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Title: The Day the World Stopped Turning
Author: Me!
Characters/Pairings: Sam/Dean (very, very mildly slashy)
Rating: PG-13
Word count: c 7000
Summary: Season 8 - both Winchesters are hurting and comfort seems far away.  Sam has to win Dean back from where he is trapped in a strange nightmare.
Teaser pic:
 photo Deanboundinweedcropsmall.jpg
The Day the World Stopped Turning
 photo Deanboundinweed.jpg


In medio ramos annosaque bracchia pandit
ulmus opaca, ingens, quam sedem somnia vulgo
uana tenere ferunt, foliisque sub omnibus haerent.
Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, 'tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.
Virgil’s Aeneid


When Dean wakes up, he is alone.  This isn’t the first observation he makes on waking - indeed this fact didn’t become self evident until some time later, but it is the most significant one for him.

The first thing Dean notices is the sky is burning.

At least, that’s what it looks like.  Everything is painted in shades of burnt ochre and umber, desert colours that are in the sky, instead of on the ground where they should be.  This strange light from outside is tinting the off-white cracked plaster of the motel room ceiling an apocalyptic orange.  He doesn’t remember leaving the curtains open, but guesses he must have forgotten to draw them before collapsing face down on his mattress when he’d got in from the bar.

He must have drunk a lot last night, even for him, because his head is pounding.  Ignoring the way his brain hurts with a throbbing rhythm that matches his heartbeat, Dean groans and crawls off the mattress to look out of the window.  What he sees freezes his blood and wipes away all thought of his headache.  Not stopping to pull on a shirt, he wrenches the flimsy motel door wide and staggers outside into a burning world.

Slowly he starts to catalogue the wrongness.

There is no sun.  Yet it’s light enough to see every detail spread out before him.  The light seems directionless, ambient, and Dean casts no shadow where he stands.

There’s no parking lot, no motel sign, no road – and worst of all, no Impala.  Dean whirls around.

The motel has gone.  The room that he’s just exited; the whole building; everything familiar has disappeared as if it had never existed.  All that’s left is the strange, alien orange skies, hanging heavy as a bronze shield over a flat dusty desert landscape.  It isn’t completely barren, however.  In the distance he can see shadowy outlines of bare-branched trees, while around his feet are thick-stemmed creepers with small red leaves.

He takes a step backwards, his mind reeling.

“…the fuck?”

This makes no sense.

He’d been on his way back to Kansas after another fruitless search for Kevin, combined with a supply run.  They’d heard a rumour hinting that Kevin might have turned up in Yakima, Washington, and Dean had been all too quick to volunteer to check it out.  He was going stir crazy in the Bat Cave, nothing to do except odd jobs, working on the Impala, or cataloguing the weird and wacky collection of arcane objects the Men of Letters had collected over who knew how many years.  He couldn’t persuade Sam to drop his latest research, and besides, his little brother was still looking a bit pale and worn after the last trial, so after half-heartedly huffing in aggravation for a few minutes, Dean had set off on his own.  Naturally Yakima was a bust, not even a job on the way there or the way back to allow Dean to let off some steam by killing something that deserved it.

On the return trip he’d thought about stopping off at the Grand Canyon, but ended up detouring round it, because standing there looking at the millennia of sediments wouldn’t have been the same without Sam by his side.  Instead, he’d ended up in the podunkiest of podunk towns, name of Starvation, next to Starvation State Park in Utah.  Stopping anywhere that reminded him of Famine probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas, but he had been seeing double he was so tired.   It was a pretty bleak landscape, in spite of the big lake, upon the shores of which the town perched.  He had been surprised a place this size even had a motel, but grateful at the time.

That’s the last thing he can remember, until waking up to find this.  If he’d thought Utah was bleak, this is worse.

The air is still and close, and hot.  Sweat prickles his back and forehead, and trickles down his cheek to drip onto the ground.

The earth beneath his feet is flat and featureless, hard packed as if it had been beaten down by centuries of feet walking over it, and yet there was no sign of any life here at all.  Whichever way he turns, the horizon is obscured by lines of trees that fade into a misty haze in the distance.  The tangled creepers are the only other living thing he can see.

And they are moving.

While he’s been standing there, getting his bearings, the plants had grown towards him, sending out tendrils that were already starting to curl around the toes of his boots.  He jumps backwards again, with a yell that falls flat in the dead air.

“Well, fuck.  Creepy creepers. That’s all I need.”

The plant is writhing, snakelike, and it’s giving Dean the jitters.  He turns around, picks a direction at random and starts walking.

He isn’t sure what is bugging him more, the living plants, the silence or the emptiness.

He walks.

He has no watch, and without any sun, there is no way he can measure time passing.  If it does.  Pass, that is.  How can he tell?

He walks.

He’s walking towards a copse of trees.  They look deciduous, nothing like the kind of trees you’d expect to find in Utah.  They never get any closer.  Nothing changes.  He’s hot and sweaty, and the pale dust he’s kicking up sticks to his bare skin.  He can feel it, a fine gritty powder coating him from head to foot, and he wonders what he looks like.  A ghost, maybe.

