Title: Perchance to Dream
Spoilers: "Nightmare" (very vague)
Summary: Dean helps Sam sleep, with unexpected consequences.
Author's notes: My first (only?) multi-chapter. Beta'd by the peerless Faye, without whom it couldn't have been written. As always, Faye, the ping is for you.
Disclaimer: The mistakes are the only things I can truly call my own.
Perchance to DreamPart I: To Sleep
The ache had been for building for days, finally reaching an intensity that made Sam want to hit something – hard and repeatedly. He leaned his forehead against the window. The pressure did little to ease the pain but the coolness cleared his head a little, and for that, he was grateful.
He wasn't grateful for the rain, though. It pelted the windshield of the Impala with a quick staccato rhythm. The metronomic pace of the wiper blades beat into his consciousness: back and forth, back and forth, reverberating deep within him until his head seemed to throb in tandem. He hated to add his voice to the growing din within the confined space, but he knew that another minute like this would surely drive him insane.
"Can you turn them off?"
Startled, Dean reached out to switch off the radio.
Sam sighed. Without opening his eyes, he carefully turned, letting his head roll against the seat back.
"I meant them." He gestured weakly to the windshield.
Dean gave him a sharp glance. "That bad?"
Dean heard the answer in Sam's silence and let out a sigh of his own. "We just passed a sign for Watertown. We'll be there in less than ten."
Sam merely nodded, still not opening his eyes. He started counting without realizing it - one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand - like he had as a child when he wanted to make time go faster. He found himself unconsciously matching the tempo of the wiper blades Dean had mercifully halted, the rain having tapered off to a light drizzle. Frustrated, he squinted his eyes and turned the radio back on.
Dean spent the final minutes before they reached the motel debating with himself. Sam's normal dream and wake cycle was insomnia-inducing enough, but his steadily worsening headaches had created a whole new level of sleeplessness. As Sam's newfound ESP or visions or whatever the hell they were had started to take root, they'd exerted an ever-increasing physical toll.
In the beginning, Sam had risen to the new challenge without complaint, sacrificing normal sleep (And there's that damned word again, Dean thought. Normal.) in the hopes that whatever he saw in his nightmares might help them on their next hunt. It wasn't unusual for his dreams to wake him several times a night, and Sam became adept at functioning on fewer and fewer hours of true rest.
The headaches, though – they weren't as easy to work around. The first time Sam had had a vision while awake, the aftermath had been harsh. He'd been hit with a sudden, blinding migraine that had all but incapacitated him. Pain relievers had dulled the intensity a little, but it had still taken nearly two days for Sam to recover. Dean had felt helpless, facing an enemy for which he had no weapon or incantation. Sam, however, had taken the pain in stride. Which had made Dean feel even worse.
The visions and nightmares created two separate patterns. The first had been established when the visions had easily identifiable sources. They knew what they were up against and acted accordingly: find the evil, vanquish, exorcise or immolate as needed, let Sam lay low for a few days afterward to regain his strength, and move on. But when they didn't know – when Sam couldn't pinpoint the direction or location, when the identity of the victims or demons couldn't be easily established – that's when the headaches took over. Lasting, serious headaches that would let Sam stay upright and mobile but would not let him sleep, and barely let him keep food in. The headaches lasted until they could figure out the puzzle.
It was incentive – in all the wrong ways, but incentive nonetheless – to be ferocious researchers and relentless interrogators, all their energy focused on finding a path they could follow and a clear enemy to fight. Usually, it worked. But this time, Sam's dream remained vague and ephemeral, and they were no closer to finding a source than they had been when he had first envisioned it, nearly a week before. In that time, the pressure in Sam's head had shown no signs of abating. Knowing that his brother had now spent nearly four days at the mercy of his pain with absolutely no sleep had made Dean genuinely concerned for his brother's health – and sanity. He had suggested sleeping pills, but Sam had refused, believing they would stifle his ability to dream. And without a more focused vision, they would still be in the dark.
Dean had stopped asking about the pills, but he hadn't stopped thinking about them. He had a prescription in his bag – one that had actually been his father's. He had come to the decision that tonight was the night. Vision or no vision, the lack of sleep was killing Sam, one painful inch at a time. At the very least, he was in no condition to face whatever monster might be waiting up the road for them. It was time to act.
