warning: spoilers for 4x11 'Family Remains'

disclaimer: I don't own them

Hi :0) It's been a while, but I've finally started watching the rest of the season properly (not just bits and pieces), and I decided to scribble this. So I'll add it to my little limp-Sam series for S4. It's an alternate ending for this episode. Just a one-shot. Ta for reading!

Sam pulled Danny to safety and delivered him into the arms of his waiting father.

Both father and son collapsed against each other in a solid embrace, Danny gasping through panicked tears.

Sam watched them a moment, relief sweeping through him. Then he snapped back to action. "Get him out of here. You've got to go." He motioned frantically for Brian to take his son away, turning back to the hole he'd pulled Danny through.

Dean was still down there. Sam didn't wait to make sure that Brian had obeyed his order; he leaned into the hole and called his brother's name.

He was exhausted. God, he was so exhausted. And this case was a head-fuck. Sam couldn't wrap his mind around it. They were hunting humans. He felt his stomach buck and cramp. Humans could be worse than spirits. The things people did, when pushed, could be frightening beyond belief.

Sounds floated up to meet his ears. Sam's blood ran cold. Something was going on down there, and his brother was alone. Without thinking, he threw himself into the hole. He hit the ground hard and his legs buckled.

"Dean!" He staggered against the walls of the maze-like prison, desperately searching the gloom for any sign of his sibling. His stomach leapt into his throat as he pushed towards the noises. His eyes were so tired that he could barely see straight, and his mind was like a train wreck, thoughts screaming all over the place.

They'd been taking jobs one after the other. Dean hadn't been sleeping or eating properly, and so Sam had barely eaten or slept. Their lives were continuing as if nothing had ever happened; Dean hadn't gone to Hell, Sam hadn't nearly broken into a thousand pieces. Would they just keep running forever? They were barely holding on by a thread, and Sam didn't know what to do.

He'd tried talking to his brother, but Dean was a closed book. Dean had closed and locked doors for Sam's own good, and Sam had closed and locked doors of his own. It felt like they were both in the dark, neither able to help the other. Dean was intent on drowning out their own problems by focusing on other peoples, but Sam was struggling to keep it together and didn't know how much more he could take. It was killing him seeing Dean so self-destructive; it was killing him because he knew that he was the reason.

Sam picked up speed. He rounded a corner and burst into a cramped room where he found Dean fighting with another man.

The man moved like an animal; quick and frantic, striking at Dean with everything he had.

Sam struggled to take in the scene before him; his vision swimming and his legs flinging him forward out of reflex. His brother was in danger. The animal-man had knocked Dean to the ground and Sam caught the dull glint of a blade shining threateningly.

Dean was scrambling for a gun- one of their guns, Sam realised- but it was obvious he wouldn't be able to grab it before his attacker lunged with the knife.

Sam pushed all common sense aside. Dean was going to have to kill this man, or be killed. Sam couldn't let either happen. He threw himself at the man, tackling him from the side. If they had to kill a human, Sam would rather it be him that did it, not Dean. He felt an overwhelming need to protect his brother from the sickening task. It didn't matter that Dean claimed to have done horrendous things to other people in Hell; Sam was going to take this particular burden upon his own shoulders.

The next handful of seconds passed by so quickly that Sam barely had time to blink. One second he was tumbling to the ground with the crazed man, the next he was throwing punches and trying to dodge the blade the man still held. Dean was yelling something, but Sam blocked his brother out. Dean had probably swiped one of their guns off the floor and was angling for a clear shot, but Sam didn't have time to check or respond.

The blade danced, and Sam dodged and struck the man again and again. They fell against a wall, Sam with his back to Dean. A splinter of a second was all it took for the blade to catch Sam in the side, tearing through his shirt and sinking into his flesh. Sam's hand lashed out, first hitting the man in the throat, catching him off guard, and then curling around the hilt of the weapon and yanking it free before it could be pushed any deeper. Somehow he managed to turn the blade around, and fell upon the man. The blade sunk into the man's heart, and both of them crumpled to the floor.

Sam rolled off his opponent, desperately blocking out the sight of the man's bulging eyes and the sound of his last breaths scraping over his lips. There was warm blood sticking Sam's shirt to his skin, and he hugged his jacket to his side as he rolled into a swaying, sitting position.

Dean was on his knees, gulping in jagged breaths, staring at Sam. He was nearly as pale as the man Sam had just killed.

