Title: While You Were Sleeping
Genre: gen, hurt/comfort, S12 (around 12x03/12x04)
Characters: Sam (POV), Dean, Mary (in mind if not in body)
Word Count: ~2900
Warnings: PTSD (both), alcohol abuse (Dean)
Summary: It’s always better to kill werewolves when they’re wolves. It’s not that you can’t kill them off the cycle, it’s just... It’s better, when they’re wolves. But then Dean gets sick; and then Dean gets sicker. Sometimes there are tradeoffs.
If this had caught up with Dean a day earlier, they’d probably still be at the bunker. Instead they’re already fifteen hours out, Pennsylvania-bound, before Dean pulls over. He’d meant to drive the whole shot, stop for gas in Iowa, stop for gas in Ohio, but instead they end up stuttering across Indiana’s finest. One gas station, on purpose. A second, having forgotten the first. At the third, Dean throws up whiskey and then nothing and that’s where Sam draws the line.
“He’s just tired,” Sam assures a gaping boy, wearing nothing but overalls and a ball cap, no more than twenty, and probably 120 wet. Dean had stumbled on his way around the car and his gun had gone flying across the asphalt while Dean’s body stayed stationary, hands and knees rooted to the ground. Now Dean’s settled into shotgun.
“I’m sick,” Dean corrects. His head bobbles on his neck, like it’s too heavy for him to know what to do with. He finds the window.
“That too,” says Sam. But Sam’s pretty sure that’d be less of a fucking mess if Dean were less of a fucking mess. It all comes up fast these days, no cushion between function and disaster. “Drink some water,” Sam says. “Get some rest.”
“They write stuff online about this shit, you know,” Dean mutters. “How you shouldn’t pressure people into nature walks and goji berries.”
“I have never once offered you a fucking goji berry.”
If Dean expected to end up in Pennsylvania that night, he doesn’t fight when Sam stops them still west of I-75. He wants to sleep in the car but thinks better of it when it’s time to throw up again. They get a ground floor room and Dean makes a big bluster about having to crawl to the door, but he walks.
He gags air and spittle and acid into the toilet as his stomach pretzels around nothing and Sam says, “I told you to drink water.”
Dean drinks whiskey. Sam refills the flask.
When Sam returns from his raid on the vending machine—Nutter Butters and Corn Nuts—Dean is busy puking again.
“I can call Mom,” Sam suggests.
“Why would I want her here?” Dean says, without lifting his head from the edge of the toilet bowl.
“I meant, to take the case.”
If that’s the tack Dean wants to take, then he’d better hope he is just tired, because tonight they’re supposed to be hunting werewolves, and that means there’s not a lot of easy runway left. There’s no softball interviews of the locals, or casing out haunted joints. That’s the difference between “case” and “hunt,” Sam supposes. They drive, and then there are werewolves. There’s not exactly a backseat Dean can ride here.
Well, there is. Dean could just not come, and Sam could handle this on this own. But ever since that night in the woods, with the werewolves armed with guns, Dean has this thing about Sam alone with werewolves. As in, it ain’t happening.
“You’re lucky, you know,” Sam says, because Dean isn’t. “If we were working a case case we’d have to get some makeup on you, so people wouldn’t think the FBI was hiring zombies. I did bring the supplies.”
It’s sort of a running joke by now. Like some kind of beachcomber for the innocuous, Dean’s been finding cosmetics peppered across the bunker. Sam probably wouldn’t have ever noticed them, but they’ve been driving Dean insane. Every time he comes across one, he mutters, “Why’d she bother moving in if she wasn’t moving in?”
Truth be told, Sam kind of likes it. It makes Sam feel like Mary had felt welcome, like they hadn’t chased her away. Like she wasn’t uncomfortable with the eerie simulacra of her babies, all grown up and tormented. It makes Sam feel like maybe one day she’ll be back. He’s not sure why Dean doesn’t think that’s the most they can hope for. Up until a few months ago, the only interaction Mary would have had with them was being dead.
“Sam, why were you talking about eagles before?” Dean asks, still in the bathroom. Sam is sitting on the floor, just outside, head just brushing the cord for the wall-mounted hairdryer. Because why not.
“I was making a football joke,” Sam says, though now he doesn’t remember what the joke had been. Dean had thought it was funny. Or thought he did. In the next moment, it becomes immediately clear Dean hadn’t understood it.
Dean raises his head. “The Eagles don’t play for Arizona?”
“Uh, no.” If they’re seriously going to be talking football right now, Sam’s going to sleep. Or he will, once he feels like Dean’s okay to leave to his own devices. Sam’s not convinced yet.
Dean counts on his fingers, though nothing that comes out of his mouth involves numbers. “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. Phoenix, birds. Motherfuck. Shut up, Sam,” Dean says, before Sam can do anything but wet his lips. “I’m fine. Not delirious. Just working backwards. What do eagles have to do with Pennsylvania, though?”
“US history, probably,” says Sam.
Dean throws up again.
