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today's troubles (are history tomorrow)

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“No,” Dean mutters a moment after Sam leaves, “no way—”

Dean makes his way to Sam’s room, shaking his head. ‘Night’? As if. As if Sam really thought Dean was gonna let this go, this weird shared experience that Sam felt okay talking about with fucking Rowena and not his own damn brother.

Dean knocks on Sam’s door, and waits. After a minute or two, he knocks again. “C’mon, Sam, I know you’re not sleeping.”

He hears a rustling and a sigh, and then Sam opens the door. The lights in his room are off. “What, Dean?”

Dean blows out a breath. “You just been sitting in the dark?”

“I— Are you really here to ask about my lighting choices, Dean?”

“Are you really telling me that sitting in the damn dark is gonna make you feel any better?” Dean takes a closer look at Sam, with those great dark circles under his eyes and something in them that Dean hasn’t seen in years. Dean swallows. He takes it down a notch. “I— no, I just.” He can’t say sorry, is somehow incapable of verbalizing it, but he tries, “I didn’t mean that. I just— We weren’t done.”

Sam scoffs. “Oh, okay. We weren’t done. You sound like Dad, you know?”

Dean lets that roll off him and says, “I’m not trying to bully you, Sammy, I’m just— What the hell were you and Rowena talking about anyway?”

Sam looks at him. Asks, “You wanna come in?”

Dean realizes he’s been standing outside Sam’s door this whole time, still holding his damn beer in his hand, and nods. Sam walks in and flips a light switch, and Dean’s breath catches.

Sam’s room is a fucking mess. There’s clothes heaped in piles, the sheets are half off his bed, and half-open books are lying face down, scattered around the floor. Dean takes a look at one; After Possession, Case Studies 1932-1936. Another one, with sticky notes poking out of it: Hauntings: The Violence of Memory. He almost trips over a sock drawer which has fallen out of Sam’s dresser, and which he figures Sam hasn’t bothered to put back. “Sam, buddy, you gotta clean up in here.”

“Yeah,” Sam answers noncommittally, and sweeps some shirts off a chair. “You gonna sit?”

“Uh, sure.” Dean carefully clears a space on the crowded desk for his beer, and sits on the chair. Sam sits on his bed, in his jeans and shoes, right on the sheets. Dean winces and tries to resist the urge to comment. Grappling for something else to say, he asks, “Where’d you get those books?”

Sam shrugs. “Some were in our library. Some, I, uh.” He clears his throat and ducks his head, gives a little half-smile like he’s embarrassed. “I ordered online. I dunno.”

The key’s gotta be in those books, Dean figures. Why order something online, why buy it and mark it up, if it’s not important? “Why’d you buy ‘em?”

“I dunno, I heard about them, figured they were worth a read. Anyway. Why’re you really here, Dean?”

Dean blows out a breath. His brother’s asking why he’s here, because evidently they never spend time together outside of a case. Dean realizes he’s gotta fix that, if he’s gonna get Sam out of this slump. “I’m worried,” he admits, feeling so unlike his dad that he’s hoping Sam realizes it. Realizes what a risk it is, to admit weakness. He adds, “I just— I feel like I don’t know what’s happening.”

“I already said I feel helpless, Dean, what else do you want from me?” The words are harsh, but Sam doesn’t seem angry; he doesn’t seem much of anything at all.

“I dunno.” Dean takes a pull of his beer, just for something to do. He says, “Tell me what you and Rowena talked about.”

Sam laughs. “Yeah. That’s easy enough.” He kicks at a pile of clothes, and says, “I’m gonna lie down.” Dean watches in silence as Sam kicks his boots and his jeans off, and just lies down right there, legs splayed, pulling a blanket onto himself. Sam looks up at his fan, which, Dean realizes as he looks up too, is rotating slowly, hypnotically. A man could get lost in that, if he was desperate enough to escape his own thoughts.

“I don’t know what to say, Sam,” Dean says eventually, when the silence gets to be too much. If this was his room he’d be itching to switch on a record player, or get out his headphones.

“You don’t have to say anything. Just listen.” Sam breathes out, and then adds, softly, “Just be patient.”

