Takes place immediately after 15x03. ~2400 words.
The first few days back, Dean gives him breakfast in bed. Dean probably doesn't have the reference for that, doesn't recognize that's what it is, but that's what it amounts to, frankly. The breakfasts are, in order:
- A wilted Caesar salad from a diner in Harlan, Kansas ("I'm sure they were thrilled to see you again," Sam says. But apparently they hadn't recognized Dean at all, he'd been that scarce during the entire operation. Small miracles. Other than that, Harlan is fine, by Dean's standards, but it's having trouble filling its sheriff position, now vacant. The residents are worried this will cause an uptick in petty crime.)
- A gas station Cobb, with the dressing on the side this time, so it's less wilted ("Newsflash, Sam. Bacon bits aren't real bacon, either. It's rabbit poop." A pause. "Kinda carnivorous rabbits.")
- The exact same gas station Cobb, but with black walnuts from a Whole Foods in Omaha.
"Buying black walnuts, obviously," Dean replies, when Sam asks him what the hell he was doing in Omaha.
"Romantic gesture," says Sam. He looks at his watch. It's 10AM. "So you just… woke up in the middle of the night and didn't have anything better to do than drive to Omaha?"
"Look, do you want your leaves or not?"
Truthfully, Sam has never in his life woken up and craved a salad out the starting gate. 'Crave' might be a strong word to describe his relationship to salad, ever. But if it will get Dean out of his bedroom right now, Sam will marry this romaine.
"Thanks," he says. But Dean stays.
"What, you're gonna watch me eat now?"
"Ran out of British Bake Off."
Sam needles his fork at the mound of bacon bits in the corner of his salad container. It's not that he doesn't want Dean around. Aside from having told an overly long story about Whole Foods not having been open when he got there, Dean's not actually interacting with Sam at all. Just sitting. Existing. Drinking a 10AM beer. Though from the sound of it Dean hasn't actually gone to sleep yet, so maybe it qualifies as a nightcap.
Dean snorts. "Yeah, I don't think that's how that works."
But Dean sits, and Sam sits. Sam checks his phone. It's like old times, or close to. Sharing silence until Sam gets restless. It just feels weird, to think too hard when Dean is in the room like that. To think about Rowena, about Jack, about failure, about the world. It feels too big, too private.
Dean knows exactly what he's doing.
"I'm gonna go for a run," says Sam.
If there is something Dean doesn't get nearly enough credit for, it's patience. He's still there when Sam gets back, unmoved but for the four bottle caps stacked in a neat tower on Sam's desk.
"Just wanna make sure you're good," Dean says.
"Not the same thing."
Hands on his hips, Sam bites his tongue and nods at the ground. Rich. Real rich, coming from Dean. "I know. I just--you know. I need some time. To think. Uh, process, maybe. It's a whole new world, right?"
Dean nods slowly. "You can take as much time as you want. But there's thinking, and then there's thinking."
"Okay, 'uh huh' me. You know I'm right."
Dean leaves the bottle cap tower on the table when he goes.
Later that night--or the next night, Sam's not sure--they have dinner. Dean is drinking soup straight from the can. Sam is eating leftover chicken and cereal.
"I'm just saying. If you're gonna heat it up in a pot, I don't see the point of putting it back in the can."
"What, you want me to drink it from the pot?"
"If you don't wanna wash a bowl, just get a sp--you know what, never mind."
"Yeah, exactly, Ramsay. I don't see you over there making cornflake-breaded chicken parmigiana culinary masterpieces."
Sam squints at his chicken. "What?"
"I'm thinking of drinking less."
It's abrupt, but it always is. "Okay," Sam says, like he always does.
"And it's real--the cornflake thing. You're just uncultured," says Dean.
Dean has the same conversation with Sam every time he walks in the room. Rowena knew what needed to be done. No, it doesn't make it feel any better. And yeah, Sam has plenty of time. Over and over again. They have all the time in the world.
