TITLE: A Room in Your Head

AUTHOR: 9091

PAIRING: Wincest

WARNING: Explicit/Graphic

SET DURING (and spoilers through): "Lazarus Rising"

SUMMARY: Dean, back from Hell, but still there, with unwelcome feelings toward Sam.

Thanks to: Kelly (paintchipped ). Beta-reader extraordinaire!

HELL.

Physical torture wasn't working on Dean Winchester.

The demons were continuously reviewing what had been tried, and what had failed, to shatter souls. Admittedly, the tried and true methods had worked rather well for centuries: souls could be strong, but the people who hosted them were typically not. Some broke the first day. Some held on for a little longer. But Dean Winchester's name was written in a book of souls that weren't breaking.

Did he enjoy pain? No, that much was obvious. It was something else.

Sometimes he looked up at them from the hooks, almost curious. Every new Hell day, his face was as smooth and unbroken as the day he'd come down. The demons latched on to any emotions they could find, and Dean had so much anger at first, but those days were gone. They listened mostly for pleas, their favorite, but Dean had nothing to say.

Sometimes it seemed that if they had persisted, for just a few minutes more, they could break him. But they couldn't. Dean seemed to know how to expand his will, just enough and no more, to persevere one more time.

"Dean Winchester, would you like to put souls on the rack?" The question was so tender, as if it was just conversation, as if Dean's pierced hands weren't the only thing keeping him on the hooks. As if he wasn't chained there, a C-shaped section of him flayed from his exposed clavicle down to his hip, like something had taken a bite.

Dean always acted as if he were considering the question, but he wasn't. Maybe because Alastair had always left his mouth intact, just in case. He wanted Dean moving souls. He wasn't going to have another Winchester making a black mark in his book.

But always, Dean said no. And then Dean went into a place, deep inside of himself, that they hadn't been able to find.

In Hell, it had been 27 years.

TOPSIDE.

His first day topside, he found himself touching everything, just digging his fingers in. On the ride over to see Sam in Pontiac, Bobby noticed him doing it and just looked at him. So Dean had stopped for now.

Being here, in a car with Bobby, going to see his brother… it could've been another of their engineered hallucinations, but the more he touched and noticed, the more he had to keep from convincing himself that it was true. Dean would take such a deep breath when he thought of seeing Sam again that he would laugh to himself and get dizzy. Breathing wasn't necessary in Hell; his lungs were out of practice.

But it was making him feel like an idiot, these little surges filling him up: The jingle of car keys, Bobby's old clunker smelling like dust and aftershave, 1970s AM rock oozing out of the ancient radio, kids shouting in front yards and the overwhelming scent of sun-scorched asphalt rising up from the road to meet them. Dean never thought he'd get to smell it again.

If it was a hallucination, it was a good one. The best one. Suspicions ebbed in and out of Dean's mind. He watched Bobby's face for signs. He picked apart Bobby's words, listening for something that was off. Dean's instincts were as sharp as they'd ever been, maybe sharper, and nothing was raising flags. To Dean, this was a flag in and of itself.

He was trying to stay calm. He was trying to look steady and unconcerned. But inside, he felt like the dude at the party who'd had one too many shots, the one who got happy and started to hug people.

It got worse, the closer they got to seeing Sam. Dean wasn't sure what he would do if Sam wasn't there. It felt like that at first, the cute girl coming to the door to see if they brought pizza. Dean thought Sam had moved on, or had never been here in the first place. And then he emerged from the bathroom, hair damp from a shower, making any room he stepped into suddenly smaller. Like always. Dean felt like his heart was just going to go off, like a bomb. Sam had bulked up in the time that Dean was gone. He looked good, if tired.

But if he had done what Dean suspected, he was going to get his ass kicked all over the room.

Dean got to bury all of that a few moments later, as Sam attacked, knife in hand, with Bobby stepping in and trying to push them to neutral corners. When Bobby reassured Sam about Dean passing all the tests, Sam rushed at him just as insistently as before. But there was no anger this time. When he connected to Dean, he held on for dear life. Sam always hugged so hard that it hurt, damn near chiropractic, and he'd been hugging Dean that way for so long that the pain was warmly familiar.

