Author:Mirrordance

Title:As He Breaks

Summary:Sam ran to Dean and screamed for help, screamed and cried right from the deepest parts of him, as if those who could hear could fix everything of his brother, body and soul. Tag to the irresistible 4.16.

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As He Breaks

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Epilogue

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Set During "It's a Terrible Life"

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Are you ready to stand up, and be who you really are?

Zachariah looked at him pointedly, expectantly.

But the question was, always has been, who was he, really? John Winchester's Soldier? But John Winchester was dead and this soldier fucked up the world. Sammy's Older Brother? But Sam had taken it upon himself to do whatever it was he felt necessary anyway, big brother's fears and anger be damned. Some sort of a Casanova? But fooling around with women hasn't been as fun as it used to be because he'd already had himself an angel, not to mention he was too tired or too busy or too screwed in the head to enjoy it lately. Proud owner of the Imapala was great but obviously lacking. Plain, straightforward hunter he doesn't think he's ever really been... he was on the hunt to avenge his mom, help his dad, save his brother. If doing all that meant being a fireman, he'd be a fireman. If doing all that meant being Dean Smith, he'd be Dean Smith. He'd be an accountant or a gardener or a gigolo or whatever it was he needed to be, if it meant he could save his family.

And seriously? Was the angel's best selling proposition angled toward 'There are worse fates than yours?'

Dean was going back to hunting and this crazy anti-apocalypse campaign, there was no two ways about that, it was how he was made. To deal with what's in front of him. What was in front of him was the apocalypse he helped start. What was in front of him was the apocalypse only he could end. But more than that, more than any of that, what was in front of him was a troubled, overburdened kid brother who convinced himself that he had to be bad just to save Dean and help Dean save the world. That was what's in front of him before anything else, and Sammy especially he would never, ever back away from.

"Where's my brother?" he asked, speaking of the d– never mind.

"Downstairs," Zachariah replied, "Getting escorted out of the premises by trembling security. He told you he didn't like his cubicle, Dean, but he hated his telephone even more."

Dean's eyes narrowed in confusion but let it slip, waving around the room, "What does he know about all this?"

"Sam Wesson is just... Sam Wesson right now," Zachariah replied, "He'll be privy to more, as soon as I let Castiel restore him."

"It's uh..." Dean hesitated, "It's weird, how he uh... he felt more wrong about all this than I did. It wasn't always like that. He used to be the one to want to get away from hunting. It was hunting that used to feel iffy. Now though... he just felt wrong about this normal crap."

"He is a sharp one," Zachariah conceded, "I wondered about that myself. But Dean... did you expect him to remain the same after you were gone? Much to ask for, that. You undervalue your place in his life. As you undervalue yourself against everyone else's lives."

"Well I gotta offset these good looks with humility."

"I am serious, Dean."

"So am--"

"You think you're a failure for giving in to Alistair's tortures," Zachariah cut him off, "Especially alongside daddy and his one hundred years. Always trying to live up to the old man, huh, Dean? Well let me tell you something."

"I'm not talking about this--"

"You keep thinking you failed because you're not as strong as him," Zachariah went on, "But isn't there also even the remotest possibility that maybe he wasn't as righteous? It's all fate, Dean. Maybe you're not as strong. But maybe he wasn't as righteous. That first seal was yours to break, as surely as all this misery is yours to end. You will do whatever you have to. Now tell me: Are you ready to stand up, and be who you really are?"

Dean stared at Zachariah for a long time. Of course his father was righteous, what the heck was this guy saying? But for the sake of argument, he took the point in as a remote possibility, fine. But righteous or not, he was damaged. Damaged. Everything about his life was damaged.

How does anyone expect something broken to work the same way again?

You don't!

He pinched at the bridge of his nose, thinking, and found his mind drifting toward Sam. The one guy in the entire world who can make him change his mind about all this was the one who believed the least in him right now...

Winchesters being Winchesters, they ran their mouths and spat at each other a lot. They were a father and brothers, after all, the quarters were always tight, and maybe it was even fun sometimes. They seldom apologized to each other; either the fight was too trifling and irrelevant, or it was too huge and irreparable that there was just no point. Move on, next page.

The trifles included music and food, general mess and laundry, about who did what at a hunt, or the remote control. The massive breaches included Stanford and demon blood. The freshest irrevocable wound was attempted suicide because, since there was only two of them left in the world, it was undoubtedly abandonment too.

Sam didn't come in to see Dean in the hospital for two days, probably to cool off a little. Dean didn't mind so much. He needed the time too. He laid there thinking, suffering the restraints at his wrists, accepting it like some sort of penance.

There was a part of him that wondered if Sam would even come back. Maybe it was for the best. He was a liability. He held Sam back. Maybe this was for the best...

