Characters: Dean, Sam
Summary: ...And Dean didn't stop him. Or something like that.
Author’s notes This fic is sort of the illegitimate child of this prompt and this prompt, the latter of which I've been trying to write since waaaay back. Nothing ever felt right until I happened to look at both prompts at the same time and was Inspired. <3
Originally posted on livejournal Jul. 28th, 2012.
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Five seconds. That's all it took for an easy hunt to go wrong, and more than anyone Sam should have remembered that. It was why he'd left in the first place, for all the good that did. Now he's got 50 bucks tops for the motel room, one less insurance card and a brother with 5 pounds of bandages over his eyes. Dean's been in the hospital maybe six hours and he's already bitching about the bed, the noise, his IV, the fact that he's probably being waited on by hot nurses and he can't even tell (he's got one nurse, and she's 55 if she's a day). He orders Sam around like Sam lost a bet and Sam doesn't complain (much), and neither of them talk about the fact that in 22 years of hunting none of them have ever, ever been hurt in the eye.
Doctors said he'd probably heal fine as long as he kept the bandages on. Dean's been in worse shape before. Sam signs Dean out seven hours after they arrived and lets Dean pretend he's hanging on to Sam's arm for balance on the way to the car. Inside, Sam starts the car but he doesn't pull out. Dean's slumped back into the passenger seat and scowling at nothing in particular, but he's got a hand on the dash and Sam thinks he can see him relax, just a little, at the feel of his baby around him. Sam thinks about how close he just came to losing Dean. Thinks about that second after he saw the ghost upend a bottle of bleach into Dean's face and about the sound Dean made when it hit. Thinks about the longest trip to the hospital he's ever made with Dean curled in the back and flinching from touch.
Dean's got a little frown on his face now. Sam wonders if he can feel anything through the painkillers.
“You gonna take us to the motel or are you waitin' for permission from the president?” Irritated, and usually that'd get a reaction from Sam. But he almost lost his brother today and he knows he didn't imagine the faint quaver in Dean's voice that says Dean's not as over this as he acts. He reaches across the seat with one arm and cups the back of Dean's neck. Dean starts and turns his head like he's trying to see Sam through the cloth.
“It's gonna be fine, you know.” Sam plays his fingers through the hair at the base of Dean's neck. Runs his thumb along the back of the bandage, and it feels just like any other. Feels like something that can come off, soon, and leave nothing but the familiar pink of newly healed skin that Dean'll pass off as a firefighter injury to the next pretty girl he meets in a bar.
“'S my line.” Maybe it's the painkillers, but Dean leans back, just a little, into Sam's hand.
It was exactly 24 hours before Dean's deal came due and Sam couldn't sleep. Ruby would be meeting them tomorrow to take down Lilith and it would work. It had to work. If it didn't-
Sam let go of the window frame when he realized he'd splintered it. He stared at the closed curtain for a second. Then he turned and paced to the end of Dean's bed, watching him pretend to sleep.
He wasn't good without Dean. The trickster had shown him that. Maybe three years ago he would have been. At Stanford he'd convinced himself that if he ever got the call- if he ever found out that Dad or Dean's luck had run out, he'd be okay. Normal people cried when a relative died. They grieved, and then they turned to their friends and the rest of their family and they moved on. (Sam had maybe thought about this a lot back then). But that was back when he had Jess, and school, and a life ahead of him. And anyway, he'd been kidding himself when he thought he was over his family. At the end of the day they were all you had to fall back on. Dean was all he had-
And suddenly the space between him and Dean wasn't small enough. Sam pushed Dean to the side and sat against the headboard, legs stretched out so they brushed against Dean. He still had his brother. Now, and forever. He wasn't going to lose him. Dean pushed himself up on his forearms and gave Sam an incredulous look.
“What the hell-”
“Shut up, Dean. Just-” Sam couldn't get the rest out, and Dean swallowed and looked away. He got it.
“Okay, Sam. Okay.” He dropped back down to the bed, watching Sam carefully.
Sam traced along Dean's cheek and up to his temple. Ran his hands through Dean's hair the way Dean used to when they were kids, after a shower or a haircut or a nightmare. After a while Dean's eyes slid shut again. Sam left his hand on Dean's head and kept watch, waiting for the sun to rise.
“He always hated how you wouldn't let him touch you. Wouldn't talk to him. Wouldn't trust him.” Lucifer had one hand around Dean's throat- not choking, just holding him. Dean was caught in a fucking force field; couldn't move his arms or legs even an inch. He snarled at the thing using his brother's body and struggled anyway.
“Don't talk about him like you know him.” The angel (not Sam) was so close Dean could feel hot air over his cheek as he huffed out a laugh.
