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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Fic: Eyes Wide Open 2/2

A/N:  Please review the notes on part one.  They apply even more strongly here.  Also, my betas?  Are amazing.  If you had seen this fic when it was first finished, you would agree :)

CHAPTER TWO     

It’s late July and Lincoln is back to normal.  People just sort of raise their eyebrows on Redmond Lane, but there’s nothing more to say about that, nothing that people can say for sure, though the rumors run rampant enough.

But the doctor doesn’t care.  Only goes out once a week to the grocery store and doesn’t look anyone in the eye.  She doesn’t talk about her job and she doesn’t talk about her husband and she doesn’t talk about her house.  Basically, she doesn’t talk at all.

No one even notices when that black Chevy rumbles back onto the street, not since that kid down the block with a thing for classics has gone to college.  A few people will see it parked in the driveway, but figure even freaks have families who have to come to visit sometimes.

It’s a rainy day and surprising cool, though, when the doctor’s doorbell rings.  She’s so surprised by it that she barely even remembers to answer the door.

At first, all she sees in a tall woman with dark brown hair and a tired expression on her face.  She’s got something--no, someone--leaned up against her and it looks awkward as hell and the smile on her face says just as much.  “He said I could take him here,” she says, and there’s no apology in her voice.

The doctor takes a moment, a long moment, to look at the tall figure slumped against the woman’s body.  It takes a minute, a long minute, but she recognizes the hair and the bruised features underneath.  “Sam?”

The woman looks a little relieved.  “So, you think we can speed this up?” she says.  “He’s not exactly a lightweight.”

That’s an understatement the doctor remembers from her last encounter.  “Yeah,” the doctor says, too shocked to say anything else.  “Bring him in.”

The doctor steps out of the way, and the woman adjust her grip, hoisting Sam a little more securely.  His feet are moving, but only barely, and it’s a slow and stumbling trip to the first spare bedroom.

“Just--lay him here,” the doctor says, feeling a little useless.  She doesn’t know what else to do.  What to say.  Why they’re here.  Who this woman is.

The woman complies, stretching Sam out on the bed with little grace.  When she’s done, the woman steps back with a sigh and a look of resignation.  “Just don’t let him , if you can help it,” she says.

That was never the doctor’s intention and it seems like an oddly simplistic and somewhat cold request.

The woman pulls out a piece of paper from her back pocket and puts it on the dresser.  “If anything should happen, you can call me,” she says.  “Sam shouldn’t be much trouble when he wakes up.”

It’s almost reflex to ask why, but the doctor’s voice doesn’t seem to be working.  Because this is too much like before.  Too much like last time.  Too much like when it all fell apart.  That’s what this boy represents.  He had a part in this, a part in getting her here, and for that, she both hates him and loves him in equal turns.

The woman turns to leave and the doctor opens her mouth to protest.  “Where are you going?”

The woman just looks at her.  “Trust me, you don’t need me here,” she says.  “Sam will know where I am, if he wants me.”

And just like that, she walks out and leaves the doctor alone with Sam.

He looks somehow younger this time, the years stripped away in unconsciousness.  Young and vulnerable, even despite the lean physique and tall stature.  He doesn’t fit the bed, long legs hanging off the end.  One arm drapes haphazardly across his stomach while the other trails off the edge.  His clothes are bloodied and ripped, speckled with enough blood to be of some concern.  His face is mottled, the worst of the damage over his right eye so that it’s nearly unrecognizable and she’s sure it won’t open.

But it’s a tightly tied tourniquet on the leg that’s the pressing need, she can see that without even looking closer.  The strip of cloth on his thigh is tied off tied, hasty but effective, though the jeans beneath that point are nearly saturated despite it.

The pallor of his skin is bad, translucent and gray, and there is a tinge of blue on his lips and eyelids.  Whatever happened, the wound seems a day or so old, and he needs treatment--now.

It takes her a moment to find her supplies, they’re sparse now, but they’ll do, and she dumps them on the floor, hands shaking as she picks up her scissors and hovers over him.

This is the boy who saved her life.  She can remember the lines on his forehead, too creased for his age, and she can remember the husky gravel of his voice, from too much pain and too much alcohol.

It doesn’t seem real, him being here.  But then again, nothing in her life seems real, these days.

She could leave him there.  Leave him to bleed and to die and she isn’t sure anyone would care.  If someone cared about him, they would be here, they would be with him.  They wouldn’t drop him off like a puppy at the pound.

But he came for her when no one else would.  He came and tried to fix what he could.  She owes him this. 

Besides, she has nothing else to do. 

Her hands steady as she cuts up his pant leg.  She snips them up until she hits the tourniquet and pauses.  Tourniquets are useful tools, she knows, and removing one prematurely can be the difference between life and death.  But if she leaves it too long, he’ll lose his leg.

Peeling away the denim, she finds the wound packed hastily with gauze, taped and saturated.  Efficiently, she pulls it off and grimaces a little when she sees what’s underneath.

It’s a jagged cut, maybe three inches long, but deep.  With gloved hands, she pokes at it, slides her fingers inside and feels the meat all the way to the bone.  The placement is bad, probably knicked the femoral, which explains the need for a tourniquet.

It looks like a puncture wound of some sort, maybe a short knife or dagger.  Whatever it was, it came and did its damage, and left a mess in its wake.  It surely hurt the kid like hell, though it looks like he gave up that fight a while ago. 

