Title: Nothing Else Matters
Author: *bright
Rating: R
Spoilers: tag for 4.22
Characters: Sam, Dean and Bobby
Category: Gen: angst, H/C
Author's note: Fic masterfully beta'd by gidgetgal9 and sendintheklowns, I owe them the title and a lot more, all remaining mistakes are mine.
Words: 7767
Disclaimer: Me own nada.

What Dean remembers when he wakes up in the smoke is flurry at best. He remembers the light, Sam's eyes pinned to it and how he had to drag his brother out. Sam backing with hands spread as if to shield Dean from whatever was coming. A human shield against Lucifer? His brother's a moron. And fucking heavy!

Dean blinks to clear his vision; a thin cold spring rain falls while darkness creeps closer, bringing a chill along. This looks nothing like hell, he ponders, it looks like every other day for a Winchester. Who else would find himself flattened to the ground, bottom firmly planted in a pool of slimy mud by Sasquatch while it fucking rains?

“Sam? You okay?” Dean groans when he finally gets one leg free. “People are gonna talk if they find us like this, man! Get up and off me!” He shakes Sam's shoulder, making his brother whimper and his eyes dance under the closed lids before they open to slits.

He doesn't get an answer, hadn't expected one either because everything was a mess and he knows Sam is everything but fine. They had both messed up royally and knowing Sam, hell, even remembering his insane ramblings during detox, is enough for Dean to know that Sammy's currently in bits and pieces. But he's still Sam. The 'I'm sorry' before the lights went out was all vintage Sam. So are the hunched shoulders as Sam pulls himself up to sit. The eyes that rake over Dean, assessing him, without ever daring to meet with Dean's. This is mortified Sam. A bleeding wound of guilt, pain, doubt and remorse. Dean knows his brother.

But he doesn't know what to say. There are no words to fix this, no words of consolation. This time it's he who sits here, robbed of words and wishing there was something to say to make it at least a little bit better. Sam still carries guilt for Jessica, for their Mom, for everything and that just because he's Sam; a violated child whose desperate trial to redeem himself had backfired in the worst possible manner.

“You all right?” He tries again and receives a nod.

“You?” Sam inquires, stealing a glance at him.

“My butt's in a fricken pool of, I don't know what, but it's fucking slippery and not in an awesome way either! Let's haul our assess over to Bobby's and regroup. I have some asses I want to kick and this time it's not even your scrawny one. We were played, Sammy, played like fucking pawns!” He rises and tries to reach out to Sam and help him up but Sam doesn't even look at him before he gathers the freakishly long legs of his and pulls himself to his feet. He sways backwards once, forced to take a step to regain balance, but he never looks straight at Dean, nor does he speak.

“Sammy, we need to get outta here and my baby's at Bobby's. Please tell me you drove here because we really do need wheels right now.” Dean walks up to Sam, tries to reach through the blankness in his brother's eyes. Needs a reaction, a sign of life. Sam stumbles backwards, like he's afraid of Dean, backs away, his face a grayish blotch in the increasing darkness. The raindrops running over his face reminiscent of tears.

Dean wishes Sam would cry because this silence, the lack of emotions is scaring Dean shitless. He knows his brother well enough to realize that the blank face is a front.

And he isn't sure he even wants to know what's going on inside the oddly wired brain of his brother's. He's not sure he can handle it right now.

When Sam turns and walks away, Dean just follows. Walks behind him until they come up to a ratty car, a Mustang that's seen better days. Dean watches Sam steel himself at the sight of it. Narrows his eyes at Sam's shaking hands as he gets in the car and turns the key. Climbs in and racks the heat up to dry their clothes. Doesn't say anything when Sam drives off and sets course northwest, just keeps an eye on him, watches Sam drive through the drizzling rain and waits for him to speak.

When he wakes up the sun is already up, like nothing ever happened and the world is perfectly safe. He wakes up with Sam's coat draped over him, car at a stand still in the parking lot of a gas-station. Sam hands him a coffee and some sandwiches wrapped up in cellophane. Dean takes the coffee and downs it before he asks where the restroom is, he really needs to take a piss. His brother makes a vague gesture and Dean takes off, looking at the plates of the trucks as he's passing. Evidently they are already in Ohio and Dean wonders how fast Sam's been driving. Not that he can get on Sam's case for flooring it or anything, it's just not Sam to take such risks.

