Title: I live in a city sorrow built (It's in my honey, it's in my milk)
Genre: Angst, H/C, episode tag for 6x13
Warnings: Spoilers all the way up to 6x13, some swearing, man-cuddling
Summary: A fill for this prompt over on the ohsam H/C meme. Yes, I filled my own prompt. Yes, I have issues. Thanks for asking.
A/N: So, yeah. I wrote up this prompt for the meme, then immediately started writing a fill for it. WTF. IDEK. This was literally busted out in about a three hour time period, on little sleep, with a significant amount of merlot in my bloodstream, and it's totally un-beta'd. So I guess what I'm saying here is that it's not Proust. But then, you probably knew that already. Title from the song "Sorrow" by The National.
A/N 2: For anyone following my H50 fic or my Merlin fic, I SWEAR I'm working on updating them. They're both giving me a lot of writer's block right now, but I promise I haven't given up on them.
Sammy was a weepy kid.
He cried over the stupidest shit. Things like sad books and literal spilt milk – hell, he cried over Disney films until he hit puberty (and okay, Dean may have gotten just a little bit misty when Bambi's mom kicked the bucket, but he thinks it's excusable, considering their history).
The point is, Sammy was a sensitive little cry-baby. And yeah, it had upset Dean whenever his little brother got that wide-eyed, wet expression. The trembling lower lip alone had usually enough to make Dean want to punch the shit out of whatever was behind Sammy's distress.
But the hunting life isn't one for sensitive little boys, and Sammy had to toughen up. Between John's admonishments to stop being a baby, Sam, men don't cry, hunter's don't cry and Dean's kinder encouragements to be brave, Sammy, don't you want to be brave and be a big boy like me, Sammy eventually stopped sniffling over dead butterflies and three-legged puppies and episodes of Full House and shit.
Granted, he was still a giant pussy who got emo-eyed more often than was healthy, but Dean figured that was just Sam.
Dean isn't an emo cry baby, but he still almost cries while Sam seizes against a dusty floor in Rhode Island. He thinks this is it, I'm losing him.
But Sam comes back to him with a long, shaky inhalation. His eyes look the way they do when Sam is coming out from under anesthesia (lost and scared and unable to focus) and he seems shocky and weak.
Dean drags him to the car and as far away from that two-bit, piss-poor excuse for a state as they can get on one tank of gas. Sam stays silent and still in the passenger seat, pinching the space between his eyes and staring at the patch of seat between his knees like it holds all the answers to life's mysteries. Dean can't tell if Sam is deep in thought, lost in memory, or just in shock and spaced out. His little brother's face is strangely blank and it unsettles Dean. Sam's always been an open book – his face has always reflected his feelings, like Sam's so fucking honest and genuine that even his face is incapable of lying.
Of course Dean knows now that, despite appearances, Sam is more than capable of lying. Sam has all sorts of hidden talents that Dean had never even guessed at. Like exorcising demons with his brain, drinking blood, beating the shit out of his own brother.
Jumping into hell and enduring a century of agony to save a world full of thankless, clueless fucks who wouldn't know Sam from a hole in the ground. So, you know, his brother's a complicated guy.
But when Sam confesses that, yeah, he'd just relived a clip show of highlights from Hell, his face stays blank and unaffected. Like he's reporting on the weather or the best way to prepare tofu or something. Dean's all braced for an epic chick-flick moment, weeping and gnashing of teeth and general snotty, teary expressions of angst. He's not even that upset about it, honestly, because, you know – Hell. It's sort of a big deal. He knows personally what it can do to a man. Sam's entitled to a little bit of discreet bawling and man-hugging.
But Sam doesn't go for it. He doesn't so much as sniffle. He assures Dean that he's fine, just fine and better yet, he's learned his lesson. No more scratching at the wall, no more terror-inducing seizures, nothing more to see, here, people – move along.
Dean honestly can't tell if he's relieved or worried. 'Cause he knows Sam, and this isn't how Sam deals with shit. Sooner or later, this is going to come back and bite Sam in the ass.
