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Dantooine

Sam wanted to run the moment Mina had crossed the threshold. Run or hide. Every movement, every breath, every step closer to him was a reminder, a juxtaposition of who Mina was against the Sith he’d known.

The tall, lithe blonde girl—no, woman—moved gracefully as she slipped farther into the room. So unlike Ruby. She was dressed in a simple blue tunic and beige pants that looked comfortable enough to be pyjamas, but he knew from observation they were her training clothes. She didn’t have a lightsaber strapped to her hip, so presumably she didn’t intend to kill him where he stood. Of course, a Jedi didn’t need weapons to kill; he knew that. After all, his first experience touching the Force had involved controlling a Dark Side–fueled inferno and turning it back on its creator, incinerating Darth Azazel’s host body and reducing his apartment to slag and ash. Still... she looked—he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think the almost pleading look in Mina’s eyes was a precursor to a Force attack.

She was in the room now, in Sam’s room, and he felt trapped. The door was still open; technically he could cut and run if he wanted, but that wouldn’t solve anything. He couldn’t decide if he should close the door or leave it open. Would she want privacy? Or would she feel like Sam was trapping her, threatening her—maybe she thought he was so fixated on her body that he didn’t realize or didn’t care about the difference between her and Ruby? Or perhaps she thought he was such a horrible, depraved man that he actually enjoyed that—after all, he’d slept with her—with Ruby and he hadn’t even stopped to think, to see if her body belonged to her.

Sam shuddered, sense memories of Azazel possessing him, using his body to—fuck—Ruby running through him. By the Force! How could he ever live with himself after that? He had done that to Mina. He hadn’t intended to at the time. Sam had just been miserable, lonely, lost, dejected, depressed, isolated, borderline-suicidal and oh yeah, desperate, and he’d latched on the stories Ruby was telling like a lifeline. Bought every word that slipped from her lips, consumed every lie like it was a Republic Day feast, prided himself on how right he’d been—running into her web like a glitbiter in Kessel. He’d been to angry to stop and think or even care if he was right. He’d seen the warning signs, known he was rejecting not only everything his father (and Dean and Bobby and Miss’Ouri, and even Cas had taught him), but also his own gut instinct, but he’d done it anyway. He’d had no remorse. No second thoughts—well not until much, much later, and then he’d dismissed them out of hand. And all that time he’d been making love to Mina’s stolen body. How could he live with himself? The bile rose in his throat so fast he forgot all about the door and Mina standing on the wrong side of it and instead whirled around and ducked towards the built in waste receptacle just inside the doorway.

He tripped, landing hard on his knees, his palms catching part of his weight on the edge of the bin, its narrow edge biting into his hands with the force of his landing. He deserved it. He deserved everything Azazel had done to him, all the ways he’d used Sam’s body. It would have been a suitable punishment for Sam to be trapped there in his mind always aware, suffering through everything Azazel did—if only it hadn’t hurt anyone else, or destroyed the Universe. He wretched into the container, his stomach emptying, cramping, vomiting over and over until he was out of breath and was a hairsbreadth away from fainting. He couldn’t even summon the Force to stabilize himself.

“Sam?” Mina’s faint voice—so kind, warm, gentle, serious, and unlike Ruby—broke through the haze of pain and remorse.

He wanted to apologize. Now he’d gone and puked in front of her. The door was still open. Mina was still in his room. He didn’t know what she wanted, and he was still a horrible person—

A warm hand pressed lightly against his neck, startling Sam into a hiccup. The hand—Mina’s hand—steadied, and then stroked, almost petting down his back.

It was so—wrong! Mina of all people shouldn’t be giving him comfort. But somehow, for some reason, she was.

“Sam, are you all right? What’s wrong?” She asked, her hand still moving along Sam’s back in a soothing combination between a pat and a rub.

