When Sam got home from work at after one in the morning Dean was still sitting up watching TV. He looked like his eyes were hanging out of his head and his voice was even softer, rougher, more jagged than it had been that morning.
He coughed after speaking.
"Hey, man. What're you doing up?"
Dean shrugged, half avoiding the question, half saving his voice.
"It's late, dude. You should get some sleep," Sam put his keys down on the bench and studied his brother.
"Nah-" Dean's voice literally cut out, all breath, no sound. Dean cleared his throat and pretended like nothing happened.
Sam sighed inwardly, and started filling the kettle. He heard a squeak from Dean's direction and looked over. Dean was rubbing his throat.
"I'm making you a cup of tea and then you're going to bed."
"Don't fight me, dude."
With that he huffed and turned the volume up on the TV. A silent screw you.
"Is Bobby sleeping?"
Dean cleared his throat and nodded.
Well, maybe you shouldn't turn the TV up, Sam thought.
Dean must have read his mind because the volume returned to a normal level.
Sam quietly made the tea, and swallowed down one of Dean's painkillers. When he was done he handed the cup to Dean and sat next to him in silence, watching a home renovation show without saying a word.
The warm tea must have loosened up Dean’s sinuses because he was sniffling every few seconds. When Dean stifled a sneeze into his elbow Sam, without looking at him, leant forward and grabbed the tissue box off the coffee table and set it between them on the couch. For a moment Dean didn’t move, and then Sam heard the swishing noise of several tissues being yanked from the box, and tried not to smile.
By the time the mug was empty Dean's eyes were looking heavy and his nose and cheeks were rosy from the constant rubbing. Sam took the mug from his hand and placed it on the coffee table.
"You ready to get some shut eye?"
Dean visibly stiffened, his eyes briefly flashing with fear.
“I know you don’t want to sleep… but you’ve tried going without it and it doesn’t work either.”
Dean cleared his throat, “I’ll stay here,” he whispered roughly.
“Dean, you can’t sleep out here. It’s not comfortable.”
Dean smirked, but like he was sad, not amused. “I need,” he pointed with the remote towards the TV, “the noise… ‘t’s a distraction.”
Sam huffed out a resigned breath and nodded.
“Besides, I don’t think I can get down that hallway… and you’re in no position to drag me down it either.”
At least the tea had given Dean some of his voice back, but he still sounded awful. He had a point though. Sam was hurting after working a full shift, even with that painkiller finally starting to kick in. Riley wasn’t making him lift any heavy crates but even just reaching for the top shelf pulled on his ribs, and after hours of work he was sore. Dean looked like he was too tired to get out of the chair, and Sam couldn’t lift him.
“You’re too long for the couch, dude,” Sam said, rubbing his eyes, fighting the pull of sleep.
“I’ll sleep in the recliner.”
Sam glanced over to the armchair recliner, it was only a few feet away and it was still probably too far.
“Did you take your pills?”
“Do you want a valium?”
“No,” Dean grunted angrily.
“I’ll get you a blanket.”
Sam got up and grabbed Dean a blanket. He watched Dean shakily make it to the recliner, clinging to the TV remote the whole time.
By the time he was set he was almost asleep in the chair and Sam considered that a win, so he said goodnight, before he had to get up and do it all again the next day.
Dean may have slept for a few minutes at most. He’d dreamed of hell and had woken up panting, shaking, scared. He rubbed a hand down his face. The show on TV had changed and now it was some emergency room crap, like Doctor Sexy MD but without the drama. Dean saw blood and changed the channel quickly, finding a kids channel playing cartoons and leaving it there.
As he sat there his mind started to wander, and he thought about Katie. What the hell was he thinking anyway? They’d organized to meet at a coffee shop nearby. He normally would pick a girl up but he wasn’t exactly allowed to drive just yet. He decided he wasn’t going to tell Sam or Bobby. They’d make a big deal out of it, insist on driving him. No. He was going to get a cab. How he was going to do any of it without a little liquid courage though he had no idea.
Dean looked down and his hands were shaking, his mouth filled with saliva and he felt a dizzying high at just the thought of alcohol. Somewhere in his deranged mind he convinced himself that he needed alcohol, that it was the best thing for him. It made him sleep better, made him relax, made him forget… for a time. It made everything easier, and all he wanted was a little ease in his life. Everything had changed. He wasn’t a hunter anymore. He was hardly a brother anymore. He wasn’t anything anymore.
