A/N: This 5.14 tag goes more than a little AU. I felt like that storyline, how that episode ended, was sort of like its own ending in a way for the boys. It was a breaking point that I wanted to take advantage of and let them work through slowly instead of forcing them right back into action a week later. So I let them dwell in this land for a bit. I'm mean like that.
All to say that even though it's a tag and a one shot, it's still very AU/drawn out.
Again, totally unbeta'd. Trying to find my writing legs. I apologize in advance for...anything.
No matter what anyone says, they weren't made for this.
Destiny can go shove its head up its ass, as far as Dean's concerned.
Their minds, their bodies, their souls are slowly breaking down, disintegrating along with all those carefully instilled core values and beliefs. They're closing in on the inevitable. Dean can sense it. The air's growing thicker with every single breath, the nights getting colder with each passing day. He used to care. So much that it hurt like a stab wound. A sharp, pulsing, localized pain. He doesn't know when he stopped hurting and when he started aching. Slowly, gradually, he's wasting away.
Sam's in and out, lost in a feverish haze that delivers him into consciousness in varying degrees of lucidity. Sometimes he speaks nonsense in half-sentences, sweat dripping into cloudy eyes. Other times he's sharp - pain and shame forming a shield around him. Dean's not sure what's worse.
"Can't get warm," Sam groans.
Dean looks up, sees Sam's eyes are open, staring up at the ceiling.
Dean's aware of the cold sting of the concrete underneath him, the prickle of goosebumps on his arms and legs. The whiskey's keeping a fire lit in his stomach, burning from the inside. Sam, on the other hand... Sam's trembling – shivering from his core, but the sweat soaking through his t-shirt and hair tells a different story. The muscles in his neck pronounced and rigid and his wrists jerk against the cuffs, the familiar soft clink indicating he has reached the end of the restraint. Without the use of his hands, he has to blink hard and shake his hair back off his face to keep the sweat out of his eyes.
"You're too hot, Sammy."
Sam turns his head. His eyes are bloodshot but clear, and Dean knows he's here, really here right now.
"M'frozen." Sam looks up at the ceiling again, swallows thickly. For a second, Dean thinks Sam's going to be sick again. Instead he shivers violently and casually asks for his jacket.
He can't take this anymore. Any of it. The world will have to sort itself out because he can no longer pretend like he gives a shit about anything beyond the walls of this room. The guilt and fear and endless string of worries and responsibility burn like a gas fire in his chest.
He temporarily douses it with a long swig of whisky that gets caught somewhere between his throat and stomach. He holds his breath and bows his head and prays that it's enough to keep him going. For now.
"No," he says to Sam when he can breathe again. "You're boiling."
Sam grunts something and jerks futilely at the cuffs again, then settles and lets out a tired sigh. "Undo me for a bit?"
Dean nods, puts down the bottle of whiskey, drags himself up off the floor. It isn't the first time Sam has asked to be untied. Dean's happy to oblige. It usually only lasts for half an hour, then Sam gets shifty—panicky—demanding to be tied up again. It's like he knows, can feel it bubbling up inside him, and the thought nearly triggers Dean's gag reflex.
When the fourth cuff clicks open, Sam immediately curls up on his side. Making himself smaller, he wraps his arms around his chest, and stays that way while he rides out another series of God-knows-what. Cramps? Chills? Violently all-consuming urge to suck tainted blood? Dean doesn't know and won't ask. It doesn't make a difference.
When it passes, and Sam stretches his shaky long limbs out across the cot again, he takes a deep breath and asks, "How long?"
"Twelve hours." Dean's watch says one thing, his body/heart/mind/soul say another. A lifetime. Eternity.
"No." Sam swallows, takes advantage of his freedom to use the sleeve of his shirt to mop up some but not all of the sweat from his face. "How much longer?" He angles his head, squints in Dean's direction. "How much longer d'you think we can we do this?"
"What?" And, God, every cell in Dean's body aches with the implications of that question.
Sam blinks, flinches against an invisible threat, like something just cracked him across the back with a crowbar, but his focus never falters. "This," he whispers, grunting as he struggles to recover. "All of this." He rolls onto his side again, abandoning the conversation for the time being when he's assaulted by another wave that curls his body into a shuddering ball of pain and fever.
