Writing on the Wall
Reaper 'verse. Sam/Dean, PG13
Author's notes to follow.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
It's weird the things Sam doesn't notice; like when he's hungry (if he actually gets hungry), or when his clothes and his skin are filthy.
He notices for Dean though, if they've gone hours without stopping for food or drink, if Dean needs a shower or to do laundry.
The thing is that Dean's pretty sure Sam doesn’t need to eat or drink any more than he needs to sleep. There's a new stillness in Sam that bugs him, mostly because it's a reminder that no matter how much of Sam is still his brother, there are parts of him that aren't. And it's not even anything as obvious as the wings which alternately freak Dean out and fascinate him. They almost seem separate from Sam somehow, like maybe they aren't really there, except he can touch them and feel them -- when they move they create drafts. And the few times Dean's actually seen Sam take off, it leaves his mouth dry and his stomach rolling, and he never knows if he wants to drop to his knees in awe or throw up.
So he reminds him. He reminds Sam to change clothes or shower when his clothing is caked with mud and blood, when his hair sticks to his scalp from blood or guts or water or slime. He offers him food and drink when he gets his own and Sam always takes what he offers and he seems to enjoy it, but Dean's not sure if Sam actually tastes any of it or just remembers what it should taste like. He suspects Sam doesn't know either.
In some ways it's easier now, because Sam can't die or be killed. It made him insane at first because Sam seemed a little too quick to jump in front of things that Dean probably could have handled and Sam can be hurt; he can bleed, he can break bones, can have his flesh laid open to the bone. He won't die and Dean's not sure he processes pain the way other people do, but it doesn't make it any easier to watch or see or be unable to prevent.
And when it happens, Dean's the one that pushes Sam to take off, to go wherever that in-between place is that he goes to, because whatever it is that wipes the wounds and bruises from his body, doesn't function in the space Dean occupies. He's never seen the wounds themselves heal, he only knows that he's oddly grateful when Sam shows back up and they're gone. He might still be covered in gore and smell to high heaven, and the scars Sam had before he died remain but new ones don't show. When he comes back he's whole and unmarked.
Well, except for the ones that have shown up since then that Sam didn't have, that remain even when every other mark is wiped from his skin.
He saw them by accident, by chance, although Sam does nothing to hide them. In fact, Sam didn't know he had them. Otherwordly reaper or not, he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head.
Ectoplasm stains like tar and clings like the scent of dead-skunk. There's no salvaging the clothes they wear -- even blood is easier to get out. Dean takes first dibs on the shower, because for all that Sam looks no better off than Dean is, Sam doesn't seem to notice how the oily stuff clings or how it smells. "Don't sit on anything," Dean says when they hit the motel room.
"I know," Sam says without sounding pissy. He looks a little spacey, which is something else Dean's noticed, that Sam and ghosts -- there's a disconnect there of some sort, like a bad signal. He can still function, and he can still handle a shotgun full of rock salt, but the spectral remains of human beings Sam has a hard time focusing on, or having encountered, acts like he took a sharp blow to the head -- like ghosts, real revenant spirits of once living humans scramble his brains a little bit..
"Come on," Dean says, grabbing a trash bag and nudging Sam into the bathroom. "Strip down," he says and Sam suddenly remembers he's covered in evil-ghost-slime, and that this is as routine as anything since it's easier to ignore the stench that will remain if it's stuck to tile than to the beds or carpet in the room Dean will be sleeping in.
He's seen Sam naked but he doesn't make a habit of actually looking at him, unless he's hurt, but since Sam reappeared, mostly Dean just shoves him toward the bathroom when he needs to and ignores him.
But the bathroom isn't that big and when Sam sheds his shirt and jeans, and twists around to shove the clothing into the trash bag, Dean notices them.
At first he thinks it's dirt or ectoplasm or something -- bruises maybe, because Sam had gotten shoved pretty hard into metal racks in the warehouse -- except they are too regular and too, well, curved, to be bruising from the shelving. Sam goes still when Dean's fingers trace them.
