Dad’s gone, again. Checked himself out of the hospital as soon as he could; damn near the very second they knew Dean would pull through. Left Sam to try and comfort a brother who’s broken, physically and emotionally, while he’s still trying to deal with his own injuries, both visible and invisible. Of all the things that Dad’s ever done, this is the one Sam finds hardest to understand; the one he knows he’ll never be able to forgive.
Because Sam knows why he’s gone, why he’s not there when Dean finally, finally, wakes up. It’s not because he’s got a hot lead on the demon, nor because he’s trying to lure the demon away from his sons, nor any of the other reasons he tells Sam in the days before he goes; lies that Sam doesn’t bother to call him on, because hell, what’s the point, he going to do what he wants anyway, and Sam’s too tired, too hurt, to argue anymore. No, the real reason he’s going is because he can’t face Dean. Can’t face his firstborn child, knowing the painful truths the demon used to hurt Dean so badly.
Sam hates himself for it, but he’s glad Dad’s gone – though Sam doesn't understand how any father could walk away from his sons like that. He knows that Dean’s probably not going to be happy when he wakes up and Dad’s not there, but Sam is relieved. Dad’s guilt and despair and fucking bottomless well of denial made Sam’s skin twitch, and his stomach roil. When their father came to Dean’s room; where Sam has spent most of his days; to say goodbye, Sam merely nodded and pointedly didn’t watch his father leave.
After that, the days start to blur. Sam gets ever stronger, and Dean, well, Dean doesn’t wake up. Physically, he’s healing, but Sam never doubted that. It’s the state of his mind that worries Sam. He’d never realized, until that moment in the cabin, when the demon spelt it out, just how emotionally fragile his brother was. Realized too, why Sam’s leaving had hurt Dean so very badly. Dean’s invested everything in his family, even at the cost of the things he must have wanted for himself, and he’s watched Sam and John throw that dedication back at him, time and time again. How many rejections can one person take? Sam can only hope there hasn’t been one too many.
Every day that passes scares Sam a little more, increases the chill in his stomach, the ache in his chest. Every day leaves Sam a little more despondent, a little more alone, a little more broken. But he can’t break, because when Dean wakes up, Sam’s afraid he’ll shatter, and they can’t both fall apart. So for once, Sam’s going to be the one who keeps it together, and gets them through this. The two of them. It’s all he’s got right now, and the thought that he might lose Dean too is more than Sam can bear to contemplate in any way, shape, or form.
The day Dean finally wakes up, Sam doesn’t know whether to cheer, or cry. His voice is hoarse, scratchy, and the first word he utters is ‘Sam’. The second is ‘Dad’. Sam can tell him Dad made it through the crash, but the look on Dean’s face when he realizes Dad isn’t there damn near breaks Sam’s heart.
Sam doesn’t think he’s ever hated his father before, but for that moment, before Dean’s face closes up and he locks the hurt away, again, Sam honestly does.
He wants to comfort Dean, but he can’t find the words, and he doubts Dean would want to hear them right now anyway. Sooner or later they’re going to have to talk about things, but Sam reckons the day Dean comes round is not the best time. It can wait; they’ll have time to discuss all the shit the demon brought out into the open later, when Dean’s fit, at least when he’s physically fit. Sam’s not planning on going anywhere, he’s going to make sure he’s there for his brother, this time.
Dean hates being in the hospital; though he hates the physical therapy most, as he tells Sam frequently. Sam knows what he really hates is the fact that he can’t just walk straight out of the hospital; that he’s got to rebuild, to regain his strength. Dean hates the thought of being weak, and it makes him cranky and short tempered. Sam bears his rants and bad moods with little complaint, which earns him nothing but suspicious looks and the occasional withdrawal. It tears Sam up inside, but he can’t let Dean see that, not now, not when Dean needs all his support.
Sam’s been out of hospital for a couple of weeks now, though he still spends every day there, with Dean. He’s got them a room at a local motel; not what he wanted for Dean after his brother has spent so long in hospital, but he doesn’t know how long Dean’s going to want to stay in the area.
They haven't spoken about what happened at the cabin; about the things the demon said; about John leaving; about a whole load of stuff that Sam thinks they need to talk about. Partly because it’s hard to have a private conversation in a hospital, partly because Sam’s been reluctant to do anything to slow down Dean’s recovery, and partly because Sam’s scared, and every time he thinks about starting the conversation, he stumbles over the words and for all his education and supposed smarts, he doesn’t quite know where to start. It would be so much easier to let it go, to never mention what happened again, but Sam can’t – he needs to understand Dean, and he needs to make Dean understand him too.
The day Dean checks out, Sam’s waiting. He’s been waiting for this day, wanting to see Dean walking out of the hospital under his own steam, wanting his brother to be whole enough to leave the sterile, clinical setting.
