debbiel66: (Winchesters sleeping)
[personal profile] debbiel66
Title: This Waking Life
Author: [livejournal.com profile] debbiel66
Word Count: 4600
Genre: gen
Rating: R (language)
Warnings: Spoilers through 6X11; AU from that point on
Author's Notes: Enormous thanks to my talented beta, [livejournal.com profile] callistosh65.

This is a companion to my story, The New Normal, but the original story doesn’t necessarily need to be read to understand this one.

Summary: Ever since he got his soul back, Sam can’t stay awake long enough to remember what he remembers.




This Waking Life



Sam wakes up cold, shivering, and inexplicably wet. It’s a little like being born again, but not in the good way that people usually talk about. It’s more like the first birth—the real birth—where the womb spits you out naked into a terrifying and florescent-lit world.

It would really and truly suck, except for the fact that no matter where or how Sam wakes up, Dean is always there.

If there are rules to this new life he’s fallen into, nobody has bothered to explain them to him, and Sam can’t stay awake long enough to figure them out on his own. Waking up is always confusing. For one thing, he rarely wakes up in bed. He’s usually hungry or cold or kind of wounded, and he’s always confused and a little sad. It’s not like anyone would blame him for being on edge.

This time, Sam wakes up soaking wet, with drool running down his neck, with his face smashed against the car window. His head aches, and he feels vaguely hung over.

Dean glances over, smiles. “Hey, dude—you’re awake. You okay?” Dean sounds relaxed, but Sam can hear the concern rocking each and every word.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Sam mumbles, even though he feels anything but. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

Dean shrugs. “You need your sleep…growing boy and all.”

“Shut up, jerk,” Sam mumbles absent-mindedly and leans his head back against the window.

Dean means well, but Sam wishes he could take the time to clear his head. It’s not that he’s ungrateful for the company. For reasons he doesn’t entirely understand, being alone is something that scares Sam worse than the job ever could. Sam just wishes he could figure out what is going on.

Every time he’s awake, Sam has been working his own case—dissecting the details and looking for patterns, searching for clues. The problem is he can barely stay awake long enough to take stock of his surroundings, let alone figure out what it all means.

For now, he sticks with the basics. He’s in the Impala with Dean—that part is easy—but it’s pouring outside, and he could swear the sun was just shining. He’s really wet and uncomfortable, so he shifts in his seat, trying to detach his sodden jeans from his legs, when a sudden pain startles him. He looks down and for the first time, notices that his hand is bandaged. It’s carefully wrapped, Dean’s signature handiwork, but blood is seeping through. Sam studies it like it belongs to someone else.

“Still bleeding?” Dean asks, keeping his eyes on the road.

Sam notes that Dean is white-knuckling the steering wheel. “What happened? How’d I get this?”

“What do you remember?”

Sam resists the urge to put his hurt hand through the window because that’s the problem. Ever since he woke up for the first time, weeks ago at Bobby’s house, Sam can’t even remember what he remembers.

His waking life has broken into shards like a funhouse mirror. Occasionally, Sam catches a glimpse of memory, but little more. He remembers some of it. He remembers falling backward along with Michael but he doesn’t remember Hell. He only knows what Dean and Bobby told him, how Death made a deal and then pulled his soul out.

It makes no sense to Sam.

Dean just tells him not to worry about it. Says if Sam doesn’t remember Hell, Dean can remember for both of them. There’s something about the way Dean pleads with him, when Sam starts asking questions…

Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don’t wanna know.

Dean just wants to protect him. Sam knows that. But Sam’s not sure he can live like this, not knowing whether he can stay awake long enough to brush his teeth, let alone hold a complete conversation.

He considers his bloody hand and sighs. “How did I get hurt?”

Dean bites his lip. “You remember the poltergeist thing don’t you, the one with the pissed off machinist?”

