Title: Sesame Seeds
Genre: gen, hurt/comfort (fever/nausea/exhaustion - Dean), angst/fluff/angsty fluff?
Characters: Sam, Dean, Ruby
Word Count: ~3000
Notes: Takes place sometime after 4x10 "Heaven and Hell." Written for doylescordy's prompt at the hoodie_time Dean H/C comment meme (#5) (where you should all be right now!!), Sam can see how worn down Dean looks lately, and wants to do something for him. His solution is to give Dean one good homecooked meal - because all they ever eat is greasy diner food or gas station junk. He gets a motel room with a kitchenette so he can cook in it and slaves away all day to surprise Dean with the meal. [originally posted here]
"It's four in the morning," says Dean. He's strangling a pillow while being strangled by sheets, while struggling to locate the source of Sam's voice. Failing that, he just stares up at the ceiling, white and popcorned and cracked with age.
Sam looks up too, finds no one burning, loses interest. "No one's eaten yet." Sam shrugs. "It's never stopped us before."
"Because nothing stops us. We're unstoppable." Dean groans, and fights off the sheets. His stare finds Sam then, fixes him squarely, and pours forth a hundred different, barbed, unsavory things, festering silent in the words. "Aren't we."
Sam looks away. Dean chews 'we' like gristle, filler, the Grade D extra pretending to be what it's not. Not that he'd ever say that. Neither of them would. And Sam still knows it loud and clear, because 'we' doesn't taste much better on his end, either. "C'mon, I made something. Please. I made it for you."
"Got something for you, Sam," says Ruby. She drops four plastic grocery bags on the table. "Shop closed at six, though, so..."
Silent inquisition from Sam, eyebrows raised, head cocked, arms folded.
"What? Sorry, did you want paper instead of plastic? What. --I didn't kill anyone, if that's what you're bitch-facing about. I just didn't pay. Which is good for you, because it made me feel a hell of a lot more generous." She starts unwrapping her purchase from its plastic. Inside are neat white paper loaves, taped and neatly labeled. Beef in all cuts. 'M' for marinade.
"Just sesame oil and soy sauce," Ruby assures him. "Nothing, you know. Special."
"Thank you," Sam says, voice thick and low.
"That's your big plan, right? Make dinner, win your brother back? Better get a move on, Sam. Don't want to be too late."
Sam looks up.
Ruby gestures toward the clock, blinking green and luminous. "I mean. It's already midnight, right?"
Sam rummages through the kitchenette cabinets until he finds a cutting board, a large patterned plate. He brings the knife block to the table, where Ruby's waiting. Sam unwraps the first package (rib-eye) and starts to slice across the grain, blood and marinade alike soaking into the cutting board, bruising it pink. When he finishes, he moves onto the second cut. He tries not to question Ruby's continued presence; they are past questions.
"Sesame or not, I didn't just come for a grocery run," she says, finally. Sam knows. Of course he knows. Ruby takes a flask from her pocket and puts it on the table. She draws a finger across the knife in Sam's hand, suspended, and licks away the juices.
"Okay, so maybe I did kill someone. But I did it for you."
Dean's dragging ass. Suddenly there's a million things he has to do before he joins Sam in the communal kitchen across the chapel courtyard. Bathroom time, unenumerated minutes spent in private, water running all the while. Dean comes out dripping and pink-faced. Then clothing. For someone who can field-strip a 9mm in thirteen seconds, it takes Dean an amazing amount of time to sort through all five of his identical shirts, choose his favorite, and work it over his shoulders. Even in the dark, Sam can see the grimace that crosses Dean's face as his shirt runs down over his keloid scar, hand-shaped and accusatory. Boots, boot laces. Dean's fumbling with them for so long Sam nearly jump across the room and ties them himself.
But Sam bites his tongue and tries not to fidget. He sits at the edge of the far bed, drumming his fingers on his knee, casting furtive glances at the doorknob any time he takes his eyes off Dean. Twenty minutes of this, and Dean still hasn't shaken the unsteady haze of what Sam had hoped was drowsiness.