It's awkward, at first, watching Dean wander around the room, poking about in the kitchenette, checking out the shower, testing the beds. Sam almost burns with the need to talk, with all the questions he needs answered, but he tries to wait, tries to let Dean give him an opening. If he pushes too hard, too fast, Dean'll just clam up and deflect the conversation and Sam'll be left frustrated and no wiser than before.
When Dean's finished checking out the amenities, he slumps down on the bed, tiredness radiating from him, in a way that makes Sam's chest tighten. Dean's not supposed to be this drained, this hurt, still. It reminds Sam uncomfortably of when Dean's heart was damaged. He swore then that he wouldn't be put in this position again, that he'd never let Dean be hurt like that again; stupid as that promise is, considering their line of work. It's not just the physical tiredness that bothers Sam though. Dean looks mentally drained too; he's missing that essential spark that makes him so damned infuriating at times. That scares Sam, far more than the residual physical damage. It's this that makes him speak before he can think better of it, before he can stop himself.
"Dean. We need to talk about ...things."
It pains him, to see the weariness and suspicion on Dean’s face; the way he clearly prepares himself to be hurt again. The resignation makes Sam catch his breath, shocked, by the bleakness on his brother's face. He'd been prepared for anger, frustration, hurt, but not this despair.
"You're leaving." It's more a statement than a question, and Christ, Sam wants to take back every careless word he ever said about running out on Dean, on the hunting. If he'd known how much it hurt his brother... Sam knows himself well enough to know that he'd probably have said it anyway. It shouldn't have taken Dean nearly dying to make Sam understand, but it did. Sam's not making the same mistakes again, though he's certain he'll make all new ones instead.
"No!" He tries to stay calm, to not cross the room and shake Dean for being so meek, so vulnerable, so unlike Sam's brother that it scares Sam more than facing a whole pack of werewolves or nest of vampires.
He takes a breath, searching for calm, for the ability to have this conversation without letting Dean get under his skin, for once.
"No. I'm not leaving. But Dean, we need...man, we need to talk. About the demon, about the cabin. About Dad."
Dean's face is expressionless, his eyes blank, and for a moment Sam wonders if Dean's even heard him.
"No." Dean's voice is steady, but quiet, and distant.
"What? No? Dean?"
"Nothing to talk about. Nothing's changed. Dad’s gone, the demon’s still out there, and we’ve still got things to hunt. Same old, same old.”
“I'm gonna take a shower."
He's gone, bathroom door slamming behind him before Sam can argue. Sam can't say he's really surprised, he never expected getting Dean to talk to him would be easy, after all, but this is worse than he thought. They can’t carry on as if nothing has happened, as if nothing has changed. As far as Sam’s concerned everything has changed, and he needs Dean to see that too.
When Dean emerges from the shower, Sam's ready, determined not to let Dean run this time.
"So, you got anything for our next gig?"
Damn, he'd forgotten how irritating Dean's habit of talking over him could be.
"No. I really don't think you're ready to be hunting again so soon. And we really need to talk man."
"Hunting's what we do Sammy. And I told you; nothing to talk about."
"Damnit Dean! We can't just ignore what's happened. The demon, Dad leaving. I can't just pretend it didn't happen, and don't even think about trying to pretend you can either."
"Sam. There's nothing to talk about, ok? We're all alive, and Dad's off tracking the demon again and we're going to carrying on hunting until he thinks it's safe to contact us again."
It's that obvious tone of 'Dad can do no wrong' in Dean's voice that sets Sam off, despite his intentions to the contrary.
"For god's sake Dean! Dad left. He left us, left before you were even awake. He's not hunting the demon, he's running away from his responsibilities, from dealing with what happened. He's never been there for us, how can you still believe in him?"
Sam's expecting a full body slam against the wall, or even a fist heading towards his face. He's prepared for it, ready to take whatever Dean deals out, if it just gets Dean to think. Sam's not expecting the click of a safety being taken off, and he's certainly not expecting to be staring at the muzzle of a gun held by his brother.
"Don't ever say that again. Dad's gone because he thinks it's best, he’ll be back soon. He hasn't left me."
Dean has never, ever drawn a weapon on Sam before, not even in jest. He's never even thrown a punch in anger before, not at Sam, unless Sam threw one first, and it sends a chill through Sam to see the steady aim, the cold look in Dean's eyes as he points the gun at Sam's chest. Dean's voice is hard and distant, but there's a hint of anger under the surface, and Sam can't help but remember Meg and the exorcism. This cold anger scares him more though. Sam's been afraid of a lot of things, especially of late; losing Dean, spending the rest of his life hunting the demon like Dad, but he could never have imagined that his brother would be one of them. But this Dean does scare him. Dean is many things, but he's not cold, not like this. He's always been Sam's protector, his big brother. Sam doesn't know how to handle this Dean, and he's beginning to wonder whether he really knows his brother at all anymore.
