Wow, I didn't expect such a big reaction to this tag! Thanks everyone! Here's part 2. I hope it lives up to the first!
Hell was more or less the way he had imagined it. Blood soaked the walls, screams filled the air, the stench of smoke and death assaulted his senses.
The pain, though, blotted out all of it.
Sam screamed as Dean's razor started another incision in his chest.
Vivisection. You're lucky, Sammy….
Dean grinned malevolently as the blade changed direction, slicing down toward Sam's stomach. He was in agony. When he could catch his breath, Sam could only beg.
Much to Sam's surprise, Dean's tar-black eyes flipped back to green, and he hesitated. The blade didn't leave Sam's innards, but it stopped moving. The cold expression on Dean's face fell, replaced with something approaching genuine concern. "Maybe we should stop…."
Sam glanced to his right, finding Alastair across from Dean. The demon laughed and shook his head. "No. We're not finished."
All Sam wanted was for the pain to stop. Just for a moment. The guilt, the anger, the fear, the distrust, everything he'd felt in the months since Dean's return from the dead was gone, replaced by the unrelenting need for his brother to show him mercy.
He turned back to Dean, who was still hesitant. "But-"
But Alastair didn't care. "We must continue, Dean. He deserves this. He's made his choice."
No. No, please—
Dean's eyes went black again, and the razor resumed its slow trek across Sam's body. His insides were on fire, skin and organs splitting apart, the torment unbearable. Sam beseeched his sibling again, trying frantically to get through to him.
"Dean, stop! Stop! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, please! Please!"
"Cas, maybe we should-"
Alastair heard none of it. "Don't listen to him, Dean! He's weak, desperate. He'll say anything to make you forget what he is!"
Monster, Sam. You're a monster.
Sam shook his head violently. "No! No, Dean! I'm not a monster! I swear! Please, please stop!"
Dean's eyes met Sam's again, he almost looked upset. Almost. "Sammy…."
"Dean, please!" Sam didn't care about his pride. He'd do anything to make this end. "Dean!"
The pain intensified, impossibly, soaring past unbearable to heights his couldn't have imagined. Sam couldn't speak, couldn't breathe anymore. His vision began to fade, the screams still echoing around him as he sank into oblivion.
As darkness settled over him, Sam heard Dean speak again, far off in the distance.
"Is it over? Is he all right?"
Another, tired, voice answered. Not Alastair. Familiar, but—
"I've done all I can. Only time will answer."
Sam heard nothing else.
Dean stepped out of the panic room, letting his face fall into his hands as he collapsed against the wall. He didn't even notice Bobby leaning against the other wall until the older man spoke.
"Well, that sounded damned awful."
Glancing up, Dean shifted, keeping his tear-streaked face out of sight. He still had his pride, even in the presence of an old friend. Bobby, blessedly, pretended not to see.
"How is he?"
When he could trust his voice not to crack, Dean cleared his throat. "Cas says…he thinks Sam's okay. He's resting. Just need to watch him tonight…."
"Are you okay?"
Dean snorted at that. What a ridiculous question. He didn't hide his scorn. Didn't care when his voice cracked that time. "I just listened to my brother scream and beg me to stop for four hours, Bobby. No, I'm not okay!"
Angry for no reason he could fathom, Dean turned to stalk back into Sam's room. Bobby stopped him. "Dean. Go upstairs and get some shut-eye. I'll take this watch."
He shook his head, but Bobby stood his ground. "You want to be there for Sam when he wakes up, right? So, get some sleep now while I watch him."
Dean wanted to say no, wanted to argue. But, Sam was asleep. He didn't even know anyone was there, and Dean was so exhausted he was seeing double. Reluctantly, he nodded, stepping back and letting Bobby through the door. "Fine. But, come get me if—"
"I know the drill, Dean," Bobby snorted impatiently, but with a faint smile. "Now, git!"
A nod of thanks and Dean headed up into the house. A bed was calling to him, but he needed to stay close. He headed for the living room instead. Not bothering to remove his boots, Dean dropped onto the couch, head propped against one cushioned arm.
