Dean knew where he was before he was fully awake. Oh, the wallpapers changed, the bedspreads had slightly different patterns, and every once in a while an acid trip disguised as interior decorating was splashed over the furniture. But if he'd seen five thousand motel rooms, he'd seen them all, and it was as close to waking up in his own bed as he was ever going to get.
He also knew that Sam was there. This was new in certain ways but not in others. He'd always been able to feel when a room was empty, whether his brother was there when he woke up. The new part was the shining certainty, the way Sam's presence burned in his mind like a distant beacon fire. He could track him without looking at him, whether he paced the room or sat or slept. Dean even imagined he knew Sam's mood, a roiling conflagration colored mostly by anger and grief and guilt.
He was imagining it.
He definitely felt like he'd been run over by a truck. That wasn't imaginary. Not even unfamiliar, really. Each breath was waves of radiating agony, and his first thought was drugs. Why hadn't Sammy scored him some morphine? And that was when memory began to hit him, casting his mind back to that night, those woods where something had happened. Something.
"Dean!" Sam couldn't hide the relief in his voice. Relief that quickly turned to annoyance when Dean tried to get out of bed. Dean stared at him and allowed himself to be pushed back into a reclining position. Sam seemed okay, which ratcheted down his alarm somewhat. But there was a whisper of something when Sam told him to lie down. Something was wrong...
Sam was looking at him anxiously, and that single word asked all sorts of questions, foremost among them are you yourself but he didn't know how to answer that, not really. He felt scattered, like he'd left his car keys or his wallet somewhere, as though he'd forgotten something. Something important. It made it hard to move or speak. Everything was on a five-second delay and he was moving at half-speed, hearing his brother speak from a great distance. Every time he thought he'd pulled himself together, the pieces slipped through his fingers like sand. But Sammy was still looking at him, expecting an answer, and that meant something, Sammy did, baby Sammy, Sammy SammySammy-
take your brother outside-
"Dude, what did you shoot me with, fucking Kryptonite?" He had to cut his eyes away when Sam's relief washed over him like a tsunami. It was way better than morphine, even if it was heavily laced with self-loathing.
"Mostly sulfur, actually. Sort of thing that demons use when they want to kill something, ah, not...demonic."
"Well, I needed to keep you from killing me before I finished the ritual. It should have...I mean, are you...?"
"I'm back in the driver's seat," Dean assured him, doing his best to ignore the nagging sensation that something had gone seriously wrong. It was true that the witch's will was gone, but he still didn't feel entirely his own person. The ink on his arms burned.
Sam was talking again, explaining that he hadn't been able to do anything about the rite that had turned Dean into a real-life version of Wolverine and how that was probably a good thing, because it was the only reason he was still alive, and all Sam had done was doubled the geis back on itself so that Dean was holding its reins, and he wanted to remove the spell completely, he really did, but he couldn't figure out how to do it safely, and even what he'd eventually come up with had been risky in the extreme, but it was the only way...
Dean tuned out the words after a while, understanding Sam's need to explain himself, to justify what he'd done. Dean's attention was flickering in and out like a TV with bad reception. It was hard to hold on to one thought for more than a few seconds at a time. The only coherent idea that stayed with him was a sensation of wrongness. He kept circling around it, knowing he could get there eventually if he just had some time...
And then what Sam was saying kind of clicked all at once, and he remembered what had happened in the woods that night, the sense of an implacable will guiding his steps, the disassociation from everything that used to mean something to him. And Sam had stopped him, held him there while he rewrote Dean's code into something that might be acceptable to both of them.
But it hadn't worked. Dean remembered that. It was an impossible sensation to forget, feeling as though he was being torn apart on an atomic level. It would have shredded his mind and soul, and he would have died. He was quite certain of that. So he had thrown the spell back, flung that searing energy in the only direction that seemed remotely safe: towards Sam. He couldn't be the one to hold his own leash, so the next best thing was to give it to Sam.
Except that Sam didn't seem to know what he had done.
"...doctor that wouldn't ask questions. It's been healing at an accelerated rate, though nothing like, well, normal-"
Normal, ha, he thought.