The Impala slowed and turned. They bounced over a few shallow potholes before Dean brought them to a stop.
"I'll get the room. You need anything?"
At Sam's negative, Dean was out the door.
Minutes later, they were inside another generic motel room. Sam hunched in a chair at the small table, head propped on the heel of his hand.
He could feel the pain stretching beneath his skull, pushing for escape and scraping sharp nails over fragile nerve endings. He had a brief, twisted fantasy where he took the curved knife his father had given him for his thirteenth birthday and cut his own head open, letting the pressure go, once and for all. If he'd believed for a minute that it could work, it might have been more than a fantasy.
He heard Dean throw their bags on the floor and the subtle ping of worn springs as he sat on one of the beds. "This is no good, Sam. You've got to get some sleep."
Sam didn't know how to respond. It wasn't like he hadn't been trying. "You cry and cry and try to sleep. But sleep won't come, no matter what you do . . ." The words of the country heartbreak song took on a more ominous meaning as they echoed through his brain in minor chords.
"Could you get me the ibuprofen?"
There was a pause, and then he could hear Dean unzip one of the bags and shake a small plastic canister.
"Here." Dean handed him four white capsules and a bottle of water. "Take a shower and then you're going to lie down for a while."
Sam swallowed the pills and decided not to argue. Dean had that tone, the one Sam had learned better than to push against, and he didn't have the energy to challenge that lesson tonight. He made himself stand, waited for the brief vertigo to pass, and walked into the bathroom.
Dean released the breath he'd been holding when he heard the shower start. He already felt guilty about what he had done, but he still thought it was the right choice. And if it had the desired effect, he'd live with the guilt and Sam's certain (and justifiable) anger. Means and ends, he thought. That's all this is. It didn't make him feel better, but Dean had made a decision and he'd live with it. It was the only way he knew how to operate.
The hot water and steam didn't prove to be quite the miracle Sam had hoped they would be. His head hurt as much as it had in the car, but he was detached from it, almost as though his head was a separate entity from his body. The bathroom was foggy and he found it a little hard to focus in the thick air. He sat down heavily on the closed toilet seat and took a deep breath. His head fell back and he suddenly realized he was looking at the ceiling. He brought his head down fast and wave of dizziness rolled over him.
He took another deep breath and reached for his clothes. His hands felt foreign as they held the cotton of his shirt and sweats. He looked at them stupidly for a moment, wondering where they had come from. Hands, he tested, surprised to hear the word out loud. He shook his head, trying to clear it, and made himself go through the motions of pulling clothes on over uncooperative limbs.
He intended to stand, but found himself sinking slowly to the floor. His head felt weightless now – an untethered balloon. He let it float away.
Dean heard a thud as Sam fell against the bathroom door. He'd been waiting for some sort of a sign, and already had his hand on the doorknob.
"Sam? You ok in there?"
There was no response, and Dean used his shoulder to carefully slide the unyielding door open. Sam was still propped against it, his head lolled to the side.
"Hey, Sammy." Dean squeezed through the door with care before kneeling next to his brother. He grasped Sam's chin and gently turned it so he could see his eyes. The pupils were huge and unfocused. Sam blinked slowly and unevenly.
"Hey, Dean. Couldjahelmeup?"
Dean chuckled. "Yeah, I'll help you up." He reached a firm arm under Sam's shoulders and around his waist, hauling him to a standing position.
They stumbled more than walked to the bed, Sam's long legs tangling with each other and with Dean's. Dean managed not to drop him until he was sure he'd hit the mattress. Sam tried to sit up, but Dean pressed, a firm hand on his shoulder. "Lay down, Sam."
Sam mumbled something unintelligible and nodded, his head hitting the pillow before he stopped. His eyes closed and he was still.
Dean pulled the covers up, wrapping them around his sleeping brother in a way he hadn't done since they were kids. He laid a hand briefly on Sam's forehead, smoothing out the deep lines. No dreams tonight, he thought firmly, willing the words true.
He watched Sam a moment longer, satisfying himself that his brother was truly asleep. Then he set about laying out the guns, anticipating a solid hour of cleaning and reloading.
As he turned away, he missed Sam's sudden frown and his hands clenching hands where they lay near his pillow.