Sam subtly slipped his hand under his jacket and pressed it against his side. He didn't want Dean to see that he'd been hurt. There was blood everywhere from the dead man, so it wouldn't be too difficult to hide. Sam bit his tongue against a wince, blinking at his brother, desperate for Dean to crack an inappropriate joke or do something instead of just stare. Normally Dean would be choking a laugh by now, cursing or something. But…

Things weren't normal. These weren't normal circumstances. Sam felt his insides begin to shake. He thought he was about to be sick, but managed to hold it down. His side burned and throbbed, but he ignored it. He'd had worse.

Thankfully Dean pulled himself together and staggered to his feet. He lurched over and snagged Sam's jacket, helping him off the floor. He didn't say anything, just nodded briefly, unsteadily.

Sam desperately tried to calm his breathing and drumming heart. "You okay?"

Dean replied with a squeeze to Sam's arm. His eyes fell upon the dead man.

Sam didn't follow his brother's gaze. He still couldn't look at the person he'd just killed. He pulled away and began collecting their weapons. The emotion gracing Dean's features was too controlled, too well-hidden; Sam knew he couldn't have read it even if he'd tried.

Eventually Dean joined him, snatching the last of their belongings and erasing any trace of their presence.

Sam pretended not to notice how his brother's hands shook. And he was grateful that Dean didn't pay enough attention to him to realise that his own hands shook even more violently.

Later, after a string of awkward goodbyes, the boys left the house.

Sam had snagged a clean shirt from his bag and had used the excuse that he was covered in the dead man's blood to find a private spot and get changed. He'd torn his soiled shirt and had bundled it against his wound. He'd then put the clean shirt over the top and zipped his jacket to cover any fresh blood that might seep through. He'd swallowed some painkillers when Dean wasn't looking and had said a silent prayer of thanks when Dean had instinctively hopped behind the wheel. Though thanks to who, he wasn't really sure. They drove in silence, Sam sitting awkwardly; trying to measure his breaths as well as the gaping, unfathomable distance between him and his brother.

They stopped to pick up some burgers. They drove a few miles and pulled off the road beneath an overpass, removing themselves and their burgers from the vehicle and leaning against a wall. Sam turned so that his injured side was away from Dean. Normally Dean would have picked up on the fact that Sam was hurt, but his mind was so obviously elsewhere. For once, Sam was almost glad that his brother was so distant. Still, the question spilled from his lips, "You okay?" He regarded Dean seriously.

Dean flicked the wrapping on his burger and put the whole thing aside. Sam forced himself to swallow the mouthful he'd just taken, trying not to wince as it went down like a rock. His stomach protested violently in response to the food.

"You know, I felt for those sons of bitches back there," Dean said quietly.

Sam also placed his burger to the side. He couldn't eat it. It would only come back up again.

Dean went on, not waiting for Sam to reply. "Life-long torture turns you into something like that?" His voice wavered, barely holding.

Sam forced his voice from where it was jammed somewhere halfway down his throat. "You were in Hell, Dean," he argued weakly. "Look, maybe you did what you did there, but you're not them." He paused, fumbling for words. "They were barely human."

Dean seemed to consider his little brother's words. His expression gave way to a fractured splinter of sadness, before hardening again. "You're right." He nodded. "I wasn't like them." His eyes drifted away from Sam, away from the present time and place and focused elsewhere. "I was worse."

Sam's stomach plummeted. For a moment he felt dizzy, like he was about to topple over. Here was this God-awful situation again; the conversation topic that he both longed for and dreaded, because he still hadn't found the right words to offer his brother. He wanted Dean to open up like this, but it broke him apart when it actually happened.

"They were animals, Sam, defending their territory. Me?" His voice hardened further. "I did it for the sheer pleasure."

A jolt went through Sam, stopping his heart for a moment. "What?" He breathed.

"I enjoyed it, Sam," Dean explained, as if it were a simple matter-of-fact solution to an everyday problem. "They took me off the rack, and I tortured souls and I liked it." He faltered, his voice suddenly less steady. "All those years, all that pain- finally getting to dish some out yourself? I didn't care who they put in front of me, because the pain I felt, it just slipped away."

Sam had started shaking. He couldn't stop. He felt more and more like he was about to throw up, but he held it down because the look Dean gave him was so broken and so desperate to be fixed, Sam couldn't look away. Instead he blinked back tears.