The thought is almost enough to make him laugh at the irony.

He regrets not having dressed before he ran outside.  He has a knife strapped to his ankle inside his boot, and a pocketful of small change in his jeans, but other than that, he’s naked of weapons.  Defenceless.  At least he’s unlikely to get sunburned, seeing as how there’s no sun.

He walks because there is nothing else to do.

He’s certain this isn’t Purgatory, or Hell.  He thinks it isn’t much like the Heaven he and Sam visited, but who knows what Heaven is like now, after Cas.  For a little while the thought that this could be Heaven perks up his spirits.  He might find Bobby, newly arrived.  Or Ash, or Jo and Ellen.

But he walks and walks and finds nothing. No one.  Nothing changes, he never reaches the distant trees.  He never gets anywhere at all.  He doesn’t get hungry, or thirsty, in spite of the constant heat and the sweat that sheens his skin under the pall of dust.  The pale dust that gets everywhere.  He can feel it gritty against his teeth when he moves his tongue inside his mouth, tries to moisten dry lips. The only sound he can hear above his own breathing is a faint rustling from the red creepers as they follow his trail in the dirt.

He isn’t really sure when he stopped, just that he has.  His legs have ceased moving because what’s the fucking point?  How can he fight nothing?

In Hell he had never been alone and had thought then that he would have killed for a moment’s peace.  He’d craved solitude almost more than he’d wished for an end to the torment.

In Purgatory the fight or flight impulse was constant.  There was always something hungry, waiting to jump him and tear him apart.  Even when he’d joined forces with Benny, he couldn’t rest at night, senses always alert for the monsters in the dark.  He’d had his mission, his purpose.  Find Cas, get the hell out of there, go home to Sam.  In Purgatory there had always been hope.  Hope that he’d escape, hope that Sam was out there, somewhere, looking for him.  And there had been Benny.  Standing shoulder to shoulder with him, living up to the epithet of brother that Benny always called him.  Vampire or no, Benny had meant it.

But Benny was gone.  Dad, Bobby, Ellen, Rufus, the list was too long.  Everybody leaves him, it’s a fact of Dean Winchester’s life.

Now, here in this red land, Dean has no hope left, because he knows.  Sam wouldn’t be looking for him.  Sam hadn’t tried to find him when he was in Purgatory, so all that year he’d spent fighting, fighting, fighting, had been based on a lie.  This time Dean is wiser.  Sam won’t be searching for him.

He has nothing left to fight for.  Nobody left to fight for or struggle against.


Maybe tears are mingling with the sweat that drips from his face onto the bare ground.  Who would notice, who would tell?  He’s on his knees now, no recollection of falling.


As each droplet of moisture that fall from his body touched the soil, a new growth of creeper  springs up.  Each strand moves independently and has already wound round his wrists, dragging them together behind his back.  His head drops and his eyes close.

Red leaved creepers grow and entwine around his body, until after a while it’s hard to see there is a man there at all, amid the dense, tangled vegetation.
0x0x0x0

The bunker’s walls are thick.  Sam thinks the Men of Letters reinforced them with magic and runes and ritual, as well as extra concrete and brick.  Sometimes it feels like living in a War Room from World War II, or a nuclear shelter from the Cold War; and maybe it is the supernatural equivalent of just that.  Anyhow, Sam blames the additional density of the walls for failing to hear the Impala’s reassuring rumble when Dean had returned last night.  He guesses it must have been pretty damn late, as he’d been up until 2am scanning all the web-cams feeds again, in case their wayward prophet popped up somewhere.  Whatever this sickness was that the trials had given him, Sam couldn’t pull all-nighters like he used to, and when he slept, he was virtually unconscious.  He didn’t think he was even dreaming any more, and maybe that was part of the problem.  Some of his symptoms now were very reminiscent of how he’d felt with Lucifer sitting inside his head, stopping him from sleeping – which was a disturbing thought.

Sam glances at his clock and winces.  3pm.  Hopefully this was the same day, considering he’d slept for nearly two full days recently and never realised until Dean had helpfully pointed it out.  He rolls out of bed and wanders into the shower room, still largely on auto-pilot.  He peels off the sweat soaked t shirt and baggy track pants with another grimace of distaste.  The Bat Cave was well equipped with most of life’s necessities, and Sam was overdue a visit to the laundry room.  Though, he admits to himself, never out loud and never to Dean, he finds the industrial sized 1950s washing machine somewhat intimidating.

Hair washed and feeling much more human, Sam wraps himself in one of the huge fluffy MoL monogrammed towels – man, this place really rocks sometimes – and ambles through the passage to stick his head round the door to Dean’s bedroom, fully expecting it to be empty.  This late in the day, Dean would probably be sitting in the map room with his feet up and his hand wrapped round a tumbler full of that fine whiskey.  Except he isn’t.  Guess Dean must’ve gotten back a lot later than Sam had thought.

