Ok firstly huge massive thanks for the reviews. I was a little worried about that last chap but your comments made me happy. Secondly - really, really sorry about the long wait but stuff came up and I just couldn't get it done but it's here now and finished, complete, over ... hope you enjoy.
It's late afternoon by the time the brothers have showered changed and made their way out of the hotel to the only decent diner in the small town and Sam isn't too surprised to see two middle aged, red neck hunters sat enjoying a couple of beers while exchanging stories and anecdotes from years gone by of hunting, the adventures of two particularly infuriating young boys and a certain John Winchester. Dean isn't so much surprised as horrified. He had forgotten that sooner or later he would have to face Bobby again and somehow was hoping that he could reach old age without having to deal with the aftermath of what had transpired between them.
Unfortunately it isn't meant to be and Dean stiffens at the sight of the two men wishing that he hadn't run into Bobby so soon and that if he really did have to face him then can't it just wait a few more days because he doesn't feel like he is ready to deal with it yet. If he's being honest however he doesn't think that he will ever be ready and he wonders if Bobby is going to lay into him for his reckless actions and thinks bitterly to himself that he would prefer that to the alternative. The alternative being an uncomfortable and embarrassed exchange whereby they both try to pretend that Dean's breakdown and attempted suicide had never happened. But he has the feeling that Bobby won't want to pretend and will force some kind of acknowledgement from Dean and that is something he just can't bear the thought of.
He thinks to himself that he would take anything over that; anything including being yelled at, smacked around the head or the ass kicking of his life just as long as Bobby doesn't mention what happened. Knowing Bobby he'll probably give him all three and then be made to face what happened between them and he has no idea how the two of them will get past this but he really doesn't want to find out not now and preferably not ever and he briefly considers turning and getting out of there before the two men notice their arrival.
Sam seems oblivious to his concerns - or else he is ignoring them and Dean thinks the latter is more likely, especially as the slight movement he makes to turn and flee is counteracted by his brother grasping his shoulder firmly and pushing Dean forward cheerfully, his face lighting up.
"Hey guys, great minds..." he greets a huge grin on his face but Dean's doesn't mirror his expression in the slightest and he hovers uncomfortably around the table smiling politely at Rick and avoiding Bobby's gaze altogether.
Rick looks up at the oldest Winchester and nods his head towards him.
"Boy - you look like hell."
Dean offers him a lopsided grin and shrugs still hovering until Bobby stands and pulls up another couple of chairs for them both, winks discreetly at Dean and gestures for them both to join them at the table, squeezing Dean's shoulder encouragingly as the younger man reluctantly takes his seat. Dean thinks to himself that Bobby doesn't seem mad at him at all which means he can stop worrying about getting his ass kicked which is nice to know but he can't help worry about what will happen instead. Still apparently oblivious Sam joins him at his side his face still bearing the grin, slightly nervous and trying to think of something to say knowing full well that his brother won't be the one to initiate conversation.
In the end it's Bobby who breaks the silence
"Boys can I not recommend the chilli burgers - Rick had two last night and now he seems to be having a few shall we say - gastric issues."
The two older men burst into laughter, clearly highly amused with themselves and Sam grins looking downwards, shaking his head in mock disgust while Dean manages a glimmer of a smile, grateful to Bobby for immediately breaking the ice and attempting to ease his awkwardness and he thinks to himself that maybe it will be ok and that Bobby feels as embarrassed and awkward about it as him and that they can pretend that what happened back in that motel room never occurred and just get things back to normal again.
The joviality continues as the hours tick by, the afternoon turning to evening as games of pool between Sam and Bobby and then Rick and Dean are played, and then returning to their seats for more light hearted banter the cruder, older men showing their true colours much to Sam's delight and amusement. Dean however remains subdued, occasionally chuckling but rarely joining the lively conversation although he tries but he just feels so tired and afraid to use his voice in case he says something that Bobby will feel the need to respond to and they have to make eye contact and then the pretence will be shattered. He considers making his excuses and leaving but every time he tries to speak someone else - usually Sam - steps in and cuts him off, making escape impossible.
More beers are consumed although the older men seem to be getting through more than the youngsters of the group and Dean in particular seems to be drinking very little, although strictly speaking he shouldn't drink anyway as he probably still has a concussion but it never did him any harm before but for some reason the taste of beer isn't doing much for him tonight.
