Author Note: Hey! Look what I found! *blows dust off of story*
Okay, seriously. This story is NOT AT ALL in danger of being abandoned. When I start a story, I finish it. Hell, it took me six years, but I completed "Collateral Damage." There were some RL things, some original-ish story things, and - to be quite honest - I was an idiot to say "this chapter should be pretty easy." Case in point: only about one-third of what was in that original chapter draft made the cut here. It's undergone two major rewrites in just the past couple of weeks. I spent last month typing my fingers bloody to get this story rolling and finished, and have about 45,000 incredibly rough words waiting to be turned into readable material. If everything makes the cut, we could be looking at up to eleven more chapters, so I hope y'all are ready to get this party started.
There may a slightly different vibe to the second half of this story. Obviously, it's been a year and a half since I started writing it, and I'd like to think I'm not exactly the same writer I was a year and a half ago, or why do we do this writing thing at all? These past few weeks, I've really been thinking about just how many "sins" I can wring from these characters' pasts, and really make good on the promise of this story's title. There may be much more angst ahead, and much less action.
As always, many thanks go to the incredibly helpful and observant eye of Nova42, and the infectious encouragement of BlueRiverSteel. Ma girls.
I'll try to get back to posting at least one chapter per month. Thanks to all who have stuck out this unintended hiatus!
Be All Our Sins Remember'd
The gate slams down with a sudden, harsh jangle that echoes through Sam's already thrumming head and ringing ears. His stunned body aches from the collision, sharp twangs singing out from his hip and knee.
"I'm sure you had every intention of honoring our deal." Rowena's sarcasm is as obvious as the blood on Dean's face. "But why take chances?"
His brother stands at the gate, staring after her. He's clearly pissed, silent but palpably seething. But he's also fading, quickly, is visibly quaking from the combination of spent adrenaline and whatever pain has to be rocketing through his beaten body.
Sam had missed the show, but nearly caught the encore.
"Son of a bitch," Dean finally mutters, wincing. His breath hitches as he brings up a hand to flutter close to his battered face, to assess the damage or wipe away an annoying trickle of blood, but he doesn't dare touch. There's blood all over his pale face, from a deep split in his lip and a wide gash below his left eyebrow. Even under the dim warehouse lights, multiple bruises are coming to color, along his jawline and a wide splash of berry hues high on his cheek.
Sam shifts his gaze from his wounded, punch-drunk brother to watch Cas slump against the floor on his palms, arms trembling from the burden of his weight. Relief flutters briefly in his chest, because in the aftermath of Rowena's curse, his friend seems understandably weak but more or less okay. He can't say the same for his brother, as Dean tucks an elbow into his side and shifts his weight, swaying dangerously like a sudden breeze will take him out at the knees.
An unexpected burden of responsibility lands heavily on Sam's shoulders. He'll have some interesting bruises himself, but the others are in rough shape, and he needs to get them back to the bunker, triage the damage. Of course, he has to get them out of the goddamned building first.
He narrows his eyes at his brother, knowing exactly how hard an angel hits, and knowing that Cas had the witch's curse punching up his punches even more. "Dean?"
Dean's eyebrows jump in reaction to Sam's voice, and he raises a vague hand. He swallows, blinks heavily. Blinks again.
Ah, shit. Sam shoves at the crumpled boxes he's crashed into, frees his legs and struggles to his feet. He staggers to his suddenly white-faced brother's side just as Dean starts to sag.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." He grips his brother firmly under the arm, does what he can to make Dean's transition to the concrete floor a little more deliberate, gets him planted mostly upright against a sturdy stack of crates.
Dean's body tenses in pain, even as his eyes remain stubbornly locked on the gate.
Sam takes the opportunity to appraise his brother's injuries. Blood still pumps sluggishly from the various wounds on Dean's face and his discolored cheek is swelling rapidly, and he keeps that elbow jammed into his side.
It doesn't look great.
"Hey." Sam crouches next to his brother, tries unsuccessfully to draw his attention. "Dean, hey." He frowns at the lack of response, claps a light hand to Dean's cheek.
Dean jerks at the touch, hissing through his teeth as he reflexively bats at his brother's hand.
Something in Dean's face shifts sickeningly beneath his fingers as he drops his hand to his brother's shoulder and Sam gets it. Dean looks bad. Serious painkillers bad. Emergency room bad, if he can get the stubborn son of a bitch to agree. That's a card they haven't been forced to play in town yet, surprisingly enough.
In his periphery, Cas moves to push himself to his feet, and Sam can't help the glare he shoots the angel's way. Dean is roughed up, and it both was and wasn't Castiel who did it. Just like it was and wasn't Sam who threw his brother around a hotel suite and clamped iron hands around Dean's throat. Just like it was and wasn't Dean who stalked Sam through the bunker and swung a hammer at his head.