“I know him better than you ever will, big brother. He and I, we're the same. Just. Born at different times. And you...” Sam's body stepped back the length of his arm to look at Dean more fully. He used that gigantic hand on Dean's neck (Sam's hand, dammit) to tilt Dean's head up. With the other hand he brushed Dean's hair back from his forehead; his touch almost reverent. He breathed out. “You're so much like Michael.”
Something ugly was twisting in Dean's gut at Sam's voice, Sam's hands (it'd been so long since he'd heard his brother laugh). It'd been there for years now, if Dean was honest with himself. Kind of gnawing. Growing. Right now, more than anything, he kind of just wanted it to stop. “I get it,” he threw at Lucifer. “You won. Congratulations. Now fucking kill me already and get it over with.”
Lucifer sighed. “Patience, Dean. It never was your strong suit, was it?” The angel's hand dropped from Dean's hair and he leaned in, conspiratorial, lips brushing Dean's ear. “He doesn't hate you, you know. He never has. And he never wanted you to suffer like this.” Then the hand on his neck twisted and Dean's body dropped to the ground. He didn't live to feel the boot that followed or see Lucifer turn to face someone behind them.
Rufus's cabin might have been safe, but it wasn't reliable. Two weeks into their 'vacation' there was a crack, a spark, and then the whole cabin had been plunged into darkness. Bobby'd declared the whole thing fried, and no point trying to fix anything till daybreak. He'd disappeared into the cabin's only bedroom shortly afterwards, leaving Sam and Dean with the couch and a half dozen candles that Sam had managed to find at the back of the closet. They smelled kind of like moth balls and dripped wax like faucets, but Sam had arranged them around the couch to form a little bubble of light and then shoved Dean into one corner so he could stretch out beside him. Dean, for his part, just muttered a little and rubbed his face into the back of the couch. Sam didn't even think he'd noticed the power going out, which said something to both how tired he must be and the painkillers he was on.
Sleep sounded pretty good to Sam right then. If only the sledgehammer in his head were willing to settle down for an hour or so. He shifted a bit to try and get comfortable and accidentally knocked Dean's head off the couch and onto his shoulder. Dean sniffed once without opening his eyes and then buried his face into the space between Sam's shoulder and neck, cuddly in a way he never was awake and off the good stuff. Sam scritched at Dean's hair absently, getting a contented sigh from his brother. Here, sitting in their little bubble of light with the only sound the wind and their own heartbeats, it felt like they were alone in the world. And for a while Sam could pretend that Lucifer wasn't in the corner just outside the candlelight; that Dean wasn't teetering on the edge of breaking; that the world wasn't screwed with them as its only saviors. Sam sat for a long time and just breathed, and wished his moment could just last forever.
It was a little amazing how well Dean had adapted to domestic life. They'd kept the apartment Sam had rented when he'd first gotten Dean out. After eight months, when they'd realized that Dean had recovered as much as he was going to and that hunting was just not in the equation anymore, it just hadn't made sense to move. It was a duplex, but nobody lived in the other half and rent was ridiculously cheap (because this was Bobby's old town and they had long memories). Sheriff Mills (“Call me Jody”) came by every other day to check up on them and lately to trade gossip. Sam hadn't been 'in the loop' since Stanford, and it felt good. Familiar, almost. Dean had taken to lounging on a lawn chair out front, where he could hear the odd child playing and middle aged women could come up and coo over him (he was one of the ones that stopped the apocalypse, after all, a bona fide war hero). And Dean loved it. Always had, really, when he was too sick or out of it to remember that cuddling wasn't manly. Now he beamed that new smile he had whenever anyone came over, and let them rearrange pillows and fetch him water and generally wait on him the way Sam had stopped doing weeks ago. And if Sam hovered near the doorway and watched them a little too intently while they were near his brother, well. Dean seemed to like that now, too.
He slept a lot now. Ever since Sam first ripped a whole in the world to drag his brother out, dirty and feverish and the clinging to Sam like his life depended on it, Dean had spent most of his time sleeping. Sam was almost disappointed. He'd had seven months to prepare for a post-Purgatory Dean and he hadn't wasted it. For the first time in years there was no demon, no apocalypse, no imminent destruction hovering over their heads. They had time to just rest. And no way Dean was going to convince Sam he was fine; not this time. A month before he'd perfected the ritual, he'd Dean-proofed the entire apartment and prepared arguments for why they shouldn't just take off. He had beef and fries and milkshakes ready if Dean came back hungry and in need of normal. Soup and crackers if he couldn't keep those down. He'd spent two weeks hunting down just the type of mattress and sheet material that Dean liked best, and cleared an area of the bedroom in case Dean wasn't up to sleeping on a bed right at first – he remembered survival training one summer just out of middle school when their dad had dropped them both off in a forest and told them he'd be back in three months. For weeks Sam had daydreamed about collapsing into a soft, clean bed, yet when Dad finally picked them up in mid-August the motel beds had seemed wrong.
