Title: The Weight of Us
Characters: Dean, Sam
Disclaimer/Warning: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a song of the same name by Sanders Bohlke. Give it a listen. Rated PG-13 for language.
Summary: Missing scene/tag to 8.14, Trial and Error. Some errors have been too great, some trials too costly. Losing his brother is not an option, not this time, not when he can do something about it.
Author's Note: You got me – I wanted there to be more to Dean's Hellhound wound than we saw. But I also needed to further explore the events that led p to Sam being the brother to complete the trials that close the Hell Gates.
Though we've now seen 8.15, I wrote this pretending I hadn't, so hopefully that works for you. Also, apologies; this was written quickly and for catharsis. I hope you'll indulge a little blatant h/c with some angstishness. (What? It's kind of a word….) thruterryseyes, thank you as always for being my sanity check...as ironic as that is. *wink*
There's a cold heart, buried beneath,
and warm blood, running deep.
Secrets - are mine to keep
protected by silent sleep.
I'm not ready; I'm not ready
for the weight of us….
The Weight of Us by Sanders Bohlke
The glasses work perfectly.
Part of him wishes he'd known about this handy Jesus-juice trick years ago; he thinks he'd like to have seen Hell's bitches coming for him back in Indiana when his deal went down. Maybe then he wouldn't have been as terrified. Maybe then he'd have been able to brace himself for the horrific pain of his body being ripped apart. Maybe then he wouldn't have screamed as loud.
As he stands in the doorway of the barn, the corners further shadowed by a trick of moonlight, Dean sees the Hellhound's wet muzzle, beady eyes, and strange, fur-less body in the slipstream image offered by the treated glasses. He feels his belly tighten as the muscles along the creature's shoulders ripple and he knows that his screams would have been louder had he seen this thing coming for him.
"So you're Crowley's bitch." He ignores the slight tremor in his voice. "I guess pets really do look like their owners."
The hound lowers its front end to the ground, looking as if it actually heard, understood, and took offense to Dean's effort at bolstering his own bravery. Dean pulls the demon-killing knife from beneath his coat and braces himself; he has to force himself to breathe, to swallow, to blink. He's afraid.
He has to remember that this fight is for both of them – for him and for Sam.
He has to remember that this isn't like before: they aren't here for him.They might rip him up and but they aren't going to drag him to Hell. They aren't going to corner him in a barren piece of Purgatory and try to eat him for dinner.
He has to remember that this is the start of it all: if he passes this test he can end it all. Everything he's spent his life fighting for, everything he's tried so hard to protect Sam from, everything he's simply had to survive, no matter the pain, no matter the heartache. He can end this just as his father had tried to do years ago with Old Yellow Eyes.
And even if he dies, Sam will be safe. Sam will go on. And Dean will have finally, finally done something right. He will have done his one job and will deserve the rest that's granted him.
The problem, though, is that the glasses work too well and his memories are still too fresh and he's so focused on the terror in front of him that he doesn't hear the creature's partner approach from behind until it's nearly on top of him.
Dean half-turns, body moving on muscle memory to compensate for the fear that slows his quicksilver brain, but he's not fast enough. The Hellhound behind him lunges out a massive paw, claws extended and razor-sharp, slamming into him with the strength of a freight train, though it looks as though it's swatting a fly.
Dean feels time slow, watches the claws rake him, digging into his flesh and ripping him open just as before. The pain is white-hot, intense, and scarily familiar. It floods his senses, blinds him and turns his blood at once ice-cold, then raging hot.
The force of the blow sends him flying across the open barn aisle, crashing against a stall and some stacks of hay. His breath vacates his body in a mad exodus and his strength leaves him; he feels the knife tumble from his grasp, but can do nothing about it as he lays stunned, trying desperately to pull in air. It takes a moment for him to feel the burn of the wounds on his side; he tries to push himself upright and the pain of it shoots through him like an electric current causing him to cry out.
Instinctively, he reaches for the searing pain and pulls a trembling hand away, covered in blood. His eyes dart from the knife several feet from his body, to the glasses laying in the other direction, but he doesn't need glasses with special Hell-vision to see the hounds, he realizes. He can see their breath puffing out from their muzzles in short, angry bursts as they slowly close in.
