Actions

Work Header

Head Space

Chapter Text

            Sam had been unconscious more than most people and he knew how it felt to come out of it. He usually came to consciousness slowly, like rising out of normal sleep only slower. There would be a liminal period where he was sort of aware and sort of not, sometimes rising and falling dolphin-like until he could sort of figure out what was going on. Consciousness would be fragmented, he’d blink and too much time would have gone by. Oh, and since something—blood loss, being hit in the head, or sometimes just sheer pain would have caused it—he’d feel like shit. But this wasn’t like that. He just was aware. Light switch.

            In the dark.

            He did feel like shit. His legs hurt like holy fucking hell. Not literally like hell but this was some not-normal place. He knew because it was black and soundless. Someone—Crowley or an angel or some piece of paranormal crazy was going to show up and do something any minute now. He could touch. Not entirely pleasantly. It was a little chilly. There was something covering him. He felt like he was laying a bit awkwardly on his back. He straightened his head and he could feel himself blinking.

            Someone took his hand and he said, “What the fuck?” except he couldn’t hear himself talk, not even the way you could hear yourself when you plugged your ears. Whoever was holding his hand was clenching it like crazy, shaking it a little. Then after a moment they grabbed his other hand and pulled it up which moved his body a bit and that shot pain like an electrical current down his legs making him unable to think or even breath it hurt so bad.

            One of the hands had let go when the pain ebbed enough for him to care.

            A hand touched his face.

            This was fucked up. Totally fucked up. He kept hold of the hand and felt around with the other one. The mysterious place was a bed.

            Oh God, what if he was blind? “I can’t see,” he said although again he couldn’t actually hear if he said anything. The hand holding his changed positions and then tickled his palm. What the hell? He was lying in bed, possibly blind (and deaf?) and they were tickling his palm? He wanted to try to sit up but his legs had hurt so bad when they moved him he was afraid to move. “Dean?” he said.

            The tickle thing again.

            “I don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. Or maybe they couldn’t understand him. Hell, maybe he was whispering. Or shouting.

            He blinked and thought. “Dean, are you writing on my hand?” he asked.

            He concentrated. ‘Y’

            “This is fucked,” he said.

            ‘YYYYY’

            “Am I shouting?”

            It felt clearly different, pretty sure it was ‘N’.

            “Cas here?”

            ‘Y’

            He felt another hand touch his arm.

            “Hi Cas,” he said.

            The hand tapped. He smiled. He could feel himself smile. He was trying not to freak.

            “Spell?” he asked. He could remember the hunt. The witch.

            ‘N’

            “Curse,” he said.

            ‘Y’

            “Will it wear off?”

            No answer for a long time.

            “Maybe,” he said to help.

            Still a long pause. ‘Y’ finally. He could smell the scent of motel room. Of Dean. Of whiskey. Dean had started drinking.

            Probably not. “This sucks,” he said. “This sucks donkey dicks.”

            Dean lifted his hand to Dean’s face, to feel Dean smiling and nodding.

            Deaf people were loud. They stayed for weeks at this long term residency hotel in some state in the south. Sam was in first grade? Something like that. The two people next door were multiply handicapped; hearing impaired, developmentally disabled, —they were picked up by a shuttle that took them to a sheltered workshop every morning and brought them back every night. They had loud deaf sex sometimes and Sam hadn’t known what was going on, had asked if they were sick, if they were hurt. Dean had been probably ten or eleven and mortified, and Sam couldn’t even remember John’s reaction (which undoubtedly meant that he had only asked Dean).

            He closed his eyes. Closed his mouth. After a minute, Dean tapped on his hand. Dean wanted something. Sam wanted to freak out but he was afraid of that pain to come back to his legs. His neck and shoulders were uncomfortable but he was afraid of moving too much. He couldn’t think of anything to ask. He opened his eyes to the blackness and waited for whatever Dean had in mind. Slowly Dean wrote ‘T’ ‘A’ ‘L’ ‘K’.

            Sam was afraid to talk. He didn’t know what he would say.

            ‘L’ and then something he didn’t follow.

            “I don’t understand.”

            ‘L’ ‘E’ something.

            “Legs? They hurt. Is that what you’re asking? Am I crippled, too?”

            Dean squeezed his hand. After a moment Dean put something in his hand. Pills. Pain pills. Sam held his head up and felt someone’s hand (Cas?) behind it and threw them back. Then there was water.

            “No whiskey?” Sam asked, trying to grin.

            ‘N’

            The hand let his head back down. With his free hand Sam reached across towards Dean. Dean caught his other hand but Sam wanted to feel Dean so he shook his hand loose. There was a moment when Dean tried again, lacing his fingers through Sam’s fingers, and Sam pulled his fingers loose before Sam finally gritted his teeth and leaned—which hurt like a son of a bitch. Oh fuck his legs, what was wrong with his legs? But he touched Dean’s face. He just needed to confirm it was Dean.

            He didn’t know Dean’s face by touch but it was nice except that Dean’s face was wet. His brother was crying. He’d made his brother cry.

            Sam let himself go limp, closed his eyes, pulled his hand back to lie across his belly.

#

            Sam had decided opinions about people with disabilities. He was aware he wasn’t always good about it—Sam was pretty sure he was an ablest, that is a person who made judgments about the disabled the way a person who was racist did about people of color. He knew he did. He knew it was a failing. Being blind and deaf and unable to walk did not mean he had no life. Cripple, the word he had used, was an example of what an asshole he was. He had to trust that his brother and Cas would do anything they could to reverse this. If they couldn’t, he had to trust he could make a life. He still had his brain. It would be okay, no matter what. Hard. Different. He could adapt.

            It was better than the Cage. No one was actively torturing him.

            Compared to Castiel’s angelic senses, he hadn’t even lost that much. Castiel could taste molecules and sense everything. The music of the spheres.

            He tried to feel vibrations in the room. The air. Temperature. He found that he restlessly rubbed the sheet between finger and thumb without even realizing it.

            Dean and Cas couldn’t hold his hand all the time. Dean walked hard sometimes but Dean could also walk so that he didn’t thump at all and most of the time Sam didn’t feel any vibrations.

            He didn’t know what was in the room. Couldn’t tell if something might be coming after him. It made him crazy. Made him imagine things. He kept trying to open his already open eyes. Then he’d close them thinking that his blind stare was probably really disturbing for Dean. (Cas probably didn’t care. Things like that didn’t seem to bother Cas one way or another.) Then he’d realize he was trying to listen, trying to see, and rubbing the sheet again.

            He didn’t know if they noticed or not. Didn’t know if anyone was looking at him or not. He felt as if someone was looking at him so he tried to always keep his face still, his eyes and mouth closed and to not look gross or disturbing. At the same time he felt as if there was no one around.

            It seemed like hours had passed.

It went on and on and on.

            Then he had to pee.

            Eventually, someone touched his hand and he startled. Then he could tell them.

            His legs hurt so bad. Towels and a bottle and indignities. Time for the pain to subside while someone help his hand. Then food and water.

            Sam had known for a long time, since he got out of the Cage, that it wasn’t good for him to have nothing to do or he could get pretty weird. He researched or he ran or he hunted. He indexed the books in the Bunker. He watched TV with Dean or Cas—although sometimes he had to have his laptop with him when he did that or his thoughts could go bad. He was a freak who had been subjected to something psychiatrists called Continuous Trauma which was like PTSD without ever having a chance to get to the post-traumatic part. He’d researched it. He knew all about it. He knew that he and Dean were basically poster children for totally mentally fucked.

            He wondered if he was making noises he couldn’t hear and touched his lips. They were closed.

            He had flashbacks to the Cage. The Trials. Kevin’s death. He realized his eyes were open and closed them so he wasn’t just staring blankly. He tried to meditate. He had no idea if it was day or night. Maybe everyone was asleep but him.

            Eventually water. And having to pee again.

            The animal body. It was awful. But not as awful as the absence.         

#

            Someone touched his hand. He startled.

            “What time is it,” he asked. “AM or PM? AM?”

            ‘Y’ Then they counted on his fingers, pulling one finger at a time, one two three four five six seven.

            “Seven in the morning,” he said. “Am I shouting?”

            ‘N’

            “Talking funny?”

            ‘N’ They opened his hand—he thought it was Dean. ‘W’ ‘H’ ‘I’ ‘S’ ‘P’

            “Whispering?”

            ‘Y’

            Well that was a relief. It shouldn’t matter to him since Dean and Cas were holding his dick while he peed and wiping him when he shat but it did.

            Dean (he was sure it was Dean because he knew the smell and feel of Dean) opened his hand and made a mark on his hand. He shook his head because he didn’t get it. Again.

            “C,” he said.

            Two taps on his wrist meant ‘no.’ And then the mark.

            “G,” he guessed.

            ‘O’

            Then the thing Dean did to mean next word.

            ‘H’ ‘O’ ‘S’ ‘P’ ‘I’ ‘T’

            “Go to the hospital? No,” he said, “they can’t do anything.”

            ‘Y’

            “Why?” he asked.

            ‘P’ and then a letter he didn’t get. A couple more times and he got, ‘A’ ‘I’ ‘N’.

            The leg pain.

            Not the hospital. He couldn’t imagine going to the hospital. Moving hurt and he wouldn’t be able to see or hear what was going on. He wanted to stay here where he felt sort of safe. “They’ll do tests,” he said. “CAT scans and stuff. Dean, no, I won’t, no, I can’t…”

            Dean stroked his hair.

            ‘Y’

            “Please,” he begged.

            ‘Y’

            He felt Dean kiss him on the forehead. Dean never did that. It was like he was a child. Or dying. He wished he were dying. Or dead.

