Title: Running by Your Side (The Promises We Made remix)
Summary: If you get lost, I will always bring you home
Characters: Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester
Disclaimer: I own nothing, and I'm making even less money.
Original story: The Naked Floor Reminds Me, by Victoria P.
Notes: Thanks so much to javajunkie13 for the lightning fast beta.
Happy day of jubilee, Victoria.
Running by Your Side (The Promises We Made Remix)
Dean doesn't wake up for three days. Sam always thinks he remembers how terror feels, how it makes breathing difficult and his heart sluggish and heavy in his chest, but he never does, not until he sees Dean laid out and helpless again, a breath away from not being Sam's anymore.
He takes him to the hospital as soon as he falls over him in the woods, and Dean is a dead weight over his shoulder Sam won't ever not want to carry. He doesn't think it's medical at all; Dean barely got a scratch while they hunted, not at least that Sam saw, but in a hospital they've got equipment and IVs, and it makes Sam feel less helpless when he puts his foot down and drives with a destination in mind.
The doctors are baffled. They run tests--scan his brain over and over, take vitals and hook him up to tubes and machines just like before--and Sam nods when they say no explanation we can find, and he might wake up on his own, and he thinks of binding reapers and Dean by the side of the road, Dad's gone and it's my fault. He thinks he's never known how selfish he is before now, because he'd do any of those things if he could, do them over and over again to keep Dean safe.
He calls Bobby and tells him what happened--they were investigating in the woods, where four people in the last year all went and came back jibbering, screaming about spells and darkness and never being free--and Bobby is quiet for a moment.
"Okay," he says, "could be anything. Might just wear off."
Sam snorts. "Bobby, you realise the kind of luck we're having lately?"
"I do. Sit tight, Sam. I'll work on it."
Sam switches the phone to his other ear, paces back and forth in the hospital parking lot, never going farther than possible while still keeping the Impala in sight. "I'll go back to the woods."
"Sure. Tell me again, what did it?"
"I don't know."
"Okay. But you know how it did it, right?"
"At the very least, you know how to make sure the same thing couldn't happen to you?"
Sam bites his lip, considers throwing the phone on the ground. "What do you want me to do?"
"Use that brain you're so famous for. Stay with your brother, at least for a little while."
"I can't. Bobby, I can't do nothing."
"Give me a little time, okay? You won't do him any good if you end up the same."
Sam grips the phone. He knows Bobby's right, but helping Dean is an imperative, an order Dad may as well be screaming in his ear. "What do I do?" he asks, and is grateful Bobby doesn't mention the way his voice cracks.
"What the doctors tell you to. Talk to him. Keep him anchored."
Sam goes back, and he sits by Dean, curls his fingers around Dean's, the way Dean would never, ever allow him to if he were awake. He looks like he's just sleeping, his pulse steady and strong when Sam puts his fingers to it, checking for himself, even though the monitors already tell him that's not the problem.
"You call me a pussy," he says, "but I'm not the one who keeps nearly dying. What's that about, man?"
He leans down until their foreheads are touching. "It's 'cause of your fucking martyr complex. Apparently I'm supposed to talk to you, so first I'm gonna tell you how fucking annoying it is every time you throw yourself in the way of something to save me. It'll probably take longer than I've got; it's not like it's a one off, you know? We'll start with that time when I was six?"
He waits for an answer he isn't going to get, and then he says, his hand squeezing tighter. "I never do say thank you. Not the way I mean to."
When Sam was six, Dean broke his left leg and five ribs, and for a while, the doctors thought they might have to operate if the swelling didn't go down in his brain. It was a miracle in and of itself that this was the first time Dean had ever had to stay over in a hospital, a bigger miracle that it he was only there now because Sam had chased a puppy across the road, and only Dean's violent shove meant the car didn't hit Sam. Instead, it smashed into Dean, threw him up in the air the way kids always were in the safety videos Sam watched in school, and when the squeal of tyres subsided, Dean didn't move, even when Sam cried and tugged his sleeve--please, Dean, please. You gotta.
