So, pretty epic (and devastating) finale, but at least we've got our boys back together at last. Been working on this pretty much non-stop since the finale, started as an expansion of my drabble "Lucidity" and basically went from there. Hope you enjoy and please review!
Disclaimer: Not mine. Obviously. Lyrics are Black Heart by Hey Rosetta, a wonderful Canadian group that I have recently discovered.
Warnings: Spoilers for all of Season 4 but especially the finale. Some language, dark thoughts.
You bright sun, you darkest dirt
Hardest paradox I ever learned
You're tireless, and I tire quick
It's the easy death of reason within my chest.
You bright sun, you darkest dirt
Hardest crier I ever heard
You cry out your orders, you cry out your pain
And every letter's followed like it's sacrosanct.
I'm at the mercy of an idiot tyrant king
I jump high! Talk loud! And listen? I'm always listening!
Cause he built his throne from my bones and skin.
I love, I hate, I hate to live this way
A dog, a slave, we do what our deity dictates.
And I just want someone to lean on
I just want someone to lean on me.
Dean can hear the horror in his brother's voice and knows he only has a few moments before Sam is utterly overwhelmed by it all. Grabbing his brother's arm roughly, he drags him unceremoniously away from the altar, away from the bodies of the two demons that have been making their lives (almost) Hell. It should feel like victory, but it's really quite the opposite; and now they will have to do what they've always done best.
He can hear Sam breathing behind him in painful, wheezing gasps; they have both been through far too much, but Dean knows this is only the beginning now. With determined strength he pulls his brother along, away from the – portal – before the giant death ray of white light or whatever can become any more substantial.
The bodies of the demons line the hallway, a grisly picture he hadn't seen before when he was rushing in to stop Sam. They look weak and positively human in death, another terrible reminder that the monsters Dean has fought for so long always have the possibility of something else, something beneath the surface. He wonders, in fact, if he will ever be able to use the word again.
They are outside the convent now, and by this time the light has filled the entire building. It actually looks beautiful, peaceful and healing, but again, he knows it's quite the opposite. Dean, staggering as he has to hold up the form of his barely-lucid little brother, moves toward a yellow car parked nearby. Sam makes a barely audible noise and he looks up.
"What is it?"
Sam is shaking his head, his eyes fixed on the trunk of the car.
"No. Not – not that one." His voice is a rough undertone, his face white and his eyes dilated as if he's going into shock. It's been years since Sam has looked so vulnerable…for a moment he is back in Palo Alto, pulling his brother from a burning building for the second time in his life.
Dean shakes his head, blinks a few times. Focus…
He doesn't really want to know what is, or was, in the trunk. Not right now. There are a few other cars parked close to the convent; perhaps some of Lilith's minions decided to drive. He doesn't really give a damn. He propels his brother toward the nearest one, and has it hotwired in less than two minutes while his brother sits rigidly in the passenger seat, pale and unresponsive.
They drive in silence. Dean isn't sure where, but is sure that it doesn't really matter where. With both sides of the great cosmic chess game after them (and, it seems, their entire race), there is nowhere in the world they can hide for long. This should freak him out, but for some reason he feels calmer than he's felt in weeks. Make that months…years, even, if he counts Hell.
Maybe Lucifer will keep the angels occupied enough to give them a chance to get away. The demons, at least, they are used to hiding from.
Despite how utterly fucked they are, Dean almost feels as though things are back to normal. Back to how they should be: fighting evil with no attachments and – naturally – look after Sammy. No more…extracurricular commitments. No more deals or pacts or debts. They have both been used enough.
The only people he can trust are his family.
And…well, Castiel is a bit of a wild card, but - whatever, it's not like it can all be black and white after everything that's happened.
They are several miles, or maybe several hundred miles, or maybe even a whole state away (Dean hopes it's the latter, but he hasn't been keeping track) before either of them speak another word. Glancing at his brother, Dean sees that he seems much more aware and much less…catatonic. Sam's head is bowed and he's staring at his hands, which are shaking slightly. Dean wonders if it's demon blood withdrawal setting in again, or if maybe Sam's just as tired as he looks.
