The Dream Catcher
The Dream Catcher
It felt like a flashback, walking in on him like that. Sam was perched on the unsteady pressed wood table drinking his fourth beer and wearing an expression just as dark as the shadows that slashed the paper on the motel walls. The day was fading, and Dean had gone out for a while to check in with Bobby, to see if Castiel had tried to find him, and to, hell, to make sure birds were still flying, flowers were growing and there was oxygen flowing outside the tense and heavy air of the crammed space with the usual two queens. Dean sighed internally when he remembered a hotel and a time when Sam's worst fear had been turning. Into what, he wasn't sure, just turning into something he wasn't. Escaping their destiny, what a joke. Looking back now, Dean couldn't say he had done a great job watching out for his little brother.
Sam barely lifted his eyes when Dean entered, but Dean didn't try to meet his gaze either. He wasn't mad at him, not really. At least, not anymore. But things were still weird and strained between them. Sam had been silent all day, and he wasn't giving any sign of wanting Dean's conversation, company or concern. That, honestly, grated on Dean's nerves, because he was the first to admit things weren't alright, but at least he was trying to fix them. For both of them. He had tried to make Sam talk, eat, rest. He had thrown every olive branch he could think of after dragging them out of the crumbling church, and yet Sam hadn't reacted to any of it.
What did Sam want from him?
"So this is how it's gonna be?" he asked into the air, closing the door behind him with a last, wary glance outside. "You should know better."
It came out harsher than he intended, or that's what he told himself. The truth was that despite some opinions to the contrary, Dean was no saint, and when he was edgy he could bite like the best of them. Fleeing from the church as if ―because― the devil was on their tails had left him with a bitter feeling of helpless frustration that overpowered even his fear. Dean Winchester wasn't used to running, and it didn't sit well with him, even if it had been the only thing they could do at the time.
"Better than what?" Sam croaked.
His voice was rough, husky, and slightly defiant. Dean turned to him and shook his head irritably. Sam nursed his bottle with his eyes fixed on some undefined point on the floor and his frame poised in a fuck if I care attitude that just wasn't like him. Dean hated the feeling of looking at his brother and not being sure he still recognized him.
"Drinking is not going to solve anything," Dean stated, chewing on the burning irony of too many flasks emptied at night, when nightmares about Hell became especially vivid and his own perfect mask of stoicism cracked. "Lucifer is out there, Sam. Bobby says half of the underworld is going nuts across the country, and I don't even know if Cas is still around. At the very least I need you sober, don't you think?"
Dean didn't know where all that heat had come from, only that he was wiped out, strung out and too nervous to try to be sensitive. Sam wanted to be a jerk? Fine. Dean had tried. Dean had forgiven him. It didn't mean that the events of the last days didn't hurt, because they did and pretty much all the time. But he was ready to move on. Everybody could be fooled if they were desperate enough, and Sam had been more than desperate when Ruby had latched onto him like a poisonous snake. Part of that despair was on Dean, he was well aware of it, and he had apologized too.
So when did Sam plan to forgive him?
"Believe me, Dean. I know all that," Sam said in a hollow voice that gave nothing away.
Dean frowned, leaned against the wall, and studied Sam from his position by the door. He had kept some distance between them, because he had fully expected Sam to snap at his previous comment, which had been condescending, judgemental and just plain unfair in a way that would have ticked off the little brother he once knew. And yet, Sam hadn't moved a muscle or given any sign of emotion whatsoever, and that left Dean annoyed and unsure of his next step.
"Then what the Hell—"
"I know what's out there," Sam cut him off, finally raising his eyes.
Dean held his breath at the profound misery in his brother's gaze. Even if his expression was blank and his body language spoke of lassitude, his eyes were clear and incredibly sad.
"I know what I've done, and I know we have to stop it," Sam continued. "I'm not going to back down from it. I don't want to forget it. I just—" He trailed off when his voice cracked at the edges and it was obvious he was feeling overcome by guilt and Dean's previous animosity towards him. "I just don't want to think about it tonight. Just tonight." He finished with a whisper and looked down.
