When the light from Lillith's hand fades, Dean is dead.
He doesn't remember much after that: a vague flash of Ruby's frightened face, the warmth and gentleness of Bobby’s hands on his back, the sickening, coppery scent of the blood that soaked the floorboards. The feel of Dean's dead flesh cradled in his arms.
He's glad. He doesn't want to remember more than that.
He remembers too much as it is.
He's somewhere else now. Bobby must have taken him home, but he doesn't remember how or when. He's stretched out on a bed, now, staring at the ceiling and not sleeping.
His eyes hurt, he thinks. He's been lying there a while, but he's not sure how long. He’s not sure if he'll ever get up again.
He's not sure of anything, anymore.
But his eyes – his eyes hurt for days afterwards, it seemed, swollen and raw from crying. Sometimes he thinks they still do.
Time passes, but Sam doesn't keep track.
He takes a moment to wipe the dust from his hands on his jeans before opening the next book. They aren't particularly valuable – copies of copies – and none of the librarians seem to remember that they exist. No one ever checks them out. No one ever reads them. No one ever dusts them, either, and they're dirty with age and disuse. No one has bothered these books in years, until Sam and his need drew him to them. Of course, they haven't been particularly helpful so far, but Sam has hope.
That's pretty much all he has these days.
He keeps looking.
Sam doesn’t look up from the page he's scanning. "Yeah, Bobby?"
"Sam, don't you think that's enough?"
"Enough of what?" He flips the page.
A broad hand enters his field of vision, pressing itself against the page and obscuring the text. "It's enough. It's time to stop now."
Slowly Sam raises his head and looks at Bobby. His eyes feel dead and cold in his skull – as dead and cold as his brother's body, rotting in the ground. "Is it."
"I know you loved him. And I know you think you owe him something, but you don't own him this."
"He's my brother." The words rip themselves out of Sam's throat.
Bobby nods, very gently. "But he wouldn't want you to give up your life to save his. You of all people should know that."
Sam flinches. "Well," he says, after a moment. "Dean's dead. He doesn't get a vote." He pulls the book towards him and starts reading again.
"Sam." Bobby sighs. "You're still alive. When are you going to start living again?"
But Sam ignores him, and eventually he goes away.
Sam doesn't recognize the voice, so he pays no attention. He just keeps reading, keeps searching for the spell that will give him his brother back.
"Sir. The library is closed now. You need to put the book down and come with us."
"I'm busy," he snaps, and keeps reading.
"Sam." He knows that voice; that's Bobby. He sounds...odd. Abnormally calm, like he sounds when he's on a hunt. "Sam, listen to the man. Put the book down. Look at us."
Sam looks up. There are two police officers standing next to Bobby; behind them and to the side is a man in a white coat holding a clipboard. A doctor of some kind. A psychologist? Sam is suddenly and abruptly aware of the fact that he hasn't changed his clothes or shaved in at least a week.
One of the police officers has been talking: "—come with us, that's all, no one is going to hurt you. We just want to talk to you."
He looks from the cop to the shrink and back. "Right," he says. "Bobby, what the hell?"
"You need help, Sam. You're not yourself."
"So you called the cops? What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me? Sam, look at yourself – you don't eat, you don't sleep. You just sit here, reading those books over and over...please, let these men help you. Put the book down and come with us."
Sam stares at him, a million thoughts racing through his brain. He can't believe Bobby would betray him like this. The Bobby he knows would never turn him over to the police, not in a million years.
"You need to put the book down now, Sir."
...the Bobby he knows...
He's still holding the book in his hands. "No."
"What?" Bobby sounds shocked. "Sam..."
"No, I don't think so. I am not putting this book down. I am not giving up. And you – you're not Bobby. Are you." It wasn't a question.
There is a pause, like the whole world is waiting to see what happens next...and then Bobby's eyes turn white.
"Not bad," Lillith says with Bobby's mouth. "I didn't really think you'd figure that one out."
Sam is on his feet, his fingers aching from his grip on the book. "What the hell do you want, bitch?"
"Oh, I've got what I want. Seeing you suffer is just gravy."
"Give him back. Please." Sam is horrified, but he can't seem to help himself; the words come pouring out of him like a waterfall. He can't hold them back. "Give him back to me!"
She laughs. "Oh, Sam, you are a fun toy. I should have come sooner." She cocks her head and him and smiles. "Not as fun a toy as Dean, though."
"I'll kill you!" The world has gone red, and he's trembling.
She claps her hands. "Oh, yes, please! Try it!"