The wound isn’t exactly fresh, and she can already feel the flush of fever on his skin.  Antibiotics, she has, even some saline.  He could use some blood, but she doesn’t have anything like that.  She just needs to clean this up, flush it out and stitch it tight.  It’s not that it won’t heal, it’s that his body might not survive the shock or the fever at this point.

But she has to try.  Impossible tasks seem to be a new thing of hers, and this kid is her only chance to prove to herself that she’s still capable of something.

When she finishes that wound, she cuts off the rest of his clothes and tends to the others.  There are a few that need stitches, but most just need to be clean and tended, which she does with a slow, methodical ease that she’s missed.  When he’s finally clean, he doesn’t look much better, and the fever is climbing.  She puts a cold compress on his forehead and covers his lower half with a sheet and hunkers down for the long haul.

They spend days like that.  The boy on the bed, too weak to move, and the doctor in the chair, trying to keep him alive.  She reads some, tries to catch up on some journals she’s neglected, but watches him more often than not.  Most of the time, he’s more unconscious than asleep, and the stillness is deep.  But there are moments when his fever is spiking when he tosses and moans, as much as his feeble body will allow and he mutters and cries, calling only one name: Dean.

She worries, in spite of everything, that her best efforts just won’t be enough.

She changes his compress, rolls him from side to side to keep his skin from getting sore, even packs ice under his armpits to combat the fluctuating fever, but mostly she just wonders if there’s someone out there who wonders where he is, who would call his name in their delirium, or if he’s really that alone that he has to suffer in a stranger’s house calling the name of a person who will never come.

She thinks of her husband, remembers Steve, and knows kind of how the kid feels.

When he awakes, days later, he’s confused and weak, but he doesn’t ask how he got here or why she’s helping him.  She lets it go, most of it, because it’s kind of none of her business, but he’s the stranger in her bedroom so maybe it is.

But he hasn’t gotten any more talkative since the last time he was here.  He deflects her questions with a smile.  He tells her that the job is hard and that he’s grateful and he’ll be out of her hair just as soon as he can move.  The funny thing is that most of that is true, and they both know it, but he’s leaving out the important parts.

She understands his games.  They’re the ones she’s been trying to play since the first time he broke into her house and pulled a demon out of her body.

She can’t help but wonder, though, just how much he remembers about that.  Enough to come back, it seems, but he’d been more than a little drunk at the time and more than a little out of it at the end.  When she asks him if he wants a drink, though, he blushes deep red.

“I’ve let that go,” he says.  “It doesn’t help.”

She nods.  “Neither does getting yourself sliced up.”

He shrugs.  “I can avoid drinking,” he said, “but some parts of the life I can’t get away from.”

“And which parts of those?”

He just smiles. 

She doesn’t know what else to say, and he’s certainly not pushing the issue, so the rest of his recovery is quiet.  He limps to the bathroom a few times a day and sleeps a lot and, sometimes, she hears the shower run.

It’s minimal contact at that point, but she likes hearing him move throughout the room.  She likes the sound of the springs squeaking on her spare bed.  They make her feel like she’s not alone, like she’s safe.  It’s been a long time since she’s felt that way.

After a week, he’s awake for most of the day and he’s not shuffling quite so much and he makes small talk now.  She wonders if maybe she can help him as much as he could help her.  Because sometimes it takes time to learn how to live again, and there’s something about a shared space that bonds people.  She knows, if nothing else, she wants to try.

But that night he’s packing and when she asks him why, he says Ruby called and he has to go.

She tries to ask for more, tries to explain that he’s barely able to stand for twenty minutes at a time, that he needs more time--

But he’s not listening.  It’s like he’s zeroed in, like a drunk and his bottle, and all he’ll promise is that he’ll spend one more night, and then he’s leaving.

Turns out, he doesn’t even make it that long.  She hears the front door close at midnight, hears the rumble of an engine, and never sees him again.


-o-

“And then, out of the blue, all these months later, here he is,” she said.  “I sort of thought he was probably dead.”

It was a cold thought.  Sam almost dying and no one knowing any different except a demon.  He’d accepted that Ruby was partly responsible for Sam’s so-called recovery but with more secret phone calls and solo walks, Dean’s patience with was running thin with the entire situation.

Still, this was his first hard evidence since he’d been back that maybe Ruby hadn’t been altogether altruistic in regards to Sam.  And since Sam wasn’t going to spill the beans, maybe Bethany would.  “Did he say anything else about her?  How long they’d been together, what they were doing?”

Bethany shook her head.  “He didn’t say much about her, who she was.  Just that he was working with her.  And when she said jump, you better believe he jumped.”

Dean’s stomach twisted.  It wasn’t just about Sam betraying him--it wasn’t--though sometimes it was hard to keep that in perspective.  It was about Sam being vulnerable to Ruby.  About Ruby being the same manipulative bitch she’d always been.  “The things guys will do for a girl.”

“There was something not right about it all,” Bethany said.  “I mean, Sam was sober that time, but, I don’t know.  Different.  And that girl--there was something just really off about it.”

That piqued his interest.  Nothing about Ruby seemed right, but he’d seen very little of them together.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, what kind of girlfriend drags her half-dead boyfriend to the front door and leaves before he’s even laid out?  Before she knows if he’s even okay?  She left her number, but she didn’t stick around for any of it.  Called Sam a week later while he was still on the mend, and Sam was gone the next day.  She didn’t even come inside.”

