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That's What Family is For

April 29th, 2009 (01:40 pm)

Title:  That's What Family is For

Summary:  Dean and Sam reflect on their changing understanding of family.  Tag to Jump the Shark.

A/N:  So there are fifty billion of these tags out there, but I had it in my mind to write the h/c tag this ep so begged for.  Sadly, the boys are good at hurting but not so good at comfort.  That said, I tried to be honest with this fic in regards to both boys.  They're both in horrible places right now, and I think their relationship is dangerously strained.  Moreover, I don't hold either one "responsible."  They each have their role to play in this, and it was my hope in this fic to give each brother equal grounding.  I have a feeling that who you sympathize more in the fic will relate highly to who you prefer overall in the show.  I also feel like I'm rather harsh here--but, these two are rather harsh on each other, so I make no apologies and I stand by this in all its hurt and its very marginal comfort.  My purpose was to both deal with Sam's injuries while also dealing with the shift in Dean's emotions from when he first rescues Sam to the funeral for Adam.

A/N 2:  Thanks to geminigrl11  for the beta (twice!).  Also, this goes out to sendintheklowns , who I think could use a pick me up this week :)

Disclaimer:  Really, totally not mine.

-o-

That was what family was for.

To save each other’s asses and then clean up the mess.

Check to the first one: Dean had killed both ghouls and cut Sam free.

And now, he was getting to work on the second one.  After all, the place was a mess, with ghoul bits all over the place, and all of that was really beside the point, since they still had a dead little brother to drag out of a crypt and burn.

It was hitting him harder than he’d expected.  Dean hadn’t been thrilled to learn that Adam even existed, but to find him dead?  Well, wasn’t that a punch in the gut.  He’d already watched one little brother get murdered before his eyes, already held Sam as he bled to death in his arms.  And now he’d unearthed another little brother, already cold and dead, frozen with a look of terror on his face and his rotting intestines hanging out.

It didn’t do much for Dean’s big brotherly mojo, and killing the ghouls hadn’t really made him feel much better.  Saving Sam was only a half-victory at this point, and Dean just wanted to forget about Sam’s slit wrists, Adam’s painful death, and his dad’s inconsistent parenting.

He had been halfway done with rolling the first ghoul’s body into a sheet when he heard the thump.

His first thought was that maybe he hadn’t destroyed the other one’s head enough, even though he’d blown the freakin’ thing’s head off.  But ghouls were tricky little bitches, and as he turned back to the living room, gun pointed and aimed, he was surprised to see that the thump wasn’t the ghoul pulling itself back together but Sam, who had apparently just taken a nose dive.

His heart skipping a beat, Dean scaled the distance, going to his knees beside his brother.  Sam was sprawled face-first on the ground, the large body mere inches from the table where Dean had left him.  How Sam had missed any other furniture in the room, Dean couldn’t be sure, but he supposed he should thank God for small miracles at this point.  Because Dean had more than enough to worry about, with Sam’s bleeding arms spread out above his head, still fresh with pulsing red.  His brother’s face was turned to the side, where Dean could clearly see the colorful bruise blossoming there.

“Sam,” he called, working carefully to roll his brother over.  It took some work, since his brother was just shy of being a friggin’ giant, but as he got Sam on his back, he called again.  “Sammy.”

Sam didn’t move, his head lolled to the side.  One towel had fallen away in Sam’s trip down and the other was soaked through, already saturating the floor.

“Damn it,” Dean muttered, fumbling to put pressure on the wounds again.  “Come on, come on.”

This wasn’t working, and Dean quickly realized his oversight.  There was no way Sam could actually keep pressure on both forearms at once.  Even now, for Dean to keep pressure on both meant that he wouldn’t get anything else done--and not just cleaning up the scene, but stitching Sam back up.  Dean had known Sam had lost a little blood, but as it seeped between his fingers, he realized that this was more than a little blood.

This was a lot of blood.  Enough blood to make his brother pass out cold.  Sam hadn’t even flinched, even with all pressure on painful wounds.  Worse, his brother’s complexion was pasty now, dangerously colorless.  Dean needed to stop the bleeding--now. 

More than that, he needed to clean the wounds, prevent infection, and check out the other gouges on Sam’s body.  Ghouls were sadistically blood thirsty, and dirty things.  Dirty fingers and dirty mouths all over his brother--he might have found time for a kinky joke, were Sam not quite so still and damned pale on the floor below him.

Maybe it was time to screw the home surgery angle and take Sam to a hospital.  A pint of blood or two might do the kid some good.

With a sigh, he looked at his brother’s lax features and clenched his jaw.

Then again, maybe letting Sam bleed to death might do them both some good.  Knowing Sam was running around with a demon, using demon powers, being told by angels that God wanted him to stop--that was so freakin’ screwed up, even for them.

That’s what family’s for.

Closing his eyes, Dean swallowed hard.  One brother was already dead and gone.  He couldn’t let another one die, on or off his watch.  He’d already started the apocalypse; the only thing he had left was family.  The only thing he had left was Sam.  Demon blood, corpse sexing, lying through his teeth Sam.

Eyes open again, he looked at Sam.  His brother looked almost innocent lying there--just like Adam had.  Just like the first time Sam had died.  Just like all those times when they were kids when he checked in on Sam at night while locking up.

Innocent and alive, and even if one of those wasn’t true anymore, Dean needed to make sure the other stayed that way.

“You think maybe you want to wake up yet?” Dean prodded again, doing a cursory look for something he could use to tie off the wounds.  Pressure wasn’t working--the wounds were too long and ugly.  If he was going to successfully stitch them without professional help, he’d need a tourniquet to temporarily stem the flow.

His eyes scanned the floor, roaming the room.  There wasn’t much there worth using.

