There Sam is. Dean's looking at him through the window— not entirely subtle, of course, and he risks someone calling the cops on him, but whatever. Dean had to see Sam. Him and Dad had dropped by last night but watching Sam sleep in the dark doesn't quite satisfy the older brother. Luckily for Dean, they're in between jobs, so he has plenty of time to spare.
The weather isn't bad at all, since it's spring in California. Giant white clouds are floating around like lazy ghosts. He doesn't mind them— last job they took had been in a terrible storm. Dean shifts a little to block the glare on the window. Sam's there, his presence like the chalky apparitions of water vapor above him. Seemingly concrete, but as always, Dean can't quite grasp him. Sam's always floating away somewhere.
Still, though. It's a little odd. Because there Sam is— in bed, just like last night. Sleeping like a rock. And it's not like his brother to sleep past six, let alone ten. Especially with his classes— but Dean won't stray on that very long. He turns, crunching through the cheap gravel placed in front of the apartment, and starts working on the lock to the door. Obviously Dean hadn't been intending to just stare at his little brother through a window.
The lock is a bit rusty, judging by the slight crunching coming from the handle when he jimmies it with a callused hand. He feels a little rusty himself. It takes him more than two minutes to unlock the door, and noisily too. It worries him, not just because he can hear John Winchester scolding him for being out of practice, but because Sam hasn't come to see who's breaking into his temporary home. He can't have fallen that out of touch—not in so short a time away from hunting. Sam's only a sophomore in college, and light sleeping is almost impossible to get rid of. Dean lets himself in.
The apartment looks much like it did through the window: clean and sparsely furnished. The walls are blank, setting off a papery haunted look about the rest of the area. A miniscule couch shies away in the corner, no TV to give it much purpose. The temperature is the same as it is outside. Shucking off his boots so to not get dust all over the cream carpet, Dean takes one more quick look before heading to the bedroom. He spies small white grains by the doorframe and windowsills. Then he opens the door silently, staring at the sight.
Sam's still asleep. Dean walks over, his socks making so sound at all. Before waking him up, Dean takes a look at the younger man. He's curled on his side, facing his older brother, and shaggy locks of chestnut hair cover most of his face. God, his hair has grown. Dean's surprised Sam let it get like that— but his sibling was never good at keeping his hair neat. Even now, Dean can see the chunky layers created from an at-home trim. Dean's own hair is getting a little longer than he usually lets it, and his cheeks have a minute amount of stubble, because he's been feeling lazy. Sam's face may be smooth, but his hair is way out of check, like a topiary that hadn't been trimmed in a month.
Sam's cheeks are thin, too, but not terribly, from what Dean can tell. The sheets are bunched up a little past the kid's chin, and his lips are slightly parted. Dean gazes at Sam a few minutes more with a slight frown before moving. He shakes his brother's shoulder as he sits down on the mattress.
"Sammy! Rise and shine, dude!"
That does it— Sam rouses, a little slowly at first, before jerking up and away— away, away, and away. He crabwalks backwards with eyes still half glazed until he tumbles off the other side of the bed, comforter and sheets following suit. Just about the reaction Dean's expecting.
"Holy shit, Dean!" Comes an almost-shout from the ground.
"The one and only," he grins as Sam stands up shakily, a hand around his stomach. "You okay, dude?"
"Dean, what— what are you doing here?" Sam shakes his head, reminiscent to Dean of an overwhelmed dog. Dean does a once over of his brother, surveying the giant t-shirt Sam's wearing, just an inch of his boxers showing below it. The shirt hangs off him like a sheet. Even the boxers look big.
"Decided to drop by and say howdy. Didn't expect you to still be around. Didn't expect you to sleep through a breaking-and-entering, either."
"It's spring break," Sam only replies to part of Dean's response while he runs a long arm up to his head to scratch at his scalp. Strands are still covering his face, tempting Dean to get up and move them aside so he can actually see the kid. "Is Dad here?" Sam adds a little hesitantly.
