Title: Nothing is With Thee

Summary: Because a year ago Sam made a promise, a desperate, foolish, damn Winchester promise, and he's not sure he's ready to let that go just yet.

A/N: It's hard to think that it's been since June since I wrote anything about Sam and Dean. I've just been rather busy and this show and fandom have made me rather bitter. And then, when I do, it's this? Needless to say this isn't my most exciting fic ever but it's based on frustrations I've had with the new season. Therefore, expect spoilers up through 4.1. Thanks to geminigrl11 who beta'ed this for me and to sendintheclowns who also offered some sound advice to get this little thing finished. I tinkered a bit without their consent so mistakes are my own stupidity.

Disclaimer: I really would never want them.

-o-

What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was already nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

From "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway

-o-

It's a grave in Pontiac. Bobby wants to salt and burn Dean, but Sam won't hear of it. Because a year ago Sam made a promise, a desperate, foolish, damn Winchester promise, and he's not sure he's ready to let that go just yet.

He's cleaned Dean's body. He's changed Dean's clothes. He's buried Dean under six feet of dirt, and he still refuses to admit he's failed.

Because Dean would find a way. Dean did find a way. No matter what Dean told him in the end, no matter what promises he made Sam give, Dean found a way.

Sam doesn't care if he has to find every demon in the world, he doesn't care if he has to wager his soul to do it, Dean can't stay dead. If there's any value left in Sam's life, that's it.

It's a grave in the middle of nowhere with just a cross to mark it because what's dead doesn't have to stay dead as far as Sam's concerned.

-o-

It's a hunt in the Everglades. The weather is warm and muggy and there are mosquitoes at twilight, right when things should be getting pretty, but Sam's too busy swatting them to notice.

Pretty, though, like Sam even cares. He might have once. He might have even waxed poetic, told Dean to appreciate nature's finer things, taken Jess here on some adventurous getaway.

But now, it's the hunt, for what that's worth. It started with the hunt and it'll end with the hunt. Because there are evil things everywhere Sam looks.

He said once that there was so much evil in the world that he felt like he could drown in it.

Funny thing, he was right.

He's been wrong about a lot of things, but he was damned well right about that.

Only now, he's given up believing in anything, anything but evil and eradication, because the evil has an undertow so strong that he can't fight it. Never could, he just never knew it until now. Seems like he's been drowning his entire life; he just finally stopped trying to fight it.

-o-

It's a girl in Missoula. She's young and attractive and wearing more make-up than anyone should, but she's got this country twang and rips in her jeans that flash slivers of her tanned thighs. Dean would have liked her, so when she comes on to Sam, he doesn't say no.

They end up at her place, some run-down apartment on the edge of town, and it smells like Chinese food and leather. It seems like they're having fun, but when Sam wakes up the next morning, he feels as cold as ever.

-o-

It's the open road in Nevada. Sam doesn't know crap about cars and never has, no matter what meager things Dean tried to teach him. So when the Impala starts to stutter, he takes it in.

The list of repairs is long and Sam signs off on all of them without even looking, even springs for a stereo upgrade because it's not his money, anyway.

But no matter how much he changes the car, no matter how much he tries to make it different, it still feels like Dean.

-o-

It's a voicemail message when he gets to Scranton. He sort of likes Scranton, and he gets the theme song from The Office stuck in his head, and he wishes that his problems were nothing more than an egotistical, inept boss and mostly crazy coworkers. But those aren't his problems, and there's not a Dunder Mifflin, because yeah, he looked. There's nothing else to do alone in motel rooms.

The voicemail is from Bobby, who calls like clockwork once a week. It's so precise that Sam knows it's an effort. Like a penance. A penance for failing Dean.

Bobby says that they're like family, but he was always looking at Dean when he said that. Sam might have believed it, could have believed it at one time, but he can see it in Bobby's eyes now that there is no Dean to shine back. He can see that niggle of doubt, the hint of regret, that Bobby wishes he could have stopped Dean from making the deal to begin with. Not just because it wasn't what Sam would have wanted or even what it did to Sam, but because he loved Dean more.