He kept saying it, even when the EMTs came, even when his Dad was there, his hand hard around Sam's, and even then, Sam knew it was out of fear, not anger.
When Dean did eventually wake up, Sam couldn't stop babbling--I'm sorry, and I don't really want a puppy as much as I want you--and Dean blushed bright red, which was far better than the deathly pale he'd been.
"Okay, Sammy," he said, his voice still scratchy from the tubes that had been down his throat. "It's not your fault you're a moron."
Sam grinned back at him, but he never crossed the road without looking again, and he never forgot that Dean could be hurt, that Sam could be the reason.
"And then there was that time in Texas, remember?"
He's actually about to tell the story of the black dog that nearly chewed half Dean's leg off when Sam missed his shot, but the nurse comes in, so he says, "You brought me oranges. For the soccer game. We were meant to bring snacks, and I forgot."
It wasn't Texas (that was five years later, and winter, not summer); it was Indiana, but the place doesn't matter, only that Dean came through, that Dean always came through. It makes Sam's throat tight more than the memory of the actual Texas story. "I thought the other kids would hate me," he says. "Even then, I was terrified I wouldn't fit in."
He clears his throat. "I bought oranges once. At Stanford. More than once, 'cause who doesn't buy oranges? But once, I got them from one of those all-night stores. You hadn't called in three months, and it's not like I missed you, obviously, but, well...I shared it with Jess, and then cried for five minutes." And then, because he has always hated lying to Dean, "Ten minutes, really. Possibly I was a little drunk." He'd been a lot drunk, really, and all he'd remembered afterwards was the smell of oranges and the bitter salt taste of his tears, Jess's arms warm and comforting around him. "Jess didn't get it at all, but she only asked once."
In the silence the machines beep, and Sam takes a sip of coffee. "You'd have liked her," he says. "I'm sorry you didn't get to."
Sam expected to leave in the bright summer sunshine. Hoped. The beginning of everything, and that would've been right. Instead, he left in the rain, in the middle of the night, and his father's anger kept pace with him, a storm Sam didn't think he'd forget or outrun. His brother's silence was worse; Sam wanted to pretend it was agreement with Dad, make his own anger as fiery bright as his father's. But he knew that Dean's silence was hurt, betrayed, the only time Dean said nothing, when the alternative was letting his wounds show.
When the car pulled up beside him, Sam nearly didn't get in at all, knew he might stay if Dean asked him to, hoped a little that Dean would ask him to, admit he wanted something, even if Sam shouldn't have to give him it.
Dean didn't say anything, just drove, the radio blasting and the rain beating out goodbye and defeat against the roof.
"Don't even, Sammy."
Sam tightened his grip on his duffle, made himself say it because Dean needed to know. "I have to do this, Dean. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's what I've always wanted." He shifted uncomfortably.
"What you want, Sammy, that's right. It's always about what you want, you selfish little prick."
Sam felt each of Dean's words like bullets, but he'd learned from the best, and he pretended they bounced right off him. "I'm the selfish one? I'm not the one who dragged his kids across the country on some crazy quest for vengeance--"
"You want to watch what you say in this car, Sammy." Dean's hands were tight on the wheel, so different from his usual easy grip, and Sam couldn't stop looking at them.
"You're just as bad as he is, and you know what? You don't have to be. You have a choice, a chance to get out and have your own life, and maybe you're too stupid to take it, I don't know, but I'm not."
Dean's face did that thing it only did when he'd really been hurt--twisted like he'd been punched in the gut--and it only lasted a second before Dean was back in control, but it made Sam want to throw up. "Dean," he said. "I didn't want it to go down like this." He meant I'm sorry, but this was too big to fix like that, and he wasn't the six-year-old Dean would forgive just because he smiled.
"Yeah," Dean said, "That's awesome, Sam."
They drove in silence until they reached the bus station, and then Dean turned the car off, lifted his hand from the wheel like he might touch Sam, and ran it through his hair, instead. "You take care of yourself, Sammy, and you call me if you get in any trouble. Dad'll come around--"
"Shut up. Dad'll come around soon enough--"
"He won't. And even if he does, I won't."
