Nothing. For weeks now, over a month, he had wanted nothing more than for his brother to open up to him. Now that Dean had, Sam was too gutted by the words, by seeing Dean actually shed a tear, to do or say a damn thing. He looked away awkwardly, ashamed at his inability to look Dean in the eye when it was most important. He heard one small sniff, and closed his eyes briefly. Watching Dean self-destruct was scary as hell, but seeing him break down was just too painful.
No. Sam shook his head, at least mentally, and told himself that Dean's pain might be uncomfortable as hell but it couldn't be ignored. He shifted his gaze back just as Dean looked away, but not before Sam saw his crestfallen expression. He winced and felt so damned helpless.
"I told you," Dean said so quietly Sam barely heard him, tortured. "You can't help me, Sam."
And suddenly Sam had a million things to say.
"I just…" he said, stumbling, falling and failing. He didn't know how to get past the coldness in his gut, the lump in his throat. Sam turned his face to the bright sun and closed his eyes again.
"Hey, it's okay." Dean had his characteristic forced confidence back in his voice, and even that punctured right into Sam's heart. The mask was already settling back into place, and now that he knew exactly what was behind it…Sam couldn't face that either. "I wanted you to get it a little. And I am so sorry. For everything."
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Dean."
His own voice was almost as quiet as his brother's, and it hurt to get the words out. As he spoke, Sam knew Dean was right; nothing he could say would sound like anything but a platitude, no matter how much he meant it. Dean let out what was probably supposed to be a humorless laugh, but it only sounded like a broken sob. Broken, Dean was broken into a million pieces that Sam feared would never be put back together the right way. He didn't even know where to start. He looked into his lap, overwhelmed and weak and useless.
They sat for a few minutes, Sam staring down at his swelling right hand and Dean staring at nothing at all. Dean moved first. Sam glanced up and watched his brother stand up slowly, giving the Impala's hood a sliding touch as he walked back to the driver's side door. He stayed where he was until Dean started the car, and then returned to the passenger seat. He gave Dean a quick look as the car started moving, but his brother steadfastly kept his eyes on the road. They were almost back to where they'd started, only instead of the pervading fear he'd had before, Sam's heart now ached so hard he thought it might be withering right in his chest.
He gazed out the window, the rock face and trees blurs as they drove past. He wasn't really paying attention, anyway. He'd become accustomed to the silence between him and Dean if not happy with it, associating it with Dean's anger. Sam missed the music. He popped open the glove compartment and clumsily pulled out the sad collection of tapes Dean had snagged from Bobby with his left hand. They were all neatly organized, alphabetized even, and in shiny, scratch-free packages. Just so wrong despite how they looked. He shoved the cassettes back and shut the compartment. He sensed Dean finally looking in his direction, and he couldn't look anywhere but at the blurry rocks and trees.
Minutes passed. Sam didn't know how many, but it seemed like a lot. Could've been hours for all he could figure. He looked out of the window and actually saw for the first time in a long while. Judging from the sun's softer, golden tint in the sky, hours was more accurate than minutes. His right hand was numb, his heart hurt, and Dean hadn't said a word. Worse, neither had Sam. He kept hearing Dean saying he thought he should have stayed dead, the words repeating like some sick chorus to a road trip song, and endless loop of a truth he wasn't strong enough to deal with. He and Dean were standing on either side of a fault line, and an earthquake would tear them apart if nothing were done.
He still just didn't know what to do.
"Dean, are we going to stop soon?" Sam said suddenly. He hadn't meant to. He was mortified that he somehow sounded like a five-year-old asking "are we there yet?" over and over, though it was the first time. "Or maybe I can take over behind the wheel."
"We've got plenty of daylight and I've got plenty of drive left," Dean said after a pause. Sam glanced over, and this time Dean looked back at him. "You hungry or something?"
Sam paused. He probably should be hungry, but he had a queasy feeling in his stomach. He rubbed at it with his left hand, brought his right up to pinch the bridge of his nose to ward off an approaching headache. Mistake. The numbness vanished, replaced with sheer, stabbing pain. Sam hissed and rapidly dropped his hand back in his lap. It didn't help. His hand continued to hurt like hell.
"Or something," he said through clenched teeth.
"Sam." Dean pulled the car over, and was now looking at him and nothing else. He always was prone to extremes. "How's your hand?"
