Amanda Straw Prof. C. Kupfer Amer. Std.
536 July 25, 2009
“You Break Him, We’ll Post It”: Themes and Models of Supernatural Hurt/Comfort Fan Fiction Supernatural (CW, 2005-present) is a horror/action television series that centers on two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt supernatural monsters with shotguns and holy water while traveling the country in a ’67 Chevy Impala. Originally conceived as a “monster of the week” show à la The X-Files, the series has since developed a Judeo-Christian mythological arc which involves angels, demons and a possible apocalypse. Supernatural fandom resembles other contemporary genre fandoms such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heroes and Smallville. Fans involved in online fandom are overwhelmingly middle-to-upper-class, adolescent-to-middle-aged American women with above-average education and creative talent. In addition to discussing the episodes, or “canon,” and the issues surrounding them, fans produce and share their creative works--fiction, graphic art, videos and music--on the Internet. Fan fiction constitutes the majority of fan works online. Fan fiction has been a part of genre fandom since the days of the original Star Trek and has become so sophisticated that a classification system exists. The vast majority of fan fiction stories fit into one of two main categories: Fictional Person (FPF) and Real Person (RPF). As the names imply, FPF involves the characters from a movie, television show, book, or video game, while RPF features the ac-
tors1 who work on a TV program or movie as the quasi-fictional “characters.” In the most recent statistics on LiveJournal, RPF stories made up approximately 20 percent of the 1,197 stories indexed by the Supernatural Newsletter community between August 25, 2008 and October 15, 2008.2 The next level of fan fiction classification is romantic pairing. Slash fan fiction has a male/male pairing3 and takes its name from the “/” character that separates the names in headers, a practice that dates back to Star Trek fandom when stories that paired Kirk and Spock would be abbreviated K/S. Gen fanfiction has no romantic pairing and takes its name from the abbreviation of “general,” while het fanfiction features a traditional male/female pairing and takes its name from the abbreviation of “heterosexual.” A few individual authors list their stories as “gen/ het” or “genhet,” indicating that heterosexual content may be present but is not the focus of the story.4 The last level of classification is genre. For the most part, fan fiction fits into typical bookstore categories. On Fanfiction.net 5, users choose genre labels for their stories from catego-
And their friends, in many stories. Supernatural RPF features a revolving cast of characters such as Chad Michael Murray and Tom Welling (fellow CW actors and former co-stars), Christian Kane (actormusician) and Steve Carlson (musician), as well as the actors’ non-celebrity family members and, at certain points, girlfriends.
See http://black-samvara.livejournal.com/380176.html and http://black-samvara.livejournal.com/ 396488.html for details.
Female/female fiction is classified separately, often as “fem(me)slash” or “girlslash.”
See Sinnerforhire’s “And Karma Laughed the Hardest,” http://sinnerforhire.livejournal.com/ 145046.html, and Caffienekitty’s “Know Thy Enemy,” http://caffienekitty.livejournal.com/78179.html. The Web’s largest fanfiction archive. Fanfiction.net accepts fanfiction for thousands of TV series, anime series, books, films, and comic books. Fanfiction.net notably does not accept erotica, RPF, or stories by authors who prohibit fanfiction of their works (Anne Rice and Marion Zimmer Bradley being the most notorious).
ries such as romance, humor, drama, adventure, mystery, horror, fantasy, sci-fi and suspense. However, some genres, such as hurt/comfort, lack a well-known analogue in mainstream media. Hurt/comfort (h/c) describes a specific type of story in which one (usually) male character is injured, ill, or incapacitated in some way and his parent/sibling/lover/potential lover/best friend/blood enemy must take care of him, or, failing that, simply interact with him for a sustained period of time. H/c stories even sometimes fall into sub-genres such as humor, angst or PWP.6 Supernatural fandom is rife with h/c stories that range from 100-word mini-stories (“drabbles”) to 300,000-word-plus epics. It certainly helps matters that Supernatural canon is full of instances of injuries to characters: Sam and Dean have each died and been resurrected once; Dean has been hospitalized twice; Dean has been shot twice; and Sam sported a cast for several episodes of season two due to actor Jared Padalecki breaking his wrist on set. Maladies in h/c stories can range from the extremely minor (headaches, colds, stomach flu) to the lifealtering (spinal cord injury, blindness, epilepsy) and life-threatening (cancer, coma, heart failure). Hurt/comfort fan fiction is quite popular in Supernatural fandom. On the spnstoryfinders Livejournal community, in which fans can enlist the help of their peers to find particular stories, there are 229 posts listed for the search tag “hurt!Dean,” 165 posts for “hurt!Sam,” and 101 posts for “hurt/comfort.” The LiveJournal community hurt_dean, whose motto is “You break him, we’ll post it,” boasts 759 members. On Fanfiction.net, there are several community archives dedicated to Supernatural h/c stories. “Sick Dean” contains 199 stories, “Hurt Dean Winchester Stories” contains 421 stories (with some overlap) and “Limp Sam” contains 258 stories. There
“Plot? What Plot?” or “Porn Without Plot”: a story in which explicit sexual activity is the main focus and there are few (if any) other story elements.