“You think you’re gonna shake this by tomorrow?” Sam asks, thumbing at the phone in his pocket. Honestly, he probably should just call Mary. It might take her a while to get to Philly, depending on where she is right now, but as far as Sam knows Mary doesn’t have any issues with planes. They’re gonna be a day late as it is, and it’s always better to kill werewolves when they’re wolves.
It’s not that you can’t kill them off the cycle, but it’s just— Sam’s stomach mimes a tiny pretzel.
It’s better when they’re wolves.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Sammy.”
Dean must have said something. Sam hadn’t heard. He doesn’t need to. Dean was only ever gonna give one answer.
“I guess we’ll see,” says Sam.
They try not to make a big deal about normal, garden-variety illness, because there’s nothing they can do and it’s sort of a defense mechanism—ignoring as much of what they can’t fix as they can. Granted, neither Sam nor Dean are good at it, but the flu is small fry. This, they can do.
Dean’s excuse right now is that the flu did not ignore him. It keeps him up, shuttling between bed and bathroom until finally Dean throws a pillow on the linoleum and lies there. And Sam’s not going to ignore Dean, so he’s up too.
“Just making sure you don’t suffocate,” Sam says, in answer to Dean’s stupid question. (“Why are you still awake?”)
Sam’s not sure if Dean’s just trying to breathe around his nausea or if there’s more going on, but it doesn’t sound good, so here Sam is. Watchful.
He’s not panicked, though part of him wants to be. He can almost imagine a life where this might seem bad. It’s not that he underestimates viruses—salt and burns can kill you just as well as Satan; rusty nails and infectious bugs—but he’s seen Dean worse and this won’t kill him. It’s just unpleasant. He’s not sure why his bar for Dean’s well-being is set so low. It’s just that sometimes the only thing Sam can think about is the divide between alive and dead. He’d love to get fancier than that, but he’s fucking tired.
“Water. Water water,” Dean blathers. He’s staring into the toilet bowl pupils chasing the reflections like he’s registering the bowl as, indeed, a source of water. He doesn’t seem quite sure if he’s ready to go there.
“Oh, please don’t,” Sam mumbles to himself as he scrambles up to extract one of those little cups from its plastic. Water sloshing over his fingers, he shoves it at Dean.
Dean, overzealous, coughs his water back up, spitting and gagging.
“Do you want a straw?” Sam asks.
“Fuck you.” Dean drinks more slowly. “So fucking dehydrated.”
Dean is the cactus in their relationship, so if he’s talking dehydration, Sam knows he’s talking Mars levels of dryness—without the polar caps.
“Keep drinking, then,” says Sam. He fills the other cup.
“Is this how you reduce, reuse recycle?” Dean asks, taking the second cup. Sam picks up the first, like a one-man fire brigade.
“Consider it a gift,” says Sam. “I’ll just drink from the sink like a big boy.”
On schedule, Dean throws it all up anyway. When he’s finished, Sam holds out a refilled cup.
“Fuck me,” Dean groans, and glares at the cup. He’s not big on exercises in futility, except he is. Just not this one. “Can you just do this intravenously?”
“You hate needles.”
Dean lies down again, without the water. More accurately, he fades vaguely to the floor. “Gonna pass out,” he says, and does.
He comes back a minute or so later to Sam’s hand on his shoulder. Sam gives him a pat.
“You’re okay,” Sam says.
The next morning, Dean looks like absolute hell, and moves like it, too. But after a shower he only looks like shit. He downs twelve Tylenol and a small pharmacy’s worth of god knows what else.
“Why didn’t you do that yesterday?” Sam asks. It’s not that he’d have advised it, but Dean’s not typically one to skimp. There’s nothing manly about riding out a fever.
“I don’t even remember yesterday,” Dean replies, and with that, they’re in the car.
They’re in the car, and then they’re in the car, and Dean fades fast. Then they stop for gas.
“Motherfuck,” Dean pants, unwieldy gas station bathroom key stanced like a crutch. He leans against the wall. Apparently getting the key had been a whole ordeal. “It’s the fucking bathroom, not the Holy Grail. Can’t a guy just piss?”
“Um, excuse me, sir,” says a man in an Ohio State jersey. “You’re blocking the propane tanks.”
Dean glares at him.
They do not hunt werewolves that night.
They are running out of moon.
“Wolf senses outstrip ours by a couple thousand generations of evolution or whatever, so I don’t really see this being a big deal,” Dean says. Sam’s pretty sure he’s been sucking on the same Corn Nut for an hour, if not longer. “How ‘bout we just shoot them from far away.”
Dean’s point being, hunting werewolves when you’re only human is already stupid, so any other handicap can’t make it that much stupider.
“You’re welcome to shut up whenever you want,” says Sam.
“We’re running out of moon,” says Dean.
And Sam says, “I know.”
He texts Mary. werewolves in Philly. dean’s sick. Where are you?
Sam’s not sure that Mary will respond. But she does. She asks, how sick?
It’s a weird question, and at first Sam’s not sure how or why that would matter. Does she think she’s gonna have to rush to his deathbed? Does she want to know if she should swing through a deli and pick up soup?
Sam’s caught off guard by how sarcastic his confusion sounds. He hasn’t caught Dean’s flu but it’s possible he’s caught a little something else.
well, he’s not a werewolf, Sam texts back.
