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Between the Lines of Fear and Blame 4a/4

A/N: So this is it. And it's out just in time before Kripke has his way and S5 premieres. Hopefully the resolution works--I admit, the hardest part of this was writing the ending, which, I am glad to say is actually somewhat hopeful--or at least intended to be. Thanks again to

geminigrl11 and sendintheklowns and for everyone who took the time to read and review. I hope it's been a good ride for everyone :)  Previous parts here.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend

Somewhere along in the bitterness

And I would have stayed up with you all night

Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life

-from “How to Save a Life” by the Fray

-o-

He was greeted by sunlight, sharp and blinding. It took a moment for him to focus, and this time, it was a place he didn’t recognize.

A city street. Quiet and laid back. There were couples eating in an open air cafe across the street.

Squinting, Dean looked down the street, and was immediately greeted with a lanky figure walking toward him.

His brother’s gait was obvious, but it was hard to place where they were. Sam’s hair was short and his face was still boyish. He had his height but not his bulk, and given the relaxed, easy going smile on his face, Dean could make the logical guess. “Dude, we’ve been here,” Dean said, with a sigh of exasperation. “Come on. Palo Alto. Again?”

Sam didn’t seem to be listening to him, though.

His brother paused, looking at the storefront Dean was standing by. With a deep breath, Sam opened the door and went inside.

Dean looked at the name: Palo Alto Fine Jewelry.

It was enough of a surprise to make Dean stop, something tugging at his gut. He could remember the Yellow-Eyed Demons taunts--vaguely. Ring shopping.

Sam was preparing to propose to Jessica.

Seeing Sam with Jess had been one thing. Seeing Sam ring shop? Made Dean proud and brokenhearted all at once.

This had been the future Sam had wanted for himself. This had been what Sam had built for himself. And to think of his brother planning this and knowing how it would end--it was almost more than Dean could take.

He didn’t want to go in. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t think he could handle it.

He had no choice.

With a sigh, he stepped forward. Opening the door, bells tinkled. Dean smiled at one of the employees and made his way over toward Sam.

His brother was standing at the counter, holding a ring. This time, Sam did look up. His eyes were young and bright and so innocent that Dean could not doubt that this Sam was real.

“Dean. I’ve been looking for diamonds,” Sam said, a grin on his face. “I don’t have the money for, not yet. I’ve been working three extra jobs, saving every cent. I had to give up coffee and I thought Jess would kill me when I got rid of cable. But it’s worth it.” He looked at the ring in his hand. “It’s so worth it, don’t you think?”

He looked up at Dean, holding out the ring again.

Dean looked at it, the sunlight catching, sparkling magnificently. It was beautiful, there was no doubt. Dean didn’t have to know Jess to know that she would love it. Pure and simple, clean and elegant: it was the epitome of grace and beauty and value.

“Of course,” Dean said, and the emotion suddenly took him. Seeing Sam here, seeing how much hope he had. In all of Sam’s other incarnations, Dean had never seen him look like this. So happy, so peaceful. Hopeful.

And then Dean remembered the look on Sam’s face when Jessica burned over his head, and it hurt to think of that hope being squelched.

Sam looked back at the ring, eyes wide with wonder. “They say that rings have inherent value,” he said. “That the diamond is perfect, worth so much for what it is, and when given in love--well, that is the best combination.”

Dean took a measured breath, feeling the urge to cry. “Yeah, Sam,” Dean said. “It is.”

Then Sam looked at him, and Sam wasn’t twenty-two anymore, he was ageless, just like before. “Who am I, Dean?”

There was that question again. The one he was asked again and again and again.

But what was the answer? What did Sam want to hear?

Looking at his brother, looking at the hope on his face, the simple need, Dean remembered the day Sam was born, the feeling of holding him and knowing this was his responsibility. He remembered the way it felt to carry Sam out of the house when he was four years old. He remembered the way it felt to sell his soul for Sam’s life.

