Then the memory thing comes up again.
"Okay, let's do it," I say, trying to project more bravado than I'm feeling.
"Seriously?" Sam protests. "Do you even know what you're asking, Dean? Do you really want to remember all the things you did when you were a demon? You want the weight of all those memories of things we did before that happened? All the people who died? Dean, you don't remember Dad, you don't remember Mom or Bobby or Lisa and Ben or --"
His big brain is spinning with all the possibilities.
"Oh my god, Dean, if somebody could wipe my memories of all those times you died -- all the times I've had to kill you -- if I could forget Jess and Dad and Madison and Sarah and all the things I did when I was Lucifer -- and Kevin -- "
"Sam, stop," I put my hand on his chest to get his attention because he's starting to hyperventilate and I need him to get it together. "Listen to me. We're trying to break the cycle of this thing, right? We know what happened the last nine times we went through this. We couldn't fix it."
Sam nods, looking so shattered it's all I can do not to stop and gather him up in my arms and spend the next few weeks in bed.
But that's not gonna get the job done, so I try again.
"So the way I figure it, we have to do something different. We have to drill a new hole."
He nods, glances at Castiel.
"That's right," I agree. "Things are going differently this time already, so that's good. Now we have to keep heading that way. We have to try to shake things up. Now, I didn't get my memories back before, right? I never got cured of my amnesia?"
Sam sucks in a breath, looks away from me and tightens his jaw.
"Right?" I prod, and he finally nods, reluctantly, still not looking at me.
"Okay then," I step back, let my arms swing, turn to Castiel. "Let's do this."
"Dean," Sam grabs a handful of my shirts, and now I get why we wear so many layers. "Last time this happened -- remember? Well, I know you don't remember, but it's in the journals. You wrote it down 'cuz I told you. After I came back from the pit, without my soul, and then I got my soul back."
I stare at him, frowning. I know exactly what he's talking about; my brain goes right there, to that time in our lives when Sam was a recovering amnesiac himself.
It wasn't pretty.
"Yeah, so?" I challenge. "That was you. I'm telling you, I can handle this."
I'm not at all sure that I can, of course, and I don't really mean to make him feel weak. I know how brave and strong he is.
But the truth is, I'm feeling scared. And my way of dealing with scared is to get defensive and mouthy and not-very-nice-to-my-brother. That's Dean's way, anyhow, from what I've read.
Who do I think I am again?
Sam's looking into my eyes, a dozen or so expressions flitting across his handsome features, and I resist the urge to kiss him.
Damn him anyway.
He finally tears his gaze away, releases me with a huff.
"Okay, whatever," he mutters, and I feel my face smirking. It's like Dean's in here, just waiting to come out. Maybe I'm just doing what he wants. Maybe I'm possessed.
Okay, that's enough.
I'm on the edge of freaking out, but I'm damned if I'm gonna let Sam see that.
Because I really, really need to do this thing. I need to get my memories back. I know in my gut that's where the clues are, that's where the leads are to fixing this thing.
And we have to fix this, because otherwise Sam is gonna die. He's gonna burn himself out. He can't keep doing this and I can't keep letting him do this and that's all there is to it.
"Let's do it," I say to Castiel, and he nods, a little reluctantly maybe, and with a glance at Sam, who is walking away, then turning back with a wave of his hand, dismissing us, giving Castiel his permission.
I've out-Winchestered my own brother.
I'm dimly aware of Sam standing in a corner of the room with his hands on his hips, frowning at me sideways as Castiel moves closer, putting his hand up to touch me.
I close my eyes as his fingers make contact with my forehead, and for a second nothing happens.
Then the floor gives way and I'm rushing through space at a million miles per hour, flooded with waves of emotion that aren't mine, covered in blood that isn't mine, slugged in the gut over and over in the same place until I'm beyond pain, beyond rational thought, beyond life itself.
The memories are full of feelings, goddamn it. Wasn't expecting that.
