All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
-As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7 by William Shakespeare
The slam of the door made Sam wince, even as he strode out of the car and slammed his own door shut. "Would you listen to me? I'm telling you, I found a way out of the deal," Sam tried again.
He didn't think he'd ever seen Dean so mad. "You're talking about a sacrifice to appease the demon, Sam," he raged, fists shaking. "Sacrifice either another hunter or a child. I'm sorry, but no."
"We bust Gordon Walker out of prison," Sam began, but Dean's incredulous face stopped him in his tracks.
"No matter how horrible Gordon is, I'm not gonna sacrifice him! I'll get my soul back, but what, have it tainted? No thanks."
Sam clutched his fists tight, using his height to loom over Dean even as his eyes pleaded with unshed tears. "I'm not gonna let you go to Hell, Dean. It's not happening. I'll do anything to make sure it doesn't happen."
Dean stared at him long and hard, before shaking his head. "I can't believe you." His voice was dangerously low as he continued, "I can't believe you, Sam. This isn't my little brother talking."
"What are you saying?" Sam managed, eyes round with shock. "Dean-"
"I don't know who you are," Dean said, backing away. "You're not my little brother. The little brother I know would rather die than hurt someone else."
"I can't believe you," Sam said, and dammit, he wouldn't let the tears fall. "I'm gonna save your ass, and you're worried about some hunter who tried to kill me. I'm doing this because I love you!"
"Then it's not the kind of love I want," Dean said, and his glare was enough to send Sam literally reeling back. Dean turned and slid back into the car, gunned it, and sent it off into the night. Sam shouted after him, his legs pumping furiously as he tried to catch up. Dean easily left him behind, though, and Sam finally stopped in the middle of the dirt road, tears streaming down his face as the Impala and Dean disappeared into the night.
After standing there for a few minutes, he turned and trudged back into the town they'd recently left. Every now and then his chin trembled, but he'd straighten it out, as best he could. Dean had just left him, hadn't even heard him out, and did his brother really think he'd sacrifice a child? And god, he would've thought that Dean would've been more than happy to end Gordon, considering how he'd said he would last year for hurting Sam, but apparently, Sam wasn't worth it anymore.
He didn't know how he made it to the bar without getting run over, but he found himself sitting with a glass of whiskey not fifteen minutes after Dean had deserted him. Who knew where Dean was now?
He took a sip, his swallow loud in his ears, the music playing one of Dean's favorite songs, but he still heard the silky voice to his right just fine.
"You look like you need a friend."
He set the glass down carefully on the wooden bar and glanced over. The woman was a blonde, wearing a pretty little black dress that left nearly nothing to the imagination. Her eyes flashed red for a moment, and Sam's hand instinctively went to the holy water in his pocket.
"Easy, sugar, I'm not here to fight," she cooed. "Just want to talk with you."
"Not interested," Sam said through gritted teeth. He didn't have any weapons on him at all, not even any clothes. Dean had taken everything, the only home Sam'd really known, and he bit down viciously on his lip, his emotions visible across his face.
The demon almost managed to look sympathetic. "Cry if you need to; I'm not going to care, and I'm not going to change my mind," she said, laying her elbow on the bar and resting her chin her hand.
Sam sniffed and kept the tears shoved down. Her words sent his heart racing, though, and he asked suspiciously, "What do you mean, change your mind?"
"About my offer." The demon looked bored, almost, all but for the calculating gaze she had fixed on Sam. "You've gotta be pretty mad at Dean right about now, I'd say."
Sam looked down into his glass. "C'mon, Sam: the guy who swore he'd protect you, the guy who swore he loved you enough to die for you, and he just takes off?"
"It's not like that," he protested weakly, but she cut him off.
"Really? So Dean'll come back for you, right? Any minute now, he'll come walking through the doors, and you'll both go back on the road together?"
Sam's pause was answer enough for her. "He ditched you, abandoned you, like he accused you of doing all those years ago. All you're trying to do is save his ass from the flames, and he couldn't care less. He doesn't really love you, Sam. And I know you can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, he's regretting the deal right about now, and wishes he could break it. He's probably wondering if you're even human."
