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The Bright Lights of Disturbia

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In retrospect, what Sam should have done when he heard the moaning coming from downstairs was go back to bed. But it’s his place too, and he can tell from the quality of the noise that he isn’t going to be interrupting anything more embarrassing than his roommate jerking off in front of the TV. After living with Dean for so many years and walking in on his older brother with his head between some girl’s legs God only knew how many times, a little masturbation isn’t enough to deter him from seeking out his much needed morning cup of coffee.

So instead of doing the smart thing, he staggers down the last few stairs and into the living room. Jack is sitting on the couch wearing nothing more than a pair of boxers. He hasn’t actually taken his dick out yet: he’s just cupping himself and rubbing lightly through the cotton.

“Hey,” he mutters without looking at Sam. His eyes are all but glued to the screen in front of him: hand still moving absently against his dick.

Sam is still defenseless enough with sleep that it makes him think of Dean, shameless with their cramped quarters and utter lack of social graces. His chest aches with the memory and he rubs his eyes, frowning, like that’s going to silence any of the tangled emotions that thoughts of his brother brings. Offering his roommate a grunt in greeting—Jack’s the sort of guy who takes offense if he thinks you’re ignoring him—he shuffles through the living room and into the kitchen.

The movie is still on when Sam comes back out with his coffee and, after a moment of hesitation, he heads over to the couch and drops down on the other end. They’ve been roommates for over a year now, after all, and it isn’t like Jack is doing anything Sam hasn’t done himself. Also, he’s curious about the movie. Jack’s collection is pretty fucking sparse, and this doesn’t sound like anything Sam has had the dubious pleasure of seeing before.

“Rise and shine, huh?” he says, watching as some porn star’s dick is suckled in extreme close up by one of the nicest-looking mouths he’s ever seen. He can tell from the corner of his eye that Jack has moved on to the main event, but is careful not to look over. There’s protocol for this sort of thing, after all, and he managed to learn the basics despite his brother’s exhibitionist streak.

“Fuck off, Winchester,” Jack pants without meaning it.

“Isn’t it a little early for porn?” Sam prods, taking a sip from his mug.

“Obviously not.”

They’re quiet for a while, watching the blow job up close and personal, and as pretty as that mouth is, Sam’s starting to get bored with the view when the camera cuts wide and he almost chokes on his coffee. Because those lips may be girly as hell, but they aren’t attached to any kind of girl Sam has ever seen.

“Fuck,” Jack says, low and punched, and comes with a groan.

It wasn’t awkward before, but now it is. Now it’s extremely awkward, and Sam sits there with all of his muscles clenched and a mug of coffee in one hand and stares studiously at the TV. He watches as Lips gets a face full of come—it splatters out across the half-face panther mask he’s wearing and onto his perfect mouth—and listens to the meaningless, lame dialogue as the scene continues to play out.

“Pretty kitty like your milk?” Cock asks, sliding his spent dick across Lips’ jaw and smearing come. Sam would probably be rolling his eyes if he wasn’t feeling so embarrassed (and yeah, okay, a little turned on: Lips’ mouth is ridiculous). Lips’ response is a husky request for more—just the right amount of embarrassed arousal in the whisper to send a little pulse of heat through Sam’s groin—and then he’s being bent over the arm of a couch and—

“Is this gonna be a problem?” Jack asks finally from beside him.

For a moment, Sam hesitates. He’s just about the last person who can throw stones about whether his roommate likes a little cock in between bouts of pussy, but now that his shock is wearing off, he’s also a little annoyed that Jack picked gay porn as an acceptable method of outing himself. It’s safe to glance over now—Jack has cleaned up and tucked away and is now watching Sam with obvious nerves—and Sam does so.

“Your complete lack of taste in pornos?” he says blandly. “Yeah. Definitely. I was whacking off to better stuff than this when I was ten.”

Jack just looks at Sam for a few seconds and then his face splits in a wide grin and he tosses a pillow at him. Sam gets his arm up to block in time to avoid a lapful of coffee and laughs.

“Prick,” Jack mutters. “I’ll have you know this is high quality stuff.” He leans forward and grabs the remote. “Check this shit out.”

Two chapter skips later and Sam is watching Lips move on top of Cock: muscles flexing as he works himself on Cock’s dick. It can’t be comfortable—Sam has seen enough porn to know that tops are generally chosen according to size, and Cock is definitely not an exception to that rule—but Lips is making a good show of liking it anyway: breathy moans and surprised gasps like it’s the first time he’s has his prostate pounded. Lips’ own cock is red and swollen (not too shabby, for a porno bottom, size-wise) and liberally leaking precome. Even through the pixilated image of their crappy TV set, Sam can tell that he’s more than ready to come, and wonders what the hell is stopping him until the camera angle shifts and he sees the black band of a cock ring restraining Lips’ balls and cock.

“So fucking hot,” Jack says as Lips tosses his head back with a groan. And yeah, okay, Sam wouldn’t kick the guy out of bed if he had a chance—compact body, slender hips, that goddamned mouth—but he doesn’t see what’s so …

Oh.

Oh.

There’s another man on the bed now, pushing Lips down against Cock’s chest and dragging his own cock across Lips’ taut, well-muscled ass, and Sam doesn’t need to be a psychic to know where this is going.

“You gotta be shitting me,” he says because he’s heard of this but he’s never actually seen it. Never actually tried to wrap his head around the logistics of cramming that much into such a small opening. All the prep in the world wouldn’t be enough not to make this hurt, and the close-ups of Cock Number One’s dick still pumping in and out of Lips show a hole that already looks red and sore.

“Dude, he takes it all,” Jack says in a respectfully awe-filled voice.

On the TV, Cock Number Two’s dick is nudging up against that too-filled hole, teasing, and a rough voice is growling, “You want it? One cock’s not enough, is it, little kitty? Gonna stuff you so full … gonna make you scream … but you gotta ask for it first.”

It’s just bad porn dialogue, just the same as a hundred other lines Sam has heard, but there’s a pit forming in his stomach all the same. For no reason at all, his whole body is suddenly tingling in warning.

“Please,” Lips whimpers, and Sam’s stomach twists with something awkward and nervous that he can’t identify.

Lips is begging, but Sam isn’t sure what for because he sounds turned on, sort of, but he also sounds really fucking frightened, and—and then Cock Number Two is working his way inside and Lips is writhing and whimpering and whining and making these half-greedy, half-hurt noises that are making Sam both want to be somewhere else and want to be sitting here alone so that he can reach into his sweats and pull his own dick out.

“What I wouldn’t give to nail that,” Jack breathes.

Sam starts to nod and then the camera cuts again to Cock Number Two’s hand on Lips’ hip and the world stutters to a stop. He stares numbly at the screen as Cock Number Two finally sinks home and immediately starts moving—Cock Number One holding Lips’ wrists to keep him still as he’s fucked—and it isn’t true. It can’t be.

But now that he’s seen it, he keeps seeing it everywhere—the curve of Lips’ mouth, the clench of his jaw, the tapered hips and broad shoulders. The scar on his hip just above where Cock Number Two is holding on: three thin, parallel lines like a claw mark. Then Cock Number One is turning Lips’ head to the side—toward the camera—and Lips opens his eyes and they’re fogged and dazed and greengreengreen, and holy fucking shit it’s Dean.

Sam jerks his head away from the screen so that he doesn’t have to see anymore. Wishes he could block his ears as well as the grunts and “mm, yeah, take it, baby, such a tight little ass”s continue to assault him.

“Where did you get this?” he croaks through a throat that feels five sizes too small.

“All Boy Video down on Jackson,” Jack answers lazily, like he didn’t just get off on watching Sam’s brother—his Dean, his—servicing another guy. Like he doesn’t look like he’s thinking about pulling it out again for another go. “It’s the new Hunters in Heat film: Pussycat Fever. Just came out last week and it’s already on the bestseller list.”

It can’t be Dean. Can’t be. Dean might be carnal, but he isn’t—he doesn’t do stuff like this. He doesn’t perform for other people. And he sure as hell isn’t gay. He isn’t even bi!

This has to be some kind of mistake.

“The guy—with the mask—he’s. He’s been around for a while?”

“First movie,” Jack answers. “It’s actually pretty cute. They’ve got his audition interview on the extras and he tries to make like he’s an old hat at it. Like they wouldn’t have given him the job anyway, way he looks.” His voice has gone soft and fond, and more than anything else that makes Sam’s chest tighten. Objectifying his brother (if it’s him, which it isn’t, can’t be) is one thing: developing some kind of crush on him is another matter altogether.

Sam looks back at the TV with reluctant fascination. Dean—no, Lips—is shuddering and panting, “fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” (Christ he sounds like Dean, now that Sam is listening for it) while two cocks slide in and out of him. The movie cuts to a close up of his hole, bright red and painful-looking and glistening with lube as it’s fucked. Then Cock Number Two is pulling out and fisting his dick and come is splattering out across Lips’ lower back and ass. Lips moans, hips twitching at the sensation, and Cock Number One rolls him over onto his back, pulls out, and shoots on his stomach and chest.

That was the money shot, it has to be over now, except for how it isn’t.

“Lap up your milk like a good kitty,” Cock Number Two says, “and maybe we’ll let you come.”

Sam’s stomach burns with shame and embarrassment as Lips manages to get himself up on one elbow and takes Cock Number Two’s dick in his mouth. His legs are splayed wide—thoughtlessly, Sam thinks—and while he licks Cock Number Two clean, Cock Number One pulls them wider so that the camera can get a good close up of his gaping, fucked-out ass. Sam’s own ass aches in sympathy and he winces: guy’s gonna be feeling that for a week at least. He’s still hard, though, dick curving up full and needy toward his stomach, and Sam can’t fucking watch this anymore. He can’t.

But he doesn’t take his eyes from the screen until Lips has finished cleaning both dicks and finally (after the cock ring has been removed with teasing slowness) come all over himself, adding to the mess already there. The last shot of the film is of Lips alone on the bed: skin covered in come and sweat and legs splayed wide. The camera zooms in on his face—on that come-smeared mouth—and then fades to black.

“God, I hope he makes more films,” Jack says as the credits start to roll.

Sam sort of wants to punch his roommate, but then again he’s sitting there with an erection the size of Cleveland tenting his sweats. Which leaves him wanting to punch himself even more.

“You want me to leave you two alone?” Jack asks, raising one eyebrow.

Sam shifts and very carefully doesn’t adjust himself. “Nah, man,” he says as he gets up. “Got class in half an hour. I should get dressed.”

“Suit yourself.” Jack gives him a grin and then nudges a DVD case that’s sitting on the coffee table with his foot. “You know where my collection is if you’re ever in the mood.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam spends a miserable, frustrated day in class and at work—making sandwiches has never felt like such a waste of time—and then rushes home in an attempt to score some alone time with the DVD player before Jack gets back. Turns out he didn’t need to bother: there’s a note from Jack on the kitchen table letting Sam know that he’s going to Theta Delt’s annual Cave Party and doesn’t expect to be back tonight. Sam puts the note back down, feeling suddenly awkward, and spends the next hour making dinner for himself. He sits in the kitchen, eating and staring blankly at his psychology textbook and watching a rerun of this morning’s movie in his mind.

Fuck, he’s hard.

The phone rings just as he’s finishing up and he answers it without thinking. “Hi.”

“Hey, Sam,” Jess’ voice greets him warmly. “How’re you doing?”

“Uh.” Sam grimaces. He didn’t think he could feel more uncomfortable about this whole situation, but talking on the phone with his sort of, hopefully girlfriend while he’s sporting an erection from thoughts about a gay porno that may or may not have starred his brother is bringing him to new lows.

Damn it, Dean.

“Sam?”

“No, sorry, I’m good. Just tired.”

“Oh,” Jess says, sounding disappointed. “I hope you didn’t get that bug that’s been going around.”

“I don’t think so. I was just up late last night studying for Finchberg’s test.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” The silence stretches out until it threatens to become really awkward and then Sam clears his throat and asks, “So what’s up?”

“I was sort of hoping you might be up for a movie tonight.”

Sam has actually spent all day working himself up for a movie tonight, but it isn’t anything he wants to watch with Jess. Pretty, normal Jess who wants to date him, and with whom Sam thinks he could easily fall in love.

“Man, I wish I was, but I’m really beat,” he lies, feeling like three kinds of an asshole. “How about a rain check?”

“Sure. I mean, it was really last minute anyway, so—” Great, now she thinks he’s not interested.

“Tell you what,” Sam interrupts before she can finish rambling and hang up. “Tomorrow night. I’ll take you out to dinner, then we can either catch that movie or—” Or I can tell you how good my brother looks getting fucked, his mind supplies, and for a moment he can’t come up with anything else. Then, in an awkward rush, he finishes, “—or we could go bowling.”

“Bowling?” Jess says. She sounds doubtful, and he can almost see her nose wrinkling in confusion. Too bad the image is spoiled by the memory of plump lips dripping come.

Sam is going to fucking murder his brother.

“Yeah,” he says, and if his voice sounds a little too hoarse, well, Jess doesn’t know him well enough yet to notice it. “I hear it’s the great American pastime.”

It’s normal, is what he thinks. Safe. Sane.

Jess laughs. “I think you have it confused with baseball,” she tells him, “But I’m game if you are. I’ll beat you, too.”

“Oh, you think so?”

“Sure. I bowled in elementary school. Won the Barbie Cup.”

Sam is startled into a laugh. “You’re making that up,” he accuses.

“Are you accusing me of lying?” Jess asks archly.

“Let’s just say I’m calling Barbie’s bluff.”

Jess snorts into the phone, and Sam goes momentarily cold. It’s the same noise Dean makes when Sam says something he finds funny but, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to actually laugh at. And hey, now that Sam is thinking about it, Jess and his brother have the same birthday, and Jess loves mullet rock, and her lips are, quite possibly, the closest thing Sam will ever find to Dean’s mouth.

Jesus Christ, he’s dating his brother. Or trying to, anyway.

The conversation goes on for a few more minutes, with Sam stumbling through it as best as he can, and then he hangs up and puts his head down on the table. His hair is getting in the leftover spaghetti sauce on his plate, but he can’t find it in himself to care.

How long has this been going on, anyway?

Closing his eyes, he runs through his memories—Dean feeding him cheerios with a mound of sugar melting into the milk, Dean handing him his ass in round after round of sparring, Dean sticking his feet in Sam’s face when Sam was sitting on the couch tying to do homework. None of that feels any different than before, but when he thinks about Dean strolling out after a shower, his chest wet and gleaming, he remembers his stomach giving a little flop. He remembers lying in motel room beds next to his brother, and Dean shifting in his sleep, and their legs brushing together, and his breath catching in his throat. He remembers walking in on Dean having sex, and he thinks now that he maybe heard what was going on sometimes before he opened the door. He thinks maybe those moments left him shaking and hard.

Oh God, he’s been like this for years.

“Damn it, Dean,” he mumbles into the table, and then, after a good ten minutes of wallowing in shock and self-pity, prods himself into action.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam reads the back of the DVD case first. The plot (insofar as these things have a plot) revolves around a series of savage, animalistic murders in a small town. Two brave hunters arrive to save the day and discover that the murderer is actually the timid and beautiful town librarian, who turns into a savage ‘werecat’ by the light of the full moon. Instead of killing the beast, the hunters keep the town safe by ‘taming’ the ‘kitty’. It’s such a ludicrously bad plot—and yet so close to real life, to the family business—that Sam wonders for a moment whether Dean had any hand in writing the script.

And it is Dean.

From the moment he turns on the DVD Extra ‘Kasting of a Kitty’, there’s no doubt about that much because Dean is there, sitting in a folding chair in some depressing, off-white room wearing Dad’s leather jacket and the amulet Sam gave him when they were kids and a wide, shit-eating grin that Sam supposes is supposed to look seductive. He could turn the DVD off now—his morbid curiosity has been satisfied—but he doesn’t. He just sits there and watches as his brother sits there and interviews for a chance to get his ass pounded.

“Why don’t we start with your stage name?” a male voice asks off camera.

“Stallion,” Dean answers immediately, and Sam chokes on an incredulous laugh. It’s an absurd response, and yet so very, very Dean, and his brother’s voice is filled with the amused smugness that used to get underneath Sam’s skin and lodge there for days. He’s just self-confident enough that he might pull it off.

Then Dean’s smile twitches a little wider and he adds, “Sam Stallion.”

Any vague amusement Sam might have been feeling rips away from him as his stomach twists in obscene ways. He doesn’t know what it means that Dean is using his name. Doesn’t know if Dean is trying to be funny, or if it’s meant as some kind of backhanded compliment, or if it’s just Dean being Dean and doesn’t mean anything at all. All he knows is that the name, ridiculous as it is, has settled in his gut with a leaden weight.

He needs to turn this off now before it gets any worse. His fingers tighten around the remote and then relax again.

“And how old are you?”

“Twenty three.” Still lazy. Cocky and confidant.

Sam sort of wants to punch him, or maybe kiss the smirk right off those full, girly lips.

“Date of birth?”

“January 24, 1979.”

“What sort of previous experience do you have in the industry, Mr. Stallion?” a low, female voice asks. Dean’s gaze flickers to the opposite side of the screen and Sam can tell from the way his brother’s mouth quirks that the woman asking the question is attractive.

“Well,” Dean drawls, and Sam winces. He knows that dragging, slow tone. Recognizes it from the hundred times he’s heard it before—usually right before Dean tells some outlandish, unbelievable story, like the time he told Maggie Fitzsimmons that he was actually an undercover C.I.A. agent sent to infiltrate Regent High and foil a foreign plot against the government. Or the time he told Dad that they smelled like pot because they were hunting a teenage spirit and it had hurled flaming bags of dope at them.

“Most recently, I worked with B. B. Licious on A Tale of Two Titties,” Dean announces. “But I got my start when I did Asslee Bendover for Jurassic Prick. And, uh, I had a supporting role in Evil Head. I’m pretty proud of that one.”

“I’m not familiar with B. B. Licious,” the woman says, and Sam can hear the laughter in her voice: the knowledge that Dean is pulling this crap out of his ass.

“Oh, uh,” Dean says, floundering the way he always does when one of his lies is challenged. Also as usual, he recovers his footing almost immediately and pushes onward, relying on sheer bravado to carry the day. “She’s Dutch, actually. Foreign film. She’s a classy chick—real professional. You should check out some of her stuff sometime.”

“I’ll do that,” the woman agrees, but it’s obvious that she knows as well as Sam that ‘B. B. Licious’ doesn’t actually exist outside of Dean’s warped imagination.

This is when they should have kicked Dean out on his ass for lying during his interview, but they’re not kicking him out, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. All Sam needs to do is look at his brother’s face: at the too-tight t-shirt and ripped jeans and easy sprawl of his body. The mysterious people behind the camera were probably thinking up scenarios to get Dean naked and fucking (or, as it turned out, being fucked) the second he walked through the door.

A third voice—another male, closer to the camera—breaks the brief silence by announcing, “Now we’re going to ask you some questions about what you feel comfortable doing in front of the camera.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“Would you be willing to do boy/girl scenes?"

Dean’s eyes flick from Interviewer Number Three back to the woman and his mouth widens in what Sam can only classify as a leer. “Anytime,” he says, and Sam can’t help rolling his eyes. Only Dean would try to pick someone up during a porn audition.

“How about boy/boy scenes?” Interviewer Number Three asks, drawing Dean’s attention back to center.

“Sure,” Dean agrees, like he does it all the time. Sam supposes he shouldn’t be all that surprised by the answer—he saw the movie, Dean obviously said yes. And Dean knows how he looks: he’s been told about his cocksucking lips often enough in bars (once, memorably, within Dad’s hearing). He probably also knows that gay porn pays better. So yeah, Sam isn’t actually surprised, but the thought of his brother selling himself like this in order to earn a quick buck burns in his throat.

What happened, Dean? he thinks as his brother is asked how he feels about threesomes (the more the merrier, that’s my motto). And why the hell didn’t you call me?

“Would you be comfortable receiving a blow job?” It’s the woman again, and Dean’s smile widens like a shark’s.

“Why, you offering?” he smarms.

Sam wants to roll his eyes again, but he can tell from the self-satisfied gleam in his brother’s eyes that the woman is blushing, and he thinks of Dean bringing the unseen interviewer out back afterwards—fucking her mouth, her pussy—and glowers instead.

“How about giving one?” Interviewer Number One asks. It’s probably a legitimate question, and he doesn’t sound like he’s propositioning anything for himself, but Sam catches the minute clench of his brother’s jaw as Dean turns his head.

“Sure,” Dean says. His tone is carefully cheerful.

“Would you be willing to perform anal sex?” the man continues.

“Yes.”

“Topping a girl?”

“’Course.”

“Topping a boy?”

“No problem.”

“Bottoming for a girl?”

Dean hesitates for a moment—too brief to catch unless you’re looking for it, unless you’re familiar with the rhythms of his speech—and then says, “Long as the strap on isn’t pink, we’re good.”

“How about bottoming for a boy?” Interviewer Number Three asks, and as far as Sam is concerned he sounds far too invested in the question.

The pause is longer this time, and accompanied by a flicker of nerves in Dean’s eyes, but his answer comes out clear and easy: “Yes.”

“Would you be willing to use toys?” the female interviewer asks.

Sam has seen his brother shore up his walls too many times to count, and Dean does it again now as he turns his attention to the woman. His posture straightens, and the tension that has been building in his shoulders dissipates, and his smile looks a little less plastic and a little more genuine.

“Sure.”

They start listing toys then, starting with cock rings and vibrators and moving on from there. Although Sam can tell his brother doesn’t know what half of the stuff is, Dean says yes to everything. Sam can’t decide whether to be angry or hurt or sad or just plain horrified. The brief spate of humor he felt when Dean introduced himself at the beginning of the interview has been completely forgotten in the face of this humiliating barrage of questions.

He thinks again about turning the movie off but doesn’t move.

“How do you feel about wax play?” Interviewer Number One asks once they’ve gone through what feels like the entire inventory of Sex-Toys-R-Us.

“Fine by me.”

“Would you be willing to perform in a spanking, flogging, whipping or caning scenario?”

The ease with which Dean shrugs and agrees sends a rush of conflicting emotions through Sam’s body. On the one hand, Dean shouldn’t be so blasé about the suggestion that he let someone beat him in order to get their rocks off. On the other hand, his mind is now presenting him with an image of his brother’s ass, reddened and covered with handprints. Dean’s skin would be flushed and hot, and he would squirm away from even the lightest caress, and—

“Are you willing to perform as a dom in a bondage scene?”

Sam snaps out of his fantasy with dizzying speed. His head feels light as he watches Dean agree before the question is really out of the interviewer’s mouth. Dean’s brow furrows almost immediately, and Sam sees his brother belatedly take in the word ‘bondage’. For the first time, Dean’s mask slips far enough for Sam to see the nerves behind it.

For all his tall tales and machismo, Dean’s surprisingly vanilla when it comes to sex. Sam knows this from all the times he accidentally (and not so accidentally) walked in on his brother, and from the way that Dean always missed the kinkier innuendos he tossed out, and from just knowing Dean to be a man of simple pleasures. The upshot of all that is that Dean doesn’t know what ‘dom’ means. He recognizes ‘bondage’ well enough, though: knows that it means ropes and restraints and being held down, helpless, in the middle of a bunch of strangers. Dean’s rising panic, evident in his pallor and the glassy green of his eyes, is subtle enough right now that anyone who didn’t know Dean wouldn’t be able to see it, but if this conversation doesn’t change tracks soon, it’s gonna get obvious in a hurry.

Sam shifts on the couch. Fuck, he shouldn’t be watching this. Shouldn’t be seeing Dean so vulnerable and exposed.

Then again, Dean should never have made the fucking film in the first place.

“As a sub?” Interviewer Number One continues.

“No,” Dean says, voice hoarse. Sam can read the desire to take back his previous yes in the tension lines around Dean’s mouth, but Dean doesn’t say anything. He just sits there waiting for his next question and doing his best to look relaxed.

“Would you be willing to be fisted?” Interviewer Number Three again, and Dean either knows that term or can figure it out for himself because he gives a tiny twitch and shakes his head.

“No.”

“What about DP?” the female interviewer wants to know.

Sam winces as Dean glances at her because Dean has no fucking clue what that means—it’s obvious as day from the hesitation in his eyes, and the way his fingers are drumming against his leg—but he’s going to say yes anyway. He’s going to say yes because she’s pretty and he wants her to like him, wants to make her smile. He’s going to say yes because he needs the money, and he just said no twice, he has never been as confident as he seems.

He’s going to say yes because he’s afraid they’ll turn him down if he doesn’t.

“Jesus Christ, Dean,” Sam whispers, ill with the memory of his brother’s swollen, gaping hole.

“Sure,” Dean says.

“Fuck,” Sam mutters, leaning forward and putting his face in his hands.

On the TV, Interviewer Number Three wants to know if Dean would be willing to perform in a watersports scenario, and Sam chokes on a laugh at his brother’s perplexed, “Sure, why not?”

He’s angry suddenly, enraged as always by the lack of care that Dean takes of himself, and by his brother’s pig-headed stupidity, and by the fact that he’s selling himself like this, like it’s nothing, like he doesn’t fucking matter, and where the fuck was Dad when Dean was doing this?

Pissing, Dean, not fucking hot tubs and water-skis!” he yells, throwing the remote at the TV. Luckily for his anemic bank account, he misses and the remote thunks dully into the wall instead.

Sam sits on the couch, muscles quaking and rage hot in his throat, as Interviewer Number One asks about ‘pony play’. Dean says no pretty quickly this time—has either actually heard of that fetish or can figure it out well enough to know he doesn’t want to be involved—and Sam lifts his head again, running a hand harshly through his hair.

“We’re almost done, Sam,” the female interviewer says, and Sam twitches at the sound of his name. “But I wanted to give you the opportunity to let us know if you have any specialties. Any acts you can do better than anyone else?”

Between one blink and the next, any trace of unease is gone. Dean is wearing one of his many masks: the one he uses in bars when he’s looking for a girl to drown himself in for a while. The one that always made Sam feel awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin for reasons he never examined too closely. The one with the heated eyes and the slow smile and the deep, rough voice.

“Sweetheart,” Dean purrs, fondling his vowels like he’s thinking about fucking them. “I can do things with my mouth that I’m pretty sure are illegal in all fifty states.”

His tongue darts out, sliding across his lips, and just like that Sam is hard again, and fucking miserable with guilt about it, and Jesus fucking Christ how can Dean mess him up like this without even being here?

How is that fair?

There’s a rustling of papers from somewhere by the camera, and Sam is pretty sure it’s caused by Interviewers One and Three trying to look busy to draw attention away from the erections they’re doubtlessly sporting. Then Interviewer Three clears his throat and says, “Just one last question. Obviously this isn't theater, but how's your acting?"

Dean’s smile slips into something a little cooler—back to that superior, mocking expression he was wearing at the start of the interview—and he turns his head so that he’s looking directly into the camera. “Just peachy,” he answers.

He isn’t looking at Sam—can’t be, this happened almost a year ago according to the timestamp on the bottom of the screen—but it feels like he is. It feels like Dean is sitting in that off-white room and looking through the camera lens into Sam’s eyes and heart and Sam has never felt so dirty and exposed. Never felt so turned on before either.

The interview ends with a photo op, of course. The interviewers ask Dean to strip and pose and he does, and the come-hither look on his face should be silly but isn’t. It isn’t because Dean knows that he’s good looking—he isn’t blind or a moron—but he doesn’t know that he’s beautiful. He doesn’t know that people look at him and want, even if they shouldn’t, even if they have no business even thinking about it, even if they’re his kid brother.

When the extra ends and the main menu starts back up, Sam looks down at his hands and the hard outline of his cock against his pant leg. He thinks about calling Jess and taking her out for a late show, and then he thinks about putting the movie on and jerking off, and then he thinks of running into the upstairs bathroom and puking up everything he ate for dinner. In the end, though, there’s only one thing he really can do.

Shutting off the DVD player and the TV, Sam wanders out into the kitchen to get drunk.

Chapter Text

Dean picks up on the second ring. “What’s wrong?” he asks immediately, and Sam can’t quite keep back his bitter laugh.

“What,” he slurs. “No ‘hi, hello, howareya, miss you Sammy’? No ‘howdefuckingdo?’” His right hand slips and slides around the neck of the bottle of whiskey he’s been hard at work at for the past two hours. On the TV screen in front of him, his brother is on his knees with a cock in his mouth. The sound is high enough for Sam to hear it, but low enough not to filter through the phone.

Dean’s silent for a moment, and then he says, “Are you drunk?”

“No,” Sam answers. “’M fuckin plastered.”

Dean sighs heavily. “I’ve gotta go, man. Call me tomorrow when you sober up. Y’know, if you still want to.”

“Fuck you, Dean!” Sam snaps, but the line is already dead.

He peers at the TV for a few minutes as Dean’s mouth gets coated with come and as Dean gets led over to the couch and pushed down and opened up. The other actor keeps on laughing and talking about how skittish ‘kitty’ is, and asks if ‘kitty’ is a virgin and says he’ll take good care of ‘kitty’ and of fucking course Dean was a virgin. He was a virgin as far as having a cock shoved up his ass, anyway, and he let this stranger first finger and then fuck him, let another stranger join in, let a bunch of other strangers get it on tape. He sold his virginity for, what, five hundred dollars? Six hundred? Seven? Certainly no more than a thousand, anyway, and what gave him the fucking right to do that when Sam was—when he—

Sam shuts his eyes and presses his hand to his forehead. Movie-Dean makes a low, panting whine and Sam peers up to see Cockzilla slowly forcing its way inside of his brother’s body. Movie-Dean is on the bed now: on his stomach with his legs spread wide as he grips the pillow on front of him with white-knuckled fingers. He’s shaking all over, naked and exposed in every way possible, and Sam’s vision blurs with tears. He fumbles with the remote, finally manages to find the mute button, and then lifts his cell phone again.

“Go sleep it off, Sammy,” Dean says when he picks up this time.

“Why?” Sam demands. Between the booze and the crying, his voice is pretty indecipherable, even to him. “Why did you—I was right here, Dean, I—”

“Hey,” Dean interrupts. There’s a different note in his voice now: concern. He sounds warm and present again. “Hey, man, it’s okay. I gotcha.”

Absurdly, Sam feels himself calming. Infuriating as Dean can be, he has this power too: knows how to sweeten his voice to honey and soothe when he wants to. When Sam needs him to. Sam starts to sag back into the couch and then … then he looks back at the screen.

Movie-Dean winces behind the panther mask as Cock Number One pulls out of him. There’s a bit of dialogue that Sam can’t hear and Cock Number One lies down beside Movie-Dean on the bed, one hand behind his head and the other stroking his oversized dick. Movie-Dean pushes up onto his hands and knees and crawls into position with a graceful, fluid bunch and flex of his muscles. Cock Number One says something again—muted filth—and then Movie-Dean lowers himself down onto the man’s dick with a soundless, shuddering cry.

Sam’s saliva has gone metallic and bitter and now he opens his mouth and says, “I hope they paid you enough, you fucking whore. I hope. I was here, Dean, if you wanted that, I could have. I could.”

But Sam doesn’t know what he could have done—or if he does, he doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing right now: drunk off his ass and talking to Dean on the phone while he watches his brother get fucked in some cheap, supernatural porn movie. His hand creeps into his lap without his permission and rubs against his cock.

“Sammy, slow down, man. I can’t understand you when you talk that fast.”

Good, Sam thinks, rubbing harder. Aloud, he says, “You left first, Dean, you—you were never there, you—all the girls, and the hunts, and you didn’t. You didn’t see me anymore, you didn’t. I saw you, Dean. I couldn’t see anything else but you, and you just. You.”

“Dude, I have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.”

God, Sam doesn’t either. His breath hitches as he thrusts up against his hand.

“Just. Take a deep breath and calm down, okay?”

Dean sounds good. Sounds steady and strong. It’s a lie, of course, Sam knows it is, but he shuts his eyes on the Dean in the movie and concentrates on his brother’s voice.

“Talk to me,” he demands.

Dean doesn’t laugh at him. Dean never laughs at him when it matters. “What do you want me to say?”

“Don’t fucking care,” Sam grunts, and oh he’s going to Hell but he’s unzipping with his left hand and pulling his cock out with his right.

“How’re you doing?” Dean asks after a brief pause. “You taking care of yourself, Sammy? Meet any girls?”

Yes, but Sam doesn’t want to think about Jess right now.

“No,” he says. “No, I want.” He grunts as his cock slip-slides in his hand: hopes it can be mistaken for a drunken sound. “No questions, just talk to me.”

“Sure, Sammy, okay,” Dean answers easily, and starts talking. He talks about the Impala, and about this bar he and Dad visited last week, and about Bobby’s new dog. Sam listens to his brother’s voice and fucks into his fist and imagines those plump, girly lips wrapped around his cock. He finally comes while Dean is going on about this cherry pie he had in Wisconsin a few months back.

Dropping the phone, Sam bites down on his hand to muffle his moans. After it’s over, he sits there for a moment, breathless, while the room spins around him. Dean is still talking when he picks the phone back up.

It takes him a few tries, but Sam finally manages to say, “Dean.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, halting mid-sentence. “How’re you doing? Better?”

Sam looks down at his slick hand and sticky cock and doesn’t know how to answer that. “Where are you?” he finally asks instead, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling.

“Connecticut,” Dean says, too quick and too smooth. Practiced.

“Liar,” Sam mutters, and Dean doesn’t deny it.

Instead, he says, “So, you gonna tell me why you called?”

For a moment, it trembles on his lips. I saw the movie, the porno, I saw what they did, how could they, how could they do that, how could you let them. Then his alcoholic daze lifts enough for him to get a clearer picture of himself sitting here with a bottle of whiskey beside him and come smeared on his gaping pants and he laughs. He laughs because he’s never going to escape his family, never going to escape Dean, and he has to laugh before he screams.

“Sammy?” Dean says.

“I hate you,” Sam chokes out. Like the laughing thing, it’s coming out backwards, but he can’t bear to say what he means. “I hate you so fucking much, Dean, God, why the fuck didn’t you come with me, you could have come with me, you could have.”

Sam shuts up at the sound of Dean’s voice, but Dean isn’t talking to him. His words are muffled, and Sam only catches a few of them: Dean asking for a few more minutes, and his own name, and something that sounds horribly like ‘Dad’.

“Sorry about that—” Dean starts, and Sam blurts, “I miss you.”

He can almost hear Dean’s brain trying to change gears in the silence that follows his statement. He wants to wait for Dean to respond—hear what he has to say—but he can sense the anger and the confusion bubbling up again and he needs to be off the phone before he says something hurtful that Dean actually catches.

“Take care of yourself, okay?” he mumbles, and then ends the call. On the TV, Movie-Dean is busy getting double his pleasure, but Sam doesn’t pay any attention to that. Instead, he pushes to his feet and stumbles as fast as he can for the bathroom.

If his phone rings, he can’t hear it over the vomiting.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam groans loudly in protest as something yanks him up into a sitting position. His head is pounding, and being upright isn’t doing anything good for his stomach, either. If he hadn’t already puked everything there was to puke, he’d be puking again right now.

“Jesus Christ, Sammy,” a gruff voice mutters into his hair. “What the fuck were you trying to do, kill yourself?”

Sam’s pretty sure he’s hallucinating, but he opens his eyes anyway. As far as hallucinations go, this one sorta sucks because Dean has a black eye and a line of butterfly stitches keeping his cheek closed. Also, Sam figures if he’s going to hallucinate his brother, he might as well hallucinate a few less layers of clothing while he’s at it.

Okay, he’s maybe still slightly drunk.

“Dean?” he tries.

“Guess your brain can’t be too fried if you remember who I am,” Dean says. There’s enough sourness in the words that Sam cringes a little, but his brother’s voice is gentler as he asks, “You think you can stand up?”

Sam considers it—thinks that the answer is probably no—and then gets distracted by Dean’s face again. “You’re hurt,” he says, reaching up to touch one of the butterfly stitches with one finger. Of course, his depth perception is a little off right now, so he ends up poking the gash instead.

Hissing, Dean jerks his head back. “Damn it, Sam!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Sam mumbles. So, Dean’s face is off limits. He looks lower, over his brother’s broad chest, and settles his hand there instead. “Warm.”

“How much did you have to drink, anyway?” Dean asks, peering at him. His eyes are so green, almost mesmerizing, and Sam thinks he could get lost there if he weren’t already so involved in staring at his brother’s lips.

“I think I’m gay,” he announces. It’s not exactly true—he’s an equal opportunity guy and Dean’s known it for years—but ‘gay’ sounds better than ‘bi’ when you’re about to make your move. Sam doesn’t want to sound wishy-washy, after all.

“Does that mean I get to call you Samantha?” Dean asks.

Sam’s pretty sure Dean can call him whatever he wants with those lips as long as he does other things with them as well. “Can you—” Blow me, is what Sam wants to ask, but even in his current state he realizes that asking for a blow job right off the bat is probably a big no-no, so he shuts his mouth again. They need to ease into this. Kissing first. Then blowjobs.

“Can I kiss you?” he asks.

Dean just looks at him for a few seconds, nonplussed, and then he scowls and says, “Fucking lightweight, man,” and hauls Sam to his feet.

Sam forgets all about kissing anything while he clings to Dean and tries not to puke or fall over or pass out or all three. Luckily, when the world finally stops spinning (it’s like a merry-go-round and a rollercoaster and a Ferris wheel all at once) and he opens his eyes again, Dean’s mouth—those fucking lips—are right there. All Sam has to do is turn his head and tilt forward a little, and so he does.

Dean’s got the reflexes of a cat (here kitty, kitty), and Sam only has time for a faint impression of softness before he’s shoved away. He takes a step back, arms pin wheeling, and falls against what he recognizes—after a few bleary blinks—as the kitchen counter.

He isn’t quite sure how he got in here.

“You pushed me!” he yells, confused and belligerent about it.

“You fucking kissed me, dickweed!” Dean shouts back.

“You didn’t say no!” Sam points out. He gestures wildly with one arm, emphasizing his point, and almost falls over.

No!” Dean spits. “No, okay, Sammy? Jesus Christ! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

That’s an excellent question. One Sam has an answer to. He just … has to think about it for a moment. While he ponders, Dean moves in again and slides an arm around his waist. He smells good: like leather and sweat and something deep and masculine that’s all Dean. Sam considers licking his brother’s neck and then decides that if Dean isn’t interested in the kissing thing, he probably won’t go for neck licking either.

They’re actually in the living room when Sam remembers exactly what’s been eating at him all night, and he immediately flips out. Dean cannot know that Sam has been watching his not-so-secret porn debut. It’d kill him. Not to mention it would lead to horrible conversations about Sam’s newfound incestuous feelings. He’s been doing a pretty good job of keeping them hidden so far, but if he has to talk to Dean about Sam Stallion’s portrayal of Tony ‘the kitty’, he’s going to do something wildly inappropriate; like start stripping or asking if he can suck his brother’s cock. Or possibly asking if Dean will suck his.

Which, come to think of it, he almost asked a few minutes ago.

Crap.

There isn’t time to think up a subtle excuse to get them both out of the living room, and Sam’s brain isn’t working that well right now anyway, so he settles for flailing in the direction of the kitchen.

“Woah!” Dean says, gripping him tighter. “Sam. Hold on there, man. Gotta get you to bed, okay?”

Sam’s dick perks up at the thought of Dean and his bed being in the same place at the same time, but the rest of Sam is still dedicated to fixing the Sam Stallion problem. “No! No, Dean, you have to go, you have to—”

“Sam—”

Not supposed to be here!” Sam yells, desperate. “Get out, get out, I don’t fucking want you here!”

Dean lets go of him finally and takes a step backwards. “You called me, asshat! You fucking drunk dialed me and then you said. You.”

He shuts his mouth suddenly and firmly into a thin line (or as thin as it can get with lips like those, anyway) and lifts his right hand up to rub at his temple. When Sam squints, he catches the faint, white ridge of a scar between the circular strokes of his brother's fingers. It's almost enough to distract him, but his fear remains stronger than his curiosity and he opens his mouth to tell Dean to leave again.

Before he can get the words out, Dean says, “Fine. You want me gone: I’m gone. Just don’t blame me if you wake up dead in a pool of your own vomit.”

He turns, heading for the front door, and Sam realizes that his brother is going to walk right past the TV, and then he realizes that the TV is off, and he remembers putting the DVD back in its case, and he remembers tossing the whole kit and caboodle out the kitchen window.

“Oh thank god,” he says, and that’s when he falls over and passes out.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Sam wakes up again, his head is splitting and his mouth tastes like Groucho Marx has been using it as an ashtray. Possibly a toilet, too.

He opens his eyes and finds himself staring at his pillow. Huh. Somehow, he seems to have made it back to his bed and onto his stomach. He pushes himself up onto his hands and knees slowly and blinks down at himself.

Somehow he also got stripped of all his clothing.

“What the fuck did I do last night?” he groans.

“Awesome question,” Dean says, and thrusts a glass of something foul smelling and congealing under his nose. “Here.”

“Oh my god,” Sam groans, turning his face away and covering his mouth with one hand.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Don’t be such a fucking pussy, man,” he mutters, grabbing Sam by the hair and yanking his head back.

Sam opens his mouth to tell Dean to let go already and his brother upends the glass, pouring the concoction into his open mouth. Sam can either spit it up all over his sheets (which he just washed two days ago, thanks) or he can suck it up and swallow, and after a few seconds of arguing with his throat, Sam opts for swallowing.

“Atta boy,” Dean says, patting Sam’s back as he coughs and gags on the aftertaste.

“Asshole,” Sam pants.

“You deserve it,” Dean tells him. “Hell, you’re lucky I didn’t shave your head and glue your hand to your dick while you were out.” Setting the glass down on the nightstand, he turns around and leans against the edge. “What do you remember?”

Your ass getting fucked by two enormous cocks at once, Sam thinks, and then everything comes rushing in—want him, want Dean, want my brother—and he has to put his hand over his mouth again to keep from puking Dean’s hangover cure right back up.

“Far as I can tell,” Dean speaks into the silence, “You drank a little over half a bottle of Johnny Walker and then passed out. Oh, but not until you called yours truly to come take care of you. Always thought that was more Dad’s thing than yours, but …”

“I had a bad day,” Sam says. It comes out just as brittle and hurt as he feels beneath the hangover, but Dean’s still pissed about something—about last night, oh god I tried to kiss him—and all it gets him is a quirk of his brother’s lips and a “Yeah, those’re going around.”

Sam sits down on the edge of the bed so he can drape the sheet over his crotch. His dick is behaving right now, but who knows how long that’ll last with Dean leaning there looking so fuckable? With his hair all soft and mussed, like he spent last night running his hands through it, and his lips, those goddamned girly lips, practically begging for some attention.

Fuck, he's beautiful. Sam doesn't know how he could have overlooked that knowledge for so long.

The morning sunshine streaming in through his window is splashing across his brother's face and painting his skin with light. The contrast between the sunset of a shiner on Dean's left eye and the green burn of his iris is breathtaking. He has a bruise on his jaw that Sam didn't notice in his drunken stupor: another memento from whatever monster blackened his eye and put that reddened, irritated cut on his check.

It doesn't make him look tough: despite his endless boasting, Dean's wounds never do. He only looks vulnerable when he's hurt—something about his lashes, maybe, or the puckered bow of his mouth, or the pallor of his skin. Or maybe the careful way he carries himself.

Sam wonders if the cut on his brother's cheek will scar the way whatever injury left the tiny imperfection at his right temple did. Wondering about the half-glimpsed scar leads to looking at it—hook-shaped and all but hidden by his brother's hairline—and looking at it makes Sam think of the claw marks on Dean's hip, which leads to thoughts of his brother being ridden like a pro, which is a concept light-years beyond his ability to handle right now.

Flushing and lowering his eyes, he shifts on the bed and rubs the bottom of his left foot against his right shin. His stomach sloshes with the vile hangover remedy that Dean just poured down his throat, and with the lingering traces of last night's festivities, and with the first, faint bloom of arousal, and he grimaces, biting the inside of his cheek. The pain does the trick—or maybe Dean's concoction is starting to do its job—and after a couple of seconds Sam's stomach settles again.

Looking up at his brother through his bangs, he asks, “What happened to your face?”

“Got into a bar fight,” Dean answers flatly. “What’s your excuse?”

“Bar fight my ass,” Sam shoots back, ignoring the insult. “What really happened?”

Dean regards him for a moment and then shrugs. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

As he looks at his brother, it occurs to Sam that Dean would say the same thing if he asked about the movie: nothing he couldn’t handle, nothing, it was nothing really. Not that Sam is actually eager to bring Sam Stallion up, but … God, he wishes he could say something to Dean to make him understand that he’s worth more than that.

Sam’s throat constricts and he nods, dropping his eyes.

“What about you?” Dean asks. “You wanna tell me why you finally remembered my number? Or did you just need someone to clean up your vomit?”

Sam winces—it’s a fair accusation, if inaccurate—and then shakes his head. “I called you because I missed you.”

He doesn’t look at his brother. He can’t look at Dean when he’s feeling so raw and desperate inside. He’s too afraid of what Dean might see. But he can feel his brother looking at him, and he knows what expression he’d find on Dean’s face.

The silence stretches out between them, painful, and then Dean clears his throat and says in a carefully neutral voice, “Car’s outside.”

Sam’s head gives a particularly strong pulse of agony that isn’t anything compared to how shredded his chest feels. Shutting his eyes, he pinches the bridge of his nose. “Ah,” he says, and then clears his throat. “Dean, I. I’m not leaving.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you were,” Dean says, but it’s a shade too fast: too deliberately flippant. “Just thought you wanted to maybe go for a drive. Fresh air’ll clear the rest of that hangover right up.”

The offer in his words is clear. It’s nothing perfect, nothing like what they were, but it’s more than what they have right now. It’s visits to Stanford between hunts, drinks out at bars, real smiles instead of the plastic one Dean would be wearing if Sam could bear to lift his head. It’s a chance to be brothers again: awkward and a little estranged, maybe, but in time they would find their feet. They’d make a new beginning.

Only Sam doesn’t want that anymore. He wants more. And he doesn’t know whether he’s more frightened of Dean finding out and turning him down, or of Dean finding out and agreeing because he doesn’t value himself enough to say no.

Even if he manages to hide his feelings, if Dean keeps hanging around then Sam is never going to get over him. He’s never going to learn to look past his brother’s blinding, burning light and see the lesser lights that he can have. Not so beautiful, maybe, and not so warm, but safer.

Lights like Jess.

“I shouldn’t have called you,” Sam says. “It was a mistake.” That lie alone is enough to send Dean away for good, but Sam has always been an overachiever, so he adds, “I don’t need you anymore, Dean. You’re only holding me back. I don’t—I don’t want you around.”

The words sound hollow in his own ears: false. He never could lie for shit, but he doesn’t think that he has ever been more painfully obvious. Dean isn’t going to buy it, not in a million years.

Except he does.

“Yeah, okay.” Dean’s voice is toneless. Empty. There’s a creak of leather as he straightens.

Despite the agonizing constriction in his chest—God, how unfair is it that he has to lose Dean twice, that he has to hurt his brother like this for a second time?—Sam realizes that this is his last chance to say anything to Dean about the movie. It’s his last chance to try and straighten out at least some of what’s twisted up inside of his brother. Dean probably isn’t going to listen to him, but he at least has to try.

“Dean,” he rasps, and hears his brother pause in the doorway. “Dean, you. You’re a good guy, okay? Don’t. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re worth more than that.”

Dean lets out a cold, jagged laugh, but doesn’t say anything. When Sam looks up a moment later, the doorway is empty. He sits in bed until he hears the familiar rumble of an engine start up and move away, and then puts his head in his hands and lets the tears come.

Dean, he thinks. God, Dean, I’m so sorry.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam doesn’t see his brother again for two years, and within three days of Dean’s return, everything he has built for himself lies in smoking, charred rubble. Jess included.

She didn’t deserve it, but Sam’s pretty sure he did.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There are things they don’t talk about. Sam puts Jess on the list. Dean puts Mom there. They both agree not to discuss Sam’s phone call, or his drunken ramblings, or their conversation the next morning.

They don’t talk about their feelings, which Dean probably thinks is a concession Sam’s making for him but is really a self-defense mechanism on Sam’s part.

They don’t talk about the hunts Dean went on while Sam was gone, which is a concession because Sam finds himself greedy for the information—for the truth of those missing days, for the stories behind the unfamiliar scars on his brother’s body. Dean has a new burn mark on his forearm, what looks like a knife slash curves down his left side, and there’s that hooked scar at his right temple. Dean rubs at it when he’s tired, and Sam wants to ask, he wants to know, he wants to drink down all of that lost history so that Dean is his again, owned and cherished and kept.

But Sam left. He left and he pushed Dean away and he knows that he isn’t entitled to that anymore, so the questions melt unasked in his throat.

They also don’t talk about the fact that Dean goes home with girls while Sam sometimes steps out back with men. Dean has known that Sam is bisexual for years, and if these days his tastes are a little more heavily slanted toward broad-shouldered, dark-haired men with ready smiles and hard bodies, well, Sam’s just trying to get over Jess is all. He’s avoiding memories, not looking for substitutes for the one thing he wants, desperately, and can’t have.

They don’t talk about the way that men sometimes stand too close to Dean, or put their hands on his wrist, or rub up against him. There’s nothing to talk about because it’s just another bar fight, just a couple more bloodied knuckles, and if Dean lets his stubble grow out a little further before shaving, or highlights his hair and takes to wearing shades even on the most overcast of days, then it’s easy for Sam to pretend he doesn’t notice.

They talk about the hunt, and about the Impala, and about their differing tastes in music, and about finding Dad, and about the weather, and about their weapons, and about the best places to stay for the night, and about what they want to eat, and about how fucking stupid some people are, Christ, why do they bother, and about how best to evade the cops, and about how much money is left on their credit cards, and about anything under the sun, and nothing at all.

They talk so much, sometimes, that Sam wonders what’s lurking in the silence that they’re so afraid of.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin, Dean talks to a mute, frightened boy about the mother Sam can’t remember.

Twelve thousand miles up, Dean is terrified of being stuck in an airborne tin can but shoulders through anyway.

In Toledo, Ohio, Dean weeps blood onto a floor of mirrored shards. Sam's busy weeping blood himself, of course, but he can hear his brother puking somewhere near him, and when he blinks the red away he sees Dean bent in half with his hand pressed to his temple. He's worried for a moment that Dean might be having a stroke—Mary had Sam longer, but Dean was closer when she came out of the mirror—but then Dean takes a deep, shuddering breath, shakes his head, and pushes to his feet.

Then he all but carries Sam out to the car and spends the rest of the night standing guard over him in the hospital emergency room while strangers in white coats scan his brain (Sam's, that is: Dean's fine, doesn't need a check up, won't let anyone examine him) for signs of hemorrhaging. Dean keeps touching him—his forearm, his shoulder, the back of his neck—but Sam is sure that his brother isn't aware of it.

It shouldn’t be possible to fall in love with the same person twice, but somehow Sam is managing just fine.

Chapter Text

Everything starts to fall apart in Philadelphia. They’re walking down the street discussing their latest case—something has been killing pregnant teens and slurping the unborn fetuses from their bodies, and so far they’ve both come up with bupkis—when someone calls, “Sam!”

Sam pauses and turns around. Dean keeps going for a few more steps and then stops himself.

There are two men coming toward them, and Sam only has to take one look to know that he wasn’t the one they were calling. The guy on the right is wearing a tight, pink t-shirt and a white scarf around his neck. The other is wearing a grey t-shirt with a rainbow shooting from the left shoulder down to the right hip.

Dean has gone very, very still.

“Oh man, it is him!” the man in the pink shirt—kid, really: neither of them looks a day over twenty—exclaims. “I mean. It’s you! Wow. This is, like, such an honor, Mr. Stallion.”

It’s so horrifying that Sam wants to laugh.

“You’ve got the wrong guy,” Dean says, and when Sam glances at his brother, the back of Dean’s neck and the tips of his ears have gone an alarming shade of red.

“No, I’m sure it’s you. I’d recognize those lips anywhere.”

Dean’s posture is stiffer than Sam has ever seen it, and Sam is torn between the urge to touch his brother’s shoulder in an effort to reassure him and the knowledge that the best thing he could probably do right now is to walk away so that Dean can maintain an air of plausible deniability. Instead, he stands frozen in the middle of the sidewalk like the asshole he is.

Pink’s friend—his boyfriend, maybe—senses that this is maybe not the best time or place and reaches out to take Pink’s arm. “Sorry, he’s on a sugar rush,” he tries. “We’ll just—”

“I’ve watched Pussycat Fever, like, a zillion times,” Pink gushes, brightly oblivious. “It’s seriously the best movie in the entire Hunters oeuvre! And you—man, you were fantastic! I can’t believe you managed to take both Aaron Rockhard and Harry the Hammer at once! That’s hardcore, man. Oh, hey! Can I get your autograph?”

Dean continues to stare at Pink blankly and, after almost a minute of strained silence, Pink takes a shuffling step back. Looks like he finally woke up and smelled the awkward. Then the kid’s gaze slips over to Sam and he brightens again.

“Hey, is this your boyfriend?” he asks, Then, to Sam, he says, “You’re really lucky, man.”

Oh God, Sam’s gonna laugh. Or possibly puke.

“C’mon, Russ, I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” Rainbow Shirt says.

Pink blinks and then shakes his head. “No. No way, man.”

Rainbow Shirt nudges his (boy)friend’s shoulder and says, “He’s too tall. Also, this dude’s got freckles. The Stallion’s skin was flawless, remember?”

