Characters: Sam, Dean
Genre: Gen/Angsty Angst
Summary: Dean is having trouble forgiving himself and Sam for the mistakes that they've made, and an exorcism gone wrong doesn't make it any easier. Set between 5x01 and 5x02. Written for spuffy_girl for the Fandom Free-for-All.
Disclaimer: Sam and Dean are not mine, although technically I'd say the idea for this story belongs to spuffy_girl.
He can’t look at Sam.
He knows Sam thinks Dean can’t look at him because he broke the final seal and because he lied, but that’s not why. Dean can’t look at Sam because every time he does, all he can see is the broken expression that lurks in his eyes and Dean knows it won’t ever go away. This is who Sam is now: the guy who drank demon blood and freed Lucifer.
Sam’s never going to be okay, and Dean feels responsible.
Dean’s told himself Sam’s a stranger that he doesn’t recognize for awhile now, but that’s not true. He recognizes Sam. He knows what broke him, why he made the decisions he made. He just doesn’t want to think about it, because then he’d have to think about the things he’s done, too, and for the first time in their lives he can’t carry the weight of both of their failures.
He can’t look at Sam because then he has to be reminded of his own role in this, how he broke the first seal. And he has to ask himself where he went wrong after the fact. Why didn’t he pay more attention to what Sam was doing? Why didn’t he notice how broken Sam was? Why wasn’t he enough for Sam? Why wouldn’t Sam listen to him? Sam was supposed to be safe with him. Sam was his responsibility, and he couldn’t stop him.
It’s the end of the world and Dean wants to just lay down and stop, but he can’t. They brought this on, and they can’t stop hunting. There’s no time for a break, for them to get their heads around what’s happened between them. What’s happening around them.
They don’t speak unless they have to. Sam learned quickly to stop apologizing, to not start conversations with “Dean,” and to walk two steps behind him wherever they go. Dean doesn’t need to look at his brother to know that he’s fading away a little bit every day. It’s in the little things—how Sam gets out of bed a minute later every morning, eats a little less breakfast, speaks a little less. His brother is treading water, but so is Dean, and he doesn’t have a hand to reach out and help him. Not this time.
He knows it’s wrong, but sometimes he thinks Sam needs to fade away, that it will keep him safer than being out there, ready to fight all the time. He’s pretty sure Sam’s less dangerous without a cause, and some part of him feels vindicated every time Sam follows his lead. Sam hasn’t done that for a year, and if they don’t speak Dean has flashes where it almost feels like before everything went to shit.
So they sit across from each other in a dingy diner somewhere outside of Helena, Montana, and Sam picks halfheartedly at his burger while Dean makes it a point to look anywhere but at his brother. The silence is so thick at the table that he can hear the sound of Sam’s bread tearing between his fingers as he turns his hamburger bun into breadcrumbs.
He thinks, you’ve got to eat, Sam. You don’t get to bail out on me now, but what he says is, “you’re freaking wasting food and money, Sam. Don’t order shit if you’re not gonna eat it.”
He glances up long enough to see the surprised, hurt look on Sam’s face, before he dutifully picks up his burger with both hands and takes a bite. He eats the entire thing, plus his fries, just like Dean wanted, but there’s no satisfaction when they’re pulled over at the side of the road an hour later while Sam pukes his guts up.
Dean feels guilty that he made Sam eat, but he’ll never admit it. Instead he stays in the car and waits for Sam to finish. Gives him a cursory glance when he finally quits gagging and pulls himself back into the passenger seat. Sam’s a mess of shaggy hair, rumpled clothing, and watery eyes.
Finally, after a few seconds of fidgeting and wiping at his eyes, Sam looks at him. He swipes the back of his hand across his mouth, his gaze steady like they aren’t caught in this silent war.
It becomes apparent that Sam’s waiting for something. Dean thinks maybe it’s forgiveness, but he’s not really sure, so he directs his eyes back towards the road and maintains his silence.
He’s not going to ask if Sam’s okay, because he knows the answer.
It’s back to exorcisms the old-fashioned way, and damn, it’s harder than Dean remembers. Supernaturally-charged wind blowing, objects swirling, shouting at the top of his lungs in Latin. He’s focused on keeping hold of his rosary and his silver knife and reciting the ritual, and he’s not looking at Sam. Once they would’ve been making eye contact and doing things in sync, but not anymore.
So it’s unexpected when he finds himself flying across the room and knocking into his brother, silver knife and rosary still clutched in his hand. He has a moment where he’s surprised that Sam was in his path, and then they crash to the floor in a heap, Sam grunting in pain as he hits the floor.
