Title: When You Break
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story title from song by Bear's Den, as are the lyrics at the beginning and end of the story.
Summary: Missing scene from 9.18, Meta Fiction. Is there a moment you recognize the edge, or do you simply slip over, your exhale a helpless prayer that someone will be there to catch you and pull you back?
Author's Note: This might have been a bit more timely had I been able to write and post it directly after the episode, but life had other ideas for how I should spend my time over the last week. I'm not certain this hasn't already been written much better by someone else, but this moment wouldn't let me go, so I sat down this afternoon and decided to give it a shot. I wanted to try to see the scene in the abandoned factory – the aftermath of Dean beating Gadreel for information – from each brother's eyes before the die is cast in the final four episodes of this season. Turns out, it was a bit harder than I thought as Dean isn't completely Dean and Sam has chosen to hold himself apart from this brother. Still, I hope it resonates with some of you.
Also, this has not been beta'd. Or even given my friend's customary sanity read. It's first-draft raw. And…it's a bit angsty. And dark. You've been warned.
You keep begging for forgiveness
But you don't think you've done wrong
You've been crying out for forever
Forever's come and gone[…]
And you break, it's too late for you to fall apart
And the blame that you claim is all your own fault
He almost doesn't want to see, but is compelled to look all the same. As if on its own accord, his hand comes up and brushes layers of dust from the surface of the mirror, exposing a reflection he almost doesn't recognize: eyes dark, tortured; face taut, tense.
It's still roiling inside of him, the power. The rush. The knowledge of strength he could wield to end an angel. The control required to keep himself in check, to keep everything outwardly normal, to embody as much of his rote answer of I'm fine as he can is wearing him down. He can see his hands trembling, feel his heart shake, hear the rush of blood in his ears.
All the time. Every day. A constant noise he has to ignore to simply function.
He's done it before – killed an angel. He stood toe-to-toe with Zachariah and drove the blade home, staring into the brilliantly painful white light on its exodus from the vessel he'd come to despise. But that was before. Before he'd lost so much. Before he'd realized what it meant to be truly powerless.
Gripping the edge of the sink for a moment, Dean stares at the mirror. His reflection wavers, diluted by images, memories, puzzle pieces of the past overlaying with the present in a desperate attempt to make sense of the emotions threatening to overwhelm him. He wanted to kill that bastard. He could have killed him. It would have been so easy.
So much easier than filleting the souls on the rack, Alistair's demanding eyes driving him ever forward. So much easier than taking out each monster that cornered him in the wild forest of Purgatory. So much easier than torturing and killing just so that he could survive. This killing would have had nothing to do with survival, and everything to do with satisfaction.
Which is exactly why he made himself stop. Pulling up short, staying his own hand, forcing the monster back into its cage.
Taking an unsteady breath, Dean turns on the water – mildly surprised that it still worked in the old factory – and splashes his face, trying to bring himself back, trying to regulate his heartbeat. It was all he had these days: a gossamer-thin layer of control between the person he knew himself to be and the person he could so easily see himself becoming.
Sometimes he simply wants that control to slip. He wants the relief of release. He wants to give into the power.
It clung to him like a constant craving from the moment he'd grasp that blade. The heady thrill of might and possibility surged through his body, causing him to tremble with an almost ecstasy-like blast. He'd never felt anything like it; it had blinded him to anything but the knowledge that he could and would kill what needed killing. That there was no weakness, no hesitation, no moral compass or crisis of conscious that would step in his way. He'd felt almost bereft when he'd dropped the blade. Weak. Less.
Face dripping, Dean reaches over and rubs at the brand on his right forearm with hesitant fingers. His whole life has been about surviving long enough to make sure others are safe. To make sure Sam is safe. And there have been so many times where he hasn't been enough. Where he's not been strong enough, fast enough, powerful enough.
Where he's been wounded, weak, broken.
