A/N: Here it is . . . the final chapter! Thanks to everyone who stuck it out. I hope you enjoy. Mad, mad props to Faye whose patient and encouraging beta made it all happen. You both rock my face off AND make me want 10,000 of your babies (with the epidural, of course).
Disclaimer: Still and always, not mine.
Perchance to Dream
Part VI: By the Cold Light of Day
Dean balanced the duffel of freshly laundered clothes against his hip while he fumbled for the key. He tried to be as quiet as possible, squeaky door notwithstanding, lest he wake Sam. But as he pushed it open, Dean saw him standing next to the bed. Sam looked like he had just risen, his hair sticking up awkwardly, clothes disheveled, posture slump-shouldered and loose.
Dean had spent the morning watching the laundry tumble around and wondering how Sam would react. Would Sam even realize what he'd done? If so, how would he handle it? Sam could go off like a firecracker or nurse a slow burn for days, depending on his perception of whatever wrong had been committed. Dean knew that, if their positions were reversed, he would be furious. Sam's emotions, however, weren't as easy to predict. Dean decided to hedge his bets and act as though nothing unusual had happened. Maybe Sam would let it blow over . . . Yeah, right.
Dean forced a smile and joviality he didn't quite feel, hoping it would be enough for both of them. "'Bout time you woke up, Francis."
Any hopes Dean had of Sam reacting well were dashed when Sam flinched at the sound of his voice.
"Will you please just leave?" Sam was hoarse, his voice rougher than his usual just-woke-up timbre. He kept his back turned.
Dean felt a muscle twitch in his jaw and reminded himself that he'd expected this. Means and ends, he admonished. What's done is done and we're just going to have to deal with it. He suppressed a momentary twinge of guilt and plowed ahead.
"Look, I get that you're pissed, but you have to understand - "
"I do understand." If anything, Sam sounded even more raw. "I told you I'd do it. I get it. What more do you want from me?"
Sam finally turned and Dean's heart plummeted. Sam was a wreck. His face was pale, his eyes red-rimmed and even more bruised than they had been the night before. He was folded in on himself as though prepared for a blow. This can't be good . . .
"Sam, listen, I know you're-"
"Can you just leave? Please?" Sam was begging now. "I can't . . ." He drew a ragged breath. "Just – no more. I'll do it. I know."
And that's when Dean saw the gun.
He involuntarily took a step back, dropping the duffel at his feet and bringing his hands up in a placating gesture. He didn't know what Sam was planning, but it wouldn't be the first time his brother had pointed a loaded gun at him, and Dean wasn't about to take any chances.
"Sam, what are you doing?" He tried to keep his voice as neutral as possible, to convey a sense of calm he wasn't even close to feeling.
Sam shook his head and put a hand to his forehead. He pressed it over his eyes and drew a labored breath.
"I told you I'd do it. Please, just leave me alone. Please."
Dean's eyes went wide as Sam's cryptic words began to make a twisted sort of sense. Sam was planning on using the gun on himself. Dean could feel his heart begin to race. Damn it, what happened?
Dean kept his hands up, trying not to spook his brother. "Sammy, I don't know what you're thinking, but there is no way I'm going to leave you alone. Talk to me. Tell me what's going on."
Sam shook his head more forcefully, and when he dropped his hand, his eyes were wild. "Why are you doing this? You don't have to show me anymore. I know. I know. Just let me – God, just let me - "
Sam turned away again and started to raise the pistol to his head.
Dean made a move toward him and Sam whirled. His foot caught in the blankets hanging off the side of the bed and he went down hard, taking all of his weight on his arm. Dean heard his soft cry of pain, but Sam seemed to recover almost instantly. He was on his feet and pointing the gun at Dean.
Dean stopped where he was and raised his hands again. "I will. I'll stay right here. Just talk to me, Sam. Tell me why you're doing this." Dean had never begged for anything in his life, but he was pleading now, pleading for a way to keep his brother from doing the unthinkable.