Mom burning up, my first shame-filled moments of discovering I'm in love with my baby brother, my father's disapproval and anger, his death and knowing it's my fault, he died for me and I didn't deserve it because I'm a failure, I'm so fucked up inside with lust and need and not measuring up --
My greedy relief at getting Sam back, guilt because he had to leave his "normal" life to come back to me, his girl dying -- my fault because I couldn't protect him and his normal life --
Sam consumed by the same obsessions our Dad had, vengeful, angry, souped-up on demon-blood --
Sammy dead in my arms.
The grief is too much. Normal people can't even understand how it feels to have your world ripped away from you like that.
And of course I do something stupid to fix it, because I'm impulsive and I can't go on without Sam.
But it means I have to leave him, have to spend forty years in Hell and leave Sam to fend for himself, and it's my fault he goes dark-side, it's my fault that demon bitch gets her claws in him --
My fault the world almost ends. Everybody dies. Ellen and Jo and Ash and Bobby.
My fault Lucifer rides Sam into the pit, stays there for-fucking-ever, at least twice as long as I was in Hell, before Death brings his soul back.
Death, my old friend.
I was Death, for a day. Sucked at it, of course.
Purgatory, with Cas, with Benny.
Benny. I killed Benny to save Sam.
Sam dying from the trials.
I let an angel possess him to save him, to keep him alive, because I can't exist without him.
I love -- I love Sam. I love him so much I would end everything to keep him with me. I would let everyone die, again, to have Sam beside me.
So now I'm paying for my greed. Now I'm an evil son-of-a-bitch because I loved Sam too much. I kill people without remorse, without feeling anything at all. I'm the demon I was always meant to be, the creature from Hell without a heart, without a soul.
And I'm killing my brother a little more every day -- a slow, painful, horrible death where he has to keep killing me to keep me alive. To get me back only to watch me turn evil all over again.
The screaming in my head doesn't start or stop. It's one long continuous wail that's been going on for all eternity and will keep going endlessly into the future, long after I'm gone.
But for now it's making my throat sore, filling my senses with sound and fury and more sound, rattling my bones.
My bones are all that's left of my body -- I should have died years ago, when Sam took me to that stupid faith healer. That should have been the end, right there. I should have died and Sam should have burned my body, scattered the ashes, burned the damn car so I couldn't come back and haunt him.
The sound is deafening, it's why I lost my voice in the first place, because I couldn't stop screaming. Screaming for Sam.
It's been a week since that happened.
A week since the walls came crashing down and I remembered everything.
Now Sam says I have to write again. He says if I write I'll be able to focus better.
I told him to fuck off.
I think I passed out right after it happened, because I don't remember hitting him. Punched Sam square in the jaw -- nasty right hook -- but he just took it.
He and Castiel were bending over me when I came to, lying on the floor with my head pounding like somebody was beating on it with sledgehammer.
From the inside.
Sam's jaw is red and swelling, his eyes full of concern.
"Fuck," I mutter, closing my eyes.
"Dean?" Sam's voice is soothing, feels so good on the open wound of my soul. "How do you feel?"
"Fuck -- you," I croak, because my throat is sore from screaming.
Sam nods, satisfied.
Smug little bitch.
"He's okay," he says to Castiel. "He's himself again."
"How can you be sure?" Castiel sounds confused. "All he's done is scream and curse. Twice."
Sam nods again.
"He's Dean," Sam says simply, and it makes me smile inside. My brother knows me.
Sam slips his arm around me to help me sit up. I do, but I push him away, bat at his hands.
"I'm fine," I say hoarsely. "Stop with the mother-henning."
I pull myself to my feet, bat his hands away again when he reaches to help me. I'm dizzy, swaying a little like I've had too much to drink. Sam reaches to steady me and I let him for a minute before pushing him away, not ready to admit how much I need his support, or how much I crave his touch.
I don't deserve it. I don't deserve HIM.
"How are your memories, Dean?" Sam asks. "What do you remember?"
