The warning shout comes too late, obviously.
As Dean’s now staring down at his chest, where the locket has attached itself to his skin. It doesn’t even hurt. At least not yet.
It might be the shock of things going out of hand so quickly, so disastrously or something’s up with that locket. Well, obviously, something is up with this thing, only Dean thinks it might be even more fucked up than they originally thought.
There are thin red lines already spreading out under his skin. Spiderwebs making their way across his chest and he gasps a little, starts pawing at the golden surface of the locket and thinks that panicking might actually be a solution right now.
It says a lot when Sam’s voice isn’t frantic with worry and panic but rather calm and carefully blank.
Dean refuses to look up, doesn’t want to actually see the things he’s feeling right now reflected in Sam’s eyes. He’s got enough to deal with and a silently freaking out brother isn’t his priority, even though that thought makes him cringe. Because Sam’s always his priority.
“Stay back, Sam,” Dean’s surprised how calm he sounds. No quiver, now choked up words, just his usual voice, collected and controlled.
The whimper is Sam’s and for second Dean thinks Sam’s been hurt as well, thinks that there maybe was another piece of rogue jewelry that is now embedded into Sam’s skin.
Dean’s head snaps up at that, fast and jerky movement that makes him nauseous for some reason. But Sam’s just standing there, unhurt and in the same place he has been since the flashing stopped, the smoke settled – and really how clichéd is that anyway? – everything was tinged in uncomfortable silence.
Sam’s just standing there, tall, seemingly strong but oh so silent. Staring at Dean’s chest and not a single emotion present in his face and it unsettles something within Dean.
Then there’s fear in Sam’s eyes and a look Dean just knows too well. A look that makes Dean speechless, swallow dryly and stare back at Sam. This seemingly his still life and Dean’s stopped pretending he has any kind of control over it years ago.
Sam moves then, just a small, almost aborted step towards Dean. Dean can see the fear more clearly now, realizes it’s more a mixture of uncertainty, fear and confusing. That makes it so much worse, though.
Sam seems so unsure of what to do suddenly, that it hurts to watch.
Sam’s usually the strong one these days, after everything. It’s a miracle really, that they’re still halfway sane. After Sam’s bout of ‘wanting a normal life again’ and Dean’s escape from purgatory it really is a wonder they are functioning on some levels that come close to normal.
So Sam’s really not supposed to be paralyzed by fear.
They’re beyond that, have been for years.
Something is different this time though.
Sam takes another step, slow and jerky, almost as if he isn’t in control of his body.
“Stay back, Sammy.” Said with more force, more command this time and Sam stops dead. Freezes even. It would be funny how now is the moment Sam decides to listen, to obey but it’s frightening as hell and Dean swallows bile.
Dean twitches, just slightly but it seems to set something loose within Sam. His brother gasps and his eyes are fixed on Dean’s chest again, a little vacant but focused now at least.
Dean can’t help it, can’t suppress the urge to look down at his chest again. His shoulders ache and he realizes how tense he stands there, how it’s almost impossible to move a single muscle right then.
The red lines under his skin, vanish into his open shirt. The one he ripped away the second he felt the locket touch his skin. The fabric where the locket touched it has been burned away and Dean doesn’t even want to think about the reasons for that.
His entire chest is covered in spiderwebs now, red and dark, angry and sick looking.
Dean can’t see much else in the dim light of the room. It’s a basement after all, in an abandoned house, go figure. He almost snorts at the clichéd absurdity but snaps his eyes back up when Sam’s suddenly in front of him.
Hand stretched out, wanting to touch and Dean can only so much as curse and damn Sam under his breath before everything goes dark around him.
The sun’s not yet up but dawn’s on the verge of breaking through the night.
The room is painted in dark blues intercepted by the orange from the streetlight outside. It’s a strange sight to wake up to and for a second Dean isn’t sure he’s really awake. Everything is fuzzy, feels strange and disturbingly out of alignment.
He’s not even sure where he knows that word from but it feels right describing everything he’s experiencing right now.
Last images of a dream still linger at the edge of his mind, making it hard to come back to full consciousness. The sheets are soft under his cheek, smell of detergent and soap and a little bit of sweat, too. He can’t really remember the dream, but it was cold, scary even, a dark room filled with things one shouldn’t be able to see.
