Author's note: Although this is set after Born Under A Bad Sign, I must confess I've not yet seen the full episode, only video clips from it, so apologies for any inaccuracies:)
Sam tossed and turned in the bed. Images ran through his head at speed, playing like some bad horror movie only one that he was a part of. He could see himself standing there, pointing a gun at Dean and firing. Dean disappearing into the water. And then Dean in front of him again, defiant as usual, and this time 'Sam' hitting him with his fists, pushing his fingers into the bullet wound and watching Dean's face screw up in pain. And laughing at him.
Suddenly Sam woke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in bed. He felt the nausea a moment before it hit, stumbling out of bed and to the bathroom just in time to slam to his knees beside the toilet as he began to retch. His stomach was mostly empty, he hadn't been able to face food since they'd left Bobby's, but it didn't seem to matter as his body seemed determined to make him bring up all his internal organs. Eventually the retching stopped and Sam fell back against the wall, pulling his knees up to his chest and literally shaking. His face was wet with tears and sweat, and he was shivering so hard his teeth were rattling together. None of that mattered to him though. All that mattered were the images seared into his brain.
I shot him, he thought, his mind barely able to comprehend it. I shot him and then I deliberately hurt him! Oh God! He closed his mouth, swallowing desperately to stop himself throwing up again. His eyes squeezed shut against the nausea and the tears, he didn't notice he was no longer alone until he heard Dean's voice, sounding sleepy.
He clenched his eyes shut even harder, shaking his head. Hearing Dean's voice made it worse, made the memories more vivid. Unfortunately it was clear Dean wasn't planning on going anywhere soon.
"Sam! Hey, it's ok – what is it? What's wrong?", he said his voice sounding concerned and worried.
"Don't!", Sam managed to stutter, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Don't what?", said Dean sounding confused now.
"Don't come near me!", said Sam, shifting further back as if he was trying to squeeze into the space between the toilet and the wall.
Dean sat back on his heels and stared at his brother in confusion. He'd woken to the sound of Sam throwing up in the bathroom, and when he'd come to check on him he'd been surprised and horrified to find him practically curled into a ball, clearly having some sort of panic attack. And now Sam was telling him not to come near him.
Staying back, but making no attempt to leave, Dean tried to get some sense out of Sam again.
"Hey come on Sammy – it's just me. Talk to me little brother, what is it? What's wrong?"
Sam managed to open his eyes and Dean was almost floored by the pain there. Focusing on Dean's worried face, Sam felt fresh tears running down his face.
"I shot you!", he whispered, his voice as anguished as his gaze.
Dean blinked and then closed his eyes briefly as he realised part of Sam's memory must have come back.
"Shit!", he said under his breath. He so had no wanted Sam to remember that. It was why he'd been careful to change in the bathroom and why he'd made sure to still use his arm normally, despite the shooting pains that went through his shoulder every time he moved it. Focusing on Sam, he made his voice as soothing as possible.
"Listen to me Sam – it wasn't you alright? You had no control over it. The demon is the one who shot me, not you. Besides, it's ok – I'm fine, see?", he said managing what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Sam wasn't having any of it though. "I was the one who pulled the trigger Dean! You could have died, and then at Bobby's.. I was deliberately hurting you, I laughed while I did it! I.. Oh God..!"
Sam leant over the toilet, his chest heaving as he tried to throw up even though there was nothing left.
"Ah, Sammy", said Dean, feeling his own eyes fill up as he watched how much pain his brother was in.
Unable - despite Sam's earlier protest - to leave his brother suffering like that, Dean reached out and rubbed Sam's back comfortingly.
"It's alright Sam, you're gonna be ok. Just try and breathe"
Eyes and throat burning, Sam slumped back only to find himself leaning against something soft instead of the cold bathroom wall. Opening his eyes blearily he looked up and realised he was leaning back against Dean, his brother holding him against his chest with one arm and looking down at him with a worried gaze.
Dean jumped at Sam's unexpected cry and was too surprised to do anything as Sam pushed himself away from him and literally crawled over the other side of the room.
"Jesus Sam! Come on, you have to stop this! It WASN'T you ok? It was the demon! Please, don't do this to yourself Sammy", he pleaded.
Sam just looked at him. "How can you say that? I'm the reason you got hurt, I could have killed you! And you didn't even tell me! Why didn't you say something?", he said.
