Summary: Dean couldn't kill Sam…that's okay, Meg's got it covered. Tag to BUaBS.

A/N: There have been many takes on what happened after this episode so thank you for giving this one a spin, too.

I was supposed to post this on 4/13/07 (self imposed deadline) because that was my six month anniversary for posting here. In that time I think I've learned a lot and met some nice people along the way.

Which leads me to...Faye Dartmouth. I can't thank her enough for her beta and ideas in general on this piece. And her support and friendship. It has meant a lot to me.

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The Heart of the Matter

Sam pulled the Impala into the gas station, hopped out, and started to pump. They'd been on the road since noon and the car needed to be fed. Dean probably needed to be fed, too, but he was conked out in the passenger seat, wrung out and full of painkillers.

They'd left Bobby's in a flurry as soon as Dean was awake, at his insistence, and Sam had followed his brother's command to 'just drive, dammit, I don't care where." Things had gone downhill fast after that. Dean had been grumpy, understandably so with a bullet riddled shoulder, but Sam had plied him with questions about his missing week. He'd been able to pry a few details out of his brother regarding his actions while possessed by Meg but then Dean had shut down from exhaustion or frustration, Sam wasn't sure which.

Now they were miles and hours from Bobby's and Sam wasn't sure what to do. He didn't think Dean was in any condition to be on the road yet but he didn't want to cross him. His brother, despite denying it, was royally pissed at Sam. And Sam understood why after Dean had shared a few morsels of information regarding his crime spree at the hands of Meg. He'd gone after Jo and Bobby and had succeeded in beating on Dean as well as shooting him. And then there was the dead hunter. Not to mention the tattoo on his arm that was burned away by Bobby's quick thinking actions. Who knew what else he had done while under Meg's influence.

While waiting for the gas guzzling car to have its fill, Sam glanced inside and surreptitiously watched his brother. Dean was propped against the passenger door with a deep frown marring his face. Sam could tell Dean was in significant pain and he knew he was the cause.

Sam's movements were jittery and uncoordinated as he put the pump back and headed inside to get some water and pay for the Impala's meal. He wanted to crawl out of his skin, just to get outside of himself, to get away. He had tried to wash away the feeling at Bobby's but out here on the road it was only getting worse. Guilt and remorse were nagging at him and he had pent up energy that he couldn't dispel.

Sam snagged some snacks in case Dean got hungry as well as a sports drink to replenish his brother's fluids before approaching the clerk at the cash register. Normally Sam talked to the people he met on the road. He made it a point to catalog their physical characteristics in his mind for future reference if needed, but found himself so caught up in his current miserable situation that he didn't take proper notice of the clerk until the kid was talking to him.

"Dude, that's so cool. Can I ask how much it cost you?" the lanky, dark haired youth with a pierced nose asked while gesturing toward Sam's left ear.

"Excuse me?" Sam asked. He had no idea what this kid was talking about but he just wanted to pay for his stuff and get back to his brother.

"The industrial piercing," the clerk replied pointing again to Sam's ear.

Sam threw money on the counter and asked where to find the restroom. He ignored the funny look the clerk was giving him as he scrambled to the back of the store to find out what the hell the clerk was talking about.

The lighting was crappy but Sam carefully set his purchases down on the sink and moved to the mirror. Pushing his hair back from his left ear he saw silver winking at him. A straight barbell was inserted through a hole in the upper ear cartilage next to his head leading into another on the other side of his ear.

Meg. Sam scrabbled at the piercing, removing it in such haste that he tore parts of his ear. He didn't feel any physical pain but was shocked and dismayed at further proof that he'd lost control over his own body for a week. He grabbed up some paper towels and dabbed at his ear. He needed to soak up the blood before returning to the car. There was no way in hell he would allow his brother to see what Meg had done to him. First a tattoo, and then a piercing.

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"Did you get lost or something?" Dean snapped as his brother slid into the driver's seat. He must have dozed off and had woken up alone and worried with Sam no where to be found.

That's how this whole thing had started in the first place. He'd let Sam out of his sight for a short while and Meg had sunk her claws into his brother. Dean knew Sam wasn't really responsible for the she demon's actions but it was still hard to look at his brother without imagining the hard slug to his jaw with the gun or the fiery pain of the bullet entering his shoulder.

"Christo," Dean made himself to say. He waited for a telltale flinch and was satisfied when Sam's only reaction was to wordlessly stare at his brother, looking a little like a kicked puppy.

