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King Arthur and his Knights go on a quest. The table is round because everyone is equal. This little brother is three-years-old and sits between Dean's legs, leaning against his chest and boxed in by arms and folded knees. He bites his nails, fingers sticky with toddler spit and looks at the pretty pictures, even if they make him want to take a bath. He wonders, vaguely, in that little kid mind of his, if you can open yourself up like those people-looking non-people things on the shows Dean likes to watch and pull out all the little shiny parts to clean one by one. 

His brother moves one arm to hug him tight around the middle. Squeezes. There's an picture open of one of the knights kneeling and a lot of light. Dean kisses the top of his head. 

"How 'bout we go on a quest like that?" he asks and the little boy bites his lip but stops because it hurts. "Sounds fun, right, Sammy?"

(dean's seven and doesn't know about monsters yet either; he just thinks all houses have salt lines and never mentions it 'cause it's normal. normal isn't too good of a word)

The little boy blinks and holds his feet. Eventually he nods but doesn't speak because lying to his big brother isn't what he's s'posed to do. I'm not clean, he thinks. Only clean people get to go on stuff like that, says the book. But he nods and lets himself get tucked into bed, curled up against the pillow. Dean sings him to sleep.

(the song's hey, jude. he makes up most of the words)



Dean doesn't try all that hard in school but he's real smart and gets as high grades as a person can without ever doing their homework. Sammy doesn't feel like he could ever do that, not really. So he's six, a first grader who'll go to ten different elementary schools by the time June rolls around and works as hard as can. He wants to be smart like his big brother. He wants to do something right. 

On his first spelling test he gets a one hundred and Dean ruffles his hair, says that he's proud (he's got a geeky kid brother like all those movies, what's not to love, is his thought process at the time). Sam hugs him and asks if they can watch a movie. 

They pick Who Framed Roger Rabbit because that's what on. Both miss about half the jokes, but they love it anyway. 



Though it takes longer than he would like to admit, he figures out that Dean doesn't always eat as much as he wants because their funds are limited. He'll never go without food entirely but he won't go for that second helping he wants either. Everything Sam eats tastes like cardboard, after that. 

When Dean asks him why he's not eating, he continues pushing his food around his plate and says he isn't hungry. His brother tells him to eat. "You finish it," he says, pushing his plate over. "I'm going for a run."

"For how long?"

He shrugs. "I'll be back in an hour, I guess."

It takes the distance of half the town and two hours for Dean to find him. He's sitting on a swing in the abandoned park across from his middle school, holding his shoes and socks in his hand. The insides of both are red. He ran so far and so fast in these cheap new sneakers that he tore his feet to shreds. Dean ties the laces together and throws them over a telephone wire (he pretends it's because he can't carry that much and not because the smell of blood would make him sick, those five dollars spent be damned or whatever) before picking Sam up and carrying him home. 

Sam thinks he's too old to be picked up like this but he doesn't say it. Clinging is easier. 

Dean asks, "You hungry yet?"

He shakes his head, burying his face into his brother's neck. "Don't feel well," he answers and it's true. "I'll eat breakfast tomorrow."

A hand makes its way into his hair. "You'll be okay, Sammy."

He wonders what he needs to be okay from. 

He doesn't ask. 



Sam dreams about a woman with dark hair and pitch black eyes. 

She tells him he's coming to Hell. When she touches his face, she smiles. Her arms are dripping blood and she smells like sulfur. You can save the world, she says gently. Dean just doesn't understand.

When she slices open his cheek with her nail, his blood smells like sulfur too.

He tries to push her away but she doesn't move. He shouts for his brother and she covers his mouth. It's all gentle. It's all very, very gentle. 

"You're coming to Hell, Sam."

He thinks she's saying he's coming home.

(dean's back in the motel getting the nap he was ordered to take but john is still here. he's not as good as his oldest son and comes close to tears because his youngest won't wake up)



Dean drives him to his first ever Thanksgiving. He kisses his temple and slips a condom in his back packet. Sam takes it out and throws it at his face, cheeks bright red and his brother just laughs (even if he doesn't want to, not really, but his brother's fourteen for fuck's sake and what he's feeling is not okay) before slapping him on the back and practically shoving him out of the car. 

The girl greets him at the door with a braces-filled smile and gives him a hug. Her family is great and the house is clean. He's got dirt under his nails and a smudge under his eye that won't go away. At one point she squeezes his knee under the table and this smile is an innuendo that shatters something inside of him. This house and this family are all so clean and he's got sludge instead of stuffing or blood. 

He lies and says he needs to get home by eight before calling his brother. The girl and her mother give him a hug and her father a handshake when Dean picks him up. Since the Impala has a bench seat, he slides in close. His brother puts his arm around him and turns the music on low. They don't talk. 

Later he slips into bed with Dean (who's scared right now and he knows sam won't answer if he asks what's wrong so he deals with his worry in silence) and presses himself close. Dad's away for another three days and he asks if he can skip school on Monday because it'll be his last day anyway and there's a math test he doesn't want to take. His brother says he'll skip school too because he doesn't want to deal with Amanda. The lights are off and they hold each other under the covers like they never will during the day.

Eventually, Dean falls asleep. Sam stays awake and feels him breathe. 




On a Thursday he asks Bobby if it's possible to have something wrong with your blood that doctors won't pick up on.

"The human body can make a problem out of anything, so presumably," the man answers. "Why?"

He looks away, going back to fixing the roof like he promised. He just got over the flu and Dean's arm is broken so Dad went off alone and Bobby offered to take them. "Just wondering," he says. His knees dig into the shingles. Tomorrow he turns fifteen and hopes that no one notices. He hates his birthday, which Dean says is irrational but he doesn't get it. Sam can't celebrate the day he was born when he wishes he never had been in the first place. The man in his dreams says Mom would be alive if he wasn't. 

"Are you feeling all right, son?"

Right below him is the side without the porch so the fall is pretty far. He wonders if he could die from this height and how easy it would be to slip. "Yeah," he says, "I'm fine."

It's a lie but if he tells Bobby than Bobby will tell Dean. 

His brother's dealing with enough without his bullshit added on, too. 

Bobby tells him, "I'm here if you need anything." 

(and he is because even dean can't notice everything)

Maybe they'll run into a creature that makes people kill themselves. Then he can hide it, at least. 