The alcohol sloshes in Dean's empty stomach, smacking against the sides like waves crashing onto a shoreline. Back and forth. A looming threat. It's just another question he doesn't have the answer to. He knows what he has to say, what they keep saying to each other because it's the only way they can really keep believing, but forever is a long time. Forever is depressing and at some point, they have to ask what the hell is the point? Dean will say it for Sam, though, because right now, there's only one answer he needs to hear.
"We keep going. Together."
"I can't..." Sam chokes on the words, but he believes them. Right now, he feels like this could be his end.
Still, Dean doesn't know whether Sam's referring to the withdrawal, the Apocalypse or getting up every day.
Dean feels it, too. All of it. The ache that makes it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. The fear that keeps them tethered together, repeating the same mistakes and throwing out the same catch phrases over and over like a brainwashed cult. One day they'll stop trying. One day they'll give up. One day, they will say yes. He's sure Sam knows it too. It's why they try so hard to convince each other that they're going to make it. There's no winning this war. There's no forfeiting either.
And yet there's his brother - his opponent. His closest ally and worst enemy. His only hope and biggest fear. The weakest and strongest person he knows.
They are so screwed.
It has been four days. Four inexplicably horrible days.
On the third day, Dean hovers at the mouth of the basement stairs – then turns around. He doesn't go into the panic room at all that day. It doesn't make a difference to Sam; he's not there anyway. Being in that room wouldn't help either of them.
Somewhere, deep down, Dean's sure Sam is going to die. It doesn't matter who tells him otherwise, he's positive that this is it. And then what? Do they start all over again? Does someone hit the reset button and force them to suffer through yet another day or year? Is Dean even willing to take that chance?
He cries in private, begs someone or something up there, anyone who will listen, to just NOT do it. That sound, down there, the screaming, the endless begging and wailing and thrashing...that's death. Death without mercy.
Dean takes solace in bottle after bottle of whiskey. He sips it like he's trying to enjoy it.
"Drownin' ain't gonna solve nothing," Bobby admonishes, walking right past Dean who's slumped on the porch steps.
"I gotta go." He's not sure how long ago the alcohol burned away his voice. He hasn't spoken in days.
The screen door's distinctive squeak is truncated at the halfway mark.
He can hear Bobby's palm rubbing against thick stubble. Can imagine the look that comes along with the action. "You gotta what?"
Dean looks up at the stars, surveys the yard through tears. He blinks forcefully, wishes he was drunk enough to ignore the glare he can't see but knows is leveled at his back.
"Leave. I...for a few days. If he..."
"If he what, Dean?"
"If he dies," Dean spits out, the last word comes on the verge of a barely suppressed sob. He takes a deep breath, a long swig of whiskey.
"He's not dying. And you know that if you go..."
If I go, and he dies. If he doesn't come back...
What difference does it make?
Dean shakes his head, lets his chin drop against his chest. "I gotta do something. Try something."
"You can be here for him. That's something."
"I can't, Bobby." He\s teetering on the edge of control, and doesn't trust his voice not to betray him should he try to speak again.
He jumps up to his feet, nervously fingers the keys in his jacket pocket. He can't turn around and face Bobby. He takes a step forward, down off the step. Keeps walking.
"What do you want me to tell him then, huh?"
Dean swallows. "I'll be back," he says quietly.
It's an answer and it's not. Behind him Bobby grunts, the screen door squeaks the rest of the way open and slams shut. Bobby's heavy footsteps disappearing into the house.
Dean walks a circle around his car, trailing his free hand run across the smooth finish. When he reaches the front again, he hauls back and swings the mostly empty bottle of Jack across the yard as hard as he can, waits for the smash of glass on pavement before climbing into the car.
There's nothing for miles, which gives him some time to think about what the hell he's gonna do.
He has covered almost 1000 miles of asphalt. He's tired and hungry.
The moon's high in the sky when Michael comes. Dean's sprawled across the hood of the Impala when a flutter and a breeze announces the angel's presence.
"Are you ready?"
Dean stares blankly at his counterpart. "No."
Michael doesn't even twitch. "But you want me here."
"I don't...I don't know," Dean admits. He doesn't want it so much as need it. "If Sam-"
"Sam's fine." Micheal interrupts.