Before Dean could find his voice, Sam made a point of emptying the bottle and putting it back on the table with a clank. Afterwards, he only looked more dejected. Sam didn't find any measure of fun in drinking, as Dean sometimes did. Sam only drank ―like, drink for real― very rarely, when he was honest to God overwhelmed by something. Dean knew it and had witnessed a few times before the slow, meticulous way Sam searched for some peace in the haze of alcohol. Although he knew it wasn't a good sign, the older hunter could empathise. He unconsciously let out a sigh and his brother tightened his grip on the empty bottle. When his jaw worked and his eyes shone, Dean understood two things: that Sam would stop drinking if he asked him to.
And that Sam was begging him please, oh, please, not to ask.
Sam had always respected his moods when Dean was dealing with something, had stood by him when he stumbled and never gave him crap when he found his release in drinking, or in listening to loud music, or in banging women. Okay, he did give him some crap about that, but they were brothers after all, and he knew when Sam wasn't serious.
They were brothers, and he could give Sam a night.
"Okay," Dean said.
Sam looked up with guarded eyes.
"Okay?" he asked tentatively.
Despite the empty beers laid out in front of him, Sam had never looked more like a child, his child, than in that moment.
"Yeah." Dean shrugged and walked purposely towards his duffle bag to rummage inside. "But if we're going to get wasted," he finally found what he was looking for and stood up with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a triumphant grin, "we better do it like real men!"
At a loss for words, Sam just stared at him for a few seconds.
You're not drinking alone, little brother.
"You...You want to drink with me?" Sam finally asked in a tone laced with a note of disbelief and some other emotion as strong as it was hard to identify.
Dean didn't like the way Sam referred to himself as someone Dean shouldn't even be looking at, not to mention drinking with. Sam may not believe him right now, but getting him back could be the one good thing that had come out of the entire mess, and Dean wasn't giving him up. Without Sam, Dean didn't think he would have even tried to make it out the church alive.
"Why? You think you can beat me?" Dean shot back good-naturedly, as he sat down next to Sam, placed the bottle on the table, and grabbed himself a glass.
You're not alone. Period.
Sam gaped as Dean poured their glasses half-full and make his swirl as if he had nothing better to do. The younger man's face was still doubtful, but the previous blankness of his expression was melting into something akin to hope. Sam hadn't looked needy very often in the last months, and it struck a chord in Dean that he would never be able to bury completely. Luckily so, or he wouldn't have survived in the pit past the first year.
"You w-want to have a drinking contest?"
Sam was still trying to make sense of the situation, and Dean had to smile, because it was probably pretty surreal. But who knew when they would ever have time again for something so frivolous? As a matter of fact, who knew if they'd be alive at all come the following morning?
"You gotta have some kind of chance for it to be a contest, Sammy. I can drink you under the table anytime," Dean said smugly.
Sam blinked at him, and his chin trembled subtly.
No, kiddo. Don't cry, c'mon. We're almost there.
Sam bit his bottom lip and swallowed hard for a minute, while breathing deeply. Finally he shook his head with a snort and mumbled, "Sure, you step in when I'm four beers ahead. That's hardly fair, man."
Dean huffed a laugh and arched an eyebrow at his brother.
"Well, tough. Didn't you have superpowers now? Maybe you're less of a lightweight."
Sam froze with his hand around the whiskey glass, but Dean kept his ground, kept his face a mask of innocence. He had the feeling that somehow they needed to do this, needed to be able to mention Sam's abilities without choking on them, even now. If they wanted to be brothers again, walking on eggshells around the other wasn't going to cut it. Joking was the best way Dean had, because it was how he tried to deal with most things. But when Sam swallowed again, and his eyes misted over, Dean feared he had blown it, because it wasn't Sam's way and maybe he had gone too far, too soon.
But then Sam surprised him by giving a short laugh.
"Whatever, Dean, you're so on." Sam smiled shakily.