Sam hasn't felt genuinely hungry since he was twelve but right now the thought of food makes him sick. He usually goes for a run after dinner and takes off, telling Dean he'll back in two hours so his brother gives him four. Arizona nights are cool even if the days are hot and the air feels nice. He doesn't want to go back inside to those bright green eyes and perfect smirk and the laugh that makes him melt. 

He doesn't recognize where he is when he finally stops running. He's been out for three hours. Trying to get back makes him more and more lost. 

A week in he meets a dog. He hopes the little guy will bring him back to town but he doesn't. The peaceful quiet gets old after just a few days. He cries a lot because he's scared even though Dad would yell and Dean would laugh if they knew he was doing something so girly. 

By the time his family finds him, the dog's been gone for two days and he's so scared of spiders it takes weeks before the nightmares stop. 

They think he ran away. He doesn't know how to explain he just got so lost in his own head he got lost in real life too, so he doesn't even try. He's already the black sheep of the family. Putting words to what he means won't do anything. 



There's a humming in his brain, high pitched like static. Mom has bright yellow eyes and sings Hey, Jude to a six-year-old Dean. Sam's nowhere in sight. 

She says, "You don't belong here, of course," as if this is the middle of a conversation. 

Baby Dean laughs and squirms off her lap. "I know," he answers, watching his brother chase a butterfly. Its wings are made of sunlight. "I want to do something about it, but he'd hate me."

With a soft, sad smile, she puts her hand over his. "There's a path you can follow." And there is, yellow bricks leading down towards a graveyard. Yellow bricks to bring him home. "That's your way out."

"But my brother -"

"Will be safe." He doesn't answer right away, just watches his brother chase the butterfly and run straight over the water. Mom doesn't look surprised. "See, that's what he is. What are you, Sammy?"

The humming gets louder and louder until he can make out two words: WAKE UP. 

Mom curses at the sky where the clouds morph, taking the shape of feathered wings and blotting out the sun. She fades, then Dean fades, and a then a man is there, glowing white with bright blue eyes and huge black wings sprouting out his back. This is weird, even by his standards. 

The man reaches out, but the moment they touch the white starts to grey. Instantly, he retracts his hand and Sam hurts everything he touches. 

You're a child, Sam, the man tells him. Please, let me wake you up.

(castiel will ease dean's dreams until destiny unfolds. he thinks that sam deserves this comfort too no matter what the other angels say)

"Who are you?" he asks, and the stranger tells him today is Thursday.

Then he touches the boy's forehead and Sam wakes up screaming. 

(his superiors disagree)



The shapeshifter they fight likes to turn itself into people's worst fear. It's been stalking them all day, which Sam doesn't know when Dean starts making fun of him for being afraid of clowns. Dad doesn't hide that he thinks it's ridiculous but he also doesn't say anything later when the boys sit together on bed, stitching each other's injuries. Sam had frozen up; Dean saved his ass. They both got injured in the process. Sam really wishes he could stop getting his brother hurt all the time (and dean really wishes his brother would stop getting himself hurt all the time). 

Removing himself from the situation is the best possible option he can figure. First he thinks about the gun at the small of his back or the knife under his pillow or the bottle of painkillers next to the bed. They all sound like pretty reasonable ways to go, he thinks, and Dean will get over it. Maybe once he's gone his brother will see how much better off he is without him. That would be better for all of them. 

Then Dean gives him a hug and tells him he's sorry for making fun of him and it'll be better next time. 

Sam does none of the above. 



September 2, 2001, Sam Winchester fills out five college applications. 

He doesn't tell his brother. 



When he finally kisses Dean, it's at a bus stop and he's about eighty percent sure one of his ribs is broken. His brother kisses right back, gripping him tightly, using silence and force to beg him not to go. 

If you walk through that door, don't you come back. 

Today he found out he has a full ride to Stanford University. This should be the happiest day of his life. 

Instead, he finds himself trying not to cry when he says, "Come with me, Dean. We can - please."

I'm eighteen, he tries to tell him. I'm eighteen and you won't want me to die but I'm eighteen and don't know how to live without you.

But his brother is shaking his head before he even finishes (but oh god does want to, just grab sammy and bring him somewhere that he'll never get hurt again), covering his mouth again so the please gets garbled between them. "Call me when you get there," he says and takes a backwards, towards the car. Towards Dad. 

Away from Sam. 

"I love you," he tells him but Dean doesn't stop leaving. 

"Take care of yourself, Sam," his brother answers.

Then he's gone (not to go home yet because dad'll need some alone time after this but the bar sounds nice) and Sam's still there, hugging himself and standing on his own in the rain. When he goes to take a seat under the plastic roof, the man already in there gets up and moves, throwing the word "faggot" over his shoulder like that's the worst thing he's ever seen. Sam barely notices, just sits alone wishing he could take a shower. That he could tear himself apart and clean every piece one by one. 

He doesn't eat for three days, and barely talks for an extra four. 



Even though she's trying to hide it, Jess doesn't have enough experience playing the fake to hide how terrified she is. Sam scrambles to fix his shirt, to hide the scars. Her eyes demand an explanation. And he can't tell her, which means the lie needs to big enough to excuse the wreck that is his body. 

"I got - kidnapped," he tells her which isn't entirely untrue. He's the youngest and for most of his life the smallest. Now he's almost as scared of getting tied up as he is of spiders or clowns. "I'm sorry, Jess, I really don't like to talk about it."

She smiles lightly and touches his cheek. Her nails aren't sharp enough to slice through the skin. "That's okay," she says. "I won't say I understand, but I get it."

"Thank you," he says and gives her a short kiss. "Uh, hope I didn't kill the mood too much for dinner."

Shaking her head, she answers, "Not at all. Come on, I've been craving Japanese food all week." 

Dean hates sushi because it's so expensive. One meal takes his all his tip money and he doesn't care. 

Maybe this is what normal love is like, he thinks.



Jessica Lee Moore is burning on the bedroom ceiling and Sam is screaming at the ground - let her go, she doesn't need this, I'm the one who's fucked, she's clean - but no one answers. 

When he wakes up, his girlfriend asks why he mumbles Latin in his sleep.



"C'mon, Sammy, eat something."

All food tastes like ash and Dean tries to get him to eat the full week they stay in Palo Alto. He thinks this must be one of the reasons they left so early because now the two of them sit in a diner in Nevada. Everything is off kilter and he feels more comfortable here, girlfriend dead for seven days and his whole future blown over like a stick figure village, than he has in four years. The waitress thinks they're dating and both are too tired to correct her. 

