Characters: Sam, Dean, Bobby, John
Rating: PG13 (for language)
Spoilers: Up until 2x02
Summary: The bracelets were for protection and unity, Sam always remembered that.
Notes/Warnings: My little story exploring why the boys wear bracelets. This came about because of a discussion I had with mara_snh about bracelets, circles, and family relationships. Posting this first on my journal, while I catch any editing that I missed the first time through.
Their first bracelets were made of thin rope. Bobby had pulled a spool of it out from a kitchen drawer and cut them each two lengths. He told them, voice pointed and directed at John, that if they were going to insist on running half-cocked into God-knows-what together, they'd need all the protection they could get. Sam remembers his Dad hadn't been to happy at the not-so-veiled accusation, even though he was sporting a rather nasty black-eye and Dean was cradling his newly bandaged left arm. Bobby copied out the incantation for them in his rough script, and laid it out on the table in front of John.
"The circle is a powerful symbol of protection, boys" Bobby explained when both Sam and Dean leaned curiously over the piece of paper, both with an identical skeptical eyebrow-raise. "It's a symbol of unity too."
Sam remembers how Dean nodded and sat back in his chair, as if that settled the matter. Sam looked back down over the strange words again, risked a glance at his father, who was still glaring at Bobby, and then looked back over to Dean, who sat patiently waiting for Dad's next order. Dean rolled his eyes at Sam in a manner that seemed to say "Sit down, idiot" so Sam sat back in his chair as well.
John started, tying one of the smaller pieces of rope around Dean's wrist, reading the incantation aloud, and then pushing the paper in front of Dean so that he could say the response part. Then John repeated the process with Sam. The strange words felt weird in Sam's mouth, but he recited them as Dean had. Then it was Dean's turn to tie the bracelets, and so Sam was the first Winchester to have two identical rope bracelets around his wrist. One clumsily tied by his father's huge fingers, and the other tied a little too tightly by Dean's smaller fingers. Then it was Sam's turn, and they all had two bracelets.
Of course, rope bracelets don't last forever. So Bobby folded up the copy of the incantation and pinned it with a paperclip to one of the first pages of John's journal, giving him another pointed look while he did it. From then on, whenever their bracelets wore through and fell off, which was usually once a year for the boys and more often for their Dad, they would try to take time before their next hunt to replace it. Sometimes the two bracelets were slightly different and sometimes they were identical to each other; but even when they looked exactly the same, Sam could tell which one had been tied by Dean and which had been tied by his Dad. He wondered if Dean could feel the difference too, but he never asked.
The bracelets were for protection and unity, Sam always remembered that.
"IF YOU GO, YOU STAY GONE! YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!" John yelled, and Sam's breath left him for a minute. He could see Dean standing off to the side between them, eyes-wide and panicked, and Sam didn't know what he wanted Dean to say, but he wanted him to say something...but he just stood there. He always fuckin' just stood there. Always on Dad's side, since Sam could remember, or at least not on Sam's.
"FINE!" Sam yelled back, "I'M FUCKIN' OUT OF HERE!"
His bag was already packed, of course. His bag was always packed those days, and Sam knew deep down that it wasn't just because they moved around so much. He slung it over his shoulder and didn't look over at Dean. This had already gone worse than he had expected it to. And he couldn't believe - couldn't fuckin' believe - that John was throwing him out...most fathers would have been proud, most fathers would have been happy...most fathers wouldn't disown their kid for wanting to have a good life instead of getting killed on some goddamn, never-ending, pointless quest for revenge.
Sam was never quite sure what made him do it, maybe it was just seeing the knife on the table by the door, but as soon as Sam had the door open and the cold night air swirled around him, he had made the decision. He picked up the knife, and looked directly at John as he cut off both bracelets with one flick of the wrist. Sam didn't have to look at Dean to see him tense, but John's only response was a jaw clench and a snarl, and that was the last image Sam had of his father as he slammed the door behind him.