Thinking hard, Sam does remember. It was a straightforward job—anyone could handle it, but they were in the area, and Sam did want to keep busy, do some good where they could. But they hadn’t even packed up. The last Sam remembered, Dean was taking their clothes to the laundromat.

“Dean, how long was I asleep?” Sam asks incredulously.

“Not that long.” Dean begins drumming his hands on the wheel. “You were awake for most of it. Don’t you remember that sonofabitch throwing the drill bit at you?”

Sam shakes his head. He doesn’t remember that at all.

“Yeah well, guess you forgot to duck. But you did get your hands in front of your face.” Dean grins, much like the proud parent he’s always been.

But Sam doesn’t remember, and that’s not good. “Dean, I could have gotten you killed. Did I…did I just fall asleep?” He doesn’t add, on the job because it’s still inconceivable. Dad would have killed him for the thought of it alone…sleeping on the job.

“It’s okay, Sammy. You just gotta get your sea-legs back. You’ll be back to normal before you know it.”

Sam frowns. Dean is acting like he’s not taking this seriously, but Sam knows he’s covering. The real question is why, and Sam is about to ask him, when his eyes start feeling heavy all over again.

No. Not yet. Sam needs to ask his questions. He needs to know what’s going on, but instead, he’s going down fast.

“Dean, please tell me,” he implores, struggling to keep his eyes open. “What’s wrong with me?”

Dean cusses under his breath and pulls over to the side of the road. Sam is fighting it off, but it’s like holding his breath underwater. He feels the sickening pressure building in his chest and behind his eyes. He’s got seconds left, not minutes. He lets his head drop down to his chest.

Dean has both hands on Sam’s shoulders, and Sam can barely make out the words.

Sammy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I got you, I won’t let anything happen to you.

Sam is sliding sideways and against his brother’s chest. He can sleep. Dean’s got him. Dean has always been the faithful voice in the dark, urging him away from the edge of the cliff, but never so much as now. Sam closes his eyes and sleeps.


***



Dean is screaming. There is no worse sound in the world.

Sam doesn’t have time to wake up slowly. Heart pounding, he startles awake and immediately starts assessing the situation. It’s pitch black, the middle of night, and he has no idea where he is. Sam knows one thing though—he needs to stay down, find his brother.

“Dean,” he whispers desperately, but there’s no answer. Dean isn’t screaming any more.

Staying low to the ground so as not to provide an obvious target, Sam assesses his surroundings, not easy to do in the dark. He sees treetops, dark tangles against a starry sky. It’s cold, really cold, but not the kind that can kill you unless you’re out in it all night. There’s a cold wind blowing…Sam is wearing his jacket but not a hat, and he feels wet pine needles and dirt against his ungloved hands.

Dean suddenly groans. That’s good…he’s nearby. Sam reaches around, feels nothing but leaves and pine needles. Calls out Dean’s name again.

“Over here.” Dean’s voice is rough but clear. Belly to the ground, Sam scrabbles in his brother’s direction.

A few feet forward and his hand gropes worn flannel. Sam gets up onto his knees, running his hands over Dean’s body, checking for injury. It isn’t hard to find the problem. Dean’s shoulder feels like it’s been chewed up. The skin is torn apart and gaping open. Sam has no idea what could have caused this. All knows for sure is there is too much blood.

Sam yanks off his own jacket and balls it up to press it against the wound. His own hands are steady, even though his heart is pounding in his chest.

“What did this, Dean? Where is it? Did you kill it?”
.
Dean grabs hold of his arm so hard it hurts. “Sam, get it, you gotta kill it, it’s coming.”

What’s coming, Sam wants to ask. But then, in the shifting shadows of the forest, he sees it. Whatever it is, Sam is sure of two things—it’s not human and it’s coming at them wendigo-fast.

Dean startles him by thrusting the shotgun into his hands. Sam wonders how he didn’t notice the gun. For once in his life, he doesn’t ask questions but grabs hold of the shotgun and tries to find his target. But it’s too dark; he can’t be sure he’s aiming right.

