After the events in "Good-bye Stranger", Dean is feeling the weight of his insecurities.
This takes place immediately after "Good-bye Stranger" so spoilers for all episodes up to 8.17.
Supernatural is the property of E. Kripke, the CW and likely some other people/entities that are not me. A special thank you is owed to my beta reader, Shalot. She is an awesome writer and great writing mentor. I am deeply grateful for her corrections and suggestions. If there are errors they are certainly my fault.
When The Light is a Train
Castiel had disappeared.
Meg had died.
The brothers had talked.
Dean told Sam that he couldn't take being lied to anymore. He left unsaid that each lie was like a mini-betrayal and he'd been betrayed enough. The rest of the drive from Missouri to Kansas was quiet, both Winchesters lost in their thoughts.
Dean, carrying his duffel and the one for the weapons, walked down the steps and looked across the entry way to the MoL library. It was richly appointed, smelling of well-used leather accented by the musty scent of old books. He imagined his brother sitting at the long walnut table, nestled in a pile of ancient texts, a geek in his natural habitat. Sam belonged here, he thought, this should be his brother's legacy. Sam should be coughing up facts not blood. Closing his eyes to keep from seeing bloody tissues, he turned away.
He slowly walked down a softly lit side corridor, idly wondering why the floors never seemed to get dirty to keep his mind from other thoughts. He arrived at the hallway with the bedrooms and stopped outside a door that looked just like the ones beside it. He set the duffels down and opened the door to his own room. He flipped on the light and stepped in, tossed his duffel into the corner and placed the bag with their everyday arsenal beside the door. He looked around his room, where he had his things arranged the way he wanted them. Strange how a few weeks ago having his own permanent space had made him feel happy. Now it was just something else to lose. Crossing to the bed, he sat down and dropped his head into his palms.
Dean knew better than to get attached, to feel safe or get too comfortable. This was a good place. This refuge was a good thing but nothing good ever lasted: not family, not safety, not trust, not even life. Not for him. He didn't expect that would ever change, though he wished it would for Sam's sake.
Live in the moment and enjoy the little pleasures had been his motto; simple things like a hot shower and clean clothing.
Clothing that didn't have his or his brother's blood on it.
You'd think he could just catch a damn break. Cas, Sam, the tablets…he was watching a disaster in slow motion but still wasn't fast enough to stop it. The situation was like old, sweating TNT with a long, lit fuse snaking to ignition.
Dean wasn't sure how long he sat unmoving. He raised his head when he heard his brother's steps coming down the hall and pausing at his door.
Sam was not so involved in his own thoughts that he didn't notice his brother was abnormally silent after their brief conversation in the car. Dean called him on his bull shit. He apologized. Promises were made. Nothing was resolved.
Dean gave the appearance that all was…mostly…right between them. Sam knew better. He recognized the way Dean was white knuckling the steering wheel. His brother was faking it for his benefit. Once again, Dean had decided to shoulder Sam's burdens along with his own. His brother was a steadfast mountain of granite, but even a small stream wears rock away over time. For years Dean had been washed by a river of suffering and sorrow. It had eroding him down to the bone.
Sam wanted to help; to hold back the water just a little. He trailed along behind his brother down the winding hallway. He walked slowly. He racked his brain for words of encouragement. When he made it to his brother's room, he still had nothing to offer but his support.
Dean didn't want to talk about anything. He didn't want to think or feel for just a little while longer. However, being there for Sam meant actually being there for Sam. If his brother wanted to talk then he would listen.
When Dean looked up at him, Sam took that as permission to come in. He saw the way Dean was sitting, defeat and hopelessness screaming voicelessly from his slumped posture. Sam walked silently across the room and sat down heavily on bed beside his brother.
Dean would listen but that didn't mean he needed to be within hugging distance. He stood and wearily began pacing the room. He felt too tired to think straight and too restless to sit still. He began mentally bracing himself. It was the ass-end of the night. It had been a long, tiring drive that followed a short devastating hunt where the shit had hit the fan…again. Whatever Sam was determined to tell him was not gonna be something that he wanted to hear.
"I know you don't want to hear this right now, but no matter what happens with these trials, no matter what Cas does with that tablet, it will get better. Look at all we've survived already."
Dean stopped his pacing and turned to the wall. He lowered his head briefly, abruptly pulled his arm back and with a hollow cry rammed his fist forward. He hit the wall, breaking plaster and skin. Then hit it again. And again…until Sam grabbed his arm, throwing the hunter off balance.
"Dean stop this!'
Dean righted himself and yanked his arm roughly out of his brother's grasp. "Maybe I don't want to just survive again Sam. Maybe I don't want to keep losing everything and everyone that means anything to me. YOU SAID you saw a light at the end of the tunnel and could take me to it. Now you're telling me that the light might be a train headed for us, but oh, don't worry Dean, you'll survive.
"Cas said he had to protect the tablet from me. From me, Sam. You know why? Because he knows me. He's seen my soul and knows who I really am. A screw up, a failure. I didn't pass the first trial because I couldn't hold on to a damned knife! I was careless, not good enough, and now you're going to suffer for it."
"Dean, you are not a screw up or a failure. You've saved more people from things that go slash in the dark than I can count."
"Yeah, saving strangers," Dean's voice cracked with spent emotion. Looking at his feet, he whispered, "What does that matter when I've never been able to save the people that…that matter…to me?
"You, Sam, how many times have I failed you? " He looked up to meet his brother's eyes. "I told you that nothing bad would ever happen to you so long as I was around, but I've not been able to save you from one damn thing. Dad died because of me. Ellen, Jo, Bobby…all gone and all that blood is on me. I couldn't save any of them.
