This is a one shot I wrote for a prompt over at LiveJournal. It wasn't betaed, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes. Thank you.
He tries to focus on Dean's face, but his eyes aren't working, his brain isn't working, everything is broken. He can still hear the sound of screams–distant, like a far off train whistle–but they're fading like smoke. And then Sam fades away too.
He likes the nothing. He wants to keep it. Hold it. Become it. In the nothing there is peace, a finality he's been searching for for so long. But before he has a chance to stay, to figure out what to do with the nothing, it rips in half, and then again, until the nothing shatters and darkness is stripped away like skin.
The noise is back and this time it's not smoke it's fire and it's in his back, in his chest, and he can't escape. He's on the ceiling in his nursery. No. Wrong. That was his mom. He tries to open his eyes, but his brain isn't cooperating. His brain is too busy trying to force his lungs to pull in air.
Now there's sensation. Wet. Water. On his face. On his arms. On his legs. And more sounds. Still that constant screaming he can't make out. And a high pitched wail. It's the sound of banshees. The sound of sirens luring ships to their doom. He's moving, drifting, and he wonders if he is the broken ship upon the rocks.
He moves a hand awkwardly, fumbling for something to hold onto, something to lead him back to the nothing, to safety. And then something (someone) is holding his hand and he realizes he's listening to a different kind of siren altogether. But the water is still there, finally, finally putting out the fire. There's movement and muffled sounds–strings of meaningless syllables surround him and he rides them like waves. The someone holding his hand squeezes gently and one word breaks the surface of his pain and he wants to cry. But his words, his voice, his self has been burned away.
The word is Sammy.
o o o
Dean paces the length of the waiting room. His eyes are red-rimmed and he radiates rage. He stalks around the room, seething and glaring and helpless. The handful of people waiting nearby try their best to avoid him. Except for one.
Bobby watches Dean pace and rubs a hand over his stubbled face. If he hadn't come back when he did, he's pretty sure Sam would (still) be dead. Somehow, he screamed his way through Dean's terror and got him to start CPR. It took too long, it took years, it took forever for Sam to pull in a ragged breath, but he did. The frenzied run to the Impala, Dean's panicked ministrations in the back seat with Sam, none if it is something Bobby wants to remember. But he can't forget, no matter how hard he tries. It couldn't have been more than ten minutes back to the main road, and he can still smell the tang of Sam's blood, hear the sound of Dean crying, feel his wooden fingers fumbling at his cell phone. There's a part of him that still feels like he's driving, like he'll never be able to stop.
Tears prick at his eyes and he bows his head. If you're up there, he prays, don't take that boy from Dean. He's lost enough. And then, after a moment he adds, don't take that boy from me.
o o o
Dean only half listens to the litany of damage the doctor pours out. Dean stares at the doctor, tries hard to make his mouth say the right words, keep his face from betraying the fact he wants to smash in the doctor's face for taking so. Fucking. Long. For leaving Dean to his own thoughts, his own despair. Sam had died. Sam was dead. And if Sam was still dead, Dean was going to follow as fast as he fucking could. Because his job was to take care of Sammy, it was what he did, what he wanted to do, and if he couldn't save Sam, nobody else was worth saving. He was going to take care of Sam alive or dead. It didn't really matter, as long as they were together.
So he tries to pay attention to the doctor and waits to see if he's going to do the alive part or the dead part. And when the doctor says, he's in the ICU, it clicks that Sam's still alive, because generally, as a rule, dead people are not kept in the intensive care unit. Dean can feel hot tears on his face, but he doesn't care. He leans against the wall, laughing, because now he can finally breathe too.
o o o
For the next two days Sam's out of commission. Dean sits by his bedside and Bobby orbits like a worried planet. Sam looks like shit, he looks worse than shit, but his lips aren't blue and he's off the ventilator and he's peeing in the catheter bag, and Dean can't stop grinning. When Bobby hands him coffee, he doesn't even notice it tastes like melted dirt because, fuck! Sam's alive. And that beats all.
