In John's dreams, fighting is all the same. Belly down in the jungle in Viet Nam and screaming at his sons and going after monsters with a sawed-off shotgun all rolls into one, so it doesn't sink in right away that Sam shouldn't be yelling at him that it's Deacon, that Deacon's not a fucking undead zombie, Dad, that he doesn't need to put him down, that that's not what happened, that can't be what happened, Deacon's still Dad's friend. It doesn't sink in right away that this is never how this dream went before, that more often than not it's Dean who shows up in John's Viet Nam dreams, amulet clinking non-regulation between dog tags, and even then neither of his sons shows up in nightmares about when Deacon got shot and that moment of horror when John thought he was dead and then he reached out and grabbed John's arm.
Things pause, go still with only the rat-tat-tat of machine gunfire in the distance, more like a movie soundtrack than anything like John's actual memories of the war. Sam is breathing hard, holding onto John's arm--where Deacon did, when he wasn't a zombie, and John's fairly sure that a minute ago Sam was on the other side of him, so this is his subconscious putting two and two together and getting five. Son, John says roughly.
Yeah, Dad, says Sam, scared and hopeful.
I know. I know that's not Deacon, John says. That's not Deacon, you understand me? This didn't happen to Deacon. I'm dreaming, it's all fucked up in dreams--
John doesn't curse to his boys when he's not dreaming and doesn't let them mouth off to him. Sam was quoting John when he said fucking undead zombie so it's not like John can even blame him, really. Apparently his internal censor goes offline when he's under.
So you don't have to-- Sam starts to say, but then everything starts up again in full sound and technicolor and the oppressive humid heat on John's skin, uniform sweat-soaked to his body, and the smell of wet rot and bright blood and gunpowder and (out of place, out of time, dream elements) smoke, the wrong kind of smoke, and sulfur.
John swings his gun up again, a shotgun from out of the Impala's trunk for hunting, not his service weapon, and he's far too aware of what belongs here and what doesn't. Fight, damn it, John says to Sam.
It's not real, Sam protests.
Dreams aren't, John agrees. But you fight anyway.
Nothing John does, no weapon John draws on the dream monster Deacon slows him down. He lunges, too fast for a zombie, but not at John, like John was expecting, because that's how this dream's supposed to go, damn it, he goes for Sam, and the next thing John knows Sam's standing there savaged, guts in his hands (and that's definitely from some other piece of memory, those are real guts but they're not Sam's and John can't stand this) saying, See? It's not real, Dad.
That's when John wakes up.
It was quarter of five and John didn't figure he was getting back to sleep tonight. He tried, he lay there for a few minutes, stared at the ceiling, rolled on his side and stared at the wall, but it didn't work. He was too unsettled by Sam's presence in a 'Nam dream. Was he starting to see Sam as grown up, a soldier in his own right? Or--he wished he could, but Sam wouldn't--Sam was trying to pull back from it, resisting him, resisting the hunt?
(And was John worried Sam was going to end up dead, if he kept pulling back?)
It was the light down the hall that finally got John out of bed; he went down the hall and found Sam at the kitchen with a glass of milk. He started, said, "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you--"
John cut him off with a hand gesture; apology unnecessary, he was already awake. "You okay?" he asked, wondering what had got Sam up.
Sam shrugged, not really looking at him. "Bad dream," he said.
"Yeah?" John asked. "Me too." He sat down at the table. "You tell me yours, I'll tell you mine," he offered, already mentally editing his.
Sam looked uncomfortable. "I don't, I just--"
"Hey, what's so bad you can't talk to your dad about?" John asked.
"You were in it," Sam said bluntly. "You were killing Deacon." John felt cold, all of the sudden. Sam said, conciliatory, as if offering a defense, "He was a zombie."
John's chill solidified into a suspicion. "He attacked you. And you kept telling me it wasn't real."
Sam's gaze jerked to him. He looked terrified. "I--it--"
"Did you do it on purpose," John said flatly.
"No," Sam said miserably.
John thought that was probably true and, further, that Sam hadn't realized he'd done it, or he wouldn't have confessed as much of the dream as he had. Still. "Have you done it before?" John said.
"Done what," Sam said, defiant, "had a nightmare?"
"Had someone else's nightmare," John corrected. "Don't you try to tell me you weren't in my head, Sam, that was my dream."
"How do you know it wasn't my dream?" Sam asked petulantly. "Maybe you were in my head."
"Sam," John said. "I know that dream. I've had that dream before. Never with you in it, but that was my dream, that was my head. So you tell me, have you gone wandering around other people's dreams before."
"No," Sam said in such a small voice that John immediately said:
"Who, damn it."
"I haven't," Sam insisted.
"Was it me?" John asked, weighing the necessity of secrecy, the blessing it would be if this were limited, against the ugliness Sam might have seen in his own head, the damage that might do him. Might explain how hard it was to get a handle on Sam these days, if he were reacting to John for things John didn't say or do to him directly, just in his dreams, where he couldn't keep shit under wraps.
"No," Sam said. "Not you, I haven't ever--before."
But someone. John was sure. Sam wouldn't have said not you if he meant not ever. John resisted the urge to push the point. "How long?" he asked instead.
"I don't know!" Sam said. "It wasn't--I didn't even know I'd done it to you. How should I know if I--I mean, dreams are just weird, no matter whose they are. How am I supposed to tell what's mine or anyone else's?"
"Sam, if you've--this could be dangerous," John said. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that would be, if you can't tell your own mind from someone else's?"
"I'm not--" Sam said, then cut himself off, glancing down the hall.
Dean. Right. Dean usually got up earlier than either of them. He had a job at a mechanic's and as the new guy got the ass-crack of dawn shift for people to drop off their cars before they went to work. So when Dean walked into the kitchen to find them sitting at the table, silent as lumps, it was not a completely unreasonable question for him to ask: "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," John said.
Dean stared at them for a couple of moments. "Sammy, what'd you do?" he asked finally.
"Nothing!" Sam protested. It made him sound five years younger than he was.
"Uh-huh," Dean said slowly. He got cereal out of the cabinet, poured a bowl, and ate it standing, leaning on the counter, watching them both. "Dad--" he started.
"Don't push," John said, and, "it's not any of your business," even though, watching Sam, he had was beginning to wonder.
"Fine," Dean said. He dropped his bowl in the sink and went back down the hall.
Sam and John both waited to hear the bathroom door shut. John kept his eyes on Sam, staring after Dean until they heard him slam the door closed.
"It's Dean, isn't it," John said. "You've dreamwalked your brother before."
"I don't know," said Sam. "He's never said. And it's not like--we live together, go to school together, fight the same monsters, it's not like there's anything in his dreams that wouldn't be familiar, anything that couldn't be just me."
"But there have been times," John guessed from that. "When he hasn't said, but you've thought maybe."
"Once or twice," Sam admitted. "I don't know. They're just dreams, it all fades, I don't--"
"Have you ever done it to anyone else?" John said. "Had any dream scenery that wasn't familiar?"
"No, not that way, not like--except your dream," Sam said.
Okay. That was--that was a lot better than it could have been. "You understand if it were anyone else, anyone not family--"
"Yes, Dad," Sam said, and he sounded scared enough that John didn't belabor the point. Instead he asked:
"How long? How long have you been dreamwalking Dean, Sam?"
"I don't know," Sam repeated in a very small, very young voice.
"You don't know," John said, frustrated, because Sam kept saying that no matter what the question, and John couldn't figure out if he really wasn't sure, or if he was afraid John wouldn't like the answer.
But Sam looked up at him then, looked scared, and John thought he was telling the truth when he said, softly, "Maybe always."