Warnings: discussion of self-harm and suicidal ideation/attempt (briefly)


Chapter XVI

October 25th, 2008

Dean woke up to his brother's lanky fingers running through the short crop of his hair and to his voice in his ear, encouraging murmurs of, "That's it. Come on, man. Open your eyes."

His droopy eyelids dragged open, heavy fatigue and lassitude weighing down on the muscles of his body. He found white ceilings and walls, the scent of antiseptic threading into his senses.

Sam's face took some time to come into focus, like a camera lens trying to clear the picture on the screen. His brother looked exhausted, black bags under his eyes and scruff of facial hair on his chin and jaws. His clothes were dirty and creased.

"Hey," Sam said, too soft and quiet in the hospital room, like he was trying not to break something fragile with his voice.

Dean's mouth was dry and parched, which became obvious to Sam too when he tried to talk and couldn't, a strained scrape of a noise that left an itch in the back of his mouth, contracting his throat muscles into a coughing fit.

Sam splayed his palm over his chest, patting at it soothingly. "Hang on," he said, upper body twisting away from him. When he faced him again, he was holding a cup of ice chips. He scooped a spoonful and lifted it up to Dean's mouth, and it was a testament as to how shitty he felt that he couldn't be bothered to resist.

When his throat had enough moisture again to be able to work, he croaked out, "How… long?"

"You've been out for over a week," Sam informed, his throat rippling with a swallow. "I, uh… I had to tell them that you were… attacked. It looked…" He trailed off, inhaled and bit his quivering bottom lip. "It looked bad enough, so it didn't take much for them to buy it. I-I mean, they'd have locked you up if they knew. So." Sam's features shifted into this mildly uncertain look on his face, like he wasn't entirely sure whether that wouldn't have been the right thing or not. "Now they want to involve the authorities, so we better make up a cover story. The only thing I told them was that I found you like this."

Escaping the hospital in the state Dean was in seemed unlikely, and on top of that, Sam would most likely prefer Dean's current condition to be monitored by medical professionals until they were certain he wouldn't end up with any life-threatening complications.

Dean nodded. He didn't feel good enough to try and argue. "Okay."

Sam snorted, borderline bitter and sarcastic. He nodded and looked away. Dean wasn't exactly sure what kind of response he expected from him.

The beep of the machines in the silence filtered into his senses. The sound pulsed in short intervals throughout the quiet of the room.

"I feel calm," Dean then rasped, sudden and low and feeble. He did. In a way he hadn't for a while. "S'… I don' know. It doesn'… I know s'not... gone, but I just… I feel better."

"Yeah. That's great to hear," Sam huffed satirically, a mirthless smile thinning at his mouth to go with it. There was a snarl of anger twisting his features, controlled emotion mingling into the expression, eyes hardened against it. "Really. I'm so glad you feel better after, you know, carving yourself up so bad that they nearly lost you on the table."

Dean didn't know what to say. So he didn't say anything. Sam shook his head in his peripheral vision, puffing out a swift, hard breath, presumably at his lack of a reaction.

"Damn it, Dean! Are you hearing me? You almost died again," Sam gritted out. "I almost…" He couldn't get the words out, seemed to almost lose composure, so he stopped. He was breathing hard, in and out and in and out. "I thought I… I was... god, do you even know how fucking terrifying it was to… to find you like that? On the floor, bleeding out everywhere, laughing like a goddamn mani—"

Maniac.

Crazy. Nutjob. Psycho. Those were the words that seemed to define Dean nowadays. Sam never said it out loud or outright, but the way he looked at him sometimes said it all.

Dean's gaze was fixated ahead on the muted TV playing news on the screen.

Sam's hazel eyes averted in remorse of his outburst. Dean imagined the contrite expression more than he saw it, the apologetic eyes turning back to bore into his stoic profile.

"This can't happen again, you understand me?" He didn't sound angry and sarcastic anymore. Desperation and pleading took their places instead. "Promise me you won't let it happen again."

Fuck. He didn't think that Dean wouldn't have done it If it didn't feel like the only way then? In that labile haze between awareness and insanity?