“Oh,” Pink says, face falling. In a last ditch attempt, he offers, “Make up?”

Rainbow Shirt shakes his head. “Honey, you need to snap out of the fantasy and live in the real world for a moment. Also, you need to apologize to the nice men for the mix up.”

Pink doesn’t seem to be the brightest crayon in the box, but he’s finally—thank God—catching on, and now he nods, eyes flickering back and forth between Dean and Sam. “Um. Right. Sorry. My mistake.”

“We’re really sorry,” Rainbow Shirt echoes, and then he’s dragging Pink away and leaving Sam in the middle of the street with an effectively outed Dean in the city of brotherly love.

Sam’s heart is beating rapidly enough that he’s a little concerned it’ll pop out of his chest. After all these months—after years of wanting to talk about it—this is his chance. He doesn’t have to admit he’s seen the movie. He just needs to nag his brother about this encounter until Dean breaks down and tells him.

And then what? he asks himself.

When the first answer his brain sends back is ‘then you can find out whether he’s up for a repeat performance’, Sam knows he isn’t ready. He isn’t strong enough to drudge all of this up without his own feelings coating everything like radioactive glitter.

“So,” he says finally. “Guess you’ve got a doppelganger.”

Dean looks at him for a moment—his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, his mouth unsmiling and still—and then he nods. “Yeah, guess so.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean doesn’t usually drink in the middle of cases—not heavily, anyway—but as Sam sits at the bar that night, going over their notes, Dean knocks back shot after shot until he’s pliant with drink: eyes heavy-lidded and mouth lax. He rubs at the scar on his forehead with manic frequency, like if he does it hard enough and long enough he can erase it. Meanwhile, his left hand plays with the empty shot glasses that he won’t let their waitress clear. He lines them up and shifts them around the table like soldiers on a battlefield, fighting a war against some imaginary enemy in his mind.

Sam can’t be sure, but he thinks Dean’s shot glass soldiers are losing.

Tightening his grip on his notebook, he bumps his brother’s knee with his own under the table and asks, “You ready to head out?”

Dean blinks up at him, fingers stilling on his forehead. He looks almost drugged and more vulnerable than he would probably like, and Sam’s mind helpfully reminds him that this isn’t too far from how his brother looked when he was freshly fucked and dripping come. He shoves the thought away immediately and busies himself with packing up. His heart is beating too quickly: mouth bitter with mingled guilt and want. At the jangle of metal sliding across wood, he lets himself look up again.

“Think y’should drive,” Dean slurs, taking his hand back and leaving the keys where they are.

“Sure,” Sam agrees. “Do you think you can make it out to the car at least?”

It’s just a question—not meant as rebuke or scorn or disdain—but Dean’s brow furrows and he pushes away from the table with something approaching violence. “Can handle m’own liquor,” he spits, staggering toward the door. Sam swears under his breath, gathering the rest of his stuff in a hurry and jogging after his brother. He finds Dean trying to pick himself up from the bottom of the front steps and, catching his elbow, hauls him up.

“’M fine,” Dean insists, anger heavy in his voice, but he’s too drunk to figure out how to dislodge Sam’s hand. Sam runs his eyes over his brother’s body quickly—no obvious signs that he hurt himself when he fell over—and then sighs.

“Come on, Dean. Let’s get you back to the motel.”

“Don’t need your help,” Dean growls. “Can take care of myself.”

“I know you can. Just humor me, okay?”

“Don’t need,” Dean mutters to himself as Sam draws him toward the car, “Don’t need anybody. Fuck it.”

Sam leans his brother up against the side of the Impala while he gets the door open, and when he turns around, Dean has his head tilted back and is staring up at the sky. The moonlight flows over him with a gentle glow, softening his edges and making the outline of his lips shine. The scar on his temple is so white it looks silver, and Dean is beautiful, so very beautiful. Sam reaches without thinking, fingers brushing the exposed line of his brother’s throat, and Dean startles, jerking away and almost falling. He catches himself on the car and blinks at Sam, expression hovering between uncertain and angry.

“Did you just—”

“No,” Sam says, way too quickly to be believed, and curls his traitorous fingers into a fist.

Luckily, Dean’s alcohol-soused brain has already moved on from the brief caress, and instead of pursuing it he rolls forward and rests his forehead against the roof of the car. “M so fuckin drunk,” he mumbles.

“Car, Dean,” Sam tells him, taking him by the arm and drawing him toward the open door.

“Car, Sam,” Dean mocks. “Coat, Sam. Door, Sam. Seat, Sam. Dashboard, Sam. Hair, Sam. Window, Sam.”

“Dean, I swear to god, if you don’t shut up I will tape your mouth shut,” Sam mutters, fighting to get his brother’s seatbelt closed while doing his best to ignore the way that Dean is slumped forward against his side and back.

“Go ahead,” Dean answers immediately, voice thick with self-loathing. “Cover up my fuckin mouth. Fuckin—fuckin lips.”

Sam’s sweating suddenly, and his hands tremble on the buckle. Dean rests his head on Sam’s shoulder. His laugh huffs out warm and wet against Sam’s neck and hair.

“S’what they all want. S’what they. Fuckin’ cocksucker lips. Wanna fuck my mouth like’m some kinda fuckin’ girl.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not a girl, Dean,” Sam says. It’s lame and awkward and in no way an adequate response, but between Dean’s wet breath panting out across the nape of his neck, and Dean going on about his mouth like that, and Sam remembering what Dean’s mouth looked like filled with cock, Sam is lucky he’s capable of coherent speech at all.

Then Dean asks, “You think I’d be—be good at it, Sammy?”

Jesus Christ.

He pats drunkenly at Sam’s head. “You ever think maybe I’d be—be a natural, some shit like that? Think I could open my mouth, let some guy stuff his fat cock down my throat? Think I could milk his dick with my cocksucking lips?”

Okay, that’s it.

Dropping the belt buckle—he’s just gonna have to be careful not to crash—Sam straightens quickly enough that he knocks his brother’s head back against the side of the door.

“Ow!” Dean complains, rubbing his jaw.

“Sorry,” Sam says insincerely as he closes the door and hurries around to the driver’s side.

Luckily for him, Dean is either sulking or sunk into his thoughts on the drive back to the motel: he’s not saying anything, let alone asking Sam to think about his pretty, obscene mouth stuffed with cock. Dean stays silent as Sam parks, and as Sam hauls him out of the car, and as Sam manhandles him inside and into the bed. He lets Sam strip off his boots and then rolls onto his side and stares at the wall.

Running a hand through his hair, Sam starts for the bathroom only to be stopped by the sound of his brother’s voice.

“Why’re you here?”

Slowly, Sam turns around. Dean’s still watching the wall: back to him. “Because this is our motel room?” he tries.

“No,” Dean says, struggling to roll over so that he can peer up at Sam. “Why’re you here?”

Sam looks back at his brother’s face, which is painfully, miserably open with all the alcohol Dean has consumed, and is too stunned by the stupidity of that question to come up with an answer. Before his mind has even begun functioning again, his brother shuts his eyes and sinks back against the pillow.

“’S what I thought.”

Sam doesn’t know what answer Dean read in his silence, but it can’t have been anything good. If Sam were a stronger man—if he were less afraid of his own emotions, and of Dean’s reaction to them—then this is when he would have said, “I’m here because I need you. Because you’re my brother and I love you and I’m never going to stop needing you.”

But all he can manage is, “It’s not like that, Dean.”

“Whatever,” Dean mutters, disbelieving, and he’s out before Sam can say another word.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the morning, Sam wants to bring it up again—fix things—but Dean is hung over and pissed off about it, and it’s safer to keep his mouth shut. He wants to talk later that afternoon, too; only by then they’ve figured out that they’re hunting an Aswang, and all Dean wants to do is bitch about the complete and utter lack of a Supernatural Customs Bureau to keep shit like this from getting into the country in the first place. Then they have to locate a silver weapon big enough to kill the thing, steal said weapon—a huge, ceremonial sword—from a local collector’s house, track the Aswang down, and dispatch it.

For his part, Dean seems to have no memory of the night before. Sometimes, though, Sam catches his brother looking at him with this odd, still expression that makes his chest ache. Lying in bed at night with Dean’s steady breathing the only noise in the room, he tries to figure out what it is about that look that bothers him so much. He thinks it might be something about the tension lines around Dean’s mouth, or maybe the clouded, forest green of his eyes.

Something is going on inside his brother’s head, that’s for sure. Sam just has no idea what.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He doesn’t find out until two weeks later, and then he’s lying bound on the floor of Becky’s family room with something that looks like his brother but really, really isn’t, standing over him.

“You know, this is some really pretty packaging,” the shifter says.

It's examining itself—examining Dean—in the mirror hanging on the wall. Tilting Dean's face from side to side and chewing on Dean's pouty bottom lip. As Sam watches, it gives the scar on Dean's temple a single, lingering prod before dropping its hand and turning around to grin at him.

“Too bad he’s too fucked in the head to put it to good use, huh?”

Sam twists his hands against the ropes binding him—useless: for all intents and purposes, these are Dean’s knots—and says, “Don’t talk about him like that.” He knows that he’s only playing into the thing’s hands by responding, but he can’t help himself: can’t bring himself to lie quietly while this son of a bitch insults his brother.

“Just making conversation,” it tells him and then, with an amused smirk, reaches down to cup its crotch.

Sam shifts his eyes away, disgusted by the heat that fills his own groin at the sight. He feels dirty and uncomfortable: Dean isn’t here to see what the shifter is doing to his body (and it isn’t even Dean’s body anyway, it’s just a replica, a copy) but Sam knows how his brother would feel if he were here. Knows that Dean would be shamed and violated and really fucking pissed off. Sam wishes, violently, that he were free and had a silver-coated knife he could use to pin the damned thing to the wall.

The shifter lets out a low groan that doesn’t do anything for Sam’s peace of mind—it’s the same hoarse, reluctant noise Dean was making in the movie—and then breathes, “Oh yeah. Real pretty packaging.” Its voice is taunting. Baiting him.

Sam clenches his jaw and says nothing.

“Goddamned crime, actually,” the shifter continues. “You got a body like this, you enjoy it. Dean? Dean’s too busy hating himself. I’m surprised he can even get it up without a little pharmaceutical help, if you know what I mean.”

Sam’s gut twists and this time he can’t help himself. “You don’t know shit about him,” he spits, turning his head around to glare at the shifter.

It’s still massaging its crotch, but at his words it laughs and drops its hand. “You know, you’re awfully sensitive about your brother’s sex life.”

Strolling closer, the shifter nudges Sam’s side with one foot and he strikes clumsily at its leg with his bound hands. He connects solidly a couple of times before it drops to a crouch, putting one knee on the carpet, and catches his flailing hands.

Sam fights, but the thing is incredibly strong, and he’s still a little woozy from being knocked out before. A moment later its other knee is trapping his bound arms against his stomach.

“I’m gonna slice you up from the outside in,” the shifter promises. Now that it doesn’t need its hand to hold Sam’s arms still, it reaches up to grip his hair instead, yanking his head back and baring his throat. “But I’m wondering if you wouldn’t like a little taste of something else first.”

Its eyes flicker—Dean’s green irises obscured with something slick and pale and iridescent—and Sam feels something fumbling across his thoughts. He thinks he can smell, faintly, the reek of the shifter’s discarded skins from the sewers. Above him, the shifter’s face has collapsed in something riding the fine line between pain and agony. It jerks its head to the side, a quick spasm, and lets out a hiss. Then the invasive sensation of having the layers of his mind peeled back and examined fades and the tension in the shifter’s face eases. A moment later it’s laughing: wide and genuine, like Dean hardly ever does.

“Oh, that’s priceless! You actually saw it? That’s probably big brother’s worst nightmare, you know. The worst one he remembers, anyway. And you actually got off on it. You got off on watching big brother take it up the ass for money.”

The sensation of having his mind felt up may be gone, but Sam’s insides are still crawling with it, and the guilt added by the shifter’s words makes the nausea nearly unbearable. There’s a difference between knowing, objectively, how betrayed Dean will feel if he ever finds out that Sam watched the movie and hearing it as a fact from something with a direct pipeline to his brother’s brain. Sam flounders for a moment, trying to deal with the alternating waves of guilt and disgust running through him, and then shoves them aside instead. There are times to deal with how fucked up he is, but tied up and at the mercy of a psychopathic serial killer isn’t one of them.

Gritting his teeth, he spits out, “Fuck you.”

“I may have to rethink this whole killing you thing,” the shifter muses, releasing his hair. “Might be more fun to slip into something a little younger—” It trails its hand suggestively down his chest. “—and pay Dean a visit.”

Sam’s breathing speeds at the suggestion. “You touch him and I’ll kill you,” he says, trying to put all of his determination into his voice.

The shifter smirks at him, unfazed. “Oh, I won’t have to touch him. All I have to do is give him the answer he’s waiting for. All I have to do is tell him why a smart, college boy like you is hanging around someone as pathetic as him.” Licking its lips, it leans closer. “All I have to do is tell him that baby brother’s only along for the ride because he wants ‘kitty’ to get down on his knees and wrap those pretty, cocksucking lips around his cock—”

“Shut up!”

“—or would you rather have his ass?” Its smile goes sharp. “I never broke someone without cutting into them before. I wonder if he’ll cry as pretty as the others did when I tell him that he’s nothing more than a tight ass and a hot pair of lips to you.”

“If you can read my mind, then you know it isn’t like that,” Sam says. He doesn’t know if he’s furious or panicked, but he feels flushed all over—nauseous. He twists his hands futilely beneath the shifter’s knee.

“Oh? So all those filthy, dirty thoughts aren’t yours? You don’t daydream about opening up that mouth of his and pushing your cock inside? You don’t want to bend him over and fuck him: see if being stuffed full of his baby brother’s cock can get him off as hard as taking two strangers?”

Sam’s stomach gives a violent twist. He can’t deny that he’s thought of it. He’s wondered whether he could fuck Dean as raw and red as those porn stars did: if he could drag those same, broken, toofulltoomuch noises from his brother’s throat. He’s watched Dean stuff burgers into his mouth and imagined his cock stretching those lips instead, the tight channel of Dean’s throat around him.

But that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even half of it.

Because he also watches Dean sleeping in the morning when he wakes up first, and he laughs at his cheesy jokes, and the childlike joy on his brother’s face (over the simplest things, like finding cherry pie in a diner or a classic horror movie on TV) brings an answering glow in his own chest. Sam may want to fuck his brother, but he also wants to hold him, and make him smile, and chase away the shadows from his eyes. He wants to make Dean see himself the way that Sam sees him: the way that anyone who takes the time to push past Dean’s masks would see him. He wants to teach Dean to give a damn about himself.

“I love him,” Sam growls. “Not that I’d expect a psychopathic murderer like you to understand what that means.”

“Oh, but I do know what that means, Sammy,” the shifter responds, and Sam can tell from the softness in its voice that it has gone back to playing Dean instead of just talking about him. “Love’s what other people give you as long as you give them what they want. Love is what you get until people wise up enough to take a good look at you and realize what a complete waste of time you are.”

Sam’s gut aches with the knowledge that it’s pulling the words from his brother’s head. This isn’t the shifter messing with his mind: it’s true, Dean actually feels like that. As tears burn his eyes, he starts struggling again in an effort to dislodge the thing’s knee. It rides the attempt easily, chucking as it lets Dean’s personality fall away.

“You’re special, though, aren’t you, Sam? You get underneath his skin: you nestle right up close inside his ribcage. Dean doesn’t want you there—it fucking petrifies him—but he doesn’t know how to shut you out and he’s been starting to hope that you might be different. He’s starting to hope that there’s another definition for love: something he can have. Something that stays.”

Its grin widens.

“Imagine how he’s gonna feel when he finds out you just want the same thing as everyone else.”

“No!” Sam shouts. His struggles redouble again, and the shifter rocks back a little before dropping forward and driving the breath from his chest. It wraps its fingers around his neck—delicately, one at a time—and then tightens its grip, cutting off Sam’s air.

“I’m really hoping he’ll be broken enough when I’m done with him to give me a ride,” it says as it chokes him. “Be nice to take this pretty package out for a spin.”

“Ngh!” Sam grunts in protest, struggling to get his hands out from beneath the shifter’s weight so that he can at least try to fight.

“Don’t worry, he should be used to spreading and taking it by now. He just needs a little reminding.” It chuckles, beaming down at Sam as his vision starts to grey. “Dean and I are gonna take a little walk down memory lane. Gonna take a look in the mirror, so to speak.” Sam can’t really see anymore, but he can still feel as the shifter leans close, breath moist on his ear. “You don’t mind sloppy fifths, right?”

“Hey, asshole!”

The pressure on Sam’s throat loosens immediately. Before he can take his first gasp of air, though, the shifter digs its knee into his stomach as it pushes itself to his feet. Sam coughs, gags, and then finally gets a sliver of air as he rolls onto his side and curls in on himself, hands cradling his aching gut. Beneath the roar of the blood rushing through his head, the gunshots that come a moment later sound distant and soft: like corks popping. Then Dean is there, hands moving rapidly over Sam’s chest and brushing his neck and cheeks.

“Sammy! Sammy, stay with me, okay? Deep breaths. Come on, man, you can do it. Just breathe.”

“Dean,” Sam gasps, relieved, and Dean hauls him up against his chest. Despite the continuing, deep-seated ache in his stomach, Sam lifts his bound hands and hooks his fingers in his brother’s shirt. “Dean,” he says again.

One of Dean’s arms goes around Sam’s shoulders. His other hand buries itself in Sam’s hair, stroking. “Right here, man. I gotcha, Sammy. I gotcha.”

Sam turns his face into his brother’s chest and breathes in deeply—scent of gunpowder and sweat—and then lets the encroaching darkness have him.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After St. Louis, Dean handles Sam like he’s made of glass, and gives him sad, concerned looks when he thinks that Sam isn’t looking. It’s grating—it was grating by the end of the first hour—but Sam doesn’t have the heart to call his brother on it. The hunt shook Dean more than it should have, and Sam can’t figure out why. He doesn’t understand why Dean has changed the rules on him and keeps going on about Stanford, and law school, and California. It’s almost like Dean wants him to leave, but every time Sam tries to talk to him about it, Dean shuts down on him. He touches the scar on his forehead more than he used to, as well, which is troubling for reasons Sam can’t define.

Even worse, though, is Sam’s newfound, leaden understanding that he can never tell Dean how he feels. He hadn’t been aware that he was actually considering it until the shifter gave him a peek into his brother’s mind and took the possibility away from him. Now the loss has left him hurting fierce and deep, like he has a sprung rib in his chest. It hurts because the shifter was right: Sam can speak as eloquently as he wants about his heart and how much he needs and loves his brother, but Dean is only going to hear yet another person putting limits and requirements on their love for him.

Sam isn’t sure that his brother would be wrong, either.

After all, he already has Dean’s fixed and unswerving attention. He goes to sleep in the same room with his brother, and eats every meal with Dean, and goes out to bars with him when they’re bored or need to blow off some steam. Dean rests his hand on the small of Sam’s back when he’s overly nervous or depressed, and he brings Sam cool, wet cloths to drape over his forehead in the wake of nightmares that leave him sweating and achy. The only thing missing from their relationship is sex, actually, which means that the only motivation Sam has to tell Dean how he feels is the hope of physical compensation.

Which would make him guilty of everything the shifter accused.

Sam understands that; he does, but it doesn’t stop him from hurting. It doesn’t stop the secret he’s carrying around from lodging just underneath his ribcage: hot and pulsing like an open sore. It doesn’t stop him from longing for the right to put his arms around his brother and kiss those maddening, perfect lips until he gets it through Dean’s thick skull that Sam loves him and is never going to leave.

But Dean is damaged enough already, and Sam isn’t going to be the one who finishes breaking his brother, and so he keeps his mouth shut.

Dean loads their crap into the Impala, slips behind the wheel while Sam climbs in on the other side, and they drive.

Chapter Text

When his phone rings, it’s a week later and Dean is in the midst of another pointless (as far as Sam can tell, anyway) ramble about what a nice state California is, while driving them aimlessly South along I-25 in Colorado. Sam checks the caller ID before answering, but it’s just a formality. At this point, he’d answer if it were an evangelist telemarketer calling to try to sell him a one-hundred-percent-guaranteed splinter of the True Cross. Anything to save him from his brother’s awkward monologue and his own brooding thoughts.

It isn’t an evangelist telemarketer, of course, and when Sam sees the name on the screen he grins, feeling his spirits lift a little for the first time since they left Becky’s.

“Hey, asshole,” he says as he picks up.

“Motard,” Jack returns immediately. “You get that job working at a donkey show yet?”

“Fuck you,” Sam grins, and Jack laughs.

“Man, it’s good to hear your voice.”

“Yeah, you too,” Sam agrees. “How’ve you been?”

“I think Allison Jeffries gave me herpes last Saturday, but aside from that I can’t complain.”

Sam snorts. “Okay, one, I thought you were dating Ian; two, knowing the number of people you’ve slept with, your herpes probably have herpes by now; and three, Allison Jeffries wouldn’t touch you if you paid her.”

“Fuck you very much, asshole. Alli may have spent the last three years pining after you, but since you left she’s finally opened her eyes and realized that the true prize is yours truly. And, uh, I broke up with Ian.”

Sam considers telling Jack how sorry he is to hear that and then opts against it. His ex-roommate wouldn’t welcome the sympathy, and Ian was a dick anyway, so Sam would be lying. Instead, he keeps his voice light and says, “Really? That’s what you’re going with? You’re not gonna deny the herpes thing?”

Jack laughs softly on the other end of the phone. “You’re still a wiseass, Winchester.”

“Learned from the best,” Sam answers, and Jack can take that any way he wants, but Sam’s talking about the silent man sitting beside him. He wonders what Dean is making of his side of the conversation.

“Yeah, you did.” There’s a slight pause and then Jack says, “So, how’re you doing?”

Sam hesitates. It isn’t that he thinks Jack would hear the lie in his voice—Jack’s a good guy, but he never learned to read Sam’s tells in the two years they were roommates. He isn’t going to figure the trick out now. No, Sam hesitates because he has belatedly picked up on the slightly subdued tone of Jack’s voice: the words that come a beat too early or too late. That laugh, a few decibels off.

“I’m good,” he says finally. He could say more, could trot out the old party line of ‘road trip with my brother, blah blah blah’, but until he knows what’s going on, it’s best to keep things simple.

Jack lets the silence linger between them until Sam is beginning to wonder if he should have let the call go to voicemail and then clears his throat and says, “So I, uh, talked to Becky.”

“Oh. Uh. Okay?”

“I just—I wanted to say I was sorry about your brother.”

Oh. Well, fuck. Sam had forgotten that Dean was officially dead as far as everyone except for the two of them and Becky (and Dad, if he ever actually checks his voicemail) are concerned. Good thing Sam didn’t start in about the road trip. Jack probably would’ve thought he’d completely lost it.

“Thanks,” he says, glancing toward the driver’s seat. Dean is driving with his elbow out the window and feigned disinterest plastered on his face as he strains to figure out what’s going on over the phone.

On the other end of the line, Jack continues, “I mean, he was a psycho, but he was still your bro, right? So, uh, I thought maybe I should call.”

“I’m doing fine. We, uh, we weren’t really close, so—”

“Yeah, yeah. I remember you telling me. Or, uh, not so much telling as not talking about it. Figured something was off there, but not, y’know, Hannibal Lector stuff. Why the hell’d you leave with him, anyway?” There’s a beat and then, “Fuck, man, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve said—I’m crap at this.”

“No,” Sam says with a slight smile. “It’s okay. I appreciate you calling.”

“Well, I, uh, I felt bad I guess. That I wasn’t here when Jess, y’know.”

Sam’s smile falters. The wound of Jess’ death—her murder, really—has finally scabbed over, but he doesn’t think it’s ever going to heal. Not fully. Tilting his body a little further away from his brother—it’s a toss up whether Sam’s inability to stop mourning Jess is more hurtful to himself or to Dean—he says, “Because you knew she was going to die when you signed up for a semester abroad.”

“I was gonna come back,” Jack tells him, “But Becky told me you were already gone with your psycho—uh, with your brother.”

For Jack, it’s a smooth cover-up.

“It’s okay, Jack. Really.”

“Jack, first roommate Jack?” Dean puts in. There’s a strange note in his voice. Sam offers his brother more of his back and doesn’t answer him.

“So look, I figure since I’m actually in the country this time I should do something. I thought, y’know, you could use someone to take your mind off things.”

Which means, in Jack-Speak, that his ex-roommate thinks Sam could use someone to pump him full of weed and alcohol and take him somewhere there are plenty of naked breasts and asses.

“Surprisingly, I’m not in the mood to go strip-club hopping right now,” he says dryly. “But thanks for the offer.”

“No strip clubs,” Jack promises with a swiftness that makes Sam think he’s telling the truth. Of course, that only makes him more nervous about whatever the guy’s planning. “Come on, man: my roommie’s gonna be out this weekend, so there’s a bed for you to crash on. We’ll hit up some of the usual spots, have a few beers, hang out with some fun people …”

“I appreciate the offer, really, but I’m in Colorado right now, and—”

And that’s when Dean takes the phone out of his hand.

Dean,” Sam hisses, grabbing for it, and gets an elbow in the chest for his trouble. The car swerves slightly on the highway before Dean steadies his hand on the wheel.

“Hey there,” he says into the phone. “Jack, right? Yeah, this is Sam’s bro—” Sam gestures wildly and Dean, catching the movement from the corner of his eye, corrects, “—boyfriend.”

Sam bites his cheek and thumps his head against the window. He didn’t think he could have his nose ground any deeper than it already was in just how much he can’t have what he wants, but Dean just found a way. Sam really should have expected as much. He briefly contemplates fighting for the phone, but he’d rather not end up wrapped around the guardrail, so instead he stares out the window at the non-scenery as his brother talks with Jack (now there’s a frightening combination).

There’s a pathetic, lingering flutter of happiness in Sam’s chest at hearing Dean refer to himself as Sam’s boyfriend. His brother didn’t mean anything by it, Sam knows he didn’t, but his heart is either stupidly optimistic or just plain retarded because the warm tingle doesn’t go away until Dean swerves the car to the left without warning and drives them across the median dividing the southbound and northbound lanes of the highway.

“Jesus Christ!” Sam blurts, clinging to the door with one hand and the dash with the other, his heart pounding in his throat. The Impala jounces around a little on the dirt and then there’s a squeal of tires and they’re on pavement again heading north. “What the fuck, Dean?”

“Sounds good,” Dean says into the phone, ignoring him. “See you in a couple days.” Then, ending the call and tossing the phone back into Sam’s lap, he guns the Impala’s engine and brings them up to cruising speed.

Sam waits for his heart to drop back to where it belongs and his pulse to slow to a less alarming pace before announcing, “Just so you know, I’m not thrilled with this plan.”

Because it’s patently obvious what Dean is doing here. The only unclear element of the situation is the ‘why’, but Sam could ask until his voice gave out and Dean would just keep stonewalling him.

“Thought you were all about keeping in touch with your college buddies,” Dean says without taking his eyes off the road.

“I thought you said that was a stupid idea,” Sam shoots back.

Dean hitches his shoulders in a shrug and doesn’t say anything, but a moment later he takes one hand off the wheel to rub at his forehead. Sam is starting to recognize that as a bad sign. It took him a while to catch on because he isn’t used to Dean having such blatant tells, but ever since St. Louis it’s gotten pretty difficult to ignore the fact that Dean only ever does that when he’s exhausted or upset. Dean has been upset enough lately without Sam pushing him, and it isn’t as though it would be terrible to see Jack. So Sam settles back in his seat, fully intending to let the subject drop.

It surprises him to hear himself demand, “And you couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘boyfriend’?”

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Dean immediately deadpans. “You ashamed of our big gay love?”

Actually, if there were any sign of a big gay love Sam would be the first one shouting it from the rooftops. He can’t say that, though, so instead he says, “You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Thought that was your favorite part,” Dean responds, and Sam blinks at his brother’s profile for a few seconds, not sure he heard correctly.

Dean might not be homophobic, but he hasn’t ever been comfortable joking about that kind of thing either—not on anything beyond a superficial, PG level, anyway—and Sam is pretty sure that what just came out of his brother’s mouth was a weird cross between a come-on and a taunt. He takes too long thinking about it and when the silence starts to get uncomfortable Dean gives an awkward cough and adds, “Anyway, Jack didn’t seem to have a problem.”

Say something before he realizes you’re freaking out for no apparent reason, Sam tells himself, and promptly obeys by blurting, “Yeah, cause Jack doesn’t think we’re related. Damn it, Dean, Jack’s gonna expect—he knows me, okay, and I’m.” His cheeks heat. He can’t believe he’s having this conversation with his brother—wants more than anything to call do over and back up a few minutes—but he’s in it now and there’s no other option but to push on and say, “I’m physically affectionate with the people I date, okay?”

“We talking handholding here? A little over the shirt action? Coupla kisses?” Dean asks, like he’s actually considering it, and Sam’s whole body goes tight with want.

“Dean,” he chokes out, and isn’t sure how it sounds. He can’t really hear his own voice over the pounding of his heart.

“What?” Dean says, scowling a little. “It’s not like I’m suggesting we sleep together or anything.”

Oh God. Sam can’t do this. He can’t agree to fake feel up his brother while secretly getting off on the arrangement. He can’t do that to Dean.

Putting what he hopes is just the right amount of disgust and scorn into his voice to be believable, he says, “You can’t honestly be suggesting this.”

“Why not? Am I not up to your standards or something?”

Above them, actually, Sam thinks, but what he says is: “You’re my brother. You and my standards aren’t even in the same time zone. Jesus Christ, Dean, what’s wrong with you?”

Backed by his own guilt and self-censure, it comes out more violently than he intends. Dean flinches—minutely enough that Sam wouldn’t have seen it if he hadn’t been completely focused on his brother to the exclusion of all else, but he does. He flinches like Sam slapped him, and before Sam can apologize he’s grinning and snorting laughter. When Dean glances over, there’s no sign of anything but amusement in his eyes.

“Dude, you are so fucking easy.”

Sam doesn’t buy it. Dean wasn’t joking, not really. There’s something else going on here—something Sam can sense lurking at the edges of his vision like an optical illusion that he can’t quite pin down. He can’t call Dean on it, though. He’s too afraid of what that lurking creature would turn out to be.

“Ha ha. Very funny,” he says stiffly.

“I thought so,” Dean says, still grinning.

“When you’re finished patting yourself on the back, we still need a solution to this problem.” Sam sits up straighter as another idea occurs to him. “Or you could always call Jack back and tell him we changed our minds.” Sam could do that on his own, of course, but without Dean’s cooperation they’re just going to show up on Jack’s doorstep in a few days anyway.

His brother shrugs. “Dude, relax. There isn’t gonna be a problem. I’ll drop you off and head over to a motel. You can tell your buddy we had a fight: have a girl’s night in and pig out on cookie dough while you complain about what assholes men are, or whatever you college queens do. I’ll pick you up when you’re ready to leave.”

“I’m bi, Dean, not gay, and so’s Jack.”

“Hey, any way you wanna slice it, you still take it up the ass.”

No, actually, I’m a top, Dean: you’re the one who takes it up the ass like a goddamned pro.

For a few seconds, the words are so vivid in Sam’s mind that he’s certain he said them aloud. Everything is tinged with red and there’s a bitter, metallic taste in his mouth; and he realizes that he’s pissed. Dean doesn’t have the right to talk to him like that: to be so fucking dismissive when Sam knows what he did: when he saw Dean twist and shudder and moan as two strangers stuffed him full of cock for a couple hundred bucks.

Then the shifter’s voice whispers through his memory—You actually saw it? That’s probably big brother’s worst nightmare … I wonder if he’ll cry as pretty as the others did when I tell him that he’s nothing more than a tight ass and a hot pair of lips to you—and Sam’s rage snuffs out, leaving him numb inside.

Leaning his forehead against the window, he watches his brother’s reflection in the windshield. Dean gives away more than he knows when he drives, when he thinks no one is looking. Some of those high, impenetrable walls come down—not far enough to leave him vulnerable for attack, but far enough for decent reconnaissance, at least.

Sam watches his brother’s face now as the miles fly past and doesn’t like what he sees.

What the hell is going on in there, Dean? he thinks as stress lines form around his brother’s mouth and eyes. As Dean reaches up to rub at his scar again. The reflection of his brother’s irises darkens until they look black: shadowed. What’s wrong?

But of course he can’t say that—can’t ask straight out because they’re Winchesters, or because they’re men, or maybe just because they’re Sam and Dean and this is the way it is. Things fracture in the quiet: they splinter apart in the dark where no one can see them. They break and then they rust over in bent, shattered positions because no one is ever brave enough to ask for help. No one is brave enough to offer it.

Sam, cowardly, shuts his eyes against his brother’s reflection and mimes sleep as the Impala carries him back toward the closest thing to a home he has ever known.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam should have run the minute he got a good look at his ex-roommate’s grinning face. He should have pulled his phone out and called Dean and told him to turn around right fucking now to come get him. And if Jack’s face wasn’t a good enough warning on its own, then the two guys in Theta Delt t-shirts setting up speakers all over the living room should have tipped him off.

Unfortunately, being around his ex-roommate appears to induce some kind of chronic stupidly in Sam—or maybe he just really, really needed a break from the complicated situation with Dean—because he’s still there at nine o’clock with a plastic cup clutched in one hand and a baseline throbbing in his bones.

Only Jack would think that throwing a raucous kegger is an appropriate way to cheer up someone whose only brother was supposedly just shot and killed for being a psychopathic serial killer.

Only Sam, whose brother is decidedly fucked up but is in no way anyone these people think he is, would stay for it.

The place is just starting to fill, but Sam is already pretty fucked up (Jack can be very persuasive when it comes to the merits of pregaming). He knows most of the people here, and once all of the initial awkward fumbles at conversation—sorry about Jess and the whole psychopathic brother thing, yeah hey thanks so are you still dating Kaeli—it’s pretty okay catching up with his old friends. A surprising amount of girls (and a few guys, Sam didn’t exactly make his lack of preference a secret when he was here) make it a point to stand too close to him, putting a hand on Sam’s arm or his waist or once, awkwardly, his ass. The offers are obvious, and flattering, and in a few cases very, very tempting. A handful of fast and dirty fucks behind rundown bars aren’t enough to make up for the incredible cock tease of being stuck so very close to Dean all the time, and the drunker he gets the more Sam thinks that letting off some steam would be a good idea.

But something’s wrong.

His skin feels itchy, and he can’t seem to settle down for an extended conversation with anyone. He’s like a ball bearing stuck in one of those handheld games, only all of the holes have been blocked up with cement and he can’t come to rest: can’t snap into place and be still. When Jack insists on trying to shotgun a beer and ends up drenched, Sam laughs along with everyone else, but at the same time he’s thinking, I killed an Aswang three weeks ago. Dean held it down while I shoved a silver sword through its chest because I’m better with blades than he is and I’m better with needles because I have more practice, because I learned on my brother’s skin and Dean is like some kind of magnet when it comes to claws and knives and teeth, Dean is, Dean is—

He stumbles into the kitchen, where it’s quiet and cool, and leans against the counter. This is where Dean found him when he called that night; when Dean came for him and then left because Sam pushed him away so hard he’s surprised Dean isn’t still running. Then again, maybe he is. Maybe that’s what these past few weeks have been about. Sam’s need for his brother unfolds in his stomach like a hunger, and he squeezes his eyes shut against a sudden swell of laughter from the other room.

He has his cell out before he knows it, punching Dean on speed dial and biting on his lower lip as he waits for his brother to answer.

“Hey, Sam,” Dean says after the third ring, the low sound of Metallica playing in the background. He must have commandeered the jukebox of whatever bar he’s in.

“Dean,” Sam says, and then stops, uncertain what he wants to say. Something along the lines of ‘I think I’m addicted to you, because we haven’t been apart for more than a couple of hours and I miss you, I need you, you’ve fucking ruined me for anyone else, come get me, come bring me home.’

And Dean is home, Sam realizes. He’s twenty-two years old and drunk and standing alone in a kitchen where he once fucked his murdered girlfriend and he’s having what is probably the most important epiphany of his life.

Dean is home.

Home is Dean.

“That was quicker than I expected,” Dean says. His voice sounds dull, but Sam’s too stunned to pay much attention.

“Come get me,” he says.

The extended silence on his brother’s end is obvious enough that Sam, even in his current state, gets that this phone call isn’t actually at all what Dean expected. It makes him wonder a little what Dean thought he was calling for—what was ‘quicker than he expected’—but Sam has a feeling that the answer to that question isn’t something he wants to get into over the phone.

“Dean,” he repeats, trying to sound as sober and sincere as possible. “Come get me.”

“What, now?” Dean says finally.

Sam imagines his brother’s face scrunched in confusion, those plump lips pursed, and his face flushes. His groin goes hot and hard. Wandering over to the refrigerator, he opens the freezer door and sticks his head in.

“Sam?”

Basking in the cold air, Sam answers, “Yeah. Now.”

There’s another pause from his brother’s end—Sam uses the moment to dig some ice out of the bin on the inside of the door—and then Dean says, “It’s, uh. It’s gonna be a while.”

“How long can it take? Just pay your tab and get your ass over here.” Shutting the door, Sam leans against it and trails the cubes over his forehead and cheeks. He needs Dean right now, damn it. As Dean starts to stammer out some sort of excuse, he straightens abruptly and tosses the ice into the sink. “Never mind. Just tell me where you are and I’ll catch a cab. Take like, ten minutes tops.”

But his brother sighs and says, “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” and hangs up and Sam is left with a dial tone and a sink full of melting ice.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Three hours later, Dean still hasn’t shown and Sam doesn’t know whether to be panicked or pissed. He’s lost track of how many times he’s called his brother, but remembers clearly that his calls only connected twice before they started flipping straight to voicemail. Which means that either the batteries died (unlikely: Dean’s a fanatic about keeping the damn thing charged) or Dean turned it off deliberately.

And seriously, what the fuck? Is he stopping to screw every drunken barfly he can find on his way here? Because no way in hell does it take longer than thirty minutes to get anywhere in Palo Alto, even at the height of the rush hour they’re not having at the moment. Sam would think that his brother was blowing him off, except that it’s Dean, and Dean would castrate himself before refusing to do what Sam asked of him, and oh God, what if he did—not castrate himself, of course, but what if he got hurt because he was tipsy and in too much of a hurry to get here—fuck, what if Dean is unconscious and bleeding in a ditch somewhere, what if he got carjacked and shot, what if what if what if?

It’s possible that Sam should stop drinking and sober up a little bit.

Then again, he has no idea where Dean is and has no way of finding his brother when his phone is turned off. Therefore, being sober would only leave him more upset than he already is. Clearly, the logical thing to do is to stay here and keep downing Jack’s beer while he waits for his brother to show up smelling like sex and perfume. When he does get here, of course, Sam is gonna chew him out in front of everyone and fuck Dean’s pride. Or possibly fuck Dean. It’s a toss up. Ooh, if Dean comes here he’s gonna have to play Sam’s boyfriend, isn’t he?

The idea seems to have more merit than it did a couple of hours ago.

Sam is about to head over to the keg for his tenth (eleventh?) refill when an absence of motion catches his eye. The living room is packed to the gills with college students frenetically grinding to the techno that pumps out through the speakers, but there’s a jarring still spot over by the wall. A broad-shouldered, dark-haired guy wearing a leather jacket.

Dean.

Sam’s pretty sure he tramples a few people on his way over to his brother, but he just mumbles apologies and keeps going. They wouldn’t mind anyway, not if they knew he was trying to get back home. Plus, Sam is the dude of honor, or whatever: he can trample whomever he wants to.

Although his brother’s face keeps going in and out of focus, Sam can tell Dean is wearing one of his best non-expressions as he leans against the wall. The relief and joy shivering through his limbs start to stick and congeal into righteous anger. He was going out of his mind with worry, and Dean is lounging around like he was out for a stroll.

By the time he reaches his brother’s side, Sam is seething.

“Three fucking hours!” he accuses, yelling not just to be heard over the music but because he feels like it.

Dean leans in, getting his mouth by Sam’s ear and giving Sam a heady whiff of the leather jacket he’s wearing, and answers, “I told you it’d be a while.”

Dean starts to shift back again, but Sam isn’t done smelling his brother, and he wraps a hand around the back of Dean’s neck and holds him there. He’s still pissed, no doubt about it, but it isn’t anger squirming around in his groin and making his cock twitch. Easing closer, he turns his face to the side and takes a deep breath: filling his mouth and lungs with his brother’s intoxicating scent.

Fuck, Dean smells good. And, because compliments are good things and he sees no reason not to, Sam tells him so.

Dean laughs, a shaky breath against the side of Sam’s neck, and then pries Sam’s hand away and steps back. “You get trashed before or after you called me?” he asks.

Sam doesn’t know what difference that makes, but the question reminds him that he’s been waiting here, imagining God knows what, for three fucking hours. Jutting his jaw out, he demands, “Where the fuck have you been?”

“Driving,” Dean answers, bland and cool as ever. He turns and starts for the front door, but Sam catches his brother’s wrist before he can go anywhere. Sam is a ninja like that.

“Nowhere’s that far away,” he argues. “What were you, like, driving in circles? You think that’s funny? Makin’ me wait. Makin’ we worry?”

“I got here as fast as I could, Sam,” Dean repeats flatly, pulling his wrist back. But Sam’s not so drunk that he doesn’t notice the way his brother isn’t looking at him. He watches Dean hitch his shoulders, shrugging his leather jacket closer, and jerk his head at the door. “You coming or what?”

Sam doesn’t move, too busy hunting after the nagging suspicion arising in his mind. It’s a little difficult to think right now, but after a moment he manages to ask, “Where were you? When I called where were you?”

“What the fuck does it matter where I was?” Dean snaps. He’s looking at Sam now: looking pale and so angry that Sam knows it isn’t anger making his brother sharp, but fear. Dean’s hand twitches like it wants to go up to the scar on his forehead and then shoves into his front jean pocket instead. “I’m here now. And on my way out the door. You can either come with me or you can stay here, but you stay and I don’t want any more of these goddamned drunken phone calls because I can’t fucking handle you jerking me around like this.”

And something in Dean’s voice or in his eyes or maybe in Sam’s own brain, where the alcohol muddles everything but also prevents Sam’s fears from tripping him up the way they normally do, falls into place and he understands. He understands why his brother has been acting so goddamned weird, and why he decided that Sam needed to visit his old college buddies. He understands why it took Dean so long to get here when he called: understands that when his brother says ‘stay’ he doesn’t just mean for tonight.

There’s no question as to whether or not they’re having this conversation. Sam says they are and that’s the end of it. He doesn’t want to talk to Dean out here in front of everyone, though: can’t say half the shit he’d like to, and anyway Dean would clam up worse than usual if they had an audience. His brother isn’t going to come along willingly, of course, so Sam makes an executive decision and grabs Dean’s right arm so he can yank him toward the stairs.

Dean immediately tries to pull free, complaining about grabby drunks, and Sam almost loses him before he remembers that he may be drunk, but he’s still taller and stronger than his brother. Focusing on keeping his hand closed around Dean’s arm means that he stumbles a couple of times on the stairs on the way up, but Sam is willing to put up with a couple of bruises if it means they can finally get this out into the open where it belongs.

The upstairs is officially off-limits to the party-goers, nice and quiet and private, and Sam moves straight for his old room. There’s a sock on the doorknob, which is cute and a little nostalgic but really pointless for whoever’s inside. Sam obviously needs the room more than they do, after all. Besides, for all intents and purposes it’s his until Jack’s new roommate comes back on Monday. Turning the knob and knocking his shoulder against the frame (the locks in here are crap), Sam throws the door open. It’s dark and foreign inside—full of humped objects in the wrong places, with the wrong shapes—but Sam remembers where the light switch is and he hits it before the couple on the bed has even realized the door is open.

They break apart instantly and the girl—Kelly White, Sam would recognize that shock platinum hair anywhere—grabs her shirt and holds it against her chest. Sam doesn’t know the guy, but Romeo’s dick is still tucked into his unbuttoned jeans, so they haven’t gotten far enough that he’ll put up a fight about moving. Initially, of course, the yells are pretty unanimous on the subject of Sam leaving Kelly and Romeo alone to do their thing (Dean’s voice in his ear keeps going on about the sanctity of the sock and demanding to know what the fuck is wrong with Sam, anyway), but Sam already knows how this one is going to go.

“Get out,” he says. “Now.”

Behind him, Dean makes another bid for freedom: feeling with his left hand for the pressure points that will release Sam’s grip. Sam slides his own hand down to his brother’s wrist before Dean can manage it and digs his thumb and forefinger in to the bundle of nerves he knows is there. Dean’s breath immediately hisses out and he mutters, “Fuck, okay, okay,” and stops struggling.

Sam isn’t sure whether it’s that or the ‘don’t fuck with me’ tone of voice or the ‘we all know how this is gonna end’ expression in his eyes, but when he turns his attention back to the bed, Romeo is getting to his feet and Kelly is hurriedly putting herself back together.

Now that he’s sure there aren’t going to be any more problems, Sam gives his brother’s arm a yank and sends Dean into the room at a stumbling run. Dean brings himself up short after only a few steps and turns back, anger and indignation and fear warring on his face. He cuts a glance toward the two co-eds and his jaw twitches with all the words he wants to say but can’t in front of strangers.

Sam, on the other hand, has no trouble starting now.

“You were gonna leave me here,” he says, striding forward and making Dean take a few awkward, instinctive steps back.

“Dude,” Dean starts, glancing at the couple again.

“No! You look at me, damn it!” Sam shouts, furious, and Kelly gives up trying to get her shirt back on and dives for the safety of the hall. “Shut the door behind you,” Sam tells Romeo as the guy follows and then, snapping his attention back to his brother, continues, “You just dropped me here like a piece of fucking luggage and ran!”

The door clicks shut behind Sam, leaving them alone, and Dean opens his mouth—presumably to defend himself. Before he can speak, Sam adds, “I’m surprised it only took you three hours to get back here. What’d you do, floor it the entire way?” Dean would have had to, if he had started driving as soon as he left Sam on Jack’s doorstep the way Sam suspects he did. “Christ, Dean, why the fuck did you even bother coming?”

“If I’d known you were just tanked again, I wouldn’t have,” Dean spits.

And while Sam believed his realization downstairs, it doesn’t really hit home until now: until Dean isn’t even trying to defend himself against the charge. His rage and hurt mix together, turning into some new, dangerous beast that tightens his chest and leaves his head spinning. He doesn’t feel all that drunk anymore.

“You were,” he breathes, fighting not to cry or throw up or both. “You were just gonna ditch me.”

“Why the fuck not, Sam?” Dean demands. “It was only a matter of time before you gave up on finding Dad and came back here anyway. All I did was save myself a couple of months of having to put up with your whiney, emo, college boy crap.”

Sam knows that Dean has a problem with the whole Stanford thing—if ‘problem’ is a strong enough word for how Dean feels about the irrefutable proof that Sam once wanted something other than the open road and the hunt and his brother’s company—but it still hurts to hear the words from his brother’s mouth. Hurts him and angers him. Dean doesn’t get to spin his own fucked up neurosis around and put it on Sam.

“That’s bullshit,” he announces, advancing another step and driving his brother back before him. “I was there, Dean. I was there, with you, doing the fucking job, and you just—you just decided, out of fucking nowhere—”

“Yeah, ‘nowhere’, right. Like I wasn’t supposed to notice how you acted with Becky?”

Sam blinks, completely derailed, and sways a little on his feet. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You remember, Sam: blonde hair, great body, chick in peril. The chick you could actually bear to smile around, and talk to, and look at.” Dean is bristling all over, so self-defensive it hurts to look at him, which Sam does, by the way. He looks at his brother way more than he actually should.

“I look at you,” he protests.

“Yeah,” Dean laughs, bitter and unbelieving, and rubs at his scar. “Sure you do.”

It’s maybe not the best time for this, not when he’s too messed up by alcohol and emotion to think clearly, but Sam can’t keep his mouth shut. Not when Dean looks so fucking wounded.

“I look at you, Dean,” he repeats, moving even closer.

Dean takes another step back and startles as his back hits the edge of a rickety dresser. Sam thinks he should maybe move away, or possibly leave the room, but Dean is just so goddamned beautiful with his eyes so wide and his skin pale. Emotions flicker across his face like light on water.

“Sammy, what—”

“I look at you,” Sam says for the third, magic time, and takes Dean’s face between his hands and kisses him.

It isn’t anything like it is in Sam’s fantasies. Dean’s lips are just as soft as he always knew they’d be, but when he tries to get his brother to open for his tongue, Dean refuses to budge. There’s no give and take here: just Sam’s need and devotion lapping up against the brick wall that is his brother. It’s wretched, it’s horrible, and Sam’s chest feels sprung and bloodied. He doesn’t know (maybe doesn’t want to know) whether Dean isn’t responding because he isn’t interested or if he’s just too shocked to reciprocate.

Sam wants, desperately, for it to be the second possibility, but he can’t bear to keep doing this either way. He pulls off long enough to whisper, “Please, Dean. I need this. I need you. Please,” and then tries again.

It’s a little better this time. Dean’s lips are still soft and full, but now they’re also pliant against his. Sam opens his brother’s mouth wide for him and Dean lets it happen, Dean lets Sam’s tongue ease into his mouth, he lets Sam catch hold of his lower lip and suck on it, he lets Sam’s fingers dance over his cheekbones. But he still isn’t kissing back, not the way Sam knows he’s capable of, and Sam isn’t quite drunk enough to believe that Dean is still in shock.

If I kiss him better, he thinks desperately. If I make him see …

With his chest stinging and bruised, Sam deepens the kiss. He tilts his brother’s head back and crowds in so that their bodies are touching in a long, hard line, except that Dean isn’t hard, not at fucking all, not even when Sam rubs against him a little and gives a moan.

Sam is a few seconds from crying (but he doesn’t think he can stop this, stop kissing Dean, not unless Dean makes him) when the door is unexpectedly thrown open and they’re ambushed by a shutter flash of light. Sam lifts his head, startled, and blinks toward the door.

“Ha!” Jack says, lowering the camera. “Got your good side, Win—Holy fuck.” Sam’s brain is still fighting to catch up to the fact that he just kissed his brother, and he has no clue why Jack has that flummoxed, awed look on his face until he says, “You’ve been holding out on me, asshole! You never told me you were dating Sam Stallion!”

Oh. God.

Sam didn’t think that his brother could get any tenser, but Dean does. Dean goes so tense and still that Sam isn’t sure he’s even breathing anymore.

“I—” Sam’s voice sticks in his throat and he has to swallow before continuing, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You fucking liar,” Jack says cheerfully. He seems to have recovered from his surprise and is busy leering at Dean, which, despite everything else, makes Sam want to cover his brother up: shield him somehow. “Like you didn’t spend an entire semester getting your rocks off on Pussycat Fever.”

Dean flinches.

When Sam looks back at his brother, Dean’s face is covered with a dawning, reluctant horror. His eyes are so very, very green: translucent and betrayed. “You saw it,” he whispers. “All this time, you—”

“It’s not what you think,” Sam tries.

“No?” Dean says. His voice is quiet, almost tentative, as though he’s worried that if he speaks too loudly he’ll break apart. Break down, maybe. “So you don’t want to fuck me?”

And of course Sam has nothing to say to that: not after he just outed himself so spectacularly by molesting Dean up against this rickety dresser.

“You—when you called that time, when I came here and you were drunk and you—you meant it, didn’t you? When you tried to kiss me.”

“I was drunk, Dean, I—”

“What, like you’re drunk now?” Dean asks, and there’s finally an edge to his voice. Something hard and gathering force.

“Yes. No. I mean, yeah, I'm drunk, but you need to let me explain, okay? It isn’t about the sex, it—”

Dean’s expression finally cracks—rage instead of sorrow or shame—and his hands come up and start to push at Sam’s chest. In an effort to hold him still, Sam catches his brother’s wrists and grips them tightly. Dean’s pulse thunders against his fingers: rabbit-rapid and erratic. When Dean tries to heave Sam off with his upper body, Sam instinctively hooks one ankle around his brother’s and pulls him off balance.

“Dean!” he says urgently. “Dean, wait, you have to listen to me, you—”

“Let go,” Dean spits. He twists between Sam and the dresser like a dying eel: breath coming hard and eyes lowered to the floor.

“No, Dean, wait, I can explain, I—”

“Get off!” Dean insists, fighting harder, and in a few more seconds Sam is either going to have to let go or risk breaking his brother’s wrists.

He lets go.

Dean shoves him, hard, and blows past him out of the room. He isn’t running, not quite, but Sam’s pretty sure that as soon as he gets out the front door he will be. He tries to will himself to follow and can’t get his legs to work.

Jack stands in the doorway, open-mouthed and blinking. He peers down the hall after Dean and then swings around to look at Sam again.

“So,” he says, fiddling with his camera strap. “Bad timing?”

And there’s nothing left for Sam to do but let out a wild laugh and cling to the edge of the dresser while he does his best not to burst into tears.

Chapter Text

The next day, Sam makes a list of every scumbag motel within a fifty-mile radius. Then, with a fresh pot of coffee by his elbow and the list in front of him, he calls each number: asking if they have a ‘Jim Rockford’ staying there, are they sure, can they check once more, no he doesn’t want a room, thanks, goodbye.

