Title: In Harm’s Wake
Series: Aunt Sissy's Universe
Word Count: 13,151 (Part 1 and Part 2)
A/N: This is a third story in the Aunt Sissy Universe. It’s not a sequel to the other two, Out of Harm’s Way, or Safe From Harm, but more a companion piece that takes place a few years after both stories. Sam wanted to have his own story about her, and who am I to resist such a cute little face (This story is also posted on the Supernaturalfic LJ.)
Dean had said to stay close behind him, so Sammy did. The dining hall was filled with boys (Dean had reckoned on around fifty), but it sounded like a lot more. Maybe more like a thousand, the way the sound of their voices punched off the smooth, cold walls and ceiling. Lunch was coming, but it would be the same as it had for the past three days, minced beef, creamed corn, bread, and milk. Dean would make Sammy eat it, even if he didn’t want to. Then Sammy would get half of Dean’s dessert, for eating the swill anyway and keeping his strength up.
Dean stopped in front of him, and Sammy stepped on his heel.
“Dude,” said Dean. That meant: Knock it off, not so close. Dean was in one of his touch me not moods, the way he got when there were lots of strangers around. He didn’t mind Sammy near when they were alone, or just with Dad or Pastor Jim.
Some boy pushed into Sammy from behind, which made Sammy push into Dean.
“Sammy, I mean it.” Dean turned around with a scowl pulling his mouth down.
Sammy pretended he didn’t know what Dean was talking about. Otherwise, if Dean found out a boy had pushed him, there would be a fight. Not that Dean wouldn’t win, of course he would. But that would mean stepping onto the grid, which they were supposed to avoid at all costs. That’s what Dad said. And Dean liked to do what Dad said, even if he wasn’t here.
“He’s going to be so pissed,” said Dean now. Again. For the millionth time.
“You’re the one who wanted to go play pool for money,” said Sammy.
“Well, you should have waited outside,” said Dean over his shoulder. He was busy slipping two plastic, divided lunch trays off of the stack. He handed one to Sammy. “You’re the one who attracted attention to us, not me.”
“I’m almost as tall as you, nobody was gonna notice,” said Sammy, grabbing his own knife, fork, and spoon.
“You’re still only ten. With that baby face, it’ll be years till you can pass for a man.”
Which is what Dean thought he was, at fourteen.
The pool sharking on a warm, summer afternoon in Vernon, Iowa had gone really well. Dad had left them at the motel, and the boys had been bored. Leary of leaving Sammy on his own (which Sammy knew Dean was never supposed to do because Dean had told him), Dean had dragged his younger brother along. Pool halls smelled. They were stuffy and dark. Summer days were meant to be spent outside. Swimming. Skipping rocks. Playing with a friendly, stray dog. Not being locked up watching older brother hustle his way through several games. The wad of money that Dean had been stuffing in his pocket, though, was going to purchase several boatloads of candy later, this Sammy had known. Unspoken. Dean’s money bought cool stuff. So Sammy had sat there. And sat there. And sat. Finally, he’d wandered up to the bar to buy a coke.
That’s when the ruckus started. Dean had broken the rule about not attracting attention by winning too much. The bartender had decided the rule about no minors at the bar should suddenly be enforced. Someone had been called. Two men had shown up, and when Dean and Sammy could not display proof of a local parent, they were packed up and shipped off. The bus ride through Nebraska and into western Kansas had been as thrilling as mud. Not much more fun was watching Dean try to bribe the bus driver into letting them off. Anywhere. His money had been taken away, and Dean had been handcuffed to his seat. Somehow, the man hired to take them to the Colby Detention Center for Boys had known that Sammy would not strike out on his own. They were right.
The meal he had served to him now, and that he sat down at a long chipped table to eat, was his punishment for not being more bold. But even if he’d managed to slip off the bus, in the middle of Nebraska, in the middle of the night, what could he have done? Dad was not at the motel to call, besides which, neither of them could remember the name of the motel. Pastor Jim was at a seminar in Switzerland. He and brother Dean were on their own.
Dean sat across from him, and motioned at Sammy with his fork. That meant: You eat that, you hear me? You gotta eat, cause when it comes time to blow this joint, we might not get to eat for a while.
