Disclaimer: Not mine.

Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta.

Summary: There's a situation. Sam's stubborn. Tag to 9.23, Do You Believe in Miracles? Or, what I want to see in the first two episodes of S10.

Neither Hope Nor Fear

Cain opens the door right away. He looks like he was expecting Dean to visit.

"Was it worth it?" is the first thing he asks. "Killing Abaddon? Becoming one of the things you used to hunt?"

Dean snarls at him. He can't think enough for words. There's a trail of blood and death he left behind him on his way here and he doesn't even care. All he can think about is –


That's why he left.


Being a demon doesn't change you. It just brings out the bad parts of everything that makes you you. It turns your desire to save people into a hero complex.


It turns your sense of excitement and adventure into uncontrollable, adrenaline-fuelled bloodlust.


But sometimes there's something in you that's so unsullied, so true, so pure, that even being a demon can't touch the bad in it, because there's nothing bad in it to touch. Something like the most real and deep and unselfish love you've ever felt. Something like –


That's why Dean left the bunker, left Sam. He's tainted now. He's evil. And the part of him that's strongest, even now, the part of him that even the Mark of Cain couldn't touch, told him to leave before the corruption consuming him could hurt the one thing that still mattered.

Sam can't find him. He made sure of that. He left false trails in about fifty different directions, and he'd be sorry for the people who died so he could misdirect his brother, but –

But he isn't, and that's all there is to it.

But Cain's standing in front of him, calm and quiet and in control, and Dean needs to know how. He needs to know, so that maybe someday he can learn to control it. He can't ever go back to Sam for good, not with who he is now, what he is now. He'll learn to make his peace with that. But maybe, if he learns to control this thing inside him, he can occasionally sit in a diner with Sam and pretend to be normal and human and not the idiot who got turned into a demon because he ran off with freaking Crowley to get the Firstblade from Cain instead of being honest with the baby brother who loved him more than anything.

He doesn't have the words for all that, though, so all he says is, "How?"

Cain understands. He steps back to let Dean in, offers him a beer, and then says, "I'm sorry, Dean. I should have warned you. The Firstblade is restless. It needs to fulfil its purpose."

"I've killed people. I killed Abaddon!"

"The Firstblade was not meant for demons. It's an evil weapon, Dean. It needs to perform the act of ultimate evil –"

"I've –"

"Not even murder. You want to know why your mind can't settle and your skin feels like it's crawling? Because you haven't done it. Do it and you'll have peace. Then you can keep the Blade, throw it away, give away the Mark of Cain – it wants, Dean."

Dean's about to ask what, but Cain meets his eyes and looks every last one of his however-many-thousand years, and bloodlust rises in Dean like a storm against which his last vestige of humanity stands unshaken.

"It's the demon in you warring with the part of you that's still a man. The only way you can make it stop is to give up one of them. The Firstblade craves it, Dean. You have to –"

"Don't say it."

"Dean –"

"Don't say it."


The word hangs in the air like the echo of a gunshot. Dean can feel the Mark wanting, pushing, urging him on. It's practically humming at the idea, and Dean finds himself wondering what it would feel like to thrust the Firstblade into Sam's chest, to still his heart and stop his breathing –

And the part of him that's still Dean Winchester is ready to cut off his own arm and the Mark with it before he has the chance to spill a drop of Sam's blood.

"I won't do it," he says out loud.

Cain shrugs. "I didn't think you would."

"Sam can't find me."

"You can stay here. He won't."

Dean frowns. "You're… helping me?"

"I had a brother, too," Cain says quietly. "God knows I loved him." He laughs bitterly. "Lucifer certainly knew I loved him. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have killed him."

"You're sure Sam can't find me here?"

"I'm amazed Crowley got through with you. Sam's just a human. I have my ways of protecting myself. He'll never get here."

Dean thinks Cain wouldn't be so cocky if he knew Sammy.

But he doesn't say anything.

Crowley sits across from Sam in the diner where he insisted they meet, lounging so insouciantly that it's taking all Sam's willpower not to slug him.

"Where's Dean?" he asks, forcing the words out between clenched teeth.

"Lost your squirrel? You really should take better care of your pets, moose."

"Where's Dean?"

"You want to put out Lost Squirrel flyers? I can help you. I have friends –"

"Where's Dean?"

"Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. Why should I? You're the enemy, Sammy –"

"It's Sam."

"And Dean's one of us now. He's been one of us for years, Sam, but neither of you would admit it. With the lessons from Alastair, torturing souls, torturing demons – he doesn't want you, Sam. If he did, he would have stayed with you. Let it go."

"No. Where's Dean?"

Crowley rolled his eyes. "So predictable. Guess what, Sam? I'm not telling you. You've got nothing I want. I don't want your soul, Abaddon's dead, Metatron's a regular old Angel again, and I'm King of Hell. You, on the other hand, are a lost child who doesn't know what to do without his big brother. I'm sensing that the power in this equation doesn't lie with you."

