I don't own Supernatural, or the lyrics to Fade to Black (Metallica) which is where the title comes from.
Dean had hoped that a few hard drinks would make him feel better, but in reality, they had made him feel worse.
With the sense of clouded clarity that he sometimes felt when he had a few drinks under his belt, he knew that he shouldn't have treated Sam like he had. One of the biggest regrets in his life was the way that he had handled it when their father died; the way he had pushed Sam away and left his younger brother to deal with the loss on his own, when they could have dealt with it so much better together. And now here he was, doing the exact same thing. He was years older, but apparently no wiser, he reflected bitterly, staring at the amber liquid in his glass as he sat at the bar in silence.
Their oldest friend, their surrogate father, was in the hospital, dying, and here he was sitting alone in a bar, trying to drink his sorrows away, when he knew better than anyone that there were some sorrows that couldn't be drowned.
After Bobby had woken up and then flat lined, the doctors had done their thing, swarming around him like a hive of worker bees, restarting his heart and hooking him back up to machines that would breathe for him since he couldn't do it for himself. He was back on life support, and in intensive care, but the young male doctor who had told them earlier that they would just have to 'wait and see' had broken it to them gently that Bobby had taken a turn for the worse.
Cells in his brain were dying. It was unlikely he would be able to live without the machines they had him hooked up to, let alone ever walk or talk again. The damage done by the bullet was irreparable.
The doctor had insisted that they go and get some sleep, promising them that nothing would change while they were away, and if they needed them at all, if Bobby so much as twitched, he would personally call Dean's cell, which Dean had insisted he write on his hand, so that he couldn't misplace the number.
Running on auto-pilot, he'd booked them into the closest motel they could find, made himself have a shower and ordered a pizza while Sam did the same. He was honestly not planning to go to a bar, would have made do with his ever-present flask, but Sam had started in with the 'what are we going to do' and 'we need to talk about this' and 'Bobby is probably going to die, Dean'. Unable to take it, Dean had thrown more harsh words at his brother, when he was already regretting his earlier barb about their dad dying that he had slung at Sam in the hospital. But denial was Dean's coping mechanism of choice, and when someone threatened his fantasy that everything was going to be fine, he lashed out in defence. Even when that someone was his own little brother.
Now, sitting at the bar, Dean could hear what Sam was really saying. 'We need to talk about this' really meant 'I need to talk about this' and 'What are we going to do' was Sam-speak for 'I'm scared and I need my brother'. But Dean had snapped at him, rejected his attempts to reach out, and then stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Draining the last of the drink, he stood up and tossed a bill big enough to cover his tab on the bar. He shouldn't be here, he realised now. There was one other person in the world who could understand what he was feeling at the prospect of losing the man who had been more a father to him than his biological one had been, and he too was sitting alone, probably feeling just as shitty as Dean.
"Well, at least we can feel shitty together." Dean muttered as he unlocked the Impala.
The bar wasn't far from the motel, just a little way back towards the hospital. Dean hadn't wanted to go far, just in case something happened. Five minutes and one tiny streetlight later he was pulling into the parking space in front of their room.
He tried the door, and was satisfied to find it locked. He rapped twice, then remembered that the motel had given them two keys, and that he had taken one. Trying to remember what pocket he'd put it in, he started fishing through his jeans.
He'd been through his left front and back pockets when he started to feel uneasy. The lights were on, shining through the kinda threadbare curtain in the window, but Sam hadn't answered his knock, and he couldn't see any movement inside.
"He's fine, probably on the crapper." He muttered aloud, trying to calm the sudden twisting in his gut. The keys weren't in his back right pocket either, and Sam still didn't answer the door. His stomach twisted harder.
Of course they were in the last pocket he looked in, and of course they were old and rusty and stuck a little in the lock. Dean jiggled them impatiently, finally hearing the click, and pushing the door open and stepping inside in one fluid, smooth movement.
"Sam?" His eyes swept the room even as he called out, searching automatically for the lanky form of his not-so-little brother.
Two empty beds. Bathroom door open, light on.
"Sam?" He stepped further into the room warily, pulling the door shut behind him.
