Genre: gen, hurt/comfort, case fic, drama/thriller, S2/S9
Characters: Dean (POV), Sam
Word Count: ~4700
Warnings: [Spoiler (click to open)]alcohol withdrawal, nascent alcoholism, depression, brief reference to suicidal ideation
Summary: Drop everything and run. Sam and Dean investigate a defunct psychiatric hospital in Poughkeepsie. Dean picked a hell of a time to (accidentally) quit drinking. AKA how "Poughkeepsie" became "Poughkeepsie."
Notes: Set after 2x11 "Playthings." Based on the now-closed Hudson River State Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY, part of which burned down in 2007. Hmm...
You’re not up for this. Last time you and him ran the whole ‘haunted asylum’ routine, you came out punched full of rock salt, Sam’s fingers cold on the trigger.
Which, normally? No harm, no foul. That’s part of the gig. You’ve been on the chopping block a dozen times since then; hell, you should’ve straight-up died at least twice. But your father’s just said some pretty fucked up things to you, some pretty fucked up if-then sorts of things, and for once you’re really not looking to tempt fate.
You don’t need your psychic baby brother anywhere near crazy town.
Dude, you are dragging ass, says your psychic baby brother, when you get back in the car.
What’s wrong with you? A haunted house, and then an asylum? Shouldn’t you be over the moon about now? he asks.
But you’re a fan of classics, not reboots. You don’t wanna do this again.
Sit him down in a bar, that’s what you want. Someplace thick with bodies and too loud to think too much--let him drink himself silly so you can’t go out tonight. It’s not even about Sam, not entirely. You want a drink. You want a drink so bad. You haven’t touched a thing since Sam had his weepy liquor pity party back at Pierpoint, and it’s only been a few days (just a day?) but it’s been harder, so much harder than you thought it’d be, extenuating circumstances be damned.
It’s getting to the point you need a drink, and you’re not sure when that happened to you, this time. That scares you a little.
But it was bound to eventually. You are your father’s son.
(And if you can’t save him, then--)
Right now you feel like someone else’s soccer mom--the tee-totaling kind, the one who freaks out after one singular impassioned binge because clearly little Sammy’s an alcoholic, and you know what they say: There’s no drinking that ain’t binge drinking. And it will happen again. You haven’t stopped this car anywhere near a bar, a liquor store.
You want Sam on lockdown.
This isn’t any way to treat the guy who saved both the kid and the hot mom last go-round--saved your own duct-taped ass, the time before that. And ‘Town Drunk, Sam Winchester’ is honestly laughable, especially when you sit it next to whatever the fuck you’re doing with your life right now. But you’re going a little haywire, because you can’t risk that again. ‘Cause see, it’s not actually about the drinking. That’s the key.
You just can’t have him begging at you like that again.
Not like that.
Not for that.
Green, says Sam.
Dean, the light’s green.
You surge forward, a cacophony of blaring horns behind you.
If you want a switch, I’m right here, Sam offers.
I know, you tell him.
You keep driving.
After a while, he says, Okay, what if I want a switch?
Pretty sure you got ‘Shotgun’ on your nametag, princess.
You say: You know what happened last time.
And that shuts him up. There isn’t a universe on the books where demonic T-bones are Sam’s fault, but you know Sam doesn’t believe that, and it’s the only way you can think to turn his stupid martyr complex in your favor.
It’s kind of adorable he’s so afraid of losing you. You know that ain’t where this is headed.
But when you hit the state line, Sam speaks up again.
Are you at least going to tell me what’s going on?
You mumble something back.
Sam straightens then, shifts modes from dejected passenger to you’re not even sure what.
‘Need?’ he repeats.
And shit, is that what you led with?
That’s serious, Dean.
Not really, you say.
Yeah, really, he says.
And you say, Whatever you say, Sam.
City limits, and Sammy ‘Take Charge’ Winchester announces you’re going straight to a motel and turning in for the night. It’s only 3AM, and that’s prime ghost hunting time. Winter’s on your side, and you got a long, dark night left yet.
