Disclaimer: I own no part of Supernatural.

Summary: Dean learns that he doesn't know everything about his brother.

Spoilers: Pretty much all of season one.

Acknowledgments: A thousand thanks to my phenomenal beta, Faye, at SFTCOL(AR)S. Any redeeming qualities this story has are solely because of her.

A/N: This is very slightly A/U as I could not completely reconcile my storyline with cannon.

Disclosure

Then

Seventeen-year-old Sam Winchester started pacing, trying to work off the tension he felt, but it wasn't helping. He didn't understand what was happening to him. He didn't even know how to describe it. It was like some vague foreboding that manifested in physical ways. He'd felt this sensation before, but it didn't usually gnaw at his stomach so cruelly. And it was usually brief, not the drawn out drama he was currently experiencing.

It started out slowly. Sam felt disconnected, pulled from reality and guided toward some specific thought. He found it very unsettling that, for the moment, his thoughts were not his own. Something in his mind was screaming for attention. Danger? He wasn't in danger but someone was. Of that Sam felt sure, and he prayed it wasn't Dean and his dad.

They'd gone hunting. His father had said it would be simple, a two-man job at best, and he was taking Dean. "We don't need you for this one, Sammy," and Sam was left behind. Though he wasn't unhappy about missing the hunt itself, he felt betrayed by the abandonment and nauseated by this awful sense of doom.

So Sam sat alone in the basement of the family's two-bedroom home trying to figure out if what he was feeling had any basis in reality and, if it did, what he should do about it. He could call his family. Yeah, Sam thought, he would call Dean and tell him to…? He'd tell him that…hmm, what would he tell Dean? That his paranoia was getting the best of him? That his stomach was starting to hurt so they should call off the hunt? Dean would think he was a freak.

In the end it didn't matter anyway because Sam's stomach flip-flopped sending him to his knees and he found himself rocking on the basement floor. Sweat poured off his body and he began shivering against the cold concrete. The pain in his stomach grew sharply, cramping so tightly that it made Sam gasp and arch off the ground.

Sam felt so completely powerless. He crawled to the couch and tried using it as leverage to pull himself up only to fall back helpless and spent. His mind was screaming now, a rush of disconnected thoughts all with one foggy message – help them.

Sam had asked to go with his dad and Dean on the hunt but his request was denied. He hated being left behind. Despite his disdain for hunting, it was more the hunting lifestyle he despised. Orders, lack of sleep, moving, leaving friends behind, never making friends to begin with, Child Welfare Services, run down homes, injuries - damn, the list never ended.

But waiting and worrying was the hardest part. Sam had no trouble conjuring up every horrific scenario his dad and Dean might encounter. He supposed that was why he was good at researching the supernatural. His mind easily played out all the awful possibilities which, given his current circumstances, only added to his desperation. He had to get up, had to get to them, and he wanted to kill anything that dare threaten his family. But he only had strength enough to bury his face in the cushions and choke back the tears born of pain and frustration.

Sam wanted his family safe. He wanted them there. He wanted Dean with him, whispering words of reassurance, making him believe things would be OK. He wanted his dad taking charge of this situation that seemed so grossly beyond his control. He trusted them. He needed them. If they got home safely he was going to tell them that. He was going to talk to his family, tell them what he thought he sensed and how frightened he was for them. And like so many other freakish occurrences they had encountered, they would figure this all out together.

But what if they never came home?

Sam started panting, unable to catch his breath. His vision blurred as this foreboding grew until it escalated in a nauseating climax.

Sam turned and wretched repeatedly on the floor. He couldn't breathe, the panic and vomit creating an impenetrable barrier to his airway, and he imagined his family finding him dead in his own mess if they returned.

Sam berated himself for this weakness and mentally willed himself to keep it together. He fought the nausea and concentrated on sucking air into his lungs. In and out, in and out, until the light-headedness passed and Sam felt confident he could remain conscious.

