|The Kindest Cut I: Tough Love
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dean got in late again. The wind caught the door and slammed it back into the frame behind him, which woke up Sam. He groaned and glanced at the clock, which was winking a too-perky “3:56” at him. The creepy extra cuckoo clock on the wall started ticking—well, it’d been ticking all this time, but Sam had just woken up enough to notice it and now that he had, he was having a really hard time tuning it out. Something about the leering farmer carved into the pendulum.
The end of the bed shook and rattled as Dean fell against it. He righted himself, then banged something against the wall. Sam stopped feeling annoyed and started feeling the cold curl of worry. Maybe Dean wasn’t the most considerate of men, but this didn’t sound like fucking with the little brother. “Hey. Hey, Dean?”
When Sam sat up, Dean froze. Or rather, his silhouette froze. The rest of him couldn’t really be seen in the dark. “Go back to sleep, Sam,” Dean said.
He didn’t sound all that great. His voice was raspy and a little pained, and when he straightened up again, he had to put one hand against the wall. “What happened?”
Dean slowly turned to face the bathroom. After a moment, he started walking towards it. He used a halting stride and every so often, his head would appear to sprout a foot-long spike: his arm, bending so he could rub at his neck. “Got kicked out of the cemetery. The groundskeeper here takes his job way too seriously.”
And Dean probably hadn’t helped, with his attitude. Sam wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or to go back to being annoyed. But in any case, Dean was mobile and if it’d been like that, then he could handle first aid by himself. “Did you happen to find out anything before he booted your ass?”
All Dean was right now was a shadow, distorted and oddly fluid. Then he stopped in the bathroom doorway to flick on the light, which came flooding out and damn near blinded Sam for a second. He blinked hard, then blinked a second time in surprise. But by then Dean had already gone inside and half-closed the door so Sam couldn’t see him anymore. They must have been spending too much time staking out scary places in the dark, because for a moment there Dean had looked about as pale as the Pillsbury Doughboy that he’d used to tease Sam with when they’d been younger.
“I found out which grave’s got the vampire,” Dean called back. His voice sounded better. Fuller. It was still a little uneven, like he was talking around a wad of gum in his mouth. He probably was coming down with a cold from their dunking in the river two nights ago. “You know, Sam, I offered to take the graveyard shift this time out of the goodness of my heart, since you had those nightmares last night and were so tired you just about fell asleep at the wheel to—”
“Goodness of his heart. Yeah, nothing to do with Lydia living across from the graveyard…” Sam laid back down. By the time he’d finished his last sentence, he was mumbling into the pillow. By the time he heard Dean shooting back some half-assed reply, he was halfway asleep and not inclined to make the effort to respond.
* * *
Hollywood tended to make the killing of a vampire way too dramatic, but then, so did most of the original lore. The real truth of the matter was that as long as you got the coffin out while the vampire was sleeping—and it was pretty stupid to try it any other way—it was really boring. One person flipped up the lid, the other one squirted holy water, and then down came the stake. Usually the corpse just crumbled away at that point, and the biggest worry was getting the grave filled up before somebody came by to press vandalism and desecration charges.
Actually, Sam found it relaxing compared to what they usually had to do to put down a monster. He sat back on his heels and blew out his breath, then wiped one hand across his forehead. He felt grit and looked at his palm, then grimaced. “Gross.”
“It’s just a little corpse dust, Sammy. C’mon, I know you’ve gotten worse stuff on you,” Dean half-heartedly cracked. He kicked the lid down with his foot and glanced off to the side. A gleaming, crooked line of sweat tracked over the side of his face.
Sam looked harder at him, and finally decided that yeah, Dean was actually paler than usual except for his cheeks, which were on the flushed side. “Hey, you all right? Do we need to stop for some cough syrup before we leave town?”
“Do I sound like I’m coughing?” The first time, Dean hadn’t really been trying to snap at Sam. The second time, he tried way too hard. He knew it too; he looked at Sam, then quickly away to frown at the sky. “I’m fine. And I’m driving. But nice try.”