But Sam always finds something inside him that takes him back to Dean, something that opens up his heart. Sam had opened his door in California and re-joined the hunt. Sam had stepped out of his demons from the death of Jessica to fight the good fight with his brother. Sam had raged against Dean himself after the death of their father and kept him sane, kept him alive. Even whenever Sam left or was abducted, life colluded to bring them back together. And when it was Dean in danger, Sam never gave up on him – Watch me, Sam had said. And when Dean gained back his memories from Tessa about what happened at the hospital after the accident, the brutal memories were warmed only by visions of Sam sitting by his bed, talking to him. It was Sam with the Magical Talking Hands. Sam won't give up on him. He never has before, and he wouldn't now... would he?

There was hope there, Dean found. Maybe there's something in Sam that would turn dark side. Maybe. But Sam will always find something inside him, Dean knew, something inside that would bring him home. Dean just had to... be around for that.

Sure enough, the Sasquatch kind-of just... appeared by the door of his room. Dean was having 'dinner' just before the end of visiting hours. He was seated up and propped against his pillows, picking at the stale mush that was the full gamut of what his throat could stand to swallow, when that shaggy head and earnest face looked at him uneasily, unsure of his welcome.

Sam looked at him with a little bit of fear, now. Like he couldn't be let out of the Sasquatch's sight. And surely, Sam looked at him with considerable anger too, veiled by a strained effort to make him feel he's not alone. But the anger was there because, Dean realized belatedly, not only was to try to escape this life tantamount to leaving Sam, it was a clear implication that he didn't think Sam or anybody else could help him. It was a mistrust of Sam's abilities to protect and save him.

"Feeling better?" Sam asked.

"Yeah," Dean replied, and his brother stepped inside the room, hesitating between sitting on the bed or the sick green chair. Dean knocked him out of his misery and shifted aside in welcome. Sam sat by his forearm, right at the very edge. But at least he was there, and he was fairly near.

"I'd offer you some," Dean said of the indescribable mush, "But I think someone ate it, regurgitated it, and then served it."

"Couldn't be worse than the usual mess you eat," Sam said, his cheek dimpling a little. Dean smiled at that. No apologies, move on, right?

"I didn't want to die, you know," Dean said, suddenly, surprising himself. Wanting to get this out of the way. But Sam looked so darn uneasy, this scared-anger struggling under layers and layers of pretend that it kind of just popped out.

"I was sick," Dean went on, embarrassed, scratching his neck, "Wasn't thinking straight. I just wanted out of wherever--"

"Geez, Dean!" Sam exclaimed, grabbing for his older brother's IV'd hand. There were deep, dark bruises on his wrist, "What the hell?"

"I didn't try to get out of them I swear," Dean muttered, embarrassed as he pulled his hand away, "They said I kind of... move around a lot in my sleep."

Which was a euphemism for the restraints reminding him of the bondage of hell, hell taking him in his nightmares, and the sleeping struggle that had bruised and skinned his wrists. Sam deciphered this easily, and the thing that Dean hated most streaked across Sam's already conflicted scared-angry gaze: Pity.

"I wasn't thinking, God, Dean," he said, "I'm so--"

"It was the right decision at the time," Dean snapped at him, before he could curb his temper. Don't you dare feel sorry for me...

"Dean--"

"Shut up, Sam," Dean growled, angrily shoving some mush-food into his mouth. His scowl only deepened at the foulness of it. "So. When can I get out of here?"

"Not anytime soon and I mean it," Sam told him, eyes steely, "No AMA's this time. You gotta... you gotta take better care of yourself."

"I take care of--"

"No you don't," Sam argued, "And you can't afford not to anymore."

Dean watched his brother's face for a long moment. Realization dawned.

"Why?" Dean snapped, "Because if the guy who started the apocalypse gets the chickenpox then we're all fucked? Because it's all my fault and it's all on me? Castiel has a big goddamn mouth."

"No, it's not that," Sam snapped back, "If you're hurt, I can't focus on what I have to do."

"What the hell does that mean?!"

"Nothing," Sam said, pursing his lips, realizing his anger had taken the thinking away from his mouth.

"No Sam," Dean said, "You tell me: what the hell does that mean?"

"You can't do this alone," Sam said, "This last..." suicide attempt, Dean filled in "...episode proved that. You need my help. You're not alone in this, Dean. I can help you, let me help you. But I can't do that if I'm worrying about you."

"You don't have to worry--"

"But I do," Sam insisted, "You're my brother. I just do, all right? Let me do the work, for now, all right? Just focus on getting better."

"I'm fine," Dean growled.

"You are not fine," Sam said, "The drinking? The endless hunts? Getting hurt? And now this last..."

The repeated hesitation made Dean's temper flare. "Suicide attempt!" he exclaimed, making Sam flinch, "For God's sake, knock us both out of our miseries and call a spade a spade, dude! I told you, I was sick and I wasn't thinking straight."

"You're still sick."