That's when Dean knew he was really topside. Hell got a lot of the details right when they'd tried this shit before, but not this one. Never this one.

HELL.

Courage, Honor, Commitment. Dean Winchester had some stock phrases he would let stick in his head during the torture. When scrambling for ways to hold on, it made sense given how far Dad had gotten into his head.

At all costs, accomplish the mission — that was the other one, though he wasn't that formal with it. Dad just said, "Finish the job." That was basically the same thing. Any sadness or doubt that creeped in to get in the way was shot down.

The first job was saving Sam's life by coming down, and Dean had done that. Now the mission shifted to not becoming some black-eyed demon fuck who would need to get ganked. Dean would imagine turning into a demon that got topside, and coming around a corner to find Sam there. This thought kept him running for a long time.

Even this eventually stopped working. Dean was feeling the torture get through more and more. He could feel the pain softening his resolve. It wasn't like getting shot up there, where panic and adrenaline would cushion the pain for a couple of minutes and let survival take over. Whatever those cushions were, they didn't work down here.

Finally, he remembered Jack Billingsley, one of his dad's Marine buddies who would come over and drink. Sometimes John would let Dean come out and sit there with them, shooting the breeze, and maybe even let him have a beer. Jack always offered him a smoke, making him feel grown up. Dean just wanted to hear stories, and they basically wanted a sufficiently awed audience and someone to send out for beer. It worked.

Jack had done some time in a Hanoi Hilton during 'Nam. He told Dean about what they did to American soldiers over there.

It was unimaginable to him, that kind of torment. At that point, Dean's biggest annoyance were some stitches on the back of his leg from a knife gouge. They itched like crazy. "They thought you knew coordinates or something? Did you know things like that? Battle plans and stuff?"

"It wasn't about information." John winged a bottle top at Dean, who moved his head to the side to dodge it. "It was about seeing if you would give in."

"They wanted to break your will," Jack told him. "If you backed down and did what they wanted, maybe someone else would follow you. If you were a leader, maybe your whole damn group. I was the platoon sergeant, so they started on me first."

Jack had lasted for nine months before he broke and issued his statement. If Dad's expression was any indication, this wasn't too shabby.

Dean just started at Jack, filled with a new respect for him. "How'd you last that long?"

"A day at a time, just trying to stay strong," Jack said simply. "That worked for the first few months. After that —" He broke off to look at John, who nodded, agreeing to something. Jack tapped his finger hard against his temple. "After that, I just kind of went into my head. Does that make any sense to you, boy? I built a room in my head that I went to when things got shaky."

Dean had no frame of reference for this whatsoever. "Like… in your imagination?" He looked at Dad and then back to Jack. "What kind of room?"

Jack shrugged, chugging from his bottle. "Whatever room is gonna work, kid. Hopefully you never have to think too much on it."

The process was easier than he had imagined. He started with what he knew: a motel room. It looked like a vague composite of every motel room they'd ever booked: two beds, a little bedside table with a clock, ugly wallpaper (he could've made the wallpaper nice, but it wouldn't have been right), a small kitchen table with some chairs. Dean had spent so many days of his life in rooms like this that this part was easy.

He zeroed in on little things that always made him think of motel rooms: the stale scent, the vague hint of cigarettes, remaindered carpet, usually in some color that was remaindered for a reason. Matchbooks with the motel's name on them, in a little pile on the table. General interest magazines, never less than three years old. Some older model of a television box, the kind that still had the tube inside, with the Pay-per-View placard on top. A courtesy phone that was either beige or so past clean that no one could tell anymore. Some kind of ugly pattern on the bedspreads, so the wallpaper didn't feel alone. Things he could glance at once, but never have to look at again.

But it wasn't done yet. Dean put his gun under the lumpy motel pillow, and his big boots half under the bed. He put yesterday's clothes on the floor, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the table, across from Sam's laptop with the decals that Dean had stuck on it (Sam had been so pissed). Next to the other bed, he piled books. Big books, old books. Sam's clothes, all plaid and soft flannel, would be draped almost neatly over the back of a chair, his huge shoes tucked underneath.

