Ticket To Ride

S s S

Disclaimer: Kripke owns all.

Self-indulgent fic mainly inspired by, and probably taking place a short while after, the episode 'Metamorphosis'. Beware expletives, Castiel disdain and brotherly angst.

S s S

"I'm heading out. You coming?" Dean asked tersely, rolling the car keys through his fingers and looking anywhere but at Sam, the erratic movement of his hand shimmying down his body.

Sam watched him fidget through half closed eyes. He had the mother of all headaches, a hard bludgeon of pain, spreading from the back of his skull around to his light shy eyes. He doubted Dean wanted his company and drinking was not something he'd let himself indulge in since his brother's miraculous return. He had done enough of that before.

He lay back on the bed and covered his eyes with a hand, a shield against the weak bedside lamp and Dean's unforgiving presence.

"You go. I need an early night," he offered his excuse quietly.

"Make sure that's all it is," came the flat reply and the door slammed shut.

Sam dragged his hand down his face, wincing at the sudden bang, something wet smeared across his lips, his tongue flicked out involuntarily. The familiar taste of his own blood soured his taste buds. Wonderful, he sighed tiredly, another nosebleed. Cupping his palm under his nose he struggled upright and slouched into the bathroom to press a cold towel across the bridge of his nose. A fumbled search revealed that all of his painkillers were gone; at least four small canisters fell from his bag and clattered into the sink, mixing with the water and blood dripping from the pink stained towel. Sam remembered seeing a tatty looking strip mall about a block from the motel; maybe the fresh air would help with his headache.

S s S

Dean had skipped his usual beer chaser and gone straight for his next glass of bourbon. It was cheap enough, the bottle label covered in lurid green characters of a distinctly foreign origin. He didn't care, the alcohol was hitting his bloodstream in a welcome and steady concentration and his tense muscles were slowly uncoiling. The reasons for their original state were becoming fuzzier and fuzzier and the world was gradually becoming tolerable again. He was glad Sam had refused his offer, relieved that he did not have to look at the face of his failure for the next few hours; he knocked back a double shot, gripping the glass tightly, the faint smudge of purple bruises still visible across his knuckles. He was losing his little brother and he had no idea how to stop Sam sliding away from him and disappearing into the darkness that pressed in on them both.

He slammed the empty glass onto the bar.

"I think you've had enough, Dean." He knew who it was at the first syllable, hair rising on the back of his neck.

Castiel gazed at him solemnly, disapproval quirking his brows and puzzlement in his eyes.

"Oh, it's you again. My own heavenly watchdog. What do you want? Fancy a bourbon?" Dean slurred, deliberately letting the alcohol do the talking.

Castiel glanced around the bar, Dean thought he looked nervous.

"You have a purpose Dean, and this will not help you do what you need to do. Do you know where your brother is?"

Dean stiffened, his alcoholic haze fading slightly. Couldn't he have one moment's peace? Was it too much to ask that he be allowed to drown his considerable sorrows without someone, somewhere getting in his face.

"What am I? My brother's keeper?" Dean rolled his eyes at Castiel's pinched frown. "Don't answer that. I'm joking, okay. Or don't they have a sense of humor in heaven?"

The angel next to him looked blank.

"I guess not." Dean muttered.

Castiel leant forward. "You should watch your brother, he is hiding things. He will use his powers again. You know that, he knows that. Don't let it happen, Dean. He will pay the price." He spoke impassively, with a calm conviction that aggravated Dean to his very core but he couldn't help himself, he believed the angel, even though it felt so much like he was betraying his brother.

"Okay, I'm going." Dean sighed and started for the door.

Castiel caught his arm. "You shouldn't drink and drive. Give me the keys," his voice grave. "You are too reckless."

Dean stared at him. "What, you're my designated driver, now? Get away." Surprisingly Castiel smirked at him and dangled the keys in front of his nose. Dean slapped at his empty pocket angrily and followed his companion from the bar.

Dean huffed loudly and with audible resentment as he settled into the passenger seat of the Impala.

"Motel's that way," he said shutting his eyes and slipping further down into the seat.

"I know." Castiel replied evenly and then continued, a harder edge to his voice, "You should not feel guilty Dean. Search your heart and know what Sam is capable of doing, of becoming and know what is right. You have seen these things, Dean, you know what happens. You need to keep him on a shorter leash." The engine started and they were rolling down the highway, the car purring over the smooth blacktop.