"Cas," Sam calls, voice sounding thick and strange to his own ears. He doesn't turn to see if he has the angel's attention before he continues, doesn't even throw around a half-assed inquiry as to whether he's truly okay. "See if you can find another way out of here." He doesn't mean to be a dick, but Dean's hurting bad, bleeding and broken and breathing shallowly and Cas did that. Little brother is taking the emotional wheel here.
The angel doesn't respond, but Sam listens to the soles of his shoes scuffing across the concrete as Castiel shuffles away, never releasing his grip on Dean's shoulder.
"Okay," he says finally, keeping his voice low to give an illusion of privacy. His eyes narrow at that troublesome cheekbone. "What hurts?"
Dean snorts and rolls his eyes, offers an evasive lift of his shoulder that has him paling and folding a bit.
And Sam thinks, yeah, that sounds about right. He studies the blood on the brother's face, the multiple bruises. It seems likely that he has a concussion, on top of everything else. "How many times did he hit you?"
A tight, clipped response, and Sam knows better than to believe him.
"There's a door," Cas speaks up gruffly from behind him.
Sam flinches and glances over his shoulder, softens a bit as he takes note of Castiel's remorseful expression. Then he sees the blood dripping from the angel's knuckles.
Cas notices, too, swipes the back of his hand against his coat, leaving a red smear on the fabric. "It leads to an alleyway," he continues, dropping his gaze.
"Okay." Sam nods, turns back to his brother. "We should get moving, before that girl sends the cops in here."
"Agreed." Dean bites his lip and moves to shoves himself upright, only to stop short and slip back to the floor with a groan.
"Dean…" Cas steps closer, extends a hand. "Let me – "
Dean brings up a hand. "Cas, it's fine. I'm fine." He gives Sam the look that means get me up now, and Sam hurries to oblige.
Dean's not fine, not even close. And it's abundantly clear that the jackass thinks he's just gotten exactly what he had coming to him. He doesn't have to say the words; they're painfully, obviously written across his drawn, battered face.
"Who're we kiddin,' Sammy."
The memory comes back to Sam like a slap, a bucket of ice water dumped over his head as his brother raises a despondent shoulder.
"It's not like I didn't have this coming."
Sam recoils from the feeling, the belief in his brother's voice. He had a chance to nip this train of thought in the bud, and instead just sat back on his heels, shot Castiel a heated glare and let his brother have his self-destructive way. And then did the exact same thing back at the bunker.
It's a disturbing, horribly off-base thought, but it's one that Sam's done his part inadvertently reinforcing lately. He can tell himself whatever he wants, but he still hasn't been doing right by his brother. Not like he should be. He should have pinned the stubborn martyr in his damn chair and told Cas to get to healing, instead of allowing Dean to walk around in pain, for days, just because he felt like it was what he deserved.
Sometimes when Sam betrays his brother, it's immediately apparent. And sometimes it takes a little longer to come around.
He takes a breath and drags a hand down his face, crosses around to the other bed and sits with a groaning creak of motel mattress. His brother won't even look at him, and why would he? "Dean, you – you didn't…this isn't anything you deserve, Dean."
"How is it not, Sam?" Dean rotates to face him, posture tense and gaze dark, daring. "After what I – "
After what I did, he means to say – is saying – but before he can complete the thought he stiffens, eyes rolling up. His jaw clacks shut and the color drains from his face.
Sam's heart jumps into his throat as he chokes out a stunned "Dean!"
His brother slips from the edge of the mattress, goes down before Sam can lunge forward and break his fall. Dean lands awkwardly on his right side, immediately shifting his weight away from that hand. He's breathing too fast and too shallow, and doesn't seem to notice when his brother slams to the carpet next to him. His glassy eyes are focused on something far away, something not even in this room.
"Dean, hey." Sam grips his brother by a quaking shoulder and tries to encourage him into a more comfortable, upright position, but Dean is somewhere else entirely, too far removed to respond to any sort of stimulus Sam can provide.
He looks drained and confused, glazed eyes pointed at something across the room that isn't there, and he sucks in a rattling breath, whispers in a quiet, shattered voice, "Dad?"
The word tumbles from his brother's lips in a raw, unguarded way that twists Sam's heart – a wrenching and horribly specific brand of pain he's not allowed himself to feel in years. They've suffered losses, recently – hell, he's lost Dean recently enough to feel the sting of it if he lets his defenses down too long. But this hurt is more complex, unfurling in waves and layers that feel like loss and hope and rage warring for attention his chest. There's a spooked, agonized look in his big brother's wide eyes that drives the knife of Dad even deeper, that steals Sam's breath and rocks him back like an unexpected blow.
Because Dean possesses a sort of strength that's unquantifiable, but indisputable. He's a true force to be reckoned with, has stepped right up to the edge of the world and stared down the darkness on the other side, and even then he didn't break. He bends and he bends but he never breaks, and he's supposed to be the one who digs his heels in and keeps Sam's head above water when he feels this way.
