Summary: AU Pre-6.12 – To The Brink sequel – There seemed to be an inside man; soulless Sam rising to the surface whenever Sam was temporarily out of control.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Spoilers for season six; usual language
inside man – A person who keeps watch on others secretly.
Seems I've got to have a change of scene. Every night I have the strangest dreams. Imprisoned by the way it could have been. Left here on my own or so it seems. I've got to leave before I start to scream, but someone locked the door and took the key. You feelin' alright? I'm not feelin' too good myself. ~ Joe Cocker
There are as many ways to measure time as there are ways to interpret its meaning.
Notches hand-carved into a bone.
Tally marks scraped on a wall.
Numbers etched in the wax of a melting candle.
Sundials, water clocks, and hourglasses.
Atomic clocks, pendulum clocks, and quartz clocks.
Watches, chronometers, and digital timers.
Calendars and day planners.
Depending on the culture or community of which you identify yourself a member will depend on how you mark time.
Ancient Egyptians measured time differently from the Chinese or Greek. Even today, time is valued and counted in various ways across cultures.
The same can be said of communities or groups.
Recovering alcoholics measure time based on days sober. Twelve days sober. Ninety days sober. Two hundred and eighty-four days sober.
Cancer survivors measure time based on years in remission. One year in remission. Seven years in remission. Twenty-two years in remission.
Brain injury patients – like Sam – measure time based on how long they have been "out of" injury. Six weeks out. Eighteen months out. Five years out.
Generally, regardless of your culture or community, time is understood as shifting movement or change.
The shifting order of the planets – or the shifting order of your priorities.
The change of the seasons – or the change of perspective in your life.
Time is used to sequence events and to measure duration.
What happened first – the incident, the diagnosis; what happened last – hopefully the recovery; what happened in the middle – a blur, often too vast and variable to properly sequence.
Duration can be relatively short – seconds, minutes, hours; or relatively long – days, weeks, months, years.
But even so, the ticking of the clock; the shifting of the sun; the sand through the hourglass; and the turning of the calendar page all keep track of how long something took.
For Sam, it took three weeks.
He was three weeks "out of" injury – and undeniably out of time.
Because ready or not, they had company; a different yet familiar personality still living within Sam that had been virtually unnoticed...until now – which meant their time was up.
Dean closed his eyes, bracing his splayed hands over the cracked and grimy tile as he leaned into the shower spray, feeling the hot-as-he-could-stand-it water flowing over his shoulders and down his back, loosening stiff muscles that were sore from sleeping in one position.
He had awoken 20 minutes ago, hot from an embarrassingly clingy brother – Sam's natural tendency had always been to turn toward him, even in sleep – and achy from having slept propped against the headboard, keeping watch over said brother through the night.
Not that Dean was complaining. He would willingly and gladly suffer discomfort for the sake of Sam, even though he would never admit how good it felt to feel that way again toward his brother.
And as far as Dean could tell, Sam had slept soundly for the past few hours; so soundly that he didn't even twitch when Dean had eased off the bed.
The water began to turn lukewarm, and Dean sighed with regret. He sometimes felt as though the shower was his only sanctuary, and he was reluctant to leave it, especially this morning.
Last night had been a rough one – and not because it had been New Year's Eve.
Dean would much rather have been in the unmerciful clutches of a hangover than in the paralyzing tangle of worry, uncertainty, and fear that currently seized his heart.
He was no doctor, but he had been a big brother for over 20 years, and it seemed to him that Sam was slowly getting worse.
Over the past two weeks it seemed Sam had more seizures than usual, sometimes one after the other. He zoned out for longer periods and seemed chronically disoriented as a result.
But then sometimes when Dean thought it was a seizure, Sam would unexpectedly respond and say he was "just thinking" – which somehow worried Dean more than the actual seizures.
Debilitating fatigue stalked Sam by day, until Sam – exhausted and barely functioning – was lured into the darkness, into the peaceful façade of restful, restorative sleep...and then attacked with vivid, yet elusive nightmares that would cause him to scream and gasp and flail but have no memory of doing such, no memory of what he saw inside his mind.
And when Sam wasn't seizing or dreaming, he was sleepwalking.
For that first week, Dean never knew where he would find Sam when he woke in the morning, and it scared the shit out of him. He could handle Sam's seizures and confusion and fatigue and nightmares; he could not handle – ever again – losing track of his brother; even if Sam was still in the same house, even if his brother's screams would lead Dean right to him if Sam had a nightmare, if Sam needed him.
These days, Dean's need to know Sam's location at all times had increased to a level that was beyond even that of their childhood.
