Title: Something Lost
Author: Black Wingedbird
Standard Dis, SPOILERS UP TO Houses of the Holy, language and violence warning
Author's Notes: This is a surprise present for Amy, who's been a little down lately. She suggested this some time ago and once I started writing, I couldn't resist adding my favorite line from HoTH. I hope this serves you, Amy! Enjoy, everyone!
If you can't have faith in what is held up to you for faith, you must find things to believe in yourself, for a life without faith in something is too narrow a space to live.
-George E. Woodberry
The sounds of fists striking flesh are unmistakable. The dull, solid smack of knuckles against a face or an abdomen struck something deep within you, so that you feel the blows and perhaps even whimper a little yourself. The sound haunts you, echoes within your skull, stains your heart black.
That's exactly the sound Dean heard as he approached the Impala. He froze, the keys dangling from his fingers just inches from the door, and searched the darkness. Cars breezed down the street beside him, drowning out the sound he was listening for, so he pocketed the keys and started for the darkened alley beside the small bar.
"Hello?" he ventured, his boots striking hard and sharp against the pavement. He squinted to see through the shadows. At the end of the alley, partially hidden by a looming dumpster, three men were beating the shit out of a fourth.
"Hey!" he shouted, lurching into a jog. "Hey, knock it off!"
The air was cool and heavy with smoke and smog. If the shadows heard him, they didn't care. They continued to hold their placid victim against the brick wall, punching until he sagged to the ground. Then the kicking started.
Dean grabbed the first shoulder he could reach and whipped the guy around, landing a quick and solid right hook to the cheekbone. The guy fell hard and his buddies faced Dean, breathing hard and bloodied fists clenched. "Come on," Dean growled, opening his arms.
He moved by instinct. Shadows danced against the stone as Dean blocked and parried, catching the strong scent of whiskey as he shoulder-rammed his opponent into the wall. The man fell and Dean kicked out behind him, catching the third man in the stomach. One last, well-placed hook landed dead center in the target Dean's mind placed on the stranger's face. He stumbled back against the wall, slid down to his ass, and the night fell still and silent.
Dean panted, his knuckles and wrist aching triumphantly. He turned, searching for the victim among the scattering of limp bodies. A large lump of shaggy hair and loose clothes lay still, curled into a ball. "Hey buddy, you okay?"
He kneeled and reached out, pushing on the guy's shoulder. The man that uncurled, however, drove the breath from Dean's lungs. "Sam?"
Sam only groaned. A trail of blood sparkled on his face, running from just below his eye to his jaw. Blood coated his upper lip, his chin. Dark spots dotted his shirtfront.
"Jesus- what the hell? Sam? Can you hear me?" Dean gathered up his brother, propping him against the wall and collecting his arms. "Come on, Sam, talk to me."
Sam's head rolled against the bricks. He blinked once, his eyes glassy and shadow-black. Under his clenched jaw, his adam's apple bobbed.
"Fuck," Dean breathed, running a hand over his head. "Okay, come on. Let's go."
A fireman's carry was never very dignifying, for neither the carrier nor the one being carried. But Dean always had swallowed his pride when it came to Sam and this time was no different. He lowered his shoulder and pulled Sam forward, then staggered to his feet, using the wall for balance. Sam struggled and Dean tightened his grip around Sam's thighs, shushing him. "It's okay, it's me," he mumbled, fighting for the balance to place one foot in front of the other. "Relax, Sam."
The trip back to the Impala was long and arduous and more than once, Dean's foot sank into freezing puddles of stale rainwater. Dean kept his eyes glued to the Impala, kept his eyes on the goal as Sam's hands flapped ungracefully against the back of his legs. "Almost there," he breathed, his shoulder aching under the load.
Dean let himself crash against the passenger side door, taking a brief respite as the car shared Sam's weight. He shifted Sam higher and pulled open the door. "Okay, Sammy. We're going for a little ride now, okay?"
The only sound Sam made as he was lowered into the car was a miserable grunt of pain that made Dean wince.
"Hang in there," Dean mumbled as he pulled the seat belt across Sam's chest. "You with me yet?"
Sam's head flopped towards the driver's seat.
Ten minutes later, the Impala's shadow stretched out long and lean against the concrete barrier at the head of the parking space. The brakes squeaked. Dean shifted the car into 'park' and cut the engine. "Home, sweet home," he said in the silence. He got out of the car and opened Sam's door.