He forced his hands to relax; any tighter, and he'd break the glass in his hands. "Don't let him do this to you," the demon whispered, closer now. "He's hurt you, Sam. And all you've ever tried to do was help. He doesn't love you."
"Doesn't love you. If he loved you, he wouldn't have left you unprotected and stranded in the middle of nowhere. He's a hunter; he knows what's out there. He was probably hoping you'd die."
"I could've gotten killed," Sam said, and he let the anger grow inside of him, let it show for all the world to see.
"Yeah, you could've."
"All I've tried to do is save his life, and he hates himself as much as he hates me."
The demon shrugged. "I'm sorry it came down to this, Sam."
Sam grabbed his glass and drained the last of the whiskey in one big pull. He had to change everything to do this, but this one time chance deal was too good to be true. He slammed the glass down, then gave her his full, undivided attention. "I swear, what he did...it felt like he ripped my heart out of my chest and sliced it up," Sam said, voice strained as emotions threatened to come through. He pushed them back, though. No more time for that. "What's your offer?"
Pearly white smile, and Sam could almost believe she was just a regular human. "Well, when we planned on taking Dean to Hell...we were going to show him the ropes, so to speak. Give him his own personal Hell, one complete with pain and demons ripping the skin off of him, but...really, now, I'm thinking that the honor should be yours. You've got the power to do it, Sam. And he's hurt you so much; don't you want him to pay just a little bit back? Make him hurt the way he hurt you, ripped you to pieces, left you alone to die out on that road?"
"I can't," Sam said, voice tight. "I don't...don't think-"
The demon waited, and Sam finally gave a bitter laugh. "You know what? I didn't think he'd leave me out there on that road, either. He deserves to hurt as much as I have. I've done everything, and all he's done is spit it in my face."
"Hurting him physically...typical route, lots of nice pain involved," the demon coaxed, then leaned in for the kill. "But hurting his soul? So much sweeter."
Sam stared at her long and hard. "You'd let me take his soul, too? To let me do whatever I wanted with it?" She couldn't really be offering, could she?
There was nothing sweet or normal about the demon's smile then. "I think we could arrange that, yes. I've got my orders, and my boss thinks you should have full honors to it. We've seen the way he's watched you, over the past week. The fights you two have been having. You deserve to do this, Sam."
Sam slowly began to nod. "How do we make this official?"
"Why don't we step outside; night's cool and nice enough. Perfect place to do business." She slid from the stool, not even looking behind to see if Sam followed. Once he caught up with her outside, Sam led her away from the bar, off behind an abandoned building. "Don't want anyone to know you're doing business with the devil?" she asked, smirking.
Sam rounded on her, glaring hard. "You're still not my friend; this is business. But I guarantee you, you won't need Hell for Dean by the time I'm through."
"Fair enough," the demon agreed, and outstretched her hand. A small glow of light balanced in her palm, and Sam stared as she stepped forward, offering it to him. "The tiny bit of your brother's soul we laid claim to. It's like a down payment, and the deal's the contract that gets signed."
"And this one little piece is enough to control the rest of it," Sam asked. She nodded, and Sam steadied his hand and took the piece of soul she offered. "And I can do anything I want with this."
"Anything," she agreed. "You can pull the rest of his soul out, you can rip it and twist at it with this single little thing-"
"Or maybe he can just put it back together."
The demon whipped her head around to where Sam knew Dean was standing in the shadows. Her eyes turned to full red when Sam turned to his brother, hands carefully cradling the tiny bit of soul he had. "You dirty sons of a whore," she seethed. "You played me!"
"Hey, you played us first," Dean said, grinning unrepentantly.
"Slight change in plans," Sam said quietly, eyes on his prize.
"Yeah, kinda noticed. I figured we could bargain with her, but-"
"Then why stage the fight?" she hissed. "Why?"
Dean shrugged. "To separate us; we left it open for you to target either of us, figuring you'd be willing to talk after we'd 'turned' on each other. And I wouldn't be worried about us: bet your boss isn't gonna be too pleased about this."
The demon paled, before fury filled her face. "I'll strip the meat from your bones," she swore, and moved towards them both. Sam froze, but Dean didn't look the least bit concerned. When the demon lurched to a stop, Sam let himself relax. Dean had laid the Devil's Trap, then.
