He honestly couldn't think anymore. Thinking led to everything, to Sam and hell and Sam in hell and he just. Couldn't. Do it.
So thinking wasn't an option anymore. He didn't do it. It just made everything hurt.
By not thinking, though, he was left wide open to the reality that his brother was gone, had been gone, and, what Dean really didn't want to think about, was quite possibly not coming back. Like one hundred and ten percent sure of it.
And that was because of Dean. In the end, whether he thought about it or not, it was Dean's fault. He'd sold his soul, and it was Sam who'd gone to hell anyways.
A week ago, Sam had come to him, saying the thing Dean had been hoping he'd say for two months. "I can't do it, Dean. I can't save you."
Sure, a part of him had been slightly disappointed that he'd die in less than a year, but he'd immediately tramped down on it. Sam was alive, albeit now crying like a girl, and Dean would die for that every time.
He'd offered his brother a careless grin. "Sammy, I told you, man. It's okay. I'm cool with it. I made the deal; I knew what I was getting into. I really don't mind dy-"
"Don't," Sam had choked out. "Please don't say it. That just...just makes it worse."
Dean's grin had fallen as he'd regarded his brother. Sam's eyes had been red but wide, open and full of grief he knew he'd never be able to erase. His shoulders had been dropped towards the ground, and for the first time since Sam had grown taller than Dean, he'd looked small. "Okay," Dean had conceded quietly. "I'll make you a de-promise." Ix-nay on the eel-duh word. "I won't bring it up from now until collection day, but you have to stop being so damn miserable, dude. Quit staring into old books, digging online until your eyes are red, and pestering everyone about crossroads. Nothing short of marching into Hell is gonna get you anywhere. Let it go."
"You mean let you go," Sam had said, fresh tears rolling down his face to collect at his chin.
"Yeah, Sam. Let me go. But man, we've got ten months! That's a lot of time." Dean had been certain that Sam would've protested, but instead, he'd stood silently, before offering Dean a weak smile. Weak, but it was a smile nonetheless.
"Okay," he'd said. He'd given in, and Dean hadn't been able to contain his grin of relief. Sam would stop looking, Dean would stop worrying, and they'd be good for ten whole months.
He really should've known things would fall to shit by that alone.
Four days had passed with jokes, pizza, and bad horror flicks. An easy poltergeist had made for a semi-vacation, and Dean had been able to envision the rest of the year going like this. No nasty jobs, nothing but his brother and his car and the open road. Little vacations up until that day.
Three days ago, Sam had even offered to drive. He hadn't asked since the year before, since the car crash that had ultimately claimed their dad's life, and Dean had actually been happily surprised at the request. He'd put up a token of protest, if just for face, but had surrendered the keys to Sam.
That had been his mistake.
He'd fallen asleep in the passenger's side, and had only awakened when the car had stopped. "Just gotta make a quick stop," Sam had said, voice soft in his ears. "Then you can get going again."
Dean had merely grunted and reclosed his half open eyes, hearing the trunk open, then shut. It occurred to him a few minutes later that the driver's door had never been closed, and it was crickets he could hear, not cars or a gas pump. Where the hell had Sam stopped?
It was only when he'd opened his eyes that he'd realized just what had been going on, and what his brother had said only minutes before. You can get going again. Not we. No SamandDean. Just Dean.
Because Just Sam had been standing in front of the car in the middle of a crossroads, wiping dirt from his hands. He'd pulled a ratty looking piece of paper from his back pocket, and had begun reading out loud even as the demon, dressed in a beautiful woman with gingery hair and a black gown, had appeared.
By the time Dean had shoved his car door open, the air had been crackling and the wind had picked up. By the time his feet had hit the ground, there had been a groan from within the earth, and the demon had stepped up to Sam who'd still been reading. By the time Dean had rounded the still open passenger door and was making for the center of the crossroads, the demon had grabbed Sam's arm and had pulled him in towards her.
By the time Dean had made it to the center, they'd both been gone. The piece of paper Sam had been reading off of had fluttered in the dying wind, and Dean had caught it as it had passed him. Sam's handwriting had been carefully spread across the paper, the Latin not hiding his brother's infallible cursive. Above it all, written in English, had been the title of Sam's small masterpiece: Invitation and Askance into Hell.
Sam had taken him seriously, then. Marching into Hell had been the only way to break Dean's deal because Dean had told him as much.
By the time the sun had set several hours later, Dean had still been kneeling in the dirt, clutching the paper in his shaking hands.
The first day Dean had gone through his brother's things, looking for a way to disinvite someone from Hell. If there was a way in, there had to be a way out.
Of course, what Dean had been looking for was the exact same thing Sam himself had been searching for for two months. He found nothing.
The second day Dean had called for help. Bobby had immediately called Sam several choice names, then had told Dean he'd do what he could.
He still hadn't heard back from him. Dean didn't think he would.
The third day Dean had started with anger. He'd thrown glasses at the wall, punched his hand through the plaster when the glasses didn't make a big enough dent to satisfy his rage. He'd thrown his own bag around the room, scattered the books and notes and even the laptop across the table and onto the floor. When there'd been nothing else to throw, he'd reached for the last bag on the floor.
And stopped. Because it was Sam's bag. It still smelled like him, still had his clothes neatly packed up like he always had them, had his few pictures of Jess and Mom and Dad in there underneath it all.
He wasn't coming back for it, though. He'd probably never open it again. Rage had turned into grief, and Dean had fallen back onto his bed by the sheer force of his sobs alone. He'd curled up like he had when he'd been four years old, finally comprehending that his mom wasn't coming back, that it was just Daddy and Sammy and him now.
