"This is How We Breathe."
Summary: A conversation between Lisa Braden and Sam Winchester, about Dean. Set after "Manniquen 3", no real spoilers though.
RATING: PG for language, and a mild bit of violence.
DISCLAIMER: If Erik Kripe didn't make Supernatural so freakin' interesting….but I digress. Like I have anything worth wanting to claim in a lawsuit settlement…
A/N: This takes place sometime after "Manniquen 3". Don't ask me where the title came from, it just came to me after wrestling around in my mind, screaming "pick me damnit! Stories need titles!"
"Friends will keep you sane, Love could fill your heart; a lover can warm your bed; but lonely is the soul without a mate."
"You think things have to be possible? Things have to be true!"
The Subtle Knife
Lisa Braden sat on her big soft arm chair and played with her coffee; the cup was from the girliest, rose colored set she owned. A delicate white porcelain thing that Dean used to joke: "would suck out all my masculinity". But, he drank from it anyway, because he liked her coffee. Though, maybe not today because even she didn't like what she was sipping. It was instant, cheap instant, and it tasted like it. She knew she had to swallow it eventually, but she avoided it, because of the bad taste, but more because it meant she would lose the excuse she had for not talking.
Lisa finally swallowed, taking in the bitter kick of her coffee like whiskey, finally raising her eyes to something other than the fill line of her cup.
Sam Winchester, Dean's little brother was in front of her, sitting on her sofa, blue green eyes watching her. It was the gaze of someone who had the skill of observation, but it wasn't a cold look. There hadn't been many instances when Lisa could sit and watch Sam. But, those rare moments over the last few months when she had, she hadn't seen anything in those eyes that went deeper than the color. But, today it was different. At 6'4", solid and cut all the way down, looking like he would shatter the airy cup she had given him, Lisa could see something behind Sam's expression. Something that led beyond the physical to someplace she knew nothing about because she had never been able to look beyond that point before.
"Did Dean tell you to come?" Lisa was amazed at how her question changed Sam's entire demur.
His body was still poised, still stoic, but his eyes – he was caught doing something behind his big brother's back. Lisa knew that look. She had a younger sister of her own, who had died in a freak car accident 3 years ago. But, she could still see those looks, almost back to when they originated. Hands, grasping hair ribbons that didn't belong to her. She had to blink away that memory, because she was starting to hear her voice again, and she found herself wanting to follow it.
Sam blew out a guilty breath. "He doesn't know I'm here." He drank from the cup in his left hand for something to do.
"I'm actually more focused on the why you're here part." Lisa stirred her coffee once with silver plated spoon, then rested it on the saucer, before placing it atop her oak coffee table the way her mother had taught her to do. Etiquette was such a frivolous matter right now, but it was so ingrained in her that she did it unconsciously. "It seems to me Dean's already made his choice."
"Just here me out, please." Sam set his cup down on the other side of the table, turning the handle in and away from his body.
Lisa wondered if this was a form of etiquette ingrained in Sam that he was unconscious of as well. She felt like she was at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, where manners were still adhered to even when dishes and Door Mice were being flung at your head.
"The year when I was – gone," the echo of 'dead' or 'in Hell' was on Sam's lips, but he bit it back. "Dean was here, with you, and he was happy."
"Did he tell you that?" Lisa wasn't being cynical; she genuinely wanted to know because it was something that Dean had never said. He never would have said those words: 'I'm happy', he wasn't that type of guy. But she had hoped it was on a level that could be seen by others.
"He doesn't have too. I could see it when he talked about you."
Lisa didn't know what to say. She reflected on her almost two year history with Dean. Of his laughing after telling an offbeat joke; the way he was around Ben, a father figure, and at the same time, a friend. The way he felt when she curled up against him in the early hours of the morning, his arm always going around her, the comfort of it like a warm blanket.
"He loved you, he still does." There was no hesitation in Sam's words; it was a known, something about Dean that he understood without question.
She had only spent a handful of hours with Sam, but what she now saw playing across his face, those emotions—she had already seen past his eye color and into his eyes. But, it was like she was looking into a well whose water had suddenly cleared of sediment, allowing her to see straight down into its center. It was a look that was so genuine, that she found herself studying Sam Winchester, seeing for the first time that even with all his loose screws and crazy shattered pieces, there was a good man underneath it all. One that she found herself wanting to like.
