Disclaimer: all things Supernatural owned and operated by CW; please direct your financial contributions to the network and/or Eric Kripke.

A/N: Okay, here's the deal. This oneshot is an attempt to think through for myself what's been going on with Dean and Sam the last few years, especially since purgatory. (Also, I don't really like to see either brother dissed, so the oneshot is also another alternative to a little oneshot I read yesterday, which pretty much blamed everything on Sam.)

You Started It

by FraidyCat

Sam studied the amber liquid in the bottom of the tumbler, lifting the glass for a delicate sip before swirling the remaining whiskey with an artistic twist of his wrist, then lowering the glass to the tabletop. He glared across the table at Dean while he swallowed, wiped his lips with the back of that same hand, then crossed both arms across his chest.

"You started it," he accused, settling back into his chair.

His brother rolled his eyes before draining his own glass, then slamming it onto the table. "You are such a lightweight," he snorted. "We've only had half the bottle between us."

Sam's nostrils flared. He uncrossed his arms, letting them drop to his sides as he leaned forward toward Dean. "I'm 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and I can handle more damn liquor than either one of us can afford, jerk."

Dean bristled. Ceremoniously, he picked up the bottle of Jack Daniels that stood sentry between them and filled Sam's glass nearly to the rim. "Then by all means, Sammy, continue. Since you can handle it and all."

To Dean's surprise, his brother picked up the glass and drank half the whiskey in one gulp. Still, he slammed the glass to the tabletop so hard, whiskey splashed over the cut glass rim. "That all you got?" he challenged. "Trust me, Big Brother — you have no idea how much I can handle." When Dean didn't answer, Sam suddenly smiled — a joyless jack-o-lantern grimace that was painful to witness. "And you still started it."

Dean tipped the bottle to fill his own glass, took a sip, then started to rise from his chair. "Fine. You want to get shit-faced, fine — just don't expect me to feel sorry for you in the morning." He paused, towering over the table. "We're not kids anymore, Sam, fighting over the back seat of the Impala. Get over it, already — I told you I don't even remember what I said when I had the penny."

Sam also stood, taking a step closer to his brother. In spite of himself, Dean was intimidated enough to take an involuntary half-step back. Still, with his long arms, Sam was easily able to place a flat palm on Dean's chest, and push him back a few more feet. "And we both know the damn penny didn't make you say anything you didn't already feel," he spat.

Dean brought a hand to his chest. "I'll give you that one," he growled. "Garth told me I beat the hell out of you, so I'll let you have that. But you touch me again, Sasquatch, and it's on."

Sam laughed, and the sound rang out harsh, out of place. "You should have left me dead," he started, and his brother interrupted.

"Please," he said, sarcastically. "We have to go through all this again?"

"That started it," Sam countered. "When you brought me back after Cold Oak. Have you ever even been honest with yourself about why you did that?"

Dean lifted a warning hand. "Sam…"

Sam took a step back and dropped bonelessly into his chair. "Seriously," he insisted, looking not at Dean, but at the half-filled tumbler of whiskey. "It wasn't because you couldn't live without me. It was because you have no sense of self-worth, no identity outside of being John's son, or Sam's brother. You could live without me — what you couldn't abide was the idea of not being responsible for somebody else."

Dean turned and started for the door of the motel room. "I'm not listening to any more of this, Dr. Phil." His voice was tight, and angry. Two strides, and he had his hand on the doorknob — but Sam had come up behind him with the silence of a hunter, and he roughly spun his brother, shoving him back against the closed door; an elbow at Dean's neck that threatened to cut off his air supply.

Sam's voice was low. "You hear me, Big Brother. I had months to think about this. Years, even." He pressed the flat of his arm into Dean's collarbone, and Dean gagged. "What do you think you saved me for? So I could watch the hellhounds take you?" He pressed his arm back again. "So I could live longer than Dad, than you, than Bobby — so I could lose everybody, and end up alone?" He snorted, released his hold on Dean and took a step back, running a hand through his long hair. "As if I hadn't lost enough, already — you could wish even more on me?"

Dean steadied on his feet, shaking his head. "You know it wasn't like that…"

"No?" Sam interrupted. "You made the deal. You brought me back with the absolute knowledge that I would spend the next year losing you; you absolutely believed that I would end up alone, drowning in a puddle of grief with no one to pull me out."

"Bobby…" Dean began, but Sam interrupted again.

"Doesn't compute." Sam was shaking his head, now. "Even if you didn't know how soon Bobby was going to die, you knew he was 40 years older than me — and he was a hunter. Chances were pretty damn good that he wouldn't be around very long."

While Dean swallowed, Sam moved over to the nearest bed, sinking onto the corner. When he spoke again, he was calmer, and seemed to be speaking to himself as much as he was to Dean. "I'm telling you, Dean, Cold Oak started everything. If I hadn't been trying to save you, I never would have worked with Ruby. If I hadn't been with Ruby, I never would have started drinking demon blood. If I hadn't increased my powers with the blood, I probably wouldn't have attracted Lucifer, and ended up jumping into the pit." Now he hung his head, his arms resting on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. "You even blame me for coming back without a soul." He looked accusingly at Dean. "Why did I hook up with Samuel and not tell you that I had no soul? Because. I. Had. No. Fucking. Soul. Dean."

Dean winced, and Sam smiled at him, a little sadly. "But you should know that. Against everyone's advice you had Cas cram my soul back inside of me, and left me chatting with Lucifer again."

Dean cleared his throat. "Okay," he admitted. "I get it. I made some mistakes of my own." He stared hard at Sam, refusing to back down. "And I'm sorry if you paid for some of those mistakes — is that what you want to hear?"

Sam blinked. Then he sighed, looking away from his brother. "No. I can't say hearing you say that makes a damn bit of difference. I'm just saying. Cold Oak started it — and I took as much as I could, I really did." Now he looked back at Dean, and his face was not the kicked puppy Dean was expecting, but the hardened pit bull he hadn't yet learned to recognize. "Cold Oak started it. And when you left me again, I ended it. I had to. I could only save one of us, Dean — and I tried to tell you that, when you came back. I was honest with you from the get-go."

Dean moved to the other bed and sat down on the end, facing Sam. "I know," he answered. "I know — I just can't help it. I'm angry, dammit, and I need someone to be angry at."

Sam nodded slowly. "I understand that. I do — but I can't be the target, anymore. I know, now, what it's like to be normal — to have some of the things I always wanted, like a house to go home to every night, and a woman and a dog in that house, who want me to come home. I liked living that way, Dean — and I gave all that up — again — when you came back. If that's not enough for you, if you can't find a way to move on…then I'm going to have to."

Dean sat. Who was this man who sat across from him? For that matter, who was he, now? Both brothers had endured so much pain, loss, and suffering over the years, the resulting shells were sometimes unrecognizable — and he honestly didn't know if they could put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the end, all he really knew was that he hoped they could. "Understood," he finally answered. "I hear you."

"Good," Sam said — and then he smiled, the first genuine smile of the entire conversation. "And for the record? 'That girl' — her name is Amelia."