"Marks on your back," Dean says and he swears they look familiar -- in execution if not exactly form. Like script, Persian, maybe or Arabic -- not the block and square patterns of any other language.
And they are a language as much as anything, Dean's pretty sure -- and he thinks he catches hints Angelic script in there, but only hints, because he can't see the Hebrew, can't dredge up the Enochian passages and references that should be there. This is not that -- it flows too solidly, even the breaks in the pattern seem less like breaks and more like spaces filled with something he can't see. For all that they look like tattoos, there's no rise to Sam's skin, and the familiar moles and freckles that paint his back show through even the darkest of the lines. He traces a single line that branches into two then rejoins itself, a caduceus of sorts only it's not snakes, it's just lines. Words and symbols and paths and he traces one from the small of Sam's back to just left of his spine, fingertip trying to track a single pattern because it looks familiar.
"Dean…" Sam's voice sounds wrong -- too tight and too high and yet still rough edged. "Stop, please."
Sam doesn't move, but he's tense under Dean's hand, shoulders hunched and head hanging low. He looks and sounds like he's in pain.
Dean snatches his hand back and Sam relaxes. "What is it? Sam?"
Sam only shakes his head, wipes a hand over his face and then grabs up the trash bag. "Get your shower. I'll dump these," he says, twisting around and sliding past Dean before Dean can see his face. Dean stares after him, realizing a half second after Sam leaves the room that his brother just went outside buck-naked.
There are no screams of outraged modesty. It's late and hopefully everyone else occupying this motel in the stretch of nothing at the edge of town is sleeping. Dean waits though, eschewing his shower for a few minutes in favor of listening out for anything that might be a problem. He's worried less about something grabbing Sam or even someone seeing him than he is with the reason Sam left the room in the first place.
After five minutes, when nothing's happened he steps into the shower, cleaning himself off thoroughly but quickly. He thinks he hears the door open and shuts the water off. "Sam?"
"Yeah." Sam sounds a lot closer than Dean expected and he pulls the shower curtain back to see Sam leaning against the sink, head low. The marks on his back are gone, but there's a ripple under his skin, along his shoulder blades.
Dean's seen Sam's wings appear before but never from this angle. He's got that same feeling in the pit of his stomach -- a kind of nausea and weakness that Dean can't explain. It intensifies when the skin of Sam's back splits, the flesh just parting, but there's no blood, no glimpse of the bloodied inside of his skin with fatty tissue and exposed bone. It's like a line of white fire, tinged with blue, molten light pushing out through Sam's skin, that spreads and spreads, almost too bright to look at only it doesn't actually add more illumination to the small room than the 60 watt bulb in the ceiling.
The metal grommets on the shower curtain screech and Dean realizes he's about two seconds from pulling it down, he's clutching it so hard, his knees weak as he watches the wings emerge.
With the part of his brain that isn't freaking-the-fuck-out, Dean notices that the leading edges of the wings, when they emerge, are white; pure, pristine, blinding white, that rapidly darken and turn, the shimmer muted quickly into black.
Sam is gripping the edge of the sink harder, bending low like they are too heavy -- and in and amid all the shocked and awed mumblings and confusion in Dean's mind, he knows that's not normal either. Sam's always "put on" and taken off the wings like someone would shrug into a jacket or a sweater. So easily, he sometimes doesn't even notice that they are there unless Dean points them out to him.
He's not making any sound at all, just white-knuckling the counter edge and Dean isn't sure if it's a good thing to touch him or not but, he can't and never has been very good at doing nothing when Sam is distressed, and it hits him harder now because it's been a long time since he's actually seen Sam in this amount of anguish.
He has to duck around, because the wings are almost fully extended but emerging far more slowly than Dean's ever seen them -- usually they are there in a blink and gone in a heartbeat. He can't get in front of Sam, and the only thing he can reach easily is his shoulders and back.
"Sammy?" he asks, not even sure Sam is wholly with him.
The moment his hands touch skin, those symbols erupt across Sam's back with the tracing speed of a laser show. From the back of Sam's neck under his hairline, they skim and sketch out in the same white-fire glare only Sam's skin doesn't split, or peel back. It does go black though; the lines and curves going dark like there is some unseen hand sketching calligraphy across Sam's back too quickly for the eyes to follow. Some parts of it fade almost immediately, leaving blanks space, things unspoken, but obvious for their absence.