He's had to dig deep and find the will to pick himself up again, every time searching for the strength to move forward, do what needed to be done, fight the good fight.
"…he thinks you are just a scared little boy who's afraid to be on his own because daddy never loved him enough…"
Dean blinks, hard, working to banish the voice, and regards himself once more in the mirror. Sam may not want it to be true right now, but they are brothers. Dean wants to mean what he said to Gadreel: he believes Sam would do anything for him. He has to. If he doesn't…he has nothing.
"You swoop in, and even when you mess up, you think what you're doing is worth it because you've convinced yourself you're doing more good than bad... But you're not."
He's the one who messed this all up, not Sam. He's the one who trusted recklessly, searching for strength inside his own helplessness. He'd been unable to do what he'd done before: sacrifice himself to Hell in order to save Sam. He had nothing left to trade, nothing anyone wanted anymore.
And yet he'd had a life to save.
"I'll give you this much. You are certainly willing to do the sacrificing as long as you're not the one being hurt."
Dean unconsciously clenches his jaw as he stares himself down, seeing the darkness in his own eyes. He pushes the pain, the exhaustion, the resistance to the truth echoing in the memory of those words down deep until it is beneath the memory of the power. The memory of the strength that he'd been capable of when the Mark of Cain had been united with the First Blade.
He wielded that strength. He is the only one who is capable of harnessing it. And now he's letting it languish inside of him…for what? Who the hell even cares if he kills an angel? Who will care if he loses himself to the power of the Mark?
Not Sam. Not anymore. He heard that message louder than any other: Sam would not save Dean. His back against the wall, his options played out, Sam would let Dean die. That truth he heard from his brother's lips without any influencing spell or charm, without any supernatural coercion.
"No, Dean. Same circumstances…I wouldn't."
Sam will be relieved. He will no longer have to figure out each day how to be around Dean and not trust him as he feels he should be able to. Hell, he'll probably be doing Sam a favor by letting the power burn him out right along with Abbadon.
He'll be doing the world a favor. No more poison, no more dragging everyone down into the mud. No more people dying because he isn't enough.
And it starts with this goddamn angel and his deceit.
Dean takes a breath, decision made. Picking up the angel blade, he twists it around in his hand, getting a comfortable hold on the grip, and stalks out of the bathroom, leaving behind his guilt, his hesitancy, his resistance.
Gadreel sits where Dean left him, his expression vacant, as if he's escaped somewhere inside of himself. For a moment, Dean lets himself wonder about that – the fact that death is more appealing to this angel than staying a prisoner, despite the fact that they both know Heaven is closed for business. Something slides in Dean's heart, remembering when Gadreel was Ezekiel, when he saved Castiel, when he rescued Dean, when he made sure Sam didn't succumb to the damage done by the trials.
Dean hesitates, his grip loosening on the angel blade.
And then he remembers Kevin's burned-out eyes. And the look of betrayal on Sam's face. And the emptiness inside when his brother let him walk away. And he lets his arm swing, hard, channeling strength beyond his usual reserves, slamming his right hand across the angel's jaw and feeling the skin on his knuckles split along with Gadreel's cheek.
"You gonna tell me what I need to know?"
He almost doesn't recognize his own voice. It seems to claw its way out of his throat, singeing the air like dragon fire.
"What does Metatron know about the angels getting back into Heaven?"
Gadreel spits a mouth full of blood out to the side and regards him silently. Dean slowly draws the tip of the angel blade along the angel's other cheek, opening the skin with a welding light and causing Gadreel to scream in pain.
"How long have you been working for him, huh? Since the angels fell? Were you part of the plan with the fuckin' angel tablets? How far back's it go, huh?"
He uses the hilt of the blade like brass knuckles and crashes his fist against the angel's other cheek.
"Were you working for him when you first came to me?" Dean demands. "When you lied to me about who you were?"
