The Strong On

Summary: Dean and Sam are still trying to recover from recent revelations and stress between them. Sam believes Dean isn't as strong as he once was. Dean believes this too and seeks to fix it by doing the only thing he sees possible. Can Sam be the strong one in time to save his brother? Or will it be too late for both Winchesters?

Warnings: Dark themes, implied suicide attempt. Also warning for language. Is not a death fic.

Tags: Based in Season Four and between episodes 11(Family Remains) and 16 (On the Head of a Pin), also has reference to early episodes but the main tags are for the mentioned episodes.

Characters/Pairings: Angsty!suicidal Dean / worried!overly concerned!brotherly Sam. No pairings(ever)

Disclaimer: I don't own the boys or anything to do with the show. All that goes to Eric Kripke and the CW. I'm just an author who enjoys playing with them and I always put 'em back together.

Author Note: I normally don't write dark themed fics but this one has been bubbling for awhile. Dean's always been the strong one. Even after returning from Hell, still held it together so I wanted to try a piece to show what would happen if Dean didn't hold it together after the events of 'On the Head of a Pin' and to show Sam being the strong one for Dean. Not sure how it'll come out but we'll see…

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Chapter One

He'd always been the strong one. From the night, his Father had put his infant brother in his arms and he carried him out of their burning house he'd been the strong one that Sam had depended on. Hell, in some cases he'd been the one his Father had depended on since John Winchester's emotional status wasn't the steadiest thing back in those days…something even his eldest son had to finally admit to.

Dean Winchester remembered always knowing that no matter what he was feeling or how much he wanted to sink into despair that he couldn't because he had to be the damn strong one. The one that his family depended on to be strong, to be there when they needed him to be even when Dean knew he was the last possible choice for that role.

He had to more often than not be the strong one to raise his little brother. He made certain from his earliest memory that Sam was always taken care of, that he had food. That he went to school and that the nosy people from school of CPS never found out that it was just him and his little brother in their lonely motel rooms as John was prone to leave them for weeks at a time. It took a strong person to do all that and not curl up at night like he had sometimes wanted to when the loss of nearly everything good in his life got to be too much to bear.

The elder Winchester brother admitted that on those nights he'd considered the very same thing he was considering now but back then he had one thing that would always stop him cold. A baby brother with huge hazel eyes that had a bad habit of knowing just when he was at his lowest point and Sam seemed to come looking for Dean on those nights with nightmares or fears of his own.

Dean could never complete the act knowing that it would also leave his innocent little brother alone with a Father who barely knew they existed except for when he needed or wanted them to do something.

Strong. The word used to mean something more to Dean than it does now. It used to be what he was when he had to forge papers so Sam could join Soccer or go on a school field trip. It also was what he needed to be when he had to stand between his ex-Marine Father and his equally stubborn brother when the fights got to be too ugly once Sam got older. Finally, being strong was what it took Dean to be when he had to allow Sam to get on that damn bus when he walked out on his family. It took every ounce of strength in Dean not to rip his own Father's heart out when he got back to the motel for telling Sammy if he walked out then never to come back because while John could survive without his sons, Dean wasn't sure he was strong enough to survive without his kid brother.

Staring at the bottle that was sitting next to him on the cold dirty bathroom floor of their latest motel room, Dean let his head fall back to rest on the side of the tub and he let his mind wander back to when it happened. To when the moment came when he stopped being the strong one.

He'd lasted four years without Sam though if he considered some of the injuries he'd sustained in those years, most of them caused by hunting alone, then maybe he hadn't been too successful. It became clear shortly after Sam left that unless it was really needed, John Winchester didn't need nor did he want his oldest son hunting with him. So Dean took the strength he'd learned to hunt on his own. He carried on the family tradition in his own way and usually only had bad moments a few times a year. Like on the anniversary of when their Mom had been killed or Sam's birthday.

Chuckling, Dean wondered if his brother would understand the hidden meaning behind the gift in the trunk of the Impala. He hoped he would but then he wasn't even certain if even knew the source of the mystery gifts back when he was in Stanford. Hell, Dean knew John would have been more pissed if he'd learned how much time he'd spent in California watching over Sam but if Dean still had to be strong then he'd be strong his own way.

Even after getting that garbled call from John while finishing up the job in New Orleans, Dean had kept the panic at bay. He wouldn't let anyone know how worried he was becoming and if he decided to go get Sam then that was his own damn choice but John was Sam's Dad too so he had a right to be part of looking for the old man.