Dean had a thing for old black and white movies about guys in prison. Con flicks, he called them. Sammy had an idea that this whole detention center thing was almost a lark. Almost. He could see that Dean’s eyes were constantly watching the room over Sammy’s shoulder. Keeping his eyes on the doors, and any older boy who looked like he wanted to cause trouble for Winchester and Co.
The question was, was the detention center better or worse than the place they’d ended up in Colorado a few years back? Social Services. Him and Dean, one minute in the parking lot of some motel, then, the next, locked up in a grey room with two beds, a high up narrow window, an old TV, no books, and no exit. Afternoons, they’d gotten let out to play, as it was called, but the room they were led to had only a little bit more going for it than the room they slept in. Dean had acted cool about everything, until the staff locked the door to their little cell each night. Dean hated that. It wasn’t the small space, or lack of privacy, it was the not being able to get out that bugged him. He paced at night. Kept checking the door. No exit.
Sammy made himself eat the minced beef, tried not to gag on the creamed corn, and downed the milk. He did not want to watch Dean eat his meal, though he wasn’t sure if it was Dean shoveled it in so fast, or because he ate it as if it tasted good. Dean could eat anything and not choke on it. The only thing that saved the meal was dessert. Always the same at lunchtime, something that was called Apple Brown Betty but which looked like a square piece of apple pie. Dean wanted to eat all of his, but Sammy watched him cut his serving in half, to give it to his brother for being good.
Sammy shook his head. “I don’t want it. I’m full.”
“Yeah?” asked Dean, his eyebrows going up. “But you ate—”
“You eat it.”
Sammy nodded. Had there been ice cream to go with it, he would have taken the dessert. But it was almost as satisfying to watch Dean plow into it, eating the whole thing in three huge bites. Getting that smile as Dean wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Dean sure did love pie.
The detention center was better than the social services place, then. There was dessert that Dean liked, and though they were locked inside the building all the time, they weren’t in an isolated little room. And it wasn’t their first time being taken away from Dad, so maybe it was easier to handle. The only thing better that time was the rescue by Aunt Sissy. Of course, she’d not known she was their Aunt Sissy, not even when Dean had walked up to her, bold as anything, and called her that. It had taken her a while to take to it, but Dad had been right. Had predicted her early on, and there she was.
He still had the t-shirt she’d given him, it was packed away for him to grow into. Sometimes, he would take it out and unfold it, and hold it up next to his chest and measure with his eyes. Then he would fold it back up again, and put it away at the bottom of his duffle. It didn’t smell like her house anymore, but sometimes, if he closed his eyes, he could still see that girly room with the crisp sheets and soft pillows. The brightness of the bathroom light as she held his head when he threw up. The kiss she’d given him upon saying goodbye, letting them go, the sheen in her eyes as she waved to them from the door.
Dean was looking at him.
“What is it?”
“We could call Aunt Sissy.”
Dean’s mouth fell open, and then the bell clanged, signaling the end of lunch. They carried their trays up to the counter that opened into the dishwashing area. Sammy let his utensils fall into the soapy water with a splash. He got a look from Dean. That meant: You better knock it off. That kind of shit will land us in the hooscow an’ you know it. You wanna cause trouble? Make it worth something, don’t just do it to be a jerk. Jerk.
But as they walked down the hall to the games room, he saw Dean out of the corner of his eye. Dean was nodding.
“I wish I’d thought of it,” he said, glancing at Sammy.
Which is how cool a brother Dean was. He gave credit where it was due. Sammy had seen brothers in the movies, and on TV. None of them did that. None. Something in his chest felt warm and bright. He liked it when Dean looked like that at him. Like someone had told him what he needed to know, when he needed to know it.
“But there’s no phone,” said Sammy. This wasn’t true, of course. There had been two phones in the front office when they’d been processed, and even a pay phone out front. What he meant was, there was no phone they could get to.
They walked into the games room, and Sammy tagged behind as Dean led them to the couches in front of the TV. It was a pretty safe spot, low key, and it didn’t matter what was on. Neither Winchester would protest, no matter what channel was chosen. To stay off the grid, they had to keep their heads down. If Dean had joined in on a poker game, winning would have followed, and then a boy with hurt feelings would have made sure that Dean went on the grid. If Sammy started a conversation with anyone, it would lead to blows, because, for some reason, Sammy tended to say things that Dad said were provocative. Sammy’d had to look that one up. He still didn’t get it, so even without Dean telling him, he’d been trying to keep his mouth shut.
