Title: Your Bones
Genre: gen, tag to 12x23 "All Along the Watchtower," hurt/comfort (physical/psychological - Dean; psychological - Sam)
Characters: Dean (POV), Sam, Jody, Claire, Alex
Warnings: injury recovery, alcohol abuse, delayed self-flagellating guilt
Word Count: ~4500
Summary: Lucifer fractured Dean's spine--just, you know, a little bit--so Dean and Sam head to Sioux Falls to rest, recover, and pull it together. Naturally, the first thing they do is fall apart.
In hindsight, this probably would have scarred Sam for life, if he had any clean tissue left for that sort of thing. It would have scarred him, coming down from Lucifer's baby to find you, to tell you that he'd seen Lucifer's baby--and more importantly, that he hadn't seen where it had gone. Coming down just in time to watch your blood pressure stop existing.
It happens fast, and then your head's lolling against Cas's dead shoulder and you can't feel anything but pain and it all gets grossly apocalyptic. You even piss blood all over yourself because your bladder control just loses it. And yeah, no, that can't have seemed like a good sign in the vitals department.
Just a little pressure, your attending assures Sam, in some hospital outside Seattle. A little pressure because of a little swelling because of a little fracture, which, in fairness, mean a lot when they concern your spine.
The diagnosis makes Sam's face turn grayer than it was before, but the doc's unperturbed. All in all, you're a small emergency: You won't need surgery. Give it a few months and good PT and you'll probably make a full recovery.
As far as the doc's concerned you probably just fell off a building or something, maybe totaled a car. He's seen far worse, and in about fifteen minutes, he'll probably see something even worse than that. Under no circumstances would anyone have guessed that you were the Devil's punching bag.
And right now you're really, exquisitely high, in ways that make you forget about that, and you forget that you hate hospitals because honestly, they'd be pretty sweet if you didn't have to be that naked in front of that many dudes so often, and--
Sam grips your shoulder. You're really, exquisitely high, but right, yes, Lucifer. Lucifer's baby.
"Forget about the baby," Sam snaps. "I'm talking about you. You-- Lucifer-- I shouldn't have--"
Oh, right. The Devil broke your back. Just a little bit, though.
"Lucifer is my responsibility. I should have been the one to--"
That's the stupidest sentence you've ever heard in your life, and you live with this guy. Lucifer is God's fucking responsibility.
No, not even.
Lucifer is Lucifer's responsibility.
"He'd have killed you," your slur authoritatively. That much you're sure of. Obviously Lucifer gets off on the slow, meaty reality of Earth, but he wouldn't have been able to help himself. Him and Sam in the ring, and he'd have slipped and killed Sam this time.
Sam nods. He knows.
And--then you start to get gone. "'M gonna sleep, you gonna sleep?" you mumble, and you know the answer. You jerk your needled arm toward him, and the tube squeaks as it rubs against its bag of sweet, sweet relief.
Sam chuffs, but he doesn't actually say no.
You wake up to Sam gone, and your first thought is he's on the floor, and his throat is slit. Just like Toni's.
Mom's gone, by the way. You saved her, and now she's gone. And Cas.
You hate that Sam's gone. Not that you'd expected him to stay by your bedside day and night, worried ragged. But maybe you had.
You'd hate it if he did. Better to worry yourself ragged somewhere with pay-per-view. Though frankly, hospitals probably charge for their damn TV, too, so it's more about the selection than the having to pay.
A few days, and you're in street clothes again. They smell singed, but whether by inter-dimensional travel or angel corpse it's hard to tell. You feel worse than you did t+1. By now, everything feels that much more real.
You should probably feel bad about almost dying (which actually hadn't been remotely close to almost dying--just ask the attending, Sam) but since everything else is getting real, you do too: Keeping your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times doesn't seem as immediately important as it had last week.
Your mother, long hair, not looking at you: Your life had felt important.
Sitting on the floor of the bunker, slowly strangling--important.
Today, you need a drink.
Sam shacks you up at Jody's. Claire's room. Clearly you're well past the point of hating to inconvenience others. You don't want to be.
"I need this," Sam says, and ends that conversation.
The pain should subside in a few weeks, maybe even a few days, according to the doctor.
You're fine. One day, you'll even stop pissing blood. You're fine.
You don't want the pain to stop. You don't want to face what's on the other side.
Sam knows when it does, though--somehow Sam always knows--and the meds go away with him. You have no choice but to leave their safety.
"All the way to my hand, Dean. Slowly."
PT already? Jesus. Your mind is a carousel. You don't know what day it is. You don't know how long it's been. Claire makes a comment about buying her and Alex matching pinafores, like in The Shining.
