All Your Dreams Are Still As New
Part six of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Supernatural or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to Warner Brothers and associated parties.
Dean's breath shudders in his chest as his eyes fly open, and almost immediately the real world hurts. It's too damn loud and too damn bright, something scratchy and far too heavy seems to hold him down, and there's something strapped over his face and he doesn't like it, wants it gone now.
He struggles to breathe, and desperately tries to claw at the thing on his face while he squints against the brightness, and wishes he'd go deaf so the noise wasn't so loud. Seconds later something grabs one of his wrists, holding it back from his face, and before he can try to lash out at it in response somebody says, "Woah, Dean! Dean, calm down—it's just the ventilator mask, relax—" and Sam is suddenly there, crouching over him.
Dean freezes, and forces his stalling-out brain to catch up and focus. He tries to take in everything his senses are throwing at him, make sense of it all. Noise—beeping, the mechanical noise of a ventilator, soft murmurs in the distance. It's white, really white, but the sterile impersonal white of a hospital and not being dead (he supposes, anyway). The scratchy thing holding him down is a blanket, he realizes, because he's laying on a bed, and now that he thinks about it it's actually not even that scratchy. It smells mostly like plastic and less like the over-sterile antiseptic he's used to, but he realizes that's probably due to what is, in fact, an oxygen mask strapped over his face.
The feeling of a hand on his wrist vanishes, and Sam disappears from his vision. Dean feels an inexplicable spike of panic and the heart monitor he's attached to, damn thing, gives him away. Sam immediately says, "Relax, not going anywhere, just getting the light," and true to his word, things get dimmer and much more comfortable a second later. Dean lets out a low groan of relief and relaxes a little further into the bed.
Sam returns to his field of vision, staring down at him with a mix of relief and worry, and between that and the hospital room they're in things are too familiar, too much like the last time he woke up in one and nothing had been real. The heart monitor beeps faster as his heart thuds almost painfully in his chest again, and Sam, looking very worried now, reaches out for him again. "Dean, you gotta calm down, it's—"
Dean feels like shit, but he moves fast all the same. One of his hands tugs against an IV line as he snags one of Sam's wrists. The other one launches for his brother's shirt collar and fastens on securely, dragging him closer. Sam's eyes widen in alarm and his free hand reaches up to try and pry Dean's fingers from his shirt, but before he can Dean hisses as strongly as he's able with the mask still clamped over his face, "Where do you find wendigos, and how do you kill'em?"
"Dean, that's not—"
"Answer the question, Sam!" he snaps, as best as he can, with his voice muffled by the thing on his face.
Sam's eyes go wide again, and he glances around once before fixing his brother with a look that clearly states he's concerned for his brother's sanity. Dean feels his heart sink, and dread seeps into his blood like ice once more. He didn't escape. His plan hadn't worked, other than maybe preserving the fact that he knows it's a dream this time. Sam doesn't know anything about hunting, which means this can't be real—
But then Sam shakes his head in exasperation, and hisses low enough that only the two of them can hear, "You usually see wendigos in the northern U.S. around Michigan and Montana, but we've seen them as far south as Colorado. They like remote mines and caves, anywhere a person might have come close to starving without help. They resist pretty much everything but fire." And then, a little louder and more warningly, "Dean, this is a public hospital, keep it down about the weird stuff."
Dean barely hears the warning. The sound of his freakishly smart encyclopedia of a brother succinctly rattling off information about monsters is music to his fucking ears, and he breathes a sigh of relief. He lets go of his brother's shirt collar, but impulsively pats his shoulder instead, and then his arm, and then grabs his other wrist, fingers running over the pulse on the inside carefully. He's solid, real, alive, heart beating and breathing air and remaining in place for more than sixty seconds at a time, and it's perfect.
"Okay man, you're scaring me," Sam says, and Dean can hear the little waver of uncertainty in his voice as he gently pries Dean's fingers away from his pulse. "I'm gonna get you a nurse—"
"No!" Dean says, louder than is probably necessary, but he really does not want to deal with other people right now. "No," he adds a second later, voice muffled through the mask, "No, I'm fine. I'm fine...and you're fine and...and alive and...it's better. Everything's better. Right again."
