Rating:PG-13 for language
Spoilers:Season 5, after 5.16, Darkside of the Moon.
Summary:When Sam is attacked and marked for possession by a 'Hell Bearer,' Dean will stop at nothing to save his brother. Pain and exhaustion he's handled before; however, adding to that the horrific memories of Hell may be too much for this world-weary hunter to bear.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
Warnings: There is mention of torture (from Dean's tour in Hell) in this fic.
Author's Notes: Those of you who are waiting until it's finished...here you go. Thank you for reading, and thank you to those of you who gift me with your comments and feedback. Your words encourage me to continue when life and doubt pulls me down. I will continue to reply to your reviews until I hit every last one, so please let me know what you think.
To answer some questions really quickly – this story was completed before Season 7 began, and I'm thrilled that you feel the theme of the story has meshed so well with what we've been enjoying in the show thus far! I set it in Season 5, though, to showcase Dean's trauma from Hell, before Sam had his own. Due to that, one tiny aspect of this chapter is a bit AU. *smiles*
Story Soundtrack: As a gift to you, I collected some songs to fit this story. The soundtrack/fanmix includes songs referenced in the story as well as songs I thought fit both the plot and Dean's personal struggle throughout the story. The fanmix was compiled by secretlytodreamand in addition to the compilation, she has created some amzingly beautiful (dark) art for each song. If you check out the soundtrack, please take a moment to let her know how fantastic it is.
Wake Up and Fight: Soundtrack/Fanmix
Wake Up and Fight: Part 1
Wake Up and Fight: Part 2
Wake Up and Fight: Part 3
"The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings; words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out."
- Stephen King, via Gordon LeChance, The Body
Part Four: Recovery
He could feel the soft flannel of Bobby's shirt against his face.
Hovering in the gray world between oblivion and awareness, Dean simply breathed. He could smell the familiar, comforting scents of detergent, outdoors, and sweat as strong arms held him close, but he couldn't—didn't want to—move.
His body was done. Pushed past all limits of reason and reserves. His spirit was wounded, memories saturated in guilt having soaked through to bruise his soul.
He lay, without fight, and breathed.
"Jesus Christ..." Bobby's voice was close and yet far away at the same time. As if Dean were listening in on a tapped phone line. "Sam? What happened?"
Dean could hear tears in Sam's voice. It was almost enough to bring him around, almost enough to force him to climb the ladder to awareness and open his eyes.
"Still fuzzy, but…. He saved me, Bobby. Somehow."
"Did you…Sam, the body out front—"
"—witch? I think? I can't remember, it's all…."
"…told him, dammit…."
For several moments, Dean retreated. He didn't want to hear anymore. Didn't want to know. He hid. His mind filling with songs and lyrics so vivid he almost saw the black crest of notes on sheet music, floating through the gray nothing, soothing him with the comforting chords of electric guitars and the rhythmic slam of drums.
And then he was being lifted. He felt his head drop back, hanging loosely from slack neck muscles over the edge of someone's arm, felt arms cradle his legs, felt himself being carried. It was a strange, weightless sensation. He always had to be in charge, in control—of himself if nothing else.
But he had no fight left. No resistance.
Let them carry him.
"…a mess, Dean."
The sound of his name had him turning his head instinctively toward the voice, listening in spite of himself.
"Shouldn't we get him to a hospital?"
"Yeah. We should. But we ain't."
"What? How come?"
"'cause all the ones close would pretty much have me arrested on sight and he needs help now."
The voices faded, moving away from him, and Dean slipped a bit further into the gray, a little darker, a little deeper. Something in the back of his mind, in a place he knew he should listen to but was purposefully ignoring, told him not to go too deep. That if he went too deep, he might not come back out.
He didn't know if he wanted to come back out. If he deserved to. So many awful things…he'd done so many awful things. Things he'd killed others for doing.
Things that made him a monster.
He'd almost been able to forget. Almost been able to pretend they hadn't really happened to him, they were just the words of some lore he'd read about once.
Hands were on him, turning him, pulling at him. Clothes, he realized. They were cutting off his clothes, stripping him down, laying him bare, vulnerable. All of his scars, all of his wounds, all of his sins, exposed.
"Need to get these off of him."
"God, look at…. They worked him over good."
"Understatement of the century."
"Why didn't he bandage them up better?"
"'cause he was trying to save your scrawny hide, ya idjit."
"Where were you?"
"On my way back, that's where. I told him, dammit. I told him to wait for me!"
"And you really thought he'd listen to you?"
"No. But I hoped."
The words were beginning blend until he couldn't tell Sam from Bobby. It didn't matter anyway. None of it did. He wanted the darkness. He belonged there.
