A/N: Sorry for the delay in updating. Turns out the holidays were hectic despite my cancellation of Christmas, and in my desperate attempt to finish a Christmas fic for another auction winner (which I totally failed at, BTW) everything else was put on hold. I hope this makes up for it.
A/N2: If my calculations are correct tomorrow is apieceofcake's birthday. Happy Birthday, Jo! MWAH!
A/N3: This part isn't betaed, but chemm80 spent the whole day on IM with me the other day working out the best way to present this condition without giving it all away at once. There aren't enough smishes in the world for her.
"Hey, Sam...Sam, check me out," Dean prods. He runs a comb through his hair, pushes the new pair of sunglasses up his nose, and gives himself a thumbs-up in the display mirror. "Aaaaayyy," he growls in his best Fonzie voice. He's not fazed in the least by the eye roll Sam gives him in the reflection over his shoulder.
"Another pair of sunglasses? You've already got more than Carrie Bradshaw's got shoes." Sam tosses two more packages of socks and one more of underwear into the cart next to the Rollback flyers and the toothpaste. They're not too proud to get clothes from the Goodwill, but no way they're wearing used underwear.
"Carrie Bradshaw? Dude, I knew you were into chick tv."
"C'mon, Dean, 'Sex and the City?' It's pop culture. You know you've watched it."
"Yeah, well, I thought it was going to be porn, and for the record, those girls could've all done better."
"Better like what?"
"Better like," Dean shrugs, "I dunno, me or even you. I swear, they found the biggest losers to hook up with."
"Losers, like guys who buy cheap sunglasses in bulk from Wal-Mart?" Dean doesn't have to turn around to see the smirk. He hears it just fine. "You'd have been Mr. Muscle Car or Mr. Little..."
Dean hits him in the back of the head with the next pair of sunglasses, effectively changing the subject. He gestures toward display sign when Sam rolls his eyes like Rollback is an order from Dad instead of just a bad slogan. "Hey, ten bucks," Dean shrugs, "Can't beat that. Might as well stock up."
"They're banking on that, you know? That you'll buy more than one and end up spending more money than if you'd just bought a good one the first time. Like charging three dollars for a pint of milk and four dollars for a gallon. They count on you buying the gallon."
"That would be stupid. We don't have a refrigerator," Dean says.
"That's not the point..."
"Exactly. The point is, sour milk is gross..."
"Yeah, that... and I don't have any glasses like these. These make me look hot."
"That's what you said about the blue ones you bought last week, and the aviators you got three days ago, and those hi-tech rearview ones you got online..."
"For your birthday."
"For MY birthday," Sam agrees, "which I never got to wear because..."
"They looked better on me. AND they made me nauseous, so I totally did you a favor."
"Wait, they made you nauseous? You never told me that."
Dean realizes with a start that he's probably said too much, but then, they were rearview sunglasses. He's pretty sure no one would be able to stand being able to see forward and backward at the same time. Probably why those secret service dudes stand so still. To keep from puking all over their expensive suits.
"Not the point," Dean dismisses. He drops that pair in the cart, squinting his way over the rest of the rack, picking over the mirrored lenses with intense scrutiny, because Sam's right-- there aren't many styles he doesn't have already. "The point is..." he rubs over his forehead with calloused fingertips, willing his eyes to focus on just one pair. "...I don't have a pair like this."
"Like what?" Sam exasperates. "Cheap and plastic?"
"N--" he flinches internally as his own word threatens to lance through his skull, clears his throat and picks a lower register. "No. Like this, with the wraparound sideshields and the 100percent UV protection..." he points each feature out like he's trying to peddle them on QVC. "...and the foam tubes around the earpieces for extended wear." This would be where he'd waggle his eyebrows if he still did that. Luckily, Sam doesn't notice the omission. There's something to be said for cheap sunglasses.