It all happens fast: Dean's touch, the appearance of the strange message--
Sam spinning around so fast, his left wing hits Dean with all the subtlety of a Mack truck, but before he's so much as found himself knocked into the wall, Sam's hands are on him, both gripping and steadying while Dean's still shaking the stars out of his eyes.
He blinks at Sam, who's got the most unreadable expression on his face, that could be pain or grief or joy or ecstasy, so intense Dean has to look away for a second.
He can see the script on Sam's back in the mirror and for one brief second it all snaps into place. He gets a glimpse only, and it's not reversed -- it's not backward writing -- it's like the symbols have all been turned inside out. He doesn't catch it all -- it happens too quickly, and his gut reaction is as bizarre as the writing on Sam's back. He's not even sure he's actually reading what he sees, only that suddenly and without warning he understands a good many things he didn't before. And what he does understand in that flash of an instant scares the hell out of him.
Then Sam's looking at him, like Dean's got some sort of answer he didn't even know he'd been looking for. In the mirror, the symbols on Sam's back shift and flicker, parts fading and other parts turning darker and Dean traces a fingers along the ornate "S" curve that frames Sam's lower spine.
Sam closes his eyes and drops his head again, fingers clutching at Dean's shoulders hard enough for there to be a tingle along the nerves of Dean's left arm. He traces the line again and presses his mouth to Sam's throat, licks out and tastes salt and flesh, bitter and cold. Sam startles and his breathing quickens, his skin flushing, warming. Sam feels solid -- he always had -- but Dean's suddenly not sure, after Missouri and Ellen's whispered tales of shadows that the flesh he clings to, the face he sees, while not entirely of his imagining, isn't entirely real either.
Sam looks bewildered and confused, almost as if he's in pain, like he used to look both before and after a vision and Dean remembers too clearly the last time, the very last time that happened.
If he didn't entirely wish Sam into existence, he's suddenly all to clear how easily he could wish him into oblivion.
The very thought of it makes him feel cold. Sam's no ghost, no revenant spirit -- but he is more like the puppet that wants to be a boy or the stuffed rabbit that wants to be real.
"Dean?" It's no more than a whisper, question and revelation all in one, and Dean lifts his head to stare at the mirror, to trace a second set of symbols. Sam is shaking a little and the wings are fluttering in what Dean can only call nervousness.
"Humanity is written in the flesh," Dean says and watches the line fade. It's not so far a leap of logic or even faith. And seeing it makes more sense than anything Dean's been able to figure out about how Sam is now and why. He's not entirely sure why he's literally seeing it now though, or why the knowledge translates into something visceral and physical. But he knows there's truth in what he feels, in what he knows.
His brother died in a horrible and terrible way, in fear and pain and confusion. Took his own life as a way to stop something even worse from happening. Sam had been terrified and lost and Dean so angry for so long he'd forgotten that.
The Sam before him, up until this moment, has been missing all those things. Not that Dean would ever wish fear or pain on his brother, but those things make them human. To be afraid. To feel pain, loss, joy, anger, regret, happiness.
It isn't that Sam's no longer human, it's that he's lost all the things outside biology that make him so.
Dean isn't sure reminding him is the best thing to do, or that it's even what Sam wants, but watching him over the months, how much he's forgotten, the bits of Sam's own history that have been fading, until the mention of their mother, of their father, of Jessica, of the demon that set them on this road -- Sam remembers them but he doesn't feel them. They aren't important. Sam's done with the grieving not because he's done with the grieving but because he no longer has the ability to grieve.
Dean holds him here, gives him form and purpose -- that and whatever sense of obligation or atonement Sam's taken on for Dean's sake as much as his own.
And looking at him, feeling the flex of muscle under his hands, at the wide eyed hazel gaze, the one he's looked to all his life that gave his own life purpose and focus and reason to keep going, Dean suddenly comes face to face with his own selfishness -- something he'd accused Sam of often enough to never recognize that like everything else, it might have found it's source in something outside of Sam's basic nature.