"Really? Because I remember you in that church, Crowley, crying like a baby with a bit of my blood in you. You weren't so tough then."

"You didn't go through with it, though, did you? Let big brother talk you out of it. I would've gone all the way, Sam, no matter who was begging me to stop."

Sam scoffed. "Yeah, that's why your own son hates you." He leaned forward, keeping his eyes on Crowley. "How about we cut the crap? You can sit there pretending you're not scared of humans, but we both know you should be. Dean and I took down Azazel, Lilith, Lucifer, Michael, Eve, Cas when he thought he was God, Dick Roman, Abaddon… You? You're nothing. You can snap your fingers and disappear now, but if you don't tell me where Dean is first, I will hunt you down and I will carve the name of God into you with a blunt knife before I kill you and I won't rest until I've done it."

Crowley's eyes widen. Sam knows the demon's nervous. He feels a rush of fierce pride. The son of a bitch got Dean killed and then turned into a demon and now he thinks he's going to intimidate Sam?

"I don't know," Crowley says. His voice is as high and frightened as it was that night in the church when he realized what Sam intended to do.

"Crowley, my brother's missing. I have absolutely no patience left. This isn't the time to play games."

"Sam – Samantha – moose – I promise you I don't know. Trust me… Well, don't trust me, but you should know me well enough to know I'm not stupid. I don't want a vengeful Winchester coming after me. Why do you think I've not killed either of you yet? I know how disproportionately the other one would react. I don't know where Dean is. He wouldn't leave your home sweet home with me. I haven't seen him since."

"Fine," Sam says. "Go. But if you hear anything about where he is –"

"I will notify you immediately, or else you'll use my guts to tie your shoes. I get the picture." Crowley gets to his feet, hesitates and turns. "For what it's worth, moose, I'm rooting for you and the squirrel. He's not the same Dean without you. Hard to hate him when he's busy being a pathetic ball of moping."

Sam considers him for a moment, and then gives him a curt nod. "Thanks."

"So… do you have a plan?"

"Oh, yeah." Sam can't keep the smile from spreading across his face. "There's one person who knows more than anybody else about hiding."

Dean's feeling worse. He thought being around Cain might help, that he might absorb some of the other man's – the other demon's – calmness and control, but he just feels more and more restless. Cain's presence aggravates the Mark. He can feel the rising tide of violent rage, and the only thing holding it back is the knowledge that if he gives in, he'll never be able to look Sam in the eye again.

Now that Cain's said the word, Dean can't stop thinking about it. Images sneak into his brain, thoughts of sating his bloodlust with Sam's life, and they make his gut churn and his heart clench and his hand itch for the Firstblade.

Dean watches Cain move quietly around the tiny kitchen, and he can't hold back the sudden disgust he feels.

He killed his brother.

Dean's done terrible things, and he'll probably do more, but he knows that's one thing he won't do. No matter what. If his brother's life is the price of his sanity, he's resigned to going insane.

"How could you do it?" he asks. The question comes out harsher than he intends.

Cain looks at him. "Kill my brother?" He doesn't wait for Dean's nod before he goes on, "I loved him, Dean, and I didn't want to watch him become something he wasn't. I couldn't."

"And you couldn't just, I don't know, talk him out of it?"

"He wouldn't have listened to me. It was best this way, Dean, believe me."

Dean thinks of Sam. He thinks of destiny and Azazel and demon blood dripping into a baby's mouth.

He thinks of Dad, telling him he might have to kill Sam.

And he thinks of his brother, who's taken everything the world threw at him and lived and fought and looked for redemption, of his brother who's survived things no other human being could even imagine and can still look at Dean with wide hazel eyes like he thinks his big brother is the one who lights the stars every night.

Would Abel have been like that if he'd lived?

Dean feels a sudden surge of understanding and pity. Cain might have loved the child his brother was, but he had no chance to know the man he would have been. He had no chance to find out just how proud it makes you when you pick up after a kid and bandage his knees and cheer for his first kiss and then he grows up into one of the most incredible human beings in the world.

And it's Cain's own fault. That must make it worse.

That, he realizes with dawning comprehension, is why Cain is so confident Sam won't find them. He doesn't know better.

Poor Cain.

Sam eyes the scowling figure. He really ought to be scared, but he's long past it. Dean was dead, and now Dean's a demon, and between how empty he feels without his brother – again – and the memories of what Lucifer and Michael did to him for almost two hundred years… Well, there's not much anyone can do to him that's worse than what he's already experienced.

Apparently his companion realizes that, because after a minute he sighs and says, "What do you want? I was just starting to have fun with very hot identical triplets, so…"

Sam's nose wrinkles in distaste. "There are very hot identical triplets who don't run screaming at the sight of you?"

