Title: The Lost Boy
Rating: PG-13. Many bad words.
Characters: Dean, Sam and brief appearances by Charlie
Summary: Missing Scene from 10.11, There's No Place Like Home. There's a darkness within each soul. Some repress it, some embrace it, and some balance it. Then there are those who are consumed by it; they are the lost souls.
Disclaimer/Warning: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title and opening quote come from a song of the same name by Greg Holden. Incidentally, for you Sons of Anarchy fans out there, I first became obsessed with this song on that show.
Author's Note: As those of you who read my stories know, I haven't been much inspired of late to write SPN fic, but something about the last ten minutes of this episode tugged at me. Dean's journey this season, facing his own darkness, fighting so hard to overcome it and redefine his 'good fight' has hooked me and I found myself compelled to write this mini missing scene.
It's not much, it's angst overload, and it's a bit light on accurate show dialog since I've only seen the episode once, but the idea kept tugging at me, so I obliged. Also, just a warning: I wrote this in about four hours (though my dear friend thruterryseyes gave it a sanity check). This is about as raw as writing gets, folks.
If you read, I hope you enjoy.
I know there's greed and there's corruption
I've seen death and mass destruction
But I'm telling you, and I hope that I'm heard
And I will not be commanded
And I will not be controlled
And I will not let my future go on
Without the help of my soul
The Lost Boy, Greg Holden
Sam has a switch in his head.
His father crafted it, his brother shaped it, and circumstance tuned it. He knows instinctively the moment he must shut off everything inside of him that is fueled by emotion and simply move.
He can feel later.
He can react later.
He can mourn later.
Now, he is action.
The moment Charlie is whole, the switch flips to off and Sam shifts into triage mode. Like a low hum of electricity swimming at the base of his skull, Sam hears his brother's voice, echoed by his father's, instructing him to prioritize: care for the wounded, clear the scene, escape and evade.
With words designed to soothe, devoid of actual meaning, he checks Charlie's vitals, notes that she's wounded, but stable, and tells her not to move. Turning, he next faces his brother. The moment he sees Dean, Sam clamps down hard on that switch.
Dean is shaking. It's visible and somewhat alarming. In the dull, yellow light from the porch, he looks dangerous and fragile at once.
His eyes are all pupil and he's staring toward Charlie, seeing a whole lot of nothing. His battered face – split eyebrow and lip, cut on his cheek, across his nose, eye swelling shut – is as much evidence of how hard he fought to protect Charlie as the swollen, bloody knuckles are of his loss of control. Sam stands directly in front of his brother and, as if reaching for a cornered animal, carefully grasps both shoulders in his hands. Dean doesn't move, barely flinches.
"Dean." He says the name as though it's a full sentence, holding in one syllable everything he needs to say.
His brother brings his eyes up, the brittle, wounded gaze almost enough to trigger Sam's emotions once more. Tightening his grip, Sam moves Dean backwards slightly, easing him down on the steps leading up to Clive's porch. Dean is obedient, pliant. It's almost as though he isn't there right now.
"Stay here, okay?"
Dean stares at the grass. The sidewalk. Anywhere except where Charlie lay, broken by his hand.
"I'll be right back. Don't move. Dean?" He says the name again to force a response.
Dean has always reacted to his name when caught inside Sam's voice.
It works and Dean nods, jerkily, as though he's not fully in control of his neck muscles. Sam moves away and hurries back into the house. He has to be fast; Clive's house isn't in a highly-populated area of the suburbs, but the ruckus they created won't go unnoticed for long.
Sam is momentarily surprised to see only one body on the floor of the parlor. He fully expects to find both young and old versions of Oz's infamous Wizard. The only thing he can reason is that the key worked on both Charlie and Clive at once. Shrugging off the confusion in order to focus on more urgent matters, Sam grabs the gun Charlie used and wipes it clean, laying it in Clive's lax hand.
It's not enough, he knows, to satisfy a good police officer as to how Clive died, but he hopes it will be enough to throw attention off of Charlie. Using the sleeve of his jacket, Sam wipes every surface he can remember either of them touching, shuts off the lights and closes the door behind him. It's the best he can do in the time he has, and right now his concern is not Clive, it is Dean and Charlie. The anonymous call he'll place once they're well away from the house will ensure that the old man isn't left undiscovered for long.
He hurries past Dean, who is sitting right where he left him, eyes on the play of starlight across the lawn, and heads toward where Charlie lies. She is staring up at him, patient, her large eyes filled with both pain and relief.
He knows this feeling; he's been there before.
"I'm going to pick you up, okay?"
She nods, apparently not trusting her voice quite yet, and he sees her tense as he slides an arm beneath her shoulders and knees. She is practically weightless and feels like a child in his arms, though he's witnessed her resiliency and ferociousness. He turns and pins his eyes to his brother, willing Dean to focus on him.
Compelled by a bond stronger than any other Sam has encountered in his storied life, Dean looks up and meets Sam's eyes. His gaze is no more focused than before, but he seems to draw strength from Sam and pushes to his feet. Sam can see his hands shake in the starlight.
"C'mon, Dean. We're just going to go to the Impala."
Dean still doesn't answer, which once more threatens to slap the switch into the on position, but Sam clenches his jaw and turns, trusting Dean to follow him. Charlie is his priority now. Dean knows the rules, he wrote many of them. Sam just hopes that he isn't so trapped inside his own self-recrimination that he loses focus on what should be instinctive.
