Rating: T (for language)
Characters: Sam, Dean, John
Genre: Gen, hurt/comfort, Stanford timeframe
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural except in my dreams where schmoop abounds.
Warnings: Spoilers for season 1
Word Count: ~9,200
Summary: Sam left for Stanford 5 months ago and Dean misses his kid brother. But it's nothing he can't handle, nothing unusual. Until a vengeful spirit he's hunting turns it into something much more sinister. With memories of his brother turning against him and his father distracted by a lifelong quest for vengeance finally within his grasp, the 'cure' Dean needs may not get there in time. Hurt!Dean
A/N: Thank you to etoile_etiolee for the beautiful banner (it's stunning and you are amazing), hand holding, cheer leading, friendship, and wonderful ideas! This is the first story I have ever posted with artwork to go with it and I really cannot thank you enough, hun. I'm so excited! Also. thank you to heavenli24 for the fantastic and very fast beta.
Absence Makes the Heart Ache
A/N: I've been wanting to try my hand at writing a story in the omniscient narrator POV, so…this is it. Hope you like it.
"You miss him don't you?" she whispered into his ear while holding Dean immobile, completely within her thrall. "You miss him so much it hurts."
Her voice sent shivers down his spine, her tone as bitter as the sludge some gas stations passed off as coffee. "We're alike, you and I. I know how you feel. I know how the ache gets worse all the time."
With a forceful shove, Dean wrenched himself out of the spirit's icy grip and brought the loaded shotgun to bear on her flickering form.
She backed up, hand held out to him imploringly, eyes opaque and lifeless.
"It starts in your chest and spreads outward from there, leaving you cold and empty. That's how I feel all the time. After a while the emptiness will take over your mind. Then you can join me and neither one of us will ever have to be lonely again."
He pulled the first trigger, sending a spray of rock salt through her chest. When she reappeared, he pulled the second trigger and quickly reloaded. It took ten more rounds to keep her down long enough from him to pour the salt and kerosene over her withered corpse and drop the flaming book of matches.
"Come on, Dean. Get your head out of your ass and hustle. Those salt rounds aren't gonna make themselves and since you used nearly an entire goddamn box on that ghost back in Galveston, we need to restock before we leave." Annoyed, John shakes his head. Dean has been easily distracted ever since his brother left – abandoned them – and John only knows one way to solve that problem. Give him something to do, keep him so busy he doesn't have time to think about it.
"Yes sir." Dean stops rubbing his chest and gets back to work: fill the empty cylinder with rock salt, tamp it down, cap it, and repeat with the next shell. It's repetitive, mindless work, but Dean welcomes it.
He's always liked working with his hands. Give him a gun to clean and reassemble or an engine to tinker with any day over the books Sam always has his nose buried in…had his nose buried in.
A stabbing pain pierces his gut, his hands shake for a couple of seconds, rock salt scattering across the top of the flimsy card table. Fuck.
Dean frowns. The pain has been coming more frequently and getting much worse, making it nearly impossible to hide from his dad. Actually, he's kind of surprised his dad hasn't noticed anything yet. At first, it had only been a twinge here and there. Nothing he couldn't handle. But recently it's been escalating and if he can't get it under control soon…
He looks around the cabin they're holed up in to see if his dad has noticed his clumsiness and is rewarded with a view of the man's back as he walks away. Good. The last thing he needs is his dad giving him shit for not paying enough attention to what he's supposed to be doing.
John flicks open his cell phone and scowls. No bars. That's just fucking great. He has something he want to look into over in Wyoming and he'd been hoping to touch base with Caleb about a couple of new leads and an abnormal weather pattern he's tracking.
"As soon as you're done with that we're heading out. I wanna be in Coldspring by noon," he says without turning to look at Dean.
Eying the remaining cartridges, Dean quickly estimates how much longer he'll need to complete the task. Five more to go and he'll have enough for a full box to replace the ones he used on the vengeful spirit in Galveston. "Give me fifteen more minutes and I'll be ready."
The screen door slams shut and, for all the response he gets, Dean's not even sure if his dad has heard him.
As he finishes capping the last shell, he glances around the primitive cabin. It's the kind of place Sammy would have hated just on principal. No bathroom, no electricity, no running water. Along with the thought comes a jagged bolt of searing pain that lodges in his head just behind his eye sockets and makes him feel as though his skull is about to implode. He drops the cartridge to grab at his head and his knees buckle, sending him crashing to the hard wooden floor.
"What a dump." Sam says, nose wrinkling as he looks around the dusty hunting lodge.
Dean laughs. His brother is so predictable. "Aww, what's the matter Princess, amenities not up to your high and mighty standards?"
"Shut up, jerk!"
"Don't worry, I'm sure the maid and butler will be here any minute now to cater to your every whim." Dean ruffles his kid brother's hair and dodges when Sam aims a kick at his shin.
Not bad, the kid's got moves. Soon he may even be big enough to give Dean a run for his money.
There's no signal outside either and John walks back into the cabin just in time to see his son grimace, grab his head and fall to the ground. "Dean!"