It fades so fast that Dean’s not even sure he really dreamed.
Sunrise is an hour, maybe two, away and he just wants to fall back asleep. He likes sleep, wishes he’d get more of it and tries to indulge as often as he can.
Something feels off though, telling him not to indulge and slide away into sleep again.
His brain is slower to catch up, muddled in confusion and the last remains of sleep. Dean doesn’t remember when he went to bed last night, doesn’t think he even did.
And then it sort of clicks.
This is not the motel room he’s supposed to be in.
It’s not even the room he was dreaming about just minutes ago. This is a house he’s tried so hard to forget about, a room he never wanted to be reminded off again, as it stands for everything Dean’s desperately trying not to acknowledge.
This room is in the past and even though he can’t really make out much, Dean knows the rickety dresser and the smell of sandalwood from the damned candles Sam insisted on burning ever night that summer. That summer, almost 15 years ago.
Dean bolts upright, lungs tight with pain and chest heaving.
Of course, Sammy would be there. It’s Dean’s hallucination after all. And that’s what it is, can only be. A hallucination. There’s no way he’s really here.
But it feels so damn real. Frighteningly so.
Dean blinks into the dim light, not sure where Sam exactly is but aware of him anyway. Things are coming back to him, slowly and not all that welcome. The locket embedded in his chest, Sam’s too calm voice in his ear, the world going dark.
It must be a huge fucking joke, like the universe showing Dean the finger again. As usual.
“Dean? You okay?” The mumbled words are too close to his ear and he barely refrains from jumping, focusing instead on the dresser close by, the one he knows only holds Sam’s school books and a t-shirt. Everything else is already or still packed in their bags.
He doesn’t know what date it is, if it’s the beginning of that summer or if they are at the end of it. If it’s the latter Dean’s not looking forward to reliving it all over again.
“Dean?” And now Sam sounds scared, which, even in a hallucination, isn’t what Dean wants. He’s been silent for too long. Just saying words into the room feels wrong for some reasons, so he turns, and almost falls out of the bed.
Dean’s not proud of it but he flails, just a little but enough to jostle the entire bed.
Sam’s blinking at him from the pillow, Dean’s pillow, in Dean’s bed. He looks confused and if Dean’s honest, a little hurt as well.
“Sam? Aren’t you a little old to sneak into my bed?” Dean’s not sure where it’s coming from but his own confusion sounds cold and angry within the words leaving his lips. Dean didn’t expect to sound like this. The way Sam’s eyes grow wide he didn’t either.
“I… I didn’t. You said… it was okay.” But Sam’s already moving, shuffling backwards under the cover, making to leave the bed. Something clenches in Dean’s chest at the sight of his little brother - scared eyes not daring to look at Dean and a deep frown edged into his face.
Before Sam actually leaves the safety of the bed, Dean reaches out, gently and not too fast. For some reason he thinks moving too fast will have the opposite effect of what he wants. And he doesn’t want Sam to leave the way he’s looking right now.
And suddenly Dean knows, remembers this night.
The night before they left yet another town, another school behind. It had been just another night before leaving.
Only, that this one had been somewhat significant among all those others and so very different.
They’d made friends here.
Both of them even, not just Sam. Had spent longer here than anywhere else before, almost two years. This place had meant home in some many ways that even Dean was furious at Dad uprooting them from one day to the other.
It had been the first time ever that Dean seriously thought about talking to Dad about staying. He still remembers trying to talking himself into it and failing, mostly because of Dad’s well-argued reasons and him know he’d follow anyway.
Sure, there’d been hunting trips throughout their time there, all through summer long but they had always come back to this small town close to the border to Texas. They had stayed so long that Dean started to think about getting a job after school, making connections, maybe even trying for some classes at the community college.
It never matter in the end but just the prospect of maybe had been enough back then.
That night, before they left, had been hot and not all letting on that summer was ending.
When Dean thinks back this night might even have been the start of losing Sam to the dream of a ‘normal’ life. The fight with Dad that evening, the first big one, would always be burned into his memory. The way he felt helpless, standing there watching, cursing and wishing the shouting would stop.
Then the slap and Dean stepping towards Dad, the one line crossed that should have never been there in the first place – Dean would always blame himself for letting it happen.
