Title: Show Me How
Genre: gen, drama, psychological hurt/comfort, 15x20 tag (takes place pre-15x20)
Characters: Sam, Dean
Rating: PG-13, non-explicit sexual content (not Sam or Dean), overdose (also not Sam or Dean), implied/referenced alcohol abuse
Word Count: ~5100
Summary: Weather? Frightful. Warehouse? "Ghost-y." And Sam? Non-corporeal.
Dean has a pre-set for you and your well-being, and it doesn't waste time trying to make you feel better.
Dean's annoyed with you. He always is when he wants you to have strong opinions about food, but what does it matter? The only place either of you can remember--the only place that's not the adult store, the vacuum store, or the WE BUY GOLD--sells sandwiches. And sandwiches are sandwiches.
Dean is at least half-convinced that kind of attitude is what's landed you in this situation in the first place, because the predicament is new and he is still in the "wildly assign blame" stage of working a case like this. Which is annoying (more annoying than sandwich ambivalence), but if this were serious he wouldn't bother. Dean has a pre-set for you and your well-being, and it does not waste time trying to make you feel better.
"Don't take the car. It took long enough to get that window," you advise. Three hours, actually. Three hours to hide the car someplace no one would go looking. "It'll fuck us in the long term if people notice."
Dean glares at you--or at least, the place he'd last seen you. It doesn't actually square with where you feel like you are and it's like watching Dean give that look to someone else. You feel suddenly possessive and yeah, maybe you're a little uneasy about the whole situation.
"I'll be back in a few," he says, without arguing about whether there's a "long term" you should have to be worried about or not. "Work on getting corporeal again. Maybe I'll bring you some edible panties."
There was no warning. One minute you were tromping through an abandoned warehouse with your brother--the usual--and then you weren't. You've survived enough car crashes to remember what they feel like, a body still in motion even after the car has stopped, and then organs still in motion once your body stops at the dash--lungs against ribcage and brain against skull--and that's basically how this goes.
Your body's just gone, and you are stuck.
You're not a ghost, and this is not the Veil. It's not a fae thing, at least not in any obvious way. There's no fairy to trap or bargain with. This is just a hole; and sometimes people fall in.
There are more stories about this kind of thing in East Asian lore (not your forte), but even then they're only stories. Not every folktale is based in truth, and not every truth gets a folktale. The way the stories go, there are places--either thinner or deeper than the rest of the world, depending on the storyteller's preference--that people fall into sometimes. There's no curse, no bear trap--just a hole. People fall in and then they get forgotten. Because there's no memory, that means there's no search party. There's no storytellers. Just people maybe seeing edges, fringes, and making it up as they go. You don't really believe that it just happens, though. You don't think this happens to people that don't have a little hole in them already, a little poison in the blood.
You don't tell Dean this. (And you're supposed to be the open one.)
Dean doesn't remember seeing you blink out of existence, so quick and so forcefully your brain splashes against bone. He'd had his eyes off you long enough you might've simply walked outside. The way he'd shouted your name, loud enough to ring through the space and destroy all pretense of stealth, did not sound like you'd simply walked outside. He'd known as quick as you'd known that you were gone.
Unfortunately, time is not of the essence here. Dean, your human LifeAlert, helps nothing. There is no cosmic come-along that can wring you from the quicksand. Either the hole releases you, or it doesn't. There's nothing Dean can do.
He remembers you, though. Dean remembers you when falling into the hole was supposed to get you forgotten. That's why he thinks there's a way to get you out.
You don't think that proves anything. You remember plenty of people who couldn't be saved.
Dean takes his sweet time. Or maybe he doesn't--you don't have a watch anymore (or a wrist), and he doesn't have a car. Maybe this is how long a sandwich takes.
Dean's grocery runs have historically taken a couple of hours. The store is not far and even with the bunker you've never shopped in bulk, but your brother is the kind of shopper who peruses endcaps for novelties. He reads entire magazines (and never pays for them) and takes circulars (and never reads them). He'll drive entire swathes of Kansas just to find a particular brand of beer--and he doesn't even give a shit about this beer or that one, except apparently on days he does. Sometimes you think the only reason you see him back before sundown is because there's ice cream sweating in the backseat.