Gadreel is panting, the pain of the blade more than that of Dean's fist. He simply stares, his expression giving away nothing.
"What's that creepy bastard know about Heaven? Can he open it? End all of this?"
Gadreel gives nothing away and Dean feels his rage turning desperate, his soul trembling from the need to know why.
"Why?" Dean finds himself asking suddenly, deviating from script. "Why me, huh? Why us?"
Gadreel frowns, his head tilting to the side as if he doesn't understand the question.
"I just wanted some help," Dean whispers, feeling himself falling inside, a great vacuum of regret clawing at his heart. "I just wanted to save my brother…."
The snarl twisting Gadreel's lips could have been a mocking smile or a sneer of contempt, but Dean doesn't allow for either to emerge. He slams his fist across the angel's face again, and again, his hand a blaze of pain, his arm beginning to quake. The third strike sends Gadreel's chair over and the angel tumbles out, his hands still chained.
Gadreel gasps for breath, closing his eyes and letting his forehead rest against the dirty floor, blood clinging to his lips in a slimy string, gathering in a small pool beneath his face.
Dean is nearly blind with rage. Using the angel sword, he breaks the chains binding Gadreel to the chair and shoves the angel to the outside of the protective sigil with a mighty kick, a roar of fury turning his throat bloody.
"I just wanted some fucking help!" Dean rages, slashing at Gadreel's arm and thigh with the blade, oblivious to the angel's cries of pain. "We did everything we were supposed to do – Sam gave everything he had and you bastards screwed us over. AGAIN!"
Dropping the blade, Dean grabs Gadreel up by the front of his jacket and shoves the angel bodily against one of the metal support beams. He's moved them far from the chair and the protective circle, but he no longer cares. Nothing matters in this moment except forcing this angel to tell him why.
"You killed Kevin…," Dean gasps as he gathers Gadreel up with his fists. "You burned him out without a second thought. That kid did nothing to you…to any of you." He shakes Gadreel roughly. "He was a prophet. Practically one of you. And you killed him. That your idea? Huh? Or his?"
Throwing Gadreel away from him, Dean stalks forward, blood in his eyes as he slams his fist against the angel's face again, his own blood mixing with the angel's blood, his own ragged panting blending with Gadreel's gasps for breath.
"You promised me, you son of a bitch," Dean rasps, the tail-end of his curse practically soundless. "You promised me you'd heal Sam. You lied. How long you been Metatron's bitch, huh? Was all of this part of your plan? Huh? To get me desperate, get me to trust you?"
Dean shoves Gadreel away from him and the angel stumbles, unable to maintain his balance. He falls to one knee, lifting his blood-splattered face toward Dean, his position begging for more. Dean obliges. His arms are weakening, his hand throbbing, his vision blurring, but he hits Gadreel again and again until they've traversed the empty factory, landing near a far wall.
Gadreel slumps to the side, his wet, ragged breath in competition with Dean's vicious wheezing.
"Why?" Dean tries once more. He is unable to close his right hand, unable to grasp anything, so he grips Gadreel's jacket with this left, pulling the angel's battered face close to him. "What do you want from me?"
"Kill me," Gadreel finally whispers. "Please…kill me."
Dean looks at the angel's blood-shot eyes, his swollen face and broken mouth, and he feels something twist inside of him, painful and wrenching until he's almost crying out from the agony of it.
"You said I was one of the good guys." Dean's voice rattles in his chest. "You told me you were. You lied. I trusted you and I lost…everything."
Gadreel blinks blearily at him, saying nothing.
The pain inside Dean grows and he feels as though part of his soul is dying. He remembers this feeling in Hell, just before he climbed from the rack. He remembers this feeling in Purgatory, just before he found Castiel. He remembers knowing he was at the edge and seeing the whisper-thin thread that tethered him to the light, holding himself back from losing himself completely to darkness. He knows this time that thread is anchored to the one thing in his life working steadily to severe the tie. And he's terrified of what will happen when he falls.
