Sam walked upstairs, feeling like he was full of lead. He didn't think he'd be able to sleep; laying down at least he wouldn't feel like he was about to collapse where he stood. His head hurt, his back hurt. Even his feet hurt from that long walk they had to take from the ditched mini van back to the circus. But even all that didn't mask the real pain.
His heart was breaking.
Normally when his world was collapsing, Sam went to Dean who could joke him out of it or help him through it. If it was a stupid assumption or ridiculous fear, Dean had no hesitation in letting him know. If it was a serious problem, Dean would treat it seriously. Sometimes it felt like Dean was the center to his world.
But now the center of Sam's world was seriously off-balance and he didn't know how to help him. He knew the pie wasn't going to be the answer to all their issues of grief; he just thought it might make Dean feel a little better for a little while.
It made Sam feel a little better, talking over the pie, knowing that Dean would say it was good, would actually eat more than the first forkful to make him feel better. But it didn't make him feel better about Dad. Nothing was going to make him feel better about Dad.
He went to the spare room and sat on the end of his bed. His bed. There was rarely any question who got what bed wherever they stopped. Sam usually went in first and he usually walked to the far bed. These beds were equidistant from the door but Dean's bed was closer to the window. Sam's bed was closer to the bookshelf.
From where he sat, Sam could see across the hall to the bed where Dad slept anytime they stayed overnight here, way back before he pissed Bobby off so completely. Back then, if Sam slept too long, Dad would come in to wake him up, sometimes pulling the blanket over Sam's head and pretending to look for him down at his feet. Sometimes Sam would stay in bed too long on purpose, just so Dad would come in to wake him up.
The memory of Dad was so strong, Sam expected to see him step around the door into the hallway and call over to him, 'Time to go kiddo.' or 'Lights out Sammy, put the book away.'
Tears filled Sam's eyes and he gulped back a sob as he remembered the time he and Dean were so sick with colds and they spent four days here. Dean had been eleven and Sam would turn seven in another month or so. Dad spent every single minute with them then, feeding them sips of clear soup and ginger ale, giving them their medicine on the dot, slipping them into a lukewarm bath when their fevers got too high. Sam never realized until later how much it bothered Dad to see them sick, how helpless it made him feel.. All he remembered of that time was that Dad had been there, whenever he went to sleep, whenever he woke up, whenever he felt so miserable he couldn't stop whining and crying, Dad was there.
Now Dad was dead and he'd never -
Without thinking, Sam got up and walked to the other room. Dad's room. The bed wasn't comfortable, it was actually a roll-away bed that never got rolled away. The mattress was thin and the dark wool army blankets were dusty with age. He looked around but there was nothing of Dad anywhere in this room.
With a sigh, Sam sat down on the bed and patted the blanket to raise a small cloud of dust. The thing probably hadn't been washed in years, maybe never. Maybe it was still the same bedding from the last time Dad had ever slept here. Knowing it was stupid, Sam pulled a pillow out and held it close to his face, like he'd still be able to smell Dad after all these years.
Twelve days, it'd only been twelve days since Dad was alive. Since Sam could've touched him, listened to him, learned from him. If he closed his eyes, maybe he could even feel Dad sit down next to him like he did sometimes, when they weren't arguing so bad they weren't talking to each other. Dad was such a solid presence in Sam's life, even when he was nowhere around, it was hard to believe he was gone.
Sam closed his eyes and saw Dad in Dean's room at the hospital, saw him smile and ask if Sam would get him some coffee. Sam closed his eyes and saw Dad smile at him. He could cry right now if he let himself but he fought against it. Pastor Jim used to say that tears were a gift from God but it never seemed that way to Sam. Nothing could be a gift that ripped so much out of his soul. He dug the heel of his hand into his eyes. He'd beat the tears away if he had to. He wouldn't cry anymore.
"How hard can cookies be?" Dean asked, mocking himself, after four hours of determined trying. The hard butter had refused to blend into the other ingredients and he'd bent three forks and two spoons trying to make it happen. Then Bobby told him that baking powder and baking soda were not the same thing. And apparently a tablespoon of vanilla was way less than half the bottle. Sammy's pie looked like a masterpiece compared to the gummy lumps of yuck waiting for him downstairs.
"I can rebuild a car from the ground up, but I can't make a damn cookie."
Dean was walking upstairs to check on Sam; he'd gone upstairs to sleep about six hours ago and Dean hadn't heard a peep out of him since. When he looked into the spare room and saw Sam's bed empty, his heart jumped. Sam hadn't left, Dean hadn't heard him leave the house. The bathroom was empty when he walked past, Sam hadn't been in the front room. Dean turned around to retrace his steps and his heart jumped again.
