Author's Note: And thus we come to the finale! I apologize for the delay – computer troubles. Please see final note at end.
Summary: He had to do something to relieve that ache. Warnings: deals with self harm; some language.
The silence in the car had become painful and nearly tangible more than an hour previous, but Sam hadn't been willing to shatter it. The young man cursed the brilliant sunlight washing through the windows – it was out of place and, therefore, unwelcome.
He itched to turn on the stereo – even the elder's tape collection was preferable to the swirling quiet. But Dean had left the radio turned off and, that morning, Sam wasn't going to fiddle with any of the settings in his brother's car.
If Dean wanted the stereo off, there would be no music. If Sam was hot and the heater was on, he would sweat. If he was cold and the air conditioning was blowing, he would shiver.
The first structures of some random spit of a town interrupted the sun-washed landscape. Sam watched the buildings gather and group, becoming more than just outskirts. Tentatively, he asked, "Want to get breakfast?"
"No." Dean's reply was curt and clipped, the elder not glancing away from the road.
Sam turned to the window, snapped back into silence.
At length, almost as though it were an afterthought, Dean questioned, "You hungry?"
"No," the younger answered gently, even though he was. If his brother didn't want to stop, he could wait to eat.
Sam abhorred the frost in the elder's tone, hated that this was how things had gotten between them.
Dean had returned to the motel absurdly late the night previous, the hour ensuring that Sam would, at least, be pretending to sleep when he arrived. Buzzing with nervousness, Sam hadn't slept a wink, either while Dean was at the bar or after he returned.
Sam had been allowed one calming breath, though: when Dean had stepped back into the room, he wasn't bruised up, cut open or drunk. Self-destruction had, apparently, not been his intent for the evening – and that was something, at least.
The silence stretched on as the miles flew by, sunlight glowing all around them. Biting his lip, Sam tried not to shift around, uncomfortable in the pressing stress within the car. He knew his fidgeting would piss his brother off, and, though there were times such would be his sole intent, that morning was not one of them.
Swallowing a sigh, Sam risked a glance to the elder, finding his attention fixed exclusively on the band of highway and the morning traffic, Dean's expression unreadable.
Finally, Sam couldn't stand it any longer. The silence and the strain was slurring into a crushing ache within him. Suddenly, he didn't care if they quarreled; didn't care if Dean stopped the car, demanding he get the hell out, leaving Sam in the middle of nowhere; didn't care if his brother dragged him out and beat him bloody on the shoulder.
He drew a shaky breath, "Dean?"
Receiving no response, Sam shifted nervously, deciding to go for the throat and get whatever would come, over with and done. "Dean… Honest, man, what happened with that boy and the exorcism –"
"Sam, stop," the elder cut him off curtly. He glanced over, seeing the hurt and anxiety that blurred his brother's expression. Closing his eyes for a moment, Dean sighed heavily, "Look… I am never going to be okay with what happened to Evan. Never. It doesn't matter what you say or what you do."
Dean caught the younger's eyes briefly before turning back to the highway. "But I am going to be okay."
A small frown flickered across Sam's countenance. "I don't understand."
"Some things," Dean began quietly, "you don't get over. They stay with you. They shape you." He looked over at Sam, surprised by the intensity with which the younger man was concentrating on his words. "I mean, some shit you can just deal with and move past… But some things…"
"Some things?" Sam prompted.
"It's not about getting over them. It's about just being able to live with them – co-exist with them. Maybe you can't just get past them, but they don't destroy you either."
"Dean, I don't…"
"What I did to Evan – everything that happened with that demon – is going to stick with me… always. Period. And there're gonna be times –" the elder took a deep breath. "There'll be times when it gets bad; when his face or his voice are going to haunt me. But that's all right. So long as his face isn't the only thing I ever see. I just… I have to live with it. I can't move past it or forget it, but isn't going to control me."
Sam was silent for a time, rolling his brother's words around in his head. "I think… Jess is going to be one of those things for me…"
Dean's gaze went immediately to his brother, the elder ready to protest, but Sam spoke first.
