Sam scratched at his skin. He glanced around uneasily. The bunker was empty, there was no reason to feel like he was being watched.
Still, Sam had learned long ago to pay attention to his instincts. He did a quick sweep with the EMF reader, checked the wards. Nothing.
“There’re enough monsters out there without making up some extra ones,” he muttered to himself. “I need to get out of here.”
He blinked. Dean was calmly cleaning one of the guns, scowl a permanent fixture on his face, as always. But hadn’t he just—
“What do you want to eat for dinner?” Dean asked. When Sam didn’t respond, he lifted an eyebrow, looking carefully at Sam’s face. “Sam?”
“Uh, yeah, uh, I don’t care,” he stammered.
Sam made a fumbling excuse and retreated to his room. He hadn’t lost time like this since Meg. He knew the reason why. As soon as he was locked inside his room, he peeled off his shirt, examining the multiple tattoos he had against possession. All of them were intact. He swallowed holy water, tested Ruby’s knife against his skin. It wasn’t a demon.
Sam was suddenly pressed down, a sensation like he was drowning pulling at his lungs. He fought against it, biting his tongue until the taste of blood filled his mouth.
“Let go of me,” he snarled.
A shooting pain went through his stomach. Distracted by the pain, Sam lost his grip on his control, and was overwhelmed. He fell under, into a place inside of himself, swallowed in a sensation all too familiar from when Lucifer had taken over his body.
The room they were in was a strange amalgamation of his old dorm at Stanford and the bunker. Jess’ sweater was lying on the chair Sam had just been sitting in.
“Who are you?” he snarled, staring up at himself.
“I am the angel Gadreel. You will submit to me.”
Sam bared his teeth. “Not likely. Angels have to ask permission. You never did. The consequences—“
Gadreel’s blue eyes flickered as he laughed. “Oh, but you did, Sam.”
The memory, suppressed by Gadreel, came rushing back. Sam swallowed against the urge to vomit. Dean . . . how could he have done that?
“You can’t do this,” he said.
“I can and I will.” Gadreel waved his hand, and sent Sam flying backwards into the wall. “You may only watch. You will not interfere.”
The dreaded place where Sam had been shoved, time and time again, rose up and encompassed him. It was the nightmare place; he felt in control—he talked, walked, felt—but none of it was of his own volition.
Sam’s scream was soundless.
Dean stood close enough to the ring of holy fire to feel his shins heating up.
“Let Sam go.”
Glowing blue eyes surveyed him. “I don’t think so.”
Dean scowled. “Why not?”
“He suits my needs,” Gadreel said.
“Uh, Dean, what should I be doing?” Kevin whispered.
“Hang back,” Dean muttered.
Gadreel laughed. “You should hear how hurt your brother is. That you betrayed him.”
Dean ignored the way his heart skipped a beat. “You don’t want to mess with me,” he said. “If you’re in my brother’s head, you know what I’ll do to save him.”
“Exactly.” Gadreel smiled, and then suddenly stumbled. The blue eyes disappeared, and Sam was staring at Dean as he fell straight into the flames.
The three of them cried out simultaneously—Sam from pain, Dean from anger, Kevin from panic. Without another option, Dean dragged Sam out of the fire, beating the flames out of his clothing.
His eyes flashed blue, and Dean was thrown backwards. Kevin yelled out Dean’s name, and he was tossed backwards as well.
Kevin began chanting something that Dean recognized as a binding spell. Sam’s body moved with a fluid, frightening grace as he pinned Kevin, placing a hand on his forehead. Dean yelled, watching helplessly as Kevin was destroyed.
For one second, Gadreel’s control slipped, and Dean saw the horror dawn on Sam’s face, but he was swallowed again. Gadreel looked at Dean.
“Goodbye,” he said.
Dean was alone, with a dead body and nothing left. Desperate times . . . Dean turned back to the Impala. He had a demon in his dungeon who needed to pull his weight.
Sam’s entire life was a series of déja vu. Every time they lost a battle, couldn’t save someone, Sam’s gut twisted in a certain way, the moment stored forever in his memory. Every time he was called evil, stared at in disgust, his heart broke a little more. Every time Dean looked at him in disappointment . . .
The knife sent another pulse of pain up Sam’s spine. He thought he could almost hear an echo of Dean calling his name as he dropped to his knees. Jake was behind him. Everything would disappear, now. Instead, there was a shriek from Sam’s lips that wasn’t his own.
Crowley snickered. “Sayonara, Mr. Angel.” He pulled the angel-killing knife free from Sam’s back. Sam heard himself cry out in an other-worldly tongue again. He toppled over. A burst of Gadreel’s power sparked through him once more before fading.
“I better get lost before Dean kicks up a fuss about losing his darling brother once more,” he heard Crowley say.
Sam tried to make any kind of sound, but he felt numb.
Crowley disappeared. Sam was able to twitch his hand. A sticky fluid met his searching fingertips. He was bleeding out, slowly.
“—elp,” he gasped. “Help. Dean . . .”
The silent room made him no answer. His vision blurred. Sam should have expected nothing less. He deserved to die alone.
The last thing he thought before he fell into the blackness, was that he hoped he stayed dead this time.
