For tabaqui, who asked for something based off the song Unwell by Matchbox 20 (lyrics follow the tale), and an AU Sam who has always had visions and is not quite right as a result. Don’t worry; he’s mostly happy. Casefic; notquiteright!Sam and superprotective!Dean hunt for the ‘special children’ gone bad when they’re not hunting demons with their father. Gen, 11,800 words, PG-13 for language. Cuddling, mild angst, cuddling, humor, cuddling.
“Let’s go to the movies.”
Sam didn’t ask for a lot. It didn’t take much to make him happy, and he usually amused himself with whatever was around – books, music, TV. The laptop. He didn’t get bored easily, and he didn’t complain. So when he did ask for something, Dean simply found a way to do it.
They were just coming off a hunt. Something humanoid in the backwoods of Tennessee had been hopping around scaring the shit out of the locals, one leg and one arm and only half a head grabbing anyone not fast enough to get away, smashing their heads on the trees. It had a left arm, a right leg, a right face-half. Dean had almost thought to check to see if the damn thing had just one nut before he quartered the half-head with a machete after Sam netted it. It didn’t put up that much of a fight after that even though it was strong enough to uproot a nearby tree while it was thrashing around. Dean finally had to dismember it completely and torch the pieces right there.
Sam, rope-scratches on his arms and soot-smears on his face, had grinned like a lunatic because he’d helped.
His Sam, afraid of so little that was external.
His Sam, who was 25 and 6'4" but had never really mentally made it past the age of twelve.
Bobby had said he’d never seen a nasnas himself, never even heard of one in the States before. It was an Arab myth involving the offspring of a demon and a human. If any part of that was true, it was bad news. Anything with demons was bad news, but, really, a hybrid? Yech.
Sam had been clingier in the previous two days than he’d been in years, and it had nothing to do with the nasnas. He didn’t have much to say about what was bugging him at all.
Babe, what’s the matter? You upset? Tell me.
Don’t wanna talk about it, now.
Sam loved to talk, so having him turn taciturn was a big flashing sign all on its own. Sam had nightmares all the time, some common and some prophetic, but whatever he’d been having the last couple of days had him wrapping himself around his brother, and Dean was interested in not being suffocated and baked alive by the natural furnace he was rooming with.
“You pick it,” Dean said, watching Sam light up. “But no chick flicks, okay?”
“I don’t know why you always have to tell me,” Sam said. “I never pick those.”
“Bridge to Terabithia, Sam,” Dean said.
Sam spread his arms wide. “The previews made it look like a huge fantasy movie!”
Dean shook his head, ignoring the audible outrage. Man, it had blown. Sam had stared at him with huge, sad eyes right about three quarters through, but refused to leave.
“It’ll be a good one, I swear.”
Sam didn’t ask for much.
Dean slapped for his phone on the nightstand the next morning, encountering his wallet first and then the motel phone, finally untangling himself a little from Sam’s clingy grasp in order to get a good hold on the thing and answer.
He blinked at the display, at Missouri’s name and number, and let a little worry creep in as he brought the phone to his ear. He immediately did a mental rundown of where his father was, of what Bobby was probably doing, of Jo and Ellen and Ash. Missouri was not a harbinger of doom, but she rarely called to have a good natured chat, either.
“I’m here,” he said.
“Dean Winchester,” she said, “I know you’re there. How is Sam?”
She was not asking in that polite way that people did, and she also wasn’t asking how is your crazy brother. Her tone said she was asking because something should be wrong with Sam.
“He’s...what’s going on?”
“You know how he is better than he does, sometimes,” she said. “Now tell me.”
“More dreams than usual,” Dean said, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Sam was still asleep. “He’s worried about something, but won’t talk about it. What’s happening? Did you find more of them?”
Azazel had left behind plenty of castoffs and wouldbes, the almost, the hopeful and the damned. The special children he’d been following, like Sam. Some had found ways to suppress whatever gifts they had; some were harmless, some tried to put themselves to good use while keeping it all under the table. Dean had met so many of them, looked in their eyes, waited for them to slip up. Too many had given in to what was easier, to taking whatever they could however they could. Some had taken it too far. It was the latter that the Winchesters were interested in, the ones who still thought they were Chosen, that Azazel would return and that they should continue to follow his path and make a world that demons would be proud to have.
Some of the more lunatic of the fringe had taken to treating it like a cult, tattooing yellow eyes over their hearts and holding summonings and sacrifices and being fucktards in general. Dudaelians, named for the Biblical place Azazel had supposedly been imprisoned in the desert. The moment they’d given themselves a secret name, they had become a joke. Bought and sold by their own myth.
Those who weren’t out waving the flag were the scariest. They kept to the shadows and used common sense.
Monsters came in human form, sometimes, and needed to be dealt with just as harshly. Neither Dean or John had had any trouble disposing of Azazel’s dispossessed in the last couple of years. They did not see Sam in any of those faces.
“It might be that,” Missouri said. “I’m not gonna call your father, on this one. He might not...understand.”
Dean felt his brain perk up immediately. Missouri didn’t mince words, and the hesitation made him realize how big it could be.
John had quit talking to Missouri around the time she had mentioned Leviticus to him while they were hunting Azazel, when they finally knew who and what the hell he was.
Place lots upon the 2 goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel on the Jewish Day of Atonement. The goat designated by lot for the Lord is to be used as a sin offering, while the goat designated for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness to Azazel.
Dean figured he knew exactly which goat was which. He had very nearly become the sin offering, for the Lord, and Sam ultimately was still trying to make his way around the wilderness.
He struggled to sit up a little and get Sam to turn over. “Let me take this outside.” He put the phone back down on the nightstand, still open, and slid out of bed.
Sam went on sleeping, features serene under a tumble of bangs that curled at the ends and needed to be trimmed.
Dean pulled a shirt off the floor and over his head, hopping into jeans and leaving them unbuttoned. He grabbed his phone and went outside, blinking at early morning light in the parking lot of a Motel 6 just off the highway in Collierville, Tennessee. He closed the door softly behind, hoping it didn’t wake Sam.
“All clear,” he said. “For a minute, anyway. What’ve you got?”
“A lot of people falling ill, or into comas,” she said. She actually sounded a little worried, to Dean. “In a wide area. No medical cause for it that anyone can find. Something’s happening, something’s gotten loose, and I know it’s got a psychic cause because it won’t let me look at it.”
Dean rarely questioned Missouri about stuff like this. She’d helped Sam in so many ways, so often that he had developed a respect for her that he had for few people. He took her up on things when he didn’t agree, but he had learned that she was not going to do anything to hurt Sam. He didn’t like dealing with things he couldn’t directly see or touch, and Missouri seemed to do nothing but, and he had to trust her on some things.
“So you’re not sure if it’s natural phenomena or a kid gone off the edge,” Dean said. “What can I do?”
“You’re gonna have to go have a look at it,” she said. “You need Sam to tell you where it really is.”
