K Hanna Korossy
He wasn't spying so much as…watching.
Dean slept dead to the world since he'd left the hospital, like there was an exhaustion inside him sleep couldn't even touch. Except for when he dreamed. It hadn't been hard for Sam to sneak out of bed once he heard Dean breathing deeply, pull out what he had tucked under his pillow, and steal over to Dean's duffel to secrete it inside. The next morning, Sam was up first for once, claiming the bathroom, then turning back silently to watch his brother rummage through his bag for clean clothes.
Maybe this was too soon.
Sam opened his mouth, shut it again as he watched Dean slowly reach back inside. The motion of his hand was almost…caressing. Sam's eyes pricked when Dean swallowed and lifted out the cracked and worn leather journal as if it were fragile, staring at the cover. He hadn't even asked about the book, or about what Sam had cleaned out of their dad's car. Sam wasn't sure he ever would. So he'd been left to take the first step.
With a sudden, vicious motion, Dean threw the journal across the room, watching dispassionately as it slapped against the wall and, in a flurry of paper, fell to the floor.
Sam stepped into the room before he knew it, mouth ajar. "What's going on?"
Blank eyes turned toward him. "Nothing. You done with the shower yet?"
"Uh, no, I just…thought I heard something." Sam tried hard not to look at the leather book lying open and face-down on the floor. "Never mind."
And he fled to the bathroom so he could wash up and pretend that was just water on his face.
"What's this for? It's not my birthday."
Sam's smile grew a little wider. It was a good hurt to smile again. "I know. Open it."
Dean looked at the wrapped box with suspicion. "If you got me some kind of Grieving with Dr. Phil self-help crap…"
Sam's smile dimmed again. "Just open it, Dean. Please."
Dean gave him one last glance, guarded like he usually was those days, and tore the wrapping paper off. He'd never been one of the peel-the-tape-off-carefully kind of people, and Sam loved that about him. His brother opened the top of the shoebox…and stared.
Sam always rambled when he was nervous. "I was able to salvage most of them from the car, but a few were too busted up, so I've been tracking them down online. I think I remembered them all, but if you find any missing, I can probably—"
Dean's fingers were moving hesitantly, almost reverently, over the cassette tapes. He cleared his throat. "No, that…they look good. Thanks." And for a moment, Sam saw his brother underneath the pain.
He smiled softly this time. "The minivan has a tape deck."
It was the first grimace in over a month he was glad to see.
It had been an unusually relaxed meal, both of them tired after the successful hunt, and Sam didn't want to disturb the peace. But he had to say it, was overdue, and he was dying a little more inside every day he waited. Putting it off until Dean's inevitable tension and distance returned wouldn't help things.
Sam cleared his throat, saw Dean glance up at him out of the corner of his eye, already wary. They were always on eggshells with each other those days.
"Do you want to know? I mean, what happened at the hospital before you woke up?"
Dean had turned completely to face him now, but Sam kept looking straight ahead, out over the moonlit junk-strewn yard. His brother's rough voice was almost startling. "Yeah."
So Sam told him. Quietly, haltingly, and with as little emotion as he could manage, which was to say he didn't start bawling, just felt like it.
Dean listened to the whole thing in silence, sitting there for long minutes after Sam had tapered off. He finally took a breath and stood. "I'm going to bed."
Sam bowed his head.
Fingers stiff with emotion curled awkwardly around his shoulder, tight enough to almost hurt. Then, as if they'd never been there, the touch was gone along with Dean, the old screen door slapping shut in his wake.
Sam sat until he couldn't bear the separation anymore, then wiped his eyes and followed his brother inside.
Dean didn't scream, not even when he was having a nightmare.
"Dean." Sam's voice was low and urgent as he bent over the panting figure. Bobby probably knew what went on at night on the floor above, but no need to advertise any more than they already had. Sam knew better than to grab his brother's arms, knew that would only invoke a fight-or-flight with a very developed sense of fight Sam couldn't contain without one of them getting hurt. So he just leaned lower, as close as he could get to Dean's ear. "Dean! Wake up."
Dean's eyes snapped open, the bloodshot lines black in the moonlight.
Sam chanced touch then, laying a hand on the heaving chest. It was damp with sweat beneath his skin. "It's okay," he murmured. "You were dreaming." Their roles had reversed since the accident; Sam had been the one to have the nightmares before and, after the recent barrage of clowns, probably still should have. But now it was Dean, always Dean.
Who was staring at him now like Sam was the only thing that made sense. Sometimes, Sam wasn't sure that wasn't true for them both.
"It's okay," he whispered. "You're okay."
Dean never remembered the dreams in the morning nor, usually, even waking up. Which gave Sam a little more leeway than usual. He rubbed Dean's chest like Dean had done for him when he was little, a soothing back and forth, the t-shirt wrinkling and sliding under his hand. There had been no visible damage from the demon's attack, no source for the blood that had been pressed out of Dean and soaked his shirt, but his chest was still sore. Sam had seen the hidden winces and tight movements.