He looks down at his French fries, saturated with ketchup. "Okay," he says, and takes one off the top. There's dirt under his fingernails he hadn't noticed earlier. It takes more willpower than it should to resist the urge to go to the bathroom and scrub his hands clean. 

In the end, urge beats out willpower. He tells Dean he has to go to the bathroom and manages not to run there. 

(dean is twenty-six and remembers when Sam was young and didn't mind getting dirt on his hands)

His brother doesn't comment when he comes back with his hands bright pink.



Dean accidently electrocutes himself on a Tuesday. Sam finds a faith healer on Thursday. During the day in between, he figures he'll finally get around to killing himself if his brother dies. It's about time, anyway.

Besides, he tells himself when he's alone as if he really needs convincing, dying is a lot easier when you know which direction you're going. Dean's going to Heaven, which makes sense; Sam is going Hell. Enough people, dreams or real life, have told him so. None of the people who are serious about it ever mention Heaven, but he knows it's there. If there's eternal damnation, there needs to be an opposite. It's common sense. So he goes to Hell, his brother goes to Heaven. 

It's simple logic, if you think about it. 



After Dad leaves, the shaking starts. It doesn't take long for the yelling to start, either. 

Halfway through, Sam gets out, "Well, in case you weren't paying attention, Mom's dead because of me!"

Like he thought he would, Dean shuts up, closes down (he feels awful because his brother doesn't deserve this. yellow-eyes and all those sons of bitches can go screw themselves. sammy's his, not theirs and it will take him years before he realizes the situation isn't so two plus two), crossing his arms. "Don't say that," he says. "It's not your fault. It was never you fault."

Sam's so pissed and upset and stressed that he doesn't know how to reply. The shaking is so bad he's vibrating. Dean reaches over and covers his hand with his. His face says the same thing Sam's feeling. 

They're both so fucking tired of this.

(because dean can't stop thinking about the bus station and the rain and how he's been ignoring this for nine goddamn years)



Dad's dead and the last thing they did was fight. Sam's pretty sure this counts as a good reason for wanting to feel shitty but he buries his own issues deep down until he can take them out again, analyze everything and figure out where he went wrong. For now, he focuses on his brother. Dean was always a lot closer to their dad than he was. It was just a thing that happened. Kind of hard to like the kid who got your wife killed, he guesses. 

(meanwhile dean's on his sixth beer; if he can block this day from oblivion, he regrets nothing)

They have two beds but they crash in one like they have been since they visited their old home. Lately Sam's been dreaming more and more of Mom, burning as she tells Jess and Dean they should have known better. That they should've stayed away. 

He's pretty sure dream-Mom is the smartest part of his subconscious. 

(dean dreams of mom too but it's much less burning and more cutting crusts of sandwiches. sometimes he wonders when he wakes up why he never remembered to cut the crusts off sam's)

He hugs his brother around the waist and presses his face to the back of his neck. He tells Dean he loves him. 

Dean answers, "I love you too, Sammy," and turns around.

They hold each other through the night. 



The Yellow-Eyed Demon hands him the Colt before he goes back to sharpening knives. 

"You've got two choices, kid," he says as Sam stays focused on the gun in his hand. "You can shoot yourself or come with me. Either way you go to Hell."

He looks up. "There's one bullet left in this gun," he says. "And that bullet works on you."

Even before he finishes speaking, the Colt turns into Dean's gun, the engravings familiar under his hand. "You won't shoot me," the demon tells him, so sure of himself. "Your escape route is under your pillow when you wake up. It's up to you want you do to it."

"I'm not working with you."

(in the real world he makes grabbing motions under the pillow so dean removes gun and pushes himself closer instead)

"Yeah, but you won't be killing yourself either."

The gun's gone but Dean's there and suicide is off the table for a little while longer. 



"You should've shot me."

"Sam, you're fine."

"You shouldn't have taken the risk. It would've been better to -"

The kiss tastes of tears. The sex doesn't feel like sunshine and rainbows, either. 



For a week, Sam is trapped in his own body with only Meg for company. She tells him about Hell and all the reasons why he should rule it. She tells him she can show him the ropes in the beginning. Calls her own father a jackass, says he never listens to her. Says that most demons don't have a family and she wants to help out as a soldier held in high esteem, not as a daughter. She reminds him that his dad was an asshole, too, and they have something in common. 

He's in Hell, she whispers. We can torture him together.

He tells her to shut up and get out of his body. Meg just laughs. 

Can I be your queen? she asks. I can be your unicorn, your special somebody. You'll learn to love me, I swear. We can destroy France, hang out in Versailles and reenact the Reign of Terror. Break open the Gates in England and get the Tower of London back to its former glory. What do'ya say, hotshot? 

He answers, I'm not like that. I'm not one of you. I'm not ruling Hell and I'm not abandoning Dean and I'm sure as fuck not torturing my dad, you sick bitch.

Considering that she's a demon, her laugh sounds remarkably human. Cut me open, Sammy. King and Queen, we look the same on the inside. 

Take out every part and clean it one by one. 



Dean is talking to Bobby about how worried he is. Sam isn't meant to hear, but he woke up from his painkiller-induced nap early and went to go downstairs. If he hadn't heard his name, he would've kept on walking. 

Bobby says, "Ever hear of talking it out, you idjit?"

"Neither of us are really like that, if you haven't noticed."

He takes a seat on the stairs, ready to run up if he has to but more waiting for the conversation to end so he can go down. He doesn't want to talk to Dean, really. Not about this. With a sigh, Bobby answers, "No, you aren't like that, Dean. Look, there's something going on up there that we just aren't getting. I ain't saying it's your fault and ain't saying it's his, but it's that way been since he was kid."

A thud, which must be his brother's head against the wall, followed by the familiar sound of a beer bottle place back on a table. "I just wish there was a Sammy Care manual. I'm not used to not knowing what to do."

"Talk to him," Bobby says again. "If not, I guess just keep an eye out. Shouldn't be too hard."

Sam can't stand hearing this anymore and flees back upstairs, curling up under the covers. He tells himself he'll try harder. 

(dean tells himself he'll try harder to understand)

(it never actually works)



Later, he won't remember, but Sam goes to Hell. 

There's a man, and he's holding a knife he isn't using. Everyone around him is screaming but here is Sam Winchester, soul tied but unhurt. "You're the Boy King," he says, lowering the blade. "What are you doing taking up room on my rack?"