He heard the ragged breathing a second before his eyes fell on the familiar figure wedged between the furthest bed and the wall. Sam could curl into an impossibly small ball when he was upset, or frightened, and it looked like he was all of the above right now. He sat with his back to the wall, his knees drawn up to his chest, and his arms wrapped around them tightly. The part of it all that made Dean's heart sink though, was the way he was pressing his thumb against the palm of his opposite hand, and even from here Dean could see bright blood welling between his brother's fingers.
He swore softly, rounding the beds quickly and dropping into a crouch in front of his brother. "Sammy."
Sam's head was ducked forward, dark bangs hiding his eyes, and he didn't look up or slow his erratic breathing at Dean's quiet call.
"Hey. Hey." Dean reached out and took his brother's face in his hands, tilting it up so that they were eye-to-eye, but Sam's gaze was vacant and far away as he ground his thumb against his palm hard enough that Dean could hear bones crack in protest.
"Sammy. Come on, man. Don't do this." Dean begged roughly, but his hands were gentle as he cradled his brother's face and stroked his thumbs lightly over Sam's cheekbones. Could this be the wall coming down, unable to stand the pressure of Sam's grief?
"Sammy. Come on, kiddo, give me something here."
Sam's erratic breathing stuttered, and Dean realised he was saying something, so soft and low he'd almost missed it. He leant forward, frowning, and made out the words. "Not. Real."
"That's right, Sammy, it's not real. Whatever you're seeing, it's not real." He promised, moving one hand up to stroke through his brother's hair, other down to rub at the tense muscles at the back of his neck. "It's not real, Sammy, but I am. I'm real, little brother. Come back to me. I'm real. I'm real, Sammy. Come on, kiddo, come back. You can do this."
Sam blinked, once, twice, and the blank look in his eyes slowly faded, chased out as pain and fear crept into his expression. He slowly raised wide, wet eyes to blink at Dean.
"Dean?" He asked, his voice small and afraid.
"Yeah Sammy. Right here." Dean tucked stray bangs of hair behind his brother's ear, so they could see eachother better.
Sam swallowed, watching his brother warily, and hopefully. "You…real?"
"I'm real, Sammy. I promise." Dean cupped his brother's face again for a second, met his gaze head on. "I'm real, okay? Just you and me. That's all that's real in this room. You and me."
Sam studied him carefully for a long moment, as if searching for the truth of what he said, and Dean held still and allowed it, stroking his thumbs over his brother's cheekbones tenderly. Finally Sam nodded, wilting a little as some of the tension left his body.
"Okay." Dean repeated in relief, bending his head forward and touching their foreheads together for one brief moment while he said a silent thanks that the wall still seemed to be holding. Then he pulled back, sliding his hands behind Sam's knees and uncurling him, because sitting curled so tightly into himself had to be uncomfortable. Sam allowed this, watching Dean in weary silence.
"Come on, kiddo. Come sit on the bed." Dean coaxed him, taking hold of Sam's upper arms and helping him lift himself up, and manouvering him to sit on the bed, instead of the hard floor. Sam was limp and pliable, obedient as he had been as a small child.
Dean got him seated and smoothed his hands down his brother's arms, his eyes travelling down to Sam's wounded hand, which was still bleeding everywhere, down Sam's wrist and onto his lap. Sam had his fingers curled over his thumb, so Dean couldn't get a good look, but he winced at the thought of the damage that must have been done for the blood to be flowing so freely.
"What have you done to your hand, kiddo? It was all healed up."
"I cut it." Sam's eyes travel briefly to the night stand, and Dean's follow his gaze to the bloody knife that rests there. "I needed to…to feel what was real."
Dean sighed quietly, smoothing a hand over his brother's hair again. "I'm not sure this is going to be a healthy coping mechanism, little brother." He murmured absently, his gut twisting again at the thought of Sam inflicting injuries on himself in order to feel pain. But for now, he'd done what he had to do, and there was nothing Dean could do about it except patch him up.
"I'll be right back. Just gonna get the first aid kit." He patted Sam's knee and made to stand, but Sam's uninjured hand shot out instantly and clutched at Dean's shirt.
"No! Dean, don't go, don't leave, please," he begged, tears instantly forming and filling his eyes, threatening to fall.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Dean lowered himself into a crouch again, reaching towards Sam instinctively as his brother tipped forward and buried his face against Dean's neck, his injured hand coming up to clutch just as tightly at his shirt.