Sam mumbled incoherently and tried to stand on his own as Dean lifted him to his feet.
"Take it easy," Dean said, ducking under Sam's arm and holding it in place over his shoulders. "Let's get you inside."
Getting inside saw Dean propping his little brother against the doorframe like a folded umbrella, but if Sam minded, he didn't say anything.
Once inside, Dean eased Sam onto the closest bed and flicked on the light. Sam immediately recoiled, throwing an arm over his eyes and curling onto his side. "Hurts," he whimpered into the pillow.
Dean turned off the overhead light and switched on the bedside lamp instead. "Let me see it," he said, urging Sam onto his back. "What hurts most?"
Dean leaned in the bathroom and snatched the washcloth and hand towel from their hanger. He went to the duffle bag, the first aid kit. "What the hell were you doing there, anyway? You told me you were going for a run. Who were those guys, Sam?"
"Just… guys," Sam said quietly, forcefully, as if he were holding back a groan.
"So total strangers did this to you?" Dean snapped, not believing it for a moment. He unscrewed the alcohol and poured a generous amount on the washcloth, ignoring what dripped through his fingers. The smell of it stung his nose. "Try again, Sam. Give me the truth."
"I'm sorry. I… I just had to do it," Sam replied, his eyes pinched shut, his chest heaving as he writhed.
"Do what?" Dean sat on the edge of the bed, pushing Sam's knees out of the way with his ass. He placed one hand on Sam's chest to still him before he started wiping away the blood. "If you wanted to go out and get hammered, I wouldn't have stopped you. Hell, I'm glad you felt like being social, good for you. Cry in your beer, get laid, whatever. But what's with the lying crap?"
"Not drunk," Sam panted, wincing against Dean's ministrations. "I'm not drunk."
Dean tossed the blood-stained washcloth to the floor and grabbed the antibiotic cream. "You were in an alley behind a bar, getting your ass kicked in the middle of the night. Of course you were drunk, you weren't even fighting back."
Sam flinched when Dean dotted on the cream.
Dean paused, letting his hand fall. He looked at Sam, looked into those stormy, hollow eyes and felt his soul pulling apart. "You are drunk, right Sam? That's why you weren't fighting back." Dean stared, searching. "Right? I mean, only an idiot or a suicidal would let the shit get kicked out of them."
Sam's gaze roamed sightlessly, landing on everything but Dean. He opened his mouth, but then blew out a sigh. "I never should have made you promise," he said softly, brokenly. "It was wrong… I'm just like Dad."
Dean remembered that night in Pierpont Inn, what Dean had agreed to do if things turned hopeless. "You were drunk off your ass," he replied, leaning back a little, curling his toes inside his shoe.
"It was selfish," Sam replied. "I have to take care of things myself."
"So this was you taking care of yourself? You pick a fight you have no hope of winning?" Dean asked incredulously. He watched a drop of blood well and drop from the cut under Sam's eye. "Bang up job, there, Rambo. Way to take care of things."
"You weren't supposed to be there!" Sam blurted, and then snapped his jaw shut and stared at his feet. "I didn't pick the fight. Those guys… they were attacking a woman. Already had her shirt ripped off. So I defended her."
"Well you sure as hell didn't defend yourself." Images flashed across Dean's mind, dark scenes of his little brother being assaulted in the alley, collapsing, the three strangers advancing with vicious kicks. Sam's body, cold and lifeless and bloody, outlined against the dirty concrete in white chalk. The Impala's passenger seat, forever empty. Dean blinked and sucked in a breath of smoke-stained air. "You saw it as an out- you wanted to die." He stared at Sam, anger burning through him. A lifetime of fighting and sacrifice, nearly lost. "You son of a bitch."
Dean pushed to his feet. "I can't believe you, Sam!" he yelled, throwing the cream at the duffle bag. His hands balled into tight fists. "What the fuck, man? What- I don't- why-" he sucked in a breath and turned, glaring at Sam from the foot of the bed. "Talk."
Sam's arms trembled as pulled himself up against the fake-wood headboard. He felt the swollen skin around his eye, then his nose. His eyes never left his shoes. "Look, thanks for the rescue-"
"No," Dean growled, jabbing a finger at Sam as he approached. "None of that redirecting bullshit. Tell me what the hell is going on inside that messed up head of yours."
