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Sam had gone out on a hunt on his own, and… and he’d failed. Well, he’d gotten the hunting part down, but not the saving people part. Everyone he’d tried to save had ended up dead. A whole room full of people. The vampires, they’d slaughtered all of them.

He trudged into the bunker, not looking at Dean as he went down the stairs, and his jaw was clenched as he threw his bag down. He didn’t bother to hang his coat on the chair, and just tossed it onto the table.

“Sam, what’s wrong?” Dean asked.

Sam ignored him, tried shoving past his brother who was now out of his seat, attempting to block his path.

Dean ended up grabbing his shoulder, turning him to him.

“No, we’re not gonna do this, this no talking thing. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna work now.”

Sam shrugged, and then threw his arms out helplessly, shaking his head. His throat ached with bitter emotion. “Then what do you want me to say?”

“The truth?” Dean told him, words soft.

“Well, then, hey, Dean, a bunch of people got killed because of me, again.” Sam pushed him aside. “Goodnight.”

“Whoa, you think that’s gonna be the end of this?”

“It was the end for them,” Sam told him bitterly.

“And you seriously think that’s on you?”

Sam turned to him, nostrils flaring, emotion aching in his throat. His body wasn’t sure if it was ready for a fight, or ready to cry.

“When isn’t it on me? I started the Apocalypse, I said yes to Lucifer, I lost my soul. Even now I still get recognized as the guy who did all that!”

“That what happened today?”

“No, but I… I wasn’t strong enough. I made mistakes.”

“Then that ain’t your fault. And those things back then, that ain’t on you either, and you know it.”

“Yeah? Do I?” Sam took a step forward. “How is saying yes not my fault? Huh? The word came out of my own damn mouth.”

Dean shook his head, putting a hand against his forehead. “Sammy, you were backed into a corner, there was nothing you could do, and you know that.”

“No, Dean!” he admitted. “I don’t. And no one ever tells me that either. Not you, not Cas. All I do, all damn day is think about how I screwed up, and how I continue to screw up. And I went into that town a week ago thinking I could help. And now there are fourteen more people dead. Fourteen more people who can never go back to their families. That’s…” Tears built up in his eyes, and he had to swallow back a lump of emotion. He looked at his feet. “That’s on me.”

“You think I don’t have blood on my hands?” Dean asked, voice not loud as Sam had thought it would be, but soft. Dean approached, and he tried to take a step back, but his brother wasn’t having it. He grabbed his shoulders. “You think this shit doesn’t haunt me?”

“Yeah, but you’re the good one, Dean. You kill the monster.”

“I do, but you think that makes it easy? You think that makes it right? When is any of this ever right? This life, it ain’t what Dad taught us. It’s not some mindless pull the trigger and be done with it crap. It’s real, it hurts. And we’re in it together. Look, I know you get buried in this shit. I know you got weight on your shoulders that I can’t even imagine, but, Sam” — he laid his hand against Sam’s chest, over his heart with a heavy thump — “I’m right here.”

Sam met him in the eyes, tears starting to roll down his cheeks now. “But you’re not the-the one with my nightmares, Dean. The one who hunters sometimes try to kill because, oh yeah, you were possessed by Lucifer, or-or you had powers. You’re not the one who lets people down.” He shoved Dean off of him, barely able to see him in his vision now, bristling from his touch. How could Dean even stand to be near him? “I let you down.”

Dean fought with him, and Sam struggled, baring his teeth, trying to get away as Dean grappled with his arms. He tried to throw a punch, just wanting to not be seen by him, by anyone, wanting to go to his room, lie on his bed, and stare at the ceiling, or watch the lazy rotation of his fan and think about all his failures.

But Dean trapped his arms, subduing him, and then he was hugging him. Sam’s head fell against his shoulder, and his breath hitched. A sob came out.

“You haven’t let me down, Sammy,” Dean assured him. “You haven’t let me down.”

And now Dean was on his tiptoes to move his arms up to wrap them about his shoulders, and Sam felt himself all but collapse into him, the emotions from the hunt crushing him.

He hadn’t saved them.

And there had been thousands he’d condemned to death.

“You could never let me down.”

But god, Dean was still here.

He was still here.

Sam held in the rest of his tears, hugged Dean back, and gathered strength from his sturdy presence.

“Don’t worry, I got you.”

Sam wiped his wet face on Dean’s shirt, and for a moment his troubles were forgotten, and it was like he was a little kid again, his big brother protecting him from the whole world. And for those seconds, he was protected from the whole world.