A/N: This is how I imagine Southern Comfort would have ended if Sam had been more hurt by Dean's words, instead of getting angry. Please note that while this is not a deathfic, there is a suicide attempt, so if that is triggering for you, you may not want to read this story.
Disclaimer: I doubt it really needs saying, but no part of Supernatural belongs to me.
The Worst Kind of Freedom
Sam could not bear to look Dean in the face, so he escaped into the bathroom of their grungy motel room while his brother was saying goodbye to Garth. He stared around the tiny room, as if it held answers for him, or solace from the pit of despair that he was teetering on the brink of. He couldn't see a way out. He knew that he could not go back to Amelia. He would not do that to her or Dean. But he did not think that he could handle one more day with Dean, seeing the anger, resentment, and disappointment that were all rightfully directed at him. He had let his brother down, and he deserved to feel like crap for it.
You should have looked for me when I was in Purgatory.
Sam bent over the sink, splashing cold water on his face, trying to wash the memory of his brother's caustic words from his mind.
Mistakes? Well, let's go through some of Sammy's greatest hits.
He scrubbed harder, hoping to wipe his brain clean.
I never once betrayed you. I never once left you to die. And for what?
It was no use. Sam turned the tap off and slid to the grimy floor beside the sink, hands fisted in his hair. He had managed to hold himself together when Garth was there, but now he could feel himself coming apart, could feel Dean's words tearing him to pieces.
Benny has been more of a brother to me this past year than you've ever been!
Sam squeezed his eyes shut, a single tear escaping to slip down his cheek. Dean was right. Sam had let him down in a lot of ways before, but this time was the worst. Every other time, he had been trying to do the right thing by Dean. Working with Ruby and drinking demon blood had been to get vengeance for Dean's death. Freeing Lucifer had been a byproduct of the same mission. He had gone to hell to save Dean and the rest of the world. He had always thought that he was doing the right thing.
But this time he could not say that. He had failed Dean, he knew it, and why? It had not been for Amelia; he had met her after he stopped looking for his brother. He had just given up. He had allowed the crushing emptiness of loss to overwhelm him, and he had run. He had abandoned the one person in his life that he owed everything to. He had just left his big brother to the horrors of Purgatory.
And there was no going back, he had seen that much in Dean's face. There would be no forgiveness for this, not really. Dean would never truly trust him again, could not really care about him. He was only staying with Sam because of a misguided sense of duty that had been pounded into his head since he was four years old.
Maybe there was one thing left that Sam could do for Dean. He could set him free.
Without really thinking about it, Sam reached into his pocket and drew out the knife that he carried with him at all times. It had been a gift from Dean, back when Sam still deserved to call himself Dean's brother. He flipped it open, staring at the shining edge that he carefully kept razor sharp. The more he considered what he was about to do, the more it made sense. Dean did not need him anymore, and he certainly did not want him. With his dedication to Sam out of the way, Dean would be able to live his own life again, like he had with Lisa and Ben the last time Sam had died. He could do what he wanted; maybe even find a partner that deserved him, one that wouldn't let him down. It sounded like Benny was a good candidate, though it pained Sam to think about his brother having to rely on a vampire. But it was his own fault, he knew that. He had given Dean no other options, no other people he could rely on.
Sam fumbled around in another pocket of his jacket, looking for the other object that he always had with him. He sighed when his fingers closed around the cool metal of his brother's amulet. He still thought of it as Dean's, even though it had been years since the older man cared enough about Sam to wear it. It was another reminder of Sam's failure, of his unworthiness as a brother. He slipped the black leather cord around his neck, wanting to feel the connection to Dean.
His basic survival instincts were nagging at the back of his mind, trying to convince him that this was a bad idea. But what was Sam living for? Dean was his only family, and he had no friends who were still alive. Well, besides Garth, and he could not help but feel that even the bizarre young man was disappointed in him. Then there was Kevin, whom Sam had also epically let down, allowing the young man to fend for himself in a world of demons and monsters for a year. And Amelia, the only other person in his life who mattered to him, would also be better off without him. She had a good man, one who would never taint her happiness with a lifetime of supernatural baggage. With Sam out of the picture, she would not have to struggle with choosing between him and Don, or wondering what could have been.
