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With or Without You

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These words had been echoing in Sam’s head nonstop in recent weeks, his last fight with Dean replaying itself over and over, with Sam asking himself what he could have said, done differently, so that Dean wouldn’t have left.

But it was no good.

“I’m out, Sam. I can’t do this anymore. Not with you. Not with what you’ve had inside you, what you’ve still got inside you. It’s disgusting. Hell, I can’t even be in the same room with you. That look in your eyes, knowing what you’ve done. You chose Ruby over your own family, your own blood. Sam… I can’t forgive that. I can’t forgive you. I can’t trust you. And if I can’t trust you, you’re not my brother anymore. Cas was right, you are an abomination.”

He had stopped to take a breath then, and Sam had opened his mouth to say something—what, he didn’t know—but Dean had held up his hand to silence him.

“No. There’s nothing you can say. I’m leaving. Don’t follow me. Don’t even call. I’m done with you, and you better pray to whoever it is you serve now that you never, ever see me again… because it will be the last time.”

With that, Dean had slammed the door, duffel bag over his shoulder, car keys in hand, and a few seconds later he roared out of the parking lot. Sam had stood, staring at the door in silence, for a long time after.

It had been three months with no word from Dean. Sam had done as he’d asked and not tried to contact him. They’d had fights before—frequently, in fact—and even separated temporarily. But they had never stayed apart so long without one of them caving. Sam had been sure that Dean would have called or showed up at his door in a few weeks, maybe a month or two, at least willing to talk to Sam again. But the silence had only grown heavier as the days passed, and Sam had started to think Dean really was done with him this time. So he just kept his head down, trying to make ends meet working for Animal Control during the day and bussing tables at night. He knew Dean would never be able to give up hunting, and Sam didn’t want to risk running into him if Dean wasn’t ready. So he just stayed out of the way, losing more hope with each successive sunset that he would ever see his brother again.

Dean, of course, was still hunting. He was haunted, too, but his brain was inundated by images rather than words, the picture of Sam with demon blood dripping down his chin and glossy black eyes invading both dreams and waking moments. He knew that it was more Ruby’s fault than Sam’s, but his little brother knew better than to trust a demon in the first place. He had made his own choices, and Dean just needed a break from him. Needed a little time to clear his head and (though he’d never admit it) his heart. So he kept traveling the country, ganking ghosts, vampires, demons, and other assorted monsters, half hoping to run into Sam, half dreading what would happen if he did.

The truth was, he was still so mad at Sam that he had thrown an empty beer bottle against the hotel wall just yesterday. Although he regretted what he had said to Sam in the heat of the moment back in Holly Pond, and was willing to admit that at least half of it wasn’t true, Dean knew that it would take all of his self-control to keep from breaking his
brother’s nose for being so damn stupid.

So Dean kept hunting, crisscrossing backcountry roads and tiny towns, doing what he had been raised to do, trying his best to resist picking up the phone and hitting his #1 on speed dial.


Sam was done. He couldn’t take it anymore. He was walking home from the bar, mist gradually soaking through his jacket and giving him chills. Head pounding, he felt vaguely nauseated and wished more than anything to step into a warm motel room and see Dean at a cheap desk cleaning the Colt. Dean would toss him the bottle of aspirin and pour him a shot of whiskey and tell him to sleep it off, their brotherly equivalent of an “I love you.”

But instead he fumbled with the key to a dark, damp, empty apartment. It was pretty messy now, since Sam had long ago stopped bothering to clean up after himself. He grabbed some pills from a cabinet and swallowed them with some tepid tap water, knowing his fridge was empty of everything but some moldy cheese and a bottle of ketchup.

Nearly succumbing to the migraine, Sam sank down to his knees on the kitchen floor and then lay on his stomach, resting his cheek on the cold tile and closing his eyes.

Dean, he thought, silently calling out for help. He was weak, tired, and depressed, and he hadn’t eaten in two days. Although Sam would never admit it to anyone, he was giving up, and he didn’t know how much longer he would be able to hold on without Dean.

The next morning, Sam’s head was still pounding, and now his neck was killing as well from sleeping face-down on the kitchen floor. His whole body ached as he dragged himself off the tile. He staggered over to the couch and checked his phone—nothing. There never was. But he knew what he had to do, so Sam hit number 1 on his speed dial and scrambled to figure out what to say.

It rang.

And rang.

And then he heard a voice which for a moment was like a sunbeam on his chest, rumbling, “It’s Dean, you know what to do.”


“Uh, hey Dean, it’s uh, it’s Sam. Hey, call me.” That’s all he could manage. But it gave him some hope. Enough hope to drag his ass to the bathroom and shower, and then to the Laundromat to wash the raccoon blood out of his uniform for Monday.

