Rating: PG-13 for dark themes

Characters/Pairings: Sam, Dean, Ruby, none

Words: 2900

Warnings: Language, suicidal thoughts

Summary: God works in mysterious ways. Sam's been praying his whole life and still doesn't understand. Inspired by a certain character's acknowledgement that prayers are, indeed, heard.

Disclaimer:: No profit being made, nor harmful intent.

A/N: I'm not sure this works, but if I don't end all these half-finished ditties I've got open, I can't move on. I probably should've called it closure. Comments make me very happy.

A/N2: Some of you will recognize this. I've been scattering my stuff in the wind lately, LOL. I decided I wanted all my recent Gen stuff in one place, and I don't post it in my journal anymore, so I'm reposting a few things I have posted under random names. If you recognize this, you probably read it on LJ. But I did write it, so don't accuse me of plagiarizing myself.

Unanswered

Sam prays. Daddy doesn't. Dean doesn't either. And Sam's not sure he's even doing it right, but Pastor Jim says God hears all prayers, so he folds his hands and closes his eyes. He doesn't kneel. There are only so many explanations for always being on the floor by the bed, and he doesn't own enough socks or shoes to keep losing them under there.

He probably doesn't use the right words either. He only knows how it starts, says, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." After that it gets muddy. He makes it up as he goes along.

Sometimes, he asks for things. He's not sure he's allowed to, but there are some things he just can't ask Daddy or Dean for, stuff they tell him isn't his concern.

"Dear, God. There's only enough milk left for one bowl of cereal in the morning. I know Dean will tell me he already ate and let me have it. Please, let Daddy come home tonight, and if he doesn't remember the milk, could he take us to breakfast? Dean really likes the IHOP."

"Dear, God. I need new pants. The ones I'm wearing have a hole in the pocket, and I keep losing my lunch money. I tried to fix it myself, but I poked my finger with the needle, and Dean had to put a Band-Aid on it. I didn't tell him what I was doing, because the last time I had a hole in my pants, he cut part of his own off to patch it, and the kids at the bus stop made fun of him."

"Actually, God, you can scratch that. But if it's not too much trouble, Dean needs new pants."

"Dear, God. Dean was crying in the bathroom just now. He thinks I didn't hear, but I did. God, could we please have Mommy back. Dean misses her a lot."

The middle's always different, but the end's the same every night.

"God bless Dean, and Daddy, and Dean, Uncle Bobby, and Dean. Amen."

Sometimes they don't have enough for breakfast. Clothes are always full of holes. Sam still doesn't know what Mommy's hair smells like, but Dean's there every morning. So, Sam keeps praying. One of these days, he'll get it right.

XX

"Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep."

"God," he leaves off the 'Dear.' It doesn't sound right. This isn't a letter, and 'Hi,' sounds like it's not important. It is. Maybe not as important as whatever Dad's hunting that night. The kids that rawhead's after are probably a higher priority for God, too. But, just in case God's got voicemail or an angel in training who needs something small, Sam prays. Besides, there's not much else he can do.

"God, Dean graduates next month. He hasn't mentioned leaving, but I know the guidance counselor's been calling for Dad. I don't think Dean gives him the messages. God, I don't know what I'd do without him. If he goes, let me go, too."

"God bless Dean, and Dad, and Dean, Uncle Bobby, and Dean."

Dean doesn't go, and neither does Sam. Maybe God's too busy after all.

XX

"Goddammitt!" Okay, not a prayer in the strictest sense of the word. But it's from the heart, and no one else is there to hear it as Sam pounds the heavy bag so hard his shoulders creak. So, it must be a prayer, between Sam and God. Or, you know, any of the neighbors unfortunate enough to be outside or near an exterior wall of one of their ancient trailer houses.

His jaw hurts, the lowers of one side tucked inside the uppers in what must look like a snarl to anyone who cares to look. If they look from the side he tilts away from, not the side tucked into his shoulder, they'll know it's not a snarl and that half the sweat dripping off his chin and onto his ratty t-shirt starts in the corners of his eyes.

He's not perfect. WHAM! He knows that. WHAM! He's not always right, and he's not always gracious, and he can be stubborn. WHAM-w-WHAM, WHAM! He's not stupid either. Tap-gasp. He knows. Jab-gasp. He does, but there's no reason he should feel guilty. Not for this. He's not wrong this time. WHAM! Not this time.

But Dean won't see it that way. Dad won't, either, but that's beside the point.

His head falls onto the canvas, wet bangs stabbing into the reddened corners of his eyes, and he stumbles back half a step when the bag rebounds before he can get his heavy arms wrapped around it. He can't keep it a secret any longer. He knows from the sidelong glances Dean casts in his direction when he insists on getting the mail. He knows, because he always made a fuss about not wanting to get the mail before. He knows full well he's shot himself in the foot picking fights with Dad, just waiting for someone to figure it out so he won't have to say. Won't have to say he's leaving.