Dad had vanished for the night, probably seeking forgiveness in a whiskey glass. Dean never asked.
And Sam – well Sam had been furious, so furious that he punched a hole into the wall of their room and left in a rush to hide at one of his friend’s places. Dean had waited, a few hours to let Sam calm down and then went and got Sam in the middle of the night. He almost dragged Sam to the Impala, one arm clutched tightly and shut every comment or bitching up with just one glare.
Dean remembers this, remembers how Sam had yelled at him in the car on the way home, had hugged him when they were back in their room and asked if he could sleep with Dean.
Dean also remembers saying ‘No’ so very clearly that he knows this here, right now is not real.
Dean remembers how Sam had been cold, silent and stony for the next month and a half and how much it had hurt.
Back then Dean had felt it was the right thing to do.
But this right now, this feels just as real as the things Dean so clearly remembers.
His hand on Sam’s soft skin, Sam’s hazel eyes red rimmed, so much that it’s visible in the pre-dawn light, Sam’s breath fawning over Dean’s cheek in puffs. It all feels so very real and Dean’s not sure it isn’t.
He doesn’t know what compels him to do what he does next but something deep inside of him suddenly wishes he’d done that all those years ago. Dean sighs, pulls Sam close against his chest and lets his brother relax against his body.
“Sorry, Sammy. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep.”
Sam stays quiet, but moves even closer, snuffles a little and finally settles in. Dean feels the tears against his neck, just knows that’s what Sam had needed that night. The comfort, the knowledge that Dean would be there for him.
And Dean had refused him that.
The deep ache that has been buried ever since flares up again, has Dean pulling Sam closer even and whishing even more that this was real.
The last thought that crosses Dean’s mind feels like a revelation almost.
Thinks would have been so very different if he’d just been there for Sam that night instead of being stubborn and afraid and hurt.
The knowledge that this was the first missed chance of many lets the guilt settle in heavily.
The things go dark again.
“Yes… of course… No, I get it. Thanks for the help though. Yes, I’ll call if things change. Thanks.” Sam huffs in frustration, almost snort with it and Dean smirks. It’s so Sam that it’s familiar.
And then Dean blinks.
Sam’s pacing the room, a room Dean has never seen before. There are take-out bags strewn over the table, obviously empty, food gone for a while now.
Dean doesn’t know how he got here or how long they’ve been here. He thinks they’ve been here a while by the looks of it.
The last thing he remembers is Sam at 14, in his bed, looking scared and asking for comfort.
What worries Dean even more than his apparently scrambled brain is the fact that Sam’s acting as if nothing is going on. He’s rambling, talking at Dean as if they’ve been holding this conversation for hours now.
Dean fears it might actually be the case.
He’s pretty sure Sam would realize it if Dean’s been gone for however long. So Dean has to have been here all along, interacting, talking, living alongside Sam without having any kind of memory about it.
Dean blinks at the laptop screen in front of him. It shows the locket he knows is still firmly attached to his skin. He feels it slowly pulsating in his chest. And that’s new, it didn’t pulsate before and he wants to tell Sam, wants to get up and shake Sam for not realizing what’s going on.
But he can’t. He literally can’t move, not a single muscle obeys and his mouth stays firmly closed.
Something keeps him mute, tongue sticking to his gums, teeth grinding against teeth and throat locking up at the thought of uttering one single word about it all to Sam. Panic is welling up inside of him and he blinks rapidly, tries to focus on Sam to starve the overwhelming feel of losing his mind.
Watching Sam somehow helps a little.
Sam, who looks flushed, sweaty in ways Dean hasn’t seen in a while. Dark circles under his brother’s eyes show how sleep is not an option… again. The contrast between hallucination!Sam and this one is so stark that Dean wonders if this is even his brother anymore. Just for split second, but it’s enough to make his head hurt and his heart skip a beat.
What is real?
This thought is doing a loop in his mind.
Dean watches Sam for a few minutes, takes the chance he never really has anymore. Just watches, catalogues the way Sam moves, stiffly, as if he’s hurting and Dean will ask him about that as soon as he is able to.
Sam’s long legs eat up ground and he’s through the room in three long strides, turns on his heels and takes the same path back, never wearing, never leaving it. That’s Sam, always following what he thinks is the right path for him.