John's first impulse is to rush to his son, but if he does, he'll only make them both vulnerable to whatever is attacking Dean. First things first, find and eliminate the enemy before dealing with injured soldiers. Scanning the tiny, one-room dwelling through narrowed eyes, John cautiously pulls the hand gun from the waistband at the small of his back, every sense on high alert.
The salt lines are all intact, nothing is out of place, and the shadows are all empty. There's no sign of an intruder or a threat of any kind. Just Dean, writhing on the floor in apparent agony.
"What the hell!" The words come out harsh, much more accusatory than he'd actually intended. With a concerted effort, John changes his tone from furious growl to insistent command. "What's going on, Dean? Talk to me." When he gets no immediate response from his son, he barks, "Now!" fearful that whatever is causing his son's affliction could return at any moment to finish the job.
"I don't know," Dean pants, tries to concentrate on his dad's order, tries to hold still and think.
It helps - focusing on his father's anger. The pain begins to ease off, becomes more manageable, receding like the tide and leaving nothing in its wake but humiliation. Humiliation because, yeah, he's lying on the ground, clutching his head while his father stands over him, scowling.
So much for not letting the freaky, artificial pain make him look like a weak little girl. Yup, he's doing a bang up job of that.
"Well, was there something here, did you see anything? What happened?"
Healthy, physically fit young men like Dean didn't suddenly collapse for no reason and John is determined to get to the bottom of this quickly. His son doesn't appear to be injured so he needs to soldier up and start explaining.
"No, there wasn't anything." Dean stands, legs wobbly. He sways on his feet and his dad puts a hand under his elbow to steady him. "I'm okay. Let's just go."
Looking around the enclosed space one last time, John nods, one decisive jerk of his chin. They need to get away from here and whatever is harming Dean. Fall back, regroup and come at the problem from a different angle, maybe. They can hash this out in the car on the way to Coldspring just as easily as anywhere else.
Since there isn't anything evil lurking around for him to shoot, John stows his gun back in his waistband and guides his still shaky son out to the Impala, grabbing the box of rock-salt-filled shells and securing the cabin on the way.
Dean slides into the passenger seat, fumbles around in the glove compartment until he finds his sunglasses, and slides them on, nearly poking himself in the eye in the process, his coordination shot all to hell. He knows he's blown his cover and he knows what's coming.
The interrogation begins before they've even reached the main road.
"So, you wanna fill me in on what that was all about back there?" John asks.
His lips pursed, Dean rubs one hand over his mouth, scrubs at the stubble on his chin. "It was nothing…just a headache. It's gone now."
"A headache? Seemed pretty intense for a headache. You get headaches like that often?" John lets doubt infuse his voice. That had been no normal headache and they both know it.
The hesitation says volumes as does the sideways glance Dean sends him from under the camouflage of tinted sunglasses. Dean can run a con as good as any other hunter John knows, but he's never been able to lie convincingly to the people he cares about, not to his brother and certainly not to his dad.
"I've had a few lately. Not as bad as this one, but…they're getting worse."
The admission costs Dean some of his remaining pride and he's grateful for the sunglasses because they give him just enough protection that he doesn't have to worry about his dad reading the uneasiness in his eyes. The headaches, stomachaches and chest pains are all getting worse and Dean thinks he has a pretty good idea of what's causing them.
It had taken him a while to figure it out, but now that he knows he's been actively trying to avoid anything that might trigger the pain. Problem is –trying to avoid thoughts of Sam makes him think about Sam even more. It's a vicious cycle.
Not that he plans on telling his dad any of this if he can get away with it.
Seriously, is there a guy alive who wants to have to tell his dad that he misses his baby brother so much it hurts…literally? No. Because there's only one word for that guy and the word is pansy-ass-wimp. Okay, maybe that's three words, whatever; the point is Dean does not want to be that guy.
"Okay, where were you when you got the first one? What were you doing? Was there anyone near you? Had you touched anything strange recently?" John asks all the relevant questions. Obviously Dean has been targeted by something and the faster they figure it out, the faster they can take care of it and move on to other business.
Dean sighs, absently rubbing his taut belly where it's beginning to tighten. There's really no getting out of this. He's going to have to come clean, about some of it anyway.
"About a month ago, in Galveston. That vengeful spirit. That's when it started. It, uh, it said some things…about…about Sam."
The stomach cramp catches up with him right about then. It hits him full force like a punch to the gut, forcing the air from his lungs. The pain is fierce and unrelenting. He feels himself dry heaving, gagging on nothing but spit and bile.
He curls his upper body forward, clutching at his abdomen, until his forehead touches the dashboard. He hears a voice saying, "easy, easy," and his own gasping, grating breaths in between each series of violent muscle spasms.
"You came! I didn't think you would make it." Sam's grin is huge, his dimples so deep they threaten to bore all the way through his cheeks.
"What? And miss the championship soccer match between the Westchester Wildcats and the…" Dean looks at the scoreboard and is supplied with the information he needs, "the Pontiac Panthers? No way, dude."
Sam gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder and then trots back out to join his team on the field, still grinning.