“Oh, for…I meant cold medicine. Listen, if you’re getting pneumonia or something, we really should head it off now,” Sam corrected himself. But it wasn’t any good because Dean had already grabbed the end of the coffin and started dragging it to the edge of the hole. He was ignoring Sam, as usual. “Do you always have to be so—”
Dean had just swung the whole damn coffin into the grave. He let it go and it slammed down on the bottom, sending a couple clods high into the air, before grabbing a shovel and attacking the mound of dirt they’d made like it’d burned all his Metallica tapes. The coffin was mahogany with chrome steel fittings, and the guy in it had been built like a linebacker. It wasn’t exactly lightweight. When they’d been lifting it out—never get in an enclosed space with a vampiric body, daytime or nighttime—Sam had had a hell of a time handling his end, and he wasn’t all that weak.
Granted, getting something to go down was much easier than getting it to go up, but nevertheless Sam was…not raising an eyebrow so much as making sure he knew where his bottle of holy water and his cross was. He casually moved to the other side of the grave and picked up his shovel. “I just don’t want to end up tucking you into bed with a hot-water bottle and spoonfeeding you chicken soup in a couple days,” he said.
“I’m really feeling the love here,” Dean muttered. The side of his mouth pulled up in a grimace of a cheesy smile. He grunted as he shoved the blade of his shovel into the dirt heap and for some reason, Sam’s eyes went to his hands, which reddened. A second later, Dean was dumping the dirt on top of the coffin so his hands weren’t taking as much strain, but they were still red. It was a strange kind of red, sort of dull and…splotchy. And it was sluggishly spreading up past his cuffs.
He glanced up and Sam belatedly hefted a shovelful into the grave. “Didn’t say I wouldn’t do it. I’d just rather not. We’ve got two hundred miles to the next job.”
“Well, I’m really touched by your concern, but I’m fine, thank you.” Dean stuck his shovel in the mound again. When he turned to drop its load into the grave, Sam squinted at his neck.
No bites, but it might be in a less obvious place. It wasn’t all that comforting how calmly Sam’s mind seemed to be taking this. It was like he’d just clicked into this slightly muffled, numb, ultra-rational mode and he was going to freak the hell out at any minute. Except he couldn’t, because he was not--
“Dude, are you just going to watch? Should I strip down and stop to drink a Coke or something for your viewing pleasure?” Dean snapped.
“Sorry.” Sam bent back to the dirt, but always with one eye on Dean. And he knew Dean noticed, but Dean didn’t mention it after that. Actually, Dean was dead silent, which was a bigger clue than any that something was wrong.
They were in a pretty secluded part of the cemetery, but the closer it got to noon, the more nervous Sam got, and not just because of the possible problem with Dean. With everything else that was going on, Sam wasn’t real interested in getting thrown in jail on top of it all. So it was with a sigh of relief that he stomped down the last shovelful of dirt. He rolled his shoulders, then turned around to look at Dean. “Great. Let’s—Jesus!”
Dean had been right up behind Sam, so close that Sam could see how the little red veins in Dean’s eyes were bulging up from the whites. Sam hadn’t even—he’d lost track for just a—he just scrambled back and yanked up the shovel in front of himself. Something grazed his arm: ice-cold fingers.
A sick kind of smile, a million times from being relaxed and kidding, strained over Dean’s face. He was still holding his shovel, and he slowly moved his outstretched hand to it. The hand he already had wrapped around it was white all over, and not just at the knuckles. “Man, Sam. It’s a good thing I’m around, or else you’d be in trouble. Don’t you remember what Dad said about not letting down your guard?”
“Yeah,” Sam said after a moment. He thought about glancing behind himself to check for the groundskeeper, but finally nixed that idea and kept his eyes on Dean. “I think we’d better get going.”
“Good. God, I can’t wait to get out of here. Goddamn hotel soap’s giving me something,” Dean muttered. He rubbed at the back of his hand; the collar of his shirt shifted and Sam could see how white the previously covered skin was in compared to the flush of the exposed skin. Then Dean jerked at his jacket and abruptly stalked away from Sam, in the direction of the car.