Dean's breathing was starting to settle, his eyes growing heavy again. Sometimes Sam crawled in bed with him after, and Dean would make fun of him the next day for being five, but he never kicked Sam out. And Sam never told him it was more for Dean than himself.
"Go back to sleep," he ordered softly, because Dean missed getting orders from someone. Sam understood that a little now. "It's okay."
Dean's eyes shut. Sleep was relaxing him into the mattress again. Making his voice slur when he mumbled. "S'not okay."
Sam stared at him a long time after Dean drifted off, before stumbling back to his own bed.
Sam switched hands when one got too hot, the wrapped and tender skin not liking the extra heat. It was November, and they were in the middle of a heat wave. Everything was off of late.
The Impala's skeleton sat silent, deserted. Sam gave her fender a pat and kept going. "Dean!"
"What!" The grumpy voice drew him to the machinist's shop. Dean shoved his welder's mask up and frowned at him.
Sam held out the plate, the motion stirring the napkin covering it. "Food."
Dean tried to look at his wrist, but the welding glove covered it, and besides, his watch had been hopelessly smashed in the wreck. "That time already?"
"Uh…you do realize it's been dark out for a while."
"Oh." An awkward pause. "You didn't have to—"
"D'you make it?"
"Uh-huh. Pot roast marinated in beer."
Dean's mouth twitched up. "Knew there was some reason I kept you around." He took the plate, sniffing appreciatively.
At least his appetite was coming back, but Sam also knew what his brother's favorites were. And why Dean kept him around. He just cocked his head. "I've got brownies in the oven when you come in."
Sometimes the bribes worked; sometimes they didn't. Tonight he coaxed Dean out of the darkness for milk and dessert, and that was something, too.
There had been no arguments that day, just a lot of silence. Sam wasn't always sure what was worse. So he was reluctant in his approach, knowing Dean knew he was there but was ignoring him.
"I, uh, need some help." That brought his brother's gaze up, at least, to the sight of the gauze and burn cream in Sam's hand.
Dean's whole demeanor changed. "Oh. Right. Sit." He thunked the bed beside him.
Dean had never liked a lot of physical contact, unless it was of the female variety, although Sam suspected his brother didn't hate it nearly as much as he claimed. But lately the Do Not Touch signs were up in full force, his personal space shielded against intrusion. He tensed even at Sam's idle touches, leaning over Dean's shoulder or punching him lightly in the arm. And Sam missed it. Dean had never pushed him away this hard and long before.
All except when Sam needed help.
His hands were healing, the burns from the carnival's steaming brass pipes fading. They were only wrapped to protect them while Sam worked. Dean unwound the bandages with a deft touch, manipulating Sam's hands gently, looking for infection or poor healing. Satisfied, he led Sam into the bathroom to carefully wash the burned skin, then back to the bedroom to spread the burn cream on again and rewrap the skin lightly.
He cleared his throat. "It looks good. Think we can start leaving the bandages off completely tomorrow."
"Good." Sam said, both meaning it and not.
Dean tied off the last of the gauze and set the supplies on the nightstand.
Their shoulders were brushing, and Sam didn't move away, barely breathed, in fact. Not saying, not doing anything more for fear of making Dean bolt.
Dean tolerated it for about a minute, before finally jumping to his feet. "I'm, uh, gonna fix some breakfast, 'kay?" He was almost nervous, and Sam couldn't help wonder if that was progress or not.
Sam nodded, gave him a smile, and raised a wrapped hand. "Thanks."
He got a sober nod in return.
Well, it had been about fifteen seconds longer than last time, anyway. He figured that was progress, too.
"I think I've found a new case for us."
Dean's eyes glimmered with definite interest. The killer clown hunt—and Sam winced still at the thought—had actually been kind of good for them. "Yeah?"
Sam nodded, glad to see any positive emotion. "Yeah. Only about fifty miles from here, too. Two cases of people suddenly going crazy, screaming about 'shadows with red eyes,' then killing themselves.
"Huh." The sound of crunching cereal was all that filled the kitchen for a half-minute. Then, "You think Bobby has something else besides minivans that's running?"
"There's Dad's truck."
Dean tensed. "No."
"All right." Sam didn't push. "I think he'd let us take his tow truck fifty miles if we promised to bring it back in one piece."
Dean was relaxing again but slowly, like he was braced for more. "Yeah, maybe." More silence. "You get all the weapons cleaned yet? 'Shadows with red eyes' could be just about anything." But he sounded intrigued, engaged.
Sam smiled at him. He would have summoned up something for Dean to hunt if he'd had to, if that was what it took to bring life back into that hollow expression. "Even sharpened the knives."
"Good boy," Dean allowed with a very small smile.