Then he saw it--the rope.  The ghouls had come prepared, no doubt.  Set their victims up, and Sam and Dean had both fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.  Dean should have trusted those initial instincts that said something was off--even if Adam was real, the entire situation, it’d been off.

He looked at his brother’s face again, finding it unflickering, and he chewed his lip for a brief second before taking the risk.  He had to let go in order to find something to tie the wounds off with.  In the long run, it was Dean’s only option.

“Sorry, kiddo,” he muttered as he let go, darting quickly for the rope. 

With numb fingers, he tugged at the rope, unwinding it from its loose knot.  He heard his heart pounding in his ears, and all he could think with each pound was Sam’s own heart, pumping and pumping all that blood onto the floor.

Digging out his knife, Dean sliced through the rope, cutting off a sufficiently long strand.  Then, Dean turned quickly back to his brother’s torso.  Hastily, he picked up Sam’s right arm, wrapping the rope around it--once and twice and three times--before tying it tightly, cutting deep into his brother’s bicep.

It looked painful, the skin around it puckered and discolored.  But that was the point.  He had to stall the bleeding or he’d never get Sam stitched up in time to keep the kid from bleeding out entirely.

Checking the lower arm, it was hard to see at first around all the blood was already there, but wiping it away, he was able to get a look at the wounds--the blood flow had slowed to a trickle.

Satisfied, Dean went back to the rope, efficiently lopping off another length.  Returning to Sam, he picked up his brother’s other arm and repeated the process, pulling the rope so it was snugly cutting off the flow of blood.  Knotting it, he checked that arm as well, finding the blood flow equally staunched.

Sitting back on his heels, Dean sighed, reaching a hand up to scrub across his face.  He stopped short, however, noted the blood that still stained it.

Sam’s blood.  His brother’s blood.  Always on his hands.

He’d spent years trying to get that off.  And all he got was more and more...the blood of souls in Hell.  The blood of the apocalypse. 

There was no way he could fix that.  No matter what Castiel said.  No matter what Zachariah wanted to decree.  Maybe Alastair was right.

Maybe--

But he could save Sam. 

Collecting himself, he took in Sam’s pale features once again.  Sam looked worse still, his lips entirely colorless, just like back in Cold Oak.

He’d saved his brother back then, one way or another.  It’d cost him his soul, and this was what he was left with in the aftermath.  A brother who lied to him.  A brother he couldn’t trust.  A brother who was going against angels.  A brother who was going darkside.

He had to save Sam’s life, because if Sam died, this time Dean wouldn’t bring him back.

It was a sobering thought, if one he couldn’t regret.  But it brought the immediacy of the situation back to him.  Letting his brother die because Sam was a jackass, because father was a hypocritical bastard--that just wasn’t fair.  Especially since Dean was pretty sure he knew where Sam would be headed, and he couldn’t wish that on his brother.  Adam would be in a better place.  Sam wouldn’t be.

“Just hang on,” Dean said.  “Just hang on.”

He was on his feet and moving before he could think about it anymore.  Sam’s time was short--clean up could wait, but if he put Sam on hold, then there would only be one Winchester brother left standing.  He would rather take Sam to the motel room, someplace a little more secure, a little less Adam, but there was no way to justify the amount of time it would take to transport Sam. 

Besides, Adam and his mother were dead.  No one was going to be checking in on them.  No one would be coming home.  It was as safe as place as any.

But supplies--he was at the Impala, and as he fumbled with his keys to open the truck, he was surprised to find his hands were shaking.

After all that he’d been through, even if he could barely see a glimmer of the little brother he used to know so well anymore, he was still scared to lose Sam.

The trunk clicked open, and Dean heaved up.  With barely controlled panic, he threw aside the duffels and blankets, scavenging for the medical kit.

He nabbed it from the side, shutting the trunk hastily.  It was an all-too-familiar feeling; up against the wire, the last minute saves.  It used to be the thrill of the hunt, the adrenaline rush he craved like a junky, but now--

Now it was too real.  The dangers too dangerous.  There was too much death, too much pain and suffering, and he just wanted it to be done.  For him.  For Sam.  For everyone.

Back inside, Sam was right where he’d left him.  The tourniquets had done their job, but even from a distance, the scene looked grotesque.  The sheer volume of the red all over everything--over Sam, the floor, the table.  Hell, there were two bowls most filled with it.  What the hell had he been thinking--keep pressure on it?

He’d been thinking about getting the job done.  That was what family was for, and that was just one of many duties in his life.  Taking care of Sam used to be everything that mattered.  Now it was everything that just exhausted him.

Still everything, though.

At Sam’s side, he ran a hand over Sam’s forehead, a little worried to find it cooler than it should have been.  Clammy, too.  No doubt they were looking at the onset of shock.

In some ways, this was easier.  With Sam unconscious, so needy, it was hard to be mad at him.  It was hard to keep resenting him when he was slipping away right in front of him.  It was easier to focus on the things Dean could fix--the long slits in Sam’s wrists--rather than the many things he couldn’t.

“Okay, now that we’ve got the bleeding under control, how would you like to maybe stitch those things up?” Dean said.  “Lucky for you, the only class I stayed awake in during high school was Home Ec.  Too many pretty girls to ignore.”

The salacious tone of his voice was horribly forced and just as horribly out of place.  Sam would have cringed and rolled his eyes.  It was as much of a farce as they could sometimes muster for one another.  It was the last semblance of affection they could even dredge up these days.

Because he used to like his little brother.  He used to like the kid who asked questions and how knew how to geek out.  He used to like the dynamic of the three of them, all pooling their talents to make it work--

But that had been an illusion, too.  Sam had cut and run the first chance he got, and it turned out the perfect family unit Dean dreamed about came complete with a half brother who got all the love and affection Dean had spent years vying for. 