Dean stopped at the doorway. Sam was lying on the floor, in a pool of blood. The black imprint of Gadreel’s wings spread out along the floor.
“Sam,” Cas breathed.
Dean shut his eyes, like he could pretend Sam wasn’t dead, wasn’t lying on the floor.
Heart in his throat, Dean opened his eyes to find Cas kneeling at Sam’s side, slipping one hand behind his back.
“I’m keeping pressure like you taught me,” Cas said. He looked up at Dean. “I do not have enough grace, I cannot heal him.”
“How is he even alive?” Dean managed to ask. Cas had no answer for him. Fingers numb with shock, Dean pulled out his phone, calling 911. He wasn’t sure what he said to the operator, but hopefully it was enough to get an ambulance to them, and quickly.
Sam’s pulse was faint and fast, like the beat of a butterfly’s wings. Dean propped his feet up and constructed a temporary pressure bandage.
“Sam,” he said. “Sam, wake up.”
Sam didn’t move. When the EMTs arrived, Dean offered no explanations, stepping back and letting them take Sam away.
He cleared his throat. “Cas, follow them to the hospital. I need to go after Crowley.”
“But Dean . . . Sam.”
Dean forced himself to stay focused. “I can’t do anything for him there. Try and get some angel juice, help him. I’ll take care of the rat who went behind my back when I trusted him.”
Castiel’s gaze was challenging, but there wasn’t much time—he went after the ambulance, leaving Dean to stare at the imprint of Gadreel’s wings.
Crowley was going to pay for this.
The haze of drugs was familiar. Sam took stock before attempting to open his sandbag-weighted eyelids.
A small part of him had hoped to see Dean there. But his absence was unsurprising.
Cas’ presence, however, was a surprise.
Sam tried to mumble something, but the oxygen mask kept him from speaking clearly.
“You are alive,” Cas intoned. “That is good.”
“D’n?” Sam managed.
“Hunting down Crowley.” Cas peered curiously at his IV line. “Are you in pain?”
Sam managed to roll his head across the pillow in denial. “Everything . . . numb. How . . . alive?”
Cas shifted a little. “I am unsure. Perhaps your uniqueness”
“You mean I’m just a freak,” he muttered. He sucked in a breath. “Cas, I . . .”
“What is it, Sam?”
“My legs. I can’t feel—are they numbed? What’s wrong with them?”
Cas’s stoic face twisted a little. “I can get your doctor.”
Sam nodded. His eyes closed from exhaustion. Once Cas left him alone, he left himself crumple a little, fold in on himself. He had really hoped, deep down, that he wouldn’t wake again. That oblivion awaited him.
To have that taken away, again, was more than disappointing; it was nearly devastating.
“Mr. Verne? I’m your nurse, Katie. Dr. Shaw will be in here shortly.”
Sam jerked his head in a short nod. He ignored her as she did her job, despite her kind attempts at sympathy and small talk.
The doctor came in, greeting Sam politely before asking the nurse about her assessment.
“BP’s low, nineties over forties, he’s only a little tachy. His labs should be put in pretty soon.”
“Thanks, Katie. Okay, Mr. Verne. I realize you’ve gone through a very traumatic experience, so if you need me to repeat anything, please let me know.”
Sam nodded. “Will I be getting a transfusion?”
“You’ve already had two,” the doctor said. “We’ll see how your hemoglobin and hematocrit—red blood cells—are looking once your labs are put through. Right now, I’d like to check your nervous system, since the knife did some damage to your spinal column.”
Sam swallowed. “I can’t really feel my legs.”
The doctor’s expression didn’t change. She drew back the sheet, pulling out her pen and pressing the tip against Sam’s right shin.
“Can you feel this?”
Sam shook his head.
Dr. Shaw continued to assess his lower extremities, but as she went on, Sam already knew what she was going to report.
“This is preliminary, of course, but it appears that the wound may have affected your sensation and motor abilities in your limbs. We’ll get PT up here and see to what extent this is.”
“Right.” Sam stared at his legs. Out of everything, this was the last thing he had expected, somehow.
“Your friend is outside,” Katie said softly. “Should I tell him to come in?”
Cas edged his way into the room, watching Sam uncertainly.
“We need to blow this joint,” Sam told him. “Before they start looking closely at insurance.”
“What about your . . . about your legs?” Cas asked, in a manner that was almost delicate.
“It was a wound with an angel blade. If there’s any way to fix that, it won’t be in a hospital,” Sam said grimly. He pushed himself into a sitting position, groaning as his head pulsed.
“We could wait a little longer,” Cas suggested.
Sam managed to grit out a refusal. Cas relented, finding Sam a wheelchair. The journey back to the bunker was a blur. Sam only opened his eyes once he was required to make a clumsy transfer from Cas’ small car and into the wheelchair. Both of them stared at the stairs leading into the bunker, and thought of the large staircase to get down to the main floor.
“Cas,” Sam cleared his throat. “You don’t have any grace left?”
Cas grimaced. “A very minimal amount. It might be enough to get us down the stairs.”
Sam shook his head. “Don’t waste it on that. I’ll just . . .” his voice trailed off.
“If I were to help carry you,” Cas said, “I would not use up much grace.”
