Summary: One brother pulled the trigger; the other made him do it. They both know it was betrayal all the same.
A/N: What is it with "Asylum" that just drives us all to write fanfiction? This episode smacks of betrayal, it opens a chasm between the brothers that has existed for years but neither of them wanted to acknowledge. I think it would be easy to blame Sam for his weakness, because he certainly deserves some blame for carrying this resentment around (do I think he was guilty for "shooting" Dean? That I'm not so sure, but I have a feeling that's a question both the brothers will wrestle with in the aftermath). But Sam's resentment stems from this imbalance of expectation that drove me even crazier in "Bugs." Why is it that Sam is the only one in the family who needs to apologize? This episode's betrayal isn't really about pulling the trigger, although that's the moment neither Sam nor Dean will ever forget. This is about what each brother expects from the other and what each brother hides from the other. I'm really not sure if I like this piece because they don't quite seem in character to me and I don't know if I've over-explained their own feelings of guilt or if I've left it too vague. Let me know. And if someone would ever like to beta for me, drop me a line.
Disclaimer: Yeah. Right.
The motel room had no TV. There was a small, square box on the dresser with buttons, but it only crackled when turned on, filling the room with sharp sounds of static and displaying mutating black and white lines that danced across the screen.
"Right," Dean mumbled as he abandoned the device with a smack. "One of their best rooms."
Sam was seated on the bed and watched as his brother flopped down on the opposite twin bed.
Studying the rest of the room's shabby interior, Dean snorted. "Is it just me, or are the places we stay at getting worse?"
Sam forced a smile. Dean's wise-cracks sounded hollow.
"Yeah, I suppose having your mind messed with by a sadistic spirit kind of does steal your appetite," Dean said with a grin. He was overcompensating.
There was a silence, and Sam considered saying something. He could sense a distance in Dean's disposition, although his brother hid it well. Sam's need for absolution was nearly overpowering. He had wanted to say so much more at the asylum but it wasn't an apology he knew how to make. On the drive out of Rockford, Sam had played out countless conversation, but every one of them sounded trite. He kept finding himself watching Dean, trying to read Dean's veiled face, searching for the betrayal that he knew must lurk under there.
"It could have been me, you know," Dean said suddenly.
Sam looked at his brother. "What?"
Dean was casual, leaning back onto the bed. "It could have been me who Ellicott got to first."
Paling a little, Sam's heart began to pick up its pace. He swallowed hard. "What are you talking about?"
Dean remained nonchalant. "At the asylum. He could have called my cell. I would have gone, too, you know."
Sam looked away and clenched his teeth. "You wouldn't have pulled the trigger." Guilt laced his voice.
"Don't be so sure, Sammy."
Sam studied his brother uncertainly. Dean's mood was hard to measure. He had spoken little since they left Rockford and had displayed little anger or compassion. "You've spent your whole life protecting me. I know you, Dean. You could never hurt me."
Shrugging, Dean replied, "We all have our secrets—you should know that."
A breath caught in Sam's throat. He didn't know whether to be relieved or horrified at his brother's words. He shook his head. He didn't even know if Dean was telling the truth. "What are you talking about?"
"Some college-educated punk once pointed out that if I told you, then it really would kind of defeat the purpose of a secret." Dean's tone was still oddly light.
Sam waited for Dean to continue. When he didn't, Sam said with a vigorous shake of his head, "No way. I told you about the dreams, man."
"Because you had to."
"Well, you need to now."
Something inside Sam broke. "Because I don't know whether you're trying to torment me, warn me, or comfort me." The timbre of Sam's voice switched from conversational, hitching toward desperation.
Dean sat up and stared at Sam, gauging his kid brother. "You think after all the years we spent growing up, all the things I worked to keep you safe from, and then you up and leave me and I feel nothing?"
Sam blanched, striving to contain the tears that threatened him. "I know there's some resentment—"
"Some? Come on, Sammy. I bathed you, fed you, played with you, saved your butt, told you everything—and you walked away. No matter the reasons, you still walked out without a word. And I know you wouldn't be here just for me. And that's the kicker. I'm your second choice, third choice—your last resort."
The battle was raging against Sam and he was losing ground with his emotions. "It's not—" he choked on his words.
"Like that," Dean concluded with a nod. "I know that too. Truth is relative. You can spin things any way you choose. Most days I choose to see you searching for yourself, not abandoning me. I choose to see Dad as a persistent and noble crusader, a hero." He paused, looking Sam fully in the eyes. "Ellicott took that choice from you. He chose to make you see betrayal and powerlessness."
Sam shook his head, his chin quivering. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came.
"Ellicott got to me, too, Sam. He just didn't get to follow through. I know the rage—I felt that rage. You didn't have a choice in that."
Shuddering, Sam took a breath. "Didn't mean I had to pull the trigger."
"Didn't mean I had to give you the gun," Dean countered. "Sam, you've always been so predictable. Don't you think I knew what would happen if I gave it to you? It's like putting a kid in an empty room and giving him crayons but no paper and telling him to draw. You really can't get mad when crap goes up on the walls."
The revelation caught Sam off guard. "So why did you give it to me?"
Dean hesitated, his own guilt churning uneasily inside of him. His own need for absolution could not overcome his deeply rooted self-preservation. "I couldn't think of another way to save you."
Looking away, Sam discretely dabbed at his eyes. "You still wouldn't have pulled the trigger. I know you, Dean."
"That's the point, Sam. I know you, too, and I also know you would never hurt me."
Sam met Dean's eyes. He wanted to believe Dean, to pass on his own culpability, but the price of Ellicott's mind games was overwhelming. He often tried to deny his resentment toward Dean and their father, but now it existed palpably between the brothers. Sam's weaknesses had no place left to hide. "I still pulled it, Dean. No matter what you say, I did that, and I know you wouldn't have."
Dean considered Sam's response. It was true; he could not envision himself ever following through with fratricide under any circumstances—there was an altruistic undercurrent in him that no evil could manipulate. He shrugged. "Maybe," he said and lay back again. He had watched his brother fall apart, helped deconstruct the tentative balance Sam had erected since Jessica's death. He tested Sam when Sam had no chance to win. There were a thousand other ways to save Sam, and he could not quite figure out why he chose the one way that would cut straight between them. "But the fact is, little brother, you never would have given me the gun."