Dean shivered, rocking in his seat to the rhythm of the car. Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe it was the angel, but whatever the cause he could not stop the vivid memories and images that swarmed into his conscious mind. A hallucination playing itself out behind his tightly closed eyelids like a horror movie rolling across a living screen. Sam dead in the mud, his graying corpse laid on a ruined bed. Sam alive again, reanimated by demons and Dean's deal. And then the memories stopped and a new vision presented itself. Sam was before him, on his knees, sobbing and begging. Dean looked down, blood soaked Sam's clothes, caked his hands and was caught behind fingernails, his head was bowed low to the ground. Dean heard himself call out, 'Sammy'. His brother raised his head and looked up through the dark hair that fell across his face. His eyes were tainted yellow and his pupils were as black as night and as deep as hell.

Dean jerked in his seat and gasped, blinking dazedly. Castiel turned and smiled at him with a serene understanding that made Dean want to puke. The car had stopped and Dean realized that they were back at the motel; he peered through the window at the darkened room and turned to the angel. The driver's seat was empty.

Sam was not in the room. Dean stood in the doorway and flicked on the light. The bathroom door was open, revealing the empty room beyond. Sam was not having an early night, he was not asleep on his thin motel mattress or reading under the dim light of the table lamp by the window. Sam had lied to him again and Dean recognized the bitter truth of Castiel's words. He turned off the light and sat on his bed in the darkness, waiting for his brother to return, letting his anger rise unchecked, Castiel's warning rattling around in his head, echoing noisily in his ears. He did not have long to wait.

Sam tucked the paper bag under his arm as he twisted the key into the deadbolt and shouldered the door open. He froze, one foot on the worn carpet, the other toeing the door sill. Someone was in the room. He reached for his gun, tucked into an inside jacket pocket, his purchases falling silently to the floor. A light clicked on. Sam blinked, Dean stood between the beds, arms crossed, face expressionless.

"Dean, everything okay?" Sam squinted in the harsh glow of the overhead light. The walk to the pharmacy had done little to relieve his headache and as he took in Dean's rigid posture he had the uneasy feeling that it was about to get much worse. Sam slid off his jacket, keeping a wary eye on the tense figure before him.

Dean lurched across the room, crowding into his personal space and staring at him with glazed eyes. "You promised you'd stop, Sammy. I can't help you if you don't keep your promises."

Instinctively, Sam shrank back, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

"What the hell? God, Dean. Did you go for a swim in it? You're drunk."

Dean gave no warning, his face betrayed no emotion, his lips a thin line. He was so close that Sam did not see his arm swing back as Dean punched him , his knuckles impacting just under the bony arch of Sam's eyebrow. Sam went down hard, the room and his brother fading from his vision, the shockwave ricocheting from one side of his skull to the other. He lay on the rough carpet, mind and body reeling and felt rather than saw Dean stride from the room and close the door.

Gradually his senses muddled together granting him just enough strength to drag himself between the beds. He pulled his knees under his chin and lay his aching head down, wrapping his arms tightly around himself. The day he had been dreading for the last four years had finally arrived. Not the day he lost Jess, or the day he died or even the day Dean had been ripped from him. The fear he had always carried had at last found its focus. It was the day that his brother turned his back on him, gave up on him and Sam lost any hope he had. Dean hated him.

Sam choked, trying to swallow the sob that rose like burning acid in his chest, it was no good. He surrendered to the physical need to release his grief and sobbed, his tears soaking into the worn fabric of his jeans. He was nothing to anyone; to God, to angels, to demons, his family and to Dean. The prayers he had repeated so fervently in the days after Dean's death had been a waste of his breath. Now Dean was blessed by angels while Sam lay with demons. He was nothing more than a human cockroach, unwanted vermin to be crushed by whichever power saw fit.

Sam squashed his face into his knees, muffling the sound of his cries. He was damned every which way to Sunday and back again. Damned if he used to powers forced upon him, condemned for having them in the first place. He was hell bound and always had been. He supposed he should thank Dean for making him see that there was nothing he could do to save himself. When Dean had confronted him the first time he had been so afraid that his brother would leave him, now he hoped that he would. He wiped at the snot and tears dribbling down his face, hiccupping miserably. At least his nosebleed had stopped.

S s S

The cold night air nipped at his skin, Dean shoved his hands in his pockets, grimacing at the stretch of freshly bruised skin across the back of his hand and at his own lack of control. He reached the car and leaning over rested his forehead against the cool metal of the roof. His body was still swimming in booze and he suspected that this time he had gone too far.