And slowly, mercifully, the pain began to dissipate as well. Sam felt a little stronger. Somehow he sensed the danger had passed - the numbing fear he'd felt fading quickly.

Sam slowly collected himself and gathered some paper towels and a garbage can to clean up the puke on the floor. He sopped up the vomit on his hands and knees before crawling back to the couch and collapsing into a deep, fitful sleep.

Sam didn't hear the door open, or the muted steps his dad and Dean took so as not to disturb him. But he did sense their presence and fought to open his eyes. He had to see them alive, standing next to him.

Sam curled into the blanket tossed hastily across his shoulders and heard the whispered tone his father used when telling Dean, "At least someone had an easy night." And somehow Sam thought it might be better to just keep his eyes closed.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

By morning, Sam felt pretty good. He felt rested and relieved and the previous night's events seemed like a bad dream. John and Dean got home in one piece, both a little banged up but not too bad off, and they were already seated at the kitchen table talking about the next hunt.

"Gonna pull your weight on this one, Sam," John said lightly, but Sam detected an underlying sarcasm. Sam's feelings toward hunting were no secret. He and his father had volatile conversations over that very issue lately, and John clearly saw Sam's attitude as a weakness.

Sam picked up on that message. His dad was disappointed in him. "I wasn't invited along on the last hunt, sir," Sam asserted.

"Yeah, well, turns out we could have used you."

Sam's stomach suddenly twisted. "Why? What happened last night, dad?" He turned to Dean when he got no response. "Dean?"

"There's no time for that, Sammy. There's a gargoyle two states over and we need to get moving."

"But dad, I need to talk to you about something…"

"Didn't you hear me, Sam? I said we've got business to discuss. I'm sure whatever it is you have to say can wait."

"Yes, sir," Sam backed down. And truth be told, his determination to discuss the night's events was seriously wavering. He was concerned about his dad's reaction, and he didn't want his father thinking he was conjuring up excuses for all of them to avoid hunting. John Winchester already doubted Sam's commitment to the family, and Sam didn't think he could bear seeing that look of disappointment in John's eyes again.

And maybe his dad was right. Maybe there were more important things to discuss. After all, John and Dean were there, alive and well in front of him, proving his foreboding wrong. So when all was said and done, none of them ever discussed the previous night's happenings. Neither side knew what the other encountered during their time apart.

Sam was comfortable with that. He easily attributed his little episode to an overactive imagination and maybe the soup he had for dinner.

These "episodes" didn't happen often, far too infrequently to determine any pattern. Even if it wasn't his imagination, or his tendency to worry, or some bizarre instinct, or any one of a hundred other freakish occurrences, it wasn't anything to dwell on or anything to disclose.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

Now

Sam and Dean showered and changed their clothing. Their latest hunt had been particularly messy, but in the end, they'd gotten the job done. Now both stretched out on their respective motel room beds thinking about what the rest of their night would hold.

Sam was bone-weary tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep for the next twelve hours. But there was one last job to be done, so he sat up and began the tedious task of journaling the details of the latest hunt for future reference.

Dean, on the other hand, felt energized. He was restless, and watching Sam "journal" after a hard day's work was annoying.

"You know, Sam, only you would relax and unwind with a book after successfully ridding the world of evil. Come on, let's hit the bar, have a few beers, find some girls…"

"Listen, Dean. We need to write this stuff down, man - in case we hunt the same things again," Sam argued, pen in hand. "If I don't do it now, I'll forget the details."

"I don't need to write things down, Sam. I've got it all up here," Dean said confidently, finger pointing to his head.

"So you're saying you've got nothing 'down there'," Sam joked and was rewarded by the extension of Dean's middle finger. "Seriously, Dean, this is important. You should document all the hunts you go on. Hell, I don't even know what you hunted while I was in college."

"Sure, Sam. You just want to know about that siren me and Caleb went after down in New Orleans. Let me tell ya, Sammy boy, I don't think you're old enough to hear," Dean said grinning smugly.

