A mystrious disaster en-route to a far flung hunt tests Dean to the very edge of his physical and psychological limits; but is this all down to fate? Winchester luck? Or are there darker forces at work? Later on in the story there will be slight, non-specific spoilers for various season 5 goings-on.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, and on the evidence of this story, they're probably very glad I don't!
Sam spent a cold, restless and uncomfortable night taking stock of their situation, and watching his brother sleep. He was actually watching his brother's legs sleep – he couldn't see Dean's body from behind the back of the pilot's seat; but he could hear the sighs and groans which pointed to the likelihood that Dean, too, was enduring a thoroughly restless and unpleasant night.
In fact, Sam reflected, he wouldn't be at all surprised if the crafty bastard wasn't sleeping at all, and just pretending for Sam's consumption. But, he was in no position to preach about being deceitful; in the interests of protecting Dean, he hadn't been quite so forthcoming about his own condition as he might have been. His chest was mottled with bruises of every shape, size and colour; he hadn't mentioned the dislocated shoulder he'd rapidly popped back into place before he could go to check on Dean. He was quite sure the dramatic landing had tied his neck in some kind of knot; it was protesting wildly and stiffening by the second; not being in any way helped by an environment in which he couldn't stand up straight.
Overnight, he had carried out a thorough inventory of their provisions; given that they had packed for a four-hour flight, and not a prolonged survival scenario in a hostile environment, he was not optimistic, nor was he surprised when their combined stock of provisions turned out to consist of just over two litres of water, an Oh Henry chocolate bar and a banana.
Not enough to sustain the two of them for a day in this environment.
Through the night, Sam had done a lot of thinking, and a lot of worrying; he'd examined their limited - very limited - options, and after endlessly mulling over the alternatives and the consequences of each option, he had reached a difficult and reluctant decision.
That was the easy part; now he had to sell it to Dean.
Dean groaned, and shifted his aching back with a yawn, slowly opening desperately tired eyes. He froze, mid-yawn, as his blurred eyes focussed on his brother's smiling face, filling his field of vision.
"S'mmy …" he grunted vacantly, knuckling his eyes with a wince.
"Breakfast?" Sam smiled, handing Dean half of the chocolate bar, and a bottle of water. "Drink it slowly, we don't have much," he added.
Dean took the chocolate hesitantly; "uh, thanks," he muttered, tugging the fleece jacket tighter around himself against the dawn chill.
Sam wedged himself the on the floor between the seats, so that he could sit and talk to his brother, stifling a grimace as a sudden pain gripped his neck and shoulder He took in Dean's blackened and heavily swollen ankle, "I've got some painkillers in the first aid kit, dude; but you gotta eat first."
Dean nodded, letting out a groan which prompted Sam to instinctively reach out and grasp his elbow.
"Dude;" said Dean, hesitantly, "'m not goin' anywhere!"
Sam smiled, squeezing his brother's arm. "Not on that leg you're not!" He replied, offering the painkillers.
The brothers sat in silence, comforted by each other's closeness in the tiny cabin, watching and drowsing as the sun rose to it's zenith and brought the desert's intense heat along with it.
Sam busied himself making sure Dean drank little and often, took his painkillers, took off the fleece when the day became unbearably hot; he encouraged Dean to nap when the need arose.
All the while neither brother broke the physical contact.
It was mid afternoon, almost 24 hours since their traumatic landing, before Sam spoke up hesitantly; "Dean, I've been thinking'."
Dean was leaning back against the window, his closed eyes partially hidden by the gauze bandage wrapped round his head which had been working it's way down over his brow as the day wore on.
"Uh-oh, now we're in trouble;" he muttered, straight-faced.
"Just be thankful you're injured, an' I'm too much of a decent guy to smack a cripple." Sam replied in mock indignation.
Dean scowled; "so tell me, what were you thinkin'?"
"I was thinking', I might, um, go and take a walk and see if I can find any help," Sam announced nervously, speaking quickly as if that would reduce the impact of what he had just said.
"No." Came the response without the slightest hesitation.
"Dean, I just thought …"
"I said no, Sam."
Sam sighed; well that went well!
"Look, Dean. I won't go far, just a quick wander - to see if I can see any signs of civilisation nearby." He paused to see if he was getting through to Dean; the signs weren't encouraging.
