Part 1 | Part 2
It's both easier and harder to deal with once they're back home again--they set themselves up in the library with the usual piles of books, laptops open and a Skype session running in the background: Sam's speakers muted and Dean with headphones on so Sam doesn't have to keep listening to his own voice echoing back at him. It's better than in the car, because Dean can look at the video and see Sam--pixelated, badly lit, but there. But the books still move themselves when Dean blinks, and the closeness to normality makes him bitterly aware of how easily they could adjust to this way of living and how much he doesn't want to. After a while he leaves Sam to it and goes to make dinner in the kitchen, where Sam wouldn't be anyway.
They'd been gone only a couple days so the food in the fridge is still mostly good, which means that he can make chicken-fried steak because he deserves some compensation for being whammied--and Sam's distracted enough at the moment that he'll probably eat it without commenting on the cholesterol count, which is always a plus.
Also a plus is the excuse to just pound on something for a little while, beating the steak to tender smithereens that get dunked and coated and fried to perfection. They have few slightly-shriveled potatoes in a bin on the bottom shelf of one of the racks, so he mashes them up as well, divvies everything up between two plates, and smothers it all in gravy. And he actually managed to distract himself enough with the process that it's a small shock to carry the plates into the library and find it empty.
He actually says, "Sam?" before remembering that it's pointless because the laptop's back in the kitchen, and with a muttered "Never mind," just puts the plate down on the nearest table before retreating back to the refuge of technology.
"We're going to figure this out," Skype-Sam tells him as soon as he's within view of the laptop camera."I promise."
"I know," Dean says because he does even though he can't always believe it, and eats his chicken fried steak in awkward solitude. It's delicious, though the gravy's starting to congeal a little.
He tries to go back the library after the dishes are washed and put away, makes it another hour or so of paging futilely through handwritten log books before the combination of everything really does start to give him a headache. Sam's clearly on a roll, given the speed with which the books rearrange themselves while Dean's not looking, which is vaguely heartening but a definite strain on the eyes.
Usually he'd say 'good night', but Skype-Sam has his head down over a book bound in disintegrating leather and is taking rapid notes. So he just turns off his laptop and goes to catch what sleep he can--leery of bad dreams but well aware that staying up won't help things either. Rock and a hard place, the story of his life.
His bed's perfect, as always, so at least he's comfortable while he stares at the darkened ceiling, the little checker-pattern of light creeping past the air vent; wonders idly why there's never any cobwebs in the corners; tries not to feel guilty about leaving Sam to his sleepless research without even a pot of coffee for fortification.
He considers getting up to make some, but his eyelids feel kind of heavy so he lets them close for a couple of minutes while his brain keeps ticking through contingency plans for if Sam doesn't figure this thing out. Bobby's friend Pamela had rocked the wrap-around look, so Dean's willing to consider it a possibility despite his usual views on sunglasses worn indoors, but there's no way he's doing the stupid little white stick, and a seeing-eye dog would probably be out of the question entirely.....
He's slowly drowning in a sea of gravy when Bonham's drum intro kicks him out of sleep and scrambling for his phone, which has managed to wedge itself down between the headboard and mattress. "Sam?" he says, trying not to hope.
"Think I got it," Sam answers, exhausted but triumphant. "Come meet me in the kitchen."
He has the laptops and Skype set up already so Dean can see him (and the massive bags under his eyes), and an impressive array of ingredients spread out over the counter. "It's less complicated than I expected," he says, waving a hand at the mess behind him. "Just have to apply the substances in a particular order and avoid any cross-contamination between the ingredients."
"Oh, is that all?" But Dean obediently sits down at the table. "What do you need me to do?"
"Hold out your right hand and foot, close your eyes, and don't move until I tell you it's okay." Which is dumb, but Dean's been through enough of these rodeos to just sigh and follow Sam's instructions.
He can't help the flinch when something wet and tickly brushes across his eyelid--"I told you not to move," Sam scolds, and he has to go wash his face off with holy water so they can start over again--but in short order various bits of the right half of his body have been anointed via paintbrush with concoctions of oil and assorted herbs and Dean's sitting there holding his breath, feeling like an idiot with his arm and leg up in the air, while Sam rattles through an excessively long passage of Latin.
The Latin stops, and for a single terrifying moment Dean's certain that all they've done is made things worse, closing whatever loophole all their modern technology has been slipping through.
"Well?" he asks finally, eyes still shut, "did it do anything?" Whatever Sam painted onto his earlobe is beginning to itch horribly.
"I was just about to ask you that," Sam says, solidly in front of him and echoed a fraction of a second later by his Skype-self--and the awkward muddle of sound is possibly the most glorious thing Dean's ever heard.
"Hey," Sam says when Dean opens his eyes, and "Hey yourself," Dean says back in pure reflex, too glad to see Sam standing before him, hollow-eyed and unshaven, to give any thought to a response. "You look terrible."
"And whose fault is that--" Sam starts, breaks off when Dean stands up, walks the two steps needed to get in grabbing distance, and pulls Sam down into a hug, hooking his chin over Sam's shoulder for extra security. He can feel Sam's startled inhale, the shiver of muscle as he sways for a moment, off-balance. "Hey," Sam says again, and Dean can hear it entirely on his own, feel the sound of it muffled against the crook of his neck. There's nothing to keep him from gripping Sam a little tighter, finally able to touch and hold and hear again.
Hasn't even been thirty-six hours, somehow.
He keeps waiting for Sam to pull back, to make some comment about needing to clean up, go to bed, but Sam just holds on as well, and there's no reason to let go--until Sam's stomach makes a noise like a dying baby seal. "Pancakes?" he asks, finally releasing Sam, who scrubs at his face, considering.
"I could eat a short stack," he says. "Do you need me to get rid of all this?" He waves a vague hand at the mess on the counter.
"Nah," Dean tells him, pulling out the biggest mixing bowl. "I can just shove it over for now." Which he does while Sam turns off and closes the now-unneeded laptops at the table. One egg, the last of their milk, add in the dry ingredients--"You want chocolate chips in yours," he turns to ask, but Sam's got his head down on the table, eyes closed and sleep slowly easing the lines of his face "Guess not," Dean says to himself, and sets the batter aside for later.
Perhaps he should jostle Sam awake and send him off to his proper bed, but for now he sits on the stool opposite him and watches Sam sleep, close enough to touch and unobscured by anything except Dean's own lingering weariness. Rests his head on his folded arms, close enough to feel the warmth off Sam's shoulder and neck. Listens to the quiet steadiness of Sam's breathing.
Still here, despite the curse. Despite everything, somehow.
He closes his own eyes and waits for Sam to wake again.