Genre: very handsy gen, hurt/comfort (fractured ribs, vessel!mindfuck), drama
Characters: Sam, Dean (& Michael)
Word Count: ~3300
Summary: Sam doesn't know what game they're playing. Apparently the one where breaking a rib--a few ribs, possibly quite a few--means knocking out the one safeguard they had against the end of the world. Not to sound melodramatic or anything.
Notes: For fhionnuiscetine, on the delightful occasion of her birth. Months and months ago, she asked for fic that dealt with Dean in the panic room, and Sam seeing it through with him. This is an alternate timeline late in S5, sometime after 5x16. Speed-beta’d by the lovely vie_dangerouse!
On November 2, 1983, Sam's crib burned so hot and so fast that the slats split and opened like ritualized cattle. White rent from white and out spilled black, black smoke. Before Dean saw anything more, his brother spilled into his arms, and his father's fear spilled into his arms, and he ran out into the cold, pale night with an iron grip on both.
"Be quiet," Sam snaps, breath tight and tangled in his lungs. Be quiet, even though Sam's pretty sure he's never been more glad to hear Dean in his life. When you're a week, maybe less--certainly less, fuck--from opening night at the Apocalypse, that's pretty impressive. Sam heaves; Dean is heavy. Just be-- "You're gonna be okay. We made it this far. We made it to Bobby's.
"You're gonna be okay, Dean."
Dean has a chorus line more fucks to say to that. And like it or not, Sam knows that's probably his present possible best. Because Sam knows Dean: if Dean has the focus and the wherewithal to say "some knight in shining armor you are, Sam--jesus fuck" they're looking at the high end of the spectrum, here. Unfortunately, Sam knows Dean, and he knows Dean's planning to hold that line 'til it snaps; 'til he can't, 'til he can't hold anything at all. Then without warning, Dean will be gone and it will be over.
Sam turns the lock on the panic room door one-handed. Whatever miraculous equilibrium had sustained them this far dissipates, and Dean trickles to the ground, takes up residence against the steel plating instead of against Sam's other arm. Thus freed, Sam pushes the door in with a familiar shriek (this is your prison this is where you go to rot this is where you face yourself and you lose
because you always lose
--just stop. Stop now).
"I'll be your knight in shining armor, Dean," Sam pants, "next time you decide to be a ninety pound girl. Come on, let's go--up--"
Sam tries to concentrate on the scrape of dirt and salt and sweat between their fingers as he pulls Dean up. Muscle tension. The movement of air--sharp gust full of kerosene and the chemical tang of spray paint. Dean's noises. (The retort, he misses. But Sam catches the grimace.) Anything to keep this real. "Get inside."
Sam steps out. Takes a deep breath. He can hear Dean behind him--whether it's actual Dean, his assumptions of Dean, or the Dean-shaped guilt that sits at the back of his mind, Sam doesn't know and he doesn't care. What the hell you think you're doing. Sam. Sam--
"Panic room's demon-proofed, Sam. Not exactly an angel stop sign. Archangel, whatever--it's not gonna keep them out." Dean's voice is lower now, stripped of the distracting litany of fuck fuck Sams. Sam hears him sit down, lean against the cot in the center of the room (straps, buckles. water in a pitcher too far to reach. doomed oases. branded leather consecrated iron steel the works. bobby holding you down. dean holding you down. Hell pushing you up, spitting you up
Dean holding you down. Straps cinched tight at your wrist. You will never forget that).
Sam paints sigils with the old spray can in the corner. Wet red against the metal, the floor. Chemical tang. He doesn't know if they're entirely right, doesn't know if they'd do a damn thing if they were, but if there's one thing Sam's learned about himself, he's not opposed to trying everything. (Anything.)
This isn't gonna keep 'em out. Panic room isn't gonna--
"No, it won't." Sam says, finally. "But I will."
He steps back inside and lets the door wheeze closed behind him. The foundations shake.
Just shy of November 2, 2001, Dean watched Sam overnight an envelope of incriminating personal statements, references and transcripts. When it arrived, it'd still be the 2nd in California, if barely. Dean'd told himself that if Sam wanted money for the postage, he wasn't going to goddamn give it up, but Sam didn't ask. He pulled out a twenty of his own and never said a word.
"Can you breathe?"
Dean makes a face. "You tell me, Sam. Come on."
