Summary: He had never intended to take it. But even he had his limits. And he wasn't going to just stand by and watch it happen anymore. Even if that meant cashing in some pain. Tag to 4x11 "Family Remains".
Disclaimer: I don't own anything Supernatural. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made with this story.
Spoilers for 4x11 "Family Remains". In fact, it starts up with Dean's last line of dialogue in the episode.
This oneshot was inspired by the very lively and vivid discussion about the episode over at the Psychfic boards, and by many great ideas and explanations that were made during the discussion. So credit for this story has to go out to everybody who participated in that discussion and shared their insights.
"All those years. All that pain. Finally getting to deal some of that yourself? I didn't care who they put in front of me. Because the pain I felt, it just slipped away. No matter how many people I save, I can't change that. I can't fill this hole. Not ever."
Sam felt as if he had just been dealt a blow to the gut. That Dean had been torturer in hell and not only the tortured one was something he had barely come to terms with yet. And that Dean had actually enjoyed it…Sam didn't want to believe it. It was something he couldn't grasp, couldn't bring in accordance with the image of his big brother. It wasn't who Dean was. No, it was the exact opposite of the big brother Sam had known for his entire life. This was way beyond Sam's comprehension. It just hurt too much to even try to understand.
But his own pain was numbed by the pure anguish Sam saw on his brother's face. It was the same anguish Dean always tried to hide when he scared himself away from yet another nightmare, the same pain Sam caught glimpses of when Dean lost himself in his thoughts. Ever since Dean had come back from hell, that pain had been ever-present, lurking underneath the surface for as long as Dean had been able to keep his mask in place. But since the lies had stopped between them and the mask had started slipping, the pain had broken through more and more frequently. Dean wasn't able to hold it all inside anymore.
And actually Sam was glad for it. He as glad that Dean was finally sharing instead of bottling it all up and lying about being fine.
But not like this.
It couldn't go on with Dean only venting his pain when it became too much for him to bear, and refusing to talk about it on any other occasion.
This had to stop. Right now. No matter how much it was going to hurt. Because right now, Sam had reached the limit of what he could take.
Dean wiped a hand over suspiciously shiny eyes and pushed himself away from the small wall he was leaning against.
"We should get going," he said, voice gravelly and slightly wavering, but the message clear. The shutters were rolling down again right in front of Sam's eyes. The mask was sliding back into place, and in a few minutes Dean would be sitting behind the wheel, singing along to an old Zeppelin album, refusing to admit that anything had ever been wrong.
But not this time.
Dean turned, a frown on his face. "What is it?"
"Stop. We're not going anywhere before we talked about this."
"There's nothing to talk about, Sammy." Dean shook his head. "It's not as if talking is going to change anything."
He turned away again, trying to brush past Sam to open the driver's side door and get in, and without conscious thought Sam reached out and grabbed Dean by the upper arm, spinning him around again. Dean's face showed a mixture between surprise and annoyance, and the muscles Sam felt underneath his hand were tense and trembling slightly. Dean looked at Sam's hand on his arm, then slowly turned hard eyes on his brother's face.
"Let go, Sam."
Sam shook his head and tightened his grip on his brother's arm. "No. Not until we talk."
"Sam." A low growl, and a definite warning that Sam would have heeded under any other circumstances. But not this time.
"Dean, how much longer do you think it can go on like…"
Dean started struggling in earnest as soon as Sam started talking, grabbing his brother's wrist with his free hand and breaking Sam's hold on his arm. As soon as he was free, he took a step back, creating some distance between them.
"Dude, back off! What is wrong with you?"
It was the question that did it. An uncountable number of things was wrong with Dean, but still he thought he could make all that out with himself and pretend everything was all right. It was too much. Sam's vision narrowed, and before he knew what was happening, his fist connected with Dean's jaw. It was a hard punch, one that made Sam feel the pain in every single knuckle, and the impact was forceful enough to throw Dean against the side of the car.
As if in slow motion, Sam watched how Dean slowly straightened up, frowning as if he was unsure whether this had really just happened. Carefully he moved his jaw and brought up his hand to gingerly touch the left corner of his mouth, wiping at the blood from his split lip. Those seconds of stunned stupor stretched endlessly, the sound of Sam's hard breathing harsh and loud in his own ears as his brain struggled to try and come up with an explanation for this unprecedented event. And then, from one second to the other, time sped up again.