His brother doesn't even look up.
"Sam, you feeling all right?"
It's a stupid question, considering, and he's not surprised when Sam doesn't answer.
"Look, man, I know you don't need reminding, but you just killed Hell's most powerful demon with your mind. I need to know that you're not going to d – pass out on me or something."
"Sam. Are you going to be okay?"
"What the fuck do you think?!" The hostility doesn't entirely mask the hint of a sob. Sam is glaring at the dashboard, not looking at Dean.
"Dean, I just broke the final seal. I just raised Lucifer from Hell. The world is probably going to end…because of me. So yeah, I'm just peachy."
He knows his brother's mental processes better than anyone, and Sam is making the transition from 'silently shocked' to 'emotional train-wreck' in record time. Of course, he's facing something he's never yet had to deal with before. Dean recognizes the look in his brother's eyes, because it's an expression he himself has worn more than once this year.
It doesn't fit Sam's face. Not at all. It's not something Dean ever intended to have in common with his brother. Of course, he thinks bitterly, the family that brings about the apocalypse together, stays together…
He must be losing his sense of humour.
Thing is, he knows Sam, always has, always will, despite what the kid might think. Dean knows that, underneath all the lies and the demon blood, Sam wanted more than anything to be the hero for once. He wanted to save the world, save his brother, and for once not to be the freak.
He's seen it over and over again, his brother's determination to thwart his own terrible destiny. His deep fear of becoming something he isn't, of having his big brother leave him because he had turned into one of the creatures they hunted. Dean knows this, and yet he chose to provoke Sam with that single word that awoke his greatest nightmare, his terrible dread. It's because of this that Dean blames himself, at least in part, for what happened.
But while Sam was doing his best to foil destiny and make the best of the shitty hand he had been dealt, destiny decided to sneak up behind him and bite him in the ass. In the form of some demon bitch who had been way too smart for her own good.
"Sam, Ruby lied to you, tricked you. There was no way you could have known what the final seal was; this isn't your -"
"Don't tell me it's not my fucking fault!" Sam closes his eyes, tries to control his anger, but Dean doesn't care if he yells. "She didn't even lie to me, Dean, not really. Only about saving you."
He was so not going there.
"Sam, we don't have to talk about this now."
"It was just choices. She gave me choices, and I chose to use my powers, to drink the demon blood, to go after Lilith even though I might not know everything, to kill that nurse and bleed her dry…" His voice has climbed up almost an octave, and Sam stops as if an invisible hand has seized his throat. Dean knows he has to tread carefully, here.
"It was still manipulation, Sam. You're only human, even with the damn demon blood. Hell, she even had me convinced for a little while. That whole saving you while I was gone…that was some good shit she pulled off."
"I turned myself into a monster. And I can't ever…go back."
There it is, the forbidden word again. And now, Dean doesn't know what to say, because as much as it hurts, he knows that it is something he himself can't definitively refute. What was going to happen to Sam, now that he had gone the extra step that Cas had warned him about?
If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you.
But he does know his brother. And Sam has never looked as defeated as he does now. Sam, who has allowed his entire reason for living (not for life, for living) to become a single, dark objective. And who now has to live with the fact that he could have prevented this horrifying outcome with just a single refusal.
Now, who does that sound like?
"We can't give up, Sam. You know that, right? Because if we give up now, everyone is gonna die, and nothing is gonna prevent that. The angels don't give a damn about us, same as the demons, they wanted this to happen."
Sam makes a small, pitiful noise as if in denial.
"We're all that's left, Sam. Just you and me. And I swear to God, if he's even still listening, I am not burying you while there's even the slightest chance that we can save this world, and everyone in it."
He doesn't know how much of it is crap and how much of it he still believes, but the important thing is to make his brother believe it. Even though Sam is no longer five years old, even though he no longer has faith in anything, even though he probably doesn't believe that his big brother can fix everything anymore.