"Even if it cost Sammy his happiness," Dean muttered, taking a long pull from the whiskey he'd been drinking all night.

Deep down, Dean admitted that if he'd never dragged Sam back into the life that maybe Jessica wouldn't have been killed but on his more rational days, he also accepted that the Yellow Eyed Demon had plans for his brother. Jessica was something that was in the way, something that needed to be wiped out in order to bring Sam back in and that if those hunter instincts hadn't forced Dean to turn around that night he might've lost his brother…he might've lost Sammy sooner than he had.

Ignoring the way his hands shook as he lowered the bottle, Dean remembered having the strength the handle looking for John, of handling the demons, vampires, Sam's freaky powers or visions, of nearly dying after the Impala was wrecked. He recalled the cold strength he felt after he realized what his Dad had done. How John had sacrificed his life for Dean's, his Dad's final words to him and the rage he soon felt at having that crap laid on him.

Being strong didn't allow for knowing that the baby brother you'd raised, that you'd loved all his life could become something Dean would have to kill if he couldn't save him. God knew he tried to be strong for Sammy. He tried to protect the kid from everything and everybody considering that crazy vampire hunter was trying for Sam's head at every turn.

"Give me Gordon these days," Dean missed the simple days of water spirits, Wendigos or shapeshifters. He missed it when it could just be him and Sam hunting evil sons of bitches without all the crap they had these days. He missed…Sammy.

The whiskey burned less the more he drank but that, he supposed, was the point of tonight as he looked between the bottle and the assortment of weapons laid out in front of him. Dean accepted his strength waned after holding Sam's cold lifeless body in Cold Oak when he'd been killed by that bastard Jake, another of the Yellow Eyed Demon's 'Special Kids' but he'd always had one damn job and he'd blown it by allowing Sam to get snatched right out from under his nose.

'Dad would be real proud of that,' he thought bitterly, remembering that it had been his idea to send Sam into that damn diner after pie so it was ultimately his fault when that Yellow Eyed scum bag grabbed his brother.

Dean swallowed the blame but not the loss and terror at going through life without his brother so in following the rules he'd grown up, the 'look after your brother, Dean' rule that John Winchester had laid down. He'd used every bit of strength to make the deal that left him a year to live but gave Sam back his life and then Dean found himself having to be very strong. Not just for Sam but for himself.

Waking up every morning to put on the bright and chipper façade for Sam and Bobby hadn't been easy, not when most times Dean felt like crawling in a hole and screaming until he was hoarse but he knew it was time to be the strong one again. He couldn't let Sammy see how scared he was at thought of going to Hell even if Dean knew his biggest fear was leaving Sam alone…or with that demon bitch.

Feeling the sour taste come up in his mouth at the thought of Ruby, Dean took another swig of the bourbon he was mixing with the whiskey just as his cell phone rang. "Right on time, Sammy," he murmured, surprised that his voice was only slightly slurred after the amount of liquor he'd consumed but he knew without looking that it was his brother.

Sam had been out most of the day researching a possible new case, or what Dean had told him was a new case since he wanted the motel to himself for this moment but he'd been expecting the call.

Ever since the day that he'd told Sam about what he'd done in Hell, whenever Sam went out, he'd make it a point to call sometime. At first, Dean thought it was his brother's way of checking up on him since it wasn't a secret anymore that Dean was not anywhere near as strong emotionally as he'd once been and that irritated him nearly as much as what it seemed Sam was becoming.

Lifting the cell phone shakily, Dean considered answering it but just as quickly changed his mind to throw the phone into the empty sink to let the voicemail pick it up. He'd changed the message just for this purpose since he knew either way Sam would call for something and figured it would be better for him to hear it on the phone since even considering recent problems Sam could still make Dean feel those big brother instincts that would make him rethink this plan.

Listening as the ringing stopped, Dean pictured the typical bitch-face his brother probably had for getting the voicemail and grinned before remembering why he was sitting on the floor of a motel bathroom. His strength, the strong willed man who had raised his brother the best he could and who had chosen to go to Hell for him rather than live without him had finally lost the strength to go on.

Dean could pinpoint the night he knew he was losing that strength. Two nights before his deal came due had been the worst because Sam chose that night to get shitfaced plastered and start a damn bar brawl with three men way meaner than him.

He did not enjoy spending one of his last nights on Earth mopping the floor with three rednecks who had tried to stick a knife in his overly emotional kid brother and then spend the rest of it dealing with the fallout.