"When we were coming in to land, I'm sure I saw a couple of buildings pass underneath us, it might have been that airfield where that guy, Peter, was …"
Dean glared at Sam from under the crooked gauze which had slipped ever lower over his eyebrows.
"No, what you said was that you wanted to go wandering off on your own in the middle of the friggin' desert." Dean irritably hoisted the bandage up to glare at Sam; "it ain't happenin' Sammy. We sit tight an' wait for Peter to come for us."
"We don't know that he will, it's been 24 hours already, and still no sign;" replied Sam, raising his voice a notch. "Last you heard the guy didn't have a clue where we were."
"Look Sammy," Dean softened his voice to try to calm the situation; he didn't want this discussion to degenerate into an argument. "I'm sure he's out looking for us even now; give it a couple of days, and we'll be fine." He took in a deep breath, closing his eyes, it was clear to Sam that he was in enormous discomfort. Sam wasn't sure if the sheen of sweat across his face and neck was down to the desert heat or something more sinister.
"We don't have a couple of days," snapped Sam, "Have you seen a single plane go over since we've been here?"
He watched Dean think for a moment before slowly shaking his head; "that's my point." He scraped a hand over his face, "Dean, our entire stock of provisions now is just over a litre of water and a banana."
"Party time;" grunted Dean without a hint of humour.
"That's not enough water to sustain both of us for the rest of today, never mind a couple more days on top of that" he snapped. "Do I need to remind you that you spent most of the journey puking your guts up and sweating like a pig, so you're dehydrated already?"
Instantly regretting his sharp tone, he reached out to rub Dean's arm. "I'm sorry, Dude, I didn't mean to shout, I'm just scared." He hesitated, looking into Dean's flushed face; "but if I were any other dude, you wouldn't give a second thought to me going out there wandering about."
Dean blinked, gazing up at Sam from under his bandage; his expression suddenly changed from looking like he was about to break down to looking irritable; "okay, Einstein, tell me this, those building you saw - what direction were they in?"
"There," Sam pointed towards the back of the plane with a confidence he wasn't sure he felt.
"Are you sure?" Dean asked, "we spun a couple of times when I dumped this tub on the ground."
"Yeah" said Sam, "it was late afternoon when we landed, and the Sun was getting low in the sky ahead and to the right of us, that means we were flying from the south east to the north west;" he turned back to face Dean and gestured through the windscreen, "the sun set right in front of us last night, so that's west; that means south east is behind us and to the left …"
Dean paused, looking out slightly cross-eyed from under the bandage, before responding. "How'd you get so freakin' cleaver, smartass?"
Sam smiled weakly, and leaned forward so that his face was close to his brother's. "Dean, I've got to find some help; I think you're getting feverish, we have no food, no water, and no guarantee that anyone is coming to find us."
Dean hitched up the ever-slipping bandage and struggled to look Sam in the eye, "but Sam …"
"You know I've got to do this, don't you."
"But, Sammy ..."
"Dean ..." snapped Sam
Dean's nod was a long time coming, and barely perceptible.
Sam smiled, "let me do this, let me do something for you for a change".
Dean stared down into his lap. "Someone might come," he murmured quietly, grasping at any straw that might change Sam's mind; "leave it just a bit longer Sammy, 'cos someone might find us…"
But he knew it was a lost cause. He'd seen that look on Sam's face before; Sam's mind was set, and this was happening whether Dean wanted it or not.
He began to shake again.
Sam cupped Dean's chin; "I promise I'll be back before dark, dude; the hottest part of the day's over, if I leave now I can get a good look for a couple of hours before the daylight fails."
Dean gave a futile shake of the head, "Sammy …"
Patting Dean on the shoulder, Sam tried to reassure him; "trust me, this time tomorrow, you're gonna be lyin' in a hospital bed, in an air conditioned room, moanin' about your plaster cast itchin'."
Sam turned, wincing as his sore neck protested; he fussed and fretted, wrapping Dean in his fleece ready for the evening chill, and making sure that he forced down half the banana before taking the last of their painkillers.
"Right," Sam took a deep breath, "try to get some sleep, dude, I'll be back before you know it." He handed Dean a bottle containing half of their remining water.
He turned, checking his pockets to make sure he had what he needed; compass, phone, flashlight, water, and slowly exited the plane.
Dean watched him go with frightened, despairing eyes.
Dean peered round the side of the pilot's seat, watching the door at the back of the plane intently. He wasn't sure how long since Sam had left and how long he'd been watching that door, but then at the moment, he wasn't sure about a lot of things.