A dangerous flash of anger in his brother's eyes was all the warning Sam got, then Dean was suddenly at him, grabbing the lapels of Sam's jacket with both fists and pushing him back against the car. And Sam instinctively knew that the only reason why the blows weren't raining at him with deadly precision was that he was Sam, and that even in anger, Dean found it almost impossibly hard to cross that barrier to physical violence towards his little brother.
But Dean was furious, and he was barely holding back as he pushed Sam up against the car and tried to immobilize him by trapping him between the car and his own body. And Sam understood that if he let Dean get the upper hand again, this conversation was going to be over before it had begun, and it would be a long time until Dean ever talked to him again about anything.
And so Sam did something that went against all his instincts. He started fighting back against his own brother. He batted Dean's hands away from his jacket and pushed Dean away, trying to get him away from the car and out into the open space in front of it. Dean was a formidable fighter, and while Sam was no slacker in that department himself Dean had years of street-smarts and all those experiences he had always shielded Sam from speaking for him. Dean was driven to avoid this confrontation, to get into the car and try to stop Sam from whatever it was he was trying to do. But Sam had the reach, the advantage in height, and the determination. And despite his rising level of anger Dean was still holding back. He tried to push Sam away where he could have easily punched him, tried to upset Sam's balance instead of fighting dirty and possibly causing a serious injury.
It was easier than it should have been, pushing Dean out of the narrow space between the car and the small wall, up into the open space in front of the Impala's hood. Against everybody else, Dean would have fought tooth and claw, and every other opponent would have come out of this bruised, bleeding and no longer standing under their own power. But in the end it was almost ridiculously easy to maneuver Dean out in front of the car, because Dean wasn't fighting back in earnest.
Dean gave Sam a final push, disentangling himself from his brother's hold as he took a few steps back. His jacket had slid over his shoulder, and he angrily pulled it back, then brought a hand up to his mouth again. The cut in his lip was still bleeding, and they were both breathing hard, the air charged between them to be ignited at the slightest spark.
Sam stood back, keeping his distance, but he remained tense. He knew that he had crossed a number of borders he shouldn't have crossed just now, and in all honesty he couldn't guess what his brother's reaction was going to be. He only knew that enough was enough. This couldn't go on for any longer, and he was going to end it today.
Dean eyed his bloody fingers for a moment, then gingerly moved his jaw from side to side.
"What the hell was that, Sam?"
"That was my raincheck."
"What?" Dean looked at him as if he had lost his mind, and in all honesty Sam wasn't too sure that he had thought this through to the end. But he had started it, and now he didn't have any choice but to see it through.
"My raincheck. I still owed you one, remember? The first time we met Gordon Walker, when you punched me, and I refused to punch you back? Well, this was it. We're even."
Dean shook his head, hand still against his jaw.
"No Dean. I've just reached the end of my rope. This is going to stop right now."
"What is going to stop?"
Sam wanted to growl in frustration. Dean wasn't stupid. It wasn't that he didn't understand what Sam wanted. It was just so typically Dean – pretending that there wasn't a problem until it went away. But this wasn't going to go away, not on its own.
"For how long do you think you can still keep this up, Dean? Pretend that everything is all right until it gets too much to bear again? It can't go on like that. I can't stand another four weeks like the last, with you chasing us from job to job, barely sleeping, just because you're afraid that if we have some free time on our hands you're going to end up thinking about hell again."
Dean's face shut down in the blink of an eye and he crossed his arms in front of his chest. Defiantly. Creating even more distance between them.
"No Sam, what?"
"We are not going to talk about this. The only thing we're going to do is get back into that car, find a motel for the night and go look for another job. And if you don't get in right now, so help me God, I'll leave your ass out here."
Sam was standing at the driver's side of the door, and even if he had not he was sure that Dean wasn't going to leave him behind. So he only shook his head.
"No. This isn't up for discussion, Dean. Times are over when I wait for you to make the first step and tell me what's tearing you up from the inside. I've given you plenty of time, plenty of opportunities, but now we do things on my terms."
