Author: Gin-inu, Orangeplum
Pairing/Characters: Gen. Sam, Dean
Author's Notes: For anyone who enjoyed "All Hell Breaks Loose" and hurt!Sam, protective!Dean. Spoilers through the end of Season 2.
Summary: Sam was still Sam, broken fuse in his soul or not. AU to AHBL. Dean's deal wasn't all he anticipated it to be.
Dean eyed the brunette sitting across the diner table from him, slowing down his chewing in curiosity at the look of uncertainty on Sam's face. He lowered his burger when Sam crinkled his nose, furrowing his eyebrows slightly as he swallowed. The sudden change in expression set Dean's already on-edge stomach on edge.
"You okay there, buddy?"
Sam didn't bother looking at Dean as he blew a small puff of air from his nose, staring off at nothing before washing down the bite of chicken with some very un-fizzy soda. Seriously, this happened more times than he liked to admit with cheap, run-of-the-mill diners.
"Sam. Hey," Dean leaned his arm over and snapped his fingers twice in Sam's line of vision. It brought the two hazel eyes up to meet his own, that sour taste still lingering on the back of Dean's tongue at the way his little brother zoned out; it was something he was starting to do more and more as the days grew by (not that Dean was nervous about it or anything – yup, totally a-okay over here with this fella).
"Huh?" Sam said so eloquently, making Dean raise an eyebrow of his own.
"Something wrong with your food? You look like you just swallowed a pile of garbage."
If the statement bothered Sam he didn't show it. Instead, he rubbed at the edge of the table with a thoughtful look twinkling behind his debating eyes. Dean snapped his fingers again, Sam's eyes zipping instantly to his impatient brother.
"What, am I speaking a different language over here?"
That drifting haze dispersed, being replaced by recognition as the clearness returned to Sam's eyes. Dean frowned.
"No. No, dude. It's just – I guess I'm a little…" A little what? Sam couldn't remember what he was going to say, let alone describe it. He tapped the edge of the table now as he frowned at his chicken sandwich in front of him, one large, uneven bite on the corner of it.
Sam quickly pulled himself out of his thoughtless reverie when getting another look at his brother, knowing he had to quickly right this wrong before letting the vestiges of worry grow into its own entity on Dean's face. He smiled with a forced, but very believable, laugh.
"I guess I just don't like chicken anymore."
That was not what Dean was expecting. He quirked his eyebrow again in disbelief. "You don't like... chicken?"
Sam poked around his plate and popped a fry in his mouth, withholding the urge to grimace at the taste of coppery dirt on his tongue. "Guess not."
The meal went by in silence after that, Dean giving Sam occasional glances soaked with skepticism, while Sam kept up his cheerful façade, eating the bitter food and ignoring the throb throb throbbing in his back.
After all, a changing palate of taste buds was always normal.
The second time it happened Sam wasn't quite as prepared to hide it as well as he had with the food (which still repulsed him to no end just thinking about the taste).
They were in the Impala driving down some random highway to a random town that had nothing to do but fill the ever present gap in their random, random lives. They were driving in the Impala when Sam's brain did a swipe of white, dumping out the files that were his memory storage.
It didn't look any different, didn't hurt or cause a commotion to the driver beside him. Sam just gazed out the window and twitched like he had a sudden itch.
Everything was gone.
Sam blinked, glancing out the windshield to see the passing trees engulfing them in a gray expanse of the rainy season before he felt the small flutter in his chest, his heart stuttering under the bolt of confusion. He twisted in his seat, looking out Dean's window to see more trees, headlights passing by as another car drove down the mountainside.
Sam's breath hitched and he spun around to see the endless trees out the passenger window. He rubbed at his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt before biting sharply at the inside of his cheek.
He couldn't remember where they were. The knowledge of being completely clueless pressed down on his chest and made him feel a bit hysterical. Why didn't he know where they were?
A touch to his shoulder made him jump with a gasp, twisting to stare at Dean with large eyes and a set frown. Dean was looking at him out of the corner of his eye with an expression of something Sam couldn't quite place.
That look was never a good thing so Sam understood already that he didn't like it on Dean's face.
"Sammy, you all right? You look kinda spooked," Dean said with a cocky half-smirk, though his voice didn't hold genuine humor as he assessed his skittish brother.
Sam stared at him a long moment before attempting to rein in control, pushing past the fear engulfing him and trying to reassure his foggy brain that Dean was here which meant it would be okay.
… But why wasn't Dean freaking out like him right now when they were on a mountainside somewhere instead of the abandoned ghost town he was clearly in a second ago?
