Sam slid off the hood, let his feet find solid ground. An iron claw had begun to grip his chest as soon as the words "forty years" were out. Now, as Dean's voice hitched into an ominous silence, it squeezed his heart spitefully.
You can't fucking help him with this. And you know it.
Rounding the car he reached Dean's side and hooked the beer bottle from slack fingers. It clinked against his own and there was a soft flump as he jettisoned both into the long grass.
His brother was unmoving, leaning back against the passenger door, eyes averted, a blank, thousand-yard stare into the wet asphalt.
"For right now," Sam said firmly, "for right now, Dean, just breathe."
Knowing his brother's stress reflexes all too well he pressed a hand to the left side of Dean's neck, thumbed his jaw urgently. The skin under his fingers was damp and salty.
"Breathe," he repeated, still calm. "That's all you've got to do right now. We'll get to everything else."
Dean's wet lashes swept lazily down on to his cheeks and then up again, but he didn't inhale. A clump of twisted things was closing his throat, bringing a flurry of grey stars into his peripheral vision. He couldn't swallow it down. Couldn't let any air in.
Sam wasn't sure if Dean could even hear him.
"Jesus," he said, reaching out with his other hand and jamming it against Dean's shoulder. "I know you don't want to, Dean ... but, crap ... come on, dude, feel this." He snagged a fistful of jacket and Dean swayed slightly but didn't inhale.
"Okay, Dean, back you come ... enough now."
Fear made Sam pull his hand from the scrunched up canvas fabric and cup it round the other side of Dean's face with a slap.
"Dean! Damnit! Breathe!" he barked.
Dean's mouth opened, his eyes closed, and he gasped, jaw rigid in Sam's grip. They both felt gravity bite as his knees folded.
"What the ..." Sam puffed out. He slid one hand to the back of Dean's jacket and hauled upwards, his other hand scrabbling to get a purchase on the nearest lapel. "What the hell, Dean ... I'm not going to let you ... you're not going to fucking ... what the hell, Dean." He heard air sucking in and out, too fast and too shallow. "Stay on me, man, focus on me ... easy in ... Dean .... easy in I said ... like with Dad ... you remember ... drop the ribs, count it out, keep control."
Unwillingly at first, Dean took the instruction like he'd always done, but he didn't relax. Instead, once he'd got enough of a foothold he fought his way out from under Sam's tentacles with surprising strength, staggered past him, crashed one palm down on the hood of the Impala and threw up violently, just missing the front fender and then staying slumped over, rocking on the toes of his boots.
"Fuck!" Sam shouted and grabbed wildly for the belt-loop of Dean's jeans to stop him going right over. It was like keeping a stack of empty boxes upright in a gust of wind. As soon as Sam got hold of one part of him, the rest threatened to cave in.
Eventually he got him back against the door, wheezing like an asthmatic, and pawing his clammy forehead with one uncoordinated hand while he held Sam at bay with the other.
After about thirty seconds he seemed to have breathed himself down into a halfway healthy rhythm. "Fucking head hurts," he got out and Sam felt a full-blown wave of relief surge through his veins.
"Copy that," he said, bypassing the defensive hand. In the driver's door he found what he was looking for: Dean's little bottle of numb. "Here," he said, spinning off the lid and pushing it into Dean's chest. "I'm going to let you do this for now, okay? We'll handle it like this. But I gotta tell you ..."
"Wha-?" Dean asked him, the bottle popping from his lips after his first trembling slug.
Sam threw his hands about incoherently. "I just ... I'm gonna be all over your case. That's all."
A grimace quirked the whole left side of Dean's face. His hands were quaking so bad he could hardly get the whisky back in his mouth without clacking it hard against his front teeth. He was still too disorientated to stop Sam fishing the Impala keys out of his front pocket and dumping him inside the passenger seat by the sleeve.
Sam got in, hearing the whisky slopping against the glass as Dean sucked at it. After turning the engine over for a few seconds, he hit the gas and drove, wanting nothing more than to get his brother unconscious by any means possible, as soon as possible.
By the time he did that, the bottle was empty and Sam had dropped it into the wastebasket of a motel bathroom thirty miles further down the road.
"You are so going to feel like shit tomorrow, man," he said. Dean's horizontal figure was crashed on one of the beds looking like it had dropped there from ceiling height. He was kinked up in all the wrong places, flat on his back, one fist clenched against his thigh, the knuckles of the other hand trailing on the carpet. A major hangover, a stomach full of nothing to puke and a crashing alcohol addiction which Sam already knew would be nigh-on impossible to tame, somehow seemed like the least of their worries.
"Just for now, dude," Sam said, parking his butt on the side of Dean's bed. He could feel the heat of oncoming nightmares radiating off his skull as he attempted to get him somewhere in the vicinity of the pillow. "Until I can figure it out I'm gonna let you do this. But seriously. It's just for now."