For instance, he wasn't sure if he was hungry or thirsty; he suspected it was both, but then, that grinding empty pit in his belly could just as likely be fear.
He wasn't sure if he was hot or cold, he was shivering wildly, but then the sweat was pouring off of him. Sammy had said that he was getting feverish; and Sammy was normally right about things like that. Maybe he was, but then again, it might just be that he was scared.
He wasn't sure if his leg was hurting, or whether it was tingling, or whether it was just plain numb; but then again it could all be down to the knock on his head, and maybe he was just imagining the whole thing. Or on the other hand, it could be the fact that he was worried sick.
But the worst thing of all, he wasn't sure that Sam was going to come back; that was the thing that scared him more than anything.
Sam wasn't sure how long he had been walking; he had been concentrating hard on trying to find those buildings with zero success so far, he hadn't noticed the sky darkening around him as the Sun dipped below the horizon. Crap! he had promised Dean he would get back to the plane before nightfall.
He pulled his sweatshirt around him, the night chill was already starting to bite; he looked around him. Should he stay put? Wait until Sun up before he headed back to Dean? Should he turn round right now? Dean would be scared to death; he was already in bad straights, what would a night alone worrying about Sam do to him?
Sam was sure those buildings couldn't be that far away, he must have come about five miles already. He looked back at the last traces of sunlight as they played along the horizon behind him. He'd just spend a little more time looking around, after all what use was he going back to Dean with no food, no water and no help.
As long as he kept those last creeping tendrils of daylight to his back, he'd be fine …
Dean woke from a fitful sleep, blinking as his eyes accustomed to the darkness. His heart sank when despite his best efforts, there was no sign of Sam. He shivered, burrowing down into the fleece that Sam had left him and reached for the water bottle. He tilted his head back and drained the last few precious drops from it.
His fevered mind wandered to terrible images of Sam meandering lost in the desert; burned, delirious, stumbling, thirsty, scared …
"Where are you S-Sammy?" He whispered miserably, "don' wan' you to be 'lone ..."
Sam watched the Sun rise; desperately thirsty, he had finished the last of his water earlier in the night; he spat in an attempt to disloge a film of desert dust which was coating his mouth. His disorientated steps became shorter and shorter as he stumbled onwards; his only thought to get back to the plane, to Dean.
Already the desert's heat was becoming overpowering, the Sun's rays a blinding white furnace that filled the sky, burning away his hope, mocking his futile attempts to find his way back to the plane.
He stared at the empty bottle; unsure whether he could see some water in it or not; he knew, even if he got back to the plane, there was no water there either. Nor was there any food. But what was there was Dean.
He thought of Dean, in the plane, alone, injured and sick, wondering where Sam could be, afraid to die alone.
Sam set his jaw, his resolve strengthened by his need to return to Dean; He scanned every horizon for some clue of the way back to his brother and found none.
He sunk to his knees in defeated despair.
Dean panted wearily as the oppressive heat bore down on him; the knot of worry in his chest tightening to an intense grip; an ice-cold fist squeezing his heart and sucking the air out of his lungs.
Where the hell was Sammy. Why wasn't he back?
He shifted uncomfortably, stifling a cry as pain radiated through his leg.
Sam would be getting help, that's where he was; he was probably talking to someone who could help, right now. Sam didn't let people down, Sam was clever, heck, Sam would have probably landed the plane and got it down in such good condition, he could have taken right off again. He'll be turning up any time now with some water, some food and probably even a doctor in tow.
Dean smiled queasily at the image.
Where was he?
The next time Dean opened his eyes, dusk had begun to fall; his vision swam as he blinked through the failing light, desperate to see the one thing he wanted and the one thing that wasn't there.
His head sunk back, leaning against the window; he no longer had the strength to hold it up. He stared at the discarded water bottle, there was still no water in it; why hadn't Sammy topped it up?
Why was he so thirsty?
Dean's hands shook as he gathered up the sweat soaked fleece, absently kneading it with shaky fingers. He glanced around the darkening cabin with blurred vision, swallowing back a wave of nausea.
He was frightened; frightened for Sammy, frightened of the dark, frightened of the pain.
Frightened of dying alone.
Suddenly Dean was jolted out of his musings by the sound of someone clambering into the back of the plane. His heart swelled as the plane gave a little sideways lurch at the weight of someone climbing into the cabin.