"Wh-where are they?" Sam asked, voice thicker than he'd intended.
Dean merely cast him a confused glance. "Who?"
"The other kids. The- those other people. The children like me? Andy. Andy and- and Ava. Where's Andy?" Sam asked, words tumbling out like water, all loose and incomprehensible. He felt like he was drowning, God, Dean, he was drowning.
Dean stiffened in the seat beside him, eyes hard and suddenly uncomfortable as they stared out at the winding road in front of him. That didn't seem to quell Sam's jittered nerves.
"Dean, where are they? I was just with them. They were here and I was just talking with them but now we're on a road and…" Sam ran a quivering hand through his hair, looking out all the windows once more. He couldn't see any of them. "I found Ava, man. She's–" Sam paused as sudden images flashed through his mind: the new children, the yellow-eyed demon pinning them against each other, Andy's bloody body on the ground, and Ava – shit, Ava.
"Andy's dead," blurted Sam as if he just had been punched in the gut, spinning to Dean with a horrified expression. "Shit, he- Ava, she was- Fuck, Dean, she killed him."
In his slow realization, Sam did not register the bruising grip Dean had on the steering wheel, nor the compulsive bob of his Adam's apple when his skin started to feel clammy. But that really didn't matter now, not when there was still someone left. There was still Jake that needed to be saved.
Sam's fretful eyes shifted to something more urgent, bordering on pleading to get his point across as he gazed at his brother seriously. "Stop the car, Dean. We have to go back. We have to get to Jake before something–"
Dean swerved the car, making Sam jump in alarm and cling to the seat as his heart reverberated in his ears. The Impala protested the quick change of route as it skidded to a stop on the gravel lip by the side of the road, the engine still rumbling as Dean refused to set it in park.
At the silence, Sam slowly sat up in his seat and stared nervously at Dean, who had refused to say a word since his abrupt memory swipe just a few minutes ago. Was this a spell or something? An illusion? It was making Sam uncomfortable that Dean was looking like he was choking on something, though his lips were pressed firmly in a scowl as he lowered his forehead to the steering wheel.
Why wasn't Dean saying anything?
"What the hell is this bullshit?"
Sam zipped his lips. Dean's voice was so breathy, coming out in a sardonic laugh that sounded void of any humor.
"You think this is funny, Sam?"
Sam shifted in his seat. "Nothing's funny, Dean. Why would you think that I think this is funny?" It was sooo far from funny. In fact, Sam felt just about ready to hyperventilate.
Dean decided to look at him now, hardened expression full of worry creases and anger lines that seemed much too old for Dean's mere age of twenty-seven. Sam didn't remember Dean looking this old and worn down a few days ago, before he'd been abducted to duke it out in some ghost town. Dean felt the bile at the back of his throat that was constricting and making it hard to concentrate.
"You're seriously fucked up if you think I'm going to go along with this little game," he spoke harshly, disgust lacing his tone. Did Sam seriously think it was funny to pretend he was- to pretend they were still at the place where he saw that son of a bitch slice into-
He couldn't even finish the thought without his eyes starting to burn.
"God, I can't look at you right now."
As Dean started to pull back onto the road, Sam latched onto his arm with a harsh grip, eyes zipping around his face in nervous confusion. It was enough to make Dean stop. "What game? What are you talking about, man? I'm being serious here!"
The sincerity in Sam's words made Dean flinch, breath coming out in a stuttered clump as he regarded his brother hesitantly.
"Dean, come on. You're scaring me."
Dean ignored the trembling of his hands – because of the cold, the fucking cold. He turned up the heat – as he cautiously shifted to face his brother, worry freely etched onto his features at the hidden fear Sam was no doubt trying to keep under control. He swallowed and ran a sweaty palm against his jeans when he saw no trace of a joke or lie across his brother's face, a new dread forming in the pit of his stomach at Sam's genuine impression that they were still in South Dakota.
"You're serious, then?" he managed, though it sounded foreign to his own ears.
Dean turned back to the road without another glance at Sam, with a monotonous voice painting a false tale of rescuing Sam before everybody else met their demise, Jake included (thank fucking God, Jake included). He didn't think Sam fully believed him but he hadn't said a word questioning it as they drove through the string of Oregon trees to a new destination.
Anything to get as far away from the nightmares of a lifeless Sam that still plagued Dean every night when he shut his eyes.
Two months after Dean retold the abduction rescue to Sam on the side of the road, Sam became confused once more.
They hadn't hunted while Dean recovered from a leg injury he "supposedly" got when saving Sam from his abandoned middle-of-nowhere shithole (as Dean so nicely put it). But when it was obvious that they both weren't injured and that sitting around nameless, random hotels was all that they did, Sam began to voice his concerns.
