Warnings: Language, self-harm, angst
Summary: After a week of riding shotgun inside his own body, Sam needs to know that he's the one at the wheel.
This story takes place following the episodeBorn Under a Bad Sign.
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or any of the characters therein. This story was written for entertainment only. I'm not making any money.
Notes: I'm only human. I apologize for any mistakes. Also, the premise of this story was a hard sell. So just know that I know that you know. Okay?
"Pull over," Sam says.
Dean takes his eyes off the road for a moment, just long enough to frown at Sam like he's not sure he heard him right.
The sky is white above them and the road is a black, shiny ribbon below. Dean is hugging the curves, doing at least twenty over the speed limit regardless of how twisted the road becomes as they climb out of California and into the Oregon hills.
They've been running for two weeks, putting as much distance as they can between themselves and any Hunters who might know who killed Steve Wandell. They go west, because Dean says he likes the way pine trees smell. Maybe he thinks it can cover up the scent of death, which seems to follow them everywhere.
"Pull over," Sam repeats, a little louder, a little more urgent. "Please."
Dean blinks at the 'please', but he pulls over. As soon as Sam hears gravel under the tires he's fumbling for the door handle. His feet hit the ground before the car has stopped moving. He staggers a few yards away from the Impala, drops to his knees and vomits in the dirt.
Over the ringing in his ears, he hears a car door slam.
It's not like either of them to be carsick.
"I'm fine," he says, and Dean's footfalls stop. He can feel his brother's eyes on him, but Dean stays far enough away to give him the illusion of privacy.
Sam sits back on his heels, catches his breath. His eyes are watering. The earth stuck to Sam's palms is black on white skin, surreal in the pale light. He wipes them on each other and gets up.
Dean is standing in the road, shoulders hunched against the cold. "Headache?" he asks. The subtext is, Vision?
Sam nods, wipes his mouth with his sleeve. "Yeah," he lies, and gets back into the car.
Dean can't straighten the road, but he does take the curves a little slower after that. The nearest town is almost an hour away. Even though it's only three in the afternoon Dean wants to stop for the night. Sam isn't sure if it's because he just tossed his cookies on the side of the road or if it's because the bullet wound in Dean's shoulder is bothering him again. Either way, Sam figures that it's his fault.
For the rest of the drive Sam stays huddled against the window, cheek pressed against the cool glass, jacket pulled tight around him. Dean keeps stealing glances at the passenger seat until Sam says, "I'm not going to spray pea soup all over your interior."
"I didn't say anything," Dean tells him, innocent.
"You didn't have to."
"Bitch," Dean says.
"Jerk," Sam replies, but there's no energy behind the insult. He decides that he must sound pretty pathetic, because Dean turns his music off without being asked.
It's raining when they pull into town, a place that they've been a thousand times without ever setting foot here. There's a café and a motel and a Chevron where they won't let you pump your own gas. The clouds are dark now. Foul weather follows them everywhere, like an omen.
Dean chooses the motel. When they pull into the parking lot Sam sees that it's one of those big chain places instead of a sleazy dive with an hourly rate. It's not in the budget, but Sam doesn't see another option, and the idea of a clean (for a change) motel room is too appealing for him to object.
Moving sucks. Sam's limbs and the car door all seem to weigh ten times as much as they should. So does his backpack as Sam hoists it onto his shoulder and follows Dean into the lobby.
Dean checks them in and starts up an enthusiastic conversation with the teenager manning the front desk while Sam stands in a corner and does a good impression of a floor lamp. He had hoped that Dean would pay for the room with his poker winnings. When he sees Dean slap that stolen credit card (oh no, not fake this time, actually stolen from a pool shark who out-sharked Dean in Fresno) on the counter, Sam can't do anything but cringe and hope that Best Western's fraud investigators are off for the weekend.
By the time Dean wraps up his small-talk with the kid at the front desk Sam is so far beyond the point of wanting to fall flat on his face that he grabs the key-card roughly out of Dean's hand. He swears under his breath when he sees that the room is on the second floor.
"What's up your ass?" Dean barks as they climb the stairs.
"Did you have to have a full-on conversation down there?"
"Hey," Dean says defensively. "I'm just trying to take this town's temperature, see if there are any creepy crawlies that need squashing."
"There's no case here. We're just passing through."
"We don't just 'pass through'. You know that. Take a Midol for Christ's sake."
The door bangs against the wall when Sam opens it. Different day, different town, different motel, same room: two queen beds, maroon carpet, television and a desk with a chair, non-offensive, abstract art on the walls. Sam's got tunnel-vision, though. As soon as the door slams shut behind them, Sam drops his backpack and makes a beeline for the nearest bed. He doesn't even bother to pull his shoes off.
