"Sammy, don't scratch."
Poor Sammy, Dean couldn't blame the kid for scratching. His face was covered with red, brown, crusty spots, all of 'em just begging to be scratched.
Impy-tygo, Pastor Jim called it. Sounded like a tiny monster, Dean thought.
Sam'd apparently gotten it off of the manager's kid at the last motel they stayed. The two boys were the same age, both somewhere a couple months shy of five, and the two had spent an afternoon together playing toy soldiers while Dean and Dad fixed the brakes on the car out in the motel's back parking lot. The little boy had had some brown, crusty spots around his nose and mouth. Now, three days later, Sam had them everywhere on his face.
To keep him from scratching himself bloody, they'd loosely taped gauze over as many of the spots as they could, and his little hands were taped into 'mittens' jerry-rigged from gauze and one of Dad's t-shirts cut into halves. He was still trying to scratch himself though, scrubbing his padded fingers over the gauze over the nasty looking bumps.
A friend of Pastor Jim's who was a doctor not unfamiliar with hunters had prescribed an antibiotic cream and told them that to keep Sammy from infecting anybody else, they had to keep every-Sammy-thing separate from everything else, his cups and plates, bedding, towels, wash cloths, all his clothes, even himself.
Which meant that Dean wasn't supposed to hold Sammy's hand, or help him take the oatmeal baths that eased the itching, he wasn't supposed to sit too close to Sammy, or even sleep in the same bed with him.
Right now, when Sammy needed his big brother more than ever, that doctor expected Dean to desert him?
What color was the sky in his world?
So, Dean had made up his own brand of impy-tygo armor: long pants, thick socks, one of Dad's thermal shirts because the sleeves were long enough to go completely over his hands, one of his own t-shirts worn over the top of that to keep the oversized shirt close, and a huge supply of travel wipes to take care of any skin contact that might happen.
So, guarded against all microscopic bad guys, Dean was in bed with a very unhappy Sammy tucked into his arms.
"It's itchy." Sammy whined into Dean's t-shirt.
"You can't scratch at it." Dean said for easily the billionth time that day. "Scratching makes it worse. You don't want to have to take medicine, do you? Medicine is icky. If you keep scratching, you'll have to take the icky medicine."
"Make it don't be itchy, Dean. Pleeeeeeeeease."
How could Dean at least not try to make it better?
"C'mon, Sammy. Let's get you another bath. That always helps. C'mon."
"Sammy, don't scratch at it."
Sam was twelve and had two bruised and heavily scabbed kneecaps courtesy of a spectacular trip and skid on the sidewalk outside of school the day before. Because today was Saturday and because nothing else was going on and because Sam had already of course totally finished all of his homework and because walking hurt his bruised and battered knees, he was consigned to the bed with strict orders from Dean not to do anything more strenuous than working the TV remote.
And because Sam had sworn up & down that the fall was an accident and not the result of any Neanderthal schoolmates, Dean had no one to hunt down and kill, so he was in the motel room with Sam, making sure he kept to those orders.
But a bored Sammy was a twitchy Sammy, and right now he'd pulled one leg of his sweat pants over his knee and was idly picking at the thick scab.
"Sammy - are you listening to me?"
"Don't scratch at it."
Sammy sighed and yanked his pant leg down again.
By the next commercial break though, his fingers had found their way back to his knee and were idly picking at the scab through the fabric.
"SAM. Don't make me wrap up your hands to keep you from scratching."
With a frustrated huff, Sam tucked his hands under his arms and shot death glares at Dean.
Dean wasn't impressed.
"You'll thank me when those heal without getting infected or scarred over, Sammy. Don't scratch at them."
"Sammy - don't scratch!"
Sam growled when Dean said that, and kept right on scratching. They were at the Impala, which was parked near a swamp, which was full of mosquitoes, which meant each one of the Winchesters was full of mosquito bites.
It was September and Sam was eighteen and if any of them had lived in a perfect world, he'd be in a dorm room right now in the Ivy League college of his choice, instead of out chasing 'humanoid cryptids' through a foul-smelling, boot-sucking, mosquito-thick swamp.
But it wasn't a perfect world, and Sam wasn't at college and they were just pulling themselves out of that swamp after taking down a Letiche.
They were all three covered in mosquito bites, but Sammy seemed to have gotten the worst of it, all over his face and hands and arms. Dad was the second worst covered, and his mosquito bites always swelled into two or three times the normal size, but they never itched - or he never reacted to the itching - as bad as Sam's. He was packing up the trunk while Dean tried to corral Sammy's busy fingers.
"Sam." Dean forcibly pulled Sam's left hand away from his right arm and the concentrated patch of bites he was scratching raw. "You'll get them infected. Leave them alone and they'll stop itching."
"They're driving me crazy."
"Well, that's not a very long walk, now, is it?"
That was snark enough to still Sam's hands for a moment, while he tried to flay Dean with his eyes.
"Real funny." he finally said and commenced scratching again.
"HERE." Dad pushed a bottle back towards them. "This'll stop the itch until we can get some calamine lotion."
Dean took the bottle, but Sam backed away.
"Not ammonia! That burns!"
"It works." Dad said.
"Your choice." Dean tilted the bottle back and forth in his fingers. "A little burn now, or a lot of pink later." He waited a beat or two. "Pink is your favorite color, isn't it? Sammy?"
With another growl and a few last scratches for good measure, Sam came close enough to let Dean dose his mosquito bites with ammonia.
"SAM! What're you doing? Don't scratch with that!"
Dean walked into the motel room to find Sam shoving a disarticulated coat hanger into the cast on his wrist. He'd been complaining for days how itchy it was and he'd tried pens and pencils and anything long and thin to get to the itch, though Dean had drawn a definite line at Sam trying the brushes and mops they used to clean the guns.