"How are you feeling?"
Dean tightens his laces with a final, decisive snap, and sweeps up to look at Sam. He misjudges his momentum on the upswing and puts out a hand to keep from falling back on the bed. He blinks twice and says, "We already talked about my feelings; you're just gonna have to tune in next week for Episode 2."
Sam twists inside himself. He actually looks, really looks, appraises even, Dean.
"I'm not talking about Hell. I'm talking about you. Physical you."
Physical Dean is looking sicker by the minute, exhaustion blue under his eyes and fever pink everywhere else.
"Doesn't make a difference." Dean finds his jacket, and his knife, and his gun. Sam doesn't bother reminding him they're just going across the courtyard. Across the courtyard of a church. For dinner. Because like Dean said, it doesn't really matter. Preparation's the same.
"Maybe you should just sleep," Sam says, though the words are almost soundless in their disappointment. Because Dean looks like he needs sleep. He looks like needs to sleep for a year. For forty years. (Forty bloodless knifeless darkless years.) But Dean won't sleep, Sam knows, and he knows why, and he knows that even if he did, he'd still wake up dull and pale, full up with Hell and distrust and resentment.
And that's not good enough.
Because what Sam wants is his brother. He wants his brother whole. He wants them both whole. Sam wants to fix everything. Sam wants to be everything. But he'll settle for fixing one thing, and cooking one dinner, because-- Because. "You need it," he says, when Dean doesn't respond. What Sam wants is dinner for two, real dinner, with real food, and real two.
"You should at least try."
"Doesn't make a difference," Dean repeats. "You good? Good. Let's go already."
Sam cuts against bone, and remembers this:
He'd felt good.
It's June, hot. Cloud-dark and swarm-loud. Sam feels good. Better than he has in weeks. There's still a whole at the pit of his stomach, dark and wide and terrible in ways that rival the ribbons Hellhounds made of Dean's last month. But Sam's accepted that that's never going to go away--never. But Sam feels good.
Clean, and clear. Sobered. Strong.
"Demon blood's good stuff, huh?" says Ruby, seated across from him. She's pushing leftover meat around her plate.
Sam says, "No," and thinks, god, yes.
Suddenly, Ruby jumps from her seat, slams her fork onto her plate so hard the ceramic spouts spider cracks. "No," she snaps. "See, this is why I do this."
Sam stares at what's left on his own plate. He won't meet her accusation.
"Placebo effect," she explains. "We can't take that chance, Dumbo. 'Cause feeling really good or wishing really hard isn't going to get you where you need to be, Sam. You gotta feel for real, or this isn't going to work. That's when we have problems."
Ruby takes Sam's steak knife and presses it to her wrist, lengthwise. She spills herself onto the hot plate between them, and adds a few pieces of raw meat. They snap and shudder in their bloody marinade. Medium rare. "Try this one," she says. "We'll try it straight next time. Baby steps, Sammy."
"Don't call me Sammy," Sam says, because some things will always be reserved for special people. But Sam does try. And he feels good.
"The car's parked on the street," Dean lags off the path Sam's set them on and gestures out. Dean's got the keys in his hand already, part two of a thirty-year tradition of late night drive-thrus and Qwik-E gas marts.
"I told you I made something for you. Come on, I got it all set up."
Dean perks up then, curiosity pique flushing over fever, and Sam smiles.
"So what--" Dean clears his throat. "What's this all about?"
Sam shrugs. "Nothing. I just thought we should eat something nice for a change, you know? Clear the system. We can go find a Biggerson's or something if you really want, but--"
"Hey, don't knock Biggerson's," Dean clears his throat again, the first attempt unsuccessful. "But no, uh. This is good. This is--where did you learn to cook?"
If you can't drink it straight, fine. We'll start small. But you need to be able to take it, Sam. It's not gonna be--all it can be, or whatever, if you can't do it straight, says Ruby. Something is simmering in a saucepan. Two separate saucepans. Demon blood special, she says, pointing to a plate of ribs with her tongs. Mine, she says, pointing to another. Sorry if I find sesame sauce more appealing.
