Tabula Rasa
Chapter 2

"You wanna tell me what happened?" Dean had dragged the room's one chair up next to the bed, and was now focused on his bundled-up, feverish little brother, trying not to sound as frantic as he felt. He'd had to haul Sam out of the bathtub and practically drag him back down the hall and to his own room. Sam had seemed too out of it to be embarrassed by the fact that Dean had had to change him out of his wet clothes. He had just come back from getting changed himself, and Sam was exactly where Dean had left him, though a bit less delirious now.

Sam looked up from his lap, where he'd been picking restlessly at loose threads in the old quilt that covered him. His cheeks were flushed against too-pale skin, eyes bloodshot, wet hair sticking to his forehead. "I don't really know what happened." His voice was hoarse, and Dean guessed it was because of all that awful gagging.

Dean frowned. "Okay, well for starters, can you tell me what the hell you were doing in the bathtub?"

Sam looked down again. "Felt crappy."

"So you took a shower with your clothes on." He raised an eyebrow.

"Felt really crappy."

"Sick how?"

Sam gave up on the quilt threads, and his fingers drummed rapidly, nervously against his knee. "Hot," he admitted. "Dizzy."

"So you laid down in the tub."

"Looks like it." Sam still wouldn't look at him.

"Uh…why?" Dean certainly didn't get how sleeping in a tub would help anything, but for some reason he was instantly reminded of the few times when he'd found Sam as a really young kid curled up asleep in the backseat of the Impala, whenever he'd had trouble sleeping in the bed of a motel or rental house. Maybe it was the same principle here.

"I don't know. Felt better, I guess."

Yup, definitely the same principle.

Sam glanced over at his duffle on the dresser. "Hey, uh, did we bring anything to drink?"

"What do you want?" Dean asked warily.

"What do you think?"

Dean shook his head. "No. Dude, you're sick."

"'M not sick."

"You have a fever."

His eyes darkened. "Doesn't mean I'm sick."

"Uh, yeah it does. In fact, I'd say a fever is kind of a defining characteristic of 'sick,' Sam."

Sam gave him a tired glare.

"Okay, fine. Whatever. But come on, man, look at yourself. You have a drink now, you're just gonna feel like shit."

"I have a..." He cleared his throat. "Uh, I got a bad taste in my mouth, is all. Wanna get rid of it."

"Then I'll go raid Bobby's M&M stash for you or something," Dean said, exasperated. Would it kill Sam not to be so damn evasive all the friggin' time? "If you still got a headache, drink's only gonna make it worse. You know that."

"I don't have a headache anymore." His fingers absently twisted and yanked at one frayed drawstring of his hoodie.

"That's good." Then something occurred to him. "Wait, did you take the pills?"

A pause, and then Sam nodded. "Yeah."

Dean's insides went icy cold at that. "What?"

"Yeah. Found 'em in the bathroom."

"How many?"

"Two, like you said."

"You're sure."

"Yes."

"Positive?"

"Yes," Sam repeated irritably.

"Okay." His shoulders sagged a little in relief at that. At least whatever happened earlier hadn't been because he'd accidentally OD'd or something. But something else occurred to him. "Then what the hell are you asking for a drink for, Sam?" he asked, anger mounting. "You trying to off yourself or something?"

"What?" Sam looked genuinely confused for a second, then he blinked. "Oh. Right."

"Well?"

"No—" He reached up and rubbed his eyes. "No, you're right. Yeah. Never mind. I just… forgot, is all." He pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes shut, looking both exhausted and somehow in pain. "And I'm thirsty," he added quietly.

"Well if you're thirsty, we'll get you water, okay? Liquor's not gonna help you there."
Sam scoffed. "Yeah, neither is water…"

"What do you mean, 'neither is water'?"

He finally looked up, looking tired and bitter and defeated. "I know it's not gonna help, because I've been chugging water all night long, and Dean, I'm thirsty."

"What—"

But Sam just kept staring at him.

And then Dean got it.

"Oh," he whispered. "I gotcha."

Shit. Shitshitshit…

"Yeah." Sam's hands fell still at last.

"You okay?" Dean asked.

Sam snorted.

Dean grimaced. "Yeah, stupid question, huh. Well…" he floundered for something helpful to say, and tried not to think about how screwed they could quite possibly be if this kept up. Like they needed that to deal with on top of the Great Wall of Sam. "You got any idea why? Like, why it's happening now? I mean, you haven't had any demon blood since…you know…"

"Yeah, I know."

"So like I said, why's it happening now? It can't be some freaky withdrawal thing then, right? You haven't had any in your system, so why are you lying in a bathtub and gagging on shower water at three in the morning?" He tried to keep his voice from shaking, but he couldn't help seeing it all over again as he said it: Sam gasping and choking, his entire body convulsing, limbs flailing wildly against a spray of icy water.

"So that's what happened, huh?" Sam muttered distantly.

"You don't remember?"

"I remember."

A pause.

Then, "How'd you find me?"

"Well, I was up anyway…"

"I noticed," Sam said, smiling weakly.

"Yeah, well, just because you've got all the stealth of a drunk rhino when you're trying to sneak around late at night..."

