This was written for a prompt by kokoda2007, over at the Summer Of Sam Love fic exchange on LJ. I'm including the prompt at the end, so as not to give anything away. I will say here that she wanted a particular scene, and didn't mind too much if it fitted into a plot or not. I think this turned out as "plot-lite". Also, it's kind of a tag to Faith.
And it did its own thing. I hope that's okay.
My first fic exchange = out of comfort zone experience.
And I'm going to shut up now, since it's three o clock in the morning.
Other than the disclaimer: the boys, the car, the show – they're not mine.
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"That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep."
– Aldous Huxley
Water hissed. Steam drifted through the open door, warm and foggy, settling on the mirror over the chest of drawers and misting up the windows through the crack in the curtains.
There was something familiar about this, something he couldn't identify. He'd been here before, or somewhere like it. He'd dropped down onto this bed before, had tasted these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies before.
And something was wrong.
Somewhere, in the indefinable familiarity of it, lurked an awareness of danger; of nascent horror, of fear and evil and death. Apprehension coiled sickly inside him even as he let his head fall to the pillow, even as he closed his eyes and released a heavy breath.
Warmth splashed against his brow.
And that was what flicked the switch for him. Horror swelled into a yell that strangled and died in his throat, that begged to keep his eyes shut, that simultaneously urged him to fling himself from the bed and kept him motionless on it. Because he knew now, knew what was happening and what he would see when his eyes opened, as they inevitably would, and he could remember with ghastly clarity blonde curls, soft pink lips parted in a voiceless scream, wide blue eyes terrified and pained and pleading and a spreading scarlet stain on a white nightdress, and he didn't want to look, wanted to pretend for one more moment that she was perfect and whole and alive, but his eyes wouldn't obey him.
For an instant, the sight above held him in thrall. The ceiling, and the figure pinned to it, the bloody slash across the abdomen... but soft curls had been replaced by dark blonde spikes, a gray t-shirt stained with spreading scarlet instead of the anticipated nightdress, and the agonised eyes that pleaded with him were not blue, but green.
And fire exploded around his brother. And his voice exploded with it.
Sam pressed his palms flat to the sheet on either side of him, sucking in desperate, heaving breaths. He'd shot upright in bed, and now stared wildly into the semi-dark of the motel room, but he could still see the blood, the fire, the expression on Dean's face –
"Sam?" Dean sounded marginally more awake now, and Sam could hear him shifting in the other bed. "You okay?"
Sam blinked hard, forcing back the images, and swallowed stickily.
"Yeah. It's... I'm fine. Just... just a dream." He pushed the covers back and stood, escaping to the bathroom and ignoring Dean's "Nightmare?" that followed him.
The ugly fluorescent light in the bathroom stung his eyes. He splashed water into his face, cold as he could take it, and then ran his hands through sweat-damp hair, leaning against the cracked sink and staring at himself in the mirror.
"Stupid. Overreacting... should be used to it by now," he mumbled aloud at his reflection. Wide eyes, dilated pupils almost eclipsing blue-green irises, stared back in mute negation. An involuntary shudder that was not quite a sob twitched through him.
He should have been used to this. After all, he'd been waking from nightmares all his life, the bad dreams fuelled by the horrors he dealt with on a daily basis. And they'd only worsened after Jess's death. For months he'd relived that night, brutal and graphic, had woken screaming her name, drenched in sweat.
They'd begun to fade, eventually. He'd even developed more than a nodding acquaintance with a good night's sleep, although a particularly vicious hunt could still trigger the occasional violent nightmare.
But then he'd almost lost Dean.
Even when awake he was haunted by those images: Dean's limp body, the lack of a pulse under Sam's desperate fingertips, the doctor's resignation... Dean had survived, in the end, and he was as healthy now as he'd ever been. But somehow, with Sam's protective mental barriers stripped away by sleep, that fact was forgotten, and Dean died. Night after night Sam found him, motionless in the puddle of water, and night after night he was unable to save him, and his brother was gone.
Tonight was the first time his subconscious had put Dean in Jess's place, though.
He scooped a handful of water and drank it. The strip light cast heavy shadows, but he knew it wasn't responsible for the marks under his eyes, or the new hollows and angles of cheek and jaw.
He was tired.
He could seldom sleep after the nightmares. Adrenalin, a thudding heart and staggered gasping breaths and the cold cling of sweat, usually woke him too thoroughly, and the lingering horror kept him too edgy to relax again.
And even if they hadn't, he was always afraid of what he'd see when sleep claimed him once more.
He slapped clumsily at the wall, plunging the room back into semi-darkness as his palm found the light switch, and shuffled back out. Bypassing his bed with its turmoil of sweat-dampened sheets and blankets, he headed for the table under the window and the laptop which promised at least some distraction. The feeble illumination that bled through the curtains showed him that Dean had dropped back to sleep; one hand was tucked under his pillow while the other dangled loosely off the edge of the bed.
He lay on his side, though, body tilted now towards the bathroom.
Sam took from that what comfort he could.
The motel sucked.
Or the curtains did, at least.
And the sun. The sun sucked, too.
The gap where dirty, unevenly shrunken fabric failed to cover the equally dirty window had bothered Sam the previous night. He didn't want the other motel inhabitants seeing him in his pyjamas, or something.
As if they'd be looking at Sam when Dean was in his nightwear.
Now, though... now the sun was getting personal with Dean's face, lying in a broad glaring strip across his pillow, and he had to acknowledge that Sam might have had a point.