Jody rolls her eyes. "See, that's the kind of thing that only only children say. There's nothing wrong with having to share a room," she says.
"Did you have sisters, then?" asks Alex. You don't miss the past tense. What with Jody's immediate family being pretty dead and you having a little bit to do with that, you recognize Alex making the same assumption you always have.
"A brother, actually," says Jody. And when she sees long faces, she ways, "Wait, guys. He’s, uh, he’s actually fine. He runs a granary in Utah and can we maybe not involve him in any of this? So he can stay fine?"
A brother in Utah. Huh. Well, the more you know.
When you get better, you act worse. You’re still on your best behavior--Scout's honor--when Claire and Alex are home. But when the house empties out you lay into Sam like that's your job now. You shout at him just because you can. He lets you at first, until he doesn't. Then he shouts things at you that might actually be true. He's too riled to shoot blanks.
You stop the day you hear the sound of Jody’s SUV pulling out of the driveway again, and turning around. Steering clear.
“Sorry,” you say to Sam, half-heartedly.
Sam keeps his gaze on the front door.
"Dean, wake up."
Nightmare. About what, you don't remember. You can hazard a few guesses.
"Sam," you start.
But Sam says, "I'm just trying to get some sleep. And you-- I just-- I can't--"
He twists in bed, restless. Jounces the mattress, rattles your bones, and you don't mean to, but you make a sound. Sam can always tell when you're in pain.
One little sound, and you make him hate himself. Why are you so good at that?
"I'm gonna--" he says.
He's gonna grab his pillow and find the couch in the living room. It's occupied, though. 3AM, and it's occupied. You listen to the hazy murmur of Sam's voice and Jody's.
You think about the brother, with the granary, in Utah. Staying fine and not involved.
Claire still doesn't have anything in her room but that cat. The gift from Cas.
Jody, at work, actually doing her job. Alex, on rotations. She's on psych this semester, and apparently it's a hard time. Who'd have guessed.
You, braced against the kitchen counter, struggling to touch your toes. You're pretty sure you couldn't touch your toes even before Lucifer broke your goddamn back.
Some breaks, you're never the same after. You adjust. This fracture in particular, the bone is actually supposed to come back stronger.
Your bones are rarely your problem, though. One time, Sam buried your bones in a shallow grave, and it's none of your bones that put you there. And when you came back, it's none of your bones that hurt.
Sam makes some comment about booze slowing your recovery and you tell him point blank that without it, there ain't gonna be any recovery. You drink because you won't be able to survive this if you don’t.
You're beginning to worry you won't survive the booze, either, when an hour later you realize Sam's about to drink you under the table. You don't feel good and numb yet but you do feel sick as hell, and Sam hasn't even switched to beer. Even Jody's well past tipsy, and you'd think she'd have put a stop to this. But Jody's not responsible for you--just, you know, all of Sioux Falls. She's not your mother.
No. She's not you.
Jody downs a double and pours another, and who knows, maybe she's missing Bobby tonight. You should tell her who you met last week.
"What'd you do with the body?"
"Kelly’s,” you clarify.
"Burned and buried."
"You think she has any granary brothers in Utah we should, you know, call?”
"I really hope not."
"Toni had a kid."
Your brow furrows.
"It didn't rot," says Sam. Abrupt about face. He doesn't want to talk about the Brits.
"What, Kelly didn't?"
"No, Cas's body. When I went back. I dunno how much of the smell was just, you know, pregnancy--"
"--being pregnant with the spawn of Hell--"
"--and how much was death, but Cas's body didn't rot."
"That's 'cause it's not a body, it's a vessel."
"I'm just saying. 'Cause I was wondering if like, maybe you thought, or hoped--"
"Do you really want to ask me that? What I'm hoping?"
You don't want to talk about Cas.
You wish there were a Yellow Pages for magic locksmiths. You Search the Web for "weird door," "a fairy unlocked my car!", and just for good measure, "Men of Letters locksmith."
Part of you wants to change the lock in the bunker—if that's even a thing that's possible—and go home finally. If home is a thing that's possible. Part of you is just doing what Sam told you to do.
Sam gets pissed at you again, for not taking him seriously. Patience of a saint, people say. Sure.
"You're supposed to be helping me find a way to open that rift again," Sam snaps. "Obviously, there's no key. I don't know why you'd think there'd be a lock."
Sam wants Mom back. He'll take Lucifer back, he'll take Apocalypse world, if only he could just get Mom back. You remember that feeling.
