Sam juggled his cell phone to his other hand. "Dean, how are you, man?" He sat down on a wall in front of the classroom building he'd just left. Even though he was a sophomore, it was still hard to accept such sun and warmth in February. He guessed he was still a Kansas boy at heart.
"Fine. Just calling to tell you I'm being transferred."
"Yeah, to that cushy Pentagon job you've been talking about?" Dean knew weapons so well, one of his commanding officers wanted him to go to the Pentagon with him.
"Um, no. Afghanistan."
"What?" Sam let his backpack slide off his arm. "What are you saying? You're going into combat? Since when, man?"
"Since I got my orders this morning."
No. Dean wasn't the Army's cannon fodder. He was their brain in weapons development. Sam had called Dean on that once, but Dean had explained that he wasn't designing artifacts to kill, his designs were to make sure that his fellow servicemen came back home in one piece. That's all he could divulge to Sam, but Sam understood. Dean was playing big brother as usual, even if he didnít know all his little brothers and sisters personally. "Dean, something doesn't sound right."
"Yeah, I know. But I have to follow orders, Sam."
"Have you talked to Colonel Morrison?" That was Dean's direct CO, the one who was determined Dean go with him to Washington.
"He's in special session with Congress and can't be disturbed."
Sam quickly thought through his schedule. No major tests in the next few days. He could fly out and see Dean--just in case. "When--when do you leave?"
Sam froze, more alarms going off in his head. "No, Dean. It doesn't happen that way. You know it doesn't. There are steps and protocols. This is wrong."
Silence. "You feel it, too?" Dean finally murmured.
Sam's stomach did a back flip. "Feel what? Are you hesitating, Dean? Is your CYA alert going off? If it is, you can't go, man! Stall until you can talk to the colonel." Yeah, he was yelling, but he didn't care and neither did the students around him. Probably thought he was yelling at a girlfriend or a stupid friend who didn't get the basketball tickets he was supposed to get. No one ever considered he was yelling at his brother who was about to go off and get himself killed!
"Maybe it's just the idea of being on a plane that long," Dean hedged.
Despite the number of sky miles Dean had--flying out to California or home to Kansas or anywhere the Army wanted to send him, like some weapons conference in England--Dean was a nervous flyer and the thought of him suffering through an overseas flight made Sam shiver sympathetically. Sam relaxed his grip on the phone and tried to get his thoughts together. "You got something?" The Army doctors had given Dean a prescription for a light sedative for the England trip.
"Nah, and I don't have time to set up an appointment."
Shit. The whole thing was fucked up, but Dean sitting petrified on a plane for God knows how many hours, wasn't going to happen. He couldn't change the orders but he could change that. "Go downtown or to one of the universities and make a buy."
"This is your pre-law baby brother speaking: go score something, Dean." If they were lucky, he'd get it from an undercover cop and Dean wouldn't be able to leave tonight. It'd be his first offense, and if he got an understanding judge, he might get off with just a warning. If not, then hell, at least he wouldn't be in Afghanistan and that would still be a win.
Of course, the Army could--and probably would--kick him out, regardless of a conviction, but
Sam didn't consider that to be a problem. He was grateful to the Academy for giving Dean the confidence and motivation to actually use his brain for something other than how to score with some girl, but in his opinion, the Army had outlived its usefulness. Dean's education made him valuable not just as an officer but as a man. The private sector would be knocking on his door in a heartbeat.
"Advocating drug use. I knew you'd go wild in California."
"Yeah, okay. I'll go see what the local dealer is peddling. If I get caught, I'm gonna tell Dad it's your fault. And speaking of Dad, he's on a hunt and his cell's off. Tell him for me, would you?"
Sam glanced up at the bright sun overhead. Should be fucking raining. "Who'd you tick off, Dean? Some fucker's messing with your orders, and you know it! What'd you do, man?"
"Take care of yourself and Dad, Sammy. I'll be in touch."
Sam stared at his closed phone. This wasn't supposed to happen. Dean was supposed to blow things up in a lab or squint through some computer numbers. Sam had had a mini ethical dilemma when it hit him that his brother was devising more efficient and expedient ways to kill people for a system that already had murder down to an art form. But when he weighed that against other people more efficiently and expediently trying to kill his brother, well, it was no contest. Dean safe on this side of the world was the only answer to that ethical quagmire. And now the Army had taken that away. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
Some bitch was going to pay for this.
