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Title: Footprints on a Different Map
Author: paleogymnast
Beta: engel82
Fandom/Genre: Supernatural, Gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, mentions of others, OCs
Spoilers: Set between 1.13 (“Route 666”) and 1.14 (“Nightmare”) so anything up through 1.13 is fair game.
Rating: PG-13 for language, discussion of off-screen violence
Word Count: 6,957
Prompt: Have Sam or Dean ever been out of the country? Where? Why? When?
A/N: Written for roque_clasique’s birthday fic meme. Happy birthday! Will be cross-posted!
Disclaimer: Not mine; written for fun, not profit; if you recognize it it’s Kripke’s
Summary: Sam always assumed his brother had never traveled, after all only real people did that, not hunters, right?


“Thanks Caleb,” Dean said in a worried tone before snapping closed his phone with an angry ‘smack’ and tossing it onto the bed.
 
Sam shook his head and diverted his attention back to the laptop. He hadn’t heard or much of the conversation, just a lot of ‘shit’s’ and grunts and similar noises of either distress or disgust coming from Dean’s end. Whatever he and their Caleb had talked about it had sure put Dean in a mood. Best for Sam to stay out of his way. Researching the history of the old Coalman place and the source of its haunting was way more rewarding than trying to figure out his brother’s moods.
 
“Get up, Sam,” Dean said about five minutes later, punctuating his statement with a rather violent slap to Sam’s left foot, knocking it free from its perch on top of his right knee.
 
“Hey!” Sam exclaimed as his laptop was dislodged from its perch on his knee and nearly succeeded in its bid for freedom.
 
“Gimme that and go pack your shit,” Dean said gruffly, calling for the laptop with his hand.
 
“Pack? Dude, we’re in the middle of a hunt, why am I packing?” Sam said incredulously.
 
Instead of a verbal reply, Dean made a grab for the laptop, tearing it out of Sam’s grip and placing it, gently Sam was relieved to see, on the table. “Just go pack, I wanna be on the road in twenty,” Dean said distractedly as his hands flew over the keys with an alacrity Sam hadn’t thought possible.
 
“We’re in the middle of a hunt, Dean, I thought you didn’t walk away, you know hunting people, saving things?”
 
Dean’s glare stopped Sam in his tracks. And ok, maybe that was a low blow, but really, hadn’t Dean just recently harangued Sam for always leaving?  Emphasizing how important the job was… but no, that look was hurt, not sarcastic, not annoyed, but anguished almost. Like Sam had stumbled into a minefield and set off a chain reaction.
 
“There’s another hunt and…” Dean trailed off his voice sounding funny. “I have to take this one, Sam, so either you just trust me on this,” the ‘like I trusted you when you dragged me back to Lawrence and St. Louis’ was implied but unspoken, “or I don’t know, stay here. Finish the hunt yourself, and I’ll come back for you when I’m done.”
 
Wow, okay, that was unexpected.  “I… ok, I’ll come,” Sam answered, feeling a bit thrown. “Just, what’s the rush—”
 
“Good,” Dean said finally, turning back to the laptop and cutting Sam off once again. “Call Jefferson while you’re at it too; he should be close enough to swing by and finish this after he’s done cleaning up after that chupacabra.” He added without a further glance at Sam.
 

~~~

 
“Canada? We’re going to fucking Canada?” Sam asked, astounded, as he looked at the stack of directions Dean had scribbled down from the internet. They seriously needed to invest in a portable printer, ‘cause Dean’s handwriting was almost completely illegible.
 
“Just North Vancouver, it’s not even that far over the border,” Dean muttered, not taking his eyes off the road. 
 
Which was okay by Sam, ‘cause Dean was quickly leaving their hunt on the outskirts of Reno in the dust, driving about 110mph across I-80, and that was a little too fast for Sam’s tastes. Geez, Sam was so focused on bracing himself against the Impala’s dashboard; he didn’t even have time to think about how close the route was taking them to Stanford. Well, close by Winchester standards. “You don’t even have a passport,” he protested instead.
 
“Don’t need a passport to go to Canada, Sammy,” Dean gritted out, glancing down at the speedometer, and stomping harder on the accelerator. 
 
Sam gulped, as the speedometer needle ticked closer to 115. “We’re gonna get pulled over,” he muttered. And really, he didn’t want to think about how much that would suck, what with Dean’s recent ‘death’ and all; besides, it would undoubtedly delay them.
 
“No we’re not,” Dean shot back, sounding so certain and definite about it that Sam had to wonder if his brother had done something to the Impala to keep her—it—from attracting notice. “And I do have a passport,” he huffed, reaching across Sam and under his extended arm to open the glove compartment, hauling out an envelope Sam hadn’t seen before, and dropping it in Sam’s lap.

Sam leaned back in his seat uncertainly, fingers fumbling with the clasp on the somewhat worn manila envelope. Not one but three passports tumbled out showing various states of use and disuse. One of them was in Dean’s own name and his real birth date on it and had been issued about three years before… while Sam was at Stanford. The other two were U.S. Passports that looked genuine, even with the photo scanned onto the cover with all the shiny holographic decals and doodads on them, and bore two of the most mundane aliases Sam had ever seen associated with Dean.
 
None of the passports bore any stamps, but at least two of them, including the one in Dean’s name, looked worn enough that he guessed they’d been leafed through by customs agents at least several times. Huh?  Had Dean actually traveled? Like, maybe been to Canada before? When would that have happened? 
 
Only Sam knew the answer. He’d been at Stanford for over four years. Enough time to get a degree, build a life, and get a head start on going to Law School. If he’d changed so much in that time, why not Dean?
 
Sam glanced over. Dean was staring straight ahead again, hands gripping the wheel at ten and two, back ramrod straight. Sam got the message; Dean wasn’t keen on explaining anytime soon.
 
So Sam leaned his head against the window, letting the late-afternoon sun warm him, and let his mind wander.
 