I'm still rocking on my feet a little -- the floor is swaying, not me -- but I manage to throw a little frowning glance at him.
"Everything," I croak, then try to take a step, just to move away from him. His heat.
But I stumble so he's right there again, hands on my arm and my back.
"Water," I whisper hoarsely, knowing he'll have to stop touching me if I give him an order.
"Of course," he murmurs, and just like that he lets me go, heads into the kitchen like a shot.
That's when I realize we're in the library.
How did we get here?
I look at Castiel, but the angel is just looking back with that inscrutable gaze of his.
"What?" I demand. "Did I grow horns?"
Sam comes back with the water, puts his hand on my back as I drink, 'cuz he can't stop touching me. He's standing so close I can feel his breath on my cheek.
I step away, gulping water until the glass is empty.
"How do you feel?" he asks again, and I hand him the empty glass, look up at him, then over at Castiel.
"Awesome," I say. "Fuckin' awesome."
I duck away as he reaches out to touch me again, and he flinches like I've taken another shot at him.
I know I'm being a dick, but I can't give in to the urge to curl up in bed with him right now. Not when there's real work to do.
"So Heaven's closed up? You're stranded here?" I say to Castiel, who lowers his eyes with a single nod.
"Not that I mind," I add, and Castiel raises his eyes again, looks stupidly hopeful. "I could use your help."
"Why?" Sam asks. "What's the plan?"
I try to look up at him, try to meet his eyes, but I just can't. Not with what I'm about to tell him.
"You have to kill me, Sam," I say, steeling myself for the devastated look I know he's gonna be giving me in just about three-two-one -- yep, there it is.
"What? What are you talking about?"
I shift my feet, square my jaw.
"I knew all along," I say. "Well, demon!me knew. The memory loss was partly his deal. So I wouldn't know what I had to do to reverse the curse." I grin a little grimly at my own rhyme: "Reverse the curse. Awesome."
"Dean -- " Sam can't help himself. Just has to argue.
"Demon!me is a dick, Sam," I interrupt before he can start whining. "He knew all along the way to fix things. He was working against us, trying to find a way to stay demonic for good, get back to the way things were before you got Hephaestus to create the curse in the first place."
I look up at him, flash him a proud smile.
"Nice work, by the way."
"Wait -- you know how to fix it?" Sam says, stunned. "How?"
"I just told you," I frown at him. For such a big brain, Sam can be so dumb sometimes. "You have to kill me. Only it has to be in this form, before I turn into my demon self again."
Sam has his hands up, like he can stop me from making him kill me. Like I would.
"No," he shakes his head. "Oh no no no no. No way. You can't ask me to do that."
"Why not?" I demand. "You do it all the time. You're getting good at it too, Sam, I gotta say. Last time around it only took you three months to find me. No hesitation, clean blow, I didn't even know what hit me."
Sam is staring at me like I have three heads or something.
"Dean -- that's different," his voice is a tortured whisper. "You -- when you're a demon you -- you're not yourself. I can almost tell myself it isn't really you. I -- Dean, it kills me to kill you, even demon!you."
Damn it. Now he's got tears in his eyes.
God damn it. I knew this wasn't gonna be easy. Who am I kidding?
"Listen to me, Sam," I gotta get him to understand, gotta get through to him before the waterworks start. "You do this thing, it's over. You hear me? It's all over. No more demon!me. No more killing. And you have to do it, Sam, you know you have to stop demon!me. I'm a monster. I kill without remorse, I don't care about anything, I'm an evil, soulless thing, hell-bent on chaos and destruction. And I hurt you. I -- "
Goddamn it. Goddamn memories.
I clench my teeth, determined to stay focused, not let the horror well up in me, spill over.
"I can't let that happen again, Sam," I grind out. "You have to do this, or -- or I'm gonna do it myself."
It was the first time, right after the curse, and I will spend the rest of my miserable existence atoning for that. For what I did to my beautiful baby brother.
