Warnings: Some swearing.
Sam's always been the one with the nightmares. So when Dean wakes with a shout in the middle of the night, pulling him out of a for-once dreamless slumber, Sam doesn't know what to do. He pretends he's still asleep, but watches while his brother untangles himself from his sweat-drenched sheets. Dean's hands shake and he swears quietly when he stumbles over the half unpacked duffle bag. He moves to support himself against the wall as if he can't walk, and Sam doesn't know what to make of that. He doesn't know why Dean keeps muttering to himself.
It isn't real. It isn't real. A soft sigh and a harsher whisper, calm the fuck down.
He doesn't turn the lights on, but Sam can hear the water running in the sink. If he turns his head just right, he can see Dean splashing water on his face, bracing himself against the counter and looking disgusted.
When he goes back to his bed, he trips over the duffle back again and nearly does a face-plant in the carpet. If Sam weren't so worried, he'd laugh, but Dean is oblivious and gets into his bed.
He doesn't lie down, just sits with his back against the headboard. Sam guesses he just needs a few minutes, and goes back to sleep, but when he wakes up, Dean is still sitting there and hasn't moved. He pretends he just woke up, and Sam doesn't know what to say, so he just nods and pretends he doesn't know any better.
Dean seems fine and Sam writes his brother's dream off as some kind of cosmic mistake. It's never happened before, not even when they were kids. He was always the strong one, and Sam doesn't see why this should have changed. And if Dean's a little tired, a little rough around the edges, well, that happens. Maybe it was the beers they had last night, something weird that his brother ate. It could be anything.
It doesn't occur to Sam that maybe that last job shook Dean up more than he's letting on, because he isn't abnormally quiet, not withdrawn, not like Sam after one of his nightmares. He laughs at his own stupid jokes just like he always does, eats a plate overflowing with food at the buffet where they stop for lunch. He's just Dean, he's fine, there's nothing wrong with him.
By the time they get back to the motel, Sam's completely forgotten about it and they both climb into bed and Sam goes to sleep.
Dean tries to stay awake. He does. He goes through Sam's bag and finds some battered old paperback -- Dune. He remembers there's a movie about it and he's heard that it sucked, but he's tired and he needs something to distract him from the fact that he knows he really needs to sleep, he's supposed to drive tomorrow at least half of the way to Nevada and acting fine all day was more exhausting than not sleeping. So he gets back into bed and opens the book, and Paul has just ridden a maker, a sandworm, when Dean finally falls asleep without meaning to.
No no no nononononono. Wake up, Sam, wake up. Oh god, no, ohgodohgodohgod, please, no. Dean jerks awake suddenly, the sheets soaked with sweat, the nightmare fading in front of his eyes as he stares into the darkness of their motel room. Sam is asleep, curled on his side, one arm bent under his head in place of the pillow. He looks peaceful. Dean tries to remember how breathe, untangles himself from his sheets and stumbles out of bed, not to the bathroom this time, but to the front door. He doesn't care that he's only wearing his boxers and a t-shirt, but he needs to feel the cool night hair on his sweaty skin. Relax, man. Relax.
He ends up sitting on the hood of the Impala, leaning back on the windshield. It's the perfect time of year so that the night air is neither too warm nor too cold, but there's still a residual heat that seeps from the car into his skin. He lets himself forget that he's half-naked outside of their motel room, just concentrates on breathing, on convincing himself that Sam is asleep and fine in that motel room. Come on, Dean, get a grip, he tells himself, tilting his head up to look at the night sky.
There's a little bit of light on the horizon. Dawn is coming soon. Dean doesn't know what time it is, he didn't bother looking at the clock before coming out here. He takes a deep, calming breath and closes his eyes, wills himself to stop shaking.
Sam wakes up to an empty motel room and Dean's tangled sheets. The bathroom is empty, the bags are just as they left them. There's no notes, no explanation, just the light of morning drifting through the small gap of the curtains. It's 6:30 AM and everything in the room except his brother's bed is undisturbed. "Dean?" he asks, but there's no answer. A cursory examination of the room reveals that he isn't there. His bed is cold.
He opens the front door to their room and shields his eyes against the sudden light, so much brighter out here than the small bit that made it into their dim room. Dean is sitting -- no, laying on top of the Impala, in his black boxers and grey t-shirt. The Impala is warm under the morning sun, and Dean is asleep.
Sam suddenly understands that the nightmare wasn't a one-time thing because Dean wouldn't wander out here to sleep on top of his car without some kind of reason. He doesn't know what to do. Let him sleep? Wake him up? The gas station has a view of motel parking lot, and he figures that if he's going to wake Dean from his rather interesting sleeping arrangements, he might as well do it with a peace offering of donuts and cheap coffee in hand.
Dean's still dead to the world when Sam comes back, although he's turned slightly on his side to shield his face from the light of the sun. "Dean," Sam says softly, touching his brother's shoulder, and with that small touch, his brother hazily opens his eyes and looks up. Sam holds the paper coffee cup out to him, and sitting up, Dean takes it wordlessly. "Morning, sunshine," he says with a humourless smile. "Why were you sleeping out here?"