Sam flushed, but was forced to nod his head in agreement. Cas turned his back to Sam, kneeling down in front of him. Sam looped his arms around the angel’s shoulders, careful to not put any pressure on his neck.
“I am standing,” Cas warned.
Sam’s legs were an awkward weight, dragging behind them, jolting Sam every time they went down a step. By the time they made it to the bottom of the stairs, Sam was pale and sweaty from pain. His ears were ringing, and despite Cas depositing him in a chair and speaking to him, he couldn’t understand what was going on.
Pills were presented—Sam swallowed them obediently. Eventually, the pain faded enough that he was able to understand Cas’ insane chattering. Being human had apparently given him a motor mouth when he was uncertain, because he couldn’t stop talking about his plans, what was going on with heaven, everything. As far as Sam could tell, he had just run out of topics and was going to go on repeat pretty soon.
“Cas,” he rasped. “I have to lie down.”
Cas looked at him uncertainly. “I don’t know. The journey to your room may be too much.”
Sam jerked his chin. “That awful recliner Dean found. Get that. Please.”
The door to the bunker opened. Sam had just enough energy to roll his head along the back of the chair.
Dean stood there. Sam stared at him, unable to make a sound.
“Sam, I found . . . oh, Dean.” Sam closed his eyes. He could hear Cas approaching, dragging the chair with him. “Will you assist us?”
Sam heard Dean clomp down the stairs, but refused to open his eyes to look at him. Two pairs of hands grasped his shoulders and legs awkwardly. The two of them finagled him into the recliner and Sam could feel Dean hovering over him for a moment. When Sam cracked his eye open, he saw Dean staring at his legs.
“Do you need any more pain medication?” Cas asked.
Sam shook his head.
“Sam,” Dean said gruffly. “I’ll hunt down Crowley. Cas here’ll whip up a cure.”
He refused to respond. When he looked at Dean, he felt a surge of some emotion—fear, anger, or something that felt an awful lot like what he had felt in the Cage.
“Right,” Dean muttered. “I’ll get going.”
Sam was torn, as Dean left. The part of him that was still a little boy who adored his big brother wanted Dean to stay, to tell him it would be all right. The rest of him felt betrayed; for the first time in his life, his trust in his brother felt like it had truly shattered.
“You should rest.” Cas touched his arm. “I will try to find some way to regain my grace and heal you.”
It took Sam a few tries to speak. “Thank you,” he managed. After a second, he started, “Cas—“
“What is it, Sam?”
“Did you know? About Gadreel?”
He managed to open his eyes to see Cas hesitate.
“I knew something was wrong,” he admitted, “but I did not know an angel possessed you. I was willfully blind.”
“But Dean knew.”
Sam’s chest hitched. “I’ll rest now,” he said. He barely held onto his control over his emotions until Cas left the room. Only then did he let himself sob aloud.
It was a temptation he could not resist. The expression on Sam’s face when he had seen him was haunting Dean’s every waking moment. If he could gain this power, he could take control and avenge Sam.
“Do it,” he said to Cain.
Cain chanted, fast, like Dean might change his mind. The mark slid across Cain’s skin and into Dean where he grasped Cain’s hand. Dean shuddered. It was a rush he hadn’t felt in years, not since he was under Alistair’s tutelage.
The mark felt red hot against his fingertips. Dean left Cain, headed for home in a strange daze.
He walked into the bunker and froze. Cas was standing over Sam, needle imbedded deeply in Sam’s neck.
The mark sang for Dean to help Cas, take the needle out and stab it through Sam’s eye. His heart roared out in protective anger, that Cas could be hurting Sam, and that part of him was strong enough to shout, “hey, what are you doing?!”
To his rage, Cas didn’t even stop.
“We are removing the remainders of Gadreel’s grace,” he said. “Sam does not wish anything to remain of the angel.”
“And what’s it doing to him?”
Cas finally turned a little, hands steady on the needle still in Sam’s delicate skin. “It is reversing some of the healing,” he admitted. “I am not sure how much.”
“No,” Sam said.” He didn’t look at Dean, keeping his gaze focused on Cas. “Keep going.”
“Sam, how could you—“
“This is my choice.” Sam reached up, wrapping around Cas’ hand. “Finish this.”
Dean wheeled around, putting a fist through the drywall. He walked back out into the cool air before he could do something he would regret. After a few minutes of pacing, he walked back inside. Sam was sitting alone, pale, lines of pain at his mouth.
“Where’d Cas go?”
Sam didn’t open his eyes. “He plans to find a way to regain his grace so that he can heal me,” he murmured.
“That’s something, at least,” Dean muttered. He tugged his sleeve down over the mark. “So Gadreel’s grace is gone?”
Sam nodded. His face was cold and closed off.
Dean wanted to retreat to his room, but he had to know. “And your legs?”
Sam glanced down, shaking his own leg a little. “Useless. At least I can piss on my own power.”
The crudeness was unexpected, from Sam. Dean looked away. “I’ll be in my room.”
“Sure.” Sam’s voice was bitter. “Go on, leave.”
“I’m trying here, Sam,” Dean bit out.
Sam’s flat eyes met Dean’s. “It is taking everything in my power to keep myself from putting a bullet in my head,” he said. “What I did to Kevin . . .”