"Tay, it's Sam." Wilson's first name had turned out to be Taylor, and when Dean had come to see Sam after nine-eleven, the two of them had hit it off from the moment Dean had held up two thumbs and said, "Ayeeee." Then he'd called him "Flip" Wilson and Tay had been named an honorary Winchester.
"What's up, Opie?"
Sam remembered when he was a kid he thought that just saying something would make it true. So he was never one to yell, "I wish you were dead!" or something like that to Dean or Dad. As he grew older, he realized that whether he spoke the words or not, some things were true no matter what.
"Dad just called. Dean's MIA."
"Oh, shit, man. Where are you? I can be there in five minutes."
Taylor had finally gotten to stay in one of the apartments he'd sat for the summer, so he and Sam were no longer roommates, but were still close friends and the first one he'd called after Dean had told him about Afghanistan. "Dad's getting me a plane ticket."
"Okay, man. I'll drive you to the airport."
"Huh uh. I let you get killed on the freeway and Fonzie'll hand me my ass. I'm heading to your dorm. Be there or I'll track your ass down."
"How long?" Sam asked as soon as he was in speaking distance.
"His patrol is forty-eight hours overdo."
"And they've already notified you?"
John led the way through the airport to his truck. "After you told me about Dean's reassignment, I called Coach Vanderpool. He considers Dean one of his men, and he has military contacts that the President would envy. He started digging, and you were right: Dean's orders were supposed to be for the Pentagon. The screw up's being investigated, but in the meantime Dean's supposed to be shipped immediately back to the States. Except Dean can't be found. There's been no word about American hostages, so maybe it's just a miscommunication."
"Or maybe Dean's body is in a shallow grave."
John squeezed the back of Sam's neck in warning. The automatic doors parted and they stepped into the brisk Midwestern air. "I don't want to hear talk like that. Your brother is the most resourceful person we know, and that's saying something. If he's in trouble, he'll either talk his way out, love his way out, fight his way out, or all three in some ridiculous combination that'd only be believable in Hollywood."
Sam slowly nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like him. You say they're investigating what happened?"
"Yeah." He pulled out his keys as the truck came into view.
"Well, I know where to start." Sam punched the door of the truck as he waited for John to unlock it. "I warned him. I told him to keep his fucking head down. But when I saw his roommate, I knew it was only a matter of time."
"What are you talking about, Sammy?" John wondered if Sam was going into shock or something. His boys were close and if something really had happened to Dean, he wasn't sure his other son would ever get over it.
John knew he wouldn't.
Sam's seatbelt latched into place with a sharp click. "His roommate, Harriman, I think. Geeky, bad skin. Probably wouldn't have made it to the Academy if he hadn't been a legacy cadet. The perfect target for assholes who get their jollies by picking on people they feel are inferior."
John was silent for a moment as he concentrated on getting out of the parking lot. He knew he could drive, but he was unconvinced about the other assholes in the lot. He didn't speak again until he was on the highway heading to Lawrence. "What does all of that have to do with your brother?"
Sam patted his foot impatiently. "Harriman was his roommate, Dad. Dean would feel responsible for him. If he got harassed, Dean would be on someone's ass, whether it was an upperclassman or not."
John shook his head. His son had never been the wishy-washy type. When Dean had committed to the Academy, he'd committed fully. "He wouldn't have risked being kicked out for fighting."
"There are more ways to fight than with fists, Dad. You know that resourcefulness you were just talking about?" John cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah, Dean's got it in bunches and he's not afraid to use it."
"And you think this person, or persons, went after this Harriman?" Sam nodded. "And Dean went after them?" Another nod. "And they waited this long to get their revenge?" Sam's surety was becoming convincing.
"I really do. Have Coach V track down Harriman, and I betcha he can name names."
"A conspiracy," John whispered, his foot pressing down on the accelerator. "A goddamn conspiracy against my boy. If this is true, they better hope they get life sentences from the Army."
"I hope the fuck they don't."
John had no reply.
"Sam, they've found Dean's patrol."
