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“You know,” Dean said, and took a long swallow from his beer. He looked down and laced his fingers around it and said, “I… I need to get some sleep.”

Sam had been paying attention with half an eye on his book, but he looked up at that. Concern creased his forehead, and Dean ducked his head a little more so he didn’t have to look Sam in the face.

“Dean,” Sam said, quiet and ragged. He sounded so damn fragile lately. And still, he was looking after Dean, their mom, Jack. “What is it?”

Because Winchesters bitched about bullet wounds and broken bones and hellfire and organic salads. Not about being tired. Winchesters celebrated when their biggest concern was getting a good eight hours’ beauty rest.

Dean put his bottle down on the table and got up. He went over to the liquor cabinet, opened it and turned one of the heavy crystal tumblers upright. Sam’s gaze was heavy on the back of his neck but Dean ignored it easily; on the bottom shelf of the cabinet there was a bottle of rum like a black sheep in among the fancy fucking whiskeys and bourbons and liqueurs, a liter of amber liquid in a plastic jug with grips molded into the sides. Dean had bought it because there was no sense wasting the good stuff if they ever found themselves in need of irrigating a wound on the fly, and it was as shit to drink as it looked. It burned all the way down like a shot of rubbing alcohol.

It sounded pretty good at the moment. There was nothing Dean wanted more to be scoured clean inside.

He eyeballed about two shots of rum into the glass, and then poured an extra half or so just for how fucking emo he was being. When he turned back towards the table Sam was still watching him, big worried doe eyes and hair spilling into his face, curled up small in his chair with that massive book resting across his knees. Something tightened up in Dean’s throat and he yanked out a chair across the table from Sam and sat heavily, took a swallow of the rum. It tightened his throat up just fine, made his eyes water a little, and maybe that was what Dean had been after anyway, some kind of cover for him losing his freaking shit.

It was silent in the bunker for a long time, minutes, except for the faint humming of the lights and Sam’s slow, uneven breathing. Dean glared down at the glass in his hand, swirled it. It tasted like shit. He really didn’t want to drink any more of it, but he didn’t want to be sober either.

Finally Sam shifted impatiently and said low and right on the edge of the kind of concern that would have shut Dean down for the next fucking week, “Dean, tell me.”

It raised his hackles all the same, set him crawling all over with a physical need to shy away. Dean took another fast swallow of the rum and had to stifle a cough, hiding his face in his elbow and then just pressing his hands over his eyes when the coughing had subsided, putting up a physical shield between him and Sam. He needed it sometimes. Sammy was so raw and vulnerable with his thoughts, they splayed nakedly across his face and Dean couldn’t handle that. There was a reason he clicked so well with Castiel.

“Back at Mia’s,” Dean started, unsteady, and then he got stuck and didn’t know how to say what came next, so he tried it differently: “I’m tired, Sammy,” Dean said, working okay with that approach, so he went with it. “That closure stuff—I barely even know what it means.”

“Dean, I—”

“You don’t, Sammy,” Dean said, hard and flat. He took his hands down from his eyes and took another swallow of rum. “Somehow, for some reason, you just keep going. So no, you don’t know, and you don’t understand, because you still see a way out. You still see something worth going for.”

Sam’s feet hit the ground and his book hit the table with a heavy slap. “And you don’t? Dean, we’ve saved the world. We protect people. You know that better than me, you’re the one who always wanted this fight.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Dean said. He scrubbed his hand over his mouth, avoided Sam’s eyes.

“What are you talking about, Dean?” Sam sounded sad and scared, not angry. How he could talk in a voice like that to Dean and still expect to be treated like anything other than Dean’s little brother, baby Sammy—

“I want Mom to be dead,” Dean said harshly.

The words fell into the room like a fucking gunshot.

“You don’t mean that,” Sam breathed. Dean could tell that if he looked up Sam’s eyes would be wide and wet and his mouth would be soft, turning down at the corners, that curling furrow of confusion between his brows.

“I do,” Dean grated out. “I do. You know, this whole—it’s everything, you know? Our whole life—” His voice broke abruptly and he stopped, fighting it, drained his glass and shook his head and went on raggedly, “It never ends. We do things—good things. We do. We save people, we protect them. And over and over—over and over we get nothing for it. Or one of us dies for it. So we—so whoever’s left,” Dean said, choking on his own throat, spitting the words out like broken glass, “Gives whatever else we had to lose and then some to bring the other schmuck back, and it never stops!

“Dean,” Sam said, soft.

“I just,” Dean ground out, “want it to stop. I just—how many times have I watched you die, Sammy,” he said, and wiped his face furiously. “And it doesn’t get easier. You know it doesn’t. Someone we love dies and every time we go through hell, literally, to make them live again, and we don’t even get to enjoy it before the next thing’s shoving us deeper into shit, and then they fucking die on us again.”

“I know, Dean,” Sam said quietly, thick and wet, and Dean didn’t have to look at him to know he was crying.

“It’s like some kind of sick karma,” Dean spat. He stood up and went back to the liquor cabinet, refilled his glass, slopped about half of what came out of the bottle onto the shelf doing it. “The one person whose death I felt like I might have even begun to process came back and now she's gone. Again. I can’t do it anymore, Sammy, I can’t. I can’t bring our mom back.”

He had to stop. He had to, he couldn’t go on. Christ, talking about feelings like this was worse than dying. Dean felt sick, and he wasn’t sure if it was that fucking rum or how weak and pathetic he felt saying, “I can’t bring her back just to lose her again.”

“We won’t lose her,” Sam said, or tried to, the words so fucking mangled Dean knew nobody but him could have made sense of it. A shuddering inhale and a wet swallow, and Sam tried again and managed to say in an understandably human language, “We won’t lose her.”

Dean turned around and walked back to the table, sat down and tipped his head back and told the ceiling, “You can’t seriously believe that, Sammy.”

“It’s like you said,” Sam said, a weak attempt at lightness in his voice. “I’m the one who’s got to keep the faith for both of us.”

It probably wasn’t a question of faith, Dean thought. Not anymore. It was more a question of whether he would try crawling away from the beating or go back for seconds.

Not that Sam needed to hear that.

“I’m going to go to bed, Sammy,” Dean said at last. He knocked back the last of his drink, cleared his throat and stood up. “G’night.”

Sam swallowed and nodded and rubbed his eyes behind the curtain of his bangs like he thought it could hide jack shit. “Goodnight, Dean.”

They didn’t say “sleep well" anymore, if they ever even fucking had. Dean couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept without dreaming, which was a bitter fucking pill to swallow these days more than usual: all he wanted was oblivion, and Dean was smart enough to know by now that good old-fashioned unconsciousness was as good as he was ever going to get. Death, real death—no afterlife, no lingering souls, no takesies backsies—a total, as Castiel would probably say, and permanent dissipation of consciousness—was as close as Dean and everyone he loved would ever get to being safe.

And they would never even get that.