Fandom: Supernatural
Title: Laughter Like Dying
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester
Category: Gen, Angst, Hurt/Comfort
Rating: K+/PG
Spoilers: 4.06
Summary: After it's all over, that's when Sam can finally break down. "Yellow Fever" tag.
Word Count: 1588
Disclaimer: I think Dean and Sam would take exception to being told that they belong to anyone but each other.
Author's Note: This is the Sam I want to believe in, so I'm not really caring at this point if it's canon or not. Guess we'll see. Pretty much I just wrote the tag I wanted to read. Possibly a better title would have been "Another Freak Out? Must Be Tuesday."

Laughter Like Dying

Sam held it off for a couple of days. They were in another town, another motel room, going after another hunt, when he finally lost it. Thankfully, Dean was out, shopping or drinking or chasing a lead, Sam didn't care, just that he wasn't there to see it. So Sam felt free to let his knees unlock and dump him on the floor, so he could sit there shaking, his head in his hands, and not worry about anyone seeing the terror and confusion he'd been doing his absolute best not to feel.

Dean had almost died. Again. Not even two months after he'd come back, and Sam had almost lost him again. It was too much.

Sam hadn't let himself think about it then. He couldn't allow even the slightest hint of uncertainty into his mind, couldn't believe anything but that he would find a way, he and Bobby would find a way. They would find a solution because they always found a solution. (Except once, his mind had whispered, but Sam had thrust that away, exiled that doubt, forced it out of existence the way he had done with far more dangerous things.) There had been no other option, and Sam had let no other thought into his head. But he thought about it now. Oh, yeah, he thought about it now.

So, so stupid, to get Dean back from Hell, rescued by an angel, raised from perdition, just to lose him to nothing more than the embodiment of fear, a run-of-the-mill spirit, the kind of job they usually handled in their sleep. Too stupid even to contemplate, so Sam had let himself feel amusement, irritation, affection for Dean's strange quirks, and nothing more than that. The situation had simply been too bizarre—it felt like a lucid dream, one that Sam could form to his will, therefore nothing to worry about.

Dean didn't get scared. He just…didn't. All the things in their childhood that should have driven a normal kid over the brink, Dean had always taken in stride, passed off with that smirk and a stupid, usually crass joke. It was the same now as adults—Dean's average day was full of things that would send normal people running in the opposite direction, gibbering, and Dean just made a sarcastic comment and shot them. That was the way it was, had always been, that was the way the world worked.

So seeing Dean afraid of anything, let alone a cat or a fourth-floor room, had tilted Sam's universe on its side. Everything had ceased to make sense. Sam hadn't been able to even contemplate the fear being real, instead treating it like a huge prank his brother was pulling on him, one that was going on for far too long.

Now, he looked back over the events of those two days, and his heart clenched in his chest. Yes, most of Dean's fears had seemed stupid and silly at the time. But they had been real to him, and Sam had just sighed in annoyance and wished for him to stop being a baby. Great, Sam, real brotherly. Dean had never brushed him off like that, not when they were kids and Sam had nightmares about clowns and midgets, not as adults when his fears were more serious and grounded in reality. Sam had done a terrible job of returning the kindness.

In some far-off corner of his mind, Sam was aware of a key turning in the lock, the clomp of Dean's boots, the rustling of grocery bags, his brother's deep voice saying something about the checkout girl at the supermarket. The sounds were so distant, echoing down a long tunnel, that they meant nothing at all. Dean's voice changed, faltered, but Sam still heard no words. Then it was closer, louder, more insistent, Dean's hands on his shoulders, dragging him back.

Sam sucked in a deep gasp of air and looked up, opening his eyes, as Dean pulled his hands away from his face, gripping them hard and tight. Dean's eyes were scared, again, darting back and forth, studying him, mouth open in dismay. But this fear…this fear, Sam had seen before, and he recognized it. This was the only fear he'd ever seen from Dean, before the ghost sickness. Fear for Sam.

"Sam! Sam! What's wrong? Did something happen? You okay?"

