Title:Every Now and Then
Summary:In a random ER waiting room in California, a delusional Dean is waiting to be seen by a doctor after a job, and Sam enters with a broken wrist after moving into a new apartment with his girlfriend in Stanford. Collision. Pre-series.
Note: Thanks to all who read and reviewed "The Least I Can Do," especially the ones whom I wasn't able to include in my afterword, including: zuimar, krimson, fearlessgoddess2, the ever-lovely PADavis (btw, it's never too late to drop me a lne haha), adder574, Cadilac Girl and Ghostwriter! If I missed anyone, I would be happy to be called out on it. As you know, I heart reviews and they keep me going. Thanks for taking the time!
This is my new fic as it was previewed in said afterword. I hope you like it and drop me a line, let me know what you think. C&C's always welcome!
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Every Now and Then
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"You're such a lightweight," she said with a laugh, her voice carrying over the crowded emergency room, flitting over the noise, like a small bird skimming the tops of dark trees. Sam loved hearing her laugh; the sound was distinct but unobtrusive. Soft but unmistakable, like something you can mysteriously hear a mile away.
"I'm not," he insisted, chuckling, barely feeling the pain on his broken wrist. He's had plenty worse, sure, but she didn't know that, and a part of him enjoyed her fussing. A Winchester in the hospital for a busted wrist? Whoever heard of that? The last time he had been dragged to an emergency room was when he had half his head bashed in, courtesy of a vindictive little ghost in New Jersey. Back then, at least he had been zonked out enough to not care. The last time before that, he had dragged his half-dead brother in and--
But that was miles and miles and lifetimes away. This emergency room scared him not at all, especially with her beside him, laughing like that.
"I'm not a lightweight," he said, "Your damn box was heavy. When I asked you to move in with me, I didn't think you'd be bringing the kitchen sink--"
"It wasn't like that and you know it," Jessica told him, punching his arm lightly, "It wasn't that heavy. I lugged it out of the van and into the house. Until you had to turn caveman on me and insisted you can take it the rest of the way--"
"Up the stairs is different from out the car, Jess," he told her, condescendingly.
"Oh excuse me, Samuel Winchester Esquire," she said, laughing, "Are we going into definitions and contexts here?"
They went on for a little bit longer. She teased, but her eyes were apologetic, and every once in awhile would search his, and he never doubted she was worried.
The doctor who saw them was a friend of a friend from Stanford. Someone always knew someone from there. They did no waiting at all in the emergency room, no forms, nothing. The doctor met up with Sam and Jessica at the entrance, offered them coffee or soda, examined the injury, arranged for x-rays and pain meds, re-set the bone, gave him a prescription. They were literally just going to breeze in and out.
"Thanks, Marty," Sam said, gratefully, after the doctor told him he was good to go, "Are you absolutely sure we don't have to--"
"You've asked ten times now, Sam," Marty laughed, "Eleven won't change my mind. You have turned me blind and deaf. Don't forget, pain pills every four hours, come back to see me in two weeks, don't get the cast wet--"
"I know the drill," Sam said with a grin, "You've turned me blind and deaf."
"Can you believe this guy?" Marty pointed to Sam, "Ungrateful jerk."
"We'll see you at Jerry's soon, Marty," Jess laughed, "Sam owes you a drink. He's so indulged when he's hurt or sick."
"Now that's something I'm down for," Marty grinned, tossing them a wink and a wave as he walked away.
"You're good?" Jess asked Sam, as the two of them walked toward the emergency room doors.
"'Course I'm good," he said, and as if to illustrate the point, slinging his injured arm over her shoulders over her fading protests, "But now I'm even better."
"You sure have a cheek on you," she teased, but slid in closer, "I called up Remy and Troy. They'll meet us with the car."
He groaned, "You'd think I lost an arm. I'm never gonna hear the end of this one."
"Well I was worried," she said, simply. They passed by curtained sections and corridors lined on both sides by miserable and ill patients either waiting to be treated or waiting for friends and family.
"I kinda feel bad," Sam said, remembering that he didn't always get the express lane. It wasn't too long ago, no, that it was him and his brother and their father, sitting there. Waiting for hours, and hurt so much more than he was today. Waiting to be looked at, waiting for relief...
"Maybe I should have waited," he murmured.
"But your case was a simple one," Jess pointed out, "In and out, they might as well have gotten you out of the way. Besides, Marty said he was on break. It couldn't have affected anybody."
He shrugged, turning glum in introspection. Yeah, he remembered those days. Sitting hurt or sick, waiting, watching people who came in later than he did be seen to first. It was far worse when it was his father or Dean injured. He was a teenager back then and he wanted to scream at them all.
See us, damn it--
"There you go again," she said, softly, almost casually except when he looked down at her she seemed thoughtful.
"Sometimes, I really don't know what's going on in that head of yours."
What's going on in this head of mine...
He was seeing himself from the eye-view of his younger self.
