Sam supposed he should have seen this coming, but there had just been too much going on. If he thought the never ending hours on the road were bad before, they were nothing compared to the way he and Dean were traveling now. It wasn't like demons they'd released from Hell all congregated in one area; no, they had to disperse themselves all across the continental United States. Sam didn't want to even contemplate what damage might be happening in Canada or Mexico, and he just couldn't make himself care. One stretch of "sea to shining sea" was enough to police, thank-you-very-much.
It certainly didn't help that far too many of those endless hours in the car were spent in stony silence accompanied by very loud music and an increasing level of tension. There were just so many times Sam could suggest trying to circumvent Dean's deal with the crossroad demon and be rebuffed with something along the lines of "if we don't do this now, innocent people are going to get hurt." Dean completely refused to acknowledge that he needed saving just as much if not more than any of those nameless, faceless people he was so gung-ho to protect.
So that left Sam, frustrated and angry, in the face of his brother's apparent willingness to meekly go like a lamb to the slaughter, knowing full well that he was the reason Dean was willing to sacrifice his life in the first place; knowing that Dean had disturbed the balance of things by offering up his very soul in order for Sam's life to continue. Sam's pain, anger and grief just kept building and building, but heaven forbid it be discussed or acknowledged. The "no chick-flick" rule had been firmly reestablished and for the first time in their lives Dean was set to out-stubborn Sam. Hell, Dean only had to hold out nine more months or so.
Fuck. Don't even think that.
Sam stifled a groan as he rolled from his back onto his left side and drew the extra pillow over his eyes. A wave of nausea washed over Sam and the only thing that prevented him from heaving was the knowledge that any movement he made would increase the pain in his head exponentially. Sam tried to breathe through it, but no matter how tightly he held himself breathing involved moving and the pain in his head ratcheted up to uncharted new levels.
It just figured that this was the way things would play out – sidelined by a fucking migraine. Sam had sort of been hoping that he and Dean would end up in a brawl; a down and dirty, kicking, punching, table breaking brawl, because really, there was nothing he wanted to do more than to pound some sense into his brother's thick skull. It would have been the best way to clear the air; beat the shit out of each other, then take Dean out for a beer. For that he'd deal with a world of hurt. But instead this is what he got, the most God-awful migraine ever inflicted on a lowly human. It made Sam look longingly back on his vision-headaches; at least those passed within an hour or two. This had been going on for at least a day.
Sam had lost count of how many hours had actually passed – he couldn't read his watch because it glowed too brightly. Dean had to take the laptop out of the room in order to use it because his tapping on the keys sent Sam close to the edge of a total breakdown. Sam was pretty sure he'd caught an hour or two of sleep somewhere along the line, but the rest of the time had been spent curled up in the fetal position in the darkened room alone with his torturous thoughts. That was a big part of the problem – any time Sam got himself anywhere close to a state of relaxation, he'd start thinking about Dean and the deal; his frustration and anger would cause him to tense up and soon he was right back where he started – a six foot seven whimpering ball of pain.
It was humiliating. It was degrading. It was an embarrassment. But at this point, Sam was so far past being mortified that he'd moved into "I don't give a flying fuck" territory. He just wanted it to end. So far he'd managed not to say, "I wish I was dead" out loud because that would have just added insult to injury…but he sure was thinking it.
The snick of a key in the lock alerted Sam to Dean's return. Sam tensed up, knowing that the noise Dean would make by just being in the room would increase the pounding in his head, but at the same time a part of him was relieved; having Dean around always made Sam feel better. Sam pulled the pillow tighter against his face and listened as Dean made his way into the room.
"Hey Sammy." Dean's voice was pitched low and his tone was unusually soft; Sam appreciated that. He could hear Dean place something on the table by the window. Then Dean said quietly, "Be right back." Dean didn't close the door all the way behind him and Sam tried to puzzle out what he might have forgotten. The distant sound of crinkling cellophane distracted Sam until he realized that whatever it was that Dean had purchased, he was taking it out of the bag and unwrapping it outside of the room. If Sam had ever had an inclination to kiss his brother's feet, it would've happened right then.
Dean came back into the room and closed the door behind him. Sam's hearing was hyper-sensitive and he kept waiting for the clanks and bumps that usually accompanied Dean when he was putting stuff away, but they never came. Dean was moving through the room like he would on a hunt: controlled, quiet, deadly. It was strangely comforting to Sam. Listening to Dean move about the room was lulling to Sam in spite of his agonizing headache. It was so much easier to concentrate on the immediate present instead of contemplating the inevitable future.
Sam had almost drifted off into a welcome state of slumber when a car alarm sounded in the parking lot outside. Sam flinched violently. Dean cursed vehemently under his breath and Sam could hear him running for the door. The alarm was silenced moments later, but the damage was done. To Sam it felt like every micro fiber of his brain was screaming with new pain. He couldn't stop the guttural moan that escaped his lips as he rolled even further to his left; he couldn't prevent the tears that spilled unwillingly into the pillow he squished even harder into his face. Nausea welled up stronger than ever.
"Sam. Sammy. It's okay." Dean's hand was on his back and his weight was a solid presence on Sam's bed. "Try to breathe through it."
There was nothing else Sam could do but try to ride it out. He was working so hard at remembering to breathe that he simply didn't have the energy to hide his misery from Dean. Mortified, Sam trembled in pain under his brother's soothing hand.
It took many long, agonizing moments for the worst of the crest of pain to pass. It took even longer to realize that Dean was trying to speak to him.
"Hey, Sammy. You back with me?" Dean's voice was full of concern.
