Dean has the muzzle of the sniper rifle pressed up against his chin, just above the artery. He closes his eyes, swallows, squeezes the trigger. There's a spray of blood, a dull thump as his body hits the earth.
Sam starts, presses the tips of his fingers just above his right eye, fighting the urge to throw up. Dean is talking animatedly in the driver's seat, gesticulating with one hand. Something about Ellen and driving to meet her at the Roadhouse. Sam squints out the window at the darkness rolling by, keeps his replies noncommittal, hopes Dean won't notice that he's not really paying attention. It feels as though someone's driving a needle into his eye, in synch with his heartbeat. The headache's been building since his last vision on the bridge, starting out as nothing but white spots and dancing lights in his peripheral vision, but now it's twisting his stomach and leaving a sour taste in his mouth, threatening to rip his skull apart. As if that wasn't bad enough, he can't seem to rid himself of the image of Dean blowing out his own brains on the side of the road in Guthrie, Oklahoma, of all random places.
“Hey,” Dean snaps his fingers in his direction, and he realizes he's missed whatever Dean just said. “You maybe feel like paying attention, here? It's only a matter of life and death, nothing serious.”
Sam flinches from the sharp noise, sits up straighter, sees the back of Dean's head explode again in his mind. Blood glistens on jagged bone. “Sorry. I'm listening.”
“Uh-huh. What's going on with you?”
“Right. You're not still being all broody and emo over that whole 'Andy's-a-killer' thing, are you? Because we settled that.”
He manages a half-hearted shrug with one shoulder. “No.”
“No, you're not being broody and emo, or no we didn't settle it?”
“Dean...” he rubs at his temple. “It's fine.”
A monster of an SUV drives past them in the opposite lane, high-beams on full. Dean throws up a hand to shield himself from the glare. “Fuckin' morons, can't turn off their goddamned high-beams. Like to know who the fuck taught them basic courtesy on the road... Sam? You okay?”
The needle has turned into a hot poker, and the fucker has had babies. Tiny baby pokers, all of them white hot and jabbing directly into his brain. He can still see spots of colour behind his closed eyelids —residual retinal imprints from the lights— even with his hand clamped over his eyes. The spray of blood replays in his head on an endless loop of gore. He can see brain matter peeking out from Dean's ruined skull. He's going to be sick.
Not now, he tells himself. They have to get to the Roadhouse. Ellen's waiting and Dean wants to get there. Deep breaths, and don't be sick. Not-sick-not-sick-not-sick, he repeats the mantra silently, as though it will have any effect at all. He thinks he actually might have whimpered. No, he definitely whimpered, because Dean is saying something, his words rendered incomprehensible through the sound of blood rushing through Sam's ears, so that means Sam must have made some kind of sound. He's never going to live this down, supposing he doesn't die in the next thirty seconds, and he's not sure that that's not a very real possibility.
The car comes to a smooth stop by the side of the road, and before he can even fumble with the door it's yanked open and Dean is pulling him out of the car. He lands on his knees and one hand, and the impact ratchets up the pain another notch as he throws up, coughing and retching. He barely feels Dean's hand on his back, just stays hunched over, shivering miserably until he's pretty sure he's got nothing left to throw up anymore. Dean grabs him by the shoulders, pushes him back until he's sitting propped up against the Impala's front wheel, the heat of the engine seeping into his shoulders. He brushes the hair back from Sam's forehead, damp with sweat.
“So when were you planning on telling me you were sick?”
“Not sick,” he keeps his eyes closed, wishes the stars weren't so bright.
“Yeah, 'cause healthy people puke all the time. That wasn't a vision.” It's not a question.
“Migraine?” Sam shrugs, hears Dean huff out a breath. “Bad one, huh? It's been a while.”
“Not since Stanford,” Sam says quietly. It brings back memories of lying prone on his bed, Jess' face hovering over him, strangely disembodied in the dark, her features pinched with worry. Asking if he needed a hospital. It was after their fourth date, just before exams. She'd sat with him, quiet, watching.