"Oh, come on, idiot. There have to be some job perks to being the sole surviving Archangel." Gabriel leans forward. "So, considering that you're alone, I'm guessing the other Winchester got himself in some stupid scrape and you're going to beg me to bail him out."

"Dean took the Mark of Cain."

The mocking expression goes out of Gabriel's eyes, replaced with a frown. "Why?"

"He got it for Abaddon." Sam shrugs. "And he kept it for Metatron."

"Metatron? Yeah, I was hearing him on Angel radio. Apparently your friend Castiel took care of that problem. Just as well, I was thinking I'd have to come out of my nice quiet retired life to deal with it."

"You could have…" Sam stiffens. "You could have dealt with it? I thought Metatron was all-powerful!"

"Please. Castiel and Bartholomew might have been shaking in their shoes, but Metatron could never stand against an Archangel."

"And you sat around doing nothing? You're like an irresponsible child! Dean could have gotten rid of the Mark before –"

Sam breaks off, breathing heavily, and Gabriel smirks at him. "Oh, I can fill in the blanks. The Mark of Cain did it, I suppose. Turned his eyes black and his soul dark… or darker, anyway. It was already pretty dark. And now what, Sam?"

"I can cure him."

"I know you can. I heard you almost finished the trials. So you disturbed me why?"

"I can't find him… And I thought, who better to help me track down my brother than the Archangel who's been AWOL for like two thousand years?"

"You couldn't just follow the trail of blood?"

"Dean… Well, he made it difficult. It's a little too… messy."

"Wow. Apparently he has more spirit than I thought."

"I need you to help me find him."

"Anti-Angel tats on your ribs, remember? I can't."

"If I'd wanted Angel mojo I would just have called Cas."

"That's right, you would just have called your little pet. What you need to find your missing brother isn't Angelic strength, is it? What you need is the mind of a Trickster." Gabriel smiles unpleasantly. "So what's the trade?"

"Really? You're an Angel. Isn't helping people in your job description?"

"You're mixing me up with wussy Angels like Castiel and Hannah. You want something from me, you pay for it."

"What do you want?"

"Now we're talking." Gabriel's smile widens. He has far too many teeth. "In exchange for my help finding your brother, you promise me you won't interfere in what's happening upstairs. Whether your little friend is President or leading a seraph army or on the verge of the first official divine impeachment in history, you and big brother keep out of it."

"What? Why?"

"Because I say so, that's why. Heaven needs to sort itself out without outside interference. Just like Earth." Gabriel holds out his hand. "So? Do we have a deal?"

"Fine." Sam takes it.

Cain turns away from the window. "Your brother's coming."

"What? You said this place was secure!"

"I thought it was! He must have had help."

Dean opens his mouth, and what comes out is, "Does demonic strength mean I can strangle him?" Cain turns sharply, but Dean's already shaking his head in desperate denial. "No. No, I didn't – I won't – I don't want to hurt Sam. That's why I left. I can't –"

"Listen, Dean, I understand how you feel, but –"

"Don't you dare say it."

"Dean, listen to me. You're a demon now. You're immortal. Sam's still a man. Dying at thirty or dying at seventy, what difference does it make in the long run?"

"Shut up."

"He's going to die anyway, Dean. He's going to die and you won't. So you might as well just give in and have peace –"

"Shut up!"

Dean's voice is even angrier because he feels the traitorous tug of something inside him telling him Cain's right, Sammy's doomed, doomed like all of humanity is doomed, and if Sammy's going to die someday then why not today? Why keep fighting the inevitable?

The Mark is throbbing in an uneven, broken rhythm that whispers and screams and taunts and cajoles, and the only word in Dean's head is fratricide. His fingers itch to close around the Firstblade, to close around any blade, to close around Sam's throat and squeeze until the life goes out of those eyes and –

And this is Sammy, Sammy, sweet innocent Sammy who used to curl up in the crook of Dean's arm for a bedtime story. Dean's fingers itch again, but this time he isn't sure whether he wants to strangle Sam or stroke his head.

"You have to keep him away from me," Dean says hoarsely. "And you have to keep him safe from me."

"Dean, sometimes –"

"He's not Abel. Don't you see that? He's not your brother. Sam's faced his demons and won, and he's earned Heaven. You have to keep him safe from me."

"I'll do my best."

Dean submits to being shackled to a chair, sits quietly while Cain draws a Devil's Trap around him with each spray of paint feeling like an iron band around his soul, because the Mark is getting stronger and he can't take the risk that it'll get too strong for him.

Dean sobs as the final line is drawn on the wooden floor, because it feels like the end. He isn't Dean Winchester anymore. He's a demon in a trap, and he's a danger to everyone, even, especially, the baby brother Dean adored and willingly gave his soul to protect.

