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"How can a place in the middle of nowhere be this booked?" Dean grumbles half-heartedly as he and Sam lug their duffel bags across the parking lot.

The tiny, isolated town has just one creaky bed-and-breakfast still renting rooms, and even that was all but full. "The cranberries are in season, dear," the wispy old woman in the over-decorated office had confided cheerily, handing Sam the keys to what she insisted was their only available room.

"I mean, you'd think people getting blown up would put a damper on the tourism," Dean is saying.

"Yeah, we need to figure that out," Sam responds absently. So far they've been unable to find the cause of the string of unexplained deaths in the coastal village, and he's worried that the longer it takes them, the more people will fall victim to whatever the unnamed threat is. He sorts through the keys—there are no fewer than four, for some reason—trying to find the one that'll open the door.

"I called Cas while you were getting the keys," says Dean, a little too casually. "He's in Massachusetts too, not too far from us. Told him we could use a third pair of eyes."

Sam raises his eyebrows and tries another key. "You think it's angels?"

Dean shrugs. "Maybe. Could be anything." He scuffs the toe of his boot along the asphalt. "Anyway, they aren't having any luck with Lucifer, so he might as well give us a hand. He's going to drive up in the morning."

"You don't like that he's working with Crowley." The third key fits, turning creakily in the lock. Sam reaches into the dark space, fumbling for the light switch.

"Well, I mean, c'mon," Dean scoffs. "You saw how that worked out last time."

Sam refrains from pointing out that Dean has done his fair share of cozying up to Crowley, as well. Considering how friendly their relationship has been in the recent past—at least compared to Sam and Crowley's interactions—it's surprising that Dean is reacting so negatively to the idea of Castiel and Crowley teaming up. Although—Sam thinks of the shy, hesitant glances Dean's been throwing at Cas, ever since Lucifer was expelled and the world didn't end. Maybe it's not that surprising. Sam's no stranger to jealousy, but perhaps he's just slow to recognize it in Dean, since it's not something he's used to seeing in his brother.

His fingers fail to find a switch, so he gives up and crosses the room in the dark, finding the bedside table by the light from the doorway and switching on the lamp by touch.

From the doorstep, Dean looks around and snorts. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Sam."

The room is small and fussy—uneven wood flooring, ancient gilt-edged mirrors on the walls, a plush red loveseat by the window, a dusty painting of a girl holding a basket of kittens. A walnut armoire stands creakily in one corner, opposite a slightly open door through which an equally tiny bathroom is visible.

"Dude," says Dean, coming into the room. "There's only one bed?"

Thanks, Captain Obvious, Sam might have snipped back at another time, because, after all, he was the one who sweet-talked the bed-and-breakfast owner into letting them stay here, while Dean was making forlorn phone calls to Cas. But he doesn't answer at all; he's looking at the bed, and the air is suddenly thickening in his lungs, the floor is fading away under his feet. The bedspread is a soft beige, with a floral pattern in red and yellow, and the frame is a quaint, brassy thing with bars and gold curlicues at the foot and head. It looks exactly like the bed in which he'd—in which, in his mind, he and Lady Bevell had—

no. No, that didn't happen.

But he can see her now, stretched out under the sheets, languid and blonde and beautiful.

Was it good for you?

"I'll take the floor," he says. His voice sounds too even, too calm.

"Nah, come on, this thing's huge." Dean plunks his duffel down on the flowered quilt. "I'm kicking you if you snore, though. Make that when, actually—"

"I'll take the floor," Sam repeats, mechanically. He drops his bag by his feet.

He remembers—the fog of sleep easing back from his mind, the renewed pain as consciousness brought his injuries rushing back. The way the basement buckled at the edges, as if seen through water. The flare of horror as he realized how he'd spent the last few hours. Or how he'd thought he spent them, anyway.

What did you do to me?

"It's a wood floor, Sasquatch, you wanna destroy your back?"

