Disclaimer: If I owned them, they would hug a lot more.

Summary: Sam knows he can't fix Dean. But maybe he can help. Tag to My Bloody Valentine.

A/N: I wrote Dean!angst. *is proud*

The Good Things in Life

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I can see inside you, Dean. I can see how broken you are, how defeated. You're not hungry, Dean, because inside you're already dead…

It rings in his head as he stares at Dean in the diner, blood staining his mouth and the scent of iron heavy around him.

It is there as he sits in the Impala on the way to Bobby's, fingers clenching and unclenching on the armrest as he fights the rising pangs of withdrawal.

It is there beneath the fever, the screams, the spasms that wrack his body as he wrenches against the handcuffs that bind him. It echoes in his ears as Ruby calls him her whore, as Dean names him traitor, as Jess whispers her disappointment, and it's there as he leans against Dean and Castiel as they help him climb the stairs that lead out of the panic room and back to reality.

As he is lowered down onto the couch and Bobby presses a fifth of whisky into his shaking hand, it is foremost in his mind. Dean, pale and frozen between two demons, his silence as condemning as Famine's words could ever be.

He gulps down the alcohol, feeling it scorch his throat, making him splutter and Castiel lean closer, the angel curious at his reaction to the drink. But Sam ignores him, his eyes fixed on his brother, taking in the pale face, the blank, stone-like eyes that refuse meet his own.

And in that second, Sam makes up his mind. He doesn't know if he can help Dean. But he knows that he can try.

---------------

When Sam descends the steps from Bobby's front door two days later, Dean is already in the driver's seat of the Impala, waiting to depart, but with no sign of his usual impatience.

Somewhat apprehensively, Sam bends down so his head is level with the window. "Can I drive?"

Dean gives him a look but edges over into shotgun, leaving the driver's seat empty. Sam slides in, feels the weight of the wheel beneath his hands, familiar and solid. He reaches down, turns the key in the ignition and listens to the soft growl of the engine.

Dean is eying him. "You crash my car again and I'll kill you," he says.

"I never-"

"It was your body, Sam. I don't care that you weren't in it."

"Oh." Sam takes this in for a second. "Sorry?" he offers tentatively, knowing it wasn't his fault and knowing it doesn't matter.

Dean just grunts and sinks low in his seat, his eyes closing.

Sam glances down at him, then revs the engine and pulls out of the driveway, leaving tire tracks lingering in the dust.

-------------

Sam lets the Impala roll to a stop, turns off the engine and takes a deep breath. The drive has been a long one, absent of Dean's usual commentary on the state of the world as it flashes past outside.

Slowly, he opens his door and gets out, emerging into bright morning sunshine and an ocean breeze that whips immediately at his face, fresh and warm. He stands there, running a hand through his hair, looking out at waves of sand as they dip and sway away towards the west until they finally meet the shore, where waves lap gently at the sloping beach.

Behind him, Dean has climbed out of the car as well and is looking about with suspicion. "Where are we?"

"California."

Dean raises a brow and Sam shrugs, feeling the sharp tang of the salty sea air bite at his nostrils. "We're about ten miles from Stanford. I used to go here sometimes with Jess."

"And why are we here exactly?"

Sam shrugs. "Felt like it."

"Ok-ay."

"S'nice, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Real nice. Can we go now?"

"Not yet." Turning around, Sam locks the Impala behind him and shoves the keys deep into his back pocket. "I want to build a sandcastle first."

"You're kidding me, right?"

Sam just grins and sheds his shoes and socks, kicking them out of sight beneath the Impala before stepping down off the hard asphalt of the road and onto the unbearably hot sand that shifts unsteadily between his toes. Without a backward glance, he makes his way down towards the surf, dodging the occasional family or pack of teenagers sprawled out on sandy beach towels.

Finally, when the sand starts to cool slightly beneath the soles of his feet, he slows to a stop and looks about. Examining the bit of beach on which he's halted, he moves a few feet to the left then bends down and starts clearing away the few bits of straggling seaweed that lie discarded on the sand like day-old bunting.

"Sam!"

Dean has caught up to him, still clad in his heavy military boots. He stands there, glaring, body tense and angry. Sam simply reaches forward and uses the palms of his hands to smooth out a long strip of damp sand, feeling the minuscule grains, chill and damp, rough against his fingers as they cling to the underside of his bitten-down nails.

