Characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel
Rating: PG-13 for language, a mature scene in the first chapter, and some darker themes throughout
Spoilers: Set in Season 5 after 5.05, Fallen Idol. Anything up to that point is fair game.
Summary: There are things that make him human. Deciding what those are will become the difference between sanity and madness. When a demon forces the issue, Dean and Sam fight back the only way they can: together.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: Thanks for coming back! I wanted to get this up earlier, but had some family things to attend to this weekend and was unable to find time. My apologies. You guys really intrigued me with your responses to the way (and order) in which Dean is losing his senses. When I planned this story, I tried to think of it in two ways: what would frighten me most, and what I thought would frighten Dean most. It was a toss-up. So I just tried to tie the loss of senses to how the story rolled out. I hope you continue to enjoy!
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Sam's gut tightened as he plowed through the rising flood in the parking lot, his eyes darting quickly from the water-logged windshield to the rear-view mirror at the blue and red lights illuminating the unnatural darkness of the day. Frowning, he shot a second glance in the mirror as he saw a figure of a woman—blonde, slim, dressed mostly in black—duck into their ruined hotel room.
"Go, Sam! Get the hell outta here."
Dean's voice shook, causing Sam to catch his breath. If it wasn't shaking from pain, that meant his brother's body was simply reacting, and that scared him. Pain he knew. Pain he'd lived with. Pain he could ignore.
But this virus was causing damage beyond his twenty-seven years of dealing with pain.
The Impala hydroplaned as Sam punched the gas, sending them out of the parking lot at a sprawl. Working the wheel with sure, practiced hands, he fought to keep the car under his control as his heartbeat slammed crazily against the base of his throat. Adrenaline coursed through him, giving him a heady high and forcing his movements to be almost too aggressive.
He thought he could hear Dean breathing over the cacophony of rain beating against the car, filling his vision with momentary sweeps of water-soaked blindness. Another shimmy on the wet road and he heard Castiel's free hand slap against the side window as he fought to brace his body. Dean hadn't said a word since imploring him to get out of there, and Sam was too afraid to release his grasp on the steering wheel and risk a glance back at his brother.
"How's he doing?" Sam called back to Castiel, catching the angel's blue eyes in the rearview mirror.
"He is not conscious," Castiel replied.
"He needs medical attention."
"Tell me something I don't know!"
"The antidote is a second dose of the virus," Castiel obligatorily responded.
"Okay, yeah." Sam blinked. "Didn't know that."
"If we summon this demon, we must be prepared for a fight," Castiel continued.
Sam turned hard right, skidding onto an exit ramp, slipping over the state line to Missouri and into the bowels of Kansas City. He didn't know how the police worked this border town, but he was hoping if any of the Kansas squad cars had caught sight of the fleeing Chevy in the ruckus of the rainstorm, it would take them time to coordinate pursuit with the Missouri officers.
"I know the Eye of God doesn't work," Sam said through gritted teeth.
"It works," Castiel countered.
Sam shot his eyes up to the rear-view mirror, a protest ready on his lips when Castiel cut him off.
"If worn by a true believer, it works."
"So…not a demon with a price on its head, then," Sam grumbled.
"You must be completely free of doubt or duplicity," Castiel said. "And I have yet to encounter a human with that quality. It is not possible with a demon."
"Doesn't matter anyway," Sam said, holding his breath as he shot past a cross street, water splashing up to momentarily cover the Impala's windshield. "Dean lost track of it after the accident. It could be anywhere."
"Even if we had the Eye of God, I would not hand it over to a…demon," Castiel asserted. "We will be forced to get the antidote by different means."
"Plan B it is," Sam whispered.
He dared a look over his shoulder, catching a quick glimpse of Dean's torso, dark with rainwater and blood, beneath Castiel's hand.
"Keep pressure on his side," he ordered, taking a left into an alleyway, eyes skimming the narrow cross streets as he barreled through, his heart in his teeth. "I know you said you couldn't heal him before—when Alistair worked him over—but this is different."
"It's not about the wound."
Sam clenched his jaw. "Don't suppose there's any way any of these brothers of yours—"
"They will not help us in that way," Castiel replied, his voice heavy with regret.
Sparing a glance in the rearview mirror, Sam saw that Castiel's eyes were down, presumably on Dean, and the unmistakably human expression of worry had drawn lines between his brows, pulling his mouth into a thin, tight line. Before Sam could say anything else, Castiel continued.
