The Help. ~2300 words. S14 gen. TW: brief grotesque animal imagery, possession, issues of consent.
Post-14x03, Dean sets out in search of the bunker's swimming pool, which is totally a real thing that exists, I swear.
Sam's not going to open the door.
Dean keeps locking it, anyway, because the Men of Letters MasterLock and every ward known to man--and some Sam still hasn't quite figured out--aren't good enough. Not when there's a bunch of strangers in the house.
In a Biblical sort of way, every room in the Bunker is now occupied. It's like they saved exactly the right number of people, and every death incurred along the way was a logistical convenience. Some of the rooms do still run empty; Kylie and Siobhan and Russell still sleep wrapped together on a couch in the common room, left hands interlinked and right ones grasping weapons. (The way dolphins do it, explains Siobhan, who has never seen a dolphin.) Bentham sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor of what Dean has always called the Torture Room and what Sam refers to as "the basement." Walls're too thin upstairs, claims Bentham, and he's not wrong.
From his perch on Kylie's dresser, Sam can hear the shower running two doors down. Next door, he can hear Dean drowning. If Sam were Kylie, he wouldn't sleep here, either.
Dean sleeps with his head below water, gagging his way through his nightmares. Through what Michael had felt like. It felt like drowning all summer long. Every night, he's right there again.
Of course, if Dean having a nightmare were anything to write home about, the post office would run this country. Dean's always been a visceral dreamer. But that doesn't stop Sam from rubbing the edge of Kylie's dresser between his thumb and finger, feeling for each divot in the smooth-worn wood, counting the seconds of silence, making sure Dean keeps breathing.
Sam hasn't seen him in three days, which seems both an egregiously long time and none at all. Sam's pretty sure they'd gone far longer sightless in the bunker, under completely normal circumstances. In the beginning, the bunker had been a luxury of space, and Sam won't deny it had been nice to let their lives stretch a little. Now Sam wishes he hadn't chosen a room that was quite so far away.
"Hey! Hey, Cas--hold up--" Sam springs from Kylie's dresser and makes a grab for Cas's arm as he walks past.
"Sam," says Cas, head tilting towards Sam's hand on his arm. Sam lets go.
"I was just wondering if you could, you know." Sam nods in the direction of Dean's room. "Is he okay?"
Angelic consciousness is pervasive; it doesn't heed walls, and certainly not fleshy membranes. It does take actual work, Cas had informed him long ago, to harness it within a vessel. So yes, inasmuch as human souls are legible to angels--and if Cas is being honest, they truly aren't--Cas can check on Dean, without having to open the door. It's akin to reading a thermometer without an understanding of mercury, but it can be done.
"I'm the one who asked you that," Cas reminds him, and when Sam again nods toward Dean's room, through Dean's walls, this time more emphatically, Cas says, "I doubt Dean would appreciate the gesture."
"He already let you read his memories," Sam points out.
"The memories weren't his," says Cas. His brow furrows. "Maybe it's not about what Dean thinks. I still think accessing Michael's memories was a mistake. I think probing further would be another one."
Case excuses himself, and continues down the hall.
This is about what Dean thinks, though. It's all about what Dean thinks, and only about what Dean thinks, because Dean's the one who spent all those months with an archangel inside him, and what Dean thinks is the only line Sam's got on how Dean feels.
"Look, I don't want to fuck this up, either," says Sam, to Cas's back. Cas pauses in acknowledgment, but he doesn't turn around. He doesn't stop.
If Sam thought Dean were really hurting, he'd kick down the damn door. But he's not. Probably. Mostly. Dean might actually be okay, or on his way there. And if Sam shoves Dean along too quick, Sam knows it's only going to make it worse.
Dean might be okay.
And that's the thing about this job. If Sam tries to help before shit goes down, he's only a menace. No one wants you exhuming graves until they can see the ghost exists. Which is unfortunate, because the only thing that hurts Sam more than Dean in pain is Dean, indecisive. Dean, who could go either way.
Sam can't do anything to help that.
