Title: Texas Barbecue
Author’s Notes: Not my characters only my words. Written for the round 6 of hc_bingo, for the square: confession in desperate situation. First in a series of five.
Summary: Sam and Dean find themselves trapped together with only words for company and distraction in the dark.
Read over on AO3 right here.
There wasn’t any way this could have gone differently.
That sentence repeated over and over again in Sam’s mind. He knew he was trying to convince himself that it was true when it was obviously not. But desperate times and all that. They were stuck in this trash incinerator, this inescapable stupid metal box.
Not a cage, not a cage. Not a cage, not a cage.
Another thing Sam had to keep on constant repeat.
“You made that noise again. Just checking, you still doin’ all right, Sammy?” Dean asked, sound echoing off the metal walls, extending and multiplying it until it sounded like there were many versions of the same question pounding into Sam’s ears.
Even with the multiplication, the sound of his brother’s voice relaxed him, enough to stop making ‘The Noise’ in question, which was, yeah admittedly, pretty disturbing. A mixture of teeth grinding, lip sucking, sharp inhales and long whines. He’d definitely be checking on Dean if he heard him make a noise like that only once.
“I’m exactly the same since the last time you asked,” Sam answered, instantly regretting how sharply it came out.
“Sorry, it’s just hard hearing you like this and knowing I can’t help,” Dean said, voice fading off softly, curling around Sam’s ears like a caress.
Sam tried to put on a brave smile that felt like it was cracking his face. He knew somehow, even in the dark, Dean would know he’d at least tried. “I know, it’s okay.”
“It’s really really not,” Dean said, shaking his head so that it bounced against the metal wall they were both leaned up against. The sound echoed and faded into the dark depths surrounding them.
Sam made ‘The Noise’ again a few times, he couldn’t help it, even though he was more conscious of it this time. He interrupted himself long enough to ask, “Dean, it’s been hours, someone’s got to be coming in to check on this place by now. Don’t you think it’s nearly morning?”
“Well, our phone batteries ran out maybe two or three hours ago, right? And it was just after midnight when we ended up stuck in this stupid thing,” Dean said, sounding regretful to have to share the bad news that it wasn’t even close to morning.
This was not where either of them wanted to be spending their night, trapped in the Caldwell County Municipal Incinerator. On their ten hour drive straight down from Lebanon past Dallas and finally into Lockhart, Dean had talked nonstop about his plans for finding the best barbecue hopefully served by scantily clad beautiful barmaids as soon as the case was taken care of. Sam had not agreed with Dean’s plans and shot them down as an obvious retread of Casa Erotica XII’s main plot line. But he didn’t want to have yet another discussion about porn with his brother. Not stuck in here. And not now.
Sam checked with his internal clock and unfortunately agreed with Dean’s assessment. “So not even close to morning then.”
“Probably not. But hey, at least it’s not Tuesday. That’s the only day they don’t do the auto-burn. That’s why we did this hunt today.”
“According to what source again?” Sam asked, panic flaring up as he realized now wasn’t the best time to be double checking this particular crucial piece of information.
“Guy I met at the bar closest to the plant when we first started checkin’ it out. He was the scheduling manager or something like that. He said they had to have one day a week off to clean this thing out. Accumulation or accretion or some shit like that.”
Sam considered the possibility that the guy had been making up b.s. to talk about at the bar, but discarded that, who would make up something so boring? But then he thought about schedules, which brought him around to calendars, which usually had holidays marked on them. His stomach dropped as his brain made the connection. “Think that auto-burn schedule counts for holiday weeks?”
“Holiday weeks?” Dean asked, still sounding unperturbed by the implication.
“Yesterday was Memorial Day,” Sam said, trying to remain calm, but knowing that the little waver in his voice would be like a red flag to Dean.
Dean was making his teeth-sucking-thinking-really-hard sound. “So that means they probably, what, just pretend the day didn’t happen and work like it’s a Monday today?”
“I guess? Which means they’d be auto-burning, today, even though it’s a Tuesday.”
“No, they couldn’t do that, right? Really, would they do that? Is that a thing that would happen?” Dean asked, sounding increasingly panicked with each question.
“I don’t know, I’ve never worked in a place like this, or for a government agency or anything even close. But I remember hearing people complain about re-scheduling stuff in a few county offices when we’ve been record hunting on a Tuesday after a Monday holiday. That’s what made me think of it I guess.”
“Wish we’d thought about all this before we came in here,” Dean sighed, banging his head with a thump against the metal wall. The sound of the clang shuddered and rattled into Sam’s bones.
“Coulda-would-shoulda is kind of our family motto at this point.”
“It’s not gonna help though, Sammy. We’re…I can’t even.”
“It’ll be okay, Dean,” Sam said as calmly as he could manage, finding Dean’s knee to squeeze it firmly. Hoping that would be enough to break his brother out of his approaching panic attack. The increased tempo of Dean’s breathing was all he could hear besides the fear in his brother’s voice.
Dean’s leg tightened under the weight of Sam’s hand, and then relaxed as he blew out a long-held breath. “How long, until…do you think?”
