Title: Prayers to Broken Stone

Summary: Blind faith could take many forms. Desperation did that to a man. It didn't take a Stanford education to figure that one out, but it certainly had taken Dean long enough. Tag to Long Distance Caller.

A/N: Part of me thinks I'm going to catch crap for this tag because I'm pretty sure my Sam girl colors are showing pretty clearly here. But if you all don't realize that I'm biased by now, then you must not be reading very carefully :) This ep didn't scream out for a limpness tag, yet I was drawn to write one anyone, partly because the ending drove me nuts. Obvious spoilers for Long Distance Caller and vague ones for every ep until this point.

A/N 2: Thanks to sendintheclowns, Rachelly, and geminigrl11 for their feedback on this one. I'm a messy writer, so it feels good knowing I have people watching my back to make sure I don't make (too much) of an idiot of myself.

Disclaimer: These get so redundant! I don't own them. At all. Trust me.


Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

-from "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot

-o-

Nights in motel rooms were never exactly fun. There was never much to do except watch bad TV, especially since Sam installed the child locks on his laptop to keep Dean from surfing his usual sites (and so much for his platinum membership to Busty Asian Beauties--Dean still couldn't figure out the password to get to it after three months of hacking). Which left bad TV, and Dean had already seen all these infomercials and the cable reception at this motel sucked anyway.

But if he was honest with himself, that wasn't really the problem. Flipping through the static-filled stations, Dean knew his unsettled feeling had nothing to do with Sam's obsessively protected PC or cable's redundant qualities. It had everything to do with this hunt, this deal, and this growing reality that maybe making that deal wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done.

Not that he'd been thinking at the time, of course. And not that he quite regretted it. Sam was dead after all, which is kind of something that would throw any good big brother for a loop. He'd seen the light fade from Sam's eyes. He'd felt the heat drain from Sam's body. He'd watched his brother's features pale, felt Sam's body stiffen, and he'd been able to do nothing. Nothing except sit and think about how it all went to hell so quickly and without his consent.

So he'd done the only thing he could do. He set it all straight so he went to hell. Not so quickly but completely with his consent.

And truthfully, walking in and seeing Sam alive--it had been the best feeling ever. Better than good food, the Impala down an open stretch of road, even good sex--lots of it. Because it was Sam. Sam he'd spent his entire life looking after. Sam who had given him meaning, purpose. Sam who he defined himself by. Sam.

That'd been enough to last Dean exactly one week before he realized just how much he'd screwed up. Of course, he hadn't let himself think that, not then, anyway. Not when all of it was for Sam. Not when Sam's life depended on him playing along. But six months into the deal and Sam's behavior was erratic at best and all Dean could think about was one hundred percent Sammy and deals with no loopholes and the ever-ticking clock bringing it all to a slow and painful end.

Hell. The place of demons and eternal torment and all that freaky-ass jazz that no one wants to think about. Apparently not even demons. And Dean had himself a one-way, first-class ticket down there--all for a little brother who may not survive to appreciate the sacrifice, much less even be the little brother he'd given up everything for.

When Dean talked about secrets, that was one he still had, still would have, mostly because he was too afraid to admit to himself, much less to Sam. The fact that demons lied was weak consolation, but sometimes it was all he had when considering the state of his brother's soul. Because he knew Sam. And whatever the hell Sammy was doing sometimes, Dean wasn't sure, but it certainly wasn't making old Yellow Eyes out to be a liar. Besides, the last thing he needed was Sam bemoaning his own fate when Dean's was sucky enough for them to grapple with at the moment.

He sighed and flicked off the TV, tossing the remote aside. The room fell into silence, the darkness humming softly with the sounds of the night. It could almost be called peaceful, if such a word by its very nature wasn't deceptive. He snorted, shaking his head incredulously. Peaceful when each passing second brought him closer and closer to hell.

He would lose everything. Who he was, what he knew. All the goodness left in him, everything he loved, everything he'd worked for, would disappear. And worse, turn into something dark, something twisted, something evil.

Dean shuddered, leaning his head back against the headboard.

Nothing was worth that.

Nothing.

He glanced over at Sam. His younger brother was asleep, curled beneath the covers on his side. In sleep, Sam looked so young, his features slack and smooth, his mouth parted slightly as he breathed evenly in and out.

Closing his own eyes, Dean let himself sink down into his pillows.

Nothing.

-o-

Waking up was never as much fun as falling asleep, especially since Dean didn't find his real life particularly any more enjoyable than his dream life. At least in his dreams, he didn't have to slink from town to town, but just sort of arrive; nor did he have to do any wooing--the girls were all there and ready for the taking.