“I—I’m sorry,” Sam stammered. And blast, “sorry” didn’t begin to cover how he felt. He retched again. “I am so sorry. I—this isn’t—I’m sorry for puking too. Know it’s cowardly and only I’m to blame, but I’m really not trying to shirk my responsibility or avoid this...” Sam gulped, regretted it, and spat into the bin. At least it was self-cleaning. “I mean, I won’t deny it. I was trying to avoid you, before, but now, when you came to the door, I was going to talk. I still am going to talk—” Only talking might not be such a great idea. “Or listen, d—definitely listen,” he amended. “I—” he didn’t know what else to say. Empty words and apologies couldn’t undo the horrors he’d helped inflict on Mina and her body while it was in Ruby’s possession.

“Sam, what are you talking about? Do you need someone? Dean—” Mina started.

Sam choked at the mention of Dean’s name; yeah, like he deserved his brother’s companionship now after what he’d done. He’d probably torture Dean just by coming contact with him. Dean’s psychometric abilities meant brotherly hugs and affection might as well have been chucked out the nearest airlock of a ship in hyperspace—completely irretrievably gone, never to be found again. The realization stabbed white-hot in Sam’s already tormented stomach and made him curl further in on himself, pulling away from Mina’s hand—which had been on his body, touching him, ins—

“Or, or not Dean then, maybe Miss’Ouri?” Mina finished her suggestion, her voice sliding from confused to really concerned to even more confused.

And that was just so very, very wrong, that Mina should be worried about Sam... unless... Sithspit! She’d said something about not knowing... Could she possibly not know what Ruby had done... “Oh no, don’t you know? I—Ruby, when she stole your body, she and I... had sex. Relationship,” he stammered, “and then Azazel, he and she were,” he made a wavy, swirling gesture with his right hand, hoping it got the point across. He couldn’t focus on much else. “I—I thought you knew, and I know sorry doesn’t cut it, but I swear I’ve been trying to stay out of your way, and I know that’s i-irresponsible, but I thought maybe it would be better. It wasn’t all me hiding, but I knew eventually we’d have to talk, or I’d have to listen and you’d talk, so would you just tell me what you want for me to do, and I’ll do it. I mean anything.” The words came out so fast they seemed to approach hyperspace speeds. Sam was barely aware of what he was saying, but at that moment, he meant it. Seriously. If Mina had asked him to fall on his lightsaber or stand trial or jump off a cliff or let her shoot him, he would have gone along with it. It wasn’t like the universe needed Sam for anything after all, and he certainly deserved worse. It was hard to breathe or focus, and the room was swimming around him.

“Dean!” Someone—Mina—screamed the word next to Sam’s ear, and he thought he felt something ripple through the Force.

He wasn’t paying attention, though, because at that moment his mind seemed to spin through everything he’d done since Azazel had showed up at his apartment and the wave of revulsion that swept through him as he saw and felt it all shook him with a head-to-toe shudder. His stomach revolted again, and he clung to the receptacle for support, his mind fuzzily aware that it probably wasn’t good that he wasn’t getting any air in his lungs. His heart felt sluggish as it slammed against his ribs, and he was pretty sure his mouth was full of something metallic and tangy.

There were footsteps, panicked voices. He thought he heard Mina trying to explain something and sounding more confused. Cas’s voice. Miss’Ouri...
“Oh blast, Sam! Sam?”

Dean. Dean’s voice. So close it was by his ear. But why would Dean care about him? He deserved whatever was happening.

“Shit! Cas, help me with my gloves?” Dean was saying.

Cas might have said something, but it didn’t permeate the haze in Sam’s mind. He heard a rustling, fumbling sound.

“Just when I got them back on... why’d I even bother,” Dean muttered.

Sam’s eyes were closed; his ears seemed to be whistling. All he could hear was a high-pitched whine that sounded remarkably like the targeting lock-proximity sensor alarm on the Dream.

Then hands, warm, rough, familiar—Dean’s hands, were touching his neck, snaking under the hem of his robe’s sleeve to touch his arm. Skin-to-skin contact... Shouldn’t that hurt Dean or cause him to feel what Sam was thinking—whatever emotional baggage or strong memories...

