That was the first thought that filtered into Dean's throbbing brain, which felt like it was squeezing against the walls of his cranium. He groaned loudly, hands reaching up to clutch at his head as he curled up on the hard mattress. The blaring sunlight through the motel windows made him see orange behind his eyelids. The waves of nausea rippled from his stomach to his throat. When he swallowed down the dryness, it felt like forcing down prickling needles. He coughed slightly at the sensation, slowly dragged himself up to sit on the edge of the bed, heels of his palms pushing into his temples.
This was usually the moment Sam came in with a styrofoam cup of coffee, handing it over to him silently. It had become a part of his routine, as had drinking nocturnally until he was past consciousness so that the numbness and darkness would set in lieu of everything else, of the deadness and the constant dull, rotting ache inside of him. He had come to depend on both these things in consecutive sequence. It was another one of Sam's little ways to compensate and ease his guilt, taking up the responsibility to get all the meals throughout the day. Dean couldn't say it helped much. The kinds of things Sam had done were hard to make up for.
Sometimes he wasn't sure how—if— he'd ever forgive him, and above all, trust him. He had tried. He really had.
But he had come back from hell, the hell that he went to and suffered for forty years in, for and to a brother that had become everything Dean didn't want him to. To Sam addicted on the vilest substance Dean could name and fucking rolling around in beds with the same species of a monster that killed their mother, the love of his life. Dean had warned him time and time again, and he kept choosing her, just never fucking listened to him because...because what? Because he thought that his return from Hell made him weak and broken and scared and not capable of faith anymore like he had said under the Siren's influence?
In the hotel room, he had given him the ultimatum, him or her, and Sam had let him know exactly who he chose by wrapping his hands around his throat and almost strangling him to death.
And then walking out on him as he laid bloodied and bruised on that floor.
It ended with him jumpstarting armageddon.
Because Sam went through with it with that bitch Ruby, even after him pouring his fucking heart out in that voicemail. He went in after Sam into the convent after a verbal ass-whooping by Bobby, but he was too late (not late enough to stab Ruby in the chest). But at the end of it all, there was no question that he had lost any hope for the two of them, that they could ever get back from it all to where they used to be.
"Sam?" Dean grumbled. He bent over, groaning as his stomach lurched and the ache in his head increased tenfold, pain shooting through his eyeballs as he squeezed them shut once more.
There was no response besides a light rustle from in front of him.
His blinked hard again, vision blurring, his jaw clenched against the discomfort, and then he slowly forced them open.
His gaze landed on Sam.
And he froze.
The sudden jolt of cold horror in his chest sobered him up completely, eyes widening beneath pinched brows at the sight in front of him. His gut twisted again, aggravating his hangover sickness a notch.
"What the hell…" Dean growled, his widened eyes roving up and down quickly over his brother's frame. "What the hell…"
There were livid bruises on his face, painfully dark and varying in colors. Puffy left eye, split mouth, purple-blue jaw and cut, reddened cheeks. There were finger-shaped bruises and small cuts on his arms, on his torso through his shirt. Thick, dried up blood matted up in his hair, some trailing down from his nose and smeared across his lips. Another thin trickle continued from there down his chin. Strangulation marks curved around his neck. There were streaks of brown on walls, on the carpet, on Sam's bedsheets and his plain white t-shirt, which was ripped in multiple places. The room was a mess, chairs upturned, the small table's legs snapped off as it laid flat, all the items from desks and tables crashed to pieces on the floor. Shards of glass scattered all over, some of them stained with blood. Fuck.
His right hand was chained to the bed-frame, wrist chafed red raw, pieces of skin sticking out and blisters oozing beads of blood.
"D-ean…?" Sam rasped, and...fuck, he sounded afraid, his voice trembling. It fucking hurt, broke his heart in a way he didn't think possible after everything, after the shitty year they've had. The familiar decades-old rush of a strong, furious protectiveness and worry cut through the deadness in him, and it would have been surprising in any other circumstances.
