'Long as I'm Around
K Hanna Korossy
Dean wasn't looking him in the eye. Again.
Sam didn't want to care about that, really. He was an adult, had been on his own for months—almost a year if you counted the trickster's trick—an experienced hunter. It shouldn't have mattered what his brother thought.
But it did.
He glanced up again while he folded his jeans, eyes skipping over Dean's bowed head as his brother mirrored his actions. "You find my green shirt anywhere?" he asked mutedly.
Dean hitched a shoulder and shook his head, never looking up. Body, motions tight with tension more than pain. The demon had slammed him pretty hard against the cement floor, but that wasn't what worried Sam.
He swallowed, nodded, and kept packing, eyes blurring a little as he gently folded denim, flannel. It hadn't been his fault. Not really. What else was he supposed to have done, for God's sake?
When he'd exorcised Samhain, he'd been just as afraid of Dean's reaction. But his brother had made it unequivocally clear that while he wasn't happy Sam had had to resort to his powers, keeping himself alive was worth breaking that promise. He hadn't held it against Sam, had been gruffly comforting and protective in face of Uriel's displeasure.
This shouldn't have been any different. Once again it had been a last resort, life or death. Once again he'd had no choice, and had done nothing but send a demon back to Hell. The only variation was, this time he'd used his taboo abilities to save Dean, not himself. For Sam, that was even more of a righteous sin.
Dean, never having valued his own life nearly as much as his brother's, disagreed.
Sam just didn't know how much. Few-hours-of-silent-driving disapproval? Or that's-it-we're-through disgust? Because Dean had always yelled when he was angry, got sarcastic and loud and physical. He'd been a lot more quiet since his return, shrugging things off with a fine, whatever or just looking so…disappointed, and Sam didn't know what to do with that. He no longer knew what to expect from Dean, was unsure even of his brother's devotion. But how many times could he break promises—for whatever reason—before Dean gave up on him for good?
He cleared his throat, which had closed up while he packed. "Dean?" A grunt. Sam licked his lips. "I know I said I'd stop, but I just…I had to do it, you know?"
Dean's hands stopped, buried in the folds of a pair of jeans he was just putting away. Sam could see his throat work, then the jeans suddenly hit the bedspread next to the open duffel. "I need a drink," Dean muttered, and was out the door before Sam could do more than open his mouth, the slam of wood echoing through the small room.
Sam stared after him a long moment, then, nose prickling, he sank down onto his bed. "Yeah. I'll just…wait here," he said into the quiet of the room. He exhaled shakily, rubbing his tented hands over his face.
The sound of the door swinging open brought him back to his feet, hands dropping to his sides as he turned in surprise. He hadn't even heard the car return, Dean gone less than a couple of minutes.
But his heart sank when he saw the darkness in his brother's face. Looked like they were finally going to get into it. Well, fine. Better that than the silent treatment.
"I've had enough, Sam," Dean said, low and hard.
Sam blinked. Okay, maybe not.
"I can't do this anymore—fighting Hell's one thing, but I can't fight Heaven, too." Dean's voice was roughshod, and Sam's eyes swung from his face to his hands as he reached for the last of his clothing to stuff it ruthlessly into the duffel. "Not to mention, oh, yeah, my little brother, who can't tell the truth to save his life. I'm the one you're supposed to trust, remember, the one who's supposed to be on the same side?" There was only bitterness in Dean's voice, not even a trace of the anguish of when he'd first confronted Sam about his abilities. Dean just sounded…final.
Sam's heart pumped weakly in his chest. This was so much worse than even he'd expected. It felt like the floor had given way beneath him. "Dean—" he faltered.
Dean shook his head, jamming the last of his belongings in. "Forget it, Sam. Can't believe anything you say, anyway. I mean, I get it, man—you don't trust me. I may not be as smart as you, but you don't have to spell it out for me. And you know what? I don't trust you anymore, either. But, hey, things change while you're dead, right? You moved on, and I've probably just been in the way ever since I got back—you and Ruby were doing just fine without me, right?"
"No!" It was ripped out of him. "God, no, Dean—"
Dean just shook his head again, a bitter, sad smile twisting his mouth. "I guess I didn't wanna see it. But I'm just…" His gesticulating hand fell to his side. "I'm tired, man. Tired of chasing after you, tired of trying to save you when you won't even save yourself. Tired of being scared all the time. I'm done. Just…go do your thing with demon-girl." He turned toward the door.