~~~

 

Sam had no idea if Dean had ever traveled as a kid—before Sam was born, before the fire. Hell he didn’t even know if John and Mary had taken Dean to Disneyland or Disneyworld, or any of the other cool tourist places families often went. It wasn’t like Sam could have ever asked, either. Mom was just… you didn’t go there.
 
John actually had taken both Sam and Dean to Canada once, when they’d stayed at a motel in the tiny town of Clair, Quebec while hunting a werewolf in Fort Kent, Maine. John had somehow gotten the idea that if they were gonna be practically in Canada, they might as well cross the border, and Dean, who’d been 19 at the time, had been psyched. “I can go to a bar and tell them my real age, Sammy.”
 
Sam hadn’t spent most of the week they spent there that August hiding out in the motel room half out of spite. He had been pissed to be dragged away yet again just a week before school started. John had promised them they would be staying in the seemingly podunky town of Hiram, Maine for at least two months so that Sam could start the school year there. Sam had done everything he could to sign himself up at the local high school, which, while tiny and lacking in an honors program, had real AP classes and a Latin program with a good reputation. So, he’d been less than thrilled when John had announced they were trekking almost ten hours north into the middle of no where for a week for a hunt. 
 
Sam had been amazed that someplace so damn far north could be so hot, and the motel had no air conditioning, so he’d spent the entire time they were there sulking and working on the assignments he wasn’t sure he’d ever get to turn in. Couldn’t even remember if he went out and saw the town. He’d been too resentful to even listen to Dean’s antics about banging a hot Canadian chick who spoke French.
 
He did wind up going to that high school, but only for two weeks.
 
Other than that, John had always stuck to hunts in the lower 48. Sam had never figured out if it was because John was patriotic, or because there were just more supernatural monsters in the US, or because Dean hated flying, or if it was just too much trouble or too costly to try crossing borders with little kids. It was probably some combination of factors, which ones Sam didn't know.
 
Come to think of it, John might have picked up a few hunts south of the border when Sam was little… before he actually knew what his Dad did for a ‘living.’ They’d spent many months living in dusty desert towns in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and even eastern California. Never near any big cities; always someplace people didn’t ask a lot of questions. Places he and Dean could stay holed up in a motel or crappy efficiency for days or weeks at a time without people asking any questions.
 
Sam also wouldn't be surprised if Dean had slipped down to a donkey show in Tijuana once or twice.
 
