6.13 Unforgiven tag with major reference back to 6.05 Live Free or TwiHard

For Carolyn…

A Safe Haven writers challenge

Thanks to Jules, who had the notion to challenge us to write tags for this eppy. I hadn't even thought about writing one until that moment…

xxx

"We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered." - Tom Stoppard

Burning Bridges

"It wasn't you, Sam."

"Yes…it was."

The argument was never-ending, but then it already had. It was over, done, part of the past. Except this time Sam remembered. He remembered dangling the sheriff out in the open as bait, setting him up to die at the hands of evil. That knowledge was brutal; more than devastating enough without his mind taking him down another path, to another hunt where he'd watched with sick fascination as his own brother's life was threatened and then compromised.

Dean…this could have been Dean. The knowledge rubbed salt in his wounds, those psychic wounds still healing from his debilitating seizure.

When he'd come to, when the pain that exploded in his head had finally passed and it appeared the wall had held, the first thing he saw was his brother bent over him, worry filling out a face locked in despair. Sam's pain again Dean's pain.

The surreal agony of his face being literally burned off, combined with the sense-memory of flesh disintegrating to cinder, was surpassed by a new pain, more immediate and real, more soul-crushing and intensely personal. He'd betrayed his own brother, a brother who now forgave him without limit, who would never hold a grudge or lay blame. A brother who kept insisting it wasn't him.

It was, Dean, it was…let's make that crystal clear.

He couldn't remember his actions that day, but Cas' words and Dean's avoidance were enough to clue him in to his cold-blooded ruthlessness. He could feel the lack of concern, the cavalier disregard for the sanctity of human life…the soullessness of his actions festering deep. It was an itch he couldn't scratch, a wound he couldn't reach to apply balm to.

He'd been willing to sacrifice his own brother to further a hunt. No decent man would do that to an innocent, much less their own brother…and yet he had. He'd stood by and smiled while a vampire bled into Dean's mouth, idly watching the thing turn him into a monster. He'd allowed it to happen with a song in his heart, his broken, empty, pathetic excuse for a heart. It was cold and cruel and wrong on so many levels.

Dean was lucky to be alive, his survival hinging on a miraculous family cure and his own incredible strength, that rare and amazing ability to always overcome. He certainly wasn't saved by his brother, the one who left him in jeopardy and calmly observed with perverted rapture. By all accounts he was more interested in the process, badgering his brother with questions of 'How does it feel?' 'What did you see?' Inquiries that weren't designed to offer comfort or understanding, nor to empathize and support. No, his questions were fact-finding, analytical, clinical…as cold and detached as the thing that asked them.

Dean shouldn't forgive him, not this. Not for the threat to his sanity and very life. Not for the danger he exposed Ben and Lisa to. And certainly not for irrevocably shattering his once in a lifetime chance at normal, at a life with Lisa.

As remarkable as it now seemed, Dean had tried to live that normal, apple pie life he'd secretly dreamed of. As hard as it must have been, he'd moved beyond the tragedy and found a place for himself with a family of his own. Just as Sam had asked him to do…and precisely what Sam had himself been unable to even attempt when he'd faced the loss of a brother to Hell. It proved, once and for all, that Dean was the better man.

Somehow in spite of every good reason why it could never be, Dean had grabbed hold of his own version of the broken hunter's dream and forged a new life. He'd even managed to reach a tentative balance between worlds after he went back on the road, hunting with the replicant of his brother while maintaining a loving safety net, a safe harbor with Lisa and Ben whenever the hunt allowed. He and Lisa were making it work.

It was all Sam had wanted for his brother and yet, he was the very one to ruin it. He was the one who willfully risked his own brother's life on a roll of the dice. No amount of rationalization or excuses could ever refute that reality.

"Sam…I know this is tough, but you didn't kill the guy. Roy was already dead." Dean's voice was firm and sure, protective to a fault. "The guy was a monster." Dean was in the moment, focused on this hunt…never one to dwell in the past, even though the similarities were striking and he'd have to be an idiot not to realize it. Sam knew Dean wasn't dumb, instead he was first and foremost a big brother…doing what he'd always done. With his exasperation evident Dean offered up his new mantra, "Sam, this wasn't your fault. What happened before…it wasn't you." He repeated himself, just in case Sam hadn't heard or had yet to believe. "It wasn't you."