There was only one answer he could give: “You’re my brother, Sammy. You’re my brother.”

Sam thought about that for a moment. He took an even breath, looking at the ring, and then looking at his brother again. “And what is that worth?”

“It’s worth getting out of here,” Dean said. “Don’t you think? We should blow this joint, just you and me. You don’t belong here.”

“But I don’t belong anywhere,” Sam said. “I tried to fit in here. I tried to fit in with Jess. I tried to fit in with you and Dad, I tried to fit in at school. I tried to fit into hunting, into being the good son, the good brother, and I failed. I don’t know how to not fail again.”

“You didn’t fail,” Dean said, trying to smile. “You just...got a little turned around.”

“I failed you. I failed dad. I failed Jess,” Sam said, and he looked at the ring again. He put it back on the counter and smiled sadly. “I don’t even have enough money for this ring. I almost got there, but I didn’t quite. I failed at that, too. I can’t be a son, a lover, a brother until I can be myself. I need inherent value, Dean. Not yours. You don’t have enough for me. No one has enough for me.”

“Sammy,” Dean said, and he wanted to make a joke. He wanted to lighten the mood, to tell his brother he was wrong.

But in some ways, Sam wasn’t wrong. The failures were clear. Every Sam he met, from the addict to the little boy, was created by failure. Lived it, breathed it, existed in it. From being left out of his mother’s memory to not being a good enough hunter to getting kicked out to watching Jessica die. All of it. Their dad’s death. The big secret. Dying in Cold Oak. Failing to save Dean from Hell. Killing Lilith only to bring on the end of the world.

Sam had failed. Again and again and again and again. And Dean hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t cared. Had promised to make it better or hated Sam for it. Because Sam was his brother, simple as that. Sam was John’s son, Jessica’s lover, Dean’s brother, Ruby’s bitch, but maybe that was the problem. Maybe that was the failure that mattered the most.

Sam looked at him. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to fail at this, too,” he said.

Dean cocked his head. “What?”

And the scene flashed out.

-o-

This time, Dean was ready for the black-eyed freak.

Without fail, that Sam was standing there, arms crossed over his chest, a small smirk playing on his lips.

“You getting it yet?”

“Getting what?” Dean said, narrowing his eyes at him. This was getting old--redundant and repetitive and pointless. “You’re just screwing with me.”

Sam shook his head, feigning innocence. “I’m trying to help.”

“Oh, whatever,” Dean said. “You’re just dragging me through memories to see how long it takes before I freak out on you. Is that how you get your kicks?”

“You’re really good at making this all about you.”

“What else is it about?”

“Maybe about us,” Sam said. “Sam. You know, the brother you came in here to save.”

“So what’s with the magic mystery tour, then? Why not just let me talk to my brother so we can blow this joint?”

“This joint is our consciousness. If we blow it, then we’re dead. Which I thought was what you wanted to avoid.”

Dean groaned. “I don’t understand what you think I’m going to do. They’re all nuts. Each Sam after the next.”

Sam shrugged. “What? You want an apology for the sad state of our mind? Emotional trauma, man. Surely you can relate.”

Dean forced himself to stay calm. As much as he wanted to attack this freak, he had no one else even remotely sane to deal with in here. Whether this was Sam or a version of Sam or something else entirely, this was his ticket out. “Just tell me what I’m supposed to do,” he said slowly and purposefully.”

“We’re trying,” Sam said.

“How?” Dean demanded.

“Put it together, Dean,” Sam said. “Think about what you’ve seen. You don’t need to go to college to have basic reasoning skills. I know you can figure this out. At least, the rest of them seem to think so.”

“Figure what out?” Dean snapped. “How to get Sam out? Because every time I try to talk to Sam, we keep coming back to the same thing.”

“Exactly,” Sam said.

“Hate to break it to you, but I didn’t come here for a self-help lesson.”

“Then why did you come here again?” Sam asked, with a tilt of his head.