are even fan fiction archives on the Web devoted entirely to h/c fiction, such as
DeanDamage.com. My personal observation is that h/c readers tend to favor one character as “patient” over the other, that character being the one the reader finds most attractive. In this essay, I will review common themes and models of Supernatural h/c fiction featuring Dean as the patient. For clarity’s sake, I will refer to these stories with the fan-created terms hurt!Dean, which describes stories where Dean is injured or disabled, sick!Dean, which describes stories where Dean is acutely or chronically ill, or hurt/sick!Dean, which describes Dean-centered h/c stories in general. The reason I chose to focus specifically on hurt/sick!Dean stories is twofold: first, it limits the sample; and second, it represents a reversal of roles from the brothers’ canon relationship. Dean is the older brother by four years. He saved 6-month-old Sam’s life by carrying him out of their burning home and has been protecting and caring for Sam ever since. In episodes 1.18 “Something Wicked” and 3.08 “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” it is revealed that their father often left the two of them alone as children and Dean took over the role of father figure in Sam’s life. Also, the two normally interact in what Cox (2006) calls a “butch-femme dynamic,” with Dean displaying typical hegemonic masculinity and Sam falling into the stereotypical feminine role. The show itself has called attention to this on several occasions, usually as a joke at Sam’s expense7 or a criticism leveled at Dean 8. In other words, Dean acts the part of the typical action
As in this exchange from 2.07 “The Usual Suspects”: Sam: I’m not Scully. You’re Scully. Dean: I’m Mulder. You’re a red-headed woman.
Most memorably this exchange from 2.11 “Playthings”: Dean: Of course, the most troubling question is: why do people always assume we’re gay? Sam: Well, you are kind of butch. Probably think you’re overcompensating.
hero--fearless, dominant, “shoot first, ask questions later”--and Sam acts the part of the damsel in distress who must depend on the hero to charge in and save the day. As Cox eloquently puts it, “In RPG terms, Sam is the mysterious magical girl whose powers will emerge in time to save the world, while Dean is the spiky-haired hero with the big-ass sword who has sworn to protect her from all evil.”9 Lastly, the brothers are shown as so completely enmeshed that each relies exclusively on the other to meet his social and emotional needs. Dean is so dysfunctionally attached to Sam that when Sam dies at the end of season 2, Dean sells his soul to a demon to bring Sam back to life and commits himself to damnation exactly one year later.10 Hurt/sick!Dean fiction forces the brothers into roles that they are neither accustomed to nor comfortable with assuming. Sam must assume the traditionally male role of the protector and parent figure while Dean unwillingly assumes the traditionally female role of the (physically) weak and dependent “damsel in distress.” Masculinity (or the appearance of such) is vitally important to Dean’s sense of self-worth. He was raised by a former Marine to be the consummate soldier, proficient with several types of weapons and conditioned to follow orders without question. In the first season, Dean’s utter hero-worship of his father is a point of contention between the brothers. Dean may not consider John Winchester to be the perfect father, but it is fair to say that he considers John to be the perfect man--strong, self-reliant, unemotional and unattached. Dean is also characterized early in the series to be a womanizer; when Sam suggests in 1.13 “Route 666” that Dean was in love with
RPG: role-playing game, i.e. Dungeons and Dragons. “Powers” refers to Sam’s demonic-in-origin psychic abilities, which as of this writing include limited telekinesis, future visions, immunity to demonic attacks, and demon exorcism (see 1.14 “Nightmare,” 2.05 “Simon Said,” 2.09 “Croatoan,” 3.16 “No Rest for the Wicked” and 4.07 “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester”).