But you don’t object. Sam takes this as a vindication.
You’re in for a night of self-help conversations you don’t want to have, but as long as Sam thinks he’s doing this for you, he’ll stay put. Tell him what you’re actually afraid of, and he’ll be right out that door to prove you wrong.
Poughkeepsie won’t have ever had a better savior. But you need him more than they do.
It’s to the credit of the charade you and him got going on that you actually do throw up, at the stuccoed corner between the car and your room. Sam scuffs snow over the evidence.
Then the two of you are lying parallel in the dark, chasm of puce green carpet between you.
You know, back at school, Sam says--
--Back at school, I had this friend. And he--there was a lot of pressure, you know? He was pre-med, running track, and we were D1, so--
Dude, I don’t know, you remind him. I don’t even know if that’s English. What the fuck are you talking about?
Chastened, Sam apologizes. And he says, The point is, my friend, he got into some stuff--you know, to cope. And I guess I didn’t really realize at first, or I didn’t know what to do, and I mean, we did what we could, but--and I just, I don’t want anything to happen to you. So, like--
He babbles on like that for a while, until finally you cut him off.
Chill the fuck out, Sam. I’m not some dumb kid; and I’m not your frat bro.
Sam says softly, Neither was Brady.
You roll onto your side and pretend to fall asleep. You don’t even care if Sam knows you’re faking.
You know he’s not gonna let this go--not with evidence mounting like it is. He already knows you’re tired, that maybe you’re done. He knows you want to die. Part of you does. (And if you live, and shoot Sam dead? There ain’t a part of you gonna be left that’s any good.)
You can’t take your words back; and you can’t make Sam forget.
He already knows all your secrets.
Even the one where you kill him.
By the time you get all the way out there, it’s probably eleven, or closer to noon. You’re waking up, maybe. You’re not a morning person, and you spent most of last night wired and antsy and thirsty. It woulda been a good night for a ghost hunt.
There’s a big chain-link fence condemning the property, and you’ve already had to park too far away, walk too long up this muddy hill, and you’re annoyed by the inconvenience of this.
Yes, that’s what you say. The homicidal haunted psych ward is inconvenient.
Dude, stow it, says Sam. Apparently his nursemaidery has limits: He made sure you ate actual breakfast (no coffee, three extra cups of water), and he shoved both your asses up this hill, but now he’s making it clear he’s not going to take your shit.
That’s fair enough.
You bend forward, brace your palms on your knees, and take a deep breath. It shudders. Your stomach feels like a spinning penny, wobbling on edge and about to flop face forward. Your head pounds. You get over the snow underfoot, gray and muddy, because Sam is right, you’re being a fucking child. You get over all your shit. (Almost.)
Then you come back up.
Now Sam’s frowning. How’s your heart? he asks, which is still a question that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Or uh, you’re not-- You need to tell me if--
Oh, my god, Sam.
You’re over this. And you’re not sure when your pretend intervention got this real.
You shove past him and start climbing the fence.
Sam wants so badly for this to be a Moment, or some kind of turning point. You’re getting over Dad, pulling out of the tailspin, drying out. You are that steely motivation to change.
You’re moving on.
But you don’t want to move on. John’s absence (and it’s real this time, interminable; it’s not just him being a dick who doesn’t use his phone) hurts like nothing you’ve ever felt before--and your culpability hurts like everything, everything all at once. Still, wherever you’re headed next is worse.
You want to grab Sam by the shoulder and tell him you’re done, you’re out; get in the car, we’re going to the Grand Canyon, we’re going to go and stare at rocks. I can protect you from rocks. Because even that’s not change, exactly--you don’t have these big dreams, or sweeping resolutions for some brand new life. You just want Sam to be safe, like always.
But tapping out now won’t do that. There’s something inside Sam. You go to the Grand Canyon, and that’s still gonna come with.
Aren’t you glad you’re doing this now, and not when you’re thirty? Sam asks.