What the hell happened?
The guilt struck into his chest and left him momentarily breathless, pushed down on him like a boulder as the splatters of blood in the motel room made him realize, whatever had happened had happened right here, right in front of him while he was passed out from too much whiskey on his bed. Somebody, humans judging by the intact salt lines, broke in and did this to his brother. He didn't remember much from last night, so he didn't know who and how many people (probably more than a handful because Sam was a hard guy to take down) he pissed off enough for them to go after his brother.
If he got his hands on those bastards, he'd fucking kill them.
Nobody put that fear in his brother's voice and that big, round-eyed look on his face and got away with it.
All the shit that happened the past year didn't change that sentiment, it seemed.
"I-I'm s-sorry about last night," Sam blurted out, nervous and quivering, free hand gripping his sheets tightly as he quickly rooted his gaze to it. "It wasn't my place, I know. I-I won't do it again, Dean."
Dean's brows pinched in confusion. What?
"Do… do what, Sam?" There was no context to Sam's words, none that he could remember, at least. Something was nagging at Dean in the back of his mind, the pit of his gut. There was something very fucking wrong with this situation, but he pushed it back and tried to focus on the matter at hand.
Sam didn't provide any further explanation. Dean pushed to his feet, intending to cross the three feet distance between their beds and examine the damage more thoroughly. He had a lot of questions, but his brother seemed too shaken up to be ready for them. Whatever had happened last night, the damage those sons of bitches (that were soon to be very fucking dead) caused, had to be bad. Bad enough to have put that tremor in his voice and the submissive hunch in Sam's shoulders. Sam. Second most badass hunter on the planet next to him and one of the toughest bastards he knew.
His baby brother that nobody got to fuck with without losing something vital.
When Dean stood up, Sam's eyes snapped up to him alertly, as if he had been keeping him in his peripheral vision, face draining of color. He shifted tensely on the bed, as if ready to bolt at any fast movement (probably would have if it hadn't been for the handcuffs).
And then it hit him in that moment.
That Sam was looking at him with that terror in those puppy-dog eyes of his.
That Sam was scared of him.
He didn't… he couldn't have. Nah.
There was no fucking way.
As if in some desperate attempt to prove it to himself that it wasn't what he thought it was, he found himself moving too fast, striding towards Sam.
Only to jolt to a halt half-way through as Sam scrambled back into the wall behind him, shoving himself against it as tightly as he could, eyes large as his shoulders and hands shook, twisting the sheets. His chained wrist was stretching towards himself as far as it would go, and it appeared painful and uncomfortable as fuck. He squirmed slightly, gulping down what looked like a whole load of fear.
He was looking at Dean.
Like he was the one that did it to him.
Dean felt the sickness come back, ten times stronger. He swallowed hard, stumbled the rest of the couple of steps towards his little brother.
"I-I… wai-wait, please," Sam choked out tremulously as he kept moving, and something inside of Dean died at his begging words (what the fuck happened, goddamnit?!). His hand jerked against the handcuffs, some desperate, frantic, hopeless attempt to escape. His darting, anxious glances bounced between him and the exit door.
"Sam, I…" Dean trailed off, throat tight. He reached the edge of the bed, nearly staggering to drop on it as he grabbed at Sam's recoiling arms. "I didn't…"
He wanted to say, I didn't do this to you.
He wanted it to be true.
He wanted it to be nothing more than some horrible, twisted misunderstanding somehow.
He didn't want his hands to be the one that did this.
But he was trying to remember what happened last night and he couldn't. He was searching for a proof somewhere that he wasn't the one responsible for those ugly wounds and the blood on his brother, but all he had was Sam looking at him with purple-colored eyes like he was waiting for him to start swinging his fists into him again. He caught sight of his knuckles, curled around Sam's biceps, and they were darkened too with collisions of bone against bone and flesh, phantasmical throbs of pain from memories he didn't remember.
