Stark Raving Mad
K Hanna Korossy
If Sam hadn't been looking at his brother at that exact moment, he might've missed it. And lost everything.
They'd been finishing a leisurely breakfast of bagels and coffee over the latest news, Dean flipping through the local paper, Sam browsing online. Carefully not talking about their failed attempt the night before to kill Amara, but that was fine with Sam; he knew Dean still had some stuff to work through. Sam could wait. He'd seen his brother overcome Amara's weird hold on him and attempt to stab her, and that had been surprisingly reassuring in itself, even if Dean hadn't succeeded.
So after an unusually good night of sleep and an even better breakfast from an actual bakery one block over, Sam was feeling decent. Good enough that he glanced up, mouth opening to tell Dean about the ridiculous dog video he'd just watched.
His mouth stayed open, but the words evaporated.
Dean was…wrong. He was sitting in the chair, newspaper held loosely in his hands, but his eyes were vacant. Not just lost in thought: empty. His face was completely slack.
For a half-second, Sam wondered if this was Amara's influence again. But no, she'd never made Dean shut down like that. Before Sam could say something or start frantically flipping through his mental Rolodex of the Weird to figure out what was happening, Dean blinked. But his eyes remained blank as he set the paper down and reached behind him.
His hand reappeared holding his Colt.
Sam was already moving, even as he registered that Dean wasn't turning the gun on him, or any invisible threat in the room. Instead, the long barrel swung unerringly toward his own chin.
"Dean!" Sam finally barked, even as he snatched the Colt out of his brother's abnormally lax grip before it could finish aiming. "What the—?"
He didn't even have time to finish the question, because Dean was on the move again. Not to reclaim his gun, or with any reaction to Sam's disarmament or distress. No, Dean had jumped to his feet and was headed for the door with a purpose his expressionless face didn't match. Before Sam could recover from the near miss, his brother already had the door open and was outside.
Sam cursed, dropping the Colt and bolting after him.
The motel they were staying at was on the main road through town, not highway-busy but busy enough, especially with morning traffic.
Sam wasn't even surprised at that point to see Dean about to stride right out into the middle of it.
Even though Dean had a dozen feet on him and that placid determination to kill himself, Sam had the longer legs and the motivation. Dean was no match for his desperate brother. One narrow sidewalk away from zooming cars, Sam tackled him and brought him down. Hard.
Maybe too hard. Dean's head cracked against the cement, and he went limp.
Panting now in the utter panic of the minute, Sam jerked up onto his knees and scrambled for a pulse.
Slow, steady, and strong, like Dean wasn't lying bloody and still on the sidewalk, just short of the busy road he'd almost walked out into.
Sam took a breath and let it out unsteadily. Crap. Just… He noticed a few people on the street who were staring wide-eyed at the two of them. Crap. Sam pasted on a sickly smile and gave a ridiculous wave. "He's m'brother. He's, uh, off his meds. PTSD. He'll be okay."
It was an excuse they'd used before. Dean gave off a military vibe, and if Sam pulled his shoulders back and straightened his spine, he did, too. He used those shoulders now to roll his brother's deadweight up off the sidewalk where he'd nearly made his last stand, and lug him back to their motel room in a fireman's carry.
So Dean was on the bed, unconscious, temple still bleeding sluggishly. Safe for the moment, but… Sam ran a hand through his hair as he stood at the foot of the bed and stared at the unconscious man. What now? And, what the Hell?
He paused. Literally? It'd been years since Dean had really struggled with his Hell memories, at least that Sam knew of. The mind had a way of softening traumatic memory in order to survive. Sam himself could only remember that Hell had been BAD unless he really tried to focus on the details, and even then he couldn't recall the full horror. Physical bodies and brains weren't meant to carry around that level of terror and agony.
Besides, what would have set it off? Not one of the hundred hunts since then where they'd burned bodies and witnessed terrible deaths and endured all kinds of mind games. Not the Mark, freshly off Dean's arm but still giving him nightmares. Could it be some sort of echo from that, a parting gift? Or Amara? But no, she didn't want Dean dead…
Dean turned his head an inch, breathing out a moan without waking.
"Right. Right. Bleeding first." Sam unglued himself from the floor and went to grab their kit. Dean always fetched it from the car before a hunt, just in case. It was ironic that they'd made it through storming Crowley's keep without serious injury, only to have Sam slam his brother's head against the ground. Of course, if he hadn't…
Hands shaking, he dug out the disinfectant, gauze, and tape, and grabbed the chair he'd been peacefully sitting in just minutes before.
