He knows it’s Dean. He knows his brother is back, and it’s really his brother. He does know this… but knowing doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference.
Only a few days after Dean is cured and no longer a demon, Sam starts to realize the whole thing affected him a lot more than he thought it did.
Sam can’t sleep when Dean is in the bunker. This feels terribly wrong, because it’s Dean and he’s back, and Sam has almost always felt safer with Dean around. Dean knows how to take care of himself and he knows how to take care of Sam. He’s the best hunter out there, and that’s not even Sam’s bias as his brother speaking, because Sam’s not the only who’s said so.
But he doesn’t feel that underlying sense of safety anymore – it’s been ripped away and dissolved and Sam has no idea how to get it back. He goes into his bedroom and after a moment’s hesitation, he locks the door and ignores the tremble in his fingers. It’s cold in here, that’s all. It was just a shiver.
He sits on the bed and can’t bring himself to turn off the light, feeling suddenly anxious. Sam has never been afraid of the dark, even with all his knowledge of what lurks in the dark. This is the bunker, this place is warded and fortified and secret, and safer than any place Sam has ever been. More home than any place Sam has ever been – simply by being the one place he has stayed the longest.
But he can’t reach over and flip off the lamp all the same.
He lays down on the bed and slides his hand under his pillow, feeling the loaded gun there. His shoulders relax involuntarily as he gently wraps his fingers around the grip. After a while, he even lets his eyes slide shut.
He hears Dean shuffling around in the hallway outside his door and Sam tenses, eyes snapping open. He jolts to a sitting position, gun in hand, aimed at the door.
It’s okay, he tells himself as the blood rushes in his ears. It’s just Dean. It’s okay.
But Sam’s neck feels prickly and his breathing is shallow and he swears he can hear the metal of a hammer bump against the wall…
Dean’s footsteps recede without slowing, and Sam exhales. Those steps are normal – those are familiar. They’re not full of murder and malice, calculation and evil. Sam lets his arms drop and he exhales again, heavy with inexplicable relief.
He’d rather not sleep anyways for fear of nightmares. So instead, he stays up late reading ancient volumes to keep his mind occupied. He sits facing the door with a dagger on the desk within easy reach and pretends it’s only out of habit and regular hunter vigilance and nothing more.
He’s fine, it’s fine. He only needs some time to get over the whole… demon thing.
Sam has his nose buried in another fat volume of ancient lore a few days later. He’s not researching anything specifically, as they don’t have a case right now; he just finds a lot of the stuff interesting regardless. He reaches absently for his mug to take a sip of coffee.
Sam reacts without thought – it’s pure instinct that has him bolting out of his chair, knocking it over with a crash. The mug shatters on the floor and Sam’s heart is pounding in his ears as his eyes dart around for the nearest weapon. Cas isn’t here and Sam can’t fight Dean off with only one functional arm – his right is still in a sling and oh God his gun in his room –
“Sammy? Come on, Sammy! Let's have a beer, talk about it. I'm tired of playing... Let's finish this game!”
Dean comes hurrying into the room holding a couple of bags of food. He sees the broken mug and glances around with worry. “You okay? What happened?”
“N-nothing,” says Sam, catching his breath, struggling to rein in his sudden anxiety. It’s okay it’s okay I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine it’s over…
He straightens up, works hard to seem normal. Doesn’t have to work hard to look as exhausted as he feels. “Must’ve dozed off. You scared me.” He forces a smile and a chuckle.
His brother isn’t convinced, and Dean watches Sam searchingly for a moment before crossing the room and setting the food down on the table. The line of his shoulders is tense and his voice is thick with emotion when he speaks, though Sam can tell he’s working hard to hide it.
“Sorry,” Dean says, bending over to clean up the broken mug.
“No, it’s fine,” Sam replies hastily. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, unconsciously moving away from Dean.
When Dean stands up with a handful of ceramic, he looks like he really, really wants to say something but the words hurt too much, and instead he brushes by Sam mumbling that he’ll get the forks, and a mop. Sam lets him go and picks up his chair.
It’s all right, he thinks. I’m fine.
It’s never been hard to lie to himself.
Sam will not admit it, but he’s never felt this jumpy before. He’s trying so damn hard not to be, because the look in Dean’s eyes whenever Sam involuntarily reacts to something perfectly normal absolutely kills him.