"Didn't think that room was occupied."
It's Dean, leaning against his doorframe, mirror to Sam, leaning against Kylie's. He raises his eyebrows at Sam, then disappears beyond the threshold again. But the door stays open, so Sam follows. He walks in to Dean sliding his duffle off his shoulder, back onto his bed.
"Going somewhere?" Sam asks.
"This hall is kinda weird. Dunno if you've noticed," says Dean. "Every other door locks from the inside--but then every other other door locks from the outside. Just a weird sort of… architectural thing. Might have something to do with why your kiddos keep sleeping in my common room instead of in, you know. Their locked ward."
That's definitely weird, in a classically Men of Letters way. Six years in the bunker and Sam had never noticed that about the locks.
It's still a deflection.
"I mean, apocalyptic trauma is also an option, but I guess Better Homes and Gardens probably doesn't help," says Sam. "Thanks for the tip."
Sam's gaze hasn't left the duffle on the bed. Dean moves toward it, rifles through its contents, then pulls out a heavy wrench.
"You going somewhere?" Sam asks again.
Dean returns the wrench to his bag and gives it a satisfied pat. Then he replies, "The pool."
"Right. You're Michael Phelps."
"No, seriously. I'm not-- I'm not trying to be evasive. There's actually a pool in here."
Sam chuffs. "No there's not."
"There fucking is," Dean insists. He'd found it once, he says. A long time ago. Somewhere in the bunker, there's a whole-ass pool. He wants to find it again.
"Why does it matter?" Sam asks. The shower's still going in the bathroom next door. The only thing that's different is Sam doesn't need to hear Dean now to see him drowning. And Dean wants to find a pool.
"I left the faucet running," Dean explains. "Figured that's probably bad for the grout, or the foundation or whatever. Was gonna try to fix it."
Sam frowns. "How long ago did you find this pool?"
Dean shrugs. "Long." He picks the duffel up again. "So are you gonna come with and save the whales or what?"
Twenty minutes later, they pass Cas in the hall. Cas appraises Dean and shares a glance with Sam.
"We're looking for a pool. The pool," Sam tells him, at a stage whisper.
"I can hear you not believing me," says Dean.
By 4AM, Sam's pretty sure they're in a segment of the bunker he's never seen before, but a pool has yet to materialize.
"If you already found the pool, why don't you remember where it is?" Sam asks.
"It was a long time ago and I was kind of fucked up. Why else would I have left the faucet running?"
"So why didn't you tell me about it? No 'hey Sam, grab your bikini, there's an entire pool down here'?"
"Well, I didn't know you had a bikini. That changes everything."
"Was it when you were making the Dean Cave? Is what when you found the pool?"
Dean coughs, a strangled sound. For an instant Sam imagines water spilling from Dean's lips, his nostrils, his ears and eyes and even his fingernails.
"You were possessed," Dean says. "Gadreel was-- And anyway, I was fucked up and I found this fucking pool and I didn't tell you and I left the fucking faucet on, so here we are."
You were possessed, Dean says.
You were possessed.
They walk the same corridor. Over and over again, same corridor. Dean doesn't talk much.
Maybe he's saying something about guilt, or possession, or fear, or guilt, or guilt, or guilt, but it doesn't matter. There's nothing he can say and nothing to be said. Instead, they're looking for a pool Dean dreamed up five years ago and now is dreaming up again. He doesn't remember where it is, but he remembers that five years ago he left a faucet running and now he thinks it matters. He's not even drunk this time.
"Kaia--or I mean. Not Kaia. Dark Kaia. She said... Michael hurt you," says Sam, eventually.
"Of course he did," says Dean. As though that reality were too obvious to matter.
"I said yes," says Dean.
That's why it doesn't matter.
Tell me what he did, Dean says. They're still in that cathedral in Minnesota. Mary and Bobby are arguing about whether to wait until rigor sets in to deal with the werewolves, or do move them now. Dean's body is going into minor shock, but he seems otherwise unharmed.