"I've said everything I'm going to say about this. You're wasting your time, Sam."
Sam wanted to laugh at the mere idea that fighting for his brother's mental wellbeing was a waste of time. And if it was going to take all night, he was going to start changing things. Right here, right now.
"No. No more, Dean. This has already gone on for way too long, and I won't watch it for a second longer. What we've done wasn't talking. Ever since you stopped lying about hell, you've been revealing things one after another, whenever they got too bad for you to still keep them inside. And all I could do was listen, and when I wanted to react to it, when I wanted to talk to you about it, you had already shut me out again. That's not talking, Dean. That's anything but talking."
"Oh, so what is talking then, Dr. Freud? Maybe we should go out for a tea, sit down and cry into each other's shoulder as we share our bad memories of hell. But wait, I forgot! You have no frigging clue what hell is like! So why don't you shut up and get your ass into the car, Sam?"
"No." Sam wasn't going to budge on this. He had stood by and watched it happen for far too long. Dean drew breath to say something, but Sam cut him off with a sharp gesture.
"You're right, you know? I have no idea what hell is like. And no matter how much you tell me about it, about the torture, the pain, the things you did and what you felt when you were doing them, I will probably never even begin to understand what hell is like. I will never know it the way you know it."
Dean nodded. "There. Then we're done here."
"No." Sam took another step closer, but still stayed well out of his brother's personal space. "We're not. I might never know hell, Dean. But you know what? That doesn't matter. Because I know you."
Dean pulled a face and tried to turn away, but Sam followed the movement and didn't give his brother the chance to evade him.
"I know you better than anybody else, Dean. I know the brother who took care of me for my whole life, and I simply know that you are many things, but you're not a bad person. You're not evil, dark or brutal. You're anything but."
Dean shook his head, but his voice when he spoke was soft and sounded defeated. "You don't know anything, Sammy. The brother you think you know, I'm not so sure it's the same guy Castiel pulled from the pit."
"Well, then it's good that I know."
"No Dean. I'm serious. You have to stop this. Those kids back at the house? What happened to them was horrible, okay? And if they had been given a chance, they could have had a normal life. But fact is, they didn't get a chance. And that's nobody's fault but that of the guy who locked them up in that house in the first place. By the time we came here, they were long past the point where anybody could have still helped them. That they died was tragic and I wish that there had been another way, but you saw them. There was no reasoning with them, okay? It was either that family and us or them, and we did what we had to do. Weren't you the one who told me that sometimes our job is like that? We can't save everybody, Dean. Their life was torture, and it turned them into what they became. You went to hell, and the torture that happened to you there made you do what you did. It happened. And I wish to God it didn't, but there is no way to change it anymore. All I know is that nothing that happened to you there makes you a bad person."
Dean laughed sadly, shaking his head from side to side slowly.
"How would you know, Sam? How would you know what it does to you to tear somebody else apart, piece by piece, and enjoy it? How would you know what it's like to slice into someone until they scream and beg for you to stop it, and then some more? How would you know how that changes you? What that does to you? You have no idea about any of that, so don't tell me that you know what it's done to me!"
"Oh, I know what it's doing to you. I know that it's tearing you apart from the inside, Dean. I know that it's causing you so much pain that you can't sleep at night without waking up screaming from the dreams about it. I know that it makes you want to save as many people as possible to make up for it. And you know what? That's what tells me you're a good person. Exactly because what you did is eating you up. Because you still have a conscience, because you want to make up for what you've done! You went through thirty years of torture, Dean. It's human nature to break under torture, and it doesn't take thirty years to break most people. It's human nature to do anything to survive. And as much as I hate to tell you, you're only human. You forgive everybody else their human shortcomings so easily, but for yourself you seem to have superhuman expectations. It's going to break you, Dean. And I won't stand by and let that happen. I've done for far too long already."
Dean shook his head. "I'm done here. This is useless."
He roughly brushed past Sam, intent on getting to the driver's side door of the car. But again, Sam held him back by the shoulder and turned him around.