"Just covering all the bases." Even if the bases are scattered somewhere in the celestial outfield and Sam doesn't know what game they're playing. Apparently the one where breaking a rib--a few ribs, possibly quite a few--means knocking out the one safeguard they had against the end of the world. Not to sound melodramatic or anything. "I just figure, you know, a pneumothorax wouldn't help." Sam splits Dean's shirt down the button line with his knife. Buttons are tedious. He considers the T-shirt beneath it as well, but Dean stops him.
"I'm fine." And Sam sets the knife down and pulls Dean's shirt up without skipping a beat. Wet hands to a hot torso. Dean groans. Then, too quickly: "Stop it, stop messing with that--that part's fine. Goddamn it."
Sam sees dark shadows that are either shadows (the lighting in this room. what is wrong with the lighting. there's always something wrong with the lighting. sun dropping in in shafts, stuck in the fan and the Devil's Trap) or dirt, or a continental shelf of bruises, but he retreats.
"Is there a part that isn't?"
Dean runs his fingers down the shirt Sam's just ruined and doesn't meet his gaze.
Sam wipes his hair back. He's not really sure what to do with the angle--Dean half-sitting, half leaned against the cot puts him too low to meet head on, but not low enough to crouch. Sam feels vaguely like he's supposed to be operating on Dean, possibly interrogating him violently. It's awkward and it doesn't feel right.
Dean solves this for him by giving up on the cot in favor of the ground, a descent none too graceful. Dean's palm smacks concrete before the rest of him does, which is probably good for his tailbone but not as nice for everything else as he lurches right and muscles tendons fat organs bone lurch with him. Sam catches the echo of bright, searing pain in Dean as his face folds into deep lines at the edges of his eyes and he knocks his head back against the leg of the cot.
Sam drops, too, and reaches a hand out before he realizes he doesn't know what, exactly, he intends to do, or what he could possibly do.
Dean takes a slow, shallow breath and says, "By the way, Sam." And Sam figures out what to do with his hands; he's just going to grab Dean and hold, is what he's going to do. He's gonna hold on and never let go.
"Michael says hi."
November 2, 2003. Dean was hungover and seriously Halloween'd out, and Sam was in the neighborhood. Dean was in Sam's neighborhood. Dean was in Sam's neighborhood and Sam would have preferred that he wasn't, because Dean was hungover and Sam was Halloween'd out for life. "Thought you said you never missed anyone," Sam said, the door between them. "Out of sight, out of mind. The mantra of the one night stand?"
"Yeah well, don't wanna fuck you," Dean said. "And I'm looking right at you. You're not out of s--"
"Dean, listen to me."
"Dean, shut up and listen to--no, shut up--shut up and listen to me." Listen to me. "You have to concentrate."
Dean moves as though to nail him one, but apparently thinks better of it. "I am. I'm concentrating the fuck out of you, so you better get to the good stuff."
"You can't let him in."
Dean's body language ripples, and his lips squirm. "Little late for that. Dude didn't exactly ask for an invitation."
Breath, breath. Breaths so thin they could lay atop one another and still slide through the fan blades that make the room slide black, white, and back again. Sam squeezes Dean's shoulder. "Well, eventually he's gonna have to. 'Cause Michael's not gonna stop here. Now shut up and listen to me."
(this is what it feels like.
there's a figure at the back of your mind, just around the corner, just out of sight. you can see the shadow, can almost feel the breaths he is not taking. they're the breaths you're taking. the breaths you're taking and the heartbeats that roll the ground, the walls, make all the world undulate like a ribbon in water. he is the smoke from the cigar that isn't there. he is your want your fear your desire to escape
pain. weakness. your desire to escape helplessness. your desire to escape him.
you can see how this is a problem. he is everything, the figure you cannot see. the one in your blood. the one in your tissues, and your cavities and every warm, wet place your body has to offer. he is not your body, but he's taken your mind, and that is enough. you do not see him in the mirror, not yet, but you know that he is there. he is the rocks pressing down on your chest, the rocks that crush until you scream more weight! and scream for death that he will not give.
he will not hurt you. not that way. he needs you whole. he needs you whole like an eggshell sucked dry and empty.
you become the rocks that crush you and he promises you an end. he promises you means. he does not lie but he does not speak truths. he speaks the language of the smoke that cannot exist, the street corners built on spherical planes, the celestial intent that buries itself in your frontal lobe and prods, electric touch, electric assurance: you want this. yes, you want this.
