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Listening in the Dark

by Fraidy Cat

Dean jerked awake, most of his senses on immediate alert. He could feel the threadbare bedspread, both with his fingers, which traced the pattern of near-holes worn through the fabric – and with his body, which could not achieve much warmth under linens that had seen their best days long ago. His nose twitched in the musty air of the cheap motel room, and he suppressed a sneeze. He still tasted last night's pepperoni pizza, despite having brushed his teeth before tucking himself into bed. In his ears was a nondescript echo of sound. The sound had no doubt awakened him; it was probably the soft click of a door. Dean couldn't be sure, for he denied himself the sense of sight. He kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut, because he knew what he would see if he opened them, and looked toward the other bed.

It would be empty.

Sam would be gone – on one of his midnight rendezvous with Ruby – and that would be more than Dean could take. If he saw that Sam was gone again, he would have to be hurt, and angry, and terrified, and alone, until Sam returned. If he returned. If Sam came back safe, and in one piece…well, then Dean would still be hurt, and angry, and terrified, and alone.

He used to be Sam's hero, his little brother's world. He used to mean something – when Sam was Sammy. Sometimes, Dean wondered who was tortured the most during the four months/40 years he spent in hell. Something had happened to his brother during that time. Something had killed Sammy and left Sam in his place. Sam kept secrets. Sam lied. Sam did the opposite of what Dean begged. The pain of losing Sammy was so great, it was like a continuation of hell, some kind of leftover torture Dean had to endure here on earth.

He knew that much of the anger was only a hurt that he could not express, or even admit to himself. His years in hell, however, had taught him the concept of righteous anger. He was righteously angry at Sam for losing Sammy. Worse than losing him, even – Sam had thrown Sammy away. His baby brother had been so…good, damnit. Innocent, full of love and faith and morality. Dean had always been so proud of Sammy, so pleased with him. He hated Sam for taking that away from him.

Yet -- lately, against his better judgment -- he still loved the kid. He still hoped that Sammy would come back; and that's what left him terrified. What if Sam got himself hurt, or killed, on one of his little midnight escapades? What if Ruby really found Lilith and Sam faced her head-on? What if Sam left some night and didn't – or couldn't – return to him? What if Sammy never came back?

Dean had died – death by hellhound, violent and tortuous. He had endured 30 years on the receiving end of torture before he spent 10 more discovering that in hell, it was not better to give than to receive. He had crawled out of a grave, and done his damnedest to put himself back together – only to find himself alone. Sam could be standing right next to him, and the distance between them was so great that Dean still felt alone. Sam chose to leave him, night after night, and they both pretended that Dean didn't hear him go.

The soft grunt from across the room startled Dean so much that his eyes flew open and he tensed in bed so hard that the boxsprings objected. Almost against his will, he turned his head.

A great lump of Sam was floundering in the other bed, trying to sit up, but more asleep than awake. "Dean?" he mumbled. "You okay? What's wrong?"

Dean was nearly overcome with relief, almost helpless with love. He blinked against the pressure building behind his eyes. "I'm okay, Sam," he answered gruffly. "Just...dropped my cell phone when I was checking the time."

Sam yawned hugely and moved on his back between the sheets as if he was treading water. " 'Zit time to get up?" he asked, making a stab at sitting up again.

"No," Dean answered. "Go back to sleep, Sam. We've got hours until daylight."

Sam yawned again, flopping over onto his side and hugging a pillow to his chest. "Goo," he slurred. " 'm tired."

Dean didn't doubt the truth of that statement. Sam leant new meaning to the phrase "burning the candle at both ends", what with his sneaking off into the dark of night more often than not. He turned onto his own side, and peered through the darkness at the softly snoring lump that was Sam. His Sam, whose first concern upon waking had been Dean: Was Dean all right? Did Dean need him?

"I do, Sammy," Dean whispered, his voice thick with emotion, "I do need you."

He was almost asleep when he heard it – Sam whispering across the darkness that separated them now, even in the light of day. "I need you too, Dean."

Dean blinked his eyes once, startled. In the moonlight that filtered through the thin curtains, he could see Sam looking at him. He knew that in the morning, neither of them would speak of this moment – but both would remember it. The musty room shimmered with promise, and Dean allowed himself to feel hope. He smiled, and closed his eyes, and dreamed of Sammy coming home.

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END