For Phx and IheartSam7, and me
K Hanna Korossy
His first clue comes when Sam wakes up in the morning, gets out of bed, and falls on his face.
Well, actually, his first clue had come the day before, when surly and silent Sam became listless and silent Sam. In times past, Dean would have quickly recognized the signs that his brother was coming down with something. But in the four months Dean had apparently spent in Hell, Sam's changed in ways he doesn't quite understand yet, and this constant whipcord tension in his brother is one. It's a little hard to figure out someone's not feeling well when they haven't been talking much and they squint and slump and drift on a regular basis.
So it still kinda surprises him when Sam takes a nosedive.
Dean's own sleepiness flees in an instant, and he's half out of bed before Sam's pushing himself up and waving Dean down. "'M okay."
"Uh-huh," Dean says slowly, sinking back to the mattress. "Just inspecting the carpet, right?"
Sam tosses him a halfhearted glare, but there's something funny about his eyes, and Dean narrows his own in response.
He holds his tongue with difficulty when Sam stands, swaying, and proceeds to the bathroom. More or less. He's walking like someone crossing the length of a rocking boat, stumbling two steps to the side for each step forward. Dean watches him with furrowed brow, wondering if Sam drank serious amounts of alcohol while Dean was sleeping, or if maybe there's something wrong with his own eyes. But when he starts with, "Hey, you need—?", Sam just growls a "no," and that's that.
For about a minute and a half, anyway.
That's how long it takes Sam to make it to the bathroom, with a pit stop at the dresser along the way to catch his breath on his long trek. He clings to the doorframe like it's his saving grace, white knuckles slipping from the wood after the rest of him has disappeared into the bathroom. Then the retching begins.
Dean sighs, recognizing this now from a bout when Sam was still Sammy. If he isn't seriously sloshed—and while that seemed to be Bobby's response to Dean's demise, his über-hunter brother seems to not have let his defenses down like that—then something's wrong with Sam's ear. And that will make for a fun few days.
Dean can't help but stand, unable to lie in bed while his brother's heaving his guts out in the room next door, pacing a tight circle as he waits. Sammy would've wanted him there beside him, holding his hair out of his face and rubbing his back and getting him some water. Sam has barely been able to stand Dean touching him since his return, and Dean knows his presence wouldn't be welcome now. But while Sam might've changed, Dean hasn't so much, and it's hard to hold himself back.
The toilet finally flushes, then the sink runs a while. Sam, when he reappears in the doorway, is dripping and flushed, still hanging on to every stationery object while he lists like a land-bound sailor. Except, there isn't anything to hang on to the last few steps back to bed, and he ends up on his knees in the middle of the room.
Dean starts into motion again.
"Just…don't," Sam insists with a hiss. "I'm fine, just a little dizzy."
It stops him in his tracks like the shot to the heart it is.
He watches, pained, as his little brother staggers to his feet and more or less lunges for the bed, an oasis in a suddenly unsteady world.
And Dean remembers when he used to play that role.
He goes out to buy medication for nausea and dizziness, because while Sam's maintained the weapons collection impressively—seriously, a katana?—the first aid kit is sadly depleted. Dean decides he really doesn't want to know what the supplies were used for, just restocks the kit and then some, while Sam lies curled up and pale in bed.
At least he accepts the pills without comment.
Dean remembers the symptoms and treatment even though he was young enough that technically Dad should've been the one treating Sam. Technically, Dean hadn't been Sam's caretaker, either, for all that was worth. He figures this is the same, but it's Sam so he doesn't take chances. While Sam shivers and dozes, Dean settles in front of the computer to research.
Sam's hearing doesn't seem impaired, if the way he snaps at Dean's every offer is a sign, and he tersely claims not to be in pain. While he's sleeping, Dean takes a peek at his ears and doesn't see any obvious redness or swelling, so he finally decides it's the inner ear infection he thought it was and the pills he bought will do. Sam just needs a couple of days to rest and recuperate.