The pen bounced off the back of Dean's head. "Fine, Dean. But don't expect me to open up to you the next time you ask."

"What have you possibly got to hide, Sammy?" Dean said somewhat condescendingly. Dean was sure he knew most of the details of Sam's life. True, Sam had spent four years away at Stanford, but what could he have encountered there? Furthermore, Dean had checked up on his brother, so he felt confident Sam had stayed out of trouble. "Did you hunt your science professor down after he gave you an A-? Or maybe you killed the clerk at the 'Frou Frou Factory' for not putting enough whip cream on your latte."

"Screw you, jerk," Sam answered feeling a little irked. "And I got all A's."

"You are such a freak. And I'll tell you something else, Sam, if you ever keep something important from me, I will personally …" Dean began but stopped when he noticed Sam was no longer listening. Sam stopped looking at him or anything else for that matter, and was just kind of staring off into space, the journal falling to the floor.

Hmph. That's weird, Dean thought waving his hand in front of Sam's face, trying to quell his annoyance at Sam's behavior. "You still in there, Sam? No need to sulk."

Dean got no response and swallowed convulsively as his annoyance slowly turned to concern. He shoved at Sam's shoulder trying to elicit a response but Sam remained quiet.

Dean did not like this. He didn't like glassy look in Sam's eyes, or the way Sam's breathing sped up, or how his brother appeared near catatonic.

Then Sam began talking to himself…or maybe to somebody else because his mouth was moving and words were forming but little of it was out loud. Dean didn't know if Sam was hearing something or seeing something or what the hell was happening to his brother. Sam kept blinking and his head was tipped slightly to the side like he, himself, was trying to figure it all out.

Dean got right in Sam's face. "Talk to me. What's going on with you?" Somewhere in Dean's mind this scene seemed vaguely familiar. Sam had suffered more that his share of childhood illnesses. Dean's couldn't help thinking back to those times now, remembering how frightened he'd been for his brother.

Sam started shaking ever so slightly and the distant stare in his eyes turned to fear. Sam jumped back suddenly and grabbed his stomach, groaning pitifully in the process. He rolled off the bed and fell to his knees muttering "No, no," again and again while fisting his fingers in his bangs and rocking on the dirty motel room floor.

Dean crouched beside his brother, no longer able to contain his worry. "What's wrong with you, Sam?" He tried again, louder now. "Talk to me. Are you hurt?" When Sam didn't answer Dean began checking his brother for injuries. Finding none, he helped Sam stand and held his brother's face forward, forcing Sam to look at him.

Sam pulled away again grabbing his stomach, eyes clenched in pain. He was frantic now, pacing unsteadily across the motel floor with one hand still tight across his abdomen.

Sam remembered this. He remembered this fear and the accompanying sickness he felt. Something was wrong but he didn't know what to do about it. Somewhere, somebody was hurt, maybe dying. This "intuition" was so damned fickle – submerging him in someone else's trauma while providing no specifics nine times out of ten. And why now? This, whatever it was, was never reliable.

Sam made uncoordinated efforts to stay upright and the mumbling started again – words that Dean could not understand.

So Dean got closer until he was inches from Sam's face, talking in that soothing big brother voice that Sam usually responded to. And truth be told, Sam's behavior was freaking him out. Talking to Sam at least gave the appearance that he was doing something about the situation. It gave him the false sense that something could be done.

Dean reached out tentatively to touch Sam's arm. He wasn't afraid of his brother, but he didn't know where Sam's head was and heaven help him he didn't want to make the situation worse. He grabbed Sam's arm and held it firmly, keeping him still, while making eye contact with his brother and calling his name.

Sam met Dean's gaze full on and, right before his knees buckled, he asked for the keys to the Impala. And Dean would have laughed outright at the absurdity of Sam's request if only he didn't have that sick feeling in his stomach.

"What? Are you crazy, Sam? What's going on with you?" There was no way in hell Sam was leaving his sight let alone driving somewhere.

