"Dude, get this!"
They've snuck in a Goodwill run in the Middle of Nowhere, Ohio – Lima, Dean thinks; not a town with a notable pie stop, so he doesn't care – and Sam has, as always, done his clothes shopping lightning fast so he can spend an hour or ten in the book section. Dean doesn't mind, because they usually have good old westerns, and this time he's even found himself replacements for cassettes he's worn to nothing this summer. He loses his good mood when he sees what Sam's waving in his face, though: Nightmare, by Carver Edlund. He doesn't remember which job that is; he knows it's one from right after Sam left Stanford, so at least five or six years ago. Not the crazy hillbillies, but right around then.
"Sam, you don't really want to read that crap, do you?"
"It's not crap, Dean, it's the Word of God. Of course I want to read it."
"Didn't you get enough of them the first time we met Chuck?" Dean knows he did; he doesn't remember the details but he know those books made him itchy.
"I didn't read them at all! YOU read them, I was doing research."
"Fine, whatever. Just don't take it out in public, for god's sake."
Sam ignores him, of course. He reads while they do laundry, and while they have breakfast for dinner at Lulu's, and while Dean hustles a few games of pool, and he reads with the flashlight as they drive back to the motel.
"Tell me the truth, this doesn't freak you out?" Sam is desperate for reassurance, and Dean wants to give it to him, he really does.
There are so many things he could say – "It's always been us, our family, from the minute our mom exploded into fire." "How the hell am I supposed to protect you from your own brain, Sammy?" "What am I supposed to do?" – but Dean knows what Sam needs. Eyes never leaving the road, he gives Sammy what he wants to hear, does what he's done ever since he can remember, to protect Sam.
"This doesn't freak me out."
It comes easy, a hint of a smile, a little tilt of the head, not quite an eyeroll, and Sam mostly buys it. He feels he hesitated too long, though, and hopes he covered better back then. He must have, because Sam never questions anything.
Sam blinks. He remembers, vaguely, how utterly terrified he was during those early days of learning about Azazel and his plans; when he only felt the glimmers of power under his skin and how certain he was that Dean would call out the monster and kill him, or worse, leave him. He hadn't felt like Dean was lying to him, exactly, but he did feel like he wasn't telling him everything; he always felt like that. It was just part of how they grew up, like how he hadn't known until he was eight what his dad did, Dad and Dean always keeping things away from him that they felt would hurt him.
He keeps reading as Dean moves around him, pouring himself a drink, putting away new clothes, getting ready to shower, all the little motions that are a part of the universe they live in.
Dean's stomach drops when the man starts talking about Max, and Max's family. He thinks he hides it pretty well, and Sam's vision is a great interruption. After all, he's keeping this secret to keep Sam safe, right?
"Dean!" Sam calls, over the noise of running water. "D'you remember that kid, the one where I first figured out I could move stuff? What secret is Chuck talking about?" There's no answer, of course; Dean tends to ignore anything that isn't a gunshot when he's hogging up the hot water. Jerk.
It doesn't take long to get to the closing chapters; Chuck's style is a pretty quick read. He gets chills thinking about those premonitions, especially how vividly Chuck has described the one were Max put a bullet through Dean's brain. Shuddering, Sam pours himself finger of whisky.
As they leave the house, Sam says, "Well I'll tell you one thing. We're lucky we had Dad."
Dean looks floored. "I never thought I'd hear you say that."
Sam is a little surprised himself, but after this week, he's willing to cut John some slack. "It could've gone a whole other way after Mom. A little more tequila and a little less demon hunting and we could've had Max's childhood. All things considered, we turned out ok. Thanks to him."
Dean is silent a moment, and turns back to look at the ending he could have had. "All things considered," he says, and slides into the car. He thinks about his last fight with Dad, right after Sam left for Stanford, when they mutually decided that working together was a bad idea – the one where Dean, with no Sam around to hide things from, finally showed John how much he had grown up, and that he was no longer going to provide a convenient way to release his frustrations.