Despite the gun, Sam doesn't miss Dean's slip though. 'Me', not 'us'. As if he's expecting Sam to leave, again. Sam wishes he could tell himself that it's just Dean's insecurities, but he can't, he knows whose fault this is, who has left Dean so broken, so vulnerable. God, what have they both done to Dean?
"Dean, I... I'm sorry, ok. I just want to talk about this, ok?"
"Leave it, Sam. Dad'll be back when he thinks it's safe, and in the meantime, we do what we've always done."
But it's not enough, Sam wants to say. It's not enough, not anymore. Damnit, you nearly died, and all Dad could think about was killing the demon. You were bleeding to death, and he was still thinking about the fucking demon. He'd sacrifice us all if he thought it would enable him to kill it. God, Dean, can't you see that?
The words bubble up in Sam's throat, but he chokes them down. Dean's not ready to hear them, and though Sam's pretty certain Dean won't put a bullet in him, he's not ready to test that theory right now, not when his brother is still so vulnerable, emotions scraped raw by the demon, by Dad leaving again.
It's only as Dean lowers the gun, clearly satisfied with Sam's silence, that Sam realizes the extent of the battle ahead of him. Dean's got walls the size of Texas, and Sam's going to have to chip away at them, bit by bit. He just hopes they can stay alive long enough for him to finally get through, to reach his brother, to undo the careless wounds he's inflicted.
Dean turns away from his brother, flicking the safety back on the gun, and dropping it carelessly onto the bed. He hears Sam get up and head into the bathroom. When he hears the soft click of the door closing, he sinks onto the bed. Tremors run through him, and he can feel his hands shaking violently. There’s a cold, sick feeling, settling like lead in his stomach, and unshed tears stinging his eyes. He can’t believe he pulled a gun on his brother. Worse, a gun that was loaded, and had the safety off. It makes Dean feel sick to think about it.
He could tell from the look on Sam’s face that while his younger brother was shocked, he didn’t honestly believe that Dean would shoot him. Dean can’t say for sure what he was thinking at the time, but he’s not half as sure as Sam was that he wouldn’t have pulled the trigger. It scares Dean that all he can remember is the sight of his hand pointing a weapon at Sammy, at the brother he loves more than almost anything else in his life, the brother he'd sworn, both to Dad and himself, to protect at any cost. It was like a nightmare, to look down a barrel and see Sam’s face pale and worried.
Shame, and a hot, sick horror flood through Dean’s body until he thinks he’s either going to scream or throw up. He doesn’t even realize he’s crying until he feels a tear splash onto his hand. Disgust and fear gnaw away at him, and he can’t help but think that it’s no wonder everyone leaves eventually.
He’s certain that Sammy will leave now, the first chance he gets. Dean’s honestly surprised that he’s stayed this long, that he didn’t leave with Dad. Dean’s tried to be grateful, tried to hold his impatience at being stuck in the hospital inside, tried not to show how much it hurt that Dad left, tried to avoid doing anything that would drive Sam away too soon. Then he goes and pulls a gun on Sam. Way to go, he thinks, Sam’s going to be out of here, away from his psycho older brother, first chance he gets. What then? Dad’s gone and god only knows when, or if, he’ll be back. Once Sam’s gone, he has no idea what he’s going to do, where he’s going to go. There’s no one to run to, no one who understands what Dean does, what Dean is.
Not being in contact with Sammy during the years he was away at college tore at Dean’s soul but then at least Dean had the hope that eventually Sam would come round, would come back to the family. He can’t go through that again, no way he could cope if Sam left for good. It hurts that Dad’s gone, that he couldn’t even been bothered to wait until Dean woke up before taking off, but if he loses Sam, he doesn’t think he can carry on, doesn’t think there’d be any point. Sam’s been the center of Dean’s world since Dean was four years old, and that’s never, ever changed.
But Sam’s never known when to let a thing drop; he always has to push, always has to have answers. Right now, Dean can’t face thinking about Dad, about what it means that he’s gone. He can barely deal with the memory of everything that’s happened; the cabin; the demon possessing Dad; the lingering sensation of phantom claws digging relentless into his flesh, while the thing wearing Dad’s face watched and mocked him; Sam shooting Dad; the fact that Dean can’t remember a single thing after Sam laid him gently in the back of the car, until he woke up in the hospital.
He feels fragile and brittle, like fractured glass. It feels as though all that’s holding him together is having Sam here, with him. When Sam leaves, Dean knows he’s going to shatter.