“That one’s on me,” Dean said thickly. “Sam, that was Gadreel.”
“You don’t have to watch your own hands ripping his soul from his body,” Sam replied.
Dean had no reply.
Sam rubbed futilely at his aching arms. The wheelchair they had stolen from the hospital wasn’t the greatest quality, as it was only meant for pushing patients down the hall.
Cas had departed, telling him he would find more grace, enough to heal Sam. That left him with Dean pacing the halls, unwilling to spend more than two minutes in the same room with Sam. It forced Sam to be independent.
He wheeled himself around the table to get his book, an annoying movement that wouldn’t have been necessary before. Once he finally turned around the corner, he was able to reach out and take it; he turned, and the book slipped from his hands. Grunting, he leaned over to pick it up, but his weight tipped too far and the wheelchair slid out from under him, depositing him painfully on the floor. Sam cursed under his breath. He turned over, tugging his legs around and staring at the contraption.
“You betrayed me,” he muttered petulantly to the wheelchair.
Dean’s voice was far away. Sam swore again, pulling the wheelchair over close and using the table to pull himself up. He just managed to seat himself by the time Dean entered the library. He stared at Sam, sweaty and disheveled, and shook his head. “Right, Sam, if you’re busy making out with the books, I’m going to go to the store. You need anything?”
Sam, still catching his breath, shook his head.
The little part of his brother that still focused on taking care of Sam must have raised its head at Sam’s denial.
“Have you eaten anything today?” he asked suspiciously.
Sam honestly didn’t know. What came out of his mouth, though, was, “what do you care?” He bit his lip. The frustration and embarrassment was obvious in his reaction, and Sam hated it.
Dean stiffened, eyes narrowing. “What do you mean?” he said.
“Nothing, forget it.”
“No, what is it?” Dean had started becoming belligerent. There was no way this would end well.
“If you want to leave, then leave!” Sam burst out. “I see it every time you look at me. You want out, then just go.”
Dean’s eyes flashed in anger. “You want me gone?”
Sam could have screamed in anger. As usual, Dean heard what he wanted to hear. “You don’t want to be around me, do you?” he challenged.
“That’s not true,” Dean growled. “I’ve been here to help you.”
Sam gestured expansively. “How are you helping? Do you plan on getting me possessed again so you can have a partner that walks?”
His brother took a step forward, face thunderous. “That isn’t fair,” he hissed, “I did that to save your life.”
“You had no right.”
“You would’ve done the same for me.”
“No.” The instant the syllable left his mouth, Sam knew he had lost his brother. He tried to make it clearer. “No, same circumstances, I would not have done that.”
Dean’s face was flat, emotionless. “I see.”
Clearly, he didn’t. As angry as he was, Sam was forced to try and save the situation. “Dean, what you did to me was—“
“Enough. You want me gone? Fine, I’m gone.”
If he had legs, he would have chased after Dean, held him down, and tried to get him to see his side.
As it was, he helplessly watched Dean leave. Sam was alone.
Crowley turned, eyes calculating. “Dean. How nice to see you again. Where’s moose?”
Dean’s mouth turned up in a sneer. “You tried to kill him.”
“But from what I hear, little brother’s pretty resilient.”
“That’s right.” Dean grit his teeth. “But you’ll pay for it as if he had died.”
Crowley raised an eyebrow. “So much anger. I take it Sammy wasn’t pleased at everything that went down, eh? Blames big brother?”
“Shut your mouth.”
Crowley smiled. “Hit a nerve?”
Dean snarled, leaping forward and pressing an angel blade against the demon’s throat. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t finish you off right now.”
Crowley glanced at the mark on Dean’s forearm. “That’s why.”
Crowley sighed. “You have the mark of Cain. If you want the power you covet, you’ll need the first blade. And I have it.”
Dean frowned. “What’s that?”
“A weapon that will give you ultimate power. Now you can kill me, get your revenge, yadda yadda, but it won’t do anything to endear you to Sam. You take control, and you might get him back.”
The arm with the mark was the same one holding the knife. It dropped without Dean really being aware of it.
“How?” he rasped.
Sam rolled his head against the pillow. His throat was too dry to cry out.
“Sam.” Cas’ voice was much closer. Sam managed to pry his eyes open. Cas peered at him. “Are you hurt?”
“Dunno. Been feeling weird,” he mumbled. “Fever?”
“I think so. Here.” Cas reached out, pressing two fingers to Sam’s forehead.
Sam inhaled as he was healed. “Thanks. I don’t know what was wrong.”
Cas pointed to his foot. “You had an infection there.”
“I . . . uh, I didn’t know.” Sam blinked. “Your grace? It’s back?”
Cas looked a little shifty as he blandly said, “yes.”
“Does that mean . . .”
Sam laboriously dragged his leg over, and then turned onto his stomach.
Cas’ cold hand dragged up the back of his shirt, touching the scar there. Sam shuddered at the feeling of angelic power—he’d had enough of that in his lifetime.
There was no change. Sam craned his head backwards. “Cas? What’s going on? Can you heal me?”
“I . . . I cannot.”
It was like being doused in ice water. Sam turned his head away from Cas, fighting for composure.
“Could I have a second?”