Somebody was in Dad's bed.
It only took a second for him to realize that it was Sammy, not some apparition or phantom or enemy. Or Dad. It was Sam, asleep on the bed that didn't fit him any better than the couch. He had one pillow crushed in his arms, one under his head, and not enough of the blanket he was laying on pulled around his back. .
Sammy'd had a tendency to fall asleep in Dad's bed when he was a kid, wherever they were staying. Dean too, when he was young enough. Then when Dad went to bed, he'd carry them to their own bed and cover them up and let his hand rest a bit on their head. More than a couple of times Dean or Sam or both woke up in bed next to Dad. That was a safe place to be.
So to see Sammy sleeping now in Dad's bed - all 6'4 of him bundled into a little boy's memory of safety, happiness and relative normalcy - well, it just damn hurt. Sam was in an agony of grief and pain and as had happened more and more the older Sam got, there was nothing Dean could do to make it just go away, poof, with a joke or a long-wanted toy or a late-night talk. Probably seven mutant chocolate chip lumps weren't going to do it either.
He decided the best thing was to let Sam sleep. He grabbed a blanket from Sam's other bed and laid it over him.
"Go back to sleep Sammy, everything's fine. Just covering you up."
He slipped back into sleep easily and Dean watched him a little while longer. Sammy, his little brother. His little brother who was carrying a secret he didn't even know about. Dean wanted to pull up a chair next to the bed and whisper that everything was going to be okay. But he didn't believe it and Sam wouldn't know what he was talking about if he woke up and heard it.
Instead, Dean went back to the spare room and laid himself down on his bed where he could see Sammy through the two doorways until he fell asleep too.
Sam woke up a little warm, a little uncomfortable, and a little confused. It wasn't unusual that he would wake up and not remember where he was. Too many miles, too many cities, too many motel rooms. Hartford Connecticut one day, New Hartford New York the next; names, dates, motels all blurred together.
Pale light coming from across the hall lit the room enough that Sam could tell this wasn't a motel room, and places they squatted didn't generally have beds or bedding. One thing that any place they ever stopped always did have was -
Sam sat up in a hurry when he realized Dean wasn't in the room, there wasn't even another bed in here. That's when the room started looking familiar. Bobby's house, Dad's old room. He was sleeping in Dad's old bed. It didn't hurt as much as it had when he laid down here earlier, though it still caused a pang. He put the pillow back where it belonged and got up to scrounge up some dinner, see where Dean was, maybe find out what time it was.
The one question was answered when Sam walked into the hallway; Dean was in his bed in the spare room, though Sam could only wonder why he was sleeping with his head at the foot of the bed, and why the light was on between the beds. He made a note to ask about it later and went in search of the kitchen and food.
Ohhh, there was the pie still on the kitchen table, half gone already.
"I thought Dean woulda salted and burned that thing by now."
Now, next to the pie was a plate of -
Well, Sam took a good, long, hard look at the blackish-brown, lacy-looking, lumpish hunks of -
"Pie wasn't enough for you?" Bobby asked, coming into the kitchen. "Or are you two boys planning a new career for yourselves?"
"What are they?"
"Cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Dean made 'em for you."
"Yeah. And if I gotta stop one more time at that convenience store asking for baking supplies, that clerk is gonna think I got a thing for her." Judging from Bobby's tone, that wasn't a good thing.
"Dean made chocolate chip cookies for me?"
"That ain't all." Bobby opened the fridge and plunked a gallon jug of milk on the table.
"Milk? He had you buy milk? I don't think I've seriously drunk milk since my freshman year of college." Sam grinned at the odd paths Dean's mind could take.
"He sure seemed to think it was vital. If you're gonna eat 'em, I recommend you start now. It'll take you 'til morning to chew through one of 'em. I'm goin' to bed."
"See you tomorrow Bobby."
Sam sat at the table and picked up a - a - cookie. It was shaped more like a hex bag full of holes and looked like it might be just as tasteless. Still - Dean had made them for Sam, and Sam was going to eat them.
But with the cookie halfway to his mouth, Sam froze. The last time he'd eaten a chocolate chip cookie was in the middle of the night, like now. He'd been alone - or so he thought - like now. And almost as soon as he took a bite of the cookie, his world had literally burst into flames.
Sam dropped the cookie and stood up, shoving his chair over backwards in his hurry. Dean. Sam had a sudden fear that Dean was in trouble and he had to make sure. He turned, almost tripping over the fallen chair. He caught himself, straightened up, and found himself nearly face to face with Dean.