"I mean…" the younger rubbed his forehead. "I believe everything you've told me; I can see the truth in it. Her… death was my first vision; I had no reason to suspect it would actually happen… And… And even if I had, even if I'd have told you and we'd have stayed at the apartment armed and ready that weekend… We…" Sam closed his eyes, "We couldn't have stopped it because we didn't know what it was or how to kill it."
"But I will always wonder… What if she hadn't been alone? What if I'd have been there…"
"Sam, the 'what if's' of this business…"
"They'll drive you insane." The younger nodded. "I know." He sighed, "But seeing her burning… Having her die like that… I'll never be okay with it."
"That's all right," Dean's voice was soft. "We persevere. We get through."
"Persevere…" Sam mused, easing back against the seat.
"Yeah, but, Sammy…" The elder rolled his shoulders, taking a long breath of the sun-warmed air. "Persevere doesn't mean ignore. No more of this 'putting your troubles aside' crap. Shit like that doesn't work. It just lets things fester and get worse."
Sam looked to his brother, chewing his bottom lip in unease. He was still so concerned about Dean – in his own view, Sam's own problems seemed trivial in comparison. But he knew the elder wouldn't relent; Dean was permanently affixed in 'big brother mode' and the younger knew Dean would never stop worrying about him.
"I mean…" the elder continued, clearing his throat. "I'd rather just deal with your shit, than deal with it after it gets worse."
"Okay," Sam knew there was deep sentiment buried beneath his brother's curt phrases. "I guess… I'll just keep coming to you…"
"I want you to, you know?" Dean cleared his throat again, and Sam was surprised by how awkward the elder sounded. "And you… you can…"
"I know, Dean. And I will."
"All right. Good."
Sam took several long breaths, trying to gauge his brother before he spoke. "That's a two-way street, right?"
"Yeah, dude," the elder dismissed flippantly. "But, don't worry. I'm fine."
"Look… Dean… I…" Sam closed his eyes; afraid he would destroy the tentative bridges they'd built. "I want you to know… Um…"
"Spit it out, Sammy."
"It wouldn't have mattered when – or where I was – when I found out about Evan. If I was at school or not… I wouldn't blame you, Dean, because it wasn't your fault."
Sam watched his brother clamp his jaw tight, attention again set on the road; but he hadn't been told to stop talking, or to let it alone, so he pressed on quickly. "Aramaic, man… That's not…" He collected himself. "I don't know a word of it. And we both know what it's like translating text in a language you don't know."
The younger shifted, "I mean… You take one phrase out of context and it fucks up the whole thing. You interpret one word literally instead of figuratively and everything ends up meaning something completely different. If you don't know the connotations and the colloquialisms… It's impossible... And with outdated references… It's impossible. I mean… that's why Dad had us learn, actually learn Latin…"
"Look, Sam… Just…"
"Please." Sam begged permission to finish – to finish saying what he should have said as soon as Dean had told him what had happened with the boy; when Sam had been unable to speak with shock and grief sealing his throat. "And then… once that demon was bound to that kid… What the hell else could you have done? You did what you had to when faced with an impossible scenario. You did the only thing you could."
The younger took a deep breath, "And you saved who knows how many lives because you did."
"And a child still died."
"I know," Sam whispered. "And I'm sorry. But a lot more children would have died if that demon hadn't been stopped. You know that."
"I know…" the elder whispered.
Sam watched, guiltily, as his brother's knuckles turned white about the wheel. "I'm glad you told me…"
Dean chuckled lightly in the back of his throat. "No, you're not."
"Yeah. I really am." Sam caught the quick look his brother spared him. "You told me I could come to you. Anytime I need to, for anything I need."
"Well, yeah, of course…"
"And you told me," the younger pressed on quickly, "that you would never judge me. Never condemn or reproach me."
"No way, Sammy."
"Well, that echoes back from me to you as well. Okay?" Sam forced his lips to quirk slightly. "I mean, I know how you hate your 'chick flick' moments… But, like you said: 'chick flick' is getting all cushy over nothing. This shit isn't nothing."