But Sam looks haunted now. Years of fate using them as play balls have been leaving traces even Dean can’t talk away anymore. Sam looks older then he should.
And Sam at 14 flashes in through Dean’s mind again.
Why Dean had that flashback, to this time in their past is sort of beyond him. But not really. Deep down Dean knows and it makes him wonder what that thing in his chest is causing, what it will do to him.
“…and we should check the library again. I know this book is there and I’ll be damned if that bitch is preventing me from finding out what the hell is going on here,” Sam has been getting louder by the second, pacing faster through the room, making Dean dizzy.
There’s only one light on, near the bed, the rest of the room is cast into the glow of the laptop on the table. It’s like the room’s tinged in twilight, not enough light and not dark enough either. It’s weird and Sam’s moving through it like he belongs to neither light nor darkness.
Sam seems unreal. Almost ethereal with a glow around him, dark though, nothing good or happy about it.
The spike of fear running through his chest makes Dean gasps, surprised and unsure of what’s going on anymore. His lungs are tight again, just like when he woke up in this flashback that never happened.
Sam is in front of him not a second later, kneeling, grasping Dean’s arms and speaking in low tones.
At first Dean only sees Sam’s lips moving, concern edged into his brother’s face but then the words reach his ears and he starts to breathe slowly, more controlled again.
His hand flies to his chest, feels the metal, no, gold of the locket under his t-shirt and groans.
“Dammit Dean, answer me. Does it hurt?”
It’s all he can say right now, his vision is getting blurry again and he feels Sam’s arms come around him when he slumps forward in his chair. It should be embarrassing how easy it is for Sam to pick him up but Dean’s too busy trying not to panic to care much about it.
Darkness claims him when Sam is lowering him down on the bed.
“You know what? Fuck you, Dad.”
The door slams and the silence that follows is so final, so damn loud that Dean flinches on instinct.
It takes a second to clear his vision and to look around, but he knows where he is. He knows when, too. The second time around it seems easier to adjust and Dean doesn’t want to think about it, fears where those thoughts might lead him.
“Seriously? Gotta be fucking kidding me,” he mumbles and turns around to stare at his Dad, frozen to stone and anger twitching all over his face. Yeah, Dean had hoped not to see this particular sight again.
Disorientation fades quickly this time and Dean wonders if he’s getting used to it. The spike of fear is back again, only now there’s no locket in his chest and he’s 22, watching his brother getting ready to leave.
For a second there Dean was tempted to believe that the other flashback, different as it had been from reality, would have changed things somewhat. Why he thought that, well Dean’s not really sure. But then his brain seems to be taking some sort of vacation anyway.
Dad brushes past him and Dean fights hard to hold in the urge to reach out and hug the man. It’s hard to see him like this, alive, younger and strong. He and Sam have been living with the fact that Dad’s gone for years now, doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
The backdoor slams, just as hard as that front door had and Dean sighs.
He knows this.
There’s grumbled piece of paper in his hand and Dean sighs again. Stanford. The letter he confronted Sam about just as Dad came home from work. It wasn’t his smartest moment but he’d been so damn furious that he couldn’t help it.
Dean takes a look around, the kitchen is as he remembers it, sun flooded, dusty and on the small side. There’s Sam plate of half eaten cereal, his own unfinished cup of coffee and Dad’s toast on the table. Today’s newspaper is lying here, innocently, unread and crumbled from where Dad has smashed his fist on the table and Dean has to look away.
It hurts just as much as it did back then and he doesn’t know why he needs to go through this all over again.
His legs are moving before he knows it, out the front door not the back door like last time. He folds the letter neatly and slides it into his jean’s pocket. He knows where Sam is, has found him in that place last time, too, hours later, in the middle of the night.
This time, Dean just has to follow Sam immediately. Something’s pushing him, making him move and get into the car without Dean really thinking about it. The sun’s up and hot already, burning on his skin and making him curse.
Twenty minutes later he is driving down a bumpy back road he only found by accident the last time he looked for Sam here. Tires are kicking up dust and gravel, tinting everything in this weird kind of twilight where the sun’s out but you feel like it’s getting darker by the second.
The pond is at the edge of town, overgrown and hidden away, private land no one knows who owns and a place for the kids to spend endless summer days. Dean’s been there a couple of times but only ever to get Sam and they always took the long, scenic route back to town.
