Characters: Dean, Sam
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
Summary: Tag to Episode 7.21, Reading is Fundamental. The words had hit him like blows, leaving marks no one would see, adding scars to a heart broken long ago.
Author's Note: I rarely write missing scenes or tags, but the look on Dean's face when confronted by the angel Hester was haunting me. This is just my way of working through some of the layers before the action in the final two episodes of the season sweeps us along. It's not the usual hurt/comfort/action stuff that I normally like to write. It's basically just a little ditty 'bout Sam and Dean and a different kind of pain.
Also, this hasn't been beta'd, so red pens down. Thanks, Terry, as always for the sanity check.
If you read, I hope you enjoy.
"Foolish men imagine that because judgment for an evil thing is delayed, there is no justice; but only accident here below. Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death." – Thomas Carlyle
"Let's get to work."
Dean clapped a hand on his shoulder and turned away. Eyes bouncing from Kevin Tran's neat handwriting captured in the composition book to his brother's back, Sam automatically tried to create a mental priority list. There were always things that needed to be done first, things they couldn't forget, a way to order the chaos that surrounded them. From the moment he'd woken up on Bobby's couch so many months ago, the palm of his hand on fire from the cut Dean had stitched up, Sam's life had been triaged.
Handle what they could deal with while they figured out how to deal with what they couldn't handle.
But when Castiel had taken on his…his burden…Sam felt priorities slipping and skidding, shifting within the moment from this important focus to that important event. He'd always been good at categorizing information into mental files organized from this shit will get you killed to fun facts to bring up at cocktail parties.
Being alone in his head once more had staggered him. He hadn't realized how truly bad it had been until he once more found darkness – and only darkness…not strobe-light flashes…not hellfire images…not blood and bodies and death – behind his closed eyes when he slept. Until he no longer braced himself to see Lucifer standing just to the left of perception, lurking, waiting to attack. And now that he didn't have to work so hard to concentrate on the everyday effort of survival, he was finding the act of thinking through their next steps almost…distracting.
"Dude." Dean's bark was like a snap of fingers, grabbing Sam's wandering attention.
"Yeah, um…," Sam nodded, swallowing. "Right. Sorry."
"We need to read through that translation again," Dean continued, moving away from the table and Sam. "Figure out what we need to get…since you know finding it all will probably kill us before we ever get to bone Dick…."
As Sam listened, Dean's voice began to fade, the words blurring together. He reached up to rub his burning eyes. It had been a few days since they'd slept more than fifteen minute bursts. He knew they needed to figure out their game plan – defeating these Leviathan, even with a weapon dictated by God, was going to be next to impossible. But he was so tired. And Dean….
Realizing his brother had stopped talking, Sam looked around for Dean, finding him standing next to the sink, his long-sleeved shirt crumpled on the counter next to him. A small brownish stain ran along the side of his gray T-shirt. Narrowing his eyes, he saw that Dean was unwrapping a hastily-bandaged cut on his bared forearm.
"What's that?" he asked, standing; the sound of the wooden legs of the chair scraping against the floor drew Dean's eyes to him.
Frowning in clear confusion, Dean paused with just enough of the bandage removed that Sam could see a smeared line of blood. "What's what?"
Sam closed the composition book, Kevin's pen marking the place where he'd last been reading, and pointed to Dean's arm. "That. How'd that happen?"
Dean shot him a look, raising an eyebrow. "How'd you think I got rid of the angels back at Cas' room?"
"I thought…," Sam faltered, taking a step forward. "Hell, I don't know what I thought. I was just glad they were gone. Pretty sure we were toast."
Shrugging, Dean finished unwrapping the bandage and turned back to the sink. "No way I'm letting some random angel take us out after all this."
Sam leaned a hip against the counter next to Dean's shirt, staring down at the cut on his brother's arm, but not really seeing it. "Kinda weird to be dealing with angels again, huh? Thought…I mean, I thought that after Cas…," he sighed softly, shaking his head. "But I guess since he's back they are, too."