Meanwhile, you understand--fucking finally--why Sam couldn't come to Purgatory for you. Couldn't find that door. Sam has so much drive. Drive you're pretty sure you have, too. Somewhere. You just absolutely cannot summon it right now. Maybe it’s been a few too many years of this, for you.
You put your head on the table.
"Are you okay?" Sam asks, immediately coming around the table for you. Obviously he's still afraid you're going to collapse and die on him.
So you wave him off and you get up and god fucking almighty, you really need to be better about your PT.
Eventually, you ease off on your death grip on Sam's shoulder, and your fingers leave dimples in his flannel.
“What about you?” you ask Sam.
"What? What about me?“
“Are you okay? ’Cause you know how to open that rift, man. Or you know someone who can, in any case. You know: Yellow eyes, that adorable sulfurous baby smell, the Speedy Gonzales of newborns--"
Sam knows. But he wants to save Mom. He doesn't want to have to save the world first.
"They offered to partner," Sam says suddenly. "The Brits. On Lucifer's baby--Kelly's baby. I turned them down."
“Sam,” you say, trying not to sound desperate. ”I think we've established that turning them down was a good idea. Lucifer or not--"
"Dean, that makes absolutely no sense."
But you want it to so badly. You want Sam to have been right. You want him to feel right. "They were bad news, man. Come on--you of all people know that."
"They were brainwashed. I shouldn't have turned them down."
"Dean, I gunned them down."
All of them, Dean.
You jump rope. It hurts like hell and it kills you like nobody's business, but you keep together enough to assure Claire that it is a badass fucking activity, so get lost. Then Claire's heaving right along with you and you're both jumping rope in a yard in a nice neighborhood in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in another life, it probably would have been a picture of domestic bliss.
Except, you know. You're you. And Claire's Claire.
"Why'd you have me call Jody?" Claire asks between gulps of air.
You're both sprawled out on the lawn, lying on top of your jump ropes.
Claire says, ”When you said someone was after her. You said she didn't pick up, so obviously you'd already tried her."
Sweat dribbles down your neck and you shudder, which hurts. You answer, "I thought if-- If the person gunning for her knew about you, they'd keep her alive to try and get you, too."
Which sounds pretty shitty, when you put it like that.
"So I was bait, sort of," says Claire, which only makes it sound worse. She doesn't seem to mind. When you were her age, bait had been your job, too. Arguably, you’ve never outgrown it. But Claire shouldn’t have to trust you like you had to trust John.
"No. We knew you were safe,” you say, because Don’t Think About John. "We couldn't find you--hell, Sam even tried a spell. So we figured no one else could, either. You're nailing the stealth mode, by the way. What's your secret?"
"Well, I mean, the soccer mom station wagon helps. What can I say? We blend."
Claire snorts, rolls onto her stomach and starts shredding grass with her fingernails. "But seriously, though. Cas said he'd keep me safe. Maybe I've got an angelic force-field on me. If I were you, I'd ask him."
To your surprise, you don't feel yourself react at all. You don't react to the idea of being able to ask Cas anything, ever again. You still don't understand what happened. How that possibly could have happened.
How Cas could—
Claire sits up. "Are you okay?"
You want to say 'I wish people would stop fucking asking me that,' but you've been down that road before, and all that gets you is more attention. Denial's some kind of pheromone, apparently.
You do wish that, though. You're both more and less okay than anyone thinks you are; you're not arguing with that. You just wish they'd all stop asking.
"Dean, I can go get Alex if you need her.”
Which surprises you, because that sentence is supposed to end with Sam, it's always Sam. But right, Alex is the nurse(ing student).
You should tell Claire what happened. To Cas.
You lurch upright, and Claire backs off her first aid trigger.
"So, whoever was after me and Jody, they're not now," Claire prompts, in an attempt to restore normalcy. "Unless that's why you're still here."
Nope, all good on that front. You're just here to freeload.
"And earlier, you said 'person.' And I mean, like--what person?"
Claire's good, you'll give her that. Stealth mode, attention to detail. Add good aim, and that's really all you need.
"The British Men of Letters," you tell her. You say nothing about Mary. "But Sam took care of them."
Claire eyes you quizzically. "He 'took care of them'? What is this, a mafia movie?"
You want to run. Because it's all coming back to you now. The lies, the guilt. And it doesn't have any fucking thing to do with your bones, or the fabric of space-time, or even Mom, or Cas.
Maturity, you'd thought. You were a picture of maturity. You'd finally found some chill. Forgiving Cas his joyride in Heaven, his fetus-napping. Getting over Sam and the Brits. Mary, and the same. But maybe you just hadn't cared enough. You'd drifted along.
