A/N: This... is a bit of a pointless fic that started writing itself in my head a couple of weeks ago and wouldn't stop nagging me. So... here we are.
Warnings: SPOILERS all the way through s5. Lots of swearing, violence, blood, gore, one non-explicit allusion to rape, character death, present-tense, weirdness.
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or any of its characters.
The title is Tamil, and it translates to 'Knowing or Unknowing'. It's shamelessly (shamelessly!) stolen from a Tamil movie of the same name. That movie also features a boy separated from his father as a baby, only for that father and his stepbrother to find him by accident twenty years later. It's awesome fun, and features some of the most entertaining brotherly bonding I've seen on Tamil cinema, and doesn't actually bear all that much resemblance to this fic.
Dean Winchester is four years old when he carries his little brother out of a fire for the first time. He runs, staggers, says, "it's gonna be okay, Sammy," without even really knowing why, because the house is exploding behind him and Sammy is staring to slip out of his arms and Mommy and Daddy are still there, still in the fire, and why aren't they coming why aren't they why aren't they—
Then Daddy's scooping him up into his arms and running. Dean holds on to Sammy as tightly as he can, even as he feels a searing wave of heat behind him. Daddy stumbles, but eventually gets them across the street where Mrs Mahoney is already standing and screaming in her bathroom robe.
They turn to watch the fire, and Dean wants so desperately to ask where Mommy is, but Daddy's crying, Daddy's crying, and Dean's never felt so scared in his life. Sammy's not crying, though—he cries all the time (all the time and that's when Mommy and Daddy fight and Dean curls under his blankets and pretends not to hear), but he's not crying now. He just blinks up at Dean, giggles a little, and Dean clutches him to his chest harder.
Angels are watching over you, Dean, Mommy'd said. He prays to them now, hopes beyond hope that they're listening and that Mommy's going to join them any minute now (any minute now), but the fire continues to burn, Daddy continues to cry, Mrs Mahoney is still screaming, and all Sammy does is snuggle up to him harder.
Dean closes his eyes.
It's when Sammy starts crying again in the middle of the night that Dean knows something is wrong.
They're in another strange, smelly hotel room—Dean's not sure why they just can't go back home, or just someplace clean; he's pretty sure he saw a cockroach in the shower and he tried his best not to scream, though it was a close thing. Daddy's out, again (only a couple of hours, okay, kiddo? You take care of your brother, now), and Sammy's sick, again, and Dean's just finished rocking him back to sleep in the cradle that Daddy made out of a blanket that he tied to a beam in the ceiling.
Sammy starts crying, a constant never-ending wail, Dean tenses, and a few seconds later, Daddy bursts in. He strides over to Sammy's cradle, looms over him, and Dean finds himself shrinking at the furious expression on Daddy's face. He hates it when Daddy's angry; it's when he drinks the smelly stuff that Mommy used to tell him not to drink, and then leaves the room in a flurry of bad words, flapping jackets and slamming doors. He really, really doesn't want Daddy to leave; he's too scared that he might never come back, like Mommy.
Everything's still for a few minutes except for Sammy crying, and then, to Dean's horror, Daddy's crying again. "I don't know what to do, Mary," he says. "What am I supposed to do?"
Dean swallows the lump in his own throat. "Daddy?" he says quietly.
Daddy starts at this, like he's realising Dean's there for the first time, then he's on his knees next to Dean and hugging him. Dean buries his face in Daddy's leather jacket and snakes his arms around his neck, Sammy finally quietens down, and Dean thinks that maybe, maybe things aren't so bad after all.
"You don't deserve this, Dean," Daddy says, clears his throat. "You really, really don't." He pulls back, and now there's no anger. "My mind's made up."
A couple of days later, Daddy leaves him in a strange house, with strange people trying to talk to him about a new home, a new family, that everything was going to be okay, but Dean's kicking and screaming because everything's not okay—how could they be, when Daddy and Sammy are driving away and leaving him alone?
