Sam's first clue that Dean's maybe not as okay about Sam returning to something resembling a normal life, with a clean record and a recommendation thanks to Dean's team, are the frequently renewed salt lines around Sam's little apartment. Sam's usually good about fixing them as needed, but most of the time someone has been there first. It's a small thing, a caring gesture, so Sam lets it slide.
The second clue is groceries showing up in his cupboards when he's running short. He'd be grateful, but it's not exactly the sort of thing he eats these days. It is the sort of thing Dean would buy; sugary cereal, tinned spaghetti and beer. Sam considers saying something, but it would cause more of a problem than it would solve. Besides, he misses Dean, too.
Dean comes over every other weekend and during the week when he can, whenever he's not working, but he doesn't talk about his cases, and he doesn't take up the ones Sam suggests. As much as Sam had only ever wanted a normal life, now that he has one, he finds he's a little restless. Hunting is in his blood as much as Dean's.
When Sam's a day late with his rent one month and finds it's already covered, he starts to reconsider where he stands with the whole Dean thing. It's weird to have both too much space and not enough, but that's exactly what Dean seems to have given him, and it's driving Sam insane. That's when Sam resorts to extreme measures.
He finds himself standing in a reasonably well-to-do apartment complex, far better than his own, knocking on a door. Moments later, it opens to reveal a dishevelled looking Lindsey McDonald, clad only in boxers and a dressing gown. Sam flushes a little and stares somewhere just beyond Lindsey's ear.
"I should go," Sam says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
"Come in," Lindsey says, holding the door open. "Nick was called in on a case anyway."
Sam's not entirely sure how that's relevant, but he figures it's probably an explanation for why Lindsey's still in his dressing gown at lunchtime.
"You want anything to drink?"
"Water?" Sam asks and Lindsey leads him to the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge that he tosses to Sam. "Thanks."
Lindsey leans against the counter, staring at Sam steadily, while Sam turns the bottle over in his hands for a moment before putting it on the counter without opening it. He takes a seat on one of the barstools and looks up at Lindsey.
"Dean is driving me insane," Sam finally blurts out. Lindsey smirks, amusement crinkling his eyes.
"Maybe you should have gone to Tony instead," Lindsey says. "He's most likely to sympathise with you."
Sam shrugs, not entirely sure he can say why he chose Lindsey. Maybe it's that he feels Lindsey is the only one on Dean's team that Sam feels he can really relate to. If only because he's, as Dean says, a lawyer turned hunter, like Sam. Or maybe it's because he knows what it's like to be seduced to the dark side.
"He's smothering me and not letting me in at the same time," Sam says, running his hands through his hair. "Which actually isn't all that different from before, but we had hunting then, we had something that held us together, you know?"
Lindsey nods, but doesn't say anything.
"And I don't know how to reach him now, not when we don't really have any points of contact anymore," Sam continues like, once he's started everything just spills out and he can't stop it. "He's right there, all the time, and I feel like I'm losing him, and he's all I've got."
And that's the scariest thing, because Dean's all Sam has left, Dean and Bobby, because Cas was always Dean's, even when neither of them knew it, and Dean has this new team and new life and new family that doesn't include Sam anymore. They'd been all tangled up in each other in ways Sam knew were dysfunctional, but Dean moved on and Sam's still stuck there.
"Dean wasn't in a good way when he joined the team," Lindsey tells him. "None of us were."
Sam nods, wondering where this is going, hoping he's finally going to get some answers, some insight into where Dean stands now.
"We tore at each other in those first days, cut each other down, before we realised just how heavily we were hanging on to each to keep from drowning," Lindsey says and it's all too easy for Sam to picture.
"I know," Sam says softly. "I don't want to take that away from him. I know how much you guys mean to him, what you must have done for him. I don't think I can ever thank you enough."
"But we also have a tendency to over-compensate," Lindsey admits. "To try to protect those things we can't bear to lose, from the world but most especially from ourselves."
Sam looked down then. He picked up the bottle as an excuse for something to do to distract him, opened it and took a long drink. Slowly, he twisted the lid back into place and looked up at Lindsey again.
"I can take care of myself, he knows that. I watched his back for years."
"Him wanting to take care of you," Lindsey says, "that has nothing to do with you."
Sam shakes his head a little, not sure he understood, not sure how it wasn't about him. Lindsey looks at him with sympathetic eyes, like he knows it's not something Sam will ever understand, that it's a gap Sam will never bridge.
"So what should I do?" Sam asks. Lindsey shrugs.
"Whatever you want."
The look Sam gives Lindsey only makes the man look amused. Sam takes another drink of water and picks at the edge of the label.
"What should I do about Dean," Sam says, figuring he should know to be specific with a lawyer.
"Whatever you want," Lindsey repeats, leaning forward and giving Sam a significant look.
"So, basically what you're saying is that I need to get a life," Sam says, smiling faintly. Maybe it's about time. He and Dean aren't in each other's pockets anymore, not really, so maybe it's time Sam made friends again and really settled into his new life instead of just trudging through the day-to-day. Maybe it's time to come at his relationship with Dean like equals.
"Not in so many words."
"Of course not."
"I'll see what I can do about Dean."
"I'd appreciate it."