"S'mmy?" Dean's voice was hoarse, desperate. "S'mmy, s'at you?"
Mustering all his effort, Dean shifted with a wince, peering shakily round the pilot's seat. As they focussed through the gloom, Dean's glassy eyes widened in disbelief; his mouth worked soundlessly as the figure leaned casually on the back of the seat, and looked down at him with a smile.
The face that looked down on Dean was the pilot's.
The face which looked down on him from over the back of the pilot's seat smiled insincerely; "how ya doin?|"
Dean stared back up at the pilot, mouth hanging open in mute shock, his sweat beaded face a mask of fear and anger. He blinked rapidly in an attempt to focus his watery, fading vision; wet eyes asking all the questions he wasn't able to voice.
"Never were much of a raconteur, were you?" The pilot smirked …
Eventually Dean found his voice, "wha' h-happened, where'd-d'y go?" he croaked weakly, swallowing back the nausea that followed the words.
"Where's Sammy?" They were the only words he was able to speak clearly.
"Hey, Bucko; all in good time;" the pilot glanced around the cabin as he replied. "Y'made a right friggin' mess of my plane; what kinda god awful joke of a landin' d'ya call this?" He batted a loose wire hanging down from the ceiling.
"P-Peter told me how to land, but-bu' I was crap a-at it." Dean whispered, his ever-present shivering gradually increasing in intensity. He swallowed, weakly, everything was becoming so much harder to do; breathing, moving, understanding.
"Yeah, you're right there; this is, as you say, pretty crap!" The pilot responded humourlessly, studying the smashed windscreen.
"Why din't Peter come?" Dean pleaded, "why din't he come an' get us?" As he spoke, his hands shakily picked and pinched at the fleece that Sam had left him, in his nervous fidgeting, he had almost picked it bald.
"Ah well, y'see, there's a good reason for that;" the pilot nudged Dean's shoulder, making him flinch, and look up from the fleece in his lap. He watched mesmerised as the Pilot's face flickered and blurred into another face; that of a man a few years older than Dean with mousy brown hair surrounding a prematurely bald patch.
"I'm here now!" he announced. The mocking voice was undeniably Peter's.
Dean stared; "Peter? Don' und'stand …"
Peter sighed deeply; "Jeez, it's hard work!" He scratched his bald patch irritably, "how do you make it through life with nothing but that tiny cro-magnon brain cluttering up that thick skull of yours?"
With those words, Peter's face faded away and was replaced by another, more familiar one.
Dean stared with impossibly wide eyes at the face above him , "You - you did this?"
"Oh yeah, all my own work!" The Trickster grinned at the shocked expression on the flushed, sweat-breaded face below him.
Dean shook his head briefly as he tried to gather his wits. "Where's Sam? Bring him back," he croaked as aggressively as he could manage.
"Sam? Oh yeah, that smartass brother of yours!" The trickster leaned forward over the back of the seat as if he were about to share a secret.
"Well, here's the thing, Bucko," he whispered theatrically, "I'm afraid your brother wasn't quite as smart as he liked to think he was. I mean, going wandering off in the desert looking for an airfield that doesn't exist; Puh-lease!"
"You made him imagine that he saw it?" Dean replied breathlessly, dreading what was coming next.
"Yeah!" grinned the Trickster, clapping sarcastically, "well done; buy that man a drink!" He paused for a moment, "yep, your Sammy'll be buzzard chow by now. Sorry!"
He shrugged and looked around the cabin again, wrinkling his nose in disapproval.
Dean bit his lip, shaking his head desperately, "no, no you're wrong, Sammy's clever - he'll find it."
"oh … GOD … you really do run on basic motor functions only, don't you?" The Trickster's head flopped backwards melodramatically, as he raised his palms heavenwards; "Jeez - what've I gotta do to make you understand?"
Dean's heart pounded in his chest, and his head span. He could feel tears begin to burn … "don' believe you. You're lyin'."
"I mean, COME ON - going wandering off in the desert with hardly any water? What kind of a numbskull does that?" The Trickster looked down at Dean, shaking his head, "Nope sorry, buddy, your brother's just part of the eco-system now!"
Dean felt sick. He slumped against the window as he felt tears of desperate, heartbroken fury begin to fall. He glared at the Trickster, his face twisted with hatred.
"You bastard …" he croaked, lashing out weakly at the smirking face above him.