But she couldn't. "I'll never be enough for Dean."
Sam's eyebrow knit in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"I'll never be you Sam." The Mad Hatter smashed the Door Mouse against her head; but she couldn't uphold decorum any longer, because all she could see was the look on Sam's face.
She laughed, like this was a normal conversation. She wished she were still holding the coffee cup so she could have something to distract herself with. She played with her hands, right thumb rubbing over right forefinger, in lieu of the cup. But then, she stopped.
"He loves you."
"We're brothers, that's not the same thing," Sam's elbows were resting on his knees; his eyes were tracking Lisa's, following where her words were coming from because he was trying to understand why she sounded so sad when she said them. "The kind of love he has for you, it's different, it's-"
"It's not the same, you're right about that," Lisa raised her gaze so that she was looking dead center into Sam's eyes. "Because any other love Dean has for anyone else, for me—it pales in comparison, to you." She didn't see denial in Sam's eyes, not real denial. Instead, she saw a Paper Mache version of it, something that he was trying to climb on to offer an explanation to what was built.
"When my sister died," Lisa was standing on something as flimsy as Sam's denial, and she felt it teetering, wanting to make her fall. "I was shocked, broken, I mourned her. But Dean was shattered; he came to my doorstep in dust fragments. And, all through that year, he never mourned. He was in pain that entire time Sam, because he wanted to die with you."
"But he didn't Lisa," Sam was trying to explain this to his brother's girlfriend like it was a normal conversation about the weather or the time of day. "He stayed."
"Because you asked him too!" Lisa's voice was almost hysterical. But, she kept calm the same way she did when Ben told her about the new curse words he learned, or how that girl at the playground had a 'nice rack' because 'he checked.' "Do you know how many nightmares I woke him up from? How many times he cried your name in his sleep?" She laughed dryly, something she had picked up from Dean without realizing it. "I told Dean that I was scared that I'd get a call from you months down the road; and you'd be telling me that he's dead-"
"But you'd never make that call Sam, because if Dean died, you'd tried to bring him back, and you'd swallow then end of your gun if you couldn't."
"Don't say that-" Sam stood up from the couch, and in doing so, he bumped the coffee table causing the delicate cup to tip its contents all over the table top.
Lisa jumped on the stain like it was salvation; and in a way it was. It was a distraction from all of this. "It's okay; I'll go get a towel."
She began to walk towards her kitchen, but Sam took a hold of her wrist.
"Lisa," It wasn't a hard grip, but it was firm, holding. He wasn't 6'4" sitting on her sofa anymore; he was 6'4" at full height, looking down at her, strong everywhere except his eyes. They gave him away like he was trying to hide behind a pebble.
His eyes—Lisa wondered, when had they gotten so soulful?
"Dean needs you. You and Ben both; you're his family. This life, this job, it hollows you out until there's just a shell. And if you don't have something worth filling in that hole then you won't survive. You complete him."
Lisa couldn't help it, the strangeness of it all made her laugh. "Jerry McGuire Sam?"
Sam realized his choice in words. "Sorry, it was all I could come up with." There was a hint of a deep laugh in his voice.
"You went to Stanford on a full ride right?"
Sam laughed for real, and it was a sound Lisa found herself liking. "What was your major again?"
"Pre-Law." Sam sounded guilty when he answered her, like he had just insulted his education.
She couldn't help the next snorted laugh. "And over used movie quotes was all your analytical Stanford Pre-Law educated mind could come up with?"
"When exactly did my brother rub off on you?"
"A year ago."
This time they laughed together; and the resonance of it was like a sheltering umbrella from a summer downpour. It was comforting to stay there underneath that sheath. To just be this regular moment between her and her boyfriend's brother, talking, joking. But, the fact that Sam was standing there at all, when a year ago he had died; when she watched Dean light candles to a memorial on what would have been Sam's 27th birthday—her own sister was dead and buried in the ground. But, Dean Winchester's stood there. Nothing about this would ever be normal.
"Dean and I can't be together; no matter how much I want too." The last part was admittance to herself as well as Sam.
Sam felt her words like a shock that came behind something soft so that he couldn't feel the impact until after it had passed. "Why?"
