Title: Slipping Through the Cracks
Rating: PG-13, a tad of cursing, but nothing you don't hear in the show itself.
Genre: Bittersweet, with a cusp of angst. But mostly it's just a lot of brotherly love. And you can't go wrong with brotherly love, right?
Summary: Sam wants to find a way to save Dean, but Dean's too preoccupied with other things to care. Post "All Hell Breaks Loose: Part 2."
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or its characters. If I did, do you really think I'd be using the boys to write fic with? ;)
Warning: This is unbeta-ed. But it should be a-okay to read considering English is my first language and all...


The first few months were spent in talk.

The night of the big showdown with the yellow-eyed demon had been used, not to rest or recover from the blows they had received, but to inquire of the other the most trivial of inane questions.

It was Sam who first turned his head to his brother and said in a loud voice, "You awake?"

"Hmm," grunted the elder. "What is it, Sammy?"

"What's your favorite color?"

The small red glowing numbers on the nightstand told Dean the time. 3:52 A.M. "Oh, you gotta be kidding."

"Look, come on. It's not a difficult question," argued Sam. "Just answer me, okay."

"Fine. Green."

"Mine's blue."

Dean scoffed, smiling all the same. "I knew it! Always were the dark and broody type, huh?"

"Yeah, yeah, Dean. You know everything."

A silent second holds the air still until Dean spoke. "No, not everything. So what kind of crap music do you listen to, anyway?"

As a spark ignites an entire inferno, the game of twenty questions continued throughout the night and far into the next few days. Often, the two boys would mock the other's taste. "Clearly the eldest children always have the best fashion sense," quipped Dean, suppressing a chuckle. How could you ever wear shorts!?"

Sam retorted, "Yeah, laugh now, but I'll be the one rolling on the floor when you're sweating your ass off this summer. Two words: Global warming, man."

The inquiries placed by both men soon turned into a full-fledged walk down memory lane.

"I wanted to punch your lights out, Dean. Seriously."

"Come on, it wasn't that bad…"

"You gave my pet mouse coffee! She literally ran around in circles for half the day! I was eight years old and we had just seen some stupid daytime soap opera where the guy collapses from a heart attack. Honestly, I thought Minnie was gonna die!"

"Dude, I forgot you named that mouse Minnie. God, you were always so unoriginal. And besides, I didn't give her that much coffee, Sam, jeez!"

Sam raised his eyebrow. "Then why did we have to bring her to the vet when Dad got home, huh?"

Dean snorted. "'Cause you were crying your eyes out! Confirmation by a certified doctor that it was gonna be okay was the only thing that shut you the hell up."

"Whatever," the younger brother huffed before biting down on his breakfast. Lucky charms, to be more exact. Dean grabbed the box that day and filled up his brother's bowl (nowhere near empty) before pouring the sugary cereal into his own. And Sam smiled and, without really knowing why, secretly wished that cereal boxes still came with prizes.

This reminiscing, this talking, it was as close to normal as Sam had ever gotten. But as normal as the past and present felt, the imminent future was a subject not to be dwelled upon.

"So," Dean cleared his throat, "after I'm go– Sammy, do you ever think about going back to school now that the demon's dead?"

Sam shrugged. "Haven't really thought about it. It's only been a week since we killed him."

"You should go back."

He replied, "I dunno, man. Gotta say I've gotten used to the hunting thing. It's kinda … fun."

"Yeah?" Dean marveled. "Hey, Sammy, which part would you say is more fun for you, the getting your ass kicked every night or the almost bleeding to death that comes after that?" He let his spoon fall into the bowl before continuing, "Do us both a favor, go back to school and put those brains to use."

"I am putting my brain to use; finding a way to save you from the deal you made, aren't I?"

"Right…" Staring at his hands, Dean bit the inside of his cheek.

"Hey," Sam said forcefully. "I'm gonna save you. You gotta believe me." Seeing his brother wasn't looking at him, he took Dean by the chin to make him believe. Dean slapped his hand away. "All right, I believe you, dude," he grinned. "And I can do without the touchy-feely-mushy stuff." He picked up their bowls and brought them to the sink while Sam walked out to the Impala to retrieve his laptop, smirking all the way.

Even while Sam was researching, rarely did Dean leave him alone throughout the following weeks. Five days later, Dean posed the question. "So who would you rather do, Angelina Jolie or the chick from Friends?"

"You mean Jennifer Aniston?"

"Yeah, yeah, her," he nodded, tossing up a toy football.

"Dean, c'mon, this is serious," Sam responded, eyes glued to the laptop's screen.

"Uh, not really. Not like you're ever gonna meet either of 'em."

"You know what I mean," Sam smiled and stood to get a book. He wanted to be angry with his brother so damn badly. There was a quiet, undisturbed rage deep in his heart just waiting to erupt, but that rage was washed over by his brother's futile and downright impractical attempts to get to know him better.