"There are some that believe as I do—that God is out there. That He will save us, help us put order to the Heavens. And there are others," Castiel grunted as the Impala went slightly airborne, returning to Earth with a shimmy of shocks and a quick shower of sparks, "who believe Dean is our only hope. By serving as Michael's vessel, he will allow us to finally bring peace back to this world. They do not agree that he has a choice in the matter, and are…angry…that he is fighting them."
"So, what," Sam frowned, "are you playing both sides against the middle?"
He slowed as he saw a garage-like opening at the base of an abandoned warehouse, the entire top portion of the bricked building flanked by a series of small rectangular windows. The light from the hundreds of white and red bulbs that illuminated the famous Western Auto sign atop one of the nearby warehouses in The Bottoms cast an eerie electric glow onto the windows in the storm-induced, mid-day darkness.
"I am simply gathering information as quickly as I can to protect Dean. And…you."
Castiel's reluctant addition twisted Sam's lips as he pulled into the darkened opening, the rain suddenly relegated once more to background noise. It was dark inside the warehouse, the Impala's lights helping to keep him from running into a support beam or side wall.
"Careful, Cas," Sam groused, "you might sprain something including me in your mission."
"You are an abomination," Castiel said calmly, his placid voice contrasting with the stinging cruelty of his words. "You have channeled demonic powers that soured your humanity."
"Yeah, well…I got over it," Sam protested, not liking the fact that he had no choice but to listen to Castiel's bias against him. Not liking that part of him didn't blame the angel.
Atonement was a long and lonely road.
"True," Castiel allowed. "You did overcome the addiction. But you are to be Lucifer's vessel—"
"Over my dead body," Sam snapped, heat rolling under his skin at the thought. "I get it, okay? I'm not your favorite person. I'll try to live with that. But right now, we got bigger things to worry about."
"Indeed," Castiel replied as Sam pulled up to a stop inside the echoing building and turned off the car. "It is troublesome that this demon has risked exposure just to inflict this virus on Dean."
That…and my brother is bleeding to death in your arms.
Sam forced himself to breathe through his nose as he reached into their glove box, pushing aside the spare .45 Dean always insisted they keep there, and grabbed the heavy MagLite flashlight. There were times listening to and talking with Castiel gave Sam the same physical reaction of frustrated fury he'd felt when his father had been alive.
"Just…stay here for a sec and keep pressure on his wound."
"Where are you going?"
"Need to find a place we can take him."
Sam ducked out of the car, straightening and shining the light around in an arc as he stood inside the opened door. He saw that just beyond the Impala was a series of railroad-like tracks with small boxcars parked and rusting. The weak daylight filtering through the windows above him was only enough to cast impenetrable shadows in various corners of the empty building. Looking up, he saw that light from the Western Auto sign sparkled slightly through some of the beveled pieces of glass.
He startled a bit at that. Castiel seemed to refrain from using his name unless absolutely necessary. He ducked his head back into the car.
"We should hurry."
Sam bit his tongue at the automatic retort that no freakin' shit they needed to hurry—the clock was ticking and they had both a demon and the cops on their ass—when he saw the Castiel's free hand was on Dean's throat. His brother's face appeared to be still wet from the rain, but his coloring was off: too pale overall, heightened color in his cheeks.
Sam took a shallow breath. "Wait here. I'll be right back."
The inside of the warehouse was, thankfully, dry. Bird droppings covered nearly every surface. As he made his way deeper into the room, Sam saw a metal staircase winding upwards to a partially-collapsed landing. Dropping his light from the edge of the landing to the wood floor where he stood, he saw a number of work benches with clamps and some kind of rusted saw shoved off into the corner as well as several overturned tables.
Moving quickly, he set the flashlight on the edge of a workbench to illuminate his surroundings, pulling a few of the tables around to create a mini-shelter and platform to lay Dean on. He narrowed his eyes at the dried excrement, but decided he didn't have much choice in the matter; they would simply have to find an inventive way to cover it.
He jerked, spinning around, a curse berating Castiel for abandoning his post ready on his lips. It died the moment the flashlight hit the figure of the angel. Castiel stood in the odd half-light of the beam, strange, wing-shaped shadows bouncing across the walls behind him, Dean hanging limply from his arms.