Turns out it's sooner rather than later, but it doesn't happen like Dean expects it to.
They're in a cramped, musty motel room in Arkansas, a week after Sam's little trip down horrifying-memory road. It's 3am and Dean is sleeping off the exhausting vampire hunt that's consumed the better part of their week. The fangy bastards had been dug in deep, and it'd been messy and dangerous rooting them out. Dean's sick of beheading and sick of the guilt-stricken expression on Sam's face. They never should have taken this hunt – not so soon after Sam learning that his soulless self had let Dean get turned. It's salt in the wound for both of them.
But it's done now, and Dean is supposed to be catching up on some well-earned sleep.
Only, Sam is making noise in the bed next to him, pulling him away from an amazing dream involving massage oil, black lace, and Christina Hendrickson (Jesus, the curves on that woman. And she's a redhead).
His first thought is that Sam better not be whacking off – they may live practically in each other's pockets, but there are boundaries. Man Code specifically states that if Sam needs to flog the bishop, he uses the bathroom or waits until Dean's out on a donut run or something.
But then Sam hiccups, and whimpers, and it's not the good kind of whimper. Dean lies still in the dark and listens, one hand wrapping around the hilt of his knife out of habit.
Sam takes in a big, shaky breath and releases it in stuttered sobs. He's crying. Like, full-out, nothing-held-back crying.
Dean lies paralyzed for a moment, just listening to the breathy, pain-filled moans coming from his brother. Sure, he's seen Sam cry since they've been hunting together again – after Jess, and Dad, and Madison. But even in the throes of intense grief, Sam hadn't cried like this. He'd bitten down on the sobs, fought to keep himself together as near-silent tears wet his cheeks. When he'd cried at night (after he thought Dean had gone to sleep) he'd muffled his sobs in his pillow and shaken quietly in the dark.
This… Sam hasn't cried like this since he was, like, eight and that stray dog he'd been feeding had gotten hit by a truck.
Dean isn't sure what the hell to do. But this is Sammy, and he's suffering, and Dean is genetically incapable of just ignoring that so he slides out of bed, rests a knee on the edge of Sam's mattress, and settles a hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Sammy," he says softly, "You okay?"
Sam just sobs again, his body curling around the sound like it's a physical pain. The shoulder under Dean's hand shakes with the force of it.
"Sam?" Dean leans forward to peer at Sam's face in the faint light from the cracked bathroom door. Sam's eyes are closed, a little line of distress between them. "Come on, man, talk to me."
Sam's still not responding to Dean, and a slow knot of anxiety begins to tighten in Dean's gut. Shit. Shit. What if Sam's stuck in more memories of hell? What if this is like before, only with crying instead of bone-rattling seizures?
"Sam!" Dean barks, shoving him onto his back and giving him a rough shake.
Sam's eyes snap open instantly, wide and freaked out and utterly confused. He flails a little, jerking away from Dean and smacking into the cheap headboard. Above the bed, a moisture-warped print of a kitten in a flower basket rattles against the wall and slips into a crooked alignment. Sam is breathing fast, eyes darting around the room and hand fumbling under his pillow for his own knife.
"What?" he whispers breathlessly. "Where is it? Is it a vamp? Did we miss one?"
"What?" Dean echoes, stilling Sam's arms. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"What are you talking about?" Sam hisses. His hair is sticking up on one side, cowlicks gone wild and unruly. He looks like a sleepy, cranky kid. "Why'd you wake me up?"
Sam was asleep. He was crying in his sleep.
"Uh… you were having a bad dream?" Dean winces, hating that it sounds like a question.
"Oh," Sam says, relaxing against the headboard. "I don't remember."
"Well, good," Dean says, standing up and moving back to his own bed. "Don't try to, either."
"Yeah, I know the drill," Sam sighs, punching his pillow into shape and lying down again. "Sorry for waking you up."
"Whatever," Dean yawns. "You can go get the coffee in the morning. We'll call it even."