Dean takes his sweet time, hoping to give Sam time to wind down. Washes his face with cold water and wonders how Sam's feels right now? When did the kid last sleep? Eat? Wouldn't that shaking cease if Sam would get something to eat? Or was he going into withdrawal already? Waiting Sam out wrecks his nerves so he cuts it short and picks up more sandwiches and a six-pack of beer before he heads back out. Maybe he'll be able to trick Sam into drinking and pass out? Dean doesn't know what to do anymore.

Sam's parked the car right outside the exit. He sits in the car with the driver's door open and watches the exit like a hawk. Dean recognizes strategy when he sees it and keeps his cakehole shut. Sam's on edge and Dean gets into the car and offers Sam the sandwiches. Sam declines, shuts the door and turns the key. Dean wants to smack him hard, but nibbles on the tasteless food in silence. Sam looks worse than crap but Dean lets him take the wheel all the same. He'll let Sam drive another couple of miles, he knows that set of jaw and debating his brother would be futile at this point. That's all Sam lately, obstinately stubborn and Dean is tired.

He's tired of the silence that fills the car and screams loud enough to feel suffocating. Tired of the fear he feels when he watches Sam's shaking hands and drawn face. Dean doesn't know how to reach Sam and Sam is clearly drowning. Bobby was right and Dean doesn't know what to do.

Sam drives in silence and Dean just can't take it. He drinks beer until he falls asleep, exhausted by merely looking at Sam's tense body and set jaw. The helplessness he feels watching Sam is in many ways worse than hell and he gets a new understanding about what Sam's been going through. He's not processed everything yet and can't reach out and help Sam, because he's scared of opening the floodgates. Dean's able to take the shit when it lands on him, seeing it slowly rip Sam apart is something he can't handle. He'll take any hellish nightmare over this because he does wake up from those. Watching Sam fall apart, while he sits beside him, helpless, is worse.

Once he'd thought nothing would come even close to hell. He knows better now. Having the option to step down from the rack in hell, despicable as the action and the ramifications were, there was at least an option and that made all the difference. He broke the first seal and he'll despise himself forever for making that choice, without even knowing about the consequences.

Sam had been right, they should have killed Lilith months ago, before all the other seals had been broken.

Dean closes his eyes, searches for words to reach Sam but finds none. Sammy is still driving too fast, taking everything out of the car, slams the fifth gear in when he slides onto the highway and lets it rip.

Dean keeps his eyes shut and trusts Sam. Like he should have done from the get go.

Sam's vision is fixed on the road, eyes dry and itchy but clear enough for him to keep the pedal pressed to the metal. He needs to get Dean over to Bobby's asap. Needs to set his brother free at last. He's aware that Dean's fallen back asleep and he kind of marvels that Dean actually trusts him to drive. Of course, it isn't the Impala, which may explain a lot, but not all. But he can't dwell on such things now, he needs to get Dean to safety, away from himself, as fast as possible.

The voices and screams inside his head makes it hard to concentrate. There's the nurse pleading, Lilith taunting and Ruby's triumph, all mingled together with the image of Jess, burning on the ceiling and asking him why. The voice, telling him the truth every time he tries to rationalize his actions, belongs to Dean. The Dean from the voice-mail, the Dean from Bobby's bunker.

Sam knows he wasn't duped, he walked into the mess willingly, he opened the gate, no one else had anything to do with that but he trusted the wrong fucking demon, let himself be cajoled. There was no escaping that, and by doing what he did, he condemned Dean and everybody else to hell on earth. Apparently that will be his legacy.

There are no adequate words to describe what he is. A monster? He's far past that. A demon? He's even worse. What he brought on mankind is beyond words, beyond comprehension. He can't ever run away from this, can't fix this either, can't fix anything. There's nothing he can do, except save Dean from the brother he went to hell for and the evil he has become. Save him from being reminded and associated with everything he's a personification of; mass-destruction. Something he should have done a long time ago. Hindsight is a bitch.

He wants to phone the clinic where Ruby dropped the nurse off, needs to know but is afraid he's messed up the woman's head for good by sucking her blood while she screamed and begged for mercy. He just can't forget the woman's eyes when he pulled the demon out of her, can't forget the terror. He swallows convulsively, tries to abate the nausea. He knows he didn't drink her dry, but there are other ways you can die. How does a pediatric nurse ever get over having served Lilith babies? How does she live with that? Maybe death would have been more merciful after all? He just doesn't know, can't seem to do anything right any longer.

The headlights sweep over a frightened deer, staring right at him, when the road takes a turn.

Instinctively he holds out a hand to shield Dean from a possible impact as he slams the breaks and sends the car skidding and sliding over the wet asphalt.