A thousand miles away, Dean held his vibrating phone in his hand, staring at the name on the caller ID.


After almost a year, Sam was calling him. Dean stood frozen, unsure what to do. There was a powerful kind of ache in his chest when he thought about hearing Sam’s voice again, but he just couldn’t make himself answer the call. He couldn’t. Dean closed his eyes, laid the phone on the nightstand, and lay down on the bed to stare blankly at the ceiling.

Two more days went by. Dean had been on the point of calling Sam so many times he lost count, but lost his nerve every time. He just kept listening to the message, over and over again to ease the heartache he wouldn’t admit he felt.

Sam was worse. Dean hadn’t called. He wouldn’t, Sam knew. And with each passing hour with no response from Dean, Sam was falling further and further into his depression. Five more days, he decided. He would give Dean a week, and if he hadn’t heard anything… Well, he’d had a plan for some time now. Maybe it was time.

Five days went by with no answer. This was it. But even though he knew Dean didn’t want to see him or talk to him, Sam couldn’t just leave him hanging, leave him wondering. Without putting it in so many words, Sam had to tell his brother goodbye, even if Dean didn’t answer the phone. At least maybe he would be able to move on without Sam dragging him back down every few months like he had been all their lives.

After staring at his phone for a few minutes, Sam took a deep breath and hit the button. The phone rang several times, as he had expected it to, before Dean’s voicemail picked up.

“Hey, Dean,” Sam began, his voice surprisingly calm and steady. “I know if you wanted to hear from me, you’d have called by now. That’s okay. I’m going to leave you alone now, for good. Have a good life, and….I’m sorry. For everything.” Silence. Another deep breath. “’Bye, Dean,” Sam half-whispered, closing his eyes in a vain effort to keep the sudden tears from falling, and he pressed End Call.

Sam wiped his face with the back of his hand, sniffing slightly, before going to his shaving kit. Lying on top, almost as if it was waiting for him, was the straight razor Dean had given him as a gift on his 16th birthday.

Fitting, he thought, chuckling without smiling. He closed the shaving kit, zipped it up, and placed it inside his duffel bag with all of his other possessions, packed for the convenience of whoever found him, however long that took.

Clutching the razor tightly in his hand, Sam walked slowly to the bathroom and turned on the water, adjusting the temperature so that it was almost too hot. While the tub was filling, he brushed his teeth, got undressed and folded his clothes. Then he sank slowly into the bathtub, the water coming up almost to his chest, his knees bent so he would fit. He laid the razor on the edge of the tub and tested the depth, letting his arms drop down into the water until it covered his elbows. Good. That was good.

Sam picked up the razor in his left hand, testing its weight. He had sharpened it just last night. Slowly, he pulled it open, examining every inch of it, reveling in the memory of the day Dean gave it to him. Then, slowly, deliberately, Sam placed the tip of the razor in the crook of his right elbow, closed his eyes, and drew it sharply down to his wrist.

“Gah!” he gasped, feeling the blood gush over his arm as he sliced through his own skin. It hurt like hell, and it felt so good that without hesitation, he switched the blade to his other hand and quickly repeated the process on his other arm, watching the blood spurting from his veins with each throb of his heart, like a promise: Soon. Soon. Soon.

Dropping the razor into the water, which was all red now, Sam laid his head back against the tiled wall and let his arms fall with a weak splash below the surface of the hot water.

It wouldn’t be long now. He figured he was going to Hell, but so what? He deserved everything he got. Dean’s face faded as Sam slipped into unconsciousness.

Thirty miles away, Dean’s phone vibrated on the empty seat next to him. He let it go to voicemail. He would be seeing Sam soon, and that was all he cared about. Two days ago, Dean had had the GPS on Sam’s phone turned on, got his location, and got on the road. He didn’t know what he would say to his brother, wasn’t even sure if this was the right thing to do, but he had to see Sam. He had to.
After the message alert pinged, he picked up the phone to see who had called him, and he was surprised to see that it was Sam again. Thinking it might be important, Dean listened to the message.

His heart stopped when he heard Sam’s voice, the subtext of what he was saying.

The Impala screeched to a halt in the middle of the winding country road. Dean opened the door, leaned his head out, and vomited onto the pavement.

No, he thought, no, this is all my fault.

He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, spit, shut his door, and floored it, knowing his time was running out, if it hadn’t already.

Fifteen minutes later Dean roared into the parking lot of sketchy-looking apartment complex, The Eaves. Snatching the picture of Sammy from his wallet, he charged into the main office, looking for someone who could tell him where Sam lived. Nobody was there.

Dean raced out of the office and to the first apartment he came to.