Dean tries to flatten his hair with one hand, scooting over on the hood of the car to make room for Sam and his donuts. He takes a sip of his drink -- black, the way he likes it, and for gas station coffee, it's not bad -- as if to clear his mind. He gives his brother a quiet, crooked grin. "Thought I'd work on my tan this morning, you know," he says, the lie obvious but comforting. "Nah, man. Just came out here to watch the sun rise. Must have fallen asleep. Sorry if I freaked you out." He's too quiet and too subdued and Dean doesn't apologise for shit like this.
Sam doesn't know what to say. "It's okay," he says, although he's not sure that it is. "Donut?" he offers, holding the box out to Dean, who smiles gratefully, exhausted, and takes one.
There's a long pause while Dean eats his donut and drinks his coffee, and the sun is warm on his bare skin, the black metal of the Impala comforting. It's a while before Sam finally asks, "So, why were you really out here?"
Dean gives an enigmatic smile, stretches and the rubs his eyes. "Wouldn't you like to know," he says, and slides off the car. He smiles over his shoulder at Sam, scratching the back of his thigh absently, avoiding bits of broken glass on the parking lot's asphalt as he heads back to their room.
Dean's obviously dead on his feet, so Sam insists on driving, although insists isn't the right word. If he did, told his brother, look, you're tired, you haven't been sleeping, I'll drive, Dean would get behind the wheel and drive himself to exhaustion. Literally. What Sam actually says is, "Mind if I drive? I'm in the mood." Dean shrugs and slides into the passenger's side of the seat, donning his shades and slouching down to try and sleep.
Sam half-expects Dean to comment on the lack of music, or to try and jam Metallica into the tape player, but his brother is quiet. It's hard to tell if he's actually asleep or just trying to rest or pretending or what, but he doesn't move or talk. The car is quiet and Sam's attention is split between the stretch of highway and the back of Dean's head.
It's a few hours of silence and they're passing through some nameless small town somewhere when Sam pulls over for lunch. Dean sits up when the car stops, and when he slides the shades off, his eyes are faintly bloodshot. Sam sighs quietly to himself -- it's obvious Dean hasn't slept at all, maybe hasn't even tried. He can't help but be a little exasperated, and he suddenly wonders if this is how his older brother feels every time Sam has a nightmare and can't or won't sleep.
They get lunch at a Chinese buffet, but this time Dean only picks at his food. He's listless and not himself, doesn't laugh or talk or make stupid jokes at all. Sam's honestly a little worried that Dean's going to fall asleep with his face in his fried rice. They sit there for an hour, Sam waiting, hoping his brother will eat something more, but he doesn't, so he finally slips the leftovers into a Tupperware container that he hides under his jacket, hoping to ply Dean with it later.
They've been driving again for a little more than an hour when Dean starts to snore quietly. Sam is relieved that he's finally asleep, and there's a while before they reach their destination, because at least it'll let him conserve his energy if he won't eat.
Dean's only been really asleep for about fifteen minutes when he jerks upwards in his seat, his eyes wide with terror behind the shield of his shades, gasping Sam! Sam doesn't know if he should pull over or keep driving, but after not quite fifteen seconds, Dean is motioning for him to pull off into the emergency lane. He's already undoing his seatbelt, and when the car stops, he opens his door and leans out to throw up in the gravel on the side of the road. After a few minutes, there's nothing left in his stomach, and Sam undoes his seatbelt and moves closer to comfortingly rub Dean's back while he continues to heave. He expects Dean to push him away, but he doesn't. It's a little while before he finally stops, sitting up and wiping his mouth, taking the bottle of warm water that his brother offers him. He gives Sam a grateful smile, but doesn't say anything.
They sit in silence for a while before Dean finally breaks it. He says, "Must have been the Chinese."
Sam doesn't know what to say to that, so he just nods and gives Dean an awkward pat on the shoulder as they buckle themselves back in. He stops at the next gas station and buys his brother a couple cold bottles of water and some crackers. They're bland, but he crunches on them gratefully, washing them down with the water, and seems to feel better. He doesn't go back to sleep.
Dean finally insists on getting back into the driver's seat. He doesn't put the music on, and it seems odd to Sam that they've been driving the whole day in silence. They'll have to find a motel soon, and Dean thinks there should be one in just a few more miles, so they keep going. The highway is deserted and the car is creepily silent.
Sam keeps an eye on Dean, as if he expects something to go wrong. It's a good thing, because suddenly his eyes are closed and he's starting to lean forward on the steering wheel and the car is veering into the other lane -- Sam shouts, and at least there are no other cars on the road. Dean jerks awake, drowsy, confused, trying to figure out where he is and why Sam is trying to wrest the steering wheel from him, pulling the car over to the side of the road as Dean lets up on the gas pedal.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" he says, and Dean would be surprised if he wasn't so tired, because Sam doesn't swear very often. "Dean!"