He's a little disheartened and not to mention nervous when Rick stands up announcing it's time for him to leave, muttering something about not being able to keep up with the youth of today and he feels a stab of panic because now there's only three of them which makes it even harder to blend into the background and avoid conversation and eye contact from people who he has no place making eye contact or conversation with. Rick doesn't seem to notice or care and says his goodbyes warmly, instructing the two youngest hunters to call by his place tomorrow for their pay, before leaving the diner his feet only slightly unsteady on the floor.
The three men watch him leave and the silence lasts only moments and then Dean feels his heart miss a beat as Sam announces he needs to empty his bladder causing Dean to shoot him an icy glare which Sam either doesn't see or pretends that he hasn't, ruffling his brother's hair affectionately and briefly grasping his shoulder as he leaves the table slightly inebriated, leaving Dean both panic stricken and furious - emotions he still manages to keep well hidden.
The total lack of sound between the two remaining hunters is deafening and Dean thinks his head might explode as he stares intently at something incredibly fascinating on the table, his hands fidgeting in front of him, unable to speak or look at Bobby and he silently berates himself for actually believing he could avoid this moment indefinitely and then Bobby sighs a little sadly shattering the quiet, his voice admonishing but unbearably soft.
"Don't what, son?"
Dean blinks feeling his chest tighten and his eyes sting, but says nothing shaking his head and he thinks he may well just throw up when Bobby reaches across and places a hand on his forearm.
"You can drop the act now, boy."
Dean maintains his silence.
"Ok at a guess I'd say you're embarrassed right now, ashamed even. Am I close?"
He can't bring himself to answer the older man but it doesn't seem to matter because Bobby correctly takes his lack of response as an affirmative.
"Yeah, well don't be. You've got nothing to be ashamed of, Dean. Apart from maybe that crazy assed stunt you pulled yesterday for which I could happily kick your butt by the way."
Dean blinks again and looks up slightly, fixing his gaze just below the older man's chin but can't quite reach his eyes and then Bobby has to witness the tear trickle down his cheek as an agonisingly long moment passes before Dean angrily wipes it away before looking down again sniffing.
His voice is raw and shaky and Dean hopes Bobby knows he isn't apologising for his most recent actions for which he will never apologise for no matter how much shit he has to take but the shame he feels over his breakdown and revealing so much to the older hunter is still smothering him but his remorse only seems to make the older hunter angry and he is forced to flinch a little when he next hears him speak.
"I don't wanna hear that Dean. Not now and not ever so you'd better get that into that stubborn head of yours. Nothing's changed here one bit and as far as I'm concerned, you're still the same pain in the ass, smart mouthed, young upstart you've always been. Do you hear me, boy?"
Dean's jaw twitches and his chin quivers slightly before he nods tearfully still unable to meet Bobby's gaze and finding the older man's stern words too difficult to hear and his mind is greeted with a brief flashback of Bobby yelling at him and pinning him against a wall while he struggled fruitlessly, feeling so weakened and pathetic and he wishes that Bobby will stop talking now and that Sam will hurry back because it doesn't take this long to take a leak but he isn't shutting up, not yet.
"I'll tell you somethin' else for nothin' too."
Bobby stabs a finger at him, his voice retaining it's harshness.
"If I was lucky enough to have either of you boys as a son - I'd be the proudest man on the whole damn planet. And you better tell Sam I said that too."
A moment passes as Dean allows the words to sink in and his hands involuntarily clench as he tries in vain to hold back the tears, his face tightening, swallowing back the sob that is threatening to escape but he won't cry in front of Bobby again and he wonders if it counts as crying if tears are streaming silently down your face just as long as you don't make a sound and he decides that no it definitely does not count.
He takes in a breath which hitches painfully, swallowing hard once more and then he hurriedly scrubs away the wetness on his face with the palm of his hand, and waits for the tremors to subside but nearly loses it again when Bobby leans across and places a rough hand firmly on his right cheek gripping it hard and giving him a slight shake and then he speaks and his voice is still stern although not as harsh:
"You did good, son. And I am proud of you. You hearing me?"