There's a work-calloused hand at the back of his head and another one pressed against his chest, keeping him from falling face first into a puddle of mud which is weird since there shouldn't be any mud inside the Impala and dad needs at least one hand to steer.
As he gains some control over his body, Dean lifts his head and sees that the car is parked on the side of the road, his dad crouching in a wet patch of dirt beside him. Dean's feet are in the mud while he's slumped forward, elbows propped on his thighs and his head hanging between his knees.
Lovely. This is like a fucking dream come true.
What bothers Dean the most about this scenario isn't the horrendous pain or even the fact that his dad has just witnessed him falling apart when he's obviously not injured. No, the worst part is that he doesn't remember his dad pulling over and getting out of the car. He has no recollection of his dad opening the passenger door and moving his legs to the ground outside so he wouldn't puke on the Impala's interior. It's the loss of time, the loss of conscious thought, that makes Dean's upset stomach do one more pronounced flip before it settles down.
John hates this feeling of being out of the loop. He needs more Intel before the situation deteriorates and Dean is the only lead he has.
"Dean? Can you hear me? What did the spirit say to you?"
That hunt in Galveston had been a solo hunt for Dean, a way for John to make sure Dean was ready to hunt on his own, without backup. Kind of a test. And Dean had passed with flying colors. At least John had believed he had…until now.
Dean had come back cocky and full of himself. Bragging about what a piece of cake the hunt had been. It had been Dean's swagger that had given John the confidence to set the rest of his plans into motion. And he can't stop his plans now. There are too many moving parts. Shit.
"It said…ah…it said something about how much it hurts to miss someone and…fuck…" Dean trails off, one of his shaking hands moving to press against his chest, movements jerky and uncoordinated. "Jesus fuck, dad, it hurts every time I think about…" Dean's voice sounds like he's just swallowed a mouthful of rusty nails. "It touched me and it said we were alike."
"But, I thought you said you finished it. Found her grave and put an end to her. That's what you told me."
"I did… I finished the salt and burn. She's gone and she's not coming back. I made sure of it. Why…? Dad, I wouldn't lie about something like that." Dean looks up at him, eyes wide and guileless, and his expression is so tortured that John immediately feels ashamed of himself.
With a hand on Dean's shoulder, an offering of apology, John says, "I know. I just needed to make sure. We might as well continue on to Coldspring then, since there's no reason to go back to Galveston. I can finish my business there and we can decide what to do next. You okay to keep going?"
The timing of this truly sucks because John's finally beginning to make some progress in his search for Mary's killer. A couple of major pieces in that puzzle are beginning to come together and he's anxious to make his move before the creature – demon – gets away again. Dean can't be anywhere within range when he goes after it – this demon is way too dangerous – so he needs time to get his son going on his next case and then John can slip away while he's distracted. All that aside though, this is Dean, his son, and John can't leave him alone when he's in trouble.
Dean nods, shifting until he has his feet back inside the car.
His dad turns on the radio full blast, some oldies station, which is perfect. The sound drowns out any thoughts Dean might have had and he hums along while watching the passing scenery, happy for the reprieve from his memories and the pain they bring.
From what Dean had managed to tell him, John has a fairly decent idea of what's going on . The way he sees it, the vengeful spirit Dean had put to rest in Galveston must have infected him with some kind of phantom illness, one that's more imaginary than real, one that's thought driven or maybe memory driven. Chances are this thing will resolve itself in due time since the ghost has already been taken care of.
There's nothing for it, except to carry on with his plans, John tells himself, feeling a little uneasy even as he does so. Dean can handle this just fine, he's perfectly capable of dealing with a few headaches or whatever and maybe this is exactly what Dean needs, an opportunity to get himself out of this mess on his own and prove to himself that he's self-sufficient and doesn't need anyone to come to his rescue.
Besides, the only "cure" that pops into John's mind is not one he wants to have anything to do with. He just can't.
John adamantly pushes aside the nagging notion that every single one of his 'reasons' sound like just so many excuses and a shit load of denial.
An hour outside of Coldspring, the radio station they've been listening to begins to fizzle, static gaining ground until the music gives a final defeated sputter and dies out completely. John reaches for the knob and twists, tuning in a loud man yelling about salvation. Oh, hell no. He twists again only to find a commercial urging him to buy one pair of shoes and get the second pair half off. On the third try he gets a pop rock station, one of those wailing ballads is playing and John is just about to try again when he hears a more guttural wail erupt from the passenger seat.
Dean is clawing at his chest, head thrown back and body arched at an awkward angle. His mouth is open on a scream and his feet lash out at nothing under the dash.
Wrestling the Impala over to the side of the road to a hail of car horns and screeching tires for the second time that day, John grabs his son's wrists, hoping to keep him from doing any permanent damage.
"Dean, listen to me. Dean!"
Without the slightest hesitation, Dean lurches forward, bending at the waist, and then reverses direction to slam backwards. John has to use all his strength to keep his son from bashing his head against the passenger side window.
Once Dean is restrained, held firmly immobile, John tries again to force Dean out of his head where his illness is taking place. "Dean, listen to me. We're on our way to kill a harpy. What do we need to have with us? Dean! Tell me, what do we need to kill a harpy?"