And it doesn't matter if they're not here for him.
And it doesn't matter if this isn't like the last time.
He wasn't going to beat them; he was never meant to beat them.
Dean tries to breathe, tries to swallow, tries to blink, but finds all he is able to do is stare at the void that will be his end once more.
Sam stared out into the night, watching, waiting.
Dean had told him to stay inside, stay safe, stay out of sight. He'd said it with such visceral authority that Sam had instinctively obeyed. He'd heard the truth in Dean's words fall against the air between them like a judge's gavel. He'd seen the acceptance in Dean's eyes and had been stunned into submission.
Quietly, he'd stayed inside, watching through the window for any sign of trouble, subconsciously listening for the sound of his brother's screams.
As long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you.
There had been so much he'd screwed up over the last few years – not all of it within his control, but that didn't mean he didn't carry around the weight of it. There were things he'd meant to do, things he should have done, things he considered, and yet here he was, letting his brother face down Hellhounds – the same creatures he'd witnessed literally rip Dean to pieces – just to keep Sam safe.
I couldn't live with you dead, man.
He listened to the Cassity family snipe at each other, their words meant to wound, their tone lacking any of the grief he knew it should hold after losing two people in the span of two nights. It was like acid on his heart, burning holes through him as the time ticked down, stretching out until it felt like Dean had been gone for years, not minutes.
Take care of my wheels…remember what Dad taught you, remember what I taught you.
Alice broke free, running out of the room, through the house, into the night. Sam followed close on her heels, not willing to let one of his ungrateful charges die just because he didn't check to see if her handcuff was tight enough. He caught up to her at her car, turning her back toward the house.
And that's when he saw it.
The Hellhound was skulking around the side of the barn, bigger than he'd imagined, deadly as he'd believed. Dean was in that barn; Sam knew it in his bones. He was in there, ready to take on this trial, facing it down as he'd faced everything in his life.
As he'd faced Hell.
I'm here, Sammy, I'm here. I'm not gonna leave you. I'm not gonna leave you.
He couldn't do this.
He couldn't just sit safe and let Dean face these things alone – Dean, who had always been there for him, always come for him even when Sam had pushed him away, even when he'd beat him bloody.
Dean, who had sacrificed his soul to bring Sam back to life; who had found him against all odds just before Lucifer rose; who had allowed himself to be beaten and broken just so that Sam wouldn't be alone with Lucifer at the end; who had made a deal with Death to retrieve Sam's soul from the Cage; who had been the one to stake Roman and survive a year in Purgatory.
Not this, Sam thought, staring at the giant, shadowy hound. Not this, not now.
Dean knew how this would end, accepted that dying for the sake of saving Sam was a good ending for him.
Sam gripped Alice's arm too hard and shoved her toward the house, yelling at her to get inside and stay there. He was not going to let this thing take his brother – now or ultimately at the end of the trials. Dean deserved better than that.
And Sam needed to be the one to show him.
Gripping his shotgun, he started toward the barn at a slow run, breathing shallow, sweat gathering along his hairline. Time seemed to slow down as his brain worked to formulate a plan that wouldn't get them both killed.
Sam, I am your flesh and blood brother. I am the only one who can legitimately kick your ass in real time. You got away. We got you out, Sammy. Believe in that. You gotta believe in that. Make it Stone Number One and build on it.
There were moments in life when disagreements, hurt feelings, and differing viewpoints just didn't matter anymore. There were times when all that counted was that they were brothers. When the reasons behind choices were buried in the past and the reality was that they were still there, still standing, still breathing.
And Sam planned to keep it that way.
Dean had pulled him back from the edge. He'd not only saved his life, his soul, but he'd saved his sanity. He'd found a way to ground him, balance him, and he'd forced Sam to hold on to that reality until he was able to heal his own fractured mind. There were things Dean had survived that Sam still didn't know the extent of, and there was no way Sam was going to let his brother go out thinking that all he was good for was supernatural cannon fodder.
