Summary: 1x06 "Skin" Coda: Sam works through what the shapeshifter revealed about Dean and discovers what he knew all along.
Characters/Pairing: Sam Winchester/Dean Winchester
Rating/Warnings: R, m/m incest
Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how much I wish they were.
Original story: Qanat by ignipes
Qanat (The Attics of My Life Remix)
Dean wakes him every half hour, and while he knows why, his head pounds, his mouth tastes like sawdust and sewage, and he can't stop dreaming about the things the shapeshifter said.
Sam greets the third "Rise and shine, princess!" and poke in the thigh with a glare. "Dude, seriously, what the hell?"
"Concussion." Dean's so blasé he's almost blithe; Sam'd punch him if he had the energy. "You get yourself whacked over the head, that's the way it's got to be."
He knows better than to think Dean's just being a dick. He's being a dick because he hates when Sam gets hurt. Sam's too sore and tired to put up much of a fuss, but not putting up any will worry Dean more. "Twice."
Hands loose on the wheel, Dean glances over. "Twice what?"
"Whacked over the head twice." He yawns, and while he tries to work out some of the tension in his shoulders and hips, Dean checks the rear view a couple of times. Sam gets that; he's never really sure a job's behind them until they start the next one. Dean's looking at him again, so he elaborates. "Shapeshifter-as-you on the street with the tire iron, and shapeshifter-as-Becky in the living room with the beer bottle."
Jess or Becky would've got the Clue joke, and Dean probably does too, but he won't admit it. Can't, almost. Dean's supposed to be the funny one. "It's a good thing you've got a thick skull," Dean says.
"Very funny." Rolling his eyes hurts so, instead, he curls against the door and closes them. Drifting off to the soft sound of Dean's fingers tapping out the percussion from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Sam's not sure whether he's more weirded out by Dean's mental musak or the fact he can identify it.
It's dry. Dry like dust and sand and old bleached bones. Sere like salt and wind and resentful silence.
Sam digs, shovel scraping angry screeches in hard-packed dirt. He is looking for water.
A powerful amulet thrown in a well, carried below ground…a long way to nowhere. Needed now to banish a demon.
Water. To drink. He thirsts.
Dean's voice scours a yellow sky and Sam's mind. "You don't think I had dreams of my own? But dad needed me. Where the hell were you?"
The phone works both ways, he tells the voice without speaking. He can't speak. He has to find water. The amulet. Has to keep digging his qanat.
"Deep down, I'm just jealous, jealous, jealous." The word echoes on a nameless wind out to the edges of consciousness and beyond. "I know I'm a freak, freak, freak." Another joins it, blurring and merging, until meaning is lost and pain remains.
I'm the one who watched his girlfriend die. I'm the freak. He hacks at the lifeless ground. Somewhere beneath there is water, the amulet. Surcease.
"You left. Hell, I did everything Dad asked me to and he still left me. Jealous. Freak. Jealous. Freak. Left with your sorry ass! Jealous. Killed Jess. You freak."
Now he stops listening, stops arguing. Shovels faster, digs deeper. He will find water. The amulet.
The whir-thud-thud stops. Sam wakes from yet another dream that Freud would've cackled and capered over. Let Freud have his psychoanalytic glee; Sam will stick to walking. Maybe.
Queasy. Dopey. Sneezy. God, Jung would love him too. He rubs at his stomach. "Not really."
"Well, I am," Dean says as he opens the door.
Big surprise there. Dean's always hungry – Jesus, it's cold out there. It's not going to stay warm in the car long. Maybe some coffee.
When he gets out, the neon from the hotel across from the Denny's flickers "$29.99" and "Vacancy" in a strobing pink that incongruously make him think of Jess's bubblegum and the hot chocolate with dried marshmallows Dean made for him before he learned to drink coffee.
Maybe he'll have hot chocolate instead.
When Dean opens the door to the diner, the light limns his head and hunched-tight shoulders. Sam follows, gaze fixed on the spot between Dean's shoulders that tastes like salt and hotel soap and the promise of sleep. Dean glances back, and Sam stifles the impulse to tell him it was a sewer, not an abandoned mine, and he didn't get lost, he got dragged.
The frizzy-haired all-in-one hostess-waitress-cashier scowls at them from behind the register and clomps off toward the table in the non-smoking section like they're on a forced march to Siberia. Dean snarled less in the mine shaft, with far greater cause.
