Disclaimer: Not the proud owner of Supernatural. No copyright infringement intended.

Summary: He can't explain the dream to Dean, can't tell Dean that his entire miserable life flashed before his eyes in a blink, vivid and absolutely real. He can't tell Dean any of it, and so he just stands there and sobs. TeenChesters.

Warning: There's a bit of Abusive!John in this fic. I know he was a good man and did the best he could—that doesn't mean his grief and rage couldn't have gotten a hold of him from time to time. Please don't hate on me for it.

Author's Note: I wrote this fic pre-season 4, so it's a bit out-dated. But still worth a read, me thinks.

Thanks for reading!

Gone

By wave obscura

Sam knows exactly what Dean is going to say.

Dean is seventeen and muscular and ivory skinned and as pretty as a boy can be. He leans against the hood of the Impala, the collar popped on Dad's leather jacket and squinting in the sun, one steel-toed boot propped up on the bumper. His face is ruggedly textured with stubble, frowning mouth undulating around the moist remains of a toothpick. He's taken up smoking, which will only last a month or two before his childhood asthma starts to make a come back, but for now he takes a luxurious drag on his cigarette and lets the smoke slowly curl out from beneath his tongue in perfectly formed Os. And though Dean has told Sammy over and over again that smoking is idiotic and he's only doing it for a couple of months to deepen his voice because chicks dig it, Sam can't help but admire him.

Sam is freshly fourteen and grew four inches this summer so he's not pudgy anymore but his face is splotchy and volcanic with acne. His voice still cracks, his pants are too short and his black shirt is spotted with faded bloodstains because once-upon-a-time it belonged to Dean.

They stand in the sun and watch a teardrop-shaped mass of students flow across the parking lot and into the towering school of the pissant town they've been trapped in for the last six months.

Six months and Dad hasn't found a damn thing to hunt, like all the evil in the world has disappeared just to piss him off.

Just this morning, as Dad stomped around the motel muttering to himself and breaking plates and EMF meters and whatever else he could get his hands on, Dean turned to Sam and whispered: He's furious cause nothing to hunt, the anger catches up with you.

Bull, Sammy had replied. All that repressed pain that Dad can't deal with. He doesn't need a hunt. He needs a fucking therapist.

Whatever, Dr. Freud, was Dean's reply. Hand me them Cheetoes.

In front of the school Sammy's classmates eyeball the gleaming car; Dean gives them a cooler-than-you nod, glancing sideways at them through a cloud of smoke. They drift by in mild awe, but then their eyes slide over to Sam in his too-short jeans and patchy face and the admiration fades into smirks.

"Dean—" Sam begins, but Dean shakes his head, throws the cigarette on the ground and stamps it out with his boot.

"Nope."

"But Dean—"

"You're going, Sam."

And that's it. Sam knew it was gonna happen this way but a rock still forms in his stomach and he knows he's about to cry and boy, does it make him feel like a douche bag. But it just might work.

"But I'm worried about you," Sam lets his voice crack and his eyes gloss over with tears. But he won't let them fall yet, he'll wait for Dean to stand up and put his hand on his shoulder and then he'll let them flow.

It had to work. He had to make this work.

Dean's hands are soft against Sam's shoulders. "It's a screw, Sammy. That's all it is."

Swallowing his pride, Sam tries his best to sound six years old. "But I read that if they don't sterilize properly, you could get an infection and your entire arm could rot off."

The corner of Dean's mouth upturns. Next thing Sammy knows his head is trapped in Dean's musky armpit and Dean is rubbing his knuckles painfully back and forth on Sammy's scalp. "I'm gonna tell Dad to take that damn computer away if you keep scaring yourself on those phony medical websites, you hear me?"

"Ow, Dean! Stop it!"

"You hear me?"

Sammy knows Dean is joking but the tears start flowing anyway, and soon Sammy is crying so hard he's shaking and he doesn't even care if his classmates see him.

"Hey," Dean says. He releases Sam from the headlock and holds him at arms length.

Sam stares down at the charm on Dean's chest, a brass smudge through his tears.

"It's a metal plate and a coupla screws, Sammy. Outta my wrist. That's it, okay?" Dean lifts Sam's chin. "Come on, dude. What's wrong with you? Since when does Sammy Winchester want to skip school?"

Sam can't tell his brother about his vivid, horrible dream. It would only worry him and seriously piss off dad.

Sam can't tell Dean that the gin-stinking doctor will perform the surgery with a contaminated scalpel. He can't tell Dean that he's going to forget he's not supposed to eat before surgery, that he will grab a bag of chips from the vending machine in the hospital waiting room and Dad won't notice because his nose will be buried in his journal.