Dean raked his hands through his hair. "What the hell was I supposed to say Sam? It was obvious you didn't remember anything, and it's not the sort of thing you can just drop into conversation, is it! 'You were possessed, we fixed it and oh, by the way – you shot me'. Is that how it should have gone?", said Dean in frustration.
Sam shook his head. "You should have told me! Bobby should have told me! Did you even get checked out, do you know if it's ok?", said Sam his voice full of worry and pain.
Dean rubbed his hand over his face. "I told you, it's fine. Jo took care of it for me and Bobby checked it while you were in the car", he said.
"So you didn't even go to the hospital?", said Sam, horrified.
"I kinda had other things on my mind, like finding you!", said Dean and Sam swallowed, feeling a fresh wave of guilt.
Dean sighed. This wasn't helping. All he was managing to do was make Sam feel worse. Once again he cursed the fact that there was no page in the hunter's handbook for 'how to make your brother feel better when he tried to kill you while possessed'. There was a definite gap in the market there.
Shaking his head and trying to get his thoughts together, Dean tried a different approach.
"Look, we can't change what happened ok? You know that. The only thing that matters is I'm ok, you're ok, and we took care of the demon. This is no different to me being hurt by any one of the things we hunt, Sam. It wasn't you. It was the demon. I don't know how else you want me to say it", he said holding his hands out.
Sam could see Dean meant every word, but it made no difference. Whether Dean would believe it or not, his brother had been hurt because of him. And in Sam's world that was not acceptable, not by a long shot.
"Don't you see Dean? This is exactly what I've been so afraid of! Everyone I love has been hurt because of me! Mom, Jess, Dad – they're all gone because of a demon that wants to get to me! And now it nearly got you too, and I can't live with that. Not you. I'd rather die first", he said, his voice barely a whisper at the end.
Dean shook his head fiercely. "Don't you dare say that Sam! I've told you before, I am not gonna let you die, you understand?"
"Exactly! You wouldn't even take a shot at me when I was trying to kill you! You always put my life above yours, and I can't watch you do that anymore Dean!"
"Yeah? Well tough luck Sam! You don't get a choice. I told you that nothing bad would happen while I'm around and I meant it", said Dean.
"And what do you think you dying would be, Dean? You think that wouldn't be bad? The worst thing that could ever happen to me is losing you, why can't you understand that?", said Sam with desperation.
Dean sighed. "I do understand that Sam, but you have to understand it's the same for me. Losing you, you getting hurt – that's not an option, not as long as I'm around."
"And what about when you're not around anymore? What about when the demon's killed you because you were trying to protect me? Or God forbid, I've killed you myself?"
"Ok, stop right there! We are so not having the whole 'dark side' conversation again, you hear me? You are NOT evil Sam, and you never will be", said Dean firmly.
"No? Then why couldn't I stop that bastard hurting you? Why couldn't I stop him doing all those things?", said Sam, anguished.
"Because you were possessed! No one can fight possession, hell even Dad didn't manage to beat that one!", said Dean.
"He managed in the end", whispered Sam.
Dean shook his head. "Yeah, well no offence to Dad but it was a little late by then", he said, trying not to remember how it had felt in that cabin.
"Even so – I can't risk it happening again, Dean. I can't risk you getting yourself killed over me, or me killing you one day."
"So what? We go our separate ways? Yeah, cos that always works so well, Sam! You realise that there is nothing to stop the demon or any of his hell-spawn coming after me anyway? Only difference is you won't be there to watch my back. You think that's a better solution? Or will it just make it easier if you don't have to watch?"
Sam's eyes opened wide. "No! Of course not! I just.. I don't know what to do, Dean! I don't know how to protect you!"
Dean gave him a tired smile. "Welcome to the club. We should get jackets made", he said.
Sam snorted. "I'm being serious, Dean."
"So am I. You think it doesn't keep me awake at night, wondering how to stop this happening? You got possessed on my watch, Sam. You disappeared and I didn't even know if you were still alive. Watching you go through that, and now watching you go through this – it kills me, Sam", said Dean.
Sam winced at Dean's choice of words, but he understood what his brother was saying.
"So what do we do then?"
