Changes

Summary: Dean thinks Sam has changed, but not for the better. AU tag to Metamorphosis, episode 4.04.

Dean had let Ruby do the talking, his attention fully on his brother as they set him on a gurney and sprinted through the sliding glass doors. Dean tried to follow but a petite nurse planted herself in Dean's path and wouldn't let him pass. He thought about lifting her bodily out of the way but he wouldn't be much good to Sam if he was in jail. So waiting room it was.

Ruby withdrew to the other side of the empty waiting room, quietly seething.

Dean couldn't have cared less. He was too busy, pacing, replaying the events of the day over in his head.

Sam had told him that maybe they needed to do more research and Dean had blithely blown by his brother's concerns, more intent on making the kill. But it was Sam's weird speech in the car, the one where he thanked Dean that was really bothering him. What had that been about?

Had Sam been saying goodbye to him? Right after the Jack incident, Dean had actually worried about his kid brother, keeping him close by. Sam had given up and Dean hadn't wanted to risk Sam doing something even stupider than he already had.

With a little time and prodding, Sam had snapped back. Still moody but dispassionate. Not quite as scarily suicidal, anyway. He didn't care what he ate, where he slept or what jobs they took. Sam followed Dean and, at first Dean had thought that was great—nor more arguments or lengthy discussions. No more pointless arguments about what the hell Sam was doing or thinking. But it got old, fast. The curiosity and caring had been replaced by apathy.

His Sam was missing in action. Dean blamed it on Ruby, on the deal with Yellow Eyes, even his parents who had put them in this position.

But maybe Dean was to blame. The glares from across the room certainly let Dean know where Ruby stood on that topic. At the moment, Dean wasn't sure he blamed her.

Ruby stomped over but stopped shy of Dean's personal space. "I'll be back later."

The little dynamo stomped out the sliding glass door, leaving Dean alone with his self recriminations.

Stumbling over to an orange plastic chair, Dean dropped heavily onto it, his head sinking into his hands.

The clock ticked off the minutes with a ping and Dean was powerless; he could only sit there and wait.

-0-

Acute neck trauma with a collapsed trachea and larynx. Possible brain damage due to a restricted airway. All ten fingers fractured.

It had almost been better not knowing. But Dean had never had the luxury of ignorance.

A tube was down Sam's throat, a ventilator doing the breathing for his exhausted sibling. The cartilage and vocal folds in his larynx had been shredded beyond repair...he would never hear his brother's voice again.

Dean was allowed to sit with Sam in the ICU for ten minutes out of every hour. It wasn't much but he grabbed on to it as though it was a lifeline.

The bruises stood out starkly on Sam's pale face. His throat was wrapped heavily in white gauze. His eyes remained closed no matter how much Dean pleaded.

He'd begged Sam not to use his powers. He'd rejoiced when Sam had declared he was through with them. Dean had been skeptical but he'd glued himself to Sam's side and his little brother had no opportunity to practice his dark skills. He had been so sure he was right.

Sam could have saved himself when the demon attacked. Dean had seen with his own eyes as Sam exorcised a demon with just his mind. But no, Sam had held fast to his word. Hadn't lifted a finger to help himself.

His brother had picked one helluva time to stick to his word.

And Dean had picked one helluva time to start acting like a big brother again—if it wasn't too late as it was.

The body before him was really just a shell of the Sam he'd grown up with. The compassion for others, Sam's trademark, had gone missing. He listened to Dean's orders. He didn't take any joy from life. Sam merely existed. It was wrong. Everything was wrong. Bud Dean didn't know how to change it.

-0-

Sam was off of the vent and according to the staff, he was making tremendous headway. He'd been moved from ICU to a private room yesterday and every time Dean had visited, Sam had been sleeping.

It had been a week since Dean had stared into Sam's expressive eyes, talked to his brother.

Although talking was a thing of the past.

The nurses had told Dean that both brothers could learn sign language and communicate that way but first Sam's hands would have to heal. And Sam would have to want to learn it.

There were still some questions marks about Sam's cognitive status since his brother couldn't write and couldn't speak. Of course Sam hadn't been awake for more than five minutes at a time, precious minutes that Dean was never on hand for.

Dean was beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Maybe Sam didn't want to see him.

He pushed open Sam's door and strolled into the quiet room. The head of Sam's bed was up and his brother was awake. "Sammy? Man, it's great to see you. How are you doing?"

