A Dawn or a Dusk
A/N: This is a new instalment in my epileptic Sam 'verse and it's about time we had another one from Sammy's POV. I hope you all enjoy this. :)
Warnings: Swearing and violence.
"Change, like sunshine, can be a friend or a foe, a blessing or a curse, a dawn or a dusk." ~ William Arthur Ward
There's a monster looking out of Dad's eyes.
It's hard to think straight. Sam's head is spinning and there's blood dripping into his eyes, gluing his eyelashes together in sticky red clumps. He can see it sliding down the Impala's window where his head rests against the glass, a thin trail of red, and he thinks about how mental Dean and Dad go if anyone or anything even gets close to his head.
He's not entirely sure whether it matters, honestly. Is he more likely to have a fit if he hits his head? Maybe. He thinks he might have had a seizure, he does feel kind of sore but most of the pain is in his head and it's too hard to tell. He never thought to ask before or bothered to look it up. Dad and Dean don't want him to bump his head so he tries not to, but he couldn't avoid the swing that's left him dazed and bleeding in the Impala's passenger seat. He didn't even see it coming, just turned and met Dad's fist.
It's not Dad though, no matter how convincing of a copy it is. It's a shapeshifter. The shapeshifter Dad was hunting, is hunting, somewhere in the sewers of the city, and Sam doesn't even have any silver.
Dean will know that he's gone by now, is probably panicking. Sam prays that Dean is somehow following, with Dad preferably (miraculously), because he's less than useless right now. Really, it would be embarrassing how fast the shifter got the drop on him, if it wasn't so terrifying. Smack, and he was down, and while he's not sure if he actually had a fit or not, the next thing he remembers is being here in the car, watching the motel shrink in the rear-view mirror. Dean had only gone to the vending machine.
Sam guesses that he should probably be thinking of some sort of strategy but his head is still spinning, a whirlwind of frantic thoughts that don't stick around long enough to form anything comprehensive, except for one thing.
He moves slightly, slowly so his vision won't grey out, until he can see the shifter. "Where's m' Dad?"
The shifter doesn't look away from the road, it's face a mask of disinterested boredom. "Dead."
Something sharp stabs him in the stomach. "Y'r' lying."
Dad's shoulders shrug apathetically. "Whatever makes you feel better, kiddo."
A shudder runs through Sam at the nickname. This thing pretending to be his Dad makes the simple word violating, an affectionate term used by a dispassionate creature. He tries to shake it off, tries to stay focused. "Where are you taking me?"
The shifter is quiet for long enough that Sam starts to doubt whether he actually spoke out loud. Rain begins to tap against the Impala's roof and the shifter flicks the windscreen wipers on. Shh-shick, Shh-shick. They make Sam's head hurt, seem louder than they should be.
"You know what I am?" the shifter asks finally.
Of course he does. He helped with the research. The problem is that there are different kinds of shifters - some really do have to kill the victim to take their form – and Sam doesn't know what kind this one is.
He shifts and bites back a moan as his head protests the movement, forcing himself to keep going until his head is on the seat's headrest, rolled towards the monster.
"Shapeshifter," he spits, like the foul word it is.
Dad's mouth twitches up into a smirk and the thing looking out of his eyes casts Sam a sly sideways glance. "You know how it works, when I take someone's form?"
It depends on the type, Sam thinks, he's starting to lose his train of thought and is getting confused, so he stays silent but images of this thing somehow sliding into Dad's skin, bloody and terrifying, are racing through his head.
The shifter throws Dad's head back and laughs, a sudden booming guffaw that makes Sam jump and then get dizzy from the movement. He sinks back further into the V between the seat edge and the door, staring up at the monster with Dad's face that he is woefully unprepared for and trying not to throw up. Winchesters aren't supposed to go down this easily.
"Thing is, kiddo, I've got your Daddy's thoughts in my head." It makes Dad's voice go low, like he's telling him an important secret. It leans closer and Sam wishes he could get further away. The thing reeks of wrong, so vile and appalling a thing that the air in the Impala is stained with it.
"I know everything about him, about Dean... and what he thinks about you." The shifter straightens and looks back out at the road. "It's kind of sad really," it continues musingly.
"Why?" Sam asks, and then curses himself silently. It's trying to wind him up and he knows it.
The shifter casts him a long appraising glance. It looks like Dad does when he's asking Sam if he's up for something and isn't sure. "Well, you must know what a burden you are."
Even knowing the thing is taunting him, he feels like he's been slapped. It's not anything that he hasn't thought before but hearing it in Dad's voice, from this monster that claims to know Dad's thoughts, stings more than he'd like to admit.