The crushing weight on Dean's chest feels like a vise. He struggles to breath, to rip away the constriction from around his ribcage.
There's some weepy instrumental playing on the radio. One of those pop songs Sam loves so much.
Sam looks up from throwing his clothes into a duffle bag, his face a carefully constructed mask of indifference. "Don't try to stop me. My mind's made up."
"Fine, but do you have to go tonight? Just wait a few days and I'll drive you myself." Maybe in a few days Sam will cool down and decide not to leave after all. Not likely, but Dean can hope.
"Everyone else will already be there. I've waited too long as it is." Brushing his bangs out of his eyes, Sam swings the bag onto his shoulder. "Bye Dean."
John uses his drill sergeant voice, crisp and clear and very much in control. Dean doesn't respond at first, his tormented screams too loud for John's voice to penetrate, but John keeps at it. He asks questions he knows Dean can answer in his sleep, demands that Dean listen to him, and commands Dean's full attention.
The next thing Dean knows, his father has him in a headlock, drilling him on how to kill a werewolf. It's strangely reminiscent of a training technique his dad had used when Dean was in middle school, although the maneuver has never been used while in the front seat of the car before today. So that's new.
Dean's rigid body goes limp as he says, "Silver. You need silver to kill a werewolf," in a voice so wrecked he sounds as though he's stoned out of his mind.
For the remainder of the drive John engages Dean in a discussion about military tactics. As much as John wants to question Dean on the specifics of what's going on, he knows he can't. Asking questions will only result in making his son think about why these episodes are occurring which will, in turn, cause another episode. The only thing to do is to keep Dean from dwelling on it.
They get to Coldspring just after noon and his dad pulls into a restaurant attached to a truck stop. The joint is crowded, filled with regulars, the vast majority of whom are wearing ball caps or denim jackets or both, so it takes a few minutes to be seated. They don't mind; crowds are good. It's usually easier to go unnoticed in a crowd.
They end up taking two stools up at the counter. Their waitress, a motherly-looking woman with shoulder length, brown hair tucked behind her ears, hands them each a laminated menu with a distracted smile before rushing off to take someone else's order.
His dad stands and leans over to speak into Dean's ear. "I'm gonna go make a phone call. Order me a turkey club and some fries. I'll be back in a few." Dean nods and continues to look at his menu.
He reads every item description on both the front and back of the menu. Once he's decided what he wants, Dean turns around on his stool to study the other restaurant patrons. He counts how many people are sitting at booths verses how many are sitting at tables and then he calculates the percentage. He counts how many people are wearing ball caps and confirms that his initial estimate was correct at seventy-three percent. He very carefully steers clear of any dangerous thoughts, forces his mind away from anything that might trigger another bout of pain.
When the waitress comes back, Dean takes a quick glance at her name tag so he can call her by name, gets ready to turn on the charm.
His hands begin to shake, the menu rattling in his grasp, and he opens his mouth to say something, but no sound can get past the blockage in his windpipe. A bright splash of red drips onto his menu and then another and another. Blood. He can feel it running down his face. He can taste the coppery tang of it as it drips down the inside of his throat. Dropping the menu, Dean puts his hands to his nose, pulls them away to find them covered in the slick, red fluid.
The waitress backs away from him.
Dean stares at her, bewildered.
Pain blossoms in his chest, thick and hot like lava, bubbling up from his core and spreading to every part of his body. Unable to control his limbs, he falls off the stool and onto the sticky tile flooring, muscles spasming.
All around him people start yelling, Dean can't understand what they're saying. Some move away from him in horror while others crowd in closer to gawk.
The lava is burning him alive, consuming him, destroying him. A white-hot light bursts inside his head.
"Don't be such a girl, Samantha. It's just a little blood." Dean pulls his jacket closed and tries not to shudder.
"Just a little blood! Dean, I saw the whole thing. That bastard stabbed you in the stomach. Now let me see or I'm goona call 911 right now, I swear to God."
John hits the end button on his cell. The damn thing is new and he's still trying to get the hang of it. At least he'd gotten some good information out of Caleb. Another freak storm just outside of Tulsa. That plus the other two storms from earlier in the week give him the means to triangulate a definite direction. From there it won't be too difficult to figure out where the demon is heading and when it'll be there. If John gets there first, he can have his traps all set up and…Gotcha. The culmination of a lifelong quest for vengeance finally within his grasp.
He's smiling to himself when he turns around to head back inside the restaurant.
The sound of some type of commotion reaches his ears as soon as he opens the door and even before he sees where the disturbance is coming from he knows, he just knows, Dean's in trouble.
Cursing himself for leaving his son alone – never mind that Dean's a grown man, fully capable of taking out most supernatural creatures blindfolded – John shoves his way through the press of anxious onlookers until he gets to his son.
There's blood everywhere, all over Dean's face, on his jacket, his shirt, his pants, his hands, the countertop.
