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Thanks and squishy thought go out to jjackles, SilberKitsune1, Liz Bach, MistyEyes, Faye Dartmouth, sugarquill4ron, carocali, barkeep, Anora, PissedOffEskimo, red121, Freyja529, sasha2002, bally2cute, Onari, PadfootObsessed 329, Stony Angel, Harrigan, Lisette and Mellaithwen for their kind words.
Lisette: I'm really glad you delurked! It was great to hear from you.
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Liz: I'm glad you found the story again and are enjoying it!
OK, guys, this is now officially the longest story I've ever written. Hope you enjoy this chapter!
But for the Grace, Chapter Eight
Dawn was slow and freakin painful, like someone pulling the scab off a wound, and Dean wondered what the hell all those poets were yakking about with their glowing sunrises and their goddamn shiny clouds or whatever the hell, who gave a damn anyway? The point was that he, Dean Winchester, was driving the back roads of some freakin ass-end goddamn county in freakin Montana or some goddamn place and his brother was slumped in the seat next to him sleeping, or actually passed out from being so goddamn wasted that he couldn't manage to put together a freakin coherent sentence (and that might have had something to do with being terrified, too, but Dean was going to go with wasted for now), with dried blood on his face and shirt and a secret in his fucking brain that Dean needed to know, even though he was sure, totally sure like Jesus himself had whispered it in his freakin ear, that he wasn't going to like it one bit.
Fuck. Yesterday he'd been on his way to Spokane with a plan and a mission and Sam had been kind of acting like a human being around him (kind of like Sam), and he'd been beginning to feel like maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be OK. (OK, that was dumb, because he knew that eventually he was going to have to give up on Sam, one of the Sams, and it was going to be this one, he knew it, this Sam knew it, but he didn't think about it, not ever, not ever.) And then the freakin vision (and he still didn't know what Sam had seen, because after blurting something about being crazy and doctors and Dad burning on the ceiling – Christ, even the words made Dean's spine feel like it was trying to rip its way out of his skin – he had just kind of collapsed and nothing he'd said had made sense after that, not like I don't understand what you're trying to tell me, but more like what the fuck do flying hippos have to do with this, Sammy?, and then he'd just passed out and Dean had bundled him into the car and started driving) had fucked everything up good and proper, and Dean wished, wished it hadn't happened, and at the same time all he wanted was to shake Sam until he woke up and scream what did you see? Did you see my brother? Tell me what you saw, you goddamn son of a bitch.
It didn't help that Dean had had precisely zero hours of sleep, and everything was beginning to feel kind of hazy around the edges, like it was him that was wasted (and at this point, he pretty much wished he was). But they would be in Spokane in seven hours, and Dean was clinging to that like it was the last freakin cookie in the jar, because something had to solve this, something, and right now Spokane was all Dean had. And that was pretty goddamn stupid too, for plenty of reasons, not least being that once he had this freakin Cell-Phone Holder Of Doom it was going to mean making his decision, and it wasn't going to do jack towards helping this Sam, and goddammit Dean wasn't thinking about that.
Shit. Driving was definitely not helping to calm him down.
It was an hour after dawn when Sam finally woke up (except that came to was closer to the truth of it), cracking his eyelids briefly before groaning and slouching down further in his seat.
"Dean," he croaked. "Where are we?"
Who fucking cares? "In the car."
Sam looked for a moment like he might roll his eyes, but clearly decided that would would be a bad idea. "Where's the car, genius?"
"Goddammit, Sam," Dean growled. "Don't freakin push me."
Sam sort of shifted in his seat, opening one eye then closing it again. "What the hell crawled up your ass and died?"
It was all Dean could do not to tear his goddamn head off. "Well for one thing, you freakin stole my car and got wasted last night, remember that?"
"It's my car," muttered Sam, but he did look kind of guilty. Only kind of.
"Jesus Christ, Sam, I don't give a flying fuck whose car it is! I thought we went through this already!"
Sam winced, but hungover and probably semi-concussed (a-freakin-gain) as he was, he was nothing if not stubborn. "No, you went through it. You're the one who said I wasn't drinking any more, you're the one who kept me freakin prisoner at Jim's, you're the one who said I wasn't going to any more bars. I don't remember agreeing to a freakin thing."