He spends days two through four making the rounds again—in person this time, and armed with a list of about fifty-two names that he remembers Dean ever using as an alias. If his brother is still in the area, though (Sam doesn’t think he is, not after what happened at the party, but he finds himself hoping anyway), then he definitely doesn’t want to be found.

On the fifth day, the phone number that Sam has repeatedly called between his conversations with harassed-looking desk clerks clicks over onto an automated recording that tells him that this cellular customer is no longer with AT&T. He hangs up and immediately dials Dad, slick dread in his mouth, and the message has changed. John Winchester is no longer urging people to call his son, Dean. Instead, he’s offering Bobby Singer as a reliable source of help.

Sam thinks about leaving a message begging for his brother’s new number (Dean would have given it to Dad, of course he would have), but Dad isn’t going to call him back. And if he did, for some reason, pick now to break his long silence, then his first question would be why Dean hadn’t given the number to Sam in the first place.

And Sam can’t lie to his father. He never picked up the knack for it. Which was, of course, half the reason their fights were so bad before Stanford.

He does call Bobby.

“Singer Salvage,” Bobby says when he picks up.

“Bobby, hey. It’s Sam Winchester.”

Bobby’s breath huffs out wryly. “Wish I could say it’s good to hear your voice, Sam, but I’m guessing this ain’t a social call.”

Sam wants to deny that, play this casual, but when he tries to pass the words through the painful blockage in his throat they come out distorted. “Do you know where he is?”

“Which one?” Bobby says dryly, and suddenly Sam’s ribs feel like they’ve been cracked open. He hasn’t let himself acknowledge it before, but it’s true: Sam’s been cut off by both family members now. He wonders if this is how Dean felt: like something hollowed out and wasted and ice-flecked. Worthless. Discarded.

But Sam deserves to feel this way. Dean didn’t. Never has.

“My—” he starts, and his voice cracks. He pauses, clearing his throat, and then says, “Dean. Do you know where he is?”

“No,” Bobby says, but he hesitated and like magic Sam can suddenly see it in his head: Bobby sitting on his couch talking to Sam on the phone and watching as Dean cleans guns on the floor.

“I just want to talk to him,” Sam breathes, vision blurring. “I want to—he didn’t give me a chance to explain, he—”

“Sam,” Bobby interrupts him. The man’s voice is firm but gentle. “Sam, I’m not lying to you, son. He ain’t here.”

But he is. Sam can feel it in his chest. “Can you—” He chokes a little, wipes the back of his hand across his nose, and then finishes, “Can you give him a message?”

“I’m telling you, he ain’t—”

Please. Bobby, please, I fucked up bad, I know, I—I hurt him, but I didn’t mean to, and I can’t—just give me a chance to fix it. Please.”

There’s a long moment of silence and then Bobby sighs. “What’s the message.”

Sam is crying for real now, eyes hot and lips salted. “Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him—tell him it isn’t what he thinks. He—I want to talk to him. When he’s ready, okay? He can call, or he can. If he wants to find me, he knows what name to ask for. I’m still in Palo Alto. I’ll wait here.”

More silence, long enough that Sam is beginning to think that the call was dropped, and then Bobby grunts, “I’ll tell him. Can’t promise more.”

But Sam’s chest opens and relief floods in. As long as Bobby passes the message along, Dean will respond. The shifter taught Sam that much. No matter how badly Dean is hurting, he won’t be able to stop himself from responding if Sam reaches out. It’s hardwired into him. Sam should probably feel bad about manipulating his brother like this, but there’s no room left in him for any more regrets right now.

“Thank you,” he breathes.

“You thank me by fixing this, son,” Bobby answers, and then hangs up.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It takes Dean five days to fold, which is two less than Sam was expecting.

He wakes up one morning and Dean is there, sitting in a chair that he has pushed up against the far wall. He’s wearing Dad’s old leather jacket and a black t-shirt, jeans and a pair of clunky shoes that might as well be boots. There’s a bruise high on his cheek and his lower lip is split. It looks painful, but all Sam can wonder is whether it’s possible to fuck someone’s mouth roughly enough to do that. When he looks at the bruise again, it looks a little like a thumbprint.

He’s still foggy enough with sleep—and shocked enough by his brother’s sudden appearance—that he speaks without thinking.

“What happened to your face?”

“Nothing,” Dean says. It’s a blatant, bald-faced lie, but he looks like he expects Sam to swallow it.

Sam looks more carefully at his brother and reevaluates the situation. Dean is sitting stiffly in the chair, but Sam doesn’t think it’s from hostility. He thinks maybe Dean’s ribs are hurting him. This time, when he looks at Dean’s face, he thinks of his brother cursing his own lips, Dean hating the way he looks, and wonders whether Dean went looking for a fight in an attempt to hide behind some bruises and blood. If that was his intention, it didn’t work. In fact, the injuries only serve to call attention to him. To how fucking pretty he is.

Sam rubs his own face, which feels swollen and stiff from crying himself to sleep last night. “Okay, can I … If I take a shower, will you still be here when I get out?”

“Probably not,” Dean replies blandly.

Of course. Sam feels a momentary pulse of anger—it’s unfair of Dean to expect him to have this conversation now: to have ambushed him like this. Then again, Dean is entitled to an ambush or two after what Sam did to him.

“Okay,” Sam says, sitting up and swinging his feet onto the floor. He rubs his eyes again, trying to remember what he wanted to say.

“You’ve got one minute to start talking and then I’m gone,” Dean announces into the silence.

Panicked by the unexpected deadline, Sam instantly blurts, “I’m in love with you,” and then winces because he knows how it sounds. He can’t take it back now, though, and anyway it’s true, so he sits there underneath his brother’s stare and waits for a response.

Finally, Dean says, “And that isn’t what I think how, exactly?”

“No, Dean, you don’t understand, you.” Sam exhales, frustrated, because how the hell is he supposed to explain something like this to Dean? Dean, who has no real grasp of what the word ‘love’ actually means. Except, Sam realizes abruptly, that he does. Dean knows exactly what it means because he loves Sam. The fact that he’s here at all right now proves that.

“I love you like you love me,” he tries.

Dean’s lips quirk mirthlessly. “Funny how I’ve never been tempted to kiss you.”

“Well,” Sam fumbles. Shit, this conversation isn’t going the way it’s supposed to. “Not. Not exactly like, but. It isn’t. It isn’t about kissing you, or fuh—uh, anything else. It’s not about how you look, it’s just. It’s who you are, Dean.”

“Who I am,” Dean repeats.

Sam ignores the scathing quality to his brother’s voice and says, “I fucked up, okay? I should have told you how I felt, I should have. I should have told you about the movie. That I saw it. But Jesus Christ, Dean, how the fuck was I supposed to bring something like that up? ‘Great to see you again, man, and oh, by the way, I watched you take it up the ass for money’?”

Dean flinches—a helpless motion Sam doesn’t think he’s aware of—but doesn’t say anything. Sam feels exhausted suddenly: worn out from the whole goddamned mess. He leans forward on his knees, rubs one hand through his hair. He’s tired of wondering. Tired of that tiny, buried spark of hope that has its barbs sunk deep into his chest and won’t let go.

“Dean, do you—I mean, have you ever thought about me? At all? Even for a second?”

Dean regards him long enough that Sam is beginning to think he won’t answer and then he sighs and says, “I don’t think about anyone like that.”

“You—wait, what? But you—all those girls, you—”

Dean rolls his shoulders in a shrug. “Passes the time.”

Sam struggles to process this new piece of information and fails utterly. On the one hand, it doesn’t take a fully licensed psychiatrist to understand that Dean’s foray into filmmaking would have been more than a little traumatic. On the other hand, the image Sam has of Dean in his head is irrevocably wrapped up in his brother’s sexual prowess, in his constant flirting, in his leers and meaningful nudges and the revolving door of girls that he tumbles in and out of bed.

Dean stands up, moving toward the door, but Sam can tell he isn’t trying to leave. His brother’s movements are too edgy: full of the excess energy that forced him out of the chair. “It’s not a big deal,” he says, but the way he won’t look at Sam reveals the lie. So does the way his hand has crept up to rub at his temple again.

“Dean, you—you realize that’s not healthy, right?” Sam offers.

Dean laughs, overly loud and harsh. “Oh really,” he says, shooting a scathing glance in Sam’s direction and dropping his hand. “And this—” he gestures between them, somehow managing to encompass all of Sam’s fuck ups in the motion “—is?”

“No,” Sam admits. “No, but I wouldn’t—” He wants to say that he would never do anything to hurt Dean but has to stop because it’s already a lie, isn’t it? “I won’t touch you again. I promise, okay? Just don’t—Dean, I need you. Please, man. Don’t shut me out.”

Dean laughs again, shaking his head, but Sam can tell that all of that cutting humor is focused inward this time. He wants to go to his brother and shake his shoulders until his anger is pointed in the right direction, until Dean’s scathing anger is thrashing out instead of cutting him up inside.

Then Dean says, quietly and without looking at him, “I’m not going anywhere.” He perches on the edge of the table, knuckles white as they close on the wood.

“Thank y—”

“Shut up.” The words aren’t cutting—are dragging and exhausted—but Sam obeys anyway. Dean nods to himself and then lifts his head, meeting Sam’s eyes squarely. Sam doesn’t know whether his brother is aware of his expression, but the bleak hopelessness in Dean’s eyes is unhooded. His face is lined with exhaustion.

“You’re all I’ve got,” he says, and Sam is ashamed because it’s true. Dean deserves more, deserves everything, but their mom burned up on a ceiling and Dad disappeared and now he’s left with nothing but a weak, sick fuck of a brother.

“You’re all—” Dean tries to repeat, but the words catch in his throat. He closes his mouth on them, swallows, and then says, “So I’m staying. But I can’t be that for you, Sammy. I won’t. It’s not right and I’m not gonna fuck you up like that.”

The needy, grasping part of Sam wants to tell Dean that the chivalry isn’t necessary: he’s already fucked beyond redemption, and if that’s the only thing standing between them, then Dean needs to get naked already. But it isn’t the only thing standing between them.

Dean doesn’t want this, doesn’t want Sam, and Sam isn’t going to force him. He refuses to damage his brother any more than he already has.

“Okay,” he manages.

Dean nods again, cutting his eyes away. Sam can see him visibly rebuilding his walls: forcing his shoulders out of their defeated slump, firming his jaw.

“Okay. Get your ass in gear and your shit together, then. I’m not waiting around all day.”

When Sam emerges from the bathroom thirty minutes later, Dean is sprawled in a chair with his feet kicked up on the table drinking a coffee while he looks through the paper. There’s a second Styrofoam cup waiting for Sam, and Dean glances up and gives him a relaxed grin. Like nothing happened.

“Got a line on a job in Ankeny, Iowa,” he announces, and that’s that.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A week later, Sam is starting to wonder whether he imagined the whole thing. Dean still jostles their shoulders together when they walk, and teases him about his hair, and smiles at him, and uses his toothbrush because he can’t be bothered to dig his own out of his bag. He drags Sam out to bars to celebrate successful hunts, and sings while he drives, and strolls around the motel room half-naked in search of a clean shirt.

And he still tumbles women into bed at every opportunity. If anything, he’s actually less discrete than normal about it: twice Sam has to watch his brother all but fuck a woman up against the pool table of some hole in the wall bar. Both times, his chest twists at the sight, and his eyes burn, but he makes himself watch. Makes himself look for some sign of the disinterest his brother confessed to. Dean is good at lying, though—practiced—and as hard as Sam looks, Dean seems into it. Seems eager and hungry.

In the end, Sam is stuck measuring his sanity by his brother’s newfound desire to push Sam at any woman he so much as glances at. Dean never used to do that: used to respect the fact that Sam would be just as likely to go for a guy as a girl and let him do his own hunting. Something changed Dean’s mind on that score, something big, ergo the train wreck of a kiss and the following conversation actually happened.

Simple.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Oasis Plains, Oklahoma, Sam sees reflections of the boy he was in Matt Pike and is too raw inside from Dean’s casual jokes (I’m gonna go talk to Larry, okay, honey?) to conceal it. Dean notices, of course, and responds by going into defensive mode. Suddenly, Sam is inundated with stories of how much Dad cared, and how hard he tried, and how ungrateful Sam is for everything John did for him. Dad loves you, Dad came to see you at Stanford, Dad’s a goddamned hero. Dealing with the curse helps Sam keep himself in line, but then the curse is over and Dean. won’t. stop.

When they pull into their first motel after leaving Oasis Plains and the Pikes behind, Sam is fed up from a full day of Dean’s ill-concealed lectures and doesn’t waste a moment in setting out for the nearest bar. As he throws back shot after shot, it occurs to him that he’s no better right now than the man he hates so much it makes his teeth hurt: no better than Dad, who drowned his sorrows often enough in a similar manner. The realization goads him, but only into ordering another round. By the time Dean shows up to drag his sorry ass home, the room is spinning and Sam’s stomach is sloshing alarmingly.

“C’mon, dude,” Dean says softly, putting a hand underneath Sam’s elbow and levering him up. Sam tries to help and ends up with an accidental mouthful of his brother’s skin. Luckily, he sways back again before his alcohol-drenched mind can figure out what’s going on and send the kind of command bound to fuck things up between them for good.

“How much has he had?”

It’s Dean’s voice, loved and familiar, but it isn’t directed at Sam. He clings to his brother’s broad shoulders as the bartender announces the damage and wow, Sam does not remember ordering more than five shots. Maybe the other six were gifts?

“And you served him? What are you, some kind of fucking moron?” Dean sounds angry, but Sam knows that it’s just concern making his brother belligerent. He gets his eyes open and finds Dean’s doubled faces (both of them beautiful, so beautiful) and reaches out. Oops. Looks like Right Side Dean is the fake one. Adjusting, Sam finally gets his hand on his brother’s cheek and runs his hand over stubbled skin.

“S’okay, ‘m good,” he assures him.

Sighing, Dean tosses his head and dislodges Sam’s hand. “You’re a fucking idiot too,” he mutters, pulling Sam’s arm around his shoulders. “Oughtta leave your ass.” But he’s leading Sam out of the bar and to the car anyway.

Sam lets his head loll onto his brother’s shoulder as they walk. It’s warm there, and comfortable, and he makes a grunt of protest when Dean shakes him off and loads him into the backseat of the car.

“You puke in there and I’ll kill you,” Dean warns, pushing him down on the seat.

“Dean,” Sam pants, throwing out one hand in aimless demand. “C’mere. Wanna—wanna make you feel good.”

It smells like Dean in here, he realizes, turning his face so that his nose is smushed up against the back of the seat. Smells like family. He inhales deeply as his legs are folded up inside the car and then jumps as the door slams.

Dean is muttering to himself as he gets behind the wheel: words that would probably make sense if Sam were sober. He doesn’t sound terribly happy, though.

“Dean,” Sam tries, and then clings to the edge of the seat as the car starts to move. There’s no response and so a moment later he tries again, louder. “Dean.”

What?

“Wha’s wrong?”

But Dean laughs in response. Huh. Looks like he’s okay after all.

“Just pass out already, will you?” Dean mutters a moment later.

“Kay,” Sam agrees, and snuggles his nose into the thick scent of leather and history and Dean. He must doze off for a while because it seems like only a moment passes before his brother is hauling him out again, grumbling and complaining that he’s ‘even heavier than Dad, Christ’.

The words remind Sam why he felt he needed to go out for a drink in the first place, but he’s too out of it to utter more than a slurred, “Fucker,” that doesn’t come out as anything resembling English. He does his best to work with Dean until he realizes that he’s hindering more than helping. Then, going limp, he lets himself be moved.

Dean drags him somewhere too bright and cool and then the world blurs away again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam wakes up sprawled in the motel bathtub. He’s still dressed, stinking of old sweat and alcohol, and when he moves his head spikes of pain shoot through his neck and down his back. His head is pounding so alarmingly that he’s a little worried his brain is going to slide out his ears at any moment, and his eyes feel sore and dry. And now, over the reek of his own body, he can smell vomit. The source of that enticing odor turns out to be on the floor outside the tub and not on Sam, but this is still going down as his worst morning ever.

Somehow, he manages to get up and stumble into the main room. Dean isn’t anywhere to be found, but his leather jacket it tossed over a chair and his bag is open on his bed, so he’s coming back. Sam’s still nervous, though, because he can’t remember whether he did anything unforgivable last night. He hopes not, but the whole bathroom thing isn’t a great sign. He got drunk a few times before he left for Stanford, and Dean was always careful to get him undressed and into bed. Come to think of it, Dean had done similar things for Dad whenever the bottle got the better of him.

Sam’s stomach clenches at the thought of his father and the pounding pulse in his head speeds with anger. Wincing, he fishes out some clean clothes from his own bag, downs a handful of aspirin, and then heads back into the bathroom to clean up.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time Dean returns an hour later, Sam is showered and cleaned and well medicated. His head still feels a little tender and his neck is going to be sore for days, but he can live with that. Just as long as he didn’t fuck things up with Dean last night.

Sam watches the door swing open from his place on the bed. Sees Dean notice him and pause, expressionless.

“Hey,” he offers.

Dean gets himself moving again, stepping inside and shutting the door behind himself. He’s carrying a cardboard drink tray with two coffees and a wax-coated bag bulging with some kind of pastry.

“I see you managed not to drown in your own puke,” he says, heading over to the table to put everything down.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.” Sam rubs at the back of his neck and then makes himself ask, “I didn’t, uh, do anything did I?”

“No.” But Dean isn’t looking at him.

Sam isn’t sure whether that means that his brother is lying or if Dean is just pissed about having to take care of him. He sits against the headboard awkwardly while his brother fishes an apple fritter out of the bag and then tosses it in Sam’s direction. Sam makes a belated attempt to catch it and fails. Luckily, Dean’s aim is good enough that the bag hits Sam in the chest and falls right into his lap.

“So, you gonna tell me why you thought it’d be a good idea to do your best impersonation of an MIT frat boy last night?” Dean asks, dropping down into a chair and finally looking at Sam. His mouth is pursed and tight, which means that yes, he is angry. Of course, looking at his brother’s mouth makes Sam think of the movie, of those lips reddened and stretched wide with cock, and he hastily looks away.

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Dean utters a disbelieving laugh and thumbs back the tab on his coffee cover. “I got enough of that shit from Dad,” he says, taking a sip. “You decide to be a fucking dumbass like that again and you’re on your own, you hear me?”

Sam, who was starting to look inside the pastry bag, freezes. His stomach twists guiltily and his head gives a single, painful throb. He wasn’t going to bring it up, he honestly wasn’t, but now that Dean has reminded him again he can’t seem to help himself.

“Dad’s a bastard.”

He doesn’t have to be looking at his brother to know that Dean’s expression has gone shocked and hurt. He can see it in his head: the same look Dean always got when Sam used to take potshots at their father before Stanford. No matter how many holes Sam poked in the mythic figure Dean built up in his head, though, his brother’s hero worship always remained undiminished.

Nothing seems to have changed. When Sam looks up, he catches the tail end of that same expression: Dean’s eyes wide, his mouth open, his skin pale.

Then anger flushes him and his mouth quirks bitterly. “Looks like it runs in the family.”

Dean’s baiting him with the jibe, but now that Sam has started he isn’t going to let his brother distract him. “He never should have asked you to do that,” he says.

Confusion flickers over Dean’s face, which only feeds the righteous anger tightening Sam’s chest.

“He shouldn’t have asked you to make that movie,” Sam clarifies, jutting his jaw out.

The confusion vanishes immediately, replaced by a hard and hostile mask. “This the bug that’s been up your ass, Sammy? Huh? You been worried about my ‘virtue’? I’m touched, really.”

“I’m serious, Dean. Dad had no fucking right to make you sell yourself like that.”

“Oh, for fuck’s—” Tossing his uneaten fritter down onto the table beside his coffee, Dean stands up and starts to pace. “It was a goddamned porno, Sam! It isn’t like I was whoring myself out on the street.”

“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Sam returns, pushing to his own feet and moving toward his brother. “I watched your ‘audition interview’, man. You think I don’t know that you would have told them to go fuck themselves in a heartbeat if Dad hadn’t told you to bend over and take it like a good soldier?”

Dean rounds on him without warning, grabbing Sam by the shirt and using the momentum to swing him around and slam him against the wall.

“Fuck you!” Dean snarls, fisting his shirt tightly enough that the material pulls tight at his throat and makes it difficult to breathe. “Fuck you, Sam, Dad didn’t have anything to fucking do with it, and when we find him you’re gonna keep your goddamned mouth shut!”

Sam gapes at him. “Dad didn’t …”

“No!” Dean snaps. Then, more evenly, he repeats, “No.” Loosening his hold on Sam’s shirt, he steps back, right hand fluttering up to its customary place at his temple. “He doesn’t know. And he doesn’t need to. You want to be pissed at someone, you be pissed at me.”

But Sam can’t be pissed at Dean for this, not after watching the tape. Not after indulging, however briefly, in his own twisted desires. Instead, he breathes, “Then why? Dean, why did you—how could you do that?”

Shifting his hand down from his scar and scrubbing it over his face, Dean sighs and walks back over to the table to sit down. He reaches out with one hand and toys with his coffee cup.

“Couple of months after you left, Dad got torn up pretty good while we were hunting a black dog. Fucker knocked him over the side of a bridge. He busted some ribs, hit his head, pretty much shattered his left leg. I—he wasn’t breathing when I fished him out.”

Sam’s breath catches. As angry as he still is with the man, he feels ill at the news: at the knowledge of how close he and Dean had come to being orphans. Then his mind replaces Dad’s face with Dean’s and Sam shivers.

That could have been Dean in the river. Dean battered and broken. Could’ve been Dean easily.

He can tell from the way that his brother’s fingers have abandoned the Styrofoam cup and returned to his temple that Dean is just as upset as he is by the memory. He thinks of his brother’s hero worship for the man, and his devotion to family, and it isn’t difficult to intuit that Dean must have been scared shitless. He can see his brother in his mind: alone and panicked and pulling his father’s heavy, breathless, shattered body from a dark river. Shouting John’s name, breathing for him, dragging him to the car and driving to the hospital at breakneck, reckless speed.

Sam parts dry lips and asks, “Why didn’t you call me?”

“You made it pretty clear you didn’t want anything to do with us,” Dean answers.

It isn’t an accusation, just a statement of fact, and Sam doesn’t know how his brother manages to twist things around in his head so thoroughly. Dean was there for that final, apocalyptic fight: he heard Dad’s ultimatum same as Sam, saw Dad pushing Sam away. Sam never wanted to sever all ties: he’d been driven to it by Dad’s fury.

He could argue the point—set the record straight—but Dean is actually talking and Sam doesn’t want to waste the opportunity. “So what happened?”

“Docs said he was gonna need about two months of therapy for the leg, so we had to stay put. I had the insurance all sorted out okay, but it was a small town in Bumfuck Nevada, and I couldn’t—we couldn’t risk using the credit cards if we were gonna be stuck there that long. I got a couple of part time jobs, tried to make ends meet. It worked for a couple weeks, but then I, uh, I lost one of the jobs.”

He sounds embarrassed, but Sam guesses that he has no reason to be. He knows Dean well enough to read between the lines: to understand that Dean’s ‘couple of part time jobs’ probably meant about eighty hours a week doing backbreaking, humiliating manual labor. It isn’t as though Dean could have gotten hired anywhere else, what with no records and no clerical skills. Sam can even guess how his brother got fired: Dean probably fell asleep and was late for a shift, or maybe had to call out one too many times so he could run an errand for Dad. He saw both happen more times than he could count, those last few years before Stanford.

Different verse, same as the first.

“I, uh, figured I’d head over to Vegas: score enough cash to last out the rest of Dad’s rehab,” Dean continues, and pauses to take a swig of his coffee. Then, setting the cup down again, he continues, “Things didn’t go so great, but one of the other guys at my table was a producer. He gave me his card. Told me I could make some serious cash for a few hours work if I wanted to, that I had ‘the right look’.”

His hand flutters up again: fingers absentmindedly brushing his lips before finding the hook-shaped scar. This time, instead of staying, Dean’s fingers stroke once before falling away. Sam has wondered about that scar more times than he can count, but looking at it has never made him sick to his stomach the way he is right now. Something about the way his brother touched first his lips and then that scar. Something about the way Dean is rubbing his fingertips on the tabletop as though he just touched something dirty.

“Anyway, one thing led to another and I came back with two grand in my pocket. Problem solved. Piece of fucking cake.”

But it wasn’t, obviously, and even if Dad hadn’t explicitly told Dean to sell himself, he’d put Dean in the position to do so. The man had raised Dean to think of himself in such a way that selling his body would seem like a logical, acceptable option. Dean could say what he wanted, but this was still Dad’s fault.

And, Sam supposed, it was his fault too. After all, if he’d been there, he could have gotten a job of his own: helped cover the bills. At the very least, he could have stopped his brother from doing something so goddamned degrading and stupid.

“Dean—”

“Share time’s done, Sam.” Dean sounds determined, but Sam isn’t quite ready to let this go.

“You shouldn’t have had to do that, Dean,” he says. “I should have been there.”

A muscle in Dean’s jaw jumps and his fingers flex around his coffee. “Yeah, well you weren’t,” he says, looking away, and there’s nothing more to say.

Chapter Text

As if things weren’t already complicated enough, Sam dreams again—dreams the way he dreamt before Jess died—and he isn’t stupid enough to ignore the warning a second time. Dean is clearly more freaked by the prospect of returning to Lawrence than by the possibility that Sam is psychic. Probably because he doesn’t actually believe in Sam’s ‘visions’ yet.

But there is a woman in trouble in their old house. Then their mother steps in, and Sam has never seen his brother look so devastated. Sam doesn’t know why Mary apologizes to him, unless it’s because she knows that her death was the catalyst that sent John haring off into the night and dragging Dean and Sam along after him. Her death that caused Dean to be raised the way he was: like a soldier—like a tool and a weapon instead of a son and a person. Her death that alienated them both from the rest of the world and left Sam wanting things he shouldn’t.

Then again, dying seems like a stupid thing to apologize for.

Sam doesn’t have time to ask for clarification, because he blinks and Mary is burning: destroying herself to save them both. Sam’s cheeks feel wet as he comes unglued from the wall, and when he steps closer to Dean he sees that his brother is crying as well.

“Hey,” he says, reaching for Dean’s shoulder, but his brother ducks out of range.

“Don’t,” Dean chokes out, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. He takes a deep breath, centering himself, and then offers Sam a small smile. “Guess you’re the real deal, huh, Haley Joel.”

Sam wants to talk about Mom, about what just happened, but the warning in Dean’s eyes stops him. “Guess so,” he says instead.

“This mean you can pick me a winning lotto ticket?” Dean asks, glancing up at the charred ceiling that is the last trace that remains of their mother.

Sam wonders if Dean would slug him for attempting a hug. Probably. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Figures.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

One week later, when Dad texts them the coordinates of an asylum in Rockford, Illinois, Sam’s sixth sense fails him miserably.

If he’d been any kind of psychic at all—if he’d been ‘the real deal’, like Dean said—then it should have warned him. Then he could have stuffed Dean into the trunk of the Impala and driven as far away from Rockford as humanly possible. And if worse had come to worse, if he’d known, Sam would have shot himself before he set foot inside those rusting doors.

Should have, could have, would have.

He wonders what the point of being psychic is, if he can’t protect the people he loves.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He’s so angry.

Sam has been angry before, of course: has succumbed both to brief flares of rage and to longer, lower burning furies that leave his muscles tense for days. This feeling is a new breed entirely: anger heated to flashpoint and infused with electricity. It transcends fury and rage and births into an incandescent burn that leaves his skin overheated and sparking.

And Dean—stupid, pretty Dean—doesn’t have the faintest idea.

Sam watches his brother probe for the hidden door (Sam knows exactly where it is, of course, saw it as soon as he stepped into the room, how fucking dumb can Dean be) and adjusts his grip on the shotgun. His eyes trail over his brother’s body while memories flicker in his mind: Dean on his knees, Dean bent over a couch, Dean lying on his back, Dean squirming while he’s pierced with two cocks at once.

Fucking whore, letting strangers touch him but denying Sam his turn.

The shotgun lifts slightly.

“Dean,” he calls.

Dean glances back. Notes the gun. Instead of fear, there’s only knowing resignation on his face.

A trickle of something seeps from Sam’s nose onto his lips—tastes like copper, tastes like blood—and he wipes at it with his free arm. “Step back from the door,” he orders.

Slowly, Dean stands and turns to face him. “Sam, put the gun down.”

“Is that an order?” Sam asks.

He’s pretty sick of Dean and his orders. Dean ordering Sam not to talk about it, not to think about it, it’s not going to happen. Because Dean’s fucked in the head and doesn’t want to have sex with anyone, let alone Sam. Never mind the fact that he’s been fucking every willing woman (and probably his fair share of men) from L.A. to New York.

“No,” Dean says, still cocky with the mask of confidence that he wears whenever he’s in a tight spot. “It’s more of a friendly request.”

Sam adjusts his hold on the gun, lifting it and pointing it at his brother. Angry or not, he’s feeling pretty good right now. Charged. Strong. Soaring high.

“’Cause I’m getting pretty tired of taking your orders.”

“I knew it,” Dean says, eyes narrowing. “Ellicott did something to you, didn’t he?”

Distantly, Sam knows there’s truth to his brother’s words, but he’s too focused on Dean’s mouth (lips, fucking cocksucker lips) to pay any attention to it. “For once in your life, just shut your mouth,” he orders.

For now, anyway. Once he’s finished putting Dean in his place, he’ll have his brother open up nice and wide for him.

“What are you gonna do, Sam?” Dean demands. “The gun’s filled with rock salt. Not gonna kill me.”

As if that’s what Sam wants to do with him.

But stupid or not, Dean’s in pretty good shape, and Sam is going to need a little help to subdue him. He pulls the trigger without thinking about it, unloading the round into his brother’s chest and sending him crashing back through the wall. Dean makes a hurt noise as he falls, knocking his head hard against the floor.

Sam can tell that his brother has been knocked unconscious, leaving him without an audience, but he answers anyway with a soft smile. “No, but it’ll hurt like hell. Keep you nice and quiet until we sort this out.”

Dropping the gun, he steps through the debris to stand over his brother. Then, letting the anger and want slide through him, he looks down at Dean, studying him. Dean is so pretty like this, face relaxed and muscles slack. So fucking pretty with all the vulnerability that he puts so much effort into hiding on display.

Dropping to his knees, Sam reaches out and lets himself touch the full, soft lips that have been haunting his dreams. He thinks about opening his brother’s jaw and letting Dean come around with a cock in his mouth, then decides against it. In that groggy, half-aware state, Dean might bite down accidentally before realizing what a monumentally bad idea that would be. Besides, it isn’t enough. Not for the tsunami of rage inside of Sam.

He wants to take Dean, wants to fill him up and possess him completely, but he also wants it to hurt. He wants his brother to regret keeping this from him, like Sam means less than all the others he’s been spreading his legs for. Like Sam doesn’t deserve to have what Dean has been giving away, what he’s been selling.

Straddling his brother, he goes to work on Dean’s pants. As he pulls the buckle free, Dean moans softly and turns his head to one side. Looks like he’s coming around. Sam ignores his brother’s sudden, gasping inhalation: the weak flutter of Dean’s hands up to his peppered chest.

“Wha—” Dean slurs, breaking off as Sam yanks his zipper open and starts tugging his pants down.

Sam allows himself a glance up, hungry for the moment of realization. Dean’s pretty green eyes are fogged with pain and confusion as they flit around the room. He looks dazed, still trying to play catch up and figure out what’s going on. Well, Sam can help him out with that.

“Welcome back, baby,” he purrs, and as his brother tries to focus his eyes, Sam shoves his pants down around his thighs, exposing him.

Dean flinches at the rush of cold air and then it hits him—Sam sees it hit him: sees the panicked awareness widen his brother’s eyes and catch in his lungs. Panic and, for a split second, something else. Something like recognition. Then the expression, whatever it is, is gone as Dean starts to struggle.

“No,” he spits. “Sam, we gotta burn Ellicott’s bones, and this’ll—”

He breaks off on a hurt cry as Sam plants a hand in the center of his chest and pushes, grinding the pellets of salt deeper. Dean’s head drops back against the floor as the renewed flare of pain cords his body with tension. Never one to miss an opportunity, Sam uses his brother’s momentary distraction to flip Dean over onto his stomach. Easier access like this, and besides, this way he can use his weight to drive Dean’s raw chest against the debris on the floor with every thrust. Dean will be lucky if he can think straight with that much pain spiking through him, let alone put up any real fight.

“Sam,” Dean pants, trying to get his hands underneath him. “Sammy, wait.”

“I’m done waiting, Dean,” Sam spits. Planting his left hand between his brother’s shoulder blades, he leans on Dean and opens his own pants with his right. “You’re gonna take it like a good whore. Pretty, fucking cocktease. That’s all you’re good for, isn’t it?”

Pulling his cock free, he looks down at his brother’s bared ass and hesitates. He wants to spread Dean’s legs and can’t without taking his brother’s jeans off completely. Injured or not, that sort of maneuver is too risky with Dean squirming like this. Maybe Sam should knock him out again …

No. He wants Dean awake for this. Wants him to feel every inch as Sam sinks into him. He’ll have to make do with this for now: play with new positions later, once Dean has been properly broken in.

“Sam, this isn’t you!” Dean yells, protesting, but he isn’t trying to push off the ground anymore. Good boy.

“Sure it is,” Sam answers, gripping his cock and rubbing it along his brother’s exposed crack. “I’m right here. Can’t you feel me? How hard I am for you?”

“Get off me, you son of a bitch,” Dean spits. The muscles in his ass clench and unclench violently.

Grinning, Sam positions the head of his cock directly over his brother’s entrance. Without any lube, this is going to hurt him as well as Dean, but as long as it hurts Dean more, he doesn’t care. Dean needs to learn what happens when he cuts Sam off.

“I’m a little big to take you dry,” he says, “But you took two cocks at once, so I think you can handle it.”

“Sam,” Dean chokes out, and then grunts as Sam makes a tentative trial thrust. He isn’t breaching his brother, not yet, but the threat is obvious.

“The things I’m going to do to you, Dean …” Sam promises. “Make you scream.”

“You first,” Dean says, and then Sam is screaming because it feels like his balls have been trapped in a vice.

Instinctively, he pulls off and away and Dean (sneaky fucker grabbed Sam’s nuts) lets him go. Sam sprawls sideways with his hands cupping his throbbing balls and swears. His skin feels swollen with rage: aching with it.

“Oh, you bitch! You fucker! You fucking whore!”

“No mirrors here, you son of a bitch,” Dean pants, which makes no fucking sense at all, and then something that feels like a semi impacts with the side of Sam’s face and everything goes black.

When he comes around again, he isn’t angry anymore. The left side of his face aches and his balls are on fire and he’s lying on the dirty, cold floor with his jeans around his ankles. Confused, he lifts his head and spots Dean sitting with his back against a wall and his hand to his temple. His brother’s body posture is painfully stiff, the front of his shirt is shredded, and Sam remembers what happened and immediately pukes all over the floor.

When his stomach has finished emptying itself, he draws a shaking hand over his mouth and starts to pull his pants back up. He can feel Dean’s eyes on him, and shame lies over him like a thick second skin.

“You’re not going to try to fuck me, are you?” Dean asks.

“No,” Sam mutters, staring at the floor. He can’t look at his brother right now. Doesn’t think he’ll be able to look at him for a while.

“Good,” Dean says dryly. “Because that would be awkward.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean doesn’t ask Sam to help clean out the wounds on his chest and Sam doesn’t offer. He knows his brother will only turn him down the same way he turned down the offer to talk about what happened. The same way he turns down any offer Sam makes that doesn’t involve a six pack and or a quarter-pounder with fries.

‘You didn’t mean it, Sammy,’ Dean told him on the drive back. ‘Besides, nothing happened. No biggie.’

The really fucked up thing is that Sam is pretty sure his brother actually believes that.

Sam tried to rape him and Dean is fine with it: just another day on the job, ho hum. Well, Dean may be fine (maybe, maybe not, he keeps touching that scar), but Sam is vibrating with disgust and shame and guilt. He remembers how he felt, what he was thinking, and yeah, a lot of it was Ellicott, but the initial impulse came from him. The frustrated hunger came from him.

Even now, just thinking of Dean squirming beneath him is making Sam hard. The memory of watching Dean getting fucked while wearing that cat mask hasn’t been so persistent since he first watched the movie.

What kind of sick fuck are you? he demands of himself as he lies in his bed that night, just a few feet from his brother with the image of Dean’s raw, abused hole burned into his mind.

But Dean’s slow, steady breathing is the only answer he gets.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sound of a ringing phone wakes Sam in the morning. Muzzy-headed from a restless night, he listens long enough to identify it as Dean’s rather than his and then calls, “Dean.”

Dean doesn’t so much as twitch.

Sighing, Sam leans over and answers for him without glancing at the caller id. Way his luck has been going lately, it’ll probably be one of Dean’s old conquests. “Hello?”

It isn’t.

“Sam? Is that you?”

Heart pounding in his chest, Sam sits up. “Dad?” he blurts. “Are you hurt?”

He can’t think of another reason for their father to actually break his long silence. Odd, considering how angry he’s been at the man, but all of a sudden he’s terrified of the answer to his question.

“I’m fine,” Dad answers. His voice is weary but fond, and relief floods Sam at the assurance.

“We’ve been looking for you everywhere,” he says. “We didn’t know where you were, if you were okay.”

“Sammy, I’m all right. What about you and Dean?”

At the reminder, Sam glances over to find his brother stirring. The blankets have slipped down slightly and the sight of Dean’s sore, salt-peppered chest is an accusation. Guilt and resentment twist together in Sam’s stomach and leave him a little breathless.

“We’re fine,” he lies shortly. Fucked if he’s getting into the conversation he wants to have about Dean over the phone. “Dad, where are you?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Dean sit up, letting the blankets pool in his lap.

“Sorry, kiddo. I can’t tell you that.”

“What?” Sam chokes out. “Why not?”

“Is that Dad?” Dean wants to know. He sounds and looks about five, with his hair sticking up all over the place and that faithful expectation coloring his voice. Then Sam’s eyes slip down to Dean's chest, to the evidence of his sickness, and he has to shut his eyes against a wave of anger—human this time, and natural, and all his. Dad is going on about trusting him, something about a demon, but Sam doesn’t want to hear it.

“We’re not fine,” he says.

On the other end of the phone, John is silent for a moment and then he says, “Listen, Sammy, I, uh, I know what happened to your girlfriend. I’m so sorry. I would’ve—”

“I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about Dean.”

“Give me the phone,” Dean orders, holding out a hand. Sam hunches his shoulder, making it a shield between them.

“What about Dean?” Dad doesn’t say anything else, just that, but there’s a wariness in his voice that tells Sam his father knows exactly what he’s talking about.

His breath catches and his head pounds because it’s one thing to suspect and another to know. The anger currently flooding him isn’t as all consuming as what Ellicott made him feel, but it’s close. Too close for him to keep his mouth shut.

“How could you do that to him, Dad?” he demands. “How could you—”

Dean snatches the phone from Sam in a rapid movement that has to hurt and then sits back in his own bed. “Dad, it’s me. Where are you? … Yes, sir … Uh, no I don’t know what Sam’s talking about …”

Dean shoots Sam a pissed off glare—looks more upset about this than he did about nearly having Sam’s cock shoved up his ass yesterday—and Sam can’t take it. Tossing the sheets back, he stands up and goes into the bathroom in search of some air he can breathe without wanting to scream. The change of scenery doesn’t help much. Neither does the cold water he splashes on his face. Not when he can hear his brother playing good little soldier in the next room.

As Sam clutches the edge of the counter and stares into the mirror (no mirrors, no mir—), he realizes that he can’t do this anymore. He can’t stay so close to Dean (—rors here you son of a bitch) when he’s nothing more than a ticking bomb.

He has to leave.

Again.

Chapter Text

Running off to find Dad provides the perfect excuse to leave. There are hurtful words on both sides, of course, and anger, and Sam can all but see the wounds reopening inside of Dean’s chest, but this is better. It’s safer.

Sam clearly can’t be trusted to control himself around Dean.

Dean clearly can’t be trusted to take care of himself where Sam’s concerned.

As he watches the taillights of the Impala disappear in the distance, Sam shivers a little. He has never felt so alone or cold or hollow. There’s relief, too, but it’s bitter and small. Flavored with the salty tang of tears.

He makes it almost two full days before caving, and of course Dean welcomes him back. Dean welcomes Sam with relieved eyes, a stoic expression and a joke: the Winchester equivalent of open arms. Sam looks at the sunset bruise on his brother’s eye, the curve of his lashes, the sensuous lines of his mouth. He looks at the hooked, white scar at his brother’s temple, which is all the more noticeable right now for the reddened, irritated skin around it where Dean can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

But Dean smiles at him. Dean smiles and lays his hand on Sam’s shoulder and squeezes gently before laughing and climbing into the driver’s seat.

If sheep were this trusting when wolves slunk around their enclosures, they’d have been extinct long ago.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Nebraska, Dean nearly dies. Sam’s not talking about it.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Cassie is a kick to the groin when Sam is already down. She’s petite and beautiful and intelligent, and Sam hates her on principle. He hates her more when he notices the way that she looks at Dean: warm and familiar and fond. She looks at him like she has a right to him.

Worse, Sam has caught his brother looking back.

He doesn’t want to know, not really, but there’s some deep, masochistic streak that makes him push for the information anyway. He manages to wait until they’re alone, at least, getting ready to interview some sources at the docks, and then, as casually as he can, broaches the subject.

“I’ll say this for her—she’s fearless.”

Dean, fussing with his suit, doesn’t so much as glance over. “Mmhmm.”

Drop it, Sam tells himself. Just finish getting dressed, go interview some dockworkers, solve the case, and get out of here. Problem solved.

“I bet she kicked your ass a couple times.”

That gets him a look, just like he knew it would, but Dean’s ‘fuck you’ expression doesn’t tell Sam anything he wants to know.

Forcing down the painful lump in his throat, Sam continues, “What’s interesting is you guys never really look at each other at the same time. You look at her when she’s not looking, she checks you out when you look away.”

Now Dean’s expression is more useful, if indefinable. He looks … uncertain, maybe? Intrigued?

“It’s just an interesting observation,” Sam hastens to continue. “In a, you know, observationally interesting way.”

Dean’s jaw firms and he turns away. “I think we might have some more pressing issues here.”

“Hey, if I’m hitting a nerve—”

“You got a question, Sam, just ask already,” Dean mutters, pulling his jacket on.

As if this is that simple. As if anything between them has ever been that simple.

But there’s no reason not to give it a try now that Dean’s called him out. “I was just wondering when you two got together. I mean, I know it was while I was at Stanford, I was just—”

“You want to know if I rode Cassie before I got ridden,” Dean says, turning back to face him. His voice is flat. His face unreadable.

Sam flushes, but he isn’t backing down now. “Did you?”

“Does it matter?” Dean asks. He’s watching Sam carefully, and Sam doesn’t know what’s going on here, but suddenly it’s difficult to breathe.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Sam struggles with that question for a moment before confessing, “I don’t know.” It’s the truth: he has no idea why he cares so much. All he knows is that it’s vital that Dean met Cassie after the movie, when he wasn’t just damaged but broken.

Dean nods like Sam’s answer actually means something to him—which, if it does Sam wishes he’d let Sam in on it—and starts for the door. “Let’s go.”

“Dean,” Sam says softly without moving. Just that, but the plea is clearly audible. If Dean turns around, he’ll be able to see Sam’s need written on his face in stark, desperate lines.

Dean pauses with his hand resting on the doorframe, but he doesn’t turn around. “Before,” he says over his shoulder. “I met her before.”

Except ‘met’ isn’t what he means.

Before. I loved her before.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There are two things to remember about drinking your troubles away. The first is that it gets to be habit if you do it enough. The second is that it doesn’t work.

Sam acknowledges the first fact as he orders a couple of kamikazes at the bar, and he doesn’t want to go down that road any more than he already has: doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps any more than he already is. But he can’t be sober while Cassie takes Dean away from him—while she fucks him and reminds him what pleasure is, and happiness, and love. He needs the liquid help to numb the hollow ache in his chest.

It isn’t until he’s stumbling back to their room, weeping the whole way, that he remembers the second fact.

Fuck, he actually feels worse now than he did before he started drinking, which he didn’t think was possible. He pauses outside the room, leaning against the wall with one hand pressed to his forehead. The world spins around him, empty and cold and hostile, but it’s better out here than inside. Inside, Dean’s absence will be painfully obvious, and Sam is going to have to get used to it because this is how things will be from now on. This is his life, he has to accept it, he—

“Sammy?”

The voice doesn’t penetrate immediately: Sam’s sobs are too close and immediate. Then Dean is right in front of him, Dean is running concerned hands over Sam’s body and saying, “Fuck, man, where were you? You okay? Sammy?”

Sam blinks, opening his eyes to find his brother peering up at him, the door to their room gaping wide behind Dean’s broad shoulders. “Dean?” he hiccups.

Dean frowns, intent, and swipes his thumbs over Sam’s cheeks, wiping away the tears. “C’mon. Let’s get you inside.”

Sam follows docilely, stunned by the fact that Dean is here, that Dean is guiding him over to the bed and sitting him down and pushing a glass of water at him and running his hand through Sam’s hair.

“You gotta stop doing this, dude,” he says as Sam downs the water.

“Thought you’d be gone,” Sam tells him. “I thought you were gonna be with her.”

“What,” Dean says, taking the glass back and setting it on the table. “And miss out on all this blackmail material?”

“Not funny,” Sam protests, reaching up and getting a fistful of shirt. Dean lets himself be pulled close, leaning one hand on the mattress to prop himself up.

“Sure it is,” he says, one hand going to Sam’s and gently trying to pry his fingers loose.

Sam ignores the attempt and insists, “No. No, you were. You were s’pposed to be with Cassie. You were gonna. You said ‘don’t wait up’. Why’re you here?”

He wishes, desperately, that he wasn’t drunk. Wishes he could read the emotions flickering through his brother’s beautiful, green eyes. He realizes suddenly that they’re only inches apart, that he can feel Dean’s breath ghosting over his own lips. The scar at Dean’s hairline is shiny and pale, and Sam wonders whether it would taste any different than the rest of him. He wonders what Dean would do if he tried to find out.

“Lie down, Sam,” Dean says. Giving up on disengaging Sam’s grip, he pushes lightly at Sam’s chest.

Sam clings tighter, resisting. “No. Answer me. Dean, you have to tell me, you have to.” It’s stupid, and he’ll probably be embarrassed about it later, but he’s so desperate that he’s crying again. “Please, Dean, please.”

“I don’t know why I’m here, okay?” Dean says, and now he’s trying a two for one: working at Sam’s fingers with one hand and pushing him back with the other. It must be hell on his lower back, bending over like this without any support. Must be putting him off balance. “Now drop it and just—”

Sam yanks his brother closer and kisses him.

Dean tastes good: his lips, his tongue, his mouth. Dean is warm and wet and welcoming and he chose Sam, he’s here—and then Dean jerks his face to the side.

“No,” he says.

Something deep inside of Sam’s chest crumples. “Please. Dean, please. Just—just this, just let me kiss you, just—brothers kiss all the time, s’okay, s’alright.” He unlocks one hand and paws at his brother’s face, trying to turn Dean back toward him, to get at those lips again.

“I didn’t come back for this,” Dean says, but he isn’t trying to get away, and he’s letting Sam kiss the graceful arch of his neck.

“Just this,” Sam repeats. “Just this, please.”

“Sam,” Dean tries, but Sam can hear surrender in his name, and when he tugs again Dean comes. Sam rolls them, getting Dean on his back, and Dean lets him. Dean lets Sam pull his shirt off and then lies there and strokes Sam’s hair while Sam licks and nips at his chest, tracing the memory of rock salt before latching onto one nipple and sucking.

Dean bucks at that, breath stuttering, and Sam can feel his brother’s cock hardening. He shifts, pressing his thigh solidly against the bulge in his brother’s jeans, and Dean’s hand tightens in his hair. Lifting his head, Sam says, “Let me, let me, let me.”

“You—” Dean’s voice cuts off in a gasp as Sam rocks against him. “You said just kissing. Sam—”

“Want to make you feel good,” Sam begs. He understands, distantly, that he shouldn’t be doing this, but he can’t help himself. “I can make it feel good, Dean, I can, let me show you, let me, love you, fuck, love you so fucking much.”

He makes himself shut up then and Dean doesn’t respond. But the absence of a yes isn’t a ‘no’, and when Sam rolls them again, drawing Dean on top of him, Dean doesn’t fight him. Sam pushes a hand into his brother’s pants to cup his ass and Dean shudders, legs falling open as Sam drags their lower bodies snug together.

“C’mon,” Sam pants, nipping at his brother’s neck while thrusting up. “Just like this. Rub against me, it’ll feel good, come on.”

His hand shifts on his brother’s ass, fingers searching for the entrance he knows is there, and Dean jerks as he finds what he’s looking for.

“Shh,” Sam soothes, pushing one finger inside. “Shh, feels good. Feel so good. C’mon, move, you can, want you to.”

Dean shudders again and then leans forward, upper body sliding against Sam’s and rucking his t-shirt up. Sam imagines what it would feel like to have Dean’s skin sliding over his and wishes he dared stop long enough to get his own shirt off. He doesn’t want to chance breaking the moment, though: not when Dean has started to move against him in tentative thrusts.

Dean’s cock, which wilted when Sam’s finger first penetrated him, is beginning to swell again, and his breath is coming faster. Sam uses his free hand to maneuver his brother’s face into position and starts kissing him again, fucking his tongue into Dean’s mouth while he feels around in his ass for that shocky, pleasurable spot he knows is there. Dean gives another full-bodied shudder when he finds it, moaning into Sam’s mouth, and Sam has never heard anything so hot. Fuck, Dean sounds so much better in person than he did on film.

Now that he has found it, Sam makes sure to rub repeatedly at his brother’s sweet spot as they rock against each other. Dean’s breathing is ragged now, and he’s sweating, making little pleasure-pain noises that are going straight to Sam’s cock. He releases his brother’s lips so that he can hear them better, settling for licking his earlobe and neck.

Dean’s ass is still tight—unbelievably so, after what Sam saw him take in the movie—but it’s loosened enough that he manages to work a second finger in beside the first. At the addition, Dean’s hands come up and clutch at Sam’s biceps. Sam would be concerned except for the fact that Dean also drops his head down, bracing his forehead against Sam’s shoulder and rocking his hips faster. Sam can feel his brother’s heart racing where their chests are pressed together—knows Dean is close, so close. His brother makes a choked noise, shifting his head, and Sam’s eyes fasten on the white, hooked scar centimeters from his lips.

“Come for me,” Sam murmurs, pumping his fingers more quickly in and out of Dean’s ass. “Come on, baby, come for me.” He darts his tongue out, running it over smooth, raised skin, and Dean jerks.

“Sam!” he chokes out, stiffening.

Pressed together so snuggly, Sam can feel his brother’s cock twitching as he comes, and a moment later Dean collapses against him, breathing hard and trembling slightly. Hooking his left leg around his brother’s body, Sam thrusts up while driving his fingers in deep again (warm and tight and his) and then comes himself with a low moan. Panting, he lets his leg slide free and lies there waiting to come down from his high.

After about a minute, he can smell it in the air—the salted musk of semen—and the sticky mess in his pants is going to start cooling off and getting gross really soon, but he still doesn’t want to move. His head is spinning pleasantly with orgasm and alcohol and Dean is warm against him. Dean’s ass is snug around his fingers. His Dean. All his.

“Sam,” Dean says in an odd voice. “I need you to get your fingers out of my ass.”

“Don’t wanna,” Sam murmurs, wiggling his fingers just to feel Dean twitch. “Wanna stay here ‘n go to sleep with you.”

“Sammy—”

“You’ll get up and go away.”

“I just—” Dean breathes out heavily and then says, “I just want to get my pants off. C’mon, dude, this crap’s gonna crust. I don’t want to have to peel my boxers off my dick tomorrow morning.”

Sam’s pretty sure that his brother is lying, but he also isn’t wrong about the whole crusty boxers thing. It’s a dilemma. Absently, he rubs at Dean’s prostate while he considers the problem.

Dean squirms against him, breath hitching. His hands, which are still gripping Sam’s arms, tighten. “Sam!”

“Okay, fine. Gotta stay.”

“I will. Fuck.”

“Promise,” Sam pushes, still sliding his fingers around. Dean is getting hard again. Interesting.

“I promise, okay? Now s-stop fucking around and get your fingers out of me.”

Grudgingly, Sam obeys. As soon as he tugs his hand free, Dean is off the bed and heading for the bathroom, unzipping his pants as he goes. Sam figures he’s got the right idea and clumsily opens his own pants. He manages to get them down around his ankles before they catch on his shoes. After a moment of blinking down at the problem, he shrugs it off and drops back against the mattress, closing his eyes to wait. Dean will help him out when he comes back from the bathroom.

When Sam opens his eyes again again, it’s morning. His pants aren’t around his ankles anymore, and he isn’t wearing his shoes, but his shirt is still on and he isn’t under the covers and Dean is gone.

Dean is …

Dean …

“Oh my God,” he blurts, pushing off the bed and stumbling into the bathroom. He just manages to make it to the toilet in time. When he finishes puking up what little was left in his stomach, he rests his head against the cool porcelain and shuts his eyes.

In his mind, he can hear his own voice, slurred and begging and insistent. He can hear Dean’s responses.

No.

I didn’t come back for this.

You said just kissing.

