Title: Painted Dreams of Red and Yellow
Characters: Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester
Category: Gen, Angst, Hurt/Comfort (sort of )
Spoilers: Through all of Season 4 so far, nothing specific
Summary: Dean remembers hell.
Word Count: 2450
Disclaimer: Here, lemme check…. Nope. Still not mine. Still not making money.
Author's Note: I took a nap today and woke up with this in my head. Thanks, subconscious. Very nice. This will surely be Jossed to heck, but I wrote it anyway.
Painted Dreams of Red and Yellow
"Did you bring the whiskey?" Sam asked from the other side of a two-man table in the back of the bar, the air smelling of piss and beer, not much difference between the two.
"Yeah," Dean said, sitting and pouring shots, amber liquid in little glasses, the gift of forgetting if you could afford to drink, if you could take enough. He hoped he could afford it.
"Good, that's good. 'Cause you know, Dean, always, if you brought the whiskey, I brought the fire."
And the whiskey ignited in the shot glasses in little pyres of orange flame, and Sam's eyes turned to fire in his head, yellow and red, flaring up like the eyes of Pam Barnes, the horny psychic, the eyes of death, the eyes of demons rotting and making you rot with them. Dean startled off his chair and fell into darkness again, chased by fire.
Dean stared into a face, ripped and gouged and streaming blood, mouth open in silent screaming, features obscured under the mask of viscera. He thought maybe he used to know that face. He thought maybe it was his own.
"Dean, Dean. I need you to wake up, man, just for a little bit. Please? I got you some medicine. You have a fever, you need medicine. It's a bad fever, Dean, you're scaring me."
Dean rolled his head from side to side, feeling the scratch of motel sheets against his cheeks, rough as sackcloth on his skin, too tight too hot. Tried to lift a hand but it wouldn't move, heavy as lead, weighted to his side. Invisible chains, that's what it was. Sometimes you could see them and sometimes you couldn't, but they were always there.
More weight at his side, someone sitting next to him, too near. Dean's breath caught in his throat and he tried to scramble away, but the chains held him still, suffocating, trapped. Roaring in his ears, the cries of thousands blended into white noise, under his skin, always there.
"Dean, it's me. Please, Dean."
Sammy's voice, scared and sad. Sammy needed him. Dean forced his eyes open, impelled by the need to take that note out of his little brother's voice, always, that was what he always did. But the face that bent above him wasn't Sammy. It was Sam, and sometimes Sam's eyes were yellow.
Dean closed his eyes again. He didn't want to see.
"Please, Dean. Please drink the medicine."
Dean remembered a house, a beautiful little house in a beautiful little town, where his mother lived, where his mother touched his face and called him son and made him a sandwich that tasted like heaven. He had mowed the lawn and sat on the front steps to drink a beer and waved at the neighbors, and the Impala's trunk was full of fast food wrappers and skin mags, not guns and more esoteric weapons. But in that beautiful little town, that beautiful little house, he had seen a dying girl hanging by her arms, slowly bleeding out, paling, leaving, and that had been the real world, not the lawn and the sandwich and his mother.
So now when he saw glimpses of fire and chains and blood, heard the screams and felt his own raw in his throat, he thought maybe that was the real world, too. Maybe he'd never gotten out of hell at all.
"Are you that screwed in the head?" Bobby asked, his face wrenched in agony. Dean had never seen that look on Bobby's face before, and he wasn't quite sure it was real. He was pretty sure he was dreaming this, dreaming Bobby's desperation, the hand on his face, the angry love in the old hunter's eyes and the way he gripped his shoulder, shook him, told him without words just who was going to suffer for that crossroads deal.
"Yeah, I'm pretty screwed in the head," Dean said, because it was true, and he was always truthful with Bobby. "I only had one job, and I fucked it up. Take care of Sammy. Should have been easy, right, but I guess nothing goes easy for me. That's okay, I'm used to it. Problem is that now I'm not gonna be there to look out for him, not anymore, so I need you to do it. Please, Bobby. Don't let him fall."