"Cas…he knew I couldn't do shit so he went off the reservation and made a deal with Crowley. We ended up with a psychotic god-wanna-be and Leviathan. I couldn't stop him. I couldn't keep him from breaking your wall. I couldn't get him back from Purgatory. Did I ever tell you that Cas left me on my own in Purgatory? Just up and disappeared. He did it for my own good of course, 'cause every time someone betrays me it's always for my own good, but I'm just too freakin' stupid to get it.
"Benny, he got me back. Benny kept me alive. Sure, at first it was only because he wanted a ride out, but eventually we became friends. So you know what I did? I abandoned him when he needed me. He got stuck in a strange new world with nothing to keep him grounded, and I said good luck and keep your nose clean. Just someone else I let down.
"I told you that I couldn't carry your burdens but I could carry you. The truth is Sam, I've never been able to carry you out of the line of fire. If you're counting on me to keep you alive, you are well and truly screwed."
Sam shook his head in denial. "Dean, you're wrong. The only reason I've survived is because of you.
"You took care of me when I was a just a kid and made sure that I not only survived but thrived in our screwed up dysfunctional family. Dad might have given you the biggest cookie for being the good son, but you'd turn around and give it to me. You made sure I had everything I needed even if you couldn't give me everything I wanted. And I realize, now, that most of the time you did it by denying yourself. Then later, after Jess, you grounded me. You accepted my visions when I was afraid I was turning into something we hunt. You gave up your life so I could live. When I damned myself with good intentions you tried to reason with me and pull me back.
"I've been possessed by a ghost and a demon and both times I shot you. I've been addicted to demon blood, beat you bloody, left you lying on the floor and I didn't even look back to see if you were hurt. When I was soulless, I let you get turned by a vampire. I've left you. I've lied to you. I've betrayed you and still, you forgave me for things when I couldn't even forgive myself.
"You got my soul back. You were my stone one when Lucifer was whispering in my head. Dean, you are the only reason I'm standing here.
"All those times that you think you didn't save me, that's because you can't save people from themselves. We're Team Free Will, remember. That means we make decisions and live with the consequences. Sometimes those decisions are bad ones. All the times that I made bad decisions and lost my way were because I refused to follow you.
"The times that Castiel made his tragic, horrendous mistakes were because he wouldn't listen to you. The times that Cas or I have hidden things from you, because we didn't want to burden you, have always turned around and bit us in the ass because we forgot that a burden shared is a burden halved.
"So if anyone can carry me through these trials, it's you. I have only survived because of you and you've survived in spite of me."
Dean stared at Sam for a few seconds looking for something in his eyes. Whatever he was looking for, he found it.
Sam wasn't sure what to expect from his brother after his little speech but a cocky grin was not in the top ten.
Dean casually examined his knuckles before dismissing the spattering of blood and pain as little more than an annoyance. With a self-satisfied smirk, he regarded Sam. "So I guess that means you've finally realized what I've been tellin' ya for years, Sammy. Older brothers know best and when it comes to older brothers, I'm the best. So no more making decisions for yourself, 'cause you are crap at it. Starting now, I'm gonna be making 'em for you.
"First things first, go get a shower 'cause you stink. While you're doing that I'm gonna make you some chow; real food and not this stuff that looks like it wouldn't keep a rabbit happy. After you eat, you're headed for an actual bed where you're gonna get a solid eight hours. No arguing."
Sam stared in shock. That he couldn't make good decisions was what Dean took away from his declaration of faith. "Dean, I didn't mean that you should…."
"What Sam, you gonna take back what you just said already? Usually it takes a few weeks before you decide that maybe you misspoke…which is another way of saying lied. Did you mean what you just said or not?"
Sam thought of everything he might say but then settled on what he knew he should say- the truth. "Yes, I meant it but…"
"No ifs, ands or buts Sam. You just said that you run into problems when you don't listen to what I say and that I can't save you from your own decisions. Therefore, ipso fatso and the lady singing at the end of the opera, that is now over, at least until we get through these trials. If history has taught you that your decisions suck, then the curtain has come down on you making your own choices. You will do what I say, when I say it." Dean's grin morphed into a full grown smile and something that felt a lot like hope started to grow in his chest, right where his heart was beating.
Sam's innate rebellion flared immediately at the prospect of Dean bossing him around. He was perfectly capable of making his own decisions…except when he wasn't. He looked at the truth of what he had said and at the renewed optimism in Dean's expression. He decided to stuff his indignation right back down where it belonged. "OK," he said reluctantly, "but I'm giving you a lot of power over me. Just remember the words of Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility."
Dean huffed good naturedly. "Ben wasn't my uncle, Peter, and seriously, Spiderman? Put your mind at ease my pretty little princess, I won't tell you to do anything too girly unless it's for your own good as determined by me. I probably won't even force you to get a haircut, since you'll need all your strength in the next few months, Samson."
Dean sobered and put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Seriously Sammy, I don't know what these trials are gonna do to you, and I don't know what's going on with Cas or if Heaven has us on its most wanted list again. What I do know is this; if that light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming at us then I'm gonna throw the switch and make it change tracks. I will do everything possible and some things that aren't to keep you safe.
"We are going to do more than just survive this time. We have a home. You have a legacy and I have an oven that works, good water pressure in the shower and a mattress that remembers me. Even more importantly, I have my brother back.
"Don't fight me on this Sam. Come Heaven, Hell or high water, I will save you this time.
"That's the only way I can save myself."
(Do you know how to make a control freak happy? Give him back some control.)