He tenses, ready to spring at her...and stops, puzzled by what he sees in her eyes. She's wearing Bobby’s face – her mistake. He knows Bobby. Not as well as he knows Dean, but well enough to recognize triumph when he sees it. "Oh."
She frowns at him.
He stands up, takes a step towards her. She doesn't move, doesn't freeze him to the wall like she always has before. He nods to himself. "This is what you want."
"What, to see your entrails spread across the room, just like Dean's?"
"You want me to fight you." He thinks furiously. "Why? Ruby said you were afraid of me."
"Ruby is nothing more than the pathetic slime I crush under my heels. She knows nothing about me!"
He smiles. "Sorry – did I hit a sore spot there? I think she knew exactly what she was talking about. I think you wouldn't be here if you had any other choice. I think...I think you're trying to distract me."
She laughs, but it doesn't hide the strain in her face. "Distract you from what? From your wretched little life, your guilt for letting Dean get ripped to shreds – from how it's your fault he's burning in hell right now?"
She growls. "You're going to die screaming, human, and I will—"
"—bathe in my blood and play the conga on my ribcage, yeah, sure. I don't think so. You can’t hurt me here." Slowly, he holds up the book he still holds in his hands, the book she tried so hard to keep him from reading: Mind Control, Illusion, and the Dark Arts: A Primer. "This isn’t real. Is it."
"I'm going to rip your head off and feed it to my dogs!" She smiles a malicious, evil smile. "They've gotten a taste for Winchester flesh."
He shakes his head. "If you could kill me, you'd have done it by now. No, you're trying to keep me busy, to keep me...away."
A deep, growling noise fills the room, rising from the throats of a pack of invisible dogs. Lillith points at him. "Kill," she says, and the Hellhounds begin to howl and bark.
Sam ignores it all. "I think," he says slowly. "I think I'm going to wake up now."
And he opens his eyes.
When the light from Lillith's hand fades, Dean is still alive.
"No," Lillith says, back – still? – in Ruby's body. "No." She takes a step back.
"Yes," Sam says in a voice he doesn’t recognize. "Run." A strange buzzing fills his head; he feels like he's about to fly apart.
But then Dean screams, and Sam flings himself forward, covering his brother's torn, bleeding, living body with his own. "Dean," he says. "God, Dean."
"S-sam...." Dean writhes as another tear from invisible claws rips his leg open. Blood spurts.
"No. Not again. I will not watch this again!" The world is spinning, buzzing away from him, and a red tide covers his vision.
His brother shouts in agony, and then falls terrifyingly quiet and still. Not again, not again, "Not again! DEAN!" The buzzing rises up in his head and he can't see, but that's okay, because he can fix this. He knows what to do. He knows.
He knows everything now.
A wave of pure, unadulterated power erupts from his body with the force of a volcano, filling the world with fire.
"Sam." A hand is shaking his shoulder. "Sam, wake up."
"Ngghmp," he says, and bats feebly at the hand. He feels sick, like he's going to throw up, and the shaking isn't helping. "Lemme sleep."
"Sam, come on. We need to get out of here before the cops show up."
Heroically, he manages to crack his eyes open an little. "Hmm?" he asks.
His brother's face grins back at him. "Rise and shine, Sammy! Let's go!"
Suddenly, he's not the least bit sleepy anymore. "Dean!" He's got Dean wrapped in a bear hug before he can blink. "Dean, you're alive," he says, voice muffled because his face is pressed against his brother's neck. The skin there is warm and sweaty, but healthy and whole. "God, Dean."
"Sammy." Sam's sure Dean will deny it for the rest of his life, but he hugs him back. "Thanks."
Sam laughs helplessly. "Sure. No problem." He hugs Dean again, and then steps back. He can't bring himself to let go completely, though – he keeps a firm grip on Dean's arm. "Just – don't do it again."
He expects a laugh or a joke to brush off the emotional intensity of the moment, but Dean's not paying attention. He's staring at Sam's face, shock spreading across his features. "Jesus, Sam! Your eyes...!"
Dean stares at him some more, then shakes his head. "Aw, Sammy." He sounds tired.
"Dean. Just tell me. What's wrong with my eyes?"
"Nothing. There's nothing wrong." Then Dean hugs him again, which freaks Sam out, so he runs into the bathroom and looks in the mirror.
His eyes have turned completely black.
Then Dean is in the bathroom with him, saying, "It's okay, Sam, I don't care. Do you hear me? I don't care."
Sam looks at himself, at the visible stain the demon power left him with. I'm marked now, he thinks. Tainted.
It was worth it.
He meets his brother's eyes in the mirror. "You know what, Dean? Neither do I."