Chapter 1: 13.01: Lost and Found
They are at the Bunker and Dean is pissed.
So begin many moments in Winchester history of late, but this time Dean is nuclear.
He's stalking around the place and not looking at Sam.
He's not looking at Sam. Because if he does...
Sometimes it's easier to be nuclear than to be other things.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam says, and his voice is that same quiet, sort of "let me handle the feelings" voice of Sam's that he's almost always got.
"WHAT." It comes out phonetically-ish, which means that Dean is almost but not quite screaming at his brother.
"Do you want some soup? Hey, and we have some blankets."
"Stop trying to make this better, Sam."
Sam sighs. The sigh says, but Dean, that's what I do, this is what I do and Dean literally winces.
Dean blows out air. It is not a sigh. It is still full of rage. But Dean swallows some of it back inside of himself--they both feel him do it. And he looks at his brother. And he knows that Sam can see everything on his face he didn't want him to.
"Yeah, Sam, okay. You can make me some soup."
Chapter 2: The Time They Find the Right Elvira
Sam brings home a kitten.
Spamtacular because I can't sleep! I'm sorry. I could save this one, but I won't.
Sam remembers the kitten who was attached to Dean, a little skittish and unhappy around other people, generally, and even sassy with Dean, and maybe it's too late, but either way, a kitten appears and it is black and about the same size as Elvira the black cat. Sam gets it all ready to come home, with its own bowls and its own crate for going to and from the vet in. And then he brings the kitten to Dean.
"Elvira, right? You remember how you named her Elvira because we were in Elmira?"
"Sam. That's.... That's just..."
"I named her Elvira because that was her name."
"Yeah, no, it's not a pun, but we were in Elmira, Dean, it's in New York."
"I know, with the haunted...the haunted....yeah, with the poltergeist. Yeah. I know."
"So, Elvira from Elmira, I thought of her and I saw this little munchkin and Dean, all we have to do is keep her in the bunker. She'll be safe. We can make her a little safe room."
"I hate this. But she's cute."
Sam grins. "Okay, Dean."
"I don't want.... We can't always..."
Sam shrugs. "We'll figure it out, right? For that little face?"
"In the middle of the apocalypse, Sammy?"
"It's always the apocalypse, Dean, and it's always fine. She can have the run of the bunker, or we can make her a safe room. Come on, Dean, she's already here.
Dean blinks at her.
She blinks at Dean.
"Hey, Elvira," he says gruffly.
Five minutes later they're nose to nose.
Chapter 3: The Flu
Dean has the flu. Castiel is in the bunker and is explaining to Dean how things are on the picture box that can get Dean through the darkest times. Dean makes his most animated "meh" face possible, an achievement because maybe Dean is having feelings again while he's sick, like, not tamped-down and unavailable because his emotional center is on vacation.
There's more than one cat living in the Bunker at this point and Sam is taking care of them while Dean is wrapped in all the blankets, a shivering mess.
"You could watch the sportsball," Castiel is saying, without a trace of irony. "Or a moving picture of animals."
"Cas. Seriously. I have the freakin' flu. Go away. Go find a monster and kill it. Pretend I'm dead."
If Sam could hear that part, he might have feelings about it, but he's changing the litter boxes in the cat room in the basement.
"Pretend you're dead?" Castiel asks.
"Sam told me to make sure you eat saltines. I do not plan to pretend you are dead, Dean."
It's going to be a long night. Day. Night. Day. Week.
"Stay in your blanket fortress," Castiel says. "I will count the crackers."
Chapter 4: Ceramic
Sam hears a crash in the basement, maybe not in the cat enclosure, but something loud and ominous.
He finds Dean down there, lights on like normal but the floor is littered with bits of ceramic.
"I found this...this thing, Sammy, I dunno, fuckin' huge boat dish or something, who knows where it came from, Martha Stewart's nightmares or something."
"Okay, Dean," Sam says, crinkling his forehead a little and regarding his brother with a bit of caution.
"Everybody just keeps dying and dying, Sammy."
"Then they're back, but what's the point, they die again, we die, they die again. Everybody dies."
"Yeah, Dean, everybody dies."
"She's really gone again, Sammy, and I--" Dean is swaying enough on his feet for it to be noticeable. He doesn't come closer to Sam--if he did, Sam knows he might topple.
"Dean. Dean. Hey."
"Just remember. They don't know the things that we know, right?"
Dean looks livid for a few moments, and Sam knows why.
He's tired. He's so exhausted. How many times is a person supposed to ride this ride and keep it together?
But he forces the look off his face. What else can he do? This is their life. Winchester life.
"Yeah, Sammy. Yeah."
Chapter 5: The Flashbacks
Very vague implication of PTSD flashbacks.
Sometimes Sam thinks, vaguely, it’s almost like his mom is not really real.
Then she becomes starkly so.
And then fades again.
He knows that for Dean...in some ways their mom is the realest thing that ever happened to him. Hyper real. More than real.
A driving force.