Dean glances sideways again, wondering if Sam is even listening. His brother has his eyes closed, his hands twisted in his lap, his shoulders shuddering with every shallow breath.
"Dean, pull over."
"Pull – over – now." Each word is punctuated by a painful-sounding gasp.
"Are you gonna be sick?"
Sam doesn't answer, looks closer to passing out.
Dean slams on the brakes, pulls over to the side of the road; Sam is already out of his seatbelt and halfway out the door before the car has stopped. He half falls, half stumbles down the side of the ditch, but he doesn't puke, as Dean is expecting. Sam is down on the ground with his head between his knees, still making those shuddering, wheezing gasps and Dean realizes his brother is having a panic attack.
He is crouching at his brother's side in seconds, extends a hand to his quivering shoulder.
"No! Don't – don't touch me. Please don't touch me." Sam whispers. Dean can hear the air whistling in and out, in and out. He rocks back onto his heels, at a bit of a loss. All he can do is listen as his brother struggles to control himself.
Dean breathes slowly, hoping Sam will try to match him. See, little brother? We're the same. We're just the same. Can't you hear it?
Gradually, he does. They both do. But Sam doesn't raise his head, doesn't get up from the ground.
"Sam?" Are you all right? "Gonna tell me what that was about?"
Please don't lose it. Please don't, because if you lose it then I'm going down twice as fast.
"I d-didn't bury her, Dean."
"Who?" He should know this, he should know everything.
A deep, juddering sigh. "The n-nurse. She was possessed. I promised I'd kill her, b-but Ruby…" His breathing quickens again. "I drank her dry. She's dead, just like I pr-promised. But she knew, she knew w-what I…"
"Slow down, Sammy, you're scaring me here."
He didn't want to know, isn't sure he can do anything because they sure as hell aren't driving all the way back to Maryland. Someone is bound to find her. Please let someone find her. You can't save everyone, Dean.
Another series of gasping breaths, then they are the same again.
"You called me Sammy."
He doesn't want to answer that one. How far off the reservation have they come? How far from normal?
"You never call me that anymore."
He clears his throat. "That's cuz I'm too busy saving your ass." Or trying to. Not trying nearly hard enough. "Come on, Sasquatch, up you get. We need to find somewhere to crash before…"
Before the world ends.
"Before we run out of gas on this piece of crap. Friggin' angels, leaving my baby all on her own at Bobby's."
Dean stands up, extends a hand, but his brother pushes himself off the ground on his own. His face is pale as a corpse, his lips are pressed tightly together.
The nearest motel actually looks decent enough, especially by their usual standards. And Dean sure as hell isn't complaining about paying a little extra. Because if the world is gonna start burning and all that shit, then he really wants a good night's sleep and a nice shower beforehand. A hot slice of apple pie wouldn't be a bad idea. Their friendly neighbourhood prophet Chuck wasn't too far wrong with the multiple stripper idea, either.
But first he needs his brother to be alright. Sam's survival skills are at an all-time low, and he's moved quickly now from 'emotional train-wreck' to 'silent, unpredictable, and perhaps suicidal.' It's a stage Dean's only seen once, almost four or forty-four years ago, and he really prefers it when Sam is angry. He can't help but notice (again) how much tonight compares to Palo Alto, but on a whole different level…the death of one compared to the possible deaths of over six billion.
Those kinds of numbers always make him feel nauseous.
Dean collapses on the bed nearest the door, as per normal, and watches to see if Sam will do the same. Instead his brother shuffles over to the relatively classy en-suite bathroom, muttering "shower" under his breath. God, only Sam can make a single mundane word sound like…well, the end of world. Which it is.
It's amazing how calm he can be when his purpose is restored. All Dean has to do, the only way he can deal, is to save one life at a time. Starting with Sam.
"Don't lock that door," he states firmly, doesn't even glance up to see if Sam is giving him the classic 'bitch' face.
The door closes, and the lock doesn't click.