"You can't see your face Sam," something broke in Lisa, and it became a sad smile. "You wouldn't be asking if you did." She had gotten an answer to her question. Sam's eyes were soulful because of what he was talking about.
"He loves you Lisa."
"And I love him too Sam. I never stopped loving him. But, I can't fill that hollowness in him that you want me too." Her hand rose up to touch the side of his face. "Because you're already there." She tilted his head with her hand because she felt him start to pull away, to give her some logical explanation to what she had just said. "I told Dean that your relationship was the most unhealthy, tangled up, crazy thing that I'd ever seen. It's irrational, Sam," a dry laugh. "It's borderline neurotic to be so close to your own brother. But it doesn't change facts." She sniffed, she hadn't been aware she was crying until that moment. "And I care about him too much to go where I don't fit."
"You fit Lisa, I promise you, you fit. Dean doesn't have a whole lot left in his life. You said you still love him. So don't walk away. Please."
She laughed, but it was a poor mask, because it sounded like what it truly was, crying. "You don't know how badly I want things to be different, uncomplicated, She sniffed again, a messy sound that a child would emit because they had no chance to clean their nose.
"Lisa-" Dean joked that Sam had a hang up for saying people's names a thousand times when he talked to them. Everything said to him was 'Dean' this and 'Dean' that. But, to Sam saying the name was connecting the emotions to the person. Lisa wasn't just some random 'her' she was the love of Dean's life; he had to connect to her emotions, because he couldn't let her throw it all away. "Please. Please don't do this."
"I hate you," Lisa blurted this out, there was anger in her words but there were tears running down her face. But, she had finally spoken the truth; the honesty of it burning through her like a fire. She was not a cruel person, it went against her nature to hate, truly hate someone. It wasn't a casual word to her, it was a violation.
But she couldn't deny it anymore. "I don't want to hate you Sam, but I do."
"Then hate me," Sam said, removing her hand from his face, and holding to the edge of her fingers. "Just me, alright? Dean has nothing to do with this."
Lisa pulled her hand away and brought it back to a full assaulted slap across his face. She knew how to hit; she could see him reel from the force of it.
Ben's voice turned her around. Her son stood there, wide eyed; he had seen her. But he wasnt afraid of her, his mother wasn't a violent person; he was afraid for her, because she wouldn't react this way unless something was badly wrong.
"Ben, go to your room please." Lisa wiped the tears coming down her face with the back of her hand.
Ben didn't listen; he took a step forward, gauging the distance between his mom and Sam. His mind screamed to take his mother's side, but it was Dean's brother standing next to her. Someone who Ben had heard Dean talk about constantly—like a best friend. Ben knew that best friends weren't chosen lightly, you had to trust them. Dean was like a father to him. If he trusted Sam that much, Ben couldn't deny that. He wanted to trust him too.
"What's going on?" Ben stood in-between his mom and Sam like a wall. He could sense the tension in the room; it was like the heat that preceded a lighting strike.
"Benjamin Isaac Braden, I said go to your room!" Lisa screamed at Ben. She could see the hurt on her son's face. It made her feel horrible, it screamed 'bad mother.' Her fists clenched, wanting the release of an emotion, one that she would never redirect at her child.
Lisa whirled on Sam. Sam could see the torrent of emotions breaking through her like a hurricane; he knew too well what that kind of feeling felt like.
Lisa slapped Sam again; the hurt in that slap was felt by both of them. "It's not okay! You understand? I. HATE. YOU!" All that time Sam never resisted; he could have easily over powered her, but he stood there, like a martyr. Her next slap drew blood across his lip.
"Mom stop!" Ben grabbed his mother's arm. "That's Dean's brother, what are you doing!" He spit, he cursed, but it was all to try and be 'cool' to a ten-year-old mind. The sight of his mother with tears pouring down her face, hitting a man inside their house, it scared him.
"It's okay Ben," Sam tasted the salt from his own blood as it fell down the inside of his mouth; he could already feel a bruise starting to form. But he would never lay hands on a woman that wasn't trying to kill him with supernatural possession. But more than that; Lisa hated Sam for something he couldn't deny because it was the truth. It was irrational and neurotic, but it was truth just the same. And it he couldn't hurt Lisa Braden when the truth had already hurt her enough.