This does not appear to comfort Sam any, who still looks a little shaken at his brother's actions, but thankfully he doesn't go for any professionals. He does frown when Dean starts trying to pull the ventilator mask off, though, and reaches out to stop him. "Leave it, Dean. You were having trouble breathing before, you might still—"
" 'm fine," Dean insists, tugging more insistently (and with pathetically little coordination) at the straps keeping the thing on his face. "Not comfortable. If I have trouble I'll put it back on."
Sam shakes his head with that all too familiar exasperated look on his face, but leans forward to help Dean get it off, probably because he knows Dean won't give up on the thing otherwise. When he's closer Dean's able to study his face a little better. His brother looks awful—like he hasn't eaten or slept anything in days, or changed his clothes, on top of looking like he's been in a fight. He looks, quite frankly, like a dead guy walking, but it's not until he pulls the mask from Dean's face that Dean catches sight of the bandage wrapped around Sam's forearm—where he somehow knows a long gash is, because he saw it before, if only once.
Everything about the way his brother looks is all too familiar because he's seen it daily for almost the past year, if only for a few moments at a time. Sam's his own ghost. The thought sends a spike of panic through Dean again, and he has to remind himself that Sam's not dead. He'd checked, just a few minutes ago. Solid. Heartbeat. Breath. Alive. It's fine. Sammy's fine.
Sam's eyes flick to the heart monitor and he looks worried again, so Dean speaks up to distract him before his little brother decides to put the mask right back on his face. "You look like shit, Sammy. What the hell? I'm the one attached to the tubes here!"
Sam blinks, but then offers a weary looking smirk. "Yeah, well...that's what happens when you sleep in a chair at a hospital bed for nearly two weeks..."
Dean's eyes widen. "Two weeks? that's it? What the hell happened? I've been...in there...for almost a year!"
"You don't remember anything?" Sam asks, looking worried. Dean has a momentary feeling of deja vu, because not-Sam had asked nearly the same thing with the same expression when he woke up in the fake hospital when everything rebooted again. But this one's real he tells himself. This is the real Sammy and he's alive.
"Bits and pieces," he answers. "Called you...learned about the djinn...found the warehouse...saw it..." He pauses, squeezes his eyes shut at the memory of blue fire swirling in the darkness. "After that..."
Dean gives him a smirk that feels more than a little bitter. "Got my wish. Everything I ever wanted."
Sam picks up on the bitterness, clearly, because his frown deepens. He looks like he's about to ask further, but Dean cuts him off with a tired, "Not here, Sam. Later." Sam frowns, but finally nods, and drops the topic for the moment. Dean knows he'll dig for answers again later, but he's also smart enough to wait until they're in the privacy of a motel or the Impala before doing so.
For now, Sam explains his side of things. After Dean had hung up on him, he'd jacked a car and gone after his brother, not wanting him to fight an unfamiliar creature without backup. It had taken him time to find the ruins Dean had mentioned, and by the time he'd arrived Dean had already been strung up in one of the deeper rooms, catatonic and utterly unresponsive to anything Sam did or said.
"You weren't alone, either," Sam adds. "There was a girl there too...worse off than you, she must have been there longer. And the djinn, obviously."
"Did you kill it?" Dean asks, with an edge of fury. After the thing played him not once but twice, he's really hoping it's not still breathing.
"Barely," Sam admits, "But I got it in the end." Clearly not without getting roughed up, Dean notes, based on the faded bruises and the long slash bandaged on his arm, but at least he'd gotten out of there without falling into a 'wish' of his own.
"After that I cut you and the girl down, and brought you straight here to the hospital," Sam continues. "I'd been hoping after I killed the thing that you guys would wake up, but whatever it did to you...you were in too deep, I guess." He swallows, and Dean can see the remnants of helplessness and worry on his face, the same expressions his ghost wore in the wish. "It was...it was bad for a while, Dean. At first I thought you were just in a trance, but not long after I got you here your heart stopped, and a few other times you'd just stop breathing. A few hours ago your vitals started dropping. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong..."
He looks deeply shaken, and Dean can only imagine how panicked he must have been, seeing his brother falling and failing without any way to help. And then he realizes he doesn't have to imagine it at all—because hadn't ghost-Sam, this Sam, freaked out every time Dean got ill in the dream? And hadn't that illness always come with chest pains and breathing problems? Hadn't Sam's spirit worried more and more, every time Dean fell farther and got worse in the wish?