Dean is laid out on his beloved memory foam mattress as if someone has laid him out for a viewing in a funeral parlour.  He’s on his back clad in just jeans and boots, on top of the covers with his hands crossed on his bare chest, and Sam can’t help a snort of laughter.  He is sorely tempted to fetch his cell phone and take a snap for posterity.  Manfully, he resists, and instead goes to make himself some breakfast.  Lunch.  Whatever.

It’s probably around 6pm when Sam starts to worry.  There’s been nary a murmur from his brother’s room, and when Sam heads over there to check on him, it’s only to find nothing has changed.  Dean hasn’t moved.  Which is weird, because Dean tends to be a pretty restless sleeper, even when exhausted.  Anxious now, Sam sits on the edge of the bed and grasps Dean’s shoulder, gives it a little shake.

“Dean!”

Nothing.  Not even a flicker of the eyes under those heavy lids and stupidly thick lashes.  Sam tries a hand next; he lifts Dean’s left hand up from his chest, lets it drop back with a dull thud.  Inert, Dean’s hand just slides slowly down his body to settle by his side, but that’s just gravity at work, not muscles.  Dean’s chest rises and falls, steady, even, unaffected by anything Sam is doing.  His face is almost expressionless, a little paler than it should be, perhaps, the freckles standing out a little more prominently than usual as a result.  Ignoring the way his own hand is trembling, Sam reaches it out and gently touches Dean’s roughly stubbled cheek.  The skin feels cool.  Not feverish, but neither was it blood-warm, as it should be in sleep.

Looking closely at Dean’s face, Sam thinks his brother doesn’t look relaxed, but neither does he look in pain, or afraid.  After a moment, Sam recognises Dean’s expression.

It’s sorrow.

Sam fights down the constriction in his chest, supressing the urge to cough as panic flutters at the base of his throat.  He needs to be calm, to get his brain in gear.  There is something badly wrong here, and Sam has to find out what and quickly, because he can’t lose his brother again.  He just can’t.  He’s clutching Dean’s lax hand so tightly his brother’s flesh is turning white, and he feels the bones grinding together.  With an effort, Sam releases his grip.

Breathe, Sammy, just breathe, says Dean’s voice inside his head.  So Sam deliberately slows each breath, in, out.  In. Out.  Until the rhythm of his breathing matches Dean’s, even and measured.  He can feel his heart rate decelerating, and the choking sensation eases.

Finally feeling under control, Sam’s analytical brain kicks in.

Dean must have returned from his trip to Washington State sometime after Sam had gone to sleep.  So at the most, he’s been comatose for what?  Twelve hours?  So either something had happened to him between his last call to say the mission was a bust, and arriving back at the Bunker, or it had happened since he’d got back.  Sam’s hoping for the latter, as he’s got more chance of finding the cause if it’s inside the Bat Cave.  Perhaps he should go back to the Map Room to check all the items from the small vault they’d discovered just before Dean left, and that Sam had been checking through last night.  See if anything has been tampered with or was missing.

Half an hour later, and Sam is standing in the Map Room with his hands on his hips, perplexed.  The assortment of wooden boxes he’d been so carefully examining is all intact, their contents apparently undisturbed.  He’s staring blankly at the chart of the USA, wondering if he’s going to have to take the Impala - maybe with his unconscious brother stuffed into the back seat because he can’t leave Dean here like this, can he? - and retrace Dean’s route all the way to Yakima to find out what’s done this, when he notices one of the books on the stack on the table in the main room has fallen onto the floor, face down.

His inner librarian is upset by this sight, while the hunter in him goes onto full alert.  Those books were definitely all securely on top of the shiny mahogany surface of the table last night when he’d left them.  Someone, and it could only be Dean, had disturbed them.  Maybe Dean just knocked into the table and overbalanced the pile; maybe it meant nothing at all.  But.  It is the only thing Sam has found so far that appears to be out of place.

Sam bends down to pick up the book, fighting a wave of dizziness when he rises.

Really, this trial induced weakness can just go and fuck itself already.  Before it totally fucks him.

When the dizziness passes, he examines the book carefully.  He can’t recall getting this particular volume down off the shelves.  It doesn’t look like anything special.  It’s leather bound, like so many in the Bat Cave’s amazing library, and old.  Handwritten on parchment or vellum, with carefully drawn illustrations, mostly in that once black, now brownish ink, probably oak gall.  Unlike most the Men of Letters’ collection, this one isn’t about magic or supernatural lore but botany, and he’s not sure why he’d had it down off the shelves in the first place.  He’s about to throw the book back onto the pile when he notices something odd on the page where it had fallen open.

On the left are several paragraphs of cramped tiny writing, and a small but accurate drawing of a tree.  On the right however, the writing crowds around an empty space.  A leaf-shaped space, where, if he looks closely, Sam can see the faint imprint of veins, as if a real leaf was once pressed there.  Senses suddenly alert, Sam sits down and switches on the table lamp for a closer look.  If he’s not mistaken, the tree on the left is an elm, and the shape on the right would seem to bear this out, that it was an elm leaf that is now missing from the volume.