Before he can answer, someone steps between the two of them. He knows without really knowing that it's Meg again, though her meatsuit is different, all dark curls and curves. "Sammy here is mine, Alistair," she says, taking a knife of her own before twisting around, sending him a sarcastic smile. "Hiya, baby. Does this count as suicide or the progressive way of winning Miss America?"

"I wouldn't kill Jake," he says, "so he killed me. Meg, what's going on?"

She claps, smile growing. "You recognized me? I knew we had something special." 

"Fuck you."

That smile doesn't leave her face when she begins running his fingers through his hair. Turning back to Alistair, who won't stop scowling, she adds, "We came to a little agreement a while back, Sam and I. If you've got a problem with that, take it up with my father. Or Lilith."

The other demon moves closer, bearing down on her. "I made you what you are, girl."

Something happens that he can't see, and Alistair backs away. When he's gone, Meg spins back so she faces him and presses a knife to his neck before moving her mouth to his ear. She whispers, I want to watch you break.



The smart thing for Dean to do would've been to leave him dead. But he didn’t and here they are, crashed on bed from the aftermath of a really great round of incestuous sex, trying to pretend no one's going to Hell the day Sam turns twenty-five.

Dean says, "We should've started this years before we did," drawing patterns near Sam's hip with his finger. 

He shuts his eyes, focusing on the feeling of his brother being softer with him than usual. "Remember that incident in Arizona?" he asks, knowing this is probably the worst goddamn time to bring it up. 

His brother tenses. "Flagstaff?"

With a nod, he answers, "I ran because I was too scared I was going to do something stupid like kiss you and got lost."

(flagstaff is one of dean's worst memories. he wishes he'd known this earlier because it's actually kind of funny, no matter what happened) 

"A good third of the girls I slept with were Sam so I didn't say the wrong name during sex."

"That actually happened?"


Sam starts laughing.

Then Dean starts laughing. 

These are the Winchester boys, and both their souls are Hell-bound.



On the fifty-sixth Tuesday, at the same time Juliana Jones' sprinkler goes off and Mr. Albert Spiro starts to bang his sixteen-year-old student Markus Fernandez, he shoots himself in the head and successfully dies. 

Two hours later, he's awake again because Dean shot himself too. He doesn't try again, after that. 



Ruby says she can save Dean. Sam justifies working with her because not all monsters are evil, so maybe not all demons are either. 

He doesn't remember the dream. Has forgotten dark hair and You're going to save the world. Never realized he had visions long before he turned twenty-two.

He doesn't remember Hell. 

Dean told him he doesn't want him to kill himself. 

This is the only other option he can find. 



Three days after Dean's body literally falls apart in his arms, Bobby makes him a plate of eggs with toast and gives him orange juice instead of beer. He says Sam needs to eat something. 

Somehow, food's gone from childhood to cardboard to ash to blood. 

When he finishes, he says, "I should leave."

I need to find a Crossroads Demon, he thinks. I need to make my own deal. 

Bobby lightly touches his arm. "Just remember you've always got a place to come back to, Sam."

On a more normal occasion, he'd give the man a hug before he left (to bobby this lack of contact sends up warning signs he tries to pass off as grief), but suddenly he feels dirtier than usual. Dean's already died for him, and Dad and Jess and Mom because of him. He's thought of Bobby as a father figure for years; he won't be able to stand watching him die too. 

They say goodbye at the door. Sam throws up all his food on the side of the road twenty minutes away. Three street lamps explode at the same time, glass raining on the asphalt from the way he came. He takes that as a sure sign not to go back. 

(when bobby sees him four months later, he nearly cries from relief)



(dean hadn't thought his brother would still love him after hearing what he did. still, he's pretty damn glad that isn't the case)



Sam's a lot of things, but blind's not one of them. He sees it the moment Castiel and Dean are in the same room - they look at each other with like awe and wariness mixed together. There's nothing romantic about not, not the way he and Sam used (still look at each other, even after all his time hell) to look each other, but there is something distinctly brotherly about it. This is the one who saved his brother from Hell when he couldn't. If he's jealous, well, he's human. It happens, even though that's not a good thing. 

Then Uriel says the only reason he's still here is because he's useful. That the moment he stops being useful, he's smote. Dead. It isn't if but when.

Gee, thanks. I'd forgotten I was going to Hell there for a moment. 

He thinks about speeding up the process just to spite them. 



Sometime between Dean dying and Dean telling him he got off the rack, food's lost its taste altogether. Sam thinks it's kind of fucked that demon blood still does anyway. 

After they finish, Sam cleans off his face. His lip is cracked, though, and now it looks like a barely cleaned cut. His shirt is ruined. Thank God he brought an extra. No need to have Dean -


He doesn't want to think about his brother. Not after that. 

Ruby is leaning against the doorframe, her arm still bleeding. "Can I ask you something?" he says and she nods. "Ganking Lilith...that's going kill me too, won't it?"

Her smile is sympathetic. "Yeah, probably," she answers. "But, you're doing the right thing, you know? Sam, you're not going to Hell."

But he is, and deserves it anyway. He wonders if she realizes this counts as suicide for him. Finally. Dean brought him back but this way he'll stay the way he's supposed to be. At least this time he can go down doing something good. After fucking up some many times in his life, that's enough for him.

He doesn't noticed she's moved until her hand is on his face. "You're going to save the world, Sam," she tells him and her nail nicks the skin of his cheek. Jess used to do something similar when he panicked. Dean just talks to him and his voice is practically an anti-anxiety medication. "Your brother's scared but he'll get it. Everything's going to be fine."

Maybe after he kills Lilith, Dean will love him the way he used to. Sam doesn't care if he's alive long enough to see that or not.  



"Listen to me, you bloodsucking freak. Dad always said I'd either have to save you or kill you. Well, I'm giving you fair warning. I'm done trying to save you. You're a monster, Sam - a vampire. You're not you anymore. And there's no going back."

Dean will never love him again. Now he understands. 

Giving up is easier, after that. 



There's too much demon blood in him now to use a normal knife and Dean's got their demon blade. He doesn't bother try, no matter how much he wants to. Needs to. 

He tells himself he's not going to do anything with it at all. He goes so far as to throw it away, but it bounces off the church's wall. For all he knows, some kid's going to find it and get in trouble. No one else should suffer because of him more than they already are. He picks it up. 

