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“Please, please,” you whisper brokenly. “No more, please, I can’t-can’t …” you trail off, flopping over onto your back.

Sam’s heavy sigh echoes around the car from where he sits shotgun. From the way Dean’s hands whiten on the steering wheel, Sam knows he’s not the only one concerned.

They’ve watched you be plagued by nightmares for the last three weeks, since a straightforward salt and burn. The three of you entered an abandoned house together with the intention of finding and burning the ghost’s leftover journal (having been informed by her still-living husband it was in the nightstand of their master bedroom), but you’d gotten separated from the brothers, the ghost locking you in the bedroom. It took almost twenty minutes of futile attempts before the ghost vanished, and Sam and Dean could open the door to find you huddled against the wall with a lighter in your hands and a pile of ash at your feet.

You still refuse to tell either of them what happened to you in that room. They know it must something bad –people don’t just start screaming in their sleep for no reason, especially hunters – but they don’t have the slightest clue how to get you to open up about it. You’re one of the most stubborn people they’ve ever met.

They’d kept you at the bunker for a couple weeks after, taking on only the occasional salt and burn cases close to home and leaving you behind, hoping somewhere familiar would help you readjust. You’d followed them around the bunker like a lost puppy every minute they were home and pleaded them to take you with when they would leave, practically crawling out of your skin with worry at the thought of them out there alone.

Sam had thought Dean was actually going to have to lock you up to let them leave at one point.

But they’d finally been forced to give in for this case. It should have been simple in theory –just vampires– but there were two nests in town, and Sam and Dean had grudgingly acknowledged they would need all the help they could get. 

They almost regretted that decision the first two nights though, when you’d proceeded to wake them up every couple hours by your screaming. This trip is the first time they’ve shared a room with you since…whatever happened to you, and without all the space of the bunker, they could witness the full extent of your nightmares.

Sam can clearly see the effects on Dean and him from getting so little sleep, but they’ve made sure not to speak a word to you about it. Sam knows they both understand you have no choice in the matter and are getting just as little sleep as they are.

That’s not to say you haven’t been better these last coupe nights though.

On the second day of travel, when Sam and you had finally located the next within town, you all raided the first vampire nest. To everyone’s surprise, a vamp somehow sliced its nails in Dean’s stomach while Sam had his back turned. It’d slashed his waist and had its mouth halfway to Dean’s neck before you’d had turned around and beheaded the vamp in time to stop anything else from happening.

That night, two nights ago, was the first night you’d slept soundly through the night. Sam thought he would have to confront you about it then, to demand they find a solution because hunting with slow reflexes is dangerous, but you seemed to have figured it out.

The three of you are on your way back to the motel now, having wiped out the third nest in as many days in this diseased town, and Sam can’t honestly say he’s surprised you fell asleep in the car. He thought you would be getting more sleep now that you weren’t having nightmares, but you’ve taken up the habit of going to bed after Sam and Dean and still getting up leagues earlier than either of them.

Sam turns around when another small noise escapes you and watches you tuck your arms against your chest in defense against a foe only you can see.

Well, you were almost over your nightmares.

Sam can’t help the wince that crosses his face when he gets a full, unobstructed view of you. While your injuries are nothing serious, they aren’t minimal either. Defensive bruising runs along your arms and neck from both the fight today and from the last few days, the time allowing for some of the more colorful bruises to full saturate. You’re also donning some truly gory cuts smattered across your cheek from one of the vampires chucking you through a window. There’s even a whole other kind bright red irritation around your mouth, maybe from one of the vamps hitting your jaw or scraping it against something, Sam’s not sure.

He turns back around in his seat. “She’s having another nightmare,” he informs Dean stoically.

“No freaking duh, Sammy,” comes the reply. “You think?”

Sam knows Dean’s just as disappointed as he is. They thought you were over all this.

“I think we should book a room.”

Dean takes his eyes off the road briefly to contemplate Sam. “What? Why? We’re less than 30 hours from the bunker, I don’t mind driving through the night.” It’s barely noon, if they stop for the evening, they’ll be adding another day onto the trip.

“I’m not saying spend the night,” Sam reasons, “but she’ll sleep better in a bed. Besides, we’re not exactly in the best state to travel.” He gestures to their bloody clothes.

Dean’s silent for a while before grunting his acknowledgment. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to get cleaned up,” he admits.

Sam nods. “We can grab some lunch. And she can nap on the bed before we head out.”

Dean pulls into a motel parking lot less than half an hour later. Sam assumes the way you kept whimpering every so often had a large part to do with Dean pulling over so soon.

