The cabin creaks under Sam's steps, and Sam watches as Dean starts setting things into boxes. "Dean, I don't think we have enough space for everything -" Sam begins, but Dean cuts him off.
"We don't leave anything behind."
Sam swallows and begins to sift through all of Bobby's ammunition, making a mental count. Guilt blooms in his chest, as if they're stealing under Bobby's nose.
"We'll take good care of it," Sam murmurs.
Dean does whatever he does when shit hits the fan: he goes quiet. He disappears at night and comes home hours later, smelling of smoke. His showers take a bit longer, he eats slower, and eye contact is non-existent.
Sam sighs and slides the shaker across the table. "Look, we gotta talk."
Dean snorts. "We really don't."
"We gotta - we gotta regroup or something, man. Figure out what we're going to do next."
Dean narrows his eyes. "We know what we're going to do next. We're gonna gank that son of a bitch. No, that's too easy. I'm gonna -" he stops, picks up the shaker, tipping it over on his fries. "We're gonna find him first."
Sam shakes his head and leans back against the booth. "Do you really need that much salt?"
"Huh?" Dean glances down. "Oh. Shit. God fucking damn it."
"You're really gonna tell me that you're in the right mindset to do this?"
Dean looks up, and his eyes are hard. "You think there ever will be?"
Sam goes back to his napkin.
"You missed the turnoff."
Dean starts. "What?"
"Uh, the turnoff? To the motel?"
Dean's slow to make a face. "No, I didn't. She said it was twelve miles from that diner."
"It's been twelve miles."
"No," Dean protests, looking down at the odometer. "It's only been - oh. Fuck. Fuck. Shit."
"It's fine," Sam says. "Just turn around."
"Fuck. I musta misread, that's all. Uh." Dean blinks, his eyes going dull. His foot falls away from the gas pedal. "I don't, uh. I don't -"
"Dean, shit!" Sam spins the wheel to the side and pulls them over, pressing his own foot on the brake. "Dude, what's going on?"
Dean stares back at him, and he looks confused. "What?"
"You're spacing out, man. Here, move over. I'm driving."
Dean's eyes clear. "No way, it's fine."
Dean juts out his jaw, and Sam prepares for a make me or fuck you but is surprised when Dean's shoulders slump and he opens the front door. So surprised that he's still sitting in the passenger's seat when Dean opens his door.
Wordlessly, Sam slides behind the wheel, and Dean shuts the door carefully behind him.
Dean's a silent sleeper. Most of the time, Sam has to strain to even hear him breathing, squint to see his chest slowly move up and down. He'd wake up in the middle of the night, especially those few weeks after, and be up and out of bed, hand almost on Dean's chest, just to be sure.
Tonight, it's too quiet. Sam wakes up and hears the silence shrieking off the walls.
Dean's bed is empty.
With a curse, Sam tumbles out of bed and nearly falls face first on the floor, his feet tangled up in the sheets. Goosebumps erupt on his flesh, and he realizes that the window is propped open.
"Dean?" Sam calls out, even though he knows it's pointless: the bathroom door is wide open, showcasing an empty room. He makes a grab for his phone on the bedside table and speed dials 'one' -
only to hear a ring a few feet away.
"Damn it!" Sam explodes, pulling his jeans on and shoving his phone in his pocket. "What the fuck, man." A million thoughts running through his head, he tears the front door open to see that the car is still sitting in the parking lot, patiently waiting under a blanket of snow. He should be relieved to see it, but it only makes it worse. Using his sleeve-covered forearm, he starts sweeping snow off the windshield and back window before he hops in and turns the car on.
Where to go?
Sam rolls down the side windows to let the snow fall away and keeps them down. He has half a mind to yell Dean's name out the window as he drives, like a child looking for a lost dog, but he swallows his words and puts the car in gear.
The snow crunches under the tires but the car remains as steady as ever. Still, Sam drives slowly, leaning up as far to the windshield as he can. The first place he passes is the dive bar Dean made note of when they first arrived, but as expected, it's quiet. Closed. Not sure what Sam imagined to find, Dean loitering around the back door? He huffs out a frustrated breath and increases pressure on the gas pedal.
Sam nearly reaches the end of town before he slams his foot on the brake, throws the car into park, and jumps out.
Dean's walking down the road, no jacket, no boots - only his jeans, socks, and t-shirt.
