The Prophet Looked and He Laughed at Me
A/N: Title borrowed from Iron Maiden's Can I Play With Madness.
Yay, I finally got something written! And just in time because I'm due to give birth in a couple weeks and I really wanted to get something up before then. This is kind of weird, I was going for trippy but I don't know how well I did. Feedback is always appreciated!
It starts with music, Sam thinks, on the rare occasions that he bothers to think about where it started. It's not something that crosses his mind often, what with all the other things that cross his mind (or circle it or zigzag or...) but when it does, Sam thinks it started with music.
Dean's music, to be exact, and maybe poetic, in some kind of way (or maybe he's just not making sense at all). Dean's music, slowed down and morphed, like it's melting in the sun.
"You need CDs," Sam remembers saying, his head aching from the heat and the constant drone. "Your tapes are wearing out."
He remembers Dean scoffing. "Cassette tapes are far superior to CDs, Sammy. These'll last for years."
"They've already lasted years, evidence being that they're cassette tapes."
"CDs only last a couple months, then they scratch and you need new ones. That's how they get you. It's all about making me hand over my hard earned cash." Dean Winchester, the great conspiracy theorist.
Sam doesn't bother to point out that pulling credit card scams and hustling pool doesn't quite amount to hard work, because he knows that Dean can come up with half a dozen reasons for why it does. Instead he just rests his throbbing head back against the seat and listens to Ozzy warble out Crazy Train in slow motion.
The music is where it starts but the actual problem doesn't really start until a month or so later (or it started a month or so earlier but they didn't realise it then) when they're in the Impala again and Sam has a headache again and now the tapes are doing really strange stuff, like slowing down and speeding up and rewinding themselves so they play the same song over and over and skipping like a broken record.
"Isn't that driving you nuts?" Sam asks when he can't take it any longer. He's listened to the tape player whine out Iron Maiden's Can I Play With Madness? five times now, warping itself into something almost unrecognisable and adjusting its own volumn. Sam has to shake his head slightly to knock out the image of the song as its own tangible, living thing, like some kind of snake. Why would he picture that, he wonders vaguely and decides that he needs more sleep, or his head needs to stop hurting, or he needs Dean to stop ignoring that goddamned messed up tape that's driving him nuts.
"Isn't it?" Sam insists. He wonders if maybe Dean's only putting up with it because he knows it's annoying Sam and being annoying is one of Dean's talents, one he takes much pride in.
Dean's eyes flick over to him, bemused. "Isn't what driving me nuts? My little brother asking random questions with no context?"
Sam scowls, closes his eyes and leans his head against the window. The vibrations don't help but the cool glass is soothing.
"The tape. It's past it, man. You need a new one."
"I need a new what?" Dean's fingers tap on the steering wheel. The sound skitters its way across the dashboard and leaps against the window to crash into Sam's brain.
Sam jerks away from the window. "Cassette tape," he says in exasperation. "It's driving me crazy."
"What's driving you crazy?" Dean sounds bewildered enough that Sam opens his eyes to look at him incredulously.
"The tape. Playing over and over."
Dean's face wars between suspicion, confusion and concern, his eyes darting back and forth between Sam and the road. "There isn't any tape playing, Sam. I turned it off an hour ago when you started doing your whole squinting, temple-rubbing, I-have-a-headache-but-I'm-not-going-to-mention-it act."
Sam frowns and leans forward to check the cassette player but sure enough, Dean's telling the truth. There's no tape playing but he can still hear Iron Maiden slithering round in his head.
"Is your phone ringing?" he asks.
Dean pulls the Impala over to the side of the road and checks his phone, then he checks the half-dozen other phones they have as back-ups or use for specific alias's. Sam checks his own phone in case Dean's been messing with his ringtone again. All of them are silent.
"Where the hell is that coming from then?" Sam huffs in frustration, looking around the car as if Iron Maiden might be crammed into the backseat playing a concert.
"I don't hear anything," Dean says slowly.
"How can you not hear that?" Sam asks, scanning the empty road ahead and behind them, in case the metal gig is somehow following them.
"I swear to God, Sam, there's no music playing."
Dean looks worried and Sam doesn't bother pointing out that swearing to God means nothing coming from an atheist. He just slumps back in his seat and closes his eyes. The non-existant tape skips, stuttering as it asks Sam whether he wants to know the truth and Sam pushes the lyrics away to the back of his mind.
It starts with the music but it doesn't stop there. Sam stops mentioning it to Dean though because it makes his older brother's face scrunch up with worry and his shoulders tense and he asks questions Sam doesn't know the answers to.
"Are you okay, Sammy?"
Ozzy Osbourne mutters that he's listened to preachers and listened to fools. Sam doesn't know.
He's gotten used to life having a soundtrack by the time he starts to see things in the corners of his eyes; shadowy figures that dart out of sight when he tries to look properly or bright flashes of clear light that make him flinch and reach for his sunglasses. Sometimes he catches a glimpse of long blonde hair or smells Jessica's perfume or even Dad's distant but familiar scent of gun oil and aftershave.
Sam spends some time wondering whether he's being haunted but he knows it's impossible when he spends his life surrounded by salt and protective charms. Only Dean would be obnoxious enough to haunt him with old metal songs anyway, and Dean's alive and well and casting him anxious looks every time he thinks Sam isn't looking.
Sam's head aches and aches and aches.
Sam starts zoning out.
He doesn't really notice it at first because neither does Dean, and how would Sam know that he was gone if Dean doesn't tell him that he went (or, you know, something that makes sense, but then, nothing makes sense these days)?
