Balance Sheet
K Hanna Korossy

"Well, you know, the only thing that really matters is that you're happy." Mr. Wyatt smiled at him, seeing him and caring about him like so few people had in Sam's life. A beat, then, "You happy, Sam?"

Sam stared back at him, silent.

00000

He'd really liked Laurie Sorenson. He'd been attracted to her, wanted to kiss her.

And Sam hated himself for that.

"TV done something to tick you off again?" Dean asked solicitously from the other bed where he was sorting socks into clean, dirty, and unsalvageable.

Sam started, realizing he'd been scowling at the screen. He didn't even know what was on. "No, just…" He sighed, hand rising and dropping limply back to his leg.

Dean cocked his head. "Wanna go see a movie tonight? Don't even know what's out these days."

"No." Sam shook his head heavily. "Think I'm just gonna…" He pushed up off the bed, stuck his hands into his pockets restlessly. "Think I'll go for a walk."

"We could spar," Dean continued as if Sam hadn't said anything. "Still kinda rusty there, college boy."

Sam drew his brows together, knowing his brother was baiting him and not caring because, at that moment, letting loose some aggression sounded pretty good. "Yeah, all right."

They took it out back behind the motel, which happened to be a grassy and secluded. Almost like Dean had known to look for a place like that, but Sam shed the idea with his coat and every other rational thought. It was time for instinct and action. He fell into a loose stance, watched Dean do the same.

His brother had been going easy on him, Sam knew, ever since he'd returned to the hunt. Probably even before that, too, come to think of it. But Sam was giving it everything he got, and after Dean tapped out for the second time, Sam growled a, "C'mon, Dean, quit screwing around," and saw the narrowing of his brother's eyes in response. And then it was on.

Dean grounded him in less than a minute. Sam grit his teeth and submitted. "Drop your shoulder a little," Dean puffed calmly as they circled and feinted. "Don't telegraph, Sammy. Don't let yourself get mad. Fight smart."

Sam lunged for him with bull-in-china-shop finesse.

Five seconds later he was spitting out grass, immobile under Dean's weight. However he bucked, he was trapped, Dean not giving an inch, waiting for him to tap out.

Sam wasn't about to give.

He fought the hold for minutes, sweat dripping into his eyes, joints screaming at being twisted and stretched, Dean's calm grating Sam's nerves raw. He didn't want to give up, wouldn't give up, didn't deserve an out, hadn't done anything wrong…

And suddenly it wasn't sweat dripping down his face or Dean's knee that was squeezing his chest.

His brother shifted, pressure easing, grip relaxing, but Sam didn't move, gasping and mewling into the dirt, wracked with pain that didn't have anything to do with sparring.

Dean dropped cross-legged into the grass beside him, his hand moving to the back of Sam's head. He turned it carefully so Sam could breathe better, then just sat there, his palm resting on Sam's hair, quiet and steady.

Sam let him have the first shower when they finally went inside. And he didn't look at the ceiling before he rolled over and went to sleep.

00000

The door closed soundlessly between him and Sarah, the longing between them stretched and tugged by that barrier. Sam hovered uncertainly outside, feeling the pull in two directions. Story of his life.

He glanced back at Dean, seeing his brother leaning casually against the Impala's door, watching him. Sam had an idea Dean would stay there however long it took Sam to join him. There was no impatience in his face, just a thoughtful look, a tiny tilt of the head. Then a slight raise of the chin toward the door. What are you waiting for, Romeo?

Sam swallowed, realizing he'd just been given half the permission he'd been waiting for. The other half waited inside himself, wrapped in memories of Jess.

Jess who'd never been jealous a day in her life, who loved him enough to want him to be happy, even when she didn't know what that would take.

The pull toward the door, toward Sarah, grew, and Sam stumbled a step closer.

He'd missed conversations that weren't about ammo and action movies and Wonder Woman versus Catwoman. He'd missed holding doors and fitting his arm around the soft curve of shoulders and the smell of perfume. He'd missed soft hair and soft laughs. Feeling the strength of being the protector instead of the protected.

He took another step, raised his hand, dropped it again. Took a breath. Knocked.