Sam became aware of the fact that he hadn’t breathed in a while, and did so. He looked down at the grave and a tremendous hot rage suddenly surged up in him. Exploded—his vision actually went white for a second. When it cleared, he was looking at a big, fresh crack in the gravestone.
Well, that was a great reminder of all the other problems they had. They so didn’t need another—shit. Dean was just dropping out of sight and Sam could hear a car driving somewhere nearby; he hastily gathered the rest of their stuff and jogged after Dean.
* * *
About seventy miles out of town, Dean was clearly running a high fever. His face and neck were slicked in sweat, and his collar was so soaked in it that it stuck to his skin. When he forgot to keep his hands clamped to the wheel, they shook, and he was reddened all over. The second time he nearly plowed a semi coming in the opposite direction, Sam turned and told him to pull over. Sam had one hand in his pocket, and it was holding on to a crucifix just as tightly as Dean was onto the wheel.
Dean pulled over. He dragged himself to the passenger’s side with just one mumble about not scratching the car. By the time Sam was in the driver’s seat, Dean had slumped down facing out, and it looked like he might even have fainted. Sam turned down the Led Zeppelin and ended up grabbing the steering wheel just as hard as Dean had been. He wanted to give Dean a nudge, but didn’t dare.
They had just gone through the next town when Dean roused again, turning bleary red eyes on Sam. “You haven’t had lunch yet.”
“I’m not hungry. I’m good,” Sam said in a too-high voice too quickly. He caught himself staring at Dean and had a strangely difficult time making himself look at the road again. It wasn’t just the concern and worry, either; he’d felt a weird pull, and then a snap once he was finally watching the highway again. “You okay?”
“Don’t say I told you so, or cold or no cold, I’m going to kick your ass over and drive again.” Dean turned back to stare outside again. His hand was lying on the seat, fingers half-curled. Every so often he’d scratch lightly at the seat, and sometimes he’d swirl his fingertips over it in an oddly hypnotic way. He was just moving a lot more slowly in general—the first word that sprang to mind, even though it was completely ridiculous, was ‘sensual.’
The chagrined wince Sam felt at that thought shocked him back into thinking properly, because of all the things Dean was, sensual definitely wasn’t one of them. Hadn’t been, that was. Fuck. Oh, fuck, this was so bad.
“Yeah?” Sam looked over and Dean was staring at him again. It was a strange stare—Dean actually looked lucid. Too lucid. The corner of his mouth was twitching and for a second, the way he was lying there was…lazy, not ill. The fuzziness seeped back into Sam’s mind and he gritted his teeth, trying to will it away. “Are you…is it too bright out?”
Bad thing to say, maybe. Because Dean flinched, and then he—but he abruptly tossed himself back into the seat. He snarled suddenly, and looked back out the window. “Shit.”
It was on the cloudy side today, and anyway, at this time of the year the sun still wasn’t that strong, but Sam had definitely seen Dean walking through some pools of sunlight back at the cemetery. That was the kind of thing that made him doubt himself, even though that could also be accounted for.
“Listen, Sam—” Dean began again, voice hoarse. He hesitated, then punched the dashboard; the movement and loud crack nearly startled Sam into crossing into the other line. “Shit. Sam—you remember that time in Providence? With the…and Dad said. Dad said if he came out and he…we were supposed to hit him and chain him down and go after it.”
Sam bit down on his lip. “Yeah. And we didn’t like it, but we did it.”
“Yeah. Yeah, well…don’t be an idiot, okay? Dad raised us better.” Dean grimaced again and pressed his fingers against his mouth. Then he bit down; Sam looked quickly away, but he couldn’t stop himself from hearing the slight groan Dean made. “He taught us what to do.”
One of those blue rest area signs came up listing some motels and Sam said to hell with it and pulled onto the exit ramp. They weren’t going to make the next job. He wasn’t even sure if Dean would make it to the motel room. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it to the room. “I think you’re getting delirious.”