It was a two hour walk to the bus station. Sam's righteous anger carried him for the first forty-five minutes or so, and then he just tried not to think. He tried to ignore the way it seemed harder to breathe; tried to ignore the way his heart was pounding; the way the night seemed so much darker; the foreign feeling of suddenly being alone in the world...it wouldn't last long, he told himself, he'd be normal now, he'd fit in, he'd make new friends...he didn't need Dean...it was just the cold making his eyes water.
A car pulled over behind him, but it wasn't the Impala. Sam would have recognized its engine a mile away. He turned and squinted into the headlights, and wondered if maybe someone was trying to offer him a ride, but the headlights were so bright he couldn't see past them. He completely missed the driver's door opening and a dark shape running at him full tilt out of the darkness.
Sam hit the ground as the body tackled him. He swore and tried to elbow the guy off. Dust from the road stuck to his wet cheeks, as the guy pinned him down, wrenching his arm up behind his back, and pinning his other arm to his side with a well placed knee. Sam panicked. His breath coming out in short puffs as he gave a futile struggle.
"Fuck you, Sam" the guy said in familiar voice.
"Dean?" Sam asked confused. Was Dean trying to drag him back? Sam's heart pounded. What were they going to do, chain him down? Fuck that!
Sam felt Dean getting something out of his pocket, the pressure on Sam's arm lightened slightly. Sam took the opportunity and tried to pull away, but Dean's grip tightened and a fresh bolt of pain shot up to Sam's shoulder.
"No." Dean said. Sam's eyes started to water and he honestly didn't know if it was from the pain or his desperate confusion.
Then he felt something slide around his wrist, and Dean started speaking...reading. Dean was reading an incantation. Sam tried to hold his breath, to hear the words over his heartbeat. He squeezed his eyes shut, in both an attempt to hear better, and as a response to the pain in his arm. He hoped Dean wouldn't notice the tears. Dean had already stopped reading though, and was shoving the piece of paper in front of Sam's face.
"Read your part!" Dean said gruffly, "You read your part!" and maybe if Sam hadn't been slightly terrified and face-down in the dirt, he would have noticed how Dean's voice shook.
Sam recognized the paper then, crumpled further since the last time he had seen it, as if Dean had driven out to find him with it clenched in his fist. Sam dutifully read Bobby's handwriting out loud, speaking the words half into the dirt of the road and half into the clear night sky. He felt the new bracelet tighten around his wrist as Dean completed the knot.
As he spoke the last words, Dean released his arm, but didn't get off of him. Sam lay still and tried to get his breathing under control, while Dean picked back up the paper, folded it with care, and slid it reverently into his pocket.
Then Dean's weight lifted and he gently helped Sam roll over and up into a sitting position.
"Dean..." Sam said, trying to look at him, wanting desperately to see him, but Dean was crouched in front of him silhouetted by the car headlights. He looked like some sort of black angel, surrounded by light like that, Sam thought.
"Don't you dare take that off. Ever. You hear me?" Dean ordered angrily, and all Sam could do was nod. Dean reached a hand out and wiped futilely at the dirt on Sam's face. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle, it reminded Sam of warmth on cold nights, "Promise me you'll look after yourself, Sammy."
"Dean..." Sam said, and he didn't know where he was going with it really. He didn't know what to follow the name up with, because they both knew that he couldn't go home now, they both knew that things had changed and they had changed forever.
But before Sam could say anything Dean was walking back to the strange car. Sam watched as the lights swung off him, as Dean spun the back wheels in the dirt in a sharp U-turn...and then Dean was gone.
Sam's vision swam with the imprint of the bright lights as he stood and started walking towards the bus station again. He was going to college and he knew he would be just fine: His arm was sore, his face was dirty, and around his wrist there was a durable leather band.
Four years later and Sam still had the single leather band tied around his wrist when Dean broke into his house and tackled him again in greeting. Sam wondered how Dean had managed to keep Sam's black bracelet secure around his own wrist for the past four years, but never asked.
A year later and Dean would just have one bracelet too. One bracelet to represent Sam, while his second bracelet burned along with a salted body on a funeral pyre.
In the end, Sam may have made a kind of peace with his father, but there was never time to re-tie bracelets. John had always gone through bracelets faster than they could tie them on anyway.