All the times he’d defended his dad.  All the times he’d tried to do exactly what the old man wanted.  All of that, and his dad couldn’t spare him more than a second glance and a burden that just wouldn’t end.

And it wasn’t Adam’s fault.  It was his father’s fault.  His father’s fault for forgetting that Dean was just a kid.  That Dean had needs, too.  That Dean wasn’t superman.

Something Sam seemed to forget, too.  Boo-hoo

Dean swallowed hard against that and focused on Sam instead.  Dousing a cloth with antiseptic, he began cleaning away at the wounds, wincing as he saw how deep they were.  Painful and ugly.  Dean didn’t think they’d hit the tendons, because if they had, there’d be a whole lot of other problems to deal with.  As it was, the wounds would require enough stitches to make Dean’s hands cramp up and to put Sam’s arm at risk for everything from infection to cell damage from lack of blood flow.

“Sorry, Sammy,” he said under his breath.  This would hurt like hell if Sam were awake--it would hurt like hell when Sam woke up, too, and it was hard not to feel bad about that.

But, sometimes, it was hard to feel sorry about, too.  This was the brother who had begged Dean for a tell-all about Hell and then thrown it back in his face.   It was harder still to reconcile the malice of his brother’s words with the boyish face below him, even if they had all been under the influence of the siren’s venom.

His baby brother.  That meant something.  He thought of Sam dying in Cold Oak, of finding Adam’s body in the ghoul’s lair.  Sam couldn’t be another victim.  Dean couldn’t let that happen.

“So, you ready to do this?” he asked, and tried to believe he was ready himself.

After all, he had the needle now, threaded and primed.  More ready than he was.  It used to be hard to see Sam vulnerable like this.  Now, it was just hard to see Sam at all.

Sam didn’t rouse as Dean stitched Sam’s first arm.  The skin was cool, and Dean loosened the tourniquet once just to let the arm breathe for a moment before tightening it again.  It was a slow process, because Dean needed to keep the stitches tight and deep--anything less than that, and Sam would bleed right through.

It almost felt good, like he was finally doing something right, but it should have felt like more.  To save his brother’s life, it should mean something more than just duty.

When he was finished with the first arm, Dean swallowed dryly, rolling his shoulders.  There were a lot of should-have’s in his life.  Sometimes, he didn’t know how to care, not after let down after let down.  He was just so tired of it all.

Carefully, he loosened the tourniquet, watching the wounds to see how they responded to the new flow of blood.  There was a little seepage, but it was significantly less.  Better than that, the fingers were pinking up again. 

Dean blew out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.  “See, there,” he said.  “Good as new.  A little Frankenstein-looking, though.  Maybe we should add a row across your forehead just for the full effect.”

Sam didn’t reply, which was to be expected, though Dean suddenly wished he would.  It was lonely like this; Dean had been lonely ever since he’d gotten back from Hell.  Ever since his little brother had morphed into John Winchester, Jr, and, true to that namesake, left Dean out to dry in every way that really mattered.

And that was it, wasn’t it?   Sam had become the epitome of what he’d rallied against so hard as a kid.  He’d become all the things he’d resented growing up.  And just when Dean thought he might escape from his father’s screwed up presence in his own life, Sam grew up and was trying to take it over.

Dean’s face tightened, and he felt an inexplicable sting behind his eyes.  Sam took and Sam demanded, Sam lied and Sam deceived.  Sam did what Sam wanted, and Dean was left to trail after him or do it on his own.  The rock and the hard place.

Dean had stuck with his father for 22 years.  He didn’t know if he wanted to give Sam that same benefit of the doubt. 

Because he’d understood his father’s pain, most of the time.  And he understood his own.  But Sam’s?  Slutting around with a demon?  Grieving a brother by ignoring every wish Dean had ever had?  Lying to the person he claimed to be trying to avenge?

Was that what family was for?  To screw each other over?  To take advantage of them?

It took every ounce of self-control to keep himself focused on the task at hand.  He threaded his needed purposefully, turning his attention to Sam’s other arm.

Maybe Dean couldn’t save Sam’s life for Sam’s benefit anymore.  Dean may have brought about the end of the world, but he couldn’t be held responsible for Sam’s death or failures.  If Sam was going to get himself killed or go darkside, that would be on Sam’s head.  It would be his choice.

Dean dug the needle into his brother’s flesh, once and twice and again and again and again.  He could repair the skin.  He could pump his brother full of fluids.  He could make sure Sam drank and he could hold back Sam’s hair as his brother threw up while trying to keep it down.  But he couldn’t fix what was wrong between them.  He couldn’t fix any of it, and he was damned tired of trying.

Still, that was what family was for.

He would do what he had to do for Sam.  He’d even drag the kid to the couch, prop his feet up, and take his shoes off.  Sam still looked awful, like death warmed over, and Dean could remember a time when that would have made him feel guilty.

It just made him angry, now.  Angry that he had to do this.  Angry that he’d had to do this all his life--for his dad, for his brother, for everyone.  Angry that he would always have to do this. 

It would be a long night, probably a long few days before Sam was on his feet again.  And Dean didn’t know what he’d say to his brother when he woke up, if they’d joke or if they’d talk about what had happened to Adam or what was happening between the two of them.  Maybe Sam was right about Adam.  Maybe if Adam had known, it could have saved his life.

But maybe Sam wasn’t quite so right.  Because Adam died a horrible death, and Dean knew that his life hadn’t been perfect.  Yet, in the end, Adam had been the lucky one.  Sam was right: there was a curse.  But it wasn’t about pain and death and losing everything.  It was about how family, which was supposed to be the best thing, could turn into the worst thing.  How love could get so mixed with hate.  How love could get so twisted, could go so wrong, until family was nothing more than a burden that could never be escaped.  No deal could get rid of it.  No time in Hell could tear it out. 

