"The Round Table."
Summary: Dean could see it, Sara's death was nearly Sam's undoing from this whole thing. Spoilers: 8x21"The Great Escapist" and 8x22: "Clip Show"
Rating: T for language and references to violence.
A/N: I'm back after holing myself up to write my last fic. I wanted to do a lighter/funnier fic after that one, but then…Sara died, Crowley killed her. So I had to write this, but there's more sweet moments I believe. I need some Sam/Dean bonding. Welcome back me, welcome back.
"You used to read to me when I was little, I mean really little."
~Sam Winchester "The Great Escapist"
They say when you're about to die your life flashes before your eyes. But Dean can attest to dying, more times than was humanly possible. And it wasn't a movie reel of your greatest hits, summers gone by, that girl you snuck a kiss with in the dark recesses of a movie theatre. It was painful, sometimes agonizing.
But even dying couldn't compare to the pain of life. Because death was final, except when it wasn't your death.
Their affectionate nick name or rather Dean's affectionate nick name for the bunker, the Bat Cave was ringing true today. The cement building echoed his footsteps like a real cave as he went methodically room to room in search of his brother.
"Sam?" the name echoed chased his footfalls like the round of a musical composition.
Dean was in the kitchen, where he was spending more and more of his time. He had never cooked anything beyond mac and cheese and microwaved steaks before he and Sam had discovered this place. But the kitchen became like a haven for Dean, especially of late, a place to take his aggression and anger out on unsuspecting cold cabinet items and raw hunks of meat.
Today, he left the food in the pantry and the stove unlit. Sam hadn't eaten anything in days, had only begrudgingly swallowed sips of water after Dean's verbal threats to knock him out and force it down him.
His brother had finally admitted to Dean that he constantly smelled the odor of rancid and decayed meat, and while that solved the mystery of Sam's nausea and refusal to eat, it didn't exactly ease Dean's fears.
Sam was a big guy, he had a lot of muscle to burn through, but Dean could still see it. The way his features had become sharper, more angular, the way his joints had become more prominent. Sam wasn't doing good. If Dean allowed himself, he would know that there was another descriptor to: 'not doing good' But he refused to think about it, he couldn't, not if he was going to continue to take care of Sam without doing something ridiculous, like lose it completely.
The library was his next stop in search of his brother. When they were little Sam practically lived in the library of whatever small town/no town America hole they had been staying in. Most of these places has a five book at a time check out limit. A fact that was practically a death sentence to a kid in full on geek mode like Sam.
Sam had hit him one too many times with the wide eyed puppy dog look while having to decide which of the 15 books in his teetering stack that he desired over the others. So Dean had taken out a library card of his own (against all his better judgment) and had picked up the remaining books.
The thing about Sam was that he didn't forget to read any of them. He devoured them like Dean devoured pie. The week of allotted time for books would go by, and his stack to return would include all the books he checked out, and they'd be back in front of the bespectacled librarian with a brand new stack to do the ritual all over again.
The books of the Men of Letters were all stacked neatly, cataloged in one of the most amazing systems Dean had seen short of Melvil Dewey. There was a whole section of leather bound encyclopedias and Lexicons devoted just to Winged Monsters. Dean didn't even know that that many monsters existed, let alone winged ones. He and Sam had poured over a hundred copies each of these books and they hadn't even touched a fourth of the stacks that towered on shelves that went up the ceiling, and were hidden in back sub basement rooms marked with a call number so they could be found amongst their fellows half buried in thick dust.
Sam was so much a part of a library that when Dean didn't see his brother in it his absence was like a missing appendage.
"Sam?" Dean visually scanned the room, but called his brother's name anyway. Ever since the Trials had begun Dean's senses of protective instincts over his brother had been thrown into overdrive. He knew that Sam wasn't a fan of it, at times he got down right pissed at him for treating him like a child. But Dean couldn't help it. Sam's track record of late hadn't been exactly spotless.
The most recent episode that had Dean hauling the burning up, limp form of his brother into a bathtub full of ice had him wanting to affix a tracking device in Sam's arm and keep him always within earshot. And it left him ridiculously panicky, like Sam would pass out in febrile induced seizures the moment he was out of his sight.