You look them in the eye.
He turned his head away from the voice. The memory of the voice. Memory powerful enough to conjure his dead parents.
The goddamn memory that never forgot anything.
"Think he's coming around."
Hands at his face. Coolness along his skin, flashing pain to the surface bright enough that he gasped. He didn't want the pain. He was tired of pain.
"Hey, man. C'mon, that's it. Open your eyes."
He had to. It was Sam.
His vision blurred as he blinked up at his brother's worried face. Sam smiled, but Dean saw pain in his eyes. It was so hard to remember why. And he didn't want to try. If he remembered why, then he'd remember everything else. And he didn't want to remember it anymore.
His eyes were heavy. Too heavy. With Sam staring down on him, he let them fall closed, eliciting an immediate reaction of gripping hands, fingers tapping on his cheeks, a gasping cry of, "Dean! Hey, no, no, hey. Please, Dean. Just—"
He pulled away, his mind falling back, sinking into shadows. He didn't have enough strength to—
The cry exploded from him unexpected and unbidden, the pain in his body—his leg, he realized, it was his leg—so intense it jerked him from the peaceful gray.
He opened his eyes, searching wildly for the danger, the source of the pain, the reason his leg was on fire. Hands held him, pushing him down as he fought to sit up, fought to get free. They were getting him back. Retaliating for the pain he'd caused. They were going to burn him alive.
"Arg," he groaned, unable to articulate clearly through the haze.
"Easy, kid, take it easy. Sam, hold him, dammit!"
"I'm trying, Bobby! He's fighting me—give him something else!"
"I can't give him anything else—not yet."
The words filtered through his confusion. They weren't burning him. They weren't stringing him on the rack, shoving the hooks through his skin. They weren't torturing him. They were trying to heal him.
And it hurt like hell.
"Gah, stop…," he breathed, a pathetic whimper in his voice. "Leave it."
"Shut up, man." Sam's voice. Angry. Tearful.
Sam was holding him, Dean realized. He was leaning back against his brother's chest, Sam's strong arms wrapped around him. His hands…he was clutching at Sam, holding himself steady against the muscle of Sam's arms. He blinked wide, trying to clear his vision and saw Bobby crouched next to his bare leg, cleaning the skin, dabbing at the wounds. He didn't want to watch, didn't want to know.
"Your leg's a mess, kid," Bobby told him gravely. "May need to bite the bullet. Get you to a hospital."
Dean swallowed. His mouth was so dry. He wanted to tell him to forget about it. If he was going to die, just let it happen. Sam was safe.
But Sam was also gripping him tight. Reminding him that there was more than just this.
More than just them.
You don't flinch, you don't fail.
"No," he whispered, hearing a rough voice, grinding gravel. "You do it."
Bobby looked at him, then above his head at Sam.
"Sam, need you to make a call for me."
Dean closed his eyes, riding out the hot wave of pain as Sam laid him back, his brother's cool hand lingering a moment on his face.
The gray wasn't calm and comforting now. It was filled with broken glass and barbed wire. He caught himself on it as he turned, twisting, trying to find a clear path.
He heard voices leading him on, teasing him with safety, but he couldn't understand them. He heard music, tried to find the words that had brought him comfort but the cadence was wrong. His memories teased him, poked at him with tiny needles of heat, bleeding him out from the center of his chest so that he struggled to breathe.
And you fight back because you know, Son. You know you are right.
The heat spiked, burning his eyes, his lips, his body. He knew he had a choice: fight or succumb. He heard whispers in his mind, memories of poisoned voices stringing him along with false hope and then branding him with the cold touch of dead fire. He heard the taunts, the sneers, the laughter…always the laughter.
He shouted—it was the only thing left to him. He was strapped down, helpless, trapped. All that was left were years of insults and curses, vile and nasty, worthy only for the demons that held him captive. He fought them—struggling against their touch, their grip, their lies.
"Easy, kid, no one's trying to hurt you…stop…stop fighting us, Dean…."
No. No, that's what they wanted. For him to stop fighting.
"Dean, it's me, man. It's Sam! Hey…hey, man, it's okay…, please. Don't push me away, man."
He stopped struggling. He'd never heard Sam in Hell. In all that time, they'd talked about him, but he'd never heard him. Not this close. Not this real.
"Need to get some fluid into him…."
"He's burning up, Bobby."
"Gotta cool him down. Help me out here."
Someone was lifting him again.
He felt the world shift, knew something was different, couldn't slow things down enough to determine what. Then he heard Bobby's voice. Sam replying. And he was moving, slowly, across a room, his legs all-but dragging between them. He tried to help, disoriented and embarrassed that he wasn't moving under his own power.