Bobby tries to talk to him every now and then, mutters about coming storms and an apocalypse and generally sounds like that prissy librarian dude from Buffy. Dean doesn't care about storms anymore. Or hunting. The only people he's going to be saving from now on is lying on the bed next to him looking like death (but not dead).
o o o
His first thought is too bright. Which mutates into it hurts, and then Dean. He blinks through the pain and there's Dean. Sam wants to smile but his face doesn't seem to be working right and all he can manage is a hoarse whisper.
Dean jumps like he's been goosed and nearly falls out of his chair when Sam opens his eyes. He beams at Sam like it's Christmas morning and Sam's the Hot Wheels set he always wanted. "Sammy," Dean says and he wipes at his eyes. He leans closer. "What was that? I couldn't quite hear you, dude."
"Andy. Is dead." Sam gets the words out, but he has to look away from Dean's smile. Andy was a good guy. And Ava. Killed Andy. Killed so many. Tried to kill him. Sam squeezes his eyes shut.
"Hey, hey," Dean sputters nervously, "What's wrong? Is it your shoulder? Your back?"
Sam just shakes his head. His back does hurt. All of him hurts. But the real pain is in his heart. And in his soul.
o o o
By the fourth day the catheter is out and Sam is walking. His face is pinched with agony and exertion, but he makes it from one end of the hallway to the other. Dean acts like Sam just walked on water and not the dingy hallway outside his room. Sam is grateful for the encouragement, for Dean's overwhelming presence, but at the same time, he feels he doesn't deserve it. If he hadn't been so stupid, so blinded by (wanting to trust) Ava, Andy might still be alive. And Lily. He worries about Jake, too. He doesn't blame Jake for stabbing him. He knows it's the demon's fault, but he can't tell that to Dean. He doesn't think Dean is in a forgiving mood.
Dean cajoles him into eating while Sam cracks jokes about which nurses Dean likes, but it's all an act. He sees Dean in front of him, listens to his wise-cracks, but it's the demon he hears. You're my favorite, Sammy. He doesn't know what to do.
o o o
He's in the bathroom trying to take a leak without pulling out stitches and the IV. He can practically hear Dean hovering on the other side of the door.
"Everything all right in there?" Dean asks, a little too casually.
Sam shakes his head, bemused. He wants to be annoyed with Dean, but he can't. He hasn't asked much about that night, but from what Bobby's said and Dean's let slip, Dean was this close to losing it. He feels guilty for putting Dean through that kind of pain. "I'm fine," he mutters. "Dude, stop being such a mother hen."
Sam glances into the mirror then, and stops dead, one hand still on the faucet. He blinks. The mirror is broken. The mirror is not working. Because he doesn't see his face. He sees Andy's. Then Lily. And Max. And Ava. Because despite everything, she had saved his life once. She had been a good person before the demon broke her. They had all been good people once. Now they were all dead. Even Sam. Because even if Dean didn't want to listen very closely to what the doctors said, Sam did. He knew he'd been dead. And just because they started his heart back up and he his brain was firing on all cylinders, didn't mean he was really alive. He didn't feel alive. He felt numb.
Now Dean knocks on the door. "Sam?"
Sam stares into the mirror for another long minute. Andy stares back. Andy shrugs, grins his shit eating grin. Dude, it's not your fault, Andy tells him.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispers. "I should have saved you."
It's okay, Andy says. I was freaked out, believe me. And it hurt like a bitch to die. But I don't mind being dead. I'm not really a leader, Andy admits, and his smile falters. And I couldn't have killed anybody. Especially not you.
"I don't think I'm much of a leader," Sam says wearily. He closes his eyes and leans heavily against the sink. He opens his eyes again. He sees his own reflection. But the mirror is still not working, because the face staring back can't possibly be him. This face is pale and thin and bruised. The eyes are too dark, too haunted.
Dean's knocking evolves into pounding. "I'm gonna bust in there in about a minute if you don't answer me."
"I'm fine," Sam calls. "I'll be out in a minute." Even though he doesn't see Andy anymore, he likes to think he's still listening. I hope you're someplace good, Sam thinks. And I hope you're happy.