The library shelves were all solid mahogany, and they were rarely dusted, nor had they looked like they had seen a feather duster in over 5 decades. Most of the shelves held leather bound books, but there were a few lower shelves that held leather accordion travel filing systems that contained things like magazines and the like.
Dean's discovery of the pre-Busty Asian Beauties skin mag was in one of these accordion things. His inspection of the shelves revealed one of the named accordion things (he never bothered to learn their real name, cause did it really matter?) was turned sideways; it's top flap opened.
Dean crouched down and examined the contents inside the leather by pulling them out one a time. He pulled a few pinup pictures of Japanese Geisha women in full costume and makeup, but with seductive smiles and borderlines of naked skin at the base of their necks. Dean couldn't help but smile appreciatively at the images. The Men of Letters were a secret society, but they certainly didn't seem to take any vows of chastity. The dividers of the folders were alphabetized, the images he held were under 'G' for Geisha. He thumbed backwards, a copy of Life Magazine from 1953 that featured an image of Lucile Ball and Desi Arnez with their daughter and new baby son under 'L'. A few clippings from the New York Times about the war in Europe under N.
Dean went backwards, a clipping from the Chicago Times about an alleged 'animal attack' where a Man of Letters had circled it in red and wrote: Werewolf attack, Hunter Present for Kill. He pulled out another thick group of papers, this time to his surprise, it was a batman comic #3 from the 1950's, the pages were yellowed, but it was in surprisingly good shape.
It was probably worth an obscene amount of money, like his great grandchildren's grandchildren's secured college fund to Oxford Law obscene. Dean leafed through it carefully, the pages like dry leaves under his hand. Images of Batman battling the baddie of the week were voiced in thickly outline word bubbles, making Dean smile despite his search for Sam.
He closed it after a moment, afraid he would ruin the old brittle pages. When he flipped back to the cover he noticed a smudge in the top right hand corner. A smudge of red indented with the pad of a fingerprint.
It was too red to be old blood.
"Sam-" Dean abandoned the comic book to its folder, dropped it back down in the leather without a second thought.
"Sam!" His boots beat the concrete ground with a resonance as he went from room to room, the shooting range, executive sized bathroom, communications room, from down to the dungeons, where the chains still hung in the same position they had been when a demon had been connected to them. Finally up to the second level with the railing that over looked the library, smaller private bathrooms connected to bedrooms.
His bedroom with the door shut neatly, down a corridor of concrete with hung black and white Ansell Adams photographs.
Sam's bedroom at the end of the hallway, the door ajar. A pair of long jean clad legs sticking out like a doll lost by a child in a game of hide-and-seek.
"Hey!" Dean's approached his brother, his heart beat banged against his chest. "What the hell man, didn't you hear me calling you?" Now that he had sight of Sam, Dean chose to be angry because anything else might hurt too much.
Sam didn't acknowledge his presence at least not at first, one hand rested on his knee. "I was thinking." When he pulled it back it left a tattoo of blood on the denim.
Dean's eyes widened at the image, he grabbed his brother's hand and turned it over, there was a stain of blood streaked across his palm, some of it darker than the rest, like it had been allowed to dry.
"I was thinking about going to sleep," Sam's voice sounded almost amused at his own words. "Thinking about going to sleep-" he softly snorted, into a full on high amusing laugh as he lifted his head and let it fall back against the wall. "But I don't sleepy sleep, good no more."
Dean touched a hand to the back of Sam's skin. The heat coming off of his skin could be felt before he even made contact. "Dude, you're burning up-" Sam had always babbled like a drunk when he had a high fever. Dean didn't need a thermometer to tell him that such was the case this time.
"Sleepy sleep isn't a real word is it?" Sam look befuddled like he was trying to solve an Statistics question that even his man teacher had deemed hopeless.
"No, it's not," Dean said, he wasn't angry, but there was almost a forced patience in his voice. Even delirious out of his mind Sam over shared. "Man you need to get up, okay-" Dean pulled on Sam's arm to try and coax him into moving, but Sam didn't budge.
"She looked just like how I remembered her," Sam's next laugh was the dry shrugging kind of quiet that came from disbelief. "Sara-maybe a little older, but her eyes, wow-" the last part was almost a laugh again. Almost, his glassy eyes on Dean. "Except when they couldn't see anymore." the glassiness was replaced by a sorrow that had fallen into a deep well to drown.