'Sammy,' as the chubby kid would have been known as, was pouting alongside his shifting, wincing older brother, who was favoring his left side because his right side was cracked through and through and through. Their father was on the phone, already yakking about the next hunt. 'Sam,' as the Stanford preppie would be better known as, would be arriving through the double doors of the emergency room, as if he had carried a breeze in with him. Bathed in light. With an angelic blond on his arm. A doctor welcomed them straight away, and brought them to a private room. All because of an injured wrist. The chubby kid would think the Stanford preppie was a total wuss. The chubby kid could probably skewer the Stanford preppie like he would any other monster that had come into his life--
"Nothing," Sam said, under his breath, tightening his hold on his girlfriend. God, he really, really, really hated hospitals, didn't he? There was no salvaging them at all, not even with Jess in his arms.
They passed a few more waiting patients. Old lady coughing into her handkerchief. Catatonic man who looked surrealistically unharmed and healthy, reminding Sam of a ghost. New mother, looking harassed and windblown and trying to calm triplets with red noses and what looked to be bad head colds. A costumed mime with a busted lip and a swollen eye, who flipped a very quietly articulate finger at him when he caught Sam's gaze. A leather-clad, huddled figure in the corner, jeweled hands covering his face.
He stopped walking.
He blinked at the vision. Once, twice. Memory? Imagination?
The man was still there.
Sam couldn't resist the question. He pulled away from Jess, peered at her intently and asked, "Can you see that guy?"
"Yes," she replied, warily, trying to read the intense expression on his face, "Sam?"
"Nothing, um," he took a deep breath, stepped away from her physically as surely as he was doing so emotionally, "You go on ahead, Jess."
"What do--" she hesitated, "Sam, what are you--"
"Jess, please," he insisted, "I'll find my way home, okay? I'm great, it's not a problem. I just... I think I see an old friend of my dad's."
"Oh yeah?" she asked, a light making her eyes shine. She was always so excitable about knowing more and more about his life. Even with all the walls he found he still had to pull up, she never wavered, never stopped trying, never let the disappointments and evasions break her enthusiasm.
"Not the kind you'd wanna know, believe me," Sam said, "But I gotta go look into this, all right?"
"But Remy and Troy--"
"Just go ahead, Jess," he said, kissing her on the forehead, dismissively, "I'm fine, everything's fine, I promise."
"We can wait--"
"Nah," Sam said, "Not sure how long I'm gonna take. We may uh, wanna catch a drink later or something. Don't worry, I'm fine."
She stared at him for a long moment, but just nodded. She looked troubled, but he always knew she'd back off. She always knew when to insist and when to step back, which was one of the reasons he adored her.
He watched her walk away, before cautiously approaching the huddled figure isolated in the corner, whose right hand was shielding his eyes from the light. There was no doubt in his mind, no, not at all, that the man before him was his older brother. The only question he had the moment he laid hands on Dean was whether or not he was real.
He hovered over the form, noticed Dean's body stiffen a little, and his left arm slide somewhere beneath his leather jacket...
"Dean," Sam said, quietly, falling to a knee before his brother and making sure not to touch him, "Dean, it's Sam."
Dean's body visibly relaxed, and Sam waited patiently for him to get himself together.
"Sammy," came the breathy greeting, and the hand lowered, rewarding Sam with his older brother's lazy grin. Less gratifying were the pale skin and the fever-bright, hazel-green eyes.
"It's not very wise, is it, bro," said Sam, "To come in here packing. You could really hurt someone."
Dean blinked at him, shrugged, "Think you should take it?"
Sam's eyes narrowed in thought and worry. Casual, Dean was too casual, like they just saw each other a few minutes ago, when it was more like a year. He had a feeling his brother wasn't all there.
"Sure," Sam said, a little warily. Dean drew the knife out with his usual stealth, and Sam took the knife and slid it into his jacket pocket. He was nervous as hell about bringing such a weapon in his person, but he had been trained by John Winchester too, and instinct took over what the mind had tucked away. It vanished in the folds of his clothes.
Speaking of dad...
"Dad's here?" Sam asked, irrationally looking over his shoulders in impulsive, familiar panic, feeling like he was a kid again.
"He dropped me off," Dean mumbled, wincing at the lights, putting his hand over his face again, "Off..." he murmured thoughtfully, "Turn the damn light off, will ya?"
Sam's brows creased, worriedly. He reached out a tentative hand toward his brother's forehead. Dean saw the movement from the corner of his eye, pushed his head back to avert the casted limb.
"You all right?" Dean asked, opening his mouth to complain about the mothering until he saw the injury and addressed that instead. Sam had almost forgotten about it, until now.
"I'm better than you," Sam pointed out, reaching forward again, only for his hand to be gingerly held away by his older brother, wary of the injury.
"Dean--" Sam began, in a halting, frustrated breath. He set his jaws in resigned irritation. Besides, Dean's too-warm hand was indication enough of what he wanted to find out.
"Infection?" Sam asked, gently, keeping his hand within Dean's surprisingly unyielding grip, as he rose slightly to his feet and sat next to his brother, "Untended injury? Poisoned wound, venom--"
"You're not here," Dean said, suddenly, simply, in realization. He looked lucid for a moment, like he recognized that his brother wasn't supposed to be there, that he wasn't supposed to be having conversations with him in casual circumstances, that the scenery was misplaced and profoundly wrong.
