A/N: I know there are stories that need a chapter, but after last week, I couldn't get this idea out of my head. I kept pushing it away, but it wouldn't leave me alone. The more I said no, the more I needed to write it. So, here it is. It seemed like a logical step, with the way things are going. I admit I needed a moment between the brothers, and the show is moving in that direction and here we all are a this point. Spoilers for the last couple of episodes. Warning: Mention of suicidal thoughts. Not deathfic!

Bloodied Hand and Battered Souls

It's quiet right now. I have a moment with the computer and books. Judging by the scents coming from the kitchen, Dean is on a cooking binge again. Funny how someone who spent most of his life cooking in a microware or hot plate can still make such good food. It really is good, and when I can make myself eat it, I do feel better. It might be less the food and more the love that comes with it. Dean has cared for me—for my whole life. There were times I tried to push him away and there were times I walked away—but he always cared. More than once he hunted me down and brought me home.

The last few years have been hard—and that is a massive understatement. Last week, I went looking for Dean, and I found him outside, motionless, with that tightness in his back that signaled tears. I cleared my throat to let him know I was there. Since Charlie left, he has been—not more accessible—but more open about it. He turned to me, his eyes bright and smiled a half smile. It's killing him that I have to do this, he wanted the burden. But now that I am here, I know I couldn't bear to watch him go through this. I know how hard it is for him, so I try not to add weight onto shoulders that are already carrying the world.

Then again, maybe I should be honest—maybe I should tell him everything. He asked me not to lie—and I haven't. I don't hide the illness anymore. I don't hide the blood or the dizziness. I am not even really sure why I tried to hide it. Dean has radar when it comes to me. He probably spotted the problem before I was even aware of it. I know sometimes it works the other way—which is why I have left out a few little points about all this.

It's a side-effect of the Trials, I know. I want to think it is part of the idea the Trials are making me clean and untouched by the taint of a lifetime. I want to believe. I never realize how much of my soul had been filled with this idea—the demon blood burning in my veins making me something less than human. Is it true? I don't know. Not anymore, maybe I did once, but now I don't know. Some part of me says I never believed this, another part says I did.

My memories are becoming a jumble.

And therein lies the problem.

I am remembering my life—all of it—as if a movie has been flipped on in my head and I can't stop it. I've told bits and pieces of the memories to Dean. He is in most of them. Even when we were small children, he is there, holding me up. I took my first steps towards him, he caught me when I started to fall. He is the constant, for better and worse. We fought, we partied, we cried. In the life we lived we had to be each other's best friend. We had no one else, no one who was always there. Those memories are good, even ones that might not seem that way. When we fought, it always ended. When we were injured we always came through it okay. As I look back over it all, we should have died many, many times, and we didn't. Mostly because we were together, one Winchester to catch the other. I learned how to do sutures on a human when I was thirteen with Dean comforting me, even as he shook in agony. Dean held my hand when I was attacked by something in the dark woods and we had to wait for rescue. I'm not sure how long it was, all I know that as the pain grew and I thought I was dying Dean wouldn't let me.

That's the good. That's the part Dean knows about. I'm really surprised he hasn't figured out the rest.

"That's because he doesn't really care." I ignore the voice. It's been there since the first Trial, it's gotten louder since the second.

A warm hand closes on my shoulder, I open my eyes—when had I closed them? "What?"

"I brought some food," Dean says, smiling. I can see the pain in his eyes, the worry.

"Thanks." I pick up my spoon before he asks and take a spoonful of the chili. It's good, not too spicy and makes me want more. I didn't even know I was hungry and now I feel like I haven't eaten for days. Maybe I haven't.

"Good, I knew the secret recipe would work." Dean sits across from me with his own bowl. There are warm tortillas too and he scoops up his chili with one—it's the way he always eats it.

"I'm okay," I say. He was going to ask, so I offer the comfort, knowing it isn't really comforting at all.

"Yeah, me too," he says. It's a lie—for both of us. He knows, I know. "Anything?"

"Nothing yet."

When the laughter starts behind me, I do my best to ignore it. "Yeah, nothing, tell him the nothings." More laughter. "I bet he'll love the nothing. Or, maybe not. Maybe the nothing will be the thing that finally kills him." A pause. "He's bleeding to death, and you are letting him."