Of course, right now it's December and the heater core is clogged and you told him not to take the car at all. Right now, Dean should have better things to do than whittle time away by memorizing grocery aisles.
You hate how desperate that sounds. It's all very princess-in-dungeon, except you don't actually mind dungeons, as far as options go. You're pretty good at picking locks.
Disembodiment, on the other hand, you mind. You prefer to feel your anxiety in your muscle, all that autonomic sensation there to both destroy and ground you. You hate being apart from your body, unsure of where it is or who else might be inhabiting it.
Right now, your body is nowhere; you know this. But that's not something you'll ever again feel sure of, no matter what you know.
This is what you're thinking when the sun goes down: What if Dean forgot you, and he's not coming back? Will you be trapped like this forever, nothing but still sapient? Should you have taken the Empty? Or even Heaven? Will you be stuck here?
There's nothing here, you think. Surely you're not the first person who's ever fallen in this hole, and you're right. Well, you're right and wrong.
You're not alone.
Footsteps--Dean's. He's casing the joint, like maybe this isn't a hole and there's a monster to fight or a ghost to dispel or at least a curse to unravel. You're overtaken by how careful he is: You don't tend to see him from this vantage point, but it's more than that. It's like there's an extra level of give-a-shit that's not there when he knows he can rely on you. He knows--and cares--that there's no Get Out of Jail Free. Which is not to say he's sloppy when you're together. It's just, you've watched him try harder to not get dead only because he knew you were watching. That felt like shit.
This is better.
"There's nothing here," you call out to him. "Don't you think I'd be a little more animated about it if there were?"
Dean is supposed to meet your smartass comment with his own, but instead you're staring down the barrel of his gun, and it's just as sudden as all the other times this has happened to you.
This is so much worse.
"You surprised me, is all," Dean apologizes, as though he'd only pulled a gun on you in, you know, a completely normal way. But he'd only come back to the warehouse because it had seemed ghost-y and he figured he might as well.
Dean forgot about you. You, his brother.
"But like, how did you think you got here? How did yesterday go down?"
What about every single goddamn day of the last fifteen years? The last forty?
Dean stopped giving you anything to work with the moment he realized you were there, though. Stupid, that he'd felt closer and easier when he hadn't even known you'd existed. He seems cowed: In no world would he ever want to explain how he'd let this happen. Not that it's really his fault--this is how holes like this work--but you've bet everything on each other. If there's anything special about the two of you at all, it's this bond you have. This bond that's stronger than anything. (But apparently not.)
"I didn't think about it," Dean says suddenly.
"I dunno. Any of it. I just--"
Dean found a warehouse that seemed "ghost-y" and went from there. He hadn't thought about why he was here, where he'd come from, or who he'd been with--hadn't thought about Chuck or the angels or Heaven or Hell or demons or Apocalypse or any of it. He'd just shown up, gun in hand.
You can't wrap your head around what it would feel like for memory to abort like that.
"Wish I knew," Dean says, too sincerely. It's only what he aims for every morning.
He usually misses.
"D'you think we were looking for someone?" Dean asks. "You know, coming here. Falling into whatever the fuck this is."
You probably have a better idea of whatever the fuck this is than most. All it is is stories, but maybe that's enough to keep you here. You can see just enough of the stage to expect something will play out, enough of the hole in the dark (black on black) to bear it in mind. Or maybe Dean just loves you that much. That must be it.
Dean shoots down your Bermuda Triangle theory. If holes like these are meant to slide out of memory, then getting a yacht involved shouldn't change that. The Triangle's too big time.
You're not in the business of big time. Not right now, and hopefully not ever again. You wouldn't have gone chasing it here, in any case.
"We were driving--" you start.
You don't finish. You have no idea why you were driving. Maybe it's the hole that triggered the forgetting, but maybe it's not. This is how life has kind of been these days.