“Wait, wait a minute,” Dean said. “It’s causing people to Rip Van Winkle it, but you’re not sure why and we’re supposed to just wander in?”
“If I didn’t think it was that bad, I wouldn’t involve Sam,” she said. She didn’t even bother to chastise him over his tone. “I can’t see it, and when I try...Dean, it’s not good. I can’t see anything at all, for awhile after. And you know as well as I do that Sam is not like anybody else.”
Dean relented slightly.
Sam was not like any sensitive or psychic or telepath; Sam no longer fit any category, really. He’d been having visions since he was twelve, and had paid the price for it over the years. He’d dreamt about demons while asleep and awake, and about the other kids Azazel had messed with, leaving his forming brain a little off center from everything and everyone else. Sam had never really made it out of childhood, in a few ways, had always remained Sammy. Why he’d developed his powers so much earlier than the other kids had, why he had deviated from the norm, they’d probably never know. He was one of a kind the way he was, not susceptible to some things but far too susceptible to others, stable enough to hunt but unable to be left completely on his own.
He saw things his father and brother couldn’t. Sometimes it had saved them when nothing else could.
Sam drifted, sometimes, trusted people, whispered to himself about things Dean had no hope of understanding.
He wasn’t strange. He wasn’t wrong in the head. Dean had roughed up more than one person in the past for even suggesting it. He was just one step off the rest of the world, but he was still Sam, his Sam, and it had to be good enough for everybody else.
“Anybody showing symptoms before they take a header?” Dean said. “Anybody got anything in common?”
“No symptoms,” Missouri said. “Too early to tell on the rest. I can’t even tell the nature of it, much less figure where exactly it comes from. I just know there’s a mind behind it. It keeps growing. That’s why you need to get out there. Before it becomes what it’s trying to.”
“And what is that?” Dean said.
“I wish I knew.”
“Can you give me a general where?”
“Oklahoma and Arkansas,” she said.
Dean made mental notes while she spoke. Handfuls of people unable to speak, or catatonic, or flat out comatose in McAlester, Oklahoma; across the state line in Fort Smith; south to Antlers, north to Muskogee. Nothing in their homes or apartments or schools or workplaces to explain it; no common allergy. It had happened in the last couple of days, and something that widespread should have been in the media already, unless there was some kind of lockdown and the CDC was being cautious again. Fewer people than that could have regular old food poisoning, and would have been on national news by then.
He’d need to do a little searching, draw out a few patterns on maps, see what developed.
The door opened behind him and out came a sleepy Sam, scratching under his shirt and rubbing at one eye, barefoot and looking a little annoyed.
“Let me know if you...uh, hear anything else,” he said to Missouri. “Okay? I’m gonna take a look at what’s in those areas and let you know when we head out.”
She told him to be careful, and that was something she rarely did.
Dean snapped the phone shut and gave his full attention to Sam. “Finally.”
“What,” Sam said, squinting at him. “It’s early. Way too early. What’s with all the secrecy?”
“Didn’t wanna wake you,” Dean said. “You are way behind on your beauty sleep. Check the mirror.”
“Can’t sleep unless you’re there,” Sam said, and there was a hint of a pout to go with it.
Dean ruffled his hair, and Sam leaned into it. “Sorry, big guy. We got a case. Want breakfast?”
“What is it?” Sam said, using one hand to push his hair back out of his eyes.
“Breakfast?” Dean said. “It usually involves coffee and eggs, maybe a choice of toast or hashbrowns...”
“Dean,” Sam said with a slight whine. Usually the lame attempt at a joke would have had him at least smiling.
“You are so grouchy, lately,” Dean said. “Look, just you and me, we’re gonna go check something out. Missouri thinks there might be – “
“One of them,” Sam finished. “I kind of figured. Something doesn’t feel right, but I don’t know what.”
Dean looked him up and down, checking his eyes and the color of his skin. Sam looked fine, but he was out of sorts and Dean tended to get worried when a normally cheerful Sam was feeling low. Sam did not have a complete hotline to all the other kids Azazel had chosen, but he did know when they were around, especially when they were throwing their powers around for all the wrong reasons.
Their father did not like that. At all. Never had.
“You gonna tell me what you’ve been dreaming about?” Dean said. “You can have something really horrible for breakfast, if you do. Like, Coke and pie.”
Sam seemed to consider that for a moment, looking off across the parking lot, tilted wolfish brown-blue hazel sparking with something and staying lucid while doing it. Then there was a dimple as he looked back at Dean. Sugar had always been a viable bribe. “Maybe,” he said.
“So go put clothes on, already,” Dean said. “We’re going to Oklahoma.”
Sam shrugged and walked back inside.
“And brush your hair,” Dean said. “Seriously, don’t make me do it.”
Sam did not like to brush his hair. Dean occasionally had to wrestle him into it, which really wasn’t helpful in getting it to look like something other than a rat’s nest.
They sat in the parking lot of a convenience store and watched the sun finish coming up while Sam ate a donut and drank a Mountain Dew. Dean sipped coffee and warned him to quit getting sugar all over the car. Sam grinned and licked sugar off his fingers, then put one damp, sticky finger right in Dean’s ear.
“Sammy, Jesus,” Dean said, slapping the hand away. “Man, I hate that. Gross.”
Sam laughed. Sam laughed all the time, except for the last couple of days. “But you love me, still,” Sam said.
Dean grimaced. “Yeah, I do. I don’t know why some days, that’s all.”
“It’s about nothing,” Sam said.
Dean looked at him. Sam had fallen serious suddenly, almost grim. “What is?”
“The dreams. They’re about nothing. There’s nothing and I can’t figure out why.”
Dean had always been better at deciphering Sam’s visions and dreams, better even than Missouri most of the time. Sam saw things differently, and the visions were often just a series of picture-parts, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t make sense.
“You mean you don’t see anything at all?” Dean said.
Sam shook his head. “Uh-uh. There’s something there. But it’s nothing.” He began stripping the label off of his Mountain Dew bottle.
Dean didn’t get impatient. He rarely did, with Sam. With other people, he had very little tolerance for anything, because they thought in such straight lines and rarely just spit things out when he asked.
“Did you look on all sides of it?” Dean said.
Sam nodded. His eyes got a little brighter, and Dean recognized the signs of distress long before the unshed tears showed up. He put a hand out and cupped the back of Sam’s head. “Hey, hey. It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’s okay.”
“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “Not for you or me. Not today. It’s hurt, in the middle.”
Dean waited, but didn’t drop his hand. “It hurts you, or it gets hurt?”
“Both,” Sam said. “I think. I’m not sure. I wish I could see it, and then maybe I would know.”
Dean remembered Missouri saying that whatever it was, it wouldn’t let her look at it. She had felt a sentience, and now so had Sam, at least a couple of days before Missouri had called. That meant that it was reaching out a lot farther than just the areas where it was dropping people in their tracks.
“You can’t see it, but you can feel it,” Dean said. “Right? Maybe it’s a person.”
Sam shrugged and didn’t look up.
“Let me know if you dream about it more?” Dean said. “Or feel weird. Okay? Promise?”