Sam struggled to get up and Dean was torn between helping him stand and forcing him back down. In the end, Sam's will won out. He gently lifted his brother and tried to get his attention. "Sam," Dean almost yelled. "You with me here?"

Sam raised his head with effort and stared into Dean's eyes. "Dean, people are going to die," Sam whispered. He felt so drained, so useless.

Dean's eyebrows shot up and he felt his stomach twist. Who was going to die? What the hell was going on? A numbness spread throughout Dean's body, a defense mechanism of sorts – his body's way of shutting down when emotion threatened to overwhelm him. He was worried for his brother. He and Sam had been through a lot of crap in their lives and never once did he see Sam fall apart. But here Sam was now doing exactly that and it left Dean reeling. Was this a physical problem? Psychological? Supernatural? Dean ran through a mental checklist of causes for Sam's behavior and grimaced after realizing the truth was probably some combination of the three.

"What the hell are you talking about, Sam? Did you have a vision?" This was not the usual pattern of vision events, Dean noted, but the question begged asking.

"No, no Dean. I can feel it. I can feel it happening." And Sam looked at him with his big brown eyes shimmering from unshed tears. "Please, Dean. I don't think I can help but I can't just sit here."

"Whoa, just slow down, Sam. What are you talking about?"

"I don't know, I don't know" Sam agonized, pulling away from Dean. He didn't want to get into this now. Dean would be angry that Sam had never told him about these little "episodes" and Sam didn't want the fallout of all that. More importantly, he didn't want to dump his issues on his brother. Dean had been through enough in life and Sam didn't want to add to his load. But Dean was still looking at him for answers and, hard as Sam tried, he could offer up no better explanation than he'd already given. So he said the same words over and over again, "I can feel it, Dean, please."

And that was enough for Dean. Sammy was desperate, Sammy was pleading, and damn it if Sam wanted to drive around until hell froze over then that's what was going to happen. But he wasn't going alone. Dean tossed Sam's coat over his shoulders aware that his brother was way too distracted to placate his own comfort. "I'll take the wheel," Dean said unnecessarily as he led Sam out the door. And Sam accepted the help without complaint.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

They'd been circling in the city for hours with little conversation between them. Sam sat staring out the passenger window mumbling to himself while Dean shot worried glances at him. At one point Sam perked up and told him to take a turn down a dirt road. Dean thought they were on the verge of a break through, but that moment passed without the discovery of anyone noticeably near death. Sam resumed his window stare, and Dean had trouble pretending things were okay. Sam was pale and shaky and his hands were folded protectively across his stomach. Whatever was happening to Sam, it was taking its toll.

But Dean continued to drive because that's what Sam said he needed. He drove until he heard Sam's sharp intake of breath. Then Sam grabbed his arm and announced that it was over, that they could go back to the motel now – like Dean was supposed to know what it was. But he knew it wasn't good and that whatever had happened, they'd been too late to change it. His heart sunk knowing that Sam had been privy to the death of someone else and wondered how many times someone could feel such devastation and still hold on…to sanity…to life.

Dean didn't know how to protect Sam from this. He couldn't protect Sam from his own thoughts and Dean was afraid that one day, it would all be too much for Sam. True, Sam was strong. Time and tragedy had proven that. But everyone had his breaking point. How far could someone be pulled before they snapped apart?

Dean found it sickening that Sam, of all people, witnessed more death than anyone he knew. Sam suffered so deeply when others were hurt or killed. He just simply cared so damned much. Sure, his brother was a trained fighter, a ruthless hunter when the need arose. But Sam was also the kindest, gentlest man Dean knew. He didn't deserve this, not the sickness, not the visions, none of it.

Dean turned down the motel drive eager to get in the room because Sam's head was drooping now and he was worried. He brushed his fingers across Sam's forehead and noticed that his brother was warm. And Sam didn't complain about the attention, which only exacerbated Dean's fear.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

The Sunshine Inn was anything but sunny. It sat in a "bad section" of town between a major highway and more "rent by the hour" motels. Still, it had beds and chairs, and Deans was thankful for it as he pulled near the door.