He paused at the open barn door, closing his eyes and steadying his breath. His hands shook around the weapon; he was allowing his mind too much power over his actions. He had to shove these thoughts away; he had to get a grip.
This was right; this was the only choice he had.
Because if he let Dean fight this fight alone while he stayed behind, protected once more, the guilt would kill him. He'd let himself believe that Dean had died along with Dick Roman and Castiel. He'd let himself believe that when Crowley said he was alone, he meant they were truly gone.
He hadn't looked for Dean.
He'd never considered Purgatory as an option and he'd written his brother off. The weight of that choice was nearly unbearable to this day. For awhile he'd thought that if he could just escape back into the make-believe life he'd had with Amelia he could forget again. He could pretend again.
But Dean was back, a flesh-and-blood reminder that it was all make-believe. Everything Sam had tried to escape into was false. He couldn't even talk with Dean about it; he didn't have the words. There was nothing inside of him that could explain what it had been like to break the way he had, to believe himself to being completely alone and to give up on everything he'd known, all his life, and run. He hadn't been able to run far enough, fast enough. He had turned his back on his past, on his brother, on his job, on any left-over destiny the fates could conjure.
It had all been a lie. Dean had been alive all that time. Alive and waiting for Sam to find him. He had failed Dean then. He couldn't let that happen again, even if Dean believed this to be the right choice. He couldn't let him fight this alone, not now.
His brother's scream of pain broke through his trance and Sam turned the corner, his Holy Fire-treated glasses revealing to him the horrifying scene. He could see Dean crumpled on the ground, curled on his side, his glasses and weapon out of his reach. He could see two Hellhounds closing in; neither had seen Sam yet.
He had to act fast.
Moving automatically, he emptied both barrels into the far hound, watching as it jerked and fell back in a spray of blood. As the second one looked up at him, Sam dropped the shotgun and dove for Dean's demon-killing knife. He rolled, grappling with the large beast as it lunged for him. Desperation and adrenalin fueled his strength and he gripped the hound by the throat, struggling to keep its deadly teeth from his face as its fetid breath washed over him.
With a hefty, frantic thrust, he shoved the blade of the knife deep into the creature's jugular, grimacing as the hot, black blood sprayed out over him. Pulling the blade down, he opened up the Hellhound's belly, exposing its heart and feeling it shake as it died over him. After a moment he realized it no longer fought him. Sam heaved it aside, lying back, soaked in the creature's blood, gasping for breath.
He dropped his arms to his sides, too weary suddenly to hold them up, and looked toward where Dean lay. He saw his brother holding his bleeding side, his eyes laced with pain and a knowing that grabbed Sam's heart. In that moment he had a sense that he'd both saved Dean and damned him. Dean's face folded in pain and he dropped his head back, his legs sliding in the dirt of the barn floor.
"Dean," Sam gasped, his voice carrying a rough, screamed hoarse edge.
Dean didn't reply. Didn't move.
Sam rolled to his side, his T-shirt wet and sticky with Hellhound blood, clinging to the contours of his torso, his wet hair slapping limply against his cheek. Pulling his legs under him he crawled the short distance to his brother, putting a tentative hand on Dean's knee.
"Hey, man," Sam tried again, making his way up toward Dean's face.
His brother's eyes were closed, dark lashes lying like bruises against his pale skin. Sam pulled his glasses off and dropped them in the dirt next to Dean, reaching out with a hand black with Hellhound blood and tapped Dean's cool cheek.
Dean's lashes fluttered and Sam watched him work to come back, a gasp of pain accompanying his opening eyes.
"Easy," Sam said softly. "Lemme look."
Dean wasn't quite coherent; he allowed Sam to move his heavy hand away from his side and pull up his shredded T-shirt. Sam grimaced as he took in Dean's torn flesh and the blood that spilled from the four deep cuts, turning the dirt beneath him to a muddy paste.
Sam's vision swam, remembering for a brief moment that night when he'd pulled Dean's bloody, shattered body toward him, Hellhound wounds having opened him up and taken everything.
"Damn," Sam muttered. "Gonna need to stitch this up quick."
