a/n: As always, many thanks to iamstealthyone for her speedy and insightful beta.
And Miles to Go Before I Sleep
The sun was setting over the Grand Canyon in spectacular shades of gold and pink, Lindsay Lohan was curled in his lap, nibbling that spot just behind his left ear, and--
And, damn it, Dean woke up.
He glared blearily at the ceiling, a little turned on and a lot frustrated. Why did the good dreams always cut off just as things were getting interesting, but when it came to nightmares he got the director's cut? Not that he had many nightmares these days; that was Sammy's--
Before he turned his head, Dean knew what he would find. Pillows scattered, sheets rumpled and untucked from the mattress, blanket trailing onto the floor--Sam's bed was a mess.
Shit, shit, shit.
Dean pushed himself up against the headboard, elbows resting on his knees. The LED on the battered clock radio read 4:32; beside it lay a Taco Bell receipt bearing Sam's serial-killer scrawl.
Don't freak. Went for a run.
With a snort, Dean scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Though he appreciated Sam's new resolve not to take off without warning, these middle-of-the-night wanderings had become alarmingly routine. Three weeks since they'd killed that yellow-eyed sonuvabitch, and Dean could count on one hand the number of times Sam had slept through the night. For someone who'd always despised their father's emphasis on physical conditioning, he was spending an awful lot of time pounding the pavement.
Something was going on. Dean just wasn't sure exactly what.
How certain are you that what you brought back is 100-percent pure Sam?
Cursing, Dean slid out of bed and stomped over to his duffel. Jeans, tee shirt, flannel... He was rummaging for socks when he touched something with a soft crackle. Swallowing hard, he pulled out the plastic bag, fingering soft cotton. He didn't need to unbundle the shirt to see the jagged slice, the edges stiff and blackened with dried blood--it was all burned indelibly in his memory. Even now, he could smell salt and copper, feel the warmth--the life--leech from his brother's heavy, pliant body.
Sam had stripped off the shirt with a grimace and tossed it into the trash, but Dean had rescued it and tucked it away--a talisman and a promise. Or maybe just penance.
With a sharp shake of his head, he stuffed the shirt into the bottom of the duffel and--yahtzee!--located his last pair of clean socks in the process.
It was June, but in northern Minnesota the night air still carried a bite--much like the wendigo-turned-oversized-black bear they'd just finished hunting. Dean slipped on his leather jacket and pocketed his keys. He had no idea where the hell Sam had gone, but sitting around, waiting for him to turn up was just... Nope, not gonna happen.
Ely, Minnesota, wasn't exactly known for its night life, and anyway, the motel was on the outskirts of the small town, surrounded by Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. Dean glared at the star-studded sky--he should be in bed, dreaming, damn it--then began walking around the building, away from the parking lot and toward an open field that led into the trees.
It was a new moon, dark as hell with a thick, low-lying mist, and he kept tripping over rocks, large sticks, and holes in the ground. Just when he was starting to get truly pissed, he heard a soft pop followed by the bright tinkle of broken glass.
Pulling up short, Dean snapped his head in the opposite direction he'd been headed. If he squinted hard, he could just make out a shadowy figure near the tree line. With a sigh that was both relief and irritation, he changed course.
By the time he was halfway across the field, he knew the shape slouched on a large boulder was his brother. Sam's sheer bulk made him loom in a way few could duplicate. His back was turned, and he didn't even react to Dean's approach.
Dean leaned in close, just behind Sam's left ear. "Hey."
Sam startled, a full-body jerk complete with a gasp, and there was the fresh chink of broken glass. Spinning so fast he nearly tumbled off the rock, Sam glared at him. "The hell, Dean?"
"You realize you're like the stupid chick in every bad horror movie." Dean circled around to stand in front of him. "You know, the one who wanders off alone in the woods in the middle of the night and has everybody yelling, 'Look out, you crazy bitch!' at the movie screen."
"You scared the crap outta me," Sam snarled, but Dean was sure he saw guilt in the gaze that slid away.
"Yeah, well, I never should've gotten the drop on you like that. You're slipping, Sammy." Dean studied his brother's face. "What are you doing out here, anyway?"
"Nothing. Just couldn't sleep."
The answer was too sharp and too quick, and Sam's eyes flicked over Dean's shoulder before darting back to his face.
Intrigued, Dean turned to look. Ten feet from where he stood was a fallen tree, the bark cracked and weathered smooth. Two beer bottles perched atop the trunk, while at least three more lay in pieces on the ground.
Dean cocked an eyebrow. "Throwing rocks at bottles? Dude, I got at least five better cures for insomnia." He waggled his eyebrows. "Some of 'em you can even do at the same time."
"Shut up." Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose, sounding more weary than annoyed.
Dean returned to the boulder, scooting up to sit beside his brother. "It's been three weeks, Sam. Don't you think it's about time you told me?"
It was as if every muscle in his brother's body turned to iron; Dean felt tension thrumming like current where their shoulders brushed.