Carefully shifting Charlie in his grip, ignoring her small bleat of pain as he does so, Sam opens the back door of the Impala and eases her inside, helping her slump to the side as she cradles her left arm against her chest. Straightening, he hears the passenger door creak open and breathes a sigh of relief that Dean has made it this far without extra prodding.
He has to move Charlie's yellow car to a side street to avoid detection, but he leaves the boosted mini-van where Dean parked it. Further complication of the police investigation could only work in Charlie's favor. He's not worried about Dean's fingerprints in the mini-van; as far as the world is concerned, Dean Winchester is a ghost.
He slides behind the wheel, sparing a glance at his brother as he starts the engine. The empty stare is staring to chill him. Checking on Charlie via the rear-view mirror, Sam pulls away from the house, heading for the nearest hospital. One of the things John Winchester drilled into them from an early age was to know where the police station, hospital, and library is located in any town they visited. Sam can find the location on his phone in an instant, but instinct has him gravitating in the right direction before GPS.
He pulls up in the parking lot of the ER entrance and looks over at Dean.
"Come in with me."
Dean shakes his head, speaking for the first time since Sam carried Charlie's 'good' self out of the house.
"Naw, man." His voice is a rasp across shards of shattered glass and Sam feels his gut clench at the sound.
"Dean, you're a mess."
"'m stayin' here."
Sam thinks to argue further, but doesn't want to delay getting Charlie help longer than he has to. "Don't go anywhere, okay?"
"Nowhere to go," Dean mumbles, his bloody hands lying still in his lap, the trembling having eased somewhat. The blood from his split eyebrow has matted into his lashes and Sam sees that he isn't really opening that eye, but makes no move to wipe the blood away.
With an almost clinical nod, Sam exits the car, and leans in the back to once more scoop Charlie up. She is shivering – both from emotion and pain, Sam knows – and rests her head on his shoulder as he carries her into the ER. The desk attendant doesn't bother with the clipboard and paperwork; within moments Sam is ushered through a set of pneumatic doors and instructed to lay Charlie on an exam bed.
At the bark of the attending physician's question of what the hell happened, Sam formulates a fast reply.
"Her ex-boyfriend roughed her up," he explains. "She called me, but, uh…I didn't get there in time to stop him."
He doesn't miss the way the doctor's quick eyes skim his face, then drop immediately to his hands, inspecting them for abrasions. He is immediately grateful that Dean declined to follow him inside. That would have been harder to explain.
"It wasn't him," Charlie says, her normally spritely voice is subdued and dispirited. "Believe me, I'm done with the guy."
"Would you like for us to call the police?" The doctor's eyes are sharp and calculating. "Do you want to press charges?"
Sam catches Charlie's eye and she shakes her head once, a decisive no. "He's long gone," she replies. "He's not coming back."
A nurse ushers Sam outside to complete paperwork. He sits in the waiting room and fills in the same lies he's told time and again on hospital files. He thinks to duck out to the Impala and check on Dean, but hesitates. There is a darkness in his brother that has nothing to do with having once been a demon. Or being branded by the Mark of Cain. It's a darkness that has always been there, a part of Dean, just on the periphery of who Sam sees.
It isn't new. It isn't unexpected. It's simply terrifying.
For both of us, Sam thinks, remembering all-too clearly how far his brother has gone in the past, before angels and demons toyed with him, before Hell scarred him, before Cain branded him.
Sam, for you and Dad…the things I'm willing to do or kill, it…scares me sometimes.
Sam clicks the end of the pen in a repetitive, anxious movement, not realizing what he's doing until the desk clerk gives him a pointed glance. Offering up an insincere smile of apology, Sam sets the clipboard on the desk, then moves across the room, hand resting at the back of his neck, staring blindly at the collection of outdated magazines displayed for distraction.
Dean has to learn how to live with the Mark. He has to. Because Sam doesn't know how to fix this, how to remove it, and he needs Dean. He needs his brother, whole and healed and ready to move through the world. He knows this now with a clarity that makes him tremble. When his brother died, Sam was ready to make a deal with Crowley – any deal – just to bring Dean back before the Blade returned him as a demon.
Sam knows now with complete certainty that he cannot function in this world without Dean. He fought it for so long, resisted that pull of truth. He flirted with a life outside of Dean, feeling confident that he knew enough, and could fabricate what he didn't know, to find a path that didn't include his brother. One where he isn't Sam Winchester. One where all the horror he's seen and done are simply plotlines in a fiction novel.
He is wrong.
Finding a way to help Dean cope with the ramifications of a choice he made at his lowest point, when he saw no other options available to him, when Sam turned his back, is his penance for that flirtation. Dean is essential to Sam's life; there is no other way around it. Sam simply hopes that they will both survive the journey required to save Dean's soul.
He saved mine once, Sam thinks.
Hearing from Castiel that Dean had literally died to rescue Sam's soul from Hell rocked him. He thinks of it now, of how hard Dean had fought to bring him back, fully. Of how Dean would not rest until he knew that no part of his brother remained in Hell. And he thinks of how he repaid his brother for that fight. Of how his struggles to cope with the fall-out of living with a wounded soul blinded him to his brother's silent suffering.
If he'd seen then, he wonders, he might have been spared the nightmare of knowing an angel had been in possession of his body. If he'd seen then how far Dean was willing to go, how much he was willing to sacrifice, how dark he was willing to stain his own soul just to heal Sam…perhaps so much of what transpired could have been altered or avoided entirely.