That had been a bad night.
Dean is quiet on the drive back to the hotel. There's nothing to say, really. Dean remembers one childhood, the one John gave him. Sam remembers another, the one that Dean gave him.
Sam blinks. He doesn't understand what he's reading. This can't be, it can't, Chuck is wrong or this is some weird unedited copy, because this is lies. Dad would never…Dean would never. But they would, he knows it deep down. The shower has shut off, and Sam knows has to finish, because once Dean figures out what he's reading the book will disappear.
He knows how upset Sam is about this, but all he can offer is the same assurance he has offered since Sam was tiny – since John first started raising his fists in anger and Dean made it a game ("We-we were just playing, Sammy, I'm okay") or an accident ("It was a rough hunt, man; bring me a beer, would ya?").
"Yeah well I'm sure it won't happen again."
"Yeah, maybe. Aren't you worried, Dean? Aren't you worried I could turn into Max or something?"
"Nope." Dean is all quiet assurance. "No way. You know why?"
"Cause you got one advantage Max didn't have."
Sam scoffs, even though he was the one who praised him not half an hour before. "Dad? Because Dad's not here, Dean."
Dean gives the same cocky grin that's kept Sammy from asking questions since he was a baby. "No. Me. As long as I'm around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you."
Sam just makes his giant puppy eyes at Dean. Dean slings his bag over his shoulder and begins to head out. "Now then. I know what we need to do about your premonitions. I know where we have to go."
"Vegas," Dean deadpans, with his biggest, cockiest grin – the one that woos everyone, everyone but Sam. Sam just looks at Dean like he's suggested they eat a baby, and walks out.
Dean follows, teasing. "What? Come on man. Craps tables. We'd clean up!" He pauses on the threshold. He will be so glad to leave this town, this job, behind. He has managed to keep this away from Sam for sixteen years, now, and he'd like to keep it that way forever.
Sam has been crying since "nothing bad is gonna happen to you;" he thinks of all the times in his childhood, in his life, that Dean made him that promise and it's so much worse, now. He throws the book across the room, and narrowly misses Dean as he finally comes out of the bathroom, steam following him.
"What the fuck, Sam?" Dean is more startled by Sam's tears than by being nearly hit with the book.
Sam throws himself off the bed, is in Dean's face before he knows what he's doing, using his size as he always does when he's angry. Dean doesn't back away, but his face betrays his distress.
"WHY?" Sam shouts. "Why did you lie to me for my whole life? What the hell is wrong with you, to let him do that?"
"I was in Hell, Sam. What was I supposed to do?" Dean's whole body radiates terror, tension, distrust, disgust. Sam has no idea what he's talking about.
"Dad wasn't in Hell with you. Unless it was hell here on earth. Why would you let him hit you?"
Dean's eyes clear instantly. "Oh, Dad."
"Yes, Dad. You let me believe that Max's childhood was so different, that our Dad was this fucking superhero, and all that time-"
"What do you want me to say, Sam?" Dean is himself again, moving around the bulk that is angry Sam and pouring himself a glass half full of whisky, and hands Sam one as well. His hands are steady. "That I hate him for it? I don't. I can't. I didn't then, and I damn sure don't now. He was fucked up, and hurting, and he took it out on me, and you know what? Now that I've seen him from the beginning to the end, now that I'm old enough and fucked up enough myself, I really can't blame him."
"Dean, you can't possibly think what he did was right, that you deserved-"
"That's not what I said. Or, not what I meant, anyway. I mean, yeah, it was wrong but he did the best he could, Sam. He did the best he could, and he's been dead a long time, and spent a hundred years in hell paying for everything he'd ever done. I lived through that too. I can't be angry at him for anything anymore, Sam. I just can't."
Dean raises his glass in a toast to their dead father.
Sam throws his against the wall.