Rating: PG, gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, Bobby, Hallucifer
Warnings: a little blood 'n cussin'
Word Count: 3,363
Summary: Prompt fill for ratherastory's kick-ass 7:03 comment meme. Based on this prompt by vail_kagami, but touched on a couple others: "Sam isn't doing nearly as well as he seems. He's still having seizures, hallucinations, and turns to self-harm to deal. Bobby found out but had to promise Sam that he wouldn't tell Dean so Dean can recover his broken leg in peace without feeling he has to hobble after Sam wherever he goes." (Original post here, but it's chock full of typos, dammit.)
Notes: Plenty o' hurt!Sam and a touch of awesome!Dean. Unbeta'd so all mistakes sit squarely on my shoulders. When am I gonna learn?
Son of Notes: Man, writing is hard! This thing got rambling. Too plotty, but I wanted to try a screenwriter's formula. The next damned thing I write will be tighter and hopefully more intimate. Or...not.
Bride of Son of Notes: Concrit is HIGHLY prized, like something shiny and special! ♥
UPDATERY: I've written a sort-of follow-up here: RABBITS SCREAM Check it!
“This is disgusting,” Sam said flatly, staring at his plate and dropping a fork.
The chili, cornbread, southern-style green beans with ham, all the energy Bobby had spent on making dinner had produced a meal that was apparently “disgusting.” Dean stopped chewing and slid a gaze to Bobby, who simply sighed. Unsurprised
The air hung thick and unpleasant between the men before Sam shoved back from the table. He threw his paper napkin on the plate full of food where it turned red from the chili before he stomped out the front door. It was getting dark earlier now and the night swallowed him quickly.
It was a full moon. Dean turned stiffly and looked out the window, saw Sam pacing and gesturing broadly with his hands in front of the cabin. It seemed clear he was arguing with the devil in his head. Again. And his time Dean sighed. Unsurprised.
“He didn’t mean it, Bobby. Doctors said –”
“I know what they said, Dean, don’t mean I gotta like it.” His tone was far less annoyed than the words might indicate. They sat quietly for a minute or five, Sam’s boots crunching on the gravel in the driveway, his voice kept just below the audible range. Dean wasn’t altogether sure he wanted to hear what Sam was saying anyway when he got into these moods. Two weeks now, and he wasn’t getting markedly better. Research indicated it could take months for the brain to heal, unscramble, level out to something resembling normal. Months. Fan-fucking-tastic. They couldn’t possibly have months before the Leviathan sniffed out their trail.
“Just for that, he ain’t getting any of my apple cobbler.” Bobby cracked open a beer and half-grinned. The older hunter was, perhaps, a bit more pragmatic and patient about all this than Dean. But then Bobby didn’t have a ringside seat to the Winchesters’ endless string of misfortune either. Bobby had his own personal world of hurt, no doubt, yet somehow got up everyday and kept going. He was a widower, his house burnt to the ground, and every unnatural creature this side of the Grand Tetons knew his name but Bobby kept going. Thank whomever for Bobby, Dean thought to himself ruefully.
Life was wearing Dean as thin as an old sock. Dean was already working on his third beer tonight and the broken leg, which was propped on another chair, itched and ached and crap, his toes were getting cold.
They finished dinner in relative silence and Bobby cleared the table, leaving Sam’s plate just in case. There was no microwave in the cabin so if Sam decided to eat, it’d be cold chili. Sam didn’t usually opt to eat after these sour spells anyway; it was just a fatherly gesture.
Dean’s ass was numb from sitting so damned much; he could barely wait to cut the cast off and get mobile again. He snagged a cane from the table’s edge—well, not so much a cane as a cane-shaped branch—and gimped to the window.
Sam was still there but he’d stopped pacing, silhouetted in moonlight, staring out at the woods that surrounded Rufus’ old property. Dean saw a brief flare, something small and bright in Sam’s hand. It wasn’t a reflection but a glow, like a firefly or a match. A lighter, most likely, one of those big, old-school silver flip-top numbers judging from the size and consistency of the flame. Dean leaned on the window frame and simply watched, his breath steaming the glass. Must be getting cold out; the leaves were just beginning to change and the crickets were silent. Dean swiped at the condensation on the pane and saw his brother put a palm over the flame. Sam left it there as the fire guttered and threatened to expire, then licked up around the edges of his hand, struggling for oxygen.
Screw the beer. Dean wanted whiskey.
Dean’s bark brought Bobby from the kitchen in a red hurry, eyes wide and dishtowel slung across a shoulder.
“Where’s the fire?!”