The trials…Gadreel…the Mark of Cain.
So much pain they'd traversed, so many lies they'd believed, so much death….
Sam doesn't flinch at first, so lost inside his memories, the switch not yet flipped to allow him to feel any of them. It isn't until a woman wearing scrubs and a weary expression steps into his field of vision that he realizes she was calling his alias.
"Y-yeah," he stammers, blinking. "How is she?"
"She's resting comfortably," the nurse tells him. "She has come contusions and a few lacerations that required stitches. Her left arm has a hairline fracture, but we've set it. We can send her home with some pain medication if there is someone to watch her for a bit."
Sam is nodding before the nurse finishes speaking. "I will. I'll take care of her."
"She'll be rather sleepy, and really, sleep is best for her right now."
The nurse hands Sam a piece of paper and reads through the instructions, but he's been through this before. Many times. Never with someone as innocent as Charlie, but—
She isn't innocent.
She has tortured. She has killed. And not because she was possessed and not because it wasn't really her. It was all her, a piece of her.
And suddenly Sam sees his brother a bit more clearly.
Getting Charlie into the Impala again is nearly an exercise in futility. He thinks that he should have realized a doped-up Charlie would be an overly-affectionate Charlie. She smiles like a drunken sailor and twirls his hair around her fingers as he lifts her into the back seat, informing him that he would make a very pretty girl. Smiling indulgently at her, he makes sure she's secure and comfortable before climbing behind the wheel.
It's only then that he looks over at Dean and sees his brother is limp and unresponsive. He can't tell if Dean fell asleep or passed out, but either way, he's slumped against the door, his wounded hand lax in his lap, his battered face a macabre reflection on the window. It's the first time since Charlie's two selves melded that he's seen Dean completely still. It's both reassuring and a little frightening.
Unable to stop himself, Sam looks closely to make sure Dean is breathing, gently pressing two fingers against his brother's neck to feel the slam of his pulse before heading toward the bunker. It takes nearly two hours to reach their new home and the car is eerily quiet the entire trip, the tandem breathing of two unconscious passengers his only company.
Sam reaches over to wake Dean only to realize that his brother's eyes are open. He hasn't moved, but he's awake and staring desolately at the cement wall within the underground garage where they now hide the car.
"Hey," Sam says softly, the sound of his own voice startling him in the quiet. "You okay?"
Dean doesn't reply. He is so still. Sam wants to touch him, but there is a surreal sense of a shield surrounding his brother and he resists.
"I'm going to get Charlie settled then we'll take care of you, okay?"
"'m fine," Dean whispers.
It's barely more than an exhale, really. Instinctive dismissal. Pushing away, hiding in the shadows, resisting care, resisting help. Dean's M.O.
"No. You're not."
Sam doesn't give Dean a chance for rebuttal. He opens the back door and scoops up the now-sleeping Charlie, carrying her to one of the spare rooms. It is still made up, fresher linens than some of the rooms that haven't been touched in years. It is the room Kevin once occupied and Sam knows that Dean keeps it clean as if waiting. He doesn't say anything about it; simply acknowledges the effort by ensuring clean sheets are folded at the foot of the bed when Dean decides the room needs refreshed.
The most Sam does for Charlie is remove her shoes and cover her with a blanket. The hospital had removed her jacket and blood-stained shirt, putting her in a scrub top, and Sam draws the line at aiding her comfort further than that while she's unconscious. They have bottles of the medication listed on the prescription left over from previous war wounds; he knows they'll be able to care for her.
Sitting a glass of water and her next dose of meds on the bedside table, he leaves a soft light on her desk so that she can orient herself when she wakes in a strange place. He places her cell phone next to the meds with a sticky-note that reads: Call me when you wake up, Sam.
Closing the door behind him, Sam leans against the wall of the hallway and sighs. He is tired. More than tired, he is bone deep weary. The seemingly never-ending search for a way to remove the Mark of Cain, the sensation of being constantly on guard when it comes to his brother… is catching up to him. Dragging a hand down his face, he rubs at his burning eyes, then turns to go after Dean, nearly yelping when he sees his brother standing in the hallway, staring at him.
The switch flips.
In the space of a heartbeat, everything he's not allowed himself to feel floods him and Sam's heart trembles. Memories of Dean – black obliterating the green of his eyes, lips twisted into a cold snarl – stalking him through these halls with an intent to kill shudder through him. Memories of Dean screaming in pain as the human blood races through his veins assaults his ears. The cold edge of fear slices him and for one sharp, clean moment it's centered on his brother.
It takes every ounce of Sam's willpower to not back up a step.
"Sammy," Dean says, his voice like torn silk, one eye now swollen shut, blood dried on his lashes and staining his face. "Think I need…s'm help."
Sam swallows and sees Dean sway, not reaching out, not moving forward. The eye he can open is filled with such raw emotion that Sam hurts. Charlie's dark half had been vicious and calculating. She hadn't been hampered by the emotion Sam knew had been reverberating through his brother with each strike. She hadn't been troubled about harming Dean. The only reason Dean is still on his feet at the moment is simple biology: he is physically stronger than her.
But she had been no less dangerous.
With that thought, Sam steps forward, reaching for Dean. He sucks in his breath, surprised when Dean sags forward, leaning into him as though the effort to stand is more than he can take. Silently, Sam turns Dean and half guides, half supports him down the hall to his room. Sitting Dean on the edge of his bed, he pulls a chair over and sits opposite.