#

            It seemed like a long time later that Dean tapped his hand, then carefully let him feel a sock. What? Then Dean pulled the blanket and sheet off of him and carefully trailed his hand down along Sam’s hip (a tiny electric pain following his finger, some sort of weird nerve response) until he got to Sam’s foot. He was going to put socks on Sam.

            He lifted Sam’s foot.

            Pain

            <…..>

            He didn’t want them to move him. They were going to get him to the Impala and it would be impossible. He felt two fingers against his forehead. Cas?

#

            Rumbling and the familiar sense of being folded into the back seat of the Impala. It hurt but not that electric obliterating pain of being moved. How had he gotten here? Memories of lost time, of Gadreel, he must have made some noise, he could feel he was making some panicked noise. He was under a blanket and he had his arms on top. The smell of the Impala. He felt disoriented. Someone touched his hand and he grabbed onto them. He could feel how awkward the reach was. The hand was soft—Cas?

            Fuck, get it together. He squeezed Cas’ hand. “I’ve…I’m okay,” he said. He smiled. He thought it was a smile or maybe not, it probably looked like a grimace. His eyes were open and staring, he could feel it. “I should wear sunglasses,” he said. “Dean can call me Stevie Wonder.” He made himself close his eyes. Breathe. Let go of Cas’ hand.

            He told himself he wouldn’t let himself make any noise when they got him out of the car at the hospital.

            The car stopped and the engine stopped. He could feel when the vibration stopped. He could feel cold air. Doors slam. Colder air. A hand on his shoulder.

            He waited, not knowing what was going on. He started shivering after awhile.

            When hands lifted him out of the car, the electric pain caused his legs to contract, his hamstrings to shorten like rubber bands and obliterated everything. He had no idea what kind of sounds he must have made.

#

            The hospital was a horror. He knew he was on a gurney because he could feel it rolling. He could feel the texture of hospital sheet and under that, the indestructible, impossible-to-stain vinyl. He clutched it because all the movement had left his legs hurting. It was nerve pain, deep inside. Where they touched anything it was worse. They had him flat. They turned a corner (rocking even a little hurt.) He was going in the ER of course because the Winchesters never made scheduled appointments; he wondered how busy it was. Smelled like a hospital although he briefly smelled coffee. Would he be parked in a hallway and have to wait until they could see him? He wasn’t exactly an emergency. On the other hand, they didn’t know it was a curse and they’d probably think the sudden onset of blindness, deafness, and excruciating leg pain was a big deal. What story was Dean telling them? They’d run some kind of CT or MRI—

            Another turn, and then another turn. He wished he knew what was going on.

            Someone put their hand on his knee—fuck fuck fuck fuck don’t touch his legs, asshole asshole asshole. He kept his teeth clenched because there were other people around, people who were scared and hurt, maybe even kids. They didn’t need some guy screaming.

            Somebody was pushing him down. He was curled halfway to a sitting position and someone had hands on his shoulders. He let them push him down.

            Then nothing. He just laid there and tried not to think about his legs. He knew how the pain worked. It would ebb starting with his feet, then crawling up his hips and creeping back to his spine until it was just a dull ache at the base of his spine and where his legs touched the gurney but that took a long time. He didn’t know how long; he thought hours but pain stretched time and he didn’t exactly have a clock. He rubbed the sheet between his thumb and fingers, ran his fingers over the vinyl. Crap, his eyes were open. Creep people out by staring blindly into space, Winchester. Sunglasses. Maybe Dean could buy him a cheap pair. He closed his eyes. They felt dry. It was chilly and his fingers were cold.

            He counted slowly to one hundred. Kept counting. Maybe he was sitting in a hallway waiting for a bay to open up? Dean was probably doing paperwork. He was thirsty and it was kind of cold. Well, he’d been cold and thirsty before. He kept counting. He was at 523 when someone picked up his arm and he jerked it from them. He felt his eyes fly open.

            “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry.” Fucking Christ, warn him. It was too much like the Cage. No way to know what was coming. Reality was unreliable. Again, he thought grimly.

            Someone patted his arm and then put a hospital bracelet on. Then they wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his bicep.

            “Blood pressure,” he said. “Got it. Thanks for patting my arm. Helps if you tap my hand before you do something. So I know you’re there.”

            It was like talking into the void. Did they hear him? Wonder what name they were using for insurance. He couldn’t even ask for Dean. The blood pressure cuff pumped up. When it went down, nobody took it off. He counted again. He was almost to 400 when with no warning, the blood pressure cuff inflated again. He startled a little but he had guessed it would be automatic.

            He fell into a rhythm. He figured that the blood pressure machine was going off every five minutes. He still wasn’t sure whether he was staged in a hallway somewhere or was actually in the ER. He was counting the fifth set (not having yet been able to get close to 300 between cuff inflations, his sense of time was screwed) when something touched his arm, a brush of fingertips.

            He knew he yelped, he couldn’t help it, and half sat up.

            Someone grabbed his hand. He thought it might be Dean just because of the firmness. “Dean?” he said.

            With their other hand, they tapped once for ‘yes’.

            “Are we in an ER bay?” he asked.

            A single tap. Then they let go of his hand and traced a ‘D’ and an ‘R’.

            “Doctor? Already?” he asked.

            A single tap, ‘yes’ and then Dean took his hand and squeezed hard. Back to tracing. ‘P’ ‘A’ ‘I’ ‘N’ and then something. It took Sam a moment. Oh, a question mark.

            “Yeah,” he said. “Tell them not to touch my legs, okay? And if they’re going to touch me or do something, it helps if they tap my hand first so I know they’re there.”

            ‘P’ ‘A’ ‘I’ ‘N’ ‘1’ ‘10’

            “I…a 6? Unless they touch, then an 8.” He hated when they asked for a scale. He never knew what to answer. He figured you passed out at 10. Unless you were in the Cage and never passed out no matter how bad it got. The Cage was close in his memory right now.

            ‘I’ ‘V’

            Sam nodded.

            Dean turned his arm over and patted his forearm—slapping the veins—they had both found veins enough to know, then put his palm against Sam’s arm. Dean’s hand was warm.   Dean squeezed. Somehow Sam knew that meant wait. Sam had good veins. He was cold, though, which meant they’d be digging.

            The blood pressure cuff inflated again.

            He concentrated on Dean’s hand, feeling human and good against his arm. Everything else was…don’t think about not having anything but that, and how that was going away, how Dean couldn’t spend the rest of his life holding on, think about right now.

            The blood pressure cuff deflated. He wondered what his blood pressure was. Like that mattered. “How’s my blood pressure,” he said, for a joke.

            Dean let go to write in his hand. ‘T’ ‘O’ ‘O’  ‘H’ ‘I’ ‘G’ ‘H’

            Then

            ‘M’ ‘E’ ‘D’ ‘S’

            “For blood pressure?” Sam said, incredulous. He’d never had high blood pressure in his life.

            ‘A’ ‘N’ ‘X’ ‘I’ ‘E’ ‘T’ ‘Y’

            “Fuck,” Sam said. “I’m being a fucking child.”

            A finger on his lips. Dean saying, shhhh. Then Dean took his hand again and squeezed, tight. He held on and held on. Sam felt so ashamed. John Winchester did not raise them to be anxious. He was not anxious. Anxious was…he would cop to being afraid. He’d been afraid a lot. Frightened out of his fucking mind. He would even cop to depression. PTSD. But anxious. Anxious was the suburbia of fear. Anxious was whining. He coped, goddamnit. Startling too much, that was reflexes, that was something that came from hunting. Nightmares. Anxious, that was needing a goddamned teddy bear.

            He was squeezing Dean’s hand so hard but Dean was squeezing back, just as hard. Dean’s hands were strong.

            Dean tapped. Several times. Something up. Dean pulled out of his hand.

            A warm blanket across his legs spread so carefully and gently.

            Another one across the rest of him.

            Another folded up on his arm, to warm him up for the IV.

            He couldn’t help but laugh. “You running this ER now?”

            One tap. ‘Yes.’ Then spelled in his hand. ‘U’ ‘B’ ‘E’ ‘T’

#

            The IV went in easy and then Sam was pretty sure they were giving him lorazepam or diazepam. One of the benzos. They waited awhile and he felt pretty much the same. Then some fussing, he could tell because Dean was still holding on to him but had to shift and there was someone moving around his IV a little. Then he started to notice a difference. He was pretty sure his blood pressure must have dropped like a brick in a swimming pool because he really didn’t care about much of anything.

            There was an MRI. Dean wrote it into his palm and then they left Dean behind. The bad part was undressing him and getting him into a gown. They weren’t giving him anything for pain yet and moving him burned through a lot of the sweet buzz from whatever they’d given him to bring down his blood pressure. He was sweating and gasping by the time they were finished. Someone took a minute to put their palm on his forehead.

            Then he was back in that place where he had no idea what was happening for a very very long time. People would touch him, do something to him, and he never knew it was going to happen. He knew he had been moved around, his legs had been jostled and once even straightened, he’d had his IV reinserted (and suspected he’d had blood drawn) and been examined by someone wearing latex gloves and using a cold stethoscope.

            He couldn’t breathe. He hurt. He was so thirsty. His mouth was so dry. He was exhausted.

He couldn’t tell the difference between awareness and some sort of in-between state where he kept thinking he had to get up.

He kept sitting up and then he’d hurt so bad he’d have to sit there and try to breathe through the pain.

            Finally they put him in restraints.

            He couldn’t remember where he was.

            He kept trying to breathe and drifting in the silence and sightless place for a long time.

            Maybe it was day, maybe it was night. He didn’t know how many hours had passed.

            Someone had a hold of him, had their hands on both sides of his face, their forehead against his. He only knew one person who did that, who felt like that, who smelled like that. “Hi Dean,” He wasn’t in restraints anymore, they were rocking him. He could feel them. There was something. He was being drawn down into darkness.

#

            Sam dreamed.

