. It means “little brother” and it means “I’d do anything to keep you safe/happy/whateveryouwant.” It means “I’m sorry.” It means “I’m a fuck up but forgive me.” It means “Don’t leave me.”

Sam looks away and Dean sighs unhappily. “The motel,” he says, and stops. Sam can hear Dean rubbing his hands over his face. “The motel had our pictures next to the desk. I couldn’t risk us getting busted.”

Sam looks at his brother again, and Dean is unrolling Sam’s sleeping bag for him, unzipping them both so Dean’s becomes the bottom sheet and Sam’s the top. It’ll be warmer that way. For a man so good at getting himself killed, Dean’s a skilled survivalist. He moves without thought, routine, as he gets up and, content that they’re not going anywhere else and won’t freeze to death where they are, draws a thick, thick line of salt around the edges of the room.

“It’s okay,” Sam says again. He thinks about inhuman powers that could make the trouble with the FBI vanish. He thinks about blood and broken bones and Dean’s last days. It’s not even close to okay.

Dean sits down on the ratty mattress and cracks open a bottle of Jack. He hasn’t eaten anything since lunch and there’s sandwiches waiting, but he doesn’t seem interested. Sam’s not surprised, with the way things are, he’s half tempted to just start drinking too, but he’d have to talk to Dean then, and he just can’t bear to.

Things are completely out of control. Dean’s a disaster, Sam’s killed enough people that he’s beginning to wonder if it’s a problem that he doesn’t care and demons are still freaking everywhere and they keep hanging around, hinting at things. Getting Dean out of his deal was only the beginning. Demons are letting other demons out and the war is revving up. Something’s got to break soon and Sam’s starting to think he’s the Anti-Christ. Which doesn’t make any sense if you factor in all the other generations of Azazel’s children, but there you have it. Demons don’t tend to make a lot of sense.

Sam’s waiting for Dean to ask him how many have died. To try and stop him. And the more Sam kills the more he thinks he’d let the whole world burn so long as he and his brother walk out together. It’s not normal, he knows that, but it’s his turn, isn’t it? It’s what he was born and bred by two men to do. He should be a demon general. He should fight for family. He should die for family. Or maybe that last one was just Dean’s job. Either way.

* ~ * ~ *

Henriksen knows Dean’s crimes by heart: fraud, theft and credit card scams. He knows about unpaid speeding tickets. He knows Dean’s crimes in all their great and varied details. Illegal gambling, impersonating officers of the law, breaking and entering, grievous bodily harm, assault and battery. He knows the name of every body that Dean has been fingered for digging up (and salting, and burning, and Jesus Christ, what a signature mark that is). He knows the names of the men Dean has shot.

Henriksen knows the lives of the women that Dean has tortured and killed, probably better even than Dean does. He knows their names and their families, what their aspirations were, what Dean has taken from the world.

* ~ * ~ *

Then, Jan 2008: 134

Somewhere on route 22, in a crappy motel with a ugly 40’s décor that smells like it hasn’t been changed since then, Sam discovers that Dean has a journal; a nice, well bound, black leather journal, and Sam can’t manage to get his hands on the damn thing. He sees Dean tuck it under a newspaper when Sam comes in from a pizza run and it’s gone when he gets a chance to look again.

Every time he thinks he’s figured out where Dean keeps it, it’s not there. It’s not in the duffels, the glove box, the trunk, the secret compartment of the trunk, the drawers in the motel and it doesn’t look like the lines of Dean’s jeans are being broken by anything but his gun so he hasn’t stuck it in his pocket. Not that it would fit. Sam thinks he has to be moving it periodically, but he can’t catch Dean at it. The only reason he knows Dean has the journal is because he’s seen it a grand total of three times.

Sam isn’t very good at not knowing things, especially about Dean because it seems to him that every time Dean hides something from him, it always ends badly. They’re in a burger joint off the highway, most of the way through dinner when he asks, “What do you write about?” The corner of the table is peeling up, the cheep veneer coming away from the dented metal. It looks like there’s mold of some kind underneath the Formica and all the waitresses are over fifty. It’s not one of the nicer places they’ve eaten at, but it’s by no means the worst. The food at least isn’t rotten. Sam wishes that they had the money to eat in nice restaurants, especially now, but Dean doesn’t seem to mind and they’re far too wanted to show their faces to the general public.