Sam felt something surge and flare between him and Dean—he’d felt it when he was dying before. Well, actually both when he’d actually died on Manaan and when he’d been possessed and Dean had stabbed him to kill Azazel... only this time he was more aware, the sensation felt closer since he was suddenly more in tune with his brother than they’d been in months, maybe years. A barrier between them had been taken away, and now he could feel his emotions and memories bleeding into Dean, only Dean wasn’t surprised or revolted, but filled with understanding and familiarity that flowed back into Sam—along with something. He noticed his belly felt warm and tingly, and then he sagged against the receptacle and slipped into blackness.

~~~


Finally! Sam was unconscious. Dean pulled his little brother off the waste recycler and let him settle flopped against Dean’s chest. Contact with Sam had always been easier—not quite as flawless as with Cas, but smooth, gentle, not overwhelmed by memories and strong emotions the way so many others were. Too much shared history, brotherly love, and desire for the other’s continued survival had given them a partial bond of sorts. It was easier now. Far easier than when Dean had healed Sam after killing Azazel. He’d figured that would be true—Dark Side energy pumping a sort of feedback into the connection, something that separated Dean and Sam. It was gone now, but in its place there was a... self-loathing, sense of worthlessness that threatened to consume Sam. It had swelled so large, Sam’s connection to the Force was completely out of balance, tearing itself apart and in turn hurting Sam, reopening the wounds caused by Dean’s lightsaber, only bloodier.
Dean couldn’t stifle his gasp. He hadn’t noticed this. Hadn’t noticed Sam slipping away, slipping into himself. Dean had been so wrapped up in his own problems, he’d neglected to focus on Sam, when once Sam’s health and wellbeing had been his first priority.

Sam grew up. He’s been taking care of himself, and you’ve finally accepted it, Cas coaxed through their bond.

Only Dean—and Cas—both knew it wasn’t that simple. Sam’s self-care as of late had been rather... well universally destructive. Dean had foolishly assumed that once Azazel was out of the picture, everything would go back to normal. Or this new normal. Azazel was the threat. He was influencing Ruby who was influencing Sam, and when Azazel had possessed Sam, he was directly controlling Sam. Vanquish Azazel, destroy his Force presence so he could never, ever come back, get rid of Ruby... voila, one nice healthy, healed Sam with no more Sith influences and no prophecies hanging over his head to send him spiraling off on another self-destructive path. Right?

Wrong. Dean was embarrassed, no ashamed that he’d been so focused on the Prophecy, avoiding the Force apocalypse and the end of the Universe, defeating Azazel, and nursing his own wounds (physical and psychological), he hadn’t spared a thought to what Azazel and Ruby had done to Sam. It was a rookie mistake. Any Hunter worth his weight in salt knew that the damage was never confined to the obvious, physical wounds. The Dark Side in its pure, unbalanced form didn’t just hurt, maim, and kill; it didn’t just burn down homes and crash speeders; it didn’t just possess people and cause them to lash out at others, it ate at people’s souls. Left invisible scars on the inside of all its victims and survivors—even (or perhaps especially) those it possessed or influenced. Sure, Sam was a trained Hunter and a partially trained Jedi / Force sensitive / Protectorate member / Chosen One (or whatever he wanted to call himself). But that didn’t make Sam immune to the damage of having a five-thousand-year-old Dark Lord of the Sith inside him, using his body, manipulating him, coercing him, and feeding him lies. It certainly didn’t undo the realization that Sam had been wrong and had nearly killed himself and everyone he loved.

Dean wasn’t even sure why he hadn’t thought of it. No, he knew... he just didn’t want to admit. It was part genuine exhaustion—he’d been so focused on saving Sam by destroying Azazel, and so relieved when he’d accomplished that, he didn’t have enough energy to spare to really think about what came next. And Sam had seemed fine. He was actually less secretive and withdrawn than he’d been before he’d run away... but in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best metric for comparison. The distance between them had become so... familiar, that Dean hadn’t questioned, hadn’t prodded further. Forget his gifts; he hadn’t even asked if Sam was doing okay.