He was at a bar in a bowling alley. It was dark but full of color. There were bowling lanes off to the right where brilliant pins like white teeth sat in pockets of light. And the sounds! The rolling of bowling balls, the crash of spares. Laughter and the occasional shout. He sat there nursing a beer. After a moment he realized that the guy in the leather jacket hunched over a beer next to him was his dad. Was John Winchester.

            “Hello, Sam,” his dad said. He had a duffle bag, their weapons bag, at his feet. This should have been weird but it wasn’t.

            “I didn’t know you bowled,” Sam said.

            His dad made a kind of noncommittal response. “Like your shoes,” he said.

            Sam realized he was wearing burgundy, white, and black bowling shoes. They were actually kind of cool. “Yeah,” he said, admiring them, their color. “Fish sauce, as the kids say,” which was a phrase he’d recently heard meant ‘cool’. “Anything in that bag for me?”

            John shook his head. “Nope.”

Sam thought, never was. Never will be.

            “Sam,” Castiel said insistently.

            Sam swiveled on his stool. The angel was behind him, trench coat and suit not so out of place in a bowling alley. “Cas,” he said.

            “Come with me,” Cas said.

            It felt kind of rude to just leave his dad sitting there but honestly, something about the whole thing felt like a place he didn’t really want to be. He followed Cas out the door. Instead of a parking lot they walked through what looked like the atrium of a mall only without the shops—all sunshine and walkways and glass.

            He looked back at the bowling alley.

            “It’s not really your father,” Cas said. “It’s just a dream.”

            Sam couldn’t help but be amused. “A dream?”

            Cas sighed. “I can’t help you work out your issues with your father. I tried that in a brothel and it seems even very obvious things are very complicated when humans are involved.”

            Sam didn’t think he could disagree. “Where are we going?”

            “I don’t know,” Cas said. “Some place where you will feel very comfortable.”

            Like that existed.

            Cas pushed open a side door and it was late spring at the back of a motel. They were renovating the rooms one by one and as they did they put the furniture out back on a wooden deck while they painted and replaced the plumbing and tile. It was somewhere in Colorado? New Mexico? So late spring meant June. He was probably thirteen. His dad had gotten them a deal because they were in a ski lodge in the off season. John was off chasing a lead on the Yellow-eyed Demon. Not that Sam knew that back then.

            New Mexico. Taos Ski Valley. The place was a ghost town in the summer. They were over 9000 feet above sea level. When they first got there and tried to train, they fucking died because of the thin air. They saw spots if they ran 200 yards. Dean would put his hands on his hips, chest heaving, and say, “Scenic vista,” and they’d pretend they were looking at the mountains. In a month they were scrambling to 10,000 or 12,000 feet, following streams and finding a lake, looking for big horn sheep. He and Dean painted and scraped and Dean even helped with hauling toilets and cabinetry and working on some of the more serious renovation but for Sam there was a lot of down time. He could lie on a bed outside in the mountain sunlight, and read.

            The owner of the lodge was a weird dude, a New Zealander named Sebastian who had worked on Wall Street and hated it, then quit to ski. He’d spent some time where he did nothing but ski. From March to October he’d skied in Chile and then he’d come north of the equator and work as an instructor. Now he’d bought this property. There was a room with bunks for the ski bums who work at the lodge in the winter. Sam and Dean had never skied in their lives. As far as Sam knew, Dean still never had.

            It had been a paradise.

            He threw himself on his back on a high bed.

            Cas squinted up at the mountain behind the lodge. The ski was the kind of blue only seen at high altitude. Georgia O’Keefe blue.

            “I forgot all about this place,” Sam said.

            “You’re dreaming,” Cas said.

            Sam remembered everything. “You’re dreamwalking,” he said.

            “Yes,” Cas said. “They’ve given you a sedative but you’re resistant to pain medication and sedation so I’ve sent you into a deep sleep. I hope you’re not angry, I didn’t have the opportunity to ask for your consent.”

            He snorted. “It’s okay, Cas. I’m not missing much.”

            “The hospital lost track of you,” Cas said. “When we tracked you down you were dehydrated and hurting. Dean was angry.”

            What was there to do but laugh. “I bet.”

            “They refused to give you any pain medication until they’d run tests.”

            Sam nodded. He knew the drill. “They couldn’t find anything because it’s a curse.”

            “That’s correct,” Cas said.

            “Thank you for being here,” Sam said. “This,” he waved his hand around, “it’s really nice. I mean, to be able to, you know—”

            “See and hear and walk,” Cas supplied.

            Sam thought he would have preferred not to have been so blunt but he nodded. “Things just, you know, come out of nowhere.” If they would just stop randomly touching his legs it would be better.

            “Your blood pressure indicated high levels of anxiety and they’ve put you on anti-anxiety medication. We had no idea. I’m sorry, Sam.”

            Sam shrugged, embarrassed. He looked at the sheer face of the mountain behind the lodge. It was gray stone and shrub and then grass and pine. Above that if he looked far enough he could see the tree line and above that, snow. He almost wished he could stay here but it would kill Dean.

            “What now?” Sam asked.

            “They want to keep you in the hospital and run more tests. They want to do an EEG, and a spinal tap.”

            Sam shook his head, then thought. “Okay,” he said.

            Cas tilted his head. “This sounds like it will be pointlessly painful.”

            “You and Dean,” Sam said, “You can’t keep taking care of me. I can’t walk or see or hear. They’ll give me pain meds now. You should…”

            “Find a way to cure you,” Cas said.

            “Yes,” Sam said. Like that would happen. “Exactly. Hunt and search for a cure.” Stop wasting their lives sitting around holding his hand. “The witch is dead but maybe if you find her spell book.” She’d been so ordinary. They’d found her shopping in her mall jeans. She’d just come from getting her hair cut and she was carrying a Macy’s shopping bag. She drove a Toyota Rav4. Sam had never expected to be taken out by a middle-aged woman who drove an SUV.

            The breeze came off the mountain, pure and clean.

            “Cas?”

            “Yes, Sam?”

            Sam looked down at the bed. The blanket was wool. He remembered them so vividly—the ski lodge theme was rustic so the beds were pine and the blankets were red with a black bear on them. He had loved them unashamedly. “Can you come back once in awhile and bring me here?”

            “I will. I promise.”

Chapter Text

            Dean had been reluctant. There had been a lot of double taps. ‘no’ Not leaving. Dean kept writing ‘A’ ‘M’ ‘A’ on Sam’s palm. Against Medical Advice. Meaning he wanted to get prescriptions for painkillers and check Sam out. “You gonna wash my hair?” Sam said into the void. “Admit it, you can’t keep up with my hair care.”

            Dean ran Sam’s hand over Dean’s upraised finger.

            Sam laughed. “You speak sign language!”

            Dean tightened his grip on Sam’s hand, shook it over his upraised finger. Fuck you, Sammy. Dean was genuinely pissed.

            “Three words,” Sam said. “IV pain killers.”

            Dean traced ‘A’ ‘M’ ‘A’ on Sam’s palm again.

            Sam sighed. “How about two words. Bed sores.”

            Dean let go. Emptiness. After a moment Sam could tell that someone different had his hand. “Cas?” he hazarded.

            One tap. ‘yes’

            “He’s pissed.” And had walked away, out into the hall, the weight of the family on his shoulders.

            ‘yes’

            “Because he doesn’t have an answer for that.”

            ‘yes.’

            “Tell him it’s okay. He won’t believe it but tell him anyway.”

            ‘yes.’

#

            Another day of tests, equally as hellacious as the first. Cas had made a sign that said to tap him on the hand before starting anything but so far only a couple of people did it. Most of the time people just did things to him out of the void. He never knew what time it was. He knew when he was in a hospital bed and when he wasn’t but most of the time it was just things suddenly happening. The bed moving.

            He could tell they were upping the anti-anxiety meds because he felt less and less connected to anything. He knew it took a lot. He was a big guy and even though Cas had taken the brunt of the Lucifer stuff, he still carried the memories. He was pushed onto his side and of course that electric charge of pain lanced through his legs. He grit his teeth and then panted for a bit. He wondered if they were noticing.

His gown was pulled up, there was a cold draft on his back. Someone took his hand, someone with very small hands, maybe a woman. They wrote ‘B’ ‘E’

‘S’ ‘T’ ‘I’ ‘L’ ‘L’.

            “Okay,” he said. “Spinal tap?”

            ‘W’ ‘H’ ‘A’ ‘T’

            He didn’t understand. Then he guessed he was talking too quietly. “Spinal tap?” He tried to be louder but it was so hard to tell.

            ‘Y’

            “Thank you,” he said.

            Someone squeezed his hand.

            His eyes were open again. Fuck. He closed them. Last thing he needed was to creep people out. He was probably whimpering or something. Staring and whimpering.

            The spinal tap wasn’t too bad but the resulting headache was pretty awful. They must have given him something to stop the pain in his legs, maybe a lumbar block, because he couldn’t feel them at all. Would have been nice to have not had a headache at the same time so as to have been pain free for awhile. More things. More moving bed. He gave up trying to follow. He gave up. Gave up gave up gave up.

            Someone wrote something on his hand and he realized he hadn’t even bothered to try to follow.

            Tap

            “Yeah,” he said.

            ‘D’ ‘O’ ‘N’ ‘E’

            “Okay,” he said. It wasn’t ever really done because he still didn’t know where he was, what time it was, what was going on.

            He let himself drift. It was hard to tell if he was asleep or in between. Someone tapped his hand.

            They rolled him on his back, gently, slowly, and raised the bed. What time was it? He smelled eggs. Someone took his hand and touched it to a plate.

            “Breakfast,” he said. There was a plastic cup. He picked it up and smelled it. Orange juice. He was thirsty so he drank it. “Coffee?” he asked.