4.09 “I Know What You Did Last Summer” reveals that Sam attempted to make the same deal to bring Dean back from hell, but did not succeed.
an ex-girlfriend, Dean gets defensive and avoids the subject. The show often portrays the boys in a physical/intellectual dichotomy, with Dean being the brawn and Sam being the brains of the operation. Other “typically” masculine activities, such as (over)eating unhealthy food, consuming alcohol, driving fast and listening to rock music, are exaggerated in Dean, often to a comical degree. A good deal of Dean’s identity is based upon being the poster child for hegemonic masculinity. Bird defines masculinity as “being not-female.” She found that the most highly stigmatized behaviors among the group of men she surveyed were those involving emotional intimacy. A state of complete emotional detachment is required for continued inclusion in the male homosocial group (1996: 125). Indeed, this is Dean’s everyday modus operandi. Yet Dean somewhat paradoxically has the monopoly on displays of intense emotionality.11 That can be attributed to the male/female dynamic discussed earlier. In Dean’s mind, Sam is not part of the homosocial group, so Dean doesn’t feel his masculinity is threatened by revealing his “un-masculine” emotions to Sam. However, this only extends to emotional suffering. Dean is extremely reluctant to express any physical pain or suffering to his brother or anyone else. After Dean’s electrocution and subsequent heart attack in 1.12 “Faith,” not a single word of dialogue refers to how Dean is physically feeling. Also, Dean only allows Sam to assist him in private; once they arrive at the faith healer’s tent, Dean forcefully rejects Sam’s attempts to help. H/c writers tend to exaggerate
See the closing scenes of 2.04 “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” 2.09 “Croatoan,” and 4.10 “Heaven and Hell.”
this characteristic--several stories feature scenes in which Dean passes out from exerting himself too strenuously while ill.12 Mahalik, Burns and Syzdek suggest that traditional masculine ideals may lead to individual men adopting unhealthy behaviors that reflect those ideals (2007: 2207). Self-reliance, as noted above, is an ideal that Dean holds particularly dear, but again, h/c writers often exaggerate this to an unrealistic degree. One of the most common fanon13 tropes in Supernatural h/c fiction is that the boys were raised to eschew hospitals and traditional medicine except in extreme emergencies and therefore had first-aid training akin to that of a combat field medic. In h/c fan fiction, the boys regularly suture cuts, reduce dislocations,14 treat infected wounds and give narcotic injections.15 One of the unhealthy behaviors often seen in hurt/sick!Dean fiction is Dean’s propensity to hide illness or injury from others as long as he can and, failing that, to downplay it considerably. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick/hurt?” is an extremely common line of dialogue in these stories.16 Physical strength is important to Dean not just as a man but as a hunter, so any display of weakness on his part is potentially dangerous as well as undesirable. In
See Pheebs1’s “Pill to Swallow,” http://pheebs1.livejournal.com/70646.html, Eloise_bright’s “Bitter Pills,” http://eloise-bright.livejournal.com/100458.html#cutid1, and CowboySteel’s “I’m Fine, Sam,” http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4523007/1/.
Fanon: a non-canon idea, belief, or concept that becomes so widely accepted throughout a fandom that it is often taken as fact. A fanon idea carries far more weight than a simple cliche. The fanon idea of Dean and Sam having near-professional levels of medical knowledge developed long before there was evidence for it in canon (see note 14).
These, at least, have been confirmed by canon; in 3.11 “Mystery Spot” Sam removes a bullet from his own chest and sutures the wound, and in 4.09 “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” Sam again does his own sutures and reduces Dean’s dislocated shoulder as well.
See Mad Server’s “Altered,” http://mad-server.livejournal.com/14480.html#cutid1, EFW’s “How to Save a Life,” http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3420381/1/, and Pdragon76’s “His Exceptions to the Rule,” http://pdragon76.livejournal.com/67281.html.
The typical answer to this question is a variation of “Because you’d stop me from hunting/make a big deal over it/mother-hen me to death.”