Dean wakes with a jolt, cursing him out before Sam finally gets control over the car and the deer is gone. What's left is only darkness and the rain that seems to follow them from state to state.

“What the fuck, Sam?” Dean growls.

“Sorry.” Sam mumbles and grips the steering wheel even tighter. His fingers are aching, his back is stiff but he hadn't even noticed it until now. He had to remember he wasn't alone in the car, Dean was with him and he needed to take it slower. It was one thing if he ended up spread over the road, but Dean needed to get to Bobby's in one piece. Dean would save the world he had condemned. Dean is what's important, always has been. Sam just hadn't understood that he was nothing but a massive failure until now. Hadn't dared admit that, even when it was written on the wall. There's no escaping what he is, never would be, it's time to stop running.

“Sam, we really need to get you from behind the wheel before I have to scrape you off the road.” Dean sounds exasperated and Sam nods. They're low on gas anyhow.

“Whoa, hold on a minute? You're agreeing with me?” Dean sounds genuinely surprised and Sam closes his eyes for a moment. Yes, he did deserve that.

“There was a sign for a motel, we should be close. Need gas anyhow.” He sounds like he's swallowed gravel and he can feel Dean's eyes on him and all he wants to do is open the door and run. He wants to vanish in the dark rain, melt into it and forget what he's done. If there only was some place left to hide.

The roadside forest gets more sparse, the thick wall of darkness opens up to fields and up ahead there's glimmering lights that color the sky. Signs tell them that they are nearing Rochelle and Dean watches him like he's crazy.

“It's been more than twenty-four hours,” Sam tries to defend himself and then shuts up. He'll never learn, will he? He needs to shut the fuck up, he needs to vanish. Dean's right, driving for more than twenty-four hours with only two breaks is insane. He's been putting Dean at risk and he should just shut the hell up!

“Sammy? Ever heard of sleep? Food? You know, the nicer things in life? Not the nicest, or wait, when it comes to pie, it's right up there. You need some rest Sam, really, before you turn us into spectacular roadkills. First gas-station; you pull over and give me the keys. I'll drive for a while. You need to get some shuteye, you frea -, fruitcase.”

Sam wishes Dean didn't feel he has to choose his words. At this stage 'freak' is a compliment, really. If he was only freakish, there'd be hope. Right? He hadn't always been a failure, had he? Lilith laughs at him in the back of his mind. Jess asks him why and Sam feels bile rising and has to swallow convulsively.

Dean keeps talking in the background but the noise in Sam's head is too loud now, he can't hear anything else but the nurse begging, Lilith laughing and Ruby taunting him while the evil in his veins starts to pulsate in his temples.

He fixes his eyes on the road and drives though the noise, to the green light proclaiming the gas-station open. When he parks the car after Dean's filled her up, there's the humiliation of Dean leaning over and prying Sam's fingers off the steering wheel. Because Sam just can't let go.

Dean is fucking chattering like a moron and he knows it. He's been having verbal diarrhea ever since he woke up and realized Sam had the car dancing like a stripper with her eyes on a stack of pretty bills. If Sam hadn't held his arm out, Dean would probably have kissed the windshield hard enough to lose his teeth. And he is fond of his teeth.

He really doesn't want to pick a fight with Sam right now, he just wants him away from the wheel. Preferably doped up on some heavy-ass tranquilizer. Because Sam looks close to psychotic. It isn't just the shaking of the hands or his body tensed up to a string that Dean fears will snap at any given moment. The worst is that he's so closed in on himself, with nervously flickering eyes, white-knuckled grip and deep crinkles on his forehead. It reminds Dean of that first week after losing Jess. Sam was barely hanging onto his sanity, barely functioning. His only reason back then had been revenge, most like it had been for this last year. What was left for Sam now? Sam always needed a goal, something to append his hope on.

Dean doesn't even want to think about it. Doesn't even want to imagine what's going on in Sam's head right now, he just wants to see Sam sleep, see his crazy little brother get some goddamned rest!

So he talks, keeps up a stupid stream of endless monologuing because Sam, the fucking bitch, never responds. It seems Sam's gone, Sam's left not only the building but the fucking world and is currently in outer space with Major Tom. His eyes are empty, they remind Dean of that cold rainy night that still has him waking up, screaming. Reminds him how he had to close them when he laid Sam on the ratty bed. The emptiness too much to bear.