And Sam had—he’d—fuck, he’d violated Dean. He went and got drunk and then put his hands all over his brother and Dean … Jesus Christ, Dean

The ring of his phone jars Sam out of his misery and to his feet—Dean’s ring, unmistakable. Dean calling him.

Sam rushes out to the main room, barking his shin on the bed as he goes, and snags his phone off the table. Hopping awkwardly on one foot while he rubs at his aching ankle, he catches the call and blurts, “Dean, I’m so fucking sorry, I—”

“The mayor’s dead,” Dean cuts in.

“What?”

“You heard me. Cass and I are out on Route 6. Just look for the flashing lights.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Sam gets to the scene, there’s no time to talk. He can’t figure out if that’s because Dean is manipulating things or if it’s just chance. It could be avoidance that has Dean sending Sam home with Cassie while he follows in the Impala, but then again it might just be Dean worrying about his ex-girlfriend’s safety.

Or maybe this is Dean’s way of getting back at him.

“You don’t like me very much, do you, Sam?” Cassie asks quietly as she pulls away from the crime scene.

Sam is too busy trying to watch Dean in the side mirror to bother dissembling, but he does manage to mutter, “I like you fine.”

“No, you don’t.”

Sam sighs. Thus far, he hasn’t seen any evidence of Cassie taking Dean’s shit, so there’s no reason to think she’d take his, either, but he was still hoping.

“Fine. I don’t.”

“Mind if I ask why?”

“It’s not because you’re black, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He realizes a moment after he says it how condescending that came out. Cringing a little inside, he glances over at Cassie and finds her smiling. It isn’t a happy smile, but it isn’t exactly hostile either.

“It’s not,” she tells him. “Although I think I’d prefer it if it were. Prejudice I know how to deal with.”

She knows, Sam thinks. Despite the chill permeating the cab of Cassie’s truck, a trickle of sweat runs down the back of his neck and into his shirt. His stomach lurches around completely independent of the road while he wonders how she figured it out, whether Dean told her. Whether Sam left some sort of evidence on Dean’s body. He didn’t notice anything back at the crime scene, but then again it was really fucking difficult to look at Dean at all back at the crime scene, so maybe ...

Cassie is still waiting for some kind of response. Sam considers categorically denying everything and then, clenching his jaw, sits there with his mouth shut. After all, he can’t walk into a noose if he doesn’t move.

“I’m not trying to take him away from you,” Cassie adds, and after a split second of complete and utter terror, Sam realizes that the declaration is missing the disgust and anger it should hold if she meant it the way he thought she did. Cassie does think he’s jealous, but only in the normal, ‘he’s my big brother I come first in his life’ kind of way.

Of course, relaxing from the terror of discovery leaves Sam free to get annoyed about her interference again.

“Even if I were,” Cassie continues, oblivious. “I don’t think that’s possible. I just … I care about him, Sam. I don’t know, maybe I even love him.”

It’s funny how quickly Sam manages to go from annoyed to pissed off these days.

“You don’t deserve him,” he blurts before he can censor himself. He doesn’t deserve Dean either, of course, but anger leaves little room for rational thought or fair play.

“And here I thought you liked me fine,” Cassie says dryly.

“You want to know what I think?” Sam answers. His hands clench into fists where they’re resting in his lap. “I think you lost any right to Dean the second you threw him away. You don’t get hurt him like that and expect him to come crawling back to you.”

“No, only you get to do that.”

One short statement and Cassie has cut right to the heart of what Sam hates most about this situation, about his life, about himself. His chest constricts, or maybe that’s his anger swelling, and Sam can’t figure out whom he wants to lash out at. Dad’s pretty high on the list, and Dean for letting both of them fuck him up so thoroughly, and then there's Sam himself, of course. The tension gets bad enough that it’s either scream or hit something or explode and so Sam grits his teeth and slams his fist against the dash before looking back out his window.

Cassie’s reflection jumps in startlement at his outburst, but her voice is steady when she says, “I’ve made my share of mistakes, Sam, but letting Dean go—having it end like that—that’s the only one I truly regret.”

Must be nice, Sam thinks. Regret. He’s getting way too familiar with the way that particular emotion tastes in his mouth: bitter and sad and wasted.

“Are you fucking him?”

It takes a couple of seconds for the question to penetrate, but when it does Sam jerks like he’s been electrocuted, whipping his head around to stare at Cassie with wide eyes.

Cassie’s eyes are steadfastly focused on the road, but even so there’s no way she could have missed his reaction. She taps her fingers against the steering wheel with a nod. “I thought so.”

It takes a minute, but Sam finally manages to unglue his tongue from the roof of his mouth to ask, “How did you—”

“Know?” Cassie smiles again: cynical and a little sad. “I’m a reporter, Sam. It’s my job to read people.”

“We aren’t—Dean and I, we haven’t—”

“But you want to.”

Sam can’t deny that. Hell, he shouldn’t really be denying the sex. Not after last night.

“Dean would do anything for you, you know,” Cassie continues after a moment. “What I was wondering was whether you’d do the same for him.”

Sam knows where she’s going with this and wants to open the door and jump out of the car before she can get there. He wants to punch her before she can open her mouth and say it. Wants, childishly, to plug his ears with his fingers so that he can’t hear her when she does.

But he’s a grown man, no alcohol in his system to blur the lines of conscience, and so he sits there quietly and waits for Cassie to damn him.

“Let him go, Sam. For his own sake, let him go.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean seems to sense that something happened when they get to Cassie’s—Sam can read the question in his brother’s eyes—but he looks away without answering. He doesn’t know what to say. Right and wrong and need and desire are all tangled up in his head.

All he knows is that he loves Dean. He loves Dean and last night he defiled him. As good as raped him.

So what if Dean hadn’t said no at the end? Once should have been enough, and like Cassie said, Dean would do anything for him. Dean would do anything for him, and God help him Sam knew it when he started begging last night.

Let him go, Cassie urged him—is still urging him with those dark, knowing eyes. And she’s right to demand it of him.

As Sam turns away, cradling his aching hand close to his stomach, he knows that he doesn’t have it in him to obey.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Cassie is ‘kind’ enough to lend Sam her truck so that he and Dean can split up to do some more research, so Sam’s plan for a long, heartfelt apology is postponed yet again. He’s both relieved and anxious as he drives her truck back down toward the dock where, for some reason known only to the inhabitants of Cape Girardeau, the town records office is. Between his trip to the docks and Dean’s visit to Cassie’s newspaper, they manage to narrow their suspects down to a list of one: Cyrus Dorian. What they don’t know is why he’s so pissed off or where to find the son of a bitch’s body so they can burn it.

Sam is supposed to meet Dean for dinner back at the room—where they’ll hopefully get to discuss more pressing matters than killer ghost trucks (fuck, his life is weird)—but instead he gets a frantic call from his brother telling him to get over to Cassie’s right away. Sam shows up on Dean’s heels, just in time to see a tearful Cassie open the door and fling herself into his brother’s arms. She’s clearly frightened—still shaking enough that Sam can’t manage more than a dull mix of annoyance and jealousy as Dean leads her back inside. She fits in against his side perfectly, Sam notices, like they were made for each other. She fits against him far better than Sam ever will.

“I’m gonna make some tea,” he mutters as Dean sits Cassie down on the couch.

Dean kneels at Cassie’s feet without acknowledging the statement. Resting his left hand on her knee, he reaches with his right to cup her face, rubbing the tears away with his thumb. Cassie puts her hand over Dean’s, leaning into the touch, and Sam turns away before he can see any more.

He knocks his hand against the doorframe in his haste, setting off the dull ache in his fingers again, but it hurts less than his chest does. At this point, having all of his skin ripped off would probably hurt less than his chest. Sam doesn’t cry as he searches through the kitchen’s fifteen-odd cabinets for the kettle, though. He won’t cry here, in her house. Won’t cry while he listens to Cassie’s soft murmurs and his brother’s lower assurances that ‘everything’s gonna be fine’.

He’s so focused on not crying that he doesn’t realize anyone is in the kitchen with him until the sound of someone clearing their throat makes him jump and whirl, hand dipping to the gun tucked at the small of his back. Sam actually has his fingers on the plastic grip when he realizes that it’s just Cassie’s mom. He eases off immediately, releasing the gun and schooling his expression into something reassuring.

“Oh, hey, Mrs. Robinson. I was just trying to find the tea kettle.”

“Let me,” she says, reaching past him into a cabinet he’s sure he already searched. If he did, he must have done a sloppy job because she emerges with the kettle and brings it over to the sink. As she turns the water on, she clears her throat again and says, “Sam, I have to ask you a question and I need you to be honest with me.”

Oh crap. Conversations like that never end well.

Sure that the woman is going to ask if he intends to try stealing her daughter’s boyfriend, Sam reluctantly says, “Okay.”

Mrs. Robinson doesn’t ask immediately. Instead, she finishes filling the kettle, puts it down on the counter beside her, and turns off the water. Then, turning around, she asks, “Is this truck real? Is my daughter in danger?”

She’s looking at him with the expected concern and fear, but there’s something else there as well. An emotion with which Sam is increasingly familiar these days.

Guilt.

She knows something, he thinks, tensing. The tightness in his chest eases as years of training kick in and he focuses himself on the job. On looking earnest and competent and safe so that he can get the information he needs to save a life. Cassie may be ripping Dean away from him, and Sam might hate her a little for that, but she doesn’t deserve to die just because Dean loves her.

“Yes,” he answers. “Crazy as it seems, it’s real enough to kill, and if it showed up here then it’s after Cassie. Dean and I need to find Cyrus’ body and burn it. After that, she’ll be safe.”

Mrs. Robinson’s mouth purses and her chin trembles in a way that Sam associates with tears. She doesn’t cry, though. Just takes a deep, shaky breath and nods.

“Then there’s something you should know …”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“You know we’re going to have to dredge that body up from the swamp, right?” Sam asks an hour later.

He and Dean are outside standing by the car. They’re alone for the first time all day—have been for the last ten minutes—but Sam hasn’t been able to bring himself to apologize. Dean hasn’t brought last night up either, but Sam can tell that his brother is thinking about it because his hand keeps going to his temple before he realizes what he’s doing and puts it back down. He won’t look Sam in the eye, either, and he keeps shifting his weight and pacing around in a tight circle like a tethered dog.

They’re going to have to talk about it soon.

“Yeah,” Dean says. He pauses, grimaces, and then opens his mouth as though he’s going to say something else. Cassie’s sudden emergence from the house distracts him, though, and Sam resists the urge to scowl as his brother leaves him leaning against the car to meet her.

“Hey,” Dean says.

“Hey,” Cassie answers, offering him a wan smile. “She’s asleep.”

Sam guesses that Mrs. Robinson will stay that way for a while, too, considering the tranquillizers she took after she had told her story for a second time—this time to her daughter. She had held up okay when it was just Sam, just a stranger, but telling your only child that her father was a murderer is always going to be more difficult—no matter how justified the murder in question. He has to admit that Cassie is dealing with the news pretty well.

Now, outside, he watches her stick her hands into her pockets and ask, “Now what?”

“Well,” Dean answers, “You stay put and look after her. And we’ll be back. Don’t leave the house.”

Cassie fixes Dean with a no-nonsense look, but her voice is playful when she says, “Don’t go getting all authoritative on me. I hate it.”

“Don’t leave the house, please?” Dean corrects himself. Sam can’t see his brother’s face, but he can tell from his voice that he’s smiling.

Cassie slants a look past Dean’s shoulder at Sam, smiles herself, and then grabs Dean’s face and pulls him down into a kiss. Sam straightens and takes a step forward before he knows what he’s doing. When it hits him—when he realizes that he’s a heartbeat away from doing something unforgivable (something else unforgivable)—he draws up short. Then, with a dull pulse in his head and an acidic taste in his mouth, he stands there and watches as his brother’s hands flutter over Cassie’s body.

Dean’s own body is tense, surprised, and he can’t seem to figure out whether he’s supposed to be touching her or not. It looks awkward as hell, and satisfaction is tugging Sam’s lips up when the tension suddenly drains from his brother’s shoulders. A moment later, Dean’s hands settle on Cassie’s hips and she goes up on her tiptoes, deepening the kiss. Dean holds her there, his hands flexing in a languid, easy rhythm, while he kisses her back.

Suddenly, it looks comfortable—looks familiar—and Sam’s stomach burns. He can’t fucking watch this. Cutting his eyes away, he lets out a loud, pointed cough.

Dean immediately breaks the kiss to say, “Yeah, coming,” which is gratifying, but his hands linger a moment longer and he gives Cassie’s waist a quick squeeze before stepping away and strolling around to the driver’s side door. He doesn’t so much as glance in Sam’s direction. Cassie’s looking at him, though. She’s watching Sam the way a cat might watch a cornered mouse.

“Take care of him, Sam,” she says, folding her arms across her stomach.

Sam tightens his jaw and gets into the car without responding.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam isn’t going to have this conversation. Not now. Not when he can’t figure out if he’s jealous or guilty or angry or scared. Not when Dean’s kiss with Cassie is stuck on replay in his head. He isn’t stupid enough to get into such an important discussion when he’s already so far off balance he might as well be flat on his back.

So, of course, they make it almost all the way to the swamp in silence before he says, “Dean.”

“No,” Dean says.

Sam taps his aching fingers against his leg for a moment and then says, “You don’t even know what—”

“You were gonna apologize for last night, and then you were gonna promise it won’t ever happen again, and I don’t want to hear it, Sam. We’re in the middle of a fucking case, get your head on straight.” Dean isn’t rubbing his scar, which might be a sign that he isn’t as upset as his voice indicates, but then again that might be because his hands are white-knuckled on the wheel.

“Just let me—”

“Been there, done that, not happening again. Now shut your goddamn cakehole.”

“Dean,” Sam tries one last time, and his brother slams on the breaks. Sam reaches one hand up to the dash automatically as he lets out a startled swear. Dean puts the car in park and turns off the engine and then swings sideways in the seat to glare at him.

“Are you deaf or just suicidal?” he demands.

Sam is still a little breathless from thinking his head was going to go through the windshield, but he still manages to get out, “We need to talk about this, Dean!”

“No, Sam. You need to talk about this. I need to forget it.”

“How can you just forget something like that?” Sam demands, and suddenly he’s crying. They’re weak tears, more leaky faucet than downpour, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about losing control like this. He should be used to it by now. After all, losing control is getting to be a habit. His tears come faster at the thought, and he wipes a hand miserably across his eyes.

“Jesus Christ, Dean, how the hell am I supposed to—I hurt you. I—you said no, and I just—I—”

Dean doesn’t reach out and comfort him like he used to, but he doesn’t yell again either. He just sits there quietly while Sam cries himself out. When Sam’s tears finally start to taper off, Dean fixes him with a look and says, “I could have stopped you, Sam. I didn’t. It wasn’t rape. Stop angsting.”

He turns back to the road and reaches for the ignition.

“It was,” Sam insists. “Dean, you don’t—you don’t know how to say no to me.”

Dean laughs harshly, dropping his head. He lets it hang for a moment, forehead just brushing the wheel, and then says, “You are a real piece of work, you know that? No matter what I say, you’re gonna twist it into Sam the Martyr hour, and I’m not gonna play that game with you.” Straightening, he continues, “So listen up, Sammy, cause I’m only gonna say this once and then we’re gonna go toast us a corpse.”

He pauses, staring out the windshield at the dark road ahead. He looks eerily beautiful in the reflected glow of the dashboard lights. Looks young and fragile. When he speaks, though, his voice is as strong as ever—harsh and almost angry.

“You’re my brother, man, and I love you. I’d kill for you, and I’d fucking die for you, and you know that. But I told you no when you finally manned up to what you wanted from me in California, and I didn’t let you rape me in Rockford.” He turns finally, trapping Sam’s gaze with his own as he asks, “So what the fuck makes you think I’d let you do it now?”

Sam blinks at Dean because everything he just said is true. Cassie’s words and his own selfish actions have gotten him so twisted around that he forgot about Rockford, about Dean’s refusal in California. He doesn’t know how to fit those puzzle pieces together with the Dean from last night: the Dean who let Sam finger him open and kiss him. Has no fucking clue what he’s supposed to read into Dean’s willingness to let Sam touch him one minute and his announcement that he wants to forget the whole thing the next.

And Dean is grimacing now, rubbing at the too-familiar spot on his temple as though there’s a wound there instead of a scar. As though there are jagged sparks of pain shooting through his skull.

“Are you okay?” he asks, reaching out to lay a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

Dean shrugs him off. “I’m fine,” he says shortly, and the hand at his temple shifts up and back to rub through his hair before coming to rest on the wheel. “Look, I’m not saying that I want you or anything. Like that. You know, for sex. I’m still.” Grimacing, he glances at the road and swallows. “I’m not interested in that kind of thing, okay?”

Let it go let it go let it go

“You looked pretty interested with Cassie.”

Fucking idiot.

But instead of snapping at Sam or declaring his undying love for Cassie, Dean only says, “You know what they say about old habits,” in a deadpan tone of voice that Sam can’t read. Then, giving himself a little shake, he continues, “Last night was … whatever it was. It’s not something that’s gonna happen again, but I don’t want you beating yourself up over it either. You hear me?”

God, how can Dean say that? And what the fuck is Sam supposed to be taking away from this conversation? Is it a promise? A warning? Is this what Dean’s forgiveness looks like these days?

“Sam?”

“Yeah, I hear you,” Sam says, although if anything he’s more confused than he was before this little heart to heart.

“Okay then,” Dean says, starting the car again. “Let’s go fry Casper.”

Chapter Text

When they drive off the following day, Cyrus’ truck is gone for good and Dean is right where he should be: in the driver’s seat of the car beside Sam. Cassie stands at the side of the road where Dean left her, arms crossed and unsmiling. Sam watches out the window as she first dwindles and then falls away and does his best not to smirk.

He’s pretty sure he’s unsuccessful.

His smile lasts until they stop for the night and his brother asks for two rooms. Dean doesn’t stutter. Doesn’t bother looking in Sam’s direction as he slides one of the keys across the countertop toward him. It’s probably a good thing that Dean’s attention is on his own hands because Sam’s expression feels pitifully open.

“See you in the morning,” Dean says—casual, like this is routine—and Sam mumbles something that sounds vaguely like, ‘ok,’ and doesn’t move while his brother pushes the office door open and steps back outside into the purple dusk.

When the door falls shut behind him, the sound jars Sam into motion. Palming the room key, he turns and starts for the door. Then, catching sight of Dean pulling his bag out of the backseat of the car, he makes a quick detour to the rack of pamphlets against the wall instead.

Sam thumbs through a paper brochure for Ed + Annie’s Steakhouse while his brother shuts the Impala’s door and strides toward the western flank of the motel without so much as a glance in his direction. Dean knows Sam is watching, though. Sam can tell. It’s evident in the defensive set of his shoulders. In the way he holds his hand at his temple while he walks, shaking his head as though to clear it.

Sam’s hands tremble on the brochure. His eyes burn, and his throat is hot and swollen. He feels like a voyeur, standing here and watching Dean surreptitiously through the glass while memories of the other night flutter through his head.

As Dean strides out of sight, Sam shifts, putting his back to the window. He forces himself to read three pamphlets cover to cover while the desk clerk hums along to the radio (tuned to a bland, elevator country station) and pops his gum. When Sam is sure that his brother is safely holed up for the night, he puts the last pamphlet back, lets himself out to retrieve his bag from the car and goes in search of his own room.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He can’t sleep.

It takes three straight nights of tossing and turning before Sam realizes that it isn’t the guilt keeping him up—not just guilt, anyway. It’s the silence.

Sam grew up with Dean’s steady breathing keeping time in the darkness. When he went away to college, he traded roommate for roommate for Jack. When he and Jack moved into the apartment, and Sam had his own room for the first time in his life, he slept to the throb of Jack’s music, which played near constantly after dark. On the rare nights Jack wasn’t home, he used to turn on his fan without thinking about it—let the uneven whir of the blades lull him to sleep. Then Jess came along and he had her soft noises for company: her restless shifting and sleepy, nonsensical mumbling and contented sighs. When Jess died, Dean was right there to scoop Sam up again, and once more he traded the rhythm of one person’s breathing for another’s. More familiar this time, more deeply loved. Home.

Now there’s nothing. In the out of the way motels that Dean chooses as they drift in search of another job, the soft, blurred noise of passing cars comes infrequently, if ever, and Sam is left aching. He’s left straining his ears in the darkness for something other than the echo of his own heartbeat—something to tell him that he isn’t alone. Silence roars back, spiteful, and when each morning rolls around he’s left muddle-headed and wincing at the light. He looks into the mirror and there are dark circles under his eyes. His skin is pale. His lips dry and tight. He thinks Dean notices, but his brother doesn’t mention Sam’s deteriorating appearance any more than he deigns to discuss the change in their sleeping arrangements.

‘I’m not going to touch you,’ Sam wants to say, but he has already made that promise and broken it and he’s no stronger now than he was before. He may actually be weaker, because now he knows what Dean feels like. He knows—in real, living color—what his brother sounds like when he comes with something up his ass. He knows how soft those maddening lips are, and how they taste, and the first night the silence robs him of his rest Sam finds himself pulling his cock out of his boxers and jerking off to the memory. His mouth tastes bitter when he comes, like regrets and mockery, and his exhausted mind spins. But it doesn’t stop him from doing the same thing on the following night, and again on the next.

During the day, with Dean at the wheel as they drive in aimless patterns, Sam can sleep a little. It’s easy to sleep with Dean’s scent in his nose and the sound of Dean’s breathing in his ears and the comforting creak of leather as Dean shifts in his seat and the pulse of Dean’s mullet rock. Sam dozes with his head lolling against the window, and he dreams of tight heat around his fingers and a firm, heavy body draped over him. He wakes no more rested than before with his cock a hard, hot line against his jeans.

Dean never says anything, but the way he rubs tersely at his temple tells Sam that his dreams aren’t exactly quiet. He vows not to fall asleep again where Dean can hear him, but less than an hour later, his exhausted body betrays him and dumps him under again. He dreams, and then he wakes, and Dean is rubbing his temple, and the whole fucking mess starts all over again.

On the fifth night, Sam finally—fucking finally—figures out that the TV can double as the white noise he needs. He drifts off to the muted sounds of a car chase: relieved to feel sleep closing in on him and so fucking grateful that he’d be crying if he wasn’t already too out of it to do more than make a weary little grunt.

Figures the first thing he dreams is another nightmare.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Dean!” Sam shouts, pounding on the door again. “Dean, open up!”

The door cracks open—not far, just enough to reveal one of his brother’s eyes, puffy with sleep, and a glimmer of the chain still holding the door closed. Sam swallows the pang that tightens his throat at the sight of the lock and lets his hand rest against the door.

“Better not be drunk,” Dean mutters, rubbing his face.

“We have to go,” Sam says, pitching his voice low. There isn’t anyone out here, but he feels self-conscious all the same. He knows what he looks like, after all: wild haired and begging at his brother’s locked door with his t-shirt on inside out and his shoes untied. His head aches from exhaustion or the nightmare or both and his mouth tastes funny—something like sulfur and blood—and he wants his brother. He wants Dean to put an arm around his shoulders and squeeze his bicep and tell him everything’s going to be fine.

Instead, he gets to lean on the door while Dean peers mistrustfully out at him.

Sam is sure he’s going to cry. He’s going to burst into tears right here in the parking lot in the middle of the night while somewhere out there a man chokes to death on exhaust fumes.

“I had another dream,” he manages, clinging to the man’s fear, his desperation. Even secondhand it’s a horrible feeling, but it’s still better than Sam’s own emotions. Helps steady him a little.

Something flickers across Dean’s face—comprehension, maybe—and the door shuts. There’s a rattle of chain and then it opens again, swinging wide. Dean is naked except for a worn pair of boxers and, despite the urgency of the situation, Sam can’t help looking.

If Dean notices, at least he doesn’t call Sam on it.

“Start talking,” he says instead, moving over to his bag and pulling out the first articles of clothing he gets his hands on. Sam does, already explaining as he steps inside and shuts the door behind him. He watches Dean hide his skin, burying freckled muscles beneath four layers of cloth and a leather jacket. Dean doesn’t look at him once, but he’s listening. And he knows that Sam is watching.

It feels strangely hot in the room as Dean pulls on a ripped pair of jeans. Dizzying. Sam’s mind aches with the memory of the nameless man’s frantic face. His cock aches with the very real sight of his brother in front of him. He isn’t sure, suddenly, that he ever woke up at all. Maybe this is just a hellish extension of his nightmare.

Then Dean tosses his bag at Sam’s chest. Sam manages to catch it and the impact, the weight of the bag, makes everything real again.

“Get the car started,” Dean tells him, heading for the bathroom.

“Where’re you—”

“Man’s gotta piss when a man’s gotta piss, Sammy,” Dean says, and then the bathroom door slams shut between them.

Ten minutes later, they’re on their way South.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Max Miller’s mother died in a nursery fire when he was six months old.

Like Mary.

Around Max Miller, objects had a habit of moving without being touched.

Like cabinets.

Max Miller had a domineering, controlling father who was a little too fond of drinking.

Like John.

Max Miller was a monster.

Alone in his single room, Sam packs his bag and can’t help but draw the last, irrefutable parallel. It’s obvious as day: blaring and making him flinch from the memory of the fear in Dean’s eyes as their gazes locked over Max’s body. Better that look than the other memory, though: better the fear than the stupid, stunned shock and the red spatter of blood on pale walls. But the image intrudes, relentless, and Sam bows his head and trembles with the force of it.

Fuck, he watched Dean die. Not forever, not for keeps, but it seemed real enough in his head and he can still … God, he can still …

“You ready yet, Sammy?”

Sam swallows, clenching his jaw and lifting his head. Dean is standing in the doorway with his bag slung carelessly over one shoulder. Sam can’t remember whether he locked the door or not. Can’t figure out if Dean’s supposed to be in here: what the rules are for this new arrangement.

“Yo, earth to Sam,” Dean calls, waving his hand.

Sam is suddenly blindsided by the almost overwhelming urge to stride across the room and drag Dean inside, slam the door and curl up in bed with his brother. Fuck the world outside, fuck his ‘powers’, fuck the goddamned demon. Fuck Dean’s issues, too—he can handle a little human comfort, he can—

Sam turns away sharply. “I’m not coming.”

“What?” Dean says. It sounds like he’s laughing. Like he thinks Sam is joking.

“I’m not,” Sam says, zipping his bag closed. He doesn’t turn around. It’ll be easier to do this without looking at his brother. “I—Dean, I’m not safe. I don’t want to—”

“Bullshit.” Dean doesn’t sound like he’s laughing anymore. “I don’t want to hear that crap from you, Sam. You’re fine.”

“Am I?” Sam demands. A rush of adrenaline turns him, lifts his head to face Dean. “Am I really, Dean? Cause last time I checked, what I want from you isn’t anywhere near fine.”

Dean just looks at him for a moment, expression unreadable, and then he steps further into the room and shuts the door. “So you’re just gonna run away again? Huh? You’re gonna leave?”

Sam sort of wants to point out that Dean left first, but that isn’t really what this is about. And while Dean may be content to argue about shadowed reflections, Sam has always been more inclined to reach into the mirror and drag the Jabberwocky itself out into the light. Even if this particular Jabberwocky has acid for blood and smells like sulfur.

“When Max locked me in that closet, that big cabinet against the door—I moved it.”

He’s looking straight at his brother, so he sees the flicker of fear: fast and fleeting as a hummingbird’s wings. Then Dean tries for a smile and says, “You’ve got a little bit more upper body strength than I give you credit for.”

The words stick in Sam’s throat a little—fuck Dean for making him say this twice—but he manages to say, “No, man, I moved it—like Max.”

There’s no real way for Dean to deny it this time, but there’s a long, awkward pause before he says, “Oh. Right.” Turning away, he drops his bag from his shoulder to the floor and walks over to the dresser.

“Yeah,” Sam says. He wishes he didn’t sound quite so subdued, but he can’t help himself. Rubbing his thumb against his pants, he continues, “So I can’t—”

“Bend this,” Dean interrupts. Turning around, he holds up the spoon that Sam found rattling around in one of the room’s desk drawers.

Sam would think it’s another attempt at a joke except that Dean actually looks like he expects Sam to do something. All of a sudden, the whole situation strikes him as absurdly funny. Maybe it’s the stress, maybe it’s the lack of sleep, maybe Sam’s sense of humor is just as twisted as the rest of him. He starts to smile and then sobers again beneath a fresh, unreasoning wave of despair.

“I can’t turn it on and off, Dean,” he says as he sits down on the bed.

“Well, how’d you do it?” Dean asks, squinting at the spoon in his hand. Sam isn’t sure, but he thinks his brother is checking to see whether he can do anything with the stray utensil.

“I don’t know.” Leaning forward, he runs his hands through his hair. “I can’t control it. I saw you die and it just came out of me, like a punch. You know, like a freak adrenaline thing.”

When he glances up, Dean is shrugging and putting the spoon back down. “Well, I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

And he sounds sure. Sounds as confident as ever. But Sam saw beneath his brother’s mask in the first moment when he told Dean what happened, and he knows that the confidence is ice-thin and riddled with cracks. He doesn’t know whether to be grateful for the charade or angry—it’s always this way with Dean, they never talk about anything. They fight monsters for a living but never face up to the demons in their own closets. In the end, after a struggle, he settles on hurt exasperation.

“Aren’t you worried, man?” he demands. “Aren’t you worried that I could turn into Max or something?”

“Nope,” Dean answers instantly. He’s looking right at Sam when he says it and Sam wants to believe despite himself. He wants, desperately, for the solid faith he sees in his brother’s gaze to be real. “You know why?”

“No. Why?”

“Cause you’ve got one advantage that Max didn’t have.”

Sam realizes where this is going—wishes he’d seen it soon enough to head the whole thing off at the pass. But it’s too late now, and he’s opening his mouth before he realizes he means to say anything.

“Dad? Because Dad’s not here, Dean.” He manages to shut up then, before he adds the rest. Before he says that the last thing either of them needs right now is the help of a man who had no problem letting his eldest son whore himself out. Dean still thinks that John doesn’t know, after all, and the longer Sam can keep it that way, the better. If Dean finds out, it’ll kill him.

Sam expects his brother to jump to their father’s defense, just like always, but instead Dean just shakes his head and says, “No. Me.” He smiles then, soft and genuine enough that Sam feels some of the knots in his stomach relaxing. “As long as I’m around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you.”

The promise lodges in Sam’s chest, warming him but making it difficult to breathe.

“Now,” Dean continues, stepping forward and picking up his bag again. “I know what we need to do about your premonitions. I know where we have to go.”

Sam tenses a little as his brother approaches and leans down to pick up Sam’s bag as well. The motion ends the conversation about Sam leaving just as firmly as Dean’s lightened tone. Sam could try to prolong the discussion, of course, but he can already tell from the white knuckled grip that Dean has on the straps that his brother isn’t taking no for an answer. He wishes that he didn’t feel so selfishly grateful for the gesture.

“Where?” he asks. It comes out a little scratchy, but his throat is tight enough that he’s lucky he’s able to speak at all.

Dean looks down at him, serious, and says, “Reno.”

Then the corners of his mouth tilt up into one of those rare smiles that crinkle the corners of his eyes and make him look about five years old all at once. It isn’t lust that steals Sam’s air at the sight, isn’t any kind of conventional desire, but it’s desire all the same. Desire to sun himself in the mischievous, joyful warmth radiating from his brother. Desire to freeze Dean right here, with light in his eyes and innocence in his smile and the hooked scar all but invisible at his temple.

There isn’t a way to communicate what he feels for Dean in this moment, but kissing his brother breathless would make a start. Sam can’t do that, though. He refuses to tarnish his brother’s brightness, which is fleeting enough without him bumbling around and breaking things. So instead he keeps a firm hold on his heart and scoffs.

He scoffs because Dean won’t let himself be loved the way he deserves. He scoffs because there’s a line between desire and necessity, and he isn’t sure which side he’s standing on anymore. He scoffs because it’s either that or break down crying.

Then, standing up, he moves for the door before his brother can read the hunger in his eyes.

“What?” Dean says, following. “Come on, man. Craps table. We’d clean up.”

The joke really shouldn’t make Sam feel so much like sobbing.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A week later they’re in Hibbing, Minnesota, and Dean’s light is firmly buried again. Sam is too busy brooding about his brother’s deteriorating mood to pay any attention to his surroundings, and as he leaves the local dive bar, he gets grabbed by a bunch of inbred hillbillies. It’s embarrassing at first, and then horrifying when he learns what said hillbillies plan to do with him—worse as he realizes he has no idea how to get himself out of this situation without dying.

Dean comes for him before anything bad happens, but in the end Sam manages to free himself anyway. When the dust has settled, his brother is conspicuously absent; Dean went into the house to find the key to unlock Sam’s cell and then Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum came out, and Sam is so worried about his brother that he thinks he might puke. He leaves the female cop Dean brought with him to stand guard over Papa Tweedle, not much caring whether or not she intends to pull the trigger, and rushes out of the barn and up to the house.

The smell hits him as soon as he opens the door—reek of old sweat and grime and, more immediate and alarming, the stench of burnt flesh. He takes a step inside and there’s a sound to go with the smell: muffled screams and a little girl’s laughter. Sam lets adrenaline carry him forward.

Walking across the living room is like moving underwater, and Sam is half convinced that he fell asleep on his way into the house because he’s walking toward a nightmare.

Dean can’t be tied to a chair with a dirty rag stuffed in his mouth. Can’t be sweating and screaming and all but blind with pain while a girl with matted, bird's nest hair laughs and presses a white-hot poker against his arm, his chest, his stomach. As Sam closes those final feet, she shifts the poker—aiming for Dean’s face this time—and then Sam is there. He grabs the other end of the poker without thinking about it, too angry and horrified to feel his own skin burning, and wrenches the weapon out of her hand.

Just a girl just a girl just a girl, his rational mind screams, but Dean’s head is hanging against his chest, and his brother’s body is shuddering, and his shirt is smoking, and it smells like a goddamned pig roast in here as Sam brings the butt of the poker down on the bitch’s head, dropping her to the floor. He doesn’t check to see if she’s still breathing: just shoves her body aside with one foot and drops the poker and crouches in front of his brother.

“Dean,” he breathes. His hands flutter over his brother’s torso, not quite daring to touch. He’s not sure where it’s safe to touch. “Jesus, Dean. It’s okay, man. It’s okay, I’m right here.”

Dean shakes his head, eyes scrunched shut as he screams into the gag, and when Sam brushes his cheek, he jerks like he was struck.

“Dean,” Sam tries again as he works at the knot holding the gag in place. “Dean, it’s me. It’s Sammy.”

That finally gets him Dean’s eyes, wet and glassy with pain. Dean blinks, brow furrowing as he tries to come back to himself. Sam keeps talking to him in a low, soothing voice, saying first Dean’s name and then his own, while his fingers fumble with the dirty cloth. That sick, smoky smell keeps curling in his mouth—the roast pig smell, which is also the smell of his brother’s burnt flesh. By the time he gets the knot loose Sam’s stomach is roiling, but Dean looks calmer.

He swallows as Sam eases the cloth free and then rasps, “Sammy.”

“Right here, man,” Sam agrees. He crouches, shifting to his brother’s side so that he can go to work on the ropes strapping Dean in place.

“Sam,” Dean blurts, panicked, and Sam covers his brother’s hand with his own.

“I’m still here. I need to get the ropes loose, okay, but we’re gonna get you out of here. Gonna get you fixed up. Can you tell me how bad it is? Do you need a hospital?”

“You’re okay?” Dean pants, ignoring the question. “Sam. Sammy, you’re okay?”

Sam should be used to Dean putting Sam’s needs before his own by now, but he isn’t. He doesn’t know that he’s ever going to get used to the futile, sickening rage that always accompanies his brother’s frantic inquiries. He knows he’s never going to stop feeling guilty when it happens—when Dean is down and bloody and still looking around to make sure that the prime directive hasn’t been broken, that Sam is safe.

“I’m fine.” Sam’s voice is a little hoarse, but he’s pretty sure that Dean isn’t aware enough to tell.

“You’re okay,” Dean mutters. “Okay. Okay, you’re okay. Good.”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Sam repeats. He doesn’t like how out of it Dean sounds: how laborious his words are. Swearing under his breath, he tugs harder on the ropes.

“Sammy,” Dean says. “Stay away from the mirror, okay?”

Sam’s hands freeze on the ropes as his stomach plummets. He has no idea what his brother is talking about, but he thinks ... he thinks he remembers something. From Rockford.

No mirrors here, you son of a bitch.

“Promise me,” Dean pants. He’s starting to struggle against the ropes, which are already too tight for Sam to work loose with his fingers and which seem to be drawing even tighter with every twitch. “Promise me you’ll stay away.”

“I promise,” Sam says quickly, laying a hand on the unburnt part of Dean’s forearm. “I promise, okay? But you need to stop moving. You hear me, man? Just sit still for a minute.”

Whether because Sam promised or because Sam asked him to, or maybe just because he’s too tired to keep fighting, Dean goes limp. “You don’t,” he mumbles, blinking. “’S dangerous. Can’t see through the blood.”

Sam’s eyes dart up to his brother’s forehead, to the hooked scar there, and he wants to ask—wants to take advantage of Dean’s disorientation to get some answers. It’s maybe not the time, but the bad guys are down and Dean is stable and Sam is about to ask when his brother shakes his head once, blinking rapidly.

“Sammy?” Dean says. His voice is clearer, more rational. Back with the fully conscious.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees, shoving aside his twinge of regret at the lost opportunity.

“Bitch burned me. You get her?”

“Yeah, man, I got her. I can’t undo the knots on your arms, though. They’re too tight. I need to get a knife. I’ll be right back, though, okay?”

He doesn’t really want to leave Dean alone, even when the threat has been neutralized, but Dean doesn’t look worried. Nodding, he mutters, “Should be plenty ‘round here.” His breath catches as he shifts in the chair.

Dean is right: Sam finds an entire array in the next room, stuck into a wooden carving block next to a slab of meat that doesn’t bear much looking at. Grabbing the smallest blade he can see, he hurries back to his brother’s side. Dean looks even more alert than before, has his head up as he tracks Sam’s movements with his eyes. He’s still sweating, though, and Sam doesn’t like how pale he is.

“Jesus, Dean.” He doesn’t mean to say it aloud, but it comes out anyway. Sam can hear his nausea clearly in the choked sound of his voice.

“Yeah, little miss psycho got pissed when I said I’d haunt their asses if they served me with carrots. Bitch can’t take a joke.” Dean offers him a weak smile. “Looks worse than it is, though. ‘M thinking about going out for a couple rounds of pool when we get out of here. You up for it?”

“You’re a shitty liar,” Sam mutters as he slices through the knots.

He expects the ropes to fall away once they’ve been cut, but they don’t. Instead, he has to peel them free from Dean’s skin strip by strip. As the rope finally starts to come off, Dean sucks in a sharp breath and groans. The revealed flesh on his wrists is bloodied and bruised—doubtlessly from struggling to free himself while he was burned. Some of the abrasions have already scabbed over, but they open fresh as Sam pulls the rope away. He winces as his brother’s blood trickles down onto the arms of the chair.

“Sorry,” Sam apologizes.

“Just get me out of here,” Dean answers, and Sam obediently bends to free his brother’s legs. Dean’s ankles aren’t anywhere near as bad as his wrists were—his jeans protected his skin from everything but faint bruises—and a moment later, Sam puts the knife down and sits back on his heels.

“Okay, you need help standing?” he asks, glancing up, and then his brother’s hand is fisting his t-shirt and yanking him up. Pulled off balance, Sam falls awkwardly against his brother, one hand dropping onto Dean’s upper thigh in an attempt not to crush his seared chest and stomach. He’s so concerned with not hurting Dean that it takes him a couple of seconds to realize that Dean is kissing him.

Dean’s mouth tastes like crap and that burnt smell is worse than ever and Sam doesn’t know what the hell is going on. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, whether Dean is delusional again or what the fuck ever, and there’s no good explanation for the way that his brother is trying to shove his tongue down Sam’s throat.

“Mmph,” Sam starts, having forgotten that he can’t ask questions when his mouth is otherwise occupied.

Dean breaks the kiss at the sound, dropping his forehead down onto Sam’s shoulder and breathing heavily. After a couple of moments, which Sam spends shell-shocked and staring at the wall, Dean turns his head so that his ear is pressed against Sam’s throat. His hand clenches and unclenches in Sam’s t-shirt.

“Dean?” Sam finally asks, tentative.

“Shut up,” Dean mutters. “Just. Just shut up and let me listen to your heart.”

It doesn’t make any sense, even for Dean, even taking into account the amount of pain his brother must be in, but Sam isn’t going to argue with that tone of voice. He holds himself very still while Dean quiets, and thinks about pokers and mirrors and hooked scars and his brother’s lips. Dean is still shivering when he finally releases Sam’s shirt and lets him straighten, which isn’t great, but there’s also a peacefulness in him that tells Sam he isn’t going to have any trouble getting his brother to sit still and let himself be taken care of—which will be a minor miracle.

Dean’s coat is lying on the arm of the couch where their captors tossed it, and although his left arm isn’t working well enough to get the coat on, he seems to take comfort in having it draped over his shoulders. It makes things easier on Sam as well—makes it easier for him to hurt his brother when he can't see the damage he's doing. And he is going to hurt Dean, that's unavoidable: his brother obviously can’t stand on his own, and Sam isn’t going to be able to support him without putting pressure on some of the burns.

Despite the expected pain, Dean is docile while Sam lifts him into a standing position. His breath comes a little faster, but aside from that there’s no indication that his upper body is a mess. As Sam tries to figure out the best way to support his brother’s weight, he catches Dean staring down at the girl’s slight form. Shifting over, he moves between his brother and the sight of his tormentor. Dean’s eyes are pained, but thankfully lucid as they lift to Sam's.

“She alive?”

Does it matter? Sam is tempted to respond, but now that he’s sure Dean is going to be okay he’s feeling a little more charitable himself. A little. It only takes a moment to crouch and check for a pulse—while keeping a wary eye on his brother in case Dean starts to tip over—and then, nodding, he straightens.

“Yeah. She’s gonna have a hell of a headache, though.”

Dean nods wearily and then, without waiting for Sam, turns to start for the door. Sam scrambles after his brother, reaching, but Dean shoots him a single warning glare that stops him before he actually makes contact. So much for Dean letting him help.

Oh well. Maybe later, after Sam has shoved a couple of Vicodin down his brother’s throat, Dean will be more cooperative. For now, though, all he can do is trail after Dean while he heads for the door with ginger steps, moving with all the agility of an eighty year old man with a slipped disc.

“Sometimes I really fucking hate people,” Dean mutters as he rounds the corner into the front hall.

He glances idly to his right and then, unexpectedly, flinches back violently enough that he runs into the opposite wall. Hissing, he pushes back the other way and overbalances. Sam darts forward and manages to catch his brother before Dean actually topples over—one hand on his waist and the other arm slung across his chest, keeping him close and upright. Dean lets out a second, harsher hiss at the contact and drives his elbow back into Sam’s ribs.

“Fuck! Get off, I’m fine, I’m fine. Jesus Christ.”

Sam releases his brother as quickly as he can make his hands open and then stands there while Dean walks toward the door again in a rapid shuffle. He stands there staring at the wall to his right, where he expected to see a gruesome trophy or a photo of an old hunt. But there aren’t any trophies. Aren’t any photographs.

There’s nothing but a mirror.

Chapter Text

“You kissed me,” Sam says.

Having any kind of meaningful conversation when Dean is exhausted and hopped up on painkillers is cheating and he knows it, but he can’t help himself. He doesn’t know when his brother's walls will ever be low enough again to get a straight answer from him. Dean shifts a little in the bed—Dean’s room, mostly because Sam couldn’t find his own key—and turns his head to one side so that he can look at Sam better. Though, from the vague expression in his eyes, ‘better’ might be a relative term.

“Hrm,” he grunts.

“You kissed me,” Sam repeats. His hand—the one he burnt on the poker—twitches without his permission and sets off a deep-seated burn that radiates through his palm and down into his wrist. Sam ignores the flood of pain, keeping his attention focused on his brother while Dean visibly tries to process his words.

Despite his near-obsession with his brother’s mouth, the kiss isn’t what Sam wants to talk about right now. But he thought about it while he dressed Dean’s burns and the abrasions on his brother's wrists, and he came to the conclusion that this is the easier conversation for Dean to have. If he can get Dean talking about the kiss, then they can segue smoothly into Sam’s second, more important question. And if Dean is already used to giving answers when they do that, then maybe he’ll tell Sam about the mirrors.

Dean blinks, eyes focusing slightly, and then sighs. “Yeah, well, I thought you were dead. Thought those sick fucks killed you.”

“Oh,” Sam says. Despite himself, he’s disappointed. Looks like there was a small, stupid part of him that was hoping the kiss was more than some fucked-up response to adrenaline.

“Told ‘em to hunt you,” Dean mumbles, turning his face away again. “Fuckers told me I had to pick you or her or they’d blind me and I picked you.”

Sam stares.

“M’ sorry,” Dean adds after a moment. Sam can’t see his brother’s face, but Dean’s voice sounds suspiciously wet.

Prodding himself back into motion, Sam sits down on the edge of the bed and breathes, “Hey, man. Dean, don’t.” He stops. Has to swallow before he can continue, “Don’t be sorry.”

After the night he’s had, he can’t manage any more than that: can’t figure out how to put words to the unfolding, proud feeling in his chest. Can’t even begin to explain how such concrete evidence of Dean’s faith in him makes him feel. Can’t describe how fucking happy it makes him to hear that Dean sees him as a partner, and not just a kid brother. That Dean sees him as someone who can hold his own, and not just someone who has to be protected at all costs.

“Gonna sleep for a fucking week,” Dean sighs. He rubs his cheek against the pillow and Sam’s fingers tremble with the need to touch.

Dean looks so beautiful lying there. Hair ruffled and spiked. Skin pale and flecked with freckles. Lips full and slightly parted.

The scar at his temple is the only imperfection on Dean’s face, and it’s leering at Sam now. Mocking him.

“Dean?” he says softly.

“Mmm?”

“Why are the mirrors dangerous?”

Dean cracks his eyes with a frown, but he doesn’t look frightened. He doesn’t look angry, either. He just looks confused. “Did you just ask me why the mirrors are dangerous?” he asks, wrinkling his brow.

“Uh, yeah?” Sam tries.

Dean stares at him for a moment longer and then snorts. “You sneak a couple of Vicodin for yourself while I wasn’t looking, Sammy?” he asks, letting his eyes slip shut again.

“No. Earlier, when I was cutting you loose, you said—you made me promise not to stay away from the mirrors.”

“Yeah, well, you let some bitch poke you with a hunk of white hot metal for a couple of hours. See how coherent you are.”

But Dean flinched. In the hallway. And tonight isn’t the only time he’s mentioned mirrors. And then there’s ...

“How did you get the scar on your forehead?”

“What scar?” Dean asks, but his hand is already up and touching it and before Sam can answer he says, “Oh,” and puts his hand back down. “Bar fight. Y’should see the other guy.”

Sam’s hand is really starting to pound, which means he should be slathering it with antiseptic cream and not sitting here staring at his brother, but he can’t bring himself to move. He doesn’t know what’s going on here, but something has to be going on because nothing is adding up. Sam keeps on trying to put two and two together and coming up with hollow, tin soldiers. Keeps coming up with lies.

“I know I’m pretty, but if you’re just gonna sit there and stare all night I’m gonna start charging,” Dean mumbles without opening his eyes.

Okay, yeah, that’s pretty much Sam’s cue to get going. This whole mirror and scar thing is going to have to wait until Dean is more coherent. Which means that questioning him is going to be about as much fun as petting a cactus, and about as easy as punching through a mountain, but Sam can’t see any other options here. Not when Dean is so clearly tapped out for the time being.

Pushing himself to his feet, he heads over for the table where he left the tube of antiseptic. “Just give me a minute to dress my hand and I’ll get out of your hair, okay?”

“No.”

Sam tenses at the word, not that he really should have expected Dean to be any more accommodating after the mini-inquisition and subsequent staring. “Okay. Yeah, okay, I can do that in my own room—” (if he can get the door open) “—so I’ll just—”

“No,” Dean repeats more strongly. Pushing up awkwardly on his good arm, he peers at Sam. “Don’t go, okay?”

Wait, what?

“You want me to stay?” Sam asks cautiously.

Dean squints at him for a few more seconds and then, with a grunt, drops back against the pillows. “Can’t fucking sleep without you here,” he mutters.

Sam glances at the floor, which, apart from being filthy, looks really hard and not at all appetizing after having spent the last few days in a cage. He already knows that he isn’t going to turn this chance down, though.

“Uh, okay,” he says.

As he uncaps the antiseptic again and squeezes a generous amount onto his burnt palm, Sam can feel his brother’s eyes on him. When he glances over, Dean isn’t even bothering to hide the fact that he’s watching, lying on his back and looking at Sam with a half-lidded, lazy stare. Sam wonders if this is how Dean feels when their positions are reversed, when he can’t keep his eyes off his brother. If it is, then he can’t blame Dean for getting so fed up with him, because it’s probably the most uncomfortable sensation he’s ever experienced.

Urged on by the rapid thud of his heart, Sam hurriedly finishes with his hand and then turns off the lights. Stumbling around the unfamiliar room to the empty side of the bed, he grabs the extra pillow and turns to feel his way back to an open patch of floor.

“What’re you doing?” Dean demands, lifting up on an elbow again.

Sam freezes in place. He hasn’t felt this exposed and unsure of himself since his switchblade fell out of his back pocket in the middle of recess in fifth grade. Shifting his grip on the pillow, he wishes he could get angry at the way Dean keeps changing the rules on him, but he can’t work himself up to anything more strenuous than anxious confusion.

“I, uh—I thought you wanted me to stay?”

Dean sighs and flips the covers on the far side of the bed back. “Get in,” he orders before dropping down and turning his back to Sam again.

There are times when Sam has questioned his sanity. This is definitely one of them.

“Dean, are you—are you sure? I mean, I—”

“Jesus Christ, Sam. We’ve shared a bed before. You’re not gonna molest me. Get the fuck in here.” As though he hasn’t spent the last three weeks avoiding Sam like the plague.

Sam knows this is a bad idea—Sam is still confused as hell from the kiss and, considering the amount of painkillers he’s on, Dean’s judgment isn’t so much impaired as it is vacationing in Tahiti—but he can’t remember how to say no. He wants this too badly to say no. Wants this illusion of trust and love, even if it’s going to bite him in the ass when his brother sobers up tomorrow.

“Okay,” he agrees, pulling off his shoes. After a moment of hesitation, he puts one hand on the top button of his jeans and glances at his brother. Dean still isn’t looking at him, of course, so Sam clears his throat.

“What?” Dean growls.

“Can I—is it okay if I—”

“Just spit it out, Sam.”

“Can I take my pants off?” He feels like an idiot asking, but he isn’t going to climb into bed with Dean in nothing but a t-shirt and his boxers without explicit permission. Mostly because he likes his dick where it is, thanks.

“Do I look like I give a crap?” Dean mutters without rolling over.

Sam doesn’t actually know what Dean’s expression is right now, but his voice says that he’s losing what little patience he had, so Sam doesn’t waste any time opening his jeans and pushing them off. When he climbs into the bed, he’s careful to lie as close as he can to the edge, but is still painfully aware of his brother, lying less than three feet away. Fuck, he isn’t going to sleep at all tonight, but Dean asking him to stay more than makes up for any exhaustion he’s going to feel tomorrow, so—

The mattress shifts unexpectedly and Sam tenses as Dean grabs the back of his shirt and tugs.

“Get over here, asshole.”

“What?” Sam says brilliantly, not moving.

“Wanna make sure you don’t wander off,” Dean announces, tugging harder.

Sam knows that this is just the Vicodin talking again—he’s stupid but he isn’t a complete moron—but he inches closer anyway. There’s only about a foot between them now, but Dean is still pulling awkwardly on Sam while he grumbles under his breath about Sam being ‘worse than that Funny Farm dog’, and threatens to get him ‘implanted with one of those tracking devices’. Dean turns Sam into kind of an idiot at the best of times, and tonight Sam seems to be running a couple of years slow, so it takes him a few minutes to realize what his brother is after.

Then he tenses. Suddenly, the backseat of the Impala is looking really inviting. After all, there’s sleeping in the same bed with Dean while he’s high as kite, which is going to get Sam’s ass kicked, and then there’s this, which is going to get him shot. With rock salt, yeah, but still: it’s gonna hurt.

“Dean, you don’t want—”

“I’m sore as fuck, I’m tired, and you’re starting to piss me off. Now get over here so I can keep a goddamned eye on you.”

Sam recognizes an order when he hears one, and, while he’s always been pretty good about ignoring that sort of thing, he’s helpless to do anything but obey this one. After all, he doesn’t want Dean getting into a wrestling match like the stubborn son of a bitch he is and overexerting himself while trying to make Sam do what he wants. Or while he tries to make Sam do what he thinks he wants Sam to do.

Anyway, this is a clear-cut case of Sam having to take one for the team.

Obviously.

“Okay,” he whispers, rolling over.

When he eases his arms around his brother, careful not to touch any of the burns, Sam can’t help thinking how well their bodies line up. He didn’t think they would fit this perfectly—didn’t think that Dean’s back would slot so seamlessly against his chest. He didn’t think that his brother would rest so peacefully against him, so easily. Dean smells strongly of the antiseptic cream, and beneath that he still smells burnt, but when Sam cautiously buries his nose in his brother’s hair, ready to move back at the first warning that he’s crossing a line, the next breath he takes is all Dean: heady and masculine and familiar.