Giving up on the possibility of further sleep, he rubbed reluctant fingers against his eyes and then forced them open. Sam's bed, where his gaze fell first, was uninhabited, and neatly made-up, with the sheet folded back in true OCD Sammy style. The soft tapping of laptop keys clued him in, and he pushed up on one elbow, blinking at the table across the room and the shaggy-haired figure hunched over it.
Sam startled, jolting the coffee cup beside him.
"Dean!" His face was shadowed as he turned. "You're awake."
"Yeah." Dean slid his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. "As are you. You get any sleep at all last night?"
Sam's gaze skittered away.
"Um. Yeah?" He cleared his throat. "Some. I... uh... I got breakfast."
One eyebrow lifted in token disapproval of Sam's pathetic attempt to hide the truth, but Dean didn't follow him up on it. Sam always slept badly. And he always tried to pretend that he didn't.
And yes, usually Dean called him on it, and usually Sam caved, because Dean was an awesome brother. Usually.
But today he just reached for the cardboard cup and dug a donut from the bag Sam tossed to him, and pretended he didn't see the minute wrinkle that drew Sam's mouth down. It wasn't really surprising that Sam wasn't sleeping, or was dreaming again, or whatever.
He'd caused a man's death, after all.
Or facilitated it, anyway.
Dean didn't blame him, not really. It wasn't as if Sam had known what Sue-Ann was doing, and he'd had good motives, wanting to save Dean's life.
But a man had died. A young man. A healthy man. In place of Dean.
He couldn't help but feel a little less than his usual concern over Sam's poor night's sleep.
"You got a hunt for us?"
Sam hesitated, teeth digging into his lower lip for a moment before he reached for his own coffee cup and took a swallow. Thumb and forefinger pinched the bridge of his nose as he pulled the laptop a little closer.
"Yeah. Yeah, I found something a couple of towns over, place called Porterville. Elderly woman reported strange happenings in her shop – things misplaced, unexplained damage to her goods –"
Dean lifted one eyebrow.
"An old lady losing things?" The mouthful of donut didn't hide his derision. "Oh, that's definitely our sort of thing, Sam."
"And, when her assistant was locking up the other night – alone – a box of knitting needles flew across the shop and almost hit her, and she swears she heard laughter."
There was silence.
"Huh." Dean swallowed the last of the donut and chased it down with the coffee. "Could be something in that, I guess." He peered into the bag and pulled out the remaining pastry. "You want this?"
Sam closed the laptop and rolled his shoulders, sucking in a heavy breath that was almost a yawn.
"No, I'm not hungry." He reached for his coffee again.
"Awesome." Dean reached for his jeans with one hand and with the other crammed the donut into his mouth, ignoring Sam's half-hearted disapproval. "Did you say knitting needles?"
"Angelique had left the sleeve of her cardigan on the table, just there, and when she came in the next morning it was completely unravelled. Needles gone, yarn all over the floor... Such a waste, you know, that Plumé yarn is not cheap, and the fronds become fluffy if you don't treat it carefully, I always find. And once they're fluffy there's not much you can do with them. Emmaline didn't like it when we began to stock it. She always preferred the natural fibres, you know? She said it was cheapening the craft to stock synthetics, but Angelique was very persistent, said that the young people preferred them and we needed to become more up-to-date. Emmaline –"
Sam blinked, and cleared his throat, halting the flood.
"The...um... the article mentioned that you'd had several similar experiences?"
"Yes, it's been dreadful. One morning, about a month ago, I opened up and found that the embroidery silks had all been pulled off the rack and left lying on the table. I though perhaps Angelique had been sorting them – she likes to rearrange things, you know – but she said not, and the next morning it had happened again. But that time all the labels had been pulled off. And the Anchor and DMC silks had been mixed up."
Louisa Bowers paused there, her face pale with horror at the recollection, and glanced from Sam to Dean.
"Mixed up," she repeated with emphasis.
There was a moment's silence.
"That... that must have been awful." Sam said weakly. Dean shifted from one foot to the other, resisting an inappropriate urge to laugh. "Was that all?"
The elderly haberdashery owner pursed her lips and resettled her spectacles.
"That would have been enough, don't you think? But no, just last week Angelique was sorting through the drawers over there, throwing out old stock that wasn't shifting, and the bead rack fell. No explanation, no warning, it just toppled right over. Narrowly missed her, too. Packets split, beads everywhere... we'd just started stocking those Mill Hill beads, too, and most of them were lost through the cracks in the floorboards. Terrible waste. Just terrible."
"Terrible." Sam echoed feebly.
"This is a... a lovely shop, Miss Bowers. How long has it been here?"
"Well." She patted fluffy silver hair. "Emmaline and I started this shop over forty years ago – forty-two years this Christmas. And we moved into these premises six months later. We were very successful, you know. Very busy, lots of customers. Of course, handwork isn't as popular now. Girls these days..."
"Of course," Dean nodded. "Forty-two years – that's impressive. And you've never experienced anything like these incidents before?"
"No, nothing like it." She sighed. "With all this bad luck, sometimes I just... I wonder if it's not time to close the shop and retire. Custom has been dropping off in the last few years. People aren't interested in needlework any more. No patience, no interest in creating beautiful things. It bothered Emmaline, you know. Angelique, of course, when she came, was full of ideas of making the place more modern, updating the stock. It was her idea to put the radio in and have that modern pop music playing. Emmaline disapproved very much. But then, she and Angelique..." She lowered her voice, although they were alone in the shop. "Emmaline never really liked her, and I fear Angelique felt the same about Emmaline. "
"Who's Emmaline, Miss Bowers?"