“Funny you should ask.” Dean stabbed a finger at the window before deciding to knock on the glass. Sam either didn’t hear or chose not to listen.
Bobby paused only a second to assess the situation and grab his coat. “Balls. I’ll get him.”
Sam startled when Bobby came up behind him. The lighter snapped shut, plunging them into nothing but moonglow and starlight.
“Bobby –” he started. Bobby put a hand on Sam’s shoulder, squeezed.
“I know. Is he gone?”
Sam nodded, a muscle jumping in his jaw. He was starting to shiver; there’d be frost on the ground come morning.
“Son, why don’t you come inside now?” Bobby slipped the lighter from Sam’s good hand. “I need this. Pilot light went out on the stove and I’m making apple cobbler.”
Bobby didn’t know how much longer he could cover for Sam.
They tried a game of poker after dinner but it quickly became apparent Sam wasn’t up for the challenge. He could barely hold the cards. After five hands, he excused himself sullenly, leaving Bobby and Dean to fight over the handful of bottle caps that served as chips. Once again, no one was surprised.
Sam closed himself in the bathroom and examined the burn by the cold, flickering fluorescent bulb. It was a single, quarter-sized red circle that was blossoming into a blister, sitting amongst a network of angry scars on his left palm. The stitches had just come out and the area was still ugly and raw.
“So I was thinking…” Sam’s eyes, wide and white-rimmed, snapped to the mirror. The devil was back. So soon, so soon. “…Dean wasn’t far off with the pain thing, now was he?”
Lucifer’s bored face hovered just over Sam’s shoulder and his fingers plucked at some imaginary lint. Sam flinched. And the devil continued.
“Dean knows how to make with the pain. I mean, come on, he learned from the best, right? Alastair taught him, I taught Alastair…apple never falls far from the tree.”
Sam squeezed his eyes shut tight but he couldn’t stop hearing Lucifer. Even when he curled a fist and sent fingernails into the burn. Even when he prayed with his entire damaged soul. His eyes filled with salty water, the clench of misery in his throat.
“Oh, come on. Don’t give in to your manpain just yet, Sammy. My little freak on a leash –”
“I am not your freak,” Sam choked out.
“Sure, whatever you say, sunshine. It’s beside the point anyway. I have something to run by the board. A deal.”
Deals with the devil were never good things. Ever. But Sam opened his eyes, tears spilling out.
Lucifer preened. “Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. So here’s what I’m thinking. You know the release that comes after a storm? How light the air feels, like tension has left the clouds and now the earth can breathe again?” He set his chin on Sam’s shoulder, drifted a hand down one arm to tenderly cradle the wounded palm. “I am your storm, Sam. And this, this stigmata is your rain. Your release. The pain that purges me. You’d think I’d be unhappy, chased away and all…”
Sam was shuddering apart at the seams, his skin crawling with fever and fear, sheening over.
“…but actually it serves us both. Simply put, I want to see you suffer and you want to see me gone. So here’s the deal, and I know how much you lawyer types love deals.”
The devil was so close Sam felt his hair quiver with each breath, the words purred in his ear. And though Sam knew the entire exchange was occurring within his mind, it couldn’t have felt more real. What was that old adage about perception being reality?
“I’ll leave you alone for ‘x’ amount of time if you keep destroying yourself. Simple, huh? Bonus points for creativity. The more you hurt, the longer I stay gone. Less work for me, more sanity for you. It’s a win/win.” Lucifer brushed fingertips against the swelling burn. “But Sammy, if I catch you slacking, I’ll raise the stakes. I won’t let you be until you hurt, oh, say, Bobby. And failing that…Dean.”
Sam swallowed hard, a moan tripping out because he couldn’t hold it back anymore. His chest ached from the effort and a great swell of pain flooding his skull. Lucifer rippled at his edges but reformed with hardly a scowl.
“I think that sounds fair, don’t you? You scratch my balls, I’ll scratch yours. Sorry, I mean ‘back’. So what do you say, Sam?”
Sam didn’t want to reward Lucifer with a response; he couldn’t. He was gasping for air through coughing sobs, hands suddenly pawing inside the medicine cabinet, knocking pill bottles and old ointments into the sink. He yanked open doors, entire drawers crashing to the cracked tile floor. Even dislodged a mouse that scuttled along the baseboard, desperate for a way out.
Lucifer laughed, so full of promise and malice and truth.