Sam gaped for a moment; his brother was no light weight. He was slightly shorter than Sam, but compact and all muscle. Sam had been forced to haul Dean's boneless form around more than once. He knew the strength that took.
Seeing the angel effortlessly holding him—Dean's head against Castiel's shoulder, his arms and legs dangling like a child who'd fallen asleep and was being carried to bed—tweaked something against Sam's heart.
"We need to mend his wound. Now."
Pressing the back of his hand against his trembling lips, Sam thought quickly. "Can you hold him for another minute?"
"I can hold him as long as it takes," Castiel said simply, the angel's voice betraying nothing of what such a statement might mean to the brother whose whole life he held in his hands.
Nodding, Sam ran to the Impala's trunk, tossing their wet bags onto the floor, then leaned far into the recesses of the compartment for the spare towels they'd accumulated from numerous hotels. Grabbing them, the first aid kit, and one more flashlight, he headed back to the make-shift treatment area he'd constructed.
"Bring him over here," he said as he passed Castiel.
He moved the flashlight to focus on the table, then turned on the spare and did the same with it. Spreading the towels on the table, he covered the dirt and filth, and then indicated with a nod that Castiel should lay Dean down. His gut bottomed out at the sight of his brother's pale, still face. Dean's forehead was smooth, his lips slightly parted.
"Cas—" Sam practically choked. "Is he…."
"He's alive," Castiel replied. "His body is working to combat the damage. Pain is only a word associated with sensation and as he cannot feel the hurt—"
"Okay, enough talking," Sam waved a hand at the angel. There were too many words floating around the dusty, abandoned warehouse, and none of them were the words he wanted to hear. He moved closer to Dean trying to shine the beam of light his brother's wound. "Dammit, I need more light."
The flash that followed his curse left an after-image on the backs of Sam's eyes. He blinked in confusion, shaking his head as a negative-like outline of Dean's profile flashed across his vision.
"What the hell?" He looked around. It was as if the windows above him had captured the electric light from the sign and channeled it into a beam that spotlighted his make-shift med station. "How—"
"You needed light," Castiel said, his voice a shrug.
"Right," Sam shoved his wet hair from his face. "Right, okay."
He untied the towel from Dean's side, the blood-soaked bandage pulling away with a wet, sucking sound. The gray Henley was ruined, drenched with blood and rain and torn from Dean's fight with the demonic maintenance man. Sam reached into the first aid kit and pulled out a pair of scissors he'd stolen from the bar he'd worked at when separated from Dean.
Cutting the shirt open, he saw that the slice in Dean's skin was roughly two inches across and still steadily spilling blood. Taking a breath, Sam lifted his eyes to Castiel.
"I…I don't know how deep it went," he confessed. "There could be bleeding inside."
"Why do you doubt yourself?" Castiel asked, his frown fierce.
Sam blinked in confusion.
"You have repaired your brother on numerous occasions with no medical knowledge beyond what your father provided and you learned on the road," Castiel continued. "You have yet to kill him."
Huffing out a grudging laugh, Sam looked at Dean's pale face. "When you put it that way…."
He used one of the towels to wipe away the blood, and then reached for the bottle of antiseptic.
"Any other time," he said softly to his unconscious brother, "I'd worry about this waking you up."
He poured the antiseptic over the cut, wincing as he pried open the torn flesh to make sure the cleansing fluid reached inside and flushed away any particles of glass or torn bits of shirt. The memory of how that felt sent shivers through him. Shifting his eyes quickly to Dean's face, he wasn't sure if he should be dismayed or relieved when his brother showed no reaction.
"How can I help?" Castiel asked quietly.
"Uh…," Sam tried to find a clear path of thought in the maze of fear and worry in his mind. "Salt. Along the entrance. Look in the trunk."
Sam peered into the bag and pulled out the suture kit and bandages. He hastily searched his memory for things that could help Dean that they didn't have on hand. "And he needs fluids. Saline IV. Antibiotics. And pain meds, even—" He looked up as a strange whisper shook the air around him, "—tually."
Castiel was gone.
Taking a breath, Sam began to sew his brother's skin together, trying to stay ahead of the blood, being as precise as possible despite hands shaking from fear and adrenaline. He'd placed nearly eight stitches when the whisper cut through the rain-soaked quiet once more.
Sam took a breath, steadying the needle. "Dean has a point about that bell."