He was asleep almost immediately. For the first time in months, Dean dreamed about Hell.
Dean cracked one eye open, once again meeting Rumsfeld eye to eye. He grumbled. Bobby's damned Rottweiler had been staring at him for—Dean didn't even know how long.
"Wh't d'you wan…?"
Rumsfeld replied just as he had the last time Dean grumbled. He beeped.
Dean's bleary eyes drifted open, settling on the attention-starved animal. Frowning, Dean sat up on his elbows. Dogs don't beep….
The dog wasn't forthcoming with an explanation, just whimpered and looked toward the front door. Dean reached out and scratched Rummy behind the ears, looking around for the source of the odd beeping noise.
He found it soon enough. Sam's cell was on the end table, where Dean had hastily dropped it when they'd been dragging Sam downstairs after his seizures started. Shaking the cobwebs out of his head, Dean rose stiffly and stumbled over, picking up the phone and thumbing on the display.
One un-played message and one saved message. Both from Dean, with the same date and time.
Dean frowned. That was odd. He only remembered calling Sam once in the last few days. Heck, the last few weeks. His finger paused over the play button. Dean didn't enjoy violating Sam's privacy like this, but something was nagging at him. He bit his lip and played the voicemail.
"First unheard message: Hey, it's me. Look, I'll get right to it…"
Dean frowned. That was the message he'd left. Sam never heard it? The message played out, leaving him more than a little confused. What was the other message?
"First saved message: "Listen to me, you blood-sucking freak. Dad always said I'd have to save you or kill you. Well, I'm giving you fair warning, I'm done trying to save you. You're a monster, Sam, a vampire. You're not you anymore, and there's no going back."
Dean's mouth hung open in shock. That was his voice. That was— No. What the—?
Sam has a part to play, a very important part. He may need a little nudging in the right direction.
Zachariah's words echoed in his head. Sam's behavior ever since leaving the convent clicked into place.
Do what you said you were going to do…please. I won't fight, Dean. Just do it.
I'm a monster, a vampire, you said it yourself!
Sam thought Dean was going to hurt him, kill him.
For a long moment, Dean couldn't stop shaking. He jabbed the off button on the cell and pressed his fist against the wall, fury threatening to explode out of him. He ground his teeth so hard they started to hurt.
The rage needed an outlet. He gave it one. A small lamp on the table was the closest target. It sailed across the room, bulb shattering when it struck the opposite wall.
There was the softest fluttering of air, like the A/C kicking on or a breeze through the window. Dean didn't have to look to know the angel had appeared behind him. He was finally getting used to the sudden entrances and exits. The other man spoke before Dean spun around.
"It wasn't my doing, Dean."
Just barely restraining himself from lunging at the angel's throat, Dean reeled himself in enough to think. When the probable culprit's face loomed in his mind's eye, Dean took a breath and a half-step back. "Zachariah?"
Castiel nodded, looking remorseful. "Presumably."
Dean absorbed that, slowly nodding. He pocketed Sam's phone, stepping away before his violent urges got the better of him. Cursing under his breath, he turned and walked deliberately toward the stairs. "I'm gonna check on Sam."
He turned when he reached the door, looking back. Castiel actually seemed contrite, eyes not quite meeting his. A deadly calm settled over Dean. For the first time in what felt like forever, he had a direction to give the emotions that roiled inside him. For the first time since killing Azazel, he had a target. "Cas?"
The angel looked up, meeting his gaze. Dean spoke with a certainty he hadn't felt since he'd returned from Hell.
"Just so you know. Your ex-boss, Zachariah? Before this is all over, chances are I'm gonna kill that son of a bitch."
Cas said nothing. Dean turned and headed downstairs. Anna said there were ways, that they could find weapons that killed angels. Dean intended to find one.
It wasn't bad enough that Zachariah had to unleash the fucking Apocalypse. It wasn't bad enough that he'd manipulated Dean six ways from Sunday. But, to push Sam over the edge…and using Dean to do it? To crush what was left of the kid's life so that he'd be a hapless pawn in the big planetary enema? That was going too far.