So Dean waits, in the light that now, at 10pm with Sam already in bed, seems too bright. Dean understands, suddenly. It’s harder to handle the lethargy when you can see it right in front of you. He doesn’t know how he forgot that after only two months of feeling alive again.

Finally, though, because Dean is not really a patient man, he asks, “Want me to turn the light off?” and Sam nods. He gets up and turns it off, and suddenly the world is easier to handle. He asks, “Do you want me to be next to you?” and Sam whispers yeah.

Dean keeps his jeans on, but gets on the bed, on top of the blanket, next to Sam. Not touching, but close enough that either one of them could reach out easy.

He watches the clock. 10:03 PM. 10:04 PM. It’s not like a wall clock, doesn’t tick or anything, so it’s less stimulating than Dean had hoped. He counts 16 seconds out for each of his breaths; breathe in-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. He wonders if Sam would be pissed if he turned a lamp on to read one of his books, and maybe clean his room while he’s up.

Before he can ask, though, Sam says, “It’s one of the things we don’t talk about.”

Dean racks his brain, trying to think of what he leaves unspoken. Mostly it’s his sexual exploits, but he assumes Sam’s not thinking of those. He gives up and asks, “What don’t we talk about?”

Instantly, Sam says, “Hell.”

It drops like a weight in the silence between them. Dean remembers, suddenly, the burning behind his eyes that wouldn’t leave for months after he was resurrected. He remembers Alistair. He remembers Meg, and the fact that half the reason he hated her was because she always reminded him of—

Yeah. They don’t talk about Hell.

“Okay,” Dean grates out. His voice sounds terrible. He tries again: “Okay.”

Sam says, “We don’t talk about the Cage.”

Listen. Sam needs someone to listen. Dean swallows everything he wants to say — all the useless platitudes, the I can’t even imagine, the It’s over now — and waits.

10:14 PM.

“I don’t know how to describe this to you,” Sam says, and, “I try to forget it, because we don’t have time. We never have time. But now we do, because there’s nothing to do because everything’s all fucked and I’m just here in my head all the time, and I can’t— I can’t forget, Dean, I’m—” Dean hears Sam inhale shakily, and then exhale. On a whim, Dean reaches out, and Sam grips his wrist tight.

Dean figures he doesn’t want to know. He figures Sam deserves to tell it to someone, anyway, and so he asks, “You don’t know how to describe what to me?”

He hears a huff, and Sam’s hand spasms on Dean’s wrist, so fast it has to be involuntary. “Yeah,” he breathes, “yeah, that’s the question.”

Wait. Be patient. As his eyes acclimatize to the light, Dean looks over at the books on the bedside table. The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms. Jesus Christ. The one under it: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Is that— Dean is suddenly struck by a horrific thought. What if Sam bought that book because — Dean swallows — because Dean is the angry and controlling man? He closes his eyes. Maybe— maybe it’d be better if Dean left, if Dean stopped forcing his presence on Sam, if he respected Sam’s fucking wishes—

Sam, oblivious to Dean’s turmoil, says, “Lucifer’s true face.”

“What?” Dean manages to get out, almost unable to breathe, his voice cracking in the middle of the syllable.

He feels Sam sit up. “You okay?”

Dean sits up too. “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m just—”

Sam looks past him to the books on his bedside table. His face, or what Dean can see of it in the darkness of the room, shutters. “It’s— never mind, this was a stupid idea—”

“Sam, wait—”

“Look, clearly you think it’s— you think those books are, are, I dunno, you’re not— and I know I’m not fine, okay, look at my fucking room, you think this is the room of a fine person?”

Dean rears back. “What the hell are you talking about, man?”

“If you’re just gonna think I’m some fucked up kid I don’t need— I don’t need your pity, or, or, whatever, I don’t know, I’m just—” Sam breathes out. “I’m a goddamn mess and I don’t need fucking spectators.”

Dean counts to ten. He says, “I dunno where you got the idea that I’m not here for— jeez, I dunno, for the rest of your whole damn life, Sam, and I dunno where you got the idea that I’m not just as fucked up as you are, if not more, but it’s fucking wrong, Sam. Whatever the hell idea you have in your head of me as this— as a spectator, it’s not, that’s not who I am. That’s not why I’m here.”