Sam rests his head against the bathroom door. He’s always thought of Dean as being strong, so sure of himself, but he’s starting to realize that maybe the Demon had a point. That maybe that cocky attitude covers up his vulnerability; a fragility that Dean doesn’t want to show, not even to his brother. It hurts that Dean won’t open up, but Sam knows that much as he’d like to lay all the blame at Dad’s feet, he’s guilty of taking Dean for granted too, of assuming that Dean is as tough as he makes out.
It was always too easy, growing up, to avoid seeing the truth, that Dean had built his whole life around him and Dad, around following in Dad’s footsteps. Dean’s taken on a war that was never his, and made it his own. And of the three of them, he’s the only one doing it for the right reasons. While Dad, and then Sam himself were seeking nothing more than revenge, Dean’s been helping people; drowning his own loss and pain in the fight to prevent anyone else having to go through the horror he has.
Sam’s only just beginning to realize that there’s far more to his older brother than he ever knew, so much more going on than he ever bothered to see. Would things have been different if he’d paid more attention when they were kids? Would he have done things differently, if he’d allowed himself to realize how easy it really was to hurt Dean? Sam can’t honestly say he would have, and he hates knowing how casually he’s treated his brother’s feelings.
Someone needs to start thinking of Dean, start putting his feelings and needs and wants first, and since it’s not going to be Dad, Sam’ll do it. Sam doesn’t even want to chase the demon anymore if it costs Dean anything more than he’s already lost. Dad’s already asked Dean to pay the price for his obsession, Sam’s determined not to make the same mistake, especially knowing that Dean would pay it, without a second thought, if that was what Sam wanted.
He needs to start right now, needs to give Dean something good, something to make him happy, and he thinks he has just the thing. His hand drops to his pocket, and he wraps his fingers around the keys there. Time to stop lurking in the bathroom; time for them both to stop hiding from each other. If they’re ever going to make it through this, Sam needs to think more about his brother, and Dean needs to learn to open up, to let Sam in, but it’s up to Sam to make the first move, because Dean won’t. Time to let Dean know how much his brother needs him, how much Sam loves him.
Dean’s sitting on the bed when Sam leaves the bathroom, head in his hands, shoulders slumped. He’s so still, so desolate that Sam feels his anguish like a physical blow. He crosses the room, sinking to the floor in front of Dean, cautiously resting his hands on his brother’s knees, trying not to be hurt by the slight flinch at his touch.
“Dean? Man, are you ok? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Dean…”
Sam is torn by the desperate, lonely air about his brother, and when Dean makes a muffled sound, but doesn’t raise his head, Sam can’t help himself. He reaches up, and gently pulls one of Dean’s hands away from his face. Dean lets the hand fall carelessly to rest on the bed beside him, and Sam could cry. He cups Dean’s cheek, tipping his brother’s head up slightly. He doesn’t know whether to be pleased, that the tear tracks he’d half expected to see aren’t there.
“Dean, come on, look at me man, please. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said those things.”
He can’t stop the way his thumb strokes across Dean’s cheekbone, and it scares him beyond belief that Dean allows that touch, that there’s no comment about chick flick moments, or lame jokes about Sam being a girl.
Dean’s eyes open slowly, and for just a second they glitter, as if the tears Sam was expecting are about to fall, but Sam’s more worried about the blank look he’s getting, as if Dean doesn’t recognize him. It scares him, and he’s completely lost as to what to do next.
He’s almost relieved when Dean blinks, and slowly seems to come back to himself. Sam can almost see the realization hit Dean, and he tries very hard not to let the way his brother jerks back, away from his hand, spear his heart.
“You’re still here? I thought….”
Dean’s voice is rusty, harsh and strange, as if he’s been screaming, or crying.
“What? You thought what…?” Understanding hits Sam like the proverbial ton of bricks, and shit, Dean thought he’d left? Dear god, this is what he and Dad have done? How the hell do you even begin to erase that kind of insecurity? He doesn’t have a clue where to start, until he remembers the keys in his pocket.
“Dean. I’ve got something to show you.” He squeezes Dean’s knee lightly, ridiculously pleased that Dean doesn’t flinch this time. Actually, his brother doesn’t do anything much at all, just stares at Sam with that same slightly bleak, somewhat dazed expression.
Sam stands, and when Dean doesn’t move, doesn’t even raise his head, he grabs one of Dean’s hands, and drags his brother to his feet, glad that Dean dressed in the bathroom after his shower.
It’s both worrying, and strangely pleasing that Dean doesn’t try to pull his hand away from Sam’s, and he tightens his fingers around Dean’s, enjoying the fact that Dean is allowing this simple touch, this small intimacy. It lightens Sam’s mood, just a little. He’s not going to be really happy until he sees Dean smiling again, that huge, smug, cocky grin that he can’t believe he used to hate, but this is enough, right now.
