Title: And Rage Is Mingled With His Grief
Author: Still Waters
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.
Summary: Dean may not have been able to kill grief for hurting Sam, but he'd be damned if he'd let his lapful of shaking, unresponsive little brother suffer through it alone. Early S1, worried/protective Dean, hurt Sam.
Notes: This story is built around two scenes from a recent dream of mine. They had no dialogue or surrounding story, but I couldn't shake the vivid images, or the lingering tactile memories, and felt the need to try and create a story around them. This was the result. It is set early in the first season, two months after Sam and Dean left Stanford. The title comes from the Virgil quote, "Passion and shame torment him and rage is mingled with his grief." Something about this quote always struck me, and while writing this piece, it reminded me of Dean's words to Sam in "Wendigo", where he tells him, "and all that anger, you can't keep it burning over the long haul, it's gonna kill you." The Virgil quote seemed appropriate for Sam at that point in his life – where his grief at Jess's death was heavily tied into nightmares and uncharacteristic anger and behavior. As always, I hope I did the characters justice. Thank you for reading and thank you to those reviewers I am unable to respond to personally via private message. I truly appreciate your support.
Sam had stopped moving.
In the time Dean had stooped to run the EMF over several odd looking marks in the cracked asphalt, Sam's freakishly long legs had taken him another twenty feet down the potentially haunted stretch of abandoned rural road they were canvassing; where he now stood rooted in place, shoulders stiff, head angled down toward the sloping earth alongside the crumbling pavement of the thin shoulder.
"Got something, Sam?" Dean called down the road.
Dean pushed back to his feet with a groan and started walking, squinting against the sharp winter sunlight. "Dude, I know you can think and talk at the same time, I've seen you do it…." The words trailed off as he got closer, the last of the sentence's breath twisting into a rough curse at the sun's glare, whose blinding distortion had kept Dean from noticing it sooner – that not only was Sam as still as death, a simile that sent a flutter of panic through Dean's chest even as he only had his own brain to blame for it, but Sam was also not looking at the old photos and printouts of local legends he had put together that morning; sheets of paper that were now tightly crumpled within clenched fingers hanging stiffly at his sides. A non cross-referencing Sam with forgotten research in his hands combined with his unnerving stillness and unresponsiveness sent a chill skittering up Dean's spine that had nothing to do with the January air. Pulling his gun from his pocket, Dean covered the last few feet with unwavering focus, scanning the tree line for threats as the EMF lay stubbornly silent in his pocket. He approached Sam's left side, naturally placing himself between Sam and the road, even though there was no longer any traffic on the closed street. "Sam?" he asked quietly, the single syllable simultaneously the older brother seeking assurance and the trained soldier seeking information, as he slid a sidelong glance at Sam, keeping his weapon up and ready.
At Sam's continued lack of response, Dean allowed himself to shift more of his focus to his brother's close form, where he found that the sun and distance had also hidden the fact that while Sam was certainly silent, he was far from still. And Dean had a sinking feeling that the fine tremors rattling the long frame were much more insidious than the effect of every one of the kid's currently rigid muscles being tensed beyond their limits.
Dean's alertness sharpened further as panic kicked his heartbeat into overdrive. "Sammy?" he prodded, moving closer, but careful not to touch Sam yet. "Sam, what is it? What's wrong?"
The shaking increased as Sam began miserably shaking his head in a denial that went far deeper than answering his brother's desperate questions. Dean swallowed roughly around his pounding heart as he followed Sam's eyes down to the ditch alongside the road…to a decidedly non-supernatural scene. A dead Golden Retriever was lying on its right side in the overgrowth, face mangled by what looked like a gunshot wound along with a couple days' worth of nature's recycling crew chowing down, the light wind lazily tossing the blond fur as the sun glinted off a bright red, metal ID tag on the bloodied collar around the well-groomed throat. Dean frowned. Sam had, unfortunately, seen a lot of death - human, animal, and supernatural - and ones far uglier than this; so normal protocol would dictate that he start teasing Sam about being a hormonal girl right about now. But this whole thing was several nausea inducing kinds of not normal; even if Sam had always had a thing for dogs, something had to be seriously wrong for him to suddenly react like this.