"You know why." Sam breathed a small, brittle gasp of air. "You told me."
"What did I tell you?"
Sam closed his eyes. He didn't want to say it again. Why? Why won't he just let me end this? Why does he keep making me . . .
"I am the destruction."
It was whispered so quietly that Dean almost didn't hear, and once it registered, he wished he hadn't. "Sam, no. I don't know where you're getting this, but you are not . . . I would never . . ."
"But I am! I see it! I should have seen it . . . All this time. There's so much that didn't have to happen. It didn't have to happen, Dean!"
Sam's anguish cut Dean to the quick.
"So much blood . . . on my hands . . ." Sam brought his hands in front of him, staring at them in horror.
Dean saw an opening and took advantage. He was on Sam in seconds, instinct allowing him to seek out Sam's weaknesses and exploit them. With one hand, he grabbed Sam's injured arm and wrenched it, driving Sam to his knees. With the other, he seized Sam's wrist, just below the butt of the gun, forcing Sam's arm up against the bed. He slid Sam's finger away from the trigger and slammed his hand against the mattress until the gun fell free.
Sam fought like a wild thing, but the pain from his arm and the lingering influence of the drugs made him a far less formidable opponent. Dean forced an elbow under Sam's chin, turning his head and body so that Dean could wrap his arms around him. He kept firm hands on his brother's wrists and pulled Sam against him, using his arms and legs to lock Sam in. Sam twisted, trying to pull away, but there was no give. Dean felt Sam sag against him, the fight over as suddenly as it had begun. They were both shaking, breathing hard. Dean leaned his chin against his brother's head, overcome by images of what had almost happened.
"What do you want from me?" Sam's voice was so small, a mix of confusion and despair.
Dean felt tears spring to his eyes and he raised his head to the ceiling, blinking them back. "Sammy." He swallowed, struggling to compose himself. "I don't want anything. I just want to know what you're thinking. What is going on in that freaky head of yours?" He was going for light, but the words sounded stretched and anxious, even to his own ears.
"You said - "
"No, Sam. Whatever you heard, whoever said it, it wasn't me. You have to know that, man. It wasn't me."
Sam was silent and Dean bit his lip, trying to be patient. We have all the time in the world, little brother. And if the irony of that sentiment – knowing Sam's time had almost come to an abrupt end seconds before – was enough to make the tears sting again, Dean thought it was a small price to pay.
"It was a dream." Almost a question, and for the first time, Sam sounded hopeful. Desperately hopeful.
Dean nodded, his head still touching his brother's.
Sam seemed to sag a little more, all of his strength gone. Dean shifted to take the extra weight.
"I couldn't wake up, Dean. I couldn't wake up."
Dean felt Sam shudder as the words crashed around them.
I did this. Oh, God. I did this. For the first time, Dean felt the true impact of the decision he'd made. He had allowed – caused – this to happen to Sam. Because of him, because of his belief that he always knew what was best for his brother (even when Sam said no), he had almost lost him.
I almost lost you. He pulled Sam closer, no longer restraining but attempting to comfort. Sammy, I'm so sorry.
"Tell me." He knew Sam needed to say the words and that he, Dean, needed – he needed to hear. Everything. To embrace the guilt for what he'd done. He had to know.
Sam still didn't respond, and Dean dropped his mouth next to Sam's ear. "Please, tell, me, Sammy. I promise, it'll be ok." I will make it ok.
"First, it was you - " Sam felt an almost imperceptible shake against his head, and amended, "I thought it was you. I thought it was real . . . You said it was my fault. Everything. That I was the destruction."
It was far worse, hearing those words again and knowing that Sam had thought they had come from him. Dean closed his eyes, absorbing every word, knowing he deserved every bit of pain they inflicted.
"And then, it was Jess, and she . . . she . . . I was a demon. And she knew. And she . . ." Jess with the holy water, burning him, exorcising him . . .
Dean felt Sam shivering and moved his arms more firmly around his brother, trying to lend him warmth.