            Someone guided his hand again. A very warm cup. Then something cold and small. He was confused and felt it for a moment. “Oh, creamer, half and half.” Then they guided him to a sugar packet. “Thank you.” He tried to open the creamer, but gentle fingers took it away. He picked up the sugar and waited. That got taken away, too so he assumed he had sugar and cream in his coffee. He drank his coffee black a lot of the time but right now he wanted it like he drank it when he was fourteen. The kind hands nudged him with it. “Thank you,” he said.

            It tasted okay. Hospital coffee. Sweet and milky was better than black.

            Hospital eggs. Hospital bacon. Hospital toast. He was pretty sure he left a mess like a two year old.

            He couldn’t find it in himself to care. He could at least tell time by meals.

#

            By the third day he was sort of hallucinating. Most of the time he was just drugged and alone in the void and silence. Three times a day, food came. Usually he worked out and so he had to eat a lot but now he was obviously not moving much and the food was pretty awful. Salads were impossible to eat when he couldn’t see them. Sandwiches were the easiest. And cookies.

            The rest of the time he just was there, mostly neither awake nor asleep. Sometimes he startled because he thought someone had brushed against him—but there wasn’t anyone there. He heard voices in the silence. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. Hell whispers. He tried to think of things to occupy his mind, to make up stories, to imagine walking somewhere, to imagine the bunker. He tried to think of monsters, or Latin or the lyrics to every song on Led Zeppelin IV. The drugs to keep him from freaking out also made it hard to concentrate. (Although he could remember the lyrics to every song from Led Zeppelin IV and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s Night Moves album.)

            Someone tapped his hand.

            “Yeah?”

            ‘S’ ‘A’ ‘M’

            ‘J’ ‘U’ ‘L’ ‘I’ ‘E’

            She introduced herself. She explained she was a communication therapist.

            He didn’t realize he had snorted.

            She slowly spelled out that his life was not over.

            He nodded gravely.

            The hospital could not do any more.

            “I understand,” he said.

            She started to explain that he hadn’t had a stroke—

            “It’s okay,” he said. “They can’t find anything wrong. Do they think it’s psychiatric?”

            ‘N’ ‘O’

            He sighed. “That’s good.”

            ‘F’ ‘M’ ‘R’ ‘I’ she spelled.

            “Like, brain scan?” he said.

            ‘Y’

            “Shows I’m not, like, a case of hysterical blindness?” he asked.

            She spelled out that his brain didn’t light up. He didn’t see or hear.

            “Thank you,” he said. Weird to thank someone for telling him he was fucked, but hey.

            She told him they needed to move him to a rehabilitation center.

            “A nursing home,” he said.

            She spelled out ‘rehab’.

            He smiled. “I don’t have any money or insurance.”

            She spelled out ‘Medicade.’

            He knew what that meant. Poor people ended up in hell holes. He sighed. “At least I won’t be able to see it.”

#

            They told him he was in a triple. He told them to tell the other people in his room to play the TV as loud as they wanted. The mattress was miserable; thin and lumpy, no box springs. The bed was too short and if he could straighten his legs they probably would have hung over it. (It hurt to straighten his legs, like his hamstrings had shortened or something.) The food was bland. No one paid much attention except to come in and turn him every two hours which still hurt. Bathing was awful. They upped his pain meds.

            He slipped more and more into the halfway world. The whispering in his head never seemed to stop and even without knowing what it was saying it sounded so sad. So sad. Things brushed against him in the darkness and he swatted at them at first but they were never there so he stopped. Maybe they were ghosts because he was sure a lot of people had died here. More likely they were the attempts of his brain to fill in the lack of info because he never felt anything else like the temperature dropping. He wanted it to stop. He wanted to go for a run. He wanted to read something. Anything to escape this, this feeling. He knew this feeling. He couldn’t do any of his usual things to escape it.

            After a few days someone tapped his hand. He smelled peppermints and whiskey and he knew it was Dean.

            He was so out of it he could barely respond. Dean pulled him up sitting and he felt a little distant sense of pain but didn’t care. Dean was pushing his hair back, he could feel Dean’s hand on his forehead and tucking hair behind his ear. “Dean” he murmured. Dean’s hand was warm and alive, unlike the dead place with the whisperings.

            Dean was trying to get him to sit up and he was trying to help but it must have been night time. He thought maybe they gave him something to put him to sleep at night but how would he know? He couldn’t always tell if he was awake or asleep. Dean shook him.

            “Sorry,” he said.

            Dean hugged him fiercely. Dean was having a shit fit. No doubt about it.

            “It’s okay,” Sam said. “It’s okay.”

            More weirdness from Dean—trying to get him settled or something and writing things in his hand that Sam was too out of it to quite understand. Sam kept saying, “Sleeping pill, dude, can’t do it.”

            Finally Dean put a finger to Sam’s lips. Shhhhhh.

            Okay.

            Sam got to wear pajamas here instead of a gown. Dean was unbuttoning his pajama top which was weird. And cold. Then Sam got all tangled when Dean tried to get his arms out. Finally he was sitting there bare chested. Something cold and liquid touched his chest and he shuddered.

            Oh, right. Spell work. Great. He smelled pine. Dean drew something on his chest. It seemed complicated.

            Ozone. Cas. The bed dipped to his right and the angel touched his hand. Then Cas touched his face, drew his fingers down so Sam closed his eyes. Sam smelled phosphorus. Common in spells about light and vision. Dean smeared something cold and wet and grainy on his eyelids.

            He’d bet cinnabar was in there somewhere. Alchemical purification. Poor Dean, he hated alchemy. All those steps. Sam felt himself wandering back between waking and sleeping, the strange half-world of the whispers. He had that sudden sense of falling and was awake. Dean was drawing on his back, now. Or maybe it was Cas. What happened when an angel did human magic?

            That was something to think about.

            If he were a stronger person, he would not be going quite this crazy, quite this quickly. He would be maintaining. There was the guy in the movie, the Diving Bell Butterfly guy. The one who wrote a whole book by blinking. Sam felt really sorry for the person (people?) who had to actually write the book while the guy blinked. Dean would go insane waiting for blinks, not that Sam could actually do that because he didn’t have anything to blink about. Not that he had to, he could talk—

            Heat! On his chest and on his back but on his eyelids, oddly enough, nothing.

            The heat died away. He raised his fingers to touch ash on his chest, rubbed it between thumb and forefinger. Ash was so smooth, so fine, almost silky.

            Dean touched the side of his face.

            Oh right, they were trying something. “I don’t feel anything different,” Sam said.

            Dean hugged him for a long time. So long that Sam fell asleep.

            When he woke up he almost thought it was a dream except in his dreams he could see and hear.

#

            The halfway world was bleak, the whispering made him sad. He was a sad thing that they came and turned. And turned. And turned. They made him move. They put him in a wheelchair and moved him. Three times a week they tried to get him to do physical therapy and at first he did the arm exercises. At first he tried to talk to the communication therapist. They lowered his medication and the pain came back but the whispers got quieter. They raised his medication and the whispers came back but he didn’t mention that.

            He didn’t know how long it had been.

#

            He had started dreaming sometimes without actually seeing or hearing. This time he was seeing shapes like you see when you close your eyes.

            “Sam,” Cas said. “Open your eyes.”

            He did and he was at the lodge in New Mexico. He blinked in the sunlight. “Cas,” he said. He closed his eyes again and this time he could see red through them. He could hear things, too. Real things, not whispers.

            “We’re going to get you out of there,” Cas said.

            Sam shrugged. “It’s okay,” he said. There was a reason why he should stay where he was but it was hard to remember what it was.

            “It’s not okay. They keep you drugged.”

            Sam took a deep breath. The air smelled good. The drugs. Oh, right, the drugs. “If they lower the drugs, I, ah…I have pain. Uh…in my legs and it hurts. Um…when they turn me.”

            Cas looked grim. It was hard to think about talking, Sam felt like he had lost the knack. And Cas had never been the best at it. Sam thought he should say something.

            “How’s the, the hunting?” Sam asked.

            “We haven’t found anything,” Cas said.

            Found anything? Like found anything to hunt? How long had it been? Or maybe he meant hadn’t found anything to cure Sam. Sam chewed on it for awhile and decided that was probably what Cas meant.

            “So while you’re…you know, books and stuff, you’re hunting other things, right?”

            “Yes.”

            “Good,” Sam said. “Otherwise Dean will go crazy.” Time for another question. This one was easier. “How’s he doing?”

            “He is drinking too much,” Cas said. “He’s not happy, Sam.”

            “Yeah,” Sam said. There were white butterflies. The little plain ones. Dean was not happy. Dean could hear and see, though. That was good. Cas was looking at Sam in a way that meant Sam wasn’t exactly normal and when the Angel of Thursday, the angel of Awkward Social Interactions thought that Sam wasn’t holding up his end, that was a problem. Think. Dean was not happy because of Sam but. But. Come on, he thought, but what? Oh right, but it would be worse if Dean had to take care of him all the time. Dean needed to hunt. To drive. To go to bars. “It’s better than sponge baths and catheters. This is the best for now.” That sounded quite competent.

            Maybe it was enough. Maybe he could stand up now. “Cas? Would you mind if I went for a run? I mean, I know it’s not a real run…” It wasn’t, he never felt his muscles and he never felt out of breath but he felt as if he could go forever and that was pretty nice.

            “You should run all you want,” Cas said.

#

            Tap. Most of the time when people tapped, he didn’t pay any attention any more. He only ate things he could pick up. No more plastic knives and forks. Sandwiches. He ate a lot of sandwiches. He figured that he had a menu that said patient only eats sandwiches, pretzels and cookies.

            Tap. Very insistent. Someone writing in his hand. Someone holding his jaw. Scrubbing his hair back from his face.