As the reasons piled up in his head, a sudden determination overtook Sam. He pushed his sleeves up firmly, and pressed the knife to the skin of his forearm. Without giving himself time to change his mind, Sam quickly slashed the blade through his flesh, opening three deep gashes, which immediately began to gush his crimson lifeblood onto the floor. Gasping from the pain, Sam switched the knife to his left hand, giving himself matching cuts on the other arm. Letting the knife fall from his numb hand, Sam sat back and closed his eyes, waiting.
It seemed fitting that he would die alone in this grimy bathroom in this rundown motel in this no-name town. The man who had broken the world and glued it back together, leaving behind as many bodies as he saved, did not deserve a noble death, if there was such a thing. He did not deserve a grand location or a comforting audience. He deserved simplicity and anonymity, for no one to know or care that he was leaving this world.
He could have shot himself. It would have been faster, less painful. But he did not deserve that either. He deserved to feel every second of his death. But damn, it hurt. Sam wondered if he was destined for an eternity of pain like this. Was his soul still marked for hell? He wasn't sure, but he would be surprised to see any kind of heaven waiting for him on the other side.
He realized belatedly that he probably should have left a note. But then again, he and Dean had done the whole last words routine before. He doubted that anything he could write would make Dean forgive him, or truly understand. It would have been nice to be able to say sorry one last time though. Or at least to try to make Dean see just how much he meant to Sam.
Sam smiled as he felt himself growing weaker and his mind beginning to get fuzzy. He knew that he had made the right choice. Dean might be angry with him for taking the coward's way out, but he would get over it. He would be relieved once he realized how free he was without his little brother chained to his side. But Sam would miss him, wherever he ended up. He let himself think back to the happy moments with Dean, the times before Sam had screwed up so spectacularly, when they were truly brothers and everything was good between them. He even imagined that he could hear Dean calling out to him, using the special name that instantly made Sam feel loved.
There it was again. Sam allowed that voice to guide him down into the darkness that had risen up to engulf him.
Dean felt the small smile slip away from his face as he watched Garth pull away in his rustbucket of a car. Now all that was left for him to do was face Sam again, which was not an appealing prospect. Though no longer under the influence of the cursed penny, he was still harboring some anger and resentment towards his brother. He walked back into their motel room and saw that the bathroom door was closed, giving him a few more minutes of peace. He threw his few possessions into his duffel bag, trying not to think. Of course he failed miserably.
He was as upset with himself as he was with Sam. He couldn't remember everything that he had said to his brother, but if it was anything close to what he had been feeling over the past few weeks, it had been bad. He knew that Sam would be angry with him, and rightly so. He had almost shot the most important person in his life. Sure, he was angry with Sam, disappointed in him, hurt by him, but he did not know what he would have done if Sam had died because of him. But why did Sam have to keep doing things that caused feelings like this? Why had he been so quick to turn his back on his only family? Did Dean really mean that little to him? It felt like their disastrous trip to heaven all over again, when Dean had truly realized just how happy Sam could be without him.
Dean began to grow impatient when his brother still did not emerge from the bathroom. The sink had been running when he first entered the motel room, but now there was simply silence. He got up and went to bang on the door.
"Sammy!" he called. "Get a move on, we need to hit the road."
He was met with more silence. He sighed. He would not put up with Sam ignoring him, not this time. They both needed to face each other and own up to their crap. Dean could not stand this toxicity between them anymore.
"Sammy! If you don't get your ass out here, I swear I will break this door down!"
He began to grow concerned when he still got no response. It wasn't like Sam to not acknowledge him at all. He put a hand on the door handle, surprised when he found it unlocked. His stomach dropped. Something was not right.
Dean wrenched the door open and stopped dead, his brain momentarily refusing to process the sight in front of him. The first thing that he registered was red. Red everywhere, rivers of it, collecting in pools around…
"No," choked Dean, dropping to his knees at his little brother's side. Sam was slumped against the cracked tile wall, his head lolling limply against the sink. His eyes were closed, the ghost of a smile on his face, and his clothes soaked in scarlet. Dean reached out desperately, placing one hand on Sam's deathly pale cheek, and the other on his shoulder.