He never tells Sam, man, you gotta let it go!--though Sam kind of wants him to. Maybe that's what Sam would tell Dean, or what Sam would tell Sam. He doesn't think so, but now he's not sure. They hold onto things differently anyway, him and Dean, so the advice never directly translates. All Sam knows is the just let go never comes. Just I know, you're right, you have plenty of time. You can take all the time in the world.
And there's Dean, sitting in his bedroom again. He's putting scars in Sam's desktop, treating his bottlecaps like a cup game with no prizes.
"Can you not?" Sam asks.
Dean stops. "Maybe we should drink more Snapple. They have jokes under, right?"
"Affirmations, I think."
Dean starts sliding the bottlecaps around again. Stops. "Should I get sandpaper?" He feels his pocket for the keys, like he's going to go drive somewhere for a square of sandpaper. Probably Omaha.
"And 9AM somewhere."
Then Dean asks if Sam has flipped his mattress.
"It's a thing. People--you're supposed to--" Dean makes a flipping motion with his hands.
"No, I know it's a thing. I'm just--"
Dean is already undoing Sam's hospital corners.
They flip the mattress.
"You know, you don't have to sit around in here with me," Sam says. "You seem a little, uh…"
"Yeah, I do." Dean redoes Sam's hospital corners. Sits back down. Resumes his cup game. Stops. Stacks the bottle caps again. His hands are shaking.
"Does it feel better?" Dean asks, of the bed.
Sam can't feel any appreciable difference. "It's nice," he says.
Silence. The bottle cap tower tips. Dean rebuilds.
"I guess I'm gonna… watch some TV, turn in," Sam says, after a while. He slips the second to last beer from the six pack at Dean's feet and finds a stand-up special on Netflix. It's very political and involves jokes about NPR.
Dean adds Sam's cap to the tower. Halfway through the set, Dean pops the cap off the last beer.
He never promised sobriety.
Dean is still there when Sam wakes, snoring lightly, head lolling crooked over the back of the chair. In Sam's dream, Sam had just driven them headlong into a semi. By the end of the dream, Dean's body had looked about like that, too.
Dean's body in reality wakes with a start the moment Sam moves, hearkened by infinitesimal sound. Just as instantly, he regrets it. His hands quest around in his jacket pockets before abandoning them for his neck.
"Oh, motherfucking shit," Dean hisses.
"G'morning," says Sam.
"You want yours in that soup can, or are you good with washing a cup?" Sam asks, brewing coffee.
Dean is lying on top of the kitchen table with an arm thrown over his eyes. "Make mine Irish," Dean mumbles, and Sam's honestly not sure if he's supposed to oblige him or not.
This is how it goes: Dean calls his shot, and Sam gets out of the way.
This is how it always goes. It's probably every year or so. Sam's never sure how successful Dean is, because he's never known Dean's goal, but he likes to think Dean is staying above water. He's not sure if that's enough to keep Dean safe, keep him healthy, but it is enough today. If there is one thing Sam does believe, it's that Dean owes no one an explanation. Not for drinking, not for stopping. He just doesn't. Sam believes Dean is doing whatever it takes.
"We don't have any cream," Sam says, of the Irish coffee that does not materialize. Dean takes the coffee, plain black, and tries to sip it without rising from the tabletop. He mostly succeeds.
Sam claps him on the shoulder. "You needed a shower anyway," he says.
In his bedroom, Sam listens to the water running through the pipes and stares up at the ceiling. It's like he can feel it coming down on him. The ceiling, the water, all of it. It's on his chest and he can't breathe and the only thing he can think about is everything, all at once. It's not sad. It's not grief. It is just the ceiling, coming down on him.
Dean is trying to make that cornflake chicken thing. Except he's trying to make it from memory, and today his memory is shit.
Sam wonders if that makes this easier. Dean seems to be struggling to string one hour beside the next, so maybe that makes all the talking, all the endless talking through Sam's bullshit, feel more novel today. They are having the same conversation they have been having for days. Sam has felt the same for days, but he welcomes the conversation. It feels real. It feels like time is passing. It is something to latch onto. It's not helping but it is.
