There's fourteen steps down to Bobby's basement. The top step has a gouge in it like something sharp and heavy was dropped onto it. The second step has a stain on it like a boot heel with tar on it stepped there. The third step has a wooden brace screwed across it, to stop a split that had started maybe a hundred years ago. The fourth step -

"Still not coming up?" Bobby asks from behind me.

I'm sitting in the doorway of the basement steps. Sam's been awake for four hours. He's been calm for about three. He's been quiet for two. An hour ago, I left the panic room door open for him to decide when he was ready to come up. Thirty minutes ago, I took my seat here.

"No, not yet."

"Could be he's waiting for a more definite 'go ahead'." Bobby tells me.

"I'm not gonna force him."

"I'm not talking about forcing him. I'm talking about showing him."

That doesn't make sense. What's to show? Sam's awake, he's alert, he's six feet from the door of the panic room. At this point, coming upstairs is all about walking, which Sam is pretty good at.

My confusion must show on my face because Bobby shakes his head and mutters something I can't make out, then he says,

"We're headin' out. We'll bring back supper."

"Heading out? Where?" I ask. Bobby and Cas are going somewhere? Together? Bobby looks back at me, then pointedly at the basement below me.

"Anywhere to give Sam some privacy."

Then he wheels away.

In a few minutes, five minutes maybe, I hear Bobby's truck drive off. Now that we have the place to ourselves, for a couple of hours anyway, I figure it might be easier to get Sam to come upstairs.

I go down and he's standing near the open door of the panic room, looking out into the cellar. He looks so lost, maybe Bobby knew what he was talking about. Maybe he needs help.

"You ready to come up?" I ask.

"I need to take a shower." Is his answer, which may or may not mean he's actually ready.

He has no voice, his face has no color, his hair is dirty and stringy. He kept sweating through his clothes during his detox. The pain and hallucinations made him repeatedly sick, and left him too insensible to ever realize that he needed to relieve himself.

In short - he's a mess. A filthy, exhausted, shuddering, humiliated mess.

I hate seeing him like this.

And it's all my fault.

"Okay, come on up then. After the shower, you can have something to eat and go to bed."

He nods and wraps one arm across himself, his fingers pinching at the fabric of his other sleeve. He doesn't look at me.

"Okay."

And he doesn't move.

I decide to go and lead him out. It's my fault he's in here this second time, the least I can do is help him leave it again. Him leaving the panic room should be something we're both part of.

But I take a step toward him, and he takes two steps back away from me.

And it hurts.

"Okay, come on." I use that tone of voice I remember from when Sam was two or three and I needed to encourage him to go someplace he wasn't sure about. "Let's go upstairs."

"You go first?"

"Okay. Sure. Okay." I'm confused, disappointed, but willing to do whatever it takes to get him upstairs, so I head up, listening for his footsteps behind me. When I get to the top, I stop at the door and turn to wait for him to come even with me.

"Where's Bobby?" he asks before he takes himself all the way out of the stairwell. His rough voice makes me put hot tea with honey on the top of the list of things to have him drink.

"He went out somewhere with Cas. I have no idea where." And I'm not sure I want to know where. "Come on, take your shower in the downstairs bathroom. I'll have some food ready for you when you're done."

"What time is it?"

"Going on three." I tell him after checking my watch. I hope he doesn't ask me what day it is, because I'm not sure I know. "Come on."

I head down the hallway first, so Sam doesn't have to ask me to. Bobby had to have this bathroom remodeled to accommodate the wheelchair; the door's wider and fanfolds instead of swings open, and the clawfoot tub got replaced with a new, lower, streamlined model, with grab bars and a transfer seat, but the shower's still high enough for Sam to stand under and get clean.

He shuffles in behind me, so weary it rolls off of him. While I take the transfer seat out of the tub, and pull some clean towels from the cabinet, he shuffles himself over to the toilet to take a pee. Since he's been seven, the only time he doesn't notice an audience in the bathroom is when he's too tired to notice or too sick to care. That he does it now makes me smile a little, that he'd easily fall back into old habits when he doesn't feel good, but it worries me too, that he's that bad.