A pair of steel-toed boots appear in front of him, heavy and solid and sunken about an inch into the sand. "Dude. You're twenty-seven years old."

Sam considers this. "I know. I haven't made a sandcastle in ages."

The next second, he is being hauled to his feet and Dean's hands are at his throat, jerking open his shirt and baring his collarbone to the warmth of the mid-morning sun.

Sam raises one eyebrow speculatively, but Dean has already released him.

"Just checking something," he says grimly. He eyes Sam suspiciously. "That's you in there, right?"

Sam nods, but Dean continues to watch him until Sam decides that enough is enough and rolls his eyes. At that, Dean nods. "Yeah, it's you," he mutters, half under his breath.

Sam shakes his head, letting a smile creep onto his face. "Just sit back and relax a bit, would you, man?"

"Relax?" Dean echoes. "Are you kidding me? It's Apocalypse Now, Sam! The world is ending."

Sam leans forward and pulls a half-buried stick out of his claimed bit of beach, throwing it away with one swift moment of his arm. He turns around, meets Dean's his brother's gaze. "Then I'm gonna enjoy it while it lasts."

Turning away, he can hear Dean sputtering behind him, but ignores it in favour of surveying his workspace. Satisfied that the sand is level and clear, he rises to a crouch and begins to mark an outline for his castle with the end of his index finger.

He is aware that Dean is watching him, angry and stubborn. Finally, Dean turns and strides away, most assuredly heading back for the sand-free sanctuary that is the Impala.

Surreptitiously, Sam looks after him. He watches Dean try the door, then swivel round and glare in his direction, no doubt remembering the keys buried deep in Sam's pocket. Finally, Dean slumps against the side of the Impala, arms folded grouchily and one leg crossed in front of the other.

Ducking his head down before Dean can tell that he was watching him, Sam chews at the inside of his lip worriedly. He's put the first steps of his plan into action. Now he just needs Dean's help to follow it through.

-------------

"You done yet?"

Sam uses his forearm to sweep his hair out of his face, pushing back the sweat that is beading heavily on his forehead. "Not yet."

Dean snorts. "Whatever. I'll be at the car."

Sam just nods and continues working on the moat. He's been digging in the sand for nearly two hours now and so far Dean has asked whether he was done yet three times and has tried to drag him bodily from the beach once. Thankful for his greater height and weight, Sam had simply sat there, let Dean exhaust himself, then returned to what he was doing without a word.

He is starting to get worried. Dean isn't following the plan. Not that Dean is actually aware there is a plan, but still. It's a considerable problem.

Frowning, Sam continues to dig moodily at the moat. But then he becomes aware that Dean has not moved, and is still standing there next to him, military boots and all. A spark of hope lights up inside of him, but he stays silent, keeping his head down.

"That's not gonna work," Dean says abruptly.

Hopeful now, but keeping it determinedly hidden, Sam looks up, half-blinded by the mixture of sun, blue sky and white sand. "What?"

"The moat. It's not wide enough. Any water comes near that thing when the tide comes in and the whole castle's screwed."

Sam looks at it. "Huh. Got any suggestions?"

"You gotta make the moat wider. And deeper, too, while you're at it."

Reaching out, Sam makes a half-hearted attempt to collapse a section of the moat's outer wall and successfully manages to bring the whole side of the castle down. He hides a grin.

Dean makes an impatient noise. "You're doing it wrong, asshat. Here, move over-"

Finding himself pushed firmly to one side, Sam lets himself fall back on his rear against the sand and watches his brother shuck his boots, roll up his jeans and kneel down in the sand before getting to work on widening the moat of the castle.

-----------------

Several hours later, the sandcastle is over six feet wide and half as tall again. It has a wide moat spanned by three different bridges, sizeable fortifications and even a roughly formed turret or two. Not only that, but Dean has managed to amass an army of children to do his bidding, all recruited after they had become fascinated by the super-sized sandcastle forming on the beach and wandered too near. Dean has already referred to them as his minions not once, but twice, giving Sam flashbacks to the disturbing sight of Dean in gym shorts. However, Dean's recruitment policies had proven to have their benefits, for Sam had found ice-cream cones being pushed into his and Dean's hands at various intervals throughout the day, presents from the minions' grateful parents who were relieved to have someone else entertaining their young for the day.

