Another crap room, another night waiting for Dean to return from his hunt with Castiel, putting down some possessed hunter who was killing other hunters. Another reminder to Sam that he gave up his place as Dean's partner. Sam sighed as he zipped up his duffel. He knows he brought this on himself. He does. But, he also knows that he can't take another day of it. He doesn't blame Dean for being done with him. He gets it. But, he can't live with it staring him in the face and choking him every moment, either.
It was time to go. Sam'nDean were no more. Dean wouldn't even look him in the eye. Things between them were polite, civil. They exchanged information and ideas on whatever case they were working, and got things done. But, they were broken. Sam has tried damn hard not to wallow in self-pity. He has accepted that this was his doing, tried to keep his mouth shut and be helpful. He has worked the job, tried to make things as easy on Dean as possible.
But, it was crushing him. Dean wanted to hunt with Castiel. And Sam gets that, too. Really, he does. Castiel has never let Dean down. He broke with Heaven for Dean. So, yeah. Gotta give Castiel props for that. While, Sam, well, he drank demon blood, nearly choked his brother out and toddled off to start the apocalypse.
But, he can't make the rest of his life about that, or he will eat a bullet. And how will that help clean up the mess he made? It won't. It would just make him stop feeling everything he has to feel. Which, frankly, he's trying not to think of as an appealing alternative to everything he's got to live with.
So, he has to leave. If he's going to find a way to move forward, he has to find his place. Because it's no longer with Dean. Dean has made that more than clear. Sam knows that it's his own fault, but he can't stay. He's not sure how Dean will take him leaving, which is why he's still here. It's why he didn't just leave a note and book when Dean and Castiel took off on their latest hunt. He's pretty sure Dean will be relieved, but he wanted to explain this wasn't just another case of 'selfish Sammy' running off to do his own thing. He wanted Dean to understand that Sam was trying to help. But, yeah, since his track record on what he thinks will help was a little shaky, he wanted to be able to look at Dean when he explained it, reassure himself that this was what Dean wanted, too.
And then, the door to the room opened and Dean was there. Sam wiped his sweaty palms on the legs of his jeans. "Hey."
Dean glanced at him as he dropped the duffel on the table. "Hey."
Sam cleared his throat. "Go okay?"
Dean sighed. "Yeah. Castiel took care of him." Dean's mouth kicked up briefly. "He's actually learned some pretty good moves."
Sam looked Dean over. "You okay?"
Dean met his eyes briefly. "Yeah, fine." He sat on his bed to unlace his boots, noticed Sam's stuff packed up on the bed. "What's all this?"
Sam sighed, looked at the floor. His chest felt tight. But he knew this was the right thing to do. "Yeah. Well, I have this plan."
Dean looked wary. "Oh, God."
Sam held up his hands, trying to reassure Dean. "No, no. Not an 'I'll drink demon blood and go save the day' kind of plan."
Dean relaxed slightly. "Go on."
"So, ah, this is clearly not working, right?"
Dean looked irritated. "What, the looking for Lucifer thing? Or the finding the demon virus cure? Or, the helping Bobby walk again thing? What, Sam? What isn't working?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. It's a long list. But, that's not what I mean. I mean, you and me. That's not working. I'm not wrong about that, right?"
Dean closed his eyes, his shoulders fell. "Sam, I'm not really up for this right now."
Sam moved closer, sat across from Dean on the other bed. "No, no. Just listen, please? I'm trying to make this better, for you and for me. And, Dean, none of any of this is your fault. It isn't. It's my fault. I think that me being here, all the time, every day, is not a good thing anymore. So, I'm leaving. I thought I'd do something I'm good at. Go find every ancient text I can lay my hands on, research all the lore pertaining to Lucifer, and look for some answers on how you can, you know, smote him."
Dean let out a long sigh, looked back up at Sam. "So, that's it? You've decided and you're just…going."
