Pointless author notes and warnings:
I'm posting this because I figure I'm due a one shot. And, I had a day off. Like, an actual day off. No obligations.
Not knowing what to do with myself, not having the energy to go for the snow shoes, and having grown accustomed to trying to write in any spare moment, I produced this. It's not very shiny, but I offer it anyway.
I'm not totally caught up on the current season, but you can be sure, spoilers abound.
This takes place early Season Three, sometime after Sam has killed the Crossroads Demon (which means some of the stuff I'm playing with has likely already been resolved on the show, in better and more exciting ways.) This could easily, therefore, be considered AU, so be aware, or beware, whichever.
The issues I'm playing with have also likely been dealt with and resolved by many other authors in better and more exciting ways. I don't know. I don't read much in the fandom world these days, but I'm sure I'm jumping on an overcrowded bandwagon somewhere. Why not hop on for the ride?
No beta. Quickly written. Proceed at your own risk.
Other warnings: It's a little schmoopy, a little overly schmoopy, and a lot overly schmoopy, too. Oh, and also, fairly plot-less.
Disclaimer: no son mios, o sea, no estoy recibiendo plata por este cuento.
© 2008 kso
Dean speaks softly.
That's how Sam knows Dean knows he has a murder-scene-in-my-skull headache before he admits it to himself.
And it's not just the talking softly. It's the superlight tread Dean turns all his movements into. The Impala rolls smoother under his touch, rocking in a gentle rhythm when Dean glides it over the speed bumps in the motel parking lot.
It feels wrong, Sam thinks, Dean taking time to deal with him carefully.
They don't have time for headaches.
With having died and pending hell, headaches should be nothing.
The car stops without even a lurch, settling with a sigh, but Sam grimaces in the silence, tilts his head forward and clicks his teeth together.
"Hold on," Dean whispers. His voice is followed by the grunting grind of metal door. A second later Sam's own door clicks open and his brother is leaning over him. "Here," he says, "take this." Says it like Dad used to. An order, not a suggestion. John Winchester had never been big on suggesting things. Had never offered hesitant questions like, would you like to take some aspirin, or, do you think it might help if you lie down?
(Would you mind if I sold my soul for your life?)
No, always just, you're sick, get your ass in bed.
(I'm going to take care of this my way, now get in line).
Sam blames his brother for that because Dean needed the heavy handed approach sometimes.
It's not like he does anything to help himself. He won't even lift a finger, won't do a damn thing to…
Sam can't get away with the same kind of heavy-handed with Dean that Dad could, but it doesn't stop him from trying, doesn't stop him from alternating between subversive and shouting, even when he's getting nowhere and Dean is acting like everything is nothing at all.
He chuffs air through his nose and feels a rebounded throbbing slice through his eyeballs. He tips the offered pills into his mouth and swallows, heeding Dean, whose orders are gentle instead of gruff.
"Easy, Sam, damn it."
He coughs and sputters as Dean pulls back the water bottle.
"Dude," Dean murmurs softly. The word is distant and hollow in contrast to the light-strong fingers that anchor the side of Sam's head. A rough-dry palm rests solidly against his jaw, stabilizing. Dean uses his other hand and the slightly scratchy cuff of his shirt to remove water from Sam's chin, then sits back on his haunches, twisting the cap back onto the bottle. "Okay?"
Sam folds his lips together and closes his eyes. He grunts instead of answering, but cracks his lids enough to see Dean press his mouth shut, stark-dark eyes wide and watching, elusive thoughts flickering behind them. Sam has the sudden urge to tackle him into the ground and yank each thought out with pliers.
He's running out of time and he wants it all. Dean and Life. All of one, and all of the other.
He's never ever easily accepted that he can't have both.
Suddenly, the dull-grey light across Dean's face warps and intensifies. The illusion of electricity bolts behind Sam's eyes and he locks his lids up tight again.