The creature is relentless. There's a glow of satisfaction in it's eyes and Sam can tell that it knows it's struck a chord. "All those hunts when you've been left at Bobby's or Pastor Jim's... do you know how often I think about leaving you there permanently?"
It's lying. Trying to hurt him. Sam turns his gaze to the windscreen wipers, watches them swish back and forth, and tries not to listen.
"Such a difficult decision. I agonize over it, if that makes you feel any better, but the thought is always there, should I ditch you or not?"
Sam feels the thing's eyes on him and determinedly doesn't look, watching the rain patter on the glass and the wipers push the chaotic drops into streams, washed away.
"What a disappointment you are," the shifter spits in Dad's voice. "You can't hunt, you obviously can't even defend yourself, and you need big brother to babysit you all the time. Do you know how many injuries I could have avoided if I had Dean as back up? How many more lives I could have saved?"
"You're not my Dad," Sam growls, the words bouncing around the car's interior and slamming back into his head, sending bolts of pain all the way to the back of his neck. It's not Dad, not his thoughts. These can't be Dad's thoughts, but... they might be and that's what makes this whole thing so much worse. How is he supposed to know?
The shapeshifter shakes it's head. "No, but I'm doing him a favour."
It's those words that seal the deal. Before now, Sam had acknowledged the possibility that this thing was going to kill him, along with some other scenarios, bait, hostage, whatever it is monsters like to do. Now he knows with a cold, breathless certainty that this is going to be the day he dies.
He just hopes that the shifter was lying about Dad being dead because he can't stand the idea of Dean being left all alone.
But the shapeshifter is wearing Dad's skin, has made it's way from the sewer to motel room, has Dad's car keys, and has him. Dad wouldn't let this happen, unless...
"Where are we going?" Sam asks, more to put a halt to his train of thought than anything else, but he should know, try to find out and plan, but he can't even imagine how horrible moving would be if the shifter tried to get him out of the car because just sitting upright in his V of seat and door is horrible. His head is killing him and everything looks slightly warped in a way that makes him dizzy and nauseous. The shifter is right. He's pathetic.
The shapeshifter smiles. "The beach, kiddo," it says, in the way Dad would if he were surprising Sam with something awesome. "I know how much you've always wanted to go swimming."
Sam feels himself go cold, feels his stomach jolt and thinks maybe he will throw up but he doesn't. He has always wanted to go swimming, to feel the water all around him, the way that a person is intrigued by something they can't do. The risk of having a fit means he's never allowed so much as a bath without supervision, which is why he sticks to showers because, no thanks, he really doesn't need Dean or Dad watching him have a freaking bath and holy shit, the shifter's going to drown him.
He's thought about dying before but always from seizures. He imagines grand mals that don't end and slipping away without noticing the difference between between the fit and the final darkness. He's suddenly so terrified that he wants to cry and he wonders why the hell he ever wanted to be a hunter. This, sitting next to this monster in Dad's skin, is more than enough to put him off for life. He can't even imagine doing this kind of thing every week. The very idea is horrifying now.
"Why are you doing this?" he asks, even though he knows that monsters don't need a reason, just want to spread fear and misery. He wants to find something that makes sense. He wishes that he could sit up straight and fight but just staying awake is a battle. It feels like parts of him are shutting down.
The shapeshifter looks at him, it's expression so like Dad's that it's almost hard to believe that it's not him. Sam looks back and knows that his horror shows on his face but he can't do anything about it.
"Honestly, Sammy," the thing says sincerely, "I'm just relieving the burden."
The haze in the Impala thickens and rises up at Sam and suddenly he's terrified because it smells like something electrical is on fire... and he opens his eyes – when did he shut them? And feels ten times worse than before – before what? - and panics because he's lost track of everything.
"Sammy, hey, it's okay, kiddo," Dad says from somewhere next to him, and some of the panic drifts away. Dad's here and whatever he missed, Dad will take care of him.
Must've had a fit, he thinks, and then his memory slams back. The panic returns like fire dancing over his skin.
"Nuhh." He doesn't know what he's trying to say, just knows that this is wrong and terrifying and not supposed to happen. How is this happening? Dad's hand is on his shoulder - not Dad's hand, no, shapeshifter, get it together, Sam – and he tries to shrug it off but it just clenches tighter. "No," he says, clearer this time.
"Oh yeah, kiddo, we're at the end of the line now."
