By the time he’s twelve, Dean doesn’t go into town anymore.. Bobby and some of the regular farmhands can pick up any needed supplies, and no one at the ranch misses going to church. Nevertheless, one afternoon in late spring, after chores and studies, as Dean’s getting ready to go out to the stable with Sam, Pastor Jim arrives.
He rides up on an old Appaloosa mare, dusty and hot from the ride. His hat and collar are askew, and his beard looks unusually scraggly.
Ellen doesn’t miss a beat. She offers him tea, but he shakes his head.
“Whiskey,” he says as he takes his hat off and lays it on the kitchen table.
Ellen and Dean exchange glances.
“Dean, why don’t you take Jo and Sam out to the stables for an hour or two?” Ellen says, but Pastor Jim shakes his head, reaches out a hand to grab hold of Dean’s arm.
“Dean’s the one I need to talk to,” he says. “Alone.”
Dean feels a shiver go up his spine. Ellen takes Jo and Sam outside, leaving the whiskey bottle and a plate of fresh-baked biscuits on the table. Pastor Jim squints at Dean as he sits down at the table, considering. Then he takes a deep breath and reaches into his pack, pulling out an old leather-bound journal. Dean’s seen his father’s journal, and this one is similar, although it’s a bit thinner, more compact. It doesn’t have papers threatening to spill out of it, and the clasp looks worn but in good condition.
“It’s your mother’s,” Pastor Jim says, laying the journal on the table in front of Dean. He reaches for the whiskey, fills his glass halfway, and takes a long swallow. “She asked me to give it to you on your twelfth birthday.”
Dean doesn’t remind him that his birthday was four months ago, and Pastor Jim doesn’t apologize or explain. His eyes narrow as he pushes the journal toward Dean.
“Go ahead. Take it. It’s yours.”
As he touches the journal, Dean imagines he should feel a tingle, maybe a residue of the magic his mother might have used to ward it. All he feels is smooth, sun-warmed leather. It gives off a rich scent not unlike Remus’s saddle after a good, long ride. He runs his fingers along the binding, finds a loose thread, and lets his fingers slide past it to the clasp. He hesitates, looks up at Pastor Jim.
“Go ahead,” Pastor Jim nods.
Dean opens the clasp, reads the inscription on the inside front cover: Mary Campbell, 1872. He turns the page and reads the first few paragraphs, all entries from his mother’s childhood, when she was about his age.
“You look like her,” Pastor Jim says. His eyes are watering from the whiskey. “She was very beautiful.”
Dean looks down, feeling his cheeks flush. “What else can you tell me about her?” He’s almost afraid to ask. He wonders why this journal wasn’t in his father’s possession, why Mary left it with Pastor Jim instead.
“She was a powerful healer,” Pastor Jim says. “You probably know that. Her parents were killed when she was four years old. Then she was adopted by my parents, and we were raised together. Well, I’m older, of course.”
Dean hadn’t known that. “So you were like a brother to her.”
Pastor Jim smiles and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m pretty sure that’s the way she thought of me,” he agrees. “If she thought about me much at all. From the moment she first laid eyes on John Winchester, she never looked at another man.”
“How did they meet?”
Pastor Jim pours a little more whiskey, thinks for a minute. “Well, I can tell you it was my fault,” he says. “John and I served together. When we came home for Christmas one year, I brought John with me. Mary was probably about ten years old at the time. John and I were both 21, brash and young and full of fire. John already had a wife and baby. Didn’t matter. Mary told me, ‘Jim,’ she said, ‘someday I’m gonna marry that man.’ And she did.”
“But she left him,” Dean says, clenching his jaw. He’s afraid of the answer, but he can’t help himself. “If she loved him so much, why would she do that?”
“Okay, here’s the thing no one ever remembers about Mary,” Pastor Jim says. “The thing is, she didn’t just have the gift of healing. She had visions, too. She could see the future sometimes. From the time she was little. She used to tell me when things would happen, before they happened. Then when the adults started acting afraid of her, she stopped. She would tell me about her visions, like how she knew she would marry John one day. But after the age of twelve or so she just stopped.”
“So you think she had a vision that told her to leave my daddy?” Dean feels something coil hot and hard in his belly.
“I think she did what she had to when she left you and John,” Pastor Jim nods. “I think she knew something would happen if she didn’t. Something bad.”
Dean swallows past the lump in his throat. He nods and lowers his chin to his chest to hide the moisture in his eyes. He clears his throat and lifts his head again after a moment, defiant in the face of his own misery.
“Did she ever tell you what it was?”
Pastor Jim shakes his head. “No. She may have said something to your dad at the time, but after she married, I rarely saw her. She was too wrapped up in her new life.” He nods toward the journal. “Whatever she was thinking or feeling, whatever happened to her, it’s either in there or we’ll never know.”
Dean frowns, perplexed. “You didn’t read it?”
“She told me not to,” Jim shrugs. “And your mother was psychic, Dean. She would know. Knowing her, she probably left a curse on that journal so that anyone except you who opened it would get hives. Or worse.” Jim shudders dramatically. “She could be fierce, your mom. When she wanted something done a certain way, she made sure of it. Not to mention, she knew every possible outcome.” He lifts his eyes to Dean, pins him with a piercing look as he lowers his voice. “Lots of people accused your mother of witchcraft. But she wasn’t a witch. She was just a gifted human who knew a few things about spellwork. And despite the family curse, she never used her abilities for evil. Never.”
Dean fingers the pages carefully, reading sentences written by a twelve-year-old girl long ago, probably before she knew they would one day be read by her twelve-year-old son.
“Dad says she was a hunter,” he says, his voice hushed, as if the journal could hear him. As if the spirit of Dean’s mother lived in its pages and could listen in on his life, now that he’d started reading about hers.
“She was,” Jim nods. “The best. She always knew what was coming, see. She could anticipate a monster’s every move, so she never got hurt. She was always one step ahead of whatever she was hunting.”
“But she was only 18 when she married my dad,” Dean muses.
Jim takes another sip of whiskey, slowing down now. “She started going out into the field at 13,” he says. “She helped take down an entire pack of werewolves who were planning to take out the town. After that, there was no stopping her. She was a hero. John took her under his wing, trained her, then fell in love with her. Just like she planned.”
Jim pushes himself to his feet, a little unsteady. “I’d best get back to town,” he says. “Things are happening. Monsters sighted in the vicinity. The almanac says we’re heading into a long dry stretch. Crop failures are likely. Some families are already talking about moving on, heading west.”
“You won’t stay for supper?” Dean asks, getting up respectfully. “Ellen makes a mean beef-lentil stew to go with those biscuits.”