Dean used to call him “Sammy” out of affection, and he was the only one Sam would allow to do that because it’s Dean, and it’s his brother. Now when he says it, regardless of the tone, Sam flinches. The nickname has been tainted – hearing it pass through Dean’s lips makes Sam think of anger and demons and blood and toxic fear.
Dean must’ve noticed, because lately he’s being very careful not to use the nickname. He stumbles and almost says it a lot, and Sam pretends not to notice, the same way Dean pretends that he doesn’t move slowly and deliberately around Sam now too. Or that he makes a lot of extra noise when he’s moving around the bunker, because he’s walked in and startled Sam half to death far too many times.
And they don’t talk about it because they don’t talk. Not about anything of substance, anyway.
“You… sleep okay?” Dean asks awkwardly one morning.
No, thinks Sam. I slept for an hour where I dreamed you were trying to murder me with an axe and then I stayed awake until the sun came up.
He shrugs. “Yeah, fine. You?”
Dean shrugs too, and Sam knows him well enough to see the dark circles under his brother’s eyes.
“Yeah, good.” Dean settles in a chair at the far end of the table with a cup of coffee.
Sam knows he’s lying too – he heard Dean calling out in the night, and Sam had jumped up to investigate. He’d had his hand above Dean’s doorknob when he realized Dean was crying softly in his room. Sam had stood there hesitating, gut twisting, and eventually backed up and retreated to his own room.
(When had they become so far apart that Sam couldn’t figure out a way to even try to comfort his brother in the middle of the night?)
Sam shifts uneasily at the memory. He should’ve opened the door, he should’ve… He glances up at Dean, who casually runs his fingers through his hair and Sam shivers and has to look away.
Dean’s hair is too long and Sam has to work hard to pretend it doesn’t bother him.
Sam is in the kitchen cooking up some food, and it’s a hell of a lot easier now that he has the sling off. Dean went out for beers a while ago, and Sam insisted on not eating fast food – they have a kitchen, after all, they really need to use it more often, when they have the chance. Besides, his stir-fry is pretty good, if he does say so himself.
He gives the sizzling meat a toss before resuming cutting up vegetables.
“I’m back,” Dean announces from the next room, and his footsteps seem unnecessarily loud as he approaches the kitchen. “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I got –”
When Sam turns to see what his brother brought, he recoils so violently from the sight of Dean in the doorway that he sends the cutting board full of veggies flying. Sam doesn’t even notice the food, though, because all he can see is black eyes and a red shirt and his brother roaring and the pure hate on his face –
Blame yourself for me getting loose…
And the axe and the slow heavy footsteps and the hammer and he hears Sammy and –
I like the disease!
And there’s a hole in the wall and the dark laughter and do it c’mon Sammy do it –
Sam blinks and realizes he’s on the floor, shaking all over, backed into the corner of the kitchen, holding the chopping knife in a white-knuckled grip. Dean is pale and shocked and worried, has his hands up and out towards him, and one of them has a big slice in it, dripping blood on the kitchen floor.
Did Sam… cut him? He lets go of the knife like it burned him and it clatters onto the floor.
“D-Dean, I – ”
“No, it’s fine, Sammy, it’s okay, it’s me,” Dean says hastily, forgetting that he can’t use that name anymore.
Sam jolts like he’s been stung, and his chest is tight with a fresh wave of fear and anxiety. He gulps in shuddering breath after shuddering breath, and he doesn’t remember crying but his face is wet with tears.
“Dean, take it off –” he croaks finally, barely in control. “Don’t –” He presses his hands to his eyes, trying to calm down. Swears he can hear the echoes of the demon calling his name. It’s okay it’s fine I’m fine I can’t breathe it’s fine. “The shirt, Dean,” Sam manages.
He feels so weak and pathetic and terrified (and when the hell did he become such a complete mess?). He covers his face with shaking hands because between Dean’s red shirt and the bloody kitchen knife, there’s nowhere to look that doesn’t make him feel like freaking out again. He can’t shake the feeling that at any second Dean is going to break into a feral grin and his eyes will flash back and he’ll spread his hands and say, Gotcha.
When Sam pulls his quivering hands away from his face a moment later, Dean is balling up his red shirt and shoving it in the trash with unnecessary force. He looks like he’s about to be sick or crash to his knees or both.
“Sam,” Dean tries, and it’s one of those moments where he barely refrains from using the nickname, his lips fumbling over a couple extra m’s before he stops. “I’m so…” His voice breaks and his eyes are shining. He makes to take a step forward, but Sam flinches and Dean freezes, bites his lip and leaves the room.
