The Damndest Thing
Aka Rockpaperscissor's reaction to 5.18.
(Beware of spoilers and slight gore.)
He's felt this pain before, he thinks. The one where his insides roil squishily under his skin as if to squirm away from the foreign sense of wrong, where his throat chokes on the black-red sludge that fills his mouth with the taste of thousands of old pennies - a taste that doesn't leave even as it drips over his lips to the ground, even as he coughs and chokes and sputters.
Yes, yes, he's felt this before. Maybe not exactly like this – after all, internal bleeding usually occurs as a result of something other than an angel waving his hand – but the sensation is familiar enough that Sam already knows that no matter how he tries the taste won't go away, that if he attempted to talk nothing will come out but more blood he can't afford to lose.
Adam is in similar straits across the room. Sam can hear the groan ripping itself out of his younger brother's lips, see the bright green eyes glazed with the same unbearable pain that floods Sam, and Sam thinks to himself that it isn't right, Adam may be stubborn like a Winchester and talk tough like a Winchester and have a crappy neglected childhood like a Winchester, but he never ran laps around motel parking lots and never got stitches in his arm made with dental floss and never had a clue what he was getting himself into when he told Zachariah yes.
A wave of helpless rage slams into Sam when he realizes there's nothing he can do to make it even a little bit better - the kid's all the way across the room, and besides, what's Sam got to offer – a comforting bloody hand on the shoulder? A sympathetic cough as he also hemorrhages to death?
He spits up blood and looks away from Adam (because not giving up is one thing, but masochism is quite another) and he raises his eyes, forcing himself to listen, focus, determined to at least look death in the face, see the inevitable... see the inevitable, and all of a sudden it hits him that this, this is what Dean's always felt, this is what Dean always sees, this is why Dean doesn't believe in him anymore, this is why everything's happening.
This... this is how he broke his brother.
"We're leaving him here," Cas says, scowling darkly from where he looms by the door, hands drawn into fists at his sides and eyes narrowed in a violent kind of fury he's never before shown himself capable of. It's disconcerting to see on a guy who barely ever raises his voice, and Sam can't help the uneasy feeling that the angel is only a moment away from breaking his nose.
Except he knows that it's not really him Cas wants to hurt, and Sam swallows, remembering how beat up his brother was when Castiel brought him back, how his feet dragged limply across the floor as the angel carried him, how even while unconscious, Dean's bruised face showed utter defeat in the way Sam never saw before or since he killed Alastair.
Only this time, it wasn't a demon or memories from the Pit that put that expression on Dean's face – it was Castiel. Cas.
…And that's fucking scary.
Meanwhile Bobby's nodding, wrinkles deep in the frown, looking grim and sullen like he's wishing he could be anywhere but here... or maybe like he's having second thoughts about that bullet.
"Not like we got another option, is it," he replies flatly. His voice is rough when he adds, "Don't worry, I'll make sure he stays put this time."
Sam bites his lip and looks at them both, lump in his throat. One's angry, the other only tired, but both of them look as if the floor just crumbled under their feet, like their world's suddenly shattered and left them without even broken pieces to fix.
And he has to wonder just when it was that Dean – not Michael's vessel or Sam's brother or John's son, but Dean – had become so hopelessly important to people other than his little brother, just when it was that Bobby and Castiel began to not fight the good fight for its own sake but because they believed, believed in Dean. Just when… why, did a widowed hunter and an angel – not even part of the messed up family that was the Winchesters – come to rely on Dean so much that his surrender would affect them like… like this?
"No, no taking chances," Castiel growls, and Sam suppresses a shiver. "We tie him up."
Bobby sounds weary, resigned. "...Yeah, you're probably right." His eyes flicker to Sam, start as if they see something. "Sorry Sam, there's just no way around it. This is how it's gotta be."
But the thing is, even if he'll never know when it all happened, Sam does know why. He knows why, because his brother got past their defenses for the same reason Sam always took him for granted.
Because Dean was there.
He always fought, he always had a smirk and a bad joke, always gave that self-satisfied little chuckle like he'd pulled one over the world and got the best hand anyone could get. He always forgave, always took you back no matter what – might take a little time but he did, he always did – always protected with all he had, always cared and pretended not to but it didn't even matter because everyone already knew.
And Dean always followed when you needed him to, even if you dared to think you didn't, and he always meant what he said and always said the wrong thing until the one time you needed him to say the right one… and then there was nothing left to but to realize that Dean wasn't just someone to watch your back, but someone who'd never let you down.
...But mostly ... mostly it's just that Dean never left. No matter what.
And that's why.
That's why it hurts.
The angel's expression is as stormy as it was when he learned of Dean's first vanishing act, and yet something in his eyes almost softens now, as if he can also see whatever it is Bobby's seeing.
"It must be done," he says, looking like he wants to sigh. His arms loosen a little bit, fingers unclenching, and Sam knows that as angry as the angel is it's nothing compared to his heartbreak. "There is no other choice."