Bobby was just stepping out of the panic room when Dean arrived. The older man looked tired. "Sam okay?"
"Still sleeping," Bobby answered quietly. "What's going on?"
Dean laughed. It sounded bitter even to his own ears. "Nothing. Life's just suckin' ass like usual."
He let Bobby listen to the voicemails. The demon hunter caught on to what had happened pretty quickly. He looked about the way Dean felt.
A glance through the door confirmed that Sam was still resting. The younger man's face was still flushed, cheeks hollow. The bags under his eyes made it look like he hadn't slept in a week, which, besides the last few hours, Dean couldn't say for sure anymore if he had.
Staring at the haggard form on the cot, Dean's anger melted again. In its place came nauseating dread. What the hell was he going to say to Sam when he woke up? Where did he begin? He voiced it when he looked back at Bobby.
"Where do I start? He believed this," Dean held up the phone. "He thought I was there to kill him. Sam's never going to trust me enough to hear what I have to say."
Bobby stared silently for a minute, then looked back at Sam. Finally, he shrugged. "Well…maybe it's not about him trusting you."
Dean frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You told me, that night in the hotel, Sam asked you to trust him. Let him call the shots for once."
"Yeah?" Dean wasn't following.
"So, trust him. Show him that you trust him. Maybe that'll get his attention."
Exhaustion warred with a pounding headache. Sam wasn't sure which was going to win, until the pain in his skull compelled him to open his eyes. He regretted it instantly. The world beyond his eyelids was painfully bright.
He licked his lips, thirst making his mouth feel like a desert. Without warning, something gripped his head and tipped it forward. Wetness pressed against his cracked lips. It took a moment for water to click in his mind. He couldn't manage more than a sip or two, though, before the moisture was pulled away. He savored the little bit he'd managed to swallow.
"Slowly. Don't overdo it."
The gentle words drew his attention. Sam tried again to force his eyes open. The light was still overwhelming, but he was able to tolerate it better this time. There was an orange glow over everything. Dawn or evening? His vision was less blurred than before, but still not as sharp as normal.
His eyes functioned well enough, though, to see Dean sitting at his left shoulder. Sam wasn't sure what to think for a moment, but then he remembered. Dean had been there before, berating him. Telling him exactly what he was and what he deserved.
Sam was too tired to hear that again. He shook his head, more to himself than anyone—wasn't like it mattered. Nothing mattered. Sam had ended the world. Started the Apocalypse.
There was nothing the image of Dean could tell him that he didn't already know. The only useful thing it could do would be to kill him. Snuff him out before anyone else paid the price. If there was anyone else left after the events in Ilchester and what Sam had unleashed.
He rolled his head away, closing his eyes. Sam didn't care anymore. With any luck, he'd be dead soon.
"Look…Sammy, I know— At least give me a chance. Hear me out."
Sam chuckled weakly. "Why? You're not real."
There was silence for a long while, until he heard Dean's voice again. "I feel real to me, dude. See? I can pinch myself."
Sam sighed softly. Was his delusional mind finished accusing him and simply mocking him now? He supposed that might make sense. After all, what more could be said about him? He slowly rolled his head back to the left. Sure enough, Dean was pinching himself. Any other time, it would have been funny.
Now, it just reminded him of everything he'd thrown away. A life. Family. A brother he loved.
The faint but impish smile on Dean's face slipped away, replaced with a look Sam might have described as concerned once. Before Cold Spring. Before he'd walked out for the last time.
"It's really me. You're not seeing things." Dean said softly.
Sam snorted in tired disbelief. "Dean doesn't come down here."
He was surprised when a flash of guilt crossed the other's face. He hadn't expected to see that.
"Yeah, I— I know I screwed up, Sammy. I shouldn't have left you alone," Dean replied, looking away. "No one should go through that alone. I'm sorry, I really am."
Something wasn't right. Sam frowned, looking at his visitor more closely—having to, really, to compensate for the blur. This felt different than the last time. Was it really— "Dean?"