"Hey!" Sam calls out, but Dean keeps going, staring straight ahead. "Dean, stop. Hey!"
Sam's scared to touch him, but he lays a soft hand on Dean's elbow. Dean stops. Curls his toes in the snow. Jesus.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"Walking," Dean says flatly. He points. "There."
"I need to tell her I'm sorry," Dean says in that same emotionless voice. His eyes are wide with fear, but it's as if the rest of his body can't keep up. "She - she told me -"
"She's fine," Sam hurries, because there's nobody else Dean could be talking about. "Remember? She and Ben are fine."
Dean shakes his head. "Sam. Sam? Is that you? I feel -" he raises a hand to his chest. Winces. "I don't feel right. "
"I wouldn't think so. You're freezing," Sam insists, but Dean simply blinks at him. Sam grabs his hand, turns it palm down. Rubs over each purple fingernail. Dean watches the movements, one eyebrow slightly narrowed in confusion. Sam pulls off his glove and lays a hand on Dean's cheek, the chill enough to force a hiss from Sam's mouth. Dean doesn't seem to notice; he slowly wraps his fingers around Sam's wrist, presses Sam's hand tighter against his face.
"Oh," he says. "Is that bad?"
Dean sits obediently in the front seat, back straight and rigid. He watches the snow fall on the windshield, the wipers clearing them away. His body betrays him by shivering but he doesn't seem to mind.
"Where are we going?"
Sam grips the steering wheel, Dean's slow and easy breathing ringing in his ears.
When they get back, Dean lets himself be moved, a malleable doll; his gaze drifts over Sam's shoulder and remains there, even when Sam tries to coax him back.
"No problem," Sam says. "It's all good. Just gotta get you out of these clothes, that's all. Yeah, yeah, that's what she said. Arms up. Jesus, dude, how do you not feel this? You're so fucking cold."
Dean hums under his breath. Sam digs his teeth into his bottom lip and slides a few sweatshirts over Dean's chest. Dean's head emerges, his hair in disarray, and he looks so young that Sam has to turn away for a moment.
After a deep breath, he pushes Dean back on the bed and throws the blankets over him. Dean watches him without a word.
Nothing. Sam blows out a breath and sets about to make some anyway. When he hands Dean a cup, he has to keep Dean's hands wrapped around it with his own. Dean eyes the cup as if he doesn't know what to do with it.
"Drink," Sam insists, but Dean only frowns. After a few more failed attempts at coaxing, Sam takes the cup out of Dean's hands and lays back on the bed. Dean tumbles down with him, burying his face in Sam's neck. Dean's nose is freezing.
"Better?" Dean mumbles.
No, Sam thinks.
Sam pries his eyes open to the sound of water running, and he gropes around the bed, feeling cold sheets beside him.
"Dean?" he croaks, to no response. He turns on the bedside lamp and stumbles to his feet, rubbing his eyes. "Dean."
The bathroom door is open, but barely, and he pushes it all the way. Steam hits him full in the face, almost making his eyes water. Sam coughs and steps inside. "Dude, answer me, or I'm coming in there."
Sam grits his teeth and pulls back the curtain.
Dean sits quietly in the tub, his legs tucked against his body, elbows resting on his knees. His skin screams red, and he blinks up at Sam. "You said I was cold," he says, but with a complete lack of accusatory threat. Just like he's someone talking about the weather.
Sam shuts off the water. "Come on," he says quietly. "You've been in here long enough."
"Only five minutes," Dean mumbles. "I just need a few more minutes, Sammy."
After Sam wraps a towel around Dean and puts him back in bed, Sam automatically reaches for his cell phone. Stops.
There's nobody to call.
Dean disappears the next morning while Sam's at the counter, paying the bill for their breakfast. He nearly breaks his neck tearing out the front door, but Dean hasn't made it far.
"Just need a walk, Sam," Dean says, his mouth turning up at the corners. His eyes are dead. "It's good exercise."
Sam says nothing.
Sam throws Dad's journal on Dean's lap. "Come on."
Dean frowns. "Where are we going?"
"I'm just taking a shower. You're going to sit right by the door and read that section on poltergeists out loud."
Dean raises an eyebrow. "Why?"
Sam looks at him square in the eye. "Because I want to make sure you don't go anywhere."
Dean's frown grows. "Where would I go?"
