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07 December 2013 @ 12:47 am
Fic: Piercing the Veil (Supernatural)  
Title: Piercing the Veil
Author: anactoria
Characters/pairing: Dean, Sam, Bobby, Ruby
Rating: PG-13
Warnings/contains: Sickfic, mild h/c, gen.
Summary: Dean gets a migraine. Because this is his life and a normal illness would just be too much to hope for, things go downhill from there. Takes place early in S4.
Notes: Belated fill for a prompt on the hoodie_time comment meme. Many thanks to flawlessglitch for the beta; any remaining mistakes are, obviously, my own.




There are moments. Not many of them.

Mostly they happen while he’s driving. It takes just enough concentration to keep his mind from wandering too far, drifting off into any kind of state where memories might float to the surface, and when the music’s loud enough, when the road ahead is long and clear enough and his baby’s purring under his hands like a contented jungle cat, Dean gets somewhere close to zoned out. Not exactly peaceful, still about a million miles from happy, but just… emptied, for a few minutes, of the whole damn mess that’s around and inside of him. He guesses it must be the same kind of feeling that hippies get from meditation, or health freaks get from jogging, or whatever the fuck else it is that normal people do when they get stressed out.

So yeah, Dean has his moments, and they’re few and far between, and this oughta be one of them. Their latest job went off easy: a couple of kids who’d been screwing around with magic they shouldn’t have been anywhere near and managed to invoke a spirit who wasn’t too happy about the wake-up call. He even managed to bug Sam into handling clean-up by making out like the knock to the head he took when their ghostly pal hit him with a lamp was worse than it looked. (Being a dick is just simpler, sometimes. A lot of the time.) Okay, he did actually start feeling dizzy and like he might be about to hurl for a couple of minutes, waiting outside, but it passed pretty much right away, and he felt fine enough to tell Sam no fucking way when he looked like he might be about to offer to drive.

And it’s late in the afternoon but the sun’s still shining, and Dean hasn’t had to touch the fifth of whiskey he keeps stashed under the driver’s seat for emergencies, and he’s almost in what passes for a good mood these days. Only some dickweed always has to ruin it, don’t they?

Like this asswipe in the Toyota Prius up ahead, doing twenty under the speed limit on a road that’s too narrow and too heavy with traffic coming in the opposite direction for Dean to pass him. He’s gripping the steering wheel tight enough that his fingers fizz with pins and needles, muttering a string of insults under his breath, and at first when it happens he thinks it’s just the sun bouncing off the fucker’s license plate, or maybe even that he’s screwed with his eyes by glaring too hard.

Michigan plates. Three letters, four numbers. And then the numbers are missing, and the plate just reads ‘AHL’. Which in Dean’s opinion is pretty much accurate, but probably still not meant to happen.

He blinks. Scrubs a hand across his eyes. Nope, the numbers are still missing. He glances up fractionally, and then the license plate is whole again, but now the Toyota badge above it is missing. He brakes, hanging back until he’s a slightly more sensible distance from the Prius.

From the passenger seat: “Dean?”

“What?”

“You stopped cursing under your breath. I figure that must mean something’s up.”

He turns his head to look at Sammy.

“I’m—” fine, he’s about to say, but then he stops because Sam doesn’t have a nose.

Or, not that he can see, anyway. Because there’s this—hole. Just this little scrap of nothingness in the center of Dean’s vision, right where Sammy’s nose ought to be. He blinks again, harder, just as Sam yells, “Dean! Brakes!”

He slams his foot down on autopilot, and avoids bumping the Prius—whose driver has slowed right down for no apparent reason—by inches. Prius Asswipe possibly makes a rude gesture at him, but Dean can’t see it around the hole in his vision, which seems to get a tiny bit wider each time he blinks.

He pulls over and yanks on the handbrake, his first thought that there’s a witch out there working some kind of mojo on them, maybe a hex bag slipped into the car while they were working the case. “You seeing this?” he asks Sam. “I mean, not seeing this, whatever?”

Sam frowns at him. “…No?”

Dean relaxes a little at that. If it was magic, they’d both be getting hit. Must be that knock to the head, after all. Just his luck, karma choosing this moment to kick in. He exhales, and kills the engine. “Then it’s your lucky day. Looks like you’re designated driver for now.”

Of course Sam insists on questioning him when he realises that Dean can’t see right. He does it gently, though, none of his exasperated eye-rolling when Dean snaps at him that it’s just a fucking concussion and he’s had about a zillion of those and they haven’t killed him yet so drop it, okay? Which means that Dean must not be looking so hot. Truth be told, he isn’t feeling so hot, either. By the time they roll into the next town, there’s a dull, relentless thud of pain behind his right eyeball, and the hole in his vision has widened to a jagged crescent, like something big and toothy has come along and taken a chunk right out of reality.

Abruptly, Dean is reminded of something Bobby said to him, a couple months (a lifetime) back, before—before. You’re piercing the veil. The memory makes him shiver involuntarily.

