Pairing: none / gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, off-handedly mentioned OFCs
Warnings: a couple dirty words and death of a pet, awww.
Summary: Based on a prompt over at the latest ohsam comment fic meme from the wonderful de_nugis: "Gencest or Sam/Dean, future curtain!fic. This isn't triggery, but it mentions death of pets, which I know some find distressing, so be warned. Basically, I want Sam and Dean settled, damaged but living a life, and I want Sam to suffer a completely normal loss: the (ordinary, not supernatural, non-violent) death of a loved pet. And it affects Sam a lot more than you might expect, maybe because there have been so many other losses that he never really had time to process. Dean is awesome and comforting in his own prickly, Dean way; some of the isolation from each other they've undergone in earlier, larger losses gets healed." Not sure it hit all the bases, but it is what it is!
Notes: This takes place after my curtain!fic-ish story "Good Things", but it's not necessary to read it to get "Prayer Bundles." All you need to know is they've tentatively settled at Moon Gulch, Idaho because Dean busted up his knee. He works at a diner, Sam works at a Christmas tree farm and is still seeing Satan. They're sorta dating the Whitecrow twins, June and April. Enjoy!
Son of Notes: No beta because it's commentfic, but concrit is always welcomed. Now enjoy!
Dean looked at his watch, bounced the scrap of paper in his fingers, and wandered to the kitchen for a beer. Mid-reach, he changed his mind and grabbed a stupid Diet Coke instead. When Sam got home, he was almost certainly going to drag Dean out for a run.
Whose brilliant idea was it to lose those last stubborn five pounds in August, anyway? Oh, yeah, that’s right. His. Juney had planned a whitewater daytrip on the Salmon River, two weeks up-coming, and Dean wanted to be a lean, mean rafting machine by then. There was nothing awesome about your gut rolling over the belt of your jeans when you pulled your shirt off, because, you know … clothes get wet when you raft. What did the kids call it these days? ‘Muffin-topping?’ Yeah, not cute.
Hey, so sue him; June Whitecrow triggered his vanity. He grinned to himself thinking of her long hair, glinting in the sun off the river, black as an oil spill. Black as the Impala after a good wax job. He almost hated to admit it, but Baby was getting a run for her money with June. There was just something about June and her white teeth and so much tanned skin …
Dean took a swallow of his soda and his grin turned a touch lecherous. He toed off his non-skid work shoes and dropped into the La-Z-Boy to wait for Sam. His shirt stunk like today’s Blue Plate special but there was no point in showering until they got back from their run. Sam had had the day off and was probably ready to storm up Old Man’s Mountain by now. Sam was merciless, but Dean got it. The exercise wasn’t just for the cardiovascular glory or PT for Dean, it was to keep the Devil at bay. And if that’s all it took, well, Dean wasn’t going to look for the gift horse’s teeth. Running was still a pain in the ass—and shins and falling arches and bum knee—but such a small price for Sam’s sanity.
A flash of light across the far wall meant Sam’s Jeep was moving up the gravel drive. Footsteps, just a single set. The door groaned open and Dean craned his neck around, catching Sam’s face before one word hit air.
Sam’s nose was red, but it wasn’t from the sun or the heat. His eyes were red-rimmed, too. Puffy. And his mouth was tightly tugged in a way that made him look gaunt and miserable. He had his car keys in one hand and Doc’s collar in the other.
“Um, dude?” Dean couldn’t think of anything more brilliant to say.
Sam just sighed and set the red leather collar, jingling with tags, on the table by the door where they usually dumped the mail. He hadn’t bothered to put his hair back in a rubberband and it fell forward across his shoulders, obscuring his expression.
Like a widow’s veil at a funeral, Dean thought bleakly. Sammy looked ten years older than he had yesterday. “What … what’d the vet say?”
Dean almost hated to ask. Doc wasn’t the world’s finest specimen of doghood with his incessant slobbering, ear-piercing yip, and hound stink that tainted the whole damned house, but he was Sam’s dog. The mutt ate them out of house and home—and toilet paper some days—but he was always there when Lucifer took the steering wheel and Sam needed something, anything, to be an anchor to reality. Doc would whine into Dean’s face at three in the morning when Sam was helplessly lost in a nightmare, or sleepwalking his way into the kitchen towards the butcher block of knives. In the scant year that they’d owned him, the sloppy smelly animal had managed to earn his keep.
