Castiel disappears after he makes sure that Dean and Sam aren’t going to go on a psychotic killing spree, warning Dean not to bother him again unless things are urgent. Dean’s pretty sure that it’s an empty threat, but he makes a mental note to stay on the angel’s good side for the next month or so and only call if things get really fucked up.
Bobby stays and gets an adjoining room to theirs because he’s apparently not as convinced as Cas was. Sam is still in a mood, not talking to Dean unless he has to and when he opens his mouth, he only gives monosyllabic answers. His forced silence doesn’t mean as much as it used to though; Dean can still get glimpses of what his brother is feeling through the new link in his mind--muddled impressions of anger and irritation and, funnily enough, despair. Dean’s about to tease Sam for being such a fucking girl, but he’s not sure how well that will go over and he doesn’t want to unnecessarily piss Sam off, not when it’ll inadvertently piss himself off as well.
It takes a little while, but eventually he tempts Sam into trying to see how far away from each other they can get before they can’t move anymore. They use the parking lot of the motel, walking in opposite directions along the doors.
They make it about twenty feet before Dean feels as though a giant invisible rubber band is trying its damnedest to pull him back to Sam. His whole body quivers with it, a spike of pain ramming its way through his head, and he can’t make himself take another step forward. Bobby, who has been supervising, lets out a disgusted sigh as Dean takes one step backwards and feels the pain immediately subside.
“Dammit, boy,” he says, and when Dean turns around, Bobby’s face is lined and Sam’s expression is murderous.
“Again,” Sam says shortly, and Dean wants to tell him that it’s no use, but there’s no arguing with Sam when he gets this way. He and Sam start again and it’s the same thing. About twenty feet and then he can’t go any further. Sam makes him do it ten more times before he’s convinced, breathing hard, and massaging his head against a headache that Dean feels too.
“Great, Dean,” Sam says. “That’s fucking perfect. We’re stuck together for the rest of our lives.”
“Cas said that we could practice and it would get better,” Dean points out.
“Who knows how long that will take,” Sam says under his breath and storms into their room without a second glance, sequestering himself in the bathroom. Dean goes inside too and Bobby follows resignedly.
“A little help here would be nice, Bobby,” Dean says, Sam’s irritation bleeding into his voice.
“You dug your own hole,” Bobby says dryly. “Can’t do nothing about it.”
“Thanks a lot,” Dean says.
The next few days are eventful, to say the least. Sam gets even more annoyed when he realizes that all he ever wants to eat is the greasy fare that Dean frequented before everything went down, but he’s slightly mollified by the fact that Dean feels like shit if he doesn’t force down the healthy crap that Sam liked. It’s like their taste buds have switched, and goddammit, Dean would be really fucking sick of eating rabbit food if it didn’t taste so damn good all of a sudden.
The sleeping thing isn’t too weird, because Sam and Dean traditionally slept on the same schedule anyway, excluding the time when Sam didn’t have a soul and didn’t sleep at all. But the influx of emotions that constantly filters through the bond is disorienting as hell, and the first time Dean jerks off in the the shower, Sam throws a pillow at him when he comes out of the bathroom.
“Dude, you’re fucking disgusting,” Sam exclaims. “Don’t do that.”
“Just because you’re a prude, Sammy,” Dean says, but he feels a little embarrassed because fuck, that is fucking personal. He is about to apologize when he sees that Sam’s holding a pillow in his lap, and he cackles.
“Maybe you need a little shower action there too, Sammy,” he crows, and Sam scowls and gets off of the bed, stalking over to the bathroom and slamming the door. Dean knows just when Sam finishes the job in the shower because he can feel a rush of satisfaction and pleasure that’s really distant from what he’s feeling as he pulls on his socks.
“Atta boy, Sam,” he says when Sam comes out, toweling his hair dry and searching through his duffel for a shirt.
“Shut the fuck up, Dean,” Sam says crossly.
It becomes par for the course for them both to ignore what the other is feeling, because some things just shouldn’t be talked about. Every night, Dean dreams of Sam’s Hell, or his own, and when he snaps into consciousness, he knows that Sam’s just awoken too, startled out of the nightmare. Or is it more of a memory? Dean doesn’t know, but he doesn’t want to talk about everything he’s never told Sam about his time in the pit, and Sam seems to be having enough trouble coping with all of the memories of the years his soul spent in the cage, so between both of them, there’s this huge mountain of issues that never see the light of day.
And it’s straining them to the breaking point, because there are times during the day when Sam is all but incapacitated, shaking with Hell, and every time Dean feels like his skin is on fire, like he’s back down there, burning. Sometimes, it’s enough for Dean to stumble across the room and lay a hand on Sam’s forearm, struggling to see straight through an impending migraine, but there are other days when Dean can’t do anything but shake alongside his brother, reliving how it felt to be down in the cage.
And they still don’t talk about it.
By the time five days have passed, Bobby has left to go back to South Dakota. “Ain’t doing no good here,” he’d said as he tipped his hat in an informal goodbye. Dean wanted to protest but he didn’t really have any good reasons that would make Bobby stay besides the fact that he really wanted Bobby as a buffer between him and his brother. And he was sure that would go over real well.
So Bobby left, and Sam stalked back into the motel room as soon as his taillights disappeared, leaving Dean with a sour taste in his mouth. It was clear that Sam was trying to punish Dean as much as he possibly could, sending constant thoughts of irritation and anger through their link. Sam, for one, had figured out how to work the bond for his benefit, as a conduit for his annoyance and fury. Dean tried to reciprocate, but whenever he tried to send something along their bind, all he got for his efforts was a debilitating headache. Whenever that happened, he could feel Sam’s smug happiness, and it made everything just a little worse, even if he did take comfort in the fact that Sam must be at least a little affected by his discomfort.
Three days after Bobby left, Sam threw a book across the table. Dean looks up from what he’s reading, annoyed at the disruption.
“What the fuck, man?” Dean says exasperatedly.
“This is useless,” Sam says. “Why are we still here trying to find a way out of this? Cas said it was pretty much fucking permanent.”
“You’re the one who has his panties all twisted over it,” Dean points out, feeling his annoyance pass into outright anger, which is pretty par for the course nowadays.
“Well, I wonder why,” Sam says dryly.