“I promise,” Sam said.
Dean took the I-40 W through Little Rock and further south along the I-30, headed for Hugo, OK. That way he could skirt the whole area they were investigating, stay just outside the lines that had already been drawn.
Hugo was a little further south than the small, southernmost town in Missouri’s list; it seemed like a better place to start. He wasn’t going to go in any closer than that until he had a better idea of what was going on.
He’d left a message on their father’s voicemail, telling him they were headed to Oklahoma on a tip. He didn’t say more than that. If John Winchester had the time, he would chase them down and ask for more info, especially once he found out what they were there for. He was currently up near the Canadian border, somewhere in North Dakota hilariously named Devil’s Lake. Sometimes things were named for a reason and not because someone was bored.
They stopped a couple of times to stretch and because Sam was restless. There weren’t any significant changes in him even as they got closer to their destination, so Dean relaxed a little. Whatever it was, it wasn’t having a direct proximity impact on him, at least not yet. If Dean saw something he didn’t like, he was going to turn them right back around and get the hell out of there.
Once in Antlers, Dean found a McDonald’s with wireless and began plotting out the boundaries Missouri had given him. It turned out to be a very loose ellipse. Sam ate fries and two Big Macs and an apple pie, enjoying it all in a way Dean had rarely seen anyone enjoy food. Sam was fairly easy to please when he was himself, and Dean took it as a good sign.
“You have to have something decent for dinner, since we’ve eaten like crap all day,” Dean said.
“Whatever,” Sam said around a mouthful of pie. “S’good.”
“Do me a favor,” Dean said. “Ah, ah, I mean after you’re finished. Dude, wipe your hands, Jesus.”
“Just give it to me and tell me what.”
Dean slid the laptop over, and leaned in across the table. Sam immediately followed suit, something excited leaping into his eyes. “Check all the hospitals around here and the other places I’ve marked on the map in the second tab. Get in their records and see who’s been admitted for what. Anybody comatose. See if there are more in one area than another, and give me dates and times.”
Nobody hacked into databases like his brother. Nobody.
Sam’s brow wrinkled a little, but he pulled the laptop closer and examined the mapping Dean had done. “It’s a big circle,” Sam said.
“Yeah, mostly,” Dean said.
Sam lifted his eyes to Dean’s over the edge of the laptop with something canny in his expression. “You want me to check in the middle, too?”
“Sure,” Dean said.
Sam dropped his eyes to the computer and tapped a few keys, and Dean knew he was revising the mapping slightly to include all local hospitals, hospices, assisted living facilities, rehab centers, trauma centers, everything. Sam was off, by definition, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t smart as hell about some things. He just didn’t operate on the same plane.
“This is part of the case,” Sam said, making it a statement.
Sam screwed around for a little while, and Dean glanced around. Sam knew how to cover his tracks, but every now and then a wire was tripped, and he didn’t want to bring anyone or anything down on them. They were close enough to trace, on a big unsecured network. He doubted anyone would care even if they did see Sam fooling around in their files, though.
“Not real big on security, most of these places,” Sam said.
Dean knew a response wasn’t required of him. Sam often looked so damn content when he was focused hard on something; genius level hacking or a word jumble, it didn’t make any difference.
Sam spent twenty minutes or so doing what he did, and Dean brought him back a chocolate milkshake somewhere halfway through, both to justify their continued existence as patrons and to simply make Sam happy. He got the full set of dimples for that one, of course, and internally called himself a sucker. Sam wrinkled his nose at him and grinned around the straw, and to Dean it was like maybe getting a hit of the good stuff.
Sam finally clicked the laptop shut and spoke around the straw as he made short work of the last of his milkshake. “Twenty-eight people total, comatose or vegetative, no known cause, spread out evenly in your ‘circle’, all the way from the center. Blood cultures all clear, no common anything from local beef shipments or anything like that, no kids. Everybody’s in their twenties. Nobody’s really thought to talk to each other, much, at least not yet, so they don’t see the circle like you already do.”
Sam said the last with an undertone of because nobody is as smart as you, and Dean smiled.
“So where is center?” Dean said.
“Holson Valley Road, off the 271,” Sam said. “In the mountains. Are we camping?”
“Nope,” Dean said. “Sorry. I’ll still take the shittiest motel room over the great outdoors any day.”
“Sometimes there are more bugs inside than out,” Sam said. He glanced out the windows, suddenly looking distant. “If it’s one of them? Then they’re all them.”
Dean looked at him for a long moment. Sam looked uncertain.
“I mean, they’re all my age or older,” Sam said. “That seems...important.”
“It is,” Dean said, and Sam grinned without looking at him. “I didn’t think of that. What might make so many of them pass out?”
“A much bigger one of them,” Sam said, as if it was obvious.
“Are you worried?” Dean said.
Sam shook his head.
Dean figured that was about as much as he was going to get.
Motel in Hugo, with two beds in case Sam felt safe enough to sleep on his own. He usually did, unless he was unsettled. Sam threw himself onto the far bed and stretched out. “Tired,” he said. “But I wanna watch something.”
“They got cable,” Dean said, lifting his chin at the TV on the stand against the far wall. “Knock yourself out.”
“Did dad ever call?” Sam said.
Dean glanced at him. “No. Not yet, anyway.”
“He must really have something.”
“Yeah. He’s got help, though, so I’m sure he’s okay.” Dean unpacked his duffel, sniff-tested a couple of things and debated whether they were worth it.
“What’re we gonna do tomorrow?” Sam said. “Just drive out there, go look? See if maybe I get knocked out?”
“Sam,” Dean said sternly, “You know better.”
“We’re not close enough yet, we don’t know,” Sam said, lifting himself up onto his elbows. “Maybe when we get closer, I’ll be comatose. What then?”
“I’m not gonna let anything happen to you,” Dean said shortly.
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Sam said. “What do we do then?”
“We haul ass outta here and let them knock each other out,” Dean said.
“Why are you so mad?” Sam said, sounding genuinely confused.
Dean sighed and tossed a shirt down on his bed. He finally looked straight at Sam and softened his tone. “I’m not. Okay? I’m not. If I think this is gonna affect you in any negative way, we’re not gonna hang around.”
“But what if there are people who need our help?” Sam said. “What if they’re all okay, and not, you know, Dudaelians?”
Dean shook his head. “Not worth it.”
“It is,” Sam said. “I wanna help.”
“We can’t always,” Dean said.
Sam sat up and looked worried again, the stress showing in the lines around his eyes and mouth, in the set of his shoulders. “If this is them, though, we have to. I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Sometimes, I have to find them. All of them.”
Dean came closer and patted Sam on the back. “Dude, chill. Okay? I know. I get it. I’m just warning you, I’m not gonna risk you getting hurt. We’ll have to see what happens. But if I say we go, Sam, we go.”
Sam blinked up at him, still worried but not nearly as wound up.
Dean patted his shoulder again and went back to sorting his clothes. Sam turned the TV on and engrossed himself in the second Batman movie.