“This okay?” he rasps, certain that his heart is pounding hard enough to make his brother’s spine vibrate.

“Mmm,” Dean answers drowsily, shifting his lower body in a way that makes Sam bite his lip and think, desperately, about Bobby in a Speedo. “But if you kick me in your sleep, I’ll kick back.”

Kicking isn’t going to be a problem, though. No way in hell is Sam going to be able to sleep when he has Dean in his arms like this. Not in a million years. Not even if he were drugged.

Taking another deep breath of Dean-scented air, Sam lets his eyes fall shut. Despite the last couple of days, despite the throb in his hand, he’s smiling widely enough that his mouth aches. When he thoughtlessly knocks one of his legs between his brother’s a few minutes later, Dean makes a sleepy grumble and hooks his ankle back around Sam’s foot, keeping him close.

Two minutes after that, they’re both asleep.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the morning, they don’t talk about it. Dean eases out of the circle of Sam’s arms and Sam, after a brief moment of disoriented panic, wakes up enough to let him go. Dean doesn’t look at him as he moves over to the bathroom, or when Sam changes his dressings a few minutes later, or over breakfast in a sunlit, yellow-walled café.

When they stop again for the night, though, he asks for a single room with two queens. Sam recognizes the gesture for what it is and somehow manages not to thank Dean for forgiving him. For trusting him.

He falls asleep that night with his arms empty and the soft sounds of Dean filling the air. His chest aches in a way that is becoming familiar, but he thinks that he’ll settle for this, if it’s all he can have. He can learn to stop reaching for the sun and settle for reflected light of the moon. He can learn to be okay with being Dean’s brother: his partner and friend.

He can learn to be grateful to have that much.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Three weeks later, the ache in Sam’s chest still hasn’t subsided at all. If anything, it’s actually worse. He can’t help wanting, is the problem. Dean is right there, sitting beside him in the car or across from him at a diner or a library or a motel table, tossing jibes and belching and scratching his nuts and basically being as crass and disgusting as he knows how to be, and Sam still wants to lean forward and kiss him. He wants to be able to say, ‘I love you’ and get a smile in return instead of a glare: wants to warm the chill in his brother’s eyes.

He wants to love Dean strongly enough and purely enough to make him stop touching that goddamned scar.

Then again, he also wants to stop staring at his brother’s lips while he fantasizes about kissing them, about dragging his cock over them, about fucking them swollen, and Dean isn’t helping with that one either. In fact, he seems to have developed an oral fixation when Sam wasn’t looking. Keeps chewing on pens or sucking on the plastic spoons he uses to stir his sugar into his coffee or trailing his beer bottles back and forth across his plump lower lip and it’s driving Sam fucking nuts. He’d accuse Dean of doing it on purpose, except he knows better.

He knows better because the beer bottle thing entices one of Dean’s fans over to try his luck one night and Dean’s startled flinch when the guy asks if he’d be interested in trading that bottle for something tastier isn’t faked. Having gone eerily, completely still, Dean stares up at the guy while his admirer sways drunkenly and reaches for his face—for his lips—and mutters about how he’s even prettier in real life, gonna feel so good, make him howl for it ...

Sam is up out of his seat before he knows what he’s doing. He punches the guy hard enough to knock him off his feet, grabs Dean, and gets them both out of there. Dean lets himself be dragged outside, but he shakes Sam off in the parking lot and says, “I don’t need you defending my honor, dude.”

“Someone needs to, Dean, and you sure as hell aren’t bothering!”

“Because it doesn’t matter, Sam!” Dean yells back. He has a hand to his temple, fingers twitching like he’s in pain. “It’s not like he was doing anything a hundred other assholes haven’t before.”

“No one touches you,” Sam replies. His voice is soft and serious and the sound of it makes Dean quiet. He doesn’t lower his hand, not yet, not the way Sam wants him to, but his fingers still. Sam curls his own hands into fists to keep from reaching out and making his brother stop touching the fucking scar. Letting out a breath, he fixes Dean with a steady gaze: trying to put all of the hurt and the indignant rage boiling inside of him into his eyes.

“No one talks to you like that.”

Dean stares back at him for a long moment and then his jaw twitches once and he turns away, dropping his hand to his side. “Don’t do it again,” he says as he starts for the Impala.

Dean might not appreciate Sam playing the white knight, but he didn’t say anything about preemptive strikes, so the next time they go out, Sam is careful to sit closer to his brother. Close enough that it’s obvious Dean isn’t alone. Dean gives him a slanting look when he sits down, but doesn’t remark on it. Either he knows what Sam is doing and doesn’t care, or he’s completely clueless and ... doesn’t care. Or maybe this is actually making Dean feel better. God knows his hand hasn’t so much as twitched in the direction of his forehead all night.

The only downside to Sam’s brilliant plan, actually, is the fact that the beer bottle thing is even more distracting from this angle. Now he’s close enough to see the drops of condensation sliding from the mouth of the bottle to wet his brother’s lips. The moisture makes them gleam, slick and inviting, and Sam has to widen his legs under the table a little to make room for his stiffening cock.

Dean is obviously some kind of siren. Or possibly an incubus. He’s alluring without making any effort—those full lips and green eyes and soft lashes have the power to draw Sam in from across the room, and when he gets close enough to spot the freckles speckling his brother’s cheeks and the bridge of Dean’s nose, and to hear his low, rough voice, his hands itch to trail over his brother’s tapered hips and broad shoulders. If he looks at Dean for longer than a minute or two, other things start popping out: the tilt of his head, or the sprawl of his legs, or the curve of his throat. Or maybe even the competent way he holds his beer bottle to his mouth, which makes Sam think of other things that his brother might be able to do with his hands, or with those lips ...

Dean makes people want without meaning to—he makes Sam want—and as Sam watches his brother toy with his beer bottle, he doesn’t know how much longer he can do this. He doesn’t know how long he can stand next to the sun without falling prey to its gravitational pull and being burned alive.

It’s a small blessing that Dean isn’t picking up women anymore: that he hasn’t done anything more than smile at one since they left Cassie in the dust. Sam knows himself well enough to recognize that he wouldn’t be able to handle his brother’s casual conquests anymore, not now that he’s had a taste of what those women get. The pushy, covetous part of Sam—the part that wants to know every last detail about his brother: that wants to own Dean completely—prods at him, demanding that he ask his brother what changed.

Then Sam remembers how Dean felt on top of him, how Dean’s ass caught tight and snug around his fingers, how his mouth was hot and wet and pliant. He remembers, and then he thinks of how restless his brother’s fingers have been with the scar on his right temple since that night and bites down deliberately on the inside of his cheek.

Next to him, Dean finally tilts his head back and takes a slow pull from the bottle: sensuous lips wrapped around the mouth, throat working, fingers flexing around the dark glass. Sam’s own throat has gone dry and he has to look away before he does something completely embarrassing like come in his pants.

Yeah, this whole ‘just be Dean’s brother’ thing is working out great.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Chicago, the pixie of a girl whom Sam met on his aborted trip back to California—the girl he didn’t give a moment’s consideration to because he was too busy thinking about Dean—shows up again. Sam would say it was nice to see her, but that’s kind of difficult to do when she turns out to be such a bitch: summoning demons and setting a trap for their father and bad-mouthing Dean, then feeling him up with a leering glance in Sam’s direction.

“Get off him!” Sam spits. He has his knife out and is working through the ropes tying him to his own post, and he knows that he shouldn’t be calling attention to himself—shouldn’t chance Meg taking his blade away like she took Dean’s—but he can’t help it. Can’t just sit here and watch while that blonde bitch straddles his brother and licks at the blood on his face.

“Oh, but Dean doesn’t want me to go, do you, Dean?” Meg purrs, gyrating down.

Dean makes a choked noise that, shamefully, goes straight to Sam’s cock, but otherwise he doesn’t respond. The lack of a flippant retort is worrisome, and as Sam saws through the last few strands of rope, his eyes dart to his brother’s hands, which are flexing uselessly against his bonds.

“Gonna take you for a ride, cowboy,” Meg announces, and licks a slow line up the side of Dean’s face to suckle at the hooked scar on his temple. Back flexing, she works a hand down between them into Dean’s lap—and even though Sam can’t see what she’s doing, the dragging, reluctant noises Dean makes are painting a pretty clear picture.

Sam’s pulse demands that he scramble over and pull Meg off of his brother now, but he makes himself move slowly and quietly. If he spooks her before he’s close enough to get a solid hit in, she’s just going to sic the daevas on him again and then they’ll be right back where they started. He spots a hunk of wood on the dusty ground—possibly from one of the crates Dean got tossed into when they were captured—and bends over to pick it up. The wood scrapes against the ground as he lifts it, and Sam sends a tense, worried glance at Meg, but the bitch is too busy molesting Dean to notice.

Carefully, Sam edges closer: hands flexing on his weapon.

“—still thinks about you,” Meg is panting in Dean’s ear as she writhes on top of him. “Gotta say, Dean: I was skeptical, but I’m starting to see the attraction. Maybe, if you’re a good boy, I won’t strangle you with your own entrails when we’re done here.”

“Don’t,” Sam snarls as he swings the wood and connects solidly with the side of her head. “Touch him.”

The blow is hard enough to knock Meg sideways out of Dean’s lap, and Sam’s earlier suspicion is confirmed by the sight of his brother’s hard dick, which is hanging out from his open pants. Sam’s hands convulse on his weapon and he’s already lifting it for a second blow when Dean says, “Altar. Sam, get the altar.”

Sam follows his brother’s wild gaze and, on the far wall, Meg’s pet daevas are stirring. Fuck.

Tossing the wood aside, Sam sprints over and grabs the edge of the altar instead. As he heaves it up and over, Meg (how is she even still conscious?) lets out a despairing shriek. The din of the paraphernalia tumbling onto the floor is almost loud enough to block out the rush of air as the daevas attack, but it isn’t anywhere near loud enough to block out Meg’s enraged scream.

Sam looks over just in time to see her being dragged away from his brother and toward one of the dirty windows. He knows what’s going to happen seconds before it actually occurs—nothing supernatural about it this time, just good old fashioned instinct—and doesn’t quite know what to do with the dark, vindictive joy that pulses through him as the daevas hurl Meg through the glass and onto the pavement eight floors below.

They might be near-mindless, animalistic demons, but it looks like they don’t like being ordered around.

By the time he turns away from the window again, Dean is already loose and on his feet. Sam watches his brother tuck his dick back into his pants and zip up, and then follows Dean on his unsteady way over to look down at Meg’s body. Dean wipes at his scar as he stands at the window, and Sam wants to think that his brother isn’t doing anything more insidious than wiping Meg’s spit away, but he knows better.

Leaning out of the window, he exchanges one uncomfortable sight for another. Meg’s body looks small so far below: limbs bent into impossible, boneless positions as though they belong to a rag doll instead of a person. Sam thinks of his earlier, momentary joy when he realized she was going out the window and his stomach lurches. In fact, he’s seriously thinking about throwing up. Just as soon as he makes sure Dean is okay.

Bracing himself for his brother’s expression, he straightens and looks over. Where he expected to find pain and fear and near-devastation, though, there’s nothing. Dean’s face is as stiff and empty as a mannequin’s. When he returns Sam’s look, his eyes are calm.

“You good?” Sam probes.

“Nothing a couple tons of soap won’t cure,” Dean answers. “Bitch slobbered like a goddamned St. Bernard.”

He’s still worrying at his scar, but his expression is finally warming into something human—lips twisting and nose wrinkling with disgust—and Sam’s breath comes a little easier. Then Dean looks down at the windowsill and frowns. There’s a jagged piece of glass there, glinting in the moonlight, and now Dean reaches out with the hand that was pressed against his forehead to trail his fingers across the flat surface of the shard. For a moment, a shadow of that stiffness passes over him again, and then Dean is shoving his hand into his pocket and turning away from window.

“Hey, Sam?” he says as they start back toward the elevator.

“Hm?”

“Next time you decide to make friends, try to make sure it isn’t with someone so buckets of crazy, huh?”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dad’s waiting for them back at the room.

Sam stands in the open doorway and looks at his father and the last, lingering tendrils of guilt for his part in Meg’s death are swept free by a black cyclone of anger. All these months of studying the damage up close and personal, of watching Dean rub his scar at the slightest provocation: all these months spent living with a burning, creeping rage that something like that could happen to his brother, and now the man who’s responsible for Dean’s degradation is here. The man is here and smiling at them like he has the right and Sam is too shocked—too angry—to move.

Then Dean strides across the room and hauls Dad into a hug.

Sam’s rage tastes metallic. It makes his head pulse. The skin on his hands suddenly feels too tight: feverish.

Dad looks over when Dean releases him and Sam doesn’t know if his father is oblivious or if he’s just that much of an asshole, but there’s a welcoming smile on his face. “Sammy,” Dad says, and there’s something that sounds horribly like forgiveness in his voice. Forgiveness. As if Sam is somehow in the wrong here.

Sam watches his father’s arms lift in obvious invitation and doesn’t move. He wonders whether the man would fight back if he punched him, or if, somewhere in there, John is aware of his own guilt. If he’s maybe hoping for a little retribution.

Do you know what you did to him? Sam thinks as he stands there unmoving. Do you have any fucking clue how damaged he is?

Dean is still staring at Dad like he’s the fucking messiah, eyes warm and wet and happier than Sam has seen him in a long time. It galls Sam that Dad can get that kind of response while he only seems to be fucking Dean up more, and his mouth twitches. His right hand curls into a fist. Dad’s smile finally fades and his hands fall to his sides.

Dean is just starting to sense the tension in the room, glancing with increasing uncertainty between the two of them, when something comes out of nowhere and sends Dad flying into the cabinets. Dean is next: hurled across the room to land in a crash on the floor. When he lifts his head again, there’s fresh blood on his face, and Sam loses his tenuous grasp on his rage.

He isn’t sure, later, how he manages it, but somehow he finds the flares in the weapons bag and sets one off. Somehow, he manages to get both Dean and Dad outside. Somehow, he manages to keep his fists to himself as Dad breaks Dean’s heart again and drives away.

Sam himself hasn’t spoken a single word to the man, but judging from the stiffness in Dad’s shoulders as he stomps toward his truck, he's pretty sure that he got his point across anyway.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After Chicago, the rage won’t let go. Sam regrets, fiercely, not having gotten his punches in while the punching was good. He’s short with Dean, who doesn’t seem to be doing all that great after Chicago himself (if Sam never sees him touch his scar again, it’ll be too fucking soon). Sam keeps waking up in the middle of the night to the muffled sound of whimpering in the other bed, and in the morning, when he sits up and swings his feet onto the floor, his neck and back are one stiff line of tension.

Dean says he sleeps like a baby. He doesn’t have nightmares. He’s fine.

Bull. Fucking. Shit.

Sam can’t take his anger out on Dean—he won’t—and there’s really only one other option.

The bar he picks smells like stale beer and doesn’t look like it has been swept in a month, which makes it perfect for Sam’s needs. He sits at the bar and downs beer after beer while the room fills up, thinking about Dean waiting back at the motel. Thinking about his brother, who gave Sam a single, quick look when he left and then said, ‘I’m not cleaning up after you this time,’ before turning back to USA’s Saturday Night Movie.

But drinking himself stupid isn’t on the agenda for tonight: not when he has to go home to Dean afterwards. Sam has already shown that he can’t be trusted around his brother when he’s drunk. He is drinking, but only enough to take the edge off: only enough to dull his senses a little. He’s drinking enough to make it look like he’s drunk to other people, so that he has a plausible excuse for what he’s about to do.

The man Sam settles on is almost as broad as he is tall: dude’s built like a goddamned linebacker. He came in earlier with a few friends and promptly started hitting on the waitress, all wandering hands and a too loud voice. The woman clearly isn’t interested, but she also clearly can’t afford to tell him to go to hell, and as Sam studies her pinched expression he thinks about scars and pinched lips and dull, green eyes. He delays long enough to down the rest of his beer and then orders another—this one on tap—and gets up to wander over in Asshole’s direction.

The beer does a pretty good job of soaking the guy when Sam ‘stumbles’ next to his table. Asshole is on his feet immediately, sputtering and growling and demanding where the fuck Sam thought he was going.

Sam looks down at him, a superficial coating of calm masking the rage beneath, and says, “You owe me a beer, Asshole.”

They take it outside.

Big as the man is, the fight doesn’t last as long as Sam would like—Asshole goes down after nothing more serious than a couple of rabbit punches to his kidneys and lies on the pavement groaning like Sam just cut his balls off. Sam would have thought he’d be good for a couple of upper cuts at least. Looks like appearances really can be deceiving.

Sam gives Asshole a single kick—hard enough to bruise but not to break ribs—and then crouches next to him. Getting his hand in the man’s sweaty hair, he twists Asshole’s head up.

Then, smiling, he says, “I ever hear you’re anything less than a gentleman to a woman, buddy, and the next time I’ll put you in the hospital.”

That isn’t what he wants to say. This isn’t whom he wants to say it to.

It isn’t enough, none of it, not even close, but it’s all Sam has. All he’s going to have even if Dad wanders around again and gives him another shot. He can’t do that to Dean. Can’t hurt his brother like that when he’s already hurt him so much.

Sam’s anger drains away suddenly, leaving him empty and cold. With a grimace of disgust, he releases Asshole’s hair and straightens. The man’s supposed friends scuttle back further. One of them holds his cell phone up, hand trembling.

“Don’t come any closer,” Cell Phone says. “I called the cops.”

Sam waits for that announcement to set off the same tight, thrumming nerves it usually would, but nothing comes. He’s too exhausted to feel anything but numb. Turning around without a word, he begins the walk back to the motel. When Sam opens their door half an hour later, Dean is on the computer. He looks up, face carefully blank, and watches Sam come inside.

“You drunk?” he asks after a moment.

“No,” Sam answers. He’s not. His head feels a little lighter than usual—probably from all the fresh air on his walk—but he’s thinking clearly enough. More clearly than he has in a long time, actually.

Dean’s eyes drop to Sam’s knuckles, which are bruised and slightly swollen, and one of his eyebrows lifts. “You get in a fight, Sammy?”

“I won,” Sam says, shrugging off his jacket and going to sit on the bed.

Better have fucking won,” Dean replies. He leans back in his chair and looks consideringly at Sam. “Make you feel any better?”

“No.”

Dean doesn’t say anything to that, but he watches Sam as he cools his knuckles off in the sink and cracks them carefully. His fingers are going to be stiff in the morning.

After a few minutes, Dean clears his throat from the other room and says, “I think I found us a lead. Couple of locked room murders in Ohio.”

At the announcement, weariness settles over Sam’s shoulders in a heavy mantle. He leans on the edge of the sink and thinks about how it felt to take that asshole down. How it didn’t actually make him feel righteous at all, or like a hero, or like anything but a sick son of bitch who wants to fuck his own brother and can’t figure out how to take no for an answer. How it made him feel like the coward, like the one who runs, like the one who left Dean unprotected and aching and exposed.

He thinks about how much he wanted it to be Dad.

“Sam?”

“I wanted to hurt him,” Sam says as he stares into the mirror. His eyes look more haunted than he thinks they should, reflecting emotions that he’s too numb to actually feel right now. “Dad,” he clarifies. “I wanted to hurt him for hurting you. But I think—I think maybe I hurt you more than he ever did.”

Behind him, Dean sighs. “Sammy—”

“I’m sorry,” Sam whispers, dropping his head. He can’t look into his own eyes anymore: can’t handle what he sees there. “I’m so fucking sorry I left. It wasn’t—it wasn’t you. God, Dean, it wasn’t ever you I was running away from.”

Which is probably why he has been so unsuccessful. After all, you can run from places, and you can run from other people, but you can run as long and as hard as you want, and you’ll never truly be able to run from yourself.

Sam is crying suddenly: tears spilling hot down his cheeks. He’s still numb enough inside that he only catches the edges of the aching swell inside of him, but that’s enough. That’s more than enough. Distantly, he hears Dean shove his chair back and a moment later his brother lays a steadying hand on the small of his back.

“S’okay, man,” Dean tells him. “Just take a deep breath, okay?”

No, it’s not okay. Nothing is okay.

“I’m sorry,” Sam repeats. His body shakes as he clings to the edge of the sink. “I need you, I do, I need you so fucking much it scares me.”

“I’m right here, Sammy,” Dean promises. His hand moves on Sam’s back, soothing circles, but it isn’t enough.

Thoughtlessly, Sam turns, reaching out and getting a hold on his brother’s shirt. When he pulls Dean in, his brother is pliant and unflinching. As Sam slides his cheek against his brother’s, Dean’s arm comes up to hold him close. His other hand lifts to drag through Sam’s hair.

“Such a fucking girl,” Dean whispers. His voice is fond, though, and his tone makes Sam smiles a little through his tears. “C’mon, Sasquatch.”

Guiding Sam over to the bed, Dean pushes back the covers and then eases him down. Sam isn’t quite ready to let his brother go, but it turns out he doesn’t have to because Dean follows without prompting. Sliding an arm beneath Sam’s body, Dean pulls him close, chest to chest. Sam shudders and leans into his brother’s bulk, resting his forehead against Dean’s shoulder and breathing in his strong, familiar scent. Their legs are tangled together, and it should be awkward but it isn’t.

“You and me,” Dean tells him, and, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Sam falls asleep to the comforting sound of his brother’s heartbeat.

Chapter Text

They spend the next three weeks recuperating. Dean drives them around to all the mindless local attractions (there are an awful lot of ‘world’s biggest’ in the Midwest) and makes up stupid stories about how they got clawed up (beavers, man: they’re vicious), and complains about the healing wounds on his face (like Sam’s don’t itch just as badly). He still worries at his scar more than Sam would like, but he’s also smiling more often, and singing along with the radio again, which he hasn’t done in a while. He’s also standing taller, less self-consciously, and when he grins over at Sam, Sam is helpless to do anything but smile back.

Just outside Richardson, Texas, Sam wakes up with a spoon in his mouth and his brother’s slightly off-key rendition of Fire of Unknown Origin ringing in his ears. The childish prank is Dean’s way of reconnecting, of trying to reestablish familiar boundaries, and Sam plays along gladly. It isn’t what he wants from his brother, not exactly, but he must be maturing because instead of reminding him of what he can’t have, the easy-going camaraderie eases the ache in his chest.

For the first time, Sam actually thinks that this might be enough. That he might actually learn how to be satisfied with what Dean is offering him. To his own surprise, he finds himself going all out in their impromptu prank war, messing with Dean’s radio and bringing out the crazy glue and basically behaving like he’s seven instead of twenty-two.

At the end of the job, when Dean tosses his head back and laughs, it feels like victory. Grinning, Sam watches his brother and knows that he isn’t hiding anything: knows that if Dean looks he’s going to see the depth of what Sam feels. What he wants.

Dean looks.

Sam waits for his brother’s smile to fade, but it doesn’t. It only softens a bit, gentled but not diminished. “Truce?” Dean asks.

Sam sort of wants the war to go on forever if it’s going to make Dean laugh like that, but he also knows that it isn’t practical. They can’t afford to be distracted by pranks in the middle of jobs, when a moment’s inattention could get one or both of them killed. It was stupid enough to do it once.

“Truce,” he agrees.

“Okay, then,” Dean says, and ruffles Sam’s hair on his way to the car.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In a diner in Peking, Arkansas, Dean leans over the table and starts picking food off of Sam’s plate.

“Hey!” Sam protests, but he doesn’t really mean it. It’s an automatic response, ingrained from years of childish thievery.

“What? Not like you’re eating it,” Dean responds, snagging Sam’s half-eaten pickle. When he slides it into his mouth, it’s just about the most obscene thing Sam has ever seen. Flushing, he looks out the window and refuses to turn back until his brother lets out a belch and announces he’s finished.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On their way through Missouri, Dean reaches out and flips the radio over to an alternative station. He leaves it there for two full hours before muttering, “Can’t take any more of this fucking crap,” and shoving one of his tapes in.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In a café in Red River, Indiana, Dean orders a plate of fish n’ chips and makes an orgasmic, rapturous noise when he pops the first piece into his mouth. The sound makes Sam’s groin go hot and tight.

“Dude, you’ve gotta try this,” Dean says, licking the fingertips of his right hand.

“That’s okay, I’m not—mph.”

Sam blinks in surprise as Dean’s left thumb and forefinger rest against his lips. The bit of fried fish that Dean just popped into his mouth sits on Sam’s tongue, and yeah, it tastes pretty good, but he’s more concerned with the way Dean is looking at him. The way Dean isn’t taking his hand back.

Then Dean jerks—a minute motion—and draws back to his own side of the table. His cheeks look flushed and he’s frowning. Sam swallows the piece of fish and sits there for a moment, not sure whether to ignore it the way Dean seems determined to. In the end, though, he can’t.

“Dude, did you just—”

“No.” Dean pokes at his fries with one finger. “Maybe.” He scowls, hunching his shoulders. “Didn’t mean anything.”

“Okay.”

“Just eat your fucking food,” Dean grumbles.

Sam leaves it in silence for a minute and then offers, “The fish is pretty good.”

Dean grunts noncommittally, but when Sam comes back from going to the bathroom there’re a few more pieces on his plate. Some of his own steak seems to have migrated over to Dean’s. He slips into the booth and picks up a piece of fish wordlessly. Across from him, Dean is looking down at his own plate, but he’s smiling.

“Surf n’ turf, huh?” Sam says. His knees accidentally knock Dean’s under the table and he holds his breath, waiting to see what his brother is going to do with the contact. After a brief hesitation, Dean pushes back, sliding his leg more firmly against Sam’s.

Sam’s stomach flutters. He picks up a piece of fish and puts it in his mouth, but it’s an automatic, reflexive motion. He has never been less interested in food than he is right now. Never more aware of his brother’s proximity.

“’S good, right?”

Sam isn’t sure what Dean is talking about, but he agrees anyway.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Carmel, Indiana, Dean hurries around the side of the Impala to open the door for Sam. It’s uncomfortable and awkward and wrong, and leaves both of them feeling unsettled for hours.

Dean doesn’t try it again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Farmington, Illinois, Dean decides it’s time for a night off and they head out to a bar. Dean buys round after round of beers, leaning toward Sam over the table and telling outrageous stories about the earliest bits of Sam’s childhood. They’re lies, every one of them—Sam is sure that he’d remember ‘coloring’ the kitchen with the ‘paint’ he found in a Chef Boyardee can—but that doesn’t stop him from laughing like a loon.

Later in the evening, they make their way over to the pool table for a couple of games—not hustling, just the Winchester boys passing the time. Dean has always been better at this—his hand-eye coordination is so good it’s downright eerie—and he kicks Sam’s ass soundly the first time around. When Sam ekes out a victory during their second match, he’s pretty sure his brother let him win. He lifts his hands in victory anyway, just to hear Dean grumble insincerely about cheating little brothers.

Dean knocks their shoulders together on his way to rack the balls and the contact makes Sam grin. He leans one elbow on the edge of the table and studies his brother’s face. If he squints, he can make out the faint outlines of the daevas’ claws on his brother’s forehead, but the last few weeks have left them blurred and indistinct. The scar at Dean’s temple seems faded as well, and Sam realizes that his brother hasn’t so much as brushed the damned thing in weeks.

As though he can sense Sam’s scrutiny, Dean’s hands still on the balls. He glances up from the table, catches Sam’s eyes, and smiles.

Dean shines when he’s happy. He shines so goddamned bright.

If anyone else at the bar notices, then Sam doesn’t know because he can’t stop looking at Dean long enough to check.

It’s a good night.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Then Dad sends them to Fitchberg.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam doesn’t want to be angry with their father for something that happened when they were kids, but his anger at the man’s carelessness is habit by now and he can’t help it. He does manage to keep his anger under control. Every time Dean raises his hand to his head (fifty seven times since they got here, Sam counted), Sam is all but blinded with rage and sick with the need to call Dad and tell him what a fucking asshole he is, but he manages to resist the urge. Somehow, he manages that much for Dean’s sake—at least until the case is over and the shtriga is dead.

Then he tells Dean he’s going to pick up some dinner. On his way back from the Wong’s Palace, Sam leaves six messages (the answering service keeps cutting him off before he’s done) telling John exactly what he thinks of a man who would do that to his son. He doesn’t say anything about Dean’s foray into adult entertainment, but that’s just because he gets back to the motel before he gets around to it.

When Sam opens the door, Dean is waiting for him: elbow propped on the table and head in his hand. His fingers are methodically working at the scar, but that’s not unexpected. What is unexpected is the half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey at his brother’s elbow. There’s no sign of a glass. Sam doesn’t even bother asking the obvious question as he steps inside and shuts the door.

“You called him,” Dean says—slurs, really.

Sam could deny it, but there doesn’t seem to be a point. “Yeah.”

“It’s not his fault, Sam,” Dean protests, and he may be drunk, but even drunk he should know better than to bait Sam like that.

“Don’t you,” Sam growls, stepping forward. His hand clenches and unclenches helplessly on the carryout bag. “Don’t you make excuses for him, Dean. You were just a kid, you—”

“I was just a kid, but that isn’t what I was talking about,” Dean says, lifting his head.

“Then what—”

“It isn’t Dad’s fault that I’m fucked up.”

Sam goes still. He feels ambushed by this conversation, which he never thought they’d have. Conversations like this aren’t Dean’s style—confessions aren’t his style. Dean doesn’t admit when he’s hurting—never has. You could cut off his arm and he’d morph into the Black Knight, radiating bravado and spouting nonsense about ‘flesh wounds’.

Then again, Dean doesn’t usually self-medicate with whiskey, either. That’s more Sam’s shtick.

“I’m fucked up,” Dean repeats, and this time his voice cracks with the words. He isn’t crying, not yet, but Sam doesn’t think tears are all that far off. He wants to move forward and offer his brother some comfort and isn’t sure it’s allowed.

Swallowing, Dean twists his eyes away toward the wall. His hand lifts: presses to his temple like he’s trying to hold his skull together.

“I was so scared in Fort Douglas,” he says. “When the shtriga came for you. I was so fucking scared and I-I froze. I thought it was going to kill you, Sammy, and I couldn’t—I couldn’t fucking move. I didn’t think anything could be worse than that, but I—”

He stops, face momentarily tightening with pain, and then continues, “I didn’t know what it would be like. I thought. It was just sex, right? It was—just a couple of hours, you know? And then Dad’d be taken care of and everything would be fine. But there were so—there were so many people there. And they were all—kept going on about my fucking lips, and they put—” Dean draws in a shallow, harsh breath, fingers moving faster at his temple, and then chokes out, “They h-had to open me up before we got s-started, and—”

Sam finally forces through the shock and into action, carelessly dropping the take out bag on the floor as he moves forward. “Shh. Dean, it’s okay, you’re okay.”

As Sam reaches for him, though, Dean lurches up to his feet and moves away. “I’m not, Sam,” he spits. “I don’t. I look at a hot girl and you know what I feel? Nothing. I don’t, not a fucking thing. I fuck them and I come and I don’t fucking feel any of it. I might as well be riding a goddamned bike!”

Sam’s mind flickers involuntarily back to the night that he gave in to his drunken impulses and touched his brother. He remembers how Dean reacted—so sensitive—body arching and breath coming fast and tiny, urgent noises pushing out of his throat.

Dean must see the question on his face because he says, wearily, “Yeah, you too. I feel. It’s like my body knows what feels good, but I’m too fucked in the head to.” He stops short, grimacing and rubbing at his scar again, and then says, “I threw up after.”

Sam has a heartbeat for his gut to go tight and horrified and then Dean’s eyes lift to his. Dropping his hand, Dean adds, “Not with you. After I made the movie. I managed to hold it together until I got back to the bathroom and then I puked in the sink. Couldn’t even make it to the goddamned toilet. Fucking pathetic, right?”

It isn’t pity crawling around in Sam’s gut, though. Pity doesn’t have tiny claws and acidic, burning venom all over its snake-like body. No, the thing in Sam’s gut is rage. The other emotion, stronger than the rage and pulling his chest tight, isn’t pity either. But the wretched, miserable mix of guilt and sorrow and compassion that’s making it difficult for Sam to breathe is probably close enough to pity to be just as damning in Dean’s eyes.

Softly, and with all the conviction that he can muster, Sam says, “You’re not pathetic.”

Dean bites his lower lip and nods, but Sam can tell his brother isn’t actually agreeing with him. No, Dean is ignoring him in favor listening to some internal voice that Sam really wishes he could throttle.

“It’s not Dad’s fault,” Dean repeats as he walks unsteadily over to sit on the bed. “He didn’t know what I was doing. I know you think he did, but he—if he ever knew, if he knows, then he found out after.” Tilting his head up, he offers a weak smile. “No use crying over spilt milk, right?”

There’s enough need in that question—enough pain in his brother’s eyes—that Sam chances stepping closer. When Dean doesn’t tell him to stop, he steps forward again and starts, “Dean—”

“I’m sorry I can’t,” Dean interrupts. “You know, with you. But it isn’t because you’re my brother, Sam. I just. I love you, man, but I don’t want that with anyone. Okay?”

He’s still looking up at Sam, eyes wet and so desperate that Sam doesn’t have the heart to argue with him about Dad anymore. “Okay,” he says instead, taking the last step needed to close the distance between them and putting a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Okay, man.”

Dean leans forward, resting his forehead against Sam’s stomach and bringing his arms up to clutch at Sam’s waist. If Sam weren’t too messed up inside to be reacting normally, that would make for an awkward situation—Dean’s mouth is right fucking there: if Sam’s jeans weren’t in the way, he’d be breathing on Sam’s cock—but as it is, he only rests one hand on the back of his brother’s head and cards his fingers through Dean’s short hair. It’s softer than it has any right to be, the amount of styling crap he puts in it.

“M sorry,” Dean says again. “Sorry, Sammy.” His shoulders shake and, with a horrible, sinking sensation in his stomach, Sam understands that his brother is crying.

“Shh,” he whispers, stroking Dean’s hair.

At the light caress, Dean’s grip tightens and he sobs harder. Sam wishes that he had the words that would fix this—would fix Dean—but he doesn’t, and he’s left with this weak, second best attempt at comfort: letting Dean cry into his shirt while he touches Dean’s hair, and the back of his neck, and anything else he can reach.

By the time Dean’s sobs start to die off several minutes later, Sam’s shirt feels noticeably damp against his stomach and his calves ache from holding himself still. Dean sniffs and eases back to swipe at his nose with one sleeve, and his face is red and puffy. His lashes are wet, but the eyes they frame look dry and sore.

“Hey,” Sam whispers, tentatively stroking his hand down his brother’s cheek. When Dean doesn’t flinch away, he does it again, more firmly this time, and wipes away some of the moisture with his thumb.

“Sorry,” Dean says again, and Sam can tell that this time his brother is just talking about the crying jag. It’s still ridiculous and not something that Dean ever has to apologize for, but now definitely isn’t the time to get into that.

“S’okay,” Sam says. Then, giving his brother’s hair one final brush, he leans down and pulls Dean to his feet. “Come on, man; let’s get you to bed.”

It takes more than a little coordination to hold Dean up while pulling the covers back, and Sam is left wondering how his brother managed for all those years with Dad, who was always far heavier—and far drunker—than Dean is now. Laying his brother down on the mattress, Sam takes off Dean's shoes and flannel shirt and then, with a little prodding, gets him to roll over onto his stomach. Just in case.

“Dunno how you ‘n Dad do this,” Dean mutters into the pillow. “Feels like crap.”

“That’s kind of the point,” Sam tells him.

“’S stupid.”

Despite himself, Sam smiles slightly. “Yeah, it is. Do you want some water?”

“No,” Dean answers immediately, and then turns his head, seeking Sam out. “You’re not gonna leave me, right? Now that you know, you won’t—”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sam promises, but Dean is still peering at him with this anxious, pleading expression—like Sam is going to disappear the moment he closes his eyes—and so Sam drags a chair up to the bed and sits down in it. “See? I’m going to sit right here, okay? I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Dean flings out a hand and settles it across Sam’s lap. As his fingers curl loosely around Sam’s thigh, he breathes out and lets his eyes fall shut. “Love you, Sammy,” he mutters.

“Yeah,” Sam breathes, resting his own hand on top of his brother’s. “Right back at you, Dean-o.”

It’s reflexive, a slide back to his brother’s childish nickname because Dean looks so young right now: so innocent. If anything, Dean should get annoyed at Sam’s slip (he never liked that name, only tolerated it from Dad), and his face does scrunch up—in pain, though, not distaste. The hand on Sam’s leg twitches as Dean tries to pull it away, but before Sam can lift his own hand and let Dean go, his brother has given up and is moving his left hand up to his forehead.

To the goddamned scar.

“Does it hurt?” Sam asks, leaning forward and putting his own hand beside Dean’s. Dean stiffens for a moment and then his hand falls away and he tilts his face up into Sam’s touch. The scar is almost unnoticeable beneath Sam’s thumb: a tiny, smooth bump.

“Aches,” Dean mumbles.

Sam puts a little more pressure on it, rubbing, and asks, “Better?” There’s no response and so he prods, gently, “Dean?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, but he sounds unsure, and as Sam continues to run the pad of his thumb over the tiny, raised hook, he realizes that, whatever Dean feels when he touches this scar, it isn’t real. If there’s pain, it’s a phantom: remembered from when the wound was fresh. The damage is long done, nothing Dean can do about it now, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to massage it away.

Clenching his jaw, Sam slides his hand down to the back of his brother’s neck: to the pressure points he knows are there. Dean is already frowning, reaching for the scar again, but as Sam works his fingers into his brother’s nape, Dean hesitates. After a moment, he makes a sleepy, contented sound and arches into the touch, whatever phantom pain he feels forgotten.

“Go to sleep, okay?” Sam whispers.

Any reply Dean makes is too garbled to understand, but it must be some kind of assent because a few minutes later he’s snoring with his mouth hanging open. Sam’s fingers still as he watches his brother sleep, but he doesn’t take his hand back. He wants to be able to distract Dean when his brother's expression inevitably pulls tight and his hand twitches up toward his face.

In the night, Sam keeps watch and, for once, his brother lets him.

Chapter Text

Dean wakes up hung-over and cranky. Sam isn’t sure whether his brother’s foul temper stems from the headache or the knowledge that he spilled his guts like a little girl last night. Both, probably.

Dean spends the morning wincing at the light and burying his head in the pillow and complaining about the smell of the Chinese, which Sam never cleaned up after dropping it on the floor. Whenever Sam asks how Dean’s doing and whether he can get him anything, he gets a finger and a “fuck off, grandma”. When he leaves Dean alone and sits down to do some research on the computer, he gets his brother’s glare of death for clicking the keys too loudly.

Finally, he gets the message and goes out for the day. Sam spends the rest of the morning and the early afternoon walking around town, looking at playgrounds that are empty right now but which will soon be full again, once the kids are released from the hospital. The kids who Dean saved, the same way he saved so many others.

Sam frowns as he sits down on an empty swing, thinking about his brother. Thinking about Dean, who cheerfully proclaims that he’s a hero to anyone who will listen but who never believes the truth in his own boast. Dean with his scars and his flaws and his juvenile sense of humor. Dean, who is beautiful and compassionate and brave and human, but who thinks that he has to be perfect to be worthy of love.

Dean is exhausting.

He’s maddening.

He’s also wonderful, and Sam is getting pretty fucking tired of being the only one who knows it.

When he finally circles back to the room around five o’clock, Dean is at least out of bed. His eyes are still bloodshot and puffy-looking (this must be why Dean learned to hold his liquor so well: it’s a defense mechanism), and he squints at Sam when he opens the door, but he’s upright and dressed. And not messing with his scar, thank God for small favors.

“You up for dinner?” Sam asks.

Dean looks at him, considering, and then answers, “I want something greasy.”

They settle on KFC. Sam buys three buckets of chicken (two original, one hot) and brings them back to the room along with a carton of mashed potatoes and a bag of those buttery biscuits that Dean likes. Dean eats his way through almost two of the buckets on his own before finally leaning back and licking at his fingers.

Luckily, Sam is used to that sort of thing after all these months and he barely notices the stirring interest in his dick. Right now, he’s more focused on the contented expression on his brother’s face and the lazy lounge of Dean’s body.

There probably isn’t going to be a better moment to say what he needs to.

Sam shifts, getting his brother’s eyes with the movement, and then says, “I know you don’t want to talk about it—”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Dean mutters, scrunching his face in annoyance.

“—but it’s okay for you to feel the way you do. And I’m not gonna leave, okay? And—and if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

Dean doesn’t look content anymore, of course, but Sam knew that was going to be the case. He knew he was going to put that tight, angry pinch back into his brother’s expression. But Dean needed to hear that promise more than he needed to maintain his comfortable shield of denial. And Sam needed to make that promise before he drove himself nuts trying to figure out how to subtly tell Dean he wasn’t going anywhere.

Of course, none of that makes Sam feel any better about the hostile way Dean is looking at him.

“What do you think is going to happen here, Sam?” Dean says. The words are clipped with anger: shards of flint scraping against Sam’s skin. “You think I’m gonna cry on your shoulder while we talk this out and then I’m gonna magically be healed? You gonna fuck me better?”

Actually, Sam is starting to think that fucking isn’t ever going to be on the agenda. He wants to hold his brother’s gaze, but he can’t manage it. Not without crying.

Dropping his head, Sam pushes a piece of chicken around on the napkin serving as his plate and says, “I just want you to stop pretending with me. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Dean doesn’t agree with him, but he doesn’t shower Sam with any more abuse, and when Sam chances a glance up he isn’t rubbing at his scar either.

It’s a start.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Three days later, they’re in New Paltz, New York, investigating an art gallery with a haunted painting for sale. The owner of the gallery has a daughter who reminds Sam of Jess. Same sass and verve. Same instant, unblinking interest in Sam. Jess was more forward, though. This girl, Sarah with the dark hair and the sparkling eyes, hints and then watches him leave with his brother without saying anything. The first time he met Jess, Sam wasn’t allowed to go anywhere until she had his number plugged into her cell phone and her own digits scrawled in Sharpie across the back of his hand.

Dean doesn’t mention Sarah on the way back to the motel, but once they’re there he won’t shut up. Keeps telling Sam he has to ‘take one for the team’ and all but throws them at each other. He hasn’t been this bad since he first learned how Sam feels about him.

Sam knows what his brother is doing, of course—subtlety has never been Dean’s strong suit. Sam doesn’t know whether Dean is getting worse at dissembling or if he’s getting better at reading his brother, but either way it’s painfully obvious that Dean is angling for another drop and run like the one he tried to pull at Stanford. If it didn’t piss Sam off so much, he’d find it funny: how someone so frightened of being left behind could be so damned determined to end up alone.

Sam agrees to the dinner—mostly because Dean is right, they need information and Sarah is the quickest way to get it—and he’s angry enough not to correct his brother’s assumptions about his motives. Dean’s face is a mask as Sam gets ready for his pseudo-date, all leers and easy grins. When he doesn’t think Sam is looking, though, the mask cracks and reveals the crumpled sorrow and aching loneliness that lies at his core.

It only infuriates Sam more, how willing Dean is to play the martyr, and he wishes that his brother would reach for his temple right now because this time Sam is going to call him on it. He’s going to grab Dean and drag him into the bathroom and shove him up against the sink and demand to know what the fuck is so goddamned compelling about that scar. And while he’s at it, Dean can fill Sam in on the mirrors, too.

But Dean doesn’t reach for his temple. He just tosses a condom at Sam and sits down on the bed and says, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Bile burns in Sam’s throat. He asks Dean to stop pretending and this is what he gets? This Dean? This brother who is so filled with lies that Sam thinks he could cut him open and find sawdust where there should be blood? This?

“I have my own, thanks,” he says finally and turns on his heels, leaving his brother staring and the condom lying on the floor where it fell when it bounced off his chest.

His bitter satisfaction at having gotten the last word lasts until he gets to the restaurant, and then he starts thinking about Dean’s face. About the wounded, little boy expression in Dean’s eyes when Sam turned away and left. He flounders through some small talk with Sarah while pretending to look at his menu, and when the waiter arrives Sam has read through it twice but hasn’t understood a single word.

“Uh,” he says, stalling while he scans the page again, actually focusing on it this time.

It’s in French. How the hell could he not having noticed that the fucking menus are in French?

“We’ll have two beers and a double order of the fillet mignon,” Sarah breaks in.

Sam looks across the table at her and thinks, reflexively, about Jess. She used to do that: order for Sam when they went out. They made a game out of it, sometimes: Sam ordering one thing for himself and Jess another and then both of them waiting to see what their waiter or waitress ended up bringing back. More often than not, Jess got the last word.

‘It’s because I’m so awesome,’ she would announce, and then beamed at Sam while he rolled his eyes and dug into the steak or the burger or the fish in front of him.

“Very good, miss,” the waiter says, bringing Sam back to the present. His chest aches strangely as he hands over his menu and then goes back to looking at Sarah, who is smiling at him nervously.

“Too forward?” she asks.

“No,” Sam assures her. “No, I was just, uh, thinking that you reminded me of someone.”

Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Sarah tilts her head. “Good someone or bad someone?”

Sam can’t help the twitch of his lips. “A little of both, actually,” he admits. Putting his hand on the table, he slides it around the stem of his water glass. The stem is cool against his palm, and wet with condensation.

“Ah,” Sarah says. “Bad breakup?”

The smile on Sam’s face, which wasn’t all that happy to begin with, slips and he glances down at the tabletop. He doesn’t think of Jess often—not because he doesn’t care, but because his thoughts are too full of Dean to have room for anything else. When he does think of her, though, he pictures her as she was before the fire. Pictures her smiling, with sunlight caught in her hair.

It’s horrifying how easily that sunlight turns to flames whenever he has to have this conversation.

“She died,” he says shortly.

Sarah reaches across the table and wraps her hand around his wrist. When Sam looks up at her, she isn’t smiling anymore: eyes serious and mouth sad.

The great Sam Winchester, ladies and gentlemen, Sam thinks humorlessly. Spreading joy and laughter wherever he goes.

“I’m so sorry, Sam.”

“It’s okay,” Sam says, trying for a smile. It feels lopsided on his lips, but it’s genuine and just the act of smiling makes him feel a little better. He takes a quick breath in through his nose, clearing the phantom scents of ash and sulfur away and replacing them with the more pleasant aroma of Sarah’s perfume. Which, thankfully, isn’t like Jess’s at all.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it,” he continues. “I told you I haven’t been on a date in a while.”

“You’re doing okay,” Sarah tells him. A soft, tentative smile of her own plays across her lips, and she runs her thumb deliberately over the back of Sam’s hand before easing away. The caress sends confusing little shivers through Sam’s skin, and he takes a quick sip of water in an attempt to hide the fact that he’s blushing.

The rest of the meal is uneventful and pleasant, and afterward Sarah invites him back to her place so that she can give him a copy of the provenance papers he needs. Sam is sitting on her couch going over said papers when she sits down beside him and offers to give him more than that.

For the first few seconds of the kiss, Sam is surprised. Then, for a moment, he’s tempted. Sarah is beautiful, and it isn’t fair to Dean to keep waiting—isn’t fair to keep putting all of that pressure, intended or not, on his brother to yield to Sam’s needs. It isn’t fair to either of them, actually. Sarah’s mouth is soft against his, and she smells like roses and reminds him of Jess, and Sam isn’t a eunuch.

But then he thinks of Dean alone in their motel room—of the resigned loneliness in his brother’s eyes as he left—and he pushes her back gently.

“You’re a really nice girl, Sarah,” he says as soon as his mouth is free, “But I’m—”

“Not ready,” Sarah supplies. She sounds a little disappointed, but when she touches his hair she’s smiling. “That’s okay, Sam. We can take this slow. Call me tomorrow, okay?” She leans in to kiss him again—not his mouth this time, just his cheek—and it’s nice.

Nice and safe and normal and very, very tempting.

But he leaves her there, and he doesn’t look back.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean is already fast asleep when Sam gets home, but in the morning Sam wakes up to his brother’s smirk. Dean’s mask is firmly in place and he’s running with all of his defenses raised, eyes as guileless and opaque as Sam has ever seen them while he jokes and jibes and sprinkles innuendo on every syllable. Sam drags himself out of bed, hunkers down, and waits for his brother to get tired of baiting him.

This time, of course, Dean seems incapable of losing interest. He uses every possible excuse to prod at Sam about Sarah—‘when are you going to see her again’; ‘I hope you’re using protection’; ‘you know, Sammy, condoms expire’—and when he calls her Sam’s ‘girlfriend’ for what feels like the hundredth time, Sam finally snaps.

Jerking around in his chair, he glares at his brother, who is lounging against the headboard of the bed with his feet stretched out in front of him and his arms folded across his chest, and says, “Dude, enough already!”

Dean blinks. He looks surprised by the vehemence of Sam’s response. Who the hell knows, maybe he is. “What?”

“’What’?” Sam repeats incredulously, and then, before Dean can say anything else, continues, “Ever since we got here, you’ve been trying to pimp me out to Sarah. Just back off, all right?”

Dean frowns, uncrossing his arms and shifting forward. “Well, you like her, don’t you?”

Sam, who still can’t quite believe that his brother can be this fucking obtuse—despite all evidence to the contrary—stares at Dean and doesn’t say anything. He can’t say anything. Not without saying a whole hell of a lot more than Dean is in any shape to hear.

Nodding as though Sam agreed with him, Dean continues, “All right. You like her, she likes you, you’re both consenting adults …”

“I’m still in love with you, Dean,” Sam finally manages. His ‘date’ with Sarah may have left him off balance in some indefinable way, but it hasn’t changed the way he feels about Dean. No, it’s going to take a mandate from God to alter that particular emotion.

“I’m not talking about marriage, Sam,” Dean answers dryly.

“You know what, I don’t get it,” Sam says, twisting more fully around in his chair so that he doesn’t have to contort his back to keep looking at his brother. “What do you care if I hook up? It’s not like I’m gonna molest you in your sleep if I don’t ‘get some’.”

Sam’s lying, of course. He knows exactly what Dean’s after—has ever since he glanced away from Sarah during their first meeting and caught his brother looking at him with an evaluating glint in his eyes. What Sam doesn’t know is whether Dean is fully cognizant of what he’s doing.

If he is, then Sam is going to make him say it out loud.

If he isn’t, then he’s damned well going to make his brother face up to his own neurosis.

Dean shifts in his chair, uncomfortable, and looks away. His hand twitches in his lap, like maybe it wants to do something. Like maybe it wants to lift up to a certain scar. Sam tenses, but instead Dean grips his knee and says, “Sarah, she could be good for you. And maybe you don’t love her, but I’ve seen the way you look at her, Sammy, and you could.” His hand drifts from his knee to the bed spread. His fingers rub at the material for a moment and then start picking at a loose thread. “You could stay here. Have a normal life. You could be happy.” Dean’s jaw clenches and then he adds, “I want you to be happy.”

Sam’s anger deflates. He wishes he could tell Dean that he is happy, that Dean makes him happy, but while that’s true it’s also a lie.

Dean is sunlight and air and everything good in Sam’s life, but there are so many things about his brother (the scar, Dean’s unflagging refusal to see his own value, his inability to accept love even when it’s unconditional and freely given) that leave Sam bleeding inside. Dean does make him happy, so much so that it hurts sometimes, but he also makes Sam miserable and furious and mournful, and that’s the only thing Dean is going to hear.

Finally, Sam settles on saying, “I said I wasn’t leaving, Dean, and I meant it.”

Dean is silent for about three seconds and then, awkwardly, he offers, “You, ah, you don’t have to stay. I was drunk, so it doesn’t—”

Count, he’s going to say. As though Sam’s faithfulness is determined by how many shots Dean has tossed back at a particular moment.

Before Dean can get the word out, Sam says, “I’m not leaving. You can try to ditch me here like you tried to ditch me in California, but if you drive off without me again I swear to God I’ll track you down and handcuff myself to the fucking car. Do you understand?”

“Handcuffs, huh? Never knew you were so kink—”

“I’m not kidding, Dean. I’m not above tagging you with some kind of tracking device, either. I’m sure Bobby could rig something up.”

Dean’s eyes flick to Sam, startled, and then, a moment later, narrow slightly as belief creeps in. It’s maddening, that Sam needs to invoke Bobby’s name in order to validate his promise, but then again he supposes that he deserves that kind of suspicion after all the times he’s let his brother down.

Dean is resolutely staring at the far wall again, as if by not looking at Sam he can hide the naked relief on his face. It’s a ridiculous illusion, but also harmless enough that Sam is willing to let it go if it’s going to make Dean feel better. He watches as his brother fights to get himself under control again, and although Dean hasn’t actually responded to his ultimatum, Sam knows from the way that the tension seeps from his brother’s shoulders that the message was received.

When Dean finally looks back several minutes later, his face is carefully blank. “Well, we still gotta see that painting, which means you still gotta call Sarah.”

“Just as long as you think you can restrain yourself from making any more comments,” Sam responds.

Dean’s mouth twitches in something that’s almost, but not quite, a smile.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The funny thing is that Dean was right. If Sam weren’t already in love with his brother, he very probably could have fallen in love with Sarah. She’s gorgeous and smart and brave. The revelation that ghosts exist rocks her back briefly, but she recovers from her surprise and actually insists on helping with the investigation. When they’re both nearly killed by Melanie Merchant’s ghost, she looks more excited than terrified: her cheeks flush with adrenaline and eyes sparkling.