"How bad is it?" Sam asks, not quite sure if Dean will allow an inspection.
"I'll live," Dean says, but he's not looking at Sam. His eye doesn't seem to focus.
"Ribs? Back? Anywhere besides your face and hands?" Sam rakes his brother with a calculating gaze, trying to take in all of Dean's wounds without touching him. "And neck?"
Dean shakes his head gingerly. "Didn't let her get close."
"You let her get close enough," Sam mutters, finally reaching out to grasp Dean's chin lightly. He registers the flinch, but ignores it, tilting Dean's head to get a better look at the cut on his eyebrow.
"Is…is she…." Dean visibly chokes on his question and Sam releases his chin.
"She's going to be fine, Dean," he reassures his brother. "Bit banged up, broken arm—" Dean pales considerably at this – "but nothing that won't heal."
"I…hurt her, Sammy. So bad."
Sam frowns, both hands braced on his knees as he stares at his brother's bloodied face. "You fought her, Dean. Remember what you were trying to do."
"I let it go too far. Again."
"Nobody died this time," Sam says, deciding to skim over Clive and his Wizard self. That is a paradox for another day. A look of loathing slips through Dean's expression like quicksilver and Sam decides to drop the subject for now. "Will you let me clean up your face?"
Dean nods and Sam stands to head to their supply closet.
"Don't go anywhere, Dean," he cautions, feeling a strange energy in the air, a danger.
"Where'm I gonna go?" Dean mutters, staring at the floor.
In minutes, he returns with the supplies he'll need to mend the wounds on Dean's face. Handing Dean ibuprofen and water, he waits while Dean swallows the pain meds willingly. As he cleans the blood from Dean's face, his brother sits quietly, no sarcastic bites, no quips, not even a complaint slipping from between his slightly parted lips. He's barely breathing, he's so still. A cold knot sits squarely in Sam's stomach and grows as Dean's silence becomes heavier.
Once Dean's face is clean, Sam can see where some cuts are deeper than others, the one at his eyebrow needing a few stitches. When he warns Dean, the most he receives is a nod, and as the curved needle sinks into the flesh at his forehead, Dean barely reacts to the pain.
Sam has been stitched up enough to know that what he's doing hurts like a son of a bitch and his mind starts to race through possibilities, gravitating toward the supernatural rather than the physical: Dean's possessed, he's reverted to his demon self, the Mark has afforded him heightened pain tolerance.
It isn't until he realizes Dean has started to shiver that it dawns on him that his brother could be in shock. Dean has taken so many beatings over the years – from almost everyone in his life, including Sam and Castiel – that a physical reaction to the emotion connected to the pain never occurs to Sam. But seeing the shivers swim across Dean's skin and tremble through his jaw kicks in Sam's training.
Grabbing the blanket that Dean keeps folded at the end of his bed, Sam wraps it around his brother's shoulders before speaking.
"Hey, Dean, you with me, man?"
Dean doesn't look at him, doesn't blink, even though with the blood now cleaned from his lashes he can open his swollen eye a bit. Sam gently puts a hand to Dean's face, noting how his skin has gone cold, clammy, his lips fringed with a pale blue. Standing, Sam cups the back of Dean's head and presses his other hand against Dean's chest, easing him back onto his bed, the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. Dean's gaze rolls to the ceiling and Sam feels that stab of fear once more.
"Dean, hey," he tries again, this time rubbing Dean's chest hard with his fingertips. "Hey, man, take it easy. Need you to take a deep breath for me, okay?"
Dean blinks and Sam takes a moment to lift Dean's legs from the floor, gently pulling the pillows from under Dean's head and slipping them under his feet. He hears Dean exhale, as if wringing the air from his body, and shoots a look to Dean's face, alarmed when his brother's eyes slip closed.
"Hey, no, what are you doing? C'mon, it's not that bad." He is sitting at the edge of Dean's bed, one hand on Dean's shoulder, one gripping his chin. "Hey, look at me, man. You look at me, Dean. Right now."
Dean blinks his eyes open, this time meeting Sam's gaze.
"There you are," Sam offers him a trembling smile. "What happened?"
Dean shakes his head; Sam doesn't know if it's in confusion or denial. He lifts his battered right hand to tug at the blanket.
"No, let's leave that alone for a bit, okay?" Sam pulls Dean's hand away. "Let me take a look at this."
Lying down seems to help Dean's shivering and he begins to breathe a bit easier as Sam carefully cleans his knuckles. He breaks an ice pack and rests it atop his swollen joints. The other ice pack he places against Dean's swollen eye, placing his hand over it and letting his shoulders sag slightly. Dean rolls his head toward the cool touch of the ice pack – or the pressure of his hand, Sam isn't sure.
Wrapping the blanket a bit more securely around Dean's torso, he waits until he can hear Dean's breathing grow deep and regular, his lips returning to their normal color, then removes his brother's boots. Standing over him, Sam is struck, suddenly, by how small his brother appears. The wounds on his face are so similar to the marks that he'd borne into death that Sam feels a pain in his gut, remembering.
How he'd cleaned the blood from Dean's face that night as well. How he'd known that stitching the wounds wouldn't matter. How he'd laid him flat on his bed as though he were merely sleeping.