But now, the sun is starting to sink in the sky, the heat of the day over. The minions are falling away in drips and drabs, pulled away by bored parents, or stumbling off half-asleep on their feet.

Soon, only he and Dean are left, working on the finishing touches to the main turret that rises from the very centre of the fortress. They work together in silence, knowing what each other is doing without looking, not needing words to talk.

Finally, Sam pulls back from the castle and straightens up, stretching his aching back. He watches his brother, who is determinedly digging away at the last section of the turret, building it as high as it will go.

Finally, Dean rocks back onto his feet and stands up. He steps back and for the first time in a long time his shoulders are straight, tall and relaxed, carrying no sign of the tension that had been there that morning.

"S'not bad," Sam says, looking at the castle appraisingly. As he speaks, the first wave washes in around it, splitting in half to follow the wide, deep path of the moat before it meets itself round the back.

Dean doesn't say anything, just nods, a gleam of something like satisfaction in his eyes.

Sam waits a few minutes, then finally aims a gentle kick at his brother's ankle. "You ready to go, man?"

"Yeah."

Together, they turn and make their way back up the beach, now empty of its host of families and teenagers. The further they go, the slower Dean moves, as though reluctant to leave the scene behind and return to reality. All too soon, they are at the Impala and Sam is kneeling down, pulling his shoes out from under her fender and finding that each of his socks is filled to bursting with heavy sand.

Standing up, he glares at Dean, who shrugs.

"What can I say? You were being a pain in the ass."

Rolling his eyes, Sam tips the socks upside down and watches the sand pour out before pulling them back on, then his shoes over them. He wriggles his toes dolefully, feeling the sand rub between them scratchily.

When he turns on Dean, about to complain, he finds him looking over the vast stretch of sand to the waves breaking on the shore. He shows no sign of moving. Sam pauses, watches him for a second, then changes what he is about to say.

"You alright?"

Dean shrugs off-handedly. "It's been a long time since I've seen the ocean, Sammy."

Sam nods. It had been a long time for him, too. For Dean, though, it had been over forty years.

"Thanks," Dean says suddenly.

Sam chances a glance at his brother. Dean is looking at him with eyes that are green and light. His skin is more freckled than Sam has seen it since they were kids, and his hair is windblown and stiff with salt from the water. The start of a sunburn is beginning to appear on Dean's forearms, turning them a sharp pink that Sam knows will be a violent red the next morning because Dean has always burnt, not tanned. Sam feels his gut clench strangely. For the first time in a long time, Dean looks alive.

True to the Winchester way though, he brushes off his brother's thanks. "For what?" he says impatiently. "I just wanted to build a sandcastle."

Dean's gaze is sceptical, yet it holds more warmth than it has in a long time. "Sure you did, Sammy."

Sam ignores him and climbs back into the car. With Dean still distracted by the ocean view outside, he shakes his head violently, making sure to get as much sand over the seats and dashboard as possible.

Dean climbs in a few minutes later, apparently having looked his fill. About to start the engine, he glances over at Sam briefly, then does a double take. A grin appears on his face. "Dude," he says with a smirk. "You look like a llama with a bad haircut."

Sam reaches up. Sure enough, he can feel his hair sticking up at weird angles, completely encrusted with salt, sand, seawater and the odd strand of seaweed. With a sigh and a grimace he shakes his head a second time, trying to get the worst of the kinks out. When he looks at Dean this time though, awaiting his approval, Dean starts laughing, long and loud.

Sam rolls his eyes. "Bite me," he grumbles, but as Dean's laughter, too long unheard, rolls around the Impala, he cannot help the echoing grin that comes to his face, despite it being at his expense.

As Dean starts the engine and the Impala pulls away, leaving tire tracks in the sand, Sam throws a last lingering glance at the ocean, and at the beach where their castle still stands, strong and proud, despite the tide that is washing deeply around it. Then he looks over at his brother, who is still grinning, his face creased with long-absent laugh lines.

Sam smiles. He knows he hasn't fixed Dean. He doesn't know if anything can. But maybe, just maybe, he has helped.

END

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