Dean's injury was a scrape rather than a cut, albeit bad enough that it looked like road rash. Sam grimaced as he caught sight of a piece of gravel in the torn skin, and added tweezers to his pile. "'Least you won't need stitches," he muttered to his insensate brother. For all Dean's talk about girls loving scars, he never meant his face. That was one thing they'd always splurged on quality medical care for, or, later, angelic healing. Still, even a week of puffy, discolored skin would hurt Dean's game, both with women and with the clerks, cops, victims, and everyone else he charmed on hunts.
Sam huffed a laugh as he cleaned. "Right, because any of that matters when you tried to kill yourself." He swallowed. "Twice."
He'd have to check for hex bags when he was done, although they hadn't crossed paths with a witch in a long time, and why now? They hadn't been talking about anything; Sam had a vague memory that their last exchange had been a disagreement about bagel toppings. (Cinnamon-sugar cream cheese? Seriously?) They'd gotten no calls that morning, Dean hadn't mentioned anything unusual about his bagel run. There was nothing.
Except…the newspaper. Sam glanced over his shoulder at the loose pile that was right where Dean had left it when he'd decided he'd rather kill himself than keep reading. Was there something in there? Something that hadn't sent the rest of town reaching for the rat poison? At least that Sam was aware of…
Dean moaned again, hands bunching in the sheets as he fought for wakefulness. His nose twitched when Sam pressed on the last strip of tape and then just placed his hand on Dean's shoulder. Reassurance if he was waking as himself. Restraint if he wasn't.
Dean's eyes cracked open, heavy lidded. From what Sam could see, his gaze was unfocused, murky with pain, but aware, full of the presence that had been so absent before.
"I'm here, man." He curled his fingers around the ball of Dean's shoulder. "Everything's…fine."
Dean raised an unsteady hand to his head, wincing as he touched the bandage. "Wha' happened?"
"You, uh…" Sam licked his lips, holding on to Dean with both hands now. "You tell me."
"Wha'?" Dean blinked up at him, obviously bewildered. "Uh, breakfast? Bagels, right?" He grimaced as he curled a little into the pain. "Didn' need t'punch me abou' th' cream cheese, dude—you win."
"What? No, I—" He saw Dean's pained smirk and his shoulders sagged. "You don't remember drawing your gun? Or-or going outside?"
Dean dropped the humor, dropped into hunting mode, eyes clearing as he surveyed the room. "Something come after us? You okay?"
"No, no, that's not…" Sam said helplessly. He was doing this all wrong, but clearly whatever had affected Dean was gone, for the moment anyway. He risked letting go long enough to jump to his feet and grab the paper from the table. "You were reading this, and something…"
He scanned the paper, still open to the pages Dean had been on. A political cartoon about the local sheriff. A department store sale ad. Articles on a new county law, a drug bust, a large charity donation. He flicked between the articles pictures, searching for familiar names, faces…
…and found one. One that immediately tripped every one of Sam's hunter instincts.
He looked at his brother, who was propped unsteadily on his elbows now, staring back at him with concussed eyes. "I think I know what happened," Sam said slowly.
"Good, you can explain it t'me," Dean muttered, slowly easing back flat with several hitches of breath. "'M I gonna need my gun?"
"Not yet," Sam said, and looked at the picture again. He felt nothing but anger. So, it only affected Dean.
And that just cranked his rage even higher.
He put Dean off with the promise of no immediate danger, and of not doing anything until his brother rejoined him. Only then did Dean acquiesce to taking a handful of pain pills and getting some sleep.
Meanwhile, Sam cleaned the room, ordered in soup and bread and ginger ale for when Dean awoke, checked in with Cas, who worryingly still wasn't answering. And did some research on spells and a certain Indiana businessman who'd made a large contribution to an art society.
Close to four, Dean roused with a groan, rolled over, and threw up into the trashcan Sam had left beside his bed for just that.
Sam waited until his brother lay half off the bed, spitting miserably, before approaching with a bottle of water and tissues. He whisked away the can with wrinkled nose before it made either of them want to hurl some more, and returned to find Dean lying pale and frowning on the bed with his eyes closed.
"Yeah," Sam sympathized as he eased down onto the edge of a bed. He knew too well what a concussion felt like.
"D'you tell me what happened?" Dean opened one eye to squint at him.
"Y'gonna tell me now?"
"You know you're gonna forget it in five minutes, right?"
Dean opened both eyes—halfway—to glare at him.
"Okay, okay." Sam put his hands up. "Uh. I knocked you down and you hit your head."