"What are you so afraid of, Dean? What makes you so scared that you won't even talk to me about it? I'm your brother. For nearly twenty-six years, you've been there for me no matter what. That's a two-way street, okay? Nothing you told me after you came back from hell changed what I think about you, or the way I look at you. Nothing. So why are you so afraid to tell me what is scaring you so badly?"
Sam's hold on Dean's jacket was turning his face towards Sam, but Dean had his eyes cast to the ground, refusing to look up at his brother. He didn't try to shake off Sam's hold, but Sam felt that his brother was still tense, and that his behavior could change from one moment to the next.
But Dean made no move to push Sam away. He worried his lower lip with his teeth, then exhaled deeply.
"No Dean. Talk to me."
"No amount of talking is going to make this go away, Sam. Please."
The pleading tone was like a stab in Sam's chest. It was so unlike Dean, so raw and unprotected. But no matter how much he wanted to back down and give Dean the space he wanted, he couldn't.
"Talk to me, Dean. Everything that happened to you, it happened because of me. You went to hell because of me. I can't…I don't know if I can do anything to help you. But damn it, why don't you even give me a chance? Why don't you let me try? It's my fault that all this happened in the first place…"
"It's not your fault!"
Green eyes flashed with newfound determination and Dean roughly clenched his fist in Sam's jacket again, shaking him for emphasis. "It wasn't your fault, Sammy."
It was way easier said than believed, but this was one discussion Sam wasn't going to have today. One thing after another.
"And it wasn't your fault either. Look, I don't deny that some extremely bad things happened to you. But you're back, Dean. We're back together, and if there's one thing we've always been good at, then it's dealing with all the crap life has thrown at us. We can deal with this, too, if you let me in."
Dean shook his head in defeat. "No, we can't."
Dean let go of Sam's jacket and let it fall to his side. When he finally raised his head and looked at Sam, the defeated expression on his face nearly made Sam wish back the previous anger. Angry Dean he was used to dealing with, but this was unprecedented. Dean looked at Sam for a long couple of seconds, then he turned his eyes towards a point somewhere over Sam's left shoulder.
"Because Sam, no matter what I do to deal with this, no matter how many hunts I go on, how many people I save, it'll never be enough. It'll never make up for what I did. And one day it's going to be over, Sammy. One day I'll die, again. And after what I've done…I'll go to hell, again. And it won't take another thirty years to break me this time. And there won't be another get out of hell free-card. The next time I go down south, I'm there for good. I'll be frying in hell until it has sucked the last bit of humanity out of me and turned me into a demon, or something even worse. I'm living on borrowed time, Sammy. All I can do is try to make up for what I've done, even though I can't. I can never do enough. I can only try, and hope and pray to a God who won't listen that there is some kind of redemption."
The hand which had been holding Dean back by the shoulder dropped limply to Sam's side. Of all the things he had expected to hear once he finally got his brother to talk, this hadn't been it.
To be honest, the idea of Dean going back to hell was terrifying, and that was why Sam had pushed that particular thought as far away from him as possible. Because Dean was a good person, one who didn't deserve to go back to hell. He hadn't deserved to go there the first time. But obviously, Dean had thought about going back to hell. He couldn't stop thinking about it, and that the prospect scared Dean as badly as it obviously did made the breath catch in Sam's throat. Dean was scared, and that as such was wrong. Dean wasn't ever scared, not so much that it didn't let him sleep. Not so much that it made him try and run away from even thinking about it.
Dean was wearing himself out in a quest for redemption, and Sam was convinced that once more his brother didn't see the things that were right in front of his eyes.
Dean was half-turned away from Sam, eyes cast upwards and struggling visibly to keep his composure. The cut on his lip had stopped bleeding by now, but there was a trail of blood running down his chin, and some of it had dripped onto his shirt. When Sam called his name, he bit his lower lip and slowly turned back towards his brother, but he still refused to meet Sam's eyes.
"What, Sam? Are we still not done talking? What else can you possibly want to know?"
"We're so far from done, Dean. Because while you were trying to make everything out for yourself, you started running in circles and now you can't see the forest for the trees."
"Metaphors, Sam? Really? First this is Psychology 101, and now you're throwing metaphors at me?"
