Writer's Note: Hey guys – I'm starting the move from the livejournal fics I've written over to here. This is the first of three. So sorry if it clogs up your email if you've got me on author alert!
A Small Price To Pay
Sam tried. Every night he tried. They moved around, case to case. They'd find an appropriate motel. They'd get two doubles, usually. He'd set his stuff down and get settled in. They'd discuss their cases; maybe go out and do a few prelim interviews. Dean would pick up a six-pack of beer at a convenience store along with a few other odds and ends. They'd hit the local diner for meals. Go back to the room. Sam would have the laptop. Dean would relax with the TV on and flip through a magazine, his beer sweating on the nightstand.
Every family has its idiosyncrasies. Small secrets that just weave their way into the fabric of what makes it tick.
Sam adopted Dean's favorite stuffed animal, Bear, so Dean didn't have to throw Bear away.
When Dean was old enough to drive, he started picking Sam up every day after school. Dean told Sam that their Dad had said he had to. So, sometime later, annoyed at Dean for a random argument they'd had in the car that day, Sam asked John to stop ordering Dean to pick him up. After a quick glance at his eldest, John didn't tell Sam that he never had.
For all the disturbing dreams and visions Sam had experienced in adulthood, it had actually been Dean that had suffered from night terrors during childhood. Seeing his brother so distressed used to scare Sam. He'd get out of bed (or, if they were sharing, move closer) and tentatively nudge Dean with Bear. Dean would always wake with a start, orient himself, apologize, and let Sam come in with him. Sam would put Bear on Dean's chest as he curled up and fell asleep on his brother's shoulder.
John would never say anything, but he would always smile when he'd wake up in the morning to find Dean sleeping soundly with one arm around Bear and the other wrapped around Sam.
There were other things, too, though. Sam and Dean had tried to break a world record of the largest ball of putty once. John had to tell them to leave it behind in the motel room when it had actually gotten much too large.
Dean was a surprisingly good cook when he had the necessary ingredients.
Sam had a phase of quoting people verbatim while arguing, meaning Dean got stuck getting quoted the most. Eventually Sam just started quoting Dean and still to this day Sam cringes in embarrassment at the memory of Dean sitting him down and asking him to take it down a notch.
Sam liked Skittles; Dean preferred M&Ms. Sam would yell at Dean for forgetting to flush. Sam would always toe his dirty socks off under the covers when he slept. Sam wasn't allowed to swear even though Dean was a sailor by age ten.
Dean never made fun of Sam's fear of clowns after the time he'd triggered a panic attack in the poor kid after donning a scary clown mask while Sam went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Barely awake, Sam had come back into the room, his masked brother just lying still in bed and waiting for Sam to notice him as he climbed in next to him.
When all was said and done, there were so many small quirks and cringes that lent themselves to their family that the introduction of one more didn't really faze Dean.
It had started the first week or two after Sam's wall had crumbled. He was having hallucinations, sure, but he had insisted he could manage it. Dean had to take him on his word for that, which was fine. He was wary, but he didn't want to bother Sam any more than Sam wanted to be bothered.
So it wasn't the hallucinations.
It was just… Darkness.
The first time it happened, Dean turned off the television and the room went pitch black. He turned over in bed and got comfortable. He closed his eyes and was well on his way to sleep when he heard Sam.
Sam seemed like he was having a difficult time breathing. A few light gasps and a couple of small gag sounds. Then Dean heard small keening noises like Sam's screams were being smothered. A low hum and a few whimpers.
Dean blearily looked up from his pillow and over to Sam.
"Sam? Hey, Sammy?" Dean called.
"Yeah?" Sam coughed, his voice shaky and pitched.
"Y'okay?" Dean checked.
Dean waited for Sam's response, but it never came.
"Sammy-?" Dean prompted again, sitting up in bed. He squinted at Sam's silhouette in the darkness. Sam was in bed lying down flat in the center staring up at the ceiling.
"It was dark. And cold…" Sam murmured brokenly. His voice sounded distant; haunted.
Dean's heart sank as comprehension dawned that Sam was talking about hell. He didn't know what to say. He nodded in the dark empathetically and tried to come up with words to reassure his little brother. The silence continued until Sam's breathing picked up again. He sounded like he was hyperventilating and he gave a small sob.
"Sammy - Sammy you're not there anymore, man," Dean whispered. He saw Sam move his head, nodding. He was trying to agree with Dean in his head; trying to convince himself to agree.