Except Sam's unbreakable big brother is coming completely undone before his eyes.
Sam draws his hand away from his trembling, seemingly traumatized brother. "Dean…" he stammers. "What…" He chokes it back – the brutal brain rush of what the hell just happened? What did you see? What about Dad? – wary of the answer.
Because Sam knows: sometimes words hurt more than claws or knives or bullets.
He shoves himself shakily to his feet, but stays close. Waiting for his brother to come back to him, Sam stares helplessly, feeling emotionally wasted and utterly useless. Whatever Dean has just seen, whatever he's going through…there's nothing Sam can do to make it better.
The suffocating stillness in the room is broken only by Dean's ragged, uneven pants. It's a clogged, congested sound, like he's sucking desperately for more oxygen that the stuffy room is willing to part with. His eyes are all pupil and his complexion is appalling. Faint but frighteningly flecks of blood still cling to his pale lips, and the darkening bruise at his jaw seems like overkill, as far as unnecessary damage goes. Like Dean hasn't taken enough hits to last a lifetime.
Sam watches with a morbid mix of concern and fascination as the motel room comes back to Dean, or as Dean comes back to the motel room, from wherever his fractured mind has taken him. It happens in agonizingly slow stages, and he stays absolutely still through it all. Only his eyes move, fever-bright gaze darting to inspect each dark corner, and he doesn't blink as he acclimates himself to the room.
Whatever this was, whatever's just happened to Dean – Dad, Sam thinks, chest tightening – it flipped one of the fundamental switches that his brother protects with everything he's got. With will and force and no you fuckin' DON'T, and he knows from plenty of experience how difficult those can be to reset.
He cautiously moves closer, and his brother's eyes shoot up.
Dean sees Sam, and then he sees him. He recoils, a violent flinch that has his elbow colliding with the bedframe, a painful-sounding bong that bounces off the walls.
Sam gets the message loud and clear, halts mid-step and raises his hands nonthreateningly. He decides in that moment, with his unbreakable big brother broken and cowering from him like a wounded, cornered animal, that he'll gladly swallow whatever pain Dean's words may carry, because he needs to know what's just happened. Even more, he needs Dean to let go of whatever he's witnessed, whatever's just unraveled him as easily as a loose thread on a knit sweater.
But, "no," Dean rasps, full of raw pain and unchecked emotion, before Sam can even try to ask. He hooks that undoubtedly bruised elbow into the mattress with a wince and unsteadily leverages up to his feet, his eyes instinctively seeking out an escape.
But there isn't one; for fuck's sake they're in a motel room, and, resolved, Sam starts moving again, keeps his hands to himself but gets right in his brother's face. Which, granted, hasn't ever proven to be an A-plus sort of plan. "Dean, man, what just – "
His brother plants a palm against his chest and shoves him away, a desperate, weakly delivered blow that barely affects Sam's balance. "No, Sam," he growls. He doesn't meet Sam's eyes, but he doesn't need to for the words to pack their intended punch. Each Winchester has a tone at which he's communicating BACK OFF, and Dean has just taken his.
That's supposed to mean something. That's supposed to be the buzzer that ends the game, but Sam's stress has been piling up for weeks now, for months, in new and in grossly redundant ways, without reprieve. Losing himself to Gadreel, then Kevin, then Charlie in the brutal, senseless way they had; the first, second, and third acts of the Mark of Cain, as he lost his brother slowly, in pieces, then suddenly and viciously literally, then once more in intangible fragments as the Mark took over; the cloudy, ominous start of the Darkness, throwing a wrench into their quest for normal before they even really had a chance to start searching; and now this spell that's screwing with his brother, with a mysterious endgame that seems to be creeping closer, and no answer in sight, no way to break Dean from it. And to top it all off, the very fresh sting of the realization that he's become a very serious part of the way his brother views his self-worth, or lack thereof. Again.
He's done. He's exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and he's done.
Sam's own switch has been flipped, and he's not about to back off. Not now.
Dean put a lot of strength behind those two words, maybe all the gas he had left in the tank, but in doing so his mouth wrote a check that his weak body is in no condition to cash. His brother literally can't push him away right now, so Sam gives it right back to him.
"No, Dean," he spits in return, giving the older man a shove of his own, one laced with more than a year's worth of pent-up frustration, one that does better to hit home.
Weakened and unsteady on his feet, Dean stumbles back into the bed and unceremoniously thuds right back to the floor he's just picked himself up from, taking the brunt of the fall on his right hand. The impact clearly rocks him, and he's sluggish in rolling around to face his brother. When he does, his arms are noticeably trembling, and he attempts to compensate by glaring daggers up at Sam. He lets loose a single, chest-rattling cough before hoarsely demanding, "What the hell, man?"