Sam dries his hands and opens the door. Dean's standing in the doorway, watching him. "Do you mind telling me who you were talking to?"
Sam thinks about lying, thinks about making something up, but he's too tired for that now. He wonders how he ever had the energy to lie so much, to so many people. "Andy," he says simply.
Dean blinks at Sam, then peers into the bathroom. "What...you mean, like a...ghost?" His eyebrows jump.
"No, I mean like I saw him in the mirror."
Dean's mouth drops open and he stares at Sam, clearly worried. "Uh, Sam..."
Sam rolls his eyes and waves Dean's concern away. "Dean. I know he's dead. I was there." He sighs. "I just...I feel guilty. And I saw him in the mirror."
Dean stares harder and his eyes narrow. "So...what? You have, like, survivor's guilt or something? Because I don't think that's really necessary, Sam. Seeing as how you just barely survived."
"He was a good guy, and I let my guard down. He paid for that," Sam says. "I should have known, Dean. I just wanted to believe that Ava was okay. I thought..." Sam bows his head, he can't continue.
Dean stares at the ceiling in disbelief. "None of this is your fault, Sam. You couldn't have known about Ava."
"The demon was there, Dean. I dreamed about him. I should have realized the others were seeing him too. And he...he told me I was his favorite."
Dean stands and spreads his arms. "And I'm sure he told that to every special kid on his list, Sam. You know damn well everything he says is a lie."
"He said he came for me, Dean. For me. Mom wasn't supposed to die." Sam pauses. "And she knew the demon. He showed me."
"I don't care what he showed you," Dean snarls. "I had a djinn fill me head with plenty of shit and I realized it wasn't real."
"Yeah," Sam says softly. " And you didn't want to come back." The unsaid to me hangs heavy between them.
Dean gapes at his brother. "No, Sam. No. I did want to come back to you. It's just...this life is hard. This world...our world...is too hard. I'm tired of this life. The hunting. And not just for me. For you."
Sam stares at a cracked floor tile. "I saw how Mom died," he says and his voice is the sound of misery. "I can't stop anymore, Dean. I have to end this. And not just for mom and Jess. For Andy, too. And Ava. I could have been like her, Dean. I can't stop thinking about that. And they both died."
"Jesus fucking Christ on a crutch," Dean bellows, "are you listening to yourself? You died. I watched you die. You died in my arms, Sam. And if you think I'm ever going to put your life at risk again, you have another think coming." Dean's breathing hard, his hands clenched. "Because I won't. I can't. I can't...do that again," he chokes.
Sam pushes himself to his feet and shuffles over to Dean. "I'm sorry, Dean," he says, and puts his arms around his brother, tries to draw out some of Dean's pain.
Dean pulls Sam into a tight embrace, one hand in Sam's hair, the other on his back. "I don't want you to be sorry," Dean says hoarsely. "I just want you to be in one piece. It's just not the same making fun of you when you're dead, dude. I tried."
Sam snorts out a laugh and pats Dean's shoulder. He pulls away and regards his brother with a weary smile. "I don't want to die, Dean. I don't have a death wish. I just want to fix what I started."
"Do you even hear yourself? You're not making sense. Did that asshole stab you in the back or knock you on the head?"
"He's not an asshole," Sam says carefully.
Now Dean looks pissed. "Uh, yeah, I think he is. Ever heard the phrase stabbed in the back? He fucking did it, Sammy. Literally. And he dislocated your shoulder. And shredded your insides. So fuck him and the special horse he rode in on, Sam. Fuck. Him."
"Dean. Just...stop. Stop it. Please. I don't want to talk about this. It's obvious we disagree."
"You bet your ass we disagree." Dean snaps his fingers. "I know. We could talk about how you died on me again. And when I saw died on me, I really fucking mean it."
"And now you're mad at me?"
Some of the anger drains out of Dean's face. "What? No. I'm not angry at you."
"Really? Because I'm the one who got taken from that cafe. I'm the one who disappeared, right? How many times is it now?"
