Author: James Parker Lombard
Rating M: Language, Wincest-ish? (Dean/Sam)
Spoilers/Set: Season 3 Ep.16 "No Rest for the Wicked" to Season 4 Ep. 1 "Lazarus Rising"
Characters: Dean and Sam Winchester (Chapter Six; Sam POV)
Word Count: 5,282
Summary: It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday when Sam realized that Colt or not, they could never win this. It wasn't a vision, it wasn't a premonition at all, it was a cold hard fact that had him throwing up in the metal trashcan by the door, because he couldn't even reach the bathroom in time.
For TwinchesterAngel and Paperstorm with love, and regrets…I am slow and this is painful, give me time.
"The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star." ― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Sam took pictures. Pictures of Dean angry, morose, defiant, tender, unaware. Pictures of him sleeping with an elbow crooked beneath his pillow, unseen hand wrapped lazily around the molded pistol grip of his Taurus. Pictures of him pumping gas with the setting sun turning his dirty-blonde hair almost strawberry. Pictures of him illuminated by dim desk lamps and the soft motes of dust that inevitably, and endlessly, rose from the cheap, dust-heavy curtains of cut-rate rooms. Pictures of him bending over the green felt of pool tables. Pictures of him more than halfway into a 12 pack of beer. Pictures of him in the distance framed by soft blue fluorescence. Pictures of him close enough to see the gold tips of lashes against his freckle-dusted cheeks. Sam filled up gigs of memory, and the word "memory" was not lost on him. Every time the lens snapped, he was aware that the moments he was capturing were moments that had past, moments he could never get back again…so, he kept clicking.
When those SD cards were full Sam bought other cards: filled them up, deleted nothing. He kept every bad, blurry, photo of Dean in motion. All of them photos of Dean's last days. Sam flipped through them in the car or the room, whenever they had some down time…aware always of Dean's proximity—the scant inches of space between their thighs on the familiar leather seat, the unbreachable feet between their bodies. Those walls were figurative and metaphorical, but still so very real; they had them built out of, maybe even because of, love. Suddenly, Sam knew he'd never be able to look at the photos after Dean was gone. Every frame would be a knife in his heart.
While Sam was at Stanford he kept a picture of the two of them taped to the wall near the bunk in his dorm. It was a faded photo, and Dean was far from central in the picture…he was a shadow really, an accidental catch. The photo was of Sam during his senior year, standing next to a group of haphazard friends he had made in the six months before his graduation. He didn't remember who took the photo, hell to be honest he didn't even remember all of their names; only that one of them, whoever it was, made him a copy, left it in his locker, and he had recognized the shape in the distance without even trying: Dean's slouch, the silhouette of Dean's jacket, Dean's "I'm not paying attention to you" stance which really meant "I have every sense tuned, but you don't need to know that."
That photo was a saintly relic on the altar of Sam's past. He poured his faith into it. He ran the pads of his fingers over it so often he was surprised it wasn't worn through with adoration, because that's what it felt like…adoration. Every night he'd say his salt blessing to a photo of his beloved, the only thing from his old life that mattered or carried any weight. The only thing he regretted. And those regrets haunted him, no matter what Dean thought now. Back then Sam prayed to God every night, adding a simple request that he'd never get that callous, expected phone call from his father stating clinically and definitively that Dean was gone.
And here Sam was, no father to call, no one to mitigate the distance between them and inevitable tragedy. Dean was so very nearly gone. The old fears Sam felt some nights in the dorm alone, with nothing to keep the dark thoughts at bay, were now made miniscule relative to the certainty of Dean's deal.
Back then, Sam wept as quietly as he could alone in his narrow dorm bunk some nights, brain working overtime under its own volition—inventing new ways Dean might die, new ways for Sam to be alone in the world. Some nights Sam laced his boots, and nearly ran out the door with his heart in the vice-grips of unknowable panic. In his desperation he'd sometimes make it as far as the well-lit parking lot before he turned around and headed back inside.