Sam stared wistfully at Dean before holding out a bag. "Here's some Gatorade. I also bought you some Fritos and Ding Dongs," Sam said.

"Just put it on the floor. I'm not hungry now," he grumbled. As far as peace offerings went, it was pretty good but he wasn't in the mood to accept it. Not right now.

He quickly glanced at Sam. He wasn't ready to look Sam full in the face, to see all of the pain and confusion he felt certain was building in his little brother. A look of sadness replaced the look of hope on Sam's face and he forced himself to turn away.

He was cranky. He knew it but couldn't stop it. He was being too hard on his brother but his shoulder was killing him. He knew they needed to move away from the area as soon as possible -- before they attracted the unwanted attention of some revenge minded hunters.

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Sam expertly guided the Impala down the road and tried to avoid the bumps and potholes. Dean hadn't once demanded he pull over for a turn at the wheel. That, more than anything, told him the depth of his brother's pain. And Dean was hurting because of his actions. It wasn't much but he tried to steer the car around obstacles so as not to aggravate Dean's injuries. Unfortunately it was a losing cause as the road was desperately in need of repair. Sam flinched as he heard Dean hiss after they hit a particularly deep hole.

"Dude, are you aiming for them on purpose or what's the deal?" Dean growled from the passenger seat. Sam glanced over at his brother and noticed the sickly pallor of Dean's skin. The interior was dark with the dashboard giving off just enough light to turn everything a ghastly green. But Sam knew Dean didn't just look sick because of the light. He was sick and injured. And it was all Sam's fault.

Sam felt pressure in his chest and it took him a moment to catch his breath. Great. It felt like the onset of a panic attack, which is the last thing they needed right now. Sam wanted to get Dean off the road so he could rest and recover. He wished again that they'd stayed longer at Bobby's.

Sam swerved to miss another pothole and heard Dean collide with the door. He flinched as he imagined the pain that would have caused Dean's shoulder. The shoulder Sam had put a bullet in. Not to mention the assortment of other bruises he had meted out to his older brother.

Sam clutched his chest and tried to relax. He began to breathe easier as he saw a Motel sign claiming there were vacancies. The Pine Tree Inn was waiting to welcome the Winchesters.

"I'll be right back," Sam quietly said as he exited the car and crossed toward the reservations office. Trying to be quick for Dean's sake, he had to pause for a moment as his head began to spin. This was not a good time. He needed to see to Dean before he had his little breakdown. With that resolution, he began across the parking lot as well as he could. He was weaving across the pavement but there wasn't anything he could do about it.

It looked like finding the motel was a stroke of good fortune because Sam didn't think he'd have been able to drive any further tonight. At least not without crashing the Impala. And if he thought Dean was upset with him now, imagine how he'd react if Sam damaged the car -- again.

Sam pulled himself together long enough to plunk down a credit card to rent a room for two days. He did a double take when he saw the name. Dean was cutting it close. James Paige? Fortunately the clerk wasn't a Led Zeppelin fan. Or maybe Sam was being paranoid.

Sam walked back to the car slowly, a dull ache blossoming across his chest. He dragged himself back across the parking lot, exhausted down to his toes. It was quite a come down. A couple of hours ago he'd been jittery, like he was going to burst out of his own skin.

He tried not to dwell on it but he wondered what else Meg had done with his body. He ached in places that shouldn't ache. The mere thought of what could have happened had him swallowing back nausea.

He couldn't think about it. He didn't want Dean to notice. Dean was his priority and he needed to concentrate on him. After all, it was Sam's fault that his brother was in such bad shape at the moment.

After all, he was the one who'd managed to get himself possessed. He didn't remember how or when, but the demon had totally gotten the drop on him. He knew better than that. And the things he'd done -- killing another hunter, menacing Jo, knocking out and then later shooting Dean -- it made his stomach burn. It made him want to curl up and cry. But he didn't have time for the self-flagellation and angst. He needed to look after his brother and somehow atone for his actions.

Sam's guilt hitched up another notch when closing the driver side door woke up a drowsing Dean. "Why did we stop?" Dean grumbled as he looked around and saw the sign for the Pine Tree Inn. "If you're tired, I could have taken over for awhile," he insisted as he stifled a yawn.

"You're exhausted…I just thought it was a good idea that we stop for the night," Sam explained. Dean set his jaw as if to argue and Sam hastily sought a more acceptable reason for getting off the road. "Besides, it's hard to see the potholes in the dark and I don't want them to damage the Impala."

"Damn straight," Dean agreed. Sam watched as his brother heaved himself out of the car and tried to work some kinks out of his muscles and rubbed his injured shoulder.