Sam doesn't so much as twitch for the rest of the night, but Dean stays up all night anyway, just watching his face for signs of pain.
Dean figures Sam's midnight crying jag was a one-off thing – just some random amalgamation of exhaustion, bad dreams, and hormones. Maybe it was Sam's time of the month. Maybe he'd been dreaming about book burnings or something. At any rate, Sam seems well-rested and fine the next morning, and Dean lets it go.
Until it happens again two nights later.
Dean wakes up to more unfiltered, gut-wrenching Sammy-sobs. Again, Sam is apparently asleep and totally unaware that he's crying. Dean tries to wake him gently, but this time Sam is grumpy about being woken. He rubs his eyes blearily and glares at Dean through wet lashes, like somehow this is all Dean's fault. Like this is Dean's idea of a good time.
It's still darker than the inside of a wendigo's asshole outside, Dean is tired, and Sam's sobbing has twisted up all his insides into a guilty knot. This is nothow Dean wants to be spending his night. Sam mumbles half-intelligible complaints about the hour and Dean's weird midnight habits before he sighs and rolls over and goes back to sleep.
Dean sort of wants to punch him (just a little, like in the arm or something, just enough to remind him who the big brother is around here) but he settles for yanking the pillow out from under Sam's head before heading back to his own bed, ignoring Sam's whiny protests.
By the end of the month, Dean is at the end of his (admittedly already short) rope.
Sam is crying in his sleep almost every damn night now. It's always the same horrible, soul-deep sobs that pull Dean out of his much-needed rest. They go on and on and on, only ending when Dean drags himself out of bed to shake Sam awake. Dean half suspects that Sam would cry all night if Dean didn't wake him up, but it's not a theory he's willing to test.
Sam never remembers what he was dreaming about, and he never seems to be aware of the fact that he's been crying. He gets increasingly annoyed with Dean waking him up at random late-night hours for no apparent reason, and Dean's not sure how to tell him what's going on.
Oh, by the way, while you sleep you weep unrepentantly like a broken woman seems like an insensitive thing to say.
Regardless, something is going to have to give. Dean needs his sleep. And this can't be good for Sam, all this repressed grief and pain bubbling up at night. At the very least the kid's going to get dehydrated from all the snot and tears he's secreting.
Something is obviously tearing at Sam's subconscious. Dean's no shrink, but he's not an idiot either. He understands all about the subconscious and the havoc it can wreak on a guy's well-being. Repression may be Dean's coping skill of choice, but it's a bad idea for Sam. Whatever's bothering Sam is festering like an abscess, poisoning his dreams. It needs to be lanced, brought out into the open and cleansed.
An epic chick-flick moment needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.
Dean needs to make his little brother cry. He's got to get the waterworks started, and whatever toxic shit is rattling around in his brother's brain will surely come flooding out. And it's got to happen while Sam's awake and able to process it.
God damn it.
Dean starts small.
He's scrolling through TV channels in a little motel in Nevada when an ad for the ASPCA comes on. Rather than flipping the channel at the first sappy note, Dean turns up the volume.
"Just look at this," Dean says, shaking his head as images of emaciated puppies and kittens fill the screen. "What a fucking shame."
Sam looks up from his laptop, eyes going dewy at the image of a shivering, skinny Sheppard mix in a muddy lot.
"Awful," he agrees, shaking his head. "Poor things." He remains frustratingly dry-eyed, despite the wounded look he gets on his face as that Canadian chick urges them to help.
And fuck, that kitten looks really fucking sad. Sammy's puppy-dog eyes have got nothin' on these critters. It's like they've been genetically engineered to look as pathetic and desperate as physically possible.
Blinking rapidly, Dean swiftly changes the channel and spends the next hour contemplating the ethics of hunting human beings who happen to be animal abusers.
"Did you know," Dean says to Sam halfway between Nevada and Colorado, "That over 70 percent of the global population of the Big Leaf Mahogany tree has been depleted?"
Sam looks at him like he's speaking Mandarin.