He stops fighting after some time, stands stiffly as someone (some stranger) hugs him, and doesn't even cry.
"Dean!" Steve cries. "Deaaaaan." He waves toward Dean with one chubby hand.
Dean ignores him, looks around furtively to see if any of the adults are around, then sneaks toward the front yard to where he's propped his bike against the hedge for a quick getaway. Steve's still calling after him like he knows what Dean's going to do (has to do), and Dean feels his heart thump painfully in his chest. "Sssh!" he hisses at Steve without even really knowing why—it's not like Steve's ever listened to him before—then steels himself, jumps onto the bike's saddle, and starts pedalling furiously.
Just getting out of the neighbourhood is an amazing experience; there's wind rushing through his hair, his legs are moving faster and faster, and he feels like a superhero.
More than anything, he feels free.
It's not like Carl and Martha aren't nice people—somewhere between his tearful tantrums and long periods of silence, he does kind of recognise that. He has a nice room, gets nice things to eat and toys to play with, Carl drives him to and from school everyday, and he rarely gets scolded for anything. He even has a new little brother, Steve, who does nothing much more than waddle around, chew on Dean's legos and get Dean into trouble all the time. There are lots of times when he thinks being Dean Smith instead of Dean Winchester isn't such a bad thing.
Then he thinks of Daddy and Sammy (it's gonna be okay, Sammy, I'm here to take care of you), and immediately feels guilty. If Daddy doesn't want to come get him, Dean figures, then he might as well go after him. After all, Dean's seven years old, and he's pretty sure he can track them down if he really, really wanted to.
Right now, there's nothing he wants more.
He keeps pedalling and pedalling until his legs start to hurt, then he stops to pull out the water bottle from his backpack and take a nice long drink. He hasn't packed much—he's got water, a big bag of chips, a change of clothes, the contents of his piggy bank and a map; he figures he can work something out once he actually gets out of Lawrence. Soon, he's moving again—the sun's setting, his stomach's rumbling, and he can't help but think longingly of his nice, soft bed, but no. He has to do this.
The sun's casting long shadows across the road as it sinks below the horizon; something runs across the front of his bike in the encroaching dark. The bike wobbles as Dean starts. He grabs at the handles, tries to keep it on track, but then the front wheel hits something, the bike stops short, and Dean's thrown from his seat. He barely has time to flail and register that he's falling into a ditch by the side of the road, before he hits his head against something hard, feels a moment of white-hot pain, then everything gets dark.
When Dean wakes up, shivering, it's pitch-dark.
He's actually not quite sure if he's awake at all, until he tries to move, and is made acutely aware of the dirt and gravel that he's lying on top of, the bone-deep chill, and most terrifying of all, the pain in his head. He's never hurt quite this badly before—not even the time when he tripped over the lawnmower and twisted his ankle—and there are tears in his eyes before he's even fully processed everything. He whimpers, folds his legs to his chest, and tries not to move anymore.
He doesn't know how long he stays like that, cold and miserable with a pain that simply won't go away. He doesn't care about his big expedition, anymore—all he wants is to go home please can I just go home please please please?
Suddenly, he feels warmth by his side, and a hand gently brushing through his hair. The backs of his eyelids turn red, and when he opens his eyes, he sees fire.
Not just fire—it's a person on fire, a woman with long blonde locks that aren't even blackening in the flames, smiling at him and stroking his hair. It feels nice—not hot, or painful—and the agony in his head recedes a little bit.
"Mommy?" he says, because it has to be her, it has to be; he's never been more convinced of anything in his life.
"Sssh," she says, and her voice sounds like a breeze on a chill autumn evening, "you're going to be okay, Dean."
Dean nods, and closes his eyes while her hand continues to rest on his head.