Tell me what he did. Catch me up. Come on, Sam. Otherwise it's gonna be a long fucking drive.
It's still a long fucking drive, because Dean doesn't say a word until they hit Iowa.
"That's fine," he says, when Sam pulls off the Interstate and under a bridge. No one wants to deal with a motel. Dean's still dressed like the turn of the century. Once he throws up on Michael's coat he feels better, and is over it.
I'm fine, he says. Now tell me what he did.
"Dumbass," says Dean, of Michael's mad scientist routine. "Eve already tried that."
"Michael's doing it better," Sam allows.
Dean glares at him.
A couple hours later, when Sam wakes up, Dean makes a comment about Sam's beard. Then for all of Nebraska, he says nothing at all.
"None of this is your fault. You know that, right?" Sam says, even though he knows it's powder in the keg for a very stupid, very familiar conversation. Everything is always Dean's fault except when Dean decides it's Sam's. Everything will always be Dean's fault, and one day, Dean will let that destroy him. No. He will let it drown him.
Sam hopes they never find the pool.
Dean says, "I said yes."
Then he says, "I fucking told you there was a pool."
When Sam looks up, a brass nameplate at eye-level proclaims, NATATORIUM. For a split second Sam wonders if it locks from the inside or outside, but it turns out there is no lock at all.
The moment Dean opens the door, however, death smacks Sam square in the gut. The smell of decay is deafening. Sam's ears plug as his jaw pops and his nose burns from his face. He doubles over, lungs heaving and stomach churning. Sam feels the bile slither up his insides.
"And I'll bet you thought me not eating for three days was a bad thing," Dean says, though his eyes are watering and his skin almost matches the room's green tiles. He looks like he might pass out. He slaps Sam's shoulder instead.
There is a pool. Or there was. If Dean truly did leave the faucet running, its reservoir had been spent or clogged long ago. Calcification has stained the floor in waves, so maybe, many years ago, the waters had indeed overflown. But maybe a sickly rat had fallen into the pool, turned the waters rancid as it decomposed. It seemed that hundreds more had followed, bodies collecting and congealing in the pool until it was an ornate green tub filled with a gelatinous mold of bodies and sinew and fur. The pool is so thick with the buzz of flies it's difficult to hear anything else.
"I thought rats could swim," Dean says.
"Sometimes, I don't think it matters," Sam replies.
He'd meant to say I don't think that's what matters here, maybe, but it didn't come out right. He means to say, You need to fucking fix this, but that part doesn't come out at all.
There's a pool full of dead in front of them. They've been living with it this whole time.
"It's just stupid," Dean says. He's found Sam's personal handle of tequila, stashed beneath Sam's bed. The rest of the bunker's stash has been pretty well cleaned out by their guests.
They hadn't cleaned out the pool. They just left. Closed the door behind them and returned to ground level without looking back.
Sam agrees: That part was stupid. But that hadn't stopped him getting the hell out of dodge. Some things, there's no reason to touch. He says, "If we can't put 'pool' on our list of amenities, I think we'll survive."
"Drowning is stupid," says Dean. He takes another draw from the handle and shoves it to the far side of Sam's bedside table. "It's not even the part that matters."
Sam rubs at his dresser, the same way he'd rubbed at Kylie's. The wood is just as smooth. He asks, "The part of what?"
Dean closes his eyes.
"It's the only part I can feel."
It's only nothing, and the feeling of drowning. That unrelenting almost-death, almost-pain. The being held in abeyance. There are no yeses, no memories, no flashbacks. No harm.
It's only a feeling.
"I know what he did. And I know what I did. But the only thing I ever--"
That feeling is helplessness. At least when you're guilty, you've done something. Even if it was bad--it's something. It's your fuckup. Maybe you can fix it. At least it's not nothing. It's not just drowning.
Except this is just drowning.
Dean shakes his head, because no. No, it can't be.
"Dean," Sam says, but there aren't words for this either. Sam's helpless too.
"I'm gonna go clean out the pool," Dean says.
He never does.