But aside from that one brief trip to Quebec that Sam spent sulking, he’d never been outside the contiguous United States. He’d been to both ends of US Route 1, thanks to the werewolf hunt in Fort Kent and a couple of hauntings they’d dealt with in Key West, but no farther. Until he was eighteen and at Stanford. 
 

~~~

 
As much as Sam liked staying put and having a home, being a ‘real person,’ somewhere along the way he’d realized that ‘real people’ travelled. Not with fake IDs and credit cards acquired by identity theft, with all your worldly possessions stuffed into one duffle bag. But with real passports and driver’s licenses in their own names paid for by money or credit they earned themselves and traveling by plane or train… The very idea was an exotic treat to Sam.
 
So, after getting a real driver’s license and signing up for classes and moving into the dorm and finding a job, one of the very first things Sam had saved for—after a laptop so he wouldn’t have to keep fighting over the units in the computer lab—was get a passport. It was a right of passage for Sam the day he had those two two-by-two inch photos taken and took them to the office with the social security card and birth certificate he’d wrangled from his father when he left… how John had kept those all that time, Sam didn’t know.
 
His first spring break at Stanford, Sam got invited to go to Cancun with Becky and Zack. He’d scrimped and saved every penny—both from the job he had working between classes in the Meyer and from his evenings-and-weekends job at the Borders on University Ave—and it while it seemed like a really frivolous expense, it also felt like something a real person would do. So he treated himself.
 
It was definitely an awkward trip. Sam didn’t really have beach clothes or anything stylish, and he was still feeling a little uneasy around Becky and Zack and their friends, who were wealthy, spoiled even. People who’d never gone hungry a day in their lives; never had to stitch up their brother’s wounds because they couldn’t afford to go to the hospital and couldn’t risk people asking questions; never had to lie about themselves and their lives and families because their ‘trauma’ and ‘issues’ were things everybody understood.
 
Plus there was the issue of Sam’s scars, which hadn’t actually occurred to him until he was actually faced with the reality of beach equals swim trunks and the realization that wearing a t-shirt in the water was just going to draw more attention to what he wanted to conceal and make people ask even more questions, and it wasn’t like shorts did anything to hide the scars on his legs from a particularly nasty tangle with a vengeful spirit and a barbed wire fence. John had done what Sam supposed was his best as far as keeping Sam ‘safe’ as a kid, but all bets were off when John had started dragging Sam along on hunts. Plus, the life of a hunter or a hunter’s kid was dangerous, and no matter how careful you were, sometimes the beasts with teeth and claws came after you.
 
Still, all things considered, when Sam looked at the stamp on his passport, still wet and shiny as it slowly dried and soaked into the page, he’d felt like the journey had made an indelible mark on his soul, soaking in and a little fuzzy around the edges—like the ink on the passport—but forever there.
 
In the end, Sam shrugged off the questions about on his torso and legs as artifacts from too much rough housing as a kid. People already thought John was an asshole and a drunk, and if they jumped to conclusions about John’s alcoholism and temper being to blame, Sam wasn’t about to disabuse them of the notion. As far as he was concerned, forcing your kids to become warriors who live outside society was just another form of abuse.  And between that and finding out it was Sam’s first trip outside the states (he didn’t mention the week of sulking in Quebec) Becky insisted on buying him a small wardrobe of swim trunks, shorts, and shirts as a ‘gift’ to celebrate the occasion. 
 
After a week of tanning, playing beach volleyball, splashing in the waves, and soaking up the sun’s rays from a more southerly perspective, Sam returned to California refreshed and renewed with memories he shared with other people, people who liked him despite his scars—people who weren’t Dean or John—memories they could talk about in public, and with photographic evidence as undeniable proof. Somewhere in there, Sam had realized that his fascination with being a real person wasn’t really about possessions or desires or stereotypes of normal, but more about leaving a mark on the world that others could see, touch, feel, know about. Otherwise, Sam felt as invisible and insubstantial and secret as the ghosts his father and brother hunted—a story a few people knew about and shared, but no one would really talk about, and no proof to show he existed.
 
After that, Sam traveled more. The summer after his sophomore year, he got into a summer abroad program studying Latin and classics in Rome. It wasn’t his major—by then he’d already declared prelaw—but Latin was one of the few things from his old life that garnered respect in the real world. It gave Sam something to be proud of, gave him an avenue to talk about at least a tiny sliver of his childhood—even if he could only say he’d learned long hours at the kitchen table with his family pastor pouring over classical texts, and couldn’t say mention that he’d spent as much time reading Malleus Maleficarum as he had De Rerum Natura or mention how he’d actually seen a real exorcism once, and it was so much more terrifying than what they showed in The Exorcist.
 
So, for an entire month he’d stayed in a tiny apartment overlooking the Tiber, going to classes by day and touring the art and architecture and history by night, soaking it all in: the Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Castle San Angelo, the Coliseum, the Vatican Museum. He marveled at the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta between sipping real cappuccinos and grappa and anything else Italian that he could get his hands on. When he returned back home to Palo Alto, with six more credits under his belt and the email addresses of classmates from all over the world, Sam realized he’d never once thought about how haunted the city must have been with all that death and war and magic spanning nearly three thousand years. He’d never been more relieved.
 
Sam had only traveled with Jess once. Well, he’d gone home with her to her parents house several times, took a trip up out to Monterey once and a road trip to Vegas another. But once, just once, and not for nearly long enough, they had spent ten days, in Florence, in June. It was a special treat from Mr. and Mrs. Moore parents—half an opportunity for Jess—an art history major—to see Renaissance art, and half a graduation present for Sam, who the Moores had already begun to accept as part of the family. 
 
The weather had been beautiful, the hotel sublime, even if it was only of the 2-star variety, it was still so much cleaner and fancier than Sam had enjoyed growing up, that it might as well have been the Beverly Hilton. They had taken long walks through the open air markets, remarking at the narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks, soaking in the beauty of the city’s red roofs glinting in the afternoon sun. Sam had marveled at the working sunset clock in the Duomo, and Jess had cried tears of joy when she saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Ufizi, and then they’d both stood and gaped in awe at the base of the statute of David, Jess providing a constant on the ridiculousness of the statues proportions and the vandalism and restoration that had led to it being moved indoors.  And on the weekend before they left, they took a train out to Arezzo and climbed its steep hills to soak in the spectacular views under the Tuscan sun.
 
If Sam had known then it would be the last time—the only time—he got to go out in the big, wide world as a real person with Jess at his side, he might have done more with it. Found some way to make it special, in a storybook way, like maybe take a side trip to Venice and ride in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs, instead. But as it was, they just relaxed and had fun, ate too much food, and drank too much Chianti. And Sam had finally felt real. This was his, his life, and his girl. His footprints across a different continent. His passport stamped in ink. His photos and pictures to share with posterity. Sam’s mind even drifted to the maybe, someday, of him and Jess with kids, sitting down with a well-loved photo album and showing them pictures of their parents’ first trip abroad.
 
The photo album had burned in the fire. His passport hadn’t. Jess had insisted they keep ‘important documents’ in a fire safe ‘just in case.’ If Sam hadn’t already been lost in grief he would have given a bitter laugh at the irony.
 

~~~

 

When they crossed the border at Blaine, Sam started to understand Dean had done this before. He’d been to Canada, been through the Peace Arch crossing maybe dozens of times.  There was a familiarity, a rote quality, to Dean’s movements as he navigated the lanes, and stopped at the signal, rolling down his window in preparation. He was relaxed as he handed over the more beat up of the two Passports that bore an alias—no sense risking using Dean’s real passport, since he’s supposed to be dead and a serial killer and all.  
 
