I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
Jessica's family was Catholic. They weren't especially devout, but they had gone to mass a few times a year in addition to Christmas and Easter, and Jess kept a rosary from her grandmother in a small, glass box with pink roses on the lid.
Sam prayed every day. Jess didn't comment on it, sensing it was yet another thing Sam preferred to keep to himself.
But she also nodded encouragingly when Sam found an old crucifix at an estate sale a month or so after they moved in together. He’d seen others like it dozens of times in homes and churches across the country: a simple, gold-leafed Jesus lying on a dark wooden cross. There were a few scratches on the back, and flecks of leaf were missing from Jesus' face, hands, and knees.
It was entirely unremarkable, but Sam kept staring at it just the same.
"Get it," Jess said, "It's what, 5 bucks?"
"Then it's a no-brainer. It costs less than one of those crappy lattes you love so much," and she kissed him.
They hung the crucifix in the kitchen. Most of the time Sam forgot about it, but sometimes he'd stare at the worn Jesus while making coffee or heating up a burrito, wondering what it meant to be righteous, to be pure, and what difference it made when dying on a cross.
The crucifix burned in the fire of course, and Sam hasn't thought about it in years.
That is until a black-eyed construction worker shows him four thick, eight-inch nails and a heavy mallet.
"No," Sam gasps before he can stop himself. The horde of demons surrounding him laugh and jeer.
"Sammy . . ."
Sam twists his neck around as much as the three demons pinning him to the ground allow and just manages to catch a glimpse of Dean. Tears slide down his brother's face, and Sam knows he's fighting with every ounce of his strength against Lucifer's invisible bonds. They both know it’s useless.
"Well Dean-O," Lucifer saunters into view, rests an arm around Dean's shoulders, and leers at Sam, "What do you say? Tell me where you stashed my son, or watch Sammy’s crucifixion."
Dean looks at Sam with wide eyes, and Sam wonders how many times they've done this. How many times has Dean watched him die? Is this death even the worst?
Please Dean mouths, and Sam wonders how many times they've done this too.
An ugly crack cuts through the cold air. A demon saunters into view, holding a large flog.
Sam stiffens, and his heart thuds heavily in his chest.
"Sammy. . ."
"I'm sorry," Sam forces his eyes away from the flog and back to Dean's face, "You promised."
"Your choice boys," Lucifer nods to the demons.
A dozen hands grab Sam and tear his clothes away. Before he can register the shock of the icy air on his naked body, the hands tie thick, rough rope to each of his wrists and ankles and pull his limbs taut.
"N-no he stutters, fighting uselessly against the ropes.
The demons howl with laughter and the flog snaps an inch from Sam's face.
When the leather embedded with glass snaps across Sam's back, he tries not to scream. He really does.
"I was there, you know," this demon wears the body of a middle-aged woman. She's dressed in jeans and a sweater with a sticky red stain on her right sleeve. From a child Sam guesses. He prays the child wasn’t there when it happened.
The demon runs a finger up Sam's shredded back. He flinches, and his stomach seizes, but he's long run out of things to vomit.
"I was there, at Calvary," she tastes Sam's blood on her finger with interest. "And I can assure you, no one was redeemed that day. Jesus' death was just as random and meaningless as every pathetic life on this rock. The Apostles just ran a clever marketing campaign."
"It's ready!" another voice calls, and the crowd of demons explode again into laughter.
Hands drag Sam from the bloody patch of asphalt where they'd beaten him and flip him onto his back. He screams, and for a while, the pain overwhelms all his other senses.
He doesn't know how long it is until the pain recedes just enough to realize that he's not resting just on asphalt. The demons have spread his arms out onto a long, thick piece of wood.
"No, no, no, no,” and Sam should try to preserve the last fragments of his dignity, should be brave and stoic for Dean. After all, Dean has it worse, has to watch this, may have already watched it countless times.
Except the demons just shredded his back. Blood drips from the thorns in his head. Philadelphia’s freezing November air buffets his naked body.
He’s about to be crucified.
