Sam woke before the alarm went off. He’d slept soundly for almost eight hours which was a minor miracle. Between his own foul mood and Dean’s private party for one, which continued into the early hours, he wasn’t sure he’d get much shuteye. But the constant worrying about his brother’s mental and physical state wrung him out on a daily basis and he was exhausted. Once he’d gotten Dean back to the motel room, where he was unlikely to do anything stupid, he could finally relax. Not a word passed between them, other than Sam improvising an icepack and insisting Dean put it on his eye. He hadn’t fancied pointing out some hard truths to his brother while he was half drunk, jacked up on painkillers and riding the high of a risky, pointless fight. It could wait until morning.
Sam got up and threw on his jogging sweats. He needed a run to clear out the last cobwebs of sleep, set himself up for the day and do some thinking. Dean was sprawled on his bed, the same position he’d passed out in, porn mag spread across his chest and a whisky bottle on the nightstand. He’d made good progress into its contents. In spite of the ice, his left eye had blackened overnight and Sam sighed. That would attract the wrong kind of attention wherever they went.
Sam didn’t wake him. Mornings did not suit Dean; he was like a bear with a sore head even when he wasn’t hungover to hell. Sam decided to let him sleep for another hour or so and snapped off the alarm. On impulse he rifled through Dean’s duffle bag, carelessly tossed into a corner, and pulled out the bottle of pain meds. If Dean planned on gulping down any more of those babies, it would be under strict supervision.
He loped through woodland at a testing pace, enjoying the weak sunshine and fresh Colorado air. It was a crisp, early October morning and he found the chill air invigorating. He drew it deep into his lungs and pondered the situation as he ran. Prescription meds were a rare move on Dean’s part. His natural resilience and stubborn nature got him through most injuries picked up on a hunt, but a gunshot wound to the shoulder needed serious recovery time. The Winchesters rarely benefitted from professional medical care and this had been no different. Dean got a Bobby Singer patch up special, after the original injury was complicated by a fight. Sam didn’t remember any of it on account of having Meg the demon up inside him, and Dean passed it off as inconsequential, despite taking a physical hammering.
Bobby filled him in eventually and Sam was horrified to learn how Meg had shot his brother in Duluth then used the wound to torture him at the scrapyard. Add to that what she’d done to Steve Wandell and Sam had become a walking ball of guilt. Dean hadn’t considered it a big deal, pointed out how Sam had no control over his actions, hadn’t even been aware of them. Sam doubted Steve would be so accommodating and the thought of the hunter’s vicious, futile death was eating him up.
He felt responsible for everything these days, even the fight Dean engineered last night was on him. In the best circumstances his brother was a walking pressure cooker, a thousand supressed emotions boiling up inside and ready to blow at any moment. Factor in four weeks of relative inactivity and the mix became lethal. The brutal physicality of the hunting lifestyle was usually enough to keep Dean sane, allowed him to purge his internal demons in a way he considered legitimate. When the job didn’t fulfil his needs, all hell was likely to break loose.
While they’d been hunting steadily since Dean’s injury, and they both wanted it, Sam deliberately picked easy cases; simple salt and burns mostly. Dean needed time to heal and on the odd occasion he found something more challenging, Sam found watertight reasons to delay the job. The lack of occupational therapy had obviously gotten to his brother and some not so innocent rednecks had paid the price.
Sam could deal with that, could even deal with the subterfuge surrounding the painkillers. What he couldn’t handle was the doubt. How many pills did his brother need to get through the day? How much was the wound bothering him? Did he need proper medical care? None of those issues had been addressed when he’d accidentally found the bottle while turning out the contents of Dean’s duffel, looking for clean socks of all things. Dean had walked out the shower and been confronted with the evidence.
He’d dealt with it in typical fashion, snatched the bottle away and told Sam he was looking at a serious beat down if he ever went through his shit again. He’d stated bluntly his shoulder was fine, it wasn’t Sam’s business and they had a job to finish. So they’d ganked the ghost, driven a few towns over and checked into another motel. The only time he saw Dean take any pills was right before they went out for the evening and he figured that was okay. It had been a rough day and he was almost prepared to let the matter drop when Dean’s reckless behaviour at the bar brought all the issues back into focus.
A sign announcing the end of the forest trail loomed before him and Sam pulled up. He’d covered a lot of distance while his thoughts were occupied and he glanced at his watch. It was after 7.30; time to turn back and attempt to talk some sense into his brother.
He picked up coffee from the motel diner and took it to their room. Dean hadn’t moved in the time he’d been gone, but now he was snoring loudly. Sam slapped at his feet and placed the Styrofoam cup on the nightstand beside him.
“Wake up, Dean. It’s gone eight.”
Dean mumbled something incoherent but didn’t stir. Sam grabbed the magazine from his chest and swatted him round the head.
“I’m going to shower, there’s coffee next to you. “
Dean opened his eyes and squinted blearily. “Remind me why I’m getting up? What riveting D-lister you got lined up for today?”
Sam stared at him, irritated. “That depends how many magic pills you’ll need to pull it off.”
Dean groaned. “Can I at least get up before you start in on the self-righteous bullshit?”
He reached for the coffee and winced. “Dammit.”
Sam nodded smugly. “Shoulder’s hurting, huh? That fight must have done it the world of good.”
Dean sat up and scowled. “You weren’t complaining about the four hundred bucks I made on it.”
Sam was incredulous. “I’d rather have my brother in one piece.”
Dean grunted dismissively. “Stow it Florence, I’m good.”
Sam had heard enough. “Just drink your coffee and get ready to move.”
He went into the bathroom, locked the door and pulled the bottle of pills from his pocket. He smirked. Let’s see how good Dean felt when he couldn’t find his best buddies.