Shoes crunch against asphalt as Dean stands. Warm fingers settle on the back of Sam's neck, pushing purposefully below his hairline. The echo of the pressure rebounds from his forehead, mirror points he's never figured out, but it feels like heaven. Two clear lines of peace slicing through his brain. Dean increases the pressure, easing him forward.
Sam goes with it, finds his forehead resting against the chilled black dashboard, and can't help his breathy sigh.
"Stay put," Dean orders, and his hand is gone.
Lighting runs through Sam's head, back to front, back to front. He sucks in his cheeks, focuses on the cool of the dash, and tries to think of nothing.
It works, sort of, the cool, the pressure, and the not thinking. He zens out. It feels like only seconds before Dean's hands are on him again. "Got the room, time to get inside, kiddo."
Sam frowns, moans, feels a rush of shivery pricks dancing down his face when he sits up.
Dean never calls him kiddo anymore.
He makes jokes that aren't funny, talks of nothing that matters, and lets Sam only close enough to see the shiny exterior of his brick wall. They're walking in circles, practiced steps around each other, with each other, holding things back and then shoving things forward, like a sparring match that's gone too far.
And night after night Sam looks but finds no answers.
"You gonna hurl?"
"No." He twitches his eyes away from Dean's and crushes his lips together. Hopes it's true. Getting to the motel room door is an ordeal. Pain is walking a tightrope in his head, taunt between his ears. He'll only hurl if pain trips off the rope, but keeping it balanced doesn't feel likely.
"Keep your eyes closed," Dean mumbles, voice funnily flat.
Sam twitches his eyebrows together, but listens.
Dean keeps him steady all the way to the door, then leaves him there, going back to close and lock the car. Sam hears the distant, muted grunt of metal and squinches his eyes.
He startles when Dean's hand tightens over his elbow.
The door opens to drab interior and, after they enter, things turn mushy and blurry in Sam's head.
He's mostly okay with that.
When he wakes up, his face is mashed against a cold tile floor, head heavy and stagnant.
An even colder cloth is folded onto the side of his forehead, and, as he registers its presence, a chilled drop of water escapes from it, tickle crawling downwards, lodging in his eyebrow. The itchy sensation is an odd distraction from the pain.
Dean is somewhere behind him, hand making slow, smooth motions over his shoulders, rhythm steady.
Pain is tiptoeing the tightrope more confidently—managing—and Sam is relieved. Just don't move, focus on the steady sooth of Dean's hand, and he's good.
And it stays that way—all stays okay—until a truck, a trucking truck, rumbles loud, blasting its horn outside their room.
He gags violently.
Dean makes sure he makes the toilet. Doesn't mumble or murmur, just rubs Sam's back until he's spitting out the last of everything he can.
The second time, Sam's more aware.
He's still in the bathroom. At least, part of him is. The room isn't long enough. His lower legs are stretched onto the carpet outside the door, bare pad of one foot resting against the lowest rung of a luggage rack.
The tile feels colder than before, icy against his arm and the left side of his face.
He shivers but doesn't move.
Dean's leg is a warm line against his back. Sam pictures him slumped upright against the tub, head tilted into the wall, eyes closed, mouth open, crick in his neck from having sat there all night.
Sam rolls his head experimentally but doesn't look behind him to see if he's right.
The headache feels gone but he's afraid if he shifts too much he'll break the disturbingly magic combination of bathroom floor and Dean. The pain has changed from balancing tightrope walker to stalking lion, flitting through the shadowy corners of his vision, waiting for a reason to pounce. He keeps his breathing even, keeps himself steady, counting silently in and out.
"Better?" Dean's voice floats from behind him, sounding gritty. It reminds Sam of the soft crunch of gravel underfoot on rainy days. Unforgiving and malleable at the same time. His brother doesn't sound like he's been slumped against the wall, or like he has a crick in his neck.
He doesn't sound like he's been sleeping at all.
"Bed? Or do you wanna stay here?" Dean's voice crunches on.