Sam had been so lost then. He'd been lost for months prior to that night. He'd been lost for years, simply because he kept turning away from his true North. Now it is Dean whose compass is skewed and Sam wonders if he is going to be strong enough to guide his brother home.
Leaving Dean's door open, Sam retreats to his own room, falling face-first atop his bed, not bothering to undress. Exhaustion grabs at him with greedy fingers and pulls him almost immediately into oblivion. His rest is the dreamless sleep of the whole and weary and he has no idea how many hours have passed when the incessant vibration of his cell phone – trapped in his pocked between his body and his bed – wakes him.
Rolling to his back with a groan, he pulls out the phone and blinks at the bright screen illuminating the darkness. It's Charlie.
Semi-conscious. Mostly coherent.
He feels his lips pull into a half-grin. Only Charlie would choose two dollar words to text while hopped up on pain killers. Sam sits, rubbing at his sleep-wild hair and yawning. She has what she needs, but he decides to check on her anyway. Stumbling out into the hallway on another yawn, Sam stops dead-still as he passes Dean's room and sees his brother's bed empty.
Need a few, he texts to Charlie.
Take 'em all, she replies.
Sam tries to think where Dean might have gone. His first thought is the Impala; the car has been a place of refuge for his brother more times than Sam can remember. He starts toward the garage, his ears picking up a sound in the silence of the bunker: metal clacking against metal. The kitchen, he realizes.
Feeling slightly more relieved at the thought of Dean being in the kitchen than the garage – it was more normal for his brother to seek out a midnight snack than drink wheatgrass shakes – Sam heads in to join him…and staggers to a stop in the doorway.
The sight that meets his eyes is something he never wants to see again: Dean, standing over the wide sink, a butcher knife gripped in one hand, the large, sharp blade cutting into the flesh of his right arm, just below the Mark, his expression set and serious. At Sam's bellow, Dean flinches violently and the blade dodges.
Sam rushes over and grabs at the knife, but Dean surprises him with the strength in his resistance.
"What the hell are you doin'?" Sam grunts, struggling to get the knife from Dean's grip, pressing his brother back against the sink in his efforts. Blood from Dean's arm smears between them.
"Get the fuck away from me, man," Dean growls. "Get away!"
"Give me the damn knife, Dean!"
"I gotta get this fuckin' thing off me!" His voice is as clear as it's been since arriving at Clive's the night before. Sam is startled to see such determination in his brother's eyes.
"Not like this!" Sam roars. "You're gonna kill yourself!"
"So the hell what?" Dean matches Sam's tone. "I don't get it off, I'm gonna kill someone else!"
"You don't know what you're saying!" Sam shoves his forearm against Dean's throat, hard, pushing him against the sink again. Dean gags at the pressure of Sam's arm, his legs scrambling for purchase, wounded hand digging into Sam's cheek with clawed fingers, trying to shove Sam off-balance. "You wanna die, huh? That it?"
Sam feels the cold knot grow, crawling from his gut to his heart. He wants to hit Dean when he hears that word, knock him cold and tie him up and keep him safe until he can find a way to fix this. The only thing that stops him is the battered look in Dean's wild eyes, the look that says please….
"You liar! You don't want to die! I know you, Dean."
Dean pushes at Sam's arm, tightening the grip on the knife and Sam stumbles back, his shoulders clearing a shelf of pots, lids rolling along the tiled floor in a mayhem of sound. Dean's arm is now covered in blood making it nearly impossible for Sam to get a grip, so he changes his tactic, grabbing Dean's loose shirt in a fist and lifting him so that the backs of Dean's thighs hit the edge of the sink, Dean's arms stiff against Sam's shoulder, the knife still clutched in his bloody grip.
"I know you want to fix this," Sam concludes.
Dean growls, a trapped-animal sound that slides up from his gut to tremble through his throat and into the open. It digs at Sam, forcing him to loosen his hold and Dean finds his footing momentarily. The fight shifts from Sam seeking control of the knife to Dean seeking control, period. Sam shoves at Dean again, causing him to slip on the blood that has spilled from the gash on his arm; he slides to the floor, Sam practically on top of him. The impact is enough to jar Dean's grip and Sam slaps the knife free from Dean's hands; he hears it clatter against the floor, sliding well out of reach.
Breathing hard, Dean drops his head back, his wounded arm outstretched. Sam reaches above their heads and grabs a dish towel from the bar next to the sink, wrapping it tightly around Dean's forearm, pressing hard to stem the blood flow until he can get a good look at it.
"What the hell was that, Dean?" He's panting, gasping, trying to bring his slamming heart back under control.
Dean's chest is heaving and the split in his lip is bleeding again. He simply shakes his head and starts to struggle upright, unable to get the leverage. Sam shifts, so that he straddling one of Dean's outstretched legs, and grabs hold of him under one shoulder, hefting him until Dean can get his back against the wall by the sink.
"Talk to me, dammit!"
"I can't, Sam," Dean says, breathlessly. Helplessly.
"You goddamn well better figure out how!" Sam snaps.
Dean looks at him then and the expression in his eyes causes the icy knot in his gut to grow and wrap around Sam's heart, clenching it so painfully he almost gasps.
"I mean…I can't. I can't live with it, not like Cain did. Not like you say I can."
"Yeah, you can."
It's automatic, instinctive. Sam will allow nothing else. He is his father's son and he cannot accept a world without Dean, a world where Dean doesn't do everything in his power to be there with him. For him.