            Peppermint and whiskey. A few years ago Dean started sucking on diner peppermints. Dean. He reached and found Dean’s wrist.

            “Is it night?” he asked.

            Two taps. So no. Pretty sure two taps meant no.

            Writing on his hand. He frowned. Two letters. He shook his head. “C?” he said.

            Two taps. ‘G’ ‘O’

            “Go?”

            One tap.

            “Go where?”

            ‘B’ ‘U’ ‘N’ ‘K’ ‘E’ ‘R’

            Sam shook his head. “No,” he said. “No.”

            He kept saying it. He said it while they took out the catheter. He said it while his arms were shoved into a t-shirt and then into a flannel shirt. He could feel the flannel. He said it when they pulled jeans on him, which hurt so he was pretty sure the ‘no’s were a high whine, and when they put him in a wheelchair. “No no no no no.”

            Movement. Lurch (elevator?) Movement. Outside air. Then he was being lifted by two people and he bumped his head. He smelled the Impala. He was shotgun in the Impala. Someone put his feet in the Impala. He stopped saying no.

            He felt the engine come to life in his teeth.

            They drove. The bunker was a long drive. He didn’t remember how long. Ten hours? He hadn’t sat for ten hours in a long time. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and listened for the whispering. So sad.

            He started seriously hurting at some point. Whispers and pain.

            Meds wearing off. Someone should bring him meds. Turn him over.

            Tap. He could feel that a door was open because he could feel the difference in the air. Someone nudged his hand with something cold. A plastic water bottle. He took it because he didn’t know what else to do.

            He sat there, leaned his head back against the window. Someone pulled the bottle from him. Took his hand, wrote ‘D’ ‘R’ ‘I’ ‘N’ ‘K’. If he drank he’d have to pee and his legs hurt. Moving his legs to pee would hurt worse.

            They pushed the bottle in his hand again. He felt the top with his thumb. The cap was off. Yeah, he was thirsty. He drank. It all sucked.

            More vibration of movement after that.

            A stop where no one shoved anything at him.

            He felt sick and a little feverish and his legs hurt a lot.

            More vibration of movement.

            He lost track of stops, times when someone shoved stuff at him. (A sandwich once. By then he felt so terrible that the last thing he wanted was a sandwich.)

            A stop and then someone opened the door he was leaning against and caught him but not before the lurch and fall had made his legs hurt and he made a noise. He tried so hard not to make those kind of noises. They were getting him out of the car and he knew he was making some horrible noise but holy shit it hurt. Then Cas must have just picked him up because Dean couldn’t carry him that way. Oh God it hurt. Please Cas, it hurts. Make it stop. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t mean to pray to you like this oh fuck, where are we what’s going on it hurts.

            Then he was laying flat and something touched his forehead.

#

            He was in New Mexico.

            “You’re home, Sam.”

            Cas’ trench coat was belling out in the breeze. Sam sat up on the bed with the bear blanket on the little walkway behind the lodge. He didn’t know what to say. Not because he was angry but because he genuinely didn’t know what to say. Was this home? It was a place he felt safe. Was Cas going to leave him here? That seemed okay.

            “Dean felt you were going to die if we left you in that place. I believe he was right. You were getting a chest infection and that could have turned into pneumonia. You’re losing weight. You seem confused.”

            Sam nodded because it seemed like Cas wanted him to. He really hated to disappoint Cas. So often they just used Cas without being there for him. “I’m confused,” he echoed.

            “Dean thinks it’s the drugs. He wants to detox you, that’s why he’s not giving you any pain medication. I’m not so sure it’s just the drugs. I believe it’s partly the lack of sensory input. Do you understand me?”

            It washed over like the breeze.

            “What do you want, Sam?”

            Sam looked around. “Is this heaven?” he asked. Then thought no. “Dean’s not here.”

            “Dean is going to take some African dream root and come here.”

            “Can I go for a run?”

            “Yes, Sam. You should go for a run.”

            He opened the door and his running shoes and sweats were right there on another bed. He changed without worrying about Cas. The rooms all had doors in the back and doors in the front, something about skiing he guessed. In the front was a wider walkway with a cover for the winter snow. The steps were metal, almost like cleats, probably again for people to up to and get the snow off. He walked across the parking lot and down the drive to the road and jogged down to road that ran past the Taos Ski Valley firehouse. Then he let himself lengthen to a run.

            Running usually cleared his head but it didn’t seem to make any difference. Still it was nice to feel pavement and breathe. It felt like he hadn’t taken a real, deep breathe in a long time.

            He ran a long time, heading out through the empty car lots and out towards the highway. It was empty but that was okay. He was used to empty. He ran past the lodges and rentals. He’d been running for quite awhile when he saw his brother up ahead, standing off the side of the road in the tall grass with his flannel shirt tied around his waist. Dean standing bow-legged, shading his eyes against the sun.

            He grinned and waved.

            Dean waited until he got up to him and then grabbed him and hugged him. It was a scary hug. A something wrong hug. Sam hugged him back. Yeah, right. Things were wrong.

            “Sammy,” Dean said.

            Sam swallowed and nodded.

            “I remember this place,” Dean said. “It was boring as shit. You liked this? There wasn’t anyone around. No girls. Nothing. Just that weird asshole renovating the lodge.”

            Sam looked at Dean. Dean looked…like Dean. So good. Sam wished his head was cleaner. “You’re here,” he said and he could feel how hard he was smiling.

            “This is like your fucking heaven, dude.”

            That was…not right and he could feel how his smile fell away. Something about that was bad. Right, his heaven. Heaven was crap. Get the words lined up. Come on. “My mind’s not right,” he said, trying to explain. Words came, from something he’d heard a long time ago, a poem. College maybe? “I myself am hell; nobody's here,” he said—but he didn’t know how to explain what that mean.

            “It’ll be okay when we get you off the drugs,” Dean said. “We’ll get you detoxed. Those assholes. They were— they weren’t, I gotcha now. I promise.”

            Sam nodded.

            Dean took a couple of steps up so he was close. “Come on Sam. Use that big brain. You gotta stay with us, man.”

            Sam blinked. Opened his mouth, “I…” He spread his fingers. He had almost said he was floating but that wasn’t the right word. He was trying to tell Dean that there was nothing for his thoughts to hold onto but he didn’t know how to say it. “My think is getting thin,” he said seriously. Then shook his head.

            “Tell me,” Dean said, “come on, work it out.”

            Sam looked around him desperately. He showed them the valley and the mountains. The sun was close to the edge of the range, and evening came early here. He wanted to go back and lie on the bed with a pool of light around him reading a book. He wanted it to get cool quickly in the thin desert air and he wanted to burrow unto one of those bear blankets while he read a John Grishom paperback he found in the bookshelves. “Nothing,” he said, “all the time, takes all the…” Then he lost it, the image of who had been, the thing he had almost said.

            He looked at them helplessly. He looked at Dean. “Dean,” he said, helplessly.

            “Just talk to me,” Dean said. “You’re doing good Sam.”

            He looked at the place where they were and now his head was so empty, like he had used up everything. But it was nice. It was really nice and he liked it. He liked it here. He stood and looked. Maybe he forgot that there were other people there.

            He started a little when Dean asked, “What would help?”

            “Dean,” he said, pleased his brother was there. His brother looked so good to him, so solid, so real. The realest of real. He knew that nothing else was real and that made him sad because Dean couldn’t be around all the time and most of the time it was just Sam and he was becoming less and less real. He could feel it.

            From behind him Cas said, “Can you tell us what you want, Sam?”

            He couldn’t. He couldn’t explain anything. There were rules about what he wanted and was allowed to want anyway. But he turned and smiled at Cas. He made a gun of forefinger and thumb, held it to his temple and mimed the shot. Bang. All over.

            “FUCK,” Dean said. “No way, Sam. No fucking way.”

            Sam tried to hold on to his smile because if he was smiling it was no big deal but Dean was upset. What he had done was wrong. Heaven was wrong. He couldn’t look at Dean. He closed his eyes because he couldn’t look at Dean.

            When he closed his eyes he wasn’t in Taos anymore and he fell into darkness.

#

            His head ached. His muscles ached. Touching his legs made him scream. His heart beat so fast and he knew he was going to die. Sometimes someone would touch him and he would jerk away.

            Sometimes he wondered if he had never left the Cage. (Which time?) He couldn’t stand the touch of blankets but he was cold. Always cold. He couldn’t sleep and he felt as if he was never really awake. The whispering was evil. He was surrounded by evil.

            He didn’t want anyone to touch him.

            If nobody touched him he was unmoored.

            He knew what was going on. Withdrawal. Sometimes he forgot and thought it was demon blood but most of the time he knew it was just plain old pain and anxiety medication. Somewhere Dean was pacing the bunker, probably drinking. Sometimes someone brought him water. He thought it was Cas. Sometimes he knew it was Cas because the angel would make him sleep. The Angel of Thursday, the Angel of Sleep.

            His pain was Dean’s burden but he had so little extra energy to care.

            The headache and muscle aches ebbed and one day someone pulled his hand to a plate and he found a sandwich. He smelled bacon and tasted a BLT. He ate some of it.

            Someone tapped his hand. They wrote on his hand but he couldn’t follow it. Concentrating was still too hard. He smelled soap and peppermint. Someone (Dean he thought) used a warm rag to clean his hands, one finger at a time. Then his face. They cleaned him carefully. It was like religion. He kept thinking it was Cas for some reason and then knowing it was Dean.

            He said, “Dean.” He was pretty sure he did.

            A tap. The water was warm on his throat and chest. Then a towel. It hurt to be rolled so he could be washed everywhere, just like it hurt to be cleaned after he peed. There were places that were sore from laying. No one turned him like a pancake every two hours. (Not like a pancake, pancakes were turned completely over.) It hurt so much, he bit his lip and ground his teeth to keep from crying out.