At least something was going according to plan tonight. Actually, pretty much everything was going according to plan, except for the one thing Sam hadn't really thought about.
He crossed the remaining space to reach his brother, who switched his gaze from the demon to Sam. With hands that could no longer stay steady, Sam pushed the bit of soul up to Dean's chest, right above his heart, and kept pushing until his hands were flush with his brother's shirt. Dean inhaled sharply, and Sam immediately glanced up in concern. "I'm all right," Dean assured him, panting slightly. "Actually, I feel better than all right."
"Your brother at least would've had the year to live out," the demon snarled. "Now? Now there's no assurance of that, whatsoever. If he dies, then-"
"Then Hell won't claim him," Sam said, glaring at her hard. "And you wouldn't have guaranteed him the entire year to live; you just would've taken his soul sooner, if he'd died."
The demon trembled with fury but said nothing. "Can I send her ass back to Hell now?" Dean asked.
Sam nodded and backed away, pulling his hands in close. Dean stepped forward, their dad's journal already in hand. Within a minute the demon was howling, exiting the young blonde, and leaving the poor woman panting on the ground. "What...I don't..." she stammered, and Dean pulled her to her feet.
"Relax, ma'am; you're in good hands. My partner and I were just off duty when we heard a sound. We chased them off, whoever the men were; you'll be all right. Right, Sam?"
Sam blinked and pulled himself back to the conversation. "Right," he echoed faintly. When Dean frowned at him slightly, Sam looked away. He didn't think he'd ever be able to look Dean in the face again.
They'd gotten Dean's soul back; the contract was done, and so was the countdown to the end of the year. They'd played the demon and won.
Sam couldn't get the image of his brother glaring at him out of his head, though. Nor could he dispel the demon's words.
He doesn't really love you, Sam. And I know you can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, he's regretting the deal right about now, and wishes he could break it. He's probably wondering if you're even human.
He tried to force the thoughts from his head, tried to focus on the sole fact that Dean was safe, they were both alive, and they'd live to fight another day.
It was with a heavy heart, though, that he slid into the Impala, long after they'd sent the confused woman on her way to the authorities. Dean slid into the driver's seat, and after he closed the door, there was nothing but silence. Sam kept his eyes glued to the dashboard, arms wrapped tightly around himself.
Dean cleared his throat. "She hurt you?"
Sam closed his eyes and shook his head.
Another pause, before Dean asked, even more quietly this time, "You okay?"
Sam responded with a tentative nod. "You sure?" Dean pressed.
Sam swallowed hard, and it physically hurt to keep the words that were floating through his mind from coming up. "Just drive," he whispered.
He waited until Dean started the engine, then turned away to the window. They should've been celebrating; god, Dean had to be ecstatic, and Sam was ruining any happiness because of this. Dean didn't really feel this way about him, and Sam just had to snap out of it.
He doesn't really love you, Sam.
He clenched his eyes shut even tighter and tried to sleep.
Yeah, sure. The kid was just fine. And Dean was the reincarnation of Bon Scott. Actually, that would be kinda cool-
Off topic. Metaphor. Because Sam was as far from okay as they should be.
Sam should've been giddy, maybe crying a little because he was a major girl like that. Hell, Dean would've been okay crying a little himself, because it was over, for the time being. Little vacations, like a salt and burn in Miami, a poltergeist in Vegas...he was cool with that. And anywhere else Sam wanted to go, hunt or no hunt. This was major ass big.
He knew why the kid was upset. They'd agreed before hand that they'd put everything they had into this, and let themselves believe what they were saying, because they had to. If the demon had smelled any sort of insincerity on their parts, their act would've been for nothing. They'd needed her to think Sam was at rock bottom and hurting, and that Dean was betrayed and hurting.
Even as each word had felt like a shard coming out of his mouth, Dean had given it his all. It'd taken everything he had not to apologize or drive back for Sam at the look of hurt and betrayal on his brother's face. Seeing the kid all but sobbing as he'd driven away had caused his foot to linger over the brake several times, but it'd been for the greater good, right?
They were physically fine. Now Dean just had to work on putting his little brother back to rights again.
He pulled into a small motel off the highway at around two in the morning. Sam was awake, eyes staring out the window. The look on his face reminded Dean of when Sam was in a nightmare, right before Dean woke him up. The kid was sort of awake, though, so Dean wasn't really sure what to do.