Good question, Sam thinks. Good fucking question.
Dean makes it through the second page before his voice drifts away, and Sam scrubs the shampoo out of his hair and slams the water off. Dean hasn't moved, but his head has fallen back against the wall, staring straight ahead, book open on his lap. He blinks when Sam kneels beside him.
Sam grips Dean's shoulder, not caring about how he gets Dean's shirt drenched. "Do you feel this?"
Dean rolls his head over, takes in Sam's hold. "Uh," he says. "Should I?"
Sam pulls into the hospital parking lot, Dean as silent as ever next to him. He almost cries when he thinks that it would be easier if this were just a brain tumor.
"I don't think I can help you," Sam whispers. "I don't think I'm enough."
"It's okay, Sammy," Dean pats Sam's hand, his gaze an inch off to the left, pupils dilated. "I can't help you, either."
One of Sam's fingernails breaks off in his palm.
Dean hasn't spoken a word since he was admitted.
The doctor eyes Dean. "Doesn't look too consenting to me," he says. "Be up front with me, all right? Let me know if this is involuntary, because we gotta go a whole different way if -"
"It's that," Dean says. Breathes out through his mouth. "No. Not what you said. It's - voluntary. I - I need to be here." His voice is hollow.
The doctor doesn't look satisfied, and he asks a few more questions, Dean answering each one in a monotone voice. Eventually, the doctor slides the forms over. Watches like a hawk while Dean fills it out. Watches while Sam continuously picks up the pen that Dean drops from loose fingers.
It's scary, how easy it all is.
Dean sets the pen on top of the clipboard carefully when he's done, looking at a loss. "I'm ready," he recites. He turns to Sam. "You can go."
Sam shakes his head. "I'm not leaving, man."
The doctor clears his throat. "You're going to have to, for now. He'll need to be evaluated. You can see him later."
Sam glares at him. "I know," he says, and turns back to Dean. "You understand? I'm not leaving you here."
"Okay," Dean says easily. "Bye, Sammy."
When Dean's taken back, Sam contemplates checking himself in right behind his brother. He steps back. Nearly runs out. Chews on his lip as he takes a few laps around the block.
Sam doesn't feel the cold, either.
Sam shows up the next day right as visiting hours begin. He hefts a box under his arm - Dean's Christmas present that he picked up at the Target nearby. He wonders if Dean even knows what day it is.
A guard takes the box from him. "Shouldn't have wrapped it," he says. "Has to be checked out first."
Sam's mouth goes dry. "Oh. Right. Sorry."
Sam's wrap job isn't the best, but he still has to bite his lip as the guard goes about unwrapping it. He feels silly, but it's almost infuriating to watch. That's not for you.
The guard huffs a laugh when he sees what's inside, but he replaces the lid without a word. "All right, it's fine."
"Thanks," Sam says, almost sarcastically. He takes the box back and runs his fingers along the sides. It looks pathetically lonely now. Exposed. He wants to throw it in the trunk of the car and forget he even brought it.
"Hey," a woman's voice calls out to him. "Need some paper?"
Sam turns and sees her; she's wearing black slacks and a purple blouse, a name tag clipped to her collar. She looks mid-thirties at best, but friendly. Welcoming.
"You have some?" Sam asks dumbly, and she laughs, nodding.
"I do a lot of my own wrapping in my office," she says. "Strange, I know."
Sam raises an eyebrow at her; he can think of a lot more strange things. She seems to get the message.
"Doctor Davis," she introduces, holding out her hand. "But you can call me Karen if you like?"
Sam takes her hand. "Sam."
Karen doesn't insist on a last name; she simply beckons him on back. "Family or friend?" she asks, snagging a visitor's tag and tossing it at him.
"Family," Sam says, setting the lanyard around his neck. "Uh. My brother."
She nods. "Has he been here long?"
She whistles. "Day before Christmas, too." She winces. "That was horribly insensitive, I'm sorry -"
"No," Sam blurts. "No, it's okay. We - we don't have the best Christmas track record."
"Oh?" Karen asks, but not pressuring. She pulls a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocks her office, showing him in. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thanks," Sam says awkwardly, watching as she reaches behind her desk and pulls out a roll of wrapping paper. He sees dancing reindeer and floating candy canes. "So, uh. Are you a doctor doctor, or -"
"'Doctor doctor'"? Karen laughs. "Assuming you mean physician, no. Psychiatrist, yes."
