A/N: Grief can be a funny thing, you can think you are well over it then it arrives to smack you in the face. The oddest thing can set it off. I have been thinking about this tag for a long time. In a review (for Rainbows in the Dark) Mousitsa pointed out that Dean didn't take Sam's hand during the deathbed chat in AHBL2. I didn't realize that had been rattling around in my brain, until this popped up. Thank you for that it, helped this story grow! I would also like to thank everyone who takes time to read and review--you are what keep me writing!
Dean shot upright in bed. His heart was pounding, he was shaking in the aftermath of the nightmare. The same nightmare for nine nights. The same reaction for nine nights. He bolted off the bed towards the bathroom, after nine nights he knew what to expect and managed to make it to the toilet before the cheeseburger and fries he'd had several hours before came back. As soon as his stomach was empty and the dry heaves were over he rinsed his face with cold water and quietly opened the bathroom door. He glanced over at the other bed, Sam was still sleeping. At least he wasn't actually shouting out loud and waking Sam in his panic—those first two nights had been a little awkward.
He walked over to where his bag sat on a chair and pulled out a ginger ale, silently thanking, once again, the lovely nurse in Inverness, California, who had told him about the medicinal qualities of good old ginger ale. Freshens the mouth, and settles what's left of the stomach. Good stuff.
Funny Sam hadn't mentioned the supply of ginger ale. Nor had he mentioned the fact the Dean was stopping earlier and earlier for dinner—figuring the more time between food and the nightmare the better. No, Sam didn't say anything. He just sat there and shared the meal, never commenting on the fact that Dean was sticking to plain cheeseburgers and fries. No extra onions, no pickles, no nothing, just meat, cheese and bun. After the first couple of nights Dean had figured out what did the least amount of damage when it made a reappearance.
Actually, now that he thought about it, Sam wasn't talking all that much. Well, that wasn't precisely true. Sam was talking—just not about what had happened, which wasn't really like him. Dean suspected it might be in part because his brother was still a little angry about the deal he'd made for Sam's life. But there was something else, too, in Sam's silence and Dean couldn't put a finger on what it was. The weird thing was, for the first time in a very, very long time Dean wanted—no be honest with yourself—needed to talk to Sam about what had happened, about what was going on, he needed to get it out of himself—remove it so the wound could heal.
Dean was shivering, the room was absolutely freezing. They had somehow managed to get the room with the heater that had two settings, bake and off. After the room had heated up to something just shy of 500 degrees they'd opted to turn it off. They'd taken showers and dove into bed before the room got too cold.
He sat down on the edge of his bed and put his soda down on the table. Nice it was cold, always tasted better that way. He looked over at his brother, sound asleep, snoring lightly. Sam was sleeping in his typical style, sprawled out as much as he could on the motel bed—one arm sticking out from under the covers. Dean smiled affectionately. Sammy had always slept that way, and Dean usually ended up tucking one limb or another back under the covers. He got up and reached for Sam's hand. It was cold. Ice cold.
Memory slammed into him with a near physical violence. He fell back against the bed. Sam's hand was cold. Cold, like it had been…He pressed his hands against his eyes trying to stop the memory, hoping to cut it off before it overwhelmed him. Sam's hand was cold, like it had been…
He remembered yelling his brother's name and then running for him, catching him before he collapsed on the ground. Sam limp in his arms, dying. Dean knew he was dying and was trying to convince Sam otherwise, even though he knew. He could feel the life leaving his brother as he held him. There were no speeches, no gentle good-byes, no "I Love you" nothing, just his Sammy dying in his arms.
He had knelt there, holding his brother's body until Bobby had come back from chasing Sam's murderer. Bobby had squatted down and told Dean they needed to go, needed to get out of there and continue the hunt. He remembered the words, he remembered asking Bobby to hold Sam up so he could stand and pick him up and take him to the car. Bobby had offered to help, Dean wouldn't let him, no one was going to take that burden from his arms. The walk back to the car was long, the longest of his life, his arms ached under his brother's weight, he wanted to stop, to collapse, to just stop there and never go on.
When they reached the car, Bobby had opened the door to the backseat, Dean had carefully laid Sam on the seat, then gently closed the eyelids over his brother's lifeless eyes. He got a blanket out of the trunk and covered Sam, like he was sleeping, the cover pulled up to his shoulders. Dean had gotten in the passenger seat in front and reached awkwardly over the seat to hold Sam's hand. His brother's hand that was slowly losing the warmth, getting colder and colder as they drove back to their room.
Bobby stopped the car and Dean was out before he had turned the key off. He didn't want Bobby to help carry Sam into the room. Only Dean. So he had picked up his brother's body, cold now, and starting to stiffen, and carried him into the room, laying him gently on the bed. He heard Bobby come in, heard him suggest that they burn Sam or bury Sam, he heard him, but the words didn't really make sense. Dean's whole world was filled with pain and the vision of his brother lying so still on the bed. He tried to take one of Sam's hands, it was cold. Ice cold. He dropped it as if it had burned him. That cold hand was reality, the warmth of life was gone from his brother.
He hadn't touched Sam again. He had started talking. He knew Bobby thought he was losing his mind, and he was right, Dean was just on the edge of madness. In the madness he had convinced himself that Sam was just asleep and as long as he didn't touch the cold body, the delusion could continue. He had poured his heart out to Sam, the way he never had in life, he had driven Bobby away and eventually the madness would propel him to his car and down to the crossroads.
