(long as I'm here, Dean grins, nothing bad is gonna happen to you)


Something's wrong with Dean.

Sam glances at the man sitting beside him, arms tense at the wheel and back straight like a drill sergeant's breathing in his ear. Dean's eyes gaze out the windshield, maybe at the trees, maybe at the road, maybe at the blurry line blinking in the middle of it like an epileptic nightmare - Sam can't be sure. But for a strange, different kind of moment, Sam's almost curious, almost wants to know.

Just as quickly, though, the whim fades.

After all, it isn't important.

Dean seems to feel his gaze because he shifts, eyes almost flickering in Sam's direction, before he again returns to the same position, as if there is no point in a stronger response, no point in looking at Sam, which feels - maybe feels - a little wrong (possibly a lot wrong, he can't quite tell). Because Dean, Dean is all about response, all about reaction, and even though Sam doesn't really care to trust... anything, anymore, he's always relied on that one truth to frame his behavior, frame his world. Even now.

Especially now, when he has trouble enough trying to remember his own reactions, what he's supposed to be like when he isn't holding a gun or interviewing a witness or laying down a line of salt.

The little things, the things in between. That's what Sam has Dean for. Dean makes everything better, easier - he's dependable, predictable, and makes it so much easier to play the game.

Rules make everything easier.

The basic ones -

If I call for Dean, Dean will come. If I tell Dean to stay, Dean will stay. If I tell Dean to leave, Dean won't move.

The mundane ones -

If I order a salad, Dean will order extra fries. If I'm asleep, Dean won't wake me up. If I forget to change the oil, Dean will yell at me. If I make fun of Dean, Dean will glare, but be secretly delighted.

The practical ones -

If I don't duck, Dean will jump in. If I'm in danger, Dean will save me. If I get hurt, Dean will be angry, and help me out anyway.

And -

If I follow the rules, Dean will call me Sammy.

0000

But Dean isn't calling him Sammy now, isn't calling him anything now. Isn't even talking. The tape player is silent, mute, the Impala making only distant noise as it travels over smooth stretches of empty road, and even though Sam has had a lot of practice at this kind of silence, this Dean-isn't-here-I-am-alone kind of silence, there's something about this silence, this particular silence, this Dean-is-here-but-I-am-still-alone-why-is-that silence, that... nags at him.

Which is only reasonable, of course - Dean's behavior doesn't make sense, and Sam's all about logic. So he ponders it, tries to deconstruct the silence into its variable components, thinking maybe if he makes it small and simple enough to understand it will be small and simple enough to fix. He's not sure why he would, exactly, why this of all things bothers him when other things don't come close, but he has a vague notion that he should be bothered and for now, for now that is enough.

0000

What he remembers:

Never really getting away from Dean, even back when he wanted to, because either Dean came back or Sam came back or both of them came back to each other, not that it really mattered because it all came down to the same thing in the end. Dean taking care of him, looking out for him, annoying the crap out of him, sitting next to Sam just the way he's supposed to, the way he always did.

(it didn't, Dean had said tightly, gripping his cell phone with whitened knuckles, and Sam said sorry but he wasn't, he isn't, this is how it's meant to turn out after all)

Never being alone when he wanted to be alone, because Dean hated leaving Sam even more than he hated Sam leaving him, even if Sam was fine and actually okay with it, could actually use the space. And never being alone when he didn't want to be alone, either, though that usually meant being treated to Dean's just so you know, dude, this hugging thing expires the second you turn 12/16/18/23 - this does not get mentioned, are we clear -

(what did you see in the nest, he'd asked, and Dean's face had shut off in anger or fury or disgust, just back off, and something stirred inside Sam at that, because Dean never sent Sam away when everything was fine - and everything was fine now, wasn't it, they had the cure)

Being read to when he was sick, little fingers - yet so big in his eyes, back then - clumsily swiping sweaty bangs off his sweaty forehead, answering his feverish calls for Dad with he'll be back soon, Sammy, he will I swear, and I'm here, I'm here I am not going anywhere. Being called Sammy in a million different voices, a million different ways, irritated growls and gleeful snickers and deep-throated shouts and sleep-deprived groans and every so often without even an excuse, for no reason at all except to let Sam know that Dean's still there.

(his brother's eyes darting around, is this heaven? he'd asked, and Sam had frowned, wondering what Dean was talking about, how he could be so wrong)

Dean being there. That, he remembers.