When he's done and flushed, he zips up and turns to me, like he's waiting for me to tell him what to do next. I wonder if I'm going to have to help him with the whole process. Wouldn't be the first time since he reached double digits that I had to help him take a shower, and I've done it so many times in his life total that it's really not a big deal to me. I don't know if Sammy, even sick as he is, would feel the same way though.

"Can you take it from here, or do you need some help?" I ask.

"I - uh - I -." He looks down at himself like he can't figure out even something as simple as that the shirt comes off before the t-shirt.

"Okay, here we go." I unbutton his shirt and pull it down over his shoulders and off his arms. I toss it on the floor near the door.

"I'm sorry." He says.

"It's not like you haven't had to undress me and put me to bed once or twice. C'mon, feet."

I crouch down and tug off his socks. They're stiff and heavy with sweat, and just as ripe as the rest of Sam. He leans against the wall to keep himself steady.

"Drinking whiskey isn't the same as drinking -."

"Hey." I cut him off as I stand back up. "We're not citing reasons here, just results. All right, jeans next."

I start to unbutton and unzip him but he stops me.

"Dean - do you forgive me?"

I should be asking him that question.

"You don't need to be forgiven." I tell him. I mean it.

"Everybody needs to be forgiven." He answers back. I don't think he's got any veiled reference to me in there. He's never once blamed me for any of this mess, even though he could have. Should have. Should still blame me.

"C'mon, let's get this shower taken. I'll get you some clean clothes. You'll feel better."

"You have to forgive me."

He's earnest and anguished, and any other time, I'd sit him down and we'd hash this out. But right now, he's exhausted and filthy, and nowhere near any condition to do anything but bathe.

"Sam, I'm not having this conversation with you now. You need to get clean."

I reach for his jeans again, and he stops me again.

"I can do it. I can - I'll be okay. I can do it."

"Okay." Not 100% sure I believe him. He might just be trying to get rid of me. "I'll get you some clothes. Leave the door open."

"Yeah."

I go upstairs to his duffel and bring down his warmest clothes, and his toothbrush and toothpaste. Sam's in the shower when I get back, so I set his stuff on the sink and pick up his clothes to throw in the washer. Bobby had his washer and dryer moved to his kitchen when he had the bathroom upgraded, so I do laundry and keep an ear on Sam at the same time.

Sammy wants me to forgive him, but I can't. I can't forgive what doesn't need forgiving. I just wonder if he'll forgive me.

When the water shuts off, I head back to the bathroom and stop outside the half-pulled-closed door.

"You OK in there, Sam?"

"Yeah."

"Y'want me to hang out?"

He pauses, which is actually a good thing that he's actually thinking about it.

"Otherwise, I'm in the kitchen." I add.

"Oh. Okay. Kitchen is okay. I'll - be right out."

"Shout if you need anything. Be sure to brush your teeth."

I walk away slow anyway, and back to the kitchen to start some scrambled eggs for Sam. They're just about done when I hear his footsteps behind me. I look back and he's standing there, arm across himself, picking at his shirt sleeve. He looks clean, but only slightly less dead than before his shower.

"Sit down, I've got tea for you. Eggs are almost ready."

He moves in and sits where I put the tea on the table. He takes a sip and makes a face and I tell him,

"Echinacea tea and honey. For your throat."

He nods and sips and when I set the plate of scrambled eggs in front of him, he starts eating without comment. I make myself some regular tea and sit across from him.

"When you're done, you can go up and get some sleep. If you can handle some more food later on, I'll bring it up to you."

"You don't have to. You don't have to keep taking care of me." His voice sounds a little better after the tea. A little.

"Who else am I gonna take care of?" I ask. I want him to smile but he doesn't. He finishes his eggs and his tea and takes his dishes to the sink. He stands there, with his back to me, so I ask,

"You ready to head up to bed?"