"The chair, then." Which is patently ridiculous; the loveseat is tiny, and piled high with embroidered cushions that seem only slightly more comfortable than bricks. Dean is looking at him strangely.

"Very funny, come on, we'll split the bed, it's not—"

"Dean, no!" The response comes out louder than Sam intends, and Dean pulls up, the bemusement on his face sharpening into worry. Sam averts his eyes, hating it—that look in Dean's eyes, that something's wrong look. Something's wrong with Sam, take care of Sam, something's always wrong with Sam, Sam's a freak, you're a freak.

No. That had been—in his head. More of Toni's hallucinations. Something. Hadn't it?

Was it good for you?

He remembers choking her against the wall—that had happened, he's pretty sure—watching her slump, boneless, to the floor. He hadn't killed her. He should've killed her. But he hadn't and so she'd escaped up the stairs and locked him in and then she'd done—that to him—

You have to admit, it was fun while it lasted. Her voice, mocking, as he struggled to wake, disoriented by the taste of wine on his lips, the warmth in his groin. It certainly sounded like you were enjoying it.

Screw you, he'd snarled, eyes prickling with rage and shame. And her grin had widened and she'd said, I guess now we know you mean that literally, don't we?

He doesn't realize his legs have started to fold until Dean's rough grip closes around his upper arms, holding him up.

"Sam—Jesus, Sam, are you fainting? What's the matter? What's wrong?"

Was it good for you? The voice isn't Toni's now; it's male, sibilant, amused, and Lucifer leans back and drawls, because it was aces for me, champ.

Sam can't bear it. He gets his feet back under him somehow, wrenches free of his brother, and bolts for the bathroom.

"Sam!"

He kicks the door shut, not bothering with the light, and drops to his knees—it's so tiny, he's already in front of the toilet—and retches. Nothing comes up, as if his body is refusing to acknowledge the revulsion curling against the corners of his brain.

"Sammy!" Dean is banging on the door. Sam holds it shut with his foot, panting, screwing his eyes shut. "For fuck's sake, what's the matter, are you sick?"

"No," Sam croaks. "Go away." His breathing won't slow, won't even out. Huge, jagged gasps—it's so loud. Saying I'm fine isn't going to be at all convincing, not when Dean must be listening to him hyperventilate through the door. He clutches the rim of the toilet bowl to stop his hands from shaking. Why can't he be quiet? Why can't he calm down?

It didn't happen. It wasn't real.

Except that's not the point, is it?

it was just in your head

—except in a way that almost makes it worse, really. She'd broken into his mind, so that she could interrogate him—she'd taken away his choice—made him sleep with her, touch her, like her, trust her, not hours after he'd been burned and cut and tortured at her command.

He touches his face. It's wet.

Get a grip, Sam. Get a fucking grip.

At least she hadn't touched him. At least she hadn't—at least it had only been in his head, it hadn't really happened, it wasn't real, get a grip.

Searching for the toilet paper, he sweeps his hand blindly through the darkness, and his palm drags past something sharp. He gasps at the bright bite of pain. Warmth trickles over his fingers.

"Sam, let me—"

"I'm fine!" Despite his best efforts, it comes out trembling and desperate, and he can't blame Dean for the renewed rattle of the doorknob, and dammit, this is getting out of hand. He needs to be okay, he needs to—to—but it's too much, it's too much and it's all Sam can do not to sob outright as he kneels in the dark, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest. "It's just—the bed, I can't, okay?"

"The bed? What's wrong with the bed?" He can picture Dean's what the fuck expression. "You got some new phobia I don't know about?"

"Jesus, Dean, no, I just—they—Bevell, she—"

The handle stops rattling. There's a long, fraught silence from the other side.

When Dean speaks again, his voice is too quiet. "What did she do?"