"Get your head out of your ass then!" Sam yelled, arms spread wide at his sides and taking a step towards Dean, deliberately crossing into his brother's personal space. "Is that a clear enough phrase for you? Because if you hadn't stuck it up there so far that you can no longer see or hear anything, you'd stop this quest for redemption you're on before it's too late and you lose yourself in it!"
"I'm not…" Dean tried to protest, but Sam cut him off.
"Yes you are! You're out for redemption, and for that you try to hunt down every single thing we come across, without the slightest bit of consideration for yourself. But did you just spare one second to think about it? Really think about it, not torture yourself with the guilt of what you've done?"
"Sam listen, I'm really not in the mood for any of your cryptic shit right now."
"It's not cryptic shit! It's just the same old Dean Winchester crap – the world is easy for everybody but you. Do you remember what you told me back when you found out I had lied to you about using my abilities?"
Dean frowned, momentarily taken aback as he tried to remember what Sam was talking about.
"You told me about Castiel's warning. And that an angel warning you about it meant that God didn't want me to use my abilities."
Dean nodded, but the confusion didn't vanish from his face. Sam inwardly cursed their father for what had to be the thousandth time or more for not installing a bigger sense of self-worth in his eldest son. If he had, maybe Dean wouldn't need to have this spelled out for him.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Everything, you idiot. When somebody tells you it's God's will that I don't use my abilities, you take that seriously. But when God himself sends an angel to rescue you from hell, you refuse to see that it might mean something, too?"
Dean's eyes widened for a second, but then he shook his head emphatically.
"Stop it Sam."
"Stop what? Trying to make you see that there might just be something to it?"
"Something to it?" Dean roared, bridging the small distance between them and grabbing Sam's jacket again, fisting his fingers into the fabric and shaking Sam roughly. "Since when do you know God's will, Sam? Huh? When did you become an expert on all things divine?"
Sam made no move to shake off his brother's hands, or to step backwards. Instead he forced his voice to remain calm and level.
"I don't claim to know God's will, I really don't. And after everything I've seen over the past six months, I'm no longer sure what to believe in. But I know one thing. You held out in hell for thirty years. You held out until you lost all hope that you'd ever be rescued. Then you gave yourself up. You spent ten years of your time in hell torturing others. And you enjoyed it. You took pleasure in causing pain, pleasure in the fact that it was the others who were hurting and not yourself."
The pained look in his brother's eyes made Sam feel sick, but he forced himself to continue.
"For ten years, you did unspeakable things to an uncountable number of souls. And little by little, with every cut of the knife, you cut away a part of your humanity. For ten whole years. And yet, after ten years of all that, God sends an angel down to hell. And of all the souls down there, He picked you. Despite everything you did, God picked you to be rescued from hell. Because He has a plan for you. You got handpicked by the man above, you get visited by an angel on a regular basis, you are supposed to help stop the apocalypse, and still don't see that the first step to the redemption you're looking for might be there, right in front of you?"
Dean was shaking his head, like a child who refused to hear what he was being told. He kept his hands fisted into Sam's jacket, though now it gave the impression he was holding on more for balance than out of the earlier anger.
"Dean, are you listening to me?"
Dean kept on shaking his head. "No. No Sam. What I did…there's no way…"
"Stop it, Dean!"
Now Sam was shaking his brother, and pushed him back by his shoulders so that he could look into his eyes.
"Stop it right now! You tell me that there's no way I can know God's plans, but you can know that there's no way you can ever be forgiven for what you've done? Stop being such a hypocrite, Dean."
"What do you know, Sam? What do you know about this?"
"I know that I won't watch you do this to yourself for any longer. Blindly chasing hunts in a desperate attempt to make up for what you've done, this can't go on for any longer."
Dean took another step back, letting go of Sam's jacket and sinking against the Impala's front fender with a weary sigh.
"And what do you suggest we do, Sam?"
"We take a break."
Dean's head snapped up so quickly that Sam started worrying about whiplash.
"We take a break. No hunts. A holiday. You still know what that is, right?"
"Sam, we can't go on a holiday."
But Sam was having none of that.
