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the island of conclusions

Another Hug Coda: "Coming Untied" (spoilers for 4.22)

the island of conclusions

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Another Hug Coda: "Coming Untied" (spoilers for 4.22)

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I posted a few prompts to thehighwaywoman's wonderful "Hug-It-Out" meme, and I got some lovely stories in response, here , here , and here . But then I was dogged by my own prompts, as one is, I guess, and I ended up writing my own hugging coda to 4.22.

Title: Coming Untied
Rating: PG-13, no pairing (gen)
Word count: @1,100
Warning: spoilers for 4.22; and schmoop, because, you know, it's a hugging coda.
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit.
Summary: for my own prompts: "a sudden, unexpected, burst of tears"; and "Dean freaks out a little, maybe a lot, when he realizes Sam really is done with sneaking out at night."

They drive as long as they can, trading off—twelve hours? twenty-four? thirty-six? Sam looses track. When they can’t drive any more they find a nondescript motel and collapse, too tired to do anything more than get their shoes off before they’re asleep.

It doesn’t feel like very long, however, before a noise startles Sam awake. A ragged, gasping kind of noise, like someone in pain. He pulls himself up and flicks on the bedside light, but the bed next to his is empty. He listens for a moment, and the noises seem to be coming from the bathroom, though the door is closed, and no light shines under it.

“Dean?” He calls, crossing the room and rapping softly on the door, “you alright in there, man?”

No answer, but the gasping turns into more of a harsh keening, as if Dean is pressing his lips tight against whatever wants to come out. The door isn’t locked, and Sam figures all pretense of politeness got stripped away from them in that Maryland convent, so he just pushes through and turns on the light. But even after everything, he pauses for a moment when he sees Dean.

Dean is crying. And that’s not what’s shocking, 'cause goodness knows he’s seen a lot of it in the past year. But usually Dean is annoyingly dignified when he cries: his face just pales out, and a tear or two wells over—-maybe his chin trembles, maybe not. Sam finds it simultaneously exasperating and heart-breaking every time it happens. But this, this is different.

Dean’s sitting on the toilet, hunched over, curled into himself. He’s got one hand pressed over his eyes, and the other wrapped around his ribs, like the sobs coming out of him are wrenching the muscles there. The part of his face Sam can see is bright red, and streaked with an indistinguishable mess of tears and snot. His mouth seems frozen into an awkward, painful grimace He looks as far from dignified as possible—caught in the impossible pain of childhood, the anguish children give way to over a skinned knee or a lost toy, but that adults learn to hide.

“Dean!” Sam means to be gentle, but the words come out sharp with worry. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Sick? “

Dean unwraps the hand from his chest and waves it at Sam, in a gesture Sam interprets as no, nothing like that. “Nightmare?” More hand waving.

Biting back his concern, Sam crouches in front of Dean, unrolls some toilet paper and presses it into Dean’s free hand. Dean takes the hint and blows his nose, loudly and wetly, once, twice, three times. Sam hands him some more toilet paper, and Dean scrubs ineffectually at his face. Sam can see his eyes now—they’re red-rimmed and nothing at all like a child’s. Sam can’t put a name to the emotion there, but he can tell it’s not physical pain, and he breathes a sigh of relief.

“Dean, seriously, what’s up?” he says.

Sam half expects Dean to put him off, or to abruptly pull himself together and stalk away, but he doesn’t do either. Maybe he's made some kind of vow of forthrightness after all their mutual evasions landed them in so much trouble. He draws in a halting breath, seems to steel himself to speak, and gives it a try.

“I woke up,” he starts, “and you—“ but his face contorts again, rigid against the sob welling out of him.

“Dean—“ Sam’s about to tell him it’s okay, he doesn’t have to go on, but Dean waves a hand at him again, telling him to be quiet, Sam thinks.

“I woke up, and you were there, really there, fast asleep, really there--” Dean says, words rushed. “and all year, all those nights, I’d wake up—“ Then Dean loses it again, one hand back over his eyes, the back of the other one pressed tight against his mouth.

But Sam knows what’s going on now, though the knowledge twists his stomach so hard he thinks for a minute he might throw up. All year, all those nights , when Dean would wake from nightmares—memories —of Hell to find a worse nightmare come true, to find Sam gone, with no word as to where or why, no assurance he would come back. All year, all those nights , of Dean tamping down the terror that absence stirred in him with sarcasm, belligerence, alcohol. He must have wrapped all those feelings into a tight ball, tied them up tight. But something about recent events—the horror of what had been set free, the relief of coming together again—had snapped those ties, loosed a year’s worth of fear in a paroxysm of relief.

Sam shudders through a stab of self-hatred. “Dean,” he says, pleading to his brother’s shuttered, tear-streaked face, “I’m sorry, I’ve been cruel, I know that now, but I’m not going anywhere, I’m here-- “

He senses the movement rather than seeing it. Dean’s about to clock him one. It’s what Dean does. What Dean does when he's past words and wants Sam to shut the fuck up too, wants to drag him to the other side of articulation where only physical contact, physical impact, counts. Sam gets it, goodness knows he’s been them himself only too recently. But Dean is a little slow this time, maybe from the crying, maybe because his heart isn’t really in it, and Sam is able to catch his wrist on the downswing.

He uses the momentum to pull Dean into a fierce embrace. It’s awkward, crouched in front of the toilet, his brother’s weight leaning into him now, but to Sam’s immense relief Dean goes along with it, digging his fingers into Sam’s arms, pressing his face against Sam’s collarbone. Sam can smell ash and traces of sulfuric residue, old sweat and unwashed clothes, feel Dean’s tears and snot soaking into his shirt.

“Desperate, sloppy, needy Dean.” The Crossroad Demon’s insidious words from more than a year ago come back to Sam unbidden. He thinks about all those months with Ruby and her smooth impassivity, her tiny smiles and carefully calculated taunts. She never gave away too much—even when they…even when…That last, short-lived triumphant outburst in the convent may have been more emotion that he’d seen from her than in the preceding two years put together.

They aren’t children, Sam knows that, for all that they’ve ended up on the bathroom floor clutching each other like five-year-olds. And one hug isn’t going to fix things, permanently soothe the aches left by the brutal events of the past year, repair the damage they’ve inflicted on each other. Nevertheless, Sam pulls Dean closer, holding onto the messy, smelly weight and heat and humanity of his brother, and ducks his head under a wave of pure gratitude.

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