0000

What he knows:

When he's with Dean, Sam's not alone. Yeah, he has to concern himself more with expressions and words and matching one to the other, but he doesn't, he doesn't have to worry about that, about misstepping, because Dean doesn't mind, doesn't care at all about picking up where Sam leaves off. There's a safety net - if Sam doesn't say something, Dean will, and if he doesn't drive, Dean does, and if he doesn't order the room, Dean might bitch at him but he'll still do it instead. If Sam feels different, stranger, if he forgets, then Dean -

...Well. Dean tries, anyway.

Dean always tries.

0000

Conclusion:

If Sam feels alone, and Dean isn't trying, then.

Then.

0000

He stares again at Dean, watches the afternoon sun frame the familiar face in a rainbow of gold. Considers saying something, but there aren't any rules for this that he can recall.

Except -

"Dean," he says.

His brother doesn't even pretend to look at him this time. Sam wonders whether he's being ignored, or if Dean just really is that focused on... whatever.

Or maybe, instead of Dean, it's Sam who isn't really here.

It's possible.

"Dean," he repeats, a little louder. Perhaps this isn't so much a rule as much as an experiment, and experiments are no good without repeated trials.

Hypothesis: if I call for you, then -

"Dean."

Dean doesn't sigh, just tenses and relaxes in the way that lets Sam know he's listening. So some things haven't changed, then.

Good, he thinks, but when Dean's expression stays the same he thinks he might be mistaken, after all.

It's up to him to lead, clearly. Sam swallows - natural reaction to fluid buildup in his mouth - and hesitates, not having expounded on his plan farther than this. Uncertainty - there's been so much of it since Dean returned.

"I," he starts, but that feels wrong too, selfish somehow. "We can listen to something," he says finally, awkwardly. Never was much of a dancer, he thinks, and the thought amuses him. "If you want. Metallica, Led Zeppelin, whatever. I'll get the tape for you."

Shrug, simple shake of the head. No, Dean means to say.

His lips twist quizzically.

Odd. He thinks he remembers them listening to music, before. Fighting over it even, does this song even have a melody, Dean? and give me back my fucking tape, your music sounds like ass kinds of fights, duplicating and permuting across the years like infinite spiderwebs of conversation.

Didn't they? Is he wrong?

Sam jiggles his knee for a second before he catches himself. So many aberrations, now that Dean is back. "Radio?" he tries, and the word echoes in his head, the wrongness in his voice multiplying as it grows and reverberates back and forth within his skull.

Nothing. That must also mean no.

He rifles through the rules in his head, and when that doesn't help, he takes a look at the memories. Ah, there, that might work.

"Everything okay?" he says, remembering to widen his eyes just a little, lean a tiny bit toward the person he's talking to.

This time Dean does turn, gives him a look. Sam thinks he vaguely remembers getting that look before, at some point , though the meaning frustratingly escapes him.

He pauses, thinks. "Is this about you needing space?" he inquires. "I can shut up."

Dean's mouth works silently for a moment, as if he's trying words out before he can sound them.

Sam watches sympathetically. He knows what that's like.

"You got - " Dean's voice catches (should have waited longer, Sam thinks) "you got a - a manual in there? Huh? How to talk Dean down? How to sound like, like you're still - you?"

He wrinkles his forehead. "What are you talking about?" he says in puzzlement, before he remembers and hastily adds, "What's wrong? Are you hurt somewhere...?"

Dean looks straight ahead as a laugh tumbles from his mouth. Something's odd about his eyes though, like maybe he needs to practice matching words to expressions like Sam does.

Sam doesn't understand why Dean is laughing (maybe the cure had psychological side effects, he ponders, should look into that). He waits for Dean to finish, before he says, "Dean?"

"Two days ago, I had a family," Dean says abruptly, and it's like he never laughed at all. "I had a - a girl. A kid. Because of you." His breath is part tremble, part shudder. "Because I promised you."

Sam frowns.

Dean glances at him then, and his smile is bitter, bitter. "Well. What the Lord giveth, right?"

He stares in confusion for a long moment, watching his brother's eyes for a clue, a sign, something for him to follow.

And then suddenly, he thinks he gets it.

He holds back an eyeroll. So emotional, his brother.

"I didn't take them away from you, Dean."

"Didn't you?"

The question stings as if from a distance - Sam shakes his head, and there's again that nagging feeling that this, this is important. "No, I - "

His brother's voice is almost light, uncaring - but Sam remembers it's not, knows it's not. "Because it kinda feels like you did."

