Dean wanted him to stay in the hospital. “You can barely move, still,” he said, voice holding that same brassy fearful note as back in the woods. “You’re on a ton of painkillers and you’re still healing. Forget about the money, okay?”
John looked at him with new wariness (worry) and said, “It’s your decision, Sam.”
He signed the AMA papers, Dean by his shoulder, his mouth tight and rigid with anger. Sam wanted to laugh, but he hurt enough as he was, so he just smiled, feeling the strain in his cheeks.
Dean hovered as they made their limping way to the car. “Ask me if you’re an idiot, Sam,” Dean said, too mildly.
“Am I an idiot,” Sam drawled obligingly.
“Yes.” There, that – was savage. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing-”
“Hunting,” Sam answered blandly.
“Sam,” Dean said, stopping. He looked pained. “Whatever you’re trying to do, or prove, stop it. It’s enough, okay? I get it, that I was-”
Sam didn’t turn. “So help me, if you say ‘wrong’ I will hurt you,” he said.
“Maybe you should-”
“Go?” Sam’s body clenched automatically and nerves fired, indignant. “Go where, Dean? Where am I going to go?”
Silence. It didn’t feel like a victory.
“I made my choice,” Sam said. “I don’t regret it.”
John and Dean argued. Sam slept, and said I can’t do this in his head until the words were meaningless. (But this was what he was, now. He wouldn’t fail at this, too.)
Dean didn’t bother to keep his voice down. “Look at him, Dad. I’m serious, look. This isn’t what…”
Sam never heard John reply.
His back ached. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing. In. Out. All his best intentions, come to nothing.
Dean sat with him and checked the stitches, his hands strangely tentative, like Sam might dissolve any minute.
“I can stand up for myself,” Sam said.
“But you don’t,” Dean said, and the look on his face was like fear, was like sorrow. “You just…don’t.” He paused. “Is this because of me? You didn’t stay for Dad. You stayed for me.”
Yes. Sam scoffed. “Don’t be a dumbass. I just wasn’t sure of my priorities then.”
Dean turned away. His voice was tight. “And now you are? Where’s your goddamn life, then? Third, fourth?”
Sam made his mouth curve. “Family first, Dean,” he said. He expected Dean to be angry. He just looked miserable.
“You know that means you too, right, Sammy?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Of course.”
Dean had a girlfriend.
Dean thought he was subtle. He never came home smelling like anything and if he was out overnight he made sure to play if off as a girl he picked up in a bar, but Dean had never been as good at fooling Sam as he thought he was.
And he was serious about this one, Sam could tell. He remembered the look, the way good dreams shone in your eyes.
He could have warned Dean about the dangers of giving into that. Letting it become important. Dreams let you down. Hunting you could count on.
He said nothing.
“There’s this girl I want you to meet,” Dean said.
“Uh-huh,” Sam said, polishing one of the guns to a shine for no reason other than that it had been there. John was gone, off on one of his solo hunts that had become more and more frequent. Sam wasn’t surprised Dean had waited until he was to mention the girl.
His brother’s face brightened. Dean said Sam wore his emotions on his sleeve. (Not anymore he didn’t.) “Thought we could go to a diner, or something, eat dinner together.”
Like a real family? Sam thought, and almost wanted to laugh. His mouth did turn up at the corner; he felt it. “Uh-huh,” he said again.
Dean seemed almost unsettled, for a moment. Shifted slightly uneasily. “So you’ll come?”
Sam looked down at the gun. “No,” he said.
He felt his brother shift, Dean taking his ‘defensive’ stance. “No?” he said, and there was a slight edge to his voice. “Why not?”
“Because I know how stupid and futile it is, what you’re doing,” Sam said evenly. No trace of emotion. Dean stared at him for a few long seconds, and then made a disgusted noise.
“Sam,” he said. Or started to say. He stopped, then said, “Why can’t you just be happy for me? This could be actually good.”
Sam glanced up, just for a moment. His eyes felt like fish scales – dull, dead, opaque. “Were you?” He asked.
Dean seemed jarred. “What?”
“Were you happy for me?” Dean’s eyes were suddenly bright. Sam turned back to the gun. “I’m just saying.”
Dean left a moment later without saying another word, closed the door hard behind him. Sam set the gun down, leaned his head against the wall, and breathed.
Is that what it is, then? Said a small voice in his head. You can’t dream, so no one can?
“You were right,” Dean said. He was drunk, wasted, swaying on his feet. Sam was surprised at how it still made him feel, stomach knotting, just when he’d thought he’d forgotten what it was to feel.
“About the girl,” he said, “About this normal shit.”
Sam stood, after a moment. “That so?” He measured the distance between kitchen and bed. Dean wobbled. Probably too far.
“Yeah,” Dean said. “That so.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, and meant it. “I was – shouldn’t have said anything.” So he’d given up on his own life. Dean still had one, and Sam had no right to take it away. Hadn’t he told himself he was done being selfish?
Dean scoffed. “Are you?”
Sam felt heavy, exhausted. Resigned. “Yeah,” he said anyway, “I am.”
Sam spent the night trying to think of things that he had done right while Dean snored in the next room.
He couldn’t come up with anything.
“Get a move on,” John said. “We’ve got a job.” He looked across the room at Dean, folded in on himself with his expression closed off, and asked Sam, “What’s wrong with him?”
Sam wanted to laugh. What’s wrong with all of us, he thought with a slight edge of hysteria. His back was twinging again, pain shooting up in stripes. What’s always been wrong?
He was going to laugh, until he realized that he couldn’t think of how it was supposed to sound.
“Nothing,” Sam said. “We’re okay.”
“Sam,” Dean said a few days later, nursing a concussion and staring at him blearily. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Sam said, not really listening. Thinking of what could go wrong. Wondering if this would be the day it ended. He had woken up with the feeling he was going to die; but then he’d woken up that way twelve times in the past year, if not more.
“I didn’t make you go,” Dean said. “I should have made you go.”
Sam looked around from his examination of the horizon. “Dean,” he said, and stopped. His brother looked back at him. Sam glanced away and said, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Dean asked, his brow furrowing, perplexed.
“That I can’t do this forever,” Sam said. There was a gun in his waistband. He wondered how it would feel against his temple. How it would taste on his tongue.