"Oh, let's dispense with the waterworks;" the Trickster scolded, grabbing the flailing arm; "Sammy's not important; but you an' me, we've got big things to discuss."
Dean's vision swam, and he felt himself lurch as he fought the urge to vomit. Sammy was dead; he had died all alone wandering in the desert. He had died for Dean.
"You see, Bozo; this whole situation, it was all planned, all engineered - by me!" The Trickster grinned enthusiastically, "fantastic isn't it?"
"I'm gonna kill you …" Dean whispered despairingly, stifling a sob; "I'm gonna end you if I have to spend the rest of my life hunting you, you smug bastard."
"Nah, you're not;" the Trickster sighed dismissively as he replied, "you're weak through hunger and dehydration, and you've got a broken leg which is, even as we speak, circulating a raging infection round your body." He patted Dean on the shoulder, ignoring his repulsed flinch at the touch. "There's only one thing that's gonna die round here, and it ain't me!"
"But, now if you can just hold back the snivelling for a few moments, so I can hear myself think, I'll do you the courtesy of explaining myself."
"Don't wanna hear it;" Dean grunted miserably, turning away from the Trickster, palming his face to dislodge the tears.
"Too bad, Sulky; you ain't going anywhere, so I don't see you've got much of a choice."
"You see, in time, in the grand scheme of things, there's gonna be some serious stuff going on," the Trickster explained, "I mean REALLY serious stuff; and God help us, but you are gonna be slap in the middle of it."
Dean shrugged weakly, his back hitched as another sob escaped; "Don' care."
The Trickster ignored him, continuing, "Can't say too much - you know what it's like, the order of the universe and all that, but here's the thing; you're gonna have some seriously tough decisions to make - and it pains me more than you can imagine to say it - but my future wellbeing depends to a large degree on the choices that you make."
He waited briefly for a response from the distraught, crumpled figure beside him, and received none.
Rolling his eyes, he carried on regardless; "sick isn't it? A being as powerful as me dependent on the basic intellectual functions of a blathering imbecile like you; but there it is, the hideous truth."
Dean glanced briefly at him; hooded green eyes bored into the trickster's soul. "I hope the choices I make destroy you". He snarled.
The Trickster ignored him. "Anyhow, I was kickin' my heels one day, you know like you do; and I was curious. I thought; if my future welfare is gonna be dependent on a yahoo like you, I'm entitled to see if you're man enough for the job".
"Then I kinda heard about Sam's bright idea of taking this plane trip across the desert to your next hunt and that gave me an idea; I could make you face your two greatest fears. Brilliant, huh?"
Dean glared up at him; "how'd you know about our plans, you spyin' on us? You got nothin' better to do?"
The Trickster pointed to himself; "uh, demi-god." He rolled his eyes in exasperation, "it means I know stuff!" He shook his head, "jeez, you really were near the back of the queue when they were handin' the grey matter out, weren't ya?"
Dean continued to glare, never breaking eye contact.
"Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah; facing your worst fears." The Trickster continued, "firstly, landing this thing." he sighed. "Now, of course, I had to put Sam out of the picture for a while, couldn't have him fussing and being all logical and helpful and calm; so I had him take a little nap while you did the business in gettin' the plane down".
"You?" Dean growled angrily, "you made him sleep?" He choked back a sob, "I was worried sick about him."
The Trickster pointedly ignored him, "I have to admit, I wasn't optimistic, didn't think you had the jewels for it; but I was proved wrong; I mean apart from the snot and the puking and the screaming like a little girl, it was an act of pure heroism. Very impressive."
"Kiss my ass;" Dean grunted, turning away again.
"Then I decided to see if you would be able to let go of Sam, knowing he was almost certainly going out to his death." He paused, shaking his head, "I must admit, I was a bit disappointed there; you did make a right song and dance about that, but gotta hand it to you; you let him go in the end; so, there you are, Bucko, you've impressed me!"
Dean stared flatly at the Trickster. "Do I look like I give a shit?"
The Trickster feigned disappointment, "Oh now, don't be like that."
Dean hugged the bald fleece close to his chest. His vision was swimming again now, the nausea was rising again. "You told me already, I was going to die; now get lost and let me do it in peace" He muttered quietly without looking at the Trickster.
"Oh, I can do better than that" came the response.
Dean flinched at the sound of clicking fingers.