Sam didn't get it. Not really.

He didn't get how it felt, how hazy and twisted his mind got in moments like that, how much sense it had made then. He didn't understand what it was like, having his… this thing that was trapped inside of him, keeping him trapped with it. He didn't know if he could make any promises here that he'd be able to keep, because this darkness inside of him… it worked in ways Dean couldn't understand. Messed up his clouded and scattered mind and impaired his lucidity and reasoning in such a way that lies and bullshit became reality and all the wrong, fucked up things began to feel right.

Maybe the whole demon blood thing with him was… it was something a bit close. Having something evil inside of him, and how feeding it changed the way he saw things. Maybe Sam did understand some of it, but it was in a whole different way.

But Sam didn't think he was in the wrong for any of it. Dean knew he was.

It was hard to keep together what was on the inside when he had to keep together what was outside too. Sam was fucking him up on the inside with all the shit he'd been pulling. He was making it all worse when all he needed was the time and space and silence to keep his shit together, but goddamn it, if hurting himself was the one way to stop himself from doing something he would regret far more, what right did Sam of all people have to take it away from him?

He shoved the thoughts away, not wanting to trigger it all back. Dean trapped his bottom lip between his teeth. "Sure. I'll try." It sounded non-commital to his own ears, and apparently to Sam's too.

"Dean," Sam warned.

"What d'you wan' me t'say, man?" Dean scoffed, but it was a weak wisp of a breath. "S'not like… you've been helpin'."

It was Sam who went silent this time.

He didn't say another word for the entirety of the time until Dean dozed off.

November 26th, 2008

Dean came back to the living world following Sam's hushed voice, a few feet distant, talking to someone on the phone. There was a low, muffled and tinny noise whenever the other person spoke on the opposite end.

"No, Ruby…"

The familiar heat of betrayal and anger coursed through his veins and chest, the hurt slamming hard into him like a boulder. Something inside of him suddenly lurched with those feelings, violent and jarring, in the dull tranquil that had taken over for the time being, and Dean tried to rip his mind away from it.

"I'm done," Sam was murmuring. "No, fuck that. I'm done, okay? I'm sorry, but… Ruby, I can't. I gotta look out for my brother first and foremost… I told you what happened. You know why... and that can't happen again. I need to be there to make sure it doesn't."

There was a part of Dean that was affronted and annoyed at Sam for letting that bitch in on all of his business.

He clenched his eyes shut and tried to tear his mind away from the senseless anger again.

Sam was stopping.

He was stopping for him.

That was what mattered.

"Goodbye, Ruby."

Dean kept his breaths even and steady when he heard the rustle of Sam's boots against the floor, turning around to face him, followed by the sound of slow and controlled footsteps nearing towards him. There was a low scrape of a chair against the marble floor, a weighty thud of Sam dropping onto it.

The next thing he felt was his kid brother's ginormous hand wrapping around his own bandaged one, raising it up tentatively to press to the angles of his face.

Dean couldn't keep quiet then.

"You're such... a chick."

There was a brief pause, fingers stilling against his.

Then Sam snorted. "Yeah, whatever, jerk. Go back to sleep."

Sam could have easily pointed out the small hint of a smile tugging at Dean's lips, or the way he made no effort to move his hand away.

But he didn't.

"B'tch."

November 29th, 2008

"Do I have to put this nasty shit in my body? Hell, I'd even take your herbivore food over this tasteless sludge," Dean growled, staring down at the bowl of food with abject disgust and misery.

Sam chuckled slightly. "You're only allowed bland foods for now. Doctor's orders, man. Can't ignore those."

"Uh, yes we can, Mr. Goody-two-shoes."

"Nope. I'm not letting you," Sam said, in that exasperating, little-brother-knows-best (was that even a thing?) tone he got when he was being a total mother hen. "So eat your tofu. And chew it slowly and well. Your stomach won't be to handle much stress right now, so the more your food's broken down by the enzymes in your saliva, the better your stomach will be able to digest—"

Dean feigned slowly dozing off as Sam rambled, snoring obnoxiously.

