It had been a month. One month since he'd walked away from Dean in Colorado to take responsibility for his recovery. And he'd been using that time to try to understand how he'd ended up addicted, untrustworthy, and alone. Why had he polluted his mind and his body with demon blood? Even after it was clear it would cost him his brother, his humanity, why had he still made the choice to give in to the dark power the blood gave him?
He'd wondered if, maybe, the demon blood he'd been fed as a child had fueled some of it. If having that shit thrumming under his skin his whole life had somehow caused him to have an elevated desire for supernatural power?
Or, maybe it hadn't been the demon blood at all. Maybe the simple facts of his life had caused him to crave some goddamn power over his circumstances. His mom had been murdered in front of him. His father had done the best he could, but he'd dragged two traumatized little boys all over the country to fight evil, when he maybe should have tried to create some freaking stability for them. He'd realized that, really, he'd been scared, bone deep, no escape scared, for most of his life. Even when they won the day and evil was vanquished, there'd always been a price to pay – always injured, always moving, always learning about some new horror that lived in the world. It had been crazy and harrowing. And then, one day, it had all become normal. Somewhere in there, Sam had stopped expecting life to be any different. So, yeah, complicated.
But, really, none of that mattered. What mattered was why the hell he'd ever thought drinking demon blood was, in any world, okay? Everything he was, everything his family was about, everything he had ever learned, had told him to never trust a demon. What justification or line of messed up reasoning had let him dismiss all that?
He'd thought about it a lot. And, the only thing he'd come up with, the only thing that made him understand that inexcusable act at all, was to put himself back to that day and really analyze where his head at been at. He'd been overwhelmed with failure and powerlessness. In a lifetime of failure and powerlessness, he'd hit the absolute limit.
He hadn't saved Dean.
Dean, his brother, his best friend, his family, had been torn open and ripped to shreds three feet in front of him. While he stood by, again, pinned in place. Sam Winchester, perfectly safe, again, as someone he loved died a horrible, unjustifiable death.
It had broken him.
And, everything he had managed to hold at bay, for years, had come crashing down on him. All the people he hadn't saved, people who had died bloody because of him. The list was surprisingly long. Names and faces from years and years of hunting. So, he'd thought there must be a reason why he wasn't dead, why he'd been left behind by everyone he'd loved. And, he'd thought, maybe, there was a purpose to the darkness in him. What if he embraced what he'd always been afraid of, and finally used it to destroy those who had visited so much pain and loss upon him?
And, he hadn't cared anymore about walking any lines, keeping himself from the 'dark side.' He hadn't cared about anything, really. Not himself, certainly. Not Bobby, not what his dad or Dean would think about what he was about to do. He'd been on one track. Kill Lillith, and any other demons he could find. At least he could do that. And there was Ruby, telling him it was okay, he could get strong, he could destroy the most powerful demons, and, oh, by the way, here's how…just open up and drink.
He remembered her slicing her arm, letting a few drops plink into a shot glass. She'd stroked his hair, smiled. "Don't think about what you're drinking. Think about the power it's going to give you." God, it was like a cheesy movie. And, yeah, he could tell himself he'd been drunk. He could say he'd been depressed and hopeless. But, when she'd put that glass in his hand, he'd known. He'd known this was all kinds of fucked up. He knew he should've thrown the glass against the wall, cut her down, gone to find Bobby and look for something else, some other way to get his revenge. But, in that moment, he'd decided, finally, that he wanted it. He wanted to feel strong, feel untouchable, feel that he could finally stop being tossed around by all the evil that surrounded him.
So, he'd put the glass to his lips and swallowed it down.
And, he'd felt it. The surge of power was almost immediate. His woozy head cleared, his shaking hands steadied. Even the headache that he'd had since, well, for forever, had receded. And he'd turned to Ruby and smiled. Her eyes had seemed warm when they'd smiled back. And Sam had felt what had been missing for over a year.
He'd suddenly felt that, with this, with the demon blood, he had a chance. He had a chance to go forward, to avenge Dean, and to finally stop being the demon's bitch boy. It had felt freakin' great.
Dean wondered why Sam hadn't stopped once he'd come back from the dead. And, for a few weeks, Sam had stopped. He'd known what Dean's reaction would be if he ever found out. But, the more time he'd spent with Dean, the more he'd seen how damn broken Dean was, because of him, and the powerlessness had come back. This time, Sam had known what to do about it. And, like clockwork, Ruby had shown up with her smile and her 'it's okay, Sam.'
