Word Count: ~2100
Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen)
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Spoilers: Through 4.11: "Family Remains"
Summary: Dean hadn't said a word since today's revelation. Post-ep for 4.11: "Family Remains".
Everything Is Better Somewhere Else
There was a steadily expanding binder in the bottom of Sam's duffel. It was stupid, as pointless as throwing matches into the wind, but Dean was behind a brick wall and he didn't have a sledgehammer, and so he read everything he could on trauma.
He read clinical websites, and websites made by survivors, and papers, and journal articles he bought online with stolen credit cards. He read about Stockholm Syndrome, about children growing up in the worst kinds of captivity, about the psychological care of torture survivors, but despite the growing pile of paper he'd read, and highlighted, and annotated, he knew he was groping blindly in the dark.
No human could survive what Dean had experienced in hell. It was literally impossible for someone to be ripped skin from flesh for thirty years in this world, and he couldn't even get his head around what that might mean for Dean. About how to help when Dean would only talk to him in two minute bursts on the hood of the Impala. When Dean shied away from his touch like a half-broken pony.
Dean hadn't said a word since today's revelation.
(I enjoyed it, Sam. They took me off the rack, and I tortured souls, and I liked it.)
He'd just thrown his beer bottle over Sam's head, a staccato spiral of a throw, and climbed back into the car like they'd just stopped for gas instead of another episode of Dean's horrific show-and-tell. He'd left Sam sitting ramrod straight in the passenger seat, with questions buzzing through his mind like a saw. Because Sam knew Dean better than anyone else alive, but the revelations were escalating, and Dean was shattering in slow-motion, and Sam was just twisting in the wind with his useless binder of facts.
Dean hadn't even asked if Sam needed to piss before he went into the motel bathroom and locked the door, and damn if Sam wasn't sick of feeling his stomach swoop in fear at the thought that Dean might decide that today was the day he couldn't live with this anymore.
He sat on the bed, feeling the too-soft mattress dip underneath his weight, and tried to walk himself through the steps of the survival ritual he'd done a thousand times. Decided when to order dinner, and shuffled the sticky, crumpled takeout menus stacked next to the TV. Worked out whether they had enough cash to make it through the next couple of days, so that Dean didn't have to paste on his best aw-shucks smile and hustle the shit out of some locals. Sorted the t-shirts in his duffel into a pile that could be worn again, and a pile that really needed the attention of the moldy laundry room they had walked past on the way to their room.
And shit but his leg hurt. He pulled up the leg of his jeans.
Dean must have heard the panic in his voice, because the bathroom door opened almost immediately.
Sam swallowed. "Does this look like a snakebite to you?"
Dean came out of the steamy bathroom fully dressed, and it wasn't like Sam wanted to see his brother's skin, or wanted to see the towel hitched around Dean's hips, but the damp Metallica t-shirt and the faded jeans were another symbol of the way that Dean wasn't Dean.
Dean dropped to his knees, on the sticky carpet, and rolled up the leg of Sam's pants. Sam could see him trying to be careful, hands moving slowly and surely, but the rasp of Dean's fingers over his skin made him shiver.
Dean looked up. "That hurt?"
"You feel sick? Taste metal? Have chest pains?"
Sam shook his head.
Dean's assessing look sharpened. "How long has your nose been bleeding?"
Sam wiped his nose on the back of his hand, smearing blood all along his fingers. It cooled on his skin almost immediately. "It just started."
Dean stood up, turning away. "Take your pants off."
Sam forced himself to grin, despite the fizz of anxiety in his gut. "Why, Dean, I didn't know you cared."
Dean went back into the bathroom. Came back with a pile of wet washcloths and a towel, and his eyes were dark. Sam felt a flash of guilt, a deep, terrible tremble, because the bite on his leg was just another thing that Dean didn't need.
He handed a washcloth to Sam. "Here, put this on your nose."
Sam pressed it to his face, smelling the familiar odour of cheap laundry detergent through the blood.
Dean laid out a roll of medical supplies on the bed. "Did you see the snake?" He picked up an Ace bandage, checked its length, and put it back down.
"I didn't know that I was bitten until just now." Sam shook his head. "There was so much crazy shit going on."
Dean lifted a small bottle out of the medical roll and held it up to the light. "I should get you to a hospital."
Sam unded his jeans one-handed, and slid them down his legs. The denim scraped over the bite on his calf, and he hissed a breath through his teeth. "We're in the back end of nowhere. And we both look like we've been in a fight. We really don't want to lead anyone to the shallow graves of two little kids."
"Yeah." Dean picked up the bandage again, all business, but Sam knew he hadn't imagined Dean bracing himself against a shudder. "I'm gonna bandage you up. Can you stay sitting up?"
"You want me to put my leg on the bed?"
"No." Dean rolled down Sam's sock. "I got you."
He wrapped Sam's leg with aching slowness, pulling the bandage tight and neat against Sam's flesh, his fingers smoothing down the edges. He clipped the ends together, Sam's foot in his lap, and Sam realised that the roll in his gut meant that he was going to be sick. He leaned over and puked into the wastebasket at the side of the bed.
Dean's cool palm pushed flat against his forehead as he heaved, and then Dean was helping him sit back up, one arm across Sam's shoulders, and wiping the blood and vomit off his face. He put two fingers against Sam's neck, found a pulse.