He groggily blinked his eyes open, dramatic and theatrical, to see Sam's face on full bitch face mode. "Huh, sorry. Are you done being boring?"

Sam rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "You're an idiot," he scoffed out. The words and the deadpanned tone was contradicted by the play of a smile that he pursed his lips against.

"'Least I'm not a geek." Dean shrugged, a cocky smirking quirking up one corner of his lips.

"It's like, basic high school biology, Dean. Even you had to have to know that."

"Yeah, well, there was only one kind of biology that I was interested in." Dean waggled his eyebrows, grinning leerily.

Sam grimaced in disgust, evoking a bubble of laughter out of Dean. "Uh, right. Okay."

God, he missed this. This dumb, pointless banter. It was something they hadn't had in a while now, and it felt good. It felt like things were going to be okay.

The look on Sam's face, the small smile finally breaking out on his lips against his will, told him that he felt the same.

Present

"Breathe through it, Sammy," Dean murmured, gently rubbing into the knots on his lower back. The muscles beneath his palm spasmed again, and Sam choked in pain. Fuck, that had to be hell on top of his injuries.

"Need… need the... blood, De'n," Sam rasped out, strained and quivering. "I… I need the…" He made a choking noise again, curling up tighter into himself. His flushed, sweat-sheened face twisted into apology and self-disgust. "S-sorry. Crap. I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"

"I know, bud. It's okay," Dean said. He rubbed his shaking shoulders and arms, trying to stave off the chills a bit. "I got you something to ease the symptoms."

Sam's quaking body jolted against him with another convulse of agony, and he grinded his teeth against the cry that ripped out of him. Dean moved his hands over to continue massaging the tensed muscles on his back. "Wh-what… is it?"

"Stuff they use in rehab for withdrawals," Dean answered. He didn't know if it would work for demon blood detoxification. He hoped it did. If nothing else, it was worth a try. "Clonidine. Helps to reduce muscle aches, anxiety and agitation. You wanna give it a try?"

Sam nodded, but he was shaking so hard that it almost seemed like a part of the tremors.

"Alright. Yeah, that's good, kiddo," Dean encouraged, moving away a strand of hair plastered to his sweaty forehead. He reached over for the glass he had set down on a tray beside Sam's curled knees. "But first, I want you to drink a glass of water, okay? Dehydration's gonna be a bitch, man."

Sam shook his head. "F-feel...sick."

"One glass, alright? If you get sick, it's okay. Bucket's right here. Just try to get it down as much as you can."

Sam looked reluctant, staring miserably at the glass of water.

He then nodded weakly, looked like he was forcing himself to. Dean helped him sit up by the biceps, Sam's palms flat against the surface of the cot as he lifted himself up with his aid. Dean hauled him in to lean against his chest when the kid began to sway without support. Sam flinched violently when another cramp rippled through his body, a pained, throttled gasp tearing out of his throat as he folded over slightly.

"Sh, sh… I got you. S'okay," Dean mumbled, clutching him closely against himself, rubbing into the hard knots in his back to loosen them. He put the glass of water to his lips. "Slowly."

Sam's hand tremulously raised up to take the glass from him. Good to know the kid's independent streak was still at work. Dean got the feeling that some sort of understanding had been solidified in Sam after last night, the understanding that Dean wasn't the same, the man he thought he was. Sam just didn't know whether or not, or how, he should vocalize it. Dean didn't think he would know how to explain yet either, didn't think it'd be the right time because there wasn't a way to convey the revelation in any easy, least overwhelming way.

"Okay." Dean released the glass into his unsteady hold, instead busying himself with trying to warm him up by picking up the folded blanket beside the tray, jerking it out straight and swathing his body in it. Sam started drinking the glass of water, gripping it with both hands to ensure a secure hold. "Slowly," Dean reminded, splaying a hand on the back of his clammy neck. He hugged him close with his other arm, running a hand down his back. "Let me know when you can't handle more, but at least try to get the whole glass down."

"Sammy, no. Hey. Look at me," Dean said, tapping his face lightly. Sam barely seemed to notice, his glassy eyes stuck on whatever he was seeing beside him.