You have been free from a capricious and universe-snuffing God for a month, maybe two (a few--no more than six; well, you can't be sure--) and coming down is wicked.
Everything that has ever kept you whole, kept you running, dissolved at once. You crossed the finish line and your legs fell off. There was no reason to keep them, and they were heavy.
This morning (or a week ago) Dean makes eggs. It's either 4AM or 11. They're fluffier and tangier than yours (the eggs, not the hours) because Dean always adds ranch, but the idea of eating them seems like so much work and you're not hungry but Dean says I made them for you, though and you say, Okay, where's your plate, then? and he doesn't have one so he eats the eggs in front of you--he never takes the plate, just reaches over, plucks off egg bits like soggy popcorn--to prove a point, though whether it's his or yours is anyone's guess. You don't think you had one and you know Dean didn't. This is the first time you've been in the same room in a while, though, so you stay. Tomorrow morning (or three weeks ago) you'll do or have done the same thing, except maybe with pancakes and maybe you at the stove because you'd walked in to Dean on the floor. Dean didn't or won't want the pancakes because he wants to sit there and be hungover and when you say no one wants that he'll say you don't and you will wonder for the rest of your day or the rest of your life how someone can--well.
You'll wonder a lot of things.
You will wonder about this corner of this warehouse. You'll wonder about the person you now can never save, if such a person existed. Maybe you'd only gone for a drive.
Maybe this is the hole at work, eroding memory, letting your ganglia make up the difference with whatever fill necessary. Maybe this is the whole of your life, coming down on you.
"You okay?" Dean asks. There’s no good way to answer.
"I mean, I’m kind of embarrassed." It feels like having sat on a bench marked WET PAINT, or having tracked footprints through cement—or at least, it feels the way the movies tell you these things feel. Maybe it’s just embarrassing to have your mental laundry in the open like this. It's hard not to feel like it's your fault you're in this hole.
"What’s embarrassing? It’s not like there was a fucking sign."
You tell him about the mental laundry, and he laughs at you.
"Dude, I’ve done your actual laundry."
You’re not sure what he means by that, if somehow your actual laundry is supposed to be shameful. That doesn’t make sense to you, and more to the point you don’t think it makes sense to Dean, either. But sometimes Dean just says things.
"Has, I dunno, terror crossed your mind?" Dean says, which is something completely different. He takes a breath that lets you know terror is very much on his.
He’s given you that breath before. Blown it out long and slow above your corpse, or sometimes the idea of your corpse. This time, over the idea that if he loses you here, there will be no corpse. You’ll never have been at all. He’s never lost you like this before. This is probably the only way that wouldn’t kill him, though.
You hate the way your heart leaps at the thought. Just for a second—just for a second, until you realize how stupid you’re being.
Even if it’s true.
Guilt. Perilous guilt. Maybe this is why the laundry bothers you so much. You don’t want to think that little of your brother—and you don’t think you do, normally. When you are feeling normal. When you are not feeling the kind of way that gets you trapped in places like these. On normal days, despite all evidence to the contrary, of course you believe your brother could survive you. Of course you do.
(But even if you didn’t, you definitely wouldn’t let him know.)
Maybe that’s your big terror. That you’ve made it to the end of the world and back, for real this time, and nothing’s changed.
"Have you ever done it in a place like this?" Dean asks. "You know," he adds, when it’s clear from the look on your face you have no idea what he’s talking about. You were busy having thoughts. Clearly not similar ones.
Dean makes a crude gesture.
"No," you say, though the second you do you remember you have. Then you remember you have, multiple times. With Ruby, that once. Soulless, multiple. And—
"Have you?" you say, skirting memory, finger in the dike, right before you realize you don’t want to hear Dean’s answer, either.
But Dean says, "Hell no. If I’m gonna chase tail, you best believe there’s gonna be a doghouse. If I wanted to go camping, I’d just go with you."
"Sure. Camping, abandoned warehouse sex. Totally the same thing."
"Damn straight," Dean insists. "Both’re fucking cold, on purpose. They’re the same in the only way that matters."
"Now you’re just being an idiot."