You have a bolt cutter in your hands, and you’re not sure what he’s talking about.
Years down the line, when maybe it’s too late, Sam clarifies.
Ah, so he’s talking about the booze thing, not the haunted asylum thing. Or maybe he’s not. You sling the broken lock into the weeds and wipe the rust on your pants.
I’m proud of you, you know, Sam continues. In spite of his blabbering, you get the sense he’s been trained. Doing the whole advocate thing or whatever; helping his friend out. You never asked what became of Mr. Brady.
But god, it doesn’t even matter, because Sam’s killing you right now. Last time someone said he was proud of you, he’d followed up with an order damningly tall. And you’re not even doing this on purpose right now. You didn’t actually mean to stop drinking. (You’re not even an alcoholic. You’re just--borderline.)
You’re killing me, you tell Sam, because you’ve heard honesty is the best policy.
I am, Sam insists. I’m proud of you.
Sam’s acting like this is the first time you’ve ever had to get sober.
But you know this merry-go-round.
The deaths at Hudson River have all been quiet. Some painters, one chaplain from the church down the road. A former groundskeeper, though he may have been an unrelated suicide. (Alcoholic, lost his job when the place closed down. Found him froze to the North Wing steps earlier in January.) There’ve been all kinds of kids crawling around, doing their thing--the air’s still and heavy in the basement floors, smells like spray paint--but only one of them’s bit it so far. Parvin Shahzad, fifteen. According to the local obits, he’d had an episode (unspecified), and no one could find him.
Official CODs, exposure. The snowflake, in the South Ward, without the candlestick.
If Sam’s ever given good advice, it was about an hour ago, back at the fence: Stow your shit. It sounds obvious and stupid, but this kind of gig, it gets in your head. You don’t want to make that pathway easy.
You both know how to deal with haunted asylums, even if past experience suggests otherwise. [Insert uproarious laughter.]
But it’s just past noon, and it’s sunny for once, and maybe you’re playing a little loose. You’re only here for recon, anyway.
You’ll be back at night for when the ghosts shake out.
Visiting hours are from 8 to 4, sweetie.
Sometimes it’s the place, and not the person. You’ve only had honest-to-god human contact once on this job, and it was actually Sam, not you; and it was actually just him checking into that motel, and not about the case at all. As far as Hudson River’s victims go, you know as much as the newspaper does. At some point, Sam might have compared notes with the Internet.
But honestly, with these asylum cases, interviews just bring the cops down on your ass. Wrong place, wrong time, utterly indifferent victim profile. Nah--with asylums, it’s all about the site visit.
So you hall-crawl. You memorize. Sam draws maps.
You ignore the scrabble of your skin, every time you look too long at the paint blistering off the walls. You’re not usually that squeamish. But maybe that’s the detox, wheedling through your capillaries.
You scuff a mound of termite dust and small bodies crunch beneath your weight.
Back in the day, bet this was pretty swank, you say, in an attempt to distract yourself. Aside from the general aura of forgotten creepiness, they’re nice buildings.
They’re Kirkbrides, says Sam.
Um, Art History class again, says Sam. Nice view from here, though.
The fading sunlight cuts in at a sharp diagonal in this room, warms one half of you. You use the butt of your gun to pull the shade, but it’s no good. Moth-eaten. Sunset leaks from the small holes and makes false pennies on the floor.
What’d you do that for? Sam asks.
I don’t want your help, you snap, because it’s hardly three and Sam is being miserably attentive. He thinks you’re moving gingerly. He wants to know if anything ‘feels weird.’ You reminded him that you were hunting a ghost in an abandoned asylum, but he shut you down: Not that kind of weird. And he keeps making stupid conversation--the kind that feel prophetic or philosophical when you’re concussed, or delirious. But you’re neither, and now you’re just annoyed.
Tough, Sam snaps back. You don’t get a choice. This isn’t the kind of thing that goes under the rug, okay? It’s just not. Besides, you’d do the same for me.
But Sam made you promise to end him. Help him by ending him.
