A/N: Dean's whole confession at the end seemed desperate. I wondered why, and then I decided to write my own conclusions.
All Sam wanted was a bed. A real bed. Not the back of the Impala (again), not the front seat of the Impala (again), but a real bed. And honestly, Dean looked like he could use one too.
But Dean kept going, and god knew Sam wasn't going to leave him alone for any amount of time. Not when he was like this. Not when Sam was the strong one between them now.
It was push-push-push, constant hunts, even worse than Sam had been over the summer months without his brother. Dean was doing more hunts now in a week than they'd done before in a year. Dean kept pushing, never letting up, and Sam was forced along for the ride. Dean wouldn't talk about anything when he got going, would pretend he'd never spoken about anything that was on his mind.
It was better then when they stopped, though. Because when Sam could finally convince Dean to stop, to take a few minutes to park the car and breathe...
That was when Dean would start talking, to fill the empty space. Revelations pouring out when he felt like talking, clamming up and hunting when he didn't. Neither scenario was really optimal, and either way, all Sam could do was stand and be strong for Dean, strong for them both. To be the sounding board Dean needed him to be, like he'd been for Sam for so many years.
The first revelation had come after the entire mess with Anna. Dean had tried to find a job immediately afterwards, and Sam had managed to get him to drink a beer instead. Just rest and celebrate a job that didn't end with them dead. Far as Sam was concerned, that was a job well done.
He didn't know if Dean had even had a sip of the congratulatory beer. Instead, he'd started talking about Hell at last, and while Sam had needed to hear it, while Dean had needed to say it, Sam had wished it could've waited until Dean had had some rest.
Forty years. It still hurt to think about. And for ten of those years, Dean had had to hurt souls to avoid being hurt himself, and it still made Sam's heart clench his chest. His brother had done what he'd had to in order to survive, and Sam couldn't blame him for it. So when Dean had finally stopped talking, voice broken and choked off, Sam had slid to sit behind him on the Impala, keeping his shoulder steady and sure against Dean's. A silent I'm here that Dean had acknowledged after awhile with a small bump of his own shoulder back.
Last week, the second revelation had come. Out of nowhere, Dean had decided to talk about it again, talk about Hell, and that he'd enjoyed it. Enjoyed it. He'd poured it out desperately, wide eyes watching Sam as he'd said it, and all Sam had been able to do was bite his lip and listen. Dean had blurted out more, about hurting souls and liking what he was doing, but there'd been too much desperation in his voice, too much forced conviction, and Sam hadn't understood why.
Not when all Sam had been able to remember had been the tears rolling down his brother's face when he'd admitted how long it'd been down there for him. The memory of Dean breaking apart after Anna had been all the resolve Sam had needed to reach out and put his hand on Dean's shoulder and say softly, gently, "It's okay, Dean."
So when the third revelation came, Sam was a little more prepared and ready for it. He'd been through it twice before, after all: he knew the signs by now.
It'd been two weeks since the haunted house and the last roadside confession. They'd been hunting nonstop since, and still there was no sign of a bed in Sam's future. They were stopped on the side of the road, a small lake off in front of them. The grass was a little damp, but nowhere near marsh-like. Just enough to constitute mud and some duck's webbed prints.
Dean paced nervously, hands in his pockets, glancing at Sam from time to time. Sam just leaned back against the car and waited. It wouldn't be long; Dean wasn't patient enough for that.
Sure enough, Dean finally turned to him, lips curled into a smirk that looked like it could break into a sob at any moment. "It was you, you know," he said, voice low. "I kept torturing you down there, Sam. You were the face I saw."
And Sam had guessed at it, been afraid that that had been the case, and he shut his eyes tight. They'd made Dean believe it was him down there. That it'd been Sam he'd been breaking, in and out. Dean didn't need him to lose it. Dean needed him to be strong. He opened his eyes, caught the pursed lips as Dean regarded him almost impatiently. Nervously.
I enjoyed it, Sam.
Oh. Oh. Sam finally parted his lips and spoke. "Dean, it's okay," he said softly, giving a sad smile. "I get it. I don't mind if you wound up...wound up enjoying it. Okay? You kept your sanity, you kept you. That's all I care about."
Dean's jaw dropped, and his eyes got wide. "You're serious," he said, voice trembling.
Sam frowned slightly. "Yeah, Dean, I'm serious. It was Hell. You did what you had to-"
"The hell is wrong with you?" Dean exploded, causing Sam to blink in surprise. Dean was panting now, heavily and full of fury, but it was the fear in his gaze that took Sam's breath away. "You're okay that I might have enjoyed it? You're okay with the fact that it might've been you a few times?"
Sam's frown deepened as he tried to figure out why Dean was ranting, and when it slid into place, he was a little surprised he hadn't seen it sooner. "Wait a minute. You're mad that I'm not mad?"
Sam let out an exasperated sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was just so...so Dean. "That's not...that's not right, Sam," Dean continued, his voice shaking with anger. "I...I gave in. You hearin' me? I gave in. I couldn't hold out against a little torture-"
"Thirty years, Dean," Sam shouted back, because ironically, now he was pissed off. More pissed off than he had been in ages, and if Dean wanted him angry, then Sam would be angry. "And it wasn't a 'little torture', it was Hell. You went through Hell. Literally. And honestly? I'm glad you gave in."