"Big Leaf Mahogany trees. They're in serious danger of going extinct. Just like thousands of other species whose habitats we've destroyed through unsustainable environmental practices."
"Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?" Sam asks. Dean thinks he's probably only half-joking.
"What, a guy can't give a shit about the environment? " Dean asks, flushing a little. "I live on this planet, too, jackass."
Sam's always been a total nature geek – he'd even gotten John into the habit of recycling after they'd covered global warming in his freshman bio class. Still, it's seems a little silly in retrospect, trying to get his brother to cry over mass extinction.
But hey, even Dean had been bummed out when he found out that the Madagascan Dwarf Hippopotamus had gone extinct. 'Cause, you know, it was a tiny hippo, and future generations were going to miss out on that forever.
Dean tells himself that it was worth a shot and pretends not to hear Sam mutter Christo under his breath.
Out of sheer desperation (and okay, maybe a little bit of resentment towards Sam for refusing to cry on command), Dean "accidently" swings the butt of his sawed-off into Sam's junk after a poltergeist hunt in Maryland. He figures a good hit to the man-berries is enough to make even the staunchest of men weep a little.
Sam certainly tears up some, but it's mostly just watering eyes from gagging and retching as he doubles over and cups shaking hands over his wounded nads.
"What the fuck, man?" Sam gasps, knees pressed together protectively as he glares at Dean.
"Whoops," Dean shrugs apologetically. "Sorry."
He does actually feel pretty shitty about it now that he's actually done it. Hitting another guy in the spank bank is a pretty serious violation of the Man Code (and possibly the Geneva Convention, Dean's not sure).
"Hey, man, let me make it up to you," Dean says, extending a helpful hand towards his brother. He tries not to be offended when Sam flinches a little and twists his hips away defensively. "I'll pick up some pizza and a movie and we'll take it easy tonight. No bars, no babes, just brotherly bonding time, okay? I'll even get vegetables on the pizza, crime against nature though it may be."
Sam eyes him warily for a moment, but eventually accepts Dean's helping hand and straightens up gingerly. "Yeah, okay," he says. "But no movies about cars, zombies, or buses rigged with bombs, okay?"
"One time, Sam," Dean groans. "I rented Speed one time, because Sandra Bullock is hot, and you're never going to let it go, are you?"
"No," Sam says sternly. "It has Keanu Reeves in it, Dean. You know how much I hate him."
"Yeah," Dean agrees, "You really hate that guy. Okay, no Keanu, I swear."
When Dean returns to the motel room with Philadelphia, Shindler's List, Ghost, and Beaches (not to mention extra, extra onions on the pizza), Sam just stares at him incredulously and shakes his head.
Sam doesn't cry, but at least he doesn't call Dean out when Dean starts rubbing at his eyes halfway through Ghost, muttering about all the fucking dust in the air.
Dean tries more sad movies, tries to start conversations about world hunger and pediatric cancers, even buys Sam a copy of the book Where the Red Fern Grow, remembering how hard Sammy'd cried over it in the fifth grade.
Sam acts bewildered, mildly concerned about the state of Dean's mental health, and sometimes even gets that kicked-puppy look he's so good at, but hewon't fucking cry.
Dean doesn't know what the fuck else to try, short of resorting to using Jess or Dad against Sam, which just feels so wrong and so cruel that Dean can't even seriously consider it, no matter how frustrated he gets.
Sam is still crying in his sleep, though, and both of them are starting to show signs of exhaustion. Dean knows his reflexes are slowing, his mind and body tired and bogged down by lack of sleep. Sam is looking more and more spacey, eyes glassy and far away.
Dean only has one more thing to try.
It's going to seriously damage his masculinity, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and where Sammy is concerned, pride takes a back seat.
The next time they stop at a motel for the night, Dean insists on checking them in. He asks the greasy-looking kid behind the counter for a room with a single queen-sized bed. The kid leans a little to the right, glancing outside at Sam, and raises an eyebrow.
"Just a queen, huh?" he asks dryly.
"Yeah, dickwad, just a queen. You got a problem with that?"
