It had been six days since they'd lost Bobby.
Six days of driving with the lingering picture of another funeral pyre in his mind's eye, another memory of Sam trying to hold back his tears, and Dean feeling nothing but a cold, burning rage that this was their life. That they had to endure this crushing sense of emptiness again.
Six days of forcibly quelling Sam's 100 or so attempts to 'deal' with it, to try to get Dean to talk or share or whatever he was after. But, Dean didn't want to deal. He wanted very much to not think about it. He had nothing to say and certainly no words of wisdom for Sam. He wanted to be pissed, not heartbroken and weepy. He told Sam, at first, that he damn well didn't feel like talking about it. But, would Sam listen? Take him at his word? No. Sam wanted to pick and poke and not leave him the hell alone.
So, whenever Sam cleared his throat, started with one of his quiet, "Dean, this isn't going to go away-" or, "Can we please talk about-" Dean would turn to his sad-eyed, not-listening brother and resort to his patented 'do not go there with me, motherfucker' glare.
And it worked. Of course, it worked. He'd been putting off Sam's attempts to care-and-share since he was 15.
Now, Sam didn't try to talk anymore. He kept to himself, even two feet away in the front seat of the car, he tried to make himself silent and invisible. He kept his shoulder turned to Dean and his gaze out the window. Dean was relieved. Of course he was. The kid was finally taking the hint and leaving him alone. He seemed to rub his hand a lot, and Dean thought that was weird, but, at least he was quiet, so that was something.
It was coming up on 11:30 at night, and tomorrow would mark one week since…And, much as Dean dreaded stopping, (and dreaded Sam's having him as a captive audience in a room instead of a moving car,) Dean just didn't think he could physically drive anymore. His thinking was getting fuzzy and his eyes were practically closing of their own accord, and he just had to take a break. Try to sleep.
He stopped the car in front of the motel office and Sam didn't move. Dean sighed. Guess I have to do everything…He got out, paid for the room with cash, got the key. When he got back to the car, Sam still sat with his body tilted away from the driver's side, his gaze out the window, his thumb pressing into his palm. Dean drove around to their room, cut the engine. Figured it was best to head Sam off at the pass. "Sam, we are just here to sleep. I do not want to answer any of your touchy-feely questions, and I don't have anything to say about any recent events. I want to sleep. That's it."
Sam didn't answer, just ground at his hand with his thumb.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Sam? We clear?"
Sam spoke softly. "Yeah." He opened the car door and went around to the trunk to get his stuff.
Good, then, they were clear. Dean got out, got his own bag out of the car, grabbed the weapons bag. Sam took the first aid kit and his own duffle, and they went into the room.
Sam walked right to the bathroom, shut the door without saying a word. Dean told himself he was glad. Sam seemed to be taking him at his word, for once.
Unbidden, a memory of Sam in the days after Dad's death came back to him. Dean had been pretty clear on the 'no caring and sharing' thing back then, too. But, Sam had come out, and just started talking about how much he missed Dad and how guilty he felt about fighting with him right before he'd died. He looked Dean right in the eye and told him, "I am not all right, not even a little…but neither are you. That much I know." He'd been right, of course. And, Dean was a little irritated to be thinking about that just now, because it was too much like what he didn't want to think about.
He looked around the crappy motel room, felt the first fissures of grief trying to break through, saw Bobby in his mind's eye, smiling and calling he and Sam 'idjits' for the last time, just before he'd flat-lined…and swallowed it all down. No. He was not going to do this. He wasn't going to sleep. He was going to get out of here.
Sam came out of the bathroom, and Dean didn't even look at him. "I'm gonna go find a drink. You coming?"
Of course, even as he asked, he knew Sam wouldn't come. When Sam was hurting, he wanted quiet, he wanted to roll around in his angst or whatever it was. And, eventually, he wanted to talk it all through.