And they were impractical. There was hardly a time when the two boys spent a minute apart. Even the bathroom, the only sanctuary a person has at times, was violated the week after when Dean pounded on its door, grunting, "Chicken or fish?" It was only when Sam glanced at his watch that he realized Dean probably only wanted to know which he wanted for lunch. "Chicken," he replied.

Fifteen minutes later, Sam returned and found neither chicken nor fish in the motel.

"Dean, where's the food?"

"What? What food? You hungry? Come on, let's go pick us up some chicken, then. Roasted or fried?"

"Roasted."

This answer was faced with a frown from Dean.

"But how 'bout we live dangerously today and go for fried."

Following Sam out the door, Dean grinned, "Attaboy, Sammy."

---

It had been at the six month mark when Dean returned to hunting. Though irritated that Dean chose to place himself in harm's way (now of all times), Sam understood how trapped he felt; idly sitting by, waiting for his baby brother to save him. If Dean needed anything, it was something to keep him occupied – something to keep him feeling useful. Besides, Sam's forbearance for Dean's questions was dwindling as his need to continue searching for a way out of his brother's pact intensified.

Sam only complained a little every time they moved towns for a new hunt, enjoying being able to read in the Impala, yet still being able to be in close proximity to Dean, and tolerating listening to the same Metallica track for the seventh time that day.

An unspoken arrangement had taken place in which the youngest would stay in, searching for the panacea that would save them both, while the eldest would go hunting alone. Every night, Dean would return to the shabby motel they would currently occupy with an injury that would always look twice as gory as the ones he usually received months ago. Every night, Sam would be awake to see him drag himself inside and, as if accustomed to the routine, would race to find the measly first aid kit that would temporarily paste together the pieces – well, the physical pieces, at least.

Dean had become far more reckless these days in his expeditions. Patching him up, Sam would hear him boast, "Oh, you should've seen it, Sammy. I ripped that sonuvabitch apart."

"You sure it wasn't the other way around?" Sam purposely applied a little pressure to Dean's wound, causing him to wince. Sometimes he hated the fact that Dean got himself into enough trouble as it was because he'd love to slam his brother's head against the wall, if only to knock some sense into him.

Every night, Sam would wait up for Dean, secretly glad that he was able to use research as an excuse for the both of them. And when that excuse failed, Sam would hide away in his bed and discreetly open an eyelid at the sound of the opening door. Later, though, he could only try to wait up for him; as the next few months passed by, it had become a greater habit for Dean not to return until an hour or two before dawn. Those were usually the times when he'd come home, completely unscathed. Instead, he'd stumble in, holding onto the walls for support, and collapse onto his bed, fully clothed and drowning in the scent of alcohol.

When Sam would awaken at the break of dawn, Dean, groaning at the sound of the alarm, would hold his pillow to ears and grudgingly turn onto his side.

It was the only way Sam had of knowing Dean was still alive.

Sam looked over at his sleeping brother; he wondered if the black circles around Dean's eyes had ever run as deep as they seemed to now; he wondered how a moderately-bronzed man like his brother could be just as ghostly pale at the same time; he wondered what it would feel like to wake up one morning to a blasting alarm and not see Dean grunt and roll over in annoyance. He wondered how it'd hurt to see a motionless Dean, cold and bloody from the hellhound's tears in his flesh, head to toe.

Little did Sam know that he'd never see that morning.

---

Sam startles awake from his sleep when he subconsciously feels a hand around his neck.

Exhaling a gasp of air, he squints his eyes and whispers, "Dean?"

"Yeah, it's me. It's just me. Don't worry ... just go back to sleep," answers Dean, almost frantic to get Sam back to his slumber.

Sam reaches over for the lamp and flicks it on. He glances at the clock. "It's 5 A.M., what the hell are you doing?"

In Dean's silence, Sam looks around and notices the large duffel bag by his brother's feet. "What's that?"

Unexpectedly, Dean chuckles and slowly shakes his head, his hand over his eyes. "I was this close, Sammy. But you caught me, didn't ya? I knew pulling that blanket over you was gonna give me away. But, damn it, man, you insist on leaving the A/C on throughout the night even though you know you'll wake up the next morning with the start of a cold. What was I supposed to do?"

Ignoring what Dean said, Sam slowly sits up. "Dean, where are you going?"

He looks at him strangely for a minute before promptly answering, "Hm. I don't really know, actually. Anywhere, I guess. I was just gonna go down to the bus terminal and buy a ticket for whatever destination is the cheapest." Dean sits down on the edge of the bed. "Y'know, I was hoping to do this over the phone, but if we're gonna say our goodbyes in person, I might as well personally entrust you with her myself." He takes the keys to the Impala from the nightstand and firmly presses them into Sam's right hand. "All yours now, pal."