Sam patted Dean’s now-relaxed knee and moved his hand away, satisfied that his brother wasn’t going over into panic-attack mode. “We’ll hear the gas burners light up ahead of time, then we’ll know. Until then, we really won’t, until the first worker opens the door to come in for the cleaning.”
“Why did this seem like a good idea again?” Dean asked.
“Uh…the Texas barbecue you were looking forward to after we finished the hunt?”
“Oh no, don’t put this on me, man. I mean, you’ve wanted to do this hunt ever since you found the file in the Letters to-be-assigned-to-hunters cabinet,” Dean protested.
“I did, that’s true. But I wanted to research it more before we attempted it. But you wanted to pretend this was a milk-run hunt. They never are, that’s the thing, Dean. They never ever are. You’d think we’d both know that by now. Maybe our grandfather was right, we are apes, we were fooling ourselves thinking we were anything else.”
“That fucker didn’t know who the hell he was talking to half the time. If he’d known half the things we’ve forgotten, he’d have respected us a little more, before he died,” Dean said.
“You just called our grandfather a fucker,” Sam observed, grinning at the thought.
Dean chuckled. “I suppose he was, that’s how we got here and all.”
“Seriously. Our grandparents fucking, not what I want to be thinking about right now, okay?” Sam said.
They lapsed into silence then, neither of them wanting to verbally obsess over their likely impending doom or their grandfather and father’s respective sex lives. Sam felt Dean squirm a little next to him, their shoulders rubbing together roughly through their jackets. He could hear Dean’s accelerating shortness of breath again, which meant an oncoming anxiety attack or at least Dean’s version of one. The only thing that ever worked was to interrupt them before they got started. So he did something as unexpected as he could come up with there in the dark, he put his arm around his brother and pulled him in close, tucked-up against his side. Dean didn’t resist, but his breath slowed down closer to normal and his head came to rest on the left side of Sam’s chest.
“I can hear your heart. Always loved to do that when you were a little guy. I’d put you to bed and lay my head right here in the same place, just for a couple seconds to hear it going. So strong, Sammy, always so strong.”
“You did?” Sam asked, wishing it wasn’t dark so he could see his brother’s face. His voice sounded so soft and unlike Dean.
“Yeah. Why?” Dean asked.
“Just, never thought about you doing something so stereotypically parental like that,” Sam said, thinking about how Dean had raised him, but not as a parent would have, more as a friend or partner-in-crime would.
“What, just because we were living a weird life, I couldn’t be amazed at how your heart was going so strong, even though we didn’t have much to eat and we were always cold and I couldn’t ever do much about it. It’s just a cool thing, when you’ve got this little body that you’re in charge of keeping alive, and it just keeps on working like it’s supposed to, even when the whole world seems like it’s stacked the odds against you surviving.”
Sam was struck silent at Dean’s torrent of words and memories. How viscerally they moved him, thinking about how young Dean was to be saddled with that responsibility. “How old were you, do you think? When you did that the first time?”
Dean pressed his head into Sam’s chest for a moment. “I must’ve been, oh, probably three or something.”
“So it was something Mom showed you to do?” Sam asked, hating to bring her up, but thinking it might be comforting for Dean.
“Yeah. She…uh pointed it out to me. Said it was how I could help her take care of you. She told me that as long as your heart was still beating strong, you were safe.”
“Safe,” Sam repeated.
“What about yours?” Sam asked.
“Mine?” Dean asked in a confused voice that broke Sam’s heart.
“Your heart, Dean, your heart being safe. I remember being really little, laying in your arms listening to yours going, and the sound would keep me awake for the longest time. But it was soothing and comforting. And I could hear it in my sleep too, so many times the rhythm of it would be in my dreams. Like it would show up as a drumbeat or whatever. It made me feel so damn loved and safe. God, so safe. I miss it, hearing it.”
“You can, Sammy. If you want to,” Dean said, voice muffled as he rearranged their bodies into the reverse configuration, Dean’s arm around Sam, and Sam’s head down on his chest, over his heart. Sam’s arms went around Dean’s waist, just like he’d always done as a small child.
Sam couldn't speak, hearing his brother’s heartbeat, that closely, beating right up against his ear, steady and strong just as he’d remembered it. The sound absolutely mesmerized him into silence. Dean’s arms around him were heavy and powerful now instead of delicate and wiry. He could feel tears leaking out of his eyes, soaking into Dean’s shirt. The comfort of this simple thing, he’d missed it for so many years. Never asked for it. Never stopped wishing there’d be a reason it would make sense to ask. One that wouldn’t reveal everything else along with it. But he’d never been able to come up with an explanation, a way to say: I need you to hold me. Just hold me so I can hear your heart where there would be no follow-up questions he wouldn’t have been able to answer. He was good at lying to himself and to Dean, and about this, he was the best, he’d had to be all these years.
“I always wanted to ask for this, ever since you stopped. To have you hold me again so I could hear your heart,” Sam said, this small confession somehow easier in the darkness.
Dean’s arms tightened around him. “Why didn’t you?”