It sounded about right.  His brother said Ruby had saved his life.  It was clear Sam trusted her, almost implicitly.  Any lead she offered, he followed up on, even over Dean’s objections.  The late night rendezvous and the early morning calls were evidence enough.  Apparently, Sam didn’t care who it was, he just liked someone to play point.  Dean, for all he’d given and done, was expendable.  “I can’t explain Sam’s choices in women,” he said.  “I’ve driven myself nuts trying to figure it out.”

His bitterness must have been evident.  She gave him a tired smile.  “My, aren’t we good at the woe-is-me,” she said.

Dean glared.  “I’ve had to put up with a lot of crap and his little relationship with Ruby, among other things,” he said.

“Can we have a conversation for five minutes without making it about you?” she said.  “I’m just saying, it was like he traded the alcohol for this weird controlling relationship.  Almost like one vice to the next.”

Dean didn’t buy it.  “Sam’s a big boy.”

“Who obviously didn’t know how to cope with the loss in his life,” she said.  “He did lose you, didn’t he?  Wherever you were?  It had something to do with Sam being alone and so screwed up?”

Dean pursed his lips, feeling more than a little uncomfortable.  “It’s complicated.”

She just rolled her eyes.  “I don’t care if it’s complicated,” she said.  “Sam was screwed up over something.  He was alone and he didn’t have clue one what he was doing with his life.  Did I not mention the part where he was calling your name while he was delirious?  So I know it all had something to do with you and I know it had him so far out of whack that we’re lucky he’s still here today.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  Sam was reckless in the hunt.  Refusing real treatment.  Drinking.  Girls.  He was avoiding the real issues and trying to let himself die in any mildly heroic way probably out of some sense of honor and pride, maybe trying to live up to some kind of expectation.”

“Drinking and sex doesn’t sound so bad.”

“No, it sounds exactly like grief,” she said.  “I told you.  People use whatever they can to stay afloat.  When you’re drowning, you don’t care about who throws the life preserver.  You just grab it and cling to it because it’s all you can do.  I mean, that’s what real grief is, isn’t it?  When nothing inside of you is worth living for, you look for something, anything.”

There was something in her voice.  Something knowing.  Something personal.  This wasn’t just about Sam.
 
Still.  Dean knew enough.  He knew that Sam struggled, that he tried to get Dean back.  Reckless and drinking, fine, that made sense, too.  And even if he could write Ruby off as one of Sam’s life preservers, it didn’t explain now.  It didn’t explain the lack of joy.  The lying.  Dean went to hell and came back and Sam barely blinked at him anymore.  Thought he was weak.  Sam had coped and moved on and Dean was stuck dealing with the aftermath.  “Well, Sam’s floating just fine now,” he said.  “Stronger and better than ever, if you ask him.”

Bethany’s look was dispassionate.  “Sam’s barely said two words to me the entire time he’s been here,” she said.  “So, I guess I can’t say for sure.”

“Damn right, you can’t,” Dean said.  “I know Sam.  Sam’s my brother and my responsibility, which is why sometimes I have to stick with his sorry ass even when he drags me through crap like this.”

“Gee, and I can feel the love,” she said.  “Apparently, Sam’s not the only one in the family with some unresolved issues.”

“Well, at least I give a damn about him,” Dean said curtly.

“Yes, and that overly sympathetic display about what your brother went through is completely showing me that.”

“Oh, you mean like how sympathetic Sam’s been to me?  I’ve been to hell and back, and what does he do?  He lies to me.  He lies straight to my face.  He sneaks out.  He barely looks at me.  I bare my soul to him and he can’t say two words back except boo-freakin’-hoo.  So forgive me if I’m not crying a river that he had to sit around drinking beer and having sex.”

“It’s like talking to a brick wall,” she said, shaking her head.  “Did you stop for five seconds to think about why he might be doing those things?”

“Besides the fact that he’s got his head up his pompous ass?”

“Where as, yours is crystal clear.”

“Maybe,” he said stiffly.  “Maybe not.  But at least I know I’ve got good reasons.”

“What--you’re the only person in the world who’s suffered?”

“I promise you, you do not want to share horror stories with me,” he said, his voice low and dangerous.  Because he’d been to hell.  Thirty years of torture.  Day after day on the rack.  And ten years of a whole different brand of torture, of losing himself.  It was there, every time he closed his eyes.  Lurking behind every move he made was a lifetime of grotesque emotions that he couldn’t erase.  Ever.

“And you think he’s the pompous ass?”

“What would you know about it?” Dean snapped, his patience wearing thin.  No matter what she’d done for him last night, what she’d done for Sam, he didn’t have time for this.  He didn’t have time to listen to some out of work M.D. who wanted to play Dr. Phil in her free time.

“You’re right,” she said, leaning forward, eyes blazing.  “I know nothing about you.  And hell, I don’t really know anything about Sam.  But you don’t know anything about me either.”

“Hey, you’re the one who started talking,” Dean said defensively.  All he wanted was some damn breakfast and a fast trip out the front door.

“Did you ever consider that maybe your brother doesn’t tell you the truth because you suck at listening?”