Cool sheets, a warm blanket, and twelve hours of soft sleep sound awesome, but getting there sounds like something else. Dean will wait to see what Sam wants to do. He understands the whole stalking-lion analogy. Sam's unclear whether that's because Dean's walked Sam through this one time too many, or whether it's because Dean gets headaches of his own. He suspects it's the first, because he's pretty sure the headaches Dean gets are different, less a natural bodily response to neglect, more from getting himself knocked out so many times. Sam doesn't let himself dwell on that. With having died and pending hell, headaches should be nothing.
Sam reaches a clumsy hand up to his face and rubs a knuckle over his damp eyebrow. "Bed," he decides.
Dean gets him to his feet smoothly and shadows him to the nearest one, blankets already turned down. There are no leaping lions and the chlorine smell of the crisp sheets doesn't trigger his gag reflex. He feels good, but also shaky, migraine leftovers creating illusions of sucking mud and slow motion. He rolls onto his back, biting his lip against the wobbly tremble traipsing down his body.
Dean stands over him in the dark, reaching to card a careful hand over his head, lingering like he can't help himself.
Dean doesn't respond, but he drops the hand, replaces it with the damp cloth, turns his back and shuffles toward the tiny fridge. Dim light through the window highlights the green in his eyes when he turns back around. They look blank and empty.
For a moment, Dean looks dead already.
Sam feels his heart pound, the vein in the side of his forehead beating in echo.
"Go to sleep," his brother says, gruff undertone, soothing and alive.
Sam closes his eyes, and spends the rest of the night dreaming of Dean, kneeling in front of a lion, staring it down, waiting stupidly and defenselessly for it to pounce.
It's late morning before Sam starts contemplating a shower.
He's feeling less shaky, his gut feels solid. He can manage. And the thought of hot water, steady on his skin, slackens the swath still shrouding his brain.
"Take those," Dean says from somewhere in the room.
Sam turns carefully, registers the pills on the nightstand, then props himself up on one elbow while he drops them into his mouth and neatly swallows down the glass of water sitting next to them.
He hears the sound of crinkling newspaper and hears Dean make a satisfied sound.
He slumps back and watches a dust mote slide through his vision.
Abruptly, his thoughts jump, leaping from shower to laptop, then from laptop to the latest book he sniped from Bobby's back room, burning a hole in his duffle.
They're already past check-out time. Sam figures they're in for another day and he doesn't want to waste it.
"Don't," Dean says.
Sam swings his head over. Dean is sitting at the tiny table by the window, newspaper spread in front of him, chair tilted sideways against the wall, eyes on Sam. "We have nowhere to be. Just, sleep."
Sam sits higher against the headboard, bending a knee up casually. "I've slept enough." He can feel Dean watching him, but pretends he can't. He sniffs, rubs a hand over his face, digs hard fingers into his eyes, then reaches down for his bag.
Dean is faster, snagging the bag with a toe and pulling it out of Sam's reach. "No," he says, and it sounds odd, colder and harder than Sam expects. When he looks up there's a dull fire in Dean's eyes.
"Dude, what's your problem?" He doesn't say it harshly, but lets his expression communicate his confusion while a dull flickering light bulb tries to blink on in the back of his head.
"What triggered it?" Dean asks, eyes flicking down at his newspaper, casual pose blatantly contrived.
Dean looks back at him. "The migraine, this time, what triggered it?" The words are harsh, the way Sam's weren't.
Sam sits back. "I didn't have a vision, if that's what you're asking." And now he is annoyed. What the hell?
"If you had a vision, you would have told me, right?"
"I would have told you," Sam says, defensively. He feels a small warning throb behind his eyes. He has secrets he's keeping, but that isn't one of them.
"Then, that's not what I'm asking."
Sam shakes his head. "Dude, why are you pissed at me?"
