The sound of the Impala's engine was a familiar noise that had soothed Sam down into sleep for quite a few years of his life. For the longest time it'd been the best lullaby for him. His father had said more than once that Sam had been fussy sometimes as a baby, only able to be soothed down by Dean's rocking or by the sounds and vibrations of the Impala. As Sam got older, that didn't change. The car could always put him to sleep.
He'd thought that maybe his time at Stanford might've changed that. It'd take a while, but Sam had adjusted to sleeping in a real bed all the time and not random motels and the backseat of the car. Yet it took no time at all being back with his brother for him to fall into familiar patterns. When things got bad, when the pain of Jess was too fresh, when the headaches left behind from his visions kept him from sleep, when worry for their Dad tugged at him, Sam had still been able to find sleep in the comfort of the Impala.
All of that had changed the minute Sam found out about Dean's deal. He'd lost the safety and comfort that the Impala brought him.
Each time that Sam tried to fall asleep in the car, all he could think of was how much time he had left before this wouldn't happen anymore. He'd think of the time ahead of him where he wouldn't have Dean sitting in the driver's seat, tapping his thumbs to his music, softly singing lyrics under his breath in a voice so low that Sam could only sometimes catch a few words here and there. He wouldn't be able to curl up in the passenger's seat and just relax, knowing that his brother was behind the wheel and that he'd make sure they got safely wherever they needed to go.
Those thoughts were what plagued Sam as he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the Impala's window.
They were on their way to yet another case and Sam was so tired he wanted nothing more than to be able to just fall sleep here as he'd done so many times before. He just, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t get himself to let go enough to go to sleep. He couldn't shut off his brain. It kept taunting him with thoughts of what was to come. The things that were waiting in his future if he didn't find a way to save Dean from the demon deal. He was going to lose his brother - lose all of this - and Sam didn't know how he'd cope with that. He didn't know how he would be able to even breathe.
Dean had always been such a giant part of his life. Even when they weren't together, he was the stone that Sam built himself on. The person that he measured himself up to in every single way. The strength that he'd always relied on. He'd always known that all he had to do was call Dean and his brother might not answer, but he'd check his messages, and if something was wrong, he'd be there as quickly as he possibly could. He'd be there for Sam no matter what.
What was he going to do without that? How on earth was he supposed to live without his brother in his life? For so long Sam had defined himself by Dean, in so many different ways. How was he going to exist without him?
A soft shiver ran down Sam's body and he curled in a little tighter. He'd find a way to save him. He would! No matter what it took. Sam would make damn sure that he found a way to save his brother before it was too late. Dean had always done everything he could to take care of Sam. This time, it was Sam's turn to take care of him.
Whatever it took.
They arrived in town late and checked into their motel, neither one of them up for doing much of anything. When they got into their room, Sam fought back a groan and dropped his bag down onto the floor beside his bed. He stopped only long enough to pull off his jacket and flannel before dropping down as well, stretching his aching body out on the bed. The feel of the mattress after hours of not sleeping in the car was Heavenly. Sam drew in a heavy breath and let it out slowly.
That breath turned to a grunt when he felt Dean thump his foot when he walked past. “Hey, no crashing yet, Sammy. You’re gonna wake up pissed if you don’t get your boots and shit off first.”
“Don’ wanna.” Sam grumbled into the comforter. He was quite content to lie here and not move at all.
He heard Dean’s bag drop down and then the sound of bedsprings as, he assumed, his brother sat down on the other bed. “Yeah, well, suck it up, princess. I’m not gonna listen to you bitch in the morning cause you’re gritty and achy from sleeping in jeans.”
Ugh. The bastard was right. Sam knew it and he couldn’t help but scowl. Judging by the low chuckle from nearby, his brother saw that scowl and was enjoying it. Briefly Sam contemplated flipping him off. Then he decided it was too much energy. Especially when he was already going to have to sit up and actually put in the effort to take off his boots. Ever so carefully, Sam placed first one palm and then the other flat against the bedspread. Then, with a grunt of effort, he began to push. He only made it about halfway up before a sharp twinge in his back had him sucking in a breath and going completely still. Only sheer willpower kept him from dropping straight back down to the bed.
Sam wasn’t stupid enough to think that Dean wouldn’t have heard that sound or figured out what was going on. In a flash the older Winchester was up off the bed and over at Sam’s side. “Sammy?” He knelt down on the bed and the shift was enough to make Sam whimper, the muscles of his back seizing up and protesting with a furious cramp that had Sam gritting his teeth and fighting so hard not to cry out. Dean swore softly even as he slipped a hand under Sam to press a palm flat against Sam’s chest and brace him up. “All right. You’re all right, little brother. I got you. Let’s get you laid back down, all right?”
This was becoming a rather too-familiar scene between them lately. Sam had suffered from back pain since puberty; not a constant thing, just something that flared up once in a while. His father had always told him it came from growing too fast. When Sam hit his growth spurt, he’d hit it hard and sprouted up quickly. It kind of made sense that it made his back muscles ache. Over the years, he got sort of used to it, even when it got really bad. Dean was always there to help him.