Sam rubs at the bridge of his nose as he tries to read the pages.  Of course, this book isn’t Latin or English. No, that would be too easy.  This is all in Greek, and although Sam is fairly competent in ancient Greek, this is medieval, so falls somewhere between modern and ancient.  Sam grabs a note pad and fires up the laptop.  This could take some time to translate.  He only hopes at the end of it that it will be relevant, because he isn’t sure how much time he has to get Dean out of this fugue state.  One thing he is certain of, the doomsday clock will be ticking on this, because that particular clock seems to rule in Winchester world.

As it turns out, the text is easier to understand than Sam had feared, though he still isn’t sure how helpful the translation is going to be.  The book describes the elm tree and its properties, but the interesting part talks about an association of the tree with Morpheus, Shaper of Dreams and the leader of the Oneiroi, the spirits of dreams, and that could not be a coincidence.  It looks like this is going to require some more research, but first Sam wants to check something, to see if the connection he’s making pans out.  Besides, he needs to see Dean.  It’s been nearly two hours since he left his brother lying there alone, and that is too long.

He stands, then sways as his legs turn to rubber and he has to clutch the edge of the heavy table like an old drunk.  Once he’s steady enough to free a hand, he bangs it on the table in sheer frustration.

“Fuck!”  Fuck God and heaven and hell, the whole damned lot of them.  Closing the doors on both would be worth the effort, even worth dying for.  It’s just a crying shame his soul had to travel onwards after, given what the Winchesters knew of all three options, oblivion was far more attractive a proposition.  Or maybe reincarnation.  Right now, Sam’s thinking coming back as a snail or a mouse would actually be a blissful relief.

Sam straightens and staggers his way to Dean’s room, using the walls for support far more than he would like to admit.  His chest is tight and his breath wheezing a little by the time he sits himself on the edge of Dean’s bed again.

“Hey, bro, I’m back.” Sam says, sick of the silence.  He loves the peace and quiet when Dean’s away, but it’s totally different to have Dean here and nothing but stillness where there should be movement and noise.  Dean isn’t designed for calm.

Dean’s condition hasn’t altered.  Dean lay exactly as Sam had left him, right hand over his heart, left now down by his side, the same sad expression on his face.

“So I’m thinking you’ve touched something you shouldn’t.  Again.”  Sam says, while he starts to check Dean’s discarded clothes before moving pat Dean’s body down, looking for clues.  Why does Dean have to wear so many layers?  So many damn pockets and places to conceal stuff.  Yeah, yeah, he knew that was why, but. “Way to make this more difficult, bro.”  He just hopes Dean hasn’t eaten the leaf or whatever it was.  That would be awkward.

It isn’t until he’s finished searching through all Dean’s pockets that Sam thinks to move Dean’s right hand where it’s heavy over his heart.  He blames this stupid illness. It’s making him slow as molasses.  Because when Sam turns over the hand, there, pressed into Dean’s palm like his brother’s skin is the page of a book, is the missing elm leaf.  Belatedly, Sam realises it would probably be foolish for him to touch it too, and pulls his finger away as if the leaf had scorched him.  He frowns heavily, cursing his carelessness under his breath, then sighs with relief when nothing happens.

“Dodged a bullet there, dude.”

But he has no idea what to do next.  Would salting and burning the leaf bring Dean back?  Somehow, Sam doubts it will be that simple.  He pulls out a silver knife and carefully teases the blade underneath the fragile edges of the leaf.  It isn’t welded to Dean’s skin but neither does it lift easily, and Sam stops, afraid if he breaks the leaf something bad will happen, because, you know, something bad always happens.

Smoke on the Water interrupts his complete failure to come up with any bright ideas.  Dean’s cell.  It takes Sam a moment to dig the phone out but fortunately, it appears this caller doesn’t mind hanging on.  Sam doesn’t recognise the number, but in their line of business, that’s nothing new.  He pushes call answer.

“Hi, Dean! You know you are always going to be my favourite handmaiden, right? So don’t get mad at me but I…”

“Charlie. Hey.”  Sam interrupts.

“Hey there, Treebeard! Or maybe you should be Frodo, because like, you are carrying the burden of the ring, aren’t you?  How are you getting along with the whole Trials thing?  Because, you know, anything I can do to help…”

“Charlie…”

“Wait, why are you answering Dean’s phone?  I know you two are soul-bound and all, but a boy needs some me-things, you know?”

“Charlie! Please, just…Dean’s…he’s unconscious and I can’t wake him, and right now’s not a good time, okay? I’m trying to find out what’s done this to him and I can’t…”

“Sam.  I’m sorry. Listen, why don’t you run it by me, maybe talking it through will help?  Come on, dude.  You know we make a great PUG.”