He heard Cas shut the door behind him. He took a few minutes to control himself. It wasn’t . . . it wasn’t the end. Bobby had gone for a long time with a wheelchair. A lot of people were paralyzed. It was a change, that was all.
“Cas,” he said hoarsely. The angel entered quickly.
“Why?” He met the angel’s blue eyes with what he hoped was a calm expression.
“You were stabbed with an angel’s blade. I believe that may have affected your wound, and made it impossible for me to heal your spine.”
“I see.” Sam pushed himself up into a sitting position, and hopefully looked business-like again. “Cas, do you need to leave?”
“I have some business, but I—“ Cas straightened. “Have you been all alone?”
Sam dipped his head. “Dean left a while ago.”
Cas’ eyes flashed. “In your condition? You have been left alone?”
“How have you been eating? Have you been able to leave the bunker?”
“I’ve managed,” Sam said.
Cas scowled. “We’re changing that,” he declared. “You have lost too much weight and are weak. Now, tell me how to help.”
Dean’s chest heaved. He shifted his grip on the blade, feeling blood squelching between his fingers.
“Easy there, bucko.”
He stared blindly at Crowley. The demon’s true form was writhing inside the vessel. Dean could feel something electric in his guts, tugging him to kill, kill, kill.
“Whoa, Dean! Hey, Dean!” Crowley was backing up, something like panic in his eyes. Dean reached out, and he disappeared. Coward. Dean spun on his heel, exiting the old factory. The streets were dim, but Dean’s senses were on high alert. The powers granted to him by the mark and the blade gave him the ability to smell out targets. He was going hunting.
A new presence shivered over his skin. One he knew far too well.
“Dean.” Sam’s voice was a little more hoarse than usual. A tell-tale sign that he’d been sick recently. Dean grit his teeth, feeling the blade singing in his hand for Sam’s blood.
Sam wheeled forward out of the shadows of the alley. Crowley stood behind him, but Dean only had eyes for his brother.
“Dean, drop the blade. Dean, look at me.” Dean, Dean, Dean. Was that all his brother knew how to say? His fingers twitched on the blade.
“Dean.” Sam’s voice was barely a whisper, his eyes soft. “Let it go.”
The blade clattered to the ground. Dean peripherally saw Crowley pick up the blade and disappear.
“Sam,” he rasped.
“Dean. Let’s go home.”
Sam reached out his hand, expression mournful. Dean numbly took it, watching his bloody fingertips stain Sam’s hand.
“Cas,” Sam said.
Without warning, the angel appeared, touching both of them. They reappeared outside of the bunker. Sam didn’t say anything, but he didn’t let go of Dean’s hand as he pushed his chair forward. There were several additions inside—a lift for Sam’s chair being the most noticeable. Mutely, Dean followed his brother to the table.
“Cas, could you give us a second?”
The way Cas eyed Dean made him feel like dirt. Cas exchanged an unreadable look with Sam and walked down the hall.
“I see you two are getting along well,” he said weakly. “Is he going to heal you?”
If he didn’t know his brother so well, he would’ve missed the minute shrinking in Sam’s posture.
“No, the damage was inflicted by an angel blade, so he can’t heal me.”
Dean swallowed. “I . . . I’m sorry.”
“Dean.” Sam spread out his fingers on the table. “We need to talk.”
“Right.” He steeled himself. “Say your piece.”
“I took a path once. It cost me nearly everything, and I will never stop regretting what I chose.”
“Where is this going?” Dean said shortly.
“The mark, Dean. Taking the blade, killing for Crowley. How do you think I justified following Ruby?”
“This is completely different, I—“
Sam slammed his hand down against the table. “No! Dean, I know you don’t trust me, but if you can hear me say one thing, then believe that this is not the way.”
The mark throbbed angrily. “And what is the right way?” he bit out.
Sam wouldn’t meet his eyes. “With me,” he whispered. “Dean, you can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t do this without you.”
Dean’s chest felt tight. “That’s a lie. You wouldn’t have saved me.”
He turned on his heel, escaping to his room before Sam could say anything else.
Cas stared perplexedly at the concoction.
“I do not understand how this works,” he stated.
“You mix the liquids together first, and then add the dry. I think it’s so it doesn’t clump,” Sam explained. He peered upward, trying to see the bowl on the counter. It was galling, not having even enough height to help make cookies.
Cas carefully set the bowl in Sam’s lap. “I believe more chocolate chips are in order.”
Before Sam could say anything, Cas had dumped the entire bag into the bowl.
“That’s one way to do it.”
“What are you doing in my kitch—what are you doing?” Dean asked.
Sam watched his brother warily. Dean was scratching the mark on his arm.
“We were attempting to make cookies,” Cas informed him.
“You’re using too much flour,” Dean said, as if he couldn’t help himself.
Sam took a deep breath. “Would you like to . . . like to help?”
For a second, it looked like Dean wanted to flee. Sam glanced down at the bowl in his lap, feeling his chest ache.
“Hand it over,” Dean said gruffly.
Sam looked up, knowing his heart was in his eyes. Dean took the bowl from him, twisting the spoon around and around, mouth tight.
“Any new plans?” Dean asked.
“We’ve been doing research,” Sam said quietly. “There may be a spell that could help you.”