"No, it's not okay!" Ben wasn't old enough to understand the complexities of what stood in front of him, but he wasn't stupid. And, he stood in front of Sam, staring him down, to remind him of that fact. "This isn't okay!"
Ben was so old then, a kid grown up too fast, watching his mother cry, break down in front of him. And, it was Sam's fault. "It's not that easy kid-"
"Dude she hit you!"
"That's enough Ben!" Lisa had finally found her voice, it sounded lost, like something that had run away from its home, and no matter how it tried to come back, it kept going further away.
Ben placed a hand on his mother's shoulder. "Mom, please-" there were tears in his eyes, and despite how embarrassed he was at this age to cry in front of people, they fell anyway. "Is that why you won't let Dean come back? Sam's his brother! Why you hate that he loves him? He's supposed to!" Ben's voice had risen in anger. Dean was the closest thing he had ever had to a father; and he had left, and he finally understood why. He wanted to shake his mother, yell at her to make Dean come back, because he missed him. But his anger dissolved when Lisa sank down onto her knees.
Her crying became the noise that blotted out the ticking of the clock.
Sam knelt down next to Lisa, placing a hand on her shoulder. He expected her to pull away from him; that he could take. But, he couldn't take the shaking, the crying that was almost silent because she was trying so hard not to cry at all.
"I'm sorry Lisa. I wish things were different too." Sorry was like a theme song to reawaking his soul. How many times would he have to apologize for hurting people? Was this the price of soul?
"No you don't," Lisa raised her eyes, new tears falling over drying ones as brown eyes met green. She climbed back on her feet, feeling Ben take her arm to help her. She placed an arm across Ben's shoulders. "You can't love somebody with your whole life and want things to be different."
She saw the bright red blood on Sam's lip, glowing like neon signing of her name to what she had done. She turned to her son. "Ben, go get a towel for Sam-"
"It's okay," Sam held up his hand to stop Ben from moving. 'Okay' was a word that was meant to quell fear, to balm pain. But, Sam said it anyway, even though he knew it would balm nothing. "I'm sorry," his voice finally shook, a tiny waiver in pitch. But the tiny things that could shake the strong were what made up the sadness that haunted. "I shouldn't have come."
The front door was 10 feet away from Sam; he closed that gap to five feet, four feet, three, two-
The sound of his name turned him around because it sounded like such a broken thing. "I'm sorry too," Lisa laughed, but the laugh of the broken would always sound sad.
"You know maybe you're right. Maybe Dean can't love anybody more because of me; and maybe the same is true for me. Call it our 'irrational, neurotic' air supply," there was sadness in Sam's voice, but there was also defensiveness, a protection over his brother that he could never truly hide. "But you can't punish someone for breathing Lisa."
The door knob twisted in his hand, and the door closed behind him.
"Here," Dean slapped the ice pack hard against Sam's face, hearing the wince illicit from him that he wanted. "What the hell were you thinking going over there?"
Sam held the ice bag up to his face with one hand. "I had to talk to her."
"She's not your girlfriend Sam-"
"No, she's yours Dean, so I had to try."
"Yeah, but I don't think letting a 115 pound brunette round house you was the face time you were going for." Dean paused, staring half angry, half tired, at his brother. "Why couldn't you just let this go?"
"Because I can't Dean-"
"Can't or won't?"
"Fine, I won't," Sam lowered the ice pack from his bleeding lip to the table top. "I won't let a woman who obviously loves you just throw it all away because she feels threatened by our relationship."
Dean had a banking of remarks that would shift a tense moment into a humorous one; to make a joke of how outsiders would forever misinterpret his relationship with Sam. But, ever since Dean had laid eyes on the true Sam, the one he hadn't seen in almost two years, he couldn't deny anything about his brother. Because he remembered all too painfully what it had been like to live without that feeling at all.
"Yeah well, she obviously doesn't love me as much as you think if she believes knocking you around is going to make me show up at her front door with roses."
"Hey!" Sam interjected. "She didn't knock me around!"
Lisa sat on the couch; knees drawn up under her. In her lap, resting atop the moss green afghan draped over her legs, was a photo album. It was opened to a series of photos of her and Dean, at barbeques, with Ben at school functions, on the couch watching some 1950's B horror film that Dean had a knack for finding.
