-Note- Seriously wrote this thing about two months ago and forgot about it! Much love and thanks as usual to my lovely beta, Miss. Cinnamon, who keeps me motivated and in line! Not to mention keeps my sleep deprived brain from switching things like 'clothes' out for 'closed' and vice versa. Reviews ya'll? Keep me goin! -Note-

Today was already starting to look up, Dean realized. The usual disgust in Sam's voice gone when he asked about the credit card scams. No lecture about how it was wrong to steal, or any of the hundreds of other lectures Sam had hit them with before he'd first took off.

A simple, 'sounds about right' and on to a new topic.

Dean slid into the Impala, rolling his eyes at Sam's "I swear man, you gotta update your cassette-tape collection." What did the little emo boy know about music?

"Why?" he asked, knowing full well what Sam's answer would be, but relieved to finally have something else to focus on besides family and mistakes.

"Well, for one they're cassette tapes, and two," Sam said in disgust, pulling out a few tapes. "Black Sabbath? Motorhead? Metallica? It's the greatest hits of mullet rock."

Dean grabbed a cassette from Sam's hand and popped it into the tape deck just to annoy him. "House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole."

"You know, Sammy's a chubby twelve year old. It's Sam, okay?"

Dean shook his head, staring out the windshield a moment before starting up the Impala. "Yeah, well, maybe I miss that chubby twelve year old," he answered bitterly. He missed a lot of things. And that didn't include the attitude Sam was giving him now.

Realizing what he'd said, Sam tried to backtrack, but it was too late. Their light hearted banter was gone, same as it always was. "Dean, I-"

"You know what Sam," Dean interrupted. "Why don't you just save it? There's nothing you can say to change things." He'd lied and reasoned his way through the last four years, doing anything he could to keep from letting the blame settle on his shoulders for Sam's leaving. He wasn't really sure if he could handle hearing what Sam had to say on the matter-now or ever.

Sam slumped down in his seat, staring out at the road as Dean pulled away from the gas station and Sam. He was silent for a few minutes, and Dean thought that maybe for once Sam would let things drop. Then-

"Did I hurt you that bad?" Sam asked quietly, not glancing away from the window.

Dean sighed, knowing that if Sam hadn't dropped it after his first outburst, he wouldn't drop it after the next either. "How about if I walked out on you right now?" Dean challenged instead. "Would that hurt-even the smallest bit for you?" Because he didn't think it would. Sam didn't get the kind of pain he'd gone through, the kind of pain Dean was in, if he had to ask.

"Dean, you're my brother!" Sam protested, jerking in his seat and finally bringing his eyes back to Dean.

He laughed. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You don't know a damn thing about how I'm feeling." The denial and disbelief in Sam's voice left no doubt in Dean's mind that he didn't have a clue about the kind of guilt or loss he'd gone through the day Sam had left.

"Then tell me!" Sam shifted in his seat. "Let me at least try and understand why we are the way we are."

Dean snorted. That was rich. It was a pretty easy explanation for why they were the way they were. Sam had left. He'd walked out on their life, their family, on Dean. With no word, no warning. Just stubborn indifference.

"Tell me," Sam snapped, irritated by Dean's dismissal. As if he had any right.

"Tell you want, Sam?" he demanded. "That eighteen years of my life just walked out the door? That the last 3 years of that life before that the only thing I can remember is fighting." Dean glanced over at Sam then. "You glaring at me like somehow I'd failed you."

God, he'd felt like he'd fucked up so big that day. Sam's acceptance letter clutched in his hands as he heatedly told Dean and Dad that he was leaving-with or without their approval. It was then that Dean realized just how little Sam respected him, or valued anything he had to say. Any signs of adoration had been long gone, but Dean had thought that somewhere deep down, beneath that moody teen exterior lurked his still geeky and loving younger brother who couldn't get enough of him. It was only then Dean realized just how wrong he was.

Dean didn't mean anything to Sam anymore. He was just a piece of a past that Sam wanted nothing to do with.

"Is that what you wanted to hear?" Dean sighed, because it sure the hell wasn't what he wanted to admit.

"Dean," Sam breathed. He shook his head, comforting hand reaching out and then slowly pulled back. "Leaving didn't have anything to do with you. That was all on me."

All on Sam? He said it as if it made any difference. Dean's fault or not, Sam had left. Walked out on an older brother who lived for him. That kind of hurt couldn't be soothed with a 'that was all on me'.

"Whatever, Sam," he said. That was all just whatever.