Better yet, no buzz kill of a little brother to wrangle him out of bed and try hauling him across the country in some hopeless endeavor to save his life. Not that Dean didn't appreciate the effort, but he was really tired of getting his hopes up while Sam chased after some wild goose that would never be caught. Sam's ideas were utterly predictable half the time, which was why Dean had been so keen to listen to his "dad" to begin with.

Sam's intentions were good, but Sam was still pinning his hopes on Ruby. No, Dean couldn't exactly trust his little brother on this one. At least Dean was putting his faith in someone who hadn't failed him. All Sam had was the promise of some demonic bitch who never actually told them anything, except that there really wasn't any hope at all—for Dean, anyway.

Grunting, Dean pushed himself up, squinting into the morning light that filtered through the dingy curtains. It was late--far later than Dean had anticipated. Sam nearly always had some pointless lead to chase and was always rousing him at all hours of the morning to do it.

Not today apparently.

Dean glanced at the clock. 10:41.

Raising his eyebrows, Dean looked at his brother again. Sam was still curled on his side, in the same position as the night before.

At least one of them was getting some quality rest these days.

Dean got himself out of bed, stumbling to the shower, sleep still fogging his brain. A hot shower and the start of a cup of coffee later, Dean was ready to blow this joint, get the hell out of Dodge--all that good stuff. Anything to get away from another failure. Another lost opportunity. Another nail in his eternal coffin.

If only his little brother would get off his lazy ass and wake up.

With another glance at the clock, Dean felt his annoyance mount. 11:04. And Sam was still asleep?

"Hey, Sam," he called out, blowing on his coffee. "You thinking of waking up some time this century?"

There was no response.

With a scowl, Dean pulled a pair of rolled up socks from his bag, chucking them at Sam.

"Sam," he called again, louder this time, his voice edgier.

The pair of socks hit the younger brother squarely on the shoulder, then bounced to the floor.

Sam still didn't move.

His kid brother could sleep as good as the rest of them--being raised on the road meant you had to take your winks when you could get them--but so soundly? Sam? The Angst Boy riddled with nightmares?

No, something wasn't right. After all, if Dean's socks had been a ghost, Sam would be dead right now, and Sam was too good of a hunter to sleep through a potential threat.

"Hey, Sam," he tried again, standing now, his cup of coffee abandoned on the table. His hand went to his brother's shoulder, shaking him. "Sammy?"

Sam's body flopped a little, moving in his grasp, but the kid didn't stir.

Dean's heart skipped a beat.

Harder this time, he shook Sam again, and he couldn't deny the cold stab of terror that shot through his body as his younger brother fell lifelessly to his back on the bed.

Dean swore. This was not good. This was not good at all.

Sam had been fine last night. A little worn around the edges, withdrawn, moody--but he was always that way. He hadn't said anything about injuries or about how he beat the crocotta. It looked like it'd been a fight, if the bruises on Sam's face were any indication, but Sam, despite all his flaws, was tough. He'd gone through much worse and barely had a headache.

Then Dean gritted his teeth. Not that he knew what had even happened. Because Dean hadn't even taken the time to ask. He'd bared his soul, poured out his fears, then shut off all possible conversation just like that.

Dean was scared, sure, and he was beginning to have his regrets, which was only natural, but since when did he become a self-absorbed moron?

With hands steady only with years of training, Dean started to examine his brother. Not a quick once over, but a careful check, cataloguing the bruises, the scrapes, feeling for broken bones--

There. On the back of his head. A knot, buried beneath stiff hair, dried with blood, no doubt.

Dean cursed again, rolling Sam to his side to get a better look at it. It was hard to see through the thicket of hair, but there it was, a gash on the knot, deep and bloody and looking painful as hell. Sam had been smacked--hard, from the looks of it, which certainly explained the unconsciousness, much to Dean's chagrin.

A concussion. It wouldn't even have to be a major one. Just enough to wear Sam out, to put him to sleep and leave his body was susceptible to the negative side effects. Side effects that were easily avoidable with monitoring. If Dean had just woken him up every few hours...

But he hadn't even known Sam was hurt.

He didn't know much of anything about what happened last night. Because he didn't ask. Because he didn't stop to think. Because he'd been too obsessed with getting himself out of his deal that he forgot why he made the deal in the first place.

For Sam.

Worriedly, he rolled Sam back to his front, his hands hovering over his brother, trying to figure out his next move.

One hundred percent or not, this was his brother. And seeing him so still against the mattress, unmoving, pale--it was too much like Cold Oak. It'd been fast that time--too fast--Dean hadn't had time to act or think.

Not this time. This wasn't the same. This wouldn't be the same. Dean may not have a soul to sell anymore, but he could still save his brother.

Which meant waking Sam up.