Wrinkles deepened as pale brows drew down in tired sorrow.
"Emmaline was my sister, Mr. Butler. She passed away two months ago."
"Ah." Dean kept his voice properly subdued. "I'm sorry to hear that. She... uh... I hope she didn't suffer long?"
"Well." The creased mouth pressed together hard for a moment. "It was... it was an accident. She fell... She tripped, over the extension lead for the radio. She was holding a knitting needle at the time, and when she fell, it... well, it..."
"Ah." Dean repeated, in what he hoped was an appropriately sympathetic tone. Sam was always better than he at handling emotional victims. But Sam said nothing.
"Angelique blamed herself dreadfully for putting the lead there, but as I told her, no-one could possibly hold her responsible."
"No, of course not," Dean murmured soothingly. "Where is your assistant this afternoon, by the way? It would be helpful if we could speak to her, too."
"Oh, yes, of course. I'm afraid she won't be in until tomorrow – she's gone into town to buy new fuses. The wiring has been giving us real trouble lately."
"I see." Dean nodded, and glanced at Sam. "Anything else, Sam?"
Sam was staring vaguely at a particularly ugly piece of needlepoint on the wall, but he startled at Dean's emphatic use of his name. He blinked uncertainly at his brother and the old woman now watching him.
"Wh... what? Yes. Yes, absolutely, I totally agree."
"Alright, then." Dean's quizzical drawl gave way to a low-watt smile as he turned back to Miss Bowers. "Well, we won't keep you any longer, ma'am. Thanks for your time." He gripped Sam's arm just above the elbow and escorted him from the shop, ignoring his brother's stumble over the doorstep.
Sam pulled free as they reached the Impala.
"Dude, get your hands off me!"
"Fine." Dean rounded the car and opened the driver's door with less than his usual care. "Great job in there – you completely zoned out on us."
"I did not," Sam mumbled petulantly, sliding into the car. "I just... got distracted for a moment, that's all."
"Yeah, well. You were a great help, thanks for that."
"Whatever." Sam hunched one shoulder, sounding too much like the sullen teenager he'd once been, and Dean rolled his eyes as he started the car.
"Seriously, man –"
"Would you just let it go!"
The words were almost a snarl. Startled and, for the first time, a little angry, Dean said nothing, but gravel spat under his tyres, and the silence was fraught between them as he headed for the nearest diner.
Dean was ducking out of the car when Sam spoke.
He felt Sam shifting uneasily on the bench-seat.
"Look man – I'm sorry. I... I don't know why..."
"Forget it, Sam."
"No, Dean, really. I shouldn't have spoken like that. I didn't mean –"
Dean sank back on the seat and tilted his head towards his brother. Sam's eyes were wide and a little distressed, and he leant forward earnestly.
"Seriously, Dean –"
"Seriously, Sam, forget it." His mouth lifted briefly. "No big deal, bro. I get it, I really do."
"Yeah, dude. PMS."
He smacked the back of his hand against his brother's chest, and slid from the car before Sam could retaliate.
"Here." Dean deposited the salad in front of his brother and dropped into the seat opposite, eyeing his own plate with evident pleasure. "You sure you want that rabbit food? Not too late to change your mind."
Sam speared a tomato slice with his fork.
"I'm good." Something coiled unpleasantly inside him at the greasy cheese oozing from Dean's burger. "Really."
"Suit yourself." Dean reached for the salt. "So. Two months ago Emmaline Bowers tripped over a wire... Angelique?... had left in her path and stabbed herself with a knitting needle. Two months ago strange accidents began to happen in the shop, all aimed at Angelique, more or less. And Emmaline didn't approve of Angelique's modern ideas even before she skewered herself." He bit into the bun, and groaned in satisfaction.
"Vengeful spirit." Sam eyed his enthusiasm with mild distaste, and dissected a leaf of lettuce into small fragments.
"That'd be my guess. Violent death – or unnatural, anyway – as a result of someone else's actions. And a spirit would hardly care that Angelique hadn't intended to kill her." He leant against the seat back. "So now we just need to find out where Emmaline was... uh... laid to rest. Or not."
"Salt and burn?" Sam prodded a limp slice of mushroom, then put his fork down and picked up his coffee. Dean took another bite.
"Salt and burn. Seems pretty straightforward to me." He grinned widely across the table.
Sam swallowed uneasily at the sight of half-chewed meat and bread, and looked away.
"Dean, could you please... not do that?"
"What's the matter, Sammy? Salad making you feel sick? I told you you should have had a burger." Palms flattened on the table and he pushed up. "I'm gonna hit the head."
Sam jerked his head in acknowledgment, regretting the move as pain prodded at his temples. He rested his forehead on the heel of his hand, squeezing his eyes shut against the ache that curled around the back of his neck and into his shoulders.
Dean was back already?
He lifted his head, squinting at his brother. The amusement of earlier had fled Dean's face.
"You okay, dude?"
"I'm fine. Just a headache." He fumbled for his coffee.
Concern became a frown.
"Headache? You sure? Not a –"
"It's a headache, Dean. I'm just tired, okay?"
Dean's hand fell on his shoulder, pushing him back against the seat with careful urgency.
"Yeah, right. You sure you're not building up for one of those migraines of yours? Cause I gotta tell you –"
Sam pulled away peevishly.
"For crying out loud, Dean, it's an ordinary, straightforward headache! Just drop it, will you?"
Dean retreated immediately.
