A 'Born under a Bad Sign' tag taking place after the end. As always, thank you Red Hardy for beta'ing this and talking me through Thursday night's episode when my cable spazzed out after Sam shot Dean!!
"Why didn't you fight back?" Sam's question came out of nowhere; the first burst of speech between the brothers in almost two hours, during which the only noise had come from the hum of the blacktop beneath the tires as the heart of a black beast rumbled its way through the back roads of middle America.
"What?" Dean focused in the darkness, intent on the twin beams that lit up the winding highway in front of them.
"When I was beating the shi-"
"Not you, Sam. Meg." Dean interrupted firmly, marking the distinction as much for himself as for Sam.
Sam paused; he swallowed, closed his eyes for a moment and then gave a small nod in concession. "Okay… when Meg was kicking the crap out of you. Why didn't you fight back?"
"Now that's a stupid question," the driver snorted, casting a meaningful glance at his passenger.
"Dean…" Sam sighed, the word weighted.
"What?" Dean suddenly turned on him, his words heated. "What'd you expect me to do? Hit back? Damn it, Sammy, I could have really hurt you!"
"And you getting hurt was any better? You should have defended yourself, Dean," the younger man retorted. "You should have fought back."
"I was shot! And it friggin' hurt!"
The brothers locked gazes. Sam turned away first. His eyes burned; his soul, guilt seared.
"Yeah. Ah, Dean. About that…" he tried to apologize, not for the first time tonight, but his brother huffed loudly, eyes back on the highway, interrupting what they both knew was coming:
"Can it, Sammy. It wasn't you."
For a moment only the sound of heavy breathing filled the car. Was it possible to suffocate on silence? To choke to death on what was never said?
Sam blinked quickly, his heart pounded painfully to the aching throb in his forearm. Maybe it was…
Dean winced as he reached to turn on the radio but the younger hunter stopped him. This was not over yet. He had things he needed to say.
Dean growled but pulled his arm back anyway.
"What is your problem?" the older man demanded, hotly.
"Well, first," Sam cut in, forcing reasonableness past anger. Sometimes talking with Dean was akin to slow torture, "it's Sam. And secondly, what makes you think you'd have hurt me…? And even if you did, it would have been better than you just letting me -" Dean growled in warning. "Than you just letting Meg rearrange your face."
"That's not the point," the obstinate hunter dismissed, his jaw clenched so tight Sam was afraid it was going to crack.
"Then what is? C'mon Dean, cut me a break here. I can take a punch, you know that. Even one of yours…" It wasn't meant as a barb but Sam saw the flash of guilt bolt across Dean's face, quickly shoved behind grimly pursed lips.
"I was holding back," the older man ground out; the admission surprised his brother.
"Excuse me?" Sam twisted in his seat, fully focused on the other hunter now.
"You heard me. Back there with Gordon. I held back."
Sam just stared. Dean must have noticed his brother's disbelief because he scoffed, his lips twisted in humorless mirth. "Come on, jackass, you really think I'd open the 'fists of fury' on a lightweight like you? Puhlease. I was pissed… but not fratricide pissed."
"Fists of fury?" Sam echoed, trying to keep an amused twitch off his lips, and slightly stunned that Dean had a nickname for his hands. In hindsight he probably shouldn't be so shocked. His brother had named his favorite shotgun.
"Shut up." The other man apparently had no intention of elaborating. Sam let him off the hook.
"Sam." Dean cut him off.
"Dean," Sam tried again and again his brother stopped him.
"Dean!" The younger man was nothing if not persistent.
"Would you stop saying my name!" his brother practically shouted.
"Would you let me finish my sentence?" Sam yelled back.
"No. Not if you're going to say what I think you're going to say," Dean refuted.
"And what do you think I'm going to say?" the young man challenged.
"I don't really know," his brother admitted, "But it's probably going to piss me off! And trust me, dickhead, that's the last thing you want to do right now."
"Dickhead? Nice, Dean." Sam shut up and turned back towards the window. But if the other man thought this was over, he was sadly mistaken.
"Yeah. Well. You act like one, you're going to be called one," Dean defended childishly.