“Okay, I don’t know about you,” Dean snaps, “but I’m really fucking sick of having this conversation over and over again.”
“Tell me about it,” Sam snarks back and then sighs and puts his head in his hands. “Look,” he continues, teeth gritted so he sounds at least a little more civil than before, “I’m gonna go crazy if we don’t leave this motel in the next hour. We’re not getting anything done, and we’re obviously stuck like this for at least a little while. We gotta learn how to live with it.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying all week,” Dean grumbles to himself, flinging an arm up to stave off Sam’s impending protest. “Well, what do you want to do now, princess?”
“What we’ve always done,” Sam says firmly. “Let’s find a hunt.”
Dean’s scoff of derision hits the air before he can stop it, and he can feel Sam’s irritation surge again. Forcing his voice into something that mimics politeness, even if it is faked, Dean says, “And how exactly should we go about hunting, huh, Sam? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not exactly well-equipped here. We can’t even get twenty feet away from each other before we go ballistic.”
“And whose fault is that, Dean?” Sam asks, just as faux-sweetly as Dean had been speaking before. “And I’m not suggesting anything big. Maybe a couple of salt and burns until we work on being able to be away from each other.”
“I dunno, Sam,” Dean says in an automatic disapproval. “What happens if the ghost flings one of us away from the other? We could end up pretty fucked.”
“As if we aren’t already,” Sam points out. “And I’m not sitting in a motel room for the rest of my life either. So let’s just suck it up and try it out first.”
“What if we die, Sam?” Dean points out angrily.
Sam shrugs and slants his eyes away from Dean, looking out of the grimy window. “Not like it hasn’t happened before,” he says softly, and Dean has to concede to that logic. “In any case, I don’t think one of us will survive very long if the other dies, so we won’t have the problem of stupid decisions, will we?”
And Dean can’t argue with that at all.
They find a vengeful spirit pretty quickly--by far, ghosts are the easiest and most plentiful hunt they come across anyways. Somewhere in South Carolina, there’s a Confederate soldier wreaking havoc after someone disturbed its grave, and that’s that. It sounds pretty uncomplicated, fairly straightforward. Dean is again reminded of how irritated he gets when people decide that messing around with grave sites is no big deal. It’s like no one has seen Poltergeist.
Anyways, after throwing a quick heads up to Bobby, they’re on their way, Dean driving as Sam reasons with Bobby over his cell phone. Dean feels better than he has since Sam collapsed, grounded and calm, and it might be because they finally left that godawful motel or it might be because Sam is forced to sit closer to him in the car than he had all week. Dean isn’t going to expend too much energy worrying about it.
It’s clear to Dean that Sam, although relieved that they’re finally back on the road, is still holding a major grudge towards Dean. He’s thumbing through a book, deflecting every attempt Dean makes to start conversation, even going so far as to grind out, “I don’t care, Dean,” when Dean tries to start up a game of “Where I wouldn’t like to be stuck if the world ends”. Although, to be truthful, that game had kind of lost its allure once they had to deal with the real, Honest to God apocalypse anyways.
They have to cut through the Midwest to get en route to South Carolina, cutting through Ohio to make their way towards West Virginia and on southwards, and they get stuck in a fair amount of snow, the cold bitter and biting on their hands and faces. The roads are slick, but Dean is well-practiced, and they make good time, rolling into a motel sometime just before dawn. They’re both exhausted, and Sam had been utterly annoyed to realize that he wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore when Dean was driving unless he wanted Dean to fall asleep too and crash them into a ditch.
Annoyance was beginning to become something that Dean wasn’t sure he’d ever live without again.
Sam gets out of the car without saying anything, heading towards the office, forcing Dean to scramble out after him or risk being hit by an unfortunate hit of pain if Sam got too far away.
“Wait up,” he calls after Sam, but other than a slight tightening of his shoulders, Sam doesn’t give any indication that he’s heard Dean and just continues towards the door of the lobby.
Dean lets him check in, standing just outside, listening to the murmurs of his brother through the shoddy walls of the motel, feeling a pull to follow Sam inside and stand by him. Sam walks right past him when he gets out, and Dean is really fucking sick of Sam’s attitude about this whole thing.
Sam leads them to room number eight, and before he can unlock it, Dean’s boxing him up against the wood of the door, his arms on either side of Sam’s on the frame. His entire body sings with how close he is to his brother, and things feel better than they have all day.
“Move, Dean,” Sam says tersely, shifting so he’s as far away from Dean as he can manage.
“No,” Dean says. “You’re being a fucking dick, Sam, and I’m sick of it.”
“I don’t care, Dean,” Sam returns, very quietly. “Wasn’t that what you said when you started this in the first place?” Dean can’t help it--he steps closer until he’s right up against Sam, effectively pinning him.
“Can we just fucking let it go? For a little while? We’re going to have to live with it.”
“I am living with it,” Sam explodes. “It’s just--you gotta give me some time, man. I’m not used to this.”
“And I am?” Dean demands. “Dude, I’m not hunting with you if you can’t even stand to be around me. It doesn’t work like this.” Sam lets his head fall backwards onto Dean’s shoulder, almost unconsciously, and Dean can feel a shudder go through his brother at the contact. He feels it too, warm and soothing in his stomach, and some of the irritation he’s been feeling ekes away as through it’s being siphoned through his feet.
“I’m trying,” Sam sighs.
“Try harder,” Dean says, and he’s so close to his brother, feeling like he should be doing something else right now, but he doesn’t really have an idea what he really wants.
“Okay,” Sam breathes and then, “Can you move now?”
Dean starts, stepping backwards, suddenly aware of just how close he’d moved into his brother’s space without even thinking about it. “Sorry,” he mutters, stepping back and giving Sam room to unlock their door.
“Me too,” Sam says, almost under his breath, but Dean can feel his guilt, radiating off of him almost strong enough that he doesn’t need the mental bond to see what his brother is thinking.
“Let’s just work through this,” Dean says as they step into the room.
“Okay,” Sam agrees dully, throwing his duffel onto one of the nondescript beds.