Dean opened his eyes to the whiny, irritating sound of those pathetic engines. He was strapped into the back seat of the plane, no head bandage, leg uninjured. A cursory glance out of the window showed that the little plane was merrily flying along exactly as it had been before this whole nightmare had started.
It took a few moments for his brain to process the information.
Then he opened his mouth and cried out in horror ...
Sam jerked in his seat at the sound of Dean's waking cry; looking across the cabin he saw his brother, pallid as a living death, shaking violently in his seat, clawing frantically at the seatbelt fastener with trembling, unco-ordinated hands; "gotta get off, gotta get off …" he gasped between terrified, rasping breaths.
Sam tumbled out of his seat, reaching out towards his brother; "Hey Dean, hey, hey; What's wrong, man? C'mon, what's wrong?"
His words went unheard as Dean, finally managing to get his seatbelt undone, clambered out of his seat, flailing arms, fighting to get past Sam; "gotta get out … gotta get out," his words, incoherent with terror and barely audible between violent wheezing breaths.
"DEAN" Sam grasped both Dean's arms, trying to hold him still; "Dean, look at me, look at me; you can't get out Dean … we're flying."
The pilot looked round his seat; "keep him under control," he barked sternly, "this plane can't take that sort of punishment.
"I'm sorry", Sam panted, still fighting to hold Dean still, "he's a nervous flyer," he tried to soothe his panic-sticken brother, "but he's never been this bad before," he added.
Dean clawed and fought to get past Sam to the plane's exit, feeling the walls of the tiny cabin close around him. He gaped as he fought against the gulping, yawning breaths which were overpowering him, constricting his chest, suffocating him; "Oh God, help me, gotta get out …"
"Dean; DEAN." Sam held his brother tight and stared deep into the glazed panic-blinded eyes. This was a full-blown panic attack, something Sam had never seen in his brother before, and something he never wanted to see again, especially not in a confined space at 2000 feet.
"Do I need to call for medical help?" The pilot hollered over his shoulder.
"No thanks," Sam grunted, wrestling the flailing arms, "I got it." He knew Dean would never forgive him if Sam had him rushed to hospital for a panic attack!
Gathering Dean into his arms, he pushed him back into his seat and knelt in front of him, gripping his shoulders hard.
Dean arched and squirmed under Sam's grip, his mouth yawning his gasping desperation to draw breath; "please … can't do it … ple-please …. w-wanna get off." He pleaded breathlessly.
Sam continued to look into Dean's eyes; "Dean, listen to me; you're hyperventilating;" he pressed his hand flat against Dean's convulsing chest, "you need to slow your breathing down." His calm voice betrayed his own distress at seeing his brother in this condition.
Dean's eyes latched onto Sam, registering a flicker of recognition for the first time, watching Sam frown as his arm shuddered from the rapid hammering of Dean's heart.
"C'mon Dean, slow it down for me," he took Dean's shaking hand and pressed it against his own chest, "c'mon, breathe with me, slow it down dude." Gradually, Dean's desperate heaving gulps slowed to deep, shuddering breaths.
"that's great dude, keep it up," Sam soothed.
"He ok?" the pilot's voice drifted over the back of his seat.
"Please Sammy, wanna get-get off this thing".
Sam ruffled the side of Dean's head, "you can't get off until we land bro', it won't be long now."
He turned to the pilot, "yeah," he sighed, "better thanks; how long until we touch down?"
"About twenty minutes; try to keep him calm, I'll keep it as smooth as possible."
"Thanks buddy," Sam turned back to Dean, who was busy wiping his nose on the back of a shaking hand. As he looked back up into Dean's face, Dean blinked to dislodge the tears which clung to his lashes and dropped his eyes in embarrassment.
Sam smiled, and rubbed Dean's arm. "Hey, what was all that about, dude?"
Dean swallowed back a shaky breath, and shook his head, "can't land this thing again; don' make me do it again …" He looked up at Sam, "wanna get out, please…"
Sam furrowed his brow, "whad'ya mean, dude? You're not landing the plane; that's what the pilot's for!" He tried to stifle a smile at the utterly surreal image of Dean landing a plane, as the pilot glanced back at them with raised eyebrows.
He patted Dean's shoulder, "Jeez, bro, that must have been one doozy of a nightmare!"
Dean shook his head, his shaking began to increase in intensity once again. "No… don' un'stand; not a nightmare … not …"
"Dean;" Sam grasped his brother's arm. "Gonna strap you in," He reached round beside Dean and grasped the two loose ends of the seatbelt, bringing them up across Dean's lap, and securing them.