Dean quickly rolls off Sam and looks across the room to see that the chair the demon was tied to had scraped across the chalk-drawn edge of the Devil’s Trap. He has a moment to curse himself for not using spray paint, and then finds himself flung into the nearest wall, followed by the bookcase across the room. He sees stars and collapses in a heap juts as the demon expels itself from its host in a roar of wind and black smoke.
The host and the chair tip backwards with a bang, and there’s nearly a full minute of dead silence. He lays there and thinks how much he hates his life and how he acted like a fucking amateur, and then he feels it. A familiar pull inside of him that says check on Sam, check on Sam. He lifts his head and immediately hears muffled gasping noises.
At first, he thinks it’s the demon’s host, but the body tied to the chair isn’t moving. Painfully, Dean pushes himself up and looks across the room at his brother, who is still on the floor, curled on his side with his right palm to the floor like he’s trying to get up and can’t.
A lifetime of instinct tells him something is wrong, even before he realizes that his hands are empty. His left shoulder and knee throb as he forces himself to his feet and across the room to kneel next to his brother. Sam’s twitching and panting, and he just knows what he’s going to find when he finally rolls him over. Sure enough, his rosary is under Sam’s arm, and his silver knife is buried in his side.
“M-m’okay.” Sam squeezes out, but he lets himself be rolled and lays there gasping while Dean stares at the damage.
“Shit , Sam . . .” Dean says under his breath, his hands hovering above the knife, disbelieving.
Sam’s leaking dark red around the silver blade, and Dean’s first instinct is to press down around the object, to stop the blood that’s welling up. A year ago he would have known exactly what to do when Sam was injured, but now he’s frozen, unsure. His knife is fucking buried inside Sam, and that’s never happened before. They don’t make mistakes like this. Shit, shit, shit.
He unfreezes when Sam groans and hsi hands move to pull the knife out. It’s instinct, he knows, to remove the source of the pain, but it’s exactly the wrong thing to do here on the floor of an abandoned cabin, miles to the next town.
“No, no, no. Sam, leave it!” Dean demands, grabbing his brothers hands to stop him from hurting himself further. Sam twitches and grunts, straining against his hold. “You know better, man.”
Sam nods and squeezes his eyes shut, and Dean sees water at the edges of his lashes. “It’s not—it’s not that deep. Didn’t—didn’t hit anything im’portnt.” he says, his voice slurring the last word, and yeah, that doesn’t make Dean feel any better.
“Don’t touch it, Sam. Just . . . hang on,” Dean orders, standing up and looking around the room, cataloguing how fast he can clean up and get them the hell out of there. Cataloguing how the hell they got to this place to begin with.
Dean’s stomach rolls violently when his knife slides out of Sam’s flesh. He’s given Sam a double dose of painkillers, but they haven’t fully kicked in and his brother hisses in pain, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. He lets out a grunt and jerks as Dean presses down on the wound with several folded pieces of gauze to stem the bleeding.
Sam’s eyes are tightly closed—have been since they got back to the room—and it makes it easier. Dean doesn’t want to see the look on his face. He’s afraid it will look a lot like guilt, and he can’t handle that right now, because he’s just pulled his own knife out his brother and that’s sure as hell not Sam’s fault.
He lifts up the gauze cautiously, and curses under breath when fresh blood wells up. Not as much as a few minutes ago, but still too much. The knife luckily went into the fleshy part of Sam’s side, but he’s still bleeding like a stuck pig. The healthy tan of Sam’s skin is starting to turn pale and the gauze is soaking through. A pressure bandage isn’t going to anything; Sam’s going to need stitches.
His hands start to tremble as he pulls out black thread and a needle from the first aid kit and sterilizes it. He hasn’t stitched Sam up himself in years, and for a minute he thinks he’s forgotten how to thread the needle. He has to sit down on the edge of the bed to try to make it work.
Dean wants to drop everything, to stand up and run out of the room and scream that this isn’t fair. The world shouldn’t be ending. Sam shouldn’t have been believed his salvation was in a demon. They should’ve been lock-step in the exorcism, not banging into each other like bumbling idiots. The knife should have stayed in his hand. Rule number 101: never let go of your weapon.
“S’just an accident” Sam whispers, and Dean looks up to see glassy hazel eyes staring at him. Sam’s pupils are blown wide and he doesn’t look he knows his own name, but there he is, trying to pretend like this isn’t Dean’s fault.
It’s the first time they’ve looked at each other in weeks, and it doesn’t hurt as much as Dean thought it would. “Doesn’t make it any better.” Dean tells him, and means it.