There was a comfort in these pictures; the memories of when they were taken making tears mar her vision. In the bottom corner of the right album page was a photo that was slightly blurred; the poor quality a sign that it was taken with a cell phone camera.
But, it wasn't too blurry to make out. The inside of a car's leather dash, an old A-track player with silver tuning knobs to an AM radio. The shot was taken of the passenger side of this car; what she knew to be Dean's Impala.
It was an image of Sam asleep against the passage side door; his head resting against the Impala's metal doorframe as it was parked on some abandoned road. It was something that Dean had taken to annoy his brother with later; tease him how he drooled like a fountain.
But, two weeks after Dean had come to stay after arriving on her doorstep completely broken, she was placing a new school picture of Ben inside the album, and she found this picture tucked inside. It was the only picture she had ever seen of Sam.
One night, after a particularly bad nightmare, Dean had settled into the big overstuffed armchair with a beer and this photo album. She had come down to check on him after twenty minutes, had wrapped her arms around his shoulders to try and coax him back upstairs.
But, he just sat there, staring at this picture of his brother, like if he stopped he would forget what he looked like. And the way he touched the paper image, there was such loneliness in his eyes, she knew how badly he wanted to touch Sam for real. It was the first real glimpse she got of just exactly what Sam was to Dean.
She pulled the photo free from its cardboard anchors and turned it over, something she always unconsciously did when she looked at pictures. But, she had never done it with this picture before.
She saw Dean's handwriting on the white backing, a single phrase:
I love you Sammy.
"She still loves you Dean," Sam argued, taking the beer Dean offered him and setting it down beside him without opening it. "She wouldn't have reacted if she didn't."
Dean took another beer for himself from the off white mini fridge that sat beside the ancient looking TV in their hotel room. "Doesn't matter."
"Dude, you can't lie to me."
"I'm not Sam," Dean sat down in the cheap plastic orange chair across from him, leaning back, popping open his beer bottle lid.
"Then what?" Sam asked, wanting a real answer and not a word dance. "I know you still love her. It's not something you can hide, especially from me. So what's keeping you in denial?"
"How much are you charging for this session Dr. Phil?"
"I'm not in denial Sammy," the pronunciation of his name silenced Sam's next retort. "I love her man, but obviously there are things that she doesn't understand." His eyes were leveled dead center on Sam's as he spoke, finding behind them, the soul he had saved, and the reason he had too.
Ben came over to the couch, holding out a warm mug of tea with the bag still dangling in the hot water.
Lisa looked up from the album, two warm tear tracks falling down her cheeks. She smiled, trying to keep the sadness from it, taking the cup from Ben.
"Thank you baby."
Once the cup was in her hands, Ben reached down and wrapped his arms around his mom.
Lisa shifted one had to set the cup out of the way, and returned the hug, pulling her son down on to the couch.
"So that's it?" Sam said; his words disbelief. "You're just going to throw it all away? Dean, that's crap."
"I don't want too," Dean said. "But I can't be with her if-"
"If what?" Sam interrupted.
"If she doesn't feel you." There was a clink as Dean's beer bottle hit the table top. "That whole year you were gone," He signed a laugh, trying to put into words an anguish that surpassed the pain of death, something he had countless experience in. "It was like something was amputated inside of me. And every day I had to feel that bleed, and hear you scream in my head, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it. But when you walked out of that panic room, it was surgery, cause I stopped bleedin'" There were no tears in Dean's face, because they were all in his words. "Lisa can't hate you, and love me. It doesn't work like that."
Sam absorbed all of this while Dean sipped from his beer again, like such revelations were common place. It was something that he already knew; but things resonated with a higher clarity when they were spoken out loud.
Lisa stroked the short hair on the nape of Ben's neck. He was lying with her on the couch, head pillowed on her chest. He hadn't lain like this with her since he was 5, long since having reached the stage when things such as this "weren't cool."
"Dean still loves you mom; I know it." This time, Ben wasn't just seeking comfort, he was also giving it.
"I just don't want you to give it all up Dean; not for me." Sam sighed a guilty breath. "Not after everything I put you through. "
"You came home Sam," Dean hadn't seen anything behind his brother's expression in so long that each time he did he drank it in like water. "That wipes anything else clean."
Sam twirled his beer bottle with his thumb and forefinger, listing to the silence that came after the words ended.
Lisa looked down at Ben. "Oh yeah? How do you know that?"