"I gotta go back to my seat, an' strap in cos we're landing now, but I'll be just here, okay?" He stepped back to his seat, maintaining the physical contact with Dean for as long as possible, not missing the fact that Dean had his eyes squeezed tightly closed as he burrowed back into the seat, gripping the armrests ferociously.
Sam smiled, and laid a large hand across the back of Dean's rigid forearm. It remained there for the whole time that the little plane descended rockily and touched down smoothly with a soft squeal on the tiny Hogscreek airfield runway.
Once the little plane had rolled to a gentle halt, Sam realised that there was no power on earth that would stop the charging bull that his brother became as he tore his seatbelt off and clambered desperately over Sam's outstretched legs. He dragged the door open with such force that Sam was convinced they would be getting a hefty repair bill before they left the airfield and tumbled out of the plane's exit, dropping to his hands and knees on the asphalt. Sam leapt out of the plane after him and squatted beside the trembling wreck that was Dean; whispering soft reassurances and rubbing his back soothingly as he dry-heaved miserably into his chest.
The pilot discreetly dropped the brothers' duffels beside them, and patted Sam on the back, "hope he's better soon, pal," he muttered, adding something about not forgetting to pick up the puke bags in the cabin before they left. Sam smiled and watched him walk back to the small terminal building before turning his attentions back to Dean.
In an uninspiring room of the Hogscreek Lodge Motel, Dean sat slumped weakly on the side of the bed, cradling a mug of coffee in both hands.
"D'you wanna tell me what that episode in the plane was all about?" Sam sat on the bed opposite him, and spoke softly.
"Jus' don' like flying." Dean mumbled unconvincingly.
"No," Sam shook his head, "you don't get off that easily; I 've seen you on planes puking, swearing, even singing friggin' Metallica, but I've never seen you that bad before."
Dean took a long drag on his coffee, his eyes never leaving Sam's face.
"It was the Trickster Sam, he took me away."
Sam jolted, nearly choking on his coffee; okay, wasn't expecting that! "What d'y mean took you away?" He asked warily, "you never left the plane."
It seemed that once Dean started to speak, he couldn't stop the words from tumbling out; "I woke up, and the pilot was gone; you were asleep an' I couldn't wake you so I had to land the plane by myself, and I bashed it up pretty bad, put us down in the middle of the desert. I was hurt bad, and you wen' off looking for help, and it was all 'cos of the Trickster."
Seemingly oblivious to Sam's bemused face, he took a deep, shuddering breath and continued.
"He told me that some stuff would happen one day, real bad stuff, really important stuff, and I would have to make some hard choices an' face my worst fears and let you go, Sammy; he told me I would have to let you go to your death Sammy, one day, I would have to let you die. I let you go while we were in the desert, an' you died."
Sam could see Dean's very real distress while the painful words were pouring out of him; he reached out to try to reassure his brother.
"Dean, it didn't happen, you know that, don't you?" He clutched Dean's hand, smiling as calmly as he could, "it was all just a nightmare; a really, vivid nightmare."
Dean shook his head; "no, it was real Sammy; he tol' me that when this stuff all happens, what I do will benefit him in some way and he wanted to see if I had the guts to do it, that's what he said."
"I didn't think you would die Sammy, I didn't; I know you're smart, you said you knew exactly where the airfield was and you told me all about the sun an' the shadows an' stuff an' I let you go." He wiped the back of a shaky hand across his tearing eyes, "Sammy, I let you walk away to die."
Sam got up, and stepped across to Dean's bed, sitting down next to his distraught brother. "Dean, you're talking like this is real; it was just a nightmare; a really, vivid, lucid nightmare."
"Dean shook his head and Sam could feel that he was still trembling. "Sam, I can still feel the plane shaking as I took it down, I can remember the crack when my ankle broke; I can smell my own puke; this wasn't a nightmare Sammy, this was real."
Sam sighed and put his coffee down. "Dean, if this is all real, how come I don't remember it if I was there? He rubbed his brother's back in an effort to calm the shaking. "It doesn't make sense; why should the Trickster care about anything that happens to a pair of nobodies like us or a few lousy decisions that you make later on down the line?"
Dean took a hesitant breath; "he says that his future welfare will depend on what choices I make and he didn't want something that important left in the hands of someone who wasn't man enough for the job."