"Extended wear," Sam nods rolling his tongue behind his teeth. "Tell me again why you feel the need to wear them all the time. You put 'em on with your socks anymore. At first I thought you were going for the Tom Cruise in Risky Business look, but now it's more of a Corey Hart vibe."
Dean has to smirk at that. He was actually thinking ZZ Top, but now that Sam mentions it... Flipping up his collar, he doesn't even notice the price tag dangling off the nose piece as he pushes the glasses farther up his face and sings, "I wear my sunglasses at night, so I can," alternates shoulders as he sings like he's strutting in place, "so I can, see the light that's right before my eyes..." He pauses dramatically, does frame hands like a director visualizing a shot, goes all in... "While she's..." He starts separating the hands in a broad-sweeping gesture as he hits the high note, and "...shit..."
He doesn't just hear that note; he sees it in ultra hi-def with supernova backlight. They haven't yet invented sunglasses to wear inside the eyelid. Dean's funding that research along with the stuff on detachable heads. It's all he can do to brace himself against the rotating carousel before he actually starts to sway. Half a dozen pairs of glasses shake loose and drop to the linoleum at his feet before Sam steps in and grabs his arm.
"Dude, what was that?" Sam's voice is hushed and shaky, his fingers tight enough around Dean's bicep to leave a bruise, dismissing any chance he had of passing his clumsiness off as just bad choreography. "You all right?"
Dean shrugs him off with a sheepish grin. "I'm fine Sam," he lies, "just... distracted." The woman behind the jewelry counter across the aisle isn't his type at all, a few years his senior with too much makeup and horn-rimmed glasses, but she's at least a D-cup, so when he glowers at her chest over the frames of his sunglasses, it's not entirely improbable. Anyway, it's the best cover he can come up with. Sam's only half as grossed out as Dean's expecting, which will definitely factor in the next time he picks up a chick with Sam in the vicinity. He does have an image to uphold, after all.
He's admittedly not picking up a lot of chicks lately. Again... beside the point.
"You're such a horn dog," Sam grumbles as Dean takes over the cart and saunters away. "You're not even going to pick those up?" he asks, gesturing toward the fallen merchandise.
"Nope." He doesn't say he's got his hands wrapped so tightly around the push rail on the cart that he can't feel his fingertips or that there's no way in hell he'd ever get up again if he crouched down that far. In fact, he just doesn't say anything. Sam already thinks he's got the manners of a Three Stooges reject. Wouldn't want to ruin his perception.
"You're an ass," Sam accuses.
"And you're a geek. It'll grow on you after awhile."
"They have creams for that."
"W-w..." Sam shuts up and tosses another pack of underwear in the cart. Dean'll lay money they're a couple sizes too small.
He's so not, but Dean can understand why Sam would think so. If he hadn't said it himself, he wouldn't believe he's serious either.
"What?" Dean asks. "You don't think I can handle it?"
Sam drops the stack of books on his bed, flops down beside them haphazardly, leans back on his pillow, arms behind his head, tongue poking the inside of his cheek while his mouth drops slightly open, studying Dean. "Are you sick or something?"
"No!" Dean insists. "Did it ever occur to you that I may want..." he swallows thickly around the next words, because, well just because, "I may want to better myself?" Man, it sucks when a guy has to make up a whole slew of imperfections just to cover up one small, like, teeny, iddy bitty, barely even there, shortfall. So, he's not at the top of his game. No one stays there forever, right?
Sam's making it harder and harder not to just come out with it, how his head hurts all the time, how his eyes can't handle bright light, or sudden movement. How loud noises make him nauseous, and he'd sleep through breakfast and lunch if he could get away with it. Three months since he got out of the hospital, and he's gotten good at coping, which boils down to a whole lot of lying and sleights of hand. It's bound to get better. Everything does with time, right? He really doesn't see the point of ratting himself out now.
"Um, no. Last time I heard, you were awesome. Got that straight from the horse's mouth, a.k.a. your ass," Sam quips.
