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"I called you here as a courtesy, John," the words pierced the quiet in a harsh whisper.

"Somethin' ain't right about that boy."

Sam had long grown weary of the relentless sound of his older brother beating some rusted out junker senseless, and had settled on eavesdropping as a more entertaining alternative. And really, while he might have been able to overpower Dean in the spur of the moment, risking his ire again was far from the top of his bucket list. Because, as it seemed, that sort of action became part of a bucket list the moment it was enacted. You didn't live long enough to try anything else.

"You say that about everybody," John sounded tired, but the jab was pointed and cold.

"He was as good as dead when I found him, boy," Bobby fired back, a little louder than his previous statement. There was no such thing as being dismissive of his concerns. A seasoned hunter was to be heard.

"Said that already. On the phone. You going senile?"

A loud thud and a rattle. A fist hitting a table. Everything on said table wobbling against the force. The house fell silent, and Sam held his breath.

"No pulse. Not breathing. Pale as a corpse and cold as one too. Grabbed my arm while I was checkin' him and damn near snapped the bone," each word hit Sam and made his gut sink further and further. He didn't know how bad it was. Just that his brother had been found in a bad way. A bad way was the biggest understatement of the century. A walking corpse?

What was this, Night of the Living Dead?

"You think he's -"

"Course not," Bobby cut him off, "He passed the tests. All of 'em."

"Then what the hell am I supposed to do? He's alive ain't he? He's here." John started to stand, and his chair scraped across the floor behind him.

So maybe not zombie horror flick bad. Not yet at least.

"Keep an eye on him. Keep your ears open. Someone brought him back, John, or something. And as much as it pains me to admit it, he came back wrong."

Sam couldn't - wouldn't - listen to this conversation anymore. He moved from his spot in the hallway and trekked back outside again. He knew Bobby cared about them, and if he had concerns about something, it was worth listening to. But this was raising too many questions, too many doubts. Why couldn't they all just be happy that Dean was here? Alive.

He weaved through the stacks of junker cars, kicking a few pebbles along his way. He listened to them ping off metal and ricochet into different directions. A more pleasing thing to occupy his thoughts than the other thing.

Came back wrong. Bullshit!

Sam came around a corner and stopped, spotting Dean sitting on the ground against a detached car door. One arm was wrapped around his torso, putting pressure on his chest, but from the looks of it, he hadn't done any damage. No blood. He was only out of breath, with the fire iron gripped loosely in his other hand. He'd been out here for a while, after all. From mid afternoon to now, with the sun dipping below the treeline outside of the salvage yard. A few hours at least.

Sam craned his neck and examined the unfortunate piece of shit that had been targeted and grimaced. The frame was bent beyond recognition and the glass was in shattered bits on the ground.

He turned again and locked eyes with his brother, and finally, he got that eerie sense that he knew exactly what Bobby was talking about. He wouldn't say it was wrong, but it wasn't something right either.

He saw bright green. Luminescent, not like the deep green that he remembered. This was attention grabbing. Unnatural, even though he couldn't quite pinpoint why.

"What the hell do you want?"

Unsettling.

Sam blinked and glanced back down at the dirt.

"Sorry," he mumbled, trying not to eye the bruises starting to form on his brother's face from hitting the floor earlier. He started to walk away again, to leave Dean to his venting, but his feet wouldn't move.

There was a rather significant gap in his memory. Years upon years of not even knowing that Dean existed, followed by the abrupt realization that he did. Even though his last memory of his brother was almost as old as he was, it was still fresh. The few years that had passed since they'd gotten news of his death had muddled them a little, but the change was significant.

No longer was Dean the gangly, dark eyed kid that he had been. His hair had darkened, and he looked nothing like he once had. Young, still, but the empty look in his eyes told how unkind those years had been.

"You just going to stand there?"

Sam glanced back up at Dean's face, and realized that some of that anger had bled out of him. Now he just looked tired and resigned. So, Sam inched over out of the path and flopped down onto the ground, sitting crisscross a few feet away from Dean.

"I really am sorry," he said, finally.

Dean sighed, face scrunching up. "You didn't do anything."

A beat passed. "I forgot."

Dean scoffed, and a mirthless grin settled on his face. "You aren't the only one."

Sam new this couldn't be fixed. Not anytime soon. And even if Dean stuck around, if by some miracle he thought maybe he could even be near them again, it was far from resolved. He couldn't imagine the scarring from a life like this, and wondered, absently, if being a hunter would have been any better. How much pain could his brother have been spared either way? He'd not only lost one family, he'd lost two. And returning to one hadn't yielded the answers that would have justified over a decade of bottled up resentment.

He wouldn't fault Dean for hating them. Even now, even knowing the full story, because no matter their excuses, he had still been the one to suffer the consequences. It was an unfortunate truth he had come to learn in the last few years, helping his dad on cases. One that had never affected him so personally. People sometimes got hurt on hunts, no matter how hard they tried to prevent it, no matter how much they did right. Sometimes, they got hurt indirectly, without them even knowing. Like now.