Not that you could have saved anything. If you'd fought, and gone some other way--"your" way--you and Sam and Cas and Mom would have ended up in some other, similar shithole. Because that's how this works. But at least you would have been awake for it.
Now you can't even look Claire in the eye.
"Have you seen Sam?" you ask Jody, without quite looking at her, either.
"Oh, so you're talking again," she says--and you get this flash of alternate reality, the one where Sam is Polish, and you think oh GOD, no, but Jody is still Jody, and Sioux Falls is still regular, crappy Sioux Falls.
"What?" you ask.
Jody looks you up and down, ascertains your genuine confusion.
"Well, Sam's been avoiding the hell out of you all day, at least," she says. “Didn’t you notice?”
"Oh god, not you."
"Hey, I have feelings, you know."
For the sake of Jody's linoleum, you pick up Sam's rolling forty. The only thing you've ever hated about alcohol is how goddamn sticky can make things.
"Barking up the wrong tree, partner. Dad was always the angry drunk, and you got nothing on him. Try me."
"What do you want me to do, then? Cry?"
"Nah, you're a happy drunk, remember?"
Sam asks you when that's ever been true.
"Sammy," you say.
"Everything's falling apart."
"So, back to normal, then."
"There is no normal."
You hate how much drunk Sam sounds like normal you.
"I don't even know which direction right is anymore," says Sam. "Thought I did. For like, two days. I thought I did."
"You always do," you tell him.
"How is that supposed to help?"
"Well, I don't fucking know, Sam. I'm just shooting for honesty, 'cause otherwise I don't--"
(Remember that talk you had with Mom? The talks, plural--one in dreams, the other in the bunker, above two corpses. Two completely different stories, both completely true. Because truth is complicated, and also because you're a manipulative fuck. Remember
"We need to leave," you tell Sam later that night--Sam who skipped dinner because he was that hungover. You've already ribbed him about being a day-drinking lush. He didn't think it was that funny. You're not sure you did either.
"Sam, did you hear me?"
You're thinking about Jody's brother at his granary in Utah, and Jody. And Alex, and Claire. You can't keep putting them out like this.
"No," Sam says, so forcefully you feel punched.
"Dean, we need to stay." He takes a deep breath. "We need to stay with people like Alex, with people like Claire--"
"What are you even--"
"Do you remember Randy?" Sam asks.
Of course you do. Randy, who Claire loved. Randy, who Claire shouldn't have trusted. Randy, who you killed. You'd be affronted--that Sam would ever dream you'd forgotten--but if you're going to keep being honest, Sam probably remembers all that better than you. You don't remember much from that year or two of your life. You're pretty sure you wouldn't be standing here if you did.
You're pretty sure there are people you should feel worse about than fucking Randy, but maybe that's where you're wrong. Maybe that's Sam's point.
Lenore, the good vampire. Sure. Lenore, back when there were still vampires in the US. When the Brits hadn't wiped them out, wholesale.
"Don't you see?"
And oh, you do. You've had this conversation with yourself a thousand times today. You’ve had it for a million years. You've spent fucking years convincing yourself that you're a good person, and you deserve to be here. You've seen how it hurts the people around you when you feel otherwise.
But the thing is, maybe you weren't wrong.
"Do you remember that woman? Whose kid the angels killed? The one who wasn't a nephilim?"
“I’m still on this honesty thing," you open. "So, yes, technically… But that's a vague, vague memory. Okay, yeah. No. No, not really."
You can't even remember her name, and you always remember their names.
You're always supposed to remember their names.
Sam looks entirely unimpressed by you right now.
"Dean, what are we supposed to do?"
"This movie's stupid," pouts Alex. "I have a lab writeup to finish.”
"Family time!" Jody objects sternly.
"Seriously, though, this movie's so lame. And thanks to a certain someone, I’ve already lost half my life to Caddyshack."
“You know, Sam used to love this movie," you divulge. It's about this nerdy kid who calls into an alternate dimension and slays a dragon with the power of his mind. Of course Sam loved it.
"Nah, Alex called it. This movie's stupid," Sam agrees.
"Where'd you even find this, Jody? The Flight of Dragons ain't really your speed. Did the Sioux Falls RedBox get lost in the 80s?“
Jody shoots you a coy glance. "I thought you liked cartoons."
Sam saves you. Sort of.
"I mean, the dragon explodes because he realizes he's a paradox?" he rants. Has been ranting. “Honestly, what kind of--"
And you panic.
"Jody, help me out here--don't let him get started."
Because in that moment, you realize two things:
1) Sam, hungover, is taking this lame, stupid movie far too much to heart, and
2) he's taking you with him.