A hole in reality—that’s just an abstract concept, to most people. But when you know what’s on the other side, it’s a lot less abstract and a lot more fucking terrifying.

Dean squints at the hole in his field of vision. He can’t see anything recognisable in it. Just a chaotic crosshatch of light that flashes when he blinks; nothing that actually looks like anything. He squeezes his eyes shut all the same, rests his cheek against the cool windowpane.

It’s probably nothing. Probably just one blow to the head too many. Okay, so this isn’t like any concussion symptom he’s ever had before (and isn’t that depressing, that he has an inventory?), but since when does the world ever get tired of finding new shit to throw at him? Hell, by his standards, today is still way up on the ‘good day’ end of the scale.

The car comes to a stop, and Sam reaches over to shake him by the shoulder. Dean stifles a groan.

“’M awake,” he protests, opening his eyes. And, hey, Sam has all of his face again.

Dean takes a cautious look around. Yeah. His head’s still thumping and light’s kind of hurting his eyes, but the world is back. No holes in it. Thank fuck for that.

He opens the passenger door, and manoeuvres himself upright.

Then his stomach turns over, and it’s more by luck than judgement that his gaze lands on a trashcan outside the motel entrance and he manages to make it there just in time to spew his guts up.

The woman behind the desk eyes him with disgust through the glass doors, obviously taking him for a drunk. He gives her a little wave, tries to summon up an insolent smirk—something that says, yeah, yeah, I can see that stick up your ass a mile away—but between the thumping in his head and the bile clinging to the back of his throat, it ends up being more of a grimace.

Sam has more sense than to fuss over him, thankfully—just books them in and shoulders both their bags without complaint while Dean stumbles down the corridor to their room with one hand on the wall and collapses face-first onto one of the beds. Dean burrows his face into the pillow. Only that ends up stiflingly hot, and after a moment he starts to feel like he’s suffocating on his own breath, so he turns over and sprawls out on his back with his hands over his eyes to keep out the light.

Sam stays quiet. When Dean inches one hand off of his face and cracks an eyelid (which, ouch), he sees that Sam has drawn the curtains and is rooting through their first aid kit, but without any of the grim determination on his face that would mean he thinks this is serious.

“No lecture about sleeping with a concussion?” Dean asks him.

“Would you listen?”

He shrugs.

“How’s your head feeling?”

“Like a gremlin with a pickaxe and a grudge against my right retina’s set up camp in it, thanks for asking.” He catches Sam’s assessing look. “Not literally. Jesus.”

But all Sam says is, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“So not in the mood for Twenty Questions here, Sammy. What’s what you thought?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “You’re not concussed. I know you didn’t get hit in the head that hard. Headache, nausea, visual disturbances—sounds like you have a migraine.”

Dean props himself up on an elbow, frowning. “Migraine? Thought that was just what pussies call it when they get a headache.”

“Not so much. They can be pretty painful.” Sam’s voice drops fractionally. “Jess used to get them sometimes, when she was stressed. She’d be knocked out all day if she didn’t manage to take her meds in time.”

“Great, so I’ve got college-chick-freaking-out-over-a-paper disease. That makes me feel so much less pathetic.” Dean makes a face. “Can’t I just take the concussion instead?”

“Actually, about a third of people get them, sometime or another,” Sam says, his eyes going distant like he’s recalling something long-memorised, and suddenly Dean’s hit with an image of him Googling worriedly in the college library, or sat up in the apartment with Jess sleeping next door. Like he would have done himself when Sam got sick, if the internet had been a thing when they were kids.

“Some people only ever get a single attack,” Sam goes on. “Hopefully this is your one and only. Anyway, they’re not usually dangerous, just unpleasant. Take a couple aspirin, sleep it off, you’ll probably be fine.” He looks thoughtful. “Though if you’re that upset about having an unmanly illness, I could hit you over the head again?”

Dean flips him the bird. “Just give me the damn aspirin.”

He expects Sam to at least throw the packet at his head, but he doesn’t; just crosses the room and sets it down gently on Dean’s pillow. Dean is more grateful for that than he should be, probably, but the hell is he going to say thank you like he’s some kind of a fragile flower, so he just swallows a couple of the pills dry and buries his head under the pillows again.

Between the evening sun still streaming in through the gap between the curtains and the sound of Sam tapping away at his laptop, it takes Dean what seems like forever to get to sleep. But eventually he drifts, and he’s just on the edge of it when he hears the voice.

Or, well, maybe not so much a voice as—words formed out of not-quite-human noise. Like a rustle of leaves. A crackle of flame. Whispering at the edges of his brain:

Sam?

Huh? Dean thinks, and then his throbbing brain takes the executive decision to shrug it off with, Not today, subconscious, please call back later, and sleep takes him.

 

----

 




In the morning, Dean’s headache is all but gone, and he can see again, and he doesn’t seem likely to lose his breakfast anytime soon. He’s a little bit washed out, kind of one step to the left of the rest of the world, but that’s no worse than he normally feels the morning after a drink or six. (So, most mornings.) He wouldn’t worry about that, and so he doesn’t worry about this, and by the time they’re fed and caffeinated and back on the road, the whole thing’s all but forgotten.

