“You said I can’t help you,” Dean said, sitting on Sam’s bed like he was a patient at a hospital. “Who can?”
“Dean,” said Sam, roughly. “Let it go.” His throat hurt. His face still felt hot and wet like he was still crying, even if all the tears were gone now.
“No,” said Dean. “You can’t do that, Sam. I’m not going to let you. Not anymore. You can hate me, or Dad, or everything, but I’m not going to let you waste away in your own head, okay?”
“Shut the fuck up, Dean,” Sam said, pressing all the hate and anger (desperation) he had into his voice. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe not,” Dean said levelly, and the determination in his eyes almost hurt to look at. “But I know you.”
The next morning, it’s just him and Dean. “Dad went on a hunt,” Dean said as he made pancakes. “He’ll be back in a week or so.”
Sam tensed. “Where’d he go?”
Dean shrugged. “Blueberry or buttermilk, Sammy?”
Sam narrowed his eyes. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Buttermilk it is.” Dean dropped two pancakes on a plate and set it down on the table. He looked straight at Sam. He’d seen that expression before, but only on a hunt. Dean looked so sure, so certain.
“I’ll start looking for a hunt after breakfast,” Sam challenged. Dean shook his head.
“Nah. Dad said to stay here. We’re paid up for the rest of the week.”
“Something close by, then.”
“Sam,” said Dean, and paused. Then he put both his hands flat on the table and leaned forward, that determined expression back on his face. “We’re taking a break. You’re taking a break. And if you so much as touch any research, I will be forced to do something drastic. Understand?” Sam stared at his pancakes and had a careful bite.
“Got it,” he said finally, dully. Dean’s shoulders slumped minutely, and Sam wondered if it was relief or disappointment, if Dean wanted a fight or obedience.
Dean watched him like a hawk. No, not like a hawk. Like an older brother, like he had when Sam was six and prone to tripping over his own feet. Fuck Dean.
Sam organized the room. He refolded his clothes. He cleaned the bathroom.
And he didn’t talk to his older brother. Dean didn’t know what he was talking about. Dean was just…
Going to have to deal.
Something squirmed in Sam’s stomach. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“Why did you bolt last night?” Dean asked, finally. Sam was cleaning one of the guns, because apparently that didn’t count as research. The image of Dean burning on the ceiling flashed in his mind.
He paused in the meticulous, familiar motions. “I just freaked out, Dean. Bad dream or whatever.”
Dean snorted. “Some dream.”
Sam lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “Happens.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you or anything,” Sam said.
“Yeah,” Dean muttered, “Cause you’re doing great at that lately.” He raised his voice again. “What was the dream about?”
Sam thought of the empty field. The feel of gunmetal. The way it might taste. “Nothing important.”
“Sam,” Dean said, faintly strangled, and stopped. “Fuck it.”
He turned away. Sam moved on to the next weapon.
Their dad called, and Dean left the room to talk to him. About me, Sam thought, and wanted to laugh, though he knew it would be hysterical. Sam thought about taking his stuff and slipping out through a window. Hunting on his own. He could do it, he was pretty sure. Dean would catch up with him, though.
You were an idiot last night, Sam told himself. You broke down. Dean doesn’t trust you. He thinks you’re fucked up in the head. His head hurt and he was tired.
Sam curled up under the covers and closed his eyes. He’d shoved everything down and away. Why did it have to come back?
He heard Dean come back in and sit on the other bed. Watching him sleep.
Dean was antsy. “Want to go out today?”
“And watch you hit on every girl in sight? Nah. I’m good.” Dean fidgeted.
“Not like that. Just the two of us. Swear to god.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Dean…”
“Sammy.” Dean smiled, too big, jarring. “Come on. Humor me.”
Sam thought about the girl, and Dean, and sighed. Dean knew the leverage that will work. He always had; even with everything that’d changed, Dean’s still important. He just didn’t get it, didn’t get anything. Never had. “What do you even want to do?”
“Drive,” Dean said, and his eyes got a little distant. “Drive forever, Sammy, that’s what I want.” He paused, and then that grin was back, the one that just felt false, that hurt to look at like the determination hurt to look at. “But I guess a couple hours’ll work.”
Sam spent a few moments trying to work out the ulterior motive. He couldn’t work out what it is, so finally he just said, “Yeah, sure. Okay.”
It felt…good. Driving in the Impala with Dean. For a little while, he felt a little lighter, like the further they drove the further behind everything got. Dean put in some Led Zeppelin and didn’t turn it up too loud, and drove too fast until they hit empty roads out of town.
“This is awesome, right Sammy?” Dean yelled, and his grin was so real that it almost made Sam want to reflect it back.
“Yeah, Dean,” he said instead. “This is pretty good.”
“Who has the best baby?”
Sam rolled his eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched. It might almost have been a smile.
For a while, they just drove.
“Why’d you apply to Stanford, Sam?” Dean asked suddenly, and Sam felt all the muscles in his body wind tense at once.
“Just curious. Why go there? There are lots of colleges, aren’t there?”
“I applied to a few.” Sam hoped Dean would take the point. He didn’t. Of course he didn’t, when did he ever.
“Yeah, but that was the one you were going to go to. Why that one over the rest?”
Sam shifted uncomfortably and looked out the window. Tried to think of something spiteful to say. Nothing came to mind. “It’s a tough school,” he said finally. “I wanted a challenge.”
“Wanted? You all challenged out now?”
Sam gritted his teeth. “No. I just thought…I had the wrong idea about a lot of things. There’s more important stuff to do than go to college.”
“What,” Dean said, “Like making me happy?” Sam felt like he was going to choke. He stared out the window as hard as he could. “Because I’m not, Sam. In case you hadn’t worked that out. And if keeping you alive means-” Dean paused, seeming to collect himself. “—means you leaving, then I’d kick you out in a second. And I’m pretty sure Dad would do the same.”
“Dean-” Sam felt like he was going to choke on his own throat. Or start crying again. No. That’s not what I…that’s not what I want. That’s not what I meant.
Dean cleared his throat. “That’s all,” he said. “Want to get pizza for dinner?”
Sam ate a slice of pizza. And stared at Dean, who wouldn’t look at him. He didn’t know what to say, didn’t even know where to start.
He felt sick, and like his stomach was trying to churn up his throat, but that didn’t give him any answers. “Dean,” he managed, finally. “I’m not going to just…leave.”
There was a long silence. “I know,” said Dean. “I just wonder if maybe you should. If it’d be better. You’re not happy, Sam, I get that, you can’t tell me-”
“It’s not your fault.” That seemed important, somehow.
“Maybe not,” Dean said, after another long pause. “But it doesn’t make me feel any better about worrying every time I leave the house that I’m going to come back and you’ll have – done something stupid.” Blown your brains out, Sam heard, and felt a quick stab of guilt.
“I just want you to know.”
“Yeah,” Dean said roughly. “Thanks.” He paused. “I just don't know what to do.”
Sam stared at his plate. The pizza sat heavy in his stomach and he wanted to just retreat into silence, wanted to walk out and keep walking or just go back to yesterday before everything had gotten strange, before he’d lost control of the lockdown on what was now boiling around inside.
He stayed frozen in his chair.
“Neither do I,” he said, finally, and it was almost like breathing to say it.