Deans nods as much as he can with his face locked in Bobby's vice like grip, still fighting back tears and then somehow, he finally manages to look up into Bobby's eyes and offers the older hunter a faint smile and Bobby returns it and taps his cheek once before dropping his hand back to the table.
Bobby wants to get up and take the boy into his arms once more but this isn't the time or the place and he knows that's the last thing Dean wants even if it is what he needs but it pisses him off all the same. He looks into the young man's eyes and they're filled with sorrow but he sees the gratitude there too as if he owes Bobby a huge dept of thanks for simply telling him the truth about himself and he has to swallow his anger because he knows that if he were to yell at Dean right now it would be too much for the kid to take and he really doesn't want to be the cause of him breaking down again. The anger continues to bubble just below the surface and he knows that he will have to find someone else to hurl it at because the man who deserves it right now is John fucking Winchester and he wishes he could shake the man who turned his son into this lost, messed up kid and he thinks that he'd like to ask him none too gently just how many times he'd told his eldest how proud of him he was and how hard he'd tried to make him believe that and he wonders sadly if that infuriating son of a bitch had ever made an effort to let either of his son's know just how damn amazing they were.
Dean drops his gaze first and Bobby realises he still has a hold of his arm and giving it one last squeeze he releases it just in time to see Sam re- take his seat. Dean looks up briefly, avoiding prolonged eye contact aware of the traces of tears in his eyes but at least his voice is almost back to normal. Almost.
"Dude, what took you so long?"
Sam looks at Bobby, his eyes wide then turns back to Dean mumbling:
"Um... there was a... queue."
"A queue huh? Sam the place is practically empty."
"Yeah I guess they're all on the can huh?"
Dean rolls his eyes and looks sideways at his brother who once again pretends not to notice and then Bobby grins at the youngest hunter before rising from his seat.
"How about I get us another round of beers?"
The brother's nod briefly, Sam looking up at Bobby and smiling gratefully before turning to his brother, his eyes narrowed slightly and he says seriously his voice low but soft.
"You ok, man?"
Dean nods offering Sam a crooked grin and replies genuinely:
"Yeah. I'm good, Sammy."
The three men chat away the rest of the evening and even Deans join the conversation a little and then he stifles a yawn once too often and Sam decides it's time he got his brother back to the hotel and into bed.
"Looks like someone's up past their bed time."
Dean of course protests, claiming he's fine, not tired at all and has hours left in him but then Bobby steps in and Sam flashes him a grateful smile.
"Actually, I should be hitting the hay myself. I've got a long drive tomorrow."
"Yeah we should get back on the road too. Come on, Dean, you look worn out man."
"Nah, I'm good."
Bobby stands up and glares at the oldest Winchester.
"Sam's right son you should be in bed. Don't make me make it an order now."
"I'll catch up with you boys in the morning before I head off."
Bobby grasps each of their shoulders before draining the last dregs of his beer and then leaves them alone, Dean playing with his beer bottle, picking at the label and Sam watching suspiciously.
"Dude, drink up. We're going, it's late."
Sam is more than a little surprised when Dean doesn't argue and obeys the order without hesitation, finishing his beer and following Sam out on to the quiet street and they take the short walk back to their hotel.
Dean collapses onto his bed feeling drained and exhausted; he leans against the headboard while his brother potters around packing their belongings. Without thinking he lets out a heavy sigh and regrets it when Sam notices, stops what he's doing and sits down on his own bed facing Dean.
"You sure you're ok, man?"
Dean nods and then looks across at Sam and he can't hide the darkness in his eyes and he's too tired to try or care anyway because it doesn't really matter considering he can never keep much from his little brother. Sam waits. Sam always waits. Never rushes him. Never judges him. Just waits.
Dean looks down at his hands and tries his hardest to find his voice so his brother won't have to wait much longer.
He pauses for a moment and scrubs a hand across his face wincing at the soreness as his hand inadvertently catches the cuts and the bruises and he finds himself sighing again.
"I've been a major pain in your ass lately haven't I?"
"Dean, you're always a major pain in my ass."
He glances up at Sam to see his earnest expression and he tries his best to glare and let his brother know how much he doesn't appreciate his warped and inappropriate sense of humour.
"You're a real funny guy you know that Samantha?"
Sam laughs in that high pitched, smug girly way he does when he's trying to piss Dean off. "Yeah, I think so."
