Dean knew a farewell tour when he saw one. He had spent his whole life living around other people following in each other’s footsteps, even when their entire lives had been dedicated to doing the exact opposite. He’d seen countless loved ones and family members giving him that lingering glance before they did something, usually for the greater good, that would essentially be putting the metaphorical noose around their own necks and kicking out the chair from beneath themselves.
With this sort of lifestyle, happy endings weren’t just uncommon, they were impossible.
Dean understood this well now.
But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try for one.
Because ever since he had woken up, Sam had displayed every single telltale sign of the man packing his bags for the road down. He was trying his damndest not to show it, but even when there was radio silence, Dean could read Sam better than a book. It was like reaching into his own thoughts— maybe even easier.
The first sign was the sort of drifter quality Sam had begun to adopt. Even when hell was reaching up with bloody hands to do some catching up with him, Sam remained attentive. He was a hunter, maybe not in heart but definitely in nature. His shoulders held at least a modicum of dignity, a slight awareness of posture. It had beaten him lower year by year, but it was still there.
When the day progressed from dreary to alive and back down into a simmering silence, and Sam had sunken deeper within himself and melted into the chairs in which he sat, Dean knew something was askew. Things were fucked already, Dean’d be the first guy to tell you that, but these two fell into a rut even when they were trying their hardest to walk in separate directions. Sam was a half-second behind him, a whisper out of sync.
Unconsciously, Dean was observing him, loitering in the same rooms as Sam, finding something to occupy him when he had no true reason to be there. To his credit, Sam was too busy re-reading his old favorites, notably To Kill a Mockingbird, to notice his brother was there at all.
If Dean were feeling especially fond, then he might compare Sam to a beam of light— but today his brother had dissolved into mist, wisps of cool ghosts wandering aimlessly wherever the wind took them. His eyes stared through walls, clouded irises blinking dazedly after stretching lengths of time.
Dean decided to hold a temporary truce— he’d go out and get Sam’s favorite food, speak to him long enough to get Ground Control in contact with Major Tom. If he played his cards right, then Sam would accept the armistice and tomorrow things would be back to the sour aftertaste of relative normalcy.
It was a plan, then.
At exactly half-past what smaller cities like this called rush hour, Dean headed out in the Impala with resolution and forgiveness in mind.
He came back, without the food, after immediately entering and exiting the highway when an ache settled into his stomach, and he began to feel reminiscent to a jumper in free-fall, realizing that everything in their lives was perfectly fixable except this.
With sweaty hands, and a strong certainty that something had happened, he sped homeward.
Sam was feeling, if nothing else, incredibly light headed. His stomach was at the same high-tide it had been at just before the curtain had rose before his first scene in Our Town, that sort of adolescent nervousness that was more physical than mental. He swallowed, and quick, anxious laughter bubbled out of him without his consent.
The bunker’s main room, mirrored perfectly on both sides with priceless books, was empty save for Sam Winchester, and Dean Winchester’s gun.
The gun’s muzzle had warmed where it was pressed stickily against Sam’s chin. His finger had been hovering over the trigger for several minutes now. What was he so afraid of? This is what he wanted, this is what he had almost gotten several times before. According toPopular Science, he’d be dead before his brain even finished relaying the order to shootto his hand. That was good, right? This would be painless, easy.
Except he was finding it exceptionally difficult to get his finger to pull the trigger.
Caught up in a personal tug-of-war, he didn’t hear the bunker door slam open and shut and Dean sprint down the stairs, stumbling over his own feet.
“Sam,” he gasped, spitting out the syllable like a bullet. “Sam. Sam.” He bee-lined for Sam, stopping a few feet from him when he heard Sam click off the safety and shove it deeper into his chin. It was sure to leave a bruise.
Or, Dean mused as he swallowed down bile, a whole lot worse than a bruise.
“Dont,” Sam bit out, opening and closing his mouth, “Don’t come any closer. Or I swear I’ll shoot.” he shook, his entire body moving of its own accord like leaves after a car sweeps through.
“Just… please, Sam, just hold on for a moment, okay? Just listen to me. We’ll talk, just for a little bit, and then I’ll let you do whatever you want, okay? I promise. Just- jesus christ-please put that thing down for five minutesand let me talk. Sam? Alright?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed, doubt and suspicion mixed in with cold sweat, but he took the pistol away from his chin. He still held it in his hand, however— but Dean was more than willing to accept the compromise.
“Talk, then,” he stuttered, frowning at his brother uncomfortably.
“Okay. Alright,” Dean replied immediately, holding his hands up palms-out. “This has to do with things that have gone down recently, right? About Gadreel? We can talk. God, I’m so sorry we never really talked, okay? I just didn’t think- I didn’t-”
“It’s not— this isn’t about Gadreel,” Sam choked out, looking up at the ceiling in hopelessness and reproach as tears dotted the corners of his eyes.
“What?” Dean asked, eyes straying to the gun in Sam’s hand. His gun. He needed more time, he needed Sam to listen. “What is it about then?”