Because Dean sure as hell knew what this meant. He knew that concussions could cause swelling in the brain and, if left unchecked, could lead to coma or even death. He needed to wake Sam up, see if Sam was still with it enough or if a trip to the hospital was in order. The FBI may not have been an issue anymore, but they were both legally dead. Still, that was a risk Dean was willing to take if push came to shove.

Sam wasn't waking to touch or sound. Dean would just have to try pain. He didn't relish hurting his brother, but it was better than letting his wounded sibling slip into an irreversible coma.

Making a fist, Dean pressed his knuckles into Sam's sternum, rubbing hard.

Nearly immediately, Sam twitched, moaning and trying to pull away.

That was the feedback Dean needed.

Dean pushed harder, leaning in closer. "Sammy?" he called. "Come on, kiddo, wake up."

At that, Sam's eyelids fluttered, and Dean found himself smiling.

"Come on," he coaxed. "Just a little more."

Sam's eyes opened, blearily, but Dean would take what he could get at this point.

"You with me?" he prompted.

Sam's brow furrowed and he frowned a little, his mouth working soundlessly.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Words seemed a little beyond Sam still, and Dean watched as his younger brother merely tried to make sense of where he was at the moment.

Sam blinked again, his eyes clearing a little, though they still looked a little dilated to Dean.

"Sammy?"

The younger brother swallowed. "Dean?" he asked, and his voice was soft, a little slurred, but it was still an improvement.

"The one and only," Dean assured him. "You want to tell me why you're taking an extended nap?"

Confusion marred Sam's face again.

"The crocotta, Sam," Dean clarified. "What happened with the crocotta."

"It tried to kill you," Sam said, his eyes darkening. "I didn't want it to hurt you."

Dean suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. For being the selfish bastard of the family, Sam was annoyingly focused on Dean at times. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "But what did it do to you?"

"Knocked me out," Sam said finally, his eyes drifting to the ceiling. "A bat, I think."

Dean winced. A baseball bat to the head would definitely do it. Add to that the bruises to Sam's face and they were probably looking at a nice little concussion.

"Tied me up," Sam continued, unprompted, his eyelids drooping again. "But I had to get back to you."

Dean's heart clenched and he tried not to think about it. Tried not to think about how Sam's only focus had been him. How Sam had worried about Dean, and Dean had been too wrapped up in himself to see the obvious answer. It wasn't just that Dean was selfish or scared--that was only human. But it was the fact that he'd let his anxiety, his need obscure the one thing he had left in life that mattered--Sam. He'd gone against Sam's wishes, left Sam to hunt the thing alone, and Sam could have died there and Dean still wouldn't have a clue.

Hell, Sam could have died in his sleep. It was only sheer luck that Dean had woke him up at all.

"Stay awake," Dean ordered, choking on the words. "You've got a concussion."

Sam's eyes blinked open again and he seemed to sigh a little. "Doesn't matter," Sam said. "Still won't save you."

"I told you, Sam," Dean said, more terse than he intended. "The only one to save me is me. It's not your problem."

"You trust Dad," Sam slurred softly. "You trust yourself. I just wanted you to trust me."

Dean's throat tightened uncontrollably as realization dawned on him again. Sam didn't have a chick flick moment for him. Sam didn't have a poem. Sam didn't even have the answers. All Sam had was the need to try. And Dean was willing to trust his long-dead father who'd never treated him like an adult a day in his life, to put his faith into what he'd known deep down was an impossibility--but he wasn't ready to trust Sam. He could sell his soul for his brother, save his ass day after day, but he wasn't ready to give Sam the one thing that Sam really needed--someone to believe in him.

"I'm scared, too, Dean," Sam said, his eyes blinking slowly. "So scared."

Dean wasn't the only one affected by the deal. Sam was falling apart just as fast and completely as Dean was. Sam just didn't have anyone to listen to him.

No one but crazy demonic chicks.

Blind faith could take many forms. Desperation did that to a man. It didn't take a Stanford education to figure that one out, but it certainly had taken Dean long enough.

He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. "Yeah, well, me, too," he said gently.

Sam was looking at him, with the earnestness of a child, and Dean felt tears burn his eyes. It wasn't a poem, it wasn't a moment, it wasn't a solution, but for now, it would be enough.

"Tell you what," he said finally. "You just stay awake, okay? You stay awake, and when you feel a little better, we'll tackle this together. You and me. Okay?"

The smile that broke out over Sam's face was so big, so genuine, and Dean remembered that this was what it was all for. This was the reason his soul was worth it. Hell was a high price, but maybe it really had been his only choice.

"You and me?" Sam asked.

Dean sighed, letting his hand rest on Sam's shoulder. Sam wouldn't remember any of this, wouldn't know a thing when he finally came to his senses, but Dean would. Dean would remember every last minute--and cling to it. "Yeah, Sam," he said. "Just you and me."