"His gaze safely out the passenger window, Sam sighed loudly and then just blurted out, "Look, I know you'll fight for me… and I appreciate that more than you'll ever know," he paused and then said softly, "but, Dean, I also need to know that you'll fight for you, too. I can't be the reason why you're dead -"
Dean braked the car as he swung it over, hard, onto the soft shoulder of the road. His eyes were burning bright, with anger and something else – possibly anguish – as he slammed the vehicle into park and rounded on his brother.
"Oh. But its okay for me to be the reason why you're dead?" he demanded harshly as he slammed his hand onto the steering wheel, gasping when a sharp pain shot through his injured shoulder. "Damnit, Sam!"
This time it was Sam who winced. "Dean. I-"
"Just do us both a favor and don't say anything, okay? Just shut the fuck up," Dean was livid. "I am so tired of all this, Sam. So fucking tired… But mostly I'm tired of having to fight so god damned hard for everything! No, I never fought back… Yes I let that bitch in your britches shoot me and then beat the hell out of me – but, Sam, what else was I supposed to do? What? Kill you? Just how would that have made anything better, huh? Huh?"
A single tear scorched Sam's cheek as he gave a helpless shrug. "I don't know, Dean – but -"
"But nothing," Dean sank back heavily against the seat, reaching up and rubbing at his shoulder. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and although he didn't look at Sam, the younger man could see the weariness that threatened to drown him. "Sam, when I did nothing, I was actually fighting for us both… we are all that's left, man, and I am going to do whatever I can to make sure that when the good fight comes, we're in that fight together. Even if it means not fighting back, when my hell-spawn possessed kid brother tries to knock me back a couple of generations..." He turned towards Sam and Sam felt his breath catch in his throat at the depth of emotion Dean allowed him to see. "I don't know how to do anything else, Sam. Family is family… and you're all that I got."
"I'm just so scared, Dean. There was nothing I could do. Nothing. And then when…" Sam swallowed hard and looked at his brother, his hazel eyes wide with fear and wet with anguish. "When I killed that guy… and s-shot you… Oh god…" he doubled over, the seatbelt cutting into his neck as he buried his face in his hands. "Oh God… I think I'm going to be sick…"
He never noticed Dean had left the car until the passenger side door opened and his brother crouched down next to him. Sam felt a firm hand on his shoulder. The hand gave him a slight shake. "Sammy, c'mon man, don't do this to yourself…" he paused and added with forced joviality, "and don't do that to my car… it wasn't you."
Sam breathed deeply and tried to calm down. It took a few minutes but he was finally able to look at his brother. The concern and compassion he saw made him shiver and he confessed. "When Meg – ah – when…" he stopped, took another breath and then tried again. "When I was… ah… trapped…" Dean gave him an encouraging smile, seeming to like the analogy of trapped to being possessed, he continued, "I was like a passenger in my own body or something…" he paused and added so softly he wasn't even sure his brother heard, "it – Meg – was there yet I've never felt so alone before… it was like I didn't even exist anymore…" his eyes shone too brightly as he tried to shrug it off, "pretty weird, huh?"
Dean appraised him for a moment and then pursed his lips. "Not weird at all." He removed his hand from Sam's shoulder and started to stand, obviously confident his little brother was not about to ruin the upholstery anymore, but then he stopped, his face more serious than Sam could ever remember seeing it before. "You told me once that people don't just disappear… but that other people just stop looking for them." The younger hunter nodded numbly, the words familiar. "Well then Sammy, trust me on this. You would have never disappeared, cause I woulda never stopped looking. You're not alone, kid, you'll never be alone. Not as long as I have anything to say about it. Hellfire and demons be damned."
Straightening up, Dean groaned. This time Sam reached out to him, his feather touch enough to make the older man stop and look down at him in question.
Dean accepted the gratitude with a tilt of his chin and then moved away from Sam. "Well then, if you've finished dragging me through this Hallmark moment, I'd really like to get back on the road before I grow a set of tits and start wondering if my ass looks too big."
Sam couldn't help the small chuckle as he slowly shook his head. His brother, tits and ass, some things never change and for that he was eternally grateful.
"Oh and Sam," Dean added as he slid into the driver's seat. "For the record, if you ever shoot me again, you're on laundry detail… for life."
Sam snorted and then let out a hearty laugh. Once he started, he just couldn't stop... he needed this. They both did. Dean gave him an amused look but didn't say anything.
Twenty minutes later, though, Dean threatened to gnaw off his own leg and beat Sam to death with it if he didn't shut the fuck up.