Author's note: This is just a quick epilogue to Phantom Traveller that popped into my head.. I am in the middle of writing a longer story, but it's taking it's time!
Many thanks to all the people who kindly reviewed my other stories, it really does mean a lot :)
Sam had been pretty surprised when Dean had tossed him the keys to the beloved Impala and told him he was driving. He'd made the mistake of asking if everything was ok, only to be rewarded with a sharp "Everything's fine Sam" before Dean lay back in the passenger seat and closed his eyes, effectively cutting off any further conversation.
Sam thought maybe Dean was upset by hearing their Dad's voicemail message, or perhaps he was still ticked off about having to fly. Either way it was clear Dean was in no mood to talk about it, so Sam made the safe decision to let 'sleeping older brothers lie' and concentrated on getting them back to the motel.
Dean for his part was concentrating on trying to breathe normally and clenching every muscle in his body to stop them shaking. He felt terrible – light headed, nauseous, cold – but there was no way he wanted Sam to know so he feigned sleep and prayed it didn't take them long to get back to their room.
By the time Sam actually pulled into the parking lot, Dean was sure he was going to pass out. Opening the passenger door almost before the car had stopped moving, he staggered out and somehow managed to walk almost normally to the door. Glad that Sam was still getting out of the car and therefore couldn't see his hands shaking like mad, Dean managed to get the key in the lock on the fourth attempt and, leaving the door open for his brother, staggered across the room and into the bathroom.
Sam stared after Dean, frowning in concern at his haste to get in their room. By the time he got there himself there was no sign of his brother, but he could see light from under the bathroom door so guessed that's where he was. Sam had an uneasy feeling that something was wrong, but knowing that asking Dean outright was a waste of time, he sat on one of the beds and switched the tv on while he waited.
Dean meanwhile was sure he must be dying and right now, it actually seemed like a pretty good option. On reaching the bathroom he'd barely had time to slam to his knees beside the toilet before he'd brought up everything he'd eaten in the last 24 hours. Now he was slumped against the wall, still clinging to the toilet, wishing someone – anyone – would make it stop. He was shivering like crazy, and he couldn't breathe which meant he couldn't call for Sam and, pride be damned, that was exactly what he wanted to do right now.
Whether it was the freaky psychic thing or just the straightforward 'Dean & Sam' thing, next thing he knew the bathroom door was being opened and hands were reaching down to pull him up from where he was slumped.
"Dean! Hey, it's ok man – it's alright" Sam spoke the words quickly in a soothing tone of voice, trying to hide the fact he was terrified by the sight in front of him. He'd finally decided to check on Dean, just in case, and after getting no answer to his calls he opened the door only to find his brother slumped in the corner, white as a sheet and shaking.
Sam somehow managed to manoeuvre Dean away from the toilet so he was resting against him while they both had their backs against the bathtub. He put his arm round Dean's shoulders, holding him tightly, but he wasn't even sure Dean was aware he was there. His eyes were tightly closed, sweat beaded his face, and his breathing was coming in gasps. "Hey, come on Dean – you have to tell me what's wrong so I can help you. Were you hurt on the plane? Are you sick? What is it Dean – just tell me and I'll take care of it" said Sam, trying and failing to keep the worry out of his voice.
Dean could hear that he was freaking Sam out and he desperately wanted to tell him what was happening – or at least what he thought was happening – but he couldn't get enough air and now there were dark spots starting to cloud his vision.
Sam realised Dean couldn't answer him, so he changed tactic. "Ok, just try and nod once for yes and twice for no alright?" he said. "Are you hurt?" Two nods. Sam let out a relieved breath and continued "Are you sick?" Again two nods and this time Sam frowned. Suddenly it was as if a light came on in his head "Oh man – is this about the plane? Are you having a reaction now because of having to fly?" One nod. Sam tightened his grip on Dean's shoulders and berated himself for not having thought of it sooner. Dean really had been terrified on that plane, and afterwards he was quiet, too quiet, and Sam had been so thrown by hearing John's voicemail that he hadn't thought to check properly how his brother was dealing with having to face one of his biggest fears.