"You know what, you were totally in for a Kodak moment right now, but just for that you can forget it."
Annoyed, Dean reaches for the TV remote on the chest of draws near his bed.
"Dean, I'm sorry man..."
Sam's apology is wasted on Dean because the little shit is till grinning and shaking his head, obviously amused with himself. Dean ignores him and makes several attempts to switch on the TV but nothing happens and he thinks what the hell is the point of a remote that doesn't work and irritably throws it at Sam who catches it one handed which only serves to annoy him even more so he folds his arms and tries not to scowl.
He glances up briefly to see Sam put down the remote and then walk over to his bed. He sits down at the bottom facing him and he looks up again giving him his most pissed off glare but has a feeling he didn't really pull it off all that well and Sam just waits saying nothing.
Sam sits watching Dean and he shakes his head a little sadly and when he speaks his voice is weak and thick with unshed tears and Sam's conscience twinges with guilt for making fun of his brother.
"I was a complete asshole Sam. I put you through hell and for that - I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."
Dean's voice breaks on his final apology and Sam winces shifting a little closer to him and places his good hand on his brother's shoulder squeezing slightly.
"I'm not done, Sam."
Sam sighs and looks away feeling saddened that Dean feels the need to punish himself even more and wishes that they could skip all this because his brother's been through enough, but he says nothing and allows Dean to continue.
"I said some things to you, things I can't take back but I need you to know... I didn't mean any of it."
"Dean, you think I don't know that?"
"Dammit Sam would you just listen for a minute."
Dean huffs and scrubs his hand through his cropped hair.
"When I gave you a hard time about Dad. I shouldn't have done that. I knew you were beating yourself up over it and I took advantage of it. I used it to get you off my back and I want you to know I've pretty much felt like crap about it ever since."
Sam shrugs remembering the argument back there on the road when he'd tried to get Dean to deal with his grief but Dean had turned it around on Sam accusing him of things he already felt terrible about.
"Yeah, well you were right, man. It was too little too late."
"No Sam, you need to hear this. Dad knew you didn't hate him. And he was just as much to blame for all those head butting contests. He knew Sam, you need to remember that."
Sam looks away, removes his hand from Dean's shoulder and feels the tears welling in his eyes. He remembers Dean's tirade on him on the road that day and what it had done to him and how it had reminded him of how much he hated himself over the things he'd said to his dad. He'd believed Dean felt the same although a part of him had kept telling himself that Dean was just angry and struggling with his grief but his brother's words had been devastating all the same.
Now Dean had just told him it was all a front to get him to quit pestering him and while the guilt he feels is raw as ever he feels a little of the weight lifted now realising his brother doesn't hate him like he sometimes hates himself. He feels his brother's hand on his arm and then hears him speak so very softly and he swallows hard hoping that the two of them can hold it together.
"I'm sorry man, I know that I hurt you... a lot, but you have to believe me..."
Sam can't bear the sound of his brother's cracked and broken voice anymore and turns back to him cutting him off before he has chance to finish, glaring at him furiously.
"Ok enough. You don't have to apologise to me anymore, Dean, I don't wanna hear it ok?"
He can't help the crack in his voice as all attempts to remain stern fail miserably and Dean looks up at him briefly his eyes bright and Sam holds his gaze shrugging a little offering Dean a half hearted smile.
"Besides, putting up with your crap kind of comes with the job, man."
Dean returns the smile and blinks rapidly looking away before turning back to his brother looking him square in the eyes. He nods then speaks his voice still cracked and not much louder than a whisper.
"Thanks for not giving up on me, Sammy."
Sam grins crookedly giving himself a moment to steady his own voice.
"I'd never give up on you dude. Not until you were six foot in the ground and probably not even then."
Dean nods gratefully before looking down at his hands and Sam's surprised that he still hasn't finished and that there's more his brother needs to say and wonders how long Dean expects him to last before he loses it and then gets berated for being a girl.
"You know when we were kids - well teenagers; I remember when I used to patch you up after a hunt."
He sniffs shaking his head.
"You'd whinge like a little girl but when it was over you always used to give me this look - I'll never forget it - like you trusted me - like - I dunno like you were proud. Y' know...to be my brother? "
Sam blinks rapidly feeling his chest tighten but fights to keep his eyes on his brother and sees him take an annoyed swipe at his eyes.