This had been why he'd made the deal for Sam. The very thought of Sam not being there anymore to offer him a smile, to roll his eyes, to have his back through it all, to just not be there always made Dean bite his lip to force the tears back. He usually did, since Sam was there.
He didn't now. Sam wasn't there.
When he'd cried out all the tears his body would physically give him, he'd stood and silently righted the room. It had taken far longer to pick up than it had to trash, but it had been something to do.
Because now thinking was settling in, and Dean just couldn't think.
He'd leave town next. He knew it was the next logical step, but he didn't feel like being logical. He was all emotion now, fear and grief and a tiny surge of fury still beneath the surface. He had to hold onto them, as much as he usually shied away from emotions. If he didn't, he'd feel nothing at all. Numb.
But he didn't want to make the emotions stronger by thinking. So he didn't think about anything, but especially not about Sam and hell and Sam in hell.
And in the midst of his not thinking about Sam, Sam suddenly appeared in the room. Dean stared from his point next to the bed he'd just remade. Sam stared back and right through him all at once.
Then he blinked, and he saw something other than Sam. Like the torn clothes with blood underneath. The greasy, mussed hair that went every which way, and that was so un-Sam that it made Dean wonder wildly just who this thing was and what it had done to his brother.
Wasn't a thing; it was a place. Hell had done this.
Or maybe it was a thing, or really, a person, because Dean had done this.
"It's done," Sam said, his voice gravelly and deep and dead. "Deal's off. She won't come for you in a year."
"Ten months," Dean found himself correcting. Sam just kept staring through him, and Dean wanted to wave his arms wildly so Sam would focus on him. Wanted to storm up and slap his brother hard until Sam's face was as red as Dean's hand. Wanted to grab his brother and clutch him like he'd clutched the small piece of paper out at the crossroads and not let go.
Dean took a cautious step forward instead. Then another, because really, one step wasn't even close to Sam; another couldn't hurt. It was like a potato chip, though; one wasn't good enough, and the second didn't satisfy either, and by the time Dean thought he should stop, he was right in front of Sam. He stopped then, because if he didn't, he'd bump into Sam and keep going, take him and start running as far from every crossroads he could think of.
He had to reach out and touch, though. He had to know that Sam was real. He touched his brother's right shoulder, the only thing that didn't look torn to shreds, and when he wasn't shrugged off, tightened his grip to the point of pain. Sam didn't say anything, but after a moment he did refocus on Dean.
"I'm out," he said, and it wasn't an I'm okay or I'll be all right. Dean wasn't sure if Sam would ever be okay or all right again.
He wanted to crack a joke, wanted to be at the point where he could say go to hell and Sam would instantly reply been there, done that. He wanted to step back three days and fully wake up before Sam had gone to the middle of nowhere with a tiny piece of paper in his pocket.
Instead, he clutched at Sam until Sam took his wrist and lowered his hand away, stepping around him. "Need a shower," was all he offered, before he stepped into the bathroom.
Dean needed a hell of a lot more than that.
The next day didn't seem like Sam was out of Hell. If anything, he acted like he was really dead and gone, his soul somewhere locked in eternal fires of damnation. He moved slow, and his eyes would just stare at nothing. He didn't really say anything.
Dean couldn't help but wonder if he was going to need another deal to snap his brother out of this.
He turned himself onto autopilot instead, took a backseat while his body and brain did the usual deeds. Showering. Brushing teeth. Driving. Getting food. Eating food. Talking about nothing.
He did call Bobby to let him know that Sam was back. He even hung up on Bobby when the man asked how. He didn't know. He figured Bobby would understand.
It wasn't until they were halfway through with their pizza that Sam blinked and focused on something: his half-eaten pizza slice in his hand. Then he looked up at Dean with the first real signs of confusion.
"It's not that bad a pizza," Dean said, not really sure what was going through Sam's head. He didn't know if Sam was thinking at all: he wouldn't blame him if he wasn't. Dean wasn't. "They're your favorites, too, so you can't start on me about picking disgusting things and ruining the-"
"It's over," Sam breathed, setting the pizza down on the plate and the plate on the table. His eyes stayed locked on Dean, and the blank stare that had haunted Dean all day started to finally fade out. His eyes were wide and began to shine. "It's really over."
Somehow Dean's own pizza slice wound up on his plate, and where it went after that Dean didn't know. He stood and moved around the table to where Sam was seated, had been seated for most of the day. Sam's eyes followed him the entire way, as if Dean was all he could look at. Maybe he was afraid if he looked away, Dean would disappear.
Funny; Dean had been thinking similar thoughts all day. Except he'd been afraid that Sam had already disappeared somewhere he couldn't follow.
He crouched in front of Sam. The torn clothes had been tossed out yesterday after the shower, the wounds bandaged and several bloodied towels pitched in the same direction as the tattered clothing, but the last remnants of Hell were being tossed away now. Sam's eyes were focusing, his lower lip was trembling. And when Sam whispered, "Dean, it's over," there was no rough voice to be heard, only awe and relief and tears that still needed to be spilled.
Because it was over. All of it.
Sam leaned forward into Dean's open arms, and held on as tightly as Dean did. The deal was over. The worry over Sam inadvertently breaking the deal and dropping dead was done. The shock and panic of Sam marching into Hell to save Dean's soul was gone. The fear of not getting his brother back had faded.
"It's over," Dean echoed, his fingers sliding up and into Sam's hair.
There was a future now beyond a year. A future with the two of them hunting, driving, eating, pranking, being. No time limits, no nothing. Just SamandDean again.
He closed his eyes and let himself think about it.