“No wonder you two got along,” Dean mumbled.  “Same warped thinking process.  Worried about the reaction, so, what?  You lie?”

“Well what did he tell you about the summer?”

Dean opened his mouth and then shut it.  Sam had told him that he was alone.  That he was alone and desperate.  There had implications of course, of cutting it close, of reckless behavior.  And signs of pulling away, of cutting ties.  Most of it had been about Ruby, about how she pulled him out of his darkness and shown him that damn demonic light.  The powers, going after Lilith, sleeping with her. 

The parts Dean had asked about.

Bethany was staring at him, a hint of realization dawning on her face.  “You actually never asked him, did you?”

Dean’s eyes shot up, and he tightened his jaw.  “I did.”

“You get your panties in a twist because Sam lies to you but you never even asked.”

“I asked,” Dean said again, harsher this time.

“Were you your ever-sympathetic self?”

“I swear to God--”

Beth just rolled her eyes.  “You think you scare me?”

“Maybe I should.”

“I know just where to kick you that you wouldn’t be getting up.”

Dean paled a little, his anger simmering.  He didn’t want to threaten her.  Wouldn’t.  He’d done more than enough of that for one lifetime.  For two lifetimes.  Hell, for eternity.  He just--was angry.  Angry at Sam.  Angry at her.  Angry at everything she was telling him.  Angry that she didn’t know and acted like she damn well did. 

He swallowed evenly, reigning himself back in.  “So, tell me,” he said.  “If Sam was so bad off, why didn’t the demon kill him, that first time he was here?”

It was Bethany’s turn to pale, a muscle twitching along her jaw.  She nodded slowly.  “He didn’t do it for himself,” she said.

“What?”

Her shoulders sagged, and she looked at the wall behind Dean.  “Sam finished the exorcism.”

“Well, that certainly blows a hole in your whole suicidal theory.”

She looked at him again, her eyes cold.  “He did it to save me.”

-o-

The battle should be epic.  The boy king and its demon half-brethren.  Two diametrically opposed forces, more similar than either cared to admit.  Both powerful and powerless in equal turns, the one advantage the demon has is the willpower to see it through.

Sam’s hurt, badly, but it shouldn’t be over yet.  His injuries could kill him, but both he and the demon know better than to think that it should all be finished so quickly.  So easily.  There should be a fight.  There should be a last-minute save, or at least the attempt at one. 

The demon is almost disappointed when there isn’t.  Because Sam rolls over and closes his eyes and gives up.

The demon could let him go, but this child sent his partner back to hell.  Banished her after all the fun they’d had.  Revenge is a sweet thing, and the bragging rights?  Well, those wouldn’t be too bad either. 

He’s considering the crushing blow, whether throwing him around until every bone is broken is the way to go, or maybe ramming him straight through the wall.  And there were always more primitive tactics.  Slicing him open, pulling out his organs one by one just to hear him scream until he couldn’t anymore.  Maybe pulling him apart just to see how far those human limbs could go.

Lots of fun things to try.

But before he can make up his mind, something hits his borrowed body hard. 

He can’t help it.  Demon or not, he stumbles forward, surprised.  And angry.

Turning, he pulls this body to its full height, and while it’s not that impressive, he doesn’t need this body’s strength to do his dirty work.

It’s the woman, his partner’s host.  The doctor.  She’s standing, eyes red but not in the good way, fire poker in one hand.  She’s listing heavily to the side, panting erratically.

His grin returns.  He’d forgotten about her.  And really, why had she been important?  As a host to his mate, she’d been one thing.  Now, she was merely human.  Not even a hunter.  Not a scrap of Latin to save her life.  More than that, she was blindly brave, which was a beautiful stupid thing for her to be.

Two for the price of one, at least.

“Silly woman,” he says, and she trembles at his voice.  “Don’t you remember our wedding vows?  To honor and cherish, in sickness and in health.  In good times and in bad.”

She’s crying now but swallows hard.  “You’re not my husband.”

“But I am,” he says.  “He’s right in here with me.  And trust me, sweetheart.  These are some very bad times we have coming.”

He’s about to finish it, when holy water burns down his back.  He convulses, and it burns again, and then there’s Latin pouring over him, pulling at him, prying at his grip on this body.

It’s coming too fast for him to resist, and when the Latin compels him all the way out, he leaves with a screech and a howl that follows him back to Hell.

And in the battered living room, the doctor huddles on the floor and looks across the limp body of her husband to the boy who’s barely standing on the other side of the room.

He looks weak, exhausted, and just ready to be done.

Before she can move, before she can ask a single question, he collapses to the floor and she finds herself alone.


-o-

“Sam didn’t save his life,” Bethany explained.  “He saved mine.  Again.  He didn’t lift a finger in his own damned defense but did everything he had to do when it was my life on the line.”

Dean remembered his brother’s defense for his actions.  That he’d been alone.  That what he did worked.  That he just wanted to save people.

He remembered a drunk Sam in Connecticut, hoping to balance some cosmic scorecard.  A broken Sam in Providence, just wanting to believe there was something good looking out for them.

And it had made Dean so mad.  And disappointed.  That Sam doubted himself, doubted Dean, needed to make hunting some crutch to get through.  That Sam had compromised so much, squandered that second chance Dean had bought for him with so dear a price.