Sam lazily blinked up at him, a flash of fear quickly replaced by the non-expression Dean dreaded.

Dean eagerly slid into the chair next to the bed. One hand lightly petted the exposed skin at Sam's elbow; he was afraid to exert much pressure, mindful of the severe injuries to Sam's fingers, but he needed the contact.

His brother's eyes looked down where Dean touched him and then shifted, making eye contact for the first time since Sam had stared at him in the Impala, before the confrontation with the bukavats and the demon.

There was a world of hurt in the depths of those hazel eyes and Dean longed to see happiness, or at least peace, replacing the hurt. It had been too damn long since Sam had been happy. Since Dean had come back from hell, Sam had been barely hanging on but Dean had been too busy to notice.

The contact was too brief as Sam's eyelids slid shut, his head sinking deeper into the pillows bunched behind his back.

"I can help him."

Dean hastily wiped moisture from his face before turning to confront the speaker. Ruby stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest, her hip against the door jamb.

He had to admit that he appreciated this package more than the feisty blond; this one at least seemed more approachable, less icy.

But Ruby was a demon and Dean refused to put his trust in her. Especially when he thought about the things she was teaching his brother. "Leave him alone."

His hand was edging toward the ankle strap that housed the special knife. The knife Ruby had given them. The knife that Dean would one day use to take care of the pesky demon. But not yet. First he'd hear Ruby out.

He knew enough not to trust the demon, but this was Sam. And he was hurt. There was nothing Dean could do, nothing the doctors could do. Maybe Ruby could.

Ruby pushed away from her perch at the doorway and sashayed over to Sam. "I think I can heal some of the damage to Sam's vocal cords. I just need to forge a connection and then…"

The dark haired skank closed her eyes and before Dean could do anything, she was touching Sam's throat.

Dean had the knife out and was moving to take care of Ruby on a permanent basis when she staggered back several steps. Her hands wrapped around her throat as she bent over at the waist, choking out a plea. "Sam, stop, please."

Eyes darting back to his brother, Dean could see red rivulets dripping from Sam's nostrils and flowing over his lips.

Sam's eyes remained closed, his breathing cadence steady. "Sammy! Wake up!"

Sleepy hazel eyes were revealed as Sam's lashes lifted. Ruby was gasping in the background and then she tripped out the door, fear emblazoned across the pretty features.

Ruby was scared of Sam. And rightly so…it appeared that Sam had almost choked the life out of her. Or maybe the little scene had been the prelude to a Latin-less exorcism. Either way, Ruby was gone and Sam was staring at Dean with confusion—little boy lost—his upper lip coated in red.

Dean snatched up the call light and hit the button. He couldn't ask Sam what had happened or how he was feeling and expect an answer, and the longer Sam blinked up at Dean, eyes not quite tracking, the more Dean began to worry that Sam was damaged somehow.

Brain damaged.

And maybe a loose cannon as a result.

A nurse entered the room and before she could even ask what was needed she saw the crimson on Sam's face and fled back into the hallway for more help.

Brain damage or a loose cannon, Dean couldn't be sure. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except getting Sam better. Dean wasn't sure what Sam had done to Ruby but right now his priority was Sam and at least Ruby had left them in peace.

-0-

Dean slumped in the pathetic excuse of a chair next to Sam's bed.

The neurologist believed Sam had sustained some brain damage but his conclusions were owing more to the various scans that showed evidence of injury rather than Sam's responses to the questions and tests the staff put Sam through—his brother remained uncommunicative in his silence.

His fingers had healed enough so that he could have tapped out brief messages on a keyboard but Sam disdained this method, folding his arms across his chest, looking away.

It was maddening. Much like trying to get Sam to eat when he was a toddler. The same mutinous expression, the same body language. The same disastrous results.

No one could make Sam do something unless he wanted to.

Right now, Sam seemed willing to accompany Dean but that could change at any moment.

The somber, withdrawn mood that had marked Sam's behavior before the fateful hunt on the beach had been replaced by a capriciousness that Dean wasn't sure how to handle.

And he had no one to turn to. Dean has to rely on himself. Although he'd bragged to Bobby not long ago that there wasn't much he didn't know about his little brother, the last month had shown him differently.

The neurologist wanted to send Sam for rehab—said they'd done all they could for him— but Dean's gut told him to take Sam and find some motel room to hole up in for a while.