Dean stared at him for a long moment. "You're meaning sick-in-the-head-sick."

Sam set his jaws, and didn't bother to deny it. "You got back from hell and torture, Dean. You can't expect to come out unscathed."

"That doesn't mean I need you to go evil just to help me pay my debts!" Dean pointed out, pressing his fingers over his eyes. God, this was giving him a headache.

"Need me to call someone?" Sam asked, sounding panicked again.

"No, I need you to shut up," Dean said, looking at his brother. He took a deep, calming breath. "Sam. Sammy. I'll stay a bit longer here, all right? Just like you want me to. But don't you go off doing things we'd both regret. I might need help, but not that kind."

"You're so convinced I can't tell right from wrong," Sam said, looking disappointed and profoundly unhappy, "You're so convinced I'm going to turn evil or something."

"You're so convinced I can't save us without it," Dean said, just as aggrieved, "So now what do we do?"

They left the conversation roundabouts of there, and Dean noted that that was the last he could remember of the hospital. He fell asleep when Sam left, and woke up as someone else.

"My brother doesn't trust me anymore," Dean said, quietly, "Doesn't trust my calls, always says I'm running when in my head it's a strategic withdrawal or something. He doesn't trust that I can do this without him having to use his powers and risk going dark. He doesn't... he doesn't trust me anymore. This latest..." what had been Sam's word for it? "... episode of mine, from the hospital... it kinda made things worse.

"I can't..." Dean rambled on, not knowing exactly what he wanted to say to Zachariah, "I can't do this, if he's not on board with me. I can't do this, if he doesn't believe I can, and just goes off to do whatever to fix things on his own. I can't. That said... I'll go back in line, but you gotta do something for me."

"We cannot restore your brother's faith in you perforce, Dean," Zachariah said.

"You can take memories away," Dean said, motioning for Dean's Smith's office, "And give 'em back, right? Give Sam Wesson back everything that was Sammy Winchester's. Everything, except for that night. That night with me and the hospital trying to... to... escape."

"And you're back in the fold?"

"Work me like a dog."

"All right," Zachariah said, lips curving to a smile, "But I have to tell you keeping that memory from Sam is not going to restore his faith in you, Dean. Not like how it was. It's not that easy."

"I can live with that," Dean said, "I just need him to stop looking at me like he's just waiting for me to have a nervous breakdown. I'm dented, but I ain't that broke yet, you know. I need him to let me out of his sight sometimes, to stop questioning everything I decide, always underlying it with me being scared or me running. I can't do what I have to do, not when he's looking at me like I've already failed. So you gotta do this for me."

"Consider it done."


The elevator door opened, and Dean was unsurprised to find Castiel standing there. He smiled at the angel wryly, and stepped inside.

"Back in possession of yourself, I see," Castiel said, as the floors ticked on.

It was a loaded question. Back from being Dean Smith, surely. And back to being, more-or-less, the Dean Winchester with more kick.

"You had to call in the big guns, huh?" Dean asked, "What? Couldn't handle us?"

"You are a handful," Castiel conceded, making the hunter smirk, "It is good to see the light back in your eyes, Dean."

"Save it for the health club, pal," Dean said, catching himself and blinking. "Declined retention rate," he murmured to himself, finding he still knew exactly what it meant and what to do about it. And finding that he was still concerned about it...

"Yes," Castiel said, reading his perplexed expression, "Dean Smith is real. All of this is real. Your knowledge is real. It is another life you really could have sunk into. And still could, in the future."

"Huh," he said, and had to bit his tongue to keep from asking if his portfolio really was in the gutter. He was pretty sure of the answer, and that really sucks.

"So at the end of all this," Dean said, "Sam has a normal life to return to, if he wanted. Sam Wesson exists: social security, health plan, et cetera?"

"Pretty much," Castiel said, "Dean Smith too."

"I'm..." Dean hesitated, "I'm glad. Never thought I'd say this, but I'm thinking maybe he should have a chance to get out of the life, if he ever wanted to again."

"He will," Castiel said.

"How about you?" Dean asked.

"Hm?"

"'Back in possession of yourself?'" Dean clarified.

"What do you mean?"

"You kinda looked off your game," Dean said, "Looking up at heaven a lot, like you were asking, 'Dude: what the heck are you thinking now?'"

Castiel pursed his lips in thought, "I still don't have the answers. But I do not doubt, now, that you and your brother have some of them."

"I have answers God doesn't?" Dean smirked, "I'm flattered."

"God through his vessels; like you," Castiel said.

The elevator chimed to indicate the landing at the lobby of the Sandover building.

"Welcome back, Dean," Castiel said, not-quite willing to say anything about the faith-thing. He had already vanished by the time the doors opened.

I'm not back just yet, Dean thought, stepping out of the elevator. He looked around, and the first thing he could see was his brother, a head above everyone else, being ushered out the door.