"And then it was . . . it was . . ." Sam couldn't continue.
"Was what, Sammy?"
There was a long pause before Sam found the strength to speak again. "It was Mom."
Dean bit back a groan, telling himself he should have expected it, should have known there was a lower level to whatever hell his brother had suffered through.
"She was on the ceiling and Dad was there and they knew – they both knew – and I couldn't tell her why. I couldn't tell her why I'd killed her and Dad said he should've – and then she was burning, we were burning . . ."
Dean felt Sam's tears scald his skin, branding him. If he lived to be an old man, he would never forget the feeling of his brother's tears, and the knowledge that he was their source. That he was to blame. He felt his own slide down his cheeks and he ducked his head, burying it in his brother's hair. I'm sorry, Sam, I'm so sorry.
"And then I thought I was awake and you were here, and I knew I had to end it, that it was my fault, that I was the destruc-"
"No, Sam!" He couldn't bear to hear his brother repeat those words, those awful words. "It was not your fault. It wasn't. It was mine. I did this."
Dean rarely apologized, and even more infrequently was sincere in it. He had never meant the words more than at this moment. "I am so sorry, Sam. I thought I was helping. You hadn't slept in so long, and I thought," – I knew what was best for you – "I thought it would help. Those pills you took were sleeping pills. The ones I gave you. It was my fault, Sam. Mine. "
Now that the words were out, Dean braced himself for the consequences. He kept his hold on Sam, not certain what his brother's reaction would be, but certain it wouldn't be good. How could it be? If their positions were reversed . . .but they weren't. This was about Sam.
"You – you drugged me?"
Dean winced at Sam's incredulity. He could hear the thoughts that undercut Sam's question. I trusted you, and this is what you did? My own brother?
"You drugged me?" Sam was pulling against him now. "Let me go, Dean! Let go of me!"
Dean released him and Sam flung himself away, chest heaving, back braced against the bed.
Dean wouldn't let himself look away, accepting the censure in his brother's eyes. He had never seen Sam look so stricken, so defeated. Dean would have preferred an injury, however severe, to the naked betrayal directed at him now.
"I can't believe this." Sam ran a hand through his hair, looking dazed. He couldn't understand what was happening. Dean had – how could Dean have done this? How could he? "I couldn't wake up. I couldn't wake up . . ."
All at once, Sam broke. Sobs curved his spine, forced his chin to his chest. His hands came over his head, drawing him into an impossibly small ball as grief consumed him.
Dean sat, paralyzed with guilt. He wanted to reach out to Sam, to console him, but it didn't take a college education for him to know he was the last thing Sam wanted right now. That he might be the last thing Sam would ever want. Dean seldom thought in terms of forgiveness – for others or himself – and it was more than a little unnerving to realize he could lose Sam over this.
He could leave. Dean felt a coldness creep over him. Regardless of his intentions, his actions had all but destroyed his brother. He could leave. And there's nothing I could do to stop him.
Sam slowly quieted, visibly struggling to piece himself back together. Deep, shuddering breaths shook him, each one a nail driven into Dean's heart. Sam raised his head, fingers pressing his temples as he stared blankly ahead. Dean could almost hear Sam's mind working, but he couldn't tell what Sam was thinking, how this would all play out.
It's been waiting for you your whole life . . . You're what I've been hunting . . .We could've saved so much time . . . You killed us all . . .You know what you have to do . . . The echoes of the dreams rolled over Sam, voices overlapping in his brain. He had awakened and the dreams were over, and yet . . . and yet . . . it wasn't that simple. His dreams meant something now. No longer random memories or figments of his imagination, but portents of the darkest kind, filled with truths. Truth. What is the truth?
The echoes answered for him: you are the destruction.
Sam dug his fingers deeper into the soft hollows of his temples. Gray spots danced in his vision, but he maintained the pressure, needing something to distract him from his spiraling thoughts.