“Lots of reasons, you would have given me endless shit for it, and I wasn’t supposed to need it anymore. But I did, if I’m honest, I still do.”
“You do?” Dean asked.
“Yeah. I do.”
“Sammy, if we get outta here. I swear, you’re gonna get sick of hearing my damn heartbeat.”
“You mean it, Dean?” Sam asked, still listening to Dean’s heartbeat, which seemed to be speeding up at a surprising rate.
“Any time, any where. I promise, no teasing, no shit, nothing.”
Underneath his ear, Sam could hear Dean’s heartbeat speed up a little more. What Dean was offering here sounded like the sweetest torture Sam could imagine. Having that access to the comfort of Dean’s body once again, when they weren’t bleeding or dying or whatever, seemed unimaginable after all these years without it. “Just like that, I can grab you and lay my head here to listen to your heart?”
“Little brother, if it makes you feel safe then, yeah, of course. That’s what I’m here for, dude.”
“And loved. It makes me feel safe and loved, not just safe.”
Dean chuckled at Sam’s insistence on throwing the L-word in there. “Yeah, that too.”
There was a metallic ticking sound that interrupted them then. It sounded like burners maybe beginning to fire themselves up underneath the cold metal surface they rested on. It sounded like the end of all things. Sam sat up straight and they held each other a little closer.
“Dean. That’s probably…you know…can I tell you something?”
“Yeah, of course,” Dean said, voice tight with fear.
“I love you. I always have. I always will. No matter what. I never wanted to tell you this, but after everything, I want to, no, I need to be honest. You deserve to hear it at least once. Dean, I’m in love with you.”
More metallic clicking and gas whooshing sounds filled the room, filled their minds with how short their time likely was now. Possibilities and what-if’s all burning up in the imagined impending flames.
“How long?” Dean asked.
Sam knew Dean’s wasn’t asking how long until they would be incinerated. Dean needed to know how long Sam had been keeping this particular secret from him. And since he’d already said the dreaded three words, Sam decided to pile it on. It’s the last time he’d ever get to say something like this. “I’ve known, ever since I knew that our hearts do more than just keep us alive.”
Dean answered Sam probably the only way he could, with a kiss. It blocked out any thoughts of their imminent demise or how stupid they’d been to get stuck in here in the first place. Or how even stupider they’d been to have ignored this for so many years. There was only the two of them, fusing their lips together into one seamless heat of feeling and desire. The fear that this was their last moment, this was truly it, made Sam stop. To try and get Dean to stop trying to answer him with even more kisses instead of the words he needed to hear, just once.
“Say it, please, Dean. Just once,” Sam asked, not ashamed for begging here at the end of them.
“I feel the same too, Sammy. I love you. Always,” Dean said, voice breaking on the last word into a sob that he muffled against Sam’s lips.
The metallic clicking tempo increased and seemed to get even louder, suddenly turning into clangs and groans as the door—the stupid, freaking door was flung open wide with a tremendous crashing boom.
“What the hell are you two idiots in here for? Don’t you know we’re gonna burn today?” A man’s voice asked from the bright rectangle of light.
Sam stood up quickly, reaching down to help Dean stand the rest of the way. “Uh, no sir, we were just doing a state inspection, late last night. And the door closed shut on us. We’ve been in here a while. Thanks for checking before you turned the system on this morning.”
“Well, get the hell out before I have to write up any damn safety paperwork,” the man said. “Ya damn fools need your hands held next time, you better let me know ahead of time.”
“Thank you, thank you so much, sir. You have no idea, we thought we were goners,” Sam babbled as he vigorously shook the surprised man’s hand.
“We owe you one. We’ll just go ahead and get out of your hair,” Dean said, waving to the man and dragging Sam off by the elbow.
“Dean, we don’t need to run.”
“Yeah we do. Want to get away from this place as fast as we can,” Dean answered, practically walk-running out to the Impala parked at the far end of the employee lot.
Sam strode a little faster to keep up. “Want to get away because we almost died in there, or because of all the rest?”
Dean stopped abruptly, and Sam strode past him, stopping and turning to see Dean’s stricken face in the gloom of the sparse parking lot lights. Sam stepped back towards his brother and held his arms out. “Don’t we at least get to do this since we almost died?” Sam asked as his pulled Dean into a hug.
Dean closed his eyes and didn’t answer, just held on a little tighter. Sam turned his face into Dean’s neck and whispered, “I meant it all, every last bit of it.”
Dean hiccoughed or sighed into Sam’s shoulder and Sam barely heard his whispered reply. “I know you did. Me too.”
Before they headed back up to Lebanon and home, Sam made Dean go find Black’s Barbecue, the place he’d read online was one of the best barbecue joints in all of Texas. He knew that if they didn’t go eat there, he’d never hear the end of it. And it was worth the wait, the brisket alone was totally worth the eleven hour drive. Or so Dean claimed for most of the first hour of the drive. They didn’t talk about what had changed between them, maybe because it was too new or fragile. Or maybe because in the end, it wasn’t that big of a change.