Dean feigns hurt, like he's been slapped in the face, but even the wrinkles on his forehead throb,and he only gives it a half-hearted effort. "I do not talk out of my...," he shrugs, "well, okay, sometimes I do, but that's all part of my disguise, y'know, like Clark Kent's glasses."
"Oh, so under the cocky exterior, there's really a man in tights."
Well, shit. Dean's little attempt to draw attention away from his throbbing headache is turning into an even bigger pain in his ass. Scrubbing his hand over his pounding forehead and back through his hair, he chuckles weakly. "Ha, friggin' ha." He exhales long and slow, imagines something warm and soothing flooding in behind it to take away the constant ache and the exhaustion of hiding it. It doesn't work. It never does. "Look, just... I'll read the incantation and you take the shot. Once I summon the bastard, you'll probably only get one good shot in. The S.O.B's are fast as fuck. Just take the shot and make it a good one. Ya think you can handle that?"
He's not Dean anymore. He's Dad. He knows the tone in his own voice too well, the one that says, 'when the hell did because I said so stop being a good enough reason for Sam,' and, 'I don't have the time or the energy to debate every damned thing.' Dean hears it, and he can tell by the way Sam rises into a sitting position and rests with his hands on his knees instead of answering that Sam hears it, too.
"Look, Sam, I'm..."
"Okay. Whatever. We'll do it your way, Dean." He lurches to a stand and stalks across the room.
"Just let me piss before we go," he snips. "I wouldn't want to we myself or anything." He probably doesn't slam the bathroom door. Sam was always far better at throwing words than tantrums. It still sounds like he slams it, though, and Dean falls back on the bed, his head hanging off the far side.
How did things get so complicated?
Two days later, they're back in Wal-Mart. They hunt went fine, except for the part where Sam missed the first shot and ended up with pretty good slash across his ribs. Nothing serious, and he got the next shot just fine, but sore ribs are a bitch to deal with on long car rides, so they're still here in... Dean can't even remember where they are. That doesn't say much for his chances of ever coming back. Certainly won't make the short list of places Dean would retire in if he lived long enough. Admittedly, there aren't many towns on the list. He's only been compiling it since that door introduced itself to his face. He might be taking too literally the old adage that says, 'when one door closes, another one opens.' It's a bad analogy anyway, since the door was open when it kicked his ass.
Dean's having trouble believing Sam dragged them back here to return the underwear they bought on their last outing. (As Dean suspected, they were the wrong size.) Dean certainly doesn't have any use for the place. He's already picked through their stock of sunglasses, but if Sam can drag himself down there with one arm clasped against his injured ribs, then the least Dean can do is drive him there.
Why Sam won't let him stay in the car is a whole other mystery, and Dean doesn't have the energy to figure it out after circling the parking lot three times just to find a to park in the shade.
"You're not parking here," Sam says, puzzled.
Dean throws the car in park and turns off the engine. "Looks like," he dismisses.
"Dean, you never park under trees. You're paranoid about bird sh..."
"Well, I don't want to sit in the sun. And a bird wouldn't dare lift a tail feather while I'm here."
"I thought you were coming with me," he says, getting out and then talking down through the open door.
"I said I'd drive. You don't really need me there to explain to the lady at the service desk about how your panties are riding up, do you?"
Sam actually seems disappointed. Shoulders slouching, he gazes off across the parking lot, his face pinched like he's looking into the sun. "But I...," the pinch disappears and is replaced by that high-brow eager beaver gaze that always gets Dean into trouble. "There's a Subway in the store. I thought we'd get lunch since you slept through breakfast. They have that sandwich you like...the uh..."
"Italian with extra jalapenos. I know which sandwich I like, Sam, but it's a little early for extra jalapenos, don't you think?"
"It's five o'clock somewhere," Sam smirks, turning one of Dean's favorite lines around on him. "You can even get cotton candy, and I'll win you a toy out of that claw machine. We'll make a day of it."
"What'm I, your date?" Sam's got to be kidding.