"Dean, I'm so sorry – I should have thought" he began and Dean managed to shake his head "Not.. your.. fault.. Sammy" he managed to gasp and Sam rolled his eyes that even now Dean was trying to make him feel better. "Alright, we can talk about that later. Right now I need you to try and calm your breathing down ok, otherwise you're gonna pass out" he said gently. Dean managed to open one eye long enough to glare at Sam with a look that clearly said "Gee, ya think?" and Sam felt a relieved smile tug at his mouth that even in the middle of what now looked like a major panic attack, Dean was still Dean.
"Try and match your breathing with mine, ok Dean? In and out - nice and smooth now – in and out" Dean managed an eye roll this time. "Dude... I am not... giving birth!" he wheezed and Sam snorted. "I know that, and thanks for the image Dean! You have to do this though – just breathe with me, I know you can do it" he said gently and Dean was struck by the confidence in Sam's voice and by the concern there as well.
Taking in another shuddering breath and trying to draw strength from Sam's grip on is shoulders, Dean tried to get his own breathing in time with his brother's. He had no idea how long they sat like that, but eventually it felt like his lungs were finally getting enough air and the room began to stop spinning so alarmingly. Sam meanwhile had kept his gaze on Dean the whole time and was relieved to see slight colour coming back to his face and to feel the shaking lessen slightly. "That's it, you're doing great Dean" said Sam, sounding for all the world like a proud parent on sports day, but Dean didn't care right now. All that mattered to him was that Sam was there.
By the time Dean's breathing was almost back to normal, Sam's legs had gone numb. Somehow he managed to stand and pull Dean up with him. Dean for his part tried to help, but as soon as he was upright his legs went to jelly and he would have been face down on the floor were it not for Sam's quick reactions. "Hey, I got you" said Sam as he caught him, and together they managed to stagger over to the nearest bed. Dean sat on the edge, hunched over and still shivering. Realising that his t-shirt was soaked with sweat, Sam quickly got him a fresh one and some sweatpants from one of the bags. "Here, change into these – you'll feel better" he said.
Dean accepted the clothes with a brief nod of thanks and began to take his t-shirt off. It was not an easy feat given how hard his hands were shaking still, but the evening was embarrassing enough already without Sam helping him get changed. Sam for his part knew better than to offer, and just stood nearby ready to catch Dean if he fell off the bed. Once he was changed, Sam pulled the covers back and helped Dean lie down. He pulled the blankets up as far Dean's chest and sat down on the edge of the bed, looking down at him with concern. "How you doing?" he said softly and Dean managed a wan smile "Better – thanks Sammy" he said and Sam smiled, and for once didn't correct his name.
"So you up to telling me what happened?" he said, not wanting to push but needing to know how his seemingly indestructible brother had ended up in such a state. Dean shrugged and sighed "It's no big deal Sam. It was just some sort of panic attack thing" he said, wincing slightly at the word. It was such a girly thing to admit, but he knew that's what it was. Sam frowned at him "Have you had one before?" he said and caught a flash of something in Dean's eyes before he answered. "Once" he said and seemed prepared to leave it at that, but Sam wasn't. "When was that?" he said, casting his mind back to see if he could remember ever seeing Dean like this before.
Dean shifted and looked uncomfortable. "You weren't there. It's no big deal ok, can we just drop it?" he said slightly desperately. Sam hated pushing Dean after what he'd just been through, but something told him there was more to this and he shook his head. "No Dean, we can't just drop it. This was a full-blown panic attack, and if you've had them before I'd like to know why so I can help out next time before it gets this far" he said and Dean closed his eyes, rubbing a hand over his face.
"Look, it's just the flying thing alright? I hate planes, and I hate flying and I am SO not doing it again whatever happens so it's not likely to be a problem" he said firmly. "And before?" said Sam quietly. For a moment he wasn't sure Dean would answer. "I was hunting a creature in some woods and I fell into an old mine. I was hunting alone, Dad didn't know where I was and I broke my ankle when I fell. I was in there a couple of days before I managed to crawl out and back to the car. Anyway, that first night I kinda had.. You know, like in there" he said uncomfortably, looking everywhere but at Sam. "So where was I then?" said Sam frowning and Dean sighed. "Stanford. You'd left two days before" he said quietly.