Adam had died believing that a single mother and an absentee father was more than enough.  Adam had died without having to know that it wasn’t demons that destroyed lives.  It was people themselves.

Dean used to pretend he could be like Adam.  He spent 22 years of his life living that way.

He’d been wrong.

Because, in the end, if that was what family was for, if it was take, take, take and sacrifice after sacrifice, then maybe Dean wished that he didn’t have any family at all.

-o-

It was the pain that brought him back.  First, in small snatches of time.  Dean pressing on his arms, telling him that he needed to get up and a slow, up and down trek to a place Sam couldn’t identify.

A hazy sense of sleep and Dean holding his head, telling him to drink.  The water was cold and too much and not enough, and it went down wrong, leaving him hacking until his awareness fled.

The nausea that turned his stomach and the sensation of being rolled to his side, throwing up until everything hurt, until the searing pain in his arms shot up into his elbows and through his chest, pounding with his heartbeat like a jackhammer through his skull.

And the dreams.  Of ghouls and knives.  Of Dean and hell hounds.  Of Adam and failure.

Sleep and awareness came and went at uneven intervals, sometimes sucking him all the way under to oblivion, but too often leaving him floating powerlessly in between.  That was worse than anything else.  Worse than the pain.  Of not being able to control what happened to him, what happened to those around him.  Of having all the facts, all the skills, and still being as impotent as a newborn baby to use them.

But Dean’s voice was there: lingering.  That’s what family’s for.

Sam had rebelled for so long against his family.  Had fought them for his right to determine his own destiny, to figure out who he was.

But his destiny was determined before he was ever born.  Who he was turned out to simply be a terrifying question he just didn’t want to answer anymore.

And family.  The good and the bad.  His father’s ultimatums and his undying desire to protect.  Dean’s unending big brother superiority complex and his unwavering presence.  One didn’t exist without the other, and, in the end, no matter what Sam did, it was family that defined him.  Everything else--everyone else--was just a victim of the Winchester family name, if Sam let them in too close.

It was too late to save others--too late to save Jess, to save his dad, to save Dean from going to Hell for him.  It was too late to save his dreams and his hopes and all the things he’d wanted so badly growing up.  Safety was only an illusion, fleeting and intangible, and he knew, now, he would never really have any of it: not the college diploma, not the career, not the wife and the family and the house.  Not the normal, not the security of going to bed and feeling certain that the world would be just as good when he woke up.  There was no way to be safe for a Winchester.  He could only be prepared.

There was nothing else to believe in.  Only that.  Only that family was all there was in a world where everything else could be out to get them or just get in their way.

His dad thought Sam had never listened.  But Sam always listened, always absorbed everything like a sponge.  Sometimes, it just took a while, just took a lifetime of failure, before it really sunk in.

No connections.  No happy endings.  Just the hunt.  That was what his father taught him.  That was what Dean taught him.  This ends sad or bloody.

Sam knew that.  Sam accepted that.  There was no other choice, in the end.  It had taken losing everyone to figure that out, but at least, finally, he knew.  And, ultimately, his death would at least serve a purpose now: sad and bloody but never pointless. That was the Winchester way.  To die for his family.  He’d rebelled as a teenager, he’d defied it all, but he would live up to the family legacy, this time, and he did intend it to be the last thing he did.

But not tonight.  Not now.  Not when the world lurked beyond the edges of his awareness, not when he was so vulnerable.  And he hated it, wanted to push his body against it no matter how impossible the task was.

And yet...there was a safety in it he missed.  The sound of his brother’s voice saying as long as I’m around nothing bad is going to happen to you.  The sense of his brother by his side saying I gotcha, I gotcha.  Wanting, needing, to believe those words were still true.

But they weren’t.  Now, it was I don’t know who you are and yes, I believe you’re going to go darkside.

It didn’t surprise him.  He didn’t even blame Dean for thinking the worst of him.  For his failures, Sam deserved that and so much more.  He was never a good enough son, and he would never be a good enough brother, but it still hurt to hear.

But Dean was here, now.  Dean had saved him, even when he didn’t believe in Sam at all anymore, he was still there when the chips were down.  Maybe, just for one night, it could be like it was.  Maybe, for one night, Sam could lean on his brother once again and not doubt that Dean would prop him up just like he’d always done.

It was a false sense of security, one fueled by the blood he’d lost and the trauma he’d endured.  Dean wouldn’t let a stranger die, so Sam was certain he’d save his little brother’s life, even now.

But it was a nice illusion, to think it went deeper than duty.  That Sam was more than just the eternal millstone around Dean’s neck.  Sam did not want his ignorance back, but, sometimes, he did mourn for his brother’s love and trust.  Not the grudging acceptance that they shared now.  Not the passive-aggressive, codependent mess they’d been living since Dean got out of Hell.

Sam followed the ebb and flow of pain, and when it buoyed him with a surge of intensity, he found himself retching, turned to the side, leaning over the edge of a couch.  There was a bucket beneath him and a steady arm around him and a familiar snick of understandable disgust.  “Seriously, enough with the dry heaves,” Dean muttered.  “You’re making me sick just sitting here.”

The tone was light, and there was a sense of familiarity in that, but it sounded different.  Sam knew humor when it came from affection.  He knew when it came from concern.  When it came from genuine like.  They had communicated like that for years.  They could express it all in humor because the rest of it, all the dedication and need and love, went unspoken.

It was different now.  Dean’s jokes, his biting remarks.  They were the only way Dean knew how to talk to him at all, most of the time.  Only now there was nothing behind the words except distrust and wariness.