Loud voices and hard, but gentle, hands are the next thing he's aware of. He cries out as he's lifted and the movement jars his head. He opens his eyes to some stranger and Martha looming over him. "Oh, Dean," Martha says, and he realises she's been crying, her eyes red, mascara smeared over her cheeks. "Thank god, thank god."
"We wouldn't have found him so quickly if it weren't for that light marking the spot," the stranger says. "Dean's a lucky young man."
Dean closes his eyes and wonders if Mommy hadn't been lying after all when she said that angels were watching over him.
Dean goes to college when he's eighteen, drops out a year later because, frankly, he thinks it's a big waste of time.
Carl and Martha aren't happy, of course; however, they don't argue much with him, as past experience has proved that to be an exercise in futility. Dean's not sure if he should be proud of that.
Steve, all of thirteen with glo-in-the-dark dinosaurs on his bedsheets and stars in his eyes, can't quite believe his big brother, however. "You can't just drop out," he keeps saying in that stupid, just-breaking voice of his whenever he gets the chance. "I mean—come on." It isn't until Dean threatens to box the little shit's ears that he stops.
So, yeah—pretty much everybody in the house is giving him a wide berth, and that's how he wants it, okay? He's done with stupid dramas and doing things he hates; he's going to get a job and get the hell out of Lawrence as soon as he can, that's what he's going to do.
He spends the days looking for a job and the nights scamming a few drinks out of the local bar (until someone rats him out, the asshole). Eventually, he finds himself employed as a mechanic at a garage, and he's pretty happy with that—he likes cars, knows a bit about fixing them from spending a lot of time tinkering around in Carl's garage during his anti-social rages.
He's walking home one late winter evening, hands buried in his jacket and collar turned up against the chill, when he hears screaming from a dark back-alley. He freezes, not sure if he heard right, when it comes again—a woman, screaming like she's having something ripped out of her body. He takes a quick look around—the street's deserted—before bursting into the alley, screaming, "Hey!"
There's nobody there. Dean frowns, squints in the meagre light, but the alleyway remains empty. Huh. He turns, and—
—there she is, the woman who was screaming, clothes torn and bloody, half her face torn off, one fleshy, raw cheek flapping in the wind. "Help me," she says, words half-garbled, and reaches out with one hand. Dean reaches out himself, a litany of (stupid, stupid) reassurances on the tip of his tongue. His hand goes right through hers, however, like she's no more substantial than thin air, and—it's suddenly gotten impossibly colder, and Dean's breath catches in his throat and his stupid goddamn muscles lock in place and refuse to move—
"Help," she says again, and now Dean can hear a strange sort of growling from the darkness behind his back. All of his hairs stand up, and before anything more can happen, he's ploughed right through the woman (feels like he just took a sudden dunk in ice-cold water) and running. He doesn't stop running until he's reached home. Once he's there, he ignores everybody else and stalks straight up to his room, boots shaking snow everywhere.
He sinks onto his bed, shudders, and wishes desperately that he can forget everything that he just saw.
It's four years later when Missouri Moseley visits.
Dean's heard of her, of course—she's the town 'psychic' (whatever that means). Personally, he thinks it's a bunch of money-spinning mumbo-jumbo crap, but, hey. He's not exactly going to begrudge somebody their livelihood, you know?
But when she visits Carl and Martha, he's struck by the unshakeable notion that he's met her somewhere before. Even has a memory of hearing that soft, lilting voice.
She looks at him with mournful eyes when she enters, gives him a small smile. Dean frowns, leads her to the living room where Carl and Martha are waiting. He turns to leave, then hesitates just outside the entrance. He flattens himself against the wall, spends about one-tenth of a second feeling shitty about eavesdropping, then focuses on the conversation.
"I might as well cut to the chase," Missouri's saying. "John's dead."
Martha gasps. "Was it—when did it happen?"
"A week ago. It was—I can't be sure, everything's a little muddled right now—but I think it had something to do with whatever killed Mary. All I know is that that... evil still lives, while John's dead."