"Sam, it's… it's fine. Everything's fine," Dean whispered to him, didn't quite know what he was offering the absolution that wasn't even his to give for. He watched his cowering baby brother, shaking, bruised arms raised up over his face protectively. When the pain and shame and guilt shoving in and in and in between his ribs got too much, Dean squeezed his eyes and tried to breathe through the overwhelming bouts of them.
"You… you won't hurt… me?" he asked, sounded too heartbreakingly young and fragile in that moment.
Dean let go of him, backing away. His head still hurt, but the damn pain and sorrow pressing into his airless chest was really what was at the forefront of his attention. "No, bud," he said softly, tried to push down the burn in his throat. "You're safe. You're okay."
It didn't help his lungs when he saw Sam's startled expression shift to a bewildered and wary stare.
While Sam showered, muffled taps of water droplets hitting the bathtub from behind the door, Dean sat on the bed, begged his (still aching) brain to regain its memories of last night (as much as he dreaded to really remember).
His mind remained blank, besides a bad feeling and an image in the back of his mind that he couldn't catch. The only thing he knew was that it had to do with last night, that it was of Sam. The burn of frustration in him grew the longer it stayed unclear and out of his reach.
The images of Sam's physical state filtered into his brain once again. All the blood, the wounds, the gut-wrenching terror making his face look as young as he used to be, his small, scrawny body curling up in Dean's arms under the roars of thunderstorms outside their motel rooms. His chest clenched too tight and he closed his eyes, hanging his head, breathing heavily. He ran a hand down his mouth, rubbing at his chin.
The amount of damage he had done on his brother, all of it, in one night…
Hell, the fact that he even hurt him at all in the first place...
What did this mean?
Did it mean...
The same darkness that had plagued inside of him when he broke down from all the torture and agony and tore apart a screaming, weeping soul… was it returning?
Was he slowly becoming that same violent monster again somehow, starting with him hurting his own baby brother? Did he only become one when he couldn't think and control what he was doing?
Why was it happening now?
It had hung over his head for a long while after he had dug out of his own grave, that something might come along and set him off and he'd become Alistair's demented, brutal and bloodlusting little string-puppet again, mindless and insane in his rage and grief. He had been afraid of himself for a long time, lying awake at 2am nights, staring at plain cracked ceilings as he re-lived his own suffering and the sufferings caused at his bloodied, filthy hands on them, wondering if he'd someday lash out in a way he couldn't ever come back from, break something that couldn't ever be fixed. The guilt and shame and sorrow was a constant weight in the back of his mind, on his chest.
Always wondering if he could ever be trusted wholly anymore.
The bathroom door clicked open and Sam walked out, towel wrapped around his waist. Dean raised his gaze and saw his brother's sickening, abused half-bare body and wondered if the answer had always been so clearly never. Not after the things he'd done.
Who was to say he wasn't capable of doing that to Sam after all of it?
Before he could completely begin to drown in his disgust and shame towards himself, however, he noticed something.
The wounds on Sammy's body, back and torso, shoulders to waist… many of them were half-healed or only recently scarred. Large bruises were fading away in varying degrees. They were weeks old at most, some older than others, and he was a hundred percent certain that they were never there yesterday, nor the last time he'd patched Sam up, a nasty slash on his side a month ago from a werewolf they had hunted in Miami. Bastard had got a pretty good shot at him, and it needed about eight stitches to close it up. Sam's skin was mostly unscathed, besides a few bad scars here and there. He knew every one of them.
None of that was there yesterday when Sam came out of the shower either.
He didn't want to know what caused most of them, because they didn't look like something that could only be done by bare hands.
On top of that, Sammy was thin.
Ribs and collarbones and hip bones and spine sticking out in a way it hadn't yesterday. Sam's cheekbones were a little more prominent, sunken into his face along with his darkened, fatigued eyes, arms and legs slimmer. Last night, Sammy was still as fit and athletic as his working out hours and his gross rabbit food made him.