Sam rubs his forehead. His mind wanders, unmoored by conventional logic, led by a skein of blood red thread through the maze of memory. The slap of plasticized paper to plasticized wood jolts him alert, and Dot's gone before he can even slide into the booth across from Dean.
"So how long did it take you?"
He's been concussed, yeah, but he's pretty sure he didn't miss an entire conversation or even a reasonable facsimile of a segue. "To do what?"
"Figure out that freak wasn't me."
And he thought his thoughts were Byzantine. The hell did that come from? Sam sets down his menu before even opening it. "I knew right away."
Dean smirks, arches an eyebrow in challenge, as if it required some kind of skill. "Right away?"
"Yeah, pretty much." He hadn't even thought about it really. "Why?"
"I thought you said he could—" Dean gets that look, the one when he's trying to remember exactly what Sam said so he can mock him accurately. "Download my thoughts. Or whatever."
"Something like that." He shrugs. Huh. Dean's not trying to fuck with him. The shapeshifter thing has him bugged. "He must've had some psychic ability in addition to the shapeshifting. That would explain his MO, how he was able to pretend to be his victim's loved ones."
"Yeah, obviously." Dean flips his hand, shrugging it off. "But didn't he try to convince you that he was me? What did he say? Did you test him?"
And just like that, Sam's right back there in the sewer, bound and listening to the shapeshifter-as-Dean speak Dean's darkest truths into light. Listening to him tangle Sam's safety net into snarls and perilous gaps.
"Of course I did." He hadn't, not really, hadn't needed to, and that makes him defensive on top of the raw ache. Dean hears it, he can tell from the way his feet uncross under the table and set to stand if Sam needs him – the way he always does, if Sam needs him. And Sam just can't take it right now. "What do you care what he said, anyway? He didn't do a very good job of it, and now he's dead. It's done." Sliding out of the booth, he stands before Dean can answer. "I'll be back."
Sam heads for the men's room, not moving fast. Away is more important than where. It's past time for early bird supper and the few remaining customers are students, pretending to study and mostly making eyes at each other. Or old men with no wives to go to, no life beyond the jobs they no longer do.
He recognizes them from the look in Dean's eyes when Sam talks about going back to school after they find Dad.
The lights in the bathroom burn too bright. Eyes closed, he washes his face with cool water, again and again, trying to clear the muzziness in his head and the grit-sting in his eyes.
"I had to stay home, with dad. You don't think I had dreams of my own? But dad needed me. Where the hell were you?"
"See... deep down, I'm just jealous. You've got friends. You've got a life. Me? I know I'm a freak. And sooner or later, everyone's gonna leave me."
"You left. Hell, I did everything dad asked me to and he still left me! No explanation, no nothing, just poof! Left me with your sorry ass!"
Sure, yeah, it wasn't Dean. If it had been Dean, it couldn't have hurt him or Becky like that, and the message is the medium. The shapeshifter couldn't become Dean because it would always still be itself, filtering Dean's life through its own experiences.
But still. Dean feels those things. Even when he rocks away Sam's nightmares, inside Sam and bodies pressed tight. He feels those things.
Clear sky, sun too bright, but a low wind keens through the grasses at the side of the road. They lean against the side of the Impala, thigh to thigh, not talking about the admission letter Dean had tossed on the seat between them on the way here. Or the silver embossed redwood of Leland Stanford Junior University, and how he'd been offered a full ride.
Sam bends at the waist, and Dean's hand comes to rest, steadying, on his lower back -- even though Sam only reaches for a wild daisy, something to do with his hands that isn't hold on to Dean and never let go.
When he rights himself, the warmth slips away. After a second's hesitation, Dean's hand settles on the sun-baked black of the hood behind him. Silent support, given without asking, withdrawn with equal grace. Even though everything between them will change.
It's not new, this conversation. They've had it ten, twenty, a hundred times over the past two years, but this time it's not research or a working theory. It's a plan. Maybe the last plan. Sam plucks white petals one by one. He loves me. He loves me not. "I have to leave."
Dean's eyelids flutter, eyelashes catching, but he leans on his hands and says nothing. Nothing to say he hasn't said a hundred times.
A slow drift of white, plumes on a breeze, one by one hitting the old asphalt's melting tar and sticking. "I can't do it anymore."