"Told you what?" Sam asked.
So that's the way it was gonna be. Dean huffed and shook his head. "You're barely eating. You're not sleeping. Something's got you tied up in knots, man. I'm just wondering when you're gonna let me in on what it is."
Sam curled his lip. "Gee, I don't know. I suppose the fact that my brother sold his soul to a demon for me might have something to do with it."
"Oh, screw you," Dean said, recognizing the tactic for exactly what it was--a diversion.
"What, you don't think I have a right to let that one-year deadline make me a little tense?"
"That's not what this is about, and you know it."
Sam thrust his jaw out, and his voice dropped to the husky tone that meant he was becoming seriously pissed. "Why don't you tell me what it is about, since you know so much?"
Dean pressed his lips together and hung onto his temper. Didn't mean he couldn't take the gloves off, though. "Why are you having nightmares about Mom?"
Sam physically recoiled, eyes wide and briefly defenseless. "What?"
"You call out her name--it's like Jessica all over again." Even in the darkness, Dean could see Sam had paled. He softened his voice. "Talk to me, Sammy."
"We just killed the Demon we've spent our whole lives hunting," Sam said, evading his gaze. "I guess it just dredged up bad memories."
"And I might buy that--if they were your memories. You were a frickin' baby, Sam." He gripped the back of Sam's neck, forcing him to make eye contact. "Level with me. What's going on in that freaky head of yours?"
Sam just looked at him, but God, Dean didn't need the words. There was so much pain there, buried but not completely masked by the defiance. And more--shame, and something that looked a lot like fear.
Sam made a small sound in the back of his throat, and his eyes welled up. "Don't," he choked, his voice rough and unsteady. "I...please, let it go, Dean. You don't want to know."
After holding Sam's gaze a moment longer, Dean released him. He rasped a hand over the stubble on his chin. Far from letting it go, Sam's behavior convinced him that he needed to keep pushing.
But carefully. Very carefully.
"How about I tell you what I do know?" he said, drawing a leg up and propping his arm on it. When Sam didn't answer, he continued. "I know that when I asked if the Demon had told you anything else, you lied to me."
Sam scowled and opened his mouth to protest, but subsided at Dean's steady glare and raised eyebrow.
Dean lifted one corner of his mouth in an affectionate smirk. "Note to self, Sammy. You may have one hell of a game face when you're dealing with strangers, but you can't lie for shit to your family. Dad and I saw Stanford coming for months before your big declaration of independence. I know you had some serious doubts about Roy LaGrange but took me to him anyway. You've still got a thing for Sarah despite all the 'I'm too dangerous' bullshit--"
"All right! I get it. Just...shut up." Sam raised a shaking hand and rubbed a spot above his right eye. His face looked pinched and washed out.
Headache, Dean thought, but he didn't let up. "I know firsthand how good that sonuvabitch was at messing with your head. What did he tell you? That you're evil? That it's only a matter of time before you become like Ava? That Mom's death was all your fault?"
With a hiss, Sam caught his breath and turned away, confirmation in every line of his body. Damn.
"Sam, we've been over this. What happened to Mom--" Sam muttered something barely above a whisper, and Dean broke off, certain he'd heard wrong. "What?"
"He didn't tell me. He showed me." Sam slid off the rock and paced left, then right. Stopping abruptly with hands on hips, he looked at Dean, his mouth twisting in a humorless smile. "He took me back to that night. He called it a 'high-def instant replay.'"
Dean frowned. "What--you mean you were there?"
"Stood right next to my crib. No one could see or hear us, but..." Sam shrugged, sinking his teeth into his lip. "He said it's always been about me. That Mom just got in the way, and--"
"C'mon, Sam!" Dean snapped. "The bastard was just winding you up, he--"
"He fed me his blood, Dean. I saw it, I saw him do it." He curled his arms over his head and resumed pacing, his voice high and shaky. "He cut his wrist and held it over the crib, and the blood, drops of it went into my mouth and I was crying and then Mom walked in and..."
He stilled, hands falling to his sides, and gave Dean the look.
The one that pleaded, Fix this.
The one that broke him every damn time.
"She interrupted," Sam said, all emotion abruptly extinguished. "She tried to stop him, and he killed her."
It felt like rabbit punches--quick, sharp jabs that drove the air from his lungs before he could find breath to answer. "Sam..."
"That's not all," Sam gritted out, and Dean heard a sick note of you asked for this in his voice. "The Demon... Mom recognized him, Dean. She knew him."
Dean couldn't move, could barely breathe. "That's a lie," he growled.
Sam didn't flinch. "It's not. She looked straight in his eyes and said, 'It's you.'"
Dean launched himself off the rock, burying his fingers in Sam's jacket. "So you're just going to believe something a demon--that Demon--showed you?" He let go, adding a shove for good measure. "Demons lie, Sam. Hell, you should know that."