He tries to good-heartedly remind Sam of his girly diet of club salads and tofu-burgers, tries to get him hungry or goad him into huffing in protest. When it doesn't work and Sam just sits there, staring blankly ahead, Dean has to lean over and loosen Sam's death grip. The fingers are cold and so damned hard to loosen that Dean's afraid he's going to have to break them before he gets them off the steering wheel. Sam just lets his hands fall into his lap.

Dean's out of the car, grips Sam's shoulder and drags him out and to his feet. Sam doesn't put up a fight, just more or less falls out and struggles to stay upright. Dean can almost hear Sam's muscles scream in protest and he is afraid now; the fear makes his mouth go dry.

“C'mon Sammy,” he pleads. “Let's get something to eat. I needs a double serving of anything with sloppy grease in it. You with me? I can smell the burgers! Fuck, Sam, say something.”

“She baked me cookies.” Sam looks at him, without really seeing. “And I destroyed the world.”

“That's it, drama queen,” Dean snaps and grips Sam's coat sleeve. “You're delusional, you've fallen off the freakin' wagon. I've had it, shut up and follow me.”

Dean gets his crazy brother inside, bends him to sit in a booth and orders the usual club-salad and coffee. Refuses to admit to the fear, tucks it far away in his mind. Sammy's going to be fine. He's just tired, he needs to rest and they'll be fit for fighting again. Rambling about Jess baking him cookies was not so crazy, was it? She had, that last night, Dean had seen the plate on the table. Funny the things you remember. Nothing odd that Sam remembers that. Right? Sammy's just tired, he used to ramble just like this when he was little and had just been woken up. Perfectly normal.

Except his brother is awake right now and he's just turned twenty-six and he's acting goddamned loopy and Dean doesn't know what to do. Sam's barely mentioned Jessica in years and now this? He eats his food, watches Sammy poke the salad with the fork and take a mouthful of coffee before he goes green around the gills and downs a glass of water.

When they get back on the road, Sam staring right ahead while Dean says he'll call Bobby and ask if he's stocked up on psych meds because Sammy's gonna need a truck-load to get his head back on straight.

Sam doesn't even blink.

Sam watches the on-coming traffic. Lights blinding, sweeping over the asphalt, illuminating the inside of the car to then die out and level into darkness. It reminds him of that night, with the fire-trucks' blue lights illuminating the destruction. Reminds him of Jess, the first time he saw her, in the flashlight while he was looking for his dorm in the middle of the night. The way they stopped in their tracks when the bean swept over her, making him catch the vision of her long blond hair. He can still remember how beautiful she was; hair a mess after a long night at work at the campus cafeteria. Eyes bright, watching him curiously. He had made a total fool of himself; stumbling over his words when he tried to explain what the hell he was doing out there, like a thief in the night. Her face had softened in light of his stupidly long excuse for having startled her. Then she laughed and he was sold.

It had been fairly easy to push the memories of his life to the back of his mind, deny who he was, want what he never could have. Daydream of the white picket fence and Jess; naked in bed, greeting him with strawberry jam on her lips, her nose buried in the crook of his neck when they slept. He should have died with her.

If he'd died then, everything else would have changed. Dad would probably never have had to make the deal since he wouldn't have crashed the Impala and almost killed Dean. Dean would ever have gone to hell, Lucifer would still be caged. Why didn't he realize that in time? The best revenge would have been dying a long time ago.

And Lilith laughs at him, again. Calls him stupid, calls him a monster and the lights pound the truthfulness into his aching temples while pictures of Jess morph into her burning on the ceiling, illuminated by the headlights and always asking why.

When daylight breaks he can even feel Jess' blood dripping on his hands, hot and sticky, smelling sickly sweet of iron.

He bows his head to look down on his hands that lay palm up in his lap. The blood is still dripping, ruby red and disgusting. He can't help but look up and plead for forgiveness, meeting only with the padded roof of the car.

“What the hell, Sam?”

The car swerves a little when Dean's hand grabs his shoulder hard. Sam raises his eyes and looks over at his brother who is slowing the car down and steering it to the side. Sam looks around for any signs of peril, but there is none. Road lies open straight ahead, sun is rapidly rising and spring green meadows flank them. Sam doesn't understand.

They stop at the shoulder, Dean cursing and looking to the backseat, curses again and turns to Sam. “Ruby wasn't much of a chick, was she? No paper towels, nothing! The way the bitch wolfed out on ketchup you'd think she'd have the common sense to keep tissues around?”

Sam still doesn't understand when Dean peels off his coat and shirt and reaches out with the latter balled into his hand. He just scoots back up against the door when Dean leans in and presses the shirt to Sam's face.

