Title: Between the Lines of Fear and Blame 1/4
Summary: In the hunt for Lucifer, Sam is hurt and Dean has to embark on a quest to find his brother in more ways than one.
A/N: For some reason, this fic scares me. But since I wrote it and geminigrl11 threatened to beat me up if I didn't post it, here goes. It's a four parter, set post S4. I wanted to get it out before Kripke shows us his version of it. Beta'ed by Gem and love given by sendintheclowns and Brenna, who is still alive!
Disclaimer: Don't make me laugh, okay?
Step one you say we need to talk
He walks you say sit down it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came
-from "How to Save a Life" by the Fray
The thing about Winchesters was that they didn't have bad days.
No, they had horrible days. They had terrible days. They had the worst days known to man. They had the days that left normal people curled up in the fetal position, mumbling endlessly about the atrocities of life.
As far as Winchesters went, that kind of crap was just par for the course. They had the days where you died and got dragged down to Hell. They had the days where you meet your half brother only to find out he was eaten alive by ghouls. They had the days where your brother sucked blood and tried to kill you. They had the days where oops, you let Lucifer out of Hell.
And not to mention the ones where the doctor told you how very sorry she was, but your brother just wasn't going to wake up and did he have a living will?
Yeah. Those were typical Winchester days.
Didn't make them any easier, even though Dean sort of thought they should be by now.
And yet, after everything, he hadn't been here often. Sure, he'd been in hospitals dozens of times himself, but usually he was the one in the bed. For Sam to be here? For Sam to be in the bed with that damn tube down his throat?
Well, apparently even Winchesters could still find new ways to have horrible days.
With a sigh, Dean looked at his watch. That precious forty-eight hour mark had come and gone, and with it, Sam's chances of coming out of this had dwindled.
Irreversible damage, the doctor had called it. Negligible brain function.
In short, it was time to start thinking about pulling the plug.
Dean had called Bobby instead.
He probably should have called Bobby when it happened--but there had been so much blood and Sam had been more than a little unconscious, and Dean had just thought that it'd be okay. Not okay okay, since Sam was completely out of it, but Winchester okay. A little motel room triage, a nice talk down to Sam about the value of not getting yourself thrown off a balcony while exorcising a demon, and life would be just peachy keen.
Well, as peachy keen as it got with Lucifer roaming free and having a blood addict as a little brother.
Dean let his eyes go to his brother again and he forced himself to swallow back his fear. Sam looked the same as he had when Dean had brought him in here: pale features, lax body. It was unnerving, though. Sam looked almost small like that--and so vulnerable. As much as Dean hated to admit it, he'd begun to think Sam was invincible most of the time. After all, he'd had the demonic superpowers to prove it.
But Sam had gone cold turkey. He hadn't used his powers once to defend himself since Lucifer had risen--which was how they'd ended up here. The demons seemed to relish Sam's newfound time on the wagon. It gave them more to tempt him with, more to mock him with. More to dangle in front of him as they effectively tried to rip him from limb to limb when an exorcism and a devil's trap weren't enough.
Dean was loathe to admit what had become the unavoidable truth: those measures that they'd relied on so heavily weren't going to cut it much more. Not with this many demons with this many tricks.
They'd been careful with this hunt--took extra time to lay their lines of protection and to reinforce their devil's trap. They'd even memorized the exorcism just to make sure. But one incantation from the demon's mouth, and the place had been swarming. One good shake of the property, and all their protections were gone, and one memorized exorcism wasn't enough.
Dean had the knife, which was still able to do some meaningful damage.
Sam had nothing.
The demons had been smart--separated them. The ones that took him on were felled quickly by the knife. Sure, they got a few blows in, but they hadn't even been trying that hard.
Dean had let himself believe it might be an easy job after all.
Until he found the horde with Sam.
Easily double what Dean had taken on, they were all around Sam, taking their turns as they slammed Sam up and down, teased him with their blades and insults.
And Sam took it. Spat Latin with blood and fought back for what it was worth.
By the time Dean broke the party up, it was too late. Even with their attentions divided, there was more than enough time to pick Sam up and dangle him over the edge of the banister and just let him drop.
Liar and addict and starter of the Apocalypse, Sam was still Dean's little brother. He killed the rest of them on principle alone.
Killing them had felt good--despite the bumps in the plan, it had been a successful hunt. A good victory in the grander scheme of things.
Until he saw Sam.
Sam had been a mess of broken bones and cuts, and there had been blood everywhere. But it was the unconsciousness and the sheer height of the drop that had finally made Dean take Sam to the hospital. Moving Sam was risky, but calling an ambulance to a house full of dead people was even riskier.
At least the doctor hadn't thought Sam was paralyzed.
Just brain dead.
Dean rubbed a hand over his face, and tried to remember when he'd last slept. He'd been here for over two days now, and he hadn't closed his eyes for more than a few minutes in all of that. It just seemed wrong to sleep. With Sam in a coma, sleeping made him uneasy.
But what else was he supposed to do? Sam was, after all, in a coma.
Not that Dean knew what to do with Sam when he was awake. Sure, Sam had stopped lying and drinking blood. That didn't change the fact that Sam had done those things, and had done them to the point where he'd put them in this mess to begin with. It wasn't that Dean wanted to be mad at his little brother, but it was hard not to be. He'd told Sam it was wrong. He'd told Sam not to. But Sam had ignored him.
The Apocalypse didn't really leave Dean much time to gloat.
Sam's coma didn't really make him want to anyway.
With a sigh, he looked at his watch again. Bobby would be here soon. Then Dean could figure this out.
He looked at his brother again.
They had to figure this out.
Bobby showed up and ripped him a new one. Launched into a diatribe about taking precautions and calling in for backup and knowing when he was in over his head.
Dean had to smile, but his heart wasn't in it. "Thanks for coming," he said.
Bobby eyed him angrily before glancing at Sam. "They say it's a coma?" he asked.
Dean collected himself, rubbing the tiredness from his eyes. He rolled his shoulders, stretching a little. "They're calling it irreversible."
Bobby swore under his breath. He closed his eyes for a long moment before opening them again. He pinned Dean with resolved eyes. "Do you believe that?"
That was the question Dean hadn't allowed himself to ask just yet. The one he'd been avoiding since he'd dragged Sam's limp body in here. He swallowed hard. "He fell a long way," he said finally. "And the demons had a pretty good time with him before they let him fall."
Bobby gave a dry snort. "Sounds like the story of Sam's life," he muttered. "But we have to know if Sam's really gone, like gone gone, or if he's just trapped in there."
"Well, that's nice, Bobby," Dean said. "I tried asking him, but Sam was sort of too unconscious to answer."
Bobby's mouth settled into a thin line. "Your damn fool brother has been trying his ass off to make amends," he said. "We owe him this."
It was a protective sentiment. In truth, Dean would expect no less from Bobby. But it wasn't entirely practical, nor did it take any of the realities of the situation into account. "I'm still wondering how you want to do that," Dean said with an even breath. "Because I've been sitting here for two days and I'm not coming up with much."
"It's called research," Bobby replied back. "I know Sam's the book-minded one between the two of you, but I thought you were capable."
The insinuation was not lost on Dean. He wasn't perfect, he knew that, but he was doing the best he could. After all that Sam had done to him, Dean was still here. That was saying something---that was saying a lot--and he did not appreciate the suggestion to the contrary. Dean was the one who was cleaning up Sam's mess. Even now, Dean was the one who had been sitting vigil since this happened. "I'm not the one who started this whole thing in the first place."
"So you want to leave him like that?" Bobby asked angrily, nodded toward where Sam was on the bed. Even throughout their heated exchange, Sam hadn't as much as twitched. The ventilator had done its steady work, the monitors relaying the basic sounds of Sam's life.
Dean looked away again, heat flaring in his cheeks. "No," he said, because he didn't. He was mad at Sam for a lot of things, but he couldn't be mad about a coma. "It's just--if he's suffering, I don't know. If it's just his body--maybe it would be merciful to end it. I'm just trying to think about what Sam would want."