Sam laughed, but it was harsh; wrong. He smiled, but it was in pain. His eyes were reddening. “I just need you to understand,” he whispered, and as he spoke the fight went out of his body.
“Tell me, Sammy,” Dean begged, “help me understand.”
Sam rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “Don’t interrupt,” he cut out, glaring at Dean without venom. As if his joints were rusted over, he slowly made his way to the table and sat down heavily upon it. “I, uh, I’m always nervous. I mean, I do a hell of a job hiding that. At least I think I do. But, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. I don’t trust other people. I don’t think I can, anymore, after… I don’t trust myself. I don’t like my body. I hate it. I can’t stand looking at it, letalone touching it or caring for it. God forbid anyone else touches me. I’ve just- I mean- my skin makes me sick. I’m always worrying over what people see. I’m getting somewhere with this, I swear.”
He blinked owlishly; once, twice. His eyes swept around the room to keep busy, looking everywhere but at Dean. He took a deep breath and released it slowly.
“When I was sixth months old, a demon came in my room and killed my mom and turned me into something else. Hell, before I was even born, my entire fucking destinywas planned out by god himself, how cruel is that? I’ve had people telling me what a monster I am all of my life. Even you. And I know I am, believe me. It’s not like I can just magically wish to be a real boy again,” he added, words dripping with liquid sarcasm.
“When I was twenty-six, a demon tied me up, climbed into my lap, and kissed me. And only a couple of months later, she possessed me, snuck into every corner of my mind that I had hid from even myself and laid it all out. She took my body as her own and made it do horrible things. And then Azazel comes along, and my powers, and there’s this plan that’s laid out for me, and I seem to be following it, whether I like it or not. Then, you died, and I just…”
His voice broke. A tear fell and he swiped it away, face melting into frustrated anger for a split second.
“I trusted Ruby, I slept with her, and she used me in the most awful way possible. She was a demon. She turned me into a demon. I let Lucifer out— just like I was supposed to. Then he possessed me, and it was a million times worse than Meg. It’s like he was ripping everything apart and mocking and memorizing it at the same time. In hell, he raped me, every morning. I was down there for over five thousand years. I remember each one. For him, it wasn’t a cage— it was a palace. He could make it whatever he wanted, so after psychological and physical torture worse than hell itself, you know what? I asked for the raping. I begged for it.”
He let his words sink in, numbing Dean’s body like slow poison.
“I’m still not over that. I started doing better, but you don’t just get over something like that. Most people would be six feet under already, I honestly don’t know why I’m not. Because you used to be my tether, maybe. And then I fail the trials, but it’s over, god, it’s finally over, and you… you put another angel inside me. He did awful things, too. When Crowley told me I was possessed, suddenly I could feel it. And it was familiar. More familiar than my own skin. Do you realize what that means? I used to trust you. I hope you know the weight of those words. Now, I can’t trust anyone, and my skin fucking itches and I just can’tanymore, Dean.”
Like a switch had been flicked, Sam looked up at him, tried to smile, failed, and shuddered, trying to hold back tears. He gasped hoarsely, another tear sliding hotly down his cheek.
Dean could’ve sworn the floor had fallen out from beneath him. A stone sat in his throat, and he couldn’t swallow. “Sam…” he trailed off, stepping closer. He wanted to hug Sam, but his arms hung like dead weights at his side.
“No, DON’T!” Sam burst, scrabbling off the table and away from Dean. He choked again, taking in air, and instead of words, out came a sob.
And another. And another, and another, and another.
Like a wall coming crashing down, Sam lost all of his resolve, and crumbled. His body wracked as he cried. Dean touched him on the shoulder testingly, as if he were porcelain, before pulling him into a hug. The gun clattered to the ground.
“Sam… I… there’s nothing I can say. I know. But I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve any of that, you don’t deserve any of this. I know you just wanted the choice, and I know I can’t take any of it back, but we can work from here, alright? It’s fine. Shhh, you’re alright. You can always talk to me. I’m not asking you to trust me, but we can actually talk, alright? It’s a start. If you wanna set some rules down for touching, I’m all ears. I’m sorry. I can’t get rid of all that, or reverse what I did, but I can help. I can. I want to. I want to be to you what I was before. We can still be brothers, alright? That can happen. You can still live. I know I’m rambling, but please… please just give it a couple of days. Like Dad used to say, the way out is up, right? I mean he didn’t really follow that, but we can. I promise. Just… please, we’ll patch you up. You’re so much stronger than you know. Small steps. Stone number one, remember? Just like that,”
Dean said all of this into Sam’s shoulder, rubbing soothing circles into his back as he held him tightly and let Sam cry.
Sam pushed back from the embrace, looked Dean in the eyes, and prodded him as if to test if he were solid; corporeal.
“I love you,” Dean admitted softly, grinning minutely with age-old affection.
Sam smiled in return, almost instinctively. It was fleeting, but Dean had definitely seen it. He nodded. In one moment, he went from looking miserable to looking simply tired. “I know,” he croaked, still shaking quietly.
The next time they hugged, Sam initiated it, and Dean thought, this must be something. This has to be something.