K Hanna Korossy
It was kinda cute how Dean believed that Sam couldn't hide anything from him but didn't think it went both ways.
The drinking wasn't a secret. Dean made no attempt to hide that he started the day with Jim and ended it with Jose. Nor were the nightmares because, well, jackknifing awake in a cold sweat night after night was fairly impossible to hide when someone slept five feet away from you. Dean just pretended it didn't happen, and Sam let him.
And Hell… Dean had tried for a while to hide the truth about Hell, that the memories had returned and he knew exactly what had happened to him the four months he'd been dead. Sam hadn't let that one go, however, and Dean had finally admitted that he remembered, and then that he'd been torturer as well as tortured, but refused to say any more. Maybe Sam didn't like that, didn't think it was healthy, but he respected it. It wasn't keeping secrets if you just could not talk about something.
The notebook, however? That was fair game.
Dean seemed to think he was fooling Sam, the way he tucked it away whenever Sam came out of the bathroom at night, or in the early morning hours when Sam woke to find Dean scribbling in it by flashlight. He'd even stuck it under the car seat one time when Sam got done faster in the library than they'd expected. A few times he pretended he was adding to his journal, as if it weren't obvious he was writing in a cheap notebook instead of the leather-bound book Dad had given him. The fact that the notebook was always accompanied by a drink hadn't escaped Sam, either, or the way Dean was quiet and pale a while after he'd been writing. Maybe he was writing down his memories of Hell, getting them out into the open, but Sam rather doubted it. That wasn't Dean's way, and there didn't seem to be any healing in what he was doing, only pain.
There was a lot they routinely overlooked for each other: suspicious moans in the shower, the nuclear bombs after a meal of bean burritos, tears of pain, or grief, or from watching Old Yeller. But not this. Something was wrong about Dean's furtiveness with that stupid notebook, and Sam was determined to find out what.
Seriously, if Dean had figured out what Sam was doing with Ruby just days after his return, did he really think Sam wouldn't catch on to this?
Or, even more sobering, did he secretly really want Sam to?
The first step, because Dean didn't respond too well to "Talk to me," was going through his duffel while he was down at the local bar.
Sam felt kinda bad crossing that line, good motives or no. They had precious little privacy in their shared lives, and even fewer belongings they called their own. It was silently understood that you only went through your brother's bag in dire circumstances, like when you were searching for a hex bag, or a clean shirt because the one he was wearing was torn to bloody shreds, or because he'd died and wasn't there to care anymore. But this was out of concern, Sam insisted to himself. And he wouldn't look at anything besides what he was searching for.
It was at the very bottom, the most sacred of spots where Sam had once hidden his Stanford acceptance letter and he knew Dean kept the few family photos he had. That gave Sam pause…but he would be doing Dean no favors by letting this slide. If it really was just a journal of Hell, Sam wouldn't give in to his desire to know, to share the burden, and would respect his brother's privacy. But he still didn't really believe that was what he'd find.
It was when he pulled the warped, dog-eared notebook free that Sam realized he recognized it. Opening it to a page in his handwriting confirmed as much: it was the notebook he'd given Dean a year before. It was a list he'd painstakingly put together of all the people Dean had saved over a lifetime of hunting, all the good he'd done. It had been Sam's way of trying to ease Dean's final year a little, and thank him for something so beyond thanks and yet so rarely acknowledged.
Sam ran a finger down the first page. Was this even the right notebook? Dean must've been working on something else, because this was supposed to be affirmation and support, not a source of anguish. Sam started flipping through the pages, past all the ones he'd filled with names and dates, to the end of the notebook that he'd left blank in unspoken hope Dean would be around to fill it.
And…it looked like he had. The pages were no longer empty, or at least the first bunch weren't. More names, this time in Dean's blocky handwriting, sprawled across each sheet. The list went on page after page.
Sam sat back on his haunches, frowning.
The thing was…they weren't names he knew. One or two were maybe familiar, but he was quite sure they weren't from recent cases. Possibly older cases; Dean doubtless knew about some Sam never would, cases there had been no record of in any of the Winchester journals and that Sam hadn't been there for or had been too young to remember. But… He flipped through the notebook. Eight pages of them? What was—
There was a noise at the door.