"How d'you know? Thought you couldn't find us."
Michael frowns slightly, tilts his head to the side. "There are some things we just know. Like you can feel when something's too hot or too cold. I would feel his loss. We can feel pain. Not in the same way humans feel pain, of course. It doesn't hurt us. But when you're hurting, Dean? I feel it."
Dean laughs. It's sarcastic, sharp and rough and more use than his vocal cords have had in days. His throat burns. Absently, he wonders if Michael feels that too. "Well, it must suck to be you, then."
Michael blinks. If he gets it, he's got a damn good poker face.
"You don't have to keep doing this, Dean."
Dean nods, smiles down at his hands. He'd been expecting the sales pitch. It always sounds so good in the commercials...
"I sorta do," he growls back.
"Your brother is in trouble, Dean. He's suffering. He's going to keep suffering until it's over."
Dean knows he's not talking about death. Death was taken off the table long ago. And yet there's a threat there rousing Dean's defenses.
"It's your job, Dean. It's your responsibility. You have to stop him before he-"
"Shut up," Dean warns sharply.
"If you say yes-"
"Then what? Huh? I have to kill my brother?" Dean pauses, stares right into the angel's eyes. "Yeah, I don't think so."
Something akin to understanding passes over Michael's face. Dean looks away. He doesn't want to hear it. These angels and their sob stories about their families and betrayal—he has heard it all before. It's not going to make a difference now.
"I know you're hurting. I know you are. It doesn't have to be this way. You will say yes, Dean."
Dean takes a long drag from the half-empty beer bottle he has been nursing and as soon as he has swallowed he says, "Oh, I know." He looks up at Michael, leveling him again with a sharp glare. "I know I will. But if you think for a second that we're anywhere close to giving in to you sons of bitches you've got another thing coming."
Michael smiles, the condescending bastard. "So why am I here? Why did you call for me?"
Dean falls back into his old rhythm, feels confident enough to do so for the first time in days. "I wanted to tell you in person."
I wanted to make sure I could.
Micheal has the grace to look sympathetic. "You can end this all now, you know?"
"Yeah, well, for us? Unlike you assholes, family comes first."
Michael just shakes his head sadly. "See you soon, Dean."
With a flutter, Dean's destiny disappears.
Five days, one whole work week, before Sam is sprung from that room.
The door swings open. It's Cas who says, "You're clean."
He feels anything but.
Weak, tired, sore, shaky, drained. Dirty.
He shrugs off Cas' awkward attempt to help - even the slightest lightest touch stings, drawing a hiss - and drags himself up two flights of stairs to sit in the tub under the sharp spray of boiling hot water. Slowly he descends again to eat the soup Bobby places in front of him at the table. He eats half, and Bobby takes the bowl away before Sam can faceplant and drown in the remaining broth. Exhausted and nauseous, he retreats to the living room, curls up on the couch and stares at a spot above the television.
And so it goes. For several days. Some hours feel like they're crawling by whereas other chunks of time seem to disappear. He doesn't ask and they don't tell. Cas leaves the second night when Sam is sleeping. Bobby stays close by, within earshot if not within reach.
Food sits in Sam's stomach like lead weight. His system's in no rush to digest anything he swallows. He swears he can hear his body asking, "You sure this time? You really want this?" More than three quarters of the time the meager attempts at nourishment are eventually accepted. He sighs in relief when after an hour of nothing, he feels the weight slowly disappearing. The rest of the time it comes back the same way it went in. Part of him thinks its psychological, that the panic he feels in his head is manifesting itself in the way he can't eat, can't control his body temperature. Realistically he knows the truth: he no longer has control over almost everything. And that scares the living shit out of him.
He tries not to ask the one and only question on his mind and not just because he barely has the voice left to do so.
Bobby answers it anyway.
"He'll be back. In a few days."
Sam doesn't ask why. Doesn't ask where or how or with whom. He doesn't want to know.
Lisa thinks Sam's dead. She doesn't say it out loud, and neither does Dean, but it's obvious that's what she assumes by the way she tiptoes around the subject.
"I'm not here to stay," is the first thing he says to her. It's blunt and kind of rude, and not at all like he normally is with women, but she doesn't seem to mind. She offers him a bed with clean sheets and a hot shower.
