The air was warm, too warm. A malfunctioning air conditioner on a summer day left the room hot and stuffy well into nightfall. His T-shirt bore sweat stains, some old, some new. He couldn't remember how long it had been since he'd been able to take a shower. When had he last slept more than a few minutes at a time, or had a decent meal?
"I'm tired," he whispered hoarsely.
He raised a trembling hand to his forehead. His fingers were wrapped around the butt of a gun, a big .44 Magnum. It was a gun which offered no mercy. It could, however, offer relief in more ways than one. The metal barrel felt cool against overheated skin. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and leaned against the gun. He seemed unable to put it down.
I'm tired, Sammy.
The battle was at an impasse. How long had they been fighting it? He couldn't remember. His thoughts were skewed, his memories jumbled and confused. Sleep deprivation will do that to a man. The past six months seemed to be nothing but a blur. How many miles had they traveled? How many seedy motel rooms had they rented? They had nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to, and there was no one to help them.
He'd almost blown it this time. They'd waited too long before stopping. The end result had been a shattered mirror and shards of glass coming at him like glittering shrapnel, intelligent shrapnel. It swarmed through the air, swirling dangerously around him, creating a strange, melodic, jangling sound when the pieces made contact with each other. It had been hypnotizing, that sound. He'd been cut badly before his paralysis broke.
"Sam. Sam STOP IT!"
The command used to work immediately. As time passed, a little more incentive was required, incentive in the form of a taser shot from a distance, shot from behind the table he'd finally picked up to use as a shield.
He'd almost blown it this time. He'd thought this to himself as he'd produced the drugs and given the injection. Six months of developing a resistance and now the amount his little brother took was enough to stop a charging bull in its tracks. It barely kept Sam in check. If they were just a little late with the dosage...
"I just lost track of time," Dean whispered. He leaned against the cool barrel of the gun and a sob caught in his throat. "It won't happen again."
It would though, and he knew it. The next time he might not get so lucky. He needed sleep, but he didn't dare. In a couple of hours the drug would begin to wear off again.
He needed water too, something cool. Tucking the gun into the waistband of his jeans he slowly rose from the bed where he'd been sitting. Broken glass crunched under his booted feet. Thousands of tiny, glittering mirrors reflected his progress across the room. The bathroom door was firmly shut. Dean took a deep breath, counted to five, and opened it.
Metal clinked against metal. Eyes peered up at him from beneath the fall of thick, sweat-soaked bangs. Dean was glad the mirrors were shattered. He knew he looked like shit. Sam looked like death warmed over – thin and gaunt, his arms covered in needle tracks and bruises, his dark-ringed eyes bloodshot, his lips worried raw. Blood trickled down from his left wrist and dripped onto the white tiled floor. He hadn't noticed how the handcuffs were digging into his skin. New sores had formed over old scars. It didn't stop him from continually tugging at his restraints.
The other end of the handcuffs was looped around the plumbing beneath the sink.
Dean went to the sink and turned on the tap. Lukewarm water was the best it had to offer. He splashed it on his face, wincing as it stung the cuts on his hands and face. He dampened a washcloth, and knelt to wipe the blood from his brother's arm. Sam didn't seem to notice. His eyes were darting around the room as he sat huddled on the floor next to the tub, rocking rhythmically back and forth, back and forth. With the heel of his free hand he pounded himself in the side of the head. Dean could just barely hear his hoarse whisper.
"Shut up, shut up, shut, up..."
Lowering the lid on the toilet, Dean sat down wearily. "What's it saying, Sammy?"
"Give me the key."
"No. You know I can't do that."
Sam's eyes rolled toward him. He stopped moving, gave Dean a malevolent glare. The drugs barely took the edge off any more. "Give me the key, the goddamn key!" He hissed, and jerked violently at the handcuffs, twisting his wrist inside the steel ring until the blood flowed more freely. "Let me go."
"No." It was an old game. They'd been playing for weeks. There was never a winner.
With a groan, Sam turned his head, letting it fall back against the tiled wall. "It hurts, Dean," he whispered. "Please let me go."
"What's it saying, Sam?"
The laugh was eerie. "What it always says."
Dean had no idea when it really started; the headaches, nightmares, visions and the whispering voices that grew louder and clearer the longer they went on. Sam had fought it alone for a long time. Oh, Dean had known something was happening, just not specifics. He'd watched his brother slowly deteriorate. Sam lost weight, stopped sleeping, seemed distracted and edgy. He would go days without speaking. Dean tried to engage him in conversation, but rarely got a response. It was because Sam was listening to someone else – being forced to listen to someone else.
Six months ago, almost to the day, had been when Sam finally lost it, clutching his head in pain and screaming, "Shut up! Leave me alone!" in the middle of a crowded restaurant. The resulting stares triggered the paranoia. Dean had taken the bullet meant for their waitress. It punched through his arm and missed her by inches.
He'd wrestled the gun away before Sam could turn it on himself.
"You should have let me," Sam whispered hoarsely. He began rocking again, pulling at his hair and shaking his head back and forth. "You should have let me."
