Disclaimer: Not mine, of course. I'm just playing with them. I don't think I actually broke them this time.
A/N: I know, I know, dramatic much? There's enough angst to drown you in this one. Also? No slash, implied or otherwise.
"So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference
Escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees" - Angel by Sarah McLachlan
He was alone. Again.
Uriel's sudden appearance, and equally abrupt exit had rattled him far more than he cared to admit.
The four months Dean had been gone, combined with the endless months he had spent without his brother at the Trickster's hands, had acclimated him to the silence, the absence of another living being sharing his space. Even Ruby hadn't really help break that feeling; he wasn't entirely sure her current host was still alive.
It wasn't the lack of someone to speak to, or even to be with that he found most difficult. It was never being able to relax, to let his guard down. He'd grown up with Dean at his back, always watching over him. At Stanford he'd allowed a false sense of normalcy and security to lull him into letting go of his tightly held defenses.
Sometimes he felt like he hadn't been able to breathe properly since before Broward County, but the months after he buried his brother had been suffocating in their intensity. Always having to watch everything, suspect everyone. He hadn't had a decent night's sleep in so long that he couldn't even remember what it felt like, but that had stopped bothering him in the months after he lost Jessica. His body had learned to run on an ever dwindling supply of energy, fatigue such a constant haze across his vision that he no longer noticed it.
At least before Dean died (the first time, any of the times) he had been able to get some rest. If nothing else, injury had forced it on him in the shape of blocky, white pills. There had been no such luxury while he hunted alone, no relief from his pain. He hadn't trusted Ruby to hold vigil over him while he slept, and he didn't think he could bear waking to this nightmare from that depth of slumber.
Now Dean was back, whole and seemingly unharmed, though the darkness that flickered in his eyes belied his surface calm at times. His brother was here, in the flesh, and still Sam couldn't rest.
He couldn't trust Dean.
Not because he didn't want to, God did he ever want to. Because Dean didn't trust him. Was scared. Of him.
Sam swallowed down a surge of nausea, his brother's words swimming up in his head, unbidden.
"If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you."
How long would it be until knowing him wasn't enough? Until that last restraining clause was removed and nothing stood between him and his brother's hunting prowess? Until he was nothing more than an evil thing in desperate need of killing?
Between the words, and punches, hurled in that motel room and the look on Dean's face last night, after Samhain was dispatched back to hell, Sam was fairly certain that his brother's knowledge of him was severely damaged. The question was; damaged enough to take him out?
He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Now the angels themselves were threatening him. The God he had prayed to his entire life had sent messengers to Earth, to stop the world from ending, and to put him down like a rabid dog at the first sign of trouble. A lifetime of faith, strongly held and fiercely protected, irrevocably wounded with those venomous words from a holy source.
A tear tracked down his cheek as he contemplated the enormity of Uriel's words.
A life that was stolen from him before he first drew breath, a tumultuous, painful existence that he had never desired. Everyone he'd ever loved or held dear cut down by the forces set in motion the night his mother made her deal.
His mother had sold him, sacrificed him for her own happiness. How was he supposed to cope with that? The apology she had offered in their old house finally made sense, though it hardly made things right. She had to have realized that, surely, and he doubted (hoped she hadn't) that she had known the exact terms of her deal before she made it, that she hadn't knowingly handed him over to Azazel.
Even so, she had to have had an inkling of what the demon would want, that there would be a high price to pay for the gift she was receiving. She had known, the moment she stumbled across that threshold into his room, why her infant son was in danger, and who had put him there, before she died for interfering. Sam couldn't help but wish that she had figured it out before Azazel got to him. Before he was tainted, ruined forever by the "profane blood" of a calculating demon.
He shoved himself to his feet, the motion jarring him enough to set off a fresh set of fireworks in his pounding head. Exorcising Samhain had taken more power than he had expected, and almost more than he had.
Uriel's words were still confusing, that he should have done "what he was told". Was the confrontation with Samhain a test? If so, he had a sinking feeling he'd failed miserably.
Which was hardly a surprise really. That was the one thing he excelled at, failing. He'd failed Jess. His dad. Dean. Himself, and now, apparently he'd failed God too.
Almost of their own volition, his hands reached under his brother's pillow, extracting the razor sharp knife he knew was hidden there. He didn't look at the loveseat as he passed it on his way to the bathroom, not wanting to see the angel sitting there again, to relive the cruel words Uriel had taunted him with.
He could see his reflection in the mirror over the sink, a dark outline against the sunlight filtering into the room behind him. The light switch was left untouched; he didn't want to see himself, to watch this final failure.
The darkness hid the chips in the disgusting green porcelain as he climbed into the tub, folding his long body to fit in the small space, the weight and heft of the knife reassuring in his cold hand.