Now. Now it was ready.

He sat on his bed — the one closest to the door was almost always his — and he waited. He wasn't sure what to do then, because he hadn't even admitted to himself what he wanted to do. He didn't even know how long he'd been down there, but more than anything, for cycle after cycle, he wanted to talk to Sam, to know that Sam was okay. If he couldn't do that, maybe he could pretend. And maybe…

Dean closed his eyes. Outside of his head, his arm had just been burned away; it ended at the shoulder now. He could feel the sound in his throat, of his own crying out.

That's not happening in here, Dean told himself firmly, moving his arms to prove it. You're here now. Goddamnit, focus.

He could hear the chains moving around him, but all he stared at was the other bed. He hunched forward. Sam would hunch forward to talk, too. Dean set his teeth and stared. He willed Sam to be there.

Outside of the room, he had just been run through. He was looking down on a spike that had just gutted him from the back. He was just meat now, he wasn't even recognizably human. He was a carcass on wires. They were pulling the spear out again through the front, and Dean knew from the pressure at his back that the spear was wider on that end. He clutched at what was falling out with his remaining arm, even knowing it was pointless, even here, even in this room, the last bit of blood and humanity to —

"Dean, what's wrong?"

Dean's head snapped up to find Sam sitting on the opposite bed now, brow furrowed with concern.

"Sam!" Dean leaned forward, as if to grab his arm, but he shouldn't have. Because Sam was there, facing him, but not real enough in his head for that yet.

If this Sam seemed bothered by being a product of Dean's imagination, he didn't let it show. "I've been worried sick about you. I've been going out of my head, just… sick. I don't know if I'm dreaming now, or if you are, but… how are you, man?" Sam lowered his head to look directly at Dean's face, dark eyes searching for something. "I mean, how are you, really? No bullshit."

Dean felt hot tears pooling in his eyes. "I don't think I'm gonna last much longer, Sammy. I think I'm gonna break."

"Don't talk like that. Come on, you can't cave in to them, not now. I'm topside, I'm trying to get you out of here."

"Are you?" Dean asked. "Are you working up there? You didn't give up on me?"

"Don't be an idiot." Sam leaned forward and put his hand on Dean's arm then. The arm that should not have been there. It felt real enough to Dean, but more than that, it was the first time he'd been touched directly by anything other than metal or fire. The first time he'd been touched since he'd come down, and he didn't know how long that had been.

"How long has it been up there?" Dean asked quietly, imagining if it had been 20 or 40 years, what shape Sam would be in. "You still alive up there?"

"You know I am," Sam insisted. "Don't worry about me… I know how to take care of myself. You taught me, remember? But you've got to stay strong. You've got to give me a chance to fix this."

When the chains brought him back around to Alastair, for the question, Dean didn't even know how much of him was left on the hooks. But as usual, his mouth, his ability to speak… that would be intact.

"Dean Winchester, would you like to put souls on the rack?"

He suddenly felt more tired than he had ever felt before, hearing this question. Was he really going to rely on some kind of fucking head trip to —

Stay strong, Sam insisted.

Dean lifted his chin, as much as he could. What remained of his teeth were chattering with nerves. All he could taste was blood, but his voice was strong. "No."

In Hell, it had been 28 years.

TOPSIDE.

Bobby had just left them for the day, a moment that Dean was kind of looking forward to and dreading at the same time. He felt Sam look over at him, felt Sam smiling. He could feel Sam's one million questions in the air like a swarm.

"Dude, don't start," Dean said, holding his hand up. "Seriously. Don't. I don't remember anything I would need to talk about. Let me just ease back into it."

"I was just going to tell you that it's good to have you back, man." Sam smiled again over the laptop. "I just keep looking over there and making sure. And I'm here, whenever you want to talk, or even if you don't. Okay?"

Dean nodded without looking back him, though he wanted to. He wasn't sure he was ready to have that moment with Sam. He could barely pin down one feeling and stick to it. He was still in shock that only four months had passed. He felt that the 40 years had been pressure-blasted into his bones. How could Sam be real? How could soft beds and fresh air be real after everything he'd done?

