A/N Set between 5.1 and 5.2, since something seemed to ease between the brothers between those two episodes.


Sam never had much interest in eating. He'd eat if he was hungry, he'd eat if Dean decided it was time to eat or presented him with a candy bar or donut or some other junk food when he came back from a mini-mart after paying for gas. Other than that, eating wasn't something Sam spent a lot of time thinking about or planning for. Since coming out of his teenage years, he just never had much interest in it.

He had even less interest in it right now. They'd left Bobby in the hospital last night, learning how to live in a wheelchair, the Cage was open, Evil was walking free and the whole world was suffering for it, and Dean felt betrayed. And it was all Sam's fault. How could he eat when he'd doomed the world and hurt Dean and Dean thought he was a monster?

He didn't think he could eat.

Even so, they were pulled off in a bike path parking lot with some drive-thru breakfast before going up to the hospital to see Bobby. Dean was sitting out at a picnic table, Sam was sitting in the car. He'd opened the passenger door, but hadn't gotten out.

"You're gonna eat in there?" Dean asked.

"I'll be careful."

Dean sighed.

"That's not what I'm talking about." He said, sounding grumpy.

Sam just shrugged. If he didn't eat in the car, he'd have to eat out at the table and he didn't want to sit that close to Dean. Driving with him in the car was bad enough, when the silence between them was cushioned by the radio, or the sound of the wheels on the road. Sitting at the same table with nothing between them but air would be physically painful.

But - what the hell was the difference anyway? Why should Sam be comfortable? He shouldn't be. He didn't deserve to be. So he got out of the car and closed the door and tucked himself into the picnic table as far away from Dean as he could get.

They ate together in silence for a while. That was fine. The quieter they were, the faster they'd eat, and the faster they ate, the sooner they'd be finished and back in the car.

But then Dean asked, "So – what do we do next?"

"I don't know." Sam said to Dean. Confessed. He felt all his despair rushing to the surface and he couldn't not say it again. "I don't know what to do. I can't make this better. I can only try to clean up the mess I made and I don't know if I can do it. I don't know whether I'm strong enough to – to – just get through this."

"We're going to clean up the mess we made." Dean said. He sighed like he was about to say something he didn't want to say. And when he did say it, "We will get through this," he sounded resigned to a distasteful chore.

Will we? Sam wanted to ask. Even if we stop the Apocalypse, even if we get Evil back in its Cage, will we survive this?

But before Sam could answer anything, Dean cleared his throat a few times and asked,

"So – what happened after – um – after – the motel room?"

"What?"

"What happened – after – after the motel room?"

Sam wasn't sure the food he just ate wasn't about to make a reappearance.

"Why?"

"I just thought we should be on the same page with all of this."

It took a little while before Sam could answer, as all of the images of horror and guilt replayed themselves in his mind.

"Can't we just say I did a lot of terrible things for a lot of stupid reasons and leave it at that?" He asked quietly.

"If we're going to clean up this mess, we need to know details." Dean said. He sounded grumpy, again.

"Okay. So what are your details?" Sam asked back, before he could stop himself. He thought Dean would get even more grumpy, but he pursed his lips like he'd just tasted something sour. He nodded.

"Fair enough," Dean drained the last of his coffee. "So – um – after the – bridal suite, I went back to Bobby's. I was hardly there an hour when Zachariah flashed me to this – this – Louie the fifteenth knock off of a green room. He told me I was going to wait there until it was 'show time'."

"He didn't hurt you, did he?" Sam asked.

Dean looked confused by the question but then his expression cleared.

"No, he didn't hurt me. Made me mad as hell, but he didn't hurt me."

Sam nodded. That was good news at least.

"How did you get to the convent?"

"Cas finally caved to my threats. He bungeed us to Chuck's, who knew where you were. Then Cas sent me there." Dean got that sour look again. "If I could've got him to cave sooner, I would've gotten there in time."

Sam shook his head.

"If I'd listened to you in the first place, you wouldn't have had to get there. You would've been there already."

Dean didn't lose the sour face.

"Yeah, well. A lot of things needed to happen that would've got me there on time, and it's not all on you."

Sam was definitely surprised to hear that. He was to blame for everything; from day one everything was his fault. Dean thought so too - didn't he?

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is – if I hadn't waited so long to call you, maybe things would've ended differently."

"Oh." Sam felt stabbed in the gut. "Yeah, the voicemail. I – uh – yeah."

"You got it, then." Dean said. He sounded disappointed. "I kinda hoped – you know – I thought if you heard that, that it might've made a difference."

Sam felt sick thinking about the difference it had made.

"I know why you said it." He told Dean. "I understand you saying it. I just – I'm sorry it didn't have the result you wanted. I'm sorry – I'm sorry you had to say it at all."