“To save Sam’s life!” Dean exploded. He ran a hand through his hair turning away.

“But what about our soul?” Sam shot back. He stepped closer, slipping around Dean and looking down to meet his eyes. “What about our soul?”

“What about it?” Dean asked, more than a little frustrated. “You think I can fix this?”

“What’s the point of saving our life if you don’t even want to touch what matters?”

Dean made a face. “What, like you?”

Sam’s jaw clenched, his eyes darkening a little reflexively. “I’m part of this whether you want to admit it or not.”

“I’ll choose not.”

“What about the rest of them, then?” Sam asked. “What about them?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Who are they and what are they worth, right?” he said. “The same damn questions, every Sam I meet.”

“Oh, come on, Dean,” Sam said, shaking his head. “We’re logical, right down to our little baby self. We’re showing you this stuff for a reason.”

“What reason? To drive me insane? To show me how much of a freak Sam really is?”

Sam gave him a bitter smile. “It’s not all about you.”

“Then tell me what you want.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “That Stanford version is about as obvious as they come,” he said. “I was sure you’d figure that one out.”

“Figure what out.”

“Inherent value, Dean,” Sam said with a huff of exasperation. “Inherent value given in love. A diamond is worth something in and of itself. Devoid of context, it has unspeakable worth. And when it is packaged and given in love, as a perfect gift, then it is priceless.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So think of the opposite,” Sam said. “Something worth nothing in and of itself, something conceived of hate and pain and fear.”

Dean just shook his head. Sam was speaking in riddles, and this head trip was more than he could take. “I don’t understand.”

“You do understand,” Sam said and his eyes went dark as he stepped closer. “Because you were there, at the beginning. You were there. You know how this began.” Sam paused, tilting his head, stepping back. “Or do you need a reminder there, kiddo?”

At that, Sam’s eyes went yellow and his smile turned feral.

Dean gasped, his hackles raised, but he had no means to fight this, nothing he could do.

“You’re pretty lucky,” Sam continued. “When your mommy and daddy made you, it was all love, baby. Two people, coming together. And your mother was so happy when she found out she was going to have you. Your dad, he bought her the entire house. They couldn’t afford it and, let me tell you, it was a piece of junk. He spent every free minute renovating it and they picked out all the things in your nursery so it was just right. They took every class, they read all the books. They printed out little birth announcements to tell everyone how proud they were.”

Dean couldn’t be sure how he knew, couldn’t totally understand how this was Sam, how this was in Sam, but he couldn’t doubt its validity. Because he knew it, he knew it with the love and joy he remembered of his early years. He knew it with every fiber of his being from the four best years of his life.

“Do you want to know what your mother did when she found out she was pregnant with Sam? She cried, Dean, and not those tears of happiness. Oh no. She cried because she knew. She was a smart woman and she knew about deals and she knew about the price they carried. And she knew that there was no way she should be pregnant, not with the birth control and the condoms she made sure they used. Because she didn’t need another baby. She didn’t want another baby. She had you, and, more than that, she knew she couldn’t risk a baby then. Too bad for her that the pill doesn’t protect against demon interference.”

Dean trembled. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Sam said shaking his head, yellow eyes boring into Dean’s skull. “Sammy’s all Winchester, don’t worry. But your mother made a deal, you see. And it defied Heaven and Earth, so you’d better believe that human intervention wasn’t going to stop it. When little Sammy was born, she held him in her arms and prayed that he would die. Prayed that we would never find out what the cost was for her weakness. Your mother, though, never was very lucky. That’s where poor Sammy gets that from.”

“Shut up,” Dean said, his voice strained and low. This was his family tragedy, only worse, so much worse, even worse than seeing his mother make the deal, seeing her sell Sam out before he even existed. “Shut up.”