"It was me, Dean. I put him in that park. I stood there and watched it take him." Sam's words were damning, unforgiving while his tender eyes revealed the torment his actions now caused. His soul was drawing from a stockpile of emotions, his body unused to feeling, his mind unaccustomed to living within the damage, his entire being struggling to function in a world where guilt was so powerful and potentially destructive. The magnification of what he'd obviously done over the past year and a half became a heavy weight drawing him under. "I dangled him as bait and let it turn him."

Turn him. The phrase stuck, in his consciousness, at the forefront of his thoughts. He looked at Dean and all he saw was compassion, his big brother doing the job he'd fiercely taken on since he was just a child, trying his best to ease his brother's suffering and convince him he was all right. He wasn't all right, not by a long shot.

Dean's brows arched over sensitive eyes, empathetically mirroring Sam's anguish, bearing the burden he'd so long assumed, a burden that didn't belong to him. His lips pursed, poised to offer more blanket reassurances, nothing within him condemning, no evidence of fury or revulsion. The very idea that Dean was attempting to ease his suffering was simultaneously comforting and infuriating. Sam loved him for it, he did, but it was still fundamentally wrong. Now more than ever all he wanted was to scratch at that wall, break through the denial and lies and confront the truth…but only to remember what he'd done to his own brother that night: the fight, Dean's face…that moment. One moment where Dean's life hung in the balance; where his brother's actions could either save him or condemn him. Sam needed to confront his willful neglect in order to vanquish it. His throat tightened around the coming words, a part of him still wishing he could hide from the truth, the other part knowing it would forever haunt him until he faced up to it. "Dean…"

Dean continued to gaze with love upon his brother…but that might soon end. It would end if there was any justice in the world, if Sam were to properly assume the fault that rested on his shoulders. If Dean would only admit to the wrongness of it.

"What, Sammy?" His eyes were still so tender, so caring, so open and ready.

Struggling anew, forging forward even as his heart shrunk back, hopeful that the coming pain could be tolerated, that the reality of almost sacrificing your own brother's life for info on a hunt wouldn't destroy him as it had nearly destroyed Dean, Sam pressed onward. He cleared his throat, the truth demanding its due. He hoped that one truth might lead to another. "I didn't just use Roy as bait."

Dean's eyes narrowed, all attention focused on his brother, his lips starting to form a question before stopping. The set of his face subtly shifted, awareness seeping in, danger approaching. "What are you saying?" he softly whispered, his eyes already registering the bitter truth.

Sam sucked in a heavy breath, blowing it out in a rush as he barreled forth. "I let him get taken…back to the nest. He was a sacrifice, Dean…a sacrifice." He stood his ground, not giving an inch, determined to expose his depravity. "I knew exactly what I was doing and I didn't care…I just didn't care."

"Oh…" Dean paused, eyes still tender and forgiving as he gathered his thoughts. What was most telling was it didn't seem as though he was surprised by the actions, instead more concerned that Sam now possessed the knowledge…making Sam's mind shift further into thoughts of what else he'd done that needed to be atoned for. In defense, with some random rationalization designed to lessen the blame, Dean shifted focus. "It wasn't just you, you know. You had a partner."

"Samuel?" Sam scoffed. "He was there, but it was my plan. I remember." He squared his shoulders, broad and able to carry a heavy load, everything about him speaking to his strength, everything except the shattered cast of his eyes, the silent pain within more devastating than the deadliest blow. His voice maintained his rigidity, his absolute conviction in doing the right thing and taking ownership of his blame, fierce in his refusal to accept anything less. "The plan was to follow her back to her nest and take it out."

"It wasn't you, Sam."

"Can we just stop? Huh? I need you to listen to me…I need you to know what I did. Dean…I need to accept what I did."

"Okay…but it's in the past, it's over. Let's just burn that bridge and move on." His eyes were now pleading, imploring his brother to relinquish the guilt he was so set on assuming, to stop all this talk about scratching at that wall. Actions that could prove more severe the next time, digging that could bring on his death or worse. "You wouldn't do that now. That's all that matters. Roy and the others, they're dead and there's nothin' we can do for them. So we bury the past and move on."

"Okay."

"Okay?" Dean's brows arched, his eyes piercing as suspicion lingered. Of all the options at his disposal, he chose to go with flippant, offering a slight quirk of his lips as he lightheartedly responded, "Well, that was easy. What gives?"

Speaking in a deliberate, measured voice, Sam added, "We can move on…but I need to know something first."

His spidey senses seemed to engage, his face expectant, bracing for the coming blow. "What?" he hesitantly asked.

"I need you to tell me what you know…"

"Know?"