And now he was pouring his healing Force energy into Sam as he had not long ago. Only this time, the only demon to vanquish was Sam’s own self-loathing. “Oh Sam,” he murmured to Sam’s unconscious form. He was feeling drained already, and the wounds—while severe—weren’t even that bad in the grand scheme of things. He let out a sickened snort. He’d actually healed worse in himself. Luckily Mina had called out for him and he’d felt Sam’s anguish before it had gotten as bad as either of the times Sam had been run through with a lightsaber. And how ridiculously horrible was it that Sam had been skewered not once but twice? Dean clamped down on the bile that rose in his throat when the memory of stabbing Azazel in Sam’s body sprang to mind in full holovid glory.

“I—I don’t understand what happened,” Mina said shakily by his side. “I know he’s been avoiding me, and I came to try to—” her hands fluttered, “mend things. Start fresh? Or I guess just start because Sam and I have never actually met. It’s just a whole bunch of knowing who the other person is and feeling guilty... Or at least I feel guilty. I came to apologize.”

Dean glanced over at her. She was crouched down beside him, crammed into the space between Sam and his bed, apparently trying very hard not to breathe in the foul stench coming from the not-yet-cleaned waste reclamator, if the sour, scrunched up expression and odd angle of her head were any indication. Sam, he guessed, his gut clenching a little more at the realization, probably hadn’t picked up on Mina’s guilt. He was flooded with his brother’s thoughts and emotions, and memories, and on top of it all was the overwhelming sea of guilt Sam carried over his relationship with Ruby while she’d been living in Mina’s body. Sam blamed himself and himself alone, and—Dean gagged as the full-sense memory flooded through him—analogized the situation to Azazel’s... rape of Sam, for lack of a better term, while he’d forced Sam to watch and feel while he and Ruby rekindled their five-thousand-year-old flame. No wonder Sam had been sick.

“I don’t think Sam thought you had anything to apologize for, Mina,” Dean said seriously.

“Wh—what? Then why did he—” she looked down at Sam’s bloody body, stricken.

“He’s blaming himself for what he and Ruby did while she had your body,” Dean said, voice so low it was barely more than a whisper. “Help me get him to the bed?”

“Sure,” Mina said nervously, scrambling to her feet and almost tripping in her haste. “Do you think he’d mind? I don’t—is it okay?”

“He’s not mad at you. He thinks you hate his guts,” Dean snorted. “Here, come on, if you can get his shoulders...”

He and Mina moved fluidly, the Force guiding their actions. Dean could have just levitated Sam to his bed—which was rumpled, messy, and unmade, and looked like Sam had been spending far too much time in it as of late.

When Sam was settled, sort of half-curled around himself on his side, his breath was a little ragged, but steady enough Dean wasn’t worried about him not getting enough air, and more importantly, not bleeding, Dean turned to Mina.

Mina had half-scurried away from Sam as soon as she’d positioned his shoulders on the bed. “I—I’m sorry. I should probably... g—go.” She’d never sounded that nervous, at least not that Dean had heard. Granted, he’d only known the re-embodied, formerly sort-of-dead Force adept for what... a few months now? But his impression was that Mina was usually pretty confident and sure of herself.

Shran had said she’d been... angry, sad, ashamed, lonely—okay, maybe something like she was acting now—when he met her, but then again, his Force presence had been more or less astral projected through hyperspace via the Beckonstone at the time, and he’d been trying to convince her to come with him to a Sith stronghold and kick Ruby out of her body, which might or might not have left Mina really dead for good, so that kind of timidity more or less made sense. When she’d actually evicted Ruby she’d taken on a, not cocky, but intuitive self-assurance that had made her a very refreshing presence in Miss’Ouri’s house, now the informal headquarters for the Protectorate.

This was something new, and somewhat alarming, if Dean was honest about it.

Sam was clearly a mess, literally tearing himself up inside with guilt and grief, avoiding Mina, and here she was, doing the same thing. If Dean didn’t understand both from personal experience and through the imprint of the emotion and memory he had received from Sam through the Force combined with the twitchiness of Mina’s Force aura, he’d be tempted to bash their heads together to try to knock some sense into them. He might have even made a mistake of leaving them alone someplace together to work things out. But he knew Sam, even for all the changes his little brother had undergone, and he was growing to know Mina, and he knew far more than he’d ever thought possible about the Force and what it could do to a person—or what a person could do to it—if an... imbalance, for lack of a better term, was left unchecked. They needed an intermediary, a neutral third party—someone to see through the Bantha dung they’d try to hide behind and help them get to the root of the really nasty demons they still harbored inside and sort out the mess before it destroyed them or got any worse.