Dean narrows his eyes a little, less in resent than vague interest. "Nah, he's off looking for another gig. I've got a few free days. Spring break, huh?"
"Yeah..." Sam looks around dazedly, almost nervous. "Look, can you wait outside the door a sec? I gotta change."
"Uh," Dean furrows his eyebrows and cocks his head to the side a bit, "okay." He goes, closing the door behind him. He's left to wonder about his brother and view the inside of the apartment again. The kitchen is in the room over, though only half a wall separates it from the room he's in now. He goes over and sits down at the somewhat cramped table. They've both changed so much, haven't they?
Sam's out not too soon after, sporting a big brown hoodie and a pair of jeans that only go to above his ankles. Odd, Dean thinks. It's not cold enough for a jacket, in his opinion.
"Can I get you something?" Sam asks, strangely polite all of a sudden as he bustles past Dean to get a cup from the cabinet. Sam must notice the change between them as well, and while Dean wants to amend it, there's not much he can do except wait it out.
"I'll take a beer," Dean retorts, half-joking. He hears the sink running and then a cup of water is set down in front of him.
"On the house," Sam says with not quite a smirk. He turns again to fill another cup. Dean scowls for a second before taking a sip, rubbing his tongue against the roof of his mouth at the metallic, flat taste. He hears Sam behind him, gulping furiously before he pads over to sit in front of his brother. There's a lot between them, but Dean doesn't think either of them want to try and work anything out this visit. A comfortable silence washes past them for a few minutes before Dean clears his throat.
"So, you wanna go for a drive with me?"
"Yeah, Dean," Sam peers at him through his unkempt hair. A little eagerness, a little happiness floods into his voice. Dean gets an uneasy feeling around his gut, but spares no time for it.
They drive. He keeps the windows down because it's so nice out, and he enjoys seeing Sam's hair whip around furiously like a wild thing. It's like a golden eagle with clipped wings trying to take off, or each strand is some unknown monster trying to spring up and fly. Sam doesn't complain at all, acting too tired to do anything about it, but he snorts at his brother's music choice. Creedence blasts out as loud as the wind.
Dean stops at a small diner first, intent on getting something to go. He orders a lot for himself, and some extra for Sam. The younger Winchester takes long moments to order, and Dean's brother has always taken his time with stuff like that but it's different somehow. The girl behind the counter is patient, luckily, and they don't have to wait really long for the food. Soft country pop wafts through the diner's speakers, like muted wails of banshees, and Dean fights them off by humming Ninety-nine and a Half. He takes two bags of the takeout, Sam with one, and they head back to the car.
"Hey, don't eat it yet," Dean warns when he sees Sam rustle around for his sandwich. "I'm as hungry as you are, but I don't want the car to get dirty." Sam starts a little at the scolding, putting the wrapped food back in the bag. He looks distressed, which Dean doesn't quite understand. "Where I wanna go isn't far," Dean adds, frowning.
It's not that far at all, but Dean has to put up with Sam's stomach practically yelling at him. "Jesus, kid, you're drowning out the music," he jokes. But Sam is so quiet. He's resting his head against the semi-raised window, eyes half open. Dean wants to think he's just tired from some long night spent partying, but being at his window last night, he knows better.
The Impala cruises fast until it stops at a raised field of ankle high grass. Dean had seen it when they were driving into the state. Sam laughs shortly, surprising his brother with the sound. He hasn't heard Sam laugh in a long time, and he silently cherishes the radiant sound.
"Are we having a picnic?" Sam grins impishly at his older brother.
"No," Dean replies instantly, but doesn't offer any alternative to what they're doing. "Don't be such a girl. Come on, Sammy." He ruffles the kid's hair and smiles at the automatic response of "it's Sam."
They don't go too far from the car, Dean bringing a blanket to keep ants off their food and clothes. Not a picnic, he thinks. The giant white phantoms still pass over their heads, lofty-like.