Sam presses his fists against his temples, listening to the hammer of his own breath as it rattles in and out of his throat. I can't. To say it out loud, to make it real—just say you're fine. Just say you're fine, it's nothing, it didn't happen, it's nothing. He hates that he's crying, hates that he can't just fucking be okay, hates that he can't just shrug this off—

"Sammy, talk to me."

"She drugged me, alright?" Sam blurts, swiping a hand angrily across his face. "Spellwork." He locks everything down and spits the words out in a slow, metered monotone, because it's the only way he can get through the sentences. "She was trying to get me to—to answer her questions. She made me...I hallucinated, and then I dreamed I was in bed. With her. I slept. With her."

It sounds stupid, now that he says it out loud. Sex with a beautiful woman, imagined sex, at that—hardly the most perilous of tortures. Of course, there's the crawling horror of it, the disgust that has nowhere to go except inward, but he doesn't know how to put that to words. It's something he should laugh off, not something that should have him doubled over in the dark cell of this bathroom, and he waits for Dean to tell him so.

But instead there's another silence, almost as long as the first, and then Dean's voice, low, neutral. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Sam does laugh at that, a wretched, ugly sound that he barely recognizes as his own voice. Tell you? I can barely stand to say it now. He hadn't wanted Dean to know, hadn't wanted to have to see the look in Dean's eyes, whatever it would be—pity, or anger, or disgust, or confusion, or—or any look, because Dean wouldn't have understood, how can he understand?

"What was the point?" he rasps finally.

"Goddammit, Sam." There's a thud as Dean hits the doorframe. "Because I never would've let the bitch walk if I'd known she did that—if I'd known she'd fucking assaulted you—"

Sam goes cold all over. "It's not—" he chokes. "That's not—" His gut heaves and he whirls to duck his head over the toilet again, and this time he does throw up, a thin stream of sour-tasting liquid.

The word, the phrase, had been hovering in the back of his head, low and ugly and cruel, but he hadn't wanted to think about it. Hadn't wanted to utter it, even in the silence of thought. What she'd done, what she'd made him do—the loss of autonomy over his body and, worse, his mind—it's bad enough. But to name the thing, the ugliness of it—it splinters the walls he'd tried to build, makes it impossible to bury the memory.

He can hear the soft rush of Dean's exhalation through the door. "Sam, let me in."

It seems inevitable that he's going to have to face Dean anyway. Might as well get it over with. Sam shifts, pulling his legs in towards himself so that his foot is no longer holding the door closed. He hears the handle click open and cringes, still bent over the toilet, bracing himself for the light.

But Dean doesn't flip the switch. He just stands in the doorway, silhouetted against the dim light from the main room, and then he steps into bathroom and sits down on the floor. There's barely room for two people and so it's a little ridiculous, the two of them folded up on the tile, legs jammed up against the fixtures.

"I didn't want to tell you," Sam whispers. He rests his forehead against the cool edge of the toilet seat. "I didn't want you to know."

"You didn't think I would understand."

"You can't, Dean, you don't—it was—I enjoyed it, Dean, it was like a dream, but I—I—" He stutters to a halt, clasping his slick hands together so tightly that his fingers start to ache. "I didn't want to, but I didn't—I didn't have a choice, she made me like it, she made me feel happy—"

And he's choking on his own words now, tongue-tied with misery and fury, fresh tears running down his face, and how can Dean possibly understand what it's like to have your choice taken away, your free will? Dean's never been possessed, he's never had his mind breached—and Sam, Sam's had—Meg, and Lucifer, and Gadreel, and Toni—god, even Cas hadn't hesitated to break into his mind, wreck it with a touch.

"Sam, I get it." In the dark, he feels Dean touch his shoulder, and he recoils against the edge of the bathtub, shaking his head.

"No, you don't get it, Dean—" because Dean would never have been so weak, because Dean would have resisted, somehow, would have fought— "you have no idea, she tortured me and then I let her do that to me, I let her in, after all that I fucking hallucinated that we were lovers and then she laughed and asked me if I enjoyed it—" He remembers her shark-like smile, the agony of awakening, how vulnerable he'd felt cuffed to that chair—what did she do what did she do to me it was just a dream oh god did she—and a renewed wave of humiliation courses through him.