Afterward, when everything is said and done and Dean is getting the car, Sam stands in the doorway of the auction house, looking at Sarah and thinking, for what has to be the hundredth time over the last few days, about Jess. He finds himself wondering, in an idle, sad way, how Jess would have reacted if he had ever taken the time to sit her down and explain about the family business. What she would have said if he had told her how his mother really died—if he had confessed that the scar on his left bicep wasn’t from a bicycle accident at all but from the stray shard of a crypt that Dad had to blow open so that they could get at the body inside.

Sam would like to think that she would have responded more like Sarah than Cassie, but of course he isn’t ever going to know.

“I don’t suppose you’d be up for a celebratory drink before you go,” Sarah says, jerking him from his thoughts. She’s leaning against the doorframe and looking up at him with a soft little smile that looks like Dean’s might if he was a little more genuine about it.

Somewhere, there’s another Sam that tells her yes. There’s a Sam who isn’t so tangled up in his brother that he can’t look at a pretty woman without thinking of Dean—a Sam who hasn’t already given away every last inch of his heart and maybe still has something left to offer. Somewhere.

“I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

Sarah doesn’t look surprised. Shrugging, she tells him, “Had to ask. After all, it isn’t like someone so tall, dark and dangerous comes along every day.”

“’Dangerous’?” Sam jokes. “Not ‘handsome’?”

“Mmm, that too.” Sarah tilts her head back, regarding him thoughtfully for a moment, and then bites her lip. “Can I—oh, hell, I guess there’s no pussying around the bush on this one. Can I ask for a goodbye kiss?”

Sam is startled into grinning. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Yeah, that I can do.”

Their second kiss—which is also the last—is better than the first. There aren’t any expectations this time around, and Sam isn’t so off balance that he can’t participate, and when Sarah parts her lips for him, he takes the invitation and eases in. After a moment, he brings his hands up to cup her face and deepens the kiss. It’s been a while since he’s kissed a woman, and for a couple of seconds he finds himself comparing Sarah’s mouth to Dean’s, which isn’t really fair to either of them. Then his mind slots back further—to Stanford and Jess—and it still isn’t fair but it’s perhaps as close as Sam is able to come.

His eyes fall shut as he kisses Sarah, and if there’s a small part of him that’s kissing a ghost, then maybe that’s okay. Maybe this is his chance to say farewell to two women at once: one who was taken from him before he was ready to let go and one he never really had a chance to know. This is a goodbye kiss, yes, and something about it makes Sam realize that, in some ways, he’s been saying goodbye ever since he laid eyes on Sarah—ever since he looked at her and knew, instantly, that the spark of mutual attraction wasn’t going to go anywhere.

The taste in his mouth as he continues to kiss her is something like regret and forgiveness and release, but it’s the unfolding, settling sensation in his chest that makes him draw the moment out.

Jess is fading. She's receding and taking everything else with her—all of Sam’s dreams of normalcy, and of a white picket fence, and of two and a half kids and a dog. She’s been fading this whole time, and Sam would have noticed if he’d taken the time to look before he met Sarah. She’s fading and there’s a part of Sam that will always feel that loss, but to his own surprise and relief, he finds that he’s okay with it.

He’s okay with it because letting go of Jess and Stanford and all the rest of it means that he can keep Dean.

Gradually, Sam becomes aware of the muted, familiar purr of the Impala’s motor to his left. He’s reluctant to lose the moment—to lose the blossoming warmth of his epiphany—but he eases back and releases Sarah’s face. For a moment, she gazes up at him silently, looking as stunned and breathless as he feels. Then she laughs.

“Wow! If that’s your goodbye kiss, Sam, then I’d love to see what hello looks like.” Smiling, she reaches up and brushes his hair back from his face. “Come back and see me, okay?”

“I will,” Sam agrees, but they both know he’s lying.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam’s a little preoccupied with the newfound lightness in his chest, so it takes him a couple of days to notice that his brother is giving him the silent treatment. It seeps in eventually, though—Sam can only take so many grunted replies to his questions before he realizes something is up. He remembers Dean doing this when they were kids: once, when Sam accidentally broke Dean's favorite He-man doll, his brother didn’t say a single word to him for two weeks. Dean is at least grunting at him now, but Sam still thinks that this is worse because this time he has no clue what he did to piss his brother off.

The whole, frustrating mess is rapidly souring his good mood.

Still, Sam manages to put up with his brother’s attitude for three full days before he snaps. They’re in Lynette, Massachusetts, when it happens, and Sam is playing twenty questions with his brother in an effort to settle on something for dinner.

“Pizza?” he offers.

Dean, who is unpacking his bag onto one of the beds with methodical slowness, grunts, “Meh.”

“Chinese?”

“Eh.”

“Mexican?”

“Nah.”

Sam counts to ten and then wracks his brain for some other option. Finally, he says, “We could go to that family restaurant down the road.”

Dean usually loves trying local restaurants, which are the closest to home-cooked meals that they can come, but this time he just grunts dismissively without turning around.

“Fine, you pick somewhere. I’ll eat wherever you want to, okay?” By now, Sam’s mounting frustration is clearly evident in his voice, and he prays that Dean pays attention to it because he isn’t going to be held responsible for his actions if he gets another non-reply.

Dean shrugs.

Okay, that’s it.

“Jesus Christ, Dean,” Sam yells, “What the fuck do you want from me?”

Dean straightens slowly and turns around. He doesn’t look surprised at all by Sam’s outburst. His eyes are flat—not hostile, exactly, but not friendly either. After a few moments, he says, “Nothing,” and then goes back to his bag.

But Sam is done letting this slide. Striding over to his brother, he pulls Dean around and shouts, “That’s bullshit, man. You’ve been acting like I slashed the Impala’s tires for the past week and I’m sick of it. So just get whatever it is off your fucking chest and move on already!”

Dean yanks his arm out of Sam’s grasp and heads for the bathroom.

“Don’t you walk away from me, Dean!” Sam calls, following. He manages to get between Dean and the door, forcing his brother to draw up short. Dean’s jaw is tight as he looks everywhere but at Sam. “What did I do, huh? Stop acting like you’re stuck in a room with Hitler and just fucking talk to me!”

“You kissed her.”

Sam wasn’t expecting his brother to fold that quickly and he really wasn’t expecting that answer. He opens and shuts his mouth a couple of times, well aware that he looks ridiculous but unable to do anything else. Not like Dean is looking anywhere near his face anyway.

And speaking of Dean, what the fuck?

That’s what this is about?” Sam says finally. “You’re pissed because I kissed Sarah?”

Dean shrugs, looking cross with himself for saying anything. He starts to turn away, angling for the front door this time, but Sam reaches out and grabs his arm.

“Woah woah woah. You don’t get to just throw something like that at me and run.” Dean’s muscles are practically thrumming beneath Sam’s hand, but he doesn’t resist when Sam turns him around. “Why the hell are you so upset about a goodbye kiss?”

“A goodbye kiss?” Dean repeats incredulously, finally lifting his head to look at Sam with burning, angry eyes. “You had your tongue so far down her throat you were practically licking her ass!”

As Sam stares at his brother, nonplussed, Dean takes the opportunity to yank his arm free and pace back over to his bed.

“I wh—wait, are you jealous?” It doesn’t make any sense, but there’s no other explanation for Dean’s behavior and the quick, furious glance his brother shoots him confirms it. “You are! What—what the hell, Dean?”

“I don’t know, Sam!” Dean yells. “I don’t—one second I’m fucking fine and the next you’re playing tonsil hockey with the girl and I just—fuck, I don’t know.” He reaches up and rubs roughly at the scar, but Sam is still too shocked to be bothered by the habit. When Dean speaks again, his voice is subdued. “I didn’t like her touching you.”

Sam’s chest has started to flutter alarmingly. For a moment, he’s worried that he’s having a heart attack and then he realizes that the unfamiliar, trembling sensation is hope. It takes him a couple of tries, but he finally manages to ask, “What are you saying?”

“Nothing. I just. I dunno.” Dean grimaces as he gives his temple one final rub and then lowers his hand. “I never felt like this before, okay? I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Nothing’s wrong with you, Sam thinks. Jealousy is a normal reaction when you’re in l—

He shuts down on the rest of the thought before he can jinx himself.

“Maybe,” he says haltingly. “Maybe we should. We could talk abo—”

“No!” Dean blurts, eyes wide and almost panicked. Then, swallowing, he continues in a calmer voice, “No, just let me, uh. I need to think about this on my own for a few days.”

While Sam stares at him, he turns around and starts shoving clothing back into his bag. He packs a hell of a lot faster than he unpacked, and he’s already zipping the bag up when Sam recovers enough to say, “When, uh. Dean, when you say alone …” He trails off as his brother turns around again and hoists the bag up onto his shoulder.

Dean just stands there for a moment, looking pale and apologetic, and then he says, “I’ll be right next door if you need anything. Just.” Wetting his lips with a quick swipe of his tongue, he shifts his weight and then finishes, “I need to do this, okay?”

And there’s really only one answer Sam can give to the pleading, frightened expression in his brother’s eyes.

“Yeah, okay.”

Chapter Text

Sam spends the next four days riding a roller coaster of manic highs and depressed lows. He wishes that he could just sit still for a few seconds, but he can’t manage the trick because, once his shock has finished wearing off, he doesn’t know what his brother’s jealousy means any more than Dean does. Oh, he knows what he wants it to mean, and the moments when Sam lets himself consider that possibility feel a little like floating, but then he remembers that the chances of them both being fucked up in exactly the same way would be astronomically slim even if Dean weren’t damaged, and he comes back to earth with a jarring crash.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the end of the second day, Sam has a chronic stomachache from all the tension. Popping half a dozen antacids, he curls up in bed to stare at the wall separating Dean’s room from his own. As he lies there, he keeps replaying the conversation in his head: turning over the slightest inflection, every tick of Dean’s jaw.

He falls asleep and dreams about kissing the sun and when he wakes in the morning, his lungs feel burnt.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Midway through the third day, Sam realizes that he’s going to explode if he doesn’t leave the room for a couple of hours. He starts for the door, only to halt when he reminds himself that Dean could finish thinking things over at any moment, only to start forward again when it occurs to him that he won’t be any good to his brother if Dean has to peel him off the ceiling, only to stop yet again as he remembers his brother’s fears of abandonment. What the hell is Dean going to think if he comes over to talk and finds the room empty?

After agonizing over the problem for two and a half hours, Sam remembers that he has a cell phone: that they both have cell phones. He doesn’t trust his voice well enough to actually call, but he does text his brother.

-going out u want anything?-

Almost immediately, Dean texts back with, -im good dont get lost-

Smiling slightly, Sam sends, -here? its not even a one strbcks town-

He hasn’t even gotten one shoe on when his phone beeps again. Leaning over, he opens the text and reads, -gee sammy where u gonna get ur trp nofat halfwhip vanilla late-

A stupid little text shouldn’t make him feel so happy, but for some reason it does. Humming to himself, he responds, -latTe and they dont come with whip- and then sits there holding his phone and waiting for a response.

Sure enough, it’s less than a minute before Dean sends back, -ud know princess-

-jerk-

-bitch- And then, immediately on the heels of that: -go get ur drink or whtvr and stop bothering me assmunch-

Sam grins the entire way to the bar.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The fourth day finds him calmer, which means that he doesn’t feel like he’s two seconds away from coming out of his skin. Sam is even able to wander outside without sending his brother another text first, and that’s where Dean finds him: sitting at a picnic table around the side of the motel. Sam is watching a flock of seagulls fight over an abandoned bag of French fries when the crunch of gravel alerts him to his brother’s arrival.

He glances over and, despite the overcast day, Dean is wearing sunglasses. He’s also wearing his leather jacket and a couple layers of shirts, but it can’t be any warmer than forty degrees out here so that might not mean anything. Except for how it might because Dean does tend to use the bulk of his clothing as a shield.

Or maybe Sam is overthinking this just a little.

Nervous, he looks back at the gulls as his brother sits down next to him. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam sees his brother put both hands on top of the picnic table, which means that Dean isn’t worrying at the scar. It’s a good sign, but it doesn’t stop Sam’s stomach from starting to ache again.

“Hey,” Dean says after a few seconds.

Sam fumbles his first attempt at speech and has to clear his throat before he can manage his own, hoarser, “Hey.”

After almost an entire minute has crawled past, Dean asks, “You have fun at the bar?”

“Uh. Yeah. I guess.”

Silence falls again, broken only by the cries of the squabbling gulls. Sam’s chest has gone tight and his eyes are starting to burn. If it were good news—it can’t be, and Sam knows that, but if it were—then Dean would have said something by now. He wouldn’t be sitting next to Sam, quietly searching for a way to say ‘no’ one more time.

Swallowing, Sam shuts his eyes. He isn’t going to cry about this again. He’s twenty-two years old, damn it, and an adult, and he has more control over his emotions than this.

“I think we both know that I’m fucked in the head,” Dean says abruptly. Even with his eyes closed, Sam can’t get a read on his brother’s voice, but the fact that Dean is starting with that observation can’t be good.

“Yeah,” he sighs.

“I’m not gonna lie, Sam. The idea of sleeping with you is about as exciting as a Price Is Right marathon.”

Logically, Sam didn’t expect anything else, but the announcement still leaves a bitter, disappointed taste in his mouth. “Gee, thanks,” he mutters, and forces his eyes open again so that he can focus on something other than the painful constriction in his chest. If his vision is a little blurry, then it isn’t because he’s dangerously close to tears: it’s because it’s cold out here and his eyes are watering.

To his left, Dean continues, “But I don’t want anyone else doing it either, and I was jealous as fuck of Sarah. Still am.”

At the edge of Sam’s watery field of vision, there’s a blur of motion as Dean ducks his head slightly. At the same time, one of his brother’s hands lifts from the table, and Sam knows without having to actually see it that Dean is worrying at his temple again. He doesn’t like that much, but his brother’s words have taken some of the finality out of what initially sounded like a rejection, and Sam’s chest is doing that funny, fluttering hope thing again, and he can’t bring himself to worry about Dean’s fascination with the scar right now.

Swallowing thickly, he waits for Dean to get to the point and prays that his brother is heading in the direction that Sam hopes he is.

“I don’t think I’m capable of loving anyone like that. Sexually.”

The word comes out awkwardly, as though Dean isn’t very familiar with it or maybe doesn’t like the way it tastes in his mouth. The obvious discomfort in Dean’s voice, coupled with the way that he’s worrying at the scar again, leaves Sam feeling queasy despite his rising hope. When his brother’s hand drops back into sight on the picnic table a moment later, Sam’s breath eases out in a low sigh.

Then Dean says, “But if I were, it’d be you,” and Sam’s pretty sure his heart stops beating. It starts up again a moment later in a roaring rush that makes it difficult to hear, but somehow Sam manages to make out his brother’s voice as Dean continues, “I mean, I do love you, Sammy. I—I don’t know, maybe this is the closest I can come to that kind of—of relationship, and I know it isn’t, y’know, what you want, but it’s the best I can do.”

Sam can’t do this without looking at his brother anymore. He has to see if Dean means what he’s saying. If he’s saying what Sam thinks he is.

He shifts on the bench, turning to face his brother, and Dean’s head is lowered. He’s picking at a splinter on the table with his right hand and his lips are pursed and his brow is furrowed and his eyes are hidden behind his sunglasses. After a brief moment of hesitation, Sam reaches out—slowly, so that Dean can see him coming: can protest if he wants to—and hooks two of his fingers around the frame of his brother’s sunglasses. Dean swallows but doesn’t move, and Sam takes that for the permission it is, drawing the shades up and off.

Beneath the glasses, Dean’s eyes are tightly shut, but when Sam nudges his brother’s left hand with his own, Dean reluctantly opens them and looks over. Sam instantly sees why his brother felt the need to hide his eyes. He’s never seen his brother stripped so bare—with all of his defenses cast aside and his emotions on display for anyone to look at.

The cringing, naked vulnerability Sam finds there (and love, yes, and determination, but the vulnerability and the fear are stronger: more immediate) makes him feel like an asshole for what he’s about to do, but he has to ask. For both their sakes, he has to know what Dean is agreeing to.

“What are you saying, Dean?”

Dean swallows and his hand starts to lift. Sam’s own hand darts out thoughtlessly and pins his brother’s to the table. He doesn’t know why, but he can’t let Dean answer that question while he’s fiddling with his scar. He can’t allow whatever pain that scar represents to taint the fragile, tenuous thing between them.

“I need you to—Dean, I need you to say it, okay? I need to—I can’t just guess on this one.”

Dean licks his lips, cutting those defenseless eyes away while he draws in a deep, shuddering breath. Then, sitting up straighter, he looks back at Sam. Some of his walls have been raised again, but not all of them. Not so many that Sam can’t read truth there when his brother says, “I can’t make any promises, but if you want to try, I’m in.”

For a couple of seconds, Sam isn’t sure if it’s the world spinning or just his head. That roaring sound is back again, louder than ever, and he realizes with embarrassed dismay that there are tears running down his cheeks. Dean looks embarrassed by the display as well, but Sam can’t figure out how to stop.

“You—” he chokes out. “Dean, you—”

One side of Dean’s mouth quirks up into a weak smile and he twists his hand beneath Sam’s. Not to free it: just so that he can thread their fingers together. “Dude, are you gonna be my boyfriend or what?”

Sam bursts out laughing. He can’t help it. This—them—it’s utterly ridiculous, and wonderful, and Dean is smiling at him, and before he knows what he means to say he blurts, “Can I kiss you?”

Dean’s eyes dim—only a little, almost unnoticeably, but Sam is watching and he sees it happen. He sees Dean go dull around the edges: sees his brother’s tentative shine fade. God, if he could take the question back he would in a heartbeat, but it’s too late now. The damage is already done, and if he tries to backpedal, Dean is just going to get pissed off and tell Sam he doesn’t need to be babied.

“Can’t promise I’ll enjoy it, but you can give it a whack.”

Dean doesn’t sound terribly excited by the prospect, but he doesn’t sound nervous either. He just ... He sounds disinterested. Detached.

Part of Sam is bouncing up and down at the fact that he just got a green light to do what he’s been fantasizing about for years. The rest of him has gone tight with concern. He knows that making the movie messed Dean up, but he’s starting to wonder if the damage is more serious than he thought. He’s starting to wonder just how deep his brother’s scars go.

As Sam hesitates, there’s a flicker of annoyance in his brother’s eyes and Dean licks his lips. Slowly. Deliberately. Like he’s goading Sam to do something about it.

Worried or not, Sam has never been one to back down from a challenge. Besides, this is a good opportunity to test the waters, so to speak.

“C’mere,” he says, tugging at his brother’s hand.

Dean obligingly shifts closer along the bench. His chameleon eyes are cool and pale and jade green today beneath the overcast sky. His skin looks washed out as well, robbed of color by their conversation or lack of sleep or the weather, and his pallor leaves the splash of his freckles on his cheeks and the bridge of his nose obvious in contrast. As Sam stares, Dean licks his lips again—unconsciously this time, as far as Sam can tell—and then swallows.

“Dean,” Sam breathes, and then moves forward and presses their lips together.

He means it to be a brief thing, just a test, but Dean kisses him back—fucking finally—and Sam’s good intentions tumble away unnoticed. Dean is good at this, good at kissing, and when Sam cradles the side of his brother’s face in one hand, Dean immediately returns the favor by cupping the back of Sam’s neck and slotting their mouths more firmly together.

When Sam finally breaks away several minutes later, he’s lightheaded and flushed and his cock is throbbing against the inseam of his jeans. He looks into his brother’s eyes, hoping for a second green light to take this inside, and Dean looks back at him. His expression is open again: guileless and easy to read. There’s warmth there, and fondness, and even devotion, but no matter how closely Sam looks, he can’t find so much as a glimmer of passion. As far as Dean’s libido is concerned, he might as well have spent the last five minutes watching a rousing game of golf.

Sam’s mind flashes back to his earlier apprehension and it isn’t so much disappointment that tightens his chest (although that’s there), but dismay and dread. Sorrow, too, and he isn’t sure whether he wants to weep at what those sons of bitches did to his brother or if he wants to hunt them all down and make them pay. Starting with Dad.

Sam thinks he does a pretty good job of masking the tumble of emotions, but something must slip past his guard and onto his face because Dean’s eyes shutter and he starts to pull away. Stomach turning, Sam reaches out and grabs the hem of his brother’s coat.

“Dean, wait.”

Dean finishes getting to his feet and then stops. Looking down at Sam, who is still holding onto the edge of his coat, he says, “I warned you, man. I don’t mind giving you this, but you can’t expect me to sit up and beg for it.”

Sam should let it go—after all, he’s getting everything he wanted: there’s no reason to keep pushing. Only ... Only he isn’t getting everything he wanted. Because a large part of what he wants is for Dean to be honestly, completely happy, and that isn’t going to happen as long as Dean is ... God, what?

Wounded?

Handicapped?

Broken?

None of those words adequately describes how his brother is hurting right now, and if Sam can’t even put a name to it, then how the hell is he supposed to help?

Sam wants his brother. He wants to lay Dean down on a bed and spread him open and slip inside of him. He wants to find out if his brother will fit as snuggly around his cock as he did around Sam’s fingers. All of that, Dean is offering.

But that’s fucking. It’s rutting: coarse and instinctive.

And Dean can call him a girl all he wants, but Sam understands the difference between having sex and making love, and it isn’t fair for Dean to offer him one when he can’t manage the other.

Even if Sam were willing to settle for sex, how the hell is he supposed to perform when he knows that Dean is just lying there and counting water stains on the ceiling? How is he supposed to be able to do that to his brother?

“You used to,” he says. “Dean, you used to love sex. I know you did.”

Dean’s jaw tightens and he starts to raise his hand to his head again.

“No!” Sam blurts, dropping Dean’s coat and grabbing wrist before he can manage it. The look Dean gives him is two parts startled and one part pained. “I don’t— ” Sam fumbles. “I don’t like it when you do that.”

That gets him a raised eyebrow and disbelieving huff, but when Dean shakes Sam’s hand off he doesn’t touch his scar. Instead he says, “I used to love Cassie, too. Things change.” Then, turning, he starts for the motel.

Sam doesn’t understand how things went so horribly wrong so incredibly quickly, and for a few seconds he’s too stunned and numb inside (and a little hurt: Dean knows how Sam feels about Cassie) to do anything but stare after his brother. Then, with a slow, horrible sensation like sinking into murky water, he realizes that if he lets Dean walk away right now they’re going to lose any shot they have of making this work. Because Dean is going to go into his room, and he’s going to lock the door, and he isn’t going to come out until his walls are towering, frosty monoliths.

And if Sam even dares to try scaling them, he’s going to get smacked away and Dean will look at him with flat, distant eyes and say, “Fuck you, Sam. You had your chance.”

“Wait!” he blurts, pushing up from the table. “Dean, wait!”

Dean isn’t slowing, but Sam’s legs are longer than his brother’s and he manages to catch up to Dean before he steps up onto the sidewalk running alongside the motel.

Grabbing his arm, he says, “I know you’re hurting, man, but it doesn’t have to be like this.”

Dean isn’t pulling away, but he won’t look at Sam either. His head is lowered, eyes fastened on the ground. The muscle at the corner of his jaw twitches sporadically.

“Please,” Sam begs. “I want to help you. You have to let me help you.”

Dean glances up, glaring. “I don’t ‘have’ to let you do anything, Sam.”

Sam knows that. Dean knows that Sam knows that. His pointed reminder of his own independence is reflex—an offensive maneuver meant to drive Sam back onto the defensive. And maybe if this conversation weren’t so important, Sam would let that happen—for Dean’s sake, because Dean only lashes out like this when he’s at his weakest.

But it is important.

Sam searches his mind for the response that will diffuse his brother’s anxiety—some word or phrase that will make him feel safer and ease him off his guard—but everything he comes up with is only going to make the situation worse. In the end, he keeps his mouth shut and pleads with his eyes. It isn’t fighting fair—Dean has never been able to resist Sam at his most earnest—but Sam is desperate enough right now that he doesn’t give a shit.

Sure enough, after a moment the set of Dean’s shoulders softens. Pursing his mouth, he cuts his eyes away from Sam’s face and asks in a weary, bitter voice, “How the fuck are you going to help, Sam? You gonna fuck me better?”

Dean has said that to him before, has said those exact words, and while his brother doesn’t mean them any more now than he did then, Sam realizes that it isn’t actually a horrible idea. Maybe all Dean needs is to be shown what it’s like to sleep with someone he actually has feelings for. Maybe all he needs is to be shown that sex is as much about receiving pleasure as it is giving it.

A nagging voice in Sam’s head reminds him that it isn’t as simple as that—some infection is festering deep inside of his brother, and the disengaged libido isn’t the cause but a symptom, just like Dean’s obsession with his scar—but he pushes it away. He pushes it away because that would mean that there’s a chance he can’t help his brother—that Dean may be irrevocably damaged—and that’s just unacceptable.

“Yes,” Sam says.

Dean’s eyes are incredulous as he looks over. Clearly skeptical about the proposition, he repeats, “You’re gonna fuck me better.”

“Sex can be—Dean, it can be good. With the right person, it can be fucking fantastic.”

“And the right person would be you.”

The condescension in his brother’s voice is cutting, and Sam’s chest gives a painful wince as he urges, “Let me show you. Please.”

Dean stares at him for a moment longer and then looks away again. Sam is just about ready to get down on his knees and beg if that’s what it will take when his brother says, “Just don’t get disappointed when it doesn’t work.”

Ohthankgod.

“It will,” Sam promises, shoving his own doubts away. “Dean, it will.”

Dean’s expression could be called disbelieving at best, but he agreed. He may only be humoring Sam, but at least he’s willing to give this a shot. Give them a shot. Sam didn’t completely fuck it up.

Something is going on behind his brother’s eyes—some flicker of emotion or thought—and a second later Dean’s lips give a minute twitch. Sam is about to ask what’s wrong when Dean moves, liquid fast, and hauls Sam up against the side of the building. Sam lets out a grunt of surprise and then sucks in a sharp breath as Dean shoves a hand down his pants. He doesn’t push far enough to actually grab Sam’s dick, but the twitch of his brother’s fingers against his lower abdomen is still more than a little distracting.

“Okay, Sammy,” Dean says, scraping his fingernails through the short, wiry hairs leading further south. “Teach me the wonders of gay sex.”

Sam stares at his brother, wide-eyed and disbelieving, as Dean smirks and starts to ease his hand even lower, and then realizes that they’re standing outside in broad daylight and grabs his brother’s wrist. Dean’s smirk widens—no traces of his distress from moments before, only amusement—as Sam pulls his hand out and glances around the thankfully empty parking lot. God, they are so lucky that a couple of nuns weren’t walking by, or a gaggle of preschoolers.

No, scratch that: Dean is lucky.

Because Sam can tell from the smugness of his brother’s grin that Dean’s damaged, fragile core is buried again, leaving him with this other Dean, with his annoying older brother, and while Sam doesn’t love him any less when he’s being a dick, this Dean can be a real pain in the ass.

He did that deliberately, the jerk.

“Aw, what’s wrong, Sammy?” Dean taunts. “Shy? Worried the package won’t hold up to the promise?”

Sam flushes. “You can be a real asshole, you know that?”

“So they tell me,” Dean responds smoothly, stepping back and starting for their rooms again. “Come on, let’s get this over with. Oprah’s on in an hour.”

And just like that, Sam is left winded and sick to his stomach again. He wishes that he could believe that his brother is still fucking with him, but he knows better. Dean has had his joke at Sam’s expense and now he’s moving on with his day and he meant it. He really does see sex with Sam as something to be “gotten over with”. It isn’t as though Sam expected his brother to be excited at the prospect—not yet—but the fact that Dean is regarding it as a chore, as some inane task that has to be completed in the allotted time before his TV show comes on is ... it’s ...

“What?” Dean is back, standing in front of Sam again. Must have realized that Sam wasn’t following him.

Sam looks into his brother’s perplexed face and senses the magnitude of the divide stretching out between them. There are entire oceans between his own understanding of what sex and love are supposed to look like and his brother’s. Sam might as well try to explain what the color red looks like to a blind man.

No, he tells himself. No, it isn’t the same. Dean hasn’t always been like this. He used to know, he just ... he forgot.

Sam is going to remind his brother what it feels like to be worshipped, but he can’t do it in words, which were never Dean’s strong suit anyway. No, this is going to have to be an old fashioned laying on of hands, and it isn’t, Sam realizes suddenly, going to happen in some cheap motel. As though it’s something dirty and low.

Dean deserves better than that.

“Not here,” he says.

“Not here what?” Dean asks. He’s starting to look annoyed.

As Sam finally straightens and steps away from the wall, he answers, “I’m not going to, you know, with you here.”

“What, fuck me?”

Dean’s voice sounds overly loud in the quiet parking lot and Sam can’t help glancing around again to make sure they’re alone. They are, but he still flushes as he says, in a quiet undertone, “Yes, okay? I’m not going to fuck you here.”

Dean’s annoyance fades into consideration as he studies Sam. He looks at Sam like he’s trying to look through him: like he’s trying to peer inside of his head and see what makes him tick. Although really, if that’s what Dean wants to know, then all he has to do is look in a mirror.

Finally, and thankfully with no signs of the puckish humor he was infected with a minute ago, Dean nods and says, “Okay then. Where?”

Oh. Right. Good question.

“Where, uh, seems good to you?” Sam tries.

One corner of Dean’s mouth twitches up. “Oh no. It’s your show, dude, you pick the venue.”

Sam rifles through a series of different possibilities and tosses one location after another out. The problem is that they don’t have a place of their own, nowhere familiar and safe except for Bobby’s and Pastor Jim’s, and the thought of so much as laying a finger on Dean under either of those roofs is—

“I know a place,” he says, blinking. He doesn’t know why he didn’t think of it sooner, actually. It isn’t theirs—Dean has never been within fifty miles of it, as far as Sam knows—but Sam is familiar enough for the both of them. And it’s safe and nice and the closest that Sam can come to a home on such short notice.

“How far?” Dean asks.

“It’s about a three hour drive from here. If we leave now we can be there before it gets dark.”

Dean tilts his head as he considers, and then, frowning, says, “Gee, Sam, I was really looking forward to braiding your hair while we watched Oprah.”

Sam is fairly certain that’s a joke. But he has actually woken up to his brother messing around with his hair before, and Dean is giving him a serious, hopeful look, and he finds the weirdest things amusing, and so Sam isn’t—quite—sure.

Then Dean laughs.

“You’re so fucking easy, Sammy,” he snickers, digging in his pocket. As Sam glares at him, he pulls out the keys to the Impala and tosses them over.

“Get the car warmed up, lamb chop: I’ll be out in five.”

Chapter Text

The cabin belongs to a friend of Becky’s. Sam used to come here on breaks with Becky and Jess and Jack and Jack’s current insignificant other, and when he steps into the small, neat kitchen with its blue checkered curtains, he feels a momentary pang of sorrow. The cabin is chill from the mountain air, and it smells almost overwhelmingly of the lavender patchouli Becky uses to keep the air from going stale when it’s vacant, but none of that stops him from remembering warmer, happier times.

This is where Jess tried to make him pancakes and burnt the first three batches. Where he finally found her when the smell of charred carbohydrates woke him up: scowling at the bowl with her hair a disheveled, frizzy mess. There were dried streaks of batter on her cheeks, and her nose, and it tasted sweet on his tongue, and she was still blushing an hour later when Jack stumbled in scratching his stomach.

This is where she used to stand, half awake and squinting out at the woods while she stumbled her way through her first cup of coffee.

This is where she accidentally sliced off the tip of her pinky while cutting up a watermelon.

This is where he carried her, giggling and dripping from their swim in the lake: where she squirmed until he set her down on the counter and kissed her docile.

This is where they set up the table for poker nights, and Sam didn’t have to concentrate so hard on playing worse than he knew how because the way that Jess always stuck the tip of her tongue out while trying to decide what to do with her cards was distracting enough to keep him at least three hands behind.

And where is she now? Gone. Nothing more than another memory swirling in his head.

Sam thought he was done mourning Jess, and he knows, rationally, that he is. It’s just this place bringing everything back. Just this place sinking into him and leaving ripples behind, like a pebble dropped into a pool.

The door slams as Dean follows him in. “Dude, it reeks in here,” his brother complains, wrinkling his nose as he sets his bag down on the counter.

For a moment, Sam just watches as Dean tests the faucet and starts poking through drawers and cabinets. His brother is inspecting his new surroundings, cautious and distrustful, and it puts Sam in mind of the stray cat he brought home when he was still young enough to think he could get away with it. The cat hadn’t been there long enough to learn to trust when Dad came back and made him get rid of it—it’s feral, Sammy; it’ll be happier on its own—and the diffuse, mourning ache in Sam’s chest sharpens.

This is a mistake, he thinks, and he doesn’t know whether he just means the cabin or whether he means Dean. Trying to fix Dean. To domesticate him.

Then his brother makes a surprised crow of pleasure and pulls something out of a cabinet.

“Dude, Boo Berry!” Dean exclaims, shaking the cereal box and grinning at the ensuing rattle. “I didn’t think they made this anymore.” He looks at Sam, beaming, and Sam takes three thoughtless steps forward (it’s exactly like falling into the sun) and hooks his fingers into Dean’s belt.

Dean blinks, surprised, and then Sam is reeling him in and kissing him. He’s vaguely aware of Dean setting the box of cereal down on the counter but most of his attention is taken up by the way that Dean is already kissing him back. Sam’s already had the revelation that Dean is good at this, but it turns out his brother was holding out on him before. Because the way that he’s nipping and sucking at Sam’s lips and tongue feels light-years better than that earlier kiss.

Sam moans appreciatively and Dean steps forward, turning them and crowding Sam up against the kitchen sink. He’s cupping the nape of Sam’s neck with one hand while the other rests on Sam’s waist, thumb rubbing restlessly along his hipbone. Dean’s mouth is full of rough, filthy promises: his lips are wet and warm and eager.

Yes, Sam thinks, lifting his hands to cradle his brother’s face. Just like this.

He wants to be content with the kiss but his skin feels charged—overheated—and after only a few moments he has to take a hand off of his brother’s face and shove it into Dean’s pants.

Dean isn’t hard.

Oh, his dick fills quickly enough now that Sam has his hand on it, but Dean wasn’t hard at all and that fact snaps Sam back to what he’s supposed to be doing here. Pulling his hand out, he turns his face to the side and hauls in quick lungfulls of cold air.

Dean noses at the side of his face and mouths at his jaw in a skillful mime of passion and Sam shudders.

“Don’t,” he gasps out. “Don’t do that if you don’t mean it.”

Dean stills against him. After a few, wretched moments, he eases back enough so that Sam can see his face. Dean’s lips are still slick and slightly swollen from the kiss, which would make Sam’s stomach flutter if his brother’s eyes weren’t so dead.

“I thought this is what you wanted,” Dean says. His voice is guarded. Reserved.

“I want you to let me make you feel good,” Sam corrects. He’s trying to keep his own voice calmer than he feels right now, but it shakes anyway. “I don’t want you to lie to me, man.”

“You can’t fuck me better without actually fucking me, Sammy,” Dean points out, but he steps back, which helps with the whole thinking thing.

“And I will, but not like this.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Dude, you are one picky date.” After waiting for a couple of seconds to see whether Sam is going to say anything in response (he’s not—too busy thinking that his brother could have used a few more ‘picky dates’ in his life), Dean turns away again to resume his inspection of the kitchen.

“We need milk,” he says after opening the refrigerator. “And beer. Real beer, not this micro crap.”

Sam sighs and rubs his hands over his face. He doesn’t know how Dean can do this—go from having a serious conversation to business as usual at the flip of a card. It’s exhausting.

“If you want to make out a list, there’s a grocery store about a mile down the mountain. I can go—”

“No, I’ll do it,” Dean says, shutting the refrigerator again. The look he shoots Sam’s way is fondly wry. “I love you, man, but you know fuck all about picking decent vegetables.”

Sam’s head is starting to ache from trying to keep up with his brother, but he perks up at that. “You’re cooking?”

Dean hasn’t cooked for him in ... God, he can’t remember how long. Not since before Stanford, anyway.

“Well, I don’t think Dominos delivers up here, and I’m sure as hell not eating your cooking.”

“Can we have chili?”

Dean’s face scrunches in an expression of annoyance that’s clearly feigned. He takes an excessive amount of pride in his food, and why not? The summer he spent learning not to burn everything he touched—the summer before Sam’s first year of elementary school—was frustrating for everyone concerned, but it paid off.

Not that Dean gets to put this particular set of skills to use that often.

“I’m not cooking chili in a kitchen that smells like Grandma Sally’s Funeral Parlor,” Dean announces, but he’s already taking the pad of paper off the front of the fridge and jotting down ingredients.

“I’ll air it out,” Sam promises.

“’S fucking foul,” Dean mutters, leaning on the counter while he writes.

But he hasn’t touched his scar once since they got here, and he’s drumming his fingers on the countertop in an absent baseline and maybe this wasn’t a completely horrible idea after all.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time Dean gets back with the groceries, Sam has finished airing out the place and the lavender scent is all but gone. Dean complains that it isn’t much warmer inside than out now, but he’s already too busy rooting through the bags for the chili peppers to do more than grunt at Sam’s “I put the heat on.”

Cooking always used to put Dean in a good mood, and that hasn’t changed. He hums to himself while he chops and stirs and spends an improbable amount of time fiddling with Becky’s gas stove until he gets the flames where he wants them. Sam sits at the table and watches his brother, but he might as well not be in the room for all the notice Dean takes of him.

Then, unexpectedly, Dean turns and tosses a box of macaroni elbows at him. Sam gets his hands on the box, fumbles it, and then catches it again while Dean turns back to stir the sautéing onions.

“Dean, what—”

“No freeloading, Sammy,” Dean tosses over his shoulder before sprinkling more of something powered and red into the frying pan.

“You. Wait, you actually want me to help?”

“Want, expect, and demand.”

Sam isn’t sure how he feels about this. On the one hand, this seems like a Gesture. Like Dean trying to meet him halfway on a playing field where he feels confident. On the other hand ...

“Last time I tried to help you cook, you almost took my finger off with a carving knife.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t salt a man’s meat unless he tells you to.” Dean casts a smirk back over his shoulder. “Cheer up, Sammy, not even you can fuck up pasta.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Actually, it turns out that, yes, Sam can fuck up pasta. Luckily, Dean thought ahead and bought an extra box. The second time, he keeps an eye on Sam and tells him when to dump everything into the strainer and Sam is relieved to see that the macaroni keep their shape instead of slopping out in a congealed, starchy paste.

Dean’s chili, when it’s done, tastes just as good as Sam remembers, but it’s Dean himself who leaves Sam feeling buoyant again. It’s Dean’s easy smile and the flare of pride in his eyes as Sam eats his way through half of the pot. It’s Dean looking relaxed and happy and more beautiful than ever.

Sam makes a mental note to find more time for this when they get back on the road. It shouldn’t be too difficult to manage. After all, they’ve stayed in places with kitchenettes before. It’s just seemed more convenient to eat take out than to go to the store for ingredients and spices.

Sam offers to take care of the clean up, but Dean waves him off and attacks the mound of dishes in the sink on his own. Becky has a dishwasher, but Dean is ignoring it in favor of scrubbing things out by hand, and Sam wonders if that’s just a symptom of his brother’s disdain for unnecessary luxuries or if there’s something about the act of washing dishes that Dean finds calming.

And Dean looks calm in the clean, white gleam of the overhead light. He’s still smiling, and humming to himself under his breath, and Sam is struck with the dizzying urge to go over there and kiss him.

He could. Dean gave him permission. That’s what they’re here for.

But Sam looks at the happiness in his brother’s face and he’s reluctant to sully the moment. He’s reluctant to sully Dean.

God, he can’t decide if it’s better to do this now, when Dean is relaxed, or if he should wait for his brother’s mood to slip again before making his move. After a few minutes of watching Dean scrub pans, though, Sam gets up.

Because there’s never going to be a good time for this, but if they start when Dean is in a good place mentally, then chances are that he’ll have a better reaction.

Dean jumps a little when Sam reaches around and grasps his wrist. The glance he tosses over his shoulder is slightly annoyed, but unsuspecting. “Make some goddamned noise, would you?” he mutters, and then, shaking his hand to indicate that Sam should let go now, turns back to the sink.

Sam doesn’t let go. Instead, he steps even closer, pressing his body against his brother’s. Dean stills as Sam noses at the curve of his neck. The sound of the water running into the sink should be soothing, but it feels more like a distraction, and so Sam reaches out blindly with his free hand to turn it off.

“The dishes,” Dean starts, but his words cut off on a choked noise as Sam bites down—gently, gently—on the unmarked expanse of his brother’s throat. Dean’s hand flexes: the muscles in his wrist moving against Sam’s hold. Sam bites down long enough to swipe his tongue across his brother’s skin and then lets go.

“The dishes can wait,” he says, stroking the pulse point in his brother’s wrist.

Dean is still for a moment longer and then he says, “Yeah, okay,” and turns around and kisses Sam.

Sam is surprised by how quickly Dean folds, and for a few seconds he lets his brother kiss him. He lets Dean thrust his tongue into his mouth in slutty, hungry twists. Like fucking. It feels good—feels fucking wonderful—but it isn’t what Sam is after right now and so he jerks his head to one side and says, “No.”

Dean’s mood changes with the suddenness of a winter storm. “Goddamn it, Sam!” he snaps, trying to pull away.

Sam tightens his grip and steps to the side, corralling his brother back against the counter.

Glaring, Dean barks, “You either want it or you don’t, but either way quit fucking around with me!”

“I told you,” Sam says, keeping his own voice soft. “Not like that.”

“Not like—that’s the only way I know how to kiss, asshole. I’m sorry if it’s not up to your standards, but—”

Sam leans forward and covers his brother’s mouth with his own before Dean’s words can tear him up any worse inside. Dean wouldn’t understand his explanation anyway. Not without Sam showing his brother exactly what he means.

Dean is pissed enough to be vicious; he lets Sam kiss him, but he also bites down on Sam’s lip hard enough to draw blood. Sam winces but doesn’t pull back and, despite the hungry pulse in his groin, doesn’t rise to the bait.

Instead, he makes his own mouth soft and supple. Dean struggles for control, lashing out like a wild falcon caught in a snare, and Sam yields. Sam lets his brother fuck his tongue against his while rubbing slow, soothing circles into the inside of Dean’s wrist. He lets Dean shove their mouths together hard enough to bruise while tracing tender lines across the inside of his brother’s lips with his tongue and, gradually, Dean’s vehemence falters.

Sam takes advantage of his brother’s hesitation to gentle the kiss further: coaxing with his mouth instead of demanding, worshipping with his tongue instead of coveting. Dean’s pulse is hammering faster than ever against Sam’s grasp, but all the fight has gone out of him. Sam allows himself a few more seconds with Dean’s mouth and then lifts his head.

Dean is staring at Sam like he’s never seen him before. Like Sam is some strange, unknown thing.

Like he’s a threat.

After a moment, he blinks and shakes himself. “I thought you wanted to fuck me,” he says.

Sam lifts his hand and puts his fingertips to his brother’s jaw. Traces them down and over those too-lovely lips, which Dean obediently parts. Sam can tell that his brother expects him to push his fingers inside, but instead he reaches up to brush Dean’s lashes. Dean blinks—tickling flutter against the pads of Sam’s fingers—and Sam skims across the bridge of Dean’s nose and out along his brother’s cheekbone, where he finally tilts his hand and lays it flat against the side of his brother’s face.

He doesn’t touch the scar. Doesn’t want to remind Dean that it’s there.

“No,” he says finally. “Not tonight.”

This time, when Sam leans in, Dean’s lips tremble against his. His brother’s mouth is pliant as Sam eases his tongue inside. Soft. Sam’s lip stings where Dean bit it, and the tang of copper is almost overwhelming, but that’s okay. After all, Dean has bled for him hundreds of times. Sam can bleed for his brother this once.

He eases back long enough to take a breath—long enough to draw his brother’s shaky exhale into his own lungs. Dean’s eyes are still wide and confused: his lips parted and wet and smeared faintly with Sam’s blood.

“God, you’re beautiful,” Sam whispers, and then kisses him again.

Dean turns his head a little—not trying to get away, just denying the validity of Sam’s words—and Sam takes the opportunity to shift his attention to his brother’s throat. Dean’s skin jumps beneath his lips and tongue: at once fragile and rough with stubble.

“Sam,” Dean breathes. As Sam finds his brother’s pulse and bites down delicately, Dean’s free hand flies up to fasten on his biceps, thumb digging in deep. The choked gasp he makes sends shivers through Sam’s chest and he sucks harder, until he can’t taste the blood from his lip anymore—until he can’t taste anything but his brother’s skin.

Dean’s wrist is shaking in his grasp, and Sam releases him finally in order to reach around his brother’s body. As he cups Dean’s ass and pulls their groins together, Dean lets out a moan and shudders. The hardening bulge pressing against Sam’s cock tells him that Dean’s body is responding just fine to what he’s doing, and he lifts his head to gauge his brother’s emotional state.

Dean’s eyes are closed. His mouth hangs open in a pant: his head is tilted back. He’s flushed. Sinful.

“Look at me,” Sam says, sweeping his thumb over his brother’s cheek. “C’mon, Dean, open your eyes and look at me.”

When Dean still doesn’t respond, Sam tightens his grip on his brother’s ass and pulls him in again, grinding their cocks together through layers of denim. Dean’s eyes flicker open on a moan. His pupils are blown, green irises down to thin, luminous rings. He looks drugged or maybe drunk, but not frightened. When Sam shifts his hand down over his brother’s throat in a gentle caress, Dean tilts into the touch hungrily.

“You like that?” Sam asks, and rubs his thumb against the faint, spit-slicked mark he left over his brother’s pulse.

Dean blinks rapidly, clearly fighting to focus. The way that Sam keeps dragging his brother’s groin against his in little pulses probably isn’t helping, but Sam can’t seem to stop.

Finally, Dean manages, “I t-told you, S-Sam. ’S about as in-interesting as r-reading a fuh-fucking grocery list.”

For a moment, Sam is certain that his brother is lying. Dean’s all but writhing against him, after all. If Sam had his brother’s pants off, he’d be leaking precome all over the place. As it is, Dean’s body is starting to move without Sam’s urging: thrusting against him in needy pumps.

But Dean’s too out of it to be lying. Too dazed. He honest to God doesn’t feel what Sam is doing to him. He doesn’t feel himself coming apart in fits and shuddering starts. Doesn’t feel the arousal stiffening his cock and quickening his pulse. Dean’s body is responsive—amazingly so—but there’s a roadblock between his nerve endings and his brain and any actual acknowledgement of pleasure is getting stuck there.

So many times over the past few months, Sam has thought that he understood what was wrong with his brother. He thought he understood just how hurt Dean is—how far the damage goes. And each time he’s had to adjust, that perception has left him thinking, this is it. Now I know. I get it.

But he didn’t get it, not at all. He hasn’t even come close to understanding until this moment, with Dean’s body thrusting helplessly against him and his head completely disengaged. Dean told him over and over, but Sam didn’t know what it looked like, didn’t know how it would feel. It’s not that Dean is bored: he isn’t there. It’s as though his soul somehow slipped out of his body and left Sam holding nothing more than a responsive sack of meat.

Sam can’t step back quickly enough.

Dean thrusts against the air twice more and then clamps his hands on the edge of the counter and stops. He’s still shuddering, and breathing in shallow pants, and he should be pissed at Sam for blue balling him. He should be swearing and shoving his hand down his pants to finish himself off. Instead he just leans there with his dick an obvious bulge in his jeans and looks at Sam. There’s no anger in his eyes. No arousal. Nothing.

“I warned you,” he says.

It’s getting difficult for Sam to breathe around the painful lump in his throat, and the nausea in his gut is only growing, and finally he can’t take it anymore. Turning, he sprints into the bathroom and leans over the toilet and waits for Dean’s chili to come back up. Although his stomach rumbles and shifts alarmingly, though, nothing more than a bubble of gas emerges from his throat and suddenly Sam is clinging to toilet seat and weeping into the bowl.

He can’t do this. He can’t help Dean, he can’t.

Sam cries until his eyes feel swollen and his head aches and then slowly pushes himself to his feet. The scabbed over cut on his lip breaks open as he rinses off his face and he dabs at with a piece of toilet tissue until it stops. Then, reluctantly, he goes back into the kitchen.

Dean has finished the dishes and is sitting at the table nursing a beer. When he sees Sam come in, he puts the bottle down and leans back in his chair. His thumb is fiddling with the label on his beer bottle and not with his scar, but it’s the scar that Sam looks at. It’s the scar that shifts the weeping, defeated throb in his chest back into anger.

No, he thinks. Fuck you, you don’t get to have him.

So his first try failed. So what? That’s what Sam gets for going in unprepared: for being so desperate for a quick fix that he never even bothered trying to figure out what was wrong with Dean in the first place. It’s a rookie mistake, one that could have gotten him killed on a hunt, but which he can easily remedy with a computer and the Internet jack in the master bedroom.

“I’m not giving up on you,” he says. “We’re going to fix this.”

Dean’s lips quirk humorlessly. “Ever the optimist, huh, Sammy?”

It isn’t optimism, though. It’s just a statement of truth. And Sam likes the way it sounds, so he says it again, more resolutely.

“We’re going to fix this, Dean.”

Dean regards him for a moment and then, unsmiling, takes a slow pull on his beer.

Sam goes out to the Impala to get his laptop.

Chapter Text

It’s called dissociative disorder.

Sam’s pretty sure that’s what Dean has, anyway. He spends hours on the cabin’s snail-paced Internet after Dean goes to bed that night and it’s the closest thing to an answer that he can come up with. Unfortunately, if it is dissociative disorder, then all the literature advises the same thing.

Professional therapy.

As if Dean is going to agree to that without someone holding a gun to his head.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“No way. Absolutely not.” Dean says it before Sam has said more than ‘psychia-’. He doesn’t even bother looking up from his cereal.

“Dean, you said you’d let me try.”

“Yeah, you, Sam,” Dean answers as he pokes around in his bowl with a spoon. “Not some fucking shrink-job like Ellicott. Christ.”

“That’s not fair, man—”

“Tough shit, dude. Life’s not fucking fair, deal with it. I know I have.”

The bitter ache in Sam’s chest sharpens into anger. “You’re not dealing with it, Dean,” he points out, pushing away from the counter. “That’s what dissociative disorder means.”

Dean finally glances up at him. “Just because you found a bunch of fancy words on the Internet doesn’t mean I’ve got disatopia—”

“Dissociative.”

“—disorder.”

Sam can feel himself jutting his lower jaw out, which Dean always says makes him look like an orangutan with indigestion, but he could give a crap about his appearance right now. “When I touch you,” he says, “How does it make you feel?”

“Like fizzy champagne,” Dean deadpans. “Bells go off when you take me in you arms, Sammy. Oh, the magic.” Then, leaning forward, he shovels another spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

“I’m serious, Dean,” Sam snaps, but his brother just continues chewing and enough is fucking enough. Striding over to the table, Sam reaches out and grabs his brother’s bowl.

“Dude!” Dean protests, making a grab for it.

Sam evades him easily—Dean’s reflexes are a little slow first thing in the morning—and carries the bowl over to the sink. “You’ll get it back when you answer me.”

Glaring, Dean says, “Fine. I don’t know how it feels, okay? Now give me back my Boo Berries.”

Sam nods grimly and sets the bowl of cereal down on the counter. He wasn’t really expecting any other answer from his brother—Dean has almost no self-awareness when it comes to his emotions—but he figured he’d give it a shot before taking drastic measures. His stomach moves uncertainly at the thought of what ‘drastic measures’ actually means in this instance, but he steels himself and says, “Come here.”

“What? No. I want my goddamned cereal, Sam.”

“Come over here and get it,” Sam challenges.

Dean’s chair scrapes against the tiles as he shoves it back and stands up. Sam watches his brother come closer, so predictable, and then feints to the right. Dean, who was expecting him to do something of the sort, cuts left and runs into Sam’s chest as he corrects from his feint. Before Dean can regain his balance, Sam pushes him backward. There’s a brief struggle where they’re both trying to establish a hold on one another and then Dean’s back collides with the wall and he lets out a surprised grunt. Taking advantage of his brother’s momentary distraction, Sam catches Dean’s wrists and pins them to the wall.

Dean fights the hold, but Sam is more determined to keep him there than he is to get away. After a few minutes of struggling, Dean seems to realize that he isn’t going anywhere and slumps into the hold. His pulse is racing just as much as Sam’s and they’re both breathing hard, but Sam is pretty sure that he’s the only one with a hard on.

“Okay,” Dean says. “Okay, you got me here. Now what?”

In answer, Sam transfers both of his brother’s wrists to his left hand and reaches down inside Dean’s boxers with his right. Dean stiffens minutely and then relaxes. His mouth quirks into a slight, humoring smile. That smile feels like the goad it’s meant as, but Sam does his best to ignore the challenge as he wraps his hand around his brother’s cock.

After the way last night went, he thought that touching Dean like this would make him ill, but the trembling excitement inside Sam’s stomach is as strong as ever. Loosening his hold on his brother’s wrists, he starts to jack Dean’s cock—strokes firm and smooth, the way he likes it himself—and after a couple of seconds feels it start to fill.

“You feel that?” he asks. He means to sound clinical, but he can’t quite keep the arousal from husking his voice.

Dean’s response, on the other hand, is flat and colorless. “Your hand’s on my dick. That’s kinda hard to miss.”