Like Sammy said. Nothing serious.

It stays forgotten until the middle of the next week. They’re on another job. It’s a standard haunting, this time, and Dean has drawn the short straw and ended up digging for the bones while Sam keeps watch.

Which is just fine by him, because it means he doesn’t have to look at that antsy expression on Sam’s face, or the unconscious way his hand keeps darting to the pocket where he keeps his cell.

It’s been a while since Dean heard him get up for one of his little late-night chats with Ruby. (One week and five days, to be exact, and yeah, Dean is keeping count, because in his place who the fuck wouldn’t, so what?) And it’s obvious this has nothing to do with any sudden attack of common sense, and the distress that creeps in around Sam’s edges when he thinks Dean isn’t looking makes Dean worry about just how deep in this thing Sam is, about how long it’s gonna be before he does something suicidally dumb. About why the hell Dean is so helpless to stop it.

He’s managed to avoid sleeping the last couple of nights, and the beam of the flashlight is already making spots of light swim before his tired eyes, so it’s not until he hits himself in the foot with the damn shovel that he notices that the peripheral vision on his right side is being eaten away by another one of those—holes. Visual disturbances, Sam called them, which sounds reassuringly clinical, only as far as Dean’s concerned they still look more like great big gouges ripped out of the fabric of the world.

He shakes his head as if that’s gonna clear it, covers his right eye with the heel of his hand. Doesn’t help.

“Dean,” Sam is saying. A little bit of a frustrated note in it, suggesting he’s already tried for Dean’s attention a couple times. “You okay?”

“No.” He scowls. “My fucking eyes again. Fuck.”

Sam makes this sympathetic noise, like Dean is one of the freaked-out civilians he’s always trying to comfort, and holds the flashlight out to him—pointing downwards, so the light doesn’t shine in his eyes. “Here. You watch, I’ll dig.”

It rankles, that little show of concern—like Sam isn’t the one with the bigger problem here—but it’s not as annoying as gouging himself in the foot with the business end of a shovel, so Dean just grumbles, “Yeah, I’m really the guy you want watching your back right now,” and takes the flashlight.

By the time Sam gets the bones doused in gas and lit on fire, Dean can hardly see a thing. His field of vision is half gone, and the other half is all jumbled up and dislocated, and the leaping flames get all mixed up in there somehow and call to mind other flames—inhuman, otherworldly flames that never died out, never ran out of fuel to consume because doomed human souls were a dime a dozen… there. And in the crackle of the fire he knows that there is screaming, just below the level of hearing, the ghost of it scritch-scratching at the edges of consciousness, and that other thing, that not-a-voice he heard last time whispering: Sam.

Sam.

Sam. Whose hand is on his shoulder, who is peering worriedly at him, thoughtful frown right up in Dean’s face, and Dean just knows he’s going to go all Web MD again once they get back to the motel.

Still. It might distract Sam from all the not-talking-to-Ruby he’s been doing.

“C’mon,” Sam says. “We’re done here. Come get some sleep.”

Dean shrugs his hand off and makes for the gates—or where he remembers them being, anyway. But when he stumbles and almost lands on his ass in an open grave, and Sam takes his elbow again to steer him toward the car, he sighs heavily and lets himself be led.

 

----

 




This time, he doesn’t feel anything close to okay in the morning. Like fuck is he insisting on another day in the motel like he’s some whining hypochondriac, but that dull, relentless ache is still spread across half his skull, and he sure as hell isn’t gonna risk puking up on the Impala’s dashboard, so he tosses Sam the keys and folds himself into the passenger seat with the window wound down.

Sam gives him a Look. “You okay, man?”

And Sam shouldn’t be the one giving him Looks, and Dean is definitely gonna have to point that out just as soon as he feels a little less like crawling into a dark cave and hibernating for the next six months. But that time isn’t right now, so he settles for muttering “Peachy,” and closing his eyes against the morning sun.

 

----

 




The next time it happens, Dean gets pissed.

They’re investigating a series of mysterious deaths at a lake in Kent County that the local papers have down as drownings, except that the victims were all found with their heads out of the water, slicks of unidentifiable green slime around their mouths. Dean’s working on distracting a cute lab tech from her samples so they can swipe one and run some tests of their own when one of those goddamned holes appears in her face.

He loses the thread of his sentence, staring at it, and she looks up at him, her brow wrinkling.

“Agent? Everything okay?”

He tries for a smile. “Sure. Anyway, I thought I told you to call me—” Shit. What is his alias?

He’s mentally scrabbling around for clues when she rolls her eyes and says, “Fine. Everything alright, Richard?”

And, fuck it, he is not gonna be laid low by his own dumb brain again. Not this time. He’ll just keep on going. Power on through. So he grins at her and says, “Fine. Just having a thought. Don’t worry, won’t happen again.”

See? Not so hard.

