Could everybody standing around us,
Could everybody drown us here,
Just looking through the looking glass,
Not alone, not alone, not alone, not alone here
There'd been no warning. One minute, Sam was standing, rubbing at his arms through his jacket as if he couldn't get warm.
The next, he was crashing towards the floor, limbs already jerking, eyes rolling back.
Dean caught him, lowered him, cradled him. Sam shook and shook and shook and Dean bit through his own lip trying to hold his brother still. Bobby helped, kept Sam pinned without hurting him. Nothing was worse than watching Sam jerk and shudder and seize.
And then Sam stopped completely, laid perfectly still and nearly dead, and Dean decided there was something worse.
Even before Sam asks, Dean knows they won't be taking the job on the coast. It's out near Civil War country, usually one of Sam's favorite spots for historical, geeky reasons. But when he mentions the historical, geeky fun that could be had Sam actually flinches and looks away. It startles Dean into silence.
When Sam turns back, looking hesitant and small and wrong, so wrong for all of those reasons, and asks very quietly, "Can we...can we head to New Orleans? It's...there's no job, but-"
"We'll find one," Dean says. There's always something to do job wise down in Louisiana, but jobs are being put on hold for the foreseeable future. Castiel hasn't given them anything useful to do, and Sam looks shaken, looks broken and scared and putting him in a possible trigger position isn't going to happen. Fuck the job: Dean prayed for a year to have his brother back and he's not going to lose him now.
Still, if Dean tells Sam any of that, he'll break Sam in another way, hurt Sam in ways that his wall scratchings couldn't touch. If Sam wants to go to New Orleans for once (and that alone is kind of scary, because Sam hates New Orleans, says it's way too crowded), then they go to New Orleans. Dean can't remember the last time Sam asked for something. Oh no, he can: he asked, begged Dean not to put his soul in. The time before that, he asked Dean to go to Lisa after he jumped in the Pit.
Dean's really hoping this request isn't going to end in heartache like the last two did.
They pack up and leave. Dean shoots Bobby a text about leaving the job to someone else, and Bobby says it's not urgent. If he's surprised, he doesn't say anything.
All the way out of town, Sam keeps shooting Dean glances, like Dean's going to disappear. Dean does his best to ignore them.
When they passed the thirty second mark on Dean's watch Dean settled more comfortably on the floor and told himself that it was only another half a minute. He could last that.
When they passed the one minute mark Dean got a little nervous, but hey, it'd been a bad seizure. Sam would be fine, wake up any minute.
When they passed the ten minute mark Dean started biting his lip again. The pain helped, and it gave him something to focus on besides Sam's prone form in his lap.
When they passed the thirty minute mark Dean felt like he was the one that was going to shake apart. His hand kept hovering over Sam's mouth and nose, desperately feeling for the air that told him his little brother was still breathing. Sam was pale, too pale, and blood trickled from the corner of his lips where he'd bit his tongue.
When Sam finally took in a shuddering breath and opened his eyes Dean felt nearly as catatonic as Sam had been. It took him a moment to convince himself that Sam had really woken up, that Sam was still alive, that he was okay. Everything else could be dealt with.
When Sam's eyes filled with tears and he turned to bury his head in Dean's lap, fingers clutching painfully into Dean's thigh, his arm, Dean didn't care. Sam shuddered, silent sobs that shook both of them, and Dean held on and cried with him for a completely different reason.
When the turnoff comes to bypass traffic for Chicago and most of Illinois, Dean's still surprised when Sam asks, "Can we take the interstate?"
The interstate is packed with bumper to bumper traffic, as expected. A little of the tension in Sam's shoulders leaves, strangely enough, and he looks around at everyone surrounding them. People honking horns and cutting in and doing the usual stupid human things when people get stuck in a gridlock. It's one of the worse gridlocks Dean's ever seen; some conference or something, according to the radio that Sam switches on. Dean's shoulders are tense with trying not to get them hit, and he hates the interstates. Too many people, too many possible cops.
But Sam's relaxing. Sam's watching people like they're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and Dean's got a sinking feeling in his gut as to what this all adds up to. Especially since Sam's still looking at him, nothing hidden about it. Kinda hard to ignore when it's blatant like that.
So Dean tries another tactic, goes all out instead. Sings along with the radio, makes random comments about the assholes on the road, tells lame jokes and stories. All the things about his personality that Sam usually rolls his eyes at and tells him to shut up about. The loud, obnoxious parts of Dean.
Sam doesn't roll his eyes. Sam doesn't tell him to shut up. If anything, Sam leans in closer and pays more attention, like he's studying Dean for an exam and if he doesn't pass, he dies. And that imagery Dean could've done without, thank you brain.