Now he looked...smaller. Bonier. Weaker. His muscle mass was reduced quite considerably, like he hadn't been eating right or exercising for a while, and he walked slower, shoulders slumped like he didn't have enough energy to keep himself upright.
That sure as fuck didn't happen overnight.
Sam became aware of his observant stare after a quick dart of a glance towards him before abruptly flitting away. It seemed that he mistook it for anger instead, because he was suddenly trembling again, as hard as he was trying to control it by clenching his fists against the desk where his duffel bag was placed. His body language was tense and cautious, head bowed down as he presumably tried to calm himself.
Sam's behavior, including his reaction earlier, were of an indication that this had happened more than once.
As far as he knew, it hadn't.
He ruffled through his bag for clothes, hands still quivering but trying so very hard not to seem frantic. Dean finally managed broke his stare away from his injured and beaten body, not wanting to make him any more uncomfortable than he already had just now.
So what the fuck was going on?
He needed coffee before he could think through that, and he needed the damn painkillers to kick in already.
After dressing and coming out of the bathroom, Sam slipped over to where his jacket was draped on the back of a chair. He pulled his wallet out of the pocket, opened it and flipped through the notes. There were very few of them.
Sam's expression morphed into one of troubled, face crestfallen at, possibly, the shortage of money.
Dean was often the breadwinner, being the better pool hustler of the two. Not that Sam was exactly bad. But the kid had a lot less practice and a lot of moral objections against it, cheating dumb big dudes out of their money through the faćade of a drunken, reckless and young idiotic man. Dean didn't really get why he was so against it, considering their entire life was an illegal crime. It was dishonest, but it was just survival.
The money earned was always split equally, albeit Sam's guilty look as he accepted it. Right now, he'd be willing to bet he himself had ten times the amount Sam did.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam asked, his voice small and hesitant.
Dean's gaze turned to him. It was pretty damn hard to remember why he had been so pissed the past two months when he looked and sounded like that, the effect of those damn eyes only enhanced by the loss of weight and his harrowing facial wounds. "Yeah, Sammy?"
There was a flash of an emotion that Dean could only tie with the nickname.
Sam glanced at his nearly empty wallet, mouth opening slightly, working to get the words out. "I…"
Dean stood up and walked over to his own jacket before he could start, understanding immediately what he wanted to ask for. Sam's head raised, following him.
"I… I didn't waste it," he explained hastily, quite unnecessarily too. Money was bound to run out eventually, but for some reason, he sounded like he was expecting to be blamed or doubted of something for it. Dean picked up the black overgarment from the other chair. "I-I spent it all on whatever you wanted me to…"
"Really not a big deal, Sammy. Don't worry about it," Dean waved it off, finding the lump of wallet in his pocket. This was yet another sign that something wasn't right, that something had changed here (he'd bet his soul again that it had something to do with those fucking winged douchebags up in the sky). He was pretty sure he had never restricted Sam from spending any amount of money. Not like he ever had to anyway when Sam was already too careful and frugal about how much he used their finances. He never did anything regarding this to make Sam sound like that.
He handed his brother half the money in his wallet, two hundred and twelve dollars out of four hundred and twenty four. Sam stared at him, looked for all the world confused. "Why…"
Dean shrugged. "It's yours. It's what we've always done, right?"
Sam didn't say anything for a moment. Then, he did, "I-It's fine. I don't want it." He held it out to him again. There was a sort of a weary knowing hanging in his eyes. Except, Dean had no idea what he thought he knew.
His brows scrunched up. "Why?"
"I know what I don't deserve." He smiled sadly. He sounded like he was parroting something from a memory.
Dean didn't know if he wanted to know.
Fortunately, Sam gave in and took the money after some insistence. Unfortunately, it wasn't out of acceptance, but probably fear of consequences if he argued too much. Dean didn't really get what was going on there, but well, he supposed he'd be better off not knowing or else he just might break something.