Something Dean didn't know.
And he needed to know.
"Sammy?" he tried again, brushing a forearm so tightly corded, it was hard to believe the bones were still intact.
Sam continued shaking his head, but in a subtle shift, the movement suddenly appeared to move beyond his control. The full body tremors spiked and…..did Sam just sniffle? Dean's eyes shot back up to Sam's face to find red, liquid eyes, nostrils flaring as Sam tried to sniff back the escalating emotion.
Dean officially crossed over the line into 'completely freaked.' He was about to open his mouth again when Sam spoke, voice choked through a spasming throat. "I….I'm sorry…." He struggled through words that seemed to be meant for Dean, even as his eyes never left the dog.
Dean's brow furrowed. "Sorry for what, Sam?" he tried to understand, keeping a light grip on Sam's arm, thumb moving absently over the taut muscle, hoping to ease some of the tension. He felt the slightest shift in Sam's stance, as if Sam was trying to get back to work, to move down the road, but the tension held him in place as a muffled sob escaped the clenched throat and wet sniffling, the tremors crescendoing to a violence that sent Sam swaying and nearly stopped Dean's heart.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice shot up an octave on the second syllable, rough with panic and need. He forced his arms through the tense, spasming muscles to grab Sam under the armpits, his own body vibrating with his brother's as he tried to lower Sam to the ground. But Sam was too stiff, his knees locked as Dean fought to keep them both upright as the shaking threatened his grasp. Dean gripped Sam tighter, pleading desperately, "Sammy, I gotta get you on the ground – I just….I just need you to bend your knees a little for me, okay? Just let go, Sam. I'll do all the work, I promise. I gotcha."
Dean wasn't sure he'd ever get over the flood of emotion that still hit him when Sam subconsciously trusted and responded to him like that. Because Sam let go - every muscle loosening at once, long limbs flopping uselessly against the spasms, knees knocking together as his legs buckled.
"Whoa, Sam!" Dean adjusted his stance and lowered the trembling weight entrusted to him to the ground. He laid Sam on his right side, running his hands quickly over his brother's body, looking for any sort of injury he might have missed. Finding nothing, Dean moved back up to Sam's shoulders and sat down on the pavement, crossing his legs as he brought Sam's head up onto his lap, keeping it elevated and turned to the side in case he vomited. He watched the tremors assaulting Sam's body; felt the vibrations running through his own legs to jolt up his spine. He winced at the sound of the knuckles of Sam's right hand, pillowed up near his head, scraping the ground. Unable to take his coat off without disturbing Sam's position, Dean compromised and dug out a bandana instead, wrapping it around the shaking appendage to give the skin some protection against the rough asphalt. He gently shifted himself so Sam's cheek was resting against his thigh more than his knee and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. He couldn't find any injuries, and this didn't look like any seizure Dean had ever seen in a lifetime of first aid training. That didn't mean it wasn't a seizure, but Dean's gut, the one thing that he trusted as much as he trusted Sam, the one thing that had always kept him completely in tune with Sam, was screaming that this physiological explosion had a far from physiological etiology.
Dean desperately fought the urge to ramble his internal thought process out loud to Sam, through the soothing nonsense that always came out of his mouth when his brother was hurting and he was trying to make it better. He was freaked – he didn't know how he could fix this if he didn't know what it was or what had caused it. And it was Dean's job, rule number two of the big brother code - just behind watching out for Sam and keeping him safe - to fix, kill, or stop anything that hurt his little brother. He felt the agitation of not knowing what to do run through his body, shaking the already tremor-wracked frame in his lap…..and stopped. Because potentially causing Sam additional pain was unacceptable. So Dean unclenched his jaw, forced his body to relax, and shut his mind down to the bare basics. To being there for Sam. He shifted his hands, gripping Sam's left shoulder to anchor him in place on his lap, before laying the other on Sam's head, absently running through the shaggy hair, letting the touch speak for itself. Letting Sam know he wasn't alone.
