A/N: Welcome to my first ever episode tag. I really should be working on Contralateral but you know. Plot bunnies. Fickle little things.
I know there are already a billion tags to this episode already floating around, and some of them are rather brilliant, but this season finale got me thinking like no other episode has to date, and I itched to vent it all.
I'd originally planned to write this from Sam's perspective, but after writing, scoring, several crumpled papers and poking myself thrice in the eye with a pencil, I decided to take the slightly easier and less painful route and wrote from Dean's perspective instead. Forgive the meandering nature of the sentences and the disjointed jumpy thoughts – it is an effort to try and capture the mood, so I would really like to know if it worked.
I'm really worried about the characterisation, and this is completely unbeta'd, so all comments, suggestions and con crit are welcome.
Warnings: SPOILERS for pretty much the whole of Season 4, especially, of course, the finale. This picks up exactly from where Lucifer Rising left off. Metaphor-abuse, swearing, references to violence and gore, and oh my god the ANGST.
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or any of its characters. Or any of the bits of dialogue from various episodes through the series that I've incorporated into the story.
In the end, it was all rather anti-climactic.
Dean stared in open-mouthed amazement as the column of light – so white, so pure, blinding in its intensity – rose from the circle of blood tracing patterns on the floor like a writhing snake. He cringed as the column of light broke through the ceiling in a short, vicious burst, raining debris down upon them.
Sam's grip on his jacket tightened and twisted.
Squinting and bringing one hand up to protect his eyes, Dean glanced at his brother.
Sam's jaw was clenched, his gaze fixated on the power he had unwittingly unleashed, his throat working in short, convulsive movements. Beads of moisture that could've been perspiration or tears shone on his face, eerily reflecting the light, lending a shimmering glow that threw his features into sharp relief... where long shadows encircled his eyes, new lines creased his forehead, and exhaustion, a bone-deep, world-weary tiredness, was etched into every line of his face and Dean could feel it seeping into him... and all was darkness and regret and the thrum of adrenaline deserting him, leaving his sanity and soul raw and vulnerable and Sammy, how could we let this happen.
To the world.
The entire room seemed to take a long, deep breath.
The light petered out, disappeared.
Sam and Dean stood still in the sudden darkness, hands still gripped in each others' jackets, bracing for the end of the world that never came. Crumbling debris still rained down, settling in their hair and clothes, the corpses, the blood and the spellwork.
Several minutes passed in silence before Sam finally let go of Dean's jacket, his fingers opening with a painful, arthritic rigidity. He turned his face away, bangs falling to obscure his eyes and damn if Dean hadn't seen his brother shuttering himself away too many times in the past year.
"Sam," he said. "Sam, what do we do now?"
That startled his brother. He turned his head sharply, staring at Dean, eyes wide and green and wet. "What?" he said, voice hoarse and breathy and packed with more emotion than Dean could possibly hope to dissect.
Dean let go of Sam's jacket, patting his chest twice, smoothing the fabric. "You know, what next," he continued casually. "Was that the big bad or is Lucifer gonna need a little more prodding before the end of the world?"
Sam's throat worked. "I don't know," he said. "God, Dean, I don't – didn't –" He turned away, fists clenched, fighting hard for control. "I didn't -- and now this –" He shook his head. "Man, this is all my fault – and, uh." His whole frame was trembling now.
Dean watched him with a calm he didn't know he possessed. "Yeah, Sam, it's your fault," he said, voice loud and clear and ringing. Sam turned, the tears now freely running down his face. "Just like it was mine to break the first Seal." He shook his head, a rueful smile on his lips, still wondering where this preternatural calm was coming from. "There's just... just a lot of shit going down, dude, a mess like you wouldn't believe. And now... now I guess we deal." He shrugged. "Like we always do." Together.
