The gun hesitates against his temple.
Sam breathes in one last time, but there's nothing but blood and dust in the air, so he closes his eyes and waits to die.
Only, Dean comes just in time, just like Dean always does. And Sam knows that he's supposed to feel heady relief afterwards, a new sense of appreciation for the world, for his lungs' continued capacity to cycle oxygen through his body. But both of them have done that dance before, a few too many times, and right now all Sam can reach for is a kind of bleak exhaustion at the way their lives keep bringing them back here to this place, forced up against the edge of a knife or the barrel of a gun. The Winchesters are floundering in the dark and every time they think they've finally found their footing, they trip and someone else falls down.
In the aftermath of Sam’s outburst, it actually ends up being a quiet trip back to the Bunker. Sam lapses into a morose silence, staring determinedly out of the window. Dean finds that he doesn't quite have the right words, so he just drives straight through, with a kind of unjustified determination that things will look better once they get back to the Bunker.
The moon is still high in the sky when they reach their turn off, a pallid, silvery wash of color creeping across the horizon line and stealing tentatively into the Impala. Instead of heading straight into the underground garage, at the last moment Dean pulls the car off the packed dirt road and onto the grass. He's not really sure what he's doing, operating mostly off of protective instincts honed years ago rather than any clear cut thought. Regardless, it gets a reaction out of Sam, the first one for miles, which Dean supposes is a start.
Sam twists in his seat to stare at him, bewildered. He's got this pinched, exhausted expression on his face, that looks like the product of much more than a single night's missed sleep.
Dean sighs. “What can I do Sammy?”
Dean waits for him. He hasn't always been so good at that, Dean knows, but he thinks he can try to get better at giving his brother the space he needs. Sam may have changed a lot over the years, but he still needs his space.
After a long while, just as he's about to give up, Sam says in a low voice, so soft Dean can barely hear it, "I'm so tired Dean. Right now, the only thing I want is to know that I've finally hit bottom. I don't think that's too much to ask, even for us."
Dean shuts his eyes and opens them again. Sam is still there, looking at him like he's waiting for something (for Dean to make it better, or swing the final blow, or maybe both).
Dean's profile is silver edged in the moonlight, and strangely surreal.
He's turning and looking at Sam, really looking at him like he's just now noticing who is sitting behind him.
Sam fights down a childish urge to squirm. Instead, he looks out his own window.
“I know Sam, I know.” Dean says heavy and full of feeling. Dean sounds unbearably sad and Sam thinks dully, 'I did that.'
But Mom's still out there, Sammy, and we're still kicking. You carried me before, you had faith when I didn't. Let me do that for you now. Just for as long as you need. Sam twists away from the sincerity he hears in Dean's voice, he needs, he needs to take a second, before he pulls Dean down the way he always does.
"What do you need Sammy?"
He hadn’t realized he had said anything out loud. "I..."
What does he need? He's just so tired of being underground. He's so tired of the dust and the stale air, and the constricting feeling of walls all around him. Right now all he can think is that he spent centuries like that, buried underground and trapped and if he has to die, his only request would be that it happens in a field somewhere, where he can look up at the stars around him, and, and-
He fumbles with the door handle in short jerky movements, his body coming to the decision before his brain, and then he's off running in great strides across the wet nighttime grass.
Dean’s shouting has faded into the background by the time he finally steps wrong, nearly tripping, and slows to a halt at the top of a gently sloping field. Sam stares, fascinated by the moon as it shimmers and shivers towards the horizon line. The whole world feels unsubstantial tonight, unmoored and liable to drift away the second he blinks.
He freezes, there is a hand on his shoulder, heavy and warm, grounding him.
“Dean.” The name comes out as soft as an exhale.
“Sammy,” Dean says, in a matching murmur.
His brother is a still shape in front of him. “Do you remember Boise?”
Dean blinks, then slowly, recognition sparks and he smiles a small, crooked smile.
"Dude, I thought I had lost you in the woods. I don’t know if I was more scared for you, or scared of what Dad would do to me, so I just kept wandering the trail until I found you, lazing around by that river.
"I had just lost track of time," Sam says meditatively. "I really hadn't meant to run off. But everything was just so peaceful there, with the sun shining down, it was hard to feel like there was any danger. And I had never really been alone like that. I mean, being alone in a hotel is one thing, but in a forest? It's totally different."
“And I dragged you away from that,” Dean says. Matter of fact and flat.
Sam twists around, an unexpected smile on his face. “Yeah you did, and you kicked my ass, if I recall. But then that night while dad was sleeping, you woke me up and took me outside. And we sat on the hood of the Impala and watched the stars for hours."
He cranes his neck upwards. The stars over Lebanon are almost unreasonably bright, one of the few perks of living so far from civilization.
“I remember.” he comments to Sam who is also watching the sky. “And you were young enough to believe I actually had any idea what I was talking about when it came to stargazing. I think I got you to believe that the big dipper was actually a wendingo who was preparing a full scale assault on the man in the moon.
“I never believed it,” Sam says seriously. “No, I knew it was obviously a werewolf. I mean, look at the claw. The man in the moon would never see it coming.”
Somewhere along the way, he's stepped backwards into Dean's personal space, a solid long line of little brother against his chest. Dean leans into it, just a bit, makes sure Sam can feel his body heat in the cold night air. After all, there is still a while to go before sunrise.