Bobby laughed hotly. "Sam would have wanted to stay dead at Cold Oak, not to mention to finish himself off several times since then," he said. The older man sighed, dragging a hand across his face. "Damn it, son. I know this is hard on you. And I know all of this has been more than any man should bear. But he's your brother."
"And that's why I haven't done it yet," Dean said. He motioned to the table. "They keep giving me these damn pamphlets. Things about organ donation and DNRs. And I don't know what to do. I'm not making another damn deal, and so I think I'm running a little short on options that doesn't involve human sacrifices and black magic."
"You call Castiel?"
Dean tightened his jaw. "He can't do anything."
"Or he won't."
"Well, maybe we shouldn't," Dean replied as honestly as he could. "Sitting here, looking at him, I don't know. If Sam's gone, if it's Sam's time..."
"Then we'd let him go," Bobby agreed quietly. "But we don't know that yet."
"And how do you suggest figuring that out?" Dean asked, more than a hint of skepticism in his voice.
Bobby's face darkened a little. "I don't know."
"Welcome to my world for the last three days," Dean grumbled. "I've gone over it in my head and I keep coming to the same conclusion."
"To give up?"
It wasn't easy to admit, but he didn't know what other options there were. It was the truth he'd been circling back to, no matter how much he hated it. "To let it end," Dean countered softly.
"Sam wouldn't accept that for you."
Dean's frustration mounted. "But maybe Sam's already gone!" he exploded. "I've seen the tests. I've seen the charts and the scans and it all keeps saying the same damn thing: that Sam's not coming back. That he's not waking up. That this time there's just no answer."
Bobby shook his head slowly. "You're tired, Dean," he said slowly.
"Damn right, I'm tired," Dean snapped. Because he'd been doing this too long. Too many years as John's good little soldier. Too many months watching out as Sam did whatever the hell he wanted, no matter how much damage it did. Too many days playing God's warrior to be able to micromanage things on this level. Dean wasn't a saint and he wasn't some martyr by choice--this wasn't what he wanted for himself, but no one ever thought to ask him that.
He didn't want Sam to be hurt--he really didn't--but what was he supposed to do? He'd done everything right for his entire life and Sam still went and screwed it all up? He'd sold his soul for Sam, and what more was he supposed to give that he hadn't already given? What else could he do?
Sometimes there were consequences, and sometimes even Winchesters had to accept them. He would do just about anything for Sam, but he couldn't bring his brother back. Not again. Not considering everything it cost the entire world the first time around.
He had told Sam how this worked way back when his own heart had been damaged. Sometimes in life you drew the short straw. Dean didn't like it, but maybe it was time he had to accept it--for himself and for Sam. All the work he'd done keeping Sam safe had been for nothing. He couldn't play protector to a grown man.
He shook his head, feeling the tendrils of bitterness in his stomach. "I've been tired for years, and this? Is just a little more than I know what to do with right now," he said, and his voice cracked with emotion. Tears burned at his eyes. It was overwhelming, so completely encompassing that Dean thought he might drown in it. He'd tried being everything for everyone and this time he was just coming up short. "I've got the Apocalypse breathing down my neck and they're telling me my brother is a vegetable and I just don't know what to do anymore, okay?"
Bobby nodded, and the excitement faded from his face into weariness. "I'm sorry," he said. He looked at Sam again. "I know you're trying and I don't envy you your task. It's just--damn. I watched that kid fall so hard and I know how much he wants to make it better. I can see it in him, how hard he tries. It takes a strong man to do what he's doing."
It was funny to Dean. Sam being strong. Sam had never seemed weaker than he had since Lucifer's rise. Watching his brother fall apart, learning about the lies and the blood and all of it had tipped the scales in Dean's favor. It was a reassuring fact for Dean, especially after the year he'd had.
If Sam were strong, he wouldn't have become an addict in the first place. He wouldn't have started the Apocalypse.
No. Sam wasn't strong. While Dean might have wanted to protect Sam before--it wasn't the same now. This wasn't like protecting some innocent five year old kid or some geeky undersized teenager or even the bereaved college boy. This was a full grown, demon blood addict. Dean had given everything to Sam and more--what more was there?
And that was the question--no matter what hurt or bitterness Dean felt, the real issue was that there was nothing else he could do--not without compromising too much. Dean shook his head. "I'd save his life if I could," Dean said, and it broke his heart to admit it all. "I'd probably still take a bullet for him. But he's probably brain dead. How the hell am I supposed to fix that?"
Bobby's face fell, the corners of his mouth pinched. He looked at Sam again, before turning his eyes back to Dean. He collected a breath and let it out. "Give me a few days," he said.
Dean raised his eyebrows. "And where else are we going to go?"
Bobby scowled. "Just--don't let them pull the plug, okay?"
Lingering at Sam's side, Dean saw Bobby hesitate. Grim faced, the older hunter stormed out of the room, leaving Dean alone.
He glanced at his brother. Not quite alone. but at this point, Dean wasn't sure there was a difference.
Tired, he sank down to the seat. He dropped his head into his hands and thought about praying, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to ask for.
It wasn't even ten hours later when Bobby came back. He looked exhausted, a little wild around the eyes. He had an arm full of books and he closed the door behind him hastily as he dropped his backpack onto the table.
"I've got it," he said.
Scrambling a little, Dean tried to bring himself back together. He'd been dozing on and off all day, lost somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, dreams and reality.
His back protesting, Dean stood, stretching a little. "You've got what?"
"A way to help Sam."
Dean felt his concern ratchet up a notch. "It's safe, right?" Dean said.
"Shouldn't cause any problems," Bobby said, flipping through a book.
"I mean, like, it's not dark magic. No demons deals, blood sacrifices. That kind of thing."
Bobby glared at him. "Boy, you think I'd lay that on Sam?" he said. "He has enough guilt and I know he wouldn't want anything else done on his account."
Dean didn't have a reply to that. He didn't want to admit that his concern had been more about the cosmic order of things and his own personal karma that Sam's wishes.
Bobby put a book in front of his face. "There," he said. "It's an ancient ritual. Kind of like a seance only more focused."
Dean's eyes skimmed. "A Sumerian Dream Walk?"
"Or some kind of modified version of it," Bobby confirmed.
Dean gave Bobby a skeptical look. "Sam's a little more than asleep."
"But the idea's the same," Bobby said. He pointed to the page. "The ritual is designed to give someone access to the unconscious mind. They used it to change people's dreams, sort of a selfish gain sort of thing, but I figure it can work this way, too."
"So, what?" Dean asked. "I hop into Sam's head and tell him to wake up?"
Bobby shrugged a little. "I figure half the battle is seeing if Sam is there at all."
Dean considered that. He gave his brother a furtive look. "So if no one's home--"
"Then we know it's time to let Sam go."
Dean sighed. He was tired, there was no doubt. The world was ending out there, and he was supposed to stop it. But, Sam was his brother. For better or worse, and they were definitely pushing that worse thing, Sam was his responsibility. The least he could do was try to bring Sam back. It was the only way to be sure, the only way he could know if it was okay to let go yet or not.
Licking his lips, he nodded, meeting Bobby squarely in the eyes. "What do we have to do?"
Bobby came prepared.
Dean watched as he unloaded the backpack--some candles, a few herbs. Dean had skimmed the incantation that was supposed to do the trick, but he had to admit, it wasn't quite all coming together for him.
"So I'm still not quite following. How do I get inside Sam's head?" he asked.
Bobby was sprinkling some herbs in the corner of the room. "It's sort of vague," Bobby admitted. "The candles, the spices, the incantation--they all just sort of set the mood. Open the passageway in a sense."
"So how do I get through?"
Bobby paused, and pressed his lips together. He stood up straight, and looked at Dean. "You sort of have to--focus on Sam. Not think of anything else. Just him. Or, his essence."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "His essence?"
Bobby shifted uncomfortably. "I know it sounds like some kind of New Age mumbo jumbo, but that's the only way it can work," he said. He scratched at his neck. "You have to find Sam before you can get in there and help him."
Dean wanted to laugh. He had to find his brother. He'd been looking for his little brother ever since he got back from Hell, and all he'd found was a liar and an addict who would rather sneak out on him than own up to anything.
So finding Sam? Sounding a lot more challenging. After all, what would he focus on? Sam's blood? His mistake in letting Lucifer out? Maybe the feeling of strangling his own brother?