Sam just stared as Dean told the border agent yes his name is Jason Teague, and no, he’s not a character on some TV show, and he’s a mechanic, and he and his friend Sam are going to Vancouver to visit a sick friend. Sam had no idea how much of the story was truth or fiction, because he still didn’t know where they were going or what they were doing, but he marveled about how normal Dean acted. After all, they were crossing the border with a trunk full of weapons, most of them highly illegal, and driving a vintage black muscle car. Dean didn’t show a hint of nerves, and he was so earnest and sincere the border agent just nodded and thanked him, and wished them a good trip. 
 
The border agent was kind of hot, even Sam, still grieving Jessica, could admit that. And as the Impala drove away, not speeding, but moving with the utmost urgency, Sam could barely suppress his surprise that Dean hadn’t even flirted. In fact, Sam realized, while the border agent might not have been able to tell, Sam could see Dean had been so preoccupied, he had hardly seemed to register he was talking to a person and not a tree or a computer terminal, let alone a sexy brunette with a creamy smooth olive complexion and what Dean would normally call an ‘awesome rack.’ But Dean still wasn’t talking, and after 14 hours straight of driving, Sam was starting to freak out.
 
The low costal planes and fields whizzed by as Dean navigated the Impala through ridiculously narrow lanes, not even batting an eye at the speed limits posted in kilometers. It was early morning, near dawn, and Sam could just make out the features of the landscape, taking in the variety of water and fields and mountains all pushed up together like some cornucopia of terrain.
 
Within forty minutes they were crossing over the Granville Street Bridge into the glittering lights and twinkling towers of downtown Vancouver, the early morning sun just starting to pink the sky.  They drove past night clubs and hotels and shops and courthouses all around them signs that the city and its people were starting to wake up. Delivery trucks swerved, and taxis lined up, but the Impala stayed her course, steady and undeterred.  Dean clearly knew where he was going. 
 
It wasn’t until they were in the lane clearly marked ‘Lion’s Gate Bridge’ driving into Stanley park rolling along through still-dark trees under the rose-tinted sky that Dean spoke, his voice now quiet and strangely hollow, shaky. “I could have taken us the fast way, but I thought you might like to see the city. Wasn’t sure if you’ve been here before.” It sounded almost apologetic, like Dean had finally clued in that abandoning a hunt, driving almost fifteen hours straight, and taking them to Canada without so much as a word of explanation, might be objectionable behavior.
 
Sam glanced over at his brother, really taking a look at Dean’s appearance. His eyes were tight and drawn; the fine lines around the corners deeper with exhaustion, or maybe worry? And wasn’t Dean too young to have crow’s feet at twenty-seven?
 
“I haven’t,” Sam admitted at last, just as the car was gliding out onto the bridge and past its twin lions. Sam looked down at the sparkling water below and the snowcapped mountains ahead and couldn’t help but think it was beautiful.
 
“Sorry we couldn’t come under better circumstances,” Dean sighed. “I’d love to show you around, take you to library—you’d love it, geekboy,” Dean tried to lighten the mood, but the energy just wasn’t there in his voice. “It looks like the Coliseum,” Dean added.
 
“I’ve been there,” Sam murmured. 
 
Dean gave a little nod. Sam wasn’t sure if it was just acknowledgment, or if Dean was expressing ‘yes, I knew you went to Rome,’ or just a reflexive, subconscious gesture. Sam noticed how Dean’s knuckles flared white on the steering wheel, his ramrod-straight posture, the haunted look in his eyes.
 
“What’s going on, Dean?” Sam tried again.
 
“There’s a… hunt,” Dean answered, sounding just as lost as he looked. 

“I got that much from what you told me after Caleb called,” Sam said slowly, watching his brother instead of the scenery. 
 
“A pack of black dogs… or rather, I guess it’s maybe only one black dog,” Dean added sighing; pried his fingers off the steering wheel to run through his short hair, making it spike and stick up at odd angles. 
 
“But why did we come all the way to Canada for a black dog, why did we leave a hunt in Reno to Jefferson—who was two states away—and since when have you been to Canada?” Sam asked, confused.
 
“You know Sammy, you did leave. You can’t expect to know everything about me, so just—” Dean shot back, voice rising; breath huffing from his lungs. He sounded for a split second like maybe he was going to explain what was going on, but he broke off, settled, returned to the same rigid calm he’d been focused in since Reno.  “This is just a hunt I need to do.”
 
Sam waited, listening, looking, thinking surely Dean couldn’t leave it there, but after a minute passed, then two, and Dean still hadn’t spoken, Sam couldn’t take it any more. Whether it was the exhaustion or the memories of traveling with Jess rubbing his still-new grief raw or just the idea Dean had life that Sam didn’t know about, acting in a way Sam didn’t expect, he exploded. “Why won’t you fucking tell me what’s going on?” Sam exclaimed, his anger, frustration, and exhaustion finally getting the better of him.
 
Dean didn’t answer, just gulped, his throat moving, eyes fixed on the road ahead.
 