Dean smiles the false smile. "I checked in with everyone, they're doing everything they can."

"They are," says the voice. "You aren't. You aren't even letting him in on the one thing that matters."

Shut up. Is it one thing or many? That's the question. The burning pain of the Trials is all my body knows right now, every step is a battle, every inch a victory. I have convinced myself the pain is needed, it has to be, because if it's not, I will just give up and die. I can't go on like this without that as some kind of hope. Should I hope for pain? I don't think so, but I need meaning. My rational mind has given up and all that's holding me together is the idea that this is all for something, some pay-off. It has to be.

"Hey, where'd you go?" Dean is frowning at me. I stare back through the fire and see blood on the table. "Sammy?"

The blood is dropping on the table, making tiny puddles of crimson on the surface. I frown, shoving everything else away and look again. It's there. Getting up, I stumble to him and turn his hand over. There is a Bandaid on his palm, the blood overloading the bandage. "Dean?"

"The avocado hates me. I had to stab it to death—collateral damage. It's nothing."

"Nothing? You made a mistake with a knife? You?" The world moves for a moment. I close my eyes for a moment. It's not a lot of help, the fire is there all the time, but it does have a physical effect and I regain my equilibrium. "What happened?"

"I thought I had a different knife in my hand," he says easily, and I can see fear on his face. Not fear of the big, huge things knocking at our door, but the fact that he has made the mistake.

"It happens," I say gently, pulling him up and staggering towards the first aid chest he'd put together to fit this place. It's an antique trunk and holds everything with room left over.

"I'm okay," he protests, even as he walks beside me.

"Yeah." Stopped beside the trunk, I glance at him. He has to open it or I will fall flat on my face. I don't want him to know that—of course he does and opens the lid without a word. I dig through and get the alcohol, swabs, a field suture pack in case he needs a stitch and the bandages. I make him sit in the chair beside the trunk as I pull off the Bandaid and look at the wound.

"Oh, he did a good job with that. It's getting too much for him," the voice says, chuckles, then starts singing I am a Modern Major General.

The wound isn't wide, it's a deep puncture. He must have driven the knife in his hand hard enough to make it stick. It's bleeding heavily, even so, I dump alcohol on it. Dean hisses, but doesn't say anything as I clean the wound. His hand is shaking. It has to hurt, but that's not where the trembling is coming from—his hold body is shaking. Without moving my head, I flick my eyes up to his face. He is white, his lips in the tight line of pain. I know this wound has to hurt, but that look is the one that usually comes with a cheery "I don't know what you're worrying about, Sammy, I have another leg." It's not the wound this time, it's the mistake. It's eating him up with the same ferocity of a near fatal wound.

"Mistakes happen," I say before I realize the words are even coming out of my mouth.

"Not like this, not to me," Dean says, his voice shaking. "I know better."

The pain in his voice is almost too much for me. Knowing I am contributing to this pain is… I swallow, then look up at him with a smile. "You knew better about staplers too," I offer. The memory popped into my head as clear as the day it happened. "But you really wanted to see if you could staple your thumb."

"I really did."

"So you got out the staple gun and stapled your thumb."

"And you panicked, trying to get the staple out before Dad got home," Dean laughs a little. It has a false sound, but there is an under-current of warmth.

"I managed to."

"Yeah and in the process stabbed a table knife into your thumb."

"And you panicked because I was bleeding and Dad was due any time and we knew we'd catch hell if he saw." Dean's hand isn't trembling so much anymore.

"If you only knew then what catching Hell was really like," the voice mocks me in a happy friendly way, then starts in on I Could Have Danced All Night. I really hate show tunes.

"I'm still shocked we didn't get in trouble." I finish cleaning the wound and put a bandage on it. Never stitch a puncture, Dad's voice says in my head and with it the image of him as he cleaned a wound on Dean's shoulder. My father's hands were shaking and his face was white with fear. I knew it was were too far out in wilderness to get to medical care. We sat together and waited while Dean's temperature climbed as the sun went down. We held his hands as he screamed at whatever monster was pursuing his dreams. Fevers are bad for Dean they bring his fear to the surface.

