Things changed. There was still arguing, still definite tension between Sam and John, but Dean had finally begun to realize that there was no family without arguing. It was just…inherent. And though it took awhile and there were still painfully awkward moments, Dean got it eventually, got it and accepted it, realized that it was just part of his family, and therefore he loved it.
Time passed quickly after that, a blur of hunting and school and living and driving that snuck up until Sam was a senior in high school and Dean was 22 and Dean was beginning to realize that his family wasn't going to remain the way it was for too much longer. It started subtle at first, little things Sam said or did that made Dean think that his little brother wasn't planning on staying, and though John remained pretty much oblivious to it, Dean knew.
They were staying in a motel, again, this one nicer than most they'd inhabited, and it was the middle of the night. Dean was flipping tiredly through channels, frustrated from the lack of anything remotely entertaining, Sam sitting at the table, presumably doing homework for calculus or something. John was trying to sleep, but it wasn't easy in a room as small as theirs was.
"Hey," Sam said, joining Dean on the couch, offering him a beer. Dean took it with a grunt of acknowledgement, and Sam plopped down next to him.
"So. I, uh, I want to talk to you," Sam said quietly, and Dean raised his eyebrows.
"I'm listening. Shoot." Sam shifted awkwardly on the couch.
"Um, alone, Dean," he said, and a smile pushed at the corner of Dean's mouth.
"You mean in the old place?" He asked, and Sam nodded, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment. Dean stood up, stretching his arms above his head, and they walked outside, quietly shutting the door behind them. Still grinning and shaking his head, Dean stuck his key in the trunk of the Impala and opened it.
"Okay Sammy, you first," he said, motioning to the car, and Sam grinned and sat butt first on top of the false bottom. His feet dangled over the edge, towards the ground, and as Dean sat next to him, he could remember when they had done this as children, when they could both fit into it, bunched together and giggling as they talked in hushed tones.
"So, what's up, brother?" Dean asked, knowing the answer but wanting to give Sam a chance to talk. Sam took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders awkwardly, sighed.
"I'm going to Stanford next fall," he said quietly, holding out a letter, and even as Dean's stomach sank, he felt an overwhelming pride in his younger brother's achievement.
"Sammy…that's great," Dean said, grasping the letter, but his breath seemed to be gone and it came out quiet and subdued, but he hoped Sam wouldn't notice. As he watched his brother deflate almost visibly, Dean knew that Sam had noticed.
"No, Sam, I'm really, really proud of you," Dean said quietly, looking his brother in the eye. "Always knew you were gonna be something." For a minute, he swore he could see tears in Sam's eyes, but the next second they were gone.
"Thanks Dean," he whispered, and Dean smiled.
"Yeah. You know, you should be a lawyer," he said, and Sam laughed.
"Why, because I argue so much?"
"Well, yeah, and you're like a freaking genius." Sam laughed again.
"You really think I could, Dean?" He asked, and the smile faded from his face. For a moment, he looked vulnerable and pleading, and Dean smiled.
"Course I do, Sammy, you're like the nerdiest kid I know. That's gotta count for something, right?" Sam nodded, smiling. Dean studied him for a second, then cleared his throat.
"Sam. When are you going to tell Dad?" He asked quietly, and Sam looked down.
"I don't know, Dean. I, um, I might not tell him. I might just, you know, I might just go and then write him or something…"
"Whoa, you are not doing that, Sam," Dean said, his voice hardening. "You are not leaving me here to pick up the pieces when you ditch Dad without even a goodbye. You are not leaving me here to fix that, Sam, you gotta tell him. That'll break him, Sam, you know it will." Sam snorted, looking away from Dean.
"Yeah right, Dean, we both know that Dad could care less." Dean could feel anger rising like he hadn't for years.
"Shut up, Sam. You know that's a lie. Yeah, Dad might like having me around to help on hunts and to share a drink, but he's damn proud of you, Sam. He likes me, yeah, but he damn near worships you, Sam. Have you seen how proud he is of you? He loves you, Sam. You're everything. You tell him, Sam. You cannot leave me to do that, Sam, you can't." Sam didn't answer, ground his teeth in frustration and swung his long legs out of the trunk and onto the floor. He didn't say anything as he stalked back towards the motel, and Dean sighed as he followed him, slamming the trunk closed behind them, tucking the forgotten letter into his pants pocket.
A week later, and Sam had yet to say anything to John, and things were tense again. Dean had tried to talk to Sam again with little success, his brother's stubborn wall difficult to penetrate.
"Sammy, come on, stop being a girl. You've been avoiding me for a week now." Sam made no reply, and Dean sighed.
"Seriously man, come on," he said, settling himself at the table across from his younger brother. "I know you're pissed at me, but that doesn't change things. I am proud of you, Sammy, but you have to tell Dad. You have to."
"Dean, just get off my back, okay? I don't need this from you!" John's head popped out of the bathroom, steam billowing out, and he looked confused and pissed.
"What the hell are you two yelling about?" He demanded loudly, and Sam ducked his head as Dean shrugged, a thin smile on his face.
"Oh, you know, the usual," he said, shooting a look at Sam. "Whether Jessica Alba or Halle Berry is hotter." John shook his head.
