Like I Don't Even
K Hanna Korossy
It wasn't one of his best ideas. Probably ranked right up there with standing up to his dad when he'd been seven and demanding to go to a birthday party instead of shooting practice.
"It was Halloween the night you came, you know. We went to this party—Jess was wearing this…ammmazing nurse outfit, short skirt, hot little white hat…"
"Yeah?" Dean said noncommittally. After the fifth or so description of how gorgeous Jessica was, he'd started tuning it out. Dean raised the bottle of beer to his mouth, then frowned and set it down. At least one of them had to remain sober. "I thought you don't do Halloween."
Sam's slurred voice was barely audible over the noise of the bar, especially when it fell to conspiratory levels. "I don't do Halloween—Jess…that costume was incredible. It had this long zipper down the back I could—"
"Okay." Dean sat up. "Sam, I think I hear your bed calling you."
"She was great in bed, too. Dean, sh-she could—"
"Sam," he said firmly, "I really do not want to hear this. Let's get some sleep—we've got an early start tomorrow."
"She was a good cook, too." Sam didn't even seem to hear him. "She made dinner on the weekends—have you ever had beef stro'noff? I'd never had beef stro'noff before. I bet there's a lot of stuff we never tried we'd have loved." He tilted his own bottle up, draining it, and set it with the others scattered on their table. Dean glared at the bottles again, silently cursing himself and his brilliant ideas.
Not that his intentions hadn't been good if, okay, a little underhanded. But Sam had been drowning in his secrets lately, nearly getting himself killed by Bloody Mary for them, the nightmares leaving him just short of being unreliable in a hunt. He'd been sleeping better since Mary, but still those shadows lingered in the too-old hazel eyes. Dean had coaxed, ordered, and tried to trick his brother into giving them up—Sam had never kept things from him before, not until Stanford, and they all knew how well that had turned out—but no luck. Greasing the wheels with a little alcohol, with Sam's complete lack of tolerance for the stuff, had seemed like a natural next step. Except that so far every question about Jess had led only to rapturous descriptions and a trip down memory lane that Dean didn't want to take and Sam would probably hate himself for in the morning. So much for good intentions.
"She taught me…everything, Dean. How to sh-shop, how to cook, how to dress up, how to keep house. It was all the stuff Mom should have taught us."
Dean's jaw twitched. "Sam—"
Sam shook his head, not looking at his brother. "Jess was everything I wanted, Dean. She didn't know about the-the stuff in the night, the nightmares that come true. She made me forget, too. Jessss almost made me normal." He reached for Dean's half-full bottle.
Dean pulled it away. "We're not normal, Sammy," he said gently. "It wasn't real."
Sam's eyes, dark and dismal, finally met his. "It was real, Dean," he said starkly. "Her dripping blood was real. She was good and innocent, and I got her killed."
He didn't like the look in his brother's eyes or the pain in his voice, but at least they were finally getting to the point of this little evening out. Dean shifted closer. "How, Sam?" he prodded, not unsympathetically. "How did you get her killed?"
Sam sat a long moment in silence, rubbing at a water stain on the table with one thumb. Dean was about to repeat the question when his brother looked up, and the sheen of tears in his eyes made Dean's heart sink. "You know, I was going to ask her to marry me."
Really bad idea. Dean had remembered Sam as a silly drunk, not this maudlin open book. These weren't the kind of secrets he'd wanted Sam to let slip. "Okay, you know what? We're going home."
Sam snorted wetly. "We don't have a home, remember? I was-I was going to make one with her. I was shopping for rings the week…"
The week Dean had come and gotten him. His head dipped in a silent aw, man, and came up again to see Sam's lip trembling.
"God, I loved her so much…"
Dean stood abruptly, nearly unbalancing Sam, whose knees and one arm had been half-leaning against him. Dean caught him, started hauling him to his feet. "Come on, we're leaving." He threw a few dollars on the table and didn't even glance at the waitress he'd been exchanging appreciative glances with earlier that evening. Getting Sam out of there had just become Dean's number one priority.
But his brother was already crying, silent tears of loss and alcohol sliding down his face, his shoulders hitching miserably. With an internal curse, Dean reversed course, heading for the back door instead of the front, propelling Sam along beside him.
They just made it outside when the tears turned into sobs, which was what Dean had sorta figured was coming next. In the relative privacy and dimness of the back alley, he let Sam slide down the brick wall to the ground. Dean settled next to him, one arm over Sam's shaking shoulders, sharing what little comfort his presence could provide. At least he could make sure Sam grieved in private, since he'd taken his brother's other defenses from him.
Yeah, he was feeling really good about himself tonight.