"Will these help?" Castiel asked, his voice quavering slightly.
Looking up, Sam's eyebrows bounced in surprise. "What the hell happened to you?"
Castiel's lip was bleeding, his hair disheveled, and his trench coat slightly askew. "I was…met with resistance."
Frowning, Sam tied off the last stitch. "What'd you do, rip off a hospital?"
"It wasn't local," Castiel replied.
"Unbelievable," Sam muttered, reaching for the saline IV bag and catheter that Castiel held. "No wonder you and Dean get along so well."
Castiel set the medication next to the first aid kit. "What else?"
Sam placed a white square of gauze over the sutures, securing it with medical tape. He frowned when he saw the gauze almost immediately tinge pink along the line of stitches.
"Did you line the entrance with—"
"Salt, yes," Castiel nodded.
"Well, if you're going into hunter-gatherer mode," he started, "Water. Food. And then there's the stuff we need to summon a demon."
"Perhaps you should make a list," Castiel suggested.
Sam narrowed his eyes. "Are you kidding?"
Castiel peered over Sam's shoulder. "No."
Brow puckering with irritation, Sam shifted, blocking the angel's view. Castiel simply moved to the end of the table, his eyes intent on Sam's progress as he searched for a vein on the inside of Dean's forearm to insert the catheter.
"Only had to do this twice before," Sam confessed, blinking sweat from his eyes. "'S not easy."
"You are doing fine, Sam," Castiel assured him.
Sam glanced up, taken aback at the gentle praise. "For an abomination, you mean."
Castiel looked at him without a trace of malice, the drying blood on his lip giving him an air of vulnerability. "And a brother."
Looking away, exposed by the angel's eyes, Sam hung the IV bag on one of the workbenches. Scratching at his nose, he looked back down at Dean. The torn shirt revealed the bruise from the virus needle stretching with purple vengeance down Dean's ribcage and spilling over onto his belly, just shy of the bandaged glass cut.
Maybe it's a good thing you can't feel anything, Sam found himself mentally projecting toward his brother.
"Can't give him the medicine until he wakes up," he said. "Wish there was something else we could do."
Castiel shuffled closer to Dean, cocking his head to the side as if studying a work of art. Without a word, he shrugged out of his trench coat, laying it across Dean's bared chest, and adjusting it so that it reached his knees.
"That was nice," Sam commented.
"He will wake up when his body allows," Castiel replied. "If we move quickly, we could have the antidote by then."
Sam leaned back against the workbench near the IV bag. "Doubt it. We're not supposed to get that lucky."
Castiel narrowed his eyes. "You didn't always believe that."
Shoving his drying hair away from his eyes, Sam huffed. "So you have been watching us awhile. Guess I win the pool."
"You both were known to me before you were born," Castiel said, moving around to the other side of the table where Dean laid, his eyes on the unconscious man. "You were known to me before your parents were born."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Because of our destinies?"
"No," Castiel looked up at him. "Because of who you are."
Sam rubbed his face. "If you say so."
"Do you know why I was sent to Hell to rescue Dean?"
Sam looked over at the angel. "To stop him from breaking the first seal."
"Because he sacrificed his life for you," Castiel countered, his normally gruff voice deepening, his eyes oddly aglow in the captured light. "Angels are always angels, Sam. They are never anything else."
Sam frowned, confused. "Yeah, so?"
"There are some demons that were once human," Castiel said. "The demon you called Ruby was once a human witch."
Sam pushed away from the workbench, stepping closer to the table, listening. Without consciously realizing it, he dropped his hands down to rest on Dean's arm, seeking balance.
"Hell erases humanity," Castiel continued. "It is the complete absence of God, of all things good. It is devoid of hope. Without even the chance for light, the human soul disintegrates and a demon is born."
"Cas…," Sam whispered. "Did Dean ever…was he a demon? Y'know, in Hell?"
He hadn't realized how close to the surface that question had been—if Dean had succumbed, if he'd slipped the hold of humanity to torture souls on the rack. Somehow, if he had, then all Sam had done after Dean came back—the blood addiction, sleeping with Ruby, exorcising demons with his mind, killing Alistair—could be justified in Sam's mind.
He wouldn't be the only brother to have gone to the dark side.
Castiel shook his head. "His humanity burned bright," he said, looking down at Dean. "They pierced his flesh…broke his bones…skinned him alive. And yet he held tight to his soul."