"Go on," Gabriel says, stopping at the perimeter fence.

Sam turns. "You're not coming with me?"

"I only promised to lead you here. Cain's a whiny ass and every time I see him he bitches at me about making sure Abel is safe and cared for and has everything he wants in Heaven. In Heaven! Like I give a damn what goes on in that miserable place. You want big brother, you go in there and get him."

"What do I do about Cain?"

Gabriel shrugs. "Deal with him. You'll find a way."

Before Sam can ask anything else, the Archangel vanishes. Aiming a scowl in the direction of the last spot he was, Sam goes on.

He takes a cautious look around before he steps into the yard. There don't seem to be any dangerous spells –

The door opens. A man steps out. Sam guesses it's Cain, though Dean's description didn't amounted to much beyond, "Who the hell cares what he looked like? He created the Firstblade."

"You can't come here," Cain says as soon as Sam's close enough to hear. "Your brother doesn't want to see you."

"I want to see him. I can help him."

"Nobody can help him, Sam, trust me. I was the first human being to get turned into a demon, and I'm telling you it's permanent." Cain's eyes flicker and go black. "The corruption of the Mark of Cain can't be reversed."

"I can help him," Sam repeats stubbornly. "Let me see him."

"He doesn't want to see you. And if he does, he'll probably try to kill you. He's not the brother you remember, Sam. He's a demon now."

"He's still my brother!"

"He will try to kill you. The Mark won't let him do anything else."

"Fine. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to save him. I know how to cure a demon –"


Sam draws himself up. "Yes. Yes, I do. I know how to do it. I can cure Dean. It doesn't matter whether or not you believe me, because I'm going to him and I'm going to fix him."

"Not if I don't let you."

"Dean's my brother," Sam says, surprised Cain doesn't seem to get this. "You can't stop me."

"And you really think you can cure him?"

"I know I can. Now stop stalling." Cain frowns. "You're a demon. I know demons. There's always a price. I can fight my way past you, but that'll take time and there's a slim chance you'll win. So why don't you just tell me what you want in exchange for letting me go to my brother?"

Cain's piercing blue eyes consider him.

"Just what are you willing to offer me for the chance to save your brother?"

"Anything." The word comes without hesitation, and Sam means it.

"Good. And you really know how to cure a person of… being a demon?"


"That's what I want, then." Cain steps outside, shutting the door behind him. "You want to go inside to big brother? That's the price. Turn me human and I'll let you in."

Sam takes a breath, wondering if this is a trick of some kind.

Then he realizes it doesn't matter. Whether Cain's lying or not, if Sam turns him human, it'll be easy enough to get past him to Dean.

"Fine," he says. "I need a place where I can confess."

Bloodlust. That's all Dean feels. The urge to kill, the urge to hurt, the urge to choke and tear and rip and –

And it's all focused on one person. One idea.


He fights it. He fights it with all he has. Sammy's innocent. Sammy wasn't the one who turned tail and ran instead of talking. He wasn't the one who believed Crowley and went to Cain and he sure as hell wasn't the one who refused to put down that damn knife when he had the chance.

Sammy's not the one with fratricide thrumming in his veins.

He's close. Dean really hopes Cain keeps his promise because he doesn't know how much or how long he can hold out. If he sees Sam –


Oh, yes. He'll have peace, and Sam's life will be the price.

Maybe Sammy'll even let him do it. If Dean just explains, explains why it's important and necessary and the only way for Dean to have any peace of mind ever again, Sammy might just tilt his head back and expose his neck willingly to the Firstblade.

He's certainly self-sacrificing enough to do it.

And it won't be murder then, will it? If Sammy's willing, it won't be fratricide.


Dean forces the thought down, back, away. The Mark's got it in for his baby brother, but Dean's still Dean, and –

Kill him.


Kill him kill him kill him.


It'll be fun. Watch the light go out of his eyes. Feel his heart stop. Kill him.

Dean throws back his head and screams.

Sam hears the scream and knows it's Dean, but he forces himself not to react.

He's on his knees by a fencepost. There's no consecrated ground in Cain's little lair and certainly no confessional, but he figures whoever's listening will understand.

If anyone's listening.

They're doing it outdoors, because Cain was determined that Sam wouldn't be going inside until Cain had what he wanted. Sam doesn't know if the demon's worried about Sam reneging on his bargain or just trying to make sure he can do what he says he can.

It doesn't matter. They're close now. Sam knows how to do this, he's done this before, and Cain's a willing subject.

He's managed to rack up a pretty impressive list of sins since the last time he did this.

"I killed Kevin." He pauses. "Well, Gadreel killed Kevin, and technically it was Metatron's fault, but, you know, my hands. And Abner." Another pause. "I applied for three fake credit cards and hustled about eight hundred games of pool. Hacked fifteen secure servers. Drove over the speed limit a couple of times." He bites his lip. There's more, but this harder, even if it's true. "I let Dean down again. I let him think he had to go after Metatron alone and – and I couldn't save him." He looks up at the sky, forcing back tears and wondering if, maybe, someone up there is listening. He has to hope. "I need to save him. Please."