            Then it was over and there was only the pain and the long wait for it to ebb and the susurration of the whispers.

            Someone kept putting eye drops in his eyes. He could never remember to close them any more. He thought he made noises a lot. His mouth was dry.

            Cas picked him up and it hurt but it was also touch. Not just his hand but all along his whole body. He knew it was Cas because the angel could carry him and because the angel had his own, person/not person smell. Cas smelled of air and light and a little of human, maybe of Jimmy Novak. Sam felt something against his cheek and touched it—it was the collar and lapel of Cas’ trench coat which had a smell of its own. Cas carried him a long way, past smells of coffee and food, up stairs, outside. It was different outside. It felt open and he knew he made a noise but outside he felt as if something could come from anywhere.

            There was a smell of wood smoke and of strong heat on his right side. A fire. Cas put him down on blankets. He hurt he hurt.

            The fire smelled different. Bad. Then the fire smelled like sage. That was nice. Then there was the strong smell of sulfur and cologne.

            Someone tapped his hand and wrote something but words were so hard anymore. They tried several times and finally they made him touch something metal and cold. After a moment he realized it was a knife. He tentatively closed his fingers around it not sure why they (Dean, he thought?) were giving him a knife but they gently opened his fingers and took it back, then they tugged his arm and put the blade against his forearm. They held it. Drew on his hand.

            He tried, and finally thought, they want to cut. “Cut,” he said and he knew he hadn’t actually said it right. His voice was wrong, stuck in his throat. But they tapped once, which was yes. He nodded.

            It hurt but it was okay because even though he jerked a bit, he remembered this. “OK,” he tried to say but all he could do was nod and nod. It was Dean because Dean had wrapped things around his cuts all his life. He touched the cloth and smiled.

            He was sitting but he didn’t feel very good so he laid down on his side and held onto the cloth. Maybe he fell asleep but most likely he was just in that no space where he wasn’t awake or asleep. He was sometimes aware that he smelled smoke and he was rubbing the cloth between his thumb and his fingers. He was shivering.

            He did fall asleep after that because the fire wasn’t very hot anymore. He woke up because someone touched his hand. He was cold. Cas put his arm under his legs and Sam made a noise and tried to say “sorry” and thought he did but knew he was making thick deaf noises. Cas carried him and then there was no breeze and then it was warmer and then down stairs, and then a long way and then in his bed where he lay hurting. Everything hurt but there were new hurts (which when he thought about it were not really new but he hadn’t been paying attention to them before) on his hips. Not like the electric pain but a different pain.

            Cas touched him and the different pain went away and only the curse pain remained.

            Water. Eye drops.

            The drift and the whispering and the brushes of the somethings that weren’t real.

            Sometimes he would take a few bites of a sandwich when the hand pressed one on him. The hand brought him all sorts of things, pizza, cookies. The hands brought spoons of things, like yogurt and ice cream. The hands brought apple juice and coffee and beer and even whiskey. He tried but he mostly didn’t want it and then one day he couldn’t remember why so much and he quit bothering when they pressed things on him. He hurt and he was tired. He was supposed to concentrate but he didn’t know how any more.

#

            He found himself back under the incredible blue sky of New Mexico. Cas was there and so was Dean.

            He remembered he liked it here. He looked at his hands. They looked strange, like someone else’s hands. His body was like that. Like his but not his.

            “Sammy,” Dean said.

            He knew ‘Sammy’ was him, he could still do that.

            Dean sat down next to him on the bed. “Come on, talk to me.”

            He licked his lips. Tried to think of how to do that. “Dean,” he said. He looked at Cas and smiled.

            Cas looked serious.

            “Sammy,” Dean said. “You have to try for me. Okay? You can’t just give up.”

            “He’s not giving up,” Cas said.

            “Shut up,” Dean said sharply.

            Sam startled.

            Dean ran his hand down Sam’s arm, soothing. “It’s okay. You just have to eat, little brother. Okay? We’re going to reverse this thing. Talk to me. Tell me you’ll eat. Tell me you’ll try.”

            He couldn’t gather together his thoughts. He had to, Dean wanted him to speak. He opened his mouth and out came, “Exorcizamus te… omnis immundus spiritus… omnis satanica potestas…” Latin. He stuttered and came to a halt. He shook his head. Not what he was… not right. He put his hand to his mouth.   Looked at his hand but of course that didn’t help, his hand didn’t tell him anything.

            “Fractus sum,” he whispered.

            He stood up and looked at Cas and then walked through the room. Dean followed him.

            “Sam!”

            He wanted to run. He just wanted to run. No one would let him run. So he ran and left them behind.

            He ran a long time. Since time had stopped having much meaning he didn’t really know how long but when he got back Cas was still there. He stopped in the room in the lodge. He could see himself in the mirror on the back of the open door, could see Cas in his trench coat standing out in the back, looking at him.

            He studied himself; eyes, shoulders, hair, stubble, arms, legs, sweat. Man. He could look at each part of himself but when he looked away from the mirror he couldn’t hold an image of himself.

            “The African root wore off,” Cas said. “I said I’d let you stay here awhile. Dean thinks if you stay here for a bit it will help. He’s going to try another dose.”

            Sam touched the bed in the room. It was pretty much the same as the bad outside. It had the same red wool blanket with a black bear in the center.

            “It might,” Cas said. “But of course, while you’re here, you’re asleep there. And you aren’t eating. Or moving. You’ve got pressure sores on your hips and heels, Sam. I heal them but other things are going to break down. If we turn you, it causes you pain.”

            Sam came out to sit back down next to Cas. He looked up again. He liked the empty sky. He watched a magpie. He remembered the magpies. Black and white like killer whales.

            “You need better care than you got at the last place. You need stimulus.”

            The magpie had a very long tail, like a mockingbird. It balanced on the railing, watching them.

            “I don’t know if you understand this,” Cas said. “But I’ll be there. I’ll take your soul in my hands. I will take it to heaven myself and they’ll have to let me in. I won’t let the reapers cast it into the empty. You deserve heaven, Sam.”

            Wind had a sound. Cas had a sound that went over and under and around his understanding. He liked it a lot.

            “Are you ready to wake up?” Cas asked. “Do you understand ‘wake up’?”

            Wake up. He understood he was going back to silence and darkness. He hadn’t actually been able to concentrate on most of the things that Cas had said.

            He heard boots and it was a sound he knew. He turned and smiled.

            “Sammy,” Dean said. “We’ll find a way, I promise.” Dean sat down next to him on the bed. Sam patted his hand.

            Dean looked at Cas.

            Cas did not talk over and under and around Dean’s understanding.

            Dean talked some more and the way he talked tugged at Sam but Sam didn’t know what to do.

            “Exorcizamus te…” Dean said.

            “Omnis immundus spiritus …” Sam said.

            The magpie had gone but it came back and Sam watched it and Dean watched Sam.

            Dean hummed. Sam knew the song.

            “There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold,” Dean sang.

            Sam felt himself straighten a little.  It was words in a line.  Like a rope.

            “And she's buying a stairway to heaven…” Dean sang, the song tugging at Sam.

            Sam whispered, “When she gets there she knows…” and Dean sang it with him, “if the stores are all closed…”

            Dean sang softly while Sam whispered with him, “With a word she can get what she came for…and she's buying a stairway to heaven.”

 

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Chapter Text

            There were pills. Things stopped hurting so much.

            There were bad smells, disease smells.

            He was lost and it was a long timeless whispering.

            Peppermint. A tap. Not that he always noticed or paid attention to taps. He did notice when he was lifted to a sitting position because even with pills it hurt but after a moment he was lying against someone, against Dean. Dean was warm and smelled strongly of whiskey. He could feel his brother’s breath against his ear.

            He felt something, soft, another blanket, around his shoulders. A hand stroking his hair. He sighed. Touch. Never enough touch. It was like that for a long time, Dean’s steady breath against his ear.

            Dean sat him up and slid away because there always came a time when the touch ended. A time when he was laid against the sheets and yes, that was a touch, too, but he was unraveling and the things that were there all the time, the blackness, the silence, the bed, they couldn’t keep him from not sleeping but not waking.

            Hands laid him down but stayed on him, cupping his face. Dean climbing onto the bed so the bed dipped, and Dean’s knees on either side of his hips. Forehead to forehead. Dean breathing out air that he breathed in. Surrounded by Dean. He opened his mouth to breath in his brother, taste and smell. He put his hands up to hold his brother’s face.

            After a long moment Dean shifted, let go of his face and he let go as well. Dean was only on one side of him but although the bed dipping told him Dean was not still, Dean had a hand on his chest saying i’m here i’m here in the way that Sam could hear which was through his skin. Sam put a hand on Dean’s hand.

            Then he felt the cold metal of the gun barrel against his temple. He reached up and found his brother’s other hand with his own, clasped around the stock. So warm.

            Another hand touched his chest, again, so warm. Cas, ready.

            He didn’t have to feel them leave ever again.

            He wanted to. Wanted to escape. To stop it all. Free everyone.

            He understood he could say yes.

            He thought his eyes were open and he consciously closed them and gently gently pulled the gun away. “No,” he said. He hoped he said. It was so hard to tell if he was speaking. Dean’s hand on the gun was shaking and then Dean’s forehead was against Cas’ hand and Sam’s chest and Dean was shuddering.

            He let go of Dean’s gunhand and put his hand on his brother’s back and rubbed it. Let his brother shudder at the nearness. Let Dean have the time he needed until he could put the gun away.

            Then Dean stroked his hair for a long time and he fell into a real sleep.

#

            He was woken. Orange juice, sweet and acidic in a cup with a straw. A pill. Then he was hoisted—it must have been Cas—and he grit his teeth against the pain. He was sat—sat? In a chair with something to support his head. He sat, hands in his lap and let someone fuss with a blanket, limp as string. He was always cold. He felt the pulse of pain in his legs recede, like tide going out.

