Title: Freak In The Sheets
Author’s Note: Not my characters, only my words. Inspired by an embroidered patch I saw on tumblr. Written for the 2018 wincest-bigbang.
Summary: A few months after Sam is back on the road with his brother, he takes up a new hobby that leads to some surprises for Dean. Basically this is an unexpected yet inevitable love story told in embroidered souvenir patches.
Check out the art master post here
Read over on AO3 here.
After they’ve been back on the road together for a couple months, Sam starts up a new habit. At nearly every convenience store or small town shop they stop at he buys an embroidered patch. At first he stores them in a used Altoids tin in the glove box. It rattles around a bit until he wraps an old Arizona map around the scratched metal tin. Dean watches this whole process but doesn’t say a word, figuring everybody has to cope somehow.
Dean’s forgotten about the patches as a new thing in his brother’s life until they begin appearing in a neat row along the top of Sam’s canvas duffel bag. Presumably hand-stitched on by his brother at some point. Thing is, he hasn’t seen Sam with a needle and thread, except for the five stitches Sam had to give him a month ago. They were neatly done, he’d obviously kept in practice somehow while he was at school. Lucky for Dean, that meant he didn’t end up with too much of a scar when it was done healing.
Unless…maybe Sam’s stapled or taped the patches on. He gets up from his comfortable position, sprawled on his bed with a beer in one hand and a bag of salty-sweet kettle corn in the other. He examines Sam’s duffel sitting on the foot of Sam’s neatly made bed. Yeah, each patch is stitched very securely on, the stitches are nearly invisible. No half-assed tape or staples were involved. Just his brother’s usual patient attention to detail, or his tendency to obsess and micro-focus. All in how you think about it. And why is he thinking about it? It’s just some damn patches. That are pretty ugly now that he’s looking at them.
He hears the shower cut off, so that means he has enough time to get back into sprawl position and pretend like there’s nothing new under the sun that is a guaranteed big-brother tease opportunity sitting on the end on Sam’s bed like a ticking time bomb. Dean mentally rubs his hands together and chuckles evilly under his breath.
“What are you chuckling about? Don’t tell me you’re laughing at this, it’s just a documentary I thought would be interesting so I started watching it,” Sam says, shrugging back into the hoodie he practically lives in now. Dean watches as he pulls on boxers and sweats, trying not to, but failing as usual to note just how much his brother has grown up during their separation. Then he snaps out of it when Sam, flips his wet hair around so that the droplets spatter over the coverlet and the back of Dean’s hand.
Dean glances at the screen, because he’s forgotten what had been playing. The baby hippo is still struggling to get out of the mud puddle. “I didn’t know you were into hippos is all, Sam.”
Instead of taking the tease opportunity, Dean doesn’t say anything about the patches filing up the blank space on his brother’s duffel. He figures a guy’s gotta have some hobbies, right? And as a hobby, this seems pretty harmless, no secret college applications are being written at least, or so he hopes. He tries not to think about their money situation, as he’s the bread-winner pretty much for their little operation. Sam asks for cash now and then, not like it’s an allowance or anything, but it is in a weird kind of way. But, then he starts asking Dean for a little more money every week, those patches are usually three or four bucks a pop, depending on how big they are. But that starts adding up when you’re getting one or more a week when they’re crisscrossing the country at the pace they’re keeping. So many days on the road together now, it’s all a big confusing blur.
Dean has this feeling like he shouldn’t acknowledge the patches or make a big hairy deal about Sam’s new hobby. Even though he could, he doesn’t push because he can tell without having to ask—at least he thinks he still knows Sam this well—that the patches mean a lot more than just some scrapbook, wish-you-were-here postcard saving kind of thing.
Whenever Sam’s not around and he gets the chance, he looks at the patches more carefully, the order they’re sewn on seems to be sequential, all of the places they’ve been together all in a row. That’s the only pattern he can discern. Some of them are quite ugly, or even quaint or downright rude, just like the towns they buzz through, stopping only long enough to fuel up, pool shark, or kill something that needs killing.
Dean’s never felt the need to remember exactly where they’ve gone, he has dad’s journal to write down the information they actually use about the baddies they take out. That’s all that counts to him as far as keeping track of things. But Sam…Sam’s always been different that way, what counts to him is—well Dean doesn’t really know that now does he? His brother’s gone and changed while they were apart, Dean feels like he’s re-learning a language he’d recently forgotten.
