Warnings: I think there might be some cursing. And, uh, Dean doesn't think much of Thornton Wilder.
Spoilers: Pre-series and mildly AU-ish
Author's note: Written for a hurt/comfort meme over on LiveJournal. Prompt from roque_clasique: "Narcoleptic!Dean!!!!" One of my best friends in the world is narcoleptic. I couldn't let that prompt pass me by.
When Dean falls asleep in math class, he tells himself he's just being a rebel. And really, math is just that boring and who doesn't fall asleep in math class? Take a poll of high school students across the country, and Dean's willing to bet you that, like, ninety percent of teenagers fall asleep in math class.
And the other ten percent are liars.
So, yeah. Falling asleep in math class is no big deal. All you do is sit there and listen to a teacher go on and on and watch him scribble away on an overhead projector about angles and tangents and proofs and things and it's so repetitive and so simple that Dean just can't keep his eyes open.
He begins to think of geometry as his daily nap, and, well, that's just fine with him. It's not like it's going to be super-important to him as a hunter to be able to remember which line of a triangle is the hypotenuse. Right?
When Dean falls asleep at Sammy's play, he tells himself it's natural. The theater's dark and the audience is quiet and those seats are just so damned comfortable. And come on, Our Town? Not exactly a high energy romp. It doesn't even have any dancing girls.
Put Vera-Ellen up there tapping away without any pants on and yeah, he'll stay awake. But listening to the Prom queen whisper good-byes to invisible objects on an empty stage while half the chess team stares blankly outward from a row of black chairs? Snoozeville. Of course he falls asleep while trying to sit through that. Sam's just lucky Dad isn't here, or he'd be sawing logs so loud they'd all get kicked out.
Sure, he wants to support his brother, would love to pay attention and gather years worth of mocking material from all the goofy-ass things Sam's doing up there on the stage, like drinking invisible ice cream sodas and making moon-eyes at people and climbing ladders, but there's only so much a man can take, especially after being up half the night doing research for a hunt.
So he thinks of the three nights of performances as his chance to catch some shut eye without getting harassed, and if he falls asleep at the matinee full of screaming middle schoolers getting their "cultural education", well. It's just that the play is that boring.
When Dean falls asleep on a stake-out, he wakes up to his father bumping his fist into his shoulder with far more force than necessary, barking out his name like it's a damned curse, and he tells himself it's his own fault, that he's weak, and he has to do better. He starts drinking coffee instead of soda and lets himself give into the urge to nod off while Sam's doing research, or waiting to pick his brother up after soccer practice. Dad has enough to worry about without having to ask if his back up is catching Z's instead of keeping an eye out for an extra werewolf or flying dinette set.
When Dean falls asleep at the wheel, not even on a long drive, just a short hop from one end of the state to the other, even though he has the windows open, even though Metallica is blasting on the stereo, even though it's broad daylight out and for once he got to bed at a reasonable hour the night before along with his now daily naps, he starts to wonder if maybe something's wrong with him.
When Dean asks his father what happened on a hunt that Dad has never heard of, when his dad's expression goes from overwhelming disappointment to confusion to full-on worry, because the conversation about the poltergeist in Chattanooga never happened, there is no poltergeist in Chattanooga, they're looking into a revenant and they're just outside of Topeka, Dean stops wondering.
Something is definitely wrong with him.
Sam, nerdy little ass-face that he is, is all over this.
"Do you have trouble sleeping through the night?" he asks. They're sitting in the motel room while Dad checks in with Caleb about any possible spooky shit going down in Chattanooga, and Sam's got a book bigger than his head open on his lap, leaning forward over it and stabbing at the page like an accusation. He continues on without Dean answering because they both know that Sam knows the answer to that. It's hard not to, when half the time he shares Dean's bed. "Ever get sleep paralysis? What about hypnogogic hallucinations?"
"You've definitely got the EDS," Sam continues. "What if that's why your grades were so bad? And the vivid dreams, mistaking them for reality."
"If I had that I'd be convinced I'm a sex god. Oh, wait. . . ." Dean grins wide like he's not terrified, but Sam just rolls his eyes.
"Hilarious. I'm serious here, Dean."
"So am I. You should see some of the stuff I got going on in my head --"
"No, thanks." Sam smacks the book shut with a decisive *thump* that's almost -- almost -- more terrifying than the idea that Dean's body is betraying him. "I can't be sure without a full sleep analysis, but I think I know what's wrong with you."
"I got cursed by that damned witch in last week in Oklahoma, right? Just need to slap some hoodoo on me and I'll be. . . ." Dean trails off as Sam shakes his head sadly, like Dean's the most pathetic excuse for a person he's ever encountered.
And maybe he is. He can't even stay awake behind the wheel of his baby, after all.
"Sleeping sickness?" he tries. He's not really sure what that is, and it's not like he's ever been to Africa, but still. . . .
Dean makes a face. "Am not! I like the living, thank you very much."
Sam makes a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and rolls his eyes again. "Narcoleptic, Dean. It's a brain disorder. When you can't help falling asleep at weird times."
Dean shakes his head. "No. No way. My brain is just fine, Sam, I'm not --" But Sam is nodding with that sad expression again.
"It's treatable," he says. "You can take pills. Keep a sleep journal. It's okay."
But it's not. It's really not.