Maybe Sam hadn't been a ghost at all. Maybe he'd been the only real thing there, seen in fits and flashes when Dean caught a momentary glimpse of reality.
"What about the girl?" Dean asks, after a moment. He vaguely remembers seeing the ghost of a girl when the wish first started, so long ago now, but if Sam wasn't really a ghost then maybe she wasn't, either. Whatever the case, even if he doesn't know her he feels a kinship with her anyway, as victims of the same fucked up monster that used their own desperations and desires against them.
Sam clenches his jaw for a moment, that sign that he's holding back on some kind of emotion, before saying softly, "She died last night. Fell into a coma and passed away maybe a few hours later."
And suddenly, Sam's last message as a ghost makes even more sense than before. Dean. You have to wake up. Please. Please. I don't know how much longer you can last. If the girl had died just before and that was the obvious fate waiting for him...
Dean swallows, now understanding why Sam had look so shaken and so relieved when he woke up. Hell, he feels a little shaken himself. He'd dodged a bullet there alright...if it hadn't been for Sam, he'd have lived forever in that world, growing old, having kids, working a nine to five job, being normal, until...
Until he died in a hospital bed in his sleep, with his anguished brother watching and never knowing why.
"Let's go," he says suddenly. He's got an overpowering need to get the hell out of this place and never, ever come back. His skin's crawling and this place feels wrong and there's that unsettling feeling in the back of his head that not even his own desires are okay anymore, and it makes him just want to move. Fresh air. The open road, with his brother next to him. A crappy run-down motel that nevertheless feels more like home than the house in his dream ever will.
Sam's eyes widen when Dean tries to push himself up, and he immediately tries to push him back down. "What, go? No way, Dean. You just woke up, the doctors should still look at you, you can't be ready to move yet—"
"I'm fine, Sammy," Dean insists, slapping his brother's hands away. "Let's just go. I'm fine, just tired. Promise."
Sam doesn't look entirely convinced, but Dean's not even trying to hide just how badly he needs to leave, and Sam's always been observant about that kind of thing. Eventually he sighs and says, "How can you be tired? You've been sleeping for two weeks!" There's concern in his voice, but his tone is intentionally jesting, and Dean understands the agreement for what it is.
So they bolt. Dean's a little unsteady and uncoordinated after two weeks of catatonia while his mind was doing stuff somewhere else, and Sam has to help him disconnect the tubes and sensors and help him get back into his clothes. Neither one is a stranger to such actions, though—a testament to how often they wake up in and run from hospitals, sadly—and they're out of there in record time.
The only catch is that Sam, though understandably concerned, hovers a lot in his usual mother-hen fashion whenever Dean's sick. And while Dean used to be used to it, right now it's like being haunted by his dead brother all over again, with the same clothes and same expressions and same habit of waiting close by out of the corner of Dean's eye. Dean tells him to knock it off, his voice snappish. But there must be an edge of pleading in it he's too tired to really be aware of, because Sam—who normally ignores Dean's insistence that he doesn't need help when he's not feeling well—frowns and backs off.
Sam does insist on driving, though, which Dean thinks is fair seeing as he's pretty sure he'd accidentally wrap them around a pole if he tried to right now. He also wordlessly stops off at a diner to pick up a massive juicy cheeseburger to go—even remembers the extra onions—when Dean's stomach rumbles loudly and he realizes he hasn't eaten in two weeks and he's starving. And he picks out a nicer motel than usual for them to stay at, not the same as the one they'd originally been in when they started the hunt, so they'll at least have better beds when gets around to actually sleeping as opposed to tripping on some monster's creepy-ass wish power.
He's even nice enough to wait until Dean has devoured his burger and taken a long, hot shower (because two weeks of laying in a hospital bed is nasty as hell) before he asks about what happened to Dean. And Dean knows Sam's not going to let up until he gets answers—the kid is relentless about this kind of thing when it comes to talking about things and dealing and all that pansy shit—so he figures he'll just get it over with now and tell him. And he does—explains the wish, how perfect it was at first, how wonderful and happy everyone had been, now normal he'd felt, and how it all gradually started to descend into hell the moment wish-Sam had died.
