Asylum Aftermath

Summary: The brothers deal with the fallout after leaving Roosevelt Asylum.

A/N: I wrote this a while back, when the episode first aired. Thought I would post it tonight, in honor of the repeat.

"You hate me that much? You think you can kill your own brother? Then go ahead. Pull the trigger. Do it!"

Sam took the gun his brother offered and fired once, twice, three times. Dean gasped as the first bullet hit him, and then nothing. Blood exploded from his chest, splattering Sam's arm, clothes, face. Sam held the gun a moment longer, willing Dean to move the smallest amount, his finger itching to pull again. But it was pointless. Dean was dead.

Sam awoke from the nightmare with a blinding pain in his head and visions of his dead brother filling every space in his brain. The horror squeezed his heart and twisted his stomach, sending him staggering to the bathroom. He barely made it in time, arching painfully against long spasms of nausea that seemed to spring from the very core of his being. He drew several ragged breaths as the sickness finally abated. Utterly spent, he leaned back against the cold ceramic of the tub and pressed shaking hands to his head.

Dean lay on his bed, fully awake and at war with himself. Sam was sick. He should go to him. That was Dean's job: to help Sam, to protect him. Sam, who three days earlier had shot his brother (his helper, his protector) not once but several times. Sam, who, if Dean had not had the foresight to hand him an empty gun, would have pumped three bullets into Dean's chest, on top of the full round of rock salt he had actually put there.

Dean's chest still ached as though the wounds were new. It was hard to draw a full breath at all, let alone without wincing. The bruises were stunning in their range and depth, and his skin was scarred from the impact of the salt shards. Thank God it had just been rock salt, but still, the shot had packed a punch he hoped he would never have to experience again.

That pain was nothing, though, compared to the raw, festering wound that had replaced his heart. Not that he would have described it in such melodramatic terms, but the fact remained that it hurt to look at his brother, to even think about him. The ultimate betrayal. He shot me. He hated me enough to kill me. The thought was physically painful. Dean could feel an ache in his chest where his heart had been impaled.

Deep down, Dean knew that on some levels, Sam was right. He did follow his father's orders like a "good little soldier." He always had. At first, it was the thing that bonded him to his dad. After Mary had been killed, John had existed solely for the hunt, solely for revenge. And Dean was young – hell, barely more than a baby himself. But he got it. He understood. Something had taken Mom. And Dad was going to lead the way – find it and kill it. Avenge her death. Save them all. He would help his dad in any way he could – be the squire to his father's knight.

As Dean had grown older, the quest had become his quest, too. He had memories of his mother, of life Before. He had memories of the hunt, and the thrill of victory over every evil spirit, demon, werewolf, witch. He had a pride and a confidence that came from knowing he was good at this – really good. And his father could rely on him without hesitation. Even more, Dean had a purpose. Finding his mother's killer was now his main motivation, as it had been his father's. That and protecting his brother.

Somewhere in the time that his father had been missing, following his father's now-unspoken orders had become the only thing that kept Dean from believing his father was dead. Even – ESPECIALLY – after facing what they had faced in Lawrence, and the gut-wrenching knowledge that even after his broken phone call, John still hadn't come . . . following John's directives was all Dean had left of him. And he needed him, still, with every fiber of his being. John had been the only constant in an inconstant world for 26 years.

As for Sammy – Sam had never understood. He had been indoctrinated before he could walk, before he could speak, and even now, he had very little say in the paths they were taking. He had been made to follow John's orders, and now Dean's. He rebelled then – rebelled enough to abandon father and brother entirely. Only the absolute destruction of his new life could have forced Sam to return. He had come unwillingly, with no other options. Why had Dean been surprised that he had rebelled again now?

But he hated me enough to KILL me, Dean thought again. He clenched his jaw harder, willing himself not to scream, to cry, to implode against that one damning thought.

He heard Sam flush the toilet and waited for him to return to his bed. It had been another dream about Jess, Dean was sure. No other thought could send his brother to his knees like that. Dean felt the tiniest twinge of guilt for not going to him, but Sam would recover. This night and many nights to come, he would recover.

But Sam didn't return to his bed, and long moments passed where he heard not a single sound from the bathroom. And that tiniest twinge of guilt began to grow. Long-ingrained habit battled with the absolute blackness in his soul where Sam used to be. Habit won.

It took every effort Dean had in him to not cry out as he pushed himself into a sitting position. Three days. Damn, when is this going to get better? Not pausing to consider whether he meant his injuries or the shattered bond between himself and his brother, Dean forced himself up and walked to the bathroom.

Normally, he would have just pushed open the almost-closed door, certain in his function and his welcome. Normally, he would not be comforting a brother who had shot him four times.

He paused with his hand almost on the door, deciding to call to his brother instead. "Sam!"

His brother's name was a harsh sound on his lips, and Dean realized it was the first time he had said it since they had left Roosevelt Asylum. They had not made eye contact, had barely spoken since getting on the road again. In the unfamiliar silence, Dean could feel Sam's need to talk, to explain, to ask forgiveness and be forgiven in a way that both brothers knew had not taken place when Sam had made known his lack of supernaturally-induced amnesia. But Dean couldn't bear it. Could. Not. Bear. It. Maybe not ever, but definitely not now. He didn't have the strength. He didn't have the words. And without Dean to create an opening (as usual) Sam had unwillingly embraced the silence.

I have to respect him that much, Dean thought, grudgingly. At least he knows when to shut up.

, Dean thought, grudgingly.

Now was not the time, however, and the silence on the other side of the door was starting to bother Dean. He pushed the door open and braced himself.