The push sent Sam stumbling back a few steps, but he untangled his feet and wrapped himself up in his arms. "I do. But not this one--at least, not this time."
He looked so stubbornly certain--and friggin' miserable about it--that Dean was torn between wanting to knock him on his ass and hug him.
God, just kill him now.
"How do you know?" he asked gruffly.
Sam hunched his shoulders. "How many times did Dad talk about that night? It was just like he described, right down to where he found Mom, the way she died."
Dean grimaced. "Did you see--"
"No!" Sam shook his head, looking queasy. "No, he pulled me out, and then I woke up."
Blowing out a long breath, Dean scratched the back of his neck. "The bastard was in your head, Sam. He could've made you see anything. Doesn't mean it happened."
"I know." Sam looked away, throat working. "I just... It felt right, Dean. It felt real." He dropped back onto the rock, clenched fists pressing against his thighs.
Dean's thoughts raced, and his stomach lurched. This wasn't supposed to be happening. He'd brokered a deal and made peace with himself in the process. The Demon was dead and Sam was alive. Everything else was supposed to be minor details.
How certain are you that what you brought back is 100-percent pure Sam?
He looked at his brother--long, lanky legs and shaggy hair. Large hands that could handle a weapon with deadly efficiency, then gently suture a gashed forehead. Eyes that found good where Dean would have sworn it didn't exist.
You sacrifice everything for me--don't you think I'd do the same for you? You're my big brother--there's nothing I wouldn't do for you.
"It doesn't matter," he said, joining Sam on the boulder.
Sam looked at him as if he'd done something unthinkable, like toss his entire tape collection out the window. "Did you hear a word I said? Mom knew that yellow-eyed sonuvabitch, and I have demon blood in me. Are you really gonna tell me none of that matters?"
Dean met his incredulous glare without wavering. "Demon's dead, Sam. Whatever connection he may have had to Mom--to you--is broken. End of story."
"How can you possibly be certain of that?"
One corner of Dean's mouth turned up. "'Cause it feels right. It feels real."
Sam studied him, his expression guarded. "You aren't the least bit afraid of me? Of what I could still become?"
"How could I be scared of you? You're my little brother," he said, nudging Sam with his shoulder. Waited a beat. "Not to mention the biggest damn girl on the planet."
Sam huffed, a ghost of a smile tugging at his lips. "Jerk."
Dean elbowed him in the ribs. "We won, Sammy. You can let yourself off the hook."
Sam's smile slipped away. "No, you won the first round. Now it's my turn."
He knew where Sam was headed, and there was no way he was going there. Not now, maybe not ever. Dean stood and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired, and this fine ass is getting numb. I'm going to bed."
Sam looked up at him, eyes too bright and jaw clenched. "I meant what I said, Dean. I'm gonna get you out of this."
It warmed and terrified him all at the same time. "You coming?"
For a moment Sam looked as if he would press the issue, but then he gave a small shake of his head. "Nah. You go ahead."
"You need to sleep." He tried hard to keep it a suggestion. He'd learned the effect orders had on Sam back when his brother was still in footy pajamas.
"I will." Sam offered him a thin smile. "I just need a few more minutes."
"You fall asleep out here, and you're on your own. I won't drag your gigantic ass back to the room."
The smile grew, became something much more genuine. "Yeah, you would."
"Nope." Dean turned and started walking to hide his grin.
"You so would," Sam called.
Dean just kept walking. No way in hell was he gonna admit Sam was right.
Sam watched his brother's retreating back, rolling his head in an effort to loosen the tight muscles in his neck. The headache behind his right eye had downgraded from spike-through-the-brain to dull throb; he was grateful Dean hadn't picked up on just how badly he'd been hurting earlier.
He should have known Dean would sense that he was hiding something. Irritating as it was, Dean was right--Sam had never been able to conceal the truth from him, not since he was four years old and trying to convince his brother it was a poltergeist that had raided his candy stash.
Fortunately, he'd learned a few things since then. Like how giving up part of the truth could be an effective smokescreen for what you were holding back.
After a quick check over his shoulder to make sure Dean was out of sight, Sam turned back to the fallen log. He took a deep breath and blew it out, focusing on one of the remaining bottles. After a moment it twitched, then shivered, clinking softly against its mate.
Slowly, steadily, the bottle rose until it was suspended several feet above the log, then hovered there. Sam narrowed his eyes, sweat breaking out on his upper lip and trickling between his shoulder blades. The bottle descended with a jerk, then slowed, settling back into place. Upright and unbroken.
With a gasp, Sam curled over, pressing the heels of both hands against his temples. For a moment he was certain he was going to throw up, but the nausea passed and the pain eased.
As he squinted at the bottle, he felt a rush of triumph.
Only a few feet, but he'd done it. He was improving, getting better every day. It was all about control, after all.
I don't care what it takes. I'm gonna get you out of this.
No more running scared.
This time, he was playing to win.
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.