Characters: Sam/Dean (one-sided Wincest)
Summary: Promises made, kept, and sometimes desperately hidden away.
Author's Notes: For family_secret and prompt #68: "What else has Dean promised Sam that Sam can't or doesn't remember?" I took the more secretive aspect to that still—Sam can't remember, because there is one promise Dean has never, ever let him know about. Dedicated to the lovely maygra, for her birthday. This seemed just the right choice. :)
Also for spn_25, this is "Whisper."
"I'll take care of you, Sammy."
Dean has whispered those words or something like them since Sam was a baby.
His father entrusted him with Sam from the beginning, when they left that burning house. Dean did his part—then and all the years after. Sam thinks he knows about that promise, but he has no idea how deep it goes.
Dean has protected Sam from danger, from endless truths he was too young to know. He protected Sam from too-hard choices that it would have killed something inside Sam to have to make.
Dean had his back when Sam thought he was alone. He crossed the country to check up on the brother that hadn't spoken to him for more than a year.
It all got harder suddenly, when Dad told him that someday he might have to protect the world from Sam.
Dean keeps that first promise always, no matter what. Maybe then he won't ever have to keep that last one.
"I'll never leave you, Sammy."
Dean never said that one out loud, but between the two of them they always knew it was true.
The thing was, all that time Sam never made that same promise in return.
Dean tried not to see it coming— those fights with Dad, all that rebellion against the very thing their family was about.
He never wanted to think it was an actual possibility, that Sam might leave them after all. He kept on hoping right up until Sam got on that bus to Stanford.
For a whole year afterward, he went to sleep every night with the unbidden thought that maybe Sam would change his mind.
"It'll be all right."
That promise means "I hope," or "Things will get better." Dean still tries to control everything within reach that might somehow make those words be true.
He couldn't stop Jess from dying—he never even knew it was going to happen. But he made sure he saw Sam through the aftermath. Because if he hadn't, things would never have been all right for either one of them again.
They survived their mother dying. Some might say barely, but still, they made it. It wasn't an ideal life, not by a long shot, but their family held together and that's what counts. Dean still believes that.
That first week afterward, they stayed at a motel. Dad didn't even try to make Dean sleep by himself. The three of them clustered on the bed, Dean in the middle, with Sammy tucked between him and a wall of extra pillows that would keep him safe. "Things'll get better," Dad would murmur, rubbing Dean's back when the night stretched on too long. Dean wanted to believe that, at age four, and five… and ten. He accepted it, all his faith centering on his father: it had to get better, because Daddy said so. Daddy would tell them when that finally happened.
Dean said all those same things to Sammy, resting in the shadows in the back seat of the car. There would be ladybugs in the new city where they were moving. The kitten behind the motel would find a home. Everything would be all right, Sammy would see—they just had to give it time. Dean echoed all the things their father taught him, and Sammy's sniffles grew silent under that reassurance.
So many times, for so many years, that promise would return. So much of the day was settled in the dark. In bed at night, huddled together in their own private world, Sam's fears would spill out and Dean would quiet them, fears that changed with the seasons and all the places they went.
Dad won't be mad by tomorrow, Dean whispered. Even though he yelled at Sammy for getting out of the car, Dad wasn't really angry anymore.
My leg will get better. It hardly hurts right now. The words were forced past lips already numb from being bitten against the pain.
The one he said most often was, You'll make new friends, Sammy. You will—you always do. No matter how often they moved, Sam never stopped hating it. Dean never stopped telling him it would all work out. In Dean's mind, it always did-- even though it finally drove Sam away.
Four long years of waiting, and that could have become forever, but for Sammy losing Jess. But Sam's back now, and that's what matters. Dean tries not to think about how selfish that sounds, him finding a silver lining in Sam's tragedy. But he can't help feeling this is how it should have been, always, all those years ago. How they got here wasn't his choosing, but he can't pretend he isn't glad.
Dean wonders about so many of the others they come across in their work— people and families who lose themselves or someone else, whose lives are then destroyed. Maybe things won't be all right for them, ever again. He doesn't know. He hopes for better, but he doesn't dwell on it. He never made any promises to them.
He was so young when their mother died, that he barely remembers it. He remembers fear and the way that everything stopped—their lives, their family. Losing their father is different—like losing himself, and maybe that's the same thing.
That feeling is familiar, buried. Rejected. It's half-formed, like a memory that's just colors without sound. Dean tries to say it, say the words both he and Sam need to hear, but they won't come-- he just can't find them. For a long time, Dean really isn't sure things will ever be all right again.
One night, that pledge finds its way out of him, flowing into the space between their beds.
It is such a relief to even think it, finally. That promise is for Dean as much as it is for Sam.
"I'll keep this part of my love to myself." The part where he loves Sam far too much, in all the ways a brother shouldn't.
Dean has already lived with that secret far too long, from all the way back when Sam was seventeen.
It mocks him—assaults him—at the most unexpected moments. Even six years later, it's like nothing at all has changed.
The rhythm of Sam's breathing in the dark is there if Dean listens. So many times he wishes he could climb in next to his brother, feel the smoothness of Sam's shoulder under his cheek. He wants to curve his arms around Sam in sleep, to know that Sam is there—always there—all night long. It scares him, how much he needs that. When it's bad, Dean will throw a fit about sharing a bed if that's the only room there is. He knows how easily he could slip up when he's that desperate, and show Sam everything he'd give his soul to hide.
Other times, when he thinks he's over the worst of it, they may wind up side-by-side in bed in a booked-up motel. Dean makes sure not to fall asleep first, on those nights. He waits for Sam to still, waits for the moon or haze from the street to light Sam's face. There in the dark, Dean's allowed to mourn for the things he can't have. Never for long—Dean doesn't do self-pity—but if he sometimes admits how badly he wants to hold Sam close or to kiss that wayward hair, well, he's only human.
In daylight, he busies himself with other things when Sam gets dressed. Can't be caught staring, because neither of them needs that. It's hard enough hanging onto Sam already. Dean can't afford the risk of giving him the best reason of all to leave.
It's something like torture, having everything you want staring you in the face but never being free to take it. Some people might say it's unlivable, but Dean's familiar with its opposite—that life where there was no Sam at all. Between the choice of ache or dulled-down emptiness, he'll take the first one. When Sam smiles at him-- really sees him—Dean's happy for that moment. It's like a whisper from the past.
So this is the secret that binds Dean, that keeps him from living too far in any one direction. He hunts to forget, he looks for the next distraction, he even beds strangers to keep the ache from getting too strong.
Sam will never, ever know what lies beneath that range of shallow habits. All that Dean loves—all that he is—finds completion in being with Sam.
Dean will keep that secret if it kills him.
-------- fin --------