Dean's eyes redden around the rims, irises glistening, but he bites the inside of his lip and still says nothing. Beside his thigh, Dean's shorter fingers curl, pinch the seam of his jeans instead of clenching.
Worn denim polishes the finish, slicks like chamois when he turns to face Dean. The movement's smooth, leaves no scratches. It's Sam whose jagged edges scrape. He pulls twin petals and tosses them to the ground. "I'm not a hunter." His voice rises, defiant in the face of Dean's silent denial. "I'm not like you and Dad."
Callused fingers close around his, draw the daisy stem between them. Dean plucks the lone remaining petal, looks up through damp lashes and holds Sam's gaze. "Do what you have to."
Leaning forward, Dean brushes bitten lips against Sam's, then stands and reaches for the door handle. Sam's not done, wants more than benediction. Wants acceptance.
But Dean's jaw's set tight. Take it or leave it.
Blowing out an empty breath, Sam pushes his bangs out of his face. As he rounds the front of the car, he sees Dean finger the single petal then tuck it in his pocket.
The coffee's burnt and lukewarm, but it takes Dot so long to bring it, he doesn't dare order hot chocolate. Dean's bruised and dirty, been driving not just long but haunted, eyes over his shoulder for cops and off to his side for Sam, and if Sam wants hot chocolate, he'll mock, but they'll wait until Dot damned well brings it and brings it hot.
He doesn't want to talk that long, doesn't want to not talk that long, and Dean looks like he's about to faceplant in the Moons Over My Hammy he'd ordered because Sam scowled when he laughed at the name. So Sam drinks the tepid coffee, eats around the edges of the French toast he didn't want but Dean thought he should have.
When Dad came home from Carson City, the week after Dean pulled him out of the abandoned mine, Dad took them to Denny's. He told the waitress Sam would have pancakes, "isn't that right, Sammy?" but Dean shook his head. "Sammy likes French toast with no powdered sugar, extra butter, and real maple syrup. If you have cinnamon, he likes that." At ten, Sam kicked Dean under the table, because he could speak for himself, "thanks a lot, Dean," but tonight he eats, and remembers when being 'Sammy', being sheltered, was a bad thing.
When Dean's eaten enough to satisfy his stomach and Sam's eaten enough to satisfy Dean, they round up the bill and leave Dot a tip of fifty-seven cents for her oh-so-inspired service.
The motel across the interstate is good to its word, and Daryl P. Henson's credit is good to his. The room, on the other hand, isn't worth their $29.99, except for how it is, because they need sleep and downtime. Any bed, no matter how much it sags, is better than the back seat when it's this cold. And any private shower is better than the truck-stop stall where alone only means they can't see whether you're cut or uncut unless they look.
Dean's duffle hits the ground with a thud, then Dean drops, face first, to the bed. His weapons untouched, no salt around the doors. Dean's too tired to be tense, too tired to talk, and Sam's still not sure he wants to.
"I'm going to take a shower."
When Dean props himself on his elbows and looks across his shoulder at Sam, his cock doesn't even stir. It's not coy, not an invitation Dean still has trouble voicing. Shadows cling to his face like the bruises on Sam, Dean's eyes aren't hungry but haunted when he studies him.
"You all right?"
Hand on the bathroom door, he stops, arrested mid-thought. Because it's just like Dean to ask, even if he'd rather not get into it. "Yeah, fine. Just tired."
"'Cause you look like shit."
And that's just like Dean, too. "Wow, thanks. That means a lot."
Dean pushes up, swings his legs to the ground. "Really, Sam, how's your head?"
"Fine." It's not his skull that's the problem. Green-gold eyes fringed in sooty lashes hold him transfixed. Sam wants to go, but he can't. "Besides, I'm not the one who died yesterday."
"Yeah, well, it happens to the best of us." Brow creasing, Dean bites the inside of his lip, leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees.
Hand still on the door knob, Sam shifts his weight back and forth. Creeee-ak. Creeeak. Creee-ak, he goads Dean to speak or let him go.
"It was good of Becky to feed that bullshit story to the cops. She's -- she must be a good friend."
You've got friends. You've got a life. Dean's voice, but not Dean. Creeakcreeakcreeak. "She was Jess's friend first." Sam can't talk about this. Not now, maybe not ever. Dean feels those things. He steps into the bathroom, which is devoid of mildew but not rings of rust stains. "That's how I met her." It's defensive, and he winces at himself in the mirror.