Dean feels a fraction of tension leave his body; at least Sam is somewhat responsive. He's tempted to turn on the TV, which is actually a big flat-screen for once, but he would much rather listen to the soothing sound of the water running behind that door…
Dean jolts awake, glances at his watch, and sighs in relief. Only fifteen minutes have passed. Sam's bed is still empty beside him, though, and the water is still running. Deciding his brother has used up enough hot water, he gets up and knocks on the door.
"Sam? You alright in there?"
There is no answer. Man, he is so tired of there not being an answer.
Dean almost kicks open the door, but then remembers it's unlocked by his own request and turns the handle instead.
The water is running full-blast in the big walk-in shower, but the room remains empty of steam. Sam is sitting against the tiled wall beneath the steady stream, fully-clothed but soaked to the skin. Dean steps forward slowly and the powerful spray hits him full-on, cold as ice.
"Fuck, Sammy," he mutters, quickly reaching for the nozzle. His brother doesn't move to prevent him, doesn't do anything but sit there, shivering, with his fingernails blue and his skin practically achieving translucency. For the second time that night, Dean crouches down beside his brother, whose eyes are staring straight ahead once more, unseeing and yet seeing too much.
"God, Sammy, please don't do this. Not now, not after everything we've -"
He can't deal with this, not tonight. Not with his brother looking like he's a million miles away, and everything they've ever known crumbling around them. He is just so fucking tired and he's said it again and again, and he can't get angry anymore, he just can't.
"Let's get you to bed," Dean says softly, "before you catch pneumonia or somethin'. I think you've tried to off yourself enough tonight."
His brother doesn't move. He sees Sam open his mouth slightly, close it, open it again. He hears the smallest intake of air. Then –
"Wasn't tryin' to off myself."
Sam's voice is a hoarse whisper, his hazel eyes dead set on the opposite wall, but Dean knows when his brother is speaking to him. He waits.
"I just -" Sam stops, swallows hard, searches for the right words. "I just wanted to feel something."
Dean watches him carefully, then sits down beside his dripping, trembling little brother. He places one hand on his shoulder, feels Sam's frozen arm spasm beneath his touch.
"Do you feel that?"
Sam bites his lip, still not looking at Dean, swallows again and then nods.
"How about this?"
He moves his hand steadily, cautiously, to Sam's face, brushing his wet bangs off his forehead in a gesture so familiar and yet from so far away that it hurts.
Sam shudders once, then his breath hitches and he begins to cry in earnest. Dean gathers him into his arms without another word, bridging at last the gaping chasm of lies and deceit, hurt and fear. He hasn't ever heard his brother cry like this, not even in Palo Alto. The terrible gut-wrenching sobs echo around the tiled room, until they almost drown out Dean's own thoughts. What kind of world is this that can break his brother, the strongest person Dean has ever known?
If you can't save him, you might have to kill him.
Like everything else tonight, his father's dooming words seem miles away, but Dean never forgets. And while he knows that Sam dwells more than anything on the latter part of those words, Dean has sworn never to give up on what John Winchester said first. He's found his line, now, but no one ever said Sam has to come near it again. If nothing else, he can do this. Save them all. First Sam, then the world.
It may be forever, or it may only be a few short minutes, but eventually Sam's sobs die down to hiccoughs, and Dean knows they're going to be all right, at least for now.
An entire moment of right.
"You about done there?" he murmurs into Sam's ear. "You're getting my favourite shirt wet."
Sam responds with a half-hearted, watery chuckle, slipping gradually out of his older brother's embrace. But now Dean can meet his eyes, for the first time that night, and all at once he sees something he recognizes. Something he hasn't seen since that terrible night, two or forty-two years ago, when he witnessed the light go out in those same eyes. He feels a tightness in his chest, and it is his turn to search for the words.
"There you are," he whispers. And Dean is home.
Thanks so much for reading and reviewing; it means a lot to me. For those interested, I wrote this in complete silence. Then I went and played Chopin on my piano. Her name is Izzie.