Sam felt bile burn the back of his throat as Castiel spoke of the torture Dean had endured. Torture Dean had never told him about. Torture that Sam knew still visited his brother in his sleep, night after night. Even after all this time, after all they'd survived—together and apart.
"He said…," Sam forced out through stiff lips. "He said he climbed off the rack. That he started to…that he did to other souls what they'd done to him." Sam looked up at Castiel. "You said he broke the first seal."
Castiel nodded. "He called out to each of us," he said softly, his voice like crushed gravel. "He called out for help. But we were prevented from hearing. Until his heart broke. And the sound shook the Heavens."
"But…he was always…human?" Sam searched for confirmation. "Even when he…did that stuff?"
Castiel was quiet for a moment, his eyes still on Dean. "When you exorcised demons using only your will, were you still human?"
Sam felt a rock lodge in his chest, behind his heart. He couldn't answer. He couldn't move. He could only stare at Castiel.
"When you drank the blood of a demon and felt the power surge through you, were you still human?"
Castiel lifted his eyes and Sam felt his lungs trip over breath at the dual expression of accusation and understanding echoing from the angel's gaze.
"When you killed Lilith," Castiel said, his voice barely above a whisper, yet hitting Sam in the gut with each word, "and your eyes turned black with the force of that moment, were you still human?"
"Yes," Sam choked out.
"Dean's actions at the behest of his captors were only a temporary solace." Castiel looked up at the prismatic windows. "He never lost his humanity. The pain that bled through his soul was my beacon." Sam watched as the angel clenched his fist. "My sin is that I was not fast enough."
Castiel looked over at Sam and he felt his heart slam hard against his ribs at the naked pain exposed for a brief moment in the angel's gaze.
"My atonement is protecting him now," Castiel said, looking down and leaving Sam swaying with the residual impact of his eyes. "As best I can."
Sam swallowed, any words he thought to say meaningless in the wake of Castiel's confession. The noise of the rain that had been relegated to background noise in the rush to stop Dean from bleeding to death seemed to surge in and fill the gap of uncomfortable silence. It beat against the myriad of windows that surrounded the top of the building, hammering on the metal roof far above them.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Sam took a breath, tasting with that intake of air the dampness of the weather, the age of the building, the regret and pain that swam between the three men huddled in the shadows.
Time ticked by without remorse and Sam knew he could no longer afford moments to simply breathe.
"I can get you that list."
Castiel tilted his head. "List?"
"For supplies. And, y'know…demon summoning…stuff."
Castiel looked up and around, nodding. "Yes, this should be a sufficient location."
"Any idea how we're going to get the virus away from her?" Sam asked. "Assuming she has it."
Castiel's blue eyes seemed to flare. "I've learned a few…techniques," he said. "They manufactured two vials—and apparently we killed the chemist."
"Wish I could talk to this source of yours," Sam grumbled, using the stub of a bar pencil and the back of the gauze package to write out what he remembered all too well as the elements needed to summon a demon.
"You would not like him," Castiel informed him, averting his eyes, his expression troubled.
"Can't argue with you there," Sam muttered, handing the list over. "We're going to have to move fast when you get back. And I don't expect her to just accept that the Eye of God won't work for her."
"It does not matter if the demon accepts it," Castiel said, his voice a low growl. He closed his fist around the list. "We will not allow it to win."
It took Sam a moment to realize that he was once again alone in the abandoned warehouse with his brother. Leaning forward on the table, bracing his hands at Dean's side, Sam let his head hang low, trying to steady himself, pull in air, deny the unexpected press of tears.
He'd lost track of how much time had passed since they'd left the motel. How much longer did Dean have? How fast would he lose his last two senses? How quickly would he suffocate, his brain unable to command his lungs to fill?
How many times had he been forced to watch his brother die?
Pushing away from the table, Sam rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He dragged a hand down his face, pulling at his lower lip, then slid down the side of one workbench to sit on the floor, his knees tented, one hand cupping the other, resting against his lips as if keeping sound at bay.
We are so screwed up, Dean.
They hadn't stood a chance; all this fighting, all the struggle, and they still end up wounded, alone, forcing back the darkness. Dean's recent words slipped in through the chaos of his mind.
I was so worried about watching your every move that I didn't see what it was actually doing to you….