There was still something uncertain in their teasing, but that was fine. Sam had relaxed visibly. And, yeah, it absolutely wasn't a sensible idea for both of them to get wasted at the same time, because it meant letting their guard down without someone having their backs, but fuck it. Sam needed this and now that Dean had set his mind to it, he realized he kind of needed it too.
"Bottom's up!" he encouraged Sam happily.
He downed his drink in one gulp, and Sam did the same, spurting half of it. He started to cough the minute he finished, and Dean burst into laughter at the sight of his brother's grimace.
Once a lightweight, always a lightweight.
It was just as well, because he was going to drink Sam under the table. Dean had always tolerated alcohol better, and this time his "gift" would serve to make sure he could take care of Sam.
Three whiskeys later, they had found their rhythm, which meant that Dean felt warm, relaxed and slightly buzzed, and Sam was all over the place, blabbering nonsense with a voice both slurred and intense. He talked as if telling Dean about this or that was the only thing that mattered in the world. He was fun to watch, because it was as if he had regressed a couple of decades. Sam acting like a kid was absolutely caused by the alcohol, and definitely had nothing to do with Dean wanting that kid back. No way. Not at all. So what if he found Sam's behaviour oddly comforting? That had nothing to do with it either.
It was all due to the alcohol.
All in all, Dean was happy he had decided to sit and just let his brother be for a while. This Sam held no resemblance to the shell-shocked man Dean had pulled from the church, or the angsty shadow that had barely said a word to him all day. If he hadn't stayed with him, Sam would have drunk himself into oblivion, but he wouldn't have been in a happy place. With Dean, who had expertly banished the topics of Lucifer, Ruby, and the fate of the world when his brother attempted to bring them up, Sam looked like he was enjoying himself. The older Winchester knew it was a mirage; in the morning Sam would feel like crap again, not only emotionally but physically as well. They would still be responsible for raising Hell on Earth, and it would still be up to them to stop it.
Yes, together, motherfuckers.
They would be back to square one. Or maybe not. Maybe they'd be closer and edging into one and a half. Dean would take it. Even if he was a little short on faith, he could still hope. Because hope was the person in front of him, and Dean wasn't losing him again.
The younger hunter clumsily refilled their glasses and took a gulp from his. Contest long forgotten, Dean barely wet his lips with the contents of his own glass. Sam's eyes weren't really focused anymore, and he sat half slumped on his chair. He felt warm where their knees touched and where their shoulders brushed against each other, and he was tilting slightly towards Dean. It was clear he was already going downhill, and Dean planned to keep himself as sober as possible to cushion the fall.
"Four whiskeys, Sammy. Not bad!" He teased, to keep the moment. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"It's Sam," the younger hunter mumbled.
Dean bit back a laugh. Sam was flushed, sounded totally smashed, and was way past giving a fuck about anything. Yet he just had to correct his pet-name. Unable to stop himself, Dean patted him on the shoulder.
"Deeean!" Sam protested.
His whining voice threw Dean into another fit of laughter. It was pretty silly, but he was half in the bag after all. The vibrations made Sam lean into Dean some more, even as he shook his head weakly in drunken annoyance.
"You're a jerk," Sam muttered, and finished his drink.
Dean immediately sobered up and looked up to find Sam smiling softly and staring at Dean's untouched fourth drink.
"Does that mean I win?"
Dean was a hunter, a brother, and a guy so he wouldn't try to deny that his first instinct was to rise to the challenge and down the whiskey as if it was water. But he resisted the urge to turn to Sam with his own version of dare written in smug eyes and arched eyebrows. Sam looked amused, so young and eager when he met his big brother's gaze, that Dean found it wasn't hard to fight against his nature.
"Yeah, Sammy. You win."
Sam's smile widened and then trembled a bit. He certainly didn't win very often. Younger than Dean and at odds with John, normal had eluded him and the supernatural had betrayed him over and over again. It was a miracle he was still what he was; it was a miracle they were still standing.
The younger man reached for the bottle again but then faltered and closed his eyes with a dizzy, half-surprised grunt. Barely inches from him, Dean couldn't help but notice the slight sway Sam experienced when he tilted his head back and pulled in a breath.