Then he gets to his feet, slowly, and turns to Cain. "All right. Let's do this."

Dean isn't sure how long he's been screaming. Hours, probably. This is worse than anything that happened to him in Hell.

He's still Dean. There's some of him that's still Dean Winchester, enough to feel a sickening churning in his gut at the thoughts that the Mark is pushing into his brain.

And he wants Sammy. He wants Sammy so he can confess everything and throw himself into Sammy's open arms and take the absolution he knows his brother will gladly give. He wants Sammy so he can tease him and make him eat greasy burgers and comfort him when he has nightmares, like he wishes he'd been doing all these weeks.

He wants Sammy so he can count out his brother's last breaths and laugh – he knows he'll laugh – when they finally stutter to a stop.

Dean wrenches at the chains and yells until the walls shake.

Sam gets to his feet a little unsteadily. Cain's been pliant and Sam's glad – he hadn't realized how much the cure would take out of him. He thought his exhaustion last time was only because of the trials, but apparently curing a demon is pretty tiring all on its own. There's blood loss, and there's something else Sam can feel, like the cure is draining his energy.

But they're just about done now.

He draws the knife down his palm and stumbles the couple of steps to Cain. Cain stiffens, but he doesn't react in any other way when Sam's bloody palm touches his skin.

Sam draws back after a moment.


Cain looks up at him. Gone is the cockiness and arrogance of a few hours ago, and the blue eyes are filled with horror and memory.

And tears.

"I killed my brother," Cain says. His voice is shaking. "I brought murder to humanity. I thought I was helping him, but I killed him." He catches at Sam's shirt, keeping him from moving away. "Do you think Abel will ever forgive me?"

"You won't know until you ask him," Sam points out, disengaging Cain's hands.

"I can't. I… I never will. He's dead. I killed him. And even when I die… Abel's in Heaven. I've spent far too long without my humanity. After everything I've done, Heaven has no place for me."

Despite himself, Sam crouches by the former demon. "Dean and I had a really good friend who used to say salvation was made for sinners.

"Do you think he'll forgive me?" Cain's voice breaks on a sob. "Abel was… He was headstrong and brave and loyal, but sometimes he was so foolish… That's what I thought, anyway. But he… he would never have given up." He clutches Sam's arm, and this time Sam lets him. Cain seems to need it. "I gave up on him when I killed him. He would never have given up on me. How could he possibly forgive me?"

Sam sighs. "I won't pretend I understand what it's like for you, but… Dean and I have had our share of fights. And one thing I can tell you is that even if we're fighting, or worse, there is nothing Dean could possibly do that I wouldn't eventually forgive him for."

"Would you forgive him if he killed you?"

"Yeah. I would." Sam grins. "It might take a while, but I don't think time is the problem, is it?"

Dean knows that hulking figure in the doorway. He knows him like he knows his own breathing, like he knows where the sun comes up in the morning, like he knows –

He has to die.

Sam comes into the room, stepping over the lines of the Devil's Trap like he isn't scared of Dean, like he could never be scared of Dean, and Dean knows that, too.

Sammy's always been trusting.

He's stupid. He doesn't deserve to live.

Kill him.

Sam's so close, close enough that if Dean's arms weren't chained down he'd be able to reach out and touch him.


Dean opens his mouth to beg for a hug, for Sam's hand on his head, for anything that'll let him feel like he's human, Sam's big brother, not just this thing that's ruled by a memory of evil and can't think of anything beyond blood and destruction.

What comes out instead is, "I'm going to kill you."

Sam rolls his eyes, unimpressed.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be. I know what you've been up to, Dean."

"If you know, then you know I'm not your brother anymore." Dean doesn't know where the words are coming from. They're not coming from his brain; his brain's overloading with the need for Sam to acknowledge him, but something else is controlling his mouth. "I'm going to enjoy watching you die."

He keeps his eyes on Sammy, begging him as much as he can not to believe what he's hearing.

Sam must understand, because his gaze softens.

"You're in there," he says, "aren't you, Dean?"


That broken sound is all Dean, all pleading, and it finally gets Dean what he wanted, Sam's big hand landing on the back of his neck, warm and gentle.

"Hey, big brother."

Dean leans into the touch. "Sammy."

Sam relaxes, his guard going down, and Dean feels a surge of something and Sam gets thrown away from him, into the wall. He hits it hard, going down and staying down. Panic and triumph are warring in Dean's chest.

Sam stirs, and Dean's relieved exclamation is twisted by the snarl of disappointment from the part of him that's wrong.

Sam staggers to his feet.