When they pass Springfield, finally, and fly towards the Missouri line, Sam tenses right the hell up again. "Could we..." he starts, and then stops, flushing. "God, I'm sor-"
"You mind stopping through St. Louis?" Dean cuts him off. If he ever hears Sam apologize for anything again, it'll be far too soon. Especially since this is nothing Sam should ever apologize for. But the kid's obviously not sure about making a third request, and Dean wishes there were a less girly way to tell him that he'd shoot the moon down and hang it from the rearview mirror of the Impala if that's what Sam wanted. He'll have to aim for making a guess as to what Sam wants, given his other requests so far.
The rushed way that Sam says that it's fine, no problem at all, tells Dean he guessed right. It still makes his stomach turn, though.
Sam cried for twenty minutes straight, according to the clock on the dresser. Dean was pretty good at counting time, had been for over the past hour. He felt like his heart was going to tick in time to the second hand forever. Always knowing what time it was, always counting the seconds in a painstakingly slow but too fast way.
When Sam finally quieted down and asked what happened, Dean's jeans were soaked through with tears and snot and there was a laundry day fast approaching and Dean couldn't have given a shit. Sam was coherent, Sam was asking questions. Dean would take it.
Sam asking that particular question, though, left Dean's heart sinking. When Bobby explained about the seizure Sam looked confused and lost, not guilty or resigned. He hadn't been expecting the seizure. He hadn't poked at the wall himself. Something in their conversation had triggered it, instead. And there'd been so many things in that particular conversation Dean didn't even know where to start.
If it was this easy to provoke such a violent reaction...
He tried not to think about Castiel's words of warning. He tried not to think about Death's pointed rules for keeping Sam sane. He tried not to think about his brother seizing, his brother still and dead and pale in his arms.
He tried to think instead to what he needed to do now. He helped Sam to his feet, steadied him when he swayed. Got him into bed, swiped the sheets and blankets from the other bed to put over his brother when Sam shook, his teeth chattering. "Cold," was all Sam said, and then he flinched. Like it was a bad thing to feel cold after being through the wringer. Dean had done his research on seizures, how they left you feeling. Cold, shaken up, dizzy, nauseous. In shock, out of it.
Except he had a terrible feeling that Sam's particular reason was for something else entirely.
When Sam clung to him, Dean stayed right beside him. Sam drifted off, exhausted from the seizure.
Dean could still feel the ticking of the second hand as he laid in the dark and watched Sam sleep.
For once, the rushing of the traffic they pass by doesn't put Sam to sleep. It used to be the lullaby, the surest way to get a baby Sammy to sleep. Almost twenty eight years later, that hasn't changed. Except for now. Now, Sam's watching cars go by like he's never seen them before. It's not helping the feeling in Dean's stomach any.
They stop for gas somewhere in the sprawling mess of St. Louis, and Sam follows him into the store. The cashier gives them both a weird look but Dean silently shoots the kid a fuck off look. If the emo punk thinks Dean actually gives a shit what he thinks about two grown men in the store, one trailing very closely behind the other, then he's got another thing coming. If Sam wanted to hold hands with Dean all through the aisles, Dean would ask him which one.
Dean gets peanuts and a yogurt, trying to get a rise out of Sam. Sam gets a bag of chips almost on auto pilot. They pay, they leave. Dean has no intention of eating any of what he just bought, already has plans for how he'll get Sam to consume all of it. People after seizures feel sick for a day or two afterwards. The last time Sam had had a seizure, he hadn't wanted the food and coffee Dean had brought him but he'd eaten one and sipped the other anyways.
"How many people are in St. Louis?"
Dean stops his train of thought to look over at his brother. Sam's staring at the window again, like nothing's wrong with the world. But Dean caught the undercurrent of desperation, a tiny tint added to the seemingly nonchalant question.
Dean knows the answer. He knows Sam knows the answer. The fact that Sam's asking leaves Dean uneasy at best. "One million, Sam," Dean says softly. "Give or take a few thousand."
Sam nods rapidly. "Okay," he says. His eyes are still on the people walking along the sidewalks. On the cars that fly by, on the cars turning and parking. All of the people.
If the demons and angels get their way, and Lucifer does come back out, Dean'll be waiting with a crowbar, his angel-killing sword, and every tool Alistair ever taught him.
Sam twitched in his sleep. It wasn't anything huge: nightmares with Sam never were until the kid woke up. Then it was gasping for air, choking on his own breath, eyes wild and darting to search every corner.
When he slept, though, it was the tiny signs Dean had to look for. A small twitch that gently pushed against Dean's hand. The wrinkled brow that Dean wished he could smooth away with chocolate milk and a bedtime story like he used to. Trembling lips that sometimes said words, sometimes merely looked like a silent cry.