"Jess had this Korean friend, Melissa, and she'd cook us all these different things. Chadol baki, galbi, this thick bacon thing..."
"And you're remembering this now?" Friendly incredulity, not suspicion, which is a welcome change. Sam's just not entirely sure if it's one Dean registers. He's starting to sound lightheadedly breathless and he doesn't even realize; if he had, he would have tried to hide it better.
"Ended up back in town over the summer tracking some demonic omens, and I ran into her. She used to be a grad student. Public Health."
"Ah." Dean licks his lips and tries for the third time to clear his throat.
When they arrive at the kitchen, Dean asks for the bathroom.
"I don't--" Sam starts, turning on the kitchen burners. His gaze flicks quickly to Dean. "I don't know if there's--Dean, uh. Dean, I think maybe you should sit down."
"Dean--" Sam grabs Dean's shoulder and bends at the knees. Dean looks like he's about to collapse--and after all this time, Sam's pretty attuned to the visual--just melt to the floor. Sam grabs Dean's other shoulder, and when Dean figures out what he's doing, stops twisting away on reflex, he sinks into Sam's hands and sends them both to the ground.
Sam's been trying not to touch Dean, not to get to close, and now that he's practically in Dean's lap, he can feel the heat screaming off him. "Dude," says Sam, because he can't think of anything else. "Dude, you're really--"
"--awesome." Dean wipes at his eyes with this thumb and then his sleeve, and blinks. "Wow."
Guilt. Hot guilt. For not realizing, for forcing, for wanting so badly to have-- Sam chokes it back. Guilt tastes like pity and pity tastes like all the dark things he and Dean will never talk about. They let it pool, spill off, evaporate. Calcify and crumble to dust. Anything. But they will never admit its presence.
Sam takes a deep breath.
"Dean, you should have said--"
"This is"--Dean moves to get his feet under him, makes a grab upward for the edge of the countertop--"news to me, man. I didn't-- Wow." Counter in hand, Dean hunches doubled over. His other hand grinds into his thigh. "Bathroom?"
"I think those are back at the--" Suddenly, Dean makes a grab at the hem of Sam's jacket and pushes him out of the way. Sam stumbles back at the unexpected pressure, ends up backing into the corner of the countertop.
Dean ends up over the trash can, emptying the last twenty-four hours into its bottom. It sounds liquid and smells like bile and alcohol. Dean groans, goes in for a second round. Eventually he sags, forehead against the edge of the trash can, and works to gather enough wet to spit. "Fuck," he says, and spits.
Sam approaches tentatively, puts a hand to Dean's shoulder, then his nape. "Let's get you into bed."
Dean garbles something that sounds like it's supposed to be nnnnnghnooi'mgood, which naturally, Sam believes one hundred percent.
"You gotta be kidding me."
"You said you made something, so let's eat. I'm hungry."
"I'm hungry," Dean insists.
"There aren't any chairs," Sam explains. "The meat's still raw--"
Dean sits on the ground, beside the stove. The burners have been going all this time, oil beading in Sam's pan. "So let's get this show on the road. I'm not going anywhere 'til we do this," Dean insists. He closes his eyes and buries his head in the sleeves of his jacket.
"I dunno if you've noticed, but you look like shit," Sam says, though he grabs a cutting board and starts to lay meat in the pan.
Thumbs-up for victory from Dean, but he doesn't move, and says nothing.
Sam turns the meat. The thin pieces grill quickly, fill the air with sesame and barbecue. There's a mixture of sad frustration and contentment stewing at the back of his throat as he breathes in the scent. He's cooking, and Dean's on the floor, nursing a five hundred degree fever, and they're together, and there aren't any chairs, and this is--
As good as it gets. This is good. This is Winchester good. That's what he tries to tell himself, in any case.
"Want to try the first piece?" Sam takes a fork from one of the drawers and wipes it on his jeans. He spears one of the slices of beef and bends down to hand it to Dean. Dean doesn't respond at first; Sam nudges him gently with his leg, trying not to drip marinade onto his brother.