Now, though, Dean’s in a hurry, knows time’s important.
When he gets there, he knows it’s the right decision. Sam is leaning against the old oak tree right by the pond, hands clenched into fists and eyes closed and face drawn so tight that Dean just knows his brother will have a migraine tonight.
Sam’s eyes snap open when he hears the Impala inching close and frowns, looks a little unsure about what to do now, confused at how Dean found him so fast. Dean almost grins, wonders if he should tell Sam how much of an unfair advantage he has.
But then the whole situation catches up with him and Dean swallows hard. This isn’t real. He’s already gone through it and it’s in the past. There are no second chances, no matter what this is about. Only, Dean’s had so many chances in his life that it’s ridiculous to deny even the thought of it.
He gets out of the car before the dust has even settled. Sam moves to get up but abandons the motion when Dean just flops down next to him. There’s a slight breeze in the shadow and the pond actually smells like fresh water instead of the tepid green mud it used to be back then.
The wind slides over his skin in a surreal way and Dean’s almost prepared to be thrown back into reality. Whichever of these scenarios counts as reality. Dean’s not sure anymore.
“Here to yell at me some more,” Sam grinds out, and if Dean didn’t know his brother he’d snap right back, in the same tone even. But Dean knows Sam, better now than back then, has heard his tones and voices and emotions for almost 30 years now.
So he just leans back against the bark of the tree and shakes his head.
“Naw. Just wanted to see how you are.”
There’s silence for a while, surprised silence Dean thinks and almost lets the smile on his lips show. It’s rare now that he can surprise Sam, has been rare back then as well. And Dean doesn’t know if it can be attributed to Sam’s quick mind or his own predictability. It’s not like he cares right now anyway.
“Oh…” and it hurts to hear that surprise reflected in Sam’s voice.
“Sammy…,” Dean sighs, resigned now and blinks his eyes open to watch his brother. “I… You really wanna go, huh?”
Sam nods, eyes on his shoes, hands clenched tightly into the hem of his shirt, Dean’s shirt Dean notices with some amusement and wonders if it has been the same back then – the first time they did this. But then, it had been dark and he had been way too angry, too worried about Sam to focus on such small things.
“Stanford. That’s… cool. Good school.”
Sam snorts at the words and Dean knows how stupid they sound. He shakes his head, grins when Sam looks at him from under his bangs and nudges his brother with his shoulder.
“I’ll drive you.”
The hitch in Sam breath is audible in the silence that follows Dean’s words. He hadn’t said them back then, only drove Sam to the bus station and never looked back.
“All the way?”
Dean hadn’t meant that, only, he really did. All the way to Stanford.
“Like a road trip, Sammy.”
“Yeah…,” Sam snorts again. “Like we haven’t been doing that for most of our lives.”
It’s true. So damn true that Dean hates it for a second. But then, this feels different somehow and he knows that Sam feels it, too, the way his brother is looking at him now.
“Okay. Yeah, a road trip.”
They sit there for a while, watch the mosquitoes dance over the water and listen to the birds around them. The silence isn’t uncomfortable and Dean thinks he hasn’t had that with Sam in years, wonders when they lost it, and where along the way.
“What about Dad?” Sam’s words are low, almost not there and Dean thinks Sam doesn’t really want an answer.
“Let me deal with it.”
This pull that makes Dean move has been there back then as well, the very same pull that he ignored and let Sam sit there alone, for hours. Not this time though.
This time, Dean just moves, ignores the voice in his head telling that this isn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t real anyway. Dean decides he can do what he damn well wants and maybe even needs, if only just a little. So he moves and pulls Sam close, arm around his shoulders and snorting at the squeak Sam can’t suppress.
Sam’s head comes to rest on his shoulder, tugged beneath Dean’s chin. Sam’s arm slowly snakes around Dean’s waist and they end up tangled closer together than they have in years. Dean allows it to happen the way he never did in reality.
It’s his mind he’s in and he thinks indulging here won’t hurt anybody but himself. It feels right. It feels like the thing he should have done back then if he hadn’t been too angry, too scared and too caught up in his own misery.
When Sam tilts his head just so, Dean doesn’t stop, leans down and closes his eyes.
The expected touch never comes.