Dean is on the floor, convulsing, and there isn't a single person in the entire building who isn't staring, as though the whole macabre scene is a performance being put on for their benefit. A middle-aged man with dark skin is crouched over Dean, holding his son's wrist in a loose grip with one hand and pressing a wad of napkins to his nose with the other. He looks up, brown eyes soft with concern, when John crashes to his knees next to them.
"I've already called 911. Ambulance is on its way. Is he with you?" the man asks.
"Yeah," John chokes out. "He's my son. What happened? What are you doing to him?" Suspicion tinges his tone even though John can tell the man is one of the good guys. Seeing his son look so vulnerable makes John's hackles stand straight up like nothing else can.
"My brother's epileptic; it looked like he was having a seizure so I thought I might be able to help. He has a nose bleed, a real gusher, that's where all the blood is coming from."
The apologetic look the man gives him is genuine and John nods his thanks even as he begins to plot ways to get Dean out of the restaurant. An ambulance and a stay in the hospital are just about the last things his son needs.
"S-Sam." Dean's voice comes out small and quavery. He sounds like a lost, little boy and it breaks John's heart. The tremors wracking his limbs are starting to weaken, but it's obvious that Dean is still out of it.
Sam is at the heart of this problem and as much as John would like to ignore that fact, pretend his youngest son has nothing to do with the answer and find some other way to get Dean out of this mess, he knows there is no other way. Dean isn't going to get better on his own; quite the opposite, he's rapidly getting worse.
Making a snap decision, John pulls his cell phone from his jacket pocket and scrolls through his contacts until he gets to the one at the bottom, the one he'd sworn never to call. S…just S, not even a full name. He hits the button with his thumb and waits.
Two rings later, there's a click and a breathless voice says, "Dad…what's wrong? Is it Dean?"
He hasn't heard Sam's voice in five months. What does it say about him as a father that he's only calling now because Dean's life is at stake? What does it say about his relationship with his sons that Sam knows that's the only reason he would call? No one has to tell him, John already knows. "Yeah…it's Dean." John pauses to take a shuddering breath.
Sam must take his hesitation as a sign that the worst has happened because he lets out a thin mewling sound before John can get another word out. "Oh god, no. Please…"
Sam has been waiting for this call. Well, not this call exactly, but something similar. He's been trying to prepare himself for years now for the phone call telling him that his brother or his dad have sustained life threatening injuries on a hunt, that one or both of them hadn't made it. His fears have only grown during the months he's been at Stanford, cut off from his family, without any word of how they're doing.
John pushes his own anguish aside to quickly reassure his youngest. "No, Sam listen. Dean's going to be okay, but there's something I need you to do. I need you to talk to him, all right? Just talk to him."
Sam is the one Dean misses so maybe hearing his voice will be enough to get through to him, at least John hopes it will. "He may not be able to answer you, but he can hear you. I need…he needs to hear your voice. Can you just…talk and keep talking until I tell you to stop. Sam? Can you do that?"
Relief rushes through him when he hears that Dean is still alive, followed quickly by confusion and a familiar sense of irritation. Dean is alive, but he can't talk. That doesn't sound good and Sam wants answers.
"Dad, why can't Dean talk? What's going on?"
"I can't explain now. Sam, this is important. Please, just talk to your brother." John waits until he hears Sam's disgruntled acceptance and then puts the phone to Dean's ear.
Taking a deep breath, Sam starts talking. "Dean, hey man, it's me…Sam." He waits for a response, gets none, and continues. "Dude, dad says you can't talk so I'm just gonna pick a topic and roll with it. Feel free to jump in at any time, okay?"
The silence on the other end of the line is unnerving. Sam redoubles his efforts. "Okay, that's cool. Whenever you're up to it. I'm not trying to rush you or anything. So…" Searching furiously for something to say, Sam glances around his sterile dorm room and his gaze comes to rest on a sea shell he'd picked up during his one and only trip to the local's beach.
"Oh hey, you'll never guess what I did last weekend – I caught a ride with a couple guys from my…well, you don't care which class it was, but anyway, from one of my classes and we went to the beach. You remember that time dad dropped us off in Virginia Beach for the day?" There's still no response from his brother and Sam feels a line of sweat drip down his back.
"Yeah well, this was completely different. Something about the west coast verses the east coast, I don't know. But shit, the waves were crazy big. And there were all these people, but they weren't all touristy like it was in Virginia Beach, you know? They were like hardcore surfers and all the girls were wearing these really tiny bikinis. You would have loved-"
"Sammy? That you?" Dean struggles to make sense of what's going on. Something has changed. Sam's voice has changed, lost the petulant quality of the fourteen-year-old Sammy from his memory and become, not only more mature, but also more solid, more…real.
Opening his eyes, he sees his dad hovering over him and beyond that is an ocean of faces, all of them looking back at him. He feels like some kind of freaky exhibit at the zoo. The waitress has her hands up to her face, only her wide eyes visible. Several of the men have their ball caps in their hands, twisting the brims.
But wait…where's Sam?
The sound of Dean's voice does nothing to make Sam feel better about this bizarre situation. It sounds…shattered…damaged. Words Sam never would have thought to describe his confident, kick-ass, big brother. "Dean, are you okay?"