“What?” Dean looks up from his French – freedom, in this hole in the wall – fries and stares at Sam across the diner table. His fingers are covered in ketchup and he talks around his last mouthful of burger. Sam doesn’t even blink at Dean’s table manners these days. It’s too late to teach Dean differently and God knows their father never bothered. John’s military Yessiring only extended as far as the hunt, not so far as actually teaching Dean anything useful, like table manners. His last bite probably could have been at least three bites. It’s kind of disgusting, even if Sam is used to it.

“In the journal,” Sam says and spins his spoon around on the table in irritated and irritating little circles.

“Monsters,” Dean says, unconcerned, like he hasn’t been hiding it. He sucks the ketchup off his fingers, one by one. “Me. I don’t know. Stupid shit.”

Sam stares out the window at the parking lot filled with trucks, the Impala hiding somewhere behind the eighteen wheelers and shifts in his seat. “Can I read it?”

Dean shakes his head. “Not yet,” he says instead of “no” and Sam knows that the Winchesters don’t leave much behind them. Their father left his journal and now Dean’s writing his own. Sam’s mouth thins out, but he doesn’t say anything else.

He finds it in Dean’s jacket that night when Dean is sleeping. Dear Sammy Sam, it starts. And Sam reads the whole thing while Dean snores. It’s different than what their father left, more memories scrawled out in Dean’s childish handwriting. It’s conversational. Hey, remember that time in Mentone, Alabama? With the haystack and the little boy ghost with the shotgun?

It’s everything Dean remembers, none of it in any sort of order. Sam would have described their childhood as an endless purgatory of motel rooms and leaving schools and friends behind but Dean remembers everyone. The people they helped, the schoolgirls, and the waitresses he fucked, the monsters they were chasing and if Sam or John was injured, how the Impala was running. There is only one thing missing from the narrative of Dean’s life, and that’s Dean.

There’s useful information that Dean has figured out; exactly how to run credit card scams, how much money to put down when hustling pool, how to break into more modern cars, information about the Impala and how Sam should look after her, doctors that will help for a little under the table cash. Everything Sam might need to survive alone. Everything except Dean.

Sam has spent enough time with his brother to know better though. And while Dean doesn’t say, “we were here and I thought this and felt that,” Sam’s not a total idiot and he’s had enough schooling to know what subtext means and how to read between the lines of Dean’s confessions. It’s pretty sad that Dean’s life is being the man-in-the-middle Winchester, finding the thing that killed their mom, looking after Sam, and saving other people, and that’s it. Two of those four things are done and he may as well have just drawn a line though them, like it was a To Do list. There’s no desperation in the subtext, just a desire to make sure Sam knows everything, anything that might be important when Dean can’t tell him. Dean isn’t sorry and he doesn’t regret the ruin of his own life, and Sam wants to strangle him.

He tucks the journal back into Dean’s jacket. They have a lead on a demon, somewhere they have to be tomorrow and Dean will write more in that stupid book and think any of that shit matters to Sam.

Sam doesn’t care about any of it. He’ll keep helping people because it’s the right thing to do and he’ll keep doing it until something stops him, but he has to now, he’s in up to his eyeballs. Sam doesn’t care what their names are, or what their story is. He just wants their pain out of his head. But he’s known he’s selfish for a long time, and he doesn’t care any more. Maybe that’s what the demon meant by not quite right. Maybe being dead took his compassion. He’s not sure and he doesn’t care.

Sam can’t sleep but he has shit to do anyway so he turns on the laptop. He’s read Faustus and Theophilus and he’s seen the Devil’s Advocate and he knows that short of a miracle from the Virgin Mary he’s unlikely to find answers to any of their problems on the internet. Fat lot of good Ruby’s been, too. He keeps waiting for her, letting her string him along like an idiot, just waiting for her next scrap of “I can help you save Dean.”