Ten minutes later he was back in the bedroom. Dean was methodically ripping his duffel bag apart, throwing its contents onto his bed. Sam rattled the bottle.
“Looking for these?”
Dean’s head whipped up and his eyes narrowed. “I told you what’d happen if you went through my shit...”
Sam wasn’t remotely scared. “I’m not saying don’t take them, just be honest with me. Does your shoulder still hurt that much? Is it tough getting through the day without them?”
Dean got right up into his face. “You are not my fucking shrink. Give me the damned pills.”
Stale whisky and body odour wasn’t a pleasant combination and Sam wrinkled his nose. “You need to shower, dude. You stink.
Dean glared and his eyes slid down to the bottle in Sam’s hand.
“When I come out, one way or another I’m taking those back.”
He left the threat hanging in the air and stalked into the bathroom. Sam packed up his stuff then sat at the table and braced himself for the fight he knew was coming. Dean was in the shower a long time. When he came out he dumped his soggy towel on the floor and rummaged through the pile of clothes on his bed.
“You know what? Keep the friggin’ pills. I don’t need them.”
Sam watched him dress, watching carefully for evidence of discomfort. Years of tending injuries had taught him exactly what to look for; subtle signs which his brother’s bravado and bullshit couldn’t hide. To his surprise though, Dean didn’t show any. His shoulder was stiff and he winced slightly as he pulled on a clean tee shirt but otherwise he seemed fine.
Dean knew he was looking. “You got a boner yet?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Most dudes like watching clothes come off.”
He sat on the bed and pulled on his boots, talking mostly to himself in a low monotone. “I don’t need pills to shower, or dress, or eat, or drive, or work a case, or win a friggin’ fight.”
Sam snorted. “Really?”
Dean straightened and his posture was hostile. “You want me to prove it?”
Sam was baffled. “If you don’t need pain meds for pain, then why?”
Dean gazed at him, considering something. Eventually he spat it out. “I like it, okay? It takes the edge off.”
Of all the things Sam was expecting him to say, it wasn’t that. “Take the edge off what?”
Dean ran his fingers through his hair. He was on unfamiliar ground and struggled to explain something which came perilously close to a genuine feeling.
“You’ve got us playing Ghostbusters when we should be ganking demons and it’s driving me nuts. One more trainer case and I swear to god I’m gonna explode. You’ve gotta believe me when I say I’m fine.”
“Dean, you always say you’re fine, even when you can barely stand.”
“Trust me on this one, I’m good.” Dean stood up and frowned, reading the worry in Sam’s eyes.
“I ain’t no tweaker, bro. Find a proper case and I won’t need the pills. Simple as.”
He began stuffing his gear into the duffel bag, dirty clothes going in right alongside clean. Sam watched, surprised by his brother’s rare bout of honesty. It explained some things, but not everything.
“If they help you simmer down, what happened last night? You were spoiling for a fight the moment we walked into that bar.”
Dean stopped packing and turned to face him.
“There’s only so much I can take, man. I mean, if I don’t get a proper workout a couple of times a week, pills or no pills something’s gotta give.”
Sam knew exactly what he meant. “You’re a physical guy, I get that. You need to blow off steam…”
Dean nodded his approval and he sounded smug. “You’re saying I’m badass.”
Sam stood up and reached for his bag. “I’m saying go use the gym, like regular people.”
"You kidding?" Dean barked out a laugh. “We’re on first name terms.” He grabbed the whiskey from the nightstand, pointed at the label and Sam sighed. He was looking at a bottle of Jim Beam. Dean stuffed it into his bag and zipped it up. He hoisted it over his shoulder.
“Are we good?”
Sam nodded. “We’re good, I guess.”
He meant it as well. Now the whole mess was out in the open, his worst fears allayed, he felt like they could move on. Dean wasn’t getting the pills back though; self-medication was off the menu.
They dumped their stuff in the car and grabbed breakfast in the diner. Sam ordered a bran muffin and ate it one handed as he trawled the net on his laptop, searching for a case which Dean would consider challenging enough. Dean was occupied with stuffing a greasy fry-up into his face and Sam knew he wouldn’t be fobbed off this time.
“Okay, we got a possible poltergeist in Missouri…”
Dean’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Seriously? If this is another ghost hunt it had better be Jesse friggin’ James.”
He had so much food in his mouth he almost spat some out. Sam was mortified and glanced round the diner, hoping nobody else had seen. Dean’s eyes widened.
Sam shook his head. “Sometimes I can’t believe we’re even related.”
“Right back atcha, muffin top.”
Sam returned to the laptop. “…an immaculate conception in Tucson, Arizona… Uh, scratch that. Make it three conceptions.”
That got Dean’s interest. “When’s Day of the Dead going down?”
Sam checked the date. “Three weeks from now.”
“Put it on the to do list. I’ve been meaning to crash that party for years.”
Dean drank coffee as Sam continued working. He drummed his fingers on the table, fidgeted in his seat and whistled until Sam could bear it no longer.
“You wanna go wait outside”
Dean’s face was a picture of virtue. “I’m good.”
He was beckoning the waitress for another refill when his cell phone rang. He smirked and slid out of the booth.
“Guess it’s your lucky day, huh?”
He wasn’t gone long and when he came back his manner had changed from plain irritating to full-on wired.
“Saddle up, bro. That was Bobby.”
He slapped a road map on the table and pored over it.
“Two hunters got a vamp nest locked down in North Platt, Nebraska. They need our help.”
His finger traced the delicate network of roads from Alban Springs to the new location.
“If we shag ass we’ll be there around one. Break up the slumber party and have us a little gank fest. What do you say?”
Sam packed his laptop away. “I say let’s do it, if you’re sure it’s what you want.”
“Are you kidding?” Dean turned his face skywards and held his arms out wide.
“This is a gift from heaven.”