Sam couldn’t exactly blame him for that.  Hell had changed Dean, more than his brother wanted to admit sometimes.  And it had changed Sam, too, more than he could deny.  Maybe this resentment, this breakdown of communication, was inevitable, but Sam could still hear the sting to his brother’s voice when the first words out of the grave to him were nothing more than accusations.

Not that Dean had been wrong.  But, yeah.  It hurt.  When Sam had tried so hard, when he had spent so many nights trying to drown away the image of his brother torn and bloody, when all he had wanted for months was to see his brother and know he had done something right.

“Dude, are you going to wake up enough to drink this on your own?” Dean’s voice interrupted again.

Sam swallowed over the roughness in his throat, his body vibrating in protest.  Everything was hot and cold, and his skin felt like it might be covered with pins and needles.  His head seemed like it was wrapped in gauze--heavy and clouded--and it made him want to hurl again.

Throwing up took energy, however; energy Sam didn’t have.  He flopped backward instead, and as the arm supporting him gave way, Sam felt his head hit a pillow.

“I can see you’re in there,” Dean commented wryly.  “I know how much fun force feeding is for both of us, but I thought maybe you’d like to vary it up this time.”

The continual stream of dialogue was almost comforting.  It reminded Sam of why he had started all this in the first place.  A chance to make things right.  Dean resented the childhood he’d never had, the simple and normal life he deserved.  The life Adam had seemed to have.  Sam had wanted to save him so he could have that.  He was supposed to kill Lilith, to stop it.

But Sam had failed.  The Hell Hounds had ripped Dean’s body to shreds and forty years in Hell had done the same number on his soul.  And it was all Sam’s fault.  Sam’s fault for ditching him for Stanford.  Sam’s fault for not getting the job done sooner.  Sam’s fault for being too little and too late all his life.

Not this time.  Not if he could help it.

He didn’t even realize his eyes were open until the water bottle was in front of his nose, making his cross-eyed.  As awareness came into focus, he blinked rapidly, scooting his face from the bottle as best he could to make sense of what was happening.

“It’s water,” Dean said.  “You’ve been dehydrated.”

Sam’s mind worked with that for a moment, taking in the tired lines in Dean’s face as he held the water out.  His brother’s hands were clean, but Sam could still see the blood caked into the edges of his fingernails.

Sam’s blood.

The ghouls came back into Sam’s reality, and with them, came the pain, full throttle.

He gasped, eyes going to his arms, surprised by the intensity of it.  They had hurt before--they had hurt the entire time--but this fresh pain seemed as uncontrollable as when it had happened.  Hot as fire and cold as ice, it felt like they sliced more than flesh and blood.

“I didn’t want to give you the good stuff until I was sure you’d keep it down,” Dean said, with a shrug.  “That bad, huh?”

Sam looked at his brother again, a little incredulous this time.  “Yeah,” he said, breathlessly.  That bad.

“Water will help,” Dean told him again.  “You really could have used some blood.”

And just like that, Sam’s stomach panged with hunger. 

They’d tried to bleed him dry.  His blood, Azazel’s blood.  Ruby’s blood.

The pain in his arms was eclipsed, just for a moment, by the ache in his soul.  It wasn’t the debilitating pain alone that made him feel helpless.  Ruby’s blood was gone, too, and with it was Sam’s only edge, Sam’s only hope at defeating Lilith once and for all.

Chuck had asked him if this was about power.  Sam had lied when he said it wasn’t.  It was about power.  But not about the power to rule the world or anything nearly so dramatic. 

It was just the power to do something.  He was tired of standing by and watching people die.  He was tired of not being able to save anyone that mattered.  He had watched Jessica die.  He had watched his father die.  He had watched Dean die.  He had watched them all die, and it had been Sam’s fault.  He had to stop that.  He had to have control over that.  He didn’t care what else happened.  He didn’t care what happened to him.  He just wanted to have a say in his own destiny, even if that meant his death, and he just wanted to use his life to help make other people’s better.  To help Dean.

That was the power he wanted.  That was the control he needed.  Ruby’s blood, the powers--those were just means to the end.  Playing by the rules had failed him, spectacularly, every time.  So, if defying them made it work, then Sam would.  He would.

The bottle was to his lips, and Dean was tilting it, and Sam barely had time to swallow before it gagged him.

It was tepid, but as the liquid washed over his starchy tongue, it was refreshing all the same.  Pure and whole, he’d been craving it without even realizing it.  He gulped at it, greedily, and it made him wonder when he’d started to overlook the simple pleasures in life.  Maybe when he’d left Stanford, maybe when their dad had died.  Maybe when he’d been pulled back from the grave.  Maybe when the Trickster had made him run like a mouse through a maze for six, endless months.

“Slowly,” Dean said, pulling it back a bit.  “You’ve been trying to down it all night, and you keep making yourself sick.”

Sam reluctantly obeyed, taking the bottle to his lips again and slowing his drinking to a less frantic pace.

When he was done, he turned his head back, blowing out a slow breath as he let the water settle into his stomach.  His consciousness was solidifying, to the point where, even with the fuzziness in his head, he was pretty sure he wasn’t in danger of passing out, something which he would have to assume was new. 

With even breaths, he tried to pull himself together, hoping to clear his head and push the pain back to a manageable level.  It didn’t take much for him to realize where he was: Adam’s house.

Glancing around, he saw that he was on the couch.  The table where he’d been trussed up was in the other room.  Sam could see the remnants of rope, but the collection of knives was gone.  So were the bodies.  In the sunlight that filtered in through the windows, he could still make out a stain of blood on the wall, another one on the floor, but they had been mopped up a little.

“How long?” Sam asked, and his voice was stronger.  Scratchy, and his throat still hurt.  But better.