“Shut UP.” Sam threw fistfuls of expired pharmaceuticals at the devil but they passed clean through him like he was made of dust. The detritus pelleted the bathroom door and Sam dropped to his knees, keening. He didn’t know what he was looking for, his thoughts as desperate as a stampede, but he’d know it when he found it. You always knew it when you found it. Not dental floss. Nor Band-Aids, tweezers, aspirin, an old-fashioned shaving brush. A tiny yellowed box separated from the mess, toed away by the tip of Lucifer’s shoe. The label read “LORD Platinum Class Double-edge Blades.” Sam laughed at the irony but the laugh turned to weeping again as he shook open the little flaps and metal spilled out.
“Atta boy, Sammy.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut…”
Sam fumbled a blade apart from the rest and slid off the cardboard edge protector.
He yanked up the cuff of his flannel shirt, bunching the plaid above his elbow and cut. And cut and cut.
The sharp sting of pain and blood snapped him to the surface again.
“SAM.” The door flung wide and Dean shouldered his way into the small bathroom, made even smaller by his awkward cast. “Oh no, Sammy what the fuck are you doing?!”
Dean almost skidded in the red spreading on the floor but there wasn’t really room to fall. He grabbed a towel from the sink and clamped it tightly on Sam’s arm. “Hold this!” His eyes were bright with panic. He was struggling out of his belt as Sam flopped like a puppet with his strings cut against the cast iron bathtub. His sobs were dulling slowly into weary panting.
Dean half-knelt and tugged the belt around Sam’s bicep.
“No, you cannot do this,” Dean said raggedly, dodging the towel aside to weigh the damage. The cuts were horizontal, three fresh, many more either scabbed over or fading to pink ridges. Dean exhaled hard and winced, wedging into an awkward sit next to his brother. “This is not a solution, man. Are you hearing me? Sam?”
Sam’s head lolled Dean’s direction. They were alone in the bathroom.
“Answer me, come on, man.”
“What…what was the question? Again?”
Dean seemed to relax, or at lease his expression eased.
“I don’t know. I forget.”
Sam looked at the blood. He hurt all over, but he hurt most when he saw Dean. His brother’s cheeks were drained of all color, eyes red-rimmed and exhausted. The crow’s feet seemed to have deepened in the last ten minutes and Sam felt shame curdle in the pit of his stomach. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Dean went to scrub his hand through his hair but noted, at the last second, the fingers were sticky and red. “Sam. Promise me you won’t do this again. I get it; I really do. The pain keeps you grounded but this—” Dean flapped a hand wearily “—this is not grounded. This is nine kinds of crazy. So promise.”
Sam’s brow was a mess of furrows. He watched as his own blood seeped over the surface of Dean’s cast. Dean was right. Sam was not handling this. “Okay, Dean. I promise. I promise.”
But Lucifer was not one to forget a deal made. There’s a reason they say “The devil is in the details.”
Sam was seldom let out of Dean’s sight, and if Dean wasn’t watching him like a hawk, then Bobby was. There were days when jumping at shadows alternated with catatonia, but also rare afternoons when sitting on the porch together, nursing a six-pack in the bright cool autumn sun, the Winchesters could be quiet and settled and blessedly at peace. It was in those moments that Dean would admit to wondering where angels went when the universe was finished with them. And how the hell was he going to nail the itch on his knee under the cast?
So it shouldn’t have been a shock when, on a Sunday, Sam didn’t wake up. He usually shuffled from his bedroom to where Dean slept on the couch in the main portion of the cabin and started coffee. Sometimes made toast. But Sunday, Bobby came out of Sam’s bedroom and took off his hat. Dean stumbled upright, hopping into balance.
He…he must’ve had a seizure last night. He’s not waking up, Dean.”
“Is he –”
Bobby pressed against the wall for Dean to hobble past.
No amount of shaking, swearing, or threat would make Sam’s eyes open. Under the lids, however, there was movement as though Sam was dreaming. Dean clung to that hope. They’d been down this road before; Sam always came back ‘round.
Bobby made Dean breakfast, or rather he set out Cheerios, milk, a bowl and a spoon before leaving for town on a supply run. Dean had exhausted things to do shortly before noon. Not even Spanish soap operas could hold his attention, half an eye always kept on Sam’s door. After a fashion, he manhandled a chair into the bedroom with no small amount of effort and just sat watching Sam breathe.
The cabin was full of strange reading material, tucked away on randomly placed shelves and in wooden crates. Sam must’ve been reading the book that sat on the nightstand because it wasn’t dusty. The Red Badge of Courage.
“Jeeze, nothing the least bit cheesy about that at all, Sammy,” Dean murmured, picking up the book and thumbing to a dog-eared page. He squinted at the faded print and began to read aloud, for lack of anything better to do. He hadn’t read to Sam since the kid was seven. It just felt comfortable in this moment. Felt like it set things right. Or right-ish.