Dean, a dark shape framed in the soft yellow lamplight, has said nothing.

"So, yeah," says Sam. He tries to laugh again, but it's as if his throat no longer knows how to make the sound. Dean isn't looking at him. "Pretty pathetic."

"I kissed Amara," says Dean quietly.

It's not at all what Sam was expecting, and he stares at his brother's profile in surprise. "What?"

"Or, I guess she kissed me. The first time I met her, uh, fully grown." Dean turns his head to stare out the doorway. "I didn't want to, Sam. But—I still kissed her back, I felt—" He swallows, looks down at his hands, resting palm-up on his thighs. "It felt good, in that moment. It was—peaceful."

Yes, that's what Amara had offered, Sam thinks. Darkness. The peace of oblivion.

"Bliss, she called it," Dean says softly, gaze fixed on his palms as if he's reading the words off of them. "It was a—a blank kind of happiness."

"You didn't tell me." Sam echoes Dean's statement from earlier.

"Of course I didn't tell you." Dean huffs out a humorless laugh. "Didn't want you to know. Felt—well, you know how that whole thing with her made me feel, I told you."

And, yeah. Sam remembers. You think that makes you—what? Complicit? Weak? Evil? And Dean's brusque response: for starters, yeah. The terror lodged in his eyes.

"I told Cas, too," Dean says. "Or—well, I suppose I actually told Lucifer. I thought—didn't realize it wasn't him, at the time." A brief spasm of misery crosses his face, almost too quick to be noticed.

"We kissed, and—" Dean clasps his hands together, works the fingers over each other. "—I wanted to be with her, I wanted it, but the desire—that attraction—it wasn't something I chose. It was something she forced on me. And she, she didn't care, she knew what she was doing to me—she knew the power she had over me, and she used it, because she could. You know?"

Sam thinks of Toni's smug, purring satisfaction. The way her eyes had flicked mercilessly over his body, as he fought against the restraints. "Yeah," he mutters hollowly.

"And yeah, it was just a kiss. But if she'd wanted more, Sam? If she'd wanted me to strip down right there and get serious with her? I would've done it. I would've—let her do it. I wouldn't have been able to not want it."

He sounds suddenly lost, his voice small and afraid.

"Dean," says Sam helplessly. He reaches out, but now it's Dean's turn to shrug off the touch, lean back against the wall.

"Anyway." Dean clears his throat a little. "I know it's not the same, but I just—I want you to know—I get it, Sam. I do. Okay?"

His tone is still neutral, but he doesn't look up, and Sam realizes what it means, that Dean is telling him this, opening this wound for Sam to see.

"I'm sorry," he says. His eyes are finally dry. He moves his foot, just a little, just enough to bump it against Dean's shin.

"Yeah. Me too, Sammy."

They breathe together in the dark for a minute. They're apologizing not just on their own behalf, not just for the things they've done to each other, but for everything else that's been done to them, all the wrongs committed by enemies who are dead or gone now but who have left ragged half-healed scars in their wake, old injuries that close over but are never fixed. Raw wounds, fissues into their fragile senses of self.

We pick ourselves back up, I guess, Sam thinks. Or try to. Sometimes he doesn't think there's enough of him left for the pieces to be gathered.

From the shadows, Dean says quietly, "It's okay to not be okay, Sam."

"And you say you don't like chick flicks." It feels good to crack the joke, however feeble it might be. He's not okay. He's a long way from it. But the crushing sense of panic has diminished. Enough, at least, that he thinks he can look Dean in the eye. "You can turn on the light," he offers.

"Finally," Dean groans. "My legs are cramping up." He squirms to his feet and slaps the light switch. "And now—fuck, Sam, what did you do?"