Lisa goes to work and Ben goes to school before Dean is awake that first morning. Dean takes advantage of the alone time to sober up.
With sobriety comes reality and the cold hard realization that he has been avoiding. Avoiding the truth. Lisa may think Sam's dead, but Dean chooses to believe otherwise. It isn't until his fifth day away—with Lisa in the kitchen making dinner and Ben playing video games next to him on the couch—that he works up the courage to turn on his phone.
The screen announces 8 new voicemails, but it's the real-time text from Bobby that gets his attention first.
Your brother's going to start asking questions if you don't get your ass back here soon. You better not have done something stupid.
An enormous wave of relief and guilt floods over him, causing his breath to catch in his throat and tears to prick at his eyes.
"Dean?" Ben has paused his game, big brown eyes wide and scared. "You okay?"
For the first time in weeks, the smile that forms on Dean's lips isn't forced. "Yeah," he sputters, knowing the kid must think he's crazy. "Yeah, I'm good."
A few days turns into a week. Bobby makes more and more phone calls as the days pass. Sam's never close enough or aware enough to hear what's being said.
In the mornings Sam wakes up with a headache. A thud-thud-thud that isn't enough to make him nauseous but just enough to play with his vision. He tries to make himself useful by tinkering with the cars in the yard. By noon it's usually bad enough that he has to lie down. Rarely does he make it back upstairs, opting to crash on the couch instead, an arm covering his eyes to block the light streaming through the slits of window that the old curtains can't cover.
When he wakes up – one, sometimes two hours later – the headache is manageable if not gone completely. He eats. Makes himself eat. Because he knows...he knows.
By early evening, often just after the sun has gone down, the stomach cramps grab on. Mild and infrequent at first, almost like a stitch, but hours later he is curled up on his side, moaning because he can't help it, biting his tongue because he can, legs curling and straightening involuntarily, sweat dripping down his neck and back. Bobby stays downstairs, doesn't even try to help at Sam's insistence that he just makes it worse. It's not true. Physically, at least.
He just wants to suffer in silence, in peace, in his own body and mind. And he doesn't want anyone to hear him when he calls out for Dean.
Because he will.
And Dean's not there.
Lisa isn't surprised when Dean says he has to go. She offers him food to take on the road and makes sure he knows he has an open invitation. "Anytime," is how she puts it. He thinks she might actually mean it.
"And, Dean?" she says, stopping him before he gets into the car. She nervously tugs at her collar, eyebrows knitting together with emotion. "I'm really sorry about Sam."
Dean swallows. Sam might not be dead, but some things are worse than the end. He won't burden her and Ben with that knowledge. They don't deserve that.
He may not correct her, but he doesn't lie. "Me too," he says.
Sam drinks water. Gallons and gallons of water because he can't think of any other way. All it does is make him feel full on top of everything else.
Bobby says, "Jesus, boy, are you really that thirsty?"
Sam forces a smile, but he doesn't say what he wants to say.
And that's the point.
It takes him too long to get back to Bobby's. The drive out was short under the haze of alcohol. This time he's completely aware. He sleeps in the car; eats gas station burritos and brushes his teeth with lake water.
He pulls into the salvage yard just before midnight. The porch light is on. Like they're expecting him. Dean knows it has been on for days.
He has to jump to retrieve the key from the top of the window sill. The porch creaks under him, but the door mercifully doesn't squeak when he slides into the house.
He blinks a few times, adjusting to the light. When his focus returns, he almost jumps back in surprise. Bobby's sitting right in front of him in the rocker. "'Bout time," is all he says before getting up and heading up the stairs. "You coming?" he asks once he has neared the top.
Dean looks around the living room.
"He's fine," Bobby answers the unspoken question. "Don't wake him up."
|Dean nods obediently and follows Bobby up the stairs.
The door to their room is ajar but closed. Dean holds his breath when he pushes it open. The light from the porch below is just enough for Dean to make out his brother's form on the far bed. Sam's on his side, face half buried in a flat pillow. He looks half dead.
It should cause concern, but Dean takes comfort in knowing that his brother is at least half alive.
When Dean ambles downstairs in the morning, he wanders into the kitchen to find Bobby sitting at one end of the table and Sam at the other.
"Mornin'" Bobby offers gruffly.