"Fine, whatever. I was just asking, you don't have to be a bitch about it." He caught up his jacket from where he'd thrown it over his chair.
Sam let out a long breath, pushing thumb and forefinger hard against briefly closed eyes.
"Get your whiny ass in gear, Sam, we've got work to do." Dean tossed a twenty to the table and headed for the exit.
The shovel bit deep into the dank earth, wavering for a moment before steadying under Sam's hand as he leant on the handle. One forearm lifted to swipe perspiration from where it threatened to trickle into his eyes.
When was the last time they'd unearthed a corpse? He was still getting back into shape, arms and back softened a little from his years out of training at Stanford, but he'd thought he was fitter than this. Twenty minutes of digging and he was already panting and sweating like a middle-aged couch potato.
He lifted his head, peering at Dean standing guard with the shotgun.
Sam bit his lip.
"Uh... never mind."
Dean flicked the Maglite at the ground, and the motionless shovel.
"Dude, get the lead out, will you? I'd like to get this done before Christmas, preferably."
Sam swallowed back the irritable response that rose instinctively within him, and bent his head again, forcing the blade into the soil.
Dean was pissed. From the afternoon, Sam guessed, and their little disagreement in the diner. And their argument outside the haberdashery. And from Nebraska, and Sue-Ann Le Grange and the reaper and Marshall Hall, who had died instead of Dean because Sam hadn't figured out what was really going on.
At that thought he hunched his aching shoulders a little more, pitching each shovelful aside with more vigour.
Marshall Hall shouldn't have died.
But if he hadn't, Dean would have.
For a moment earth was replaced with wet cement, and the sticky shovel became sweat-slick skin under his hands, and he was kneeling beside his unconscious brother whose pulse fluttered and failed at his fingertips –
Dean's bark brought him back with a jolt.
"What the hell, man?" Dean lifted the flashlight, and Sam ducked his face away.
"Sorry. Sorry." He was aware, humiliated, that the dampness on his cheeks was not only perspiration, and his hands trembled on the shovel handle.
"Here." Shotgun and flashlight were thrust in his direction, and Dean yanked the shovel from his unresisting grip. "Get out and keep watch. At this rate I'll die of old age before we hit the coffin."
Sam clambered from the shallow pit he'd created in the ground, and stood in ashamed silence, gun and light dangling from weary hands. The afternoon's headache pulsed lightly behind a Tylenol shield as fatigued muscles throbbed and clenched. He'd had these headaches before, usually after a string of demanding hunts, or, latterly, towards the end of exams. Too many days hunched over research or notes, too few hours spent in sleep... He rubbed the back of one hand across eyes prickly with exhaustion.
"Yahtzee." Dean's satisfied exclamation and the thud of metal on wood jerked his attention back to his brother. Dean was done already?
Dean swung himself from the open grave with his usual agility, face twisted in perfunctory disgust.
"She is ripe, man. That's just... gross." He tossed the shovel aside, streaking beads of perspiration across his forehead with one forearm, and reached for his jacket and the lighter fluid in the front pocket. "Look lively, dude." He glanced at Sam as he splashed the accelerant into the coffin. "You know this is prime time for some spirit action. I'm surprised she hasn't shown up already."
"Right. Yeah." He hefted the shotgun, stifling a yawn – that would hardly go down well with Dean – and slid his gaze around the silent cemetery. It was odd that Emmaline hadn't looked in to make things difficult for them, but then spirits weren't always predictable. And, after all, it wasn't as if she'd been a particularly violent one.
Coffin and contents flared up in a rush of darting flames, and he recoiled, the heat and flickering light too much like his dreams not to send involuntary horror coiling inside him. Fire had been a part of his life since before he understood it, but somehow right now it was something to fear, something that symbolised terror and loss, and his thoughts were too lethargic to separate what purified and laid to rest from what devastated and destroyed.
It came to him again, that night.
After they'd refilled the grave, after they'd returned to the motel and cleaned up and collapsed into bed, the nightmares returned.
Dean, weary with the satisfaction of a completed job, fell asleep almost immediately. Sam, more weary and less satisfied, lay awake, troubled by muddled thoughts that refused to take shape but hovered on the edge of consciousness, thoughts of Dean, and Jess, and spirits that went quietly when their bones were torched.
But eventually, lulled a little by his brother's regular inhalations, he drifted into sleep.
And found himself on that bed again, and Dean on the ceiling again, white and tortured. And the blood dripped – Dean's blood – and Dean screamed for him, screamed for someone to pull him down, to save him from what was coming. And all Sam could do was lie there, pinned down where Dean was pinned up, and the flames surged and burst, licking at his brother, blistering and burning and charring until Dean's voice was gone and only his eyes stared in agony and accusation at the brother who'd let him die –
And Sam's own scream caught in his throat, raw and swollen with horror, as his body jack-knifed up in the bed and flung him back to consciousness.
Dean didn't wake, this time. If there was anything to be relieved about, it was that. Sam managed to get to the bathroom before the sobs took him, managed to close the door before the tears swelled and overflowed and hitched breaths caught in his chest and throat. He slid to the floor beside the bath, legs up tight against him in the cramped space, and wept in suffocated silence until his eyes were puffy and aching and his body cried out for the sleep to which he didn't dare surrender.
"You okay, Sam?"
He lifted his head from folded arms on the roof of the Impala, peering through morning brightness to where Dean approached from the motel room.
"Yeah, I'm... I'm good."