It was soft and low, broken and yet so strong and sure. He took a moment to breathe through his unrest before he laid it all out. "About what I did to you."

Dean's response was loud and firm, determined and adamant. "No, Sam. What's the point?"

"What's the point?" Sam gasped. "I let my own brother get turned by a vamp. I stood there and smiled while it happened."

Dean's eyes flashed, a quick fire of contempt, the whites huge as he looked up, the glare within for someone else. "Who told you that?"he barked out.

"Cas…"

"I am going to…"

"Dean, I tricked him, okay? This isn't his fault, it's mine and if I'm going to make it right then I need to know. I need to know everything."

Disgust rose up in his voice, denial lingering just out of sight. "There's nothing to do to 'make it right'. Samuel came through with the cure and I'm fine." His eyes were fierce as they connected with his brother, his tone commanding. "I'm fine, Sam…no second set of teeth, no bloodlust, nothin'. It's over, done."

"And Lisa and Ben?" Sam softly implored.

Dean's expression stayed fixed, his jaw set, only his eyes registering the loss, a flicker of doubt and regret before he locked down the emotion. He blinked twice before he proceeded, a deadly calm infiltrating his words. "Sam…that was never gonna work out. It's better that we both found out sooner rather than later."

"I caused you to lose Lisa." The words were a plaintive murmur and a silent apology.

"No, you didn't," Dean countered, every muscle tense as he fought through his emotions, all focus needed for his brother. "It wasn't meant to be, that's all."

Sam's voice was hoarse, ever weary, a defeated whimper as he whispered, "You'd still be with her…if I hadn't come for you." He took in another breath and continued, "If I hadn't let it turn you."

"Maybe…maybe not. There's no way to tell." Dean tensed, leaning in slightly, his body the image of a strong man, determined and true, only the slightest hesitation within his face as he pushed forward, his eyes revealing an inner struggle. "Sam, the truth is that was never my life. This is where I belong, hunting, fighting, killing every evil sonuvabitch that crosses our path."

"Dean, I am so sorry."

"I know." Dean offered a tender smile, accepting the love and concern, allowing his brother that much. His head tilted, eyes pleading as he willed his brother to be all right. "But it's over…can we just move on?"

They sat on opposite sides in that motel room, together and yet apart. The still swallowing them and leaving them to their thoughts, both pondering their choices, what happened then and what was going to happen now. It seemed like Dean thought if he stalled long enough, Sam would drop his need to know, leave that desire to scratch at the wall behind them. He knew better, he had to. He finally appeared to be worn down by the quiet but insistent need within his brother, Sam's melancholy demeanor waiting for something more. Something only his big brother could provide. "Look, Sam…this isn't the same as Roy. You didn't set me up."

Turning his gaze upward, Sam's eyes bore the brunt of his pain, all his emotions visible within the liquid crystals. "I might as well have. I didn't stop it. I wanted that thing to turn you."

Anger, frustration, and rage against their circumstance infused his words while fierce eyes reinforced his beliefs. Dean was as bold and determined as he was when he was setting out on a hunt. "The other Sam wanted it." Dean's voice turned pleading, still determined but softer, imploring his brother to listen and believe. "I know you, man. This is the last thing you'd ever let happen. Hell, you'd storm into hell to save me, so don't you sit there and tell me you wanted this."

Sam smiled, a soft, sweet, thankful smile. His emotions welled as he reached out to his brother. "Dean, you can't save me…not this time. You can't wish it all away and say it never happened. We don't know how many other Roys are out there. How many others might want to come after me for what I did. Can we at least be honest about that?"

Nodding with a heavy sigh, Dean mapped out their course. "So, we watch our backs…just like always. We don't go running next time some phantom freak texts us coordinates."

"It's not just that, Dean."

"Then what?"

"I need to feel what I did. I may not remember it, but I did it. So the only thing I can do now is feel…"

Frustration, anger, denial…the need to protect all flowed out of him as Dean responded. "What? Feel the guilt? The pain? Why? What good does it do?"

"I don't know…maybe…maybe it proves I'm human, that I'm really me. That all of this means something, that there's a purpose here." Sam paused, collecting his thoughts further, embracing the feeling of Dean back by his side, the knowledge that they were together in this struggle. "Maybe all it means is that we don't forget, that owning it means it mattered. I don't know, Dean. I just know that there's a year and a half missing out of my life. And I wasn't away or comatose…I actively did things, things that affected people, that affected you…Bobby. It just seems like the least I can do is acknowledge it, face up to what I did and make amends where I can."

"All right."

"All right? You mean that?"