Sam only realizes that the shifter's hand is on the wrong shoulder, that it's left the car, when it pulls him roughly out the passenger door. He can't keep his eyes open properly, almost falls but the shifter holds him up. Head spinning, he wilts against it, his skin crawling where it makes contact with the familiar body but unable to hold his own weight.
The ground isn't right, too soft, his feet sink into it, and at first he thinks it might be some sort of weird after-effect of the seizure but then he forces his eyes open and remembers. The beach.
It's sand his stumbling feet are sinking into, damp from the rain that has turned misty, fluttering over his skin. He tastes salt on his lips and he looks up to see that the roaring he hears isn't only in his head. Waves crash against the beach, spitting foam and dragging back out into the black eternity beyond the sand. The moon is a faint glow behind the clouds. It's so dark and huge and loud and threatening, and Dad's hand is clenched around his wrist, holding him up and pulling him forward.
Survival instinct kicks in, a rush of violent adrenaline, and he tries to tear himself from the monster's grasp, fighting blind and desperate but he can't budge the hand around his wrist, can't stop it from dragging him closer to the water. He wonders, in some small part of his mind that's not occupied by terror, if this is the part where his life is supposed to flash before his eyes, but it's not the past that rises up to fill his vision, it's a horrible, bleak future of Dean alone, Dean searching frantically for him, for Dad, too late, and a terrible, empty feeling of loss.
Dad's fist smacks him onto the sand and he realises that it's muddy now, not just damp. It clings to his arms and clothes where they've hit the ground. His ears are ringing and his face throbs where the fist made contact, joining his head in the agony that's trying to consume him. He lies there and tries to breath.
"You useless, stupid piece of shit!" Dad's voice roars, and Sam cowers because he expects another blow or maybe just because it's Dad's voice yelling at him. "And selfish. Do you know what you do to your family? How much better off they would be without you?"
Rough, familiar hands grab his shoulders and yank him to his feet, hands that have lifted him up thousands of times, held him and kept him safe. His head pounds and reels and again he fights the urge to throw up. He doesn't know how he's still awake. Maybe he isn't. This can't be real.
"Come on," the shifter growls.
He's pulled forward again and he tries to dig his feet into the sand, to get some form of leverage, but he may as well not bother for all the difference it's making.
"Don't, please!" Sam pleads, because he's damned if he's above begging. He doesn't even care if he's proving what a failure of a Winchester he is, he just wants this to stop, he wants Dean, his real Dad, to not be on this beach with a monster. "Stop!"
The shapeshifter pays him no notice and Sam can't stop the sob that breaks loose. It's not fair. If he didn't have stupid fucking epilepsy maybe he'd be able to fight the thing off, maybe he would have never been in this position in the first place, maybe he'd be able to do something other than wish for a fit. If the damn things are going to get him killed, the least they can do is spare him the actual drowning. Blacking out would be so much better than what he's facing, but of course, the one and only time he's actually prayed for a seizure, he doesn't get it.
The roaring of the ocean comes closer, gets louder, until the first wave washes over his ankles, needles of cold spreading through his socks, soaking his shoes and the bottom edges of his jeans. It all becomes so horribly final as he looks at the waves, so horribly this is the last thing you'll see, these hungry black waves and Dad's face. Contemplating death has been strange, growing up knowing about ghosts. Some stay and others don't. He knows enough to know that he doesn't want to be a ghost but he's not sure what the alternative is and he really, really doesn't want to find out.
By some feat that would surely seem inhuman had Sam not known otherwise, he launches himself sideways and wrenches his wrist from the shifter's grasp. He hits the water on hands and knees, up to his elbows and thighs, sinking into the sand, and the water splashes up at him, so cold that it stuns him for a moment, and his limbs won't work properly, no matter how much he tries to get them to scramble him away. He felt like he was walking through fog before he was in the water and now-
The shifter is on him before he can do more than clumsily push up to one knee, snatching the back of his t-shirt and pulling him up against what feels like his Dad's chest. The creature pulls him close and growls furiously in his ear, hatred for him tangible, "I should have done this the day you killed your mother."
Sam has no time to process this because, in the next moment, the shattered silver moonlight on the black waves starts flashing by all to fast as the shifter drags him, by his wrist again, a few feet closer to the horizon, until the waves break against Sam's waist and it spins him easily so they're facing each other. Sam gets one more glimpse of the monster looking out of Dad's eyes, the smirk on his father's face, and then it's free hand grabs his shoulder and shoves him under the waves.
It's like being swallowed. The water smothers him, the roaring of the waves muffles to churning darkness. One hand is useless, caught in the shifter's grasp, his other pushes frantically against the large hand on his shoulder, then switches to claw at the hand on his wrist when that doesn't work. The fingers won't budge, locked in place. He's on his knees, sinking into the mud while the water swirls around him, and he can't get free, despite his struggles.