The other man turned back to him, nodding solemnly. "How you feelin' kiddo?"
Staring at Dean, the events of the last few—days? —came crashing back through the groggy haze of Sam's brain.
It means you're a monster.
You're just one of the filthy things that we hunt.
You walk out that door, don't you ever come back.
You're a monster, Sam, a vampire.
I'm through trying to save you.
Without really thinking, Sam tensed, pulling away. He glanced down when the handcuffs clinked, and he tested them helplessly. He wasn't going anywhere. Sam hesitantly looked up at Dean, hoping at least his brother would make it quick. Family warranted that much consideration.
Dean reached out, gripping his shoulder. "You're okay. Calm down."
Sam obeyed, but watched Dean silently. What was happening? Why was Dean feigning concern? You didn't show a monster concern, you just ended it.
"Look," Dean reached into his pocket, withdrawing Sam's cell. "Before we go any further, let's clear something up, okay?"
Dean pushed a button, and Sam's voicemail filtered through the speaker.
"Saved message: Listen you bloodsucking freak…"
It was the message Sam had listened to before. He closed his eyes before they welled up. Those words were no less cutting now than they had been the first time.
Sam understood now. He was being punished. Dean wanted him to pay for what he'd done. Nodding to himself, he settled and listened. Dean was right, he deserved to suffer. The message played out, but Sam didn't move, just waited for it to replay.
He wasn't disappointed. The phone beeped, and the synthesized voice spoke again.
"Saved message: Hey, it's me. Look, I'll get right to it. I'm still pissed at you, and I owe you a serious beat down…but, I shouldn't have said what I said…"
Sam froze. A second message? What was Dean saying?
"I'm not Dad. We're brothers, you know? Family. No matter how bad it gets, that doesn't change. Sammy, I'm sorr— To replay this message, press one."
Frowning, Sam opened his eyes, staring at the phone in confusion. He glanced from the phone to Dean and back, not understanding.
"That was my message, Sam. The angels changed it."
Sam tried to reconcile the voice in the message with what he'd heard. "I…don't understand."
Dean watched him, regret coloring his expression. "I don't think you're a monster, Sam. That was a…stupid thing to say. I'm sorry."
They stared at each other for a few long seconds. Sam's brain wasn't up to processing all of this. The angels changed the voicemail?
He couldn't keep up with what he was hearing. Dean stood silently and unlocked Sam's cuffs one at a time. Sam tensed, panic flaring again. "W-what are you doing?"
Dean worked slowly, deliberately, obviously trying to keep things calm. He spoke quietly while he worked. "You asked me to trust you. I know it's a little late, but…."
The last cuff fell from Sam's right wrist. He glanced at his free limbs, then at Dean, then at the open door. Dean seemed genuine, but how could he know? Unconsciousness was looking better with every passing minute. Sam's brain was overloaded.
With a confident expression, Dean extended his hand.
"It's not a trick. I just want to help you, bro."
Sam eyed the waiting hand warily, unsure what to do. They stayed like that for a while, but Dean didn't withdraw his hand, just waited. Uncertain, Sam raised one shaking hand. His brother grasped it firmly and pulled him into a sitting position, using his free hand to guide Sam's legs over the side of the cot.
Dean silently sat down next to him. Sam looked at him, still uncertain. His brother was trusting him.
He didn't know what to think about that.
It took a little convincing to get Sam upstairs. His little brother was reeling, clearly, and Dean was afraid to push too hard. He was pretty sure than one wrong word or look right then could undo what he'd accomplished by playing the real phone message.
Dean considered it more of a truce than a reconciliation. Sam was pretty messed up. The incident with the gun would have told him that even if he hadn't known about everything else. Until he was sure Sam was stable, he'd have to use kid gloves.
And not look like he was patronizing Sam in the process.
Yeah, this is going to be fun.
Still, Sam had allowed Dean to help him up into the house and the kitchen. He'd turned green at the sight of food, but he needed to eat something, so Dean got Sam to the table and dug out some saltine crackers and a glass of water. Sam nibbled at the crackers, listening to Dean as he spelled out what he'd learned since they'd parted in Minnesota.