Well, Dean was more a man of action. He didn't want to think about any of it. Not Bobby, not the Leviathans, hell, not Cas or Sam's unbalanced Satan-vision. No, he mostly just wanted to get numb…well, get more numb, and then, eventually, hopefully, try to sleep.
Dean turned toward the door. "I'll be back in a little while. Get some sleep."
Dean stopped in spite of himself. There was a world of pain and sorrow and confusion in just that one word out of Sam. Dean felt his own eyes well up. No. No way. He didn't turn back around. "Be back in a bit." And, out the door he went.
Dean found a bar that was hosting an honest-to-God wet t-shirt competition. It pulled a smile out of him at last. He didn't think he'd ever actually seen one in person. The locals were friendly, the whiskey wasn't too watered down, and, within a half hour Dean felt like he fit right in. He made jokes and played darts and, when the contest got underway, was actually asked to be one of the judges. If his smile felt a little hollow, and the whiskey had a hard time settling in his stomach, he didn't think much about it. As he was marking his score card for the final round, he even let himself have the thought that Bobby would probably appreciate Dean's method of coping with…well, with everything.
Last call finally came about 2:30 a.m. Dean was reluctant to leave. He actually helped the bartender, Phil, put the chairs up and sweep the floor. He knew going back to the room only meant the heavy silence of Sam to look forward to. Sam wasn't sleeping any better than Dean was, and they both pretended not to notice as they laid there in beds next to each other, staring up at the ceiling or trying not to toss and turn.
Dean just wished once in awhile things would be easy with Sam. But, no, he could feel the kid needing his attention, needing his permission to grieve. And, Dean just…couldn't give it. Just wasn't wanting to go there. So, sue him.
He ran out of chores, bid Phil goodnight, got in the crap car they were using and drove. He had the thought that maybe he should just keep driving. Maybe he could just take a god damned break from all this crap for like, 48 hours. Maybe he could even get to a coast line, have some time at the beach, or something.
It's December, asshat. And you're in Tennessee, for pity's sake. Go check on your brother.
Dean sighed, knew who the voice in his head belonged to, and took the turn toward the motel. For all his mopiness, he supposed he owed Sam at least a pat on the head and a 'there, there,' or some such girly touch. He knew it was the right thing, but he just…didn't want to.
He sat in the car for a few more peaceful minutes, not really feeling anything. The numbness of the whiskey, the distraction of the crowd at the bar, it had worked just like Dean had intended. Maybe Sam was asleep. Maybe it would only wake him if Dean came in now. Maybe he should just stay right here. Sleep in the car, leave Sam to his insomnia and silence.
Stop it. Get in there. Sam needs you and you're being a whiny baby.
Dean almost answered, 'You get in there, Bossy-McBosserson.' But, he sighed, opened his car door. Fine.
When he finally opened the door to the room, every instinct he had, whiskey-numbed or not, went on alert. Something was off. He pulled the gun from its snug holster on his belt, and shut the door. Sam wasn't here. The weapons bag was unzipped on Sam's bed.
Damn it. Was he really going to have to do another 'Sam Search' at, he checked his watch, 3:45 in the freakin' morning? Really, Sam? It was just this side of too much. He lowered his gun. Screw it. If Sam wanted to have a freakin' walk-about at ass o'clock in the morning, let him.
Keep lookin'. You're not getting it, idjit.
Dean spun around. Now that had sounded like it was right in his ear. But, he was just mellow enough to not freak, mumbled a "fine," and turned on the light. Sam's phone was on the nightstand. Dean walked closer to his bed, saw a streak of blood on the dingy gold bedspread.
Dean's heart started beating faster. "Sam?"
Like that's gonna help. Use your head.