There's an awkward silence, before Carl clears his throat and asks, "What about—Sam? Is he—?"
"The poor kid's with Bobby Singer right now, and he's about as okay as you could hope him to be. His daddy was his whole life, and now—"
Suddenly Dean doesn't want to listen to any more. He turns and stalks away, but not before he hears Missouri's voice in the back of his head, soft and pained: I'm sorry, Dean.
Dean Smith is supposed to be celebrating his twenty-ninth birthday in his Topeka apartment with friends, booze, and (hopefully) a few hot chicks. Instead, he's possessed by a demon, and trying really, really hard not to look at it as something he fucking deserves for being an ignorant ass. Oh, and trying to wrest back control of his goddamned body, too.
Some random person accosted him on the street, slammed him up against the wall, and before Dean could say what the fuck do you think you're doing? the man's eyes turned pitch-black. Every inch of it, like his eyes had been hollowed out and replaced with pools of black ink, and Dean just stared dumbly as the man said, "Hello, Winchester," opened his mouth, and let loose a cloud of thick, black smoke.
Dean regained some sense by that point, started running like hell, but the smoke actually seemed to be sentient—it followed him, forced its way in through his panting mouth, his nostrils, his eyes, and Dean choked and screamed and was pretty sure he died. However, no such luck—when he came to, he was a passenger in his own body, able to see and smell and hear and think and but with no semblance of control over anything else.
Hello, Dean, he heard then, right there in his goddamned head that wasn't even his anymore, and that's when he started screaming.
He's calmed down enough to actually listen to what the thing's telling him, now. The very first thing it made sure that he knew was that it's a demon. Dean's not sure if it wants him to be impressed, or something, because one of the first things the demon does with his body is go and start a bar fight, and Dean is freaking out. Dean watches, helpless, as it uses him to duck under all the flying bottles and fists, grab the nearest person, drag him into the restroom and gore him ever-so-slowly with the broken end of a beer bottle. Dean shudders under the wake of its sheer pleasure, wants to be violently sick.
Oh, Dean Winchester, it tells him. You poor, ignorant little maggot. I'm sure Johnny Winchester thought he was the doing the noble thing, the right thing, by freeing you from the hunting life, but I have to wonder, y'know?
Dean strains against the prison of his own head, snarls, Shut the fuck up, already.
Deeeean. Don't you want to know? Dean realises they're walking out of the chaotic bar now, all casual-like, like his—it's hands aren't covered in blood and it didn't just leave a man half-dead with guts leaking onto dirty bathroom tile. I'm sure you're dying to.
Dean doesn't say anything.
See, John Winchester was all on-board to mould you into his perfect little soldier. He didn't exactly give you up out of the goodness of his heart. It was wee little Sammy who changed everything.
Dean can't help it. What?
The demon chuckles. John found out what little Sammy was destined to become, Dean-o. He was going to have his hands full just looking after him; you think he was going to waste time on you?
Dean just wants to start screaming again, but he controls himself enough to ask, and what was Sammy going to become?
For the first time, the demon's voice is anything other than mocking—reverent, even. Our saviour, it says.
Dean's barely turned that over in his head, before somebody grips its—his shoulder and spins him around. The demon seems just as surprised as this stranger throws something at his face—it feels like acid, burning and sizzling against his skin, and Dean and the demon scream as one. The agony spikes as the mystery assailant takes what feels like a two-by-four to his head, and then finally gives way to a numb blackness.
When Dean wakes up, he's still in the demon, and he's tied to a chair in the middle of what looks like a gigantic warehouse. The demon seems a little weaker, but not weak enough that Dean can dream of getting it out of him anytime soon.
Of course, the man standing in front of him might have other ideas.
Dean's first thought when he sees him is Jesus, he's tall, because he is—he seems to go on forever. He can make out obvious muscles bulging under the guy's jacket, and between that, and the close-cropped hair, the white scars on one side of his face, his hard glinting eyes and the huge knife in his hand, he doesn't look like somebody to be messed with.