"You're damn right, what the hell. What the hell was that, Dean?" Sam throws his arms wide, and his chest heaves. But whatever righteous anger he's managed to summon burns out quickly as he stares down at his tortured, confused, and clearly ill brother.
This attempt at secrecy is really just the expected defense mechanism of the aggressively closed-off Dean Winchester, and shouldn't come as a shock. Not if this has something to do with Dad.
Sam guesses this had always been a possibility, as soon as Dean realized it was Henry's memories that he was seeing. He may have been the one to catch an inadvertent glimpse of their father, but Sam has just as much right to the vision as Dean does. Except Dean's gotten extremely possessive of what little they have left of Dad since he died, unwilling to share anything with his brother, be it the man's memories, stories, or car. Like Sam didn't appreciate what he had when he had it, so he doesn't have the right to look back fondly now. But that might just be Sam's own guilty conscience talking, because Dean had never, and would never, say as much.
They've never been on even ground where the man is concerned, and force and fury won't wrench this tale from his brother. With a weary, apologetic sigh, Sam stoops and offers his brother a hand up.
It takes a moment, but Dean warily accepts – with his left hand. His eyes are still a bit unfocused as Sam hauls him to his feet and helps him settle on the lumpy mattress.
His brother might be weak and sick, but he's hardwired to fight. Sam keeps his mouth shut, refuses to offer another tasty morsel of bait, just sinks quietly to sit at Dean's side, feeling the anxiety and adrenaline of the vision and the shove slowly leach out of the man, until he's left exhausted and slumped against Sam's shoulder.
"Y'all right?" he asks after a moment, voice thick.
Dean grunts a noncommittal response, but Sam understands the noise as a white flag of surrender.
"You saw Dad?" he ventures tentatively, however obviously, heart tripping in anticipation of the answer, the details.
"Yeah," Dean says quietly, almost to himself. He coughs into his shoulder, and the palm he swipes across his lips comes away with a bloody smear. "Yeah, but it was…he was just a kid."
It makes sense, really, considering these bits of memory Dean is glimpsing belonged to Henry, and he died when their father was young. But even so…hearing it makes it so much more real. Sam feels an unsolicited tug of envy as he gapes at his brother. "Wow," he says dumbly. "Okay. Was it – I mean, did it have something to do with Henry's mission?"
Dean starts to shake his head, then stills like the motion pains him, or maybe like the room is spinning around him. He squeezes his eyes shut and fists the covers – again, only with his left hand, Sam notes with a frown.
His brother doesn't open his eyes as he speaks. "No. Whatever it was, it, uh…it felt different. Like it slipped in." He swallows, wrinkles his nose. "Hurt like a sonuvabitch, too."
Sam files that away with the appropriate concern but his frown deepens, even though it feels like a completely pear-shaped piece of the puzzle sliding into place. "What do you mean it slipped in?"
"I don't know, Sammy," Dean breathes. He kneads at the back of his neck, makes a face as his fingers graze the raised, gnarled edges of the imprinted design on his back and drops his hand back to the bed with a sigh. "It was just…different. Like it was something I wasn't supposed to see."
"Okay," Sam says again. He bobs his head, though he can't begin to understand what his brother's trying to put into words. Even when he was having visions all those years ago, there was an underlying clarity to the intrusion of his mind, to the pain, that each individual vision belonged to him. It was his to interpret, to change.
He's been suspicious of his brother's rapidly falling health and strength since that failed attempt of Duncan's to remove to the spell outright. He knew something looked off – or, more so – about the markings of the spell. The curse. They changed after Baton Rouge, looking ragged and puckered like a hot bolt of energy had shot through each dark character and swirl.
Sam watches as his brother pales and tenses, as he coughs a sick, congested sound. "Are you okay?" he asks. It's a stupid, pointless question, but he doesn't know what else to say, and he really wants an answer to this question, if he can't get an answer for any of the others rattling around in his head. He needs it.
Dean rolls his eyes, which is really just no help at all as far as reassurances go. He braces himself and shoves up one-handed from the bed, most likely looking to make a go at reaching the relative safety of a brotherless bathroom, but he's wobbly and off-balance, and tips against Sam's leg.
Sam puts his hands out to steady his brother, but pride or self-preservation has Dean scrabbling to pull away, slow, sluggish movements that don't get his fevered, disoriented body very far. Sam takes the opportunity to grip his brother's right arm. He narrows his eyes up at his wincing brother, fingers tightening around Dean's wrist. He's been too deliberate in his motions, has been too obviously favoring his right hand since they entered the room.
"Something happened to you in that house, didn't it?"
To be continued...
Prompt lines included in this chapter:
He doesn't have to say the words; they're painfully, obviously written across his face.
Each Winchester has a tone at which they're communicating BACK OFF and Dean has just taken his.