The Whipping Dance
Rating: PG (for language)
Spoilers: Very mild spoilers for "Houses of the Holy"
Disclaimer: Borrowed without permission, returned without damage
Author's Notes: I've been kicking this around for a while now, since "Houses of the Holy" first aired, and am still not sure if I like it…but I thought I'd take a chance and post it. Feedback and constructive criticism is love.
Dean knows a lot about his brother. Ask him; he can tell you.
He can tell you that Sam prefers an open window to air-conditioning, that he cuts up a banana onto his cereal over breakfast, that he sleeps curled into a semi-foetal position on his right side. Sam likes his coffee - his godamn girly latte - with three splashes of creamer and two sugars, and when he's finished he invariably crumples up the cup in his big-ass hands before dropping it into the bin. He puts his right sock and shoe and before his left, every single time. He won't bend the pages of a book, considers it almost sacrilegious, but he'll chew the end off every damned pen they own and he's got no problems ripping pages out of the middle of a notebook to scribble on. He's a touch-typer.
Sam's got a photo of Jess, and one of Mom and Dad, in his wallet. He has one of Dean, too, tucked into the back behind the billfold where they both pretend it doesn't exist because Dean saw it once and threatened to beat the snot out of him if he didn't get rid of it. He shoots with his right hand but prefers to reload with his left and he uses his left foot to kick a soccer ball. He orders nuts on his ice-cream and then picks most of them off again. He likes anchovies on his pizza. More than three shots of Jaeger, and he's puking in the alley behind the bar.
Dean can tell you that Sam's grief is an awful, private thing captured in the silent shaking of his shoulders as he hunches over himself in another nameless hotel in another bumfuck town. He can tell you that Sam aches for Jess the same way Dad ached for Mom, the way they both ache for Dad. He can tell you that when Sam laughs - really laughs, in that startled, genuine way of his - it never fails to make Dean laugh too, and that a truly angry Sam is an awesome sight to behold.
Now that Dad is gone, Dean is the only person left who knows what the curve of Sam's ear looked like as a baby and the face he made the first time he tasted cauliflower, mushed up with the carrots and potatoes in the stew. He has a catalogue of firsts - first step, first fall, first crush, first hunt, first school play, first kill – and he can't share them, because there is no one left to share with.
It is Dean, not Jess, who now knows the intimacy of living with Sam: that he doesn't un-ball his socks before putting them in the washer; that he never leaves the seat up but never puts the cap back on the toothpaste til they're packing to leave; that first thing he does when getting into bed at night is wrench the blankets out of their hospital fold at the bottom of the bed to make sure his long-ass legs can move freely in his fitful pre-sleep period. Dean knows what Sam looks like blinking the sleep from his eyes and washing dishes after dinner and bending over to stock the fridge, and he knows what Sam looks like in the throes of a nightmare and puking his guts up with a migraine.
Dean carries the knowledge and he doesn't feel the weight of it because he doesn't think about it: that when he dies, there won't be a person left in the world who knows Sam the way he deserves to be known.
What Dean doesn't know - what he's been trying to figure out for a while now - is how long Sam's been praying.
He thinks maybe that summer when Dean was twelve and Sam was eight and they stayed with Pastor Jim in Minnesota might have been the start of it. But maybe it wasn't, because Dad put them both to bed with a standard "Goodnight, God bless" for years until they were old enough to put themselves to bed and as far as Dean remembers, Dad always seemed to mean it pretty literally. And it couldn't have started with Mom, either, because for the life of him Dean cannot recall what her standard goodnight to Sammy might have been.
Maybe with Jess, then, when they first started dating. A way to get into her pants, because Jess struck him as the good church-going kinda girl. Except that Sammy is smarter than that, usually, and that sort of thing is more Dean's style than Sam's, and if he says he's been praying for a while now then it means that he really believes in something.
Which, when you come down to it, is one of the biggest problems Dean has with the whole thing. Your mom burns on the ceiling over your bed and you spend the better part of your twenty-two years hunting all kinds of evil before your girlfriend's toasted on a different ceiling over a different bed, and you still have some kind of faith that there's a benevolent higher power? Please. Way Dean figures it, if there really is some kind of God up there, Dean is personally going to kick his ass come Judgement Day for bring this down on his family.
Or, you know, at least attempt it.
The thing is, Dean gets that Sam's scared. He really does. Dean remembers the feel of Dad's beard against his ear and the sound of Dad's words in the quiet and yeah, Dean gets real scared too sometimes when he thinks about what Dad said, so scared he can't breathe. But Sam's got something Dean hasn't. Sam has Dean. Big brother, locked and fucking loaded, his love for Sam a weapon that's been big enough and strong enough to keep him alive for the last twenty-two years. Dean's words ain't no hyperbolic bullshit rhetoric: he'll save Sam if it's the last thing he does, and if he can't, then he'll march into hell itself to get Sam back.
So yeah, maybe that's the thing that's really bugging him about this whole praying bullshit: that he can know how Sam holds his fork to eat and the motion he uses when dragging a brush through his straggly, too-long hair and the way the little toe on his left foot has a small kink it, but not know when Sam lost his faith in Dean to save him.