Dean bit back his retort. "Save it, Sam," he started, but Sam cut him off, yelling now.
"No, you save it. You can't just tell me this... this thing is going to go away and expect it to be gone. It doesn't work that way. It's not that easy."
Dean felt like he was gripping the steering wheel so hard, he was surprised the freakin thing didn't just come off in his hands, like in some episode of Wacky Races or something. The problem was, he did know. He knew that Sam wasn't just going to wake up and go hey, I'm cured. He knew it was a long road to recovery. He knew that he needed to stick around and help Sam through it. But he also knew that his Sam, the Sam he had been protecting since he was four years old, was in trouble and needed his help. And he didn't know what the hell he was going to do about it.
For the time being, though, he was going to do what he had been doing for the last ten hours, which was head for Spokane and try not to pray, because God had fucked his life up enough already, and the last thing he needed was the fucker getting involved now.
"You never told me about your vision," he said stiffly.
Sam closed his eyes again and leaned his head against the window. "It was pretty much the same as the other ones," he said, his voice quiet and stretched around the edges. "He's in a mental hospital, alone. That's it, that's all I saw."
That can't be all. "How does he seem? Does he look OK?" Yeah, Dean, because being alone in a mental hospital is all kinds of OK.
Sam shrugged. "He looks like he's in pain," he said. "He's not screaming any more, but he's... hurting." He opened his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Not your fault," muttered Dean, noticing that his death grip on the steering wheel hadn't let up any.
"No, I mean..." Sam raised a hand briefly as if groping for something, then dropped it again, "I'm sorry for not telling you about it yesterday. I was just... kind of freaked."
"Yeah, well," Dean muttered, and didn't really know what to add. Yeah, well, next time I'm chaining you to the goddamn car door? Somehow, he didn't think that would go over too well. Anyway, there was something else he needed to talk to Sam about.
"So, you going to tell me what you were talking about last night?"
Sam frowned, his eyes still only really half-open. "Last night?" He seemed to think about it for a bit. "Did I try and pick a fight with you?"
Dean snorted. "Either of your arms broken?" Sam shrugged. "Then no, you didn't. But you did say you saw Dad die."
Sam's face suddenly went from groggy and frowning to completely blank and shut down. "I said what?"
Huh. Dean didn't like where this was going. He was going to have to tread really fucking carefully, and that was something Dean Winchester and his biker boots had never been too expert at. "You, uh," he tried to remember what exactly it was that Sam had said, "you said you came with me because you thought you were, uh, crazy." Shit, that sounded fucking lame. "And you saw Dad burn on the ceiling." OK, not making it better.
Sam's expression didn't change. "Dude, I knew I was wasted, but I didn't realise it was that bad."
Great. Denial. Just what he needed. Time to try a different tack. "Sam, when you had the first vision of Sam... of, uh, of my Sam in the nu-, in the mental hospital, you thought it was a memory. You want to tell me why?"
Sam turned his face abruptly away. "Jesus, Dean, I thought you were meant to be my brother, not my sister. Next thing I know you'll be freakin trying to hug me."
Oh yeah. That shut Dean up good and proper. Irony was a freakin bitch.
It was six hours to Spokane, and Spokane was going to fix everything. It had to.
They checked into a motel around one, and Dean started preparing for the hunt. It was kind of weird to be planning to break into some rich guy's mansion to steal a novelty cell-phone holder rather than researching local legends and checking they had plenty of salt, but Dean figured in the end it wasn't so different. Just him and Sam against the full forces of conventional society (oh yeah, they were so Butch and Sundance). Just a different Sam this time, that was all.
Turned out actually, that was quite a big deal.
"So, uh," Sam said, eyeing the gun in his hand like it was a snake, "you just... point and shoot, right?"
Dean stared. He hadn't really thought of this problem. "You gotta take the safety off first."
"Right," said Sam. He had just had a beer, but his hands were still trembling slightly. "And I do that by..." he started fiddling with the trigger.
"Jesus." Dean had the gun out of his hands in moments. "You know what, you can carry this." He grabbed a sheathed hunting knife and thrust it at Sam. "You know how to use one of these, right?"
Sam laughed sarcastically. "Sure. Pointy end goes in the other guy, right?"