Two minutes later he's carving up his arm. He wants this out of him. Needs it to be gone. But it doesn't leave.

Take out all the pieces, and scrub them clean one by one.



He recognizes her instantly. 


She smiles knowingly before disappearing. The whole room is thrown into chaos. Bobby is injured. Dean is panicking. He's panicking. This is all his fault, and he recognized a demon on sight. 

I want to watch you break. He doesn't remember when she said it, but he knows she did. 

And he did break. He broke bad. Shattered into a thousand pieces, ruined his humanity. Can't even die right. 

The breaking was inevitable. He wishes suddenly that she was the one to see it. 

Unlike Ruby, she isn't a liar. 



I ain't cutting you loose, boy.

Sam smiles because it's better than crying. 



Lucifer says he'll bring him back if he tries to kill himself, but after Dean says to "pick a hemisphere," he decides to test the theory. 

First, he tries to drown himself. He doesn't want to leave a mess. That's just gross, and the maid might have OCD. But then Lucifer brings him back and it doesn't matter. 

Second, he slits his wrists in the bathroom. Tile is easier to clean than carpet, after all. Using a motel room is inconvenient for everyone, but it decreases the possibility of a little kid finding him, he figures. But then Lucifer brings him back. 

Third, he takes a pair of metal tweezers and electrocutes himself. It'll smell worse than blood, but it's just a body. That means it's still pretty neat for clean up. But Lucifer brings him back. 

Before he goes for a fourth attempt, he deletes all the contacts on his phone. This way Dean or Bobby or someone won't need to get a call. He deletes all his former calls and text messages too. He almost deletes his voicemail, but stops. He wants to keep that, just in case this doesn't work. Forgetting it will be bad. Very, very bad. 

Fourth, he stabs himself in the heart. Again, in the bathroom. Tile. Possible OCD maid. In general, a pain in the ass. He feels like a dick. Lucifer drags him back. 

Fifth, he shoots himself in the heart. Still, bathroom. He makes sure he's facing the shower so the bloody spray only hits tile. Then Lucifer. Again. He hates the Devil more than he already did, and that's saying something. 

Sixth, he shoots him himself in the head. Messy, very messy, and now the bathroom is saturated. This room will be roped off. Lucifer is a dick. He hates himself more than he hates the Devil. That's sad. 

Lucifer is sighing sympathetically in his head. He gives up. 

Still, he shoots himself again. Just to be piss the dick off. 

Before he leaves, he uses soap and writes that he's sorry this is so messy, but he had to try. He takes credit for ending the world, and that it would’ve been better off this way. 



Lindsay calls him when the motel staff finds out two weeks later. She doesn't know the details, but says she wishes he'd talked to her before he left. Says that if anyone can stop the Apocalypse, it's the man who started it and she hopes everything works out with his brother. Says she actually did enjoy their date, just FYI. 

Two hours later, he has a new cell phone. He transferred the voicemail, and snaps the old one in half. Dean doesn't comment. 



Dean holds him again like he used to in Bobby's panic room. Sam presses his face into his neck and tries not to cry again. He'd push away, but is too weak mentally and physically to do so much as wiggle. 

His brother kisses his sweaty hair. This is the closest they've been in five months, and that's including after Ellen and Jo died. "You did good, Sammy," he mumbles, tightening the hug. "Don't think most addicts could have said no to that, right?"

There are tears in his voice. Sam wonders if Castiel said anything about the emptiness comment because his brother is not dead on the inside, no matter what a Horseman said. He wants to protest, but his throat is too sore to speak.

"We have to get to the shower now," his brother is saying. "I know you don't like being dirty so we really need to go, okay? Come on, Sam, I can't carry you."

As he's forced to stand, he gets out, "I'm sorry," in a voice so hoarse it barely counts. 

"It's all right, I know walking's hard, but you can do it."

He tugs weakly on Dean's shirt. "No," he says. "I'm sorry."

They make it to the bathroom. Stripping him down is a two man effort. "I know, Sam," his brother says. "I know you are."

But he doesn't. Dean's not the one who ended the world. 



(it isn't until they're a state over that dean realizes all sam's memories were bad ones. the amulet's long gone and his brother isn't talking to him. he tries to apologize but sam says it's all right, which is saying he deserves it, and that's not okay. goddamn angels need to stop dicking around. 

he tries to go to that motel when his brother's asleep to see if he can get the amulet back. the manager asks the help who took care of their room. the woman says she never saw it. 

dean returns disappointed to a motel room made of cheap wood walls and mutual self-loathing. 

he thinks he's the worst older brother in the whole world)



No one trusts him anymore. No one tries to hide it. And he deserves that. It also makes the decision a Hell of a lot easier. 

Jumping into the Cage with Satan isn't an ideal situation, and he doesn't even know if he can do it, but there's no other option. He's it. This also means he just signed off the world's death warrant, but he's got to try. He fucked up with Lilith but this time he knows nothing's going to happen if he does it right. It won't help his relationship with Dean or Bobby but he doesn't even care anymore. It all hurts, sure, but he deserves it. 

Still, he really isn't surprised when his brother says, "I'll find a way to get you out."

Bobby's there too. He averts his eyes from both of them. "Don't, Dean," he says. "It's useless and not worth it."

"There's got to be a way. There has to be."

He shakes his head, wondering if Bobby's going to join in to get some sense through his brother's head. He can't be the only one in the room who knows this. Dean just won't want to believe it. 

"I'm going to Hell when I die whatever I do," he says with a shrug. "You'll bring me back for a few -"

"What're you going on about?"

Sam looks at him like he's insane. Really, he might be the only one who knows for certain but they had to have figured it out. "Dude," he says, "I've known I was going to Hell since I was sixteen. I mean, I thought the guy telling me was just a dream until the visions started but -"

"Please tell me you're joking."

Again, he shakes his head. "Seriously. I'm pretty sure I went to Hell after Cold Oak too. So, don't look for me. It doesn't make sense."

(bobby thinks he's never heard something so heart breaking in his life. biologically they're john's boys but they're his in principle and dean's already been - well, sam's made some damn big mistakes but he's about to kill himself to save a world that doesn't want him)

Sam looks at him, puppy dog eyes bigger than usual. "Please," he says later, "make sure Dean doesn't do anything stupid."

(if that won’t be a one way ticket upstairs, he doesn't know what is)

"I'll keep an eye on him," he promises. "You can count on me, kid."

