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Once again, Happy Early Birthday, Cheryl.

Part II: Every Night and Every Morn

The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.
(William Blake)

Dean was scared.

He pushed himself closer to Sam, felt Sam's arms tighten protectively around him, felt light, comforting fingers brush his hair.

"Is he gone?" Dean asked after a moment.

"Yeah, he's gone. What's wrong?"

"I screwed up." There. He'd said it. That made the rest of the admission easier. "I let you down."

"Don't be stupid, Dean. You've never let me down."

Dean shook his head. He stayed slumped against Sam for a moment, eyes shut, listening to the steady thudding of his brother's heart. It was a sound he'd known for years, known since his mom's ob-gyn had offered him the stethoscope and said, "Do you want to listen to your little brother, Dean?"

If he let himself, he could almost believe that they were kids again.

He didn't want to move – Sam would be shoving him away soon enough, once he'd heard what Dean had to say.

But Sam was talking. "Dean?" His voice was as gentle as the hand on Dean's head. "Come on, Dean, you're scaring me. What happened? Say something."

"I screwed up."

That was all Dean could think, all his mind had room for. He, Dean Winchester, had screwed up monumentally, and had hurt Sammy, and there was nothing in the world, not even Sam being all soft and soothing and chick-flicky, that could make that all right.

"Tell me."

Sam had lowered his head to whisper that in Dean's ear, and Dean would never, never make fun of Sam's questioning-witnesses voice again. That tone was full of sympathy and understanding and the promise that no matter what Dean had done, no matter how badly he'd screwed up, his little brother was going to be right there.

Dean blinked back tears.

"Hey," Sam murmured. "Hey, hey, don't. It's OK, Dean. I'm not going to be mad. And we can fix it, whatever it is. We can deal with it. Just tell me."



"I'm sorry."

"It's OK."

"You don't even know what I've done yet."

"Doesn't matter. It's always OK. You're still my big brother and I still love you, and there's nothing you can do or say that's going to change that. Now tell me about it." Sam loosened his hold. "And, dude, get up off the floor. You're going to kill your knees."

Dean huffed a laugh and got up, and if he rubbed his eyes surreptitiously on Sam's shirt, Sam didn't say anything about it.

"Tell me," Sam repeated.

Dean sat on his bed, facing Sam, so close that their knees were bumping. That was Sam's fault, the oversized freak; the space between the beds wasn't big enough to contain his stupid long Sasquatch legs.

"Sam," Dean began, and then stopped, not knowing how to go on. He felt a very brief flash of sympathy for Castiel. If he, Dean, who'd known Sam all his life and had changed his diapers and bandaged his scraped knees and taught him how to ask a girl out, didn't know how to phrase this in a way that would make Sam not think he was a complete and utter bastard, there was no hope for the Angel.

"Sam," Dean tried again.

"I'm listening."

"You… you remember when you killed Lilith?" Dean heard a sharp intake of breath and looked up, but Sam's face was calm as he motioned for Dean to continue. "I thought… I said you'd let me down."

"Yeah," Sam said, and for the first time Dean heard an undercurrent of tension in his voice.

He steeled himself. "I thought you'd used your demon mojo to get out of the panic room and go after Lilith."

"I know."

"And you did go after Lilith."

"I did."

"But Cas was the one who let you out of the panic room."


Dean waited, expecting more of a reaction. When Sam was silent, he looked up, meeting his brother's eyes in the darkness.


Sam shrugged. "Yeah. I was pretty sure it was him. Nice to get confirmation, though."

"Wait, you were sure – you knew?"

"I didn't know, but I guessed." Dean must have looked as bewildered as he felt, because Sam sighed. "Look, I know you thought I'd used my powers to get myself out of the panic room, but I knewI hadn't. And the door didn't just open by itself. It couldn't have been Ruby, and that left Cas."

"You knew," Dean repeated numbly. Somehow that made it worse, that Sam had known, or at least guessed, what a screw-up his big brother was and hadn't called him on it because… because what? Because that was what Sam expected from him? "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Would you have believed me?" There was no condemnation in Sam's voice, only reason.

Dean flinched. He would have preferred anger. "You're not mad."

"I told you I wouldn't be. Besides, it's not really new information, Dean. You're just confirming something I was pretty sure about already."

"But I let you down," Dean said, feeling like he had to make sure Sam saw that. "I trusted Cas with you and he turned out to be as bad as the rest of them. If I hadn't – if I'd stayed – he couldn't have done it."

"You didn't know."

"Why aren't you pissed?"

Sam raised an eyebrow. "You want me to be pissed?"

"You knew." Dean couldn't get past that. "You knew and you didn't tell me. And you're not mad." It was all making a kind of horrible sense, and Dean's heart was sinking to his toes. "God, Sam."