So Sam struggles with all the strength of a newborn and repeats an endless litany of “No’s.”
The demons love it. They gather around him, shoving and fighting for the best view. Dimly, Sam hears Dean screaming his name, but Sam can't hope to catch a glimpse of him through the mob.
Then two demons pry open the fingers of his left hand.
"Please. Please no." He searches each pair of black eyes in turn for help he knows will never come.
"He begged too," it's the mother again. She leans over him, this time doodling on his face with the blood seeping from his thorny crown, "And you know something else,"
She puts her mouth to his hear. He can smell her sulfuric breathe, and a dim part of him wants to rip her throat out with his teeth.
"Most of the people there had never heard his name. They didn't care if he was a heretic, a murderer, the Messiah, or just an innocent man who got swept up in something that had nothing to do with him. They just wanted to hear his screams. They just wanted to see his blood.”
She pats the top of his head maternally and pulls away as one of the demons centers a nail in Sam's palm. It raises a mallet, and Sam watches, transfixed, as if someone else’s hand was about to nailed to a board.
"Remember," she says to the demon holding the mallet, "Take your time."
Pain in hell feels nothing like pain on Earth and usually that's a good thing, a constant reminder that Sam's (relatively) safe, that he's not there.
This time though, it just means he's felt nothing like a demon hammering rusty nails through his palms.
Chapter 2: One Week Later
They're home. Jack killed the Devil. Everything's fine.
I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
Dean needs to talk about things.
Sam’s known this since he found his fourteen-year-old brother shredding a bouquet of daisies previously intended for Katie Elliot.
“What happened?” he had asked.
“She’s just a girl.”
“What the hell do you know? You’re just a kid.”
Sam had stomped off at that before remembering what Dad said about hunting, that if things started getting difficult, you were on the right track, so he marched right back and pestered Dean until he finally opened up. Then they went to the local arcade and played the cheap games with quarters Dean had stolen from some school bullies.
Dean needs to talk about things. He fights it for a little while, but he generally folds quickly.
Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t need to talk about things. Yea, he’s seen a lot of shit, but he’s gotten good at picking it apart, learning what needs to be learned from it, and shoving the rest into neatly labelled boxes in the back of his mind.
And if it’s rare for him to get more than three consecutive hours of sleep, and if he’s got a bottle of vodka hidden under his bed that he regularly nurses with trembling hands at 3-in-the-morning, it’s not hurting anyone, so what does it matter?
Which means he’s a little surprised when Dean sets a cup of coffee in front of him a few days after Jack kills Lucifer and says, “You wanna talk about it?”
Sam frowns, “Talk about what?”
Dean rolls his eyes, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe about the fact the devil’s dead?”
Sam sips his coffee and wishes Dean had given him something stronger. “What do you want me to say? I mean it’s great, and I’m proud as hell of Jack.”
“Me too,” Dean agrees, “The kid saved our asses.”
“Speaking of,” Sam stands, “I’m gonna give him a call. Find out how his road trip with Cas is going.”
He leaves before Dean can respond.
The next time Dean brings it up, Sam figures it’s because he needs to get his feelings out about having to watch Sam die over and over again.
After all, Sam usually gets around to asking Dean how he was dealing by now. He just hasn’t this time, which isn’t fair. One measly crucifixion doesn’t compare to watching your brother die on endless repeat.
So, when Dean asks him how he’s holding up the next day, he ignores the question and asks, “How many times?”
Dean sucks in a breath, “I lost count.”
Sam nods and traces Dean’s initial’s in the library table, “I’m sorry,”
“It’s not your fault.”
Sam could argue that point, since he knows that the main reason Dean didn’t give in to Lucifer was because Sam begged him not to. But he doesn’t. There’s no point.
“Still,” he says instead, “Watching it happen to you in Florida nearly drove me crazy, but Gabriel doesn’t have Lucifer’s . . .” love of torture, he almost says, but it’s not fair to make this conversation about him, so instead he says, “Gabriel at least tried to make it funny.”