“Sorry,” Sam muttered, turning his head away, “sorry.” They were somewhere in the trees now, climbing what felt like a significant mountain. He didn’t know how they’d gotten from the bridge to here; he’d been so wrapped up in studying Dean. 
 
“We’re almost there,” Dean said, Sam cringing at his choice of words.
 
When they were kids, or rather, when Sam was a kid—since Dean hadn’t really been a kid since he was four—they’d had this running joke that anytime a character in a movie said ‘almost’ they certainly and undoubtedly met with an untimely demise. They’d made a game of it, the words taboo, a jinx. That Dean would say that now… Sam didn’t know what to make of it.
 
“Nearly there,” Dean corrected.
 
Sam felt the growing knot of worry ease a little, his chest unclenching so he could finally breathe. He still didn’t know what was going on, but as Dean steered the Impala up a long, winding, dirt driveway and parked in front of a somewhat elaborate-looking cabin, Sam had a feeling he was going to find out soon enough.
 
The engine had barely stopped when the front door of the log building flung open and a tall, muscular Asian woman in her thirties ran out. She had long hair draped over her shoulder in a braid, and was wearing a flannel shirt, jeans, biker boots, and a leather jacket… She looked almost like a female version of Dean. 
 
Dean had the door open, closed, and was on his feet in front of her before Sam could even process what he was seeing. Dean and the woman were hugging, but it wasn’t the hug of lovers or even an enthusiastic hug of friends long separated… it was grief, mourning, support, comfort. The woman whispered something in Dean’s ear, and he pulled back, lips forming a question Sam couldn’t make out. The woman nodded, solemnly, and then Dean nearly crumpled against her, tears obviously in his eyes.
 
Sam didn’t know what to make of it, didn’t know what to do. He felt like crap for his earlier outburst, and kind of wanted to disappear into the seat. For the first time he thought maybe he should have stayed in Reno, just let Dean do his own thing. Only, what kind of a shitty brother would that make him, turning his back on Dean, and abandoning him to—whatever this was—after Dean had spent so many months coaxing Sam through his pain, reminding him to eat, forcing him to sleep, even eventually getting him to open up about the prophetic dreams he’d been having.
 
Sam was still frozen, unsure what to do, when the woman looked up, and met his eyes, clearly noticing the Impala wasn’t empty. She patted Dean on the back, and he turned, looking towards Sam, tear tracks still running down his cheeks. Sam took that as his cue to exit.
 
He opened the door; pushed to his feet as the hinges suspension groaned. The hinges creaked in protest as he shut the door. The woman was walking towards him now, Dean standing back, trying to compose himself. 
 
“You must be Sam,” she said, a small waver in her voice suggesting the pain she was suppressing. She extended her hand, “I’m Tina.”
 
Sam took her hand and shook it. “Pleased to meet you, Tina,” he said, a little uncertainly.
 
She looked back and forth between Sam and Dean as if trying to figure something out. Dean had the decency to look guilty; she seemed to get it. “Come on inside,” she said, patting Sam’s arm. “I can get you both up to speed in there.”
 

~~~

 

Sam learned more about his brother in Tina Sato’s kitchen then he had maybe in his entire life. 
 
Dad had started splitting up, sending Dean on his own hunts about a year after Sam had left. Sometime after that, a little over three years ago, Dad had sent Dean on a hunt in Blaine, Washington. Children were disappearing from their homes, school yards, playgrounds. Only Dean had soon figured out it wasn’t just American kids who were disappearing. Kids from the other side of the border had been vanishing too. Tina had been living in White Rock then, and her daughter, Sally, had been one of the kids who went missing.
 
Long story short, it turned out the kids were being snatched by a ghost who thought he was the pied piper. The ghost had been disturbed from his resting place by construction on the U.S. side of the border crossing, and had been luring and then trapping kids in an abandoned building on the Canadian side of the border, keeping the kids lulled asleep by some sort of vaguely musical incantation. 
 
Dean had met up with a trio of Canadian hunters and together they’d managed to locate and rescue the kids while simultaneously salting and burning the spirit’s bones… Dean had been involved in that half of the caper, and Sam tried to block it from his mind as it involved far too much luck and brazenness in the face of heavily armed US ICE officers and not nearly enough strategizing or contingency planning for Sam’s sake. 
 
They’d rescued the kids and Sally had come home alive. Tina had fallen for Sean, one of the Canadian hunters, while Dean befriended the lot of them—Tina, Sally, Sean, and Nell and Tom, the other two hunters who were themselves a couple and Sean’s sister and brother-in-law.
 
Tina had eventually moved herself and Sally to the cabin the hunters all shared, and Dean had started periodically picking up hunts with them as the group trained Tina in the ways of hunting. 
 
After that first time, Dean had gone back again, and again, mostly to help out with some of the more complicated hunts, as it turned out Vancouver and its environs were quite haunted, and there weren’t nearly enough hunters around, especially not for some of the more complex search and rescue situations that could develop with that much woods and mountains and snow around and so many unsuspecting tourists sticking their noses places they didn’t belong, and winding up on the bad end of a supernatural joke.
 
Over the past three years, Dean had spent a total of about nine months in Canada, working and staying with Tina and her new family. 
 
On his last trip, which had been about six weeks before Jess’s death, Dean had helped Sean and Nell clean out a pack of black dogs that had begun threatening children in the North Vancouver area. What had started out as isolated attacks became more and more brazen, the demonic dogs yanking kids off of playgrounds at dusk and wandering up to the backyards of schools. Black dogs were particularly dangerous, Sam learned, because their saliva and claws could infect their prey, much like a supernatural version of a komodo dragon. So, often even if a victim wasn’t mauled to death by the dogs or dragged to their den, they would often die after the fact from massive infection.
 
The hunt had gone well, and they thought they’d cleaned out the whole pack. The only downside was Nell had been bitten by one of the dogs, not so badly ordinary antibiotics couldn’t heal the wound, but it meant the pack had her scent and taste and could track her; follow her back to where she lived. It wouldn’t have mattered if the pack had indeed been cleaned out, but as luck would have it, one of the dogs had survived and had now come after Sean and Nell and their families. 
 
The dog had been brazen; stalked right onto their property and tried to attack nine-year-old Sally. There wasn’t time to plan a proper hunt, just react and defend. Sean, Nell, and Tom had gotten Sally safely inside, away from the angry animal’s dripping fangs and fetid claws, with Tina to defend her. They’d then chased the dog through the woods away from the house. It had led them into a trap.
 
Now Tom was dead, Nell was missing, and Sean was in critical condition at Vancouver General, only surviving because he’d managed to drag himself all the way back to the house before passing out from blood loss and rapidly spreading infection. At least Sally was safe, and Tina was holding it together, for now anyway.
 
“Why didn’t you call me?” Dean asked Tina over his fourth cup of coffee after the last of the details had come tumbling out. “Why did I have to hear about this from Caleb?”
 
“I knew you were with Sam, and I knew he had just lost his girlfriend, was grieving; I know your dad’s missing, and I just didn’t want to lay this on you too, Dean,” she said, breath catching a little. 
 
Sam’s ears perked up and his cheeks burned, embarrassed to learn this woman he’d never heard of before today knew about Jess’s death. But she was a hunter, or at least hunter-in-training, and she was a friend of Dean’s, however strange a concept that was, so maybe Sam could just push aside his conflicted emotions and listen… learn more about his brother.
 
“Tina, I— I will always come if you guys need me. That’s the family business, you know, saving people—” Dean replied sheepishly.
 
“Hunting things. I know, Dean, but sometimes you’ve got to take care of your family too,” Tina replied squeezing his hand tightly, both giving and receiving support.
 