"Shit," is all he says at first. He stares at the road for a while, the darkening horizon. "Fell asleep, I guess." His eyes are still bloodshot and he's so very obviously tired. "Guess you better drive, huh?"
Sam shakes his head, pulls the keys out of the ignition. "We need to talk," he says, and suddenly Dean is reaching over him for the box of cassette tapes, but Sam pushes his hands away. "Dean. We need to talk."
"Oh," Dean says, leaning back in the seat. "Okay." The fact that Dean is too tired to put up an argument proves to Sam that his brother is on the edge of exhaustion -- that and the fact that he put the Impala at risk by falling asleep at the wheel.
"You're not sleeping," Sam says gently. "You haven't for the past two nights, and you're exhausted and passing out while you're driving. What's going on, Dean?"
"Nothing's going on." But his argument is half-hearted. He stares out the window, slouching, his posture defeated.
"Dean." The word is a warning, a plea. "I know you're having nightmares."
"Oh," is all he says.
"You want to talk about it?" Sam offers, putting a hand on Dean's shoulder, but he jerks away as if burned, giving him a dirty look.
Sam's smile is stretched too thin. "That's too bad," he says. "Because we're going to anyway."
Dean doesn't want to talk. He wants to go to sleep, only he can't, because he knows he'll have the same dream if he does, and he's sick of dreaming. He wonders if this is how Sam feels, only he thinks it must be worse for Sam. After all, Dean's nightmares don't mean anything, they aren't prophetic, and he dreams about Sam dying on a job that has already happened, and Sam isn't dead. Sam is alive and wants him to talk.
"You die," Dean finally admits, guilty, his voice a little hoarse. "You lay there all pale and bloody and cold on the ground and I shake you and shake you, but you never wake up. No matter what I do, I can't wake you up, because I was too late," and he swallows, running a hand through his hair, "and I didn't save you, and I can't, and it's over and ... and I don't know what to do because you won't breathe."
He turns to look at him and his eyes are desperate, like he wants him to tell him how to raise the dead, how to make a corpse draw breath, but Sam can't do that. All he can do is put his hands on Dean's shoulders and give him a very small shake, and say, "I'm not dead, Dean. I didn't die."
Dean gives him a flicker of a smile. "I know that when I'm awake," he says softly, and then sighs. "I think you should drive now." And he gets out of the car, and Sam slides into the driver's side and Dean gets into the passenger's seat. It's Sam who slides the Metallica tape into the cassette player and puts it on low.
Sam's the one who gets the room while Dean waits in the car. Dean goes inside first and lets Sam unpack the gear. Usually they do it together, but he admits now that he's absolutely exhausted, and he crawls onto the bed nearest the door, like he always does, and is asleep before his brother comes in with their duffle bags. Sam doesn't mind, Dean's soft snores more than making up for the chore of having to bring their stuff inside, and he puts the keys down on the table. He unlaces Dean's boots and pulls them off, and shifts on the mattress but doesn't wake up.
Sam pulls out Dune and reads while he waits for Dean's nightmare to come. The dream doesn't disappoint and it's only an hour before he's tossing and turning, knocking the pillows off the bed. Sam puts his book down and goes over to Dean's bed, sits on the edge and gently grabs hold of his shoulders, shaking him until his sleep-fogged eyes open and focus on his face.
"Sam?" Dean croaks, half-reaching for him, but seeming too nervous to complete the movement. Like his brother might be a ghost and his hand will go straight through him... although with ghosts, that doesn't always happen.
Sam can't help but reach out to smooth Dean's tousled, sweaty hair. "I'm not dead," he tells him. Dean seems mostly asleep, still. "We saved each other, remember?" he asks, and his older brother thinks about this for a minute before giving a slight nod.
"Yeah," he agrees.
Sam smiles. "Go back to sleep, Dean. I'm okay."
Dean gives a small smile of his own and slithers out of his over-shirt and jeans, crawling under the blankets. "Yeah," he says. "'Night, Sam. Don't wake me up too early."
Sam is up at six doing research for their next job, but he lets Dean sleep until just a little bit before noon. There were no repeat nightmares, and when his brother finally rolls out of bed and makes his way to the bathroom, he seems himself.
Dean showers, shaves and brushes his teeth, gets dressed and sits down at the small motel table across from his brother. "So, what's the low down on this one?" he asks, peering at the backside of the monitor. His eyes aren't puffy or red anymore and he looks well rested. Sam smiles and shrugs. "Let's grab breakfast -- well, lunch -- and talk about it?"
Dean's stomach grumbling strongly agrees with that idea.
The job turns out not to be very serious, just a routine haunting, and it goes off without a hitch. They get back to the motel and Dean actually pulls out a deck of cards and kicks Sam's ass at a game of poker before they go to bed at 2AM.
Sam sits up for a little while, waiting to see if Dean has another dream, but an hour passes and he remains fast asleep. Sam finally crawls under the covers to catch a couple hours of sleep himself, and when he wakes up at 5AM with a nightmare, Dean is still snoring. As his heart races and he tries to calm himself down, he can't help but think at least things are back to normal.