Dean was poking at a partially eaten bowl of food that Sam could only guess as to its actual contents.  He looked at Sam benignly.  “Fifteen hours,” he said.

Fifteen hours.  Not as bad as he’d feared, but still not great.  “Blood loss, huh?” he asked.

Dean put the bowl on an end table.  “I told you to put pressure on it.”

“Sorry,” Sam muttered.  “It was a little tricky.”

“And killing both those things, patching you up, making sure you don’t shrivel up, and cleaning up this mess is super easy?”

It made Sam feel grateful and guilty all at once.  “Sorry,” he said again, looking away this time.  He shifted, trying to sit up.  “We can go.”

The room tilted, though, and Sam found his vision blurring again uncontrollably. 

Dean was there, a curse on his breath and a steady arm on Sam’s shoulder.  “You’re not going to be up to par yet,” Dean told him, a little harsh, but there was concern in there somewhere.  Maybe grudging, but the desire to protect, just like with Adam--

“Adam,” Sam said, and he was a little surprise he’d said it out loud.

Dean stiffened, and by the time Sam’s vision cleared again, his brother’s face was tight as he retreated back to his seat.  “Adam’s dead.”

Sam licked his lips.  “The ghouls?”

“Found the body with his mother’s.”

Sam had known that.  The ghouls had no reason to lie, and they’d have no way to take the forms without the victims already being dead.  “He was our brother.”

“Unless the ghouls know a thing or two about Photoshop, I’d say so.”

There wasn’t much to say to that.  As willing as Sam had been to accept a new brother, as great as it’d felt to have someone to invest in, someone that he could save, it was all the harder to acknowledge that Adam was gone before he’d even met him.  That he’d failed another person, without even knowing him.  “We have to take care of him,” Sam said, feeling the need to get up again.  “We can’t leave him there.”

“Dude, don’t make me tie you down,” Dean said.  “I would think you’d be tired of that by now.”

The humor was lost on Sam, but his body’s weakness forced his acquiescence.  “He’s our brother,” Sam protested.

“He was our brother,” Dean shot back.  “He was dead long before we ever got here.”

That didn’t change things.  That didn’t make it any easier.  “We should have protected him.”

Dean cocked his head.  “Says the guy who wanted to drag him on the hunt forevermore.”

“Because living in ignorance was so safe for him?”

“At least he was happy.”

“Until he died.”

Dean’s face hardened, and Sam saw something like anger flash through his brother’s eyes.  Then, he sighed.  “We’ll take care of it,” Dean said.  “But not until you can stand on your own.  If you’re really good, I may let you pee on your own later tonight.”

Sam’s instincts were to glare--that was part of their brotherly game.  It was the way they tolerated being together.  Their way to pretend like their family was still whole.  “I’m fine,” Sam muttered, and he couldn’t deny that it sounded a touch petulant.

Dean stood, rolling his shoulders and neck.  “Just wait until you see your arms,” he said.  “Then you can tell me how fine you are.”

Glancing down, Sam took in the bandages, too aware of the throbbing pain from underneath.  “That bad?”

“You’re going to have to wear long sleeves for at least a year before people stop putting you on suicide watch just looking at you,” his brother said.  “I’m going to take a shower.  You going to be okay here by yourself?”

“Yeah,” Sam said absently.  “I’m--”

“--fine, I know,” Dean said.  “Just don’t hurt yourself, okay?”

Sam didn’t reply, but, then again, Dean didn’t seem to want him to.  His brother was already out of the room by the time Sam even realized he was leaving.

Alone, Sam pursed his lips.  There had been long months of alone.  Endless months of going on a hunt and wondering if there’d be anyone there to find his body if he didn’t quite make it out alive.  Wondering if anyone would even care, would even identify his remains.

He looked down at his arms.  He could still feel where they’d cut him, the way they’d torn through his skin with the knife, sliced it deep enough to make the blood squirt.  It had been a little hazy after that, Sam had to admit, but he could still remember one thing, one overriding thought.  Even more than his grief over finding out about Adam, even more than his relief at hearing Dean come to his rescue: that this wasn’t such a bad way to go.

Sam had thought about that a lot--ways to die--more than he would ever admit.  After all, he’d witness his fair share of deaths.  He had even killed a few times himself.  Burning alive, like his mother and Jessica.  A “heart attack,” like his dad.  A bullet in the brain, like the girl the crossroad demon possessed.  A knife through the heart, like the demons on that last hunt for Lilith.  Being devoured by Hell Hounds, just like his brother.
 
It wasn’t much of a leap to think about his own demise.

After all, in the wake of his brother’s death, he'd had nothing else to think about.  He had no power to bring Dean back.  He had no power to save the world, much less anyone in it.  His pathetic life was not his at all, but controlled by every outside force.  By his father’s unbending will, by his brother’s self-sacrifice.  By the demons that hated him.  By the demons who revered him.  By ghosts and monsters and hunters and innocents--Sam had no control over any of it, in the end.  After a lifetime of longing for self-determination, he was reduced to one meager choice: life or death. 

And he wanted death.  He wanted it more than he wanted that fix of demon blood to fill his veins.  If he couldn’t have Dean back, then he'd wanted to die.  It was still true, in many ways, but he could still remember the weight of desperation as every avenue to bring Dean back had closed up, and his mind looked to control his destiny by the one means he had left.

Demons seemed like the best option.  They hated him and enough of them had been trying to kill him for long enough, that it seemed like an easy choice.  But, even drunk and reckless, he couldn’t get the job done.  Not with a ghost or a vampire or anything.  The universe’s cruel joke: denying Sam the chance to go out as a semblance of a hero, and forcing him to hold to that one last promise Dean had extracted from him: to live.