Dean lurched into a sitting position, feeling better by the minute. Predictably, his brother broke off his explanation of the story so far to reprimand Dean for trying to get out of bed.
"Lie down, Dean."
He could feel the order like a pressure on his skin, like claws dragging across his will. Sam probably didn't even realize he was doing it. He gritted his teeth and dug in. The pressure wavered and then broke, and Dean couldn't help letting out a little sigh of relief. This was...manageable. If he just told Sam...
He had a sudden vision of a possessed Sam, eyes black as the night sky, and he shuddered deep, closing his eyes against that particular horror. It was probably the most unlikely scenario imaginable, considering the precautions they now took, but it was frightening enough to keep Dean's mouth shut.
He pulled his attention back to the present. Sam was in his face, trying to get Dean to look at him. Oddly, the force of the witch's spell (what had Sam called it? A geis?) helped him focus. He let it bring him back to himself, and watched in fascination as Sam's concern was slowly colored with relief when his unconscious command was obeyed. It was such an easy thing to give Sam what he wanted. With a strange sort of awe, Dean wondered if there was anything he couldn't do when his own desires aligned with the power of that dark magic. And he couldn't help laughing at how fucked up that reaction was.
"It's not funny," Sam bitchfaced at him, which only made him laugh harder, which hurt. A lot. But he couldn't help it.
"Sorry, Sammy," he groaned before the kid started in on him. Sam was radiating worry, and Dean didn't blame him. He wasn't exactly the poster child for mental health right now. "I'm fine, really. Just gimme some time to get my head together. She didn't exactly leave everything where she found it, y'know? But...I'm still here. You did good."
He said this last with no trace of mirth, looking Sam right in the eyes, because he meant it, as thoroughly as he'd ever meant anything, and he needed his brother to know that. He wasn't really prepared for the avalanche of emotion that tumbled toward him in response to that short sentence. It took every ounce of his control to keep from gasping. Instead, he leaned back into the bed, and threw an arm over his eyes.
"I need you to do something for me, though," he said thickly.
"Yeah, sure. What do you need?"
"Cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers and pie." He snapped his fingers. "Go. I'm starvin'." Sam said nothing, but he didn't need to. His eyeroll was audible. The Impala's keys rattled and he was out the door.
As soon as it shut, Dean rolled over and exhaled his wonder. Everything that had happened, the weeks of horror and agony, it was all suddenly worth it. He would do it again in a heartbeat. Anything for that one second of his brother's attention, when Sam had looked at him and loved him.
"I'm glad everyone's alright. Thanks for calling, Sam." Pause. "No, that's...that's okay." Longer pause, weight shifting, fingers anxiously drumming marble. "No offense, but I kind of hope I never see you guys again."
She said goodbye and put the phone down, trying to feel some relief that it was finally over. It was a little unreal, almost anticlimactic. But Charity supposed she should prefer that over a violent ending. Sam had sounded as tired over the phone as he had been when she'd last seen him. Although he also sounded...calm. When he'd been searching for his brother, every word was laced with barely concealed panic.
She couldn't imagine how other people did it, relying only on little body language clues to read emotions and intentions. Talking to Sam just made her exhausted and frustrated.
The phone call had interrupted her brushing her teeth, so she finished and climbed into bed, thinking about the night Dean had shared it with her, and feeling guilty for turning Sam down when he asked if she wanted to talk to him.
She, of all people, should have known better.
But that was the problem. She knew Dean, knew him in a way she was sure very few people did. She had been shown something beautiful and pure, and then been forced to watch it destroyed. What had been done to him was so wrong, she couldn't bear to look at him, to see what he had lost. Even if Sam had saved him, even if the damage had been reversed, she was afraid of the scars she would see. Part of her wanted to talk to Dean more than anything, to see for herself that his nightmare was over. But another part of her, a bigger part, was just not willing to risk another glimpse of that darkness she saw every night in her dreams already.
Alone, she buried her face in her pillow and sobbed her shame into the cotton sheets.
But when she finally slipped into sleep, it wasn't Dean's silver eyes she saw. Instead, she dreamed of a man with yellow eyes who called her daughter.