“You’re the one who said it, though,” Sam continued with a look of feigned innocent on his face. “That maybe we never were brothers. That I was a monster from the beginning. I may not have had demon blood until I was six months old, but I was damned before I was born. I was created for death and destruction. My inherent value is dependent on the job Hell laid out for me. I was never wanted. I was loved as an afterthought. The world would have been better off without me.” He quirked a smile. “Too bad the world never had anything to say about it.”

At that, Dean lunged, striking desperately at the thing pretending to be his brother.

The fake Sam just laughed as Dean hit nothing but air. “It’s my head,” he said from behind Dean. Dean spun, looking at the yellow eyed version of his brother. “You think you have any power? This is the one place where I’m actually free.”

“Get out of my brother,” Dean told him vehemently.

“But I am your brother, no matter how much you or Sammy boy doesn’t want to admit. I have been here since he was six months old. I didn’t choose it, but here I am. Sam tries so hard to keep me in check. It takes all of him to keep me under wraps. I don’t think you get that, Dean. What it’s like to have a monster living in you. Sam may have created the black-eyed guy, but he’s weak--sort of a pathetic knockoff that’s all good intentioned and screwed up in the head. Me? I’m the mastermind behind it all. I’m the one that can go through all the rest and bring them to their knees. I’m just looking for my opening, and thanks to you, I think I might have finally found it.”

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. “You are not my brother.”

“No?” Sam asked. Then he stepped closer, holding Dean’s gaze. The pull was irresistible, and Dean couldn’t look away, no matter how much he wanted to. And he really wanted to. Wanted to close his eyes to this nightmare once and for all. “Then tell me, who am I?”

“You’re the yellow-eyed son of a bitch that started all this,” Dean said.

Sam frowned. “I thought I was your brother, Dean,” he said.

“You could never be my brother.”

Sam made a noise in the back of the throat and brought his eyebrows together in a facsimile of regret. “I’m afraid you really can’t have one without the other,” he said.

“I should kill you,” Dean seethed, because this was the monster Castiel had warned him about. This was the abomination that Uriel had so hated. This was the evil that Zachariah had harkened to. Maybe it had been there all along, maybe it had developed over time. Maybe a damned demon had highjacked Sam’s body. Maybe the blood had twisted some part of his little brother’s soul. Dean didn’t know, didn’t want to find out. He just wanted to kill it. If he could kill this, maybe he could still save Sam.

Sam grinned. “Hey, and that’s something that the rest of them agree with. We don’t deserve to live. Inherent value, remember, Dean? Inherent value, given in love should be cherished forever. The opposite should be forgotten. Neglected. Destroyed. Just like us.”

It was a jump in logic Dean hadn’t been expecting, and that he hardly knew how to follow.

Sam stepped back, hands out. “So do it,” he said. “Do it.”

And suddenly, there was a gun in his hands and all he had to do was pull the trigger. Dean looked at it in disbelief, then looked back at Sam. His eyes were glowing now, deep and bright in the blackness of Sam’s mind. It was so evil, so wrong, and it would just take one bullet...

“Don’t look so surprised,” Sam said. “You’ve had it in you all along. You’ve always thought I was the special one, when really it was you all along. You’re the one who can do this. You can destroy what’s evil.”

God had work for him to do. To stop Lucifer. To stop the Apocalypse. He had failed in stopping Sam before. And he had to wonder, if he’d had this choice then, if he’d had a gun and no other choice, could he have pulled the trigger? To stop all this? To stop the Apocalypse, to stop Sam, to stop this endless take, take, take of brotherhood?

“Come on, big brother,” Sam mocked. “Don’t disappointment me now. Follow that order. Be the hero Heaven meant for you to be. Save the world and start by eliminating me.”

He was right. He was destined to this, to save the world. Maybe he should have realized this years ago, when his father had died, but he’d never had the guts. He’d traded his soul for Sam at Cold Oak and it had been the worst decision of either of their lives. Maybe he could make this right, though. Eradicate the evil in Sam, once and for all. Kill the source, kill the thing that made Sam evil, and life could go on, better than it was before.