Pheebs1’s “Pill to Swallow” (2006), Sam makes this clear. “You can’t hunt when you’re not 100 percent, you know that...you gotta have my back, just like I’ve gotta have yours.” However, more than just Dean’s masculinity is threatened when he takes the role of patient. A large part of Dean’s identity is based upon his filial relationship with Sam. At many points in Dean’s childhood, John shifted his parental responsibilities onto Dean, charging Dean with ensuring Sam’s health and well-being and protecting him at all costs 17. Dean internalized this notion until it became a dysfunctional near-obsession. Dean takes nothing in life as seriously as he takes his role as Sam’s older brother/surrogate father. When Dean is incapacitated in any way, he is unable to perform that role, which causes intense emotional turmoil as Dean confronts the fact that not only is he failing Sam, he is failing himself. Mad Server makes a nod to this in her story “Tangle” (2008b): “If Sam knows him at all, it's also eating away at Dean that he can't defend either of the Amazing Fighting Winchester Brothers the way he wants to should they get in a tussle.” It is Dean’s intense bond with Sam that fuels many a sick!Dean story. In Woledge’s study of intimatopic slash fiction, she defines intimatopia as “a homosocial world in which the social closeness of the male characters engenders intimacy” and finds that a great number of slash stories “enhance homosociality by isolating their characters alone...thus creating an intimate bond of two” (2006: 100-01).18 In this case, the boys’ isolation is social rather than geographical. They live outside the law, having been declared dead after nearly three years of evading arrest for numerous charges, including (but not limited to) credit-card fraud, impersonating federal
1.18 “Something Wicked” reveals that the one time Dean shirked this responsibility, Sam was nearly killed by a supernatural entity.
Though most of the stories I cite are not considered slash, they still depict an intimate love bond between two male characters, which I believe makes them intimatopic.
agents, grave desecration and, in Dean’s case, first-degree murder.19 Combine this with the Winchester code of silence (“Rule number one--we do what we do and we shut up about it,” as Sam puts it in 1.13 “Route 666”) and their nomadic childhood and you have the perfect recipe for a near-sociopathic level of social isolation. Maychorian, in “Clarity,” expresses this quite well from John’s point of view: “Watching his sons, their little two-person circle of arguments, play, comfort, love, seeming utterly complete with just the two of them, John had always pretty much figured he wasn't that necessary. Dean took care of Sam, Sam took care of Dean, and John just made sure that they had clothes and food and a place to sleep” (2008). Woledge talks mainly about h/c in slash fiction, but she does allow that h/c “can be used to create a world in which...sex is far from the only way of expressing intimacy” (111). Intimacy in sick!Dean stories can be either physical or emotional. Moments of emotional intimacy are usually prompted by delirious ramblings in which Dean gives voice to thoughts and ideas he would never admit to having if he were in his right mind. In Gaelicspirit’s “Fate” (2008), Dean expresses doubt that he’ll be able to save his brother from the fate his father warned him about in 2.01 “In My Time of Dying,” and in Arrenall’s “They Say It’s Like Hell” (2007), Dean expresses remorse over his part in the deaths of two demon-possessed strangers. Physical intimacy is often achieved when Dean is at his most vulnerable; high fever is a device commonly employed by sick!Dean authors, as that tends to involve Sam stripping Dean down and bathing him with cold water.20 It must be noted that authors rarely choose to explore Dean’s reaction to the intimate
See 3.12 “Jus in Bello,” 2.12 “Nightshifter,” 2.19 “Folsom Prison Blues,” and 1.06 “Skin.”
See Iamstealthyone’s “In Want and Sympathy,” http://iamstealthyone.livejournal.com/10498.html, Eloise_bright’s “Breaking,” http://eloise-bright.livejournal.com/116887.html, and Sensue’s “No Chick Flick Moments,” http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2928920/2/, among others.