"Easy, kid," Bobby was saying. "We gotcha. You don't have to fight this one."
"Hang onto me, Dean," Sam told him, and Dean obeyed. "It's okay…hey, hey! I'm not going to let go."
Dean blinked, looking around him through eyes that didn't feel like his. Nothing fit, even his skin was too small. Then the cool shock of water slipped around him, climbing his skin, soaking him and soothing him. Closing his eyes, he felt hands at his face, in his hair, gripping his arms, his shoulders.
"Just need to get him cooler," Bobby said, his voice rough. "We get him cooled down, we got a chance."
A chance…, Dean thought numbly. A chance is all he'd ever needed. As his body soaked up the cool water, he felt himself slide away, back and away until he felt nothing.
He'd lost all track of time. Just like before. A year had passed in a minute while a decade lasted a lifetime. He'd been there forty years. He was an old man now. His heart…his soul was in its seventies and he was tired. He was so tired.
Words ebbed and flowed around him…some of them his own. He felt his lips moving of their own accord. An oddly familiar, detached feeling slipped through his body and once again he was staring down at himself, watching his nearly naked body twist and thrash as his family hovered over him—Sam gripping his hand until his knuckles were white, Bobby adjusting some plastic tubing hanging from the headboard.
Dizzily he tried to find his ground, tried to feel Sam's hand. He could see it holding his, could see Bobby tugging a blanket up to cover his bandaged body, could see the damp rag being wiped across his forehead….
But he couldn't feel any of it.
With a lead-heavy weight in his gut, he realized this was his choice. To retreat, escape, let it all go and fade to black…or wake up. And fight. Fight for however long it takes.
"Dean, c'mon, man…." Sam voice broke, whisper-thin and fragile. "We got work to do. Both of us. Just…hang in there. Hang in there with me."
He watched himself take a breath and felt himself fall and for one disorienting, nauseating moment he hovered as he heard Sam call out to Bobby, his voice panicked and Bobby reply with the curt gruffness of worry.
Blinking in burning-eyed blurriness, he saw his brother peering over him, shadows shifting, covering Sam's face, obscuring his expression. Dean forced the word up, trying for the strength for something…just one thing that would ease the pain he felt surround them all.
"Okay," he breathed, then he relaxed, comforted that he'd agreed with whatever Sam had been asking of him.
He tried to turn away into the black, keep the pain shoved low where it wouldn't drown him. But something was tugging at him, making him want to curl inward, retreat. And then there was a voice. Not Sam…but someone close. Someone he'd listened for, reached out to. Someone he'd needed, who'd always reached back.
"Shoulda been here," the voice was saying, the tone heavy with regret and emotion. "Shouldn't've had to be you."
Dean blinked, his eyes barely slits, too heavy to open fully. He could see the bowed figure of someone sitting on the edge of the bed, felt the tug of a rough touch at his leg as the person moved gingerly, wrapping his wound.
"Why didn't you wait for me?"
Dean swallowed, letting his eyes slip closed, instinct prodding him to speak up, to reassure his friend that it was going to be okay. But he couldn't find the strength to speak. His eyes would no longer open. And his hands were weighted with weariness.
"Rufus told me," Bobby's voice was strangely quiet, as if someone was sick and shouldn't be disturbed. Was Sam sick? He had a sudden image of Sam, helpless, fevered, looking to him for help. "He told me that witch was dangerous. And he sounded scared, too, when I told him where you boys were. Rufus scared…well. It don't happen. Not often anyway."
Dean listened to the familiar bristle of Bobby's voice, trying to make sense of the words, trying to decide if Sam was sick…if he should open his eyes.
"But…I was damn scared," Bobby confessed, his voice thick, as if it was a struggle to push the words free. "Scared of what you'd do to save your brother. Already lived through you dying once…. Not sure I could handle that again." Bobby sighed and Dean felt the bed shift, sensing that Bobby was standing, feeling his friend staring down on him. "Knew it wasn't easy for your Daddy…raising you boys in this shithole of a world, knowing what we know."
Dean started to turn, needing to say something, make sure Sam wasn't sick. He couldn't get that image out of his head. And Bobby sounded...worried. But the moment he shifted, the fever-deep ache in his bones flared to life and he sucked air, going still. He felt a cool hand, rough with calluses, rest lightly on his cheek, then fall away.
"Took me too long to see why it was so hard," Bobby said, his voice tight. "You're a good man, Dean. You're better than you know. Better than your Daddy. Damn sight better'n me."