Dean shakes his head, raises his hands, as if trying to ward off the conversation. "Sam."
"Of course you're pissed. After all, I have the shining, right? So how come I didn't know I was going to get kidnaped? How come I didn't have a vison? How come I left you alone again, right?"
Dean takes a step towards Sam but Sam backs away. "And the whole time I was in that place I wanted you there with me. The whole time, Dean. And I tried my best, I tried to do things the way Dad taught me, the way you taught me, but it didn't matter. I wasn't good enough." Sam's voice breaks but he puts up a hand to keep Dean back. "You would have killed Jake. So would Dad. I mean...he was just lying there. But I couldn't." He takes a shuddering breath. "No, I wouldn't. That's what the demon wants me to do. And I won't be what he wants. I won't be that person. So you can blame me for all of this, you can think I brought this on myself, but–"
"Sam!" Dean swats Sam's hand away and grips the collar of his flimsy bath robe. "I don't blame you for anything. Not for anything. Jesus, Sam. Don't you get it? I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at me. I should have gone with you to get my own fucking pie. If I had been with you, none of this would happen."
Sam's eyes are cold but his voice is colder. "If you had been with me, you'd be dead right now. You'd be back at that diner dead, along with everyone else. And I couldn't..." The ice melts out Sam's face. "I couldn't deal with that."
"Well watching you die was no picnic."
"Now you know how I felt when you got electrocuted, Dean. I thought you were dead. And after the car crash, your heart stopped beating. I had to watch them try to bring you back. I'm afraid all the time, Dean. I'm afraid you're going to die and I won't be able to do a thing." Sam swallows thickly. "But if I can destroy the demon, then I can lose a little of that fear. Just a little."
Dean shakes his head before Sam's even done talking. "No way. It's too dangerous."
"It's too dangerous not to fight."
"I said no."
"You're the one who told me we had to save people, Dean."
"Yeah, well, I'm most interested in saving you."
"That's just it. The more people I can't save...the more people I let die..." Sam trails off.
"What?" Dean prods.
"The less I want to be here. To be...saved." He feels sick saying the words, terrified of admitting this to Dean, but it's the truth.
Dean drops onto the edge of Sam's bed. "You are so full of shit sometimes," Dean says tiredly.
Sam doesn't respond. He knows Dean probably thinks he's a selfish jerk with a death wish. He's not. He just wants to stop the demon. Because if he stops the demon, Dean will be safe. Or at the very least, safer.
Sam finally breaks the silence between them. "I don't want to argue."
Dean sighs. "Me neither."
"So let's not."
"Fine." Sam leans back in a chair. "Can you do me a favor?" he asks almost shyly.
"Get me some coffee?"
"You're not supposed to have coffee."
Sam opens his eyes and aims his best little brother look at Dean. Dean rolls his eyes. "Fine, but I'm warning you right now, they don't have that pansy crap you like in the machine."
Sam smiles thinly. "I'll survive."
Dean walks to the door. "I'll be right back, Francis."
o o o
The minute Dean's gone Sam pulls off the worn robe and hospital gown. It takes him longer than he thought it would to get dressed and by the time his shirt is buttoned, he's sweating heavily. He grabs the notepad next the phone with a shaking hand and scrawls a note, drops it onto his bed. Then he picks up the duffel, and slips out the door.
o o o
Dean swings the door open. "Hear you go Samantha. I hope–" the words die in Dean's mouth. The room is empty. His eyes flick to the open bathroom, then to the narrow closet. Sam's duffel is gone. He drops the coffee and one shoe is doused with hot caffeine, but he doens't even feel it. He sees the note on the bed and snatches it.
I've always loved you and I always will. But I need to kill the demon, with you or without you. I can't stand feeling like this, being afraid all the time. I'm afraid one day I'll look in the mirror and see your face looking back, asking me why I couldn't save you. I'm not going to let that happen. I can't. When this is done, I'll be back, Dean. I promise.