His lungs are screaming, the darkness starting to full with bursts of light behind his eyelids. Even the thought of Dean all alone is pushes aside by his need to breathe, the inability becomes his whole world. There is nothing but this moment, this desperate fight for life.
Gradually, the panic starts to fade to resignation. He's going to have to inhale the water sooner or later. There's nothing he can do. He feels the adrenaline rush flow out into the water surrounding him, can't find the energy to keep fighting, dizzy and numb from cold and lack of oxygen.
The sound of a gunshot is unmistakable, even under water apparently, but confusing in a vague kind of way. He knows he should be more interested but he's distracted by the huge bulk of the shifter dropping forward on top of him, knocking out the precious breath he was holding.
Water rushes hungrily into his lungs as he makes a feeble attempt to push the shifter off of him, but it's too heavy. His thoughts fuzz out like the static of a lost reception and then there's just nothing.
"Fuck, Sammy, Sam, Jesus, talk to me, come on," Dean's yelling in his ear. Sam gets the feeling that he's been yelling for a while even though he's only just started hearing it, and he realizes that he's on the sand, held up on his knees with his back against Dean's chest, bent forward and choking out what seems like gallons of water.
"Sammy, shit, you're okay, I got you, you're okay," Dean continues to ramble in a panic, one arm around Sam's chest, supporting him and using his free hand to hold Sam's hair out of his face. Dean's fingers sting against the wound that must be etched into his forehead but it's barely a distraction. Dean feels so warm. "Say something, please, come on, Sammy."
Sam can't say anything because there's an ocean in his lungs and it hurts, water and air battling it out and he still can't breathe, can't stop coughing salty foamy water onto the sand, his throat and nose feel raw, burnt and still he can't stop heaving up the hot liquid. It feels as though it's never going to end. A small part of his mind suggests that he would have rather stayed under the water than do this. It wasn't so bad after he breathed it in, didn't hurt like this does. He's heard people say that drowning isn't a bad way to go and he understands now but he'd still rather not repeat it.
The rest of him though, is thinking, rejoicing in the fact, that Dean's here and Dean's not alone in a motel room with no one coming back for him.
Dean swipes his hair to the side, where it sticks to his forehead and doesn't get in his eyes, and moves the hand to rub up and down his back until finally, finally, the retching stops and his damp lungs fill with air. Everything still hurts but not as sharp as before and he's freaking freezing but at least he can breathe again.
The crashing waves that were so loud before seem muffled in the silence that follows as Sam breathes carefully in and out, retraining his lungs. Dean wipes his face with his sleeve which Sam realizes is wet. Dean must have pulled him from the water. He feels like he should have come to that conclusion before but, as Dean would say, he's not exactly firing on all cylinders.
"Sammy... Shit, Sam, tell me that was the shifter and not some other nasty that decided to take Dad's body for a joyride."
Sam shakes his head, leaning back against his brother's chest. He feels slow and heavy, waterlogged.
"Shifter," he says and it comes out as a painful croak, scraping the sides of his throat. He decides he doesn't want to try talking again any time soon.
Dean lets out a long shaky breath. "That was too close, kiddo."
Sam nods. He knows that Dean's talking about how close he just came to drowning but he can't help thinking about how closely the shifter resembled Dad, looked like Dad and talked like Dad and knew Dad's thoughts.
It was twisting things, of course, amplifying them. He knows this. Dad would never do this, would never say those things to him, but he's also certain that there was a basis of fact in what the shifter said. Because he is useless, all he does is follow Dad and Dean around, doing research between his homework. He's not a hunter and he's pretty much given up hope that a cure for his epilepsy is possible. He can't be a hunter and for the first time in his life he doesn't want to be a hunter – one run in with a monster is enough – so it's right in this moment, on this beach in Dean's arms, that he knows that he can't keep doing this, being this burden that Dad and Dean lug around and pass off to friends when he gets in the way.
The one thing he doesn't understand, is why the thing said that he killed his mum. It must have been lying... right?
"You think you can make it to the car?" Dean asks, and Sam pushes his thoughts aside. It's too much to take in. He can figure things out later when he's not freezing and sore and crusted with salt.
He nods even though he's not sure if he can actually get his numb limbs to obey his commands. His clothes stick to him as if glued and feel too tight, too restrictive.