He wasn’t looking forward to this, especially not so soon after he’d been forced to acknowledge his own... limitations in light of his Force powers. But that was something that would only serve to help him here, both his actual psychometric abilities and his acceptance of being different. And he could use all the help he could get, because this would not be a quick fix. Sam and Mina still needed to do a lot of soul searching and self-forgiveness before they could really unravel the tangled web of regret, lies, and pain they were carrying inside. They each needed to heal on their own and try to cultivate a relationship with each other, at least as colleagues. Right now they were reacting to each other on preconception, association, and guilt.

Sam saw Ruby in Min, and he blamed himself for the association and for his part in helping Ruby; he blamed himself for not seeing through Ruby’s deception, for not realizing her body wasn’t hers, for giving in to his attraction to her and allowing her to nurture his own anger, hatred, pride, and lust for power. Mina, just saw an amazingly powerful innocent she’d allowed to be corrupted—her thoughts, not Dean’s—by giving in to Ruby’s temptation.

Dean shook his head, and sighed into the reassuring mental caress Cas sent his way. He let Cas know he was okay... Sam was his brother, and this was something he needed to try to handle alone (well as alone as he ever was, which was not very, since Cas was always there with him). Dean and Sam’s relationship was one more to add to the list that needed some serious triage and mending.

Cas shot another thought at Dean, pointing out Mina was looking like she was going to flee.

Thanks, Dean sent across the link with a sigh, smiling when Cas’s mental chuckle echoed back. That was another change; Cas was finally relaxing, not just into his relationship with Dean, because that had happened pretty much from day one, but into life, living. Dean had a hunch—well it was really more than a hunch since it came through the Force and Cas didn’t really have any secrets from him—that Cas hadn’t really expected to survive. Not, that he’d expected that they’d fail, but that the sole purpose of his existence had been to guide Dean and ensure their success. He hadn’t been sure there was an after. He hadn’t known if he’d die in the process or if Novak would get his body back after all was said and done, or if he’d simply cease to be... maybe fade away into the Force. But then there had been the connection between them, and Cas had begun to hope, to want, and they’d both realized it was attachments that kept them sane, moral, grounded. And they’d both hung on with both hands...

And now there was this... this after, and it was terrifying because there was no script, no prophecy, no reference file or holonovel to tell them what to do or where to go or what comes next, or where they’re going... Or what it all adds up to... And that’s when they came to the realization that it, this, this was bigger than them, longer than now. The Force was (could be?) truly eternal, and the Protectorate, by its very nature and mission, had to be enduring. It was more than this one threat, more than one prophecy, more than them, more than now. They’d realized the Protectorate mustn’t have started five thousand years ago, because it was intrinsically bound to the Force, stemming from it and watching over it. The Protectorate could not end with them, nor could they even hazard a guess if this narrowly averted cataclysm was even among the worst the Protectorate could or would avert. At times, their role might be more... visible, while at others it might be even more thoroughly shrouded in secrecy and hidden in the background than even this had been. And they wouldn’t or couldn’t ever know.

It was damning and frustrating to the extreme. Dean had spent most of his life desperate for a home, and he’d found one in Cas—a place to belong, a real family in the Protectorate—but now he realized his family was even bigger and older and more complex than he’d ever dreamed... and there were so many questions, but answers that would never come. Patience. He must learn patience, and acceptance, even if it was always difficult.

Cas nudged him again—amused, but a little exasperated. Oh right, Mina!

“Mina,” Dean said, gently as possible.

Mina still jumped. “Yes?”

“Come,” he beckoned her back towards the bed from where she’d been drifting towards the door. “Sit, relax.” Catching her skeptical gaze, he cursed inwardly and offered, “you haven’t done anything wrong.”