Jim manages a smile, shakes his head. “No can do, son. Maybe another time.”
The way he says those words, the way he doesn’t quite meet Dean’s eyes, tells Dean there’s more he’s not saying. The shiver that runs up Dean’s spine tells him that Jim’s afraid, that it’s not just crop failures and possible monster-sightings that have him spooked.
Dean walks the pastor to his horse, clutching the journal to his chest. He doesn’t want to put it down.
“Pastor Jim, when my mother gave you this journal, did she say anything? Besides the part about giving it to me on my twelfth birthday, I mean.”
Jim turns halfway back towards Dean, but he keeps his hands on his horse, fiddling with the reins. “She said, ‘It’s gonna be a bad year, Jim. I want him to be ready.’”
This time, the shiver runs all the way up into Dean’s hair, making his scalp crawl.
Jim glances up nervously, smiling weakly at Dean. “Sometimes, she was wrong,” he says.
Somehow, Dean doubts that.
He watches as Pastor Jim climbs into the saddle, turns his horse, and heads down the lane, back toward town.
Later, when Ellen asks what Pastor Jim wanted, Dean shows her the journal. He’s already thumbed through it, reading voraciously, and she understands when he excuses himself to read after supper. He sits up in bed with a candle and reads late into the night, Sam curled up asleep beside him.
On the surface, the journal is a lot like any hunter’s. After the opening entries, it chronicles Mary’s hunts, contains lists of ingredients for spells, gives details about the places she’s been, the monsters she’s killed. She lists other hunters’ names by initials only, but Dean recognizes the initials of Rufus Turner, Bobby Singer, and of course John Winchester. The entries are short, cryptic, often undecipherable. But every once in a while there’s a longer entry, or at least a complete sentence or two.
“March 12, 1874. Tell CT her baby is a boy.
“August 9, 1876. Told RS his wife’s ghost was haunting the barn. He didn’t take it well.
“Feb. 2, 1878. Married John. Curse not appeased.
“Jan. 24, 1879. Dean born healthy. Warm gold aura.”
There’s a notation between the two entries denoting her marriage and Dean’s birth, but it’s been scratched out. Dean thinks maybe it was a date and a name, but he can’t make anything else out. He decides it was probably the date his mother found out she was expecting him. She was smart enough not to mention the pregnancy otherwise, and Dean imagines she rarely talked about it aloud. There was a lot of lore around monsters being attracted to humans in childbirth and pregnancy, looking to feed on the unique energy those events produced.
After the notation about Dean’s birth, the journal entries become even more cryptic. Instead of a mother’s journal containing lists of baby’s first step, first word, etc. Dean’s mother notes more hunts and visions. The last few pages chronicle a recurring vision, or dream that repeated itself several times over the last two months before she left:
“Dec. 2, 1882: Dreamed about The Man again. Third time this week.
“Jan. 15, 1883: He’s found me. He’ll come soon if I don’t leave. Last night I saw the date on the calendar. If I don’t leave, he’ll be here November 2. Everything will repeat.
“Feb. 1, 1883: Explained everything to John. He took it well, considering. I leave tomorrow.”
The last written page contained a sloppily-scribbled letter to Dean, as if it was written at the last minute under duress.
By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. I know you may be angry now and not believe me, but you need to know that I had good reason to leave. You’ll be safe now, at least for a few years. After your twelfth birthday, that may change. I need you to be ready, Dean. I know your dad raised you well, and you’re ready for anything, but if anything happens, don’t forget there are people you can count on. Not just Bobby and Ellen and Rufus and Jim, although they’ll always be your closest allies. If a stranger rides into town one day and offers help when you need it most, don’t be surprized if your instincts tell you to trust him. You’ve got good instincts, Dean. Use them.
Dean sits staring at the page for a long time, unwilling to acknowledge that this is the last time his mother ever communicated with him. The only time she ever wrote to him or communicated directly with him at all, in all the time she’d been gone.
Eventually he puts the journal down, extinguishes the candle, and tries to sleep. His mind races with Pastor Jim’s words, and he vows to talk to Bobby or Ellen in the morning. He’ll show the journal to his dad when he comes home, hope it doesn’t feed his father’s obsession and make it worse.
Pastor Jim talked about Dean’s mother in the past, as if she’s no longer alive. As if he never expects to see her again. Yet Dean has watched his dad follow lead after lead, never faltering in his belief that Mary’s still out there somewhere, that all John has to do is find her.
But then what? Mary believed her family was safer if she stayed gone, that’s obvious.
“Even if Dad finds her, she’s not coming home,” Dean says to Ellen and Bobby the next morning over breakfast. He’s shown them the journal, relayed the things Pastor Jim said. “So why does he keep looking for her? Why can’t he just come home?”
Bobby and Ellen exchange glances. “Your daddy loved your mama something fierce,” Ellen says quietly. “A man doesn’t just get over a love like that.”
“If I thought my Karen was still alive, I’d be out there looking for her, too,” Bobby says. Dean’s never heard Bobby talk about his wife before. He didn’t even know Bobby had one. “When there’s no body, nothing to bury, it’s harder to believe she’s really gone. You just can’t give up hope that somehow she’s still out there. It starts to become the only reason you’re alive, the only thing worth living for.”
“Eventually, if you’re not careful, it becomes the thing that kills you,” Ellen says.
Bobby frowns, shaking his head. “In the end, you stop being careful. Obsessions are dangerous things.”
“Well, we need to make him stop,” Dean says. “For his own good.”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Bobby raises his eyebrows skeptically. “‘Cuz in case you hadn’t noticed, your daddy is one hell of a stubborn bastard.”
“I’ll go after him,” Dean says. “I’ll make him stop.”
Bobby’s eyes widen.
“How are you gonna do that? You’re twelve years old,” Ellen scoffs.
“Dad’s not the only stubborn bastard around here,” Dean declares, using the cuss word to bolster his own courage. “I’m a Winchester, too.”
“Yes, you are,” Bobby nods. “And right now, you’re the only one in residence at this ranch. We need you here, boy. If you leave, how am I gonna convince anybody this place hasn’t been abandoned?”
“Bobby,” Ellen warns.
“No, Ellen, he needs to hear it. He’s the man of this place at the moment. And I can tell you, boy, it ain’t easy holding onto a place this size in this day and age. Rufus and I have had to run off rustlers more than once, and word’s already got around that your daddy hasn’t been back in nearly two years. People are starting to talk.”
Dean hasn’t thought of that. He’s never even considered it.
“We’ll get out and reinforce the warding before I go,” he suggests.