He pulls his brother towards the motel room door, and outside, towards the parking lot, feeling hopeful for the first time in months.
Dean feels pretty stupid, towed through the motel by the hand clasped in Sam's freakishly big paws, but Sam is so eager, so much like the enthusiastic little brother that Dean remembers that he doesn't have the heart to pull his hand away from Sam's. He'd die before he admitted it out loud, but there's something comforting about Sam's touch. Sam's warm, and solid, and while he's holding on to Dean like this, Dean can imagine that things are how they used to be, before everything fell apart.
But the closer they get to the parking lot, the more Dean has a bad feeling about what Sam's up to. It starts as a tickle in the back of his mind, like the sense he sometimes gets when a hunt's about to go spectacularly wrong. Dean vaguely remembers Sam telling him that the car had been trashed, though at the time he was so doped up on pain meds that he can't be sure it wasn't some demon induced nightmare.
Dean can cope with knowing the Impala's gone, but dear god, he doesn't want to see it; doesn't want to have to face the reality of seeing the wreckage. His life's littered with enough wreckage as it is.
Sam stops, so suddenly that Dean can't help but crash into him, nearly sending the two of them sprawling. Sam's hands steady Dean, and it hits Dean suddenly that they're standing in the middle of a motel parking lot, in broad daylight, looking for all the world like they're about to hug, or something. Dean yanks his hand away from Sam's, and steps back, trying to ignore the small wince that crosses Sam's face as he does so. There's something almost lonely about the way Sam takes a half step back, but Dean ignores it; tells himself it doesn't mean anything.
He recognizes the signs. Sammy's about to head back into territory that Dean's got no intention of touching with a ten foot barge pole, let alone setting foot in. Time to head Sam off before he gets started.
"Why are we in the parking lot Sam?"
He can hear the suspicion and wariness in his own voice, but he's too tired, and too confused to even bother trying to hide it. Sam looks a little crestfallen, but he covers it well.
"I told you I had something to show you."
That sense of impending trouble is really biting now, the tickle becoming a full blown sense of panic. It makes Dean swallow, suddenly dry mouthed, makes him feel as though he can't get enough air, makes cold sweat trickle down his spine. It's like a bad dream, one where he knows what's coming next, but he can't do anything to stop it.
Sam reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys, then turns and points towards the far side of the lot.
For a moment, Dean thinks he's had another heart attack, because he would swear that his heart stops beating for a good few seconds. It's not the Impala, at least, it's not his, their Impala. It's a '67, but this one is gunmetal gray, not black. The sight of it is like a slap across the face, and for an instant, Dean's not standing in a motel parking lot, he's curled up on the back seat of his car, Sam driving, arguing with Dad in the front, while Dean feels his blood dripping onto the leather, wondering whether he'll ever get the stains out, then whether he'll live long enough to find out. He remembers hearing Dad telling Sam that nothing is more important than killing the demon, and meeting Sam's eyes in the mirror, and the strange combination of pride and love that swept through him when Sam told their father that killing the demon wasn't the most important thing. He can remember the impact, the unexpected, jarring force, the sudden fear; he knows he tried to call out for Sammy, but fell into darkness and demon haunted dreams without knowing if he managed to make a sound.
He's aware of Sam talking, but he can't make out the words. All he can hear is the sound of screaming metal; all he can taste is the iron tang of blood. He can see Sam, wide eyed and pale, but he's still caught in the past and it's like Sam's the dream.
Dean wrenches away from Sam. He'd run if he could, but he can barely catch his breath as it is. He's got to get away from the car, away from the memories that are pressing in on him, making him feel claustrophobic in his own skin. He's aware of Sam calling after him as he walks away, blindly. He's got no idea where he's going; hell, he can hardly remember where they are, but he's got to get away, before the tidal wave of emotions drowns him.
When the hand grabs his shoulder, he reacts purely on instinct, spinning round and throwing a punch, even as his head swims with the sudden movement, and nausea washes through him. It takes a few seconds before he realizes it's Sam he's just knocked on his ass. The sight of bright red blood spilling over Sam's lip has Dean bent over and throwing up bile and god knows what until he's convinced he's going to puke up his stomach, he's retching so hard. Somehow he ends up on his knees, the taste of his tears mingling with the taste of bile and despair and bone deep exhaustion.
Sam has no idea how everything went from hopeful to completely fucked up in the space of just a few minutes. Whatever reaction he'd expected from Dean, it wasn't the one he got. He'd watched the color drain from his brother's face and seen the look of horror and pain settle on Dean's features. He tried talking to Dean, but it was like his brother wasn't there.