"That's great, Zorro," Dean said. "Just make sure you remember that. And if you see any sign of trouble, you run and you yell for me, you hear?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mom."
Dean was saved from answering by the sound of Sam's cell phone. Sam grabbed for it, seeming pretty relieved to have an excuse not to have to deal with the weapons that Jim had lent them any more. It was pretty much exactly like when Sammy had been fourteen, except he was about ten feet taller now than he had been then. Just as freakin melodramatic, though.
"Hey, Jim," Sam said into the phone. "Yeah, we're there already. No, he hasn't. Not yet. Yeah, well, he'd better not, it's my god-, uh, goshdarn car."
Dean rolled his eyes and went back to checking his guns, letting the conversation fade into the background. He figured they would go scope out the mansion after dark, try and get some plans and info before then. Hopefully the owner wouldn't even be home. Who the hell has a mansion in Spokane anyway? Must really like trees or something.
Sam finished on the phone and started putting on his coat. Dean was instantly alert, forcing himself not to go and block the door if only because he could really do with not pissing off the guy who was going to be watching his back this evening, even if that guy was totally clueless. "Where do you think you're going?" Oh, and that was a totally genius way to not piss Sam off. Dean sometimes wondered if there was some kind of tiny demon living between his brain and his mouth that purposefully fucked up everything he tried to say.
Sam didn't look pissed, though. "Jim said there was a book we could get, a new translation of some Sumerian texts. He said it might have something about the... uh, the demon, or whatever."
Dean considered this. Two bookstores in two days felt a little like overkill, but he figured he could handle that if it got him intel. Plus, he had some errands of his own to run in town.
They visited the bookstore first, and Dean hung around while Sam went through the shelves on the Ancient Near East, and really, it was saying something that there was more than one shelf, especially given that this wasn't the kind of dingy second-hand place that they usually frequented, but a bright, brash chain store with a display of crappy airport thrillers out front and a crew of disaffected staff out back. Come to think of it, Dean didn't think he'd ever been in a bookstore like this, and it made him freakin nervous. There was something about all these colourful covers and the big comfy seats (as if anyone would choose to spend the day sitting and reading in this freaky hellhole), and the cashiers that smiled and asked if they could help and hoped you had a nice day. OK, so the people who ran the bookstores Dean usually went to tended to be short and grumpy (or mysterious, or at least trying to look mysterious) and have less hair on their heads than on their chins, but at least Dean knew where he was with them. When he'd first walked in, he'd thought it was pretty damn unlikely that a place like this would have anything with information about demons, but the more people he saw picking up the latest Dan Brown with interest, the more he thought maybe he was wrong.
Finally (finally), Sam came out from between the shelves, carrying a shiny paperback that didn't even have the decency to have any gold writing on it. Dean stared.
"Yeah," said Sam, heading towards the register.
"Huh," said Dean. He wasn't sure he'd ever been in possession of a book that looked so...new. He wondered what the Ancient Sumerians would have to say if they knew.
The next stop was a bit more familiar. The store stank to high heaven of incense and essential oils, and Dean thought it was going to take a trip to the smokiest bar in town to get the smell out of his clothes. Except, of course, he wasn't going to any bars. Behind him, he almost heard Sam roll his eyes.
"What are we doing here, man?"
"Got to get some stuff," Dean said, grabbing a couple of bottles of the shelves. Some of the herbs they needed could be got in the grocery store, but some were a bit more obscure. Goat's fat would hopefully be available at the specialist butcher's he'd looked up on the internet. Jim had managed to provide him with a jar of bat's blood along with the guns, and Dean hadn't asked him where he got it from (because obviously, he got it from bats).
"Isn't it kind of," Sam looked around, then lowered his voice, "tacky? I mean, all this crystal stuff, and the little dragon statues?" He gestured at the offending items. "Is all this true too?"
Dean's lip curled. "Most of it's bullshit," he said. "Sometimes they get things right, mostly by dumb luck. But these places are always easier to find than the real specialists."
"Right," said Sam, looking doubtfully at a truly hideous poster of a fairy. Dean shrugged, long past noticing these things any more.