“PUG?  What..?  No wait, don’t tell me.  Okay, hold on and I’ll put you on speaker.  This is what I have so far.”  Sam swiftly outlines what he knows, finishing off with his idea of trying to lift the leaf off of Dean’s palm to see if breaking contact with the skin will allow his brother to wake up.  Charlie is quiet for a moment after Sam stops talking, so quiet that Sam wonders whether their call’s been accidentally cut off.

“Let me get this straight.  It’s an elm leaf, yes?”

Sam nods, then replies in the affirmative when he remembers he’s on the phone.

“Okay.  I know this is going to sound stupid, but there’s this game, it’s been around quite a while and I haven’t played it for ages because it gave me the heebie jeebies.  It’s called Land of Dreams, and there’s this withered elm tree at the heart of the game, where Morpheus and the Oneiroi hang people’s dreams and nightmares.  All the dreams look the same, like the shadows of leaves, and when you pick one, you have no idea what you will get – it could be something beautiful or it could be your worst fear.  I know you are going to say, it’s a computer game, how could it have anything to do with Dean and the real Morpheus but…”

Sam stands up abruptly and starts pacing.  The flowing adrenaline seems to be holding his symptoms at bay for once, and his mind feels clearer than it has for days.

“No, no, you might be on to something.  We know that ancient gods adapt to modern ways of life or else they fade and die.  What if Morpheus is using this computer game to feed belief in him?  But how do I get Dean out, if that is where he is now?  Trapped in a dream-game?  I take it that escaping from the game is not as easy as telling yourself you are dreaming and waking up.  Dream root probably wouldn’t work this time.”

“I think you might need to play the game.  You’d need to choose the right dream though, to find the one Dean’s in, and I’m not sure how you’d do that.  I can send you the link to the website.”  Sam can hear Charlie’s fingers tapping and realises she’s on her iPad right now.  Sure enough, a few seconds later, Dean’s phone blips and a message appears on screen.  Sam shakes his head.  That’s not going to work.  Dean didn’t enter the game that way, and Sam’s best chance of finding his brother once he’s inside is to go in by the same door.  Charlie’s still talking to him, but Sam’s no longer listening.

“Sam, don’t enter the game on your own.  I’m coming over, okay?  I’m in Ohio, it will take me a few hours to get there, but wait for me.”

“I can’t wait that long, Charlie.  I have to get Dean out.  You read Edlund’s books. You know what kind of dreams he could be having.  I can’t leave him there a minute longer than I need to, not this time.  I’ll call you when I’ve brought him back.  Stay where you are, you won’t be able to get into the Bunker anyway until we’ve returned.”

“But…”

“Thanks, Charlie.  I’ve got to go.  I’ll call you, I promise.”  Sam terminates the call to the unheeded sound of Charlie’s protests.

He looks at Dean’s face and knows he’s right not to wait.  There is sweat forming on Dean’s forehead, and a single tear squeezes out from underneath his eyelashes, even though his brother’s face remains virtually motionless.  But Sam can see the sadness that was there before has intensified, and he can’t bear to sit and watch any longer.

He manouevers Dean across the bed to make room for himself, then lies down beside his brother.  He’s not sure that this will work, but he has no better ideas right now.  He takes Dean’s right hand, the one with the leaf, and makes a shallow cut across the palm, carefully avoiding damaging the leaf.  He watches as the red blood wells up.  He mirrors the cut in his own hand and presses their palms together so their blood mingles and spreads across the severed surface of the shadowy leaf.

He’s not sure that the blood is necessary, but blood magic is powerful, and Winchester blood ought to carry something extra, after everything they’ve been through.  Death and resurrection, archangel vessels and demon blood infections, all of these must have left their mark on their bodies as well as their minds.

Sam closes his eyes and waits for something to happen.
0x0x0x0

Counting breaths; fifty, a hundred.  He feels the warmth of Dean’s hand in his, but nothing else.  Frustrated, Sam opens his eyes.  Widens them in surprise.

“Huh.  Well I guess we’re not in Kansas any more.” He says, stealing Dean’s line.

He’s standing in a land flat enough to be Kansas, but no state on earth ever had a sky like this one, the colours of a sunset painted over its whole expanse.  His hand is empty, both Dean and the Bunker have disappeared.  Instead in front of him there is the elm tree, exactly as Charlie had described.

It is tall, but its branches spread wide, and as Sam approaches he can see that its trunk is massive, more than two of Sam’s arm spans in girth.  Its bark is grey and deeply crackled like rhino-skin.  From a distance it had appeared bare, but standing underneath the heavy branches the shadowy leaves become visible, thousands of them, fluttering in a ghostly breeze that isn’t reaching Sam.

How is he supposed to know which leaf contains the dream Dean in is trapped in?  If he choses the wrong one, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to extricate himself.  Both Winchesters could end up lost in different dreams.  Strangely, Sam doesn’t have any doubt that they will be able to escape from Dean’s dream when he finds him.  Maybe somewhere deep down he does actually believe Charlie’s words, that there’s nothing the Winchester brothers can’t do if they work together.

While Sam circles the tree, words from Virgil’s Aeneid circle inside his head.