“I see.” Dean worked with the batter like it was second nature, eyes unfocused.
“You want to see what we have?”
“Maybe after these are done.” Dean offered Sam the bowl again. “Start forming little balls.”
“I believe a crude joke could be made,” Cas said solemnly.
“The angel has finally learned a sense of humor,” Dean said.
“Sort of,” Sam snorted. He scooped up a sticky handful of dough. “How big?”
They were interrupted by Dean’s cell phone going off. Their tentative truce came to a halt as Dean conversed quietly with Crowley via phone and promised to arrive soon.
“Dean,” Sam said hesitantly.
He was left unacknowledged—Dean departed without even offering to let Sam in on his plan.
“Would you like to follow?” Cas offered.
“The two of you have broken ribs many times since the wards were placed on your ribs. It is not difficult for me to track you.”
Sam grimaced. “I’d appreciate you fixing those next chance. But yes. Let’s follow.”
The mark sang for Abel’s blood. Dean stalked towards the figure in the wheelchair. With one hand he picked his brother up by the throat, kicking aside the contraption and smashing it.
“So weak,” he hissed.
A hand scrabbled annoyingly at Dean’s shoulder. He stabbed, swiftly and surely to pin it against the brick wall.
Dean came back into awareness as he ground the blade into Sam’s bicep. He breathed through his mouth, staring dumbly at his hand around the blade.
Without warning, he was thrown backwards. Cas stood in front of Sam, protecting him. Dean’s place.
“Sam,” he croaked.
“You will not hurt Sam,” Cas said.
It registered as a threat to the mark, but Dean ignored it. “Sam, are you okay?” he called out.
“Cas, move, it’s him again.” Sam’s non-injured arm batted at the smaller figure. “Move.”
Dean crawled forward, the blade still imbedded in Sam’s arm. “Cas, take it out,” he whispered. “If I touch it—“
Sam cried out as the angel pulled it free. Dean snarled at him to be careful. Cas’ glance was unreadable as he disappeared with the blade.
“Hospital?” Dean suggested.
Sam shook his head. “Cas should heal . . . most. Just stop the bleeding.”
Dean ripped off the lower part of his shirt, wrapping it around Sam’s bicep with decisive movements. “Anywhere—anywhere else?”
Sam shook his head, groaning as Dean pulled the makeshift pressure bandage tight. “Get my wheelchair.”
Dean winced. “It’s busted,” he was forced to say.
Sam cursed under his breath. He looked pale from blood loss already. Dean grimaced.
Sam shook his head. “Cas will be busy hiding the blade.”
“Look, I’ve got you.” Dean wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders and under his knees, ignoring his brother’s protests. “Mark’s given me extra strength.”
“I guess that’s something,” Sam said weakly. His head rolled against Dean’s shoulder, like he didn’t have enough strength to lift it. Dean’s heart was up in his throat. Carefully, he carried Sam over to the Impala. Once there, he was loath to let him go.
“Bleeding stopped?” he asked.
Sam’s eyes cracked open. There was a glimmer of surprise at seeing Dean so close. “I think so. Are you in control?”
Dean couldn’t look away. “Promise.”
Sam nodded, letting his eyes close again.
“I’m sorry,” Dean whispered.
“I know you are.”
The shampoo fell to the floor with a clatter. Sam blew out a tired breath. When he bent over to pick it up, he got a head rush, most likely from the blood loss from earlier. Cas had healed his arm, but he probably hadn’t replaced the blood.
“Sam?” Dean sounded uncertain.
“Don’t come in, I’m fine.”
Cas had helped Sam install railings and a seat into the shower a few weeks ago. Rather clumsily, sure, but Sam had been able to do most of the work with Cas acting as an extra set of hands.
“Dropped the shampoo.”
“Good thing it wasn’t the soap, or—“
“Dean,” Sam said, in the long-suffering voice of the younger brother. Still, it was nice to hear Dean joking around again. It had been a long time.
“I’m serious, Sammy, you need a hand?”
Sam looked down at the shampoo bottle. He would just forego washing his hair.
“No, I’m fine.”
The long process of getting out of the shower was made even longer by Sam knowing Dean was hovering outside the door. He managed to get dressed and mostly presentable before Dean entered, even if the bottoms of his sweatpants ended up wet.
“I’ll go get you a new wheelchair tomorrow,” Dean said quietly. “You want a fancy electronic one?”
“No.” Sam watched Dean warily. The mark stood out starkly on his brother’s forearm. “A normal one is fine.”
“If you’re sure.” The once-natural interaction of taking care of each other when one of them was injured was made awkward as Dean hesitated before touching Sam’s legs. Sam brushed back his wet hair.
“You wanna speed this up? I’d like some sleep,” he said pointedly.
“Sorry.” Dean picked Sam up, angling him carefully through the bathroom door. “You lose weight?”
“That’s what happens,” Sam said blandly.
Dean placed him down in the bed. “You need anything?”
A small part of Sam was tempted to ask Dean to stay. Instead, he shook his head, and Dean left the room.
“You two really should have checked your wards better.”
Sam whirled around, pulling his gun out from under his pillow, but he was held in place with a twitch of Crowley’s fingers.
