Sam liked to count.
When Dean had disappeared when he was 12, Sam had kept track of the minutes from the time he last saw Dean until nearly a month and a half later, when Dean finally came back. It wasn't a comfort then- it merely served as a reminder that Dean was gone and no one was there to make it better- not even the counting made it better, if anything, it made it worse. But Sam had started counting the minutes again after Bobby left, frantically keeping track of every passing minute, praying that the next minute Bobby would walk in the door, announce that it had all been a cruel joke, and that he was sorry for being so unkind. But 15 hours and 20 minutes passed, and Bobby didn't return. 934 minutes, and the situation had not turned out to be a joke, and Sam slowly surrendered himself to the fact that it wasn't a joke, that Bobby was gone, and he and Dean were on their own until he returned.
That morning was silent as they both roamed the house preparing for their day, save for Sam's quiet counting. They'd barely slept - the idea of being alone while they'd both seen that truck had put the damper on a situation that Dean normally would've taken hearty advantage of. It was frustrating to him- would their father always be the dark raincloud hanging over their head? Dean was wrapped up in his thoughts and made no real attempt to talk, and it seemed like Sam had picked up on it.
It was during breakfast, however, that Sam finally spoke to Dean.
"853 minutes," he announced, looking back down into his bowl of cereal. Dean set down his coffee mug, his brow furrowed.
"853 minutes since Bobby left," Sam said, glancing up at the clock on the wall, "854, now."
"You're counting the minutes?" Dean asked.
"I always count the minutes," he said softly. Dean cocked his head to the side. He knew Sam counted all the time, but he'd never realized that Sam counted time too- that must've been exhausting.
"All the time? Dean asked curiously. Sam shook his head.
"No. Just when you or Bobby leave," he said, pushing the pieces of sugary cereal around in the milk, having barely eaten.
Dean's heart felt like it had just dropped out of his chest. Sam counted the minutes when he left? Did that mean he'd counted the entire time he was at Sonny's? He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, lifting the cup of coffee to his lips as Sam spoke again.
"What?" Dean said, sputtering on his coffee and staring at Sam wide eyed.
"78,265 minutes. You left on September 19th, 1995 at 4:24 in the afternoon. You were only supposed to be gone 29 minutes. I saw you again on November 14th, 1995 at 7:49 pm. That's 53 days, 8 hours and 25 minutes. That's how long you were gone."
"You...you actually counted?" Dean asked, looking shocked. He had no idea that it was really that long- he knew he'd been gone nearly two months, but having numbers like that laid out made it seem all the longer...and for Sam to have been counting? God, it must've seemed like an eternity.
"I'm so sorry, Sammy," he said softly. Sam shrugged, rocking gently in his chair.
"You didn't mean to get lost."
Dean felt his whole body go stiff at Sam's reply, a wave of guilt washing over him. Yeah, fuckhead, you and Dad told him you got lost on a hunt, he mentally berated himself. He hated lying to Sam, especially about something that had caused him so much pain, but he couldn't bring himself to correct the story. Why should he? It'd only hurt Sam more.
"We gotta get going," he mumbled, draining his coffee, "Finish your breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," Sam whispered, dumping his bowl in the sink and down the disposal, setting it on the counter.
They drove quietly for a while, until Dean broke the silence, giving Sam a wide and cheesy grin.
"Hey, no Bobby means we can do whatever we want!" Dean said, trying to force as much cheer into his voice as possible, "I still have some Mary Jane left- we could grab some junk food after work, toke up, and watch bad horror movies all night."
"I guess," Sam said, shrugging. Dean set his mouth in a firm line, trying to figure out something that would make Sam feel a bit better.
"You could pick the movie if you wanted, since I'm in a good mood."
"How can you be?" Sam demanded, biting his lip and rocking, "The truck is gonna be there. He's watching us and he's gonna know Bobby isn't there. I...I..." he started rocking harder, his back bouncing off the seat with a soft and rhythmic whump. Dean reached out, grabbing Sam's hand.
"Baby, stop," he said gently, still looking at the road, "It's gonna be okay."
"How do you know?" Sam asked, his voice sounding high and strangled, "What if something happens to him?"
"Bobby is one of the best hunters out there Sammy, he taught us half of what we know- it's gonna be okay. He can handle himself."