Sam’s eyes slowly close and he nods his head. “I know. Dean—”
“Hey, hey, what did I say about starting a sentence with my name?” Dean reprimands, and Sam looks so pained that he can’t stop himself from leaning his weight against his legs. Sam doesn’t acknowledge the gesture and turns his face into the pillow, squeezing his eyes shut.
They don’t say anything else to each other, and Dean manages to thread the needle faster than he thought he could. He wipes away the blood still leaking out of Sam, and makes the first stitch. Sam jerks at each pull on his skin, but doesn’t make a sound, the only indication that he’s affected the trail of wetness that appears on his upturned cheek.
It feels horrible and wrong to be pulling his brother’s flesh back together like this, but it’s over in a few minutes. Dean straightens and drops the needle and what’s left of the thread in exchange for a fresh piece of gauze and antibiotic cream. He bandages Sam, and leans back, letting his gaze fall on the edge of the bed, away from Sam’s partially-buried face.
Sam’s quiet, body tense but unmoving, and Dean sighs, tells himself to just let it go.
“Sam, listen . . .” he tries to find the right words, but they don’t come. It’s the first time in their lives he can’t come up with anything to say, not even a line of bullshit.
Instead of using words, Dean plies Sam with antibiotics and water, and then goes to sit on his own bed and watch t.v. He’s hungry, but can’t find the energy to order anything, and finds himself dozing after awhile. He tells himself to wake up, to check on Sam, but it’s a halfhearted request for his body to move.
He’s so fucking tired, and even here at their worst, the sound of Sam’s even breathing on the bed next to him still lulls him to sleep.
He isn’t sure how long he’s been asleep, but the loud crash of metal hitting drywall wakes Dean from a sound slumber and he jerks upright in time to see Sam stumble over the legs of an overturned chair and crash ungracefully to the floor.
Dean’s out of bed in a flash.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demands, rushing over to his brother and pulling him into a sitting position. Sam wavers in his grasp and looks around the room, his expression a mixture of disorientation and frustration. It’s obvious he’s not firing on all cylinders.
“Thirsty. I was g-getting water.” Sam grates out. His fingers are gripping Dean’s arm tightly, and Dean feels like an ass when Sam licks his lips and looks at him with watery eyes. He sees the apology in them, and dammit, he doesn’t want to.
He curses under his breath. He does not want to deal with this, but he’s been taking care of Sam since he was born, and his body betrays him by reaching out a hand to wrap around Sam’s neck.
Sam’s skin is hot and damp under his palm, and his brother leans into the touch. Dean feels the desperation in the gesture, and the fever his brother is running. Dean lets his hand linger before he rises, his knees creaking at the movement. The whole left side of his body hurts from his collision with the wall earlier, but he ignores it.
“I just wanted water.” Sam repeats, and tries to follow Dean up, grabbing onto his leg like he’s two and begging to be picked up. He’s completely out of it, though, and only makes it to his knees before he starts to topple over, and Dean has to grab at his shoulders to keep him from face-planting in the carpet.
“Dude, stop moving, you’re gonna tear your stitches.” Dean said, shifting his weight to accommodate for Sam’s additional bulk. “You’re goin’ back to bed like a good little boy.”
Dean wraps his arms around his brother’s chest and pulls them both upright, staggering back a step before righting himself. Sam makes a noise in the back of his throat and sways drunkenly. “Jesus Christ, Sam, what have you been eating?” Dean growls, and locks his knees to keep his balance.
He has to use all of his strength to keep Sam from sliding back down to the floor, and thank God that Sam had only made it a few feet from his bed; he hauls his brother backwards in just a few steps and unceremoniously deposits him on the lumpy mattress.
Sam collapses onto his back and blinks groggily up at his brother. “Can I have some water?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it for you, okay?” Dean promises. “Just stay there.”
He goes into the bathroom and turns the tap as cold as it’ll go, tearing the plastic off one of the cheap plastic cups and filling it up, then wetting down a ragged hotel washcloth. He should’ve fucking stayed up with Sam, made sure he was okay, or at least left water on the nightstand for him. It had been so long since he’s taken care of his brother . . . a year and forty more. A lifetime of taking care of Sam eclipsed by bad decisions on both their parts.
He carries the water and washcloth into the bedroom, and the bathroom light casts a sickly yellow glow across the room and illuminates Sam, who is exactly where Dean left him on the bed. Dean sets the dripping washcloth on the nightstand and hands his brother the glass. “Here ya go. Drink it slowly.” he warns.