"Wait here," Dean told him, heading into the office. The elderly woman behind the counter greeted him sweetly, and asked the usual: queen or two doubles.
He began to reply, then stopped, and changed his mind. "Queen, please," he said, and smiled as he laid down his card. He had to look at the card to make sure he was writing the right name on the slip, and then he was heading back to the car, two keys in his hand.
He slid into the driver's seat, ignoring the way Sam had tensed up when he'd come back. "Got bad news," he said, making a face and acting again for the second time that night.
Sam frowned. "What do you mean?"
The car was driven down to their room, and Dean waited until they were parked before he answered. "They were out of doubles; we're stuck with a queen for the night. Sorry, kiddo."
Sam sighed, but then nodded. "The parking lot doesn't look that full to me," he said as he exited the car.
"Something about a bus full of people coming in, bright and early or something," Dean fudged. He grabbed both their bags and closed the trunk, heading for the door. "I didn't want to know, didn't want to ask, so I just took the queen. Live with it."
The room was nice, Dean had to give it that. At that point, however, the only thing he cared about was sleeping for a month and making sure Sam didn't fall apart on him. Two of his usual top priorities, and Sam always beat out sleep, anyways.
"You want the bathroom first?" Sam asked hesitantly, and Dean answered with a groan.
"Dude, no showers, all right? Let's just sleep." He fell onto the side of the bed closest to the door and toed off his shoes, wiggled his feet happily, and laid back with a sigh.
He counted down from ten three times before Sam finally took a seat on the other side of the bed. The edge, Dean guessed, and opened his eyes slightly to confirm. If the kid was anymore on the edge, he'd fall off the bed. Sam pulled off his shoes, arranging them near the wall, then sat like he didn't know what else to do.
Dean gave a small sigh. "Sammy-"
"I just need to change," Sam interrupted, and moved for the bathroom. Dean stared at the closed door long and hard, then sat up and quickly slid into his sleep clothes.
When Sam came back out, Dean was back on the bed, eyes closed and facing the ceiling. Sam once again sat on the edge, then awkwardly arranged himself so he was laying on the farthest side of the bed.
Dean rolled his eyes and rolled the rest of himself over at last. He grabbed Sam's arm and hauled him back to face Dean, ignoring the yelp and the small glare he was given for his efforts. "I'm not picking your ass off the floor tomorrow morning," Dean told him matter of factly. "And that's exactly what'll happen if you sleep on the edge like that."
"I was fine," Sam defended. "Just...go to sleep, Dean."
Sam's attempt to roll back over failed both times, and he finally huffed and settled on his side facing Dean. "Dean, I just want to sleep. You've gotta be tired, too."
"I can't believe I'm about to say this to you, but we were just playing, Sam."
All the annoyance fell from Sam's face, and he fidgeted, looking away. "I know that, Dean. I'm not four years old anymore."
Dean reached out and tapped the side of Sam's chin, and his brother turned his attention back. "I didn't mean any of it, Sammy," Dean continued quietly. "Any of it."
Sam swallowed and winced like it hurt. "What'd she say, Sam?" he continued, gently but firmly.
"Can you just let this go? I'm being stupid, all right? We acted to do what we needed to do; this entire thing was just pretend, and I'm getting upset over what's practically a child's game-"
"What'd she say? Because I know what I said to you, but I don't know what she said. I didn't mean it, and she probably did."
Sam flinched. Guess they were going to play another child's game: 20 questions. "She tell you that you should die a horrible, fiery death?"
"That she was going to pluck out our eyeballs?"
"What about...that I couldn't care less about you?"
Sam stiffened and looked away, and that was all the answer Dean needed. "That I was a horrible person, that I left you and wasn't coming back?" When Sam still didn't answer, Dean ran over the conversation he'd heard when Sam and the demon had stepped behind the building. "That you should make me pay, nice and slow, for doing it, since I obviously hated you?"
Sam jackknifed straight up, and it was Dean's reflexes that had him grabbing Sam's arm and pulling him back down. Sam struggled, but Dean wasn't perturbed. When Sam continued to persist, and began using his legs to sit up, Dean gave into the wrestling and swung his leg over his brother's kicking ones. Before Sam could push him off, he had his arms wrapped around Sam's torso tightly, trapping Sam's arms between them.