Dean reads the note all the way through twice. Then he crumples it up in his hand. "Fuck this shit," he mutters, and reaches for his cell phone.
o o o
Sam takes the elevator to the first floor and attaches himself to a crowd of people wheeling a little girl into the lobby. The exit doors loom ahead and Sam takes a deep breath and walks out the sliding doors.
The Impala's idling in a no parking zone; Bobby leans lazily against the hood. "Hey there, Sam." Bobby nods in greeting. "I hear you're checking out early."
Sam stares dumbly at his friend. "Bobby? What are you doing here?"
A hand clamps down on Sam's shoulder. "He's saving your life," Dean hisses into Sam's ear.
Sam turns to Dean. "Dean. Please."
"Seriously, Sam. I'm telling the truth. Because if Bobby wouldn't have cut you off, I would hunt you down and kill your sorry ass myself. And then I'd have to do the whole fucking CPR thing again just so I could spend the next five years yelling at you."
Sam pulls away from Dean. "As fun as that sounds, I've got to go."
"This is the only place you're going," Dean says, and shoves Sam toward the car. Bobby takes Sam's arm and within seconds they both hustle Sam unceremoniously into the back of the Impala.
Dean slides in next to Sam and taps Bobby's shoulder. "Can you get us out of here?"
"Sure thing," Bobby says, and pulls away from the hospital.
"Dean, I'm not trying to run out on you. I'm trying to save you."
A crumpled piece of paper bounces off the side of Sam's head. "Yeah, I got your note. And I was not impressed." He leans against the door. "Look, if you want to go after the demon, I'll go with you. I'll help you kill him. You win, okay?"
Sam runs a hand through his hair in frustration. "I'm not trying to win. I want to help you."
"So do I," Bobby says from the front seat. "I'll help you find the demon and kill that son-of-a-bitch."
Sam scratches the back of his neck. "But–"
"This is the deal," Dean says, holding up one finger. "You are not getting out of my site. No more kidnappings or running away for answers or to save yourself, or to save me, or anyone. It's you and me. Do you understand that? From now on we're Siamese twins."
Sam turns away and tries to hide a smile. "It's conjoined," he mutters.
Dean glares at him. "What was that?"
"Neither of us are going to die, Sam."
Sam lifts an eyebrow. "Ever?"
"Keep it up smart-ass and I'll put you in the trunk."
Sam nudges Dean's shoulder. "This is great Dean, really. And I'd love to have you come with me, but I can't risk–"
"And I can't risk having you die without me there. Knowing you, you'll die next to some asshole who doesn't know the first thing about CPR. And then what?"
"And then I'd come and haunt your ass."
"Which is something neither of us wants," Dean points out. But Dean's eyes are too bright and Sam can feel the sting of tears at the back of his eyes. He plays the game anyway because he knows this is how Dean wants it. And maybe part of him does too.
"I'm just saying I'm coming along for this demon hunt. Once we put his yellow-eyed ass in the ground, we're gonna have another talk. Understand?"
Sam nods. He doesn't trust himself to speak. More than anything he wants Dean with him on this, but he's afraid of losing him. He'd sacrifice himself a hundred times to save Dean.
"If you boys are done with the kiss and make up bit," Bobby grimaces, "why don't you take a look at this." Sam can see the spark in Bobby's eyes and the way his lips twitch into the faintest hint of a smile. He ducks his head and takes the book Bobby passes back. It's the Key of Solomon. "We're gonna need something mighty powerful to stop this storm," he says.
Sam glances sideways at Dean. "Dean could always eat onions," he smirks.
Dean punches Sam in the shoulder, then looks horrified. "Dude, is that–"
"It's my other shoulder," Sam grins. "This one's fine."
"Just checking," Dean says and punches Sam a second time. "Maybe you could try not to be abducted. Or better yet, try not to die."
"You're the one who's nearly died twice," Sam says. "I think that means you need to shut up."
"I think you should both shut up," Bobby growls. "Before I smack you both upside the head."
Sam glances out the window; watches the landscape blur away. His heart beats heavy, not just with fear, but also with purpose. He doesn't know what the future holds, doesn't if he's destined to live or die. But he's not afraid of either outcome as long as Dean's at his side.