Sam made a wordless sound of frustration. "No, Dean. We both decided. Don't try to make this about me abandoning you, please. I'm not. We just…" He looked right at Dean. "I know I'm not mis-reading you. Just because I'm a major fuck-up doesn't mean I'm stupid. This, you and me, it's broken and maybe you're right. Maybe there's no fixing it. What I did cannot be undone. I accept that. I know that you can't forgive and forget. But, Dean, we are at war. We have to find a way to keep fighting. I have to find a way to keep fighting. And feeling your disappointment and anger all day long…knowing you're out there fighting without me…" Sam took a deep breath, tried to get his thoughts in order. "Dean, I know you're just trying to get through all this, but, I need to find a way to get through this, too. And, I can't do that here, with you. I'm sorry, but I can't. You're out there, and I'm not with you... And, it's tearing me up." Sam tried to get a look at Dean's face, but he had dropped his head and was staring at the floor. He pressed on. "And, instead of sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I thought, maybe I can do some good with the paperwork. Find something that will help you win this thing." Dean still didn't look up or respond to what Sam had said. Wow, this is going worse than I thought. Sam waited. Still, nothing from Dean. Ok. Yeah. Awkward. What did you expect, a plea of 'Please, Sammy, don't go?' Right.
Sam stood up. "So, I'll just…I'll call if I find something useful, okay? Or, if you want, I can give it all to Bobby and he can sift through and relay what's relevant to you and Cas. I will find something, Dean. Just, try to have a little faith that something is out there than can help you do this."
Dean nodded. "Yeah." And that's all.
Sam suddenly wanted to be gone, right now. Dean's unresponsiveness was setting off a shaky feeling inside, and if he didn't get out of here soon, he was going to cry like a baby. Because his heart was kind of breaking. He'd had Dean, as his brother, his best friend, his champion. And he fucked it up and lost it. It should hurt. It should make him grieve and moan and howl. But, not in front of Dean. Dean should feel free to do whatever he needed to do, without Sam's pain pressing in on him.
Sam gathered up his stuff, moved toward the door. He took one more look at Dean, who'd slumped a little more in on himself, and stopped. Dean just looked so burdened. Sam dropped his duffle. How could he just walk out on that? "Dean."
Dean didn't look up. Sam put the laptop case on the table, walked over and crouched down in front of him. "Dean."
Dean glanced at him, then back to the floor. Sam's heart clenched. "Hey. This is not me leaving you. This is me trying to get out of your way. I'm trying to help you."
Dean nodded, still didn't look up.
Sam put his hand on Dean's knee. He spoke softly. "I don't want you to feel badly about this. You haven't done anything wrong. I don't blame you for not trusting me. I don't . But, I can't help that I have a reaction to that, you know?" Nothing. Sam laughs softly. "You know, to your credit, you've never been the guy that nobody trusts. I have. I am. It really sucks. And, I know it's my doing. But, I also have to find a way to not drown in that, you know? It's hard to be surrounded by people to who don't…I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do?" Sam pressed his fingers into Dean's knee. "What am I supposed to do?!"
And Dean's head snapped up at that. He just stared at Sam, and a long moment passed. To Sam, it felt like Dean was really seeing him, not just glancing at him or looking past him, or through him. But, he saw Sam. And that, just that, was enough to make Sam want to ditch his brilliant plan. Maybe, if he stuck around, Dean could one day see him as his brother again.
Then, Dean dropped his gaze, and Sam's hope collapsed. He tried to not let it gut him. He already knows that this is how it is between them. The level of hurt that ricocheted through him just confirmed that he has to flee. Now. This spiral he's in will lead nowhere good. He can't…he has to stay in the game, at least until Lucifer is down.
Sam patted Dean's knee one more time, then rose to his feet. "Okay. So. I'll go. I'll be in touch. And, you know, if there's anything I can help you with, just call."
Sam gathered up his bags again. This time, he didn't look back when he got to the door. He opened it, walked through. As he went to pull it closed behind him, he heard, softly, "Sam, don't."