"Let me go," Sam ground out, still fighting.
Dean snorted. "You realize that you're the one fighting to get out of a hug, and I'm the one initiating it?"
"It took everything I had not to turn that damn car around and come back for you," Dean said softly, and Sam stopped struggling. "I couldn't even look in the rear view mirror, because I knew you were acting and that I was acting, but..." Dean shook his head. "You should've made acting your career, I swear. Oscar worthy performance, kid." And no, he wasn't telling Sam about the tears that had trailed down his face when he'd finally dared to look back. Or his lips being bit until it bled, his hands tightening on the wheel to the point of pain during the subsequent looks. It had defied every big brother instinct in his body, to leave his little brother stranded alone and sobbing and hurting so damn much, but they'd agreed before hand.
Yeah, Dean should've totally hugged the stuffing out of Sam before they'd decided to do this.
"Do you think I'm human?"
Dean blinked, his jaw dropping open in shock. He tried to pull back to see Sam's face, but it was Sam who clung this time, keeping them wrapped tightly with their chins on the other's shoulder. Dean shut his eyes, cursing the demon bitch in every single language he knew. Whatever she'd said on the matter had piled on top of Dean's comment about Sam's characteristics during their 'argument', and she'd played off of it, probably fed off of it gleefully.
Sam was tensing up as each moment he went by unanswered. "I think you're Sam Winchester, my little brother, a pain in the ass," he got a pinch for that, "and the human kid I'd give my life for all over again if I had to."
Silence and stillness filled the room. Dean wasn't even sure if he breathed, waiting for Sam to reply. Then, the rustling of clothes was heard, and Dean could feel trembling hands knotting fingers into his shirt. He breathed again, let Sam cling to him, and closed his eyes. "It's been a bad year, Sammy," Dean spoke again, if just to fill the silence. "It's been a really bad year."
"No kidding," Sam muttered, his voice watery.
"I answer your question?"
More silence, but only for a little bit this time. "Yeah."
"We gonna be okay?" Dean asked, a little quieter this time.
He felt the nod before he heard the answer. "Yeah," Sam said, and he sounded a little less teary than before. "I think so."
"Good," Dean breathed out, before pulling back to look Sam in the eyes. His red-rimmed eyes, but he didn't look as miserable as he had before, so plus in Dean's favor. "Now you can answer my question: would you really have been willing to sacrifice a hunter to get the demon off my back, if that had even worked?"
Sam stared at him, before biting his lip and nodding. "It wouldn't have been Gordon, though," he said. "It would've been me, if that had been what it'd come down to."
With a quick move Dean brought his arm up and slugged Sam in the arm. "Ow! What was that for?" Sam complained, rubbing his arm and glaring at Dean.
Dean just glared right back. "Because I knew that was what you were going to say. I would've totally been okay with Gordon, because the minute he gets out, you know he's gonna come straight for us, and more specifically, straight for you." And that put Gordon at the top of Dean's hit list.
"But you're totally willing to sacrifice yourself to save me," Dean continued.
"You were for me."
Dean stopped his tirade and turned to Sam, pursing his lips. Sam merely raised his eyebrow. "Yeah, but I'm not willing for you to do that," Dean admitted. "I can't."
"Then you're just going to have to not get yourself into any more of these messes, are you?" Sam said, his lips twitching upward.
Dean fought the urge to grin himself and laid on his back, folding his arms behind his head before he answered. "Well, you started it, technically, when you got stabbed."
"What? I did not."
"I can't believe we're having this conversation." With a huff Sam turned onto his back, and Dean could practically hear his eyes rolling in his skull.
"G'night, Sammy," he said cheerfully. Then he was yelping in indignation, the sound muffled as Sam slammed him in the face with a pillow.
"'Night, Dean," Sam responded, tucking his pillow back underneath his head. Dean muttered something ungracious about his brother's maturity, and saw Sam grin as his brother closed his eyes.
Dean let himself smile as well. That was the little brother he knew and loved.
"How's Miami sound for a week?"
Sam's grin grew, and Dean let himself relax for the first time in months.