Hi! I love "Supernatural," but my one complaint about the show has always been, especially this season, is that Sam speaks less and less. The story skims over his inner dialogue to focus on Dean's. So this is my answer to that. Or at least one of them. I have a few more Sam-centric stories coming down the pike. I'm really proud of this one. Please let me know what you think.
Revised on August 6th.
Rule Number One
The flask was cheap, dented on the right side and scratched on the left; even the leather cover smelled of mildew and whiskey.
But Sam held it gently in palm of his hand with a reverence that felt foreign even to him. He nearly dropped it and bobbled to catch it, grunting a little as he bent over.
His back hurt.
The pain was bad enough to steal his breathe and gray his vision if he moved too fast. So he sat extremely still, and deliberately breathed around the nauseating agony of having a ghost fondle his spine for sadistic kicks, around the idea that Bobby's spirit was still there, and had been for months.
The thought ignited a glimmer of hope within, something he didn't have to feign for Dean's sake or even for his own. Even after Lucifer had flown the coop, the future seemed bleaker, with an inevitable bloody death at the end and a head clear enough to appreciate every skin-flaying detail. The angels were still warring in heaven, and Sam had already been below, so this life, that was now nothing but ash and black goo, seemed like a meaningless stalling of the inevitable. They hunted, of course, but were just prolonging lives instead of saving them?
Sam rubbed his forehead, staring at the flask. Even though it was worse than garbage, it still managed to find light and shine in the darkness of the motel room.
Dean's footsteps thumped loudly outside of the door, and Sam tucked the flask away inside his coat just as his brother banged the door open with his shoulder, armed with ice and painkillers. The latter he forced into him immediately. His face was pinched his anger, storms gleaming in his eyes like distant lightning, but Sam knew Dean well enough. His default setting was anger, but he was scared and shocked, so much so that to outsiders, it read like rage.
Dean helped Sam settle on the bed on his stomach, and even moved the television over a few feet, so Sam could see it without straining. He sat down beside him, cursing at the mess of bruised skin and examined him quickly and efficiently, grasping Sam's shoulder when he arched away from the coldness of the icepack. "Think you cracked a couple ribs. Sorry, dude."
"You can go," Sam mumbled, knowing Dean probably needing to take a drive and clear his head after seeing Bobby's friggin' ghost. "Gonna sleep."
"What? I'm not leavin' you injured, drugged and helpless."
Sam angled an arm under the pillow to retrieve his loaded .45. "Got all the help I need."
He sat the demon-killing knife on the nightstand, adding to Sam's arsenal. "I'll be back before those pills knock you out."
He snuffled into the pillow, grateful for the ice that blunted the agony. "No you won't. Go 'way."
Dean left after a pat on the leg and another moment of hesitation. Sam closed his eyes, settling into the bed. "Friends" was on, and he watched a blurry Rachel lament about her dating woes until his eyes slid shut, sleep beckoning. The atmosphere in the room changed. Goosebumps puckered over Sam's skin. His gut twinged. His eyes popped open.
"Bobby?" he whispered.
"How'd you know, boy?"
"You trained me, remember?" Sam said with a smile as Bobby appeared in front him.
His skin was a luminous blue, his clothes rumpled, but he was there in that moment, hole and solid and taking a seat on the bed. Sam grunted, and pushed himself up on his elbow, huffing through the pain.
"Seen you lookin' better." Bobby said restlessly.
"You too," Sam said with a sly smile.
"He wanted to kick my ass from the inside out."
"Don't pay any attention to Dean. You know he idles at angry. He didn't take you dying very well. He still hasn't."
"I'm beyond breathin' so havin' my feelings hurt isn't really in the cards anymore."
Sam finally made it upright, setting the bag of ice aside. With Bobby in the room, the temperature had plummeted, crackling with the unique chill of a spirit. It was unsettling, but Bobby was sitting across from him in a trucker cap, staring at Sam with a gruff mixture of love and concern. It was so distinctly Bobby that Sam didn't give a damn. It was perfect. "I feel like I should ask how you are…or is that weird?"
"I don't feel much different, actually."
"You died, Bobby, and I'm betting that you ducked your reaper like Dean did. You're telling me it…doesn't hurt. Dying always hurts."
Bobby shrugged. "I don't wanna waste my whole afterlife squabblin' over semantics, Sam. I feel normal...until I try to touch somethin' or talk to you. I've been screamin' at you idjits for weeks."
Sam nodded. "I think I felt you…once or twice, but—"
"You had your plate full with Lucifer bangin' around in your head, kid. I know. That's the thing about bein' dead, you see a helluva lot more. I had no idea, Sam."
Sam ducked his head, letting his mussed hair fall in front of his eyes like a curtain. He didn't need a reminder about Lucifer. He was gone, but the pain of the torture was still there throbbing like a slow-healing bruise. He shifted to purposely ignite the agony in his back and to snap him out of imagining Castiel, the angel, condemned to the same asylum where he'd been on lockdown. "I'm better now, thanks to you."