"I don't like this anymore than you do," Bobby tells Sam gently. "But you know what Dean's like when an idea gets into his head, he's not gonna give –" the man stops, mouth twisting ironically as he corrects himself, "…not gonna stop looking for an out."
He says nothing, ignoring Bobby's concerned glances, Castiel's piercing stare.
What can he say? They're right. There's nothing more to discuss, there is no other way.
There's stupid… and then there's stupid.
Eventually they leave him alone, start talking stratagems and recon, which don't really make for more upbeat conversation but, what can you do. Their faces are dark and brittle with pessimism, and a part of Sam wonders absently whether had the tables been turned, had Sam been the one on the run, if Bobby and Castiel would have looked like this for him too.
…It's a silly thought. After all, he's not Dean.
And it wouldn't have been the first time he let them down.
"How could I? All you've ever done is run away!"
'I know,' he thinks, averting his gaze from the discussion in front of him. 'I know,' and his hand climbs up to his neck, toys with the amulet under his shirt. 'Too little, too late. Just like always.'
…And then just like that, out of nowhere, Sam can suddenly hear Dean talking as clear as if he was standing right there, whispering in his ear.
You stupid, emo son of a bitch, Sam. Damn right they wouldn't have looked like this if you'd gone to Lucifer. You know why? Because they wouldn't have even been here to mope around in the first place, I would have had them too busy tearing the fucking country apart looking for you, you fucking retard, don't you get it?
'That's not what you said,' he thinks dully, conveniently ignoring the fact that he's talking to an imaginary voice in his head. 'You think I'll turn anyway, no matter what you do. You wouldn't have come.'
Screw what I said. When push shoves, you are still my little brother. And no matter what I think of you, Sammy, no matter what I tell you, I would never stand by and watch you turn yourself over. I just couldn't.
He sighs under his breath. It's all well and good to talk theory, to say wouldn't and couldn't and if, but the fact of the matter is that Dean's the one laying cuffed to the table downstairs, not Sam, and nothing can change that Dean will bolt the second he gets the chance.
Okay, so I'm a little confused. We know that already. But come on, I've always come through for you before, haven't I?
'Yes,' Sam thinks sadly. 'Always.'
…So, don't you think maybe it's about time you returned the favor?
He feels his eyes widen. His hand drops away from the amulet.
"No," he says abruptly, interrupting Castiel mid-spiel about the security of the Green Room. "No."
"No?" Cas repeats, looking puzzled.
Bobby wears a matching frown. "…No? No what?"
He meets their eyes steadily. "No," he says, "as in no, we're not leaving Dean here."
Bobby blinks, not understanding, shares a look with Castiel. "What, you got someplace else in mind?"
Sam shakes his head.
"No," he says again. "Dean is coming with us."
Dean raises his eyebrows, almost mocking, almost scorning with his complete and utter apathy.
"Isn't that a bad idea?" he points out.
"Cas and Bobby think so," Sam admits, fiercely squashing the little voice that agrees with them. "…I'm not so sure."
His brother frowns. Green eyes like his own pierce his, calculate.
"Well they're right," he says finally, soberly returning the honesty, except in this case it's superfluous since Sam would have been perfectly fine with a lie. "'Cause either it's a trap to get me there to make me say yes, or it's not a trap and I'm gonna say yes anyway… and I will, I'll do it. Fair warning."
A part of Sam has to marvel at this blatant frankness. The rest, meanwhile, feels like shriveling up and rocking itself in the corner.
He swallows it down, and keeps his gaze on his brother - sitting lightly on the bed, unashamed in his defeat... for once entirely open, for once not hiding anything.
And suddenly, it's easy.
"No you won't," Sam says simply, believing. "When push shoves, you make the right call."
His hand scrabbles for purchase on the floor as he tries to keep himself sitting upright, but it slips, pool of blood proving too slick for a weak grip and lack of coordination, and he falls to his side, wraps his arms around his stomach as if to keep everything in.
He gasps in air, holds in a breathless whimper, because he tried, believed, bet everything he had on Dean and it's all come to nothing and Zachariah's fucking Enochian is fucking ringing in his ears. Bleeding to death hurts, yeah, but it doesn't mean anything when the giant hole that was carved out of him when Dean went to hell just got re-excavated. It's just the painful icing on the cake.
A steady stream of no no please not again runs through his mind, and his brother's name wrenches out of somewhere deep inside him, deep inside Sam. It goes nowhere, though, barely makes it to Sam's ears, and so instead he stares at Dean, stares at him hard, tries to scream through his eyes look at me damn you, because he hasn't lost Dean quite yet and Dean hasn't met his gaze for more than a second since Zachariah threw Sam against the wall and maybe, maybe if Sam could just look Dean in the eyes he could somehow change Dean's mind, change that yes to a fuck no.
And then, as if someone – not God, maybe, but someone – hears Sam's plea, Dean does look at him, looks at him right in the eye.