“Those rustlers ain’t monsters, Dean,” Bobby says. “They’re human. There’s no warding against human thieves, and if you leave, it’ll just be that much harder to convince anyone to help me defend this place. I’ve already let my own place go to seed. I just don’t have time to tend it. Been holding down the Winchester fort for nigh on four years now.”
“Nobody needs to know I’m gone,” Dean says, but he can feel his courage seeping away with the idea of riding out alone. He’d been thinking Bobby would come with him, but that’s not possible, he sees that now. And Sam’s too young.
He doesn’t stop scheming and planning, though. Lying in bed with Sam that night, he can’t help sharing his thoughts with the younger boy. He needs the encouragement.
“You and me, Sam, we could ride town to town for a couple months at a time, checking with the local folk to see if any of them have seen Dad,” he says, staring at the ceiling in the dark as Sam does the same beside him. “You’re eight years old now. Not just a little kid anymore. You can take long rides. You’re strong. And if bandits or gunslingers try to rob us, you know how to slip away and hide. You’ve got skills.”
“What about the monsters?” Sam’s voice is small.
Dean squares his jaw. “No monster would try to go after us,” he says with more bravado than real courage. “They wouldn’t dare. We’re Winchesters. They know about us. Monsters hear the name and they run the other way.”
Sam’s silent, but Dean can feel his hand brush against Dean’s under the covers. Dean twines his fingers with Sam’s instinctively, giving them a squeeze for comfort.
“Am I a Winchester too?”Sam asks finally.
“Of course you are,” Dean says firmly, squeezing Sam’s hand for emphasis. “Of course you are. Dad adopted you, didn’t he? That makes you one of us.”
Sam’s quiet again for another moment, then he takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “I think your mom’s still alive, Dean.”
Dean feels the now-familiar shiver go up his spine, turns to look at Sam in the dark. “You remember that night, don’t you, Sammy?”
Sam turns his head to look at Dean, eyes wide and glistening in the moonlight through the window. “She was so brave. She carried me out of the fire. There was so much smoke. I couldn’t breathe, and I kept falling asleep and waking up coughing. The smoke hurt my eyes. Then I could breathe again, and she gave me to the man with the big warm coat. He smelled good, strong and brave like her. She said, ‘It’s okay,’ and I fell asleep after that.”
Dean gazes at Sam, amazed that he’s not more surprized by Sam’s admission. “She was a healer,” he says finally. “She probably knew how to help you sleep so you wouldn’t cry.”
Sam nods, wide-eyed, and Dean reaches out with his free hand, brushes a strand of hair from Sam’s eyes.
“I was so scared,” Sam whispers, and Dean smiles, reassuring.
“You’re okay now, Sammy,” he says softly. “You’re okay.”
They’re not going anywhere, Dean realizes. Sam’s not ready, and Dean’s not leaving him.
So that’s settled.
By the end of the summer, it’s all moot anyway.
The crops fail. Locusts eat everything, filling the sky until they block out the sun, chomping and buzzing all day and all night long for weeks. Sam and Dean step on them as they walk back and forth to the barn because there’s not an inch of ground where the locusts aren’t. When they finally rise up and leave at the end of August, there’s nothing left.
Dead grasshoppers cover the yard, the rooves of the house and barn. Their carcasses line the window and doorsills like salt lines.
At the end of September, Adam comes home.
Ellen and Dean are raking the front yard, Sam and Jo playing nearby under the shade of the oak tree that’s only just begun to shed its leaves. They push the piles of leaves together and take turns jumping into them, squealing with delight.
Sam sees him first. He stops his jumping, stands still and stares down the lane. Dean notices Sam and stops raking, turning to stare in the same direction. A lone figure is walking toward them, leading two horses, the last one carrying an unusual load.
It’s too long to be a bedroll, too thick.
Dean’s not even aware of dropping the rake, running down the lane screaming, till Bobby’s there, grabbing him around the middle, holding him tight as Adam draws close, till it’s obvious what’s on the hindmost horse. Their dad’s horse.
Bad things come in threes, Dean hears in his head. The worst thing always comes last.
Pastor Jim’s bad news. Crop failure because of locusts.
“No!” Dean wails, finally collapsing against Bobby, admitting defeat because he can’t fight the old man. He just can’t.
Adam walks past him without so much as a glance, finally stops in front of Ellen.
“He wouldn’t listen,” he says, and that’s how Dean learns that Ellen had loved his dad, had held out hope that he might come home to her one day.
For a moment, Ellen looks like she might cry, but she doesn’t. Her lip trembles and her eyes glisten, but she holds it together, barely glancing at the wrapped figure slung over the saddle of John’s horse.
“He never could,” she says, voice shaking only a little.
Adam doesn’t nod, just stares at her for another moment before dipping his chin into his shoulder, turning his head toward Bobby without looking at him.
“He deserves a hunter’s funeral. I brought him home so we could give him that.”
“‘Course,” Bobby breathes, but to Dean it sounds more like “Curse.”
They build the pyre out back behind the woodshed, in the field that’s already been burned clean for next year’s planting. Their father’s ashes will help fertilize the soil, enrich it for a future crop. It’s a hopeful gesture, looking to next year’s harvest to make up for this year’s loss. John would approve.
Adam refuses to talk about what happened. He blames shapeshifters, confirms that the situation in the field is getting worse because the bastards are everywhere. They could be anyone. Adam takes a bottle of whiskey with him to his room and doesn’t come out for three days, and then only for more whiskey.
Things go on that way for months. Winter comes and the farm shuts down, goes into stasis. The house is in mourning, a black pall hanging over every daily chore and activity. Silence reigns. Meals are prepared and kitchen chores done wordlessly, day after day. After the first week, Adam moves into the master bedroom, which has its own fireplace. He takes his meals there, and Ellen does her best to keep the fire going. Adam won’t tolerate anyone else in the room.
Sam and Dean spend their days in the barn, creep back to the house in the evenings to eat supper. Bobby comes by once a week with supplies, eats silently with the household, then retreats to his own house.
Dean’s thirteenth birthday comes and goes without much celebration. Bobby gives him a new pocket knife, and Sam gives him a little brass protection amulet that hangs on a leather string. Ellen bakes him a special cake with the last of the sugar. The railroad is covered with snow, so trains won’t get through again until spring, and supplies are short everywhere.
In the spring, Adam comes out of his self-imposed isolation long enough to punch Dean in the jaw, knocking him flat.
“This is your fault,” he snarls. “Dad wouldn’t let go of your mother. He wouldn’t believe she was dead! He got really reckless and stupid. Drank too much. I couldn’t stop him, and now he’s dead. Well, you better stay out of my way, kid, or you’re gonna wish you were, too.”
He turns to Sam, hovering in the kitchen doorway. Sam’s face is a mask of fury, but Adam doesn’t even notice.