To Dean's surprise, Sam got out of the car without prodding, but he swayed and balanced himself against the Impala, forehead resting on the roof.

"Come on sleeping beauty, let's get you inside," Dean joked in a futile attempt to allay his concern. He moved Sam's right arm over his shoulders and supported him into the room and to the nearest chair. Flipping on the lights, he took in how Sam's head was now lying on the nearby table cradled in his arms. He looked exhausted. Worse still, he looked broken. Dean remembered seeing that look on Sam…right after Jessica died.

Sam groggily sat up and stared out the motel window and Dean wondered what was so damn interesting out there. He suspected it was Sam's way of escaping…of seeing something beyond the horror they'd been witness to, or in Sam's case, the horror he'd faced in his own mind. Dean collapsed on the bed and minutes passed. Neither spoke until Sam broke the silence.

"I used to sense when you and dad were in danger. I thought maybe everyone had that connection to people they love." Dean's head jerked up as he attempted to grasp the information Sam had just conveyed.

"What did you say, Sam?" he asked pointedly. Not that Dean didn't understand the first time, but Sam's words seemed surreal. And Dean didn't want to face the implications from Sam's statements that were all too obvious. Whatever this thing was that happened to Sam tonight had happened before, a long time before. Sam's childhood "illnesses", his hatred of hunting - suddenly it all made sense and Dean was numb with the gravity of this revelation. Sam clearly had burgeoning "abilities" as a child.

For the first time, Dean began to rethink some past events in their lives with renewed clarity. If tonight's little episode was any indication of some hell Sam had lived through previously, especially as a child, how had he survived? It was hard enough living through the Winchester family horrors. Toss in the "gift" of vicariously sharing in the pain of others and one had to wonder how Sam carried the weight of all that suffering?

As if in response to Dean's unspoken questions Sam muttered, "I did the best I could," and Dean didn't think he was speaking of tonight's events alone. Sam's head lolled down and he slid sideways toward the floor. Strong, steady arms caught him and moved him onto the bed. Sam felt the threads of a blanket brush across his uncovered arms. "I know you did Sammy, I know you did," Dean assured. He and Sam were going to have a long talk.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

Dean was already by his side when Sam woke gasping with pain in his stomach. He helped him to the bathroom and watched as his brother violently expelled his stomach contents. Dean rubbed his hand along Sam's back and whispered calm assurances that everything would be all right as his brother was left breathless, too weak to move, bowed over and shaking on the bathroom floor. Sam staggered back to bed and Dean gently covered him with several blankets to ease the shivering.

Sam's fever rose steadily throughout the night despite the medicine Dean gave and delirium set in. Delirium was never kind to the Winchesters. So when Sam started screaming, Dean had already warmed up the car in anticipation of another late night hospital journey. But then Sam settled and Dean watched as his chest rose and fell rhythmically. Sam seemed comforted by Dean's hand on his arm and Dean was confident that by morning, the worst had passed.

Dean read the daily paper left outside the motel room door. The headlines told of two teens that died in a car crash near the dirt road they'd turned down the night before. Dean threw it in the garbage without ever showing it to Sam.

&-&-&-&-&-&-&-&

With no new jobs waiting, a trip south seemed appropriate - someplace warm and sunny. The brothers loaded up their scant belongings and drove, a comfortable silence between them.

"Feeling okay?" Dean asked, always a little uneasy with the question.

"Yeah, thanks," Sam affirmed.

Dean began tapping his fingers restlessly on the steering wheel – trying to burn off the nervous energy he felt at the conversation he was about to initiate. "So…when did you first notice that you had 'abilities' Sam?" Dean asked hesitantly. He didn't want to pressure his brother but he'd never sit back and watch Sam be destroyed by whatever "power" attacked him last night. As much as he hated these charged conversations, there were questions that needed to be answered and things that needed to be said.

