Object Permanence

That first night, Dean doesn't sleep.

He lies on the thin mattress and stares into the blackness above. Listens to his brother dreaming a few feet away. If he sleeps he won't be able to hear, won't know that Sammy's still with him, still around.

It's a variation on a theme, just like the motel and the interstate and the silence.

Another weird-ass, demon-related hunt. If you could call tracking Sammy down and getting ass-kicked by Gordon fucking Walker a "hunt." Another goddamn moment of brotherly...ugh. Bonding. Another interminable drive to another shithole in the ass-end of nowhere while a battered Joe Walsh cassette plays on the Impala's stereo and the tension gradually dissipates.

There's nowhere to go, but they're moving anyway, because that's what they do. There's so much they haven't said, but they're done talking, because that's how they are. After Sammy found out about the shtriga neither brother mentioned it again. After that Cuckoo's Nest reject pitted them against each other they put it behind them. When they violently parted ways on Route 50 just outside Burkitsville, they managed to laugh about it later. Priorities clashed, family against vengeance, when they hunted the demon. But then Dad died, the world shifted, and the conversation was dropped. Moot.

Dean likes it that way.

Sam pushes so hard, and sometimes Dean tells him what he wants to know.

He answers the questions so that Sammy has something to think about besides the shitty way life treats him. Something besides fire and blood and dark destiny. Something besides fear.

Dean knows how much strength you can draw from protecting someone else. He knows how simple things become when failure is not an option because the consequences are inconceivable. It drives you, like flame in your blood, drives you so far and so fast that you barely notice when the mountain you thought you couldn't cross is dust beneath your feet.

But there's a fine line between an explanation and a burden. Dean knows about burdens. Which is why there are certain things he has sworn to himself he will never tell Sam. Barbed wire at the edges of their conversations.

Like how Sam is the only thing in his entire assfuck of a life that's keeping his goddamn heart beating.

"Who says I want to?"

Jesusfuck. Yeah. Great job on that one. Way to not burden your brother with your shit. And telling him about Dad's last words, what a bitchin' brilliant move that was.

It was a moment of weakness, a moment of thinking of himself instead of just Sammy. A moment of god, oh christ, oh fuck, it hurts, it hurts, I can't, I just can't...

He could have done anything for Sammy. Anything his father asked of him. He would have sacrificed anything, killed anyone, if it would have saved Sammy. As long as Sammy was safe.

But John Winchester's final request destroyed Dean. It chewed up his insides, cut him up and bled him dry. How could his father not understand? There's no point to anything without Sammy.

Given a choice between Sammy and the world? Dean would let it burn. He'd light the fucking fire himself.

Leaning on that fence, staring over the water, he collapsed. His strength failed him, and for the first time in his life he turned to Sam for help. For the first time in his life he begged for something for himself. Just for himself.

"Please. Just...please..."

An empty bed, a missing duffel, no note. That was his answer.

The scariest thing about it was that there was no warning, no clue. No shouting match like there was before Stanford or on Route 50.

Sam always accuses Dean of being the deceptive one. Being a good liar. Putting up fronts. And he does, but it's all skin-deep. There's too much of him bleeding out into the world for the bravado to be anything but a show. And the thing about shows is that people know when they're watching them. Which is okay because it's the distance that matters.

Sam doesn't put on shows. His lies go to the bone. They're so close you can't see them.

Which means he's running things. Because Dean will never and never risk waking up to an empty motel room again.

Christ, he can't even close his fucking eyes.

He knows he'll have to sleep sometime.

But it won't be tonight.

Just...not tonight.