“I would've stopped. How come you didn't say anything?”
He can't think of a way to explain that won't require more words. Even the idea of speaking makes him want to hurl again.
“Okay, tell me later. Too late for the meds?”
“Worth a try.”
“Okay.” A moment later Dean is prying open his mouth, slipping a tablet under his tongue. “Okay, there we go. We're just gonna sit for a minute, let you catch your breath, and you let me know when you're ready to go, okay?”
Sam lets the medication dissolve under his tongue, prays with everything he's got that it'll work, but apart from the bitter taste flooding his mouth, replacing the taste of vomit, he doesn't feel anything. He shifts uncomfortably, and watches Dean shoot himself in the head again. Blood and bone and brain, spattered along the asphalt next to the highway. Dean takes his arm, ignores his groan of protest and hauls him back into the Impala, and when he's settled and reasonably sure he won't puke again they take off. Sam curls in on himself, head against the cool glass of the window. He's shivering and sweating, hot and cold by turns, seeing nothing but blood behind his eyelids, but he's glad they're back on their way. Ellen's waiting for them, he remembers. It's important. Life-or-death. He hears Dean's voice, tries to formulate some kind of coherent response, but after a moment he realizes his brother is talking to someone else.
“Yeah, we're not going to be there as soon as I thought. No, we're just running a bit late. We'll be there tomorrow, later rather than sooner. We'll be there, though. Yeah, okay. Thanks, Ellen.”
Shit. He's screwing everything up, again. He tries to sit up, but pain lances through his skull. “Dean, no...”
“Sam, it's fine. We're going to that motel we passed, and we'll hole up for the night. The Roadhouse'll still be there tomorrow.”
“Said it was important. I can sleep it off in the car,” he lies with as much conviction as he can muster.
“Sam, don't be stupid. Just... try not to move.”
He's never been more on board with a plan of Dean's in their entire existence. He holds himself very, very still, his breathing loud in his own ears. He can hear the blood rushing in his veins, feel every heartbeat reverberating loudly, bouncing off the inside of his skull. The next thing he knows the car door is opening again, and he thinks he must have lost some time somewhere, because suddenly Dean is half-carrying him into a motel room at the end of a squat, rectangular building the walls of which haven't seen a new coat of paint in far too long.
“Bathroom?” Dean asks quietly, nudging the door open with his foot. He doesn't move to switch on the lights, and Sam is pathetically grateful to him for it.
He manages a weak nod, and a moment later he's kneeling on the floor, the harsh neon light reflecting off the cold tiles and threatening to blind him while his stomach makes a second attempt to turn itself inside-out. He accidentally knocks his cast against the toilet, and the jarring sensation all but makes him pass out from the pain. Dean rubs his arm in what's probably meant to be a comforting gesture, but it sends ripples like electricity through him, and he lets out a muted whimper, tries to pull away.
Immediately the hand is withdrawn. “No touching, huh?” Dean's voice is soft, barely above a whisper. “Sorry. I'm a little rusty at this. Hold on, I'll be right back.”
The light goes off, and instantly the pressure behind his eyes eases. He rocks back slowly, slides until he's up against the wall, knees drawn up and forearms resting on them, leans his head back, eyes closed, trying to get his breathing to go back to normal. There's a slight change in the quality of the light, and he realizes that Dean has switched on one of the lamps in the bedroom, keeping the bathroom door as a barrier between it and Sam. He takes another shuddering breath, wishes he could stop shivering, especially since he feels as though he's on fire.
Dean slips back into the bathroom, settles on the floor beside him. “Eye of the storm?”
It's always like this, with the bad ones. For some reason he's never understood, his body seems to want to give him a few moments' respite before redoubling its efforts to turn him into a quivering, gibbering mess. He hears water running in the sink, and Dean presses something wet into his hand —a facecloth, by the texture, neatly folded in three.
“Put it over your eyes, it'll help.”
If it didn't hurt so goddamned much, he'd feel ridiculous. He concentrates on taking as deep breaths as he can manage, and this time when, in his mind, Dean's skull bursts open like a gory flower, he can't hold back the whimper that wells up in his chest.