When he moved in with Jess, it was Jess who moved the thumb-tacked picture into a dollar store frame. It sat on a thrift-store dresser beside his alarm clock. Every night Sam ran a finger down the glass now protecting Dean's shadowed image. Then he said the prayer in his head before setting the alarm and settling down into the bed he and Jessica shared. He still felt a stab of pain when he thought of her; he always would. Jess was gone. That photo was gone—burned up in the fire that took Jess. The fire that would have killed him as well were Dean not Dean, were he not always on guard, were he not there to pull Sam literally and bodily out of the fire, and back into the frying pan of their fucked up lives.
Sam felt lost after Jess's death: not just lost, but guilt-ridden, defeated. He had loved Jess, really loved her, but this, Dean's impending doom, was different. Jess was Jess; he had loved her for her sweetness, her weird, and unexpected, emotional strength, her hopefulness…there were a million reasons and moments to love Jess. But Jess was not Dean. And Jess's death, despite its heaps of still-resounding guilt and sorrow, was not this slow drag of despair that would undoubtedly destroy him. She flitted out, her death hitting heavy and hard was no small thing, but it was thankfully sudden. Dean's death was slow motion. Sam felt like both he and Dean were dying by degrees, because how could one death not necessitate the other?
At moments he could forget, and minutes would pass without the crush of inexorable, ineffable sorrow, but then reality would slam him in the chest full force out of nowhere. That hopelessness left him reeling. It felt like drowning. The panic hit his lungs and he couldn't breathe. It made him desperate and reckless, made him want to throw himself at Dean, cling to him like a last hope, as if Sam himself were the dying man, and Dean was, as always, the anchor holding him to the world.
Other times it made him angry, as angry and desperate as he was in the fictitious half-year the trickster constructed to give him a taste of a world without Dean. The desperation was too much, too heavy, too fast, too hard, too real. His body went into fight or flight mode…grasping at any shred of hope, no matter how thin, or stupid, that would delay Dean's deal. Mistakes were made. He knew this thing with Benson, and Bela, and even Ruby to some extent, was the equivalent of throwing himself out of random windows and hoping for the gift of flight…but the chance that something, anything, would work kept him repeating the same errors…window after window. It didn't matter how hard he hit, or how frequently he shattered. All that mattered was the slim chance.
He kept dreaming of Dean's shredded body in his arms. Of unseen jaws pulling him further away from the bed they once shared, if only in Sam's dream, in the Blue Moon motel. The kisses his dream-Dean pressed to Sam's lips now tasted of blood and ashes. He'd woken mid-scream more than once. The rough, hotel sheets wrapped around his legs as he thrashed against the imagined terrors taking his beloved away. He'd stare across the darkness and reassure himself of his brother's presence, but it didn't feel like enough. It never felt like enough.
Dean went to get the gun from Bela on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and Sam was appalled that he couldn't remember the day of the week; all he could think about was time, and he still lost count. They parted with stupid words, amid another stupid fight because their stupid nerves were raw and frayed and too close to the surface. It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday when Sam realized, Colt or not, they could never win this. It wasn't a vision, it wasn't a premonition at all; it was a cold hard fact that had him throwing up in the metal trashcan by the door because he couldn't even reach the bathroom in time.
Of course, it had all gone wrong again, like it did whenever Dean wasn't around. Sam would be dead, or at least blind if Dean hadn't showed up, as usual, in the nick of time like a fucking hero, which was what he was, when it was all boiled down. He was the goddamn white knight to Sam's constant distress…no fucking joke, no matter how often Dean himself tried to make it one. Maybe that was good news? Sam wouldn't last a month without Dean saving him, over and over again. No. Something had to change, Sam wouldn't let Dean die for nothing. Even if, and Sam balked at the thought, Dean didn't survive this, there was certainly some back door into the underworld. There had to be something Sam could do, no matter how Herculean, to get Dean back where he belonged—with Sam. And if there was something that could be done, then Sam would do it or die trying.
Sam thought back to their first encounter with Meg, when Dean threatened to march into hell on their father's behalf. If Sam had to, he would do just that, exactly as Dean had once promised. He would march into hell slaughtering demons without mercy. Anything for Dean. Anything. But Sam felt useless. Weaponless. They hadn't found the Colt. Bela was dead, the victim of her own deal. The days were closing in on them.