Thirty minutes later found them standing outside the local records office, Sam shifting uncomfortably and pulling at his tie. Dean was just amazed they'd managed to find a suit in the local thrift store that would fit him. Follow my lead, he hissed, and Sam looked unhappy, but did as he was told. Turned out, it was remarkably easy to get hold of the plans to a local structure that had required so much in the way of planning permissions, especially when you had fake ID, even if it actually claimed you were a ninja (what? OK, so, professional fakes would have been better, but in a tight spot joke shops would do, especially if you didn't flash it around too long).
After a final trip to the grocery store (why the hell do you need so much salt, anyway? Sam asked, and Dean grinned and said something about dangerously low blood pressure) and to the butcher's, they were set. It was still hours before dark, and Dean figured they might as well get the preparation for the spell out of the way so they could get it done as soon as they had the Cell-Phone Holder of Doom. He pulled out the instructions that Jim had given him and set Sam to grinding up the mustard seed and angelica, while he tried to work out how to make a convincing paste out of the goat's fat and all that shit, which, ew, gross.
"What's all this for, anyway?" Sam asked, sounding like he was actually interested, the geek, and Dean shrugged.
"This is to send me there," he said, indicating what he was working on. "That's to make sure I don't come back." Pointing at Sam's concoction.
Sam looked down at it, and there was just the briefest pause before he said oh, and Dean remembered what he'd been doing a pretty good job of forgetting since they had pulled up to the motel, and felt like a piece of crap. He should say something. He ought to say something. But what could he say? Hey, Sam, sorry I barged in here and messed up your life, but I'll be going now, take care. Yeah, it wasn't exactly the most compassionate sentiment in the world, and OK, Dean wasn't exactly a bleeding heart humanitarian, but he was human, and God, he didn't want to hurt Sam.
And then there was the fact that he wasn't sure he could do it. Because it might not have been his Sam, but it was still Sam, and after days of just being desperate to get back to normal, Dean suddenly felt that he needed more time, more time to fix this Sam, more time to make sure he wasn't just going to go out and get himself beaten to death at the first bar he found once Dean was gone (and the problem was, Dean was pretty sure he was). More time to make up for a lifetime of not having been there.
"Listen, Sam..." he started, because God, the silence was getting on top of him, crawling under his skin and up his spine, but he didn't know what else to say after that.
Sam shrugged and ground up the herbs some more. "It's OK," he said, and his voice was flat, not even flat with anger but just totally blank. "Don't worry about it."
Dean chewed the inside of his lip. "You should have another beer," he said, feeling kind of absurd.
Sam looked up, then looked away. "Yeah, OK."
Full dark found them, a few miles out of Spokane and two miles from where they had hidden the Impala, concealed behind a fringe of trees opposite the mansion's fence. Dean had to say, he was impressed by the sheer height of the damn thing, but luckily he had never been one to be put off by size (if he had, he'd never be able to look down in the shower). He figured Sam could manage it fine, too, given that he was fifteen feet tall. They had checked the place out, circled the perimeter, seen no lights, no sign of habitation, and Dean was beginning to think that really they were lucky enough that the owner was out of town, except he was being very careful not to think that because he'd just about had all the Murphy's Law he could take for one day. At any rate, it was now or never. He checked back on Sam, who was looking pale under the smudged mud that Dean had rubbed on both their faces. "Ready?"
Sam kind of swallowed. "Are you sure you want me to go?" he hissed. "I'm not exactly well-versed in this stuff."
Dean hesitated. He knew Sam was right, but he didn't want to leave him behind, and while the rational part of his mind informed him that that was because he would either have to chain Sam up or put up with him high-tailing it to the nearest bar, the more honest part pointed out that actually, he just didn't want to go it alone. "Just follow my lead," he said. "You'll be fine."
In the end, it turned out the fence was easier than it looked, because it had some ornate shit on it that turned out to provide pretty much perfect footholds (and for Christ's sake, what was the point of having a fence at all if you were just going to deck it out like a set of freakin monkey bars?). They made it over in two, quick enough that Dean was pretty damn sure no-one would have seen them even if they were looking, and slipped over to a side door. Dean grinned, feeling the adrenaline course through him. God, he hadn't felt this good for a week.