~~~

 
After that, the day went by in a jumbled flash of lightning-quick planning and heart-stopping action. Sam suggested they should have stopped to sleep, but Dean pointed out they had an advantage against a black dog if they hunted during the day, not if they waited until it was dark. And Nell, well, if she was still alive twenty some hours post-attack, chances were she wouldn’t last that long.
 
After much debate, they finally decided Sally should stay in her room, inside the supernaturally fortified cabin inside a salt-circle and armed with crosses, holy water, and wrought iron. It wasn’t ideal. Dean clearly wanted Tina to stay behind so Sally would be sure to have at least one surviving adult family member, in case her step-father didn’t pull through and her aunt was already gone. But Sam and Dean needed Tina to take them to where the trap had been sprung. 
 
Sam felt mostly useless, having little experience with black dogs and finding his tracking skills, while good, paled in comparison to Dean’s and even Tina’s. It was clear they both knew the woods, every crest and gully and tree and root, easily picking up both the false trail the dog had laid to trick them, and the real trail that led back to its den. Two consecrated iron rounds and a bottle full of holy water later, the black dog was nothing but a steaming, sizzling stain on the forest floor. 
 
Then it was a race against time, to follow Nell’s broken trail finally following it to find her wedged between an outcropping of rock and the upturned, soil laden roots of a recent storm fall, finding her shaking and delirious with fever, wounds sluggishly bleeding, but somehow still alive.
 

~~~

 
Later, that evening, after Dean had said goodbye to Tom in the morgue and held silent vigil by Sean and Nell’s bedsides, he sat down next to Sam in the hospital cafeteria.
 
Sam looked up from the plate of slightly gelatinous macaroni and cheese he was absentmindedly picking at and passed a plate of hamburger and fries to Dean.
 
“Thanks,” Dean said a little uncertainly, as if he worried maybe Sam was still angry at him. 
 
After all, they still hadn’t really talked, and Sam was reeling from the new information about his brother, uncertain of how this border-crossing, community protector Dean fit in with the no-chick-flick-moments, all-American, road tripping image he had of his brother. “No problem,” Sam said at last.
 
“I’m sorry,” Dean tried, looking mournfully at his burger, but seeming almost afraid to eat it. “I should have told you where we were going. This is my responsibility, not yours, Sam, and I—” Dean trailed off.
 
“I was just surprised,” Sam admitted. 
 
Dean looked up from his plate, eyes finally meeting Sam’s.
 
“I didn’t know you ever left the country. You never seemed like the traveling type to me,” Sam said with a shrug. “And I didn’t expect you to have friends, not after how you reacted to meeting Becky…”
 
“It’s not like the supernatural fuglies out there give a shit which side of the border you’re on Sam,” Dean said softly. “People were dying. I could save them, and I met some other hunters in the process and stayed in touch. That’s what the gig’s about, helping people. Making it so some other family doesn’t have to go through what we went through.  I don’t care if they live in Vancouver or California or Timbuktu—” he broke off, contemplating, “ok, maybe not Timbuktu, ‘cause I think I’d have to fly to get to Africa.”
 
Sam’s jaw dropped a little.
 
“Geez, don’t act so surprised Sam, I do know some geography. Think, who used to help you with your homework,” Dean shot back, sounding a little hurt and annoyed.
 
“Sorry,” Sam said, ashamed. It was true.  When had he started thinking so lowly of his brother? It’s because Dean always does what Dad wants, and Dad was never all that keen on education. “I just, well… Dad never went on hunts outside the US, so…”
 
“Well, I’m not Dad, Sam,” Dean shot back. “When are you going to realize that,” he shook his head. “Besides, Dad used to pick up hunts that took him to Mexico and Canada… he just stopped ‘cause it was hard to take kids across the border without people asking questions, and there was plenty of evil in the good ol’ US of A.” Dean’s eyes narrowed. “You just didn’t think we were, what, cultured enough to travel or something?”
 
Sam blanched, flinched at the words.
 
“You did. Thanks Sam, ‘s great to know how highly you think of me,” Dean said bitterly, jamming a big bite of his burger into his mouth and chewing loudly.
 
“It’s not that… it’s just…” Sam sighed, trying to process the emotions and revelations of the last twenty-four hours, putting his own feelings about traveling and seeing the world and leaving his mark in perspective. He tried again, “Somewhere along the way, I started thinking that hunters weren’t real people. We never stayed put long enough to put down roots, make an impact. I started feeling like we were drifting through life like ghosts. I mean, before I went to Stanford, aside from you and Dad and Pastor Jim and Bobby and a handful of other hunters, I don’t know if anyone really knew I existed. And I started feeling like going places, seeing the world, that was one way to show you were real, to leave your mark.”
 
Sam paused, and Dean kept on eating, but slower now; it was clear he was listening; thinking about what Sam was saying. 
 