Dean moved around the room, looking for anything to tell him what was going on. Sam's boots were side-by-side next to his duffle, where he always left them. So, he hadn't left on purpose. Shit. Dean was heading for the door, to check outside for footprints, anything. Then, he noticed the closet door was closed. That struck him as off, as he and Sam never used the closets, and never closed the doors, so they didn't have to worry about anything hiding behind them. It had been open when he'd left, hadn't it? Yeah, it had been open, because Dean had glimpsed the ironing board in his effort to not look at Sam before he left. He walked closer to the closet and noticed a blood smear on the door knob. Dean turned the knob, his gun steady in front of him.
The knob turned, but the door held fast. He noticed the hinge was on the inside, and the door didn't pull open, it pushed into the closet to open. Something was keeping it from opening. No, no…Dean pushed harder.
From inside he heard a weary, "Stop."
He froze. "Sam?"
A long pause, and then, "Please…don't."
Dean didn't know whether to be concerned or pissed. "Don't what, Sam? What the hell are you doing in there?"
Sam didn't answer. Dean pushed again at the door. "Sam, come on! It's late. Get out of there."
Wow, don't bust somethin' with all that brotherly concern pouring out of ya.
Dean nodded. That had sounded kind of harsh. His made his voice a little gentler. "Sam, you okay in there?"
Finally, a harsh, broken-sounding laugh. "Yeah. Fine…Just, go to bed, Dean."
Only it clearly wasn't fine. Sam sounded wrecked, his voice hoarse, his breath hitching.
"Sam, just, come out, will you? Tell me what the problem is."
There was a long pause before Sam answered. "It just seemed like…he couldn't fit in here. I needed a break. Just for a minute…"
Oh. Well, shit. Dean sank to his butt on the dirty carpet. Guilt and sorrow and shame rolled through him in equal measure.
'Shame' sounds about right. This is what the Winchester party line of being a repressed jackass gets you. You know better, son.
Yeah. He'd kind of denied Sam his chance to process, to work through some of his grief, his fears, whatever. He'd actually worked pretty hard to not think about Sam, and what he might be dealing with, at all. Instead, he'd fallen back into what he'd done when dad died, when Ellen died, when Cas died. He'd pushed it all away, including Sam, so he wouldn't have to feel it. Wouldn't have to know that something else had been ripped from him without his consent. But, that wasn't good enough. Not anymore. Not when Sam wasn't capable of being the one to call Dean out and make him deal with this emotional crap.
No, this time, Dean was going to have to be a big boy, and crack open the wall he so habitually built around himself in times of…well, let's say great stress. Because, shutting Sam out, then waiting for him to charge in and crack Dean open so they could deal with all this? Just was not going to happen.
Yeah, well, you've realized it now, so quit with the guilt and get with the talking. You're all he's got now, genius.
Even knowing he should, he didn't know how to make himself start. He sat there on the grubby hotel rug and couldn't make himself talk to his grieving brother, couldn't find the words to try to make him feel better. What did that say about him?
It's not rocket science, kid. You can't do it wrong. He's just waiting on you to let him in. That's what will help him. Might even help you, too.
Dean mumbled, "Okay, okay. God, give a guy a minute, will you?" He put his hand against the closet door. He gentled his tone as much as he knew how. "Sam, please, open the door?"
"No…it's too much."
Dean didn't like that answer. "What's too much, Sammy?"
Sam sighed, thunked his head against the wall, it sounded like. "Keeping track of what's real. I mean, I know Lucifer's a hallucination. I know he's not really stabbing you and strangling me and just, all his usual shit. But, since Bobby, I can't seem to keep him out, keep things straight. Nothing's working. It's just…nothing's working…"
Dean's shame ratcheted up another couple of notches. So, not just Bobby's death, but Lucifer in sensor-round pounding at him, too. Dean noticed the blood, again. "Sam, are you bleeding?"
Sam's voice, when it came, reminded Dean of when he was five and thought he was in trouble. "Don't be mad."
Jesus. "I won't be mad. Tell me why you're bleeding."
Dean was confused. "Bleeding helps? What does it help?"
"Not bleeding…Just, um, pain."
Oh, double Jesus. "The pain helps what, exactly?"
