The sky is red, blood-colored, shot across with black smoky streaks and bloated pink clouds. The desert around him is filled with yellow brush, stark and dried out, stunted by the sun's unforgiving rays. Dean is standing underneath that blood-red sky, his booted feet rooted atop railroad tracks that cut a stark black swatch across the denuded earth, extending in a straight line from to the distant gray mountains on the other side of the bleak valley.
He can feel the railroad ties beneath his feet, the little rocks populating the spaces between the ties. He hears the little scratching noises his boots make as he struggles to move his legs, grunting and sweating, the muscles all along his body quivering from monumental effort to shift his feet an inch or two. Dean can barely move his head down enough to see his scuffed boots, to see the black shiny pitch between the ties and the rails. It reminds him of primeval ooze, of decay and corruption and the Pit.
His heart smashes against his chest, a staccato rhythm fueled by desperation. Sam's near, just out of Dean's eyesight, restrained somewhere to the side by the same invisible energy that keeps Dean immobile. He's not sure how he knows that Sam is safe, maybe it's his tone of voice, thickening with frustration and anger—
Dean, God, Dean, don't let it happen – please don't –you have to fight, man, fight—
Sam's voice cracks and lowers and then Dean can't hear him at all anymore because now there's a steam locomotive roaring down the tracks toward him. Metal grinds against metal with a tearing, shrieking noise that grows louder with each passing second. Great rolling clouds of white steam belch from huge black smokestacks, and the round yellow searchlight at the front of the engine faces him like an unblinking eye, pitiless and cruel.
He knows that Sam's cries are louder now, pleading and agonized, but Dean still can't hear him and somehow that knowledge squeezes his heart.
I'm sorry, little brother.
The tracks are vibrating, the motion growing from tiny shivers to screeching rattles, the tearing sound of spikes separating from wood and of metal wrenching itself free of its metal confines.
Dean feels the vibrations traveling up his thighs, getting stronger and stronger. The train is approaching, speeding up, whistle shrieking, but he can't do anything about it, damn it, can't scream or move and he's going to die--
Dean wakes up with a shout.
He's sweating and shaking, gasping for air, his heart beating so hard it hurts his chest. All is black around him. Not the Pit. No. Just the silent, anonymous hotel room he shares with Sam. A soft snick from the bedside lamp causes harsh yellow light to banish the darkness. Sam is up on his elbow, hair mussed, eyes heavy-lidded from sleep.
I'm okay, he tries to say, but his voice breaks like glass underfoot and all that comes out is, "I--"
And then he's kicking the twisted sheets aside and lunging for the bathroom, slamming the door against Sam's concern. Standing on the cold tiled floor on his bare feet, he quivers violently and struggles to get enough air. He's dizzy and panicked and filled with immediate, unreasoning terror.
He moves to stand in front of the mirror, his wide, dark eyes contrasting starkly with his pale face. He looks young. Feels young. He forces his breathing to slow, forces the tightening in his stomach to ease. He can't stop the shaking, though.
Just a nightmare, he chants to himself. Just a nightmare.
Now it is, replies a sibilant voice. But soon? Soon, you'll wish it was a nightmare …
Soon—little more than a week till his deal comes due.
Soon. When he'll be in Hell.
He wants to scream, to lash out, pummel the walls until they fall down all around him, wants to run and run and never stop.
Instead, he stands rooted to the spot and lets the sweat which seems to have sprung from every pore dry on his skin. When it finally does he finds himself still trembling. But this time it's from the cold.
When he leaves the bathroom, he sees Sam sitting up in bed, wan and quiet, his expression telegraphing how sick at heart he must feel. Dean turns the light off before he can say anything, climbs into bed with his back to Sam and curls into himself.
"Dean?" Sam's voice is soft in the darkness.
"Go back to sleep, Sam," he orders on a breath, knowing he sounds desperate, cursing himself for his weakness.
The shaking he's been trying so hard to force down is getting stronger, ratcheting up his breathing again, causing his gut to seize up again in response.
He hears the soft rustle of bedding, and the squeak of springs, before feeling a dip in his own mattress. Sam's large, warm weight settles down, and his arm curls around Dean's chest, his palm seeking the skin above Dean's wildly thumping heart. Sam rests his forehead against the back of Dean's head, soft puffs of warm breath on his neck. Dean stiffens, opens his mouth to protest, but Sam whispers, "Please, Dean."
He squeezes the arm slung across Dean's chest gently, and Dean can't find the words to make him go. His body is already melting back into Sam's, because it feels so good to allow himself to be held, to give into a shocking, desperate need for comfort.
Sam scoots Dean over, fitting his knees to the backs of Dean's, his hips and chest and arms wrapped around Dean like a blanket. The fear in his belly is uncoiling, his muscles relaxing, chased away by Sam's love and warmth and caring. By Sam's presence. He lets Sam have this part of him, in the dark.
When morning comes, he'll push his brother away. He'll face another day. But for now, he allows himself to stop pushing and fighting and struggling.
Eventually, exhaustion conquers him, slowing his breathing and making his eyelids sag shut. He concentrates on dragging breath into his lungs, concentrates on releasing it slow and controlled, through his nose.
He feels truly relaxed for the first time in … how long? A little more than 51 weeks.
In the last seconds of consciousness before sleep takes him, he wonders if he will ever feel it again.
Note: This little piece was inspired by the scene in "Red Sky at Morning" when Dean thought his car had been stolen and began hyperventilating. I called it 3 am because that's the time of night I wake up when I'm really freaked about something.
These past few weeks have been quite craptacular. Feedback would fix all that. Well, maybe not. But I'm willing to give it a try ...