"Are you really?"
Sam's head shot up, and he nodded uncertainly, but Bobby cut him off. "I've done nothin' but watch y'all for the past few months. I've seen a lot…too much, honestly. You do a lot of lookin' after your brother. You do a lot of researchin', and do you a lot of not talkin'."
"We're not having therapy right now, Bobby." He grumbled and planted his feet, prepared to stand up. As soon as his knees locked, his back seized, muscles convulsing like they'd been electrocuted. The pain was swift and merciless, buckling his knees and yanking embarrassing whimpers from him. He'd narrowly missed the bed and landed awkwardly between them. His leg froze cold, while the pain radiated hot, as it passed through Bobby's foot. The ghost of his surrogate father flickered and he disappeared, leaving Sam alone with his throbbing back and the low roar of the "Friends" laugh-track.
As he lay crumpled against the cheap nightstand and breathed through the worst of the pain, the television flipped to static and the air was still frigid: Bobby was still there, and probably trying to come back. He dropped his head back against the mattress, heart pounding. "I'm always the one fallin' apart," Sam whispered. "I'm always the one who needs help…b-because of demon blood or the wall breaking or whatever. You died…and I had to be okay, for Dean because he wasn't. Do you know it's harder now that Lucifer's flown the coop?" The bitter irony made Sam smile mirthlessly. "I never realized how much energy it took to just keep going until he was gone, and now…it's like the blind man who can see again—everything's sharper and brighter, and I hate it. The good things feel better. The bad things feel so much worse."
It was a hideous truth, one that Sam had never spoken aloud. He'd rode out the shock of Bobby's death with Dean, blankly staring and meagerly existing. And then he'd grieved for him, in more ways that he had for John, because Bobby had always encouraged and supported him without judgment. He'd been a friend in the way John hadn't; the way Dean couldn't sometimes. Except he'd done it all with Lucifer dripping entrails down the walls, and lambasting Sam with hellfire and screeching "Highway To Hell." So Sam had to white-knuckle life just to keep his head straight, and he had to keep Dean going. When Lucifer had left the building and when he'd recovered from his insomnia, Sam was clobbered by Bobby's death once more, but this time the grief was vivid and lurid and never-ending.
"We've lost so much, you'd think I'd get used to it, wouldn't feel it anymore. But it just makes it worse. I miss you. I miss you so much that I…actually wish Lucifer was knockin' around in my head to distract me. Is that crazy? Did I have to get healed to finally lose my mind?"
There wasn't an answer, just mournful, hateful silence. Sam hated the quiet, hated the empty space in his head, the hot, pulsating ache in his back, the endless cycle of loss. He loathed it all.
The painkillers were finally working but not on the pain that mattered. It just made him loose-limbed and sleepy. Not wanting Dean to find him passed out between the beds, Sam carefully eased to his knees and levered himself to his feet. He leaned forward turning the volume of the television up and shuffled back to his bed. He shucked his t-shirt off and lay down, awkwardly settling the ice over his injuries. Sam grunted as he lay back down, eyes watering, and closed his eyes. "Bobby, can you stay for a little while longer?"
Sam's hair ruffled like it had been caught in a wintry breeze, and he didn't imagine hearing a faint, "I'm still here, Sam," on the funneling wind.
He re-appeared a moment later, sitting on the bed and smiling softly. It was an echo of a thousand memories: as a sick seven-year-old, a heartbroken thirteen year old, an injured twenty-year-old. And when Bobby shifted the ice and roughly sat his hand on his shoulder, Sam wept.
Dean Winchester wasn't a man who often hid.
He was a warrior, a survivor of hell, John Winchester and Bobby Singer's son. Who was seeking solace in the bathroom, like some drippy girl in a Katherine Heigl movie. There was something comforting about the blank popcorned walls of the bathroom, the smack of the water hitting the tile. He sat on the bathroom floor, drinking out of his flask and purposely not thinking. He'd surpassed tired some time before hell, and lots of years and too many losses later, Dean's default setting was just south of obliterated.
So he sat, trying to remember the man he used to be—the one that was whole and did the job because he loved it and he was good at it, the one who believed that it made a difference, the one who wasn't convinced the world was as determined to self-destruct as he was.
"You done wallowin', boy?" Bobby's voice boomed with paranormal strength, inside his head, not the tiled bathroom walls.
Dean jerked, jumping so badly he cracked his knee against the side of the tub and spilled the contents of his flask all over the floor. But he kept a death grip on the towel wrapped around his waist, protecting the last molecule of his dignity. "SERIOUSLY? You're a freakin' hunter. There are certain rules that extend to the afterlife!"
Bobby crossed his arms, his surly image cutting in and out like an old television. He grunted, closed his eyes and settled in brilliant presence inside the tiny bathroom. "Which is why I'm here, assbutt. Rule Number One: Look after your brother. When was the last time you did that?"