“Fuck, Sam! Just shoot the freakin’ thing.”

Sam squints into the darkness, thinks he sees movement in the trees. He has no idea what he’s shooting at, but Dean knows, and that’s enough. Sam does his best to get the shadow in his sight, and with a steady hand, he squeezes the trigger.

There is a horrible, guttural scream and the unnatural stench of sulfur in the air. It turns his stomach, and it’s all he can do not to retch from the awful memory it carries with it. But Dean is reaching for him, patting him on the leg, even as sympathy death wails echo through the forest. Sam finds his jacket and balls it up again, putting pressure on the wound. “You’re okay, you’re okay,” he murmurs, knowing full well it means absolutely nothing. He knows how bad this is.

But Dean puts his hand over Sam’s. “Good shooting, Sammy,” he says weakly, but Sam can hear the pride in it.

Sam has no time for this. “Hold on, Dean, you gotta hold on,” he pleads, checking both their pockets for a phone, anything that can help them. How the hell did they get out here? “Where are we, Dean? I need coordinates. Do you have your phone? Where the hell is your phone?” His hand is slippery with blood. Dean’s shoulder is awash with it.

“Elfin Forest,” Dean mumbles. “You fell asleep. Had to go find the freakin’ thing, leave you behind. Sorry. Gotta keep you safe, Sammy.”

Sam knows that Dean doesn’t mean it as a reproach, but that’s how he takes it.

“I’m sorry, Dean, I’m sorry,” he babbles, even while he considers their options. They have no phones, no supplies that Sam can make out in the dark. They could be in any Elfin Forest. He doesn’t even know where they parked the car.

They are so very, very screwed.

“It’s okay,” Dean says under his breath. “None of this is your fault, Sammy.”

Sam is pretty sure some of this is his fault. “Shut up, Dean,” he says gently.

He rests his hand on Dean’s forehead and notes that it’s cool and clammy. Dean is already going into shock, and Sam has to do something. But he doesn’t want to leave his brother alone, not with creepy evil things still keening in the woods. Nothing good ever comes from looking for help from above, but Sam is a desperate man.

He looks around, weighs his options, and finds that he has none. Dean has even fewer. He sighs and looks upward.

Raising his face to the night sky, Sam shouts, “Cas! Help us…we need you! Please!”

Dean turns his face into Sam’s shirt, while rubbing his hand up and down Sam’s leg, like he’s trying to comfort him. “Big man on campus…Cas can’t be bothered.”

Sam wants to tell Dean to screw that. He’ll make a deal with anyone—angel or demon—as long as someone helps them. He reaches for Dean’s pulse, and it’s present but thready. Dean is fading fast—Sam knows that.

But that’s when Sam realizes that he is fading even faster. He feels the profound weariness gathering. No, no, no, no. This cannot be happening.

Even in the dark, Dean knows. “It’s okay, Sammy. Really. It’s all right.” He knows that Sam is falling asleep again, while he is dying in the woods.

Sam sobs because it’s too much. He needs to fight it off, save his brother. As a kid, he used to dig his nails into his palms to stay awake during stakeouts, but this is going to take more.

Sam eases Dean to the ground and reaches for the knife he keeps in his ankle sheath. He tugs it out and rolls up his own sleeve, biting his lip, so he won’t make a sound when he does this.

But even though he’s weakening quickly, Dean tries grabbing for the knife. “What the hell are you doing?”

Determined, Sam pulls away and angles the knife so it cuts diagonally across his own forearm. The pain is immediate and welcome. Sam wills it to do the trick and keep him awake just a little bit longer.

“Sam? Sammy?”

Dean sounds desperate, but it’s too late. The pain isn’t working.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam whispers. His cheeks are wet. He hadn’t realized he was still crying.

