OK, so I'm not sure where this came from. I saw, while re-watching "The Monster at the End of This Book" that Mystery Spot was one of the books published by Chuck. I thought it'd be interesting if Dean read the book... and then this story practically typed itself on my laptop today over the course of the afternoon. I usually angst and re-type and worry before posting fanfic, but I thought I'd just throw it out there, since it won't leave me alone. Um... it probably needs some beta work, so if anyone reads it and wants to give their $.02 and/or give a full beta I'd love it!

Title:Meeting at the Crossroads

Author: Nicole (SpuffyLvr3)

Genre:Supernatural gen; Dean, Sam

Word count: about 3,000

Rating:just some mild language

Spoilers:Everything through 4x18

Author's Note:No infringement intended. It's Kripke's sandbox.

***

Sam still sneaks out most nights.

Dean doesn't sleep as much these days, not like when he first came back from Hell. But he pretends better than he used to. He hasn't slept well since that business with Alastair (torture, I tortured him. And then he almost killed me). He's been noticing Sam leaving at night for weeks, though. Dean's fairly sure that Sam's snuck out before, but Dean had been a heavier sleeper then (alcohol will do that to a person). Since he's stopped the drinking, though, he's been much more alert. His protect Sammy radar has started to work again.

Sam always waits for Dean's breathing to even out and then makes his move. He's never gone for more than a few hours. Dean hears him leave, the same way almost every night. Doesn't matter what job they're on, or what town they're in, Sam seems to find a reason to slip out. Sam hardly makes a sound when he tip-toes out of the motel room. But Dean can hear the scrape of Sam's cell phone as he lifts it from the table; he recognizes the sound of his brother's handgun sliding into the top of his jeans at the small of his back; Dean feels the cool air sting his bare skin when the door is cracked open (just enough to slip out).

After forcing down the urge to follow him, Dean, most nights, sits in his bed and waits. He cleans a gun, or watches the fuzzy TV. Sometimes he looks for a new gig, searching the internet newspapers for hours. Dean won't go back to sleep until Sam is back, so he fills the time, cell phone inches from his hand in case (just in case he needs me). And then Sam returns. Dean slips back into his bed before Sam notices him and he can finally sleep.

The night after having the pleasure of meeting Zachariah and getting their minds fucked with (a Prius, really? Driving the Impala after that had never felt so good), Dean had woken up to sounds of Sam throwing up in the bathroom. He'd gotten up to check on him, knocking lightly on the closed door. Sam had assured him he was fine, just some bad food or something. Dean wasn't buying it, though. Sam had looked ill all day, and he'd been shaky and more irritable than usual. He'd laughed off Dean's concern, lamenting the bad food he'd been forced to eat in his alternate life (couldn't agree more. I'd needed to eat two bacon cheeseburgers for dinner to get the taste of cayenne pepper and maple syrup out of my mouth). Sam slipped out that night and returned within the hour. He had come back amped up and jittery. While Dean pretended to sleep, Sam sat awake all night alternating between cleaning guns and researching.

Dean didn't let it bother him anymore. He'd given Sam plenty of opportunity to come clean, but they weren't sharing their secrets anymore. So tonight, when Sam left again, Dean just sighed and sat up from the lumpy motel mattress. He felt the usual urge to follow Sam, brushed that aside and reached under his pillow. They may not be sharing and caring as much these days, but Dean was going to figure his brother out and fix the mess they'd made out of their relationship. He always was the peacemaker in the family after all. Maybe he couldn't get it back to what it was, but Dean knew they couldn't fight this war if they weren't at least on the same damn page.

The business with Lilith and Chuck the Prophet had been nasty, but it had provided Dean with some much needed Intel. That had been three days ago. He wondered if Sam even knew that Dean had kept all of the books.

Dean looked at the cover, only out of pure entertainment. The rock hard abs and Fabio hair of 'Sam' gave him a laugh every time. And reading through the books had started out as just that: a laugh. But two titles had caught his eye and he'd spent the nights since meeting Chuck (the last two nights that Sam left for hours) skimming through them.

He ran his finger over the raised lettering of the title: Mystery Spot. He was stalling, he knew. Sure Chuck was a crap writer, even Dean knew that. Chuck may get some of the details a bit wrong, but the events were all there in print and Dean knew from their recent experience that what Chuck wrote in the final drafts were the actual events as they had happened. Dean had gotten a kick out of reading about the various ways he'd managed to die. He laughed out loud at some of the things Sam said and did to try and convince Dean that the day was really repeating itself (catching the Tabasco sauce for a hundred plus Tuesdays? Telling the same story everyday to get me to understand what was happening? 'Sam Winchester cries his way through sex'? That's definitely something I would say…), and the various ways Sam had tried to save his life. Since he didn't remember any of this and was, therefore, detached from it he found he could vote on his favorite death. He was pretty sure the furniture dropping on him was going to win, just for sheer comedy brilliance. The archery incident was running a close second, though.

