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This story was inspired by meyerlemon's Five Women Who Chose Sam Over Dean, which broke me into tiny little pieces, and which you have to read first for this to make sense.

With many many thanks to giddy and Cesca for beta!

by astolat

Dean didn't see a lot of Sam after the wedding. He wouldn't visit, and Sam and Sasha were busy putting together a life. Sam went to law school and Sasha worked nine-to-five to pay the bills and Dean never called, because Sasha might pick up the phone. Instead he made sure his cellphone was always charged, and whenever Sam called, Dean kept him on the phone as long as he could, talking aimlessly about hunting and things he'd seen on television and the weather. "You could call me once in a while," Sam would say sometimes before hanging up, or "Why don't you come by next weekend." The invitations gradually went from casual to angry to confused, until finally he stopped asking at all. He still called, they still went out for a beer every once in a while, and Dean tried not to let it mean something when a few days slid by between calls.

Sam got his degree and passed the bar and started working at Legal Aid. He and Sasha bought a small house, and she cut back on her hours. Dean finally stayed over that next Thanksgiving. Sam had come with him on a weekend hunt, a bad poltergeist in Wichita. Dean had gotten clocked with an end table in the process, so he let Sam drive them home, except Sam brought them straight back to his place and hauled Dean into the guest bedroom. In the morning there was no way out of staying.

It was okay. He watched football and talked to Sam's in-laws, played with Sasha's nieces and nephews and kept them from breaking their necks on the stairs; and then he went into the kitchen for a beer and heard Sam and Sasha having a whispered argument in the pantry. Sam's voice was too low to make out most of the words, just "let's not do this now," and "I'm not ready," and Sasha was wiping away tears with the back of her hand when she came out.

He let Sam invite him over more after that. Sasha eyed him a little warily, but he didn't blindside her with any more declarations, and eventually she relaxed. Sam wasn't at some high-priced law firm, but he still had pretty long hours. Errands piled up around the house, handy work that Sam wasn't any good at anyway, and Dean started taking care of it. His own apartment was a cheap two-room dive near the railroad and a body shop where he did part-time work to pay his bills, without so much as a clean coat of paint on the walls, but in Sam's house he put up wallpaper and shelves and light fixtures, and one day Sasha slipped off a ladder and fell into his arms, and they rolled over together on the cotton tarp covering the living room floor.

Dean didn't let himself think about it; he just let his body and his hands talk for him, and she gasped and shivered under him, and sobbed against his shoulder, and gave in. Afterwards, he mostly felt a huge terrible surge of relief that he didn't think about for very long. He didn't ask her to go away with him or anything like that. He didn't care at all that it was Sam's ring on her finger or Sam's bed he made love to her in, that was fine; all he wanted was to share. He left a toothbrush in the guest bathroom. She stayed on the pill. He was happy.

It ended like these things do: Sam came home early. They weren't making out or anything. Dean was up on the kitchen counter, hanging a cabinet door. Sasha had her hand on the bare strip of skin where Dean's shirt had hiked up, her fingertips underneath the hem and her other hand on his thigh bracing him. When Sam first came in he said, "Hey, I didn't know you were coming over," surprised and smiling, and then there was a moment where—maybe they flinched, or maybe he just noticed, but he got it, and then it was like watching someone put a knife into him, easy and slow.

Dean followed him into the bedroom. Sam started packing a bag, Winchester-style: spare boots and spare jeans at the bottom, rolled t-shirts and long-sleeved layers, all the socks and underwear that could be crowded into the leftover space, knife and gun and ammo on top; even though Sam wore suits to work every day now. Dean couldn't find anything to say, and when Sam took out the gun to pack it, he almost wanted Sam to pause, to look at it, to think about maybe using it; but Sam didn't even slow down, it went straight into the bag like it was another rolled-up pair of socks.

"I'm sorry," Dean said finally. "Sam. Sam, she loves you, all right? She loves you." He made himself say it, because he had to, and it didn't make a difference; Sam's shoulders just hunched up a little, and he finished packing his bag, and he went out of the room without ever looking at Dean.

Dean shut his eyes and stood there until he heard the front door close. He could hear Sasha sobbing quietly in the kitchen where he'd left her, sitting on the floor with her back to the refrigerator. He'd screwed this up as royally as ever Missouri had told him he would.

Sam got a room in a motel. A few days later, Sasha went and had lunch with him and a lawyer. It was all quiet and civilized; Sam gave her the house and the savings, even though she didn't want them. He kept the car. When the paperwork was all wrapped up and the lawyer's fees had been paid, and she'd found herself a full-time job that would cover the mortgage payments and the bills, he quit his job and disappeared.

Sasha called all their friends. Dean called everyone in the hunter network, all their old contacts; Bobby and Ellen and everyone he could think of. No one had heard from Sam. It took three days to hear back from everyone, and then Dean picked up the phone and called Missouri.

"Honey, it don't matter where he is," she said. "He's gone. Too late to be crying over it now."

"Just tell me," he said.

"It doesn't work like that," she said. "Anything I could tell, you already know."