It didn't matter that he'd been set up to fail, that his path in life had been cemented long before he could walk it. He may not have ever had control over where it began, or where it led, but he could control one thing.
Where it ended.
"Sammy! Let's hit the road," Dean hollered as he pushed the door closed behind him. "Time to blow this bloody popsicle stand."
The emptiness of the room registered belatedly as he turned to face it. His brother's duffel bag sat atop one of the beds, reassuring him that its owner probably hadn't gone far.
"Sam?" A second visual sweep of the room revealed nothing but tacky décor. Certainly no where a giant of a baby brother could hide. That left the bathroom, the door to which was open, the light turned off. He poked his head in anyway, flipping the ancient bulb over the sink to life as he did so, expecting an empty room to greet him.
What he found instead nearly forced him to his knees.
"Sammy," he breathed, feeling like a sucker punch to his gut forced the word out of him.
The shaggy head didn't move, didn't look up from the pattern a glinting blade was drawing along the vulnerable inside of Sam's forearm.
Dean recognized his knife, the one he kept under his pillow. He knew just how sharp that blade was, how dangerous it could be in the right hands.
"Sam? What are you doing, man? What's wrong?" He moved to step into the room and froze when he saw his brother's hand tighten on the hilt of the knife, bringing the blade down to bite into soft skin, drawing a drop of scarlet to the surface. Dean's hands automatically raised in a placating gesture, and he settled for leaning against the doorframe, a position that didn't seem to agitate his brother any further.
Sam mumbled something, the blade wavering as he drew a deep, hitching breath.
"Stopping what? We already stopped the demon," he replied in a soothing voice, deliberately misunderstanding his brother's meaning.
"No, Dean. Stopping it." Sam's voice was flat, monotonous. A far cry from the expressive tone Dean was accustomed to from his little brother.
"Okay, stopping it. Whatever it is Sammy, this isn't the way to fix it."
"It's the only way. I can't," he shifted miserably, his joints complaining the cramped position he'd forced them into. "I can't let it happen. I won't. I didn't have any control over it before, but this," a quick flick of his knife wielding wrist, scratching a path up his arm that quickly welled with blood. "This is how I can control it. How I can make it right."
The sight of Sam's blood being so casually spilled, even in the small quantities that were evident so far, raised Dean's hackles. The knuckles on his hand wrapped around the doorjamb went white with the effort to restrain himself. He had no doubt that Sam could very effectively slice his own arm open in the few seconds it would take Dean to cross the tiny space.
"Sammy," Dean licked his lips, searching frantically for the right words. "This…this isn't going to make anything right."
"It is. They're watching me Dean, and he'll kill me if I mess up."
Was that a hint of sadness in Sam's voice? At this point Dean would take anything other than that alien coldness. "Who's 'he'? Who's going to kill you?"
"Uriel. He said that the only reason I've lived this long is because I've been useful, but the second that changes he'll take me out. Turn me to dust." Sam intoned dully, raising his head for the first time since Dean returned.
Dean sighed, taking in his brother's tear reddened eyes and pasty white face. "Sammy, that's not gonna happen. I won't let it happen."
Sam's face twisted, a pained, disbelieving scoff echoing off the cracked tile. "You don't have to pretend any more Dean. I know how you feel about me. How I scare you. This way you don't have to hunt me, I'll take care of it myself."
Bile raced up Dean's throat. He'd known those words would hurt Sam. He'd deliberately chosen those words to hurt Sam, to shock him. This was his fault, and he didn't have a clue how to fix it.
"Sammy," Dean slid down the doorframe, his legs suddenly refusing to hold him. "I'm sorry. I should never have said that. I shouldn't have hurt you like that. Please, Sammy, don't do this," he whispered, inching toward the tub, oddly encouraged by the lack of movement on his brother's part. Sam seemed lost in his thoughts, the terrifying blankness of his face giving way to an equally alarming look of determination.
"I have to. I don't have any other choice, I can't fix it any other way. I have to make it right." Sam squared his shoulders, tightening his grip on the knife and pressing the blade to his arm.
"No!" Dean made his move, having crept closer while Sam mused aloud. He grabbed for the knife, his stomach clenching as he saw how it was already imbedded in his brother's flesh, yanking it up, free of Sam's arm and flinging it across the room. A desperate grab for his brother's wounded arm had his fingers sliding sickeningly through blood, but he managed to grab on, putting as much pressure as he could over the gash with just his hand, as he slid the rest of his body into the tub to hold Sam down.
Sam didn't react right away, beyond a bewildered cry, too focused on what he was doing to process the change in plans immediately, the pain in his arm only dimly felt until Dean's hand closed around it.