It's just little things, like he'll start watching a movie, blink, and he'll have missed a few scenes, or he'll be listening to Dean and drop out halfway through a sentence about pie and drop back in in the middle of a story about what the waitress at the bar last night could do with her toes. He puts it down to crappy TV that doesn't hold his attention or being tired or too much caffeine or low blood sugar or whatever because what the hell else would it be?
The motel room smells like his appartment at Stanford, like words and late night study sessions and the cigarettes he sometimes smoked mainly because he knew his dad would chew him out for it majorly if he ever found out, and because being a lawyer means you don't need to worry about having lungs fit enough for running from monsters. He can even smell Jessica's chocolate chip cookies and hear her humming when suddenly Dean's terrified face is in front of him, Dean's hands white-knuckled around his arms, snapping out, "-am! Come on, Sammy, snap out of it!"
"What?" Sam asks, jerking back a little and looking around, kind of expecting to see a stack of law books on the desk near the window or Jess chewing on a pencil as she tries to pretend she's not being distracted by the daytime television she insists she only puts on for background noise while she studies.
Sam sees grimy wallpaper peeling in the corners, Dad's journal, a gun on the nearby bed and numerous empty takeaway coffee cups scattered throughout a small motel room.
"What?" Dean echoes incredulously, sitting back on his heels and taking one hand from Sam's arm to run it shakily through his short hair. "You've been sitting here like a zombie for the last five minutes, not answering me or responding at all and you ask me what? What the hell is going on with you, Sam?"
Sam doesn't know. Dad's voice whispers something in his ear but Sam doesn't understand.
It's not long after that the flashing light behind Sam's eyelids leaps out of hiding and into high definition, center stage, and turns blinding, the phantom scents turn sharp and ugly and Sam wakes up on the floor. Dean's leaning over him, his mouth sliding over out of sync words, eyes wild and frantic and Mary Winchester is standing right there.
Sam stares at her in amazement, in bewilderment, tries to raise a hand to reach for her but his limbs wont work. Dean's calling him and his mother smiles before bursting into flames. The sharp crackle of burning hair has Sam's eyes rolling back in his head.
He's strapped down the next time he comes to, his mother gone, movement around him and under him and nothing makes sense. Nothing ever makes sense anymore. He doesn't understand and he wants to panic but the sirens he can hear start playing to the tune of Metallica and then Dean's next to him again.
"Hey, Sammy." Dean looks scared and old. "Don't you worry, kiddo, you're gonna be fine."
Fear creases Dean's face so deeply that Sam thinks he might have permanent wrinkles. Sam's tongue is lost and he can't ask what's wrong, what's going on.
"We'll be at the hospital soon and they'll get you all fixed up, you hear me? Sammy? Sam!"
"He's seizing again," an unfamiliar disembodied voice says, and Sam loses himself in the smell of his mother's roasting flesh.
So many unfamiliar voices.
"...need to do some tests..."
"...results of the scans..."
"...you see this dark mass here...?"
"...does that mean? What the hell does that mean?"
Jess talks over the voices ramblings about 'the need to operate' and 'risky surgery' and Sam feels her hand on the side of his face.
"Don't worry, baby, I'm here."
No, Sam thinks. You're not.
Dean is there.
Dean is always there. Sam can't remember any time that he needed Dean and Dean wasn't there, except for those first few desperately lost and lonely weeks at Stanford when he knew no one and no one knew him, not even himself (because who was he without Dean and Dad and hunting?) and even then Sam was the one who had gone, not Dean.
"You brought me here after Jess died," Sam says, watching the sand and waves behind his eyelids.
Dean's humming something.
"And then we went to that bar and you let me drink until I threw up in the Impala." Sam smiles. "You didn't even bitch at me."
"This is so messed up." Dean's voice flutters uncertainly, his words so tired they seem to drop to the floor. He picks up his humming where he left off.
Sam feels his smile fade. The pieces don't add up. How is he at the beach with Dean and Jess is dead but she was just here and he remembers what he's going to do after they leave? Detached, befuzzled fear has Sam grasping for any hint of normality. Dean. "Where is the Impala, Dean? Can you get me out of here? I want to go."
"We'll go for a drive soon, Sammy, I promise." Dean's hand squeezes his and Sam watches the waves until he realizes that Dean's humming sounds a lot more like crying.
It's like floating, overhead lights dim and skipping past on repeat. There's something over his mouth and nose, he thinks, and people surrounding him, the squeak of soft shoes on hard floors, the smell of Dad's favourite gin and Pantera spinning around and around near the ceiling.
"I'll be right here when you wake up, Sammy," Dean's voice warm in his ear. "They're gonna fix you up now. Everything's gonna be okay."
Sam wakes up to silence.
Not absolute silence. There's beeping off to one side of him and footsteps and muffled voices and all the other half-hearted noises that indicate a lot of people in a cramped building, but the music that has become a near constant in his life is gone. Sam's not sure exactly when it became a comfort but its absense is frightening and leaves him feeling adrift.
"D'n?" His tongue is too big for his mouth and his throat is dry. His voice comes out crackled like a radio with bad reception and he can't open his eyes. His head feels swollen to several times it's normal size.
"Hey, Sammy," Dean's voice floats above him like clouds. "You with me this time? Bet you're feeling groggy, huh? Don't worry about it, it'll clear up. And don't try moving, okay? You've got a shunt in the back of your head."
Sam can't take it in. It's so quiet.
"Can't hear the music anymore, Dean," he mumbles because he thinks that might be important.
Dean presses Sam's hand to his lips firmly and gently, exhaling a stream of desperation and fear and utterly exhausted relief. "That's good, kiddo. That's real good."
A/N: Sightly off-topic, I have a LiveJournal account now, seeing as that's what all the cool kids seem to be doing. I'm still figuring out how it all works but I'd love to make some friends over there. The link is in my profile under my homepage if anyone would like to pop over. :D