Sam sat up in bed and blinked rapidly at his father. "And? How is he? What condition--"
"Coach V doesn't know yet. He's getting the info as quickly as possible but there're a lot of miles between here and Afghanistan, son."
"Don't patronize me."
Dad straightened from where he'd been leaning against the doorframe. "I'm not. I'm just as worried as you, okay?"
Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He knew Dad was worried; had watched him pace the house for the past two days, haggard and unshaven, phone clenched in his hand. Sam had managed a couple of hours of sleep, but he wasn't sure if his father had gotten any. "Sorry. I--" Dad just nodded his understanding. "Just tell me one thing, though--is he alive?"
"He's on his way to a hospital. That's all Coach knew for sure."
Sam watched his dad pad barefooted out of the room. Hospital not morgue. Not a bodybag. Not one of those freakin' flag-draped coffins you were supposed to consider an honor. No fuckin' twenty-one gun salute.
He wiped away an escaping tear and lay back down. The pillow bunched under his head just like he liked it. Dean's pillow, actually. Dean's bed, too.
He wondered if Dad had noticed.
"Dean." Sam took a deep breath and tried to hold it together. "The nurse explained to Dad that you wouldn't rest until you talked to us. So rest."
"Why isn't...your ass...at Stanford?"
Apparently his brief stint as a prisoner of war hadn't stopped Dean from asking stupid questions. "Didn't want to miss the hell of a wake we were going to throw for you. Already had the kegs ordered."
"Hope you didn't make a...deposit. They don't...like giving them back."
Sam laughed and flinched when the sound got too close to being a sob. "As long as they gave you back, dude. Thank God for that."
"Don't...thank God. Thank...m'ladies. Taught me how...to get out of...'cuffs."
Sam laughed again, until he had to give the phone to his dad because his hands were shaking so badly. He was dimly aware when Dad said his goodbyes, and by the time he was pulled tightly into arms he hadn't fallen into since elementary school, he was openly weeping.
He felt wet drips on his head and knew he wasn't crying alone.
"And they're not going to try to cover this up?"
"Of course they're going to cover this up," Dean said, shooting Sam a look that said he should know better than to think otherwise. "What they did--three Academy-trained officers--is an embarrassment to the entire Long Gray Line. But it's only getting covered up in regards to the public. There's going to be a court-martial and it's not going to be pretty, trust me. That good enough for you, Matlock?"
Sam tried to see the situation from Dean's point of view, tried to understand why Dean wasn't foaming at the mouth in anger. Dad had been right about it being a conspiracy. Lieutenants Atkinson, Mills, and Logan had forged signatures, changed computer records, and impersonated other officers just to get Dean to the front lines in Afghanistan. As soon as Lt. Harriman had learned Dean was missing, he'd given up the names of his tormentors back at the Academy. From there, and considering Harriman's grandfather was a retired general, the plot began to unravel.
By the time Dean was back in the States and recuperating in Lawrence, the three goons were in custody, and Dean figured they wouldn't see the light of day for quite some time. But he wasn't angry, just resigned. Sure, Dean was part of the Long Gray Line, too--the thousands of Academy graduates in their standard gray dress uniforms that linked past to present to future--but still, he should be feeling more fury than he was. Maybe the answer was in the past.
"What did you do?"
"When, where, and I'm admitting nothing until I'm given more details," Dean quipped.
Asshole. "To Atkinson and the others? They waited years to get revenge on you. What did you do to them?"
Dean smiled and shifted on the sofa. Sam hurried to adjust the pillows behind him. Although Dean never specifically mentioned what had been done to him as an Afghani captive, it was taking him a while to get over it. "I warned them, Sammy."
"I know." Dean always warned before he struck. Some weird code he'd lived by since forever.
"They stripped Harriman to his boxers and poured glycerin down his fly to make it looked like he'd pissed himself. Of course, being terribly unoriginal, they taped him to the flagpole on the parade grounds. Me and a couple others freed him when we gathered for reveille. He was fucking trembling from exposure and humiliation. For a while I wasn't sure whether he'd quit the Academy or do something more--permanent. It was standard hazing shit, embarrassingly juvenile, but Harriman didn't know how to cope with humiliation."
"Must not have had an older brother," Sam muttered.