Dean huffed, but didn't say anything. Sam heard the water turn on and watched as his brother drew his forearm under the running water, a muscle in his jaw bouncing as the dried blood washed away and the water flushed out the cut. It had stopped bleeding, but the skin around it was red and puffy; Sam quickly calculated how long it had gone untreated.
"Why didn't you ask Cas to heal that?"
Dean's lips pursed, and for a moment Sam didn't think he'd answer.
"Cas wasn't…," Dean shook his head, as if hoping the right word would fall into place in his mind. "Don't think he had healing me as a priority."
Sam drew his head back slightly. "Dean, he distracted Hester…took a beating for you."
Dean shut off the water. "He took a beating because she was pissed at him. Grab me some gauze, will you?"
"You need stitches?" Sam leaned closer, trying to get a better look at the wound.
"Nah, I didn't cut it that deep." Dean grabbed a towel from the handle of the refrigerator and patted his arm dry.
Watching him, Sam suddenly realized his brother's arm was lined with similar marks – thin, white, about two to three inches in length. It was jarring; he'd been present for those wounds and yet…he couldn't clearly remember Dean being hurt. Why couldn't he remember the other moments Dean had cut himself to save them, protect them?
"Okay, new plan," Dean said, suddenly squaring off in front of him. "We paint on some added protection around this place, then you get some sleep."
Sam blinked at him. "What?"
Dean's brows met over the bridge of his nose. "You're dead on your feet."
"No, I'm good," Sam shook his head, stepping back, his hip bumping against the counter. "Just…thinking. A lot to process, y'know?" He turned to where they'd left their duffel and dug out antiseptic cream and a roll of gauze.
"What's to process? We got the recipe. We get the ingredients and take out these bastards," Dean replied, reaching for the towel once more as his newly-washed cut began to bleed again.
"Wait, hold up!" Sam held out a hand, grabbing the towel away from Dean. "Let's do this right – can't remember the last time this thing was washed." He tossed the used towel onto the table, away from Dean.
Dean rolled his eyes, but obediently lifted his arm over the sink. Sam grabbed a clean towel from one of the drawers, then turned the water on and began to rinse the blood away once more.
"How'd you know the angels were there, anyway?" Sam asked, using the clean towel to pat Dean's arm dry.
"Cas," Dean replied, taking the antiseptic from Sam and spreading it over the cut. He reached for the roll of gauze, but Sam shook his head.
"Let me," he said, frowning as he took hold of his brother's arm. "What you use to make this cut? Looks awful."
Dean dropped his chin and gave Sam a dead-eyed look that plainly said leave it, but Sam found he wasn't in the mood to obey unspoken demands. He tightened his grip on Dean's wrist, holding his brother's arm still.
"A rusted nail dipped in e-coli," Dean replied. "What'd you think I used? My knife."
"Well, you should have been more careful."
Dean raised his eyebrows, folding his lips in a mocking frown. "Sure, okay. I'll just find a hermetically sealed room next time I need to get enough blood to banish a bunch of angels who threaten to smite your ass."
"Such a jerk," Sam muttered, but Dean didn't reply.
Sam felt Dean's arm muscles tense as he unrolled the gauze. He glanced from Dean's wounded left arm to his bare right, seeing fewer scars there, but enough to tighten his jaw. He finished wrapping this latest cut and secured the ends of the gauze with a field-dressing knot, his eyes moving to the brown stain on Dean's shirt, reassuring himself that it was from the cut on his brother's arm and not from an unseen wound.
"Sammy, get some sleep, man."
Sam leaned back against the sink. "I'm not tired."
Dean moved away, heading toward their duffel. "Then stop staring at me like you're afraid I'm gonna…blink out or something."
As Sam watched, Dean dug out Bobby's flask, his hand poised on the lid, but then he stopped.
"What is it?"
"Nothin'," Dean replied softly.
He put the flask back and grabbed a clean T-shirt instead. Reaching back between his shoulder blades, Dean pulled off the blood-stained shirt, dropping it to the floor. It wasn't as if they were shy about dressing in front of each other – they lived in each other's pockets twenty-four-seven; privacy was a rare commodity – but Sam couldn't say he'd ever really looked at his brother's bare skin when Dean wasn't wounded in some way.