In medio ramos annosaque bracchia pandit
ulmus opaca, ingens, quam sedem somnia vulgo
uana tenere ferunt, foliisque sub omnibus haerent.

It doesn’t help.  Yes, this elm is huge and shadowy, and right now the dreams do seem vain.  None of the leaves stand out as different, or call to him in any way.  He is almost at the stage where just snatching the one closest to him and taking a chance seems like a good idea, when he rests his left hand on the rough bark, just for a moment, and the tree shudders like a horse being pestered by a fly.  Although he pulls his hand away instantly, the branches are still trembling with after-shocks, setting all the dreams a-quiver.  He turns his hand over and stares.

There on his palm as if etched in blood, is the delicate red-veined imprint of Dean’s leaf.  Sam’s heart beats faster.  Holding his hand up as a reference, he searches the withered ancient elm for a match to the template on his skin. He doesn’t know how long it takes him to find it, and he doesn’t care.  There’s no way of measuring time here, the light is constant and dull, nothing moves, nothing changes, so in a way it is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is that Sam’s does find Dean’s dream.

He reaches up and plucks the shadow leaf from Morpheus’ tree of dreams.
0x0x0x0

This time Sam feels a tipping, swooping dizziness that sends him thudding to his knees with a gasp.  It’s hotter here, wherever here is.  Sweat starts up on his back and runs down his face to fall like rain onto the pale peach coloured earth.  Everywhere a drop of sweat lands, tiny tendrils of red-leafed plants spring up.  Sam scrabbles to his feet in shock and looks around him.

His first thought is that he has failed.  This can’t be Dean’s dream, or else where is his brother?  Surely Dean would be nearby, if this was the right leaf.  Because there is nothing in this land as far as Sam can see except those strange creepers that he seemed to have brought to life, and in the distance on every side, the faint misty outlines of trees, all as bare and barren as Morpheus’ elm tree had been.  Something tickles his ankle and looking down he finds a tendril of the red weed has wrapped itself around his foot and is working its way up around his calf.  He shudders and pulls away, tearing the plant as he goes.

He runs a hand through his unruly hair, now thoroughly damp with sweat, and tries to think.  The air is close, it makes it hard to breathe, let alone think.  The clarity he’d had so fleetingly in the other place seems to have slipped through his grasp.

“Dean!”  Sam yells, though he doesn’t hold out much hope of an answer.  There is nowhere to hide, just a carpet of those red creepers spreading out from a low mound that was the only relief this landscape offered from the uniform flatness all around.

A movement. Sam he looks down.  More of the creepy plant is growing up from where Sam had knelt moments ago, but that isn’t what captures his attention.  There, just inches from his boot, are patterned indentations in the pale soil where he hasn’t yet trodden.  A boot print.

Dean’s boot print.

Dean is here; he is in the right place.  Sam comes back to life.  Bending low, he follows the footprints until he looses the trail amongst the carpet of red weed.  Sam straightens up, rubbing his back. He’s getting too old for this, even in dreams his body aches and creaks.

So. Did he get this wrong after all?

Or…

Dean is here.  Somewhere under the weed.

When Sam steps onto the matted tangle of red creepers they start to writhe around underneath his booted feet.  Grimacing, Sam keeps moving as quickly as he can towards the centre, where the weed has grown up almost level with Sam’s waist.  After a couple of strands wrap themselves around his ankles, Sam keeps his bowie knife out at the ready, while wishing he’d brought the machete.  He has to slash his way more and more often as he nears the snarled up dense mass of vegetation, and he can even hear the creepers moving now – a continuous whispering, rustling noise that reminds him of a snake’s scales rubbing against stone.

Sweat is running freely down his face, dripping into his eyes and stinging like lemon juice, but both his hands are occupied fending off the creeper.  He can’t take the time to wipe the sweat away, even though he can see that the plant loves the moisture, and is multiplying wherever it touches.  He is very carefully not thinking about what has made it grow so well and so densely here – whether it likes any liquids other than the salty water of sweat.  He’s refusing to wonder what happens if Dean is buried in here, not breathing. Because he has no idea what happens out in the real world if you die here in the Land of Dreams, but he’s pretty certain it’s unlikely to be anything good.

He’s finally arrived at the dead centre of the writhing thicket of red weed and now he’s so close, he can see that the mound is vaguely man-shaped.  He has to work quickly or he will be overgrown too, so he grasps a handful of strands and pulls.  The thinner filaments tear easily but the thicker, ropelike strands are tougher, and before long, Sam’s hands are raw, abraded by the rough resistant plant fibres.  He doesn’t care, because after a short while he has torn enough of plant material away to expose bare flesh, and he knows that pale freckled skin intimately.

Dean.

Ignoring the burning of his hands, Sam works fast and methodically, slashing carefully at the more stubborn growth where he needs to, until most of Dean is uncovered.

His brother is kneeling, head lowered almost to the ground, his arms twisted behind his back until Sam cuts here, and here, and frees them.   Released, Dean’s body slumps forward and Sam can see the damage the weed has done.   He can’t supress a shudder, even though he knows this is only a dream, and that when he’d left his brother back in the real world, there hadn’t been a mark on him.