“Fuck you,” Dean snapped, so violently that Sam jerked his hand off the wheel and towards his pocket. But Dean settled back again, looking too weak to even beat a kitten in a street fight. He stared at the floor. When he spoke again, his voice was so low Sam didn’t at first understand what he was saying. “That wasn’t…Sam, don’t be stupid.”
“I try not to be.” Goddamn it. The motel better have a decent Internet connection, Sam thought. He wasn’t inclined to wait much on finding a solution to this problem. “Take a nap, Dean. I’ll wake you up when we get there.”
Dean looked at him for a long moment. Sam wasn’t looking back, so he didn’t know what Dean’s expression was, but he felt Dean’s gaze like somebody was training a laser on him.
“Yeah. All right,” Dean finally said. His words carried a meaningful heaviness. “Wake me up. But do it right, Sammy.”
* * *
Sam ducked into the car and leaned over Dean with the squirt bottle of holy water in his hand. “Okay, here’s how—oh, shit. Oh, shit.”
Dean’s eyelids were slightly open so the wet gleam of his eyes could be seen. He’d gone completely pale and when Sam accidentally brushed his cheek with one hand, his skin was freezing. The center of Sam’s gut twisted hard. He shoved the bottle beneath his arm and jabbed his fingers at Dean’s neck, but he missed the spot and Dean started to fall over. So Sam grabbed him, and then there were voices so Sam had to waste time looking around.
It was just some people heading for a nearby restaurant. Otherwise the parking lot was empty, and a damned good thing because Sam was about a hair away from a panic attack. He yanked Dean back—Dean was like a doll filled with lead weights—and pressed his fingers against Dean’s neck. No pulse. Held his hand in front of Dean’s mouth and nose. No breath.
“Oh, fuck, no. No, no, no, no--no. Stop it. Just—” Inside. It was fine, Sam told himself. It wasn’t like last time. This was only temporary, and Sam was going to proceed according to plan. He’d have to hurry to do that because the sky was already going orange and yellow with dusk, and—
--Inside. He carried Dean inside and left him in the bathroom. Absently took note of the old-fashioned exposed plumbing, then was irrationally proud of himself for operating so well when his mind was filled with the loudest, most annoying buzzing in the world. Sam got the trunk open and started pulling out gear and stuffing it into a duffel bag so he could get it inside without any weird looks, just in case somebody passed by. He kept dropping things so by the time he was back in the bathroom, he was gritting his teeth hard enough to feel cracks starting to form in them.
Dean was still—out. Dean was unconscious, Sam decided. Good thing, because if he was awake, he’d be pissed as hell that Sam was chaining him to the plumbing. He was so cold.
Sam finished and sat back, suddenly feeling very shaky. He wiped his hands on his thighs and found they were wet and clammy. It was so disgusting he ran his hands through the sink before he went out. He checked his watch, then the sky, then his watch because he lost track of his estimate the first time—probably an hour till sunset. He needed a butcher’s shop, or at least a supermarket. And he needed to do some research. And he needed to call Dad. He needed to get moving.
He got moving.
* * *
Ten-thirty at night. The various kinds of blood he’d poured off the meat cuts he’d bought were in plastic take-out containers that were nested in ice in the sink, since the room hadn’t come with a big enough fridge. Anyway, this way they were right at hand. Sam had gotten his laptop set up—the room had cable ‘net, thank God—and was making notes. He’d called Dad, but when the beep had sounded, he’d had no idea what to say and in the end, had just said there was trouble and call back as soon as possible. It probably wasn’t going to work.
Something let out a loud crack and Sam jerked up his head, but Dean was still how he’d been. The wall settling, Sam thought, and got back to researching. His eyes were beginning to burn and he flicked through ten websites before he realized he’d just stopped reading. He moved the cursor to the ‘Back’ button and was about to click when something else clicked. The side of Sam’s face suddenly went numb.
He put his laptop into sleep mode and set it to the side, out in the other room, before he turned to look at the bathtub. He still flinched and flattened against the door, hiccupping a gasp.