Sarah opened the door like she'd been waiting, too, and the rush of desire for her almost made Sam dizzy. He grabbed her to steady him and kissed her.

And kept kissing her.

Jess was there in his heart, but she was smiling, not mad. Sam could practically see Dean grinning behind him. And, God, Sarah fit just right against him. He'd missed this: not just women, but her, this girl who'd been terrified but still declared she was going hunting with him.

It was the last thing he thought for a while.

Dean didn't crow, didn't leer or press for details or make suggestions when Sam was finally ready to go. He just grinned, backhanded Sam happily on the shoulder, and made note that there were plenty of things to hunt in New York. It was almost as bad as Florida.

Sam just rubbed at his lips and smiled, spent and content in a way he'd never thought he'd be again.

00000

They'd released their dad's ashes in the Badlands. It seemed fitting to consign John Winchester to the wind, wanderer that he'd been the last twenty years of his life.

Dean didn't drive the way back to Bobby's. Maybe because it wasn't the Impala, just Singer's borrowed pickup truck, or maybe because he didn't have the energy for it: probably both. He'd just let Sam take the wheel, and Sam slowly navigated the way back to the salvage yard that was the closest thing they had left to a home. The car was gone, and Dad…

He bit his lip to keep the tears at bay. One of them had to see to find the way, and Dean was sitting blind and silent beside him.

At Bobby's, Dean climbed out slowly, stiffly. Sam echoed him, feeling the unhealed injuries from the car crash. Broken bodies reflecting broken spirits, and Sam wondered how they'd ever be fixed again. Or if he even wanted to be.

Dean limped into the house without ever raising his eyes from the dirt.

Sam couldn't seem to make himself follow. The house was too confining, too dark and small. Even out there in the cool night air under a wash of stars, he felt like something inside of him wanted to burst out. Sam swallowed a small sound and stumbled deeper into the yard.

There she was. It was the only place that had ever given him the quiet sense of home, until he'd moved in with Jess. Maybe he'd kept the twisted, gutted skeleton of the car for himself, too. Or maybe it was just another form of self-punishment.

Sam trailed a hand along the blood-spattered door, then sank down against it until his thighs pressed against his calves and the bent metal poked into his back. How could they survive like this?

He started to cry again, quiet sobs against his crossed arms.

He wept until he was empty, heavy and dull. His face felt swollen, warm with blood, and his body shivered in the night air. His legs were numb.

"Sam, come inside."

There wasn't enough strength in him left to startle, but he did lift puffy eyes to blink at Dean. His brother was silhouetted against the light streaming from the porch, his face shadowed and unreadable. Sam breathed in stutters as he stared back, exhausted and confused.

Dean took a step forward. "Sammy…"

He was needed. That gave him enough impetus to push up on rickety legs.

Dean waited, muted and dark.

Sam blinked a few times, running his hand back over the cold metal. Maybe it could be fixed. He'd once believed Dean could fix anything.

Nothing would be able to put this right, though. As he stumbled along behind his brother's stiff back toward the house, Sam knew he couldn't rely on Dean taking care of everything this time, either.

00000

"Man, Sammy, how cool is this!"

Sam grinned and had to agree, not because he loved the show, but because he loved his brother.

He'd never really seen the point of demolition derbies: it was bumper cars for adult kids, just with a lot more damage. Honestly, he'd been expecting Dean to cringe at the automobile carnage, especially the beating one late-model Impala was taking. Instead, his brother whooped and jumped with every hit, laughing, yelling, and gorging himself on massive amounts of junk food in between.

Dean was happy. And Sam was surprised at how much that made him happy.

He'd thought losing Jess was bad enough, some days so hard that he'd barely been able to crawl out of bed. But that had been nothing compared to Dad dying. Sam hadn't even realized how much he'd unconsciously relied on his dad to be there if Sam really needed him, how he'd expected the man to have the answers and depended on him to help track down the thing that had killed Jess. To have him yanked away like that, just when they were starting to reconnect as a family again…

And then there had been Dean. While he'd been Sam's comfort and support in the dark days after the fire, Dean had sunk deeper and deeper into himself this time, not just unable to help Sam, but relying on his little brother in ways Sam didn't think he had in him. For a few months, he'd been devoured with fear that he'd lose Dean, too.