"Sorry."

"No, you're not." Dean grinned, but it faded fast as he spoke. "I heard the shower going, and I was just gonna knock and make sure you were okay. Barely heard it over the water, but it sounded like you were choking on something, and you didn't answer, so yeah. You were…" he swallowed. "It was bad, Sam. It looked like—"

"Bristol," Sam supplied dully.

"Uh, yeah." Dean cleared his throat and looked down. "Was it like Bristol?"

"No," Sam said. "Not as long. Just…just a few minutes."

"Did you see anything?"

That shut Sam down really fast, which Dean should've expected. He shook his head, suddenly panicked. "I can't—"

"Nah, I get it. You don't have to," Dean said. "Think it might help though."

Sam shook his head again.

"Okay. But do you think maybe you were just, y'know, hallucinating whatever it was? Like with the withdrawal stuff?"

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know?"

Sam gave him an exasperated look.

"Look, Sam, I'm not trying to be pushy. I just wanna figure out what's wrong here."

Sam's hands went back yanking at the threads of the quilt, but they were twitching too badly to do any real damage. He was quiet for a long time. "I really don't know," he said at last. "The water…it just…"

"It what?" Dean asked, desperate. "Look, we don't have to talk about it again, I promise. And you don't gotta get into the gory details. But come on, just help me out here, okay? Give me something. Anything."

"The water was burning." His voice was nearly inaudible. "I couldn't breathe."

Dean winced.

Yeah, that explained a lot.

But worse than that, he also knew that Sam wasn't telling him the half of it, seeing as he still refused to say a word about Bristol.

"I'm sorry."

Sam nodded, eyes still a million miles away. "Thanks."

"Yeah."

"And thanks for…you know, finding me."

"Sure thing. Kinda what I do, right?"

Sam managed a small smile. "Yeah, something like that."

"So...why would any of this be happening to you now? I mean, whether it's the blood thing again or, y'know, the Wall, still doesn't explain why either one of 'em would be hitting you so hard tonight. I mean, you haven't been…"

"What?"

"Scratching?"

"No."

"You sure."

"Yes. I know what'll happen, Dean," Sam said through gritted teeth. "I saw. Remember?"

"Yeah," Dean muttered. "Sorry."

"'S okay." In a vain attempt to get his hands to be still, he shoved them into his pockets, and then leaned back against the headboard, staring up at the ceiling fan and looking completely spent.

"Think I know what the problem might be, though."

"What?"

"Try an out-of-body experience."

"What do you mean, out-of-body?"

"I mean, taking up temporary residence in the meatsuits of two b-list TV actors."

Dean thought about it. "No, wait. That was still us, Sam. We jumped through a portal, right? Okay, granted, a weird space-time-continuum-type-deal into some really, really backwards, perverted, screwed-up alternate reality where I was in friggin' Days of our Lives, but still, it was real, and the portal was real, and we're real, so why wouldn't it be us? We're still real."

"But we weren't real there, Dean."

"Oh." Not like that was the most important issue at stake right now, but still, it was pretty damn irritating, not being real. Even in a fucked-up place like that. "So what, we got shoved inside those two clowns' noggins because there wasn't any other place to stick us?" Well, that was disconcerting, to say the least.

"I think so. I mean, obviously our souls came with us, and thoughts and memories and stuff too. Don't think our bodies did, though."

"Wait, I thought you said the whole thing coulda just been one long, angel-induced acid trip anyway, right?" God, he hoped so. "What'd be the point in ripping us out of our bodies if they coulda just messed with our heads?"

"I thought so too…" He shoved one of his sleeves up, revealing a thin white scar running up the inside of his forearm. "…at first. But these weren't there in that world."

These meant the long, matching scars that ran up and down the length of both Sam's arms from where the ghouls wearing the faces of Adam and his mother had tried to bleed him dry. And unlike when Cas had raised Dean, these had come to Hell and back with him, as had every other scar he'd ever collected in his life. Therein lay another difference between being raised by an angel and being raised by a demon.

"And we were both wearing stage makeup, remember?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."

"Anyway, yeah. I really don't think that was us. Not physically, at least. I mean, if it had been us, and the whole thing was just in our heads, that meant that Virgil would've still been Virgil, too. It would've taken more than a mind trick to disarm him. He wouldn't have needed a gun to try to blow our heads off."

"Oh. Yeah, good point. But what does this have to do with this then?" he gestured generally at Sam.

"No demons, Dean. No angels. No Hell. No Heaven. You said so yourself. Not in that world. And no demons means—"

"No demon blood," Dean said, realization dawning. "You didn't have to deal with that, did you?"

Sam shook his head. "No, I didn't."

Dean felt a pang of regret. "What was that like?"

"To be honest?" He looked wistful. "Awesome. Disconcerting at first, because I didn't really trust it, you know? But…" he shook his head. "I usually just ignore it, and I got pretty good at it. And the only time I absolutely couldn't handle it was…uh, well, Famine, but other than that, it was always just sort of on the backburner."

