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Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters belong to Eric Kripke and the WB.

Author's Note: Thank you to Jen for the fantastic beta reading and to Tonic2w for the gorgeous dustjacket.

“Stanford. You're going to Stanford?” John Winchester asked, his eyes trained on his youngest son.

Sam met his eyes. “Yeah.”

The older man clutched Sam's acceptance letter in his fist. “Were you planning on telling us or were you going to simply walk out?”

Sam narrowed his blue-green eyes. “I can't stay here, Dad. I can't keep doing this.”

John peered down at the letter and remained quiet for a long time.

Dean stood between his father and brother and braced himself for what was to come next. He looked at his father and saw his face harden. He had seen that look before. It was the same one John got when he hunted. The older Winchester shoved the letter into Sam's hands.

“You walk out that door, don't bother coming back,” he said.

Dean winced at his father's words. He looked from John to Sam, determination shining in the younger man's eyes.

Sam set his jaw. “Fine.”

They were at it again. Dean knew it was only a matter of time before they stuck him in the middle. For a split second, he thought about sneaking out the door and driving away. Yet, he knew he couldn't leave them like this. Somebody was bound to get hurt.

Dean sighed and stepped between the two. “Come on, I'm sure we can work this out.”

“Leave me alone,” Sam mumbled. He turned away from then and walked into his room. He shut the door behind him.

“Dean, I'm going hunting. You coming with me?” John fixed his eyes on his oldest son.

Dean shifted from foot to foot. If he didn't go, his father would feel betrayed. If he did go, Sam would think he'd chosen Dad's side. He hated when they put him in the middle.

“Let me talk to him, Dad.”

John grumbled, but didn't say anything else. He grabbed one of the shot guns leaning against the wall and left.

Dean stood in the middle of the quiet living room. He closed his eyes, trying the squelch the rage building up inside of him. Sam always did this. He always found some way to tick off his father. It didn't matter what it was, Sam always had to have his way.

He stared at the closed door. He wanted to grab the largest bat he could find and throttle his baby brother with it. How could Sam not see how important it was to keep this family together? Couldn't he understand that he and Dean were the only two people keeping their father from falling apart?

Swallowing his anger, Dean walked into Sam's room.

“What?” His younger brother sat on his bed, his eyes focused on the window. He didn't even look up.

“You could have told us about Stanford, Sammy.” Dean didn't move from the doorway.

Sam didn't move. “It wouldn't have made a difference.”

Dean stepped forward. “Maybe it would've. We could've worked around your schedule, hunted on the weekends.”

Sam's head shot up. He narrowed his eyes at his older brother. “You don't get it, do you? I don't want to hunt anymore. I don't want that responsibility. I want to do what other normal kids do. Go to college, get a life.”

Dean crossed his arms. “Sometimes it's not about what you want.”

“You don't understand.”

Dean bit his tongue. So many different responses popped into his brain. 'What about this family, Sam? What about our responsibility to Dad? To Mom's memory? What about all those other families that are torn apart like ours was?' But he didn't say any of that. He couldn't bring himself to.

“How are you paying for it?” he asked instead.

“I got some scholarships and a college loan. Don't worry, I took care of it.”

“And you've got to be on campus in a week?”

Sam turned back to the window and nodded. “Don't worry about it. I'm getting a ride from a friend.”

Dean crossed his arms. “You're not leaving without saying good-bye to Dad.”

“He won't listen.” Sam stood up and crossed to the window. “He won't care.”

Dean narrowed his hazel eyes. “What do you mean he won't care?”

“Dean, it's never been about us. It's been about his crusade.” Sam threw up his hands, exasperated. “What happens when he finds that thing and kills it? It won't bring Mom back. It won't change anything.”

“But it'll stop the killings.”

“Yeah, but it won't be enough.”

Dean knew his brother was right, but Sam didn't get it. He had been a baby. There was no way he could remember seeing his mother's body nailed to the ceiling, blood dripping from her stomach. Dean could. He had been five at the time, but he could remember it all. The body and the fire it started.

“I'm going to get something to eat, Sam. Do what you want.” That was the only response Dean could think of.

He stepped out and closed the door, leaving Sam alone. He sat down on the couch and stared at the wall.

He envied his brother. Sam had no ties to this. He didn't understand what his father was going through. Dean did, though. He'd seen the pain in his father's eyes. Damn it! He felt it! As much as he would love to pack his own bags and run away, he couldn't. If he didn't look after John Winchester, who would? Sam certainly wouldn't.

He cast another glance at his baby brother's door. On one hand, he'd give anything to be that selfish and walk away. On the other, he couldn't imagine letting his family down. He sighed. He hated being stuck in the middle.


© 2005 Crimson Idealist