Right. A few days of sick-Sam and Dean cooped up in a motel room. Piece of cake.
They haven't really gotten into the swing of hunting yet, too many unknowns and too much distance between them for that to be a good idea. Hunting with a stranger is always a huge risk of crossfire and unwatched backs and conflicting strategies, and that's what it feels like right now. Sam thinks Dean needs a little more time after his unexpected return to the world, and Dean doesn't try to disabuse him. In a way, Sam's right. Things are all different now, and Dean doesn't know his place. In some ways, he's the stumbling one.
By afternoon, Sam can't make it out of bed without falling over, so Dean lines a trashcan with a plastic bag for him and sets up a row of Gatorade and water bottles by the bed. Sam accepts it all grudgingly, but his muttered thanks still brings a smile to Dean's face. Pouting he knows, and it's almost like old times when he swoops a hand through Sam's matted hair and gets a clumsy swipe in response.
He watches TV on low until his skin itches, then pulls out Sam's journal. Some part of him has been reluctant to read what his brother's been up to, but more of him is hungry for information. But the details are sparse, business-like: facts of the hunt, of research. Nothing about what he was going through. That in itself says a lot already. And then Dean finds the pages and pages of notes in the back about reanimation spells and retrieving spirits and corpse restoration rites, Sam's usual block print growing jerky and rushed, and his throat closes up. He tucks the journal away and figures he's seen enough.
The crash of collapsing furniture wakes him from an uneasy sleep sometime after midnight.
"Sam?" He's mumbling the question before he can even reach the light, and his hand hovers at the switch when his brother's voice comes from near the floor, low and desperate.
"Go back t'sleep, Dean."
But no, he's been patient long enough. He snaps on the light, and gets up immediately at the sight of his brother trying to push off an upended chair, no longer seeming sure which way is up anymore as he nearly tumbles back again. "Hold on," Dean says, kneeling beside Sam and disentangling the chair from his brother's long legs.
"I can do it," Sam insists stonily, trying to shove him away. It would work better if he could figure out where Dean is exactly, but instead he fumbles against air about six inches to the right of Dean's chest. It would be funny if it weren't. "I'm fine," Sam adds as if he's trying to convince them both.
"Right," Dean drawls as he leans back on his haunches, gaze sharp. "Sleepcrawling again, dude?"
Sam mutters a curse and manages to get to his hands and knees, but shrugs off Dean's hands. "I can do it!" he insists like he's two again and trying to dress himself. He knocks sideways into Dean, and draws back like the touch burned.
And it's kind of the last straw, because Dean didn't come back, didn't dig his way out of Hell and a grave and maybe some sort of mission from God to feel like there's still six feet of dirt separating him from his brother. Jaw clenched, he throws up his arms and asks, "Why'd you want me back, Sam?"
That, at least, gets Sam's attention, and his head whips up. Unfortunately, the motion also sends him sprawling to the ground, but he doesn't even seem to notice. "W-what?" he stammers, nonplussed in a way Dean hasn't seen him since his return.
"Maybe you weren't the one who actually yanked me out of the pit, but you wanted me back, right? Tried everything? Why, dude? It's pretty obvious you don't want me here."
"Really, Sam? 'Cause it sure looks like it from where I'm sitting. You barely talk to me, you can't even friggin' look me in the eye, and touching you practically sends you up the wall. Did I lose some kind of big brother rights while I was gone? Last four months somehow wipe out the four years I've got on you? Or maybe you just don't need a brother any—"
"Stop." But there's nothing cold in the tone this time, no command, just pleading. It sounds broken, desperate. "Stop. Please…"
Sam's hunched like a turtle, face buried in the rug and his hands, and Dean swallows, needing to see him. He touches gently, his anger extinguished, coaxing Sam's hand away and turning his cheek. His skin's wet under Dean's palm, and his eyes are squeezed shut against more than vertigo.