"You get the alarm, I'll do the lock," he whispered, only remembering why that wasn't going to work when he glanced back at Sam and saw him standing out in full view of the CCTV. "Shit," Dean muttered, and grabbed him, pulling him down into the shadows. "Stay there."
The alarm wasn't a total cakewalk, but it wasn't too tough, either. Dean shrugged. The good people of Spokane clearly weren't too worked up about the criminal element. That was cool with him. It made being the criminal element a whole hell of a lot easier.
The door slid open with a quiet click, and Dean grabbed Sam, dragging him after him. "Stay in the shadows," he hissed, "watch my back, and don't touch anything." Sam gave him a sarcastic salute, but pulled his knife and followed Dean as closely as he could.
Dean walked softly, visualising the plans he had memorised. Right at the door to this room... up the stairs... into the East Wing, taking the long way round to avoid the main living quarters of the house... through a ballroom where dust-sheeted shapes loomed and threw huge shadows in the moonlight pouring through massive windows, and Dean thought again that actually maybe no-one was home anyway, that the sort of people who had the cash for a pile like this probably had more than one of them.
And then they were there, in the room Dean had identified on the plans, specially constructed to hold a priceless collection of art. The walls were hung with dark paintings, and the floor crowded with sculptures and pedestals, but Dean wasn't interested in any of that Picasso crap. He moved purposefully through the room, risking turning his flashlight on now because the windows were smaller here, searching for the thing, the one thing...
There. Dean would know that ugly piece of crap anywhere. He crossed the floor in two strides, hearing Sam stepping softly behind him, and grinned. Damn, this was so easy.
And of course, that was where he was completely fucking wrong, and not only that, but an idiot to even think it in the first place, because, as he'd already noted once that day, irony was a bitch, and she really freakin hated Winchesters. He didn't remember that, though, till after he'd lifted the goddamn thing off its plinth and a steel door had slid shut across the entrance to the room, sealing them in.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Then Sam said, "Uh... Dean? Is this part of the plan?"
"Shut up," Dean muttered, over by the door in a moment, feeling around it, searching for a crack, a weak spot, a freakin handle for Christ's sake. But there was nothing, and suddenly Dean felt like a freakin amateur, sneaking around with his lock-picks and his black clothes (and his clueless brother), only to get caught by a goddamn door (and not even have the chance to slip through it at the last minute, which would at least have had the advantage of being a move straight out of Indiana Jones, and OK, Dean had always been more of a Han Solo guy himself, but Indy would do). He kicked it experimentally, and wound up with a jarred foot. Typical.
Sam was still standing where he'd left him, watching Dean as he began to search for other exits. "Little help?" Dean growled, checking out the windows (sealed shut plexiglass and three stories up).
"I don't believe it," Sam said. "We're stuck, aren't we?"
"No shit, Sherlock," Dean said. "Care to get off your ass and help me get us unstuck?"
"I never should have come," Sam muttered. "I can't believe I'm helping you in a freakin robbery. Jesus, I hardly even know you."
"Yeah, yeah, change the record," Dean said.
"I thought you said you were good at this," Sam said, and Dean wanted to kick his smug face in.
"I am, usually," he snarled. "But usually I have someone competent watching my back."
Sam went quiet at that, and Dean felt a flash of satisfaction mixed with guilt, which was totally unfair (the guilt that was, nto the satisfaction, that was fully justified) because Sam had started it. He went on checking the walls of the room, the windows on the other side, then back to the door, searching for any weak spot, any way out, but they might as well have in freakin Gitmo for all the success he was having.
"Jesus Christ," he heard Sam whisper behind him. "I think this is an original Constable."
"That's great, Sam," he muttered. "Think you can use it to break a plexiglass window?"
Sam grunted. "Philistine."
"Let me guess," Dean said, sliding down to sit on the floor, "you took an art appreciation class in college."
Sam was quiet for a moment, then came and sat near him, not next to him exactly, but not far away. "Yeah," he said. "Did... did your Sam do that too?"
"Said it was a good way to meet girls," Dean said, and he caught the flash of Sam's teeth in the moonlight.
They sat quietly for a long while, Dean trying to figure out a way out of this mess, Sam doing whatever the hell it was Sam was doing.
"What's he like?"
Huh. Turned out what Sam had been doing was brooding. Figured. "Who?"