Dean just huffed out a breath, didn't look at Sam. "And you're supposed to be the smart one. Call me when you get there."
He started the car, and Sam sat with his hand on the door. "Dean," He said, "You could--"
Dean shook his head. "Call me when you get there--if you ever need anything. And do good."
Sam nodded, got out and only looked back as the car drove away, afraid of what he might see, afraid of the loss Dean would see on Sam's face.
When he met Jess, three days later at orientation, a smile on her face like the summer he'd been hoping for since he left, she said, "Do you have family, Sam?"
And Sam shrugged. "Sure. We aren't close."
The lie rolled easily off his tongue, and the truth followed him like a ghost, nothing to burn to be rid of it, only a constant longing that remained even after four years without them.
He made Bobby and Pastor Jim, Caleb and Joshua, anyone he knew and could trust, text or call him every few weeks, 'cause it was the only way he got anything done without starting every day worrying if they were dead.
"Okay," Bobby says, "I think something's holding him. Friend of mine says he had a case sounds just like Dean."
"How did he fix it?"
"Killed the thing that was doing it. It's old magic, Sam, oldest kind there is. We need to figure out what it is, and you need to keep him with you until we do."
"What happens otherwise?"
There's the bark of a dog from the other end of the phone, a call on the hospital PA system, the sound of change in the vending machine. "I dunno, Sam. He won't die. And maybe it won't matter when you get him back."
"That's not what you think."
"Well, and I'm just guessing; I only know this one case, but he's not all gone. He just can't get free, you understand? Not like being in a coma, though that's what it looks like."
Sam nods, and then says, "Yes. Like being trapped, and he knows what's going on."
"I think so. That's not easy for anyone to deal with. Easier to shut down, you know? He might not...he might not be Dean when he wakes up."
"The people who went crazy," Sam says, and Bobby sounds tired when he agrees.
"Okay. I'll stay with him. You don't need me to go back?"
Bobby's voice is gentle, and that freaks Sam out more than anything. "Tell me everything you remember."
Sam thinks, forces the panic down, and says, "There was...nothing, really. EMF went crazy, but there was nothing else we could see. Trees and, I dunno, it was just a wood. A lake, more trees around it."
"He do anything you didn't?"
Sam thinks back, both of them circling the trees with the EMF meter, bending down to look for anything unusual on the ground, and--"He got mud on his hands," Sam says. "Washed them in the lake. That's all I can think of."
"Okay. Good boy. I've got a whole library, Sam. There'll be an answer."
"You used to read to me," Sam says. "I used to, God, if you mock me for this when you're out of this, I'll kill you, but I used to--when I was studying--I remembered things in your voice. The bill of rights. Micro economics. I don't know why, but it helped.
"Maybe I'll read to you. The Runaway Bunny. That's what I remember first about you. You used to read it all serious--if you run away, I will run after you, remember that? You used to tell me the same thing when I got scared. If you're lost, Sammy, I'll always bring you home."
He laughs, though it sounds more like a sob. "I always believed you." He doesn't say that he still does. If Dean's really there, he already knows.
Sam got kidnapped by a ghost once. Which he denies when Dean mocks him for it--I was totally leading you to him-- but which is still true.
In his defense, he didn't know the house was haunted, and--he stresses this point often--Dad was always telling him to be respectful and helpful to his elders, so when the old man fell down the stairs, Sam thought it was perfectly reasonable to check he was okay.
"These are all valid points," Dean said the next day, when he'd stopped looking at Sam like he might disappear if Dean looked elsewhere, "But I have a couple equally valid ones. Firstly, you were breaking curfew--and not for anything cool, I'd like to add, but for a history project. Secondly, dude, you were in a deserted house, and the guy came from nowhere. It's a rookie mistake, man."
All of which was also true. Sam had acted on instinct, had been at his side before he'd thought, and then there were fingers around his ankle, stronger than any old man that feeble should be, and Sam woke up in a cellar, small bodies all around him, and an old man Sam could see through, stinking of decay and evil, leaning over him.