He knew what Dean had been thinking. It was not a good sign. If Sam could now use his abilities under the influence of the sedatives it wouldn't be long before he could also escape his physical restraints. Dean was the only thing standing between him and complete freedom, therefore Dean would be the first person to die.
And then there would be countless others.
The war had begun.
Dean hung his head, letting his hands fall loosely between his knees, toying with the gun he still held. "Sam," he moaned. "I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do!"
Sam didn't respond. Dean looked over at him. He was gone, eyes glazed over, lips moving silently in response to whatever he was hearing inside his own head. It was the voice of the yellow-eyed demon that came in the clearest. It demanded acquiescence. It showed Sam a world he could make for himself, a world where his every desire could be had, and all he would have to do was follow some simple instructions.
"I won't kill. I won't kill anybody," Sam whispered. His voice rose and cracked with emotion. "I just want this to be over! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
The voices fueled his paranoia. No one could be trusted. He was different, and therefore expendable. His fellow humans would turn on him, lock him up, torture and kill him. Dean was especially dangerous. It had been telling Sam to kill his brother since the very beginning. Sam had been able to reveal some of what it said before madness swallowed him whole. Sometimes it showed him how to kill Dean fast and easy. Sometimes it showed him how to do it real slow. He heard Dean's screams in his waking nightmares, watched him die over and over again until disgust turned to desire, aversion turned to need.
The whirling glass had only been one of many failed attempts on Dean's life. The handcuffs helped keep Sam away from him physically and weapons out of reach, but it was the drugs which held the telekinesis under wraps. Dean had no desire to be hurled out a window, or bludgeoned to death with a chair. Sam could do just that, and he would if it weren't for the drugs. Now the drugs were becoming ineffective. It was only a matter of time.
Without warning Sam lunged at him, and would have had him had Dean not been anticipating such a move. He quickly retreated to the doorway. Like a chained dog Sam jerked against the handcuffs, half rising from the floor, barking threats and curses that Dean no longer found so disturbing. He did not doubt their sincerity anymore. Sam would kill him if he got the chance. That was just a fact.
Howling in frustration, Sam ground his teeth and fought for his freedom. The broken glass lying on the floor trembled. The shower curtain twitched as if caught in a breeze.
Sam saw what he'd done and abruptly went silent and still. He slumped back into his corner, slowly raising his head to meet Dean's eye. A small, dangerous smile twitched into place – but faded quickly. They stared at each other without speaking. Dean's control over his brother was growing weaker by the minute. They were running out of options. Increasing the dosage of Sam's drugs again would probably kill him, and they both knew it.
Dean raised the .44 and cocked the trigger. His hand was shaking. He tried to fight the pain back, but couldn't. Tears blinded him. Sobs choked him. "Sammy..."
"You can't do it," Sam snorted. His tone was utterly derisive. "You'll never be able to kill me."
"You're a pussy, sentimental and weak. You can't pull that trigger." The words ended in a snarl. "Dad should have known you'd never have the balls to do it."
"Would you like me to beg instead?" Sam's voice and expression changed. Both were pleading, cutting Dean to the core. "Oh, Dean, please. Don't. Don't kill me. I'm your brother."
"Shut-up!" Dean shook the gun warningly. "Just shut up!" He wiped his eyes with his free hand, clenching his jaw tight.
Sam laughed at him.
"I heard what you said," Sam's voice rose. He bellowed his challenge at the top of his lungs. "Make me! Huh? Come on, you think you're such a bad ass, make me shut up, Dean!" Another shift in tone, and he added softly, "Oh, that's right, you can't."
They stared at each other once more, both quietly assessing the other, trying to see what would come next. In that long pause, Dean vision seemed to gain a particular clarity, and a sudden revelation filled him with grief.
The look in Sam's eyes was not a match to his words. For the first time in months he seemed in control of himself. His expression was clear, and so were his motives. This current round of taunting was being done on purpose. Dean saw no anger, no fear, only quiet resignation.
When Sam realized he'd been found out tears began to run freely down his cheeks. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and sincere.
It was time.
"Dean," Sam's face crumpled in pain as his control wavered. "Please. I can't take any more of this."
Nodding, Dean's hand tightened around the gun. He looked away, gathering himself together. It was a long, painful struggle, but when he turned back to take aim, his eyes were dry.
"I'm sorry, Sammy." he whispered brokenly. "I'm so sorry."
The car was ablaze. Fire engulfed the interior, rendering everything inside to ash, including the shrouded body lying in the back seat. It wouldn't be long before the heat set off the ammunition in the trunk, ignited the gas in the tank. The explosion would obliterate everything.
Dean quietly watched his old life go up in smoke until the heat became too much to bear.
Among other things.
Slowly he turned away, and walked back to the highway where he put his thumb out to hitchhike. It wasn't long before a trucker pulled over. Dean climbed into the rig. The driver tipped his head in greeting. He reminded Dean of Bobby.
"Where you headed?"
Dean stared straight out through the windshield into the darkness. Where was he going? He was going to start over, that's where he was going, and in his new life ignorance was bliss.
War? What war? There are no such things as demons.
"Anywhere," he replied gruffly. "Take me anywhere."