            Sitting up was strange.

            He had been sitting for awhile when someone tapped his right hand, Dean. They pulled his hand out and laid it on a chilly table. Wooden. They touched things with his hand. Stuck something in his hand. There were things on the table. A cup with a straw. A long rectangular block of clay. A bell to tap. A plate with toast. Something that felt soft and knitted. A pad and pencil. Dean took the soft and knitted thing and after a moment put fingerless gloves on Sam’s hands then took them off but left them where Sam could feel them.

            Sam didn’t know what to do.

            Dean spelled something but he couldn’t follow. He couldn’t concentrate.

            Dean took his hand and pushed his fingers into the different things.

            He nodded. He touched the things. He put a glove on.

            Dean spelled ‘Y’

            Y

            Yes.

            Sam picked up the clay and held it. It was cold. It would make the glove dirty. He put it down and took the glove off. Then he picked the clay up and pushed his fingers into it.

#

            The first time he fell into the in-between place pretty quickly. After awhile Cas made him drink some protein shake and took him back to his room, but he didn’t think it was a whole day before he was back in the chair and there were different things. The cup had sweet warm tea and there was clay again and gloves but also a hairbrush and a ball.

            The chair could move. It was awhile before he realized it was a wheelchair, one of the kind for people who couldn’t support their own heads.

            Cas met him in a dream in the purple New Mexico evening. Sam was inside the room this time looking out the back door at Cas standing there.

            “Sam?” Cas said.

            Sam managed to clear his throat.

            “Can you talk Sam?”

            He couldn’t see himself in the mirror, just a flicker of the white of his eye and his hand. Everything else was in shadow.

            “Sam?”

            “Cas?” His voice was rusted.

            “Can you come out?”

            He took a step towards the angel. There was a reason he was inside. Maybe he wasn’t anything but hands. He looked at his hands. When he looked away he could remember them but he couldn’t think of what else he looked like.

            Just hands. It would be wrong to come out if he was just hands. He had a suspicion he was wrong a lot. Something about noises. He didn’t want to make Cas feel bad.

            “Sam, can you say your name? What’s your name?”

            What was his name?

            He took another step. “Sam fucking Winchester,” he said. He knew that was funny. He felt like he had a face when he said that. He whispered it to himself, samfuckingwinchester.   He stepped outside and smiled at Cas.

            “That’s very good, Sam,” Cas said.

            “Sam fucking Winchester,” he said and grinned.

            “Yes,” Cas agreed. “We have to get you speaking. You and I will meet here more often so we can practice, okay?”

            Sam looked for the magpie.

            “Okay?” Cas prompted.

            Sam looked at him. Cas was waiting.

            “I want you to say, ‘okay.’ We’ll practice speaking, okay?”

            Sam licked his lips. “Okay.”

            “Do you want to run?” Cas asked.

            Sam was looking for the magpie but he let the sentence hook him and he let it turn around and around until he found the center of it. Run. “Okay,” he said. “Yes.”

#

            For a week, in the mornings Cas carried him to the chair and Dean gave him things to touch and food and coffee. He spent more and more time in the chair and less and less time in the bed.

            At night Cas came to him in dreams and opened the door to New Mexico where he had to talk. “Hello, Sam Winchester,” Cas said.

            It was part of the talking. The second day Sam had said ‘hello Cas.’ Then he had said, ‘hello, Cas, seraph.’ The next day he had remembered, ‘Castiel, Angel of Thursday’, and that was what he used the next few days.

            He was distracted this time. “Hello, Cas, Angel of Tuesday,” he said. “Um…” he searched for words. Phrases would pop into his head sometimes. “Dazed and confused,” he said and shook his head.

            “About what?” Cas said. He would wait as long as Sam wanted him to. (Now Sam had the song “Dazed and Confused” stuck in his head which wasn’t helpful.) He let his mind go blank for a moment. “My head,” he tapped his head.

            Cas nodded.

            If he didn’t concentrate it would all drift. “Sick?” he asked.

            “You’ve been cursed,” Cas said. “Do you remember?”

            He nodded, he remembered. He tasted the word. “Cursed. Cursed and…confused?” He tapped his head again. “A thing? A sick?”

            Cas tilted his head.

            Sam closed his eyes and found the word. “A stroke,” he said finally.

            “No, you didn’t have a stroke. You were close to locked in syndrome,” Cas said.

            “That’s it,” Sam said. Not what he meant exactly.

            “People who can’t communicate, who don’t get sensory information, their brain begins to shut down. You were drugged for pain, unable to move around or see or hear. You’ve had a lot of trauma, so much time in the Cage and it was too much.”

            “Too much,” Sam agreed.

            “You’re strong, Sam. You’ll get it back.”

            Sam hadn’t even thought about getting it back. “Good,” he said. Then he said, “Teach me Japanese.”

            Cas frowned. “I think we should get you speaking first.”

            Sam smiled. “Teach me Japanese.”

            Cas tilted his head. Sam studied Cas’ eyes. Cas didn’t mind when people stared at him. “Okay,” Cas said after a moment. “I don’t know if I will be a very good teacher.”

            Sam shrugged.

            They went back into the hotel room. There was a desk and Cas opened the drawer where there was, surprise, surprise, paper and pen.

            “First we’ll learn some basic vocabulary and grammar. Then some hiragana.”

            “Hiragana,” Sam said.

            “It’s an alphabet,” Cas said.

            “Hiragana is an alphabet,” Sam said. The new word was like a door into talking. Like turning on a light. Every time Cas taught him something in Japanese, words came with it.

            Two days later he asked for sunglasses.

#

            It was strange to be carried. Sam was a big guy, bigger than Cas. He was used to being too big. It was strange to be taken care of—bathed, diapered, shaved, have his fingernails trimmed, but the carrying was strangest. It hurt still to move his legs. There was some compromise going on with pain pills. For the first week he got different amounts at different times over several days. The first couple of days it was all he could do not to scream when Cas picked him up. Then he would sit in the chair waiting for the pain to recede. About the time it did his legs would be stiff from being in the same position for too long but he wouldn’t want to move them because he knew that would bring waves of pain. He’d play with whatever was on the table until he couldn’t stand it and then shift position. Then he’d breath through the pain and often Dean would grab his hand.

            Then there were more pills and he could barely tell what he was touching.

            Finally he got a pill and a half and then waited for awhile. Then Cas came and picked him up and it hurt but not so bad.

            Dean shaved him. Sam was wearing his sunglasses. “Don’t even think about cutting my hair,” he said.

            Dean lifted Sam’s hand to feel his smile. Then he let Sam feel him holding scissors.

            “Fuck you,” Sam said.

            Dean tapped his hand and wrote ‘D’ ‘D’

            “What?”

            ‘Y’ ‘O’ ‘U’

            “DD?”

            Dean tapped the sunglasses. ‘D’ ‘A’ ‘R’ ‘E’ ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘V’ ‘I’ ‘L’

            It took him a minute. Dean had a new nickname for him. Sam shook his head. “He’s too short.”

            Dean’s forehead touched the top of his head and he could feel Dean laughing.

#

            He still had holes in his mind. Sometimes he would find he couldn’t breathe. If he was at the table he would pray to Cas and Cas or Dean would bring him a pill for the fear. He usually didn’t even know he was afraid until he couldn’t breathe. Like anxiety was water and he was a fish. Sometimes Dean would tap on his hand and give him a pill and Sam wouldn’t know why until Dean put his hand against Sam’s chest.

            Breathe.

#

            One night, Dean was waiting with Cas in the dream. Dean was dressed the way he always was in the dream, in faded jeans and a t-shirt, with a flannel shirt tied around his waist.

            “O-genki desu ka?” Sam said. “Is everything okay?”

            Dean said, “Sammy. Wait, what?”

            “Sam is learning Japanese,” Cas explained. “It’s a greeting.”

            Dean’s expression was way into ‘what the fuck?’ territory.

            “It’s helping,” Cas said.

            Sam nodded. He tapped on his forehead. “Sharper,” he said. “Makes my words better.”

            Dean looked like he was going to say something and then he seemed to change his mind. “We found something that might lift the curse.”

            “Is it dangerous?” Sam asked.

            Dean looked murderous, which was to say, very Dean-like. “It’s kind of fucked up, Sammy. I mean, mess-with-your-head fucked up.”

            Sam opened his mouth and Dean cut him off, “I know, I know, your mind’s not right. Cas found the poem. You can’t remember your name but you can remember weird poems?”

            “Sam fucking Winchester.”

            “Damn straight,” Dean said.

            “Lay it on me,” Sam said. He liked phrases like that. They rolled off the tongue.

            “It’s a purification ritual,” Dean said. “Now before you get your rocks off it’s not like the Trials.”

            Purificationem. Purification ritual. Sometimes he could translate something into Latin and back into English and the word would come into focus. “How?” he asked.

            “Fasting. Purging. Ritual burial and rebirth,” Cas said. “It follows classic forms.”

            “It’s not great. For one thing, you really don’t need to fast or purge. We could put you on TV for one of those Save the Children ads,” Dean said. “I think we’ve got you back up around 180, maybe close to 190 pounds, man.”

            “It’s only three days,” Cas said. “Then Dean does the spell and you are bound in a winding sheet for a night and a day.”

            “Alone,” Dean said. “You know, contemplating your navel or whatever.” He didn’t like that. “You and your freaky head and whatever rattles around in there.”

            “Poems,” Sam said, smiling.

            “It’s not funny, asshole!” Dean said. “Cas explained to me what all this shit is doing to you! He took away my sight and my hearing for a day! Like eight hours. I lost my shit, Sam!”