Sam didn't really remember the details. There was a knife, and he tried not to scream, because Dean would never have screamed, but he did, anyway, eventually cried for his brother and his father, for safety and warmth and the promise that his family really were stronger than the things that loved the darkness.
"Nobody's coming for you," the ghost said, and he cut Sam's chest, and Sam whimpered.
"Dean will," he said, "Dean or Dad will."
The old man just laughed, but he stopped when Dean came tumbling down the stairs, what seemed like hours later but probably wasn't, already firing, more angry than Sam had ever seen him.
He was only Dean again when he got Sam out, his fingers mapping Sam's body, checking for injuries, efficient and quick, more gentle than Sam had ever known him. "You're a fucking idiot," he said, but when Sam cried properly, Dean was only frozen a minute before he wrapped an arm around Sam and drew him close, his chin on the top of Sam's head and his words all the comfort Sam needed, the comfort Dean had stopped giving when Sam said he was too old--I'm here, Sammy. I'm not going anywhere.
Bobby calls as the sun starts to go down on the second day. Sam's called him fourteen times already, and Bobby's gotten more gruff every time.
"We got something, Sam. Water spirit, looks like. Like King Arthur's chick, only not quite so useful."
Sam swallows a mouthful of bagel that tastes like crap, and rubs his face. "They aren't just myth?"
"Yes, Sam, that's why I'm telling you that's what I think it is."
Sam is surprised to find he's smiling. "Sorry. What do I do?"
"Force her to release him. Spirits like that, they have power over people, but they need something to do it. She must have something of his--could be anything, a hair, piece of clothing, skin, even. Get that from her, and he should wake up."
Sam knows there's no point mentioning the should part of that, but the word makes his heart feel too big for his chest. "I'll need to bargain?" Dean would hate it. Sam doesn’t care.
"Sure. Though I prefer threatening myself."
He talks and Sam listens, and then he goes back to Dean's room.
"So Bobby has a plan," he says. "Gonna get your ass out of this mess. And then I'm gonna make you listen to anything I want in the car, and I'll probably want to drive whenever I like, too. In fact, maybe I'll sell the Impala for something a little more climate friendly, how 'bout that? And maybe make you tell me how awesome I am twenty times a day." He runs his fingers through Dean's hair, lying flat and greasy against his head. "I'll take your silence as agreement, okay?"
He stands, considers dropping a kiss to Dean's forehead, but Dean would probably kill him. "I've got to go--I've got herbs to collect and poison to make; you know, a standard Winchester day's work--but I'll be back," he says. "You aren't getting rid of me that easily. And anyway, I need some of your blood, so I have no choice but to see you again."
He doesn't want to go, is afraid Dean might just slip away if he does, but Dean's voice mocks him in his head, so he leaves, and he only looks back once. Dean lies still in the bed, peaceful and young like he never got to be
The lake is like it was before, silent and still in the moonlight, only a slight breeze playing along the surface. Sam lays out his supplies, partly gathered by him, partly sent by Bobby. He draws a circle of herbs and holy water, chants the Latin he's read a million times over them, forces the rage out of his voice. It's supposed to force the spirit into corporeal shape, supposed to bind her until Sam breaks the circle.
"Samuel," she says, barely a breath after he's said the final word, "I've been expecting you." She's lovely in the moonlight, ethereal, almost like she's made of light and shadow, her hair like water as it streams down her back. She smiles, and it's warm and bright, fire on a cold night, the North Star to a lost man. Sam has to resist the urge to pull his gun from his jeans and shoot her, even though he knows there's only magic or poison that can hurt her. "You summoned me. Need I ask your purpose, or do I already know it?"
Sam grinds his teeth, doesn't let himself wonder how she knows his name. "You already know. I want him back."
She shrugs. "There are many things we all want. For example, I would like my brothers and sisters back. Can you do that?"
Sam shakes his head. "I...I don't know what you're talking about."
She laughs. It sounds like rain, and the lake ripples as she does. "Water has more than one spirit. Your kind," she says, "A long time ago, Samuel, but the same nonetheless, used Fire and holy words, magic none of you truly understand, and killed the others who lived here."