"What the hell…."
Dean's semi-incoherent mutter washed over Sam like warm water. He looked back up at his brother's face.
"Hey," he said, gripping Dean's chin and turning his brother's face toward him, "you with me?"
"Goddammit, Sammy," Dean growled through gritted teeth. "Fuckin' Hellhounds."
"You got that right," Sam nodded, the smell of the hound's blood starting to turn his stomach. "Can you sit up? Need to get you inside."
"'S it dead?"
"Yeah, it's dead, man."
At that, Dean looked at him, the pain simply a shadowy figure lurking in the corner of his eyes. In that one glance there was denial, acceptance, fear, anger, and gratitude. Sam caught his breath, not for the first time wondering how his brother could so obviously feel so many things at the same time and never say one word.
"Sammy…," Dean tried, but the pain rushed back quickly and Sam watched him roll his eyes closed, pressing his lips tight against his teeth.
"C'mon," Sam grunted, gripping Dean's shoulders and helping his brother curl forward. "Let's get you patched up before you yell at me."
Dean gripped Sam's arm tight enough to bruise as Sam leveraged him to his knees, allowing him to catch his breath.
"Told you to stay inside," Dean growled.
Sam wiped the Hellhound blood from his hand and positioned himself on Dean's right side.
"Alice got out," he tried to explain. "And I saw one of the Hellhounds go into the barn."
"I had it," Dean gasped, pushing himself to his feet, his words wheezing out through clenched teeth, "under control."
"I can see that," Sam returned.
"Sonofabitch," Dean muttered, grabbing his side as they stepped forward. "Forgot how much these fuckers hurt."
Sam felt bile burn the back of his throat, thinking once more of that horrible Indiana night. "Not like you got much of a chance to deal with the wounds last time," Sam said, hefting Dean up against him.
He could feel Dean starting to shake; he knew they had to get him inside and get him attention before his body went into shock.
"What? What are you talkin' about?" Dean breathed, slinging one arm over Sam's shoulders, the other pressed tight to his side.
"Th-that night," Sam forced out, holding the arm across his shoulders tight and moving Dean forward at a quicker pace. "The night you went to Hell."
He heard Dean swallow and looked at his brother's pale face in the moonlight. Dean wasn't the type to get sick from the pain; that was usually Sam. He saw Dean dart a quick tongue across his dry lips.
"Wasn't the last time…I ran into these bitches…," Dean ground out.
"What do you…?" Sam glanced over his shoulder at the seemingly empty barn aisle. Without his glasses, he could see nothing but two pools of blood.
"Where do you…think…these bitches go when we kill them, huh, Sammy?"
Purgatory, Sam realized. Monster Hell. He suddenly felt light-headed.
Dean nodded toward Ellie's room and Sam moved them in that direction pounding on the door when they reached it.
"Ellie, open the door," Dean rasped, sounding like a war-weary drill sergeant.
Sam heard the lock slowly turn and Ellie opened the door enough to peek out, her large, brown eyes blinking up at them owlishly, slowly taking in their bloody appearance.
"Is it…are they…gone?" She asked, her voice shaking.
Sam nodded. "Yeah, they're gone."
"Can you…let us in?" Dean asked, and Sam felt his weight increase slightly.
Ellie stepped back, opening the door wide enough Sam could haul Dean inside. They made their way to her bed and Sam eased his brother down on the edge. He started to step away, but realized that Dean was still gripping his arm. Dean didn't look up, but Sam could see enough of his brother's face to read the tightness there.
"Ellie, I need you to get me some stuff," Sam said, not looking away from Dean.
"Sure, what?" Ellie asked, her voice small.
"Need, uh…some rags, soap, water. Needle and thread. Antiseptic. Bandages."
He heard Ellie shift her feet, but kept his eyes on Dean.
"Shouldn't…I mean, there's a hospital just—"
"It's okay, Ellie," Dean said quietly, his voice rolling between them like honey and seeming to soothe Ellie like a calming hand on a skittish colt.
Sam heard her leave and only then did Dean allow himself to be eased back on the bed.