“You wanted to let me die before,” Sam said, and he was right. Sam shouldn’t have known, but Sam did. Sam knew everything, he knew the secrets Dean tried to keep, the feelings he tried to deny. “You wish you would have left me for dead at Cold Oak. Sparing me is your only regret. Because I’m the same demon that ruined your life, that took everything from you. This is only justice, in the end. Only right.”

Sam’s logic, as usual, was flawless. Dean had no counter arguments. There was no reason to let this Sam live. Dean couldn’t let this part of his brother exist with all the rest. It was too much of a threat, and there had been too much pain--he had had too much pain. His entire life, his mother, his father, himself--

“Do it!” Sam screamed.

The tension built and the inevitability struck him, washing over Dean hot and cold all at once. Kill him or save him, at least he’ll die human, if he ever was my brother--

Dean pulled the trigger.

The bullet hit Sam straight in the heart, and Sam staggered. For a long second, it was silent, before blood started seeping out, staining his shirt. Sam looked down in wonder, wide-eyed. Then he laughed. “You did it,” he said, and there was amusement and there was pain and there was relief. “You finally did it.”

Then, to Dean’s horror, Sam looked back at him and he was twenty-two again, eyes clear and his face young. “I’ve been waiting for this,” this Sam continued.

Sam morphed again, younger still until he was eighteen, lanky and bruised and scared but ready. “For a very long time.”

It was only a second before Sam changed again, to fourteen, to eight, to five, until the puppy dog eyes were looking up at him. When Sam spoke, it was in a child’s voice, clear and grateful. “Thank you,” he said. “Maybe it’ll finally be safe now. And this time, you can totally have the prize.”

Just like that, Sam collapsed, the small body limp in the darkness.

On instinct, Dean rushed forward. He had only wanted to kill the one, the yellow-eyed Sam. Maybe the black-eyed one. This wasn’t what he had intended--this wasn’t it at all--this couldn’t be happening.

On his knees, he scooped the young child up, pulling him close. “Sammy,” he said. “Sammy, no.”

Sam’s eyes cracked open, and there was blood on his teeth when smiled. “You can’t fight what’s inside you,” he said. “We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all connected. Where one goes, we all go. This is why we’ve worked so hard to separate ourselves. It’s to keep the world safe. But it’s hard, Dean. It’s so very hard. And we’re sorry this duty fell to you. We’re so very sorry, but it’s over now. It’s over, and now you can rest.”

The child’s eyes went black, then yellow, then stopped seeing altogether.

Sam was gone.

All of them. Yellow eyes, black eyes, college Sam, teenage Sam, child Sam. Gone. Dean had only shot to kill the one, and had taken them all as a consequence.

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, no, no.”

Because this wasn’t what he wanted. This wasn’t what he intended. This wasn’t worth it. Dean wanted his brother and if he had to take the good with the bad, the maybe that was an okay price to pay after all.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, cradling the child closer. “Sammy, I’m so sorry.”

He was crying then, holding the boy close, and wondering how he had forgotten this. How he had forgotten what Sam meant to him. Not as an object to be protected, not even as his brother, but as Sam.

And he thought about what he would give to get a second chance.

But the child in his arms was still limp, and Dean closed his eyes to it all.

-o-

When he opened his eyes, the child was gone. The black room was gone. He was back in the hospital room.

He startled to awareness, jumping out of his chair, tense and ready. He hadn’t found the door, but maybe it had found him. Maybe he’d been kicked out. If Sam were waking up, or if Sam were--

He remembered the blood. He remembered his bullet.

Swallowing, he looked to his brother who was still on the bed. Unmoving and pale, the tube was still taped to his face and the monitor above his head beeped with unwavering consistency.

Sam wasn’t dead.

Dean felt himself relax, breathing out slowly. Sam was alive.

But was Sam still there?

He leaned forward, sweeping his hand across Sam’s forehead. His brother’s skin was warm, but there was no flicker of movement.