John puts the phone back to his own ear. "Sam, you did good. Dean's better. I've got to go, but I'll text you some coordinates. Meet us there if you can."
Switching the phone off, John gets an arm under his oldest son's shoulder, hoisting him up. Now that Dean's conscious, they need to get out of the restaurant before the ambulance gets there.
Fuming, Sam slams his phone onto the desk. This is so fucking typical. Cryptic messages, mysterious coordinates and not a word of explanation. And now he has to decide if he's going to ditch his classes to go running off to some godforsaken spot of his dad's choosing. He thinks about the three fragile words his brother had managed to say to him, "Sammy? That you?" and he knows what his answer is.
The town John sends Sam coordinates for is as close to halfway between Coldspring, Wyoming and Stanford, California as he can find. He uses established protocols to select the motel and registers under one of their most commonly used aliases. Sam shouldn't have any trouble finding them.
He then carries Dean into the room.
The phone call had been a temporary measure, just enough to get Dean on his feet and moving. John had known that at the time and hadn't been surprised when Dean had reverted to delirium as soon as they had gotten into the car.
His son is shaking and muttering on the motel bed, not making much sense except for when he cries out for his brother. And there's nothing John can do. The sound of his voice no longer elicits the slightest response. His oldest son is completely cut off from him. Dean won't eat or drink anything and John feels useless, like he's no more help in his son's battle against this supernaturally-inflicted illness than if he were a piece of furniture or some other inanimate object.
"Sammy…" Dean moans from the bed, tossing his head from side to side, eyes rolling beneath paper-thin lids, fingers clenching at air.
John wonders if the insanity might be catching as he feels his own walls begin to shatter.
Hurry Sam. God, please hurry.
An hour later, there's a banging on the door, rapid knocks that speak of desperation and worry.
John pulls aside the curtain to make sure, can never be too careful, then releases the deadbolt and lets Sam in.
Sam's gaze flicks to John's face and just as quickly flicks away, dismissing his dad in favor of finding his brother as quickly as possible. He needs to see for himself what shape Dean is in.
His brother doesn't react to his name other than to roll his head toward the sound of his voice. Crossing the room in three giant strides, Sam sits on the edge of the bed, trying to assess his brother's injuries without touching, afraid of what harm he might cause before he understands what's wrong.
The blood on Dean's clothing isn't the bright red of an open wound; it looks darker, tackier, as though it's had a couple of hours to dry since it was shed. Still, it gives the room and his brother a horror film kind of vibe.
Dean's face is pinched in what looks like agony and his skin is pale. There are flecks of dried blood around his nose and mouth as though someone has tried to clean him up and hasn't done a very thorough job. Occasionally, he groans, moving an arm or a leg in a gesture reminiscent of someone trying desperately to protect themselves from continued blows to the head or the stomach long after there's no fight left in him.
An uncapped but full bottle of Gatorade and an unwrapped candy bar, without a single bite taken, sit on the bedside table.
Sam takes all of this in and then, finally, turns to look at his dad. "What happened?"
John clears his throat and swallows, running a hand through his hair. He's not sure how much he needs to tell his youngest son, how much is really relevant to helping Dean. There may not be a lot of time left to waste on explanations.
"From what I can figure out, he's been infected by a vengeful spirit – she gave him her special brand of crazy right before he finished the salt and burn. She's gone, finished, but he's still…" John indicates the bed as he lets his sentence trail off.
"What do you mean 'special brand of crazy'?" Sam asks. "What's the infection doing to him?"
"I don't know-"
Anger fills Sam like helium inflating a balloon and he can't help it, he's on his feet and yelling before he even realizes what he's about to do. "You don't know? How in the hell can you not know? Look at him!" Sam gestures wildly toward his brother, fingers spread wide. "He looks like he's been through hell – is still going through hell – and you don't know? What have you been doing to help him? Have you figured out how to stop it yet? Jesus dad!"
"You didn't let me finish, Sam!" John's own anger is quick to respond and he takes a step forward, holding himself tall, jutting his chin defiantly. "It hasn't been long – just since this morning. It started off as a headache, but he's been getting worse all day."
He doesn't go into all the gory details about how he'd hoped it would go away on its own or how he'd thought Dean could probably handle it by himself. None of that is relevant.
"The hunt for the ghost was today?" Sam asks, skeptical. This doesn't look like the work of one day to him.
"No, the hunt for the ghost was a month ago." John admits.
"So you just didn't notice there was something going on with Dean until today, but it's probably been a problem for about a month. Does that sum things up?" Wouldn't be the first time, Sam thinks.
"No…I-" That can't be right, can it? Has he been so caught up in his own agenda that he hasn't seen something this huge happening to his son right beneath his nose? John shakes his head in denial. "No, he's been fine up until today."
Sam snorts and turns back to look at his brother.
"Sammy…Sam…don' be mad, 'kay? I'll make it up t'ya." Dean gasps and rolls onto his side, pulling his knees into his chest in a fetal position.
All the anger drains out of him and Sam quickly returns to Dean's side, eyebrows knit together in concern. "This infection…can I touch him?"
