Ever since the spell took the Mark from Dean’s arm, Sam has been waiting for The Acknowledgement. The inevitable, awkward beginning of an apology from whichever one of them was under some supernatural influence so that the other can cut him off, tell him that it’s okay, there’s no need for an apology, it wasn’t him, et cetera. That’s the drill. That’s how they know they’re good while circumventing the dreaded chick flick moment that neither of them wants, and what does that say that they’ve done this so much that it’s become a routine?
Dean doesn’t say anything as they leave the foreclosed restaurant where he had told Sam that the world would be better off without them in it. Where Dean had said that he should have let Sam sacrifice himself. Where Dean had almost killed Sam as part of his plan to save humanity from the Mark. They barely have time to step outside, and then they’re desperately trying to escape a mass of swirling smoke belched from the depths of the Earth to obliterate the day.
Dean doesn’t say anything as they drive away from ground zero towards the town; they’re both still too stunned in the aftermath of the release of the Darkness, and then they’re dealing with the Rabids. They put on their hunter hats, and there’s no time for that kind of conversation.
I unleashed a force on this world that could destroy it . . . to save you.
And I told you not to.
Those are the only and last words on the subject before Dean leaves with Jenna and the baby while Sam stays behind to try to cure the people he doomed. The ones that are still alive, anyway.
Dean doesn’t say anything when they’re checking in over the phone. Dean has a telekinetic baby and Father Crowley to worry about, and Sam is busy lying through his teeth to Dean (How’s Zombieland? It’s good. It’s great.) as the infection crawls up the major blood vessels in his neck. If he tells Dean what happened, he’ll come back and put himself at risk, and he’ll know that Sam is failing. Sam doesn’t like either prospect.
If Dean was going to say anything at all, the best opportunity would be during the long drive back to the bunker after Dean picks Sam up from the hospital. Dean seems okay, even pleased that Sam figured out the cure. But he cranks up the volume on the tunes to a level that will drown out any attempt at conversation, and leaves it like that the whole way. And then they’re back at the bunker and they’ve got a cursed angel to fix and a mess to clean up.
“Dean, I… There aren’t words…”
“You're right. There aren't words, Cas, 'cause there's no need… It's fine, Cas. Besides, I had it comin'.”
Castiel gets his acknowledgement after Rowena lifts the spell and they get him back to the bunker. Castiel and Dean swap almost-apologies for their exchanged beatings and then that’s that. Dean goes back to alternating between drinking his beer and applying it to the bump on his head. The two of them are good, and Sam is genuinely glad for that, he is. God knows they’ve had their rough patches over the past few years.
Sam touches his own fading bruises where Dean’s fists landed and wonders where he stands now, if Charlie’s death was the final straw in Dean’s tolerance for his screw ups, if he’s blown past Dean’s capacity for forgiveness by releasing an evil into the world even worse than Lucifer. He wonders which one was really doing the talking in the restaurant, the Mark or Dean, because Dean hasn’t made any effort to refute anything.
And then Sam wonders when the hell he regressed back into a mopey, emo 15-year-old, overthinking every damned word said or unsaid. It was the Mark saying those things, of course it was, Dean doesn’t owe him an apology, he doesn’t owe him any reassurance, he doesn’t owe him a damned thing. It’s fine. Dean’s fine.
Remember when we were in that church, making Crowley human, about to close the Gates of Hell? Well, you sure as hell were ready to die for the greater good then.
Yeah, and Dean, you pulled me back.
And I was wrong.
It’s exactly 3:27am when Sam sits bolt upright in a cold sweat, gasping like a beached fish, the remnants of a dream clinging to him like cobwebs that he can’t brush off.
Sam, how is that not evil? I have this thing on my arm, and you're willing to let the Darkness into the world.
This time, Dean didn’t miss.
Sam spends the next few hours cleaning weapons.
He’s just downing his third cup of coffee when Sam sees Castiel drift into the kitchen. The angel still looks like hammered crap, trying to recover from the effects of Rowena’s attack dog spell.
“Cas. Aren’t you supposed to be resting?”
“Counting the rotations of the ceiling fan only provides so much intellectual stimulation.” Sam didn’t realize that angels were capable of being bored. “And you? You’re not usually up at this hour.”
Cas holds up two fingers. “I can help with that, if you like.”
“No… no, I’m okay.” The last time Castiel had put him to sleep he was out for ten hours. He doesn’t want to lose that much time with Amara in the wind and the clock ticking.
Castiel regards him with his unblinking gaze for a moment. It’s one of those traits that reminds Sam that Cas isn’t human, which Sam finds both disconcerting and comforting. It brings back the memory of their first meeting, where Cas called him “the boy with the demon blood”. But it also reminds him that a divine entity actually chose to be his friend.
“I have found that you and Dean are often the opposite of what you claim.” Cas doesn’t press; he just waits for Sam to either respond or not.
Maybe it’s because he’s tired, but without conscious volition Sam finds himself saying, “Dean said some things. You know, while he had the Mark.”