He gives you that breath again. The sun has set and this time it comes out like vapor.
"You don’t have to stay."
You know he does.
"Now that—" he says. "That’s what’s embarrassing."
Dean might not want to live without you, but it took less than 40 minutes to forget you. He ate your sandwich, he reminds you. He bought two sandwiches and then turned around and fucking ate them both.
You were so easily lost.
It's not yours, this place. People go in and out all the time, and you fall in love with them quickly.
"Oh, stop," Dean implores you. "Don't It's a Wonderful Life this."
That's not what you're doing, nor is George Bailey even remotely descriptive of your situation here, but it's at least December, so you give it to him.
The sun starts to set, signalling early afternoon. Your new neighbors: A boy and a girl, a model and a DSLR. You can't see them from where you're stuck, but Stella's directing the shot.
"I mean, we drove all the way out here--I feel like we have to really use the space. It can't just be like, generic ruin porn. I mean, fuck, Haven."
"Sure but like, it can't be so specific anyone knows exactly which abandoned warehouse we trespassed or whatever. I'm just saying there were hella signs, and what if this goes to the county show? I can't have anything on my record, I'm trying to get into Ball State!"
You can hear Stella's eyeroll. "Trespassing is a victimless crime."
Stella talks like she's used to ad libbing a lot of character improv, keeping her cool under stage lights. She says she has to remember to keep hydrated, especially in the winter air, because otherwise her face just like, folds when she smiles and makes her look old. Haven talks about golden hour and dynamic range.
Dean leaves you.
Maybe he gave you a look; maybe he misdirected it and talked to some sheet rock. Maybe you just weren't paying attention. He doesn't say shit, though, and he walks out--quiet as.
The next thing you know, Haven is whimpering. Stella, no. No nonono no I mean it your hands're c--hands cooOold--sharp breath. "Breathe just like that," says Haven. "Warm."
"Wanna get the shot?" Stella quips.
You swear you can hear him push her head down.
You know you hear everything else.
Cold hands, warm mouth, can't lose.
This is a line you wrote for Dean, but he doesn't say anything when he comes back--just that it's fucking cold out here.
Dean makes a friend. A drinking buddy, really. You can't tell what they're saying, but the conversation is circuitous. You can hear the lilts of Dean's voice and the blur of his body language and know that he's trying to follow the rollercoaster tracks of someone else's thought process, "yes, and"-ing whatever he has to, meeting their logic wherever it is (whatever logic there is).
He wants some or all of that 40. His friend is making him work for it.
Dean's always been good at that; or at least, he is when he feels like he has a lot of time on his hands. You think in another world, maybe he could have put that talent to real use--helped people with it. Of course, in another world, he is those people. No one's promised you he won't be, in this one. Maybe you will both live long lives. But really, there's no telling what will happen to you.
You watch your brother unfold a few (and then more than a few) bills and hand them to the man, in denominations you probably don't want to know. He gets the 40 in return, after the man's taken one last swig. Dean holds out his lighter and the man lights a cigarette from a beaten pack, then lights one for Dean, too. No, take it--the man insists. Dean holds it like a matchstick.
Then it's just the two of you again, watching gray ash creep up the perfect cylinder lying on the ground before you. Why Dean couldn't throw it away somewhere else, who knows, but you don't have lungs; you're not at liberty to complain. And it was a gift.
"You know, he never really made that clear," Dean says, when you ask his friend's name. Dean's friend had mentioned a lot of names, maybe his or people he'd once known, people who'd once known him.
Dean had given him $100 to bring back "sandwiches or hell, potato chips or something," he didn't really care. Come back with five sandwiches, and keep the rest.
"He's an interesting guy," Dean says, taking another drag from the secondhand 40.
The sun goes down.
Dean's friend does not come back.
"Okay… Fair enough," or so Dean figures. Maybe he's right. He's probably right.
He's been rolling the empty 40 between his boots, clamorous against the concrete, for a lifetime.
"Fuck," he says, some time later. The word does almost nothing to penetrate the silence of this place.