“And you.” He glares at Sam. “You don’t even belong here. You’re some rejected street kid my dad brought home because that woman had him wrapped around her little finger. You’re not one of us. I’m the master around here now, and if you want to stay here under my roof, eating my food, you better start pulling your weight. From now on, you sleep in the stable, you hear me? You eat the scraps off our table after we’re done eating. Now go saddle my horse. I’m going into town.”
After Adam leaves, Ellen gives Dean some ice for his jaw, muttering under her breath about Adam’s overinflated sense of himself.
“But you better do as he says,” she nods at Sam. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.” To Dean, she says, “I’ll be sure he gets enough to eat, don’t worry.”
Dean helps Sam move blankets and a pillow out to the barn, brings a box with Sam’s toys and clothes. The wood stove in the barn keeps it almost as warm as the house, but it’s drafty. The wind howls through the rafters and the barn cats stay busy catching mice. Dean lights a lantern and creates a cozy pallet made of straw and hay in Paula’s old stall. When he beds down next to Sam and reaches to turn out the light, Sam stops him.
“What are you doing?” Sam asks. “You don’t need to sleep here too.”
Dean lifts an eyebrow. “Really? You think I’d leave you out here all by yourself? Dad told me to look out for you, and I aim to honor that. I’m not leaving you out here all by yourself. You’re only eight years old.”
“I’ll be nine in three days,” Sam reminds him. “I’m not a baby, Dean.”
“No, you’re not,” Dean agrees as he puts out the light. “But you’ll always be younger than me.” He pulls up the blankets as he lies down, huddling into the little cocoon of warmth created by their bodies.
“Does that mean I have to follow your orders?” Sam sounds petulant.
“For now. Yeah.” Dean scoots closer, so they’re breathing the same air. “Yeah, I guess it does.”
Sam’s silent so long Dean thinks he’s never going to answer. Then he takes a deep breath and whispers, “Okay.”
Dean’s chest swells with pride and protectiveness. “Now go to sleep, Sammy.”
That summer, things go from bad to worse.
Adam spends his days drinking, whoring, and gambling, most of it in nearby towns. He stays away for weeks at a time, then comes home with a buddy or two, cowboys and no-good drifters who drink his whiskey and eat Ellen’s cooking. They stomp across the kitchen floor in their muddy boots and start sheepishly when Ellen yells at them.
Ellen chases some of them away at the end of a shotgun. Some she just gets Bobby to help her load onto their horses and head them back toward town with a grumbled warning to “not come back.”
Not one of them dares to ride up on his own. When they come, they come with Adam.
Nevertheless, Dean stares at each one, trying to see anything in their dirty, scruffy faces that might indicate they’re more than just the losers and hangers-on they appear to be.
In July, thunderstorms rip across the prairie, bringing hail and tornadoes and short, heavy rainfalls that don’t so much soak the soil as flatten the young wheat trying to grow in it. Bobby and Dean ride out to survey the damage, Sam in tow. Adam can’t be bothered. He talks about selling the farm, moving west. He’d rather be a rancher than a farmer anyway, doesn’t listen when Bobby says he needs to be both if he wants to hold onto the land.
“I’m a hunter,” Adam insists. “I kill things. Sitting around here doing nothin’ is boring. It’s stupid.”
When Adam rides out in the fall with the cattle drive, headed south to Texas, the household breathes a sigh of relief.
A pack of werewolves attacks just before Sam’s tenth birthday. Dean finally puts his training to practical use, makes his first kill with only a couple of minor scratches to show for it. Between Dean, Bobby, Ellen, and two of the local boys who happen to be helping with the spring planting, they put down the entire pack and burn the bodies. Dean helps Ellen clean up the mess while Bobby and the local boys ride the perimeter of the farm, looking for weaknesses and shoring up the warding.
By the end of that summer, after more storms have ruined the crops for the third year in a row, even Bobby shakes his head.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to think this place is cursed,” he says to Ellen and Dean one evening at supper. “We got enough supplies to get through the winter, but we’re living on credit, guys. I don’t know what to tell you.”
They don’t talk about how Adam has squandered their father’s savings. How if he doesn’t come back next spring with the cattle, they won’t have anything left.
Dean thinks about his mother’s journal.
“I think I might know what to do,” he says.
It’s nearly two more years before Adam returns. He takes one look at Dean, who’s had a growth spurt over the past year, and scowls.
“You got so ugly, you look like a girl,” he pronounces. “Boys ain’t supposed to have big lips and big eyes like you. How’d you manage that, huh? Do I gotta call you my sister now?”
“You don’t gotta call me anything,” Dean scowls. He’s been training, building up muscle. At sixteen, he’s been managing the farm on his own for almost two years, with Bobby’s help. Ellen’s, too. It hasn’t been easy, but they’re hanging in there. This year’s crop has just been planted, and he’s feeling hopeful.
“Oh yeah?” Adam curls his lip, steps closer. “How about ‘Stupid’? You get hit in the head enough times for that yet? Huh, Ugly?”
Dean stands his ground as Adam stalks up till they’re nose to nose.
“Well, will you look at that,” Adam says. “Baby brother grew as tall as me. Your balls grow too, Deanie? Huh? You tough enough to take me now?”
“I think I just might be, if that’s what it comes to,” Dean counters, anger blooming in his chest as he stares Adam down. He doesn’t have the weight to match his height yet, nor Adam’s experience, but he’ll be damned if he backs down now. He’s worked too hard.
Adam glares for another moment, then blinks. Dean’s heart soars, and he clenches his fists reflectively. Adam’s hesitation fills Dean with an odd sense of triumph. Maybe Adam won’t try to fight him after all. Maybe there won’t be a confrontation.
But Dean’s hopes are crushed in the next moment, as Adam speaks the dreaded words.
“Well, anyway, I’m home now,” Adam says with a smirk. “The master of the house returns.”
“What happened to the cattle?” Bobby asks over supper that night.
“Sold ‘em,” Adam says as he takes another bite of Ellen’s cornbread. Dean baked that batch, but he doesn’t say so. It’s Ellen’s recipe, anyway.
“Well, that’s good,” Bobby nods, glancing at Dean. “We could use the cash to help get us through the winter.”
Adam says nothing, but his jaw clenches.
“You do have the cash?” Bobby asks finally, since it’s obvious Adam’s not answering.
“No,” the eldest Winchester says. “Lost it investing in stocks.”
There’s a moment of silence, and Dean can feel the tension building. Then Bobby slams his hand down on the table.
“Lost it gambling, you mean!” he snaps. “What the hell’s wrong with you, boy? Do you realize how hard your brother and me and Ellen have been working to keep this farm afloat the past two years? If you’d been gone much longer, there’d have been no home for you to come back to.”