"I'd have given anything to have you look at me like that again... but I guess I haven't really given you reason to lately, huh?" he smiles bitterly and looks away shaking his head. Sam takes a breath wanting to cut his brother of because he doesn't know if he can take any more but he doesn't and then he's relieved when he sees it's nearly over and Dean turns back to him finding the courage to meet his eyes once more.
"I know I've let you down, Sammy and ... I've let dad down and I can't make it up to him but...I'll make it up to you. I swear. "
Dean's eyes drop back to his lap and Sam can see he's fighting to hold on to what control he has left as he whispers his final promise.
"One day I'll make you proud to be my brother again."
Sam winces and blinks away his tears knowing he has to stay strong for his brother and determined not to cry he laughs a little instead but it sounds wrong to his ears anyway and dammit his voice is still shaking.
"You're an idiot you know that?"
Dean doesn't look up and Sam feels a little irritated which is a good thing because that means he can stop the tears from falling.
"Dean, look at me." Sam's voice is a little stern but Dean doesn't respond so he grabs his shoulder again and shakes him a little.
"Hey dufus, I said look at me."
Dean meets his brother's fierce glare and Sam sees that his eyes are glistening.
"I've always been proud to be your brother, Dean. I still am and I always will be."
He laughs again but it still sounds wrong.
"Don't you know that, man? I mean isn't it obvious?"
There's a brief pause as Sam allows his words to sink into his brother's thick skull and then he speaks again his voice still stern if a little thick and his words come out hurried because if he doesn't say it quickly then he may not finish at all.
"And another thing. All these years you have never - not once let me down so you'd better get that into your head, cos if I ever hear you talking like that again..."
"Don't tell me – you'll kick my ass."
Dean searches his brother's eyes for any hint of falsity, but he is forced to accept that all he sees is raw honesty and truth and although he attempts to hold his brother's gaze a little longer he can't help but falter when the full weight of Sam's words hit him, shattering his resolve and he looks back at his hands his face tightening and he tries so hard to blink back the fresh set of tears that have now appeared.
Sam loosens his grip on his brother's shoulder but leaves it there not wanting to break contact and sensing his brother needs it as much as he does and then he waits as Dean wipes at his eyes once more as the last of his tears escape and he looks back at him, his eyes still bright but his lips twitching slightly and Sam grins as he recognises the familiar mischievous glint in his brother's glassy eyes.
And then Sam laughs, his face crinkling and his eyes sparkling.
Dean knocks Sam's hand away in mock irritation.
"Get off me you wuss."
And then they are silent knowing they don't need to say any more as Sam changes his position to sit at his brother's side while Dean feigns irritation when Sam indicates for him to move up and give him more room.
They lounge comfortably side by side on Dean's bed and Sam uses the previously useless but now fully functional remote to turn on the TV and then leans back smugly on to the head board much to his brother's annoyance. They remain there for some time not really watching the late night film which is in French anyway and just content to share each other's company and the bag of potato chips that Dean has pulled out of his bag. Their shoulders touch and Dean allows the contact to distract him from the wars that still rage inside him, until sleep finally takes him and his head rolls on to Sam's shoulder.
Sam pretends not to notice and carries on munching and then after a few moments looks down and rolls his eyes.
"Dude you so better not be drooling on my shirt."
He looks back at the TV sighing before turning it of and looks down at the exhausted pile of sleeping sibling leaning on him. He closes his eyes and hoping that Dean won't awaken he leans down and gently kisses the top of his brother's head, not really caring about how Dean would kill him dead if he ever found out.
He's reluctant to move and risk disturbing Dean but he concedes that he too needs to sleep and so takes the weight of his brother's upper body in his arms, gently lays him flat on the bed and covers him with a blanket before going to his own bed too tired to undress and he lies there watching his brother sleep until slumber claims him also.
In the morning Sam and Dean call at Rick's to say their goodbyes and Rick gives them their - in his opinion - well earned pay and his warm thanks telling them to keep in touch and to look after each other. The brothers return their thanks and head back into town to meet with Bobby.