Dean's back held fading bruises and one or two puckered scars. As Dean gathered up the clean T-shirt to pull it over his head, Sam saw light hit more white lines of long-healed wounds traversing Dean's ribcage and one faded mark on his shoulder that still held the outline of a hand print. Dean dragged his shirt down his torso and Sam glanced away, remembering.
When Dean had crawled out of his own grave, returned to them from Hell by Castiel's grip, his scars had been gone. No trace of the rough path their lives had traversed, leading up to the Hellhound's attack. Looking down, Sam put the cap back on the antiseptic and tossed it back into the duffel as Dean moved away – chalk in hand – to mark the angelically-repaired door with protection sigils.
"I still had all my scars," Sam said suddenly.
Dean glanced over at him. "Come again?"
"When I got back from…from the cage. I wasn't…any different."
Dean grunted as he finished drawing on the door and moved over to close the line of the Devil's Trap on the floor. "Except you had no soul."
Sam sat down at the table, fingers idly drumming the spine of the composition book. "Except for that."
Straightening up to face him, brushing his hands clean on the edges of his jeans, Dean tilted his head in question. "What's going on with you, man? You didn't get short circuited or something going back to that place, did you?"
At the mention of the mental hospital, memories surged forward of when he'd been basically trapped there and Sam felt a well of undefined emotion form a tight ball at the base of his throat. He shook his head, afraid to speak, afraid to look up at Dean. He heard the springs in the couch squeak as Dean sat down, knew his brother was watching him. He'd always been able to feel the weight of Dean's eyes. His brother saw straight through him.
"You want to talk about it?" Dean asked quietly.
Sam smiled softly. "I don't have the wall anymore, Dean."
The frown was evident in Dean's voice as he replied, "I know that."
"You're talking to me like I'm going to break apart if you move too quickly."
"Well, you're talking like half this conversation is happening inside your head. Six of one…," Dean countered.
The room was quiet for several minutes as the brothers waited each other out. Sam heard the hum of the refrigerator, a slow tick of the generator situated off the side of the cabin, Dean's breathing. He tried to pull his thoughts into an order, something that would explain the pitch of emotion he was doing his best to dampen. But all he came up with was….
"You have a lot of scars."
Dean didn't say anything.
"You…they're…," Sam shook his head as the words evaporated before he could find the right ones. He lifted his eyes. "I'm sorry, Dean. I just…lately, I haven't been paying attention."
Dean's face smoothed into an expression Sam recognized as his brother's most-used mask. His I've got this covered mask. The one he usually reserved for other people. "You've had a lot going on, Sam."
Sam pressed his lips flat, his mind whirring, scenes, moments, emotions, reactions all ticking across the back of his eyes like a mental flipbook of the last three years. "And it's been a day at the beach for you, that it?"
Dean lifted a shoulder, his lips twisting up in wry grin. "Don't know. Never been to the beach." He started to rest his forearms on his knees, winced, then shifted, leaning back against the couch and resting his ankle on his knee. "What's going on with you right now?"
"You ever just…," Sam paused, swallowing, looking down at the composition book and all the answers it held, "just want to stop. Just…stop?"
"No, I mean…I mean not for a minute. Not take a break. Just…stop. Disappear. Let whatever is gonna happen…happen."
"Every damn day."
Sam looked at Dean, surprised. "But…then why are you always…? You just keep going."
"There's plenty of times I want to quit," Dean said quietly, his eyes dropping from Sam's face to stare at the floor, his gaze inward.
"But you don't."
Dean shook his head. "Can't…," he glanced up. "Dirty job, but, y'know. Somebody's gotta do it."
Sam knew it was so much more than that. It was purpose and reason and cause all rolled into one. It was what kept his brother breathing. But was it enough for Sam anymore?
"Cas doesn't want to get better," Sam said suddenly.
Dean blinked. "Dude, you're like Rainman today. How 'bout you warn a guy before you flip to the middle of the story?"
