Sam/Dean. PG-13. ~900 words. Spoilers up to and including S2 finale.
He never knew what Sam wanted because he never asked.
It almost happened that first night, right there in the middle of Sam’s perfect slice of domestic apple pie bliss.
Sam went down, sleep-stale breath exploding in Dean’s face. He was half asleep and rusty as hell and all Dean could think was shit.
It was shock that numbed his grip. There were four years between them. Forty-eight months between the clear memory of Sam’s thin-lipped obstinacies and the late-night, stubble-shadowed surprise staring him right in the face.
His teeth clacked together as his head hit the floor.
Dean spilled water over a generic white napkin and pressed it to the tacky blood-tears on Sam’s cheek.
Sam sat in the Impala’s front seat, legs stuck out the door, saying nothing.
Dean’s head ached and his face itched. His hands were covered in tiny scratches from the flying glass. Dean hadn’t seen Mary in the mirror but Sam was bleeding on the floor trying to claw a path through muscle and bone to get to his heart. That was enough.
Dean tossed the stained napkin to the ground. The fitful streetlamp buzzing behind him dimmed and died, the cut of his shadow no longer absolute. Sam’s face was swallowed by darkness. The blood on their skin vanished with the light.
It almost happened then, too.
The lamp clicked back on. Dean reached for a fresh napkin.
They put Emily on a bus to Boston. The air was cool and sharp, crisp as fresh apples, slicing into Dean’s lungs like Sam’s easy, careless words into his brain.
In the car, heat cranked up, windows fogged, Dean shuffled through his tapes for something as loud and obnoxious as Sam’s wide, smug smile.
Six hours and not enough miles later, Dean was ready to believe Sam meant to stay this time.
He said so, and Sam muttered in his sleep, oblivious.
Bad luck gave Sam an out. He didn’t take it.
Dean lay on the rumpled motel bed listening to Sam shower. His pulse beat strong, steady and loud in his ears over the quiet rush.
Sam walked out, dripped water onto the threadbare carpet. He rifled through his pack and took a razor, his toothbrush and a crumpled tube of toothpaste back into the steam-leaden bathroom.
The set of his shoulders said he wasn’t going to talk about it. The hard, knife-edged glance he threw Dean in the mirror said he’d do it again, even knowing what it would cost. Sam would bind a Reaper on his own if it meant saving Dean’s life.
It made Dean sick to his stomach. Twisted his guts up with a slimy, disbelieving thrill.
If it weren’t for Kathleen, it would’ve happened between the cold steel bars of that stinking cage.
Bobby watched him with a genuine sort of worry, Ellen with grudging, cautious respect. Jo’s baby blues were full of curiosity.
Sam’s gaze held all of that and more.
Dean started to spill his guts in the middle of Rivergrove’s stuffy clinic. The gun was a solid certainty in his grip, the weight on his shoulders the same. He finished by the river with a beer going warm in his hands.
It almost happened that night because Dean was weak, tired. Afraid. Sam had always been the strongest.
He wasn’t surprised when he woke alone to a guiltily scribbled Sorry on a torn piece of notepaper.
He wasn’t surprised when Sam let Gordon live.
Madison cut Sam to the bone but didn’t break him. She became another name Sam cried out in the dark. At night he cycled through them, muttering prayers that reached no one but Dean.
When Dean’s eyes began to burn, his chest bound and heavy, he woke Sam with the sharp snap of his name. Quiet minutes passed, Sam’s guilt saturating the air Dean breathed until sleep dragged him back under. He never slept for longer than an hour before it began again.
In the warm light of day, Sam mourned them. But Sam was as selfish as Dean and he mourned the lost pieces of himself more.
Dean wouldn’t have ever known they grieved for the same thing if Sam hadn’t whispered it to him one night in the limbo between sleep and waking.
He never knew what Sam wanted because he never asked. If he asked, Sam might tell him. It was hard enough seeing his own sins mirrored in Sam’s eyes, he didn’t need to hear them in Sam’s voice.
Hope ate at Dean’s insides like a cancer.
Dean gave up on secrets, on lies by omission. Sam was in his blood, his bones. He pulled the truth from Dean with a shaking hand and a steady promise to save them both.
Sam never said it again. He didn’t have to. It was in every gesture, every word, in every moment their eyes met, held, slid away to settle on the wavering horizon.
It happened that night because Sam was weak, tired. Afraid. He was only ever as strong as Dean needed him to be.
Dean wasn’t surprised when Jake died.
He didn’t believe in a world balance. In his eyes, the scales were forever tipped to the shadows. He believed in the tangible, in the things that could be caught and killed. In the sunrise and the sunset and the minutes between.
He believed in Sam.