Sam’s hand trembles, but he manages to prop himself up on his right arm and drink the water unaided. It seems to take all of his energy, though, and he when he’s done he collapses limply back onto the bed, breathing hard. He closes his eyes, and Dean picks up the wet washcloth and lays it across his forehead, holding it in place for a second when Sam squirms uncomfortably.
“S’cold.” Sam whispers, shifting uncomfortably beneath Dean’s hands and gazing up at him with wide eyes.
In the dim light coming from the bathroom, Sam’s eyes are dark and shimmering, pupils dilated from the painkillers, and for a second Dean sees the little boy he used to know so well, begging to be comforted from a nightmare. He blinks, and the boy is gone, replaces by a lost and broken twenty seven year old.
As if sensing his thoughts, Sam shifts and opens his mouth. “Dean . . .”
He interrupts, because he doesn’t want to have this conversation. “It’s supposed to be cold. Your temperature needs to come down. Leave it there.”
He moves towards the first aid kit still lying out on the table and pulls out Tylenol, antibiotics, and fresh gauze. When he returns to Sam’s side, he sees that his eyes have closed, and he jostles his brother’s leg slightly. “Hey, don’t get too comfortable.” Dean orders. “I’m gonna check your stitches.”
“Dean . . .” Sam tries again. When Dean doesn’t respond, Sam reaches out and grabbed his wrist. “Don’t go. I’m sorry”
“I know you are, Sam. I’m not going anywhere.” Dean promises, but Sam still looks concerned and confused, and shakes head like he doesn’t hear Dean speaking.
“No . . . don’t . . . don’t leave me. I k-know I’ve fucked up, but I can’t . . .”
Dean clenches his jaw so tightly his teeth ache. One dose of painkillers next time, he reminds himself. “Sam, stop it.”
“Please, just let me—”
“Sam, just stop it,” Dean says, but Sam’s staring at him with that tripped-out, terrified expression, and the words leave his mouth before he can stop them. “I’m not gonna leave you.”
“You-you should . . . I d-don’t deserve . . . I fucked up . . .”
Sam’s mostly delirious, his words slurred, eyes glazed and only half-open, and Dean wants to tell him that yeah, he did fuck up, but the words don’t come. So many times, in the shower, in the car, in motel parking lots and diners, he’s wanted to tell Sam off, but now that they’re here . . . he can’t do it.
As much as Sam fucked up, there was some part of all of this that was out of his control that he was never going to stop, and Dean knows it now. God and the Devil had set this all in motion at the beginning. Their mother sold him out. Their father left them to face this alone. He abandoned his brother for hell, broke the first seal. For every time Sam didn’t listen, Dean didn’t listen.
There’s enough blame between them to go around, and he just wants it to stop. They owed it to the world to start over and try to fix what they broke.
“Sam. Sam, look at me.” Dean says, and he means it. He tilts his brother’s head so they’re facing each other. “Yeah, I’m pissed you didn’t listen to me, but I didn’t do things right, either. I’m gonna be pissed at both of us for awhile, but you’re still my brother. Nothing is ever gonna change that. We made this mess together, we’re gonna fix it together, okay?”
Sam’s eyes are barely open, but they shimmer with tears, and Dean knows he heard him and that things will be different in the morning. Sam tries to hold his gaze, but his eyes droop and his body relaxes into the mattress, as if that’s the thing he needed to hear and now he can’t stay away any longer.
Dean waits until his brother’s eyes are closed and his fingers curled limply at his side, and then he allows himself to look at Sam long and hard. Up until he found John’s journal, Sam had always wanted to hear a story before he went to bed. They’d fallen asleep to the sound of each others’ voices for so many years, their own version of a children’s lullaby.
He’s not sure how long he sits there watching Sam sleep. In the dim light from the bathroom, Sam looks so much younger than he has a right to. He doesn’t look like a guy who helped end the world. He just looks like Sam, his little brother, who he loved and raised and can’t really live without, even if he wanted to.
For the first time in three weeks Dean wonders if maybe the Sam he’s been missing so badly has been here all this time, lurking underneath this Sam’s skin. They’ve been on this road for so long, and only God knew where it was going to end, but at least Sam was beside him, alive and willing to fight. For most people it wouldn’t be enough, but for them . . . maybe it was the best they could ask for right now.
He can do this alone now, if need be, but he doesn’t want to. He wants Sam by his side, fighting with him. If they go down, well, at least they go down together. It’s a brutal thought, but it makes Dean feel safer in the world.
No one’s been through what they have and lived. Maybe this is their chance to start over and atone for their sins, both of them, together.