New fic, came to me while watching ep 2x01. Le angsty, hope everyone enjoys, and spoilers for...well, pretty much all of season 1 and 2...ish.

Don't own them, wish I did.


Sam knew he should have been asleep, that both Dean and Dad would tell him off for being awake at four am, but he couldn't help it. Besides, he was sure that he would get to sleep in late, judging from the look of his father.

He watched, through the crack in the door, as Dean helped Dad onto the moth-eaten couch; worry clear in his hooded eyes. Dad looked bad, Sam decided. Real bad. Like he'd been clawed up good by something that was big, fast and hopefully dead.

"I'm fine, Dean," Dad winced.

"Dad-"

"Is Sammy in bed?"

"Yeah, Dad-"

"He's okay?"

Sam frowned, his eyes stuck on his brothers' face. Dean faltered, if only for a moment, and nodded. "Yeah, Dad, he's fine. I'm-"

"Good." Dad closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the couch and even from the bedroom, Sam could hear the slight hitch in his breath. "I'm just tired, son."

"Dad." Dean licked his lips and took a seat next to their father. "Dad."

"What?" Dad asked, eyes still closed and from the sounds of it, he was almost asleep. Sam wasn't sure how he could sleep, he must have been in pain, but he was Dad. He'd come home looking worse lots of times before.

"It's okay, Dad," Dean murmured and Sam closed his eyes. How many times had he heard his brother say that? He'd lost count by now. "It's okay."

Sam set his jaw, hating his dad for giving Dean a reason to reassure, to have to reassure when he was only fifteen.

Dean sat with his father for a moment, looking down at his feet, his hands, anywhere but Dad. He stood, started towards the bathroom, to get the first aid kit. Sam backed away quickly, not wanting to be seen, but the door squeaked and their eyes met.

They looked at each other for the longest time, Sam waiting for a lecture or a joke or something, anything, but Dean didn't give. He just nodded and continued on to the bathroom and Sam's gaze sharpened and found his sleeping father.

Sam rubbed his face with both hands, quietly, carefully, as the memory stuck. He let his hands fall back down to his lap, his eyes found the clock, and irony found that it was four am.

He shook his head, and forced his gaze to return to his sleeping brother.

Dean's dark lashes were splayed against pale skin, lips parted slightly and Sam knew he shouldn't stare, shouldn't even have been sitting there, but Dean was perfect in his imperfection.

Sam's eyes travelled over Dean's face yet again, it might have been nine times now that he'd taken in Dean's whole face, perhaps even ten, but Sam was sure that it would never be enough.

He knew Dean's face, knew Dean, better than he knew himself, but he didn't know this Dean. Sleeping, peaceful Dean. Snoring so softly that Sam had to lean closer to hear, not that he minded.

This wasn't the Dean he knew, wasn't a Dean he could know, he couldn't protect.

Sam leaned back in his chair, carefully, not wanting to wake his brother. There was no excuse that he could come up with, nothing that would help him avoid annoying quips and worried glances that Dean thought were secret, that Sam always saw.

Dean stayed asleep.

Sam continued to watch, his eyes taken extra care to absorb Dean's forehead, the skin smooth for the first time in forever; no lines, no worry, no pain. Sam had to hold himself back from touching the skin, from stroking it, trying to keep it smooth.

His hands stayed in his lap, his eyes glistened with tears, and Sam prayed.

God --

Dean shifted in his sleep, rolled onto his side with a tiny sigh and Sam was struck with how young his brother looked at 4:11 am.

He'd aged so much in the past year; they both had, but Dean especially. Sam had inkling to why.

He could have, had blamed their father. Telling Dean, leaving him with such a burden.

Please God --

Leaving his own son with the thought that he might have to kill his own brother. Sam had been pissed, he'd been scared, and soon he'd figured that his father might not be the one to blame at all.

He could blame his father for everything, for Dean not having a childhood, for leaving him to reassure, to grow up so fast . . .

But not this.

Sam reached out a hand, knowing he shouldn't but having to, and let it rest on Dean's hand, upturned and laying next to his cheek. He wanted to touch his face, his lips, his forehead, make him young and burden free again, but --

Take care of Dean --

It wouldn't work. The lines were there to stay, hidden in the dark, waiting to come out in full force; for Dean's brain to switch on and remember.

Sam knew it was him, not his father, to blame. It was his destiny, his constant reminding, insisting, obsessing . . .

At four twenty five on a Wednesday morning in West Texas, Sam had figured it all out.

He was to blame.

Take care of my brother --

Dean's brow furrowed and Sam gave in, lifted his hand and lay it on his brothers' forehead. He leaned in closer, blinking back tears as he whispered, "It's okay, Dean," the way that Dean had always spoke to their father. The way their dad should have spoke to Dean.

Sam knew Dean had been deserving of those words for the longest time.

"What were you doing?" Dean asked, startling Sam. They'd been sitting in silence for the better part of the hour, Dean with a look of concentration clear on his face, even as he stared into nothingness. Sam hadn't dared interrupt his silent musings, hadn't even thought to turn the television on.