Sam narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you want to talk about Cas?"
"'Cause there's nothing to talk about," Dean shrugged, his eyes moving to the duffel, then skimming the back wall until they landed on something that made them to light up. "He's like the angel equivalent of Ghandi now. And makes about as much sense." He pushed himself to his feet and crossed the room, grabbing a nearly-full bottle of tequila by the neck. "Where'd this come from?"
Sam shrugged. "Dunno. Left over from Rufus?"
Dean unscrewed the cap and swallowed a gulp loud enough Sam heard it.
"Cas told me that taking on my…whatever it was…helped him." He watched Dean carefully as he talked. "Made what he was going through better."
Dean glanced at him, his lips wet from the tequila. He narrowed his eyes. "What he was going through?"
Sam nodded. "The guilt, I guess. Of all the damage he'd done when he was—"
"Huh," Dean looked away, gazing at the wall as if written there were answers to questions he hadn't figured out how to ask. "Well, see? You can stop feeling guilty. Some good came out of it." He took another drink.
Sam shook his head, eyes tracking his brother as he sat down on the couch once more. "He's not good, though. I mean…he's…I don't know what he is. He said he sees everything."
"He's an angel, Sam," Dean muttered, eyes on the floor. "He's always been an angel. I—we wanted him to be different…to be one of us…but it almost killed him. It did kill him." He took another drink, his voice rough as he continued, "It's gotta be this way. It's…better like this."
Sam frowned at the undercurrent of pain he heard in his brother's tone. "Dean…."
Dean raised the bottle of tequila, looking at the amber liquid. "Stuff tastes like warm piss."
"What's wrong with the flask?"
Dean looked up, then glanced around. Sam knew who he was looking for, what he was afraid of. Their conversations were monitored now.
"Y'know, the funny thing is," Dean started, his eyes once more on the floor, his voice mellow and sad. "I really do want to talk to the guy. But…," he shook his head.
"Too weird?" Sam guessed.
Dean looked up at him. "How do you talk to a ghost about stuff that's fucking up your life?" His eyes began to travel aimlessly around the room. "I mean, I'm alive. So, point for me. I got problems with my friends? Cry a river. At least I ain't…tethered to a damn flask."
"What happened when you went down to find Cas?" Sam asked, realizing that while he'd been distracted with Kevin Tran and the angels, his brother had been facing a friend who'd betrayed him – betrayed them both – by himself.
"Nothing," Dean muttered taking another drink. He flattened his lips across his teeth. "Not a goddamn thing."
They were quiet another moment and Sam felt his body sag into his chair. Dean saw it. He felt Dean see it.
"Sam, go. Sleep a couple hours." Dean pointed toward the room adjacent to the kitchen. "I'll read through the kid's book report, and we can make a plan when you get up."
"Hey, we're a step ahead of the game," he pointed out, nodding toward the vial of blood sitting on the counter next to the sink. "We've got blood from a fallen angel."
Sam stared at his brother for a moment, hesitant to take him up on his offer, yet yearning for just a few hours of oblivion.
"Go," Dean repeated. "I'll wake you up when it gets dark."
Dean ran a lazy finger across his chest in the form of an X then raised his hand in a two-fingered salute. Sighing, Sam pushed to his feet, dragging himself through the door and toward the bed. He sank down onto the mattress, toed off his boots, then dropped back against the pillows. Since Castiel had pulled him free of the constant companionship Lucifer had offered, sleep had become a comrade. He rolled to his stomach, wrapping his arms around the pillow and pulled it as close as a lover, tumbling into the decadence of darkness and silence with a groan of pleasure.
The sleep of the guiltless and the exhausted erases both time and meaning. When Sam opened his eyes, he was on his back, staring into a pitch-black room, unsure what time it was and what woke him. He held completely still for a moment, trying desperately to orient himself to his surroundings and decide if trouble was close. His heart hammered against his ribs as if he'd been startled to consciousness – a harsh warning that something wasn't right. He strained his ears to hear beyond the slam of blood in his veins.
