I wrote this back in 2010, but for some reason I never published it. Anywho, been clearing out my computer and found it so figured I'd post it.

Summary: Dean is falling apart and Sam doesn't know how to help him because at that moment he can't help himself. Tag to Wishful Thinking (4×8)

Sam watched his brother walk off down the pier with a heavy feeling lodged in his stomach. Since Dean had returned from hell things had been different. Dean was different. His brother had shut him out, and while Sam understood it, he didn't like it. It made him feel more isolated and it made him feel more alone than he had ever felt. It was as if his brother had died again, only this time he was still here physically. In many respects, that was worse.

He followed after Dean, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets, his eyes unfocused on the wooden slats beneath his feet. Things felt like they were moving too fast and spinning out of control. How the hell had things changed so much in less than a year? Dean had sold his soul, had gone to hell and come back… different.

Sam couldn't bear to see the look in Dean's eyes, the look he had just had when explaining what hell had been like for him. Dean said Sam didn't understand what it had been like, couldn't understand, but he couldn't help but think that he understood all too well.

There hadn't been fire and brimstone or torture sessions or… or whatever demons did for kicks, but Sam had suffered too. When his brother had died, a part of Sam had died too. The world had become Sam's own personal hell. His mind had been plagued with darkness, more darkness than Sam had ever imagined could exist in his head. Dean had no idea how bad things had been for him because Sam had never told him, but there were times he'd gone hunting with one objective in mind – and that objective hadn't involve coming back. Dean's pain had been worse and had come first, but Sam's own pain was still destroying him.

He felt dizzied by all the emotions rolling around his head, over burdened and exhausted by the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. He wanted to help Dean, he wanted to fix him, like he had so often fixed Sam, but Dean didn't want his help. He'd push Sam out and Sam didn't know how to fix that – or even if it could be fixed.

Some days Sam wished he had died in Cold Oak, that he died in his nursery. It was one thing to hate life, but Sam hated Sam. Everything he touched turned to ash. His mom, Jess, Dean… They had all died because of him, because of the darkness inside him.

It didn't matter that Sam had lived a good life – or tried to. It would never be enough. He was cursed and death would follow him wherever he went. Sam was tainted, he was part of something inherently evil and no amount of atonement would change that.

His father had known that Sam couldn't be saved. He'd warned Dean he might have to kill him. Sam wished his brother had listened. It would have made things a lot easier – on both of them.

But it was Dean's mistrust that cut the deepest. His brother didn't say it, but Sam knew. He could see it in the way Dean looked at him sometimes, like he was waiting for him to lose control, to go nuclear, to go on a mass killing spree.

That hurt so much.

Sam was sure that when Dean looked at him he didn't see his little brother at all, but a monster. Sam wondered if that was why Dean had pushed him out. Did his brother really believe that he was tainted, that he needed to be hunted? Was he distancing himself so he could do the unthinkable and kill him? The thought sent chills racing up his spine.

"Sam? You coming or what?"

Sam hadn't even realised he'd stopped walking, but Dean was a few feet in front of him, a faint hint of worry around his eyes. Sam wasn't sure if it was feigned or genuine; he wasn't sure about anything any more. The world was starting to look different to Sam all the time. Nothing was as it seemed. He was trapped in a hall of mirrors and whichever way he turned, Sam's world rippled and twisted around him.

He shook himself out of his dark thoughts and forced his feet to move. They'd parked the car just off the main street and Dean reached it first, climbing in and unlocking Sam's door for him. Sam didn't say a word as he got into the passenger seat. What the hell could he say to his brother? Dean didn't want to hear it anyway and Sam had given up on trying to make his brother talk to him.


He pulled his gaze from the window, but didn't look at Dean, instead focusing on his folded hands in his lap.

"No, you're right. What good does talking do? I wouldn't understand." His flat tone surprised even himself. He sounded bitter as hell, and that wasn't Sam - at least it hadn't been Sam before his brother took a one way trip to hell.

Dean winced. "Sam…"

"Just forget it Dean," he said with a tired sigh. Another part of him chipped away and eroded as he pushed his emotions back down.

"This is exactly why I didn't tell you that I remember the pit, dude," Dean snapped, but there was little heat in his voice. Sam thought he sounded more regretful, possibly even weary.

"I just want to help you." Sam needed to help him, needed to ease his own conscience. He needed to feel needed.

Dean may have made the deal of his own volition, but that didn't make Sam's guilt any less strong. He leaned his head against the side window, soaking in the coolness of the glass and wished he could fade away, disappear.

"I don't need help, Sam." It wasn't said maliciously, but he did sound resigned. In fact, Dean sounded as tired as Sam felt.

"I know," Sam said and fell silent because, really, he did know. It wasn't Dean who needed help, it was Sam, and all things considered that was ironic as hell.

Dean had always been the one who clung to his family with a fierce, almost obsessive, resolve; Sam had been the independent one, the one who had left for college, the one who had tried to have a normal life, the one who didn't take orders from their dad. But Sam was starting to think that he needed his brother more than Dean had ever needed him. He needed an assurance that only Dean could give him. He needed his brother to love him again, and he needed to be told that he wasn't a freak. Sam wasn't sure Dean could do that any more.

"I don't need you to save me, Sam," Dean said after a moment.

No… but Sam needed Dean to save him. He wanted to scream at his brother to help him, to pull him out of the water threatening to pull him under but he couldn't. Dean had been through hell, literally. Sam couldn't expect his brother to deal with his problems when his own were insurmountable. He pushed down everything he was feeling, burying his emotions in the deepest, darkest hole he could find and smoothed his expression.

"Let's just get the hell out of here," Sam murmured, glancing out of the side window.

Dean didn't say anything, but Sam could feel his eyes on the back of his head. He was glad when he finally put the car into gear and pulled onto the street.