"If anyone can do it, it's got to be you," Bobby told him.
Emotion rose in Dean's throat--incredulity, bitterness, fear--but it was drowned out by the pervasive weariness. He'd been doing this so long. Sitting here in this hospital room, trying to make sense of who his brother was, working to save the world. There were a lot of things Dean just couldn't do. A lot of things he didn't know how to do. And he was tired of the games--the angels' vague prophecies, Sam's elusive guilt complex.
So this? Focusing on Sam's essence? In the bigger picture, it seemed like a small step to take.
No matter where it led him--to Sam, to the emptiness where Sam once was--at least there would be answers. At least there would be resolution.
He let himself look at his brother again. Maybe he did owe this to Sam.
He owed it to himself more.
"So I just have to think about Sam?" he confirmed.
Bobby nodded gravely. "Best as I can tell," he said. "If we've done it right, the rest should be pretty clear."
Dean gave a snort. "That would be a first."
"You ready to give this a go?"
"You sure the nurses won't notice the open flames?"
Bobby gave him a condescending look. "You really think I'm that stupid?"
"You just worry about your brother," Bobby told him. "I'll handle the rest."
"Okay, okay," Dean relented. But, in the end, he wasn't sure who was getting the better end of that deal.
Lights off, candles lit, Bobby had made Dean sit in the chair facing Sam. They'd waited until rounds were over, hoping the change in shift would give them the time they needed to knock at Sam's proverbial door and see if anyone was still home.
The problem was, Dean was tired. With dim lights and the scent of herbs in the air, he really could just fall asleep.
Not to mention he felt damn stupid sitting there just thinking about Sam.
Shifting in his seat, Dean felt ridiculous and uncomfortable and ridiculously uncomfortable. "Just how long will this take anyway?"
Bobby gave a small shrug. "Beat me," he said. "The lore varies a bit."
Dean made a face. "What do you mean it varies a bit?" he asked. "I'm going into my brother's head and the lore varies?"
Bobby's exasperation was evident. "It might be an equal second for second kind of thing. So the time you spend in there might translate the same out here. Or it could be relative."
Dean's stomach roiled. "Relative, huh," he said. Like forty years in four months. "Great. Just what I need."
"I know it ain't perfect," Bobby said. "But it's all we have. We have to do this. For Sam."
Dean gave his brother a once over again. Sam had not moved. His arms were slightly rearranged from the nurse's latest examination, but other than that--nothing. Same lax features. Same unmoving limbs. Same damn tube sticking out of his brother's mouth.
After so many days, Sam looked almost fake, if Dean were honest. His brother's features were waxy, his face looking almost gaunt. Sam was wasting away. They were going to run out of time--whether Sam was there or not. He had to know. He couldn't let Sam go until he knew.
"So you got your ritual?" Dean asked, turning weary eyes back to Bobby.
"I'll get on my best Sumerian accent," Bobby said. "You just think about Sam."
Dean let his gaze go back to his brother. He tried to remember his brother's eyes, the way his forehead crinkled when he was thinking. He tried to think about Sam's bitchface and his smile--and the last time he'd actually seen Sam smile at all.
He thought about Sam on the hunt, his plain determination to do the right thing. He thought about the lust for blood in Sam's eye with every demon they killed and how Sam had to turn away to control it.
He thought about Sam with that look of resignation on his face the minute the demon dropped him.
He thought about Sam's look of regret when Lucifer rose and all Sam could say was I'm sorry.
Distantly, he could hear Bobby chanting. Suddenly, Dean was tired. His eyes felt heavy and the room felt too warm.
His eyes blinked closed slowly and he tried to open them.
Sam, he thought. He had to think of Sam.
He thought of Sam as a baby, the way he'd cooed when Dean made faces. He thought of Sam in his arms when he was four years old and the sound of his brother's cries as he'd carried him down the stairs.
Then, light exploded and the air seemed to tear. There was an opening--some kind of rift--and before Dean had the chance to think about whether or not this was it, he was falling toward it faster than he could stop.
The light gave way to darkness and Dean's breath exhaled by force when he came to an abrupt stop.
It didn't hurt, but it was sudden and jarring. It took him a moment to realize he had landed.
More or less, anyway.
Opening his eyes, he tried to figure out where he was. But what he saw wasn't very helpful.
The expanse was endless. The blackness extended as far as Dean could see, so deep that it enveloped him. Every step he took was further into the nothingness, and for a horrifying moment, he thought it might actually swallow him whole. More terrifying than the torture of Hell, this was a powerful void that left him feeling nauseatingly uncertain of his own existence at all.
It occurred to him what this meant. There was nothing here. More than that, there was no one. Maybe the doctor had been right. Maybe Sam was gone, and Dean needed to let him go.
It was an unsettling revelation, but more unnerving yet was the fact that he couldn't find the door he'd used to get in here. Without a way out, it looked like he might be stuck here, too. He'd managed to get out of one Hell; he wasn't sure he wanted to try his luck at two.
His heart skipping a beat, he turned, squinting back, but the space behind him was as black as the area in front. Seamless and perfect in its darkness, no signs of life to be found. He couldn't even make out his own body in the vastness, and his breath tightened in his chest at the thought. He liked to think he was strong in most situations, but there was something about this place--something sinister in its emptiness, malicious in its vastness. As if the void could suck his soul out of him before he could even put up a fight, as if he would become the darkness before his conscious mind could make the decision to let go.
Slow suicide. Quick insanity, and a dark deconstruction. It was taking him already.
Desperation swelled in him. "Hey!" he screamed. "Come on! I don't belong here!"
He spun, looking back the other way, lurching a few feet ahead. "Come on!" he screamed. "This is freakin' stupid! I have other things to do! Places to go, people to see!"
His voice didn't even echo, because there was nothing for it to reflect off of.
"No, no, no, no," he muttered. "This is so not how it's supposed to go."
He fiddled around in his pocket, wondering if his metaphysical self was as well equipped at the real life version.
Fumbling in his pocket, he yanked too hard, and his wallet flopped out of his hands, lost in the darkness. Cursing, Dean dug again. "I have a freakin' Apocalypse to stop!" he yelled at no one. "I'm pretty sure there are, like, fifty arch angels who would swoop in here and shed some light on this messed up situation!"
He wasn't sure who he was trying to tell that to, since Sam seemed to be nowhere in the building. And that scared the crap out of him, it did--but Dean would deal with that later. Right now, the concept of losing Sam was too abstract to grasp; the darkness surrounding him was his immediate concern. Being here made him impotent--it would make him crazy--and if he was going to help Sam or even the world for that matter, he needed to get out. Besides, self-preservation was an instinct well ingrained in him, now more than ever. Hell did that to a guy. Dean had died once already, and he wasn't looking to do it again. Not now, not for a long time if he had anything to do about it.
His fingers closed upon his lighter, and relief rushed over him. Careful, he pulled it out, flicking it up, revealing a small flame.
At first, the sight of his own hand holding the flame was enough, but as Dean looked around, he realized he wasn't much better off. The expanse was no less vast and there was still nothing there.
Which means he just had to go back. Just turn around, go back the way he came. He could do that.
Slowly, he took measured steps, licking his lips as he ventured back. He didn't know how long it took, since time seemed slower there anyway, but then, he saw it. Simple and hanging neatly, a single doorway.
"Thank God," he said, moving quickly to it. He grasped it eagerly, ready to be done with this, to be out of here, when he heard it.
It was a quiet noise, barely audible, no more than a faint whisper.
He stilled, fingers still on the knob, and listened.
It was a voice, he realized. Someone was here.
Hesitating, he looked longingly at the door. He thought about the sunlight outside, about his mission to save the world. He thought about the girls and the burgers and Cas and Bobby.
Then he thought about Sam in the hospital bed and why he was here at all.
Closing his eyes, he bit his lip. Taking a breath, he let go of the doorknob, edging along carefully toward the voice.
It wasn't hard to track, and in the dim glow of his lighter, he soon saw the figure. It was curled up on the floor, knees drawn to its chest, head drooped forward with straggly hair falling over the bowed head. And it was rocking, the frenetic unconscious motion of a damaged child, curled so tight, that it almost looked like it hurt.