Dean stared at him, stunned into silence. Sam pushed himself off from the Impala and strode towards his brother. "I wish you'd given in earlier. I'm glad it wasn't you getting ripped apart and carved apart for forty whole years," and he had to stop and swallow back the sudden bile at the thought. In the pause, a terrible thought finally occurred to him. "But I know that's not really true, because I'm betting they didn't offer anyone else that particular get-free card, did they? I bet Alastair only offered the chance to get off the rack to you, because he knew what it would do to you. Because he knew he'd still be torturing you, on the rack or off."
Sam had no idea how much of his sudden guess was right, but judging by his brother's reaction, he wasn't half off from the mark. Dean was still staring, still silent, but his bottom lip was trembling. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Sam said, clutching his fists and arms tight against his body. "And if it was me you were torturing, then I'm actually glad you enjoyed it, Dean, because god knows I was the reason you went down there in the first place! You should've enjoyed carving me up!"
"Stop it," Dean whispered, voice shaking for entirely different reason than anger. "For god's sake Sammy stop it."
"You didn't stop! You carved me up for ten years, and I'm glad you did." And he knew he was being cruel, but if Sam stopped now, Dean would continue torturing himself, and Sam had a suspicion to prove. "Hell, you enjoyed it, so I shouldn't deprive you of it now. C'mon, punch me! Hit me! It's what you enjoyed doing, wasn't it? Castiel yanked you out and ended the fun, but I'm here now, so c'mon, free shot!"
"Stop it!" Dean finally shouted, his hands flying up to dig into his scalp. "Just...just stop it!"
"But if you enjoyed-"
"I didn't enjoy it, I hated it, and I tried to enjoy it to get through, but I couldn't but I think sometimes I really did and I'm sorry-"
Sam caught him by the arms and pulled him in close, letting Dean rock against him, head still buried in his arms. Dean continued to ramble on, words tripping over each other as he stuttered and stammered through tears, and Sam closed his eyes and held on.
Dean finally stopped, voice cut off suddenly with a small coughing fit. When it passed, there was silence except for Dean's heavy breathing.
When Dean did finally speak again, it made Sam clutch at him tight enough for his knuckles to turn white. "I wanted you to hit me."
"I know." And he had known, known the instant Dean had wanted him to be mad. He'd been saying things to try and make Sam angry enough to punish Dean, to hurt Dean, to hate him like Dean obviously hated himself. When Sam had only shown understanding, compassion instead of violence, Dean had started pushing the issue more.
"Listen to me," Sam said, pulling away to look Dean in the eye. Dean's hands fell away from his head, and he looked small and broken. Sam swallowed hard but continued anyways, voice gentle. "I don't care if it was me all those ten years, though I'm doubting that it was. I don't care if you enjoyed it, whether you enjoyed it all the time or even just a little bit. I don't care, Dean. You're still my big brother, and you're still my hero."
Dean snorted wetly. Sam pursed his lips and kept going. "You are. If anything, I think what you survived just makes you even more my hero." Sam shrugged and gave a small smile. "So I might be a little twisted. But you went through Hell to save my life, Dean. That means something to me, something heroic. You won't ever convince me otherwise."
Dean's eyes started to glisten again, but he pursed his lips together. "You are twisted. I can't believe you told me to hit you."
"I can't believe you told me you enjoyed it," Sam countered, raising his eyebrow. "Who were you honestly trying to convince, Dean, you or me?"
Dean's eyes slid down to his feet, and Sam's last suspicion was confirmed. "You gonna stop ripping apart my hero?" Sam asked, and if he was pleading a little, well, he didn't care. "'Cause I gotta tell you, Dean, I think you're giving Hell a run for its money on mental torture."
Dean shut his eyes tight. Sam took hold of Dean's shoulders and bent down enough to look up at Dean's face. "You did what you had to in order to survive," Sam reiterated firmly but softly. "I would never, ever, blame you for that. Ever."
And as much as Sam had hated to do it, he knew administering tough love had been the right way to go when Dean met his gaze solidly and tried to give a genuine smile.
Sam answered it with a genuine smile of his own. "You owe me a sit-down dinner for this. And a hotel room, because dude, I am not spending another night in the Impala."
"You should be owing me for your psycho therapy," Dean grumbled, but he took in a deep breath and nodded. "Think there's a town a few miles down the road."
"Good," Sam said as he walked around the front of the car. The chill in the air was starting to get to him, and Dean needed a warm dinner as much as he did. "I'll even let you pick dinner in exchange for the 'psycho therapy', how's that?"
"Yeah. Thanks," Dean added a moment later.
Sam paused, his hand on the door handle. Dean was looking over the car at him, gaze steady and sure for the first time in weeks, and Sam knew it was for more than the dinner choice. "You're welcome," he said softly.
They slid into the car, and when Sam finally fell back into the hotel bed that evening, the one farthest from the door, Dean's eye roll and grin settled his heart more than the soft mattress beneath him did.