They say the eyes are the window to the soul. It's just a saying, but Sam Winchester knows it to be true. He's spent too many hours searching his brother's eyes to dispute the fact. He can tell just by a glance at those green orbs whether his brother is scared, or angry, or hurting. He knows when the mask is in place and he also knows that Dean can never hide anything from him. Sure, he can try, but Sam Winchester can see into his brother's soul.
Take now, for instance. The hunt went bad, very bad. Okay, so they disposed of the vengeful spirit but they were too late to save everyone. And even though Dean's mantra appears to be 'you can't save everyone', he doesn't seem to apply it to himself. He tries to kid Sam that it's no big deal, that sometimes crap just happens but Sam knows he doesn't really believe it. It's the little things that give Dean away. The way he hits the bar as if it's a long lost friend. The way he hustles pool a little too recklessly for Sam's liking. The way he hits on every unattached female within a ten mile radius.
And the way he won't look Sam in the eye.
It took Sam almost an hour to get Dean away from little Miss Slutty at the bar and back to the motel. As he opens the door to their room, Dean virtually pours himself through and collapses inelegantly on the bed. He still won't meet Sam's eye but that's okay. Sam learned to be patient around his brother a long time ago. It's not a skill he's forgotten. He can outwait his brother, especially when said brother is only just this side of sober.
Sam knows that in this state Dean will go one of two ways. He'll either clam up completely, pass out on the bed and never refer to tonight again, or he'll crack. Sam's seen both and he's never sure which he prefers. He knows that it's in Dean's best interest, in both of their interests, for him to open up and release all this anger, frustration and pain but that road usually ends badly for both of them. Dean will be full of self-recrimination and it's not unheard of for him to take it out on Sam. It becomes a vicious circle. Dean takes out his guilt on Sam, then feels more guilt for doing so and ends up taking that out on Sam too. Sam blames their father.
But if Dean doesn't vent, he broods. He maintains a stony silence and his emotions simmer and bubble and boil until eventually they explode, often at the most inopportune time and place. Sam doesn't think he'll ever forget the incident at Apple Valley. He doesn't think Apple Valley will forget in a hurry either.
Right now he wants Dean to vent but looking at his brother, collapsed unceremoniously on the bed, a slight smirk on his face, Sam doesn't think anything of any value is going to be forthcoming tonight. Not without a little help at any rate. He's not sure but he thinks Dean might be giggling.
"Dean? You okay?" Sam reckons it's worth a try. Dean rolls his eyes at Sam and his eyebrows seem to be on a hiking expedition all of their own. Sam wouldn't be surprised they disappeared into his hairline at any minute.
"Me? I'm good, Sammy. What about you? Why'd you pull me away from Lydia? She was about give me her everything!" He sounds genuinely upset about lost chances but Sam knows damn well he won't even remember her in the morning and, quite frankly, the state Dean's in right now, he's probably done him a favour.
Sam settles himself on the opposite bed and contemplates his brother, sprawled on his back across the covers.
"It wasn't your fault, you know." He needs to get this conversation started, needs to get things in the open. If anything, he's more to blame than Dean. "I shouldn't have left you in there for so long. I'm sorry."
"Oh, God." Dean turns his head away so he's looking at the wall. No chances of seeing those eyes now Sammy. He waves his arm dismissively and Sam knows that as far as Dean's concerned, there's nothing to talk about.
"Sam…can we not do this, please. I know what you're gonna say but I'm fine. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't your fault. It's crappy, but it happens."
"You can't do this every time, Dean. It's killing you and that's killing me."
"Oh c'mon, Sammy. Don't you think that's a little over the top?" Dean's rolled over now but his eyes are all over the place, anywhere but on Sam's face. And Sam really wants to see those eyes. What comes out of Dean's mouth doesn't always correspond to what's in his heart and mind.
"Dean, please. We need to talk about this. It's always the same."
"No, Sam. We don't need to talk about this. What we need to do is sleep."
"It won't go away Dean. You can sleep now but you know you're not gonna feel any better in the morning. And I'm not just talking about the hangover you're going to have."
"Sam…" Dean's starting to sound snarky and that's just what Sam's been going for. Any minute now Dean's going to get really pissed and maybe after that Sam and Dean will both be able to sleep better.
"Dean. Listen. I'm sorry I was so long. I shouldn't have left you in there for so long. I knew there was no way you could save them all and I still left you. We should have gotten them all out before I did the salt 'n' burn."
"Sam!" And there it is. Dean's head is upright, eyes burning into Sam's. "What d'you want me to say Sam? That it's all your fault? You screwed up? You should've known better? They're dead because you couldn't be bothered to do your job right? That's crap and you know it!"
He shouting now but Sam takes it in his stride because at least Dean's talking. And looking at him. Directly. Sam can see his eyes now and by default, into his very being. He may be vocalising anger, but Sam can see beyond that now. He can see the pain and grief behind the mask. If he were anyone else he would be running away from the tirade bursting forth from his brother's mouth. Sam's not sure if he's heard all the phrases Dean's using before but the theme is a familiar one.
"It's not your fault Sam." Dean trails off, exhausted by his outburst. He obviously wasn't planning on that and Sam feels mean pushing home his advantage.
"Then what makes it your fault, Dean?." A softly spoken question that stumps Dean completely. His head drops and Sam hears a despondent sigh. The reply, whilst not totally unexpected, hits Sam as hard as if his brother had thrown punch.
"I can't save any of them, Sammy, not a single damn one. Haven't for months now. I don't know what I'm doing anymore, Sam. I can't do it anymore…"
Sam's up off the bed and kneeling in front of Dean before he realises he's moved. He knows Dean hates 'chick flick' but here, tonight, this is what his brother needs. Sam catches hold of Dean's chin and forces his head up, forces him to make eye contact. And his breath catches in his throat. Tears are rising, unbidden, trailing gently down Dean's face and Sam swears he's going to stop letting Dean hit the bar after a hunt. If he remembers this in the morning he will be full of self loathing and, quite frankly, that's dangerous in this job. He needs Dean to have his head in the game 100%.
"What d'you mean? You've saved more people than anyone I know. Every so often we're too late. It happens to every hunter, Dean. You're one of the best hunters around. Even Dad thinks so and you know how hard it is to please him."
"I can't save anyone at the moment, Sam. I don't know what's wrong with me? Why can't I do it Sam?" The look on Dean's face is truly pitiful and Sam just wants to pull his brother into his arms and take away the pain. He wasn't expecting this and he doesn't know what to say. Sam Winchester – speechless. That doesn't happen very often. In the morning this will seem ironic but right now it's a major problem. Dean really needs help here and Sam is floundering the in wilderness. This side of Dean is an unknown quantity. Sam can deal with anger but this… he doesn't even know what this is. Dean is quietly breaking in front of his eyes and he doesn't know how to put him back together. He can offer words of comfort, he can offer words of encouragement, he can offer words of strength but he can't fix Dean in one night.
Somewhere along the line Dean's psyche has taken a battering that Sam didn't notice. Didn't notice the gradual breakdown of his brother's confidence, his self belief. Didn't notice Dean's moments of vulnerability and Sam Winchester doesn't think he'll ever be able to forgive himself for that.