Only by the time Sam claps him on the shoulder and says, “C’mon. Think we’ve got everything we need here,” he still hasn’t managed to snag one of the samples, and the lab tech—or at least, the half of her face he can still see—is looking less charmed and more concerned.

Dean gets up, managing not to wince. He thinks. “Okay,” he says. “It was nice meeting you, Serena.”

Celine,” the lab tech says, not sounding too impressed, and then Dean walks into the fucking doorframe.

Celine is on her feet right away, exclaiming, “Oh my God! Are you sure you’re alright?”

Sam hangs back for a minute, and Dean is left squinting blearily at her for a moment before he’s able to summon a nod. “Yeah,” he says, and she smiles and doesn’t tell him to call her.

 

----

 




“Another migraine?” Sam asks him, once they’re safely back in the Impala.

Dean scowls, which he figures is all the response he needs to give.

“Well, at least your little Three Stooges moment had an upside.” Sam reaches into the pocket of his suit jacket and produces a test tube with a little blob of emerald-green goo gleaming stickily in the bottom, then replaces it. “Still, I think you should probably—”

“No.”

“You haven’t even heard me out.”

“No doctors, Sammy. It’s not gonna help.”

Sam rolls his eyes and launches into some lecture, but Dean isn’t listening anymore. Because there it is, that voice like the rustling of leaves. And there they are, those flames on the other side of the veil, seen through the holes in the world, leaping higher, higher, higher.

 

----

 




“You should be in bed.”

“Shut up, Sam.”

“You look like death.”

“Stop it, you’re making me blush.” Dean peers down at the glassy surface of the lake, a pale glitter of dawn reflected in it that hurts his eyes. “When’s this thing supposed to show up, anyway?”

Sam is still giving him disapproving glares, but, mercifully, he cuts out the nagging. “Kelpies can appear anytime, but all the deaths so far have happened at dusk or first thing in the morning. Those are the most common times for fairy sightings, and that’s technically what this thing is, so I figure this is our best shot.”

“Right.” Dean breathes in deeply, and lets his eyes flutter briefly shut. It doesn’t do anything to ease his headache. He can see properly, though, and he’s pretty sure he’s done puking for this round. Now if he could just stop hearing those whispering voices, stop picturing those flames—

“Dean!”

He hears Sam’s shout a split-second before something cold and slimy wraps around his ankle in a vice-like hold. And then the thing yanks and he’s on his face in the mud, gun slipping from his grasp. He claws for a handhold, spitting out mud, desperately trying to heave himself up as the thing drags him slowly, inexorably down toward the cold water.

“Dean!” he hears. “Look out!”

A shot sounds above his head, and then another, and the grip on his ankle slackens and slips away and his skull rings with pain. He sits up, breathing heavily, scrubbing mud out of his aching eyes.

 

----

 




“You know you’re a fucking idiot,” Sam tells him, later, as Dean emerges from the bathroom mud-free.

“Pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing this job otherwise.”

Sam gives an exasperated huff, and Dean doesn’t have to look at him to know he’s doing Bitchface #7 (‘why-aren’t-you-taking-this-seriously?’), the one that makes him look like a grade school teacher trying to talk sense to a bunch of unruly kids. “Dean. That thing could’ve killed you. You’re off your game.”

“And it’ll pass. It’s not serious. That’s what you said.”

“That was when I thought it was a one-off. But come on. There are tons of medications out there you could try. They’re not going to do you any harm. I guess I just don’t see why you have such a problem with getting checked out.”

Dean finishes towelling his hair dry, tosses the towel into the corner of the room, and flops down on the bed with his eyes closed. Damnit, he just wants to pack up and hit the road and not talk about this. And his head just wants to sleep for a week and not talk about this. Neither he nor his head get what they want, though, because when he doesn’t respond Sam goes on:

“I mean, this isn’t some suspicious-looking hunting injury. Doctors see people with migraines every single day.”

“Yeah,” Dean sighs. “About that.”

“What do you mean?” Trepidation in Sam’s voice; it almost makes Dean wish he hadn’t said anything.

Still. Too late now. “I’ve been—seeing things. Not just the standard migraine stuff—and not memories, either,” he adds, quickly, because he is not having that conversation right now, maybe not ever. “Just—images. Fire, mostly. And I hear things. A voice, I think.”

“What does it say?”

Dean shrugs. “Dunno. Can’t make it out.”

“Okay,” says Sam. “Any idea why?”

Dean hesitates. Is there any point spreading around all the screwed-up shit that his brain comes up with in the small hours? He swallows. In for a dime, he guesses “But what if Cas—” He swallows. “What if I came back wrong? Like, still connected, somehow? To—” He breaks off, and Sam finishes for him:

“Downstairs?”

Dean lets out a breath. “Yeah.”

“We’ll talk to Bobby,” Sam decides, and Dean wants to protest that he should be the one doing the deciding, but Sam is still talking. “See what we can dig up. But in the meantime? Those are real headaches. And that was definitely real puke on the bathroom floor this morning. Seeing a real doctor isn’t gonna do you any harm.”