Sam closes his eyes and listens to Dean moving around the room, slamming drawers and rattling keys like an angry poltergeist. He's saying, "I feel like shit, too, Sammy. But that's too friggin' bad. 'Cause you know what? Evil doesn't take sick days."
This is ex-marine crap: push through the pain, like Dad taught them. Dean's baiting him, looking for an argument. Sam doesn't bite. He never agreed with his father's logic and he doesn't feel like rehashing his feelings on the subject.
He expects Dean to flip the TV on and crank the volume, but a few minutes pass and that doesn't happen. Instead he feels the bed shift as Dean sits down on the edge.
"Are you really sick or are you just being pissy?"
Sam makes a face.
Dean says, "It's hard to tell with you, okay?"
"Just nauseous. You drive like a maniac."
Dean looks flattered. "I do have a need for speed."
When Sam's queasy expression doesn't change he says, "It's been a while since breakfast. It might help if you had something in your stomach. C'mon, I saw a Wendy's on the way in."
Sam hasn't turned down a Frosty once in his life, but there's a first time for everything. He shakes his head.
"Alright, but you're missin' out."
He doesn't see Dean leave. He doesn't even open his eyes until he hears the key card in the lock and the rustle of a plastic bag. His brother couldn't have been gone more than ten minutes, and Sam doesn't smell food. He opens his eyes and sees Dean setting up a little village of items on the night stand.
"Pepto, Gatorade, mouthwash…" Dean names the items off as he pulls them out of the bag. He puts an emphasis on the last one, like Sam needs a crack about his breath right now. He can't be upset, though. He's too grateful for the opportunity to get the taste out of his mouth.
"And if you feel up to it…" It looks like Dean bought one of every newspaper, local or national, that he could find. He drops them in a pile by the television.
Right, evil doesn't take sick days. Sam would tell his brother to skim the damn things himself, but Dean's research methods are a little different than his: less eye-strain and more small-talk. Besides, he's afraid to open his mouth right now.
"Can you sit up for me?" Dean asks.
He does, moving slow like he's under water. Dean cracks the plastic seal on the pink stuff, measures out a dose in the little cup that comes with the bottle.
Sam knocks it back, clutches the edge of the bed with cold, sweaty hands, but doesn't lie back down. That's a good thing, because a few seconds later he's on his feet and rushing past Dean with a hand clamped over his mouth.
His brother's voice follows him into the bathroom, "You've got to be kidding me."
Then for a while everything is white porcelain and floating black specks. It's better than dry-heaving, but not by much. Sam hadn't thought it was possible to vomit Pepto-Bismol.
From Dean's reaction, Sam guesses he hadn't either.
"If you gag any harder you're not going to have any bones left," Dean says. Then he sits down on the edge of the bathtub, glances at the toilet bowl and announces, "Hey, good news: no blood."
Sam is beyond caring how pathetic he looks, and just lies down in a sad heapright where he is. Nothing has ever felt as good as the cold tiles feel against his face right now.
"Well, we both had hot dogs last night and I'm not sick. You barely touched breakfast. Did you Irish up your coffee this morning?" Dean asks, checking his flask.
"Have unprotected sex?" Dean smirks and nudges Sam's foot knowingly. "Am I gonna be an uncle?"
Sam still has enough strength to raise his middle finger.
When Dean runs out of jokes he kneels down next to Sam, probes under his jaw line with two fingers.
"Glands aren't swollen," Dean says. He puts a hand on Sam's forehead, "You're not hot."
Dean gets up. Sam hears him turn on the tap. He should have been expecting it, but he still jerks in surprise when his brother drops a cold, wet washcloth on his face from a height of about four feet. It makes a nice slapping sound when it lands.
"Don't make me puke on you," Sam says.
"I'm not worried about that. Your aim sucks."
Sam wipes his mouth on the cloth, and then drapes it over his neck. It feels as good as the floor tiles pressed against his cheek.
Sam expects Dean to leave him, but instead Dean settles himself back on the rim of the tub with a heavy sigh. "Seriously, Sammy, you've got to cut this shit out."
"What are you talking about?"
"You haven't eaten a full meal or slept all the way through the night since we left Bobby's. You're tired and you're slow. Slow is dangerous. Slow is dead. And," Dean throws his hands up, "big surprise! Now you're sick."
"Right, sorry, give me five minutes and I'll just stop being sick. Fuck you very much."