"God damn it," Dean hissed and banged his head on the Impala's roof. Sam needed him; it was his job to make sure Sam was safe and keeping on the right side of the fight. He was going about this all wrong, but he didn't know how to stop the suicidal ride they were both on, memories of his time away from Sam colored everything he did. Sam didn't know and would never know what Dean had become. They had both changed in their time apart and maybe they would never get back to who they were. Dean sighed and searching empty pockets realized he had left the keys in the motel room. He breathed deeply, frosty air scouring his lungs and making him feel marginally more sober. He turned back.

A knock at the door made Sam look up. He didn't answer it. The knock came again and then the door was pushed slowly open. Dean came hesitantly into the room. Sam clamped a hand over his mouth and bit down on his thumb, his body shuddering silently.

Dean shifted awkwardly. "I forgot my keys and I guess I'm still a little sauced. Look Sam, I shouldn't have done that." He stifled another sigh and squatted down by the end of the bed and reached out.

Sam squirmed away from his brother's touch.

"Don't you fucking touch me. Don't you ever fucking touch me again," he hissed, conscious of the fresh tears that trickled down his face.

Dean pulled back, eyes wide with shock, mouth falling open; Sam could smell the bourbon on him.

"Okay, fair enough." heat rose in Dean's face and he dropped his gaze. Treading carefully backwards, he moved the far side of the room and dropped into the lone chair. Clasping his hands in front of him, he gave a short, harsh laugh.

"God, I always fuck these things up. Don't I, Sammy?"

"It's Sam," Sam spat and his chest heaved, it was a stupid thing to say but as Dean stilled momentarily in his seat he knew that it had hit home.

Dean shook his head. "I'm just trying to save you. To stop you slipping down that slope, going dark side. I don't want you to go to hell Sam. Believe me when I say I will do anything to stop that happening to you. Castiel told me…"

"Shut up," Sam interrupted, ignoring the look of pain that flashed in his brother's eyes. "Shut up about your fucking angels. Who cares? Okay. Why don't you let them kill me? Lets you off the hook. We both know I'm going to hell anyway. You've got your free pass now, so why don't we end it now?" He uncurled a little, leaning against the bed and dropped his hands to the floor. It was getting harder to see out of his left eye, it was throbbing, his abused flesh puffing up and obscuring his vision, he peered at Dean with his good eye and could see his brother gritting his teeth.

"Not on my watch. Please Sam, you've got to fight against this, not me. And I don't have a free pass. I'm pretty sure I'm on probation, if I screw this," Dean waved a hand around his head, "up, I'm going straight back downstairs. Even if I don't, once I'm no use to the powers that be, same thing's gonna happen."

Sam fought against another involuntary shudder, Uriel's words overlapping in his memory with Dean's. Not useful. Not needed. Not wanted.

"Well, we're both screwed then, aren't we? Whether it's your precious angels that take me out or I get hit by a fucking bus tomorrow, I've got a one way ticket to hell. I've got demon blood in my veins, demon mojo in my head and I like what I can do to those evil bastards with it. Your buddies have already told me they're wiping me out when this, whatever it is, is over. So tell me again big brother, why I should give a shit about anything?"

"You promised. You said you were doing it for yourself." Dean was shaking, knees bouncing up and down as he sat hunched forward. "You don't understand what it's like down…, I went to hell for you Sam. I won't do it again."

"No," Sam whispered roughly turning his face from Dean's pale features and bloodshot eyes. Before, he might have let Dean have that, let him believe that Sam accepted that, but not any more. He was tired of being the world's favorite punching bag. "You went to hell so you could bring me back and judge me on the thing I might become. You brought me back so you could tell yourself that you didn't fail Saint John fucking Winchester. You sure didn't do it for me."

Dean leapt from the chair, quick agitated steps across the floor, clenching and unclenching his hands. Sam's words cut deep, edged with the sharp sting of truth.

From the corner of his eye he saw Sam duck further down between the beds. Probably thought Dean was going to swing for him again. Dean swallowed, his queasy stomach rebelling at too much alcohol and guilt. His next step caught something under his shoe and he bent automatically, fingers closing around a bag, as he pulled it up it ripped and two small plastic containers rolled across the floor. He scooped them up. Migraine tablets and anti-nausea medication recently purchased and unopened. His stomach roiled.