"No...just...c'mon, Dean. We haven't been out of the room in two days, and we don't have any plans. Let's just get out and walk around for awhile. Get the blood flowing." Sam leans against the roof of the car, hip cocked in defiance, "and if you say no, I'm gonna do all that stuff myself and leave you out here with the grackles for hours."
Oh, he so would.
"I hate you," Dean grumbles as he gets out of the car.
Sam shrugs lopsidedly, "aww, just so long as you care."
Dean flips him the bird and smirks into one of the parking lot security cameras as he does.
Okay, so Dean admits, cruising the aisle of the Super Wal-Mart isn't the worst way to pass the time of day. Well, except for the part where they don't sell the good magazines here. The place is like a crash course on the modern American, something Dean realizes he's grossly out of touch with when he stumbles into the gardening center and gets just a little turned on by a zero-turning-radius-sixty-inch-cutting-deck-more-horses-than-could-possibly-be-necessary riding lawn mower... with a drink holder for his beer. Oh yeah, there's a definite Tim Taylor rumble low in his gut when he kicks the tires on that baby.
And then there's the toy department. One aisle of the stuff he actually remembers from when he was a kid, matchbox cars and bouncing balls, hula hoops, water pistols in neon colored plastic, and yo-yos. Eight aisles of remote control, magnetized, flying, crying, peeing, pooping, glow-in-the-dark, talking, teaching, singing, giggling, dancing, and altogether horrific things he's sure ought to traumatize a kid with any good sense. It's no wonder no one believes in the supernatural anymore, when this shit is considered normal.
Not that he doesn't take the opportunity, while Sam's puzzling over a Rubik's cube, to commandeer a display model of the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remote control race car. He takes entirely too much pleasure in running it down the dolly aisle at top speed shouting "Barbie causes eating disorders," through the in-car mike. Ah, a super hero's work is never done. Most fun he's had in ages. Of course, the shiny wears off when Sam kicks his ass playing Gran Turismo 4 on display in the electronics department. He should've known better than to let Sam pick the track. Over a decade driving a boat like the Impala makes him completely unsuited for rally courses.
"You know there is a brake on that car, Dean."
"Brakes are for pussies," Dean retorts. The rough clearing of a throat behind him is the only warning they get before they're run out of that department. "What?" Dean says, jerking he sleeve out of the associate's grasp. "It's not like I'm corrupting innocents. I could totally be talking about Sylvester the cat. They wouldn't know any different if you didn't make such a big stink about it. And look at Dennis the menace, over there. He's laughing his ass off. Something tells me he knows worse words than that."
"That's not the point, sir," the balding man replies.
Dean's about to comment on the point at the top of the dude's shiny head when Sam steers him away by the shoulder. "The eye in the sky is watching," he whispers, referring to the blue globes in the ceiling everyone knows are security cameras.
"Then the great and powerful Oz knows that kid's mom totally grabbed my ass."
"She did not."
"Did so," Dean asserts. "Had fingernails as long as pencils, too. I bet she left a mark," he says, tugging at the waistband of his jeans with a smirk. "You wanna see?"
"You protest too much, Sammy."
"Oh, believe me, I could protest a lot more if you make me. Now, c'mon, there's something I wanna show you."
It's like they're kids again as Sam tries to lead Dean through the store by his elbow. "I'm coming, Sam. You're not ten anymore, ya know. What' s the big hurry anyway?"
Sam keeps walking like he can't stop for anything, eyes fixed on the other end of the store. "I just wanna show you something. You'll love it. I promise."
Dean shakes his head but follows anyway. He's played this game before. When Sam was a kid, a trip to Wal-Mart was like a trip to the amusement park, and the stuff he wanted to show Dean usually involved long battles against the puppy eyes and leaving the store feeling like shit because he couldn't afford to buy whatever it was Sam wanted. Dean's in no hurry to find out what it is they can't afford, and takes every opportunity to dawdle. To his advantage, Wal-Mart is full of cheap crap you can't find anywhere else. He doesn't really need a 'My First Electric Guitar,' or a 'My first ant farm,' but he studies them both like he's trying to make an informed consumer decision, pretending not to hear Sam's exasperated sigh behind him.