“Nuh uh.” Crowley smiled. “Good to see you’ve survived Dean’s attack, Sammy. I’m so pleased.”
Sam bared his teeth. “What do you want?”
“To reclaim my spot as king of hell, I need your brother’s help. Only you and your pet angel keep interfering. So. You will be my leverage.” He strode forward, picking Sam up by the throat. “Play along, and no one will get hurt. Well, not too much.”
Sam lashed out, but Crowley was too quick, and hit him soundly. Dazed from a blow to the face, he was dragged unresisting from his bed.
“Hold on for the ride,” Crowley murmured.
The next thing he was aware of, he was in a small room, slumped against the cold wall with manacles around his ankles.
“Excuse the accommodations,” Crowley said. “But at least you aren’t in hell, right?”
“You won’t get away with this,” Sam told him.
Crowley snorted. “Like I haven’t heard that before.” He disappeared before Sam could get another word in.
Sam had a pen in his pocket, as well as paperclips he always kept in the lining of his pants. He made swift work of the manacles, but one awkward army crawl around the perimeter told him there was no way he could get out. The room had no door, no windows, nothing. The vent for air was hardly large enough for Sam to get his hand in, let alone use as an escape method. Somehow he ended up sitting against the wall, tracing the tip of the pen cap over his unfeeling thigh.
Slowly, Sam rolled up his pants. He stared at his wasted legs, drawing a fingernail against his skin. It left a red mark. One of the paperclips was nearby, and Sam teased it through his fingers, shaping it until he was able to dig one end of it into his unfeeling flesh.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before Crowley was there again.
“You have driven yourself into a state, haven’t you?”
Sam stared vaguely at the blood on his legs, the bloody symbols he had written on the floor.
“Say cheese.” Sam looked up just as the flash went off on Crowley’s phone. He grinned at Sam. “Big brother’s gonna love this.”
“Don’t—“ Sam rasped, but it was too late. Crowley was gone.
Murderous rage swept through Dean. The phone fell from his shaking fingertips.
“Touch me now, and I will kill you,” he hissed to Cas.
“I cannot find Sam.”
“I will kill Abaddon like Crowley wants, and if Crowley doesn’t give Sam to me, I will kill him as well,” Dean promised.
It had been a long time since he had felt so . . . protective. It was almost sad, but Dean ignored it in favor of putting all his energy into finding Abaddon. If it weren’t for the blade and his new powers, he would have been killed, but as it was, Dean found himself standing in a room of slain demons, holding Abaddon’s severed head by her hair.
“Crowley!” he growled. “Show yourself.”
“My, haven’t you been busy. I am a demon of my word.” He tossed a set of keys at Dean. “Sam’s locked up in one of those tiny rooms in your bunker. You should really explore the place more.”
Dean snarled, ready to attack Crowley, but he escaped. The mark urged Dean to chase after him, but Dean managed to pull back, turning himself in the direction of the bunker. The drive back felt like it lasted an eternity. Dean raced through the halls of the bunker, slamming open door after door.
One wouldn’t give. Dean stopped, trying it again. Pulling out his lock-pick set, he made quick work of the door.
The floor and wall next to Sam were covered in bloody enochian symbols. Sam himself had blood coating most of his body, but especially his legs. Dean’s breath caught in his throat.
“Sam,” Dean tried again. His brother looked up through his hair, eyes blank.
“The insides become the outsides.”
“Sam, you aren’t in the cage. Look at me.” Dean checked around the room, but it was entirely empty. The back of the door looked exactly like a wall, something that’d probably made it worse for Sam.
“Eat the lies, they don’t hurt like fire.”
Dean got close enough to touch Sam’s arm. Sam stopped tracing with his own blood, looking at Dean’s hand.
“Trick,” he muttered.
“No tricks. Look, if I were a trick, would Lucifer have put this ugly mark on my arm? Huh?”
A small furrow appeared in Sam’s brow. “Mark,” he muttered.
“Use that big brain, kiddo.”
Sam’s eyes cleared. “Dean?”
“Yeah. C’mon, we need to get you fixed up.” Dean had to swallow at the sight of Sam’s mangled legs. “Easy does it.”
“Dean, Crowley,” Sam murmured.
“He’s gone for now.” Dean huffed, juggling Sam a little higher. “I’ve got you.”
Sam didn’t get fevers often. The trials had forced him to realize how awful fevers were—the confusion, heat, pain.
“Easy, Sammy, easy. Take a sip of this for me.”
Sam squinted at the blurry shape. “Dean?”
“That’s it.” Something soothing slid down his throat. A cold palm pressed against his burning cheek. Sam let out a whimper, leaning into the hand.
“Always burning,” he whispered.
He was put into water, he was going to be drowned. Michael had liked that death, the futility of the struggle. Still, he had to try and escape. He struggled against the hands, a pitiful whimpering coming from his throat. For some reason he couldn’t kick away the force holding him down.
“Sam, calm down. It’s me, Dean.”
“Dean,” Sam repeated, “Dean, real?”
“Yeah, bud.” Dean’s hand went unerringly to the old scar. Sam sucked in a deep breath. It was Dean. “Wha—“
“You have a fever. I didn’t want that big brain of yours to cook.” Dean’s features slowly came into focus. He looked tired, worried. Sam shivered a little, but let Dean lower him into the water. It was tinged pink, and he frowned.