Suffice it to say, the hunt is an unmitigated disaster. They aren’t able to split up to interview witnesses, so they have to go as a pair, making the job take twice as long as it could have, seeing as the ghost had been taking its rage out on whomever it could over the past month, leaving several families as witness to its attacks. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, hampered by Dean’s hatred of anything resembling research, it took Sam a helluva lot longer to find who they were looking for, locked away in the bowels of the library, paging through dusty books that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades.
By the time they knew where the body had been moved, both Dean and Sam were at the end of their tempers, snapping at the littlest things. Dean even went so far as to chuck his salad at the wall of their motel room right before they were about to leave to dig up the grave.
“I’m fucking sick of this fucking food,” he rages, even though he isn’t and is now mourning the loss of his dinner.
“Like I’m happy about clogging my arteries with this shit you call dinner,” Sam retorts, giving Dean a nasty glare. “Grow up, Dean.”
“Fuck you,” Dean says eloquently, stalking to the bathroom until it was time to go. These days, motel bathrooms were the only sanctuary they got from one another.
By the time they get in the Impala to head out to a remote graveyard, their anger is like a palpable third passenger in the car. Sam gives terse directions the entire way, as they follow a curving road out of the city into the dark outskirts, streetlights abandoned. Once or twice, Dean accidentally let the Impala slide outside of the road and skitter on the gravel, which is not only annoying in and of itself but Sam feels the need to punctuate every mistake with aggravated sighs, which sets Dean’s teeth on edge.
When they finally stop outside of the graveyard, Dean has to leave the Impala on so they would have the headlights to see by. Dean gets out of the car as soon as he can, eager to be as far away from his brother as he can manage. He’s pretty much looking forward to wasting the stupid ghost in the hopes that he can dispel some of his anger on it instead of taking the butt of his Glock to Sam’s head and kicking him into a ditch while his attention was still focused on the blow to the head. Sam seems to be following along the same lines because he gives the weapons in the trunk an askance glance before he bypasses the more dangerous items for a shovel and a rifle filled with rock salt. Dean firmly wishes that Sam won’t go off his rocker and shoot him full of salt again, because that shit hurts.
Thankfully, things go smoothly for the most part until they’ve dug their way down into the grave, their shovels moving in perfect counterpoint as they unearth the dirt, which thankfully hasn’t been well packed. It feels familiar, like routine, and Dean soon gets into the groove of it, hoisting dirt over his shoulder and out onto the ground above them. It isn’t until they hit the coffin, so shoddily made and cracked that Dean’s surprised it even survived the move, when the shit hits the fan.
As they are wont to do, the ghost materializes as soon as Sam breaks the top of the coffin open to get at the bones underneath. He’s shimmering eerily in the air, appearing right between them, with his face pulled back into a grotesque grimace. Without warning, it hoists Dean’s up by his neck, and Dean has the briefest, faintest hints of fetid blood and the shit-stink of death before the ghost is hurling him out of the grave and up onto the ground above it. Dean can feel the instant he gets too far away from Sam because mid-air, his head gives an almighty throb, and by the time he lands on the ground, cracking his head sharply on a protruding rock, he isn’t so much concerned by the ghost or the pain of impact as he is by the agony of being separated from Sam. Without thinking, he immediately pulls himself to his knees, crawling in the direction he feels Sam to be, feeling minutely better with each passing inch. Blood is running into his eyes from the wound on his head, stinging and blurring his vision, but the only thing he cares about is Sam, Sammy, getting closer with every second.
The ghost isn’t giving up that easily, though, and it materializes again, glaring down at Dean, who doesn’t stop moving towards the grave even though it’s probably a better idea to play dead than to taunt the vengeful spirit out for fucking revenge. It swings its makeshift bayonet down, trying to spear Dean right through the belly, and Dean just barely manages to roll to the side to avoid becoming a shish-kabob.
“Hurry up and burn him,” Dean yells as he rolls again.
“I’m trying,” Sam shouts back, but if he feels anything like Dean due to the separation, there’s no way he has a steady grip on the situation. Dean tries to propel himself backwards with an huge shove of his legs, and he’s successful to a certain point: his head ends up hanging over the grave, but the ghost finally manages a direct hit, spearing Dean right through the shoulder with his rusted bayonet.
Dean lets out a sharp cry of pain as the blade sinks through his flesh and grinds against the bone, and the ghost rips it out, its smile grotesque on its sunken face. It raises the gun, this time in preparation to shoot Dean in the face with his musket, and for a second, Dean is certain that he’s going to die here, fucking killed by a vengeful spirit like the most idiot hunter that ever lived.
Then, with a flare of yellow light and the singe of heat on the back of his neck, the ghost goes up in flame, filling the air with its unearthly shriek as Sam finally sends the bastard back to hell or purgatory or where-the-fuck-ever.
Dean wants to complain, wants to tell Sam he’s fucking useless for taking so long to torch the bones, but his shoulder is in agony, and his head is still pounding, either from the prolonged separation from his brother or the way that all the blood is rushing to it from being hung over a hole. In any case, he can’t even find the will to move, let along talk, and he barely notices it when Sam hoists himself out of the grave after a couple failed attempts.
Sam manages to get Dean’s head back on solid ground, though the movement almost makes Dean want to upchuck. “Dean,” Sam says faintly, pawing at Dean’s face.
“Fuckin’ hurts, Sam,” Dean says, his voice muddled from the pain.
Sam gives a short, humorless laugh. “I know. Believe me, I know. But we gotta get outta here, man.”
“Can’t move,” Dean mumbles.
“You have to,” Sam says, and if Dean had a better handle on his own head, he might’ve thought that Sam’s voice was clogged with pain too.
It took a few aborted attempts, but Sam eventually manages to sling Dean’s uninjured arm over his shoulder and get him to his feet, half-carrying, half-dragging Dean back to the Impala.
“C’mon, Dean, move your fucking legs,” he complains, grunting with exertion. “You’re fucking heavy.” Dean is focusing too much on not vomiting to give an answer, but he gives an honest try to get his feet underneath him, managing a couple of steps before his knees give out. His head is muddled, probably concussed from where he hit the rock, and he’s definitely walked out of hunts less damaging than this one, but there’s something wrong that he can’t place.
Sam leans him against the door as he goes around to the back, getting a towel to cover the passenger seat with. Dean feels proud through the muzzy haze of pain, because if there’s one thing he’s taught Sam it’s that the upholstery of the car should never be ruined by something as petty as blood.