There won't be an angel to pull him from this Pit. There won't be a portal of light to escape through. He is in a Hell of his own making and there is no visible escape.
"Thing is," Dean continues, his lips twisting in a snarl that pushes back the stab of agony inside his heart, "when you got nothing…you got nothing to lose."
Gadreel's expression softens and Dean draws his head back in surprise. The angel looks as if he…understands. As if he recognizes something in Dean's misery. Dean doesn't want understanding. He doesn't want recognition. He wants answers, dammit. He deserves them.
He roars. Nothing penetrates the red haze as he shoves the angel against the far wall, slamming his fists into Gadreel's body until he has nothing left. He doesn't recall the angel slumping senseless to the floor. He doesn't recall his own knees buckling. He doesn't know when the red haze burns away to darkness.
He only knows that for a brief moment, exhaustion wins and the hunger for power abates, and he is simply Dean again. He slouches against the wall, closing his eyes, and lets everything around him disappear.
Where the hell is he?
The entire trip from Castiel's motel room back to the factory in Ogden, Sam hits redial. The moment Dean's voicemail picks up, he hangs up and calls again. His irritation at Dean not answering – after he'd sent Sam away – overwhelms any concern he might have had for reasons why Dean isn't answering.
The memory of Metatron's sycophantic smile, his creepily confident declaration of control, sits like a gargoyle on Sam's shoulder, haunting each hour he's on the road until he's seething by the time he pulls up to the factory. Dean better have a damn good reason for ignoring his phone calls, especially considering that sadistic angel has their friend captive.
Slamming the door of the Impala as he hurries forward, Sam barrels into the darkened factory, ready to tear into Dean for not being available when they were separated on a hunt. His scowl of irritation is erased as if it had never been there, however, the moment he sees the chair Gadreel had been bound to lying sideways on the floor, blood smeared on the floor next to it.
Sam goes cold.
He'd believed Dean when his brother said he had this. Dean was the most capable hunter Sam knew; he'd had no doubt his brother would be able to do what needed done when it came to controlling their captive.
He hadn't thought, though, about how doing what needed done might affect Dean.
Sam hears his voice echo through the empty factory. The quiet that beats back against his ears shoots a fear up Sam's spine that is at once foreign and familiar. He's been trying so hard to keep Dean at arm's length – working in concert with a fellow hunter while ignoring the brotherly instincts that have been screaming at him for weeks – that fear for Dean's safety feels almost uncomfortable.
And yet when he sees his brother slumped against the wall on the far side of the factory, Sam's heart cries out in denial and panic, just as it has every time Dean has been bloody, broken, wounded from a battle with forces much stronger than they could ever be.
Sam hurries forward, dropping to a crouch close to his brother.
"Dean. Hey," he puts a hand on his brother's arm, feeling his heart resume a regular rhythm when Dean stirs at his touch. "Are…," he glances down at his brother's hands, lying lax in his lap, his right one swollen and bruised, the knuckles covered in blood, "are you okay?"
Dean seems to rouse a bit, but his eyes aren't focusing. He doesn't track to Sam's voice as he answers, "Yeah…," he winces, blinking, and continues, "Yeah, you gotta stop asking me that."
"I've been calling you," Sam says, pulling his hand away, trying to keep the accusation from his tone, worry overriding every other emotion as he stares at his brother. "W-why didn't you, uh…."
Dean's unfocused eyes slide to the side and Sam sees what's left of Gadreel. The angel is in a bloody heap, his hands still chained.
Sam swallows. Dean did that. To an angel.
"He won't talk," Dean says, his voice slurred, groggy.
Sam frowns and looks back at Dean, trying to piece together why Dean appears to have been the one to take the beating rather than to give it.
"I figured," he replies, suddenly wanting to put a reassuring hand on Dean's head, make some kind of contact to let his brother know everything was going to be okay, even though he lacked the power to make such a promise.