Sam breathed a curse and slammed the notebook shut, sliding it back to the bottom of Dean's duffel. He didn't bother straightening the clothes; they were crammed in anyway. Nor had the bag been zipped. Dean's secrets were artlessly hidden at best, meant to be shielded from the eyes of the world but not necessarily his brother's. No, Sam thought with a pang of guilt: Dean trusted him.
But…what were you supposed to do when you were worried sick about someone?
Dean's entrance gave him no reason to stop worrying.
It was immediately obvious that Dean hadn't wasted his time at the bar. He leaned heavily on the door as it swung inward, almost losing his balance, then grinned sloppily at Sam when he caught sight of him.
"Duude, you missed…sweet time. There was this girl…"
"There's always a girl," Sam sighed, getting to Dean's side just in time to slide an arm under him before he face-planted into the skuzzy rug. "I think it's time for bed, man."
"Sssseriously, Ssssam, she was…she was hot." Dean slapped a hand against Sam's chest, breath lethal as he tipped his head back to look at Sam. "Went inna bathroom and—"
"Dean! No! Dude, I do not want to hear this." He dumped Dean on the bed, unsurprised when his brother instantly sprawled back. With a sigh, Sam bent down to start unlacing boots.
"T'was good. Almost forgot…" Dean trailed off. "Doesn't help f'r long, Sammy," he added mournfully.
That sounded a little more sober than Sam expected. But Dean was also a lot more drunk than he usually let himself get, the kind of totally soused he only indulged in when they were between hunts and he knew Sam was waiting back in the room. Sam pulled off the first boot and started on the second. "I know, man."
Silence from above. Wasn't much to say to that.
He loosened the second boot. "Dean…what's up with the notebook?" Boot off, Sam pushed to his feet. "I know you keep—"
Dean was dead to the world. He'd pulled his arms in to his chest and his face was creased with age and memory, and how small, how broken he looked in that moment took Sam's breath away.
He flinched, feeling his eyes burn. This was because of him. Dean had gone through this because of him. "We're gonna talk, dude," he vowed softly, even as he gently rolled Dean first to one side and then the other to get the covers out from under him. Sam tucked his legs up on the bed, the pillow under his head, and the blankets around him. "Tomorrow," Sam allowed as Dean released an inebriated snore.
Because there were things they each had to deal with on their own…and then there was not dealing at all.
He tried a couple of times. Waited until after the expected hangover, then over fragrant coffee, then in the car with no distractions, then in some highway diner with scrambled eggs and pancakes. Every time Sam started to ask, however, Dean knowingly or not redirected the conversation.
Sam suspected his brother knew exactly what he was doing.
Sam did his own research in the meantime. Dean had practically dared him to understand what he'd gone through in Hell, and Sam took up the challenge. He researched torture, trauma, PTSD, rape. Books made their way into the bottom of his own duffel that he knew Dean was peripherally aware of but carefully didn't ask about. And Sam almost felt guilty for not giving him the same courtesy.
It was nearly a week before Sam inadvertently stumbled onto just the right time. Because Dean could never deny him much when Sam was bleeding all over the floor.
Head wounds were always messy, they both knew that, and this one hadn't even come with a concussion. There'd been the spirit of a butcher, and some knives, and…Sam was a little blurry about the rest of the details. The bottom line was that Dean was peeling away the sodden shop rag Sam had pressed against the side of his head the whole trip back to the motel, wincing at the sight of whatever lay under it. And, doubtless, the blood that immediately started sprinkling down onto Sam's shirt again.
"Gonna need stitches, bro," Dean said sympathetically.
"No kidding." It wasn't enough blood loss to make him really woozy, not yet, but Sam felt drained. His forehead was already propped against Dean's stomach.
"Might have to shave a little hair, too."
Sam sighed. "Whatever, just do it." While his hair was at risk in every prank war they had, Dean would never take advantage when Sam was hurt.