It takes a couple of minutes, but Sam eventually gets Dean arranged inside of the car, and then he gets in himself.
“You gotta stay awake, Dean,” Sam says desperately. “If you don’t I’m gonna fall asleep too and crash the car.”
“‘Kay,” Dean mumbles, but he can feel himself sagging sideways in the seat, unable to muster up the energy to stay awake. His eyelids feel so heavy and his shoulder is throbbing and he just wants to fucking sleep and is that too much to fucking ask?
“Dean,” Sam says sharply as he slams the door after getting into the driver’s seat.
“‘M awake,” Dean says, even though it’s almost a lie.
“Just hold on twenty minutes, okay?” Sam says as he starts the car and jams it into drive. “Talk to me, okay?”
“Don’ wanna,” Dean protests. “Don’ know why I feel so bad.”
“I don’t know either,” Sam says placatingly. “Just hang on, okay, man? Just a little while longer.” Dean feels this inexplicable urge to get closer to his brother’s voice, just a little bit. He’s so cold and he feels drained and his fucking shoulder, jesus. He lets himself slip further sideways, falling down until he’s lying awkwardly on the seat, his head pillowed on Sam’s thigh. He’d try to move, but it feels so good, and Sam is warm and right there, and Dean just wants to go to sleep, but Sammy said no, so...
“So tired,” he complains instead. Sam’s hand has dropped from the steering wheel to land lightly on the back of Dean’s neck, a steady unmoving presence. A shiver goes down Dean’s spine, an electric tingle that heartens him just a little bit. He can feel the warmth seep into his belly from the touch, and things don’t hurt as much as they did just a moment ago.
“So am I,” Sam says, and Dean can hear it in his voice, the flagging exhaustion there. “But we gotta get back to the motel and patch you up.”
“It can wait,” Dean slurs, because it’s torture enough staying awake right now. He’s not sure he can manage it if he’s lying on a bed waiting for his brother to finish bandaging him up.
“Or maybe the hospital,” Sam babbles. “You’ve been hurt worse than this, man. I don’t know why you’re so fucking tired.”
“Dunno,” Dean agrees, burrowing himself closer to Sam even though the movement causes his shoulder to hurt like a motherfucker. Dean can feel Sam’s worry tickling at the back of his mind, and the Impala roars beneath him as Sam shoves down on the gas, urging her to go faster along the twisting road.
“God, what would we tell a hospital,” Sam frets, twisting the wheel sharply in a movement that Dean hopes didn’t fuck his car up too bad. “Sorry, doctor, I accidentally stabbed my brother with a sword?”
“Don’t need a hospital,” Dean protests. “Just you.”
“Dean, it’s pretty bad,” Sam argues. “I don’t know how deep he got you.”
“Just you,” Dean repeats, struggling to open his eyes again from where they’d fallen closed.
“I’ll try,” Sam says quietly. “But if I can’t do it, we’re going to the fucking ER, okay?”
“‘Kay,” says Dean affably. “We almost there, Sammy?”
“Yeah, Dean, just a little longer,” Sam says. “Just hold on a little longer.”
Dean just barely manages to hold onto his consciousness until they get back to the motel, mostly buoyed by the thought that Sam would total the Impala if Dean let himself fall asleep. By the time Sam parks the car, jerking to a stop and grinding the gearshift in a totally unacceptable way that Dean’s going to give him shit for tomorrow, Dean’s body feels incredibly heavy and he’s decidedly light-headed, whether from blood loss or lack of energy, Dean’s not sure.
When Sam hoists him out of the car into the dim orange light of the motel’s parking lot, Dean blacks out for just a second, and judging by the nauseating way they both stumble sideways, so does Sam.
“Stop being a girl, Dean,” Sam says as he hoists them both up into a standing position and drags Dean to the door to their room, which he’s thankfully had the forethought to unlock before trying to get Dean to his feet. The jab doesn’t hold the same power as it usually does, though, because Dean can feel what Sam’s feeling, and it’s not so much exasperation as it is anxiety.
“You’re the girl,” Dean says, giving a silent cheer of joy when Sam finally manages to sling him onto the bed. He’s ready to fall asleep just like this, bloody and grimy with grave dirt and grass stains, his boots still on and his feet hanging off the edge of the bed, but Sam pokes him hard in the back.
“Don’t,” Sam warns. “We needa get your shoulder cleaned up or you’re gonna get an infection and you’re gonna lose your shoulder and I can’t deal with you being a bitch about it for the rest of our lives.”
“Drama queen,” Dean accuses, but he tries to summon the rest of his dwindling energy reserves to stay awake. It’s an almost inhuman task, and it practically hurts to stop himself from falling asleep. He can vaguely hear Sam ruffling in their bag, presumably looking for their first aid equipment, and then Sam’s there, cutting his shirt, his hands feather-light on Dean’s back.
“This is a good shirt,” Dean protests half-heartedly.
“It’s completely ruined. Shut up and let me do this.” Sam is concentrated on his task, and Dean’s slightly worried that he’s gonna fuck something up, because if he’s even half as tired as Dean is, there’s no way he’s operating on full brain power right now.
“Turn over,” Sam says softly. “You’re lucky. It didn’t go through your shoulder completely. I don’t even think it’s that deep.” With Sam’s help, Dean manages to get onto his back, and Sam finishes peeling his shirt off of him, his fingers lightly brushing Dean’s skin whenever the fabric pulls painfully, sticking on the tacky drying blood.
Dean falls into a kind of a lull while Sam washes the wound clean and applies the hydrogen peroxide, and the sting barely registers. Sam has to keep yelling his name to keep him from really falling asleep, and every time Sam yawns, Dean gets even tireder, until he’s at the point that he’s about to tape Sam’s mouth shut. Finally, he feels the pulling of the needle as Sam sews his skin shut, and after a few minutes, Sam is smoothing a bandage over Dean’s shoulder.
Sam gave him a couple of shots of whiskey before he started his field-medic routine under the caveat that Dean made sure to stay awake, and although he’s feeling pleasantly warm from the alcohol, he can’t help but arch into Sam’s touch whenever he moves his hands away. His brain is muddled enough that he can’t think, but whatever Sam’s doing feels good, even through the haze of pain. He has to stop himself from falling asleep more than once, lulled by the brush of Sam’s hands over his skin and the warm comfort they bring.