They sat on the couch that also allowed Sammy to look out the window. Weather in Kansas was pretty straightforward. Sunny, sunny, sunny. The wind blew all the time, too, by the bend of the grass and the stunted trees. Sometimes, tumbleweed or two whisked by on its way to Old El Paso. But yesterday, there’d been a thunderstorm that rolled overhead. It hadn’t stopped, but it had been loud. Dean, amazingly, had not teased Sammy about getting up to stand by the window to watch. Sammy was hoping the same would happen again today.
For the meantime, they looked at the TV. Marking the time till the supper hour. The screen had reruns. Sammy thought it was the Dukes of Hazzard, because of the car, but the Bo and Luke characters just did not look right. He sighed, and started to swing his foot until Dean jabbed him with an elbow.
“Quit it.” That meant: You’ll piss someone off doing that. Remember the guy, that big one, the first day? I don’t wanna get into that kinda situation again, so knock it off.
Sammy remembered quite clearly the first day. They’d been watching TV (Wide World of Wrestling) and he’d been swinging his foot, as he did when he watched TV. Somehow, he’d swung his foot into someone walking in front of them. They could have gone around, but they’d gone in front of him, so it wasn’t his fault. Only the boy, a big boy, seemed to think it was. He’d bent down and grabbed a handful of Sammy’s hair and pulled hard. Dean was on his feet in a second, fists clenched, protesting. All Sammy could hear was the boy hissing in his ear, something about, don’t touch me, don’t ever touch me. Then he’d pulled away, let go of Sammy, and stalked off. Leaving Dean standing, noticeable, fists clenched as though demanding that someone fight him. For a second, their area of the games room was quiet. Then, Dean had socked Sammy in the shoulder, as if it had been his intention all along. It had been a hard punch, that later showed up as a round purple mark. Dean’s eyes for the rest of the day had said he was sorry. That meant: I had to do it, doncha see? I was all ready, an’ if I’d just sat down, everyone in the room woulda thought I was backing down. Can’t have that. Dad always says, when you stand up to fight, you gotta commit till the fight is over. So I had to punch ya, so don’t be mad.
Sammy had forgiven him long before the day was over.
Someone changed the channel to Hogan’s Heroes. Sammy watched Dean try not to laugh while they watched (because when Dean laughed, he laughed out loud and tended to throw back his head and howl with it, which would definitely put them on the grid), but it was hard. Something about Colonel Klink getting outsmarted by Hogan got to him. Every single time. Watching Dean was funnier than Klink and Hogan and the gang. It made Sammy snigger, which he tried to keep under his breath, but of course, Dean heard him and jabbed him with an elbow.
“Sammy.” This meant: You can’t laugh out loud and you know it.
“You’re laughing,” said Sammy.”
Dean rolled his eyes. That meant: You’re a jerk.
Sammy kicked him in the leg.
Dean kicked him back.
Then Sammy punched him in the chest.
They looked up. One of the orderlies (or warden, Sammy wasn’t sure what they were called) stood in front of them.
“Fighting is not allowed. One more act up from you and you will go into isolation. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” they both said, though it was an effort for Dean, Sammy could tell, to make his voice so meek. The orderly moved away, and a commercial came on. Dean had his hands in his lap, where he laced and unlaced his fingers. That meant: I have an idea.
“Yeah?” asked Sammy.
“There’s a phone in the kitchen off of the cafeteria. Did you see it?”
Sammy thought about this. To the right of the counter where they trundled past to get their food, there was a doorway. It swung in two directions and had not, while they’d been there, been locked. There was a little window in the door. If he concentrated, he could see through the window the beige wall phone hanging against the smooth, green brick.
“Yeah,” he said. “I saw it.”
“I betcha they use that phone to make orders, so it’s got an outside line. You know what that means, right?”
“Yeah,” said Sammy. “You have to dial nine first to get out.”
“No,” said Dean. “It means you have to dial nine first to get out.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Why was Dean making him do all the work?