"I'm not worried about him handling himself. I'm worried about him handling whatever else happens."
Dean pulled over, turning to Sam and holding his chin gently in his hand.
"Sammy, listen to me," Dean said firmly, "Sam- listen. Look at me."
Sam lifted his eyes, biting his lip.
"Bobby is the best hunter there is other than Dad. He knows what he's doing, and he's not reckless. He'll be fine, and he'll be home in a few days, just like he said he would. Bobby never breaks promises, and you know that. So worrying about him is useless, right? Because he can handle whatever anyone throws at him. Anyways, like he said- that truck probably is just someone in town that we don't know who got a new truck that looks like Dad's. We're just freaking out over nothing, right? Besides, it won't even be there today, I got a good feeling about it," Dean lied through his teeth, hoping that it'd get past his intuitive little brother, "So we just gotta focus on keeping our heads on straight until he gets home, right? Because that's what he wants. He wants us to just cool our heels and take it easy until he gets home."
"Okay," Sam said softly, slumping against the seat, "I guess you're right." Dean smiled, leaning over and kissing Sam's cheek, his lips lingering.
"I'm the big brother, I'm always right," he teased, kissing down his cheek to his lips, "And if you get through today with minimal freakouts, I'll make it worth your while tonight. House is empty, we got it all to ourselves..." he said, nipping Sam's lip. Sam broke into a smile, kissing Dean back.
"I'm gonna hold you to that," Sam joked as Dean pulled away, starting the car again, but he leaned his head against the edge of the window frame, counting softly under his breath, his body still rocking gently.
They finally arrived at the library, a few minutes late for opening, but Fisch was never strict with Sam on when he should and shouldn't show up. He'd just decided one day that he liked being there by 9:15. They sat in silence, both of them staring at the ominous black truck that was parked at one end of the parking lot, the same truck they'd been seeing for weeks. Dean took a deep breath, trying not to freak out, prepared with a million lies to help Sam feel better and get through the day. They both slid out of the car, dragging their feet as they approached the front of the building, as if they were about to go to their execution rather than to their respective jobs.
“It’s gonna be okay baby,” Dean whispered reassuringly.
“It can’t be Dad, right? Someone else had to have bought a black truck. Right Dean?” Sam said frantically, his face pressed against Dean’s neck and his hands clinging to his older brother's jacket. Dean played with Sam’s hair absentmindedly, frowning. All the placating lies he'd thought of had suddenly disappeared at the sound of Sam's quivering voice, his body shaking gently as he clung to him.
"Right...?" Sam repeated, pulling back and looking at Dean with thinly veiled fear in his face.
"It's not Dad,” Dean said firmly.
Sam nodded, his fingers tracing over a scar on Dean’s side. He didn’t want to think about that, but it had been on his mind since he saw the truck when he was out with Jody.
Dean almost flinched away as Sam's fingers traced over the scar on his side, remembering when he got it and trying hard not to.The truck business had put his nerves on edge, and it seemed like everything was just a trigger waiting to go off and have him climbing the walls.
“If it was Dad, it wouldn’t matter what car we were driving. He’d already have figured out our routine,” Sam said softly, "You know he would."
“Don’t think about that,” Dean said sharply, “I’m gonna be in town today, okay? Jody said that the patrol cars could use a tune-up, so I’m gonna be down there all day working on them. If you need me for anything, anything at all, you call me, okay?”
“Okay,” Sam said, nodding. Dean smiled again, pulling him into another kiss and slipping his hand in Sam’s back pocket. Sam giggled and pushed away, blushing. While Dean had never been exactly shy about PDA, with Fisch around, inside the building in front of them, they could get caught. And getting caught at this point by anyone was the last thing they really needed.
“Dean,” he moaned, “What if Fisch saw?”
“It ain’t nothing she hasn’t seen before,” Dean teased.
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you noticed by now,” Dean said, chuckling, “She watches out the window when we get here and when we leave. I don’t think she is today- usually it’s the Impala that tips her off to us.”
Sam rubbed his face, blushing harder. He knew that Fisch usually turned her nose up at public displays of affection, and the thought of her watching him and Dean kiss made his stomach turn. And then, it dawned on him- kissing your brother isn’t exactly normal. It wouldn’t be the public displays of affection, or the fact that Dean was a boy that people would object to- it would be the fact that they were brothers.