“We needa make sure that you still have mobility in your arm tomorrow,” Sam says, startling Dean out of his mental rambling. “If something’s wrong, we really need to go to the doctor. I don’t know if the ghost did more damage than I saw.” He’s still touching Dean, his hand resting in the small of Dean’s back, and it feels like the go-ahead to let go and stop resisting unconsciousness.
“Okay,” Dean says, not really listening. “Gonna go to sleep now, Sammy.” He’s out before Sam can even respond, burrowing into the softness of his bed.
When Dean comes to again, he’s completely disoriented for a second. For one thing, he’s warm--really warm, and the motel lamp’s still on, even though Sam hates sleeping in any ambient light. And he feels good, so much better than he did when he fell asleep, and even his shoulder is only a faint ache, easily ignorable. Dean feels like maybe he should get up now, but he’s so comfortable that he never wants to move again.
“Thinking too loud,” Sam complains, and whoa, why does Sam sound so close. Dean tries to move his head so he’s staring at something other than the ceiling and the answer immediately is clear, because instead of being in his own bed like he should be, Sam is fucking slung over Dean, his leg wrapped over Dean’s waist and his head pillowed on Dean’s sternum.
“Dude, what the fuck,” Dean blurts, coming instantly awake.
“What?” Sam says, annoyed, and then the situation must fully register with him, because he scrambles off of Dean, managing to fall off of the bed when he tries to untangle his limbs.
“Why weren’t you in your own bed?” Dean accuses.
“Hey, don’t pin this on me,” Sam shoots back, picking himself up from the floor. “You’re the one who conked out as soon as I was done last night. I didn’t have time to get to the other bed.”
“You shoulda tried harder,” Dean says.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sam snarks. “Like I wasn’t having a hard enough time staying awake while I was patching up your mangled shoulder.”
Dean sighs deeply and stretches, belatedly aborting his movements so he wouldn’t rip out his stitches. “Whatever,” he says, slightly mollified. “I’m fucking starving. Let’s get something to eat.”
Sam’s poking moodily at his eggs with the tines of his fork by the time Dean’s done with his own breakfast, which is fucking stupid, because Dean just ate an entire omelette plus hash browns, and he’s still freakin’ hungry because Sam hasn’t eaten his food yet.
“Stop playing with it and eat it,” Dean says and then inwardly cringes at how much he just sounded like their dad.
Sam gives him a dirty glare but forks up a big bite and shoves it into his mouth. Dean can tell from the look on his face that he wants to Talk, and Dean fuckin’ hates talking. Sure enough, when Sam swallows, he resolutely looks Dean in the face.
“Dean,” he begins.
“What now, man?” Dean complains because it’s too early for this kind of crap, even though it’s edging on eleven in the morning. As far as Dean is concerned, there is never a good time to get involved in one of Sam’s girly-as-shit heart to hearts.
“Stop being a dumbass,” Sam snaps in his no-nonsense tone of voice. “Dude, we need to talk about what happened last night.”
“Hell, Sam,” Dean gripes, flashing the waitress a bright smile as he pulls his wallet out of his back pocket, a sure sign to her that they’re ready for their check. “Do we have to?”
“Yes, Dean!” Sam is sounding more and more irritated by the second, and if his voice raises any further, he’s going to be causing a scene.
“Wait until we’re in the car at least,” Dean says. “Jesus.” The waitress must sense the tension at their table because her grin flags as she comes over with their check, and she barely even lets Dean glance at her cleavage. Across from him, Sam’s face tightens, but he goes back to his breakfast, finishing up just as Dean lays down the proper amount of money to cover their food and the tip and stands up, shouldering his jacket gingerly.
Dean really should have just let Sam get on with it in the diner, because now Sam’s all huffy, and these stupid talks are even harder when Sam is in a mood. Dean stalls as long as he can, but there’s only so much time someone can take leaving a restaurant and opening a car, so it’s not long before they’re on the road, heading aimlessly west. Sam’s supposed to be scouring the local newspapers for any close-by hunts, and when they stop for lunch, he’ll probably have to resort to using someone’s wi-fi to google until they come across something, but Sam’s sitting stiffly in the passenger seat, newspapers unopened in his lap.
“Get on with it, then,” Dean says as the silence stretches into something uncomfortable.
“Fine,” Sam says stiffly. “I think it’s safe to say that last night’s hunt was an unmitigated disaster.”
“C’mon,” Dean wheedles. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Dean,” Sam says, implacable, “you got yourself speared by a bayonet on a routine ghost hunt. I couldn’t even burn the bones until you’d gotten close enough so I didn’t feel like my head was going to explode.”
“It worked out in the end, though, didn’t it?” Dean protests. “We salted and burned the old bastard, and my shoulder’s fine, Sam.”
“How long has it been since we had so much trouble with a vengeful spirit?” Sam asks, plowing on. “Years, right? I mean, that was practically the easiest hunt we’ve gone on in ages, and we couldn’t even get through it without rookie mistakes.”
“Hey,” Dean says, stung. “They weren’t rookie mistakes. Every hunter gets flung by ghosts sometimes.”
“But not every hunter is completely incapacitated when that happens!” Sam explodes. “I don’t think we should go on any more hunts until we get this thing under control.”
“Make up your fucking mind, Sammy,” Dean says, exasperatedly, keeping his eye on the road even though it’s very hard not to meet Sam’s gaze. “You’re the one who wanted to go hunting in the first place.” This back-and-forth thing that they’ve got going on is really starting to wear Dean down.
“Because I was so fucking sick of being in that motel room trying to find a way out of this stupid soul bind you thought was so necessary,” Sam shoots back. “But newsflash, Dean! We still don’t have the first clue of how to get on with our lives now! I think we should hole up somewhere and figure out how to fucking live instead of trying to find a way out of it.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Dean says, incensed.
“Saying it and doing it are two different things,” Sam accuses. “We need to stop and work together if we’re going to be able to do this.”
“Yeah, that’s a great plan, Sam,” Dean says. “Let’s work together even though every time we end up trying to do that, we want to bite each other’s heads off.”