I know what you're doing and thanks for not giving up on me and I love you, too were all said the same way sometimes.
"Yeah…yeah…" The screen door slammed shut behind him, and Sam craned around. "Yeah, he just walked in."
Dean gave him a narrow-eyed glare. "Who're you talking to?"
Sam pulled the cell away from his mouth for a second, as if the woman at the other end wouldn't know. "Missouri."
Dean's face went expressionless.
Sam winced. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. "She wants to talk to you."
For a few seconds, Dean fought some sort of internal battle: His jaw twitched, his gaze turning inward. Then he shook his head sharply. "Not now."
"Not now, Sam. I'm busy."
"Dean," he said softly. "She'll know."
He could barely hear the under the breath, "Yeah." Dean looked up, face hard. "I don't want to talk to her." And he walked out.
Sam stared after him. "Yeah…I'm sorry…I will. Bye." He disconnected with the push of a button, kept staring at the door.
As if his own resident psychic didn't already see how much pain Dean was in.
He knew he had his brother hooked the third time Dean passed, slowly, through the living room.
Sam smiled at the TV screen. "The Great Escape."
Dean snorted. "Dude, I'm not stupid."
"Park yourself on the couch and watch then, man. You know you want to." Sam made sure it came out casual and playful.
"I can't, I gotta…" Clearly something not very important, as Dean got absorbed into the movie. "Hey, this is the part when he realizes the little forger guy's—"
"—gone blind, yeah." Sam craned up at him. "Dean. C'mon. Take a few and sit." Then, because even a broken Dean was bribable, "I've got beer."
Dean hesitated another second, then came around the couch to flop down at the other end. "You're a bad influence, little brother. I should be working on the car, and instead here I am—"
"Dean. Shut up."
Surprisingly, he did. A few minutes later, he leaned forward to snag the beer and steal some of Sam's popcorn.
By the time they marched Steve McQueen back into the prison camp, a half-dozen empty beer bottles, a greasy bowl, and Dean's feet cluttered the coffee table. Sam's brother was snoring softly, head tucked against Sam's arm a little below his shoulder. It looked uncomfortable, but Sam didn't have the heart to wake him or move him. Instead, he just grabbed the jacket he'd shed before, draped it over Dean's upper body, then started the DVD over. Watching McQueen break out of the camp—twice—just never got old.
From the look on Dean's face, Sam wasn't sure he'd gotten it right at first.
His brother had handled all the details of the Impala's repairs, ordering and scavenging and replacing parts. He'd given Sam some lessons on the side, Sam finding being with his brother far outweighed his total disinterest in automobile repair, but Dean had been the one to track down everything the Impala needed.
Sam had seen just where that gaping hole in the Impala's trunk had come from, and that Dean had carefully avoided that part of the car afterward and worked on the motor, the interior, the doors—everything but. The car was mostly back together, but the trunk remained wrecked, gaping, silent testimony to its broken owner. A few questions to Bobby, and Sam had finally acted on his own, wondering every single minute if he was doing the right thing.
"Well?" he asked. "The guy said it was from a '67. I mean, it needs repainting, but…" Still no response. And Dean's face as he circled the trunk lid gave away nothing. "Dean? I mean, is it okay?"
Dean unexpectedly chuckled. "Yeah." He was nodding now, slowly. "Yeah, it's good. I just think it's freakin' funny that you finally order a car part and it's a trunk lid. I guess even a bookworm like you couldn't mess that up."
Sam grinned, knowing a Dean-style thank you when he heard one. "Good. 'Cause you're getting the bill."
And Dean laughed. For real.
They carried the lid over to the car together, holding on to opposite corners. Sam helped Dean lean it against the nearest wreck, and didn't miss the flash of…something in Dean's face as he straightened and his eyes caught sight again of the damage to his car. Damage he himself had inflicted.
Sam softened, brushed a hand against Dean's elbow as he started to walk away. This had actually turned out better than he'd expected.
"Hey." Dean's quiet voice turned him around, and Sam gave his brother a quizzical look.
Dean glanced down, gaze skipping over the new lid, the mangled old one. His face drew up in a wince, but his eyes were clear and deep as he looked back at Sam. "Dad loved you, Sammy. And doesn't matter what the last things you two said to each other was, he knew you loved him, too."
Sam's throat hurt. He swallowed, his Adam's apple squeezing through the tightness, and nodded.
Dean's gaze flicked away. "You wanna help me replace this tomorrow?"
He had to swallow again before he could answer. "Sure."
Dean nodded and moved on, back to work, without looking at Sam again.
He was trying to help Sam. Couldn't help himself, but he was still looking out for his little brother.
Maybe that meant there was hope for his little brother to do the same. Or just that Dean was still sacrificing for his family.
Or maybe it didn't really matter, because regardless, Sam wasn't giving up on him.
He kept trying.