“You're not five anymore Sammy! Could'a told me. Migraine? Is it? Like the ones you used to get after the visions?”

Sam tries to push Dean's hand away, tries to escape but Dean is all over him and he is pissed. Sam relents.

“You're bleeding like a pig, Sammy. This messy blood-shedding's become a fucked up, nasty habit. Lucky for you it's not my baby you're bleeding on or you'd have the honor of cleaning her up with your favorite shirt. I'm so not enjoying this, dude. You know how hard this shit is to get out!”

It's not until now Sam gets it that his nose is bleeding. He gets it because Dean is tilting his head back as far as goes, making the blood run down his throat and the salty taste has him gagging when he remembers and Lilith is back, laughing at him and the nurse begs harder.

”Oh fuck, Sammy. Don't puke, not now. Try to grow a pair and keep it in. Not like you've got anything to spare anyway. What the fuck's wrong with you?”

Finally Sam gets a hold of Dean's wrist and pulls free. “M'fine.”

“Sure you are. At least you didn't lose your knack for lying right to my face. Major fail, dude, major fail.”

Sam can feel the backrest being lowered and he tilts his head forward to assess the situation. “Dean?”

His brother just folds him down onto the seat. Yanks his leg to the side and pushes him down to lay on his side. It's uncomfortable and his knee keeps hitting the console. He's too tired to protest, too tired to put up a fight and he hates himself because once again, Dean has to take care of him. Save him from a ridiculous nose-bleed and Sam knows Dean hates this. Dean has probably always hated this but he is his father's son and this is what John told Dean to do; save the freak or kill him. And Sam knows Dean will never be able to kill him.

“M'sorry.” He doesn't want to look at Dean right now, knows the disgust there is on Dean's face without even looking. Knows how tired and worn-out Dean is. Knows that words will never suffice so he closes his eyes and curls in on himself, tries to make himself invisible to not bring Dean more pain by reminding him of the burden Sam knows he's always been. “I'm so sorry,” he tries again, because that is all he's got.

“Shut up with the I'm sorries, dude. Just shut the fuck up!” Dean's words cut like a knife and Sam knows he deserves every one of them. Behind his closed eyes, Dean dies on him. Ripped to bloody pieces while he is pinned to the wall, helpless, watching while Lilith laughs. Dean's dead eyes stare into nothing and Sam can't fix anything. Dean's heavy in his hold when he carries his dead brother out to the car. Dead because of him.

Sam stays still and waits.

It's Dean's hands that shake when he turns the key and gets back on the road. He hates to leave Sam like this, curled up on the passenger seat, the 'do not disturb' sign up. But he needs ice, or meds or any help because right now he has no clue what to do. So Sam won't, probably, die from a nose bleed but damned, the kid is so messed up right now. So tense that his knees rattle against the console. And the thousand yard stare he's sporting is seriously creeping Dean out. If he has a seizure in the car, there'll be some serious damage. Sam is strong, even all fucked up.

Dean gets his cell and calls Bobby. He picks up at the first ring, just as Dean expected him to.

“Dean?” The man asks, relief and apprehension audible in that one word.

“We're fine, considering.” Dean replies with a glance over at Sam. ”Sam's just, I don't know Bobby. He's just spent and all wired up at the same time. Sits and stares and doesn't speak. And when he does, he doesn't make much sense.”

“Sam's with you?” Bobby exhales, the relief winning out.

“At least I've got his ass in the front seat, not so sure where his head is at the moment.” Dean spots a sign for Mapleton, and starts looking for somewhere to bunk up on what he needs for Sam.

“What'ya sayin' son? Grapevine is all over the place right now and Rufus is calling me with ass-hat updates every five. Is it true? Lucifer rose? You sure it's Sam you have with you?”

Dean can't help but grin. “Bobby, I really have a hard time believing Lucifer would be curled up in a crappy Mustang that reeks of tacky perfume while having a nose-bleed from hell. It's Sam all right, all Sam. But we have some work to do now. I have some angel-ass to kick. And I need Sam right there with me.”

Dean glances in the rear-view mirror, which he's angled enough to show the front seat. Who the fuck cares about traffic from behind in the wake of an Apocalypse and his brother going insane? Sam still hasn't moved.

“Bobby, I'm not sure what's up with him and I can't take him to a psych-ward to have him checked out, now can I? I mean, he'll probably be locked up and they'll throw away the keys. The way he's kinda just staring right ahead and making less sense than a McMuffin is freakish. I think it's best you ask that Army-doc you know, get some intel about what the fuck is going on. I don't think smacking some sense to him will help this time either and he sure isn't taking in anything I say.”