Sam is heading to bed, and down the hall, it sounds like Dean is talking to someone. Sam fully intends to walk right past the cracked open door and not eavesdrop, but when he’s almost there and can make out Dean’s words, Sam stops and can’t help himself.
“…can’t even look at me, Cas,” Dean says, and his voice is so damn fragile, Sam feels like choking. “I can’t… I – just me being here… I’m only making it worse. He’s terrified of… me.” A long pause. “I don’t think… I don’t think we can come back from this.”
Sam dips his head, tears stinging his eyes. They’ve been through so much – they’ve been through everything by this point. There’s been lies and mistrust and broken promises, there’s been love and laughter and courage. They’ve had ups and downs, and sure, more downs than ups lately, but they’ve always come back to each other in the end. They’re brothers, it’s what they do – what they’ve always done.
He wants to believe Dean isn’t right, but what if he is? What if they can’t come back from this? Sam’s the one who can barely stand to be in the same room as his brother, the one who’s having a mental meltdown. He’s the one who can’t stop picturing being hunted in this very bunker by Dean. He’s the one who will never be able to erase the image of Dean on his knees, steaming with holy water, glaring up with such loathing… It still rattles him to his core recalling that look on his brother’s face.
Maybe this is the one thing they can’t fix.
Dean’s voice is a broken whisper when he adds, “I just don’t know what to do.”
Sam can’t listen anymore and tip-toes past the door on to his room. Still locks the door behind him, even though he wishes he didn’t still feel the need to.
The following afternoon, Sam heads to his room for a fresh set of clothes after a long run. He hasn’t seen Dean all day, save for passing each other in the kitchen for breakfast. Sam had avoided his brother’s concerned gaze, as usual, and Dean kept his distance, as usual, the pair of them pained and tense, waiting for the next thing that could set Sam off. Dean had snatched up his keys and headed out shortly after that, mumbling something about groceries, though they both knew the fridge was full.
When Sam rounds the corner in the hallway towards his room, he stops for a moment in surprise. Every other time he’s come down the hall, his eyes slid over the hole left over from when Dean – from when the demon had slammed the hammer there. His gut would twist and he’d fight off a shiver and think just fix it and then never did.
But the hole is gone, and Sam can see where it the plaster is still wet. He swallows past the sudden lump in his throat and continues down the hall.
Dean gets home late, and Sam is already hiding out in his bedroom with the door locked; he doesn’t bother to get up and greet Dean. He takes it as a good sign that the sound of his brother’s footsteps don’t send him into panic mode anymore, though he can still feel ugly tendrils of anxiety curling around his ribs anyways.
The following morning as Sam is quietly enjoying some breakfast, he’s surprised to see Dean emerge from down the hall wearing a slightly rumpled dark gray suit. He’s carrying a garbage bag that’s bulging and Sam’s pretty sure he can a wooden handle poking out by Dean’s hand.
“You got a case somewhere?” Sam asks curiously, and fights down the flash of panic that flutters in his chest for a moment. It’s okay it’s not the axe it’s fine you’re fine it’s just Dean breathe.
They haven’t had any cases in a couple weeks, though primarily by choice, trying again to take that “break” Sam had tried to impose the day after Dean was cured. Plus, he figured the fact that he was having a mental breakdown over his brother being a demon didn’t exactly make for a good, stable hunting partner.
Dean shifts uncomfortably. “Did I, uh… did I wear these monkey suits when I was… when I… you know?” He clears his throat and the naked hope and apprehension on his face hits Sam like a ton of bricks in the chest.
Sam swallows and shakes his head. “Not that I know of.”
Dean sniffs, avoiding Sam’s gaze all of a sudden. “Good.”
He crosses the room to the large garbage bin in the corner, tugging at his collar a little, and shoves the whole bag in, and now Sam can see it’s definitely the axe, as the handle tears the bag a little. And Dean’s throwing it out. Some fabric peeks through the hole in the bag and Dean quickly blocks the whole thing from view, but not before Sam could see that it was a bunch of Dean’s shirts.
Sam notices that Dean’s hair is notably shorter too.
“Dean, you don’t have to…” Sam starts, but Dean shakes his head fiercely.
“Yes I do.” He faces Sam and he looks determined and emotional and so wonderfully, achingly familiar. “You’re my brother.”
Sam fights back an abrupt wave of tears, and smiles down at his cereal as Dean settles into the chair directly beside him.