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Beneath Our Brave and Trusting Feet

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She's grown accustomed to keeping her hand on Sam when they sleep. She doesn't remember ever deciding to, not really; it just happened. Probably around the tenth time she woke up to find him sitting up, back rigid and eyes wide and wet in the dark. His hand pressed to his chest, he seemed so terrified, so small, somehow. He only ever looks that small at night, when he wakes up like this.

Dean, wait, he said that first time, or at least she's almost sure that's what he said -- it was too dark to tell. She remembers taking his chin and turning his head to look into his eyes, watch his lips.

"Sam," she said, and he blinked at his name like he wasn't sure whose it was. "Sam, you okay? You were dreaming."

She says that often, now, but she doesn't ever say it's just a dream or it’s not real. She said that once, and watched his face crumple, and she knew not to do that again. Stumbling back into a world where Dean is still dead is hard enough on Sam without her pulling him there. But she also can’t stand the thought of him waking up to that realization alone.

And so she sleeps with her hand on his chest. Almost always, even when they're fighting, which isn't often; and especially when they're drunk.

In the morning Sam is usually curled around her, face buried in her hair; sometimes he's awake and staring at the ceiling, brow furrowed. But he always smiles as he signs morning, his eyes warm and relieved for a second or two; you're here. And she believes that smile. The Sam that she wakes up to in the morning has made his peace with staying, isn't planning his own demise, counting down to it. Not anymore, at least.

Morning Sam, afternoon Sam, sitting-on-the-porch with her and stealing-her-beer Sam, smiles almost like he did back in the world in which they met. The one that had Dean. She can't ask for more, and she doesn't feel the need to; she has her own scars to carry, ones that she’s only now starting to face. To talk to Sam about. Her own nightmares, running in those woods feeling the hellhound’s hot breath on her neck screaming, screaming, her mouth filling with blood and something else worse as razor-sharp claws do the eviscerating, panicked arms that must be hers flailing and fingers sinking into matted fur no use no use. The nausea and chills of blood loss the pain the fading away the dead trees the sky

Still, most days, she smiles back. And like Sam, she means it, too.

They're doing okay. Considering.

When the first, harsh gasps come late at night, Sam’s muscles tensing under her palm, she knows better than to pull away. She always keeps her hand pressed flat against his chest, a small dam against the roar of an ocean that's cold and deep enough to house every horror Chuck ever created. She thinks grief has got to be one of the worst of them, a monster that Sam can't study, can't wrestle down to the ground or shoot or burn, can't bargain away. Dean, wait  - -

She never asks him what it is that he wanted to tell his brother. She doesn't think it's words that he's desperate for, anyway; maybe just more time, because more than anything it was time that he and Dean were robbed of in that barn. 

Sam only spoke of that day once, right after. Dean slipping through his fingers, Dean crying because he didn't want to go, Dean hanging on to the promise that it's okay, you're not leaving your post, this is not your fault you took care of me I'm good I'm good.

She didn't know Dean as well as she does Sam, but she knew him enough that she can't imagine him dying without feeling guilty, without feeling like he's abandoning the brother he's been snatched away from. Taking care of Sam has been seared into his DNA by that house fire and by John, by the life John made for them after. Sometimes she watches Sam make the bed, face tight and worried, and she thinks of the boy he must have been. Insisting on making a bed that was always borrowed, in motels, in temporary houses. Sam told her once that he had to, the bed was like my room, it's the only thing that was sort of mine, you know

Dean was his, too, but Dean doesn't get to sit with them on the porch, share a beer, get a new hobby that isn't cleaning the weapons or working on his car. The Impala lives in the garage now, and it's covered with a sheet that Sam rarely lifts anymore. Whenever he does, he's haunted for days after, wandering around the house and bumping into the furniture, his face empty and his eyes dead. Those are the times when she knows he is counting down the days, when it’s she and the rest of the world that are his ghosts, the pain of Dean's finite absence making everything else fade into the background. 

She doesn't fight the way it makes her feel; doesn't deny that she hates it. It hurts, watching Sam wish he could go. But Dean is a wound that will bleed for the rest of time, and she is well aware of how that can mute everything, some days. Erase anything that isn't the sheer agony, a rusty nail driven too deep into your core to ever dig out. You live around it. You try.

It's around 2 AM now, and she can feel Sam's muscles tighten under her palm, his heart pounding. Maybe that's what woke her up. Probably. She turns to look at his face, and there it is, all that torment that he tries so hard to spare her despite her promise that he doesn't ever need to. He's crying in his sleep, again; his mouth has dropped open in the kind of numb shock that tells her he can't take in what he's seeing under those closed eyelids. That he's watching his world end. 

She takes a breath, presses down. "Sam."

He flinches, hands flying to his chest and finding hers, his eyes opening to reveal that terror that never fails to make her heart clench. The only thing that's worse is the misery when he realizes that it's already over, that Dean is gone, has been gone. Will remain gone. She fights the urge to close her eyes when she sees it coming.

Sam doesn't say Dean's name this time, not that he needs to. He says hers. "Eileen, I can't, I can't - - "

She cups the back of his head and pulls him in for a hug, feels warm tears soak into her T-shirt like blood as Sam breathes hard against her shoulder. She does close her eyes, now.

"I know."