Sam felt like he was pulling up roots as he finally managed to lurch forward a step. "Dean, please—" he whispered, pleading.
Dean's hand tightened its grip on the duffel, and he half-turned his head, not quite looking over one shoulder. His jaw ticked, then he said quietly, "Take care of yourself, Sammy." And then he was gone.
He was gone.
Sam sank to the floor next to the bed as if his knees had been hacked out from under him. He could've run after Dean. Could've stopped him, talked to him, begged him to stay. But his brother had made his feelings abundantly clear. …don't trust…tired of chasing you…tired of being scared… What could Sam possibly say to change any of that?
Dean didn't want to stay. For the first time in all Sam's life, Dean didn't want to stay with him.
Devastation crashed over him like a tidal wave without the dam of his brother to keep it at bay, and he moaned low in his throat, eyes hot and gut cramping, bending him in half. He'd always kept that one candle burning bright in his heart that Dean loved him, that he was gone only out of sacrifice for Sam and would have stayed if he could have, that that was why he'd returned to Sam even from Hell. That light was sometimes all that kept him going.
But Dean had left of his own free will this time. He feared and mistrusted Sam, didn't want his brother anymore, and had left him to bear the crushing weight of his powers, his destiny, alone. Sam's chest felt like it would burst from the pressure. Like he was suddenly in a vacuum. Like Dean had taken all the air with him.
All the reason to keep breathing.
Sam sank into the despair without a fight.
Drinking alone was something Dean had long become accustomed to. Truth was, he didn't usually mind it. Sam had different ways of recharging, and Dean respected that, even appreciated it as long as he knew his geek brother was tucked away safe in a library or back in his room. Not that Dean didn't enjoy his company whenever Sam did feel like a night out, but he was cool with being cut loose to find some companionship of his own.
Dean sighed, shoving his glass forward with a finger in a silent hit me. The bartender obliged, and Dean inhaled the whiskey with barely a flinch. He wasn't a maudlin drunk, nor a brooder; Sam had both those titles sewn up. But Dean just couldn't seem to crawl out of his funk, and truth be told, he knew exactly why.
Sam. Of course.
Not for the reasons his emo little brother—or his formerly emo little brother, anyway, because Sam had gotten a lot tougher and more stoic while Dean had been…gone—probably thought. In fact, if the broken, disappointed way even this new Sam had looked when Dean announced he was going out for a drink was anything to go by, the stupid kid probably thought Dean was mad at him or something. He really should have straightened that out before he left, but it wasn't like Sam seemed to need him very much these days, and Dean had been so desperate to get a little air and alcohol, he'd practically run away.
Sam had always done what he thought right, and Dean had always both admired and feared that. That hadn't changed now that Sam was stubbornly practicing his psychic abilities instead of just his independent streak or his strict moral code. He was still doing it to try to help people, and Dean would've been a hypocrite to say he hadn't risked Heaven's wrath a time or two in that cause himself.
The angels, though, the stakes: that was new. And slightly terrifying. And oddly reassuring, because Sam was still determined to take the hard road if it came to that, even if he walked it alone.
Dean was thinking maybe he hadn't made it clear enough to Sam that he wasn't walking alone.
He sighed, reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Time for a little sharing-and-caring. Super.
"Buy me a drink, sailor?"
The voice was smooth as silk and a lot naughtier. Dean barely turned, catching only a glimpse of raven hair and red lips. "Not tonight, sweetheart, I'm kinda busy."
She pouted off, and Dean shook his head. Wouldn't Sammy just love to have seen that, Dean turning down a sure thing because he was brooding.
And, well, that was the point anyway, wasn't it? Sam should've been there, or Dean should've been back in the room with Sam. Not two years before, he'd given everything he had to get Sam back, and now here he was, drinking alone while Sam faced his demons alone, and he was doing it by choice.
"That does it," Dean muttered, sliding off the bar stool and tossing a bill on the counter, then turning toward the door.
Straight into a guy built like Paul Bunyan. Pouty red lips were just visible past his shoulder. "You trying to make a move on my girl?" the guy boomed.
"Oh, for…" Had all the clichés come out to play tonight? Dean spread his hands, put on an apologetic smile, and plowed his fist into the guy's solar plexus.