"I was… goin' to… tell," Sam mumbled, pleading and quiet. "'I was… goin' to… wouldn' lie t'you 'gain, De'n. S-swear."

Dean didn't know what exactly he was talking about, but he had a guess. It was just about the only thing he could think of, even if he hadn't ever been really sure if it was true.

"That Lucifer's wearing him to the prom…"

"Sweet little Sammy's Satan's one true meatsuit."

Sam jerked back like he'd been hit, a violent flinch jolting his already quaking body, and nope, fuck this, Dean wasn't letting this go on for any longer than it already has. No fucking way.

He gripped Sam's chin and wrenched his face towards his own, hard enough for Sam's gaze to snap in his direction, rolling slightly from the sudden motion before they fixated unsteadily on him.

Sam frowned dazedly, forehead scrunching.

"It's not real, Sam," Dean said firmly. "Whatever you're seeing, whatever I'm saying or doing there, it's not me." Sam's eyes began to drift towards the side again, as if to check, confused and distracted. Dean held his face in place, trying to force him to maintain his attention on him. "No, no. Don't look there. Look at me. Just keep looking at me, okay? I'm the one that's real. Not him. So you focus on my voice and my face, you hear me?"

Sam blinked. His head twitched slightly sideways again, as if he was hearing something from there again, but ultimately decided to not look away from Dean. "Re'l?"

Dean nodded, brushing his thumb over the dent in his chin. He brushed his other hand down his bicep, willing warmth and comfort and reassurance into the kid. "Yeah, little brother. I'm real. I'm real. And I ain't hurting you, okay? Nobody's hurting you." He lifted his hand up from his face and laid it over his hairline. He leaned in, voice lowering to a murmur, "And if anyone tries to, Sammy? I'll hurt em' too."

October 31st, 2008

"Can I ask you a bit of a loaded question?" Sam's low voice piped up suddenly from the adjacent bed, shoved up against the cracked and mildewed wall of the motel room, over the loud, crass noise of a speeding bus and panicked, bellowing dialogue. Vaguely, in the back of Dean's mind, he noted that the quiet, hesitant tone of his voice, the slight stumble over the words, sounded like it took him time to build the courage.

But most of his focus was directed at the action movie playing on the screen, and even more so, by the female lead, Sandra Bullock. Dean hummed distractedly, not exactly in the mood to have any heart-to-heart at this time of night.

They were two states away from the hospital in Indiana, now in some nameless town somewhere in Louisville since last week and a half. Dean had gotten sick and tired of being bed-ridden there by the second day, and above all, the cops' ceaseless questions then. Being in the comfort of some shitty dump of a motel with no one but his brother was a tremendous relief now.

"You gonna be straight with me?"

"Depends," Dean answered indifferently.

"Dean," Sam demanded, prissy and annoyed.

Dean sighed loudly and rolled his eyes, grabbing the remote. He pointed it at the TV and jabbed his thumb down on the mute button before turning to face him. "What?"

Sam went silent then. Dean felt somewhat exasperated that the kid had nagged at him to pay attention, but now he was taking his sweet time saying what he wanted to.

But Sam looked like he didn't really want to vocalize the question on his mind. He didn't seem to want to know the answer. That might have given Dean a pretty good idea of what the topic could be related to.

"When you, uh…" Sam started, his voice fading. He inhaled in slowly, like he was trying to take in that courage again. He set his jaw with determination, brows furrowing together, and plowed through, even when his voice sounded slightly strained with controlled pain, "Did you want to…"

He looked weary and torn about whatever it was that was going through his thick head. Dean really didn't like seeing that look on his face.

"What?" Dean asked, the timbre of his voice changing into gentle, encouraging, pressing.

Sam inhaled heavily, averting his gaze. Dean figured out where his thinking was at a second sooner.

Sam let out the breath and voiced it out as he looked back at him, "Did you want to die? When you did that to yourself?"

Some part of Dean didn't want to answer, didn't want this to escalate into something emotionally heavy and chick-flicky. The other part of him couldn't stand letting that hurt and sorrow linger on his kid brother's face, knew that Sam needed the answer from him.