But could he say he was any different?  That he didn’t turn to alcohol to get him through the day sometimes? That hunting wasn’t an escape, that there wasn’t some need to make himself atone for his sins?  That sometimes it helped to know that there might be justice out there?  That even if he didn’t always understand Castiel, that some days that hand on his shoulder freaked him out, it still felt pretty damn good?

Even though he hated needing help, that sometimes it felt good to talk and have someone listen.  And he’d never doubted that Sam would be there for him when he was ready.  That Sam would never judge him.  At least until the whole siren thing.  But, even then, boo-hoos aside, Sam had been there.  Sam had asked.  And Sam had gone on every hunt, he’d sat through every confession and in the end, who did could Dean trust?  A siren who was out to turn brother against brother?  Or the brother who was still there?

Bethany sighed, letting her head drop for a long moment before looking wearily up at Dean again.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “This--isn’t about you.  It’s not even really about Sam.  I just--I see what you two have.”

“And what’s that?” Dean asked, his voice tight.  Between trips to hell and demonic powers and a never-ending hunt, what did they have?  “Let me tell you, our lives--they’re not easy.  You can’t have any idea.”

She wet her lips and her eyes looked suspiciously red.  “Maybe not,” she said.  “But you don’t know everything either.  You come in here, all on your high horse.  Making demands and assumptions.  Well, fine.  You can think the world’s crapped all over you and maybe it has.  But you know what?  I don’t really feel sorry for you.  Because I was just minding my own business when a demon jumped into my body and took control.  It made me kill people.  It made me lie and cheat.  Another one jumped into my husband and they were plotting something damn near Armageddon.  They made us do things, made us screw around with other people, made us burn holes in each other’s skin just to see what it looked like.  And even when they were gone, you know what they left me with?  Do you?  I lost my job--criminal charges may be pending.  I have no money--the house is mortgaged up to the hilt and I may lose it yet.  And my husband--the man who I loved and had been married to for fifteen years--walked out.  Didn’t call.  Wouldn’t talk about it.  They found him hanging from a rope less than a month later.  So, don’t you sit there and think you have a corner on the market when it comes to grief.”

It was something Dean didn’t think about--at least not enough.  The aftermath.  There was a reason they hightailed it out of town when a job was done.  They saved lives.  They didn’t fix them.  Probably because they were too busy running from their own messes to know where to begin.

She shook her head, swallowing.  “So, maybe I don’t get what you’ve been through, but what I do know is that your brother, the one you say you can’t trust, the one who lies and cheats and whatever the hell else, he dragged you here to save your life.  He brought you here and sat there on that couch all night long.  Wouldn’t go in, said he wanted to give you your space, but wouldn’t sleep.  Just sat there, watching and listening, like he was waiting to make sure you’d be okay.  Didn’t matter that I told him you were just fine, it was like he couldn’t believe it until he saw it with his own eyes.  So, whatever he’s doing, whatever crap he’s messed up on, it’s not about you.  If anything, watching out for you is about the only time I’ve seen him look alive since I’ve met him.”

“Wait, he what?” Dean asked.

“Gee, another thing you didn’t know,” she said.  “Color me surprised.”

“He sat up all night?”

“Right where you found him this morning.  Staring at that same damned page for hours on end.  The only time he went in was to put your bag in there.”

Dean was shaking his head before he could think otherwise.  It didn’t add up, it didn’t make sense.  The shades of the Sam he remembered still didn’t parse with this Sam who was here with him now.  Because Dean could still feel it.  That gut-punch when Castiel told him to stop his brother.  That sick realization when he saw Sam using his powers with Ruby.  All the lies, the lies to Dean’s face about living up to Dean’s last wishes.  And those cold, cold words under the siren’s influence.

That was Sam.  That was Sam.  That was what Dean had put up with, that was what Dean had suffered through, suffered for, and he knew that.  “I want to believe you,” he said tightly.

“It’s really that hard?”

Dean laughed humorlessly.  “You have no idea.”

She looked vaguely disappointment, somewhat disgusted.  “It’s one thing to have a crappy life because that’s the hand you’re dealt.  It’s another to sulk away the few good things you have going for you.”

“Oh, and you’re one to talk,” he sassed back.  “I’m sure what happened to you was very traumatic and all that, but you want to talk pain?  You want to talk torture?  You want to talk guilt, and burdens and losing every damned thing you ever had worth living for?  That’s my life, and trust me when I say until you’ve been to hell and back, you will never understand that.”

The venom in his voice was surprising, even to him.  The grief was palpable, the hurt and anger just as much. 

Bethany watched him, nodded slowly.  “Yeah,” she said.  “But then again, there’s a lot of things about you I’ll never understand.”

Anger flaring again, Dean pushed to his feet, his chair skidding back loudly.  “Leave me alone,” he spat.

“You’re the one who came here, not me,” she said with a cool shrug.

“Yeah, well, I’ll fix that pretty quick,” he said and he limped past her and headed straight for the bedroom.  It wasn’t until he had slammed the door behind him and had his bag snatched into his hand, that his defenses broke and he sat down heavily on the bed, wishing he could cry.

-o-

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there.  It could have been two minutes or it could have been twenty.  Time meant less since hell, both slower and faster, as though his soul didn’t quite fit back into his mortal body just yet.