Walking to the other side of the bed, John nods and places his hand on Dean's shoulder, the gesture for his own benefit and not Dean's since it has no affect at all on his son.
"Yeah it's not…I think it might help actually." He lets his hand fall to his side. "Dean said the spirit told him that he missed someone so much it hurt. That's you, Sam. You're the one he misses. You're the only one who can cure him."
"Talk to him, I guess. Try to get through to him, let him know you're here. If you're here he can't miss you anymore, right?" John cringes internally as he says the words, knowing how much Dean would hate this if he knew what they were talking about, how humiliated he'd be even though none of this is his fault or a reflection on his abilities. Fucking ghost and it's fucking contagious insanity.
Sam puts a hand gingerly on his brother's jacket-covered bicep, feeling self-conscious and awkward. "Hey Dean…um…so, it seems you've been having a pretty shitty time of it lately."
Dean's body goes stiff, joints rigid, muscles bunching. "Sam, I know…I know't sucks, dude. Bu' it's jus' fer a few months." Dean's voice has a pleading quality to it that Sam remembers all too well.
He can remember dozens of times while they were growing up when Dean had used that tone on him, times when Dean had been trying to smooth things over, play intermediary, keep the peace. Fun times. And now it seems as though Dean is being forced to re-live them. Throw in a cocktail of pain and delirium and you've got a party.
Well, Sam's going to put a stop to it. This ends now. With a determination and a confidence he knows is born out of desperation and has no basis in any true belief that it will work, Sam pulls off his jacket and his over shirt, leaving himself only the t-shirt underneath. He then does the same with Dean, grunting a little as he manhandles his brother through the divestiture of his outer layers.
Skin-to-skin contact is what he's after. Nothing too radical, just the involvement of Dean's senses – smell, touch, sound, and if he can get Dean to open his eyes, sight. Proof positive that Sam is really here in the same room with him, not on the phone, but really here.
To his surprise, his dad steps in to help once he realizes what Sam's doing.
Sitting with his back against the headboard, Sam pulls Dean into a slouched sitting position against his side. Dean bats at his hands a little, but makes no serious objection to the movement or the lack of personal space.
Dean has always been a fan of tough love, so Sam figures he'll give that a try first.
"Yeah, well I'm not buying this ghost infection thing or whatever it is. You hear me, Dean? I say it's a bunch of bullshit, no way is some measly vengeful spirit, some stupid infection, gonna take out Dean Winchester." Sam gives his brother's shoulder a little shake for emphasis. "Where's your pride, man? I mean, come on. Aren't you even gonna fight this thing? You gonna let me do all the work here, or what?"
Sam puts his over shirt under Dean's nose. It's a crude tactic and really gross, but what the hell. If it works it'll be worth it and Dean will probably forgive him…eventually. He'd put on his usual deodorant that morning in order to go to his classes and he'd had it on during the long, frantic drive to meet up with dad while wondering the entire time what had happened to his brother. If anything has his scent on it, that shirt certainly does.
"I know you hate talking about your feelings and all that girly crap, but this is taking in to extremes don't you think?"
Sam rubs a hand up and down his brother's bare arm, chafing the skin as if he were trying to restore warmth. In this case, he's trying to restore reality, bring his brother out of his head and back to the real world. Not exactly the same thing, but it's worth a shot.
Dean groans and lifts a hand to fist in Sam's t-shirt as though he's been teased with a hint of his brother's presence before and this time he's not going to let Sam disappear.
"Sam, 'snot like tha'," he moans, words a garbled mess of lost consonants and vowels.
Realizing that Dean is probably responding to something happening in his head and not anything that Sam has been saying to him, Sam lets out a harsh bark of laughter, expelling his pent up tension along with his breath. "Yeah, I hear ya, man."
And then he thinks of something that has a good chance of working. Taking his brother's hand, the one not currently grasping his tee, Sam uncurls the fingers to give himself a somewhat flat drawing surface. With the pad of his index finger, he traces the shape of the very first sigil Dean ever taught him onto the palm of his hand.
One of the very first memories Sam has is of his brother teaching him this sigil in exactly this way – by drawing on his palm and having Sam repeat the pattern on Dean's hand. He'd been about three years old at the time and they'd done it over and over again until Sam had it memorized.
Once he'd learned that first protection rune, Dean had started in on the next one and so on until Sam could draw more than twenty of the complex symbols without any mistakes. At the time, he hadn't understood what they meant, only that his big brother was playing a really cool game with him.
Over the years the sigils have come in handy in a number of different ways, used not only for their intended purposes, to ward off danger, but also as a way to calm each other when things got out of hand. The sigils have always meant safety and protection and reassurance.
Sam repeats the pattern again, retracing the lines into Dean's skin. "Come on Dean, you know what these are, you know who's drawing them, you know I'm here and you know I'm real. Come on Dean, open your eyes."
Dean feels like he's drowning. Memories assault him like waves, coming one on top of the other, bashing him into the rocky shore, each one more painful than the last. Good memories, bad memories, it makes no difference. Dean just wants it to stop. He's tired and he wants it to stop.
