Would you believe me if I said I didn't need you,
'cause I wouldn't believe you if you said the same to me.
And near death, last breath, and barely hanging on.
Would you believe me if I said I didn't need you?

-The Academy Is...: "Skeptics and True Believers"

Wincing Sam pressed his back to the far wall of the bedroom he shared with his older brother and slowly slid down. Drawing his knees up to his chest he wrapped his arms around his legs and took a few deep breaths.

It didn't hurt when he breathed, that was a good sign. But the rest of him ached and his face stung worse than anything. He'd taken his fair share of beatings on the hunt but this was different. This pain was stronger than any pain a hunt could inflict on him ever.

But what made it worse than ever was that Dean wasn't there with him. Sam was used to Dean coming home after everything went down, but lately he'd been coming home later and later. Tonight was no exception. Though now he wasn't so sure which he hated more, Dean being gone or the fact that he would be coming home. Probably soon.

He hissed in pain as a yawn tore through his battered body. Damn, if he thought he hurt now, he had a hell of a morning to look forward to. None of which could compare to the lecture he was going to get from Dean. Especially if dad ever told him what he'd said, because it was without a doubt the absolute dumbest thing he had ever said.

That was if dad was still awake when Dean got home or if he remembered tonight. He had a habit of forgetting the things he didn't want to remember. Something Sam wished he could do every night.

Gritting his teeth he pressed his face into his knees and waited for the familiar footfalls in the hall, the click of the bedroom door and careful, unsure movements so as to not wake him if he was asleep. His eyes were drifting closed when he heard the front door slam shut a little louder than usual.

Holding his breath he hoped it was dad leaving and not Dean coming. Then there were footsteps outside the bedroom door, sending the air of hopefulness right out of his lungs. He should be grateful that it wasn't dad coming back for round two, but he couldn't quite bring himself to.

The door swung open, bright light forcing him to duck his head back down. He'd only caught a glimpse of the figure in the doorway, but he knew it was Dean without question. Could tell in the way he held himself, the slight tilt of his head as he checked things out and the familiar twist of lips.

"Whoa, time to tone down the creep factor little bro. What are you doing sitting in the dark? There are much better things to be done in the dark than creeping out your older brother," Dean joked, flipping the light on. He didn't know why he was making jokes. It just felt like something he had to do. Something he always felt he had to do when Sam wasn't smiling up at him like he did as a kid.

Dean stopped for a second, watching as his brother tensed up. If Sam tensed up when someone walked into a room it wasn't because of Dean, it was usually dad. Sam knew Dean would never hurt him. He always relaxed when Dean came into a room whether he knew it or not.

Stifling a sigh, he realized what was with Sammy. It made sense now why he'd been sitting in the dark and as far from the door as possible. Something had happened while he was gone, it always did.

"Sammy?" Dean said, losing all humor in his voice. "You okay?"

Sam shrugged, keeping his face down. He didn't want to have to deal with this. Tonight had been bad enough without having to go through all Dean's crap. He could only take so much.

Dean knelt in front of him, his hand coming to rest gently on the back of his neck. His brother's fingers curled in his hair, his palm fire against Sam's skin. He leaned forward, closing the distance between them and kissed the side of his head.

As his other hand came up to wrap around him Sam jerked back. He was sick of that. Sick of the gentle touches before being pulled in close, whispered apologies echoing in his ears. Empty and motivated by guilt and a sense of obligation, so said the cynical part of him that had never applied to Dean before. The part of him he hated even more than the one that had motivated him to say something so stupid.

"Just don't," Sam snapped.

If he cared that damn much about Sam why didn't he do something about it instead of trying to soothe things over with words? He wasn't the one that got drunk and hit him after all. But he could be the one to stop it.

If he gave a damn.

"Sammy," Dean sighed. "I'm sorry."

He snorted. He was sorry. Yeah, he hadn't seen that one coming.

"I'm sure you are."

"What's that supposed to mean?" his older brother demanded, letting his hand fall to his knee. He was sorry, he didn't want this for Sam anymore than Sam did. He wanted to protect him, but he didn't know what to do. And this was all he could think of.

"It means don't bother. I'm over it."

"Over what?"

"This, us, everything. It shouldn't be like this."

Dean rocked back on his heels. "I know."

"Do you Dean?" Sam asked, hugging his knees tighter to his chest.

"What happened this time?"

"The same thing that happens every time you're not here. He got drunk, we fought, and I got my ass kicked."

"You okay?"

"Sure." He was okay. Why wouldn't he be? He'd only had his ass handed to him for nothing more than an offhand comment about his brother. And like the good little brother he was he did as Dean asked and didn't fight back.

He knew that Dean told him not to because drinking clouded your judgment and God only knew what would happen to him if he fought back and made him angry enough. There were too many weapons, too many ways to get hurt worse or killed.

"Honest?"

Sam sighed. "What do you want me to say? I'm as okay as it gets. So lay off."

"I think the last time I told you that, I got smacked in the head," Dean said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, well, you deserved it."

"I don't think so little bro. But I'll let it slide this time. C'mon."

He held his hand out to Sam and waited for him to take it. Sam pressed his forehead back into his knees. He'd meant what he said. He didn't want Dean to bother anymore with him. Especially not tonight. Tonight had been bad.

"Sammy?"

"Just go, Dean. I said don't bother."