He spreads the food out like a king's feast. They eat quietly and watch those giant clouds and the stretch of road leading to the suburban neighborhoods. A small breeze picks up, playing with Sam's hair, but he hardly pays attention to it. He's engrossed in his food, it seems. Dean watches for a moment, halting his own eating to stare at his sibling. Had Sam's hands been shaking before?
"Sammy," Dean starts. It's interrupted with a "Sam" before the young Winchester even looks up, but he does look up. He notices Dean staring at him with his mouth slightly open and puts his mostly eaten sandwich down as if chastised. His head ducks. In that split moment, a nasty, subtle feeling comes to Dean, and he's soon overwhelmed with the notion that his eyes are covered with a thin and hazy veil, just barely blocking his sight from something that's terribly, terribly wrong.
"How's hunting goin'?" Sam asks, and the corners of Dean's mouth start to turn down in suspicion. But his little brother's looking at him earnestly now, so Dean starts to talk about their last hunt, and how completely shitty it was. He's not used to talking so much about his job, but he likes sharing with Sam. He seems pleased to hear Dean's stories, despite how gruesome they get. Dean continues talking about their jobs while eating, tracing his and Dad's hunts back to the Midwest and further up north as they tracked wendigos and black dogs.
Dean's cleaning off a slice of rhubarb pie just as he adds, "You should come back, Sammy." He doesn't really mean to say it, it just sorta tumbles out. Sam stares at him for a long time but stays silent.
"I didn't— mean that. I know you're too busy with college to join us again," he hurriedly tries to fix it, tries to undo the damage.
"Dean... you can't just invite me back in. Dad would never let me."
"You don't know that," Dean barks harshly. This is going so downhill, so fast. "We're better as a team, dude."
"Dad doesn't want me back, Dean," Sam bites out, his voice raising. "You remember that night."
"Then I'll talk to hi—"
"I don't even want to come back," Sam bursts out as he stands. Dean follows suit, not quite looming over his brother but trying.
"Why not? It's better than whatever the hell is at Stanford and you know it." His voice gets deeper and more intimidating and more like John's, all on its own. Sam's, in contrast, gets higher pitched.
"No, it's not! God you— you haven't even asked me a thing about how my life's been, here. About college." He spreads his arms out as he speaks, an ugly snarl on his face, and he moves around the sheet to get closer to Dean.
"I don't want to hear about it. You abandoned us, Sam."
"So why are you here, Dean!" Sam shoves at the older Winchester, barely moving him. Dean in response rushes Sam, getting in his face with a nasty glare. He can feel his own eyes turn cold as crystals, staring into Sam's fiery ones.
"I'm starting to wonder, cause you sure as fuck don't seem to want me around." He shoves Sam back, using force but still managing to hold back. Sam stumbles backwards a few steps, shock evident on his face, and falls to the ground with a decisive thump. Dean stands there, fists clenched angrily. But his anger rushes out when Sam doesn't get up.
He's just sitting there, panting hard. Dean didn't notice before, but a thin layer of sweat covers his brother's face, and his eyes close for a few seconds before glaring up at him. Dean moves down to crouch next to him, and Sam brings a hand up to slap, punch, shove, but Dean grabs it with ease. His fingers wrap around Sam's wrist, and Dean stares at the thin arm in his grasp like he's never seen it in his life. Sam struggles, bringing his other hand to pull at Dean's strong grip. To Dean, he hardly puts up any fight. But Sam is getting more and more worn out.
"Let go," Sam huffs out with a tinge of desperation clinging to his words. "Dean."
Dean doesn't let go. He looks at Sam straight on, eyes wide. Sam's own are watery, betraying his defiant expression. The gauzy veil shifts slightly and Dean notices shadows under Sam's eyes and horribly cracked lips. Those couldn't have been there before. Dean just— Dean just wants Sam to be fine.