“Fine,” says Dean, because if that’s the only way this conversation is gonna be over then so be it. “Whatever.” He peels himself up off the bed and starts stuffing clothes into his duffel. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

----

 




The doctor gives Dean a prescription for Imitrex, which does absolutely nothing for his migraines except give his stomach something to eject when he hasn’t been able to eat all day. After they fail to work for three attacks in a row—which by now is also three days in a row—Sam packs up their stuff without a word, bundles Dean into the car, and drives them to Bobby’s.

Sam is looking pretty rough around the edges himself right now.

Dean isn’t naïve enough to think it’s all because Sam’s worried about his welfare. Okay, so he hasn’t noticed Sam making any of those late-night phonecalls recently, but then Dean hasn’t always been in a condition to notice much of anything. But the little scrunched-up face of disappointment Sam makes when his cell rings and it’s just Bobby, calling to ask how long they’ll be? He notices that.

 

----

 




They’ve been at Bobby’s a week, two whole days of which Dean has spent not clutching his head in pain or vomiting up the frankly pathetic amounts of soup and cereal he’s managed to get down. Right now, he’s huddled in a miserable lump on Bobby’s couch waiting for his aura symptoms to fade and the next headache to hit, grateful for the fact that the front room of this place is about as light and airy as a sewer tunnel. The guest bedroom upstairs is even darker, and quieter, but Dean is sick and fucking tired of feeling like an invalid, shunted to one side while Bobby pores over resurrection lore and Sam alternates between doing the same and looking up increasingly unlikely-sounding migraine cures on the internet.

Also, Sam checks his cell at least fifty percent less often when he thinks Dean might be looking.

“Wow.” Sam draws in a sharp breath through his teeth, sounding pained, drawing Dean’s attention back to the present moment.

“What?” he asks. “No, wait, let me guess. We’ll need the One Ring, the tears of a baby unicorn, Captain Jack Sparrow’s hat—”

“No, just—some English woman had a migraine for two whole years. Ouch.”

“So, it could be worse, that what you’re saying? I should look on the bright side?”

No,” Sam protests, and he sounds so genuinely indignant, so worried, that Dean gropes around under the couch for a shoe and pitches it at where he judges Sam’s head ought to be. Misses, and knocks a pile of books and other junk to the floor with a clatter that makes him wince.

Sam crouches down to gather them up.

“Jerk,” he says, but there’s no heat behind it, and even less humour.

 

----

 




Later. Dean’s feeling slightly less shitty (admittedly, on a scale that runs from just ‘shitty’ to ‘so-shitty-his-head-might-actually-explode-right-now-oh-fucking-Christ’), so he gets up to fix himself some soup, because apparently that’s the limit of his usefulness around here at the moment. He empties the can into a bowl, jabs at the microwave keypad—and then there’s another patch of crackling nothingness where the tip of his finger ought to be, and something inside him just snaps and he flings the empty soup can at the wall.

It bounces off, and rolls to an unsatisfying halt in the middle of Bobby’s kitchen floor.

Dean presses the heels of his hands over his eyes, his shoulders sagging in defeat, his rage dissipating as quickly and uselessly as it came.

The flames come quicker, this time. They leap higher. And the voice-that-isn’t-a-voice is louder, more insistent.

Sam. Sam.

“Fuck you,” Dean mutters, because hey, he’s already a useless burden, might as well be a nutjob as well, right? “Fuck you, drag me back downstairs if you want, but you can’t have him.”

Of course, right then, Sam’s worried face peers around the kitchen door, his frowning eyes hovering above absence. “Dean? You okay?”

“Just going crazy, Sammy. Nothing to see here.”

Sam continues to look at him in confusion. And, fuck, the side of his face feels thick and strange, gripped by numbness. Is this what having a stroke feels like?

“Dean?” Sam says. “I—I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

 

----

 




He isn’t having a stroke. Though at least that’d mean some damn variety in his life. Aphasia—or more accurately dysphasia, because you can talk, just…not say what you mean—isn’t a common aura symptom, but it’s not unheard of.

Sam tells him this perched on the end of the guest bed, which he and Bobby manhandled Dean into after his little episode in the kitchen. Dean is gonna get up the energy to argue about that any minute now. Just as soon as his head stops hurting quite so much.

Folded up in on himself like that, Sam looks kind of like a pterodactyl on a perch, though Dean doesn’t have the energy to mock him about it. Sam doesn’t head back downstairs once he’s finished his doctor speech. He stays sitting on the end of the bed, looking at Dean like he’s trying to figure something out, until Dean huffs at him in exasperation. “Dude. What?”

“What were you trying to say? In the kitchen. You seemed really bothered about something.”

“Besides the fact that my fucking brain doesn’t work anymore, you mean?”

“Dean.”

He flops back against the pillows with a sigh. “You think this is gonna help you figure it out?”

Sam shrugs. “Maybe.”

“Okay.” Dean rubs his temple. “The voices. The ones I keep hearing when these things hit. They always say the same thing.”