Sam’s psyche wasn’t a physical space, but Dean had gone there to pull Sam out. So it had to be possible to affect change of Sam’s condition...for better or for worse.

He swallowed hard. He had killed Sam. He’d watch Sam bleed out. What if he had killed what was left of his brother’s mind?

Guilt stabbed at him and he chewed his lip, trying to figure out if there was a way to tell. He was reaching for his cell phone when he saw the figure behind him.

At first, he thought it was Bobby, then maybe a nurse. But the figure was unmistakable. Tall, floppy hair. Clad in a hospital issue gown, a vivid display of bruises covering his face and a slice sutured across his forehead.

“Sam?” he asked. “What the...?”

“You know the answer, Dean,” Sam said. “You know where you are.”

It clicked. “We’re still in your freaky head, aren’t we?”

Sam just nodded, but he didn’t look at Dean. He was studying himself, watching his mirror image on the bed.

Dean looked between them, shifting uncomfortably. “So, um. What are we doing here?”

“Thinking about the situation,” Sam said practically. “We have to be here in order to understand the risks and the benefits. Until we understand all that, we can’t make the right conclusion.”

“What decision are we making? I mean, if it’s a toss up between bed pans or catheter, I got to tell you, you really should have opted for the bed pan.”

Sam didn’t laugh. In fact, Sam didn’t even move. “We have to decide whether we should live or die,” Sam said simply.

Dean sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “After everything I’ve been through, this is where you bring me? The question of life or death? I hate to sound a little Trainspotting for you, but the answer is choose life, okay? So can we get this show on the road and hightail it out of here before you hand me any more guns and yell at me until I shoot?”

Sam barely seemed to hear him. “I’ve gone over it all very carefully,” he explained. “I thought, I just have to weigh the pros and the cons. What are the reasons I deserve to life? What are the reasons I should die?”

“You can’t count the geekiness against yourself,” Dean cajoled. “It’s your most endearing quality.”

Sam sighed, pushing to his feet. “I have tried to think of everything but the list never changes.”

Sam turned and was pacing. Then he stopped, looking at Dean. “Maybe you can help me,” he said. “Maybe you can help finish the list.”

Dean swallowed. “Yeah. Sure,” he said. “I think we should put great genetics down in the pro column.”

But Sam wasn’t listening again. He had turned to a dry erase board that came out of nowhere. It was divided into two and Dean recognized Sam’s neat print . One side was covered, overflowing. The other was empty.

“I went through, year by year,” Sam said. “I thought about the time I stole candy from the grocery store when I was five. I didn’t know it was stealing, but it was still wrong, so I think it counts. And I know I wasn’t sorry for the time I lied to dad about the debate tournament, which is why it’s on there twice. Once for the lie and then once for not feeling guilty. I suppose I need it a third time for not confessing.”

Dean stepped closer, squinting to make out the list. His stomach turned as he took it in. It was everything. Every sin of Sam’s life. Every lie, every omission. Every fight with his father. Every time he made Dean feel bad. The time he took the last of the Lucky Charms. The time he didn’t shoot fast enough on the hunt when he was fifteen. Leaving for Stanford. Not calling Dean when he thought he should. Lying to Jessica. Lying to Dean. Choking Dean, trusting Ruby, killing the nurse, drinking the blood, letting Lucifer out, not saving Dean: the list was overwhelming.

Swallowing, he looked at the other side. He noticed, then, that it wasn’t empty. There were a handful of name written there: Lori Sorenson, Matt Pike, Charlie in Toledo, Sarah Blake. The people from their successful hunts. The list was full and complete, Dean realized, and painfully bleak in contrast.

“You see it now, right? That you were right? That I don’t deserve to live.”

Dean’s heart was in his throat. “Sam--”

“You pulled the trigger for a reason,” Sam told him plainly.

“It wasn’t you.”