“You want me to tell him that Sam's shell-shocked because he freed Lucifer? Yeah, that'll go down well, won't it? I don't think it'll help Sam much when I'm in a straight-jacket, you idjit! Just get him here, we'll figure things out, somehow we'll get this mess sorted out. Just keep Sam away from any loaded weapons, will yah?”

“Bobby, the dude's so shaky he wouldn't hit a barn even if he tried, so not worried about him shooting anybody.” Dean smiles grimly at the implication, watching Sam's shaky hands clasping the flannel shirt that once had a washed out bluish tinge.

“You're forgetting that I was there when Sam lost – .” Bobby swallows and pauses. “Anyhow, don't let him near any loaded weapons or sharp objects and don't let him out of your sight. You hearing me?”

“Bobby?” Dean feels that ominous weight on his chest again, the one he doesn't want to recognize, never wants to face in regards of Sam.

“Just haul your asses over here, will yah? ASAP.”

Bobby's off the line and Dean closes his cell. With a glance in the rear-view mirror, he reaches out to grab the fabric pooling around Sam's bent knee, fists the denim and holds on for life. There are just some things Dean can't handle. Things he can't even think about. That one stupid solution he's feared since Salvation and Croatoan.

Right now he's dying for some coffee and that's what he'll concentrate on. He'll fix Sam, if it's the last thing he does, he'll fix his pain in the ass little brother.

It's late when they drive up to Bobby's. Darkness is better, Sam decides, easier to hide in. He likes the darkness now, it's like part of him. The sunshine feels like a mockery; a slap to his face. He's been doing everything Dean's asked of him; pressed the ice to his nose and stopped the bleeding, drank the coffee and really tried to eat that burger. Dean's looking at him like he's stranger and maybe he is? It doesn't matter much anymore, he'll just stay under the radar till the opportunity presents itself. Dean is safe now, with Bobby. Dean has angels at his side, he has to be safe because there's nothing more Sam can do to protect him.

Dean gets out of the car and the lantern over the front door goes on as Bobby appears on the porch. Sam turns away, doesn't want to face Bobby, doesn't want to face anyone anymore. It's getting harder and harder to wait the closer his goal gets. He's terrified he will botch this up too, terrified enough to plan as much as possible under the circumstances. Impatience will get him nowhere. Still he can barely suppress it roaring inside him, the need so strong it has to be constantly pushed back and kept in check.

Sam doesn't speak a word when Bobby walks up to his side and lays a hand on his back. Instead he flinches. Bobby doesn't do such things, doesn't reach out physically to him, hasn't since Sam can remember, except that one time, with the barrel of a shotgun. He wonders how much Bobby regrets not pulling the trigger?

“You two knuckle-heads okay?” Bobby inquires behind him and Sam glances over the car roof at Dean. His brother looks tired and it's all his fault. He failed again. Dean wouldn't let him drive after their last stop. And why should he? Dean didn't trust him anymore and he had all the reasons not to. Somehow the lack of trust makes everything easier, everything would work out once he'd fixed things. Dean would be able to breathe easier, the burden gone. Right now, Dean's distrust is a relief, a stamp of approval.

“I need to wash this,” Sam says, lifting the hand with the balled up shirt.

Dean's incredulous stare doesn't faze Sam, if there's one good thing he can do for his brother, he'll do it. Restoring Dean's favorite shirt is not a thing of magnitude, but at least it's something Sam will be able to work on.

Maybe Dean will understand the why later? It won't matter, but Sam would love if he did.

He follows in silence when Dean glowers his name and pushes him toward Bobby's house. The light kind of hurts his eyes and he longs for darkness. He guesses he was born for it after all.

Dean concentrates on Sam's breathing. In the darkness it's hard to tell if he's asleep of not. Sam's not stupid, he's snuck out on him before, when and how, Dean's not even sure he wants to know. The ominous feeling is not leaving him, not tonight. Not after Sam trying so hard to behave normally and failing so miserably. Dean does know his brother, has known him since he was born and something is so dreadfully wrong right now. It's even worse than before because Sam is subdued and silent, evasive. The fight is gone and maybe Dean should be grateful but instead he is scared.

