"Would you ever think about trying college again?" Dean asked as he made pancakes for the third morning in a row. John was still out. It was still just the two of them. Almost peaceful, Sam thought. Almost normal. Ha.

"No," Sam said.

Dean flipped a pancake over and was silent for a few seconds. "Why not?" He asked.

"Not what I want anymore," said Sam.

"What do you want?" Dean asked.

"Pancakes," Sam said, and Dean made a noise to which Sam commented, "Now you sound like me."

"You're hilarious," Dean said, but he grinned a little. It was good to see. Sam'd missed Dean's smile.

...

It was hot and muggy outside. Both he and Dean stripped down to jeans and lazed around inside with all the fans they could find on. "Go get some ice," Dean commanded eventually, and Sam decided not to put the shirt back on, since the ice machine was just a few doors down.

Sam was filling the ice bucket when someone gasped. He turned around, tense, to find a teenage girl staring at him. "Oh my god," she said. "What happened to your back?"

He felt it all over again, the tug of the scar tissue in thick ropes down his back from the wendigo's claws. The way it still ached sometimes, like a reminder of how close he'd come.

"Hunting accident," he said, shortly, and returned to the room with the half-full bucket, yanked on his shirt, and left before Dean could follow him. Walked until he was panting from the heat and didn't know where he was going, or even, really, why.

...

When he got back, Dean had his face in his hands and looked like he was trying to breathe normally. Sam closed the door and didn't make it quiet. Dean looked up with a start, and then his face flooded with relief.

"Sam, Jesus," he said, "What happened?"

"Nothing," Sam said. "Just felt like going for a walk."

"Want to say something next time?" Dean said. Irritable. Protective. Disappointed. I'm not what you think I am, Sam wanted to say. Not anymore. I don't know if I ever was.

"It's not a big deal," Sam said.

"It kind of is," Dean said.

"Give it a rest, Dean," Sam said. "I'm fine."

...

"Hey Sam," Dean said over spaghetti. And then stopped. Sam glanced at him through his eyelashes.

"What?"

"If I could do it again," Dean said, "I'd stand up for you. For your choices."

I never had choices, Sam thought. I was stupid to think I did. Stupid to think that what I wanted meant anything much. I know the way things are now. He just nodded, and had another bite of spaghetti. Dean frowned.

"That's it?"

Sam set his fork down. "What do you want from me?"

I want you to be okay, Dean's eyes said, and his mouth said, "Nothing." Sam snorted.

"You're a bad liar, Dean," he said. Picked up his fork again. "But okay."

...

"Dad's coming back tomorrow," Dean said. "You going to be okay?"

Break's over, Sam heard. Put your game face back on. "Yeah," he said. "Why wouldn't I be?" He could picture the look on Dean's face without looking at him, and ignored it.

...

He dreamed of the yellow-eyed man again for the first time in a while. They were walking shoulder to shoulder through a graveyard, and he couldn't read the names on the tombstones but thought they must all be his. "Your dreams always taste like despair, Sammy-boy," the man said. "I don't know whether to be disappointed or pleased."

"Do I know you?"

"No," he said, sliding his hands casually into his pockets and smiling, all teeth. "But you might."

Even dreaming Sam felt tired. "Go away," he said, and the yellow-eyed man flickered and vanished. Sam kept walking through the field of graves, and it went on and on and on. He was going somewhere, he knew that, didn't know where and he wasn't sure why, but he did know that neither mattered.

Never had.

...

John was in a good mood. It was almost perplexing. This was a John Sam hardly knew, hardly recognized. Dean was delighted, though it only showed in the slight increase of volume and lightness in his eyes. Sam could read him easily enough; breakthrough with Sam, check, Dad's in a good mood, check, everyone's here, check. Sam had compared Dean to a sheepdog once. Happiest when the herd was together. (Dean hadn't been terribly fond of the comparison.)

Sam woke up in the middle of the night and heard Dean and John talking in low voices. Dean's – "You need to give me more time, he's not-"

"You said he was doing better," John's voice, even lower, half exasperated and half impatient. Sam rolled over and did not try to identify what he was feeling.

I'm sorry, he thought. I am, I'm sorry. There was a headache blooming behind his eyes. He closed his eyes and counted his mistakes.

...

Sam woke up early and went running. He felt his phone ring in his pocket and ignored it, and when he got back to Dean freaking out he dredged up muscle memory and grinned. "What are you so worried about?" He asked, and Dean looked at him like he didn't understand what he was seeing. He looked disconcerted, like his world had suddenly tilted sideways.

I'm not your problem, Sam thought viciously, and hoped Dean heard it. I'm not your problem or his problem or anyone's problem. I'm just me and I'm the only one who needs to deal with it.

"Okay," Dean said, after a second.

"I'm hungry," Sam said, though he wasn't. "What do we have?"

Knowing someone made it so much easier to say what they needed to hear.

...

It turned out being okay was easier than he expected. He was smart enough to know what to say. Smart enough to know how to sound like he was getting better. Smart enough to pretend not to notice the way both his father and brother watched him, simultaneously worried and wary.

It's over, he wanted to tell them. I'm done.

It's okay, he reminded himself. I can leave anytime I want to. There's a way out. There's always a way out.

He fell asleep to that. There's always a way out. If I ever can't do it anymore, I know how to make an end.

...

He kept walking through the graveyard in his dreams. Sam stopped in front of one of the graves and brushed some moss off the letters. Dean Winchester, it said. (You did this, it said.)

"Where are you going?" His mother's ghost asked. Sam chewed on his lip.

"Home," he said, eventually.

...

He woke up in the middle of the night tired and went out to sit in the car. He found the gun in the glove box and wrapped his hand around the grip, laid it in his lap, and stared down its single eye. What are you waiting for? He thought. What are you expecting? Some kind of miracle?

Sam didn't know.

He put the gun back in the glovebox and went back inside.