You retaliate. What if I didn’t?
What if I won’t?
For some reason, that hurts him more than you thought it would.
That doesn’t make any sense, he says. And you can see it in his eyes, his lostness. It’s like his skin shrank three sizes and pulled back from his sockets, leaving them dark and cavernous. His lips make a thin line.
What now? you say.
You’ve basically skated on the understanding that Sam doesn’t take anything you say that serious. But maybe now you’ve said all the wrong things. About yourself, about Dad. Maybe even about Sam. Maybe now Sam takes you very seriously.
Which, really, fuck honesty as any sort of policy, then.
I need to check the pipes in the bathrooms, Sam mumbles. Meet you at the car when I’m done.
And? you call after him.
For someone who likes touchy-feeling conversations so much, he’s not much good at reciprocating.
Figure we’ll loop back around midnight, Sam shouts back at you, from somewhere far and probably full of interesting pipes. But that’s all he says.
And fuck, you’re hot. You punch your knuckles into your brow and slide against the wall, taking downy curls of paint down with you. Then you throw up again, beside a different collection of termites, and instantly feel a thousand times more civilized.
Maybe now he’ll talk to you.
Because it’s possible, you decide, that Sam needs more from you than a mercy kill. That he’d rather other things. You could be on board with that. Maybe you’re just obsessing.
You call his name.
Not so much as a rattle from the pipes.
You wander into a dormitory, its windows blacked. The door clicks shut behind you.
You never answered Sam about that shade, you realize. The mothy one.
Sam! you call again.
If you see anything, anything at all that’s not your brother, you’re going to shoot it. Iron rounds.
The door clicks open in front of you.
Kirkbrides, you think. Definitely swanky.
Everything is a cold spot in New York in February.
Maybe Sam’s at the car already. He’s waiting on you. You’re wasting time here. But maybe he’s not, and see, it’s actually fucking inconvenient you had to park so far away. Because now you can’t know.
There used to be snow but now there’s not. Afternoon sun means puddles means your footprints are gone now, swallowed up. The yard is marshy and illegible.
This is doing wonders for your blood pressure, which Sam had shown such concern for earlier. So where the fuck is he now?
You need to calm down.
But, see, you didn’t start out calm; you started this needing a fucking drink, and needing Sam to be safe, and wishing your father had died just one conversation sooner, and hating yourself for that, and needing a drink, and--
Sam! you call. You call and you call.
Now it’s well and truly dark. This should be witching hour, but nothing comes for you. There’s nothing here for you.
Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, which means obviously that it’s a bad thing. And you know you’re not going to the car. Not without Sam plodding along beside you.
You’re nearest the North Wing stairs, so you check there first. There’s a memorial for the janitor, frost-bitten carnations and one of those balloons on a stick. You don’t look at who it’s from, but you note that that’s one more bouquet and one more balloon than Dad got.
Parvin was in the south wing. You haul ass.
You don’t know where the others died. You end up back upstairs, in the room with the view.
The shade’s open again, not like you left it.
You call Sam’s name again.
And so help you, if Sam’s in the chapel priesting it up, you really will kill him.
Now you’re running.
But the chapel’s filled with only the clamor of your footsteps. The rasp of your throat. The only ghosts are your breaths.
You don’t bother shouting. You’re out of hot (cold?) spots. If Sam were at the car, he’d have come back for you by now. Sam’s here, on this 160 acres of somewhere, or he’s nowhere at all.
You wonder how long until you need to start looking for a body on the ground.
It had been warm at noon. Now your fingers burn.
If you don’t like the sun, just pull the shade. Go on; it’s allowed. This is a nice place.
Isn’t it, though?
You follow the pipes. Sam, unfortunately, is meticulous. He didn’t kick any termites, and he didn’t touch anything; he left no handprints.
This is a nice place, you think. Been kicking since the 1800s and the first unusual death is that janitor.
You run so fast you skip an icy step, narrowly miss decimating the back of your skull. That would have been stupid.