"Sam!" he shouted, shaking his brother frantically. Sam did not respond, his head drooping lifelessly to his chest.
Dean could not breathe as he searched for the source of the sea of blood surrounding them. He did not have to look for long. Tears blurred his eyes when he saw the vicious cuts on his brother's arms and the small pocketknife that Dean had given him for his tenth birthday lying on the ground, the blade stained red.
"Oh God, Sammy, what did you do?" he whispered as he yanked the grungy motel towels from their rack on the wall and wrapped them around the still oozing wounds on Sam's arms.
Dean put two fingers on his brother's neck, pinching his eyes shut as he waited desperately for some sign of life. He pulled in a relieved breath as he felt the weak twitch of Sam's pulse. Make that the weakening twitch of Sam's pulse.
This was way more than Dean could handle on his own. After placing a frantic call to 911, the hunter dropped his phone and clamped his hands around his brother's towel-wrapped wrists, his panic increasing as that damned red leached out around his fingers.
"Don't you dare check out on me, Sam," he said fiercely. "You're not dying before me, not again."
He stared at Sam's blank, unresponsive face. This could not be happening. He could not be about to lose his little brother like this.
"Sammy please," he said, voice cracking into a whisper. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
This was his fault. How could he not have seen what he was doing to his brother? How could he have left Sam alone after all of the awful things he had said to him? He hadn't even apologized. He had been so selfish, so bitter. So wrapped up in his own damn feelings that he had not even noticed that his little brother was fucking suicidal. Sam probably thought that Dean hated him.
"Come on man," he pleaded. "I screwed up, I know I did, but please, just stay with me. Give me a chance to make things right."
The tears finally began to fall from his eyes as Sam gave no flicker of a response, his face growing impossibly paler as blood continued to seep through the towels. Dean was going to lose him. After everything, all that the two of them had been through together, Sam was going to die because Dean had been so horrible to him that he had seen no other option but to kill himself.
Dean let his head drop until his forehead was resting against Sam's. He stayed there, feeling his brother's life slip further and further away, waiting for what seemed like an eternity until he heard the sounds of sirens approaching. And suddenly the paramedics were there, pulling Dean away from his brother so that they could begin to work on saving Sam's life.
"Please," said Dean to the young man who had taken him aside. "He's my brother, you have to help him. I can't lose him, I can't-"
The paramedic placed a gentle hand on Dean's shoulder.
"We'll do everything we can for him, sir," he assured Dean. "He's in good hands."
Dean hated trusting Sam's life to strangers, but it was not like he was better qualified to take care of him. It had always been his job to take care of Sammy, and he always screwed it up. But this was a new low.
He tailed the ambulance to the hospital, where two nurses blocked him from following Sam into the ER. The last thing Dean saw before the doors closed on his brother was a doctor placing two white defibrillator paddles on Sam's chest.
Dean went cold, colder than he thought possible. Sam's heart had stopped. Dean tried to push through the people blocking him, desperate to get to his brother's side. Nothing else mattered but that he stay with Sam.
As long as I'm around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you.
The old promise seemed laughable now.
"No, you don't understand," he protested when the nurses and an orderly continued to hold him back. "He's my little brother, I have to look out for him, I can't leave him again. You've got to let me through."
It was no use. The orderly had to threaten to throw Dean out of the hospital in order to secure his cooperation. Dean finally went to the ER waiting room, dropping into a chair with his head in his hands. Images kept flashing through his head. He saw Sam lying limp in an ocean of his own blood, saw the red seeping through the towels despite Dean's best effort to staunch the flow. He saw Sam's torso arching upwards with the current of electricity from the defibrillator, surrounded by a crowd of people just trying to keep him alive. And before that, he saw the way Sam's face had looked after Dean had recovered from the penny's influence. The pain in his eyes cut through Dean like the knife had cut through Sam's wrists.
Dean pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts until he found Garth's number. As he held the phone to his ear, some distant, disconnected part of Dean's brain wondered idly what ridiculous ringtone this call would trigger on one of the dozen cellphones that Garth carried. The other hunter picked up on the third ring.