Dean was on his last reserves and the thought of traveling any great distance, especially with an unpredictable Sam, didn't appeal.

He vaguely thought of Bobby and how he hadn't even called him to fill him in on the latest situation but then he dismissed it.

Sam needed him. Not Bobby, who meant well, or Castiel who he didn't trust around his brother in his vulnerable state. He kept waiting for Ruby to pop up again but she'd disappeared. No, Sam needed him, not anyone else, and it was time Dean stepped up to the plate and took responsibility.

-0-

Dean's resolve had faded in the face of exhaustion. He'd followed his gut instincts and gotten them holed up but his gut was out of fresh ideas until his mind got some kind of reprieve. Because there was just too much Sam and too little of him all at once and Dean wasn't quite sure what to make of it all.

His brother had jerked away from his touch when Dean had helped settle him in the Impala at the hospital. Eyes wide and panicky, Dean had thought for a moment that Sam was going to have a meltdown right then and there.

But the drugs he'd pressed on Sam before the nurse showed up with the wheelchair were slowing Sam's reactions and soon his sibling was sleeping deeply, his head pressed against the passenger side window.

Dean caught Sam's body as he opened the passenger side door and his brother gracelessly tumbled out. His back ached with the strain of carrying Sam into the motel room but Sam was so out of it, he couldn't hold himself up. Dean dumped his brother on the nearest bed before heading out to the Impala for provisions.

There was some unnamed emotion bubbling within him and he didn't like it, he pushed it down, and ignored it.

Returning to the room with his arms laden with bags, Dean's vision blurred. He sunk on to the other bed and stared at his sibling. He should get up and take something for his headache but the effort was beyond him at the moment.

Dean startled awake, his head bobbing precariously on his neck. He hadn't meant to fall asleep. He'd just wanted to rest his eyes for a moment or two.

His eyes swept over the alarm clock and he realized Sam was lying on top of the motel bed in exactly the same position as Dean had dumped him in five hours ago. His neck was crooked to the side, one leg trailing over the maroon paisley bedspread at an equally awkward angle. Dean knew he should at least make Sam more comfortable but the thought of touching Sam, of his brother freaking out, was more than he could stand at the moment.

Pressure pulsed behind Dean's eyes as he gave in to the resentment swirling around in his head.

Dean loved taking care of Sam, he'd always thrived on it, but somewhere within him he was sick of paying for Sam's mistakes. Yes, his little brother had certainly been a pain in the ass lately.

He fingered the knife strapped to his ankle and without really giving it much thought, he was holding it in his hand.

He had to hand it to Ruby, the demon bitch really knew her weapons. The knife was finely crafted and Dean had seen firsthand what it could do to demons.

Dean wondered fleetingly if the knife would work on Sam. His mother had sold Sam out long ago and maybe, just maybe, she'd known something about his baby brother.

Maybe Sam had never been human. After all, he had demon blood in him.

There was one way to find out.

Thoughts were transformed into action but before the blade could touch Sam's skin, his body was hurled backward.

Stumbling, he tried to right himself but he was too busy gripping his throat. Coughing. Choking.

"Sammy…please…"

Dean barely recognized his own voice. I t was thick and garbled but the tone was off.

Like it was someone else entirely.

And then thought ceased as Dean's body bowed forward, the hacking so hard that his lungs rattled obscenely in his chest.

A substance slithered up his throat and spilled from his lips. It tasted like ash and resembled mud.

It clogged his throat and nose and Dean couldn't catch his breath.

Sinking to his knees, he clawed desperately at his throat.

Darkness, the same color as the substance being expelled from his body, crept across his vision. He had a fleeting glimpse of Sam on the bed, stuck in the same awkward position, before he lost consciousness.

-0-

Dean's eyes fluttered and then snapped open.

He was lying on the disgusting gold shag carpet, his cheek pressed into the scratchy fibers.

Sammy.

Bolting upright, Dean's eyes sought out and found his brother.

Clambering slowly to his feet, coughs rattled and spewed from his lips. Dean felt as though he had the worst hang over ever—dry mouth, headache, dizziness.

Dean remembered clutching the knife in his hand and feeling disconnected from his body as he'd approached Sam. He'd wanted to hurt Sam but that went counter to every fiber of his being.

His job was to protect Sam. Always.