He wasn’t sure it ever would.  After all, hell had torn at him, pulled and ripped until every recognizable part of himself was jagged and disjointed.  No matter what miracle Cas had pulled off, stuffing a scarred and ill-fitting soul back into his body still didn’t seem right.  Even with all his physical scars gone, parts of him were empty now, and other parts overflowing, and the constant imbalance made Dean feel as weak and vulnerable as Sam seemed to think he was.

Sometimes, it made him wish he’d never come back.  Other times, it made him so damned grateful he had.

Because living was hard now, weighed down and painful, but it was living.  It meant something, to come back from that.  What he’d done was horrible, but now, he had the presence of mind to see that.

He was trying, now.  Trying to make it better.  Trying to save others.  Trying to live up to the manner of his resurrection.  He still didn’t know what the angels wanted, but he knew what he wanted--to atone for those ten years.

That was what they didn’t understand.  Not Bethany.  Not Sam. 

Sure, Sam had tried.  Sam had asked and listened and hunted, but Sam couldn’t get it.  Obviously didn’t get it.

Sam didn’t get a lot of things.  Sam didn’t get that using his powers defeated the whole purpose.  Negated the entire damn sacrifice.  Dean had died so Sam could live.  Using his powers, trusting Ruby--that wasn’t living.  That was a fast track to damnation.  It was suicide.

Suicide.

Just like Bethany had told him.  Sam was damn near suicidal.

That was part of the change.  It wasn’t just that Sam wasn’t his usual little-brother self, like Dean just missed his geekery and angst.  No, it was that Sam was colder and harder now.  Like he’d lost something of himself, too, in those four months.

Only Sam didn’t have an angel to put him back together.  No, Sam just had a demon to take him further apart. 

Dean had to be grateful that Ruby kept Sam alive.  Because if Sam was trying to kill himself, at least a slow suicide gave Dean more time.  More time to save Sam.

Because that was what it came down to. Sam needed to be saved.

From what, though, Dean wasn’t sure he’d thought that through.  He’d been too busy being angry, too busy being scared, too busy being angry that he was so damn scared.  Because he’d left this earth with only one thing to keep him going: the knowledge that Sam would be okay.  The girls, the sneaking out, the powers--that wasn’t just Sam changing to spite Dean.  That was Sam changing because he’d lost Dean.

In all these months since he’d been back, Dean had resented Sam’s newfound independence.  He’d chafed at Sam’s deep need to hide things.  Because Dean just wanted to feel needed again.  He just wanted to be that big brother at least in part because it kept him from being that torturer in Hell.

But this time, it’d been Sam who’d been up all night.  Just like Sam had researched for days straight and dragged him to Nebraska to find a faith healer.  Just like Sam had chased wayward lead after wayward lead to try to break Dean’s deal.

Dean muttered a curse.

There it was.  The sudden flip side he hadn’t been looking for.

While he could see Sam as indifferent and self-absorbed, maybe his brother was just too tired to respond and too afraid to approach him.  Maybe he wasn’t the only one who felt the growing rift between them. 

Was it possible?  That his words had hurt Sam just as much as Sam’s had hurt Dean?

Was there more than that?  Was it possible that Sam’s distance wasn’t just his brother’s disdain for him?  Was it possible that Sam was hurting too--hurting so bad that he didn’t even know how to function?

Hell, was it possible that his death had broken his brother so completely that all Dean could see now was some fair approximation that Sam had shoddily put back together?

Dean had spent so much time wondering what the hell had happened to his brother and hadn’t really thought about why.  He’d sat around and wondered when it happened, but hadn’t looked at the obvious.  Didn’t let himself. 

Those three days without Sam had been the worst part of his life.  Worse than hell.  The loneliness.  The emptiness.  Worse than hell.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget that in the aftermath, in all the fire and torture, that he’d made the deal with no regrets.  Because nothing else had been worth anything during those three days of failure.

Sam had lived four months of failure.  Dean had sold his soul after three days.  If that hadn’t worked, Dean doubted he’d have been alive after four months.

He hadn’t told the whole truth with the siren’s spell.  He knew exactly when Sam changed.  And he knew exactly why.  Sam was a Winchester, through and through.  Sam had lost his brother, lost the last person who mattered in his life, and Dean had to question when Sam fell apart? 

It wasn’t that he hadn’t known, it was that he hadn’t wanted to think about it at all.  He had wanted to think that he could go to hell noble and upstanding and leave his little brother to carry on his name.  It was a beautiful idea, one he’d crafted and refined over that long, inevitable year. 

But there was nothing noble about Hell.  And there was no way for Sam to carry on.  Sam had failed and then forced to live with his failure day after day after day.  Neither of them had had any choice but to break.

Dean sighed, looking at the door.  It didn’t change some things.  It didn’t change the fact that Sam needed to stop--now.  That Sam’s soul and life were at risk.  It didn’t change the fact that Dean needed to stop Sam’s extra-curriculars before they went on any longer.

And it didn’t change the harshness of Sam’s words.  Or how much his lies hurt.

But it did change Dean’s resentments.  They both had grounds to resent each other--they were brothers, after all--but what mattered in the end, was what they did.

Sam had listened, he’d gone on Dean’s hunt, he’d stayed up all night keeping a vigil he was too afraid to admit to.  He’d asked.

It was time for Dean to do the same.