He looks so relieved Bobby's heart breaks all over again. 



Sam finds out four awful things in one day: he walked around a soulless asshole for a year, let Dean get turned into a vampire, tried to kill the person he considers a father even when there's no way he's seen as a son, and that Castiel is the Angel of Thursday.

He barely makes it to the bathroom before throwing up. 

Cas' wings are black and Sam once hurt him in a dream because he touched him. 

He didn't know it was possible to hate himself even more, but apparently it is. 

He doesn't tell Dean.



When he wakes up, Bobby's hanging up the phone and holding him down. Sam is disoriented and sick, his mouth dry and his eyes itchy. The hand on his chest is an added weight his body doesn't need. 

"You had a seizure," Bobby says when he realizes he's awake, helping him to sit up. He leans back against the wall, shaking from the pain left over in relaxing muscles. "Dean's on his way."

He nods, tired, and shuts his eyes. Of course, he's hard enough to deal with on a normal occasion. He can't even imagine what it must be like now. Maybe it's the demon blood that made him an exceptional jackass; his body and soul are already tarnished. Makes sense that without the little common sense he actually has that he'd go off the deep end. 

He tells Bobby he's sorry. The apology isn't because of the seizure.

"Ain't your fault, kid," the man says. His knees creak quietly when he stands. He asks how long he was out. "Two minutes at most. What'd it feel like to you?"

"'Bout a week, maybe," he answers, rubbing his temple. He doesn't want Dean's pills no matter how badly his head hurts. "But - I'm fine. Sorry. You shouldn't have to -"

Bobby waves his hand in the universal gesture of don't worry about it. Sam wonders if this counts as forgiveness (it never crosses bobby's mind that the boy doesn't know he's forgiven already). The seizure left the aftertaste of poison in his mouth. "You're allowed to come here after you get hurt," he says, "but getting hurt while here is prohibited from now on, got it?"

He manages to crack a smile. That hurts too. "Yeah," he says. "I got it."

Then Dean's back, running up the stairs, and Sam gets coddled for the next three hours. 

He wonders how easily a person can die from convulsions.



The Wall breaking is less about crumbling and more being pulled. 

Cas' hand is to his temple, two fingers and he can physically feel it being dragged from his head, slipping through his skin and into his friend's vessel. He wonders, in the moment before everything goes Hell, literally, if this is enough to kill an angel. Maybe this is a murder. Maybe it's a kindness. 

Two days later and he's stabbing Cas in the back. He realizes he might be both. 



Dean's afraid to touch him. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

He tries to say that he's fine, but the words get caught before they hit his lips. Instead he moves closer, ignoring the way his brother stiffens, and Dean throws his gun into his back seat. He runs his nail over his stitching. The touch is too light to hurt. An arm circles his waist and driving one handed isn't all that hard. He won't stop shaking. He won't stop thinking about his world peeling down around him. Of anyone else falling to pieces in his arms. 

If this is meant to be some sort of way to make up for all his mistakes, whoever thought up the concept did a really shitty job. The way he figures, there are people out there who have it worse (to dean, this might be the best possible option but sam's head has been fucked around with enough. if this is the universe's idea of a joke, then its sense of humor is twice as bad as he thought), and he's still got an idiot for a brother who won't let him go. He clings because Dean clings back. He knows next time he isn't going to Hell; after several thousands of years, the Cage is closer to home than his own life. Lucifer drilled that into his head enough.

Fingers run this his hair. He tries to forget about Lucifer doing the same thing. At least Dean doesn't follow up with a knife severing his nerves.



He hadn't been aware that Bobby knew about them until he overhears another conversation. 

"I know this is awkward to talk about, but I'm at the end of my rope," Dean is saying and Sam pretends he's asleep again. He eavesdrops more than he should. It's a little brother thing. "I mean, I tried to get his shirt off to stitch him up and he screamed at me in Enochian."

Bobby makes a sound like he's choking. They must be drinking. They always are. "The kid's memories are back, Dean," he says. "We knew it wasn't going to be pretty."

Dean sighs. "'Not pretty' is an understatement. I should've figured - I don't know. I guess I didn't want to believe it. Torture I knew was going to happen, but I didn't think about this."

"Just give him time. But be prepared for the possibility that he might stay this way."

Sam gets up to go take a shower. If he hears anymore, he's going to be sick. 



Only after Bobby dies does Sam realize it's a Tuesday. The world's a joke and he's the punch line. 



Whatever Cas does, it works. Sam wishes it didn't. The angel doesn't deserve that. He was just doing what he thought was best. Dean would've been better with him than a brother who was fully prepared to die.

The kiss is fragile, like glass. When he was still nuts, even this was too hard most of the time. He thinks about Castiel, the now-crazy Angel of the Lord, and Meg, the demon Azazel's now-sort-of-good daughter, in that mental ward in Indiana. That must've been a funny job interview. He doesn't know if Dean took care of Cas' admission or she did. Either way, he really hopes his brother's right and he'll be safe. He just thought he was doing the same thing and he didn't even end the world while trying. That more than Sam can say, at least. 

His brother pulls off his shirt. Everything is tentative and slow. He works on Dean's pants, shaking hands having trouble with the button. He's relieved that he doesn't need to do the shirt, too, though. They should invest in something more than plaid. Takes too long to get undone, especially when he's recovering from being crazy.

None of it feels real until Dean is slipping inside of him. Then it hits him - that he's here, that he's back, that for now, at least, he's got his brother again and they're locked together as close as they can be. This is real and this is Earth and he's got another few years left before he's going to back down. 

For now, this is as close to happiness as he's going to get. 



(dean's first thought in purgatory is of sam.

he tells himself his little brother's going to be fine but he knows that it's not that simple. sam is never fine when he's gone. 

he tells himself he's getting out in one piece)



Sam's main concern is Dean, so by extension Cas too. He has no proof they're in Heaven or went off to Purgatory, but he has to look anyway. He spends some time looking for Crowley too, though he comes up equally as empty. He figures the King of Hell has Kevin, maybe Meg too. He spends a week with Jody Mills because she called, but Sioux Falls eventually gets to him. The next three he spends at Rufus' cabin. 

It doesn't take long for him to go a little stir crazy, so he picks up a hunt. It seems like a djinn, and those are pretty easy to deal with, even on his own. Two days max and then he'll be done, some of the nervous energy released so he can go back to searching.