Dean goes silent, tipping forward on his chair, face tight. He lifts a hand to scratch the back of his neck. When his eyes flick up from the floor, they're bright and raw with something. It's not tears, but it's something. "I'm not pissed at you."
Sam folds his arms.
Dean's face changes. It becomes his knowing look, his empathetic look, the, I know what you're going through but please accept my death and just let it go, look.
Sam's jaw muscle vibrates, and his chin juts out in a reactive gesture he's used since he was seven, but wishes he didn't.
Dean ignores it. "You can't keep doing this, Sam. You can't…"
"Can't keep doing what?" He knows where Dean's going with this now, and his voice is as challenging as his chin.
Dean ignores that, too.
The stalking-lion roars in Sam's ear. The headache's coming back, and his gut twists.
Dean stands, leaning just a little on the balls of his feet. His voice is soft, but frustration bubbles to the top. "You can't keep staying up every night when you think I don't know about it. Not eating. Staring at the stupid computer. Making yourself sick looking for answers that you aren't going to find, and won't work even if you do find them. You're putting yourself at risk, in more ways than one. I told you before, if you tried, I'd stop you, and I meant it. You've got to stop…"
"Stop what? Stop killing myself for you?" He lets it sound bitter, shoves the subtext through, lets the sarcasm fly.
Dean's face turns hard, tips forward, eyes challenging.
Sam stares back, unflinching.
Neither of them say anything.
Finally, Dean turns, walks out the door, and slams it hard behind him as he leaves, hard enough for the sound to cut a slice of pain through Sam's head.
Part of Sam is glad.
It's more fight than Dean's given him on the subject since The Deal, and, don't you get mad at me. It's not exactly an acknowledgment that something of the situation is wrong, but it's a step above the stupid, flippant, references to his death Dean tosses around so causally, the ones that end up hitting Sam right between the eyes and hurting all the way down to his toes.
It's something more than he's had, and Sam will take any sign of hope he can.
He seethes for a while, but stays stationary, buries himself back down in his covers until the roaring lion retreats to shadowy corners.
He double checks that the Impala's keys are still on the table when he crawls out of his cocoon, rifles through Dean's bag and swallows down another couple pills.
He slowly stretches his neck, rolls his stiff shoulders, thumbs the curtain to the side and peers around the parking lot. Dean is nowhere in his sight.
Sam sighs, feels his own stubbornness hardening in his gut, and pointedly yanks Bobby's book out of his duffle.
Two hours later, the book has nothing helpful to offer, his eyes are pulsing, and he's aggravated Dean's not back yet.
Sam dumps himself into the shower to keep from dialing him, over and over and over again, tries to keep a steady hold on his annoyance and righteous anger. It's harder than he imagined, and worry begins stealing ground before he even has the water running. It's nicely hot but he's a foot taller than the spout. He has to curve his head down and bow his body to get the water needling the back of his neck where he wants it. He rocks side to side to make sure it fills his ears, muting the howls of non-existent hell hounds he thinks he hears all the time now.
It doesn't deafen him enough to not hear Dean coming back, and it's only then that the hot water actually starts to loosen his muscles.
Dean brought Thai food. Thai food. Yellow curry chicken, extra spicy.
It feels like a peace offering but Dean's not talking, shoulders and face and everything else moving about in hard lines.
Sam doesn't push, doesn't talk either. He mashes his fists tighter around the annoyance and anger he was able to keep inside him, and sporks rice into his mouth silently.
Sometime after they've finished eating, Dean holds out the bottle of pills and a bottle of water. Sam figures it's as close as Dean is going to come to asking if he's all right.
"I'm good," he answers, aloud, and it's more gentle, more reassuring, than he means it to be. He hates sometimes that Dean is so hard to stay mad at. Not like Dad. Dad always made this easy.
Dean pulls back the offerings, but keeps them in his hands, like he's weighing them against each other. There are words and thoughts flitting about behind his eyes, there in the twilight, and Sam wants to go for the pliers again.