One last check and I carefully straighten. It all happens so fast I'm not sure what started it and what ended it, but it all is there. Pain rockets through my body, knocking my legs out from under me. My body just folds with the agony, my backbone no longer able to support me. The memories hit at the same time and my friendly voice laughs and starts singing "Smoke Gets In My Eyes".

"Sammy!" Dean is beside me, breaking the fall before I hit the floor. He grabs my hand with his good one, and lays the other on my chest. "Stay with me. You're here, you're with me. It's okay." His voice is completely full of panic. My brother does not panic easily, and this is terror radiating out of him. His hands are shaking again, the one on my chest comforting and gently restraining. "Sammy, I'm here, you're here," he repeated. "Just hold on."

My friendly crooner now starts in on The Old Black Magic. His sense of humor always was twisted. It's no wonder Hell is in better shape under Crowley.

That's my last thought as Hell descends completely. I am back there, in the cage, the stench of my own flesh burning is filling my mind. The pain twists through me, tying every muscle into a knot. Somewhere beyond me, I can hear someone screaming. It's a mindless scream to stop it all, begging to stop it all.

"No," Dean's voice cut through the fire and pain. "No, Sammy, I won't."

"Please," I'm sobbing. I can't go on. I want to tell him I can't. I want to tell him that it's too much. Even if the Trials purify me, how can I survive this existence and be whole on the other end? How can I tell him it hurts every second of every minute of every day? How can I tell him about how many memories are there, what the Trials have unleashed on me? Hell in all its fury back with me day in and day out.

"No. Breathe for me." Dean is completely calm now. He is dealing with the disaster. After it's over he will let off steam, but right now he is focused on me. It's knowing that and having those points of physical contact that let me start to slow my frantic gasping. "That's it, Sammy," he coaxes.

"Yeah, that's it. Live for another day, die another day. Even then it won't end." A laugh precedes the beginning of Baubles, Bangles and Beads.

"Sammy? Hey, come on." Dean's hand tightens and I manage to get my eyes open, seeing him through the fire and blood. His eyes meet mine for a second, then flick away. "Okay, you!" He lifts his hand off my chest and points right at my friendly singing voice. How Dean knows where to point is beyond me. "You pack it in. You don't get him. Do you understand?"

"Oooh, look, big brother is all angry."

"I said get out!" Dean snaps, then stands, knowing somehow knowing. How? "We're done."

"Yeah, well maybe for now, but I'll be back. I have songs to sing." Lucifer sticks his tongue out at Dean and vanishes.

"Sammy?" Dean is back holding my hand, that comforting warmth on my chest.

"Yeah, here," I gasp out. Hell is receding for the moment. Not far, like a pot simmering on the stove, it's always bubbling, always a danger, but not boiling over anymore. Dean is still there, his hands are trembling again, his face white and it hits me. I'm a fool. A blind one too, apparently. "How long have you known?" I whisper.

Dean looks at me, his eyes bright, then turns his head for a moment. When he looks back, I can see Hell reflected on his face. "Three nights. You started screaming three nights ago. You tried to kill yourself," his voice is flat, without emotion. "You had the pain killers and I just started handing you M&Ms, making you take those instead."

I don't remember it. I do remember waking up with an M&M melted in my hand. "You… Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks at the same moment.

"I…" There aren't words so I stop.

"Yeah," Dean agrees.

For now, Hell is tucked away, back into the dark places in my head. The pain is still there, it never ends, but for the moment, I am free. I know I am crying. I can't help it—Dean is too. Many, many things have happened over the years. Hard words, hard times, to hell and back and beyond, and after it all—some things have never changed and never will.

We are silent for a long moment, before Dean gently lifts me to my feet and pulls me into a hug. I lean into his strength, and I think he is leaning on me. I don't know what's coming. I don't know how long I can bear the pain, the agony and the steps towards what I hope is something good in the end.

I do know one thing. Charlie was right, Winchesters work best together. We've come through everything the world and beyond has thrown at us and we are still here.

My brother and I stand together, in the end we always are together. I have his back, he has mine.

For this moment, that is enough.