So Sam lies down on the ground, feels dirt and needles underneath his neck, and he pulls Dean close, fits himself around his brother, trying to protect him. With Dean’s back pressed to his chest, he tries to keep pressure on the wound, hoping his body will know what to do, once his mind is gone.

“Sammy?” Dean’s voice is growing weaker.

Sam doesn’t answer. Instead, he closes his eyes, knowing he has failed. He saved the fucking world, but can’t save his brother. It isn’t fair.

Sam prays he doesn’t wake up.


***


Sam wakes up to the sound of Dean yelling. But immediately, he recognizes that Dean is pissed, not in pain. It very well may be the sweetest sound he has ever heard.

Sam opens his eyes slowly and tries to take stock. He’s at Bobby’s, Dean’s alive, and his arm hurts. Huh. He lifts it up and sees it’s been bandaged. He doesn’t want to think about how that must have gone over. But Sam doesn’t care…it was worth the attempt, and they’re both alive.

“You’re an idiot, and that’s the truth,” Bobby growls at Dean.

Sam lifts his head, just enough to see what’s going on. No wonder no one has noticed he’s woken up. They’re across the room—Bobby, Dean, and disconcertingly, Cas—and they’re preoccupied. Dean looks like crap, but at least, he’s standing up. He’s alive. Alive is good. Alive is more than he could have hoped for. Sam allows his head to drop back onto the couch.

“You tell me what to do then,” Dean says angrily. “You know everything. Fine. Tell me what I do next.”

“Stop hunting, that’s what I’m telling you. Stop hunting until Sam is better.”

“Like it’s that easy,” Dean retorts, slamming his fist against the wall. Sam winces.

“Nothing about this is easy, least of all, hauling your two sorry asses out of certain death every other day,” Bobby fires back.

Castiel frowns. “The rescue was actually quite easy, compared to leading legions of disgruntled cherubs into battle.”

Bobby snorts, and Dean softens his voice. “C’mon Bobby, it’s good for Sam to get back to normal. You know that.”

“Pretending he’s normal isn’t going to change the fact that that Sam needs help. He’s damaged, son.”

Dean gets right in Bobby’s face. “Don’t you dare talk about him like that. Sam threw himself down that hole for all of us. Every single one of us. Don’t you think he deserves more than being shipped off to some asylum for used up vessels for the devil?”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it!”

Castiel offers quietly, “It might not be a bad idea to search for a suitable facility,” and then Bobby and Dean both start yelling at him and at each other.

It occurs to Sam that closing his eyes might not be the worst idea right about now. Dad always said that feigned sleep was a useful weapon in the presence of your enemies. Sam is surrounded by good intentions, not enemies, but everyone who loves him is trying to protect him. Sam doesn’t need protection—he needs the truth.

So Sam closes his eyes and lets his body relax… forces his breathing to go deep and steady. Playing possum for a few minutes won’t hurt anyone. Not if it gives Sam the information he needs to sort this thing out.

Dean is shouting again. “I knew what I was fucking doing. I had the situation under control.”

“You almost got yourself killed.”

“You had already lost 3.4 pints of blood when I found you,” Castiel offers.

“Well you put it all back in me, so what’s the problem?” Dean retorts, obviously exasperated. “Sam’s still a hunter, Bobby. Even under the best of circumstances, accidents happen. It’s part of the risk we all take. Besides, he shot the hell out of that revenant. He was awesome. You should have seen him…he was just fine until he…”

And then Dean hesitates.

“Until he fell asleep,” Castiel finishes for him.

Anger seemingly gone, Dean asks, “He’ll be okay, won’t he, Cas? Sammy’s just …tired. That’s all.”

“Sam is damaged,” Castiel says flatly, and Sam knows that this is the truth, more than when Bobby said it.

“You could fix him,” Dean mutters, and the fact he doesn’t argue this time speaks volumes.

Castiel’s voice lowers to a growl, “I already told you. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“You coward,” Dean accuses, “the least you could do is try.”