Dean had slept for a little while, not for long. Sam's hand catching and nudging against his arm was enough to pull Dean back to awareness. Nothing else in the room except them. Not that that stopped Dean from getting up to check. Windows secure, wards in place, salt and holy water, anti-angel sigils and demon traps. All in place, all sure to bewilder the maid tomorrow morning.
And none of it keeping the real danger out of the room. Dean didn't know how to protect Sam from his own mind. Telling Sam to not scratch at the wall had been his only defense, and the memories of Hell had merely laughed at him and rushed in anyways. Sam hadn't told him what he'd seen.
He didn't need to. The soft exhalations of air, the immediate reaching for Dean when he laid back down, it all pointed to nothing good. Fear, pain.
Nothing Dean had ever wanted Sam to have to carry from the Pit with him.
It's forty miles outside of Memphis, Tennessee when it all comes undone.
They stop for the night, unable to go any further no matter how much Dean wants to. In the passenger seat, Sam slumps, sluggish and barely propping his eyes open. He doesn't so much as twitch when Dean quickly exits to secure a room from the motel office, all but falls out of the car when Dean brings him to the room. "Dean?" he mumbles when Dean sets him down on the bed.
"Just going for the bags," Dean tells him, and Sam makes an affirmative noise. Dean's fast and back in record time, dumps the duffel bags onto the floor in a loud manner. Sam's sitting up on the bed, forcing himself to stay awake if the way his eyes keep popping open is any indication. Kid's exhausted, but any move to get him to lay down is rebuffed. He's got something on his mind, obviously.
"We need ice," Dean tells him, which is stupid because they've never told each other that, it's a part of getting to the motel. Someone goes for ice, the other one changes for bed or takes a shower or flips channels or sorts laundry or any of the multiple other deeds they do upon getting a room.
Sam doesn't acknowledge his words, seems to ignore them completely. "Motel's quiet," he says, as if just noticing, even though Dean's seen him mull over his word choice since returning to the room.
"Just us," Dean tells him. "Everyone else is somewhere else, I guess."
It's the wrong thing to say, apparently. Sam's breathing picks up a little more, but his voice is calm when he asks, "Has to be a manager, Dean."
Dean can't help but raise his eyebrows at his brother. "Well, yeah, but they're not gonna stay for much longer: I think we were lucky to get the room before he left for the night."
Still not helping, if the way Sam fidgets and clenches the bedsheets beneath him is any indication. "You, uh, want your bag?" Dean asks, trying to find the right answer to a question he doesn't even know.
Sam nods mutely. He digs his bathroom case out of the duffel and stands, slowly and stiffly. Good, a shower: it'll help some, Dean hopes. "Hot water will do you some good," Dean says, and Sam nods, or maybe he doesn't. It's hard to tell with all that hair, all right? Either way, the kid's already in the bathroom, flipping the lights on and shutting the door, and Dean takes that as an end to the delightful conversation. He snags the ice bucket if just to have something to do and heads out the door. Leaves it open, just in case, while Sam showers.
The ice machine's at the end of the row, of course. Every room he passes is dark and empty, and there's only two other cars in the parking lot, both parked in far off places from the Impala. Dean has to bang against the machine to get it to really turn on and work, and it's loud in the silence of the night. The ice is loud as it falls into the bucket, clinking for all the world to hear.
When Sam shouts, almost screams his name in fear, though, Dean still hears it just fine. He drops the ice bucket and races back to the room, reaching for the gun that he stupidly didn't keep on him because driving with a .45 tucked into your pants doesn't work, but he knows better, he knows better.
When he slides into the room Sam all but crashes into him, clutching and keening and making no sense whatsoever. "Sammy, what-"
"You were gone," Sam chokes out, face still buried in Dean's shoulder. "It would've, would've been just him and I can't, Dean, I can't, don't leave, don't leave me alone with the car and him and no one else, they're all gone-"
The air's punched out of Dean's lungs so fast he reels back into the wall, the breeze passing by the open door no help at all. Kid hadn't been heading for a shower, he'd been washing his hands or brushing his teeth or something and when he'd turned around, Dean hadn't been there. He tries to swallow and can't.
Sam follows him, pushes him even further into the wall, still trying to pull in air to talk. "The roads, the crickets, the empty yards and houses, nobody left and you didn't know and then they didn't exist, you didn't know about them either and then you were gone, you were gone-"
Somehow Dean manages to make his arms work enough to pull Sam in impossibly closer. "I'm here," is all he can say. "I'm here, Sammy. I'm not leaving. I'm right here."