Sam couldn't blame him for that. Sam loved him more, too. Dean had never seen the way people flocked to him, the way people trusted him. There was a reason he could pick up any girl he saw. There was a reason their father sold his soul for Dean. There was a reason Bobby looked so devastated. Dean was larger than life, and Sam was just the little brother who couldn't.

That's another thing Dean had never seen. That no matter what Sam did, no matter how hard Sam tried, he always sort of paled in comparison to his brother. He was never as good at the right things, he was never as smart in the right ways, and he was never as obedient, as good looking, as funny. Sam was the odd man out whenever he was with Dean, and it'd been that way since he learned the truth when he was eight years old. The truth his father had kept from him and given to Dean.

Dean said it was to protect Sam. Protection seemed like just another way of saying they didn't trust him to do it.

He used to resent that. Hell, he'd left his family behind because of it all. But they were right in all of it. After all, Sam killed everyone around him. He shouldn't be trusted, and all his mother, his girlfriend, his father, his brother got for protecting him was a fast trip to the world beyond.

So Dean was right. Dean was right, his dad was right, Bobby's right. He can't be trusted, shouldn't be trusted. Even Ruby was right, that he's a ticking bomb, and he sort of wishes he'd just explode already.

Bobby can't protect him. So Sam protects him the only way he can and stays the hell away from him.

-o-

It's a motel in Phoenix. They're all the same and they always have been. Cheap and generic, the playgrounds of his childhood. But they'd always sort of been home, then. Home with food strewn about the counters and Dean's clothes messed up in a pile on the floor. Dean watching bad TV and making trips to the bar nearby.

Sam had never thought he'd miss that. Not when all he'd wanted was safety and stability.

He misses it. He misses it. Because Sam's bag is always packed. The weapons are always cleaned and ready. The meals are healthy and the hot water is all his.

But there's only one bed.

-o-

It's a knife wound in the Ozarks. A spirit sliced him up and down the torso before he got a chance to fry it, and there's blood all over the interior of the Impala. He manages to bandage it before he passes out and when he wakes the next morning, his mouth taste like cotton and he's dizzy and weak.

As he undoes the bandage, he winces. It's not life-threatening, or he'd be dead already. But it's certainly bad and if he doesn't take care of it, infection could still do him in.

That almost sounds appealing, but he can't let himself do that. Dean made him promise. Dean gave up his life and Sam owed him his, for whatever that was worth.

But he makes sure the stitches hurt, makes sure they hurt like hell, and he is almost pleased when he sees how bloody the sheets are.

It is, after all, the first evidence he's had in weeks that he's alive at all.

-o-

It's a demon in Portsmouth that leads him to Lilith.

He's been plotting it for months. Dreaming about it. All very Inigo Montoya you-killed-my-father-prepare-to-die and Dean Winchester that-was-for-our-mother-you-son-of-a-bitch.

Only it's not.

She can't kill him. Can't even touch him.

Funny thing is, he can't touch her either.

Ruby talked about a bomb inside of him, about all these powers he could get in touch with, but they didn't damn well mean a thing except to the demons who wanted to manipulate him. Because on his own, he couldn't even muster up a vision anymore.

When Lilith finds out that he's useless, she just laughs and laughs. She's a little girl again, cute and blonde and white-eyed and she says, "Well, if it isn't the great Sam Winchester. Tell me, Sam, how does it feel to know that you can't even succeed at this? Everyone dies because of you and you can't even serve up revenge in a meaningful fashion. Your brother offed old yellow eyes. Your dad had a hand in that, but where were you? Oh, yeah, stuck against a tree. And looky here, kiddo. One crack in this ceiling and I'm a free little demon. I'm kind of glad I can't kill you. Some things are worse than death, and trust me, I'd know."

She's right. About everything.

The force of her exit knocks Sam to the floor. When the dust settles, he doesn't move. He just sits there and hears the sound of his failure ringing in his ears.

-o-

It's his powers in Oklahoma City. He doesn't mean to use them, not really, though he's not sure he would have avoided them for so long if he'd known he could wield them. But when he's got a demon on the hook and he's demanding for something, anything, to get Dean back, he just snaps. He's been chasing every lead he can, consulting every resource he's heard of to find a way to bring Dean back, and he's at the end of his rope and he's angry and numb and hurt and desperate--

And the host shudders, the demon squeals, and suddenly there's a convulsion of black from the victim's throat as the demon slithers out. It takes longer than an exorcism and looks more painful and when it's done the man's body collapses inside the circle.