Sam took a deep, frustrated breath and rolled back his eyes. "I'm here. You're not."
"What?!" genuine confusion.
"It's figurative," Sam muttered, "Never mind. Dean. You know where you are?"
"Somewhere," I don't know, came the vague, dismissive reply, "You're not supposed to be here." His eyes widened in manic worry, "Am I dying?"
"I don't think so," Sam sighed, "Dean, listen, your brain is getting fried—"
"Nah," Dean said, releasing Sam's hand at last, relaxing back, lapsing into his dreamy state, "Nothing that dramatic, dude. I'm kinda embarrassed. Just a bug I can't shake. Been bugging me for weeks. Dad finally pulled rank on me when I coughed on a hunt and tipped us off, which was so not cool. I mean what did he want me to do? Not breathe?"
Sam smiled a little, hearing his brother talk in that familiar ramble that could have been easily mistaken by many for drunken talk. If he could yap like this, he can't be too badly off--
"I've told you all this already," Dean snapped at him, "Like, a million times, dude. It's nothing, I'm fine, it'll go away."
Or maybe not, Sam amended, settling down more comfortably next to Dean.
"They know you're here?" he asked, nodding toward the triage nurse.
"Yup," Dean said with a poorly-executed, rolling kind-of nod, "Same old, same old."
"So I guess we're waiting, huh?" Sam asked.
"Yeah what's new," Dean muttered, sinking deeper against his seat. He coughed, and tightened his jacket around his body.
"Want some water?" Sam asked him.
"Dad got me some," Dean replied, shifting, "Somewhere around here..."
"I got it, I'll look," Sam said, reaching over and finding the sealed water bottle om Dean's other side. He glanced at his brother worriedly, feeling the heat just radiate from him in waves.
"I still haven't forgotten," Dean told him.
"That you're not here."
"If I'm not," Sam pointed out, "Then who are you talking to?"
"You," Dean said with a shrug, "But not you."
"You talk to me when I'm not there-" he paused, confused, "Here-whatever?" Sam asked, quietly.
"Yeah, so?" Dean asked, defensively, before lowering his voice in a distracted mutter, "This is the first time you ever really talked back, though... Weird."
Sam twisted the cap, handed the bottle to his brother. "So dad. He's coming back for you?"
"He'd better," Dean said, taking the bottle and absentmindedly swung it around as he gestured with his hands, "He took the car."
"Jesus, Dean!" Sam exclaimed, when the water splashed all over the two of them.
"Sorry, sorry," Dean said, looking stunned, and deeply and profoundly apologetic about something beyond the watery mess, "I'm really sorry Sam."
"It's nothing," Sam said, looking surprised himself, seeing the unquestionably naked despair in his brother's eyes, "Dean..." he breathed, not quite knowing what to say. He's never seen his brother like this, wasn't at all sure if he wasn't dreaming himself.
He caught sight of a misplaced floral box on Dean's other side, where earlier he had found the water bottle. Scented facial tissue? Maybe this was a dream...
He played along and reached for it, grabbing some sheets and wiping at Dean's clothes. "You're a handful, bro," Sam said, under his breath, before looking up at his brother's face, "Now what would you be sorry for, huh?"
Dean's gaze drifted to his, "You left, so something must have been wrong." He looked wistful for a long moment, before his face softened again, as if he had switched past one thought to something else.
"It's not so bad," he said, suddenly.
Sam irrationally looked behind him, because Dean sounded like there was someone else around whom he was talking to, as if he was just continuing another conversation.
"What are you talking about?" Sam asked.
"What?!" Dean asked back, irritable and confused suddenly.
Sam blinked at him. "Never mind."
"I can't remember," Dean said, answering the question belatedly, sounding a little bewildered.
Sam sighed, standing up. "We're gonna get you looked at, right now."
"No," Dean said, hand clamping down to Sam's forearm, and he still looked a little bit shell-shocked, "Don't go, we're okay, we're good. We're good right here."
"No," Dean insisted, and his eyes were afire and serious and desperate, struggling with reality and at the same time, as if willing to live in a dream. The look struck Sam through and through.
I've never seen you like this was a given, making him think, maybe, maybe he was the delusional one. But was it so hard to believe that this was what was going on inside Dean? The Dean without the walls, the Dean without the game face? The Dean who made pretend conversations with little brothers who were long gone?
"Okay," Sam said, warily, "Okay, bro, you got it. We're sitting put."
"Good," Dean breathed, looking monumentally relieved. He nodded to himself, loosened his hold on Sam's forearm gradually, before patting it twice and letting it go. He sighed and sank in his seat.
"I'm kinda confused," he admitted, mumbling.
"Dean," Sam said, gently, "I'm really here, you know."
"I know," simple, unthinking, Unwilling to think.
"No, like, really," Sam insisted.