With careful steps, Dean approached. "Hey," he called gently. "Hey, you."
The figure didn't stop, though, didn't even flinch. Just kept rocking, and as Dean approached, he tried to make out what it was saying.
It was too slurred, though, rushed together and mumbled.
Brow creased, Dean kneeled down. "Hey, kid," he called again.
But the figure didn't react.
Dean was close enough now to see the kid trembling. His feet were bare and his knuckles were white. He was skinny beneath the thin t-shirt, and as Dean tried to peer around the greasy hair, recognition dawned on him.
"Sammy?" he asked, almost too shocked to believe it.
He knew his brother inside and out. He knew everything about the kid, and had seen him as a newborn baby to the mammoth sasquatch he was now. But this kid? This kid was skinny, almost emaciated. All skin and bones, and it just wasn't right.
Dean's hesitation lost out to his shock, and he reached out to touch him. "Sam, it's me," he said.
His touch garnered an immediate response, but not the one he expected.
Sam tore away, flinching hard and fast as he scrambled away. He fell, rolling to hands and knees as he put distance between himself and Dean, looking backward with wide, terrified eyes.
"Sam, chill, man, it's me," he said again. "It's Dean."
Sam shook his head, and Dean saw just how bad off his brother was. His cheeks were sunken, the remnants of a beard like patchwork on his face. The circles under his eyes were dark and prominent, and his thin chest rose and fell fast. Sam's lips were dry and cracked and they moved frantically, but little sound came out.
"Sam," he said again. "Seriously. It's Dean. You know, your brother. The one who has been there through everything, the guy who knows you inside and out."
At that, Sam shook his head. "Only humans have brothers," he said, and his voice was a cracked whisper. "Not monsters."
Dean cocked his head, swallowing as he took a step closer, hoping for Sam to see him clearer.
But Sam wasn't looking at him at all, he realized.
Sam wasn't looking at anything.
Sam was staring, eyes vacant, at the vastness beyond him.
"Sam, you're starting to freak me out here," he said, trying to laugh. "I realized a trip inside your head would be a freaky thing, but this takes the cake, even for you."
"Always a freak," Sam murmured. "Kill him or save him. It means you're a monster. It was your choices all along. How far from human. How far from human."
With that, Sam pulled his legs in again, locking his hands tight around them. He shook his head, sniffling a little. "Always a freak. Monster. Monster, monster, monster."
Sam's voice trailed off into sobs, and Dean could only gape. Tentative, Dean kneeled down, trying to catch Sam's eye.
But there was nothing to catch. The vacant look was shrouded behind the stringy hair. In essence, Sam was just gone, consumed by the mantra of self-hate that sounded all too familiar.
It would have been easier if Sam hadn't been here at all. Having this Sam, this shell, left Dean with a difficult proposition. There was no way he could bring this back with him. Even if he did manage to get Sam to wake up, Dean wasn't sure he wanted to live with a brother like this in real life.
Because this wasn't Sam. It wasn't fair to bring Sam back like this--not to Sam, not to Dean. Maybe the doctor had been right--it was just time to let Sam go.
Then he heard something.
Soft and behind him.
Turning, Dean's eyes probed the expanse.
There it was again--under the keening of his brother--and hushed sound--a beckoning whisper. "Hey!"
Swallowing, Dean narrowed his eyes, stepping away from the huddled mess on the floor. "Who's out there?"
"Over here!" the voice called, urgent but still hushed.
Dean squinted into the blackness. "Over where?"
"Over here," the voice said again.
Dean was about to demand more clarification, but a new ray of light split the scene. Glancing back at Sam, he moved hesitantly toward it. When he got closer, he could see it was an open doorway. Light spilled from behind him, illuminating a small patch of the expanse.
Something moved in the shadow at the edge of the light. "Someone finally came," the voice said, and it was a familiar voice. Too familiar.
"Yeah, and who are you?" Dean asked, trying to get a look.
Slowly, the figure stepped into the light. Long, tattered jeans. A tan Carhart jacket. Floppy brown hair.
"Sam?" Dean asked. He looked over his shoulder at the other Sam in the distance. "But--what?"
"I was wondering if you'd do something stupid and show up in here."
It was a relief--trying to grasp the idea that Sam was gone had been more than Dean was ready to deal with. After everything Sam had dragged him through over the last year or so, losing Sam so suddenly would just be hard to take. There were things left to say and to do--Sam hadn't made amends yet, and, no matter how much crap Dean gave the kid, he still wanted that day. He wanted to make peace with Sam--it was the only way he'd ever get any closure, assuming, of course, he managed to stop the Apocalypse like Zachariah wanted him to.
Which meant it was game time. "I'm trying to get you to wake up, jackass," Dean groused. "You're sort of taking an extended nap in the real world."
Sam shrugged. "Not really my choice."
"Something keeping you here?" Dean asked.
"In a matter of speaking."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "How do you figure?" he asked. "You hit your head on a hunt--got knocked around pretty hard. The doctors say there could be damage."
"The others don't think it matters," Sam explained.
"The others?" Dean asked, not liking the sound of that. Perhaps brain damage was an option.
Sam nodded. "It's not the head injury that's really the problem," Sam told him. He leaned forward a little. "If you want to know a secret, we could have woken up days ago."
"I'm not supposed to be here," this Sam said, looking suspiciously over his shoulder. "If the others caught wind of this, well, they'd be all over us in an instant." He looked back at Dean with a triumphant smile on his face. "Lucky for us, they're all so lost in themselves to know how to take advantage of the situation. They don't realize that this guy over here is down on the job." He nodded to the curled up Sam on the floor.
Dean shook his head, trying to clear it. "So you're telling me that you're Sam," he said. "And that that's Sam."
This Sam sighed, clearly exasperated. "Think about it, Dean. You're inside Sam's psyche. What you're seeing is how Sam sees himself. This is how we cope with things."
"By creating multiple versions?" Dean asked. "Isn't that a little, I don't know, insane?"
Sam laughed. "You don't think we managed to start the Apocalypse by being sane, do you? Besides, the others decided that this was the only way that it was safe to keep on existing. If we didn't section off certain...parts, then we'd be totally unfit for society."
Dean shook his head. "I'm not sure I follow."
"I'm not sure I do, either," Sam admitted. "I mean, look at him. Kind of pathetic, right? I think we could get a whole lot more done if we all worked together."
"Just how many Sams are we talking about in here?"
Sam shrugged. "I never took the time to count. Usually our votes are like fifty billion to one, so I learned to stop tallying up the opposition."
Perplexed, Dean looked back at the Sam on the floor. "So where are we? What is this place? And why are we here?"
"Here?" Sam asked, looking around. "This is Sam's conscious self. The parts of himself he lets out. The rest, they decided, were just too dangerous. This is all that is acceptable, or something."
"This?" Dean asked, looking in incredulity at the Sam on the floor.
"I know," Sam said with a knowing shake of his head. "I told them it would end up like this. This pathetic portion of us just isn't up to snuff. That's why we always needed so many layers, because what was safe and acceptable was just too little for words. But we feel awful about how it all went down, so this is what we decided was okay."
It was a little more than Dean could process. "But why here?"
Sam grinned. "Impressive, right?" Sam asked, sounding genuinely proud. "We thought a lot about this, and I have to say, this is the one thing I'm proud of. We wanted to create the worst possible environment, the best place to make sure that we atoned for what we'd done wrong. Of course, we considered a lot of options. We thought long and hard about recreating Hell, you know, with the rack and the torture and the fire and the screams. It seemed fitting. We also strongly considered the whole endless display of mistakes. You know, replaying Mom's death, Jess' death, your death, starting the Apocalypse--all that--ad nauseum until the end of time. But this--" Sam said, looking around proudly, "--was my idea. Pretty genius, if you think about it. Endless nothingness. Not even a memory. Just nothing and more nothing. You can't tell where you end and the darkness begins. Losing yourself, losing all sense of being, is the worst torture I can think of. No ability to do anything except regret.
It was a horrifyingly lucid plan, thought out with the attention to detail and the harsh logic that so defined Sam.
