Disclaimer: I own nothing. Nothing at all. More's the pity . . .
Spoilers and credits: Another post-Devil's Trap fic, because I am obsessed. Truly. I blame Kripke. The title is from the Matchbox 20 song.
A/N: Thanks beyond words to Faye and to Kaly, who have been much, MUCH more patient with me than I deserve.
Back to Good
"It'll be okay," Sam said for the eight billionth time and Dean would have punched him – left cross, hard to the jaw and straight on till morning – if he hadn't still had the cast.
Even so, he seriously considered it before pushing himself up and walking haltingly from the porch.
He didn't want platitudes and he didn't want sympathy and he'd thought Sam would have known better by now than to even offer such ridiculously trite words. And in that damned voice, that soft, I feel your pain and I can help voice that Sam used to wheedle information and calm victims in the aftermath.
Dean wasn't a victim. He had nothing at all in common with the people they'd helped on hunts who had lost . . .
He was nothing like them. And Sam couldn't feel his pain.
Sam didn't get it. He'd never gotten it – and Dean had made more excuses for him than anyone – but it had never been more apparent than now. Dean had never hated him more than he did now. He'd never known he was capable of hating Sam until now. But that's what it was – hatred, fury, a bitter rage that kept the taste of bile in his mouth and made his hands tingle.
Sam's tears had seemed so agonized and heartbroken afterwards, but they were an affront. Sam didn't grieve like Dean grieved. He didn't miss him in the myriad ways that Dean missed him. Sam, who talked of healing and moving on and what Dad would have wanted – as if he'd ever known, much less cared, what Dad had wanted.
Sam had no idea.
They'd gone to Bobby's because there was nowhere else to go. Missouri wasn't even a consideration. They'd lost enough members of their fragile brotherhood already – no way were they bringing this to her doorstep. Bobby at least knew what they were up against. And he still had the demon trap emblazoned on the ceiling. It didn't make them safe, but it afforded them more protection than they could have found anywhere else. Given their injuries and their lack of transportation, they needed all the help they could get.
Their daily lives fell into a pattern of newly ingrained motions and old, familiar habits. Dean rose with the sun, followed Bobby out to the garage and took on the painstaking process of piecing together the mangled remains of the Impala. Gone was a lifetime's worth of easy grace, now that his leg refused to bend properly and his arm was cast from wrist to above the elbow. Just a few hours of work made him blindingly tired and if he moved too fast or pushed too hard, he could feel the shadow of demon fingers twisting into his chest. But he pushed anyway.
Sam slept little – plagued now by more nightmares than ever. He never talked about them and Dean didn't ask. But the bruises grew beneath his eyes in inverse proportion to the fading of the rather spectacular array of colors that marked the rest of his face. When the stitches came out, Sam had an angry-looking, five-inch scar that ran from his forehead to his temple. When his hair grew back, it covered it, for the most part. He let his bangs grow even longer.
Every day, Dean watched Sam go out, away from the cabin and the car and Dean, knowing without being told that his help there wasn't wanted. Dean wasn't sure what Sam was doing, but he could guess it had something to do with figuring out how to control his . . . abilities. It wasn't a topic Dean could bring himself to address.
They grew further apart by degrees.
Dean just couldn't talk to Sam anymore, couldn't listen to him talking about the future and plans and research. Sam was slow to take the hint, but eventually the look in his eyes changed from sympathy and concern to understanding and resignation. It didn't make Dean feel any better, but the tingling in his hands finally started to fade.
Dean was always tired now. Sometimes it felt as though the demon had tapped into his internal circuitry and stolen something as physically permanent as his father had been – some spark of life or energy that he couldn't seem to replace. The tiredness came from his very bones; his soul ached with it.
But today, there was another kind of tired – pains in his back and a cough in his throat and a head that felt heavy and cotton-filled. The seeping cold of December rain didn't help. Still, habits were habits – and at the moment, habits were the only comfort Dean had. He threw on a coat and was reaching for the door when Sam laid a hand on his arm.
"You don't need to go out there today."
Dean pulled away without looking at him, fingers still wrapped around the doorknob. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not. You're sick and it's cold out and the car will still be there tomorrow.
Why don't you go back to bed? Get some rest? I'll bring you – "
And maybe it was the fact that he'd never liked being told he wasn't up to the job at hand. Or maybe it was hearing that voice again, that gentleness and I know what's best for you that hid so poorly just below the surface of the words.
Or maybe it was just that Dean needed to finally say what he'd been thinking for months, ever since that night in Chicago.
He turned on Sam, eyes flashing. "You know what, Sam? Just lay off, all right? I've been taking care of myself for a pretty long time. I managed four whole years without you around, and I think I can manage now."
Sam had that mulish look that said he was digging in for the long haul and not about to take no for an answer.
But this wasn't about Dean being sick.
"Just leave, Sam. Just go. It's what you've wanted to do all along."
Sam reared back a little at that, looking surprised and ready to protest, but Dean wasn't having it.
"And don't even think about staying for me because I don't want you here."
Something in him broke as he said the words. For a moment, he was panic-stricken. I didn't mean it, Sammy. I don't mean it . . . I take it back . . .
But he couldn't. Instead, he walked out the door into the rain.
This time, Sam didn't try to stop him.
He stayed in the garage for hours, not working, not moving, just bracing himself for what was to come. He knew Sam would be gone when he returned. Sam's things would have disappeared as though he'd never existed and there would be no goodbye or see you soon or I'll call. It was over.
It had been doomed from the beginning. Sam had never intended to stay. He would go back to his normal, apple-pie life and Dean would go back to . . . Dean would go back. Back to the road and the hunt and the only version of normal he could really remember. The only version he had ever wanted, except that Sam would no longer be in it.
But when he went back to the cabin, Sam was still there. He hadn't left.
And he didn't leave.
The chasm, though, grew wider.
If Bobby noticed – and how could he not? – he never said anything. He was equally solicitous of both of them, which was to say, not at all. He assigned them daily chores around the property and held them to their tasks. His required both of them at the dinner table, but always seemed to find a way to make himself scarce as soon as the food was served, leaving them with no one to break the silence.
Despite his best intentions, Dean found himself missing the sound of Sam's voice. But he still couldn't bring himself to say anything. It's only a matter of time, his mind whispered. It's easier this way.
He was on pins and needles, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering what Sam was waiting for.