Dean starts, fight-or-flight out of sleep, slams his head against the cabinetry as he jerks backwards. "Shit, goddamn it--" He rubs the back of his head, then remembers Sam.
"Here," says Sam.
And Dean says, "Thank you." He takes the fork and regards the tines blearily, as though contemplating the meat.
"You put that end in your mouth and eat it," Sam supplies helpfully.
Dean snorts. "Thanks. You're just full of advice, man. What would I do without you?"
"Crash and burn."
"Ohhh, been plenty of crashing and burning today." He sticks the entire strip in his mouth and chews. Coughs. Nods approval.
"'s good. It's really good. You been holding out, Sammy. Learn new things about you every day."
Sam motions for Dean's fork and skewers another piece for him. Under his breath, yeah. I guess you do.
They eat like this, piece by piece, and the pan simmers sweet, savory. The wind blows in from under the door and cools the sweat on Sam's cheeks as he leans over the heat. Dean's coherence more or less levels out, gives Sam assurance that Dean's not going to spike over 103, or pass out, or get--lost. Somewhere.
Dean eats more than Sam expected--which in retrospect, Sam should have expected--considering all circumstances, though after a while he starts asking for just water. Cue that Dean's really feeling it. But Sam pours him water from the tap, and Dean tells Sam to eat something goddamn it, and together they sit on the smooth grey concrete of the church kitchen and stare at the cabinets.
"Thank you," says Dean.
"You said that already," Sam says. No, thank you, he means.
"Oh." Dean shifts, muttering something about his tailbone.
"You gonna need the trash can?"
Dean knocks his head back against the cabinet and closes his eyes. Deep, controlled exhalation. "Not yet. Though, uh--that, uh." Dean points upwards.
Sam follows the wavering line Dean makes with his fingers. Ruby's flask is still sitting on the table. The memory of blood and hot and blood lances from Sam's tongue and down his throat, turns his insides to ice. "Not for you."
"Tee-totaler," Dean grumbles, and suspects nothing, which makes Sam feel worse.
"So you never told me what this was all about." Dean elbows Sam in the shoulder as he tries to get up.
"Dizzy?" Sam hovers open-handed, until Dean swats him away.
"Hey, hey. You're Iron Chef, not Diagnosis Murder. Don't change topics. I'm not that fucked up."
"Because," Sam says, and leaves it. And Dean is that fucked up, because he nods, Sam's answer seems sufficient, and it's like everything's been squared away. "I think it's time for bed."
"It's like eight in the morning," Dean says, squinting at the clock, still green and still luminous. It's just past six.
"That's never stopped us," Sam points out. And when Dean starts talking Ohio and isn't there a-- (that he can't name for the life of him), he helps Dean the rest of the way to his feet, and prods him in the back, toward the kitchen door. He says, "Because we're unstoppable."
Sam rinses the blood from his hands and the knife, throws the white butcher paper over the new sliced meat, and readies the oil. Four AM. Time to go get Dean.
He makes for the door, stops as he nears Ruby's flask. It's been staring him down since she left, in quiet observation. Sam takes it in hand, unscrews the cap, tilts his head back. Three drops at the tip of his tongue. They taste like nothing before they taste like everything. His breath stinks sulphur.
Sam lets the blood roll to the back of his throat, and swallows.
"Thank you," Dean says, from inside a cocoon of chalky sheets. They're already damp beneath him, his hair flat and wet against his forehead.
"You already said that," Sam says again. He wants-- (to lean over, kiss Dean on the forehead, to do something) for everything to be okay.
"So put it in the bank," Dean mutters, after a mild delay. He turns away from Sam and smothers his face in a pillow. Sam draws his hand back, and sits on the bed opposite. "I probably got a running tab with you, anyway."
Sam unlaces his boots and knocks them under the bed. He looks at himself in the bathroom mirror before pouring a glass of water. He lets it roll to the back of his throat, and swallows.