"You're a friggin' mess, man," Dean mumbled, eyes on the black gunk that coated Sam's shirt, arms, hands.
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I stink, too," he added.
Dean arched his neck a little as a wave a pain struck him. "And how's that different from any other day?"
"Ha friggin' ha," Sam muttered, turning to open the door when he heard Ellie kick at the base, her arms full.
He used one of the wet rags to clean his hands, then set the supplies next to Dean's side, rolling his brother's bloody shirt up to expose the claw marks.
"Oh, Jesus," Ellie breathed. "I think…I need some air."
"'S okay," Dean forced out, keeping his eyes closed. "Give us a minute. Won't take long."
Sam offered Ellie a tight smile, then focused on cleaning the blood and dirt from Dean's side with the soap and water Ellie had delivered. One cut along his ribs wasn't that deep, one had a decent flap of skin loose, and the other two dug into the meat below his ribs. He took a breath and positioned a towel beneath Dean's side, opening the bottle of antiseptic.
"You ready for this?" He asked his brother.
"No," Dean growled, fisting his hands in the quilt beneath him. "But do it anyway."
Sam had lost count of how many times they'd stitched each other up. It seemed he'd always managed to get the broken bones while Dean suffered the blood loss. If Dean still bore all the scars he'd accumulated pre-Hell, Sam knew, his brother's skin would be a road map of his past with enough crooked lines to put Rand McNally to shame.
"On three, okay?" Sam told him. "One, two…," he poured the antiseptic over the wounds, feeling his own muscles tighten in sympathy as Dean arched his back and tried to hold his scream of pain behind clenched teeth.
Sam paused a moment, dabbing at the flap of skin with a wet towel and used his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow as Dean's breath hammered in and out through his tight lips. He could hear Dean's slight keen in the back-beat of each breath and knew he had to get this over with quickly. He poured the rest of the antiseptic and Dean wasn't able to keep the scream quiet.
"Argh, fuck…son of a bitch! God damn that hurts…!" Dean punched at the mattress, digging his heels into the bed, mud, hay and a little bit of blood smearing on the quilt.
"Okay, okay," Sam said, setting the bottle aside and dabbing at the wound with the wet towel. "Worst part is over."
Dean was muttering, eyes closed, face turned away, but Sam knew he wasn't saying anything that needed to be heard. He wish he had been able to give his brother something to dull the pain, but that was a luxury they could rarely afford and not when they needed to get their asses out of here as quickly as possible. Sam lifted the towel and saw that the skin, while torn, looked as clean as he could get it with these supplies.
"I gotta stitch a few of these up, okay?"
"I got a choice?"
"Not really," Sam shrugged.
He burned the tip of the needle with Dean's lighter to sterilize it, then began to sew. Dean's fist twisted and he tightened his grip on the material beneath him until he pulled the quilt out of where Ellie had tucked it beneath the mattress. Sam could see the sweat gather on his brother's upper lip.
"You fought Hellhounds in Purgatory?" Sam suddenly blurted out. He'd been trying to think of something to talk about to distract Dean; that hadn't been what he was planning on saying.
"Yeah," Dean grunted, not giving Sam anything more.
"How did you…?" Survive, he wanted to say, but that question was too broad when it came to the topic of Purgatory and Sam realized he didn't know if he wanted to hear the answer.
Dean blinked at him through eyelashes beaded with sweat. "Wasn't alone, Sam."
Sam swallowed, not taking it further. He had two more cuts to stitch up and they both needed his hands steady.
"Guys?" Ellie's voice came at them tentatively from the doorway.
"Not quite finished, here, Ellie," Sam told her.
"It's okay," she replied, and he heard her shut the door behind her. "I forgot tape. I think I'm okay now."
Sam just nodded once, finishing up the stitches quickly and setting the bloody towels aside. Dean reached out his hand, wanting to sit up. Sam steadied him at the edge of the bed, and then blinked in surprised when Dean pushed to his feet. There was something in the lines of his face that troubled Sam, but with Ellie in the room, he knew he wouldn't get it out of his brother.
"Think you can help me bandage this while he cleans up?" Dean asked Ellie, slowly rotating to give her his stitched-up side.