Sam let out a slow breath, stopped. He didn't hear anything else. He turned around. "Dean?"
Dean finally looked up at him, and let Sam see. He let Sam see that this was not what he wanted. He looked wrecked. Pale and haunted and lost.
Sam turned back into the room and let the door close. He let his bags drop, again, and walked over to Dean with purpose. He resumed his seat on the bed across from him. "Dean. Now is the time to tell me what you want. What you really want, not what you think you should say, okay? Just tell me, stay or go. What do you want?"
Dean knew he was good at some things. He was a fair marksman, a pretty good lover, he could make a mean lasagna. But, he was great at fighting. Sometimes, he thought, if their family hadn't been cursed by evil, he would have been a damn fine soldier. He was born to strategize and make quick decisions, he threw himself into the fray with enthusiasm and discipline. He was comfortable in the realm of life and death. But, put him at the mercy of Sam's puppy dog eyes, looking to him for what he was feeling? Yeah, that didn't go so well. So he sat here, gaze locked on the damn carpet while Sam is practically laying himself bare, and he can't do or say anything. From the moment he realized Sam's intent to go, he's been frozen. He heard Sam, he can't really disagree with what the kid was saying. Things are fucked up between them. He is afraid to trust Sam, afraid to let him back in. He likes working with Castiel, who has the emotions of a tree stump, but is smart and efficient on the job. With Castiel, it's easy, straightforward.
With Sam, it's the total opposite. His heart hurts when he looks at Sam. He sees Sam all shut down and guilt-ridden he wants to make it better. He does. But, then, he remembers hands around his throat and protecting a demon from Dean and his knife, and he turns it all off. He remembers waking up to an empty motel room, and knowing Sam was doing something he shouldn't. He remembers asking Sam what that might be, and Sam just closing off. And so, he walks out to meet Castiel with relief. The work gets done, and they make progress toward somehow fixing this whole damn mess. When he comes back to Sam, he can't help thinking about how they used to joke and tease, and, he can't remember the last time he saw his brother smile. He remembers how he used to look at Dean for approval. Now, he looks for forgiveness. He remembers Sam saving his ass in some pretty damn serious situations, saving his life again and again without thought. And, he remembers him walking out while Dean lay bleeding and betrayed on the floor.
And, he's back to that place where it's all messy and painful and sad.
So, yeah. He gets why Sam wants to go. Hell, he practically put a sign on the clubhouse door, 'Sam not wanted here.' He's not wrong that it's broken between them. But, somehow, Dean thought he would have time to figure it all out. Freeze Sam out until he could figure out what to do with him. But, then, he conveniently forgot that Sam was there, watching and absorbing and analyzing.
As he'd done his whole life, Sam was trying to figure out what Dean was saying, even when Dean was ignoring him. And the message was pretty clear. So, Sam was packing up and taking off. Again.
Well, Dean, that's not quite fair, now, is it? You're practically packing his bags for him and handing him a ticket. Because Sam knew him. In spite of everything that had gone down, Sam still knew him better than anyone. He knew that Dean had no use for him. Not as a partner, certainly not as a brother. And, of course, Sam had every right to get out from under that.
Except for the part where Dean's heart had squeezed painfully when he'd understood that Sam meant to go. And, except for the part where the thought of Sam walking out made him want to scream and rage that he didn't get to do that! Sam was supposed to sit around until Dean figured out what to do.
But, as usual, Sam had to go his own way. He had to sum up the situation and act. Jesus, always the same with that kid. No patience. None. 'Let's go now, Dean.' 'I want to see, now.' 'Take me there, now, Dean!' Always such a pain in my ass, Sammy. And now, that same impatient little kid, the one who echoed Dean's words in Cold Oak without realizing it, 'What am I supposed to do?!' He was sitting there, with his sad, guilty eyes, asking Dean to tell him what he wanted. And Sam would do whatever he said.