But no obstacles or safety measures seemed to deter Sam; he could pick locked doors, maneuver noisy traps, and even evade honed big brother instincts in his sleep.
Ever the voice of reason, Bobby had urged Dean to relax, had assured him it was probably no big deal; it was just something else they had to get used to and deal with in this version of Sam.
Dean wanted to believe that Bobby was right, wanted to take the older hunter's advice to calm down, chill out, and get a grip.
But even Bobby had changed his tune when Sam almost gave them a heart attack last night.
The noise alone – a muffled clattering that could only be made by a body falling down the stairs – had been enough to cause heart-stopping panic.
But then the sight...
Dean leaned out of the shower spray, opening his eyes and rubbing his face with both hands to disperse the visual memory of seeing Sam sprawled awkwardly on the floor at the bottom of the stairs; arms and legs bent as if posed, as if he was patiently waiting for someone to outline him in chalk.
Dean sighed, remembering how he had practically taken a header down the steps himself in his rush to reach Sam; how Sam had instantly stirred under his touch and blinked drowsily at him under his fringe of bangs; how after a few seconds, Sam had asked what had happened and if Dean was okay.
"Shit, Sam..." Bobby had hissed in relief as he had crouched beside the brothers, and Dean would have said worse if he could have spoken around the knot of competing emotions that had rose in his chest and lodged in his throat.
Instead Dean had remained quiet, sighing and offering a reassuring smile when his triaging hands found his brother no worse for wear from his impromptu swan dive.
It had not taken long to get Sam upright and on his feet and back up the stairs, back to the relative safety of their shared room. And as he had stood there staring down at his already-sleeping-again brother, Dean had realized he didn't care if he was an annoyingly uptight, overprotective, hovering pain in the ass; he was embracing the first job, the most important job he had ever known – being a big brother – and the rest of the world, including Bobby Singer, could suck it up and deal with it.
Because in many ways, Sam was more fragile than he had ever been, and there was no chance of Dean ever relaxing, calming down, chilling out, or getting a grip.
This was their life now – and that was fine – but Dean was going to handle it his way.
"Alright, Sammy..." Dean had sighed as he had snagged his pillow from his own bed and then had situated himself beside his brother, settling in for the night. "You and me against the world, right?"
Sam's only response had been to roll toward Dean and sigh.
Dean smiled fondly, just as he had done last night, and ran one hand through his wet hair as he reached for the shower knob, stopping the flow of the quickly cooling water.
As he toweled off and shaved, Dean made a mental list of everything he needed to go over with Bobby to help prevent a repeat of Sam's performance last night, and then pulled on his socks, worn jeans, and black t-shirt; missing – not for the first time – the weight of the amulet against his chest.
"Stupid dumbass," Dean caustically remarked to himself, also not for the first time.
Because out of all the impulsive decisions he had made over the past two or three years, tossing the amulet was among his top five regrets.
Dean shook his head disgustedly as he gathered his kit and sleep clothes and then opened the bathroom door; wisps of steam swirling in the rush of air.
He heard movement downstairs and glanced to the left, noting that Bobby's bedroom door was now open at the end of the hall, and inhaled deeply; knowing the faint aroma of brewing coffee further confirmed that Bobby was awake and in the kitchen.
Dean switched off the bathroom light and entered his and Sam's room. He glanced at his brother – who was thankfully still sleeping – before quickly stuffing his kit and clothes into the top drawer of the dresser and padding down the stairs in his sock-clad feet.
As expected, Bobby was dressed and standing by the counter, alternately supervising the coffeemaker and glancing out the window at the gray sky as muffled voices from the television hummed in the living room.
"Morning," Dean greeted on his way to the fridge.
Bobby didn't respond. His head was tilted back as he leaned forward over the sink and craned his neck as he continued to look out the window, as if he would be able to see better that way.
Dean watched him, hand lingering on the handle of the fridge, before he sighed and joined Bobby at the window. "What?" he asked, mirroring the older hunter's stance as he too looked up and out.
Bobby shrugged. "Just checkin'."
Dean squinted, wondering how Bobby could see anything past the smudged panes. "For what?"
"Dead birds falling from the sky."
Dean arched an eyebrow and glanced at Bobby.
"You heard me," Bobby confirmed, returning Dean's glance as he opened the cabinet and removed two mugs. "Been all over the News this morning. Five thousand birds fell from the sky last night just before midnight over a one-mile area in Arkansas. Red-winged blackbirds and starlings, most of 'em dead, and no one seems to know what caused it." He paused, pouring the coffee and considering whether he should say the next part. "Sounds like a – "
"No," Dean interrupted, his tone surprisingly sharp as he stared meaningfully at Bobby.