"No matter how many people I save, I can't change that." Dean held Sam's gaze a moment longer, and then shifted it away. "I can't fill this hole." He shook his head brokenly. "Not ever."

Sam searched desperately for words, but none came. Dean could deny it all he liked, but Sam was the cause of all the problems they were facing right now; Sam, and his destiny. Dean was struggling with who he'd had to become as a result of who Sam was. Sam looked at his brother and no longer saw the 'hero' he'd idolised as a child. He saw a broken man, devoid of everything he'd ever been.

I broke him.

Sam gripped the wall he was leaning against, unable to catch his breath.

Dean picked up his cold burger, and then replaced it. He glanced at Sam. "You gonna eat?"

Sam shook his head jerkily. "I'm not hungry."

They found a motel. It was revolting. The mustard carpet was stained with way too many years, and the wallpaper was loud and disjointed.

They fell inside; Dean occupying himself with the television, the local newspaper, and then finally Sam's laptop, searching relentlessly for their next job.

Sam staggered towards the bathroom, intent on cleaning himself up and patching his throbbing wound. "I'm having a shower," he announced. He was so cold that it was an effort to keep his teeth from chattering. He didn't wait for Dean's reply.

Dean was too busy trying to find another job for them to dissolve into. He didn't even warn Sam about the perils of using all the hot water.

Once in the bathroom, Sam closed the door and leaned heavily upon the sink, catching his breath. Gingerly he peeled off his jacket and shirt, wincing as his side screamed.

There was more blood than he'd thought. He could smell it as well as feel it. The wound was puffy and still weeping, yet not overly deep. He shoved his hand into his pocket and fumbled with some first aid supplies he'd managed to grab without Dean noticing. The needle slipped from his fingers and tinkled as it bounced against the old tiles, drawing a curse from his lips. He swayed dangerously as he bent to retrieve it, barely able to see it to pick it up. He was dizzy, nauseous and shattered from the inside out.

Dean was running scared, and Sam knew all too well what that was like. Sam had run too; he'd tried to run away from himself, but it had been impossible. Dean had wound up in trouble because he'd tried to follow.

"Like you know what Hell's like" Dean's accusing words from hours earlier still echoed throughout Sam's distressed mind.

It was true, Sam had never been. But he'd had a piece of it inside of him since he was six months old. When Dean had died, that piece had grown and grown. Now it was all Sam knew.

"No matter how many people I save, I can't change that…"

Sam felt pressure mount in his head. His ears began to ring. Bile rose in his throat and he reached for the sink to steady himself, but his hand caught nothing.

"I can't fill this hole…"

The floor shifted, and Sam was falling. He knew the feeling Dean was describing.

"Not ever."

The room around him went black, and Sam lost consciousness before he hit the floor.

In between violent dreams, shaking and vomiting, Sam was vaguely aware of his brother bursting into the bathroom, cursing, and wrestling him into a sitting position.

He tried to fight, but Dean's grip was firm.

"Sam?" Dean's voice was rough and concerned. "Sammy-?"

Sam latched on to the concern in his brother's tone, recognising it as something that Dean had possessed for years, and something that was typically Dean. He loved and hated it at the same time. He lost his breath as pain shot up his side and his eyes flung open.

Dean grabbed a towel and pressed it against Sam's wound. "…stupidass, Sam! When were you going to tell me about this? What the hell happened?"

Sam tried to talk, but his words knotted on his tongue and refused to come out. The cracked bathroom ceiling whirled above him.

Dean shook him gently. "Hey, stay awake. Sam, hey- you listening to me?"

Sam wasn't in the mood for questions. He didn't want Dean to take care of him; he could take care of himself.

"You were just gonna patch yourself up and hope I didn't notice?" Ripples of emotion were travelling over Dean's features.

Sam tried to follow them, but as always they were too disjointed. He couldn't tell if Dean was angry or upset. He tried to pull away.

Dean held him tighter.

Sam noticed that Dean's lip was shaking and his eyes were red-rimmed.

The older brother shook his head abruptly, as if trying to shake his expression free. "You should have told me, Sam."

Sam disagreed. This was the very situation he'd been desperate to avoid. He struggled some more, but his body wouldn't co-operate. Exhausted, he sagged against his brother. The pain from his side was unbearable.

Dean shifted him into more of a sitting position. "Come on."

Sam batted at his brother.

"Sam-" Dean gripped him and hauled him to his feet.

The floor bucked and weaved. "Get off me-" Sam mumbled groggily.