The plant hadn’t only bound Dean like ropes, it had literally grown through him.  Sam could see two tendrils had pierced Dean’s arms, pushing through his flesh between bones and tendons, the ends of the bindings now severed where Sam has hacked at them with his knife.  He thanks everything that he could think of that the iron knife seems to kill the plant, so where he had cut it, the ends were no longer moving. Because he didn’t like to think what pain that might cause Dean if the plant running through him had been still growing and moving.  There were several strands that had pushed through Dean’s torso.  One is perhaps the thickness of Sam’s thumb, the others are finer.  There is blood trickling from the entry and exit wounds, and as Sam slashes through the final thick fibres wound round and through Dean’s thighs, he takes a tiny sliver of comfort from the fact that he can feel a slight rise and fall in Dean’s ribs.  His brother is still alive.

Sam looks around, then gathers Dean up in his arms as best he can, trying to avoid putting too much pressure on the many grotesque wounds in his brother’s body.  He staggers to his feet with an effort and carries Dean’s dead weight as far as he can manage to a clear patch of earth.  This might be futile, given that the weed evidently only grows around people – ie them, as there is nobody else here – but maybe this will give him enough time to try and wake Dean up before they are overtaken by the red weed again. He’s hoping that rousing Dean will be sufficient to break the spell and send them both back to the Bunker.  He should have known it wouldn’t be that simple, but in spite of everything, Sam is still good at finding a morsel of hope in most situations.

Dean moans faintly as Sam lays him gently down.  Sam frowns as he notes a fresh growth of weed springing up where Dean’s hand touches the ground.  He swiftly cuts at the plant and sighs in relief as the touch of the iron blade seems to curtail the activity, albeit temporarily.  Sam positions Dean so that his brother’s torso is supported across Sam’s thighs, Dean’s head resting against Sam’s chest.  He touches Dean’s cheek, cupping his face in his palm, and smiles as Dean’s eyes flutter then open slowly.

“Hey,” Sam says.

It takes Dean a moment to focus, and Sam doesn’t like the bewildered expression on his brother’s face when he recognises Sam.

“You’re here,” Dean’s voice is barely louder than a whisper but Sam has no difficulty hearing every word.  And every one is a blow to the heart.  “You came for me this time.  I didn’t think you would.”

Sam wants to protest, to say of course he came, he would never leave Dean behind – but he can’t, because for a whole year, he hadn’t turned a single stone over.  He hadn’t looked for Dean, hadn’t attempted to save Dean from Purgatory.  It had taken a vampire and a fallen angel to do that, while Sam had been so lost and afraid he had scarcely remembered his own name, let alone what it meant to be Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester’s brother.  He braced himself.  There was nothing he could do about the past, it was just another regret in a long list of them.  All he could do was show Dean how important he was to Sam right now, and for always.

He doesn’t move his hand away from Dean’s pale cheek.  Instead, he brings his head down and lightly kisses Dean, right in the middle of his forehead.  When Sam pulls away, Dean’s eyes are comically wide and shocked, green irises almost lost in the huge pupils.

“Yeah, I came for you, Dean.  I can’t do this without you.  And I don’t just mean the fucking trials.”

Dean opens his mouth as though he’s going to argue, but Sam isn’t having any of it.  He just wants to shut Dean up, so he goes for the most direct route and kisses his brother again, on those full, open, stupidly self-depreciating lips.   Whatever Dean might have been going to say was swallowed up in the warm press of sweet flesh, and Sam closes his eyes at the wholly unexpected and overwhelming feeling of bliss that sweeps over him.  For once, Sam doesn’t question it, he doesn’t even think, just loses himself in the pure sensation.  The slightly dry, chapped feel of Dean’s lips, the thrill that unfurls in his belly at the tentative moist touch of Dean’s tongue against his own lips.  The taste of Dean.  The weight of Dean’s hand as it lands on the back of his neck, holding him in place. Anchoring him.

When Sam opens his eyes, he isn’t surprised to find that they are back in Dean’s bedroom in the Bunker.  He is all tangled up in Dean, as if Sam’s replaced that red weed, binding himself to his brother.
0x0x0x0

Dean wakes and Sam is kissing him.  Somehow, that fact doesn’t freak him out as it should.  He’s weak, all his muscles turned to jello, and he doesn’t know if that’s because of the freaky dream he’s just escaped from, or down to the feel of Sam’s tongue sliding round his mouth as if his little brother is claiming territory.  He can’t bring himself to care, just as he can’t find it in him to complain about the way Sam’s clinging to him like a giant sweaty octopus, all arms and legs and wild hair.

Later, he’ll probably manage to be indignant that Sam hacked his way through the briar hedge and kissed him like Princess Aurora the Sleeping Beauty - and don’t even ask how Dean knows that particular story - but right now, Dean wants nothing more than to wallow in the knowledge that Sam came for him.  Sam didn’t leave him behind.