"Dean! Miss me already, huh?"
"Garth, what did I say to Sam?"
"When that goddamn penny was controlling me and I tried to kill my own brother, what the hell did I say to him?"
"Look man, that's really a conversation that you should have with Sam. The two of you need to work things out."
"Yeah, I would love to work things out with him Garth, but I can't, because whatever I said to him made him think that the only option was to off himself!" Dean was nearly shouting at this point, and he was attracting a lot of stares from the other occupants of the waiting room, but he could not have cared less at the moment.
"Yeah," Dean replied, the fight suddenly gone from his voice.
"I don't know. I just don't know. I found him in the bathroom with his wrists sliced open. He lost a ton of blood, his heart stopped when they brought him in, and I haven't heard anything since."
How could he have let this happen? Dean pressed his palms into his eyes, hoping that the white starbursts would block out the flood of images. They didn't. But still, remembering the past was better than considering the future. If Sam died…Dean would lose it. He knew, without a doubt that if his brother was gone, he would lose every shred of sanity that he had managed to cling to. He was not entirely sure what the result of that would be, but it would certainly not be pretty.
"Sam's tough, Dean," said Garth. "He can pull through this."
"Just tell me what I said to him, Garth."
"It was pretty bad, man," the other hunter admitted. "You basically told him that he wasn't your brother anymore. Said all he's ever done is lie to and betray you, that some guy named Benny was more of a brother to you than Sam had ever been."
Each of Garth's words hit Dean like a punch to the gut. He dug his fingernails into his palm until he bled, hoping that the physical discomfort would distract him from the emotional pain of having wounded his brother so efficiently, so completely, in a way that only he could.
"Why didn't you stop me?" he asked Garth.
"I tried. And I tried to tell Sam that it wasn't really you talking. But you were pretty determined, man. I had to punch you in the face just to get you to drop the penny. I am sorry, Dean."
"No," whispered Dean. "It's not your fault. None of it is. You saved Sam's life. I'm the one who was stupid enough to let Sam out of my sight. I should have seen what I had done to him."
"You couldn't have known-"
Dean ended the call, knowing that nothing Garth could say would make him feel any better, and knowing that he did not deserve to feel better anyway.
The hunter looked down at himself as he put his phone in his pocket, realizing that he was covered in his brother's blood. It soaked the knees of his jeans, and the front of his shirt where he had pulled Sam close to him. Not enough for him to get thrown out of the hospital, but enough to feel like he would never be clean again. Well, that was fitting. The blood on his hands was literal as well as metaphorical. Dean wanted to burn the clothes, but that would mean leaving the hospital, and that was not an option. So he put up with the strange looks from the people around him, and the feeling of his flesh crawling wherever it touched the damp cloth, and he waited. And waited.
The minutes stretched into hours, and Dean heard nothing. He alternated between sitting restlessly, pacing restlessly, and pestering the nurses restlessly. All they would say was that they had no new information on his brother. But finally, three hours and twenty-seven minutes after Sam had been admitted to the hospital, a woman in blood-speckled scrubs and a white coat entered the waiting room.
"Family of Sam Walker?" she called.
Dean shot to his feet so fast that the elderly couple sitting beside him jumped.
"Is my brother alright?" he asked, running across the room. "Are you his doctor?"
"Hi Mr. Walker, I'm Dr. King," the middle aged woman said, extending her hand towards Dean. "And yes, I am Sam's doctor."
"But how is he?" Dean pressed, shaking the proffered hand impatiently, wondering how she could be so calm when the world hung in the balance. "Is he…?"
"Your brother is still alive," said Dr. King gently.
"Thank God," said Dean, sagging with relief. It did not really feel right to thank God for his brother's survival, but he was so grateful at the moment that he didn't care. If he had not been so impatient to get back on the road, if he had not gone into that bathroom when he did…
"I have to be honest with you though," continued the doctor. "He's not out of the woods yet. He lost a great percentage of his total blood volume, and his heart stopped beating twice before we managed to stabilize him. We've done what we can to repair the damage to his arms, and given him multiple blood transfusions, but he is still in very serious condition."