And yet, this wasn't the details for a hunt. This was a self-inflicted exile, a carefully measured and delivered penance that was shockingly cruel and apt in its delivery. Dean hadn't expected rainbows and lollipops, but the cold torture of Sam's own brain was unsettling to say the least.
He could deal with that later, though. First, he had to get Sam out.
"Well, I hate to break up the self-hate party," Dean said. "But if we don't get him to wake up, then you're all toast."
"That's what I tried to tell them," Sam said, with a condescending shake of his head.
"Well, then why don't we do it," Dean suggested.
"You haven't noticed that your little charge over there is already stark raving mad?"
"So, what?" Dean asked. "There's no hope for him?"
"You can't hope to work with him," Sam said, and he took to pacing, back and forth in front of Dean. He shrugged, almost to himself, offering Dean a flippant smile. "That's just the superficial layer, anyway. You have to go deeper than that."
"I'm talking to you, aren't I?" Dean asked, tired of this run around. He just wanted to find his brother, drag his whacked-out ass out of here, and get back to business. They would deal with the fallout to this--whatever that may be--once Sam was awake.
At that, Sam stopped, his eyes narrowing, looking fully at Dean. He held Dean's gaze for a moment, and in that moment, all the guises dropped away, revealing a starkly honest Sam, young and aged all at once. "And who am I, Dean?" Sam asked, taking a step closer.
It was such a simple question, but there was something to it that Dean was missing. There was an answer Sam wanted, one that seemed like it should be so obvious, and Dean had no idea what it was. He didn't understand any of this, not this Sam, not the other Sam, not the black punishment.
All he knew was that it made him as uncomfortable as Hell. A wave of tension passed over him, and he pulled himself to his full height. "How the Hell should I know?" Dean asked, feeling inexplicably defensive.
Sam seemed to sigh a little, then his lips quirked into a smile, with a hint of malice in his eyes. "Of all of us, I think you know me best," he said, and his voice lilting a little, almost with a singsong undertone.
Dean felt his inside twitch, a dreadful cold inching through him.
Sam leaned closer, his voice deep and lyrical. "I'm the one you saw even when the rest of us were trying to deny that I existed," he said. "You know, there's a reason they hardly ever listen to a word I say."
Dean's eyebrows furrowed and he swallowed a little, trying to push the apprehension back. But the coldness grew, solidifying in his stomach.. "Yeah? Why's that?"
Sam's smile widened and then his eyes--his eyes turned black. "Because I'm the one they've been keeping in check for as long as we've been alive," he said. "I'm the one you saw when Sam was killing demons with his mind, but I've been here all along."
It took everything Dean had not to recoil, but his chest tightened, his breath catching in his throat. This was what he had been afraid of, this was what he'd seen last year. It was his worst nightmare, that his brother was a monster, that he was right...
"Aw, Dean," Sam said, shaking his head, his eyes going back to normal. "I thought you said we were brothers, no matter what."
He had said that, but that didn't go for demons lurking in Sam's head or the demon blood that ran through the kid's veins. He would stand by his Sam, the boy he raised--this, on the other hand, was fair game. "Get the Hell out of my brother," he said, low and dangerous. "I want to talk to Sam."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You're not getting it, Dean," he said. "I am Sam. Just like that is Sam. Just like all the Sam's in here. We broke it down, splintered off, because it's safer this way. There are more of them, more of those do-gooders who want to play by the rules. More of them who feel just awful about it all. Why else do you think we created this place? Why else do you think I'm all by myself? I'm powerless in here, and they'd rather be powerless altogether than to risk letting me out."
Dean shook his head. "I just want my brother," he said.
"Fine," Sam said, with a sigh. "You want your brother, I'll take you to your brother. But, let me warn you. It's not going to be pretty."
"Oh, and you are?" Dean snapped.
Sam inclined his head, eyes darkening ever so briefly. "Be careful what you wish for," Sam said. "You think you know your brother, but if you think that I'm the worst of it, you're in for a not so pleasant surprise."
The question rose in Dean's throat, but he didn't have a chance to ask it.
Suddenly the darkness split, flooding the area with light. Dean was drawn through inexplicably, and he barely had time to catch his breath as he tumbled into it.
It was mere seconds, maybe minutes. Time was off here, skewed and distorted, and the very fabric of the existence felt strained and unsettled.
He blinked, and he realized there was shape in the light. Blinking again, shadows danced across his vision, and the light receded just enough that he could see.
Bobby's panic room.
At first, Dean thought he was alone. The room was as barren as the night he'd lock Sam in it--the sparest of furniture and the lone pitcher of water. Walking around, Dean ran his hands along the walls, thick and impenetrable metal. He lingered at the door, trying the handle and finding it tight. The window slot was closed tight.
Moving away from it, Dean walked to the bed, letting his eyes trail to the ceiling. The fan circled lazily, and its meager light made the place seem even more lonely.
He kept walking, going to the table, fingering the pitcher, before turning back toward the door. "This is ridiculous," he muttered. "Sam! Come on, buddy! I thought we were going to talk about this!"
His own voice echoed off the walls, resounding in his ears. No reply came except his own pleas.
Frowning, he went to the door, pounding on it. "Sammy! I can't help you if you don't come talk to me!"
Swearing, Dean ran a hand over his face, turning back to the room. This was ridiculous. He had things to do. He came to Sam's mind to help bring his brother back, not get lost in the mess that was his brother's head.
Well, that was okay. If Sam didn't want to talk, they didn't have to talk. Dean would just grab him and haul ass. But first--he had to get out.
Turning to the walls, he ran his fingers along them, looking for some sign of weakness. But, it was solid and secure, designed to protect, to keep things out--but Dean had to admit, being locked in was slightly unnerving.
For a second, Dean had to wonder what it had been like for Sam. To yell and scream for help and have no one answer. How many hours had it lasted? How many pleas had Sam made? And how many had Dean ignored? Worse, how many had he returned with blithe insults while Sam was suffering?
There'd been no option. Sam made his bed; he had to sleep in it.
Swallowing hard, Dean tried to believe that as he looked around the room again.
And then he saw him.
How a man Sam's size could fit in so small a space was beyond him. But, there Sam was, curled into a ball, tucked miserably into a corner, face pressed against the metal wall.
Dean's resolve faltered. His attempts to leave were thwarted by the big brotherly instinct to take care of Sam.
Slowly, he made his way over to his brother. "Sam?" he called. "Can you hear me?"
There was a whimper and Sam shuddered visibly.
Flinching, Dean kneeled next to him, trying to get a look at his brother's face.
What he saw was painfully familiar. Garish features and pale coloring--Sam looked horrible.
Collecting himself, he spoke gently. "Sammy? You think we can talk?"
Sam's eyes drifted open, focusing on Dean slowly. "Dean?"
"Yeah," Dean said, trying to sound reassuring. "It's me."
"I hoped you'd come," Sam told him, his voice wispy. "It's so lonely in here. Like I could get lost. Like I don't exist. I'd be better if I didn't exist."
It was hard to listen to, but Dean reminded himself that this wasn't the point. He just needed to get Sam out of here. "Hey, it's okay," he said. "I think maybe it's time to go."
Sam shook his head lazily. "I have to stay," he said. "You locked the door. Told me I deserved it. I deserve it."
Dean remembered that, and, seeing Sam like this, it was hard not to feel guilty. There had been truth to it, of course, but seeing Sam like this--now it just seemed like kicking Sam when he was down.
"I'm thirsty," Sam said, and he squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm so thirsty."
"There's water," Dean pointed out, glancing at the pitcher on the table."
"Illusion," Sam mumbled. "Every time I go to it, I can't grab it."
Dean's conscience twinged. Bobby had been adamant about leaving the water, but neither of them had really considered whether or not Sam would be capable of drinking it on his own.
Sam swallowed dryly, laughing a little. His eyes cracked open and his lips were chapped. "I don't deserve it," he said. "Just another demon problem."
Leaving Sam locked inside hadn't been easy by any stretch of the imagination. But Dean realized with acute certainty that it was far easier than being in there with Sam. The seizure itself had almost left Dean undone. This? Was worse than the begging, worse than the pleading. Worse than the screams.