Sam rarely took the time to consider that part of their relationship; to consider that what seemed like the most natural thing in the world to him would be abhorrent to others. He realized that it was probably odd that it had never occurred to him that something may be wrong with the fact that he considered loving his brother “that” way to be so natural, but really, it wasn’t the worst thing in his life. Considering the things he’d lived through and watched, he couldn’t even fathom anything about Dean being bad, harmful, taboo. Dean was his safe haven, his shelter. Dean was the only person who he could take refuge with without fear, without suspicion. In fact, Dean was the only thing that made his life worth living in his eyes.
He closed his eyes as he pressed his forehead against Dean’s, biting his lip. The trouble with everyone around them was that they didn’t understand. They couldn’t. Their relationship wasn’t just brothers, wasn’t just lovers. They’d grown up in the same war zone, gun-toting child soldiers in an invisible war that no one knew or cared to know about. The daily war to survive not only the monsters and the cruel realities of an uncaring world for the smallest people who inhabit it, but the daily struggle to survive the rage and illness of their own father.
They grew up in the trenches together, they were all they had in the world, and when everyone else inevitably disappeared, they were always there. Together. People came and went- but they were forever. Comrades. Friends. Brothers. Lovers.
But the fact remained- as hopeful as they wanted to believe, as much as they acted like they weren’t afraid, as much as they told each other that “logically” it wasn’t their father- Sam knew. He knew, deep in his gut.
Sam tangled his fingers in Dean’s as they pressed together on the sidewalk, the thought of anyone seeing them disappearing with the need to be close to him, to feel his breath on his face and feel his hands, keeping him from slipping over the edge of the cliff, into the abyss of himself.
“In case I don’t get to tell you…” Sam began, only to be cut off by Dean’s curious look.
“What do you mean, if you don’t get to tell me?” Dean asked, “Why wouldn’t you get to tell me?”
“It’s not him.”
“But if it is-“
“And even if it is, he can’t get near you without everyone knowing. “
“I know. But if he does, if it’s him, if I don’t get to tell you-“
“Don’t,” Dean whispered, kissing Sam tenderly. Sam could feel wet tears on his face, for once not his own. Dean didn't cry- of course he did, all people do, but he rarely did, and when he did, Sam knew he was seriously in distress. He rocked on his feet, biting his lip as he started blaming himself- If he wasn't the way he was, if he wasn't so messed up...
"I'm sorry, Sam whispered.
"Don't ever be sorry. For anything."
“Just…have a good day, please?” Dean asked. Sam nodded, grabbing Dean’s hand one more time. He felt the numbers rolling out, still rocking on his feet, panic building inside him. He needed Dean- at least for one more moment.
“Can you count for me?” He asked desperately, “Just one time, before you go.”
Dean smiled, taking Sam’s hand gently, turning it so it was palm side up. He dropped his head, kissing his palm and smiling against Sam’s skin.
“Sure baby,” he said softly, picking up his head and touching the tip of each of Sam’s fingers, “One, two, three, four, five. I love you baby, never gonna change.”
“You and me,” Sam whispered, looking Dean in the eye, “Promise.”
“I promise,” Dean said, lifting Sam’s fingertips to his lips, “Sam and Dean. Always.”
Sam smiled with relief, the panic starting to subside. He began backing up towards the library door as Dean slowly backed away to the car, neither one taking their eyes off each other. As if they thought the other would leave their sight and never come back. Finally, Dean got in and started the car and pulled out, Sam waving vigorously as he turned to enter the library.
Dean is right. Everything is gonna be okay. Everything is fine.
He repeated that mantra to himself as he opened the door, and suddenly he couldn't anymore. He stood still as the grave as he looked around, none of the lights on in the front as they usually were. He was late- everything should've been up and running, ready for another day, but it wasn't.
He felt the panic resurface.
“Fisch?” he called out, looking around worriedly, “Fisch, you here?”
He felt his hands and feet go numb, his stomach swirling with icy apprehension. Something wasn't right. In fact- something was very, very wrong. Fisch liked to keep herself on a schedule; she found comfort in her routines, just as he did, and to break routine for either of them was a sign that something wasn't right. He softly counted under his breath, trying to control his panic.
Calm down. You're not useful to anyone if you're freaking out like an idiot.