"Well, you boys had better keep the volume down, got it?" Both boys nodded, and John's head disappeared inside the bathroom again. A second later, it emerged a second time.
"Halle Berry," he said, and the door slammed shut. Dean looked at Sam with raised eyebrows.
"Halle Berry, huh?" He asked, a smirk playing over his lips, and Sam smiled slightly.
"I'm sorry, Dean, didn't mean to lose my temper."
"Whatever, Princess. It's cool. Doesn't change things." He laughed to himself as he could practically hear Sam's eyes rolling behind him.
Sam was just drifting off to sleep, Dean's snores wafting gently over him, when he heard something slamming in the kitchen of their small room. Dean's snoring stopped abruptly with a startled snort, and he saw his older brother sit bolt upright.
"What the hell?" Sam heard him mutter as he swung his long legs over the side of the bed. Muffled shouting was now audible and Sam had a sinking feeling he knew what was going on. Dean was halfway to the door now, Sam right behind him, and they could hear snatches of the ranting going on.
"damn…lying…Stanford…" Both boys stopped dead in their tracks.
"Oh, sh-" Dean started, but he was cut off by a bruising blow to his face that sent him careening into the wall.
"You bastard! You left the letter out! You told him!" Sam screamed, sending another blow to Dean's face. Sam was so overwhelmed with rage and frustration and, though he wouldn't admit it, fear, that he was almost completely unaware of himself, was surprised when he realized that his knuckles were bleeding and Dean was on the ground beneath him.
"You done yet, Sammy?" Dean spat, anger burning in his eyes. But he hadn't fought back, and Sam couldn't figure it out. This was the same brother who had held his own against their father. Sam knew that Dean could kick his ass if he wanted to, so why the hell..? Sam scrambled off of his brother, looking at him in bewilderment.
"Why didn't you do anything?" He asked in confusion, shaking his aching fists. Dean sat up, wincing. He didn't answer, instead focusing on his injuries. His tongue snaked out and touched the blood from his split lip, a frown crossing his features along with a small hiss. Sam stared for a second then threw the door open, completely forgetting for the moment what was waiting outside.
"Sam!" John barked, waving the letter in his hand. "What the hell is this shit? Answer me!" Sam couldn't remember ever seeing his dad so pissed before, and he couldn't help the shiver that went down his spine.
"You planning on telling me about this?" John stepped forward, hand raised, and Sam cringed backward instinctively. He was startled when he bumped into something.
"Dean?" He whispered. He turned and saw his brother standing there, blood and what he realized were tears running down his face.
"No Dad," Dean said quietly, and his voice cracked in the middle and Sam couldn't help the tears from running down his own face as he realized that his older brother, who he had mistrusted, who had taken his punches and who was hurt as much by Sam's decision as their father, his older brother was defending him still. And Sam knew that he wasn't good enough for his brother, that he had never been good enough. How in the hell had someone like him gotten an older brother like Dean? He simply was not worthy.
"I've-I've got to go," he gasped, the overwhelming knowledge hitting him like a physical blow.
"No, Sam-" Dean called, desperation evident in his voice.
"Sam! You walk out now, you don't come back!" John bellowed, and for a second, everything stopped. The yelling and confusion that had reigned came to a complete stand still until Dean had to wipe a stream of blood from his nose to keep it from dripping onto the carpet.
"Sorry Dad," Sam whispered, and started throwing his few possessions into his beat up suitcase. John turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him, doubtlessly going to the bar to get drunk.
"Sammy, please," Dean whispered, and it nearly broke Sam's heart. But he knew it was now or never, and he had to go. He had to.
"Dean, I'm going. And, um…" He had to pause to collect himself, ecause he knew that Dean wouldn't understand what he was about to say, but Sam had once vowed to himself to protect Dean as Dean protected him, and he had finally realized that he himself posed the biggest threat to his older brother. "And Dean, I don't want you to contact me, okay? Just…just leave me alone." He couldn't look at his own brother, kept his eyes glued to the suitcase which now sat, stuffed to the brim on the bed. Couldn't watch his brother crumble and break because he knew, knew instinctively that that was what was happening. Knew that Dean could handle his leaving, had encouraged him even, but had been completely caught off guard by the fatal blow that Sam had dealt. He had to leave.
"I love you," Sam whispered, grasping his brother in a bear hug without making eye contact, and he was terrified and frustrated by the limp body he hugged, the body that didn't respond and didn't react. "Dean…"
Dean didn't answer for a second, then turned to Sam.
"Get out of here," he said, and Sam had never heard his brother use that tone on him, that tone of loathing and hatred and hurt that Dean never, ever, used on him. Sam picked up the bag, felt tears flowing, and walked out the door, closing it gently behind him.
Dean watched him go, started crying again, when had he become such a girl? He found himself on the floor, gasping with sobs, heaving thin bile as the scene played out again in his mind. His own little brother, didn't want to talk to him? Where the hell had he gone wrong? What the hell was he supposed to do now? And as he retched on the floor, Dean Winchester wished that he could hear his brother and father argue again.
A/N: Thanks for the reviews! As always, much appreciated.