There were more murmured words through the tears: Dean heard "Jess" a few times and "love" at least once. No revelation there. If he'd thought at first his brother's girl was just someone he was shacking up with at school, the intensity of Sam's grief after her death had quickly set him straight. But marriage? That was news to Dean. Not the secret he was angling for, or at least he didn't think so. Neither was his brother's apparent happiness with her, which Dean could have guessed. But he couldn't make himself go fishing anymore, not in Sam's broken heart. He'd just have to wait until Sam trusted him enough again to confide in him.
And this evening wouldn't help. Dean sighed at the continued flood of sorrow. "Sammy, it wasn't your fault."
"…she trusted me…"
"You didn't do this to her. I bet you did everything you knew to protect her." Dean knew that because he'd come up at the start of every school year to check out where Sam was living and make sure every ward they knew was in place, and they always already had been.
He winced, drew his little brother a little closer. "Yeah, I know. I know you did."
There really wasn't much to say after that. Not through the exhausted end of the tears, not while guiding Sam back to the car and then into the room, not while making him down a glass of water and taking off his jacket and shoes and putting him to bed. Not until Dean stood over his sleeping brother, curled and small in the bed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. After a minute more, Dean also went to bed, ready to forget Sam's memories.
The water the night before would help keep the hangover from being too bad, but Dean still grimaced empathetically as Sam shuffled zombie-like into the bathroom the next morning. He completely ignored Dean and breakfast and the spread paper on the table until he reemerged with damp hair and a towel around his waist, looking marginally more awake as he blinked in the morning light.
"How many did I have?" he finally mumbled as he sank down in the empty chair across from Dean and dropped his face into one hand.
Sam groaned. "Next time don't bother to bring me home, just shoot me."
"Okay," Dean agreed easily, taking a bite of his cupcake.
Sam's chin nearly slid off his palm as he turned to look at Dean. "How many did you have?"
Dean buried himself in the paper. "One."
He could feel Sam frown at him, knowing that didn't add up. The both knew Sam didn't usually go over his limit unless he was keeping Dean company, but, thankfully, his brother didn't press. With a small shake of the head, Sam pushed himself to his feet and straggled over to his duffel to pick out clothes.
Dean cleared his throat. "No nightmares last night?" He could let the matter lie, see if Sam remembered on his own, but Dean had never liked things hanging over his head. Best to face it head-on and deal with the fallout.
"No," Sam answered absently, pulling out a pair of jeans…then freezing. "Dean?"
"Yeah?" He didn't look up, but he'd stopped reading.
"Last night, did—Were we talking about Jess?"
Dean tilted his head back over the edge of the chair to give Sam an upside-down glance. "You talked about Jess. I was ignoring you."
Sam wandered back to the table, jeans clutched in his hands. "So I didn't…say anything?"
"Like what?" Dean asked innocently.
Sam stared at him a few seconds, then shook his head and turned away. "Never mind."
"'Course you said things. Went on and on about how great she cooked and beef stroganoff—which, by the way, we are totally getting the next time we see it on the menu somewhere—and this little nurse's costume which," Dean grinned, "I gotta say, I'm sorry I missed." Sam's still features melted into a look of exasperation, which was what Dean had been angling for. "But nothing personal. Not unless you count that story about the time you two made out on one of the desks in the bio lab."
A pair of jeans smacked him in the head. "Shut up, we did not."
"Oh, yeah. That was me in high school."
A t-shirt followed.
Dean bundled the clothes in his lap, gave Sam an earnest look. "Seriously, dude. If you were that crazy about her, did you ever think about making it, I don't know, permanent?" He held his breath.
Sam had stopped moving again, although he was turned away and Dean couldn't see his face.Come on, Sammy, he pleaded silently. He was tired of all the secrets between them, but this one should have been Sam's to share. To want to share with his big brother.
Sam half-turned, his face still in shadow. "I was going to ask her to marry me," he said quietly. "New Year's Eve. I'd already started looking for a ring."
Dean exhaled, relieved and grieved at once. "Sam…I'm sorry."
"Yeah. Me, too." Another moment, and he glanced up, a sad smile on his lips. "Saved you a tux rental, anyway. You would have had to be best man."
He wouldn't have asked, wouldn't have even presumed, but that little throwaway bit of information kindled unexpected warmth inside Dean. "It'll happen someday, Sam," he said softly.
That tone meant Sam was ready to move on, and Dean let him, following the conversation as it moved on to inappropriate breakfast foods—as if chocolate cupcakes were meant for anything else—and their plans for the day.
Sam could hang on to what secrets he had left, at least for now. Dean would keep the rest for him, like he always had.
But the next bar he let Sam get drunk in was going to have karaoke.