Disclaimer: The Winchesters don't belong to me, though I really think they should. I'd promise to love them and squeeze them and…probably fortunately for them, they belong to Kripke Enterprises and The CW.
Notes: It would be best to read this after reading the first two little stories, Second Verse, Same as the First and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad. Or it, y'know, won't make much sense. I hadn't really intended on writing more than one little vignette along this particular theme, but things happen.
Ocean of Violence
The ceiling of the motel room was cracked with little hairline fractures that looked kind of like cobwebs to him. Dean stared at them, too tired and too wired to sleep. He was pretty sure Sam was still awake too, but he didn't want to look over to make sure. He couldn't look at Sam right at the moment without feeling so much anger and fear and hate and love that he was afraid he'd explode into a million bloody pieces. It was almost too much just to be in the same room with Sam at times, always but especially lately, and yet the thought of booking separate rooms, or of leaving for a while to get some air, freaked him out just as much. His life was a double-edged sword. Stick to Sam like glue or get space – it didn't matter; either way was painful.
Dean closed his eyes for a moment, and saw the same horrible things he always did these days. Dad dying, always dying, selling his own soul so Dean could live. Sam with evil yellow eyes, and blood and death and monster, monster. Sam dying, always dying, yellow eyes turning back to hazel, and filled with confusion and regret. Blood on Dean's own hands, thick, red, and damning.
He snapped his eyes back open and started counting the tiny cracks on the dingy ceiling. One, two… The truth was Dean hated Sam a little, sometimes. Six, seven… The truth was he was scared of Sam more than a little, sometimes. Eleven, twelve… The truth was defining how he felt at any given moment was impossible because there was too much of everything all at once. He swallowed, stopped counting and finally cast a look over to his brother's bed. Sam wasn't even feigning sleep, hands folded and held across his chest as he, too, gazed up at the ceiling. In the dim light, Sam's skin looked almost translucent, and the pose made him look like he should be in a casket.
Dean looked away again. He was worried about Sam and for Sam, despite all the other things he felt. This thing, Dad's little parting gift, was eating the guy from the inside out, and all Dean seemed to be able to do was watch it happen, because if he were totally honest the most accurate way to describe how he felt himself was that he was being eaten from the inside out as well. They were both so fucked up, and he had no idea how to fix any of it. He had no idea if it was fixable. Dad had seemed sure it was one or the other, save Sam or kill him.
Dean wondered if what his father had actually meant to tell him was that the only way to save Sam was to kill him.
He rolled onto his side, facing away from his brother's bed. The bedsprings of the cheap old motel mattress squeaked a little, but the noise sounded loud in the quiet room. He moved again, because right then the sound of silence was something he couldn't bear. He and Sam hadn't really spoken for hours. They'd eaten in silence. Watched TV in silence. Avoided each other all night. He fidgeted some more, until the squeaks no longer held much comfort. He couldn't move forever, or fill the air with sounds that were empty and useless anyway.
He heard Sam sigh, an unhappy sound, then shift out of his own bed and head for the bathroom. The door creaked. The loud rattle of shoddy, well-worn pipes came next, the splatter of water against the tub. It sounded a lot like the rain had against the car's roof earlier. He listened for sounds of Sam puking again, heard none. He rolled back on to his back, closed his eyes because he was damned tired of counting cracks.
He was just so damned tired of everything. It wasn't that he didn't understand Sam's need to push on, to fight and fight and fight. Dean would go along, just like he always did, and fight the good fight even though if it might be at such a great cost. There wasn't anything else he could do. It was easier to let Sam think the reason he didn't want to hunt so much anymore was depression because Dad was gone than to acknowledge the reason was because every hunt they went on…every single one was a risk.
Somewhere deep down he still found reward in saving lives, making a difference to others, but more than that now was knowledge that every fight they took up endangered his last link to anything good in his life. He wasn't afraid for his own physical safety, never had been and never would be. God, but he was such a fucking coward anyway. The thought of losing Sam was enough to make him want to hide from the potential dangers around them and the sea of swirling cold within him when he contemplated what could be, that the dark ocean of violence he and Sam had swum in since they were kids might succeed in drowning them.
And Dean didn't know how he was supposed to go on even now, knowing the day would come when that would happen. It was different, somehow, than knowing they held a high-risk job; he'd existed with that looming knowledge since he was four years old, and it had never been important like this. No, the crux of it was not that he was afraid of drowning himself. He was afraid Sam would drown and leave him. He was afraid he'd be the one to hold his brother's head under, and just watch it happen. Worse, maybe need for it to happen. He'd rather be dead. If I came to that, he would be dead and nothing would matter anymore.
The shower stopped with a loud shriek of the faucet. He turned his head away, kept his eyes closed while Sam started moving quietly around the room. Dean knew what his brother was doing without seeing – booting up the computer, making a pot of coffee, studying Dad's journal for any notes that might corroborate with the whatever hunt they were on next. It didn't matter if it was a poltergeist in fucking Lawrence, Kansas, a haunted hotel in Cornwall, Connecticut or a mystery death in Asheville, North Carolina. The routine was the same, now ice in his veins instead of warm comfort. It used to be Sam always moving meant Sam was with him for real, and now it just meant what he finally figured out it always had – that Sam was with him, but not with him at all.