"I couldn't… Do anything in the darkness. I was alone there… Until Lucifer would come back…" Sam said, his voice strained. He gulped air and turned over, putting his back to Dean. Dean watched Sam worriedly, but let it go as Sam remained silent. He turned to the ceiling and stared, unseeing, at the motel's beaten up plaster boards. A few minutes later, Sam started writhing in bed. First slowly, then more frantically. He made gurgling and gasping sounds like he was being choked.
"Sam!" Dean called out, sounding angry, and Sam halted his movements, lying on his back. His gasping ragged breathes continued, though.
"Sam, what is going on?" Dean asked, exasperation and empathy intermingling in his tone. He swung his legs over in bed and turned the nightstand light on. He squinted at Sam in the light. Sam's hair stuck to his sweaty face as he wheezed labored breathes. His eyes were glossed over, wildly moving around the room, seeing things Dean was sure weren't there.
"Sammy…" Dean murmured with concern as he moved over to Sam's bed.
"Sam? You with me?" Dean asked softly, placing his hands on Sam's face and pulling back his hair. He could feel him, now; could feel Sam was shaking. The whole bed was trembling.
"Sam- Sammy c'mon look at me, Sammy," he coaxed quietly, leaning into Sam's line of sight even more. Sam swallowed heavily and nodded. Dean watched his little brother as he slowly came back to him.
"That's it, Sammy, calm down, you're okay…" Dean whispered, running his hands through Sam's hair. Sam's eyes were watery and, as he blinked to clear the fog, a couple of tears dripped down his temples. Dean gently wiped them from his brother's face.
"Shh shhh Sammy, you're with me, you're okay," Dean continued, his own voice gravelly with sleep yet soothing.
Eventually Dean had gotten Sam to baseline. Staring into Dean's eyes like they were anchors, Sam's shakes were less pronounced and his breathing was relatively steady.
"Okay," Dean whispered, considering, as Sam kept his desperate eyes on Dean. Sam was vulnerable and scared. Dean weighed his options and decided.
"Okay," Dean said again, resigned. He moved to get up and felt Sam's hand tighten around his wrist for a split second. He immediately let go, self-conscious of his actions.
"Don't worry, Sam. I'm just grabbing my pillow," Dean mumbled reassuringly as he came back to stand over Sam. "'Kay, move over."
Sam propped himself on the side against his elbow and looked up at Dean. It took a few seconds for him to find his voice, but he managed it.
"It's… It's okay, Dean. I'm sorry. I think I got it now. You don't have-" Sam trailed off as he saw Dean gesturing for Sam to move over as a means to dismiss his words. Dean set the pillow down at the head of Sam's bed.
"Stop talking. Just move over," Dean murmured patiently. With a huff, Sam acquiesced and inched over to give Dean room. Still propped up on his side, Sam watched with a cautious expression as his brother got into bed with him.
Dean sorely opened the covers and slid in. He settled on his back, his head and chest slightly propped up from the headboard and pillow. He kept his arms up over him in an unspoken invitation that he fully expected his brother to take.
Sam waited for Dean to get settled next to him. Hesitant and skeptical, Sam tried to recall the last time they had shared beds voluntarily. It had been a really long time ago; Sam could barely remember. But his memories came back to him, bit by bit, as he watched Dean's nearest arm stay open. Sam just watched though, not sure what he was allowed to do.
"C'mon," Dean whispered lightly, gesturing to himself. Sam glanced at Dean with a hurt look in his eyes.
"You're gonna give me shit for this later, aren't you?" Sam said, unsmiling, in an undertone. Dean blinked slowly and rolled his eyes as he gave a slight grin. Dismissing Sam's comment, he just beckoned to Sam with his hand again.
"C'mon," he repeated kindly, twitching his head for Sam to come over to him. Sam sighed, biting his lip, but took Dean's cue. He lowered himself and ducked under Dean's outstretched arm, counting the seconds before Dean would tell him he had been kidding and to get off of him. But Dean didn't do anything other than grasp around Sam's back for a better hold as he turned off the nightstand light. In the dark, Sam just lay there in the crook of Dean's arm, his head on Dean's shoulder, feeling awkward. On the up side, Sam was no longer thinking about hell.
Dean grunted and started jostling Sam with his shoulder.
"What?" Sam whispered self-consciously and lifted his head up. He heard Dean sigh in annoyance.
"No, keep your head down but off my shoulder – move in," Dean instructed sleepily as he pushed Sam's back closer and nudged Sam's head over onto his chest. "S'like you've never done this before," Dean chided in a low, drowsy whisper.
"The last time we did this, Dean, we were like eight," Sam retorted in a low voice.