You squint in the dark, trying to read the dedication on the card by the green light of your watchface. (Guess where your flashlights are.)
Blah blah blah janitorial service blah blah haiku about cleaning supplies blah Bible verse blah--and then you hit the money. Janitor? Former patient. Success story, very grateful. Downside, lobotomy. But janitorial work can be very fulfilling. So grateful to Hudson River for the help. Former patient. Love, managerial staff.
Summary: Grateful former patient receives bad help from shitty but well-meaning hospital.
There’s something to that.
But it’s not a map or a room number, which is kinda what you’d been gunning for.
Your sweat frosts the hair on your arms.
It’s gonna be a cold one.
This is a nice place.
If you were a better man, maybe this is the point where you start bargaining. You suppose other people call it praying, but at the end of the day, a deal’s a deal. At least Hell’s deals come with mutually binding contracts. With God you’re just supposed to trust the guy.
You never bargain, though. If you ever do, it’d have to be for something important as hell. Because you’re familiar with the five stages thing, and you’ve resolved to stay angry.
Just stay angry: No bargains, no anguish, no acceptance. Nobody actually wants to accept loss, anyway.
You swear into the darkness, fuck this mother fucking kink-something bullshit fucking lobotomy fuckng hospital into the fucking ground and give me back my fucking brother you fucking piece of shit building complex fuck.
Shh, says something. Beg pardon, but you’re disturbing the patients. Visiting hours are from 8 to 4.
You absolutely cannot believe that worked.
The library is the warmest room on the grounds. Must be those extra inches of insulation, with every wall lined with books, floor to ceiling. Fanciful leather tomes no one’s cracked in years--if ever. Sam’s sitting in a folding chair with--you count them--sixteen other ghosts.
You’re a little outnumbered. Sam, you call.
Be on my team, you hope.
This is a nice place.
They’re just talking, Sam and the ghosts. Speaking in tongues is maybe more apt; it’s all gibberish, even Sam’s.
You don’t want to imagine Sam fluent in Ghost, or in any monster’s tongue. The visions are disturbing enough.
Sammy, you call. Playtime’s over, c’mon.
In four and a half seconds, you lose the calm required for (provided by?) bravado.
Please, you beg. Please please please.
The ghost nearest Sam picks Sam’s hand from his lap and clasps it reassuringly, nodding at whatever Sam just said. When she lets go, Sam’s hand falls away red and swollen and frosty.
You jump toward him reflexively. Hey, you protest. Whoa whoa whoa, none of that.
One ghost swoops in for a hug. You block it.
And instantly, you regret it. It’s like a knife in your heart, cold fire on your skin. You slam your teeth against your tongue and taste warm blood. You feel your knees buckle and Sam jumps to steady you.
Sam? you slur.
No response. He returns to his seat, and you fall.
But you had him; you can have him. You grab his knee and push yourself to your feet and you pull. Get him out, get him out. That’s the only thing running through your head. You’ve found him; now get him out.
No, don’t. The frostbite.
Sam, I swear to god, you say. You beg him to listen. For someone who doesn’t bargain, you do a lot of begging. But Sam’s head’s somewhere else. You get him up. Kick the chair away. Start dragging him to the door. He keeps turning to listen to the mewling of the ghosts.
Dean, Sam says.
Sick relief. Sam, you say, you gotta run. Sam sputters protest but you shove him toward the door. They have you and you gotta run. Whatever’s up there in your head with you, drop it and run.
Sam swallows. Whatever hurt you saw in his eyes before, what you see now has turned it inside out.
Trust me, you say.
What about you? Sam asks.
Just trust me and run.
And when he’s gone, you turn back to the choir of ghosts. They point to the empty chair.
You shake your head.
This is a nice place.
You’re back in the car before midnight, but you’re long enough in coming Sam’s paced a frantic, muddy ditch by the passenger door.
Upholstery! Come on, Sam, you moan.
Sam’s still parsing the explanation you wheezed at him ten minutes ago, in between forswearing running ever, ever again.