And Sam gazes at the hopelessness he sees, the frantic desperation, and he knows it's lost. There's nothing he can do. Dean's going to pull the same trade he made at the crossroads after Cold Oak, give himself away for Sam and Adam's sake, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop him now. It's over.
…He's going to lose Dean.
Sam chokes on the disappointment, vision blurring as his throat is suddenly blocked with something that isn't really blood, isn't really even there. He still tries to spit it out on the floor, but it doesn't come out, it doesn't come out and his stomach hurts and water's dripping down his nose and blood down his chin and all he wants, all he wants is just his brother –
…Who's suddenly tilting his head, eyebrows wrinkling as if he's suddenly thought of something.
It's so out of place that Sam can only watch uncomprehendingly as a parade of expressions play themselves out on his brother's face in a matter of seconds, as his back straightens and his eyes focus on Sam's, purposeful and lucid.
He frowns, not following, and searches Dean's face in a last attempt to read his brother, wondering if Dean's trying to tell him something, maybe an apology or a final take care… except, no, bizarrely enough it almost looks as though his brother's about to smile.
Sam squeezes his eyes shut for a moment in despair, because, really, trust Dean to be fucking Dean and not even give Sam that much, trust Dean to be fucking Dean and completely not get the gravity of the –
Wait… wait, did Dean just – did Dean just wink?
Sam gapes as Dean squares his shoulders and declares his 'conditions', but still it's not until Zachariah start shouting that it really sinks in.
It worked. It - it really worked.
When they're in the car later, he can't help but ask about it, doesn't even care if it's too early or out of bounds or taboo - he just has to know.
"So," he starts casually.
Dean glances at him, the old poker face back in full action. Like he doesn't know what's coming, Sam thinks dryly, and suddenly he's just overwhelmed with the fact that he's sitting here with Dean when he'd been so sure he never would again. "So what?"
He shakes it off, promises himself to revel in his brother's presence later. "I saw your eyes," he says, going for light. "You were totally rocking the 'yes' back there."
The changes in Dean's face are minute, barely a flinch or a sigh. Sam knows his brother though, can tell the 'oh kill me now' and 'just what is it with you and talking' face from a mile away.
But Sam's earned it. For once, no one can tell him otherwise.
"So," he repeats softly, insistently, "what changed your mind?"
There's a little pause. Sam watches the light from the streetlights glide past Dean's face, getting lost in the play of shadows, and when Dean finally speaks again he almost jumps.
"Honestly?" his brother muses.
Sam almost glares at the sheer idiocy of the question, thinks yes, yes of course, what do you think just tell me already -
Dean shakes his head, a tiny little smile making a quick appearance. "The damndest thing," he says at the windshield, sounding incredulous like he still can't believe it happened at all. "I mean," he continues, "the world's ending, the walls are coming down on us. I look over to you, and all I can think about is… you stupid son of a bitch brought me here."
Sam doesn't grin – after everything that's just happened, it just wouldn't feel right until Adam and Cas are there to share it – but his lips quirk into the closest thing to a smile he's felt in a long time, and this time the lump in his throat is because everything is finally back to the way it should be, because for the first time since hell, Dean's really, finally back.
Later, after Bobby greets them both with a gape and a hug and a smack to the head (well that was just Dean, to be accurate), after he lets them in for a change of clothes and coffee, after he stops staring incredulously at Dean like he can't quite believe he's there, can't quite believe he got a heartfelt apology from Dean Winchester, Bobby takes Sam aside to the kitchen on the pretense of getting Sam to set the table.
"What is it?" Sam asks distantly as they stand in front of the old oven, craning his head so he can watch Dean settle on the sofa and flip open a book on incantations.
He blinks, attention caught. "...What?"
"When Dean was downstairs," Bobby elaborates. "You were practically a zombie, barely said anything… but I saw your face, Sam, you were going to leave him behind. What changed your mind?"
It's a fair question.
He turns away as he thinks, looks again at Dean.
Sam's hand strays to the amulet under his shirt. He grasps it. The metal's warm against his palm.
"…Honestly?" Sam says softly, and smiles to himself. "The damndest thing."
A/N: So this fic just wouldn't leave me alone after watching 5.18 - which was a great, great episode by the way (even though a teeny little part of me wanted to see Michael!Dean, I confess). I felt for Dean, I felt for Sam, I felt for Bobby... and I loved the scene with Cas, even though he kinda went really overboard with the whole beating-Dean-up thing. Best thing though is that in this episode I not only liked Sam but finally felt like I can legitimately love him again, and since it's been a while since I wrote him I wanted to celebrate by getting into his head a little.
(As an aside: I have my doubts as to 'damndest' being an actual word, but hell, Dean used it, I'm using it.)
I'll be honest here, I haven't exactly sat down and edited this so it feels pretty rough to me. Still, I hope you enjoyed. If you liked, please review!