Between shifts of reading the book Sam had assigned to him, Dean caught himself looking at his brother over the top of the pages, and his mind wandered to the room where they'd spent almost three of what Hell called years.

He wondered if it was as easy to destroy the room as it had been to create it. He imagined himself packing up their belongings but the items would be there when he looked back, his bags empty. He imagined dousing the room in lighter fluid and setting it ablaze. When he opened his eyes again, it was unscathed. He thought so hard about it that he fell asleep trying.

Dean remembered every day with Sam, like he had it on a reel-to-reel. He could roll back to any day, like licking his finger and going to the exact page in a book without looking.

There was the day that Sam had brought a deck of cards for them to play at the little table, with Dean's howls of terror from below drifting in. Sam smiled tightly, spoke softly and shuffled the next hand as if nothing was amiss. Another day, Sam brought them action movies, and he and Sam sat against the bed closest to the television and watched all four of the Die Hard movies, even though Sam didn't even like them that much and hated how Dean quoted all the dialogue right before the characters said it. And as they got through the first movie and then the second, the panic set in, because it was going to be over soon.

But it didn't matter. On days like those, Dean was filled with power, with painkillers.

"Dean Winchester, would you —"

"No," Dean spat through blood. "Get what's left of me the fuck outta this thing."

Dean was getting stronger, bolstered by the thought of getting to see Sam at the end of the day even as he knew the hounds were ripping him apart. The thought of holding his head up when Alastair offered him his "mercy" to put souls on, the thought of Sammy and Bobby coming in with their guns blazing, which seemed — for some reason — like it might happen any day… Dean wore it like armor.

One day Dean walked into the motel room, with a joke for Sam ready to go, something about a women's prison.

Alastair was hunched forward on the bed, elbows on knees, just like Sam. And in Sam's tone, he mocked, "Dean, what's wrong?"

"Dean, what's wrong?" Sam was shaking him by the arm.

Dean had fallen asleep on the motel bed, the book laying pages down across his chest. He was shaking and cold. He felt that his eyes were damp and dragged the back of his hand across them before Sam could notice.

"Nothin," Dean grunted, feigning a stretch. "Must've dreamt something."

Sam tilted his head a little, not quite buying it, but he shrugged it off. "I can't believe you're still wearing Bobby's clothes. You smell like…" Sam wrinkled his nose. "Ointment. Let me find you something of mine."

"These are fine. At least Bobby's clothes kinda fit me."

Sam wasn't listening. He was rooting through his rucksack and pulled out what could've been one of a dozen plaid shirts, all with those cowboy buttons on them. He thrust it at Dean. "Here, this one's smallish on me."

"Nice."

"I'm not trying to say anything, Dean, just that it should fit better than anything else."

Dean reluctantly shrugged out of Bobby's tan jacket. It did smell like ointment.

Sam was hilariously looking for pants now, each pair he pulled out seemingly longer than the last.

"Forget it," Dean said, offended. "I'm not gonna be the guy who survived Hell only to die trippin' over your pants."

Sam laughed in spite of himself. "You can cuff the legs —" He cast eyes at Dean's feet and up to his waist. " — a few times."

"Oh, bite me."

"I just washed all this stuff, man. You'll feel better in some clean clothes, come on."

He turned quickly to remove Bobby's pullover and replace it with Sam's in as few movements as possible, not wanting Sam to see the hand-shaped welt and start asking questions. Sam was standing behind him and reached over to helpfully untangle the cord of Dean's necklace, only returned to its rightful neck that morning. The rough knot had gotten snarled up in the shirt's collar. His fingers brushed the fine hair at the nape of Dean's neck.

Dean's breath caught in his throat before he could stifle it, and imagined — didn't he? — that Sam's hand stayed there just a few seconds too long.

Sam had pulled back now. "Dean…"

"Hey, thanks," Dean struggled to fill up the space he was putting between them with words and casual movements. His face felt like it was sunburned, so he turned to pick up the pants that Sam had put on the bed. "You know what, I'm gonna wash up some. I've still got dirt in places I don't even wanna think about."

Sam nodded, and while his hand was down now, his fingers had frozen into the position they were in against Dean's neck.

HELL.