"You good there?"
Sam nodded almost imperceptibly, although he didn't open his eyes and just kept breathing, deep and regular, as he licked his lips. Dean grimaced sympathetically when he noticed the greenish hue his brother's paper white skin had taken.
"You gonna be sick?"
Dean had orchestrated the drinking session so that it went slow and neither one of them would have to hurl, but you could never know how these things went in the end. A brief shake of head stopped Dean from dragging his brother to the bathroom. When Sam opened his eyes again, he did it slowly and only half-way. His eyes were shiny and blurred and Dean wondered if his brother could actually see anything anymore. He got his answer when Sam reached out for the bottle again with an unsteady hand that Dean caught mid-air. He pinned his brother's hand on the table with a gentle squeeze of his right hand, while taking the bottle away with his left.
"I think you've had enough, man," he said, with a smile in his voice.
Sam had recovered a bit of color after his dizzy spell, but his hand felt clammy under Dean's. The younger Winchester made an undefined sound of protest that Dean forced himself not to think of as a whimper. If he did his own damaged walls would crack even more.
"Not yet," Sam said, swallowing hard. "I'm still conscious."
Dean sighed and gave in to a primal instinct to squeeze Sam's hand again. His brother pursed his lips and took his eyes from the bottle of Jack to fix it on their laced hands in a way that made Dean feel self-conscious. Still, he was unable to pull away.
"Sam, you're going to be out like a light the second you hit the pillow," Dean offered reasonably.
"I don't want to sleep," Sam replied. "I want to pass out." And before Dean had time to process those words, he added, "You don't dream when you pass out."
So that was what his brother feared. Nightmares, probably fuelled with loads of new material, courtesy of Heaven and Hell. Dean could barely remember his last dreamless night, and there had been times when he would have given an arm not to be tortured by visions of the past or fears for the future. Nightmares had always hit Sam harder, so he had an idea of how desperately his little brother wanted to fend off the dreams, at least for one night.
"Sammy—" Dean muttered sadly, then let his voice drop. As much as he hated it, he honest-to-God couldn't find anything to say that could possibly make things better.
"Do you remember that dream catcher you made me once?" Sam asked abruptly, turning towards him.
Dean was taken aback by the sudden question and the wistful shine in his brother's eyes.
"Yeah, I…I guess?"
"You made it for me because I kept dreaming about all kind of monsters and stuff. I was—"
"Ten," Dean completed. Sam had had a pretty rough time after that Christmas when Dean had told him what their father did. "It was the first one I made. It was pretty ugly." Dean finished with a self-derisive smile.
"It worked," Sam said, looking down. "I missed it in Stanford."
Dean frowned in surprise, because he didn't know that Sam had had nightmares in Stanford. At least, he had never spoken about them. Sam used to talk about Stanford when they were first reunited. Not much, but he had made comments here and there. However, he hadn't mentioned that time at all, not once, in the last year. Stanford. Jess. They sounded like a lifetime ago. Dean wondered if Sam still thought about her from time to time.
He wondered if he had thought about her when he was with Ruby, and he immediately felt ashamed.
"I kept it," Dean heard himself saying. "The dream catcher. When you left, I kept it."
Sam blinked at him, intent through the alcoholic veil.
Dean shrugged, uncomfortably.
"Well, you said it worked. It could be useful some time."
"Do you still have it?"
"Nope. It broke a year later. Sorry."
He wouldn't tell Sam that what he was saying wasn't exactly true. That actually, Dean had broken it in a fit, after a fight with John over a brother he had heard nothing from in months. He had gotten really wasted that day; he wasn't even close to being drunk enough to talk about that tonight.
"Do you want me to make another one?" Dean offered, only half-joking.
Sam considered it for a minute, before shaking his head.
"No, I still want to pass out."
Dean snorted and let go of the light grasp Sam had on his hand. Sam didn't try to stop him, but his expression shifted a little and went tense with a dark shadow of anxiety that put Dean on alert.