He'd lost this twice now -- both times by Sam's own hand, once when he left for school and once with a gun meant to destroy any evil thing.
Both times Dean was the one who called Sam back.
If he loses Sam again, he's not sure he even knows how to call him back. This time, he's pretty sure it has to be on Sam to want to remain -- not because of what he's become but because Sam was never really wrong in wanting something for himself.
That's the forgiveness Dean's never been able to offer him.
"Dean…Dean…" Sam says on a whisper, or less, fingers digging into Dean's shoulders while Dean traces those patterns, finding by sheer accident the memories and experiences etched into Sam's flesh.
He's relentless in his tracing, even when Sam's knees buckle, when tears streak down his face. He goes to his own knees with Sam, surprised Sam doesn't try to pull away. The wings lift and quiver, blocking out the light, brushing against the tile and the wood, like they don't know how to react or escape either, separate from Sam but as much a part of him as the patterns and memories that Dean traces on his back -- it's like playing an instrument, pressing there, and Sam, murmurs out Jess, there and he remembers their father, another swirling line and he apologizes over and over for taking his own life, apologizes to a girl Dean only barely remembers.
Dean can't take any more of the broken sobs, of the memories summoned that even he only half remembers. They've faded for him now -- hunts and fights and pain and losses, separations and struggling to find his way back to center. For Sam they are all new, renewed, fresh and raw.
He doesn't notice when the wings finally fade, only finds himself sitting on the hard, cold tile of the bathroom, with Sam tucked against him, long limbs curled around him.
In this, he's the selfish one. He wants Sam, his Sam back, or as close as he can get to it, but he's not sure Sam will remember this or any of it the next time he slips between the dark places. His fingers thread and weave through Sam's hair, still limp and filthy and now damp. He doesn't know what there is to give Sam now and here, that will belong to him as he is, something that can't be lost between here and there.
He doesn't mean to do it, to awaken anything else and he doesn't see what symbol or word he touches, lost beneath Sam's hair at the nape of his neck, but he finds himself less than surprised when Sam shivers, when he lifts his head.
His eyes are wide and dark, cheeks flushed, and he bites his lip until it goes white and pale, all the blood cut from it. Then he ducks his head and starts to pull away.
Dean blinks at him not sure if what he sees is shame or embarrassment or something else entirely and he moves his hands, thumbs framing Sam's jaw, like he can tell what's not being said by touch alone.
And maybe he can. He's always been able to read Sam better than Sam can read him except for that one moment that shattered everything, that one betrayal that Dean never expected and Sam never planned for.
The look on Sam's face says this could break everything too and it takes Dean a moment to realize that it's the same -- it's a betrayal of sorts, something hidden beneath the surface, like Sam's memories are hidden under his skin, like Dean's desires are hidden beneath his disdain and distance. He can't be a hundred percent sure but he lets a thumb trace down, to rub across Sam's lower lip, watching the flush deepen.
This, if it existed before, was hidden so deep beneath the bonds of family and brotherhood and obligation and trusts that couldn't be broken, Dean's not sure he'd ever even looked closely enough at it to recognize it. It's not lust and it's not need or want, it goes deeper than that.
His brother is dead. All that Sam could have been or wanted to be is gone, lost, surrendered and sacrificed.
Dean never wanted Sam to give all that up, even if what he did want pretty much guaranteed Sam would never have it all.
He's no longer sure who betrayed who here. What he does know is that he has Sam now as he is and that he either needs to accept that or let him go.
The decision is as easy as tilting Sam's head up and lowering his mouth to his brother's
Sam's lips part in surprise, but they are soft and moist and familiar like they shouldn't be. The press of mouths lasts only a few seconds, longer than it should, too long for an accident, but not long enough to send more than a shot of barely acknowledged heat through Dean, and through Sam as well from the small sound he makes.
Dean does it again, and this time he makes himself remember everything he can, every time he touched Sam or held him, from infancy to adulthood. From the moment he carried his infant brother from the fire, to the night he pulled Sam from a second fire while he screamed his lover's name, to the very last time he touched him, when his fist took all the choices Sam might have had away from him.