“Yeah?”

“They call your name.”

Silence for a moment. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

Sam presses his lips together, and looks like he’s choosing his next words carefully. Dean wants to yell at him to just spit it out, but doesn’t. Apparently feeling like the inside of your head has been steamrollered does wonders for your self-control. Who knew?

“It makes sense,” Sam says, eventually. “That they would’ve used me to get to you, I mean.” There’s a question in it that Dean can’t find it in himself to deny, and when he doesn’t say anything, Sam gives a tight little nod and forges on. “But—what if it isn’t that? You still seeing Hell, I mean.”

“What else could it be, Sammy? I see flames. I hear this voice, this inhuman voice, this demon voice, calling you.”

Calling me.” Sam’s expression goes faraway, momentarily. “Huh.”

“What?” Dean asks, again, but Sam is already halfway down the stairs.

 

----

 




“Could be,” Bobby says. Dean is about half-following the conversation, which he thinks is pretty good, all things considered. Something about psychics.

“Right,” Sam is saying. “I mean, okay, I don’t get them, but I figure that’s because I’m—you know.” His face does that uncomfortable little twitch that means he’s getting onto a subject he’d rather avoid, and he wiggles his fingers in the vicinity of his head. “But I’ve been doing some reading, and it looks like seers who’ve gotten visions through outside means—prayer or ritual or whatever—get these seriously bad migraines a lot of the time. They’re not built for it, and this is the trade-off.”

“Great,” Dean says. “Only I’ve already got about all the divine guidance I can handle. You see me praying for more?”

“Well, no. But maybe it could be someone trying to send a message.”

Bobby nods. “Your pal Castiel, maybe?”

Dean shakes his head. It hurts. “I don’t see it. He just shows up when he wants something.” He makes a face. “Sure isn’t around much when we could use some help.”

“I don’t think so,” Sam puts in. “See, that would’ve been my first thought, only you said you keep hearing someone call my name. So.” He looks sheepish, which he damn well should, considering what he says next. “I think it might be someone trying to contact me.”

Dean stares at him, thinking that maybe he should be pissed but mostly just confused. “And how the hell does screwing with my head help?”

“That’s just it. I think maybe I’m supposed to be getting these visions. I think it might be—a mistake?” Sam looks over at Bobby, helplessly.

“It’s possible, I guess,” Bobby concedes, after a minute. “Whoever’s doing this, they’d need something of yours—a personal item. Be easy enough for someone who didn’t know to get the two of you mixed up.” He looks over at Dean. “Had anything go missing lately?”

Reflexively, he gropes on the bedside table for his amulet—the familiar weight of which mostly drives him crazy instead of reassuring him at the moment—before answering, though he already knows he’s worn it since this crap started. It’s there, Dad’s journal is in Sam’s book pile downstairs, and he has fuck all else that’s personal. “Nope. All present and accounted for.”

Bobby glances over at Sam, who shakes his head minutely. Then bites his lip. “Could it—” he begins. Stops, takes a deep breath, then looks at Dean. “The first time this happened,” he says, “it was just after that thing with the kids and the magic, right?”

“Yeah.” Dean frowns at him. “So, what, are we back to concussion now?”

Sam shakes his head. “No. I think—I was still in the building while you were outside, right? For quite a while. In the building with all those anti-magic wards on the walls. They must’ve copied them out of the book they were using, I guess. Who knows if they even knew what they were? But that doesn’t mean they didn’t work.”

It takes a minute for the pieces to click into place. “You mean, something was looking for you and when it didn’t find you, it latched onto me instead?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, but why? These spells have some leave-a-message-with-the-family clause? Doesn’t sound likely.”

“Not normally. But…” Sam looks like he wishes the floor would swallow him whole. “Blood counts as a personal item, right?”

“Sammy,” Dean objects, “I think you would’ve noticed some fucker with a syringe and a test tube.” But it comes out weak, because he’s following now alright, he knows where this is going and he’s waiting for it not to be true but Sam’s shamefaced expression says it all.

“She said it was only fair,” he says, weakly. “And I just—”

“You just went along with it? You didn’t think maybe, just maybe, Hell’s Belle might have an ulterior motive?”

Bobby glances between the two of them. “You two gonna tell me what this is about?”

“It’s about his demon buddy using me as goddamn voicemail, is what it’s about.”

“I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt either of us,” Sam begins to protest, but he withers under Dean’s glare. “I’m sorry.”

“Shut up.” Dean pulls a pillow over his head, the pain in it throbbing double-time. “You’re making me sicker.”

 

----

 




“We’ve done some research,” Bobby says to him, an indefinite time later. Sam is still skulking downstairs, as he damn well should. “Looks like we’ll be able to fix this.”

“How’s that work?” Dean tries to ask him, only it comes out more like “hswmf?” This headache isn’t wearing off like the others. If anything, it seems to be getting sharper, more intense, with each beat of his pulse. He thinks—hopes—maybe it’s just because he’s so fucking angry. He doesn’t want to think about any of the other possibilities.