"You sure?" Dean tossed his duffel into the backseat and rested one hand on the roof over the driver's seat, narrowed green gaze fixed on his brother. "Cause I gotta tell you, dude, I've seen corpses with more vitality than you right now."
Some vague rebuttal involving zombies drifted into Sam's mind, but his thoughts were too sluggish for witty repartee. He ground the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"I'm just... a little tired, that's all. I didn't sleep too well last night." Then, at his brother's dipped brows, he added, "Had some...uh... really vivid dreams."
Dean stiffened a little.
"Um. Yeah. But it's nothing, Dean, really." I should be getting past this. By myself. I'm not five years old and I don't need my big brother to make things better... "Don't worry about it."
Even if losing my big brother is really what this is all about.
"You sure? Because last time I checked, your freak-ass nightmares were damn well something to worry about."
Sam's hand slid down, out of Dean's sight, and white-knuckled the edge of the open window.
"No. No. They're just ordinary dreams, Dean, really."
"They'd better be," Dean muttered, but he ducked into his seat, keys finding the ignition as Sam followed suit. "I'm serious, man. If you're getting more of those premonitions, you need to tell me."
"I'm not." He jerked the door shut with more force than necessary, and stared fixedly through the windscreen. "These are not premonitions, Dean. They're nothing like those, and... and there's no chance they're coming true, ever, you hear me? They're just... they're just normal nightmares, like normal people get, and they're never going to happen, I swear." His hands clenched on his knees, fingers twisted in folds of denim, and he was horribly aware that his voice had quivered on the last word, and that Dean was watching him intently.
"Okay, Sam. Normal dreams. Never gonna happen. I got it." Dean's voice was oddly gentle, and for a moment Sam thought he was going to say something else. But he merely put the car in reverse and pulled out, and Sam forced his hands to relax their grip.
"You want breakfast?" Dean ran to a stop in the nearby filling station, and glanced across at the tiny diner. Sam cleared his throat.
"Just coffee, please."
"I'm not hungry, Dean." He heard – and hated – the pathetic note in his voice, and the long pause told him Dean had heard it too.
"Suit yourself," Dean said at last. "But you're having lunch later and no argument. And none of that lettuce crap either, you hear me?"
"Fine, whatever." He leant his head on the window, relishing the chill of the glass against his forehead, and let his eyes fall shut. The car... he could sleep in the car. The nightmares were never so bad then, with the movement beneath him, the air whipping his hair across his face, Dean's music thundering from the speakers.
And Dean singing along with it, loud and alive and there, right within arm's reach.
He burrowed a little into the vinyl. His head sagged.
"Sam, we have a problem."
Dean's voice, urgent and perplexed, yanked him back to wakefulness with a jolt that was almost physical. For a moment, the sun and the windshield and baffled green eyes disorientated him, and he couldn't remember where he was, or why he was slumped against the cold hardness of glass, and who it was who was frowning at him from less than a foot away –
"Sam! Wake up, man." A hand smacked his shoulder, but not hard. "Looks like we missed something – this gig's not over."
"Wha –" He blinked and tried again, swallowing thickly against the faint nausea that always comes from waking too fast. "What happened?"
Dean thrust a cardboard cup in front of him, and he clutched it, inhaling the generic fast-food coffee scent.
"Girl inside told me. Apparently this morning Angelique was in the haber... haber... shop, opening up – alone – and she was stabbed by a pair of scissors. Louisa came in and found her on the floor."
"Not when Louisa found her. Girl in the diner didn't know how bad it was, though." Dean bit into his breakfast sandwich. "Looks like we're going to be paying Louisa another visit."
"I don't like this, Dean."
"I know that, Sam –"
"Going in half-assed like this... we don't even know what we're looking for! Why can't we wait until Louisa is back, and we can talk to her?"
"Because firstly, we don't know when that'll be, and secondly, Emmaline's upped her game. She tried to kill someone, Sam. This isn't stupid tricks anymore. And if Louisa gets back and Emmaline finds her before we do, she could die."
"But we have no idea –"
"Everything's happened in the shop. It makes sense it would be something there. And Emmaline died there. Hell, she was stabbed there. Blood spatter on some... some wool or something... would do it."
"Dean, I don't think Louisa's going to be selling wool that's splattered in her dead sister's blood."
"Well, on the carpet, then, Sam! Whatever it is, I don't care. We need to find it, and burn it, and get the hell out of here."
"Fine, okay." Sam glanced uneasily back towards the wide glass windows that fronted the shop, and slid a little more behind a stack of tapestry kits. "I just wish we could have –"
"Waited until Louisa got back. Yeah, I heard you the first four hundred times."
"I was going to say, waited until we could speak to Angelique."
Dean swung round from where he was scanning the flashlight across the floor.
"Awesome idea there, Sam. Since she's still unconscious, we could be waiting until after Louisa gets taken out."
"Yeah, but –"
"Dude, give it up, will you? You know we haven't really got a choice here, so let's get on with finding whatever it is, okay?" Dean turned back, not waiting for Sam's response.
"'Whatever it is'," Sam mimicked, sending an annoyed glance at his brother's back, but he flicked the switch on his own flashlight, and let the beam play slowly over racks of yarn. In the dim light afforded by an outside street lamp the colours were dulled to shades of gray, which brightened briefly into rainbow hues as the light touched them.
As he'd expected, there was no sign of splattered blood on any of the balls.
Sam let the flashlight droop, and rubbed his forearm over aching eyes.
It wasn't by any means the first time they'd gone into a hunt like this, unprepared, not sure what they were facing. And under normal circumstances he wouldn't have minded too much, or, at least, he'd have understood the necessity.