So, what did he really want? He looked at Sam, sitting across from him. "What do I want? Well, Sam, I want Mom and Dad and Jessica to be alive. I want Lucifer in Hell where he belongs. I want God to do His damn job instead of leaving it to us. I want a good massage and a cold beer. What the hell does it matter what I want?!"
Sam nodded, but he didn't look away. "It matters to me."
Dean laughed harshly. "Oh, that's new, then, isn't it?"
Sam looked down briefly. Then, kept his gaze steady on Dean. "No, it's not new. I always knew what you wanted. That didn't mean I could always give it to you. Just like you couldn't always give me what I wanted. But this isn't about that. I'm asking you, now, what do you want?"
Dean thought about that. It was true. Sam had always known what Dean wanted. And, mostly , he'd tried to accommodate him. But, on some of the big things, the things that Sam wanted or needed for himself, school, fighting with Dad so he didn't get lost, trying not to kill unnecessarily, killing Lillith for what she'd done to Dean, trying to stop the apocalypse by drinking demon blood, that had been Sam fighting to do things his way. Not to thwart Dean, but because that's what he needed, that's what he thought was right.
Dean felt the words rise in him. "I want you to have killed that demon bitch the first time she flashed her black eyes at you and told you she could save me."
Sam actually reared back at that, but he didn't look away. He nodded. "Okay. What else?"
"I want you to have told me, the day I found you in Pontiac after climbing out of my coffin that you had fucked up and started drinking demon blood to get strong enough to kill Lillith. I want you to have turned to me, not some demon bitch, when you knew you were in trouble."
Sam's lip was trembling, but he bit down on it and didn't look away from Dean. "What else?"
And Dean felt the wall around him crumbling. He knew his eyes were filling, he could feel his throat tightening, but he pressed on. Sam wanted to hear what he wanted. "I want to go back to that motel room where I told you I would go with you , anywhere, if you would just leave the demon bitch behind. And I want you to punch her, put your hands around her neck and squeeze. And tell her that she never knew you, that she never did and she never will. And leave with me! That's what I want, Sam!"
Sam's tears were falling, but he didn't look away. He wiped at his eyes, nodded, and still he looked at Dean. He tried to speak, but had to clear his throat a couple of times before he could find his voice. "What else?"
And Dean looked at his brother, sitting there, tears falling, absorbing what Dean was saying, not looking away or apologizing, not trying to get Dean to understand or forgive. And Dean just missed him, so damn much. And he could almost hear Sam saying, 'But, I'm right here, Dean. If you want me to be.' And, that's what Sam was really asking. Did Dean want him to stay or go?
They sat there, staring at each other, bawling like little girls, and Dean thought again about what he wanted. What he really wanted. He brought his arm up to wipe at his eyes and nose, did some deep breathing to calm himself down. He looked at Sam, then to the floor. Why was it so hard to spit it out? Jesus, they'd been through every other damn thing. "If you leave, we'll never figure this out. That'll be it. We'll work long distance, and…that's not what I want." He made himself look back at Sam. "I want to get through this, Sam. I want to have my family together. To count on that. Because, when that's fucked up, everything else is all wrong, too."
Sam nodded, used the bottom of his shirt to wipe at his face. "Yeah, Dean. But, is that possible? After everything I did? I feel like I forfeited that right, you know? To be your family."
Dean thought about that. "Is that even possible? You're either family or you're not."
Sam shook his head. "No. I think you have to choose it. Dad kicked me out, and I would have stayed gone. If you hadn't come, if he hadn't…well, it has to be something we both want, you know? Not just me, or not just you. "
"Both of us, huh?"
Sam's mouth kicked up on one side. "Tall order for you, huh? " And then, even that small bit of lightness faded. "I know what I did. But, I can't spend the rest of my life saying I'm sorry. I mean, I would if I thought it would matter. But, I don't think that's going to help. You know I'm sorry. It's really, just, can you ever get past it? I won't blame you if you can't. But, I won't live with it every day, either. I can't. I won't last, Dean."