Sam looked at the girl and was surprised to see her nod quickly, her hands visibly steadying as she gently placed the gauze patch over Dean's ribs, holding it in place as she tore the medical tape with her teeth, securing the bandage in place. As she worked, Sam could see her posture relaxing, becoming steadier, more balanced.
He stepped back, picking up one of the spare wet rags, and began to wipe the black blood from his upper arms and neck, watching his brother. Dean still looked pale and Sam could see the sweat running down his neck from his hairline, but his stance was squared off and he held still as Ellie worked. Dean had clearly picked up on the fact that actually doing something – something to help – was giving Ellie the time she needed to regroup.
Dean had always had the ability to read people inside of a second and decide if he cared enough to give them what they needed to feel secure. With this girl, he apparently did. She finished off the tape and straightened up, looking troubled.
"I still think you need a hospital," she said grimly.
Sam agreed, but knew there was no way in hell Dean would agree; not to mention, how would they explain the cuts? Renegade lion? Dean pressed his hand gently against his side and let his T-shirt fall.
"I've had worse," he said, his voice losing some of the strangled sound of before.
Ellie glanced Sam's way.
"It's true," Sam agreed, reluctantly. "He's had worse."
Leaning against Ellie's dresser, Sam listened as Dean told her they would make a hex bag for her. She would have to run, he said. And Sam knew she'd never be able to stop; the only way to keep the Hellhounds from her tail was to make sure Crowley never found her.
"So, no going to Hell?" Ellie asked, sounding young, scared, and hopeful at once.
Sam watched Dean's smile bubble up from a reserve deep inside. Somehow, Dean managed to keep his voice steady and sure as he replied, "Not on my watch."
He glanced over at Sam, met his brother's eyes and asked Ellie to give them a moment. Something about his tone told her not to argue and Sam held still as she stepped from the room. He watched Dean closely, saw how stiffly his brother held himself, knew that his outward I got this appearance hid an abyss of pain and exhaustion.
Sam pushed away from the dresser and crossed the room to Dean.
"You know," he pointed out, "even if Ellie avoids Crowley, her soul is ear-marked for Hell."
Dean shook his head once, keeping his right arm close to his side. "Not if we shut it down first."
Just as Sam was about to question what it really meant, closing the gates of Hell, he saw Dean pull out the note card Kevin had given them and his heart fell.
"It's not going to work for you, Dean," he said quietly.
Dean ignored him, reading the Enochian words awkwardly, without the familiar ebb and flow of the Latin spells they've recited over the years. The world around them was silent, still, even though both looked briefly up and around, wondering.
Sam sighed and Dean shook his head again.
"Doesn't matter. We'll track down another one of those sonsabitches and I'll kill it."
"No!" Sam felt the word burst from him, unbidden. The idea of Dean fighting another Hellhound was just…no.
"I didn't pass the test, Sam!"
"But I did!" Sam faced his brother, ignoring the way Dean listed to one side and focused only on the heat in his brother's eyes. "And I'm doing the rest of them. I'm closing the gates." Dean's eyes narrowed and his lips parted in protest. "It's a suicide mission for you!" Sam exclaimed.
But Sam was warming to the topic. His tangled thoughts finally coalesced and solidified, heavy and vibrant, the answer dancing before his eyes.
"I want to shut Hell down, too. But I want to survive it. I want to live. And so should you." He wanted to reach out, to grab Dean's arm, to connect to him somehow, but Dean held himself so still Sam was afraid if he breathed on him sideways he'd shatter. "You have friends up here. Family. Hell, you even got your own room now." Dean glanced away and Sam plowed forward. "You are right; I see light at the end of this tunnel and I'm sorry you don't. But it's there. And if you come with me, I can take you to it."
Sam watched his brother listen to him, watched him resist. He knew Dean didn't want to hear him, didn't want this to happen. He knew Dean didn't want him to be right. Logic didn't matter to his brother in this moment; Dean was action. He needed to be the one to do something.
But this time, so did Sam. And Dean couldn't save him from it. He could only save him from everything else.
"Sam, be smart."