Back when they were kids he could have told you that this was Sam shopping for a home town, one that was the right size and shape that would fit him, that he could stay in and never have to leave except on an annual two week vacation with his wife and two point five kids. Now though, he doesn’t know what Sam’s got in mind for a happy ending, if it’s changed or not. Because they haven’t talked about it. Not until they do, right after Cassie, and it’s kind of blowing his mind because Sam had asked him straight out and he’d answered by saying nothing but knowing Sam had gotten it, because he’d smiled, oh god how Sam had smiled for miles and miles driving along, Dean watching him from behind those sunglasses. That secret smile, the one that Sam only smiled when he thought no one was looking.
It isn’t until Sam’s got both sides of his duffel covered, the sides standing up stiff and inflexible, almost like an actual suitcase that it becomes an issue for Dean. The thing doesn’t fit in the place it usually resides in the Impala’s trunk. It’s like someone buying a chair that’s the wrong size and shape for a small apartment that you share. It just doesn’t work, it throws him off, and he can’t get the sawed-off to stay in the right place and ugh, the trunk lid comes down on his shoulders again and just like that he’s done.
“You gotta stop with the patches, dude,” Dean says in a snarl.
Sam’s head whips up, his bangs flying away from his eyes in a corona backlit by the early morning sun. “What?” Sam asks, face going a beautiful shade of pink.
“Your bag doesn’t fit in here right anymore with all the damn patches,” Dean says, pushing at Sam’s patch covered duffel to try and get it to fit the designated space yet again. Sam catches the trunk lid before it hits Dean’s shoulders again.
“Sorry, I…uh, didn’t think—“ Sam cut himself off in mid-sentence. “No, fuck that. I’m not sorry, I’ll just get it out of your way.” He yanks the duffel out of the trunk, grabs his backpack off the passenger seat and turns on his heel, quickly walking away down the highway.
Dean doesn’t react at first, standing there holding the trunk lid open, his hand tightens, knuckles going white at the sense memory assaulting him. This is what it looks like when his brother leaves him for good. He’s seen this exact scene before, Sam striding off, duffel bag in one hand, backpack slung over one shoulder, head held high, stepping out into an unknown future that doesn’t include him. It’s happened more than once, and kind of recently and look how that had turned out.
He slams the trunk lid down into place and slides into the driver’s seat. Baby starts up with a satisfying roar and slides a bit in the gravel where the parking lot meets the highway. Sam’s already down the road at the edge of the horizon to the right. Dean points the car towards him, no choice, no thought about taking off in the other direction, he’s not ever leaving him in the dust again, no matter what the kid says or does.
He leans across to roll down the passenger side window just before he pulls up slow and easy, one side of his wheels off the edge of the pavement grinding through the gravel.
“Hey, Sasquatch, ya need a ride somewhere?” Dean calls out the open window.
“No, not from you,” Sam answers with an ugly scowl. He stops in his tracks and turns his back on Dean, starting back down the road in the other direction.
Luckily there’s no traffic at this early hour so Dean flips a U-turn and matches Sam’s pace. Tires crunching through the gravel at the other side of the road. “Thought we had a case to get to, full moon and all that, right?”
“I’ll just meet you there,” Sam says, scowl still in place.
“Sammy, how are you gonna get there?” Dean asks.
“It’s Sam, and I’ll hitch, take a bus, I don’t know.”
Dean pulls over and shuts off the car. He doesn’t want to do this again and again. It’s gotta get solved one way or the other, he tells himself as he gets out of the car.
“I don’t want to just ditch you, I won’t do it again,” Dean says beginning to walk faster, try and get into step with Sam. “Not after what happened last time.”
“I’ll be all right on my own, see you in Des Moines, a couple days?” Sam says over his shoulder, lengthening his stride even more to keep ahead of Dean.
Dean hurries his steps up to get in front of Sam, walking backwards so he can see him. “No, Sam, it’s not all right. Not with me, can you just get your ass back in the car? I’m sorry I fucking said anything, I’ll make room in the trunk for it, okay?”
Sam stops his forward progress, doesn’t meet Dean’s eyes at first, like there’s something terribly interesting on the toes of his Puma’s. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine, off-limits discussion, I promise,” Dean says, putting both hands up in the hands-off position, trying to smile.
Sam briefly grimaces at him and starts back to the car. He shifts the bag up over his shoulder and Dean looks at it more closely. What he sees makes him wish he hadn’t just made that promise. Among all the touristy patches covering his brother’s duffel is one that stands out. It’s black and white with a grinning skull, with a sheet over its head, one bony hand pointing, around the edge of the patch are the words FREAK IN THE SHEETS.