When Dean was put on the rack that cycle and sent down the pit, he simply hung there on the chains. No demons ripping, no Hellhounds barking. He went through all the songs he had memorized twice, just reciting them to himself. His hands had been hanging on the hooks so long that bones had split and muscle tissue had torn.

He willed the motel room to come to him, or he to it. He wished for it. He prayed to it. Nothing worked.

He had counted to a million, because he thought he remembered how long that took. He had blacked out, come to, continued to count, lost his place and blacked out again. But even when he moved into some part of his brain where he was almost close to something like sleep, there was no room.

The room was summoned by pain and unthinkable agony. Without torture, it was like Dean couldn't get there. With just waiting, with his wounds and the threat of falling into the pit and his madness, he couldn't get there.

Dean found himself wishing for torture, so he could step through.

He wasn't going to ask Alastair to show himself. He wasn't going to whistle for the Hellhounds. He wasn't going to show them anything that might resemble desperation.

Not long after that, he fell off the hooks into the pit. Within moments, when he drifted back to lucid thought, he had been made intact and hung there again, good as new.

That was when he heard his brother's voice. "Dean?"

Dean twisted on the hooks, panicked, straining to see.

There were chains rattling in the distance, but coming closer. The Hellhounds heard the chains, and the howl of one turned into the keening howl of all.

"Sam?" He was panting now, still trying to see. "Sam? Sam, that better not fucking be you on the hooks, Sam. That better not fucking be you!"

The chains brought his brother up to his face. Sam was so badly broken that he could barely speak. He fixed one eye and one empty socket on to his brother's face.

From below, Alastair called out, "Dean Winchester, you're free to go!"

"Sam, no. No, no, no. NO! This is the one thing —" Dean was sobbing now, not even trying to stop himself. He didn't care who heard it. The chains kept twisting him around, away from his brother, and he fought to keep himself turned around so the dimmest light from the fires below might allow him to look at his brother. "No, this is the one thing I asked you. I asked you. You stupid —" His sobs almost shook Dean off the hooks as he tried to kick at his brother, kick sense into him when it was too late. "Sammy, not for me! You stupid son of a bitch! Not for me!"

He struggled to look up, up toward where Alastair should be. "Ask me now, you bastard! Ask me now! I'll do it. I'll do it if you let him go. I'll put the souls on."

"I'll give it some thought," murmured Alastair. "But I had grown so tired of asking you. It just feels anticlimactic now."

Within seconds he was in the room, hyperventilating.

Sam was standing over him, horrified. "Dean! Dean, what did they do?"

Dean was convulsing and shuddering under the weight of the pain. He had never appeared in the room this bad before. He was just like he had been on the hooks, with huge open wounds in his hands, muscles atrophied around dislocated shoulders and hips, legs gone limp from lack of blood flow. Sam toiled over him, doing what he could to fix him.

Sam had pulled one of the chairs as close to Dean's bed as he could. "Dean, listen to me. It's a trick, okay? They're just trying to make it where it's easy for you to say yes when they ask you again, when they ask you for real. Listen! You have to hold on. Just one more day, Dean. When I see you again, maybe we'll have found something."

And Dean would agree, and only agree, to hold on for his brother for one more day.

And the next cycle, it started again. And again.

The motel room was little more now than a hospital where Sam anguished over his dying, broken brother and made him promise.

There were slight differences at first. Sometimes Sam on the hooks was non-responsive. Sometimes Sam was crying out for Dean to help him.

"You're not really here," Dean whispered to him, not sure he believed it.

Sam, terrified, hung there staring at him, following the sound of his brother's voice.

"The one in your room isn't real, Dean," Alastair's disembodied voice chided from above. "This one, however — he got tricked. He thought he was coming down to serve your time for you. He didn't read the fine print. And look at you, just staring at him. Useless. Powerless. Look at the buyer's remorse on your brother's face."

And Dean would end up on the motel room floor again, screaming, this other Sam — real? imaginary? — standing over him, tending to him.

For the next countless cycles, Dean Winchester was barely touched. He hung on the hooks, and he twisted around and around, watching his brother, hearing his brother plea for his life. Hearing the spears hit him with a wet, sickening thud. Hearing the Hellhounds coming, pulling him from the hooks and into the flat, black distance, with the sound of Sam screaming his name Dopplering off into the pit.