"Who'd 'a thought you actually listened to me when I was talking to you, huh?"
"Yeah…" Sam pushed a hand through his hair. "I just… I know that what happened with Evan isn't the only weight you're carrying around. And you were right: I have no idea the kinds of things – the awful things – you've had to see and participate in…"
He picked at the cuff of his sweatshirt. "So, um, if you ever want to talk about them… Or just… get them off your chest… Day or night, man… I mean… I won't try to pry it out of you or anything… But if you ever want to…"
"Yeah, Sam. I get it."
"I just want you to know I'm not going to judge or condemn either."
"I'm with yah, Sammy."
The younger sighed, rubbing his palms up the sleeves of his shirt. "Are you going to keep cutting?"
Dean shot the younger a strange look, "I gave you a promise."
"Yeah… I just thought…"
"Those promises don't fade in and out." The elder hit the gas, passing a campervan. "Every single one still stands." He glanced quickly to his brother. "So, I am still going to do anything to stop this shit from breaking you. We are going to get that son of a bitch demon that did this to you and to our family. And I – we – are not going to be cutting; we'll use a different method to get through. We'll get through."
"Dean, you… you said the ice made it worse for you, right? That it made you want to cut more badly?"
"Yeah. But it works for you, so…"
"So we need to find another alternative. What else can we try?"
"Nothing." That clipped tone was back.
"Nothing because you don't know of anything else? Because I can look up…"
Sam frowned heavily, leaning back against the seat, "Why the hell not?"
"Because I don't deserve–" Dean cut himself off quickly, reigning in his emotions. "There shouldn't be an alternative for people like me."
"People like you?" the younger snorted, shaking his head. "Listen, you are a good person." He took a breath, "And the best man I know."
"You ought to meet more people."
"It wouldn't matter if I met every person on this planet."
The elder gave his brother an odd look. "You're biased."
"Maybe. But I stand by what I said." Sam wrung his hands, "Look, these things that have happened to you – whatever they are… And everything with Evan… It's horrible. But it wasn't your doing. It isn't right for you to blame yourself."
"What isn't right, is for you take fault in Jessica's death. Or for Dad to blame himself for Mom."
Sam frowned, "Dad blames himself for Mom?"
"Of course he does. Always has."
Sam shook his head. "This family… Man…"
Dean didn't reply, fixing his concentration on the crowded highway.
"If nothing else, Dean," Sam piped up again, deciding he needed to leave the slate clean. "I can't have you trying to get yourself busted up on the job. Or in a bar fight. Or anywhere else. It's too dangerous." He lowered his eyes, "It's too fucking dangerous. I'd rather if you cut…"
Dean bit his tongue, pretending to focus on the road while images of Sam diving in front of him skirted the view behind his eyes. He could see, too vividly, the gnarled wound that had split his little brother from shoulder to elbow. Yes, it was too dangerous.
"It won't happen again. And I'm not going to cut."
"You made that promise to me. I… I can let you out of it…"
"No, Sam. It's time. I… I've wanted to stop for a while now. But it's…"
"Yeah…" Dean sighed. "But, um… The cutting, it helps… But it's temporary and it gets in the way of the job. 'Cause if the cuts hurt or if they itch… it's a distraction and a hindrance."
"Yeah," Sam could easily relate to the statement.
"So, hold me to my word. I'm done. I'll stop."
"So, you're just going to go this cold turkey?"
Dean cast his brother a coy grin. "I'll get through."
"I want to help you through…"
"I know, Sammy. And I'll let you know when you can. But, look, man…" The elder flashed that same grin again. "Some of this shit, I gotta manage on my own. And you have to let me do that."
"Okay?" Dean raised an eyebrow, disbelievingly.
Sam smirked. "I'll try."
The elder nodded smugly, "That's what I thought."
The grin faded slowly from Sam's lips, the younger turning downcast eyes to the floor. "You know… Um… Sitting here… I just… I keep thinking about when I was sixteen… When I started… I was such an idiot."