"It's not rocket science," Ben said this with all the confidence a ten-year-old could have.
Lisa laughed, quick and small, and sad. She kissed the side of his head, keeping her hand there, listening to them breathe.
Dean took another pull from his beer, but his eyes met Sam's over the lip of the bottle.
Dean swallowed, confusion in the form of a what the hell? Look coming across his face. "You too, what?"
The price of soul was feeling. A feeling that had waited 180 years to sit on cheap furniture, to feel cold ice, bruises, because that's where it belonged, because it meant something.
"Nothing," Sam withdrew a remark before it was even said. "Nothing man, forget it."
"Come on Sammy," Dean said. "I thought we were having a moment."
Sam didn't plan the pause, the lump in his throat did. "When I jumped into that pit; you want to know what I thought about? No selfless thoughts of heroism, saving the world, righting my mistakes, none of that poetic crap. No, all I could think about—was never seeing you again." A tear slid behind his ear, one that he didn't notice, which made it sad, haunted. "I would be down there, and you would be up here. That's all that was screaming at me. But when I woke up and came up those stairs—I don't remember bleeding Dean, not like you. But, when I saw you sitting there, I sure as hell felt it stop. "
Dean laughed a dry cough of a laugh. Not because what Sam said was funny, it hurt too much to be funny. But because of something else. "We're broken pieces of crap Sammy, you know that?"
"So broken that you would leave your girlfriend, for me? We're stuck together like that?" Sam asked. Lisa was right, there was no way that Sam would want things to be different. But, he knew that his brother would never be really happy without her; and Dean not being happy wouldn't sit with Sam.
"Well I would have put it in more of a "not gay" context but yeah, that's the gist of it." Dean was back to sipping his beer, leaning into the back of the chair. "You and me pal," What, you didn't get the memo?"
"I love you too," Sam said this like he was letting out a breath, but there was no sarcasm, no joking, nothing but a reality.
And it drew the all jokinig from Dean's face, and out of the room, slamming the feeling back in.
"Dean, I, -" The words Sam were trying to say was you're my brother, but the words that were fighting to come out was you're my soul. But the words fighting to come out at once left him unable to say anything. His puppy dog eyes weren't there; this look was piercing, it tore through everything inside Dean until it found the place that would always belong to him.
Dean stared at Sam, feeling the power of that gaze. Had he been someone who echoed such sentiment, the word soul would have been in his words as well.
His mind went to Lisa. Women would always love Dean Winchester, and he would always love them, particularly Lisa Braden. She was that one girl, wasn't just someone he could walk away from. But he couldn't love her, not really, not unless she loved him, all of him.
"I know Sammy," Dean didn't echo the sentiment; He echoed something more important, the feeling. "Believe me."
It was what was written on the back of a grainy picture, in nightmares of Sam being tortured in Hell, silent cries when he had to stop himself from dialing Sam's number still programmed in his phone. The shock of seeing Sam come out of the Panic Room, eyes locking on him before seeing anything else, and then hugging him so tightly it winded him, but not remembering a time when he cared less about air. Watching his brother sleep on the couch in Bobby's library all that night, just watching him breathe, remembering that this was what it felt like to be alive.
"I feel you."
Lisa switched if the white shaded table lamp, bathing the room in the honey colored light of the setting sun. The photo album lay open at her feet on the floor, the blurry image on the opened page clearer than the rest.
This played in my mind so much. Every time I thought I was finished, I kept adding to it, because I had to make it a real moment. Because Lisa isn't a monster, she loves Dean, but she doesn't understand that she can't hate Sam and expect to sit well with Dean. That's why she irks me, she just doesn't get it. Also, I wasn't trying to make her an abuser, she was angry, and she was human, sometimes that makes you broken. (Still kind of dislike her though…yeah, I have hang ups.)
This was in no way a "Wincest" fic. It's about the depth of their bond that they earned, from living through all this pain and suffering. I also wanted Sam to look out for Dean; he has such great lines in the show when he's protective of his brother, it's not always about Dean watching out for Sam; it's mutual.
Oh, and when I wrote the scene with Lisa finding what Dean wrote to Sam on the back of the picture, I cried like a little girl, just sayin'. I could hear Dean saying those words, wanting to say them to Sam and not an image.