Sam found himself drifting between sleep and wakefulness when panic hit him hard enough to lift him to his feet. His heart drummed against his rib-cage so hard he could feel it through bones and muscle, like a trapped thing. He was still 2/3rds drunk on dollar beer from a bar-slash-diner in Joliet. They had eaten in half-silence and forced levity, and Sam had sucked down bottle after bottle with his bland bar food just to have something to do with his hands.
When he was drunk the guard came down. Their conversation back at the room turned from photos to secrets to disaster so fast that Sam hardly registered what either of them had said before the flood of tears came. Then Dean's laughter saved him again. That laughter was the soundtrack to nearly every joyful moment in his life. It rattled his ribs in the small room, and left him breathless. His hands were shaking as he crossed the room and set the camera down. He could feel the first tremors of a panic attack; he walked quickly to the bathroom before he did something else to embarrass himself.
Unfortunately, what he shoved down in the daylight always seemed to surface in Sam's dreams. That was the reason for the field, and the things Dean had accidentally witnessed passing through it. Even that had changed; there was no longer respite at the end, even if he made it through all the latent self-recrimination in his subconscious. Sam didn't want to sleep. He sometimes felt he would be happiest never sleeping again. Not that the days were any better.
Roused by this new wave of panic, Sam stood in the dark of the room with his guts churning, ready to wander into the bathroom to empty the last of the beer as quietly as he could. Instead, he froze in the dark, uncomfortable gap between the beds. Dean was there, warm, alive…not the cold wreck invading Sam's mind in rip-flashes of pain. Dean was there.
When they were just kids, alone on their own, years before they should have been, and hunkered down in the same shitty no-tells they still called home, Sam had the same childish nightmares and fears as any other child. With no mother he could remember, and no father in sight for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time, Sam would slip into Dean's bed, and worm his way into the circle of Dean's arms where all fears would dissipate.
Like magic, Dean's voice reached out in the dark, "Sam, you okay?"
Sam didn't know how he expected Dean to respond to the silent request to share a bed again, especially with all the crap had happened between them. Sam knew if he tried to speak that it would open every floodgate, and that he would be washed away in sorrow. He hadn't expected any of what Dean did.
When Dean's hand came up to his face and smoothed his hair, Sam leaned into it, starved for touch.
When Dean spoke, voice sleep-thick and gravelly with concern, the words slid over Sam like they had all those years ago, "Sammy, listen. It's okay. It's okay. You gotta believe me."
It was a spell repeated again and again, "Shhh, baby, shhh," as Sam trembled. A kiss to his brow. One to his temple. "Shhh. Shhh." It was not comfort, but pain that swallowed Sam in that moment.
Dean's voice reverberated, echoed, felt as if it were etching his bones with even more of that deep, unnamable, slippery pain, "What can I do, Sam? What do you need?"
Sam opened his mouth and the same three words poured forth over and over again. "Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me." Sam couldn't stop it. Couldn't breathe without it. He rolled his forehead along Dean's collarbone, rubbed his cheek over the round strength of his shoulder. "Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me."
Without hesitation Dean flipped them over so that he was propped above Sam on one arm. And Sam found he wasn't brave enough to look Dean in the eye, so the kiss took him by surprise.
Sam thought his heart would burst. He was terrified. Not hungry, not desperate. How many ways had he imagined this? And never once had had thought he could feel so much from something so little. This had never been a choice, this weird, sick love. This.
He awoke the next morning, having dreamt of nothing at all, and with his fingers still entwined with Dean's. He shut his eyes and waited silently for the other shoe to drop, for Dean to wake up and jerk his hand away, for Dean to shrug off the night before. Sam wondered if he should move. Obviously I should, he thought. Obviously. But he couldn't bring himself to do it.
When Dean woke, nothing went as Sam expected. He squeezed Sam's hand and turned to smile at him before rising. They packed up quickly, efficient as always, and hit the road just as the sun burnt away the thin fog that had gathered in the fields. The road stretched before them, the radio hummed low and everyone was in their place.