"Yeah, Sam, I do. And this, this right here, that's how I know you're back. Because that's who you are, who you've always been. You stand up and you take responsibility. And…as aggravating as that can be at times, it's why I admire you. So, yeah, I'm with you, wherever this takes us. Just do me a favor, and quit scratching at that wall. We've got enough to face up to, don't go looking for more."

"Okay, then."

"Okay."

Things seemed settled, both brothers on the same page, or as close as they could possibly get. They each saw things through their own eyes, filtered by their own experiences, their own slightly different perspectives, but the truth was, they were more alike than different. Who else had been there through all their trials? Who else had the same memories, felt the same losses? It was what bound them together.

Something Dean had said niggled at the back of Sam's mind, prodding him, pushing his memories of Roy and how he died at the hands of that spider-woman. Pulling forth other memories, not the sort to tear down that wall, at least he hoped not. Still, he couldn't dismiss them, even if they were.

"Dean?"

Dean was sorting laundry, applying the tried and true sniff test. He looked up from the shirt he was examining, focus quickly coming around to his brother. "Yeah?"

"What you said before, about Samuel being my partner." Dean didn't respond further, aside from rapt attention, watching and waiting. Sam collected his thoughts, not entirely sure what his point was but feeling like something was coming together. "I hunted with Samuel for a year and yet, he didn't have a clue." His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted to show his deep concentration. "No one did. No one realized I didn't have a soul…not until you."

"I'm your brother."

It was simple and cut straight to the heart of it. Dean offered a hesitant smile, those sensitive eyes displaying all the concern and caring that had been absent with the Campbells.

Feeling his way through, Sam theorized, "I wonder if that's why I stayed away."

"You think?"

"I don't know…maybe. Maybe I always knew you'd know." There was wonder in his voice, like a great discovery, unseen and uncertain, but hopeful.

Setting down the shirt and staring, eyes tunneling in to find the truth, Dean softly asked, "So, why do you think you hung around after the Djinn? Why'd you want me to hunt with you again?"

"I wanted it?"

Quirking his head to the side, his eyes shimmering with joyous recognition, Dean smirked, pin point dimples confirming the pleasure he got in revealing something positive to his brother. "Well…yeah." He had Sam's full attention and he reveled in the story, something not so tragic, something enlightening and fun. "You threatened me with a drive-by if I didn't meet up with you."

"I did? So, what happened?"

Sam was hooked, anxious for a tale that Dean seemed to find amusing. Considering it was the tale of a shapeshifter baby, well…it proved that his memory of a run-in with a shapeshifter was true. It probably wasn't prudent to go into all the details, but a little insight couldn't hurt. When Dean had revealed that much…that it was Sam who pushed them back together as a hunting team he stopped and waited for Sam's reaction, anxious to see if the insight his kid brother had always possessed was still there.

Sam rolled the thoughts around in his head, any attempt to get into RoboSam's mind distant and foreign. "I don't know, Dean. I'd like to think a part of me wanted my family, but I think that's a pipe dream." He seemed to dismiss the notion, accepting the aloofness of his soulless self. "Considering what I was, I think that's a whitewash."

Quirking his head to the side, his brows arching like he knew a secret, or was about to discover one, Dean replied, "Maybe, maybe not… Maybe you knew we were supposed to be together?" Dean sat down on the edge of the bed, his hands folded in his lap.

"Don't tell me you're on board with that destiny crap?" Sam questioned.

"What I'm saying is, maybe everything happens for a reason. Maybe we're supposed to be together on the road. I don't know, but it sure feels right to me." He looked on expectantly, awaiting the confirming nod.

Sam took a deep breath and forged forward, revealing one last hard truth, one memory that was no longer buried. "I remember telling Brenna something…something when Samuel and I were first talking with her and Roy. She asked me if I had any other family."

Dean intently looked on, rapt attention on his brother. "So, what'd you say?"

Sam's eyes connected with Dean, studying him, gauging his reaction as he revealed the distant words. "I said that family just slows you down."

Dean's response was immediate, his smile warm and comforting, with that familiar touch of that cocky smirk lurking around the edges. His eyes welcomed his brother in, shimmering with certainty. "Well, that there…just goes to show, it wasn't you." Dean blossomed into his old self, confident and sure, happy in where he was and what he was doing as he proclaimed, "That's not how you feel about family."

The End

bjxmas

February 2011

All standard disclaimers apply.

Thanks for reading. It was great seeing out boys back together again, wasn't it? The boys are back in town! Take care, B.J.