He pitched the idea of hunts to Dean, even found a few of his own. But every time he brought up the dreaded h-word, Dean would get an indignant look on his face, change the subject, and refuse to allow Sam access to his own laptop to do research.
"Can't you just enjoy the silence, Sammy? It's not every day we get to have a vacation. Just go with it, okay?" Dean had said.
Sam "went with it" for four days before the arguments started up again. Dean tossed around words like "recuperating" and "stress" a lot, much to Sam's chagrin.
Aside from food tasting like mud and the random white flashes of amnesia and disorientation (which only happened twice, thank you very much), Sam insisted that he was fine.
It was only when he excessively started mentioning that people were dying that Dean started to fold like a cheap suit. Two months and eight days since the last encounter with yellow-eyes (who seemed suspiciously absent since then) and they were on another hunt, this time with a measly little spirit haunting a wine cellar.
It was supposed to be a simple salt and burn, something easy that Dean reluctantly agreed to. Just take the body of a young girl stuffed behind the wine racks in the wall and burn her remains. But somehow it escalated into something far greater than that when the tussle knocked over some old wine bottles, spilling them on the tiles.
The abrupt tangy smell of blood filled Sam's nostrils and his vision blurred, swaying his body until it landed on its knees in the red puddle.
He was overcome with waves of pain in his lower back, the pounding and throbbing slicing at his nerves and making him feel lightheaded. Why was it so cold all of the sudden? Sam distantly heard Dean's shouts as he looked down at his hands, each finger coated with thick mud.
Sam was suddenly overcome with the strange thought that he was dying.
"Sam! Sam, look at me!" Dean grasped onto his brother's face, becoming nauseous when Sam's head began to loll, the scene before him frighteningly familiar. "Damn it," he hissed.
The pale girl spirit took the wrong opportunity to glance over Dean's shoulder, curious as to what was going on. Dean saw the flash of a white dress before his vision turned red. He spun around with a growl, shooting daggers with his eyes at the surprised spirit, her eyes growing wide at the accusatory expression he regarded her with.
"What did you do to him!" he demanded, feeling illogical panic hijacking his body. Obviously this wasn't caused by the dead teenager who was murdered here, but he was feeling too afraid to really think straight, the sudden familiarity of his brother kneeling in front of him with a vacant look in his eyes overwhelming him.
Sam was vaguely aware of the sound of a gun firing before his world blackened around the edges and cloaked over his consciousness.
He awoke in a different motel room than they were in before the hunt, the same stale smell of one night stands and cigarette smoke always accompanying the rooms no matter how different they all looked. Sam sat up, wincing at the numbness trickling down his back, making him feel paralyzed, though he was clearly mobile.
It took him a few minutes to gain his bearings before he started in alarm when noticing Dean's worn-out expression staring intently at him from the bed across from him.
"What happened?" he asked, gagging on the overpowering feeling of cotton in his mouth. How long had he been out? … Why was he out in the first place?
"She hit you. You collapsed when she attacked your back with a bottle," Dean announced, sounding so spent and tired. Sam noticed the bags under his eyes and the look of resignation in them the closer he paid attention.
"A bottle?" he asked incredulously. It felt sharper than that, not the force of a blunt object.
"You're still hurt. You were out for a couple days so I moved us somewhere else before the card maxed out. It's probably best to take it easy until you get back into the groove of things." Dean kept his eyes averted, face pinched with something Sam couldn't recognize.
"Did you take me to a hospital?" Sam inquired after a long moment, the pain excruciating in the bursts like lightening down his spine as he shifted on the mattress. Out cold for two days and this blinding pain was enough to make him curious if Dean would check him into a hospital.
Dean ran a hand over his face and sighed, shaking his head with a smile as strong as a house of cards. "Who needs doctors when you have me?" Nothing's going to happen to you while I'm around.
Sam read in-between the lines of his brother's words and nodded.
He hid the snaking feeling of apprehension, though, when Dean didn't sound too convinced by them.
Dean refused to take another hunt when Sam asked about it the next week.
Sam was no stranger to nightmares. In fact, he was practically the posture child for them.
But when his dreamless sleeps started to morph into a stream of constant pain and fear, nothing but the coldness in the pit of his gut and the hands framing his face to keep him company, he began to dread sleep. Every night was the same. His back would hurt, he would feel dizzy and afraid, Dean's voice was screaming and crying and his hands pulled at his face as his body sagged and Sam felt like he was abandoning someone.