“It’s fairly simple. A short incantation, a drop of blood from both of you. Redirect the message where it was supposed to go in the first place.”

“No.”

Bobby gives him an incredulous look. “You what?”

“You know what I think about that psychic shit, Bobby. No way am I encouraging it.”

“And what the hell else are you gonna do?” Bobby folds his arms over his chest, frowning.

Dean shrugs. “I’ll learn to live with it. Work through it. Plenty of people do, right?”

But Bobby is shaking his head. “It ain’t that simple.”

Great. “What, now?”

“Like I said, I’ve been doing some research. These seers who suffer from migraines—they don’t get better. They don’t get time to. It kills ‘em. Lot of aneurysms. Sudden deaths. One in England, eighteenth century—back of her skull blew right out.”

Dean shuts his eyes in despair. “So, Sammy lets demon girl in his head, or mine goes ‘boom’. That it?”

“That’s about right.”

“And if I still say no?”

“Then I don’t care how sick you are, you’re still getting your ass kicked.” Bobby’s expression is as stern as his words, but his voice belies them both. It’s low, gentle on Dean’s aching head. “You’re angry at your brother. Hell, your brother’s an even bigger idiot than you are sometimes. Be angry. But I’ve known you a long time, son, and I know you’re angrier at yourself.”

Dean keeps his eyes shut. “Yeah, well. He shouldn’t have to do this.”

“He shouldn’t have to figure out what to do with these abilities of his at all, maybe, but he does. And in case you don’t recall, you being six feet under didn’t exactly do much to keep him on the straight and narrow last time around.” He hears Bobby’s sigh. “Can’t fight on all fronts all the time, kid. You might just have to admit defeat for today.” And he puts his hand on Dean’s shoulder.

The weight of it’s almost irritating. Hell, everything’s irritating, at the moment, the world an abrasive mess of noise and light and touch. But Bobby’s hand is an anchor, too, a point of contact keeping Dean aware that he’s still in this world and not somewhere a lot worse than irritating, so he doesn’t shrug it off.

He doesn’t argue, either.

He feels like—like this one time, he must’ve been twelve or thirteen, and Dad was out of town like usual, leaving them in a crappy motel room with a couple hundred bucks to tide them over until he got back. And Sammy got the flu, so of course Dean got it too, and they ran out of food money because medicine was expensive. That wouldn’t normally have been a problem, though, because Dean could swipe stuff from stores like an old pro. So he left Sam swaddled in a heap of blankets in front of the TV and went foraging.

Only he was feeling pretty crappy, shivery and sweaty and dizzy, and he was kind of on edge because the phone in their motel room kept ringing, not Dad’s one ring-hang up-call back pattern, just ringing and ringing and ringing. He was almost worried enough to pick up, only if Dad ever found out he’d answered he’d have kicked Dean’s ass right over state lines. And he’d told Sammy no way was he to touch the thing if it started again, but he couldn’t be there all the time to make sure. So maybe he was distracted, off his guard or something, because he was halfway down the block with an evening’s worth of chips and a couple jelly donuts inside his jacket when he felt a hand grab his arm and heard, “Hold it right there!”

Which would’ve been bad enough, only then there was the noise of a familiar engine pulling up to the curb and a familiar bearded face looking out the front window of the truck and, “Excuse me,” and his heart sank.

“You can see my nephew’s sick,” Bobby had gone on. “I expect he just got a little confused. Didn’t you, Dean?”

And all he’d been able to do was mumble, “Yessir,” and look on in mortification as Bobby pulled out his wallet and paid the shopkeeper off.

Bobby had been grim-faced on the drive back to the motel, and he didn’t have to say a thing to make Dean feel like a freaking idiot. But Bobby made him stay in the truck while he went and gathered up their stuff and carried Sammy out, and on the drive back to his place he didn’t even yell at Dean, just muttered about damned irresponsible Winchesters not picking up the phone in a way that made Dean feel like it wasn’t really aimed at him at all.

Eventually, Dean fell asleep, and when he woke up he was tucked into bed in Bobby’s spare room, blankets right up around his chin, and Sammy was sleeping in the next bed over, looking a whole lot better.

Dean didn’t even care that he was in for it just as soon as Dad found out. But somehow Dad never did seem to find out, and when he asked Bobby why not, he glowered and offered to smack Dean upside the head himself if he didn’t stop asking dumb questions.

Then his face turned serious, and he said, “Next time, you call me, you hear? You don’t wait for your father to let slip you two are sick and on your own. You call me.”

Dean knew he probably never would. But he wanted to believe, for a moment, that he might, because it had just been such a damned relief to have someone else come in and take over, take the whole thing out of his hands. He’d been so tired.

That’s what this reminds him of.

He’s so tired.

 

----

 




The ritual isn’t much, in the end. Dean gets himself downstairs under his own steam, because he may be beaten for now but he doesn’t have to fucking look like it. Sam glances up at him as he sits at the table, meeting his eyes with caution. He turns his head away.