You key up the engine.
Wait, you told them they didn’t want their help, so they just let you go? Sam asks. He’s buried in every change of clothes you own, and it comes out muffled.
Yeah, you suppose. Lucky, huh?
That’s fucked up, says Sam.
They were ghosts, Sam.
That’s still fucked up. You can’t just let people go like that. And you shouldn't have been rewarded for that. Jesus!
What, you wanted me to die up there? Why are you taking their side?!
Jus’ want you to have help;
want you to be okay.
You turn to Sam then, just for a second. You’ll be damned if you spoil this rescue by hitting a deer or something. His eyes are closed.
You need to keep your body temp up, you say. Shut your mouth and keep all that hot air in.
You packed up your chair, leaned it against the books, and breathed deep when the door opened for you. You didn’t say goodbye, but you lit a match and you set it on a big dry book.
We just want to help.
That’s what they told you when they saw the match. So you lit another one.
Sam’s worse by the time you get back to town, mumbling hoarse nonsense. It’s in English, though, and nothing’s turning black and falling off, so those are wins. You don’t know what to do so you kick up the thermostat and haul the blankets from your bed to his. And it’s ridiculous, but even now you’re still kinda thinking how sweet a cold one would taste right now.
They tried to help, you agree, as you try to infer snatches of Sam’s deluge. Yes, they tried to help. Yes, they wanted to, but they couldn’t.
Why not? Sam asks.
And christ, this is going to be one of those conversations that Sam should by no rights remember, but does anyway. Whatever you say, he’s gonna take it seriously.
But you don’t know what to tell him. They couldn’t anymore. They weren’t doctors anymore, they weren’t--themselves anymore. They didn’t have whatever helping takes. It just wasn’t in them. Not anymore.
They were just trying to do the right thing, you say. But it didn’t work out.
After all that, you’re not sure if Sam even heard. His eyes have gone glassy. But his temp’s good, his hands are puttying up again. Except whatever scramble’s going on up top in that big and psychic brain of his, he’s okay. He just needs to sleep it off.
That’s what you tell yourself.
Please help me, Sam croaks, just as you’re about to leave, take a piss. You’ll help me, right?
Dean, you’ll help me, right?
You want to say yes. Yes, always, forever. But there’s some part of you that--
You can’t let yourself put that in his head.
Because you’re not sure if you can. You’re not sure if you will. Push comes to shove, you don’t think you can pull that trigger.
But you’re also not sure you won’t.
Sam doesn’t cry that much, but he starts up now, for the second time, too soon. .
Sometimes you forget he’s only twenty-four. Or not even--it’s still February. You forget Sam’s only twenty-four and that people can even be ‘only’ twenty-four, at the same time you feel like he’ll always, always be your baby brother. Sam’s hard that way; he’s been like eighty since he was nine, but right now he’s fucking twenty-four. Not even. And he needs you.
But you can’t put that in his head. These promises which are lies which make you worse than those ghosts because you fucking know it. They’re lies, they’re lies, they’re lies. And you should know better.
I’ll do everything I can until I can’t, you say, which means absolutely nothing.
Sam’s positively chipper the next morning, if muddy and sweat-bedraggled. He’s lost his voice, though. Too much ghost chatter.
You’d laugh but yours is going, too. Too much panic--which is embarrassing now that everything’s fine.
Honestly, though, you feel pretty good. Your ass is numb because you passed out at Sam’s bedside, but you feel better than you did yesterday.
Then Sam pulls the bottle from your fingers.
Day One, Sam mouths.
Then, a little nervously, he asks for a recap. If you were in a better mood (if he’d asked five minutes ago, for instance), you’d probably have made him mime his request, just because. But you know what he wants; you won’t torture him. It figures he forgets last night, after remembering so many of your shittier promises.
He remembers going to check the pipes, he entreats, when you say silent.
I think we need a safeword, you say. And you leave it at that.
Drop everything and run.
This fic is also posted at AO3.