Dean went to the newspapers and found the start of his trail. It was there if you knew what to look for, a grave desecration buried in the police blotter of the local newspaper six counties over. Dean put his TV and his stereo into Sasha's basement, left his cheap furniture on the curb, and followed Sam across the country trying to catch up. He found the sensible Volvo in an impound lot in Montana, the front accordioned and bloodstains in the back. After that Sam was hitchhiking, and truck drivers sometimes recognized the photo Dean was carrying, if they squinted: in the picture Sam was smiling.

Dean caught him in Maryland, in a cemetery at midnight, digging up a corpse. Sam must have seen him, standing on the lip, but he didn't say anything, so Dean went and got a shovel from the back of the Impala and climbed in to help him dig. They got down to the coffin, broke it open, and climbed out to salt the bones and set them on fire.

Sam was almost swaying on the edge of the grave. He was dirty and half-bearded and thin, with a bloodstained bandage around his right hand. He followed Dean docilely back to the Impala and got in the passenger seat, like a ghost of himself from the past. Dean drove them to a motel and got a room on a fake credit card, and Sam went into the shower as soon as Dean unlocked the door. Dean tentatively went in and put his razor and shaving cream on the sink, then went outside and sat on the bed waiting.

Sam looked worse without the dirt and the beard: close enough to himself that the differences were more stark, the gaunt cheeks, the gray unhealthy look, the lines around his mouth. He sat down on the other bed with his back to Dean, and then he lay down and went to sleep on top of the covers without turning around.

Dean took him to a diner the next morning and fed him; Sam ate like he hadn't seen solid food in a week. He still didn't say a word. Afterwards he went outside and climbed back into the car. Dean got in and drove, aimlessly, heading south because that was the first interstate entrance he came across, stopping for meals, for sleep in motel rooms.

Three days later, Sam broke his silence suddenly over lunch, "We should check this out," nearly scaring Dean out of his skin; and he pushed a newspaper across the table with a mysterious death in the Florida Keys circled.

Sam talked after that, but never about what had happened. They took care of the river spirit in Florida and moved on to a haunting in Mississippi. Dean slid a Metallica tape into the stereo one day, trying to keep himself awake, and Sam woke up and bitched at him about it. Dean fired back easily, forgetting, and they were fifty miles down the road, Sam asleep again, before Dean realized Sam had laughed, easy, free.

A week later they came back to their room after winding up the case with a night at a roadside bar; Dean had won enough to buy their drinks and dinner, and he was drunk enough to say, watching Sam pull off his boots, "Will you just call Sasha?"

"Who?" Sam said, absently, and went into the bathroom yawning.

Dean sat there, cold, and listened to the shower running. He called Missouri outside a diner the next day, from a spot where he could see Sam sitting at the table eating eggs and reading the local papers.

She was silent on the other end of the line, when he'd told her. "I don't know," she said finally. "You better bring him here. Maybe I can help him unblock it, if I can lay hands on him."

Dean tried. He traded shifts with Sam a hundred twenty miles out of Lawrence and woke up three hundred miles in the other direction. "I picked up a college radio station," Sam said. "Sounds like there might be a nest of vampires around Fort Worth."

There were, and after that there was a possession in Atlanta, and then there was a haunting in New Jersey; and finally Dean sent Missouri a plane ticket to Albany, where Sam had aimed them for a potential banshee hunt. One hour outside the city limits, Sam jerked awake in the passenger seat and looked over at Dean reproachfully and said, "Pull over." When they were on the shoulder, he climbed over Dean and shoved his way into the driver's seat, and turned them back around.

After that, Dean stopped trying. He called Missouri from outside the motel room, told her to forget about it. He called Sasha and let her know they weren't coming back, not for a while. She didn't ask to talk to Sam. Dean got off the phone quick.

You're gonna fall in love, and you'll be so used to treating yourself like nothing, you won't know what to do about it, Missouri had told him. Some fucking prophecy; what the hell was he supposed to do when Sam showed up with Sasha on his arm and the ring already on her finger? He'd been screwed no matter what. Sometimes it made him so fucking angry, because if Sam could forget her, he couldn't have really loved her; he couldn't have really wanted her.

Dean knew that wasn't anywhere near an excuse, and he couldn't even have the thought without the taste of sour guilt coming up a little at the back of his mouth. And when he went back into the motel room and Sam looked up at him and smiled, clear and open, the last thing Dean wanted was for Sam to remember.

They kept hunting, they kept moving. Sometimes it felt like they'd never stopped doing this, going from one hunt to the next. Sometimes it felt like he was living on a thin sheet of ice, all the time. He'd never had nightmares in his life; now he started, and he couldn't remember anything about them except drowning.

It was the third time he woke up sweating from another dream of breaking ice, cold water; he looked over. Sam was lying in bed awake, streetlamp shine in his eyes, looking tired. He said, "It's just, I loved you more." He paused, repeated it softly, "I always loved you more."

"Sammy," Dean said, hoarsely, terrified, but Sam had already closed his eyes and gone back to sleep, and in that moment Dean knew Missouri had been right, he hadn't known what to do about it at all.

= End =

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