Sam sniffs. He says, “I know. I know,” and Dean watches as Sam scrubs at his eyes.

Quietly, Sam says, “He made me helpless and I don’t know— I don’t know how to fix it.” He curls in on himself, protecting his stomach, his chest, and Dean hesitantly rests a hand on his back. Sam lets out a sob.

“I’ll help you,” Dean says into the room, hoping it gets to Sam somehow. “I’ll help you fix it.”

“It can’t be fixed,” Sam chokes out, “it can’t— I can’t—”

“We can.” Dean rubs Sam’s back. “You can.”

“It’s been years. I dunno, Dean, it’s just— and Rowena saw it too, and she’s— she’s a witch, Dean, she’s a powerful witch and even she—”

Dean feels Sam’s back shudder as he breathes in. He can’t forget how fragile Sam is— how fragile they both are really, but especially Sam who, for all his height, is still a human. He deserves to be safe, and he’s not, while Dean is something— while Hell and the Mark made Dean something worse. Something to be put down.

The thought of Sam feeling helpless and alone here while Dean downed beers and binged Netflix in his room makes him sick. “Do the books help?” he asks, to get the taste of bile out of his mouth.

Sam nods. “It’s nice to know what other people are going through,” he mumbles. “That it’s not just me.”

“And how do other people deal with it?” Dean asks.

“I dunno,” Sam laughs, still curled over. “Poorly.”

“That can’t be true. Otherwise why the hell would they write all these books?”

“I guess.”

After a moment, Dean adds, “It’s better to do this than what I do.”

“What do you do?”

“Drink.” Dean keeps rubbing Sam’s back. “A lot, and alone, where you can’t see me.” He looks at the wall across from him. “I have sex that’s usually bad. Sometimes I don’t eat.”

Sam’s head shakes a little. “So you’re telling me I’m fine because I’m not an alcoholic?”

“I’m telling you you’re doing good by keeping on top of your recovery instead of self-destructing like I do. It’s not a high bar, but it’s—” Dean laughs ruefully. “It’s a bar I can never seem to make.”

“You don’t get it. It’s not— it’s not like, it’s, you can’t—” Sam sighs. “I’m sorry. That’s not true. Of course you know, I’m not saying you don’t. It’s just— it’s not worse, it’s just different, is all I’m trying to say. I dunno. Ignore me.”

“I’m not gonna do that, Sammy. I been ignoring you long enough.” When Sam doesn’t say anything to that, Dean asks, “Tell me about it?”

After a moment, Sam says, “There aren’t any words for it. It’s like—” He cuts himself off.

“It’s like what?”

“A big— like— your eyes burn, when you look at it. But you don’t get to go blind. It doesn’t let you.”

“Lucifer’s true face?” Dean asks, just to confirm.

“Yeah. Yeah.” The sheets rustle as Sam shifts. “Like, like— it’s like Hell, like imagine Hell, imagine— imagine what it feels like, when they— sorry, shit,” and Sam finally looks up at him, “Dean, I’m sorry—”

“It’s fine.” Dean’s hand is rigid on Sam’s back, and he consciously flexes it. “Keep going.”

“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” Sam says, “because it’s— because I don’t know how to say it in English. I don’t know how to say it in words. The important part is that it made me feel—” He swallows. Dean feels the minute shift in his shoulders as he does it. “To have to look at it, was like, it was— a violation. Maybe you get it. But it’s not— I’m talking, I’m really talking about just having to see it, okay, not even the rest of it, and even that was unbearable. But I had to take it.”

Dean, feeling stupid and useless in the face of Sam’s history, the magnitude of it, the fact that Dean wasn’t there with him, the fact that Sam was so fucking young when Lucifer rode him into the Cage, that he couldn’t have been ready for it, couldn’t have known— He reaches out, and just rasps out, voice just totally gone, “C’mere, little brother,” and Sam falls into the hug.

“I’m sorry—” Sam starts, and Dean just snaps, “Shut up.”

Eventually, Sam says, “Thanks.”

Dean replies, “You didn’t have to say that either.”