On the other hand, it had been a sobering read. Dean had only remembered the final Tuesday and the business with the Trickster, but reading it all had given Dean his little brother's point of view. Sam had told Dean very little about the events of the multiple Tuesdays. After they had left Broward County, Sam had been moody and overprotective. He'd thrown himself into saving Dean from the Deal and Dean had let him. It had been obvious that the kid was spiraling and Dean knew that, in the face of Sam not wanting to talk about something, distraction and work was the best way to help him.

Opening to the page he'd left off on last night, Dean sighed. He'd never expected this.

Six months later?

Six months!

He read carefully and slowly. Sam had kept this from him, and Dean knew there would be a reason hidden between the lines of exposition. Dean had been shot and it was Wednesday. And then, suddenly, the next chapter was six months later (oh, Sam). It was a direct recounting of the events from Sam's point of view. Dean fought down the guilt he felt at reading his brother's thoughts, laid out so raw on the pages. Sam wasn't sharing much these days, and Dean needed to know what had happened to make his brother so (cold, distrusting, distant) different.

So he read on. Sam had called Bobby to help bury Dean's body; he'd hunted alone, ignoring Bobby's phone calls, intent on finding the Trickster and righting the world again; Sam had gotten shot, dug the bullet out and stitched himself up; Sam had memorized the exorcism incantation word for word; He'd been reckless on hunts, not taking care of himself past basic necessities. Laser focused on finding the Trickster.

Sam had become John Winchester.

It was clear from book-Sam's inner monologue that he was afraid of what he was becoming. He was closed off, distant and cold. He woke, hunted, ate and slept. Wash, rinse, and repeat for six months. His OCD tendencies ran rampant with Dean not there to thwart them: in the daily routine, the wall of hunting information, the John Winchester makeover he gave the trunk of the Impala. He was on a mission, a reckless mission and he was going to find the Trickster and fix it all or die trying. He didn't want to live without Dean. He wondered if Dean was in Hell for those six months. He blamed himself-

Dean closed the book, but held the page with his index finger. His throat was tight with held back emotion. Rubbing the fingers of his hand across his mouth he cleared his throat.

I didn't last one day. Back in Cold Oak, with Sam's body spread out on the dirty mattress, turning more grey and lifeless with each passing second. I was desperate and broken. I can remember the exact moment that I gave up: kneeling in the cold street, mud soaking through the knees of my jeans, holding up my little brother's limp body while I cried. And then I was in the cabin, staring at Sam spread out on the bed, with no idea how I'd gotten there. I just knew Bobby had somehow gotten us both there, and without Sam I was done.

Dean opened the book back up, noting that only a few pages were left. Sam had slowly unraveled over the course of six months, becoming their father, single-minded in his vengeance and not afraid to die to achieve it. He read about Sam's encounter with the Trickster, his desperate pleading for him to turn back time to that Wednesday when it had all gone so wrong. Dean noted, and filed away for later, the lesson the Trickster had been trying to impart before he snapped his fingers and said, "That's for me to know, and you to find out."

Dean read the next paragraph quickly, not needing to know Sam's inner monologue. Dean had felt the same things turning the corner in that cabin to find Sam alive (confused, but alive). He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat and closed the book. Sam's actions after that day, words he had said, reactions, all clicked into place. He hadn't shared any of this with Dean because he'd been afraid. Sam had forced the Trickster to turn back time, but Dean was still going to Hell, and Sam was still terrified of the person he might become. It all started to make sense to Dean, and he was suddenly fighting down an emotion he hadn't been prepared for: anger. Anger at Sam for keeping so much from him, and anger at himself for making the damned deal in the first place.

Dean glanced at the second book he'd chosen and turned to the end: "No Rest For the Wicked". He wouldn't need to read the whole thing in order to understand Sam. The book about the Broward County Mystery Spot had filled in so many blanks. No, Dean just needed to read the end of this book.

He read the last few pages of the book, receiving private insight into his brother's thoughts and reliving his own terror at the literal Hell coming for him. Sam had watched him get ripped to shreds by hellhounds. Horrified and helpless he'd watched Dean. Sam had closed his eyes when he couldn't take anymore. Sam had thought, 'Please let Dean die quickly so Lilith can kill me, too'. Sam didn't die, though, and Lilith vacated her body and left Sam alone to cry over his brother's eviscerated corpse.

Dean skipped the last paragraph, knowing all too well how he'd felt hanging by those hooks in Hell. And that had just been the lobby, he thought, grimly.

He put the book down on the mattress, sighing heavily. He'd made a deal to save Sam's life, a deal that had produced consequences for the both of them. Dean had chosen his consequences, and he would probably do it again for Sam's life, reckless and destructive as it was in hindsight. That was his weakness. But what Dean was beginning to see now was that he had also chosen the consequences for Sam.