Sam's shoulders were still slumped with misery and the weight of a guilt that Dean thought he understood, but his lips pursed and he nodded at his brother. "Together," he said, his voice working through the tears clogged in his throat, and Dean suddenly knew where that calm, a calm that had eluded him for the better part of a year, cool and precise and oh yeah I'm ready to face whatever shit the world throws at me – was coming from.
That was Sam, and this was Dean, and the patterns of the frayed edges of their sanity only fit against each other and Dean figured it was about damn time the two of them began piecing themselves together again.
The thought filled him with a strange kind of liberty, and "Let's blow this popsicle stand," and Sam's tremulous smile and the beginning of the end of the world might just be the beginning of theirs.
The euphoria and the need and the together was starting to fade and reality was starting to set, piece by piece clunking down upon his soul like stones down a well.
It had started with finding the nurse locked up in the boot of Sam's car, cold and exhausted and hoarse from screaming, the inside of her elbow from where Sam had drawn (sucked) blood carefully bandaged and folded. She had almost sobbed in gratitude when she had seen Dean, as he reached in and helped her out, softly reassuring her, promising to take her back to civilisation and a hospital. She had nodded weakly against him, sobbing and gulping and gasping until she had seen Sam behind him, silent and stricken.
Then she had screamed.
She had screamed and kicked and scrabbled with her fingers at Dean's jacket like a drowning woman even as he tried to calm her down, frantically gesturing for Sam to get out of her sight. It had taken several minutes before he had calmed her down again, and through a haze of exhaustion he remembered having pulled out a fake police ID at some point – even if it had been for Wyoming and not Maryland, but she had been too freaked to notice – some half-assed reassurances about how Sam had been 'taken care of', and the promise that she would be safe.
He had driven her away and remembered her in the front seat, calming down by degrees, absently rubbing at the lines of red (blood, lord it was blood) down her forearm. He had listened to her talk, almost hysterical at first, before toning down to an exhausted, shocked litany.
Sam, kidnapping her. Sam, holding her against her will, even as she found large chunks of that particular memory missing. Sam, manhandling her into the boot of the car even as she screamed and protested and begged. Sam, with that weird dark-haired woman as his crony, driving around, even as she kicked and screamed herself hoarse in the boot. And then, Sam, cutting her and drinking her blood, oh god, right in front of her eyes, even as she sobbed and shuddered in revulsion...
Dean could hear no more, and had been glad as her voice faded, her movements grew sluggish and she began shivering (the blood loss, oh god, Sammy, what have you done) and they finally reached the hospital.
He had waited long enough to make sure that she would be okay, even pressed a pewter charm against demonic possession among her clothes and was now driving back, back to that god-forsaken old convent where he'd left his brother alone with the fruits of his actions, his own little purgatory.
It was hard, this. Hard to reconcile with what Sam had become, hard to achieve together when all he remembered of together was Sam in his arms as a six-month old baby silent even in the wake of their mother's violent death (It's okay, Sammy), Sam as a toddler, wide-eyed and clingy, firmly entrenched in the belief that his father and brother were superheroes, well, mostly (Dean, why don't we have a mommy?) Sam, that Christmas night when he discovered the truth about hunting, the sad-hopeful eyes as he pressed the amulet into Dean's hands (thanks, Sammy. I... love it), Sam as a broody teenager, resentful of their nomadic and dangerous lifestyle (I don't want to be the freak for once, Dean), Sam as the argumentative young man, willing to turn his back on his family for his pursuit of normal (Dean, all I did was go to college), Sam, his hunting partner, the two of them muddling through and fighting even as the supernatural took more and more away from them (as long as I'm here, nothing bad's gonna happen to you), Sam, afraid and scared of a morbid destiny that he felt he couldn't escape (I can't kill you, I'd rather die), Sam, determined and concerned and sad and affectionate in the wake of Dean's deal (I'm gonna get you out of this. No matter what it takes).
And then Dean had gone to Hell, and all notions of together had gone with him, too. It was rather obvious which one of them had come back, and which hadn't.