Sam nods and shifts his feet.
"Don't get nervous on me, now. You're safe." She sets out the paper and pulls out some scissors. "Want to wrap?"
Sam carefully takes the scissors from her, turning them over in his hand. He feels Karen watching him, waiting. He sighs and sets the box down, beginning to cut.
"You want to talk about it?"
"I'm not the one who's supposed to be analyzed."
"You know," Karen says wryly, "sometimes people just want to talk."
Sam's face heats up. "Sorry. I - no, not really."
Karen nods. "No problem. I know it's hard when you have to take care of a loved one alone, that's all."
Sam narrows his eyes, his cutting going off-center. "I didn't say we were alone."
"You didn't have to," Karen says simply. "What's your brother's name?"
Sam pauses. "Dean."
Karen reaches over and holds down a corner of paper so Sam can tape it shut. "Ah. He's not my patient, but I saw him this morning."
Something swoops in Sam's stomach. "Yeah? How's he doing? Do you know what's - what's wrong with him?"
Really, wrong is not the correct term for this at all. The word alone feels ugly in his mouth.
"He was evaluated," Karen says evasively. "Although I'm not the person to talk to you about his state. That's for Dr. Maeden."
"Come on," Sam pleads in a low voice, adding one last piece of tape to the box. "I just need something."
Karen sighs and looks around. "He hasn't been diagnosed with anything, if that's what you're asking."
"But there's an idea?"
"I can get Dr. Maeden for you."
"Not yet," Sam says. Takes a breath. "Not yet. I want to see him first. My brother." He's not ready for that. He can't put that face on right now.
"Okay," Karen nods. She thinks for a moment. "When you see him, expect him to be confused. He may not know where he is, or how long it's been since you last saw him. It's called dissociation. Do you know what that is?"
Sam swallows and nods.
"Some say it's a coping mechanism," Karen continues. "After you've been through something - unpleasant. They just shut down. It's easier that way, you know?"
Sam's hand curls into a fist. "Yeah."
"This is really not my place," Karen hurries. "I don't want to assume anything, but I want you to know what to expect. If he asks questions, answer them to the best of your ability. Try not to ask any of your own. Let him get acclimated."
"Thank you," Sam says. "Really."
"Sure thing," Karen smiles. "Dr. Maeden's going to want to talk with you, too. Get some context."
"Yeah. Yeah, of course." Sam sees Dean drinking himself unconscious only to wake up and start all over again. "Whatever he needs to know."
"Good," Karen says. "Let me take you in, okay? I'll give you some time before I grab the doctor."
"Thank you," Sam blurts out again. "For -" he motions. His throat closes up on him.
Karen sets the roll of paper back behind her desk. "My pleasure," she says. "Ready?"
Sam's steps echo loudly down the hallway. Some patients watch him walk by, a curious look in their eyes; others don't even give him a second glance. Karen opens a door to a room with several tables and chairs, a TV playing Deal or No Deal, a group of six guys playing dominoes. A few nurses are leaning against the wall, talking animatedly while looking around the room every few seconds.
"There you are," Karen says lightly, gesturing to the side. "How about I give you ten minutes, hmm? Then I'll send Dr. Maeden in."
Sam nods wordlessly and barely feels her patting his shoulder as she walks by.
Dean's sitting on the floor, eerily in the same position Sam found him in the shower. There's a guy sitting next to him, chattering away. Dean tilts his head as if he's listening, his face twitching as if it's trying to remember emotions but hasn't quite made it there yet. When he makes eye contact with Sam, his face smoothes out. Otherwise, it's as blank as ever.
"Hey," Sam ventures as he walks over, and the guy gives a little jump.
"Oh! Sorry, sorry," he starts to stand, but Sam shakes his head, gestures to stay down. For lack of something better to do, Sam sits down in front of them, Indian-style.
"Sam," he says, holding out his hand for another introduction. The guy watches his hand for a moment, looking wary. Sam wavers and lets it drop to his side.
"Tony," the guy says. "Sorry about the - the hand thing. I don't like to do that. Shake hands. You never know what's on them."
Sam smiles. "Hey, Tony. No problem." He can understand.