He strode toward them purposefully, Sam looming larger and larger the closer he came upon them.

"Hey!" he called out, and Sam turned to face him, eyes completely self-aware now. A little bit more veiled and clouded than Sam Wesson's, but this was his brother now for sure.

"Dean!" he exclaimed, looking relieved.

"Let's get outta here," Dean said, pushing his way past the guards and grabbing his brother by the arm.

Now he was home, and everything else they can figure out from here.

The End

April 12, 2009


Afterword


Contents

I. Holy Crap, This Episode!

II. The Characters

A. The Brothers Winchester: One Faded, the Other Blind

1. The Increasingly Fascinating Sammy

2. Dean: The Old, the New, and the Post-New

B. Castiel

III. Massive Thanks and Replies

IV. Future Project Update: Heaven and Earth


I. Holy Crap, This Episode!

As I mentioned in my Author's Note at the start of As He Breaks, this episode bowled me over so much that everything else I was working on kind of just fell flat and died haha. On the Head of a Pin is undoubtedlya series classic to me for several reasons: (1) it developed the two central characters in that we discovered something new about each of them (Dean's role in the apocalypse and Sam's new little kink); (2) it changed our views about the two growing characters in the series (Castiel and his doubts, and Uriel's betrayal); (3) they fleshed out one of the best villains in the show's history – Alastair - with a stellar, creepy performance; and (4) They mashed everything together and the feeling was just this massive collision. Anytime I think they couldn't possibly win us over anymore, something like this comes out and there's a fresh surge of love for this show all over again, haha.

That being said... I am rabid-fan-girl enough to want to have seen: (1) the brotherly moments in the hospital (although arguably this may have been used as a literary device; emphasizes their growing distance); (2) up to now I still don't know the extent of knowledge Sam has about Dean's role in breaking the first seal or Uriel's betrayal and how he would have felt about all that; (3) I would have loved to see a firmer connection between 4.16 and 4.17. I guess that's why As It Breaks came along, and as I said before, I hope the fic does this insanely good episode a fair turn.

By the way, I'm sure we all know where the fic title came from. I thought it sounded snappy the moment I heard it, haha, but aside from that and more importantly, the story unfolds 'as Dean breaks,' so it's also mostly from Sam and Castiel's perspectives like, what everyone is doing "as he breaks."

II. The Characters

It being that one of the strongest points of this episode is how potently the characters were portrayed, it really made me think about nuances that I hope I managed to convey. Please note that the explanations below will be featuring some really insightful points from some of those who have reviewed As He Breaks. I underlined the reviewers' names so that the perspective is properly attributed and so that if you should be one of them, you get to see your name right away :)

A. The Brothers Winchester: One Faded, the Other Blind

- Miyo086 noted what is actually one of my favorite lines in this fic, which is the best way I could endeavor to describe what makes the Winchesters so distant in Season 4. Dean is faded and less noticeable, tarnished and scarred by his time in Hell; while Sam is blinded by his anger and his pain from the time Dean was away. Damaged even after being reunited, the blind can't see what's faded, and so neither of them could reach out to breach the gap. The explanations below will expound on these 'damages' further:

1. The Increasingly Fascinating Sammy

I always said I am more of a Dean-girl but Sam-as-I-perceive him is more fascinating to write, haha. Seriously though, he is so amazingly multi-faceted. On the Head of a Pin raised some very sticky Sammy-debates that I evoked in As He Breaks:

a. His Intentions

- is he really developing his powers to help Dean? This is what we all want to believe, but the 'addiction'-depiction and the triumphant looks and the cold, flat confidence is a little bit scary, not to mention "The Prophet Chuck" has also recently called him out on this.

b. His Means

- age-old question that only Kripke and Co. would be ambitious enough to try and tackle on the CW, haha... can something evil be used for good?

I don't have the answer to either, and I guess this is also why, in Chapter 2 of As He Breaks, Sam has this debate with Castiel and nothing is resolved. Castiel even tells Sam something like they shouldn't bother debating because Sam won't admit to anything and Castiel cannot believe otherwise. So it's still out there, haha.

My personal perspective? Sam has always tended a little toward the indulged little-brother side, so he's very determined and doesn't take failure very well. He wants challengers squashed, basically, and I like him exactly like that. I think I've depicted this consistently in my other fics:

On Chapter 3 of my very first one, Things We Know: "... despite popular belief that Dean was wilier, Sam never lost. Ever."

On Chapter 3 of The Least I Can Do: "Sam understood deprivation more than loss. He understood things he never had but had every right to, it was why he was always hungry, always wanting things, always running after things. Dean, on the other hand, understood loss more than deprivation, which was why he was always clinging to what little he had, instead of pursuing the things he didn't."