Say hello to Sammy Winchester, the demon tells him suddenly, and Dean wants to jolt like he's just received an electric shock (but he can't because it's not him not him not him). It doesn't occur to him that the demon might be lying—this is Sammy, has to be.
"We don't have to make this very painful, you know that," Sam says, his voice thick and gravelly. "All you have to do is tell me where Lilith is, and you're free to go."
The demon snorts. "You have strange ideas about freedom, Winchester," it says through Dean's voice.
Sam doesn't say anything, only throws more of that acid at them, and fuck, is that actually just water?
"Stop wasting time with the holy water, Sam," comes a female voice from behind Sam, and when the demon can keep his lolling head steady enough to focus, Dean sees a tall blonde woman come up to stand beside Sam. He thinks wow, she's hot before he can really stop himself, and wants to smack himself for thinking it.
"Why waste time when you've got more... sophisticated weapons in your arsenal?" she continues, and Sam smiles, shakes his head. "You're right," he says, raises his hand, and curls it into a fist.
The pain that follows is nothing like he's experienced—worse than having his skin sizzle and burn, worse than broken bones and cracking his skull open. It feels like that gigantic hand is actually inside his body, fingers buried in his intestines, pulling, pulling, pulling—
"No, no!" the demon half-pants, half-screams. "I kn-know nothing! Nothing! N-not—aaagh—supposed to!"
The agony ceases abruptly, and both the demon and Dean struggle to get their bearing straight. Sam and the woman are still looming over them—and the woman's face drips with contempt. "Just small fry, then," she says. "Not worth a whole week of tracking down." She rolls her eyes and turns away.
"It's one more demon in Hell, Ruby," Sam says. "I don't think that's a waste of time." Somehow, Sam's measured tone is even scarier than Ruby's contempt—every word thrums with a cold, ruthless determination, and in a man that can cause the kind of pain that Sam just did? Just fucking terrifying.
Sam lifts his hand once again, and Dean's just about finished thinking no no no NO before the horrible, twisting pain starts again. It's more muted this time, however (the first time was just torture, plain and simple), and then there's something ripping and pulling and tearing at his insides and travelling up his gullet and Dean wonders if this is it, he's actually in some freaky B-grade horror movie and he's actually going to vomit his guts out. I can be the Inside-out man! he thinks hysterically.
Then it's over, and he's taking gigantic gulps of air and shaking his head and twitching his hands because holy shit, he's actually in control of his body again, and it feels fucking fantastic. He doesn't know whether to sob or laugh, and ends up blinking stupidly as Sam crouches in front of him and asks, "Hey—hey. You okay, man?"
He nods, because hell yeah. No demon, and his guts are still where they're supposed to be. He counts that as more than fucking okay. Sam smiles—the guy's got dimples, and somehow this makes Dean feel all warm and fuzzy—then moves to release him from the ropes.
Dean gets up as soon as he's free—then immediately regrets it as his head reminds him that he'd just been brained by an extremely hard object, and his hands and feet tingle with returning circulation. Sam catches him as he sways, says, "hey, hey—take it easy. You've got a head injury," even as the world spins around Dean and there's blood rushing through his ears.
"I'll get him to the ER," Sam says to Ruby, who just snorts. You can just go to hell, bitch, Dean thinks hazily, even as Sam says, "Come on—he's obviously not going anywhere on his own. We'll be back on the road as soon as I drop him off, promise."
Sam is then bundling him into the passenger seat of a car—an old Ford Mustang still in pretty impressive condition, Dean notes—then they're moving. Dean's head clears somewhat in the drive, so he turns and just—stares at Sam.
You've gotten so big, Sammy, he thinks, a little stupidly. I don't think I'm going to be able to carry you anymore.