Sam thinks they probably had it coming, knows Dean would say it if he were here. "I'm sorry," he says.
"Come now. We share so much, you and I." she fingers what looks like a locket around her neck. "We can be honest, surely. My siblings certainly were not opposed to snatching the odd passer by. Nor was I, until our separation weakened me."
"You're still doing it, as far as I can tell."
She shakes her head. "I have no power over the physical. It was not my gift; mine was power over the soul, to put it in terms you will understand. Between us, though, we were strong."
Sam suppresses a shudder. "It wasn't Dean's fault. You won't change anything by keeping him."
He knows it's probably pointless, but it's an old habit--good cop to Dean's bad, though this time he'll have to be both.
She only laughs again. "I'm not after revenge, Samuel. My chance of that is long gone. Only comfort. And this," she gestures at Sam, "comforts me a great deal."
Sam shrugs. "Fine," he says. He reaches into his pocket, draws out the paste he made earlier--more herbs and chanting, some of his own blood and some of Dean's-- and holds the vial up. "Give him back, bitch, or I'll kill you."
"You can't," she says, though there's doubt in the clear blue of her eyes now.
"Not personally, no. But this in your water definitely will."
"You're lying," she says.
"Why don't you know, then? You figured out my name and what I wanted, so figure this out, too." She hesitates, and Sam steps to the water's edge, opening the bag slowly as he goes. "I'm not fucking around."
"Maybe it's what he wanted. Did you consider that? I can only do so much--only respond to what's already there. Think of it. Just slipping away. No pain, no guilt. He has reason to want that, Sam. You could give him that. If you loved him, you would."
This time Sam laughs, relief warm inside him. "You're slipping," he says. "If you knew either of us at all, you know I never would. I'm not him." He wipes the smile from his face. "You got three seconds. What'll it be?"
She hesitates a moment longer, and Sam doesn't look away, stands perfectly still and waits. "As you wish," she says. She reaches up and unfastens the locket round her neck. She opens it and holds out a strand of what looks like Dean's hair so he can see it. "He's yours."
"That's it?" Sam asks.
"The magic is in here," she says, tapping the locket. "I'm sorry it couldn't be more impressive."
"How do I know?" Sam asks.
She shrugs. "You don't. But you can come back," she says.
Sam nods. "If you're lying," he says, "Or if you've done a single thing to him, I swear to God, I'll poison this place bit by bit. I'll make it slow; I'll watch you die, and I'll enjoy doing it."
She smiles. "I believe you. In return, of course, when it does work, I want your word you will let me be."
"Done," Sam says. "Now give me that."
She shakes her head. "And how do I know?"
"You don't. Live with it. If you don't, you're dead, anyway."
She studies him again, and then she reaches out, fingers cold and wet, and places the hair in his palm.
With his boot, He scatters the circle he drew, and he walks away without looking back.
In the hospital, he stands in the doorway of Dean's room and can't breathe. Dean hasn't changed, is lying in the exact same position. Sam steps forward, but Dean doesn't respond when Sam says his name, doesn't twitch when Sam shakes him.
Sam finally stops and drops his head to the bed. "I'll go back," he says. "I'll do it right this time."
He doesn't realise he's shaking until he hears the tremble in his voice. "Christ, Dean, you gotta help me out here."
Only the machines answer, and Sam slumps there, and just breathes for a while, ragged and desperate, his hand fisted in Dean's hospital issue pajamas, his other curled around Dean's arm.
Until a hand falls warm and heavy on his head. "Hey, easy there, Sasquatch," Dean's voice, the sound Sam would follow anywhere.
"Dean?" Sam asks, his hand digging into Dean's arm so hard it must hurt.
Sam doesn't let go, doesn't actually think he knows how to. "You're back."
"Sure." He runs his fingers through Sam's hair, and for once, doesn't point out that Sam's stating the obvious. "If you're lost, well, you know how that goes."
Sam looks up then and smiles. "Yeah, Dean, I do."
In the morning he goes back to the lake.
"If you'd made the deal with Dean," he says to the water, "he might have kept it, though I doubt it."
He empties the vial in, and walks away. At least it'll be quick.