Dean watched Sam roll onto his stomach with his head at the foot of the bed, head propped up on hands, hair in his eyes.
He had watched his mother burn away from the outside on the ceiling of Sam’s nursery, then had watched Sam burn away from the inside beginning with puberty, when the visions started.
Dean had not been able to stop either thing from happening, but it didn’t stop him from feeling as if he should have.
Dean was instantly awake. Years of practice had made him capable of alertness at a moment’s notice, without a trace of confusion.
Sam was suddenly there, crawling in with him, into him, tucking head under chin, arms and legs twining around. He was shivering, and Dean was struck again with the thought that he wished Sam was still small enough to hold.
It was still dark, and he didn’t bother to check the bedside clock. He tangled a hand into Sam’s hair, listening to how shaky his brother’s breathing was, feeling the damp of sweat beginning along his scalp. “Shh, Sammy. Nightmare?”
Sam nodded against his collarbone.
“It’s okay,” Dean said. “It’s all over, babe. Do you remember it?”
Sam nodded again. “Nothing.”
Dean wrapped his arms around Sam’s shoulders and tucked him in against him as much as he could, fingers gentle in his hair. “Go back to sleep,” he said softly. “You won’t have it again tonight.”
“Do you promise?” Sam whispered.
Dean pressed his lips to the top of Sam’s head. Sometimes, for just a moment at times like that, the scent of Sam’s hair reminded Dean of when Sam was little, so little, something warm and new and sweet.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll keep watch.”
When he awoke again, it was daylight, and Sam was perched up against the headboard, knees pulled to his chest, staring at the opposite wall.
Dean sat up and twisted to get a better look at him. Sam looked tired, but not on the verge of one of his episodes. Episodes sometimes meant rocking in the corner with a fist pressed to his mouth, eyes wide and unblinking, unreachable. Sometimes it meant night terrors, genuine screaming solved only with immersion in cold water. Dean never dealt with either very well, but he dealt. Luckily they were rare. Sam had to be pushed pretty hard to panic.
“Mailbox,” Sam said.
“There’s a mailbox,” Sam said. “I can’t see it well, but...you asked me what was around the sides of the nothing. There’s a mailbox.”
Dean tipped back onto the bed so he could still see Sam’s face, and blinked up at him.
Sam reached over and used one thumb to smooth one of Dean’s eyebrows. “Don’t ask,” he said. “I’m okay.”
“You better be,” Dean said. “I’ll kick your ass.”
Sam smiled. “Guess what?” he said.
Sam slapped him on the forehead. “That’s what.”
Sam sang in the shower. He was terrible. It made Dean happy anyway.
They headed into Antlers and walked around. They started by getting breakfast, then headed to Proust Park. No one was wandering around clutching their heads or falling down or standing on a street corner shouting about the coming zombie revolution, so Dean took it all as a good sign.
Sam would say so, if he felt anything. Nothing had happened when they’d come into town. Sam had a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and was fully invested in it. He was surreptitiously watching people as they walked.
“You want some of this?” he said.
“Nah,” Dean said.
“You do,” Sam said. “You were almost going to say yes.”
“I don’t like hot chocolate,” Dean said.
“Yes,” Sam said.
“You got your spit all over it,” Dean said.
“Shut up, I never backwash.”
Dean smirked and sipped his coffee. “Lying bitch, I know what Sammy-spit tastes like.”
“You have to try this, it’s awesome.”
Dean watched a woman come out of a bagel shop. Nice legs on that one; short skirt, tank top, maybe early twenties. It had been awhile, because Sam didn’t do well when left alone and didn’t do well with Dad, either, so –
Sam stuck a finger in his ear.
“I have so had it with that,” Dean said, jerking his head away. “You do that again, and I’m gonna give you a swirlie, Sam.”
“Try this,” Sam said, shoving the hot chocolate at him.
Dean sighed and took Sam’s cup, handing over his own. He sipped at the chocolate and raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Okay, it’s good. Are you happy now?”
Sam stuck his fingers into Dean’s coffee and flicked it at him. “Coffee’s gross,” he said.
They drove up to McAlester on the Indian Nation Turnpike, keeping a close eye on passing drivers, looking for anyone on the sides of the road.
“Army ammunition plant a little to the west,” Sam said.
“I know,” Dean said. “Anybody from there show up in the hospital records?”
“Nobody who used a rank,” Sam said. “So, not sure. Suppose anything there works as shielding against them? Maybe we could build armor or something.”
Sam had a list of names of those who’d been admitted to McAlester Regional Hospital as coma victims, and they went visiting. The ICU in most hospitals was the same, with a full view of all cubicles toward a center; but like any other public facility, there was also a chance to suit up like the rest of the staff and go unnoticed. Not easy to find a lab coat for Sam, that time, but they did, and by grabbing a couple of charts and ID badges off the counter of a nurse’s station, they were in under the radar.
Two patients – one male, one female, 23 and 26 respectively. No marks on their bodies, no change in their status. Found in their homes by family members, completely unresponsive.
Sam leaned in to stare close at the woman, Veronica Castillo. Dean went about pretending he was going through the motions of checking her vitals. When Sam backed up against the wall, he glanced up, but Sam was just staring at her from a slight distance. Sam went in close again, eyes closed, forehead almost pressed to hers. Dean cleared his throat, the universal you’re being too weird signal, and Sam leaned away again.
Sam was quiet in the car, quieter than usual, slumping down in the seat and looking worried again. They were on the 69 north to Eufaula, still watching for signs of anything out of the ordinary. Dean let the quiet string out. He didn’t push Sam unless he had to. Sometimes Sam planted his feet, and if he didn’t have his thoughts sorted out, he wasn’t going to share them.
Dean decided to sort of spiral in toward the center, see what happened. The whole ‘see what happened’ approach was often a winner. He didn’t need to tell Sam what he was doing. Sam knew him well enough to get it.
He cut east along the 9, stopping in Stigler. Small town, big golf course, mid size hospital.
“Want lunch?” Dean said.
Sam shook his head.
Warning sign number 2. No eating, no talking.
“Wanna give this up, go see what Dad’s up to?” Dean said.
That had come out as more of a threat than he’d wanted it to.
Sam shook his head. “She was all pressed down, like she’s buried alive,” he said. “That’s worse than being dead.”
“But she’s still there,” Dean said.
Sam nodded, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
“So if we solve this, she’ll get out,” Dean said.
“Sammy – “
“What if she’s one of them?” Sam said. “I can’t tell. I wanna be able to tell, but it won’t matter, because if we figure it out, we save everybody, and if we don’t, we save nobody. I hate that.”
Dean didn’t say anything. Anything he said wasn’t going to help. Sometimes he could tell when Sam wanted him to fix something, or when Sam just wanted him to listen. He could sense that it was the latter, right then.
“They’re all going to feel the same,” Sam said. “I don’t want to go into another hospital to check.”
“Then we won’t,” Dean said. “You wanna watch people, see if you can tell what’s going on?”