He shakes his head, and I wonder why he's not ready.

"Did you brush your teeth?" I try. Maybe he was waiting to finish eating first. Maybe he needs help. I can help him with that, if he needs me to. Because three days of spitting his entire digestive track through his teeth makes brushing more than necessary.

"Do you forgive me?" He asks me.

"Sam…"

"I need you to forgive me."

"Sam." I stand up and stand next to him, leaning back against the counter so we're facing in opposite directions. "This isn't your fault. I'm responsible."

He gives me the 'I'm so confused, my brain is turning inside out' look.

"For what?" He asks. He honestly doesn't know.

I have to tell him.

"For putting you in the panic room."

"You had to. I wanted you to."

"No, Sam. I don't mean I physically put you into the room, I mean - I mean -."

If he hasn't realized it all on his own, I really hate to point it out to him. But I have to point it out to him.

"Sam - I didn't protect you. I didn't put a devil's trap in front of that bathroom. If I'd done that, you wouldn't have gone through this again."

"We salted the room." Sam tries to defend me.

"And they got through the salt, didn't they? I didn't protect you."

His eyes drop, his shoulders lift, he's getting ready to take the blame.

"You wouldn't have had to protect me, Dean - not if - not if I'd been stronger - "

"Sam -." I try to interrupt him.

"And if you won't forgive me, I don't know what I'm going to do."

"What d'you mean?" I tug his arm a little, trying to get him to look at me. "Sammy - c'mon. I told you - there's nothing to forgive. You did everything you could. I'm the one who screwed up."

He doesn't say anything for a minute. I can tell he's putting his words in order. I'm not understanding yet and he's putting his exhausted brain into low gear trying to figure out how to make me understand.

"Dean -." He turns and he's starting to shake again, so I tug his arm, and the rest of him, back to his chair to sit down. He comes with easily but he's not done trying to make me understand. "Dean - I want to be able to forgive myself."

I sit on the edge of the table next to him.

"You don't need to forgive yourself."

"I want to be able to."

I put every bit of support and affection and permission into my voice that I could.

"Then - forgive yourself."

"I can't." He says.

"Why not?"

"Because -." I expect him to offer me some philosophical explanation of life and death and the fate of the world for all eternity, or something equally mind-numbing. " - I never know how to do anything until you show me."

Rip my heart out and hand it to me on stick, why don't you?

"Sam - Sammy - "

He drops his eyes, so I put my hand on his shoulder. I want him to look at me, but it's okay that he doesn't. I have no defense against his reasoning, and I wouldn't use it even if I did. If my little brother needs me to teach me something, I'll teach him. I don't know if I know how to forgive myself, but there is a forgiveness I'm a thankful expert at.

"I forgive you, Sam. I always have forgiven you, I always will forgive you. There is nothing you could do that I wouldn't forgive you for."

"Not even - not even -?"

He doesn't say her name and I don't want to hear him say her name.

"Nothing, Sam. Absolutely nothing. Okay?"

I wait. And Sam knows how long I can wait. He nods.

"Okay."

"Okay." Under my hand on his shoulder, I can feel him shaking. "C'mon, let's get you upstairs, all right? Get some sleep. I know I'm exhausted."

"Okay. Yeah. Okay." He moves off ahead of me. Apparently being clean means he can go up the stairs first. Everything seems A-OK.

As A-OK as it can be, I guess.

We get upstairs, slowly, and slowly Sam puts himself into his bed. It's only going on four in the afternoon, but he slides under the blankets and seems to immediately go out for the count. Right at this moment, that's all I want. I hope it means he forgave himself. He needs to forgive himself.

And if Sam can forgive himself -

I drop myself onto my own bed.

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"You should forgive yourself too."

- maybe there's hope for me.

"I'm learning, Sammy."

He's quiet, I'm quiet, the house is quiet. If we can have fifteen minutes of quiet, I'll be ecstatic.

"Sam?"

"Hmm?"

"You did brush your teeth - didn't you?"

The End.