Sam takes several deep breaths before he speaks again, and he seems at least a little calmer before opening his mouth. “Look,” he says, “if we try, if we’re maybe a little more patient, it could be better. I can’t help that I’m angry with you for making another stupid decision without even talking to me about it first--”
“--but I’ll work on it. Dean, we don’t even know what this soul bind entails, not really. Last night, you were so tired, and I have no idea why. And your shoulder’s healing up way faster than it should, and I don’t get that either. Maybe if we take some time, we can make it so we’re not walking into this thing blind anymore.”
“Okay,” says Dean, “I guess it’s worth a shot. But, Sam, you gotta stop being such a little bitch or this is never going to work.”
“Right back at you,” Sam says, but he’s smiling ever so slightly as he settles back into his seat.
Sam calls Bobby and asks him if he knows of any safe houses they can use for the time being until they get their soul bind under control. Dean can hear Bobby’s grumbling, tinny through the cell phone receiver, but he points them in the direction of a house somewhere in rural Mississippi, which isn’t the greatest of places, but it will have to do. Sam and Dean don’t have any new credit cards, and staying in a motel for an extended period of time always raises unnecessary suspicion. Dean adjusts their route so they’re headed in the right direction, and lets the road lull him into a familiar sort of peace.
They get caught up in traffic a couple of times, but Dean manages to get them to Mississippi with a minimum of trouble. Bobby wasn’t lying when he said that it was a piece of junk, but it’s better than some of the shit holes they’ve squatted in before, and besides, it’s relatively warm and the roof’s intact. There are two rooms, each with sagging full size mattresses, but they’re too far apart to work for them, so together they push one of the beds against the wall and drag the other mattress into the room. Secretly, Dean’s relieved because he always has a harder time sleeping when Sam’s not in the room.
They throw their duffels into the corner but don’t bother unpacking because they’re not sure how long they’ll be there. The cupboards are stocked with canned food that Sam turns his nose up at, so they’ll inevitably have to go to the general store about ten miles up the road to stock up, but they’re relatively prepared for now.
Dean settles into the dusty couch and Sam sits in a spindly rocking chair, almost, but not quite, out of the limits of their bond. Dean can feel an almost imperceptible pull to get closer to his brother, and he shifts on the couch until he feels it lessen. Sam looks at him for a second, and then scoots the rocking chair forward, close enough so that they’re in touching distance. Unconsciously, Dean knocks one of his feet against Sam’s.
“What now, genius?” he asks as Sam studies his hands.
“The mental bond,” Sam says immediately. “I want to know just how much we can pick up. Plus, you’re complete shit at controlling it.”
“Well excuse me for not being an expert in mind control like you are,” Dean grumbles. “How are we supposed to do this, exactly? Since you’re the expert and all.”
“I want you to try and send me something down it,” Sam says, ignoring Dean’s jibe. “To see if you can. Maybe then we can try to see if we can block things.”
Dean concentrates on a picture of a sandwich, piled high with everything he used to love to eat and tries very hard to send it Sam’s way.
“Anything?” he asks after nearly five minutes of furrowing his brow and trying to relay the picture to his brother. His head is beginning to ache, and he almost wishes that they’d decided to do something else first.
“No,” Sam says shortly.
“This is useless,” Dean says. “We’re wasting our time.”
“If you’d just try,” Sam says exasperatedly.
“I am trying here,” Dean protests. “I’d like to see you do any better!” Sam furrows his brow, drawn in by the call to action, and almost instantly, Dean sees a flash of the Impala in his mind’s eye.
“Show off,” Dean mutters as Sam smirks at him.
“It’s not hard,” Sam explains. “You just have to project.”
“Oh, is that it?” Dean asks sarcastically. “I just have to project? Well, no wonder I was doing it wrong!”
“Don’t be a smart-ass,” Sam says. “Just--try--” And then, Sam’s concentrating again, and Dean feels impressions of something in his mind, Sam showing him what to do. It’s odd and completely foreign to Dean, and try as he might, he just can’t wrap his head around it.
“Not happening, Sam,” he says. “I’m just not a freak like you.”
“Stop being so stubborn,” Sam says. “Maybe if you think about it like this...”
It takes almost five hours of solid effort before Dean manages to give Sam a fleeting image through their bond. By the time he manages it, his head is aching so fiercely, he can barely see straight, and he feels like he’s just run six miles uphill.
“No more,” he says. “Sam, seriously dude, I’m gonna ralph.”
“Baby,” Sam says, but he’s rubbing his temples in a way that makes Dean sure that he’s just as uncomfortable.
“Bed,” Dean says shortly, and he’s stumbling up before he’s even given Sam a chance to respond. He almost thinks that Sam’s going to be an asshole and stay put, but Sam pulls himself up from his own chair and follows after Dean.
“Later we should try and work on the separation thing,” Sam says yawning. “That’s the biggest problem we have right now.”
“Whatever, I don’t care,” Dean grumbles, nearly tripping over a step because he’s dragging his feet.
“And we should keep working on the mind thing too because that could be really useful if you ever get a hold of it.” They’re almost to the bedroom, and Dean gives up the pretense of listening as Sam rambles on about everything he wants to try, flopping down on the bed face-first. Sam is probably complaining about being relegated to the mattress on the floor, but Dean seriously doesn’t give a flying fuck as he wills his headache to die down to a level that will allow him to fall asleep.
They spend the next few days trying to work on both getting as far away from each other as possible, with a healthy helping of psychic training. Dean hates every second of it, especially since they’re making very little progress. The first day, they manage to widen their distance by about ten feet, but it takes almost an inhuman effort, and every inch of Dean is aching by the time they manage it. Sam seems pleased with their progress, but Dean’s not sure it was even worth the time it took. By the time Sam finally concedes defeat and lets them go to bed, they’ve spent almost eight hours in the yard walking away from each other, and Dean’s wholeheartedly dreading the rest of the week.
When Dean wakes up the next day, he’s still inexplicably drained, feeling as though he might have the flu. He tries to relay this thought to Sam, but Sam is nothing if not stubborn, and even though he must be feeling just as shitty as Dean is, he still makes Dean get out of bed. A couple strong cups of coffee make Dean feel marginally better, but he’s still not entirely sure he’s up for a day of bullshit, test-the-bond training.