Broken ribs, the thing inside him whispers. So fragile, humans. So easy to break. His bones will snap like twigs.

"Sammy," Dean sobs.

Let's try.

"Stay away from me, Sammy. I can't – I can't control it."

"It's OK, Dean." Sam's next to him again. "I know. We're going to fix this. I'm going to fix this. We'll be fine."

Sam pats Dean's hand, and Dean manages to move his arm enough to grab Sam's wrist and squeeze it.

Maybe it's his demonic strength, but all of a sudden Sam's bones do feel delicate. Dean knows they'll shatter like porcelain if he tightens his fist enough.

"Too fragile to live."

And, oh God, he said that out loud and Sammy heard him and now he's going to leave. Sam should leave; Dean wants him to leave, wants him safe and away from this evil thing that Dean's becoming, but he wants Sam here because he feels more human when Sam's here and –

And he realizes he's still talking, whispering to Sam about how he's going to slice him to ribbons and feed him to Hellhounds, and Sam's just watching him with calm hazel eyes.

"Sammy," he whimpers.

"I know, Dean. I'm here. I'm going to help you."


"Can you let me go, Dean? You're hurting me."

Dean abruptly sees that his hand is still around Sam's wrist, gripping it too hard, almost twisting it, and horror and shame and yes yes more fill him.



Sam's other hand is on his neck again. Dean shouldn't be reveling in the comfort. He doesn't deserve to be comforted. He's a sick son of a bitch who hurt his baby brother and is thinking about hurting him more.

But Dean's reveling anyway. Any minute now Sam's going to decide he's had enough and leave, and he might as well take the closeness while he's getting it.

"Dean? Please let go."

And, oh God, he's still squeezing Sam's wrist, and now he can feel the broken edges of bone grinding together.

He lets go abruptly, and Sam smiles at him.

"That's it. Now we're going to fix you."

Dean drops his head to Sam's shoulder. Sam's arm closes around him. Dean's eyes are burning with tears. He lets them fall hot and salty onto Sam's skin, feels Sam hold him close –

Suddenly the Firstblade, which Cain left locked in a box at the other end of the room, is in Dean's hand, and he manages to choke out a warning just in time for Sam to fling himself away. The blade scrapes a gash down Sam's arm, but it isn't a killing blow.

Sam looks down at his arm and shrugs.

"Well, we did need my blood."

Dean's slumped in the chair, heartbreakingly quiet. Sam undid the straps and chains a while ago, but he hasn't moved.

The first couple of hours were noisy. Dean was alternately pleading and threatening, lashing out at Sam and then apologizing. Dean's strong like this, and Sam's going to have some bruises when this is over.

Then Dean went quiet, not looking up, not meeting Sam's eyes. It's like he's ashamed.

Sam hates the idea of Dean being ashamed of anything, especially of what the Mark and the Firstblade forced him to do. But he doesn't let himself dwell on that. He needs to cure Dean first, and then they can worry about the rest of it.

Sam's left wrist is swollen and painful, and it's going to need a doctor at some point. But he doesn't have time. It's going to have to wait. He's kind of lightheaded, too, and there's a faint buzzing under his skin that feels like much more and much less than it did when he was working on Cain. He really wants to sleep, but he needs to finish this first.

He has the syringe in his right hand, and Dean holds out his arm without a word. Sam finds the vein and depresses the plunger.

He's about to step away when Dean says quietly, "Sammy."

His voice is hoarse and raw from the screaming.

Sam drops to his knees by the chair. "Hey, Dean. What is it? Do you want water?"

"No. No, I… Just… You've been changing the needle, right, before you draw your blood?"

"Yeah," Sam says, a little puzzled by the question. Hunters learn very early on that it's a bad idea to take risks with unnecessary infections, and it's an hour between each dose. "Why?"

"Good. That's good. I… We shouldn't take risks. Whatever's in me… Can't have it in you, too."

Dean sounds forlorn, and Sam doesn't even think. He just reaches up and wraps his good arm around his brother. Dean curls into him, burying his face in the crook of Sam's neck.

"Don't be stupid," Sam murmurs. "There's nothing in you we can't fix."

"I hurt you. I cut you. I almost killed you. I would have killed you if you hadn't managed to get away in time. Can you ever forgive me?"

"Dean." Sam strokes his brother's head, wishing the cure were over so he could get Dean out of this miserable room and away from the Firstblade. "There's nothing to forgive. It wasn't you."

"Can you ever forgive me?" Dean repeats, and Sam knows he needs to hear the words.

"If it means that much to you, of course I forgive you, Dean. You're my brother."

Dean sobs, and then he gasps and pulls away from Sam, bringing his arm up between them.


Sam looks down at Dean's arm, and the Mark is fading rapidly, disappearing without a trace and leaving clean, unmarked skin behind.