The third time is for himself, and his lips and tongue open Sam's mouth, his thumbs pushing into coax Sam to receive him. He's courted death a dozen times before and this is the first time it's ever felt giving in was more of a fight than giving up. Sam makes a small, inarticulate noise, half question-half pleasure, when he presses back. It's weird and it's strange and Dean isn't sure what it is that quickens his blood and makes his heart pound -- it might be fear or it might be desire, but mostly it's just Sam. Sam who he'd kill for, die for, storm the gates of hell for.
Sam who needs a reason to remain, the way Dean needs a reason to live.
"What are we doing?" Sam whispers, pulling back but his forehead presses to Dean's and his hands, big and warm and familiar stroke down along Dean's sides lightly, like he's afraid to touch, but can't bear not to.
Dean shakes his head and presses his lips to Sam's shoulder. His thumbnail tracks a white line down the back of Sam's shoulder that turns dark while Dean watches. Sam groans softly and drops his head to Dean's shoulder.
Dean doesn't think it can be that easy but maybe it is among all the other broken promises that death brought them. Sam's flesh holds the key to all that he was, or is, or could be, now.
Dean knows what his name means, how it looks in a dozen languages.
He only needs one.
It won’t take much -- he just needs to leave a part of himself written in Sam's flesh where it won't be forgotten. "Turn around," he says, and urges Sam up and facing the mirror. "You trust me?"
Sam nods, meeting Dean's eyes in the mirror. "Yes. You know I do."
A mistake, once, no matter that he'd been influenced. He should have been stronger. He wouldn't fail Sam again. "You came back to me, for me…"
"Yes," Sam says, but he's looking confused again, but when Dean reaches down for the sheathed knife from his belt, he doesn’t look alarmed.
Until Dean drags the sharp edge across his fingers.
"Shhh." Dean says, and pushes Sam back when he would have turned.
He hesitates only a moment, wondering if he should have thought harder about this -- spur of the moment rituals have their place but this is big…but the first swipe of his fingers across Sam's shoulder leaves a smear of blood -- and a darkening line underneath. "Blood of my blood…" Dean murmurs, concentrating on the symbol he's drawing.
Sam hunches in suddenly, like it hurts but he grits his teeth and holds Dean's gaze with his own. "Flesh of my flesh…."
Dean swallows and nods, his name scrawled across Sam's back in two languages now. Three to bind. "Heart…" he almost swallows this one not, because of the romance but because he knows what he's doing. He thinks. "Heart of my heart."
The symbols flare white, a burning arc that makes him wince and Sam shake, head dropping down as he sucks in air and shoulder blades distended like the wings are trying to manifest but can't. "Soul of my soul."
Sam makes a choking noise and Dean lets the blade clatter into the sink, once more trying to hold Sam up before he falls and then staggering back with his hand clamped over Sam's mouth when he starts screaming like he's being torn in two.
Dean doesn't know what it is, what he's upset, what he's dared. The white blur of his name fades to black along Sam's shoulders, the other symbols erupting and twining in and around what he's added to it. The blood is seared off in with a stench of copper and burning flesh, leaving a raised scar, unlike the other symbols. The smell of it makes Dean want to gag, even more when he sees the bloody streaks his fingers have left across Sam's face and along his shoulders and throat and back.
It takes him a moment to realize the mark across Sam's shoulders isn't fading, knowing the weal of flesh won't be undone when Sam vanishes…if he still can. He may have bound more than he intended to with this.
Sam's scream -- the forced press of air against Dean's palm in a steady stream -- falters into gulping puffs, Sam's chest heaving, but he's not struggling like he can't breathe. Dean lets his hand slip away, fingertips resting on the rapid pulse at Sam's throat. Sam looks glassy-eyed and pale, tremors wracking his body and Dean tugs at him, pulls Sam's arm over his shoulder and guides him out of the bathroom.