Sam stared at him in shock. The idea that Dean had gone through all that, while he was busy getting timetables and settling in at college made his stomach clench. "Why were you hunting alone?" he said and Dean snorted "Because Dad wasn't exactly the best company right then and that didn't leave many options did it Sam?". As soon as he saw the flash of guilt on Sam's face, Dean regretted his words "Look it was fine, it's not like I hadn't hunted alone before" he said and Sam shook his head "Yeah, but someone always knew where you were, Dean. What if you hadn't been able to get out?" Even as he said the words Sam saw Dean pale and realisation hit him like a kick in the chest.
"That's what the first one was about, isn't it? You thought you were gonna die down there alone" he said with a shaking voice. Dean closed his eyes. "Can we just drop it Sam, please?" he said and there was an almost pleading tone to his voice. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Sam gave in. "Sure. You should get some rest anyway" he managed and Dean shot him a grateful smile. Sam got up and went round to the other side of the bed. "Scoot over a bit would you" he said, sitting down with his back against the headboard and bringing his legs up on the bed. "What the hell, Sam?" said Dean, turning his head to face him with a frown. Sam just picked up the remote. "Yours has the better view of the tv and there's a documentary I want to watch" he said innocently.
Dean glared at him, and seemed about to say something, but in the end he just sighed. "Whatever – just keep it down" he said and closed his eyes. He couldn't help but smile though, as he felt a warmth spreading through him that had nothing to do with the blankets covering him and everything to do with feeling his brother right there beside him, at his back.
Sam also smiled as he heard Dean's breathing even out. He felt all kinds of guilt about what Dean had just admitted and he knew there was nothing he could do to go back and change it, but at least he could prove to Dean that he wasn't alone anymore now.
When Dean woke, he felt much better. To his relief Sam was asleep in his own bed – he wasn't sure he could have survived the embarrassment of having his little brother sleep next to him just because he'd freaked out for a moment. It was bad enough Sam had seen him like that at all.
Showering quickly he went out to get some breakfast and by the time he came back, Sam was just coming out of the shower himself. "Hey sleepy-head" said Dean with a grin and Sam just rolled his eyes, knowing that normally he was the one who woke up first. "So I take it you're feeling better? he said, taking in the fact that Dean's pallor had returned to normal and his hand was totally steady as he held out a coffee to him. "Yep, I'm good" he said firmly and Sam smiled "Glad to hear it. About last night though" Dean raised his hand "Come on Sam – can we please not get all Dr Phil over this? I appreciate what you did for me but it's no big deal. Just leave it ok?" he said. Sam sighed "Alright, if that's what you want. But I need you to know something Dean – you don't always have to try and deal with this stuff alone. Nothing you could say or do is gonna make me think any less of you ok? I just want to help, the way you always help me" he said softly and Dean sighed "I'm the big brother Sammy, that's my job" he said and this time it was Sam's turn to cut him off "Yeah, well this brother thing is a two way street you know. I know you want to take care of me and protect me, and I appreciate that, but I'm not a little kid anymore Dean and I'd like to be able to do the same for you if you'd let me"
Dean sat down on the bed and stared at his coffee for a minute. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate what Sam had just said – it meant more to him than would ever have admitted – but he wasn't used to asking for help or being the one taken care of. Looking at Sam though he could see how much it meant to his brother for him to accept that help, so he nodded. "Ok, I'll bear it in mind alright? But that does not mean we are going to start having group hugs or braiding each other's hair, ok Francis?" he said with a mock serious glare.
Sam snorted "Yeah, cos that was so what I was going for, Dean. I just want you to come to me if something's bothering you – deal?" Dean rolled his eyes "Fine – deal. Now can we please change the the subject?" Sam grinned "Sure" and with that began to tell Dean about a possible case he'd spotted for them to deal with next.
Dean smiled to himself as he listened to Sam talk. As much as he would never admit it aloud, it had meant a hell of a lot to him the way Sam had taken care of him and the way he'd accepted what had happened without any judgement whatsoever. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to lean on his brother – just once in a while at least.
Sam for his part felt like he'd achieved a small victory. It meant a lot that Dean had opened up to him, even a little, and he was determined in future he would be there for his brother, whatever happened.
They were a team after all – and nothing could ever change that.