Sam's a pretty good listener (one of the reasons people in their cases are so willing to talk to him), and he doesn't interrupt while Dean recalls the year he lived in his head in a perfect-gone-sour world. Dean wraps it up and and mutters, "But I don't get it. It was a whole year I was in there, and it felt it, I felt every second that passed. How the hell was I only out for two weeks?"
Sam shrugs. "Dreams are the same," he offers, with his usual penchant for pulling completely random facts out of thin air. "The average dream lasts anywhere from a few minutes to an hour in real time, but they can feel like they lasted way longer. Time's not a sense the brain keeps track of very well."
Sam agrees with Dean that the random illnesses probably coincided with his moments of heart failure or breathing problems in real life. "The first one happened right before that me died, right?" he speculates. "That must have been the first time your heart stopped...I'm not sure how the djinn's power worked, but I'm guessing that's why what you were seeing started going downhill. It got distorted somehow, and with the djinn dead there was nothing to fix it..."
He also agrees with Dean's guess that he'd probably been catching sight of the real Sam without realizing it, and explaining it as a ghost. "I was doing most of the stuff you mentioned," he admits. "Sitting or standing next to your bed, pacing around...and I kept talking to you 'cause, well...I thought it was like last time, you know? When you were there, but not in your body." He looks sheepish. "I even pulled out the Ouija board again, but you didn't answer that time..."
No, Dean wouldn't have. He doesn't remember the last time, but that had been an out of body experience. This time he was so far inside his body he couldn't get out again.
"The hell were you yelling at me for?" Dean asks, scowling a little. "You scared the shit out of me then, I thought you were going to go full-on poltergeist on my ass!"
Sam looks a little ashamed. "The doctors...they kept saying you were slipping away, like you were giving up, and I just..." He hesitates, looking uncomfortable. Dean thinks back to those moments and realizes how badly he'd misinterpreted Sam's words. He'd assumed Sam was furious because he thought Dean was giving up on his redemption. But now that he thinks about it, he'd probably been scared Dean had just stopped fighting for his own life, and turned it into a fight like he'd so often done with dad, desperate to get him to fight back just so he'd keep fighting at all.
Dean winces at the thought of his little brother waiting in a hospital room for him to wake up, not knowing if he actually would, knowing there wasn't anything he could do to fix it because the monster was already dead. For dealing with the same fear of losing his brother as he had the first time, knowing Dean was supposed to have died then, probably wondering if his time had come now instead. He curses himself mentally for taking so damned long to figure out what the problem was so he could escape, for putting Sam through that hell because he hadn't been strong enough to fight off his own desires the first time. "S'alright, Sammy," he says after a moment. "I get it."
The talk eventually wears down and Sam looks so beat Dean tells him to take a shower and go to bed. Sam looks reluctant to, but Dean is insistent. "You stink and your hair's even more of a mess than usual," he says, "And you obviously ain't slept in days."
"Yeah, I've just spent days watching you sleep," Sam says. His tone his joking, but his eyes are worried.
"I'm serious, Sammy. I'm fine, and I'm not going anywhere. It's over. Clean up and go to bed already."
So he does, and soon enough he's snoring quietly on the far bed. Dean, although he's exhausted physically and probably should do the same, feels mentally wired (and also reluctant to sleep himself, because, well, screw that, he's done it enough recently). So he stays up and watches TV with the volume muted so it doesn't bother Sam. Only really he doesn't—the TV's on, but it's a distraction more than anything, as he spends more of his time quietly counting Sam's breaths. Sometimes he'll glance over and watch the rise and fall of his brother's chest under the blankets, just to be extra safe.
Alive. Sam's alive. It's okay, everything's okay again, because that world hadn't been perfect in the end, wasn't anything close without Sam. Sam's here with him and he's alive and Dean can protect him and everything's going to be okay again. He's going to make sure of it.
"Don't you worry," he says softly, glancing over at his peacefully slumbering brother again. "I'm never letting that happen to you, Sammy."
And, feeling suddenly tired for real this time, he finally turns the TV off, rolls over, and falls into his first content and utterly dreamless sleep in two weeks.
And then in the very next episode Sam dies. Oops.
A few fun facts! For starters, Real!Sam is actually in every single chapter at least once—did you spot him? The title of the fic comes from the same Led Zeppelin song that the original episode title comes from. And each of the chapter names are a specific Tarot card that references the events of the chapter.
This was pretty fun to write, guys. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it. Thanks for reading!