"Abilities," Sam pondered. They had been so easy to dismiss. A torrent of "should haves" and "what ifs" rolled through Sam's mind and he berated himself for not putting the pieces together sooner. Sam almost marveled at his denial. Little things he should have thought odd about himself growing up he'd never questioned. And the foreboding he'd felt last night, he'd always figured that "ability" was just something like gut instinct coupled with the hunting skills his father demanded he have. Police officers had that "sixth sense." So did soldiers. And he and Dean were soldiers, Marine trained fighters in a war unlike any other. But hindsight was 20/20 and since Jessica's death, since he'd realized he could see the future, Sam knew that his "intuition" was much more.

Now here he was, 24-years-old, and uneasy at best about telling Dean his secrets. Dean would be angry, disappointed in him - maybe even be disgusted by his irresponsibility.

Of all the horrors he'd endured, Sam thought losing Dean's trust, losing his respect, would break him. Dean had always loved him, believed in him, and never blamed him for the tragedies they'd been through. What would Dean think now knowing that Sam had been a freak all along?

Sam would not lie to his brother. Maybe he'd be loathed by Dean but that was what he deserved, right? After all, their mother died and he still he left his family for school. Jessica died without ever knowing the truth, and now their father was missing. In Sam's mind, he deserved to be hated and now was his time for penance. So Sam started at the beginning and squinted as he spoke in anticipation of the back lashing he felt he had coming.

"I used to wonder why Caleb played poker knowing he was going to lose. I didn't understand that not everyone knew the outcome of the game," Sam admitted, testing the waters. And to his complete astonishment, Dean openly smirked and laughed a little, his eyes showing amusement, not recrimination.

Sam let out a breath in relief, guiltily at ease now about his brother's reaction. Dean hadn't judged him and Sam felt like an ass for ever thinking Dean would. Sam's feelings of shame weren't gone, but somehow this conversation was strangely therapeutic for him.

So Sam kept talking. "I didn't know the combination to Dad's safe, but I sensed when to stop turning the dial." This prompted an outright chuckle from the older brother. That explained the scribble in dad's journal and the shotgun shells lined up one atop another. Dad's safe was off limits to the boys, and John had thought there was a poltergeist in the house. If he only knew that no secret was safe from Sammy.

"Is it cheating in school if you can sense some of the answers to test questions?" Both men laughed out loud.

"I always knew I was actually smarter than you, Sam," Dean professed, prompting a glare from the younger brother and a weak punch to the arm.

They drove again in silence, each relishing the momentary calm. But the mood in the car changed as Sam got to the heart of the matter. "It got harder to deal with as I got older. I felt…things but I didn't realize I was any different from anyone else. I didn't want to bother you and Dad with …" Sam trailed off feeling a sudden dryness in his throat.

Dean understood. Growing up there was always someone to save, something to kill. There wasn't time for conversation that didn't relate to the latest hunt and there certainly wasn't time to deal with family issues. So Sam suffered with his "abilities" alone and nobody ever noticed.

Dean felt the hard plastic of the wheel dig into his palms as he gripped it tighter. He was beyond angry He'd underestimated his brother. Dean thought he knew all of the intricacies that made up his too tall, moppy haired, freak of a little brother Sammy but it turned out he didn't know so much after all. He'd missed the warning signs. He was a hunter for heavens sake and he never noticed the supernatural right in front of his face.

Sam appeared perfectly comfortable with letting the conversation drop, but Dean needed more answers and pressed on.

"Did it always make you sick?" Dean prodded, and held his breath waiting for the answer.

"No," Sam offered. Then he added hesitantly, "Only when…when it was too much, and when I couldn't help, you know?"

Son of a bitch. This "ability" apparently acted up when Sam felt powerless to change the outcome. And he greater the tragedy the worse Sam reacted. If Sam was overwhelmed emotionally, he got torn up physically. Dean was pissed.