He reaches into the shower, turns the spigot fast to drown out the smartass "are all Jess's friends that hot?" but it never comes, and Sam strips down to the sound of water from a lime-blocked showerhead and the demented carousel rise and fall of Dean and shapeshifter-as-Dean's words through his thoughts.
"I hate to say it but that's exactly what I'm talking about. You lie to your friends cause if they knew the real you, they'd be freaked."
"I'm just jealous. You've got friends."
He steps under the spray which is more a glop-drip-drizzle than a spray. But it's hot and once he gets his head under it and closes his eyes, the ache from the tire iron abates. The cuts burn from the shampoo, and that's all right. The sting distracts his attention from the Jekyll and Hyde show while lasts.
"I meet the nicest people. Like little Becky."
"It was good of Becky to feed that bullshit story to the cops. She's – she must be a good friend."
"You know, Dean would bang her if he had the chance."
Shoulders pressed to the wall where pale green tiles give way to white, Sam slumps, presses his thumb and forefinger to his brows.
"He's sure got issues with you."
"So how long did it take you?"
At a motel desk piled higher than his head with books, Sam turns the tattered yellow pages of a grimoire. It could be the fifteenth or the fiftieth; nothing matters but finding out what… what did that to Jess.
He sips his coffee, grimaces as much at the "Glass Slipper Inn" logo on the mug as the foul tepid brew. Some Prince Charming he turned out to be. Some dragon slayer.
He'll slay it now if he dies trying. Jess deserves that much. God, Jess.
Sam chokes on bile and salt. Wipes his eyes on his arm and keeps reading.
Some time later, he becomes awareof footsteps near the door. It's hard-coded into him. He may not be a hunter, but he's a Winchester.
When a key turns in the lock, he slips back into his research. Identify it. Find it. Kill it. That's what matters.
Steel-toed shoes enter his peripheral vision. He turns another page, doesn't look up. "Did you learn anything?"
"No." Long, noisy inhale, and when Sam keeps reading, Dean breathes out in a huff. "Son of a bitch is long gone. Skipped town with no forwarding address."
Jaw clenching, Sam turns another page. "There's gotta be something, Dean, and you know it. Everything supernatural leaves an imprint. I'm–"
He shuts out the compassion in Dean's voice. Grips the edge of the desk and the veneer threatens to crack under his grip. "I'm thinking it could be an Ifrit—"
It's firmer now, but Sam's not listening, won't listen. "Or a fire elemental, but I can't figure out how it held her to the—"
Dean cuts him off with a sound somewhere between a tsk and a growl. "It's not an Ifrit or a fire elemental or the spirit of a pissed off wannabe beauty queen with a hate-on for pretty blondes. If it was anything we knew, Dad would've found it and killed it a long time ago."
"Look, it says right here…" Sam has no idea what it says. He's struck with a horrid déjà vu, like he might've read the same book yesterday and the day before and the day before. But he has no idea what it says.
"Sammy." His brother's voice has an anxious softness, one that doesn't fit him, like he's afraid Sam's going to break. Sam's not sure whether hearing Dean afraid is worse than it maybe being true. "Sammy, we can stay as long as you need. But all the research in the world isn't gonna bring her back."
The warm hand on his shoulder draws his head up. Sunset filtering through the dingy white blinds give Dean an earthy glow. Nothing ethereal or infernal in the way the ruddy light surrounds him, instead it lends him an almost shocking substantiality. Broad shoulders tense as though he carries a ladder or a bale of hay, Dean looks at him, steady and sure, out of eyes that have seen no sleep for days, Sam is abruptly certain.
Everything else snaps into focus around Dean. It's been almost two weeks since Jess, two weeks in which Sam probably hasn't said six words that weren't "Yeah," "No," "Fine," "Nothing," "Later," and "Okay." Fourteen days in which Dean's fetched fresh towels and in-room coffee packets from maid service, made the beds and set out pizza boxes and Chinese food cartons from meals he brought in, with little more complaint than the occasional "Snap out of it, dude. You gotta eat or something."
Fourteen days in which Sam has seen nothing but the hair he'd brushed hundreds of times curling and charring in flame, the mouth he'd kissed hundreds more stretched in horror and the kindest eyes he'd ever seen black with fear and betrayal. He hasn't seen anything but Jess, dying, over and over and over.