He heard Dean take a breath, though no part of him seemed to move.
“Somebody’s got to distract them while you call Aunt Sissy.” That meant: I am going to be bait. I will step on the grid at supper, and you will sneak into the kitchen and use the phone. Do I even have to ask if you know how to make a collect call?
“I know what to do,” said Sammy. “But what if she’s not there? Operators won’t leave messages, that’s what Dad said.”
“Then we’ll keep doing it till she does.”
Sammy looked at the TV screen and did not allow himself to think about this. There’d been a movie on once, in some motel, Sammy couldn’t remember the name of the motel or the movie, only that Dad and Dean had been out hunting something. He’d been asleep when they’d come back, and couldn’t remember what they’d been hunting either. But there was one scene in the movie that stood out like a sharp clang of a bell. Some guy, a soldier in some army in some war, had been in a room with his buddies. One of the enemy had thrown a grenade in the room. The guy, in his funny, old fashioned soldier uniform, had thrown himself on the grenade and absorbed the explosion with his own body. He’d died of course, and his buddies had thrown him a great funeral, and in the end, their side had won the war. But it was the guy that stuck in Sammy’s mind. He reminded Sammy of Dean. Just now. He’d had that same expression that Dean had, the carefully blank lines of his face betrayed by the bold gleam in his eye that said, I will do this. I will make this sacrifice so you won’t get hurt.
Sammy didn’t let himself sigh out loud. “Why don’t I be the bait?”
He watched Dean’s eyebrows rise into his hairline. “What?”
“I’ll be the bait. I’ll step on the grid. I’ll throw myself on the grenade. But I’m only ten, so they won’t hurt me. As much.”
Sammy was sure that Dean had seen the same movie, but of course, would never picture himself in the role of sacrificial lamb.
“I can be the bait, Dean, why don’t you ever let me?”
“Because I’m older, and besides, Dad would kill me if I did that. I’d rather die at someone else’s hands, thank you very much.”
Then Dean shut his mouth, leaned back on the couch, and the conversation was over. There wasn’t even anything to translate. Dean had made up his mind. He would be bait, and Sammy would scurry into the kitchen and dial as fast as his fingers would let him. He began in his mind to will Aunt Sissy to be there the very first time he called. Otherwise, Dean was going to have to throw himself on more than one grenade. Sammy didn’t think he could bear to watch it happen more than once. Let alone the once.
Some kids had chores. Sammy and Dean had not been at the detention center long enough to be on anyone’s chart, so in the hour before dinner, as boys scurried around sweeping and hauling off trash (some boys even got to go outside to pick up stuff in the yard), they had to wait it out. At least the TV was still on. Reruns. Space Ghost. Sammy watched it, remembering how he’d like that monkey when he was a little kid, but for the life of him, unable to remember why now.
“You think when she comes an’ gets us she’ll take us home with her?”
There was no need to explain the she Sammy was talking about, but the question had done something to Dean, otherwise he would not have answered so fast. Sammy could see his brother’s face, which had closed up quicker than a cartoon clamshell slamming shut. But if Dean’s memory of her were half as strong as his own, it would explain why Dean didn’t want to contemplate it. Because, well, when you went to Aunt Sissy’s (or when Aunt Sissy came to you), the bad part was, no matter how nice it was, you always had to leave. Or Aunt Sissy had to leave and go back to her regularly scheduled life. And then there was Dad, who’d been extra hard on them each time, as if trying to undo the damage that her softness had wrought.
After the first time, when they’d stayed at her house, Dad had taken them back to the motel in Boulder, thrown everything in the car, and then took them on a long drive that had lasted all day and all night. They’d ended up in the south somewhere, some desert, and then, he made them hike up a canyon. To toughen them up, Dad said. It had not been a long hike, but then they’d had to sleep in the car afterwards, half sitting up. Sammy could still taste the metallic water out of the canteen they’d shared. And the way the heat of the day and the cool of the night made his skin feel like it was on fire. He’d been six then.