Sam is slumped in his chair, in obvious discomfort still, and that alone makes Dean's legs sweat. Guilt, he tells himself. Guilt because he was sure Sam wouldn't still look like that in the morning light. "Fine" as Bobby had described him is not thin and pale and waxy with bloodshot eyes, fever spots and a visible tremor running through him every few seconds.
Asleep, Sam looked like shit. Hollow cheeks, pale skin. Awake, Sam looks like death.
Sam is not fine. Dean sweats.
"What's wrong with you?" Bobby grunts, his voice hinting at amusement. Dean forces his mouth shut so quickly that his teeth click hard in the otherwise silent kitchen.
Sam wraps his hand tighter around the mug in the table in front of him, scabbed knuckles whitening unnaturally. Dean sweats some more.
"Where were you?" Sam asks in a voice that Dean has never heard come out of his brother, rough and hoarse, from deeper in his throat. And it would appear as though Bobby, true to his word, hadn't said anything if Sam had asked before.
Dean sighs to buy time, and luckily for him, those few words have set something off in Sam's throat, forcing him to clear it four times before giving up and taking a cautious sip of whatever is in the mug he's trying to crush.
"Look," Dean starts, but Sam's efforts have failed him, his red eyes watering as he continues to swallow convulsively. He holds up a finger and pushes his chair out from under him. He's out of the room before he's coughing gratingly.
"He's not fine," Dean whispers venomously under his breath.
Bobby rolls his eyes. "He's lucid and coherent and...alive. That's fine in my books."
Dean opens his mouth to say something, but stops when he hears Sam trudge down the hall. His coughs now muffled through the bathroom door.
"You need to pull yourself together," Bobby warns. "Go take a shower. Change your clothes." Dean looks down at his burrito-stained shirt. "You stink, boy."
It's not the worst idea he has ever heard. He takes the last clean towel from the linen closet, gathers some clean-ish clothes and locks himself into the upstairs bathroom.
He doesn't even yell when Sam flushes the toilet below, causing the stream of water to scald Dean's back.
The little distraction did nothing more than waste a little time. When Dean comes down from his shower, Sam's sitting in his chair at the kitchen table. Bobby has thankfully taken to the yard.
Dean almost turns around, walks away without a word, but Sam's blood-shot eyes temporarily render him paralyzed.
"Hey," Sam rasps. He's fiddling the the old marble checker set Bobby keeps on his kitchen table. "I thought you'd..."
Left? No. Worse than that.
"No. I was..." Dean glances over his shoulder in search of an excuse. "How are you? You okay?"
Sam nods twice very slowly. He's clean, dressed, sitting up, breathing, watching, listening. Not dead.
He's also sweating profusely. Not unlike the last time Dean laid eyes on his brother, over a week ago.
"You're sweating," Dean says for no other reason than he noticed and can't think of anything else to fill the silence.
Sam looks down at the checker board, tiredly rubs both hands up and down over his face then through his hair. Trying to pull himself together.
"Yeah, comes and goes."
Sam shrugs, like he doesn't know or just doesn't care to answer. He pushes a black checker back and forth between two squares. "Wanna play?"
"No," Dean answers abruptly.
Sam's finger stills over the checker. He analyzes Dean with raised eyebrows then shrugs again, leaning back into his chair.
"Sam..." Dean paces a short line to the refrigerator and back, hand rubbing back and forth over his chin. "We gotta..." He stops suddenly, drops the hand and faces his brother. "We gotta be on the same team, you know?"
Sam's thumbs his temple, no doubt distracted by yet another physical symptom that Dean can't make better. "It's just checkers, Dean," he says tiredly.
"That's not..." Dean huffs out a sigh. "That's not what I mean. We can't go up against each other. Ever. You know?"
Sam barely reacts. He sounds as lifeless as he looks. "No. I feel like shit. Can we drop this, please?"
Dean's tired. He knows he's rambling and to expect more from from Sam right now is too far beyond unfair.
"I'm sorry," Dean mutters, forcing himself to take a seat across the table. He doesn't hear Sam's offer for coffee. He's too busy watching his brother slide the checker back and forth across the board.
Someone once told Sam he should write a book about his adventures.
Adventures was the word she used. Like it was fun.
