Title: Impasse
Author: HalfshellVenus
Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen)

Rating: K+
Summary: Post-"Shadows," Sam and Dean struggle for balance between them now that all the cards are on the table.
Author's Notes: Written for LiveJournal's supersummer, for "Shadows" week.

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Dean's not looking at him again.

He is and he isn't—it would be subtle if anyone else was watching. Dean half-glances his way, or makes pronouncements to the air or to the ground. But he rarely makes eye contact now. Sam isn't sure if Dean's afraid Sam will see what's in his eyes—if Dean would crumble under the scrutiny—or if Dean half-expects that Sam isn't actually here anymore.

When Sam came back after four years of being somewhere else—being someone else—Dean's eyes seemed to be boring through his skin. Every time Sam turned around Dean was there, always watching to make sure Sam didn't bolt off again.

The ease they once had-- the way their differences brought them balance instead of disharmony-- was rare even after things got better between them again. Now all traces of it have fled, and their trust is tenuous. This is the legacy of too much said and all the wrong things promised.

He knew it in Chicago, after Dean's motel room confession. Sam's four-year fling with the life he'd always wanted had been four years of fooling himself that Dean was prepared to let him go. He'd listened to Dean's words instead of to what he was saying, back then. He wasn't old enough to know it was a sacrifice Dean kept hidden.

Dean's confidence—his insistent support—had made it easy for Sam to pretend that his choices left no pain beside his own. That was years ago, like yesterday in his mind. Those memories ran up against reality a few weeks back, when Sam went after their father while Dean stuck to their assignment in Indiana. Dean's phone call to him at the bus station had turned Sam's denial on its ear, triggering a flashback of everything Dean's voice had been careful to say while his eyes kept the lie from reaching the surface. Sam had heard the truth hiding under the reassurances, the truth that had always been there even before he went to college.

Dean was better at being Sam's big brother than he was at being himself. If Sam kept leaving, there'd be no Dean left to come back to anymore.

And how it hurt to finally know that, to know too much of Dean was inside himself and that Dean had been willing to let it go.

Sam speaks suddenly as if the conversation is still running in the background, and indeed--it's every aspect of their lives right now. "I can't go back to being with Dad," Sam says. "There's no me anymore when Dad's around."

"You seemed broken up enough about leaving him back in Chicago."

"It was four years, Dean! I needed to see him, and to know that he saw me. And I still want the three of us to finish off this demon that stole our lives. But that's the short term, until this thing is over. I can't live with Dad on a long-term basis."

"I didn't ask you to stay for Dad. Right now, I just want you to stay for me."

It isn't as small as Dean makes it seem— it's not a temporary or casual change in their lives. "I can't be the only thing in the world that keeps you happy," Sam says hoarsely. That's the burden under those words that all sound so simple. "It's too much weight for one person to carry, and I can't be that for you or anyone else."

Dean looks so tired and defeated-- so unlike the brother who hauled him away from Stanford. "All I'm asking is for you to be here, Sam. That's all. Everything else just flows out from that one, basic thing."

"Why does it have to be this, instead of settling down in one place?"

"Because we were raised to hunt down evil and keep the world safe one piece at a time. There's nothing I could be doing that's more important, and it takes me where I'm needed. But at the same time, I can't live with just visiting you a couple of times a year, like you're someone I hardly know." Dean's words are finished but his face is not. A history of unvoiced sadness echoes onward in his eyes.

"So why does it have to be me?" Sam asks. "Why not you and Dad together, like it was before?"

"Because with Dad it's always business and no time for living. I'll burn out before I'm thirty if I go on like that."

"I'm not exactly a barrel of laughs Dean—especially after losing Jess last year." Sam knows he strained Dean's patience early on, when his grief consumed what was left of him after his future went up in flames.

"You're the light against the darkness in a world that forgot my name." Dean's voice is every dream abandoned, every hope that lost its way.

Sam is speechless against that bleak and naked truth. But if I stay, the darkness will own me.

And he knows that a piece of it already does.

Another day passes into stillness after that. Then it's nighttime, and the air is strained with questions. Sam can't guarantee a promise, and can't deny the only thing Dean's ever asked. This impasse is a riddle without an answer… a tragedy without an end.

"I'm still here," Sam tells Dean as they head on down to Texas.

"But not for long," Dean whispers dejectedly.

And the silence is already back.

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