Anguish. Betrayal. Contempt. Disappointment. Dean saw the full fucking alphabet of every expression on Sam's face that he had worked his whole life to prevent. And when Sam was destroyed again, Dean would just shudder on the hooks and wait for Alastair's question, wondering if he could keep his promise today. But Alastair wasn't asking.

Back inside the room, Sam had him in the bath. And Dean couldn't even remember adding a bathroom, but he must have. The water was cool on his skin. There was a towel bunched up under Dean's head. Sam gave him his arm to grab onto and got him to the bed. When Dean couldn't stop convulsing, Sam would put his hands on him, like he could steady him.

And it did steady him. Sam would move his palms in little circles against Dean's warm skin, and it almost seemed like the muscles returned to power, like his skin was being repaired.

Maybe at first it was just to heal, just to feel some connection back to a brother he was losing. Over time, over countless days in this room, the walls, modesty and bravado that were in place had crumbled between them.

It was the only time Dean felt human, when Sam was taking care of him. And the humanity in himself was getting harder and harder to find. He felt like his heart had dried up. He felt like the pit was too far inside.

When he saw that it put fire back in Dean's resolve, Sam put his hands on him more and more.

The only reprieve that Dean could carry with him, watching them torture and kill his brother every cycle, watching himself fail his brother every cycle, was this room: A room in the middle of nowhere in his mind, where he could hold his brother at the end of the day and look for that little bit of humanity that was left. The pinpoint of light between holding on and becoming a black-eyed son of a bitch.

Sometimes Sam gave himself over to Dean, and sometimes Dean gave himself over to Sam, until it was unclear where one started and ended either way.

When Dean gave himself over, Sam would push into him from behind, so slow at first, running his fingers from the back of Dean's head, across his neck, to past the edge of his tailbone where Sam was joined with him. It was a fond, nervous gesture, like he was stitching Dean's skin with a little apology after every hard thrust. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you.

And always, as he was about to let go, when his breath grew ragged and short, Sam would rest the fingers of one hand against the hard muscle and soft skin at the base of Dean's neck, his short fingernails digging into the soft hair at the nape.

Dean, promise. Promise. Promise me. One more day.

And Dean pushing back into him, getting harder and harder with the friction against the sheets, would listen to the sounds of his brother there on the edge. The sounds of his brother being alive. It was like he could hide there in those few minutes and forget. And in those exhausted moments after, when they were both spent, there would be something almost — almost — like sleep.

In Hell, it had been 29 years.

TOPSIDE.

Dean let the hot water fall on him. A cold shower was probably what he should've gone for, but he needed to get all of the dirt off of him, too. What he was actually scrubbing at wasn't going to come off in this shower or any other.

He fought to forget, but he could still feel Sam's fingers against his neck, which made him think of Sam's fingers against his spine, Sam's fingers pressed into his mouth — this furtive need for Dean's loud groans to not be heard when Dean was draped over him, just rubbing against him. For God's sakes, it was the one time he could count on Sam to not talk about a million things Dean had no interest in saying out loud.

It wasn't real. Hell did a number on your head, that's all.

How could something not real feel like such a clear memory?

Dean turned his face up to the water, willing himself to put his mind somewhere else, anywhere else. He thought of Sam in the shower with him, holding him upright more than anything, but resting his forehead on Dean's shoulder so that it would feel more like Dean was supporting himself. Even in Hell, helping his big brother save face…

He rested his arm against the tile, and his own forehead against it, so tired.

The righteous man — started a voice in his head.

Dean forced the thought away. He told himself that if he got rid of this feeling, he could walk back out into the room with a clear conscience, with none of Hell clinging to him. He could look Sam in the eye and leave this in Motel Mental where he found it. But he didn't believe it.

Fuck this. He shook his head, angry, as if he could just jar the thoughts out. Get rid of this sick shit. Here and now, get rid of this.