"I know they're bad." Dean said. "I didn't think they'd attack you."
Sam stared at him. He'd really expected to find Dean burning on the bedroom ceiling, but here he was, alive and well and smart-ass. He was all right.
"Dean - Dean - you're -."
"I'm - ?"
"Uh - awake. You're awake."
"And you were rushing upstairs to tell me how much you love the cookies?"
Sam laughed, for Dean's sake,. and pushed his bangs out of his eyes. He didn't know if he should stay or leave or cry or throw up. Dean gave him a look like he knew something was going on with Sam. He didn't say anything about it though.
"You grab the glasses and pour the milk and I'll get dinner out of the fridge."
"I'm not really hungry." Sam said, for all that he'd come into the kitchen looking for real food. "I just want to eat some cookies."
"All sugar and no protein makes Sam a jumpy boy." Dean said, sounding like he wasn't even considering that Sam wouldn't eat what he was bringing out. That turned out to be two Styrofoam containers. "Bobby passed a chicken barbecue at a Baptist church."
"I'm really not hungry."
"Sammy, you need to eat. We both need to eat. If we want to get through this -." If only he really knew what this was, "- we need to take care of ourselves. We need to eat."
"Yeah." Sam agreed reluctantly. "Yeah." He started to sit down then remembered he was supposed to get glasses - for the milk. Milk. He hadn't drunk milk since -
"Cold or nuked?" Dean's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Uh - cold. Cold is fine." He got two glasses from the cupboard and started to pour. "You're drinking milk?" He asked, just to be sure.
"Sure. Why not?" But Dean made a face that made Sam laugh for real. "How bad could it be?"
So Sam poured and they started eating. The chicken actually tasted good, the roll was a little dry, the cole slaw was a little sloppy, even the milk tasted good. Maybe he was just thirsty. Maybe -
"Remember how Dad always made me drink a glass of milk every meal? Whatever else I had, Coke or coffee or whatever, I always had to have a glass of milk too."
"Of course - you're a growing boy."
"He didn't keep making you drink milk." Sam pointed out.
"And see? I didn't grow as tall as you."
Sam was surprised, relieved and grateful that bringing up Dad didn't seem to bother Dean. He didn't want to fight about Dad anymore. He just wanted to sit with his brother awhile and forget that anything else was going on in the world.
"I'm finished. Can I have a cookie now?" Sam asked when he was done with his meal. Dean reached over and checked the Styrofoam container that Sam was telling the truth.
"OK, but you're a braver man than I am."
"You're the one who ate the pie." Sam grabbed Dean's trash and threw it out with his own. He refilled his glass with milk, sat down, and picked up a cookie. He didn't pick the biggest because he didn't want to take all night eating it, and he didn't take the smallest because he didn't want to look like a wuss. Dean had taken a pretty big slice of pie though so he took the next to biggest cookie.
"Thanks for making these."
"Don't thank me until you've tried one."
Sam took a trial bite. It was gooey, bitter, and as tough as rubber.
"This is like baked taffy." He said, trying to chew around the mass in his mouth. "This is good."
"Now who's the liar?" Dean took a cookie, broke a piece off and made a show of bravely taking a taste, then gave an exaggerated reaction to it, making a face, rolling his eyes, and gulping down his milk. "Oh that was nasty."
"No they're not." Sam said, laughing at Dean's reaction. "They're good."
"The pie must've rotted your taste buds."
"Don't you diss my pie. That's my favorite pie."
Sam took another minute or so chewing the piece of cookie in his mouth, hoping he didn't choke when he finally had to swallow it. Dean amused himself by tapping his cookie on the table and then pushing and pulling it into ugly shapes. Sam watched him. His big brother Dean. Sam had a good two or three inches on him and would probably have more before he stopped growing, but Dean was always and would always be his big brother. If you were something bad and unnatural, Dean Winchester was the scariest thing on earth. If you were someone Dean loved, if you were Sam Winchester, he was the softest touch on the planet.
He only intended to suggest they leave baking to bakeries from now on. But Dean looked up at him with that look, that look. Everything Dean would never say out loud came through his eyes loud and clear. Love and pride, affection and understanding. A solid, unbreachable wall of defense between Sam and anything bad in this world or the next. And all Dean did was look up at Sam.
When Sam said that, Dean was busy trying to morph a cookie into a snowman and thinking that Sam might pull a tooth if he kept chewing. Sam wasn't one to be shy if he didn't like something, anything, so the fact that he'd risk his fillings just to make Dean feel better meant a lot. He was thinking that when Sam said his name and he looked up.
