For author's note and disclaimer, see chapter one.
Sam was lying on something soft – a bed, it was a bed. He couldn't move because someone or something was hammering his head and he wished it would stop so he could sleep. He fell into the dark again and it was a relief.
Time stretched; it was governed by the rhythm of the pain pulsations, regular like a heartbeat except that it was in his head and it hurt. It looked that it was dark, mostly, but Sam still didn't dare open his eyes because the occasional flickers of light felt like something was trying to pierce through his skull to reach his brain. He feared that his head would fall off from it but couldn't make his hands move to hold it.
There was a voice, sometimes. He was pretty sure it was his brother's because it was low and soothing, but he couldn't make out the words because it was too hard to focus enough to go through the haze of pain. He sometimes tried to answer, tell Dean he could hear him and that he was okay, but words didn't come out and he could only moan.
There was something warm pressed against his cheek at one point, then something hard and cold against his lips.
He was happy to realize that he could hear words that made sense, and somehow understood that the cold thing was a glass that he needed to open his mouth to drink. The cool liquid felt good, and Sam moaned again, in pleasure this time. Then he tried to roll over on his side and the movement sent a new wave of pain inside his skull. He cried out.
"Hey, Sam, don't move, dude."
He felt his brother's hands pressing down on his shoulders, keeping him from moving.
"I know. Just relax."
He couldn't, he wanted to scream. Couldn't relax because it hurt so goddamn much and each time it seemed to feel better the pain came back with a vengeance, like relentless waves crashing against the shore. But he stopped moving, focused on the feeling of Dean's hands, two warm points anchoring his body. After a while – hours, months, years – he felt the pain subside, and sleep overcame him.
When he opened his eyes, the room was dark, but Sam was surprised to see that he was still in the Huckleberry Inn room. He closed his eyes again for a second to get a feel for the pain in his head. It ached, but didn't hurt. He cautiously tried to move, pushing himself up with his hands, careful not to jolt his head too much in the process.
"Dean?" he called once he was sitting in the bed.
In seconds, his brother was at his side.
"How do you feel?"
"Okay," Sam said. "I think. Doesn't hurt as much."
"What happened?" Sam asked after a silence.
"Oh, uh, well… You did something to those shadows, chased them or destroyed them…"
"Destroyed," Sam said. He was sure of it.
"Okay, if you say so." There was no identifiable emotion in Dean's voice. "So you did your thing, and you keeled over. I disarmed Hardison and went to you, carried you to the room."
"Yeah. And let me tell you, I won't do that again anytime soon. Think I fucked up my back a little with your heavy ass. Anyway, I stayed with you the whole time."
"Ten hours. Paul came a couple of times. Said Hardison ran away. With all the snow outside, I don't know how far he intends to go, but well. Paul called the police, both for Hardison, and the others."
"They haven't tried to run away?"
"They're mostly arguing, Paul said. About whose fault this whole mess is and what they should do now. And with the snow… Last I heard, they were still all here. But by the time the roads are cleared enough for the police to come, I don't know."
"Yeah. Well, it's not our job to run after them."
"No, it's not."
There was another silence that stretched for a while, broken only by the soft sound of their breathing.
"Are you going to give me a hard time for using my… abilities?" Sam finally said.
"You saved us." Sam made out the movement of Dean shrugging. "Can't argue with the result. At least you weren't in a coma like after you killed Lucifer. I count it as a win."
He didn't add anything. He probably wasn't going to, like he hadn't after Sam had used his powers on Lucifer. Sam didn't know if it was resignation, acceptance, or that he was just happy Sam was alive and thought he couldn't ask for more.
"How are you?" Sam asked. "I mean, did you have any more flashbacks?"
He felt Dean hesitate before answering.
"Nothing I couldn't handle. Don't worry."