And then there it was. A muffled curse. The harsh rasp of breath.
The cabin was small; when they'd stayed there with Bobby, a feeling of safety infused the walls. After Bobby died, every noise was amplified, every danger felt present. Sam had been unable to sleep in the quiet at first, accustomed to the hum of a motel's air conditioning unit, or the rattle of the highway. But then, as usual, the steady rhythm of Dean's breathing had reminded him of a normal few would understand.
This breathing wasn't that of Dean sleeping.
This was his brother trapped and tortured by a nightmare – a sound he'd not heard in quite some time, either because Dean hadn't been sleeping, hadn't been dreaming, or because Sam had simply been too wrapped up in his own suffering to notice anyone else's.
Moving slowly, quietly, he rose from the bed, his stocking feet soundless as he made his way across the cabin floor. The main room was shadowed, the sun long-since set, no lamp lit in defense of the dark. A thin, pale beam of moonlight pierced the only bare window, throwing the shadow of an angel-protection sigil along the floor, the shape stretching until it touched the figure on the couch.
The bottle of tequila that Dean had been clutching tightly when Sam headed for bed was sitting nearly empty by the edge of the couch. Sam could see the top of Dean's head – his hair shoved hap-hazardly upright—just over the backside of the couch. He made his way around the arm, reaching out a careful hand to wake his brother…then stopped, staring for a moment.
Dean's face was pulled into a fierce frown, his arms crossed over his chest as if in protection of the composition book he clutched there. The bandage on his forearm was stained with fresh blood. Sam cursed inwardly—he knew that cut had needed stitches. One of Dean's booted feet rested on the floor, the other stretched out and propped up on the coffee table.
With a start, Sam realized the leg Dean had braced up was the one broken by the Leviathan. He wondered if it bothered his brother; Dean had removed the cast a few weeks too early in order to chase after Sam. He never complained about it, never favored it, but Sam had to wonder. He'd broken his arm before; he remembered how the bone had ached for months after.
"Lost," Dean muttered suddenly, his head shifting against the back of the couch as if dismissing something.
The word tugged at Sam's memory and he curled his fingers against his palm, drawing his hand back as he watched his brother sleep, trying not to feel creepy about it as he worked to figure out why that word—
Dean mumbled again, inarticulate and angry, his frown becoming fiercer as sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip. And then the furrows along his brow smoothed, his lips bowing down. Sam drew his head back, surprised to see such vulnerability on a face usually so closely guarded.
The repeated whisper slipped from Dean's lips with a level of sadness so great Sam almost missed it. "Lost…."
And Sam knew. It hit him with such force he took a step back.
The very touch of you corrupts. When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost.
"Oh, Jesus, Dean," Sam breathed, his voice barely audible to his own ears. His brother didn't hear him, trapped as he was in whatever Hellish images he could still see – both from his tour in Hell, and, Sam guessed, from their lives. From earlier this very day, even.
Sam remembered the way Dean had stilled as Hester turned her wrath on him, the way Dean's breath had almost stopped, his shoulder tightening, his face like rock. He remembered how his brother's eyes had flinched at her words, as if they'd struck like physical blows. And he remembered that he'd done nothing.
Castiel had intervened before Hester could fulfill on her promise to make Dean pay and from there things had happened so swiftly, Sam couldn't remember even looking at Dean again until Cas left once more. But he'd seen enough in that moment to tell him everything he needed to know, if he'd been paying attention. He'd seen enough to know that with those words, an angel had ripped into his brother's soul as surely as the Hellhounds had ripped into his flesh.
"Dean," Sam said quietly, not touching him. He knew the price of touching Dean to pull him from a nightmare – there was no flight, only fight. And his brother was wicked strong. "Hey, wake up."
Dean opened his eyes. Sam froze, watching. He wasn't quite awake, not yet. He stared out, tense, still seeing things Sam didn't want to imagine, but could remember in his own way.
"Easy," Sam encouraged. "It's okay. It's just us. You're okay."
Slowly Dean blinked, running his tongue over dry lips and moving his eyes around the room as awareness reclaimed him. Sam waited until Dean was looking at him before he spoke again.