"So…the angels wanted Lilith to free Lucifer, all along?" Sam spoke up for the first time.
Dean could practically see the wheels turning in his head, trying to piece together the details of what he was hearing. "Well, some of the higher ups, at least. The others, the ones fighting on the ground, were kept in the dark."
Sam seemed to take that in, but the resigned, defeated look on his face wasn't encouraging. He fidgeted with his water. "They could have stopped me."
"They didn't want to. Hell, they pushed you into it. They could have smoked Ruby any time, but they needed her to manipulate you."
He noticed the dark look that crossed Sam's face at the mention of Ruby, even as Sam picked disinterestedly at a cracker. Dean pressed on.
"What I'm trying to say is, what happened wasn't your fault. We were conned. From the beginning.
Sam's eyes didn't leave the tabletop when he shook his head. The venom in his voice could have intimidated anyone. "It is my fault, Dean. I let…that bitch lead me around by the nose for a year. I let her trick me into breaking the last seal. You were right. About everything."
Dean didn't like the way Sam said "everything," since he was pretty sure that "everything" was liberally sprinkled with the words monster and freak and deserve to die. He didn't like Sam's tone at all, either. It was way too self-loathing. Dean decided to try a different approach. Bobby believed that Sam placed a lot of weight on his big brother's opinion, so he played that card.
"Well, the angels couldn't be trusted. They lied to us about everything. I mean, I think Cas might be the only one who actually has a conscience. You were right about that, Sam. So…I guess we were both right. We just weren't listening to each other when it counted."
Sam looked doubtful, but he was listening, now. Dean was making an impact; he just wasn't sure how big of one. He frowned. "Hey, you're wiped, man. Why don't you try to sleep? You'll feel better tomorrow."
The suggestion didn't meet with much enthusiasm. "If there is a tomorrow…."
"Can I go outside?" Sam said suddenly, sounding submissive, like he always had after arguments with Dad. Dean had always hated that tone just as much.
"Uh, yeah, I guess. Do you want me to help—?"
"No," Sam said quickly. He shook his head again. "I won't do anything stupid, Dean. I just need some air. Can I? Please."
Dean deflated a little. He'd hoped to bolster Sam's mood a little, but he still seemed about as chipper as a man on death row. "You don't need my permission, Sammy. Just…stay close, okay? Cas says it's safe, but…."
But, I'm not sure I completely trust him, yet? But, you never know when the devil himself is gonna show up? Dean wasn't sure how he wanted to finish that sentence. Sam didn't pursue the thought, just nodded.
Dean watched him walk—shuffle; the kid was in pain, obviously—slowly out the back door. He resisted the urge to follow, deciding instead to check up on Bobby, who'd been tied up on the phone since Dean had brought Sam upstairs.
He found the older man in the study, holding the phone limply in one hand, and rubbing his eyes with the other.
"Hey. Sam's up and around."
Bobby peered blankly at Dean for a moment, then blinked. "Oh. Good. That's good."
"What's up? You hear something?" Dean asked, a sinking feeling taking hold in his gut. He hadn't seen Bobby this rattled in a while.
"Yeah," Bobby nodded grimly. "Rufus got some news from his friend Johnny down in Atlanta. It's started."
A chill went down Dean's spine. He didn't need to ask what "it" was. Lucifer. The Apocalypse.
It always seemed like they were running out of time. All of the time.
Bobby just stared at him. "Bad."
That bastard Zachariah's comment about the "planetary enema" rang in Dean's ears. He nodded slowly. "Okay. Find out what you can, all right? I'm gonna…find Cas and Sam."
He left the study without waiting for an answer.
Sam had to hold onto to some of the junked cars to stay upright. His limbs were sluggish, it hurt to stand straight, and his blood was still pounding in his ears, but he couldn't bear sitting under Dean's compassionate gaze any longer.