"Not gonna happen," he said calmly. "You're my little brother. I'm always gonna 'bother'." Sam was beginning to irritate him with his 'don't bother' routine. It wasn't a bother for him, Sam was his baby brother. This was exactly what he'd been put on this Earth to do, look after his family.

Sam lifted his face a little. "Do me a favor and don't. I'm sure you have a date tonight anyway."

"Where do you think I came from?"

"Yeah, and?" Like Dean only had one date tonight. Sam wasn't blind; he saw the way girls looked at his brother. The way guys looked at his brother. The way he sometimes found himself look at his brother.

"You're more important."

That was it. That was more than he could take. If he was so goddamn important why didn't he do something to stop this from happening instead of hanging around after?

"Fuck you."

Dean gaped at his younger brother. He knew that Sam was hurting and that he was confused. He had every right to be. But he'd never pushed Dean away before, especially not when he was offering his touch, something he didn't do often.

"Dude what the hell is your problem?"

"Nothing," Sam said with false calmness. "I'm fine. You're just crowding me, all right?"

"Crowding you?" Dean repeated, mystified. "Since when am I ever 'crowding you'?"

"Since now. Just go out or go to bed or whatever you're going to do and leave me alone." The last thing he wanted was Dean's anything, his touch, his sympathy, or his guilt. He just wanted to forget tonight. Tomorrow he could deal with the consequences, but tonight it was just too much.

"Sam, I'm trying to-"
"Trying to what?" he interrupted. "Bore me to death? Because I'm almost there."

Why couldn't he just take a hint and leave him alone? When Dean didn't want Sam anywhere near him he had no problem letting Sam know. And Sam always left him alone when he really meant it. He knew when to push and when not to. But apparently that gene hadn't been passed on to his older brother.

"Sammy-"

Sam swallowed hard. That wasn't fair. Why did he have to call him Sammy? How was he supposed to protect himself from this when Dean couldn't just back off? Calling him Sammy threw him all out of whack and confused him more than ever. It was his brother's pet name for him and it made him feel like Dean cared about him, loved him. To hear it now, of all times, just hurt more.

"What are you even doing here?" he said thickly, interrupting his brother again before he could make things worse. Before he got Sam so worked up he was crying and making an idiot of himself.

"I'm here because I give a damn about you," Dean growled. He was quickly losing his patience with Sam, something he didn't do often. But right now was a bad time for him to be pushing Dean. He was just trying to take care of his little brother. That was his job; didn't he understand that by now? "So lose the attitude."

"If you fucking care so much then why do you let it happen?" he snapped. That wasn't what he'd planned on saying. He hadn't planned on saying anything other than 'leave me alone', he wanted to wait until morning, when he was calmer and could think clearly. "You won't let me fight back-"

"He could kill you, Sam!" he hissed. "He's not thinking about what he's doing and what if he took things too far? Do you want to die?"

Because he sure as hell didn't want that for Sam. Couldn't stand that.

"Like you care," Sam answered sullenly. He knew that wasn't fair. But that's what it felt like sometimes. His brother could just get up and walk out of the apartment without worrying about what would happen to Sam. He was only there to clean things up in the end. Never to stop it or to protect Sam and sometimes he wondered if it was because his brother didn't care about him or if maybe he had done something wrong.

"Stop saying that!" Dean yelled, jerking Sam's chin up. "I-"He froze mid rant, swallowing the lump in his throat. "He did this?"

Sam pulled back. "It doesn't-"

"The hell it doesn't," he said cutting Sam off before he could tell him that it didn't matter. That he didn't matter.

He gentled his hold on Sam and turned his head from side to side. Sam's bottom lip was split and his nose bloodied. His left eye was already starting to swell shut, a sickly yellow coloring around it. And his cheek was red, the skin raw and abused. Dean could tell a bruise would be coming in there too. His face was an absolute mess.

He brushed his thumb gently over Sam's bloodied bottom lip. "Sammy," he breathed. "What the hell happened?"

"I said something stupid, same as always."

"This isn't like always. It's never been this bad before."

"Yeah, well, I never said anything about you before."

Dean frowned. "What about me?"

Sam blushed. "It doesn't matter."

"Is that your catchphrase for the month? What the hell did you say?" he demanded.

"It was stupid," Sam insisted. "Forget it."

He rolled his eyes. "Tell me geek boy."

Sam sighed heavily and rushed on, barely making any sense. But what Dean thought he said was, "I said that maybe if I fucked you, you'd be at home instead of out with whoever. Then I wouldn't have to deal with dad."

Dean felt like he'd been punched in the gut. It was no wonder dad had gone off the deep end on Sam. What the hell had Sam been thinking, saying something like that? It was too off the wall even for him.

"I didn't even mean for him to hear it. It was stupid. I didn't think he had until…" Sam trailed off. He didn't want to relive tonight with his brother. He'd been there once and that was enough.

What he'd said was stupid and he knew it. It had been just some off hand comment, one he hadn't thought out obviously. He was feeling bitter, standing there at the sink doing dishes, left alone with dad while he got drunk. Dean was out on a date a one night stand meaning more to him than the younger brother that worshipped him back at home. The younger brother he was leaving at home to be beaten.

Dad had always had a bit of a drinking problem, but the last few months things had gotten worse. He got drunk every night, instead of every other and soon passing out wasn't enough of a way to end the evening. Sam could still remember that night, clearer than any other.

It was the first time Dean had ever let him hurt.