act, either because Dean is too ill to be aware of it or because the story simply ends before that point would logically be reached. In the majority of hurt/sick!Dean stories, Dean is initially uncomfortable with being taken care of and will resist Sam’s attempts to help him in any way. Freund and McGuire’s “sick role” is a socially constructed set of responsibilities and privileges which describe how the patient should--but not necessarily will--behave. An important element of the sick role is the patient’s acceptance of and cooperation with “competent help” to get well (1999: 119). Interestingly, Dean rarely if ever questions his brother’s ability to provide treatment in these stories, even if he questions the necessity or the methods used. In EFW’s “How to Save a Life,” Sam treats Dean’s infected gunshot wound with primitive techniques he learned on the Internet. Dean comments on how it “feels like the 1800s,” but never asks Sam if he knows what he’s doing (2007). Freund and McGuire, however, allow that not everyone necessarily wants to assume the sick role, even when circumstances require it. Sometimes, a person is forced into the role by others around him, despite the individual’s resistance. People like Dean have a strong aversion to the “childlike dependency” the role requires (121-22). Mirrordance’s “Your Own Medicine” (2008) takes this to the extreme by including a scene in which Sam literally spoon-feeds Dean. Many sick!Dean stories begin with Sam taking over the driving duties, forcing Dean into the dependent position over his express wishes. For Dean, the sick role represents a loss of control. In sick!Dean stories in which Dean is a child or teenager, he often accepts the role more readily as a chance for a reprieve from the adult responsibilities thrust upon him in normal times. In “Clarity,” nine-year-old Dean asks John to stay with him while he’s sick instead of going on a hunting trip. John is surprised, as
Dean had never asked that of him before, and he gives Dean a pass on the emotional display because “this was fever. Fever lowering defenses, confusing the mind.” In stories set during the series, Dean is much more reluctant to hand over control of his situation. In “Pill to Swallow,” Dean insists on working the job despite his increasingly severe illness, so Sam waits until he’s asleep to leave for the job site and takes the car so Dean can’t follow him. The five discrete types of sick role models one sees in h/c fiction are acute injury, acute illness, chronic illness, disabling injury and sensory disability. Acute injury and acute illness are remarkably similar; the major difference being that acute injuries more often than not involve an element of complicity on the patient’s part.21 Chronic illness is an illness that either recurs at discrete intervals, i.e. asthma, or that requires long-term treatment, i.e. cancer. A disabling injury is an injury that causes significant impairment in daily activities and may also cause chronic pain. The two major sensory disabilities are blindness and deafness, which may be temporary or permanent and may also occur in combination. The common element linking all these models together is suffering. Morris claims that plot is an important element in understanding suffering as a narrative. Plots connect individual events, thus giving us an view of suffering “as an event embedded within a matrix of related actions.” He examines the novel and tragedy in his study, finding that “in these genres, [suffering] is an action...represented as the outcome of a series of preceding acts” (1998: 207-08). Observing these preceding acts unfolding provides some of the entertainment value of h/c fan fiction, while observing the suffering of the patient provides the rest. Female readers often find the suf-
Possibly the best example of this in Supernatural fandom is Unperfectwolf’s “The Truth Is (Odds Are One in Seven Remix),” http://spnremixfics.livejournal.com/16182.html, in which Dean tells different people different stories about spraining his ankle, with the truth being far too embarrassing to mention to anyone who wasn’t present at the time.
fering character’s vulnerability attractive, especially when it represents a significant departure from the status quo. The character’s suffering invokes not only sympathy but an almost maternal protection instinct. In the reviews for several sick!Dean stories, readers mention wanting to “hug” or “cuddle” one or both of the boys, especially when the boys are young. An example of the acute injury model can be found in Mad Server’s “Altered.” When the story begins, Sam is under a faerie spell and can’t see or hear Dean. By the time Sam comes around, Dean is in hypovolemic shock from a deep gash in his leg and needs Sam to put in stitches. Aside from showing Sam where the gash is, Dean withholds all information about how he’s feeling; everything Sam knows about Dean’s condition comes from Sam’s own observational skills and training:
Dean's voice is thin, gravelly; Sam hears that now. Suddenly apprehensive, he throws on the overhead light. Takes a good look at his brother, and feels adrenaline wash through his chest. Dean's white as a sheet, and his face is glimmering damply. He's breathing fast and shallow, and his eyes are narrowed to slits, blinking irritably against the light. It looks to Sam like he's in shock. Probably from blood loss, if he's asking for stitches. Sam doesn't see a wound though...oh yeah, there it is: a bloody tea towel tied around Dean's left calf.... His other leg is jiggling, and as Sam watches, Dean scratches restlessly at his eyebrow: physical manifestations of the anxiety that comes with shock.