He doesn't have to, even though Dean clears his throat twice, scuffs his shoe across the carpet three times, and takes one deep breath before he actually says anything. Sam holds still and waits.
"You said… you said that back when Dad did what he did for me, that I was twisted, and broken." Dean sits up from his lean, setting the pills and water to the side. There are clouds in his eyes, like he's trying to explain things he hasn't yet made sense of himself. "I know… I know that was true. But, you also said we were his legacy and the things he taught us…" He stops to clear his throat.
Sam feels his own tighten but keeps his mouth closed and doesn't say anything even though he doesn't like where this is going.
"You said the things he taught us, the things he did for us were his legacy. If I had… if I had let you die… If I had… there wouldn't have been… he wouldn't have…" Dean's jaw is jumping, Adam's apple sliding up and down. "I couldn't have, Sam. I told you, I couldn't live with you dead. And I know you think I'm in some big denial, but, after what Dad did… this, Sammy, this un-breaks me, this un-twists me."
Sam stands up, letting his chair clack back against the wall, keeping his back to Dean.
He doesn't want to hear this.
It's not that he doesn't want Dean to care about him. He just wants Dean to care about something else, also.
"But, you, Sam, you're not me, and you don't have to be. This doesn't have to break you. You're stronger. You're—"
Sam rubs a hand over his face. He doesn't look. He doesn't have the voice to say anything, doesn't have the words, but he needs a sound to just shut Dean up. He reaches a long arm out to the chair he just vacated, slamming it into the wall, the sound of cracking plaster shooting through the room.
He's tired of people telling him what he feels and what he doesn't. Dean. Yellow Eyes. The Crossroads Demon. Dad. He's tired of people telling him what he is and what he isn't.
People don't discover who they are, they create it. And for as much as he's always feared his elusive dark destiny, for as much as he's questioned what the demon blood in him means, he's determined to make that statement true. No one's going to tell him what he is and what he isn't. No one's going to tell him what he cares about and what he doesn't, what he should or shouldn't feel.
Not even Dean.
He turns around and lets his voice go cold. "Shut up."
Dean's face is impassive, but he's standing up, facing Sam, a stupid bring-it expression on his face that sends heat down Sam's spine and loosens his tongue. "It's an illusion, Dean. You're still broken. You're going to HELL. I don't care what you say, you can't be okay with that. You can't ask me to be okay with that. I can live with what you did, right now. But not if it actually happens. If you expect me to just sit on my ass and do nothing but plan the going away party, then you can just—"
"What? Go to hell?" The words are soft, Dean's shoulders squared, smirk intact.
Sam feels his thoughts go white, pulse beating through his ears, heavy, painful struggle of it behind his ribcage.
He's a sloppy fighter when he's mad like this, the emotion taking all the planning and calculation that comes with his normal rage.
Dean has him pinned to the rough carpet ridiculously quick, knees and elbows over his joints, immobilizing. Their breathing is loud and halting as they recover.
"I'm sorry," Dean mutters, low. So low Sam's not even sure the words are meant for him. He feels a pinch when he tries to move his knee, grimaces, and goes slack. The energy was sucked out of him with the migraine, and it's not Dean he wants to fight.
Gradually, Dean eases up, face recognizably wary of Sam's movements. Eyes cautious and knowing, he sits back against the bed, breaths changing the wrinkles across his t-shirt as he takes them.
After a few minutes, Sam joins him, sucking in his cheek, letting his throbbing shoulder bump Dean's. "You have sharp elbows," he murmurs, trying to put an apology somewhere in the words. He picks fuzzy lint from his hair.
Dean just breathes.
Sam lets the lint float from his fingers, back to the carpet, glinting in the half-light. The room is getting darker, another day on its way out and Sam can't stop thinking about time, and how quickly it's getting away from them.
He doesn't want to keep having this fight, but he can't lose it either. "How about, don't ask, don't tell?" he says, keeping his eyes on the rays of dying sun coming through the curtains.