Dean looks at him like he's speaking in tongues. And Sam's pretty sure he is; whatever he managed was told with words in part, gestures in part, sheer force in others, and sometimes only in thoughts. Whatever Dean got out of all that, he says, "You don't know that."
Sam says, "Yes, I do."
"You've had an archangel throwing a frat party in your--whatever you said...frontal lobe?" Sweat breaks surface tension and trickles down from Dean's hairline. You don't know. You can't possibly know. And you never will. I won't let you. I'd--
"I had Ruby." That grabs Dean's attention. Almost one year between them and Ruby's last (glorious, terrible) moments, and she's still got them both in chains. Sam's life doesn't exactly flash before his eyes, but he can see realization break over Dean's face in layers, translucent-thin but many. Legion. "So sit tight, and listen."
On November 2, 2005, Dean sat through six hours of Sam refusing to sleep, refusing to eat, to cry--refusing everything but revenge. Then he sat through twenty-seven minutes of Sam dictating a novel while (blessedly) asleep. The sleep talk was nothing new; it was age old and well-traveled, something Dean should have loved, and missed, and reveled in. But on November 2nd, the novel started like this: I'm sorry, Jess. I can't. I couldn't. And I'm sorry. That night was the first time, though not the last, that Dean thought maybe this had all been one big fucking mistake.
"I called Cas."
"I know. I'm right here."
Only sometimes. Sam watches Dean peak and trough, measures time between both and puts distance to the storm. It's been seven hours since their latest salt and burn and its unforeseen complications. It's 10am and it still feels like midnight. Dean's either got 'til lunch time or until Sam turns away--and fuck if Dean will tell him which.
"I... left Cas a message."
"I know. I'm right here."
"You think, uh-- You think he'll--"
"I think it's gonna be a long couple months."
Sam can see the despair laced into what he assumes is supposed to be bravado. Cas had been their last ace. Though even if he'd picked up, come, the whole nine, Sam's not sure he would have had the juice to help. Fact is, they'd been going on nothing. Now they have less. Or more; the 'more' is the problem. The fan with the Devil's Trap marks time above them, and Sam counts troughs.
"What's he saying?" Sam asks, finally.
Dean looks a lot of things--'like hell' is the first thing that comes to mind, though Sam doesn't think 'hell' is particularly apt, at least not today--but mostly he looks confused.
"Michael," Sam clarifies.
"Yeah, I got that. Dude's been kinda on my mind, if you know what I mean. But--it's not like he's been shooting the breeze, here. We're not having a--a conversation. He's just--"
"He's just there," says Sam.
"What, did you think I was off schmoozing the dick in some alternate Candyland?"
This was good. This was a peak. Sam lets himself breathe, though he doesn't stop counting. "Well, he's an archangel, Dean. Dunno if you've noticed, but the angels can do some pretty weird crap. You never know."
Dean laughs, a sound diluted by the pain of stressing his chest, moving his ribs.
And then Sam can't take it anymore. He needs to do something. "Dean, I'm gonna need you to cough for me."
"Some things you have to do for yourself, Sam."
"You're an ass. Now, cough."
Dean stares at him, hard. Like he's trying to knock Sam to the ground, hard. Then his gaze snaps away. "You know, we are never going after that--that-- Tonight was some stupid shit, and we're never doing that again. Aberdeen can fuck itself. I'm not getting slammed into any more--"
"You're not afraid of anything, Dean; you can't be afraid of this. Now cough. Fluid build up in the lungs could--"
Raw, throaty insistence: "I'm not afraid of 'this', I--"
Sam grabs the neck of Dean's shirt and pulls him close. "Michael's feeding off pain. That's his in." Michael's feeding off pain and using it, crowbar and hammer, to slide across synapses, pass through every barrier, every safeguard Dean has. Pain is loss and pain is need and pain is the thing you run from. The thing that splits you open, white skeleton bloated and billowing black smoke. The mind in pain is a great weave of fear and weakness and that's Michael's in. Anyone's in. Sam remembers the nausea of want, the promise of power. But mostly he remembers the tremendous crushing hopelessness of not having--skin stretched tight over an empty body, muscles humming like stalled gears, the itch and shudder and final implosive trial of needing, needing desperately--or thinking that.
(it's all in the mind. the mind and the nerves and the white matter grey matter amygdala hypothalamus endocrine glands everything everything everything.)