Another long pause. "You said you won't be mad, right?"
Dean signed, closed his eyes, kept his tone light. "I won't be mad, I promise."
"Well, pain sometimes makes him leave. So, the deeper the cut, um, the more painful, the faster he goes."
Dean felt his throat close up. God, how could his head be so far up his ass that he'd missed this? "So, you give yourself a slice, and…"
"Yeah. It actually helps. Weird, huh?"
Oh, Sammy. And this is what Dean got for pushing Sam away again and again. He got a Sam who, of course, always came up with what he was sure was a good solution to whatever unprecedentedly freaky problem he faced. The cost to himself? Well, he wasn't so good at seeing that. No, he needed Dean to see that for him. He'd always needed Dean for that.
And Dean had known that Sam was fucked up. Strong, smart, kind-hearted but fucked up, for real. And, Bobby's death had pulled Dean off his game and he'd forgotten all about Sammy's scrambled brain. Nice move, to just let his wounded brother swing in the wind. And, it occurred to Dean that this probably wasn't Sam's first attempt to 'feel the pain to send Satan on his way.'
Dean cleared his throat. Well, big brother was on the case, now.
"Sam, is Lucifer in there with you now?"
Sam sighed, "Dean, I know he's never really with me. I'm not an idiot."
Dean stayed on point. "Sam, just tell me. Is he in there with you right now?"
Sam sighed. "No. That's why I came in here to begin with. To get away from him." The 'duh' was implied.
Dean fought a smile. "Since he's not out here, either, why don't you come on out? The air can't be very fresh in there."
Sam gave a short laugh. "Fresh air wasn't my main concern, Dean."
"Well, you're in there with, like, 40 years of people's nasty-ass shoes and dirty laundry drippings. Can't smell good, dude."
Sam paused. "Yeah, thanks for pointing that out."
Dean abruptly felt the comfort of having this back-and-forth with Sam. No matter how crazy his brother was, he was still Sam. If they'd learned anything, it was that sticking together was their saving grace. It's what gave them strength when everything was going to complete crap around them. Dean just forgot. Things had been sort of…difficult, lately.
Don't let it happen again. You boys are gonna need all the strength you can get in the next little while. Best stick together so's your asses don't get handed to ya.
"I know…leave off, Bobby."
Sam asked quietly, "Are you talking to Bobby?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Uh, he's talking to me. Harassing me, more like. Sam, come on out, okay?"
Still, the door stayed closed. "Dean?"
"It's…I'm not okay. Not at all."
And, this time, Dean was smart enough to give Sam the truth. "Yeah, I know. I'm not okay, either."
Sam huffed. "You're way more okay than I am."
Dean actually smiled. "Well, that's always been the case, Sammy."
Sam kicked at the door. "Oh, har har."
Dean stood up. "Come on, dude. Out you go."
After another long moment, the door opened. Sam was trying to move his impossibly long legs out of the way of the incoming door without standing up. He looked ridiculous. Dean was about to tell him just that, when he noticed the blood dripping down Sam's arm. His hands were covered in it. Dean felt his temper spark. "Damn it, Sam."
When he glanced at his brother, though…his temper died. Sam looked awful. Scared and sweaty and hollowed out. He was holding his bloody hands up and away from his body. His eyes met Dean's and Dean saw it. Sam was embarrassed, he was mortified that Dean was seeing him like this. He got up and started toward the bathroom. "Sorry, don't look…I'll just…Sorry."
Dean put his hand on Sam's shoulder, and Sam stopped. "Hey, I promised not to be mad, remember?" He pulled Sam around to face him. "Listen to me, okay? This is…well, this is notgood, Sam. But, I understand why you did it." He looked down at Sam's arm, where he'd cut a deep gash just above his wrist. There were other slashes there, in various stages of healing. It made Dean furious, and it scared him. That Sam had been doing this for a while, obviously, and that Dean hadn't even noticed.