"Dean, over here," Sam says, and because Dean can't ignore him any longer, he turns around.
"Whattaya know?" he says, despite himself, "Sunglasses I haven't tried on yet."
"Yeah," Sam smirks. "A whole rack of 'em."
"Thatta boy, Sam. I knew I kept you around for something."
"Don't mention it, man. Knock yourself out. I'm gonna be right over here."
Dean almost nods, thinks better of it, and instead gives a short, "K," without looking where Sam is headed. 'Cause, you know, oooh, shiny. He's totally become a hoarder. He's like a crazy cat lady only with sunglasses. Sam's talking to someone, and Dean thinks maybe he hears his own name come up, but that's to be expected. Women ask Sam about his hot "friend" all the time. Dean just snickers and continues pawing through the display.
"Hey, these are lots nicer than the ones we looked at the other day," he says over his shoulder. "Good eye." He looks closer. "But why aren't there any price tags on these."
Sam clears his throat and mumbles, "Because they're prescription..."
"They're wh...?" Dean turns to find Sam leaning against a counter, a woman in white lab coat with a clipboard smiling back at him. And how did he go from cheap starter guitars to the eye center without noticing?
"You're Dean, right?" the woman asks. "You're just in time for your appointment. You can go right back."
"Saaaaamm," Dean growls. It's a God's honest growl. No mincing of the underlying threat to kick his sasquatch ass.
"Dean, I know there's something wrong with your eyes," Sam admits. "Between the sunglasses, parking in the shade, the squinting, rubbing at your forehead. And now you don't trust yourself with a gun."
Dean softens a little. Either he's totally lost his lying through his teeth mojo, or Sam's been watching to many of those old Sherlock Holmes movies. "There's nothing wrong with my..."
The doctor comes out of the examination room, looks down his nose at the receptionist's clipboard. "And which one of you is Dean."
Sam scowls. "Dean would be the stubborn jackass over there wearing sunglasses inside the store."
"Come on back, son," the doc says beckoning with his arm, cordial smile on his face.
"No," Dean waffles, "there's been a mistake. See, my brother, he gets these ideas... crazy, crazy ideas in his head, and..."
"Then he drags you to the eye doctor without telling you where you're going, right?" The doctor's actually chuckling. "If you only knew how many times I've heard that one. Usually it's the husband won't listen when his wife tells him he's blind as a bat."
Sam hides his laughter in his shoulder.
Before Dean can protest, the doc whose name Dean can read clear as day off his name tag just as soon as he gets close enough, steps out from behind the counter, puts a steady hand between Deans shoulder blades. Dr. Gabriel Houseman. "You can call me House," he chuckles.
"Why don't I call you Chuckles," Dean grumbles.
"Fair enough. Look, you're right. It's not very nice to drag someone to the doctor against their will, but I'm afraid we're going to charge you for the appointment regardless. You might as well get at least a cursory exam," Houseman says. "We can do that from here. Won't even have to go back to the office."
"We can?" Dean's skeptical until he notices the doctor pointing at an eye chart on the far wall. "Oooh, oh suure. I mean, yeah, okay. If it'll get Sam of my back," he says. No need to tell the good doctor he memorized the standard eye exam charts one time while he was up all night waiting for Dad to come home and didn't have anything better to do. He'd thought it might come in handy some day. Turns out, he was right.
"Fine, then," the doctor says, steering him around to face the chart. "Toe up to the line."
Dean makes a show of toeing up, first too far forward, then too far back, this way, that way, almost puts a little hip into it and does merengue hands, the strains of "Hungry Eyes," filtering through the fog in his brain. Until the doctor adds, "and take off the sunglasses."