Dean looked at Sam once more; "Sammy, he says one day I'm gonna have to face my worst fears, like I'm gonna have to let you walk away and die."
Sam saw the tears shining in the scared green eyes, and spoke slowly and gently.
"Dean, think about this logically;" he reassured, "you're scared to death of flying; your instincts, your imagination is all on edge; the adrenaline is going crazy in your system. You fell asleep and your mind came up with this wild idea while you were dreaming."
He looked deep into his brother's eyes; the fear, the sadness that they contained was tangible, and heartbreaking.
"I mean I know all that stuff about him being able to create alternate worlds and mess with people's minds and stuff, but really, why would he be in any way benefited by any mundane decision you make or will ever make?"
"I dunno, he just said …"
"He just said nothing dude; 'cos this is all in your mind." Sam interrupted gently, still rubbing Dean's hunched back. "Look, you say you broke your ankle?"
"Well, look" he pointed to Dean's feet, "nothing wrong with them."
"Yeah, but …"
"An' you said I died?
"yeah but …"
"Well, here I am," Sam smiled, pointing to himself, "safe and sound!"
Dean seemed to shrink smaller and smaller with every word Sam said; his face a study of confusion, and fear.
"Dean; you will NEVER have to make a decision to let me walk away and die, because I will never put you in that position; you hear me?" Sam stared deep into the frightened green eyes, "and you will never have to face your worst fears alone - I would always face them with you, so even if it was the Trickster - which it wasn't - he was talkin' crap!"
Dean looked up and nodded mutely.
"It's all in your mind Dean, this is your fear talking." Sam squeezed Dean round the shoulders, "I should never have arranged to fly to this place. This is what's screwed you all up, not some mysterious visit from the Trickster. This is all my fault Dean, and I'm sorry, so sorry!"
Dean scraped a clammy palm across his forehead, swallowing back the urge to break down again. He engineered a forced smile for Sam's benefit; "Maybe you're right. Jeez, that was one vivid nightmare - don' ever wan' another one like that!"
Sam stood up, "Dean, when we've finished this hunt, we'll drive back." He said solemnly, "We'll find a truck, or rent one - hell, steal one if we have to; and we'll find a road route through this dead hole. I promise you'll never set foot on another plane. Ever."
Dean looked up and gave Sam a watery smile. "You've no idea how glad I am to hear you say that," he whispered.
Sam smiled; "now do we agree? This was all just a really vivid, scary nightmare?"
Dean nodded slowly.
"There was no trickster, no broken ankle; the pilot didn't disappear and you didn't land the plane. I didn't die, nor are you going to have to let me go away to die; because it was all a dream, right?"
Sam smiled, "You were sitting in your seat twitching and fidgeting and moaning like hell, I felt like I was living the nightmare with you. Believe me, I'd have known if you went anywhere; I would have enjoyed the peace and quiet!"
Dean punched his brother on the arm. "Bitch!"
Dean rose shakily to his feet and stretched; "gonna have a shower, wash the smell of puke off me."
"Good idea," Sam smiled mischievously.
Dean walked over to the bathroom, offering Sam a rude gesture as he passed. Sam turned with a smile watching him go before reaching for his duffel, and began to unpack.
Dean stood, brushing his teeth in front of the bathroom mirror. His sunken eyes a testament to the ordeal he had suffered on that stupid, pointless friggin' plane. Sam was right; Sam was the smart one; everyone knew that. And he was right this time; what possible interest could a freakin' self-confessed demi-god have in anything they did with their mundane little lives.
Of course Sam was right.
Dean spat into the sink, and rinsed his mouth. A few beers and a pizza - oh, and a good night's sleep; then the memory of this ridiculous freakin' episode would start to fade. He felt a flush of embarrassment at the whole performance; oh boy, was he was gonna relive that panic attack when Sam decided the time was right. But in the meantime he had to admit he felt better already with his feet on the ground, and Sam's promise that they would drive back.
He looked up on hearing Sam's voice from the other side of the door; "Dean …"
Tumbler in hand, Dean pulled the door towards him and glanced round it. "what?"
Sam held up a hooded fleece, so bald and threadbare as to be almost transparent. "This was new last week, what the hell's happened to it?" he asked.
Dean staggered back into the wall. his heart froze as he stared in wide eyed horror at the worn fleece
The tumbler of water smashed to the floor …