Sam nodded. “It was me,” Sam said. “That was who I’ve always been. It’s part of me, just like this is. Just like all of them are. If one deserves to die, we all deserve to die. Tell me I can die now, Dean. Please.”

Sam had asked him to kill him before. Sam had begged for his gun and for Dean to leave before. But this--this was different. It was stark and cruel, not because Sam was leaving it up to Dean to make the choice, but because the only thing holding Sam back from the brink was Dean. His brother wanted to die.

He’d known Sam was messed up, but he’d had no idea....

“Sam,” he breathed, looking at the list again. “You can’t--judge it on that stuff.”

“Why not?” Sam asked. “Actions, right? You told me it was what I did. It was my actions. That’s what condemned me. Nothing inside of me, just the simple stuff. So I did it your way. I looked at it all and you were right. You were always right.”

Dean shook his head, feeling the words rumble in his throat as if he’d just said it yesterday. If I didn’t know you, I would want to hunt you. It’s the lies. It makes you a monster. “No,” he said, looking at Sam again. “I was wrong. You’re more than this.”

“Then who am I, Dean?”

Dean ran his hand through his hair, his frustration mounted. He’d been asked that, again and again and again. And none of the answers were right. None of them. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“You do,” Sam replied. He stepped closer. “You’ve known for awhile now. You’ve known since you made the deal for me and lived to regret it. You knew that first day in Hell. You knew that I am nothing. And I’ve always been nothing. And if you’d just figured it out sooner, you could have spared yourself so much pain.”

His eyes burned and he shook his head, but his voice wouldn’t work.

Sam nodded, relentless. “I am a monster,” he said. “I am an aberration. An abomination.”

Dean breathed hard but couldn’t find his voice.

Sam was closer still. “And can you tell me what that’s worth?”

Dean just closed his eyes.

Sam kept talking anyway. “I am worth nothing. I never should have been born. Most souls have inherent worth, and most of them are made more precious because they are born of love and hope. I was born of an evil deal. I have no worth. The world would be better without me at all. You would be better without me.”

The logic was powerful and pervasive. Dean’s heart ached to disagree, the words sat on his tongue, the arguments were in his head, but he couldn’t do anything with them. He was paralyzed here, trapped by Sam’s inevitable conclusions. Numbed not by what his brother had done. But by the lessons Sam had learned. Where there was tragedy, Sam saw failure. Where there were heroics, Sam saw too little, too late. Where there was pain, Sam saw blame.

Where there was Sam, his brother saw monster, freak. Where there should have been love and compassion toward him, Sam felt only hate.

Seeing it now, it seemed obvious. This was what Sam was trying to tell him. This was the point Sam was trying to make. That he was a monster. That he was worthless. That Dean should let him go.

He opened his eyes. Sam was still looking at him, almost unblinking. “Can I go now, Dean? I’ll fight only as long as you tell me to, but when you’re ready to quit, you can just say the word.”

He shook his head. “No, Sam...”

Sam’s eyes filled. “I don’t deserve this favor,” he said. “I know. But--it might be for the best. For you. For the universe.”

“Sam, no,” he said again, shaking his head.

“But why?” Sam asked. “You’re tired. You’re angry at me. You told me I’m a monster. You did your job as well as anyone could. You don’t have to keep doing this.”

It would be easier, Dean thought. A life without Sam was a life without burden. A life free of responsibility. No one there to drag him down. No one there to hold him back. No one there to check up on. No one there to worry about. He could save the world and just walk away and never look back. But with Sam--

With Sam, he had to worry about the blood. He had to worry about the powers. He had to worry about the target Sam had painted on his own back.

Part of him wanted to say okay. Sam’s logic was good. Damn near perfect.

But this wasn’t a logical decision.

This was a compassionate decision.

It was so foreign, and so right.

Dean swallowed and found his voice. “I want to do this,” he said. “And I want you to.”

At that, a tear slipped from Sam’s eyes. He looked back at the list and dropped his head. “Okay,” he said.