He thought Sam was going to say they shouldn't quit their day jobs to take up baking, or that they should drink milk more often or something like that.
He didn't expect Sam to start crying.
Sam didn't cry. Sure, he cried when Dad died and when they cremated him, and a few times since then, but that was the first time Dean had seen him cry in probably twelve years. Even when he lost Jessica - even when he lost Jessica Sam never broke down. Not in those first few days after she died, not at the memorial service four days later, not when they sifted the ruins of his apartment and found nothing salvageable. After that, he'd had nightmares and night terrors and he'd driven himself past exhaustion trying to avoid them but when he was awake he was so distant from her death that Dean thought the grief had put him into shock. There'd been times he'd seen one or a few tears slip down Sam's face but nothing violent, nothing cleansing. So it caught Dean off guard to see tears start now.
But Sam didn't answer. He took what looked like a painful swallow of the cookie monster in his mouth and scrubbed at his face. The tears kept falling. Maybe it was Dad, maybe it was finally Jessica. Maybe it was the crummy cookies. Sammy was crying.
"Hey. Hey, it's okay." Dean pulled his chair close to Sam and put his hands on Sam's shoulders. Sam dropped the rest of the cookie and put his head in his hands. His tears turned to sobs. "Sammy, c'mon. C'mon, we'll get through this."
Sam didn't answer, but he didn't pull or push away either. Dean squeezed his shoulders and rubbed his hand across his back. Well, so what if he hadn't seen his little brother cry like this in half his life? There was nothing different from this time to that time. Dean slid closer and pulled Sam into his arms. He was probably twice as big as he'd been the last time Dean held him and he was an armful and his sobs shook them both, but Dean held him. This was something he could do. Like fixing the Impala, comforting Sam comforted Dean.
He kept Sam held close, he'd hold him until he was sure he was through crying. He wished the rest of their lives could be this easy, just a talk, a hug, a glass of milk and everything was okay again. Well, nearly okay. As okay as it was probably going to get anytime soon.
Maybe he should stop while he was ahead.
Sam didn't want to cry, especially not in front of Dean. He wished Dean would go, leave the kitchen, leave the house even so he could get himself under control. He'd fight it back, push it down, something, anything. He'd done it plenty of times since he lost Jess. He wouldn't cry. It was painful and a waste of time.
He was surprised when Dean wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close enough to press Sam's head against his shoulder. He couldn't remember the last time Dean had held him like this, if you didn't count the times he was pulling Sam out of the way of some slavering, bad-tempered, life-threatening fiend. It felt nice, it felt warm and safe and calming.
Maybe this was what Pastor Jim meant when he said tears were a gift.
That only made Sam cry harder.
"Okay, it's okay." Dean said, trying to soothe Sam. "I know it hurts. And we both know it's just gonna keep on hurting."
"No - no." Sam managed to say, shaking his head. "It's not - that's not - no."
"Okay. Then whatever it is we'll take care of it. We'll get through it. There's nothing we can't handle, right?" Dean waited a moment. "Except these cookies I mean."
Sam laughed while he was crying and then laughed again. "Don't diss my cookies."
"I'm thinking we could make them into bullets and use them instead of rock salt."
"Dean..." Sam kept laughing, sniffling and wiping at his eyes. He didn't move out of Dean's arms.
"What? I tried one. Those things are lethal."
Dean let him have the last word on the cookies. "Think you'll be able to go back to sleep?" He asked after awhile.
Sam shrugged, then nodded. "I think so."
"Okay." Dean didn't move though, he kept his arms tight around Sam.
"Did you mean sleep here?" Sam asked. He wouldn't mind if Dean didn't.
"Hey, anywhere is better than you sleeping on the couch."
"Maybe not for you." Sam sat up, away from Dean. He wiped his face and pushed his hair out of his eyes and didn't look up. Dean stood up and put his chair back where it was and picked up the gallon of milk.
"Why don't you go up then. I'll clean this up."
"Don't touch my cookies."
"Not even if you paid me."
Sam walked out of the kitchen, trying not to shuffle his feet across the floor. At the door he turned back and watched Dean put the milk in the fridge and the glasses in the sink. He looked like Dad, he moved like Dad. But Sam decided Dean was crazier than Dad when he took another forkful of pie.
"You don't have to eat that." Sam said and Dean jumped, surprised.
"You're going to bed."
"Yeah I am, I just - thanks." For the cookies, for listening, for propping up the center of the world again. "Can I wait for you?"
"Sure." Dean smiled, he even looked grateful. He shut off the kitchen light, put a hand on Sam's back and they went upstairs.