“ ‘In his great anxiety his heart was continually clamoring at what he considered the intolerable slowness of the generals. They seemed content to perch tranquilly on the river bank, and leave him bowed down by the weight of a great problem.’ ” Dean snorted at this, scratching at his cast. “ ‘He wanted it settled forthwith. He could not bear such a load, he said. Sometimes his anger at the commanders reached an acute stage…’ ”
Dean went on like this for an hour, until his eyelids sagged and he dropped into a tentative doze. Sleeping with a cracked leg on a worn couch wasn’t exactly the most fitful of situations and his creaking back could attest to that. He blinked awake when the book was slipped gently from his fingers where they rested on his belly.
His brother’s shaggy head came into few, swaying slightly but he’d evidently managed to get out of bed without displacing Dean’s leg.
“Haven’t read this since junior high.” Sam rifled the pages and set it back on the table. He was still in sweats and a t-shirt; he couldn’t have been awake long.
“You okay?” Dean straightened and groaned and rubbed at the back of his neck. “What happened? You went all Sleeping Beauty on us.”
Sam looked thoughtful for a minute, nothing of the devil in his eyes. Almost himself again. “Guess my subconscious had to work through a few things. What time is it?”
Dean glanced at his watch. “Past noon.”
“I could eat. Want me to make us lunch?”
Grinning, Dean used Sam’s shoulder to lever out of the chair. It was stupid how happy it made Dean to visualize Sam preparing ham and cheese on sourdough. Stupid and yet, kinda awesome.
Bobby returned to their temporary home, openly pleased as punch that they didn’t have to make another hospital run for a Coma Care Kit, and set about prowling the papers for Leviathan sightings. Dean supervised and complained about it getting cold already. There was a big black, pot-bellied stove in the corner of the room that was designed to heat the majority of the cabin but no wood chopped for a fire, so Sam volunteered. The mindless labor would do him good, Dean pronounced, and Sam couldn’t object. By process of elimination, he was clearly the best candidate for grunt work. He bundled up, found an old splitting maul in the shed out back, and headed to the wood pile.
Logs had been stacked, taller than Sam, at the edge of the immediate property. None was small enough to fit inside the belly of the stove. Truth was, the crisp air felt excellent, cleansing. It almost chased away the numb surreal tinge to Sam’s world, almost made him forget his oddly disconnected relationship to reality.
Heavy gloves protected his hands as Sam got into the rhythm of swinging the ax. He let the tool do the bulk of the work because he was way out of practice and slipping out of shape. In his ‘soulless’ days, he remembered putting a curiously high premium on being able to beat the living shit out of anything, man and monster alike. He’d probably lost a solid twenty pounds of muscle since then so the exercise was in sore need.
Sam reached back for another log and a snake slithered out from the woodpile. He took a step, gave the serpent room to leave, and backed into another one. A more allegorical serpent. Quick fingers wrapped around Sam’s neck from behind and he very nearly dropped the maul on his foot.
“Sammy,” Lucifer hissed in his ear. “Did you forget our deal?” He sounded, at once, disappointed and shocked.
Sam shot a frantic look to the cabin but no one was watching him out the window this time. “No, no. Never forget.”
“Good. I was worried there for a while. So what, we’re playing lumberjack today? So manly –”
“STOP.” Sam struggled but he couldn’t get free. His feet lost purchase in the dry, loose leaves and Lucifer’s fingers tightened. “Please?” Sam added hastily. “I’ve g-got it worked out.”
This seemed to pique the devil’s curiosity. “Hmm. You don’t say?” He eased his grip and Sam stumbled forward. “Let’s see what you’ve got, champ.”
With a last look towards the empty cabin window, Sam put another hunk of wood on the splitting log. He peeled off his gloves and bandages, resituated the rough handle of the maul in his bare palms, hauled back, and slammed the ax head down. The hard wood sharded into two halves, rocketing off in either direction. He did this again. And again and again, until the sweat soaked his shirt and hair, and his hands cried for mercy. He did this until his shoulders burned with lactic acid and every move produced a pain-burdened ache. The shadows grew long and Sam’s chest seared, each drag of breath a struggle. He didn’t stop until his palms were entirely raw and there were no more logs.
The maul dropped from his grip and Sam sat heavily on the peat-scented earth, spent. The devil was gone; when he’d left, Sam hadn’t a clue. How long he’d be gone? Sam didn’t know that either.
He’d cross that bridge when he came to it. As many times as it took.