“We have to, Dean,” Sam says angrily, and that’s that. They end up back in the yard, Dean shivering slightly at the cool chill in the air, and Sam doggedly begins walking towards the front of the yard. Dean stays put, because if Sam’s going to be such an ass about it, he can do all the work.
However, during the night, it seems that all the progress they made the day before had disappeared. Sam kept trying to go further, straining against the boundary time and time again, but by lunchtime, he’d actually managed to make it even worse than before.
“I don’t get it,” Sam pants, sweat beading on his forehead as he leans against a tree, after a failed attempt left them only fifteen feet apart before Dean was unable to keep moving.
“I dunno,” Dean grumbles.
“Are you just not trying?” Sam demands.
“Oh, fuck you, Sam,” Dean says tiredly. “It’s not like I want to be chained to you either.”
They eat in silence, poking at their measly fare of canned food morosely. Dean makes a mental note to try and force Sam to go to the local general store for some real fucking food, because there’s only so much canned soup he can take before he wants to burn things. As soon as Dean lets his spoon clank to the bottom of the empty bowl, Sam is up, out of his seat and heading back outside.
“It’s a lost cause, Sammy,” Dean calls, but he follows after him.
Eventually things get so bad that Sam has to concede defeat on that particular front, at least. He forces Dean to go inside and try the psychic shit for a little while, but that goes just as well as the separation, and Sam is swearing a blue streak while Dean slumps in his chair.
“I thought this was supposed to get better with practice,” he keeps saying. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t ask me,” Dean responds, which sends Sam into another tirade about Dean always making big decisions without thinking things through, which leads to yelling, which leads to them ignoring each other for the rest of the night, Dean leafing through an old car magazine he’d had in his bag while Sam played solitaire on his computer. They never made it to the store because Dean didn’t even want to talk to Sam once they’d stopped arguing, and they go to bed in silence.
The next few days are, if anything, worse. Dean feels progressively crappier with each hour that passes, but Sam just keeps trying, switching from spending countless hours in the yard trying to get away from Dean to spending even longer amounts of time in the dusty living room trying to coerce Dean into getting better at controlling their mind link. No progress is being made, and each day it seems like things are just as bad as before. Sam’s frustrated as all hell, and Dean’s pretty much at the end of his rope, and they’re arguing more than ever, little cutting comments that pierce the air and result in hour-long silences punctuated by dirty looks and heavy sighs.
Dean convinces Sam to try sparring for a little while, but even that isn’t as it used to be. Dean keeps making mistakes that he hasn’t since he was very young, leaving himself open to Sam’s punches, and Sam’s much the same way, stumbling and misreading Dean’s moves. They give up after only a little while, and Sam just keeps complaining about how nothing makes sense about what’s happening to them. Dean’s just about to call Castiel and demand a fucking explanation, but he’s not so sure that Cas won’t flip his shit at the interruption, so he just barely resists from doing so.
They’re sleeping more than they should be considering that they’re not doing anything particularly taxing in the physical sense. Sometimes they go to bed as early as eight in the evening and don’t wake up until the next afternoon. Dean’s feeling drained all of the time, and as each day passes, he loses more and more energy. Sam keeps speculating that it’s due to mental exhaustion, or maybe they caught a bug or something, but it never gets better.
One day, they wake up and it’s still dark outside, which throws Dean for a loop because he’s still so fucking tired even though he doesn’t think he could sleep anymore. Groggily, he checks his phone and nearly drops it when he sees that they’ve been asleep for nearly twenty-four hours.
“Dude,” he croaks. “Something is seriously wrong here. Maybe we should call someone.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Sam says for what feels like the millionth time, sounding equally as tired as Dean feels.
“I feel like I did after that stupid ghost stabbed me,” Dean complains. “So fucking tired.”
“We can’t just lie here,” Sam says pragmatically. “We’ll feel better if we get up.”
“Yeah, you can get right on that, Sammy,” Dean says, mashing his face into his pillow. “Let me know how that goes. I’m gonna stay right here.” He hears Sam’s fumbling attempts to disentangle himself from the covers, and it takes Sam nearly three minutes to even get his feet under him. Dean can feel the effort it’s taking him, and it just makes him want to move even less. Sam manages a couple of stumbling steps but then he trips, or maybe his legs give out from under him, and he ends up sprawled on Dean’s bed.
“Don’t fall, dude,” Dean says, groping blindly with one of his hands until he can get a hold of Sam’s shirtsleeve. “If you hurt yourself, I’m not helping you up. You’ll be on your own.” He gives a tug and Sam falls backwards, practically on top of Dean.
“Sorry,” Sam mumbles.
“Get off of me, idiot,” Dean says, but with a jolt, he realizes he doesn’t want that at all, despite what he said. Sam’s heat is leeching into him, and Dean hadn’t even realized that he was cold before now. Sam starts to move, but he’s not getting off of Dean so much as he’s getting closer, worming his way under Dean’s blankets.
“What are you doing?” Dean asks as Sam settles down, his back practically pressed to Dean’s chest, and it feels good, just right in a way that Dean doesn’t understand. He resists the urge to let his arm fall over Sam’s side but it’s a very close thing.
“Dunno,” Sam says. “I feel better like this.” Now that he’s said it, Dean notices it, a very marginal sense of the exhaustion being lifted off of him.
“What’s going on?” Dean yawns, pressing as close to Sam as he dares. Sam relaxes back into him, sighing deeply and curling in on himself.
“Dunno,” Sam says again, yawning. “Don’t move though.”
“Okay,” Dean says, even though that’s not what he meant to say at all. His eyes are falling shut even though he thinks he should be all slept out, lulled by the steady rhythm of Sam’s breathing.
When they wake up again, it’s dawn and they’re facing each other, pressed extremely close together. Sam’s sort of manipulated it so he’s curled in around Dean’s body, and somehow while he slept, Dean let his arm fall around Sam’s middle. There’s no other word for it--this is bona fide cuddling right here--and for a second after he opens his eyes, Dean wants. He wants to kiss Sam, his baby brother, wants to press him into the bed and map out his body with his tongue. The pang of lust that ripples down his body shocks him into stiffening, and he can feel Sam’s resultant shiver.
“What the fuck,” Dean says, as his mind finally gets back to him, and he struggles upright, hampered by Sam’s heavy limbs and the tangle of blankets around them. Sam is trying equally as hard to get away, and it’s like the last time they woke up like this, only not, because last time Dean didn’t want to fuck Sam.
