Tag to 13x09 "The Bad Place." Stream of consciousness Sam POV. Refs to 13x08 "The Scorpion and the Frog," 13x05 "Advanced Thanatology."
Maybe at a certain point, moral lapses become self-care. But probably not. Sam's not that stupid. And he's definitely not that kind to himself.
Dean is not all right. Not in the 'it's been a rough year' sense, or a rough decade one, or a rough lifetime one. Just in the last half hour, Dean is not all right. It makes something twist in Sam--something coarse and twine-like and nestled too close to his heart. Because it seems too easy these days for Dean to slip below that threshold, start living in arrhythmia. Sam's not even sure Dean notices anymore; he's getting too used to the distortion.
On one hand, this is good. Blindness can be a coping mechanism. Dean's not all right, but he drives the car and they edge into Nebraska calmly, wordlessly, and the drive is as okay as any of their drives through Nebraska have ever been.
On the other hand, it turns Sam's life into a game of Minesweeper, because he's not at all sure what Dean will do--if he'll do anything at all. They're only driving through Nebraska, and things are okay, but sometimes you're on a routine ghost hunt and suddenly your brother's dead on the floor, by his own hand, on purpose. So it's difficult to trust 'okay.' Especially when you know, fundamentally, that it does not actually exist.
It's not that Dean has a 'look.' He doesn't. He's not fine, but he looks fine. He looks the same as ever--typically grim. Tired, all those years of insomnia not so much catching up as having lapped him, long ago. His hand is firm on the wheel, left drumming its fingers against his thigh. Not anxiously, though. It's just something to do.
For a moment Sam remembers Dean's hands, loose and easy; windows rolled down, whipping Sam's hair into his eyes. Dean gently squeezing the wheel between his knees as his hands pop peanut M&Ms into the air and his head whips like a tree snake to catch them all--all because Sam bet him he couldn't. He manages two out of three.
It's a moment from some distant past where typical hadn't been synonymous with grim, and where okay didn't mean some lowest common denominator of existence. But not really, because that moment could have been twelve years ago, or two. It could have been two days ago. (It wasn't.) Some candy past filled with peanut M&M days never existed, in exactly the same way an apple pie future never will. Good moments come in brief, sharp barrel flashes; always have. It's not like the past's got some grand stockpile.
That's not the point, though. The point is, right now, in this plane of existence, in this universe, today, Dean is not all right. But no one--not Dean, not even Sam--would be able to tell by looking at him. He just seems normal.
Right up until Sam hears Dean's safety click and then a teenage girl's got a gun in her face.
It's a good thing--and Sam would be the first to admit, to call it a silver lining is overselling it--this doesn't seem like the first gun barrel Kaya's stared down; she'll probably be okay; this will not harm her indelibly. But Dean still shouts at her, and she's still scared. Gooseprickle, fingers limp on the door handle scared. (Jack, as graciously as anything can be under the circumstances, opens the door for her.)
Sam should pull Dean aside. Settle this here and now. He's not afraid of calling Dean's bullshit, and throwing a gun in some girl's face is definitely bullshit.
But he doesn't. Because he knows that the only thing he can do in the time allotted is make things worse.
Sam has five seconds. He needs five years--maybe fifty. Hell, he'd settle for five hours. But he has five seconds, and five seconds can't fix the damage it's taken to bring Dean to this moment.
"What's next?" Sam asks, when they're in the car and headed to the Wind Caves and Sam's five seconds have long since expired. "Make her dreamwalk for us at gunpoint?"
Dean says something hardline but ultimately pointless about Mom. Sam can work backwards from there: Their mother, caged, screaming for help. Lucifer must be her captor--has to be. Though literal, textbook torture's not really his style, as far as Sam's concerned. Lucifer's taste and Sam's experience of torture is so far removed from this dream-world vision that it's difficult for Sam to grasp. But this is obviously not the case for Dean. It goes deeper than just seeing a loved one in pain. ('Just.' Sam laughs at himself.)
It goes deeper and darker. It's been almost a decade now since Dean's stint in Hell, but Sam'd bet his life--he'd bet Dean's life--that Dean will never quite walk away from that. Last week's business with Shrike and all his weirdness probably hadn't helped.
So yeah. Dean's not all right. Hasn't been since Jack showed them the dreamwalk, and Mary caged. And now they've kidnapped a girl and crossed the Dakota state line with her. It's all going splendidly.
Still, Sam tables the problem. Because for Sam, caring about Dean is, first and foremost, triage. Alcohol is fine; it can only kill Dean slowly. And Sam hates to say it, but Dean brandishing firearms in girls' faces? Also fine. For now. In context. There just isn't time for it to be anything else. And frankly, Sam's exhausted; as long as Dean's not actively, acutely, killing himself, it's all fine. Just let Sam breathe that one sigh of relief. Maybe at a certain point, moral lapses become self-care.
But probably not. Sam's not that stupid. And he's definitely not that kind to himself.
The last time Sam was this concerned about Dean's commitment to survival, Dean had ended up vanished and Sam had hit a dog.
When he wakes up in a world of ferns and moss and peat-stench, Sam's only real thought is, well.
At least this time they're together.