Sam shook his head. “Just find center and see what’s there.”
“Be good to check that from a distance, first,” Dean said. “Do a little research. C’mon. Let’s take a break, eat , and figure out what to do next.”
Sam finally nodded.
When nothing seemed off in Stigler, they continued south to Poteau and checked things out. They stopped for snacks, looked in the eyes of clerks and townies, and tried to get a general sense of things. Nothing seemed out of place; no one looked at them too long or tried to avoid them. People continued to avoid falling down and becoming comatose in front of them.
Sam had not bothered to ask why not me. He was not strictly subject to whatever was dropping other ‘special kids’ like flies within a certain radius. He already understood that he was different, moreso than the others, possibly more than anyone. He didn’t seem to have an opinion on that. He didn’t say, I wish I was normal. Dean figured it was because he knew he would have had a foot up his ass an instant later.
They headed south to Heavener, the last fair-sized town before dead center. And things finally got interesting.
Dean stopped to get gas, and when he purposely went inside to pay so he could check people out, there was no one else in line even though there were cars by all the other pumps.
The clerk behind the counter stared at him dully as he approached, and there was nothing that looked like awareness behind her eyes. She didn’t return his greeting, but she seemed to have no problem getting his change.
As she handed it over, and he looked up, her nose began to bleed.
“Hey,” he said, “You okay?”
She dabbed at the blood dripping onto the counter and stared at her fingers.
Dean grabbed a handful of napkins from the make-your-own-nacho station and held them out for her.
She took them and began to wipe the counter in a slow circle.
Dean looked around to see if there was anyone else around. Sam was outside by the car, leaning his elbows on the roof and watching someone try and cross the street one slow step at a time. They were angling further and further into one lane, unable to find the other side.
Dean walked out and told Sam to get back in the car, now, and lock the door. Sam shot him a strange look, but did as he was told all the same. Dean got in and leaned over to look him close in the eyes.
“No,” Sam said, looking back just as closely. “I don’t think so.”
“So, all the Muggles around here are bleeding and shuffling around like someone’s taken a bat to their heads, but you don’t feel a thing,” Dean said.
Sam’s eyes widened a little. “Do you feel anything?”
“No,” Dean said. “But I don’t live here, and haven’t been soaking up the local color for days, either. What the hell is this?”
Sam looked out his window, at the clerk still smearing blood around on the counter.
“I don’t think it’s here,” Sam said. “But we’re so close. We need to find out what’s down that road at dead center.”
They walked into the post office and behind the counter like they had every right to be there. No one tried to stop them. Three clerks – two at the front counter and one out on the loading dock – were making small, useless, repetitive motions, tracing a single figure on the counter or trying to move a plastic bin from one place to the next.
It couldn’t have been that long, then. The first wave of whatever was happening had taken out anyone with psychic sensitivity, and then taken a little longer to really do a number on the nearest locals, but no one had come to see where the hell the mail was, yet.
“Check all addresses anywhere near dead center,” Dean said, pointing at the nearest terminal. “See if anybody even lives down that road.”
He went to make the guy by the loading dock sit down before he fell off the grade and ten feet onto the concrete below.
Sam appeared, looking slightly wired. “One address,” he said. “But mail was cut off a week ago.”
Dean came closer. “Why?”
“Because the trailer that was there...vanished.”
The 270 was devoid of traffic as they headed south out of Heavener. Not a single car passed them. Dean picked up Holson Valley Road from the opposite side of where he had intended. Dead center was on the other side, closer to where it the road ended to the west, just off the 271.
Sam was chewing on one thumb as he watched the road, or at least he was every time Dean glanced at him.
“You gotta tell me if you feel anything,” Dean said. He heard the stress in his own voice and gritted his teeth. He hated not knowing what they were really walking into, not knowing if he should have left Sam behind, not knowing if Sam would have been safe that way or would have ended up bleeding from everywhere, or pitched a fit...
Twenty miles along a narrow mountain road that he couldn’t floor it for was a strain. Gun under the front seat but hoping he never had to shoot one of these kids in front of Sam, hoping Sam was wrong and it wasn’t one of those kids.
Sam was so rarely wrong.
Two miles from spanning the length of Holson Valley, Sam slammed both feet against the floor and shoved himself back against the seat, both hands on his head, howling with pain.
Dean stood on the brakes from the shock alone. The brakes locked up and Dean slid another fifty feet or so before the car stopped, passing some intangible boundary because Sam quit howling just before they came to a stop.
Dean grabbed him with his right hand, clutching into his jacket and tugging. “Sam? Sammy? You okay?”
Sam still had his hands on either side of his head, but the look on his face was one of shock, not pain. He relaxed his legs a little, still tense but coming out of it. He shook Dean off for once and got out of the car.
Dean got out just as quickly, watching Sam circle to the front of the car as if using it as a shield, gaze wary on the road behind. “Sam?”
Sam let the tips of his fingers skate across the hood. “It was just...we’re here. But I can’t see it.”
Dean watched Sam closely rather than trying to look behind. “You mean...”
“It’s nothing,” Sam said, voice low and worried, eyes darting. “Like in the dream.”
Dean thought back to Missouri talking about what she couldn’t see.
Sam pointed back down the road. “Dean.”
Dean looked. There was a break in the woods, a turnoff from the roadway. Normal springtime growth had begun to overtake the driveway there, not enough to indicate it wasn’t used any longer, just that it needed to be cut back. To the left of the narrow gravel drive was a mailbox on a post.
“Stay here,” Dean said, beginning to circle behind Sam, headed for the driveway.
“But I – “
“Sam. I’m gonna have a look. You stay right there. It hit you, whatever it is.”
Sam reacted to the tone of voice with wide, worried eyes. He bit at the thumb of his right hand, incisors nibbling at the pad.
Dean’s heart was still racing too hard to let him feel much more than resolve, but he clapped Sam on the shoulder as he passed. “Stay here.”
He trotted down the far side of the road, onto the shoulder, one hand on his gun, checking above and around in the trees and brush as he got closer. He crossed the road and approached the mailbox like it might have a pipe bomb in it, ears straining for the slightest thing out of the ordinary ahead or behind. At least he’d be out of sight of the road once he entered the driveway; Sam would get upset, but not as upset as he would if he saw something happen to his brother.
He flipped the mailbox open with one hand, the other pointing his Glock straight ahead. A couple of supermarket flyers were bunched into the back like they’d been there forever, but there was nothing else.
He took his time when he hit the gravel of the drive, trying to keep it from crunching underfoot. He leaned around the worst of the bushes and glanced into the yard.
Overgrown grass. A set of concrete blocks that looked like they’d had something up on them until just recently. A couple of buckets, a flat soccer ball, a truck tire lying way off to the right.
If there’d been a house or trailer there at some point, it should have shown a footprint, maybe a mess of castoff plumbing or skirting. There was nothing there, all the way back into the trees, maybe fifty yards further on. He glanced behind himself and then into the yard again, and blinked hard, because he knew for just a moment that something had been at the edge of his vision, something large.