Stumbling over to the bed, Dean looked at his brother in dismay.

Sam's body was draped almost crosswise on the bed, his neck wedged uncomfortably against a pillow, his legs splayed over the side. An arm was trapped under Sam's heavy weight and Dean winced at the thought of the abuse the still healing fingers must be suffering.

Dried blood thickly peppered Sam's lips and lower jaw and Dean considered calling 911. That's how bad it looked.

He didn't know what had happened.

Gently rolling Sam's torso to the side, Dean finagled the wayward hand out from behind the small of Sam's back and gently massaged the fingers.

Dean straightened the lax body so that Sam's head rested comfortably on the pillow and his long legs were stretched out on the bed, not off of it.

Dizziness swirled around him with a vengeance and he lowered his weight next to Sam. He should clean Sam's face up—why was there blood on Sam's face?—but he'd have to wait out the churning sensation before he made for the bathroom.

Sam looked ten times worse than he had on previous occasions when he'd used his shining to take down a demon.

Take down a demon.

Wait.

Had Sam exorcised a demon with his mind?

Dean wiped gently at Sam's face with the bottom of his shirt, his vision blurring with tears as he thought about how for one moment, he'd wanted to use the knife on Sam.

He couldn't cope with his thoughts anymore and after pulling Sam close, he hurtled toward sleep.

-0-

Everything was hazy in Dean's mind and when he tried to think back to what had happened during the past week, the last clear thought he had was on the beach when he'd obliterated the bukavac. Right before Sam was attacked.

Sure, Dean had been stressed with everything that had happened to Sam but this was ridiculous. It was as though his body had been co-opted by some other entity. Thinking murky and convoluted with lost time…he wondered if this was how Sam had felt after Meg possessed him. But wasn't possible—both he and Sam had tattoos on their chests, near their collarbones, that should prevent all forms of possession.

Dean was tearing at his shirt, popping buttons as he rushed to lift his t-shirt. His angle was bad when he looked down—all he could see was the bottom portion of the tattoo—so he ran to the bathroom and stared at his image in the blurry mirror.

The tattoo was still there but a burn mark in the shape of a fingerprint smudged the top line closest to his shoulder.

When a crack marred the lines of the Devil's Trap, it rendered it useless.

The same with Dean's tattoo. It was useless.

Sinking to his knees, Dean wanted to scream his outrage. Both his dad and Sam had been possessed but for some reason Dean thought—and yes, it was colossal hubris on his part—that he was immune to possession at this stage of the game.

A freakin' angel had yanked him out of his grave, out of hell, and if an angel didn't protect you from demonic possession, what good were they in this fight? Not only that, but said angel had ruined the protective charm standing between Dean and possession.

This was no demon though. Dean had had some control over his body but he hadn't been solely driving the bus. He wasn't sure how he knew it but if he had to guess, Dean thought he'd picked up a little hitchhiker who wanted a free ride before finding a more permanent solution or something. The bukavac that hadn't been a bukavac was most likely the culprit.

Dean climbed to unsteady feet and headed for the bathroom, grabbing a flimsy white terrycloth washrag. Dampening it under the thin stream of water he coaxed from the sink, he moved back to Sam.

His brother's face was set in deep lines of pain despite the pain killers Dean remembered jamming down his throat before they left the hospital.

On the heels of that horrendous memory, he was besieged with others—pinching Sam's elbow when he first woke up, stealthily applying pressure to Sam's hand when the Occupational Therapist had offered the keyboard for communication, dumping Sam's passive body onto the motel bed and leaving his brother in a contorted heap.

All of the memories were viewed through a dark veil yet Dean could access them. Instead of Sam's expression being bland and blank in the hospital, he now remembered terror hidden in the hazel depths.

Sam had known something was wrong with Dean but hadn't been able to communicate anything or even protect himself. Sam had been at his most vulnerable and Dean had failed him.

Dean was grateful someone had exorcised the entity out of his body. Sam was the only other person in the room and although Sam had been unconscious, Dean had seen the same thing happen when Ruby had approached a sleeping Sam in the hospital room.

His brain kept focusing on the fact that Sam's powers were kicking in even when Sam was out of it. Sam had declared he was giving them up, it was like playing with fire, but his powers didn't seem to care what Sam wanted.