He peered around the corner, his whole body starting to shake uncontrollably. Standing in front Fisch with his back turned to Sam was exactly who Bobby had claimed it couldn’t possibly be.
Fisch had caught Sam’s eye, and as his father bent his head down to write, she mouthed “desk”. Sam nodded, retreating round the corner and crawling beneath Fisch’s front desk, a maze of books and half-knit blankets, tucking himself into the farthest corner and trying to make himself as small as possible. His whole body kept shaking, but he couldn’t count or rock- doing either could draw attention. He tried to breathe as quietly as possible, catching a bit of Fisch’s conversation.
“So, you haven’t seen a boy who looks like this around here?” John asked, “Like I said, the boy has certain medical needs. His father is worried about him and his brother.”
“No,” Fisch replied uninterestedly, “I would remember a child like that.”
“What about the other boy in the picture? They would’ve been together.”
“Looks like a young man to me- but no, I haven’t seen either of them.”
“Well, take a second look.”
“Don’t need to,” she snapped, “I’m old, not blind. I haven’t seen either of those people. “
Sam could hear the familiar scuffle of Fisch’s cowboy boots against the carpeted floor, followed by the heavy clump of his father’s boots. He closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face. He clapped his hands over his mouth, his whole body aching to self-soothe, but any movement would give him away.
Please, God, make it stop. Make the ache stop.
His father was here, he was looking for them, and he was angry.
Please, God, help me. You never helped me before, help me now.
The steps drew closer, and Fisch stepped behind the desk, climbing up onto her stool. His whole body was trembling, the world spinning around him as he fought of the urges.
Make it stop. Make it stop. Don't be weak! Don't give in! You make a move and you're as good as dead. You make a sound and he'll tear you apart.
He could tell, unless this ended soon, he was going to go into a full blow episode. He wasn't going to be able to control it- he was barely controlling it now.
“Perhaps there are certain things that would be better suited lost,” she said, “I find that when something is lost, there’s often a reason for it.”
Please God, Please, make it stop. Just for five minutes. Just until he leaves. I swear I'll never do anything wrong again. I'll be a good person, the best person. Please, protect me. Protect me while my brother can't.
He looked down to see the shadow of his father's boots in front of the desk, his resolve almost cracking at this sight. He squeezed his hands over his mouth harder, willing himself to sit still.
You're a statue. Hear nothing. See nothing. Cold, hard stone. Don't give in.
“Whatever the reason, children need to be with their parents,” John said gruffly. Sam could feel his resolve crumbling at the sound of his father's voice, the shaking turning into a barely there rock.
Please God. Have mercy on me, just this once.
“I wouldn’t say that with such certainty,” Fisch replied, “There are a great deal of parents who simply don’t deserve their children. Maybe the boys’ father should ruminate on that for a bit.”
The stool creaked as she leaned forward, and Sam could hear the dripping venom in her voice.
“I hope that everyone in this case meets the end that they so richly deserve,” she said, “Have a wonderful day.”
Sam squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for a cry of pain, a gun shot, anything, his whole body shaking harder now and the blood roaring in his ears. No one got away with talking to his father like that- no one.
But he opened his eyes just a crack to see the shadow of his father's feet grow wider as he walked away, the soft woosh of the door opening and slowly closing breaking his resolve completely.
He let out a loud cry, his body thrashing as Fisch grabbed him roughly, dragging him out from under the desk as he wailed and cried, his whole body bucking wildly.
"Samuel!" She yelled loudly, "Samuel, stop! You're going to hurt yourself!"
Sam didn't stop, only crying louder as his body thrashed, his leg shooting out and hitting Fisch's hip hard. She let out a loud yelp, one hand grabbing her hip hard as she crawled back. She reached up on her stool, dragging the shawl she had been wearing earlier down off of it and throwing it over Sam's head.
She was breathing hard as pain radiated through her hip, trying to make her voice as low and soothing as possible.
"It's okay Samuel, just take it easy. Count, just count and calm down. I'll do it with you. One...two...three...four...five..."
Between the cover on his face and Fisch counting evenly and calmly, Sam felt the chaos and noise start to fade, his body not thrashing as much anymore- instead, curling his knees to his chest as he rocked on the floor gently.Fisch moved a bit closer, still speaking gently over his sobs.
"There, good boy Samuel. One....two...three...four...five. Good boy."