You never feel more like your father's son than in moments like these. More even than the crusades, the fire and the heartbreak, you remember sitting in dead-lock traffic in the middle of the Mojave, being quizzed on the rule of three: Three minutes without air, three hours without shelter. Three days, water. Three weeks, food.
You ask, "How's there even traf--"
Dad doesn't want to hear it.
("--in the desert," Dean finishes, mouthing the words into the side-view mirror so only you can see.)
You need to pee. You need to pee so badly you imagine it like the poltergeist backing up the pipes at your last house, sending all the sewage in the wrong direction, until it's poison in your blood. You need to pee so badly that you do. You're pretty sure the only reason Dad's not upset about the leather is because in the time it takes to get all the way to Barstow, the puddle you are sitting in heats enough to scald you.
At the border of Nevada and California, a man in uniform asks if you have any oranges in the car. He doesn't ask about guns, or cat's eye, machetes or the leftover bones of some white rabbits from ages ago that you never quite cleaned out. Just oranges. He laid you bare in the desert for three hours, all for oranges.
Three minutes without air, three hours without shelter. Three days, water. Three weeks, food. You have no idea how long it will take to crawl out of this hole, if it's possible at all. You have no idea how far Dean can get, or how long he can go, without forgetting you. He's not that interested in experimenting.
If you were three, this would be easier.
"Yeah, well, we're two," Dean replies.
Dean also claims no interest in discussing any kind of threes, but you know he's thinking, too. It's already a lot colder today than days previous--tonight will be brutal.
Dean does jumping jacks.
You wish you hadn't had to park so far away.
This warehouse counts as shelter, almost. It cuts the wind chill out of the equation. Dean pops his collar and zips his coat up for once in his life, but it's cold.
"Merry Christmas," Dean says.
"Is it Christmas?"
It turns out Dean has no idea, and the phone he pulls out to check is long dead. Maybe you should have called someone, days ago, but you'd sort of forgotten they existed. It's been a weird year.
"Good thing we didn't make plans," Dean whistles, just before he says, "We shoulda made plans. That's what we're supposed to do now, right?"
"I guess we already had one Christmas this year," you point out.
"Mrs. Butters," you and Dean say in unison, fondly.
"I probably would have had to make some bullshit 'you or the girl' choice," Dean says, though he looks pretty amped. He'd probably already made his choice, even though he hadn't had to act on it. He won't look at you.
"If this were still Chuck's playground," Dean clarifies.
"Yeah, I got that."
The sun is out again, though the temp's aren't rising. The sky is ever-clear.
You'd watched a girl wander into your warehouse. You'd watched her sit, journal in hand, periodically shaking out her fingers as they lost feeling, even with gloves. Then you'd watched her roll her sleeve up and pump her fist. She'd smiled.
You hadn't thought much of it. A lot of people have come through this warehouse, and she's not the first who'd brought a needle.
Then her head hit the ground, and she didn't get up.
You watch her, thinking to yourself maybe she'll be okay, maybe that's her normal breath. You can't see her heart rate, not like you can see the small, slow white puffs from her mouth (slow, now slower?) but you can imagine it's normal, she's okay, she's asleep, until you're tired of lying to yourself.
This isn't your job, you tell yourself instead, which is the truth but not a truth that matters.
"Dean," you say, because you can't let her die, but also because you don't want to, either.
You don't want to disappear.
Then there are voices. Someone screaming that they'd found her, oh my god, Elaina oh my god, they found her--get over here, please please please she's here, she's here, she's here, ELAINA. A clamor of footsteps. Vocal panic. Talk of narcan, of moving her themselves, of calling 911. Elaina is weeping, because she's going to lose her job at CVS because of this.
You could lose your sister, the first voice snaps, and is rewarded by a slap across the face.
Fuck you, I know, says Elaina.
They carry her without you, and without Dean.
They carry her away.
They carry her safe.
"I probably would have had to make some bullshit 'you or the girl' choice if this were still Chuck's playground," Dean says, finally.
You do not ask which choice he made.