What it was actually doing to him…. He'd been so tangled up in Ruby, in the rush of power, in the need to do right—do it on his own, without his family's approval or assistance…. He hadn't stopped to see what he was doing to himself. What he was doing to them.
The rain slapped the windows overhead, marking time like a stopwatch. He rested his eyes on Dean's still form, Castiel's reveal of what his brother had been through in Hell bounced around Sam's head like a pinball made of mercury, splashing against memories of Dean's tense sleep, the sounds of the nightmares eating through him, the way he'd looked at Sam when he'd discovered his blood addiction…the accusation, the betrayal.
His body grew cold, stiff, from sitting on the floor, his thoughts a sour companion.
He'd let Dean simmer in his post-Hell pain. He'd seen what it was doing to Dean, and he'd let it happen. And if he were honest with himself, he hadn't really cared. Dean had been back, had gotten his second chance, and had done so without Sam's sacrifice. It was the worst kind of survivor's guilt: Sam had gotten what he'd wanted without having to give anything in return.
"Dammit, Dean," he whispered, closing his eyes, fury building hot and fast inside him, burning around his heart, flaring against the base of his throat.
If he opened his mouth, he wouldn't be surprised to see a thread of fire slip free and engulf both of them.
"Why didn't you tell me, man?"
If Dean had just told him what Hell had been like things might've been different. If he'd just known. He could have done it differently.
He would have wanted to do it all differently. There would have been a reason. Dean could have stopped it all—Ruby, Lillith, maybe even Lucifer—if he'd just trusted—
He jerked in surprise, sniffing as he looked up at Dean. "Hey," he greeted his brother's groggy gaze. "How are you fe—" He stopped, swallowing the last word. He pushed to his feet and moved quietly to Dean's side.
"Where…?" Dean frowned, pulling his brows together across the bridge of his nose. He rolled his head on the table, eyes taking in their surroundings until they finally rested on Sam. "You okay?"
Sam huffed. Typical. "Yeah, I'm okay. Stitched you up."
He watched Dean's eye track from his face to the tube dangling from the IV bag.
"Where'd you get that?" His voice was scratchy, drained.
"Cas," Sam replied.
"I really don't think we want to know," Sam replied.
"How…long've I been out?"
"Uh," Sam looked at his watch, trying to remember when they'd arrived. "Few hours."
Dean closed his eyes. Sam watched him swallow, his lips pressed tight. He rested his hand on his brother's arm, flexing his fingers automatically in reassurance. Dean took a breath and opened his eyes, looking over as if to speak.
Sam saw the moment Dean recognized that he was being touched. He saw Dean see his hand on his arm. See it, and not feel it.
Sam pulled his hand back as if Dean had been on fire.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly.
"Forget it," Dean mumbled. "Help me up?"
"Maybe you should just give it—"
"Sam." Dean's voice was the crack of a whip. "I'm running out of time."
Sam nodded, feeling the rock that had lodge behind his heart earlier drop low, settling into his stomach. He gripped Dean's hand, folding his brother's fingers around his.
Dean nodded once. Sam slipped a hand behind Dean's shoulder, then flexed, pulling him forward slowly, allowing Dean's equilibrium to adjust. Castiel's trench coat slipped down the length of Dean's body, pooling around his waist.
"Huh," Dean looked down at the garment. "Don't think I've ever seen him without this."
"He wanted to help," Sam explained, pulling the coat free and setting it next to Dean. He moved to his brother's arm, removing the needle and tubing from the empty IV bag, and pressing a square of cotton over the tiny puncture wound. "Probably could've used more than one of these," he muttered. "You lost a lot of blood."
Now that Dean was awake—and talking to him—the mayhem of Sam's thoughts seemed to cool, quiet, abate. Sam was content to let Dean's noise fill the silence that was too easily ruled by the darkness inside of him.
"We can worry about that later," Dean said, lifting the edges of his ruined shirt. "We got anything else I can put on?"
"Maybe," Sam said, offering his hand to help Dean slide off the table.
"Whoa," Dean whispered as he swayed, fumbling to brace himself against a table he couldn't feel.
Sam watched as Dean's hand skipped along the surface, resistance against movement his brother's only assertion that he was, indeed, touching something.
Sam flinched at the look his brother shot his way.
"Yeah, stupid question," he recanted.