Frowning, Dean reached up and dragged his hand down the length of his face. "Hey," he mumbled in reply, his voice raspy and stretched. "What are you…?" He started to push himself upright, but jerked his wounded arm up quickly the moment he put any pressure on it.
"You said you'd wake me before dark. Scouts honor and all," Sam reminded him. He glanced meaningfully toward the moonlit window. "It's dark."
Dean dropped his other leg to the floor, pulling himself to a sitting position by his core. "I was a shitty Boy Scout."
"No kidding," Sam replied. "How's the arm?"
Dean looked down at his bandaged arm as if just remembering he'd cut it. "It'll be fine. I'll clean it out again, put more of that goop on it."
"It's not infected is it?" Sam asked worriedly, noting that the sheen of sweat that had gathered on his brother's skin during the nightmare hadn't quite dried.
"Nah," Dean shook his head, gingerly touching around the wound. "Probably could have used a stitch or two," he admitted.
"Gee, too bad I didn't ask that earlier," Sam commented. "Oh, wait…."
"You have to be right all the damn time?" Dean narrowed his eyes against the moonlight.
"At least take a few aspirin," Sam suggested, noting by the slump of his brother's shoulders that Dean was hurting more than he was letting on. "And stop using your arms to fend off angels."
"You can draw the next blood sigil," Dean grumbled. "How's that?"
"Deal," Sam agreed, though he knew Dean would always step in if it came to that.
If he didn't know better, he might be worried that the only way Dean felt real was when he was in pain. But then his eyes fell on the bottle of tequila and he knew that the problem wasn't Dean feeling anything…it was Dean feeling everything. Too much, all the time. He knew – had known for awhile now – that Dean had to deaden the pain, quiet the screams, dull his senses, just to get through the day. Just to get from this moment to the next. Just to get some sleep.
Dean rubbed the back of his head, letting his eyes drift out through the window. Without a word, Sam moved over to their bag, dug out the bottle of ibuprofen and then grabbed a glass from the cabinet, filling it with water. He returned to his brother, holding both out to Dean who stared at the glass as if he couldn't remember the word for the object he was seeing.
"How 'bout I take a turn with the book?" Sam offered, watching his brother carefully.
Dean looked down at the book in his hands, then, without releasing it, he took the medicine and gulped down the water, handing the empty glass back to Sam. That was as big an admission of Dean's feeling crappy as Sam knew he'd get out of his brother right now.
"This isn't gonna be easy, Sammy," Dean said softly.
Sam lowered himself to the coffee table, nodding. "It never is."
"Bobby's…," Dean dropped his eyes. "And Cas is off watching the bees. Don't know, man…. We're gonna be going into this pretty friggin' alone."
Sam didn't reply. The very touch of you corrupts.
Dean rolled his neck and Sam heard a series of pops. Without another word, Dean stood, dropping the composition book onto the table next to Sam. He moved around the edge of the table and made his way toward the window, pulling the curtain across the glass, shutting out the moon.
"Made some notes in there," he said over his shoulder. "Maybe start looking up where we might be able to dig up a righteous mortal."
"Dig up?" Sam lifted his eyes, trying to find Dean's in the dark.
Dean was making his way around the back of the couch and Sam heard him reach for the lamp. The yellowish glow tossed campfire-like shadows across Dean's face when he turned it on. He was looking at Sam, his eyes red-rimmed and weary. Sam knew whatever brief sleep he'd grabbed hadn't been peaceful even for a moment.
"Yeah…unless you want to go play Adam's rib with some living saint. Dead ones won't argue as much, I'm thinking."
Sam huffed a small, un-amused laugh and looked away. "I'll see what I can find."
"'Kay," Dean yawned. "Just need a couple hours. Then we can get rolling."
He started to turn away, then paused. Sam waited.
"You okay?" Dean asked, brows pulled together over hooded eyes.
This time Sam's abbreviated laugh was genuine. "Yeah," he replied. "You?"