He didn't let Sammy get them breakfast when he went to the door, not with the way he subtly grimaced in pain every step he walked. Honestly, what kind of a dickless bastard…
Apparently, the him of this world.
That was the conclusion he had reached, which seemed to be the only one that made any sense. It was… a lot, even with what they already dealt with on a daily basis, but certainly not out of the ballpark of possibilities. It also worked with his belief that this had something to do with those dicks with wings, since they seemed to be the only creatures with that sort of power.
This wasn't his world. It just couldn't be. Things didn't fit here, too many inconsistencies and dissimilarities, some subtle, out of nowhere from what he had known yesterday in his own world.
The least subtle being that he had abused his own baby brother.
He had checked the date, which followed the one he had known as yesterday's, so there was no lost time. He hadn't been possessed or controlled.
The indications behind Sam's behavior regarding the duration of this horrible situation. Sam's battered body not being the same as it was yesterday. There were bruises on his own fists, but the drunken, hazy memories he finally recalled didn't match. He had said some shitty things to his brother due to zero filter on his mouth, by courtesy of nearly a whole bottle of cheap, shit whiskey, but he hadn't laid a goddamn finger on him before he dropped on that bed.
"G-get… get offa me 'fore I sock you in the face."
That felt like shit to think about now.
There was a sort of conflicted relief that loosened his ribs with that revelation. It wasn't him. Not really, right? It was some asshole variation of him in another universe. It wasn't his own actions, exactly, even if that douchebag was him. Or not really. The son of a bitch might have his face and his name, but he sure as hell wasn't Dean where it mattered.
He wasn't really turning into that demented, brutal, insane little string-puppet owned by Alistair again.
Dean swallowed, the lump of fear forming in his throat at the thought of it again, knuckles whitening around the curve of the steering wheel. He didn't ever want to become that.
Certainly never wanted to become that with his little brother around.
No matter what Sam had done the past year, no matter how bad it hurt him, Dean couldn't bear the thought of anyone hurting his brother, let alone himself.
On the other hand, however, the relief was mingling with a different kind of compunction; for even feeling the relief itself. It didn't feel like something he should be relieved about when someone had still hurt his brother so brutally. In all honesty though, even the secondhand shame still remained, despite his understanding that it wasn't him at all that did those heinous things.
"Fleetwood Diner," he read out loud as he pulled the car to a stop. "That looks...somewhat decent. What d'you think, Sammy?"
Sam flickered a glance at him, and then gave a small, jerky nod.
There was a lot of tension between them these days, this time due to an entirely different reason, however. Even so, the things that had happened, the impact of it all, was still there. He just felt a lot more compelled to keep it on hold for now, unless he was alright with acting pissed at his horribly abused kid brother, by a man of his own face no less, and feeling like the piece of shit that it would totally make him for doing that.
From what he figured based on certain observations, things had gone quite similarly here as it had in his own Earth. There was a time when the him of this world had loved Sammy, judging by the scar he remembered was still in the centre of Sam's back when he came out of the shower. This Dean must have sold his soul for Sam too, gone to hell and back for him (unless he was brought back by some other means somehow but it was better to set that aside for now).
So what was different here that led to him becoming this?
Did he come back from Hell a more changed person than he himself had? Perhaps into something worse than just feeling a constant sense of an emptiness, like everything had been ripped out of him, of a weariness beyond his years and a soul older than he really was and the unspeakable remorse of his bloodshed down there.
How long had it all been going on?
Hell, was this even a real fucking world where he dropped off the face of his own planet onto here? Or was he in some weird comatose state out there right now where he was having this vivid, realistically-detailed, fucked up dream? He had considered stabbing himself in the gut to wake himself up if it had been the latter, but he had no idea if he'd actually die or not. He couldn't risk it.
Was his own Sammy okay?
Dean hoped to god he was. Probably just worried out of his mind.
Author's Note: Thank you to
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