But then, Sam had made a lot of promises.  Why he was sticking to that one was just a matter of stupid Winchester pride.

Promise or no promise, Sam couldn’t help but try harder.  More reckless.  More drinking.  Anything.

And every night, lying awake, thinking of everything except Dean.  Thinking of all the ways to end himself, to put himself out of that misery.  Painful, quick, bloody, morbid: Sam had entertained them all.  Letting images of his brother’s mangled corpse be over-ridden with the fantasy of his own.

The thoughts had stopped, for a while.  With Ruby there, giving him the means to exert control over his destiny in a way that might benefit people, that had been reason enough to stop thinking about suicide--or at least to postpone it until his usefulness was spent.

But in the months after Dean’s return, hearing his brother’s continuous condemnation--I would want to hunt you--knowing the threats of the angels--it had lurked there again.  This time, it wouldn’t be selfish.  It would be his way of saving Dean, his best option to spare Dean the pain of having something like Sam as a brother.

Suicide.

His throat went dry as he looked at the bandages again.  He still wanted it.  When revenge wasn’t enough, when Dean barely looked at him, when he closed his eyes and heard too little, too late, and why, Sam, why? and the sound of his brother’s screams as he died for Sam’s weakness.

Sam didn’t deserve to live.  He wasn’t sure that even killing Lilith would make his life worthwhile.

But he’d never known how.  Pills were too slow--there was too much time for someone to find him before they did their job.  Hanging was almost impossible.  He was too big--his body might break the rope or his flailing legs could find purchase too easily.  A bullet to the brain had always appealed to him for the quick and simple nature of it, but there was too much of a chance he’d screw that up and end up a vegetable instead.

He’d considered all of them.  Drowning himself in the bathroom, jumping off a cliff, plowing the Impala into a tree.  Some were too likely to fail, others were just too quick.

At least he could cross slitting wrists off his list, he thought, looking at his aching forearms again.  For someone like Sam Winchester--boy king, demon blood, consorting with the enemy--he deserved something far worse.  Bleeding out, no matter how deep the gashes, would be over too quick and it just wouldn’t hurt enough.  The punishment didn’t fit the crime. 

Which was sometimes the only reason Sam didn’t swallow his gun at all.  Because the worst torture Sam knew, worse than burning alive or worse than eating rat poison, was having to live, day after day after day, knowing that he failed.  Knowing that his brother believed the worst about him.  Knowing that his brother would hunt him if he had the energy.

Closing his eyes, Sam looked away.  The prospect was as horrifying as it was reassuring.  And he didn’t blame Dean.  He couldn’t blame Dean.  Just like he didn’t blame his father for kicking him out.  Just like he didn’t blame anyone but himself.  His own blind desires.  His own selfish weaknesses.

That was what Dean didn’t understand.  Being a Winchester was a curse.  Winchesters could never have normal.  Winchesters could never have safe.  If they were lucky, they might have each other, and, through that, they might stay alive.

In that, his father had done right by him.  In that, Sam had wanted to do right by Adam.  In that, Sam was still trying to do right by Dean.  He couldn’t make any of them happy.  He couldn’t be the person any of them had wanted.  But, if he tried hard enough, if he sacrificed enough, he might be able to help at least one of them survive. 

Or they might get ripped to shreds anyway.

Wearily, he opened his eyes again.  Funny, how failure hurt less, but still could cripple him more than the slashes on his wrists.

Distantly, he heard the water running in the house.  He wondered if Dean regretted it now--bringing Sam back.  He wondered if Dean regretted that Sam had lived and that Adam had died.  He wondered if his brother’s distaste of his father would cause him to disobey the last order that still hung over both their heads:  save him or stop him.

Sam didn’t know.  Sam didn’t know if going after Lilith would make a difference.  Sam didn’t know if it would have been better to bleed to death last night.  Sam just knew there was no way of killing himself that would ever seem to do it justice, and that the only form of suicide that would make a difference, that mattered was going out and taking Lilith out with him.  Dean could stop the apocalypse.  The angels could help him with that.  But Lilith and her contract was a problem Sam had to fix, because that was a promise he intended to keep.

That’s what family’s for.  Dean had said it, but it was a lesson Sam had learned through years of failure.  It was a lesson he had learned watching his brother die a thousand times in his dreams.  It was a lesson that had been seared into his memory with every confession Dean made about Hell.  It was a lesson that was scarred across his soul every time his brother looked at him with those empty, angry eyes.

It was all he had left.  The only thing he had left to aspire to.  To give himself up for his family, to be a Winchester, to hope that there was something better for Dean, better than this, better than Sam himself.  That’s what family’s for, and Sam would never forget it again.

Comments

Posted by: annj_g80 (annj_g80)
Posted at: April 29th, 2009 07:48 pm (UTC)
SN road

Well... wow. Painful!

I haven't seen anything past Death takes a holiday. But since I already know what happened in the last ep I decided to read this tag anyway.

Now, I kinda don't regret not having watched the last episodes yet. Even reading about their fallout is painful as hell. But I like the honesty and directness you put into it. Makes me want to jump of my couch, though.

Ooohh boys.

Arrrggggh! Kripke!

Ooohhh Faye *wails*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
bloody hero

I have just found this season so hard to take on so many levels--but really, what hurts the most, is seeing the boys really not care the way they used to. They do care, a little bit, but it's just not the same. I used to believe they really LIKED each other. Now it just seems so hollow.

I want them better. NOW.

I'm not optimistic :(

Posted by: sarallan (sarallan)
Posted at: April 29th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)

you've got it. I Think you have them right, their motives.
Great story. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
haunted 2

I wish I didn't believe these were their motives, because it's hard to watch. I miss them sometimes :(

Thanks!