Bobby nodded, understanding completely and yet not able to leave it alone. "Dean..."
"No," Dean repeated, pushing away from where he was leaning on the counter and crossing back to the fridge. "I'm not saying it doesn't warrant further investigation because it definitely sounds supernatural, but that's not my gig anymore."
Bobby nodded again, watching as Dean grasped the neck of the orange juice bottle and crossed back to the counter. "I know you've got your hands full these days," he began cautiously. "But a hunt might be a good distraction. You need a break."
"No," Dean corrected, taking a glass from the cabinet. "What I need is for you to stop thinking about dead birds falling from the sky – which is hundreds of miles from here and not our problem – and start thinking about how to keep Sam from falling down the stairs and killing himself in the middle of the night."
There was a beat of silence.
"Fine." Bobby took a sip of coffee, taking the hint and following Dean's conversational lead. "What did you do last night?"
Dean poured the orange juice into the stout glass. "Slept beside him, but I don't see that being a long-term plan."
Bobby shrugged. "Worked when you were kids."
"Yeah," Dean agreed, topping the juice bottle and turning back to the fridge. "But we're not kids anymore. And I think whatever part of Sam that takes over when he's sleepwalking would still be able to give me the slip at some point."
Bobby frowned. "Whatever part of Sam that takes over?"
Dean sighed, closing the fridge and facing Bobby. "Dude, our room and the hall upstairs was like a freaking minefield with all those pots and pans and whatever else we used...and he didn't make a sound." He shook his head. "Sam's good, but he's not that good. Especially now with how exhausted and disoriented he is all the time, plus he was asleep."
Dean paused, closing his eyes briefly.
Bobby's frown deepened. "What?"
Dean opened his eyes and shook his head. "Nothing."
Bobby arched an eyebrow; not buying that explanation and silently demanding Dean to confess whatever he was thinking.
Dean shook his head again. "I hate to say it – because I know it's not possible..."
"But?" Bobby prompted.
Dean remained quiet, wondering if he should say anything; because Bobby obviously hadn't noticed.
"But what?" Bobby snapped impatiently. "Spit it out."
Dean sighed. "Sometimes I see glimpses of soulless Sam, and it scares the shit out of me."
There was another beat of silence as Bobby's eyes widened in response. He cleared his throat. "When?"
Dean shrugged. "It usually happens when Sam is first waking up or coming out of a seizure – and it doesn't last long – but something is different in those few seconds as he's transitioning. In that instant, he looks at me different. But then he'll blink, and it's gone, and my Sammy is back. And I gotta tell ya…" Dean admitted, chuckling self-consciously. "It freaks me out." He paused, glancing at Bobby, trying to gauge his reaction. "And I'm probably freaking you out, too. Sorry."
"Nah," Bobby lied, shaking his head as if the gesture would offer proof.
Dean knew otherwise but kept silent; continuing to stand in the middle of the kitchen as Bobby leaned against the counter, facing him.
And that's when he heard it – a whisper of movement in the hall.
Dean narrowed his eyes and glanced at Bobby, who had clearly heard it too and was setting his mug beside the sink in preparation to move.
Bobby tilted his head and looked up at the ceiling. Sam?
Dean shook his head. Most likely not, since they would have heard Sam moving around upstairs prior to him actually coming down. Plus, Sam was usually disoriented and clumsy when he first woke up these days and would not have been able to sneak up on them.
Bobby nodded – he agreed – and through the usual series of gestures and glances, the two hunters armed themselves; Bobby with an iron bar from under the sink, Dean with a sawed-off from behind the fridge and took their positions, waiting for whoever or whatever to make an appearance.
But after about ten seconds, Dean realized they weren't the only ones waiting.
Whatever was in the hall was waiting on them, too; not waiting for their move but waiting them out in the patient, calculating, lethal way that...
Dean swallowed, instantly knowing.
...in the way that soulless Sam would.
Dean swallowed again at the realization that his instinct had been right; that while the soulless portion of Sam's personality was no longer dominant, that didn't mean that it was completely gone.
There was an inside man; soulless Sam rising to the surface whenever Sam was temporarily out of control – like when he was sleeping or just waking up.
Dean sighed harshly.
In response, Bobby cut his eyes at the oldest Winchester. What?
Dean held his gaze – his own expression unreadable – before calling out the answer...and calling forth a whole new set of problems. "Sam."
And Sam appeared in the doorway; his gaze cold, calculating, and emotionless...just like when he had been soulless.