He might even, ordinarily, have enjoyed the challenge of a supernatural treasure hunt.
Tonight, though... tonight he couldn't enjoy anything.
The almost dark of the shop was soporific. He found himself blinking heavily, eyes sinking shut before jerking open; his foot caught on the edge of a rug and he stumbled, one hand smacking against a shelf in a floundering attempt to prevent a fall.
The pain pulled him back to full awareness for a moment.
He needed sleep.
Even though he shied away from the idea, he knew he was beyond exhausted. He'd drowsed off over the laptop three times that afternoon, once almost knocking it off the table when he flailed awake again. Only coffee was keeping him conscious now.
Dean sounded oddly muffled, and it took longer than it should for Sam to catch the urgency in it. He lifted his head; he hadn't noticed it had sagged forward.
"Sam, I think I found – Sam!"
The last word was lost in a shriek. Alarm beating exhaustion for the moment, Sam threw himself forward to where Dean had disappeared round a shelf.
"Dean!" His breath curled whitely in the suddenly icy air.
"Sam, it's –"
The shriek came again.
It wasn't Dean.
Rounding the corner, Sam had a moment's glimpse of an angular figure in an old-fashioned dress before it vanished. Dean was against the wall, holding something in his hands, but even as Sam dashed forward the woman reappeared, flickering into visibility inches from the older Winchester.
"Mine!" Gnarled fingers reached, and gripped, and hurled.
Sam had no thought for the spirit, for whatever it was keeping her there or that she could be planning to attack him next. Dean had hit the opposite wall with an audible thud, and fallen heavily to the floor, and now he was sprawled half-sitting, eyes shut and head lolling on one side. And suddenly the carpeted floor became wet concrete and Sam was scrambling for a brother whose pulse was stuttering and failing under his fingertips, and he was going to lose Dean again, but this time there would be no healer to save him.
"Dean... please... Dean... nonononono... Dean!" He pawed at his brother, shaking hands fumbling for a pulse, palm pressed against his chest for a heartbeat and then patting at his face and scalp for injuries. "Dean, don't... don't do this to me... please..."
"S'm... the... 's the..." Dean mumbled something, head turning a little.
"Dean..." His face was wet, but he barely noticed. Something flickered in his peripheral vision. "Dean, you have to... you can't..." He flattened large hands against his brother's face, shaking Dean a little in his agitation. "I can't..."
Dazed green eyes slitted open.
"Sam... the... the picture!" Dean forced the words out between heaving, painful breaths.
"Wh... what? Dean..."
He saw his breath condense between them, before Dean lurched forward, thrusting him aside and jerking free of Sam's desperate grip. Dean fell onto hands and knees, then pushed up and caught at the picture now lying discarded where he'd dropped it minutes before. Both hands closed round the frame and he slammed it against the ground with a shatter of glass and wood, freeing the embroidered fabric within.
Emmaline materialised with a screech of rage.
"Sam! Shotgun!" Dean still sounded half-dazed, clutching the picture and blinking between Sam and the menacing spirit.
"What? Shot..." Terror, relief, panic... for a moment the assaulting emotions were overwhelming. He gaped dumbly at Dean from where his brother had pushed him.
"Sam! Son of a bitch..." The haze was disappearing rapidly from Dean's eyes, but Emmaline was almost upon him. He dropped out from under her grasping hands and caught up Sam's discarded shotgun as he scrambled back to his feet, aiming and firing just as she found him again.
"What the hell, Sam!" Dean didn't even glance at him, one hand digging in his pocket while he scanned the area for any sign of Emmaline.
"What... what're you –"
"Half-finished picture, dark stains – guess she was working on this when she died." Dean pulled out his lighter and flicked it open. "Hey, Emmaline!"
He waited until the bony apparition formed again, and then held the open flame to the fabric.
"Dude, what the hell?" Dean shoved the duffel strap off his shoulder with more force than usual, and swung to face his brother.
"Dean –" Sam sucked in a heavy breath. "Let me... just let me –" He lifted one hand, reaching for Dean. "I need to check –"
"Sam! I'm fine." Dean bit the words out. "You, on the other hand... What the hell happened out there?"
Sam let his shoulders sag. Dean's voice, louder than usual, throbbed in his ears in time to his heartbeat, jarring his already aching head.
"I'm... I'm sorry, okay? I just..." The words faltered, and failed.
"You just – what? What, Sam? You completely flipped out on me! You panicked, you lost your gun... you didn't even have my back to begin with, so she got the drop on me! What the hell is wrong with you, man?"
Sam squeezed his eyes shut, grinding the heels of his hands against them, and forced them open again. For a moment, Dean and the motel room around him were a wavering blur.
"I know... I know, Dean, I'll try not to –"
"You'll try? Like you tried tonight? I'm sorry, Sam, but that's just not good enough!" Dean shrugged out of his jacket, not quite suppressing a wince, and tossed it onto his bed. "I know you're still getting back into this, you're still out of practice, but man – I need to be able to trust you out there. I need to know that we're working as a team." He swung away and headed for the bathroom, leaving the door open. "You were worse than an amateur out there tonight!"
"Dean..." Sam wanted to protest. Sam had Dean's back. He was reliable, he was trustworthy, he was way more in practice than Dean was suggesting. It was just the nightmare... it was just seeing Dean like that, sprawled on the floor, and Sam wanted – needed – to save him, but he was just so tired...
Dean was still speaking, but the words ran together.