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

“He’s not better. If you tried, he’d be better!”

“I’m glad you have such apparent faith in my abilities, but I cannot work miracles, Dean.”

Sam is well aware that if Cas can’t fix him, then he’s pretty much screwed. It’s not like they have other volunteers in Heaven or Hell who would be willing to try.

Bobby says, “Back off, Dean. Castiel saved you and Sam, and you should be glad he doesn’t just smite your ass for the hell of it.”

“My temperance has been tested,” Castiel says a little huffily. Forgetting that he’s supposed to be asleep, Sam smiles.

“Sammy?” Sam hears Dean’s familiar footsteps, feels a rough hand on his forehead. “He’s still cold.”

Castiel says, “He had taken off his jacket and was borderline hypothermic when I found the two of you.”

“Will he be okay?” Dean sounds so worried, so sad. He never sounds like this when Sam’s awake.

“His body will heal. I cannot say the same for his soul.”

Unable to help himself, Sam flinches. He is pretty sure Dean is leaning over him now. He can smell the whiskey on his breath. “Sam?”

He’s caught. Sam knows he might as well open his eyes and surrender, and he’s about to. That’s when he feels it…the familiar wave of drowsiness crashing over him. But there’s something else this time…something he can’t quite explain or put into words.

I cannot say the same for his soul.

His soul. That’s got to be the answer—some kind of soul-sickness. Maybe his body is rejecting his soul, after being separate for so long. It’s absurd, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be true. The answer has to be somewhere…it’s like everyone else has read a story written in letters too big for him to make out from his own perspective. All he sees are the fuzzy gray lines of the characters and the spaces in between. There’s got to be a way…

He feels Dean’s hands gripping his shoulders tightly. “Bobby, come here. He’s shaking.”

But Sam is falling off the map. Here be monsters, but this time, they are all inside his head. Sam tries to open his eyes, but he’s already falling apart, falling asleep, maybe he’s just falling.

“C’mon, Sam. Wake up.” Dean shakes him roughly, but Sam couldn’t open his eyes if he wanted to. He’s run out of time.

Ten, nine, eight…

He hears the countdown in his head, like waiting for sedation to take effect. Sam never makes it to seven.


***



When Sam wakes up, Dean is singing. It’s so unexpected, he wonders if he’s dreaming. But Sam doesn’t dream any more, which has turned out to be the shining lining in all this.

Sam blinks himself into awareness. He’s back in the car again, back with Dean. His neck is stiff, but other than that, he feels okay. He looks down at his arm and sees there’s no bandage. Enough time must have passed for him to heal. There’s an open leather-bound book lying on his lap.

It’s the most convincing evidence he has that he’s not just losing time while asleep—he’s also losing time while he’s awake. Sam had been concerned about this before. He doesn’t remember doing the research, but he found printouts about “absence seizures” folded at the bottom of his duffel. Losing time is bad enough. Sam is beginning to suspect that he’s losing his mind as well.

“Hey Sammy, you’re up.” Dean is looking at him, a pleased smile on his face. “You hungry? Wanna get lunch?”

Sam has no idea if he should be hungry or not. For all he knows, he ate an hour ago. “I could eat,” he says because he knows that’s what Dean wants him to say. “How long was I out?”

Dean looks straight ahead, and Sam knows he asked the wrong thing. “A while, but not too long. It’s getting better, dude. You just gotta give it time.”

Sam is pretty sure he’s getting worse, not better. But he looks down at the book on his lap. It’s open to a chapter titled, “Demon Transactions.” Sam snorts. He and Dean could have written that one. “Is this what we’re working on? Another demon deal?”

Dean shrugs and the frown eases a little. “Some asshole Little League coach made a deal to win some game. I swear Sam, demons are making more and more sense to me the older I get, but I’ll never understand people.”

Sam notices they’re both wearing suits. He hopes he managed to dress himself at least. “What’s our cover?”