Once the stitches are in, Sam starts feeling guilty about not being able to help Dean sooner. Dean assures him that there’s nothing to feel guilty about, since Sam couldn’t have helped Dean even if he’d wanted to, and “Sam just shakes his head, because, [sic] Dean's in fucking shock and he's still trying to make his uninjured, unharmed little brother feel better” (2008a). Despite being forced into the sick role, Dean still manages to play the big brother role. Sinnerforhire’s “And Karma Laughed the Hardest” is a great example of both the acute illness model and the above-mentioned importance of plot in understanding suffering. This humorous piece begins with Dean teasing 16-year-old Sam about finally having a steady girlfriend. Dean kisses the girl while she’s intoxicated, and in the next scene Sam reveals to Dean that the
girl has come down with mononucleosis. Dean predictably contracts the illness and in John’s absence, Sam must take care of Dean. It takes hours for Sam to make the connection between his girlfriend and Dean--after she all but admits it, no less--and by the time he does, Dean is in the emergency room, having spiked a fever of 104. Even so, Sam confronts him:
“What did you do with my girlfriend, Dean?” “I didn’t mean to,” Dean replies softly. “She kissed me. I was the one who stopped it.” “Yeah, right. You think I’m gonna fall for that?” Dean looks wounded. “That’s the truth, I swear to God. She was drunk and barely dressed and I didn’t want to go to jail. You can ask her.” “I can’t believe you. You can have any girl you want, but the one time a girl likes me, you have to go and--” “That’s not how it was,” Dean protests, but his voice gives out halfway through. He ingests more ice chips and tries again. “It was a stupid thing that never should have happened. I’m sorry. I really am.” After a few more ice chips, he goes on. “But come on, don’t you think I’ve been punished enough?” (2008)
The idea of illness as punishment for transgression is played for its comic value here, but Freund and McGuire point out that “illness is socially constructed, and social groups often impute responsibility for illness to the sick person,” especially in the cases of diseases such as syphilis and HIV/AIDS, which carry negative moral connotations (124). According to the summary on the author’s LiveJournal, the point of the story is that “Dean gets exactly what he deserves” for acting irresponsibly and immorally. Janissa11’s “Affliction” (2007-2008), though unfinished, is an example of the chronic illness model. In the story, Dean develops a seizure disorder due to years of repetitive brain injury. Freund and McGuire note that men “whose identities are invested in being autonomous, independent, dominant, problem solvers, and having personal power” have difficulty maintaining their sense of self when confronted with a chronic illness (142). The best example of this in “Affliction” is the scene in which Dean’s neurologist informs him that he’s no longer allowed to drive. The Impala is Dean’s most prized possession--the series presents it alternately as exten-
sion of Dean’s self and as Dean’s significant other.22 For Dean, the inability to drive his car is akin to incarceration; it strips him of control over the most important aspects of his life. Part Six, told from Dean’s POV, begins, “So it all pretty much sucks entirely. He’s now medically disabled... Sam’s treating him like he got electrocuted again, and he cannot drive his motherfucking car.” Later, Dean attempts to talk Sam into working a case with no success:
“Sam, I can’t do this. Just – sit around like this! It’s not –“ “And I can’t sit here and watch you have another seizure!” Sam snaps. “Not happening!” “Sammy –“ “No, Dean! It’s this lifestyle that’s given you seizures in the first place, and now you want to go back to it like nothing happened? No!” Irresistible force, meet immovable object. Dean considers beating his head against the wall, thinks maybe under the circumstances that might not be the best course, and decides to let Sam have this one. Temporarily.
Freund and McGuire also state that chronic illness may require “the negotiation of new role relationships with others.” In this case, Dean must cede his leadership role to Sam. Roque-Clasique’s “I’d Drive All Night Just to Get Back Home” (2008) is a wonderfully well-written example of the disabling injury model. As the story begins, Dean is just getting released from the hospital after breaking his leg badly enough to cause permanent damage. In addition to dealing with the chronic pain and lack of mobility, Dean has a hard time adjusting to others’ reactions to him. He resents any kind of expression that draws attention to his newfound “other”-ness, especially reminders of his limitations. When Sam shoves Dean to the ground in order to prove a point about Dean’s inability to handle hunting, Dean trips him with his cane and then punches him hard enough to knock him unconscious. The author does an excellent job elucidating Dean’s conflicted motivations; on the one hand, he does want to recover as fully as pos-
From 2.03 “Bloodlust”: Dean: Listen to her purr. You ever heard anything so sweet? Sam: You know, if you two wanna get a room, just let me know, Dean. Dean: Don’t listen to him, baby. He doesn’t understand us.