He hasn't felt such a sense of protection for Dean in…well, it had been a long time. Even when his brother had been roofied by the pishtaco, Sam felt more of a sense of obligation than worry. But ever since he'd seen what the brand Dean had allowed Cain to give him combined with the power of holding the First Blade had done to Dean, Sam found himself forced to once more recognize an emotion he'd just as soon banish all together.
After all, if he is going to convince Dean that their old way of being – Dean creating the rules and deciding what is best for both of them, up to and including saving Sam at the cost of Sam's individual right to choose – he can't afford to care like he used to. He has to harden his heart against Dean's self-destructive choices, ignore the pain caused by the emotional separation from a brother who stands right next to him.
Dean turns destroyed eyes to him and Sam feels his heart clench.
"He wanted to die," Dean rasps desperately, his voice breaking, "and I was gonna kill him. I was. But…then I stopped, 'cause…," he looks away, his expression exhausted and discouraged, "I know we need him to talk."
Sam feels dizzy, lost, off-balance. This is not the emotionally vacant Dean he's allowed himself to get used to over the last several weeks. This is not the I'm fine, quit asking Dean who's been moving around inside the bunker, unconsciously rubbing at the brand on his arm, as they searched for traces of Abbadon. This is not the Dean who obligingly acquiesces to Sam's demand that they stick to just business.
This is his brother, lost, breaking, searching for solid ground.
And Sam suddenly has no idea what to do. He's gotten what he thought he wanted but now his compass is skewed.
"Dean, listen," Sam says, gravitating toward the one thing he can think of that will bring focus back to Dean's wounded eyes. "Metatron has Cas. He's offering up a trade."
Dean blinks at him, recognition filtering through. "We can't trust Metatron," he says, his voice slightly dazed.
Do the job, Sam. Focus on the hunt. Don't get distracted by the look in his eyes.
"I-I know that. Obviously."
Dean starts to look away, blinking rapidly, trying to bring the world around him into focus. Sam leans forward, just shy of touching his brother's arm.
"But, look, this is the first time we're gonna know for sure where Metatron is. Let's take Gadreel to the meet-up, make the exchange, and then trap Metatron."
He's told himself that he will fight alongside Dean until this hunt is over. Until they find Gadreel. But then, as is always the case, nothing is that simple. Nothing is simply one hunt.
Everything is a series of interwoven threads creating a giant web that once more traps them until all their never-ending struggles do is wrap them tight and suffocate them in a landslide of good intentions, sinking them into their own versions of Hell.
Finding Gadreel leads to Metatron and the crux of an angelic civil war that their truest friend is now caught inside. And Metatron is only one facet of the forces seeking to shove the brothers together to meet their joint demise. There is also Abbadon. And Crowley. And this mysterious mark Cain branded on Dean. And Sam knows there isn't going to be an over. Not really. Not until or unless one of them burns out.
Not until or unless one of them is finally allowed to die.
Dean is staring at the floor, his eyes lost somewhere inside himself, their expression dark, depthless. Sam is scared of this look. Not of this Dean. He's never been scared of his brother – for him, yes, but that had been a long time ago. But he is scared of this look and what it means – both for the choices Dean might make and for what Sam might have to do because of them.
"I'll get Gadreel into the Impala," Sam says, pushing himself to his feet. "You, uh…you want another minute?"
Dean looks as though he wouldn't be able to move if the building were burning down around him. He simply nods once and Sam bounces his head in reply. Bending low, Sam props up the angel and hoists the limp body over his shoulder. The chains binding the angel's wrists are heavy and bang against Sam's backside as he turns.
He looks down at Dean one more time before heading silently out of the factory and toward where he parked the Impala. The automatic security light illuminates the empty gravel lot with a soft yellowed hue. Sam unceremoniously dumps Gadreel to the ground, unconcerned that the angel will awaken after the beating Dean delivered.