0x0x0x0


Author's note:
This fic just hit me out of the blue after I had the idea for the picture, but it was also partly inspired by this Stackridge song.

Comments

( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
borgmama1of5
Apr. 28th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
Not being humorous--this was creepy!
amber1960
Apr. 28th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
Ha ha but that is an awesome comment... :D
quickreaver
Apr. 28th, 2013 08:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, this looks good! I'm gonna slip it into my Kindle to read tonight. :D
amber1960
Apr. 28th, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC)
Cool! Hope you like it...
quickreaver
Apr. 30th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
Done reading! This was SUCH a cool concept. The Morpheus Tree imagery was creepy and surreal and so clever. And the image helped me picture the written scene beautifully.

I kinda felt like you needed to write this fic; it felt re-conciliatory (and this is no criticism!) I think we all have our own theories as to why Sam didn't look for Dean and how he can 'make it right.' This was yours. Excellently written, I might add.
amber1960
Apr. 30th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC)
Ah thank you very much - I honestly don't know where the Sam part came from, this was one of those stories that emerged and virtually wrote itself. Weird! The tricky part was finding a way out for them both.

So happy you liked both fic and arty thing! :D
raloria
Apr. 28th, 2013 08:21 pm (UTC)
Would you consider posting this over at positively_spn? Would love to see your fic and Fanart over there. :)
amber1960
Apr. 28th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
I'd love to! I'll get onto that...
raloria
Apr. 28th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks hun! Judith & I are really trying to encourage more people to share their works, otherwise it's mainly just her and I posting over there.
monicawoe
Apr. 28th, 2013 10:42 pm (UTC)
Awesome visuals! Clearly you should reverse-bang yourself more often : D
I loved the atmosphere and the description of the Elm was just so damn cool.
amber1960
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:50 am (UTC)
Thank you - it was weird how much of the story came from the picture - like the idea of the weed springing up from the drops of sweat. I've never done that before but maybe you're right, I should try it again!
tifaching
Apr. 28th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
The beginning of this story punched me right in the gut. What fantastic images you wove of that alien sky and Dean's long, lonely, fruitless walk.

Sam was awesome. Figuring out what was wrong with Dean and then going in after him...just brilliant.

This whole fic just sucked me right in and the art that goes along with it? Perfect.

I love it.
amber1960
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:51 am (UTC)
Thanks so much - I was a bit lary about just whacking this up without a beta, and I really wasn't sure it had worked, so this is good to hear!
runedgirl
Apr. 28th, 2013 11:59 pm (UTC)
Love this! The suspense was so well done, it had me holding my breath. And allowing Sam to atone for not looking for Dean felt so good, healing. Nicely done :)
amber1960
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:52 am (UTC)
I'm so glad to hear your thought it was suspenseful! Woo hoo!
Thank you... :D
marciaelena
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:03 am (UTC)
Loved the story, and the art is gorgeous.
amber1960
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:52 am (UTC)
Thank you on both counts!
shippen_stand
Apr. 30th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
That was lovely.
amber1960
Apr. 30th, 2013 01:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
downjune
Apr. 30th, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
Very nice! Love the striking imagery as well as problem-solving Sam. I love moments of catharsis like this :) Way to go with the story/art 1-2 punch!
amber1960
Apr. 30th, 2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I like problem-solving Sam though he didn't feature in the picture prompt. As usual, my starting point is always hurting Dean!
masja_17
May. 1st, 2013 07:27 am (UTC)
Great story, I love stories where Sam figures things out. And a great way to let Sam atone for his unableness to look for Dean.

<3
amber1960
May. 1st, 2013 08:15 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot! Super-researcher Sam is one of my fave Sams!
masja_17
May. 1st, 2013 08:23 am (UTC)
I recced this story for my friends a my LJ.

<3
amber1960
May. 1st, 2013 08:37 am (UTC)
Awesome! :D
halfshellvenus
May. 2nd, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
Congrats! Our team has rec'd you here at crack_impala.
amber1960
May. 2nd, 2013 06:56 pm (UTC)
Oooh thank you!
ex1led_nyer
May. 5th, 2013 12:20 am (UTC)
Great story, beautifully told. And very much in keeping with the S8 canon -- the gradual movement from Dean feeling (and having been) abandoned by Sam, to a relationship between the boys that is maybe stronger than it ever has been. Lovely.
amber1960
May. 5th, 2013 06:34 am (UTC)
A relationship stronger than it's ever been - I really hope so, eh? And thank you so much for your comment!
judith_88_g
May. 5th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
I really loved both the picture and the story. A very creepy concept and some incredible imagery.
amber1960
May. 5th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm so happy people think this worked so well.
counteragent
May. 31st, 2013 06:24 am (UTC)
This was awesome! So creepy and a sympathetic look into both head spaces. Love the illustration too!
amber1960
May. 31st, 2013 08:00 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm very happy you thought it was sympathetic to both our boys. And that you liked the picture because the story came out of the drawing. I reverse-banged myself!
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )

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