When he tried to look again, at where a trailer should have been, he couldn’t get his eyes to look where he wanted them to. He couldn’t get his gaze to land anywhere. He shook his head and stepped further into the yard, gun held in both hands at waist level. There was something there; he just couldn’t see it.
When he got to the edge of the unkempt lawn, the air resisted him a little, pushing back.
He paused, trying to make sense of that, trying to focus toward a part of the yard that wouldn’t let him, wondering how far he could go before something really came after him.
The air began to pull rather than push. Dean raised his gun again and kept moving forward, grass crushed underfoot, blade edges rasping at the skin of his boots, at the cuffs of his jeans. He wanted to put a hand out when he got close enough, put it right up against whatever was really there, see if his eyes were just playing tricks.
He looked around for a rock, for anything that would clear the distance and give him something solid to aim at. Sam had felt something there, something reaching out, putting out signals and short circuiting anybody with the right tuner.
He came forward another couple of steps, and something changed, something that made it harder to look anywhere rather than just at that empty space; something that twitched in his spine, made him jerk, made his limbs feel slightly disconnected. It should have alarmed the hell out of him, should have caused him to backpedal. He kept his hands on his gun but he wasn’t sure what he had it for; the air seemed to blast at him, push and pull, but it wasn’t windy. The warmth on his lips was salty when he tasted it, and he knew it was blood but doing anything about it was something he had to think about.
Something sparkled behind his vision, then rushed along the sides and forced him to look through a long, growing tunnel. He had the sense of everything pulling in toward a center, crumbling inward somewhere, his own bones folding to a handful without the pain; one pinpoint, straight curves thrown wide closed.
There was the dark, and he melted out of his own hands, water wicked away.
It was loud.
Sam didn’t actually hear anything, or see anything either, but it crashed in a wide circle all around, moving outward, moving inward, never moving. He couldn’t say that to Dean if it didn’t even make sense to him. He liked to say things, whatever things he wanted to, but not if they weren’t going to help. He wanted to help. He had to help. He knew things, all kinds of things that weren’t known, just in his head and his to keep even if he didn’t want them most of the time.
He couldn’t think over the noise, but it didn’t hurt from there, down the road. He could‘t believe Dean didn’t hear it, but he hadn’t said anything.
He had kept the car between himself and the loud place, the place not there, trying to keep himself from following even though he’d probably have to scream again. He didn’t like Dean going in the yard, out of sight, didn’t often like Dean out of sight at all even on the best days, even though he tried so hard not to be like that, not to get so Dean would really want to be out of sight more and more.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. Dean would come back out of the bushes in a moment, one more moment, another, and they’d figure something out.
Minutes passed, and he stood watching, swaying from foot to foot just a little, and there was no change in the noise, and his brother didn’t come back out.
He couldn’t yell. He wasn’t sure he could be heard over the noise, even if Dean didn’t hear it, and he wasn’t convinced that whatever was in the nothing-place wouldn’t hear him. He would give Dean away.
He kept his hands on the car so he would stay put. That worked. Then just one hand; then he was running for the end of the driveway with both hands over his ears even though it didn’t block out the noise.
It hurt; he went ahead and screamed because it didn’t help either, but if he didn’t he would have to go back out to the road and he couldn’t do that.
Dean was in the yard, slumped on one side with open eyes and bloody nose and ears, and right about then the noise became unbearable. It became a burning somewhere in the center of his head, needlesharp and threaded right through the place all visions came from. All the outer layers began to peel away, crisping in a still wind so scalding hot that it blew everything back but then didn’t leave any air, sucking everything back in toward the center. He felt for his skin and was amazed it was still there. He tried to lean down to get to Dean, but he couldn’t take the burning anymore. It wasn’t going to stop hurting him or Dean until he made it stop.
Layers and layers peeled away from somewhere inside, and he wanted to get down on his knees and hide his head, hide anywhere, anything not to be blasted to dust a piece at a time, shredding in the wind, all his safe places whipped away.
He walked through the nothing part, past walls that were still there but couldn’t hold together any longer under the pressure, walls holding a shadow shape with too many spaces between.
He was in someone’s kitchen and the sun was slanting in across yellowed linoleum from a window in the back, filtered and dull. Dust motes hung unmoving. There was an open doorway to his left, tennisshoed feet just visible past the frame, some fallen someone gone still days away. Metal card table, green vinyl-covered chairs, a single figure sitting up straight, held there by his own weight on the back of a chair. The man was somewhere in his twenties, eyes wide and hollow, skin pulled back against his skull. His clothes hung loose.
There was dust on his eyelashes.
Sam hung there in the moment, thoughts clear and still, standing in the eye of the storm. The world was utterly silent, muffled in the center of things, and the vortex went on spinning outward.
The eyes moved to him slowly, dry in their sockets and clouded over, burning away from inside.
Sam looked down and understood.
He pulled Dean off the lawn as if he was a child, and carried him to the car.
He sat in the back seat of the Impala with the doors open and Dean sprawled in his lap. Dean’s head was heavy against his shoulder but comforting. He could hear Dean, buried and frightened but still there. Not buried like the others in the hospital, just covered for awhile, shut down to be safe, struggling to get back out while he was still hurt. Too soon, too close.
“Shh, shh,” Sam whispered, rocking Dean a little. “We’re okay. I can watch you, for awhile, for once. I can.”
It was silent behind him, the blast of a failing mind finally stilled. The world was loud again, though, like it hadn’t been for years. He no longer had any of his walls up, nothing left to keep the rest of everything at bay, and he knew how sea creatures must feel with their shells suddenly pried off. He was exposed to the open air, to everything he had been so careful to keep a distance from. There were no voices, not yet, just an overlying, overlapping hum of life like waves at a shore, waiting for him to get a little closer.
He held Dean hard against him with one hand on his forehead and the other wrapped around his ribs, whispering, waiting for Dean to quit struggling inside. Dean was loudest of all, still, worryhurt, not for himself but for Sam.
“Sleep,” Sam whispered. “You have to, for awhile, or I can’t think. C’mon, Dean.”
If he’d had anything left, anything to muffle and shield, he would have given it to Dean.
He had already realized that the only reason Dean had been able to walk into the yard at all, get any nearer than Heavener without being affected like everyone else, was because he had already been shielding Dean by default. He hadn’t tried to. He just had.
Everything was so clear, with all his covers gone, so sharp and stark and beautiful.
He looked at the gun again, on the seat next to them. He had put his gun on the seat because he couldn’t have it any closer yet, not with blood all over it. He had blood all over himself, too, but he couldn’t feel it over the burning so it didn’t matter yet.
He wondered if all of his kind lost control like that, if they would all become dark wells of power that warped everything around them, no longer able to do more than sit and wait for the end as they killed everything for miles without lifting a finger. He wanted to be wrong, to believe he would not become that, he would not hurt Dean, he would not force Dean to save him with a bullet.
“I won’t,” he whispered.