"The other Sam. Your Sam."
Dean shrugged, thinking about it. "He's kind of like you. But better with a .45. And less broody." Christ, was Sam really less broody than someone?
"Huh," said Sam, but Dean knew he hadn't got off that easily, and was ready for the next question. "What about your dad?"
OK, he hadn't thought it was going to be that. "What about him?"
"Did he... Did he ever..."
"What? Get drunk. Yeah, he did. He does. Sometimes. Not too often, though."
"Right," said Sam, and Dean knew that hadn't been what he was going to ask. Shit.
Dean blew out his breath. "He never beat us," he said. "Never."
Dean sort of felt Sam stiffen, which was weird, because they weren't sitting right up against each other or anything, and it was too dark to see more than shadowy outlines. Maybe it was some freaky psychic crap, Sam projecting his emo-ness across the room. He hoped it wouldn't cancel out his own badassitude. Whatever it was, though, Sam was on his feet again, roaming amongst the shadowed shapes that were actually kind of spooky (not that Dean would ever admit that even to himself, because Dean Winchester did not get freaked by a bunch of mannequins made by dead art nerds), and Dean was left sitting on the floor, wondering if he'd said the wrong thing or just the right one.
It felt like forever before Sam had examined every little item in the room, sometimes exclaiming under his breath, sometimes staring at one thing for like an hour, which Dean just didn't get at all, because honestly, once you've seen one painting of some dead dude on a horse, you've seen them all, right? Anyway, eventually Sam flopped down on the floor again, no further from or closer to Dean than last time, and let out a breath.
"This place is phenomenal," he said.
"Great," Dean said, feeling his stomach growl. "Always wanted to starve to death surrounded by millions of dollars worth of paint and clay."
Sam leaned his head back. "We'd die of dehydration first," he pointed out. "Most people can only go three to five days without drinking."
Without drinking. Shit. Dean tried to see if Sam's hands were trembling, but it was too damn dark now he'd shut off his flashlight. When was the last time he'd had a drink? That beer back at the motel? How long ago was that?
His thoughts were interrupted by Sam's voice. "Does this happen to you a lot?"
"Uh..." Dean tried to understand the question. "Yeah, actually, I get stuck in a room with a priceless art collection pretty much every week."
Sam snorted. "Shut up, smartass. I mean, do you-- Do your jobs go wrong often?"
It was Dean's turn to snort. "All the freakin time. It's usually your fault, too." And there he was, thinking that this Sam and his Sam were the same again, that Sam had just forgotten. It was hard to keep everything straight in his head.
Sam was quiet for a minute, then he said, "Do you get scared?"
Every minute of every day, Dean thought, but he said, "Nah, I don't do scared."
"You're not scared now?"
Dean tried again to see if Sam's hands were trembling. "What's there to be scared of? Some statue's gonna come alive and eat us?" Why the hell did he always have to say that shit out loud, he wondered, glancing quickly round at the looming shadows, checking to make sure none of them was moving.
Sam let out a shaky laugh. "I don't know, you tell me. You're the expert."
"Jeez, Sam," Dean said. "It's not like you to be so scared of the dark."
Sam muttered something, and Dean thought it might have been I've always been scared of the dark, but he let it go. There were a lot of things he didn't want to be doing right now, and discussing all the things that might potentially be hiding in the shadows waiting to get them was definitely high on the list. Especially since this was a freakin perfectly ordinary mansion, for Christ's sake, that they'd broken into in order to stage an entirely non-supernatural robbery.
And this was Sam's first hunt, in a way. Kind of ironic that it would be so normal.
Dean decided to make another circuit of the walls, checking for hidden panels, anything that might control the doors (yeah, because if you wanted to create an impenetrable vault for your precious treasures, you would really put the controls inside), trying the windows yet again, running his fingers around the edge of the door, trying to find cracks, puffs of air, anything. Really, what he was doing was trying not to think too hard, because he had kidnapped Sam from his life in Palo Alto (granted, a life that was rapidly spiralling into the toilet, but still), tied him up, dragged him halfway across the country and back, almost managed to kill him, and now it looked like he was going to get him arrested. Not bad going, especially considering that he could honestly say that most of the time, he thought he'd been acting in Sam's best interests (well, and his own). When did everything he tried to do start going so wrong?