"I'm sorry I had to say it, too." Dean said. "But - you deserved it."

"Yeah." Sam agreed softly. The little interest he'd managed in his lunch evaporated right there and then. He wanted to go away and throw up. Dean still thought he was a monster, a vampire, something that needed to be killed. It hadn't just been anger coming out as poison, Dean really, actually still believed what he'd said was true.

"So – " Dean started after a minute, cautiously, he was testing the ground between them. "What happened with you after the motel room?"

Sam knew he should just be happy that Dean was willing to be anywhere near him. Even if he thought Sam was a monster, at least he seemed still willing to work with him. That was something. If that was the only thing, Sam should be willing to take it and not ask for anything else.

But he had to ask.

"Why didn't you kill me?"

"Kill you when?" Dean asked. Sam thought he couldn't have looked more confused if he tried.

"When you killed Ruby." Sam said. He shrugged. "When we got to the motel room. When Bobby got hurt. When we were at Dad's storage unit why didn't you just let Zachariah kill me? If you think I'm a monster, why are you even sitting here with me now?"

The confusion cleared. Dean looked like he wanted to be apologetic but needed to be angry.

"Look, Sam – what I said in the motel room – "

"Not the room. Not what you said in the motel room. The message – what you said on the voice mail. You think I'm a monster, a vampire. You said you're done – done -."

"What?" Dean demanded. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"The message." Sam managed to whisper out. "The voicemail."

There was a moment of silence, Sam waited for Dean to explain, affirm, reiterate his sentiments. How many times could Sam say he was sorry? How many times, how many ways, was he going to have to ask Dean for one more chance, one more try at being brothers?

Dean only shook his head.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Maybe it didn't matter, anyway. Sam slumped against the picnic table and kept on with his tale.

"After the motel, we – Ruby and I – we found the demon who knew where Lilith was going to be. We – I – she –"

Sam felt tears prick behind his eyelids, but he fought them back. He didn't want to feel sorry for himself.

Well, he did want to feel sorry for himself. But he wasn't going to.

"I'm sorry your voicemail didn't have the effect you wanted, but after I heard it, I just –" wanted to die – "couldn't think of anything other than killing Lilith. I didn't care if I survived or not. I just wanted her dead."

Dean was still giving Sam a perplexed look like he had absolutely no clue what Sam was talking about.

"My message made you not care if you survived or not?" He asked. He sounded – hurt.

"You called me a monster." Sam said. He wished his voice was stronger and didn't sound so much like a whine. "You called me a vampire. You said you were done – done – just done with me. That wasn't exactly going to make me – "

"WHEN did I say that?" Dean demanded. "I never said that. What the hell are you talking about?"

Sam heaved a sigh that shuddered out of him when he didn't want it to. He just wanted this conversation over. He wanted to get back in the car and go back to the motel and just – just – figure out how to clean up his mess of betraying Dean and dooming the world.

"Sam?" Dean demanded.

"The voicemail, Dean. What you said on the voicemail." Sam shot back at him. "You don't remember threatening to kill me like Dad said you were supposed to? Were you drunk?"

It was a low blow, but Sam wasn't feeling generous right now. He grabbed up his mostly-uneaten breakfast in its paper wrapper and crushed it all in his hands.

"Were you 'drunk'," Dean quoted it with his fingers, "when you heard the message?"

Sam knew what he meant, 'drunk' on blood.

"No." He said. His voice was soft and earnest. "Not then. Not – I kept hoping there would be another way. I thought – I wanted – I really thought –"

He swallowed and stood up and gestured with the trash in his hand like that's what he was apologizing for.

"I really wanted you to be with me, I wanted to –" His voice dropped even softer. "I really wanted you to not think I was a monster..."

He sighed again, closing his eyes in frustration and despair.

"That I am a monster."

He turned in the direction of a trash can chained to a tree – and wasn't that a perfect metaphor for his life right now? – to throw out his trash and to find anything else to look at but Dean.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Dean demanded again, but his voice had raised a pitch, he sounded worried or scared mixed in with the anger and frustration.

"Nothing. Nothing. I just – I'm just – " Sam gave up and shook his head. He tossed his trash and turned back to Dean. He still didn't look at Dean. He couldn't look at him. But there was no one around so he could keep his distance and still say what needed to be said without worrying about being overheard.

"The demon who knew where Lilith was going to be was riding a nurse. She went dormant and the nurse –" He hesitated, he pushed the nausea down again, he tried to get through the truth all in one go. "We had her in the trunk and she kept crying and screaming to be let go but – but –"

Tears filled his eyes then and he tilted his head back to try and keep them from running down his face.

"I needed the blood. I thought I needed the blood to kill Lilith. So – so – so…" His voice broke and he couldn't finish.

"Sam?" Dean asked, sounding more worried and less pissed. It was a question and a warning and a plea.