Sam could only blink in confusion. "Why are you doing this, huh? Is it because you're afraid?" He tosses the keys aside and rises to walk over to the desk with books sprawled from end to end. "'Cause you don't have to be. Look," he points a book toward Dean. "I'm not certain yet, but I think I found something that might work to get you off scot-free from your deal. I was gonna call Bobby in the morning to see if he knew anything about it."

"Okay. What if he doesn't? What if you're just running around in circles? You're not really finding anything, Sammy. You're just exhausting yourself."

"Goddammit, Dean! I know time's running out but we still have a whole month to figure this out. You have to put some faith in this. You gotta believe in me, man."

Dean stands suddenly. "Don't look at me like that. You know damn well that I believe in you. I just don't believe in luck. Especially ours. I mean, c'mon, Sam, we've had nothing but bad luck for twenty-four years. Think it's all gonna change now? Huh?!" He takes a deep breath and grits his teeth for a second. "You really wanna know why I'm leaving? 'Cause I've been going about this all wrong. 'Cause, more likely than not, I'm going to hell in a month and I haven't prepared myself for it. 'Cause I know that the only thing that hurts me as much as an eternity in hell is not having anyone I love around. 'Cause I'm selfish.

"These past two years … sometimes I had to remind myself that we weren't joined at the hip – that we could walk in two different directions as long as we ended up at the same place at the end of the day. And our whole lives, it's just been the two of us, y'know. I can't imagine … Don't you remember, Sammy? Don't you remember how you followed me around at every corner when you were five? I used to tell Dad we didn't need a puppy – we had you."

Sam stares at the ground, nearly pouting. "Hey, it wasn't my fault we kept moving and I never had time to make any real friends. And if you didn't like it, you could've just said so. I may have been five, but I could've handled it."

His brother shakes his head. "You think I minded? Hell, I only wished the phase would've lasted 'til you were ten. I relished in it. I got to look after you, I got to have company – even if you always wanted to talk about the lamest cartoons. Plus, you totally worshipped me, dude!"

Sam scoffs. "Dude, you wish…"

"But listen, Sam, and listen good." Dean places one hand on Sam's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "Where I'm going now, you can't follow. You understand? I didn't make this deal just so it could end in vain. Okay?"

"No," Sam says, shutting the book and shaking it in front of Dean before throwing it down. "I'm sorry, but you are not the only one who gets to be stubborn. And if I gotta be stubborn about anything, it's gonna be about this."

A look mixed with contempt and relief washes over Dean's features before he envelops his brother in a hug. He tries stretching the embrace from shoulder to shoulder, but Sam's shoulders are far too broad for that and Dean's arms just a little too short. And he tries to remember when exactly Sam outgrew him. Even if he can't reach, Dean digs his fingers into his brother's back, so forcefully that he's nearly afraid he'll leave tiny fingerprint bruises.

Sam, however, can't for the life of him put his arms around Dean. He wants to. So badly. He has to fight every impulse in his brain not to squeeze the life out of his brother. But if he responds, Dean'll think Sam's accepted his death. And Sam's not giving up hope, even if Dean already has.

Instead, Sam balls his hands into fists and presses hard on the desk in front of him until his knuckles start going numb. His nails cut deep into his palm, but that doesn't hurt half as much as the gentle pat Dean gives him before whispering, "I'm proud of you, Sammy. For everything."

Dean pulls himself away (because he was holding on too damn tight to just back away) and bends to retrieve his bag. Sam stands still, biting the inside of his mouth to help prevent the tears in his eyes from running.

Dean walks to the doorway and pulls it wide open. Pausing for just a minute, he tentatively turns around. He gives the smallest smile and says, simply, "Get some rest, kid."

Shutting his eyes, Sam can still hear the creaking in the movement of the door and the echo of footsteps getting softer as the seconds pass.

Completely frozen in denial, Sam doesn't know whether to chase Dean down or curl back into bed into the safety of deluded dreams.

He chooses the latter.

An hour later, when Sam is awakened by his alarm, he finds Dean's bed empty.

But through the light of the rising sun and squinted eyes, Sam swears the door was left ajar.

A small insignificant gap, only about half a foot in width.

But it was just big enough.

Just enough for a five year old Sammy to slip through and be with his big brother … the only way a puppy knew how.


A/N: Just thought it be interesting to have Dean leave the door slightly open even after he told Sam not to follow. Because Dean? He's a massive walking contradiction when it comes to his brother. He's so screwed in the head, and we love him for it.
A/N 2: I wrote this only having watched season 2 of the show, so I apologize for any material that goes against canon that was presented in season 1.

Reviews? Anyone? Pretty please? With sugar (and by that, I mean the Winchester brothers) on top? By the way, constructive criticism is totally welcomed, so if you think something needed improvement, tell me so! Just don't be rude about it, i.e., no flames!