"Now, Sammy, you know I don't swing that way."
Sam lets the flippancy slide, forces himself not to lash back, and simply says, "I'm serious, Dean." He sucks air through his nose, then lets it out. "I can't just do nothing." There's a plea in there somewhere, as natural and ingrained as the stubborn jut of his chin. Dean, I want ice cream. I want Applejacks, and Lucky Charms. Both, Dean. (I want it all. But if I have to settle for one, I'll settle for you.)
Dean stays silent a while, dropping his hands to the carpet, splaying fingers in the shag.
The nod he finally gives doesn't really look like agreement. Sam sees a flash of his brother's shiny brick-wall exterior in the motion. But when Dean whispers, "I know," it sounds accepting. And when he rolls his head to face Sam, his eyes don't look like they're hiding anything.
"I get that, Sam, but…"
"This is your fourth migraine this month, man. I mean, seriously, Sam, you can't keep doing this to yourself." Dean brushes hands down his knees, bending them up, looking at Sam like he's waiting for an answer.
Sam doesn't have one to give. Time is slipping away from them.
Dean bumps their shoulders, then adds a light elbow into Sam waist, a gesture Dean uses in varying versions when he is trying to temper the bite in his words. "You're useless if you keep this up," he says, and Sam feels it, the bite is there. "To yourself, and to me, whether I'm dying or not. It has to stop, you understand me?"
Sam rolls his head away. He doesn't want to admit Dean is right even though he knows he is. The not eating, not sleeping. Sam got his stamina for obsession from John Winchester, and thought that meant he could keep pushing himself harder and harder, because Sam knows he is John's legacy also, and he has his own twisted ways of carrying out the things John taught.
It was easy to forget the toll it'd taken, on John, on all of them. Sam doesn't want to repeat Dad's mistakes. He doesn't want to miss what's right in front of his face while he searches, only to discover a year from now he's lost twice as much as he was originally going to.
"I understand you," he says.
Dean looks suspicious. "As in, no more covert all nighters? No more ignoring the food in front of your face for some random book you snuck from Bobby's?"
"As much as I can," Sam concedes. "But, you have to do me a favor."
The suspicious look doesn't change. "What's that?"
"Stop acting like you're okay with this."
Dean shakes his head, eyes disappearing in the other direction, practiced placation in his pose. "I'm—"
"Then stop acting like I should be. For some reason, you think if you pretend you're fine with this enough, I'll somehow start being okay with it. I'm not, and I won't be. I won't be."
Dean stops his head shake, not finishing what he started to say. He looks down and Sam takes it as concession. It looks hard for Dean, like he doesn't understand why the tactics he's used with Sam since they were children aren't working anymore. Sam wants to tell him they stopped working a long time ago.
"Okay?" Sam asks. Something, anything to seal the deal.
It's an uneasy truce, but it'll do, for now.
Sam starts getting to his feet, but Dean hooks a hand on his arm. "Sam, however this year goes, if there's ever a choice between you and me, you gotta understand that I can't..."
Sam understands, but he can't either. Dean doesn't grasp that. He actually believes Sam won't be broken by this. But he's wrong. They fill in each others' cracks, and Sam has a lot of them. If Dean goes, the gaps show, and Sam crumbles. Sam doesn't want to become, create himself to be anything without Dean, so he won't.
He switches the hold Dean has on his arm, pulls Dean to his feet, then lets Dean straighten his collar, and pat his shoulder.
Nothing's really fixed. They're both still broken. They'll both still be walking circles around each other, holding things back and shoving things forward.
Sam can still hear hell hounds baying in the distance.
But it's a step forward.
He'll take it while he can, and keep taking it, one step at a time, one day at time, one hour, one minute, one second.
He'll start counting backwards if he has to.
He knows what he needs to fight for, knows what he wants, and he'll find a way.
Dean and Life.
So help me, God.