Dean closes his eyes and his head falls back against the wall. "It's constant." He runs his tongue along his bottom lip, rolling it in against his teeth, teasing the wound there.
"The…need. It's like…like this voice at the back of my head." He flops his free hand against his thigh. "Pushing me. And it won't fucking shut up."
Sam feels the air rush out of him and he slips from a crouch, turning and sitting next to his brother. He keeps hold of Dean's arm, feeling the towel grow damp with blood, but he can't bring himself to move further.
He knows that voice. That sensation. He's felt it.
"I try all damn day," Dean is saying. "It's like…seeing two roads. Everywhere. Every choice. And I know which one is…dark, but sometimes, man…sometimes…."
"It's the easier one."
Dean huffs out a breath. "Yeah."
"And you think, maybe it won't be so bad this time," Sam continues, his voice subdued, eyes closed. He feels as though the words are in his head, not spilling into the void between them like a confession. "You think maybe you can control it. Maybe this time it won't control you."
Sam feels Dean shift slightly, the motion of it pulling at the arm in his grasp.
"But every time," Sam opens his eyes and rolls his head along the wall to see Dean staring at him. Green eyes pinning him with a knowing that makes him shudder. "Every time it wins."
"And someone gets hurt," Dean finishes, tugging lightly at the arm bearing the Mark, clasped tightly in Sam's hands. "I should be the one getting hurt."
Sam lifts an eyebrow, taking in Dean's battered face. "You are."
Dean opens his mouth, then shuts it with a click, his eyes troubled and distant. Sam isn't sure if he's retreating inward again, or gearing up for another resistance. He decides to take action before Dean does.
"I need to stitch up your arm," he says, "and check on Charlie."
It's the mention of Charlie that snaps Dean back to the now. He nods and Sam removes his hand from the towel bandage, dismayed to see it already soaked through with blood. Dammit, Dean. Climbing to his feet, he looks around the kitchen. The sink and the floor beneath it are both painted red with Dean's blood. He knows their struggle has made it look worse than it is, but he still feels sick at the sight.
He reaches down for Dean's hand, mindful of the bruised and swollen knuckles.
"I'm sorry," Dean mutters, once upright.
"What for now?" Sam teases.
"Not thinking about how you've…been through some shit."
Sam sighs. "You do realize it's not a requirement for you to think about everyone but yourself, right?"
Dean scowls at him and for a moment it's such a natural expression that Sam wants to believe everything will be fine. But then he looks at the blood-soaked towel and thinks of the knife lying across the room. And the knot of ice inside of him cracks like a splitting glacier.
"I left all the suture stuff in your room," he tells Dean. "I'll check on Charlie and be right there. Just gimme a few."
Dean nods, gripping the towel with his bruised hand. "Take 'em all," he replies and Sam shakes his head in quiet amusement, thinking how Dean has influenced more than he realizes.
He doesn't tell Charlie about the ruckus in the kitchen and she's too groggy to notice the blood drying on his shirt. When he returns to Dean's room, his brother is sitting on the floor, propped up by his bed, holding the blood-soaked towel. His eyes are almost vacant as they stare at the opposite wall. Without preamble, Sam grabs the suture kit and hydrogen peroxide, sitting opposite Dean.
Peeling the towel away slowly, he feels the ice inside him start to thaw as Dean hisses in pain. At least he's responding to something.
Carefully, he wipes the blood from around the wound, not bothering to clean the smears from his arm and face. Dean can take care of that later; right now he simply wants to stop the bleeding. He tries to ignore the raised keloid-like scar of the Mark just above the cut. Dean slanted the cut, apparently trying to slice the chunk of skin from his arm, going deep enough Sam is worried he'd damaged muscle. He slides a towel beneath Dean's arm and when he pours the peroxide over the wound, Dean tenses, gritting his teeth.
"Serves you right," Sam mutters.
"Anyone ever tell you that you got a shitty bedside manner?" Dean pants, his opposite hand curled into a fist and pressed against his leg, a muscle in his jaw dancing with tension.
"I have a fabulous bedside manner…when the people I'm stitching up aren't idiots," Sam snaps, readying the needle as the peroxide fizzes and crackles within the open wound.
This time, Dean curses as the needle slides through his skin. Sam relaxes at that. It is a sign that his brother is starting to level out. Normal may be a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, but Sam will take a cursing Dean over a silent Dean any day.
"Don't pull this shit again, man," Sam finds himself saying as he ties off the sixth stitch, reaching for the roll of gauze. "We're gonna figure this out."
"Before or after I kill someone again?" Dean snaps.
Sam glances up at him. "Before."
"You know this, huh?"
Sam ties off the field-dressed gauze bandage with more force than necessary. "Yes," he snaps, watching in satisfaction as Dean winces. "Because you're going to keep fighting. You're gonna ignore that damn voice and the path with shadows."
"And we will find a way to get rid of the Mark that doesn't involve you cutting off your damn arm."
"Sammy, I almost killed her, man!"
"No, you didn't." Sam shakes his head. "She's a lot tougher than she looks."
He can feel Dean wanting to run; he is trembling again, but this time it is with barely-concealed panic. He wants to escape and evade, but this time it isn't from the fall-out of a hunt; it is from himself.
And Sam knows better than anyone that there is no running from that.
"I slipped over the edge before I even knew it was there."
"So, next time you'll know where the edge is," Sam argues. "You were trying to protect her, Dean."