Dean stares at him for a long moment then says, “It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’d have climbed on Alistair’s rack in a moment to protect you from that.”
Sam could press Dean for more information, could say something like, What else happened? or, Lucifer plays with your mind, don’t give him the satisfaction of blaming yourself.
But that would get too close to talking about The Cage, about how well he knows Lucifer, and it wouldn’t be fair to Dean to bring that up. This is about Dean’s pain, Dean’s trauma. Sam can’t minimize that by talking about his own time with Lucifer.
Instead, Sam says, “Thank you,” and, “I’m here for you,” then gets up to make them sandwiches.
“Sammy,” Dean says when Sam sets a grilled cheese in front of him, “The one you remember . . . it was the worst.”
“I’m fine,” Sam says. Dean grunts and picks up his sandwich.
“Let me grab some milk,” Sam says and pretends not to hear Dean say it’s gone bad. He doesn’t come back for his sandwich.
He hadn’t really planned on eating it anyway.
The day after that, Sam starts getting annoyed.
“Hey Sammy, wanna make a supply run?”
Sam looks up from his book on the occult practices of 15th century Iceland, “I’m in the middle of something.”
Dean folds his arms, “Is there a case in Reykjavik you haven’t told me about?”
Sam scowls. Dean hasn’t let them work any new cases, saying they both need their rest and that his nerves are fried, which Sam gets, but hunting’s also really great for getting your mind off things.
“Sam,” there’s a sharp edge to Dean’s words, “You haven’t left the bunker since Jack zapped us here. You’re starting to look like a Vamp.”
“You’re the one who said we needed our rest.” Sam takes a sip from his water bottle. It’s technically one part water, two parts vodka, but Dean doesn’t need to know that.
Sam takes another drink of vodka-water and lifts his book again. Dean shouts at him for a bit about “not taking a leaf from my book” and “handling this shit.” Sam ignores him until Dean finally marches away.
The book is a bad translation of the original Icelandic, which obviously explains why Sam hasn’t understood a sentence.
Just because they aren’t hunting doesn’t mean the guns don’t need to be cleaned, and since Sam’s up, he might as well take care of it. He’s pretty sure he didn’t wake up screaming, so if he’s quiet, Dean shouldn’t notice he’s awake. It’s a bit earlier than when he usually gets up, which isn’t a big deal, but Dean’s been angsty about Sam eating and sleeping and whatever the fuck else, so it’s best if he doesn’t know.
He tiptoes to the supply room where they keep their weapons, unzips the largest duffle, and gets to work. The smell of gun oil, the coolness of the metal, the weight of the bullets in his hand, and the click of the clip settling into place are like a lullaby, like a soft embrace.
Sam presses the barrel of his pistol to his left palm and wonders if shooting a hole through his hand hurts more than pounding a stake through it.
He doubts it.
He’s about to brush his thumb over the safety when the gun’s roughly tugged out of his hand and an angry voice says, “Alright, that’s enough!”
Sam jumps but makes a grab for the weapon. Dean swiftly empties the clip and hurls it and the gun in opposite directions.
“Dean! What the hell?”
“Excellent question Sam. What the actual hell are you doing?”
Oh for fuck’s sake, “I was just cleaning--”
“Right,” Dean snarls, “Please Sam, remind me when Dad taught us to press a loaded weapon against our bodies?”
Okay, yea, Sam can see why that would freak Dean out a little, but “It’s not what it looks like . . .”
“Well then enlighten me Sam!” Dean seems to expand, seething like a pissed off wendigo, “Tell me what the hell you were doing!”
“I was just . . . I wanted to see . . .” The words are there, they’re right there. Why can’t Sam find them?
“See what Sam? If you’re bulletproof? Because I promise you’re not!”
Dean’s overreacting. Sam’s fine. He’s fine. He was just thinking, but there’s no way Sam’s going to convince Dean of that for now, so he just stares at his feet and is faintly surprised not to see nails in them.