They are having a conversation about chicken cornflakes at the same time they are having a conversation about everything. Dean can't string that one together, either. He makes a comment about needing to go to the store to buy cheese for the third time in twenty minutes.
"And chicken," Sam reminds him. "I ate the last of it the other day."
"Important," Dean agrees. "Butter?"
"I think we have butter."
"I don't know if it needs butter."
Sam sighs. "Well, if it does, we have it. So you can check that box either way."
"But I don't know if it needs butter."
Dean's staring at the bottle caps. Cornflakes, he says, turning one over. Chicken, cheese, butter. "Eggs."
"That's how you bread stuff."
Dean turns the last bottle cap over. "Chicken."
Sam presses his lips together. It's hard, watching Dean struggle. It's hard every time. "How long has it been?" he asks.
"Dunno. Long time." Dean is flipping the caps right-side up again. He's stuck on the last one. Takes a deep breath. He is trying he is trying he is trying.
Sam can't breathe.
It's been about a day and a half, if they're counting that last beer. Maybe Sam shouldn't. It probably feels longer than that to Dean.
"But you're not planning to go cold turkey, though," Sam says. Sam's not prepared for that. Dean's organs are not prepared for that.
"Chicken." He turns the last bottle cap over. He stares at it, then shrugs. "I mean, we have some downtime."
Dean nods. After all, they have all the time in the world.
Sam spends the rest of the day reading about detox. Maybe this is information he should know by now. Maybe he's tried to forget.
Some hours later, Dean materializes in Sam's doorway once more. "Breakfast in bed," he announces, because apparently he is familiar with the concept. It's 4PM and breakfast is cornflake chicken, but it's close enough.
Sam shoots a quick look at Dean and knows exactly how Dean made it to the store and through the recipe. He closes out his browser window and its many, many tabs. He doesn't say a word.
That night, he dreams of demon blood.
By 4AM, downtime is apparently over. Cheerleaders are dying in Iowa.
"More of the same, huh?" Sam says. "That's what we're going to do now?"
"This is the first time these girls have ever died," Dean points out.
The job is never more of the same. Even though they get in the same car and Sam packs the same suit and they drive down the same highway. They pass through Omaha.
"You know what's not open yet?" Dean says. "Fuckin' Whole Foods."
Breakfast is the rest of the bacon crammed into a bag of pretzels.
It takes two more bags of pretzels, one finger of whiskey, three beers, and a hot dog to get back home.
"Remember that time, with the ghost girl," Dean says that first night, in their beaver-themed (what else?) motel room. He smiles around his bottle.
"That one time, with the ghost girl," Sam deadpans. "How could I forget that one ghost we experienced."
"--and you got drunk as hell in the middle of the case, and you, uh--you had to jump in the swimming pool with your cast and everything later. That was great."
"I made you promise you'd kill me if you had to," says Sam. "On that case."
Dean coughs. Then he tips his beer into the trash. It makes a hollow thunk against the plastic.
"Good times," he says, too loudly. "Always with the good times, Sammy. Thanks for that."
They don't say anything for the rest of the night.
Sam dreams. He brings the ceiling down.
In the morning, another cheerleader is gone. By the end of the day, she is rescued. There's still two dead kids, though. One of them is in the trunk.
When Dean takes an offramp too fast, Sam can hear the head roll to the other side of the trunk. It makes him want to die.
"Did it work?" Dean asks the next morning. He smells like smoke, has ash in his hair. There's an empty glass in front of him. He's asking, Did you wake up and feel better in the morning?
"Maybe you should try it for yourself," says Sam.
Dean holds Sam's gaze. Dean knows that wasn't an answer, and he wants Sam to know it, too.
But last night, Dean beheaded him. Then Sam woke up. So no, it didn't work.
Dean pours what's left in his flask into his glass. It just coats the bottom. He is trying, he is trying, he is trying.
Sam takes a handful of cornflakes for the road. What's left of the pyre Dean built last night should be cool enough now to take apart. Sam will break down the wood, collect the bones.
Some things, at least, can be buried.