Things hadn't changed so much as…lightened. Time worked its magic as it always did, but so did Bobby's care, some solid successful hunts, long evenings of quiet fraternal company. Sam knew they'd turned a corner when Dean went out drinking and came back in the morning smirking instead of bruised and hungover.

Joy took a lot longer, though.

Their latest client had given them front-seat tickets to the demolition derby he ran. Sam had been skeptical about the show of gratitude, but Dean was elated. There wasn't a question of going, and Sam sat back and enjoyed the show beside him far more than the one in the arena.

"You boys having fun?" That was Mel Barker, their grateful ex-haunted client, pausing by their row as he came down the aisle.

"Absolutely," Dean enthused. "It's great, man, thanks."

Sam echoed him with a smile and a nod.

Mel eyed Dean. "You wanna give it a shot, son?"

They both blinked. Dean's eyes were wide, his freckles stark, and Sam was reminded again that his big brother was only in his twenties. Wine, women, and song notwithstanding, Sam wondered how many times Dean had really let himself indulge in some pure fun.

"We've got a lot of gear—it's safe," Mel assured them.

Sam abruptly realized Mel was talking to him, and that his big brother had also turned to Sam and was silently begging for permission. Sam snorted and shook his head. "I'm not patching you up if you get hurt, dude."

Dean flashed him a toothy grin and jumped up to follow Mel.

He ended up in an cherry-red Ford. Sam was relieved to see at least Dean had a helmet on, but even from the stands, he could see his brother's smile. It made Sam smile, too, even as he winced as Dean took a hit in the side.

By the time the Ford was a crushed heap of junk on the sidelines—seriously, who thought it was fair to pit it against that Humvee of a sedan?—Sam was chewing his lip and sitting on his hands. Dean slid out of the open window of the car without a single hitch of pain, though, and the crowd roared its approval.

It was a snapshot Sam would put away to draw on later: Dean with his arms raised, face alive, eyes bright, grin wide and true.

Sam's cheeks hurt by the time he reached his brother and gave him an affectionate shove. "Show-off."

"Wimp." Dean's equally cheerful comeback capped the evening perfectly.

00000

He hadn't been able to bring himself to bury his brother in Florida, not in Dean's least favorite state.

Sam had tried to tell himself it wouldn't really matter: he was going to find the trickster and undo this, and Dean wouldn't stay dead. But his brother's bloody, blanket-shrouded corpse in the back seat had been hard to argue with.

Dean had always liked Georgia: the women, the food, the weather…the women. Sam drove until he found a peaceful, remote copse of cottonwood trees, and started clearing land for a funeral pyre.

Neither of them wanted to be cremated, despite that being a proper hunter's funeral. Their family had too much history with fire, and it wasn't as if his spirit returning would be a bad thing. At least it meant he wasn't in Hell, not yet. Sam wasn't sure what the loophole was if Dean died before his year was up…

But this wasn't a normal death; Dean would be coming back, and it wouldn't be to this lifeless corpse. Sam would make the trickster take him back to that Wednesday, back to before Dean had died. Back to when they still had a few months left of Dean's deal.

After he got his brother back, Sam's thoughts still strayed often to Georgia and the grave that didn't exist anymore.

He didn't return there the second time he went to bury Dean. There would be no fire this time. Dean would need the shell for a home to come back to. Sam put care into bathing and stitching it up, dressing it in clean clothes, burying it shallow so it could be raised again.

He didn't cry, too caught up in doing this right, in this being temporary. He'd gotten Dean back last time. He could do it again.

It took a week for failure to sink in. And then he'd gone to the car, the only pristine thing left in his life, and cried out his broken and empty heart.

He'd think of those patches of formerly consecrated land later, even after Dean returned a second time, and about someone just walked over my grave. And he'd be the one who'd shiver and flinch at the thought, not Dean.

Sam didn't sleep that first night, unable or unwilling to close his eyes and risk opening them to an empty bed.

Dean was exhausted and had fallen asleep where he sat, uncomfortably tipped along the edge of the bed, still in his clothes. They had to go with Bobby in a few hours to meet the psychic, and they all needed sleep.