"I know," Dean insisted back, and Sam knew he wasn't going to be getting any further. Still, a brutally-stripped Dean was going to be an interesting mystery to unravel. Sam could take advantage of his current incapacity to hide things.
"So how are you feeling?" Sam asked.
"Dude, I'm fine," Dean snapped, suddenly sounding quite normal.
Sam's brows rose. Okay, so apparently not incapable of hiding things or lying through his chattering teeth. The only thing different about a delusional Dean was that he thought Sam may or may not be with him, and that was all. Whatever truth he let slip through he did at his discretion depending on whether or not he thought he was dreaming of or he thought he actually was with Sam. The lucid Dean lied and hid, the delusional one bled his heart out.
Sam wanted to know what was inside. And so he figured he had to play the part of the Sam who wasn't there, the dream-Sam, not Stanford Sam. But what was the dream-Sam in the first place? Who was it whom Dean liked thinking he still had around?
"I've always wanted to go to college," he began, tentatively, testing the waters. He intentionally used the same words he began with when he was trying to tell Dean that he got his acceptance letter to Stanford the first time, quite some time ago. He wondered if Dean remembered--
"I know," Dean said, softly, "I've always known."
That wasn't what you told me then, Sam thought, You told me everything I needed to learn I can learn out on the road with dad. Your eyes looked scared, like you knew something, but you just went on to say how important what we were doing was. I shelved my news. I didn't - couldn't- tell you until a week later.
"You just let me go," Sam said. He'd almost forgotten how hard that was, just to be let go. He expected Dean to run his mouth, had hoped Dean would run his mouth because Sam could always, always win that route. But his older brother kind of just looked at him wistfully, asked him if their dad knew, asked him if he was sure, if he was ready, if he was sure, if he was sure, if he was sure--
"You've always wanted to go to college," Dean said, again, simply. He shrugged. Played with his frayed jeans. Blinked, and looked at Sam suspiciously, "What the hell are you trying to do?"
Lucid Dean? Sam wondered, or the Delusional one jumping to a different topic again?
The former, he guessed, because Dean looked annoyed over figuring out that his brain was being picked at and Sam blushed a little, tell-tale.
"Oh for god's sake," Dean said, rolling back his eyes, "You are here."
Sam smiled at him, tentatively. Because Dean had been assured of the truth only after he realized he was being played.
"Only you would take advantage of a man down," Dean muttered at him, "Only you, Sammy. Play dirty, why dontcha."
Sam shrugged, embarrassed, sure, but unapologetic. "You were wide open, man. Someone's gotta eat the cake left on the table."
"Why?" Dean snapped.
"What do you mean?"
"Why?" Dean asked again, looking less annoyed, because it was a genuine question, Sam realized. He left their life, right? He left his family for normalcy. He left them quite literally in the dark, fighting in the dark. He left them even under his father's threats that leaving meant never returning. He knew that they courted danger and he left. He left. What was he so concerned about? Was he just curious about what went on inside his brother's head? Was Dean asking him if he even still thought he had the damned right to intrude?
He reddened more and averted his eyes, suddenly feeling quite low, and voyeuristic.
I don't have a right anymore, is that it?
Dean was staring at him. Blinked, as if seeing something in his face. "Sam."
"Admit it, you just missed me."
Sam's turn to stare at him this time.
Dean shrugged, "I guess sometimes you miss us too, huh? Is that it? You missed me, Sammy?" he chuckled, and Sam felt a little bit more at ease. Trust Dean, yeah, trust him to soften the damn blows.
"Too?" Sam said, with a small smile, "That means you missed me first."
"Man, my head hurts," Dean whined.
"Shut up, it doesn't," Sam laughed, before his look softened and he shook his head in amusement. The likelihood was that it probably did, but of course Dean would choose to say that now, instead of having to work through that you missed me first thing.
"You can always ask me things, Sam," Dean told him, quietly. Honestly, like, right down to the very ends of his soul.
It was Sam's turn to move away. The damned generosity was crippling. Like when he left for college and had sought an argument, did he want to be punished now, punished for leaving? And again, Dean wasn't biting. He was just... there. Stay, leave, do what you want, ask anything, I'll be here.
"I'm gonna go see if there's something someone can do, okay?" Sam murmured, rising to his feet.
"That's specific," Dean commented, looking up at him blearily. He had a small, sad smile on his face, making Sam pause, and Sam realized that his brother, now quite sure that he was actually here and not a dream, was not stopping him from leaving anymore, though his hands clenched and fisted at his sides, as if missing Sam's forearm.
"I won't be far," Sam quickly felt the need to say. Dean caught his brother's glance, and relaxed his hands.
"Go wherever you want, Sammy," he said, wearily, "I'll be here. Thanks for sitting with."
"I'll be back, Dean," Sam assured him.
"Sure," and Dean kind of just waved him away. Sam just shook his head at him in amazement, and headed for the nurse's station.
He waited behind a woman to be spoken to by the receiving nurse, stealing glances at his brother who had the corner of his eye on Sam. Dean averted his gaze completely when Sam raised an eyebrow at him. He chuckled to himself, until he heard his father's approaching footsteps, as if wrenched from his memories.