"Let me see it," Dean ordered.
Sam lifted his limb so Dean could see. He looked at it himself and was a bit surprised at how swollen and bruised it looked. Dean swore under his breath. For a second Sam saw that dark rage return to his brother's eyes and thought he was going to get punched again. He winced, carefully cradled his broken hand with his good one and looked away.
"Shit, why didn't you say anything earlier?"
"I thought I could handle it," Sam said, which wasn't exactly true but it also wasn't exactly untrue. A broken hand had seemed like nothing in the face of a broken Dean. It still did, even though it was starting to make itself a little more urgent. "It wasn't that bad before."
"Sam, you don't fuck around with this kind of thing." He heard Dean's leather jacket squeak a little as his brother shifted around. "Waiting too long might cause permanent damage."
He swung his head back around to look at Dean digging around in the back seat. Sometimes Dean looked like he was fine, sometimes he even acted like he was fine, but Sam knew now more than ever that wasn't right. Waiting too long would definitely cause permanent damage. Dean finally found what he was looking for, a bottle of ibuprofen, and righted himself in the driver's seat. His elbow connected with the horn, letting out one short, harsh blast. Dean shrugged. Sam took a shaky breath.
"I'm not sure those are going to help much," he said. The pain was too intense, couldn't be fixed with over the counter drugs and a band-aid. Even after a doctor looked at it, it would takes weeks to actually heal. Of course that didn't mean he shouldn't bother seeing a doctor at all.
"It's better than sitting there in pain," Dean said. "Take them, Sammy."
"Okay." Sam lifted his hand and let Dean shake three pills into his open left palm. He swallowed them dry. Dean grabbed the atlas. "Okay."
"The next town is about fifty miles out. You should be all right until then." Sam nodded weakly. "Hopefully they've got a decent medical center."
"You don't have to worry about me, Dean," Sam said.
"If you say so, dude."
Dean got the car back on the road and they returned to silence. Sam fiddled with the tapes again, stared out the window some more. They sat right next to each other and already they were too far apart. Sam tentatively pressed fingers into his busted right hand, kept the pain internal. It was no way to cope. He held his fingers there until they made it to an urgent care center, until the small town doctor pulled his hand clear. Took X-rays, put a cast on, gave him stronger pills to ease the pain. Dean stood by him the whole time, as close as humanly possible. Took care of everything, like he always did. Took him to a diner to make sure he didn't take the drugs on an empty stomach.
Sam's stomach was still unsettled, but he ate anyway because Dean wanted him to. Food in the belly couldn't repair a broken hand. It helped some. Words couldn't mend a wounded soul. They might help some.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam said after a while, staring over at Dean's chin for a second, then transferring his gaze up. Dean looked at him quizzically, the picture of his brother except not. His eyes were still hollow and disappointed and so much pain. "You were right."
"About?" Dean quirked an eyebrow even further up.
"I can't say anything that will magically make it all better. Trying even seems stupid." Sam cleared his throat. Dean stared at him with hard eyes now. His timing was crappy. It always was. He didn't know why he was doing this now, here. He didn't know shit except that he couldn't stop. He was so afraid that he was going to make the fissure between them grow. "I know you don't even want to hear it, and you sure as hell won't believe it, but none of this was your fault. None of it."
"Sam," Dean said.
"No, I mean it," Sam pushed forward. His throat started to close, his eyes water. Damnit. "You don't fuck with this kind of thing. Waiting too long might cause permanent damage."
Dean clenched his jaw, looked away from him.
"You think it would have been better if you had died, but that's not even close to true. You shouldn't be dead, Dean," Sam said fiercely. "Then it would just be me and Dad here instead, and, Dean? I miss Dad like hell, I really do, but losing you would have killed me. And it would have killed him, too. Nothing would have been better, man. Nothing at all."
Dean stared at him, eyes emotion-driven green and wide. He looked horrified and hurt and angry and torn and Sam couldn't fix that. He closed his eyes, felt hot tears stream down his face.
"I can't stand that I'm losing you anyway. I need you so damn much."
"Sam," Dean said, grabbing at Sam's plaster-encased wrist as if for dear life.
Sam opened his eyes and saw his brother was crying again. But he thought they were both on the same side of the fault line at last.