"It wasn't you, Dean," he chokes out. "It's okay -- "
"No, it is not okay, Sam!" I yell at him, because getting angry is the only way to keep from crying. "And I mean what I say. If you don't kill me, I will do it myself."
"Oh, like that worked out so well the last time," Sam chokes out a laugh that's already bordering on hysteria.
"That's right," I growl. "We'll just be back where we started from, you get me? Me without memories again. You having to kill me again. Is that what you want? Because I see what it's doing to you, Sam. I know what it would do it me if our places were reversed, and it's not okay, you get me? It is not okay."
"Dean -- " He's reaching for me again, and I put my hands up to stop him, turn to Castiel.
"Tell him," I growl. "Tell him he has to do this."
Castiel has been watching us -- good for him! -- and his face is a mask of angelic sorrow.
I should hit him too, put a big ol' bruise right there on his perfect left jaw.
"He's right, Sam," Castiel says. "The only way to break the curse is for you to kill Dean in his current form. Only you can do it, and you have to do it before he turns into a demon again, or the cycle starts all over, with demon!Dean having full knowledge of what has come before, meaning he will know we had this conversation. He will take steps to prevent this happening again."
"I can't kill my own brother," Sam sobs, desperation and misery so stark in his face I just can't look at him. I stare at the ground, glance up at Cas. I put my hands on my hips and widen my stance so I look tougher.
It doesn't help much, but I can pretend with the best of 'em.
"You must," Castiel says gently. "It's the ultimate blood sacrifice. The ancient ritual of death and resurrection. Shedding the blood of the god so the land may heal."
"I'm not a god," I say irritably, and Castiel shakes his head.
"Perhaps not, but you are immortal now. You both are. You're not fully human anymore. So the comparison holds. In ancient times, creatures like you and Sam were seen as gods."
"Well fuck that," I mutter. "I still poop just like everybody else. I still sleep, I eat, goddamn it!"
"Not when you're a demon, you don't," Sam reminds me.
"Well fuck that," I say again. "All I'm saying is I'm still half human. And Sam's all human. He's just not aging at the moment."
"Dean -- " Castiel shakes his head. "Sam is bound by this curse, just as you are. Curing you of your demon self will not change that. You will still have the Mark. You and Sam will still be bound."
"What the hell does that mean?" I demand, because demon!me never considered this -- never thought beyond the cure that would end him. All he wanted was to prevent it from happening. Demon!me wanted to be permanent!me, with no transformation back into almost-human!me. Demon!me hated Sam for that -- for figuring out how to keep me at least partially non-demon. Demon!me let Sam know exactly how much he hated it, as a matter of fact --
Not thinking about that.
"So even if I do this thing -- and I'm not saying I will -- not saying I can -- " Sam's really trying here, and I try to look encouraging, probably only manage to look constipated. "Even if I kill him when he's in this form, that doesn't change the basic fact that he's got that stupid Mark of Cain, the thing that made him this way in the first place. That doesn't stop."
"That is correct, Sam," Cas agrees.
"So what's to prevent this from happening again?" Sam demands, almost wailing, the poor kid. "What's to prevent him from recklessly getting himself killed like he did before and turning back into a demon? Permanently this time? Do I have to go back to Hephaestus and bargain for his half-humanity again? Because I have to say that's not exactly a trip to Disney Land. Plus I'm pretty sure I've outworn my welcome there. And I really, really don't want to pay the same price twice."
He looks away from me when he says the last thing, and I know he's thinking about the innocent blood he spilled as a way to get in the door with Hephaestus, and that is just not okay. Sam suffers when he kills, he really really suffers, and I would save him that pain and anguish with every last ounce of strength in my stupid-ass body, I swear to god-or-whatever I would.
"I think you know the answer to that, Sam," Castiel says, and I look up at him in surprise.
"What?" I demand. "What the fuck am I missing?"
Because it sure seemed like a lose-lose situation here for Sam with no way out unless I could get myself killed permanently.