Sam looks down at his bloody hand, then at the jagged metal corner of the decorative wastebasket, on which he'd cut his palm.

"Frigging tetanus risk," Dean grumbles, hauling Sam up to sit on the toilet. "This place probably has bedbugs, too. Sam, stop—"

Sam looks down. Without thinking about it, he's begun digging his thumb into the cut, pressing down until blood wells up afresh.

"Sorry," he mutters. "Old habit." He reaches over, holds his hand under the faucet that Dean is now turning on, watches as the skin goes clean beneath the flow of cold water.

"Freak," Dean snorts fondly, in a tone that clearly says, you are not a freak, Sam. Typical of him, to already be rallying, to be dredging up strength from whatever endless reserve it is that keeps Dean going. A strength akin to grace—it's angelic, almost, and Sam wonders idly for a moment if that's what draws Cas so ceaselessly towards Dean. But no, it's always been humanity that seemed to pull Cas in, and although there's something holy about Dean's fortitude, it's a human kind of holiness—cracked and flawed, battered at the edges, but still going. Still picking itself back up.

Dean wraps one of the mulberry-colored hand towels around Sam's cut. He's careful, but not gentle, and Sam relaxes into the forceful efficiency of the touch, because Dean's love has always been a rough sort of love, the kind that's achingly tender precisely because it's afraid to be gentle.

He follows Dean out of the bathroom, forcing himself to look at the bed, to take in its details.

Was it good for you?

No. He can manage this. He can. Dean will be expecting him to manage it. Because being messed up is one thing, needing confession and tears and the absolution of Dean's understanding is one thing, but then the pain has to be managed, you need to move past it, you need to get a grip and deal—

"Forget the bed." Dean steers him over to the loveseat. "Sit tight."

Sam sits, shivering a little although the room isn't cold. He watches as Dean yanks the sheets and cover off the bed in a single extravagant motion. "What are you..."

"Moving the bed," says Dean, eloquent as always. He snaps the blankets through the air, spreads them on the floor. "Toss me those stupid cushions."

Sam snorts, bemused. But he remembers how they used to do this as kids, actually. Some nights John was away and there was a thunderstorm, or people shouting in the hall, or hell, sometimes Sam was just cold and had nightmares and was sick of starchy motel sheets that were always tucked in too tightly. And Dean would take the thin quilts off the beds and pile them on the floor and they'd curl up in the nest of blankets and pillows and somehow it'd be better than a mattress.

The extra keys turn out to unlock drawers in the ancient armoire, from which Dean retrieves extra pillows and another colorful armful of blankets. What they end up with is something that's half pillow fort, half blanket nest, spread across the floorboards at the foot of the bed. It's incredibly uncomfortable, and all kinds of wonderful.

"Not much of a bed, I know," says Dean, sliding happily down under a blanket.

"It's perfect," says Sam.

Dean appears to fall asleep almost immediately, but Sam lies awake in the darkening room, staring at the ceiling. Perhaps it's a sign of their mental state, but they've forgotten to lock the door, a fact which becomes apparent some time later in the night when it bangs open to reveal an angel on their doorstep.

"Cas?" Sam mutters, raising his head. Cas's hair is ruffled, his coat slightly askew. "What are you...what are you doing here?"

"Cas?" Dean's head pops up too, his eyes bleary and unfocused. "Is it morning?"

Cas looks slightly embarrassed, though at the same time he's swiveling his head, taking in the room. "I'm sorry," he apologizes, still hovering just outside the doorway. "I wasn't going to come till morning, but then there was—I felt—" He trails off uncertainly, but his eyes go to Dean.

Oh. Of course, Sam thinks. Cas must have felt Dean's unhappiness, their—profound bond, or whatever—or had Dean prayed?

He starts as Cas's shadow falls over him. He hadn't noticed the angel moving. Cas crouches and presses two fingers to the center of Sam's forehead, gently, a cool touch like a drop of snow. The pain in his hand vanishes, the skin of his palm suddenly unmarred and clean.