"So what are you saying?" asked Dean, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"I'm saying that while your brother seems like a very strong man, he may not have the will that it takes to come back from an injury like this. Those wounds were self-inflicted, yes?"
"Yeah," Dean murmured, a fresh wave of guilt and grief washing over him.
"For whatever reason, Sam has lost the will to live. And without that, there's not much I can do to help him. He doesn't want to come back, so he isn't fighting."
Dr. King looked searchingly at Dean for a moment. He could only imagine what she was seeing in his face. If it was anything like the storm of pain and fear that he was feeling, it was an alarming sight. The doctor sighed.
"Look, I can tell that you care very deeply about your brother," she said. "But I also think that you know what's wrong with him, what pushed him to such extreme measures. So you need to put aside anything that might be getting between you two, and give him a reason to fight for his life."
"Just let me see him," pleaded Dean. "I'll do whatever it takes to get him back."
Dr. King nodded and began to lead him further into the hospital. But then she paused, turning back to Dean and reaching into her pocket.
"His clothes will be disposed of as medical waste, because they were covered in so much blood, but I thought that you might want to hold onto this. It seemed important."
The doctor held something out to Dean, who reached out his hand and took it curiously.
"He had it around his neck when he was brought in," added Dr. King.
Dean stared down at the object in his palm, tears threatening to fall again. It was the necklace, his amulet, the one that Sammy had given him when they were children. The physical symbol of their relationship, which he had been missing since the day he had thrown it away like garbage. Sam must have retrieved it from that motel room trashcan, and kept it with him all this time. He had held onto it through hell, through his time without a soul, through Dean's time in Purgatory, through everything.
Why hadn't he said anything? Why hadn't he told Dean that he still had it once things had gotten better between them? Dean thought he knew why. Because Sam had not thought that things were better, could not believe that Dean could still care about him enough to want the amulet back.
Dean looped the black cord around his neck, feeling the familiar weight settle onto his chest. He smiled faintly, realizing how much he had missed wearing the amulet. It made him long to see Sam even more.
"Thanks doc," he whispered past the lump in his throat. He coughed. "Can I please see him now?"
Dean really hoped that she would hurry up, because nothing was going to keep him from his little brother's side, and he did not want to have to hurt the doctor to get to him. She seemed to understand this, because she smiled.
"Of course," she said, turning quickly. "Follow me."
Dean had trouble believing at first that the man on the bed was his little brother. Sam, who was so large in health and consciousness, looked disturbingly small and frail. He was still frighteningly pale, his face matching the white sheets of the hospital bed. There were a dozen wires and tubes connected to his body, though mercifully there was no tube down his throat. His forearms were wrapped tightly in clean white bandages. Dean felt like he had been kicked in the gut when he noticed that Sam's wrists were also secured to the bedrails with soft restraints.
Dean sank into the chair next to Sam's bed, reaching for his brother's hand. He fumbled urgently at the restraints, hating the sight of them binding Sam, and hating still more what they represented. His brother had tried to kill himself, and the doctors were worried that he would try again when he woke up. But that was never going to happen, not while Dean was around. As soon as he had freed Sam's wrists, he leaned forward, carding his fingers through his brother's long hair.
"I'm here Sammy," he murmured into his brother's ear. "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
He pulled back to look at Sam's blank face. He sighed. He had spent weeks, maybe even years doing this to Sam. How was he supposed to make it right with just a few words?
"Sammy, please. I know that I've let you down. I've made you feel like there was nothing left for you. But that's not true. I need you man. Most days I feel like I'm barely holding it together, and without you, I-" He choked off, dropping his head to rest on his brother's shoulder, fighting the tears that were clawing at his eyes and throat. "Look, whatever you've done, you're my little brother, and that's never going to change. I will never stop caring about you, never stop wanting you by my side. You and me against the world, Sammy; that's the way it should be, the way I need it to be."
There was still no response from Sam. Dean squeezed his hand, trying to reach him.
"Come on Sammy, please," he continued desperately. "Please. I can't do this without you; I don't want to do this without you. Give me the chance to make this right. Don't leave me on my own in this shithole of a world. Just don't leave me Sammy. I can't go through that again. Fight, dammit; you owe me that."