He hadn't anticipated getting touched. The poison's enough to scare the crap out of him but not enough to actually die. He kills it before the poison really kicks it but is too far gone before he can get the cure. 

He hadn't anticipated seeing Lucifer and the Cage. 

And he definitely hadn't anticipated the Devil sticking around. 



He doesn't know how much of a hope of getting back from Purgatory his brother has if he's dead, so after a failed suicide attempt, he goes to see a psychiatrist. 

The man's name is Jacque Beaux and he used to be a hunter. Even though on a certain level he knew it was true, he'd never really believed that he and Dean were actually famous. The session isn't long because he doesn't really want to talk about it and the beginning half is practically hero worship he doesn't deserve. It's uncomfortable. The pills Beaux gives him take five weeks to kick in. He's told to take that time off from hunting if he wants it to work. He says he'll transfer the prescription to the closest CVS he can. Sam just has to call. 

He takes the five weeks off. Dean calls him when he's in a pharmacy in New Jersey. 



The first day he spends time focusing on Dean, leaves what he did at "I hunted and researched" which is mostly true. Weaseling what he did and how he got out is easier than Sam thought it would be, but the gifts of pie, food, and letting his brother drive his baby immediately was enough to make him talk. They pick back their socially unacceptable relationship within a day, too. All in all, probably the best Welcome Back to This Plane of Existence so far.

That is, until the next morning.

Dean looks up at him when he stumbles out of the bathroom, hair matted with water, and openly stares. "Dude, you're sleeping," he says. "That was fucking - did Cas' thing work that good?"

Work that well, he thinks before realizing it's about time to come clean. Nervous, he takes the pills out of his duffle and throws the bottle. His brother catches it. He explains about the djinn and how whatever Cas did reversed a month after they left. "You looked so happy to be back," he says, words forming an obtrusive ball somewhere behind his Adam's apple. "I didn't want to tell you right away."

He doesn't get a hug, even though a year ago he would've. On the bright side, his brother doesn't look pissed either. "It's good that they're helping this time," he says, putting the bottle down on the table. "So, what else did you distract me with pie from yesterday?"

"I ditched the phones," he answers, uncomfortable, "about six months ago. I only kept my private one so you'd have a number when you did come back but you - or, well, not you, Lucifer-you, I guess - kept calling. I couldn't take it. I couldn't find Kevin, either."

(it takes dean all of a second, even after purgatory, to see sam thinks this all his fault. he doesn't know what it'll take to make his brother realize he never deserved any of it. he hopes he'll figure it out soon. sam won't do it on his own)

He gets the phones and gives them to his brother, who listens without putting any speaker. "C'mon," he says, "we're going to go get Kevin. Are you good to be hunting?"

Turns out the kid he's been looking for has been trying to get in contact with him for four months. He picks up when Dean calls, screams over the phone, but agrees to meet up. Sam says he's okay to be hunting. 

This is just another mistake on his continuously growing list. 



On a Thursday, Cas gets back. He's a mess, so Sam leaves him and his brother alone for a little while. He doesn't need to be here, interfering. 

He tries to pretend this isn't because of the carefully hidden panic attack caused by the angel touching him. It's just a tap, a brush of skin against skin, but it's enough. He didn't like it when Kevin touched him either. He didn't let people get that close when he was Alone, the time marked by a decisive capital A. Sometimes he even has trouble with Dean touching him. It's just - the memory. Cas' fingers to his temple, the pull from the Wall; the djinn against his arm, shattering his already fractured sanity. 

Later, after their friend stays with Fred, Dean asks him about it. Apparently he isn't as good at hiding as he thought. 

Running his fingers through his hair, he answers, "Just a bad day."

"Bad day or bad day?"

"Yeah." It's not an answer to an either-or question to most people, but his brother gets it. 

Even when they crash in bed hours later, Dean makes sure they aren't touching. Sam pretends he doesn't notice the worry. 

(because he can't stop thinking about that year and a half earlier with bobby in the kitchen, trying to find a tactful way to explain that his brother was - that the Cage did a number on him)



Dean has to go save Benny. The vampire's been kind of hard to forget since that fight (dean feels guilty just thinking about it, how he doesn't know if sam's entirely positive that whole argument was real. apologizing might have made it worse) and Sam doesn't trust him in the slightest, but he isn't even coming along. His brother makes it perfectly clear that seeing Lucifer again after months of being as stable as can possibly be expected puts him on house arrest for twenty-four hours after the episode ends. It's also pretty clear that Dean doesn't want to leave him alone, either. 

Well, good for him. Sam doesn't want to be alone. 

"Call me if anything goes wrong," Dean says, throwing his pack over his shoulder. Sam's so wiped out from his seizure that standing is difficult. It makes sense for his brother to help out the person who saved him when Sam couldn't, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. He's always known he was second best - first to Dad, then to Cas, Bobby repeatedly - but being shoved down to third or fourth place below what they hunt for a living is downright insulting.

What about Amy? he wants to scream. You killed her even though she saved my life.

Unfortunately, he grew up with his dad. Hypocrisy is something he knows how to deal with. Even he pulls it. So, he says instead, "All right." 

"I mean it."

"I know." 

(dean manages not to rush through helping benny but can't help but check his phone every half hour anyway)

Three hours later Lucifer reminds him liars go to Hell. Tells him he'll be seeing him soon and a trigger's easier to pull without big brother around.

Sam takes three sleeping pills instead of two and crashes until Dean gets back. 



"You really expect me to believe that, Sammy? Really?"

"Yeah, I do. I see a way out."

"I've been watching to make sure you won't kill yourself since you were twelve. I haven't really succeeded either."

"That's not your fault. And I can do this. I swear, I'm coming out of this alive."

His shirt and skin are soaked with a hellhound's blood. 



Meg asks, "Did you guys even look for me?"

He glances at her, spray painting warding symbols on the walls. "Dean was in Purgatory," he answers. "I was looking for you and Kevin until I fifty-one-fifty-ed again. When we found Kevin, he said he never saw you. Thought Crowley brought you back to Hell."

She quirks a brow. He hadn't know a demon could seem touched, or something close to it. "I didn't have any ruby slippers to slap together," she says. "Home sweet home, but you know all about that, Sammy."

"Don't call me Sammy."

"Why? I thought we were bestest friends." He rolls his eyes and ignores Lucifer telling him they'll play hopscotch with Michael when he comes Home Sweet Home. "I think I'll have to revoke your Winning London privileges for hurting my feelings."