"How bad, Sam?"

"What?"

"How bad does this get for you? I mean, I don't want any more little surprises."

Again Sam waited to respond, thinking over his answer before saying it out loud. He remembered with detail the growing pain, the suffocating pressure in his chest before collapsing on his dorm steps. He woke up in a hospital days later, searching for Dean and his father to find that he was alone. But the pain was gone and he could breathe again. The doctor said it had been an asthma attack, but Sam knew the truth.

"I stopped breathing once…well, at least that's what the doctor's told me."

Dean clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. He swore his heart skipped a beat and his anger poured out. "That's just fucking wonderful, Sam! You stopped breathing because of this? You almost died and never thought I needed to know? When your 100 I'm so going to kick your ass."

Sam continued as though he didn't even hear Dean, that distant stare he'd perfected so well once again rearing its ugly head. "March 23, 2003."

The date hung in the air. Dean was processing the meaning of Sam's declaration because he remembered that date so well. He'd been hunting in Arkansas with his father and was clawed near his jugular. He almost bled out before his dad dragged his lifeless body into the nearest emergency room. Six days and two transfusions later, the doctor announced that Dean would survive. Sam had been in college at the time, and Dean had never disclosed the details of that hunt to his brother.

Dean looked at Sam, mouth agape at the implication of Sam's revelation and saw the streaks of wetness down his cheeks. "I tried to get to you Dean. I thought something was wrong but I didn't know where you were. Dad never returned my calls."

Sam had a look of pleading on his face and Dean could see in his eyes that he was begging for forgiveness. Samwas begging him for forgiveness. Sam, who bore the shame of leaving without complaint. Sam, who felt so profoundly guilty for walking away when nobody ever understood him. Sam, who fucking stopped breathing in an unknown hospital on March 23, 2003 with nobody by his bedside. Sam almost died because Dean almost died.

In the dark recess of Dean's mind he'd once pleaded for assurance that Sam cared about him, that Sam loved him and would be there fore him. Ironically, it nearly broke Dean now knowing that Sam's connection to him was so strong that Sam would not only die for him, but he'd die with him - he'd die because of him.

Dean choked back his own tears threatening to spill and the silence dragged on marred only by Sam's quiet confession, "I screwed up everything."

Dean heart broke at Sam's words and he suddenly realized he'd never answered Sam's unspoken question – never responded to Sam's plea for mercy. Looking at his brother now with Sam's head hung low and his face turned away, Dean knew his silence had been interpreted as anger.

Dean pulled to the side of the road silently noting that that's where most of their meaningful conversations took place. "Look at me, Sam." Sam's head rose and his piercing brown eyes stared at him. "There's nothing to forgive. I get it now, finally, after all these years."

And Dean did get it. Sam didn't want normal, he wanted peace. And leaving wasn't betrayal, it was survival. Sam had been afraidSam had been ill. The Winchester life was incredibly screwed up, and college was Sam's back up plan, his ace-in-the-hole. When all else failed it was his escape - his hope for a life with less turmoil, less pain. Hah, the bitter irony of that.

Dean swallowed back the bile when he thought of the times he'd thought Sam was a selfish bastard. Looking at his brother now, he felt nothing but love for him. And pride. Damn, he was proud of his brother. A lesser man would have given up under the strain Sam bore.

Dean pulled Sam's head to his shoulder. Not a full out hug but to Sam, it felt awesome, he felt loved and he felt…free. All his cards were on the table now and Dean understood. Such acceptance could never be gained under a veil of secrecy.

Dean smoothed his hand across his face and sat up straight before looking at Sam and speaking with quiet determination.

"No more secrets between us Sammy, OK?"

Sam looked at Dean and smiled but never answered, allowing Dean time to rethink what he was asking for.

Dean glanced at Sam and smirked, reading the younger brother's thoughts. Disclosure was a two-way street, after all.

"Well, he sighed. "Maybe we can each keep a few."