Pairing: none / gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, Castiel, mention of Meggles
Warnings: a couple dirty words, mild gore, spoilers for Season 7.
Summary: Based on a prompt over at the latest ohsam comment fic meme from the vivacious downjune: "Post 7.17, Sam had his head shaved in the hospital and he mourns the loss of all that hair after."
Notes: I didn't stick strictly to canon but certainly close enough. No beta because it's lowly commentfic, but concrit is always welcomed! It's the gift that keeps on giving. And extra-thanks to monicawoe for the title. Sometimes such tiny things are the most difficult. :D
Dean followed the odor of heat. It was a different smell than smoke, than wood burning. It smelled like electricity, but not the charged air of a lightning storm. More like dust motes disintegrating on a hot coil or … or the crisp, self-righteous flash of a demon, smiting out. Yes, that’s what it was. He pounded down the dim hallway of the hospital basement, tracking that scent. He saw a glimpse of dirty trench coat as he passed an open door and skidded to a stop. When he entered the room, he nearly tripped on a demon’s dead vessel. The guy’s eyes were nothing but blackened holes, still steaming.
Castiel looked up, but only just. His mouth was pulled into a grim line.
Dean immediately swept his surroundings—force of habit—and found little more than the spent carcass, some sort of suspicious medical machine ticking from recent use, a bewildered angel, and Sam. Sammy, stretched out on a gurney, twitching in unsteady beats and heavy-lidded gaze dragging around the room, watching phantoms. Sammy, head discourteously shorn of all his stupid, stubbornly long hair. Sam, dying.
“He’s worse,” Dean said, and the hollow rhetoric of it made his cheek tick.
Castiel sighed. “I know.”
“You know?” Dean cautiously approached the gurney, lifting a hand towards Sam’s scarred, hairless scalp. God, so many old scars. Sam flinched away and kept flinching, even after Dean dropped his hand to rest, half-curled, on the edge of the guardrail. “Why isn’t he better?”
“Because I couldn’t make him better.”
“Why not?” Dean’s voice was deadly soft. “It’s your job.”
“I … I don’t know, Dean. The light, my light, fell through him like sand. There’s—” Castiel bowed his head, sighed again. “—there’s nothing left to work with, I’m afraid.”
Dean went from wrathful to wrecked in the flutter of an eyelash.
Sam’s legs shifted restlessly against the gurney, weak movements like living broomsticks under the starched, hospital-issue scrubs. Sam’s skull had nicks in the skin; whoever played barber must’ve seen Sweeny Todd one too many times. Dean felt his eyes sting with salt and loss and helplessness.
But fortune, being what it was to anyone named Winchester, didn’t give Dean a chance to dwell upon how far they’d fallen in recent months. Voices echoed down the hallway, fast approaching. Dean and Cas exchanged glances. The angel removed his coat, albeit hesitantly, and draped it bloody-side-down across his arm. Dean readied the ol’ song and dance.
The orderlies weren’t paid to think—or perhaps they couldn’t, even if they wanted—but they were willing to buy the line of bullshit fed them and took Sam to his room. Dean would hardly call the place comfortable but Sam appeared to be less twitchy once returned to his familiar bed. Or maybe exhaustion was draining the last bit of fight from his body. The tremors had stopped and he even tolerated Dean brushing a hand across his knobby, bald head. Dean was mindful of all the scabs and bruises, though Sam barely seemed aware of his touch. Sammy kept glancing at the empty desk and chair across the room, and if Dean had to bet, he’d put money on imaginary Lucifer sitting there, writing penpal letters to all the late angels, all the family he’d slaughtered.
“So put the fucking wall back up, Cas.”
“I told you, I can’t.” It seemed the angel kept deliberately out of Dean’s reach, in case a fist came rocketing towards his face. Probably smart, on Castiel’s part. “It’s just detritus in there.”