Sam wonders if he’s not going about it the wrong way, if trying to break the pact isn’t going to be like banging his head against a brick wall. He thinks he has two options. Become the Sam that Azazel wanted and stop the crossroad demon by being faster and stronger and better, or through a loophole. Sam finds a few bits of paper and uses his telekinesis to take notes while he starts to outline everything Dean’s told him, everything he knows about deals with devils and an opening statement.

Some time, around four in the morning, Sam has a nightmare, just a stupid, normal nightmare and they wake up to all the glass in the room shattering.

* ~ * ~ *

Present Day

Sam smiles sourly and gets up from his spot at the fire. He thinks Azazel and John couldn’t really complain about how things have turned out, were they to take one another into account. There’s just no taking Dean into account. Dean, who has been brother, and father, and mother, and friend, and every other fucking thing that Sam couldn’t get any way else. He sits next to Dean, chameleon Dean with a thousand false identities for everyone else and who can’t lie for shit to his brother. Dean holds out the whiskey and Sam accepts.

“You gonna stay up with me and wait for Santa?” Dean asks with a grin as Sam chokes on the harsh burn. He can hold his drink just fine, thank you, but it doesn’t mean he likes doing straight shots. Not like Dean whose throat works in swallows, lips around the mouth of the bottle. He drinks like he’ll drown.

“Santa’s not coming,” Sam says, and waits for Dean’s querying look before he takes the bottle from his brother. “He doesn’t come to the naughty girls and boys.”

Dean laughs even though it wasn’t funny. “I’m a freaking saint,” he says.

There’s a package in Dean’s duffle, one not from the seven eleven down the road, actually gift wrapped, and addressed to Sam. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that Sam is supposed to wake up and find it tomorrow morning and that Dean doesn’t know Sam found it a week ago, looking for a clean pair of socks. He almost peeked, but managed to reign in his inner five-year-old. Saint Dean. Patron saint of Sam Winchester.

Sam bumps his shoulder against Dean’s and takes the Jack back.

By the time it’s dark outside and their only light is from the smoky fire, Dean is drunk. “Sammy?” he asks. “Do you remember that time in Minnesota?”

“No,” Sam says automatically.

“You know, that was the Christmas with Dad and Pastor Jim. You were ten. Remember?”

Sam remembers. They’d had a real tree and fourteen year old Dean had shoveled snow for weeks up and down the neighborhoods, saving. He’d bought John something eminently forgettable and practical and he’d bought Sam a real, leather-bound journal; not like John’s, more like a book with blank pages. On the first page he’d written, carefully, neatly, “The Adventures of Samuel Winchester Boy Wonder.” Sam had filled it up with his ten-year-old imaginings and doodles and whatever popped into his head. He’d torn it up and thrown it out at sixteen in a fit of pique when he was mad at Dean. He remembers being angry that Christmas that he couldn’t be with his friends over the holiday, that they were moving again. He remembers Dean sneaking a few of the beers that John and Jim were drinking and not ratting him out. He remembers a snow fort that he and Dean built and how they fought snowball wars with each other and Jim, and once, their father.

“No,” Sam says again, not wanting to reminisce. “Why?”

Dean sighs and flops back onto his back. “That was a good year,” he says.

Sam remembers the rest of the year. They’d moved four times, John had been on the road almost constantly, since Dean was old enough to hold the fort down on his own. Sam, at ten, was miles behind Dean and trying desperately to keep up. He thinks now he might have held Dean back. Sam was bullied at one school and ignored at the other three except by the weird kid and he loved it anyway. He missed every single one of his strange friends. He hated training already. He was ten years old and miserable. He remembers Dean stumbling awkwardly through puberty. Not physically, John’s training and good looks got him over that hurdle, but he was always the new kid, same as Sam. Dean stopped making friends around that time, tired of missing them, suddenly interested in girls, busy looking after Sam who needed a lot of looking after. He skipped a lot of school. He learned to cook because Sam was a picky eater that year.

Sam abruptly feels guilty. “You think?” he asks and is rewarded with a drunk, lopsided smile.

“Sure,” Dean says.

* ~ * ~ *

Henriksen knows that Dean Winchester drives the car, commits the murders, and mouths off to the Feds when he’s brought in. He’s brute force, and charm, and psychosis.