Actions Notwithstanding
Simply Shelby

Sometimes Dean wishes his brother would just ask him.

He wishes Sam would just ask the question that burns so vividly in his eyes when they aren't blank and defeated and listless. He wishes his brother would acknowledge that they aren't okay because Dean can't bring himself to admit it out loud. Not that he hasn't thought about it. The worlds I told you so have reverberated against hotel walls, the Impala's leather seats, plain open skies in so many different ways.

And while Dean can't help screaming, "You started the fucking apocalypse, Sammy!" While Sam takes the beating without flinching, but with a bowed head and pale face, something in the back of his mind reminds him who really started the apocalypse--who broke the first seal, who threw the first punch. And he opens his mouth to hold out the ever-elusive olive branch.

But this isn't about the apocalypse. Not really. This is about deceit--about Sam drinking demon blood, about Sam sneaking around with Ruby, about Sam lying to him for a year. And, funny enough, Dean doesn't feel so forgiving anymore and Sam still doesn't ask the damn question.

Not even when the kid's sprawled on the cooling tarmac in the motel car lot with a pistol pressed to his temple, fingers squeezing the trigger as hard as he can. Not that it'll do much good because he's trembling so uncontrollably the gun clatters to the concrete when Dean rounds the corner and catches him.

He takes his little brother by the shoulders--clenching, clasping--and shakes him, head smacking against the side of the Impala, gleaming in the light of the neon sign. And Dean feels so lost, so useless, so angry that he screams, "You don't deserve not to live through this, you sonofabitch!" and screams and screams until there's nothing left of his voice but a harsh whisper.

When he finally lets go, Sam leans his head back and stares up at the sky, not a star in sight. Dean can see the question burning in those eyes, burning so much that tears pool in them at the force of it. But he doesn't ask, Dean knows, because he's terrified of the answer.

He doesn't ask when Dean tosses him a shotgun on the next hunt, but keeps him under keen scrutiny as he shaves. And when he nicks himself under the pressure of the stare, he doesn't ask as Dean immediately presses a wet flannel against his cheek. He just murmurs, "'M fine." And even though Dean wants to believe he's not just talking about the cut, Sam is a lot of things--liar, brother, addict, demon--he sure as hell isn't fine.

He doesn't ask each time Dean pulls off into the nearest motel car lot instead of asking Sam to spell him at the wheel for awhile while he takes a snooze in shotgun. Times where the sun hit the Impala just right and Dean could kick his feet up on the dashboard and fall asleep to his music and the rhythm of the tires against the roads flashes across his eyelids. But the next second, they're back to this: the end of the world and it's all Sam's fucking fault.

Dean can see the question flare when Dean orders his brother a steak. As Sammy simply stares solemnly at the meat, Dean slides the plate across the table--frustrated, annoyed, fed-up and unwilling to give up--and takes his knife and fork to the meat before pushing it back and ordering, "Six bites, Sam." He watches carefully as Sam chews and swallows almost painfully. It's like Sam is six years old all over again and has to be ordered into submission. The one difference being that this Sam follows directions seamlessly and without a single protest. Sam doesn't say much these days beyond, "I'm sorry." He repeats it like a prayer without hope.

Dean sees the question hovering on the tip of his brother's tongue one morning. He'd left the room for a few minutes to check out of their room and when he'd returned, Sam was nowhere to be seen. Panic consumed him full force as he searched wildly around, thinking the worst. The sound of the shower running had Dean pounding against the door. He'd ordered Sam to leave the door open when he showered and Sam had never strayed from that new routine. "Sam!" he shouted, fists banging, "Sam! Open this fucking door! Godammit, Sam! Open the damned door!"

The water shuts off and Dean can heart Sam scurrying for a towel. He rests his hand on the knob and turns and... it's unlocked. Frowning, he swings the door open to confront a surprised Sam who'd had to jump out of the way of the opening door. "Sit," Dean orders his dripping, towel-wrapped brother and Sam sits of the corner of the bed as Dean searches the bathroom for any suspicious evidence.

And Sam doesn't protest, doesn't ask the question as Dean comes out from the bathroom and gestures for Sam to drop the towel. The kid doesn't even blush, doesn't so much as acknowledge that this situation is embarrassing. He simply stands in one place, eyes blank, until Sam gives him to okay to go back to showering. But Dean tacks on a, "Keep the door open," and Sam's shoulders fall even lower.

At night, Dean hears the nightmares. Not that he can help it. He's been listening for his little brother's nightmares his entire life--listening to head them off, a soft touch on Sam's back or a hand to brush back his bangs. Now, now Dean listens and ignores. Well, not completely. Dean stays awake until Sam fades back to sleep, until Sam sinks back into the mattress.

Until one night Sam doesn't fall back asleep. Until one night Sam's bare feet hit the carpet floor and Dean's stomach clenches even though he can hear panting in fear of the nightmare's remnants. His suspicious warning is terse and immovable, "Back in bed." Sam obeys wordlessly, tumbling hurriedly back between the bedclothes.

It isn't until a few moments later that Dean thinks to ask, "What did you need?"

The room is completely silent as Sam attempts to control his breathing--his sobs--and whispers brokenly, "Wa-ter?" His tone is a plea, a request and en ever-present apology.

Padding across the room, Dean fills a styrofoam cup from the tap and kneels beside the bed. Sam doesn't move towards the cup and Dean doesn't order him to. They both know two things: Dean needs his brother to trust himself again, but first Sam needs for Dean to trust in him again. But Dean knows something Sam doesn't. He knows that while it might take awhile, they will get there eventually.

Sam reaches out tentatively to take the cup and Dean wonders if this is his own 'too little, too late'. Or maybe he'd done too much, too fast. That string of thoughts is immediately vetoed because if Dean hadn't made the deal, Sam would be dead. And Sam dying isn't an option. No matter what he'd said before--"At least he'll die human!"--Dean needed Sam alive. Even if Sam needed Sam dead.

And, apparently, if Sam wasn't really Sam. For awhile, Dean would have taken any Sam offered to him. But, he'd realised, even if he never admitted, that sometimes Sam wasn't Sam. At least, he wasn't the Sam he remembered. Not the Sam he knew. Now, he wondered if he'd ever really known his little brother or if he'd known just the part that Sam had let him see. Not that it matters. Dean needed to know the Sammy he had now.

Sam is staring at him and Dean can see that familiar question. He wants to reach out and pull it out of his brother's eyes.

Dean wishes Sam would just ask "Why?" so Dean can explain what he really said in the voicemail. So he can explain that Sam is family--his little brother--and that, despite everything, one truth will always hold true. Dean Winchester cannot live without his little brother.

And he'd be damned if he had to.

"We're brothers, you know, we're family and no matter how bad it gets, that doesn't change."
Dean Winchester, Lucifer Rising

AN: This is my first foray into this fandom and I'm tentative about this piece. It's quite different from any other works I've written.