Then the monitors wailed and commotion broke out and Dean was forced aside as doctors and nurses flooded the room.

In horror, Dean watched as they cut open Sam’s gown and put paddles to Sam’s chest. A charge of electricity jolted through Sam’s body, and Sam arched off the bed.

Again and again.

Terrified, Dean pulled himself into a corner. He closed his eyes to the scene, closed his eyes to the sight of his brother’s unresponsive form, and just let himself melt away.

-o-

He was back where he began. The endless void. Bleak nothingness stretching as far as the eye could see. The black-eyed Sam was gone--so was the Yellow-Eyed one. This time, Dean was alone.

For a moment, he couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move.

And then, he didn’t have to. The scene came to him, a light illuminating the expanse and Dean saw Sam curled up on the floor. His brother was trembling, too skinny and too pale, pulling at his hair.

And, after all of it, Dean still didn’t know how to help him.

He watched for a moment, listened to Sam’s murmurs and observed the slow rocking.

It was wrong, Dean realized. Not just creepy and unnerving, but wrong. But, after everything, Dean suddenly understood how it ended up like this. From the five year old just wanting to belong to the eighteen year old clinging to hope to the twenty-something who had lost it all. Sam’s life was one of lost hopes, broken dreams. It was a slow deconstruction, dismantled piece by piece until this was all there was.

Because Dean couldn’t leave Sam like this. He couldn’t.

Licking his lips, he hesitated. He wanted to reach out, to touch Sam, but he was afraid the rest of Sam would unravel before he could. He opted to speak instead. “Sam,” he said. “Sam, you can stop now. We can talk about this. We can make it better.”

Dean had to believe that. It had to be true; it was all that mattered. He’d seen Sam’s memories. He’d seen Sam’s inner demons. Now he just wanted to bring Sam back.

To his surprise, Sam stilled.

Dean’s breath caught in his throat. “Sam?”

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Sam turned his head, looking up at Dean through stringy hair and deep set eyes. “Why are you still here?”

His voice was strained and muted, a little ragged around the edges from too much use, but it was surprisingly coherent.

Dean swallowed. “I have to get you home, little brother.”

“I don’t have a home,” Sam said. “I don’t deserve a home.”

“Well, good thing you don’t get to choose then,” Dean said, trying to keep his voice from cracking. “You belong with me.”

“I don’t deserve to be anywhere near you.”

“Sam, come on,” Dean said, feeling desperate.

“I wish I could.”

“You can.”

“You just want that to be true because you’re here,” Sam told him. “You didn’t even want to come here.”

How Sam could know that, Dean wasn’t sure. Dean wasn’t sure about a lot of things. He wasn’t sure what parts of his brother were real and what parts weren’t; he wasn’t sure if Sam could ever be the person he once was or if this was who Sam had always been. He couldn’t be sure if he hated Sam or just hated how much he didn’t know Sam; if he resented Sam or just Sam’s weakness.

“It’s the question you ask yourself every day,” Sam told him.

“What question?”

Sam looked at him, and the eyes were the same. The same as the five year old, the teenager, the one in the hospital room, the evil one who took him around. Open, wide, simple: vulnerable. “Who am I, Dean?” he asked.

All his answers came back to him, each wrong answer after another. All questions have answers, you just have to find the right one. And suddenly, he only had one answer to give. “You’re Sam,” he said, a little desperate, because that’s all there was. “You’re Sam.”

His brother held his gaze and it was the puppy dog look Dean remembered from a long time ago. Dean hadn’t realized until now how long it had been. “And what is that worth?” he asked.

Dean’s breath escaped hard and his shoulders sagged. “It’s worth waking up, Sam,” he said. “It’s worth waking up.”

Sam looked at him, hard and simple. Then he nodded. “Okay,” he said.

And then Dean was gone, the expanse around him sucked away, as Dean hurtled backwards, once and for all.



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