“So describe it for me,” Sam pushes, and rubs his thumb against the sensitive head of his brother’s cock on the down stroke. From the way Dean’s breath hitches, he seems to like that particular maneuver just as much as Sam does. His brother’s eyes have started to glaze—everything Dean in them has started to drift away—and Sam says his brother’s name sharply.

Dean.”

Dean blinks, clearly struggling to focus.

“Describe it for me,” Sam repeats.

“You’re jerking me off,” Dean mutters and then, when Sam continues to watch him expectantly, adds, “What? It’s a fucking hand job, dude: what do you want me to say?”

“I want you to tell me how it feels. In here.” Releasing his brother’s wrists, Sam rests his hand against Dean’s chest. It’s odd, watching the blankness in his brother’s eyes war with unease.

“Tell me.”

“I-I don’t know, okay? I can.” Dean’s breath hitches as Sam switches up the stroke on his cock. His hips roll: encouraging. God, Sam wants to fuck him. “’S like floating,” Dean finally manages. “Like I’m. I’m here, but I’m not—I’m not here. I can—I can feel you, feel your hand, but I c-can’t—S-Sam.”

The emptiness in his brother’s eyes fills unexpectedly and abruptly.

No!” Dean yells, dropping his hands to shove Sam away. Luckily, the signal Sam’s brain sends to his hand to let go gets through all right and he manages to avoid wrenching his brother’s dick. From the look of things, though, Dean wouldn’t have cared anyway. Not so long as Sam stopped touching him. He’s shaking—pacing with jagged movements and cradling his head in his hands.

“Fuck,” he mutters. “Fuck fuck fuck.”

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not fucking okay,” Dean spits. “What the fuck kind of question is that?” But he looks a little calmer now that Sam gave him something concrete to be upset with. He stops pacing, leaning on the wall with his left hand and rubbing his temple with his right. Rubbing that hooked scar.

Sam gives his brother a minute and then, fighting to keep his voice steady, he says, “It’s called depersonalization. It’s a type of dissociation disorder. It’s treatable, Dean. With therapy and medication, you can—”

“Medication?” Dean laughs hollowly, glancing over at Sam without ceasing the worrying motion of his fingers. “Why don’t you just commit me and get it over with?”

“Taking medication doesn’t mean—”

No, Sam!” Dean breaks in harshly. Then he catches himself, takes a deep breath, and straightens. “No,” he says again. His voice is calmer, but his tone just as firm. “The equipment works, you can use it if you want, let’s just leave it at that.”

“I can’t just use you, Dean!” Sam shouts. Christ, Dean can’t honestly expect Sam to be able to do something like that, can he? Sam gives his own temple a quick push. It’s starting to ache in sympathy from all of the rubbing Dean is giving his own.

Then Dean blinks over at Sam, confusion clear in every line of his face, and asks, “Why not?”

Sam’s chest constricts as he looks into his brother’s puzzled eyes. His ribs, pulled close by grey bands of desolation, press painfully against his lungs. Anger throbs through his skull, alternating with waves of shocked disbelief, and tears burn behind his eyes. It takes him a moment to sort through all that before he can even begin to figure out how to get his voice working again.

Then, finally, he shouts, “Because I love you, damn it!” He’s crying suddenly, and Dean still hasn’t lowered his hand but he’s starting to look more alarmed than pained. “Because you’re worth more than that, and you don’t even—you—you’re everything, and you don’t—”

He flinches at the brush of his brother’s hand on his shoulder. Didn’t see Dean’s approach through the hot flood of tears. Dean’s hand lifts slightly at the flinch, but it returns again, steadier—a solid, grounding weight. Dean is touching him—Dean is comforting him when Sam should be the one who ... he should be ...

“Hey,” Dean says. “Sammy, hey. Don’t, man. Don’t, okay?”

Sam wonders, suddenly, whether Dean is gripping his shoulder with his left hand, or with his right, and a mindless wave of revulsion washes through him. He doesn’t want his brother touching him with the same hand he was just using to massage his temple. Not with the same hand he was just using to rub at that goddamned scar.

Shoving his brother away, he chokes out, “You said you’d try. Fuck you, Dean, you said you’d try.”

“Sammy,” Dean says, and through the near-blinding wash of tears, Sam can see him reaching again.

So he does what he does best.

He runs.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It takes him a couple of hours to get himself under control—to bottle all the rage and the sorrow and the futile, frustrated despair back up—and when he returns to cabin, Dean is dressed and waiting for him outside on the steps. Sam regards his brother for a moment and then walks up and sits down next to him. Their shoulders rub together and Sam half expects Dean to pull away but he doesn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Sam says eventually. “I was an asshole.”

“That’s okay, I’m used to it.” There isn’t any actual inflection in Dean’s words, but he bumps Sam’s shoulder as he says them and Sam knows that he’s forgiven. His eyes sting and he stares across the front walk at the forest, blinking rapidly until the crisis is averted.

Then he clears his throat and starts, “I don’t know what to—”

“I’ll see the shrink, but I’m not taking any drugs.”

The unexpected compromise sends a pulse through Sam’s chest. He shuts his eyes, which are burning again, and leans into his brother’s warmth. “Thank you,” he whispers.

Dean is quiet for a moment and then, with a hint of a smile in his voice, he says, “Yeah, well, I don’t want to have to deal with your whining. Figure Mr. Feelgood’s gotta be less of a pain in my ass.”

Sam surprises himself by letting out a weak laugh. “Jerk.”

“Bitch.” There’s a pause, and then Dean stretches and stands up. “Come on, man, I’ll make you breakfast.”

Sam hesitates, reluctant to ruin their tentative peace with nothing more than a vague, groundless suspicion, and then says, “Dean.”

“Yeah?”

“How did you get that scar?”

“What scar?” Dean sounds honestly bewildered by the question, and when Sam twists around and looks up, the confusion in his brother’s voice is mirrored on his face.

“The one on your forehead.”

“Oh.” Dean blinks. “I told you, dude. Poltergeist. Fucker tossed a clock at me and I didn’t duck in time.”

Sam’s stomach twists. “Oh. Yeah, I remember now.”

Dean gives him a smile. “So, you want pancakes or eggs and bacon?”

“You pick,” Sam tells him. He hopes that his own smile looks as genuine as his brother’s. That it isn’t full of the foreboding that’s pulsing through him with every beat of his heart.

“Okay, pancakes it is,” Dean says, prodding Sam with his foot. “Up and at ‘em, Sammy. I’m gonna let you measure the flour.”

“Just, uh. I just need a minute, okay?”

Dean peers at him for a moment and then nods. Sam can tell from his brother’s slight frown that Dean knows something is wrong, but isn’t going to call him on it. He’s going to trust that Sam knows what he needs.

Sam waits until his brother disappears inside and then stares out at the forest, unsmiling. Dean’s voice echoes in his ears.

I told you, dude: poltergeist. Fucker tossed a clock at me and I didn’t duck in time.

Only that isn’t what Dean said when Sam asked him about the scar in Hibbing. That isn’t what he said at all.

Sam sits on the steps and stares at the dark line of trees and wonders what happened to his brother. He wonders why Dean won’t tell him. And he prays that that’s all it is: Dean refusing to tell him.

Because he can’t even begin to guess what it would mean if Dean can’t.

Chapter Text

To Dean’s credit, he makes it almost all the way through the introductory session Sam manages to set up with a local psychiatrist before striding out with a scowl on his face. He’s shaking his right hand as he goes, and as Sam stands up his heart sinks … and keeps dropping as Dr. Richards-Call-Me-Steve appears in the doorway. The man has a rag pressed to his nose and there’s blood dripping down onto his shirt.

“Michelle!” Dr. Steve shouts. “Michelle, I neeb a ribe to da hosbidal.”

“Fucking pussy,” Dean mutters, grabbing Sam’s sleeve and dragging him along.

Sam doesn’t bring up therapy again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It takes Sam three days to read everything the local library has on dissociative disorder. The research would have gone by more quickly if Dean hadn’t kept getting underfoot—pelting Sam with bunched up pieces of paper, or blaring the latest episode of C.S.I. (bunch of fucking hacks), or reading out gruesome headlines from the online newspapers they subscribe to. Dean is a distraction even when he’s being good, actually: sitting cross-legged on the couch with grease smeared on his cheek and hands while his fingers slide over guns and knives with fluid, pornographic movements. It’s difficult to concentrate on ‘cognitive therapy’ and ‘macropsia’ while Dean is doing that—worse when his brother really focuses on the weapons and starts chewing on his lower lip.

Then there are all of the moments when Dean grimaces and momentarily presses a hand to his temple, which is distracting in an entirely different way.

Finally, Sam resorts to reading at night. He waits until Dean falls asleep in the bed next to him and then he gets up and goes back out to the living room to research. Midway through the fourth book, Sam gets fed up with trying to translate all of the jargon and calls up his old Psych professor, Jeffrey Radison.

It’s three fifteen in the morning, but Radison always claimed he was a night owl and any guilt Sam feels about calling vanishes when the man spends almost thirty minutes playing an awkward game of catch up before he bothers asking why Sam called. Radison answers all of his questions with clear, simple words and even adds several opinions of his own, once Sam has provided the bare bones of the situation.

When he hangs up the phone at five thirty, Sam isn’t sure whether he feels better or worse about Dean’s chances. Everything Radison told him indicates that medication and professional therapy are the most reliable treatments, and neither of those is actually an option. Oh, Dean might agree to go to another psychiatrist’s office after Sam bullies him for about a month, but after what happened last time Sam is certain that his brother would spend the session fucking with the psychiatrist’s head instead of trying to straighten out his own.

On the other hand, Radison also told Sam that some sufferers of dissociative disorder have had good results with alternative treatments. A couple of months ago—hell, a couple of days ago—Sam would have scoffed at some of the methods his old professor listed, but these last few days with Dean have lowered his standards a little.

Which is how Sam finds himself palming a crystal on the end of a short chain and calling his brother into the living room.

“What?” Dean says when he appears in the doorway. There’s grease on his fingers, which means that he’s been at the guns again. Dean has been getting restless just sitting here—increasingly so as the days pass—but Sam isn’t ready to leave. Not until they’ve at least figured out a plan of attack.

“I need you to sit down for a minute,” he says, nodding at the couch.

Dean gives him a skeptical look. “Why?”

“I want to try something.”

Dean raises one eyebrow and doesn’t move.

Sighing, Sam explains, “I want to try hypnotizing you. If we can get you to face the trauma directly, you might be able to start coping with it without having to resort to drastic measures.”

“There wasn’t any ‘trauma’,” Dean says. He actually uses air quotes.

Sam’s too tense to argue with his brother, and anyway it wouldn’t do any good, so all he says is, “Dean.”

“Whatever,” Dean mutters, but he finally walks over to the couch and drops down into a lazy sprawl. He watches Sam pull over a chair of his own and then asks, “By ‘drastic measures’ you mean the dissociation thing, right?”

Well, that and Dean’s infuriating, sickening fascination with the scar on his temple, yeah.

But Sam only says, “Right,” and holds up his hand. When he lets the crystal slip out of his palm, it swings idly at the end of the chain twined around his forefinger. “Okay, just watch the crystal.”

“Am I getting sleeeeepy?” Dean asks, smirking.

Sam frowns. “This isn’t going to work if you don’t take it seriously, Dean.”

“Oh, I’m totally serious. Go ahead, Sammy. Make me cluck like a chicken.”

Sam’s already on edge from days of research, and from resisting the near-constant urge to kiss Dean stupid, and from having to watch his brother continually rub at his goddamn temple, and so he snaps, “Stop fucking around and concentrate.”

Dean isn’t fazed at all by the frustration in Sam’s voice. “Oh, come on, man,” he scoffs. “You remember what Dad told us about hypnotism. It’s just a scam.”

Because the sun rises and sets out of Dad’s ass, of course.

Swallowing the irrational surge of anger he feels whenever Dean brings their father up, Sam says, “I saw a hypnotist at Stanford, Dean. He didn’t look like a con artist to me.”

“Wow, that’s a rousing endorsement, Sammy,” Dean responds lazily. “Did he make you cluck like a chicken?”

“No, but he made Jack bleed from one side of his hand and not the other.”

Dean snorts. “So what? That’s just mind over matter crap.”

“What the hell do you think hypnotism is, Dean?” Sam demands, exasperated, and then, before his brother can say anything else, continues, “Look, just. Just try it, okay? If it doesn’t work, you can make fun of me all you want.”

“Oh, I’ll do that anyway.”

“Are you going to let me do this or not?”

Dean leans toward Sam at the question, grin turning sharkish. “Tell you what, Sammy. I play along with you now, and when it doesn’t work you can admit that this whole crusade to ‘fix me’ is a massive waste of time and we can get back to hunting. You know, our job? What we’re supposed to be doing?”

Sam isn’t ever going to call his quest to help Dean a waste of time. He’s never going to stop trying either. But Dean doesn’t have to know that.

“Okay, deal.”

Dean looks at Sam for a minute longer, assessing, and apparently Sam’s nerves hide the fact that he’s lying through his teeth because Dean finally nods and sits back with his mouth set in a serious line. “Okay, dude: fire away.”

Sam runs a nervous finger over the crystal. Now that Dean is cooperating, his heart is pounding in his chest and he’s reluctant to start. He’s reluctant to start because he’s suddenly terrified that it isn’t going to work.

Sam has all the faith in the world in hypnotism as a valid practice, but he also knows that there are people out there who, for whatever reason, just can’t be hypnotized. It’d be just like Dean to turn out to be one of the difficult ones.

“Sometime today, Sammy,” Dean prods.

Biting the inside of his cheek, Sam raises the crystal again and sets it spinning. Then, in a soft, even voice, he says, “You’re going to listen to my voice, and just my voice. You will hear my voice and nothing else.”

Dean’s mouth twitches, but to his credit he doesn’t take his eyes off the crystal and he doesn’t laugh.

“I’m going to count backwards from ten, and when I reach one you’re going to be in a deep sleep. Ten ... nine ... eight ... seven ... six ... five ... four ... three … two … one.”

Dean’s expression doesn’t change.

“Dean?” Sam tries softly.

Dean doesn’t respond.

“Dean, can you hear my voice?”

“Yeah.” The word is elongated—sloppy—and Sam realizes that his brother isn’t smiling anymore.

“Are you asleep?” he breathes.

“Deep down,” Dean mumbles. “Yes.”

Holy shit, it actually worked.

For a couple of minutes, Sam just sits there staring at his brother. As he looks into Dean’s vacant, sleeping eyes, he finds himself breaking out into a cold sweat, realizing he wasn’t expecting this to work—not at all, and certainly not this fast. He expected to have to fight Dean every step of the way, maybe ply him with alcohol to get him relaxed enough to succumb. But despite his bluster, Dean went under like it was nothing, like this is something he does all the time.

Which maybe isn’t all that far from the truth.

After all, how many times when they were growing up did Sam run beside his brother on a morning jog and, casting his eyes to the side, wonder if Dean was even awake? How many times has he seen Dean going through the self-defense techniques Caleb and their father taught them, moving from one to another without the slightest flicker of self-awareness in his eyes? How many disastrous hunts has he had to call his brother’s name more than once to get Dean’s eyes to focus—to pull Dean free from the barricades he erects between his waking mind and the pain of injury?

Sam always thought that was his brother operating on instinct, and maybe it was to some extent, but maybe it was also a little of this: the deliberate, trained shut down of Dean’s rational mind.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Dean would go this easily for a professional. There has to be a layer of trust for hypnotism to work, and Sam thinks that there are only two men in the world who would qualify. The evidence of Dean’s trust—of his faith—jars Sam and leaves his fingertips trembling, sending the crystal spinning again.

Then he wets his lips and says, “Dean, I want you to open your eyes.”

“They are open.”

“No, I want you to open the eyes inside your mind.”

“Oh,” Dean says, and pauses. “Okay.”

“Are they open?”

“Yes.”

Sam stops the crystal, which he doesn’t actually need anymore, and leans over to put it on the floor. His fingers still feel weak as he straightens, but at least they aren’t trembling anymore.

“Tell me what you see.”

“Dark. It’s dark here, Sammy.” Dean sounds younger all of a sudden: eerily so.

Sam is starting to wish that he had paid more attention to the warnings in the articles he read online. Or maybe brought in a professional, if he could have found a way to get Dean relaxed enough. Maybe he should phone Radison and ask for some advice on how to proceed because he’s mucking around with his brother’s subconscious here and he has no idea what he’s doing.

What if he hurts Dean? Oh God, what if he fucks his brother up even worse trying to fix him? What if—

“Sammy?”

Clearing his throat, Sam says, “Yeah, man: I’m right here.”

“I’m scared.”

Dean doesn’t look scared—eyes blank and mouth slack—but there’s fear in his voice, all right, enough to make Sam’s chest twist anxiously. He wishes that he could risk reaching out and offering his brother a little physical comfort, but he isn’t familiar enough with the mechanics of hypnotism to know what that would do to Dean. The hypnotist at Stanford had no trouble touching the people he put under, but he was also an expert. Better for Sam not to take the chance. Words are a weak second best, especially with Dean, but they’re all he has.

“You don’t need to be scared,” Sam says. “Nothing’s going to hurt you. You’re safe.”

“There’re things in the dark. Dad says so.”

Sam’s mouth floods with the taste of bitter resentment. If he manages to get Dean through this okay, then he’s thinking about leaving behind a post-hypnotic suggestion telling Dean to open his eyes and take a good, long look at the man he’s wasting his hero worship on. He wouldn’t have to do more than that. Dean is smart enough to figure out the rest.

“They can’t get you, Dean,” he says now, fighting to keep the anger out of his voice—to keep his words soft and reassuring.

“I know,” Dean agrees. “I can kill them. Dad taught me.”

“Stop talking about Dad!” Sam snaps.

“Okay.”

Just that and nothing more, but Sam’s arms break out into goose bumps. They say you can’t make people do anything they don’t want to do when they’re hypnotized, but Sam is well aware of just how unfairly Dean’s subconscious scales are tilted when it comes to Dean’s own desires and what he thinks Sam wants from him. Visions of his brother coming out of this and then trying to say Dad’s name and being unable flash through Sam’s head and then lodge in his throat, where they clump together and make it difficult to breathe.

Oh shit. Oh shit what did he just do?

“I didn’t mean it,” he says quickly. “You can talk about Dad if you want to. Dean?”

“Okay.”

Sam shuts his eyes and runs a shaking hand through his hair. Jesus Christ, he can’t do this. He can’t keep fumbling around in his brother’s head like this. He opens his eyes, ready to bring Dean back out of it, and finds himself staring at the tiny, hooked scar on his brother’s forehead. His jaw firms.

“Dean, why are you scared?”

“Because I can’t see you. If I can’t see you, I can’t protect you.” Dean’s brow wrinkles minutely. “You shouldn’t be in the dark with me, Sammy. It’s not safe if I can’t see you.”

Sam wants to tell his brother that it’s okay, that he doesn’t have to protect Sam anymore, that Sam can take care of himself, and then he remembers that flash of panic he felt when he yelled at Dean about Dad and the words stick in his throat. After a few moments of struggling with himself, he realizes that even if he knew how to give the command safely, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it because, as painful as it is, he doesn’t have the right to take Dean’s guardianship away from him.

Clearing his throat, Sam presses on and says, “Then don’t stay in the dark, Dean. Come toward me. Follow my voice. It’s light here. There sun’s shining. You’re standing in a field. Do you see it?”

“Nebraska.”

Sam didn’t mean to focus his brother’s mind anywhere in particular, but he realizes instantly that that’s what happened. He casts his own mind back through his memories, looking for the one Dean just stumbled into, and has to ask, “Can you tell me anything else about where you are? What you see?”

“Blue sky. Autumn. There’s a field. I’m wearing a plaid shirt. Red. You’re with me, and Dad, and Bobby.” His lips ease up into something Sam almost wants to call a smile, and he relaxes a little. At least this is a good memory, whenever it is.

“We’re hunting,” Dean adds.

Sam is still clueless, so he asks, “What are we hunting, Dean?”

“Deer.”

That brings everything into sharp focus. Sam remembers that day. Remembers how disgusted he was with the prospect of killing a harmless animal. And how excited Dean was. Sam sulked the whole drive to the woods while Dean leaned up to the front of the car, asking a thousand questions of Dad and Bobby.

“I’m going to get one,” Dean says into the silence of Sam’s memory. “Clean kill. Bobby’s going to show me how to gut it.” His expression clouds. “I don’t know where you went. You were here, but now you’re not. Dad’s gone too. Where are you? Sam? Sammy?”

Yes, Sam remembers that too. Remembers not being able to hold the sickness in anymore and running off to the tree line to puke because he didn’t want Dean to think he was a baby. He remembers Dad finding him, and hunkering down next to him, and explaining the difference between hunting for sport and hunting for food. He remembers how much sense Dad’s explanation made in the trees, and how little sense it made when Sam helped carry the empty, flopping bulk of the deer’s body back to the car.

He wasn’t able to eat a single bite of the venison steaks Bobby cooked that night.

“Sammy?” Dean says again, sounding not just concerned but frightened.

“I’m coming back, Dean,” Sam says quickly. “Dad and me, we’re both coming back. I’m going to help you carry the deer back to the car.”

“Oh,” Dean says. The furrow of tension across his forehead eases. “Yeah, I see you. Where’d you go?”

To puke my guts up behind a tree. But that information isn’t going to make Dean feel any better, and Sam has wandered far enough off the reservation already, so he ignores the question and says, “I want you to come forward in time, Dean. You’re twenty-three. Dad’s hurt. He needs rehab on his leg. You just lost one of your jobs and you need money.”

“I’m in Vegas.”

“Yes.”

Dean frowns. “I don’t like it here. I want to go back to Nebraska.”

“No,” Sam says in an effort to head his brother off at the pass. “I need you here, okay? Sam needs you here.”

“Sammy’s gone. He left.” There’s no accusation in the words, although it might have made Sam feel better if there were.

I came back, Dean, he thinks, but of course this Dean doesn’t know that. This Dean is alone, and scared, and about to make the stupidest decision in his life.

God, they haven’t even really started yet and Sam is already a heartbeat from crying.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he clears his throat and says, “Ah, you’re at the poker table. There’s a man there. I don’t know his name, but he’s a producer.”

“Felix like the cat,” Dean says promptly. “He thinks I move like a cat. I saw his wallet. He’s loaded. I could lift it if I wanted to, take his money. He’s too busy looking at me to notice.”

Sam thinks about the kind of cash a porn producer could conceivably be walking around with and knows that it’s more than Dean ever could have made on that movie. It’s more than enough to have gotten them through the rest of Dad’s rehab. If Dean had just lifted the guy’s wallet, then he’d be fine right now.

“Why don’t you?” Sam asks. It comes out like an accusation, but of course Dean isn’t aware enough to catch that kind of nuance.

“Too many cameras,” he answers placidly. “And the dealer’s watching. Cops’d be on me before I cleared the front door.”

Of course. “What happens next?”

“Felix gives me his card,” Dean says. Then, eerily, his voice changes: lightens into something smarmy, like a good salesman giving a pitch. “I’m in film—adult entertainment, just so we don’t have any misunderstandings here. You ever want to make some good, quick cash, you call that number there and we’ll set something up.”

Sam has to swallow to wet his throat and then he says, “You call the number.”

“Not yet,” Dean corrects. He’s using his own voice again, thank God. “First I check around, make sure they’re legit.”

“But then you call.”

“Yeah.”

Sam already knows as much as he wants to about the hiring process, so he skips over it by saying, “They offered you a part.”

“It’s gay, but I figured it would be. I don’t mind. It’s just sex. Couple of hours and we’re all set.”

It shouldn’t be possible to lie while you’re hypnotized, but that sounds like a lie to Sam. Frowning, he asks, “It doesn’t bother you at all?”

“No.”

“No it doesn’t or no it does?”

“No it does.”

“You just said you didn’t mind,” Sam points out.

Only Dean could possibly manage to be this annoying when he’s unconscious.

There’s a pause while Dean thinks it over and then he clarifies, “I don’t think I mind but I do. I’m not letting myself think about it. Doesn’t matter if I’m nervous. Dad needs the money.” He pauses for a second and then says, “I can talk about Dad, right?”

Fuck fuckity fuck. Why the hell has Dean, who is so stubborn when he’s awake, decided to be so damned accommodating when he’s asleep? Why couldn’t he just keep being a contrary son of a bitch?

“Yeah, Dean,” Sam says aloud. “You can talk about Dad whenever you want, okay?”

“Okay,” Dean agrees.

There’s a part of Sam—a small but very vocal part—that wants to stop the conversation here and tell Dean to wake up again. Any further into this story and neither of them is going to like what they hear. Then again, that’s the point to this little exercise, isn’t it? To make Dean face up to what happened?

“What happens when you go to the studio?” Sam asks after a few minutes.

“A girl meets me downstairs. Make-up. She says I have a great mouth.”

Sam frowns. I’ll bet she does, he thinks darkly.

“She takes me upstairs and gives me the script to read while she works,” Dean says, and then stops.

After almost a minute of waiting for his brother to start up again, Sam prods, “Then what?”

“I can’t—I c-can’t—” Dean’s breath is coming faster, and Sam has seen fear often enough to recognize the emotion when he sees it, even when it’s watered down like it is now.

He leans forward and says, “It’s okay, Dean; you’re safe. You’re not there anymore, okay? No one can touch you. But I need you to tell me what happened. I need you to remember how you felt.”

Either Dean didn’t hear Sam telling him that he isn’t actually at the studio or Sam’s demand that his brother remember how he felt is negating that information because when Dean speaks again, he’s still using the present tense. Sam thinks about correcting him, but Dean looks calm again, and he’s talking, so Sam keeps his mouth shut and listens.

“We shoot the blowjob first. Guy’s cock is big and I don’t like the way it tastes. He’s holding my head and shoving it down my throat. My jaw hurts and I’m having trouble breathing but I can’t remember how to make him stop. He does, though, I think because maybe I was crying? No, not crying. My eyes are watering because I’m allergic to the makeup.”

That’s a load of crap if Sam ever heard one, but he presses his lips together and doesn’t interrupt.

“Keith asks if I need a break. They’re all looking at me, the crew, and I can tell they’re thinking that it’s amateur hour. Pisses me off. Don’t tell me how to suck cock. These lips were made for sucking cock, baby.”

Sam isn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. He can’t tell if that last bit was Dean-as-narrator or Dean-in-the-moment. Doesn’t know which scenario he finds more horrifying.

“I’m ready when we try again,” Dean is continuing. “I’m a fast learner. I do better this time. I can tell I’m doing better because this time when I gag on it he keeps going. I can’t breathe. Think I might pass out but I don’t want to call another cut. Not a fucking amateur. I can do this. I can do it good enough that he’ll come and then we’ll be all set.”

There’s a brief pause and then Dean says, “He comes on my face. Money shot. Dunno why it’s called that but it is. He makes me lick the come off his cock, but I don’t mind the taste so much anymore: must be getting used to it.”

Dean falls silent again.

God, Sam feels sick. He feels filthy by association, by virtue of sitting here and listening while Dean talks about how it felt to deep throat a cock and get a facial. When this is over, if Dean lets him, Sam is going wrap himself around his brother and stop thinking for a couple of hours.

“Then what?”

“We have lunch. There are mini-quiches. They taste pretty good.”

“What happens when lunch is over?”

“We finish shooting and I go home,” Dean says. There’s a flicker of something deep in his eyes too instinctive to be called evasion.

Sighing, Sam runs a hand through his hair and says, “I want you to tell me about the rest of the shoot, Dean. I want you to tell me how you felt.”

Dean is quiet, frowning slightly, and Sam is just beginning to think that he’s going to need to give the command a second time when Dean says, “It doesn’t hurt. Not at first. But ... everyone’s watching. They’re watching me bent over with some guy’s fingers up my ass. There’s a girl—she’s still eating her sandwich. Like it isn’t anything. Like I’m not even fucking there.”

It makes sense—with the kind of shit that people who work in the porn industry must see every day, they’re not going to treat a little bit of fingering as anything special—but Sam still feels a flutter of anger that anyone could have been so callous in the face of Dean’s fear. Although, knowing his brother, Dean was doing his damnedest to hide how he was feeling. And Sam saw the DVD. He knows Dean better than anyone and he watched his brother get opened up and fucked and he didn’t catch a fraction of the apprehension that’s clearly audible in Dean’s voice right now.

How can he blame that nameless girl for missing something that even he couldn’t see?

“I don’t think it will but it feels good when he fucks me,” Dean says. His voice is calm again. Bland. “I like this more than the blowjob.”

That gets Sam’s attention enough that he rouses himself to ask, “Why?”

“I can breathe. And I don’t need to know what I’m doing. And I don’t have to look at him. I can close my eyes and be somewhere else in my head.”

There’s a masochistic part of Sam that wants to ask where the hell Dean could have gone when a stranger was busy shoving a cock up his ass, but he pushes the urge aside and says, “So you’re on the bed and he’s ... he’s ...”

Sam can’t say it so Dean says it for him.

“He’s fucking me.” His voice is breathy with something that isn’t fear—something that makes Sam’s groin heat despite the circumstances. “It feels good,” he continues. “It feels so fucking good, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to like it. If that’s okay. I d-don’t know how I’m supposed to act. I can’t—I can’t remember if I’m acting anymore.”

Unexpectedly, Dean gives a full-bodied jerk and moans, low and hurt.

Sam reaches forward without thinking, only remembering at the last second that he probably shouldn’t touch. Closing his hand into a fist, he asks, “What’s wrong?”

“I f-forgot about the other guy, but he’s getting on the bed. They want me to get on top so he c-can—watching, they’re watching, I c-can’t—Sam, I want Sam but he’s not here, he left, Sammy please—”

Dean is all but vibrating with fear, chest moving with rapid flutter of his breath. Even his blank eyes are beginning to reflect his horror, and his right hand is twitching where it rests in his lap. If Dean’s mind were actually in control of his body right now, that hand would be up at his temple. Rubbing.

Sam doesn’t hesitate.

“Go forward, Dean,” he says. “The shoot’s over. It’s done, okay?”

He expects his brother to quiet again, but if anything, Sam’s words leave Dean even more agitated than before.

“No,” Dean moans. “No, no, no.”

“What’s wrong? Dean, what’s happening?”

“Don’t want to, don’t make me, don’t want to go back into the mirror.”

Time freezes for an endless, suspended moment. Then it starts back up and Sam says, “What mirror?”

Dean rocks minutely back and forth and doesn’t answer. His hand is twitching so violently that it’ll be a miracle if it isn’t sore and cramped later.

Sam has to stop this. He has to bring Dean out. Oh God, Dean looks so scared ...

But this, whatever it is, is inside Dean’s head. They can’t run from it. Dean can’t run from it.

“You have to tell me what’s happening. Where are you? Talk to me, Dean.”

“Bathroom,” Dean whimpers, rocking faster. His hand starts to lift and Sam’s chest gives a wrenching twist.

“Stop moving, Dean.”

Dean stops. Dean goes so eerily, completely still that it makes Sam nauseous to look at him, but he doesn’t take the order back. This, whatever it is, is going to be bad enough without having to watch Dean worry at the scar.

Sam gives himself a moment to breathe—to steady himself—and then, keeping his voice as calm as he can, says, “Okay, you’re in the bathroom. Are you still at the studio?”

“Yes,” Dean breathes.

“What are you doing?”

Dean’s lips purse momentarily and when he parts them a stream of words spills out—all in a rush as though by speaking quickly enough he can race straight through whatever is bothering him and out the other side. “Cleaning up. I’m supposed to clean up. I took a shower, but I don’t feel clean. I feel fucking filthy and my ass hurts. I’m thinking of throwing up again. Puked in the sink. Mini quiches and come. Fucking reeks.”

“Then what?”

“There’s a knock at the door.” Dean raises his voice, like he’s calling to someone. “Just a second!” Then, despite the command to stay still, he twitches and blurts out, panicked, “I’m leaving. I’m going back to Dad, I have the money, everything’s fine, everything’s okay.”

Sam has never felt like more of an asshole in his life, but he still opens his mouth and says, “No. No, Dean, you’re not. You’re in the bathroom. Who’s at the door?”

Dean doesn’t say anything, but after a few seconds Sam realizes that the horrible, whining sound filling the room is coming from his brother’s throat. Fear makes his voice sharp.

“Who’s at the door, Dean?”

“I don’t know,” Dean whispers. “I don’t know I don’t know. I’m not looking. I’m trying to wash the sink. I don’t want anyone to know I puked. Don’t make me, Sammy, I don’t want to know I don’t want to remember please.”

Sam’s chest feels shredded. His hands are shaking violently and he thinks that he’s going to be sick. He thinks that he’s going to be sick because he thinks he knows what Dean is going to say.

Oh please God let him be wrong.

“What. Happened.”

“He’s here,” Dean whimpers. “He’s here inside the bathroom I hear him come inside but I don’t turn around because I was crying and I don’t want him to see. Get out, asshole, are you deaf I said I’m not done!”

Dean’s body jerks again, and this time his head snaps forward as though ... as though someone just grabbed him from behind and cracked his forehead against the wall. Except in the bathroom, above the sink, there wouldn’t have been a wall.

There would have been a mirror.

Dean’s hand flies up to his forehead, to that scar: the memory of that distant violence stronger than Sam’s command. He’s rocking back and forth on the couch wildly now, and sobbing, and digging his fingers into his temple like he can tear the memory out.

Sam knows now, he knows, God help him, and he’d stop Dean if he could but an icy, slick cold grips him and he can’t move. Can’t speak. Can’t do anything but sit there and watch his brother self-destruct.

“He pushes me into the mirror,” Dean is sobbing. “My head. My forehead in the glass and it breaks and I can’t see. I can’t—there’s blood in my eyes and I can’t see I can’t—I can’t move, I can’t—Get off. Get off you son of a bitch, don’t. Don’t. Dad! Sammy!”

Then, terribly, Dean’s voice changes. It’s a whisper, sly and caressing and completely at odds with the tears streaming down his face.

“Sammy’s not here, Dean-o. He went away and left you all alone. Now be a good boy and open up.”

Dean jerks again, making a terrible, choked noise, and it’s that sound—the sound that is surely the same sound Dean made on the floor of that bathroom with the smell of his vomit in his nose and the sound of that sly, caressing voice in his ears and someone, some goddamned bastard raping him—that finally jerks Sam out of his shock.

“You’re safe,” he chokes out, reaching forward to pull Dean into his arms and fuck the danger of touching him right now. His voice is thick with tears and he can’t see clearly but he isn’t crying: he’s too horrified to manage it. “Dean, you’re safe. You’re not in Vegas anymore, you’re not in the bathroom, you’re in Vermont. You’re in a cabin in Vermont and you’re with me—you’re with Sammy—and we’re taking a break.”

Dean goes still in Sam’s arms.

Sam keeps talking for a few seconds before he realizes that Dean isn’t moving anymore and then, dread cold and heavy in his stomach, he eases back enough to look. He has to rub his eyes with one hand before they work well enough to make his brother’s face out, and then relief makes him shudder.

Dean’s eyes are red and there are tear tracks all over his cheeks, but his face is calm. Empty.

Sam wishes like hell that he could turn off his own emotions that easily. That he could forget.

A sickening wave of black despair, thick like tar, sloshes through him and his back bows with the force of it. For several minutes, he’s helpless to do anything but cling to his brother with his eyes shut and his muscles screaming in protest, and then, finally, the tide recedes enough for him to slump back against his chair.

“Oh my God,” he whispers.

Dean stares ahead placidly.

“Are you—” Sam swallows thickly and then asks, “Are you okay, Dean?”

“I’m with Sammy,” Dean says. His voice is still a little wet, but the tone says that Sam is asking a stupid question.

Sam leans forward on his knees and presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, choking on the lump in his throat. How the fuck can Dean say that? How can he, when Sam wasn’t there? When Sam pushed and prodded and begged until Dean agreed to let himself be dragged through Hell a second time?

“Oh my God, Dean, you must hate me.”

“You’re Sam,” Dean says, like that’s an answer, and Sam is left staggering under the sheer weight of his brother’s faith in him, which is overshadowed only by the weight of his own responsibility.

And Sam can’t. He just can’t right now.

Dean is safe in his own mind, and can stay there until Sam is ready to handle him, and so Sam lets himself go. He cradles his head in his hands and weeps until his eyes ache and he’s lightheaded and there are long, dripping lines of mingled snot and spit and tears dripping down from his nose and mouth. After what feels like hours, he finally takes a shuddering breath and sits up.

Dean is sitting calmly on the couch, just the way Sam left him. The tear tracks on his cheeks have dried, but the skin around the scar at his temple is still red and irritated: not surprising with the way Dean was digging at it. Just looking at the scar makes Sam want to burst into tears all over again, but he just isn’t capable of it. Not right now.

“Okay,” he rasps, wiping his mouth and nose on the sleeve of his shirt. “Okay, Dean, I’m going to count back from ten, and when I get to one, you’re going wake up feeling refreshed, okay?”

As though it has only been a couple of minutes instead of hours, Dean responds instantly. “Will I remember?”

Oh God. Oh—Jesus Christ, what is Sam supposed to say to that?

He drags a shaking hand over his mouth and then asks, “Do you want to?”

“No.” It’s a whisper. Barely an exhale.

Sam opens his mouth to tell Dean that he doesn’t have to remember if he doesn’t want to and then shuts it again. If Dean doesn’t remember, then things are just going to continue down the same, ruinous path they were on before, and Sam would have put his brother through his own private Hell again for nothing.

Oh God, Dean is going to hate him for this.

How can he not, when Sam already hates himself?

“You’re going to remember, Dean,” he says, and he thought he couldn’t cry anymore but it turns out he was wrong because he’s crying now. “I need you to remember everything about the movie and what happened in the bathroom and when it gets bad, I need you not to push your emotions away. I need you to face them head on and if you—if you need it, then I need you to ask for help. Do you understand?”

Dean’s mouth trembles a little, and for a moment Sam wonders whether this is the one thing that will break Dean’s inner scales: if this is the one thing Sam can ask for himself that Dean doesn’t have it in him to grant. But he waits, and eventually Dean breathes, “Gotta remember for Sam.”

“Okay.” Sam wipes his eyes once more and then, taking a deep breath, counts, “Ten ... nine ... eight ... seven ... six ... five ... four ... three ... two ... one.”

Dean blinks. For a heartbeat, he looks confused—maybe a little groggy but still okay—and then his face crumples. He gets his hands up to cover it, but not before Sam sees the horror in his eyes. Not before he watches the first, fresh tears spill over and down Dean’s cheeks. His brother’s shoulders are moving, his chest hitching in silent sobs, which are so much better than the noises he was making before that Sam’s almost relieved to hear them.

“Dean—” he chokes out, leaning forward.

Sam’s wrist is stinging and he’s left staring at an empty couch before he realizes that Dean has slapped his hand away and bolted. Standing up, he turns to see his brother disappearing into the kitchen.

Sam doesn’t know how he could have expected any other reaction, but his chest still feels bloody and raw as he follows.

Dean is still in the house, at least: leaning against the kitchen counter while he covers his face as best as he can with a single hand. His head is bowed. His shoulders and back trembling.

“Dean,” Sam breathes, moving forward, and Dean takes an awkward, jerking step sideways and offers Sam more of his back.

“Don’t touch me!” His brother’s voice is wet, but clearly understandable. “You fucker. You goddamned son of a bitch.”

Sam’s stomach pulls agonizingly tight, and his chest gives a short, hot pulse. He’s crying again: exhausted, weak tears. “I’m sorry, Dean” he says. “I’m so goddamned sorry that you’re hurting.” He pauses to sniff and wipe his nose on his sleeve. “But I am not sorry I made you remember. This was killing you, man. You needed to face it.”

“No I fucking didn’t!” Dean yells, whirling.

Sam flinches at the wrecked, devastated expression on his brother’s face.

“I was dealing!” Dean rages through his tears. “I was doing just fucking fine! So I wasn’t interested in sex, so fucking what? I told you I was gonna put out anyway, I told you. But that wasn’t enough for the Great Sam Winchester. You had to have everything, didn’t you? You had to go digging around to see what makes me tick—”

“That’s not what I—”

“—and now I—fuck, I can’t—it’s right fucking there—Don’t you fucking touch me!”

Sam freezes, hands raised and palms out, and watches while his brother edges for the door. “Dean. Dean, where are you going?”

“I can’t deal with you right now,” Dean chokes out. “Don’t follow me.”

A moment later he’s gone.

Chapter Text

Dean doesn’t come back until well after dark. He lets himself in with his head lowered and his shoulders hunched—defensive—and strides straight past the kitchen table where Sam has been waiting for the past four hours.

Sam watches his brother’s back disappear down the hall, and a moment later there’s the soft, unmistakable sound of the bedroom door clicking closed. Sam’s chest feels even emptier at being so completely shut out, but now that Dean is back he can at least relax enough to succumb to the bleak exhaustion that’s been tugging at him ever since Dean rushed out the front door.

Sam knows better than to expect anything good from his dreams, tonight of all nights, and he isn’t disappointed. His memories of the movie, which were always unrelentingly vivid, have taken on new colors. They twist through him in jagged flashes, like glints of light off of mirror shards: Dean’s lips stretched around a cock; Dean’s throat working as an unseen man pumps in and out; Dean’s eyelashes fluttering behind the black panther mask; Dean’s back muscles twitching uncontrollably as he’s fucked full and open; Dean’s sore, sloppy hole leaking come.

Familiar, so familiar, but there’s a new soundtrack laid over the breathy moans and grunts that used to be there: a startled, choked noise of pain. It’s the noise that Dean made this afternoon on the couch, the noise that Dean—Sam’s Dean—made on the floor of some dirty bathroom while some nameless, faceless son of a bitch took something he had no right to. Everything is washed over with a sickly, yellow color and fogged with a noxious, gassy smell—like gone-over mustard or rotting eggs, the smell of his brother’s vomit—and Sam just wants to wake up. He prays to wake up.

When the nightmare finally releases him, it’s morning. Sam blinks puffy eyes at the back of the couch and starts to sit up. A bolt of pain rips through his back at the movement and he freezes with a grimace. After a few moments, when the agony has died down to a dull throb and Sam thinks it’s safe enough to roll over, he does.

Dean is sitting in a chair on the other side of the room watching him.

“Hey,” Sam says immediately, and starts to struggle up into a sitting position. His spine feels like it’s made out of rusty nails instead of bones, and his mouth tastes like bad dreams, but it’s his heart that’s the problem. His stupid, stuttering heart.

“How long have you been there?” he asks when Dean doesn’t respond.

“A while.”

The irises of Dean’s eyes are tea green this morning, pale as Sam has ever seen them, but the whites are red and scratchy. The five o’clock shadow on his jaw seems more like it’s going on midnight and his lips look chapped. Possibly because Dean has spent all night chewing on them.

He’s still the most beautiful thing Sam has ever seen.

Closing his eyes, Sam reaches up and rubs at the lids. “Did you sleep?” he asks.

“Some.”

Not well, though, Sam is guessing. He lowers his hand again and Dean hasn’t moved. His expression hasn’t changed either, but Sam’s mind is shaking loose from his nightmare and he reads more on his brother’s face than he did before. There’s a certain set to Dean’s jaw—an unmistakable tilt to his head.

Dean is sitting there for a reason. He wants something.

Sam really, really wishes that his brother would be willing to wait until Sam has had his first cup of coffee, and possibly another crying jag in the bathroom, but he doesn’t think Dean has that kind of patience.

He’s about to ask what his brother needs from him when Dean opens his mouth and says, “I need you to kiss me.”

It’s possible that that word doesn’t actually mean what Sam thinks it does.

“What?” he manages.

Dean shifts in the chair, leaning back and kicking one leg out in front of him. It’s a deceptively lazy posture. “You heard me.”

Sam’s back isn’t doing more than twingeing at him now, so he could make a run for it. He might manage to make it to the door before Dean got to him. Maybe.

“What’s wrong, Sammy? Chicken?” It’s the same voice Dean always used on Sam when they were kids. Taunting. Infuriating.

Amazing how it has exactly the same effect on him now, even after all that has happened.

It’s a toss up whether Sam’s chest or his voice is tighter as he says, “You hating me isn’t actually a turn on, Dean.”

Dean sits up in his chair again. “I don’t hate you. I’m pissed as hell, but I don’t hate you.”

Sam’s stomach uncurls slightly at his brother’s declaration, which he never expected to hear at all let alone so soon. He watches while Dean tilts his face up in something that’s half dare and half command. His brother’s eyes have regained a little of their color, and the way he’s looking back at Sam says, more clearly than words ever could, that Sam needs to stop stalling and get over there and lay one on him already.

Sam isn’t anywhere near awake enough or stable enough to deal with whatever Dean is angling for, and he knows it. He still feels tender inside from yesterday’s revelation—filled with a sorrow that’s just starting to fleck with rage. He also spent last night dreaming of Dean being debauched and violated; and he’s horrified by that, he is, but there’s still an unrelenting, hungry streak in him that gets off on envisioning his brother’s skin painted with come, no matter what the circumstances.

“Sometime before we both die of old age would be good,” Dean says, unsmiling, and he has no goddamned sense of self-preservation whatsoever, does he?

“I can’t,” Sam says tersely, getting to his feet and running a hand through his hair.

“Sure you can. You just pucker up and—”

“I can’t, Dean!” Sam maybe shouldn’t be yelling at Dean right now, but he doesn’t know how else to get through to his brother. “You have no goddamned idea where my head’s at right now!”

Neither does Sam, for that matter. All he knows is that there’s a thrumming under his skin and the more awake he gets the stronger it becomes. That thrumming is mixed up with his anger, and his desire, and some part of him that doesn’t feel human at all.

He takes a deep breath, trying to center himself, and then says, “Dean, if I. If I kiss you right now I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.”

“You’ll stop.”

“You don’t know that!” Sam yells, rounding on his brother.

Dean looks up at him, cool as ever, and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to. All of his certainty is clearly visible in his eyes.

Sam lets out an incredulous little laugh as he ducks his head to pinch the bridge of his nose, but the rage in his chest has snuffed out. It can’t stand in the face of his brother’s unflinching faith.

After a few moments, he lifts his head again and says, “I need to brush my teeth first.”

Dean stands up, raising one eyebrow and quirking his mouth in something that’s almost a smile. “Dude, I’m not a chick: I’m not gonna complain about a little morning breath. Now get your ass over here already.”

Sam seems to have made the decision to do this (actually, he’s surprised he was able to resist an order like that for as long as he did), but for whatever reason he can’t make himself walk over to his brother. Dean seems to sense it, or maybe he’s just getting tired of waiting, because he comes to Sam instead, noiseless on his bare feet. He stops about a foot away and looks up. Looks up because Sam is taller.

It isn’t like Sam hasn’t known that, but this is the first time that he finds himself noticing the difference in their heights in a distinctly unbrotherly way. Dean isn’t a small man by anyone’s calculations, but as Sam looks down at him he’s painfully aware that he’s still taller and stronger than his brother. If Dean wrapped his legs around Sam’s waist, Sam could hold him up as they fucked against the wall. If Sam wanted to, he could push Dean down in bed, hold him there—he could fuck into Dean whether Dean wanted him to or not.

God, he should be sick to his stomach, thinking something like that after yesterday’s revelation, and he is, but his groin is also pulsing and he feels flushed. Dean is standing there looking up at him like he’s safe, like Sam wasn’t just thinking about how nice it would feel to hold his brother still and push right in, like he wasn’t imagining warm, twitching velvet around his cock, and Sam still wants. God help him, he wants so much that it burns.

“You gonna lay one on me or what, Sammy?” Dean asks.

Yes, Sam thinks with a violent, hot pulse, and then he hears that sound in his head—choked cry of startled pain—and flushes with shame. Christ, he’s no better than Dean’s rapist. No better than Dad.

“I’m—I’m just gonna brush my teeth first,” he fumbles, starting for the bathroom. He just needs to splash some water on his face—needs to cool down until he can approach this kiss rationally. Before he’s taken more than two steps, though, Dean grabs his wrist and jerks him back into a kiss.

Dean kisses Sam like they’re at war, a clash of chapped lips and blunt teeth that’s awkward and uncomfortable and a little painful. It jars Sam out of his guilt and self-pity and leaves him nowhere at all: standing there blankly while his brother all but mauls his mouth. Then realization creeps in and he understands that this isn’t Dean’s way of trying to get back at Sam for making him remember. It’s his way of trying to bluster through whatever shit he’s using this kiss to work out.

It’s the same old story—Dean is scared, and determined not to give in to it, and so he’s plastering on this bold, brash front to use as a shield between him and his fear. For someone who knows him, though—for someone like Sam, who knows Dean better than he knows himself—that front is transparent as glass.

Now that his mind is working again, Sam can practically taste his brother’s fear pouring slick and cold down his throat. Dean’s apprehension tastes bitter and chalky beneath the waxy cherry tang of the Chap Stick he’s wearing, and Sam would almost prefer the sulfuric taste of his dream.

Almost.

It’s impossible for Sam to stand by and do nothing when his brother is sending up smoke signals and distress flares, and so he brings his right hand up to cup Dean’s cheek and he tilts his head to fit their mouths together more smoothly. His left hand—the one Dean is still clutching in a death grip—moves forward to close around his brother’s hip. Dean’s t-shirt is worn and soft beneath Sam’s fingertips, but it isn’t what Sam wants so he pushes up under the shirt to rest his hand on skin. Despite the early morning chill in the air, Dean is warm to the touch and silken smooth.

Sam finds the crest of his brother’s hipbone and traces it with his thumb, reverent, and Dean’s breath stutters into his mouth. His grip on Sam’s wrist clenches for a heartbeat and then slacks, falling away. The painful pressure of his mouth eases, turning supple beneath Sam’s.

Like the ocean after a storm, Dean calms.

That’s it, Sam thinks as he smoothes his tongue over his brother’s rough lips. The cherry taste pops in his mouth—not sad anymore, just intriguing—and he tugs Dean’s lower lip into his mouth and sucks on it while he eases his hand further around his brother’s body to rest at the small of Dean’s back. He can feel the dip of Dean’s spine beneath his fingertips, and when he drops his hand just so he finds the faint, rising slope of his brother’s ass.

Sam doesn’t remember why they’re kissing anymore. There’s no room in his head for anything but Dean—no room for anything but cataloguing every taste touch smell—but he knows he likes it. And he knows that he wants more of this, more of Dean, so he releases his brother’s lip and pushes his tongue into Dean’s mouth instead. Dean makes a noise at that—some soft exhalation of breath that isn’t quite a moan—and Sam, greedy for more, steps forward to crowd up against him.

It’s odd, but it feels like Dean is receding instead of coming closer, so Sam steps forward again, and again, and finally Dean lets out another, slightly louder grunt and comes to a stop. Sam’s hand is caught between his brother’s warm, flexing back and something cool and unyielding—the living room wall—and he likes the way their fronts are pressed so snuggly together but he doesn’t like not being able to touch, to explore, so he tugs his hand free and pushes it up beneath Dean’s shirt along his stomach instead.

Dean’s hands are on Sam, both of them hanging onto Sam’s biceps like he’s afraid Sam is going to flip at any moment and run. As though that’s an option. As though Sam would remember how to breathe without his brother standing in front of him to show him how.

He can’t stop kissing Dean long enough to reassure him verbally (Dean wouldn’t like that anyway, hates words, he’s word-a-phobic) so instead Sam does his best to show Dean with his body. Twisting his hips slightly, he manages to force his leg between his brother’s and fixes his thigh nice and firm up against Dean’s cock. His own erection presses against Dean’s hipbone, and Sam is pretty sure that it would only take him a few thrusts to get himself off this way, with Dean’s mouth at his disposal and Dean’s scent infecting his blood and Dean’s body so warm and firm and strong.

But Dean isn’t hard. Dean isn’t hard at all.

Show him, Sam thinks desperately. If I can show him, if I can make him feel it, feel so good ...

He drops his hand from his brother’s stomach to palm at Dean’s cock through his jeans. It’s difficult to feel anything through the stiff material, though—difficult for both of them—so he tears himself free from his brother’s lips long enough to look down and open up Dean’s pants.

“Sam,” Dean starts, breathless, but Sam’s name turns into a muffled sound as he catches his brother’s lips again. Dean makes another, louder noise as Sam pushes his hand into the opening and gets it around his brother's cock (so soft, feels so delicate and fragile) and starts stroking. There’s no immediate response so he tugs harder, tightening his grip and jacking Dean’s cock in short, hard bursts. As his caresses continue to have no effect, his kisses grow desperate and rough.

“Come on,” he mumbles between bites and licks. “Come on, feel so good, want you to come for me.”

But Dean’s cock still isn’t so much as twitching and Sam realizes with a feeling like falling that Dean’s hold on his arms has changed. Dean isn’t holding him in place anymore, he’s trying to push Sam off, and as soon as that information filters through his aroused haze he drops Dean’s dick like it’s on fire and steps back.

Dean’s a mess.

Sam doesn’t know how long his brother has been like this, doesn’t know how he missed Dean falling apart on him. Dean is leaning against the wall and shaking uncontrollably. Not tiny tremors, either, but full-bodied shakes like he’s in detox. His breath is coming in hard pants—panic, not passion, because his cock is small and limp and pathetic where it hangs out from his jeans. There are tears tangled in his lashes and more moisture on his cheeks and when Sam licks his lips he tastes salt.

“Oh God,” he breathes. “Oh God, Dean, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“Are you fucking happy?” Dean spits, tucking himself away with sharp, rapid movements. His hands are trembling and it takes him several tries to get the zipper back up.