Huh, he hadn’t noticed that one before.
As they pile back in the car, Sam pointedly puts his bag in the back seat instead of trying to stuff it in the trunk.
“I’ll rearrange the trunk when we get there, okay?” Dean asks.
“Sure, whatever, let’s just go,” Sam says, settling into his usual resigned-to-being-stuck-in-the-car position.
Dean turns on a local newish rock station as an unspoken apology and tunes out the emo moaning by thinking about that one patch. He’s heard that phrase before of course, ’lady in the streets, a freak in the sheets’. And in his vast experience it’s been pretty damn true, some of the craziest partners he’s ever had in bed were the primmest of librarians or the diner waitresses with their hair perfectly pinned up, no crazy makeup or tight clothes. No salacious lip-licking or flirting, but look out when you’re alone with them in the bedroom.
But why does Sam even have this freak in the sheets patch, does it remind him of Jess, like it could be a memorial kind of thing? Or does Sam having this patch mean he’s the one that’s like that? Is his brother maybe not such a prude after all?
The next time they stop for gas, Dean sees a patch on the rack at the counter that makes him grin. He throws it on top of the pile of junk food and scoops it up into the bag. Sam’s sorting out the Starbursts from the Funyuns, with the usual bitching about Dean’s selection when all of a sudden the yammering stops. He’s holding the new patch in his hand, mouth kind of hanging open.
“Why’d you buy this?” Sam asks.
“It’s for your, you know…your bag,” Dean says, leaving the ‘duh’ unsaid.
“Thanks,” Sam says, clutching the patch tightly in one giant paw, fingertips going white.
“Don’t mention it,” Dean says, pressing down on the accelerator. “So…uh, how ‘bout you tell me how we’re maybe hunting werewolves for real this time.”
Sam seems to snap out of some trance that he’s surprised to find himself stuck in. Shuffles through his notes and starts talking Dean through the facts of the case they’ve pulled together. It all blends in with the road noise and Dean’s just unaccountably happy all of a sudden.
“Why are you smiling like that? It can’t just be about the possibility of werewolves?” Sam asks after a long moment of silence where Dean was trying not to notice he was being stared at.
Dean looks over at his brother there in the passenger seat, filling the space that Dean had always kept open for him, never hoping he’d come back to fill it. Never wanting Sam to give up his shot at normal for this, but here he is, fulfilling the wish that Dean had tried to keep a secret even from himself.
“Hell yeah I’m excited about werewolves! And...I’m just glad you’re here to hunt them with me is all,” Dean says, which is way more than he should ever say and not even a smidge of the whole truth.
Sam’s eyes go wide, obviously not expecting that honest of an answer. And how much does that suck, that Sam is used to never getting the straight truth from him? Maybe it’s finally time for some more of that.
“Don’t know if you can believe it or not, but I am too,” Sam says, quiet and suddenly very fierce.
Now it’s Dean’s turn for surprise, not just at Sam’s words, but at the intensity the words were just said with by his brother. Sam really really meant that, and Dean isn’t sure at first how to feel about this revelation. How could Sam be glad to be here with him, when it meant he wasn’t at school with his girl still alive? It didn’t make sense at first, maybe it was Sam trying to show him he was getting over his losses. Getting with the program even more than Dean had thought would be possible.
Where had it been that Sam had said something similar pretty recently? Oh yeah, at that bus stop after the apple orchard case. He’d asked Sam why he’d changed his mind about staying with him. And Sam had said ‘You and me. We’re all that’s left. So, if we’re gonna see this through, we’re gonna do it together.’ Dean’s struck at the similarity, but that was more about the search for Dad and the demon, wasn’t it? This seems more like about them just…being together. And how in the world does that make any sense?
“How about you pick something for us to listen to,” Dean says, offering another opening to collaborate on this life they’re in together now. He can’t stop himself from hoping that it means that Sam isn’t just grimly resigned to sticking with him because there’s no other options. Because Sam could walk out anytime, go back to school, have that normal life. But he’s not, he hasn’t yet, it seems possible now that maybe he won’t.
Sam digs in the box of cassette tapes, until he finds one of the few that Dean kept just because Sam had always liked it. He didn’t let himself listen to those while Sam was gone. And now that he’s back…maybe really back for good, hearing the first few notes of Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind” almost but not quite bring a tear to his eye remembering the aching, gaping loneliness of those years without him. Is that what this is between them, just the ties that bind? It’s not just some family obligation bullshit to him though, it’s more than that, deeper. He never lets himself think about this stuff, usually hurts too much, but Sam’s here and it all seems possible somehow.