"I'm tired. You're beyond tired. I'm not talking three weeks on Fiji here. I'm talking about driving somewhere because we want to be there for a change. Let's hole up in a motel with a bunch of DVDs, or find a theater where they're still playing the new Raiders movie. I don't know, we could go to the Grand Canyon, or down to California. Just let's not think about the hunt for a while. We both need a break."
Dean shook his head. "What good is a break going to do? It's not going to change anything."
"It's rest. It gives you time to tell me anything else you might have held back about your time in hell because I swear, if we end up having another roadside conversation in which you reveal yet another blow to the gut, I'm going to punch your lights out. A break gives you time to think, to start dealing. It won't make everything all right, I know that. But it'll help."
"So what, we're taking a break until I start caring and sharing everything?"
Sam ignored the sharp tone in his brother's voice.
"I don't want to turn you something you are not, Dean. But with the life we lead, I need to know what's going on with you. I need to know why you act the way you do, why a case gets to you, when you run the danger of losing it. I don't want you to discuss every nightmare in detail, okay? But I need to know when they get so bad that you don't get any rest. That's what I'm talking about. When we go out on a hunt, I need to know how you will react."
"What, so now you're not trusting me anymore?"
Sam sighed and closed his eyes for a moment to get past that moment of rage that flared up at his brother's words. When he opened them again, he deliberately waited until Dean looked at him again before he spoke.
"I trust you, Dean. I trust you with my life, and without hesitation. I didn't think you need me to tell you that. But things have changed since you went to hell, Dean. All I'm asking is that we take some time to adjust to that. Without any lies, without holding anything back. I need that before we go hunting again, and I think you do, too."
Dean ran a hand over his face, wiping his mouth as he thought about his brother's words. Sam could see that his brother was struggling hard with himself, and he knew Dean well enough to know that it was a hard decision for him. In fact, he was relying heavily on the hope that even if Dean didn't want to do it, he was going to agree to taking that break for his sake. It was cruel to bank on that thought, but if there was one thing Dean had always been susceptible to, it was when Sam asked something of him.
They desperately needed that timeout, and Sam didn't care for what reasons Dean agreed to it, if only he did agree.
Finally, after maybe half a minute of deliberation, Dean sighed deeply and looked up at Sam.
"There's this town in Texas, Dad and I stayed there during a hunt. There's a diner with the best homemade chili in the whole world, and the place has more than just one great bar. Homebrewed beer, hot waitresses, warm weather. And I'm sure there's a couple of those historic landmark things around that you always drool over. If we already take a break, we can as well take it somewhere where we're going to enjoy ourselves."
Sam didn't bother to hide his smile.
"Good. Then we should get going. Get some miles behind us while it's still light. Unless there's anything else you want to tell me?"
Dean shook his head and looked Sam straight in the eye.
"No, there isn't."
And for the first time since Dean's return to hell, Sam was absolutely sure that it was the truth. He gently cuffed Dean's shoulder and walked around to the passenger side of the car. Dean walked up to the driver's side, but stopped with the door halfway open.
"There is one thing."
Sam stopped and straightened up again, leaning his elbows on the Impala's roof as he looked across at his brother.
Dean gingerly touched his jaw. "About that raincheck. Those two blows I dealt you. You know, after I saw you doing your little exorcising trick for the first time. Do I have to expect a raincheck on those, too?"
Sam laughed, feeling suddenly very relieved. "No. Punches that were dealt for being stupid and lying don't warrant a rain check. We're even."
Dean smiled. "Good. Then let's go."
Sam slid into the passenger seat, leaning back into the comfort of the seat as he stretched out his legs as much as possible. Dean started the engine, put in a tape and drove away from their parking spot under the bridge. They would need to stop for lunch again, since their meal had gone uneaten. But that could wait for a little while longer. The main thing was that they had made a start. It was a long way to Texas, after all.
Maybe half an hour into their drive, Dean started humming along with the songs on the tape, and something inside of Sam relaxed. Staring at the scenery passing by the window, Sam found himself reminded of what Susan Carter had told them earlier this morning, before they had left, and how much it fit not only the Carters, but him and Dean.
They were the opposite of okay, but they were together.
And that was a start.
Thanks for reading. As always, please let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.