"I felt both of you," Cas says, almost sternly. He stands and half-turns toward the door. "I can come back in the—"

"Fuck you, no." Dean still seems half-asleep, but he's rolling over onto his side, scooting closer to Sam. He mumbles into his pillow, "You're already here, you might as well stay."

"There's room," Sam says quickly. The bed, for starters. And—well, it's a fairly large blanket nest, and he watches that observation occur to Cas.

Cas hesitates, though he doesn't look reluctant, just confused—has that familiar uncertain expression on his face—this is correct? this is what humans do?—and his eyes as they find Sam's are questioning.

And maybe it was the tone of Dean's voice. Or maybe it's because Sam knows that, given the choice, Dean sleeps on his back, yet now he's curled on his side with his face hidden by the crook of his arm and half his pillow unoccupied. Either way, Sam looks down at the stiff line of Dean's shoulders, and knows that his brother's not nearly as asleep as he's pretending to be. That he's awake enough to want, though he isn't going to voice what he wants out loud. Even though ten to one Dean knew exactly how much space he was creating when he threw the blankets on the floor, he's not going to say it. Or, probably, even let himself think of it, not more than the dim shape of it, anyway. Out of—worry, maybe. Fear.

We think we're broken, Sam thinks. That's the worst of it, really. Coming away from the terror of the pit, not only broken but believing that you're broken—

That you're in pieces forever—

That maybe you can't pick yourself back up—

So then maybe we pick each other back up.

"Nah, it's not normal, man," says Sam. He worms his shoulder into hollow in the blankets. We're pretty much the opposite of normal, if you hadn't noticed.  "Stay anyway?"

The hesitation slips from Cas's face. He nods and moves carefully around the blankets to sit cross-legged beside Dean. It's an utterly Castiel thing to do—he's still fully-clothed, still wearing his shoes for crying out loud, but there's nevertheless a grace to his movements, that sense of quiet determination with which Cas always performs even the smallest actions. He lifts one hand, sets it on Dean's shoulder, and Sam watches as Dean relaxes visibly. His older brother turns his face further into the pillow, eyes still closed, but Sam can hear the soft shaky sound as he breathes out.

Maybe there's hope for Dean still—Sam believes in that, with every fiber of his being, because one of them, at least, needs to come out the other end of all of this at least somewhat intact.

"Sam," says Cas gently. "You are not broken."

"How did you—"

"I am not reading your mind." Cas moves his hand up, the movement so slow that it seems almost unconscious, and rests it on Dean's hair. "But your distress is...loud."

"Sorry," Sam mutters, embarrassed.

Cas tilts his head. "I'm sorry, too. I wish I had the words to convince both of you of your worth."

"Uh—thanks, Cas." Sam squirms a little. It's odd, to say the least—lying there on the floor, face-to-face with his sleep-feigning brother, Cas's compassionate expression floating in the semi-darkness above and behind Dean's shoulder. Not normal, by a long shot—but there's a warm sense of peace moving through him, and he wonders if it's a side effect of the dose of Cas's healing, or if it's merely the reassuring solidity of the angel's company. Or maybe it's the fact that Cas's presence makes three of them; it means that all three of them are here, together, and maybe that's something he's come to associate, somewhere along the line, with safety, protection, love.

Whatever it is, the sense of peace is manifesting as a soft drowsiness. It's a surprise—he hadn't expected to sleep tonight, blanket nest or not. But he accepts it, takes the gift in both hands—throws a quick good night smile at Cas and turns over onto his other side to face the wall.

"Sorry it's not that comfortable," he hears Dean mumble, the words muffled by the pillow and his arm.

"It's perfect," says Cas. Eyes closed, Sam catches himself grinning into the blankets, and that's another surprise, a good one.

Was it good for you?

He shifts, readjusting into a marginally more comfortable position. Go fuck yourself, Toni.