Dean only cocked a curious eyebrow. "Dude, if you don't like my bagel choices…just say so." He swallowed hard at the mention of food.
And…figured he would make the same joke he had before, but somehow it gave Sam a pang. "No, I—Dean, I wouldn't."
His brother gave him a duh look. "So, d'you tell me why?"
"Better not be abou' the cream cheese."
Sam sighed, made a face. "You tried to kill yourself."
Dean blinked, turned toward him fractionally. "What? M'head's messed up—thought you said—"
"—you tried to kill yourself. First with your gun, then suicide by car."
Dean's face got pinched, the way it did when he focused on something through the hurt. "I didn'—"
"You did. But I think I know why." Sam put a hand on his shoulder again, just in case. "You remember Don Stark?"
Dean's eyes didn't so much as flicker, his face still lined with thought and pain. "Wha'? Who? Wait—the witch?"
The witch. They'd crossed paths with many, but Stark was one of the ones that got away. One of the few stronger than the Leviathan. The one powerful enough to bring Sarah back from the dead. One Sam wasn't forgetting anytime soon.
Dean's confusion deepened. "What abou' him?"
He could've shown Dean the picture in the paper, confirmed his theory. But considering he didn't know how to snap Dean out of his self-destructive fugue without causing him physical damage, Sam wasn't about to take the risk. His theory made sense, darn it. "I think he put a whammy on you."
"Son'f'a'bish." Dean's eyes were drooping, and Sam hadn't even fed him. Even as his brother struggled to stay awake and make sense of what Sam was saying, Sam grabbed a bottle of water and tilted it to Dean's mouth. Offered some meds after, then more water. By the time Dean sank back into the bedding, his face had smoothed out some.
"S'not 'bout the cream cheese, right?" he murmured, eyes shutting despite himself.
Sam couldn't help smiling, just a little. "I'll tell you later."
He'd promised Dean he'd wait on him before acting, but Sam figured this was pretty safe. He hadn't reacted to Stark's picture, after all, and he'd talked to the witch just a few years before, after Sarah, after Crowley's little effort to blackmail the Winchesters by killing off people they'd saved. The King of Hell's mistake had been making Stark's beloved little assistant one of his victims.
Sam gripped his phone more tightly. "Don Stark," he said, not asking.
There was a pause then, just as flatly, "Winchester."
"My brother just tried to kill himself. You know anything about that?"
Another pause, then a sigh over the line. "The article."
Sam's jaw firmed at the affirmation. "You put a spell on him."
"Both of you, actually." Even as Sam drew back, confused, Stark continued. "Seen my beautiful wife lately, by any chance?"
The last piece fell into place: one Stark for each of them. Sam nodded tightly. "So you just made sure we wouldn't come after you again. You planted a little time bomb spell: if we saw you again, we'd kill ourselves."
"Not an easy trick, never is when you have to overcome that much will, but worth the effort, don't you think?"
"Take it off," Sam ground out.
"Get rid of my insurance policy? And why would I do that?"
"Because since we met you two, we've eradicated the Leviathan, killed a Knight of Hell, found the Book of the Dead, and started using witch-killing bullets." Sam glanced at his sleeping brother and straightened his shoulders. "Because you don't want us coming after you two now."
"And…" This was a little harder to say. "Because we owe you. Sort of. For the Leviathan you stopped, and for Sarah. We weren't gonna come after you again, not unless you kill more people. Not until this."
Another few beats. Then, "Fine. It's done."
Sam's breath caught. "Just like that?"
"I can put it back if you—"
"No, no, I'm just… Thank you. And if you're lying to me, you're dead."
Stark actually chuckled at that. "Good-bye, Winchester. For the last time, I trust, or a spell will be the least of your worries."
Mutually assured destruction: always a good basis for a peace treaty. Sam took a deep breath and put his phone away.
They'd still have to test it. The newspaper, once Dean was awake and up to it. And Sam would dig up a picture of Maggie Stark for himself. A controlled test. If they hadn't been together this time…
Suddenly exhausted, Sam stumbled around to his bed and flopped down. They'd survived so much, it was staggering to think about. And most of it just because they'd been together. They would get through Amara's influence over Dean the same way.
Sam felt bad about Amara being free; he truly did. But he would never regret what he'd done to save Dean from the Mark. For the world's sake, yes, absolutely. They'd saved countless lives by taking down Abaddon and Cain. But for Sam himself, too.
In the other bed, Dean mumbled something about "cream cheese" before subsiding back into sleep.
Sam smiled, and followed him under.