He shuts off the car and they both move to get out, before Sam sees Dean look down at his blood-soaked clothes, then over at Sam’s slightly less bloodied ones.

“You’re up,” he notifys Sam nonchalantly and leans against the car to wait. Sam throws a bitchface his way to express his unappreciation, but leaves for the office. When Sam comes back a minute later, keys in hand, he gestures to you where you still lay asleep in the backseat.

“Rock, Paper, Scissors for who has to wake her up?”

Dean sends him a scalding glare, leans into the backseat, and scoops you up easily. He juts out his chin in a silent ‘lead the way’ when he’s got you situated in his arms.

Sam rolls his eyes, but grabs their bags out of the trunk and heads to find their room. Dean shadows behind him unquestioningly.

When they get to the room, Sam holds the door open for the two of you. “If you want to shower first, I can pick us up burgers or something,” he offers as Dean ducks in and beelines for the bed.

“Yeah, sure,” comes Dean’s reply gruffly and Sam watches him pull back the sheets on the motel bed to place you down lightly.

Sam throws their bags onto the opposite bed, turns back to ask Dean for the car keys, and nearly chokes.

His large, 6’2 hunter brother is frantically attempting to peel your little, lithe frame hanging off his shirt without waking you up. His face is scrunched in concern, and what might be a smidge of fear, as he wrestles with your arms.

Your face similarly pinched, but your eyes are still shut, and your breathing is even. Your hands, though, are locked around Dean’s neck where you hang from him like a koala, and your fingers are buried in the fabric at the back of his shirt.

Dean carefully flails until he can manage to pry your fingers off his shirt and dislodge you. He gathers the motel blankets around you, making sure to trap your arms underneath. Dean pretends to be exasperated, but he leans down and kisses your forehead before he turns around and points a finger at Sam.

“Not a word,” he hisses. “Not one word.” He spins on his heels and heads for the bathroom.

Sam’s mouth hurts from pressing his lips together. Dean’s always had a soft spot for you, but even he has to admit you’re pretty damn adorable curled up on the big motel bed as he walks out the door to fetch burgers.

--

Sam comes back with food just as Dean’s pulling on a clean shirt over wet hair.

Dean’s voice is muffled by the fabric, but Sam can hear the excitement in it when Dean asks him if he got the burgers.

Sam rolls his eyes fondly. “Yeah Dean, I got the burgers.” He sets the bag on the table and makes for the bathroom to rinse off as Dean gathers his dirty clothes into a bag and starts cleaning weapons.

When Sam reemerges just under ten minutes later, Dean’s repacked their weapons and has their meal laid out on the table. Sam realizes there’s only two spots placed.

“Y/N’s not eating with us?” he questions. He glances over at you and notes you’ve moved to the opposite bed, facing the wall away from them. You’re still wearing your ruined clothes, but your bag is left open at the foot of your bed. You must have gotten up for something while Dean was in the shower and fallen back asleep before you could change.

“Nah, let her sleep,” Dean replies. “We’ll wrap hers up and bring it with us.”

Sam shrugs and sits down across from Dean.

He’s about halfway through his salad, Dean on the last bite of his burger, when a loud whine rings through the room.

Dean tips his head back and sighs heavily. “I thought she was over this,” he grumbles, never taking his eyes off your form.

Sam lowers his fork and lifts his eyebrows. “I thought so too. She was doing so well the last few-”

You whimper again, shifting in the bed, then let out a muffled sob.

Dean pushes his chair back and heads your way. “Sweetheart?” He calls your name lowly.

You don’t respond except for another wounded noise.

Dean moves closer. “Hey,” he consoles softly, walking around to the far side of the bed. “It’s okay, sweetheart, it’s…” Dean trails off, his eyes on your face and his mouth is frozen open.

Sam frowns. “Dean? What is it?”

Dean doesn’t answer him, only sets his jaw, so Sam gets up and rounds the bed to see what the issue is. He has to swallow down bile that threatens to rise at the sight in front of him.

That’s…duct tape. There’s duct tape across your mouth. You must have heard Sam and Dean arguing with each other after that first nest and concluded that your nightmares were putting them in danger. And thought the answer was to duct tape your mouth shut.

On some level, Sam can understand where you’d been coming from with this idea. With the tape sealing your lips together, you couldn’t scream like you had before. It muffled all but the loudest screams, no possible way you could produce a noise loud enough to wake the boys up. It seems to have worked pretty well, too. They haven't heard a single sound from you the last few nights.

Sam throws a hand over his own mouth to aid his not-throwing-up efforts.