It made Sam worry all the more, of course. Feel guilty that he hadn't been there to help Dean go through it. He was a failure of a brother and this was always a hard fact to face. He couldn't save Dean from going to Hell, couldn't get him out of Hell – and then the thing with Ruby, God, what a mess he'd made. And during the war, he couldn't protect his brother from being possessed by Haborym.
Of course, it had been Dean's idea. Find a higher demon, get possessed but in a way that still allowed him some control, and he had gone undercover among the demons. It was how they'd found the knowledge for the demon binding ritual and the common exorcism, how they'd known most of the demons and Lucifer's moves. It was how they'd won. But it had messed up his brother so much. After the war, Sam had been in too bad of a shape from his fight with Lucifer to realize that something was really wrong with Dean – until that day when he'd come back to their motel room to find him unconscious. He hadn't been able to wake him and had to call 911. Suicide attempt, the doctors had said and Sam's world had crashed around him.
"Sammy? You in there?"
"You're thinking again, bro. I told you it was bad for you."
"You mean it's bad for you."
"Ha fucking ha. You're a riot. Seriously, what's on your mind?"
"You mean, apart from the total mess this job was?"
"Well, we – I mean you – killed the bad guys, we found out about the horrible crime that had been committed here and now they'll have the police on their asses… For our first job in years, I don't think it was so bad."
"We should never have come here. The shadows, they…"
"Messed me up? Sam, I'm already plenty messed up."
"Don't say that, don't…"
"Sam." Dean sighed. "Should we talk about it? Caroline keeps telling me we should talk about it."
"About… you know." Sam knew, but he wanted to hear Dean say it. "Argh, you're a pain in the ass. About when I tried to kill myself. There, happy?"
The truth was, Sam felt nauseous and it had little to do with his lingering headache. He let Dean continue, though, out of some masochistic need to know what his brother had to say about this.
"Is there something you want to tell me about that?" Dean said.
"I don't really…"
"Anything at all. One time offer, man."
Sam really didn't want to talk about it, so he was surprised to hear himself say, "After… after that day, you told me that you hadn't really tried to kill yourself, that you were really tired and confused and you had just taken too many meds."
"For a while I believed you, you know? Before I realized that I was supposed to be gone for hours and that you couldn't have known I would get a headache and come back earlier… No one would have found you in time. You would have died. But I believed you because I thought – with all the weapons we have, why would he go for the meds?"
"That your question?" Dean sounded incredulous. "You wanna know why I didn't blow my brains out?"
"I… didn't want you to find me like that. Didn't want you to, you know, scrub my brain from the carpet."
Laughter escaped Sam, hitched and sounding more like sobs.
"That… That's so thoughtful of you, Dean." He could hear himself and he sounded mean, but he couldn't stop. "That's exactly what I thought when I found you – thank God he didn't made a mess!"
"Sam… You sure that's what you really want to ask me?"
He felt it grow inside of him, that familiar anger, and it scared him because he didn't know how to control it. He had never let himself acknowledge it because come on, what kind of asshole would be mad at a brother who suffered so much he wanted to die? But he'd been mad, because that was his default reaction to everything – he was mad.
"How… how, how could you?" Maybe it was the darkness, the fact that he couldn't see Dean's face very well, but the words were just pouring out of him. "How could you do that? It was okay, for the first time in… There was no impending doom or anything and you… Why? Why wasn't I enough?"
"Oh, Sam, Sammy…" Sam heard Dean breathe deeply in and exhale slowly. "Don't you get it? You were enough, you are. I mean, I'm still here, right?"
"But I didn't keep you from…"
"Yeah, well. I can't really explained to you how it was for me at the time, not that you're too dumb to get it but I just… I don't know how – I don't have the words. You know me, I'm not good with words. Everything was just so fucked up and I didn't understand what was happening to me. Now I have words I can use, PTSD and flashbacks and dissociation, but at the time, I just thought I was going crazy. I saw things, I heard things, and I was afraid all the time and sometimes it felt like it wasn't really me in my body and… And it didn't make sense because I'd been forty years in Hell and I'd come back more or less fine – well, there were the nightmares and they sucked but I thought I had gotten over it, you know? And then there was the day I hit you."