            Sam took two long strides to be chest to chest with the angel. He hadn’t even known Cas could do that. “What the fuck,” he said. “You can’t do that to him. Dean can’t, I mean, he’s a hand’s on guy! He’s spent his whole life trying to stay out of his own head!”

            Cas said, “You speak better when you’re angry.” He looked calmly up at Sam.

            “I agreed to it,” Dean said. He put his hand on Sam’s arm. “I wanted to know. Don’t punch him, princess. You can’t really hurt him, this is dreamspace and he’s an angel and you’ll just get guilty and mopey afterwards.”  

            Sam ran his hands through his hair. He wasn’t going to punch Cas, just yell a little. His legs hurt a little, he wondered if that meant he was so angry that his body could feel it.

            “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Um…” he tried to think. Words were running away like water between his fingers. He looked at Cas. “Ashita,” he said, and the Japanese word brought the English back. “Tomorrow. Okay? Tomorrow?”

            Cas looked at Dean.

          “This sucks,” Dean said.

#

            No pill in the morning. Instead, the beginning of fasting and purging. That meant clear liquids and a ghastly drink that emptied Sam out over the next twenty-four hours. Not pleasant at all. It left him weak and shaking and now that he couldn’t eat anything other than broth and tea, he started wanting food.

            “Burger,” he said. “After. You cook me a burger.”

            Dean patted his stomach.

            “Don’t,” he said.

            Dean patted his head.

            Someone was with him most of the time. He could tell when it was Dean because Dean couldn’t just hold his hand. Dean played with his fingers or his hair. Dean drummed lightly on his forearm. Dean wrote ‘T’ ‘A’ ‘L’ ‘K’

            “I sound weird.”

            ‘U’ ‘R’ ‘W’ ‘E’ ‘I’ ‘R’ ‘D’

            Dean came up with the idea of having them race on disassembling and reassembling guns blindfolded. Well, Dean said he was blindfolded. Sam won the first round. Dean won every round after that.

            Sam got Dean to watch television so he could just lie there for a bit.

            Without meals or routine, time slipped again. Dean or Cas brought him chicken broth and tea and cleaned him up. Someone held his hand when he had stomach cramps from the laxative.

            It seemed longer than three days.

            Finally Cas carried him to the bathroom. His legs hurt, he grit his teeth against it. He was so used to humiliation by now it didn’t seem to matter when Cas and Dean stripped him and put him in the bathtub. The water smelled like…olive oil and sage and helped a little with the pain. Dean washed him all over, including his hair and under his arms and his genitals. (Which after three days of purging and lying in bed was probably a good thing.) It felt as methodical as watching Dean work on a car. Full on attention, purposeful. Then Cas lifted him out of the water and they dried him off. He was dizzy, holding onto to his brother’s shoulder while Dean combed his hair, shaved him, and trimmed his fingernails. Cas carried him somewhere—it didn’t smell like his room. It smelled dusty and unused but it was warm. It wasn’t the dungeon or the library or the war room. Hell, the Bunker was huge.

            Cas sat him down naked on what felt like a pad. They let him catch his breath. Let the pain subside.

            Dean took his hand.

            ‘R’ ‘E’ ‘A’ ‘D’ ‘Y’ ‘?’

            Sam nodded.

            ‘2’ ‘4’ ‘H’ ‘R’

            “Twenty-four hours. A burger and a beer,” Sam said. “See you then.”

            Dean took Sam’s hand and held it to his face and Sam felt Dean’s stubble and his smile.

            Cas’ hands were on his shoulders. Sam lay back. Dean crossed his arms across his chest—he knew their hands the way he would know their faces by now. He smelled Holy Oil. He felt a thumb on his forehead. A thumb touched his lashes and he closed his eyes so each eyelid could be daubed with Holy Oil. Just under his nostrils. His lips. His throat.

            The room had seemed warm when he got here but he was starting to feel cold.

            His arms were unfolded and laid palm up and the center of each palm touched with oil then his thumbs and fingers folded closed and his arms folded back in an ‘x’ across his chest. A thumb of oil just under his navel and the gentlest touch of oil on the tops of each foot. He grit his teeth expecting pain but he felt weightless and empty. There was no pain at all.

            He wondered if the spell was Egyptian, like Osiris? Or Latin, like Extreme Unction. Or something else entirely.

            He was lying on linen and they wrapped him in long strips. He felt weirdly aware of his bones as they swathed his feet and ankles, shins and knees. He felt the wide strip of cloth as the lift him and wrapped around his hip bones. They bound each arm, like a mummy he thought. They left his face open, so it was as if he was wearing a hood. Then they wrapped him in another layer that closed him in tight. A shroud.

            Then there was nothing.

#

            He drifted. In his sleep he was tied and he wanted—needed to move. His muscles begged to move. He shifted and he was in the Cage. He knew Lucifer was in the darkness.

            He had to move, everything begging for release. He needed to be able to put his hands out.

            He torqued and the world was pain. He felt it so strongly that he couldn’t really isolate it. Then he could see the Cage and see what had happened to him, how Lucifer had opened him low across his belly and he grabbed for the slip and slide of his coiling insides. No matter how often it had happened there was always that terror that this was an injury there was no coming back from. That he had really screwed up now. Such pain.

            His insides were filleted and thinned into translucent film, hung around like laundry, like sheets, reddest at the edges and thinning almost to transparent in the middle. His nerves were alight in the whole of the cage.

            No they were being covered in small glittering black houseflies. A wave of flies coming closer and closer to his open torso. He had been screaming without realizing but he clamped his mouth shut to keep them out, even as they came into his body cavity, little tiny feet everywhere, they would cover the outside of his lungs and come up his throat from the inside and he would choke on flies and blood…

            He awoke bound and blind and deaf with his jaws aching from screams he couldn’t hear himself making.

            He couldn’t escape his own mind. He was shuddering and shaking.

            It was a dream.   He was out. It was a dream.

            This was a cure. This was only hours. He had done centuries. He could do this.

#

            The first thing he heard was Dean repeating his name over and over. “Sammy! Sammy!”

            The shroud was cut away. He struggled, trying to pull more away with his wrapped arms, fighting to get free. There was light. It made his eyes water.   He was dizzy and weak but he fought. Someone was grabbing at his arms. It was Dean, yelling his name.

            He blinked and blinked. “Dean,” he said. “Don’t yell.”

            Dean laughed, it sounded almost like sobs. “Sam,” he said. “Let me look at you.” Sam couldn’t sit up. He saw spots. Cas was there and Dean was helping him sit up, cutting away the linen.

            Nothing hurt. Nothing hurt at all.

#

            “Not burgers,” Sam said, sitting in the library. “Get, you know, taco stuff.”

            “Taco stuff?” Dean called. He was halfway up the stairs.

            “Mexican,” Sam yelled. Sometimes he still blanked on words.

            “Really? Taco stuff?”

            “Fuck you, asshole! Just not Jiffy Burger! And get that big salad!” Left to his own devices, the only things Dean would get would be burgers from Jiffy and fried chicken from Jaybirds Chicken.

            Dean came back down the stairs. “I’m not going an hour to Las Canteras unless I can get a margarita. That means you have to get your skinny ass out of a chair.”

            Sam was tired. He was trying really hard to get back in shape and he’d kicked up his upper body workout today. He was gonna hurt like a mother in the morning. On the other hand, that did mean he probably ought to get some calories and Mexican sounded good… He hauled himself out of the chair. “Fuuuuuuccckkkk,” he said.

            Dean smirked. “Come on Schwarzenegger.”

            “I’ve got to change. Get your cane. You’ll need it if you drink.” Sam said. Dean and Cas had been hunting and Dean had torn up his leg pretty bad. It gave Sam great pleasure to be the one hovering.

            Dean flopped into a chair and stretched his legs out. He’d clearly gone deaf about the cane. Sam could feel his own legs protesting. He’d been off them for five months and now was finally just getting to the point where he was walking a mile in the mornings. He tried to feel everything. Feel it. See it. Hear it. See Dean’s legs stretched out and his boots crossed at the ankle. See the lights gleaming off the library tables. Listen to the faint hum of the air conditioner.

            “Anyone home?” Dean said. His tone was light but his look was not.

            “Thinking about whether I want salad or seafood,” Sam said.

            He wasn’t bouncing back like he used to. His legs. His whole body. Sometimes he woke up in the darkness of his room and thought he was blind but his sleep was so crazy he couldn’t sleep if there was anything that might disturb it—and that meant TV and nightlights were out.

            “You okay?” Dean said.

            “Yeah,” Sam said.

            Dean was watching him.

            “Get your cane,” Sam said. “I won’t be able to get your drunk ass to the car tonight.”

            Dean gave him the finger.

            When Sam came back from changing his shirt, Dean had his cane. Sam carefully didn’t comment.

            They were damaged goods. Too much shit over too many years. Sam folded into the passenger side of the Impala and rubbed the aching muscles in his legs. Getting out of the car was harder than getting in. Maybe he should have a cane.

            They drove a ways and Dean pulled over.

            “What’s wrong?” Sam asked. It was almost an hour to the restaurant (it was a drive to almost anything from where they were.)

            “Nice night,” Dean said. He opened the car door and walked around to the hood of the car, climbed on top. After a moment, Sam slowly got out, too. There was nothing but darkness and grassy field. The wind was like fingers in Sam’s hair. He tested the hood, warm but not too hot, and sat next to Dean.

            Dean took his hand. “Close your eyes, Sammy.”

            ‘S’ ‘T’ ‘A’ ‘R’ ‘S’

            Sam smiled, opened his eyes and looked up. Out here the night sky was full of stars. “Cassiopeia,” he said, pointing. It was early and she still was pretty low in the sky. The Impala’s engine ticked.   He left his hand in his brother’s and looked at the night and listened to the wind bending the grass.

           

 

Fin