Which isn’t quite true, Dean thinks. They were doing just fine without Adam. Better, in fact.
“I’ll thank you to use a respectful tone when you speak to me, old man,” Adam warns, putting his food down as he glares at Bobby across the table, pointing for emphasis. “Last time I checked, you owe your livelihood to my family. If I choose to fire you and bring in another foreman, another manager, I’m within my rights to do that. You hear me, Singer? You work for me.”
Bobby’s eyes grow wide, then narrow. His nostrils flare. “You haven’t had enough money to pay me in years,” he snaps. “I’ve been working for free, you idiot! Me and Ellen both. So if you want to fire us, go ahead! It’s not like you can hire anybody to replace us, seeing as how you gambled all your money away, and nobody would be stupid enough to work for you for nothin’.”
“Nobody except you, you mean!” Adam sneers. “Which tells me you can’t leave if you wanted to. You got nowhere else to go.”
“As a matter of fact, I do!” Bobby rises to his feet, knocking back his chair with a loud screech. “Truth be told, I’ve got a farm of my own that I’ve let go these past few years. Maybe I’ll just go tend it!”
“You do that,” Adam says. “Stop eating my food and drinking my whiskey.”
“Maybe I will!” Bobby fumes. He grabs his jacket and stomps to the door.
“Fine!” Adam pushes his chair back and stands, a little unsteady because he’s been drinking. “Good riddance!”
“You can say that again,” Bobby growls as he slams the door behind him.
In the silence that follows, Dean and Ellen exchange horrified glances. Dean’s not sure whether to laugh or keep quiet. Adam sways on his feet, casting accusing glares all around, frowning when he catches Dean’s eye.
“What’re you looking at?” he demands.
Dean shakes his head and grabs his jacket, heads out after Bobby with Sam at his heels. As the door closes behind them, he can hear Ellen’s voice rising, knows she’s giving Adam a piece of her mind.
“Damn it, Bobby, where the hell do you think you’re going?” Dean says when he catches up to the old hunter in the barn. Bobby’s saddling his horse, preparing to make good on his threat to leave.
“Where the hell do you think?” Bobby growls. “Home. Or on the road. Hell, maybe I’ll join a pack of hunters and go back to doing what I should’ve been doing all these years, instead of wasting time trying to make an honest living on this dried-up piece of land.”
“We’ve been doing pretty well, these past two years,” Dean protests. “Last year’s harvest was a real winner.”
“Yeah, thanks to your mama’s magic,” Bobby says. “If you hadn’t worked those spells from her notebook, we’d be in worse shape this year than we were before, and you know it. This land ain’t sustainable, long term. It’s a dust-bowl just waiting to happen.”
“Then we sell and move on,” Dean says. “We head west, find better land. I hear there’s some prime farming in Oregon State...”
“Dean.” Bobby finishes saddling his horse, turns to Dean with a look at once fond and exasperated. “You just don’t give up, do you? And I admire that. Winchester stubbornness can be a really good thing, keeps you going when the going gets tough. But sometimes, it gets you dead. Sometimes, it’s better to just admit defeat and move on before it kills you.”
He glances at Sam, then lifts his gaze over Sam’s head, back towards the house. “That kid in there, he ain’t a kid anymore. He’s become what he’s gonna be, and the fact is, he’s a drunk and a loser. I’m sorry to be the one to say it, but Adam’s never gonna amount to a hill o’ beans in this life, and that’s a fact. But he’s right about one thing. This place belongs to him. He’s the rightful heir, recognized as such by law and known to the entire county as John Winchester’s oldest son. So unless you want to stay here and work for him, you need to start thinking about hitting the road.”
Dean glances at Sam, who is busy brushing Romulus. “I can’t go anywhere without Sam,” he says, soft but firm.
“So take him with you,” Bobby says. “He’s old enough to work a farm, round up cattle. Hell, he can shoot almost as well as you can. Knows all I know about hunting. He’ll be a fine hunter, if you two wanna try that life.”
A shiver runs up Dean’s spine, and he shakes his head. “I promised Dad I’d look after him, not put him in danger. He’s still too small to fight monsters.”
“Well, you do what you gotta do, boy,” Bobby nods. “I’m just saying, with that brother of yours home for good, broke and looking for trouble, things ain’t lookin’ good.”
“We’ll manage,” Dean says with more conviction than he feels. “This is my home, Bobby. I can’t just leave it to Adam to destroy. I’ll manage it myself if I have to. I just don’t want to lose you.”
“You’re not losing me,” Bobby assures him. “I’m just down the road. You’re welcome anytime.”
Despite the rain, Dean and Sam stay out most of the day, checking on the newly-planted crops. They rework the spells for fair weather and fertile soil that Dean learned from his mother’s notebook. They check the warding along the perimeter of the farm, looking for weaknesses.
The last thing they need is another band of marauding monsters getting onto the property, hell-bent on destruction.
Dean moves back into the barn with Sam, and Adam mostly leaves them alone. Ellen and Jo move back into the caretaker’s house, but that isn’t unusual for them to do during the warmer months of the year. It’s their own home, after all. Jo’s been attending school in town for the past two years, so she spends less time traipsing after Sam and Dean anyway.
Within the week, Adam falls back into his old ways, going into town to gamble and drink. Dean’s not sure where he got the money, but when a group of loan sharks come home with Adam late one afternoon, he figures it out.
“You’re mortgaging the farm?” Dean accuses after the men leave.
Adam glares. “What do you care?” he sneers. “It’s not like it belongs to you, Ugly.”
“I’m manager now, so I need to know what’s going on. If you bring strangers home to scope out the property, you need to tell me.”
“What’s going on is none of your goddamned business!” Adam says, pounding the table for emphasis.
The next week, Adam brings home a party. He turns the house into a saloon filled with rough men and women, several of whom take an interest in Dean.
“My word, you’re a pretty boy,” one woman tells Dean as she leans against his arm. Her breasts are practically falling out of her tight blouse, and her lips are stained bright red. Dean’s never been this close to a woman before, besides Ellen and his nearly-forgotten mother. His heart races and his cock twitches. He’s sure he’s turned several shades of pink.
“You sure are the sweetest thing,” another woman says as she pushes up on his other side. She runs her painted nails up his arm, and Dean shivers.
“You ever been kissed, baby?” The first woman asks, rubbing herself along Dean’s body. She runs a hand down his chest, settles on his stomach, just over his belt buckle. “I bet you ain’t.”
“Those plump lips look right kissable,” the other woman coos, and her friend nods, rubbing Dean’s belly.
“Sure do,” she agrees.