A chorus of support in the silence of an abandoned road.
Sam felt the change in Dean's grip through the numbness of his unresponsive body - felt his big brother holding him steady, absorbing the shaking and telling him, through hands more familiar than his own, that he was safe, that he wasn't alone. Dean's touch eased some of the choking fear and panic at the jarring tremors that he couldn't control, the ache of abused muscles, the pressured film of tears that even the spasms hadn't set free from eyes that refused to focus beyond the blurry image of a blue bandana protecting his stinging right hand. Sam's sluggish mind began to slow further, muddy thought and panicked need giving way until all he was left with was feel - the coolness of denim under his cheek; the solid presence of his brother's body; the hand running through his hair in an old childhood comfort; the warmth of the sun absorbed by the cracked pavement under his legs despite the January chill. So there was no panic as his unfocused vision finally dimmed, his body relaxing in the breath before unconsciousness took hold. He didn't have to fight the darkness anymore - Dean was there.
Dean's hand froze on Sam's head as the tremors abruptly ended and Sam went limp. Keeping his grip on Sam's shoulder, he untangled his hand from his brother's hair and laid it on Sam's sternum, his own tension easing a fraction at the steadying rise and fall; held the palm in front of the turned face to feel the puff of warm breath through cracked lips. He shifted his fingers to Sam's neck, frowning at the rapid, fluttering beats. Resisting the urge to go back to smoothing out Sam's hair, an action that he'd never admit calmed him as much as it did Sam, Dean kept the hand on Sam's neck to monitor his pulse, shifting his grip on Sam's shoulder so he could lightly rub a thumb along Sam's upper arm instead. But after a full minute, the silence became unnerving rather than therapeutic, and he felt his stomach churn, the foreign feeling of doing something for himself when he was alone. It was only when he rationalized that it could help reach Sam wherever he was too, that Dean finally acted on it.
And began to hum.
He mentally ran through his tapes, picked an artist, and began humming a few rough bars of one song before moving into the next one on the album, the constant movement of switching from song to song easing his anxiety. Because when Dean was stressed, freaked, or needed to think, he found calm in movement – rambling smartass comments or stupid jokes that made Sam cringe; singing and drumming to blaring music; reorganizing the trunk; fiddling under the Impala's hood, the solid feel of tools working through his hands. Humming had become a sort of compromise over the years; something he could do when he needed to calm down and his usual methods weren't feasible. He needed to be calm when Sam woke up, but most of all, he needed Sam to wake up. So maybe there was also a twinge of selfish need in choosing to hum; a hope that Sam might wake up faster if he heard it – because while Sam easily fell asleep to the tapes and singing, he always woke up to the humming because it meant that Dean was stressed or freaked.
And Dean wasn't the only brother who needed to make things better.
Four minutes later, while humming one of Sam's least favorite songs, Sam barreled back to consciousness with a strangled gasp, shoving himself to a wobbly sitting position, his back to his brother, before Dean could even finish the note. Then Dean watched as Sam hunched over, drew his legs close and crossed them in a mirror position of the brother he still couldn't see…and began rocking. A shaky, rapid back and forth; the visual representation of the tachycardic pulse Dean had been monitoring moments before.
"Sammy?" Dean choked on Sam's unexpected response even as he scooted forward to close the suddenly painful gap between them. He ran a quick, assessing eye over Sam; noted the minute tremors returning even as the shaking head was replaced by that full body rocking - desperate, uncontrollable, seemingly inconsolable…..and familiar. The kind of movement Dean had seen in late night documentaries about genocides and other human horrors; the action of prayerful women keening a deep, unimaginable loss.
And there it was.
Maybe what he was seeing was loss - a physical grieving, a full body response to a keening too long submerged, silent only because Sam had no voice for the pain. Grief was a notoriously insidious, unpredictable bitch, one Dean only wished he could hunt and kill, because it wasn't something that could really be fixed. But what grief didn't know was that he was Sam's big brother - and this trembling, rocking, despondent bundle of loss? This was Sam hurting - a place where Dean was a master at fixing the unfixable. Because one didn't have to take away the hurt – just the crushing despair of hurting alone.