"You were eight. I was twelve," Dean replied with a smile as he closed his eyes and wrapped his arm comfortably around Sam again. Sam huffed and kept his head down on Dean's chest. Admittedly, he felt better – less awkward – now. He could hear Dean's steady heart beat like this; feel Dean's relaxed breathing.
After a few minutes, Sam reached out around Dean's torso and pushed his head closer to Dean's neck. He cringed in anticipation as he did so; Dean might change his mind about this and tell Sam to get off him.
But, again, Dean didn't do that. In unspoken acceptance, Dean just lifted his body a couple of times, leaning towards Sam, and let Sam wrap his arm past Dean's chest and around to his side. Sam waited on Dean to see if he would snap, but Dean was tolerant and relaxed. Everything about the fact that they were actually, 'cuddling,' seemed like it was no big deal to him.
After a few minutes of waiting, Sam slowly started to relax. Relieved that Dean wasn't stressed or upset about having to share a bed with him, Sam lost tension under Dean's arm and smoothed himself into Dean's side. Dean smelled so familiar; it was striking how Sam encountered the same scents every day: gunpowder, worn leather, the cleaning solvent for their weapons. But combined with Dean's own unique scent, altogether it evoked a feeling of home.
In the midst of this thought, Sam felt Dean give a slow sigh and carefully moved his hand to rest on Sam's head. At the same time, he turned his face towards Sam's with closed eyes, a peaceful expression on his face.
Sam quirked his neck up on Dean's chest to study his brother's face. The smallest shaft of moonlight crossed over Dean's relaxed features as his big brother held him securely. Sam felt a flush of gratitude and affection run through him. Even after all these years-
"Y'okay?" Dean whispered suddenly, having felt Sam's eyes on him.
"Yeah," Sam whispered back, surprised, and turned his head back down to tuck in against Dean's neck again. "Sorry."
"S'okay, Sammy," Dean replied blurrily, nearly asleep.
Sam heard his brother's calm and barely conscious voice. Dean always looked after Sam. Normally, he tempered the responsibility with an air of cocky nonchalance, but tonight Dean wasn't tempered. Tonight Dean was offering his presence as a means for Sam to feel the reality his protection and safety. The moment Dean lay down with him was the moment he was Sam's shield. And it wasn't awkward for Dean: Dean was accustomed to this; Dean grew up with it.
"You good?" Dean whispered groggily as Sam felt Dean's easy heart beat.
"Yeah," Sam said weakly, "Thank you."
Dean sighed. He started carding his hand through Sam's hair and lazily rubbing his back.
"It's gonna be okay, Sam," he whispered. At those words, Sam gave a small relieved sob and hugged Dean against him. Dean returned the embrace.
"Go 'o sleep," Dean slurred.
Sam nodded against Dean's chest and sniffed. After a few minutes, Dean vaguely registered that his brother's grasp on him had loosened. Sam had fallen asleep. Dean let his hands fall still over Sam's head and back and promptly fell asleep too.
Dean still unconsciously kept Sam in his arms, though; Sam still unconsciously stayed in them.
Every night, Sam tried to sleep in his own bed. He was getting better. He was trying to sleep for longer in his bed before he had to move to Dean's. Dean was never upset or bothered. He got used to waking up in the middle of the night and opening the covers so Sam could crawl in next to him. Dean never complained; never rejected Sam's need to have Dean there with him.
They actually didn't even talk about it; it was one of those small family secrets that never saw the light of day. Dean took the lead on how it was treated: This was just a phase. Eventually Sam would make it a full night without him. It wasn't a big deal. Sam just needed it for right now.
Sam, for his part, never stopped being worried or embarrassed. He'd have his head tilted low in shame as his body quaked with fear from his memories and he knew he'd have to go to Dean to make it stop. Throwing open his covers and making the two-step crouched walk over to Dean's bed was humiliating. Dean would always be there, though: opening the covers for him and wrapping his arms around him, sometimes even cradling him if he was that wrecked.
Dean would whisper to Sam that he was all right; he wasn't doing anything wrong; nothing could get him. Slowly, Sam would calm, the shakes would stop, Dean would settle him down, and they'd fall asleep.
Sam still inwardly cringed at the thought of needing his big brother with him like this at the age of twenty-nine. They would only ever talk about it while they were in bed. Dean pointed out that Sam had literally been through the depths of hell. Sam said he still felt ashamed.
Dean turned on his pillow and whispered sincerely back: "Sammy, if you need this for awhile, after being through what you've been through, I can't think of a smaller price to pay."
Writer's Note: Please comment/review if you can spare the time! Thank you so much for reading! ~ Alex