On Chapter 2 of Once More: "The full-throttle determination was once directed at his education or research for a hunt, in butting heads with their dad, in small things like ice cream, a movie, whatever. If Sam wanted something, he just got it. This time around, Dean was college and ice cream all at once, the focus of Sam's unstoppable single-mindedness. It was... kind of overwhelming. He felt like he was being swallowed hole."

In short, haha... he may have started obsessing about (1) getting his brother back from hell; and then (2) helping him with his burden, but it didn't take him too long to be in a position where his love could be taken advantage of, even if he knew the difference between right and wrong.

This is going to be a tricky debate for many fans. Even the reviews from As He Breaks are a fascinating representation of this: there's Mandy saying the problem is Sam wants to be the big bad brother; there's Maz101 talking about Sam's reasoning and at the same time, Castiel calling him out on it; there's Michelle talking about some Sam sympathy and Diane saying Sam's out to save Dean; there's Meggin Lane raising the issue of rationalization and delusion; there's Lisa Paris citing a misguided morality... your inputs are really amazing and perceptive and really got me thinking about (and at times doubting) my own haha!

I guess the conflicting depiction of Sam in As He Breaks represents this character's torn-ness too. Here, we see him old and young, the differences between the two, and of course, the high contrast Castiel observed in Chapter 1, comparing how Sam was in control one moment and sobbing the next, how his hands were adroit one moment and shaking the next, how he looked like an orphan even after dispatching a demon, and so on. Like I said, fun, fun, fun to write haha.

2. Dean: The Old and the New, and the Post-New

On of the reasons I felt I had to flesh out On the Head of a Pin can also be attributed to Jensen Ackles' performance. I think this episode just took him to a different plane. Of note to me were the ones with Castiel; in As He Breaks, I raised the scene when he was warning the angels that if he went in to torture Alistair they would not like what came back out, and he looked disappointed that they were willing to 'lose' him. And then of course there was that conversation in the hospital. He was also awesome with Alistair, especially when the truth starts to dawn on him about the gravity of his responsibility in the apocalypse. Well-done all around, but then again, I shouldn't really be surprised, haha, these actors know these characters inside-out by now.

That said, however, the massive weightiness of the portrayal of Dean in On the Head of a Pin had to have some sort of a transition for It's a Terrible Life, right? There had to be a closer bond between the two episodes, and for me, what was crucial in establishing that was a firmer transition between the down-and-out Dean of OTHOAP and the Dean that Zachariah was courting back into the ranks. I honestly didn't feel that 'there are worse fates than yours' was convincing, haha, but that's just me. I just had to take it back to Sam needing him, which is something I'm far more comfortable with, haha.

There were a number of incarnations of Dean in As He Breaks, so I hope they were all still coherently the same guy: the old (the big brother one); the new (the wreck); and the 'post-new' which was a cross between the two.

As He Breaks posited three things about this character which I hope was properly conveyed and is not uncharacteristic:

1. Why He Broke – The 'fate' thing is cop-out-ish, but I couldn't find any other reason to support this other than he might not have been as strong as his dad, but his dad hadn't been as righteous either. That's fair, right? :);

2. Why He Came Back Post-It's a Terrible Life – It's just always going to be about Sam and his family for me, I think. I mentioned in the fic something that some people might disagree with, that he didn't have to be a hunter; hunting was just how he could do what he was supposed to do to help his family; and that

3. He Would Never Hurt Sam, even at the risk to himself or others. I honestly believe that if Sam went dark side, Dean wouldn't be able to do anything to stop him; as Castiel said in As He Breaks, Sam can bring Dean to damnation; if he sinned, Dean will sin all the more.

I think these are fairly common perceptions of Dean. Much risky propositions featured in As He Breaks would be:

1. His Capacity for Suicide – This was inspired by the self-loathing of Heaven and Hell's 'How I feel inside me?' and On the Head of a Pin's 'Why didn't you just leave me there?' I felt it was possible, but As He Breaks still plays it safe on this regard; the Dean portrayed in my fic is one who thinks he didn't really want to die, he just wanted to escape and that he was ill and not thinking straight. I wondered if I would get called out on this issue and was actually a little bit surprised that people didn't find his suicidal attempt implausible enough to bring it to my attention... at least, so far, haha :)

2. Taking Away Sam's Memory of the Suicide Attempt – I think the rationale for this was explained in As He Breaks; Dean can't do what he needs to do if Sam doesn't believe in him a little, and that belief was just wiped out by the fear and anger from the suicide attempt. It seems a bit iffy, withholding that kind of information. But I guess I'm hoping it's not out of character considering Dean's All Hell Breaks Loose speech about wanting to keep Sam from some harsh truths, or along As He Breaks Sam did make mention of the 'nice secrets' that they kept from each other to look out for each other. I thought it was fair, not sure if you agree :)

B. Castiel

This character's voice is so darn hard to capture but so vital to attempt, given the monumental place he's having in the storyline and the one he earned (via Misha Collins' portrayal of course) in the fandom. Personally, I know I put him in my fics a lot because the faith-aspect of S4 totally absorbs me, and that aspect of the story is primarily represented and moved by this character.