"It itches." Sam said. Five more weeks at least Dean had to listen to that complaint, and Sam had to endure the itching.
They had a lot to complain about these days, a lot of things 'itched'. Especially Dad dying. Especially the burden Dad had laid on Dean just before he - everything.
"You scratch it with a coat hanger, and you'll tear up your skin."
"I bent over the end, I'm not scratching with the flat end."
"And if it gets stuck? Your skin will give a lot easier than the inside of that cast will. Get that thing out of there before you give yourself a staph infection."
Sam dutifully pulled the length of coat hanger out of his cast and tossed it on the bed behind himself.
"It itches." He whined more than said.
"All right, c'mere, I got an idea."
Dean dropped a paper bag on the bed and pulled a couple of things out - a can of anti-itch spray, and a box of plastic drinking straws.
"Do I even want to know?" Sam asked.
"Sammy, I promise, in two minutes you'll be practically comatose this will feel so good. C'mon, hand."
So Sam offered up his broken hand. Dean pushed a straw down the cast and then shot a blast of anti-itch medication down the straw.
Sam looked like he was about to pass out.
"Ohhh - ohhh yeah. Oh yeah. Dean - how did you - where did you ever - ohhh yeahhhhhhh."
"Sam, just - just trust me. Don't scratch at it."
Sam was sitting at the desk that served as Bobby's kitchen table. He'd had his soul back just about two hours now and Dean was feeding him coffee and pancakes and the least amounts of information that he could get away with.
"It's itchy." Sam said, like he didn't want to say it. Didn't want to have to say it.
"I know it is. I know it must itch like crazy, but Sammy, man, y'gotta leave it alone. You can't even think about it. Just let it be, forget it's there."
Sam ate a forkful of pancakes, but he had that pinched, 'this is driving me crazy' look on his face.
It wasn't morning. It was - dark out. So it was nightime. Or - it could be morning, depending on your definition of 'morning'. Dean wasn't sure. All he was sure of was that Sam - Sam - came back with no memories of hell, but no memory either of the last time he ate anything,
So, after a fast shower and a change of clothes, and after Dean had stitched and bandaged up the gouge Sam had in his calf courtesy of a trip through Bobby's trap door, Dean had decided that pancakes would be just the thing.
Only, at the slow rate Sam was eating, it seemed he didn't agree with Dean's culinary choice.
"Hey, Dean? But - really - what's behind the wall?"
So much for 'forget about it, don't even think about it.'
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
Dean took his own cup of coffee and leaned back against the sink. If he didn't tell Sam what was behind the wall, Sam would for sure keep trying to sneak a peek over the top. But if he did tell him, would the vacuum that was Sam's brain be able to resist the pull of wanting to know more?
Either way, there was no cream, or bandages, or makeshift mittens that would dull the itching or blunt the scratching.
Still, Dean thought as he took a stalling swallow of coffee, knowing what they were up against was always the better tactic.
He pulled a chair out and sat across from Sam.
"Hell is behind that wall.Your hell."
Sam set down his fork and sank back in his chair.
"I know, I know that. I just - what is my hell?"
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
"Do I need to paint you a picture?" Dean asked, and realized that it was a really stupid question when Sam immediately nodded.
"You never told me what you suffered in hell. I saw the rack of tools and - and - things - where they had you work over Alistair, and I know what I can imagine. But - you never told me. Nobody would ever tell me what hell is like, really."
"What do you mean - nobody told you?" Dean asked, worried. "Who did you ask?"
"Uh -." Sam became intent on his plate again. He picked up the fork and set it down without eating, then picked up his cup and set it down without drinking. "Uh - everybody."
Which meant - Sam had asked Bobby and Ruby and demons and angels and no doubt any theological expert he could get his phone or his email on.
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
Sam had been scratching long before there was even a wall to be scratched at.
"Why won't you believe me that you're better off not knowing?" Dean asked.
"I do believe you. I know I'm better off not knowing what happened to me. I'm not asking you to break the wall down -"
"Yes, you are. One crack, one chink, one sneak peek over the top and the whole thing could come down on you, Sammy. Please. Don't scratch at it."
Sam picked up his fork again and attacked his pancakes, chopping them entirely into chunks and bits before eating them. He was annoyed, Dean knew. It'd been a year and half since Dean'd been with real Sam, but he remembered Sam's annoyed face. Sam was was desperate to know things he shouldn't know, and because he couldn't know them, he was annoyed. He was pissed.
He was itchy.
This was so beyond impetigo and mosquito bites and skinned knees. There was no supernatural Benadryl to make it better. No threat of being dunked in calomine lotion or promise of ice cream was going to keep Sam's mind off the relentless call of what skulked behind that wall. All Sam had was the threat of what would happen if the wall fell, and the hope that his strength and determination would be enough to keep it from happening.
Only there'd never been an intellectual itch that Sam hadn't scratched.
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
When Sam got up to put his dishes in the sink, limping on his bad leg and looking four kinds of unhappy, Dean stood up too. Sam would sleep now, and Dean would keep watch, in case that wall proved unreliable in sleep. As he reached out to wrap a hand around Sam's elbow and guide him up to bed, though, it hit Dean.
No, this wasn't impetigo, or skinned knees or even the interminably-Sammy question 'why?' And Sam wasn't the little kid who couldn't help picking and scratching at every imperfection in himself. Behind that wall was evil, and Sam was the man who had grabbed evil by the balls and dragged it shrieking back to hell. He was the man who had sacrificed everything to save the world, knowing he'd get nothing but agony in return.
He was the man who had proven time after time that he could and would do the hard thing, when the hard thing was the only thing to be done.
Sam had strength, determination, perseverance, and more courage than Dean had ever seen in one person.
And Sam had Dean.
That wall had no choice but to stand.