Sometimes he thinks he hears real voices, his dad's voice, Sam's voice, overlaid and intermingled with the imaginary ones. He feels the pull of the real voices, but it's not enough to rescue him from the rip tide, not anymore.
The pain shreds his insides, gutting him until he's just as empty as the ghost had said he'd be. He's so weak he can't even fight it anymore. He has nothing left.
"You feel this, Dean? Which rune am I drawing – four intersecting lines, connecting in the middle, the letter U on the end of each line with three hash marks under each U? Tell me which rune I'm drawing. Come on, you know it. All you have to do is open your eyes and tell me which one and I'll stop holding your hand. Until then you're just gonna have to suck it up because I'm not letting go."
The voice sounds so real, so Sam-like. Either this is a very strong memory or…Dean tries to pull his hand back. Sure enough, someone is holding it and won't let go.
"Oh no, you don't. Open your eyes and tell me which rune first."
Dean peels his eyes open. They feel gritty and sore, but he sees Sam and the rest of the pain begins to ebb away.
"Tha's a wicc'n protect'n rune. Too easy, gimme anudder one. Hard'r." He's so wiped he's not even sure he's saying the words out loud much less that they're intelligible.
Sam laughs so maybe he's making more sense than he thinks he is.
"Mus' be pretty serious, Sammy. Yer usin' the sigils on me." Wiggling the fingers of the hand still in Sam's firm grasp, Dean allows his eyes to slip half-way closed again.
Even though Dean's putting up a good front, Sam can see how much it's costing him. "Yeah well, you scared the shit out of me." Lowering his voice, he asks, "How are you feeling anyway? Whatever that ghost did to you…is it still there?"
Dean considers the question. He feels really, really tired, like he's been fighting a raging current for hours, desperately trying to keep from being swept away. He doubts he has the strength to wrestle a bunny rabbit right now, but…that aching emptiness inside him is gone. There's not even the slightest residual twinge left behind. He's completely pain-free for the first time in a month.
Dean's grin is kind of dopey looking when he says, "Think yer sigils did th' trick. 'M feelin' lots bettr'. Jus' tired."
"Those sigils have saved your ass more than once," Sam teases, feeling almost light-headed with relief now that Dean seems to be getting better. "You remember the last time I had to use them on you? You were in the hospital with pneumonia and your fever was so high you thought the orderly was a werewolf."
"Shud'up, I di' not."
"Hate to break it to you dude, but yeah, you did. If I hadn't used the sigils you would've taken the room apart looking for your silver knife and probably passed out in the process. Had to calm you down somehow."
The glare Dean aims at him is pretty pathetic. Sam's seen more intimidating expressions on Persian kittens.
"Hey, you thirsty? You should drink something."
As he reaches for the bottle of Gatorade, Sam releases his brother's hand. Dean doesn't pull it back right away, just looks at it as though he's not sure who it belongs to.
Dean's so tired he knows he's not going to stay conscious for too much longer and he really wants to know whether to expect his brother to be here when he wakes up. "So, you leavin' now?" he whispers, hoping that if he says it really quietly it won't sound so pathetic.
Putting the Gatorade in his brother's hand, Sam grins, "And miss watching you snooze? No way, man. Think I'll hang out for a while."
John watches with a kind of awe. The connection he can see between these two is deeper, he thinks, than even they know. It's equal parts tragic and inspiring. These two young men, his boys, are so alike and yet so different, so devoted to each other and yet poised to walk such different paths.
John wonders if this will be enough to bring Sam back for good or if he'll be gone in the morning. If not this, he wonders what it would take for Sam to give up his dreams of a normal life and take up hunting at his brother's side.
When, moments later, Dean falls asleep, his head lolls to the side, coming to a rest on Sam's shoulder. His youngest son grabs the Gatorade before it can fall and gets this soft, fond look on his face, jaw muscles unclenching for the first time since he'd stormed into the motel room, full of righteous anger.
He looks up and his eyes widen, not much, just a little, as though he's surprised to find John still there.
"Do you think it'll come back…the infection? Will it come back if I …when I leave?" Sam's voice sounds wistful, cracking on the last word.
"I don't know," John replies truthfully. "We'll just have to deal with it, if and when that happens, I guess."
Sam nods, eyes downcast, and takes up tracing patterns on Dean's palm while his brother continues to sleep. "Yeah, I'll do whatever I have to do to keep him safe." Meeting John's gaze, he gives a tiny shrug. "He's my brother."
That just about says it all.
A/N: The idea for Sam and Dean to draw protection symbols on each other's palms was an idea I came up with for the very first one-shot I ever wrote, Calming Technique. I carried the idea over into the first multi-chapter fic I wrote, Consumed Memories. I always planned on it popping up in other stories, but I never found another use for it so I was really pleased when I started writing this fic and realized that Sam could use it as a way to reach through Dean's memories and bring him back to the real world.
I'll be in Vancouver for the convention next week, getting in on the 22nd. My seat assignment is C29. I'd love to meet up with anyone else who's planning to be there. Look me up during the convention or PM me.
I hope you enjoyed the story. Comment please?