"So we need to get there first. Flood him out. This is gonna hurt." Sam slaps him on the back right between the shoulder blades, all palm. Dean coughs. And it does hurt. Sam can almost hear bones grind against each other, muscles pull taut. He does hear Dean's sharp intake of breath, the sputtering entourage that trails after it. He feels Dean's forehead slam into his shoulder and Dean's nails dig into his forearm, and Sam adds his own riff of discomfort to the room. There is pain and pain and the white noise of pain.
When Dean can speak again, he garbles something like, fuck you, Sam, fuck you and your goddamn big hands. Sam can deal with that. Then Dean says, "Is this what"--a breath, and an omission--"was like for you?"
"Just breathe. We're gonna do that again."
On November 2, 2009, the Devil didn't die. Dean pulled the trigger, but the Devil didn't die. "Detroit," said the Devil. "You, Sam. You and me." Dean wasn't conscious for the rest of that conversation, but he heard enough to know that this wasn't gonna end pretty. And maybe it'd been ending ugly--for years now. Felt like it, that's for damn sure.
The line Dean's holding, the one that stretched out bold and flat and seemingly eternal, is starting to fray. Dean is tired. Dean is red-lidded sweat-crusted mindfuck-blanched tired. And Sam doesn't know what to do anymore, if he ever did. He tells Dean as much, because maybe if Dean feels like he has to think of a plan, he'll stop thinking about a certain someone else's plans. That's Sam's theory, anyway. His own experiences have always ended in 'yes.'
(knife, wrist, blood. ruby's blood. ruby's endless escape-less blood. yes)
"The way you break someone," Dean starts, breaking Sam’s reverie. It's the first full phrase he's bothered producing in a while, at least of those that don't involve inventive defamations of Sam's masculinity. "Not art. Don't care what Alistair says--it's cookie cutter science. Everyone breaks down the same seams. You get really good, and you can-- you see 'em, decades off, under the skin. Feel 'em rise. You know what's coming."
So what's coming? Sam doesn't ask. There aren't words; Dean's said as much. There just aren't. Dean's voice is kind of...fluttery. Forced up too many gages, thread where it should be wire. He keeps going.
"Same every time. You think, I can duck that. I can duck that next time. And sure enough, there it comes. Like clockwork."
"Then what do you do?"
Dean coughs, real and unassisted this time. "You try again tomorrow, Sammy. You try again every damn tomorrow. 'Cept I don't think Michael's really into getting that second date.
--You are, though."
"Here. You're here, again. Still."
(steel walls. paint screaming against the walls like a prison sentence. the pitcher of water. the leather, and the metal, and the lock and key. all these things you will never forget. that's what here is.
whatever comes next, that part of 'here' will never stop being. never stop lurking just around the corner, in the smoke that has no source.)
"Yeah, I am," Sam says, finally, even if he doesn't quite believe it. What's there to believe? They're sitting shoulder to shoulder in the panic room. Sam's seen enough of their story to know that they don't catch breaks like that, not ever. If you call fractured ribs and an archangel pushing through the cracks a break.
"Right," says Dean, to break the silence. The silence parts and simply pools into the open expanse that follows. Dean tries again, and in starts and stops and dragging pauses he astutely informs Sam that the Apocalypse blows. It is crap. And it's going to happen in the basement of some crap shack in South Dakota. What God would let that happen? Hell, what angel. "Seriously, where are the fireworks?"
Sam's pretty sure that if Dean wants fireworks, all he has to do is close his eyes. But Sam's not gonna be the one who reminds him of that. "The Apocalypse isn't going down here, Dean. Not today, it isn't."
(it happens in Detroit, remember?)
"You're not going to let it." Not on Sam's watch.
“Well, if that’s the case--”
“You’re not. I won’t let you. Because I’m right here.” Somebody has to break the chain.
On some nothing day in late April, the sun swings down into late afternoon, heavy with past rain and hot with everything the cloud cover's sealed in. He and Sam walk through the panic room door. They are in shambles. He is, anyway; Sam just looks wiped. But they walk through together. And Dean figures, hell with it--better late than never. They can swing this for a few months. Call it a test drive.
a/n: Where is Bobby? He's in the Dominican, sipping booze out of a coconut with Castiel. Don't ask silly questions!
Also, I apologize for some of the cheesier portions of this story. They, um, had to happen that way. Or so I've convinced myself. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed! ♥
P.S. I am so doing that Ben/Jake/Tom thing. Nothing can stop me! I just need to re-watch MBV, winkwink ;)