Sam was a great hunter but as Dean learned early on in life his brother was clingy and over emotional when drunk, sick, or upset. When he was all three, it was worse so while he felt like going to sleep to recharge for the days ahead when he'd have to face that dreaded moment of dying on Sam's twenty-fifth birthday, he had to handle a drunk raging little brother who hated the world.

Dean didn't hate the world. Hell, he didn't even hate Sam. He'd made the deal and he accepted it. He accepted his fate even as that door opened he felt the first Hellhound rip into him and he heard his brother scream for him. It was Sam he went to Hell willingly for and…

" 'When a righteous man sheds blood in Hell…'" the words that Alastair spoke still rung in his ears and Dean locked onto the moment when his vaunted strength finally failed him.

After thirty years in Hell…three damn months Earth time…after thirty years of being cut, ripped, tortured, tormented in ways that Dean refused to ever let his brother know the full details of his strength finally gave out and he…gave in.

The whiskey was emptied this time as Dean struggled to ignore the images that came back. The burning memory of what he did while in Hell. How he did to souls what had been done to him and even then he hadn't been completely free of torment. Oh, the rack was gone but as Dean learned, Alastair had other ways to hurt and humiliate.

Reaching for the razor sharp knife that had once belonged to John Winchester, Dean ran the edge over his thumb. He might have told Sam some things but there were other stuff that his brother would never learn and that included the real reason Dean gave in since the urge to protect was still there in him.

Since returning, since learning that Angels existed and that his formally meek, mild mannered little brother had gone pure hunter in the time he'd been gone, Dean quickly realized that he hadn't come back to the same Sam that used to idolize him as a kid.

This Sam was a man of his own making though Dean wasn't certain he liked who else had a hand in the making. This version of his brother was a lot stronger both emotionally and physically than Dean and he guessed it took Castiel telling him what Sam had done to Alastair to prove that to him.

Dean knew if he went along with Castiel and Uriel's plan to torture his former teacher in Hell that things would go bad. He just hadn't been prepared for how bad until it all went wrong and he realized how weak he really was. Now, barely two days free of a hospital he guessed he knew what it was time to do.

Looking to the sink, he wondered what Sam had thought of the voicemail message or if he'd even care. He used to think that Sam would call while out to check on him but it was after the mess with the Siren that Dean realized that Sam was calling not to check on Dean but to be sure it was still alright with Dean if he came back.

As if things weren't tense enough since Dean's return, that damn Siren had messed them up more. Both Winchesters had said stuff that had left each other raw and wary with each other but Sam was trying. Dean knew the signs of his brother being scared and he saw them now but knew that Sam would be better off alone or with…her.

He wasn't the brother that he'd once always been. He wasn't the man who Sam could turn to…hell that was clear or he wouldn't have turned to Ruby and he wouldn't have been hiding what he'd been doing from Dean.

He'd already opted against the pain meds since it was too easy for Sam to call 911 for an overdose so that left either his .45 or the blade and it had to be before his brother got back. Dean could almost hear the stern commanding tone of his father in his ear calling him a coward for taking the easy way out and almost laughed.

"No, sir, the easy way would be to ride it out. To try to live with the damn memories of what I did down there, what I was made to do and what was done to me," he spoke to the silent room, unaware of the burning tears that slid down his cheeks. Once again he saw Hell, he could hear the screams and he could hear Alastair…both down there and in that room before he busted loose. "I'm not as strong as you, Dad. You never gave in but then I was still doing your damn job when I did. Sammy's better off without me since we both know I'm more hindrance than help to him these days."

Swallowing the lump that formed, Dean was honestly surprised that he wasn't drunk yet since he'd been counting on that making this easier. Hearing his phone ring again made him frown since he wasn't counting on Sam calling back if he listened to the message and the tape. Just ignoring the call, he reached for the .45 finally to feel the familiar cool steel in his hand.

"I hung on to look after Sammy, well he made it pretty clear that he didn't need that from me anymore and I'll be damned if he'll ever find out the full truth or if it'll come down to me having to hurt him. It's best if I send myself back to Hell before we destroy each other," he whispered, lifting the weapon to his temple while closing his eyes. 'Take it easy, Sammy…'

BANG!

TBC

A/N: This should be a 3 chapter piece but unlike Mirror Images these chapter won't be so long so it should be complete in a day or so…unless the reviews don't warrant it being continued (be kind…this is the first time I've chosen to write this sort of piece) and I swear on the Impala's wax job that Chapter 8 for Mirror Image will be coming soon.