Chapter 3

"I found the answer, Dean."

I bite my tongue to hold back my automatic response—What was the question? How to reach a new level in totally freaking out your big brother? Instead, I pretend that's a perfectly sane response. Humor him. Keep him talking; and he does.

"The answer to everything."

I can feel Sammy drifting away from me again, but this time his eyes are taking on an almost manic gleam.

"Sam. I'm cold. I'm tired. I'm confused, and you're scaring the hell out of me. What's going on?"

"I figured out how to purge my evil and earn God's forgiveness for using my powers."

Okay. Wow. Didn't see that one coming. I never realized blood could drain out of your head that quickly. So, no curse then. Sammy's just finally lost it.

I really try to come up with a response. It's not my fault I blank in the face of Sam-turned-zealot. Anyway, he seems to take my totally manly noise as a prompt to keep going. The determined look is back with a vengeance, and for a second I could swear that I'm looking at our Dad. It's the look of a broken man on a mission, with nothing to lose. It's an expression that I've only seen twice on my brother's face— in the grief-maddened days after Palo Alto and Broward County.

What the fuck! Sammy hasn't exactly been himself lately, but how could I have missed something so huge.

"It'll be better now Dean, you'll see."

Okay. I think I'm going to vomit. It kills me to realize that Sam honestly thinks some medieval torture routine is the solution to all our problems. I clench my fist when his voice wavers and cracks as he tries to go on.

"I tried not to use my powers, Dean. I always meant to keep my promise, I swear. But I lost Ruby's knife in the fight with Samhain. If I hadn't done it, he would have killed me, then slaughtered everyone in that town. I couldn't just let such a powerful demon go. Not now, not when we're fighting the actual apocalypse."

I watch Sammy's head droop down to his chest, amazed as always that someone his size can manage to make himself look so small.

"Dean, a little more of me dies every time I stab some innocent victim just to kill the demon inside. And maybe it's wrong… but I can't just stand by when there are people I can save. This is what I'm meant to do; there has to be a reason… There has to be."

I'm torn between accepting some truth in what he's saying, and my absolute and overwhelming fear that I'm going to lose the last of my family to darkness or an angel's wrath. So sue me if I take the coward's route.

"But Sam, the angels warned you…"

"You think I don't know that? You think I didn't see the look on Castiel's face when forced to shake hands with an abomination like me?"

I'm hit with a burst of anger. My gut lurches when reminded of the destroyed look on Sam's face that day. When his almost childlike joy at meeting a 'Messenger of God' was crushed by Cas' cold, superior greeting- ignoring all Sam's faith and light- and reducing him to the 'boy with the demon blood.' I can't quite meet my brother's eyes when he continues.

"You think I don't get that Uriel would follow through with his threats? But don't you see? He looked me right in the eye, and told me the only reason that I'm still alive is because I'm still useful. The moment that stops and I become more trouble than I'm worth, he's already said he'll turn me to dust with a word."

Sam's almost in a trance now. Knees up, rocking back and forth, rambling on about how he needs to be useful… That he has to keep doing good or the angels will kill him- how he can't leave me all alone, but he doesn't know what else to do. How he's profane and corrupted, cursed and damned.

His words swarm around me like bees, closing in. I'm ready to have the mother of all chick-flick moments, and wrap him up in my arms like when he was a little boy with a nightmare. But I can't move. Turns out, my world froze the second I heard about Uriel's little chat. Those bastards broke my Sammy.

Worse, it's my fault too. It's my fault that I didn't know until two years ago that my brother prays every freaking day. My fault that I made a deal with a demon and pulled him out of whatever afterlife he might have earned, just to get him caught up in the battle between Heaven and Hell. Maybe I never should have pushed him to keep his faith when he'd started realizing for himself what dicks these angels were. But what else are you supposed to tell your little brother when he looks at you with big Bambi eyes pleading… 'This is God and Heaven? This is what I've been praying to?'

I'm struggling to figure out how in the hell we could have gotten to this point, when I'm struck by flash after flash of memories: Sammy's face when he learned of dad's orders to kill him if he couldn't be saved; Sam's face when he heard the angels had plans to stop him; his reaction when my own fear had me telling him I'd hunt him if I didn't know him.

Then I remember standing by that roadside in Carthage, when he begged me to understand that his tainted blood was a disease he could never scrub clean. How the only thing he could control was making something good of his curse by helping people. Was Sam's sanity starting to slip even then?