"No, whatever," the kid sighs, bored already. He tosses Dean a yellowed plastic key chain. "Room 12. Enjoy."
"They're out of doubles," Dean lies, pretending to be annoyed. "We're stuck with a single."
"Really?" Sam asks hesitantly, looking pointedly around the nearly-vacant lot.
"Yeah, really. Apparently there's some conference going on in town. Now grab your shit and get moving."
They watch shitty SyFy original movies and eat shitty takeout Chinese all evening. Dean plies Sam with Heinekens until Sam's eyes droop and his chin dips against his chest sleepily.
"Time for bed, Sasquatch," Dean tells him, shutting off the TV and wrestling Sam under the covers. "Try not to kick me with your freakishly long legs."
They've shared beds all their lives. Mostly as children, tucked up against each other while John snored away in the other bed, but sometimes there reallyaren't any double rooms. Other than the mild annoyance of Sam's octopus limbs and Dean's unconscious tendency to steal the covers, it's really not a big deal. Most of the time they're just relieved to have a bed to lie in, and they make do.
Tonight's no different, except, you know, it is.
Dean squirms around and gets comfortable, dozing and waiting, senses on alert.
He doesn't have to wait long.
Less than an hour after Dean shuts out the light Sam whines a little, low in his throat, and curls up tighter on the bed. His breath shudders in his chest, and when Dean leans up on an elbow he can see the silvery gleam of tears on Sam's lashes.
Dean takes a steadying breath and rests his hand on Sam's shoulder, pulling his brother gently onto his back.
"It's okay, Sammy," he whispers, hooking his arm over Sam's chest and pulling him in against his chest. Sam shifts and makes a confused sound. His eyes blink open and he starts a little when he sees Dean's face so close to his.
"Uh," Sam says hesitantly, voice still thick with tears. "Dean? What're you doing?"
"It's okay," Dean repeats, bringing his other arm around Sam's shoulders as Sam tries to draw away.
"Yeah," Sam says, sounding a little pissed, "Sure. Okay. Just… let me go, okay?"
"Nope. No can do, Sammy," Dean tells him apologetically. "We're hugging this out, rather you and I like it or not."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sam asks, still trying to pull away.
"You're hurting, Sam, and you need to get it out."
"Dean, I'm serious," Sam says. "I'm fine. Now let me go." He gets a hand between them and braces it against Dean's chest, pushing. "Cut it out. This isn't funny."
"No, it definitely isn't funny," Dean agrees, shifting his weight to keep Sam pinned.
"Fuck you, asshole," Sam grits out, trying to wriggle away. His voice is shaking, strained, close to the breaking point. He struggles like a cornered animal, instinctually trying to escape the pain that's trying to surface.
"It's okay, Sammy," Dean says, again and again, hooking a leg over Sam's and pulling him in closer, arms rock-solid around Sam's torso as he shoves and swears and tries to escape.
"Stop!" Sam cries out, voice cracking. "Stop saying that! It's not okay! It's not! Don't lie to me, Dean!"
"It is," Dean says, voice low and even, calm. "It's okay, Sammy, I promise. You can let go, okay? It's okay."
"No," Sam insists, "No. Let me go, Dean. Let me go!"
His breath is rushing in and out of him in panicked gasps and Dean can feel him shaking, a bone-deep shudder that starts in his legs and moves through his whole body, trembling through Dean where their skin touches.
Sam's hand on his chest stops shoving, moves instead to grip Dean's tee like it's a lifeline.
"I can't-" Sam moans desperately. "I can't, I can't…"
"Yeah, you can," Dean insists, cupping the back of Sam's sweat-damp head with one hand, guiding Sam's forehead to rest against his chest. "I've got you, little brother. I've got you."
All the strength seems to bleed out of Sam's body at once and he collapses against Dean with a long, low sound of pain. Sam sucks in a shuddering breath and releases it in a choked sob, his whole body jerking with the force of it. His free arm comes up and wraps around Dean's waist, fingers twisting in the back of Dean's tee as he pulls Dean in, pressing closer, like he's trying to crawl inside Dean's skin and hide.