But after Cold Oak, after Jake, it seemed like the backaches had returned with a vengeance, worse than ever before. That, too, made sense. The demon that made Dean’s deal had healed Sam – they hadn’t promised to heal him perfectly.
Together, with Sam moving carefully and Dean bracing him, the two got Sam lying down on his stomach once more. The effort that he’d been putting into getting up was forgotten now. Sam put himself in his brother’s capable hands and didn’t bother trying to protest. Soon enough, he’d have to learn how to do this on his own. For now he simply wanted to soak up the comfort and security of the few moments he had left.
“There you go.” Dean murmured. He slid his hand carefully out from under Sam and moved slowly, cautiously, making sure not to jostle the bed at all as he rose off of it. “Just hang on a second, Sammy. Lay there and try not to move.”
That was a command Sam was pretty sure he could follow. The pain in his back spread upwards, a wave of cramping that traveled over his whole spine. It felt like someone was grabbing right between his shoulder blades and was trying to yank his spine straight out. Pressing his face down into the bed, the younger hunter stifled a groan. God, it hurt!
He felt it when Dean got close again. A hand touched the bed right in front of his head to warn him and then slid forward to cup his forehead just enough to help him lift it ever so slightly off the bed. Though Sam had a hatred of taking pills, raised by a father who drilled into them that they couldn’t be slowed down by the grogginess that came with too strong medication, he didn’t hesitate now to open his mouth and take the pills that Dean popped in there. Sam swallowed them dry. It was a skill he’d learned from many such scenes like this one. Sometimes there was just no way for him to move enough to be able to get a glass of anything to his lips to help him swallow down meds.
Once he’d swallowed them, Dean carefully helped him lay his head back down. He smoothed back some of Sam’s hair so it wasn’t laying over his face. “Just lay there and let those kick in, all right? They’ll knock you on your ass quick enough and you’ll wake up feeling better just like you always do.”
It was true, too. The pain meds always worked well enough to knock him out for a few hours and by the time he woke up he generally felt a lot better. Sometimes the ache was still there but it wasn’t any worse than could be gained by working out a little too much. Sam licked his lips and mustered up enough control to say a low “Thanks, Dean.”
“Shut up.” His brother said fondly. Dean moved away from Sam’s head. A moment later, Sam could feel as his boots were being unlaced and slid off his feet. What came next would’ve been beyond embarrassing with anyone that wasn’t Dean. It was bad enough that Dean had to do it, really. Even though it’d happened before and Sam knew his brother didn’t care, it still caused Sam to blush when Dean’s hands curled over his hips and then slid enough to go gently under his stomach and undo the button and a bit of the zipper on his jeans. “Almost there, buddy.” Dean’s voice was low and easy, the same tone he adopted any time Sam was sick or hurt. His hands slid back out, over to Sam’s hips again, and this time Sam tried to lift just a little to help as Dean grabbed the belt loops on either side and used those to start to slide his pants down.
The pressure of trying to lift his hips made the next cramp worse and Sam squeezed his eyes shut. “Dammit.”
“Stop trying to help, you idiot.” There was a sharper edge to Dean’s words now, a warning that was pure big brother. “I told you, hold still!”
“S-Sorry.” Sam stammered past gritted teeth.
His pants were pulled off and dropped somewhere off to the side. Then came the moment Sam was waiting for, the one thing he knew would help better than anything else. Dean gently settled his weight down onto the bed right up near Sam’s shoulder and then he lifted a hand and laid his palm flat against Sam’s spine. With Dean’s upper half reclined against the headboard and his legs now stretched out alongside Sam, it allowed him just enough reach to be able fit the heel of his hand a few inches below Sam’s shoulders and push, just a little, rubbing down over that knot that sat between his shoulder blades, and then carefully draw his hand back up.
They’d discovered how soothing that gesture was back when all this first started and it hadn’t lost its potency in the years since then.
“All right, Sammy, you know the drill here. Just relax and breathe for me. I hope you don’t gotta pee cause there’s no way you’re getting up for at least eight hours and I’m sure as shit not changing a wet bed.”
Sam’s small smile was hidden by the blankets. He blinked his eyes open and saw Dean’s jean clad thigh in front of his face. “You’d do it.”
The sound Dean made was somewhere between a scoff and a snort. “Like hell I would.”
Both of them knew that Dean would. Or, really, he’d figure out an alternative. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d had to get a bit creative when Sam’s back wouldn’t let him move.
What am I going to do when he’s not here anymore? Sam thought to himself. How the hell am I going to do any of this without him?
Those were the thoughts that plagued him as he finally drifted down into sleep. They were the thoughts that always plagued him anymore.
The sound of the radio woke Sam the next morning. He woke up to the sound of it playing loudly beside his head and he had to fight back a groan. The pain was mostly gone, well enough that he was able to draw in a breath with only a small twinge of pain in his muscles that he knew would probably work out once he sat up and stretched out.
Sam opened his eyes, trying not to sigh, as the next lyric belted out right next to his head.
“Heat of the moment…”