“I hadn’t realized how much what we do matters, how—there’s real people who are alive because of us, and sometimes they even know who we are, and are genuinely grateful. You taught me that today, Dean. You left your mark up here, and you found people that mattered and you helped them, and… It was just a side of you I didn’t get to see. Now I know,” Sam added softly, lowering his eyes and returning to eating.
 
“Do you wanna…” Dean started, voice uncertain, trailing off.
 
“Yeah?”
 
“If you want, maybe we can stay a few days, make sure Sean and Nell are gonna pull through, and maybe I could show you around the city?” Dean said uncertainly.
 
Sam smiled. “Sure Dean, I’d love that.”
 
Dean met his eyes, and Sam saw the forgiveness there.
 
“I’d love it if you told me about some of the other hunts you did up here too,” Sam admitted.
 
Dean’s face lit up in a huge grin, the first real smile Sam had seen since that harried phone call from Caleb. Dean reached out and smacked him playfully on the shoulder. “Well eat up, Sammy, ‘cause we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
heather03nmg
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
I always enjoy your fic and I get excited whenever I see a new posting from you. Well written, well plotted, well done. Lovely as usual.
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks very much! I am glad you enjoy my fic, and that you liked this one in particular! :) This started as a comment fic and kind of got away from me there. :)

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! :)
roque_clasique
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
OH this was fantastic! I loved the descriptions of Sam's travels, love the image of him sipping grappa in Italy and splashing in the surf of Cancun -- but even more I love the little friend group you built up for Dean over the border. Because four years IS a long time, and Dean was bound to have changed just as much as Sam.

Beautifully done, exactly what I wanted!!

Thank you so much for writing this, darling!!!!! *smish*
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
Yay!! *does happy dance*

I am so gladyou liked it. I was worried the plot got away from me there since once I started typing, the story took on a mind of its own.

Glad you liked Dean's group of friends!! I didn't want to give them short shrift, so I am glad they came across well.

I've often felt like we've learned far too little about what exactly Dean and John were up to (Dean especially) during those four years. If we know Dean was hunting by his own at least some of the time, I'd like to think he was actually building his own place in the world, and I hate to think it would be completely lonely. Sure, Dean eschew's friends of the "normal person" variety, but he seems to be ok with keeping ties to other hunters, so why not? :)

Oh I am so, so happy that you liked this!! Happy birthday again, and thanks for all the wonderful prompts!! :)
isaacsapphire
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:17 am (UTC)
I concur on Dean being cool with being friends with hunters; he *was* all but falling all over Gordon (in a probably Platonic way) when they first met. Of course, if your entire life is shaped around a huge secret, what interactions can there be with normal people? One night stands are about the only sort of "normal" relationship that Dean *can* have because there is so little information exchanged.
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:29 am (UTC)
Yup, yup. *nods* Dean definitely had lots of contacts in the hunting world, and even some friends. Alas, because of the time period in which Supernatural is set, we don't get to see many of those. People with whom Dean probably was friends, like Caleb and Paster Jim, got killed early on so we didn't get to see much interaction with them. Gordon (who Dean definitely was falling all over (although whether it was entirely platonic or not, I don't think even Dean knew) turned out to be world-class sociopath, and then circumstance led Dean and Sam into an ever-narrowing world until they weren't really able to maintain meaningful relationships with any humans other than each other and Bobby. I just wish we'd gotten to see more of Dean's life before the apocalypse took over.

And yes, when your entire life revolves around a secret, you have very few options for normal interaction. You can construct major, long-term relationships around a lie or omission, like Sam, or you can opt for short, tansient contacts that have the benefit of being honest because there're no expectations, like Dean.

Hope you enjoyed the fic! :)
feathertofly
Jan. 11th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)
Aw man, this is gorgeous. I don't usually read gen fic, but the prompt sounded really interesting and I'm so glad I did read it! This was complex and sweet and so touching... I really enjoyed it. ♥
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:08 am (UTC)
*blushes* Oh, thank you! The prompt intrigued me too, and this is where it led. Thrilled that you enjoyed it!

Thanks for reading and commenting ! :)
arliss
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:57 am (UTC)
I like this a lot. I'm always pleased when one brother learns something surprising about the other, and I love a good case fic. Two in one!