He would snap his eyes open to the dark motel room ceiling, a strange sort of guilt in his tummy that yelled at him in a taunting sort of way – a way that sounded familiarly like Dean's voice: What's dead should stay dead.
The guilt of being alive (why should he feel guilty? He had nothing to feel guilty over) started to weigh him down as the days grew on, it becoming apparent to Dean as well with the silences and lack of smiles. Then again, Dean didn't seem to smile as much anymore either.
"Cat got your tongue?" Dean joked as they sat on a bench in a park with half-eaten calzones in their hands one afternoon. Well, Dean's was half-eaten. Sam barely touched his food ever since it started tasting so coppery and dirty. He dreaded eating and avoided it as much as possible until Dean intervened.
"Dean, what's wrong with me?" He hadn't meant to ask that. It just popped out despite his lack of planning it.
The smile tumbled off Dean's face and he looked shocked, teeth biting at his lip when Sam tilted his head in concern.
"Nothing, Sam. Nothing at all," he recovered quickly, looking away with another faux grin and grasping his little brother's neck in that reassuring way he always did whenever something was wrong. And, hey, they were Winchesters so there was almost always something wrong with them.
Sam nodded and continued to watch the joggers and dog-walkers pass them on this rare sunny day, tossing the notion out of his mind that there was a dog constantly barking in the distance whenever they had these conversations, his calzone left untouched.
Sam silently wondered when Dean's touch started to make his back hurt.
"Sam! God, Sam, look at me. Hey, look right here, stay with me, Sam! I'm right here so just open your eyes. God dammit, don't you do this to me- Not again."
He was cold, shivering. His body felt drenched to the core and his lungs burned with every breath of air. They were more like gasps, really.
Sam was faintly aware of Dean's demands, his trembling yells. He was giving him an order to do something, but Sam wasn't quite sure what it was. He wanted to snort; but then again, he'd never been good at taking orders, had he? But it was Dean, though, so he had to try. It had something to do with his eyes, right?
Dean choked back a sob, vigorously continuing his ministrations to get Sam's chest moving. The damn kid had just been walking on the pier, just observing the lake like nothing out of the ordinary before he collapsed to his knees in another uncontrolled motion of reliving his death and rocked over the side.
It wasn't normal, these blackouts. Familiar, yes. Normal, hell no.
But there wasn't much Dean could do aside from being there for his strangely distant brother, helping him through whatever changes he'd been brought back with after his frantic crossroads deal. Sam was still Sam, broken fuse in his soul or not.
"Don't do this. Don't do this," became his furious mantra until Sam finally managed to jolt, coughing and choking on the water in his lungs. Dean sucked in a breath between his teeth before rolling his brother over onto his side to let him regurgitate all of the water and spittle that poured from his lips.
"There you go. That's it, Sam. Just take it easy, I got you."
Reassuring words or no, Sam couldn't concentrate on them when he felt like he was choking and his back just wouldn't stop hurting, God, make it stop. Dean could've been calling him a sissy princess for all he cared, he still wouldn't have understood him.
Instead, he hacked up the stinging liquid in his mouth that only seemed to fuel the burning in his back that made him moan and press his forehead to the mud of the bank of the lake.
"Easy, Sam. Just breathe for me. There's no rush."
Dean's hands on Sam's face as he helped him rest back against the mud made Sam shake near violently, though he understood that it had nothing to do with being cold. His brother's skin aided to the guilt and the stabbing pain and the terrifying ball in his stomach.
He wanted to scream at Dean not to touch him. Never to touch him when it made him relive feelings that he couldn't remember ever experiencing, when it made him hurt so much and feel so sad. Why did he feel like he had to save Dean?
Dead things should stay dead.
Sam groaned in frustration, tears stinging at his eyes that made the panicking look Dean possessed grow that much more frenzied. He couldn't bring himself to care enough to comfort Dean and tell him that he was okay because he wasn't so sure that he was. Okay people weren't this scared of the random blackouts and pain and constant muddy hands and guilt guilt guilt.
"Dead things should stay dead…" Sam choked, the words garbled in his mouth that tasted like iron, always iron. Dean's brow furrowed quizzically as he leaned in closer to hear his brother speak.
"What is it?"
Sam merely sniffed and fisted his fingers feebly in the material of Dean's jacket.
"What happened, Dean?"
Dean stiffened above him before his face crumpled and he took Sam's hand in his own, knowing they weren't talking about the lake. Two words and yet they didn't make any sense to Sam as his brother struggled to say them, eyes averted and filled with as much pain as Sam felt in his back.
He had no idea what they meant but they wracked his form with sobs.