Sam's seen a lot of things, but he's never seen that before.

Sam's checking for a pulse when the hair on the back of his neck rises. He looks up, defensive, and sees a young woman, dark hair and skinny, stroll into the room. "I see you've made some progress," she said.

"Who the hell are you?" he asks, backing his way out of the circle, his hand going for the knife he's got on his hip.

"Aw, Sammy, I'm hurt," she said. "I know we didn't always get along, but I think you'd recognize the girl who wanted to save your life."

"Ruby," he hisses.

She shrugs. "By any other name," she agrees. "Now do you see what happens when you do it Dean's way?"

He does, he really does, and Dean would kick his ass so hard for even standing here, but he sees it, he knows it like the emptiness that is eating him alive.

"You controlled that demon," she continues. "All on your own. I'm kind of impressed you did it without me. But I'll tell you something. If we can hone that power, you can save a lot of people." She pauses, sauntering closer. "Even the one who matters most."

Demons lie, they can't be trusted, but Sam ripped one out of a host and shredded it into oblivion without so much as one word of Latin. There's something there, something to this, and right and wrong have no meaning here, not anymore, not since he died doing the right thing and Dean went to hell for all the wrong reasons.

-o-

It's a victim in Ann Arbor. Shaking and cold and bleeding but still alive. She's spent her tears and she's clutching desperately at the jacket wrapped around her as she looks at Sam.

"Are you crazy or something?"

Sam doesn't have an answer.

"You killed that thing," she said. "With your bare hands."

Sam just stares at her. "It had to be done."

But she's looking at Sam with wide eyes and she's still shaking. There was a time he might have comforted her, offered her an arm, something. But he doesn't know how anymore, and she looks about as terrified of him as she was of the monster who nearly decapitated her.

"God," she said, shaking her head. "You saved my life."

It seems like that should matter more to both of them, but the only lives he really wants to save are already dead.

-o-

It's a restaurant in Madison. Ruby's meeting him here, at least she said she would. The place is cheap, cheaper than most, and tacky as all get out.

For a second, Sam remembers that Dean would have loved it. The wanna-be lava lamps, the mirrored wall, the bright red laminate tables. Something from the fifties, seventies, and a bad porno film all at once.

He orders a coffee and some toast and is absently scrubbing at a spot on the table when the food comes, and the waitress smacks her gum and smiles. "There you are, sugar," she says, putting down the plate. Then she pauses, licks her lips, and looks at him hard. "You sure you don't want something more? You look like you could use it."

He manages a smile and a no thanks before she trudges away. At first he thinks it's just her maternal instincts and then he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirrors.

He's different now. Still tall, of course, and he's never been a slouch. But he seems too broad, large, with stark features and tired eyes.

It's funny because he doesn't look like a little brother anymore and for a second, that hurts more than anything else.

-o-

It's the impossible in Illinois. Dean, alive and well and alive.

He still swaggers. He still snarks. He's still Dean.

And at first there's joy. There's hugging and crying and questions and everything, because Dean's alive and that's what Sam's needed for four months.

But Sam doesn't know how to tell Dean. Doesn't know how to explain to him that death isn't just being buried six feet underground. Doesn't know how to explain that there's only one real miracle for the Winchesters.

They got Dean back, mind, body, and soul. But there's no resurrection for Sam's soul. Because he didn't trade it to the devil. He traded it for the promise he made his brother. The promise he made and the promise he broke. There was nothing else he could do.

He wants to tell his brother that he lived up to his promise, that even if he couldn't save Dean, that he honored him.

But he also wants to tell Dean that he got him back, that he saved him after all.

He can't tell him either.

And that's the thing. The failure that costs him everything. All of Sam's happiness, all of Sam's self-worth, all of his meaning.

There's no way to explain that. No way to make it right or better. Because it's the hunt, it's the girls, it's the open road, it's all of it. It's his brother who can come back from the dead. It's the failure that was then, that is now, and that will always be.

It's everything and nothing and it's the beginning and the end, and Sam wishes he really knew how to make it all right again.