His blood froze.
John Winchester's footsteps, when they were not willingly discreet in the middle of a job were clipped, authoritative, purposeful. He knew that sound anywhere; he's only lived most of his life trailing after those steps, walking behind his father, after all.
He gulped, and ducked behind a column.
What the hell are you, five? He scolded himself, even as he held his breath and stood his ground. He sneaked a glance behind the column. Dean apparently heard the footsteps too, and was trying to stand up and look alert, at the same time glancing and glancing at the nurse's station, looking for Sam.
"Dad," Dean greeted his father, a little too loudly, as if he was partly-deaf or as if in warning to Sam, whom he still could not find.
"You still here?" John asked, wincing, and his earthy voice, though low, felt like it had taken over the entire room, to Sam.
"Yeah," Dean said, coughing, "You ah, you can go, you know. No need for both of us to hang around here and all."
He was swaying and damn it, he shouldn't have been on his feet. John caught the unsteadiness too, and put a hand on Dean's shoulder. He tried to press Dean to sit.
"Or maybe we can both go," Dean said, quickly. His eyes darted left and right, still looking for Sam. The motion made him pale and nauseous. He pressed a hand to his head.
"Hey, hey," John said, quietly – gently?, and Sam's brows rose, and he watched, intent.
"Don't get mad, dad," Dean whispered, "Sam. Sam's here."
"Sure he is, Dean," John said, and Sam felt like it was a stab in the gut. The way his father said it, as if it was something Dean's said many times before, as if it was impossible, and something he just had to ride through before it went away.
"No, no, Dad," Dean insisted, and again Sam's gut twisted, because his brother understood the indulgent, almost condescending tone as much as he did, "He's here. He's here."
"He's in California," John said, mildly, "We're in California, so yes, sure. Now sit down, before you fall down."
Dean stared at his father hazily, brows drawn in deep, deep creases. The lucidity was fading right before their very eyes. He blinked, and took a deep breath, and another and another, and they all sounded like little, regretful, weary sighs.
"Maybe," he said, softly, "Maybe he's not."
"Dean..." John said, and it was a tone Sam had never heard before. Uncertain, helpless, afraid. It was as if Dean unmasked in illness had unmasked them all.
Dean's head lolled back, and his weight fell against his father.
"Woah, easy! Easy!" John exclaimed, catching him, and Sam thought he was going to jump in too, unthinkingly stepping out of hiding to shoot forward. But something froze him in his tracks.
Do I still have a right...?
Dean's eyes were open, roving around the room lazily, finding Sam's face. Sam stared at him. Dean's body tightened, and he re-gathered himself in his father's grip, taking more of his own weight. His lip quirked, tiredly.
"I'm okay," he said, sounding a little blitzed to Sam's ear and assuredly for John, who couldn't have known that the statement wasn't for him. But Dean's eyes shone and were clear, and Sam knew he could leave if he didn't feel like he could face their father yet, no hard feelings, as always.
I'll be here.
You can always ask me things.
I'll be here...
Sam bit at his knuckle, struggling with thought.
Dean's gaze grew unsteady and slipped up to the ceilings.
Sam ducked behind the column again, just as John bellowed for some help. Nurses rushed forward, past Sam, toward his brother and father. He walked away, in the opposite direction.
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The air outside...
The air outside was clear and clean and unobtrusive. Sam drank it in like a desperate man. His eyes watered in relief. He felt raw and bruised. Just battered-staggering out, cut open but alive.
This country was too damn small for the lot of them, right? Of all places and all times, a busted wrist and a fairly rare, bad bug in California. Sometimes, really, sometimes, he wanted to smack whoever planned their lives.
Unfamiliar weight on his jacket.
It hadn't felt so strange when he was sitting with Dean. Now it was downright alien, and he felt conspicuous and criminal, with that knife on his body.
He gripped it at the hilt, imagined his brother's calloused, jeweled fingers tightening familiarly around it, and he suddenly didn't want to let it go.
But he left them, right? He left them, boxed up that part of his life he had deemed dark and unbearable and shoved it somewhere no one can see it. Even he himself, sometimes, he forgot. But every now and then, odd thoughts and memories flitted past, lingered and stayed and scarred him, or opened up old ones, and he always emerged a little bit more bruised, a little bit more incomplete. Or, like today, every now and then, weird things happened that kind of just... drew him back. He wondered, if this was ever going to end.
He wondered if he really wanted it to.
He spotted his brother's car on the lot, and stalked straight for it. Dean would miss his knife if Sam kept it.
Breaking in was easy, it had always been one of the things he did better than his father or brother. Unlocking things, mysteries and puzzles. They said it was probably because he was always intent as a child. He realized later that it might have just been one more manifestation of him trying to make sense of their ridiculous lives. Trying to make sense of their father, of Dean, of what they did. Every lock was just incidentally one less mystery.
He sat on the driver's seat.
Leather, some sweat, some blood, gun powder, smoke, junk food, old clothes washed with that low-cost detergent they never veered away from. It always had to be that stupid brand.