Sam, being Sam, had politely nodded and agreed. But aside from documenting information for potential future use, he had no desire to put his life on paper. He didn't want to relive it. Any of it. Not even the good times because even the good times end in fire and despair.
Besides, who would believe him? How would he even categorize his life story? It would probably end up on the fiction/horror shelves. Then he stops, and a pang of disappointment hits him when he realizes his life is already on the fiction/horror shelves.
It's pretty fucking depressing that he doesn't even get to reap the meager benefits of his own disastrous life.
Besides, his story doesn't have an end. And by the time it does...well, best case: he won't be around to enjoy it. Worst case: there won't be much of a demand for that sort of thing anyway.
"What are you thinking?" Bobby asks, snapping Sam out of his trance.
Sam stretches his legs out in front of him, digging his heels into the rain-softened ground of the salvage yard. He sighs, thinks about lying, but his head hurts and maybe the truth isn't as overrated as some might think.
"That the best case scenario for my life is my death."
Say that near medical professionals and he'd be calling on Cas to zap him out of the psych ward. Bobby, however, knows exactly where it's coming from. He pulls back from under the hood of the truck he's working on, straightens up. "Well if that doesn't drive you to drink, I don't know what will." He tags on a wry smile at the end.
Sam doesn't even try to suppress the laugh that rolls out of him. Instead he basks in the comfort that comes from understanding.
At the very least, he has that.
They don't talk—really talk—for almost two days. They're not avoiding each other so much as they're avoiding their lives. Sam's getting stronger. Dean can see that. And with the return of his brother's strength comes the gradual return of Dean's confidence. Confidence that maybe he has what it takes to go another day. And then another. And who knows how many more after that.
With the balance somewhat restored, Dean takes the first step towards the rest of whatever their lives may hold.
"I talked to Michael. I told him I'd say yes."
Sam's head snaps up, he sits ramrod straight in his chair, wide, skilled eyes looking Dean up and down.
"That I would, not that I did."
"Why? Why would you do that?"
Dean shakes his head, letting honesty determine exactly what spills out of him. "Because I'm tired, Sam."
"So, what? That's it? I'm tired, too, you know. I'm fucking..." He runs a hand over his face. "It's not as easy for me, you know."
Dean winces, licks his lips, checks his anger back a notch. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"An archangel wants you, Dean." Sam's getting louder. Dean would celebrate the return of his brother's voice under any other circumstance. "An angel! Me?" He looks up at the ceiling, shaking his head like he can't really believe it. "I get Lucifer. Satan. So, yeah, I'd say there's a little more pressure on me to keep saying no."
Dean nods, though right now, he's having a hard time finding the line between good and evil, angels and demons, right and wrong.
"So if I say yes...," Sam continues.
"Not if, Sam. When."
Sam doesn't argue. He doesn't shoot Dean a shocked glare or charge back in verbal denial. Instead he lets out a weary sigh, rubs his fingers deep into his eyes. "Then what?" he says tiredly. "We just...give up? Give in?"
Dean shakes his head, tosses out a very casual, "No."
A small smile tugs at the corners of Sam's lips. He slumps back in his chair and scoffs a sarcastic, "No."
Dean leans forward, growls, "No."
Sam looks up from under a mess of hair, eyes wide and swimming, looking more like the earnest 5-year-old version of himself than the hardened, closed down person he has become.
"Because if I've learned anything from all of this-" Dean flails a hand in the air, "-this bullshit, it's that you can't count on anything. Angels, demons, God, and the damned Apocalypse, and for all we know, we could wake up tomorrow and all this-"
"Could be a dream?" Sam's now smiling widely, looking more relaxed than he has in days...weeks—hell, years.
"Would you be surprised?"
He looks down at his hands, releases a deep sigh, absently picks at a fingernail. "A little," he admits with a tilt of his head.
"But you don't think it's impossible."
Without looking up, Sam shakes his head. "No." Hinting at a smile again. "No, I guess not."
"That's all I need."
"Good, 'cause that's all we've got."
Hope. They can't have faith, so they have to settle for hope.
Sam glances up with uncertainty. "We gonna be okay?"
"Yeah," Dean lies automatically. "We're gonna be fine."
He'll be strung up in Hell again before he admits otherwise.
Whether they like it or not, this is their destiny.
They were made for this.