A/N: I know I always try to push you all to my LJ, but if you want to know why I'm posting all these stories, it's explained over there. ALSO there is a link to the Cardigan's cover of Black Sabbath's Iron Man, which is where this fic got its name, so. I urge you to go to: roque-clasique DOT livejournal DOT com. Because I can answer all your lovely reviews there, but for some reason my computer is finicky about ff dot net. ANYWAY.

In the Great Magnetic Field

John Winchester always told his sons to be strong. He told them to be fast, to be alert, to be tough and smart and patient and focused – but most of all he wanted them strong; body and mind.

Sam is strong.

He's always looked to Dean for his example of strength, because even as a child he had picked his father apart, had searched for and located John's gaps and fissures and recognized them for what they were: weaknesses. But every kid wants to believe that there's someone out there who will take care of them unconditionally, someone with the superhuman ability to make everything better, to keep them safe no matter what, and maybe Sam would have found this in his mother, if she had lived – but she hadn't, and so for Sam it was Dean who was imbued with these qualities. Dean. His unbreakable protector.

Of course, as Sam had grown older, he'd grown more realistic, and he'd seen that Dean was far from the perfect paragon of strength he'd imagined as a kid – Dean was, for one thing, fucking obnoxious, and dense, and reckless, and closemouthed and loud at the same time, and moored so tightly to John that Sam sometimes wondered, full of adolescent bitterness, if Dean had any brain cells that didn't belong completely to their father.

Yet that aura of strength never faded from the image of Dean that Sam's been forming in his head since he was six months old, and it's primal, the way he trusts Dean, the way he still wants so badly to believe that no matter what, Dean is stronger than he is and will keep him safe. It's ingrained in him.

And it's bullshit.

Dean is weak. He's weak, and he's small, so small, cradled now in Sam's arms like this, dark blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, breath rattling in his chest, bones so fragile underneath his skin. Sam can feel how easy it would be to shake him, to squeeze Dean until he breaks, and he's filled with an inexplicable, tender fury that has his fingers clenching down too hard on Dean's shoulder, his heart pounding in his chest with fear and anger and guilt.

"C'mon," Sam says, demands, "Come on, Dean, open your fucking eyes, man, stay awake. Dean, come on."

Dean groans and shifts, lets out a harsh gasp but he manages to slit his eyes open, unfocused and glassy and not really conscious at all, fogged over with pain, and Sam almost wishes he would close them again.

"Yeah," Sam says, "that's good, man, hang in there. Hang on, Dean. You're okay. You're fine. Just keep your eyes open." Please, please, please.

Dean works his mouth like he's trying to say something, and Sam feels his stomach lurch as fresh blood bubbles to his brother's lips. Where the fuck is the goddamn ambulance?

Where the fuck is the goddamn angel, for chrissakes? Castiel pushed Dean into this mess, but didn't stick around long enough to clean it up, just picked Dean up and carried him out of the warehouse and onto the side of the highway, and Sam could only follow behind, his head reeling, blood still buzzing from the power he'd harnessed to kill Alistair. He'd watched, stomach knotted, fists clenched, as Castiel had let Dean down in the dirt by the road's shoulder, had looked up at Sam with those knife-blue, impassive eyes, and disappeared.

And now it's just him and Dean, Dean's breath shallower with every second, eyes slipping closed again, face a bloody mess, the sickly lights of a city glowing far off on the horizon but everything else dark, dark and heavy and Sam feels like he might burst from the anger and from the hot, enormous boiling of his blood.

The wail of sirens starts up in the distance, and Sam could sing with relief, puts a hand to Dean's cheek, the one that isn't swollen to twice its normal size.

"Dean," Sam says, "you hear that, Dean? You're okay, man, just keep breathing, keep your eyes open, okay? It's gonna be fine, Alistair's dead, it's gonna be – you're gonna be fine, okay? I'll gonna fucking kill them, I'm gonna—" but Sam stops, because he doesn't want to talk about killing angels, not now, though, fuck, he wants to, wants to pound Castiel's face 'til it's as fucked-up as his brother's, wants to rip Uriel's ribcage apart.

Dean's throat works, and he pushes out a sound that might be "Sam," or it might be "No," or "Stay," or "Fuck," or any other goddamn thing, and Sam grinds his teeth, holds onto his brother's coat and tells his brother again that everything's going to be all right, even though he doesn't believe it's true. He can feel power singing through him, can kill a demon just by raising his hand, has strength that Dean could never dream of – but there's nothing he can do about this. Nothing.

The ambulance pulls up with a screech, and Sam is shoved aside as paramedics swarm around Dean, shouting to one another, shouting questions at Sam, barking statistics and strapping Dean onto a stretcher and moving so fast and so loud and so alive that Sam feels struck dumb, feels like he's the immovable center of a hurricane, absolutely still and full of the vast unfathomable tension of high winds.

His voice returns, though, when they get to the hospital and hustle Dean away from him, and he finds himself alone in the waiting room save for two haggard policemen who want to know how the hell Dean got beat like that.

Sam rattles something off about a mugging, and like every other goddamn time, the cops buy it, want a description of the attacker, want details, and just for the hell of it Sam describes Castiel. It's petty and it's pointless but it makes Sam feel better.

Dean comes out of intensive what seems like hours later, and the doctors tell Sam they've repaired a collapsed lung and a crushed trachea and done what they could for his broken ribs and fractured cheekbone, and now all they can do is sit and wait.

"Sit and wait?" Sam growls. "Is that official medical terminology?"

"Mr. Ramberg," the doctor says, eyes already sliding past Sam, like he just wants to get the hell away, and Sam wants to grab him and tell him that there is no getting away. Not for Sam, not for Dean, not for fucking anyone. "There is nothing more we can do. The odds are good, and—"

"Jesus, what the fuck is this?" Sam asks. "I don't want platitudes, doctor, I want you to tell me when the fuck my brother is going to wake up – I want you to do your fucking job and make goddamn certain that he does wake up."

"If you don't release me I'm going to have to call security," the doctor says coldly, but there's a hint of fear in his voice, and Sam realizes that he's got the man by the lapels of his stupid white coat, and is shaking him, just a little – just enough.

He drops his hands, exhaustion hitting him out of nowhere, and all of a sudden he doesn't know what the hell he's doing or who the hell he is.

"I'm sorry," Sam says, takes a step back. "I'm sorry, it's just – can I see him, at least? Can I go in?"

"Yes," the doctor says, softening, and he smoothes the front of his coat where Sam had crumpled it. "You can sit with him. Of course."

Sam is shown to Dean's room, and he sinks down onto the uncomfortable chair next to his fishbelly-pale brother, stares at the blood crusted on Dean's face, the fresh bruises purpling harsh and deep around Dean's throat. The machines keeping him alive whirr softly, and every so often something beeps and Sam's heart stops for a moment. He focuses on the artificial, too-rhythmic rise-and-fall of Dean's chest, pumped full of false oxygen, and it almost seems like there was never a time when Dean held the answers and the safety of Sam's world.

Sam picks up his brother's hand, is struck by how much smaller it is than his own, and it seems incomprehensible that Sam can be so much stronger and still have no power over his brother's body.

Seems incomprehensible that he can look down at Dean – prone, unconscious, breakable in every way – and still feel like he's the weak one.

It's a pointless feeling. Stupid.

Sam is strong.