"Sammy, what's wrong?" Dean questions softly as if to a spooked animal. Sam fights a few seconds more, his long fingers trying to pry Dean's hand off like a skeleton clawing at its coffin. He can tell Sam is fighting internally too, the frustration more than he can handle. Normally Sam's pride always wins out. But then he crumples, head going down and shoulders hunching. A small sob wracks the younger one's body, and Dean takes the shaking frame into his arms with his eyes still wide. Sam clutches to Dean's shirt recklessly, finding and refinding purchase on the thick fabric, acting like Dean's made of quicksand.
"Sammy?" He asks again, his voice a little choked from shock. His arms hug Sam tightly, and even through the jacket, Dean can tell.
Sam is thin.
Dean almost feels like he's holding a small child, if it weren't for the extra long limbs. Sam trembles under Dean's hold, his mop of hair tucked beneath Dean's chin. For the first time in years, Sam feels fragile.
They stay like that until Dean can't feel shaking anymore, and he pulls back from the embrace, his back stiff. Sam had fallen asleep. He had been exhausted.
Dean's heart hammers in his throat; his worry climbs higher as the uneasy feeling returns to his stomach tenfold. Picking Sam up and placing his arms behind the boy's neck and the back of his knees, Dean carries him to the Impala. Sam's so light. Dean's afraid he'll just float away.
He sets Sam down in the back seat, laying him with his legs hanging off the edge, and goes back briefly for the food and blanket before getting into the car. Dean doesn't want to think, or feel, but right now he's scared.
Sam doesn't wake up, even as Dean carries him inside his small apartment after getting the rusty door unlocked. He sets his brother down on his bed, pulling his shoes off. Sam lies as a mannequin would, or a body freshly fallen from a poltergeist's toss. His feet are close to hanging off the side, and for once his hair is moved away from his face. Dean regards Sam a moment before reconsidering his position, and he pushes the blankets aside and tucks in his brother.
Dean moves back to put the leftovers into the fridge. The trip to the car and back is a silent one, and for a fragment of time Dean's mind is just as empty as the space around him.
His heart skips several beats at the sight— the fridge is almost empty. Inside is an orange, some slices of bread, and a practically empty jar of peanut butter. The bread seems fine, but the orange is soft. Dean searches the rest of the kitchen and finds a few cups, plates, some dusty pots and pans, a ton of empty space, and half a box of granola bars.
He sinks down into a chair and puts his face in his hands.
Sam sleeps through most of the day. Dean doesn't want to leave at first, then decides to go out. He has a lot of spare cash from hustling nonstop back in Colorado and hasn't found any use for the money until now. He goes shopping, finding a nearby grocery store and packing the trunk and backseat full of bursting paper bags. Other shoppers and the register give him a few general looks, and one comments on how he too is often sent shopping when his wife is tired. Dean laughs and agrees and asks directions to the pasta isle.
He returns to the apartment, and manages to unpack them all and put them away without a single disturbance from Sam. By the time he has all the empty bags flattened and stacked under the sink, it's nearly six, and the room is awash with a ginger glow as the sun falls down from the top of the sky. It's bright everywhere and his shadow stretches away from him, some domestic monster not quite habituated to direct rays of light.
He walks quietly into the bedroom, and sees Sam's eyes open and staring at the wall as he lays there. Sam looks more tired than he had looked previously, like he's resigned to stay under the sheets forever. Like some kid banished to a room, accepting his fate but still massively ashamed by it. Deans craves so fiercely to take that look of hurt pride off his sibling's face.
"Hey kiddo," he says quietly. Sam looks down at the sheets, his eyes puffy. "When was the last time you ate, before I got here?"
It stays quiet for what seems like hours, but Dean doesn't rush him.
Finally, Sam says with a raw voice, "Yesterday morning." Another pause, before he adds, "I had a slice of bread."