He thought of Sam leaning against his back, Sam's hand coming around to rest reassuringly on his stomach. I've got you. Dean too weak to swat away the protection, knowing for sure he couldn't stand on his own. When Sam got hard then, he would slickly move up and down against Dean's back, a little too tall to go where he wanted to go when they were standing. If Dean's legs were weak, Sam would simply wrap his long arm around his middle and rock against him.

Dean mimicked Sam's hand on his stomach, hating himself for remembering.

His hand and Dean's would be pressed to the tile side by side for leverage. If Sam saw Dean reach down for his cock, the arm around his belly would join Dean's fingers in the soapy mess, like Dean himself did now, fingers wrapped together around him, stroking so slowly. As Dean's fingers got fast, Sam would wrap his hand halfway around Dean's fist, slowing him.

How did we even get there? Dean shook his head, biting his lip, the guilt washing over as the release got closer. How could I let it get like that, Sammy?

If he thought Dean's legs were steady enough, Sam would let the strokes from both of their hands get quicker. Sam would rub himself against Dean, harder and harder, in rhythm with it. As Dean got closer, Sam would let go and let his fingers stroke and squeeze Dean's balls while Dean's fist slid over the swollen head, slid hard down the shaft.

Dean clenched his jaw, willing himself to stay silent. Sam was only feet away, on the other side of a thin wall. No amount of water was going to muffle the sounds Dean wanted to make.

I was supposed to protect you.

When Dean's breathing had gotten to the place that Sam recognized, he would tighten his arm protectively across Dean's stomach, his own body hunched, his head bowed so that his face was next to Dean's.

The righteous man —

Dean frowned, shaking it away again. He wanted to remember it all, every detail, here and now: Sam's teeth would graze Dean's jaw in a fevered sort of half-kiss. Always within a moment of this, Dean would throw his head back and come hard enough to send them both falling on their heads, but Sam never let go. When Dean was finished, finally able to put both hands against the wall to steady himself, Sam would slide himself into the little valley of Dean's back, pressing against him as hard and fast as he could, up and down, up and down, faster and faster, slumping forward when he had come, hot and panting against him.

Dean squeezed himself harder in his hand, burying his cock up to the shaft in his fist. Almost… almost…

This is it. Get it out of your goddamn system.

A groan almost got out of him before he could choke it back. Dean bit his lip so hard he drew blood. He thought of Sam's fingers up and down his back, the little bite on the jaw, the hand in his hair — Sam's hands…

Dean's knees almost buckled under him with the release.

When he had slowed his breathing down, he turned off the water and slumped against the tile, standing there for so long that the water dried on his skin.

Hell is no excuse. You sick fucker.

"You all right in there?" Sam called in.

"Yeah." Dean answered. "It's all good."

When he heard Sam's steps retreat away, he dropped his chin onto his chest and closed his eyes.

He stepped out and changed into the clothes Sam had given him. He puts his palms down on the sink, wiping his face, giving himself a hard, unflinching look in the eye.

This is done now. You are done now. If Dad were here —

Maybe Alastair was right.

HELL.

When Dean got into the room that night, Alastair was hunched forward on the bed, elbows on knees, just like Sam. And in Sam's tone, he mocked, "Dean, what's wrong?"

Dean stepped back, ready to run. Instead, Alastair raised his hand and immobilized Dean against the wall, leaving his feet to dangle off the ground.

In a sing-song tone, he said, "I found your room."

"Where's my brother, you bastard? I know that's not him on the hooks. I know it isn't. You haven't tricked me."

Alistair smiled broadly. "I'm sorry, Dean, but that's him, in the flesh. Did you know that every time I bring him around to you, I wipe his memory from the time before? He comes down to Hell, everyday. The pain is new. You remember how the new pain felt, didn't you? And every day, he begs for you to figure out a way to save him, and every single day, he dies disappointed." He walked up to Dean until his face was only inches away from where Dean was pinned to the wall. "Did you think he'd be in here, naked and oiled up for you?"

With another flick of his hand, Alastair let Dean drop.

Dean swallowed hard, baring his teeth. He didn't know where to put this shame. He felt like he was being suffocated under it.

"I wish your father could be here for this moment, Dean. Do you know how long he suffered down here? He came down here for you. And for what? So you could sodomize the one person he told you to protect?"