He's already thinking of the best way to wake you up, a way that won’t scare you too badly so you’ll still be willing to talk to Dean and him about whatever it is that’s going on, when Dean marches over to you and unceremoniously rips the tape off your face.

Predictably, your eyes fly open and you cry out, but you throw one arm over your head to protect yourself in movements more defensive than a hunter’s trained offensive. And just like that, suddenly Sam’s all-too-aware of the rings around your eyes he’s been subconsciously ignoring the deepening of each day while he’d been too busy giving you the benefit of the doubt to question, and the rash-like mark around your mouth that he’d marked off as an injury from the hunt.

Dean immediately starts up yelling, and Sam’s not entirely sure the words coming out of Dean’s mouth actually make sense. He hears Dean call you a dumbass and hopes you can decipher the underlying strain in his voice for what it is: deep rooted concern for you.

He catches the moment you recognize the two men in front of you to be the brothers you trust your life to on an almost-daily basis. And he nearly sobs when that knowledge, instead of soothing you, flings you into a deeper panic.

You’re afraid.

The realization hits Sam like a wall of bricks. He nearly facepalms — of course you’re afraid! You just got woken up by the pain of tape being ripped off your lips and are now being towered over by two tall, intimidating men; you have every right to be frightened.

“Dean,” Sam intervenes firmly.

Dean continues to yell.

“Dean!” Dean whips around to glower at him.

“What!” he snarls.

“This isn’t helping anything. Look-” Sam points to you “-you’re scaring her.”

Thick, wavering tears have bubbled over and are streaking crookedly down your face.

Dean’s anger immediately vanishes. He reaches down, ignoring your instinctual flinch, and scoops you up into his arms once more. He disregards the bed, instead opting to drop to the floor where he is.

Sam settles himself down beside the two of you and pulls you over so your head is tucked against his torso while your lower half remains on Dean. He ignores the saltwater seeping into his clothes and the urge to punch something every time your breath hitches as you fail to bite back tears and instead, simply holds you.

The skin on the lower section of your face is raw and irritated from the tape residue wearing it away the last few days and there’s blood on your lip where the tape tore a chunk of skin with it when it was ripped off. Sam feels sick.

The three of you stay like that, Sam stroking your hair and Dean cradling you in his lap, long enough that Sam’s backside goes numb, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to move away from you when you’re like this.

He doesn’t notice your gasps have turned to words until Dean starts shushing you.

“Shh, it’s alright. It’s alright. You don’t gotta be sorry for a thing, sweetheart. We got you,” Dean murmurs, rocking you slowly.

Sam tried to hold it in, but he can’t stand it any longer. “Why, Y/N? Why didn’t you come to us about this?” He internally grimaces when he hears how accusing that sounds. “You need to tell us what the nightmares are about, baby. Clearly whatever you’re doing isn’t working,” he rephrases, much softer.

You sniff and turn your head, and you sound partly ticked-off when you mumble, “I have a method. It works.”

Sam starts pulling you off him to argue face to face, but you bury your face in his warm chest. “It’s…it might not be working that great right now,” you confess quietly.

“It’s not much of a method at all,” Dean growls. Sam can’t help but agree with him. Using duct tape to silence yourself like a dog with a muzzle was nowhere close to okay.

Dean sighs and starts to shift. Sam's pretty sure he's just readjusting and not actually getting up, but the response in you is immediate. You protest low in your throat and lurch out of Sam’s hold to clutch Dean’s shirt in your hands. Sam can’t see your face, but he can hear your ragged breaths.

Dean settles back down warily. “Okay,” he soothes. “Alright. I’m not going anywhere, Y/N. I’m not leaving, sweetheart.”

It takes a few heartbeats until you settle back down, allowing your weight to rest of Sam’s chest again. Sam’s starting to gather an idea of what you’ve been seeing every night.

“Y/N,” he ventures. “Do we get hurt, in your dreams? Is that it; is that what you see?” He’s not sure if he’s more relieved or concerned when you shake your head in the negative.

“No,” you admit in a whisper.

They wait for you to go on.

“…I see you leave. And because I’m not there to-” your breath stutters and a small hiccupping noise comes from you. “I’m not there to protect you and you, you-” You don’t say it, but they all hear the unspoken word.

Guilt claws at Sam’s stomach. You watch them die every night. No, worse than that: you watch them abandon you every time you close your eyes.

“Is that what that ghost showed you?” Dean barks suddenly, making you jump. “Well?” he presses when you don’t respond. “Is it?”

You try to pull your legs away from Dean, but he’s having none of it. He snags your calves and holds them firmly in his lap with strong arms, either ignoring or not noticing your struggles to free them.