“Fuck Sam,” Dean says, “I knew about the insomnia and the not eating and refusing to leave the bunker and the vodka . . .”
Sam’s head snaps up and Dean smiles grimly, “I’m not a complete moron. But even if all of that isn’t great, I can handle it. But Sammy . . .”
The smile slips into the most desperate expression Sam’s ever seen, “Do I gotta start locking away the guns and knives?”
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself, Dean.”
“Oh well excuse me,” Dean snaps back, “I guess so long as you’re only shooting your limbs off, everything’s fine!”
“Fuck you, Dean,” Sam strides past his brother, thinking about the vodka under his bed that he apparently could have been keeping chilled this whole time.
Dean has other ideas.
“Nuh uh,” he puts himself between Sam and the door, “You’re not going anywhere until we talk about this.”
“Really, Sam? Because this is looking like pretty much the opposite of fine!”
Dean just crosses his arms and fixes Sam with a cold, hard glare.
Sam doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t need to talk about it. Because he’s fine. He’s fine, and Dean’s just being an ass, and Sam would literally do anything besides think about it, much less talk about it. If he does that, he’ll fall apart. He’ll dissolve back into the pile of shredded flesh, broken bones, and frozen limbs that nips at the heels of every thought, joining the never-ending memories of bloody skewers through his chest, Kevin’s burned out eyes, blow-torched feet, Jessica’s screams, Lucifer pressed against him, hell-hounds ripping Dean to pieces.
He can’t. He can’t. He can’t. He can’t. He can’t.
Dean’s not going to back down, and Sam sees only one option.
And it’s fine. It’ll be fine because the world’s saved. The devil’s dead. Jack has Cas. Cas has Dean, and Dean has both of them plus Jodi and Claire and Alex.
There’s nothing else for Sam to do, and he’s so tired.
He’s faster than Dean, if only just, and he’s closer to the weapons bag, so . . .
Sam turns and runs. He runs, and it’s all so close, so easy. Then he’ll be done and everything will be fine.
He just wraps his hand around the grip of Dean’s gun when his body is slammed to the floor by something that could only be a demon. He just manages to grab the handle of the weapons bag as he falls. Blades and guns clatter to the floor beside him.
The demon’s trying to pin his arms down, but it’s not fighting hard enough to kill him, which means it’s going to do something so much worse. Sam twists and manages to grab the end of an angel blade.
He points the blade down and he’s fine. He’ll be fine. It’ll be over soon, but then the demon’s seizes his wrists as if it’s trying to knock the blade out of his hand and no. No. He’s not going to let them get him again.
He plunges his hands down and feels the blade meet flesh, and please God, let this be enough.
The demon’s still screaming, and it’s words sound strange, sound like Dean saying Sammy, Sammy. And Sam hopes Dean’s not actually here, that he’s not seeing this, but mostly he just hopes he’s finally done.
The screams are dimmer now. The darkness rushes in, and Sam lets go.
“Jodi says she’s boarding her plane. She should be here in a few hours. She apologized again for taking so long,” Cas’ voice is even lower and graver than normal. Sam wonders why. He also wonders why Jodi’s visiting, and why she needs to get here so fast.
“She was in LA,” Dean grunts, “Don’t know why I asked her to come anyway.”
“She says she has some . . . training in these matters,” Cas says, “She wants to offer her support.”
Dean doesn’t say anything to that, which sucks because Sam’s still trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
After a couple minutes silence, Sam realizes that neither Cas nor Dean seem intent on talking anytime soon, so he finally opens his eyes.
He’s pretty sure he’s in his room, even though it’s even emptier than normal. His desk is missing, so is his dresser, and his night stands, leaving him with the disconcerting idea that he might be unarmed. He reaches his hand under his pillow and sure enough . . .
“Yea, you’re not going to find anything there,” Dean says harshly. “Even your shoe laces are locked away.”
“I don’t . . . what . . .” Sam looks between Dean, who’s glaring in the way that can only mean he’s scared shitless, and Cas, who’s seems more solemn than Sam’s ever seen him.