"Dean, what –"

"I knew something was wrong with, you know, soulless you." The words were tumbling out thick and fast. Dean wouldn't have been able to stop them if his life had depended on it. "I knew because you wouldn't have done any of the crap he did. You wouldn't have let me get turned into a vamp just for information. You wouldn't have stood by and let Cas torture that kid. You wouldn't have done any of it. That's why I was so mad – I knew something was wrong. I knew it wasn't you in there."

"So you're saying… What? You're saying you want me to be pissed because I'm supposed to think it wasn't you back then? It was you, Dean."

"I know that." Nothing mattered now, not Cas, not Dick Roman, nothing except making Sam understand. "I know that. I screwed up, Sammy. I'm not even trying to pretend I didn't. God, if you knew, or even suspected what had happened and thought you couldn't tell me because I wouldn't believe you… That right there. That is how badly I screwed up. Sam, please. And you're not even mad, it's like that's no more than you expect from me."

Sam finally seemed to get it. He leaned forward, resting his hand on the back of Dean's neck and drawing him closer.

"I was upset about it, Dean. I didn't know for sure that Cas had let me out, but I knew someone had, and it hurt that you never even considered the possibility."

Dean shut his eyes. He'd thought this would be better? Now he felt like he'd run over a puppy.

"Hey," Sam said firmly. "None of that. Look at me." Dean opened his eyes. "Of course I was upset, Dean. That was a completely screwed-up year. We made mistakes and we hurt each other. I thought we were past it now."

"You said you were sorry. About a zillion times."

"Fair enough."

Sam's hand slid down to Dean's shoulder and then away as Sam sat up. Dean jerked upright, feeling the loss of his brother's comfort like a physical blow.

"Sammy –"

"You hurt me," Sam said evenly. "I don't think you have any idea how much, even now."


"Tell me you're sorry."

"Sam, I'm – God, of course I'm sorry. I can't –"

"Tell me you trust me."

"Trust you? Of course I trust you! Who the hell else am I supposed to trust?"

"Good. OK." And then Sam was back, standing over Dean, pulling him into a hug he hadn't even known he needed. "I forgive you."

"That's it?" Dean asked, slumping into his brother's welcoming arms.

"That's it. We're good. We don't have to discuss it ever again. You're still my big brother." Sam hugged Dean tighter. "And I still love you."

Dean nodded, reaching up and tugging Sam down to his knees so Dean could draw him in. He tucked Sam's head under his chin and whispered a promise into his hair. The words were lost, but their meaning wasn't. Sam grasped his big brother's shirt and held on.

When Dean called Cas twenty minutes later, he was much calmer. He had appropriated Sam's charcoal hoodie, which Sam hardly ever wore anymore and kept only so Dean would have something warm and comfortable to wear when he was sick. Dean had a sneaking suspicion that Sam occasionally sprayed cologne on it and wrapped it around the Taurus for a few days – there was no way the damn thing should smell like his little brother when it had been months since Sam had last worn it.

He wasn't complaining, though.

He was wearing the hoodie, and Sam was standing beside him, and they were OK.

Dean felt remarkably good.

Cas looked from Dean to Sam and back before he spoke. "You told him."

"Yeah," Dean said. "I had to… Except that it turns out I didn't have to because Sammy already knew."

Cas stared at him for a moment before turning to Sam, eyes as wide as Dean had ever seen them. "You knew?"

"I suspected," Sam said.

"Sam… Sam, I'm so sorry. You have no idea how much this has been tormenting me. I won't blame you if you can't forgive me, but you have to let me say this. I manipulated Dean and I lied to him – and I pushed you into setting Lucifer free. That was bad enough, but then I let you take all the blame for it, and that was unforgiveable."

Sam shrugged. "You were no worse than the rest of them."

Cas flinched as though Sam had hit him. Dean couldn't feel sorry for the Angel, but he understood. There were times when forgiveness was a far greater punishment than anger.

"I wanted to be better than the rest of them," Cas said quietly. "I thought I was."

"Maybe you were." Sam shrugged again. "It doesn't matter. Cas, I'm not mad. I would have been once, but I'm past it now. I've already spent more time locked in a box with Lucifer than I'm ever going to get to spend living. I don't want to waste more time agonizing about what happened years ago. So this…" Sam gestured from himself to Cas. "Whatever it is, whatever you think you're trying to achieve, you don't have to worry about it."

Dean shifted closer to Sam, his brother's words making him more determined than ever that he was going to give Sam some good memories to replace whatever twisted lies Lucifer had fed him.

Sam shot him a tiny smile. Dean smiled back. They were in this together.

"Sam," Cas said quietly, "are you really not angry?"

"I'm really not. You're not the only one who learnt something from the Cage. After a few decades of the most inventive tortures Lucifer can come up with, you realize that a lot of things that seemed ridiculously important don't really matter."

Sam turned to Dean with another quick smile, enough to tell him that Dean hadn't been among the things that had stopped mattering. Dean would have felt happy about it that if his mind had had room for anything other than dull horror at the thought of Sam being tortured by Lucifer and talking about it so calmly.

He smoothed Sam's sleeve, fingers twitching on the material.