sible, but on the other, he wants to live the life he is accustomed to living, pain and impairment be damned. The chronic pain is a major problem for Dean throughout the story. As Freund and McGuire explain, chronic pain “alters one’s relationship with one’s own body and bodily experience; ‘it’ cannot be trusted” (152). Part 2 expresses this thought in Dean’s narration: “He’s still figuring out this new body, what’s going to hurt it and what’ll feel okay. He’s been in pain before, shit yes, but not like this, not this steady ache that makes it seem almost as if the leg weren’t a real part of his body, almost as if it’s an enemy soldier in disguise, an infiltrator, a traitor.” Also, for Dean admitting to pain is a sign of weakness and “a private thing” not to be shared, even with those closest to him. Finally, in part 16, he breaks down:
He isn’t even really certain what he’s crying about; it feels like the culmination of everything, all at once. Getting stuck at that goddamn table felt uncomfortably like a metaphor for his whole fucking life, just sitting there knowing that he couldn’t rely on his body or his brother or his father or the gun tucked into his jeans. He knows Sam is right. He can’t deny everything when the physical evidence is so clear. Fuck, he’s so sick of being in pain all the fucking time. It’s wearing him down, putting new lines on his face that he can track when he looks in the mirror. His leg aches fiercely, with no let-up; even sitting is uncomfortable. His whole body hurts ceaselessly, muscles always sore from overcompensating for his leg, back and shoulders one huge snarl. If he’s on his feet for more than ten minutes his leg starts to buckle, getting up stairs is like pulling teeth, and he could walk on water easier than he can walk across the kitchen without his cane.
Unlike most h/c stories, “Drive” has no resolution for Dean’s situation, no pat happy ending, which, while realistic, is not as satisfying for the reader. Stories following the last model, sensory disability, can be divided into three groups: temporary, permanent-adult, and permanent-from-birth. The third is the most rare, since those stories must be classified as AU.23 The first is common because it allows the author to explore the surface issues of disability without delving deeply into the ramifications for the character.
AU: alternate universe. Traditionally, the AU label is given to stories taking place in a “universe” that diverges from canon in a significant way. A story in which Sam was born a girl would be AU, as would a story that features storm chasing as the family business.
The second type of story requires more skill and insight on the author’s part. Legoline’s “The Empty Man” is an example of this type that is exemplary because of its realistic details. In it, Dean has been blinded by a demon in an incident for which Sam was directly responsible. When the story begins, Dean is depressed and withdrawn. He barely speaks, never smiles, and expresses no interest in anything beyond the walls of their tiny apartment. Sam worries that Dean resents him, wondering if “Dean wouldn’t have preferred to die and go to hell rather than being reduced to a helpless form without a car to drive and things to hunt, dependent on his brother’s guidance.” Freund and McGuire mention that individuals with disabilities are often frustrated when attempting to fit themselves into spaces designed for “normal” people, and will turn that frustration and anger “inward and against oneself” (160). However, in chapter 4 the author reveals that Dean is not as angry as he is afraid; when a crisis forces him to leave the apartment for the first time, Dean nearly has a panic attack. Eventually, Dean learns to navigate with the assistance of a cane, gaining back a measure of independence plus a great deal of his self-esteem. By the end of the story, Dean has changed considerably:
Within only a couple of weeks, Dean’s attitude on life had changed so much Sam could barely keep up with it. His newfound self assurance had allowed Dean to get out more, explore the neighborhood and, at least Sam assumed so, made him realize that being blind wasn’t a contagious disease that caused people to shy away and whisper when he passed. ...The cocky shell had fallen completely from Dean, though sarcasm and irony were still popping up every now and then. He no longer pretended to be tougher than he was, and the new quality of meekness never fully left him in all that he did. Sometimes Sam thought that it was the closest Dean had ever been to himself, with no job to do and no reason to act like nothing could get to him.
The story closes on a hopeful note, with Sam accepting a new job and shedding much of the guilt over Dean’s loss and Dean realizing (with Sam’s help) that he isn’t just a burden on his brother.
Straw 17 During close analysis, certain prominent themes occur in Supernatural hurt/sick!Dean
fan fiction. The genre itself provides authors with ample opportunity to explore the idea of role reversal. Dean’s “normal” role is the older brother/surrogate father; his job is to protect and care for younger brother Sam, who is usually portrayed as the “girl.” However, when Dean is incapacitated by injury or illness, Dean assumes the role of the weak, dependent “damsel in distress.” This threatens Dean’s masculinity and forces him into situations that require the physical and emotional intimacy that Dean generally tries to avoid. These themes can be seen in the five models of h/c fan fiction, which are acute illness, acute injury, chronic illness, disabling injury, and sensory disability. These five models also explore the facets of the “sick role” and how that affects Dean’s self-perception. This type of fan fiction is very popular within Supernatural fandom because readers feel sympathy for and make a maternal connection to the suffering character.
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