Sam woke at 4am wondering what had woken him. He listened again and heard the TV, but more than that. There were noises in the kitchen. He got up and crept down the hall. He almost thought about taking his gun in case someone or something had made it in.
He slowly peered around the corner and saw the back of Dean as he reached into the top shelf of the panty, pushing stuff around with angry force.
Sam switched the light on and Dean jumped.
“What are you doing?”
Dean squinted towards the light and looked at Sam, licking his lips nervously, “I was hungry.”
“Why were you looking on the top shelf?”
“Nothing, I thought –“
“You thought I didn’t know you hid your booze up there?”
Dean sighed and leant on the counter.
“You were looking for alcohol, weren’t you?”
Dean opened his mouth.
“Don’t lie to me, Dean.”
“Look… you’re angry –“
“Damn right, I’m angry!” Sam clenched his fist, “You’ve been in the hospital for how long? And you wanna do this all over again?”
“You think I don’t get it?”
A fire lit behind Dean’s eyes, “No, Sam, I don’t think you do. And I don't want you to. I hope you don’t ever “get it”.”
Sam sighed, “Dean, I just meant –“
“You know what, Sam? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you meant. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“I know… but, dammit, Dean, you’re gonna end up killing yourself. And I already had to bury you once...” Sam looked down, “I won’t do it again…”
“I can’t,” Dean voice cut out and when Sam looked at him again he was struggling to form words, “I can’t sleep.”
Sam’s chest literally ached at Dean’s confession.
“And I… I’m struggling, man. Not just with this but with… everything.”
Sam sighed, “I know you think alcohol will help… but it won’t.”
Dean pushed himself up straighter and started walking, hanging onto the counter.
“I’m going to bed.”
“Do you need a hand -?”
Dean’s curt response made Sam purse his lips. He watched his brother until he made it to his bedroom door and the sounds of shuffling footsteps disappeared.
Sam was working a full day so he was gone before 11. Dean realized he was going to have to let Bobby in on it if he was going to get away with leaving unescorted, especially after his little display that night. So, he told him he was going on a date with Katie. Bobby just looked up from his paper and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, it’s about time you did something about that.”
Bobby had smirked and seemed pretty pleased with the current situation. Dean was feeling pretty on edge after only a few hours of broken sleep, where he’d woken often, sweat soaked sheets clinging to him, body shaking, restless for a drink, anything. He tried to make himself look nice, even slapped his cheeks a few times, trying to get some colour back in his face. Not much had worked, but then, Katie had seen him a hell of a lot worse.
Bobby agreed to letting Dean get a cab. Probably because he knew he would be embarrassed having his “uncle” drive him there. Dean took his crutches with him because the lack of sleep, compounding everything else, was making him a bit more unsteady than usual.
“You’re quiet,” Katie said from across the table, playing with the straw in her peach iced tea, “Did you not sleep very well?”
Dean curled his hand around his coffee mug and smirked, “Do I really look that bad?”
“That’s not what I was –“
Dean chuckled, breathlessly and waved a hand, “I know. I know. Actually I didn’t really sleep last night. I’m not very good company right now, I guess.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Katie smiled, “You’re always good company.”
Dean felt his cheeks heat up and couldn’t help smiling, “Back at’cha.”
She took another sip of her tea and twisted a finger in her hair, “So, Dean, even after all our morning talks you never once told me what you do for a living. I mean, before all this happened.”
Dean looked down, suddenly feeling very ill.
“Oh, come on,” she prodded, gently, “You know everything about me and I know very little about you… It was military, right?”
“How’d you guess?” Dean smirked.
“People talk,” she shrugged, “but I don’t like that. You can’t believe everything you hear. I want to hear it from you. I think… I mean, I know something happened to you.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking me,” Dean said, shakily.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. I don't want to pressure you. I just want you to know you can talk to me… about anything.”
Dean scoffed, unlikely, he thought.
“You… served overseas?” she asked.
Dean lowered his head, “You know I can’t tell you details.”
She nodded, “Tell me whatever you feel like you need to.”
Dean sighed, “I, uh… I spent some time… confined, for lack of a better word.”
“Like a POW camp?”