And if Sam had to hurt, Dean would be damned if he'd let him suffer alone.
So Dean moved up to Sam's back, bending his knees and shifting his legs alongside Sam's thighs. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Sam's abdomen, linking his hands in a tight grasp at Sam's umbilicus. "I gotcha, Sammy," he whispered roughly, before letting the silence fall again, rocking along with his brother, fitting his movement to Sam's. After a minute or so, Dean felt the moment when Sam's sluggish mind truly registered his presence – because Sam's hands suddenly latched onto his own, gripping the arms circling his abdomen with crushing force, holding on with raw, desperate need. Dean let him keep rocking for another minute before quietly beginning to hum again, slowing their movement to the beat of the song, gently tugging Sam backwards, trying to break the cycle. "It's okay, kiddo, just let go," he thought quietly to himself. And damned if Sam didn't respond to his brother's unspoken assurance, the long body stilling and allowing itself to fall back against Dean's chest with the gentle pull.
Sam let himself be held, back against Dean's chest, hands gripping his brother's arms, his own stuttering breaths fading away as the only sensation that mattered came down to the vibration of his brother's humming through the familiar leather jacket. He closed his eyes with a shuddered sigh, his weary body finally shutting down.
Dean shifted his cheek against Sam's hair to prop the lolling head in place. "That's my boy," he murmured into the tangled strands as he pulled Sam closer.
When their local contact called ten minutes later, Dean didn't even look at his phone as he shut it off.
Because the only thing that mattered was the gangly kid passed out in his arms.
And there was nowhere else he was supposed to be.
Later that night, when Sam had regained enough awareness to actually focus on Dean and sit up unaided, Dean sat him against the headboard, bundled him in several layers of blankets, and wrapped his hands around a mug of tea that may or may not have been spiked with Nyquil. A few minutes later, Sam's faltering voice started struggling through the steam clouding his pale face, gaze distant as memory resurfaced. And Dean learned the truth. About blond dog hair mimicking Jess's blond curls blowing in a supernatural wind just before the fire took her; the canine's damaged face a reminder of closed caskets and the image of Jess's skin charring as Dean pulled him from the apartment; the red ID tag glinting in the sun like the beads of Jess's favorite bracelet; and the discovery that Sam wasn't the only one in that relationship who had a thing for dogs. How, the week of Jess's death, she and Sam had discussed adopting a dog together. A Golden Retriever. Because Jess loved their sweet, trusting natures and Sam was able to hide his subconscious comfort with their hunting instinct and desire to help and please others behind an outwardly mutual appreciation of their dopey smiles and intelligent companionship. Dean sat on the edge of the bed against Sam's legs, listening quietly, watching his brother's ducked gaze and shaking hands, keeping one hand near the mug, a protective parent ready to prevent Sam from spilling the tea and burning himself. He absorbed it all, filing the information away for further thought, and offered silent support through his eyes, his near presence, a gentle pat of legs swathed in comforters; not saying a word.
Until the big idiot bowed his head, embarrassed, and apologized.
"For what, Sam?" Dean found himself echoing from that afternoon.
Sam cringed. "For screwing up the canvass. For freaking you out." And Dean knew which one Sam really meant – because he looked into soulful hazel eyes that clearly remembered humming.
"Dude, only you would have a completely justified full body….." he waved his hands looking for the right words, "…grief explosion and freaking apologize for it." He sighed, face softening. "Sam, just 'cause the nightmares have slowed down doesn't mean all that stuff still isn't in there. It's gotta come out somehow, man, and honestly? This whole pseudo-seizure thing freaked me out a lot less than all the 'not sleeping, not eating, everything is lollypops and candy canes' crap you've been pulling since California."
Sam's eyes mustered up a sarcastic flash of 'yeah and you're such a poster child for healthy emotional coping mechanisms' before sinking under the weight of exhaustion one more.