“Whatever he said, you know he wouldn’t have otherwise. He was compelled, just like I wasn’t able to prevent myself from attacking Dean.”
“Yeah, I know that. And I don’t blame him…”
“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t true.”
Sam has spent all day poring through lore trying to find anything on the Darkness and coming up with jack; scouring articles trying to find any lead on Metatron and coming up with squat. And when he’s not hitting the research… well, he tries not to let that happen, because when his mind isn’t otherwise occupied it goes to places it has no business going.
It’s not Dean’s fault. Dean is fine. He’s doing normal Dean things, acting in a normal Dean way, saying the things Dean normally says. It’s Sam that can’t keep his head on straight, can’t steer his brain away from the what if’s that keep dragging him to dark places. It’s not Dean’s fault that Sam can’t look him in the eye, or get anything out of his mouth but awkward, stilted small-talk before bolting back to his room or the library. It’s not Dean’s fault that Sam can’t deal with his idiotic insecurities like a grown-ass adult.
That’s what he needs, to work with his brother as a team again, to focus his mind and put the Mark and its associated baggage firmly in the past where it belongs, once and for all. Dean’s going stir crazy so he’s all over getting back to work. They call up Jody to see if she’s heard about anything on the hunter grapevine, and sure enough, she’s got something and it’s within a couple hours’ drive for them.
Animal attacks plus missing hearts equals werewolf. Easy.
It’s not easy. It’s a fucking lamia.
They’ve got the silver, given that they had prepped for a werewolf hunt, but they’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no time to find a priest to bless the blades. They do, however, have plenty of salt and, miraculously, some rosemary (No, not oregano, Dean. Yes, I’m sure. It’s a lamia, not a pizza.) buried at the bottom of the trunk. There’s also a flare gun with a few flares.
This is how it’s supposed to go.
Mix salt and rosemary along with some oil as an accelerant in the bowl they keep handy for spells, then Dean distracts it while Sam dumps the mixture on the thing and runs like hell, and Dean lights it up. Simple.
This is how it actually goes.
Dean distracts the lamia, it gets just this side of too close to him and sends Dean flying, knocking the flare gun out of his hand in the process. Sam wonders once again why they still aren’t using bunjee cords and gets close enough to douse the lamia with the ingredients. He draws the thing’s attention while Dean scrambles to reach the flare gun, and goddamn, lamias are fucking fast. Sam dances around trying to stay out of range of the six-inch-long claws while drawing it further away from Dean. He’s running out of breath and slowing down by the time he hears Dean’s shout of warning and knows to stay out of the line of fire. Dean’s aim is true, the thing goes up in flames, and—
I think it should be you up there, not her.
Ripping, shredding, pain.
Sam is lifted under his arms and dragged away from the burning corpse, then Dean is using his jacket to smother Sam’s smoldering clothing. He feels something warm and wet spreading on his chest, blood from the gashes torn by the lamia’s claws. It hurts like a bitch.
Dean looks angry, but his voice is tinged with concern.
“Damn it, Sam, if you wanted to replace that ugly ass shirt, you should have just asked.”
Dean speak for it’s not too bad. Dean moves to his side and rips open the tattered remains of his button-down and the t-shirt underneath, produces a bandana from whatever pocket-of-infinite-holding he keeps those things in, and presses it over the wounds. Sam lets out a grunt of pain.
“Sorry man. Keep pressure on it.”
Sam takes over holding the cloth to his chest as Dean runs off to get the first aid kit.
Fuck. They were almost home free and he froze. Just stood there like a damned civilian and let the thing tag him. He let his stupid angst distract him for a split second, that was all it took, and now Dean has to deal with the cleanup.
When he comes back, Dean’s got the kit and a bottle of whiskey. Here comes the fun part.
“What is it with the double-pointed pockets on your shirts? And the square buttons? You know that’s just dorky, right?”
Sam knows this drill. Distraction. “Well, I like them. It’s – GAAAAAAAH—a fashion statement.”
“Dude, there’s a reason you found a bunch of them at a thrift shop.”
Dean goes quiet while he tears open some sterile bandages. Sam breathes through the pain while the sting of the alcohol subsides.
“Sorry for making you yank my lame ass out of the fire.”
Dean stops and stares at him for a second. “Don’t be an idiot. This one’s on me. You saved my bacon.” He starts taping the bandages over the slashes. “Been doin’ that a lot lately.” He rips off some more tape with his teeth. “Even when I didn’t deserve it.”
Dean finishes with the bandages and helps Sam to his feet. They stay long enough to make damn sure the thing is really dead and the fire is definitely out before heading back to the Impala. They climb in, but Dean doesn’t start the engine yet. He reaches across to the glove compartment, and Sam leans back while he fishes something out.
It’s the prop Samulet from that godawful high school Supernatural play.
Dean hangs it around his own neck. “Keep forgetting to bring this in. You okay for the road?”
Sam feels a lump in his throat for no reason whatsoever and swallows it down.
And, yeah, he thinks that he actually means it now.