And Dean is right here.
"Yeah." I'm sorry. "We'll find Dad." Because Dean has set aside his own search, his own fears, for Sam for far too long.
Dean lifts his hand from Sam's shoulder, pushes it through hair still damp from a shower Sam doesn't remember taking. "Tomorrow."
Before he rests his head against his brother's hipbone, Sam presses his lips to the exposed skin over the waistband of his boxer-briefs.
Dean tastes like cinnamon French toast and memory.
When he comes out of the bathroom, clean but beat-with-a-stick tired, Dean's weapons – and his – lie in neat gleaming rows on the desk. Dean's bag is on the rickety luggage stand, Sam's on the chair, and Dean's sprawled on his back on the bed with an arm over his eyes.
He lifts the elbow to peer at Sam from beneath it. While his gaze travels slow over Sam's face, it merely skims his bare chest and towel-slung hips. Whatever Dean's hungry for, it's not sex.
Sam drops to the bed beside him. His sigh of pleasure at being horizontal and stretched full length, finally, turns groan when his head discovers the reason the room's $29.99. Damned pillows wouldn't be out of place in an ascetic's cell – or a jail, the Winchester part of his brain adds.
Arm unfolding, Dean gestures in the general direction of the door. "Advil's over there."
It's generic ibuprofen, because it's cheaper, but Dean insists on calling it Advil, "because Advil works better," and names have power in their world. "Yeah." He'll get it, when his lower back and hips stop the grateful twanging.
Dean's not moving, but he's not sleeping either. In his place Sam would be hamster-wheeling about the metaphysics of someone almost himself but not, death and the soul. College boy emo, he thinks in Dean's voice and smiles. He pretends to be uncomplicated, has to, it's Sam's job to be the smart one. But there's nothing stupid or shallow about Dean, except maybe his taste in women. He's just still waters run deep to Sam's heart on his sleeve, and Sam's learned not to press unless Dean's in danger of drowning.
Rock slab for a pillow notwithstanding – the Impala's window isn't any softer – Sam's drifting off to sleep when Dean lowers his arm and their shoulders brush. "So you're not going to tell me?"
Sam purses his lips, not quite frowning. "What?"
"How long it took you to figure out that psycho wasn't me. What tipped you off." Dean sounds impatient, like Sam should've known, and maybe he should have. Sometimes conversations with Dean stretch out for days, resurfacing miles down the road with no sign or warning.
It's so quintessentially Dean that he has to laugh. "You really want to know how I knew?"
Eyebrow winging upward, Dean props himself up on his elbows, looks over. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
"He was a crazy psycho killer." Son of a bitch reeked of crazy. "But he wasn't nearly as much of a pain in the ass as you are."
Nostrils flaring, Dean stares at him for a few seconds, then finally snorts in amusement and rolls away onto his side. "Whatever, smartass."
"He’s sure got issues with you. You got to go to college. He had to stay home. I mean, I had to stay home. With Dad. You don’t think I had dreams of my own? But Dad needed me. Where the hell were you?"
Awake again, Sam gets up for "Advil." He pulls on the sweats, and tries not to make too much noise unwrapping the plastic cup and filling it with water.
"I really wish things could be different, you know? I wish you could just be… Joe College."
"No, that's okay. You know, the truth is, even at Stanford, deep down, I never fit in."
"Well, that's 'cause you're a freak."
"Well, I'm a freak, too. I'm right there with you, all the way."
"Yeah, I know you are."
When he comes back to bed, he curls around Dean. "I just knew." Sam's lips graze the spot between his shoulder blades, the one that tastes like salt and smells like home. "Seriously, Dean. Thirty seconds with that crazy son of a bitch, and I knew."
His fingers find Dean's amulet, and after a minute, Dean's fingers close around his. Maybe they'll talk about it again in the morning or another two hundred miles; he doesn't think so. But if they do, Sam knows the answer.
Notes: My sincere gratitude to ignipes for letting me add a little 'cest to what was a beautiful fic without. If it's no longer beautiful, that's no one's fault but mine. sanyin provided invaluable handholding and auxiliary ass-kicking. Beta by Lindsay, and thank goddess, because I've missed her, and Belinda, who kicks my ass almost as hard as Muse.
Thanks to musesfool for organizing Remix, and letting me post this fic even though it's half a month late.