He opened his eyes, rolled over quickly, and found Sam wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing. Sam had the computer up, the journal open and the coffee brewing, but he was just sitting there, staring at Dean. For a second, their eyes locked, and Dean saw surprise that didn't totally wipe out the troubled, terrified, inconsolable expression Sam bore. Dean was still angry with Sam (how could he not be?), but that look might as well have cleaved him in half. It and its many variations always did. Sam tilted his head to the side, just slightly.
"You should sleep more," Dean said gruffly. "You look like crap."
"It's six AM." Sam looked away, swallowed a couple of times. "And it's not like you slept, either."
Dean sat up. The aroma of coffee started to circulate around the room, mixing with the musty sheets and stale smoke smells already there. His stomach turned. He didn't answer, knowing that the "conversation" was already headed in a stupid, verbal tug-o-war direction. Besides, Sam had a point. And lack of sleep wasn't the primary issue anyway.
"I've got a lot on my mind."
He stood, scratched his stomach and moved over to the coffee pot. It already smelled kind of charred, though it was freshly brewed. Dean grimaced and poured a cup anyway, handed it to Sam without thinking about what he was doing or even looking Sam's direction. Old habits died hard. He poured himself a cup and sat down at the other side of the table. He scrubbed a hand down his face, then looked toward the window. The morning light was blue and hazy, soft where the laptop's screen flared almost fluorescently. He saw Sam's bare movements out of the corner of his eye, and felt like he wasn't really in the room. Out of phase.
"Are you going to be mad at me forever?" Sam said.
Dean slowly looked over, and it was a six-year-old Sam who looked at him with entreating eyes, just wanting the last bowl of Lucky Charms. And Dean was barely eleven again and he didn't want to give Sam what he wanted because that meant then he couldn't have what he wanted. He should have been used to that by now, but he'd stupidly thought maybe just this once he'd convince Sam to split the last proverbial bowl with him. Past the age of four, Dean didn't remember ever getting anything he wanted, at least nothing important. He blinked and adult Sam came back, while he felt like he remained eleven.
"No, Sam," he said. Unless you make me kill you, Dean thought, unless how it ends is with me shooting you in the head. "Of course not forever. Just for a little while longer."
Sam emitted a small choking sound, took a couple of deep breaths.
"Look, I know it's a risk to keep hunting, but do you really think hiding is a better option? It only gives me too much time to think. I, we, need to keep going, or…"
Evil yellow eyes, and blood and death and monster, monster.
"I get where you're coming from. I do," Dean said. He sounded desperate and small and under water. Sam blinked at him. "But I don't, either."
Dean glanced away when Sam's nostrils flared and his eyebrows scrunched closer together in a silent request for clarification. Instead of saying anything more, he took a sip of coffee. It tasted like bile. He made a face into the cup and his eyes burned with sudden, embarrassing tears.
"Dean, I don't think I can do this without you."
"You won't." The words were automatic, spoken by rote. He meant them, even though he hated them at the same time. "I'm not going anywhere, Sam."
He didn't know what more Sam wanted from him. He was giving everything, everything he had. Where Sam was, he was too. That was the only given in their lives now. It had to be. Sam turning evil wasn't a given, neither was him dying. Dean couldn't let those things be givens, even while suspecting they already were. Couldn't.
"I don't mean just physically."
Sam wanted the whole bowl of cereal, but had no special prize to give as some sort of apology like he'd always done as a boy. The only prize being offered was something Dean didn't want, and it sure as hell couldn't really be considered a prize. Save Sam or kill him. Save Sam by killing him. Lucky, lucky Dean.
"I already promised, Sam, don't make me say it again," Dean said thickly. "I can't."
"It doesn't matter." Nothing mattered. He was starting to understand better now, all of it. He put his coffee cup down and spared another look at Sam. Oh shit he couldn't do this. But he did. Dean straightened his shoulders and did what he always did, said what he always said, "Because it's not going to happen, right?"
Sam gave him a weak, scared half-smile and a nod. Dean didn't know how long they could go on bolstering each other up with lies. He thought maybe Sam was already drowning, caught up in the undercurrents of violence in the dark ocean. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull his brother out of it, like he promised. Except he wasn't sure that was what he'd promised.
"Right," Sam said softly.
"I'll go get cleaned up and then we'll hit the road."
Dean stood and went quickly to the bathroom, where he turned on the shower as hot as it would go. He braced his hands on the edge of the sink, stared up at his reflection in the quickly fogging mirror. He didn't do this job for satisfaction anymore (if he ever really had). Dean did it, and everything, only for Sam. Protect, or die trying. That was what he needed to do to get what he wanted more than anything – Sam alive and for them both to be out of the damned violent ocean. So he'd do it. But the swirling coldness inside him made him hate admitting that was what he wanted, even to himself.
Because Dean Winchester never got what he truly wanted.