"Yeah." Dean narrowed his eyes, as if looking for something in Sam's expression. "You just…look like you're thinking about something I'm gonna regret."
Sam picked up the composition book, resting his forearms on his knees, and tried again to find the order of thoughts he needed to get to the core of this moment. It was frustrating; he was usually so good at this. Problem meet solution. It wasn't that complicated. But since getting himself back together, since losing the part of himself that would have killed him, he just couldn't seem to find a clear path through his thoughts as easily as before.
And…this was Dean.
"Y'know how I said I still had my scars?"
"Yeah…," Dean replied. "Figured that was just you being random. Again."
"You didn't." Sam heard the breathlessness behind his words.
"I didn't what?"
Sam looked up. Dean was still standing behind the couch, the lamp light reflecting in his eyes.
"You didn't have your scars," he clarified. "You were…new."
Dean tilted his chin to the side, peering at Sam through suspicious eyes. "Where are you going with this, Sam?"
"You've just got a lot of scars now," he offered
"Yeah, well…," Dean half-laughed, looking away, "not really been the easiest couple of years."
"You've got Cas's scar," Sam said quietly, his mouth going dry as Dean shot an unreadable look at him. "I saw it earlier. It's almost gone, but…you can still see his handprint on your arm."
Dean's face was stone, his eyes empty. The mask slid into place so swiftly, Sam thought he heard it snap. Sam pressed his lips together; this expression scared him – not because of what Dean would do, but because of what he was hiding. He pushed forward.
"He found you, Dean. He got you out of Hell because you weren't supposed to be there in the first place."
Dean shook his head. "Don't do this."
"Hester was angry. Angry and hurt. When she said that about you…." Sam swallowed. "Castiel did a lot more damage than you and I ever saw."
Dean looked away.
Sam continued, "People lash out when they—"
"She wasn't people, Sam," Dean barked, making Sam close his mouth with a click. "She was an angel. Cas is an angel. They play by a different set of rules." He reached up and raked a hand through his hair. "Don't make excuses for what she said. Don't...don't try to make it better. Hell of it is…," he dropped his hand, his shoulders slumping, "she was right. Hauling me out of the Pit…it changed Cas. Just being around us changed him."
"Not like you forced him to stay," Sam pointed out. "He wanted—"
"Listen," Dean cut him off, eyes hot, face tight. "She's dead and he's gone, so there's no point in rehashing it. Just forget it, okay?"
Dean turned away and Sam stood up.
"I know you think about it," Sam called after him, halting Dean's retreat to the bedroom. "I know you dream about it, too." Dean didn't turn around, so Sam watched his back, knowing his brother was listening by the set of his shoulders. "I don't, y'know. Not anymore. Not since Cas…did what he did. I don't dream about much of anything."
"Good," Dean said softly. "I'm glad, Sam. You had enough Hell."
"So did you," Sam replied. "So do you."
Dean didn't move. Didn't speak.
"I was so…when that wall came down, it was…too much, y'know?" Sam felt the knot of emotion once more, choking him, shaking his voice, burning his eyes. "I didn't mean to not pay attention."
He could see Dean wanting to run, to leave. His brother's body was so tense it was almost shaking. He knew Dean didn't want to talk about this, didn't want to hear any of this. But Sam couldn't get the memory of his brother's face out of his head when the angel had taken the one moment that had held Dean together when memories of Hell dug their claws into him and tainted it forever. The words had hit him like blows, leaving marks no one would see, adding scars to a heart broken long ago.
Castiel had fallen of his own volition, but Sam knew the catalyst had been when the angel had pulled his brother from the Pit. That moment had seared something between them, bonding them in a debt that went beyond friendship, beyond brotherhood. Dean had broken in Hell because of the angels, and in return, Castiel had rescued him.
But he hadn't set Dean free, Sam knew. Not by a long shot. Hell still found him.
"There was nothing for you to pay attention to," Dean was saying. He half turned, catching Sam with a small, sad smile. "I'm good. Really."
"You're good." Sam stared at him a moment, then leaned down and picked up the nearly-empty bottle of tequila. "Really?"