He can't tell Dean that he's going to choke on his own vomit during surgery and that the drunk doctor will manage to turn him over so he doesn't asphyxiate, but that it will lead to an infection in his lungs, which will help feed the infection in his wrist.

He can't tell Dean that he will go septic, waste away until he looks 70 years old and that two weeks from now, as Dad and Sam cry at his bedside, his heart will give out and he will die.

He can't tell Dean that Dad will rampage through the hospital with his shotgun, not because he wants to shoot somebody but because he wants to shoot himself. He can't tell Dean that policemen will haul Dad off to jail after he punches the doctor and kicks the crap out of a couple of burly orderlies, or that when the arsenal in the trunk of the Impala is discovered, Sam will attend Dean's funeral alone before a fat, sweaty-palmed woman in an outdated gray suit ships him off to a foster home for the rest of his life.

He can't explain the dream to Dean, can't tell him that his entire miserable life flashed before his eyes in a blink, vivid and absolutely real—abusive foster father here, group home there, drugs and drinking and finally Sammy, 26 wasted-years-old and unshaven and dirty and smelly and Jesus Christ never been so drunk in my life, cursing and spitting on Dean's grave, telling Dean and his goddamn wrist surgery to go fuck itself for ruining his life.

He can't tell Dean any of this and so he just stands there and sobs.

"Sam, this is ridiculous." The comforting hand tenses on Sam's shoulder.

Sam chokes back the little baby noises that are hitching from his throat, keeps his head lowered so Dean can't see his still free-flowing tears. "You don't even need to do it, Dean. It'll all be for nothing."

Dean releases Sam and steps backward, cradling his wrist in one hand. "Whatever, dude. Go to school."

"Your wrist is healed. Why the hell you wanna screw it up again?"

"Go the fuck to school, Sam."

"Why you wanna screw it up again? Why?"

"Because it's swollen and stiff and it fucking hurts, Sam. You know that."

"That's bullshit," Sam spits. "The doctor said the plate could stay in there forever. You just want it out because that's what Dad wants."

"He doesn't want me to be in pain."

"Dad doesn't give two shits if you're in pain. He just thinks it's bad luck."

Dean visibly shrinks at Sam's words, his face darkens, and Sam knows he's said the right thing.

The wrong thing.

Dean's eyes harden. He's suddenly a brick wall, arm pointed resolutely at the school behind them. "Get your ass in that building, Sam. I said now."

Sam has no choice. He knows what he has to do, and that he shouldn't do it, but if he doesn't, Dean is going to die. He's never been so sure about anything.

He narrows his eyes at his big brother, swallows back the guilt over what he's about to do.

"Dad thinks you're a pussy."

Dean looks down, notices he's still cradling his wrist and drops both hands to his sides. Sam doesn't look, can't look, but knows that Dean's fists are curling. "What the fuck did you say to me?"

Sam lowers his voice to a breathy growl that sounds uncannily like their father."Whakina man needs a metal plate to help mend somethin' as weenie as a broken wrist, boy?"

And then it happens. Sammy sees a flash of bright light, feels his elbow crack against the Impala when he flies backward. Unseen classmates gasp and mutter "what the hell?"

Sammy can't open his eyes against the pain and sun. The Impala's door creeks open and Dean is shoving him into the car, across the driver's seat and into the passenger side door.

Sammy's eye hurts where Dean punched him, but he leans against the car window and is happy. He can patch things up with Dean, and most importantly, Dean will stay alive.

The Impala is speeding away and Sam can hear Dean breathing heavily, but he can't tell if it's out of anger or remorse. They drive in awkward silence for what seems like forever, long enough for the pain in Sammy's eye to set in. He tries to stay silent but he can't help but hunched over a little and groan, his hand wandering to the swollen and tender skin.

"Let me see," Dean says roughly. There are tears in his voice.

Sam turns his face so his brother can look.

"Jesus Christ." Dean's fingers brush the bruise. "Well, don't worry, Sammy. You and I are going to have matching shiners when Dad sees."

But he doesn't apologize. A cold rock forms in Sam's chest. Dean doesn't apologize because he's mad and hurt, because Sam went there without even saying it: Dad loves me more than he loves you.

"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam says. He attempts open his eye. It won't budge.

"Fuck," Dean says. "Fuck."

The Impala creeps up on their motel, then flies right by.

"Fuck me," Dean says again. "Goddamn it, Sam."

Out of his good eye Sam watches the motel grow smaller and smaller in the passenger side mirror. Dean's surgery is scheduled for 9 a.m. He imagines Dad pacing around their tiny living space, checking his watch and grumbling.

