This is a tag to episode 5.02, "Good God, Y'all".
Disclaimer: As always, I bow to the evil genius that is Eric Kripke.

This Time Was Different
by FraidyCat

Dean had seen this before.

He had watched Sam walk away from him, from their life together, before. He had also woken up on more than one morning -- or, in the middle of more than one night -- to discover that his little brother had slunk off somewhere...but that was different. It was annoying, and terrifying...but it was still different from actually watching him go, and not doing anything to stop him.

Yeah; this was definitely something new. The first time he had watched Sam leave, it was from a bus station. More accurately, it was from the Impala, which was parked across the street from the bus station. After Sam and their father had finished the final blow-up, Sam had stormed to his corner of the Crappy Apartment Du Jour, jammed everything he owned (which wasn't much) into his duffle, and let a cloud of anger and frustration blow him right out the front door; Dean saw him turn left, before the door slammed. He had waited until his father, swearing more like an ex-sailor than an ex-Marine, strode out behind him (turning right), muttering something about a bar, before he scrambled for his own duffle. He used his knife to rip out the stitches that attached a swatch of fabric to the interior of the canvas duffle.

That reminded him: he hoped Sam remembered that they each had five hundred in cash sewed into their bags. Dean had offered him the Impala (mostly because he was fairly certain Sam wouldn't take it), but they hadn't even discussed money. Kid...Sam...probably only had twenty bucks in his tattered wallet. He wouldn't get very far on that. Sure, the motels they stayed at were usually straight out of Psycho, but it was better than sleeping on the street -- or in a homeless shelter somewhere. Not that they hadn't sunk that low once or twice before...but after that night Sam was knifed in the community bathroom (for twelve dollars and change), they slept in the Impala when there was no money for a motel. Dean felt whatever cancer had been sitting in his stomach expand into his chest; Sam didn't have the Impala...

He shook himself like a wet dog. Sam would remember the money; it was something they had always done. Dad had insisted on it, in case they ever got separated. When Dean and Sam started hunting without Dad, it just made sense to keep the habit alive. Surely, if he was thinking straight, Sam would remember that. Dean hung his head and stared at the surface of the wooden picnic table.

Sam didn't appear to be thinking all that straight.

Like when he left for Stanford. Then, anger and hard feelings had conspired to muddy his mind. After Dean had grabbed the money from his bag, he had raced to the street, relieved to see both the Impala and John's truck; at least his dad wouldn't be driving drunk when he was finished at -- or got thrown out of -- the bar. Dean had slid behind the wheel and fired up the Impala. He hadn't really known where Sam was going, but it had been fairly easy to find him. He was striding down the main street of town, duffle slung over his shoulder, looking like he did every time Dad told them it was time to move on. Dean had pulled to the curb and convinced Sam that he wasn't going to try to talk him out of leaving -- he just wanted to give him a ride to the bus station, and say good-bye. Eventually, a suspicious Sam had sunk into the passenger seat of the Impala.

The ride to the bus station had been completely silent. Both brothers knew that things had gone too far to be taken back, this time. As much as it wounded Dean, he knew that he had to let Sam go.

When they had parked across from the bus station, Dean had given Sam the money, and reminded him about the five hundred sewn into his own bag. Sam looked guilty, then surprised, then tried to give Dean's money back. "I forgot," he said quietly. "I don't need this; I have enough."

Dean hadn't even thought about taking his five hundred back. "You'll need a lot to get settled," he said. "I'm pretty sure scholarships don't pay for things like salt and industrial-size first aid kits."

Sam had almost -- but not quite -- smiled. "I won't be hunting, anymore," he whispered. "A few Band-Aids should be fine."

Dean was half-turned in the driver's seat, facing Sam, and he had scowled. "You need a decent kit," he hissed. "Promise me. I'm giving you this money, and I want you to use it to keep yourself safe."

That reminded him: Sam didn't have a first aid kit in his duffle. The kit was too large for either of them to lug around unless it was absolutely necessary. When neither of them was hurt, it was stowed in the trunk of the Impala, jammed between two shotguns; a 30-06 bolt action and a 12-gauge pump.

And shit if that didn't remind him of something else: Sam's only weapon was the hunting knife strapped to his leg. Yeah, he could go some serious damage with that knife, and it was a relief to know his brother wasn't totally unarmed, but...but...but, hell. The damn world was ending, and Sam's only form of protection was one little knife?

Well, that kind-of sucked out loud. Not much money, no first aid kit, inadequately armed...

...and broken.

Sam hadn't looked like that, when he climbed out of the Impala at the bus station. Yeah, Dean could see that Sam was sorry to leave him -- but he could see a little gleam of excitement in his eye, as well. His dream of normalcy was finally coming true. Sam was paying a huge price, but he was pursuing something neither one of them had been taught was a possibility -- a future. Sam could smell the books waiting for him in California. He could almost see a faceless wife and 2.4 kids playing on a tidy green lawn behind a white picket fence, in front of a clapboard house. Sam had been leaving the life he had always known (and resented) behind. More importantly, he was moving toward the life he had always wanted.

But this time...this time was different.

He had sat across the table from Dean as a broken man, a man who was afraid of himself, a man who knew he had irreparably damaged his only and most treasured relationship, a man who literally had the weight of the world on his slumped shoulders. When he had walked away, it wasn't because something better was waiting for him. He no longer believed he had a future. Dean doubted if Sam even lived in the present, as screwed up as it was. Sam lived in the past, letting his mistakes compound themselves, and chew gaping holes in his soul. He was sorry. Dean believed he was sorry -- he was sorry, too. Buried deep within him the flame of Big Brother still flickered, and part of him wished he could fix his brother, somehow make it all better, like he always had before.

Before, Sam had been his priority. Now, he had a world full of angels, and demons, and innocent bystanders; he couldn't turn his back on any of them long enough to focus solely on Sam. Yeah, Dean was sorry, too.

This time, when Sam started talking about leaving, Dean did not try to talk him out of it. He did not even make sure his brother could take care of himself, out there alone in a world filled with evil of all description.

This time, Dean hadn't moved from his spot at the picnic table, but had watched silently as Sam grabbed a few things (not much, not enough) from the Impala, and snagged a ride with a fisherman who was about to leave the park. Sam had left, and Dean had not only let him leave -- he had encouraged him to go.

So yeah; this time was different...and those differences hurt them both; probably more than anything ever had.

Maybe Dean should have stopped Sam when he first took up with Ruby; killed him, like John had said. Maybe that's what he was doing now...give Sam enough rope, and let him hang himself.

Maybe Dean was the one dying; it felt that way.

This time was different.