"I just…," Dean shook his head slowly. "It's so…. I know I'm here." He lifted a hand hesitantly from the table turning it over. Sam watched the light spill across his brother's fingers. "I see me," Dean continued, his voice trembling slightly. "You…you're talking to me. I'm here."
"Yeah, you're here, man," Sam whispered, feeling himself fall inside, seeking balance and finding none.
Then Dean looked at him and the naked fear swimming in the green irises seemed to grab Sam by the throat, shaking him roughly, and setting him once more on his feet.
"I can't feel anything, Sam," Dean said, emotion tearing the corners of his words. "Nothing. It's like I'm…I'm disappearing."
Sam felt sick. Dean wasn't supposed to sound like this. He hadn't sounded like this since…. With the force of a punch, Sam was reminded of that moment under the viaduct so long ago now when he'd first learned about the rack. About Dean's survival. About the moment his brother broke.
"That's not true."
Fear was real. Fear was human.
He never lost his humanity.
"What?" Dean's question was a breath.
"You still feel, Dean," Sam stressed.
Dean looked away and Sam darted into his eye line.
"You told me once you wished you didn't feel anything," Sam reminded him. "You remember that?"
"This is different, Sam."
"Bullshit," Sam spat. "Bullshit it's different!" Sam grabbed Dean's arm, tugging it roughly so that the motion caught his brother's attention.
"Dude! What the hell!" Dean staggered slightly.
Something dark twisted inside of Sam. Something angry and hurt. Something that both wanted to save Dean from this new version of Hell and at the same time wanted to use it to remind them that Dean wasn't alone in this fight. That he wasn't the only one who had suffered. That they were both fighting a double-fronted war against angels and demons.
And that Sam had come back. Had returned to the fight.
I am here, too.
"You got your wish."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Dean snarled.
Sam forced himself to match his brother's heated stare, made himself stand strong, not back down. "Yeah, I do."
Dean reached up and curled shaking fingers into Sam's shirt, his hands lacking the fire Sam remembered. It wasn't the grip of the brother who had matched him blow for blow before telling him if you walk out that door…don't you come back.
It wasn't the grip of the brother who had found him—against all odds—the moment Lucifer rose and tugged him close, trying to get them both out of the room before Hell broke loose. It wasn't even the grip of a brother who had hauled him out of harm's way more times than he could count.
It took everything in Sam to not close his hands around Dean's fists.
"No," Dean growled. "You. Don't."
The anger that had been simmering in the wake of Castiel's words and Sam's own helplessness snapped, releasing a fissure of frustration inside of him.
"Okay, fine! Maybe you're right, Dean," Sam said, hearing his voice flinch, and then harden. "Maybe I don't know what it's like…to be skinned," he said, the rock in his belly completely filling his gut as Dean lost what little color he'd gained. "Maybe I don't know what it's like to scream for help and have no one hear me."
"How do you…." Dean dropped his hands, stumbling backward, only stopping when his thighs hit the table behind him and halted his motion.
Sam took a step forward, pressing the issue. "But I do know what it's like to cut another person just to make the pain go away."
"Shut up, Sam."
He heard the edge curve around Dean's words, and kept going.
"Maybe I don't know what's it's like to dig my way out of a grave—"
"You shut the fuck up, Sam!" Dean pushed at him, his hands clumsy against Sam's damp shirt.
"—but I do know how much it sucks to face people again after they found out what I'd done."
Dean's fist lacked force, but his aim was true. Sam felt the crack across his cheekbone and he took a staggering step backwards. He looked back at Dean, watching as his brother's lips twitched with anger, his eyes large in his pale face.
For a long moment, the only noise in the abandoned warehouse was the far-away sound of rain and thunder. They stared at each other, Dean breathing hard, his tattered shirt fluttering against his bruised, bared torso. Sam resisted the urge to touch his throbbing eye.
After a moment, Sam took a chance. "How you feeling now?"
"What?" Dean blinked at him.
"Pissed? Scared? Confused?"
Dean closed his mouth, looking away. Sam saw his shoulders drop.
"You still feel, Dean," Sam continued. "You aren't disappearing."
The rain beat against the temporary silence.
"They can't take it all away from you," Sam said softly. "And we're going to take the rest back."