"You're not leaving me, right?"
"What?" Dean whispered, perplexed. "No. Of course not."
"Because I would understand if you—"
"Sam, I'm not leaving you," Dean reassured firmly, searching his brother's eyes.
"But why?" Sam exclaimed, locking his gaze with Dean's.
He was asking him honestly, and Dean couldn't believe his ears.
Because you're the only one I have, and I need you. Because without you, there's no me. Because if you're not here, there is no light, no world to save. Because I love you.
"Because you're my brother."
Sam's bottom lip trembled, and Dean felt his own eyes sting in response. He blamed the whiskey, not Sam's vulnerable expression, which was open and raw as he searched for his redemption in his big brother's face.
"Am I?" Sam croaked. "After everything—"
"Always," Dean said, with more conviction than he had felt about anything else in his life.
Sam stared at him for a few more minutes, searching, gauging, and pulling at the deepest parts of himself. And when he seemed to find what he was looking for, he held on to it for all he was worth. Dean had to look down, step away from his brother's drunken and swirling emotions, because they were too intense for him to handle right now. His own chest was starting to feel tight, and he was hot and sort of lightheaded. He patted Sam's shoulder, breaking the spell, and Sam swallowed and looked away, blinking rapidly.
"C'mon, man. Let's call it a night," Dean prodded.
Sam frowned, eyes finding the bottle again.
"Sammy," Dean cajoled softly, with a slow shake of his head.
It sounded like pleading, felt like pleading. Maybe there was a little bit of pleading after all. And despite being beyond wasted and barely aware of anything around him, despite Dean's efforts to sound strong and unshakeable, Sam sensed Dean's plea. Sam always sensed him, saw him as nobody else could, and Dean was always deeply moved whenever that realization hit. It was familiar and reassuring, and also the scariest thing in the world.
Sam nodded weakly, and Dean nodded back, before standing up and grabbing the chair. He found his own balance then held out a hand to Sam.
Sam grabbed Dean's arm by the wrist and the older hunter pulled his brother up. As Dean expected, Sam swayed as soon as he moved. He reached out blindly with his free hand and unsteadily took hold of Dean's shoulder, then leaned against his chest.
"Shit," Sam mumbled, "fucking room's moving."
Dean laughed softly as he balanced Sam's weight and his own in order to give his brother a couple of seconds to catch his breath. Cautiously Sam eventually straightened up but didn't let go of Dean, who took his woozy brother to his bed and eased him down against the headboard.
"You're heavy, princess."
"Shut up," Sam grumbled without heat, eyes fixed half-mast on some undefined point on the wall.
Dean studied him for a few seconds. He had been doing that quite often lately. Sometimes, as he watched Sam, he wondered what this new version of his brother was thinking. But most times he simply drank in the sight of him. For forty years he had believed he would never see Sam again, and that had been a significant part of his torment.
After taking a minute to make up his mind, he went back to the table, retrieved the half empty bottle of whiskey, and plopped down next to Sam.
"W-what are you doing?" Sam asked, confused.
Instead of answering, Dean took a long swig of the bottle, and closed his eyes as the burning liquid seared his throat and settled warmly in his belly. Then he passed the bottle to Sam.
"You wanted to pass out. Damn, we're gonna pass the fuck out."
Uncomprehending, Sam frowned at him, and Dean couldn't really blame him. Eventually, though, Sam accepted the bottle. Dean kept his eyes closed and listened as his little brother drank, and then he sensed him settle back against the headboard of the bed. He felt Sam wriggle until they were shoulder to shoulder and knew without peeking when the bottle was held out to him.
Dean took it and licked his lips, warm and whiskey sweet. Sam was boozed and relaxed against his side; he was as open and trusting as he used to be. Dean understood that this was it, the sign he had been waiting for. Sam had forgiven him. As a matter of fact, he realized that Sammy probably hadn't blamed him in the first place.
"But tomorrow we fight," Dean whispered, tilting his head back and towards his brother.
"Tomorrow we fight," Sam whispered back.