He'd told Dean he'd done it to kill Lillith. And that was true. That was what had spurred him to take the first sip. But, really, he'd done it because it had felt so great to finally slam demons into walls, to make them fall down, writhing in pain. The power had been irresistible. Even after Lucifer rose, knowing what it had cost, the lure of that power was so strong, it was all he could do to not go out, find some demon and slice a vein open.
So, he'd had to find a way to shut that shit down. Because, Sam had a sneaking suspicion that it was going to be a permanent part of his life. The need to have power. War had been right, back there in Colorado. Sam still wanted it. The question was, could he acknowledge that he wanted it, and still resist it? Could he clear his head from the pounding track of 'now, now, now.' And 'just say no?'
Exercise helped. He ran ten miles every morning. He did pull ups and pushups and sit ups until his muscles were spent. He kept to a kind of schedule. Morning, run; mid-day, research and libraries; and evening, exercise in the room. When the itching under his skin persisted, he took off on the motorcycle he'd 'liberated' from a used car lot in Nevada.
When he'd felt steady enough, he'd addressed the next big question: could he be around demons, have free access to their blood, and still resist?
So, he went demon hunting.
Finding them wasn't hard. Couple weeks back, he'd found three of them about to break in on a family of five as they'd sat down to dinner. He'd dispatched them, watched their blood run down that suburban driveway, and he'd spun on his heel, hopped on his bike and taken off. It had been okay, not as hard as he'd thought, to just turn and run. They were murdering demons, Sam. They would have killed that whole family. And it had helped, to remind himself whose blood he'd been drinking. These aren't frickin' unicorns, Sam. They're demons.
And now, when he went after them, when he killed or exorcised them, and he saw the blood, smelled the blood, instead of 'now, now, now' he made himself think, 'demon, demon, demon.' These fuckers had killed his mother, his father, his lover and his brother. They'd even killed him. So, yeah, keeping a mantra going seemed to push the craving back.
The next question was, should he just keep doing what he was doing, or should he try to hook back up with Dean? He didn't think Dean wanted that, not anymore. Dean had told him once that they were each other's weakness. Sam hadn't wanted to believe that. Not then. But now, he thought, maybe Dean was right.
He thought maybe he'd counted on Dean too much. Because, when Dean was there, Sam hadn't really worried, not about himself, or his actions or his future. Dean would let him know if he went too far. Dean would stop him if he went too far. And, then, Dean was gone. And, Sam's sense of what was too far, what was right and what was wrong, was skewed. He'd counted too much on Dean to be his moral compass. Once he thought he might really be evil, and Dean had told him not to worry, Dean would keep an eye on him. Problem was, with Dean gone, Sam had failed to keep an eye on himself.
So, here he was in another diner, on the side of another highway, staring at his phone, and wondering if he should call Dean. What would he say? "Hey, man, want to be partners again?" But he knew. If Dean wanted to be partners, he would have called and told him so.
And Sam was so reluctant to act, to do the wrong thing and push Dean even further away, that he did nothing. Well, staying off the demon blood wasn't nothing, exactly. It was more like, going back to the starting line. It was where he should have been all along, so no one was going to be congratulating him for getting there, were they?
Sam left the phone on the table and signaled the waitress. One more cup of coffee before facing the empty motel room. Maybe he'd check out the Vatican archive site that he'd hacked into for a couple hours, and get some sleep.
The waitress was a motherly type, about 50, comfortably plump, and she'd brought him extra meatloaf and rolls, telling him he looked too pale and thin for someone so tall. She came toward him with the coffee pot. "You about done, hon?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Thanks. Just the check when you get a chance."
She poured his coffee, then paused. "You got someplace to stay tonight, sweetie?"
Sam looked up, "Um, yeah, I do, thanks."
She shifted on her feet. "It's just, you look all alone in the world. I just want to make sure you're all right."
Sam looked into her eyes, he could feel her concern. And, for a moment, it felt so good not to be invisible, not to be dismissible that he smiled at her. He put his hand on her arm. "I'm okay. Actually, I'm not alone in the world. I'm just trying to find my place, you know?"
She returned his smile, and with it, her face became downright pretty. Her blue eyes looked warm and kind. "Your place is with those who love you, don't you know that by now?"
Sam nodded, dropped his arm. "Yeah."
She patted his shoulder and went off to get his check.
Sam's phone rang. There was no caller i.d. "Hello?"
The voice was low, and it growled, "Where are you?"
Sam's heart clenched. Castiel. "I'm in California. Is Dean all right?"
"Where, specifically, are you?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "I'm in Nick's Diner, on Route 5, just outside Ojai…" The phone went dead in his hand. Sam looked up when he heard the door to the diner open. Castiel came through it, looking rumpled and cranky as usual. Sam raised a hand, and Castiel came over and sat across from him. "What's up---"
Castiel leveled his intense gaze on Sam. "You need to come with me, right now."