“You want to try for the bed?”
He's not going to make it that far. “No.” The pain recedes just a little, and he pulls the now-warm facecloth away from his eyes, sees Dean watching him intently. He tries for a smile, doesn't know exactly what effect he achieves. “I don't suppose you'd be open to killing me now and putting me out of my misery?”
Dean flinches. “Not fucking funny.”
Pain sparks in Sam's head again, and he presses the facecloth back over his eyes, keeps his head bowed. He's missed something, knows it's because he's in pain and out of it, and it's definitely something important, except he can feel the migraine lurking in the shadows, waiting for its moment. He sees the muzzle of the sniper rifle dig cruelly into Dean's skin, feels the warm spray of blood on his face as the bullet rips through him. He should ask Dean just what he meant, but instead he finds himself slipping, clutching at the wall with his free hand, ends up curled as tightly as he can on the cold tiles, both arms wrapped around his head. God only knows where the facecloth has gone. He lets out a choked sob, swallows the rest because it hurts too much even to do that, can't keep the tears from streaming down his face.
There's a slight change in pressure on his leg, and he realizes Dean has hooked two fingers in the cuff of his jeans, is hanging on there. It's too light to have an effect, just the merest touch to say 'I know, I'm here,' and he lets out another sob, this one half-relieved, half-humiliated at how much he needs for his brother to be sitting there next to him while he lies prone on a filthy bathroom floor in some shitty motel on a nameless back road in Nebraska. He's this close to losing it, to coming apart at the seams, and the only thing holding him together is the gentle tug of fingers on denim, and when Dean's head explodes in a welter of gore and bone and grey matter, there's a flashing pain to match in his own head and everything goes blessedly dark.
He awakens to the feel of something that's definitely not tile under him. He blinks, feels fabric against his cheek, reaches up gingerly to feel the shape and texture of a cheap motel pillow. He's still on the bathroom floor, but Dean has propped him up on a couple of pillows and covered him with the bedspread from one of the beds in the room. Dean himself has dozed off, sitting up against the far wall, one arm over his stomach, one leg drawn up and the other bent at what looks like an uncomfortable angle; drooling onto a pillow of his own, bunched under his shoulder, the folds of the fabric leaving vivid red marks on his cheek. It's light out, Sam realizes, if only just, and the very fact that it's not making him try to evacuate his stomach lining into the toilet is cause for celebration.
The migraine is still there, but muted, held at bay by something, maybe more meds. Slowly, carefully, he pushes himself upright, braces himself for lightning to shoot through his skull, is pleasantly surprised when there's only a faint twinge in his temples. Dean's eyes pop open —he's always had a freakish sixth sense about Sam's sleep patterns, always seems to know whether he's awake or asleep or even pretending to be asleep.
Sam manages a sheepish smile. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. Better this morning, I take it?” Dean wipes his mouth with the back of his wrist, and makes a face.
He tries a careful nod, is rewarded with more not-pain. “Yeah. Did you really sit there the whole night?”
Dean rolls his eyes. “What else was I gonna do? Let you lie on the floor in the dark by yourself?”
“Seems like a waste to have paid for the whole room,” Sam jokes weakly. It's better than trying to crawl into Dean's lap and curling up to sleep there, the way he wants to.
“Funny. You want to try for the bed now?”
“Yeah. Gotta brush my teeth first, though.”
Dean gets to his feet, stretches until his joints pop, arms behind his back, fingers laced, until it looks like he's trying to pull his arms clean out of their sockets. He should get up, Sam tells himself, but he feels disconnected from his body, boneless and a little bit like he's floating. His head feels like it just might come off his shoulders if he moves it the wrong way. He slumps against the wall, closes his eyes, which doesn't help the feeling of floating in the slightest.
“Your head still hurt? And don't lie to me, I can tell when you lie.”
“Yeah, but it's bearable.”