Dean sighs, sitting down on the side of the bed, and pulls his brother to lay half on his lap. He pets the messy hair beneath him. Sam doesn't start crying or anything, but his breathing is shallow; he's keeping something in, or trying to.
"Why didn't you tell us, Sam? Why didn't you tell me?" He feels a shrug, but gets no further response. "How long have you been like this, Sammy?" Again, no reply. A long time, Dean thinks.
He doesn't know what to say, how to fix everything. If Dad were here, he ponders. But no, Dad would just drag Sam back or reprimand him. Sam would never listen to his father anyway. Sam's too prideful to admit much to either of them, and Dean admires it as well as hates it. Pride's a nasty beast, standing up next to Sam in tenacity and then consuming him when his guard is down. It's cowering away now, and Dean's glad, because it makes his work easier, but he wants it to show its head.
"Come on," he gives Sam's head one more pat before pulling him up. They head to the kitchen, Dean with one arm around Sam's shoulders, Sam with two wrapped around his waist. He sits down on a chair as soon as they reach the room, and Dean wonders how long Sam has suffered from hunger pains, how long it'll take to gain back the energy he so quickly lost.
Dean shows him all the food he bought, opening the fridge and pantry and saying everything out loud like he was teaching a kid to speak. He bought a six pack of beer as well, but expects it to be gone before he leaves. Not a word comes from Sam's mouth, but Dean can feel the shame and thankfulness emanating off of him like evaporating water, cold and humid. Sam's eyes are shiny like he's never seen this much food in one place.
And it's all yours, now, Sam.
Dean cooks dinner for them, washing off a dusty pan and frying some hamburger while cooking rice and veggies in the microwave. He takes out the leftover pie for dessert. Sam eats everything on his plate with reserved panic, and Dean wonders if he thinks it'll disappear if he doesn't eat it fast enough.
Dean talks about what he does while not on a job, and Sam even lets out a few details about his school life— prompted by Dean— forgoing anything about the lack of food. Dean can't see the appeal either way, but Sam looks happy. While Dean drinks a beer as he washes off the dishes, Sam sets his head down on the table with his arms in front. Everything Sam does now worries him, Dean realizes.
Once he's done, he takes Sam back to the bedroom. Sam offers no protests as he's led to the mattress, and he stands quietly when Dean strips off his hoodie and jeans before gently pushing him to lay down. Dean's throat tightens at the compliancy.
He's wearing the same shirt he had on before. Dean wonders if he'll have to take Sam out shopping for clothes tomorrow. Get the kid a haircut too, while he's at it. He stands at the foot of the bed until Sam asks his name softly, and Dean answers "yeah Sam," before taking off his own jeans and climbing in with his brother, tucking them both in. Sam turns towards him and puts his head under Dean's, his arms against both their chests. Dean places one arm under his head and the other one over Sam's bony ribcage, dragging him a little closer. Sam's cold and quiet.
It's hard to believe that Sam's 19 years old, and several inches taller than Dean, when he acts so much younger. Dean knows it's temporary. He knows it's hard for Sam to be this low, this reliant, and it only happens after falling hard. Eventually, the confident and independent and stubborn brother will return to the surface, and Sam will reject dependency again. Dean will welcome that Sam with wide arms, all the while dearly missing the Sam in his arms now. Just like clouds, he thinks.
Dean stares at the wall in front of him and listens to Sam breathe, feeling his brother's heartbeat slow down. He contemplates things for a while, about tomorrow, about next month, about his dad and the inevitable hunt. Eventually, his mind goes blank.
He jerks awake, disoriented. His hand under the pillow goes to his knife that he always— except it's not there. He struggles to get up, notices hands on him, and finally opens his eyes.
"Sorry, Dean," the figure says in front of him. Long limbs and not at all feminine. He blinks a few times to see his little brother untangle himself from Dean's arm and the sheets, stumbling away and out of the bed. He walks slow, a little hunched over, to the bathroom. The light turns on and the door closes.