"Let go!" He shouted, twisting and shuddering under Dean's weight, trying to free himself. "I have to stop it! I can't let it happen. Let me stop it Dean!"
"No, Sammy." Dean clung to a calm façade with the last shreds of control he had. "Not like that. I will help you stop it, I swear to God I will. But this isn't the answer." The flow of blood beneath his fingers was slowing, the cut apparently not as bad as he had feared.
Sam growled, struggling furiously. He was exhausted, mentally and physically, and the position they were in negated the size advantage he had over his brother, making the fight pointless. Sam Winchester came by his stubborn streak honestly though, and he wasn't going to just give up.
Dean just held on, riding out the storm, waiting for his brother to tire himself out. It didn't take long, something that didn't fail to cause him worry. He realized that beyond those few moments in Pontiac, he hadn't bothered to find out what his brother had gone through while he was in Hell, that he had no idea how great the scope of Sam's suffering was. Sam, for his part, had at least asked what Dean had been through, and gotten a lie in return for his trouble.
Sam lay quiet beneath him, melted back against the uncomfortable angles of the tub, his chest rising and falling in quiet, hitching breaths.
"Sammy," Dean released the death grip he held on his brother's uninjured arm and reached for Sam's face, feeling it like a blow to his chest when Sam flinched away from his touch.
"I'm dirty, Dean. Tainted. Ruined. You can't save me. No one can save me. I'm not worth it."
"Listen to me." He grabbed Sam's chin firmly, ignoring the way his brother tried to pull away. "You are my brother. My Sam. Nothing else matters. If that pompous ass of a supposedly holy angel wants to get to you, he's going to have to go through me. That's all there is to it."
Sam's face crumpled, tears making fresh tracks down his blotchy cheeks.
"C'mon," Dean carefully extricated himself from the tub, trying to avoid jostling Sam's arm too much. "Let's get you out of there before you get stuck like that forever."
Ten minutes of maneuvering later, they stood together in the tiny bathroom, Dean shouldering half of his brother's weight as Sam swayed. He started toward the bedroom, wanting to get Sam horizontal before his brother's legs gave out on him.
He sighed, shifting his grip on Sam's overly large body. "Dude, if we've just got to have a chick flick moment, can't it wait until I'm not lugging your heavy ass around? I swear, I'll let you say your piece once you're safely on the bed."
Sam turned his head, wrinkling his nose and obviously trying to decipher what Dean meant with a brain that was functioning at subpar levels. His throat worked for a moment before the sound made it out.
"M'gonna puke," he announced, promptly going several shades paler, a feat that just a moment earlier, Dean would have bet cold hard cash wasn't possible.
"Shit." Dean managed to control Sam's collapse to the floor as his brother's knees folded beneath him, landing the lanky body in front of the toilet just in the nick of time.
He wet a washcloth and wiped Sam's neck with it as his baby brother retched miserably.
"S'the light…off," Sam mumbled into the toilet.
"What?" It took a minute for him to catch up, but it all finally clicked in Dean's brain. This wasn't a side effect of the emotional meltdown. Sam had a migraine. He reached out and flipped the light switch off, receiving an audible groan of relief from his brother in return.
"Here," Dean grabbed a clean towel and wound it around Sam's arm. "Hold this tight, and I'll get the room ready for you." He ducked out of the bathroom, stooping to collect the knife as he went.
As much as he wanted to get out of this town, and as much as they really needed to put this place in their rearview mirror, he wasn't going to try to move Sam in this condition. A quick sweep around the room got the bed nearest the bathroom turned down, the lamps off, shades drawn, and every single weapon accounted for, including the ones Sam usually carried on his person. Dean left his own knife strapped to his calf, and the salt loaded shotgun on the far side of his bed. They couldn't afford to get caught completely unarmed, but he wasn't going to leave anything where Sam could get a hold of it either. It would be a while before he could trust his brother with a weapon again.
He got Sam out of the bathroom and settled in the bed, pulling his brother's boots and jeans off, figuring sleeping in his shirt wouldn't Sam hurt any. Experience had taught him that it was too soon to offer meds, or anything to drink, unless he wanted it to make a quick reappearance. Silence and darkness were the only things he could offer to his suffering sibling at the moment.
Quietly dragging out the first aid kit, and managing to bandage the deep cut on Sam's arm without disturbing him was a feat that should have earned Dean a medal of some kind. He nudged the trashcan closer to the head of the bed, just in case, and flopped down on his own bed, facing his brother.
"M'sorry, Dean," Sam slurred quietly, exhaustion and pain taking their toll.
"Me too Sammy." He wasn't sure Sam heard him until the long sigh reached his ears and he watched in the dim light as his brother visibly relaxed, the tight muscles going pleasantly limp in front of him, long held tension melting away.
Dean echoed his brother's sigh. "Me too."