When Dean reached into the backseat to grab his bag, he was met with air as Sam snatched it up first. "I've got it Dean. Here's the key. Why don't you check out the room? Lucky number 7."

"Dude, I'm not made of glass. I can carry my own bag," Dean groused, accepting the key reluctantly.

"Dean, just humor me. Just this once. I'll grab our stuff and be right behind you," Sam said. He reached into the back seat to pull out another bag out and stifled a gasp. Maybe he'd pulled a chest muscle. Whatever it was it was getting extremely irritating.

Dean didn't notice anything was amiss and rolled his eyes before turning and heading for their room.

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The pain in Dean's shoulder was throbbing in sync with his heartbeat. He shouldn't have given Sam such a hard time about stopping because it felt good to be off the road. He couldn't wait to collapse on the bed and get some rest. Even if the bedspread was an offensive pea green color. He sunk down on the nearest bed and rubbed his shoulder some more. It was about time for a painkiller.

Dean glanced up as Sam came into the room, loaded down like a pack mule, shouldering the door shut as he brushed by it. Sam lowered their bags to the ground and then dug through the one that held their first aid kit. He rummaged around for a moment before withdrawing two bottles. "Tylenol or Darvocet?" Sam asked, exhaustion deepening his voice and making it husky.

"I think I'll go with what's behind door number two tonight," Dean said trying to lighten the mood a little. He wasn't ready to listen to one of Sam's angsty "I've been a bad boy" monologues. Deep down, he knew everything Sam had done was because of the female demon but it didn't stop him from feeling hurt and betrayed. It seemed like every time someone in his family was possessed, he was the one who suffered for it.

Couldn't Sam have dug down a little deeper and prevented that bitch from going after Dean? Their dad had managed to pull that off, if only for a while, but not Sam.

He was startled out of his thoughts when Sam silently got him a glass of water from the bathroom and handed him a pill. It unnerved him a little that his brother stood watching as Dean dutifully swallowed it down.

Dean couldn't help but notice that Sam was massaging his upper left arm. Nodding toward it he said, "I thought I was the one with a hurt shoulder," and then felt a moment of regret as he saw Sam wince.

He was trying not to call attention to his myriad of hurts. Despite his fears and frustration, he really wasn't trying to make Sam feel guilty. He knew he should be downplaying his own injuries because Sam had been a victim here, too. But Sam hadn't been shot in the shoulder by his own brother.

Sam deserved at least a little bit of a guilt trip here. He should have fought Meg harder.

Now that he'd brought it up he sat back and resigned himself to an onslaught of apologies. He just knew Sam would want to unburden himself.

He was shocked when Sam suddenly stopped rubbing his shoulder and self-consciously smiled, "Sorry, must be sympathy pain. I thought I'd run out and get us something. What are you in the mood for?"

"I'll take a tall redhead. No scratch that. Make that a tall brunette. And a beer," Dean teased with a twinkle in his eye. The Darvocet was starting to work and the pain was melting away. Now if only Sam would relax already. His neck was sore from looking up at his taller, younger brother.

"I meant something to eat. I passed a SubWay a few miles back. How about a sandwich and some chips? My treat?" Sam responded, seemingly oblivious to Dean's fantasy order.

"Fine. You're such a killjoy," Dean said as he sprawled out on the bed and made himself comfortable. Something was missing. Ah, yes, the remote. Before Dean could move Sam dropped it on the bed next to Dean's hand and sailed out the door.

Maybe letting Sammy wait on him hand and foot wasn't such a bad idea after all. Let his little brother stew a little. It was good for him.

Dean flipped through the channels but nothing held his attention. I'll just close my eyes for a moment.

Dean was startled out of his nap as Sam let himself into their room. Sam pulled the small, round table over next to Dean's bed and deposited a bag and soda within Dean's reach.

"Where's yours?" Dean asked as he sat up and dug into the bag. His stomach was starting to grumble. It was past his feeding time.

Sam leaned against the wall and kicked his shoes off. Something was off about the way Sam reclined there for a moment but he couldn't put his finger on it. "I wasn't hungry. I'm going to hit the shower," Sam said as he grabbed up his bag and closed himself in the bathroom. A moment later, Dean heard the shower running. If he knew his brother, and he sometimes thought he knew Sammy better than he knew himself, he'd lay odds that Sam was crying his eyes out right now.