He and Bobby have a silent understanding, watching out for Sammy is their main concern right now. Watching him without making him feel caged and surveilled. Bobby hadn't told the full truth about their encounter in the yard. Dean knows Bobby left the 'then shoot' out for a reason but Dean wishes he had known. There's so much he wishes he could do differently, so many decisions he regrets and words he would like to eradicate from the English language. He wishes he had left Sam dead and eaten his gun instead of bringing him back to pain and guilt. Sam may be in heaven if he hadn't done what he did. None of this may have happened and Sam would be safe and in peace. Then again, Dean suspects heaven isn't what it's cracked up to be. But as long as he was with Sam, where the hell ever they ended up, it'd been all right with him. If it had turned out to be hell, Dean would have made it his priority to look out for Sam and it would all have been easier. He'd gladly taken the pain if Sam was spared. But that was exactly what landed them in their current mess anyhow. But letting Sam go alone? No, that wasn't on the menu, not then, not ever.

He was a selfish SOB when it came to Sam, but that was who he was and nothing would change it. Nothing else mattered, hadn't mattered for as long as Dean remembered: Sam was his pain in the ass, stubborn, bitch-faced, floppy haired dork of a little brother. The only one that would stand sitting in his baby and listening to the same tapes over and over. The only one he'd sing Wanted Dead or Alive with, off-key on a literal highway to hell. Fucking Bon Jovi? No one else but Sammy.

Tomorrow he'd tie the kid down and force some food into him if necessary. He'd prod and poke until Sam started to talk. About the hallucinations; all that insane rambling he'd heard while Sam was locked up. About the guilt Sam still carried. What to do when detox set in, how to help. Yes, this time he'll even get demon blood if that what it takes. Anything to have Sam back. He needs to tell Sam about the fucking angels, that rat-ass Zac and his crazy ideas. There's so much he needs to tell Sam, so much he wants to clear up. Tomorrow they'll start to make things right again.

He listens in the darkness; Sam's breathing is calm and even now and Dean closes his eyes.

Sam lies still and waits. He can hear thunder in the distance. Or maybe it's Lucifer trying out his mojo? Sam will never know. Just like he'll never tell Dean that he saw Lucifer's face and it was like looking in a mirror. In the midst of the dancing lights, he saw his own eyes staring back at him, smiling. That's when he knew there was no turning back. He still isn't sure he's not imagined it all but it's one of those things he has no wish to explore further.

The house is quieter now; Bobby's snores have taken over the sound of his pacing footsteps. Dean's asleep, Sam's learned to distinguish his breath pattern this last year. Dean's in deep sleep, no nightmares plaguing him right now and that's what Sam wants for Dean, no more pain, his brother has had enough.

Sam rises soundlessly from bed, stops to look at Dean sleeping, smiles when he notices Dean is sleeping like he always does; nose in the pillow, arms wrapped around it. It always endears Sam seeing Dean sleep like a baby, coddling his pillow. Sam would have gotten Dean a gigantic teddy-bear to hug if it hadn't meant a certain beating from big, tough, need nobody-bro. Sam knows better and he wishes he could give Dean all that he needs.

Sam bends down to cover Dean's bare feet with the cover before he turns and walks out through the door. He takes his coat because it seems to rain outside. It's kind of insane, he realizes that but his hands are shaking enough as is, freezing won't steady them.

He finds the post-its in his pocket, the ones he stole from Bobby's desk and writes:

Guys, I'm sorry.
Please, salt and burn.


It looks cold-hearted so he adds:

PS. Thanks for everything, Dean. LU jerk!

He glues it to the window on the front door. Leaves it slightly ajar and steps into the night. This all has to happen in silence, up until the very last moment. This is the one thing he can't mess up.

The night is cool and soothing, the rain bringing out a freshness he remembers from happier days. Early mornings at Stanford, walking through campus with Jess' hand clasped in his. Playing soccer with Dean on their way to school, the dampness of the spring grass staining their knees. They'd always pull off their shoes to play barefoot, just because shoes cost money and they never had much. It had been years since he'd walked barefoot in the rain, it feels nice, almost normal. It's fitting to go out on a night like this.

The Impala is parked in its usual place. Bobby keeps that spot free for Dean's baby. Sam smiles sadly at the thought of Dean and his car; the link to their father that Dean refuses to acknowledge. Undoubtedly it lies behind all the love of what's just metal, leather and a V8. His brother will hate him for picking the lock of the trunk but he has no other choice. Getting the key would have been too dangerous.

He crouches at the locked trunk and it opens with the first poke of the wire he always keeps in his pocket. He doesn't even leave a smudge behind and it feels like a victory. Dean would be proud.

