It's one of the bad days.
One of the worst, when he wakes up and the first thought on his mind is Jessica. She's the thing that wakes him up and lays him back down just as fast, curled on his side with his head tucked on his arm. Sam can still smell her perfume mixed in with the natural gunpowder and sweat of his hoodie and he hates it, he hates that if he closes his eyes he can imagine the whirring of the fan is the sound of the apartment's central cooling and he almost thinks, if he opens his eyes, they'll be laying nose-to-nose again.
It's not Jessica he sees when he opens his eyes, it's Dean, sitting up on the opposite bed and pulling on his boots. It's been Dean for a few months now and there's a part of Sam that's both grateful, and angry.
Today, it's mostly angry.
He can't seem to lift his mood from the black molasses of uncaring. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he follows Dean on principle through the convenience store, swiping enough snack-packs of chips and bottles of soda to last them to the next state over. He shrugs indifferently, don't care, when Dean asks him if he wants to get a coffee. Trust Dean to attribute a black mood to bad sleep.
Sam hasn't slept well, not in a while; he's all-ways tired, all-ways ragged, like roadrash hidden under human skin. He can function on the better days, but today's not one of them, and he feels he weighs a hundred pounds and he's not sure if he's dragging Dean down, or if it's the other way around.
They're between cases, so they drive aimlessly; Sam tries to research, or tap out a few emails to the friends from Stanford he's still in contact with. But he always stops himself just shy of sending them, because he knows that every reply will have some question he's reluctant to answer: how are you doing?, they'll ask, When are you coming back? It takes looking at Dean, with another irrational burst of anger, for him to think, Probably never.
Sam thinks of bad days at Stanford when he used to see a black Chevy Impala cruising the streets, and remember his family; how Jessica would bake him chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, push him down on the couch and force him to watch reruns of The Brady Bunch until he was laughing.
There's no laughter now, when his mood's at its lowest. There's just Dean in a quiet car and Dean doesn't understand, couldn't ever understand; all Dean's ever lost was Mary, at four years old, and it was horrible, but he outgrew it.
Sam won't ever outgrow this.
His mood has gone from rancid to outright virulent by the time they stop for the night, and true to Sam's prediction they've made it through most of West Virginia. But the phantom of Jessica's memory is still there, hitching a ride on the Impala's slipstream, and it wraps around Sam like a heavy wet blanket as Dean pays for the room, and they go inside.
Sam sprawls on his back on the small couch on the wall beside the door, one arm draped over his eyes. He feels hot and cold in flashes and there's a growing pressure in his throat and his eyes and the backs of his knees. He wants to get up and run, feel the pavement slapping under his feet. He wants to lose himself in the sound and the silence and the solitude.
His chest feels too tight; he's forgetting how to breathe. Black claws scrabble at his throat and tuck him inside-out, and he wants Jessica to be there, to comfort him. Dean doesn't notice, he's too busy bustling around, shedding his flannel overshirt, clicking on an infomercial, settling with the last bag of Lays and a cold beer from the cooler.
"Hey, you hungry?" Dean asks, casual and with that familiar offhanded twang. Sam cocks his fingers into a fist, one after the other.
"No," He says, eloquently.
"Huh." Dean grunts, and chews. "'Cause I didn't see you eat all day."
"Didn't say you weren't. Just said you didn't eat."
"Well, I'm not hungry."
The pressure is going to explode, Sam realizes, he's one minute, maybe two away from breaking. He takes a breath through his nose in increments, hoping it will somehow cool the fire in the back of his throat.
"'Course, if you weren't fine, you know I—" Dean begins, and that's it, it's the match thrown onto the lighter fluid. Salted and burning, Sam's anger erupts, and it's not enough to banish the ghost but it's a start.
"I miss her, all right?" He launches up on the couch, grabbing the padded back for support and glaring through his bangs at Dean, who's frozen on the bed with the next handful of chips en route to his mouth. "I miss Jess and there's not a damn thing that's gonna make that better. So tell me what the hell you think you can do, Dean?"
Dean funnels the chips one by one back into the bag. "Sam, have you been sittin' on this all day?"
Sam scrubs a hand over his eyes. "Why should you care?"
"'Cause you're my little brother, that's why. Humor me."
"It's not just today, Dean." Sam's voice is husky, weaving agony into the words, and his eyes are wet. He looks away. "It's every day. Just…some days are worse." He drops his head, his fingers knotting spasmodically on the rust-orange cushion that takes up the back half of the couch. "I miss her so damn much and I can't—"
The black hole yawns wider, but it's not anger, anymore, it's despair; it's knowing that he'll wake in an empty bed a thousand more days after this one, never the wiser for which ones will break him; he'll hunt monsters and ghosts and the seedy underside of creation, and fall dead to the world onto his pillow at night and when he opens his eyes at daybreak Jessica will still be gone.
And some days it's not so bad, some days he can just barely live with that but today is not one of them.
He doesn't realize his cheeks are damp or that there are small, punctuated pained sounds huffing free of his chest until Dean clicks the infomercial into silence. He's been silent, Sam finally realizes, he's listened and taken the harsh words without reacting, with uncharacteristic stoicism. But now he moves, swinging his socked feet off the bed, getting up and moving to the couch instead. He drops next to Sam, shoulder-to-shoulder, resting a hand on the back of his neck.
"It's gonna be okay, Sam." Dean says. "We'll get through this."
We, Sam realizes, and almost chokes. Dean might not feel the loss potently, himself, but he feels the fragment of Sam that's missing, the gaping, bleeding hole left behind. He's had his hands to the flow, staunching the bloodshed while he's driven them backwards and forwards from case to case, trying to give Sam something to breathe past the pain.
Sam can't, not tonight, but maybe this is enough.
He leans his arm along Dean's leg, feels Dean's pulse beating through his jeans and against Sam's wrist. Dean pulls him over, rests his forehead in the hollow of Sam's temple, and never lets go of Sam's neck. His hand is hot and heavy but it's comforting, it's reassurance conveyed in scuffed, callused fingertips against his hairline.
"You'll be okay, Sammy." Dean says, and for once the nickname isn't an irritant. "I got you. It's gonna get better, little brother."
And because it's Dean, Sam believes him.
This touch, it's a small comfort; the bed will still be empty when Sam wakes up, and Jessica will still be gone.
But in the hand on his neck, the thumb massaging into the knot of muscle where his shoulder begins, and the warm breath on his cheek, the scratchiness of Dean's bristly hair on his temple, Sam feels the black hole taking back its hand.
The bed may be empty, but Sam isn't alone.