He pops open the Impala's trunk, grabbing out a duffel from the back and withdrawing a white grease pen from the side pocket. With swift hands, he draws an anti-angel sigil on the inside of the Impala's trunk, then, with a low grunt of effort, hoists the unconscious angel into the back, closing the lid solidly. For a moment, he stares at his hand resting on the closed trunk, the security lamp casting a circular-hued reflection around it.
A memory surfaces: Dean standing, shoulders sagging, breath heaving, leaning heavily against a battered, destroyed Impala trunk, a tire iron at his feet. Sam had heard his brother beating his beloved car, had known exactly why Dean had done such a thing, and had been helpless to offer any solace. He'd been too deeply entrenched in his own pain to offer Dean a hand up.
Years later, he suddenly finds himself wondering exactly how his brother had eventually surfaced. Sam had found his way up from the pain of losing his father using a combination of Dean and Bobby as a ladder. But if pressed, he wouldn't be able to say how Dean found his way through. Because after that, there had been Hell. And soullessness. And Purgatory. And…they never really made their way back to each other.
They simply keep moving through life, delivering a glancing blow to their brotherhood, and then clinging tightly to it with the insentient grip of drowning men to a life raft. Never really separating, but not truly together either. Not the way Sam thinks they should be. Not the way he wants them to be.
It takes Sam a moment to realize that Dean isn't following him from the factory. For a heartbeat, he considers waiting, giving Dean a few more minutes, the space he needs to gather himself and head outside. But the night ticks forward. And still there's no sign of Dean.
Frowning, he heads back inside, pausing in the entrance a moment to allow his eyes to readjust to the darkness, and looks over to where he'd left Dean. His brother hasn't moved; in fact, he looks as if he might be unconscious.
Sam moves on instinct, for once ignoring the protesting voices inside of him that say let him figure it out, let him handle it, he needs to know you can do this on your own, and crouches close to his brother. Dean's face is lax, his chin to his chest, his breath rasping out through parted lips.
This time Sam does reach out. This time he does run his hand down the back of Dean's head, resting his grip on the back of Dean's sweaty neck. His brother flinches, rousing, looking up once more with bleary eyes.
Dean looks around, confused, disoriented. "We're still here."
Dean frowns, looking back at Sam and in his eyes is such an uncharacteristic plea for help Sam tightens his grip slightly, flexing his fingers against the tense muscles in Dean's neck.
Sam feels his lips quirk at that familiar question. "Hey, you told me to stop asking that…."
Dean nods once. "Right."
Sam can see Dean's eyes beginning to clear. He glances down at Dean's swollen hand and wonders if there are any broken bones. Dean looks over to where Gadreel had been and frowns once more.
"I got him in the Impala," Sam tells him.
"You did the right thing," Sam says, letting his hand fall slowly from Dean's neck to rest on his shoulder, "not killing him."
"I wanted to," Dean whispers, his eyes not leaving the smear of blood betraying the location of where Gadreel had last fallen. "I really wanted to."
"I know," Sam replies softly, recognizing a kindred thirst for revenge in Dean's confession. "I did, too."
The moment Sam had seen the angel he'd felt a revulsion so great he'd wanted to literally rip him apart. For the first time since his fractured soul had healed, he missed feeling the freedom of soullessness, of action without emotional ramifications. He wanted to tear the angel's grace from him and let him feel the hopelessness of humanity before he sent him into the ether that replaced Heaven.
Sam hasn't felt rage like that in so long it had almost made him sick until Dean pulled him away, recognizing, it seemed, the darkness taking over and eliminating any part of the light that might have shown Gadreel mercy. Sam doesn't want to lose that light that Dean still seems hell-bent on protecting; however, he had truly wanted Gadreel dead for what he'd done, for how he'd used him.