Sam tried to wrench his hands out of Dean's grip, but couldn't do it. He was shaking too hard, and Dean was strong, stronger still in his sudden concern. It made Sam laugh, harsh and broken, almost coughing. Fear for Sam made Dean strong. Sam's fear for Dean made him weak, unable to do anything, unable to save his brother no matter how hard he tried. Such terrible irony in that.

"Sammy? C'mon, man, talk to me! What happened?"

Sam laughed again, and started to be afraid that he would never be able to stop. "What…what happened? You know what happened. You were there." The laughter hurt, tearing at his chest, shaking his limbs. "You almost died. That's what happened. You almost died."

"Aw, Sam…"

Dean stopped talking then. There was nothing to say—Sam understood that. He lowered his head, unable to meet his brother's eyes.

"Aw, Sammy, Sammy. It's okay. I'm okay. You saved me."

Sam felt Dean's hand on the back of his head, pulling him forward, and didn't resist, still shaking with laughter that felt like dying. Then his forehead was being pressed into Dean's shoulder and Dean's arms were around him, one hand tangled in his hair, and the laughter slowly faded away.

"Hey, Sam. Okay? You okay now? It's okay." Dean lifted his free hand slightly to pat Sam's back. It should have been awkward, but instead it only felt right.

"God, Dean," Sam sobbed out on his shoulder, not crying, just breathing hard. "I was such a bitch to you."

He expected Dean to agree, to joke, turn it into yet another in a long line of ways that he made fun of his little brother. But Dean's voice was completely earnest. "No, Sam, you weren't. You kept it together. You made yourself stay calm for me. Only one of us can freak out at a time, and I had that job covered." He laughed that self-deprecating laugh, familiar and warm. "I was all over it, dude. No need for you to join in."

"No, man, you don't understand. I didn't feel it. I didn't feel anything. I couldn't be scared. I felt like I should be, but I wasn't."

"Well, and that's good, right? You had to do the job. I was useless. You took care of it. You did good, Sam. You did good. I'm alive, I'm okay, I'm fine. Because of you. Everything's all right now."

"Why didn't I feel anything? I should have felt something. Even…destroying the spirit that way. It should have disgusted me, but I hardly noticed it. What's happened to me? That used to bother me, and it didn't." Sam could hear his voice rising, getting more frantic again, and Dean pulled him in even tighter.

"Hey, man, stop that. You can't do that to yourself. You did the job. That's the important part. And no matter what you felt or didn't feel then, you're making up for it now, aren't you? It's okay. There's nothing wrong with you. It's the job, Sam. We just learn to deal with it. You didn't do anything wrong. You did good. You did good."

Dean sounded so sure. He sounded like he believed it. Sam had never doubted something Dean said in that tone of voice. Dean was honest with him, always, he knew that.

After a little while longer, Sam felt his breathing settle, even out. The dizziness flowed away, leaving him exhausted, his limbs leaden. But his vision was clear again, one eye still hidden against Dean's shoulder, the other staring across the room.

At last he nodded and leaned back, carefully disengaging himself from Dean's grip, and found himself leaning against the side of one of the beds. He had collapsed in the space between the beds—hadn't noticed at the time. His head fell back against the mattress and he sighed, closing his eyes.

Dean still held his arm, crouching beside him, fingers warm and solid against his bicep. "Okay. You okay now?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Tired."

"I bet. Freaking out is exhausting, man. I slept like a baby the night after you and Bobby took care of that thing."

Sam huffed a laugh. This one didn't hurt, though. "I remember. Hadn't seen you sleep that hard since we were kids."

"Yeah." Dean squeezed his arm one last time, then let go. He stood up and moved back over to the bags he had dropped on the floor. "I got us some Pop-Tarts. You want strawberry or chocolate?"

Sam shuddered. "They make chocolate Pop-Tarts? That's gross, man."

"Hey, don't belittle my food choices." Dean grinned and held up two boxes, one with red lettering, the other with dark brown. "I think they look delicious."

Sam let himself grin back, still a little shaky, but definitely better, nothing like the horrible laughter that had shook him earlier. Dean kept unpacking the bags, holding up items to show off, ridiculously pleased with his own shopping skills, and the shakiness bled out of Sam's grin. He started to believe that it was going to be all right.

Dean was still here. He was fine. That was all that mattered.