"Where are we going?" He says, looking back at Dean.

Dean doesn't answer, just keeps driving, shaking the steering wheel left and right more than he needs to.

Sammy is too afraid to ask again. His chest is tight with guilt, his eye is throbbing, but underneath he is relieved. The surgery is forgotten.

The next town over Dean pulls the car over to a side street and shuts off the engine.

"I'm sorry, okay?" Dean turns his head toward Sammy but keeps his eyes low, staring at Sam's chest like he can't bear to look at his face. "I shouldna hit you like that, Sammy. M'sorry."

Sam snorts. He doesn't care about the eye. It'll throb, sure, but Dad'll let him wash down a few aspirin with a swig or two of Jack before sending him to bed.

"S'okay," he says with a smile that hurts his face. "I was being an asshole. Let's just go… Dad's gonna be pissed if we're late."

"There should be a cold pack in the glovebox. Put it on your eye."

"I'll wait until we get home."

"We can't go home."

"What?"

"Dad's gonna fucking kill me, Sammy. We can't go home."

Sam lifts his eyebrow at Dean. "Don't worry, dude. I'll tell him I got hit at school, or that someone threw a ball at me in gym—"

"Since when have you ever been able to lie to the man, Sammy?" Then it was Dean's turn to impersonate their father: "Don't try to con a con man, son."

Sam shrugs. "Why you so afraid to go home?"

Dean clears his throat. "It's nothin', Sammy. Nothing."

His hand—the one with the plate in it—rubs the back of his neck.

Sam gets a dirty, achy feeling his stomach. Whatever Dean's gonna say...

"Dad's just being a little rough on me lately, is all."

"Huh?"

"Cold pack is in glovebox, Sammy."

"Dean."

"Sammy."

"Dean."

Dean shakes his head the way he does when he thinks Sam is nagging. "You know he's been drinking a little more since we haven't found a hunt in so long."

"Yeah?"

Dean shrugs. "He just wants to spar a little bit, you know. Blow off some steam."

"Uh huh."

Dean shrugs again.

"He being too rough?"

"It's been twelve years since that thing killed mom, Sam. Twelve years. Dad never thought it would go on for this long."

"He's been beating you up?"

"Now you're just being a drama queen."

Sam turns to face his big brother, who's now staring stiffly out the front windshield, his hands tight around the steering wheel like they're still speeding down the road. Sam notices for the first time that Dean doesn't look well, that his eyes are sunken like he hasn't been sleeping.

"He has! He calls it sparring but really he's been beating the crap out of you, hasn't he?"

Dean has been stiff lately, Sammy suddenly realizes. Walking like he's sore, like something hurts. And he's all-the-sudden shy, changing his clothes in the bathroom, sleeping with a shirt on. He's even stopped sling-shotting his dirty underwear at Sam's face in the mornings before jogging bare-ass naked into the bathroom for a shower (a ritual Sam doesn't miss).

And cold, too—wearing Dad's leather jacket even in the blazing sun.

Dad.

That bastard.

"Dean, you—we—we have to tell somebody. We have to—"

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Dean says. "We're not telling anybody shit."

"Then what? Let him beat on you till he feels better?"

Dean snorts. "Stop being a drama queen, Sammy. It's not that big of a deal. Dad'll find us a hunt, and thing'll go back to normal."

"But Dean—"

"We're not destroying this family just because Dad is a little stressed out."

"It's no big deal? Then let me see," Sammy whispers.

"See what?"

"See what kinda no-big-whoop damage he's done."

"Sammy—"

"What? I probably won't even be able to see it, right? Cause it's no big fucking deal?"

"Sammy—"

"Come on, Dean. Let me see the kitten scratches he put on your arms."

Giving up, Dean lifts his shirt, rolling his eyes as Sammy gasps at what he sees. Dean's chest and abdomen are a storm of blacks, greens, purples, blues. Before he can stop himself, Sammy reaches out to touch it and Dean hisses in pain.

"Oww. Knock it off."

"You can't be serious, Dean. Dad… dad can't—"

"They're just bruises, Sam. They'll heal. That's not the point." Dean absently rubs a blackened dent on his ribcage. After a moment he realizes what he's doing and yanks his shirt back down around himself. "The point, Sam, is that we can't go home. Not with that shiner. Dad'll—Dad'll do something he'll regret."

"Like kill you?"

"I thought I told you to stop being a fucking drama queen."

"Drama queen? DAD IS BEATING YOU, DEAN!" Sammy roars.

Dean practically giggles at Sammy's outburst. "Jesus, Sam. He's not beating me. He's just playing a little rough, okay? Now for christ's sake, will you get some ice on that eye?"