"Sammy." Dean's voice is a breath in his ear.

Sam laughs, relief sweeping through him. "If I'd known that was all it would take to get rid of the damn thing, I'd have told you that right at the beginning. I thought you knew."

"You were barely talking to me!"

"I was mad." Sam shrugs. "You were being a controlling jerk." Dean flinches and Sam curses himself. Dean's too fragile for jokes; he should have known that. "Hey." He pats Dean's cheek. "I understand, Dean. I may not like it, but I understand. You're my big brother." Dean meets his eyes, and Sam tries to put everything he feels into his smile. "You'll always be my big brother. I would do anything for you."

Dean's eyes are damp, and when Sam pulls him in for another hug he comes willingly.

"Promise me," Dean whispers into Sam's shirt.

Sam doesn't bother to ask what. He just whispers back, "Always."

Dean can feel Sam's presence like a physical force. He usually can, but he can feel it even more now, like this – Sam's blood in him – is another bond between them.

"Is this it?" he asks.

Sam smiles at him, wide and relieved and happy. Dean doesn't think he's seen Sam smile like that in months.

"Yeah," Sam says.

He tries to get the fingers of his left hand to close around the knife's handle, but after a couple of unsuccessful attempts he gives up and holds it out to Dean.

Dean doesn't take it. "Sammy… You sure?"

Sam rolls his eyes.

"Yes. Come on, Dean. I can't do it myself, and the sooner it's done the sooner we can go home."

"We're taking you to get that wrist looked at first."

"Fine. Hurry up."

Dean takes the knife, and Sam lays his right hand on Dean's knee, palm up. Dean feels exactly the way he always does when he needs to cut Sam for a ritual or to make sure he's not possessed – annoyed he has to do it, frustrated with Sam for being so calm about it all, and sick to the stomach at the thought of his brother's blood.

It's wonderful.

"Don't look," he says.

Sam obediently turns his face into Dean's shoulder, and Dean makes a quick, neat cut.

Sam hisses, and Dean rolls his eyes and tells him not to be a drama queen, and then he gives Sam's shoulder a comforting squeeze anyway, because that's what big brothers do.


Sam keeps his face firmly hidden in Dean's shoulder as he raises his hand. Dean can feel him trembling, and he thinks he knows why. This is the last step, the step Sam never took with Crowley, and he's afraid it won't work.

Dean's nervous too, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest as he slides one arm around Sam and forces himself to stay still when Sam's bloody fingers touch his face.

The effect is instantaneous. It feels like things are changing inside him, changing and shifting and moving, and as his demonic strength dissipates, he feels Sam's weight grow more solid against him. Something loosens in his chest.

"Dean?" Sam mumbles.

"Hey, kiddo," Dean says softly. "Look at me."

Sam pulls back, his gaze flickering up to meet Dean's. Dean smiles at him, making sure Sam's eyes are locked with his when he murmurs, just loud enough for his brother to hear, "Christo."

Dean says it easily, not flinching, and still Sam's eyes are too wide, like he doesn't dare to believe it.

Dean knows the feeling, but he hates seeing Sammy so scared. So, without thinking too much about it, he cups Sam's chin and pulls it down enough to kiss the top of his little brother's head. He hasn't done it since Sam was a baby. It's weird but in an odd way it's also not.

The way Sam melts into his arms is definitely familiar.

"Dean," Sammy chokes.

Then his head's back on Dean's shoulder and he's sobbing, harsh, choking, ugly sobs, tears soaking Dean's shirt.

Dean holds him close. They've both been through a lot, and he needs this as much as Sam does. He needs to know he's a big brother, he needs to know Sam cares about him enough to cry, he needs to know Sam trusts him enough to fall apart in his arms and know that Dean will hold him together.

"I've got you, little brother," he promises. "It's OK. Let it out." Then, realizing Sam's on his knees on the floor and that's got to be unpleasant, he says, "Let's get you comfortable."

Sam's not much help – all he wants to do is cling to Dean. But Dean hasn't been a big brother all his life for nothing, and he coaxes and cajoles Sam into moving enough that they can settle down by the wall, next to the table with its litter of used syringes and cotton swabs.

Dean's just found a comfortable position that lets him support Sammy without killing his back in the process, when the door opens.

Cain – a very human Cain, and now that he's been a demon Dean can tell the difference – meets Dean's eyes.

"So it worked."

"Pretty much," Dean says, and suddenly everything's making a lot more sense. Sam staggering – Sam's lack of resistance when Dean hurt him – it was because he'd already cured Cain, and that took most of the fight out of him. "What were you thinking? You promised to keep him away. I could have killed him! And for what, so he'd heal your miserable ass?"

Cain shrugs. "I'm sorry, but I did tell you the price."

"You said the price was me killing you. Nobody agreed to involve Sammy in anything. He was supposed to be safe."

"He is safe."