He could make Dean, if he had to. He could make anyone do anything he wanted to, if he tried. But he would not.
So when he reached in automatically and forced Dean the rest of the way under with a thought, breaking his own word so quickly because he only wanted to help, it made him cry.
He called Missouri when he got back to Hugo.
Dean was still under, safe and tucked away on the bed furthest from the door. Sam had changed his clothes and washed the blood off his hands and face and neck, washed away everything that had blown back on him.
Missouri did not have a cell phone or caller ID. She just knew it was him.
“He was already gone,” Sam said. “It was just one, and he didn’t mean to, but he couldn’t help it. Sooner or later, it’ll happen again by itself, or maybe one will find out how to do it on purpose.”
“What’s happened to you?” she said. “You’re...oh, Sam. You’re back open.”
“I can’t stay out like this,” Sam said. “It’s too much. I have to go away for awhile, and I need you to explain that to Dean. Please.”
There was a pause on the line, and he knew she wasn’t exactly debating whether to do as he asked; she was trying to absorb the fact that she was talking to the core of someone who had been hiding so long to stop from becoming not just one of them, but the absolute worst of them. The face he wore was a true reflection of the best part, but it was not all there was of him. He would always be a frightened kid, and he knew it, and he preferred that to what lurked underneath. If he wrapped himself tight enough, it would always be that way.
He hung up without saying anything else, knowing she would understand.
He wrapped himself around Dean, that close and no closer, waiting for it to get quiet again.
Dean waded out of sleep with a disorientation he wasn’t familiar with. It took several minutes to shake off, and he grew gradually aware that he felt as if someone had acquainted his head with a hard surface a few times.
Sam was there, curled up hard along one side of the bed, one hand shoved under the back of Dean’s neck as if to support his head while he slept. Sam seemed so small again, hair in his face, expression too slack to be just asleep.
Dean rolled toward him and knew there was something he should have already remembered, something circling in the back of his aching head. Sam was breathing slow and deep, but his skin was cool to the touch and he seemed too distant, somehow. He shook him. “Sam.”
He didn’t respond, not when Dean pushed him over the rest of the way onto his back, not when Dean shook him or shouted for him. Dean remembered nothing after entering the yard, but it had to be about that; somehow Sam had been tangled up in it.
He’d go back there, blow the whole goddamn place up if it meant it would get Sam loose.
His phone rang, and he ignored it. He should never have let Sam get so close, never brought him within a thousand miles of the place, should have left him with Missouri or Ellen, somewhere safe. He looked around for his boots, never pausing to consider who had taken them off or how they’d made it back to the room.
Sam’s phone began to ring in addition to his own, and then the beaten plastic room phone on the nightstand began to ring as well.
He grabbed for his phone, too shaken to realize that he was on the edge of panic. “What!”
“He’s all right,” Missouri said, tone as firm as it was soothing. “Dean, you have to calm down or you’ll yank him right back up, and it’ll be too hard for the both of you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean said, eyes on Sam, head hurting even more with the sudden influx of adrenaline. The room began to spin, and he steadied himself against the wall by the bed, standing over Sam.
“You sit down and hush,” she said. “Right now. He’s going to be fine, but he needs some time, and so do you. You take a little while to calm down, then you get him here. He took care of things, but it didn’t leave him with much, and he needs it back. I need you to come talk to me, Dean.”
Dean closed his eyes and listened, holding on to the words themselves, because she would not lie to him if she thought Sam was in true trouble.
“All gonna be okay, baby,” she said, voice low and careful. “Come talk to me.”
Dean hung up and sat down on the bed again, resting his forehead against Sam’s chest and trying to catch his breath. Then he got up and got moving, because Sam needed him, and he could do anything for Sam.
Dean understood many things.
He understood that there were things he couldn’t understand, and sometimes that was the biggest challenge of all.
Missouri used terms like black hole telepath to describe what had happened, and he could deal with that. She didn’t attempt to tell him how rare it was, or that it could have been ten times worse than it was, that it could have gone on long enough that the kid in that trailer imploded. The result might have been the functional brain death of hundreds, or the release of enough power to flatten the area in both a physical and mental sense. She explained that everything he currently recognized as Sam had been stripped off, leaving his brother exposed and unable to deal.
He didn’t understand how Sam putting himself under was going to help. But, he’d never had to build layers of blocks and walls and switchbacks to protect himself in a matter of days, either. The ones he had were the result of a lifetime.
He understood the blood and brains on the clothes in Sam’s duffel and on his gun, though. That didn’t take much of a leap in logic. Sam had walked into the trailer, and put a gun right to that kid’s head. Dean hadn’t foreseen being incapacitated in the yard, had been careful but had figured he was immune to the effects for some reason and would go on being immune. Had he been a little more careful, Sam would not have had to put some poor kid down like a rabid dog. No telling how hard he would take it.
Will he still be Sam?
She had no answer for that, and he knew the question was ridiculous. His idea of Sam had to do with little brother that needed to be guarded and comforted. He knew Sam, knew there were things going on underneath that had never come to the surface or grown because of what had happened to him so early on. He had often wondered what it would have been like, had it never happened at all and Sam had gone on to really be who he had started out to be.
He was afraid that this second burning would be too much.
He wanted Sam to be okay. If that meant he opened his eyes and was different, then he was fine with that, too, even though the idea scared the shit out of him.
They would stop hunting. He would find somewhere for them to live, really live, somewhere Sam could find something to do that made him happy. Somewhere he’d be safe and didn’t have to risk running into lunatics with yellow eye tattoos, somewhere he wouldn’t have to find himself shooting kids his own age between the eyes to put them out of their misery.
He sat next to the bed in Missouri’s guest room and stared at Sam, and knew all too well it wouldn’t work. There were still a few out there, demon and human alike, that thought Sam was either their problem or their solution. Settling him in one place would be like putting a neon sign out.
Sooner or later, Sam would need more than his brother for company and comfort. Dean wasn’t doing either of them any good by trying to be everything. It just wasn’t safe. And he wasn’t sure, anymore, how to do anything but hunt and take care of Sam.
By the end of the first day, Dean was ready to take Sam to a hospital. Missouri didn’t attempt to dissuade him. She simply said, “They’ll kick you out after visiting hours. And if you raise a fuss about it? They’ll check you out. And when you’re in jail on all your warrants, Dean, and Sam wakes up without you there, how bad is that?”
Dean stayed put.
“He’s gonna get dehydrated,” Dean said. “He’s gonna starve.”
“He shut himself down, honey,” she said. “That means everything.”
Dean widened his eyes at her. “He doesn’t hibernate.”
She widened her eyes back. “He’s got power over many things. You wanna trade tales of the impossible with me, boy? Do you?”
Dean did not call his father. He was afraid to explain that it all had to do with Sam, that he had not kept Sam from ending up unconscious for two days and counting, that he had let things get to the point where it had been Sam that had needed to pull the trigger. There was no part of that he could put a positive spin on. There were days that John was still in denial about the possibility that Sam was a sleeper and /or a completely burned out former member of Azazel’s army.