Dean touched the sides of Sam's neck with his palms, wiping of the sweat that hung there thickly to try and cool his brother down. "It wasn't your fault."
"You lie too much Dean," Sam gave another laugh, almost like he was drunk, but drunkenness would've been easier to deal with. "It's not really that funny anymore," the hazel in his eyes shifted to green, he pulled his face close to Dean, his next words a stage whisper: "Everything is my fault."
"You're sick Sam," Dean reached down and hauled Sam up without his permission. His brother wobbled like his legs couldn't support him. Sam gripped the wall, and Dean gripped him, taking one of his longer arms and slinging it over his shoulder. "C'mon, we gotta cool you down-"
"What do you have in mind?"
Sam's question was so loopy and out of character that it forced a growl from Dean's throat. "Don't do that Sammy." He hauled his brother through the open door of his room and dumped him on the bed.
He would have laid him down more carefully, but Sam was too big and too big, to try and act like he could do a bridal carry move.
The bathrooms to each of their bedrooms contained only sinks and toilets with old fashioned chain pull flushes. There was a separate shower room downstairs, and Dean knew that he couldn't drag his brother down a flight of stairs to drop him back in a tub of ice in the condition he was in.
So Dean went on repeated trips to the kitchen, filled container after container full of ice and poured them on top of his brother on the bed, over all of his clothes.
Sam's reaction to the ice was more lucid than the last time he was conscious for this round, and jumped each time a load of ice was dumped onto his body.
"Dean-gha-" Sam's entire body wracked on a shiver as he made a nonsensical babble and tried to pull himself up out of all the ice, sending pieces winging to the floor.
A pair of hands on his shoulders pushed him down. "Easy man, take it easy!" like last time Dean had to dodge Sam slapping his hands from his body. "You gotta stay under until you're not hotter than the sun." he placed a dam rag on top of Sam's exposed head.
Sam's body quaking on the bed send rivers of ice cascading to the floor like miniature avalanches.
Dean kept a hand to Sam's forehand, over the washcloth, his thumb sliding out to touch Sam's skin, to fulfill the need for physical contact with his brother.
"She d-didn't h-have to die D-Dean," Sam's voice was full on shudders, making words skip like a scratch on a 45. His eyes closed tightly and his head dropped back like just saying those words were painful. "She had a d-daughter. She didn't have-" his words were lost on a breath.
"Sam." Dean didn't know what else to say. He swept the washcloth across Sam's skin once, then replaced it with his hand which was as cold as the ice had been hauling.
The ice was piled all around Sam's head, cocooning him like a freezing cold snow suit. A piece of round ice slid down at the same time a trail of moisture broke down his brother's skin.
Dean tried to pretend, for a moment, that it was from the melting ice. But when he touched it, it was warm. "Sammy-" two other warm drops of moisture joined the first, landing on the pad of his thumb.
Dean reached through the ice and placed a palm on Sam's chest, the skin on their cold, freezing. "It's okay," his fingers curled around the damp fabric of Sam's shirt. "I'm here."
An avalanche of ice dropped heavily to the floor as Sam reached out his hand to grasp Dean's wrist, holding tightly to his brother.
Dean placed his free hand top of Sam's other one. "I've got you man."
Pieces of ice crunched under Dean's boots as he returned to the room, a tray held in his hands. The steam of hot coffee black as pitch, and a dark beef broth wafted up from their respective containers.
Sam was sitting up on the mattress which had been stripped. His hair was damp, but his jeans and gray long sleeved shirt were dry.
"Here," Dean set the tray down on the mahogany night stand.
"Thanks." Sam surveyed the steaming items, choosing to go with the coffee. He didn't get snarky when Dean's hands hovered over the cup to make sure it reached his destination.
"You warmer You need a blanket?" Dean asked the very basic of questions. Sam's fever had disappeared after a full 30 minutes under the ice. But it left him a freezing shuddering mess. He picked up the bowl of broth with the spoon in it and held it out to him.
"I'm good," Sam took the offered broth and handed Dean back the cup, also without a word of protest because he knew that Dean was trying to look out for him, and given what just happened, he owned him to be cooperative. The broth smelled like broth, a delicate beefy smell, with a hint of salt. No rancid meat or blood smell this time. He took a tentative sip straight from the bowl, and it tasted like broth too.