Dean's eyes are growing heavy once more. Sam knows his brother rarely sleeps these days; he's been there himself. He knows, too, what it was like to hunger for something that will ultimately destroy him but not really caring as the means seemed to justify the end. Sam sees all of that in one glance of Dean's sweat-slick, exhausted face, and he makes a choice.
"C'mon, man," Sam says quietly. It's not a choice for forever; it's a choice for now. "Let's get out of here and trap that bastard."
Dean nods once and starts to drag his feet beneath him, gripping the wall to try to pull himself up. Sam knows immediately that he's not going to make it and reaches down, wrapping one arm across Dean's torso, the other tucking up under Dean's shoulder.
Grunting, he heaves upward, gathering Dean close to him, and together they manage to get vertical. Sam can feel immediately that his brother's legs have little strength. Dean has poured every bit of his reserves into the beating he delivered; as his knees buckle, Sam holds him closer, one hand in Dean's belt loops, the other gripping his right wrist, carefully avoiding the swollen knuckles.
Wordlessly, Sam turns them and they head out into the night, Dean shuffling beside him, his breath ragged, his head hanging low. They pause at the passenger side of the Impala as Sam opens the door. Dean drops into the seat like a rock, his legs still sticking out, his right hand cradled in his left.
"Hang on a minute," Sam instructs. He hurries around to the other side of the Impala, grabs the duffel he dumped out to fit Gadreel into the trunk, and returns to the passenger side.
The first rays of morning are starting to chase back the pitch of night, turning the edging sky a twilight blue and casting strange shadows across Dean's face. If Sam didn't know better, he might think the tracks drawing lines down his brother's face weren't sweat, but tears.
"How'd that son of a bitch get Cas?" Dean asks, his eyes closed, his head canted sideways.
Sam digs into the duffel and pulls out a cold compress, breaking it and shaking it to activate the crystals inside.
"Looks like he was waiting for him," Sam surmises. "Think it has something to do with that beacon."
Once the compress is malleable and cold, he lays it gently across Dean's knuckles, holding it steady as Dean flinches in surprise and pain. Satisfied the compress isn't going to slip off, Sam reaches back into the duffel and pulls out a can of Red Bull and crouches once more in front of Dean, his eyes steady on the man before him.
"Here," he says, popping the top open and handing it to Dean. "You need this."
Dean lifts an eyebrow, blinking once at the can, then at Sam. "You're a sadist."
Sam lifts a shoulder. "You're dead on your feet."
"You tell me you're fine and I'm locking you in the trunk with Gadreel."
Dean's lips twist in obvious distaste. He takes the can, grimacing as he downs the contents. "Man, that stuff tastes like ass."
"Yeah, well," Sam sinks back on his heels, keeping his eyes on Dean's face for signs of a crash. "If we're going to trap this guy, we gotta work together."
Dean rolls his lips against his teeth, meeting Sam's eyes. Something slides through his expression like quicksilver, too fast for Sam to register. Whatever it was shifts Dean's position and he sits up a bit straighter.
"You got another of those in there?" he asks.
"One, but…how 'bout you save it until we get back to the motel?" Sam suggests. "Get some rest. I'll drive."
Sam nods and pushes to his feet. He waits until Dean slowly hauls his legs inside with a low groan before closing the door and moving back around to the driver's side. He dumps the duffel in the back seat and climbs behind the wheel.
Glancing once over at Dean, he starts up the car and shoves the gear into reverse. His mind has shifted to the next phase of the hunt, focusing on how to set up the trap for Gadreel when he hears Dean clear his throat.
"Sure," Sam says distractedly, busy mentally running through their supply of holy fire, hoping they still had enough after trapping Gadreel.
"Gotta admit," Dean continues, his gravelly voice loud in the forced quiet of the car. Sam looks over, curious. "Didn't think you'd come back."
Frowning, Sam tilts his head, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel so he can better glance at Dean. "Dude, he has Cas. I wasn't going to just—"
"No," Dean shakes his head. "I mean just now. Figured you'd just wait me out."