Because no matter the intention behind the action, or lack thereof, someone was still in pain at the end of the day.

Sam hated that either of them were born into a life like this. And he hated that out there, somewhere, someone stole the one chance his brother had to escape it.

He knew that nothing he could say would make this better. Wherever this went, it was in Dean's hands, and Sam wouldn't force it. He trusted that John wouldn't try, not after everything. Bobby seemed on the fence.

"What are you going to do now?" He finally asked, dragging his gaze from the ground to gauge his brother's reaction.

"Can't do shit with a hole in my chest." He was still holding his arm protectively over the injury, and he looked at Sam sadly. He knew he missed a lot of time, but he didn't have the energy to be angry about it right now. Guilty, maybe. For not trying to come back to them. For missing those years in the first place. Definitely for not making that effort when he had the resources to. But stupidly, he felt, he decided that being abandoned by one person meant that abandoning everyone else himself was the chance he needed to cling to. Now his baby brother wasn't a baby anymore. There was a whole lot to discern from a single look, and he saw a lot.

They were complete strangers to each other.

Well, maybe.

Sam shifted, searching for something to say that wouldn't end in another blow out, but there wasn't much conversation to be had here.

"... You still like The Lord of the Rings?"

Dean's face twisted into surprise and disgust. It almost looked comical, if the coming exclamation didn't have him flinching in pain. "Wha-? Of course I don't! I never did."

Sam winced and shot him an apologetic look, but he was having none of it. "You did too. Your books are still upstairs, and I remember every time that cartoon came on tv, we had to watch it."

He stopped himself from arguing his point further when he realized that Dean was frozen in place, and that unsettling green was clouded by tears that he was just barely holding back. A pang of regret overpowered anything else he'd been feeling in that short moment. Of course it was too soon! Those wounds were still fresh. Don't kick a man when he's already down.

Or maybe it was good?

Dean crumbled, but he wasn't lashing out. The iron finally slipped from his grasp and he brought his arm up to his face to shield it from view. Sam couldn't react, except to think that maybe this was good. It meant that he didn't really hate them, right? Sam might still technically be a kid, but he was perceptive. People didn't react like this to things that they resented.

Maybe they were going to be okay.

Not perfect.

But okay. And that was okay too.


Sam returned to the house just as the sun finally disappeared and gave way to Sioux Falls' clear night sky. Just in time for John to jump on his case about vanishing in the middle of the day without telling anyone. Frankly, he was under the impression that Bobby's was the safest place they could be.

"You can't just -"

The words died on John's lips the second the screen door slammed behind Dean, and the two stared each other down for a solid minute. Sam could sense his father's unease and shifted, floorboards creaking softly under his feet.

"You okay?"

Dean didn't acknowledge him, aside from his glare hardening even more than it already had. Instead of trying to entertain conversation, he ambled up the stairs, leaving the rest of the house to its signature awkward silence.

"Where'd Uncle Bobby go?" Sam asked, quietly.

"Went to find Dean's stuff," John trekked into the kitchen to take a seat at the table. There was soup on the stove, set in low, but neither of them were hungry. "You were with him the whole time?"

A nod.

John couldn't be sure if he was relieved. On the one hand, Dean seemed entirely capable, on the other, Bobby's words still nagged his thoughts. Could he really be trusted? Time changed people, he knew that, but there was so much about his oldest that was completely alien to him now. He couldn't pick out how much of it was time, and how much of it was trauma. How much of it was wrong, as it were.

His train of thought derailed when Sam placed an ice pack on the table, right in front of him. "You look like shit."

John picked it up and turned it around in his hand before pressing it to his face. "Language," he chided, gritting his teeth when the cold compress touched sore skin.

"Okay. You look like the crap got beat out of you."

He rolled his eyes. He was well aware of what he looked like right now. "He say anything?"

Sam shook his head, dropping into the other chair and crossing his arms over the table top. "Not really. Beat the shit out of one of the cars though."

"Language," John hissed, dipping his head to rest it in his free hand.

"Come on! It's not like we're saints! We kill people for a living -"

"Monsters, Sam. We kill monsters. Not people."

And how many of those monsters had no idea what they were? What was happening to them? Not every monster shared that nature with its predecessors. Sam shook his head and got up, ready to be done with everything. That was an argument for another day, and it wasn't his hill to die on. Not now. Why should this be their life? Why this? And that brought another thought across his mind, and he instantly felt guilty for it.

Hoping that when he woke up in the morning, everything would be as it was before Bobby called them. It would just be him and Dad. Dean would still be gone... alive somewhere else, at least. Sam didn't want him dead. He just... He wanted what shaky sense of normalcy he once had back firmly in his grasp.

He was horrible, and he knew it. But the amount of trouble he sensed coming wasn't something he looked forward to, and everything going back to normal was the easy way out.