This was heartbreaking.
Sam was broken. He was spent and alone. He couldn't drink. He couldn't go to the bathroom. He couldn't do anything. Except be lost--and alone--in his delusions.
Dean couldn't be sure how he'd done it then, how he'd let himself believe that there was no other choice.
This time, Sam's head or not, Dean couldn't let his brother suffer like this.
"Come on," Dean coaxed, pulling on Sam's arm. "Why don't we get you to the bed."
Sam shook his head, pulling into himself. "I was there," Sam said. "Tied me down. Alastair, first. Torture. Torture and more torture. What I should have had. What Dean did for me."
Dean swallowed a little and forced himself to stay with it. "Not so boo hoo now, is it, Sammy?"
Sam just shook his head. "Dean needed me," he said. "He needed me to be strong, even when he didn't want to admit it. He needed me to carry the load. I wanted to. I let him go to Hell, I wanted to do this. I want to kill Lilith for him. For all of us. Be a Winchester."
Dean pulled his hand away, stiffening a little. "I don't need to be protected, Sam," he said. "I can handle myself. I'm not the one who went off the deep end this year."
At that, Sam blinked, turning strained eyes up at him. "But that's what Winchesters do," he said. "You told me to remember. I remember. When one of us is weak, the others pick up the slack. You went to Hell for me. I had to make sacrifices, too."
Dean couldn't help but snort a little. "So sucking demon blood? Shacking up with Ruby? Those are your sacrifices for me, dude? What makes you think I'd want anything to do with any of that?"
"I didn't want you to go to Hell for me, and you did it for me anyway," Sam told him. "Winchesters make the ends justify the means. No matter what. You and Dad and Mom. My turn. I was ready for it to be my turn. Even if it cost me everything."
Dean looked at his brother, looked at the shaking frame and the sunken face. There was determination there. There was sadness and grief and brokenness and pure grit--but there was no regret. Sam had sold himself out, given over his soul, and wasn't looking back. It was a determination Dean recognized in himself after he made the deal in the first place. As much as he'd hated the consequences, he could never be sorry he did it.
At least, that used to be the case. Until Sam betrayed him.
But had Sam really betrayed him? Sam had betrayed himself. Sam had given up his dreams and his hopes and his everything just to try to make it right for Dean.
He was so angry at Sam--and Sam was angry at himself. More than that, Sam hated himself. It was a harsh truth, one that was easier to overlook than deal with.
It wasn't something he liked to think about. That his anger at Sam was just a distraction from the fact that his brother was a mess inside. Not that it made Sam's decisions right, but being mad at Sam didn't fix it. There were problems here Dean didn't know how to grasp.
Sam started shaking with more intensity, his eyes pleading. "I just wish I knew," he said.
"Who I am," Sam said. "Who am I, Dean?"
There was a vulnerability in the question that made Dean's heart ache. Sam looked so young--the pale face and stringy hair could be a six year old Sam with the flu. Dean's protective instincts were still strong, and he wondered how he'd done this. How he'd locked Sam up without a second thought, how he'd ignored his brothers screams and said at least he'll die human. It seemed impossible to witness such pain and agony and do nothing. No matter what Sam had done to get himself there, no one deserved that. Especially not Dean's little brother.
Gently, Dean crouched, putting a steady hand on his brother's shoulder. "You're just messed up right now. But I can fix it, okay?"
Shaking, Sam's face twitched. "And what is that worth?"
Dean's mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, his hand lingering on Sam's shoulder. His brother's eyes were still on him, bloodshot and desperate and unrelenting.
"It's worth seeing you suffer like this," Dean said. "Because I know I can save you. It's not easy, but we can be brothers again. Like we used to be. You just have to leave this behind, trust me. When have I ever led you wrong?"
Sam kept his eyes on him, though it was a visible effort. He licked dry lips, and shook his head. "You were wrong about me," he said. "You used to believe I was worth it. You don't anymore. That's why you locked me in here. Because I'm evil. I can never be your brother after this. Because when you locked that door, Dean, you made your stand. Even if I survive this, part of me will never come out."
Sam closed his eyes, turning away, as new tremors wracked his body. A tear slipped from Sam's shut eyes and he shook his head again.
"I turned myself into a monster," he whispered. "There is no going back. The real Dean locked me in here. You're just a hallucination, just like the rest of them."
Dean had never thought of it like that. He had been so desperate to fix Sam, that it hadn't really occurred to him what Sam felt about it. Sam was sucking demon blood, skanking around with Ruby, lying to him: what else was Dean supposed to do?
But there was something wrong about this. Something so wrong. That Sam would question his validity not because of Dean's supposed cruelty, but rather, his compassion. Sam didn't doubt that he was a monster who deserved to be locked up.
And he didn't blame Dean for it. No, Sam just couldn't believe that the Dean, here and now, offering him gentle understanding and reassurance was real.
It was like being in the cabin with his father all those years ago, and the only tip off that things had gone horribly wrong being how proud John was...
"Sam," he said, hoping to find the words. "Come on, it's not--"
Sam's eyes snapped open, frantic and panicked, and then, without warning, his body went straight and rigid. The massive body fell hard to the floor, and it was hard for Dean to remind himself that this was only a manifestation, that this wasn't Sam.
The seizure took hold, fast and hard. Sam's entire body thrashed with it, thumping painfully into the sparse confines of the panic room. Sam's eyes were open, eyeballs rolled back, and blood seeped from Sam's mouth.
Manifestation or not, Dean couldn't sit by and let Sam suffer--at least, not anymore.
Going to his knees, he sought some way to make it stop--to make Sam stop. "Sam," he said. "Sammy, come on!"
But the thrashing continued, more violently now, and Sam made a low keening noise as he reeled like a fish out of water.
Like death throes.
If Sam died here, was it possible Sam was dying in the real world, too?
Dean had to swallow hard against that thought, as he sought out Sam again. "Sam! Sammy, come on!"
He remembered his line: at least he'll die human.
It was harder to face now.
Sam's body went taut, head strained back, limbs stiff as boards. He made a gurgling noise, before he began choking.
"No, no, no," Dean muttered, moving closer. He worked at Sam's mouth, trying to open it, but it was locked shut.
Sam was going a little blue, fresh blood smeared on his face.
"Sam, snap out of it!"
But Sam was dying, Dean realized. Sam was dying and Dean couldn't do anything about it.
The hardest truth was that Sam had been dying before and Dean hadn't been willing to do anything about it.
"Sam!" he yelled again, hoping to make him hear him, to make Sam listen, but it was too late...too little...and Dean found himself fading out.
Dean wasn't sure what he expected, but the thin clapboard walls were a bit of a surprise. The room was drafty, probably thanks to the gaps in the planks that made up the walls.
It was a cabin of sorts, and, even by Winchester standards, it was pretty pathetic. It even smelled funny--rank and musty and sort of like there was something dead buried beneath the floor somewhere.
So clearly, he was still in Sam's head.
Though, really, he had to hand it to Sam. These were pretty vivid memories. Right down to the mouse that scurried across the floor.
The vividness, while impressive, only accentuated just how bad of a place this was. Dean tried to think--what memory could this be? He'd been in the panic room, which was easy enough to identify, but this place? Didn't ring any bells. Sure, they'd squatted on piece of crap properties before and hunted in some that were pretty run down, but this? Sort of took the cake.
Moving around, Dean could see among the filth, that it was in fact being lived in. There were sheets on the bed, a ratted out pillow at its head. There was a dish and a cup on the table and Sam's duffel was heaped on dilapidated dresser.
More than being lived in, it was Sam who seemed to be doing the living, though it was pretty hard to tell. Aside from Sam's meager belongings, the place was a pit, with the bed unmade and the dishes dirty. Sam was fastidious on his worst days, and it was only when Dean was making fun of him or forcing him out the door that Sam let it slide.
But Sam had let it more than slide. Sam had let it literally fall apart.
Then there was a groan.
Surprised, Dean turned around. From the shadowed corner, Sam's looming body emerged, fumbling with one hand at his fly, a bottle of something that smelled foul from the other.
With a stagger, Sam gave Dean a look, moving past him and collapsing heavily on the bed. The kid looked like he was ready to pass out, which, given the heavy scent of alcohol that Dean could smell, seemed about right.