He closed his eyes, imagined the sound of the Impala on the road, just eating up mile after mile after mile. He gripped the steering wheel, and his fingers could find the grooves that Dean's own digits have made a home of.
He sighed, and drew out Dean's knife, slipping it into the glovebox along with the stupid cassette tapes. Stupid, he thought, even as he was tempted to snatch one and listen to it (though he was pretty sure he would be hard-pressed to find a player lying around), just to remember what it felt like, riding in the car with Dean and their dad and the wind and the roar and the screaming, singing mullet-heads--
He shut the box, gripped the wheel one last time.
He jumped at the sound of a thump on his window.
"Jessica?" he called out, blinking at her.
"Nice wheels, hotshot," she grinned at him, even as her eyes searched his face. She stood back expectantly, and her gaze devoured the car hungrily too, like a child begging to be let in.
It was a nice thought while it lasted.
It didn't last long.
Sam drew himself out, and locked and closed the door behind him. Belatedly, he looked through the gleaming glass window if anything looked disturbed. The car looked immaculate, and yet he had a feeling Dean would know he had been inside, even if he hadn't returned the knife.
"Your dad's friend's?" she asked, looking a little disappointed.
"He forgot to lock it and just asked me to check," Sam lied, smoothly, because that was what he did. She looked skeptical, because she loved him, and catching him at the lie was what she did.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"I was worried," she said, "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," he said.
"Wanna go home?"
Like you wouldn't believe, he thought.
September 7, 2008
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I. The Title
I was listening to a song by Sheryl Crow and Sting called "Always on My Side." The lyrics were just so spot-on to the loose plot that I had in mind so I named the fic after a line in the song and I pretty much built a story around its theme. Here's just a little taste of the lyrics, but listen to it and you won't regret it:
My yesterdays are all boxed up and neatly put away
But every now and then you come to mind...
...But is there someplace far away, someplace where all is clear
Easy to start over with the ones you hold so dear
Or are we left to wonder, all alone, eternally
But is this how it's really meant to be
No is it how it's really meant to be
Well if they say that love is in the air, never is it clear
How to pull it close and make it stay
If butterflies are free to fly, why do they fly away
Leavin' me to carry on and wonder why
Was it you that kept me wondering through this life
When you know that I was always on your side
The song represents the story of someone who left and someone who was left behind, which is of course, in Every Now and Then, Sam and Dean.
II. The Ending
"Wanna go home?" Jessica asked, and Sam thought, Like you wouldn't believe. But the question is, did he mean home with her, or home with Dean and their dad and the car? He goes with her, but what did he mean? Even I don't know, in all honesty. I don't know. I initially wasn't satisfied not knowing this, but I figured, maybe it makes the story more interesting that way. Like I always said, I'm fascinated by the torn-ness of the Sam character (which will be expounded on below), so I guess this is just one more manifestation.
Besides, I didn't really feel that this story had to have definitive answers. It's just a slice of life, really, an every-now-and-then kind of moment. Just an hour in real-time, probably. Of course there won't be any answers yet :)
III. The Characters
I've said this before and I'll say it again, and as long as these kinds of plots hit me I think I'll keep saying it. I'm a Dean-girl, but the Sam character just captivates me as a writer. This whole story was from his perspective, which surprised me. Like I've said before, this is probably because I can relate to his desire to study Dean, or emulate him in some fashion. If you've ever read anything I ever wrote for Lord of the Rings, you'd know that I always wrote things from the perspective of my favorite character Legolas. In this fandom, my favorite is Dean but I seem to have such a hard time writing things from his end.
Anyway, a few notables on Sam for Every Now and Then... he starts out quite completely departed from his old self. Express lanes, doctor-friends, hot girlfriends, not-minding emergency rooms, thinking he had come so far. He even differentiates between 'Sammy' and 'Sam,' as if they were totally different. Even his sense of self-loathing was a manifestation of his detachment, because it just emphasized how different he had become.
He runs into Dean, and suddenly it's the past again. Like a ghost, grounding him, reminding him he can't go far enough. He hates hospitals again. He's afraid of his father again. He's worried about his brother again.
This story is about the collision of Dean and Sam initially, but it kind of became the collision of Sam with his old life, really. Does he stay or go? Does he confront his father or not? Does he even miss them? Does he want to go back? Ultimately, Every Now and Then is a showdown between 'Sam' and 'Sammy;' Now and Then. Even Dean's delusional Sam and the real Sam are a bit different. It's express lanes versus hours of waiting, it's angelic blond on his arm versus sick brother huddled in a corner, it's inside the Impala or out the Cali sunshine.
I never notice myself doing it until I really step back and think, but I'm doing Sam's conflicted-ness again, like I've mentioned in many other fics before this. He's just so damn torn; normal vs. supernatural, faith vs. logic, good vs. bad. This is why he's so fascinating, I think, his absolute capacity to be anything.