The second time, Aunt Sissy had stayed for a few days at that motel with the greasy green carpet, tending to Dad, and taking the brothers on hikes in the mountains. Dad had approved of the hiking, but what he’d not known (and would never know) was that Aunt Sissy’s idea of a hike was quite different than Dad’s. She liked to find well–marked paths that led to waterfalls to sit next to and streams to wade in, or glassy, sky-blue lakes to walk around. Walk around. There was no trotting, no sprinting. No quiz afterwards about what they’d seen, or measurements of how far they’d come. Afterwards, Aunt Sissy liked to drive through the mountains to what she’d called cute little places with odd things on the menu like cucumber soup and steak salad and towering desserts with French names where only Aunt Sissy knew what they meant. She made sure, as well, that the menu had things she felt that boys would like, cheeseburgers and fries, or chicken dippers, or that one place with the chili where they’d melted the cheese on top. Dad had made them work on their knife throwing after she left, but he didn’t want to think about that.
“Remember the chili, Dean?”
Dean looked at him, eyebrows twisting down. That meant: What?
“That chili in that mountain place that Aunt Sissy took us to.”
“Christ, Sammy, that was two years ago, you still thinkin’ about that meal?”
“You remember it too, Dean,” said Sammy. Supper, he knew, would be beef stew and cornbread, sliced peaches with cottage cheese, and milk. Better by far than what was served at lunch, but it was getting lame fast. Still, he was old enough not to cry about it, as Dean liked to remind him that he used to do when he was little. But maybe, since Dean was stepping onto the grid, they wouldn’t even get dinner. When Dean got thrown in the slammer, the authorities somehow managed to snag little brother and throw him in there too.
“I’ll do it at dessert,” said Dean, looking at the TV screen, his lips barely moving. It was the old con flick game again. It was the great escape and Dean was Steve McQueen.
“But you like peach cobbler,” said Sammy.
“It’s a sin and a shame, but it’s gotta be done.” That meant: Any later than dessert and a distraction won’t help us. Just be ready.
By the time the supper bell rang, Sammy thought he was ready. The hardest part was not staying calm or eating a meal that was a repeat from yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. It was not difficult, either, watching Dean take a quick bite of his dessert before sacrificing it to the wall gods as he hurled both his and Sammy’s plates to the back of the dining hall. It was even cool to watch Dean jump up on the table to do his best con imitation, and shout out loud that the screws could put him in the hole for a month, he was never going to talk! No, the hard part was watching him get slammed on by two orderlies and then having to turn away because he, Sammy, had a job to do. He could hear the shouting (mostly by Dean), and the thuds and the crash as he raced into the kitchen. He could hear the doors being slammed open, and as he dialed the phone, the din smashed against the ceiling.
The operator came on.
“Collect call for my Aunt Sissy, please, operator.”
“Whom may I say is calling, sir?”
“Sammy Winchester,” he said. Thinking of the tender curve of Aunt Sissy’s mouth when she said his name. Maybe she knew of one of those places to eat in Kansas. His meal felt like a brick in his stomach and he sure could use something good to eat.
The phone was ringing and then it was picked up.
“Hello?” the voice asked.
It was Aunt Sissy. The echo of her voice along the line thumped in his chest. He made himself stay quiet so he didn’t screw up the ritual.
“I have a collect call for Aunt Sissy from Sammy Winchester, will you accept the charges?”
Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “Yes, operator I will.”
“I’ll connect you now,” said the operator, and with a click, she was gone.
“My goodness, Sammy—”she began, her voice pleasant, but then she stopped. “Where are you? Is everything alright? Is anyone hurt?”
Sammy’s heart continued to thump. He could hear the sounds in the dining hall receding and at any moment, someone would come through the swinging doors to deal with the dirty dishes he could hear piling up along the counter.
“Dean and I got taken,” he said. “Dad is hunting, not at the motel in Vernon, Iowa. I don’t remember the name, but it’s a cheap one.”
“So where are you?”
“Colby, Kansas. They put us on a bus. Dean was in the pool hall. We’re in the boys detention center, an’ we need—”
Someone came in. He was grabbed from behind so fast, the phone flew from his hand and thunked against the wall. An orderly dragged him away. He could still hear her voice coming through, like a faint cry, from the mouth of the receiver.