Dean grinned, a tired imitation of his usual cocky smirk. "What we always do – we stick together. We've tried splitting up and it always just makes things worse. We're stronger together, we always have been. And you know what? I think these bastards know that. They want to drive us apart Sammy, they want us to take out each other because they're scared of us. But I say, screw them! Look at what we've been through – you losing Jessica, going home again and seeing Mom, finding Dad and losing him, not to mention visions, and demons, and all the other things that have tried to kill us a dozen times over. But we survived it Sam, all of it. And we did it together. So I reckon that kinda proves my point, don't you?"
Sam shut his eyes. On some level, what Dean said did make sense. But he was just so afraid of losing his brother, of being the reason Dean got hurt or killed. But opening his eyes and looking at Dean again he could see that nothing he did or said would ever persuade his brother that they were safer off apart. And part of Sam was grateful for that. Because as much as he wanted his brother safe, he wasn't sure he was strong enough to handle being apart from him again. And deep down he knew how much Dean needed them to stick together, and the last thing he ever wanted to do was cause his brother any more pain.
"So where does this leave us?", he said tiredly.
"Well, it leaves us sitting on a bathroom floor in some crappy motel with you having a total meltdown, Princess", said Dean dryly and Sam couldn't help but chuckle.
"Thanks for your understanding, Dean", he said and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Hey, who's just sat here for the last 45 minutes trying to make you feel better huh? My ass has gone numb and I'm about to sprout breasts, so please for the love of everything tell me you are done with this Lifetime moment?"
Sam full on laughed at that, and Dean smiled. It was the best thing he'd heard in days.
"Come on, Sam. I don't know about you, but I've had enough of this bathroom."
Sam nodded and managed to get up without Dean's help. His legs wobbled a little, but he refused to let Dean give him a hand simply stating "Your shoulder."
Dean rolled his eyes at that, but let Sam walk back into the main room under his own steam. Sinking gratefully back into the bed, he watched Sam sort his covers out before lying down himself.
"So. You ok now?", said Dean after a moment.
Sam was silent and for a second Dean wondered if he was asleep already. Eventually he answered.
"I don't know if I'd go as far as ok. I'm still scared about what's coming, and I still feel bad you got hurt again because of all this. But I guess you're right, we do need to stick together."
"Of course I'm right, Sam. I always am", said Dean sounding smug.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Sure, you keep telling yourself that, Dean. I'm serious though – I'm sorry you got hurt", he said with aching sincerity.
Dean sighed. "You got nothing to be sorry for. But I appreciate the thought, ok?", he said.
Sam smiled, knowing that was the best he was gonna get.
"I meant what I said though, about me protecting you too. I don't care that you're older, Dean, you're my brother. And that means I'd do anything for you", he said.
Dean shifted uncomfortably, hating talking about his stuff.
"Fine, I get it. We'll look out for each other. Now can we please, please stop talking?"
Sam grinned in the dark. "Fine. We're done. Are you sure your shoulder is alright though?", he said.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yes, it's fine I promise. Now get some sleep - since you know all about it now you can drive tomorrow, Francis", he said with a smirk.
"No problem", said Sam. He'd already decided he was going to do more than just take care of the driving. Whether Dean liked it or not, he intended to look after his brother until his shoulder was properly healed. It was the least he could do.
The room was silent for a moment before Sam spoke again.
"Just promise me you won't keep anything like that from me again, ok? I need to know if you're hurt. Physically or otherwise", he added.
"Fine. I'll give you an update on my health every day if you like", said Dean dryly. "Now will you please shut up so I can sleep?"
"Just one more thing", said Sam and Dean groaned.
"Oh for the love of God! What?"
"Thank you", said Sam and Dean frowned.
"For not giving up on me. For looking for me when you should have been taking care of yourself. For not holding any of this against me. Just for being there", said Sam quietly.
Dean swallowed the lump that had materialised in his throat.
"You're welcome Sammy. It's what I'm here for. Just like you're here to be a pain in my ass", he said, bringing to mind the conversation they'd had after their first disastrous encounter with Gordon.
Sam smiled. "You're welcome too. Night Dean", he said.
Sam closed his eyes and this time there were no nightmare images of demons and blood. Only the image of his brother. Taking care of him, being there for him as they took on the world, side by side. Sam smiled to himself. Maybe there was a chance they would get through this after all. Because in the end, there wasn't a force in the world that could stand against the Winchester brothers. And with that comforting thought in mind, he drifted off to sleep.