Rating: pg-13 for language, and implied wincest.
Word Count: ~2,000
Disclaimer: Lies, all lies.
Warnings: Vague spoilers for S5, and buckets of angst.
Summary: It's been a week since the dust has settled, and nothing much has changed, except that Sam is slipping.
A/N: Very many thanks to silentpoetry1 for fixing this where it needed fixing, and for giving it a title when I drew a blank.
A/N: This builds on an idea started in all by all and deep by deep, but this story can certainly be read as a stand alone.
Three Letters Long
Nothing much has changed.
Except Sam is slipping.
At first Dean just rolls his eyes at Sam’s questions and tells his brother to stop fucking around, that they don’t have time for this bullshit. Except they do have time now, in a way that they never have before.
Sam stands at the window and watches some kid pop wheelies on his bike in the parking lot. When he finally faces Dean, his expression is closed, turned inward, but breaks a few seconds later. And when Sam grimaces and rakes a frustrated hand through his sloppy tangled hair—he’s forgetting to brush it, another thing, a little thing—and asks Dean what color his first bike was, Dean just pops open another beer, lays back on the plank-stiff motel bed and says that nobody ever remembers that kind of crap.
(but it was blue, dark dull scratched blue mixed with rust, snagged at the last minute from a dumpster behind some old shoddy motel—blue with a cracked seat that Dean wrapped in duct tape because damn that could fuckin’ hurt, & when they got the tires pumped up, the front one went flat right away & he showed Sam how to patch it, how to fix it with a repair kit he’d lifted from a bike shop while Sam kept watch, & Dean oiled the chain, tested the brakes because it never hurt to be careful, & then spent hours pushing Sammy along, holding tight so tight to the back of the seat in the beginning, & running running running behind until finally he let go, but only for a second, then ten…then thirty…then he let go for good, & Sammy noticed, turned his head to see that Dean was a good twenty feet behind him, & he was scared but soon happy, & he smiled and laughed, & for a second they seemed like any other family, like Sam was any other six year old, but then he forgot where the brakes were, jumped a curb, running into a newspaper box, & Dean carried him plus the bike back to the room, & then there was bubbling peroxide on knobby skinned knees, & Dean blew on them as if that would erase the sting, patched them with a torn up shirt and more duct tape because they didn’t have any bandages)
So when Dean drains half the bottle in one long pull, shrugs and says he thinks the bike was blue, what he really means is that Sam had a wonderful laugh back then and he wishes that he could hear more of it.
It’s been a week since the dust settled. There was collateral damage, and although Dean hates that term, he has to admit that if it quacks like a duck, then it probably is one.
They pull into another diner that reeks of grease and coffee that’s too strong. The place is crowded, men sit in a line at the counter, their shoulders hunched below their blue collars, and feet stuffed in dirty work boots, knives and forks scraping across plates that are overflowing with heart attack food. Sitting in a booth in the back, the brothers share a look, both recognizing that everyone—these civilians—have no idea of exactly how close they came to losing it all. Everything.
Sam and Dean, they don’t need gratitude, or even recognition; a world full of thank you’s wouldn’t even come close to scratching the surface. Although a day off for once might be nice.
Because the dust may have settled, but it has settled onto them, into them, and neither of them talks about it. Even still, Dean thinks he can see it, in the overhead halogen bulbs in the restaurant, the faint gray cast to his brother’s skin. How it’s worked its way into the thin lines of Sam’s face, lines that were never there before.
Perhaps Sam can see it too.
Sam scans the newspaper, looks for something that’s a degree or two left of center, a hunt to keep them going, since winning is only ever temporary. He finds nothing and turns to the crossword instead, his thumb running along the folds of the paper, making sharp creases, an old and often practiced habit. His teeth worry the pen cap as he stares at the puzzle and Dean stares at him. Sam scratches four letters into four little boxes and asks Dean how the hell he knows the capital of Latvia is Riga.
Dean doesn’t have an answer—answers were always Sam’s job anyway—and tries to make a joke out it, something that involves geeks and almost four years of college completely wasted with book learning. The joke falls flat in his head, well before it ever sees the light of day, and Dean just studies his coffee cup instead, scrapes his spoon along the bottom of the mug even though there’s nothing left there to stir and he feels grateful. Grateful, because Sam may be slipping, sure, but there are some things that still stick.
Somewhere west of Tulsa, Dean starts thinking about ladders. What’s happening to Sam, it’s as if some days he trips down a rung, and other days he’s up two.
In the beginning there were little things, like hiccups, only now, some days Sam can’t remember things he knew the day before. Two steps down, only one step up.
They’re alongside an abandoned logging road on the eastward slope of the Rockies, and Dean is hunched over beneath the hood of the Impala, replacing a fan belt that has been whistling at him for the better part of two days.
Sam comes up beside him, blocks his light and Dean should bitch, but the words get stuck somewhere inside and instead he bows his head as he leans forward, resting on his forearms, keeps quiet and just waits for it.