“Why is the water pink?” he slurred.
“You had a lot of blood on you.” Dean’s hands cradled Sam’s head, lowering it into the water until only his face was above the water. “I’ve got you.”
He forced himself to relax. Too many nightmares were filled with Dean’s hands suddenly pressing his face into the water and holding him down as Lucifer laughed.
“It’s like we’re in a salon,” Dean muttered. “What do those hair cutting people say anyway? Wow, you have hair and I’m cutting it, this is such a novel idea.”
Sam snorted a little, but he couldn’t get any words out. Exhaustion and the steady pressure of Dean’s hands as he washed Sam’s hair sent him into unconsciousness again.
When Sam finally woke up cognizant of his surroundings, he found himself in Dean’s room. Dean was slouched in a chair, feet propped up on the bed.
Sam cleared his throat. “Dean?”
Dean jerked awake, staring around before finding Sam.
“You’re awake. For real,” he said dumbly.
Sam nodded, watching him carefully. “How long—“
“Um, about a week since Crowley snatched you.” Dean rubbed his hand across his face, seeming to wipe away his weariness in one sweep of his hand. “You hurting?”
Sam shook his head.
Dean sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. He pressed out a smile that looked entirely fake. “Memory foam, right? Isn’t it awesome?”
“I know, I know, we need to talk.”
“I was actually going to ask for water.”
Sam watched Dean freeze. His brother laughed, abruptly.
Sam waited until he’d had a sip before taking a deep breath. “When you say talk, are you actually willing to listen, as well?”
“Fair enough,” Dean admitted. “Yeah, I am.”
“Let me . . . let me get my thoughts together.”
“Can I at least say I’m sorry?”
Sam pressed his eyes shut. His head was aching, his body felt weak. “Dean, I know. But sorry isn’t enough. I have to know you won’t do it again.”
“No, listen to me. When I said I wouldn’t do it, I meant that. But I meant that I wouldn’t get you possessed. Not to save you, not for anything. Do you have any idea what it was like, having Meg, having Lucifer, and now Gadreel controlling me? Seeing the people I loved killed by my own hands?”
“I said listen!” Sam took a deep breath, dots flashing in front of his eyes. “Dean, if you don’t understand, then there’s no point to continuing this conversation. I would rather die than become another meatsuit for some angel or demon.”
“I get it, Sammy.” Dean stared absently at the mark, tracing it with his fingers. “And I am sorry. Really. For what I did.”
Sam groaned. “Dean, I’m sorry, I know there’s more, but my head’s killing me.”
Dean swore under his breath. “Dude, sleep.” He pressed his hand over Sam’s eyes, and Sam willingly shut them.
Sam’s recovery was slow. Dean had seen how wasted his legs were, which meant he wasn’t doing any kind of PT to help maintain muscle mass. Add onto that a serious loss in weight, and Sam was in pretty bad shape overall. Dean read up on paraplegia, assistive technologies, everything he could.
“So you’re staying this time.”
Dean didn’t look up from the salad he was making. “Yes.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
Dean met Cas’ eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“I have been your friend for a long time. I have not been as good a friend to Sam at times. But this . . . this devastated him. Not the loss of his legs, but the loss of his trust in you. You break that again, and you won’t have to worry about the mark, or Crowley ever again.”
“Is that a threat?”
Dean nodded. “That’s good. You watch out for him. I’ve screwed up too many times to trust me either.”
He brought the salad to Sam, along with his notes. “Here’s your daily schedule.”
“Schedule?” Sam raised an eyebrow, taking the papers Dean also offered and skimming through them. “You have a workout plan? A calorie count for me?”
“That’s right, we need some meat on your bones again.”
“Sam—“ Dean said, mocking his whiny tone. “You need to get healthy again. And I’m putting myself in charge of that.”
Dean caught sight of a little smile on Sam’s mouth before he hid it behind a forkful of lettuce.
“I have brought the protein shake,” Cas said gravely. “I must go finish up the wards.”
“You two can only play nursemaid for so long,” Sam said as Cas left. He narrowed his eyes at Dean. “What about the hunt? Cain, all the other angels, the mark?”
“It can wait,” Dean said.
“And when Crowley shows up here again?” Sam challenged.
Dean scowled. “We’ll be ready for that scum.” He waited until Sam had finished his soup before clearing his throat. “I’m also busy installing hand controls on the Impala,” he blurted out. He reached out to grab Sam’s bowl, only to have his arm intercepted.
“What are you—“
“Dean, I . . .” Sam shook his head, hair falling into his face. “It’s been a lot.”
“Yeah, it has.”
Sam suddenly put his entire upper body into a hug, nearly making Dean fall over.
“Whoa, Sam, what—“
“Shut up. Give me this.”
“Fine,” Dean said, trying to sound annoyed. “One pass.”
“We’ll get better, right?” Sam whispered into his shoulder. “We’ll make it through this?”
Dean squeezed his own eyes shut. Only Sam could ask something so unrealistic and get Dean to put his heart and soul into a lie.
“Yeah, Sam. We’ll be fine.”