The lines on Sam's face shifted from pain to sadness as he tilted his head. "I distracted the guys and she ran away. Then they closed in and I just… I'm so tired, Dean. I feel ready to jump out of my skin." Sam's hand trembled as he picked at a bloodstain on his jeans. "I thought if I didn't fight back… it would all be over."
"Why?" Dean yelled, pacing a tight line next to Sam. He would hit his brother if he weren't already bleeding and concussed. "Why would you want that? I don't get it, Sam."
"Because I won't let the demon control me," he said quietly. "I won't become a monster, a mindless soldier for the thing that took Jess and Dad and Mom. I can't-"
"You selfish son of a bitch! Those people are exactly who you're fighting for! After all this, after all we've been through- all we've lost- and you just give up? Do you ever think of anybody but yourself?"
Sam glared. "I saved that girl in the alley."
Dean ran a hand over his head and balled his fist. "So you thought, hey, while I'm here, why not get killed?"
"You've seen what the demon can do, Dean. You know about the war. What if I fail? What if…" Sam swallowed thickly. "What if more people die because of me?"
The break in Sam's voice sent splinters through Dean's chest. Before he could stop himself, the pain transferred into anger. "You can't save everyone, Sam! You're not fucking Superman. Don't do that to yourself, it's not you load to carry!"
"It's not?" Sam replied, his voice high. Another drop of blood fell to his chest. "Do you know what it's like knowing that you've been chosen by a demon? Knowing that you might have to serve under the very thing that killed damn near all of the people you loved? Wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop it, to keep it from taking the last person you cared about?"
Sam's admission, his fear, was a cold wave that washed over Dean and extinguished his anger. He scooted to the edge of the mattress, closing the distance between them. Sam radiated fear and pain, more than what was visible. This went deep. "Don't worry about me. Nine lives, remember? I'm not going to let this thing get to you. I'm here, I'm fighting for you."
"It's not your fight."
"The hell it isn't, Sam!" Dean spat, exasperated. "You're my brother, you're all I have left. You're not in this alone. Now-"
"I don't want you to die for me too!"
Dean exhaled slowly and dropped his head into his hands, wishing he had some fucking hair to pull out. He pulled in a breath and looked up. "Look, I'm not going anywhere, okay? I'm here because I want to be here. Because you're my brother. Why can't you get that through your thick skull? We're gonna kick the demon's ass. He's going to pay for what he did, Sam. I don't know what else to say to make you believe that. You just gotta have faith."
Unshed tears sparkled over sea green irises. "I can't believe anything anymore. Not after Father Gregory."
"Then believe in me."
Sam ducked his head quickly, pinching the bridge of his nose. His shoulders jumped softly. "You can't save me from this," he said, his voice watery and muffled. "Men can't be angels."
Dean remained where he was, allowing Sam to stay closed off. "You don't need an angel," he said, looking at the top of Sam's head. "You need a big brother. I'm here, Sam. I'm here and I'm real and I'm not going anywhere." He kicked Sam's bed frame and offered a smile.
Sam looked up slowly, his face blood-streaked and doleful.
"Promise me you won't pull this shit again," Dean said.
"No, Sam. Promise me. You want someone to knock you around, you come to me. I'll be happy to kick your ass. And then, after I've dunked your head in the toilet, you can spill your guts and I'll listen. I can help, but you gotta give me a chance, man. Deal?"
Sam shook his head, his dimples flashing. "You can't give me swirlies anymore."
Sam sighed and looked up. "I'm scared," he admitted quietly, finally. "I just feel alone."
"I'm right here, man. Right where I've always been." Dean rubbed his palms over his knees, looking Sam in the eyes. "We've come too far to let it win."
They held each other's gaze for a few moments, until Sam wiped at the blood on his face, smearing it across his cheek. "Can you, uh, fix this now?"
Dean sighed and grabbed the first aid kit. A part of him had been knocked off-center. He was unbalanced, wanted Sam to be normal, not burdened by the future of humanity. But that was impossible. Sam would never be normal again- if he ever was. The future was uncertain, and it scared the crap out of Dean too.
He moved to Sam's bed, butterfly bandages in hand. "Yeah," he said. "I can fix this now."
Because really, it was all he could ever do.