Sam felt his blood heat up, finally, finally knowing what to say, how to combat Dean's poison-truthed words to him about dying bloody, his only happy ending the knowledge that Sam would grow old and have grandkids.
"I am smart. And so are you. You're not a grunt, Dean. You're a genius! When it comes to lore...," he spread his hands wide, searching for something Dean would believe, something he'd trust coming from Sam's mouth as honesty and not simply candy-coated words that would take his mission from him. "You're the best damn hunter I've ever seen. Better than me, better than Dad. I believe in you, Dean. So, please, please, believe in me, too."
Dean looked away, swallowing hard. Sam watched his profile, watched him breathe.
He wanted to say more, wanted to pour words over Dean so that his brother would hear him say more than I can do this. So that he would hear the loneliness of the year apart, the heartsick pain and fear that climbed into Sam's bones as he stood alone in that lab. He wanted to find a way to tell his brother that he couldn't lose Dean anymore than Dean could lose Sam.
You almost died tonight, Sam thought, watching his brother. Let me do this to try to keep you safe…for once at least try to keep you safe.
Sam could see that Dean's breath was rapid, his arm tight against his side, the hand that held the spell trembling slightly. He wanted to reach out and take the note card, just take the decision out of Dean's hands, be he knew if he did that he would be fighting Dean on this until the end. He had to gain his brother's trust or they would never get through this.
Dean slowly held out the note card with the reluctance of a man facing a firing squad. Sam took it quickly before Dean could change his mind and read the spell, the Enochian words sounding no more at home in his mouth than they had in Dean's.
The pain hit him so suddenly that at first he couldn't think. It exploded outward from his center, like he'd been hit in the gut by the hand of God. He stumbled, turning away from Dean, desperate for his brother not to see. His right hand hit the floor, instinctively keeping him from falling face first, and that's when his blood caught on fire.
Or, at least, that's what it felt like. Dimly he heard Dean calling his name and he sent up a desperate plea that Dean not come close, not touch him, not see.
Because his arm was glowing.
What the hell...?
He could see his veins, his bones, the tiny cells that comprised his seven layers of skin. He could see it all with a brilliant, painful light that spread from his forearm to his hand and then disappeared and with it the gut-wrenching pain that had taken him to his knees in the first place. He didn't move for a moment, his body weak and shaking as if he'd survived a near-miss.
Which, he thought, he basically had. He'd passed a test designed by God. And according to Kevin, he had to not fear danger or death. The danger part he had covered, but death…Dean didn't fear death. In fact, he welcomed it. Sam, though…he had literally just said he wanted to live. He knew enough to fear death, and he wondered for a terrifying moment if he'd just made a really awful mistake.
Pushing to his feet, he turned to face his brother, trying to regulate his breath. Dean's face was a tapestry of fear, uncertainty, pain, and regret. Sam shoved any doubt he had about taking this on deep into his gut, a trick he'd picked up from Dean, and gave his brother a tremulous smile.
"I'm good. I got this."
Dean continued to frown at him, raking his eyes, large with worry, over Sam's face. If Sam hadn't been watching his brother so closely for signs of doubt, he didn't think he'd have seen how Dean swayed on his feet, reaching out subtly to grip the edge of the dresser and balance himself.
"You okay?" Sam asked, finally getting his breath back.
"Uh, I think that's my line."
"I told you. I got this."
"You looked like you just took a line drive to the solar plexus, man." Dean's brows met across the bridge of his nose. "What happened?"
In the space of a heartbeat, Sam made his decision. If he told Dean the truth, he'd have to face his brother looking to take back over the trials. Not out of doubt that Sam could complete them; out of the need to protect him from having to. And Sam had to do this. But he had learned from experience that he had to lace his lies with enough truth Dean wouldn't quickly see the through it.
"It was," Sam swallowed, thinking quickly, "like a surge. A power surge."
Dean pulled his chin up. "Power surge, huh? You Ironman now or something?"
Sam rolled his eyes, half turning from him. He caught Dean's slight grin.
"Seriously, try to zap something with the palm of your hand."