Dean turned to face him fully. "Really."
Sam sighed. "Dean, Cas—"
"I don't want to talk about Cas right now, Sam," Dean interrupted, his voice leaving no room for argument. "Cas is broken because he fixed you. He fixed you because he broke you in the first place. And you were broken because of a mess I started. And it doesn't do either of us any good to keep talking about it. Hell is real. It happened. We can't change that. So can you just…," his eyes turned pleading, his voice softening, "let it go?"
"Can you?" Sam challenged.
Dean didn't reply. He looked down, hiding his eyes from Sam.
"Can you stop the nightmares? Can you put down the bottle?"
Dean shook his head and Sam felt him pulling away. He had one more question, one more thing he had to know. "Can you forget what she said?"
Dean held completely still for a moment and Sam held his breath. The rush of blood in his veins was so loud he thought for sure Dean could hear it. When Dean lifted his head, the look in his brother's eyes cut into Sam's heart. He knew what Dean was going to say before he opened his mouth and he almost covered his ears.
"No," Dean replied, the lamplight turning his eyes liquid. "I can't. And I gotta live with that."
He turned around, heading for the bedroom. He paused in the doorway and Sam felt his shoulders tighten in anticipation.
"See if you can find any Saints here in the States," he said, resting his hand against the door frame, the drying blood dark against the white bandage. "Really don't want to have to fly over the ocean for some old bones again."
"Yeah, okay," Sam said softly, giving way to Dean's plea to leave it alone for now. "I'll wake you up in a couple hours."
Dean nodded once, then disappeared into the bedroom. Sam stood for awhile in the quiet of the cabin. The night sounds seemed amplified as he stared into the gathering dark beyond the threshold of the bedroom.
He dug his laptop from the depths of the duffel bag sitting at one end of the couch. He was half tempted to go for the flask himself, but didn't have any better idea how to talk to Bobby about this than Dean had about Castiel. It wasn't as if he were picking up the phone to call their friend. And even in life, Bobby hadn't been much better than Sam at making Dean see his own worth.
And you were broken because of a mess I started.
He sat down heavily at the table, opening the computer and composition book, flipping the pages to Dean's notes. He'd look up burial sites of saints, searching for the bones of a righteous mortal, but something told him they weren't going to need to dig. Something told him that the righteous mortal they needed was in the next room, seeking rest midst dreams of Hell.
When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost.
Sam's return from Hell had burned him up. It had been a wildfire through his brain, threatening to consume him, body and soul. Though it felt as if it had been a never-ending battle as he was going through it, in retrospect the time from when Castiel broke his wall until he shifted the crazy away hadn't been that long. Not when compared to the time spent in the Pit.
Not when compared to how long Dean had been living with this weight.
Dean didn't have anyone to shift the crazy away, no one to turn his nightmares into peace. His was a slow, tragic dance of survival through every battle, every sacrifice. They would both carry the memories, but, Sam realized with a mixture of admiration and sorrow, the scars Dean bore only grew thicker the further he got from the moment Castiel grabbed him up and out of Hell.
Sam turned on the laptop, squinting at the bright monitor. They may be going into this without help, but they weren't going into it alone. They were the only two hunters in the world who had survived Hell. They'd made it this far – side by side. They weren't out of this yet.
He typed burial sites for saints into the search window and waited, his eyes drifting to the doorway of the room where his brother slept, listening for the sound of Hell trying once more to break him.
a/n: So…this was a bit angsty with some angst on the side, but it helped me work out some post episode kinks. I decided to write it from Sam's POV because seeing through Sam's eyes is always harder for me, and this way, I could attempt to understand them both. And, I know that we didn't see the handprint on Dean's shoulder during the episode of Slice Girls, but I'm choosing to believe that was simply because the scar had faded over time and we simply weren't close enough. *smile*
Looking forward to the final two episodes of the season!
Also, Night of the Hunter is still on its way. Just…slower going than I first anticipated due to Real Life. And with that one I can promise a little less talk and a lot more action. *grins*
Thank you for reading!