Sam was huddled against the tub, his head buried in his hands. His breaths came in short, hard gasps with pauses in between that were long enough to make the certainty of the next one questionable.

"You okay?" Dean stood on the threshold with his arms folded across his chest. He needed the distance between himself and his brother. For protection. Protection from Sam. He only just stifled the semi-hysterical laugh that bubbled up at this thought. It wasn't funny. Not remotely.

Sam just raised a hand, and Dean couldn't be sure if it was it was to summon him closer or keep him at bay. He decided it didn't matter and walked over to sit on the edge of the tub.

"You've got to start coming to grips with this, Sam. Jess is gone. Nightmares are not going to bring her back. Neither is making yourself sick." Even to his own ears, his voice sounded cold, detached. Quit making me worry about this. Quit acting like your pain is deeper than anyone else's. Quit making me take care of you.

Sam answered him without lifting his head and Dean rolled his eyes, exasperated. "What?"

"Not Jess."

This time, Dean heard him but didn't understand.

"If not Jess, then what? Another premonition? You dragging me back to Lawrence again?"

Sam's head twisted up so he could look at his brother. Dean was taken aback by what he saw. Sam looked awful. He had circles beneath his eyes so dark they could have been bruises. His skin was pale and pinched, as though there wasn't enough of it to fit over the bones in his face. And his eyes themselves . . . were haunted. There was no other way to describe the anguish there.

"God, Dean! It was you! What do you think I've been dreaming about the last three days? Shooting you! Killing you!" It was too much for Sam, and his head sank again into his hands. "I killed you," he said again, his voice breaking.

"You didn't kill me. I'm right here." Dean said impatiently. He still didn't want this conversation, couldn't believe they had to have it. He knew he wasn't perfect, but damn it, he had given Sam everything he had. Everything he was. And Sam hated him for it.

"Not because of me. You saved yourself."

There was nothing Dean could say to argue against the truth, even if he had been so inclined. "Well, however it worked out, I'm still kicking."

Sam made a strangled sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. Dean waited, but his brother said nothing more.

"This is getting old, Sam. I need my sleep. So do you. Get back to bed."

Dean stood up, but Sam didn't move. Dean watched him for a moment, and then shook his head. "Have it your way, then."

He started to walk away, and Sam again raised his head. His voice was hoarse when he spoke, as though he was calling on every bit of strength he possessed simply to create sound.

"You don't understand. You always have my back. Everything we've been through – I've never doubted you. Not once. I messed up, leaving. I know that. I know I should have stayed with you, with - " Sam struggled to make himself say it. "With Dad. So many things wouldn't have happened. Jess - "

And here he had to press his hands to his head again. When he continued speaking, he didn't return to that thought.

"I thought I had your back, too. That no matter what we faced, you could trust me, count on me. And you can't."

"Sam." Dean sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. It was so much harder to hold on to the raw hurt inside him when confronted so glaringly with Sam's. He had never been able to let Sammy suffer, and since there wasn't room enough inside him for both of their pain, he let his go. It wasn't a conscious decision, but it didn't need to be.

Dean lowered himself as slowly as he could so that he could sit next to his brother, close enough so that their legs were touching. Sam was shaking – almost imperceptibly, just a vibration beneath his skin.

"Dean, you think I hate you enough to kill you. I don't see how you can ever trust me again. I can't trust myself."

Dean sighed again, letting his head drop back onto the tub's edge. He put a hand to his brother's back, as though trying to absorb some of his brother's torment. He wanted to say . . . he didn't really know what to say. Words were never his thing.

Sam's head was once again in his hands. He said something, but the only word Dean could make out was "weak."

Dean's head snapped up and he moved his hand to squeeze his brother's shoulder.

"You are not weak, Sam." Dean's voice was again harsh, but this time with the need to bridge the distance between them rather than maintain it. "You're a fighter. Just like Dad. Just like me."

While Dean knew that his words weren't true in the purest sense, he meant them. Where Dean was eagerness, Sam was resigned determination. Where John was the consummate soldier, relying on training and instinct, Sam was both cerebral and emotional. Those were Sam's strengths. More than once, those strengths had made the difference between victory and defeat.

"I know you don't hate me."

And suddenly, Dean did know. This had been a horrible incident, for both of them. Dean knew that every word Sam had said had been harbored somewhere in his brain, and fed enough to rise to the surface with the right provocation. And he knew that it would be a long time before he forgot the image of his brother standing over him, squeezing the trigger.

But Sam had been there for him, more times than he could count, in the months that they had been back on the road together. They had gone into each fight shoulder to shoulder, each filling in where the other left off. And even now, with the vivid images of the long night in Roosevelt still crystal clear in his mind, Dean knew he wouldn't hesitate to walk into the next fight with Sam again beside him.

Next time I won't offer him the gun though. Bad idea.

A small smile twisted Dean's lips. If he could joke about it, even to himself, then it would be ok.

Sam drew a labored breath, still strangling on a combination of guilt and shame.

Gently, Dean pulled on Sam's shoulder, drawing him back against the tub. He grimaced as he lifted his arm, but still managed to put it around his brother, both of them leaning against each other for support.

They sat a long time on the bathroom floor, each lost in his own thoughts, trying to compartmentalize this night, the previous week, their lives in general, into manageable pieces. There were no more words spoken between them. But there was the echo of the words Sam had said back at the beginning, that seemed to express what each wanted the other to be certain of.

"You're my brother, and I'd die for you."

It was the Winchester version of "I love you."