Sam leant forward a little. The bathroom door leant back towards him, growing bigger and bigger until he wanted to duck.
Then suddenly it shrank away to nothing, and the room tilted.
Why was... where was... If he could just get to the bed...
From the bathroom Dean's voice was very thick and deep, a tape played back at half-speed, and he needed to get to the bed... he needed to sit down, but the floor...
He needed to...
"I know you, Sam. You're better than this. But lately... you've just been off your game, and it needs to end. I can't rely on you when you're zoning out, or panicking like a twelve-year-old girl." Dean lifted the hem of his shirt, grimacing at the pull on strained muscles, and peered in the mirror at the angry red blotches where he'd connected with the wall.
She'd thrown him hard enough to knock the wind out of him: those were going to be bruises tomorrow.
"The thing is, Sam, I just –"
Something crashed in the next room.
Shattering glass, the thud of something heavy hitting the ground; Dean stiffened into sudden alertness, words forgotten.
"Sam?" He dropped the bunched fabric and covered the distance to the door in one long stride. "Sam, what –"
Long legs bent limply, one arm trapped beneath him and the other outstretched and lax in the shards of what had once been a lamp, Sam sprawled facedown and unmoving on the carpet.
Two seconds to reach his brother. Two more to drop down beside him, and see the closed eyes, the slackly open mouth, the sluggish ooze of blood across one cheekbone where he'd hit the bedside table.
Uncounted, terrifying seconds to fumble for a pulse, to clutch at that limp wrist and beg and pray for a heartbeat, and to blink against suddenly blurred vision when fingertips found the reassuring thump.
Sam didn't make a sound as Dean turned him on his back. His head lolled to the side, hair flopping loosely over milk-pale cheeks and forehead. Dean cupped his jaw, turning his face forward again, and felt the chill clamminess of sweat.
"Sammy... Sam... c'mon, bro. C'mon, kiddo, don't do this to me..." He thumbed each eyelid up in turn, but Sam's pupils were equal and contracted normally in the light. Dean released his wrist, tugged up the multiple layers of shirts, but there were no fresh bruises, no hidden gashes leaking blood, and Sam didn't flinch when Dean pressed down on ribs and abdomen.
Dean's fingers closed around his wrist again. Forefinger and thumb met; Sam was thin, thinner than when Dean had first fetched him at Stanford. For a moment images of uneaten salad and rejected burgers swam into mind.
"Sam... Sammy... time to wake up now. You're freaking me out, man." He pushed back the slide of dark hair from Sam's face, letting his hand rest on his little brother's forehead. No unnatural heat: Sam wasn't feverish.
Lying on his back like that, though, he looked too young, face sunken, shadows like bruises heavy under his eyes. His pulse was light and rapid.
"Sammy..." Dean heard his voice shake. He cast a panicked and pointless glance around the room, and returned his gaze to his unconscious brother's face. "Sam!"
The soft moan was the faintest quiver of air. Sam's head turned a little, cheek pressing into Dean's palm.
"Yeah, that's it. That's it, Sammy, that's good. Open your eyes." Dean's fingers tapped lightly against his brother's face. "Look at me, Sammy... look at me. C'mon."
"Mmmm..." Dark brows crinkled. Sam's hand slid feebly on the carpet. "De..."
"Yeah. It's me. Open your eyes now." The relief caught in his chest, tight and achy for a breathless moment. "Look at me, bro."
"Dean..." His name was slurred and vague, and damp lashes flickered. "I... wha... Dean..." Blurred blue-green eyes struggled to focus on his face.
"There you go. There you go. Just lie still for a minute, Sammy, okay? You're gonna be fine, but just take it easy."
Sam swallowed stickily, eyes closing and then opening blearily again. His chest rose and fell in a heavy breath.
"You passed out. Smacked your cheek on the table, too. I was a little worried there for a minute, kiddo."
Sam's eyes were on his face, but Dean wasn't sure how much he was taking in.
"Sick like you're going to hurl, or just plain crappy because you fainted?"
Sam's face crumpled a little, but the vaguely drifting gaze looked more disorientated than nauseous. Dean cupped his jaw, turning his face forward again.
"Sammy, I'm going to give you a hand up, okay? I think bed is the best place for you right now."
Sam's eyes seemed to clear slightly at that.
"Dean, what... why..."
"When you're looking less like something we'd hunt, we'll talk about the whys, dude. Let's just get you off the floor."
Dean had carried Sam before, when his brother was unconscious or, once or twice soon after Jess's death, when Sam had drunk himself under the table. Sam wasn't quite unconscious now, and he did, to his credit, try to help.
It didn't make much difference.
"Dude, you may be my brother, but you're heavy as hell." Dean deposited six foot four of limp little brother on the bed, grunting as the effort tugged on unhappy back muscles. Sam blinked heavily again, and one hand curled over a fold of comforter. He offered no resistance when Dean tugged off his boots, and slack limbs flopped uncooperatively with the removal of jeans and button-down shirt.
He sighed when Dean manoeuvred him under the bedclothes.
"Get some rest, Sammy. It'll be better when you wake up." Still holding the plaid shirt, Dean dropped onto the side of the bed, and one hand closed over Sam's shoulder for a moment.
Sam sighed again, eyelashes fluttering down, and curled onto his side with audibly deepening breaths.
"Sam, I swear..." He didn't finish the sentence. But it was a long time before he moved from Sam's bed to his own.
Dean was on his feet before he'd even fully woken, eyes darting wildly around the room in search of the threat.