Sam mostly deals with it when Dean is dealing with it--heavily.
The truth is that he’s seen what he’s seeing now before. Maybe not in a while.
Maybe other people haven’t seen it happen to Dean.
But Sam has.
Dean doesn’t reply. The “don’t you dare” is on his face, though.
“Hey. Hey, hey. Sit down a sec, Dean.”
Dean glowers at him.
“We’ve got this.”
Dean does not look at all like he has got this or thinks Sam is in the same realm with getting it.
Sam sits on the floor. “Dean. Listen a sec.”
“You’re in the bunker. You’re with me. I--”
“Yeah, Sam, that doesn’t fix it. That doesn’t fix anything.”
It hurts but Sam has to expect that that’s pretty much what Dean would say.
Sam’s stomach flips.
“The point is...we’re right here. I didn’t go anywhere.”
“Yeah.” The tone says, “get on with it.”
“So, we work on it together.”
Dean narrows his eyes. But he doesn’t say Sam’s lying or anything.
“I know you saw….stuff.”
“Like. Like some other times.”
“Sam, no. No, Sam, come on, man, no.”
“Stay there. Don’t touch me, Sam. You-- You don’t--”
“No, I won’t, I don’t. Just breathe, Dean.”
“I hate this,” Dean says after a while.
“Yeah. Me too.”
“It fucking never ends.”
Dean is still breathing, shallow at first but it won’t be that way forever.
“But you’re here,” he says. His face automatically goes neutral. That doesn’t mean the thing is fixed, but it means he might be done talking about it for now. You know how the saying goes: This is fine.
“Yeah,” Sam says softly. “I’m here.”
Dean is still pissed and riled. But Sam knows there's not much he's going to do. They’re in this together. Stuck in this together. They haven’t abandoned each other yet, and Dean’s not that person, he wouldn’t do it.
He nods. He looks into Sam’s eyes and Sam sees him deliberately center himself. Still breathing.
“Okay, Sammy. Okay.”
Chapter 6: 13.02: The Rising Son
"I need to speak with you. Privately." Sam is right around the corner when Dean emerges from talking to Jack.
They go into the basement, Sam leading Dean. By this time, all their talks are happening down here, and at least sometimes there's a cat. Okay. So this is normal. Elvira is here, cleaning her paws. Dean breathes.
"I know what you said. I heard you," Sam says.
"Yeah, I figured that part out, Sam," Dean can't help but growl. "He wants to kill himself."
"And I'm not going to let--"
"You're not going to kill him either, Dean."
"We can use his powers for good. You know that. I know that."
Dean is pacing, eyeing the stairs like he's about to bail.
"Every time you feel like this we have the same conversation, don't we?" Sam asks.
Dean grimaces and doesn't say anything.
"You let me handle it, Dean. You let me work with him, and I promise you, I know good from evil and I'll-- I'll make him-- I'll try to make him-- the powers-- work. Okay?"
"If I'm not a monster," Sam says, looking Dean right in the eye, "Then maybe he isn't either. You get that, right?"
"Now you sit down here til you stop feeling this way. Play with the cats. I'll stay if you want. I don't know if it helps, but I'm here if you need me, Dean."
Dean doesn't know if it helps. He does know Sam's here. Sam's always here.
They're stuck in Apocalypse 9000 and now they're babysitting.
And Dean isn't allowed to kill anything.
Okay, fine. Because the way he feels isn't an excuse. Not for that.
"You got it, Sam. You work with him."
Chapter 7: 13.03-13.04: Patience and The Big Empty (Approaching Burnout)
Sam, approaching burnout.
Spoilers for 13.03 and 13.04, not related to my other fic about this that didn't fit in this set.
(Third person Sam POV. Dean POV is in a stand-alone fic, doesn't fit tonally with this group.)
Sometimes Dean doesn't really get that other people get to decide what they do with themselves and their lives.
Sometimes Dean gives really weird, off-center, too-late advice.
Dean tries, though, he does.
He tries to be there for Patience--he does basically save her life even though actually they end up about even on that one.
And so the cycle goes, on and on.
They are back in the bunker. Sam. Dean. Jack. No Cas. No Cas anymore.
Sam isn't sure if he's supposed to be playing big brother or what.
Honestly they're home and Sam's tired, cranky, spent, not sure what to do with his feelings when Dean's feelings are so damn loud.
Then again he did scream back at Dean in the grief counselor's office.
He's quieter now, he tries to be quieter in the bunker because sound really carries. Maybe Jack also hears everything because he's Jack, but either way, Jack's hearing everything.
Sam is so tired. And Dean...Dean is messed up. It always feels like now maybe more than ever but somehow there's always something that can be done, tweaked, changed, added on.
Sam is tired.
And they talk about it--they actually really talk about it and a small miracle happens when Dean says he's sorry and Sam can feel that he means it.
Then Dean says what Sam dreads. Tells Sam he is empty--believes nothing.
And the wheels in Sam's head spin, wondering what to expect.