"Okay. Here's the Lidocaine."
Sam was too exhausted to even flinch as the needle slid into the skin behind his ear. It anesthetized the area enough that Sam only felt the tug and pressure after Dean snipped some hair and got to work stitching. It was nevertheless a strange feeling, that pull on numb skin, and Sam cast around to find something else to focus on.
Which was when his weary mind clicked on to the fact that he had a captive and empathetic audience.
"Yeah. Is it wearing off?"
"No, it's good." He licked his lips. "What do you keep writing in that notebook?"
Dean only paused for a half-second. "What notebook?" he asked, tone a little too glib.
"Sam, it's…" Dean cut another thread, a little more impatiently than the others. Sam sucked in a breath, and a palm tucked under his ear in silent apology. "It's not important, okay?"
"So tell me."
Dean's motions stayed gentle this time as he wiped blood away and continued stitching. "I don't want to," he finally said.
"I know," Sam whispered.
Dean put two more stitches in before he spoke again, with obvious reluctance. "It's…just names."
"Names. Like…the list of names I put together last year?"
A soft snort. "I wish." Another stitch. "It's, uh, the names. You know, of the people in…in Hell."
Sam tilted his head back, not caring when the thread pulled tight from the sudden movement. "Wait, is this some kind of…I don't know, balance sheet? Like, putting the people you tortured up against the people you saved?"
Dean's face clouded and he jerked back. "Screw you, Sam."
"No, I—" He grabbed Dean's wrist before his brother could storm out of the bathroom, and it was probably only the fact that both their hands were slicked with Sam's blood that kept Dean from jerking free. As it was, it felt like holding on to a live wire, everything in Dean wanting to flee.
Most likely to a bottle.
Sam gentled his voice. "I didn't mean it like that, all right? Just…you get that you didn't kill those people, right? If they were in Hell, they'd probably earned it, and if you weren't punishing them, something else would have."
"Doesn't make it right, Sam," Dean spit out. "The things I did…and enjoyed…"
Sam shook his head, making a face when he felt fresh blood trickle down his collar. He saw Dean's eyes follow it, but there was horror and guilt in his brother's eyes, not bloodlust. "Dean, man, you enjoyed not being the one suffering. It's kind of a high, not being in pain—they've even got terms for it for torture victims. Doesn't mean you were enjoying other people hurting."
Dean stared at him opaquely a minute. Then he shook off Sam's grip, but carefully. Instead of fleeing the small room, he took up needle and thread again. "Somehow I don't think those souls down there would've seen it that way."
Sam chuffed a laugh. "Right. 'Cause Hell makes it so easy to be objective."
"Dude, you're like a dog with a bone, you know that?"
"Dude, we've got Heaven and Hell breathing down our necks now. It's the Pre-Apocalypse Show, and I'm not seein' a way out right now. We gotta to be on the same page, all right? I need you at my back, not crawling into a bottle somewhere."
Another pause. Dean sounded muted when he finally started moving again and answered. "Yeah, I got it." A tug, snip, and he was stepping back. "All done, Frankenstein."
Sam made a face but didn't lunge for the mirror, not yet. "This doesn't change anything, you know. I don't think…less of you or anything for what happened."
Dean was suddenly very focused on the supplies he was cleaning up.
Might as well go all in. "And I know you've got my back. I'm just worried about you, all right?"
Dean's head swung up again. Still that opaque look, too many emotions churning for Sam to read. But he thought he saw a little determination at least spark in his brother's eyes. "Yeah, all right, Dr. Drew. We done now?"
Sam grinned. "Not by a long shot."
Dean didn't magically cheer up. He didn't stop drinking, or having nightmares, or looking haunted. Hell had broken something inside him that Sam wasn't sure could ever be fixed. But Dean didn't get drunk anymore, and he stayed away from the hard stuff.
It was by chance that Sam saw the notebook in the trash at their next rest stop. The whole notebook, the saved and unsaved. Sam's gift as well as Dean's curse.
Well, he'd take what he could get. And maybe, just maybe, with Ruby's help, he could be the one to save his brother this time around.