Finally, he had to give up, and dropped down to sit next to Sam, closer than they had been before. Sam was definitely trembling slightly now, and Dean clenched his jaw and didn't mention it, wondering how long they'd been stuck in this freakin place. It felt like days, but when Dean checked his watch, he saw it was only two hours.
"Fine," said Sam. Dean thought he was done, but then he suddenly said, "It wasn't so bad, you know?"
OK, this was going to be another one of those conversations where Dean didn't know what the hell was going on. Well, he was getting kind of used to that now. "What wasn't?"
"Dad. Me. Us. You know..." Sam blew out a laugh that sounded almost like a moan, "my childhood, as melodramatic as that sounds."
Dean wasn't sure what to say to that. What was Sam trying to tell him? He wished he could see Sam's face, but even if it had been broad daylight, he suspected Sam would be hiding under that goddamn bird's nest of his.
And if it had been broad daylight, he was pretty sure Sam wouldn't be saying any of this to him.
"He didn't..." Sam said, and stopped, and Dean didn't know whether to urge him to go on or interrupt him and pray he never broached the subject again. "He didn't... hit... He didn't do it often."
Shit. That was it. Dean realised this was the first time that Sam had actually said it out loud, and it felt like a punch to the gut, even though he'd pretty much believed it for a while now. He closed his eyes, trying not to remember what Sammy had looked like at fourteen, at ten, at eight, trying not to imagine that face bruised up and his father yelling. He didn't want to talk about it. God, at this point he would rather chew glass. But something made him speak anyway.
"How often?" Actually, it did kind of sound like he'd been chewing glass.
Sam cleared his throat. "Uh... Maybe... a few times a year? When he'd been fired again, usually. And in November."
Dean wanted to get up, to start beating the goddamn priceless paintings against the windows, to set fire to the whole shebang, to get them out of here, but instead he said, "How bad?"
Sam coughed and swallowed, and Dean thought that he had probably never told anyone this before. "Not so bad," he said. "He broke my arm once, but that was..." his voice got quieter, trailed off. "It was an accident," he finally whispered.
"Jesus." Dean leaned his head back against the wall. "I'm sorry."
Sam snorted softly. "What are you sorry about?"
That I wasn't there to stop him. To help you. To save you both. Dean just shrugged, and even that was pretty pointless, given how dark it was.
"I don't know why I told you that," Sam said quietly.
"I'm your brother," Dean replied.
Silence, and then Sam shifted slightly closer. "Yeah," he breathed. "I guess maybe you are."
The vision, when it came, didn't feel as bad as the others to Dean, maybe because Sam was already sitting down, maybe because Dean had been expecting it all day, waiting for the other shoe to drop, because it hadn't escaped his notice that Sam had had a vision each day for the last three, and coincidence was not something Dean put much stock by. And as Sam groaned and thrashed and clutched his head, Dean wondered if maybe he was going to hell for being just a little bit pleased, just a little bit glad because this was his lifeline, this was his way of finding out if his Sam was OK, or at least as OK as could be expected, at least not dead.
After it was over, Sam's shaking didn't subside too much, and Dean knew it wasn't just the aftermath of the vision, knew that if they didn't get out of that damn place pretty soon and get Sam something to straighten out his freakin brain, they were going to be in serious shit. He had read the leaflet on delirium tremens that Pastor Jim had given him three times in a gas station bathroom, fighting back his nausea because he needed to know. Not that knowing would help them now, stuck in the lap of luxury without even a freakin aspirin between them.
"OK, you're OK, I gotcha," Dean said, his arm round Sam's shoulders, waiting, waiting.
Sam swallowed and sighed. "Same as yesterday, pretty much," he said, like he knew exactly what Dean wanted to know but couldn't quite ask. "Still hurting. Saw the hospital from the outside, though. Red bricks. Rain."
Dean pulled him a little closer. Sam's OK. Sam's not dead. "That's good, everything helps."
Sam sort of collapsed against him like all his bones had suddenly melted. "You think when you see him you could ask him never to call me again?" he asked.
Dean laughed a little, because really, what the hell else was he going to do? "He's pretty good at not picking up the phone. I don't think it'll be a problem."