Posted by: Melissa N. Tillotson (brianshanelvr)
Posted at: April 29th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)

This is so good! I wish there was more, I want some comfort!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
heres the thing

I wanted to write comfort! The boys were uncooperative. It's not my fault :)

Thanks!

Posted by: leavingslowly (leavingslowly)
Posted at: April 29th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)

Well, I was going to write a tag, but a) we have some veeery similar scenes and b) yours is so much better! This is exactly what I imagine Sam and Dean are thinking. Sam wanted to die when Dean was gone, and now that he's back . . . I still think he wants to die. But he's thinking that he'll put himself to good use before he does.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
meta limp

Aw, there's always room for another tag, especially one where Sam is all limp and sad. And I agree--I think Sam wants to die, or, at the very least, is indifferent to the idea of his own death.

He needs a hug.

Thanks!

Posted by: May Robinson (may7fic)
Posted at: April 30th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
Boys Broken

Oh, this was harsh! And painful and bleak and... exceptionally true to their characters.

So very well done but I hope you'll forgive me and understand when I say I wish this story was A/U ::sigh:: Oh, boys!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
geekboy

I wish this was AU, too. I really do.

Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: April 30th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)

Faye- you absolutely ROCK!! there are NO words to describe how I feel about this tag!

It's like you read my mind and wrote exactly what was missing from the episode!

brilliant!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
christmas awe

I hate how bleak it all has to be, but I can't spin it any other way.

Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)

I know! :(( I'm not looking forward to watching 4x21 or 4x22- I have a feeling that they're going to be angst ridden!

Posted by: sothereyougo (sothereyougo)
Posted at: April 30th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
Dean Sam Monster Movie

Oh dear lord, that was painful, but it feels accurate. Dean is just sooooooooo tired and has to work so hard to make himself keep going, and Sam is drowning in guilt and self-loathing. Both are so bitter. AAAAAAAAARGH!!

Still, I'm holding on to the few moments of normalcy, the Rock-Paper-Scissors, and that they still care enough to argue, and that as nasty as some of their conversations were, it was letting things out instead of letting them fester. Of course, honesty compels me to admit that the last scene of the ep. shows how far from communicating they really are.

To put any kind of positive spin on it, I have to see Dean's voicing his realizations about Sam, which are also very much a further adjustment in his view of John and thus of himself as a painful but necessary step towards carving out his own identity separate from the two of them, something I believe he will desperately need if there is any hope that he will be able to save Sam from sacrificing himself.

I am still very scared and expect to be made to suffer a lot before finding out what happens and have had to work really hard to give myself enough emotional distance to be able to stand to watch it unfold. Yikes!! Anyway, powerful and painful stuff here, unflinching, but again, wicked painful.

PEE ESS. I am waiting to read your cute!Dean fic until it is finished because I wibble at WIP's, but I am very much looking forward to it!!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
killer

I like your positive spin :) I just feel like this season is overwhelmingly depressing, and I'm waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still not there. Which just makes me sadder :(

Oh, and cute!Dean will be complete next week. It's actually complete, but I'm just slow in posting new chapters.

Thanks!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
lost innocence

I miss being able to write the hurt/comfort of S1 and S2. Now there's just so much between them and so much weighing them down--I hope Kripke fixes them. Soon.

Thanks!

Posted by: Dark and Angsty with a splash of Hope (varkelton)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)

You're still one of my favorite authors. This was beautiful and heartbreaking. Thank you.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
find me

Thanks so much!

Posted by: *Bright (starbright73)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Sam cries_Heart

So beautiful I want to cry. And I think you've nailed where Sam's head is right now.

I just...gah!

Thank you!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
earnest

Poor Sammy. I really really feel for him--it's so hard to see him this way, but I think he's severely depressed and has been since Dean died (or even before).

Thanks!

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: May 3rd, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
trapped

I know it'll come as no surprise to you that I think you nailed both brothers here. Dean has acted as though Sam is nothing but a burden with only small flashes of the older brother we first met and Sam is a suicidal mess. *sigh* Great job but it's so hard to read because I want the brothers back as brothers like yesterday!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
alone again

It still makes me ridiculously sad to think of them this way. I need them to LIKE each other again--badly.

Thanks :)

Posted by: ErinRua (erinrua)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Hunters

This is so very perfect. This is everything about Sam and Dean that I intuitively believe, and this is everything I'd say about them, if only I could have found the words. Now you've said them for me, and it aches and it's true and it's brilliant.

Thank you for sharing this.
Cheers ~

Erin

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 7th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
letter

I hate to think that the boys are actually this bad off, but I just can't see it any other way. I just hope that it gets fixed. Soon.

Thanks!

Posted by: It's a lid and it's black. (blacklid)
Posted at: May 9th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Darkness Cover Me

Wow. Yes. We saw so much of this again last night.

They won't be fixed overnight but I'm going to sit over here with you and believe wholeheartedly that they will, and should, have a chance at life and forgiveness, even if it isn't for long.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 11th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
find me

Man, I hope so. If we went through this entire season and didn't get life and forgiveness and equity, I might lose it.

Thanks!

Posted by: debbiel66 (debbiel66)
Posted at: August 21st, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC)
Sam and Dean cloudy sky

Wow. This tag is gorgeous and something this episode so desperately needed. So many beautiful lines, so much sadness between the brothers. Here's to hoping Season 5's apocalypse will bring some reconciliation.

Just lovely.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 28th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
little bro 2

I thought this ep was incredibly depressing. I just didn't feel any love or devotion between them. They worked together, protected each other, but it was so devoid of real emotion. And at the end, I really got the sense that Dean basically didn't like Sam at all. It was hard for me to watch but intriguing nonetheless. I hope S5 brings them together again.

Thanks!

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