He folded with a wheeze.
"I really am busy," Dean told the wide-eyed girl with a shrug, then hurried for the door.
His frown deepened as he stepped outside and caught sight of two men hovering around the Impala. Bars like this often attracted car nuts, and normally Dean didn't mind singing his baby's praises, but he didn't want to take the time tonight. And if they were circling the Impala with more sinister intentions, he wanted to deal with them even less. Now that he'd given in to the itch to go back to the room and hash things out with Sam, he felt the pull keenly.
The two men looked up, one blossoming into a smile. "She yours?"
"Yeah, but sorry, fellas, I gotta haul."
"Sure, okay, just—"
Dean ignored them, done with civilities as he unlocked the door and slid into the driver's seat. The two men jumped aside as the powerful engine roared to life, and with an apologetic look, Dean rolled past them.
And turned right into the line for a DUI checkpoint.
"Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" Dean groaned, banging a hand against the door. He glowered a minute at the flashing lights ahead, then snaked a hand into his pocket. He flipped the cell open without looking, thumbing Sam's number on speed dial.
It rang four times before switching to voice mail.
Something uncomfortable crept along the back of Dean's mind. Sam wasn't answering his phone, and Dean was running into roadblock after roadblock—literally—getting back to him. What were the chances of all of that?
With our luck? Eyes narrowed, Dean backed up into the bar's lot again, parking in the nearest corner. The motel wasn't that far; he could get there on foot in under ten. He checked the street, dodged across, and started down the first block at a run.
The feminine scream from down the street to his left didn't surprise him as much as it should've.
Dean glanced both ways, swearing under his breath, but of course he was too far from the bar and the cops to get any help there, and when the scream came again, that decided it. He pelted around the corner.
But that uncomfortable tickle had turned into full-blown alarm bells.
It was over an hour later when Dean finally skidded, red-faced and panting, into the motel parking lot. He'd stopped a mugging, helped a guy who'd been hit by a car, then darted back to the bar, only to find the Impala had a flat. By then, Dean was ready to hail a taxi to get back to the motel, but the cab probably would've just run into something on the way. He'd finally just started running again, ignoring a howl in a dark alley, a kid who asked for help, and a limping dog.
He almost couldn't believe it when he spotted the room door.
And then things fell into place when a shadow detached itself from the dark corner of the motel and sauntered toward Dean.
Dean sneered. "Should've known you were behind all that. What's the matter, couldn't just smite me to keep me away?"
Uriel's mouth curled up patronizingly. "That would've been too easy and…permanent. I only needed you out of the way for a few hours."
Dean's eyes flicked to the door, then back to the angel. "Few hours for what?" he spat to hide his spiraling worry.
"To put the fear of God into your insolent brother. He needed to be taught a little lesson about the dangers of playing with fire, and like the child he is, he had to learn the hard way—by getting burned."
Dean felt his flushed skin pale. "What did you do?"
Uriel's smile grew. "I think the better question would be, what did 'you' do?"
He had no idea what that meant, but it didn't sound good. With a low growl, Dean lunged at the smirking angel.
And found himself tripping through thin air.
Swearing, Dean gave up the useless pursuit and turned back to the door, hesitating only a minute before digging the key out and hurrying inside.
The room looked…normal. Somehow, he'd expected carnage, maybe the motel laid to waste or things tossed around…something. Not everything in its place.
And Sam tucked impossibly small against the foot of his bed on the floor.
Dean's eyes swept the room once more, but still no threat. He swallowed, shoving the door shut behind him, then stalked over to the beds. "Sam?"
Sam didn't respond, pulled into himself like he was trying to hide, eyes staring off into nothing.
Dean flinched. He'd seen this once. Sam had been…twelve or so, old enough to know about the family business, young enough not to be part of it yet. Dean had gone with John just to help out with setting up some wards while John concentrated on a ritual, and Sammy had stayed behind for the night. But an unexpected snow had stretched the twelve hours into almost seventy-two, as well as bringing down the phone and electric lines, and by the time they'd been able to make it back, Sam had been near catatonic. Wrapped in every blanket in the freezing room, he'd been on the floor, unresponsive for hours until he'd unthawed and started quietly crying against Dean's neck. They'd never left Sam alone in a motel after that.