Maybe he doesn't want to leave. "God..."

He doesn't know what he wants, but it's not this. Not this transient existence, always hungry for something not on his plate. He wants the chance to go to the buffet and at least pick over it, find out what he likes and leave the rest on the table. Doesn't want to settle for whatever they can scrape by with. He doesn't want that for Dean either.

"God..." And he's so tired the words don't come. His heart pounds against the heavy bag loud enough any God could hear if He's listening. It says, "God bless, Dean, and Dad, and Dean, Bobby, and Dean."

XX

Dad throws him out. Sam goes. Dean stays. Sam's pretty sure that' s not what he wanted, but God works in mysterious ways, or so he's told. He wouldn't know, doesn't think he's seen God work in a long, long time.

XX

"Dear, God." He's back to 'dear', because the 'now I lay me' doesn't feel right anymore, and he doesn't know how else to begin. Some salutation is in order. He does know a hundred other names for God, and can translate any prayer into Latin, and a few into Sumerian if he wants, but his heart still speaks in English.

"Dear, God, I haven't heard from Dad or Dean in months. Dean used to leave messages, but none, now, in forever. If you could just arrange for one more, just so I know he's okay, I promise I'll pick up."

"Dear, God, there's this girl. I know. I know you've seen her. She has to be an angel. She laughs at my jokes when I'm not even trying to be funny, doesn't laugh when I'm trying to sound smart, and she's as graceful as anything I've ever seen, but somehow always manages to stumble over a crack in the sidewalk just when I'm close enough to catch her. I think she likes me. You? Yeah, so I really want to like her back. If you could maybe make it so I don't ever have to feel this awkward about a girl again, I'd really appreciate that. Cuz if she's not the one, I'm so screwed. I don't know what you did to Dean to make it all so easy for him, but this is hard. Don't let me get it wrong."

"God, I bought a ring." No, 'dear.' Too formal for a friend. "You're the only one who knows."

"And God bless Dean, and Bobby, and Dean, and Jessica, and Dean."

Dad can fend for himself. He doesn't want Sam's blessing.

XX

"Oh, God... ohgodohgodohgod..." He didn' t come in here to pray, doesn't have time to pray. Dean's waiting in the living room, and Jessica's making him coffee. Sam can't imagine what they're talking about.

It's just one weekend. Sam can do that. He can do one weekend and then say goodbye, make it right this time, close the door on the past without locking it.

So, why does it feel like the needle's just been jerked off the record and left a scratch so deep it can never be played again? There's not enough air in the tiny bathroom. What's there is thick and heavy with sweat. His hands are slick with it, unsteady and shaking around the rim of the sink. "Oh, God..."

He swallows the bile rising in his throat, blinks against the burn. "Oh, God, what's wrong with him?"

Sweat runs off his forehead and into his eyes so they blur and the image in his head is clearer than the one in the mirror. It's wide-eyed fear, desperation, and sunken behind a cocky smile that's not quite cocky enough. It's Dean, or this thing that showed up wearing his brother's face.

"God, did I do that? I don't know how to fix that. Not in one weekend. God, I can't go back to that life. It's not my job to fix him." But Dad's not here to shut the door this time, to take the blame. Just Sam and what he knows is right. "God, give me the strength to do what I have to do."

"Baby, are you okay in there?" Jessica's waiting on the other side of the door, cup of coffee in her hand. She doesn't spill a drop when he presses her against the wall and kisses her until he can breathe again, and she doesn't sway when he lets her hold him up while he breathes the lavendar of the skin along her collar bone, the fruity sweet of her shampoo.

"God, I love you."

At least he says it. At least she knows.

XX

"God, I can't do this. I can't be part of all this again. I can't. I don't want to."

"God, I can't do this. Metallica's giving me a headache, and Enter Sandman's been playing on repeat in my mind for the last five hundred miles. I can't get it out."

"God, I haven't thought about Jessica in the last five hundred miles. What's wrong with me?"

"God, I can't do this. I'm tired, but I can't sleep, and I'm not hungry, but Dean keeps forcing cheeseburgers on me, and we don't ever stop. I just... I want a... I don't know, a break. Please, just one day with no dreams and one night with no nightmares and one road that doesn't head back the way I came. A one way street... one way..." He sniffs, hard, because tears haven't helped him 'til now, and it's just enough. They can go into the vacuum with the rest of him. "Now I lay me down to sleep..."

"Sam!" His head jerks up with the first blunt thud against the door. "Sam!"

He can't remember if it's locked, can't even remember if he had a plan when he came in here or if he has one now.

"Sam!"

The door opens inward, blinds him with the glare from the main room. He guesses it makes sense he didn't lock the door since he didn't bother with the light switch either. The door slides halfway up his stockinged foot and catches. It hurts. A lot, but not enough. His eyes flare wide enough to catch a glint off the knife on the back of the toilet by his head. He can't remember why it's there. He blinks up at Dean, and the glint in Dean's eyes is sharper than the one off the knife. Sam's pretty sure he's not supposed to notice. "Sorry, sorry," he whispers.