He was caught by surprise when Dean suddenly pulled back and damned near ran from him. For a few seconds, Sam was so surprised he just stood there, watching his brother's back as he walked away. Then he was running after Dean, wanting, needing to know what the hell was going on in that crazy brain of his brother's.
His next surprise was no better than any of the others he'd got since Dean came out of the hospital. He'd forgotten how fast Dean could move, and he'd no sooner grabbed Dean's shoulder before Dean was spinning round and a fist was connecting with Sam's jaw, catching him off balance, splitting his lip and knocking him on his ass.
The anger is swamped by concern when Dean starts throwing up. Sam's not sure what to do. Every instinct he has wants to offer Dean some comfort, but he knows that Dean hates being touched when he's ill.
It hurts to see Dean retching until he's dry heaving. Sam has no idea what happened, but it's obvious that it's had a profound effect on Dean, and Sam wants to understand. He has a sinking feeling that the new car was a bad idea, but he doesn't know why. It's only when Dean finally stops retching that Sam realizes his brother is crying, soft, heart-wrenching sobs that have Sam scrambling on his knees towards his brother, desperate to offer what comfort he can.
He's more cautious this time, though he doubts Dean is in any state to take another swing at him. His first touch is tentative, and when Dean gasps and nearly jumps, Sam almost pulls his hand back. But instead, he lets his hand slide slowly up Dean's arm, over his shoulder, until he can wrap a hand carefully around the back of Dean's neck, and gently turn his brother to face him.
Dean looks utterly distraught, and Sam's horrified at the thought that somehow, this is his fault.
"God, Dean. What's wrong? What did I do? Oh Dean. I'm sorry, I didn't realize....."
Dean's no longer sobbing, but tears still spill from his eyes. He looks about five years old, and where once Sam was sure he would have teased him about it, now it just makes him want to pull Dean close, to hold him tightly until he can figure out how to put things right; how to put his brother back together again.
"The car." Dean's voice is so quiet Sam can barely hear him, has to lean closer to be sure of catching everything. "I..I remembered. The night the...the night at the cabin. I remember you and Dad arguing in the front, and I remember the crash. I...I was so scared, Sammy. I thought we were all going to die. I thought you were..." Dean sounds so broken, so young and scared and hurt. Christ, no wonder he freaked out. Sam had assumed that Dean wouldn't remember anything about the crash. He'd lost so much blood by then, and he'd been drifting in and out of consciousness, and Sam had just thought that Dean wasn't even aware of the crash, beyond what Sam had been able to tell him later.
Sam wants to say he's sorry, but the words sound so trite and useless in the face of Dean's absolute anguish that he can't make his mouth form them. Instead he grabs Dean's shoulder, and pulls him closer, wrapping his arms around his brother, holding him so tightly he feels the shivers wracking him, the frantic beating of his heart. He aches, for Dean, for himself, for all the things they've never had, and all the things they've lost. Sam doesn't even know where to start trying to help Dean. His brother has always been so closed off, apart from rare moments of openness, so loathe to admit to any perceived weakness or vulnerability that Sam sometimes feels he has no idea who Dean really is. This may be the most emotion that he's seen Dean show in years, and that's just one more thing Sam lays at Dad's door.
When Dean's arms wrap slowly around Sam, hands fisting in the back of Sam's jacket, he can't help but bury his head into Dean's shoulder, biting his lip against the tears that threaten. Dean's always been the strong one, the one who was there for Sam, yet this is the first time he's allowed Sam to return the favor. They're still walking through an emotional minefield, and he's certain that they're inevitably going to hurt each other, but if Sam can get Dean to open up, maybe, just maybe they'll find a way through it. They're never going to be entirely whole, never going to be normal, but maybe they can be all right.
Kneeling in a dismal parking lot, clutching his brother too tightly, that thought is the only hope Sam has to cling to.
Sam can see the first hint of dawn, breaking through the darkness. Dean's sleeping fitfully in one of the beds, limbs carelessly sprawled. By the time Sam worked up the strength to leave the comfort of his brother's embrace, it was dark, and his legs had stiffened from sitting so long on the cold, hard asphalt of the parking lot. Dean had been calmer, though he'd said nothing. Sam had taken in Dean's tear stained face and the lines of exhaustion around his eyes, and merely steered his brother back to their room. Dean had slumped onto the bed and was more or less asleep as Sam wrestled him out of his boots.
Despite his tiredness, Sam hadn't been able to sleep. He'd spent the night sitting in the lumpy armchair, just watching Dean sleep. Every so often, he made soft, snuffling noises that reminded Sam of their childhood, of hearing Dean shifting in the dark in any of the endless procession of seedy motels Dad had dragged them to.