By the time Dean finally gets his feet under him on the floor, his chest is heaving and his thoughts are a muddled mass of confusion. Sam seems equally as unbalanced, his hair sticking up wildly as he blinks at Dean from his spot on the bed.
“What the fuck,” Dean says again, running his hand through his hair as he tries to get a hold of himself.
“I don’t know,” Sam says slowly.
“We gotta stop waking up like this Sam. It’s not right.” Dean glares at a spot just above Sam’s shoulder, resisting the urge to cross his arms in front of his chest protectively.
“I feel better,” Sam says, ignoring Dean completely. “This is completely weird. I mean, you feel better too, right? Not tired anymore?”
Vaguely, Dean realizes that he does feel like himself again, no hint of the incapacitating weakness and exhaustion that had slowly been riding him down into the ground. He thinks he could run for hours, completely energized and rested.
“Must’ve gotten over that bug we had,” Dean grumbles. It’s a weak excuse, even to his own ears.
“I don’t think so,” Sam says calculatingly. “I mean, this is what happened last time, you know? We were exhausted and I fell asleep on you, and when you woke up, you were perfectly fine. Your shoulder was even healing faster than it should’ve.”
“I was tired last time because a freakin’ ghost rammed me through with his bayonet,” Dean says hotly.
“No, that’s not right,” Sam says. “We were off all day. I think your injury just made it come on faster than it should’ve.”
“Made what come on?” Dean demands.
“The exhaustion, the feeling like crap,” Sam muses, trying to piece things together in a way that Dean’s seen a million times. “It always happens when we’re mad at each other, or when we haven’t been touching.”
“Newsflash, Edison,” Dean snarls. “It’s happened twice. That doesn’t count as always. I think this little theory of yours is for shit.”
“Then explain it, Dean,” Sam says. “Tell me why I felt like I was going to go into a coma and as soon as I touched you, got close enough to you, things were all of a sudden better? This is the only way that makes sense!”
“Think about what you’re saying here, Sam,” says Dean. “You’re trying to tell me that we gotta cuddle every couple of days or we’ll go batshit again.”
“Nothing about this soul bind has made sense so far, Dean,” Sam says stubbornly.
“Well, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here,” Dean responds. “Let’s just get this day over with. I’m getting sick of this fucking cabin.”
“Tell me about it,” Sam mumbles, but he gets up all the same, abandoning the conversation, much to Dean’s relief.
They eat their way through the last of the canned food for breakfast, plowing through the fruit and the soup like it was nothing. Dean refuses to try and get any work done before they go into town to get some real grub, and although Sam gripes and complains, he gets in the car without too much of a struggle. They use most of their cash paying for their groceries, too wary to use a stolen credit card in case they have to stay longer than anticipated, and Dean’s wondering where he can beef up the contents of his wallet before they have to spend a week sleeping in the car and shoplifting from stores to get by.
By the time they roll back into their makeshift safe house, Sam has made Dean thoroughly uncomfortable with all of the staring. Sam’s starting to put something together, Dean can tell, coming up with a plan, but Dean wants nothing to do with it. Before Sam can ever open his mouth, Dean is suggesting that they try the pacing thing again as soon as they put the food away, eager to keep Sam from divulging whatever it is that he’s been working on in that freak head of his. Sam agrees, still staring at Dean in this completely disconcerting way, and by the time they’re back out in the yard, Dean doesn’t want anything to do with their freaky bond any longer.
Sam turns and starts to walk, and so does Dean, opposite directions as always. Dean eyes the tree that’s been their makeshift boundary for the past couple of days, preparing himself for the inevitable pain he’ll feel once he approaches it, but nothing happens apart from the stretch of their connection that he always feels when he tries to get away from Sam. He manages about five steps further than he’s ever gone before when he feels the strong pull and the pain behind his eyes and turns around before he can fall to his knees from the intensity of it.
“That’s the farthest we’ve ever gone,” Sam calls staunchly from across the yard. “Let’s try it again.”
It takes several hours before they’re able to one step more than what they’d done the first time they tried it, but Sam looks triumphant when he calls for a halt. “This is good,” he says. “We’re getting better at this.”
“Only if it lasts,” Dean points out, which is a valid truth to make, seeing as though they had significantly more trouble earlier in the week going even half as far as they’d managed before.
“We’ll work on it,” Sam says, and there’s a gleam in his eyes that Dean isn’t quite sure he likes. Sam makes him go back into the living room to try and work on the psychic shit for about the trillionth time, and Dean tries to protest, tries to get Sam to want to do something else that they haven’t already done (and failed at) before, but Sam isn’t hearing any of it. He sits across from Dean, same as always, and looks his in the eye, concentrating. Dean can feel the familiar sensation of Sam in his head, trying again to show him how to communicate without using words, and somehow, it’s marginally easier to see what he means today. The roadblock that’s always been there is still impeding something, still making it difficult for Dean to get the gist of what Sam’s trying to show him, but he can feel something different, something clearer.
Sam lets his thoughts retreat from Dean’s head, and Dean squints, ready to concentrate again. His first couple of tries yield no results, and Sam keeps trying to show him what to do. Dean is about to snap at him that this plan of action obviously isn’t working, but he takes a deep breath instead, steadying himself for another attempt.
“Here,” Sam says exasperatedly, and suddenly he’s on the couch, next to Dean, so close that Dean shivers from it. Sam uses both of his hands to turn Dean’s head, ignoring Dean’s protesting squawk, and puts his big forehead directly against Dean’s skin. Dean tries to pull away, but Sam’s grip is tight, and it feels oddly, intimately good. There’s a flash of something, and then it’s almost as he can feel Sam in his head, entirely there, like he’s just walking around.
“Close your eyes,” Sam breathes, and Dean doesn’t even think not to comply, just lets his eyelids slide shut. It’s a sudden whirl of images and feelings, and Dean sees it in a way he hadn’t before. Sam is helping Dean coax something down the link, sure and slow but impossibly there, and before he knows it, Dean is struggling to follow Sam’s lead.
“I saw something,” Sam says suddenly, his hands slipping from Dean’s face. “Clearer than before. Try it again.”