Dean nodded once, not exactly agreeing with him, but not arguing either. His expression was tense, careful. It was the same expression he'd held when Sam met him in the abandoned lot. When Dean had handed over the demon-killing knife, trusting him. Wanting him back. Nausea rolled through Sam, making him sweat.
After a moment, Dean looked down at his bandaged side. "Sorry I hit you."
"'S okay," Sam replied, touching his face carefully. "I deserved it."
Dean huffed slightly, looking around. "Yeah, you did."
There was a strange energy shimmering between them, something that warned Sam that he basically just lit a fuse and that he was ill equipped to keep from getting burned.
"You wanna change your clothes?" Sam started to move toward the parked Impala.
Dean held up a hand, instinct and automatic reaction apparently overriding sensation. "I'll get it." He turned his hand over, studying it once more, the knuckles now red from where they'd made contact with Sam's cheek. Without looking at him, Dean said, "Thanks for stitching me up."
Sam shrugged. "Couldn't let you bleed all over your car."
Dean nodded again, his quiet unnerving. Sam thought of the weeks he'd spent away, working a normal job, returning to an empty motel room, dreaming of Jessica until the Devil found him.
It had been so quiet.
When he'd finally called his brother—already on his way to find him—the noise that seemed to simply follow Dean around was like a sigh of relief. He needed that now. The noise that was his brother.
"We're gonna get out of this mess, Dean," Sam stressed, once more reaching out, resting his fingers on Dean's arm, closing his eyes briefly when Dean didn't react. "Cas is getting the stuff we need to summon the demon."
Dean moved away, Sam's hand slipping free, unnoticed.
"He shouldn't have told you that stuff," Dean said quietly, having apparently surmised how Sam had known even a fraction of the tortured he'd endured.
No, you should have. Sam rolled his bottom lip against his teeth. "It's not like I didn't know some of it anyway."
Dean looked at him out of the corner of his eyes, the broken blood vessels in his left one giving him a slightly sinister appearance in the strange, borrowed light of the room.
"I was in control of what you knew before," Dean said, his eyes sliding away, landing on nothing. "Starting to think there's not much I can control anymore."
Sam frowned as Dean made his way over to the wet bags sitting in the discarded pile just beyond the trunk of the car, thinking about what Dean had said. He forced himself to calm down from the inside out, once again regaining control of the anger that had threatened to control him so many times before.
"Well," he leaned against the barricade of tables. "You can control if the angels use you as a vessel."
"And you can control the next place we go from here," Sam continued.
Dean glanced at him, pulling off his ruined shirt with more ease than Sam knew he would have if all had been right in his world. "Which will not be anyplace we've been in the last month or so. Pretty much done with random demons stealing bodies to try to kill me."
He bent over to grab a shirt from the wet duffel bag and Sam saw a bright spot of blood appear on his bandage. Before Sam could say anything, though, Dean pulled the wet garment over his head, the darkened material clinging to his body. He looked down at himself.
"Guess it's good I can't tell how uncomfortable this is," he muttered.
Sam slid off the table, gathering the medical supplies. "We need to be ready to move when Cas gets back."
He heard a click behind him, and turned to see Dean holding his 1911, sliding the chamber back and frowning.
"Everything is wet." Dean's brow was puckered as he crouched down to pull out the rest of the weapons Sam had hastily thrown into the duffel bags.
"Well, don't know if you noticed," Sam remarked, beginning to move toward his brother, the first aid kit in his arms, "but it's been rain—"
"Doesn't help that it's been raining for like four days," Dean said, stepping on the end of Sam's sentence.
Sam stopped short.
Dean continued to set out the weapons, moving clumsily as if there were boxing gloves on his normally nimble fingers.
Sam took a breath. "Dean."
Dean paused and glanced up. "Yeah?"
Sam exhaled. "I just thought—" He stopped again when Dean frowned and shook his head, as if trying to rid his ears of water. "Dean?"
Slowly, as if afraid it would explode, Dean set the gun he'd been holding down on the dry, dusty warehouse floor.
"Son of a bitch." He rubbed at his left ear, then his right.
As Sam watched, Dean pushed to his feet, wavering, then lifted his eyes. "Is it still raining?"
Not taking his eyes from his brother's, Sam nodded, all-too aware of the sound of thunder rolling behind the heavy splashes of rain against the windows at the top of the building.
Dean closed his eyes, swaying slightly. "I was afraid of that."
Continued in Part 3B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/95575.html