"What?"

"Last night. What were you doing?" Dean tore his eyes away from the wall to look at Sam. "Awake, I mean."

Sam looked at Dean for a while, trying to gauge his brothers' expression. Was he angry? Concerned? Sad? Amused? With Dean, it could have been any of those and more. It could have been a little bit of all of them, mashed together to make the ultimate Dean Winchester expression.

He came up empty, his brother a closed book, and that scared Sam more than he thought possible. He licked his lips. "I-"

"Are you always awake?"

"When Dad comes home?"

"Dad. Me." Dean clarified.

Sam shrugged. "Sometimes. A lot of the time."

Dean cursed under his breath and Sam figured that there was at least no amusement in his expression. He just couldn't figure out why Dean suddenly seemed so upset. He'd grown up seeing the sort of things he'd seen at four am.

"Dean, it's not like I haven't seen dad like that before."

"You shouldn't have to, Sammy."

"I'm not a kid, Dean!" Sam exclaimed.

Dean just raised an eyebrow. "Yes you are," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and Sam realized that maybe it was. But it was worth a shot, he supposed. And it had almost made Dean smile.

"Okay, maybe I am," he gave in and Dean nodded and turned back to the wall. Sam watched him for at least eight seconds before nudging his brother in the side and adding, "But you kinda are too."

"No, I'm not," Dean laughed, finally, and as usual, Sam couldn't help but be amazed at how quickly Dean could change his moods. In this case, he was glad and he thought that if he could keep his brother laughing, or at the very least smiling and forgetting, then maybe things would be okay. Maybe that could be his way of reassuring Dean.

"You are," he insisted, giving another nudge and knowing he was playing with fire. Dean was bigger, stronger, and could only tolerate his little brother crap for so long, before he started nudging back.

"No, I'm a man, and I'm right."

Sam figured a smile might be worth a few bruises. "Why?"

And Dean did smile, in the way that Sam had noticed the girls loved. "I'm always right, Sammy."

"But why?"

Dean gave him a look, one that clearly read, 'what are you, seven? Shut up' before muttering, "Coz I'm older, that's why."

Sam nodded and watched as Dean stood up, rolled his shoulders and started towards the bedroom – towards dad. Sam felt the anger boil up in him again, like it had earlier that morning, and he blurted, "You shouldn't have to see dad like that either."

Dean stopped midstep, turned on his heel and looked at Sam. "Huh?"

Sam shrugged, feeling shy all of a sudden. "I've been thinkin'."

"Yeah? Hurt yourself?"

Sam decided to ignore his brothers' joke and barely there smile. "Its stupid, Dean." He stood up at Dean's confused expression, took a few steps till he was next to his brother, and added, "It's not your job to look after him."

Dean stood silent and Sam thought maybe he should say something, anything that would help, that might help get rid of the look in Dean's eyes. "You don't have to."

And Sam did something that surprised even him. He reached up, put a hand on his brothers shoulder and murmured, "It's okay, Dean," like Dean had said to dad so many times in the past, and even as he said it, Sam felt his other hand - the one that wasn't on Dean's shoulder - clench with anger.

Dean looked down at him, expression closed off once more, and Sam hoped for something, even if it was just a nod, to show that Dean understood. That he knew.

Dean gave a sudden laugh and shrugged off Sam's hand, "You been watching one too many soap operas or something, Sammy, you're turning soft," he quipped before heading towards the bedroom, his brow furrowed.

Sam bit his lip, willing away the tears as his fingers smoothed the lines on Dean's forehead. Dean's eyelashes fluttered and Sam was sure, if only for a second, that he was caught, that his plan was ruined and Dean would be back to reassuring.

He could hear it now, hear Dean's voice in his head, tight and shut off from any emotion besides anger and perhaps a little bit numb.

It's okay, Sammy.

Dean's hand would be on his shoulder, tight like his voice, but more reassuring, and Sam wondered if maybe he wanted Dean to wake up, to look at him

It's okay.

But Dean's eyes fell shut again, his forehead smoothed and Sam let any selfish thoughts of Dean waking leave his head. "It's okay," he murmured, perhaps reassuring himself this time, then slowly pulled his hand away.

Quietly, carefully, he stood, stepped from Dean's bedside to his own. He picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder and headed towards the door, not looking at his brother. If he did, perhaps he would turn back; set his bag back down, unpack. Climb in bed and forget he ever danced with the notion of leaving. Tell his brother about his crazy plan of walking away, of trying to protect him. That it didn't matter, because he was still there, and oh, by the way, perhaps you should kill me before I go evil, Dean.

But Dean had already heard that song and dance routine, had already said no –

"I can't. I'd rather die."

- even if he had been speaking to a demon at the time. Especially if he had. Sam knew, at four forty eight on a Wednesday morning in West Texas, that he couldn't look back.

And he didn't. Just opened the door and walked away from his brother, and he just prayed that Dean would understand.

God, please let it be okay.