"I like to talk," Tony says, almost as if in warning. "It's distracting. From." He stops, lifts a shoulder, but doesn't elaborate. "I annoy people. They tell me to shut up. Go away. But he doesn't talk much." He smiles brightly, nodding at Dean. "Doesn't tell me to go away. I can talk enough for the both of us."
"Yeah, well," Sam says, "he's got a long history of someone talking his ear off."
There's a small curve to Dean's lips; his gaze drifts down to the ground.
Tony spots the box in Sam's arms. "Hey, man - think you got a present."
Right, Sam almost forgot. He holds it on his lap. "Uh - what about you?"
"Nah," Tony says, the grin still dancing on his lips. "I haven't gotten a present since - hey, Melissa, how long has it been? Three. Three Christmases. Four maybe? I can't - I don't remember. More than one, more than two. Two. More than two. Three. Maybe more than three. What comes after six?"
Dean taps Tony's leg, and Tony starts, shakes off his current train of thought. "Oh. Right. Well, you should open it, yeah? I can go. It's no problem. I don't want to bother you." He tilts his head, furrows his brow. Sam recognizes that look.
"It's okay," he says, holding out the box. "It's nothing, really. You can stay if you like?"
When Dean doesn't reach out to take it, Tony takes it for him. "I can open it for you," he says, the question lingering underneath. "Yeah? Okay. I can open it. I can do that. Easy. Or I can just help. Tear it open a little. You can finish the rest. I don't want to take it from you."
Dean scrunches up his nose and inclines his head, and Tony's face lights up. Suddenly Sam's embarrassed, because really, it isn't much of anything, and this guy looks like he's over the moon at the thought of a present. He wants to reach out and take it back, but refrains. Barely.
Sure enough, Tony tears it open but leaves a corner for Dean. Tony gestures, and Dean bites his lip, as if even the idea of raising his arm is exhausting.
"No problem," Tony says with a smile, and he lifts Dean's wrist himself and places it on the box, maneuvering Dean's fingers around the paper. "Easy as one, two three. Easy peasy. Easy as pie. Apple pie's my favorite. There's a market by my house that sold apples. They're the reddest you've ever seen. As red as the fire trucks. They -"
Dean clears his throat.
"You're right, we should see what's inside," Tony nods, and he pushes Dean's fingers under the lid and pops it off.
His grin grows. "Is that licorice?"
Dean makes a soft noise, his eyes drifting down to the box.
Sam shoves his hands into his pockets. "Uh, yeah. Yeah. Well -"
"We get candy here sometimes," Tony says, "but it's not the kind I like. They give us dark chocolate, can you believe it? Or Skittles."
Dean's shoulders shake briefly. "Travesty," he says, and Sam nearly jumps at the croak in his voice.
Tony's eyes soften at the word; he pauses: then continues right on. "I'd rather have M&Ms, though. The red ones."
Dean's mouth twitches and he makes eye contact with Sam, but the smile slips away. Not enough energy to keep it up. Sam leans against the wall and slides down until he's sitting next to Dean. Tony sets the box on Dean's lap and scoots away.
"You should eat that," Tony says. "It's a very nice present."
Sam wants to laugh, because it's anything but. Dean nods slowly, watching as Tony walks away and sits down at the table with the dominoes game.
"Hey," Sam murmurs.
"Hey," Dean echoes. He blinks. "Thanks for the licorice. I like licorice."
To Sam's ears, it's almost a question. "Yeah, man. You like licorice."
Dean reaches into the box and lifts a piece. He turns it over in his hand. Doesn't eat it. "Should I save it? For later?" He licks his lips.
Sam's breath catches. "You can eat it whenever you want, man. Whenever you want."
Dean hums under his breath in answer, a song that escapes Sam's memory, but sounds vaguely familiar.
"Doctor's gonna talk to me," Sam says finally. "That okay?"
Dean turns his head. "Uh huh," he says. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Well," Sam fumbles, "it's going to be pretty personal, you know? You need to know that."
Dean knocks his knee against Sam's aimlessly. "I trust you," he says simply. "I trust you, Sammy." He breaks the licorice in half and hands a piece to Sam, Sam's automatic protest dying on his lips. Sam puts it in his mouth and chews slowly; Dean tracks the movement and mirrors him.
"'S good," Dean says. He smiles. "I like licorice."
"I know," Sam says. He attempts a smile of his own. "I know you do."