"I didn't tell you to go visit Lisa, did I?" he protests, even as something in his head screams no stop what are you saying? "That was all you, Dean. You're the one who should have known better, they could have gotten hurt."

And just like that, something comes over Dean's face, something tense and sharp and completely empty. "Yeah." The same odd faceless laugh. "You're right. Should have known better."

He searches for the Sam thing to say. Ah. "I'm - I'm sorry, Dean," he says, remembers to bite his lip this time (he keeps forgetting). "I didn't mean to say that."

"Of course you didn't," Dean says.

Sam relaxes. "It's not your fault, you know that, don't you?" he says, words flowing out easier and easier. "I mean, you can't really be blamed - there was a lot going on, you had a lot on your mind..."

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Turning into a monster, knowing I had to die before I killed someone - yeah, you might say that."

That annoys him. "I told you, you weren't going to die," he snaps irritatedly.

"You did," Dean agrees. "Funny, that. Almost like you knew something I didn't."

His eyes narrow. "Are you... trying to imply something?"

Dean grins - just the way he always has, except now it's... different, somehow, although it's hard to tell. "'Course not, man. I'm just glad you decided to wait for Samuel. Gramps always has an answer, ain't that the truth."

As Sam stares at him, he has the strangest feeling... like they're having two conversations at once, and he only knows of one and can't be sure how his words translate from one to the other.

It feels familiar somehow. (I can hear your heart beating and it's pretty damn steady)

"I didn't know he had a cure, Dean -"

"And wow," he's interrupted, "look what we got, more info about the alphas exactly from the place I needed to go. Now that, that's really handy. Almost... providence, wouldn't you say?"

Sam has no idea what he's expected to say. "I- I guess?"

Unreadable look. "You would."

They drive. A couple minutes pass.

"You know what else is funny, Sam."

He glances over. "Hm?"

"Even after everything, you still think I'm dumber than a doornail."

He actually jerks, and this time his eyes widen on their own. "W-what, no I don't - Dean, don't be ridiculous -"

Misstep.

The grin vanishes. Dean turns, pins Sam down with a fathomless stare. "Hey, Sam?" he says, light but not light, "Remember that offer to shut up?"

"I-"

"So yeah. Shut up."

"Dean please, listen to me, come on -"

But Dean turns back to the road, doesn't answer, just gazes out the windshield, as if seeking out all the places where Sam isn't, all the places Sam's never been.

It chills him like nothing has in a long time - the sensation is strange, unpleasant, unfamiliar, more emotion than he's felt since... since before.

Which - scares him, confuses him, because he's not supposed to, to feel, something's different now, something's wrong now, there's something's wrong with him -

"Dean," he tries, one last trial. I'm calling you - stay, just stay -

No response. Nothing.

He wants to try again, narrow down the margin of error (maybe if he tries hard enough things will change), but something stops him, shakes its head (too late, it says, too late too late) and he falters. And the tape deck's quiet, the Impala's quiet, the entire world is quiet, shrunken into a little Impala-shaped bubble of silence. A Dean-is-here-but-I'm-alone kind of silence.

A... a very lonely kind of silence.

And this time, Sam knows exactly what that means.

The one who isn't here is me.

0000

(at least you got my back. No matter what happens, I can count on you. Right, Sammy?)


A/N: I know there were a whole lot of haters for this episode, and I get it, I do. But I was always more of a let's see what happens kind of viewer, and somehow this episode just blew me away. I mean, BAMF vampire Dean completely caught me off-guard (I am SO freaking glad I was unspoiled for this episode, the premise would probably have turned me off otherwise), and the strange vision with the girls was so weird and intriguing and awesomely cut, and then Grandpa Campbell made me actually care for him a little - Which I thought would never happen, honestly, he's got a bit of a creepy face.

And THEN we have the thing with Sam. Strangely enough, this episode made me NOT hate Sam. I know, how weird is that? But the thing is, think about Sam from before this season. Even at the height of Rubymania, he clearly cared about Dean. Part of the Ruby thing was, yes, a lust for power and control - but it wouldn't have happened without Sam's moral drive. And as we just found out this episode - something happened to it. Like, it's freaking GONE. A crucial part of what made Sam Sammy - oh Sammy, how I fondly remember the days you were you - is missing. Now Sam, I can really dislike sometimes. But this guy? I can't even hate this guy - he's not Sam. Something's way off, like way off, and I don't know how it happened but I'm actually excited to find out the why of it.

Especially since until we get an answer, it's going to be very difficult to write Sam's pov. Oy... this was not easy.

Please tell me what you think!