So what does As He Breaks have to say about faith, haha... If you've read my story Tightrope (which is my second favorite piece after Things We Know), I talk about faith a lot, haha, so I'll try to keep it short here.

I noticed that during On the Head of a Pin, Castiel kept looking up, like he was at a loss and looking for an answer, and the entire episode was just full of his uncertainties. The entire episode was tailor-made to rock his world: he lost a valuable ally in Uriel, found himself looking to Anna, watching Sam use his dark powers, getting Dean to torture, etc. I wanted As He Breaks to mirror the uncertainties stemming from On the Head of a Pin, so I kept on harping about how heaven was silent, not giving him any answers. I emphasized, however, that his heart was pointing him in an unconventional direction but it was a heart given to him by God, so he could listen to that instead. Generally speaking, I believe in that. You won't always get the answers from faith, but you're gifted with discernment and free will too. And I've always believed that angels could be tested too; in Tightrope, I wrote that the test was Castiel's and not Dean's.

Miyo86 had a really interesting comment relating to how I got to semi-resolve Castiel's questions (in Chapter 1, he said something like his heart screamed, and this heart was given to him by his Father). The comment was really perceptive, when you said that Castiel made his own choices but it was still within God's will. That was an incredibly faithful kind of point that really really tickled me. Thank you for sharing that!

On another note, I really enjoy writing conversations between Castiel and Sam, written from an undertone of jealousy and rivalry; I wanted Sam to assert territory over his brother, like a little kid, haha, and at the same time, the angel is also a significant part of Dean's life. I've written their exchanges in my other fics to have that same kind of air. I think it's because fans can get very territorial of the brothers, haha, and the inclusion of new characters are always received warily. Castiel just... works, though, but it's still interesting to write Sam feeling a bit off about it.

III. Massive Thanks and Review Responses

Once again, thanks loads to all who read, alerted, favorited and especially all who reviewed As He Breaks. The reviews are inspiring, uplifting and best of all, they really make me think and hopefully that comes out to make the story better. Thank you for taking the time! Shout out to (and this is in alphabetical order so if I somehow missed you because I got cross-eyed, please call me out on it; everyone who reviews deserves a shoutout :) :

Thanks to: adva, aeri, alliehaliwell, alwaysateen, burblefish, cursedgirl, drkstormynite, deangirl1, eeyore08, grace,jdsreignsupreme, Lisa Paris, masondixon, Meggin Lane, Michelle, mtee1958, ophium, primadonna cat, raven2004, rhino7, rose, snchills, staceyj, techa4ever, ToriTheCritic, xanseviera, Wen1, zubeneschamali, zuimar, and:

To mandy – thanks always for the love, inspiration and chocolate (drool), and for wanting to reco my work; I love getting as many readers as possible and that would just be awesome :)

To phoebe – You noted one of my most favorite Sam quirks in this story: the spooky eye opening thing! The first draft of the scene did not include that, but I just got the inspiration to put in a kind-of casual display of power that felt both darkly satisfying and also morbidly disturbing. Again, your observations are really astute :)

To Rougish Smile – Thank you so much for reading and reviewing through this fic, my other SN fics and my other fandom works! This is really, really awesome of you and I'm always so incredibly happy to run into familiar names and people who share my varied passions. Thank you for taking the time and I look forward to hearing more from you in this fandom :)

To Jackfan2 – Your opposite day anecdote had me smiling too! Thanks for sharing that. Weirdly enough, the flashback with the opposite day thing started out as a different fic I was working on (a tag to Sex and Violence)separate from As He Breaks. Eventually I just realized it would be better to just condense them :)

To Maz101 – The reason why I was nervous was the suicide attempts of Chapter 2; both from Sam in '05 and Dean during As He Breaks. I've outlined above my hesitations about people finding it might not be characteristic, so I really felt I was taking a leap. Thanks for the encouragement and the support!

To Miyo86 – I have a feeling we share a similar perception of semi-liberal religion. Thank you always for the incredibly well-thought-of and perceptive reviews. Aside from the religious aspect of this season's storyline, I think we also share another quirk: a fascination for Meat Loaf, haha! I couldn't help the reference, I guess. I thought: rockstar, bat out of hell, who else could it be, haha.

IV. Future Project Update: Heaven and Earth

Now that this is done (at last, haha) I should be able to resume working on Open, Shut and Heaven and Earth which I talked about at the end of my Afterword on Steps Behind. Here's a clip from the upcoming Heaven and Earth though, just to get it out there in case I don't ever get to continue that, haha. I think it stands semi-alone:

Author:Mirrordance

Title: Heaven and Earth

Summary:Sam may have given up the hunt in college, but not on doing other good things. He goes missing during peacebuilding fieldwork overseas. Dean gets on a plane! to come after him.