"It'll always feel like some dumb shit," you reply. Trapping Lucifer in the Cage had felt like dumb shit to Dean--so much that it had almost felt like dumb shit to you. And of all the times you've lost Dean, none of them had felt any more or less dumb than watching him choke on a pig in a poke.
That's just how it is. It's always some dumb shit, when what's at stake is your brother's life. It never feels noble or heroic, or whatever. It's just not.
"Yeah, but this is pretty fucking dumb, even by our standards," Dean says.
"I'd at least want to remember you. I'd want it to hurt like hell," he says, subjunctively. "Don't you want to be mourned?"
"I want you to be happy," you say, heroically. (You want to be mourned.)
"Then come back," says Dean. Then he laughs.
"Just thinking about that one time, with the werewolves," he explains, because you don't have to ask. "You know, with Michelle and 'Corbin.'" (Air quotes. Either Corbin's not a real name, or not a real person.)
Dean looks at you askance. "I just-- You wouldn't have been too happy about the part that you were dead for. So, you know. Good thing you missed it."
"I wasn't happy about the part I was alive for," you reply, instead of pointing out you'd never been dead.
"Was it three werewolves?" Dean asks you, still chuckling in disbelief.
Look at you now.
You're not always the right choice. People have gone to Hell for choosing you, after all.
You'd still asked Dean to choose you over the entire goddamn universe in that hallway, in the bunker with God and the Darkness trapped inside it. You'd stepped between him and that door and you'd forced him to choose, knowing he already had. He could point his gun at you all he wanted; you knew he'd never shoot you. This move you make, this choice you force, ends up being what saves you, and probably also the world. You still probably shouldn't have done it. Not like that.
Here's what you remember most, though: In that hallway, in the bunker, in that moment, you'd never once been afraid that Dean would turn that gun on himself.
It's been a bad year for a lot of things, but it had been a fucking awful one to be afraid of that. (You think maybe that's how you fell in love with Eileen--her willingness to listen to your terror.) But in that hallway, in the bunker, every part of you could hear every part of Dean screaming, quietest with his voice, I can't live like that. But he can, and he does.
"Is it getting cold?"
"Ask me that five hours ago."
He's shivering, which is a good sign. You wish you could frown.
"We have incoming," Dean says, interrupting the silence you hadn't been filling, and it has to be Christmas. Too many people have been too desperate today, too insistent on coming to this place. This place isn't yours, but it's belonged to far too many lonely people today.
A figure peers into the warehouse. He begins to wander toward you--or toward Dean, since you don't technically exist, so you wait for Dean to react.
"It's not anything you did," Dean says, seemingly out of the blue. "Just so-- just so you know that. These holes just happen. Shit happens."
Then you feel it.
The worst pain you've ever felt, the sear of someone else's pain; you know this man, you know him cellularly, you know him cosmically; you know every second of his life that led him here, led him into you--and then he's gone.
"Are you even listening to me?" Dean asks, oblivious, the figure long-forgotten.
Dean had watched him walk up to the edge of this hole and he'd still been obliterated in an instant.
He'd been so easily lost.
You knew him better than you've ever known anyone. Better than your brother, better than yourself. You felt him, when he fell. If only for an instant, because you're forgetting already. You're already assuming this dread you're feeling, this terror, is for yourself. You're already ashamed of it. But should you be?
When the hole lets you go, you know it's not because you climbed out. It's only something that happened, just like your falling in. Your brother is not completely conscious when your body tumbles out, tumbles atop him; the daze you send him into, his skull cracking against sheetrock, gives you enough time to wipe your tears.
You know exactly how lucky you are.
You won't remember the hole.
You'll be too focused on your hypothermic brother, even though you know he's mostly fine. You'll make jokes about losing toes, even though between the two of you you'll still have twenty. Then your legs will fall off again, and you'll forget.
You'll probably remember the feeling, though. That gaping awful.
I know it doesn’t really matter, but I like to think that you came here for me. Even when I say goodbye and you don't hear me. I just like it.
May you always remember how lucky you are.
You'll be in a barn.
Please stay, he'll beg you, and you'll know you will not have a choice.
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