Dean wished it was just the cold now, or that this would be as easy to fix.
"Sam? Hey, Sammy." He knelt on the floor, taking stock of Sam's blank gaze and pale face. His heart beat steady under Dean's fingertips as he brushed them against his brother's neck, but his skin was cool, his breathing too slow.
And there were tear tracks on his face, dried and fresh.
Dean's sinking heart plunged a little lower. He was going to figure out a way to make Uriel pay for this, even if he had to go to God Himself. "What's going on with you, Sam?" Dean whispered angrily, cupping the back of Sam's neck. He pressed his other hand flat against Sam's breastbone. "What did that son of a bitch do to you, huh? I'm tellin' you, man, with friends like these, who needs demons?"
There was no change in Sam's heart rate or respiration, no flicker in his eyes.
Dean's teeth ground together, and he resisted the urge to shake Sam until his pearly whites rattled. "Hey, Sammy, you in there? Not gonna let one lame angel get to you, right?"
Still no response. But a fresh tear rolled down from murky brown eyes and, okay, that was it.
Dean looped an arm around Sam and pulled his brother's unresisting body toward him. There was a breathtaking moment of déjà vu to a muddy road in Cold Oak, but Sam was still breathing, still with him. Trapped inside some little Hell Uriel had cooked up for him, but there. And Dean was going to find him.
He turned them both so that they could sit leaning against the bed, and then Dean enfolded him once again, hands curled around the knob of Sam's shoulder and elbow. His brother's new muscle mass was a continuous surprise, but a little brother was a little brother no matter how big he got. Slumped against him, Gigantor fit just under Dean's chin.
"All right, dude, I know how much you love your Oprah moments, so let's try this. Anytime you wanna wake up and take a swing at me, you go for it."
Sam almost felt like a shell, engine running but nobody driving. But his brother wasn't a quitter, and Dean sure as Hell—pun intended—hadn't come back to lose the kid inside that massive head of his. Dean pulled him in a little tighter, rubbing his arms a minute before settling back for a potentially very long night.
"Fine, you don't wanna talk? Then you'll just have to listen. And I'm picking the subject, Harpo."
Starting with the ten best pies he'd had in his lifetime. Both of them.
Dean was talking.
Which in itself wasn't cause to pay attention: every little brother perfected the art of tuning out his older sibling. Dean could wax on for hours about a car, a woman, or a meal, and Sam usually put the time to good use mentally running through the list of herbs used for cleansing, or supplies they were getting low on, or his favorite memories of Jess. He was used to not listening to Dean.
The voice paused, as if waiting for an answer, then continued on undaunted.
That was a little strange, however.
So was the fact that somehow Sam was pretty sure Dean wasn't supposed to be there. The details were a little foggy, but Dean was…gone. Not supposed to be back.
Yet he kept talking. And it was definitely him; Sam knew that voice, had been listening to it all his life. Could tell that it was trying hard not to show fear.
So. More than a little strange.
Sam had done something: shame and grief ran deep in him. Dean had gotten mad, had maybe even left, too. But he was still talking. Had he come back? Had second thoughts and changed his mind? Or maybe just returned to chew Sam out one more time before taking off for good? Trust, he remembered. Scared. Tired of chasing.
Sam wrapped himself around his battered heart a little more tightly.
Dean paused again, chuffing a little as if he were sharing a joke with Sam, then went on. Rambling like he always did when he was worried.
He didn't sound mad. Or disgusted, or hurt, or done. He just sounded like Sam's brother, and the draw of that was so strong, it hurt. Sam wanted that again, not these secrets and silences and discomforts.
Dean could walk out on him once more. Or cut even deeper with his words, or flay him in ways that demons couldn't even dream of. But as much as Sam wanted to stay there where it was comfortable and vague and nothing could hurt him…Dean was his brother. He'd gone to Hell for Sam. The least Sam could do was answer him.
Dean stuttered and stopped. Then, cautiously, said, "Sam? English, dude."
He made an irritated face, and moved his jaw a moment before trying again. "'M not deaf."
Dean snorted. "Just dumb." He shifted Sam away from…heartbeat? Warmth. Sam shivered, sighing when warm hands molded around his face. "Sammy? Open your eyes, kiddo."