Hard to notice bloody little brothers with your eyes so fascinated with your own navel, ain't it?
Dean reigned himself in. "Sam, we'll find something else. This? This isn't…"
Sam sighed, pulled his arm from Dean's gentle hold. "I know it's fucked up, Dean. But, it works. So, just, don't look at it. I'll take care of it."
Dean shook his head. "No, I'll take care of it." He followed Sam into the bathroom, pushed him down to sit on the closed toilet, pulled his arm over the sink. The blood was barely seeping, but there was already a bruise forming around the slash. Had Sam just been digging his hands into the cut? All this time? Jesus, times three. Dean rinsed the dried blood off, used the soap on Sam's hands and all up and down his arms. "Sam…I don't want you to hide. When it's bad for you, don't keep it from me…"
Sam barked out a harsh laugh. "You're kidding, right? What the hell have you been doing for the past week, huh? I tried to tell you-"
Dean's mouth dropped open. "You did not. I think I'd remember a conversation starting with, 'Gee, Dean, I think I'll slice open my arm today to help clear my Lucifer visions…"
Dean could feel Sam's breathing speed up, glanced down at him.
Sam was glaring daggers at him. Pure anger and, underneath that, hurt shone out from those exhausted eyes. He pulled his arm from Dean's grip. "Fuck you, Dean."
Dean's own anger flooded back with a comforting wave of red. He still had his brother's drying blood on his hands. "No, fuck you, Sam! You and your silence! This is not-"
Sam spun around and gaped at him, eyes wide, mouth open. "My silence? Oh, that is…that's just perfect! Yeah, Dean, you know me, some bomb goes off in our lives, we lose someone we love, we fuck up a job and that's me! I go silent! I drink and sulk and refuse to even look at you! I turn up the music or glare you death when you try to talk and when I've had enough of that I leave you alone whenever I can manage it so you can cry and scream at hallucinations-"
Sam's yelling cut off abruptly.
Dean felt the shame come flooding back, burning all through him, now. His heart was pounding with it. "Sam, I'm-"
Sam held up his hand. His voice was soft again. "Don't. Just…forget it. Go to sleep. Whatever."
He turned to the first-aid bag, pulled out some medical tape, antibiotic ointment and a roll of bandages.
Dean didn't know what to say. For the first time since this nightmare had happened, he really wanted to talk to Sam, and he couldn't find the words. He just stood there, watching Sam bandage his own arm, his heart in his throat. He felt like the worst big brother in the history of forever. Because Sam could tell him over and over that he didn't need Dean to look out for him, that he was all grown up, and everything was hunky dory, and 'just look after yourself, Dean.' But, that didn't make it true.
Dean knew better. He'd known better all his life. Sam needed him. That's just the way it was.
Okay, Dean had a bad habit of holing up when he was hurting. But, Sam? He was the opposite. He needed to share the pain or it smothered him. Dean knew that. So, why couldn't Dean just give him that? What was he afraid of? That it would hurt? Shit, their whole lives were just one, long parade of hurt. Since when had Dean Winchester been afraid of a little pain?
Why had he been dodging this conversation with Sam like he hadn't learned a god damned thing over the last seven years? If that's what Sam needed, then that's what Dean would give him. The one thing Dean had always known how to do was look out for Sam. When he forgot that is when things went to hell for them.
And, this week? Having lost their last family member, it was probably a good time to look after his emo little brother instead of leaving him on his own to cry and scream…yeah. Okay. So, Dean would do that. Starting now.
He walked over, sat next to Sam on the bed and willed himself to let go of everything he'd been working so hard to shield himself from for the last six days. He looked down, saw their feet, side-by-side, his with scuffed up boots, Sam's with dark blue socks with a hole over the pinky toe. It all went blurry. He could feel the grief crawling into his chest. "Sam…"
Sam sighed, bumped his shoulder against Dean's. As he talked his voice started to hitch, but he just let the tears fall, and soldiered through. "Yeah. I'm sorry, too. Sorry I'm such…a fucking mess. Sorry that…Jesus." He swiped a sleeve across his eyes. "That we won't have Bobby, anymore." He huffed out sound that could have been a sob or a laugh. "He had a way of making whatever messed up thing we're dealing with seem doable, you know?...Like, even if the world was ending, it was just another job…we would figure it out. He never gave up…Never gave up on us." He drew in a shaky breath, let it out. "I'm just…I'm really gonna miss him."