Why Dean was being so nice mystified him. Didn't Dean realize what he'd done? Didn't Dean realize what he was? What he'd become? He didn't deserve mercy. He didn't deserve Dean's unconditional forgiveness.
Sam shook his head, bewildered. He should be groveling at his brother's feet. He should be punished, not nursed back to health. What was Dean thinking?
He stopped, leaned against a hulked Subaru, and dropped his head into his hands. He had no idea what to do. What did you do when you were responsible for the end of the world? What did you say?
It would have been so much easier if Dean had left him at that convent like he had asked.
Folding his arms against the cool night air, Sam scanned the junk yard. Darkness concealed everything past the perimeter fence. There was no telling what was happening outside their small corner of the world. The isolation seemed fitting. Maybe Bobby would let him stay here. He couldn't do any more damage here, alone.
His eyes settled on a hunched figure. The trench coat was a dead giveaway: Castiel. Sam considered going back inside. The angel no doubt had little use for him. Something wouldn't let him turn away, though.
Taking a deep breath, Sam gathered his strength and hobbled out toward the back of the lot. The cars weren't piled as high here, offering an unobstructed view of the night sky. Castiel was sitting on top of a stack of cinder blocks, his back to Sam. He knew better than to think that the angel was unaware of him, though.
Sam stumbled as he reached the stack. He was tired. Just walking was a little taxing. Now that he was out in the lot, all he really wanted was to be back inside, laying down as Dean had suggested.
"You're still weak from your ordeal. You should sit before you fall." Castiel intoned blandly. He didn't look in Sam's direction. Not that Sam thought he deserved to be acknowledged. He was just as happy to be ignored, but he sat gingerly atop the corner of the stack, opposite their guardian.
Sam regarded the angel silently. Castiel's eyes stayed on the sky, the expression on his face almost wistful. He followed that gaze. The stars were bright here. Sam was immediately reminded of so many similar nights, when he and Dean had rested on top of the Impala, hours from anywhere, staring at the open sky.
Times Sam didn't deserve anymore. He glanced guiltily at Castiel, his tongue suddenly loosened by the vista above them.
"Um…may I…ask you a question?"
Castiel slowly turned his head, pinning Sam silently with his gaze. A cock of the head was the only response. Sam licked his suddenly dry lips. "What do you see when you look up there?"
"The sky. The stars." Cas answered simply.
Sam frowned. He wasn't sure why he couldn't let the answer stand. "Is that all?"
The other man turned back, expression shifting slightly. Sam thought he saw a faint smile. "My father's creation. Home. I haven't been home in…what seems like forever."
Sam glanced at him, shrugging slightly. He didn't really know how to relate to that. "I…never had a home. Just wherever Dean was."
They sat silently. Sam's mind circling back, as it had been doing for hours, to the horror he'd unleashed in Maryland. The dirty work he'd done for Lilith and Castiel's superiors. He looked up again, viewing the stars with a little more bitterness this time. "I guess, even if this place burns, your home will still be safe, at least."
When Castiel replied, his voice was gentle, but Sam heard steel underlying it, and the tiniest tinge of a rebuke. "Your faith has carried you far, Sam. Don't forsake it now. Zachariah has great influence, but he is in the wrong. My father will intervene. In His own way, when the time is right."
Sam wondered how, despite everything Castiel had witnessed, he could still have such profound faith in anything. He marveled at it, when everything Sam had experienced in life seemed to be arguing the exact opposite. Faith was useless, a fallacy. Faith hadn't protected his parents, or Jess, or Dean. In the end, it hadn't even protected him.
A faint grunt of puzzlement from the angel broke Sam out of his thoughts. Castiel was staring at him, like he was trying to see through Sam at something else.
"It's curious. You and your brother are very different people, in almost every way, yet I see the same things inside you both."
Sam didn't meet the stare, as afraid of the answer as he was desperate to hear it. What did Castiel see inside him? A monster? A weakling? Or just a pathetic fool? He steeled himself to hear the worst. "What? What things?"
He didn't expect the answer he received.