"Shut up," Sam grumbled good naturedly while wondering if Dean had seen any of that glowing-hand thing. "We need to get out of here."
"Gotta make Ellie a hex bag fir—whoa," Dean stepped away from the dresser and nearly face-planted as his knees vanished on him. He managed to grab the bed frame quickly but not before his face lost most of its color.
Sam was next to him instantly. "Sit down."
"'M okay," Dean protested, pushing Sam's hands away.
"Yeah, and I'm Betty White's pool boy," Sam muttered, shoving Dean into a sitting position on the bed. "I'll make the damn hex bag. You just sit there."
Dean glanced up at him. "Dude. Betty White?"
"Hey, she's pretty spry for a ninety-year-old."
Dean looked back down. "Your head is one scary place."
Sam stepped to the door and called out to Ellie. He was going to need her help to get the hex bag ingredients. She looked over at Dean who sat obediently on the edge of her bed, his head lowered, breathing slowly. Sam suspected that knew what she'd rather be doing, but as that wasn't possible in the moment, Sam put her to work.
He left Dean sitting on the edge of the bed and grabbed their bags from the bunkhouse. He got a clean set of clothes out of their duffels and was able to find everything he needed for the hex bag except cayenne pepper. He sent Ellie into the house to get it and told her to unlock the other Cassitys. She wasn't going to be staying at the farm long in any case. He peeled off his Hellhound-blood soaked T-shirt and tugged on a clean one, layering it with a hoodie that still smelled like the dryer sheets they'd snagged from a lady in the Laundromat.
"Here," he said to his brother, holding out a Dean's favorite grey Henley.
Sighing, Dean straightened up, pulling his shredded T-shirt over his head by reaching back between his shoulder blades. His jeans were crusty with his blood as well, so Sam tossed a clean pair next to him on the bed. Before Dean could pull the Henley over his head, Ellie returned. Sam looked away the moment he saw her eyes hit Dean's bare chest.
"I…um, I got the cayenne pepper," she said, moving quickly away from Dean.
Dean sighed, pulling on his clean shirt and grabbing his jeans. He handed them back to Sam without a glance, the message clear: wearing bloody jeans was preferable to teasing this girl any longer. He stood slowly and crossed the room to Ellie, putting his hand on her shoulder and turning her to face him.
"You're gonna be okay, you hear me?"
She nodded silently, her eyes large and scared.
"I'm serious," Dean said, and Sam saw his fingers flex into Ellie's shoulder, grabbing her attention. "You sold your soul to save your mother. That takes guts. Anyone who can do that? Can survive anything."
Dean's words were meant for Ellie, but Sam felt them hit his heart. He knew Dean didn't think about the fact that he'd done that very thing for him; that the same should be true of him. He could survive anything. Hadn't he proved it already? Hell, Purgatory….
The fact that Dean felt these trials would be the end of him made Sam even more certain of his choice.
"You think so?" Ellie asked tentatively.
Dean held his hand out expectantly and Sam placed the hex bag in it. Dean handed the bag to Ellie, wrapping his large hands around hers.
"I know so."
"Thanks," she whispered, then impulsively, as if afraid if she didn't do it quickly she wouldn't do it at all, she reached up and hugged Dean, nearly knocking him backwards with the force of her hug. Sam watched as Dean hesitantly closed his arms around her slim form, then gently pushed her away.
"Take care of yourself, Ellie," Dean smiled, then glanced at Sam.
They headed out of the small room, past the open barn door and the expansive back porch, light from the large house illuminating and framing the Cassity's who stood like warning gargoyles, and made their way toward the Impala. It was on the tip of Sam's tongue to ask for the car keys, but with that group watching them, he knew it would be easier to just leave.
They slid into the Chevy, closing their doors in unison, and Sam heard his brother exhale when once more wrapped in the welcoming arms of the Impala. Dean started her up and they drove past the manicured lawns and PVC fencing, through the gates yawning open for their exit. It was nearly 300 miles to the hideout – or Batcave as Dean had dubbed it.
Sam wasn't sure either of them would make it that far before the events of this hunt caught up with them.
Part Two can be found here.