"I wish you were angry," Cas murmured. "It would… ease my mind."

"Really?" Dean couldn't help asking. "Aren't you guys all over the idea of blanket absolution?"

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," Cas quoted. "That was a different situation, Dean. I did know what I was doing. And it's a difficult problem… Humans go to priests, but there's nobody qualified to offer absolution to Angels. We seldom find ourselves asking for it."

"It doesn't matter, though," Sam said. "Does it? You don't need absolution. There's no Hell for Angels."

"What about the Cage?" Dean couldn't help asking.

"What about it? It's a cage. It was built to contain Lucifer, not to torture him." Sam glanced at Dean. "The Cage never hurt me, Dean. Lucifer and Michael did."

Dean resisted the sudden urge to wrap Sam in his arms and hide him from the world that had already hurt him a lot and would probably hurt him a lot more before it was through. Nothing – nothing – could ever be as sweet and wonderful as his little brother.

"I understand now," Cas said. He was looking at Sam, looking through Sam. Dean twitched on his brother's behalf, but Sam seemed unfazed. "I didn't before, despite what I saw when I went down to get you out. I thought it was just… torture. That's probably why I couldn't reach your soul. I couldn't even see what was happening to it."

"You weren't meant to see."

"I know." Cas was still looking into Sam's eyes. Sam wasn't flinching. "But I have seen now."

"Seen what?" Dean asked.

"The Cage. Lucifer and Michael." He shook his head. "I… barely remember that, you know? I was very young and it was a different time. The earth was new. Michael hadn't been warped by his blind belief in destiny and Gabriel hadn't decided to abandon Heaven to be a Trickster."

"Is there a point to all this?" Dean demanded brusquely.

"The point is that I was – we were – wrong about many things. Sam was meant to be Lucifer's vessel, but it had nothing to do with darkness."

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you outside. Nobody else could've taken the Devil down, so you decided that my little brother had to throw himself into Lucifer's Cage to prevent an Apocalypse that you guys started because you were incapable of doing it yourself. Does that cover it?"

"Dean, I know I was wrong –"

"You don't know jack squat. I trusted you with Sam. Do you realize what that means? I trusted you with my brother when he was recovering. You know how many people I've ever trusted to take care of Sam when he can't take care of himself? Two. Me and Dad. And sometimes not even Dad. I trusted you with Sam and you let me down."

Cas seemed a little relieved that Dean was yelling at him, like that was something he knew what to do with. Dean bit back a curse.

"Dean," Sam interjected.

Dean glanced at his brother. They had spoken about this before Dean had called the Angel. Dean had poured out his feelings of betrayal and rage to the one person he could trust never to hold anything against him. Sam had listened, reassuring Dean with his presence but not trying to stop the flood of words.

Suddenly, Dean wanted nothing more than for this to be over.

Sam met his eyes with understanding that warmed Dean from the inside. Whatever he did, whatever he said, his little brother would still think he was awesome.

He found himself, not for the first time in his life, feeling sorry for everyone who didn't have a Sammy.

Dean turned back to Cas, who was watching him expectantly.

"I'm pissed," he said. He didn't try to keep the anger from his voice. "I'm not even going to try to pretend I'm not. Sam can be as noble and forgiving as he wants, but I'm pissed. I could've overlooked anything you did to me, but Sam…"

"I understand, Dean."

"If you ever hurt my brother again –"

"I won't," Cas said quickly. He sounded like he meant it. "Dean – Sam, I regret everything that happened more than I can say. If you don't believe anything else I ever tell you, believe that."

Sam nodded, but he didn't speak.

Dean looked at his brother, got a tiny, encouraging smile, and started again. "If it were anyone else, I would've killed them by now. But… We've fought together. You've helped us. You've done a lot of terrible things, but you've also helped us." Cas looked hopeful. Dean shook his head. "I'm not… Look, I don't know if things can ever be the same between us."

"I'd like them to be," Cas offered. His tentative smile included Sam, and Dean felt himself unbend just a little.

But it wasn't enough.

"I'm not… No, I'm trying not to be mad," he told Cas. "But unlike the Jedi Master here, it might take me a while."

"I understand."

"I don't know how long we have. The world's going to hell again, there are monsters and demons, there's Dick, and considering that this is our lives I'm pretty sure that even if we find a way to gank Dick there'll be something else just waiting to take his place." Dean rubbed his fingers on the hoodie. "But right now I've got Sam, and that's something I once thought couldn't happen. So I don't want to waste time hanging on to grudges."

Cas nodded. He looked a little disappointed, but not surprised. "Are we ever going to be friends again?"

"I don't know," Dean said honestly. He wanted to say yes. He and Sam had few enough friends that it would be good to keep the ones they could. And Dean could have forgiven Cas anything – except deliberate harm to Sam. "Ask me later."

Even as Castiel vanished with a rustle of wings, Dean was turning and stepping blindly into arms that he knew would be open for him.

"I'm here," Sam breathed, promise and assurance.

Dean finally let the tears come.

The End

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