"For what?" Dean's not at all subtle when he snatches the knife, folds and pockets it in his jeans. "Sam? What were you doing in here?"

"Don't know. Guess I fell asleep. Tired."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Dean offers his hand and Sam takes it. "One of these beds out here is bound to be softer."

"But checkout..."

"I'll..." Dean hauls Sam to his feet, tries to be inconspicuous about looking in his eyes, using his thumb to turn Sam's chin into the light. He wants to know if Sam's on anything. He seems satisfied the bleary in them is just exhaustion, lets his hand slide down Sam's jaw to squeeze the back of his neck for a second before steering them both out the door. "I'll get another night. How 'bout the whole weekend? I'll order pizza and pay-per-view. You get some shut eye."

"Yeah... okay."

His head hits the pillow before Dean's out the door to the office, and Sam stays awake just long enough to see him pause, afraid to close the door. He leaves it cracked, and Sam's too tired to let the light bother him. "Now I lay me down to sleep... God bless Dean..." He sleeps for a second, then snaps awake, fear swelling in his throat... "and Dean..." Exhaustion overtakes him with a shuddering sigh. "And Dean." It's a prayer in itself.

XX

Things run together after that, extreme highs and crashing lows criss-crossing back over each other so he spends most of his time numb. It's deceptive, a calm that feels like faith, trust in a power outside himself when he's powerless himself.

"Dear God, I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, but I can't do this alone. If this is wrong... God forgive me."

"God, tell me what to say to make it all right."

"God. My God, what am I?"

"Please. Don't let me be a monster."

And maybe God answers, gives him the strength to choose. Somehow, Sam dies a man, with a knife in his back and a clear conscience. It's exactly what he prayed for, in a mysterious way. But if he's done, he doesn't stay that way. There's no peace or rest here, just bristling panic and adrenaline fueled insomnia, a year-long race he can't win.

"God, help me save Dean."

"God, help me save Dean."

"God, help me save Dean."

"God, please..."

And finally...

"No. God, no."

XX

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, so sorry..." And he is, but it's not a prayer for absolution. It's just the truth. It sets a good rhythm, clackety clack of his life running along a track he can't jump as he rocks in the corner, behind the toilet, in the dark, where Dean would find him, if Dean were here. He isn't. Despite Sam's prayers, he isn't here.

He still has a knife, though. The knife. Ruby hasn't been back to claim it. Maybe Lilith couldn't kill him, but the knife has never failed. Not that he's seen.

He can't see the blade in the dark, but he feels it, a thrum in his hand that vibrates through the handle like a dowsing rod. He's not sure whether it's seeking or trying to repel. Seems like he should say something, but he can't think what it should be.

"Ashes to ashes?" No. Not ash. Just...no.

"Dust to dust?" No. Dust scatters. He doesn't want to taint anything.

One long, juddering breath wipes his mind, steadies the blade in his hand. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the..." The name is swallowed into the void of alone, reminds him his brother's not the only one gone. "...my soul to keep."

Not that anyone wants his soul. At least Dean would be proud he doesn't make a deal. Doesn't matter if the outcome's the same.

There's no knock this time. The door crashes open, the doorstop twanging in the silence for an eerily long time before a shadow crosses the threshold. "Do you know how much trouble my ass would be in if I let you do that?"

"Ruby?" She isn't silhouetted in the door. Her shadow swells to fill it, like there's nothing behind her that isn't already lost. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I came for my knife, but since I'm here, I figure I might as well stop you from doing something really stupid. Y'know, cuz I'm cool like that."

"I don't want you to stop me."

"And you don't always get what you want. But then you already knew that." He doesn't stop her when she pulls him off the floor by the collar of his t-shirt and pushes him against the wall. "Tell me, Sam. Tell me you're not giving up yet."

"I've tried everything. I can't. Can't do this."

"No," she says, her fingers tight around the tendons in his wrist, painfully obvious she can take the knife if she wants to, "you won't. I tried to tell ya, Sam. You want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. I'm not gonna stop you." She drops his wrist. "If you wanna give up, that's your call. But you haven't tried everything." She strokes down the divot of his chin with the pad of her thumb. "You haven't tried you, yet." Her eyes are soft when she looks up through her lashes. "C'mon, what've you got to lose? Things don't work out?" She shrugs. "That knife'll still be there. Consider it yours. I have other toys." Her mouth's close enough to dampen the skin on his chin with her breath, and she looks at him over the curve of his lips. "So do you."

She leaves without making a sound. He retches without producing any bile. The next time he sees her, the knife's warm from the heat of his skin at the small of his back and his blood's cold in his veins. "Tell me what I have to do...Please."

XX

Somewhere in Heaven, God hears silence, a prayer misdirected.

"Castiel!"

"Father."

"I have work for you."

Fin