Sam drops like dead weight face first onto the bed, still making gasping sounds like he's either panicking or just having trouble catching his breath. Dean doesn't know what to do about it, only finds himself stroking through Sam's hair again, rubbing his back, deliberately not touching the rise of flesh although he wants to. The other marks reappear only briefly under the touch of his hand, like one of those Magic Slates kids get, but Dean finds himself tracing the patterns he remembers, sworls and whorls and scrollwork that lace across Sam's spine and along his ribs, the heavy patterned script that lay at the base of the curve of his ass and spread out to both hips.
He doesn't know how long he does it: until his arms start to ache, and the cut on his fingers starts to bleed again from the constant friction. Sam is boneless and relaxed underneath his hand but not asleep and every now and then he'll make an expression or a small sound like something he remembers has surged up.
He's never touched Sam this way. The closest he can come to it is when Sam was very small, when Dean would bathe him back and front, while Sam splashed in the water. He's rubbed Sam's back, messed his hair, teased and poked and tickled and fought with him. He's bound Sam's wounds, laid stitches in his flesh, pulled glass and gravel and wood and sometimes claws or fangs out of his skin. He's wiped the snot from Sam's nose, blood too. Pressed ice to swellings, and frozen bags of peas to blackening eyes. He's had Sam's blood on his hands, the taste of it in his mouth, the fear of seeing it has been a nightmare for longer than Dean can remember.
Who he touches now, though, isn't only Sam his brother. Isn't just the boy grown to man. His own memories aren't Sam's and what Sam remembers, how deep the details or vague the references, he doesn't know, can't know what he evokes with his touch, only that Sam seems willing to let him do it.
When his hand finally rests on the overlapping scars his blood has left on the tanned skin, he stops and scooches down to lay on his side, lets his arm rest along Sam's back, fingers spread wide across his mark, his name.
When Sam's hand comes to rest on his face, thumb brushing at the moisture there, Dean doesn't try to hide it, doesn't pull away, but he does close his eyes. "I don’t know what I've done," he says and feels Sam's lips press to his forehead, then to his mouth.
He opens his mouth under Sam's and wishes he felt desire, or lust or even revulsion, but the taste of Sam on his tongue is too much like grief, the whole of what he's saved unable to be yet balanced out by what he may have lost or given up or even taken. The kiss lasts too long and is over too soon, Dean unable to sort out what he wants from what he still feels isn't his to take.
Sam rubs his arm and sits up and Dean's eyes flash open in fear that Sam is leaving again. "Just rest. I'm going to take a shower." Dean swallows and nods because Sam's hair is still matted and there's dried blood on his face still.
When the water starts up, he rolls over, jerks the coverlet over himself, feeling a chill down to his bones, the enormity of what he's done, what he thinks he's done, settling like a weight on his chest.
He'd wondered once what kind of nutcase would bind a reaper. What could drive a person to do such a thing.
Now he knows.
Author's notes: I'd expected this story to go differently than it did. It was meant to be the launch point for the slash I've always seen in the Reaper 'verse but the boys, as they occasionally do, are resisting being rushed into anything. One of my own personal issues with Dead-Not-Dead stories is that can be a shortcut or a way to sidestep the issues of brotherhood in incest stories. I have the same unwillingness to suspend my disbelief in stories where characters (be it incest or not) fall for other characters (usually played by the same actors). In this case, Dean's argument with himself is not really that its so wrong to either love or desire Sam, but that this is a Sam who's now bound to him and since the issue of free will is very much a theme in this 'verse, while Dean's ready to admit that he'd pretty much do anything to keep Sam with him, he still wants Sam to have choices, not realizing Sam's already made his. I thought I could come at this full on, but I fear I may have to back into through flashbacks from an already established sexual relationship.
I considered scrapping this and starting all over, but I like, for myself, what it says about the nature of what Sam is now, confusing as that may be to anyone else. I also like what it leaves open for Dean at this point -- in that in the face of this, Dean's never actually grieved for his brother. He was angry, he was in denial, he bargained…but he has yet to come to terms with what he's lost and that is actually the biggest barrier between them.
comments or criticism? Drop me a note at maygra @ bellsouth.net or leave a comment in my livejournal.