Dean feels his cock swell and wishes he could cover the tell-tale bulge in his jeans. He glances up just in time to catch Adam watching him, a look of such pure hatred in his eyes it takes Dean’s breath away.
“Excuse me,” he mumbles to the women. “I gotta go feed the horses.”
“You need a little help with that, sunshine?” one of the women offers.
“Yeah, we could all go roll around in a little hay,” the second woman says, batting her eyelashes. She slides her hand down over Dean’s dick and squeezes.
Dean practically jumps out of his skin. “No, no,” he chuckles nervously as he extricates himself from their embraces. “I gotta go by myself, thanks.”
“Ohhhhh.” The women make disappointed noises, puffing out their painted lips. They let Dean go with exaggerated reluctance, and he bolts out of the house and into the night with his heart pounding and his palms sweating. He takes deep gulps of the smoke-free air as he heads for the barn, where he can see the soft glow of Sam’s lantern. The boy’s up late reading again.
Dean slips into the barn’s almost-warm interior. It smells and feels more like home than the house does these days. The horses snuffle a greeting when they pick up his scent, and Remus stamps his foot.
“How’s the party?” Sam looks up as Dean slides into the empty stall that’s become their only haven since Adam returned. The soft glow of the lantern’s light gives Sam’s features a sharpness that Dean hadn’t noticed before. Sam looks older, wiser. Curled up on the flannel blankets they’ve accumulated to make their bed, Sam looks both childlike and ageless, and Dean catches a glimpse of the man he’ll become in the cut of his cheekbones, the shadows around his oddly slanted eyes. He lowers the book he’s been reading to look up expectantly at Dean, and Dean’s breath hitches. His heart almost stops.
Sam’s more beautiful than any woman. He’s like something else entirely. Those women back there, they can’t hold a candle to this. They couldn’t even begin to.
“They’re just a bunch of losers,” Dean smirks, turning his back on Sam as he undresses for bed. “Like my brother. I wouldn’t be surprised if they burn the house down, with all the smoking they’re doing.”
Sam frowns. “Really? You’re leaving them to burn the house down?”
“Not really, Sammy,” Dean scoffs. “Damn, you’re so gullible.”
“Am not,” Sam protests.
“Are too. Now scoot over and put that book away. Time for bed.”
Sam grumbles adorably as Dean turns down the light and slips under the blankets, pulling them up around both boys. He turns his back as Sam puts the book aside with a sigh and lies down behind him. The younger boy snuggles against Dean’s back, and Dean’s belly swoops. His cock hardens. It’s too late to slink into a corner of the barn to jerk off, but if he waits till Sam falls asleep it’ll just get worse. He presses the heel of his hand over his erection, trapped inside his underwear, and prays for it to settle down.
“Dean? You okay?”
Of course he’s let out some kind of whimpering noise. Just the stimulation of his hand is threatening to make him go off like a rocket.
“Yeah,” he croaks, shifting in an attempt to ease his throbbing dick. “I’m fine.”
He knows his response is to a combination of the stimulation of the evening’s festivities and Sam’s nearness. He’s had hard-ons before, usually rubs them off in a quiet corner of the barn when nobody’s around. He’s got a stash of Ellen’s mythology books, which feature dim photographs of Greek statues and paintings of naked saints, to help him. The one of Saint Sebastian, tied to a tree and pierced by arrows, is his personal favorite. He doesn’t think about whether the images are male or female, just their nakedness.
Now, remembering the women’s touches, the swell of their breasts, the hand on his crotch, Dean can’t help himself. He’s never been touched like that. Never had anyone press their body against him in that way. Sam’s different, of course. Sam’s just a child. Those women were grown adults, like the figures in the books.
Nevertheless, it’s Sam’s sharp little face he sees in his mind when he shoves his hand into his underwear to grab his swollen dick. He sees Sam’s eyes, filled with adoration, as Dean comes all over his hand with a strangled moan.
Sam lies perfectly still beside him. Although Dean’s pretty sure he understands what just happened, he’s got enough sense not to say anything. They live on a farm. Sex is a normal part of life. At twelve, Sam’s probably already feeling the urgings of puberty himself, probably spends his own time alone with his dick. Dean’s pretty sure he was twelve the first time he managed to whack off.
Maybe it’s time they slept separately, though. The last thing Dean wants is for something to happen that Sam’s not ready for. Jerk-off fantasies not withstanding, Dean’s absolutely clear in his mind about the need to keep Sam safe. He’d be the first to admit that his feelings for Sam are complicated, but until this moment they’d never included a sexual element, and Dean intends to keep it that way.
At least until Sam’s old enough to know what he wants.
He wakes up to the smell of smoke.
It’s dark in the barn, but Dean can see the pulsing glow of fire through the barn window. He can hear voices yelling. The horses are stomping nervously in their stalls. Sam’s sprawled across him, still asleep, so Dean shakes him, gently at first, then more vigorously.
“Hey, Sammy, wake up. Come on!”
“Wha–“ Sam lifts his head, groggy and disoriented.
“Something’s on fire,” Dean says, and Sam’s instantly awake, staring around with a wild look in his eyes.
The barn door bangs open, and Adam is silhouetted in the doorway, the glow of firelight behind him. He’s got something in his hand, a bottle or a gun, Dean can’t tell which.
“Ugly?” He slurs as he stumbles forward. “You in here?”
With the door open, Dean can hear the crackling of the flame and the yelling more clearly. There are whoops mixed with screams of distress. The horses whinny and stomp as the smell of smoke grows stronger.
“Adam?” Dean scrambles to his feet, fighting back the panic rising in his chest. “What’s happened? What have you done?”
“Oh, you are in here,” Adam sneers, staggering forward. “You know, I oughta shoot that kid. He in here, too? I bet he is.” He raises his shooting arm, and now Dean can tell Adam’s holding a gun, pointed vaguely in his direction.
Dean positions himself between Adam and Sam without even realizing he’s doing it. “Adam? What the hell you doin’, huh? Put the gun down.”
“No, you know what? I don’t think so.” Adam staggers forward, firing arm outstretched. “I think that kid caused all this. It’s his fault Dad died. If Dad hadn’t brought him home that night, none of this would’ve happened.”
Dean glances through the open door behind Adam. The house is on fire. Figures run back and forth, haphazardly throwing buckets of water at the flames. More figures are running around waving their arms and yelling demonically. They seem to be celebrating the destruction rather than trying to stop it.
“That’s crazy,” Dean protests. “Sam’s just a kid. He’s got nothin’ to do with anything. Now put the gun down.”