Dean's face stretched into the shock of the accused, and it was amazing how fast he could change from the weakness of depressed to strength of anger. "I'm not sure how you see things in Ghostland, but Sam's fine…he's been good ever since we sprung him from the belfry."
"You're welcome by the way."
Dean scowled. "Don't you pop in here like Casper the curmudgeonly ghost and try to lecture me about Sam. I'm still here. You died, remember? Go be dead. Go into the light or at least, go haunt someone else."
"One thing before I go: if you're in here drowning your sorrow in rotgut and you haven't had the devil hopscotchin' in your melon for months, how do you think Sam's doin'?"
Bobby vanished, leaving him to feel like a horrible, oblivious brother. In the face of torment, Sam could be even more stoic than Dean, and sometimes, while he quietly and solely raged over the loss of everyone he loved, he'd forgotten Sam probably was too. It was the Winchester way to hoard tragedy like a lonely old lady did cats.
Dean dress quickly and exited the bathroom.
Sam, who had been snoring like a Big Easy brass band just an hour ago, was awake and sitting limply upright, head flagged between his shoulders, back unusually straight. His knees were turned towards the bathroom, feet dug into the ratty shag.
"Back hurt?" He asked, aiming for nonchalance and but hitting tense and awkward. "Maybe we should make a run to a clinic. I got some cash stashed away."
Sam nodded in a shift of hair, although his head never lifted, his eyes cast downward. The air changed in the room, crackling with something completely un-paranormal and painfully human as Dean sat down on his bed and cracked his knuckles in the quiet. He realized then that he and Sam hadn't talked about real things in months, maybe years. Their conversations were always sarcastic jokes or discussions about the mundane aspects of life: what route to take, the hot bartender's rack, what movie to see, what food to eat. They didn't need the Leviathans to tear them apart, they were just fine on their own.
"Sammy," Dean began, voice husky. "I know I'm not going to win Mr. Congeniality this year, but I should probably let you know that you can talk, if you need to. I mean it goes without sayin', but I'm saying it."
Sam rubbed his forehead, sweeping his hair back. His eyes lifted briefly, and they were rimmed with red and bloodshot. His lips quirked as a tears fell. Because Sam only broke down when he felt secure enough to do so. "I'm…I'm not okay, Dean." He whispered. "I haven't been for a long time."
"You don't have to be." Dean's whole body rocked in understanding. He reached his hand out and took Sam's. He grabbed his brother's eyes and smiled. "Remember when you were a kid and we read you in about Mom and the fire and dad's real job, the whole nine?" He asked. "You remember how we handled that?"
Sam would never forget. The trauma of learning that the world had bigger evils than the bad guys on G.I. Joe or the murderers on the news had left a young Sam reeling in ways he was too naïve to understand. He retreated into himself, hiding in dark closets or under the bed and stopped talking. He had horrible freeform dreams about fire and a screaming woman with smoldering skin and half-charred face. Dean had been patient and kind, coaxing him out of his trepidation with candy and trips to the arcade. He made him speak his fears out loud so Dean could dispel them with logic and lore.
"What's the biggest one, Sammy?"
His voice was deeper and Sam was about three feet taller, but he still felt like that helpless little boy who was so scared, for himself and his family, and of the monsters out there, that he couldn't give it life. He licked his lips, squeezed Dean's hand, and pushed it out. "I was the baby tainted with demon blood. Then I was the demon-screwing freak who was addicted to it. Then I was the lunatic with the broken wall. Now, I'm the guy who broke an angel. I'm never going to be okay, Dean. Nothing's ever going to be okay. There's no lore to disprove that."
Dean shook his head and dropped his hand to grab both of Sam's shoulders. "That's my brother you're talkin' about." He joked. "Look at me, Sammy."
But Sam dissolved into breathy raw sobs that made Dean's own eyes water. Dean stood up and pulled his brother too him, offering rough-handed comfort and receiving some too. "You're forgetting the biggest thing, the most important thing…" he said, stroking Sam's hair and not even caring about how girly or weird it was, not when his brother was hurting, shattering. "You're the man who saved the world. Seven billion saves, Sam. You're the guy with one foot in the grave, and still managed to save a girl's life. So you're not the boy with the demon blood, or the guy with the broken wall anymore. You're the strongest man I know. And I'm so damned proud to call you my brother. I'm proud of all of it, you hear?"
Sam shook his head, sniffling like a little kid. "Seven billion?" He choked out.
Dean took a seat next to Sam and plucked a handful of tissues from the box on the nightstand. "Billion. With a b."
"Damn, that's pretty good." He wiped his eyes, and chuckled.
"Don't get a swelled head, all right? The car's too small."
Purgatory could invade earth; Bobby could be half-gone; Castiel could be uncontrollably crazy. But nothing could stop Dean from taking care of his little brother.
Bobby watched his boys pull each other from the brink in the watery realm he now resided in. He knew one day he'd have to leap into the light he steadfastly avoided. When he did, he knew without a doubt that Sam and Dean would be okay without him.