Dean had lifted his head—his head, nothing else—and was staring at Sam. He was grinning, easy and a little incredulous. The chains clinked as he lifted his manacled hands. “Very funny, Sam. Though I hope you’re following up with a stripper. Otherwise this is a pretty lousy joke.”
“Listen, Dean, I’ve got something you’ll probably want in the sink. I’m just…going…to…move….over…” Sam slowly said. Just as slowly, he started to ease himself towards the sink. He was still looking at Dean. That pull was back, and it was much, much stronger this time. So strong in fact that Sam found himself moving in a diagonal, both sideways and forward. The bathroom was way too small for this to be good.
“What would you know about what I want?” Dean…he practically purred it. He suddenly, fluidly shifted to lean as far over the edge of the bathtub as he could. He was still really pale—it was like his tan had been completely reabsorbed—but the whites of his eyes had cleared up. “Come on, Sam. Joke’s over, so let me out of these.”
Sam managed to hook his hand over the sink edge. He teetered for a second, then abruptly yanked himself back. “Not till you—”
“Goddamn it!” Dean abruptly threw himself against the chains. The links clanged and the plumbing creaked and Dean’s eyes were blazing. He snarled and snapped a few times, furiously pulling at the chains. “Let me the fuck out of these, you pathetic piece of shit! You don’t even fucking know what to do! I always have to tell you, and you ignore me anyway but don’t you dare this time. Listen to me.”
This time the pull was practically a physical thing Sam could see. It lassoed him and whipped tight, and the sink actually started groaning from how hard he was hanging onto it. His hands were slipping. “No! Dean! Don’t—Dean!”
“Sa~am,” Dean mockingly lilted.
Except that wasn’t Sam’s brother, and this was such a fucking--
--something went off in Sam’s head again, sending him crumpling to the ground with a blinding headache. At the same time, there was an incredibly loud thud and rattle of chains, followed by a low, pained groan. The motel must be practically empty if nobody was screaming at them to shut up, Sam inanely thought.
The pain in his head receded and he was able to look up. The wall behind the tub had gained large, long gouges that went all the way through the paint to the wood beneath it. Lots of layers of paint there…beneath them, Dean was slumped in the tub. He had bad gashes on his forehead and left cheekbone, and when he lifted his hands, Sam could see blue-black swellings beneath the manacles. He was staring at Sam again, but he looked scared and angry.
“Jesus. Okay, guess I believe you about that telekinetic stuff now,” Dean weakly said. He cracked a skeleton laugh as he gradually tipped over. His head landed on the edge of the tub nearest Sam, and after a moment, his fingers hooked over the edge, too. “Goddamn it, Sam. Did you wake up stupid today?”
“No, but we’re not—what happened to you?” Sam warily threw his arm over the sink counter and pulled himself up. He nervously tapped over the plastic lids before he finally settled on the cow blood.
Dean started to sit up, then winced and laid back. He twisted his head so he could sort of look at Sam. “I—it—” his fact contorted and he appeared to have a spasm; his hands jerked towards his throat before the chains stopped him “—it—I can’t—damn it, Sam. Just…Christ. That really hurt. Unfair advantage, man.”
“Well, I’ll apologize after you’re not so…hungry,” Sam muttered. He pulled the lid off the container and started to squat down by the tub. Things nearly got fucked up right there.
The blood sloshed and splattered out as Sam jerked back, then completely spilled as something seized his sleeve. He heard the container splash into the toilet a moment before his knees slammed into the side of the tub. Nails sank into his wrist and hot breath hit his throat, Dean’s head bashed him in the temple, and shit--
“God!” Dean half-screamed. His recoil stopped him from getting his other arm around Sam and gave Sam time to grab the chains.
The smell of burnt flesh stank up Sam’s nose. It got worse when he pulled Dean down so Dean had to keep his head against the tub edge again, but Sam made himself ignore it. He made himself ignore the wicked burn the little bag of dried angelica had left on Dean’s cheek, too, and just kept his arm pressed down over Dean’s shoulders. “Okay, you’re not that kind. Good thing I didn’t go with the crucifix.”