Dean winced at the dumb-ass fifty-cent word but he didn’t need a dictionary to get what Cas meant. It did, however, make him want to crack Cas in the head all the harder. “So you’re saying there’s nothing? That he’s gonna be like this until his candle blows out?” Which, from the looks of it, wouldn’t be much longer. Sam’s fingernails were a bloody mess, peeling off from the nail beds, and his skin pulled waxy and jaundiced over his bones. Worse yet, there was nothing in his eyes, no cleverness, no argument. No hope.
“I’m sorry. This isn’t a problem I can make disappear.”
The angel took a tentative step closer and Dean grabbed him by Emmanuel’s old-man sweater, startling the overcoat out of his arms to tangle at his feet. Castiel’s eyes widened, none of Leviathan’s arrogance remaining.
“Then you think of something,” Dean snapped. “You. Owe. Him.”
Cas pulled at Dean’s grip, and it occurred to Dean the angel could still probably put a serious hurt on him if so inclined, but it was the look on Castiel’s face that made him let loose. Contrition, grief. Cas was well and truly sorry. It didn’t change Sam’s grim situation, but Dean felt an old, familiar fondness ease back in. So much had changed that nothing would ever be the same, but you didn’t erase years of … friendship? Is that what it was? Yeah. It was. Dean had almost forgotten.
Castiel cleared his throat. “I – I may be able to—”
“To shift it.”
Dean let this rummage through his brain for a moment. “So help me, if you make it worse … ”
“Can it get worse?”
He loathed that Cas was right; it really couldn’t get worse. “Do it.”
Dean stepped back and gave Cas room to work. The angel set his palm on Sam’s considerable forehead, his delicate fingers pressing along the top of the skull until the skin whitened. Static crackled through the air and the fine hairs at Dean’s nape rose. Even from several feet away, Dean saw Castiel’s pupils blow wide and dark, and Sam tensed—spasmed—the cords on his neck stretching in painful ridges. Dean heard his brother’s teeth grit.
A blood-red glow pooled where Sam’s eyes should’ve been. It leeched up the angel’s hand, though his veins in spidery patterns, disappearing under the cuff of his sweater until it resurfaced at Castiel’s throat and then kept moving, saturating, spreading along the sides of his face. The angel’s eyes shot bright with that same bloody glow and Dean couldn’t look away. There was a collective gasp, from Castiel, from Sam, and the angel jerked his hand back. Sam blinked, belly pulled in tight and hollow.
Holy shit, did it work? Did this numbskull of an angel actually manage to pull off the impossible? “Sam?”
Castiel stumbled back. The horror on his face was unmistakable.
They really had no choice but to leave him at the hospital, in the psych ward. Meg had called it a “hair-brained scheme”, just to smirk in Sam’s face, but she was totally on-board with the plan to masquerade as a nurse and keep an eye on Castiel, her “little tree-topper”. And Dean had no choice but to trust her. He was getting really fucking sick of having no choices.
But the up-side? Sam was back and seemingly whole. He looked like shit, with a side-dish of pitiful, but his hair would re-grow. He could put meat back on his bones and coddle his fingertips until the nails healed. The cracked rib would ache for a while but they were both used to such omnipresent discomforts; it was a Winchester legacy.
Sam first caught sight of himself in the dusty reflection off the window of their car du jour. Of course he knew his hair was gone, but to actually see it was a whole other thing. He looked confused, eyes narrowed and brows angled steeply. He gingerly tugged at one ear and just stared.
“Hey,” Dean said across the roof. “You okay? You’re not seeing, yanno, pitchforks and—”
“No. No, it’s fine. I’m fine.” Sam yanked open the car door and shoe-horned himself inside.
Yeah, of course you’re fine. Dean gave himself a moment to doubt, schooled his expression into something benign, and got behind the wheel.
He found a soft rock station on the radio and though Sam stared at the passing scenery with drooping eyelids, it wasn’t until The Hollies filled the car with “The Air That I Breathe” that Sam actually nodded off. It was a moronically melancholy song, full of wailing and need, and Dean found himself mouthing the words and almost tearing up. He couldn’t often let himself feel weak, couldn’t risk it. But he glanced over at Sam, watched as his brother’s bare head knocked against the window when they hit a divot in the road, as the violet shadows under his eyes and bleached lips made him look dead, and Dean felt so weak he could barely stand it. Had he been unable to see Sam’s pulse in his exposed neck, Dean might’ve reached over and pinched him hard enough to bruise.