Dean heard the floor creak, and blinked slightly once more, his lashes shadowing the fading image of his friend.
"You're gonna be okay. 'Cause I can't figure on how this world would work otherwise."
He wanted to call out, but the pain dragged him low until the dark crease of nothing replaced Bobby's words. Then, as if the universe decided he'd paid his dues, the heat began to retreat, the pain quieting to a dull roar in the background of his mind.
The voices were gone—even the memory of John's voice. The gray was tentative. The peace conditional.
Dean opened his eyes. He hadn't meant to. But he was suddenly awake and staring at his brother. Sam sat on a chair next to the bed, his elbows resting on his knees, his eyes serious in the dim light. He was staring back at Dean as if watching for something, some sign.
Silently, they studied each other, mentally circling one another as if waiting to see who would be the first to give in. Lost in the confusion and haze of lingering pain, Dean didn't even know what day it was, and the last image he could recall of Sam, his brother had been in pain.
"Y'okay?" he asked, lips barely moving, voice nothing more than a rasp.
Sam's lips thinned in a frown that told Dean more than he wanted to know. His eyes swam with unshed tears and Dean felt there were words said that he'd missed. Something in Sam's expression told him there might have been a lot he'd missed. Reaching out, Sam adjusted the edge of a sheet that covered Dean from mid-chest down, resting his hand on Dean's arm, squeezing gently.
"Yeah. I'm okay."
Dean watched him, his mind purposefully blank, not wanting to remember. Not wanting to know. And then Sam sighed, sitting back, his eyes on Dean, but not keeping him. And after awhile, Dean slept. True sleep.
No gray, no black, no dead relatives, no memories of Hell. But he knew they were there. They lingered on the edge and he knew they'd wait until he'd turned his back before attacking.
"He's been sleeping a long time."
Sam's voice was a surprise.
Dean couldn't remember how long it had been since he'd heard it. He hovered on the cusp of awareness, not ready to face the consequences of his actions. He wasn't ready to confess….
He didn't want Sam to know it all. Not yet. Not…ever.
"You should sleep more." Bobby sounded different. Tired, rough, as if he'd been through something particularly harrowing. Dean tried to remember…was somebody hurt? "You went through hell, Sam."
"Not really. Not like Dean."
"Bobby." The catch in Sam's voice had Dean's worry creeping higher. Maybe he should open his eyes. "D'you hear what he's been saying? You hear what…what he…what they made him do?"
"Yeah, I heard."
Dean felt his heart fall as memory grabbed him. Slipping off the edge of control, it plummeted backwards as he listened to his brother and his friend. They knew. Somehow, he'd told them. He hadn't meant to, but he'd told them.
"Why didn't he say anything? You know…before?"
"How do you say something like that, Sam?"
"You just…you just say it."
Dean felt his heart flip, trying to climb his throat, poised at the base of his tongue, pushing tears of confession and weariness to the backs of his eyes.
"How do you…put Hell into words?"
He couldn't. He never could. He rode out the nightmares and drowned the memories with liquor. He swallowed pills to keep the pain at bay. He kept moving and he did the job. He didn't say anything because nothing made it better. Nobody could help him because nobody knew.
Nobody knew his Hell.
And he wanted to keep it that way. If there was anything left to fight for, it was that. Sam could never know. Never know.
"He looks so tired, Bobby."
"He's beat to hell, Sam. There's a reason for that."
"I should have known…I saw all the nightmares…the drinking. I mean…he tried to tell me. In a way. But…I didn't get it."
"You're his brother, kid. Not his conscience."
"He doesn't want to wake up."
You know you will win.
"He doesn't want to fight anymore."
When it's all done, you will win.
When Dean opened his eyes, he was surprised to feel the heat of sun once more. He was facing a wall, his body sweat-covered and gritty, his muscles stiff from lying still for a long period of time. Rolling to his back, he shifted carefully on the pillow, his head pounding with a morning-after ache, his mouth dry and sticky.
Blinking to clear his vision, he stared in surprise when he realized it wasn't Sam sitting next to his bed.
It was Castiel.
"You're alive," he said, his voice a hoarse crack of sound. Relief warred with surprise and he felt both shift through him like liquid gold.
"As are you," Castiel replied. His face was impassive, but Dean picked up a distinct look of happiness in the angel's guileless blue eyes. "I have water."
Dean took the glass, though it trembled in his shaking grip, and tried to lift his head enough to sip it. Water slipped out of the sides of his mouth and down his cheek. He tried to push himself higher in the bed, his stomach muscles whimpering. Before he got very far, Castiel's hand was at his neck, supporting his head, helping him sip the water.