"Okay, here we go." Dean stands, carefully pulling Sam up with him. As gentle as Dean tries to be, the roar returns to Sam's ears and the beach does a nauseating flip. He shuts his eyes and trusts Dean to keep him steady while he tries not to throw up. He trusts Dean with everything. In the darkness behind his eyelids, he thinks about how Dean wasn't sure if it was the shifter copying Dad or something else in Dad's skin. Dean pulled the trigger to save him, even though it might have been Dad taking the bullet.
It comforts and terrifies Sam at the same time and is another reason for why he should leave. He can't put Dean in that position again.
The walk from the beach is slow and painful. They pass a green Honda Civic with the drivers door hanging open that Dean must have boosted, parked sloppily next to the Impala. Dean gets Sam settled in the passenger seat before reaching over him to snag the keys the shifter left in the ignition, then closes the door. Sam hears the boot open, then close, and Dean opens his door and gets in with the big scratchy blanket that they've had for forever in his arms. It's a hideous orangey-brown colour but it's warm when Dean tucks it around him. He's in the V of the seat and door again but it's comfortable now that he's not so terrified. He looks up at Dean through his damp fringe, the side of his face pressed against the seat. His brother is soaked all the way up to the tips of his hair, dripping, sand clinging to his wet jeans.
Sam lifts a blanket-covered hand towards him, trying to share the blanket.
"Cold," he says. His teeth are starting to chatter. The blanket is warm on his skin but he's frozen to the core.
Dean starts the car and turns on the heater. "It's okay, gonna get you all warmed up."
Sam tries to shake his head but the effort's too great. "You."
A small frown creases between Dean's eyebrows and he looks down at himself like he hasn't even noticed that he's wet. "I'm fine. You need it more." Dean pulls them Impala out onto the road. "Gotta watch out for shock," he adds, maybe to himself. He's watching the road, his hands clenched hard on the steering wheel.
Sam doesn't have the energy to argue, doesn't even have the energy to be freaked out like Dean obviously is. He closes his eyes and when he opens them Dean's hand is on his shoulder and he can see the neon green glow of their motel's vacancy sign.
"We're here," Dean says, and Sam realizes regretfully that this means he's going to have to move.
He blinks and Dean's suddenly opening the passenger door, catching Sam before he can tumble out.
"Whoa, easy now," Dean murmurs, and helps Sam get to his feet, blanket draped over his shoulders. The whole process is exhausting and he can't help but lean most of his weight on his brother. He's so tired that everything is obscured by black fuzz. It takes him the whole stumble to the motel room to figure out that the fuzz is his eyelashes. Dean sets him on his bed and Sam tries to open his eyes properly but quickly gives up. He doesn't need to see anyway.
"Lets get you warmed up, kiddo," Dean's voice says. His footsteps cross the room and Sam hears the clink of the rusty old heater turning on. It spits out the smell of burning dust and not enough warmth.
Sam drifts, still sitting up on the bed in his cocoon of blankets, and listens to the sound of Dean's voice, speaking too quietly for Sam to make out the words. A peek through his drooping eyelashes shows that Dean's on his phone. His eyelids close again on their own accord and he forces them open when he senses Dean in front of him. The phone's gone and instead Dean holds a bundle of white towels.
"Caleb's going to find Dad. He's not far away."
Probably further than they are though. If Dean didn't have to take care of him, he could go find Dad. If Sam wasn't the pathetic epileptic mess that he is, they could both go. Dean must be scared, must have come to the same conclusion as Sam about Dad being in trouble, but he doesn't show it, just gets on with what he's always done, looks after Sam.
"Here," Dean says, holding out a towel but Sam can't think of what he's supposed to do with it. He's so tired he doubts he could even hold it anyway.
"Okay then." Dean steps forward and starts drying his hair for him. Oh.
"...had a fit..." Sam mumbles, though he's not sure if it's the seizure or the near-drowning that's making his feel so out of it.
"I thought so," Dean says, because Dean is the master of all things Sam. He lifts Sam's chin and brushes some hair aside to inspect the cut on his forehead. "Don't think it needs stitches. Lets get you out of those wet clothes, then you can sleep."
Sleep sounds like the greatest idea in the history of great ideas so he lets Dean peel away his wet clothes and dress him in warm sweats and a t-shirt. Dean pulls back the covers manoeuvres Sam so he can lie down, then tucks the blankets up around his chin.
Sam curls up in the bed and listens to Dean's agitated pacing, thinking that one day, one day soon, he won't be here. One day he won't drag Dean and Dad down or get in the way, and he won't have to face another monster ever.
He'll miss them, miss them so much because even just thinking about missing them makes his chest hurt, but he'd be selfish to stay.
And anyway, they'll be better off without him.