It seems to be the right answer, because Sam folds against him, collapsing in Dean's arms, and it's all Dean can do to keep his brother upright. Sam's breathing shallow breaths, leaving Dean concerned about hyperventilating and passing out and another seizure and his brother's mental state above all. The worst part of Hell, he thinks wildly, isn't the physical torture, but the mind games. And as afraid of it as Dean is, Sam's always been more afraid of being alone. He'd wanted independence, but he'd always wanted Dean right there with him. Off to the side sometimes, somewhere distant, but always somewhere. Never alone.
And Dean is going to beat the ever loving fuck out of Lucifer if he gets the chance. Every little thing from today is making sense in one of those horrible, lightbulb moments of dawning realization and terror. The girl from their last hunt disappearing, only to tell them upon being found that the worst part had been trapped alone. Silence filling the air with death and hopelessness. Everything both of the Winchesters had feared since they'd been old enough to fear.
On a whim Dean grabs hold of Sam and pulls him towards the door. Sam protests, a soft almost whimper sound that shoots straight through Dean's soul. "With me," Dean says, then hauls him outside. "C'mon."
The air outside is warm, given the time of year, but it's always warmer down this part of the country. Still, it makes Sam bite his lip and shudder when he steps out into it. "Warm," he whispers, but Dean pulls him further out into the parking lot anyway. "Dean-"
"Listen," Dean demands, pulls Sam to a stop in the middle of the parking lot. He grips Sam's arms with both of his hands as tightly as he can, says, "Listen, Sammy."
He can tell the minute Sam gets it. There's cars flying by the highway the motel's parked on, even at this time of night. Off somewhere in the distance, lights from the city fill the night air with a glow. Crickets chirp in the grass surrounding the area, another few cars pass by, radios blaring to keep drivers awake, and Sam listens. Tears slowly leak out and slide down Sam's face, and he closes his eyes. Underneath Dean's hands, Sam's arms are wound up tight as steel.
In the next instant, they let go, trembling from being held tight for so long. When Sam opens his eyes again, he meets Dean's gaze, calmer than before. "Okay?" Dean asks.
Sam nods. "Okay," he says.
Dean slowly lets his grip loosen, but doesn't let go entirely. He doesn't think either of them's ready for that yet. Sam's too afraid of a world where apparently, no one exists. Where Dean disappears.
Dean's too afraid that if he lets go, Sam will drift away with the wind. If he lets go now, Sam will never come back.
They go back inside eventually. It takes awhile, though. When they do, they head for the same bed, the one farthest from the door. Dean doesn't make a joke about it, Sam doesn't make a request. They fall asleep with the window open to let in the sounds from outside.
When Sam woke up, he immediately asked for the phone. Dean, working on his second coffee, immediately acquiesced and gave it to him.
Sam hit one of the speed dials and then waited. Whatever he was searching for on the other end of the line, he got, if the way he slumped his shoulders was any indication. He spoke a few words, asked a few questions, then handed the phone to Dean. "Bobby wants to talk to you," he said. Like he hadn't been the one who called.
Dean took the phone and handed Sam his breakfast, yogurt and an egg sandwich, one of his favorites. "Bobby?"
"Told Sam about a job on the coast, if you boys are interested. Might have something to do with the Civil War." A Sam job. Perfect.
"And?" Dean asked.
"Sam said to ask you if you both wanted it."
Sam turning down a job from a historical region? If that wasn't a clue as to where his brother's head was at, Dean didn't know what was. "Let me get us on the road and then you can give us details."
"Will do. Keep in touch, y'hear?"
It was only after Dean had hung up that he realized he was still holding Sam's breakfast outstretched towards his brother. "Sam?" he asked.
Sam shook his head, looking thoughtful. Not hungry. Maybe still nauseous from earlier. Skipping meals wasn't good either, though. Yogurt was one of Sam's favorites.
Sam bit his lip a couple of times, eyes darting up to Dean, then away, as if he was thinking about speaking. Even before he spoke, though, Dean knew they weren't taking the coast job. That was okay, though. Dean's number one job wasn't really keeping bad things at bay. Any hunter could do that.
Dean's real job was keeping Sam safe, keeping Sam well. And that was exactly what he planned on doing.
When Dean wakes up, it's to find Sam still curled up with the blankets half hanging on him, half hanging on the floor. Dean watches him for a moment, then pushes himself up. There's no water in the ice bucket for the coffee maker because there's no ice bucket: Dean left it outside near the machine. He had more important things to do.
Sam shifts and slowly opens his eyes to slants to block the morning sun. "Think there's a pancake house up the road," Dean offers, then waits.
It's not a long moment, only a few seconds on the clock really, but the soft, "Do they have yogurt?" is worth the wait.
If they don't, Dean'll find some. End of story.
"Yeah," Dean says. "Or they will. Gonna be crowded at the place, more than likely." He waits.
"Okay," Sam says, and Dean takes a deep breath. Okay.