“So sleep, silent angel, go to sleep,” he sang. Poorly. And then snorted at himself.
Sam roused, blinking blearily, unwedging his knees from the dashboard. His fingers went to his scalp, recoiling when he touched nothing but stubble. “Where’re we?”
“Just past Centralia, Illinois. Home of the Balloon Fest, according to the propaganda.”
Rain was starting to spit on the windshield; Dean left his window cracked, letting fresh humid air into the car. Sam shivered and rubbed his palms together, carefully, as not to further dislodge any fingernails. It wasn’t cold—brisk, maybe—but much of a person’s body heat was lost through their head. Dean reasoned that Sam had every right to shiver.
“You hungry?” Dean asked, leaning forward to crank on the heater because he didn’t want to roll up his window. The car must’ve belonged to a smoker at some point; the upholstery stunk vaguely of cigarettes.
“I think so.”
“You think so?”
“Can we just go through a drive-thru somewhere?”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “You don’t wanna hit the can? Stretch your legs? Personally, my ass is numb but hey, if you don’t wanna—”
“I don’t need people staring at me like I’m terminally ill, Dean.” Sam’s gaze stayed glued to the dashboard.
“Dude, you … ” Dude, you were terminally ill not five hours ago. “… you could always milk it for a pity fuck.”
Sam gaped. “Something is so not-right with your brain.”
“What?” But now they were both grinning at the gallows humor. “Okay, fair enough. But I’ve gotta piss like a racehorse and we need to stop for gas anyway. Can you handle that?”
“I can handle that.”
Dean nodded, biting the inside of his cheek.
Ten miles down the road, they took an exit that promised gas/food/lodgings. A no-name truck stop on the right looked like it would handle all three, if you slept in your vehicle. Dean filled up the tank; all the while Sam watched from inside the car. The faint creases of worry on his forehead were visible even through the rain-spattered glass. When Dean returned from the building, he was carrying three plastic sacks full of road provisions. One, in particular, he dropped into Sam’s lap after settling into the driver’s seat. The others he dumped at Sam’s feet.
“What’s this?” Sam still looked anxious.
“Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
“I think we had that covered when I was in second grade and you gave me head lice.”
“Don’t gotta worry about that now.”
“Nope, guess not.”
“Alright, alright. Keep your panties on.” Sam fished into the bag and pulled out a big gray sweatshirt. Dean had deliberately refrained from buying one with a cornball slogan on the front. “Okay … ”
Dean rolled his eyes and snatched the thing away, plucking indignantly at the top of it. “Look, brainiac. It’s a hoodie. You know, for … ” He made a half-hearted gesture towards Sam’s skull.
“Oh.” Sam’s face was unreadable. He slowly took the sweatshirt from Dean, spread it on his lap, fingered the hood. He didn’t say anything for a good several seconds. It was starting to make Dean uncomfortable.
“It might be a little big.”
“There was a black one too, but yanno, you’re not exactly ninja material—”
“No. It’s perfect. Perfect.” When Sam looked up, his eyes were glassy and pooling.
“Oh, now, don’t be doing that. Shit.” Dean coughed out a laugh and scrubbed at his own eyes. “We’re Winchesters and we don’t—“
“Right, right. We’re manly men and tears are for pussies.”
“Exactly. Glad we got that settled.”
Sam struggled out of his coat in the tight quarters of the car, all elbows and sharp shoulders. He threw his jacket on the backseat and pulled the sweatshirt over his head, cringing occasionally when he snagged what was left of a fingernail on the fabric. The sleeves were still a bit short but the hood was the important part and it covered a multitude of sins. Literally.
Dean fixed him with an appraising stare. “Now you look like a serial killer.”
Sam shrugged. “Better to be feared than pitied, yeah?”
“Damned straight. You good?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
Dean started up the car, abandoned the soft rock for something considerably harder, and the Winchesters put the truck stop—and several other unnamable things—in their rear view mirror.