Dean looked at him speculatively. "He didn't. Only child. But tell me something, Sam. How would you handle someone humiliating you?"
"Before or after I beat their ass?"
Sam reluctantly had to admit that maybe Dean had a point. Living with Dean had left him well-equipped to handle just about every situation. His had to have been the most unmolested geek squad in the history of geek squads. Disdain had been their reaction of choice, but violence and pay back had also entered their repertoire when necessary. If someone had taped him to a flagpole, they probably would've found the pole crammed up their ass the next day.
"My tormentor, my savior," he found himself saying. How screwed up was that? But at least Dean attempted to keep the most humiliating moments a private thing between the two of them. And when pay back came around--and Sam was by no means a slow learner--Dean was always a good sport about it.
Dean nodded. "I asked Harriman to trust me and keep hanging in there, that I'd make sure they'd pay. He didn't believe me. We were plebes and they were First Classmen, their last year and all. How in the hell could I do something to them that wouldn't get me kicked out? It was definitely a challenge."
"And you've never met a challenge you could ignore, even though I told you to keep your fucking head down."
"Sammy, Sammy. Birds gotta fly and fish have to swim--"
"And Dean Winchester takes care of his own," Sam completed.
"Exactly," Dean said matter-of-factly. "I waited until Review Day. We had to spit polish our shoes, make sure all the creases in our uniforms are perfectly straight, that kind of shit. Typically, some old officers show up to give us the evil eye and look for buttons turned the wrong way or a frayed collar."
Sam scoffed. As if a bullet or nuclear bomb cared if a soldier had wrinkled clothes.
Dean ignored him as usual. "Well, there's one old general who always showed up with his young hottie of a wife--probably more to show her off than to inspect the cadets. She was porn star hot, Sam. One look at her and you definitely got stirred up, you know? One look at him and your genitals headed in the opposite direction. So he goes trailing down the line, eyes grazing over us like we're livestock up for auction. Anyway, he reaches three cadets who are at attention in more ways than one. He stares and their nether parts stare right back at him, straining the sturdy fabric of their uniforms." Dean stopped and gave a scratchy cough.
Sam handed him a glass of water with a straw. "Drink."
Dean glared but did as ordered before continuing his story. "The general gets hot under the collar, literally. I mean, his neck is fire engine red. He growls for his aide to take his wife away and he blasts the three, spitting and sputtering about the degradation his wife had suffered, the affront to all the Academy stands for, blah, blah, blah. But nothing he does makes them, um, retreat. Finally, he has the miscreants--he actually used the word miscreants, Sammy--taken away because he can't stand the sight of them. The three manage to graduate, but they're stripped of their honors and medals." He paused and gave a smirk. "It's physiologically amazing what having a ground up little blue pill for breakfast can do."
Sam gasped. "You didn't!"
"Not personally--I don't need any pharmaceutical enhancements."
"Yeah, you're just naturally a dog."
Dean put his hand to his chest. "Oh, you wound me, Sammy. But here's the thing--bullies always have more enemies than allies. Pay back, little bro, can be a bitch."
Sam was duly impressed with his big brother. And horrified. "Are they the only three? Or do we have more devious plots to look forward to?"
"The Academy is nothing more than a gossip pit. After that, it was, 'Don't touch him, he's one of Winchester's boys.' The idea of me just kept growing," Dean said proudly.
"Well, if there was a pill to make the ego grow, you wouldn't need it either." He snatched up the pillow Dean was getting ready to retaliate with. "So, you take any of the female cadets under your wing or was 'Winchester's boys' meant universally?"
"All the girls were mine. Not like that," he added when Sam raised an eyebrow. "Well, occasionally like that. But it was all mutual and you know, sometimes girls have needs, too. I didn't mind, I didn't fumble, and I didn't talk. It was win-win for them. Of course, there was one cadet who took me under her wing."
"Yeah?" Sam was enjoying the hell out of his spring break, even if he was at home with orders to make sure Dean took it easy. It'd been a while since he'd had the chance to just sit and talk with Dean, and listen to him spin his tall-tales.