-o-

When he finally came out of his room, Dean found Bethany still at the table, but this time, Sam was there, too.  The eggs were on the table, split between two plates.  Bethany had eaten most of hers, but the plate in front of Sam had barely been touched.  His brother was fiddling with his fork, scooting the scrambled mess around, from one side to another, and Dean recognized the tactic well from the years of canned food that Sam had tried so hard to avoid eating as a child.

Bethany gave him an appraising look as he approached, but said nothing.

Sam, for his part, looked like he wanted to spring to his feet, but Dean saw his brother rein it back in and smile instead. 

At first glance, it looked forced.  As if his brother were trying too hard to care.

At second glance, it looked constrained.  As if Sam didn’t feel comfortable in his own skin and wasn’t sure, at all, how Dean would respond.

Bethany quirked an eyebrow, her eyes sliding from Dean to Sam to Dean again.  “Feeling better?” she asked.

Uncomfortable, Dean limped his way to the table, cautiously pulling out a chair and sitting.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I might take some of that Ibuprofen you talked about earlier.”

She seemed to be studying him for a long moment before she offered him a small smile.  “Yeah, I’ll bet you would,” she said.  She pushed her chair out.  “I’ll want to check your stitches before you go.  For both of our mental well being.”

Dean laughed a little at that.  Funny how that was suddenly the least of his concerns.  “Sure, no problem.”

“I just didn’t want you taking off before I got to sign off,” she said.  “You two seem like the type to slip out without the bill.”

Dean was blushing at that before he realized that Sam was, too.

She shook her head, her grin amused now.  “I’ll be back in a minute,” she said.

“Hey,” Dean called.

She paused, looking back expectantly.

He took a deep breath, shifting again.  “Thanks,” he said.  “For everything.”

Her eyes stayed on him a minute longer, questioning, discerning.  “Any time,” she said.

Dean watched her as she turned and left and he didn’t need to ask to know that she understood just what he was thankful for.

Speaking of which, as nice as Ibuprofen sounded, that wasn’t really why he’d come out of the bedroom.

Glancing across the table, he got another look at his brother.  The kid was sitting rigidly in the seat, chewing absently at his bottom lip as he slumped in his seat.  It could have been detachment.  It could have been depression.  Dean couldn’t risk the latter in assuming the former.

“Good eggs?” Dean asked, and it was a stupid ice breaker, but they had to start somewhere.

Sam didn’t look up as he smiled a little.  “I guess,” he said.  With a furtive look from under his bangs, he seemed to assess Dean.  “You feeling better?”

“Well, let’s just say I could go for another rehymenation right about now, but all the parts seem to be in working order.”

Sam nodded.  “She’s not a bad doctor.”

“Kind of a sketchy bedside manner,” Dean said.  “Doesn’t shut up.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed.  “Persistent, too.”

“Seems like just your type,” Dean cajoled.  “You do dig doctors now, don’t you?”

It was the wrong thing to say, Dean realized, watching a haunted look pass through Sam’s eyes.  Cara had been a one night stand, love ‘em and leave ‘em, by Sam’s own admission.  Another of his new habits.

But maybe not for the reasons Dean had assumed.  Maybe Sam loved and left because he didn’t know how to make the effort.  After all, when was the last time Dean had seen Sam happy--really, truly happy?

“Somehow, I don’t think Bethany’s looking to hook up,” Sam answered carefully.

Dean could heartily agree with that.  “No, seems like she’s got enough emotional baggage of her own without taking on any of ours.”

Sam nodded, looking at his plate.

This was ridiculous.  They were brothers.  Sam and Dean.  Dean and Sam.  Dean could do this.  Dean would do this.  “We can stay, you know,” Dean said, hedging a little.  “For a day or two.”

Sam cocked his head in question.  “Why?”

Dean frowned a little.  “Tie up some loose ends.  Recuperate.”

“You’re the one with the stitches,” Sam said with a slight smile.

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, shifting at the thought.  “I am.  But, I don’t know.  She seems okay.”

Sam seemed to consider that.  “I don’t really know her that well.”

Of course he didn’t.  It had only been two weeks out of Sam’s life.  Two weeks when Dean wasn’t there.  That wasn’t very much.  But suddenly it just felt like too much.  “I know why you’ve changed,” Dean blurted suddenly.

Sam’s face screwed up, a little confusion, a little hurt, a lot of denial.

Dean cleared his throat.  “Under the siren’s venom, I told you I didn’t know when it happened.  And maybe I didn’t.  But I think I do now.  I mean, four months, forty years, it’s a hell of a long time for both of us.”

Sam looked uncomfortable.  Painfully so.  “Dean--”

“I’m not saying I’m cool with what you’re doing.  All the secrets.  And you’ve got to get your head out of your ass when it comes to Ruby.”

“Dean--”

“But it’s not a mystery to me,” he continued, pushing ahead because he had to.  “Not that part.  I didn’t even make it three days, man.  Thirty years in hell, no problem.  Three days without my little brother and I cracked.”

Sam looked stricken, and he dropped his head.  “I don’t like lying to you,” he said, and his voice sounded strained.

Dean pulled himself together.  “So, don’t,” he said.  “I know it’s been a little weird, but I’m still your brother.”

Sam turned his eyes back to him and they looked red.  “Sometimes, it’s just hard,” he said.