"How is it?" Sam's head felt like it weighted two hundred pounds, and he leaned it against Dean's shoulder.
"It's been better, Sam." His brother's voice sounded kind of like his car if you leaned against his chest while he was talking. "I'm going to give you some anti-venom. Okay?"
"Sure." Sam's mouth felt like it was full of cotton-wool.
Dean dragged him up the bed, and propped him against the thin motel pillows. Sam leant his head against the wall.
Dean unwrapped a syringe, used it to suck the clear liquid out of the glass bottle. "What kind of snakes do they have in Nebraska, Sam?" He tapped the syringe, and pushed the last bubble of air out of it, easy like Sunday morning.
"What?" Sam blinked, as Dean slid the tourniquet up his arm, pulled it tight and put it between his teeth.
"Just seeing if you're paying attention," Dean said, through a mouthful of rubber. He tapped his fingers against Sam's arm. "Make a fist."
Sam clenched his fingers into his palm, and watched Dean's face, blank with concentration, as he ran his fingers down one of Sam's veins. He found a good spot almost straight away, and Sam watched Dean slide the needle home. Watched, as his own blood swirled in the barrel of the syringe like raspberry syrup.
Dean taped it in. "We don't have any cannulas, Sam. I'm sorry." He loosened the tourniquet and threw it on the bed.
"Cannulae," said Sam, and his stomach roiled again. "Not cannulas."
"Dick," Dean replied, automatically, but his eyes were sharp on Sam's face.
"It's two ml a minute." Sam huffed a breath. "Don't push it too fast." Dean knew this like he knew this, but he needed Dean to know that this was going to be okay, that he was okay.
"I got you." Dean looked at his watch, depressed the plunger steadily. "There must have been a snake in that shed."
Dean kept his finger on the plunger. "Yeah, we're too far west for it to be a Copperhead."
Sam winced, and Dean tightened his lips.
"Keep talking to me, Sam. I need to know if I hafta break out the epinephrine."
Sam hesitated. "There's something I want to tell you."
Dean looked up from the syringe. "You're not dying, Sam."
Sam licked his lips. "I know. It's just—"
Dean looked down at his watch, inched the plunger forward. "What is it?"
Sam tried to organise his thoughts, over the sound of his pulse pounding in his ears.
"Jess wanted to be a child psychologist." Her name barely burned at all, in his throat, and he wasn't sure whether to be pleased about that or sad.
Dean blinked. "Oh."
"I read all the books she brought home."
"Of course you did, you big freak."
Sam half-smiled. "I was kind of trying to figure out what was going on with me and Dad."
Dean's smile faded. "Sammy—"
Sam shook his head, and his forehead found a cool space on the wall. "This isn't about Dad."
Sam shifted on the bed. "I read about kids like the ones in that house. Like those kids in Austria. The ones in the basement, where their Mom was also their sister."
"I don't want to hear about that shit." Dean's voice was tight.
"It's important." Sam took a breath. His chest hurt.
"What? What's so important?" Dean pressed on the plunger, hands gentle and sure against Sam's skin.
Sam's head felt full of clay. "Kids – people - in those type of long-term situations sometimes start identifying with their abuser."
Dean frowned. "Like Stockholm Syndrome?"
Sam looked at him, and it burned that there was so much Dean thought about, knew about, that he kept locked behind that swagger.
"What?" Dean raised an eyebrow. "I watch a lot of TV."
"Um, not really like Stockholm Syndrome." Dean slid the plunger forward, and Sam closed his eyes, trying to ignore the sensation of the needle in his vein. "More than that. Like they're in so much pain, and so worn down that they start identifying with the person with the power and their pleasure. And it can start to give them pleasure too. Like, physical pleasure."
Sam stuttered to a stop, as the silence thickened around him.
"I'm not a little kid." Dean's hands were steady on the syringe, but there was a shake in his voice that made Sam's chest tighten.
"I know that, Dean." Sam could hear the plea in his voice. "But Alastair, he hurt you for a long time."
Forty years, his brain supplied, and he'd turned that concept over and over, as he'd read Jim Hopper and Bessel van der Kolk in corners of public libraries, until his breath got short and choppy and he had to stand up and walk it off.
Dean's head was down, but Sam could see the muscle jumping in his jaw.
"I know he did, Sam."
"I know you know that." Sam sighed. "And in hell the demons were the ones with the power. Just like here it's fathers and teachers and cub scout leaders. So, if you started identifying with the demons, with their point of view, that's normal. It's normal, Dean."
Dean was silent, and Sam watched him catch his bottom lip with his teeth, like he was trying to stop himself from talking.
"I'm just saying that psychologists are real clear on what happens to people who suffer like you did, for less time, and you need to let yourself up off the mat." He could hear the desperation in his own voice.
Dean thumbed the plunger into place. "That's it. It's all in." He pushed down on Sam's vein with a tissue, and slid the needle out. "Doesn't look like we're going to need the epinephrine."
Sam reached his hand across to compress the injection site, but Dean pushed his fingers away. "I've got it, Sam." He pushed the tissue down on Sam's arm, and Dean's hand was warm through the thin paper. "I've got you."