"Come on, Sammy. Cut the crap. This is me here. I know you. You feel all guilty about that demon chick-"
"Whatever. Don't interrupt my monologue. You feel bad about what she did. I get that. But it wasn't you. Okay? You know that. You're just beating yourself up because nobody else will. You didn't do anything, so let it go. You're making yourself sick."
Sam looks sullenly at the tile near his face. He says sarcastically, "Thanks, I feel so much better."
"Jesus, Sam. You're sulking. What if some pissed-off evil thing breaks down the door while you're curled up by the toilet?"
"Like one of Steve's friends?"
That shuts Dean up for a moment, because, yeah, they're both afraid that will happen sooner rather than later. Dean's been avoiding that name like the plague, like if he doesn't mention it, it didn't really happen, and Sam can get on with his life. Sam knows he's right. He didn't really kill Steve, but 'I was just along for the ride' isn't going to sit well with a bunch of vengeful hunters.
"It's like talking to a wall," Dean mutters to himself. More loudly he says, "It's done. You can't change the past, Sammy. You need to pull yourself together and focus."
"You sound like Dad."
"Good!" Dean growls in frustration and scrubs his hands through his hair. "I want to help you, Sam. I really do, but I don't know who I'm talking to sometimes, you or your guilty conscience."
"Not gonna leave you, Sammy."
"Then shut up."
Sam groans. "Go ice your shoulder, Dean"
Dean doesn't answer. He's frowning like he just noticed something. "Did you hit your head? You're sort of slurring your words." He crouches down next to Sam, starts probing his scalp.
Sam hadn't noticed, and his head feels fine.
"You're cold," Dean tells him, grabbing both of Sam's hands in his. Sam pulls away, tucks his hands up under his arms, because they are cold. They feel stiff, wooden.
Dean's brows pull together in a suspicious frown. "You're sure you didn't eat anything strange? No weird mushrooms, no hippie tea, no plants?"
"No, nothing," Sam says, trying his best to separate the words. He's starting to feel a little claustrophobic with his brother leaning over him. "I want to get up now."
Dean doesn't move.
"Let me up," Sam says, a little panicked.
"What did you take?" Dean asks.
The dead certainty in his brother's voice freezes Sam like a statue. Sam's mouth opens and closes wordlessly.
It's enough of a confession for Dean. He jumps up so fast that the breeze ruffles Sam's bangs. He disappears into the bedroom and returns with Sam's backpack, which he upends onto the bathroom floor. Clean socks, dirty magazines and the odd small weapon spill out. He drops to his knees and begins to tear Sam's stuff apart like a wild dog, shaking out t-shirts, squeezing out his tube of toothpaste, snapping the ends off ink pens. Sam is grateful that he left his laptop in the Impala.
Dean doesn't find what he's looking for in Sam's backpack, so he turns his attention to Sam himself. Swearing, he turns out all of Sam's pockets, pats his brother down like he's the FBI and this is a raid. Even though he's bigger, Sam is too weak to do anything but swat at his brother with white, shaking hands.
When Dean's search only turns up pocket lint and a map of northern California, he grabs Sam by the collar. "Look at me. What did you take? How much?" Dean's eyes are wild and his voice is edged with panic. "I swear to God, Sammy, if you did something that stupid I'll make you wish you'd finished the job."
"I didn't take anything!" Sam tells him.
But Dean's digging around in his own coat pocket. He pulls out his cell phone and flips it open.
"Dean, stop it. You're overreacting."
Sam paws at the phone like a kitten, trying to keep it away from his brother's ear. "Listen to me. Just listen! Do you really think I'd try to kill myself? Do you think I'd do that to you?"
Dean looks at him, a stare so intense it could start fires.
"Trust me," Sam says.
The silence is broken only by the small female voice on the other end of the line asking, "911. What is your emergency?"
"Uhm…" Dean fakes a nervous laugh. "I'm sorry. These kinds of things must really piss you off, but my kid was messing around with the phone. False alarm."
Dean flips the phone closed, tucks it back into his pocket. He gets up, leaves the bathroom and Sam, who slumps gratefully against the tub. Dean comes back a second later with the bottle of Pepto, and he's already got a dose measured out.
Sam swallows miserably in anticipation.
"Drink it," Dean orders. His hands are trembling, something that almost never happens. "Go on. We're gonna try this again. Maybe your eggs were bad this morning. If that's the case, this'll help fix you up."
Sam drinks. He doesn't understand how something that looks so much like candy can taste so much like ass. He wants to gag, but Dean's stare helps him keep it down.
"Now swear to God you didn't take anything," Dean says, stabbing a finger at him.
"I need to hear it, Sammy."
Sam holds up three fingers, says weakly, "I didn't take anything. I'm probably just coming down with something."
