He woke to Sam’s startled, strangled cry, and he was on his feet with his Colt cool in his hand before he realized that his brother had been dreaming.
‘Sammy, Jesus Christ,’ he muttered, thumbing the safety back on before he put a bullet through the goddamned lampshade. Sam looked up at him from the other bed, sweaty-faced, wet-eyed, and then kicked free from the tangle he’d made of his sheets and ran for the bathroom; the light went on and the door slammed shut and a heartbeat later Dean heard him throwing up the little he’d eaten at supper—a shitty apple and half an egg-salad sandwich from the Kwik Stop on the highway, and a candy bar Dean had practically forced down his gullet, ‘cause his kid clearly needed protein, and Snickers had, y’know, peanuts.
He tucked the gun back beneath his pillow, scrubbed a hand across his hair and stood irresolute for a moment in the center of their room, then padded quietly over to the bathroom door. Rested his forehead and one hand against the thin cheap wood, didn’t open it. ‘Sam,’ he said. ‘You all right, man?’
One breath, two. ‘M fine,’ his brother managed, which Dean would have believed, sure, no problem, if only the kid hadn’t sounded like he’d been flayed open and left for dead on the side of the fucking road.
They worked a few cases, saved a few people, hunted a few things. Sam lost ten pounds and stopped sleeping anywhere save for the cradle of the front seat, with the road humming beneath Baby’s tires and his head tipped against the window, a pained furrow between his brows.
He still woke, always, from a nightmare.
He was, always, fine.
They were in western Indiana, one state line and 250 miles from a room full of shattered mirrors, when Dean opened his eyes, a little after midnight, to find Sam sitting on the edge of the other bed, head in his hands, sheets and blankets a messy tumble at his back.
‘Hey,’ he said, rubbing sleep from his eyes. ‘You all right?’
I’m fine, he expected, but Sam said nothing, and he came all the way awake.
In nothing but his boxers, shoulders hunched, feet bare, his little brother looked small, somehow, and painfully vulnerable. ‘ … I can’t sleep,’ he admitted, soft and young and lost. ‘I just … ‘ His fingers tightened in his hair. ‘Dean, I’m so tired, and I can’t—I can’t sleep.’
Dean’s heart clenched up, hard, behind his ribs, because he knew that voice, even though he hadn’t heard it in a dozen years: Dean, help, his baby brother had said, at seven, bringing him a dying bird with a broken wing; and But Dean I want to stay, he’d cried, at ten in West Virginia; and Dean and Dean and Dean, Sammy always so certain that he could fix it, that he could help, no matter how many times he failed him.
‘… I know,’ he said, quietly, because there wasn’t anything the fuck else to say, no matter how much he wished otherwise. ‘Sammy, man, the nightmares about Jess, they’re—they’re gonna get better, okay?’ he said. ‘They always do; it’s—’
Sam was shaking his head, slow and weary. ‘I’m not dreaming about Jess,’ he said, and Dean blinked at him, because what the hell? ‘I mean, I am, but not … not all the time.’ He pushed a hand back through his hair. ‘It’s always the fire,’ he said, softly. ‘But sometimes it’s … it’s Dad, on the ceiling, dying.’ A shuddery breath. ‘Most of the time it’s you.’
Dean’s throat closed up, hard. ‘Sammy,’ he managed, but the kid just shook his head again, looked up at him with desperate, pleading eyes.
‘I can’t—I can’t keep watching you die, man; not after … you’re all I got, and I can’t …’ His voice cracked, took something in Dean’s chest with it. They were quiet for a moment, the only sound the rumble of a semi passing by outside on the highway, and the low murmur of the TV from the manager’s office on the other side of the wall.
‘C’mere,’ Dean finally said. He scooted over in the narrow double bed. ‘Just … grab your pillow, all right? You ain’t gonna get any sleep over there.’
He could have sworn he saw his little brother flushing in the dark. ‘D-Dean, I … I don’t–’
He smacked the mattress, once. ‘Shut up and lie your bony ass down, Sasquatch. I ain’t gonna tell you again.’
It took a minute, but four years’ distance apparently hadn’t sapped all of his Big Brother mojo, because Sam finally crawled in beside him, hesitantly, mattress lurching briefly beneath his weight.
They lay quietly for awhile, both of them on their backs, shoulders close but not touching in the dark.
‘Hey, you remember that awesome diner in Georgia from when you were a kid?’ Dean asked. ‘With the waffles and the peanut butter pie?’
He didn’t think it was going to work for a moment, but then, softly: ‘The one with the big peach on the sign? Outside Savannah?’
‘Yeah. Dad and I ended up back there about four months ago, after we cleaned up a haunting in the city. They still got the pie. I was worried, you know? That they’d be sellin’, like, tofu cheesecake or somethin’ by now, but they still got it. Same dumb curtains, same dumb tablecloths, same awesome pie. Sweet potato fries are still good, too.’ He shifted a little, settling himself more comfortably. ‘What were you, twelve, when you polished off that basket of ‘em? The owner came out to take a picture.’ He didn’t mention that he’d found it in August, a Polaroid tacked up on the wall with three hundred others, Sammy sweet-faced and floppy-haired and shyly smiling, or that it was tucked safely now in the glove box, with the few other precious things Dean owned.
He could hear Sam’s smile, even if he couldn’t see it; could feel the tension starting to drain a little from his brother’s long body. ‘Yeah,’ he said. And then: ‘You got the recipe from the cook, remember? Tried to make them for me the next time we were at Bobby’s.’
‘Yeah, well. Not all of my plans are genius, Sammy,’ he said, and his brother snorted out a soft little laugh in the dark.
Dean talked on, softly, about nothing important: a diner he and Dad had found in Nebraska one Christmas Eve; a ski cabin in Maine they’d slept warm and safe in for a week; the massive, moss-covered oak he’d spend a night under on Jekyll Island, waiting for the ghosts of a slaver and his son. After awhile Sam rolled onto his side, curling up bit by bit in the space between them until his forehead was touching Dean’s arm and one bony knee bumping against Dean’s leg; a little while longer and there were long, hesitant fingertips settling soft against his ribs, like his little brother just wanted to make sure he was real, that he was there. Dean was reminiscing fondly about a burger called the Mac Attack he’d found in Boston when he heard the kid’s breath finally settle into the slow, easy rhythm of sleep.
He lay quietly for a long while beside his brother in the dark, and never knew when he tumbled headlong into dreaming.
He woke a little after 7:00, their room still dark, December rain coming down steady and cold outside. Sam was still sound asleep, sprawled across Dean’s chest the same way he’d slept as a kid, tucked in under Dean’s arm with his face hidden in the crook of Dean’s neck and one arm and leg thrown over him in a haphazard tangle of limbs. Warm to his bones, Dean shifted just a little to ease the cramping in his lower back; Sam snuffled and kicked and wound himself more tightly around him in reply. ‘D’n,’ he mumbled.
Dean settled a hand in his brother’s hair, and closed his eyes against the coming day.