Sam and Dean were in their bedroom now, each sitting on their respective beds. The younger of the two was leaning against his headboard, staring silently at the wall. Dean, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his bed, feet planted firmly on the floor. He watched his little brother intently, knowing in his gut that this was far from over.
"I'm sorry," Sam said, not for the first time.
"I swear, Sammy, you apologize one more time and I'm gonna pummel you."
His little brother made eye contact with him long enough to give him a sad, watery smile, then returned his attention to the wall.
"Just tell me why," Dean told him.
"Why you didn't come to me sooner."
Sam shrugged dismissively.
"Uh-uh, little brother, that's not a good enough answer."
The youngest Winchester stood and walked away, keeping his back to Dean. "Well, too bad cuz it's the only answer you're gonna get."
Dean's lips quirked downwards, even as his eyebrows went up. 'Is that so?' Then he too stood and approached his brother. "So, we're gonna play that game, are we?"
"It's not a game, Dean," Sam said with a sigh. "I just don't wanna do this, right now, is all."
The older Winchester matched his brother's sigh with one of his own, he reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. It's gonna be a long night. "I'm assuming you knew I was alive when we first got to Bobby's, right?"
Sam turned and sat down on the edge of his bed, silently refusing to make eye contact with his big brother. He was still embarrassed about breaking down in Dean's arms. Not only am I a coward, but I'm a wuss, too!
"Sam?" Dean prodded, gently.
"I guess so," Sam responded, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Okay. So, what changed, then?"
Another shrug. Dean sat down next to him, close enough that their shoulders were touching. "C'mon, Sammy, talk to me, Dude."
Sam jumped to his feet again, nearly knocking Dean off the bed. "Oh, that's rich, Dean! That's really rich!"
The older of the two was clearly confused. "What?"
"How often do you talk to me, huh? When you're upset about something, how often?"
"Sammy -- "
"No, Dean. Being brothers is a two-way street, okay. You don't get to be all strong and macho, and then expect me to come whining to you when I'm hurting!"
Those words sounded vaguely familiar to Dean, then he remembered the argument they'd had just before the Wendigo hunt.
"I think Sammy should stay here, dad. He's still not 100 percent."
"Hey, Sammy is right here. And, it's Sam."
Dean rolled his eyes at Sam's recent decision that Sammy was the name for a baby not a teenager. "Fine. I think Sam should stay here, dad," Dean repeated, this time not taking his eyes of his still too pale little brother.
John turned his own concerned gaze to his youngest. "You still feelin' the effects of that flu, son?"
After shooting a glare at his over-protective big brother, Sam looked his father in the eye. "No, dad, I'm good to go. Dean's just being too much of a Florence Nightengale to realize it."
Now, it was Dean's turn to be indignant. "What? I'm not… I'm just…" Finally, giving up on his attempted come back, the middle Winchester glared back at his brother. "Fine. Be a stubborn jack-ass. Just don't come whining to me if you get hurt!"
"Aw, c'mon, Sammy. I only said that cuz I was angry. I just didn't want you to go on that hunt."
"Because, you still weren't over that flu. And, because…" Dean's voice trailed off. He could feel another chick-flick moment rapidly approaching and sighed with resignation. "Because, I didn't want you hunting yet."
"Dean, I've gone on lots of hunts with you and dad."
Okay, how did we get so far off topic, here. Then again, maybe we're not off topic. Maybe they were just finally getting to the correct one. "Yeah, as an observer. That's a far cry from actually killing anything, Sammy!"
The last comment brought fresh tears to the younger boy's eyes, but he fought them back. "You stopped being an observer when you were a lot younger than me, Dean. You were eight when you made your first kill."
This time it was Dean's turn to give his back to his brother, placing a hand on the back of his neck at the same time. "That's different."
"Why, Dean?" Sam asked, the tears getting harder and harder to hold back. No, dammit, I am not gonna cry like a baby again! "Why is it different?"
The older hunter spun back to face him, the look in his eyes a mixture of anger and pain. "Because, you're not me, Sammy! And, I never want you to be!"
This shocked Sam, causing him to take a step backwards, eyes wide and shining with unshed tears. "What? Why not?"
Dean sighed sadly. "I don't want you to have to grow up as quickly as I had to. I want you to just enjoy being a kid. I never got to do that, Sam. When mom died… my childhood was basically yanked out from under my feet. I mean, don't get me wrong, dad did his best - under the circumstances - but he just couldn't handle raising us and hunting the thing that killed her, at the same time. So, that responsibility fell to me. And, I don't regret it, Sammy. I don't. It's just..."
"Dean, I'm sorry -- "
"I don't want your pity, Sam. I just want you to understand why I am the way I am. Why I don't open up the way you want me to. Why I try to protect you from hunting. Why I…" his voice trailed off, knowing that he couldn't finish the last part, 'Why I love you so damn much', without getting teary himself.
"I love you too, bro," Sam said, reading his brother like one of his library books.
"Whatever, Dude," Dean replied, but gave his brother his most genuine smile to show what he couldn't say.
There were a few long moments of silence, then Sam began talking, really talking, for the first time since before the Sasquatch hunt.
"I was so scared, Dean. All I could think of was, what would Dean do? I wanted to be brave like you. I wanted to be smart like you. You're my hero, Dean." Dean's eyebrows raised higher and higher with each of his brother's confessions. "So, if you don't want me to be like you, that's just too bad… because that's all I wanna be!"
Dean could feel the sting behind his eye lids getting worse as he watched Sam move his gaze to the floor. "Too bad I failed," he heard him say softly.
"What? You didn't fail, Sammy. You saved my life when you ended that psycho!"
Unable to stop the tears anymore, Sam turned his wet face up to his brother. "If it weren't for me, that psycho never would've gotten his freakin' hands on you! I led him straight to you, Dean. I was a coward for not going after you on my own. I was an idiot for falling for his story. And, I was an idiot for letting him get the drop on me!"
Dean pulled Sam roughly into his arms, once again ignoring the kid's protests. "Okay, first of all, Sam, you would've been an idiot if you'd gone out in that storm on your own."
The younger of the two pushed frantically at his brother's chest. "Lemme go, Dean!"
But, Dean was still stronger than his little brother and merely tightened his arms around him, holding him against his chest for the second time that night. "And, speaking as the one person who knows you better than you know yourself, you didn't fall for his story so much as you were just desperate to find me and dad. As for him gettin' the drop on you? You got away, Sammy. You got away and you got to the cabin by yourself. You killed him, Sam. I know it wasn't easy but you did it to save me. And, y'know what? That makes you my hero!"
"I just wanna be as strong as you," Sam cried. "And, look at me - I'm crying like a baby!
Dean pulled away slightly, placing a hand on each of his brother's shoulders. He waited patiently for Sam to lock eyes with him before continuing: "C'mon, Sammy, you saw the condition I was in when you woke up in the hospital last month. I was a wreck."
"That was different," Sam said, trying to get control of himself.
"Oh yeah? How is that?"
"You thought I was dying."
"And, you thought I was dying, Sammy. You thought me and Dad were dying. I can't think of a better reason for a few tears. Can you?"
After a moment of staring up at his brother, seeing the truth of his words in his eyes, Sam silently shook his head. When Dean pulled him against him again, he smiled when his little brother's arms wrapped around his waist, clinging to him as if for dear life, finally allowing the tears to flow freely. Then, and only then, did Dean Winchester allow his own tears to fall.
A/N Okay, kind of an Epilogue and kind of not. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it. I'm also working on the next chapter of "Coming Home"... for anyone who's waiting for the update. Thanks so much for reading. I hope you'll review, as well. - Kelcor