Bobby called around 10 am, just as they were fueling up. Dean took the call even though there were handwritten signs, taped and yellowed, reading "No Cell Phones at Pump." The clerk in the store tapped the window with an angry finger and earned himself a sneer and an eye roll from Dean. The day felt normal after the meltdown of the night before, and as a result Sam had managed to keep his breakfast down for the first time in a week. Until Dean hung up and said two little words, "Nothing yet."
When the panic hit, it hit. Hard and fast out of nowhere. Sam sputtered his meager breakfast and a stomach-full of acidy coffee into a gas station toilet that hadn't seen the scrub-end of a brush in years. He rubbed at his tears with a wad of cheap, brown paper towels and leaned against the greasy wall until his breathing and heartbeat felt normal again, and then splashed his face with cold water from a rusty tap to calm his puffy eyes.
When he finally opened the door with a sigh, he jumped back in surprise. Dean was leaning awkwardly against the dinged doorframe, and frowned before he pulled Sam into an equally awkward hug.
"Listen," Dean breathed into Sam's neck, "You have to stop this now." Dean grabbed a fist-full of Sam's hair at the base of his neck and maneuvered his head until they were eye to eye, almost nose to nose really. Sam's heart thumped heavy with memories of the night before, and he tried to look away but found no purchase.
"I need you well. I need you strong. You feel me?"
He felt: the warmth of Dean's wrist on the back of his neck, the slow squeezing pull of the grip on his scalp, the release, the brotherly pat on the shoulder.
"Good boy. Get in the car. Miles to go then."
He felt like an ashamed twelve year old as he walked to the car three paces behind his older brother; he wanted to reach forward with his too-long arms and grab Dean's shirt tail, to let himself be led for once, without resistance. At the car they parted ways, to their customary sides, and Dean leaned into the frame with his elbows, his face serious.
"Sam, it's still okay. I said it last night, and I meant it. I'm telling you now. I'll keep telling you every minute if I have to. So, believe me. It's okay. It's okay." He punctuated the sentence with a smile that made Sam's hands shake.
The door squeaked as Sam slid into the passenger's seat, running his hands forcefully down the front of his jean-clad thighs to remove the clammy sweat of them. He didn't know what to say. There were still hours before Bobby's house and Sam didn't know what to say. If he opened his mouth he wasn't sure what would fall out of it. Screams? Cries? Desperate babbling?
The Impala roared to life, vibrating the soles of his feet against the floorboards in a familiar and comforting frequency. Dean spoke as he shifted the car into first, "You know, Bobby has nothing yet. It's…we can take our time getting there."
"But we could help him."
"I know, Sam, we're headed there, no worries. It's just…" the sun was rising behind them and Dean squinted in the light from the rear-view. There were lines around his eyes that Sam had not seen before. Dean looked tired.
"…you know...we can take our time."
"And do what?" Sam's voice felt thick with disuse in his throat.
"Do whatever. It's just we don't have to rush. It's an 8 hour drive. Let's do something."
"Like I dunno, get a beer?"
"So, do what we always do?"
Dean laughed loudly, Sam couldn't help but stare. He wished he had his camera to capture it, so he reached back over the seat and grabbed his backpack.
"I guess I don't know what normal people do anymore." Dean was biting his lip softly, his smile bent around his teeth. Sam shuffled the contents of the bag quickly, locating the camera too late to capture the moment. Instead he snapped a wry, eyebrow raised faux-pout. And got a deserved, "Jesus, Sam, give the camera a rest, pal" and a chuckle for his efforts.
They were almost to Davenport, Iowa, two hours later, before they decided that they still had no idea what normal people did for fun. They could go to a park, or a movie, or out to eat, but those things felt weirdly like something a person did with a date, not a brother. Sam ruled out Dean's rather insistent vote for massage at the I-80 truck-stop, but they decided to head there anyway. They ate unmemorable food at an unmemorable table they may have sat at before during their frequent stops to the roadside Mecca over the years.