“Can we just … not …” Sam trailed off and walked to the kitchen, which was really just the back half of the first floor. The cabin wasn’t big enough for interior walls. He pulled open the ‘fridge and stared inside for almost a minute before shutting it again and reaching for the bottle of Jack over the sink.
So. They definitely weren’t running today.
Eventually Dean got the 4-1-1 from June, who’d wrangled the info from her sister, April, because April knew the veterinary receptionist. (This was the way small towns worked when you hung around long enough, Dean came to realize.) The dog had been hacking, off and on, for a month … could’ve been allergies, could’ve been asthma. Asthma? Really? Yeah, wasn’t unheard of.
After this last bad bout, though, the vet in nearby Latshaw had taken an x-ray and the results weren’t optimistic. Apparently, there was some serious fluid retention around Doc’s heart that indicated either congestive heart failure—unlikely in such a young animal—or more probably, a mass. Inoperable, and it simply wasn’t doable to submit the dog to radiation or chemotherapy, too complicated and too expensive, even if the clinic had the wherewithal to try.
Sam had made the humane decision to put Doc down. Humane, for everyone but Sam, Dean decided.
Sam moved through the next few weeks like a shadow. He went to work, stayed late even though he didn’t need to, came home exhausted and ate cold dinner. If he ate at all. He still jogged with Dean, but the friendly competition between them, trying to beat each other’s time or make it over the mountain first, just wasn’t there. Mrs. Quackenbush, the landlord’s wife, brought over a casserole like they did when a family member died. Sam even tried to beg off the rafting trip but April would have none of it, though he barely said a dozen words that whole afternoon.
The depression, Dean could handle. Of course they’d never owned a pet as kids, and one of the first things Sam had done when he’d ran away, at 15, was adopt a Golden Retriever and name him Bones. So understandably, losing Doc hit Sammy hard.
But what hit Dean hard was Lucifer, and what the fucker did to his brother when given an opening. The sleepwalking got worse, to the point Dean had to padlock everything sharp or gun-shaped. Twice, Dean had come home from the diner to discover Sam zoned-out in the backyard tomato bed in nothing but his boxers, sunburnt and mindlessly digging at his palms until the skin looked like hamburger. Sam had neglected work, food, getting dressed, himself.
And this simply had to stop.
It was slightly surreal, the acres of carefully aligned evergreens, in their compulsively neat rows and arranged by type so that the greens changed and darkened in waves. Dean navigated the Impala down the dirt ruts, eyes peeled for the telltale flash of metal in the sun. Five rows deep, he saw the top of Sam’s head and the whiz of his shearing knife, taking off the tips of errant branches. Dean sounded the horn; Sam had his earbuds in, listening to something suitably emo, Dean supposed.
Sam shoved his sunglasses onto his forehead, pulled on the fine cord running from his iPod, and squinted around a Norway spruce. His t-shirt was ringed with sweat and he was flushed from exertion and the heat. Despite a solid tan, there was sleep-deprived bruising under his eyes. “What’re you doing here?”
Dean leaned over and shoved open the shotgun door. “Get in. I’ve got lunch.”
“Dean, I’m not—”
“I packed a God-damned picnic.”
“Aw, come on, dude. Don’t make me say it twice. I already feel like a chick.”
Sam snorted, plucking off his gloves one finger at a time. “Alright, alright.” He rounded the tree, threw the knife in the footwell and slid into the Impala. “Did you bring me flowers too?”
“Shut up, ass hat.”
They drove a good twenty minutes, following June’s directions. Dean assured Sam he’d already talked to his boss about taking a long lunch and Sam didn’t have the vinegar to argue. They hadn’t met a single car the entire way up the pass and by the time they’d reached the crest of the butte, Dean felt like they were the only two people on the planet.