"And it was gone?" Okay, more than just a pang of regret now…

"Yeah. Completely. Not just like there wasn't anything around to want, but like…I don't know, like I'd never wanted it at all. And when we got back, it was…Well, it was there again. And it was…" he chuckled humorlessly. "It's hard again. Really hard."

"That sucks."

"Yeah."

Dean wasn't sure what to say; it wasn't like words alone were going to make any of this any easier on him.

Didn't mean he wasn't going to try. "Look," he said, resting a hand on Sam's blanket-covered knee. "You just gotta give yourself time, okay? It'll get easier again."

Sam's eyebrows shot up and disappeared beneath wet bangs.

Dean smiled apologetically. "Yeah, probably not what you wanna hear right now, but still true. Stick it out, it'll get easier."

"Thanks," he murmured, but he sounded dejected. His eyes slid back up at the ceiling fan, apparently following the blades with his eyes. "And the Wall?"

Dean stiffened slightly in his seat. "What about it?"

"That one's not gonna get easier, is it."

Dean opened his mouth, then shut it again.

"It was gone, Dean. I don't know why, and I don't know how, but I think that when we went to wherever we were, the Wall and everything behind it couldn't come with me. Maybe it was too damn big to cram inside this Jared guy's head. Or maybe it's because the whole thing just wasn't real in that world, and that's why none of the memories could come with, 'cause why would I need to not remember something that doesn't even exist in that reality? I mean, no Hell, no Wall, right?"

Dean was almost afraid to ask. "Did you feel any different?"

"I felt like my brain finally fit inside my skull."

Oh.

"Oh."

His eyes flicked to Dean's. "Yeah."

"So…what, you're thinking you just got slammed hard with both of 'em at the same time just 'cause you'd gone a few days without having to deal with them?"

"I think so."

"And the burning thing?" he added hesitantly.

"Weird combination of both, maybe?" Sam guessed tiredly.

"Damn." The sight of his brother in this state—bruised-looking eyes fighting to stay open, the awful pallor of his skin, the sheer resignation in his voice—made him wonder whether "acting" wasn't such a bad gig, after all. "Look, you just need to take it easy for awhile, okay? Get your feet back on the ground. It'll be fine, I promise."

"And if the angels kickstart another apocalypse under our noses and this Mother-thing comes and rips the lid off purgatory and all the monsters go free?" He looked unconvinced. "Not so fine, Dean."

"Well you're no good to anybody like this, Sam."

He glowered. "I know that."

"I didn't—" Dean started. "Come on, man, I didn't mean it like that."

"How'd you mean it, then?"

"Look," Dean said slowly. "This is not your fault. None of it is. Got it?"

"Well if I can't get any of it the hell under control—"

Yeah, on top of everything else, leave it to Sam to beat himself up about it.

"A week," Dean said. "Please. Just give yourself a week. And control's gonna come back, I swear. You can research and research 'till your eyeballs fall out in the meantime for all I care, but seriously, what do we really know about the little Raphael-brigade, anyway? Thanks to Cas, a big steaming pile o' nothing. And until Her Beastliness decides to make another appearance, we got squat on her too. So calm the hell down, okay?"

"Dean—"

"A week," he pleaded. "That's all I'm asking, Sammy. And we'll figure this out."

And at that, the skepticism on Sam's face melted into something that Dean felt like he hadn't seen in an eternity, one more reason Dean was so freaking glad that Terminator-Sam was dead and gone—

Trust.

Trust in spite of himself, trust no matter what conclusion all the facts may add up to.

Sam nodded. "Alright," he said softly.

Dean smiled. "Awesome. We'll talk to Bobby about it tomorrow."

"Speaking of Bobby," Sam asked, stifling a yawn, "'M a little surprised we didn't wake him up with all this."

"Are you kidding?" Dean shook his head. "That man could drown out the friggin' Daytona 500 with those snores."

"Yeah, good point."

And he's downstairs anyway, it's not like we're that loud." Bobby still hadn't moved from the room he'd had to move to during his stint in the wheelchair.

"So I'm not a drunk rhino then?" Sam asked, pulling the blanket up to his chest and lying down.

"Not completely," Dean conceded. "Oh, by the way…"

"What?"

"I almost forgot." He rubbed his hands together in what he took to be an evil gesture. "So yeah, I got kinda bored while we were back at actor-you's mansion looking for all those ritual ingredients…"

"And?"

"I figured I'd poke around on Wikipedia, look you up. Y'know, do some research, find me some blackmail gold to get back at you for forcing me to watch myself in a soap."

"And?"

"Dude," he said, unable to keep a straight face any longer, "Your 'filmography' or whatever? A couple shit horror movies, a Disney movie about dolphins, and some inspirational crap about that guy who paints those ugly rainbow cottages."

Sam winced. "Really?"

"Really," Dean declared victoriously.

"Wow." Sam made a face. "Yeah…sorry I made fun of you."

"Oh, but there's more."

"Does there have to be?"

He smirked. "Oh yeah. You banged a Gilmore Girl, and made out with the Olsen twins."

A groan. "Which one?"

"Does it matter?"

Sam grinned and closed his eyes.

End