Warning: SPOILERS for season two, up to Croatoan.
Note: This be darkfic, folks, seriously.
"Why are you doing this?" Sam asks. He sounds like he's been crying.
Dean slides the tray through the slit in the bars. Sam pays it no attention. "Better eat," Dean says. "You know, keep your strength up." He laughs a little then, just a bit hysterically.
Sam's right in front of him before he can blink, hand snaking out and grabbing onto the edge of his leather jacket to tug him crashing into the bars. "You're not yourself, Dean. You're imagining things. It's me. It's Sam."
Dean doesn't pull away. He just pulls out his 45 special, silver bullets, and presses it against Sam's temple until he lets go.
At first he thought it was the virus in some delayed effect.
Wishful thinking, he supposes, because even that would be better than this, but he knows better than to ignore what he's been told. What he's seen.
Not that he can trust his eyes, either.
"I forgive you," Sam says softly. "Please, Dean, whatever happens, just know that I forgive you."
He always always knows the exact right thing to say, but Dean's a hell of a lot stronger than he thinks. Sam's not the first to underestimate him. John did it all of the time.
"Your friends will be here soon," Dean says, and turns to leave. "Don't go anywhere. You're still grounded."
You can only hold to your delusions for so long. Dean knows this better than most.
He doesn't need to go hunting anymore. They come to him in droves, drawn here to Sam, by Sam.
Vampires, werewolves, demons or ghosts--it's different every time, whatever's closest, he supposes, easiest to manipulate. Dean almost doesn't blame them. He knows what's it like.
John warned him. Well, no, not warned. Don't ever tell him, was all John said after explaining. His very last words.
He didn't say what to do when he figured it out for himself. Dean figures John thought he wouldn't be the one to come out on top, that it wouldn't matter because he would be dead.
Dean always wondered who John would choose if he was forced to decide between them. He guesses now he knows.
He's covered in blood when he comes back. Vampires bleed so damn much, and sometimes he really wishes they'd just turn to ash like they do in all the movies. Ever since Lenore it's been a little harder to face their dead accusing eyes.
Or undead, whatever. The bloodstains were a bitch to get out, either way.
"Dean," Sam says.
Dean avoids looking through the bars. Handy place, this little warehouse. It was John's. For storage, he used to tell Dean, though Dean hadn't known what the hell he needed a steel cage to store.
"Dean," Sam says again. He sounds six years old, and when Dean looks at him, there he is--little Sammy just like he used to be, all wide eyes and floppy hair. Not much changed, actually. In appearance.
But Sam isn't six years old. He's not. He's not. He's not.
Dean hits the bars roughly with the palm of his hand and Sam flinches.
"Let me out, Dean," he says, voice small and terrified and Dean doesn't know what it costs him to walk away, but he's pretty sure he won't be getting it back.
"Put him down, Dean," Ellen said when he called. "It's what's best for everyone."
He hung up on her, and hasn't called again.
He sleeps on the cot pressed against the opposite wall, knife under his pillow--gun in his hand. Sam never stops talking in the night. He doesn't sleep. Says he doesn't need it.
Dean listens to his chatter like it's white noise on the radio and closes his eyes.
"You're so tired, Dean," Sam says. "I know, but I'll protect you. You don't have to fight anymore."
When he does sleep, he always always dreams of Sam. Sam bleeding. Sam dead. Him with the smoking gun. He's just glad they still qualify as nightmares.
He's not tempted yet.
"Remember that time in Tennessee?" Sam asks. "Dad left us for days, do you remember? We were running out of food and you kept giving it all to me. And I didn't know. Not then."
Dean checks to make sure the front door's still locked. It's safer after dawn, but he doesn't take chances, not anymore. Sam's got a feed on the supernatural helpline. "You were only eight," he says absently. He keeps forgetting his first rule. Don't respond. Don't. That's how he gets you.
"Yeah, but what about when you were eight?" Sam asks. "Who was looking out for you?"
In the mornings he checks the cell to make sure the line isn't broken. It's not the huge padlock that's keeping him in. Sam can turn locks with a single thought.
It's only the salt and the holy water and the blessings that keep him back.
And Dean knows they won't hold forever.
Dean's convinced it's only his pendant that protects him, keeps him from falling victim like everyone else. Sam's asked him to take it off five times already. Says it's messing with his head. Says it's behind all this.
Something in Dean wants to believe him, because it would be so much better if it was him; he could shoot himself so easily. But he knows symbols just as well as Sam. Protection. It was for protection, and John gave it to him, tied it on himself.
Dean had always wondered why John hadn't given one to Sam, too.
"I can protect you," Sam says. "I'm all you've got."
Sam's right about that much, at least. First true thing he's said in weeks. "That's why I'm not giving up on you."
"Just let me out, Dean," Sam says. "You have to. You know you have to. You can't keep this up. You're breaking already."
Dean clenches his hands to fists. "We both know I let you out, you kill me."
Sam shakes his head, and the shutters drop down from over his eyes when finally, finally, he let's go of the façade and allows Dean to see him for what he's really become.
"Not you," he says, smiling. "Everyone else."