The other notable thing about Sam here is his sense of entitlement. When he left, and his father shut the door behind him, basically, I figured it couldn't have been just pride and hurt that kept him away. There should have been a sense of shame too. I think this is the case because in Dead Man's Blood, it was the button John knew to press: 'We needed you, and you walked away.' I also felt that Sam couldn't just leave his family to danger without some form of guilt, it couldn't be natural if they were as close as they were supposed to be. Anyway, I guess that's also what I wanted to show, his hesitation about still having a right to be involved.
Dean's like my rock. I don't think I do anything too adventurous with him, unfortunately, but he's fine as he is, haha. Of note in Every Now and Then though, are a few quirks: Apparently, he talks to Sam even when Sam's not there. I didn't think this was too off-character since he talked to his dead father in a cemetery once too, right, and came up with his own answers? He also created a Sam-character in the Djinn's world, so I thought, well why not. Second, the way he deals with Imaginary Sam and Real Sam are different. He may be delusional, haha, but he's also self-aware. He can shell out the chick-flick moments with Imaginary Sam, for one. Real-Sam had to deal with the game-face. He wasn't unaffectionate, though, far from. Real-Sam got a taste of Dean letting him go and fly and still be assured that he was always welcome, after all.
Just a cameo here, really, but I'm generally from the school of he-must-be-a-good-guy, haha. I love John Winchester's flawed, human-ness and his understated compassion. He made two awesome sons so he must be doing something right, like I pointed out in The Least I Can Do.
In this story, you don't see much of him, but I hope that hints of his character were spotted. You only actually see him at the end, where he was firm and at the same time quite caring to Dean when he didn't think he was being watched, but he was also present much earlier: in the water bottle and the uncharacteristic pink facial tissues, haha. I just wanted to drop hints of his caring that Sam or a lot of people may miss. One of my favorite styles in writing is the medium being the message. If you missed the bottle and the tissues he left Dean, then chances are, Sam did too and so compassion and an unmasked father still surprised him.
The creators of this series constantly get hell from fans who disapprove of female character inclusions. The ones who have always been there have immunity, though, haha, and so Jess is I'm sure regarded as a goddess by the fans as much as she is admired by the Sam character, so I really hope I did her justice. I felt that she had to be worthy of our hero's admiration, so I really tried to keep her unobtrusive and pleasant. She died too soon for anyone to know her, really, but I hope you found her depiction fair.
IV. My Next Project/s
I'm about 20 pages into a sequel to "One Night," and am also heavily at work with the other story I previewed in The Least I Can Do, which is called Stronger. The clip below is a middle-scene from "Once More," and is an expanded version of the episode Scarecrow. Anyway, without further ado:
Summary:Life's almost good now that Sam's back on the road with him, but then the tumors are back too, and Dean thinks he might be dying again. Sequel to "One Night," and set during the episodes "Scarecrow" and "Faith."
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"We're not going to Indiana."
Sam's dead serious, and even though Dean knew that any argument or reasoning would be futile the very breath Sam even begins to look and sound like this, he had no choice but to keep going.
"We're not?" he asked, lamely, trying to buy time to think.
Don't do this now, his mind begged, We gotta find dad, I know that. More than ever. But I don't know what to do...
... And having orders to follow were damned comforting.
Besides, he thought about it, in the shower. If this battle was gonna be big, he wasn't going to be any good to anybody, being so badly sick. He was just going to be a liability. The best thing to do was to hang back, take care of the small details, like vanishing couples in a small town, let his father have one less thing to worry about as he fought the war.
And whatever great danger Dean couldn't get into, he was not going to allow Sam to be involved in, oh no.
"No," Sam replied, simply, "We're going to California. Dad called from a pay phone. Sacramento area code."
"Sam," Dean said, a warning tone, hardly grounding. He couldn't think of any other word to attach to that.
"Dean," Sam implored, because he'd always been better at scrambling for words than Dean, "If this demon killed mom and Jess, and dad's closing in, we gotta be there. We gotta help."
"Dad doesn't want our help," Dean pointed out, lamely, even to his own ears.
"I don't care," Sam snapped.
Futile, but necessary: "He's given us an order."
"I don't care," Sam said, even more firmly now, because as older brother, Dean knew about all of Sam's allergies and their father's orders was the worst of them. "We don't always have to do what he says."
Dean shifts tactics. Sam always had the bleeding heart. He did the it's-not-about-dad's-orders bit since it's worked before and said, "Sam, dad is asking us to work jobs, to save lives. It's important."
"All right, I understand," Sam said quickly, "Believe me, I understand. But I'm talking one week here, man. To get answers. To get revenge."
"All right," Dean said, "Look, I know how you feel--"
"Do you?" Sam snapped.
Dean is taken aback, blinks at his younger brother's tone.
"How old were you when mom died?" Sam asked, eyes wounded and pretty damn close to bleeding by now. "Four? Jess died six months ago. How the hell would you know how I feel?"
Dean is stung. Heavily insulted, yeah, sure, but more hurt than anything. He wanted to scream. Don't you fucking know me, bro? Because to Dean, he didn't need to know Jessica to understand his brother's pain. All he needed to know was Sam, and with Sam hurting, he perforce hurt too. It was that simple. He never doubted his understanding, or his position to lend comfort or help.