The tears began to fall again when Sam remained motionless and unresponsive. Dean could not get through to him. He had failed his little brother, and Sam was going to die because of it. Dean grasped a fistful of his brother's shirt and just held on, sobbing brokenly without making a sound. He had known before the pain of losing his brother, but he had forgotten just how powerful it was, how all consuming and unbearable. He did not know how he was going to make it through it this time.
The first thing Sam was aware of was his crushing disappointment. It took him a moment to realize why he should be feeling so ashamed of himself, but then it came to him. He could hear the beeping of machines, feel the dull pain in his wrists and the haze of drugs in his system, and he knew that he had failed. Again. Dean was still saddled with a little brother he did not want or need, and now Sam was even more helpless, even more of a burden. Leave it to Sam to manage to screw up killing himself.
But then another sensation registered. There was a warm weight resting on Sam's shoulder and a light pressure on his torso. He blinked his eyes open blearily, turning his head to see Dean asleep in a chair beside the bed, his head resting on Sam's shoulder and his arm draped protectively across his little brother's chest. Even in sleep his face was far from peaceful, it was creased with worry and pain. Hopeless tears rose in Sam's eyes. This was what he had been trying to avoid. He had wanted to free Dean, not cause him even more pain and tighten the choking tether that kept him tied down to Sam.
Sam's movement caused Dean to stir. When he saw that Sam was awake, he shot upright and gripped his brother's shoulders.
"Sammy?" he asked, his voice charged with emotion. "You with me? Oh God, I didn't think you were gonna make it."
He looked like he was close to tears, and the wretched feeling in Sam's gut intensified.
"I'm sorry Dean," whispered Sam miserably.
"You'd better be," growled Dean. "What the hell were you thinking, Sam? How could you do this to yourself, to me?"
"I know, I'm sorry I didn't do it right. But don't worry, I'll fix it. I can break into one of the medication carts and get enough morphine. It won't be bloody this time, you won't have to clean anything up, I'll just-"
"Sam, stop!" shouted Dean, for some reason sounding panicked. "You were apologizing because you survived? God, Sammy, I'm not going to let you kill yourself! How could you think that I could ever, ever want that? Sam, all that shit the penny made me say, I didn't mean it, and I am so, so sorry. I'm sorry that I've been a shitty brother since we got back on the road together, sorry that I almost shot you, sorry that I made you think that slitting your wrists in a motel bathroom was your only option. I don't hate you, Sam. I never have, and I never could. I mean yeah, there are some things that I wish you'd done differently, and I'm not gonna pretend that I wasn't a little angry with you, but Sammy, you're still the most important thing in the world to me."
Sam looked away. He wished that his brother did not feel obligated to try this hard. Dean shook him by the shoulders.
"Dammit Sam, I mean it! You're my brother, and that's never going to change. You will always be the person that I want by my side. Listen to me, man. Hear what I'm saying to you. I need you. So don't you dare think about trying something like this again because if you do, if you kill yourself, I swear to God, Sam, I will be right behind you. I can't do this alone; I won't live in a world where you're dead. You understand me?"
Sam stared up at Dean, seeing nothing but sincerity and concern in his face. And beneath that was the love that Sam had failed to see earlier, but he realized now had always been there. Maybe it was possible that Dean really did stay with him out of love, and not duty. Maybe it was possible that even after all of the crap Sam had thrown his way, Dean still cared. Then Sam looked down, and what he saw truly decided things for him.
"Yeah, Dean," he murmured, his eyes on the amulet hanging around his brother's neck. "I understand."
"Good," said Dean gruffly, smoothing down Sam's blankets before falling back into his chair. "Because you know how I feel about all this emo crap. I don't want to go through it again."
Sam smiled. He was exhausted, his wrists hurt, his head ached, and his throat was parched, but somehow he could not bring himself to care. He still felt like a letdown and a failure, but somehow Dean had forgiven him for all of that. For the first time since the downfall of the leviathans, he really had his brother back, and everything else he could deal with.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please take a second to review; it really makes my day.