Dean can't help but wonder how many times Sam was down, hurting, with no one there to help him up. How many times it had happened before Sam had finally convinced himself he didn't need anyone's help.
"I know it's not the same," Dean says haltingly, because this really is new ground for them. Even the trickster hadn't killed Sam's hope this thoroughly. "I know you're used to being on your own now…"
Sam's head shakes in denial, long bangs brushing against Dean's fingertips. He remembers that feeling, too, and it grows a lump in his throat.
"But I'm back, and you gotta let me in a little, Sam, or I might as well still be—"
Sam groans a "shut up" at that and uses Dean's arm like a guide rope, tugging himself up until he's leaning against his brother's shoulder, wobbling a little as his center of balance keeps shifting but a hand clenched in Dean's shirt to anchor himself there.
Dean cinches him closer in wordless emotion. Talking's overrated, anyway.
When Sam throws up orange Gatorade down the front of his shirt, it's almost a relief.
Sam can't get up for the next three days without looking like a weeble-wobble.
Dean tries hard not to make fun of him, he really does. But when he realizes that Sam relaxes a lot more at the teasing than at the occasional moments of naked concern, the gloves are off. Maybe his emo kid brother really has become more like him…but that also includes a poorly hidden relief when Dean is near, and Dean decides he can live with this. At least he recognizes it.
Besides, the way he catches Sam looking at him sometimes when he doesn't think Dean notices, he's not so sure his little brother's really gone for good.
For right now, though, Sam isn't looking at much of anything, eyes always shut against the spinning room. Dean finds some old radio shows on tape at the thrift store down the street, and they listen to the simple suspense and adventure stories for hours, Sam flat on one bed, Dean sprawled against the headboard of the other. They won't be ready for a hunt until Sam can stand up at less than a forty-five degree angle, and Dean's angel doesn't seem in a rush to send him on an assignment from above, so they settle in to stay for a while. It's comfortable.
Dean learns a lot during that time.
Like that Sam's new toughness doesn't extend to his unconscious, because he's having nightmares again, just like after Jess. Grief is grief.
And that he eats pretty much anything now, even when he's nauseated, not seeming to notice that he's inhaling foods he would have once turned his nose up at. He's packed on a dozen pounds of muscle, and Dean's not sure he could beat him at hand-to-hand anymore. He recognizes a survival technique when he sees one, notes it silently, and starts buying Sam better food. Nobody's dying in the near future now if Dean can help it, which means they have to start taking better care of themselves, starting with Sam.
He finds out that Sam's barely touched the nest egg Dean built up for him over that last year, but the journals he filled for Sam, the memories he saved in writing, are so dog-eared, they look ten years old. And are wrapped in one of Dean's old, faded band shirts at the bottom of Sam's duffel.
And that Sam still needs to talk things out, it's just a little harder to prime the pump now. He's still evasive about some things, but Dean pokes carefully, determinedly, and pieces of the last four months of Sam's life eventually spill out. Dean's no better off for hearing about his brother's fears and loneliness and anger, but Sam is for telling it, and therefore Dean is, too.
But mostly, he's relearning Sam. And slowly Sam starts looking Dean in the eye again—when he's not too dizzy—and smiling sometimes—even when he is dizzy—and Dean almost forgets sometimes how he spent his summer vacation. Between his own nightmares, anyway.
So when Sam can finally move without turning green and they're totally sick of the room, they hit the road again. Everything's changed, but they're still brothers and Sam needs him and he loves Sam, and that's more than a start.
"You ready, Cap'n Jack?" Dean swings the Impala's door open and grins brightly over her roof.
Sam gives him a jaundiced eye in return. "You know he was based on Keith Richards, right?"
"Yeah, a sixty-five year-old stoner who still walks steadier than you."
"Shut up, jerk," Sam mutters and climbs into the car.
"Sammy," Dean murmurs back fondly, and slides into place beside him.