Pissed now, Sammy violently rummages in the Impala's cavernous glovebox. Unmarked pill bottles, napkins, packets of ketchup, pencils, lockpicks, bullets, an asthma inhaler at least a decade old, a rusty hammer—finally Sam's hand closes around a coldpack. He cracks it, plops it on his eyes and turns back to his brother.

Dean gets that look on his face. Someone who wasn't his baby brother would think it meant Dean was in the middle of forming a brilliant plan. But Sam knew better. Dean was fighting tears. Dean was terrified.

It didn't make sense. Dean looked up to Dad, revered Dad, worshipped Dad.

But he never, ever, feared Dad. Unless…

"You afraid he's gonna go after me, Dean?" Sam says quietly. "Is that what you're afraid of? Cause that's stupid, Dean. It's just plain fucking stupid. Dad would never—"

Sammy stops dead. But it's too late. The unsaid falls between them with a big, tactless thud.

Dad would never hit me. Dad loves me.

Dean's Adam's apple bobs up and down as he swallows.

"—I mean…" Sammy stutters. "Why do you think he would—"

"Because I'm all beat to hell." Dean's not crying yet but his eyes are filmed over and shiny with tears. "I'm in the ER next time he does this shit, and he knows it, okay?" Dean lowers his voice like he's tired himself out. "But he's still pissed as hell, and there's still no hunt."

Sam doesn't know what to say. He sits there with his mouth flopped wide open, and his eye hurts, and his brother, his big-ass brother, looks wilted and tiny like a goddamn dried up funeral bouquet.

Sam knows he's getting too old to cling to his brother like a baby, but sliding across the seat he rests his head on Dean's shoulder, snakes his arms around Dean's stomach. Dean flinches slightly—he must be awfully sore—but soon he leans in, resting his head on top of Sam's. Dean never hugs Sam back, but this familiar arrangement comforts them both. Always has.

"It's not true," Sam whispers, "What you said about Dad and the ER… he doesn't realize how bad he's hurting you."

For him it's a grandest gesture of understanding he's given his father since as long as he can remember. Since he got old enough to realize that Dean wasn't God and his father sure as hell wasn't either. Since his war with his father began.

"Dad—if Dad saw how bad he was hurting you… if he saw those bruises—"

"S'not that bad, Sam," Dean says weakly, unconvincingly. He shifts to leans against the driver's side door and Sam follows, leaning probably too heavy against him.

Sam can tell by the way Dean is breathing that he's in pain, and that Sam's clinging is what's causing it, but he can't help himself, wants to comfort his brother so bad that he tightens his hold. Dean flinches hard, a sharp intake of breath masking a pained moan.

"Sam," he says tightly.

"Sorry." Sam lets his hands fall away from Dean but keeps his head on Dean's shoulder. "Why haven't you wrapped it?"

"Wrapped what?"

"That cracked rib."

"What cra—"

"Come on, Dean. You can tell just by looking at it."

"Sam," Dean warns. "I'm the big brother."

"I know," Sam says flippantly. "And since you don't have one, I'll tell you what mine would say. My big brother would ask me why I haven't wrapped that fucking rib."

Dean rolls his eyes, sighs, but smiles a little. "Puts too much pressure on the bruising. Have to wait until they clear up little."

A hot wave of anger washes over Sam's chest and opens his mouth to call Dad a selfish obsessed cocksucker, to demand that Dean not put up with another minute of Dad's bullshit.

But then, his breath quietly interrupted by pain, Dean maneuvers his arm around Sam, rubbing his hand up and down Sammy's shoulder. "I love you, kid."

For the first time all day, Sam doesn't know what to say.

He leans against his brother, drifting off to the soundtrack of his brother's heartbeat and for some reason remembers the last time he sat in Dean's lap. He must have been nine or ten or eleven or some terribly embarrassing age, and they were out in public somewhere with their father and some other hunters, and it had been a long day and Sam was sleepy and he just wanted somewhere soft and warm to nap. He'd crawled in Dean's lap and Dean and folded his arms around him when heard Dad laugh uncomfortably.

"Dean's had to be his mother all these years," Dad had said to his hunter friends with another awkward snort. Then he got up and gently pulled Sam down off Dean's lap. "I think you're getting a little old to cuddle with your brother, son."

That was all he said. But Sam remembered feeling dirty and ashamed, abnormal, weird.

But now he hears the steady rhythm of his brother's breathing, the calm, painless beat of his heart, and doesn't care.

It's nearly dusk before Dean jerks awake. He straightens himself, clears his throat, uses his elbows to nudge Sam away.