I'm your brother. I didn't know her. But I know you, and I know you broken.
He had thought that knowledge gave him the best rights in the world to say I know how you feel. He didn't mean to say he knew what the loss meant. He just meant to say I know how you feel.
But there were no words for that, not now. He was hurting himself, couldn't see straight, and his chest was beginning to tighten. "Dad said it wasn't safe," he said, feeling like an idiot robot, because when did such a thing ever stop them before?
"For any of us," he emphasized, for you, "I mean, he obviously knows something that we don't so if he says to stay away, we stay away."
"I don't understand the blind faith you have in the man," Sam groaned, "I mean, it's like you don't even question him."
Sometimes, there wasn't anything wrong about blind faith. If Sam had asked Dean to duck, he wouldn't think about it, he just would. It was frustrating, this crazy rebellion, couldn't Sam see that? It was toxic and unproductive. And more than mildly insulting to Dean, compounded by all the things thrown his way over at the asylum.
Take responsibility for a change.
"It's called being a good son," Dean retorted, as if he was arguing with the manic version of his brother instead, the one that had said all those things.
Sam's eyes narrowed in barely-restrained rage. Maybe they really should have talked about this after all. Sam gets out of the car.
Dean sets his jaws, wishing he had bit his tongue except he was hip-deep in it now and he was frustrated also. He felt his chest twinging. He had a feeling where this was gonna go. But it was like watching a plane crash. Nothing you can do but strap in. He coughed once, bit it back, and stepped out of the car, walking to the trunk where his brother was busy gathering his meager belongings.
"You're a selfish bastard, you know that?" Dean asked, letting the words flood out of him. Sam wanted to know, didn't he? Wanted to know what Ellicott would have dug up? This was it, this was the truth, and this was his last chance to keep Sam around, short of saying I'm sick, I'll be useless to dad in a fight like that. I'll be useless to you. Stay with me. Don't go anywhere I can't follow. Don't go anywhere I can't protect you. But he wasn't made like that, was he?
"You just just do whatever you want," Dean went on, "Don't care what anybody thinks."
Don't care what I think, Dean thought, Don't care what I need, don't care, don't care, don't care--
"That's what you really think?" Sam asked.
Dean looked him dead in the eye and meant it from the very very pits of his souland said, "Yes, it is."
"Well then," Sam declared, "This selfish bastard is going to California."
Sam pulled his bags on more securely, and turned to walk away. He couldn't have known, how familiar this goddamn scene was, or how much more hurtful the second time around. Sam and his bags and determined stalking toward California. Leaving Dean. Always, always leaving.
"Come on," Dean called to him, "You're not serious."
It wasn't a dare. He knew better than calling out a bluff with Sam. Dean was mouthier, but Sam was all commitment, and by god, he never lost. Ever.
"I am serious."
I know, Dean bit back, Goddamnitt.
"It's the middle of the night," Dean reasoned, but Sam just kept going.
"Hey, I'm taking off--" Maybe not so smart, but he was his father's son that way too, "I will leave your ass, you hear me?"
"That's what I want you to do," Sam said, almost mocking, sing-song, as if he knew his brother wouldn't leave him. Dean never has. Because Dean never did the leaving. Dean was always the one left behind. It was always Dean getting left behind. Always, always getting left behind, and it was making his eyes water and his chest tighten and hurt and he was being turned away again, turned away, left behind--
Leave me once, shame on you. Leave me twice, shame on me.
"Goodbye Sam," he said, jaws set, his look holding more conviction than his heart.
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What if he gets picked up by some psycho?
Or gets run over or clipped? That damn road was dark.
What if he catches hypothermia?
What if he gets held up?
What if there's a monster or a ghost or--
Dean's chest hurt. He coughed, once, but that wasn't going to be enough. The road blurred before him. He pulled over before he could run over anyone, like other people's stupid, stubborn kid brothers who'd have gone out on their own on dark, dangerous roads.
He hacked and wheezed. The coughs were loaded by more than just air. Wet and thick, stifling. He pressed palms over his mouth. His eyes watered as he breathed in and out, fighting for some sort of control, because he was being overcome by a pervading sense of drowning. His hand shook, as he struggled with unlocking his door. He scrambled to his knees on the dewy-wet ground, coughed to his aching heart's content. He spat out blood and fell on his rump in weariness.
He wiped at his sweaty brow, and yet he felt chilled to the bone, and he trembled with the exertion and the feeling of shock.
If Sam was here, he'd be hovering and panicky, all uncoordinated limbs scrambling. It would be marginally funny, making the situation slightly bearable. But god, he knew better than anybody that Sam had greater problems than a dying brother, didn't he? He had a shitload more crap to deal with already, without Dean in the mix.
Maybe this is better, he realized, Dad can take care of him better. Dad can help him get what he wants. What he needs. I don't think I can, anymore.
Maybe this is better.
He gathered his feet, caught his breath.
And then headed off to work, alone.
To be continued...