Dean's heart clenches painfully, aching for his brother. He bends his head to rest his lips in Sam's hair, rocking him, thumb gently stroking the back of Sam's neck. Sam sobs and sobs and sobs, breath hot and wet against Dean's chest, tears soaking through the worn fabric of his shirt. He cries like he can't breathe, like the tears are being ripped out of him, like it's never ever going to stop.
Dean catches pieces of words in between the tears and unsteady gasps for air – please and I'm sorry, sorry Dean and please don't go.
He holds Sam close and murmurs reassurances. It's okay, I've got you, I won't leave you, little brother.
Sam clings to Dean and Dean clings to Sam, and it's like they're caught in a tornado, trying desperately not to be ripped away from each other. Sam just keeps crying and crying and trying to burrow into Dean's chest, they way he did when he was small and scared of the dark. Dean's heart is breaking, cracking with the agonized sounds his brother is making. But his heart is also swelled with love and pride for his little brother, still here, still good and kind and human after everything that's been done to him.
"I love you, Sammy," he whispers into Sam's hair.
Sam cries until he can't cry anymore, body shutting down as exhaustion and relief loosens his muscles. Dean strokes his back and his shoulders, settling his thumb in to rest in the soft space behind Sam's ear.
Just enough pressure to remind Sam that he's not alone, and Sam starts talking.
He talks about the terrible things his body did while he was in Hell, the guilt and shame and fear of not knowing what he did, what was done to him. He talks about the awful way the wall itches, the constant temptation to pick at it and the overwhelming terror of what he knows lies beyond it, the paralyzing fear that it'll crumble and wash him away in a sea of fire and agony.
Dean listens as the words pour out of Sam in a desperate flood, interjecting with quiet reassurances and impossible promises that nevertheless seem to quiet Sam's terror.
"We'll figure it all out, Sammy," he promises. "You and me, just like always. I'm not ever going to leave you, kid. We're going to get through this, and someday we'll give this all up – find a little place of our own in some boring-ass, sleepy little town with a lake and a general store and town picnics. I can fish and you can read books that aren't about monsters, and we'll go grey and get wrinkles and arthritis and have cookouts in our yard."
"It's gonna end ugly and bloody," Sam insists, fingers tightening in Dean's shirt. "It always does."
"It already did, dude," Dean says, nudging Sam's shoulder. "We've both already met horrible, violent ends more than once. We've both been to hell and back, literally. I think we've met the universe's quota for 'ugly and bloody,' don't you? Fuck the odds. We're getting our happy ending, Sam."
Sam sniffles against his chest, pulls back enough to look at Dean through tear-swollen eyes. His face is so crushingly open, so hopeful and vulnerable that it squeezes the air out of Dean's lungs.
"I promise, Sam," he chokes out. "I promise we'll get there, but you have to promise me that you'll hold on until then, okay?"
Sam searches his face, nods carefully. "Yeah, okay. I can do that."
"Promise," Dean insists. "Swear on the Impala."
Sam manages a ghost of a smile, even rolls his eyes. "Fine. I swear. On the Impala."
"Good." Dean says, shifting on the pillows until he's comfortably on his back, Sam's head resting on his shoulder. "Now go to sleep, Bitch. Everything will seem better in the morning."
Sam sighs and lets go of Dean's shirt, moving so that just his fingertips snag at Dean's sleeve.
"Thanks, Dean," Sam whispers, already fading.
"Yeah," Dean says fondly, "Any time. But you tell a single living soul about the cuddling and I'll kick your ass all the way across the country, understand?"
"Yeah," Sam snorts against his shoulder. "Got it."
Sam's asleep inside of ten minutes, breathing deep and undisturbed, peaceful for the first time in months.
Dean doesn't sleep.
He keeps watch until dawn, content to just count the steady beats of Sam's heart under his palm.
There'll be time to sleep later.
They've got all the time in the world.