Dean is back in business.

They need to get home. The sun is sinking in the sky, an orange half-lump disappearing in spirals of smog behind rows of squat little office buildings. Soon it will be dark, and there is nothing—nothing—more against Winchester protocol than coming home after dark without plans or phone calls.

"Sam," he says, the tears gone from his voice.

"Yeah?"

"We gotta go home."

Sam says nothing. He can feel that Dean is beginning to calm, lying to himself so the panic won't overtake him. Dad is Dad and not a monster. Not always.

Hardly ever.

"But you gotta promise me something." Hand on the e-brake, Dean turns to look Sam with big, serious, pleading eyes.

"What?" Sam's getting a headache. He wants his aspirin and shots of Jack.

"We'll tell him your smart mouth got you decked cause it ain't a lie. But Sam? He wants me to go somewhere with him, I don't want to hear fucking a word out your mouth, you understand me?"

Sam doesn't understand Dean at all, but nods his head anyway. Someone has to tell Dad what he's doing to Dean.

"I swear to God, Sammy—"

"Okay."

"I fucking mean it, Sam—"

"Alright! Jesus."

But Dean's not satisfied. He shakes his head, still fighting off tears, sits up straight as an arrow, tries to put on his sternest face but Sam can tell he's drained. Again the hand returns to his rib, rubbing light circles of totally ineffective comfort.

"Sam… it's—it's worth it. To me. Okay?"

"Worth what?"

Dean shrugs. "If it means I don't have to worry …"

Sam picks at a dollop of dried salsa on the Impala's seat.

"It's worth it to me," Dean repeats, as if that's supposed to explain everything. "It's my job. Just. Let me be good at my job, Sam."

Sam shakes his head, tears dropping like deflated marbles from his eyes.

"Let me be good at my job, Sam. Please. Please."

When Sam says nothing, when Sam refuses to even look at him, Dean starts the car and drives back toward the motel.

Dad's sitting on the stoop, a frozen bottle of Jack hung slack in his fingers. He doesn't stand, doesn't even move, when Dean pulls the Impala into their parking space.

"Where the hell you boys been?" Dad says. He's drunk, eyes dim and unfocused.

"Cleaning up after Sam's smart fucking mouth, that's where," Dean says, getting out, slamming the car door. He keeps a hand on his cracked rib, and he's limping slightly. Sam can't believe he hasn't noticed before now. "I'm sorry we're late, sir."

"Sorry," Dad mutters with contempt. When he finally sees his youngest son, his eyes are soft. "Your brother give you that shiner, Sammy?"

Dean gives Sammy that look, and for a moment Sam's mouth moves and nothing comes out.

Years later, when Sam and Dean are both men and a thick armor has built it's way around Sammy's heart, he will be able to look Dean in the eye and say no when Dean tries to protect him at his own expensive, even in those few moments when Dean dares to be vulnerable, when Dean looks at him with shining eyes that say please, Sammy. Please. I'm begging you.

But today, Sammy's heart is too soft, and he can't, he won't, say no.

"Yes, sir," he whispers, "Dean punched me in the eye."

Dad nods knowingly, stands up, leaves the bottle of Jack on the stoop. Dean steps forward. Offering himself.

Sacrificing himself.

Dad announces he and Dean are walking to the store to get Sammy some dinner. He orders Sammy into the house. Sam goes, swearing from the bottom of his heart, silently, to the sky, that he'll never follow his father's orders again.

Never.

After a few minutes he returns to the stoop, holds the bottle of Jack against his swollen eye, condensation and tears swirling cold and smooth on his cheeks.

At least, Sam tells himself, hugging the bottle, at least he won't have that surgery.

From somewhere in the dark he hears Dean's body slamming up against god knows what, hears an involuntary cry as the air is forced from his body.

He hasn't saved Dean from anything today, Sam realizes. Hasn't saved either of them from anything. He closes his eyes against the smooth wetness of the bottle, feels heat on his brow that he can't explain. Then it's there again, the flash of his life, over in a blink and already fading as he tries to make sense it.

Somewhere, somewhere outside of his body he sees his brother, aged ten years or more, all beard stubble and worry lines, hazel eyes watering.

Hazel eyes saying goodbye, even while his mouth is saying please, Sammy. Please.

Sammy, 26 wasted-years-old and unshaven and dirty and smelly and Jesus Christ never been so drunk in my life, bloody, blistered palms as he digs and digs and digs, blubbering over Dean's shredded body, spitting and cursing and digging.

There's a sharp pain in Sammy's heart, so sharp he can't move or see or even breathe.

And then, nothing.