But he'll keep playing soft, sensitive brother, he learned it to deal with--everything, all of it--growing up and he'll do it, he'll do the hell out of it, it's in his nature-nurture soup and it's there.
Dean asks him to carry more.
Keep the faith.
And it's good, as far as their talks go.
So Sam will try. It's all he can do.
Chapter 8: 13.05: Advanced Thanatology
The thing about knowing someone so well is that sometimes the idea Sam had of Dean was a little bit stuck in the past.
There was Dean-human-brother-Dean, who could be amused by the simple things, and there was the Dean there was now, who had boomeranged around the cosmos a few too many times for that.
So Sam tried. He really did. He basically thought of everything he wouldn’t do and then suggested Dean do them. Or, really, things he’d normally advise Dean to stop doing, but wasn’t going to, not today, not on this trip.
Dean needed to--stay connected, right? Dean liked to be connected through food and booze and, well, sex.
And maybe sometimes getting out of the bunker, these days.
Dean? Dean was going to bemusedly follow Sam on whatever wild goose chase there was now. He would follow Sam anywhere, even if it was on auto-pilot. Even if everything about it felt wrong, there would be one overarching command hard-wired into him: take care of Sam. So if Sam was going to go on a hunt, Dean would be there.
Besides, he had no real reason to stay behind with Jack.
Things were weird enough with that kid without Dean making it worse.
It would be too quiet here without Sam, too.
If there was a job to do, Dean would do it. He had never stopped being a doer.
And, yeah, sure, he had one day there where he was literally a backout drunk, right?
But who the hell cared?
Dean didn’t care.
The thing was, when it came to aspects of the case, maybe he should have. But he’d forgotten after a while where the case ended and his life began.
He didn’t even really register that Reaper, and how if Sam had met her--well, the old Sam, anyway, might have flipped out a little.
The details of whether or not Dean survived anymore, those were for outside forces to determine.
Dean was tired. And Sam was trying, but he was phoning it in a little, like Dean was still in his 20s and had the emotional IQ of a--well--as if Dean hadn’t grown.
Dean was tired. And Sam was tired too, but somehow he could keep going.
Dean...was slogging through it all, it was true, he was breathing, but he wouldn’t really even call it surviving, much less living.
But maybe that was what life was.
Maybe it was. Sam not trying. Dean not trying. Sam not grieving. Dean--not--
Not knowing. Not knowing what to do anymore.
Maybe you stopped believing when you didn’t know what to do.
Maybe that’s what had happened.
But no matter what, they’d decided he was important (again) and he didn’t know (didn’t care) what that meant.
The reboots, the back and forth, it was all old hat now, it had started to lose all meaning. So he didn’t know what it meant.
Not without a win.
When Dean’s phone rings, the Impala turns on a dime. And there’s room to breathe.
Chapter 9: Responsibility
Still decompressing from the episode. And the rest of life.
One part hunting life, one part writing life, to be honest.
Some days Sam understood better than other days. Some days were taken up with his fear of himself. The way he had in his own way been the cause of so many catastrophes big and small. The way that he knew (intellectually) he made Dean feel responsible for everything he ever did.
When he felt more in touch with his guilt, somehow he also had moments of understanding Dean’s. But there were plenty of days Sam had to turn off. Days he didn’t--couldn’t--understand.
The nature of their concerns were fundamentally different--being the cause vs. imagining that you are responsible are two separate experiences of a hellish, monstrous world.
Sam would understand when he could, and so would Dean, he knew, but often they were at cross purposes because they didn’t feel the same things or react in the same way to the same simple things.
There was a fierceness that held them up in different ways, and sometimes they wanted to pass it around, fill the other with their own understanding of the world, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Meeting people where they are and perhaps showing them something--
They did that with civilians all the time, and so often, they didn’t always have it to give to the person closest to them.
Sometimes pushing it outward was all they could do to gain equlibrium, but where it would land wasn’t up to either of them.
These things Sam knew: Dean was family, and Dean would give up on himself long before he gave up on anyone else. But Sam was never built to hold Dean up, and it wasn’t fundamentally his work.
It was Dean’s, if Dean wanted to stay.
And if Dean didn’t… there was probably no stopping him short of divine intervention.
He was a Winchester, after all.
And in the end, the powers that be would decide.
But Dean would fight like hell along the way.
Chapter 10: 13.09: The Bad Place (PTSD Neurology For 500, Alex)
Honestly just getting stuff out of my brain so I can go to sleep.
Sam was talking to Jack.
They hadn’t made it back to the bunker yet but it wasn’t like the kinds of things Dean was experiencing this year always waited for him to have a nice, tidy place to fall apart.
Sam was talking to Jack, and Sam was calm, because Sam was right.
Sam had been right the whole time. The whole time Mom was gone.
And now Dean couldn’t really hear anything.
He wasn’t really anywhere.
Sam was right and it wasn’t exactly bad, it was just that Dean--
Dean didn’t know what to do.
Except get her home.