Sam remembered that day – Dean was so enraged and it had frightened Sam because he didn't understand the reason behind it. He had hit Sam more violently than he'd ever done before, which had caused a monster headache that made Sam wince just remembering. Still, it hadn't been that big a deal for Sam, especially compared to what had happened after.
"Come on, Dean, it wasn't that bad," he said.
"That wasn't what I thought," Dean said. "I thought I was crazy and that I was a danger to you. I couldn't bear that thought. I just couldn't."
"Is that why…"
"Not just that but… It's not like I sat at my desk and made a list with the pros and cons of living. I was overwhelmed. Honestly, I still am, sometimes. But, Sam – each day I keep living is because of you."
Sam felt something unlock in his chest, like something was breaking or maybe falling back into place and before he had the time to understand what was going on, he found himself bursting into tears.
"What the… Sam!" He felt his brother's hand on his shoulder and it made him sob harder. He tried to get it under control because it was ridiculous and he hadn't cried in ages, not even when Dean had attempted suicide and he just didn't know what the hell was wrong with him.
"Sam, come on, don't… Shit, don't cry. Sammy, whatever I said that made you cry, I'm sorry, okay? I take it back."
"No, no, it's not…" Sam babbled. He took a long hitching breath. Fuck, his head was hurting again. "Sorry. I don't know what the fuck got in me. I guess, I'm just… I'm tired."
"Yeah, I bet you are. That was some headache."
"Yeah." Sam cleared his throat, sniffed. Wiped his tears away with the palm of his hand.
"For the record, don't ever do that again, okay?" Dean said. "I mean, use your powers. I don't fancy watching your brain leak through your ears."
"Right. I'll keep that in mind."
He smiled though Dean couldn't see him in the dark. He heard his brother chuckle softly.
"Dude, we're both so fucked up."
"Yes, we are."
"But I still want to hunt, you know."
"Dean, maybe that's not…"
"No, I can do this, I know I can. I want to. But maybe next time we should… Find something easier. Ease back into things. I do know my limits."
"Well, maybe we'll wait a little before our next case, okay?"
A couple of years before, Sam wouldn't have thought his brother could be this reasonable where his own good was concerned. But now he understood that at some point Dean had been so bad that he'd scared himself as much as he'd scared Sam. So if Dean said he could handle hunting, then it meant he could – and if hunting made his brother happy then Sam wouldn't fight it. They had lost so much and had so little.
Sam blinked, feeling his eyelids droop. Somehow Dean had to have felt it because he said, "You should sleep some more. I don't want you to have another nervous breakdown."
"Fuck you," Sam mumbled, but laid down again on the bed. He was exhausted. He closed his eyes and thought he heard Dean say something, but he didn't care because he was already asleep.
It was a nice, sunny day, with a sky so blue and vibrant it hurt Dean's eyes – but he couldn't keep himself from looking at it. They were sitting at their usual table at the Cheerful Tortoise, waiting for their orders. They didn't mean as usual he and Sam – no, today all the people living at the Simon Benson House were gathered and Dean felt a little crowded, like there was barely enough air for him to breathe at ease. They were trying to give him his space, though, so that he had almost one side of the table for himself, while Anna and Kelly sat so close that they were almost in each other's laps – not that they seemed to mind.
"Have you heard from Amy?" Sam was asking Paul.
"Yeah. She was arrested but they let her go, along with Colleen. But Amy's aunt, Colleen's father and Mrs. Griffith are still in prison. The Torrances ran away, and the police still haven't found Hardison."
"Good," Anna said. When everyone looked at her, she blushed and said, "He saved me, twice. He'd just lost his daughter and he still thought about protecting me, though he barely knew me."
Kelly looked at her for a moment, and took her hand on the table, squeezed it without a word.