Apparently, he must have taken too long to respond, because Sam took the silence as an affirmative, judging by the way his eyes grew heavier and slightly red, muscle bunching in his jaw, nodding in that way he did when he got too emotional.

"I wasn't tryin' to kill myself, Sammy," Dean replied. "Things were just kinda fucked up and hazy and not making a lot of sense and in that moment, I thought…" Talking about it felt like it would come out sounding too absurd now that he was lucid. He didn't think Sam would really understand what he would try to explain. Dean barely understood it himself. "It just made sense at the time."

"Made sense?" Sam echoed, raising an incredulous eyebrow, like he couldn't understand how something like that could ever make sense. Dean himself didn't totally get why it did back then, so he couldn't entirely blame the kid for his skepticism.

"I just...felt outta control," he explained. Tried to. "Like I needed to hurt something. Bad."

"So you hurt yourself?" Typical signs of Sam getting riled up again. Dean supposed he really wasn't as okay about it as he'd been pretending to be these past couple of days, had only been locking it away until Dean was better enough to take the shit.

"A lot of bad shit makes sense when it happens," Dean said, shrugging nonchalantly, even if he felt anything but about the whole thing. He didn't tell Sam that one of those things was the way it dug its claws into his insides, tried to drive his body into hurting him, burning and pushing and pulling. "I just did what I thought I'd regret less." Wouldn't really regret at all, maybe.

Somehow Sam realized it anyway. Just from that.

"It wanted you to hurt me, didn't it?" Sam said, his voice subdued with realization.

Dean's mind went blank on that, on what to say, wanting to deny it, to reassure Sam that that wasn't true.

But it was.

The lack of words, the silence that stretched on too long from his inability to find them, had to be enough of a confirmation.

"Are we done?" His voice came out sounding weary and weighted. He really didn't want to talk about this anymore.

He sure as hell didn't want to see the look on Sam's face, didn't want to know what he felt at finding out that the man who was supposed to look out for him and have his back was the one that was daydreaming about—

He didn't want to see the hurt on Sam's face.

Or worse.

"You won't hurt me," Sam told him softly.

The comfort and the faith and trust.

Dean scoffed derisively. He had told himself the same thing, and he had meant it. He was ready to do whatever it took to keep Sam safe from himself, right down to putting a bullet in his head.

But some days, when his mind and body screamed with the need to hurt, the way it was altering his mind and self, how rapidly it was getting worse, and the way he couldn't tell at times which thoughts were his own thoughts and which thoughts were the thoughts that were being defiled by the monster living inside of him...

Some days, he didn't know anymore.

It seemed to latch on to all the things that had ever gone wrong, to the agony and injustice and fury of what he suffered in Hell.

And it latched on to the things Sam had been doing, felt all that curdle of fear in his gut, the sharp cramp of hurt converting into his anger, feed into the darkness.

He felt the dull oncoming burn at these thoughts, disrupting the seemingly falsified and fragile tranquility that had been pervading him since the day he spilled his own blood.

He reminded himself that Sam stopped.

He stopped for him.

"You won't, Dean," Sam insisted when he caught sight of the doubt on his face. "I mean, I don't know what it's like for you. Honestly, I… I can't even imagine what you're going through… but I know you, okay? I know you better than anyone I know. And I know you'll do everything you can to make sure you don't hurt anyone."

Least of all me, was unspoken, but Dean knew that was what he meant too, and Sam was looking at him with so much conviction and faith in his words that Dean couldn't help but believe them too.

Maybe he could. He could fight it long enough for them to win, for them to get it out of him. Dean had been trying so fucking hard to not let it consume him whole, but it had gotten so bad by this point, and it only kept getting worse, and there were days when Dean thought that this would be the day it would take over, the day he wouldn't be able to make it out of the door and somewhere far, far away before he…

There were thoughts and urges that invaded his mind and body that made him believe, with even more ferocity, that he belonged back in Hell.

But Sammy believed in him.

He believed in him in times and ways that he didn't believe in himself.