"Dean... no..." Sam was sitting rigidly upright, hands braced on the bed on either side. His eyes blinked rapidly, huge with the terror that quaked through his voice.
"Sam... " Dean sagged onto the bed in front of his brother and curled his hands around Sam's upper arms. "Sammy, wake up, man. It's just a nightmare –"
"Dean..." Sam seemed to flinch with his touch, but his hands came up to fumble uncoordinatedly with Dean's shirt, and then scrabble frantically at his face and neck.
It was an unnerving déjà vu to his behaviour earlier that night on the hunt.
When he'd thought Dean was –
"Sam..." Dean reached up, catching his brother's wrists and pulling them away from where Sam was now patting his face. "Wake up. Wake up. You're okay now, you're okay."
"No... no, Dean... please... no... Dean..." He was breathing too fast, too heavy, almost hyperventilating. "You can't..."
"Sam!" He released Sam's wrists, gripped his shoulders, and shook him hard. "Wake up!"
Sam sucked in a gasp that was almost a scream. For the first time his eyes met Dean's.
"Dean..." Sam reached out, clenched trembling fingers in Dean's t-shirt. "Dean..."
"It's okay, Sammy. It's okay, it was just a nightmare –"
"No... no, Dean, it was... it was real... I saw you... I saw you fall, and your... your heart stopped... and I... I tried to save you but... I couldn't... I did everything, Dean, I swear, I tried to save you, but... but I..."
Dean was silent for one long, stunned moment.
"Sam – " he choked.
"You... you died, Dean... you died, and I couldn't save you..." Sam sagged forward, forehead grinding into Dean's collarbone. "You... you were dead..."
He couldn't remember the last time he'd comforted Sam after a nightmare. Long before Stanford, certainly. Before Sam grew sullen and kicked against everything they stood for, before the fights with their Dad were more common than the happy times and Sam saw Dean as siding with John against him. Before Sam grew too big.
Oddly enough, this new enlarged version of his little brother fit fine in Dean's arms, just like the small long-ago one had.
"No. No, I'm not, Sammy. You did save me, remember? You found that creepy-ass Le Grange dude."
"B-but... the reaper... Marshall Hall..." Sam shifted, not quite resisting but not relaxed either. Violent shudders tremored through him, and Dean tightened the arm he'd curled round his brother.
"I know, and that sucked. But Sammy – that wasn't your fault. You hear me? It was not your fault. If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else. Sue-Ann was gunning for him – Marshall Hall would likely still have died. And if you hadn't found him in the first place, she'd still be siccing that reaper on people."
Sam was silent.
"Sammy, I... I shouldn't have given you crap about it. Yeah, I felt bad about it, but... you weren't to know what was really going on. And I guess..." Dean cleared his throat. "I guess I would have done the same thing. If, you know, it had been the other way round."
The shivers were subsiding to an occasional quiver; Sam's head turned, cheek rubbing against Dean's shoulder.
He remembered that from years ago, too.
"I don't... I can't sleep, Dean." The drowsy voice belied the words. Dean bent his head, trying to see his brother's face, but Sam was looking down.
"You were sleeping just fine up until moments ago."
"Every time... every time I fall asleep I... I see you. Like that. I see you... I see you die."
"I can't, Dean. I can't –" He was stiffening again, tendrils of panic creeping back into his voice.
"Hey. Hey! Sam." Dean gripped one shoulder, pushed him back so he could look into Sam's face. "It's okay, man. Just relax, okay? Just calm down." He rubbed Sam's arm a little, and his other hand slid up to squeeze briefly at the nape of his neck. "You've been having these nightmares for a while, huh?"
"Since... since you..." Sam's voice shook.
"Dude, just how little sleep have you been getting?"
"Not... much." The whisper held a thousand tones of exhaustion.
"Sammy..." A little distress, a little chiding, a lot of comfort. The big brother post-nightmare voice, that he hadn't used in years but still worked just fine.
Sam remembered it too, obviously. A shaky breath escaped him.
"Here's where you say I can sleep in your bed, and you sing Metallica until I fall asleep again."
"That's... disturbing, Sam. You know you're not my type, right? You're like a friggin' octopus when you sleep, anyway."
"Dean..." Sam was slumped against him now. One hand bumped against him in strengthless protest.
Dean's mouth curved a little, where Sam couldn't see it, but his voice when he spoke was serious.
"Listen Sammy. You're gonna sleep now, okay? No arguments. You can't keep going like this."
"If there's a nightmare, I'll wake you. I promise."
"I'm going to sit right here. If you start one, I'll know."
Sam was silent for a long moment.
Dean's arm tightened around him briefly. Then he pushed him down onto the pillow and shifted up on the bed until he was leaning against the headboard. Sam blinked drowsily, tugging the comforter over his shoulder and burying one eye and cheek in the pillow.
"And this is not sharing a bed, Sam. This is... this is keeping watch."
"Mmmm. Dean..." Dark eyelashes went down, and stayed down. Dean tilted his head back and eyed the dubiously stained ceiling. One hand found Sam's wrist where it rested on the pillow.
The murmured words were almost inaudible, and the tune was a little creaky with sleep.
"These are the eyes that can't see me/ These are the hands that drop your trust..."
Prompt: I'd love to see Sam fainting from exhaustion/fatigue. Maybe they're so busy chasing hunt after hunt that Sam doesn't take care of himself properly. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, neglecting his health etc. I'm not fussy about whether this is wrapped up into a hunt (*gasp* plot) or just Sammy out for the count for the pure love of it. Prefer based around Season 1 or 2.