Bobby turned his head and tears dripped down his face in a sluggish line, slow as coagulating blood, and he was honest, too, Bobby was always honest. "Kid, Sam fell. He fell damn hard. I couldn't do a thing about it. You were the only one who could have, and you abandoned your post, got yourself dragged off by hellhounds. Didn't you know what Sam would do without you there to look after him? You must have known. Just four months, that was all it took."
Four months like forty years. Doggy years. Dean was hell's bitch, now, and hell would never loose the chain.
Dean was baking, skin splitting in the heat, lips cracked, throat raspy and aching. He couldn't tell if the fire was outside or if it was inside him, but it was probably both. He stared up at the stucco ceiling, panting, drowning for air, vision fading in and out. There was a blanket and sheet over him and he weakly pushed them away, down his legs, over onto the floor. The mattress and pillow were hot, too. Everything was hot, edged with flames, tinted red and gold.
For a moment, maybe just seconds, he was lucid and knew that it was just some sickness, some flu bug, fever raging inside him, scrambling all of his internal clockwork and screwing everything up, mixing memory and the present and always coming up on the bad side of both. He even remembered the first one, when the fever was just rising in him, the first waking hallucination that had him skittering away from Sam, sitting on the edge of the bed beside him watching some movie.
Dean had thrown himself away, slamming against the headboard, where he crouched, panting and staring, no longer seeing his little brother but something else, something awful. Sam had come toward him with hands outstretched, face bent in concern, and Dean lurched to the side and tumbled off the bed, cracking his head against the nightstand as he fell.
Sam loomed over him, tall and dark and lit inside with demon power, and Dean lay on the floor beside the bed, choking on invisible blood. "You're not my brother. You're not my brother. Where's Sam? Where did he go? I haven't seen him in such a long time."
Some of the fever dreams were harmless, just the usual crazy mixed-up stuff that came with this kind of mental scrambling. Dean dreamed that he was a checker piece on a huge playing board, moving and jumping, always pushing forward, but he was also the one playing the game, moving the pieces, seeing the patterns and making long-term strategies.
Dean-the-checker-piece was captured and laid aside for a time, deep in the darkness of the empty box, but then he was brought back to crown another piece. Now a king, he had more power, but he was still just part of the game, still just a tool used for someone else's purpose. He had been one all his life, though, so this didn't really bother him.
"Dean, please, you have to stop being scared of me." Sam's voice, half sad, half desperate, but all anger. "How am I supposed to take care of you when you're scared of me? I know it's just the fever that's making you this way, but c'mon, man, it's fucking killing me. I hate it that you start to breathe faster when I touch you, that you try to twist away if you're awake enough. I hate that seeing me doesn't make things better for you, but makes them worse instead. I hate that you don't call my name when you need help. You only say my name when you're begging me to leave you alone, and it hurts, man, it fucking hurts. I don't know if you even hear what I'm saying, if you hear words or even the sound of my voice. I think maybe all you hear is the crackle of flames, and that kills me. It kills me."
Fire was the womb that birthed their family, back when Dean was four. The years before that had only been a prelude to real life; he understood that now. Real life wasn't a house and a yard and a pet dog, two kids and a mailbox on the corner. It was blood and guts and guns, the smell of salt and sage, Latin rituals and protective symbols painted in black spray paint. This was Winchester life, completely separate from everyone-else-life.
The other kind of life would have been sweet, though, that house, the pet dog, the two kids going down to the mailbox, bumping shoulders and blowing bubbles with pink gum. Sweet as a painting in watercolor, fuzzy and indistinct but breathtakingly beautiful, the kind of painting you'd want to hang on the wall of the house you didn't own, colors melting together in a phosphorescence of light and pleasure. Dean would have enjoyed that life, but it wasn't for him. It would never be for him.
He had a little brother to look out for, and his little brother was made of fire.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he murmured, his throat tight and dry. The words were a bare breath of sound. He had no idea if Sam could hear him, if he was even anywhere nearby—he couldn't force his eyes open to look. "I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry I left you alone. I didn't want to. I'm sorry you had to find your way without me. I'm sorry you couldn't do it. I'm sorry you fell. I would have caught you if I could, but I was somewhere else."