They both glanced at Sam, and Mina opened her mouth to speak.

“Trust me, this is because he was busy twisting himself up as much as you were. You two need to work past this, but leaving you to your own devices is clearly dangerous. So just sit, listen, and let me do the talking.”

Mina swallowed, her throat bobbing, looking chastened and thoroughly chastised. It was wrong, but it also gave Dean a clearer picture of what he was working with.

Cas gave him a reassuring mental smile and slipped silently from the room. Dean could feel Cas’s amusement. This was Dean’s mess to unravel. Even though Cas was going to be right there, at least mentally for the whole thing, there was a difference, and in a way, this was payback for Dean’s near glee when Cas had been the one to talk with Shran about his role in the Protectorate. Dean gave Cas a loving nudge back and braced himself for the conversation he was about to have. He turned back to Mina, who was now perched awkwardly on the edge of Sam’s bed. “Just sit,” he gestured again.

Mina slid further onto the bed, but kept herself as far from Sam as possible.

Dean nodded at her; distance was probably for the best. Sam was going to be jumpy when he woke up, and that was going to be any moment now...

Right on cue, Sam’s eyelids fluttered, and he made a whimper that morphed into a gasp. Sam looked around wildly, eyes darting to Dean, the door, then Mina. He and Mina both flinched and jerked farther apart when their eyes met. Sam scrabbled at his stomach, looking for a phantom wound, his eyes darkening with confusion when he found blood, but no sign of injury and no damage to his clothes.

Dean shot out his hand, steadying Sam. He inhaled in shock at how much easier it was to touch Sam now than just a few minutes ago. Sam had fewer secrets and surprises from him, and his healing Sam had put their respective connections to the Force in better tune. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Steady Sam, just take deep breaths and relax.”

“Wh—what happened?” Sam asked, clearly disoriented.

Dean watched as information slotted into place behind Sam’s eyes. “Mina wanted to talk to me. I got sick. Was bleeding...” he looked down again at his tunic where a tacky rusty red blood stain was all that remained of the injury Dean had healed. He swiped the back of his hand across his mouth and swallowed, gagging at the taste.

Shoulda got him water, Dean mentally chastised himself.

Sam’s gaze traveled from the trace of blood now smeared on his hand down his body to his side where Dean was touching him, bare hand to Sam’s exposed skin. “Dean, why are you touching me?” He jolted upright, wincing with the sudden movement, and causing Mina to make an aborted scramble toward the head of the bed. “Better yet, how are you touching me? I get that—I did something?” he sounded uncertain. “Somehow I was hurt, like the lightsaber only bleeding more, and you healed me,” Sam added with certainty. “And I get that. But shouldn’t you be,” he waved his hand around, “in pain? Picking up too much from me or... are you not psychometric any more?” His voice had risen to an almost squeaky pitch in his confusion.

Dean just shook his head. “You know, I used to be able to touch you without anything happening.” Dean glanced around uncomfortably, his voice hitching, growing rough with the sudden swell of emotion. “I mean, this isn’t exactly the first time I’ve patched you up or kept you from puking yourself into oblivion. I raised you, Sam. Yeah, there were those years apart when you went to school, but, you know, we kind of covered all that material with the screaming and crying and exploding and running for our lives that we did when we joined up again. You don’t have secrets from me, Sam. You’re an open holonovel.” He looked down at his hand where it touched the skin just above Sam’s hip, rubbing gently with his thumb. Sam felt warm and alive; the clamminess of only a few minutes ago was already subsiding into healthy-feeling skin.

Sam had the decency to look chagrined, but quickly slipped into a false smile and started nodding as he pulled himself the rest of the way to sitting. “Well that, that’s great Dean, I’m really glad we’re back to being brothers. That’s great for you, but I’m feeling kind of tired now, so maybe you and R—Mina,” he caught himself hastily, “could come back another time?” Sam moved as if he was planning to settle on the bed, fully expecting everyone to leave.

“No,” Dean answered; then, firmer, “No.”

Sam’s jaw dropped.

Mina looked very confused and uncomfortable, but at least she didn’t try to flee.

“Good,” Dean grunted nodding in Mina’s general direction.