"By beating her to death."
"She fought back pretty viciously."
Sam is unwilling to give an inch. Not now. Not with this. He's been afraid for Dean before. He's been horrified by what Dean has shown himself to be capable of. But he's not afraid of him. And he absolutely refuses to lose him. Not to this.
"You can feel as low as you want to, Dean," he says. "You can hate yourself as much as you want. You can think you're nothing. You're no good. You've only darkness inside." He leans forward so that there is nowhere else for Dean to look except his face. "But you're never going to make me believe that."
Dean closes his eyes and drops his head back against the bed. "Jesus Christ, Sammy."
"There is darkness in you, but there's also good. It's the same with all of us. What happened yesterday with Charlie shoulda proved that to you."
"There's…a lot of dark, man."
"Yeah," Sam nods. "Yeah, maybe. But no more than me."
Dean brings his head up fast at that. "What? Are you crazy? I was a demon, Sam. I've killed people."
"And I haven't?" Sam counters. "You don't hold the title of Ultimate Sinner, man. Plenty of people vying for that one."
With his battered hand, Dean rubs gingerly at his wounded face. "It's just so fuckin' hard to keep going."
"You can do it," Sam tells him. "You've been to Hell and back." He nudges Dean in the side with the heel of his boot. "You came back from being a demon. There's nothing you can't do."
Dean slides his eyes over, meeting Sam's unwavering gaze. "Why do you believe in me, man? I've let you down…hell, more times than I can count."
"You're my big brother, Dean," Sam says, feeling the ice inside crackling at the words, easing off from around his heart. "I never stopped believing in you." He swallows when he sees the tears swim in Dean's large eyes. "And…I know I've said some shit over the years. Stuff I can't take back. That can't be…," he shrugs slightly, "un-heard. But, Dean, you never count the times you've saved me. You kept me going when I wanted to give up."
He leans forward slightly, reaching for Dean's neck and gripping the tight muscles there. Dean presses his lips closed, keeping emotion at bay, but doesn't retreat from Sam's grasp.
"And now I'm gonna keep you going." Sam stares until his brother is forced to look back and he is momentarily stunned to watch Dean force the emotion from his eyes until they are flat. "Okay? You hear me, Dean?"
"I hear you," Dean rasps, though his voice is devoid of inflection, his defense mechanism kicking in hard-core.
Sam rests his forehead against Dean's, holding them still for a moment, then releases Dean's neck and sits back.
"You need rest," he says.
"Me?" Dean sniffs. "You look like hell, man."
"I'll rest if you do," Sam offers.
Dean shakes his head. "Can't sleep."
Sam glances at his brother's arm. "Well, then…neither will I."
"Fuck." Dean drops his head back. "You're a manipulative son of a bitch."
"Learned from the best," Sam says simply.
"Fine, okay, you win," Dean sighs, cradling his bandaged arm. "But…I'm not staying in here."
"It's a big bunker."
"There's a couch in the map room," Dean says. "I'll be good there."
Sam doesn't question his brother's choice of locations; he knows the bedroom is too normal for the rage of emotions Dean's working to control. He follows his brother to make sure Dean actually stretches out on the couch before retreating to check on Charlie. Soon after, he allows himself to sleep a few more hours, rising to confirm that Dean hasn't tried to burn off the Mark or anything equally as damaging.
Dean is restless throughout the following day. Sam divides his time between helping Charlie get enough food that her pain meds don't make her sick, making sure she is comfortable and her cuts are clean and healing nicely, and keeping an eye on Dean.
He doesn't let Sam get close enough again to do much more than check to make sure the bruises are slowly healing and the wound on his arm isn't infected. He spends much of the day pacing, eyes restlessly roaming the spines of the copious amount of books lining the walls of the bunker library. Sam feels his brother's restlessness like an energy wave through the bunker, ricocheting off walls and rebounding against Dean until his brother looks as though he's sustained another beating, this one from the inside out.
Sam tries to get him to eat, even fixing grilled cheese with three different kinds of cheeses in direct violation of his health-kick diet, but Dean isn't able to choke down more than a few bites. Once, Sam catches him staring longingly at the bottle of Jack on the top shelf in the kitchen; he doesn't say a word when Sam retrieves it and hides it from sight. The cold knot that seems to have replaced Sam's insides tightens and spreads as the hours draw out, the day fading into evening outside of the bunker.
That night, Sam almost dreads going to sleep. Charlie may be improving, holed up in her self-sustained cocoon, but Dean seems to be deteriorating before his eyes. And Sam has used up his pep talk allotment for a bit.
Dean once more crashes out on the couch and Sam decides to leave the door to his room open. He sleeps lightly, his entire being listening for Dean. He's not been immune to his brother's nightmares since the demon-cure. Dean behaves as though the panicked breathing and wide-eyed stares go unnoticed by the only other occupant in the bunker, but Sam knows. He knows because he hasn't lived two decades breathing in tandem with the man to not know when terror grips him.
This time when he hears it he's awake and standing before his heart has time to catch up to him. It's a strangled cry of denial filled with so much pain Sam finds himself reaching for a weapon before he steps into the hall.
His stocking feet pad his approach and he pauses just before moving into the soft light of the single lamp as he catches sight of Dean. His brother is sitting up on the couch, his bandaged arm held protectively against his belly, his forehead resting on an opened palm. Sam holds his breath for a moment, staring hard, trying to determine if Dean is breathing, shaking, cursing, anything.