He and Dean had both come back from Hell totally unmarked physically, but Sam didn't know if the rules were different for Purgatory. At the very least Dean's body was in there with him, and Sam's ritual didn't come with a healing factor. So he raided a couple of hospitals across the northern states. Set up an IV line, heart monitor, proper suture kit, and about 50 different kinds of drugs. Jody knew at last one doctor who did good work and didn't ask questions. Just in case. He bought a bookshelf just to hold all of the psych 101 books he'd bought, on trauma and repression and anything else that looked remotely relevant. Some of them were almost falling apart from frequent use. Some were hardly touched, or had been thrown at a wall a few times, or had sent him to Jody in hysterics about how completely screwed they both were. He'd soundproofed every room in the house because he knew nightmares better than anyone else and Dean wouldn't want the neighbours privy to his.
But when he'd actually pulled Dean out, Dean had wrapped his arms around Sam's neck and he hadn't let go until they were solidly on Earth again. Then he'd pulled back and stared at Sam's face, and when Sam had asked “Dean?” quietly he'd started crying. And then he'd slept, one hand still wrapped firmly around Sam's sleeve, and Sam had taken his first good look at him. Started the familiar routine of checking his brother down for injuries, cataloging new scars with forced detachment. (He'd freaked out later, retreating to the bathroom the minute Dean was willing to let Sam out of his sight and just shaking until the thought of what Dean had been through no longer made him want to throw up.) Dean had been healthy, considering. Still was. He wasn't thin, his colour was good, and he hadn't come back with any unhealed wounds. But on the right side of his face his skin was angry red and leathery. The scar went from the edge of Dean's lips up to his temple, and disappeared around the side of his head. Sam had tipped Dean's head gently to follow it and run his fingers lightly over the ruined mess of Dean's right ear. There was no opening anymore that Sam could see; just a mess of tissue sticking out from the side of his head. There were more red spots along the back of Dean's neck and around to his left ear, but nothing as big. He had a new scar that snaked around his waist and both of his thumbs looked like they'd been broken once, for the first time since Hell.
Dean was deaf now. The morning after Dean came back Sam had woken up to Dean's face just inches from his, just staring. He'd found a grin (which wasn't hard: Dean was back) and asked if there was something on his face. Dean had blown out a breath and looked so damn accepting that Sam had known. But that was still okay. Dean could have come back with two broken arms and legs and needed to be carried everywhere, and Sam wouldn't have had a problem with that. (He had four wheelchair models picked out that Dean might like, along with a kickass cane and books on sign language and braille, because he'd been picking up supplies one day two and a half months ago and he'd suddenly had a feeling). So he hadn't said a word that morning and he hadn't pushed when Dean never tried to speak (he could imagine how weird that would feel, with no sound). Sam had shown him his books on sign language and Dean had rolled his eyes like he didn't know why he put up with this geekishness. But he'd taken them and Sam caught him reading them in the evenings when things were quiet. Two weeks in Sam had given away the little stereo the apartment had come with and bought a huge sound system with bass support, and he'd blasted Metallica loud enough that you could feel the music through the floor. Dean had stared at it for five full seconds and then he'd grinned, really grinned, for the first time in years, and pulled Sam in for a hug (another one of his favourite things nowadays).
It had taken Sam three days to realize that the reason Dean kept walking close to walls and leaning on chairs and tabletops was because his sense of balance was off, and then it had only seemed natural to offer his arm for support. Dean grabbed at any excuse for contact these days.
Sam didn't know what had happened in Purgatory to make Dean so touch-starved, but a hundred and fifty years in a cage with Lucifer meant he could guess. Or maybe it was just the aftermath – needing to be grounded in a world that had no sound anymore and tilted without warning. The reason didn't really matter. What mattered was that Dean was alive and Sam was alive, and they were together. Truth be told, Sam's favourite moments nowadays were the quiet evenings curled up on the couch with Dean's head in Sam's lap watching some corny movie, with the sound muted and Dean's hands lazily dubbing over dialogue. And maybe if anyone saw them it might look less innocent than it was. Times like these, Dean's face finally smoothed out, totally content like he hadn't been since a fire had taken away everything (almost everything) good in their lives- Sam didn't really care what anyone else thought of them.
They were happy. Sometimes Sam had to stop in the middle of something and just look, and try to take that in. They were happy. And for the moment, they were also safe.