Dean could feel the tears building, and he wasn't sure why he was trying to hold them in. Didn't Bobby at least deserve some of his tears? The old bastard had given them everything he'd had to give and then cut out on them way too soon. It wasn't fair that they had to say goodbye.
But, if Sam could do this, then Dean would, too. He cleared his throat. "I'll miss his stupid trucker hats and his cheap whiskey…"
Sam sniffed. "Yeah. The way he always answered his phone, always found an answer. It was like having a supernatural encyclopedia on call 24/7."
"His lumpy sofa and junky house, and how he never seemed surprised to see us."
Sam smiled. "How he cried at every freakin' episode of Extreme Homemakover."
Dean let out a choked laugh. "He was such a sap. He'd yell and kick our assess all the damn time, then give that little shit-eating grin so's we'd know he didn't mean it…" Dean pressed his hands hard into his eyes. There was a reason he didn't like to do this. The pain was almost physical, now.
Sam pressed his shoulder harder against Dean's. "He was just, always there for us, no matter what."
Dean nodded, tried to smile. "We really gave him a lot of shit."
Sam gave a watery smile back. "We did. But, he gave us shit right back. I think he was actually better at giving shit that you were, man. And that's saying something."
Dean couldn't argue with that. Bobby always gave as good as got, and then some.
A long bit of quiet passed. Sam sighed. "I just hope he knew, that we, you know…"
Dean could picture Bobby rolling his eyes at the sentimental turn in conversation. "Yeah, he knew."
If I'd a known dyin' would turn you both into delicate ladies, I woulda saved myself the trouble.
Dean turned to Sam, "You hear that?"
Sam smiled, a real one, this time, not weighed down by grief. "Something about 'delicate ladies?'"
Dean smiled back, wiped at his eyes. "Grumpy fucker."
Time passed, and they just sat there, Dean finally feeling the pain ebb. Sam just breathing quietly beside him. After a while, Sam looked at Dean, "Thanks."
Dean nodded. Glanced down, saw Sam's bandaged arm. He figured that was a battle for another day. He nudged Sam again. "Think you can sleep?"
Sam shrugged. "Can try."
Dean shrugged back. "Yeah."
They got ready for bed, and Dean turned out the lights once Sam was under the covers. He climbed in and lay there, staring up at the ceiling. He knew they were both still awake, but it didn't feel ominous or full of tension. It was quiet. Almost…peaceful.
Then, softly, as if he didn't want to wake him if he were sleeping, Sam whispered, "Dean?"
Unlike the previous week, Dean rolled on his side to face Sam. "Yeah?"
"You think Bobby and Dad worked things out once they were both, you know, topside?"
It was so random, so Sammy that Dean fought a snort. "Well, Sam, knowing both of them, my guess is they're still circling, feeling each other out before they go in for the hug and the tearful apology."
Sam laughed. "Yeah, you're probably right."
Another long pause, and Dean actually felt himself truly relaxing for the first time in a week. Sam settled further into his pillow. Then, "You ever wonder what Bobby's heaven would be? Like, would it be finding the perfect spell or weapon and pulling off perfect hunt after perfect hunt? Or, you think he's just rocking on the porch eating pie with his wife or something?"
Dean heard the slurring of Sam's words, knew he was sliding into sleep, felt his own eyes get heavy. He closed them, thought about Sam's question. "Gotta say he'd go with the pie and the wife."
Sam sighed. "Yeah. Me, too."
And, they finally slept.