He finishes his third angel ward. "We're closing the Gates of Hell," he tells her, even though he hadn't been meaning to. "You know, slam Crowley in. Maybe you running off to London isn't such a bad idea."

"Oh, I'll be slammed in either way, Your Highness," she says and he cringes at the reminder of Azazel's failed plans. "Give me an angel blade though, and I'll be happy. Crowley and I should have some special therapy time together before I gank him."

But she never gets a chance because then Crowley's there. The demon knife's already in his hand by the time she says, "Go. I'll hold him off. Save your brother." Then, with an almost nonexistent smile. "And my unicorn."

I can be your unicorn, your special someone.

After she dies he realizes that it's kind of sad, really, that the most honest person in his life was a demon.



Sam's torn up soul is injured all over again by the time he gets back from Hell and Purgatory and Dean lets him cling. It's probably a pain to deal with, but he's relieved his brother is putting up with it.

Dean says, "You've got take it," when he shoves the pills back into Sam's hand. Bodily, he only missed a day but mentally it's been so far along that he's forgotten about it. He swallows dutifully, almost choking when blood and nausea try to force them back up. The thought of eating makes him sick, even more so than usual. 

The medication makes him sleep. It's filled with confusing dreams about demons and Bobby saying to lose his number with Dean screaming for being a failure and how many times he let him down. Dad says he hates him and Mom curses herself for having him. His hands are dripping blood. Lucifer says, I told you so. 

Then the Devil stabs him in the chest. He wakes up and it's two days later. 



Charlie's sweet and he likes her a lot. Dean obviously does too and that's why he leaves them alone. No matter what he says, he knows there's no way this is going to end with him coming out alive. Better let his brother make connections on his own. Besides, he becomes cause of death for anyone he cares about and a sweet girl like her doesn't deserve that. Nobody did. 

After Dean comes back in, he gets a hug and a kiss and manages to wheedle in some cuddles too. It could be worse. 

(plus dean likes cuddling but sam will never in a million years hear that from his own mouth)



When Sarah dies, it's a Wednesday. He almost laughs because it's not the right day before remembering that Tommy died on a Tuesday and that's why. Everyone dies on a Tuesday except him. But he dies on his birthday every time, and it was a Thursday when he jumped into the Cage. If they go through with their plan tomorrow, then he'll die on a Thursday. Again. 

Maybe this is what he gets for ruining Cas. 



Dean thinks he needs a chaperone (because fuck it if he's willingly going to leave his baby brother who can barely stand on his own to spend eight hours with the king of hell) and maybe he does. He screws up everything he tries. It makes sense, why his brother would think that. Or, know that. Sam's thought for years that he'd better off with Cas, alone. And he's about to get that, which is good. 

Or would be, if Crowley wasn't trying to bond. Sam isn't good at bonding. He thinks it's kind of sad that the only people who ever want to bond with him are demons. It's the blood, though. Maybe if it really is being purified, then he'll die and not go to -

"Sammy, wait!"



After all the shit they've put him through, he's surprised Kevin doesn't hate them for not finishing the trials. Even more surprising is the hug Sam gets the moment he wakes up, so tight it makes his chest hurt all over again.

The teenager blushes before saying, "I'll go get Dean," and practically runs away.

Cas is back, which is why his brother wasn't with him right when he wakes up. The angel's human now; Metatron tricked him. Apparently he can't work a toaster. They aren't sure if you can burn this place down but Dean didn't want to take any chances. He kisses the top of Sam's head when he comes back over. Kevin's playing Skyrim in the other room on the Xbox he bought. Sam's been out for three days and needs to restart his medication from the beginning (dean thought this up midway through the second day and called up his psychiatrist. he didn't tell the guy what they'd been doing and gets the information anyway). 

"I feel like shit," he says, voice hoarse. Actually, he feels like he did after withdrawal, but he's not mentioning that. Not after the church. "Where's Crowley?"

"Dead," Dean answers. "I think the angel that landed in the water did it." He pauses before adding, "Look, we've got to talk. When you feel up to it."

(he did a lot google searching and called charlie for advice a few times trying to figure out how he's supposed to fix this. there are no easy answers. the doctor said he had ptsd, not depression. as a hunter, one's a lot easier to deal with than the other. 

but he loves his brother. so self-worth issues or not, he's going to find a way to make this work)

Sam doesn't want to talk about it. Not really. He doesn't want Dean to deal with his problems. His brother takes on too much already. 

He says okay. 

He still feels dirty.



A week later Charlie comes by and says Kevin and Cas have to stop wearing hand-me-downs and brings the two reluctant Batcave residents shopping (dean has a feeling the two geeks are going to become best friends and the thought kind of scares him). Sam still doesn't want to talk, but his brother for once does and springs it on him anyway. 

First thing he says is, "You're scaring me."

Sam looks up. "What?"

Dean scuffs his foot against the rug, looking away. This is awkward for both of them. "Whatever's going on in that head of yours that makes you think I don't care - I seriously want to blame it on the Wall breaking, but you've been this way since you were a kid, haven't you? With demons dream walking in your head and - how did you put it? - thinking you're 'not clean.' So, I'm kind of at a loss of what to do."

"And that's scaring you."

"I don't want you to die."

Sam looks down at his lap and plays with a loose thread on his jeans. "Sometimes I think I want to," he says, more honest than he has been in ages, "but then other times common sense kicks in and I realize I really don't. I guess some times are worse than others."

After a moment, his brother takes the seat across from him (he knows he needs to do this but he isn't all that good at it, actually). "You mean like when you don't eat? Or that mess on your left arm? Or thinking you do nothing but fail me? Sam, we've had our ups and downs but you're it for me. I'm here because I want to be, not because of some sense of duty."

Oh. He hadn't realized Dean would figure that out. Or that he ever realized Sam lied about his arm four years ago, said wraith in the hospital made him do it. "Like I said, sometimes it's there. Other times it's not. Medication evened me out until the second trial."

Lucifer whispers in his ear that this heart-to-heart won't last forever. Dean's going to leave him soon. 

"Look, you can't exactly go to a therapist like you can a psychiatrist for this train wreck, you know?" he says. "I've gone way too long seeing you like this, but you have to meet at least the quarter of the way on this, okay?"

He promises, and the talk ends. 



They work on it. The progress is slow. But they do it together.

That’s what matters.