And after that it’s just like Bobby said. The familiar sting of a blade across his palm, then Sam’s. A few words. Then waiting.

For a moment nothing happens. Then, Sam’s gaze seems to slide past Dean, past Bobby and the room they’re sitting in, and land on something they can’t see, something elsewhere. His lips move round half-formed words, soundless.

When he comes back to himself, Dean cocks an eyebrow. “Well?”

Sam looks down at the table, then back up at him. This time Dean doesn’t look away. “Yeah,” Sam manages, after a moment. “It’s Ruby. She’s caught in a devil’s trap. Some idiot thought it’d be a great idea to summon himself his own pet demon. She needs my help.” He pauses and meets Dean’s eyes, a plea in his expression. “But it can wait.”

 

----

 




“How’re you feeling?”

Dean’s head still aches, but it’s not getting worse anymore. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was earlier, actually. He doesn’t feel like he’s going to puke anytime soon. There are no hissing voices, no crackling flames or holes in the world floating in his field of vision. He just feels emptied, exhausted, like he’s not quite all here yet.

He shrugs.

“Can I get you anything?” Sam goes on.

Dean looks up at him. Considers for a moment. “Could use a beer.”

Honestly, it’s probably gonna make him feel like crap in the morning. And it’s not as if there’s much to celebrate, even if it looks like his head isn’t going to explode. But he’s sick to death of tea and soup, and hell, if he can’t manage one little beer maybe there is no point in living anymore.

Sam raises his eyebrows. But he takes Dean’s request for the peace offering it is, and goes to the fridge.

 

----

 




Three days. No migraines. No fucking voices.

So they hit the road.

Dean’s back behind the wheel, at long fucking last—if he ever has to sit in that passenger seat nursing a sore head again, it’ll be too soon. And the roads are clear and the skies are, too, and Sam’s still a little too sheepish to complain about his music, so Dean turns the volume up and floors it.

He doesn’t hurt. And for a little while, he doesn’t have to think.

Okay, so he still has a little brother who’s hanging out with a demon on the down-low and possibly doing some messed-up S&M shit with her on the side. And a whole mess of heaven-and-hell impending-apocalypse shit that he barely understands hanging over his head, and no fucking idea what he’s supposed to do about it all. And he’s going to have to have that argument with Sam sometime today, and even if he wins the shouting match he already knows he’s lost the battle, because no way is he letting Sammy ride to the rescue of Miss Inferno 2008 by himself. And he may not be in physical pain anymore, but the inside of his head is still an unrescuable shitshow in probably every way that counts.

But he has his moments.
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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
i_speak_tonguei_speak_tongue on December 7th, 2013 05:26 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this! I kind of love how it turned out to be Ruby. What a pain in the ass. Poor Deano!
tiamaria: the foganactoria on December 7th, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
He never gets a break, does he? ;) I actually kind of like Ruby as a villain, but she certainly isn't going to care about who else gets hurt when she needs to save her own ass...
monicawoe: Ruby lookmonicawoe on December 7th, 2013 01:38 pm (UTC)
Very cool read!
Poor Dean.
Cool twist that it was Ruby trying to reach Sam.
tiamariaanactoria on December 7th, 2013 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. :)
JJ1564: SEXY EYESjj1564 on December 7th, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
Aw I love grumpy Dean! This was an interesting read and the interactions between Sam & Dean were just right. And the part with Bobby coming to the boys rescue when they had flu was really sweet but painful too, a real insight into their messed up childhood. This line really captured Dean in S4 for me too 'the inside of his head is still an unrescuable shitshow....But he still has his moments'. Loved it.
tiamariaanactoria on December 7th, 2013 04:22 pm (UTC)
Aw I love grumpy Dean!

Me too. ;) Jerkass woobies are one of my favourite things ever. Thanks so much for the lovely comment! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. ♥
landrews: Tally and landrewslandrews on December 7th, 2013 03:47 pm (UTC)
Nice throughline! You built the story really well. I also liked the shout out to Angel/Jossverse mythology :-)
tiamariaanactoria on December 7th, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I wanted to slip a Cordy reference in here so much, but I couldn't find a way to manage it that didn't sound clunky. Glad you liked it. :)
caranfindelcaranfindel on December 7th, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
Love this! Hope there is more SPN fic in your future. :-)
tiamariaanactoria on December 7th, 2013 04:25 pm (UTC)
That is a possibility. ;) And thank you!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: Dean - anguishembroiderama on December 8th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC)
Poor Dean! I like this a lot, and that little flashback to sick weechesters was particularly lovely.
tiamariaanactoria on December 8th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. :)
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on February 23rd, 2014 07:50 pm (UTC)
You have an amazing way of writing Dean exactly as I imagine the inside of his head to be like...the pain and despair and feeling of worthlessness in this are still in Dean of season 9, and you make me weep in sadness for him...
tiamaria: greenanactoria on February 23rd, 2014 08:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow, thanks so much for all your kind comments!

Poor Dean. Even when I want to slap him, I still want to give him a hug and a cookie...
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )