Word Count: 4,272
Spoilers: 4x03 - In the Beginning, and canon conversations that follow up on it
A/N: I wrote this for an anon-meme a long while ago, for someone who said that with all the focus on Dean's daddy issues, no one really remembered that Sam might have issues about the mother who sold him to the YED.
Summary: Early S4 fix-it. Sam's whole life was decided when his mother sold him to a demon, and it takes Dean a long time to figure that out. Also on AO3
Sam drags a finger through the puddle of blood in his palm, thick and precious, making little patterns across his hand. He’s not wasting it, not giving up even a taste of its undiluted energy, because he knows he’ll end up licking every fleck from his fingers anyway, one by one. Ruby had just given him some more, hadn’t even cautioned him about making it last, so he tips another drop out of the flask and then sucks it all into his mouth. He tongues at the creases of his hand, lapping blood straight from his lifeline, and waits for the rejuvenating tingle to clear his head.
Only once his hands are clean, once he’s scraped his teeth under every fingernail, does he let the shame burn hot on the back of his neck. Except – no. Not this time. The remorse is always brightest when he’s sated but he rolls it off, lets it slip from his shoulders ‘til he can imagine it crumpled on the sidewalk, something he can just walk away from.
Dean can try to beat the shame back into him some more, Sam’ll let him, but it won’t change Sam’s mind. He had already tried to lay the mother of all heavenly guilt on him – that God himself had a finger to shake at Sam Winchester – but that was before Dean admitted where he had been all night. And what he’d found out.
Sam’s almost grateful, in a way, for a reason. To finally know why, no matter where he is, someplace else feels like home. Homes are supposed to be made of worn rugs, comfortable doorways and shared bedtime rituals that bring families closer, not the lump of a foreign pillow and grunts of don’t wait up.
But it turns out, he’d been abandoned, forsaken, from the only home he might have had. Offered up to the Yellow-Eyed Demon for the same man who once made him hold his broken arm in place for seventy miles just to find a hospital that hadn’t already seen their scam insurance.
Even with Jess – sweet Jess, who cried on his shoulder and swore off men until she’d kissed him with tears on her lips – even she’d known there was something off, that he was never going to be her forever-man. When he’s been awake too long, when he reworks the strings between his memories until they’re all wound around Yellow Eyes, he imagines that Jess welcomed the bedroom ceiling when it came for her.
Just one more casualty in a life that was never supposed to be his. A life that his mother bartered like a seashell, knowing it was worth more to someone else for the right asking price. Maybe that was why she had Dean first; one to keep and one to sell.
And it’s okay. It is. Some facts can be changed, but not the past – that he has to take for face value, instead of always looking for something more, something better.
But, now, there’s Ruby. Who brushes his hair off his forehead and cooks for him after he gives himself a migraine and tells him he’s the best. All of the special children were killed, and he’s the only one who made it back; the only one who can do this, exorcise demons with such an impressive survival rate, and she’s so proud of him.
She calls him sweetie and, sure, thankless is literally in the job description, but what’s so wrong with enjoying a little appreciation?
Dean said this whole exorcising thing was Sam’s choice to make, but apparently that only applies to Dean-sanctioned decisions, preapproved and signed in triplicate. And now he’s hen-pecking Sam again, like suddenly 4 AM runs to the vending machine are out of the ordinary, and Dean’s convinced Ruby was there. Only that’s not what he calls her, his names are far more debasing, which is funny because he doesn’t even know they’re fucking.
Dean thinks he’s protecting him. Sam knows that like he knows he should floss or, fuck, see a dentist at all, but that doesn’t mean he has to put up with it. Sam also knows these parts of Dean are just a mirror held up to reflect Dad; like the impromptu gun drills and 6AM endurance training, they’re all for his own good. But the demands of where to go, who to talk to – they chafe, and Sam’s got his fists curled to fight Dean just like he fought Dad.
A lot’s changed since Lilith sic’ed the hounds on Dean, even if they’re the kinds of secrets that Sam can hide with a good night’s sleep, but what it comes down to is that he just can’t handle Dad’s particular brand of tough love right now. If Dean would just be his other self, the big brother who rubbed Sam’s legs through his growing pains even though Dad told him to suck it up…
But he’s not. Not right now, anyway. Ever since he found Sam with Ruby, Dean’s whole attitude had gone sour, rotten and fermenting until the car reeked of it and Sam had to roll the window down just to be able to breathe.
He doesn’t think this is how it’s supposed to turn out – if Dean was gonna lose faith in the world and the brother that lost him to Hell in the first place, it can’t be after he’s been given back his beating heart.
Sam’s so busy choosing his words, words that navigate his lies but hide them all the same, that he fumbles the directions in Albany. They swing high on I-87 instead of east to Syracuse, and they start hitting lakes before either one of them catches on. Dean pulls over without a word, not even bothering to slap on the hazards, and tugs the map straight out of Sam’s hands. Sam’d already had the reverse route figured out, found a way to skip the pile-up that was Albany’s interstates, but Dean spends a solid five minutes staring at the map before he grunts and drops it on the seat between them.
It takes a good forty miles or so of nothing but pines, pines and more pines on either side before Dean starts peeking, trying to get a glimpse of Sam while he thinks he’s not looking.
Eventually he says, “So. Good to see you still couldn’t find your way west at the Pacific.”
Sam rolls his eyes, but eases his shoulders against the seat to loosen them up. “Just tired, s’all.”
“No, seriously.” Dean’s sideways glance chances becoming a smirk, just flirting with the possibility. “Lucky you didn’t drive yourself in circles without me.”
It doesn’t matter how much Dean wants it to be funny, it’s not. Because just as Lucifer had built the Hell below them, Sam had built his very own; two-by-fours of broken promises boxing him in further every day. And there’s really only one reason he never managed to drive himself into the ground, six feet down into it.
When Dean’s grin flickers out, Sam’s pretty sure Dean’s guessed who rode shotgun during his stint in Hell, all five-foot-nothing of her.
Dean tries again, clears his throat and says out to the highway, “Musta got that from Mom, you know. Dad said she was always crap with a map too.”
Sam bares his teeth when he says, “S’nice to have something from her.”
The rest of the drive is silent, with Dean leaning one arm heavily out his own open window.
The hunt itself is one of those all-research, no-legwork type deals. Dean’s in perpetual motion, restless and bugging the fuck out of them both, until Sam finally snaps and tells him to go find a bar. Whether he comes back with beer or girls in his system, it doesn’t matter, Sam just needs a few more hours with his old friend Google to get the job done.
Dean threads one finger through the ring on his keychain, already singling out the Impala’s stripped key for a quick getaway, but his feet don’t cross the threshold.
“You gonna be here when I get back?”
Sam gestures blatantly at the explosion of tabs open on his laptop, even if Dean can’t see them, but Dean doesn’t budge until he says, “Yes. Dean. I’ll be here.”
And he is, because even he’s not dumb enough to go missing when Dean’s expecting it, imminent drunkenness or not. From his finger-curled hair and glazed eyes later that night, Sam assumes Dean partook in two of his three favorite activities – shooting things will just have to wait for another day – but he forces Dean to stay awake long enough to show him all the leads he put together while he was in the room, not leaving, just like he’d promised.
There’s only one witness Sam thinks is worth tracking down, even if she is a cantankerous old marm, but she’s about as helpful as a nun with a ruler. She glares at their feet and fiddles with her rings as they step onto her warped and faded Come In mat, and Sam’s pretty sure Dean’s one black cat away from crying witch.
They wipe their feet dutifully, stirring up dust older than most of the grave dirt they’ve dug, and Dean mutters, “Think maybe they just didn’t make brooms when she was born?”
“Heard that,” the woman calls from the living room, and Dean straightens up, mouthing one word very clearly. Witch.
Sam has to swallow his laugh.
It turns out, for all Mrs. Herbert’s nagging ways, she can’t actually pin down when her boy went missing. She brushes it off more than once, telling Dean to not repeat himself and to mind his elders, but when Sam repeats the question instead she finally admits to not knowing. It’s hard to track them all down at once, she explains, when you have eleven.
Sam takes the tea he was cradling in his lap, entirely untouched, and places it on the coffee table to keep from spilling. Or, better, just shattering the damn thing against the sooty fireplace across the room.
Eleven. One to sell, he thinks, or just lose to the dark shadows of the world without a second glance.
He excuses himself, huffing to the bathroom, and traces fingers along his phone in his pocket.
Dean’s rattling the door not five minutes later, open palm making a sharp, thin noise that snaps his attention.
“Come on, dude. She’ll hex ya if you stink it up in there.”
Dean, for once, is the polite brother, thanking Mrs. Herbert for her time while Sam stalks to the Impala. Dean's got the keys, of course, and after checking twice Sam gives up and waits for him to just unlock the damn thing.
He's quiet as they drive, one hand silently scrolling the trackball on the Blackberry in his pocket until Dean turns down the radio.
"So," he starts, eyes off the road for longer than's really safe. "You wanna tell me what that was about?"
Sam shakes his head, so focused on later and getting himself there that he doesn't want to dawdle in the now.
"Dean. I'm fine." He just needs a minute alone, to breathe and to call Ruby; nothing to worry about.
When they get back to the room, he waits for Dean's inevitable beeline to the six pack of Killian’s, and slips back out the door, phone already to his ear.
It takes five whole rings, but when she finally says his name it's a question and an answer all in one. It's sweet relief, same as her blood, and he doesn't even bother ranting over negligent fucking parents. She would let him, if he wanted to, and that's enough.
Instead, he leans against the vending machine and tells her they're in Upstate, and gives her their room number.
"How come? You low already?"
"Naw," he says, "just saving you the trouble of digging out your locator ring."
"Aww, Sam, you're so thoughtful." Then she laughs, and he ducks his head to laugh along, kicking at the crab grass gasping its way up through the parking lot's asphalt.
He hears Dean's steps before he spots him, could pick out those footfalls over a hundred screaming banshees, and he has just long enough to straighten up before Dean's in his face.
"S'looking for you."
"Sorry, man. Bobby called."
Dean watches him, one skeptical eyebrow arched up. "Oh, yeah? Good, I gotta talk to him." He holds out a hand, even though they both know who's really one the phone, and Dean waits for Sam's awkward hesitation before curling his fingers back in.
“It’s nothing,” Sam says, trying to press the raised End Call button surreptitiously like hiding the phone will erase it from existence.
“Yeah? Just a little shop talk with a demon, right?”
Dean looks surprised at that, just briefly, but they’ve both had too much practice at interrogations for that to derail him. Instead, he steps right into Sam’s space, reminding him yet again that it doesn’t matter who’s taller, or broader, or stronger. Dean will always be the bigger brother.
“What, then? You making plans to braid each other’s hair? There some reason you can talk to hell filth, but not your own brother?”
“Jesus, Dean.” Sam brushes him off, letting his full weight knock into Dean’s shoulder as he makes for the room. “This has nothing to do with you, okay?”
He’s sure Dean’s fuming behind him, head high and fists clenched for another one-sided sparring match, but Sam refuses to look.
“Sam. Don’t just – Sam, stop.”
He does, rolling his neck to work out the crick of tension before turning back around. Sam was right – Dean’s fuming – but he’s also got a thousand and one tells that only Sam knows. How he drums the steering wheel when he’s got a decision to make, or taps his gun against his knee when he’s nervous. And, now, how he twists his ring with his thumb, letting out his worries so they won’t show on his face, and it’s enough to make Sam brush off the tight edge of anger, at least for a moment. The thick air between them has nothing to do with this case, even if he thinks Dean’s being irrationally calm about the whole thing. Because, would it really be too much to ask for Dean to just give one goddamn about a kid who wasn’t just lost, but ignored?
“Doesn’t it even bother you?”
Dean stands his ground, but raises an eyebrow. “Thought we’d been over the pretty obvious yes on that one, Sam.”
“Not that. That kid. This isn’t just some boogie man, Dean. This is a shit-poor excuse for a mother who let her son get snatched. And if he turns up dead, it’ll be fucked up, negligent parenting that did him in.”
Dean closes the distance between them in long strides, shh-ing Sam and checking all the motels for open windows or listening ears. “You wanna talk about dead kids a little louder, Sam?”
Sam swats at Dean’s hand when he tries to usher him towards the room. “I’m just saying. One kid per family, and we’d all be a lot better off.”
Dean recoils, head tucked as far away from Sam as possible, eyes wide but unfocused. Another blatant tell. “You don’t mean that,” he says quietly.
“The hell I don’t.”
“No brothers then, huh?”
He makes eye contact then, practically daring Sam to agree, but Sam just loses the rest of his anger with the breath that’s wheezed out of him. They both know no argument trumps the importance of brothers, but Dean doesn’t leave time for an answer.
“And Mom should’ve just stopped after me?”
Sam’s voice shifts, soft and uneven, because it’s not something he’s ever really admitted before, not even silently. “Exactly. If, if she really cared. About me.”
He turns away then, his whole body flattening up to the motel door before the loose knob finally turns and he’s accepted across the dark threshold. In the silent moment that follows, it’s the striking absence of Dean’s footsteps that rings loudest in his ears. He lets his eyes adjust, raising a foot to pull at the laces of his boots.
Dean’s voice spits into the room like a long-range weapon. “Don’t you fuckin’ say things like that.”
He’s nothing but a silhouette in the doorframe, back-lit and unreadable, but Sam can imagine his indignation all the same. His righteous fury, stepping up for the mother whose love Dean could, and would, set a compass by.
“Not ever. You don’t talk about Mom. She loved you.”
And in the brief moment where Sam steels himself, bracing for the platitudes and lies, his resolve breaks. He’s accepted too many false offerings, has too many imparted memories of the mother that wasn’t his, and his disingenuous mask of grief can only hide so much.
He can’t look at his brother, but the words slip out all the same. “She sold me out, Dean. The headaches, the demon war. Jess. She sold my entire life to a demon before I was even born. That’s how much she loved me.”
Dean steps into the room, just far enough for his absolute disgust to be as visible as it is audible. “And did Ruby tell you that?”
Sam’s equally appalled at how easily Dean forgives their mom, how he literally watched her seal the deal and still can’t see where to lay the blame.
“No,” he whispers, “you did.”
Then he pivots for the bathroom, the only place he can shut out Dean’s look of utter surprise. He knows, has known all along, that nothing will tarnish Dean’s memory of her, but it still claws at him to see Dean priorities so firmly skewed in her favor. The betrayal burns up his back and neck, the hair there raised like a cat’s, and he wants to dispel all the energy straight through his fists.
He doesn’t, snapping on the tap instead and splashing cold water across his face and down his shirt. It does absolutely nothing so, finally, he does let his fist fly up, his anger jolting into the mirror the way lightning decimates a tree. He ignores the shards, lets the running water rinse them until the only red left is in the reflection of his eyes, staring back at him a hundred times over.
“Come on,” Dean says softly, one unexpected hand on his back and the other immobilizing his bloody wrist. “Come on.”
He guides Sam to one bed and sits on the other, their knees overlapping in the narrow gulley between them. He’s got the med kit right there and, with Sam’s hand laid across a towel in his lap, sets in on the glass.
There’s further silence as he works, not even the bits of mirror tinkling as Dean drops them into a pile. He’s utterly focused on Sam’s hand, tending to what he can, because flesh wounds are well within the Winchester comfort zone.
It’s not until Dean’s grabbed the ointment that he says, “She did love you, you know. She didn’t know what Yellow Eyes wanted.”
Sam peels his eyes from his hand to look even farther away. “She was a hunter. She knew.”
“Sam, she—” He dabs at Sam’s hand, spreading antibiotic in a thin layer down the length of one of the deeper cuts, so lightly Sam barely has to flinch. “She used to sing to you, you know. Make up the words until they were all about baby Sammy.”
“Do you…” Sam looks back to his hand, and then up to Dean, hopeful against all reason. “Do you remember any of them?”
Dean’s wince is apologetic, but he meets Sam’s eyes for the first time.
“I remember bedtimes. Mom was big on all that kind of stuff.” Dean nods, like even his own memories need double checking. “Like, typical mom things, I guess. Getting a goodnight kiss. I think those were pretty much mandatory.” His voice fades out, soft and barely-there like his touch on Sam’s wrist. “Everyone gave the baby one. And then they’d you know, tuck me in, and I’d get mine too.”
He rolls his eyes, without looking up, and keeps correcting the smile that Sam can see creeping back each time.