"You called me a monster. You called me a vampire." Sam said. He hated how young and whiny he sounded. "I tried – I waited – I kept hoping, really really hoping that you'd change your mind and work with me, but when I got the message, when I listened to it, when I heard what you said, when I knew what you thought –" He scrubbed his face and resigned himself to telling it. " - we killed her. I told Ruby to go ahead and kill her so that I could – because I needed – I thought that I needed –"

He sniffed and scrubbed his face again. He shrugged.

"I killed her. The nurse. She hadn't done anything more wrong than getting jumped by a demon. But I killed her. She was still in the trunk of the car when the convent blew up. As far as I know, anyway. Unless whatever – whoever – booted us out of there…"

Sam risked a look at Dean. He expected to see anger, disgust, hatred. He saw confusion, wariness, and something that looked like growing understanding.

"What did you hear on the message?" Dean asked Sam, the wariness and understanding coming through in his voice.

"I heard – I heard – what d'you mean, what did I hear? You left me the message."

"The message I left you said that I was sorry for what I said in the motel room." Dean told him. He spoke slowly, distinctly, like he was trying to be sure Sam got every word. "I said we were still brothers and that would never change." He watched Sam a moment or two, like he was waiting for answer. "Sammy, I said I was sorry."

That hit Sam – the words, their meaning, the Sammy – hit Sam like a concussion.

"No." He insisted. "No. You said I was a monster, a vampire. You said you were done with me, that Dad always said you'd have to kill me. That's the message you left me."

As Sam said that, the terrible realization of what Dean was hinting at hit him.

"At least - that's the message I heard."

Dean didn't stand up, didn't move, but something changed, Sam saw it. Dean's shoulders came down, his expression cleared, he opened his fists and stretched his fingers over the top of the picnic table.

"That's not the message I left."

Sam shook his head at the sudden dizziness he felt, at the terrible cost his choices had come with, and at how those choices had been manipulated to be sure he made them. Dean had called to forgive him and all Sam heard was threats and venom. Dean called to apologize, and all he got back was deafening, accusing, silence.

"God – Dean." Sam moved back a foot or so to rest against the fender of the car. He didn't trust that his legs would keep holding him up and he wouldn't sit back at the table near Dean. "No wonder you hate me. God."

He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers against them. If he could think, he could figure out what he was supposed to do next. If he could think, he could maybe imagine how Dean could even stand to be around him.

"I don't hate you." He heard Dean say, quiet but forcefully.

Sam looked up. He couldn't help a bitter chuckle, "You should," but the words, Dean's words, Dean's meaning, hit Sam hard and when he said it again, "you should," his voice was rough and quiet.

"I don't hate you." Dean said again. "I'm angry and I'm disappointed and – " He cut off abruptly and looked down, gritting his teeth hard if the knot of muscle in his jaw was anything to go by. "Just – I don't hate you."

"You should." Sam said again. He pushed to his feet, standing away from the car. He needed to move, to walk, to think. He started to pace to the end of the Impala and then realized that if he started walking, he might never stop.

He turned back toward Dean but didn't move any closer. He put his hand on the roof of the car, feeling the heat of it against his palm. It made him realize how cold the rest of him was.

"Do you believe me?" He asked Dean. "Do you believe that I didn't hear the message you left? Because, Dean – I swear, that's not the message I heard."

"Do you believe that I didn't leave the message you heard?" Dean asked back.

"Of course I do." Sam answered, immediately and without having to think about it. Of course Dean left the conciliatory message. Sam hated himself even more for ever believing anything else.

Dean nodded.

"Both sides threw everything they had at us, didn't they?" He said. "All this time, they just kept hitting us right where we lived. And we just followed right where they led us."

"Yeah…" Sam agreed. Dean hadn't said and Sam hated to ask again but he hated worse not knowing. "Dean – do you believe me? I didn't hear the message you left."

It seemed to take forever, but Dean finally nodded~"I believe you, Sammy," ~ and it felt like all the air rushed out of Sam's lungs.

Before Sam could say 'thank you', Dean grabbed up the remains of his own lunch and stood up from the picnic table.

"All right, so now we know what to do next."

"What?"

"We find Cas, get Bobby healed, and kill the devil. Simple right?"

He gave Sam his shit-eating grin and walked to the trash can to toss out his garbage. When he turned back though, he'd lost the grin.

"We will get through this, Sam." He said, and Sam got the idea that Dean was talking about more than stopping the Apocalypse. "We will. We'll just take it one step at a time, right? We'll just figure it out as we go along."

Dean said it easily, like it was just one more job they had to do.

"Okay. Yeah. Yeah."

Dean got back into the car and Sam followed a few seconds behind him. He felt like he'd been given his soul back.

The End.