Sam pulled his wallet from his pocket, threw some money on the table. "Let's go, then."
Outside, Castiel explained that Dean was trapped by some demons in a warehouse in San Francisco. They had warded the doors against angel entry. "Not a good sign for your brother, if the demons have figured out who is helping him."
Sam was about to ask for directions, when he felt a weightless nausea, blinked and found himself standing on a dock with the lights of Alcatraz winking across the water. Castiel pointed to the warehouse. He looked pale and sickly. Sam put his hand on the angel's arm, "Hey, you okay?"
Castiel shook his head once. "Even from this distance, the wards are draining."
Sam nodded. "Okay, I got this. You get somewhere safe."
Castiel gave him a long look, tilted his head, Sam thought he saw satisfaction behind that inscrutably still face. And then, he was gone and Sam's bangs were blowing in his eyes. He shrugged, getting used to that weird 'winking out of existence' the angels did. He kept to the shadows as he approached the warehouse. He climbed the fire escape, found an open window. He stepped lightly onto the elevated platform inside, and walked silently over to the railing. He took in the scene below with a quiet gasp. He would need to do few things before he went down.
Dean sighed, trying to calm his breathing, and not succeeding. The talkative one, the others called him Raymond, was the only one Dean could see. The others kept to the shadows behind him. Raymond was a man – a demon - of action. He'd been the one to tackle Dean, slap the handcuffs on him, and squeeze them as tight as they would go. He'd run the chain from the hook in the ceiling through the handcuffs and pulled Dean's arms up behind him. His bad shoulder had popped out of joint, and the whole group had had a good chuckle. Still, he was dealing.
And then, Raymond had put an iron bar in the flames of the furnace that stood against the wall. Dean felt panic rise, but tried for stoic, knowing his panting and sweating would not make the situation any better. Finally, Raymond walked over and pulled the red-hot iron rod out of the fire. He turned toward Dean and smiled. "I think we're about ready to get the show on the road." The demon nodded to someone standing to Dean's left. He couldn't see who came toward him, just felt the pull on his dislocated shoulder as he grabbed Dean's shirt and ripped. He tore it right down the middle, then let go. The sleeves slid down and caught on his handcuffed wrists. Raymond stepped closer, waved the brand right under Dean's nose. Dean tried not to flinch back, but, hell, who was he kidding? This was going to hurt, a lot.
Ray's gaze zeroed in on Dean's anti-possession tattoo, and Dean's heart rate tripled. Oh, shit. No, no, no. "Now, you are going to find out what it's like to be possessed by a being more powerful than you can imagine." He pushed the brand up under Dean's nose. "I will keep you aware, and you will be able to see yourself do things. Things that won't make you very happy." He leaned in, about two inches from Dean's face, smiled. "But, they'll make me extremely happy."
Dean wanted to smile. He wanted to say something very Count of Monte Cristo: 'Do your worst,' or some shit, but, really, he was just holding it together by a thread. He was not screaming, so that was a victory. Because, the thought of being possessed, of losing all control, it was about the worst thing he could imagine. "I won't let you in."
Raymond smiled. "Oh, that's cute, really." His smile disappeared and his demon eyes bored into Dean. "You have no choice. I will take you and we will have such fun. You will rape little girls. You will murder sweet old ladies, you will ---"
The brand was grabbed out of his hand and jammed into his eye. Sam pushed him away and looked at Dean. "Or not."
Dean felt a surge of what was dangerously close to joy. He smirked, tried to breathe through the relief of his reprieve. "'Not' works."
Sam bent down, picked up a hose he'd dragged down with him when he'd jumped from above and dropped next to Dean. He pressed the handle, aiming water in a wide swath around them. The demons hissed and boiled. Sam kept at it while he moved behind Dean. The demons fell back. He reached behind his back and pulled bolt cutters from where he'd tucked them into the waist of his jeans. He dropped the hose, snapped the chain, and before Dean could even feel the burn in his bad shoulder, snapped the cuffs, as well. Sam picked the hose back up, let loose another spray of holy water, turned to Dean, "Run or fight?"
Dean looked around at the demons that were writhing and hissing. Raymond was on the ground, having trouble removing the iron brand. He looked toward the door. "Run!"
And they took off.
Sam had pulled him along the wharf until they'd found a pick-up truck. Dean had almost thrown up at the jarring the running caused his shoulder, but Sam had kept a hold of his belt loops and kept him on his feet. After busting the window and hot-wiring the engine, Sam drove them to the first motel he found. He'd made short work of popping Dean's shoulder back into place. Dean fell over on the bed after it crunched back into place. Sam had put a hand on his neck, "Sorry, man. But, it's done. I've got to go and---"
Dean thought, Don't leave.´
And Sam turned back to him, crouched down so he was level with Dean's gaze. "I'm not leaving. I'm just going to the pharmacy to get some ace bandages and Advil."