Sam's shaking against his ribs got a little more controlled. "God," he whispered. "How the hell did I get myself into this?"
Dean took a deep breath. "You want to tell me about when Dad died?" It wasn't fair and he knew it, but he needed to know, and so far the only times this Sam had ever confided anything in him were when he was wasted or broken or otherwise weak.
"Jesus, Dean," Sam muttered, moving as if he was going to pull away, but Dean just grabbed hold of his shoulder and didn't let him go.
"Tell me," he said quietly.
Sam pulled against him feebly. "I told you," he said shortly. "I told you last night. You said I told you."
"You said you saw him burn on the ceiling," Dean said, trying to make the words as emotionless as possible, trying to hide the tremor in his own voice. He thought about this for a minute. "And Jess?"
He felt all the fight go out of Sam. "Yeah," he said softly. "Her too."
Dean closed his eyes. "Then what?"
"My... my foster parents were good people, but they couldn't really... cope with me. They sent me to a psychiatrist. He told me I was delusional, said that if I didn't stop kidding myself they would have to send me away." Sam turned his head away, the mop of hair tickling just under Dean's chin. "I didn't stop kidding myself," he whispered, his voice shaking along with his body now.
Dean shifted, wishing there was some way that he could just know this without having to hear Sam say it. "They sent you to a..." nuthouse didn't sound quite like the appropriate word.
"Yeah." Oh, thank God, Sam wasn't going to make him say it. "I was there for a year. Eventually, they convinced me that I had... I had hallucinated the whole thing. They never managed to get me to remember what really happened, though. And then, with... with Jess..." the last word was said in a broken tone, and Sam's fingers curled around Dean's arm, but Dean was pretty sure Sam didn't even know he was doing it. "I'd stopped taking the pills, they made me feel so numb. And I dreamed it, God, Dean, I dreamed it and I thought I could handle it, could handle the dreams if only I could have a normal life, and then..." He broke off, turning his face into Dean's chest now, and Dean felt the fabric grow damp against his skin. "Afterwards... I thought it was happening again, that I was losing my mind, and I didn't want to go back there, God, I just couldn't bear it, the way the doctors would look at me, the way my friends would look at me. And I kept dreaming, all the time. I tried taking the pills again, but they didn't make the dreams go. And then you..."
It all clicked into place. "I came spouting off shit about demons and ghosts, and you thought you'd totally lost it."
Sam nodded, once, and sort of straightened up, pulling away from Dean. This time Dean let him go, let him put an inch of space between them.
"I thought there was no way I could go back to college, someone would find out, they'd send me back." Sam rubbed his hands over his face and cleared his throat. "So I came with you."
Dean shook his head. "You came with me because you thought you were going nuts," he said slowly. "Do you still think that?"
Sam was quiet for a minute. "Sometimes," he said.
It had been pretty much what Dean was expecting, but it hurt anyway. After everything they'd been through in the past few days, and Sam still thought that maybe he was just imagining Dean? Then again, maybe everything that had happened in the past few days was why Sam still thought he was imagining Dean.
"Sometimes I think maybe I'm already back there," Sam added quietly, as if he wasn't really talking to Dean. "Maybe I'm in that freakin hospital and the visions are just the only glimpses of reality I'm getting."
Dean took a deep breath, clenching his fists and swearing to himself that if he ever met the docs who had made his little brother doubt his own sanity, whether in this reality or any other, he was going to kick their asses into the middle of next week. "Listen to me, Sam. You were never crazy, you understand? Doesn't matter what they said to you, what you saw was real. I'm real. Dad didn't freakin kill himself, and Jess sure as hell didn't die because of faulty wiring. What are you going to believe, a bunch of quacks who can't tell their ass from a hole in the ground, or your own senses?"
Sam laughed. "Dean. I'm sitting in a vault with some of the most amazing artwork ever produced, planning to steal an ancient artifact so I can use it in a magic spell, with a man who says he's my long-dead brother who I never knew I had, having visions of an alternate me in another dimension. Oh, also, apparently everyone I ever loved has been killed by the same demon, and I have psychic powers. You really think that's believable?"
Dean was speechless. When you put it like that, it did sound kind of... nuts.
There wasn't time to think any more about it, though, because at that moment the door started to open.