He'd been slightly unnerved by the Sam Winchester he'd come back to – hulking and silent and efficient and deadly. A consummate Hunter of the kind his father always wanted him to be. That had quickly built up into anger and resentment as he stumbled across more and more of Sam's secrets – his consorting with Ruby, his demon blood, his ever-developing powers, exorcising and killing demons (with his freakin mind, dammit), his lies (so many of them) even as Dean struggled with his own memories of Hell, the deeds that he had done, the thing he had set into motion. Even as Castiel and the angels kept telling him that his brother was destined to an inescapable evil. Even as he and Sam seemed further and further at odds with each other (you're too weak, you're holding me back).
And, finally. The demon-blood addiction that shattered their world and pieced it together all wrong, locked iron doors and Dean, let me out now, Sam's eyes rolling in his head, jerking, flailing, we need to tie him down before he has another fit, and the hotel room, It means you're a monster and pain and broken glass, you don't know me and don't you ever... come back.
For all that he thought that destiny was a crock of shit, he couldn't help but think that for Sam, the evil had been inescapable, after all.
He had only the barest inkling of the kind of desperation that his brother underwent during the months that he was in Hell – he knew Sam hadn't told him everything, he never told him everything anymore – and to some extent he got it, yeah? There was desperation and grief and self-destruction and then Ruby and the devious little hell-bitch and manipulation. Training and powers and missions and revenge.
What he didn't get?
Sam's secrecy, when he came back. Sam, and all those broken promises (I didn't go down that road. It was practically your dying wish), false assurances (it's playing with fire. I'm done with it) the clandestine meetings and sneaking around and the shame-faced lies. Dean wanted so desperately to believe that his brother had had no choice, that it was all the supposed demon-blood pumping through his veins, that Sam was still his Sam, not this stranger (monster), not this broken shell of a little brother so driven by a notion that had long ago lost all meaning that he had been willing to let himself be manipulated by a demon, let himself turn into the very thing that he had been scared of for so long.
For all that Ruby had been involved, it had also been Sam's decisions that had gotten them into this mess.
Just like his own decision to make the deal.
Or to never trust Sam not to go darkside.
To not retain that steadfast belief in his brother had kept them afloat so many times before, when Sam was drunk and self-destructive (you've got to promise to kill me, Dean), when Sam was possessed and just plain destructive (deep down, you know you can't save your brother), when Sam was hunted for his abilities (your brother's not human).
Dean gritted his teeth, grip tightening around the steering wheel, some corner of his mind craving for the familiarity of the Impala. His head hurt just trying to work around the tangled lines of choice and responsibility, not to mention the intervening strokes of fate and destiny and whatever other shit the angels had cooked up for him.
All he knew now was where all this had led them and all he wanted to know was where they would go from here. Meandering introspection was never his style anyway; Sam had done enough brooding for the two of them all his life. It was Dean's job to focus on the now and the next.
So what did they have?
Dean, I'm sorry. Regret, love, fear. Sam.
For then, it would have to do.
Dean had half-expected not to find Sam there once he got back (what was I thinking, leaving him all alone) but he found his little brother sitting on the dusty stone steps leading into the convent, legs bent at the knees, arms resting lightly on his thighs, long fingers dangling, brushing his kneecaps. Just... staring. At nothing, and everything. Dean cringed.
He really didn't feel up to dealing with an Introspective Sammy right then.
Sam turned his head as Dean approached him, the moonlight and the stone structures and the dust throwing crazy shadows across his face. His eyes were clear now, if slightly bloodshot, and they were asking him a question.
"She's okay," Dean replied. Well, as okay as a person who's been possessed, kidnapped and had her blood sucked can hope to get. "She probably remembers you, and you've probably got your ass on the wrong side of the law now, but hey. What's new, right?" He tried for a grin, and failed spectacularly.
Sam nodded, breathing in through pursed lips and proceeded with his thousand-yard stare.