"No, you weren't."
"I should have gone to you back then… Before things got so bad that I was slashing at myself in the school bathroom. Or… or after…"
"Yeah, Sam, you should have." Dean met his brother's look calmly. "But you were scared and I didn't know enough about what was going on with you – I didn't know anything about cutting. So, yes, you should have come to me. But I also should have approached you or, you know, let you know I was there…"
"I… um…" Sam turned to his brother, despite Dean watching the road. "I wanted to thank you… again. For all that you've done for me. And not just in regards to the cutting… Everything. Including all the things I'll never even know you've done."
Dean cast the younger a smug look, ready to make some wise crack, but before he spoke his expression sobered, the elder simply nodding once. "You're welcome. I'd do it again."
Sam smiled, "I know."
The warm wash of sunlight that flowed through the open window was soothing, Sam unaware it had lulled him into sleep until he was jolted awake by something plunking down into his lap. He started awake, looking around frantically, like a deer caught in the headlights, until his gaze found his brother smirking at him from the parking lot.
Sam just shook his head, taking a deep breath of country air. He looked down at the doughnut box in his lap. "What's this?"
"Lunch," Dean shrugged, moving around to the driver's side.
"We already had lunch!" Sam shouted at his brother's back.
The door swung open, "Dinner then."
"At three in the afternoon?"
The elder slid the keys into the ignition, grinning. "Snack, afternoon tea, early birthday gift, late Christmas present… Call it whatever the hell you want!"
Sam chuckled, flipping open the lid, expecting the box to be full of the cream-filled pastries he hated, but which Dean swore by. He blinked in surprise when he found a dozen of the pink-icing-topped doughnuts that had made his mouth water since he was boy. "Oh, sweet!"
Dean laughed, swinging the car back onto the freeway, window open to welcome the warm wind.
"Hey, man, thanks. But I can't eat all of these."
"Yeah and you better not," the elder quipped, reaching over to snatch one of the doughnuts, taking a bigger bite than he should have been able to.
"But, I thought…"
"Ah, hell, Sammy," he smirked. "Dad and I might have given you shit about your girly pink doughnuts… but we always knew they were the best ones."
"Hah! I told you!"
Dean looked over to his brother and smiled, "Doesn't mean you're not still girly, though."
Sam opened his mouth to retort, but every insult he knew escaped his mind. He'd seen it – that glimmer of the grin in his brother's eyes. Dean's shields had been retracted.
Sam smiled softly with the first taste of sugary, strawberry pink. They were going to be okay – not perfect; reality had no love of the story-book ending. They'd have moments – some good, some bad and some where pain and temptation would beckon in the gleam of cold, sharpened steel. But Sam knew they'd get through – they'd fall back on each other and get though.
Contentedly, the younger settled against the seat, letting the lingering taste of sweet glaze hover on his tongue. He smirked, "Man, you have icing all over your face." He laughed aloud. "Pink suits you."
"Dude!" Dean tried to lick the frosting from his lips, making the whole mess worse. "Shut up."
A/N: I've never put one of these at the end of anything before, but, this time, I felt it was somehow appropriate. This is the longest piece I've ever posted and it's due to the amazing support I've received. I want to thank everyone who reviewed, all who read through to the end and my fantastic Beta.
I know the subject of this story is somewhat controversial and, indeed, very personal. I've done all I can to present it in an open, un-biased, honest and realistic manner. Whether I succeeded or not is for you to judge.
There are getting to be more and more fics that address the matters presented in this story. It is my hope that the subject will be handled with the same care and consideration that I attempted. I'm also glad to be finishing and stepping back now, before this theme can become just the next 'phase.'
To anyone out there who is, or has been, a cutter, never forget that there is hope and there is help. You do not, and should not have to go through it alone.
And lastly, I'd love to know what you thought of the ending! I currently have no ideas for other stories, but if you have something I can adopt (and by adopt, I mean, steal) I would be ecstatic. Please do leave me a final note; good, bad or ugly.