The world stretched out before them in the dense, saturated colors of summer. A small lake, as still as a mirror, plucked the blue from the sky like a bull’s eye in the middle of the valley. Some of the bordering trees had tiny strips of bright fabric tied to their branches. Prayer bundles. The wind kicked up as Dean hauled a big wicker basket from the backseat of the car.
“You did pack a picnic.” Sam sounded mildly surprised.
“Blame the Whitecrows …” Dean grunted, setting lunch on a hot, flat slab of boulder wedged into the side of the mountain. The view really was impressive, if a bit vertigo-inducing.
Sam sat on the rock gingerly, keeping his hands off the sun-bleached stone.
Dean was glad he’d worn jeans. He reached into the basket and pulled out a pair of foil-wrapped sandwiches, tossing one to his brother. “Eat. April says you’re bruising her with your damned knobby elbows.”
“That’s disturbing . You and April talk about me?” Sam smiled vaguely, snagging the sandwich with one hand.
“Me and April and June. So now you can be really disturbed. Hell, whole town’s talking about you.”
Sam sighed and set his ham-and-swiss aside, brows angled in what Dean read as guilt. Embarrassment. Probably shame. “Wish they’d stop.”
“I know,” Dean said around a mouthful of sandwich. “They’ll stop when you get out of this funk, man. They care.”
“It’s not their business.”
Dean scooted across the rock, bumping his knee into Sam’s. “You’d think. But see, here’s the score …” He’d been pondering this all morning, and he prodded Sam’s knee again and again until the kid looked up. Sam would always be ‘the kid’ to Dean. “Some stupid way, we got adopted by Moon Gulch. Don’t ask me how or why; I haven’t figured that part out yet. And not only have we got this … this normal life thing going, we’ve become part of the fucking community. I know, right? Who’da thunk it.”
Sam might’ve played at a half-genuine grin but it dropped off his face far too quickly to be sure. His gaze shifted from Dean to something off in the distance, and Sam’s eyes grew cloudy and lost again.
Dean knew there was nothing back there, over his left shoulder. “Hey. It’s none of his business either. Sam. Sam.” Snapping his fingers, Dean forced Sam’s attention back to the here-and-now. Didn’t always work that easily but this time, it did. Small blessings.
Dean waited a second to be sure the Devil didn’t regain Sam’s interest. “Okay, look, I didn’t just bring you up here for lunch. I have something—” He reached back into the basket and rummaged around briefly. Sam followed his movements warily, and Dean could tell he was resisting the urge to track Lucifer’s imaginary progress. Eventually, Dean produced a tin, roughly the size of a small pickle jar. “Don’t open it just yet.”
Sam tilted his head and took the canister. There was a tag taped to the lid. “‘Doc’ Longabaugh,” it read.
“I, um, picked him up this morning. Thought you might like to, yanno, put him someplace nice.” Dean gestured to the wide, deep valley. “To rest.”
Sam rotated the tin in his hands, his fingers thin and starting to show early signs of arthritis in the pronounced knuckles. He sniffed, scrubbed at his nose, and didn’t say anything for a good few minutes until he finally coughed out a “Thanks.” He rocked to his feet, still staring at the tin, and walked down-wind a few paces. Dean wrapped up the sandwiches again, just in case.
When Sammy opened the lid, the breeze scooped up the mountainside, right on cue. He tilted the canister and fine, gray dust was lifted into the air, carried up and away, out across the basin as the prayer bundles fluttered.
Dean watched his little brother until there was no more ash to spread and Sam quietly put the lid back on the tin. They listened to the wind, to the sound of a hawk’s call in the distance and the rustle of branches and the occasional ping from the car. By the time Sam returned to the rock, Dean had a sweating bottle of cream soda waiting for him.
Sam took the soda. His eyes were weary, so weary, but clear and focused.
Dean slung an arm over Sam’s shoulders because why the hell not? There was no one out here to bear witness. “Better?”
Sam nodded, rolled the bottle between his palms. “Better.”
“I think we should get rid of his collar, though. Just in case.”
“Oh, I dunno. Would it be so bad to have a ghost dog—”
“Dude. The smell.”
Sam chuckled. “Mmm. Point taken.”