Mary never does say where she is.
“How many more nights do we have?” Dean asks.
They’d started early in the cycle, because that’s when the killings had started. Of course, it’s also when the killings had stopped. Werewolf cycles aren’t exactly clockwork. So Sam says, “I dunno. Do you want me to call them and ask?”
There’s no edge to his sarcasm at all, but Dean raises his eyebrows at Sam all the same. “Man, you need some serious shore leave,” he says. “Go to an art museum or something. What do people do in Philly?”
“I have no idea,” says Sam. Truth be told, he’s a little on edge about being here at all. Their presence has a way of getting around in the monster community, and it’s generally bad form to pre-game when you’re hunting something as sapient as a werewolf. They might as well fire up a bat signal. The only reason they’re here now is because it had seemed like Dean was pulling up. Sam keeps expecting him to. He hasn’t.
Sam doesn’t want shore leave.
“I’ve definitely felt worse,” Dean points out. But he’s only saying that because he wants to go home, and he wants to go home because this motel only had second-floor rooms left, and the stairs were fucking hard. He doesn’t even want to kill a werewolf.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think we need to go around chasing stupid. No one else has died since that first kill, and I don’t see why we’d need to break that streak by serving you up.”
“So we’re just gonna wait around and serve someone else up?” Dean counters, but it’s a moot argument and Dean knows it.
No, that’s not what Sam means.
“Do you think GrubHub would deliver to the bunker?” Dean asks idly.
Sam chuffs. “From where? Denver?”
Sam returns from the ice machine to Dean slumped against the wrought-iron of the balcony. “Balcony” is a strong word. Thoroughfare, maybe. “Taking in the sights” would also be strong. Beyond the motel there are onramps and Interstates, warehouses pieces of Philly that they leave out of all the wall calendars.
Sam walks past him. Sam gathers this is a lot of what Dean does when he’s in his room at the bunker, and they have the privilege of being alone. He leaves Dean be. When Sam sneaks glances through the window, Dean looks sad and empty and a little drunk.
Then Sam dozes off, and when he next checks in Dean’s gone.
It takes Sam fifteen minutes of pure adrenaline panic to find Dean getting the desk attendant to detail the contents of every tourist brochure in the lobby.
“Have we been to Hershey Park?” Dean asks, when he sees Sam. Then he sees Sam, and he pulls his phone from his pocket. “Holy shit,” he says, when he sees the number of calls he’s missed. He tries to whistle, and coughs instead.
“Yeah. Holy shit,” Sam agrees, lips white and thin against each other.
“You doing okay?” Dean asks, when they’re back in the room and it’s dark but the moon’s still full enough to make it seem otherwise.
“I dunno,” Sam answers truthfully. He feels like a psycho. He would’ve sworn Dean had gone off to shoot some werewolves.
“Why are you laughing?” Sam frowns, because he doesn’t want to feel like an idiot on top of a psycho. “That’s absolutely something you would do. It’s something you’ve done, Dean. Fuck you.”
Dean shrugs some variation on agreement. “But I didn’t,” he says. “Not this time.”
“How is that relevant?”
“I’m just trying to calm you down.”
Sam hadn’t realized he’d needed it, but when he looks down at his hands the motel pen he’d been toying with is in three pieces, the nib on the floor and the tube of blue ink staining his hands.
“Sorry,” Dean says.
“It seems like you’re starting to feel better.”
Sometimes Sam looks at Dean and forgets that it’s not the last time he’ll ever see him. Sometimes Sam forgets that Dean’s not going to die with the Darkness. That in fact he’d lived, and so had Mary. But Mary’s not around anymore. It’s as simple and not simple as that.
“Do you think about it at all?” Sam asks. The Darkness. The bomb. God. The end.
“I have no clue where pens come from,” Dean replies. “And now we’ll never know. You killed him.”
It’s a slow morning, and it begins with Dean on the balcony again, finishing off the fifth he’d brought from Lebanon. It’s 10AM, but at least it had taken four days. When he’s done, Dean drops the bottle from the second story, down towards the recycling bin below. Judging by the fist pump he gives himself, he hadn’t missed.
Sam’s willing to bet Dean does think about it at all.
Twelve hours later, they kill their werewolves. There’s new blood streaked across the kitchen carpet and a carcass on the kitchen floor. There’s a crushed Mole Poblano box shoved in its chest cavity where its heart would be, because apparently GrubHub does deliver in Philly.
Dean shoots Sam a glare in the darkness, though there’s no more point in being mad at Sam now than there had been before.
Silently, they slip into the bedroom.
The wolves are wrapped in each others’ arms, spooning above the sheets. It’s September, after all. Still summer. There’s blood on their chins and splattered down the girl’s oversized T-shirt, which is from Hershey Park. They look extremely human, blood and all.
Dean shoots them sleeping.
Then they’re headed back to Kansas.
“Have you ever done that before?” Sam asks, when they’re back in Indiana and Dean’s pulled up to the exact same gas station where this had all started.
“While they were sleeping, I mean.”
Dean looks at the gas price, then digs for his wallet. As he fans out cash, he says, “You should get some rest.”