“Just because it's bearable doesn't mean it should be,” Dean reaches for Sam's toiletry bag —and God knows when he managed to bring it in here, because Sam certainly doesn't remember that— and pulls out the foil packet with Sam's migraine tablets.
“It's fine, I just need some Advil and a nap now.” The meds cost a fortune, and it's not like they're rolling in money, or have insurance that'll cover part of the cost.
Dean snorts. “No. This isn't negotiable. Do you really want a replay of Wisconsin? I don't know about you, but watching you suffer for three days before dragging your sorry, gigantic ass to an ER and having them pump you full of drugs is not my idea of a good time. Take your damned pill or I will shove it in your mouth and keep your jaw closed like a dog.”
“Well, since you asked so nicely...” Sam extricates a hand from the bedspread and holds it out, palm upward, pops the tablet in his mouth, waits for it to dissolve under his tongue.
Dean pulls him to his feet a couple of minutes later, hands him a glass with mouthwash in it. “You can brush later. Nap first. You're going to need a shower anyway, and you've got the worst case of bed-head ever, which is pretty freaking impressive for someone who hasn't even been near a bed in two days.”
Sam grimaces at himself in the mirror when he sees that Dean isn't far wrong. He looks terrible, pale and sunken-eyed, and he doesn't think even Dean's usual colourful and imaginative descriptions for his hair could do it justice this morning. There are porcupines that would disavow knowledge of him at this point. He leans on the sink, legs wobbly, grateful for Dean's hand at the small of his back, holding him steady. The mouthwash is pungent, and the sharp scent of mint makes him slightly queasy, but it doesn't tip him back over the edge the way he feared it might. Sometimes it doesn't take much for everything to go south again.
“Think you can make it to the bed now?”
He nods, and Dean takes his elbow, steers him through the bathroom door to the nearest bed, which has been stripped down to its sheets. Once Sam is lying down again he rescues the pillows and bedspread from the bathroom floor, brings them back and fusses until he's satisfied that Sam is as comfortable as he's going to get.
“Shove over, Sasquatch,” he sits on the bed, nudges Sam with his hip.
Sam rouses from where he was on the verge of dozing off. “Wha'?”
“Move. Over.” Dean leans back against the headboard, crossing his ankles in front of him. “Okay, now spill.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Don't 'what' me. There's something big going on in that freakish brain of yours that's too big even for it to hold onto. I know you, and you don't get migraines that bad unless you're stressing over something. Is it Andy? The visions? What?”
“It's nothing,” Sam tries to bury his face in his arms, but the instant-replay of Dean blowing his brains out starts again on loop in his mind, and he tenses up involuntarily.
“Nothing my ass. You're practically vibrating and I haven't even said anything yet. Come on,” he rubs Sam's shoulder. “I'm giving you a free chick-flick moment, here. Offer expires soon, no rain-checks, refunds or exchanges allowed.”
He wants to disappear, wants Dean to shut the hell up, or possibly never stop talking again, just so he'll always know where he is.
“You almost died.”
There's a silence. “Shit,” Dean says finally. “Is that what all this was about? I'm fine, Sam. Not a scratch.”
“I know. I just... I keep seeing it, like a video on replay, and it always goes wrong. Can't turn it off. If Andy hadn't... you'd be dead, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.” He shifts as the pain lurking at the back of his head intensifies just enough to remind him of its presence, and Dean's hand drops to rub between his shoulders.
“Hey, relax. The whole thing sucked out loud, but we're both fine. Andy's fine, the girl is fine, and the douchebag psycho serial killer is dead. I'm not going anywhere, I promise, and you are not responsible for me, you hear? That's my job. Always has been.”
Sam snorts quietly, but for the first time in over twenty-four hours the pressure of Dean's hand actually feels nice, and he lets himself relax into the touch. “Just... don't die, okay? Take better fucking care of yourself.”
“Says the guy who just spent the whole night on a bathroom floor. Mind-controlling psychics are out of my hands, you know. Can't control them.”
Dean huffs out an exasperated breath. “Denial it is, then. Fine. I promise not to die. Happy?”
“Good. Go to sleep.”
And Sam does.