But this wasn't his little brother getting a little too carried away on karaoke night. This was his little brother's head, and Dean really didn't know if he had time to mess around in here. Not to mention the metaphysical headache he got when he contemplated Sam unconscious in his unconscious mind.
Besides, all this begged the question: "Dude, what the Hell are you doing?"
Sam's eyes slitted open and he managed something like a glare. "What the Hell are you doing?" he asked back.
"I'm trying to figure out what's going on in here."
"I'm trying to get drunk," Sam replied shortly. "And you're totally screwing it up."
Dean shook his head, moving toward Sam. He fisted his hands in his brother's shirt, hauling him to his feet. Sam stumbled and cursed, pulling away from Dean with the vehemence of a petulant child. "You're dead anyway," Sam whined. "Can't you leave me alone for five minutes?"
"Apparently not," Dean said. "Since you've gone off and got yourself drunk out of your mind."
Sam actually laughed at that, deep and head thrown back. "I thought about swallowing a bullet, but the alcohol seemed a little less destructive."
Dean didn't know whether to be pissed off or terrified. In the end, he was both. "So this is what you did? Instead of getting me out, you sat here and got drunk?"
Sam's humor diminished. "I tried everything," he said, leaning in close. "I offered them my damned soul and what did they say? They didn't want it. Probably because it's damned anyway. Why trade for me when they've already got me, right? That'd be just plain crappy business. And demons suck but they're not stupid. I'm stupid."
"For getting drunk?" Dean admonished. "Hell, yeah. What about the hunt? What if something comes after you?"
"Then it better have an acquired taste for Jack Daniels because I think my entire stomach might be full of it," Sam said, and he took a swig for good measure.
Annoyed, Dean could only glare. "I can't believe you're wasting it."
"I can't believe you wasted it," Sam shot back. "Everything Dad sacrificed to bring you back, and you throw your life away on me. The demons don't even want me and yet you just sold your soul all willy nilly."
"So I get a little hillbilly when I'm drunk," Sam slurred. "Bobby would be proud. Well, he'd be proud if he loved me. But he just misses you. I was in the way, I think. And I think it pissed him off when I drank his scotch."
"He was trying to look out for you, asshole," Dean said. "Which, you clearly need."
And then some. Sam was a mess. Like a two year old without adult supervision, Sam had made a mess of everything. Drunk and dirty, stupid and standoffish--it was embarrassing. It was hurtful. While Dean was being tortured in Hell, Sam was getting drunk.
Sam's nose scrunched up. "He was only thinking of you," Sam said. "He loved you like a son. He loved me like your brother."
"You don't know anything," Dean said.
"And you do?" Sam shot back, indignantly.
Dean didn't back down. He could feel sorry for the Sam in the panic room--but this was harder. This was drunkenness--sloppy and self pitying. He was in Sam's head trying to drag his brother the Hell out, and Sam was taking him on a rambling trip through a drunken escapade. He didn't have time for it.
And in light of Hell, it just looked damned pathetic.
"Yeah, I do," Dean said. "I know I sold my soul so you could do better than this." He shook his head. "Sam, you were the lucky one here. You didn't have to suffer like I did, and what? You try to make yourself miserable just for kicks?"
"You think I was the lucky one, Dean?" he asked, throwing his hands out. "You think I'm the lucky one? Every night I go to sleep, you're in Hell. Every morning I wake up, and you're in Hell. Every hunt I go on, you're in Hell. Every person I talk to, every meal I eat, every movie I watch, you're in Hell. And worse, it's all my fault. I don't deserve to live, I never have, and yet, here I am. So damn lucky that I don't even know what to do with myself."
For a second, Dean was taken aback. It was an outburst Dean hadn't expected. It was harsh and difficult, but Dean could see where it was flawed. "Well, it certainly wasn't me who was lucky," Dean snapped. "Four months alone? Try forty years in Hell."
"Yeah?" Sam asked, his eyebrows raised in defiance. "At least you got to choose. At least you got to die the good Winchester. At least you got to die before you saw me like this--"
Sam motioned to himself, the dirty clothes and the sunken cheeks, before shaking his head.
"At least you got to die a hero, rather than live a failure. What was it you said, Dean, before you died? Before I watched the hounds rip you to shreds? Remember what I taught you?" Sam paused, tilting his head, taking a slow step forward. His voice dropped, deep and gravelly. "Remember that a good son makes the sacrifice. That a Winchester sells his soul." Sam took another step, his mouth twisted in rage. "That what you do with someone's legacy doesn't mean a damn thing--it's just too little, too late. Remember that, Dean?" Sam closed the gap, wrapping his hands in his brother shirt and shaking, yelling in Dean's face. "Remember that?"
Sam let go, his hands dropping to his sides. The fire died in Sam's gaze and he sunk miserably to the dilapidated couch. Taking another swig, Sam just shook his head. "You're not here anyway," he said. "I hear you, I see you, I feel you, but you're never here. I bought an iPod just to get you out of my head, to keep myself from going crazy. I tried watching movies you like, I tried looking at your porn, but none of it makes any difference. What the Hell does it matter what I do? You're already dead--you're already gone--you're in Hell. I lost. I screwed up. And I can never get you back. Too little, too late. If there was anyone to give a damn, it could go on my freakin' tombstone."
Dean's brow furrowed and he swallowed hard. There was a lot there--between the rage and the self-loathing, Dean saw something he'd never wanted to see. He saw his brother falling apart. He had to admit, when he'd found Sam shacked up with a girl, when he'd found the iPod, learned about the movies--he'd been hurt. He'd gone to Hell for the kid, and Dean had figured the least Sam could do was miss him.
But he'd missed it. All the while he'd thought Sam was okay, his brother was dead inside. Sam couldn't grieve, because he'd given it all up. Suddenly, Sam's allegiance to Ruby made sense. Dean had known she'd saved Sam's life, but he'd never fathomed just how lost Sam had been. He'd been drowning and Ruby had thrown him a lifeline. Who was Dean to resent the fact he'd accepted?
He just hadn't known. He hadn't known about the loathing. He hadn't known about the fatalism. He hadn't known that Sam had rid himself of every good emotion so he could just function.
But then again, he'd never asked.
It was no mystery, suddenly, when Sam had changed. The fact that it ever had been was a little astounding, especially since it was a despair and desolation Dean recognized--one Dean had lived for those few interminable days after Cold Oak. It was the feeling that had driven Dean to the crossroads, no questions asked.
"But maybe I should ask you," Sam said, stepping forward a little. His eyes narrowed and he swallowed hard. "I should ask you, since you know everything. With all of this, with you dead and in Hell and me all alone, I just want to know one thing. Who am I?"
It was a question Dean had thought about, especially during all the lies. Most of the time, his idea of Sam had been colored with expletives and derogatory comments about following Ruby around. But there was more to it.
Sam hadn't forgotten him. Sam hadn't spited him. Sam had done exactly what Dean should have expected him to do, what Dean had told him to do. Even if Dean had never intended it, this was what Dean had taught him. This was what Dad had taught him.
He sighed. He licked his lips, looking at Sam steadily. He looked beyond the bloodshot eyes. He looked beyond the sallow cheeks. He looked beyond all of it, and saw the man Sam still was inside--the man Dean had to believe Sam still was.. "You're my legacy," he said.
Sam's countenance wavered. His lips curled into something like a pained smirk. "Yeah? And what is that worth?"
"It's worth fighting," Dean told him. "You're better than this. I know you are."
Sam laughed at that, and he shook his head. "I knew I shouldn't have asked you," he said. "You still believe that. That I'm better than this. That I was worth it. Someday you'll figure it out, Dean. Someday."
"Sam, come on," Dean said. "You can't--"
"I can!" Sam snapping, turning on Dean in a rage. He pushed Dean roughly, and Dean stumbled surprised. "I can, okay? Just leave me the Hell alone!"
Dean held his hands out in placation but Sam shoved him again, and Dean found himself tumbling backward. Instead of hitting the wall, though, he kept falling and falling and falling.
And then he was in a diner.
Eating something with sausage.