If Sam's finding his staring uncomfortable, he doesn't show it. Soon (too soon), they're in front of a hospital. Sam opens the passenger door and asks, "Can you make it from here on your own?" and Dean nods, because he doesn't know how else to react. Sam smiles again—that soft, dimpled smile, and Dean thinks about how just an hour ago the same man (his brother, his baby brother) was torturing him, and wants to be sick.
Sam helps him out of the car. "Try—not to say anything about the demon," he says.
Dean nods again, because fuck, he seems to have lost his voice, and isn't that just fucking awesome timing?
Sam pats his shoulder, then moves to get back in the car (to drive away and abandon him all over again). "Wait," Dean forces out without even really knowing what he's going to say next, just that he has to say something. Sam turns, and Dean says, "I'm—I'm Dean."
Sam smiles again. "I'm Sam," he says. "Take care, Dean." And then Dean's watching his brother leave him for the second time.
Dean's a little hyper-aware of the supernatural after the possession. He wouldn't go so far as to say that it's made him paranoid (except it totally has; he's jumping at every goddamn thing these days), but he tries to keep track of the strange and weird, and realises that there's a hell of a lot of the strange and weird happening right under their collective noses, and that his (formerly) baby brother is involved in a lot of them.
He does a bit of basic research on Sam Winchester (kicking himself that he'd not thought to do this before) and finds out that the kid, despite not residing in one place for more than few years at a time, still managed to get enrolled in Stanford University on a full-ride. Dean's pretty sure Steve would appreciate that kind of ambition. He barely spends two years studying there, however, before there's a freak fire in his apartment, and then—Sam just disappears. The next time he appears on the public system, it's three years later, and he's wanted for multiple counts of arson, murder, and—grave desecration (what the hell, Dean thinks). Sam eventually dies in police custody, and that's the end of that.
Except—Dean just saw him, alive and healthy (with crazy psychic demon-exorcising powers, apparently, so maybe that counts as being better than healthy). Clearly, his research needs to scratch the surface if he wants to get anywhere close to the truth of what's actually happening out there.
He tries to follow potential supernatural problems after that, even phones Steve for help with setting up some kind of system that can track them (Steve's less than impressed that this is why his oh-so-loving big brother's phoning him after a long, long time, but not really surprised). The most significant thing that Dean catches on his radar over the next year is some old, abandoned convent in Maryland exploding without any discernable reason, but no bodies were found and the police pretty much closed the case immediately.
A few nights after the convent explodes, Dean dreams of a balding man in a suit who tells him that he's an angel.
Dean raises an eyebrow, looks around him and realises that there's nothing but him and this man—everything's pure white, like that cool exposition scene in The Matrix. Except he feels more annoyed than confused, and this guy is definitely no Morpheus.
"My name's Zachariah," he says, sounding a little bored. "I'm an angel, and yes, angels are real, so are demons and so is every little nightmare about monsters you've had during your pathetic little existence."
"Spare me," Dean says, trying not sound like it's just been months since he realised that angels and demons exist outside of being a title for a crappy Dan Brown novel. "I know."
It's Zachariah's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Oh? Well, then, let's give you a gold star and move you on to level two, shall we?" His grin stretches. "The Apocalypse has begun. Your brother's released the devil, and we need the archangel Michael to battle him."
Dean blinks. "... What?"
Zachariah sighs. "I really don't have the time for this, Dean. The devil now walks the earth, thanks to Sam. We need Michael to battle him, send him back to hell. And for that, he needs a human vessel. You are that human vessel."
Dean struggles to keep up. "As far as I know," he says, "supernatural creatures've never needed permission to jump into other people's skins and do whatever the fuck they want."
"Angels do." Zachariah tilts his head. "So what do you say, Dean? This is your one chance at having any meaning in your life. What's it going to be?"
Dean's still feeling pretty freakin dazed, but there's still something that Zachariah said before that's nagging him— "What do you mean, my brother released the devil?"
Zachariah laughs. "He's supposed to the vessel for Lucifer. You know, keeping it in the family."
"Has he said yes?"