The nightmares though, they're new. In all the years he's shared a room with Dean, he's never known his brother be troubled with bad dreams, but several times during the night he's heard Dean whimpering, making desperate, pleading noises and shifting restlessly, tangling himself in the thin sheets. Every time, Sam's crossed the room, settling on the bed and soothing Dean with soft words, 'It's ok', 'I'm here', 'I love you, damnit', and gentle hands, stroking and petting until Dean subsides and quiets again. Sam can just imagine what Dean's nightmares consist of, and he wishes, with all his heart, that he could spare Dean this.
Sam's nightmares aren't of Jess anymore. Now they're filled with breaking glass, shrieking metal, the smell of blood, the taste of fear. He no longer sees Jess' desperate, terrified face; instead he see Dean's, hears his brother plead with their father not to let the demon kill him. He dreams of being back in the cabin, pinned to the wall, unable to move, or even speak; of watching as the demon tears Dean apart, and drops his lifeless body at Sam's feet.
What scares Sam most is that the dreams feel almost like premonitions. They're not exactly the same as the ones he had before Jess was killed, but they're close. This time though, Sam's prepared. He lost Jess because he didn't pay attention, didn't heed the warning, he's damned if he's going to lose Dean too. In the early morning light, watching over Dean's troubled sleep, he can admit to himself that while he loved Jess with all his heart, he loves his brother with all his soul.
He knows that he's got a mammoth task ahead of him, to convince Dean that he's not going to leave, that he finally understands that in the end, nothing is more important than family, than Dean, to Sam now. It's almost a relief, to finally accept that he's never going to be normal, but to know that the one thing he'll always have is Dean. It shouldn't have taken as long as it did for him to realize, certainly shouldn't have taken Dean nearly dying, for a second time, to open his eyes.
The unexpected sound of his cell phone ringing startles him, and has him scrambling for his bag, hoping he can reach the phone before it wakes Dean. The phone stops ringing before he can find it, but Dean, apart from muttering something unintelligible under his breath, doesn't stir. Before Sam can check the caller id, the phone rings again, startling him even more, and he grabs the room key and heads out the door, answering without looking to see who's calling as he heads down the corridor.
"Yeah, um, hello?"
Sam swears his heart skips a beat at the sound of his father's voice. Dad's the last person Sam expected to be calling.
"Dad, yeah. Hi." Where the hell are you? Why aren't you here? What the hell have we done to Dean over the years? Has the price we've all paid really been worth it?
"How are you Sammy?" Sam grits his teeth at the name, but now isn't the time to start bitching about it.
"Fine, same as I was last time you saw me." He can hear the anger and the bitterness edging his tone, and he really doesn't care. Dean was still unconscious and hooked up to a terrifying number of machines the last time Dad saw him, and he's asking how Sam is?
"Sam...." He can hear the sigh, imagine the resignation on Dad's face and he's gritting his teeth so hard now he worries briefly that he'll break one. "How's your brother?"
He takes a deep breath. Then a second.
"His name is Dean. And he's still breathing, yeah."
"Sam..." He can hear the warning, and the touch of frustration in his father's voice, and he doesn't care, in fact, he relishes it.
"I had to go, you know that. I..."
"You couldn't be bothered to stay and make sure Dean woke up. Yeah, I know Dad."
"Sam. I love you both, damnit. You know I do."
"Yeah, well, it's a funny way of showing it. Christ, do you have any idea how much that hurt Dean? You ever think about all the shit he's having to deal with?" He can hear his voice rising, hear the anger and the slightly hysterical edge. He takes another deep breath, trying to stay calm.
"Goddamnit Sammy, I'm sorry, ok? I didn't mean to worry Dean, but he's strong, he'll be fine..."
Sam isn't sure whether to be glad or disappointed his father isn't in front of him right now, because he'd really, really like to be able to take a swing at him.
"No, damnit, he isn't strong, not right now, and he's isn't ok. How the hell would you know anyway? You're not here, you haven't seen how much he's hurting." He's shaking now, half repressed anger, half worry for Dean "You have no idea how much he's hurting right now Dad, and I...I don't know what to do to make it right, to repair all the damage we've done to him." He's almost whispering, hating Dad for not understanding, but needing to tell someone how scared he is for his brother.
"Sammy, we haven't done anything. It's the demon.."
Sam could scream.
"No, the demon started this, but fuck, it's your obsessions, and mine, god help us, that have hurt Dean. And it's Sam, damnit."
His father doesn't say anything for a long time, and Sam would think he'd hung up, if it weren't for the lack of dial tone. Sam chews his lip, waiting for something, *anything* from his father to show he understands.
"Sam." Deliberate, pointed. Typical Dad when he's in the wrong and knows it, but won't ever, ever admit it. "Dean will be ok. He just needs to get back on track, get back hunting again. You'll be with him Sam, I know you'll keep an eye on him."