Dean cracks a grin. “FBI agents. You’re Scully, by the way.”

“Asshole.” But Sam smiles back because he can’t help it…he loves it when Dean gets happy like this. But he’s not following the logic. “If the Little League coach already made the deal, then why are we pursuing it? A deal’s a deal. It’s not like we could change anything.”

Dean gives him a strange look. “You were the one who insisted on trying. I said we were wasting our time.”

Oh.

“I guess that sounds like me,” Sam says hesitantly because he’s really not sure. At least, it least, it used to sound like him, a couple lifetimes and an apocalypse ago.

Dean slugs him on the arm. “Of course, that sounds like you, bleeding-heart boy.”

Sam used to be that boy, the little brother that Dean loves. But these days, he’s not so sure there’s any use in trying to save the lost.

And the thing is that Sam wants to know why that’s changed. He needs to know what happened to him. Not only for his sake but also for Dean’s, Sam is going to figure it out. Sam needs to know if he’s a danger to his brother.

Sam is nothing if not persistent. If he works at this—really, really tries—if he pushes with his mind as hard as he can, maybe he can catch a glimpse. Sam closes his eyes and concentrates.

He smells the hint of decay first, an insinuation of the grave, but it’s not the first death Sam is smelling. If he only digs a little deeper, he can figure out what’s buried inside him and then….

“Sam?”

This time, the abyss gives him no warning. By the time he opens his mouth to answer, he is already gone.


***


There is something ridiculously comforting about waking up in a real bed. Sam is at Bobby’s, and moonlight is streaming through an open window, cutting angles of light across the darkened room.

Stretching, Sam rolls over and bumps into Dean. It’s not a surprise. Dean has taken to sleeping in the same bed, like they used to when they were kids, and it’s a lot less awkward than it should be.

Sam shoves at Dean a little. He knows Dean doesn’t like it when Sam wakes up and doesn’t tell him.

“Sammy?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

Dean scrubs at his eyes. Sam can tell he was really asleep for once. “Cool. You hungry?”

Sam is about to say he’s all right, when he suddenly realizes he’s starving. Sheepishly, he grins. “I’m a little hungry.”

“You want grilled cheese? I can make it quick, no problem.”

Nobody has ever made grilled cheese for Sam like Dean does….not Dad, not even Jess. Not a single diner they’ve ever eaten at in any state. Dean knows exactly how he likes it…white bread with two slices of cheese and so much butter it soaks through and drips onto the plate.

“Grilled cheese would be good,” Sam says.

“Grilled cheese would be awesome,” Dean clarifies and elbows Sam hard, catching him in the ribs.

Sam grunts and laughs, but he hesitates, even after Dean rolls out of bed. For once, he isn’t the least bit tired. For once, he’s also not worried about what’s wrong with him or why he’s sleeping so much or why his life has gone sideways and off the tracks and to hell in a hand basket all at the same time. He doesn’t care that he’s running out of metaphors for how fucked up he is.

He’s just happy to be here.

Dean is leaning against the doorframe. “You coming?”

Sam knows he really should try and work on the enigma that is his head right now, while he’s actually thinking clearly. But what Sam wants more than anything is to follow Dean into Bobby’s kitchen and sit at the table while Dean makes him his sandwich. He wants to eat every last bit of it and admit, it doesn’t suck, when Dean asks if he likes it. Sam wants Dean to say, you know it, bitch, looking insufferably pleased with himself, while Sam licks every drop of melted butter off his fingers.

Screw the state of his soul. It can wait.

“Yeah,” Sam says. “I’m getting up.”

This waking life is ephemeral, but whatever is buried inside him is not. Sam knows himself—he’ll get to the bottom of it—given enough time. But for now, he’s going to eat grilled cheese sandwiches with his brother.

Dean flicks the lights on as they go, and Sam follows him down the stairs and into the gathering dark.


The End


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