Dean closed his eyes, not even embarrassed that he had spoken aloud. "Kay."
Sam ran his hand over Dean's sweaty head, and then stood up. He pulled the bedspread off the other bed, and threw it over Dean. "Twenty minutes."
Dean sighed. "Ok."
He must have slept, because when he opened his eyes, daylight was visible around the pulled shades at the windows. His arm was wrapped up against his chest, immovable. His shoulder ached, but felt better. He turned his head toward the other bed, and there Sam sat, talking quietly on the phone. "Yeah, I will. He's okay, just sleeping. Call back in a few hours and he can tell you where he is if he wants you to know." Must be Castiel. Dean sighed, closed his eyes. Heard Sam shift on the bed. Then, a soft, "Hey."
Dean didn't open his eyes. "Hey."
"Feel like some water and a couple Advil?"
Dean opened his eyes. "Do I have to move?"
Sam huffed out a soft laugh. "Well, maybe your head."
Dean glanced over at him. "Yeah, okay."
Sam got up, came back with some pills in his hand and a bottle of water. He put the pills in Dean's good hand, and then put his hand behind Dean's head and lifted up. Dean popped the pills and drank most of the water. Sam laid his head gently back onto the pillow. "You doing okay, Dean?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine." He looked back over at Sam. "Nice trick with the hose and the holy water."
Sam smiled. "Rosary in the nozzle."
Dean smiled back. "Good work, Sammy. You saved the day."
Sam sighs. "Bet you'd never thought you'd say that again."
Sam held up his hands. "Yeah, I know. Sorry. You hungry? I thought I'd pick up some lunch, and go get your car before I take off. You remember where it is?"
Dean looked at him, taking in the details for a long moment. "You doing okay?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm all right. You? I mean, aside from the whole 'strung up by demons' thing?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, except for that." Sam just waited. "I'm fine, Sam. Same old, you know?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah." They just looked at each other another minute. Finally, Sam smiled. "So, the car? Where is it?"
"Don't worry about it, I can get it."
Sam looked perturbed at that. "Dean, at least trust me enough to get the damn car, will you? Jesus, it's not like I'm going to ---" He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath. Looked down at the carpet, back up to Dean. "Sorry. Just, rest while I go for the car, and then I'll take off. Please, let me just do that for you, okay?"
Dean watched him, had a moment of Damn, I miss you, Sammy. Pushed it down. It wasn't safe, not for him, not for Sam, to have him hunting alongside again. It just wasn't. Right? And Dean wondered how long that was going to be true, and just who the hell was going to tell him when it was safe for them to hunt together again. "Sam, I just ---"
Sam stood up. "Dean, let's not go there, all right? Just, tell me where to pick up the car, let me bring you some food, and then I'll go."
Dean couldn't let himself feel everything that looking at Sam did to him. Love, friendship, belonging, fear, disappointment, sadness, anger. It was too much. Still. Better to stay apart. Safer. Smarter. Better to shut it all down than try to sift through it. There just wasn't time with what they were up against.
But, Sam looked good. He'd lost that sad, haunted look he'd worn for so long. He wanted to ask if he was eating okay, how were the nightmares, was he hunting, did he have cravings? But, he wasn't sure he could handle the answers. Not right now. Well, when, Dean? It's not like they had decades ahead of them. It was the apocalypse, for chrissakes. They may not have years to work this shit out. But, still, Dean locked it away. Too much.
Sam had put on his jacket, gone to the door. He opened it, looked expectantly at Dean. Dean sighed. "Pier 21, somewhere south of the warehouse where you found me. Damn demons set up a pretty good trap, put me in a truck. Smelled like ass." He kept his sore arm still, rolled on to one hip to reach in his jeans' pocket. He snagged the keys, tossed them to Sam. "Thanks, man. And, Sam, thanks again for the save back there. I was really ---"
Sam nodded. "You don't have to thank me, Dean. I'll be back with the car and some food. Try to sleep, okay?"
Before he could shut the door, Dean called out, "Sam!"
Sam turned, "Yeah?"
I wish I'd done things differently. I wish the angels and demons would give us a break so we could catch our breath for five damn minutes to sort this shit out. I feel so damn lost out there. I wish you didn't have to be alone in this. Dean cleared his throat. "Don't forget the pie."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Sleep, Dean." And the door shut behind him.