Dean rolled his eyes in both expected response and tacit acknowledgement before continuing, "So if you ever need to have another….."
"…grief explosion?" Sam supplied, nose wrinkling around the gross image that brought to mind.
"….then I'm all for it," Dean finished smoothly. He paused. "Just, maybe give me a little warning next time before you go boneless," he rubbed his back theatrically. "You know how long it takes to lower that freakishly long body of yours to the ground?" he feigned disgust.
Sam's attempted kick was quickly thwarted by several layers of blankets.
"Easy there, tiger," Dean grinned, shifting down the bed and patting Sam's leg from the renewed distance.
Sam rolled his eyes with a soft smile and leaned back against the headboard wearily, eyes closing. Dean figured if the kid was too tired to keep trying to apologize, then they were rapidly approaching unconsciousness again.
He let his hand linger on Sam's blanketed leg for a moment before standing up, walking to Sam's shoulder, and lightly tapping his brother's head. Sam opened his eyes with a groan.
"Tea first, then sleep," Dean gestured at the half-finished mug with the hand he wasn't using to support Sam's flagging grip on it.
Sam's eyes narrowed in preparatory defiance.
"Dude, you haven't eaten anything since breakfast. You need to get some fluids in, so stop being a bitch and finish the damn tea," Dean glared back.
"You're a bitch," Sam muttered, words slurring as he slowly brought the mug back to his lips with Dean's help. Sorry for scaring you. Thanks for taking care of me. I love you.
"Yeah, with a jerk for a brother," Dean shot back, supporting the mug and pulling it back when Sam choked as his throat forgot how to work. You're gonna be okay. You're welcome. Love you too, Sammy.
He took the empty mug from Sam's lax hands and set it on the nightstand with a soft thump. Sam's eyes cracked open; exhausted, muddy slits of color. Dean smiled. "Okay, Sasquatch, now you can sleep."
"I am asleep," Sam slurred, scrunching his eyes shut again.
Dean grinned. Sammy on Nyquil. The stuff never failed to bring out an amalgamation of sarcasm, drunken clumsiness, and pliable, petulant, drug-induced toddlerhood in his little brother; a reaction uniquely Sam. "True, but let's get you horizontal again, okay?"
Sam made a low sound in the back of his throat as Dean gently lowered him down, moving sluggishly when Dean requested it, otherwise letting Dean do the work. After the blankets were readjusted and Dean slid Sam's head onto the pillows, Sam's hand shot out with an accuracy no drug, exhaustion, or injury could ever diminish and grabbed Dean's wrist. "You goin' sleep too?" he struggled with the thick words, fingers tightening in lieu of eyes that couldn't pry themselves open long enough to fix Dean with one of those earnest, puppy dog looks.
"Yeah, Sammy, right behind you," Dean promised, giving his brother's arm a reassuring squeeze.
Sam's fingers twitched in one last, tight grip before letting go. Dean caught the dropped hand before it hit the wooden nightstand and laid it gently on Sam's chest, tucking it into the blanket cocoon.
"M'kay," Sam murmured in delayed response to Dean's reply before his breathing finally allowed itself to even out into deep, needed sleep.
Dean pushed a loose strand of hair back from Sam's eyes with an indulgent, wistful smile, before scrubbing his hands across his face with a shaky sigh, and dragging himself to the bathroom to get ready for bed. His mind was racing and it would be hours before sleep was even remotely a possibility, but he had made a promise.
The next morning, Sam woke up to the smell of pancakes and Dean's empty threat to eat Sam's portion if he "slept any friggin' longer." Sam rubbed at gritty eyes, stood with a slow, shaky stretch and joined his brother at the table. As they dug into the food, Sam cringed at Dean's awful jokes and pretended he didn't recognize the lingering effects of Nyquil in his clumsy movements. Dean rolled his eyes as Sam insulted his perfected method of drowning every inch of pancake in syrup and pretended that he hadn't taken his promise literally and slept in Sam's bed, right at his brother's back.
And both pretended that the light, reassuring hand resting on Sam's chest hadn't been the real reason they both slept soundly through the night.