“Help!” he cried, hammering on the door, “I need help, it’s an emergency!”

The door was flung wide open to reveal a young woman in a flimsy nightgown, looking alarmed. She flinched as Dean shoved the picture in her face.

“This guy. Where does he live? Which apartment?” he demanded.

“W-what? I don’t—“she stammered.

“WHERE DOES HE LIVE?!” Dean screamed at her.

“U-um, I think h-he lives in 13-C. It—it’s that b-building over th-there,” she stuttered, pointing a shaking finger across the parking lot, drawing away from Dean, who had already taken off running for the apartment she named.

Dean pounded his fist on the door, yelling Sam’s name. He waited about two seconds before kicking the door open and charging in.

It was quiet. Too quiet. Sam’s duffel was packed on the couch, a half-empty glass of water on his kitchen counter. Dean ran through the living room, into the bedroom, and finally, into the bathroom, where Sam lay naked in the bloody bathwater.

“Oh, God. No. Sammy, NO!” Dean screamed.

Dean dropped to his knees by the tub and grabbed his brother’s shoulders, shaking them, his head falling back and hitting the wall with a dull thud. He was still warm. The water was still warm.

“Sammy! Sammy, come back to me!” Dean pleaded as Sam’s head lolled limply from side to side. Dean fumbled for his phone in his back pocket and dialed 911.

“911, what’s your emergency?” a cool male voice answered.

“Please, please, you gotta help me, it’s my brother,” Dean gabbled frantically, not letting go of Sam.

“Yes sir, what is your emergency?”

“He—he slashed his wrists. In the bathtub. We’re at his apartment, the, the Eaves, I think, I don’t remember the number.”

“Yes sir, can you tell me your brother’s name?” the voice asked.

“Sam. Please, send somebody.”

“Help is on the way, sir. I’m going to help you. Can you tell if Sam is still breathing?” the man asked.

“I—I don’t—let me check,” Dean stuttered. He put a hand on Sam’s chest and leaned close to his mouth. He didn’t feel anything.

“No,” Dean whimpered, his voice breaking, “No, he’s not breathing. His heart’s not beating. Please save my brother.”


It was the hardest thing Dean had ever had to watch.

The paramedics lifting his gigantic brother’s lifeless, exposed body from the bloody water.

Sam’s head falling back, his eyes half-open and glassy.

His arms, with their gaping wounds still oozing blood.

His body lying on his bedroom floor, his knees bent at an odd angle.

The police had arrived shortly after the ambulance and were keeping Dean in the living room, out of the paramedics’ way. There were so many of them surrounding Sam—one on each side wrapping his arms to stem the weak blood flow, one starting IV fluids and a transfusion in his neck, one prepping the defibrillator.

“Clear!” a female voice called out. Dean held his breath.

“Charging…” she said, then again, “Clear!”

Shit, Dean was thinking. Sammy, don’t DO this!

“Charging, let’s go again, clear!”

COME ON, Sammy! Don’t leave me like this! Not like this!

“Okay, let’s do one more, clear!”

A brief silence from the other room. Then—

“We have a pulse, let’s move him guys, we gotta get his BP up. Ava, get two more units of blood ready, James and Ian, get ready to lift on my count, 1, 2, 3!”

Almost before he knew what was happening, all the paramedics rushed by him, wheeling Sam along as fast as they dared. By the time Dean was on his feet again, the doors of the ambulance were slamming shut and the siren was blaring shrilly in the cool evening air.

A hand was on his shoulder. “Hey, man,” a deep, calming voice reached his ear, “let’s get you to the hospital.”

Twenty-four hours later Sam was in ICU at the local hospital with Dean by his side. He was stable, but covered with so many tubes and monitors that he was barely visible. The parts Dean could see—his hands, parts of his face—seemed pale, thin, and weak.

The doctor didn’t know how long Sam would be in the ICU, if he ever even woke up. He had lost so much blood that his heart had stopped, and had been clinically dead for long enough that some level of brain damage was all but certain. So for now, Sam was on a cardio-pulmonary bypass machine to ease the stress on his heart, and Dean could do nothing but drift in and out of consciousness to the steady beeps and whirs in his brother’s room.


Two weeks later, Sam was moaning and groaning about the hospital’s policy of leaving in a wheelchair, which Dean took as a good sign. Daily visits from a psychologist and reassurances that his brother would be nearby had convinced the medical team that Sam could be released. He’d agreed to a follow-up visit in a week so that he could have another MRI, as well as weekly visits with the psychologist (which Sam and Dean both planned for him to ditch.) Other than some headaches and double vision, some occasional memory problems, and bad balance, Sam was doing great, and Dean intended to keep it that way.