“What did it show you,” he repeats lowly, emphasizing each separate word. His tone leaves no room for argument. Sam rubs your arms, hoping to calm you enough to answer Dean.

When you do answer, your voice is frail enough that Sam and Dean need to lean in to hear you. “It showed me- you left me. You both told me I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t strong enough to be a hunter. That you guys would be better off without me.” You sniff a little before continuing tearfully, “‘I’m just bringing you down,’ you said. And then you left. You left and you didn’t come back no matter how much I begged, or pleaded, or, or-. You just, you didn’t come back.”

They wait for a second, but you say nothing more. Sam drops his head so your nestled underneath his chin. “We aren’t going anywhere, okay?” Sam reiterates, not one hint of hesitation in his voice. “Nowhere.”

Dean heaves out a breath and lifts his large hands to rest on your thighs. “Baby, we could never leave you. We need you too much.”

You don’t open your mouth, but Sam reads your silence for what is it.

“We’re being serious, Y/N. I don’t care what that ghost showed you, you aren’t bringing us down at all. You’re lifting us up.” He can feel fresh tears soaking into his shirt. “You bring a light into our lives that we haven’t had in a long time.”

“Yeah,” Dean chimes in. “You’ve saved our asses more times than I can count. Besides, who else would listen to hours of classic rock music with me?”

Okay, well, Sam would, Dean. But Sam sees what he’s playing at. “Or drag me out of the library for movie night after a rough hunt?” he adds.

“Or help me pull pranks on this moose?” Amusement colors Dean's voice. Sam still remembers the time you and he teamed up during a prank war. It took Sam three weeks to rinse the pink out of his hair.

He narrows his eyes at Dean, but Dean’s not done. “And don’t expect me to ever say this again, but as much as I hate chick-flick moments, cuddling with you ain’t so bad.”

Sometimes Sam forgets how clever Dean can be.

“I don’t mind cuddling, either,” he agrees, clenching you tighter.

Dean nods. “See darlin’? Neither of us mind if you need us. Whenever that may be.”

Sam feels you turn your head under his chin. “Really?” you ask Dean, and Sam hears the hesitation as you wait for the ‘but.’

Dean reaches towards you and captures your face gently between his large hands. “Really. We need you, Y/N. If you need us too, you have us.”

Sam pulls his head back so he can study your face. “So no more duct tape,” he says resolutely. “If you have a nightmare, you come sleep with one of us, okay?”

You snort, and Dean rolls his eyes. “Not like that, you minx,” he scolds you.

You reach up to touch Dean’s hands where they still lay on your face and give them a watery smile. “Okay,” you concede finally

“Nuh uh,” Sam hums. “I need a promise. Say ‘Sam, Dean, I promise I will come to you if I have another nightmare.’

Your smile grows, finally reaching your eyes. “Sam, Dean, I promise I’ll come to you if I have another nightmare,” you parrot dutifully.

“Good,” Sam decides, then, without any further warning, sweeps your legs out of Dean’s lap and stands. You squeak at the change in position, but the bottom of your eyes scrunch up and Sam and Dean know your sadness is over. You always love being picked up.

Sam walks you over to the bed you were on earlier and plops you down in the middle of it. He falls in after you and you laugh as his body weight presses down on you.

“Get off!” you yell playfully. Your pushes don’t even slightly move him. He just laughs and readjusts so he’s laying beside you.

Dean plods over to the other side of the bed and tugs the sheets down.

“This really isn’t big enough for the three of us Dean.” It’s not so much as protest as an observation.

“Shut up, Sammy. I’m not going to sit over there by myself while you’re over here hogging our woman all for yourself.” He pokes your side until you scooch over to make room for him, then plasters himself against your back to keep from falling off the mattress.

Sam huffs, but doesn’t really complain. It’s really not that weird for them to share a bed; they’d done so for years while dad left them alone to hunt. Plus, he gets it. He wouldn’t be able to leave you alone right now either. Being near you is the best way to protect you, even if it’s from yourself.

You wiggle around, trying to get comfortable, until Dean huffs and throws an arm over your shoulders, being careful not to let his arm touch Sam’s chest. Sam appreciates the effort.

“Stop moving,” Dean orders sleepily. Sam wants to laugh at how whiny it sounds, but instead, he wraps an arm around your waste and pulls you flush against his chest.

He sighs in content when you tuck your head under his chin again. They’ll watch over you tonight. If you have another nightmare, they’ll be there to reassure you they’re not going anywhere. And they’ll keep doing it, until they can show you your worth and prove to you they need you too much to be anywhere but by your side.