But there was no way to escape them. No matter how they had come about, Sam knew the dreams had to be true. He was responsible. Jess . . . Mom . . . The knowledge was devastating. And what was worse was that Sam knew it wouldn't end there. You are. You ARE. Present tense. More to come. No escape. He didn't know what to do.
Not true. Suddenly, Sam's vision came back into focus.
There was one thing he could do. He could protect Dean. He could figure out what had happened, how it had happened, maybe even why. And protect Dean. There would not be another death on Sam's head. He wouldn't allow it. No matter what it took, no matter what sacrifice was required, Dean would be safe. Safe from me. It was the only comfort Sam had. This wasn't the time. But when the time came, when Sam was sure it would really be over, he would end it, one way or another. To save Dean.
Doing nothing came as easily to Dean as apologies did, but he waited. At any minute, his brother could start packing or simply walk out the door and out of Dean's life. He didn't know what else to say, except that he was sorry, sorrier than he had even known it was possible to be. This wasn't a moment that could be dispelled with sarcasm or brotherly banter. This was the meat and bones of them, their core and foundation, and their fate was in Sam's hands.
Dean sighed, feeling suddenly old and tired. "You hadn't slept in four days, Sam. I didn't know what else to do, how else to help you."
"I told you I never wanted to take them." Not an accusation; just a statement of fact.
Dean nodded, his eyes bright. He managed to keep his voice from cracking. "I didn't know what else to do."
Silence stretched between them again, neither noticing as the shadows on the wall lengthened and thinned. Dean felt like he was suffocating, and Sam was only one who could give him air. He couldn't let himself think beyond this moment, knowing that, if Sam left this time, everything that made Dean's life worth living would go, too. There would be no recovery.
Say, something, Sam. Say something. Please, say –
"Never again." Sam was finally looking at him, a blur of emotions playing over his face so quickly that Dean couldn't get a read on them.
"Never." Like you even had to ask.
Sam seemed to be searching for something in Dean's eyes, and Dean could only pray he'd find it.
Sam dropped his head back to his hands and drew a deep breath. When he looked at Dean again, some of the tension was gone, and Dean breathed again, too.
"I think I sprained this." Sam held out his arm, which was swollen from fingertips to elbow. There were bruises on his wrist, the shape of a hand, but neither brother chose to comment on them.
"I'll get the kit."
Sam didn't move while Dean gathered their first aid supplies. As Dean pulled ace bandages and a few clips from the medical bag, his hands brushed against the prescription vial he had used the night before. Sam didn't react to the sound of the pills rattling in the plastic container, but Dean knew he had heard them. He walked into the bathroom, dumping them into the toilet and flushing with one smooth movement. The container was thrown into the trash can, banging against the tin as it fell. Never again.
Sam held his wrist out, stoic as Dean wrapped it carefully.
"Do you want a sling?" Dean wouldn't even ask if Sam wanted pain relievers. He would not be offering his brother pills again, not of any kind.
Dean threw the leftover supplies back in the bag and settled next to his brother. Sam looked drained and soul-weary. Dean just wanted to be near enough for Sam to feel him, to know he was there if Sam wanted him. He had no other penance to offer.
Sam cocked his head, glancing at Dean out of the corner of his eye, an almost-smile struggling at his lips. "Hey – at least my head doesn't hurt anymore." He tried to hold the smile for Dean's sake, but the effort was just too much, and tears overtook him again.
This time, there was no resistance when Dean pulled Sam close, draping his arms around him. He tucked his brother's head against his chest, absorbing his pain, holding him up, and losing the battle to hold his own tears back.
"I'm sorry, Sammy. I'm so sorry." He wondered if he could ever say the words enough.
Sam squeezed with his good arm, and even though Dean had nothing to compare it to, he felt the forgiveness in his brother's grasp. There was a long road ahead, but he'd make sure Sam knew, would always know, that he had earned it.
Sam held his brother as tightly as he could, overwhelmed with a knowledge he hadn't asked for but couldn't avoid. I'll keep you safe, Dean. And I'll end it, when the time comes. I swear, I will. I'm so sorry.