Under normal circumstances Sam would respond verbally, or failing that give Dean a thumbs up, but he just couldn't. It didn't matter, Dean seemed to know. Dean's hand continued to move soothingly across Sam's shoulders. "I picked up some things that I think can help, Sammy. You were falling asleep before and I didn't want to disturb you. But since you're awake again…" Dean paused. Sam thought he might be considering the best course of action.
"Listen Sammy, you need to move." Sam instinctively tensed up. Dean quickly corrected himself. "I'll do all the work, Sammy. You're already more than halfway there." Without giving Sam a chance to think or respond, Dean shifted. Leaning across Sam's back he circled Sam's chest with his right arm. Lifting with his right arm, Dean simultaneously pulled Sam's left arm under him until it was free. In a matter of just a few seconds, Sam was flat on his belly and he never had to move his head.
"Okay, Sammy. That's it. Just catch your breath." Dean's hand rested on Sam's back with his thumb on the nape of Sam's neck. The solid pressure helped Sam regain his center. "I looked up some stuff on-line about how to deal with migraines. Some of the info looks pretty solid, but we have to see what works." Even in the state he was in, Sam was reassured by Dean's babbling. Dean always had a tendency to talk when he was administering first aid, particularly if the injury wasn't life-threatening and Dean hadn't been injured himself. It gave Sam some weird kind of assurance that there was a light at the end of this particularly painful tunnel.
Dean's weight shifted and Sam heard him walking across the room. "You always did prefer heat therapy to ice packs, so we'll see how this goes." Dean returned to the bed. "I'm gonna put a towel here on your neck." But it wasn't just a towel, it was a heat pack wrapped in a towel. The wonderful sensation of it made Sam feel like he just wanted to sink into the bed. Involuntarily Sam let out a deep sigh.
Dean chuckled. "We have a winner."
Sam tried to focus all of his attention to the warmth radiating out of the heat pack. He consciously tried to relax his neck and back muscles hoping to will the soothing warmth upward toward his aching head.
"That's it, Sammy. It'll work better if you work with it." For a few minutes, Dean sat in silence beside Sam adding pressure to the heat pack and soothing Sam with his presence. Eventually Dean stood up again. Sam couldn't imagine anything better than the heat pack on his neck; what else could Dean have up his sleeve? Then slowly, an aroma began to permeate Sam's senses. He couldn't pinpoint it, but he didn't have to; Dean was talking again as he placed a small dish on the table between their beds.
"I found this website that talked about migraines and soothing aromas. I know you can't stand the smell of eucalyptus, and lavender is just too girly. So I went with sandalwood. Seems manly enough for the both of us." If Sam had had any strength he would've laughed. If he'd been feeling halfway human there would have been mocking and the threat of endless blackmail opportunities. Who would ever guess, Dean Winchester – Aroma therapist.
Dean sat down on the bed again. Sam was pretty sure the miracle heat pack was working because Dean's movements didn't trigger a massive wave of nausea. "I'm gonna move the towel up a little on your neck, Sammy." But when the towel had been moved, Dean's hands stayed. Deliberately, Dean pushed the tips of his fingers into the base of Sam's skull, and then he slowly released the pressure.
"You've got to let me know if I'm hurting you, Sam. I don't want to make things worse." This time Sam did manage to work his right hand free of the pillow he'd been clutching to his face and give Dean an okay sign. Dean continued working the muscles of Sam's neck. It was painful, but Sam didn't think it was wishful thinking that was making the headache recede. In that moment, Sam was overcome with gratitude. In his whole life, no one had taken care of him like Dean.
But if they didn't do something, Dean would be gone in nine months.
As soon as Sam's thoughts took that turn, all of the tension and pain slammed back into his neck and head. Sam knew that Dean could feel it, and he was certain that Dean would know the reason why. It broke Sam's heart - all of this effort Dean was putting in, all of the effort he had put in over the years – was it really possible that it was going to end like this? And now, Sam had gotten so far past the point of being able to address the issue that he was totally incapacitated by his own thoughts and tension. How the hell was he going to fix this?
Sam knew there was no fix for it. Not that night, in that dark motel room. But there was a fix for Sam's migraine; so that's what Dean did. He fixed Sam. And Sam let him.
Dean started talking again, soft and low, while his fingers massaged Sam's neck and shoulders. This time he wasn't talking about the restorative properties of sandalwood; though he did manage to throw in there that the website suggested a foot massage to cure a migraine but there was no way he was touching Sammy's feet. Sam almost cracked a smile at that.
Dean talked about things they'd done long ago. Before they'd lost Dad to the Yellow-Eyed Demon; before Jess and Stanford; before they knew most of what they knew now. Dean talked about school plays, soccer teams and sailboats. He talked about sandcastles, tire swings and building the best damn snow fort this side of the Mississippi. He talked for a long time. Sam relaxed a little more every time Dean started a new story. The nausea receded and the throbbing in his head ebbed. Eventually, the talking gave way to silence. Sam couldn't tell if Dean had run out of things to say, or he was just giving Sam a chance to sleep.
Although he was quiet and he was no longer kneading Sam's shoulders, Dean kept a hand on Sam's neck. Sam took the risk of moving and reached behind his head with his right hand to lay his hand on top of Dean's. With what little strength he had, he gave Dean's hand a squeeze. Thank you.
That touch from Sam was all Dean needed to know that the worst was over. He gave Sam's neck a gentle squeeze in return. "Get some sleep, Sammy. I'm not going anywhere."
It was all Sam needed to hear.