When Dad gets back with the news that there really is nothing going on in Chattanooga, he looks at the two of them for a long moment and shoves his hands in his pockets. "You boys figure it out?"
Sam opens his mouth to do his geektastic explaining thing, but Dean gets there first. "Yes sir. Nothing to worry about." Sam makes a protesting noise in the back of his throat, but Dean just keeps his gaze on his father's eyes as Dad's shoulders relax.
"Good," Dad says. "I've got a lead on the revenant. We'll take care of it tomorrow."
And that's the end of that discussion.
Sam, of course, can't let it go. "Lots of people are narcoleptic, Dean," he says. "Probably as many as two hundred thousand Americans. It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"That's great for them," Dean says, running the polishing cloth down the barrel of his sawed-off.
"Harriet Tubman was narcoleptic," Sam says. "She was hit in the head with an iron when she was a kid, and would fall asleep on park benches even when there was a sign for her capture right above her head. And she still led all those slaves to freedom."
Dean grunts, hoping that if he doesn't answer his brother will leave it alone. The chair he's sitting in isn't what he'd normally call "comfortable", just a cheap-ass wooden thing that came with the room, but right now he's sinking into it as if it where upholstered in leather and padded with that space-foam shit they advertise on TV.
Sam starts poking him in the cheek, and fuck, that's annoying. He lazily swats at his brother's fingers with one hand, lets out a mumble that even he's not sure of the meaning of, but Sam won't leave him alone.
"Dean," Sam's saying, like he's four and he has to go potty and doesn't remember how to work his own damned fly. "Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean --"
"What the hell?" And that's Dad. Dean thinks he should probably sit up. There's something hard pressing into the cheek Sam's not poking at, and his back is getting stiff. But his eyelids are heavy and the room is all swimmy and fuck if that chair isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. . . .
And, yeah, okay, maybe Sam's onto something with that whole "narcolepsy" shit.
The next day, Dean's relegated to waiting in Dad's truck while Dad and Sam take out the revenant. He's even too worked up about it to fall asleep, though the truck's seats are way more comfortable than the motel room chair and the radio doesn't have a tape deck and is only picking up crappy country stations. Then they go to a hospital and Dad has to waste another phony insurance card to pay for Dean to sleep in a crappy bed with wires taped to his forehead and people staring at him with clipboards and serious expressions on their faces.
Really, Dean's pretty sure that anyone who would sleep normally in one of these sleep study clinic things is the one who's really got something wrong with them.
Still, eventually he does doze off, and the next morning he's sitting in front of a desk with Dad on one side of him and Sam on the other, staring across at a doctor babbling about treatment options and spreading out pamphlets all about how to "manage" his sleep disorder while still leading a productive life.
Productive life. Like he's some kind of gimp or something.
He doesn't say a word the whole time and neither does Dad, but that's okay, because Sam's asking all the questions for them.
"Can he still drive?"
"We'd recommend he doesn't until he knows he's got the condition under control. Any situation where he might be sitting passively can lead to an episode."
"What's causing this? I read that Harriet Tubman was narcoleptic because she got hit in the head."
The doctor laughs. Probably thinks Sam's adorable. Dean wants to hit him. They get a lecture all about how they can't conclusively connect head injuries and narcolepsy, that it's likely a result of improper protein production in his neurons or something (and Dean figures that was just an excuse to eat more burgers, gotta keep up his protein), but that a brain injury can't be ruled out, especially given the vague allusions to head trauma in Dean's history.
"There's no cure for narcolepsy," the doctor says, "but it's important to remember that, with treatment, it is possible to keep it under control, through both oral medications and lifestyle changes. It might take some time, but there's no reason Dean can't be a perfectly functional member of society."
Dad elbows Dean in the arm at that. Dean's not nodding off or anything -- even though he's kind of half expecting to, now -- so Dad must think that's amusing. It kind of is. "Perfectly functional member of society."
Like hunters have ever been that.
They leave with enough pamphlets to keep Sam in reading material for -- okay, so realistically maybe the next three hours, because Sam's a ginormous dork, but an ordinary person (a "perfectly functional member of society") might be reading them for weeks -- and enough pills and prescriptions to make Dean feel like a science experiment.
And it's tough. Good god it's tough. Dean still wants to fall asleep all the time, and he still has trouble keeping track of what he's dreaming and what's really going on, sometimes, but as the months go by and he starts scheduling himself some real naps and keeping up with those pills (even if sometimes that means breaking into a pharmacy in the middle of the night), it starts getting better.
By the same time next year, Dad's even letting him go on hunts again. And if he occasionally watches Dean at target practice and mutters "perfectly functional member of society" under his breath, well. That's his own problem.
When Dean picks Sam up at Stanford and Sam's girlfriend fries to a crisp on the ceiling and Dean and Sam hit the road and Sam stops sleeping through the night, Dean thinks "vivid dreams" and "hypnogogic hallucinations". He thinks of the pills he still pops, of the scheduled naps at truck stops to make sure he doesn't go careening off the road.
And when he starts ordering Sam to sleep, stops waking him up when he's tossing and turning, pesters him about his dreams to make sure he knows they're dreams, that he knows he's awake now, well. That's just him being an awesome brother.
Because one sleep-freak in the family is enough. Maybe they're not "perfectly functional members of society", but one of the Winchesters, at least, should get to sleep like a normal person.