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:03 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks! I'm rather fond of the brothers learning about each other too... especially after four years spent apart, it seems like they would have had an awful lot to learn/relearn.

Glad you liked this as a casefic; the focus was more on the discovery of their travels, so it's good to know that even in the background the case came through too.

Thanks very much for reading and commenting!! :)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
wow. me and the human found this really fascinating, the way you wove cannon and the prompt together.

these are me and my human's favorite pieces, just cuz they are so very very Sammy from the first season:

"Still, all things considered, when Sam looked at the stamp on his passport, still wet and shiny as it slowly dried and soaked into the page, he’d felt like the journey had made an indelible mark on his soul, soaking in and a little fuzzy around the edges—like the ink on the passport—but forever there. "

"Somewhere in there, Sam had realized that his fascination with being a real person wasn’t really about possessions or desires or stereotypes of normal, but more about leaving a mark on the world that others could see, touch, feel, know about. Otherwise, Sam felt as invisible and insubstantial and secret as the ghosts his father and brother hunted—a story a few people knew about and shared, but no one would really talk about, and no proof to show he existed."

good, good stuff!
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
Calamitycrow, is that you? This came in as annon, but I'm guessing...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I am glad you enjoyed! :)
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I forgot to add, that first line you quoted is my favorite line in the whole story. :) And the second set of lines, that's the part that made the whole story come together for me. *grin*
snowphilosophy
Jan. 11th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
That was really gorgeous. I really like the idea of Dean having people to call fiends and I loved the way that relationship was portrayed here.
paleogymnast
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I like the idea of Dean having friends too, and I figure if it's hunters, he'd take the chance. So glad you liked how Dean's relationship with his friends was portrayed. I didn't give them a lot of "screen" time, so I'm relieved to know that came through.
engel82
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
You know I loved this!
I just adored how you showed them learning to be around each other again (with Sam asking about the hunts in the end, obviously pleasing Dean), and how much can happen in four years.

As much as I adore you RPS, you do SPN like no other ♥ It just makes me sad to know where the boys have gone since then... Ooh boys... *sigh*



Edited at 2010-01-11 07:47 pm (UTC)
paleogymnast
Jan. 12th, 2010 07:38 am (UTC)
Aw, Engel, thank you for the Beta, and I'm really happy you liked this.

And really? You think my SPN is especially, special? *speechless* Wow! Thanks. I was really, really worried about this fic, that it wouldn't really hold together, 'cause in a lot of ways it's a bunch of smaller stories interspersed and strung together, but I tried to find a narrative thread that would work, and it sounds like I might have succeeded.

Oh, and you know I do have 2 dean h/c fics in the works and the sequel to Hunters of the Dark Side. :D So, more SPN fic coming your way soon!! :)

And *sniff* I'm with you on where the boys are now. But like you said, four years is a looooooong time. The boys are now four years past the events of this 'fic, and their lives have changed at least as much as as they changed in the time Sam was at Stanford.

I'm really glad this worked, and very happy you liked it. And especially grateful for the beta, since yeah, I was kind of insistent and demanding, and you beta'd it so dang fast!! :D *hugs* *treasures your comment*
labseraph
Jan. 12th, 2010 10:52 am (UTC)
Love how well you wove the bitter with the sweet here so that the angst is rightly balanced.

Lovely.
paleogymnast
Jan. 12th, 2010 11:04 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I was striving for balanced in a bunch of ways (angst and happiness, past and present, Sam's travels and Dean's travels, etc.), so I am happy to hear that the balance worked.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! :)
4422shini
Jan. 13th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
My, oh my. I smell a fellow Vancouverite!
Great story. I really liked how Sam's perspective of events revealed subtle things about Dean's past.
paleogymnast
Jan. 14th, 2010 04:47 am (UTC)
Actually, I'm a displaced Seattelite stuck in San Francisco who happens to love Vancouver and go there every chance I get. But I'm really glad you enjoyed this!! :)

Writing Sam can be very tricky for me, so I am thrilled to hear that his perspective worked out in this fic!

Thank ou so much for reading and commenting!! :D
a_phoenixdragon
Jan. 30th, 2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
Beautiful.....this was a perfect brother/case fic, sweetie! Thank you for sharing it!!

*HUGS*
paleogymnast
Jan. 30th, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! Glad you liked it so much! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!! :)
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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