The memories rush back. The gun. Dean. Their fight. The blade.
“Oh,” he says quietly.
“Yea,” Dean snarls, “Oh. Wanna tell me what the hell happened there?”
“I . . .” Sam thinks he may have forgotten how to form words, “Demon. I thought you were a demon.”
“You thought I was a demon,” Dean repeats, “So when you went for the blade, your plan was what? To kill me?”
Sam wishes he could say yes, knows it would be infinitely easier for Dean to bear than the alternative.
Instead, he just looks down and plays with a nonexistent thread in his blanket.
“Fucking Christ,” Dean holds his head in his hands.
Cas stands abruptly, “I must check on Jack,” he says, “He wanted me to tell him when you woke up.”
He extends a hand and glances between Sam and Dean, as if unsure whom to comfort. Instead, he lowers it again and leaves without meeting either of their eyes.
The door flashes gold when Cas shuts it behind him.
“Oh yea,” Dean says in response to Sam’s frown, “The door’s warded to keep you from pulling a stunt like that again. We can’t exactly baby proof the whole bunker.”
“So what,” Sam says, “You planning on keeping me locked in here forever?”
“You got any better ideas?” Despite everything Sam’s done, every possible way he’s hurt his brother, he’s never seen anything like the raw pain in Dean’s eyes.
It makes Sam want to die, except that’s what got them here to begin with.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Dean flinches like Sam slapped him.
“Jesus, Sam,” Dean rubs his hands down his face and looks up, “I don’t want your apology. I want to know what the fuck I did to make you decide to kill yourself rather than talk to me.”
Shit, “No, Dean. It’s not—it wasn’t like that I just,” Sam takes a deep, shuddering breathe, “I’m just so tired. I’m so fucking tired all the time.”
“Since when?” The anger’s drained out of Dean now, leaving his eyes soft and sad.
Since hell, he thinks, Since Cold Oak. Since maybe even before, but he doesn’t want to hurt Dean more than he already has, so instead he says, “There was always something else that needed to be done. Another bad guy, another apocalypse to stop, but now . . .”
“There’s not,” Dean finishes.
Sam nods, “I was so used to being fine, because I had to be fine, and when I didn’t anymore I guess I . . .”
“Shit,” Dean says, “Shit Sammy I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry I didn’t see it sooner, not until it was almost . . .”
“How bad?” All Sam’s remembers is darkness, blood, and a desperate wish to be done that makes him nauseous.
“It went through your thigh,” Dean says, “Barely kept you from bleeding out before Cas and Jack got there. But you were going for your heart. I barely managed to . . .” He cuts off, and Sam notices a small glint of gold between Dean’s fingers. His heart breaks again.
“Dean,” he says, and Dean looks up with wet eyes. Sam extends his arms, because he’s still exhausted and sore, and Dean doesn’t trust him--Sam doesn’t trust himself-- to make any sudden moves yet, “Come here.”
Dean frowns, “What?”
Dean’s frown deepens, but he stands, “I don’t have anything on me, not even a belt.”
For a long moment, Dean just stares at him. Sam scooches over in the bed, and Dean softens.
“Just like when you were a kid,” he says and climbs under the blankets. There’s not really room for both of them, but Sam just curls himself so that his head rests on Dean’s chest. He reaches up and brushes the pendent in Dean’s hand with his fingertips, and Dean wraps his arm around Sam’s shoulders and pulls him close.
“We’re going to fix this Sammy,” he says.
Sam can’t really bring himself to think about that, doesn’t really trust himself to think too hard about much of anything right now. The ugliness that sucked him down and nearly drowned him just hours ago swirls barely beneath the surface of this moment. He can’t face it yet.
But for now, Sam can feel the comforting thud of Dean’s heart, and Dean tucks his chin over Sam’s head. He traces the amulet in Dean’s hand, and this is okay. This he can handle.
He raises his other hand and stares at his unblemished palm.
“You can do this, Sam,” Dean says quietly, “We can do this.”
Sam thinks maybe they can.