“I guess you could call it that… just… the things they did to me, the things they made me do… you can’t even imagine.”
“What they made you do?” she questioned.
Dean flexed his fist, “I… I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry I pried.”
Dean took a few breaths in, “You know,” he cleared his throat, “part of the reason I like you is because, I dunno, you make me forget about all that. I don’t want to think about it when I’m with you.”
“Okay,” she smiled warmly and grabbed his hand.
Dean looked down, feeling a constricting in his chest.
“Hey,” she said softly. Dean lifted his head to meet her eyes, “Stay here. Stay with me.”
He could feel his mind wandering, getting caught up in hellish things. The air turning hot and stifling. His clothes feeling too tight against his body, too tight around his neck.
Dean looked in Katie’s eyes and took a breath in. His fear melted away. Katie smiled and when he looked down he quickly let go of her hand, realizing he’d been gripping it with intense force.
“Sorry,” he grunted, wiping his forehead with his napkin.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Dean was drunk. Well and truly. And surprisingly, he didn’t feel any better. Truth be told he was screwed. Because he couldn’t go home like this. He had no car and couldn’t drive. And he was so drunk he could barely see his phone screen.
“You alright, man? You should sit down.”
He was standing out the front of the pub, trying to balance on his crutches. He could see why someone would think it was a bad idea. He didn’t think it was a great idea but he wasn’t really thinking at that point.
“I’m good,” he mumbled and tried to operate his phone one more time.
He scrolled down passed all the ‘Rebecca’s in his phone until he found Riley and hit call.
“Riley, how you doing, sweetheart?”
The line was quiet for a while.
“Dean, have you been drinking?”
“You’re not with my brother, are you?” Dean panicked.
“No, it’s my night off. What’s happened?”
“I, um,” he coughed away from the phone, “I need you to come get me.”
“Where are you?”
“I don't, uh… I don’t exactly know.”
“It’s… I dunno, there’s a leprechaun on the, the thing. Cheeky bastard.”
“You’re at Lucky Larry’s. I’ll be there soon, okay? Just hang tight.”
“Riley, don’t tell Sam, please.”
“I’m not going to. I’m leaving now. Just go inside and wait for me.”
Dean couldn’t go back inside, because he’d been cut off and asked to leave, so he shuffled over to a nearby park bench and sat down with a thud.
“God, that friggen…” he winced, rubbing his back.
One of his crutches fell to the ground and he left it there, afraid he’d face-plant if he tried to pick it up.
Riley grabbed Dean’s crutch off the ground and held both of them in her hands, sitting down next to Dean.
“Hey, hotshot. What the hell were you thinking?”
Dean actually laughed, “I don’t think there was a lot of… thinking going on.”
“No,” she frowned, “Neither do I.”
“Come on. You can stay the night at my place.”
Dean rubbed his forehead, pressing his eyes shut. He couldn’t quite comprehend the seriousness of what he’d just done.
“You got your medications and stuff with you?”
“Umm…” Dean clumsily opened his jacket, patting his pockets.
Riley’s hands knocked his out of the way, “Show me what you’ve got.”
Dean flopped his hands down in his lap and let her rummage in his jacket.
“You’ve got antibiotics and pain pills. Is that all you need?”
“Mostly, I guess,” Dean shrugged, rubbing his eye.
“Yeah, well, I put ‘em in there cause they’re important.”
“Okay. Let’s get you home. Come on.”
Dean watched Riley bend over the back seat and lay the crutches in the car. She had super tight jeans on and a dark red shirt, also very tight. She was wearing a black leather jacket, for God’s sake.
She came back and grabbed his arm, ready to assist him to stand.
“What are you smirking at?”
“I was just admiring the view.”
Riley rolled her eyes at him, “Alright, Romeo, you can hit on me more when we’re in the car.”
Dean and Riley made it to the car by some miracle. Dean leaned on the roof for a moment, head down, feeling queezy.
“Do not puke in my car, sweetheart. If you gotta puke get it out now.”
Dean straightened, feeling the world lurch. He turned and grabbed Riley around the waist, pulling her close.
“You’re cute when you’re angry.”
“And you’re a friggen jackass,” she said with a playful smile on her lips, “Get in the car and behave yourself. I’m holding all the cards right now, Winchester. Make a choice.”
Dean clumsily rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, frowning, “Yes ma’am.”