He almost had, Sam realizes. He almost had just waited until Dean was able to pull himself together and make his way from the factory. After all, Dean is the reason they are in this mess. Dean is the one who exerted himself nearly to the point of unconsciousness by beating an angel into submission. If Sam hadn't been there, Dean would have had to figure it out on his own. That's what hunters do; they figure it out on their own.
Brothers go back in.
"Didn't know how long you would take," Sam says, deflecting the memory of the suffocating fear he'd felt when he'd seen Dean slumped against that wall with a shrug of indifference. "We got a deadline to meet."
Dean nods once in Sam's periphery, leaning back so that his head rests against the back of the seat. "Small mercies, I guess."
Sam looks forward once more, pressing the accelerator. Dean had been practically dead weight against him, exhausted by his exertions. He said he had this; he sent Sam away. But the truth is Dean had simply been waiting to make Gadreel pay; he'd been looking for an opening to unleash the rage he'd accumulated against the angel for what had been done to him.
Glancing once more at Dean's dirt-streaked face, eyes closed though not quite sleeping, Sam frowns. He is the victim in this scenario. Not Dean. It should have been him beating Gadreel bloody. Not Dean. He was used and manipulated, playing into someone else's plan, his body a weapon of destruction beyond his own control.
Dean shifts restlessly, the cold compress sliding from his knuckles to the seat between them. His bruises are shiny in the passing street lights, proof of unleashed fury – the body in the trunk evidence of his control.
Sam wonders if he would have been able to maintain such control; he wonders if he would have simply submitted to Gadreel's plea to be killed. It is, after all, what the angel wanted…and who is Sam to argue with another being's choice to live or die?
He picks up the compress and lays it back on Dean's hand, gently.
"Hold that there," he instructs.
"Sorry," Dean murmurs, barely awake, even after the hit of caffeine from the Red Bull. "'s cold."
"Supposed to be cold, idiot," Sam mutters back. "You want to be able to close your hand in an hour, you'll keep it there."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Dean mumbles, but complies by holding the compress over his swollen knuckles.
"Why didn't you kill him, Dean?" Sam asks suddenly, glancing once more at his brother's profile, catching the flash of pain that knifes across the folds of his brow.
Dean is quiet for a moment, blinking into the greying light inside the Impala.
"'Cause I could've," Dean replies at last, turning his face away to stare out through the window, leaving Sam to wonder at his expression. "I knew it. He knew it." He pauses for so long Sam thinks that's the only answer he's going to get. But then, "And I didn't know what killing him would do…to me. To…to us. And I'm…I'm tired of…," his voice drops so low Sam has to lean a bit to the side to hear him clearly, "of rolling the dice and hoping for the best. 'Cause they keep coming up snake eyes."
Sam takes a breath, adjusting the grip on the steering wheel. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Dean move his left hand to rub gently at his forearm where Sam knows the angry red brand of Cain's mark resides. He doesn't know what it all means, but he knows Dean's in trouble. He knows his brother is slipping and the control he exerted tonight took a toll on him.
One that he isn't sure Dean has the currency to pay again.
Having been there before – a slave to need and power and jonesing for just one more hit, one more rush – Sam is worried for his brother. Worried for both of them, as he is inexorably tied to the man on his right. No matter what he says to the contrary, Sam knows in his heart that there is no such thing as just business for a Winchester.
Blood unites them, blood stains them, and blood will drown them if he can't figure out a way to stay true to himself and keep Dean from slipping away. As the sun rises in his mirror, casting a golden light across the highway, the hood of the Impala, and the man restlessly sleeping at his side, Sam knows that there is only one way they're going to survive this: together.
He just has to decide if he is strong enough to reach out, and how tightly he's prepared to hold on.
And I have seen all that you've seen
And I have been where you've been
No, our hands will never be clean
At least we can hold each other