“She read to you, too. Before you were born. I, uh, I helped.” Dean clears his throat, reaching behind him for some butterfly stitches. “Guess I didn’t wanna learn my ABCs from a monster in a trash can. Already knew, man.” He gives one of his stock smirks and taps his own head. “Monsters are bad news.”
Sam smiles then, too, just faintly.
“But Mom said the baby had to know we were waiting for him, so I read to her big ol’ stomach. Just letters, I think. Boring shit, Sam, I’m telling you, but…” He shrugs, peeling the backings off a standard band aid, suddenly just the faintest shade of pink.
“Anyway,” Dean added, “she said you liked it.”
It’s impossible to imagine, that level of domesticity, with the brother he knows and the mother he doesn’t, but it sounds nice, the thought maybe they did have some bedtime rituals after all.
“Whatever,” Dean finally says, balling up the bloody towel and pushing it aside. “Mom was like that, you know?”
Sam gives a halfhearted smile because, no, he can’t share Dean’s memories. But he’d like to borrow these, stow them away behind the same wall that keeps threatening to break, so that if it does, not everything that comes pouring out will be shame and abandonment.
“I’m just sayin’.” Dean stands, turning around to gather up everything and toss it in the bathroom, and when he comes back he shares Sam’s dip in the mattress. “I looked after your scrawny ass ‘cause Dad said to. But the rest—”
When he looks at Sam, it’s like he’s holding his breath. Like he’s waiting for Sam to fill in the missing words, because there are some things they’ve managed not to say out loud so far, and who wants to believe things have gotten so bad that the time for that has finally come? And Sam gets it, he knows what those words would be, but he still wants to hear them. To tuck those words away like a security blanket, something to cling to and hide behind like an infant baby who’s still rocked to sleep by its mother.
Dean’s eyes are on him, now, as they sit side by side, heads tucked in and confiding. He doesn’t need Dean to announce it to the whole world. Just loud enough to cross the few inches between them; just loud enough for Sam.
“And the rest?”
Dean’s arm swings up, grappling at Sam’s neck and pulling him into something too loose to be a headlock, but just barely. Sometimes it shocks him how, even now, he fits under his brother’s arm like he’s still six years old, back when Dean would roughhouse just to whisper secrets in his ear when Dad wouldn’t suspect.
“The rest,” he says, chin knocking against Sam’s head as he speaks, “I got from Mom.”
Dean exhales and, with it, slips his arm to Sam’s shoulders and Sam just settles himself into Dean’s hold, cheek hot against his t-shirt.
It’s hard to imagine, that the woman who sold him out is also the reason Dean never would. But if it’s true – if, god, every time Dean promised Sam didn’t have to act brave, not with him, and every time Dean jostled him out of a nightmare, just to show him he wasn’t hurt or alone…
“Don’t need to call Ruby with this stuff,” Dean says eventually, gruff and solid. “Nothing we can’t take care of on our own.”
He can hear his brother’s heartbeat, steady as a promise. Except.
“I’m sleeping with her.”
Dean snorts, and then sighs, but Sam knows that’s all he’s gonna get today. Maybe some other day, some other time, he’d lecture Sam on the pitfalls of sleeping with a goddamn demon, but not today. Instead, he just pulls back on Sam’s shoulder, straightening them both up.
“I mean it, Sam. You got what you need right here, okay? And we’ll find you a better pair of tits.”
He’s got his eyebrows up, waiting and appraising, and Sam eventually nods.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Dean claps him on the shoulder and then, with the same hand, rubs through the short spikes of his own hair and purses his lips against the faintest smile. It is, oddly enough, another of Dean’s tells, and Sam ducks so Dean won’t see him grinning like an easy mark.
“Hey,” Dean calls from the bathroom, a minute later. “Bring in the trash can, would you?”
There’s more Sam should tell Dean, of course, something that sits hidden in a flask meant for whiskey and won’t be smoothed over by minor revelations, but it doesn’t seem quite so irreparable anymore. Nothing he and Dean won’t be able to handle.
Sam watches Dean pinch glass out of the sink, risking the nicks on the pads of his fingers so Sam won’t have to, and quietly cleaning the damage Sam left so they can both put it out of mind. Dean doesn’t say anything else, just wipes the glass away into the depths of the empty trash can, and Sam thinks that if his mother gave him this, then she just might have loved him after all.