Dean stops. "No, that's okay. I can do it with the glasses on, see?" And he squints at the chart just long enough to figure out which version he's looking at, then starts rattling off the letters in order. He doesn't notice Sam come up behind him until the glasses lift off his face. Dean grunts against the sudden change in brightness but keeps reciting letters through clenched teeth. His ears are ringing, but he's not sure if it's the headache flaring up or just embarrassment from having everyone stare at him.
"Shit..." Sam gasps. "Dean, what's wrong with your eye?"
Dean doesn't have to ask which eye. Dr. Houseman's already got his hand on Dean's face, thumb prodding at the skin around his right eye and pulling down on the eyelid to look at the sclera.
"Nothing," Dean hisses. "It's just a little red."
"How long has it been like this?" the doctor asks.
"Um, I dunno," Dean shrugs. "It kinda comes and goes."
"Dean..." The disappointment...okay, let's be honest, the friggin' pity in Sam's voice is just about enough to earn him a kick in the shins, because it's his own damned fault he has to see the angry red of the eye. If he'd just minded his own business, Dean would've snagged a bottle of Visine or three from the pharmacy and Sam wouldn't be looking at him like he's one of those one-eyed puppies at the animal shelter no one wants to adopt.
"Dude, it's nothing."
"Oh, yeah?" Sam's beyond sympathetic and working his way up to well and truly pissed. Way to end an otherwise decent day. "Then why the sunglasses? And why didn't you tell me about it?"
"Juuust, hold on a minute," Houseman intervenes, a hand on Sam's shoulder. "You did your job, son. You got him here, didn't you? Now, just let me handle it. You can settle the rest of your business after I send him home." Sam nods, glaring at Dean for a second before dropping his gaze to the floor, hands shoved in his pockets.
Houseman turns back to Dean. "That eye is definitely a little inflamed. Could be any number of things. Do you have any other symptoms? Vertigo, blurred vision, photosensitivity?" On the last word, Houseman draws a pen light out of his coat pocket and... Turns. It. On.
The result is instantaneous, and not a lot different from getting struck by lightning. Dean should know.
Once upon a time, some dumbass fired his gun up into the sky, and a short time later, some poor dude standing in his driveway dropped over dead when the bullet fell from the sky and embedded itself in his brain.
Dean wishes he was that guy, because this? This, searing, blinding, jaw clenching, knee buckling, gut twisting, bolt of agony that rips through him just then? It really fucking sucks. He hisses through it, arms wrapped around his stomach, hoping the next gasping breath doesn't take his Italian sub with it on the way out. It's trying it's darndest to put in a second appearance. Dean's throat works to swallow the flood of saliva slicking his mouth, cheeks wet from biting back the burn, and his stomach's turned three laps around his gut and taken a tour of chest cavity from the feel of it. He just keeps his teeth closed over the scream and his fists clenched in... whatever they're clenched in that's keeping him off the floor, and waits, eyes clamped shut.
It takes forever to pass, another eternity before his muscles loosen enough for him to even attempt to crack open his eyes. Hands on him. On his shoulders, supporting his back, prying apart his fingers. He feels himself being tipped back, clutches tighter, realizes it's Sam he's holding onto. At least, Sam's jeans, just below the knee, probably because his own knees are throbbing and crushed between his body and the vinyl floor. Shit, there's no saving face from that, but he's not gonna be laid out on the floor for everyone in the store to ogle on their way out, so he struggles forward, presses his forehead into Sam's thigh to stop it feeling loose on his neck like it's about to topple off.
Sam's hand rests for a second on the top of his head, then jerks back, and Dean wants to say something like, 'I'm not gonna break, Sam,' but then Sam might put his hand back, and Dean's too winded, his head too foggy to think of an appropriate response to that. The doctor kneels beside him, his lab coat scuffing along the floor loud enough to be made of sandpaper, and puts a hand between Dean's shoulder blades, half rub and half pat.
"I'll take that as a yes," he says.
And ain't that the understatement of the century?