"Alicia Perkins. She was a--solid--girl, not fat but big-boned. She had five brothers and they considered her number six so, yeah, she could take care of herself. A lot of the guys at the Academy avoided her, out of fear mostly because women aren't supposed to be able to match men in bench-pressing. The muscle mass is just wrong. Of course, that never made a difference to Perkins. Me? I saw her as an ally. She said I reminded her of her smallest brother, so she took it easy on me. We got along great. Man, did she have a set of powerful thighs."
"Dean, you didn't..." Of course, he did. The only girls Dean hadn't dated and or slept with in high school were the ones who were with someone else. He was a dog, but never a poacher. Oh, and he also avoided the girls who seemed like they would get attached. Dean always warned up front that he didn't do long-term.
"What? Homely girls need loving, too, dude. Besides with the control she had of her body, who cared what she looked like." Dean blinked, then smiled angelically. "The funny thing is that I ran into her in Afghanistan. Got some good men and women working under her. She was surprised to see me, though. Pretty boys like me belong at home doing paperwork, she said. I called her a sexist pig, then found a dark corner for the two of us. Good times."
Sam laughed, amazed at Dean's resilience. Tortured for days, yet remembering the details of an auld lang syne hook up. "You're something else, man."
"She said that, too."
Sam threw the pillow he'd been holding at his brother. "By the way, that noble story about you being a jerk to teach me how to deal with adversity? It in no way absolves you of the banana condom incident."
Dean laughed so much he started coughing and Sam had to get out the sedative the doctor prescribed for such an event. As he watched his brother nap, he knew that, yeah, Dean was totally absolved.
"Hi, Dad. How's the Wendigo hunting going? Bobby threaten to kill you yet? Man, that never gets old. And I'm doing fine. You could ask Sammy, but I sent him on a chicken run for some KFC--Kansas Fried Chicken, courtesy of Missouri. She called and offered, so no, we haven't been bothering her."
Well, apparently the boy's lungs were healing. Or Sam had given him the medicine that tended to make him a bit hyper. At least it wasn't near bedtime. "Dean. About those bullets you gave me to try." John stared at his shaking hand. He would've let Bobby make the call but Bobby was shaking all over. How the hell they'd made it back to the motel in one piece was a mystery he didn't want to think about.
"Use 'em yet? I was a little concerned about the payload balance, but I think I finally got the combination right. Did it take out the Wendigo?"
"Did it..." John took a deep breath. "I did like you said, son. I shot the Wendigo from a distance and then turned away. When I looked back--when I looked back, there was nothing left except a pile of ash."
"I only looked away for a second, Dean." From Wendigo to ash in a flash. It'd been unreal. With flares, there was some screeching, some burning, some really bad odors fouling the air beneath heavy smoke. Dean's magic bullets--easier to use by far than flares--left nearly no residue, just really fine ash that would blow away in the next puff of wind.
John rubbed his bristled jaw nervously. "You, um, haven't shared these with the Army, have you, son?"
"Nah. It was just something I did in my spare time. Just a hobby."
The lumpy motel bed caught him as his knees gave out. He looked over at his companion. "He says it's just a hobby, Bobby."
The man lifted his sweat-stained cap and scratched at his head. "You used to send him to bed without dessert. You made him do wind sprints because he cussed when Jim was around. Just tell me one thing, John? Did'ya know how dangerously you were living?"
There was one of those warehouse stores he passed on the highway that specialized in school supplies. Probably had finger-paint by the gallon. How many gallons would it take to cover Bobby's truck? Pink? Nah, that lime green shit. Maybe in day-glo?
"Dad? You still there?"
John gave Bobby an evil smile that had his former best friend eyeing him warily. "I'm here, son. I should be home by morning. Save some of that chicken for me."
"Will do. See you tomorrow, Dad."
"Yeah, son. Tomorrow." John tossed the phone onto the table between the beds. "A hobby. A goddamned hobby."
"Think if I sent him some notes on demons, he could..."
John shrugged. "Old Elkins always said he had a demon-killing gun Samuel Colt made. So, if he could do it, why not Dean? After seeing what that bullet did to the eight-foot Wendigo..."
"Heard tell of a vampire nest over in Kentucky."
John fell back on the bed. "Yeah, yeah. I'll ask Dean for more bullets tomorrow."
After all, every boy needed a hobby.
Onward to Infrangible Road 2004
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