This is familiar territory, he has a photographic memory after all and he did memorize the contents before they went inside. Only thing he wasn't able to locate in his haste were the silver bullets and he guesses he may need one. Not knowing how much he's changed, it's better to be safe than sorry.

He flicks the flashlight on inside the trunk, avoiding to cast too much light outside the car and finds the casing right where he suspects it to be. He will only need one and it's not like Dean's life will depend on it. Bobby's just going to have to make another one to replace it.

The gun is cold and heavy in his hand, he doesn't remember it being this heavy before? Or maybe he's just gotten so used to it that he never paid attention to the sensation of it in his hand?

His hands are shaking badly and it takes forever for him to get the one bullet loaded and ready. He can't do it here, just can't blow his brains all over Dean's baby, that would just be freaking cruel. But he doesn't want Bobby and Dean to have to look for him either, it's not like they won't wake up from the gunshot. Sam wants to keep it as clean and simple as possible, for Bobby and Dean. It won't be easy for them, whichever way.

Sam takes a step to the side and the lights in the yard flare to life. He pivots when he hears Dean scream his name. For a moment he freezes, unable to process what is happening. Dean starts to run in his direction and Sam turns his back to his brother and lifts the gun.

The moment Dean flicks on the lights and sees Sam, he knows. He'd woken with a start, knowing something was wrong. He had his boots on in no time, not even bothering to turn on the light when he stumbled out of the room. The front door was ajar and Sam's coat was missing. He'd ripped his own from the hanger, ready to hunt Sam down wherever his fucking stupid ass brother thought he was going.

And then, standing on the porch, light bouncing off the metal in Sam's hand, he stops thinking and just runs. His heartbeat drenches every other sound; all he sees is the gun in Sam's hand. Never lets his eyes drift off it. He launches himself at his brother's broad back, slams Sammy to the Impala, feels Sam twitch when the gun goes off and the sound of glass breaking finally overrides the thunder of his heart.

The sound of the gunshot reverberates through him and he presses Sam to the metal. Then Sam takes a shaky breath, lets out a whimpering sound and goes limp, slides down to his knees and Dean pulls him back and into his hold, slips on the mud and goes down to his knees. Sam's middle is bloodied from the shreds of glass having cut through his shirt and Dean suspects he broke some ribs by slamming him against the metal. His brother's face is ashen and his hand is still holding the gun when Dean sits down and Sam slides into his lap.

Dean reaches over, wrenches the gun out of Sam's hand and throws it away before he gathers a more secure hold on Sam and pulls him closer.

Bobby appears at their side, breathless and barefoot and Dean can't find any words.

“Dean,” Sam grunts. “Lemme go and you won't have to do this, please.”

Dean's heart stops in that instance. Skips a beat before it breaks and starts to bleed. He doesn't care that Bobby is standing right there, watching them, when he reaches out and brushes Sam's long wet bangs from his eyes.

“You know it has to be done, you told me in that voice-mail,” Sam continues and his breathing is hitched now.

“What?” Dean's brain finally gets in gear. “What voice-mail? Told you I owed you a beating, and I still do. What the hell are you talking about? You're my stupid ass brother, bitch. What the fuck you on about?”

Bobby bends down to search through Sam's pockets and gets the Blackberry, calls the number and lets the message play in speaker-mode.

Bobby stares at him coldly and Dean whimpers when he cradles Sam with both arms. “That's not what I said, Sammy. I promise. The message's been tampered with. Sammy, you gotta believe me, that's nowhere close to what I said, you stupid secretive moron. Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you let me know? You should have said something, smacked me, ripped me a new one, anything! I told you I had no right to say what I said to you, about not coming back. Sammy, that was the message! That I was wrong in saying that, I'm not dad, Sammy. You're my brother and I'm so fucking sorry.”

A sob jolts Sam's entire body and Dean holds on while Sam finally breaks and cries quietly. Holds him while his own eyes tear up and his voice breaks.

They stay there, under the drizzling rain and Dean doesn't even mind that his butt is planted in gooey mud and he gets all wet. He just waits Sam out, waits until the sobs placate and his breathing evens out. He is not sure if they stay there for hours or minutes, it doesn't matter. He waits until Sam's totally relaxed in his hold.

Then he helps Sam to his feet, steadies the lanky frame with an arm around the waist, careful not to touch the cuts. It's going to hurt like hell to get that glass out but Dean is happy Sam's actually alive to feel it.

Bobby is waiting by the open door and Dean nods in his direction. He's got Sammy, they'll make it together.

There will never be another option for them. Together they stand strong, apart they crumble.

And that's the Winchester curse.