Dean remembered being eighteen and thinking he was too stupid to pass his GED test, that all he had ever been meant to be was a brainless, gun-toting soldier. Barely paid any attention in school because he knew he didn't have a future anyway, so he tried to make sure that Sammy did. His baby brother was a genius and he could be anything he wanted to be, unlike Dean.

So he spent all that time fucking around and trying to focus on making sure Sam got to finish his homework and assignments on time and learn all his tests (and maybe, even if it would kill him to watch him leave, get out of this shitty, hopeless life of theirs and go to some preppy college, because Sam deserved better and he could make it in all the ways Dean didn't think he himself ever would. Even when he did later, even when it turned out that it shredded Dean apart on the inside when it happened, he was more proud than he could ever put into words of the kid).

Dean did pass in the end. He got As and Bs and Cs, adding up to a B overall, somehow (because he studied harder when his kid brother told him that he was the smartest person he knew and he didn't want to let him down), and he remembered the way Sam beamed at him proudly, genuinely amazed, and even though Dean waved it off with feigned exasperation and a joke then, he spent a long time after thinking about that look on Sam's face and the way he hugged him and mumbled into his shoulder, "I'm really proud of you, Dean. You know that, right?"

It wasn't the same situation. Furthest thing from something so seemingly mundane and normal now.

But that need to make sure he deserved Sam's belief and faith in him…

That was still there after all these years.

Dean huffed slightly, a small smile quirking up the side of his lips. It got the message through, because Sam's lips twitched into a reciprocal of it.

They fell into silence then. Dean fell into his thoughts too, feeling a renewed sense of hope and strength diffusing heatedly in his gut. The images of the movie on the screen mutedly played on, but he wasn't paying it any attention.

And then, "Hey, Dean?"

"Hm?"

There was quiet for a moment. When he glanced at Sam, the expression on his face was the one he wore when he was trying to gather the words, trying to say something in a way that didn't trespass on Dean's rule against sentimentality.

"Losing you…" The thought of it seemed to tighten his features slightly with pain. He swallowed, his throat convulsing visibly. "That'd be worse than anything it could make you do to me… you know? So uh… just. Just promise me you won't let that happen again, okay?"

Dean wasn't going to. He didn't want to. If it was down to him hurting Sammy and hurting himself, then he knew what he should be choosing. What he'd rather choose.

But one look at those damn eyes, and suddenly all he wanted was to make sure Sam never had any reason to look like that.

"Okay, Sammy. Okay."

December 28th, 2008

The better times lasted three months at best.

Dean woke up one night, fiery-red images of fire and blood still haunting his thoughts, sweating and shaking.

And Sam wasn't in the other bed, the way he had been in all these past weeks.

There was a voice, muffled and distant, from outside the door.

"Yeah. I'll be there," Sam muttered. "Half an hour tops, Ruby. Promise."

Dean stared at the beige-painted, cracked ceiling, the motel fan spinning around in blurred revolutions in the faint moonlight, as the muted scuff of footsteps faded away.

His vision was greying at the corners as the world started to dim again, his mind and heart fighting to detach from himself. The darkness was casting its shadows over them again, and the flames were slowly flooding back again into the hew of emptiness that had hollowed itself inside of him, setting fire to his sanity and soul.


Author's Note: Five more dream-flashbacks exploring their past in the AU!World, which should be done by the next chapter, and then we go back to the real world. There is a reason why Sam went back.

A huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to:

shadowhuntingdauntlessdemigod

ncsupnatfan

jensensgirl3

Lizaloves

Guest

EmilyAnnMcGarrett-Winchester

reannablue

Iuvsbruce

I Am A Difference Maker

hend eslim

Elliesamdeangirl

lina89

SilverNightfall

sam x dean

Yuki x Machi (chapter 14 and 15)

lala

Negar.N

Lilyscout5

Bunny

Jared and Jensen

ChloeheartsClark

for all of their sweet and kind comments! I loved hearing all your thoughts so, so much and it means a lot to know that you're all still enjoying the story. Thank you so much for all your support and encouragement! *hugs* Thank you so much to all those who tagged the story as favorite and/or alerts! Thank you so much to all those that are still reading, silently or otherwise. I'm glad that you're liking the story enough to continue reading! :D You're all awesome