He hadn't realized it at the time, or maybe he had but wouldn't admit it to himself then. He put Sam on a path way back in Cold Oak, a path that they were both reaping the consequences of now. Dean was traumatized and broken from Hell; Sam was becoming something he feared, and trotting down that path in the name of vengeance and hopelessness. Dean could be as hurt and angry as he wanted to, but he needed to take responsibility for his part in all of this if he ever wanted to reach Sam.

Sam's late night getaways were about more than hunting, Dean was sure of that. He was getting stronger, amplifying his powers in some way, and Dean's imagination was filling in the plot holes rapidly. If Dean's theories were correct (I hope to God they're not) then he needed to find a way to reconnect with Sam. There weren't any books from the Prophet Chuck he could read to gain insight into Sam's thoughts now. And he shouldn't have to. They were brothers and Dean knew he could find common ground with Sam again if they just stopped all the yelling and the bullshit long enough.

In short (God help me), a possible chick flick moment was needed. Dean rolled his eyes at the thought.

Dean glanced at his watch as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was stiff from sitting in the same position for so long, but it was nearing 5am, and Dean knew Sam would be returning soon. In the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face, and in the mirror he and his reflection agreed on a decision. Instead of hiding the two books as he'd done for the last few nights, he placed them on Sam's bed. He turned on the coffee pot in the room. He wouldn't be able to sleep now, so he opened up the laptop and started searching for the next job.

The door opened minutes later and Dean caught Sam's guilty look as he came through the door.

"Hey. I made coffee."

"You're up early," Sam replied, erasing the guilt from his face and heading toward the coffee pot. He drank half the mug before making it over to the edge of his bed. "What're these…"

Dean cleared his throat, closing the laptop. He turned and planted his feet on the floor so he was facing Sam. "I was doing a little reading. A lot of reading, actually."

Sam picked up the Mystery Spot book, a range of emotions playing over his face before settling on confusion. He looked at Dean and held the book up.

"You read this?" He picked up the other book on the bed, sadness flashing in his eyes for a moment. "I didn't even think you kept them all."

"I was curious, mostly. I guess I missed out on some stuff."

"Listen, Dean. This Mystery Spot stuff is all ancient history. I'm sorry I kept it from you, but I didn't think you'd understand. You were going to Hell, and what I'd gone through just didn't seem that important at the time."

Dean twisted his ring around his finger, his eyes focused on the door just to Sam's left. Anything he said was going to sound like an accusation, and he didn't want to start a fight. He stopped the fidgeting and looked Sam right in the eyes.

"I know you've been going out every night," he said, keeping his voice neutral. "I know that sometimes you're hunting, killing demons. I'm sure you're with Ruby sometimes, too. You're getting stronger, somehow, and that scares the hell out of me."

Sam dropped the books on the bed and stood up. He turned his back on Dean and leaned against the small table by the door.

"But I realized something. Those damn books made me realize that you're just as scared as I am. You're scared of what your destiny is; I'm scared of what your destiny is. I'm scared of what mine might be. The only difference is that we used to talk about this crap." He paused there. He wasn't sure Sam was even listening anymore. "Sam?"

He didn't answer.

"I went to Hell, broke the first seal and kicked off the whole frigging Apocalypse. That's all on my head, and I'm starting to deal with it now. So whatever it is that you are so afraid to talk to me about? Whatever it is that you're carrying all alone? Please, please tell me so I can help you."

Sam was silent for a moment before whirling around and coming to sit across from Dean again. When he looked up at his brother through unruly bangs Dean saw tears in Sam's eyes. Sam's hands shook and he clasped them together to try and stop the tremble.

"You're right. I am afraid of all of those things. But, I'm more afraid of losing you again than anything else." Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His eyes met Dean's and seemed to be pleading, and his voice was a strained whisper when he spoke again. "If I tell you what I've done, what I've been doing to get stronger, then I will lose you. I know it."

Dean moved to sit next to his brother, bumping his shoulder gently against Sam's. "Sam, I'm not going anywhere. Nothing you tell me will make me leave. I might be scared for you, and I might not agree with you, but we have to be honest with each other here. 'Cause if we're not both working with all the facts, then we're working against each other."

Sam blew out a breath. "Yeah, I know."

Dean sat patiently. His heart was beating hard against his chest, but he didn't let it show.

They were at a crossroads, Dean knew. It wasn't a dirt road with magic and demons, but a crossroads just the same. Which direction they chose here and now would change their lives completely.

Sam chose his direction, and started talking.

Dean's world crumbled down around him, but he kept listening. When Sam stopped in mid-sentence, losing his composure, Dean didn't hesitate to choose his direction. He put his arm over his brother's shoulders, holding tight.

They could fix this and leave the crossroads behind them.

End