"Sam, where did you go just now?" he asked softly.

"Get bent." Sam sounded exhausted, he dropped his head back on the edge of the mattress and followed Dean's progress, "Where do you think I went?" It was a challenge and Dean knew that nothing less than the truth would be acceptable.

"I…, I thought you were with Ruby, like before. Cas..." That name again, another mistake.

Sam looked at him; his left eye was swollen shut, the first bloom of bruising highlighting his skin, his right eye still glistening with tears. He gave Dean a tight smile.

"Perhaps you shouldn't think so much, Dean. The guy at the pharmacy might have been possessed but, my bad, I didn't bother to check." Sam closed his good eye, shutting Dean from view.

"Is it too late to say I'm sorry?" Dean paused, there was no easy way to say what he needed Sam to hear. "They show me things. You, Sam. You taken over by, well, you know. I don't know who to trust. You hide things from me. I think the worst. Hell does that to a guy." Dean tried to keep the words light but it was hard to hide the tremor in his voice.

"I get it Dean. He's an angel who saved your soul. I'm your brother. I'm a liar, I don't deny it. No contest. I'm sorry too. I let you down, I gave in to it and I couldn't save you. And every time I look at you I'm reminded that I'm not good enough. That you should have left me dead." Sam struggled to his feet, swaying. Dean willed himself to remain where he was, keeping his hands from reaching for his brother. "There is nothing I can do to stop this, Dean. How is it even possible? We hunt demons, they hunt us. It's inevitable. I didn't ask for it and I can't will it away. You can hit me all you want Dean, it won't change a thing." Sam dabbed at his eye with a tentative finger and flinched. "I wish it did."

Dean stepped forward. Something high in his chest twinged, sending out ripples of dull pain. Search his heart, Castiel had said. Pious two-faced fucker. Good advice, given with ill-intent. He'd been played like a cheap violin. A second rate fiddle with a lot of screeching. Hell had driven him out of his mind, stolen his trust, his humanity and now heaven was trying to destroy his love and trust for the one thing that mattered most. The constriction around his heart lessened and for a moment he felt lightness within, a momentary spark of peace that reached the darkest recesses of his being. He knew what he heart was telling him. He and Sam were on the same side, the Winchester side and if they were damned, they were damned together. There was no other way.

"Let me get you some water. I bet you could use a couple of these," he said gently, offering Sam the painkillers. He dropped the bottle into Sam's open palm and went to bathroom. A wrapped glass was on the corner of the wash basin, Dean flipped the light switch. A bloodstained towel sat in the sink, dark red splotches of his brother's blood decorated the ancient porcelain. He filled the glass and took it to Sam, who was curled up on his bed.

He crouched down, sliding the glass onto the bedside table. One heavy lidded hazel eye glared blearily at him. Dean let his own gaze linger on the damage done to his brother's face by his own drunken distrust.

"I guess saying sorry doesn't cut it anymore. I'll beg if that's what you need. I know I keep fucking up and hurting you and maybe the fact that you always forgive me means there's hope for us both. But going back to hell, so not an option dude. If there's a chance we can find a way through this we have to go for it. Together. I don't care who or what you think you are, or what anybody else thinks. You're my little brother and despite the fact that you think I'm an overbearing asshole, I love you and whatever happens I always will." Dean gave Sam a small smile and shrugged. It was all he could offer his brother, he hoped it was enough.

Sam blinked his eye rapidly and rolled over onto to his back. "Wow. Where's the holy water when you need it?" He studied the ceiling for a minute, acutely aware of Dean hovering anxiously next to him. He wanted to make Dean sweat, but he had no patience for those games anymore. "Here," he waggled his fingers at Dean. "Help me up."

Dean clasped his arm with clammy hands and pulled him smoothly to his feet and before Sam could protest, into a tight hug. Sam gave in and relaxed into his brother, resting his chin on Dean's shoulder.

"You stink of booze and second hand smoke," he grumbled softly.

Dean ran a hand over his hair and pressed warm fingertips to the back of his neck. "Sorry."

"No big deal. I forgive you." Sam whispered carelessly.

Fingers dug into his skin and then Dean released him, pulling back but keeping his hand on Sam's shoulder, squeezing gently.

"I'll get you some ice for that eye. Do you need anything? Food? Coffee? Porn?" Dean asked earnestly.

Sam laughed. He was tired and bruised but if they had nothing else, they had each other and he would hang onto that with every fibre of his being.

The End