“Sam, damn it, just do the smart thing,” Dean urgently hissed. He twisted beneath Sam’s arm. He would’ve been strong enough to get free, too, if Sam hadn’t let go of the manacles and dangled the angelica bag over Dean’s eye, which tracked to stare at it. Dean’s pupils were so dilated that if he’d been on the street, he would’ve gotten hit for cocaine possession. “I’m not—it—”
He was starting to sound strangled again; a fragment of memory drifted through Sam’s mind. “Can’t talk about it till I say you’re a—a vampire?”
That was a yes, since Dean sagged in relief. Sam didn’t make the mistake of letting that go or loosening up; he pressed down harder and Dean winced, but looked approving. “It caught me and it—I wasn’t sure if it was a real bite. Damn bastard kissed me.”
“Did you bleed?” Sam asked.
Dean flinched, then nodded. He tried to smile. “Say one word about STDs and I’ll—Jesus Christ, Sam, don’t try to work around this. Just get a stake and get it over with.” He tried to smile again. “I promise not to blame you.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Look, I’ve got some stuff to tide you over till we fix this—and I’ve already got some ideas about that, so don’t—freak out on me. I’m already freaking out and I really don’t need it,” Sam muttered. “Now I’m going to—”
“No. Sam, I can’t do that.” A shiver went through Dean and Sam almost burned his eye.
Sam almost snarled, too. He wasn’t dealing with this. “Yes, you can. I’m going to check things thoroughly this time, so don’t even bring up Roy. Vampirism’s got a lot of information on it, and other people have gotten over it before, so we just have to find out how--”
“No, I can’t.” Dean’s jaw hardened. In another second it was going to start jutting, and then Sam was going to punch him.
“Dean. I’m not killing you. We’re not arguing about this,” Sam said.
For a couple seconds they stared at each other. Then Sam caught himself swaying in and he smashed the bag into the side of Dean’s jaw. He let go of Dean almost at once and grabbed for the toilet. Threw up in it, then opened his eyes to see his vomit all mixed with the cow’s blood and almost threw up again.
“I can’t drink any of that,” Dean tiredly said. When Sam looked over, Dean was lying with his head on the tub edge. His skin wasn’t pale now—it was bloodless and papery, like it belonged to some octogenarian who was going to pop off any minute now. He looked trashed. “I—I can smell it now, and it’s so different. It’s—I can’t drink those. Not any of them. It’s got to be human.”
“Got to be soon, too,” Sam muttered. He wiped his mouth with a hank of toilet paper, which he tossed into the toilet afterwards and flushed. Then he looked at Dean again. “You’re…”
Dean shrugged. “Newly made ones have high metabolisms and are really prone to starvation, which is why the vamps haven’t taken over the earth yet. Monsters 101.”
“Thanks, professor.” Sam sat back on his heels and glanced around. It was a mess. He was going to have to spend all night cleaning up if he didn’t want the smell to attract any attention. “Okay.”
That got Dean’s attention. His eyes widened and he started to pull himself up. “No. I’m not. And we’re not arguing about this.”
“No, we are not,” Sam said. He wrapped the drawstring of the angelica bag around his hand to make sure he wouldn’t drop it. He lifted his hand towards his throat, then put it down. It wasn’t like he was wearing a shirt with a collar or anything. “I’m not watching you die again, damn it. Do you any--any idea what it was like? It was like I—”
“I’m not doing it because I can’t be sure I won’t do something—” Dean started.
The headache was almost at explosion point again; Sam slammed down hard on it. “And if you die I can’t be sure I won’t goddamn do something!”
His words bounced crazily around the room. They went back to staring at each other while the echoes died down. Sam had no idea what his face was doing, but Dean’s went from stubborn to disbelieving and finally, oddly, to a little taken aback.
Dean looked down, then up again. He pursed his lips a couple times. “Could you…you know…pull that no-hands crap again? Do you have a handle on it yet?”