“Wait a minute, what do you mean, ‘no,’” Sam started to protest, squirming upright again.

“I mean, no. You two have been avoiding each other since you recovered. You both think you’re entirely to blame for each other’s bad experiences at the hands of Ruby and Azazel”—both Sam and Mina flinched at the mention of the Sith—“and you are literally making yourselves sick with guilt.”

“I’m not sick—”

“But it is my fault—”

“Shut up!” Dean said, cutting them off.

Mina crossed her arms and sulked. Dean had to suppress a laugh; it was woefully inappropriate, but Mina had a sort of calm, almost regal air about her that did not translate into sulking at all well. “Honestly, I am not sick—”

“Don’t lie, Mina. You may not have been puking your guts out like Sam, here, but you haven’t been sleeping. You’ve been lying awake trying to get up the resolve to apologize to Sam. Don’t look at me like that either. I know these things, and not because I’ve been peeking into your mind—because I haven’t—but because you’re so drenched in anxiety and exhaustion, it’s impossible for any Force sensitive within a thirty meters not to notice. Plus you touched me when we were moving Sam,” Dean admitted with a shrug.

“Wait, wait—apologize? Why would Mina need to apologize to me? I should be apologizing to her. Oh blast,” Sam whined smacking his head against his palm. “I am so sorry...” His voice was raw, and he shuddered, embarrassment radiating out of him and into Dean’s hand where it was still pressed against his side. “And Dean, I hate to break it to you, but I think your psychometry’s malfunctioning, because Mina doesn’t feel anxious to me, at least not in any way I can—”

“Sam,” Dean cut him off again. “Just no. You’re so wrapped up in your own emotions you’ve got no perspective here.”

“I don’t understand what Sam’s apologizing for either,” Mina said, her voice small and uncertain. “I mean if I—”

“How could you not know—” Sam interrupted.

“Quiet!” Dean shouted, projecting his voice in the Force.

Ow, he thought, his free hand rubbing frustratedly at his temple. Their combined emotional turmoil was giving him a headache.

“Ok, everyone be quiet and listen, because I’m only going to do this once. If we try to let you two sort out why you feel the way you feel and start explaining why your abject guilt and regret is completely justified and wholly at fault, we’ll be here all week, nothing will get solved, and my head will explode from the migraine I’m getting. And no,” he waved his hand at them, “that’s not a guilt trip. It’s just a fact of my life that when I’m in close proximity to Force adepts who are in pain, I will feel that pain too.”

Dean sighed, settled himself, and forged ahead. “So, let’s do this the easy way. Sam, Mina feels responsible for Ruby having access to you in the first place. She’s so twisted up with guilt and shame over buying into Ruby’s claims of importance and destiny and promises of unification with the Force that she’s giving herself migraines and losing sleep. She’s wanted to apologize to you for her greed, but nothing she can think of saying feels adequate. From her point of view Ruby would have never been in a position to meet you or seduce you or prey on your insecurities and fears if Mina hadn’t given Ruby her body. She would have accepted losing her life as the cost of giving in to her lust for importance and romanticizing prophecy. She’s glad she has a chance to come back and set things right, do something good with her life, and the wisdom she’s gained. Use her connection with the Force to heal, not harm. But the more time she’s spent here, the more she’s realized that her weakness hurt you more than it hurt herself and it almost destroyed the world.

“Mina’s not really sure what to do about that. She noticed you were avoiding her, and she thought it might be because you’re angry, and she didn’t want to intrude on that. So she’s been stuck, weighing her options, unsure what to do. If you’d seen Miss’Ouri around her the last few days, Miss’Ouri’s been throwing out all these lines of wisdom and advice, and Mina just keeps getting more and more upset looking. It finally got to the point where she’d rather apologize to you in person and take whatever wrath you want to unleash than face Miss’Ouri’s disappointed tutting one more time.”

Sam’s face was scrunched up in a pained expression caught somewhere between protest and confusion, but he seemed too bewildered to speak.

Dean was panting a little from his rapid-fire speech. Stealing a glance at Mina—whose face had turned pink and whose mouth was open in a shocked “o” of disbelief, Dean plunged onward. “Mina, Sam here has been literally tearing himself up inside with guilt and regret over what he did with Ruby. He knows what it’s like to be possessed and have the thing possessing you use your body for sex, keeping you aware of everything that’s going on, feeling emotions alien to you and not being able to sort out your own disgust or hide from the physical reaction of your body. When Azazel used his body that way it was demoralizing, isolating, disempowering... you get the idea. He knows you weren’t in your body when Ruby was using it, but he’s not really sure if that makes a difference, since he knows you had some connection to your body while Ruby had it, otherwise you’d never have been able to kick her out and kill her off, and he’s not really sure if he would feel worse or better finding out after the fact that his body had been used that way rather than being a passenger the whole time.

“Sam feels extra conflicted because he honestly believes he should have known what Ruby was and realized that he didn’t rate a special teacher with destined powers. He knows that his sexual relationship with Ruby was all tied up in lust and power and greed and self-indulgence and anger at me and Cas—he never loved her or had any wholesome emotions towards her, but he boinked her anyway. And this has nothing to do with you, Mina, but there’s a whole extra load of baggage Sam is dragging into this because he feels like the whole thing denigrated Jessica’s memory—that’s his girlfriend that Azazel murdered, so he’s heaping more guilt and self-loathing on himself for that.

“And then there’s the whole part where when Azazel was using Sam for sex, he was fucking Ruby, so he feels doubly guilty about that, because he feels like an idiot for allowing Azazel to possess him, even though he should know it doesn’t work that way,” Dean glared at Sam who flinched a little and hung his head. “And so now Sam’s convinced you have some justified, deep-seated hatred of him. He’s afraid if he inflicts his presence on you it’s going to cause horrible flashbacks for you and make you sick with anguish over what Ruby did with your body while she had it.” He let out a huff.

This time Sam looked like he was trying to crush himself into an invisible ball, while Mina looked alarmed and a bit dismayed.

“She’s not dismayed that you had sex with Ruby, Sam, she’s upset that you think she’d be disgusted with you—oh good grief!” Dean finally snapped. “Both of you, just sit up, shut up, and listen. I’m not saying any of this is the truth. I’m just telling you what you’re both thinking and </i>feeling</i> so strongly you’re having a deleterious effect on the Force around you—Cas’s words, not mine. Don’t you get it?”

He looked from Sam to Mina and back again. Blank stares all around. “Sithspawn!” he threw up his hands, instantly regretting his choice curse as both Sam and Mina flinched. “Sorry. Sorry... just, don’t you see? You’re both Ruby’s victims. She fucked over both of you. Used you. Manipulated you. Preyed on your fears and needs and dreams and hopes and emotions. She gave you both something almost like what you really wanted—for Sam that was love, companionship, and approval; for you, Mina, that was recognition of your gifts, belief in you, and finding you worthy. You fell for it; you suffered. But the big important thing is you both figured out her game and saved yourselves before she got what she really wanted. You’re survivors. Sam, you overcame Azazel, and Mina, you kept enough of a hold on your body to kick Ruby out of it and take it back. You should be proud of yourselves. You should see common experiences and kindred spirits in each other. Because I can tell you with absolute certainty neither of you blames the other.” Dean squeezed his right hand into a fist, letting some of the tension flow out of him and into his hand, focusing just hard enough that the furniture in Sam’s room levitated and hovered about five centimeters off the floor. He squeezed Sam’s side gently with his left hand, trying to pour some of the peace he found in the Force back into Sam.

Sam finally relaxed a little, unfurling incrementally, slowly, then sitting up again and meeting first Dean’s eyes and then Mina’s.

Dean inclined his head towards Mina, who let out a tense sigh of her own.

“That’s more like it,” he murmured. “And one more thing, and this is the really important part—you’ve both gotta let go of that guilt and self-blame. As long as you hold onto it, as long as you second-guess yourselves and obsess about what you could have done differently, you’re letting Ruby win. And she doesn’t get to win. Don’t let her.” Dean patted Sam’s side again, and reached out for Mina’s hand, squeezing it in his, and nodding with approval at the marked improvement in mood she’d already made. “Good. Okay, my work here’s done. It’s time for you two,” he pointed back and forth between them as he stood, “to start talking. You don’t know each other, remember that.”

Master Post | Part 1 | Part 3