Sam asks him where Castiel is, it’s been weeks, he says, it’s not like him, he says, and Dean closes his eyes, breathes deep, shaky, tries to convince himself that nothing’s wrong, and measures.
Three rungs down this time and none up.
Then Sam runs his fingertips along the center of Dean’s back, starting at his neck and finishing at the small of it, traces the bumps of his spine, silently pushing the answers out of him, and Dean at long last relents, because the word no has never been part of his vocabulary when it comes to his brother, even when it ought to be.
Dean straightens, looks his brother right in the eye and says Castiel has left, hopped the last freight train the fuck out of dodge after the End. Before Sam can press him for more, he tells his brother that the details are fuzzy, he can’t get them straight in his head, and that’s mostly the truth.
(only it’s not completely the truth & Dean can remember more of it, the square determined set of his brother’s shoulders when the angels cracked open their hair brained fucked up scheme, told them it was the only way to win this, the archangel so certain and Castiel wouldn’t even look him in the eye, & Sam said yes out behind a condemned factory on the outskirts of Detroit, & the host of heaven was at his back, the legions of hell before him, but Sam never flinched, never once flinched, never doubted, & there were minutes that stretched, stretched into hours, maybe even days but Dean had no way of being sure, days, years, minutes, and possibly only seconds when he couldn’t see Sam, couldn’t find him in the swirling mess of all that black demon smoke and the blue white light of the souls of angels, & Dean wasn’t even sure that souls was the right word for it, but it was close enough, & with the End came quiet, Dean followed the scorch marks to their center, ground zero, & there Sam was, alive and not so well, the archangel’s screeching, ear wrenching, glass shattering voice telling him that a promise had been kept, that all would return to as it was before, but apparently Dean hadn’t read the fine print close enough)
Dean straightens up, turns to Sam and places his hand on the back of his neck, leaving greasy fingerprints there, quirks his lips, and says that Sam’s lucky enough to not remember, tells him not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what he’s really saying is that Sam is the bravest man he’s ever known, and he’s known quite a few.
One more week and maybe Sam hasn’t slipped too much, like he’s reached some sort of homeostasis, an absolute value, but Dean isn’t sure whether that’s quite the right way to think of it, define it, and he can’t ask Sam because although Sam would surely know the answer, it would bring about more questions.
Dean can’t deal with more questions. He’s already overshot his quota.
Sam comes out of the shower, it’s been a long one this time, so long that the water must have gone cold. The light is dim, and Dean can barely see that his cheeks are rose tinged and his right eye is red from soap. He skirts his own bed and lays crossways on the other one, the one where Dean sits at the foot. Sam’s feet stretch far over the edge and his dripping wet hair is leaving a dark mark on the striped starched blanket.
Sam reaches out, wrapping a still slightly damp arm low around Dean’s belly, his hand clasping onto Dean’s hip, says he knows he’s not right, that something is broken. Dean nods and hums along, like it’s some familiar song and he knows all the words. He’s too tired to lie. Dean should cut him loose, Sam says, it’s the only logical solution, Sam tells him, no use dragging them both down.
Dean tells Sam that he’s always been a sucker for a two for one special, that he’s already been down and up so many times that once or twice more wouldn’t make a difference, then twists and leans in close to Sam and proves it with a kiss.
There are promises, after all, and this is a big one, one Dean made in a place much like this, just a few hundred miles to the east, at a time when the scene was all set, but before any of the players had taken the stage. One he’d made maybe three weeks ago, back when they had a different life that seems a lot like this one only it isn’t.
In a flash, Dean remembers a conversation between them, an important one, only a few words long, and if Dean had known the term he would have called it synchronicity.
Dean runs his fingers along Sam’s arm, explodes and smears all the tiny drops of water still clinging to the fine soft hairs there, then freezes when Sam asks if they’ve always been this way.
Another slip, this time a big one.
And when Dean says yes, yes without hesitation, he thinks that always doesn’t have to be chronological or even continuous, it just has to be always. And he’s always been guilty. Guilty of having a heart that beats in the wrong direction.
Sam swears that he’ll never forget that again, even if all else goes, but then he goes silent, holds tighter to Dean and later looser when his breathing evens out and his eyelids start to flutter.
Dean moves slowly, carefully, untangling himself like he used to when Sam was four and couldn’t ever get to sleep alone in a bed. He sits in the chair in the corner so he can watch Sam easier, thanks god that quiet exists.
There’s a tie keeping them together. Like lines of power, ley lines, blood lines, hints of pin straight thin connections and Dean thinks that he can see them, reflecting ghost like in the silver blue of the television screen with the sound turned all the way down since Sam is sleeping and he always sleeps so lightly. Nowadays, anyway. He never used to.
Dean doesn’t want to move, can’t chance waking him. He needs this time. To think. To watch. To hope that these shadowy points of contact are enough to keep Sam’s head above water, to keep them both breathing.
In the quiet, Dean thinks about the past, a simpler time when he knew only a fraction of what he knows now. When everything in his life was defined by a word that was only three letters long.
Nothing much has changed.