Which doesn't seem to be in the cards, thanks to the damn Mark of Cain.
Sam and Cas are staring at each other like they know something I don't, and they're afraid to tell me. Or like there's something going on between them and I'm not in on it.
Which is really, really not okay.
Then Sam looks down, breathing out a long sigh, and Castiel turns to me.
"Sam gave the blade back," he says.
I blink as cold water floods my veins.
I know exactly what he means, but I need him to spell it out.
"What? What are you talking about?" I glare from one to the other of them, playing stupid, which of course neither of them buys. They know me too well.
Sam's still staring at the ground so it's Cas who puts his ass on the line.
"Sam gave Hephaestus the First Blade," he explains. "It belonged to Hephaestus in the first place, so Sam was simply returning it. It was part of the deal Sam made to get your humanity back. The Blade is gone, Dean. There's no finding it this time, no using it ever again. Hephaestus won't give it back, and without it you're not a Knight of Hell anymore. You're just the man with the Mark."
Which explains Crowley's not being here, explains why demon!me has been killing every demon he can find. My demon self could be useful, I'll say that for him.
But the Mark isn't just a tattoo on my arm. I rub it thoughtlessly for a minute before I realize what I'm doing and stop, look up to see Sam and Cas staring at me.
"The Mark's not gonna let me have an apple-pie life, Sam," I say, like it needs saying. "I'm never gonna be just the guy with the Mark. It wants what it wants, and it ain't exactly subtle about it."
"I know that," he says softly. "We'll figure it out."
He takes a deep breath, looks at Cas again.
"You're sure about this?" he asks. "I kill Dean now, he never becomes a demon again? I never have to kill him again?"
"The sacrificial magic is always most powerful when it's a family member," Cas nods. "You know that. Isaac and Abraham. Cain and Abel. Ceres and Persephone. And you and Dean are more than just family, so your magic is very powerful indeed.
"That said," Cas takes a breath, lets it out slowly. "There is no guarantee that this will work, of course. Just a strong -- hunch."
He says the last word with a glance at me, like that's supposed to mean something.
"So you're saying your knowledge about this isn't all-powerful and all-knowing," I clarify dryly. "You're just Angel Cas having a hunch."
"I would say that my several millennia of knowledge and understanding of the universe counts for something," Cas answers matter-of-factly. "And I have learned to trust my gut from a very good teacher."
He gives me that impenetrable gaze of his, and I stare right back blankly, because I know what he means but I need him to think I don't.
So now it's been a week, and I'm starting to go stir crazy again.
Sam won't do this thing until the last possible moment, and I can't force him to because it's hard enough for him. He thinks with our luck it won't work and he'll lose me permanently. So I can't take away what could be our final weeks together.
It's fuckin' morbid though. He cuddles and cries on my shoulder at night and I am getting so sick of this shit.
I just want to do it and get it over with.
Sam tells me to start writing again, so I do. I work out, I practice my exercises, I play pool with Cas and beat him every damn time.
Sam finds us a lead on a nest of vampires and we take them down. It feels fan-fucking-tastic fighting side-by-side with my brother again. It feels like we're invincible. Like there's nothing we can't do as long as we're together.
Getting back into the game is good for Sam. He quits drinking, sleeps better. We stay out on the road for a week, just following leads, doing small jobs to rid the world of a few more bad guys. Sam and I are in sync again, moving together, finishing each other's sentences and knowing exactly what the other one's thinking so the job goes down smoothly, for the most part. Best of all, Sam stops mothering me, stops worrying that I'm gonna get hurt all the time. He trusts me again. Lets me be his big brother again, the one who's always supposed to look out for him.
I catch him looking at me when we're driving one evening, and the look on his face is as close to contentment as I've seen him look for a long, long time.
And unbearably sad.
I fuck him slow and deep that night, let him spoon me after, smash his face into the back of my neck as I hug his tree-trunk of an arm against my chest.
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