Dean pulled them out of the bathroom and towards Sam's bed. "Shut up and walk, you idiot."

Sam fell against the mattress, wincing.

Dean disappeared and returned with some alcohol, a clean cloth and some other bits and pieces. He opened the bottle and splashed some of the burning liquid against Sam's wound.

Sam cried out, his body jerking. He kicked at his brother, desperate to get away from the pain.

Dean gripped his shoulders and held him in place. It wasn't hard.

Sam felt like he was about to pass out again, or throw up; or both. Perhaps he did black out for a minute, because next thing he knew Dean was lifting a glass to his lips and ordering him to swallow some pain killers. He did, awkwardly, with water dribbling down his chin. When his vision had cleared, he blinked at his brother.

Dean was regarding him levelly.

Sam returned the look. "You're such a jerk," he wheezed. "I told you I could do this myself."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, you would've done a bang-up job."

I did it a thousand times when you weren't here. Sam caught the thought, was blasted by the pain associated, and pushed it away again.

Heavy, now familiar silence stretched between them.

Sam's breaths were jagged and painful. They grated through his lungs. All the emotion he'd been holding back for the sake of his brother suddenly threatened to erupt out of him. He struggled to keep it down. A hot tear leaked from his eye and ran into his ear.

It didn't escape Dean's attention.

Sam bit his lip, refusing to let more tears escape. But they built up and filled his head with pressure, swelling in a tight lump within his throat.

"Sam…" Dean's voice was tense, warning.

But Sam shook his head. He hated this conversation too, because it only went round in circles. But they couldn't keep avoiding it. One day, perhaps, it wouldn't finish at a dead-end. "The holes you talked about," Sam started, his voice small, "they're not just yours to fill."

Dean tore his gaze away, and concentrated instead on patching up Sam's wound.

"They're mine too."

"We're not having this discussion, Sam."

Sam was having this discussion. "You know it, and I know it, Dean." He paused to catch his breath. "If you hadn't made the deal to bring me back, none of this would have happened."

Dean pushed the needle through Sam's skin and began the first suture.

Sam resisted the urge to slap Dean's hand away. "Are you hearing me?" It was like talking to a brick wall, and Sam's words were rocks, shattering upon impact. Sam was tired of their meaning not sinking in. He waited, but still Dean didn't reply.

Sam gritted his teeth and pushed himself upright.

Dean pushed him back against the bed.

Sam struggled upright again and glared at his brother through eyes that refused to focus properly.

Finally Dean stopped what he was doing. "What, Sam? What do you want me to say?"

Sam shook his head. "Just the truth," he said quietly. "You tell me honestly that you'd still bring me back if you knew what you'd have to go through."

Dean's gaze burned. For a moment, he hesitated. Then he said, "I did what I had to do."

Frustration shot through Sam. He nearly fell back against the mattress, but managed to hold himself upright.

Dean's eyes were glassy. "What was I supposed to do? You're my brother. I couldn't lose you."

Sam felt his frustration turn into crumbling sadness. It pushed his words over his lips. He looked at his brother, again seeing only a shadow of the man Dean used to be. "No," he agreed brokenly. The truth was much more painful. "Instead, I lost you."

This time, it was Dean whose eyes leaked a handful of hot tears.

Sam thought about how desperate Dean had been to avoid failing the little brother he'd sworn to protect. Perhaps it was selfish, but Sam wished he could rewind time to prevent Dean from bringing him back just so he could avoid that same thing.

Dean cleared his throat and brushed at his eyes.

Sam wanted to continue the conversation, but it was clear it had reached its familiar dead-end.

"We're done talking about this, Sam," Dean whispered, returning to patching Sam's wound. "What's done is done. Neither of us can change the past."

No, but goodness knew they'd tried.

Sam's thoughts skipped to the family they'd met today, and the last conversation they'd had. Dean had asked whether they were okay, and Susan had replied, No, we're the opposite of okay, but we're together. She'd said it like it was enough.

Sam regarded his brother. Was it enough?

Dean didn't meet Sam's gaze.

Sam fell back against the mattress, closing his eyes and steeling himself against all the aches within him. It wasn't enough, but it was all they had; even if their relationship was only holding on by a thread. Until Sam found a way to bridge the gap between them, it would have to do.

"You shouldn't have stepped into my fight," Dean muttered, referring to what had happened today.

Yeah, Sam thought, turning his mind to the bigger picture and considering where their actions had led them. And you should never have stepped into mine.