Nausea pooled in the pit of Dean's stomach. He'd accused Sam of subterfuge when Dean had forced Sam to hide his abilities. Yeah, they freaked Dean out. But that wasn't Sam's problem, it was Dean's.

Dean hadn't even known he was possessed. Talk about subterfuge. He cringed as he remembered the discussion at the side of the road when he questioned Sam's ability to tell right from wrong. Sam had most definitely changed in the last year but a lot of that change could be laid right at Dean's doorstep.

He'd pushed Sam to toughen up—he remembered how mad he'd gotten with his brother when Sam refused to shoot the fleeing man in the back during that whole Croatoan thing—yet when Sam started conforming to Dean's exacting standards, Dean accused of him of changing. Sam had come right out and told Dean while his deal was hanging over their heads that he had to toughen up and when Sam had, Dean had implied that his brother was evil.

It was because of the whole chosen children thing. Sam was psychic. Sam could move things with his mind. Sam could exorcise demons.

Sam had demonic blood coursing through his veins.

He'd abandoned Sam when his brother needed him most. He'd taken the hit, made the deal, and gone to hell. He'd left Sam high and dry to fight this war and instructed him to deny a part of himself: his powers.

Shades of John Winchester—ordering and demanding—when he got right down to it. Because that had always worked so well with Sam…not.

Dean vividly remembered his confrontation with his demonic self during the dream walking adventure. He'd railed at his father for having to subvert his own needs to look after his little brother. Ever since he could remember, it had been "Dean, take care of your brother." Dean had felt justified in leaving his life behind—after all, he'd served his time. He'd felt justified leaving Sam with nothing other than the last wishes he himself could never live up to.

Since reclaiming Sam back from Stanford, Dean had deviated from that script. He'd accused Sam of being selfish so many times, he'd lost track. Yet Dean was the one who kept laying down the law—don't talk about Dad, don't worry, don't use your powers. All of these things were to make Dean's life easier.

More palatable. And Sam had mostly complied. And when he hadn't, Dean had unleashed some whoop-ass on his brother.

Slugging Sam in the jaw when his brother had confronted him about substituting Gordon for Dad. Hitting Sam, twice, when he'd discovered Sam was using his powers, powers he'd lied about using but then Dean hadn't exactly been in the mood to listen to his explanation.

Dean dabbed at Sam's face and cleaned the dried blood away. Long lashes stirred against pale cheeks and he held his breath.

Dazed eyes stared into his own and then the look of distrust that Dean had anticipated was sliding into one of relief. How did Sam know that Dean had shed his hitchhiker? Another little mystery that he hoped he'd be able to unravel, maybe even without jumping down Sam's throat and accusing him of doing something shady.

Sam was struggling up, his weight shifting on his elbows, and then he was launching himself into Dean's arms.

The last time they'd hugged was when Dean had been yanked from hell and had shown up at Sam's motel room. They'd both allowed the hug to last longer than was strictly Winchester approved and then broke apart with embarrassment.

This time Dean hauled Sam into his arms, his hand awkwardly stroking the back of Sam's head, squeezing his brother tight. He didn't want to let Sam go.

A voice, not really more than a sound, pitched low and cracking with emotion, disuse and damage, whispered in his ear. "Sorry, Dean."

Dean shifted his brother until he was holding him at arm's length, watching as large eyes filled with moisture, lips moving as dry, cracked sound emerged. It was painful to hear and Dean was so amped up on adrenaline, he couldn't even figure out what Sam was trying to convey. "Shhh, don't try to talk. It's okay. We're both going to be okay."

And just like that, Sam looked at Dean like anything was possible. Like he had all the faith in the world in his big brother. Just like Sam had as a kid, that Dean would make everything better.

It was more responsibility than Dean had thought he could handle, one of the many reasons he'd made the cursed deal with the crossroads demon, but it was the one role Dean shined in. It made him complete. Made him a better person.

And...he couldn't regret that at all? Not even hell or heaven could change that?

Finis

A/N: Was anyone else out there happy that Sam wasn't turned into a cockroach ala Kafka's Metamorphosis when this ep first aired? When I saw the title I knew fear but I actually enjoyed the ep for giving us some insight into what Sam was going through. Then I quickly became disenchanted when the depression arc was dropped like a hot potato. Anyway, thank you for bearing with this very AU tag. Thanks again to my beloved betas, Faye Dartmouth and Gidgetgal9.