Dean couldn't help but grin. "Hey, pignapoke," he said.
Looking up, he found Sam staring at him. "You don't even like it that much."
Dean's smile faltered. "Dude, I haven't even taken a bite yet."
"Which is why you're still excited," Sam told him. "It's sausage and eggs. Side of toast. It's more than a bit of a let down."
Dean looked his plate and frowned. "Buzz kill," he muttered. Sighing, he looked up. "Where are we anyway?"
"Where does it look like?"
"Some crap-ass diner," Dean said. "Like the rest of them."
"Okay, so when is this?"
Sam laughed at that outright. "Oh, come on, this one shouldn't be hard," Sam said. "It's Tuesday. It's Tuesday and Tuesday and Tuesday."
"Erm, okay," Dean said. He chewed his lip, putting down his fork. "Trickster?"
"Trickster. Not that I've figured that out yet. Not that it matters if I do. See, that's the problem with demi-gods. They can control it all. I can't even kill him. So I can find him, day after day, I can threaten him, I can make demands, and he doesn't have to do a damn thing. I threaten, he starts us over. I threaten, he kills you. I threaten, he kills me. I threaten, I kill myself. I threaten, it's Wednesday, but it's not really Wednesday because you still die and I'm still here and Tuesday still comes once a week and I can't do a thing about it. It's like, want a lesson in futility? Here, have a Tuesday. Then, in case you didn't pick up on how powerless, worthless, and pathetic you really are, have another two hundred Tuesdays."
"Yeah, okay," Dean said slowly. "I know how much this really must suck and all, but we've got to talk about this."
"Talk about what?" Sam asked. He cocked his head, looking off into nothing. "Maybe we should talk about breakfast. Pignapoke? Short stack? Maybe the old guy and the car. Or the desk. Talking about the desk is fun. The human body, after all, can apparently get really, really flat."
Dean opened his mouth to try to avoid the diatribe from continuing, but he never got the chance.
"Oh!" he said, looking at Dean fully. His eyes were bright and wild. Sliding out of the booth, he stood, looking at Dean with exceitment "I know what we should talk about. How about how you're going to Hell? How you're gong to Hell and it's my fault and it's my fault that you died today and tomorrow and the day after that and forever? Just like it'll be my fault every day you're in Hell. Because I screwed up. I always screw up. And you'll die because I'm a screw up and you're following orders when I can't. Why don't we talk about that?"
"Sam," Dean said. "Just. Stop."
Sam looked at him, surprised and incredulous. "Stop? Stop what? Stop screwing up? Stop breathing? I've tried. I have. I can't. I can't do anything."
"No, just--this isn't really your fault."
"This? You mean Tuesday? Or Wednesday? Or Hell?"
That gave Dean pause. He wasn't sure what he was talking about. He just needed Sam to stop talking, because this wasn't getting them anywhere. He needed to get Sam out--not lost deeper in his brother's screwed up psyche. "All of it?" Dean ventured uncertainly, looking for anything to bring his brother from the manic pace of conversation.
Sam stared at him. "All of it? Really?"
Dean saw his opening and took it. "Yeah, I mean, this? Is the Trickster," he said. "Annoying son of a bitch, but you got to let it go. This is what he wants."
"So it's my fault," Sam said.
"That it's still going," Sam said. "If I could handle it better, then we wouldn't still be here. Just like if I had killed Jake in Cold Oak, I wouldn't have died and you wouldn't have made the deal. Or maybe it started back in Stanford. If I hadn't gotten Jess killed--no, it was when Dad was possessed--no, it was going to college. No! I got it! It was being born. If I could just figure that out--"
It was too much. Information overload in the extreme. "Sam, seriously, I will hit you," Dean interjected.
Sam stopped short. "Okay."
Dean stopped. "Okay?"
"Do it," Sam said.
"Hit me," Sam said. He sounded almost excited about. "I think that would work."
"Hitting you would work?"
Sam nodded, and he took to pacing. "Hitting me might make things better. We haven't tried that before. Maybe hitting me will, I don't know, set some kind of cosmic scale right."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Sam--"
But Sam was going, full tilt now. "I deserve to be hit, obviously. Actually, it might be best if you beat me up. You know, do some kind of damage. It might change the Tuesday. Impress the Trickster."
"I've never tried putting myself in the hospital before. I've always been focused on killing myself outright, not just incapacitating myself."
And that was about all Dean could take before he actually did put Sam in the hospital.
Metaphysically speaking, since the real Sam actually was in the hospital, which was, of course, the problem here.
Too bad this Sam was even crazier than the addict. And far less reasonable than the drunk.
"Just--shut up," Dean said, forcefully.
Sam bristled a little, his brow knitted together, but he fell silent.
Dean blew out a breath. "You just need to chill a little, okay?"
"Chill?" Sam asked. "How do you expect me to chill when you keep dying?"
"I'm here now, aren't I?"
"Because the Trickster brought you back! And the angels! I have no control over that! What happens when they decide not to?"
Dean winced a little. That wasn't a pleasant thought, but that wasn't the point. "We'll deal with that when he comes."
"But it does come," Sam said. "For me, it comes every day. Every day I have to wonder. Every day I have to know I'm a failure. Every day."
"Not every day," Dean reminded him. "We get out of this."
Sam shook his head. "I never get out of this. This is my destiny. To try and to fail. To try and to fail. Again and again and again and--"
Dean's eyes widened and he held up his hand. "Dude, I get it. And I get that this is hard--"
Sam's jaw dropped. "Hard? Hard was managing to get a 4.0 while moving schools every three months. Hard was working three jobs while trying to put myself through Stanford. Hard is trying to listen to your music. This? This isn't hard. This is the inevitable story of my life. All these questions, keep circling back. How do I save Dean? How do I be the good son? How do I do anything?"
"Dude, those are questions we all ask," Dean told him, leaning forward intently.
"But you have answers," Sam told him. "You have answers that matter. Mine just make more questions."
"No, they don't," Dean said. "It's not that simple. I mean, just ask me."
Sam threw his arms up. "But it is," he said. "Tuesday after Tuesday, the questions all come out the same. I fail. I lose. It's that simple."
"You've got to look beyond this loop, man."
"Beyond the loop? Beyond the loop?" Sam's voice rose dangerously. "My entire life is a loop. Try to be a good son, fail. Try to be normal, fail. Try to avenge girlfriend, fail. Try to save Dean, fail. Try, try, try, try, fail. And so I don't know what else to do. I can't figure it out. I can't do it, I can't, I can't, I can't."
"Then stop!" Dean said. "You don't have to figure it out."
"But I do," Sam told him. "How else do I make it stop?"
"Dude, you're asking me?"
"You told me to ask you."
"I did not."
"Are you sure?"
"Have you lived this day five hundred times?"
Dean's brow creased.
"You're supposed to tell me to ask again."
"Tell me to ask again."
Dean's mouth opened and closed. There was a sudden futility in this that Dean couldn't fight.
"Tell me," Sam said, insistently.
It took a moment for Dean to find his voice, but he forced it to work. "Ask again," Dean said.
Sam seemed to shudder at that, but he pulled himself straight, his chin raised, as if he were playing a part. "Who am I?"
Dean hesitated, looking at his brother. His eyes were a little wild and his entire body was wound tightly. He looked like he was ready to explode, turned around so many times, Dean sincerely doubted Sam knew which way was up at all. Sam was just going on--keeping on the same path because he didn't know what else to do. Maybe because he had nothing else to do.
"You're just a kid who's trying too hard," Dean said, as carefully as he could. "You're just one person. You can't change everything."
"Yeah?" Sam asked. "And what is that worth?"
"It's...it's not worth anything, kiddo," Dean said. "That's just how it is."
Sam nodded tightly. "See. It's Tuesday. Another futile Tuesday. It doesn't matter what I do, it all ends up the same."
Then Sam pulled out his pistol, pointing it to his head.
Dean gasped, hands going out. "Whoa, Sammy, what are you doing?"
"Don't worry," Sam said. "You said it yourself. It doesn't matter anyway. I'll wake up and it'll still be Tuesday, and it'll be another day I can't save you."
"Come on, Sam--"
Then his brother pulled the trigger, and the scene went white.