"You're an idiot."
Sam's voice echoes in his own pounding head, amplified by the sound of rushing wind, also inside his head. At least he thinks it must be all inside his head, because when he opens his eyes a crack, there's no one there. It's just the same dusty, cavernous warehouse where he crashed earlier this evening, after yet another, typically frustrating interview with yet another demon, this one managing to land a particularly nasty kick to his abs before Sam put an end to its already-dead human meat-suit and sent the demon back to Hell.
Second one this week, and Sam's no closer to finding his brother.
It's been almost three weeks since Dean disappeared, and Sam can feel the desperation niggling at the back of his brain, prickling up his spine, giving a familiar edge of controlled panic to his every movement. He's followed every lead, researched every possible angle, certain that the next tip will be the one that gets him the answer he needs. All he needs to do is stay focused, not let useless distractions like sleep and food and health get in his way.
But three days ago the annoying tickle in the back of his throat turned into a full-blown cold, with congestion and fever and hacking, miserable coughing that wouldn't let him sleep even if he had time to sleep. And no amount of cold medicine, fever reducers, even god-damn chicken soup and herbal tea wasn't helping. Not that he had time to indulge in lying around this god-forsaken warehouse on a futon in a corner with nothing for warmth but a couple of ratty blankets.
Then the fuckin' demon had the nerve to kick him in the gut, causing him to vomit up all his tea and soup and goddamn cough medicine and Sam has fuckin' had it. It's enough to make him want to throttle his brother, when he finds him.
If he finds him.
No. Not thinking that way. Sam feels another coughing fit coming on, grabs the water bottle next to the futon, finds it empty, and struggles to sit up. He reaches for the grocery bag on the floor at the foot of the futon, but of course it's mostly empty. Just a used box of cold tablets and a half-drunk bottle of cough medicine. He downs that in a couple of quick gulps and lies back, shivering despite the heat of the warm June night. He remembers vaguely how hot and stuffy this place was when he first crashed here, how he swore to himself he'd buy a battery-operated fan on his next trip to the store.
Now it's freezing, and Sam can't stop shivering. His teeth are chattering so violently he tastes blood, realizes he's bit his own lip. His muscles are aching. No, make that his bones. But sweat is pouring off him in waves at the same time, and that makes no sense. He's feverish, needs ibuprofen. Needs to get up so he can go to the store, get ibuprofen.
"You're an idiot."
Sam blinks his eyes open. It's day, he's been sleeping a long time, feels stiff and sore along with that bone-deep weariness he remembers from last night. He starts coughing immediately, rolls onto his side just to take the pressure off his back, keep it from clenching and going out completely. He needs to do some ab work, but his abs are a screaming fire-pit of agony, the muscles barely responding as he clenches them tentatively.
That shit-hole demon kicked him. Right.
Used to be, Sam would feel sorry for the human inside, the poor schmuck whose body was being used and abused and usually left for dead long before the thing inside was done with him. God knows, Sam understands what that's like. And he still feels the sympathy, still cares.
But lately, it's just been so hard. Lately, with Dean gone, nothing feels right. Nothing makes sense. It's a familiar feeling; Sam's been through it before, Dean leaving him, dying on him, exploding into oblivion and just being gone, maybe dead. But it's more intense this time. This time it's on Sam, because Sam drove Dean to take on the Mark in the first place...
Dean tricked Sam into being possessed by that angel, and the angel killed Kevin...
Sam struggles to open his eyes, he really does, but it's not happening. His eyes feel heavy, like they're imbeded in concrete, and there's no way he can open them. Probably ever.
The voice is soft, feminine, the tone pleading and maybe a little demanding, a little worried...
Cool, gentle fingers brush his forehead, tangle in his hair, brushing it back from his brow.
"Sam, love. Please open your eyes. It's Mom."
Ice floods Sam's veins, and it almost feels good, almost takes the edge off the prickly, sticky heat of his skin, almost shocks him awake.
Because there's no way in hell this can be real. And if it's another demon...
"Sam," the voice whispers, closer now, and he feels a cool breath of air on his brow just before cool lips are pressed there – and he knows it's a kiss, just knows, because it's happened before. Long ago, maybe, but he's definitely felt this before. "You're sick, baby. Really sick. I need you to wake up so I can give you a little water."
Sam's mouth is suddenly so dry he can barely think about anything else, suddenly all he can do is part his chapped, cracked lips and hope.
There's a rustling sound, then the rim of a plastic cup is pressed to his lip, tipped just a little so that water can trickle into his mouth. Sam coughs and the voice curses, moves closer again, almost right against his cheek.
"Come on, baby," it breathes, and Sam almost cries out because something has wedged under his shoulder, seems to be trying to raise him up a little, and it's excruciating, like every inch of skin and every muscle is on fire. But it works, angles his head and upper body just enough so the water can slip down his throat, forcing his swallowing reflex to kick in, despite how sore and swollen his throat feels.
"That's it," the voice murmurs, and Sam knows that voice. He's heard it before. It soothes and relaxes him, makes him sleepy. He turns toward it, encounters the soft warmth of another body, dimly registers the scrape of fabric against his cheek, a scent of something vaguely herbal with a hint of citrus...
"Shhh, it's okay now, Sam," the voice whispers. "Just go to sleep. You'll be right as rain when you wake up, I promise."
Sam feels his body relax muscle by muscle, all the pain and agony and soreness seeping away as he sinks down into a deep, dreamless sleep, held secure and safe in strong, comforting arms.
It isn't until he wakes up the next morning, fever gone, exhausted but no longer painfully sore everywhere, no longer shivering and desperately dehydrated, that he realizes he never saw her. He never opened his eyes. The dream was entirely without visuals, all sound and touch and taste and feel.
Not like a ghost at all.
He never mentions the strange visitation to Dean, after he finally finds him and they're together again. After Sam finally figures out how to fix Dean and things become normal again between them, at least for awhile. At least as normal as things ever get with them.
But Sam holds onto the memory of soft cotton against his fevered cheek, of cool breath on his forehead, of a smooth hand brushing the hair from his sweat-soaked skin. It's like his fevered brain was using a pre-verbal recollection to create the perfect hallucination, triggering a sense memory of being safe, secure, and loved, in an effort to help him heal.
Yet there will always be a part of Sam that believes his mother was really there that night, that somehow, some way, she escaped the confines of Heaven or wherever she is now, to come to the aid of her younger son in his hour of need.
This is what Sam believes, and it's part of his faith in the goodness of things that keeps him alive, that sustains him even when he knows he doesn't deserve it. Even when he knows he can't share in that goodness, he believes in it. Maybe even more so for being outside it, never able to be part of it.
Sam's mother is good. Sam's brother is good. Sam believes in them both, and his faith is what he has. It's who he is. Maybe it's all he'll ever be. But it saved him that night, and somehow he's better for it.
Somehow, it's enough.