You know this isn’t Sam’s first trip to the galaxy of existential crisis. Far from it. But this is probably the first time he’s come into its orbit too damn late to do anything about it. It’s been weeks, and he’s only just now realizing what got them here. With the Brits, with Kelly, with everything. Sam’s famous conscience came too damn late.
That’s what fucks him up. Fucks you up.
You’re good, you’re evil, you’re gray, you’re the flavor of convenience. You don’t know. You and him, you’re paradoxes, and you probably shouldn’t exist.
It's 6AM, and you're outside, leaning against the front door, drinking. Because maybe you don’t deserve to mourn, after what you’ve done. For like thirty goddamn seconds this year, you had each other, and Cas, and even Mary, and maybe you mistook happiness for worth. You’re not even sure what you felt, what you thought you were. Everything’s crashing down now, though.
You almost fall back into the house when Jody opens the door. She's going to work.
"Excellent torsion," she notes of you, sounding a lot like your PT pamphlets.
"Thanks," you say.
Jody offers you a path inside before she locks the door, but you don't take it.
"How's the rest of you?” she asks.
"For letting us stay here. —Thanks, I mean."
Jody shrugs. “I like a full house."
"Me and Sam are pretty awful, though."
Jody laughs. "Sometimes. But you don't know what me and Alex and Claire get up to when you're not around."
"Home-cooked meals and movie nights?"
You're kidding, sort of. But you keep your fantasies alive.
"Yeah, sometimes," Jody replies. "You know how it goes."
You take another swig, and wonder what Jody's life was like when she had a husband who hadn't been eaten by a zombie, a son who hadn't died and been resurrected as a zombie, and reliably spent a portion of every month on the job arresting Bobby Singer for public intoxication.
"You know, Dean," says Jody. And she gets right at it. Because she doesn't know what happened to Mary, to Cas. Hell, to Crowley. When they'd called from Seattle, Sam had only mentioned Lucifer.
Jody doesn't have to sift through all your losses to get at what came before. Your losses, which you only half-recognize and certainly haven't felt in full. You won't make it, if you do. You'll hurt too much. And it’ll be pain maybe you don’t even deserve. Pain you’re not worthy of, because fuck.
Again, maybe this went the way you did because you’d had your family and you thought you deserved them. Your mother pulled a gun on you and your angel stole your devil-fetus, and you’d still felt like you had them. (And of course you did. You remember John, Sam. Practically with knives at each other's throats, and still there’d been nothing you’d wanted more.)
Whatever the true story is, Jody skips right to the end of it. She says, “Look, I’m a cop. Sure, there's the rogue werewolf, or vampire, or whatever, but I mostly deal with people. And I was on that raid with Sam."
You hadn't really thought about that.
You think again about Jody's brother in Utah, not getting involved. Staying fine.
"Penny for your thoughts?" you ask. (You must actually be drunk. Penny for what? For answers you probably don't want to hear.)
Jody smiles, lips tight. "There's a long, expensive answer to that, Dean. There always is. The point is, I know a lot of people who've killed a lot of people. Cops, perps, whatever. And for all of us, there's no undoing the past."
Well, unless you throw it in an alternate dimension. Or if you're God's sister. You’re just saying—there are ways.
Jody, you want to tell her. Everyone’s gone. Everything’s different. We lost— We killed—
You’ve been saying, for Mary's sake, that look! you’re fine! she made you who you are, and you went and saved the world. You told her so loud it echoed back and you believed it.
Jody takes your flask and says, more slowly, “You’re not hearing me, are you.”
“I’m not here to judge you. And I don’t have good answers—to any of this. But Dean,” she says, “I have some venison in the basement freezer that I need you to thaw, and I think that’s a good place to start.”
“What?” you repeat.
“Get Sam to help. That freezer’s a piece of shit, so the bags have probably frozen together, and they might be heavy.”
“Listen to me,” says Jody. “All you need to do right now is make it through this.”
You need to wake up tomorrow (or today—you haven’t gone to sleep, and you haven’t woken up today yet, so first thing’s first). You need to wake up today, tomorrow, and the day after that. You just need to make it through. And you need to defrost that deer.
“So basically, just sit here like a pile of bones,” you say.
“Sure,” says Jody. “I’m not exactly Ms. Glass Half-Full, so sure, let’s roll with that.”
Six hours later, you and Sam are awake, and you are dressed, and you are standing in front of a freezer full of deer.
You turn to Sam and you feel his fingers light at your back as he crouches down to assess the situation.
[You can also read on AO3.]