For a few minutes Dean listens to the ticks of a clock somewhere behind him and stares, fatigued, at the yellow strip of light. He feels comfortable, warm— a much better sleep than the last motel bed had slapped him with— but he gets up anyway. He nears the bright glow and knocks softly on the door.
"Stomach hurts," comes the reply after a second's hesitation. Dean knows there's usually supposed to be an I'm fine there. Though, it figures that Sam would get sick— he probably ate too much, his stomach not used to even normal-sized portions of food yet. He opens the door and finds the young man on the toilet, chin on his knees and arms tucked between his chest and thighs. A faint odor reaches Dean and he wrinkles his nose automatically.
"Need anything?" He asks, stepping in slowly. Dean's eyes are scrunched into slits at the light, and Sam's are outright closed. Whether the light is too bright or Sam's just exhausted, he's not sure. But a protest comes from him softly.
"No, go back to bed," Sam groans, and moves his head further towards his chest so his forehead is pressed against his legs and his nose is smashed. It doesn't look comfortable, but Dean relents and turns the fan on before closing the door again. He walks into the kitchen and checks the half-hidden salt lines before grabbing two water bottles out of the fridge. He opens one and starts to chug, relishing the cold rush of awareness that floods through his body and wakes him up further.
He looks around the room again, not quite expecting something to have moved but checking for it out of habit. The moon doesn't show itself through the window, but its light drifts around the room, warping the space so it appears bigger. Dean walks back to the bedroom and sits on the side of the bed, waiting for Sam to come back and silently lamenting the lack of a television.
After a flush and the running of water from the sink, Sam turns the lights and fan off and comes out, still slightly bent but walking a little quicker. He doesn't wait for Dean, just crawls back under the covers and curls up again, protecting his midsection from another onslaught. Dean offers the water bottle and takes it away after his brother takes a few sips, then sets them both on the nightstand before climbing in as well. Sam's shivering, so Dean pulls the blankets up further and maneuvers his warm hand under Sam's shirt, resting it on his ribcage and rubbing a few times. Sam's not a skeleton, but his bones still manage to jut out enough to discomfort Dean. He removes his hand and instead uses both of them to cover Sam's clammy ones, resting his chin over the boy's head again. They both wait a while for something before Sam speaks.
"What Dad'll say..." he starts uncertainly. Dean interjects.
"I won't mention it, Sam. We both know how it'll go down if I do."
Sam nods minutely before they settle into silence again. Dean starts dozing off, loosening his grip on Sam's hands.
"Dean," his sibling's voice rouses him again, and he opens his eyes to stay awake.
A long pause. "Are you leaving tomorrow?"
"Nah, I've got a few days, remember? I'll spend it all with you if you don't complain too much," he jokes a little, but his voice is still soft.
"Thanks," Sam mumbles. Dean feels it's inappropriate to respond to the word, being too sensitive, flying off once he tries to make contact. Much like Sam right now. He lets a few moments pass.
"I want," he starts, not entirely sure how to word what he wants to say, "Sam, I want you to call me when you get... like this. Okay? Like anything. If you have a paper cut, I want you to call me." Sam lets out a few breaths of silent laughter. "Even if I'm waist deep in ghoul guts I'll come."
Dean feels another nod under his chin and a squeeze of his fingers. He squeezes back briefly, wondering about this fearless, prideful brother of his wasting away beside him. No, he won't let it happen.
"As for tomorrow, we can buy some more clothes for you, if you want. We can go to those preppy stores you like so much. And maybe get you a haircut, unless you want to keep looking like a girl."
He talks for a few minutes more, pauses for a moment, and waits. Sam's fallen asleep. Dean bows his head a little and sets his lips and nose against the mop of chocolate hair beneath him, inhaling slowly. He exhales through a parted mouth, wanting to spill out all his secrets and affections on one breath. Throat ready, he begins to say something to his sleeping brother, then decides against it and closes his eyes.