“Sammy? Sammy, where did you go—”
Then the door swung closed behind him, and Sammy was marched in disgrace down the hall. He didn’t feel disgraceful, he felt victorious, so it was hard to keep his head down and the smile from his face. Dean would be so pleased. Mission accomplished. Maybe next time, Dean would let him be the bait.
The orderly took him past the boy’s dormitories and back down the hall where the front offices were. He opened a metal door with a heavy key, and then shoved Sammy inside. Sammy had been expecting that. Troublesome cons always got separated from the main group of prisoners, Dean had told him that when—
But there was Dean, in a heap on one of the thin mattresses on a metal bed attached to the wall. He was crumpled like folded paper that someone had tossed aside.
Dean grunted. That meant: Go away, go away, go away.
But there was no where to go. No where to walk but forward and put his hand out to touch Dean on the shoulder to ask what he could do.
“Get off me.” That meant: Get off me.
Then Dean moved, shuddering as he undid the bend in his body to shift his head along the pillow and face the wall. Something on his head left a red stain on the mostly white pillowcase. Sammy could see that Dean was shivering.
He got silenced as his answer.
This was the part he’d been dreading. This thing that Dean did, this grenade-covering thing that seemed to be part of what Dean saw as his duty as older brother. Whatever scared him, and Dean would take care of it. Whoever bothered him, and Dean would show them who was who. Whatever he wanted that Dean had, and it was his. But any previous joy he’d felt in successfully reaching Aunt Sissy was doused by the stain beneath his brother’s head and the face his brother would not show him.
His hands hung at his sides. He could feel something working its way up from his chest. Feel the heat behind his eyes that wanted to spill out. Dean could not save him this time, Dean could not make this better. He had to make this better for Dean.
“I got hold of Aunt Sissy, Dean,” he said, his voice low. “Told her everything before they found me.”
Dean grunted, in a way that might have been agreement. Or acknowledgement.
“She’ll find Dad. One of them will come and get us.”
Dean grunted again, the sound in his throat going up at the end. A question?
“I don’t know. However far it is from Longmont to Colby. Or Vernon to Colby.”
“Hours,” said Dean, startling Sammy.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” said Sammy. “Five or six?”
There was a low, throaty sound which might have been Dean agreeing or swallowing. The stain on the pillow was spreading a little, and was dark. Sammy knew that when you got smashed in the head, it bled a lot.
Aunt Sissy or Dad (maybe both) were on their way. Sammy wished Aunt Sissy were there already. Dad, hopefully, would arrive after Aunt Sissy, because he was liable to tell Dean to sit up and buck up, and put some awful herb on Dean’s cuts to stop the bleeding. Aunt Sissy, on the other hand—
What would Aunt Sissy do?
Sammy looked around the room. There were two metal beds attached to the wall, each with a blanket, a sheet, and a pillow. There was a sink at one end of the room, and above that, a barred window. A trashcan sat under the sink. And alongside the sink, hanging on a loop of metal, was a washcloth and a hand towel. Sammy almost smiled as he walked over to it and started the water on cold. The colder the better. He put the washcloth under the running water, and let it run for a minute. Then he twisted it out. Folded it in his hands as he turned back to Dean.
“I’ll be the Aunt Sissy, Dean, an’ you—”
Dean snorted, and then hissed. But he rolled over and tried to sit up, not looking at his brother as Sammy saw what the orderlies had done. They’d smashed him up, alright, the whole side of his face was darkening into a bruise. A slice along his forehead was streaming blood past his ear, and his mouth was swollen as though someone had punched it directly. He was holding one hand close to his chest, propping himself up with the other. All of his knuckles were raw.
“You’re gonna need a bed sheet,” said Dean, showing the blood on his teeth. “Besides, Aunt Sissy you will never be. You don’t smell like roses.”
Sammy found himself remembering that smell, the thick sweetness of roses when Aunt Sissy would hug him. The trace of it on his skin where she’d pet his face. The scented candle in the bathroom, unlit but opened, making the girly room so girly, he’d not liked it at the time. But now, in this dank, grey room with Dean, bleeding all over himself, he wanted—
“Hand me that, an’ don’t cry,” said Dean.
“I’m not gonna.”
“Yeah, you are, now give me that.”