"Please, Dean, please." Sam begged as Dean closed his arms around him, "We don't have to talk about anything you don't want to talk about, just don't go, please. It's worse when you're not here."
Dean felt like he'd been punched in the balls, or at least deserved to be. But he kept his voice low and calm. "I'm not going anywhere, Sammy. I promise. I swear, I'm not leaving. I'm sorry about earlier, kiddo, I really am. It won't happen again, okay? I'm not leaving. I'm here, I'm right here. I'm here, little brother."
Sam trembled in his arms, and clutched so hard he pinched skin along with shirt, but Dean didn't flinch. He smoothed his hand up and down Sam's back, and kept making promises, low and soft, until he felt Sam begin to believe him. The trembling died down to occasional shudders, the death grip on his shirt loosened, and eventually Dean eased him back, stroking the hair out of his brother's eyes again so he could see him.
"I'm going as far as the bathroom, to get the first aid kit, and no further, okay?"
Sam nodded, his shoulders slumping as he folded in on himself wearily. Dean felt his brother's eyes on him for the entire two minutes it took him to wash his hands and retrieve their dwindling supplies of bandages and antiseptic cream, and it wasn't until he snagged a chair and pulled it to sit in front of Sam again that his brother relaxed.
Sam had gone back to rubbing his thumb against his injured palm absently, and Dean had to tug the uninjured hand away gently so that he could lay Sam's left hand palm-up on his own knees.
He drew the uninjured right hand to his own stomach and pressed it against his shirt. "You need something real to hold onto, you hold onto me." He said softly, and Sam's fingers curled immediately into the fabric of his shirt.
Dean cleaned the wound, wincing at the damage done by the knife, and by Sam's own thumb. He stitched it again, soothing his brother with soft words as he did so, then bandaged it up with a fresh, stark white bandage.
Sam stayed quiet, his grip on Dean's shirt slowly loosening, his eyes drooping as Dean finished pinning the bandage in place.
"All done." Dean used some wipes from the first aid kit to clean the blood from his brother's hands, spreading his fingers apart and wiping between them gently. He unbuttoned Sam's shirt and slid it back over his shoulders; undid his belt and jeans and when Sam stood up they fell and pooled at his ankles. "You need to eat more." Dean murmured absently, gathering the bloody clothes and tossing them in the general direction of the bathroom for laundry tomorrow.
Steadying Sam, who was slightly unsteady on his feet, with one hand, he turned down the bed with the other. It didn't take much coaxing to get Sam lying flat, and Dean tucked him in before crossing to the other side of the bed, nearest the door, and sitting down near his brother's hip.
"You okay?" He asked softly, watching Sam nod sleepily in reply.
"Tired." His brother admitted hoarsely. "And worried…" He trailed off then, looking guilty.
"About Bobby?" Dean prompted.
Sam nodded once, quickly, something like guilt-or maybe fear-flashing behind his eyes.
"Me too." Dean admitted, and Sam looked up at him, startled. For a moment he seemed unsure of what to say, or how to proceed, and Dean couldn't blame him for that. Hearing Dean admit his fears had to be a shock, after the last thirty-odd years. But Sam recovered quickly, his eyes softening with empathy and understanding, and he reached out of his own accord to wrap his long fingers around Dean's wrist and squeeze lightly.
"We'll get through this, Dean." He said earnestly, and Dean smiled slightly as his brother echoed his words from the hospital earlier, minus the sarcasm and hostility. Coming from anyone else, that line would have been cheesy, and Dean would have met it with a groan of protest. Coming from Sam, it was just truth.
"I know we will. Together." Dean said, roughly, the sentiment feeling awkward on his tongue, and Sam gave him a smile so genuine that it was worth saying the sappy words.
Sam moved over a little in silent invitation, or maybe request, Dean wasn't sure which. Either way, his answer was the same.
"Shove over, bitch." He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the side of the bed closest to the door, immediately realising how tired and drained he was as he felt Sam curl up against his side. Sleep rose to claim him almost instantly, and the last thing he heard as he drifted off was his brother's voice, quiet and fond beside him.
"Good night, jerk."