"He could have died!"

"He was here and he was willing. I'm not sorry."

"He's my brother. And you couldn't wait till he'd finished with me and rested a bit?"

Cain scoffs. "I know hunters, Dean." Then his gaze falls on Sam, whose sobs have finally quietened to silent tears, and his face softens. "You should stitch up his arm, maybe splint his wrist till you can get to a doctor. I'll get what you need."

Dean nods. He isn't ready to forgive Cain for putting Sammy in danger, but that isn't his priority right now.

Cain's a few minutes getting the stuff. By the time he's back, Sam's stopped crying, though his grip on Dean's shirt hasn't loosened.

Dean's still holding him, though, because Sammy looks like he'll burst into tears again if Dean lets go. And that heartbroken choking sound needs to never come from Sam again if Dean has anything to say about it.

Cain crouches on the floor by them, holding out a first-aid kit.

"Hey," Dean murmurs, gently disentangling Sam's hand from his shirt. "Need to patch you up, kiddo. Sit up."

"Dean," Sam says, voice close to breaking again, pushing himself closer.

"Sammy, come on. Just for a couple of minutes."


Dean feels wretchedly helpless. He can't blame Sam for needing to be close, but he does need to put stitches in that cut and wrap his wrist so he doesn't make anything worse.


"I'll do it," Cain says suddenly.

Dean glares at him. Sam's hurting, and if Cain thinks he's getting anywhere near Dean's baby brother –

"It's not like you have a lot of options," Cain points out. "I'm sure Sam would rather stay the way he is and let me stitch his arm than have to move so you can do it."

"And why are you being so helpful all of a sudden?"

Cain looks so sad that Dean finds his arms tightening automatically around Sam. "You've found your absolution, Dean. If I never see Abel again, this might be the only way I can earn mine."

"Sammy?" Dean asks.

Sam curls in closer to Dean, which Dean figures is answer enough.

"Fine," he tells Cain. "Be careful."

"He won't feel a thing," Cain promises, pulling out an alcohol wipe.

Sam lets Dean open the door for him, mainly because the nurse who frowned suspiciously at the bruises on his broken wrist is glaring at Dean from the hospital entrance. Dean pretends not to notice, but Sam can see how much it bothers him.

It isn't the first time nurses have offered Sam pamphlets on getting out of an abusive relationship, but Sam doesn't blame his brother for being so bothered by it. This time it cuts too close to what could have happened.

Dean gets in, waves goodbye to the nurse, and drives. It's too late for them to get back to the bunker tonight, but they both want to put as much distance as possible between them and the cabin where Cain's sitting alone wondering if his murdered brother is ever going to forgive him.

"Sammy?" Dean says abruptly, after they've been driving for a couple of hours. "Would you forgive me if I killed you?"

Sam's startled, but he answers the question. "I wouldn't be happy about it when you did it, but I'd forgive you a hell of a lot sooner than you'd forgive yourself."

"What about if I killed someone else? Someone innocent?"

"What's wrong, Dean?"

Dean pulls over and gets out. Sam follows, perching on the hood while Sam grabs the cooler from the backseat and pulls out a couple of beers.

"Here." He opens one and hands it to Sam. "To us."

"To my awesome big brother," Sam says, lightly clinking his bottle with Dean's.

He's rewarded with a flush and small but genuine smile from his brother.

Then the smile fades and Dean says, "That trail I left for you…"

"Yeah." Sam reaches out to pat Dean's knee clumsily with his casted hand. "I know."

"I killed them. A lot of people. And some of them were creeps but some of them were just regular people, Sammy. They didn't deserve to die."

"It wasn't you."

"You…" Dean's voice shakes, and he falls silent for a moment before going on. "You forgive me, right?"

"Always," Sam promises.

"I… I don't… That's enough for me, Sam. I don't need any other absolution." Dean squeezes Sam's shoulder. "But I want to do something for them. The families." He bites his lip. "What if someone I… I hurt was… was someone's little brother?"

"You can't go back there, Dean. Someone might recognize you. It's too dangerous."

"I need to make sure they're OK… Well, they couldn't be OK, but… I don't know, Sammy. I need to do something. Talk to them, if that's the only thing I can do."

"Dean," Sam repeats, "you can't." Dean's face falls, and Sam sighs and says, "I'll go."

Dean turns to him. "You don't have to."

"Yeah, I do. We're in this together, remember? You can't go back, but I can." Sam grins. "And if you need to know the families are OK, or at least as OK as they can be, I'll go check on them. I'm better at being sympathetic, anyway."

The tiny smile comes back to Dean's face. "You'll probably come back with cookies." He draws in a shaky breath and raises his arm in invitation. "Thanks, Sammy."

"You're my big brother."

"And you're a pretty damn awesome little brother."

Sam settles in under Dean's arm to watch the sun go down.

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