"Pain. Guilt. Despair over things that you could not control. Dean is desperate to reject his faith. You are desperate to keep yours. Yet, neither of you are willing to surrender to it as you should."
"You say that like it's a bad thing, Cas."
Sam flinched at Dean's voice, startled when Dean appeared from behind them and plopped down beside him on the stack of blocks. Embarrassment at letting his guard down triggered an automatic, sheepish response. "I heard you coming a mile away, Dean."
Dean poked him gently in his side. "Did not. Cas, can you go see Bobby? Lucifer's finally reappeared on the radar."
The angel's expression hardened, but he nodded, rose and moved off. Sam watched him head for the house, trying to avoid the new gaze he knew was on him. When he finally had to turn back, he kept his eyes fixed on anything but Dean.
"You okay, Sammy? You look worn out."
He didn't say anything at first, trying to figure out what he was expected to say. When that failed, he went with the first thing that came to mind. "How can you even stand to look at me?"
Instead of confirmation of his worst fear, which Sam half-expected and half-wanted, he got a shrug and a nod. "Well, you have looked like crap the past few days."
Sam closed his eyes, pained. It wasn't funny. It wasn't all right, and pretending it was hurt. Physically hurt.
He felt Dean's leg brush his. Dean had slid closer to him, and when he spoke, it was hushed, like some great secret was about to be imparted. Sam listened, wondering what would come next.
"Eight months ago," Dean began quietly, eyes downcast. "When I clawed my way out of that grave, I didn't know where I was, or even when I was. It was pitch black one minute and blinding bright the next. Took me a while, but when I finally got it together, when I realized that I'd been gone so long, I knew right away what I needed to do."
Sam watched Dean talk, daring to look directly at him for the first time since waking up in the panic room. Dean stared at the ground, and continued without waiting for a prompt.
"I had to find my brother. I had to make sure he was all right. And a few days ago, when Cas busted me out of that ritzy angel cage, I knew what I had to do then, too. Find my brother. Make sure he was all right."
Dean finally looked up at him. "I guess some things never change."
A few moments of silence went by before Sam realized that Dean was waiting. It was his turn. He thought about it, then shook his head. "When you showed up in that hotel in Illinois, and it was really you…for the first time in four months I thought maybe everything would be okay. Maybe, you could make it all okay. But, you couldn't. When I found out what they'd done to you, what they'd put you through, all I could think about was getting back at them. At Lilith. Making her pay for hurting you the way she did…and I was so…completely wrong. I walked right into their hands."
He laughed, a sick, disparaging laugh. "How stupid is that?"
Dean shrugged again, looking thoughtful. "It's not stupid. It's human."
Sam frowned at that. Dean smirked faintly. "And…it's pretty much a Winchester trademark at this point."
Dean slowly draped his arm across Sam's shoulders. Sam realized, suddenly, that it was the closest they'd been without hurting each other since Dean had come back. He'd forgotten how much he missed it.
"Sammy— Sam." Dean corrected, his voice taking on that big brother tone that Sam remembered so well from his youth. "Those…things, those demons and angels? They waited until I was out of the way, and then they screwed with my little brother. You better believe, sooner or later, I'm gonna rip somebody's lungs out for that."
Sam smiled at that. He'd heard that so many times growing up. When an unexpected chuckle bubbled out of him, he was just as surprised as he was pretty sure Dean was. The older man seemed to be spurred on by it.
"But, right now? As insane as it sounds, the freakin' Devil is on the loose, and I need your help, man. This is big—end of the world big—and I can't do this alone."
"Yes, you can," Sam whispered. He couldn't possibly help. Dean had to know that.
Or not. Dean eyes met his, unwavering. "Well, I don't want to."
There it was. Sam studied Dean, expecting it to be a joke, or empty rhetoric, but he detected no dishonesty or false modesty in that face. His brother was asking for his help. His brother needed him. Sam couldn't fight that. He had never been able to deny his big brother. Never been able to say no.
He nodded. A silent promise. They were seeing this through together. Just the two of them.
Sam might have changed, but he guessed Dean was right. Some things never did.