" " "

Heaven and Earth

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Preview

The United States

2003

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Dean Winchester was running on empty; his body was beat to hell, his mind was all over the place, and the only things that tended to defy these – his will and the carefully-cultivated self-delusion that what he was doing for a living was remotely sexy and superheroic – was bleeding out of his soul.

He was lying in bed in some nameless motel in some nameless town being some nameless guy, just lying on a pile of thin sheets in his dirtied and bloodied clothes, when his cell phone started ringing.

Geez, I just came from a shit-job here, he thought fleetingly, even as his uncooperative hands groped in search of the phone from one of his pockets. He grunted in annoyance as he shifted around in an effort to find it.

Where'd I put the damn thing?

He slowed his search, hoping whoever was calling would just give up and call later. He just needed a couple hours to sleep, get his head back on straight or something, before going off to another job.

He found the phone, to his disappointment.

Unidentified caller.

He told himself he wasn't going to answer, but again, his damn hand was detached from his mind, apparently, and was already pressing the thing to his ear.

"Yeah, who's this?" he asked in a sigh, before he caught himself.

"Dean, it's me."

And just like that he was sitting up in bed.

"Oh, hey Sammy!" he exclaimed, "Hey, the number you're using didn't register."

"It's 'cos it's long-distance," Sam said, "So I can't stay on too long either."

"That's all right," Dean soothed, and it was perfectly true. Sam hasn't called him or answered his calls in an unbearably long time, after all.

It's all right, as long as you call...

"So where are you?" Dean asked, "Cancun or something? You know, like all those other college people?"

There was a beat, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it nuance that Dean still could have sensed from half-a-world away. Something was bothering Sam.

"I'm in Uganda, in a refugee camp."

"Doing some good there?" he whistled, even as he already knew the answer. You can take the hunt from the boy, but... the boy found trouble elsewhere for sure. Or maybe Sam was just made like that, earnest and helpful, and he just had to find his own way of doing good things. Their father's style was, after all, not really for everybody.

"Trying," Sam said, glumly. The reply was hideously loaded.

"Huh," Dean replied, thoughtfully, catching his younger brother's weary helplessness and disappointment easily. He let the line run long, gave Sam the time he needed to expound.

"I called you know," Sam stammered, "'Cos if I don't pick up or if you can't reach me, then you'd like, know why. That's all."

A lie, Dean knew, right off the bat. Sam's stopped calling him and stopped taking his calls for a good number of months by now, apparently not caring if Dean was worried about him. It took Dean several secret, sporadic trips to Stanford to convince himself that it wasn't because his kid brother was ill or hurt or missing or anything like that. He's just either forgotten about Dean in the rush that was college (apparently, though Dean wouldn't know), or decided to move on and away completely. For Sam to have called, though... something was going on.

Dean sifted through the bullshit; he knew Sam well enough to maneuver around it fairly well. Besides, he was the king of crap himself.

"You all right?" Dean asked, flat out.

"Yeah sure," Sam said shakily, and it was another lie, but Dean let it slip. It wasn't really a lie if you knew the other guy knew you were lying. And they knew each other inside and out. Dean took an uncharacteristically subtler approach.

"What's it like?"

"They're good people," Sam shared, "They have so little but you'd never know by how some of them share, and the kids, man. The kids are still smiling somehow."

"Yeah?" Dean asked, encouraging, wanting Sam to talk some more, just wanting to hear what he's been up to. The more Sam said, the better a picture Dean would have of his situation, and the more he'd be able to figure out whatever was plaguing the kid. Or maybe he just liked hearing him talk, but, whatever.

"Yeah," Sam went on,"But there's lots of things going on with the rebellion, and the way some of these people are being treated... it kind of... kind of..."

Stanford was running out of words, and Dean figured if he can't save Sam from the ravages of the world, he could at least help out with that.

"Bad stuff, huh?" Dean filled in, wincing a little, feeling a little bit stupid. His younger brother was on a free ride in one of the best schools in the world and lending a hand-up in developing countries for crying out loud, and all he could think to say was something a four-year old could pluck from the air?

"Bad stuff," Sam agreed quietly, like a wistful echo, and there was something about his tone that reminded Dean of the wide-eyed, shaggy-haired kid he helped raise. His heart warmed.

"Well they're lucky they got you there," Dean said, meaning it completely, "I'm proud of you, Sammy. Dad would be too."

"He's with you?" Sam asked.

"Not right now," Dean replied, "I'll be meeting up with him soon. Pretty cool though, Sammy Winchester's saving the world over there."

Sam snorted, but then again it sounded like a choke too, the breath before the sob, "I gotta go, man. This is costing me an arm and a leg."

"Call collect next time," Dean said, scolding him mildly, "We don't have fake cards for nothing, for crying out loud."