Disappointment. Definitely disappointment, because if Dad *were* here, Sam would certainly have punched him out for that.
"He's just got out of hospital. The last thing he needs is to go hunting."
"Sam, I know your brother. He needs to be active. I've got a simple job that'll ease you both back into things..."
"No. No way. Don't you do this to him. He's not ready. Dad, please." Sam'll plead, order, anything to stop Dad doing this, because he's finally getting through to Dean and the fear that if they go off hunting again, he'll lose what ground he's gained so far is eating away at him.
His father sighs, and Sam hopes he's got through, somehow.
"It'll be ok, I promise. Can I speak to Dean?"
A cold shiver runs through Sam. A flash of premonition, there and gone too quickly for him to grasp it. He starts walking back towards the room, needing suddenly to check on Dean, to make sure he's ok. God, he shouldn't have left, what if Dean wakes up and finds him gone?
"Not right now Dad, he's sleeping. Is there any point even suggesting he call you later?" Not that Sam has any intention of telling Dean about this conversation, but Dad doesn't need to know that.
"Sammy, it's still not safe..."
"Sam. Fine, whatever. I've got to go Dad. Just, just think about what I said. And...be careful, ok?"
"I will Sam, and you boys take care too, you hear me?"
"Bye, and remember, I do love you both, very much."
"Yeah. Bye Dad."
John hangs up, and Sam stands outside the door of the motel room, resisting the temptation to bang his head against the wood. He opens the door carefully, relieved to see Dean still sleeping, peaceful now. Sam doesn't really believe in God, but he offers a quiet prayer to any deity that might be listening, that the peace might last, this time.
John's been replaying his conversation with Sam, over and over, since he hung up the phone, several hours ago. It hurts that he can't be there for his sons, but it's better this way.
Sam's words stirred up a load of guilt though. He knows he really should have stayed, should have been there when Dean woke up, at least. But he couldn't face his son, not knowing what the demon had done to him, knowing that it was John's face that laughed at Dean's pain, that watched as Dean pleaded for his life.
It tore him up inside to hear the demon mocking Dean, to hear him twisting the truth and using it to hurt Dean so much, to torment and torture him; trying to drive a wedge between John and his sons. John loves both his sons, equally, though in different ways. Sam's always been easier to understand; John has always been able to see himself in Sam, it's the reason that, as Sam grew towards adulthood, they began to fight so much, both stubborn and convinced they know best. His eldest son though has always been something of an enigma to John. Always so eager to please, always so easily upset by a careless word; even as an adult, he still seeks John's approval. He tries hard to hide that sensitive side, but really, his face and eyes have always been so expressive that John could read every thought and every emotion, even when he tries hard to appear indifferent.
John's aware that in the beginning, when he started this hunt, he was harder on Dean than on Sam, pushing him harder, making him train longer, criticizing him more. But he did it with the best intentions. Dean was such a sensitive child and John knew that he'd never survive the life John was training him for unless he toughened up. When Sam was old enough to train, it had been Dean who had taken most of that responsibility, who had taught his brother everything John had taught him. It was Dean who'd patch Sammy up when he was injured, comforted him when he was distressed, as John spent more and more time away from them, hunting, trying to find something, anything to fill the hole in his life and his heart that losing Mary left.
He's pleased that Sam's there with Dean, that he cares so much for his brother, it's right somehow, when John spent so long encouraging Dean to take care of Sammy, that Sam's now looking after his brother. They should be there for each other, although there's a small part of John that worries about the effects of making them depend so totally on each other. They were always exceptionally close as kids, even when they were fighting. Sometimes John would watch his sons together, and feel like an outsider in his own family. The bond between them was so strong that at times it scared John. When Sam first started hunting with them, Dean was so concerned with watching Sam's back that he sometimes forgot to watch his own. And Sam, Sam seemed to have a sixth sense where Dean was concerned. He always knew when his brother was in trouble or injured.
When Sam left, it broke John's heart to see how distressed Dean was, how much he missed Sam. It made John even angrier at Sam, at his almost casual disregard of Dean, just because Dean hadn't wanted to get involved in the argument between his father and his brother. And afterwards, when it was just the two of them, Dean changed; he became quieter, more withdrawn, a little more distant.
He hopes his boys will be ok. He knows that they've managed perfectly well up until now, but as much as he'd like to, he can't ignore the cold knot of fear that Sam's obvious distress over Dean has caused. Still, despite Sam's misgivings, he thinks that getting back into the game is just what Dean needs, to take his mind off the past, to keep him occupied and focused.
He looks again on the phone in his hand and makes his decision. He's still Dean's father and he knows him better than Sam thinks. He can't be there with them right now, but he can give Dean something. He can give him his trust in Dean's ability to cope.