He couldn't remember the last time Dean had called him that. Since way before… Sam's face crumpled. Dean had died, he'd come back, he'd walked out. Sam grit his teeth and shoved away, nearly toppling to the floor.
Dean looked at him, startled, from where he sat rumpled and slumped against the bed. On the floor, arms and bent legs knocked akimbo from where he'd been holding Sam up and talking to him moments before.
Sam wiped at his eyes and clumsily edged away, putting more distance between them. "I thought you left," he muttered.
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, well, I came back. Would've come sooner except Uriel was keeping me a little busy. Said he needed some time to teach you a lesson."
Sam drew his brows together. "What?"
Dean pulled a hand down his face, a sign of exhaustion, or just barely keeping it together. "What happened after I left, Sam?"
"Which time?" Sam asked dully.
Dean blinked. "What do you mean, which time? I only left once—what did that freakin' angel make you think I did, dude?"
Sam cringed away at his obvious anger, and Dean clearly noticed. Contrition chased surprise across his face, then there was a softening that was almost sorrow. Even as Sam tried to make sense of it, Dean pushed to his feet and walked out of the room.
Sam craned his neck a little too desperately to try to keep Dean in sight as his brother went into the bathroom. There was the sound of water running, a moment's pause where Sam almost thought he could hear his heart hammering. And then Dean reappeared in the doorway.
And stopped dead as he caught sight of Sam, eyes widening, then narrowing.
He crossed back to Sam in two strides, shoving a glass of water into Sam's unresisting hands, then grabbing his shoulders. "Crap, Sam—what'd he do to you?"
Sam tried to smile through what was pretty much utter misery. "Nothing. Nothing, it doesn't matter. You're— It's fine, Dean." He raised a shaking hand to sip at the water, then abruptly realized he was thirsty and drained the glass.
"Sam," Dean growled.
Sam flinched again. It almost felt like after Dean had first returned, when his every movement seemed a surprise.
Dean visibly throttled back, curling his thumbs up over Sam's shoulder blades. "I'm not mad at you."
Sam's head jerked up in surprise.
"I know I…" Dean let go of one shoulder to drag a hand through his own hair, settling back on his heels. "I don't…like it, okay? I'm never gonna like you working your mojo, dude. Maybe Azazel gave you these…abilities, or maybe he just triggered something—I don't know, okay? All I know is…the angels are freaking out over you messing with this stuff, Dad was worried, and I'm…"
Scared. He didn't want to admit it, and Sam didn't want to hear it, but he could fill in the blank. He'd always been able to read his big brother.
Before Dean had died for a while and Sam had become an orphan for a while, and all the rules had changed.
Like now. He'd really thought Dean was mad at him, but it was starting to dawn that his brother had been discouraged by the lousy hand they'd been dealt once again, furious at Uriel for his cruelty, frustrated at Sam having needed to use his abilities once more. Probably even with himself for what he saw as another failure of his little brother. Mad at everything but Sam. And he'd totally missed it.
And Sam had changed, too, because once upon a time, this would have been about where he fell apart, giving in to his grief and unburdening himself to his big brother, because Dean walking out, even an apparently illusory Dean, had torn open barely healed gaps in his soul. Instead, Sam took a shuddering breath and pulled himself together, becoming the hunter again that he'd had to be when on his own. "I know," he said quietly, then canted his head to the side with a tiny smile. "I just couldn't let him kill you."
Dean dropped his head with a nod as his fingertips dug into the tight muscles of Sam's shoulder. He knew Dean would stop asking now what Uriel had done, to Sam's relief, and probably knew it wouldn't change anything, to Sam's shame.
He suddenly wound his arm over his brother's shoulder and down his back, tilting Dean forward until Sam could tip his head against him. "I trust you, Dean," he said on a breath. "And I'm…I'm trying, man, I swear. Don't give up on me."
Dean's fingers gripped hard once. "Not gonna happen, Sammy."
They sat that way a few moments, manly stoicism be damned. Sam figured coming back from the dead, being able to do scary crap with your mind, and getting threatened by angels allowed for some bending of Dean's usual rules.
Didn't stop him from punching Sam lightly in the shoulder the moment he pulled away. "Next time, you're hitting the bar with me." Not that he'd asked Sam to come the first time, nor that Sam would mention that. Only the future mattered now, not the past.
"Yeah," Sam surrendered softly. "Okay."