"Jesus, Sam, pull out the big guns, why don't you?"
"I'm not trying to coerce you, I'm just trying to explain."
So, Dean asked himself, could he choose Sam to be his brother again? Could he let it all go, let the kid back in? "Sam, what I want, is for you to stay here, and give me time to work through all this shit."
Sam sighed. "Yeah. I know. But, I can't…I know I should just grovel endlessly and do whatever you want, I deserve it. But, I can't do that. I can't watch you go off with Castiel, and sit here, doing research, hoping you're alright, hoping he's even aware enough to have your back, knowing it should be my place. Knowing I tossed it away. "
Dean almost smiled. "You can't sit here and research, because you're jealous of Castiel, so you have to go somewhere else and sit and research?"
And there it was. Sam's patented bitchface. "No, Dean, that's not…"
Dean just looked at him, raised a brow.
"Shut up. Of course I'm jealous of Castiel. God. Don't be an idiot. He's got everything I gave away. But, I know I have no right ---" He stopped, ran his hands through his hair, pulled two handfuls for a brief moment. "Look, I can't change any of this. I did what I did. I'm sorry for it, I regret it, I am one big steaming pile of remorse. But, it doesn't change anything! Nothing I do can change any of it! So, I have to find something else to do to make some kind of…contribution. That's it. Otherwise, I'll drown in all of it. It's already all I can do to---" He stopped again. Sighed. Ran his hands up and down his legs. "Something's gotta give, Dean. I'm trying to find some positive way out of this for myself, cause I am hanging by a goddamned thread."
Dean knew that Sam was right. He couldn't fix any of this. Only Dean had the power to do that. And was it as simple as choosing? Could he just choose to have Sam back in the passenger seat, being his partner, his brother? Because, let's face it, Dean. That is what you really want.
And something loosened inside that had been wound tight. He could do this, just for himself, just because he wanted it. "Okay, Sam."
Sam was confused. "Okay, what? Go?"
Dean shook his head. "No. Stay. Get your ass back in the Impala and ride shotgun."
Sam floundered, actually tilted his head like a puppy who'd heard a noise outside. "What?"
And Dean looked at him and smiled. He could give Sam this. Hell, he could give it to himself. They were at war. He needed Sam, truth be told, so he was going to have him with him. Not off researching in penance and exile somewhere, emailing back and forth with Bobby, for Chrissake. "You and me, Sammy."
And Sam got it, saw what Dean was offering. He dropped his head into his hands, and Dean heard a muffled sniffle. Sam wiped his face again with his shirttail, and then looked up. "Dean, do you mean…really?"
And something that had been shut down in Dean began to expand. It was easy, really. Forgiveness was easy. Because it's what Sam wanted so badly, and it's what Dean wanted, too. To put this behind them, because he chose it. To be able to look at, and make it one more chapter instead of the whole damn book. Sam was his brother, by birth and by choice. And, if he let that demon bitch succeed in taking that away from him, keeping that away from him, then he was letting her win. And, damned if he was going to let that happen twice.
He thought about him and Sam, instead. The best revenge on all these damn demons was for the Winchester brothers to stand together and kick some ass. Sam was still watching him like Dean was going to say 'psyche!' and kick him out. "Sam, this is about what we want, what we choose, right?"
Sam nodded, still looking leery. "And you're choosing, what, exactly?"
Dean smiled. "I'm choosing you, Sammy. I'm choosing us. I say we put all the bad shit behind us. Because that's what I want. You and me, standing back to back, taking on all comers."
Sam looked at him, looking for the truth in what he was saying. When he saw it, he huffed out a breath. "Dean, sorry, but I've gotta…" And he shifted over to sit next to Dean, wrapped his arms around him and held on. Tight.
Dean made a noise of protest, just for form. But then, he wrapped his arms around Sam, held him just as tightly. And they settled back into being them, for the first time in a long, long time.