Dean snatched the washcloth out of his hands and placed it against the side of his head as Sammy felt two hot tears slip down his face. He wanted nothing more than to sink to his heels, and fold his arms around his head. But Dean was grimacing as he held the cloth there, and so Sammy scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and reached out to take the washcloth. Dean’s eyes widened a bit when he did this, but said nothing as Sammy folded the cloth as he’d seen Aunt Sissy do, and wiped the blood from Dean’s forehead.
“Don’t—” he began. That meant: Don’t scrub across the cut like Dad does.
Sammy shook his head. “I won’t.”
He wiped Dean’s forehead, and then refolded the cloth to blot around the cut itself. He let the cold cloth sit on the bruise on Dean’s face, and then realized his hand was shaking.
“Gonna rinse this out,” he said. It was what Aunt Sissy would have done.
He ran the cold water again, twisted the washcloth, and hurried back to Dean. The blood on his forehead was clotted and still, the bruise darkened to full purple.
“Look at your hands,” said Sammy.
“I’ll do it,” said Dean, snagging the washcloth.
Sammy tried to reach for it, but Dean shrugged him off with an elbow.
“I said I’ll do it. You just quit lookin’ at me like that, okay?”
His eyes felt hot again, as he sat down next to Dean, who was using the washcloth to wipe at his knuckles.
“Go sit on your own bed,” said Dean. He had the washcloth balled up in his hand and was using it on the back of his neck. “And don’t look at me. At all.”
It was all Sammy could do to keep his mouth still as he got up and stomped over to the other bed. He lay down on the bed and faced the wall and screwed his eyes shut tight. Kicked off his sneakers, not caring where they landed. Breathed in and out, counted to a hundred and back again, ignoring Dean the whole time. Felt the evening slip into night while the pounding in his heart slowed. If Dean wanted to be bait ever again, then he, Sammy, would wait in another room. Another town. Another state if he could. Steve McQueen was an asshole, as was anyone who wanted to be like him.
It was dark when he woke up, feeling the body slip into the bed behind him. Feeling Dean’s heartbeat as he settled himself on the pillow. Not touching Sammy, but there, in the dark, breath slowing into sleep. That meant: I’m sorry. Thanks for tryin’.
It was midmorning the next day when they were escorted from their little cell into the visiting room, where the clean and shining form of Aunt Sissy greeted them from the other side of a wooden table. She was pleased to see them, Sammy could tell by her smile, that she wanted to hug them in spite of the sign telling her she could not, but it only took her one second of looking at Dean before the smile turned into that scowl she’d so often aimed in Dad’s direction.
She slammed her purse down as Sammy and Dean sat in the chairs across from her on the other side of the table. There were two other families in the visiting room, so when she leaned close to talk to them, the boys leaned close, as well.
“What the hell happened to you?” The words fell like cement blocks on the table.
They couldn’t even pretend to make like they didn’t know what she meant. Dean’s bruises looked worse in the light of day than they had last night.
“Who did this to you?”
Sammy started to open his mouth to say it was his fault, when Dean smacked him on the arm.
“I was bait, Aunt Sissy, so Sammy could get to the phone.”
“They wouldn’t give you a single phone call?” Her voice rose to the ceiling, propriety be damned.
“It’s not a prison, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean. “They don’t have to. Besides, Dad said—”
“I don’t give a shit what your dad said.” The words spat against the tabletop. “Whose ridiculous idea was it to have you be bait? What, did you just let yourself get beat up while Sammy called me collect?”
Dean nodded. So did Sammy. It all had made so much sense yesterday, but looking at it through Aunt Sissy’s eyes put a different spin on it.
“I wanted to be bait, Aunt Sissy,” said Sammy, ignoring Dean as he rolled his eyes at this possibility. “They wouldnta hurt me. As bad. But Dean said no.”
“Oh, for Christ sake.” She covered her eyes with her hands and rocked into the palms.
“Don’t be mad, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean, his voice shaking in a way Sammy could not remember hearing.
“Please don’t be mad, it was the only way—”
Her hands fell to the table and she looked at him. “But your face, my sweet Dean, have you seen it? It looks like someone took a baseball bat to it.”