Rolling his eyes, Dean forced himself to keep his anger in check.  “It shouldn’t be,” he said.  “I know I’ve freaked out, but, man, Sam, I know what’s out there.  I know what hell is.  And you can’t go there.  I would do anything to stop that.  And, you know me, I don’t deal with it well.  Sometimes I throw punches instead of just telling you that I’m scared out of my mind.”

Sam shook his head, short and tight.  “No, not that,” he said.  “Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like to be part of a team again.  What it’s like to have a brother.  And it was so damned hard doing it without you that sometimes it was just, I don’t know.  Easier to forget what it was like to have you around.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Dean said.  And he was.  “I just--can’t be sorry you’re still here.”

Sam shook his head vehemently, and his eyes looked suspiciously wet.  “Don’t,” he said.

“Don’t what?”

Sam’s face was deadly serious, as serious as Dean had ever seen it.  “Don’t sit there and apologize to me.”

“Sam--”

Sam shook his head again, tighter this time.  “You were in Hell, Dean,” Sam said.  “I know I can’t really understand what that means right now, but what you did wasn’t your fault.  Getting off the rack, it doesn’t make you weak.  You couldn’t help it.  And, sometimes, it’s hard for me to hear because every time I hear it, I just think about how I should have stopped it.  How I should have saved you.  And--”  His voice cut off, emotion choking it.  He swallowed hard.  “And I made the choices I made to try to make up for it.  I can’t be sorry for that, but I am sorry for lying.  And for hurting you.  The siren--”

Dean waved his hand.  “We both said some stupid things--”

“But you were right.”

“And so were you,” Dean replied, and it hurt to say.  It hurt to admit, but he had to do it.

Sam looked down for a long moment, before looking back up.  “Not about most of it.”


“Yeah, well,” Dean said, looking his little brother in his eyes.  “Neither was I.”

They were subtle, these apologies, but as deep as the revelations that fueled them.  And for the first time in a long time, there was something like hope.  There were still secrets and lies, there was still hurts and anguish, but they’d only needed one thing all along and that was the one thing they might find yet: each other.

Dean cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably.  The moment was good, but it was still emotion, and they were men and they were Winchesters and all those chick flick moments were sort of maxing out for the day.  “So, uh, Bethany.  She’s kind of a character.”

Sam sniffled a little, pulling in his own emotion faster than Dean thought he should be able to.  “She’s not a bad person.”

“No,” Dean agreed.  “Still.  As far as allies go, maybe one with a little less emotional baggage might be helpful.”

Sam’s posture shifted, pulled inward.  Apologies were one thing.  Opening up was apparently another.  “Just...what did Bethany tell you?” Sam asked, his eyes narrowed and his position defensive.  It shouldn’t have to be like that.  Dean wasn’t the only one who was having trust issues.

“Not much,” Dean said, shrugging as best he could.  It took a lot not to pry, not to play the big brother card and make demands, but he’d tried that.  He’d tried it and failed. 

Sam’s position was still stiff, and he was watching Dean, carefully and acutely, as if he was waiting for some kind of cue.  And there was a chance there, a small opening, but an opening nonetheless.

Dean took a breath, offering a bit of a smile.  It was still hard to think about, harder still to say.  Yet, they had to start somewhere or they’d never find their way back to each other.  “I don’t know,” he said, finally shrugging.  He collected himself, looking his little brother squarely in the eye. 

Sam looked awkward for a moment, like he wanted to hide his eyes, look away, but he didn’t.  “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Dean said.  “But I sort of wanted to hear it from you.”

end
 


Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: March 12th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Failure

*shakes Bethany's hand* I like how these strong, independent type women gravitate toward Sam. A stranger can see something that's right in front of Dean's nose but due to where his head is right now, he's too blind to see it.

I love how Dean's last line ties in with the lyrics in part one.

You delivered limpness via flashbacks...very cool device!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
how

I do like Bethany. She turned out better than I had anticipated.

Dean is just sort of lost in himself. I don't blame him, but I do want him to see it.

Limpness is everything! It's all I have left...

Posted by: ErinRua (erinrua)
Posted at: March 13th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
semper fi

Wow. In about 20 minutes, I'll be watching tonight's SPN so maybe this will be sort of Kripke'd, but then again, probably not, and this is just so ... SO! It's not often a *fic* can tie me in knots as tightly as Show does, but this one did. In a very good way.

You did such a gorgeous job with Dean's stubborn, (justified) unrelenting hurt, the way humans cling to their wounds of the heart so fiercely they simply can't imagine anything else, the way we would rather hold our unsteady moral high ground rather than admit ... maybe it really is just that simple. Maybe it's just people who love each other more than life hurting too much to know where to fix, or how.

This. Is perfect. And Bethany was a wonderful, tragic, f-ed up vehicle by which to show Dean's reluctant revelation. Well done, lady!


Edited at 2009-03-13 03:45 am (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
lost innocence

It is a pain when the show throws all our writing off. And yeah, this doesn't fit in canon, but I still wish it did. Sometimes it feels like protracted angst just for the sake of angst.

I'm so glad you liked it :)

Posted by: JJ (jillybean_6939)
Posted at: March 16th, 2009 09:27 am (UTC)
pic#73402689

That was wonderful!!

I really liked Bethany and the your Sam (much more than canon!Sam to be honest).

Thank you for sharing this!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
behold the limp

Well, to me, this is all lurking underneath canon Sam. I don't think the writers have given enough time to let us know him, though.

Thanks!

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