The word freak keeps bouncing around in his head, how they’d both used it describe themselves recently, how it’d always been something Sam had worried about being. That’s what all the longing for normal was about, right? But his mind goes back to that one weird patch, being a Freak in the Sheets is something else all together. It’s hard to consider that possibility, that Sam would be anything than utterly vanilla in bed. Another thing he never lets himself think about, once he goes down that road it usually ends with him drunk in a bar at two A.M. trying to go home with whoever is still there. He doesn’t want that anymore, never really did, only did that to keep those thoughts at bay.
So he stays in, every night that they’re on the werewolf case, which turned out to just be a werewolf-obsessed serial killer, and for a couple weeks afterwards. Sam keeps looking at him when dinner time rolls around, expectant then maybe a little worried that they keep getting takeout or spending time in diners, even steakhouses when the pool sharking is profitable. He’s soaking it up, the time with Sam, getting to know the man his brother has turned into.
It’s different roaming around the countryside with a partner like this, he’d never imagined how good it could be. After all the conflict with Dad after Sam had left them, they’d each hunted solo more and more. Bobby sent him some cases to work on with other hunters, but he’d never clicked with anyone to take up with a permanent parter. Certainly working with another hunter was never as seamless and effortless as it is with Sam. They just fit.
After that first patch he gives Sam, Dean finds more, usually in the gun shops or biker bars they end up in, so they’re not tourist patches, but they all have little sayings that include the word freak. It’s kind of their thing isn’t it?
Their little private motto for their team of two, they can call themselves Team Freak without even really discussing it. The patches make him smile, and he thinks that Sam might like them as well. Dean’s even happier when they start getting sewn onto Sam’s bag, all in their own row. And he notices that Sam’s stopped buying his own now, like he’s waiting for what Dean’s going to find next. It’s like a wordless conversation they’re having spread out over weeks that he doesn’t know where it’s going next.
Freak in the Sheets though, Sam couldn’t be bragging with that, right? Maybe it was a college thing with the kids or something. Who knows, maybe Jess had called him that as a pet name. Whatever it is, it might as well be a lost but still live WW2 mine floating in the sea of misunderstandings between them, and Dean isn’t touching it with the proverbial ten foot pole or anything shorter. Except that he is touching it, (why is he touching it?) with his finger.
Dean is pointing at the skeleton and the words and Sam is seeing him pointing at the patch in question. Dean tries to school his face into a big brother “really?!” face but it fails immediately. Sam sees through him, like he always does. But neither of them say anything and the moment passes. Dean thinks about it though afterwards, how Sam had just kind of smiled instead of explaining or reacting. That just adds to the questions Dean has about the thing.
This morning he left Sam behind in the motel, still sleeping off their unsuccessful attempt at killing the chupacabra pack outside of a small town in New Mexico. Dean’s buying them some breakfast burritos off a food truck when he realizes the thing is conveniently parked in front of a gun store. They’re almost completely out of ammo so he gets the food wrapped in an extra plastic bag and tucks it into his inside coat pocket to hopefully stay warm.
The bell that jingles over the door is made of shell casings. His selection of ammo boxes stack up on the counter and the cashier dude is ringing him up, still wordless at this hour of the morning when Dean sees it. A stack of random patches in a grubby cardboard box and on top is the perfect one. Maybe…well it’s probably a risk, but he’s buying it before he can talk himself out of it. Who knows, it might help get his questions answered about the ‘freak in the sheets’ patch that started this whole thing.
He leaves it on the little table next to Sam’s burrito, and swats at his brother’s foot under the covers on the way to take a shower. “Time to get up, lazybones.”
He heads in to take a long overdue shower and is surprised when Sam comes in, ostensibly to pee, but then his brother starts talking. All of a sudden Dean is keenly aware that there’s only a slightly opaque sheet of plastic between them.
“I don’t know whether to bring this up or not, so I’m doing it when you can hear me and not see me. You don’t have to respond, you can pretend you can’t hear me over the shower. Whatever you need to do. But this patch you just gave me, you should know, it couldn’t be more accurate,” Sam says.
Dean buries his head in the rush of the water, not able to allow himself to hear one more word (if there are any). If he does listen to more, then it would break the rule he’d set for himself all those years ago. It’s his own damn fault for buying that patch this morning, he knocks his head into the wall a little, still under the water, delaying, hoping that Sam’s not still talking. That he can convincingly pretend that he didn’t want to hear every damn word.***
To Part 2