"Thanks." Sam sipped another bit when the first mouthful stayed down.
Dean hovered for a moment, but when it became obvious that Sam would be okay swallowing without his airplane spoon routine he backed away.
"What were you doing in the library?" Dean dropped into the wooden desk chair beside the bed. It had no desk to go with it, Sam had dragged it up from the library to read in. Before Sam could counter with anything Dean added: "I saw the magazine cache." He didn't add the part about seeing Sam's blood on the comic book, but Sam's look added it for him.
"I was looking for something," Sam took another sip, feeling the broth slide down warm in his stomach.
"Something like what?" Dean asked, trying to make his voice sound gentle not prying. Sam's feet were bare on the floor, and he had to resist the urge to tell him to put on socks. He wasn't his father, but he was his older brother.
"Doesn't matter, I couldn't find it." Sam took one last sip of the broth before he considered any further sipping pushing his luck. He set the bowl back on the wooden tray. Dean was giving him a look, one that said that his answer wasn't sufficient, but he was holding back from saying so because he was trying to go easy on him. "I just-" he sighed for a moment. "I was trying to find that story I told you about.-"
"You mean that "Knights of the Round Table" comic thing?" Dean asked. "I don't know if the Letter's library has future editions."
" It doesn't matter," Sam repeated. He winched and bent his head low, digging at his eyes with the heel of his hands. He lowered them and turned back up to Dean who was still watching "Just forget it, alright-" he felt himself pitch forward, and had enough time to catch himself on the tray which rattled nosily.
"Whoa whoa," Dean grabbed at the tray before it could drop to the ground. "Easy," he set a hand on Sam's shoulder and pushed him up before he could topple over as well.
"It was just," despite his earlier proclamation to not talk about it, Sam found himself still talking. "It was just an idea, one of those whacked out ones I have when I have a fever," he laughed for a moment, high, fake. "Crowley killed Sara. He left her husband a widower, and her child motherless, just to screw with me. It wasn't the best day, for any of us," Sam dug at his eyes again, and his next words were spoken behind his closed hands. "I just wanted to find that story; not because of the Trials, I just, I remember it now-"
"Sam did you want me to read it to you?" Dean broke off Sam's ramblings.
Sam raised his eyes from his hands, his next laugh faker than the rest. "Told you, it was stupid." with those words went any denial to Dean's. "The King of Hell is torturing and killing people and I wanted my big brother to tuck me in with a bed time story because I feel bad, because it's all my fault. What kind of shit is that?"
"Sammy it's okay," Dean's hand was back on Sam's shoulder.
"No," Sam jerked it back and stood up, almost toppling over. "No it's, not. I don't get to feel bad about this Dean, not when people are dying just because they know me! and I certainly don't get to ask favors because of it!"
"It's not your fault-" Dean grabbed Sam's shoulders to steady him. "Look at me man, you're sick! And you're still doing everything in your power to shut the gates on the sons-of-bitches who are doing this! And I will read to you, I will compose you a damn sonnet, if it helps you through this you understand me?"
Sam stared hard at Dean, eyes wide, feeling the touch of his brother on his shoulders.
After a moment Dean released him, and Sam felt backwards for the bed lowering himself down on it carefully.
Dean's hand was back on his shoulder. "Look, you're wiped, why don't you lie back and try to get some rest?"
Sam eyed him like he was going to protest, but there was something about the way Dean's hand was on his shoulder, a touch of pure comfort that Sam felt himself lying back despite himself. He propped himself up on his pillow watching as Dean sat back in the chair.
Time had passed, how long Sam didn't know, he must've fallen asleep. Dean was still sitting in the chair, but there was a small book on his lap.
"I don't remember that story," Dean's voice was remorseful. "I'm sorry Sammy. You know I was never one for reading." He lifted the book he brought with him, a worn paperback.
"On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summula-e logical," Dean stumbled over some of the words. Sam's head raised from off the pillow and turned to him, eyes wide, half in disbelief. But he let himself fall back and watch his brother.
"The Governess was always getting muddled with her ass-troble," Dean cleared his throat, and continued to read: "and when she got specially muddled she would take it out on Wart by rapping his knuckles…"
The small excerpt is from "The Once and Future King" by: T.H. White.