“Why are you protecting him? Huh? Are you in on it? You’re both trying to destroy me, is that it? It is, isn’t it? You’re gonna kill me and take my money, steal my friends...Sally and Ginny think you’re so pretty, huh? Well, when I’m done with you, little brother, no woman’s ever gonna want to look at you!”
He raises his arm to shoot just as an explosion rocks the barn. Dean has a moment to realize that the fire must have reached the house’s kerosene storage tank when the horses decide they’ve had enough. Remus bolts from his stall, followed by Romulus and General Washington and the two plow horses, whinnying in terror. They stampede out the open barn door, knocking Adam aside. The older Winchester manages to stay on his feet but he drops his gun, and Dean grabs Sam and makes a break for it, dragging the boy out the barn door in the horses’ wake.
The scene outside is utter chaos. The house is completely engulfed, the flames’ flickering light casting sinister shadows as people and horses run wildly in various directions. A couple of men seem to be trying to organize a bucket line from the well, but others are simply standing around, watching the destruction. Smoke billows into the night sky, blocking out the stars, and Dean has a brief moment to be grateful there’s no wind before he’s tackled from behind.
“Stupid freaky little bastard!” Adam shouts in his ear as he wrestles Dean to the ground.
Adam’s drunk. Dean can smell the liquor on his breath, and Dean figures if he can just wiggle away, he and Sam can run to Bobby’s house.
But Adam’s heavy. He’s sitting on Dean, has his hand in Dean’s hair so he can slam his head against the ground, his other fist raining blows to the side of Dean’s face, and Dean sees stars.
“Let’s see if the girls still think you’re so pretty after I get done with you!”
“Get off me!” Dean gets his hands under him, heaves up with all his might. He manages to unseat his brother and roll away from him before Adam launches himself on top of Dean, fists flying.
“This is all your fault, you little creep!”
They wrestle and roll on the ground, Dean’s primary objective to get away, still hoping he can run rather than fight, but Adam’s not having it. He sits on Dean’s chest with his greater weight, choking him with one hand while slamming his fist into Dean’s face with the other. Dean fends off Adam’s blows as well as he can, but his ears are ringing and his head spins as Adam slams his fist into Dean’s face over and over again. Adam’s drunk and uncoordinated, but deadly in his fierce determination, his irrational hatred. He seems possessed, caught up in a frenzy of violence and revenge, unable to stop himself.
Then Adam gets his hands around Dean’s throat and squeezes. “You’re gonna pay, goddamn it!”
Dean’s face hurts so much it’s starting to go numb. His vision grays, he tastes blood, and the ringing in his ears is replaced by a roaring sound. It occurs to him that he’s going to die. Adam won’t stop until Dean’s dead.
He struggles with all the frantic strength of a dying man, but Adam only presses harder on his throat. Just before he passes out Dean thinks he hears a gunshot. A scream.
Later, he has vague memories of being lifted into a wagon, of gentle hands sliding over his arms and legs, checking for injuries. Bobby’s voice. Sam crying.
Later, he remembers bits and pieces of the ride to Bobby’s house, the way the wagon bumped and swayed, Sam holding his hand and crying. There seem to be men and women on horseback, surrounding the wagon. The acrid smell of smoke slowly fades.
But at the time, all Dean remembers is waking up in Bobby’s house, in the old guest bed he slept in when he was little. His face is throbbing. He’s dizzy and thirsty, and his throat burns like he’s been swallowing fire.
Sam sits in the old armchair by the bed, fast asleep.
Dean’s mother stands in the doorway, dusty breeches and boots splattered with what can only be dried blood. She’s still wearing her holster and hat, and somehow the black velvet vest over her white linen shirt makes Dean think of the pirates in Treasure Island.
All his books burned up in the fire.
“Mom?” His voice is dry, more of a croak than a word.
“Hey, Dean,” Mary Winchester says, giving him a tired smile.
“What are you doing here?”
Their voices wake Sam, who sits forward and grabs Dean’s hand in both of his, his face a mask of worry.
Dean drags his eyes away from the apparition of his mother to glance at Sam. “Water.”
“Yeah, sure,” Sam says. “I’ll go get you some.”
Sam gets up and backs out of the room, clearly reluctant, keeping his eyes on Dean until the last possible moment. Mary lets him pass, then moves into the room to stand in his place next to the bed. When Dean reaches his hand up to her she takes it, fingers cool against his skin as she takes his pulse.
Now that she’s closer, Dean can see she’s older than he remembers. Her face is harder and there are lines around her mouth and eyes. There’s a scar on her chin and another one under her left eye. She looks like she hasn’t eaten well in a long time.
“I came as fast as I could,” she says, as if her twelve-year absence has only been a few days, as if she was delayed due to traffic or a hard snowfall. “When I had the vision of Sam shooting Adam, I dropped everything to get here. You have to believe me, Dean. That was not something I ever saw coming.”
“Sam shot Adam?” He doesn’t remember. He barely remembers Adam tackling him.
Mary nods. “Adam was trying to drag you into the fire,” she says. “He went completely crazy. I never saw that coming. All this time, protecting you from the evil outside, when in the end it was right there in the house with you the whole time.”
“Adam’s not evil,” Dean croaks as Sam comes back into the room with a glass of water, Bobby at his heels.
“He tried to kill you!” Mary insists. “If Sam hadn’t been there to stop him, he would have succeeded, too.” She steps out of the way as Sam moves in close, holds the glass to Dean’s lips so he can take a sip.
Which is when he notices that his hands are wrapped in linen. His arms, too.
“Sam dragged you out of the fire,” Mary says. “You were burned pretty badly, but I think I’ve managed to heal the worst of it.”
“It’s good to see you awake, son,” Bobby says.
“How long have I been out?” Dean’s memories are fuzzy, and he feels stiff and achy, like he’s been sleeping a long time.
“You were in pretty bad shape when we brought you here,” Bobby says. “Mary’s spent close to a week just getting the worst of your burns healed. Not to mention the mess Adam made of your face.”
“I’ve been unconscious for a week?” Dean starts to sit up, but Sam and Mary reach out to stop him. The movement makes his head throb, and he falls back with a moan. “The farm. Somebody needs to feed the animals...”
Bobby and Mary exchange a glance, and Sam frowns. “It’s lost, Dean,” he says. “Those men from the Grange came and took everything. Adam gambled it all away. All that’s left is our horses, yours and mine.”
“It gets worse, if you can stand it,” Bobby says, and Dean nods.
“Give it to me straight. I can take it.”
“Sam’s wanted by the law,” Bobby says. “There were witnesses who saw him shoot Adam that night. A posse already came by, asking for him. If they find him, they’ll hang him.”
“But he’s just a kid!” Dean protests, shocked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Bobby says, grim. “In the eyes of the law, he’s a murderer.”