For the first time, Zachariah loses his smug smile. "No," he says. "But it's only a matter of time before he does."
"Then you can fuck off," Dean says. "Because my answer's no, too."
Zachariah nods like he was expecting that, then the whole world dissolves and Dean wakes up to his dark bedroom, feeling shaken and nauseous (and scared, so damn scared).
Steve gurgles on his own blood, and Dean can only watch.
He's in another goddamned warehouse (he doesn't know at what point warehouses became the Secret Torture Chambers of America), and he's being held by two men with impossibly strong grips and forced to watch as Zachariah tortures the little brother he grew up with.
"Stop!" Dean cries. "Stop!" even as Steve sobs and drools blood.
Zachariah brings down his hand. "There's only one way to stop this, Dean-o," he says. "Just say the magic word, and little Steve here will go home whole and safe and healthy."
Dean swallows, thinks about the choice he's being presented with—Sam or Steve—then realises the choice isn't a choice at all. Steve doesn't deserve any of this. Steve should be sitting in his shitty apartment in Atlanta and working on his super-boring thesis on hydraulics or whatever without any of this shit in his life, because this is the brother Dean grew up protecting, and nothing can change that.
"Yes," Dean whispers. "Yes."
Zachariah smiles, Steve screams one last time, before everything's filled by a blinding white light and Dean is lost.
Dean wakes to fire once again.
He's still a small, flickering presence in the back of his own head—apparently, trying to keep some semblance of identity is hell of a lot more difficult in an angel possession than it is in a demon possession. He's not sure if he's got even this level of awareness back because of his own efforts, or because Michael wanted him to see.
Sam's standing across from him, an alien ferocity in his eyes, blood running down his temples and from a dozen other wounds, soaking his clothes. He spits something in a garbled language that Michael seems to understand, because he replies in kind, with the same kind of venomous anger.
Sammy said yes, Dean thinks, and feels his heart sink.
They're both in a room that's on fire, at the centre of a raging inferno that's miraculously not touched either of them so far. Sam—Lucifer lifts his hand, and Dean can literally feel his bones creak and bend outward, like Lucifer's trying to make him explode. Michael grits his teeth and pushes back with similar, terrifying power, and Lucifer staggers.
Lucifer's losing power, Michael tells him suddenly. Your brother's fighting back.
And Dean can see it, now that he knows to look for it—the barely contained tremble in Lucifer's hands, the flicker of hesitation in his eyes, teeth gritted against a great struggle. C'mon, Sammy, he finds himself saying, C'mon!
For a split second, Lucifer's eyes are entirely clear—and it's Sam, Sam, looking tired and scared and in so much pain, but it's definitely, definitely his little brother, and Michael doesn't waste any time. He surges forward, pouring out of Dean like a fucking tidal wave, drowning everything in a brilliant white light. Dean rides its crests, tumbles on its eddies, and when he finally reaches shore, Michael is gone, and he is in full control of his body again.
He lies panting for a few seconds before realising that he's in the middle of a fucking fire, and there're better places and times to recover. He scrambles to his feet, spots Sam lying deathly still a few metres away. He crashes to his knees next to his brother, praying fervently although he knows that Sam's dead—knows it just as certainly as he knows that it was never angels that protected him, but the love and determination of a family he never got to know.
Sam's not breathing and Dean can't find a pulse, and he can barely draw breath himself, but he gives an aborted attempt at CPR anyway. He curls over the brother whom he never got to grow up with but he knows is proud of because Sam's a fucking hero and Dean just needs a few moments here, okay? Just a few moments.
Then Dean straightens with newfound determination, hooks his arms under Sam's body and lifts. He staggers under the weight and the mile-long limbs flopping everywhere, but he doesn't drop him.
Dean Winchester is thirty-three years old when he carries his little brother out a fire for the last time, and he buries his face into Sam's hair and thinks, It's okay, Sammy, I gotcha. I gotcha.