A large, rough hand touched his forearm, cold as ice against the burning, and Dean shivered, but couldn't seem to stop the flow of words now that they'd started. He apologized for everything from going to hell to the death of Mr. Rogers, preschool Sam's hero, and the touch stayed on his arm, a point of coolness in the world of heat.
Eventually he ran out of things to apologize for, exhausted, chest heaving for air, and fell back into darkness.
Flames consumed everything he loved. Mother, father, now brother too. Dean grasped at the burning air and caught only ashes. He wasn't surprised.
"Thanks for coming."
Sam's voice was soft and hesitant. Not a tone Dean heard from his brother very often, not anymore, though he seemed to remember hearing it often, once. Sam had changed. Dean's heart ached with this, but it was an old hurt. Sam had been changed for a long time. Maybe he'd always been different than what he thought.
"I wasn't sure how to contact you." Sam laughed, half incredulous, half bitter. "I mean, praying, right? I guess it's an act of desperation, now, from the boy with demon blood in his veins."
"You did right."
This voice was all coolness and air, windswept mountain peaks, crystal snow forming high in the atmosphere. Sweet and remote, falling to earth as softly and powerfully as a beam of sunlight, burning or warming depending on where you stood.
"I didn't…I can't…he won't let me help him. I make it worse."
"No, Sam, that's not true. You have the potential to make it worse, but it's not inevitable."
"That's not…that's not exactly what I was talking about…."
Sam sounded uncertain, though. Dean knew that this voice always spoke truth, was incapable of speaking anything else. A two-edged sword, that, cutting both ways, sharp and unhidden. No sheath for this, only running or accepting.
He heard the rustle of someone approaching the bed. Something touched his forehead, cool and soft and gentle. It felt like feathers.
Dean sat up in bed, leaning against the headboard, slowly nursing a cup full of crushed ice. His stomach couldn't handle more than that, but the icy water melting in his warm mouth, dripping down his throat, was probably as close to heaven as he was ever going to get. His face still felt too hot, and he knew that his cheeks were flushed and red, but the dreams had faded.
Sam sat next to him on one of the room's straight-backed chairs, desultorily flipping through the TV channels, remote held loosely in one hand. He was slumped and tired, hair rumpled, shirt stained with sweat at the armpits and around the neck, as if he had been suffering a fever, too. Dean wanted to tell him to go clean up, catch some rest, but he knew Sam wouldn't listen. Sam hardly ever listened to him anymore.
At last Sam gave up and tossed the remote aside, letting it thump down between Dean's legs, so he could retrieve it and use it if he wanted. "You dreamt a lot. Do you remember anything?"
Dean paused, rolling the current mouthful of ice around on his tongue. "Something about a checkerboard. And a mailbox, I think. I dunno, man. You know how fever dreams are. Totally crazy, but when they go, they go."
"You were scared of me."
Dean shrugged and scooped more ice. "What can I say? You're a freaking giant. I bet you scare lots of people without meaning to, never mind a guy out of his mind with some kind of death flu."
"It's not funny, Dean."
Dean held himself in stillness for a moment, then looked over at his brother more seriously. "I'm sorry, Sam. I didn't mean to freak out on you. Whatever I did or said, you know it was just the fever, right?"
Sam nodded reluctantly. "Yeah. I know."
"Okay. Why are we talking about it then?" Dean picked up the remote and started flipping channels again. "Hey, does this motel get the porn channels? I can't even remember. Must have gotten sick right after we checked in."
Sam grinned and looked away, completely convinced by this evidence of Dean back to being himself. He went to the dresser and rummaged around for a bit, coming up with the channel guide, and lobbed it to Dean on his way to the bathroom. "I'm going to get a shower and catch some Zs. Do whatever you want."
"You know I always do, Sam."
Dean was impressed with himself. That hadn't sounded even a little bit like a lie.