He sat and watched Sam, getting up periodically to look at him closer, use the backs of his fingers to touch his face and check his temperature, lift an eyelid to check his pupil response, press against his throat to check his pulse. He washed his brother’s face and hands with a warm washcloth every so often, listened to his breathing, smoothed his hair. He finally sat on the bed and talked to him, something he knew he never would have done otherwise. Usually Sam talked and Dean listened; that was how it was supposed to go. He found himself rambling on about nothing, about the weather and about Missouri, about what they were going to do when he woke up; that it was okay that he’d only done what Dean would have, that maybe he’d done the best thing he could for someone who couldn’t be helped anymore. No reason to feel bad about that.
He laid down so that his head rested on Sam’s chest for once, something strange and different.
“It’s okay,” Dean said. “I don’t care what you’re like, just so long as you wake up. Right? Okay? We don’t ever have to hunt again, we’ll just go look at stuff. Biggest ball of twine, maybe, or the place that had albino alligators. That was cool. We could go see the Toys ‘R Us in New York City, that would be fun. Or Alcatraz, dude, let’s go see that. I heard it’s haunted. Let’s go to fairs, and shit. Look at the chickens. I hate chickens, and I hate the rides, but they have elephant ears and corndogs and stuff. Whatever you want, we’ll do it. We’ll just sit and fuckin’ play Scrabble, if that’s what you want. I hate Scrabble, but I like you, I love you, I love you so much.”
He turned his face into Sam’s shirt and held on, trying hard not to break down any more than he already had.
Missouri’s hand was kind on his head.
“You haven’t shut down,” she said. “You still need to eat.”
“You’re just gonna upset him, if you don’t take care of yourself.”
Dean glared up at her. “Dirty pool.”
“Whatever works, honey,” she said. “Whatever works. I made sandwiches, so you come out and eat, then you can talk to him some more.”
He awoke on the third day to Sam curled in around him like he was the one who needed protecting. His first thought was that Sam had had another nightmare, something he should ask about, see if it was real, or from watching too many movies. Sam was warm and tucked around him like a blanket, one hand spread wide over his heart.
“Shh,” Sam whispered.
Dean froze, remembering, and Sam turned the hand on his chest into a fist and thumped him with it. “Sammy?”
“No,” Sam said. “Tooth fairy. Go to sleep, you’re so noisy.”
“m’tired,” Sam said.
“You’ve been asleep for days,” Dean said, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice. “You’re not tired.”
“Not sleepin’,” Sam said. He patted Dean on the chest. “You were awake a lot, so you sleep.”
“Sam – “
They sat in Missouri’s yard and had lemonade, and watched the afternoon pass. Sam wasn’t disoriented, but there was something different about him that Dean couldn’t really pinpoint. Sam and Missouri had had their heads together out of his earshot for awhile earlier in the day, and Dean didn’t begrudge them that. He wouldn’t even ask what it was about. There were things that only belonged to Sam. He would try to understand if asked, but he didn’t intrude.
“Cut it out,” Sam said.
“You’re all...mopey. You’re doing that thing.”
Dean squinted at him. “What thing?”
“‘Boo hoo, I failed’,” Sam said. “You know. That big superman thing, where you’re supposed to be invincible.”
Dean shook his head.
Sam licked his finger and stuck it in Dean’s right ear.
Dean sat and took it without moving, looking deeply put upon and a little grossed out, but relieved at the same time. “Not sure why you keep doing that.”
“‘Cause you get this look on your face like you can’t believe it just happened,” Sam said. “No matter how many times I do it, you just look like it’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in your whole life.”
Dean laughed. “It is.”
“See?” Sam said. “You’ve seen stuff nobody can imagine, but you’re all freaked out by a finger in your ear.” He took his finger out of Dean’s ear and leaned in close, breath soft against his skin. “You wanna hear a secret?”
“I love you, too,” Sam said. “More than anybody, ever.”
Dean swallowed hard but didn’t move away. “That’s not really a secret, Sam,” he whispered.
“Then is it a secret that I want you to be happy, even if it means you have to leave me behind?” Sam said.
Dean cocked his head back and turned to look at him. “What the hell? What’s that all about?”
Sam shrugged. “I’m the way I am. Your whole life doesn’t have to be about me.”
Dean shoved him. Sam fell over in the grass and laid there, smiling.
“Shut up,” Dean said. “You’re...” He coughed into one hand as if trying to clear his throat. Somewhere in there was a mumbled my whole life, just barely audible.
“That’s sad,” Sam said, still smiling.
“Shut up,” Dean said.
Sam righted himself. They sat and watched the afternoon pass a little more.
“I’m sorry,” Dean said finally. “About the way this turned out.”
Sam nodded. “I know. It’s okay, though. Sometimes the only way to save somebody is to kill them.”
It was a bizarre thing to say, or it would have been, for most people. Dean tried not to let it show on his face. Sam looked serene, something more than just settled, and Dean could believe he’d maybe compartmentalized a few things somewhere in that big head of his. He’d seen Sam do it before, just put things away rather than agonize over them. There had been any number of things he’d wished Sam hadn’t seen over the years, things he’d rather not have seen himself, but there were always ways of focusing on what got done rather than what had happened. Sam just seemed to excel at that in ways that had nothing to do with being cold or hardened. If Dean asked, he would likely not remember the kid’s name (Daniel Hahn) or most of what had really gone on. Not in the yard, not in the house, not immediately after.
Sam was like he was to protect himself.
Dean was like he was to protect Sam.
“There’s a park a couple blocks over,” Sam said. “Remember? It’s got b-ball courts.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, sipping lemonade and trying not to rub at his ear.
“I’m going to kick your ass,” Sam said.
Dean squinted at him again. Sam grinned hugely.
They picked up a ball at the Wal-Mart and found an empty court, and spent two hours talking trash and driving each other into exhaustion. With Sam, it was all play, and playing with Sam made it impossible to be too serious about anything. Dean put a whole 32 ounce Gatorade down the back of Sam’s shirt, laughing when Sam did, laughing harder when Sam whipped a wet, sticky shirt off and snapped him with it.
He wasn’t completely sure what went on in Sam’s head, all the time. But he didn’t need to know.
Sam could so easily become a black hole in many ways, one he could circle and fall into, and he didn’t really mind.
-|- -|- -|-
Unwell by Matchbox Twenty
All day staring at the ceiling
Making friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices telling me that I should get some sleep
Because tomorrow might be good for something
Feeling like I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why
Well I'm not crazy
I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay a while and maybe then you'll see a different side of me
I'm not crazy
I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me and how I used to be
Talking to myself in public and dodging glances on the train
And I know
I know they've all been talking bout me
I can hear them whisper
And it makes me think there must be something wrong with me
Out of all the hours thinking somehow I've lost my mind
Well I'm not crazy
I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay a while and maybe then you'll see a different side of me
I'm not crazy
I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me and how I used to be
I've been talking in my sleep
Pretty soon they'll come to get me...