Then he hears the soft hitch of breath. And his heart freezes.
He hasn't heard Dean cry in years. He finds himself sifting through memory, trying to recall the last time and he cannot. The logical side of him knows that the tears are primarily a byproduct of weariness and stress, but logic is a bastard when he's standing in the hallway hearing his brother's pain spill out of him and is helpless to stem the flow.
After a moment, Dean senses him and jerks upright, banishing the tears with the back of his hand.
"Sam?" His voice it tight with pent-up emotion.
"Yeah, sorry, I—"
"Go back to bed."
"Go back to bed, Sam."
It's firm, an order. His best John Winchester impression. But Dean has apparently forgotten that Sam made a career in his youth of defying John Winchester at nearly every turn.
"Talk to me, man."
"Not much in the mood."
Sam steps forward, cautiously, carefully, not wanting to spook Dean into running away. He is wise to do so as Dean sees him moving closer and stands from the couch, his wounded arm still across his mid-section, and tenses as if to bolt. Sam freezes and Dean doesn't run, but it's edging toward a stalemate.
He wants Dean to tell him about his dream, release whatever it is that terrifies him so deeply. He wants to talk more about their shared experiences, flirting with an evil inside their souls neither wants to acknowledge. He wants to promise him one more time that they will find a way to beat this.
But mostly, he just doesn't want Dean to run.
"Feel like watching some Stooges?" He offers, knowing his brother won't be sleeping anymore that night and reluctant to leave him alone.
Dean brings his chin up, surprised, clearly expecting something else – something to warrant his escape.
"Sure," he replies. "Better than the alternative."
They move in tandem to where Dean has set up a small TV and settle into the wooden, sling-back chairs legs propped up on the table or a spare chair. Sam drifts off after about the fourth episode, Dean chuckling softly next to him. He wakes hours later, a neck stiff from sleeping on cradled arms, a blanket over his shoulders, Dean nowhere to be found. He stumbles to the kitchen, drawn by the smell of coffee and bacon, and sees that though his scowl is in place, Dean is once more using the kitchen appropriately.
He emerges from a bracing shower, dressed and refreshed, and finds his brother also dressed in clean clothes, long sleeves covering the bandage on his arm, his bruises standing out against paleness brought on by too many sleepless nights. He is pouring over yet another book of possible ways to release him from the hold of Cain's Mark. Without saying a word, he opens a book next to Dean, scanning the pages for something, anything, that might offer his brother a breath of hope.
When Charlie steps into the room, Sam feels Dean tense. It's not until that moment he realizes Dean had actually been relaxed.
Crossing the room to Charlie, he checks on her, at once not ready for her to leave and knowing she has to. He senses Dean rise to his feet but he keeps his distance, giving Charlie time to decide when – or if – she wants to approach him. Charlie does her best to look cool, unfazed, but Sam can see that being in the same room with Dean rattles her. And if Sam can see it, he knows Dean is feeling it with every heartbeat.
So it brings both surprise and relief when Charlie moves past him to approach Dean. Sam hangs on her words, his eyes never leaving Dean's face as he confesses that he hasn't forgiven himself for what he did, despite knowing that she forgives him. As though she's rehearsed it in the two days she sequestered herself in the spare room, Charlie offers Dean the rope Sam couldn't find on his own.
"I never meant to hurt you," Dean finally whispers, staring down at Charlie's upturned face. "I'm so sorry, kiddo."
Her challenge resonates from Sam's heart, cracking the ice that has been filling him for days.
Sam wants Dean to live up to that challenge with everything inside him. He hasn't wanted anything that much since they turned the country inside out searching for their father. As Charlie leaves, clasping their one thread of possible hope – searching for The Book of the Damned somewhere in Tuscany – to her and carrying it with her like a life line, Sam glances over at his brother.
Dean looks lost.
His bruises are like a maze of fear and confusion surrounding his wounded eyes, their broken expression bleeding a plea for salvation into the quiet of the bunker. He's staring toward the staircase leading up to the bunker exit as though he has no idea where to look next.
"You good?" Sam asks, even though he knows.
"No," Dean replies softly, not looking at him. Not looking at anything.
"You can do this, Dean," Sam says with conviction, feeling more certain of these words than anything he's said before. Dean looks over at him, questioning. "We can do this," Sam promises.
His brother might feel as though he'll never find his way through the darkness, but as Charlie stated, Dean has one thing going for him that Cain never did: his family. He will not be lost forever. He once faced Death himself to return Sam's soul. Sam was prepared to do that and more if it meant banishing the shadows from his brother's eyes.
"It's too damn quiet in here," Dean mutters in reply to Sam's words. "Where'd we put that cassette player?"
Sam offers up a half-smile and nods toward the corner of the room, settling down at the table and opening his laptop as Led Zeppelin fills the empty spaces between them.
They have work to do.
a/n: Angsty with a bit of angst on the side, I know, but I wanted something more than a shell-shocked expression from Dean and a mention of sleeping for two days from Charlie. With Dean so adamant about getting rid of the Mark - to the point of bellowing for them to burn it off - I couldn't help but think that if desperate or low enough, he might try something to that effect on his own. So, there you go.
If nothing else, I hope you were entertained. Oh, and I have no idea if the Wizard was 'absorbed' into his older counterpart or not, but it seemed plausible and was less trouble for Sam to clean up. The magic of fiction, boys and girls. *smile*