Amid infrequent bites of the daily special and sides of fries the conversation turned to a list of nearby places to see: The Dells, the world's largest concrete gnome, the two-butted lamb…all of them nixed out of hand, although there was some discussion over the world's largest Chee-to, during which Dean designed what he called a "foolproof" scheme to eat as much of it as possible by breaking in after hours. Sadly, when Sam looked up directions on Roadside America, they discovered that the world's largest Chee-to was only the size of a golf ball.
Dean's only response was, "That's fucking lame, dude. False advertising."
Sam kicked at the gravel in the lot with the toe of his shoe as they walked back to the car. It was 2:30 already, another 6 hours to Bobby's from here—probably less the way Dean drives. Sam figured it would be back roads from here on out, avoiding the highways and flying low along two lanes, slowing only for the obvious speed-traps of small towns on the way. Sam had a sudden urge to pirouette on his heels and run the opposite way. This dread hanging over them, mixed up as it was with love and a new weirdness, would be a much heavier burden beneath Bobby's watchful gaze as the days and hours counted down.
"Sam?" Dean was looking over his half-turned shoulder squinting in the sun.
"Let's just find a place. We'll get to Bobby's tomorrow."
"Sam, we'll get to Bobby's tomorrow." Dean's voice carried a forced cheerfulness that few would notice. But Sam did. That forced cheerfulness spoke volumes. It meant uncertainty and smothered sorrow.
"Whatever you want Dean."
"That's the spirit. Whatever I want. I can live with that."
Sam's stomach roiled. Now words were setting off the panic. "Live" was echoing in his brain, an impossible plea. Live. Live.
"Let's just do what we do, okay?"
The car door opened with its usual heavy groan and Dean leaned across the bench seat to pop the lock on Sam's side, looking up at him with a smile.
"What do we do Dean?"
"Get a room. Get a drink. Just be."
"Just be what?" Sam questioned sliding into his spot.
"Just be us, dude."
A silly, empty statement. Who else could they be? Sam thought, as if there were a choice. Who would he choose to be? The heartbreak of their lives, turning always from tragedy to tragedy before finally hitting this inescapable finale, had shaped them wholly. It had bound them wholly to one another. It allowed their lives to be punctuated by a few sweet, clear memories others took for granted.
Sam thought of the nights before he left for Stanford when Dean and John would arrive "home" battered and torn, streaked with grave dirt and fresh ashes. John would growl out a few orders then pass out in his clothes across the stale coverlet. Dean, smelling of gunpowder and lighter fluid, would pull Sam into the night air and they'd sit, sharing whatever cheap beer they could muster, and stare at the night sky as Dean recounted his and his father's heroics.
Sam resisting, every time, the need to clamp his hand around Dean's wrist just to prove he was back and whole, not some desperate mirage. Sam would sit and listen, gulping audibly when the calls were close, and reciting silent prayers of thanks for whatever force, luck or god, had returned Dean to him again.
Sam leaned his shoulder against the car door and watched the flat of Iowa roll on by. He thought of stars and distance, broad and infinitesimal. He thought of physics and the fact that no one ever really sees things as they actually are because of the way light works. What we see is always a fraction of a second behind what is. Dean is always in the past.
The snap of the camera lens could capture the now in some ways—that brief, still moment before everything starts moving again, before the inevitable change, but that was just light, just particles and waves. Everything changed. Sam was used to dealing with change…new beds, new roads, new people, new tragedies. Life was change, after all, but this change would kill Sam. He could not live in a world without his brother. He knew it like he knew he would never amend a single thing in their lives save one.
He rolled his forehead against the glass, leaving, he knew, an oily smudge that Dean would bitch about. The one thing he'd change was the deal. He'd been dead for how long? He didn't even know for sure: long enough for his body to cool, long enough for Dean to make the ultimate mistake. He wouldn't trade another instant of his shitty life, save for that. If he had the ability to reverse things, he'd be dead under the earth, and Dean would go on. He had to find a way to stop this.