“It’s desperate times,” Mary says. “Violent times. I know you’ve been protected from the worst of it – or at least that was the plan – but the truth of it is, human civilization is just holding on by a shoestring right now. Hunters and frontier lawmen and women are the only things preventing total collapse and anarchy. Now, the law lets us hunters do what we do because they need us. But if we start crossing the line, killing people instead of monsters, then our lives are forfeit.”
“What are you saying?” Dean glances from one grim face to the next, finally meeting Sam’s eyes. The kid looks terrified. His lips tremble, and his slanted hazel eyes are covered with a sheen of tears. His fingers, still clutching the half-empty water glass, are white-knuckled and nail-bitten. Dean’s chest swells with love, and his own eyes fill with tears. “You’re gonna take him away, ain’t ya?”
“Just for a little while,” Mary nods. “Just till they stop looking for him.”
“He’ll be safe, Dean,” Bobby chimes in. “Mary’s got a training camp for orphan hunters’ kids in Oregon State. She’ll take him there for now, and when you’re better, you can join them.”
Panic rises in Dean’s chest. The thought of letting Sam out of his sight makes his throat and eyelids burn. His chest feels like it’s on fire. Again. His belly feels like it’s full of lead.
“Sammy,” Dean whispers. “Is this what you want?”
“I killed your brother,” Sam says, face a mask of misery. “And I don’t regret it. I don’t. He was gonna kill you. But I don’t deserve you, Dean. You probably hate me, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.”
“I don’t hate you,” Dean says. “I could never hate you.” He wants to say more, so much more, but with Mary and Bobby watching, he doesn’t dare. His love for Sam is a private thing, so intense and deep he doesn’t even understand it. It’s the last thing he has of his father, his promise to take care of Sam, but it’s more than that. “Hey, kiddo. You go with my mom, okay? She’s the best at what she does. And I’ll come as soon as I can.”
It’s almost unbearable, sending Sam away. It hurts more than anything Dean’s ever done.
Sam nods, too overcome with emotion to speak. Dean cracks a smile, tries to be encouraging, and is rewarded by a little smile in return. Sam’s dimples make their appearance, and Dean suddenly wishes he had a photograph of the boy. Something to hold onto.
As if Sam can read his thoughts, he pulls something from his pocket, putting the glass of water down carefully on the bedside table first. It’s the little brass amulet, the one he gave Dean years ago for Christmas. He lays it on the bedside table, next to the water.
“We had to take it off when we were fixing you,” he explains. “It was burning your skin.”
“Thanks, Sammy,” Dean whispers, swallowing back the lump in his sore throat.
“Come on, boy,” Bobby says to Sam. “Let’s let Dean say goodbye to his mother.”
Like before, Sam’s eyes stay on Dean until the last possible moment. Then Mary and Dean are alone again.
“I guess you know about Dad,” Dean says, struggling to keep the resentment out of his voice.
“Dean, if I could’ve done it any differently, I would’ve,” Mary says. “I’m asking you to trust me on that. Your dad trusted me.”
“He didn’t have a choice!” Dean blurts out. “He never stopped looking for you, believing you survived the fire that night, even after everybody else said you were dead!”
“I know,” Mary sighs. “I wish things could’ve been different. I really do. You just have to believe me when I tell you I did what I had to to keep you safe. You and Sam.”
“Sam?” Dean frowns. “What’s Sam got to do with it?” He dreads the answer before the words are out of his mouth.
Mary takes a deep breath. “He’s your brother, Dean,” she reveals quietly. “I was pregnant with him the night I left.”
Dean feels the ground drop out beneath him. The world as he knows it suddenly spins out of control, upside down and inside out. His mind flies back to the night in the barn and he’s flooded with shame.
Part of him always knew the truth. Part of him isn’t surprised at all.
“Does he know?” Dean demands. “Did Dad know?”
“Nobody knows.” Mary shakes her head. “And we need to keep it that way, you hear me? I’m telling you so you’ll understand why I gave him to you in the first place, so you’ll be loyal to him the way you are to me. But he can’t know, Dean. There’s something special about Sam. If the thing that killed my family ever finds out about him, it’ll come for him. I’ve seen it.”
Dean accepts her words, trusts them because they sound right to him. They make sense in some deep way that he doesn’t fully understand.
“He killed his own brother,” Dean whispers. “Our brother.”
Mary misunderstands him, shakes her head violently. “There’s nothing wrong with Sam, trust me,” she says. “He’s not a bad seed.”
“No, I know that!” Dean says sharply. “How can you even think that? I’m just thinking about how he’d blame himself even more than he already does if he finds out that Adam was his brother...”
Mary nods. “That’s right. That’s another good reason not to tell him. Dean, I’m counting on you. This is important.”
So Dean keeps his mother’s secret. He doesn’t tell Sam, not when Sam comes in to say goodbye, finally letting his tears fall as Dean promises they’ll be together soon. He doesn’t tell Bobby.
He sobs silently as he hears Sam and Mary ride away, under cover of nightfall in case the local sheriff and her posse are watching the house.
He vows to follow them as soon as he’s able. He’ll never return to the farm now. There’s nothing for him there. His dad and his brother are dead. His mother and Sam have gone West, and that’s where Dean’s future lies, too.
Bobby promises to come with him. He’s itching to get back on the road, and his farm is in shambles after years of working the Winchester farm anyway. When Dean’s ready, he’ll tag along, he says.
It’s three weeks before they saddle their horses and ride out. Ellen’s there to bid them farewell. She and a couple of the local boys have plans to open a roadhouse, and Dean promises to send customers her way as he and Bobby ride west.
Dean’s left hand is still stiff, but the scars on his chest and arms are starting to fade. His face won’t ever be the same, just as Adam had promised, but Dean never did like the idea of being a pretty boy. It’s a liability in his line of work, anyway.
They each carry a stash of hunters’ weapons, tied onto the back of their saddles next to their bed rolls. Dean hasn’t had a lot of experience fighting real monsters yet, but he’s been training since he was six, so he figures with Bobby’s help they’ll be all right. They’re as ready as they’ll ever be.
Dean looks back over his shoulder towards the only home he’s ever known, at Bobby’s house and the town in the distance, the road that leads to the former Winchester Ranch. Not a bad place to grow up, he decides, all things considered. He feels a flutter of excitement at the thought of seeing Sam again, of their future out West where the monsters run rampant and the mysteries and lies do, too.
There’s work to be done, new frontiers to explore, the possibility of settling somewhere new. Starting over.
Dean turns around in the saddle and leans forward to rub Remus’s neck as he taps his heels against her flanks.
“All right now, girl. Here we go.”