The three hunters get back on the road in their respective vehicles and steadily make their way across the country until it is time for them to go their own ways. Stopping to re fuel at a gas station, the three men take time to say farewell and Dean feels a little sad because for a short time he didn't feel so alone and now Bobby has to leave them and it's up to him to be the strong one again.
Dean shakes hands with the older hunter first but Bobby pulls him into a fierce hug which Dean returns without a hint of hesitation until Bobby releases him lightly smacking his cheek affectionately.
"Keep your eyes off the floor son, you hear me?"
Dean simply nods understanding the order and expresses his gratitude with a look that Bobby understands just as accurately.
"Behave yourself and don't forget what I told you."
Dean won't forget although he wishes he could forget a lot of what has happened recently but he knows that he owes it to Sam and the older hunter to try and obey the order that Bobby gave him when he was sat on the floor that night trying to fight back tears of shame and grief and he winces at the memory but nods letting Bobby know he will try.
And then Bobby turns to Sam and gives him an equally fierce hug, ruffles his hair and gives him an order of his own.
"Don't you be taking any shit from your big brother from now on Sam. And if he doesn't behave you give me a call, you hear?"
Sam grins and Dean looks embarrassed but manages a brief smirk and then Bobby suddenly turns serious not mock serious but really serious and Sam's grin fades as he locks eyes with the older hunter as Bobby addresses them both this time.
"Next time you boys need help - and I mean with anything - you don't wait until everything's gone to hell, you pick up that phone and you call me. Understand?"
The brothers answer in unison Dean feeling the impending weight and feeling of isolation that was threatening to return retreat a little.
And then he leaves them to make their own way while he makes his and he hopes that they know that they're not alone.
That night in a new motel room in a new town the brothers lie in their beds staring at the ceiling sharing memories of their parents attempting to chase away the demons that had plagued them the last few weeks.
Dean relays to his brother a particularly amusing tale from when Sam was still a baby, involving their dad, a bucket of wall paper paste and their neighbour's dog. As he finishes the story he's worn out from laughing and apparently so is Sam and he wipes away the tears sighing as he realises that that was the last time he could remember his mother laughing uncontrollably, the sound like the most unearthly kind of music, soothing and beautiful and he wishes more than anything he could hear it one last time.
Sam looks over at him his own laughter finally dying as he notices his brother's mood change and detects something in his voice.
"I was thinking about what you said?"
Sam turns on to his side propping up his head with his hand and looks at is brother questioningly.
"When you said you wished more than anything that Dad was still here."
"What about it?"
"You wanna know what I wish for? I mean more than anything?"
"I wish that Mom was still alive. I wish the demon had never chosen us and that we'd never become hunters. You and Jess - you could've lived out your lives oblivious to all... this. Dad would've still been here, we would never even know that demons existed. We would've been normal. A family."
"Hmm," Sam smiled sadly, "You know what the trouble with wishes is though Dean?"
"No, but I'm sensing you're going to tell me,"
"They pretty much never come true."
"No, I guess not."
"Besides, normal kinda doesn't suit us right?"
Dean says nothing but smiles sadly closing his eyes. Nothing about them and their lives is normal. It isn't normal to be living with constant guilt and fear that tomorrow might grant you your last chance or that tomorrow your mistakes may be the death of you or that tomorrow you had to wake up with the knowledge that your little brother may become the opposite of what he is and that you may have to kill him and knowing that you would rather die than do that. Dean says nothing though knowing that this burden is his and his alone and can't be shared. This is something that Sam can't help him with and it at least makes him feel a little more in control knowing he still has this responsibility even if he hasn't exactly earned it lately.
He's happy that he can still protect Sam and keep him ignorant of this latest lonely war he has to fight and feels grateful that at least he can protect him from this and it gives him some peace and it aids his descent into sleep and dreams where death and fear and pain can't find him and his brother's eyes are free of the horrors that they had both bore witness to over the years.
The morning will come and with it this latest battle to keep Sam safe and in the dark about his secret, and the knowledge that he has no choice but to survive and continue, but for now, the dreams would do.
I always said I wouldn't include a "Bitch"/"Jerk" moment cos it gets used so many times but what can I say – I caved – I am weak.
Thanks to everyone who had the patience to stick with this to the end and espesh to everyone who left comments – you made my day. If you didn't comment yet I wouldn't mind at all if you did hint hint
Hope you enjoyed anyway – thanks again.