"Thanks," Dean breathed as Castiel eased him back down.
"You saved your brother," Castiel said, standing now, staring down at him.
"How'd you get away?" Dean asked, reaching up to rub at the butterfly bandage across his nose. The tape was itching.
Castiel looked out through the window over Dean's head, a tiny smile on his lips. "I am not as limited as I thought."
"You saved our asses, man," Dean said, gratitude turning his voice soft.
Castiel looked down, but not directly at Dean. "It was a mistake to send you in after the beast."
"Hey, I knew what I was doing," Dean protested.
With a very human-like lift of his eyebrow, Castiel's eyes raked Dean's battered form. "Clearly."
"Cas, shit like this…," he rolled his head to the side, looking away from his friend, "it can happen anytime. Even without…y'know…mobs of demon hit men."
Castiel was quiet.
"I'm just saying," Dean lifted his eyes to regard his friend, "it wasn't your fault. It's a dangerous job."
"Dean," Castiel said, his tone that hesitant.
"I mean it, man," Dean insisted. "You can't always know how it's gonna go down."
"Don't suppose you could…y'know…. Zap." Dean squinted up at him, his hand resting lightly on his sore chest. A bandage covered the abrasion he'd received courtesy of the demonic cloud tackle.
Castiel looked at him, confused. "Zap?" he repeated.
"Do your healing thing, man," Dean said, his voice tiring.
Castiel frowned, paused, then with a curious tilt of his head as if saying let's see, he reached out and laid his hand on Dean's forehead. The warmth of his friend's touch was soothing to the bandage–covered cut and for a moment Dean felt that warmth slide through his body until he imagined he was glowing from it.
But then Castiel pulled his hand away and Dean realized he still hurt. A lot.
"I am sorry," Castiel said, looking away, regret plain in his voice.
"Hey, it's okay, Cas," Dean said. "Like you said. Sam's okay. That's what matters."
"Your wounds are deep, Dean," Castiel told him, turning back to face him. "There are ones no one but me can see. Those…I wish I could heal."
Dean felt his eyes burn, knowing what his friend was talking about, wanting the same thing. "Hey, Cas?"
The angel tilted his head, waiting patiently.
Dean swallowed. This wasn't going to be easy. "When…you found me…y'know…. I mean, when you pulled me out…."
"Of the pit," Castiel concluded, having seen, Dean suspected, far more when he saw those invisible wounds than even Dean realized.
"Right," Dean licked his lips, looking down, unable to meet the angel's eyes. "What…uh…what was I doing? What was I…what was I like?"
"You don't remember?"
Dean shook his head, still not looking at him. Castiel was silent for a moment and if Dean didn't know better, he'd suspect the angel was choosing his words.
"You were surviving," Castiel said simply. "I sought your soul. I laid waste to Hell to find it. It…shone," he said, his face pulling into a frown of memory. "Against all of the others who were burning there, sent by their choices and deeds, yours shone. But…you were blood and pain."
Dean glanced up. "But…did you see…. Where you there when I—"
He couldn't finish. Couldn't bring himself to say it even now. Tortured, killed, burned….
"You were never one of them, Dean," Castiel said, his voice quiet and serious, offering Dean absolution he didn't feel he deserved. "You broke, but you are not broken. And if I had been faster…." He looked down as Dean glanced up. "I wish now I could have spared you all of this."
Dean lifted a shoulder. "What could you do, right? We're both Destiny's bitches."
Castiel frowned, his eyes sliding to the window. "I'm not convinced," he said quietly. "Something you taught me is that…there is no fate. No destiny." He looked back at Dean, his eyes large and ancient. "There's only what you decide, and how you live with that decision."
Dean swallowed, prepared to counter Castiel's revelation with recent examples of Heavenly control over his and Sam's life. But Castiel wasn't finished.
"That is how humanity is saved."
"Cas, man, don't put that kind of faith in-in…," me, he wanted to say. He floundered, trying to find words in a mind heavy with latent pain and lingering weariness.
"Dean, you are the only human in centuries of observing your kind I was willing to go to Hell for."
Dean blinked, shocked into silence.
"There are people worth that kind of love." Castiel's smile was brief, unexpected, and then he was gone.
Dean lay still, thinking and, for once, remembering without pain.
Time passed. Dean slept. Bobby woke him to eat or drink. Sam woke him to help him cross to the bathroom. He woke to let someone check his bandages; one of them was near to calm him when the nightmares came.
But mostly, Dean slept.
And then one day, a low, familiar rumble woke him.
Concluded in Part 4B: It was a sound he'd know anywhere.