"It wasn't like that!" Dean said angrily. "I'm not like that!"

But Alastair was gone now, his disembodied voice addressing Dean from inside his head: "You belong here, Dean Winchester. In fact, if you work the rack, you can sodomize any soul you want. We encourage it. But I have to say, the righteous man… isn't what he used to be."

Dean looked up toward the voice. "What does that mean?"

Dean sunk onto the bed. He didn't care if Alastair could hear him now or not.

"Sam?"

He closed his eyes and opened them again. The other bed was empty.

"I'm sorry, Sammy… I'm so, so sorry. I — I did things to you…" He shook his head and swallowed again. "That no family should've done…"

He waited.

"If you can hear me, if you're still topside… let me go." Dean blinked up into the nothing, trying to keep his voice steady. "You did the best you could, but it's time to stop trying. Some people just die, and there's nothing you can do."

Dean noticed then that there was no more laptop, no more clothes folded over the chair, no more books piled next to the bed.

It all came down to this: a pervert on hooks, right where he always belonged.

An empty room.

No one was coming.

There was no end in sight.

That particular cycle, they chose not to destroy Sam in front of him. They decided that today, any torture would do. They'd split his body in half except for everything above his collarbone. He hung there in the black airless pit for an amount of time that could've been minutes or it could've been days. And it couldn't have mattered less.

The pain gave him the shakes — some kind of muscle reaction — but he felt nothing. His blood dripped down on the Hellhounds, who howled for his meat from below as Alastair smiled down. "Dean Winchester, would you like to put souls on the rack?"

"What the hell?" Dean growled from low in his throat, mouth quivering against the cuts and bleeding. "Where are they, huh? Where the fuck are they, I'll put one on for ya right now!"

TOPSIDE.

"Hey, Dean, can I ask you something?"

Dean knew it was only a matter of time: They were taking a little road trip to talk to some psychic friend of Bobby's. Sam had been staring out the window at the miles of nothing, too quiet and uneasy.

"What?"

Sam cast a sideways look at Dean's face, gave it a moment's thought, and reconsidered. "Never mind. You're just gonna make fun of me."

Dean shook his head mock-sadly. "You'd deny your fresh-from-Hell big brother a chance to make fun of you?"

Sam turned in the seat to face Dean as much as the Impala's legroom would allow him. "I'm serious, okay? I know it's the last thing you want to talk about. I hear you, man, but this is something I need to talk about."

"Sam, I don't remember anyth —"

"It's bullshit!" Sam yelled. "Dean, it's — listen, you're keeping it all to yourself, you have your reasons, but I can see it in your face. I know you, man, so save that for somebody else."

Dean's knuckles went white on the steering wheel. "Fair enough."

"I just want to know… if you saw me. Down there."

Feeling like a muscle cramp had hit his entire body, Dean mustered the closest thing he could to a non-reaction. His voice still came out sharper than he'd intended. "Why would you ask that?"

Sam went back to hunching in the seat and staring out the window, "About six weeks ago, I started getting these dreams. They kind of came from out of nowhere. It was every night. It's like… it's like you were calling me for help. And I could go to see you and —" He seemed to be searching for words then. "They were… vivid and —"

He turned to look at Dean, and in that moment, Dean found it so hard to look back at him that his entire body ached.

"I would tell you… I don't know, stupid stuff. I told you to stay strong. I made you promise to hold on." He was fidgeting with the ashtray in the armrest now, taking pains to not show his eyes. "About a month ago, they just… stopped and I thought… I thought that was it. I thought you were gone, man."

I was, Dean thought, keeping his eyes on the road.

But Dean kept his best puzzled eyebrow in play. "It's just dreams and stuff, man. Probably something your brain coughed up to make it easier."

Sam laughed dismissively and looked down. His voice was low and quiet. "It didn't."

Dean had the sudden overwhelming urge to say it. To say it all.

It helped me. You'll never know how it helped me. Sam…

He stole a look at Sam's reflection in the glass. It was the same expression he had seen on his face in the mirror. Regret and something else he didn't want to think about: longing.

Dean turned up the music, set his jaw and kept on driving.