When he was an overwrought teenager, filled with hormones and easily upset, his crying fits always started in the shower. Sam always wanted to hide the emotion, but he never made it, and Dean could always tell. Dean, being the awesome big brother that he was, could never just let the kid suffer in silence. One word of encouragement was all it usually took before Sam would cave and share whatever had upset him with his brother.

So, he felt fairly certain that the dramatic storm would take place after Sam's shower. He knew Sam wouldn't be able to leave it alone. He'd need to apologize over and over and work himself into a state. Well, at least Dean would have a full stomach and the painkiller had dulled his throbbing shoulder. If he made some sympathetic noise and patted Sam on the shoulder then maybe he'd be able to get some rest without feeling like too much of a girl.

As Dean was finishing up his sandwich, the water cut off and a few moments later Sam emerged, squeaky clean, and in his sleepwear. His eyes weren't red but his skin was a little pale. Sam reached back into the first aid kit and swallowed down a couple of Tylenol.

"You gonna shower tonight?" Sam asked as he stifled a yawn. "I'd like to check your wound."

"Good idea. Did you leave me any hot water?" Dean tried to tease Sam again. In their teens the running gag had been that Sam must have been a girl because he used so much hot water.

The joke flew right over Sam's head as he seriously responded, "Plenty of hot water and the water pressure is good. I think we lucked out with this motel."

Dean shook his head as he stepped into the bathroom. He wished his brother would relax already.

To his credit, though, Sam hadn't been lying. The shower was excellent as far as motels went. It felt so good he stayed under the spray and let it further relax his muscles. When the hot water turned to lukewarm, he was forced to cut the water and dry off.

He pulled on his sweat pants but left his shirt off so that the wound could be dressed. He leaned toward the mirror and noted the deep bruising that streaked his torso, particularly his shoulder, but he didn't detect an infection. Jo had done a good job in getting the bullet out and stitching him up.

Dean opened the bathroom door and steam billowed out. Sam was leaning up against the headboard, massaging his chest, his face etched in misery. Dean wondered if Sam was building up to his emotional release now. It would be nice if he waited until after he dressed Dean's shoulder. The air felt cool against his overheated skin making him suppress a shiver.

Sam turned when Dean cleared his throat and pulled himself to his feet, snagging the first aid kit on his way toward Dean. He insisted on having Dean lay down so he could thoroughly inspect the wound.

"No infection…good…I'm going to add some Neosporin now…you might feel a little pull…there." Sam worked efficiently and methodically and soon Dean's shoulder was taped back up. Sam gently squeezed Dean's good shoulder as if in apology and Dean braced himself for the Sammy Special.

"I'm going to turn in now. Let me know if you need anything," Sam offered as he shuffled over to his bed. "Seriously. I don't want you to aggravate your injuries, so just tell me if you want something."

"What about your burn? I should take a look at it," Dean asked. Burns could hurt like a bitch but his brother didn't seem to have a problem with this one. He still couldn't believe that Bobby had realized the tattoo might be what was holding the female demon inside of Sam.

Hell, maybe the tattoo kept Sam from fighting his way out. He hadn't even considered that possibility.

"It's fine, thanks. Good night Dean," Sam replied. He tugged his long sleeve shirt down as it to better hide the area. Maybe out of sight, out of mind. Dean hoped it was working for his brother because he couldn't get the picture of Sam shooting him out of his mind.

"Yeah, sure. Night, Sammy," Dean said with an eyebrow stretched up in disbelief as he muted the volume on the TV. He was still a bit perplexed. He'd waited all evening for Sam to break and cry on his shoulder and then nothing. Sam was handling things far better than Dean at the moment.

Dean wasn't one to dwell on unpleasant things. In their line of work that would suck up too much time and energy. And he wasn't a fan of emotional scenes. He left that to his younger brother.

So he surprised himself by wishing Sam's veneer had a cracked a little. That would have given Dean an opening to shed some of the thoughts he'd been unable to shake.

He found himself wanting to tell Sammy how much he'd scared the crap out of him when he disappeared like that.

And how he'd known instinctively that Sam would never do the things Meg had made him do unless he was possessed.

And give him hell for letting Meg get the drop on him in the first place.

Lastly, he wanted to tell him he didn't think he could ever pull the trigger on him because he'd never give up on him.

Dean was disappointed that Sam hadn't come to him since it was obvious he needed to get something off his chest. And apparently Dean needed to as well.

But his brother was way too quiet and with Sammy that was never a good thing. And the way he kept rubbing his arm and chest…something was going on. Dean would get to the bottom of things in the morning when he had more energy.

TBC