Sam hung up, and Dean just sat there, smiling wistfully down at his mobile phone.

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United States of America

2003

" " "

Dean Winchester had taken to watching CNN.

Which was in itself newsworthy, except the transition had felt so natural that international news kind of just slipped into his life somehow.

That's where Sammy is, that's what Sammy's talking about, that's what he's worried about, that's what he has to face...

When they were growing up, Dean had learned to be the expert at whatever Sam was doing in school. It was funny how geometry and algebra and everything else made more sense when he was helping out his brother with homework than it did when he himself was taking them up. But that was how it was: his life was, after all, the hunt, his father's approval, Sam's meals, and Sam's schoolwork. He didn't mind de-prioritizing his own school-standing; it meant more to Sam anyway. The only things he regretted about that whole arrangement was that Sam got so good that he went away, and that his father got so pissed he distanced himself from Dean too. That his life was, from being hunt plus dad plus Sam, now just... the hunt.

That was, until Sam called.

Sam called, and Dean now had the hunt and a little bit of Sam back. That meant, instead of meals and schoolwork, watching CNN and palming Time magazines from doctor's offices and emergency waiting rooms made part of Dean's new life. He didn't mind.

Sam would call him from these strange places once in awhile, places he never thought either of them would ever see. The two of them had conversations he never thought he'd ever have, topics including "emerging humanitarian crises" that he had now put on top of his pick-up-line arsenal as being one of the most effective ones ever.

Once in awhile, Sam would call while Dean was with their dad. If they were having downtime in a motel or somewhere outdoors, it was easy to excuse himself and walk out of earshot. John never asked why, not even the first time Dean had done it, but of course he knew it must have been Sam calling. Most of the time, Dean would go back from speaking with his brother and John would have that quiet hungry look in his eye, something his fiercer pride would never let him voice. Dean would catch what it meant, and be their voice instead.

"That was Sam," Dean would preamble, uselessly of course because John already knew that, "He's doing some charity up in..." wherever the hell Sam was. His brother was shipped around everywhere, every couple of weeks. John would grunt some form of unintelligible response, and then move forward with the job a little fiercer, the hunger in his eyes turning into a sharp glint, like he knew that somehow, the pieces were right where they were all supposed to be. It was how he almost always was after wordlessly dragging Dean to spy on Sam in Stanford in those first months without him; John was all pride and unstoppable determination.

Some of the calls though, would inevitably reach Dean while he was in the car with his father. It was awkward and painful, and his voice always sounded louder in the confined space. But John wordlessly let him have the time he needed with his brother, because Dean would never, not for any circumstance, ignore an overseas call from Sam.

This was acid-tested that one time he was severely injured on a hunt, just blood-and-guts-and-holy-crap-I-think-Dad's-praying kind of injured.

He woke up to his cell phone ringing from somewhere inside his jacket, hanging on a rack in the hospital room. He wanted to move and grab it, but it was too much to hope for, considering he couldn't even take a decent breath on his own.

His father was on a seat by his bed, and Dean was disarmed enough to have looked at him with a kind-of longing that he could not be bothered to disguise. John blinked at the utter nakedness of the expression which was something he had not seen on Dean in so long, not since he broke to his son that his mother was never coming back. He practically jumped off his seat, and shaking hands made a desperate search of that damn phone. John when determined was unstoppable; he needed to catch that call, because he wasn't going to let Dean down.

"Ha!" he exclaimed in uncharacteristically petty triumph. He pressed "Answer" to make sure they didn't lose the call and sat by Dean's arm on the bed. His son's green eyes were looking at him in that penetrating, searching way, as he placed the phone to Dean's ear, and lowered the oxygen mask that obscured half his son's face so that he could talk.

Dean cleared his throat, and his eyes cleared for the first time in days. "Helluva time to call, Sammy," he rasped.

From his father's wince, the "Are you hurt?!" exclamation of Samantha went far beyond Dean's ears.

"Shut up and relax," Dean lied, "Just had a drink. Or two. Or three..."

It became an even longer and louder lecture, but then again that was probably the point in the first place, so Dean wouldn't have to talk so much. Dean's eyes went half-mast as he listened. Even against Sam's scolding, he looked at peace.

"Yeah, yeah, I love you too, bro," Dean mumbled, chuckling a little. He grimaced at the pain that ran through his body, and John watched as he bit at his lip to keep from hissing. His eyes went hazy and half-absent after that.

"You're unbelievable!" Sam snapped, "I'll call you when you're sober."

Sam hung up. John put the phone down on the nightstand by his son's head. He barely caught Dean's quiet "Thanks, dad," as he put the oxygen mask back over his son's mouth and nose. But Dean's eyes were laser-green in that illuminated, glowing gratitude. There was no other green like that in the world.

To be (possibly) continued...

Thanks for reading through the rambling and 'til the next post!!!