But Sam couldn't manage to tear himself away from the sight of Dean alive and breathing and in the bed next to him.

There was a lot they needed to sort out. There was what Sam had been doing with Ruby while his brother was gone. There was the unanswered question of how exactly Dean had returned. There were four months to fill in on both their sides, Hell to put behind them, and Lilith still to deal with.

At that moment, though, Sam couldn't feel anything but sharp relief, and waves of ebullience that kept sweeping over him. Dean wasn't dead.

Dean was here.

Sam snuck a hand across the small space between the beds, as hesitant as when he was nine or ten and it wasn't cool anymore to sneak into your brother's bed. But he'd still craved the comfort, so he'd slide under the covers one limb at a time, as if Dean might not notice a gangly, icicle-toed addition to the bed if Sam was sneaky enough. Dean would finally just grumble under his breath and slide over to make room, and they'd both pretend Sam wasn't there.

His fingers crept now over his brother's warm skin, pads pressing into the pulse point of the wrist. Sinew jumped under his palm, and Dean's hand shifted a little, curling open toward Sam. His heart beat against Sam's wondering touch.

It was enough; no more of him needed to cross the divide between their beds. Dean was alive, and that was more than plenty.

No matter what happened after that night, this was the part that mattered.

Sam swallowed hard, counted beats, watched Dean breathe, and felt like he'd been found after being lost for a very long time. It was searing, a whole new pressure in his chest, happiness he couldn't fathom and almost couldn't bear.

And as he held on to that proof of life, he had a feeling Dean was grumbling fondly on the inside and pretending he didn't know.

00000

He'd ached for her blood, and for the rush of power that came with it. But that wasn't what made him give in.

Jay had said it: he'd killed his best friend, his "brother" doing the right thing. It was a price he didn't think worth paying.

It was a price Sam had already paid, and didn't want to again.

"You sure you want this?" Ruby asked, half-coy, half-concerned. She'd pushed, but she also worried about him, and it made it a little easier. But not by much.

They killed things that drank blood: ghouls, wendigos, vampires. They were never good things. Blood sacrifices were dark magic; blood bindings were nigh impossible to break. Blood changed, perverted, sanctified to evil.

Sam nodded. "Yes." And watched impatiently as Ruby sliced her own forearm open.

It was the only way to stop Lilith and the coming apocalypse. The angels weren't offering other options, and Dean's plan seemed to be to just live in denial, pretending that if Sam didn't embrace his powers, everything would turn out okay. As if they were still kids, and closing your eyes and holding on to your brother made everything bad go away.

But one small perversion, one surrender of his humanity, and Sam could save the world. And Dean. Sam wasn't killing his brother again by doing the right thing. He had bigger dreams than the two of them ending up sad or bloody. Or even one of them.

Sam licked his lips and sat on the chair, trying not to acknowledge the hunger as Ruby approached.

He'd seen it in Dean's eyes at the bar: his brother knew Sam wasn't just taking a walk. He didn't know what Sam was up to, but he probably guessed it was with Ruby and wasn't something he'd like. Dean had no idea how right he was.

But this was for him. Sam wasn't going to throw his brother's gift back in his face as Jay had: Dean had brought him back, gone to Hell for it, and Sam wanted to make that mean something. He wasn't dying miserable and alone, not again, not because he'd done the "right thing."

Ruby's skin touched his lips, warm and wet, and his eyes closed as the smell of the heady blood filled his nostrils. This wasn't need. It was sacrifice.

Maybe it would cost him Dean's love in the end, but at least Sam was making the choice this time, finally getting to save his brother. Just as he'd promised Dean he'd do months before.

Sam bent his head down and drank deep.

00000

"Sam?"

He blinked and looked up into Mr. Wyatt's concerned eyes. His former teacher was waiting for a response.

Sam grimaced a smile. "Not so much right now. But nobody's happy all the time, right? I mean, everyone hits some rough spots." He shrugged his shoulders inside his jacket. "But I'm doing the right thing, and…it's gonna get better. I know it."

Mr. Wyatt smiled back, believing him.

For that moment, Sam almost believed it himself.

The End