Dean finally looks away. Maybe he's embarrassed that he overreacted, but damned if he's going to let it show. He slumps down across from Sam, makes an uncomfortable face, and digs a shuriken out from underneath his leg. He tosses the throwing star onto Sam's now-flat, empty backpack.
"I think you broke the zipper," Sam says.
Dean ignores him. "Well, I've learned two things from this experience."
Dean indicates Sam's personal belongings, spread out on the bathroom floor like Sam's backpack was as sick as its owner, "First, none of your socks match, and second" -he picks up a glossy magazine off the top of the pile- "Hustler?" He opens it and starts to flip through the pages, finds the centerfold. "You've been holding out on me."
And that's how Dean rolls. He'll bury the last five minutes, but he won't forget they happened.
Sam says, under his breath, "My socks match."
Dean holds up a pair. One sock is white with a red band across top. The other is just white.
"I didn't mean to freak you out."
Dean just shrugs it off. "Whatever, man. It's cool. Do you want to go lay down or, uh" –he nods toward the toilet- "you got some more praying to do?"
As an answer, Sam reaches up and flushes the toilet. His stomach is still tightening like it doesn't want the Pepto, but so far nothing has made it up his esophagus.
Sam hauls himself to his feet with Dean's help. He's stiff from lying on the bathroom floor. It takes a minute for him to get feeling back in his limbs, but by then he's lying on the bed and Dean's pulling his shoes off.
"God, you have huge, smelly feet."
Dean disappears for a minute and returns with Sam's backpack, sheepishly trying to put one of the zippers back on its track. Once he's done that, he re-packs it, badly. Sam will be wearing wrinkled t-shirts for the next two or three days.
Dean sits on the edge of the bed and says, "Seriously, you've got to stop doing this to yourself."
"I'll be fine," Sam replies.
Dean's heavy sigh tells him that wasn't the answer he was looking for.
"So, do you need a doctor to help you pull your head out of your ass, or have you got that on your own?"
Dean's joking but he's not. Sam knows he'll take him to the hospital if he needs to.
"I just want to sleep."
Dean nods. "Okay." But he doesn't sound like its okay.
Dean gets ice for his shoulder and a bottle of water from the vending machine for Sam. He reads quietly at the desk, but whether its newspapers or porn, Sam's not really sure. He's just grateful that Dean picked a quiet activity. This is the first time in his life that Sam can remember feeling too sick to even watch TV.
Sam doesn't remember drifting off, but when he wakes up the sun is almost down. It seems too quiet, and he realizes that Dean isn't there. A note stuck to the TV reads, "WENT FOR FOOD."
Sam tries a sip of water from the bottle that Dean brought him. He doesn't throw up, but he doesn't feel adventurous enough to try the Gatorade either. He lies back, dizzy and hot. He may have let Dean pull his shoes off, but Sam kept his jacket on. His hand automatically goes to the small envelope of seeds sewn into the lining, just inside his sleeve.
Before they ever picked up a crossbow or a hunting knife or even a container of Morton's salt, Dad taught Dean and Sam basic survival techniques, like how to make a tourniquet, set a broken bone, build a shelter, make a fire, and how to tell which plants were edible and which ones were poisonous. The seeds hidden in Sam's coat are oleander. They are very toxic, fatal even in small doses.
Sam took some this morning. He washed them down like vitamins with cold truck-stop coffee while Dean sat a few feet away, reading a map, totally oblivious.
Sam hates lying to his brother, but Dean isn't the one that the yellow-eyed demon is after. This is so personal that it's not even funny. After a week of riding shotgun inside his own body, Sam needs to know that he's the one at the wheel now, and that he can drive himself into a brick wall if he feels like he's losing control.
Any psychiatrist would classify what Sam did as a suicide attempt, but Sam knows his poisons. He was careful with the dose. This was a test. Sam needs to know that he's vulnerable, that he can live and die like a normal person, and that nothing supernatural will try to stop him.
This is about his damned humanity.
Sam's hand closes around the packet of seeds in his threadbare sleeve. It's comforting, both a touchstone and a weapon: a dozen feathery seeds, enough to finish the job.
Sam tells himself that he won't. He's not so self-absorbed that he can't see it would destroy his brother, but now he knows, and he can do it if he has to…
By the time Dean comes back to the motel room Sam is in that groggy, half-numb place between asleep and awake. He listens to the sounds of his brother showering, brushing his teeth, and getting ready for bed. It's soothing, mundane, and normal, as things in their lives seldom are.
Just as he is drifting off, Sam feels something close to his face, something that smells like hotel soap and aftershave. It's the callused palm of his brother's hand, feeling for his breath.