They found their way amid awkward silences and loud classic rock stations to the Janco Motor Inn in Grand Junction. A place which, despite its dismal exterior and questionable name, was not only clean, but within walking distance of the kinds of typical crossroads bars they frequented: giant eagle and flag mural on the outside of an aluminum shelled building, mud-spattered pickups lined up in an uneven dirt lot, and not a window in sight. The Impala stuck out like a shiny thumb in front of their door, and earned a few onlookers. Old men who wanted to talk horsepower and muscle, and who invited them over to the nameless bar for a drink, after a good half hour of good-natured admiration that Dean ate up, as always, with a proud smile.
An hour later, after a shave and a shower for each of them, Dean was charming his way into the hearts of a group of vets. Regaling them with tales of their military upbringing and the few stories his father shared from his tour in Vietnam. There were rounds of drinks: beer and cheap shots. Dean bought a pack of GPCs from perhaps the last cigarette machine left in America, and all Sam could think about was the taste of Dean's lips on that night in February, and the soul-shattering kiss of the night before. His hands shook as he signaled the wiry bartender for another beer. He knew he was staring, trying to burn Dean into his retinas. The rest of the bar went wobbly with only Dean in focus. Only him laughing and joshing and telling tales about cross-country trips and kid brothers. Only him acknowledging Sam with a lift of the shoulder, a turn of the head, a half-smile with a hint of teeth. The bottle sweated in Sam's hand. He downed it in three pulls and ordered another.
There were rounds of pool, thwarted requests by middle-aged local divorcees on the prowl, and a narrow escape when someone wheeled out the karaoke machine just before 11. By the time they took their leave of the place, fearing the sad country anthems the karaoke crowd would certainly select, Sam felt good and drunk. The night air felt like release, his shoulders slumped as he inhaled the cool evening air, and he flinched when Dean's palm pressed against the center of his back, guiding him towards the motel.
"Should we get a six pack to go?"
"Nah," Sam answered, "I'm beered out. You have a flask, we can get some cokes out of the machine if you want."
"Not a bad plan, kid."
The gravel rolled under Sam's work boots, and Dean lit another cigarette as they passed under the flickering light illuminating the crossroad. There was a flutter in Sam's chest. Where had Dean made his deal? Any crossroads would do, but where did he bury the offerings, where did he kiss away his future? Sam licked his lip and bit at a chapped bit of skin until it hurt. Sometimes he felt like a bit of a masochist for the way pain popped him out of his head and back into the reality of the moment. The moment didn't last for long, though. It never did.
He hadn't felt a thing when he'd been shot. His last memory was seeing Dean standing at the far end of the dusty main street of Cold Oak, and feeling a sudden surge of relief that almost moved him to tears. Then, nothing.
There was a hint of a scar at first. There was certainly a little tenderness and some stiffness. In the days that followed his skin had healed completely, all damage undone, except for that damage that could not be reversed. Dean had given him his life back, but what kind of life would it be? Cold. Desolate.
Dean walked three steps ahead of him and Sam stared, pained, at the line of Dean's back in the brown leather coat their father once wore. Dean was what their father couldn't be: tender and kind, noble, a hero. Driven? Yes, but not by the same things their father had been driven by, not by vengeance. Unlike Sam and their father, Dean never lost sight of things.
Dean smiled over his shoulder. His quick grin startling, as he unlocked the door.
The room felt too quiet, too heavy, but that was to be expected perhaps. He reached down and popped the on switch on the battered TV that hummed to life, and kept humming in a low persistent drone.
"Turn it off."
Sam looked over his shoulder at Dean's face, illuminated only by the blue light from the TV guide channel. Dean's face, sad and serious, with a little worried smile—sure coverage of some underlying issue. Sam's heart sank in his chest, and despite the beers, the quickly slugged shots of cheap whisky, and the dazed wobbling of his brain just moments before, he felt suddenly sober…and afraid. He reached down and pressed the on/off button.
The darkness was immediate and almost total. A dim ray of yellowy light illuminated the edge of the curtain, and he could hear Dean moving. The soft sounds of his jacket being removed and then the heavy thwack of it as it landed on the bed.
Dean's voice shattered the near-silence of the room, "So, then, how does this start Sam?"
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981.