"Amy and you…" Sam said to Paul. "Are you still together?"
"Of course," Paul said. He folded his arms on his chest and looked defiantly at Sam. "I don't see why we wouldn't be. She had nothing to do with this. The night of the fire, when she woke up it was too late. She didn't know what they were planning to do and she couldn't do anything to stop them."
"What I don't understand," Dean said, "is why she wanted us to come. Obviously, she was afraid we would find out what happened with the museum's fire."
"She was afraid of the shadows," Paul said, scratching his nose. "I think she saw them too, though she never told me. She probably hoped… this had nothing to do with the fire, and that she could keep you from finding out too much. She doesn't condone what they did," he insisted. "But they're her people. Her family."
"Yeah." Dean saw Sam glance at him.
"I wonder who killed Patterson," Dean said to change the subject, "Did he disagree with the others and they… silenced him?"
"I think it was Hardison," Sam said. "The first time we saw him was when we burned Patterson's body. What was he doing outside in the middle of the night? I think he killed him because Patterson had found him. Maybe they had a fight."
Dean nodded, remembering that he had similar thoughts that night. He wondered if Hardison was watching them as they burn the body.
"Yeah, probably," he said. "But why didn't he burn the body himself? He was a hunter."
"Maybe he wanted someone to find the body." Sam shrugged. "Maybe he didn't want him to just… disappear."
"Maybe. I guess we'll never know."
It was always so much more complicated where people were concerned. Give him a good old poltergeist any time of the day. At least he wouldn't have to decide whether he had sympathy for the dude who had unleashed a bunch of creepy shadows on a town.
The conversation strayed to other subjects and Dean stopped participating, comfortably withdrawing into himself, looking at the people around the table but not really listening. It felt weird, sitting at a table with a group of people. Friends, or something close to that. Dean never had a lot of friends except for Sammy, and he'd lost most of them. He missed Bobby, and often found himself wanting to call him for one reason or another before he remembered that he couldn't. Ellen and Jo lived far away and they didn't see them very often. Dean missed Castiel too, sometimes resented the angel for his "walking the earth" thing, for making him look forward to stupid postcards – but he didn't believe in putting a leash on his friends.
And sometimes he missed Haborym, and this was certainly the most fucked up thing of all. He'd never felt alone when Haborym and him had shared a body, though Haborym's idea of a good time consisted mostly of mental torture, sharing with Dean his most horrible memories of Hell and having fun trying to uncover Dean's worst memories of Hell. Home, sweet home, he would say. Fucker – and yet, sometimes the demon's absence ached like there was a hole in his soul.
Paul was talking animatedly about syntactic differences between French and English, gesturing with enthusiasm. Dean was starting to think that the guy was full of shit when he complained about teaching. Sam was listening attentively, like any of this was even remotely interesting, the geek. Kelly was still holding Anna's hand and absently rubbing her thumb on the back of her girlfriend's hand. Probably not realizing she was doing it. Dean turned his gaze back on Sam. There were new lines at the corner of his brother's mouth, lines of pain and sorrow but right now he was smiling, and his dimples were showing. Dean thought about how young his brother still was. He thought about the miracle it was for them to both be here, sitting with people who didn't want to kill them and maybe even kind of liked them. There wasn't any word in Dean's vocabulary to label what he was feeling now. Maybe it was wonderment. Maybe it was gratitude.
"Dean, you're okay, sweetie?"
It was Elena, coming to check on them as she often did, like they would fall apart if she left them on their own for too long. Her headscarf was a bright green today, and she was frowning anxiously. Great, now everyone was watching him. Sam looked worried. Couldn't Dean do a bit of musing on his life without everyone overreacting?
"I'm okay," he said. "I was just thinking."
"Don't strain something," Sam said and Dean gave him the finger, chuckling at the way Sam rolled his eyes in return.
Maybe the word he was looking for was happiness, but that would just be crazy.