"Whatever?" Sam demanded, glaring at him now. "How about four years of nothing? And then finally when I'd gotten used to that, you show up on my doorstep to rub it in? Because that's what its going to be like until we find Dad, and I-" he broke off quickly. Bringing up the fact that he was leaving again, probably wasn't the brightest idea he'd ever had, but it was too late. Dean knew exactly what he meant.

"Until you leave," he finished. "Go ahead and say it Sam, we both know that's what's going to happen. The only reason you stuck around in the first place was because you didn't want your girlfriend... " He paused.

It wasn't Jess's fault that Sam had chosen a different life, it wasn't even her fault that Sam wouldn't stick around this time.

"Once Dad's back, there's nothing to hold you here either."

"What about, Jess?" Sam asked quietly.

"Nothing, all right," he said, waving it off. "Forget it." Sam was the one that wanted to marry her, become a lawyer, live his 'safe' life, that they both knew was just a nice way of saying 'normal and everything you're not'.

"You brought it up, Dean," Sam argued. Like it even mattered in the first place.

Dean turned and glared at him. "And now I regret it, let it drop, man." It was stupid to bring her into this when Sam had made it perfectly clear that she would never be apart of them.

Jess and Dean were two separate lives, and Sam had already made his decision.

"Like everything else?" Sam asked, his tone edging on irritation. "I'm just supposed to drop everything. Like how you're mad at me, how-"

"You didn't even talk to me about it!" Dean yelled, admitting the thing that hurt the most about Sam's leaving for the first time in four years. "Never once did you bring up Stanford or any other school until that damn acceptance letter came!"

He took a deep breath and shook his head. Dammit, he hadn't meant for Sam to get the best of him. But he just kept pushing like he knew everything about Dean and what he'd gone through. Turning it around so it was all on Dean. So what if he didn't want to rehash every regret in their lives? There were just too many to go through and be expected to keep what was left of his sanity.

"I thought-"

"What? Sam," Dean snapped, on a roll now. " You thought what? That I'd stop you? I drove you-" he broke off, fingers flexing around the steering wheel. "I drove you to the bus station, Sam. What more do you want from me?"

Did Sam want him to fucking bleed for him? Was that what it would take to bring Sam back? Because he'd do it. He'd do anything Sam wanted if it meant putting his family back together again.

"You didn't even talk to me," Sam came back with weakly.

How could he compare one silent trip to a bus station to all those months of silence and years of fighting? It wasn't the same at all.

Sam hadn't even trusted him enough to talk to him about schools, about doing something else with his life. His concern was getting away and fast, never keeping his family in that life too.

"I did the best I could, Sam!" He thought driving Sam to the bus station went beyond anything Dean could ever owe him. Giving up his heart without hateful words or yelling like Dad had let loose on Sam. Wasn't that enough?

"And so did I," Sam cried. "Those last three years of fighting and glaring-they weren't because I was mad at you!" He turned pleading eyes on Dean. "I was angry with myself, Dean, for wanting to leave. After all you'd done for me- I felt like I was betraying you by wanting a different life."

Dean's fingers flexed around the steering wheel, his stomach doing somersaults. That was really what Sam thought? All that time they'd wasted because Sam was afraid that Dean was going to be the one to push him away in the end? All over a different life.

"I just wanted you to be happy," Dean said quietly.

"I am happy," he said, just as Dean added. "Happy and with me."

Dean laughed softly. Yeah, he knew Sam was happy that was the problem. Sam was happy and it didn't have anything to do with Dean.

"Pull over," Sam ordered.

He raised a brow at his younger brother, "What?"

"Pull. Over."

Dean stared at Sam, the hard set of his jaw letting Dean know he wasn't joking. Sighing Dean pulled off on the shoulder. This was a mistake. He shouldn't have started this conversation or let it go as far as it had. They were working, they were looking for Dad. Dad who was in trouble and needed them. What he didn't need was his boys getting into it on the side of some nowhere road.

"Look, Sam," he said, throwing the Impala into park. "Just forget I even brought it up. Its my problem to deal with, not yours."

"No," Sam shook his head. "Its not just your problem. If you don't get that I was happy with you, then obviously I'm the problem."

"I get what you're trying to do, man, but forget it," Dean insisted. He didn't want half hearted words that Sam begrudgingly admitted to keep some kind of relationship going with Dean while he was around. He wouldn't even be there long enough for it to matter.

"I'm not going to forget anything, Dean," Sam retorted. "You're the one that can't believe you ever meant a damn thing to me. Why do you think I stuck around for so long in the first place? I was hoping you'd change your mind. That you'd want…" Sam glanced away, "something more."

"Because what I had wasn't enough for you?"

Sam whirled back to face him. "I never said that! It wasn't enough for you. Can't you see that, Dean?"