It took a few seconds for the hairs on the back of Sammy’s neck to stand up when Dean didn’t answer. And only a few more seconds for Aunt Sissy to be on her feet, face white, eyes sparking as though someone had taken a flint to them. There wasn’t even time to take blink as she marched to the door and swung it open, and even from where he sat, Sammy could hear the hiss as she drew in a huge breath.
“It wasn’t a baseball bat, Aunt Sissy, it was just a—”
“MISTER CLARKE,” shouted Aunt Sissy, loud enough for her voice to come bouncing back into the room. “I would like a WORD with YOU.”
Someone showed up in the doorway just as the door closed, his reply to Aunt Sissy’s summons cut off. But then, they could hear her shouting again, and a thump, and then something loud. And then silence. Aunt Sissy’s purse sat on the table. Sammy looked at it, and then at his brother.
“Is she coming back?” he asked.
Dean shook his head. “I dunno.” His eyes never left the door.
They waited five minutes. Then ten. Then almost twenty before Sammy reached out to touch Aunt Sissy’s purse.
“She wouldn’t leave it,” said Dean, now looking at Sammy. “Let’s go.”
They got up and Dean took the purse, just as the door opened and in walked one of the orderlies. Nameless, as they all were, the name on the badge too small to read properly, the blank lines of his face not telling them anything they could use.
“Where’s our Aunt Sissy?” asked Dean.
The orderly was reaching for the purse, so Dean handed it back to Sammy, who took it and held it behind his back.
“You boys come with me,” said the orderly.
“We want our Aunt Sissy,” said Dean. “She’s come for us, where is she?”
Sammy could feel himself nodding in agreement, but his heart was thumping too hard in his throat to allow him to say anything.
“Your Aunt Sissy is going and leaving you here and she wants her purse, so hand it over.”
“No,” said Dean.
Sammy shook his head no, now, to help out.
The orderly was tall and his arms were long and in a second, he’d pushed Dean out of the way and snatched Sammy up, purse and all. Sammy tried kicking and pulling away, but the orderly had him in a lock so hard, his chest felt like it was being crushed.
“Let the purse go, Sammy,” said Dean, his eyes wide, the skin under the bruise turning white. “Just let it go. We’ll find another way.”
Sammy gave the orderly one good kick and then let go of the purse. The orderly dropped him, hard, and looked like he wanted to deliver a smack as well, so Sammy skittered back out of the way. Behind the wall of his brother, looking up at the orderly, feeling the boil of hate rise up inside of him.
“You boys get to the games room, and mind your manners or you’ll find yourselves with more days in detention than you’d care to count.”
The orderly folded the purse under his arm and stalked away.
“I wouldn’t care,” said Dean, tugging on Sammy’s arm to lead him down the hallway.
“Me either,” said Sammy.
Dean grunted. That meant: Oh sure. You’d be cryin’ like a baby if it lasted longer than a day or a night.
Sammy frowned, feeling the tumble as his breath came back and his anger refocused on Dean.
Then Dean snorted. “Never mind, we’ll be outta here soon.”
“Hopefully before lunch,” said Sammy.
“You’ll eat it anyway,” said Dean.
Sammy knew he would. He had to. When they broke out, it might be miles and miles of walking before they were able to hook up with anyone who could take them to Dad.
Just as they got to the games room, the bell sounded for lunch. Sammy felt hungry, but at the same time, he didn’t want to eat. Aunt Sissy had left them inside of the grey and metal building, with the green walls and terrible food. Why would she do that? Did she not like him anymore? Had Dean’s bruises been too much for her?
As they got in line for their plates, Dean jabbed him in the ribs.
“Just knock it off, okay? She didn’t just leave us here. It’s something else.”
“How do you know?” asked Sammy, hearing the pout in his own voice. Not liking it.
Dean reached up for two trays and gave Sammy one. They went through the line and let the cafeteria attendants pile their trays with food. The same food as yesterday. Then they sat down at a nearly empty table.
“Eat your lunch,” Dean said.
“I don’t think I can.”
He watched as Dean began forking the creamed corn into his mouth. It was so gooey, it looked like it was cold.
“I really don’t think I can.”
Dean looked up, almost smiling. “I know what you want.”
"You want Aunt Sissy to take you to that place. With the French fries. Remember?”
“Which French fries?”
In Harm's Wake - Part 2