This was just too damn much to deal with.

"What even is this family," he muttered, as he ascended the stairs. Was it even a family would be better.


The next morning seemed to flow a lot easier.

First of all, Dean actually had the presence of mind to take a shower. They understood that it wasn't on top of his priority list right after waking up from what was essentially a days long coma, but at least now he didn't smell like blood and sweat. He had pointedly refused both Sam's and John's offers to help redress the rapidly healing stab wound in his chest, opting to keep it out of sight. Not quite out of mind.

The words came back wrong still lingered in the back of John's head, because anyone hurt to that degree would still be bedbound. Yet, Dean was upright and well enough to walk around.

Then there was the fact that Dean didn't vanish at the first signs of life after the sun came up. They were expecting him to ditch them at the first opportunity, or at least, go hide until it was reasonable to come back without giving them a passing glance.

Instead, he stood beside them while Bobby backed the trailer into the driveway, loaded down with Dean's belongings. Namely, his bike.

"Holy shit," was Sam's initial reaction. John gave up trying to correct his use of profanity, and merely sighed.

"Yep." Dean walked towards the trailer, unfazed by the overall reaction to the motorcycle. He didn't see the damage. He only saw his way out.

It was a nice bike, Sam thought. A blood red Blackbird. Fast and sleek. Or it would be nice, if it wasn't totally wrecked. Must've happened right before the hunt.

Bobby killed the engine and the man joined the trio at the bottom of the porch, passing a backpack and torn up helmet along to Dean. He let it drop to the ground and crouched down to sift through the contents, ensuring everything was there before closing it up and slinging it over his shoulder.

He crossed the yard and started working the ties holding the bike down loose, ignoring John's protests as he rolled it off the trailer and out onto the asphalt.

"It doesn't run," Bobby said, coolly. "Your buddies trashed it." Buddies? Bullshit. A bunch of hungry monsters looking to silence anyone that got in their way. Dean didn't remember them trashing his bike, but it wasn't going to stop him now. It shouldn't.

Dean cursed and let the backpack slide down and hit the ground, hands curling into tight fists. Fingernails pinched skin, and he barely refrained from smacking what was left of the windshield into even smaller pieces. "Then I'll fix it."

John took a step closer, and Dean's head snapped to the side, settling a glare on the man that made him freeze in his tracks. If he was so close to leaving, then nothing was stopping him from bolting anyway. Wrecked bike be damned. John tried to choose his next words carefully. Keyword: Tried.

"Jason -"

In a flash, the bike was on its side in the dirt and Dean was nose to nose with John, face twisted into barely suppressed rage. "You don't get to call me that!"

A finger jabbed into John't chest and the man stumbled back a little under the force, but his gaze didn't falter. Even having to look up at Dean because at some point in the last few years, the kid had shot up like a weed. He inhaled sharply, but didn't flinch. "Dean. You don't have to go yet."

Dean backed off, face still scrunched up when he tossed the helmet down next to the bag. It was trashed too. Useless for protection. He would need to buy a new one before taking any trips, and getting as far away from them as possible qualified. He threw his hands in the air, exasperated. He was running out of options here, and the salvage yard was feeling more and more like the confines of a coffin. He couldn't stay here. He needed to get away. He caught himself pacing, back and forth like a caged animal, head dipped low while he tried to make sense of the situation.

He wondered how far he'd make it on foot.

Finally, "I don't have much of a choice." He whirled around to face them.

"You could stay with us."

"Because that worked out so well the first time?" Sam had been silent during the entire exchange, and that retort dashed that tiny hopeful look from his face. Dean felt a pang of guilt, but too many other emotions were tangling with each other for him to really care.

"You don't have to, "John clarified, smartly remaining exactly where he stood this time. "But you can. You can stay with us as long as you need."

Dean considered it. The kid in him that longed for this moment was beating his present self over the head with a bo staff, yelling at him to take it. It's what he'd always wanted! He looked away, realizing that the bike was gone. Bobby had picked it up amid the brief altercation, and Dean spotted him walking it to the shop.

"Until my bike is fixed" It wasn't a question. More like a take it or leave it kind of option. If it wasn't good enough for John, well, he was entirely prepared to heft that bag over his shoulder again and start making his way out of town on foot. Out of sight, at least. Nothing stopping him from procuring a ride, but he didn't need a Winchester or a Singer on his case about doing stupid shit so close to their home base. Only steal when you can't get caught, right? These guys weren't saints, that much he could agree on.

It wasn't what they wanted, but it was a start.

John breathed a sigh of relief, tension rolling off his shoulders. "If that's what you want."

Dean swiped his stuff off the ground, expertly tossing the busted helmet into the garbage can that sat against the side of the house. "None of this is what I want."

That's a lie that little kid argued. Red and green all over. It's everything you wanted.

But the pained look that John tried to hide was satisfying, to say the least.

Dean brushed past him, heading back towards the house. "Let me know when it's time to hit the road."