“I’m working on it,” Sam said. He wasn’t exactly lying. He gingerly scooted over, trying not to get more blood on himself, and slowly reached for Dean’s shoulder. At the same time, he brought up his other hand so he could smash the bag of angelica into Dean’s face if necessary.
He pulled Dean forward and Dean sucked in his breath—he was shaking a little beneath Sam’s hand. “You are such a fucking idiot,” Dean raggedly mumbled.
Sam agreed a little bit, but he wasn’t about to tell Dean that. He tightened his hold on Dean’s shoulders; Dean’s fingers bumped against Sam’s chest, then dropped to flatten against the tub edge. Dean’s breathing sped up when Sam tilted his head, and for a second he was just hovering. Then he jerked down and it hurt. Oh, Jesus, it hurt. It was all Sam could do not to just rip Dean off right then and there. He hissed in a breath and counted in his head. One, two, three.
The stabbing pain spread out. It didn’t decrease in intensity, really, but Sam got a little used to it. Enough so it wasn’t just a big blinding spot of agony and he could distinguish what was Dean’s lips and what were his teeth and his tongue. His tongue was moving, wriggling against Sam’s throat and he’d sunk down so Sam actually was more holding him up than in place. Ten, eleven.
Dean suddenly groaned. The chains rattled and Sam tried to look to see what Dean was doing, but Dean moved. Pressed forward; his hands were warm now, and they rubbed up against Sam’s chest in a…peculiar way. He was…moaning? Fuck. He was moaning. Moaning and…fourteen, fifteen.
Sam was starting to get dizzy, but he didn’t want to have to do this again very soon so he gritted his teeth. Ignored the way the chains were starting to clink rhythmically. It was harder to pretend Dean wasn’t—wasn’t—
--then cold air was hitting the throb on the side of Sam’s neck and Dean was in the tub, convulsing with this look on his face, like he was dying of happiness and like he wanted to kill himself right then and there. He stopped before Sam could reach in, ending up on his side. He was very still for counts twenty through twenty-seven; Sam wadded up some toilet paper against his neck, but he could feel the place already scabbing over. “Dean?”
“You--fucking--son of a bitch,” Dean rasped. Sobbed, almost. His shoulders shook hard once, and when Sam reached down to him, he jerked away. He was careful not to roll over. “Oh, Christ. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just—I didn’t mean—”
“Dean. Dean. It’s okay,” Sam’s mouth said. The rest of him had gone numb. He wasn’t really thinking. “It’s just…part of this thing. Which we’re gonna fix. We’ll fix it. Just…can you sit up? Are you fine for now? I need to know. Dean. Please just sit up.”
Dean slowly, awkwardly sat up halfway, then started to go down again so Sam had to grab for him. He stiffened up, then abruptly threw up his head. His eyes frantically ran over Sam’s face for a moment. “Did I take too much?”
“No…no, actually I could’ve let you take more. Do you—”
“No,” Dean fiercely said. He looked about as in control of himself as Sam felt—barely. “No. I don’t…it was like having an espresso. It was really…a little’s going to go a long way, I think.”
“Good, because I really need to get back to work. I…I’m just going to get the key to the chains. That all right?” Sam replied. Logistics. Logistics were good, good and calming and distracting. He wasn’t going to think about anything else. He couldn’t afford to, anyway.
After thinking a moment, Dean gave Sam a small nod. Sam scrambled out of there, barely remembering to take off his shoes to keep from getting blood on the carpet. He slid to the side of the doorway and took a deep breath. It didn’t help.
Something clunked in the bathroom, so Sam peeked back inside. Dean had put his wrists on the tub edge and was hunched over them with his face pressed into his hands. He would’ve looked like he was praying if his shoulders hadn’t been shaking so much.
Sam turned away and pressed the heels of his hands into his face. His head hurt. His neck hurt, and the middle of his chest hurt. But…but Dean wasn’t dead, thank God. They could work with that.
He needed to find something—right, the key. Key. Key, key, key…