Dean sighed, and settled down next to his brother, exhaustion forcing a few more minutes of silence. He knew that they should get their asses moving, and soon – there was just so much to do, so much to deal with, and so many things that they were better off leaving behind, and those things just didn't end with the corpses or the blood or the sigils or the debris.
"I'm thinking we need to get back to Bobby's," Dean said finally (now and the next). "We're going to need to figure out our next move, and that's not counting getting some word from Cas."
Dean was suddenly consumed by an inexplicable desire to laugh. He had so many things to say to his brother that were just not working their way past the exhaustion. "Dude, the angels. Just –" He shook his head. "Things are more messed up than we could've imagined." Zachariah, and his callous indifference to the imminent destruction, his welcoming of the Apocalypse, the grand war that it entailed and all the glories that followed, Dean's as-yet unexplained role in finishing what he had started, Cas and something worth dying for and bright light and go and stop your brother. I'll hold him off. I'll hold them all off.
A shudder worked itself down Dean's spine.
Sam nodded absently, and it was only then that Dean noticed that he was shivering.
It couldn't just be the cold – it was a fairly chill early morning, but practically all their lives had been forcing stiff bodies to work and fight efficient in cold weather, and it made no sense for Sam to –
Scrambling to his feet, Dean proceeded to crouch in front of his brother. Sam didn't even respond fully this time, just the slightest tilt of his head, and god, he was not so much as shivering as he was shaking like he was about to come apart any second...
Any second now...
The dark circles round his eyes stood out starkly against pale skin now, skin that was moist and chill and clammy with cold sweat, sweat beading from that expansive brow, a brow now creased in a perennial half-grimace of pain and discomfort and raw need, and Dean could feel it all crashing back on him now – the addiction, the Panic Room, at least he dies human, the screaming and the seizures, and how were they going to deal with this now?
Dean wasn't even aware of how long he remained like that, crouched and gaping into his brother's face, while his shaking grew steadily worse and Sam hissed out his name on a long exhale through his teeth. "Dean."
"Sammy." He tried to still his brother by wrapping his hands around those muscular forearms, warm, secure, I'm your big brother and I'm not gonna leave. "C'mon, Sammy, fight this. This blood. You know this, you can do this." At this point he was pretty much blabbering, but his head still had a shitload of things to work around, yeah?
"Dean," Sam whispered again, "Dean it's not the blood, Dean, Dean – it's me, me, but I don't –" His arms were now rubbing restlessly against his jean-clad thighs, and tears were starting to leak down the sides of his face again. "But I still need it."
Dean's grip tightened, twisted.
Sam didn't seem to notice the pain. "It was my fault, I get it now, and Dean, I'm sorry, Dean –" Now he was outright sobbing, repeating his brother's name in a broken, desperate litany, and Dean just sat there, still gripping his brother's arms (who was anchoring whom) suddenly so unused to this, unused to having his little brother baring his heart to him, coming to him for support and protection and forgiveness and a billion other intangibles that both of them had somehow forgotten along the way, manipulated by demons and angels, torn to opposite sides that pushed them toward achieving a similar goal in entirely different ways, promising destiny and fulfilment, revenge and redemption, even while the final destination entailed none of those promises, or at least a horribly distorted and marred version.
Sammy, why –
Dean still didn't know how to comfort his brother, still was trying to work his way through trust and betrayal and blood and lies and Hell, to where he thought his Sammy still existed, where he could still love and trust and believe in his brother again. How that was going to happen, he didn't know. If it was going to happen – still a big question.
But he wasn't Dean Winchester, hunter and son and big brother, if he wasn't going to try.
His grip on Sam's arms expanded to envelop those broad shoulders, and soon Sam was shaking against his chest, a madman broken by the inexorable influences of powers far greater than his will. Dean rested his head against Sam's hair, closed his eyes – it didn't feel right, not yet, but they were getting there. Both of them, still staggering under the weight of guilt and regret and the devastating consequences of their choices, but no longer on opposite sides.
This was Dean, and that was Sam, and the only side that mattered was theirs.