Dean was rocking, pressing his hands harder against his eyes, trying to stop the memories before they drove him back to that place of madness. Sam's hand had been cold, maybe the last nine days, maybe the deal, maybe it was all part of the madness and Sammy was still gone, cold, lifeless. Dead. No, no, it can't be. The madness had found him again.
Weight settled on the bed, probably Bobby, here to tell him it was time to bury his brother. "Go away," he said, still rocking, shaking in the cold room. "I don't want to hear it, go away, Bobby."
"You must be cold," a blanket was gently wrapped around his shoulders, and arm resting on the blanket. "Dean?" The voice gentle, concerned, it sounded so much like Sammy.
"Go away, Bobby, leave me here. Just leave me."
"Dean?" The voice sounded so much like Sam, it broke his heart. "Dean?"
"Please, leave me alone."
"No, I won't, I can't, not like this. Dean, please." The arm tightened on his shoulder, pressing the blanket around him. "Dean!"
"Take the blanket away. You should put it over Sam, he's so cold, never warm again. I put it on him, he just got colder, I couldn't stop it. I couldn't stop it." He was lost in the madness, rocking, trying to pull away from that warm arm. "I couldn't stop it, I couldn't save him, I promised. I promised. He's so cold."
"Dean," the voice implored. "Dean, please."
"Go away, just leave me here. I don't want to leave him here."
The weight shifted from the bed, good Bobby had heard him, was finally leaving him here. Hands grabbed his arms, shaking him. "Dean!"
He ignored the voice that sounded like his brother, ignored the harsh shaking. "Go away, let me alone."
The shaking stopped, a hand connected with his face in a hard slap, hard enough to bruise, hard enough to hurt even through his hands still pressed against his eyes. The shaking started again, "Dean, please, please, man." Another slap, even harder. He looked up, and into Sam's eyes, his brother's face was wet with tears, panicked, stricken. "Dean?"
"Sammy?" He had lost his mind, hadn't he? "Sammy?"
"Sammy?" He drew a ragged breath. Sam was still kneeling in front of him, his hands still on his arms. "You're alive."
"What?" Comprehension on Sam's face, the tears coming a little harder. "Oh, god, Dean." Sam sat back on the bed and pulled Dean against him. His arm wrapped tightly around his shoulder, Dean could feel the warmth through the blanket.
"You're warm. You were so cold, Sammy. I couldn't make you warm. I couldn't stop the cold."
"It's ok, Dean. It's ok." His brother was repeating, keeping his arm tight around Dean, holding him as close as he could, as close as Dean would allow. He was still trying to pull away a little, still not quite sure what was reality, not sure where the madness had led him.
"You're warm, you're warm," he held on to that. It seemed like the most important thing, "You're warm" He took a breath, looked into his brother's eyes, trying to make him understand.. "I'm sorry Sammy, I had to make the deal, you were so cold. You were gone, I couldn't let you be cold. I couldn't bury you. I couldn't let you…" The tears were starting. Not like before, not like when Sam was…was dead. Not forced out, a reaction against a numbness and pain that was overwhelming—trickling out of his eyes in a never-ending stream. No these tears were flowing, unstopped. He leaned into Sam. His brother put his other arm around Dean and held him, held him as it all came out. His grief, his fear, all of it, pouring out at once, letting him go, letting him free of it at last. He could hear Sam saying, "It's ok," over and over as he held him.
The tears slowly ebbed. He was exhausted. He just leaned against his brother, leaned into the warmth. He was trying to pull himself together, it wasn't working. He pulled away and looked at Sam. His brother's face was wet, the look in his eyes compassionate, gentle. "I'm sorry about the meltdown, Sammy." Trying to make it normal, knowing it wasn't.
"Don't apologize Dean. I knew something was wrong, I should have done something before this happened."
"What?" He'd thought he'd hidden it.
"Dude, you talk in your sleep, you've woken up the last nine nights screaming my name. You haven't kept one dinner down, you don't sleep once you wake up from the nightmare. You think I haven't known?" Sam looked at him, "I just didn't know what to say, what to do."
"Sam," he took a deep breath. "I thought it would pass, just go away one night."
"It didn't," Sam said, concern in his voice. "I should have pressed."
"I thought it was over, you know, except for the dreams. Sometimes it all seemed like a dream, like it never happened. Like you had never…never…" the tears were forming in his eyes again. "Like you had never died." He said it. It was the first time he'd said it to Sam. "It only happened in my dreams, every night, never ending."
"No, Sam. I tried to convince myself it hadn't happened. It made it worse, the dreams were getting worse, you dying in my arms again and again. Getting cold," he closed his eyes, Sam pulled Dean to him again.
"Dean, you can't pretend it didn't happen anymore than I can pretend you didn't make the deal that brought me back." He laughed a little bitterly, "I do try, sometimes, to pretend the deal was never made, but it was Dean. We have to move on from here."
"You had to let all that out, Dean. "
"I know, I just didn't want you to have to be around for it." He pulled away from Sam and moved to lean against the headboard. Part of him wanted to return to the big brother, the one who took the pain away, the one who kept everything under control. The one who hadn't just had the meltdown of the century.
"I'm glad I was, I'm glad I could be here." There were a lot of layers to that statement. Sam smiled at him and scooted back to sit beside him. He seemed to sense the other part of Dean still needed to feel that warmth, that assurance his brother was alive and with him. Dean leaned against him, Sam put his arm around his shoulders.
"Yeah, Sammy, me too."