Summary: The brothers share one of their darkest moments. Set at the end of "Faith."
A/N: Thanks so much to Faye for the encouragement to post here, the wonderful beta, and all the great conversations!
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize belongs to me - except Nebraska. :)
A Crisis of Faith
Dean hasn't spoken since they left Nebraska. He holds himself erect, nearly unmoving, afraid to blink.
He holds the wheel with white knuckles, eyes focused on the road. Sam watches the muscle in his jaw flex periodically, and he knows his brother is still trying to process everything. He'd hoped that talking with Layla would bring Dean some closure, some peace. If anything it, it made it worse.
He lets the silence go on for as long as he can stand it. He doesn't last long.
"Dean, I - "
"Don't, Sam. Just don't." Dean's focus doesn't shift; he remains intent on the road ahead.
"We have to talk about this."
"I really don't think you want to hear what I have to say." And based just on Dean's tone, Sam is sure Dean's right. But Sam has never let that stop him before.
"I think I know what you're - "
Dean slams the brakes, jerking the Impala to the shoulder in a squeal of rubber. He throws it in Park. "Do you, Sam? Do you? You think you know what I'm going to say, what I feel?"
Sam opens his mouth, but now that the fragile scar tissue has been ripped away, Dean's words bleed out in a torrent.
"You think you know what it's like to know that someone died for you?" And Sam can't help but flinch, because he does.
"That your life was spared and someone else was chosen?"
Dean laughs that forced, dry, little off-note laugh of his that never holds an ounce of humor. "I was ready to go, man. I always knew this job would get me, one way or another, and I was okay with that. I had a long time to make my peace with that."
Sam feels the sting of tears biting his eyes but he wills them away.
"It was my time." Dean's teeth are clenched so hard that his mouth barely opens. "You should have left it alone."
Sam's hit his breaking point. "I should have left it alone? I should have let you die - is that what you mean? I should have just said, hey, Dean's made his peace with this. I'll just let him go, no big deal?"
He feels like he's choking. Every moment of the four days he'd spent living in fear that he was losing Dean – losing Dean – is pressing on his chest, making it hard for him to breathe.
"No, Dean. No! I didn't know any of this was going to happen. I didn't make a choice. But God help me, if I had to now I wouldn't do it differently!"
Dean starts to interrupt, but Sam cuts him off. "What would you have done if it was me?"
"That's different." The words are out almost before Sam has finished asking. And they infuriate him.
"That's different? Are you kidding me?"
Dean backs up a little, surprised by his brother's intensity.
"So my life is worth more than yours, is that it? Me, Layla, Lucas, who knows how many others – all more important than you, right?"
And Dean doesn't know how Sam figured out that Dean almost, almost let the Reaper take him to give Layla a second chance. But the look in Sam's eyes says he knows.
"Sam, you don't understand . . ."
"No, Dean, it's you who doesn't understand. If it had been me, you would have done anything to save me. Anything. And you know what? I wouldn't have expected any less." Sam's voice is whisper-quiet now, painfully strained.
"How could you expect less of me? You think I value you any less? That I care that little about what happens to you? That I could just lose you and go on like nothing happened?"
Dean turns away. He can't look Sam in the eye. "It's not like that."
"Then what - " Sam swallows, struggling for some semblance of control. "- is it like?"
A dozen different answers are dancing on the tip of his tongue. Dean can't give voice to any of them. "They died because of me, Sam. I don't – I don't know how to justify that."
Sam grabs his brother's coat, pulling him close, even though Dean still won't look at him. He can't explain it, but he feels like if he lets go, he might lose Dean forever.
"It wasn't you."
Dean shakes his head and Sam tugs. He won't let Dean escape this. "It wasn't. It was Sue Ann. She cast the spell. She chose the victims. And if not for you" – he tugs again – "there would have been more. It wouldn't have ended here. She would have kept going. You know this."
Dean knows this.
He wishes like hell that knowing made it easier.
Moments pass where there's no noise except their breathing and the congested idle of the V8 engine.
"You know, I asked the preacher why he chose me."
Sam holds himself utterly still, willing his brother to finish. His hand tightens reflexively on the leather.
"He said - " Dean laughs that damned laugh again and clears his throat. "He said I had an important job to do and it wasn't finished yet."
Sam waits, lets the words sink in and take root. "Sounds like a smart man."
Dean finally turns his head to meet his brother's gaze. His eyes are bright with an emotion that Sam hasn't seen before in Dean, but recognizes anyway. Sam nods, slowly, not breaking contact. Willing his brother to believe.
There's a long pause and Sam fears he's failed.
Then, suddenly, it's over.
Dean nods back. Just once, but it's certain enough. He eases back behind the wheel and slips the car into Drive.