"Forget it, Sam," he repeated. "Go back to your apple pie life, marry Jess, and keep lying to yourself." Dean knew before the words had even left his mouth that they were wrong.

Unfair, even. But most importantly, they were hurtful.

"Why not?" Sam laughed bitterly. "That's all I've ever done."

He got out of the Impala, letting the door slam shut behind him with enough force to rock the car, and moved to stand in front. He kept his back to Dean, running a hand through his hair as he cursed himself for even bothering.

Sighing, Dean climbed out of the Impala after Sam. He'd gone too far again. They'd wasted so many days hurting and all of this one arguing over who hurt more, when what they should have been doing was apologizing. Trying to get in as much brother time as they could. Dean should take what he could get and be happy with it, instead of giving up what Sam was offering.

"Did you ever think about me?" he asked, leaning against the Impala beside his brother. "Just once when you were filling out those applications, looking through schools?" He crossed one leg over the other, watching the sun sink. That's all he wanted to know, was if he'd ranked anything in Sam's life at all.

"All the time," Sam said, wiping the back of his hand furiously across his face. "That's the problem."

"How is that the problem?" Dean muttered bitterly. He should have been more concerned with the fact that his brother was crying, but the feeling of insignificance was only intensifying with each of Sam's efforts.

He shouldn't be something that holds Sam back, some kind of damn obligation. There was supposed to be more to their relationship then that.

"I thought about you every damn day, Dean. Every waking second," He yelled, tears sliding down his cheeks now. "Then, at Stanford. All thtime. That's not normal! That's the fucking problem!"

"Sam," Dean said, pushing away from the hood to face him. "What are you saying?" How could that drive Sam so far away from him? It wasn't like Dean didn't think about Sam every second of the day too. He was his baby brother, his whole fucking life. What was with him?

"I'm saying I'm in love with you." Sam dropped his head, his voice filling with shame. "I always have been."

So maybe Dean wasn't as insignificant as he'd thought. And maybe the words he hadn't given a second thought to earlier, had hurt a hell of a lot more than he'd ever imagined they could.

"What?" he gaped. Sure his mind was playing tricks on him. Some twisted sort of wishful thinking, anything other than what it was.

"I'm sorry," Sam choked out, moving around Dean. "I shouldn't have said anything. Just forget it."

Forget it? Sam had just confessed to being in love with him. To have always been in love with him. To fucking running away because of it, instead of just telling Dean. That wasn't something he could forget-even if he wanted to.

"Sam, wait," he said, catching Sam's arm. "What are you saying?"

He shrugged away from Dean's touch. "Don't worry about it, Dean. I never should have brought it up."

"Never brought it up?" Dean demanded, crowding Sam back against the Impala. "You just said you're in love with me. Is this some kind of sick joke? Because I've really had it with the back and forth, Sam. Wanting to be around me and then gone," he said snapping his fingers. "Like that."

"It's not a joke," he said hoarsely. "You think I want to love you?"

Dean winced. That stung more than it should, knowing how hard it must have been for Sam to keep that a secret for so long. To have to look at Dean and beg for forgiveness when he was already struggling so much. Dean watched Sam sink back against the Impala, his shoulders slumping in defeat.

"Hey," he said, laying a hesitant hand on Sam's shoulder. His brother jerked nervously, keeping his face down and hand pressed to his forehead.

Dean swore under his breath. How had he managed to fuck this up so badly for Sam? This wasn't a game to him, this was his heart Dean was stepping all over. "Hey," he tried again, moving his hand up to stroke Sam's hair. "Sammy, c'mon, man," he pleaded.

His heart ached for Sam. Wishing that he could say that he'd been in love with Sam for as long as he'd been in love with Dean, but he couldn't. He'd never thought of Sam like that before.

"Fuck," Sam hissed. "I don't know what to do anymore, Dean. Running didn't work, staying…" He finally raised tear filled eyes and shook his head. "I can't do this."

"Yes you can, Sam," Dean promised him. "We can do this."

"No," Sam whimpered, trying to push Dean's hands away from him. But Dean couldn't give up that easily. He wasn't going to lose Sam to Stanford again, or to Jess. This was his Sam. He'd taken care of him, done everything he could for him, and he didn't have the strength to push Sam away-now or ever. Consequences be damned.

Dean cupped the back of Sam's neck and brought their mouths together in a soft brush of lips. "Yes," he breathed.

He loved Sam more than anything, he always had. If all it was going to take to keep Sam with him, to keep Sam happy was a more physical relationship then like hell if Dean was going to deny him that. Nothing else mattered.