As Sam watches his brother fight with his button, he starts to work through some of his horrified guilt and remembers that Dean asked for this. Maybe not the end of it, not Sam’s hand on his cock trying to force him to arousal, but he asked for the beginning of it. And Sam warned him, he fucking warned Dean that he wouldn’t be able to stop. He’s still too guilty to work up much anger, but he can sense it there, fluttering indignantly around the edges of his vision.

“You told me to kiss you!” he blurts.

“As a test, Sam,” Dean shouts back, giving up on the button. His right hand lifts up to his temple: fingers trembling. “I wanted to find out if I could still—if I could—”

He realizes what he’s doing and, with a grimace of disgust, puts his hand down. His face scrunches a second time, as though he’s fighting a sneeze, and then he’s crying again: weak and defeated. Sam wants to reach out to his brother and doesn’t dare. Thankfully, Dean gets himself back under control quickly: pinching the bridge of his nose and blinking rapidly until the tears stop.

Then, in a subdued tone, he says, “I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time I close my eyes he’s there, and his voice, it.” He grimaces, jaw working, and then he looks at Sam. His eyes have undergone another one of those fey sea changes and are now bottle green. Bottle green and miserable.

“You didn’t want me faking it?” he says, lips drawing into a tight smile that can’t decide whether it wants to be angry or sad. “Fine, now I fucking can’t.”

A solitary tear slips from his left eye and this time Sam can’t keep himself from reaching out. “Dean—”

Dean punches him.

When Sam’s eyes have stopped watering enough to see again, Dean is gone and the front door of the cabin is banging shut.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean comes back an hour later, silent and stormy. His bare feet are grass-stained and red from the cold and if Sam had any room in him for another worry then he’d be concerned about frostbite. Right now he’s too full up for more than a faint pang that’s relieved moments later when Dean pulls on a thick pair of socks and his shoes and covers the reddened flesh up.

Sam sits in the kitchen, out of the way and silent, as his brother bangs through the cabin packing all of their stuff. He isn’t quite sure whether he’s supposed to come with or if this is Dean leaving him, and the uncertainty leaves an acidic, biting taste in his mouth. His stomach feels like it’s full of eels, slipping and writhing around each other. There are moths fluttering in his hollowed-out, shadowed chest.

When Dean is done loading everything into the car, he comes back one last time and stands in the doorway. His left shoulder props open the door while he toys with the keys he’s holding in his right hand, thumb moving over the serrated bits of metal and jangling them together. So many keys for a life spent on the road—key to the Impala, key to the toolbox, keys to various safety deposit drops around the country, skeleton keys for breaking into locked offices when they can’t be bothered to dig the lock-picking tools out of the trunk.

When Sam lived in Stanford he had one key for his apartment and one for his bike lock and that was it. If Dean leaves him here now, he won’t even have that much: both keys were lost in the fire and of course there was no point in replacing them after. If Dean leaves him now, he won’t ... God, he won’t have fucking anything.

Dean isn’t looking at Sam. His head is twisted around toward the cabin’s front drive and the road away. Somewhere in the line of trees Sam can just make out past his brother’s chest, there are birds calling to one another: heralds of the returning spring. It’s still cold here, though. Still winter.

“There’s a job in New Jersey,” Dean says finally.

Sam doesn’t know what to say to that except, “Okay.”

Dean squints at the woods for a moment longer and then his jaw pulls tight and he says, “You need an engraved invitation or what?”

The rush of relief leaves Sam dizzy and he stumbles a little on his way past Dean and outside. He wants to thank his brother, but the threat of violence is still evident in the set of Dean’s shoulders and he knows better than to offer something Dean can’t accept.

The ride to Jersey is hellish: Dean is mute and seems disinclined to turn on the radio the way he normally does. He drives with his window rolled up and the heater on and from time to time he lifts a hand to worry at the scar at his temple. Then he catches himself at it and scowls, lowering his hand to the wheel and hanging on with white-knuckled determination.

Until he forgets again and the cycle starts back up.

Sam leans his own forehead against the window. The sun burns against his closed eyelids like fire, but he’s still cold.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It’s like living with a hurricane.

Dean is vicious and then calm again in turns—completely composed one moment and raging the next. The barbs he flings are double-edged, cutting them both, and when Sam reaches out to try and soothe his brother’s wounds, Dean snarls and lashes out like an injured animal. He pops painkillers like candy, trying to ward off the persistent ache in his head, but there aren’t enough painkillers in the world to touch what he’s trying to numb, and he keeps reaching up anyway.

The one time Sam brings his brother’s attention to it instead of waiting for Dean to notice on his own what he’s doing, Dean tears a light fixture out of their motel room wall and hurls it through the mirror hanging over the dresser. He’s puking before the glass has settled, right in the middle of the floor—stumbles for the door as soon as he can manage it and all but collapses on the curb outside. Sam smoothes it over with the motel attendant who comes running, charging the damage to one of their credit cards, and then packs their things hurriedly and joins his brother in the car.

He’s careful not to mention the scar after that, but even during Dean’s calm periods, when they stand at the eye of the storm, they’re still painfully out of step.

In Cedar Falls, Pennsylvania, Sam manages to botch what should have been a simple interview with the grieving widow and gets chased out of the house while the woman hurls insults and curses at his back.

In Canton, Kentucky, Dean almost gets caught swiping records from the local coroner’s office. Sam has to break a couple of car windows (setting off the alarms and getting the cop’s attention) in order to give his brother time to squirm back out of the window and get away.

In River Junction, Tennessee, what should have been a two-day job takes them two weeks, and when they finally locate Josiah Fields’ grave, they nearly get themselves killed before they manage to light the poor son of a bitch’s remains.

Afterwards, sore and bruised and exhausted, they limp back to the motel room in silence. Dean takes the first shower like he always does, while Sam sits on the edge of the bed and stares at his hands and wonders whether it’s ever going to get any better. The question doesn’t make him sad anymore: just angry. It just fills him with a hopeless, directionless rage that makes him want to strap his knife to his ankle and drive out to Vegas and cut his way through every single person who had anything to do with Dean’s movie.

Because one of those people wasn’t satisfied with watching Dean get fucked open by two cocks at once. One of those people—a grip or a best boy or, fuck, one of the PAs—followed Sam’s brother to the bathroom for a follow-up performance. Dean didn’t see the guy’s face, though, so the only way for Sam to know for sure that he’s taken care of business is to castrate every last fuck with a dick who works there.

He isn’t quite far gone enough to actually do something like that—not yet—but that doesn’t stop him from imagining ten different kinds of bloody retribution.

Dean doesn’t take long in the shower—he never does, doesn’t like bathrooms all that much these days—and then Sam takes his brother’s place and lets the lukewarm water wash the sludge of anger from his skin. By the time he turns off the shower, his rage is banked down to nothing more than an echoing reverberation of the dull, aching throb in his chest.

When he emerges several minutes later, Dean is already in bed and Sam figures he’s sleeping.

Then Dean says, “Well, that was fun.”

He’s facing the wall so Sam can’t see his face, but Dean’s voice is blunted, so this probably isn’t the opening sally of yet another attack.

“Yeah,” Sam sighs as he pulls back the sheets on his own bed.

“On the bright side, you managed not to get choked this time.”

For Dean, it’s an apology and a request for forgiveness and a peace offering all in one. Sam is too tired to stop the first tear from falling, but he manages to blink back the second before he really gets going.

“Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Looks like I’m on a roll.”

Dean shifts in the other bed like he’s thinking about turning over. “Guess lady luck decided to stop being such a bitch.”

For the first time since they left the cabin in Vermont, the weight on Sam’s chest eases slightly and he takes a relatively pain free breath.

“Guess so.”

Chapter Text

After that, things aren’t perfect by any means, but they are better. Like two gears out of alignment, Sam and Dean have been grinding uselessly against thin air, but they’re finally beginning to slot into one another’s rhythms again. Instead of eating separately, they share a booth in roadside diners and discuss possible leads on jobs. When their eyes meet, if Dean doesn’t smile, then he doesn’t immediately scowl and look away either. And the radio makes a reappearance on their drives. Sam has never been so relieved to hear mullet rock.

But Dean still won’t touch him. If Sam accidentally brushes against him in the morning when they’re getting ready to go, Dean flinches away. He’s so fucking obvious about sitting out of reach in diners and motels and even in the car—where he drives leaning against the door—that Sam might as well have LEPER stenciled on his forehead.

Sam never knew until Dean stopped just how tactile his brother was. In the absence, though, he remembers the deliberate stream of brushes and pats, as if Dean needed the constant reassurance that he was there. Dean would clap Sam on the arm in greeting; he’d bump their shoulders together as they walked down the street. Their fingers used to brush when Dean passed Sam a gun, or a credit card, or the runny bottle of ketchup at a gas station condiment station. Dean used to rest his hand on Sam’s shoulder when he leaned over to read what was on the screen.

That’s all over now, and there’s nothing but Sam’s memories to say that those touches ever happened in the first place. The lack—the isolation—makes Sam’s skin ache. He thinks more seriously about leaving his brother for a couple of days and driving himself out to Vegas. He thinks of calling Dad up on the phone and asking if he wants to come along for the ride. Thinks of flushing the man out of hiding with the news of Dean’s defilement and finally ripping into him the way he has longed to for so long.

On the good nights, when Sam sleeps he dreams of deserts, and stone, and lonely, high places, and wakes with tears on his cheeks.

On the bad nights, he sleeps and dreams of panting moans, and broken, twinkling shards of glass, and blood-slicked skin, and wakes with a terrifying mix of desire and fury burning in his veins.

The good nights, predictably, are few and far between.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Midway through Iowa, Dean starts acting cagey. Their progress slows to a crawl, despite the fact that there’s a probable job waiting for them in North Dakota. First Dean ‘doesn’t like the way his baby sounds’ and so they spend five hours parked by the side of the road while he tinkers under the hood. Sam wishes he could say that he’s annoyed with that delay, but he spends the whole time sipping on a beer and watching his brother grow increasingly sweat-slick and grease-streaked. He jerks off that night in the bathroom, frustrated and remembering the way that his brother’s t-shirt clung to his lower back. Remembering how the sun gleamed off his skin.

The next day, Dean stops them in some podunk town Sam doesn’t even know the name of, claiming that he read a newspaper article online about odd goings-on here. Only thing is, Dean hasn’t been near the computer for weeks. He also, suspiciously enough, can’t give Sam any details about the ‘weird crap’ his investigation turned up. After hours of finding nothing stranger than a man with a handlebar moustache who raises sheep out behind his barbershop, Dean finally mentions with false casualness that he might have gotten the name of the town wrong. By then, of course, it’s too late to travel any further, so they spend the night at the local Holiday Inn.

In the morning, Sam catches his brother having a whispered conversation on his cell, but when he asks over breakfast whom Dean was talking to, Dean just shrugs and tells him it was a wrong number. A wrong number he talked to for thirty minutes. Right.

Sam’s stomach is starting to hurt from tension, but the really strange thing is that Dean doesn’t seem quite as moody as he has been. Oh, he’s keyed up alright—taps his fingers on the steering wheel nonstop while he drives with Zeppelin 2 on loop—but he isn’t as tense and when his fingers start to lift to his scar as they set out on the third day, he catches himself before he actually touches it.

It’s the first time he’s been able to manage that since Sam made him remember.

So when Dean pulls into a motel just after noon on the third day—still in Iowa, which Sam remembers being smaller than this—he doesn’t say anything. He even lets Dean leave him in the room while he ‘takes care of some business’ without protest, although almost as soon as his brother shuts the door behind himself Sam’s chest goes anxious and tight. He spends the rest of the afternoon waiting for Dean to come back while he flips through the motel’s four TV channels.

When Dean finally calls around seven o’clock, Sam is anxious enough that he answers his cell before it finishes its first ring. “Dean?”

“I need you to meet me at four fifty-seven Hutchens Street.” Dean’s voice is tight: his words clipped and hard. It’s close to how he sounds when he’s angry, but anger isn’t the emotion that Sam is catching right now.

Fear.

Oh fuck, Sam knew these last few days were too good to be true.

“Are you okay?” he blurts without thinking.

It’s stupid for a couple of reasons, the least of which is that Dean is never, ever going to give Sam an honest answer to that particular question.

“Peachy,” Dean grunts. “Just get your ass over here. Call a cab or something.”

He hangs up before Sam can respond, but not before Sam catches the slight waver to his brother’s voice. That nervous little flutter that means Dean is in some kind of pain—emotional or physical—and while Dean didn’t use their code word to indicate that he’s in immediate danger, Sam will be damned if he’s going to wait around twenty minutes for a cab.

He grabs directions off the Internet and then hotwires a car from the parking lot of the Laundromat two blocks over and races across town. It isn’t difficult to locate 457 Hutchens: in part because the Impala is parked out front next to a ratty pick-up truck, and in part because it’s the biggest building around. As he pulls into the parking lot, Sam gets a look at the building’s front and it’s actually a restaurant—The Little Sparrow, according to the lettering on the windows and the sign over the door. Despite the orange wash of the street lamps, he can tell that the awning and signage have been done in a red, white and green color scheme. An Italian restaurant, then, and a fairly sketchy one at that, judging from the drawn, thick curtains covering the windows.

As he parks the car next to the Impala and jumps out, Sam wonders frantically if Dean was ever stupid enough—ever desperate enough—to get involved with the mob, and then he wonders what the mob would be doing way out here in the first place. On the other hand, if there were any mafia members hiding out in Iowa, then God knows that Dean would be the one to find their hornet’s nest, shake it up, and stick his hand inside.

And Dean is in trouble: the distress in his voice when he called told Sam that much.

Sam’s palms are sweating as he first checks his gun and then pushes it into the back of his pants, untucking his shirt to hide the bulge. What he’d like to do is burst in there with the weapon already out, but he doesn’t want to make things worse than they already are, and that calls for caution. He feels exposed as he crosses the mostly-empty lot to the restaurant’s front door, his skin crawling with the sensation of being watched and his shoulders slightly hunched in anticipation of an attack.

Steeling himself for whatever kind of bloody confrontation is waiting on the other side, he opens the door and steps inside.

And stops.

The interior of the Little Sparrow is nicer than it looked from the parking lot. The rug is thick and dark and, although the burgundy and evergreen might be masking marinara stains, Sam thinks it’s actually fairly clean. The furniture and walls have all been fashioned from some dark, cherry-hued wood. There’s a full-service bar against one wall: mirrored back reflecting the hundred pinpoints of flickering light from the candles ringing the room. There are candles in sconces on the walls, candles littering the surfaces of polished wooden tables. There are even a couple tall, white pillars burning atop the bar stools.

A flicker of motion draws Sam’s eyes from the soft, bewildering light to his brother as Dean steps forward. Sam has seen Dean in firelight hundreds of times, but the sight never ceases to stun him. Fire softens the few harsh lines Dean has. It accentuates the lush curve of his lips and the cat-like brilliance of his eyes. It catches in his hair and turns it black with golden highlights. It paints his skin with amber warmth, leaving him a thing of fire and darkness: too dangerous to touch, but too beautiful not to at least reach for.

It takes Sam a couple seconds to look past the effects of the candlelight to his brother’s clothing, and then he’s left winded all over again because Dean is wearing a suit. It’s the same suit he’s worn time and time again whenever they need some official credibility, but for once it has been ironed and pressed, and the accompanying shoes polished to a high sheen. He’s holding a single, long stemmed rose.

Part of Sam thinks that he should be making sense of this, but he can’t seem to manage it. Candles. Italian restaurant. Dean in a suit. Rose. Each piece is fine on its own, but when he tries to put them together he feels like he’s trying to translate from Chinese to Swahili.

Dean in a candlelit Italian restaurant, wearing a suit and holding a rose.

Error. Does not compute. Please reboot and try again.

“You found the place,” Dean says finally, shifting his weight and smoothing his tie with his free hand.

“Dean, what’s—what’s going on?” Sam asks. He manages to take a step forward with a little effort, and the next is easier than the first, and in a few seconds he’s standing next to his brother. He notices the table behind Dean for the first time: set with a white tablecloth and gold silverware and a bottle of wine.

“Here,” Dean mutters, ignoring the question, and holds out the rose.

Sam stares at him.

“You’re gonna start hurting my feelings in a minute, Sam,” Dean says, still holding out the flower. He’s joking but then again he isn’t and Sam belatedly reaches out to take the rose. He’s beginning to understand what’s going on and he doesn’t think he’s ever felt so awkward. He considers walking out and returning the car he stole and pretending that this never happened, but he already has the rose in his hand and what the hell does Dean think he is, anyway, a girl?

“Is this supposed to be a date?” he says, and immediately wants to take it back as his brother’s eyes fall.

“No,” Dean lies, shifting his weight and tugging at his tie. He clears his throat while glancing surreptitiously at the set table, obviously searching for a plausible explanation. Sam realizes that his brother is sweating slightly, that his lips are thin with nerves, and his chest tightens violently.

“Hey,” he breathes and, when Dean doesn’t look at him, reaches out to touch his brother’s shoulder. Dean doesn’t punch him for it, miracle of miracles, so he takes a chance and moves his grip from his brother’s shoulder in order to still Dean’s hand on his tie. Dean’s fingers twitch nervously as Sam twines them with his own and lowers their hands.

“You didn’t have to do this,” he says.

Dean hesitates for a moment, perhaps considering whether he still has any plausible deniability, and then shrugs and mumbles, “Wasn’t a big deal. Carl owes me and we were in the neighborhood.”

Yeah, they’re ‘in the neighborhood’ because Dean spent the last three days dragging his heels in a state that they should have blown through in seven hours. Even if Sam weren’t smart enough to see just how long Dean has been planning this, the fact that his brother is nervous enough that he actually sounded like he was in pain during their phone call tells Sam that this is a big deal. It’s a very big deal.

It’s also ridiculous, of course: at once so out of character and so completely Dean that Sam doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. The fact that Dean cares about him enough to set something like this up with everything he’s going through right now is ... it’s amazing is what it is. It’s breathtaking.

But it’s also, Sam is slowly realizing, heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking because Dean is clearly out of his element here: fumbling around in the dark in an unfamiliar room. There’s an air of desperation in the way that Dean’s pulse is racing against Sam’s fingers: in the way that he’s so nearly frantic to get everything just so, just the way that Sam likes it.

As if he thinks Sam is going to leave him if he doesn’t do everything exactly right.

In his head, Sam hears the shifter’s voice—love’s what other people give you as long as you give them what they want—and knows exactly how he can be at once both so happy and so goddamned wretched.

“You don’t need to do this, man,” he says, rubbing his thumb along the side of his brother’s hand. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s really—” he wants to say ‘sweet’ and can’t because he knows how Dean will react “—awesome, and flattering, but I don’t need any of this.”

Dean glances at him once, anxious, and then drops his eyes again and says, “I wanted to make it up to you. Y’know, being such a dick. I know I haven’t been, uh. I know I’m not exactly a barrel of laughs these days.”

It’s what he says but it isn’t what he means. Not really. What he means is, ‘I’m sorry I’m fucked up, I’m so sorry, please don’t leave me’.

And Sam doesn’t understand how Dean can be so stupid. Hasn’t he heard anything Sam has been saying over the past nine months?

Apparently not.

“Dean, you don’t have anything to apologize for.”

“I—”

“Shut up and let me finish.” Dean glances up again at that, and the flash of annoyance Sam sees in his brother’s eyes makes him feel a little better.

“You—what you’re dealing with, I don’t expect you to be okay with it. You’re a human being, not a robot, and you’re hurting. And yeah, it’s tough for me because it hurts like hell to see you like this. But I don’t expect anything different, and I’m not going to split just because you’re not walking around singing that the hills are alive. And you don’t have to bend yourself into knots trying to make me happy because you already make me happy, Dean. Not candlelight dinners and all this romance crap. You.”

“Yeah, I’ve been making you a regular ball of sunshine lately,” Dean says, pulling his hand free. “That’s why you almost clocked that desk clerk for asking if we wanted a king or two queens. Cause you were just as happy as a clam.”

Sam doesn’t remember that. “What? When?”

“Fisher’s Mill.”

Oh. Yeah, okay. He might have gotten a little short with the guy from the Motel Six in Fisher’s Mill, but only because the son of a bitch was looking at Dean like he was wondering how much Dean charged by the hour.

“I’m upset because I love you, man, and it hurts to see you in pain,” Sam explains. He keeps his words slow and clear in the hopes that they will be more understandable to his brother. “That doesn’t mean I want to leave, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t make me happy. Dude, you know me. You can’t honestly think that this is what I want from you!” He gestures around at the candlelit restaurant with the rose.

“You deserve nice things,” Dean says, his voice colored by a strange combination of stubbornness and the usual reluctance he displays when they wander into ‘chick flick’ territory.

Exasperated by his brother’s chronic inability to hear him, Sam lets out a short sigh. “You want to know what I want from you, Dean? You want to know what it’s gonna take to make me stay?”

Dean’s mouth tightens with annoyance at Sam’s tone, but the eyes he raises are filled with a painful mix of hope and dread. Hope that Sam will give him an ultimatum he’ll be able to handle. Dread that Sam is going to set conditions he won’t be able to meet. It’s both infuriating and depressing.

“I want you to make jokes about my hair and my eating habits,” Sam says. “I want us to eat greasy, crappy food together and watch whatever movie-of-the-week is on TV. I want to be able to go to sleep with you in the room and wake up with you there and I want you to bitch at me when I try to change the station on the radio. I want you to be happy, Dean, but I know you can’t manage that right now and that’s okay. As long as you don’t shut me out and pretend that everything’s fine. And as long as you get it through your thick head that I’m. Not. Leaving.”

“You deserve someone better,” Dean maintains, frowning. “You deserve someone who—who knows how to do this whole wining and dining thing. And don’t try to pretend you don’t like this ‘romance crap’ because I saw you with Jess and I saw you with Sarah.”

It’s the closest Dean has come to admitting to keeping an eye on Sam when he was at Stanford, which is something Sam doesn’t want to get into now. Hell, he doesn’t know if he ever wants to have that conversation.

“You’re right,” he agrees. “I don’t mind romance. And one of these days I’m going to indulge my romantic streak and you’re going to let me. When you’re ready for it. When we’re both ready for it.”

Dean just looks at Sam and Sam thinks, for a single, shining moment, that he finally got through. Then his brother says, “You looked ready for it with Sarah,” and Jesus Christ, Sam thought they already dealt with this.

Dean’s hand lifts up and he rubs at his temple briefly before lowering his hand again. Sam doesn’t think his brother even realizes that he moved. “We can swing back that way,” Dean suggests. “See how it goes. I bet she’d love to hear from you again.”

“Well, that’s just tough for Sarah then because I’m not in love with her. I’m in love with you. This is what I want, Dean. This is all I want.”

“Wasn’t good enough for you before,” Dean responds without hesitating and then, almost instantly, presses his lips together like he didn’t mean to let the words escape his mouth.

Stunned and a little angered by the rapid left turn the conversation just took, Sam says, “I never left you. I left Dad. I left hunting. I didn’t leave you.”

Dean’s mouth works for a few seconds as he struggles with himself. Sam can pinpoint the exact moment his brother loses the battle. It’s the moment when Dean eyes go flint cold and he opens his mouth and says, “Not how it looked from where I was standing.”

“Yeah, because you were standing right where you were always standing: right in the man's shadow!” Sam hauls himself up short before he can add anything else along that train of thought—Dean is already giving him a hurt, slapped look that he probably isn’t aware of—and then, in a slightly calmer tone of voice, he continues, “But I didn’t want to leave you, Dean, and I’m not going anywhere. I swear to God.”

Dean turns to pace away, raising one hand to his head. Sam is relieved when his brother just runs his fingers roughly through his hair as he says, “You say that now, but sooner or later you’re gonna get tired of playing monk, and I don’t know if I can—”

“If you can’t, then you can’t,” Sam interrupts before Dean can work himself up any more. “I’m still not leaving.”

“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want to do that to you, Sam,” Dean says, turning around again. “Ever think of that?”

“Do what to me?” Sam responds incredulously.

“Turn you into one of those blue balled priest types.”

“Jesus Christ, man, it’s not a big deal. All I need is my right hand and some halfway decent porn.” He says it without thinking and only realizes afterwards, when Dean’s face contorts into a grimace as he grabs convulsively at his head, that bringing up porn of any kind probably isn’t the best idea. Rushing the few feet to his brother’s side, Sam grabs his shoulder.

“Dean,” he says. “Dean, I’m sorry, man. Can you hear me? Dean?”

“Fuck,” Dean mutters, squeezing his eyes shut and pushing his fingers more firmly against his scar.

Remembering that it worked once before, Sam moves his hand from his brother’s shoulder to the back of his neck. He only has to massage the pressure points for a few seconds before Dean’s breathing eases and his muscles unclench. He keeps his hand up by his scar for another minute or so, fingertips brushing it gently, and then, cautiously, lowers it and lifts his head.

“Better?” Sam asks, still working at the nape of his brother’s neck.

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s—” Dean lets out a shaky breath and nods. “That’s good.”

For the first time in what seems like forever, there’s an expression on Dean’s face that borders on pleasure, and he’s letting Sam touch him. He’s actually pushing back into Sam’s hand. Before Sam knows he means to do anything, he leans forward and lays a brief, chaste kiss on his brother’s cheek. Dean stiffens—not frightened exactly, more startled—but he still doesn’t pull away. Sam shifts his grip on the back of his brother’s neck, easing up to caress the soft, bristling line of Dean’s hair.

“You gonna hit me?” he asks.

Dean looks at him for a moment longer and then closes his eyes and licks his lips. It’s an invitation. Sam is sure he’s reading that right. But he’s also sure Dean doesn’t know what he’s offering.

So instead of pressing his lips to his brother’s, Sam drops his head forward and rubs their noses together. When Dean’s eyes flutter open in surprise, they’re so close to Sam’s, and so green, that Sam’s pulse stutters.

“What—Sammy, what are you doing?” Dean asks. His voice is soft, but the ‘you freak’ at the end of it is clearly audible and it makes Sam laugh softly. Maybe they can salvage tonight after all.

“Nothing,” he answers, nudging his brother’s nose one last time before straightening and taking his hand again.

Dean blinks down at their entwined fingers with an odd expression. Like maybe he forgot over these last few weeks what human contact feels like and is perplexed by the sudden influx of stimulus. Sam gives his brother a few moments to decide whether he’s okay with this or not and then, when Dean’s expression settles and he leaves his hand where it is, smiles and pulls him toward the door.

“Come on. You want to go on a date? We’ll go on a date.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I’m pretty sure that ‘going on a date’ actually implies that you ‘go’ somewhere,” Dean says as Sam snaps on the TV. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed with the top three buttons of his dress shirt open and his shoes off. His jacket and tie are both draped on the arm of the chair in the corner where he tossed them, and his right foot is turned sideways on the floor, the sole pressed up against his opposite ankle.

Sam can’t decide whether it’s hot as hell or just really, really adorable.

“What’s the point?” he says, grinning. “I have everything I want right here.”

It sounds corny, but it makes Dean blush so Sam counts it a win and starts flipping through the channels. There’s a Spanish talk show, footage from a Holy Roller convention, an old rerun of I Love Lucy, and an advertisement announcing that the Friday Night Movie will begin in a few moments.

Sam stops there and gives the TV a couple of whacks until the fuzz on the screen evens out. Then, after a brief detour to retrieve the pizza and the six-pack of beer from the table, he sits down next to his brother. “This,” he announces, handing the six-pack over, “Is called pizza and a movie.”

“This,” Dean says, mimicking his inflection, “Is really fucking lame.” But he looks relaxed as he pulls two beers free and puts the other four on the floor beside him, and Sam doesn’t think for one moment that his brother is doing anything but enjoying himself right now.

“You love it,” he says, keeping his voice casual, and flips the lid open on the pizza carton. Rotating the box, he offers it to his brother. Dean reaches in readily enough, and there’s no missing the approval in his eyes when pulls out a slice with his usual pepperoni and sausage.

“Do you even know what’s on?” he asks, juggling the pizza and his own drink to hand Sam the other beer.

“Guess we’ll find out in a second,” Sam answers. He leans over and retrieves the remote from his own bed and turns the volume on the TV up just as Veronica Bennett starts to sing, The night we met I knew I needed you so.

“Oh, hell no,” Dean says.

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” Sam replies, straight-faced.

“Dude, no. It’s a chick flick!” Dean says it the same way someone else might say, ‘Don’t eat that; it’s dog shit!’ and Sam privately agrees with him. But Dean sounds more like himself than he has in months, and Sam can’t stop himself from stringing his brother along a little in an attempt to prolong the moment.

“Sorry, Dean. Motel rules clearly state that the dude with the remote picks the show and I have the remote. See?” Holding it up, he waggles it at his brother. Dean glares at him. “And I’m in the mood for some Swayze,” Sam continues lazily. “So I guess you’re just gonna have to deal.”

He isn’t surprised at all when Dean drops his beer (but not the pizza, can’t loose the precious food of course) and tackles him off the side of the bed.

Sam gets pizza sauce in his hair in the ensuing wrestling match, and one of them steps on a can of beer, which promptly explodes and sprays alcohol all over Sam’s duffle, so he’s going to smell like a drunk until they stop to do laundry again. When Dean emerges triumphantly with the remote and takes a victory lap around the motel room, though, it’s totally worth it.

Chapter Text

Three days later, they’re in Wichita and up to their eyebrows in sparkling, sticky dust.

“Fucking pixies,” Dean mutters, sucking on the tender stretch of skin between his thumb and forefinger where one of the pests (small and razor-toothed and foul tempered) bit down and latched on. Sam had to burn the thing off with his lighter.

“Let me see,” Sam says, stepping forward. His foot crunches down on one of the pixie’s bodies with a wet, snapping noise and releases a noxious, sparkling cloud.

Little known fact about pixies: their blood reeks. Sam makes a mental note to add that information to Dad’s unhelpfully sparse entry.

“S’ fine,” Dean says, but he holds out his hand anyway, flexing his thumb to keep the blood flowing.

Things have been much more comfortable between them these past few days, but Dean is still leery of physical contact so Sam is careful not to touch his brother more than he has to. As he closes his hand around Dean’s wrist, though, Sam’s fingers brush against his brother’s pulse and Dean’s hand gives a single, uncontrolled twitch. Sam considers apologizing and then decides that it’d be better not to call any attention to the slip.

Adjusting his grip, he tilts his brother’s hand up toward his face and peers at the bite. The wound is still bleeding sluggishly, but considering how many pixies were in this nest and how fast the little bitches were, Sam’s pretty sure they got off lightly.

“You’ll live,” he says, stepping back.

“Awesome,” Dean mutters. As he turns around to head back to the car, he rubs absently at his wrist where Sam’s fingers were a moment before. “Dibs on first shower. Fucking pixie dust itches.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They’re halfway back to the room when Sam realizes that they may be in more trouble than he initially thought.

“Uh, Dean?”

“Yeah?” Dean grunts without looking over.

“You’re sparkling.”

Dean snorts humorlessly. “Hate to break it to you, princess, but you look like a My Little Pony crapped all over you too.”

“No, I mean. You’re sparkling.”

Dean scowls, but he slows down and tilts the rearview mirror so that he can see himself. A moment later, Sam is gripping the dashboard as Dean yanks the Impala over to the side of the road. The engine dies with a spluttering cough and then Dean is jumping out of the car, swearing and swatting at his skin. Sam gives himself a few seconds to process the fact that they didn’t crash and then climbs out himself.

“Dean,” he says, walking around the front of the car toward his brother.

“Get it off me!” Dean shouts. He’s given up slapping and is now rubbing at his skin in between pushing up his sleeves and jerking up his shirt to see how far it’s spread.

As far as Sam can tell from the brief flash of his brother’s abs before Dean drops the shirt again, the answer is everywhere.

“It’s not on you, dude,” he says, trying to keep his own voice calmer than he feels.

Dean shoots Sam a glance that’s half panicked and half pissed and Sam doesn’t say anything else. From the expression on his brother’s face, Dean would probably be happier if Sam didn’t look at him anymore either, but he can’t help himself. The faint glimmer that he first noticed in the car has become a full on shine in the moonlight, as though someone crushed diamonds and dusted Dean’s skin with the dust.

If, y’know, diamonds were pink.

“Fucking pixies!” Dean yells as he stomps back to the car.

Sam scrambles to get back in himself, and before he can finish putting on his seat belt Dean is peeling out ... in the opposite direction from the motel.

“Uh, Dean?” he chances after a moment.

“What?” At least that’s what Sam thinks Dean says. It’s kind of hard to tell when the word comes growled between his brother’s teeth like that.

“Where’re we going?”

"Back to the nest."

"Why?" Sam asks, already sure that he isn't going to like the answer.

"Cause I'm gonna rip the wings off those overgrown fireflies and then burn their sparkly asses. And then? Then I'm gonna piss on their fucking ashes.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little—”

Dean cuts his eyes over and oh. Oh wow. Sam has always thought that his brother’s eyes glowed, but now they actually are glowing: like green foxfire. The color sets off the pink nicely, and Sam really shouldn’t be thinking about how pretty Dean looks right now. Something has clearly gone wrong here, even if it doesn’t seem to be harmful, and he should be trying to figure out how to fix it—not musing about Dean’s lips, and how the sparkles there are darker, more red than pink, and shit, is that cotton candy he’s smelling?

“I’m calling Bobby,” he announces, reaching for his phone.

“What? No!”

“Dean, you’re pink. And you’re starting to smell like cotton candy. We’re calling Bobby.”

Dean slams on the breaks for the second time in ten minutes. When the Impala has finished skidding to a stop, he thumps his fist against the steering wheel. Interestingly, the impact leaves the black plastic glowing faintly for a moment. Dean drops his head down, shoulders shifting as he heaves in rough breaths, and Sam waits for him to start rubbing at his scar the way he always does when he gets this agitated. But instead, his brother just sits there. Breathing.

Finally, after Sam has begun to shift awkwardly, Dean mutters, “Fine. Call him.”

To Bobby’s credit, he doesn’t—quite—laugh when Sam describes the problem. There’s just a suspiciously long moment of silence and then he asks, “What color were their wings?”

“Um.”

“That’s not supposed to be a stumper, Sam.”

“I know, I just.” Sam runs a hand through his hair and shoots a glance over at his brother, who is now resting his forehead on the steering wheel and muttering inaudibly to himself. “It was dark. I think they were purple maybe? Or pink?”

Bobby grunts something about idjits, but Sam misses the exact message because his brother picks that moment to call, “Sam?” There’s something off about his voice—something wrong—and Sam’s pulse kicks up a notch.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, looking over again.

Dean’s head is still down against the steering wheel. His eyes are shut. “Ask Bobby if they’re poisonous.”

Oh God. Sam knew it. He fucking knew that it wasn’t just a pigmentation problem. No way either of them was going to get off that easy.

But he can’t help repeating it, like maybe he heard wrong. “Poisonous?”

In his ear, Bobby asks, “Dean feeling funny?”

Dean moans softly and Sam’s stomach flips. “Dean, what’s wrong?” he asks again, not quite daring to reach out.

“’M head’s spinning,” Dean mutters. His voice has gone loose and sloppy.

“He says he’s dizzy,” Sam relays, and his own voice sounds just as panicked as he feels.

“What’s his temp like?”

Sam could ask Dean if he feels hot, but it’s faster to reach out and see for himself and so Sam puts his hand on the sliver of exposed flesh at the back of his brother’s neck. Dean shivers a little and tightens his grip on the steering wheel. He feels overheated, skin radiating warmth like a space heater.

“Hot,” Sam says. “Is that bad?”

“And he’s pink.”

“Yeah. Bobby, what’s going on? Do I need to get him to the hospital?” Although, God, Sam doesn’t know what the doctors—civilians—are going to do against something so clearly supernatural in origin.

On the phone, Bobby bursts out laughing.

Sam is instantly both annoyed and relieved. More relieved than annoyed, though. Bobby wouldn’t laugh if this were in any way serious.

“He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?” Dean mumbles, tilting his head to the side and cracking one eye open to look up at Sam. Dean’s skin shifts beneath Sam’s palm with the movement and the sensation reminds Sam that he’s still touching his brother. He takes his hand back reluctantly and his fingertips are glimmering hot pink from the contact. As he rubs them together, they fade back to their normal shade.

On the other end of the line, Bobby has gotten himself back under control, and he clears his throat before he says, “Those weren’t pixies, Sam. They were sprites. They’ve got a kind of narcotic for a venom, gets you high for a couple of days. It’s kinda like being drunk, only without the alcohol.” He pauses and then adds, “You boys have got to be the luckiest sons of bitches I ever met.”

Yeah. Lucky. They’re both real lucky. Especially Dean.

Swallowing the swelling, bitter lump in his throat, Sam asks, “What about the, uh, the other thing?”

“What? The fact that your brother’s a pretty, pretty princess?” Bobby returns, and chuckles at his own wit. Sam looks at his brother’s miserable, frustrated face and thinks that it’s a good thing Bobby isn’t on speakerphone. “Shouldn’t last more than twelve hours.”

“You sure?”

“Do I sound senile to you?” Bobby answers, and Sam can’t help smiling slightly. The man never did like having his knowledge questioned.

“No,” he says. “Thanks, Bobby, we owe you one.”

“I’ll add it to your tab,” Bobby says. Sam isn’t sure whether that’s meant to be metaphorical or literal. Although if Bobby kept a book of favors owed to him lying around, he’d never be able to find it in all the mess. “Try to figure out what you’re hunting before you attack it next time, kid, okay?”

“Will do. Thanks again.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bobby mutters, waving it off, and then Sam is left listening to dead air. As he lowers the phone, Dean sits up and rests his head on the window to his left. The steering wheel sparkles for a couple of seconds and then dulls.

“Well?” Dean grunts. “Am I dying?”

Sam can’t tell whether his brother is serious or not. If he is, then he doesn’t sound all that upset by the prospect.

“You’re going to feel drunk for a few days,” he says as he slides his phone back into his pocket. “The sparkling should go away sooner.”

How sooner?” Dean groans, reaching up and putting a hand to his head. For a moment, Sam thinks he’s touching the scar, and then he realizes that Dean is just rubbing his eyes.

“Twelve hours.”

Dean’s breath huffs out in a humorless laugh. With a slight shake of his head, he drops his hand back down into his lap. “Fanfuckingtastic,” he mutters, and then reaches for the ignition.

“Woah!” Sam protests, leaning forward to cover his brother’s hand with his own. Dean gives him a bleary, indignant look but doesn’t flinch away.

“What?”

Drunk, Dean,” Sam reminds him. “You’re not driving.”

Dean frowns at Sam while his venom-swaddled brain struggles to processes Sam’s words and then, as comprehension smoothes out his forehead, his mouth purses petulantly. “I hate pixies,” he mutters, pulling his hand out from beneath Sam’s and reaching for his door.

“Actually—”

Sam.”

“Nevermind.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Turns out that when Dean is drunk on sprite venom, he forgets that he doesn’t like to be touched.

Sam figures out that important fact when they get back to the motel and his brother literally pulls him down into the bed on top of him. Sam makes what could probably be considered a girly noise of surprise, which would be mortifying under normal circumstances, and especially with Dean as a witness. Only Dean is too busy wrapping himself around Sam like a damned boa constrictor to pay attention to any noises he might be making.

“Dude,” Sam tries, but it’s a weak protest at best and a moment later his brother’s leg hooks up over his hip. The new position snugs Sam’s rapidly swelling cock up against Dean’s limp one, but Dean doesn’t seem to notice. Making a contented little sound, he gets a hand in Sam’s hair and drags his head down so that Sam’s nose is mashed up against the side of Dean’s jaw. This close, Dean doesn’t smell quite as much like cotton candy—or not just cotton candy. Instead, he smells the way that Sam imagines sugar would, if it were spun out and sprinkled with sunlight.

Sam probably shouldn’t be wondering what that would taste like—shouldn’t be wondering if the sprite’s bite has changed the flavor of Dean’s skin as well as its appearance and scent—but he is anyway.

Man, this feels good. Too good. Sam has to untangle himself before the bulge of his erection actually penetrates Dean’s venom-addled mind. He at least has to try to get away because when Dean sobers up he’s going to be pissed as hell if Sam didn’t put up any kind of fight.

“Dude, I gotta go turn off the light,” Sam tries. Blindly, he reaches up behind his head in an attempt to find his brother’s hand where it’s still tangled in his hair.

“Leave it on,” Dean slurs. “Jus’ wanna lie here.” He shifts, bumping his crotch against Sam’s, and Sam’s breath stutters out.

This is so fucking unfair it’s ridiculous.

In a strangled, desperate voice, he says, “You realize this counts as cuddling, right?”

“Why?” Dean all but yawns the word, drawing it out as slow and thick as taffy. “You insecure in your masc—mascoo—manhood, Sammy?” He’s started to massage Sam’s scalp, which sends confusing waves of warmth through Sam’s skin, and Sam redoubles his efforts to grab his brother’s wrist.

“This from the sparkly pink dude,” he grunts, although he supposes that he’s looking pretty pink himself right now, the way Dean is clinging to him.

“Gotta be a man to wear pink,” Dean responds drowsily.

Sam is pretty sure that his brother would be singing a different tune if their positions were reversed, but there’s clearly no point in arguing with Dean when he’s like this. He gives one last, blind flail and then gives up trying to get at his brother’s hand as well. He’s at the wrong angle for it and besides, all the wriggling and straining is rubbing their cocks together and doing cruel and unusual things to Sam’s libido.

Resting his hand on Dean’s side, he swallows and then says, “I just don’t want you to kick my ass later for letting you do this. You know, once you’re not high anymore.”

“Won’t,” Dean promises, and then rubs against Sam like an overgrown cat.

Sam’s head is starting to spin from the smell of his brother’s skin. Or possibly the sprite venom is a contact narcotic and it’s making him a little high himself. Or possibly it’s just Dean. Just Dean flooding Sam’s head and heart with all of the touches he’s been withholding for the past few months.

“’S nice,” Dean announces. “Wanted to—wanted to do this so long. Wasn’t sure you’d let me.”

Sam’s surprise gives him the impetus he needs to push away enough to see his brother’s face. “You what?”

Dean leaves off massaging Sam’s scalp in favor of patting at his cheek. “Like knowing where you are,” he says.

Sam lifts his own hand from Dean’s side and rests it on top of the hand Dean is using to paw at his face, stilling his brother’s drunken fumbles. “God, Dean, of course I’d let you. All those times you called me a girl and you thought I didn’t like cuddling?”

If Dean were sober, he would have shrugged it off. But he isn’t. For all intents and purposes, he’s drunk off his ass, and so the truth comes spilling helplessly out of his mouth.

“’S like teasing,” he mumbles, dropping his eyes. “If I—if I give you this, but I don’t want any more, s’like. I don’t wanna be a cocktease.”

Sam’s breath catches. “Dean, is that—is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”

Dean doesn’t answer, but when he blinks there’s moisture shining in his eyes. Another blink and there’s a shining pearl of salt-water running down his cheek: green at first and then changing to a pale, watery rose color. Sam drops his forehead against his brother’s and Dean shuts his eyes: mouth pursing.

“It’s not teasing,” Sam says, shifting his hand from his own cheek to his brother’s. “Not all touching has to be about sex.” He feels a little hypocritical for saying that with his cock pulsing the way it is, but that doesn’t make the statement any less true. Doesn’t make his heart ache any less for his beautiful, damaged brother.

“You can touch me, Dean,” he whispers. “You can touch me.”

“No take backs,” Dean says weakly through his tears. “No take backs, Sammy.” He slides his hand around to cup the back of Sam’s head, like he’s afraid Sam is going to pull away.

But Sam isn’t going anywhere. Not tonight. Not ever.

“No take backs,” he promises, and risks laying a gentle kiss on his brother’s mouth. Dean’s lips tremble beneath his, their breaths tangled, and then, tentatively, press back.

Sam lies in bed with his brother and, like a reverse Prince Charming, kisses Sleeping Beauty asleep.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the night, Sam startles awake (dont know what he sees in you) from a dream (gonna take you for a spin) he can’t quite remember (try out sammys toy). Dean is still curled around him, and in his slumber he moves automatically to comfort: hands drifting on Sam’s back and tugging him closer. Sam is shivering (feel that sugar) and sweating (sammy isnt here), and there’s a bad taste (open up good boy good little whore) in his mouth—like blood and sulfur—as he nestles his head into the crook of his brother’s shoulder.

“S’okay, Sammy. M’here,” Dean slurs. “I got you.” And then he’s out again.

Sam shouldn’t. He knows he shouldn’t.

But that phantom copper taste (went away and left you) is clinging to his mouth and he can’t (tighten up for me dean-o) seem to get warm and he tilts his head up and presses a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss to the vulnerable line of Dean’s neck. Sugar floods his mouth—sugar faintly flavored by roses and strawberries—and chases the last vestiges of the dream away.

Sam is steadier now, which means that he should close his eyes and go back to sleep, but Dean tastes good. Dean tastes good and he smells even better, and instead of doing what he knows he's supposed to, Sam mouths at his brother's throat again, scraping Dean's skin with his teeth.

In his sleep, Dean's face pulls tight and he makes a tiny, lost sound—a whimper. He isn't trying to get away, not yet, but that sound shoots straight into Sam's chest and, trembling violently, he makes himself stop.

Jesus Christ, what the hell was he doing?

Resting his forehead against his brother’s damp skin, Sam stares down the length of Dean's body. Sam is hard again, dick pressed up against his brother’s hip, and he eases his crotch carefully away from Dean and takes deep breaths to try to calm himself down. His heart is pounding out a demanding pulse of Dean want mine, but it’s his head that’s the real problem.

His head that won’t stop wondering whether all of Dean is that wondrous, glittering pink, and whether he’d taste like candied rose petals if Sam sucked him down.

It’s hours before he’s relaxed enough to sleep again, but if there are any more dreams that night, then Sam can’t remember them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sparkling actually takes sixteen hours to wear off. As soon as it’s faint enough to be mostly unnoticeable, Dean decides to celebrate by going out for a drink.

“You’re already drunk, Dean,” Sam protests as his brother leans on him in an effort to steady himself while pulling on his boots.

“No. ‘M pixie fucked. Couple of hours with Jack and then I’ll be drunk.”

Sam’s pretty sure adding actual alcohol to whatever the sprite venom is doing to his brother’s system isn’t a great idea, but when he calls Bobby for confirmation, Bobby turns around and gives Dean a green light. Something about the damage being done and Dean’s system being too tied up by the venom for anything else to really affect him.

Sam hangs up, feeling cornered and slightly betrayed, and Dean immediately says, “See? No problem. Told you so.”

Sam sort of wants to lie and tell his brother that, actually, Bobby said to tell him to stop being such an idiot, but despite his worry he understands. Dean drinks for very specific reasons, and he’s aware enough of his own limits that he only ever gets drunk when he wants to be drunk. It must be incredibly disconcerting for him to feel like this without having touched a drop: must be making him feel even more powerless than he usually does these days.

If it’s going to make Dean feel more in control to pretend that he’s drunk because he decided to be, then Sam isn’t going to stand in his way. What he is going to do is make sure that his brother doesn’t fall on his face while he’s drowning himself.

The Boot and Spur (where do the owners think they are, Texas?) isn’t going to win any prizes, but it isn’t the worst place they’ve been either. There isn’t any sawdust on the floors, for one, and it looks like it’s been hosed down sometime within the last year if not the last month. Sam helps Dean make his uncoordinated way to a table by the wall—no bartender is going to serve Dean when he already looks as out of it as he does—and then goes up to order a couple of beers. There’s an advertisement for Spur’s Famous Hot Wings sitting on the bar and, on impulse, he orders a basket of those as well.

Dean starts to perk up when he takes his first sip of beer, and when a waitress brings the wings over a couple of minutes later he practically beams at her. Sam watches his brother make yet another conquest without even meaning to and isn’t sure whether the sparkles haven’t completely worn off after all or if this is just what Dean looks like when he’s happy. He can’t remember—doesn’t have a recent or a clear enough memory to compare to this moment —and while Sandy-call-me-Sands tells Dean to holler if he needs anything else, Sam’s chest starts up with that old, familiar ache of failure.

Normally, he would drown the ache with alcohol, but one drunken Winchester is enough for the night. So, just like he has ever since he found out just what’s wrong with his brother, he resists the urge and curls his hand more tightly around the only bottle he’s going to allow himself to drink out of tonight.

As far as Sam can see, the addition of alcohol to the sprite venom doesn’t do anything except make Dean chatty. While Dean works his way through six beers and three baskets of wings, he tells Sam about hunts he missed out on while he was at Stanford. Ghost in Colorado, nixie in Oregon, some kind of overgrown bat with acid blood that his brother doesn’t have a name for in Wyoming. Sam drinks in the missing parts of Dean’s life the way he wants to toss back shots and does his best not to look at the hooked scar at his brother’s temple, which is a tangible reminder of another, darker time that Dean doesn’t speak of.

Oh, Dean thinks about it often enough—Sam can follow his brother’s thoughts by keeping track of his hand—but he won’t talk about it. He won’t reach out to Sam for help: hasn’t once opened up and said, ‘I’m in pain. I feel helpless and dirty and lost and I don’t know what to do. Help.’

Until Dean mans up and admits to how deeply he’s hurting, he isn’t going to get any better, and that knowledge puts a bitter edge on the relief Sam feels to see his brother enjoying himself so much. He can’t quite work out how he should react to this new version of Dean, who rattles on about things Sam wouldn’t have been able to pry out of him with a crowbar just last week. Who knocks their knees together under the table with a regularity that can’t be accidental. Who holds out a chicken wing like he’s expecting Sam to let Dean hand feed him and actually looks hurt when Sam reaches out to take the wing with his fingers.

It’s wonderful to see Dean looking so relaxed and happy. Wonderful and joyous.

But it isn’t real and it isn’t going to be real until Dean talks to him—until he deals with the rape instead of running from it and letting it corrode him from the inside out. Dean isn’t high on life, he’s high on sprite venom. This is an artificial peace, and a fleeting one at that.

After another day or so, this Dean will dry up and fade away like sea foam in the sunlight.

Sam is going to be so screwed when that happens because he’s already addicted to this version of his brother, and the thought of having to go to sleep in his own bed again is physically painful. But he isn’t strong enough not to want the illusion, and so he smiles across the table and laughs when Dean tells him about a will o’ the wisp hunt that left him covered in mud from head to toe, and he doesn’t even fume when Dean mentions Dad.

Not much, anyway.

Although Sam spends the evening nursing his single beer, he had a couple of sodas back at the motel and eventually it’s a question of find the bathroom or embarrass himself at the table. Pushing his bottle toward his brother, he stands up and says, “I have to pee. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Dean is too absorbed with his fourth basket of wings to do more than wave a hand, which kind of makes Sam want to stay despite the urgent (and increasingly painful) need for release. Dean has this tendency to lick the sauce from each and every one of his fingers, and he’s completely unaware of how sensual it makes him look. Sam may already have seen the show countless times tonight, but he’s never going to get tired of it.

Then Dean glances up and, around a half-chewed mouthful of chicken meat, says, “You gonna drain the snake or what?”

Yeah, okay, that was just the sight Sam needed to get going.

On his way to the bathroom, he hears the same, meaningless snatches of conversation that he always does in places like this. One group of guys is talking about ‘that ball buster Harry’; another is bemoaning the ‘bleeding heart liberals who are ruining this country’. Sam catches drunken musings about women, cars, horses, and music—just your usual, run of the mill topics—and so he’s not concerned at all when he enters the bathroom.

He isn’t concerned until he comes back out four minutes later and sees three men—strangers—surrounding their table and blocking Dean from sight. Sam’s warning system might not have been working a few moments ago, but it kicks into overdrive now and, even as he moves forward, his mind is flicking back to the snippet he caught from those three men on his way to the bathroom and of fucking course they weren’t talking about riding horses. He heard the name—that stupid, fucking name—and he was dumb enough not to connect it to his brother and now Dean is paying for it.

Four minutes, he thinks resentfully as he pushes a man in a chambray shirt and cowboy boots aside. I was only gone for four fucking minutes.

Sam can smell them even before he reaches them. They’re standing in a haze of alcohol stench, as though they just finished taking baths in a vat of whiskey. They’re drunk off their asses—of course they are, normal people don’t do shit like this: not unless their judgment is seriously, fatally impaired.

The men are closed in tightly around Dean, hemming him in place and keeping the rest of the bar from seeing what they’re doing, but Sam is tall enough to see his brother over the nearest man’s shoulder. Dean’s head is lowered. The muscles in his jaw are working overtime and tension radiates from his skin. He’s clutching at his scar so tightly his knuckles are white and his hand is shaking, trembling like an old drunk’s.

Sam takes another step and suddenly anger is crowding out his fear.

They’re touching him. The son of a bitch standing with his back to Sam has his motherfucking hand on the back of Dean’s neck.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Sam demands.

Dean’s eyes come up immediately at the sound of Sam’s voice and search for his face. There was a part of Sam that had been wondering why Dean didn’t just tell these men to go fuck themselves when they first wandered over, but now that he can see his brother’s face he understands.

There’s nothing but terror in Dean’s expression. Nothing in his eyes but pleading and pain.

For as long as Sam can remember, his brother’s instinctive response to fear has been to twist the adrenaline around until the blood pounding in his head is screaming for fight and not flight. The violence of Dean’s response is directly proportionate to his terror, which means that he’s at his most dangerous when he’s the most panicked.

Normally.

But as Sam looks into his brother’s fear dazed eyes, he belatedly realizes that he shut down that safety valve when he ordered Dean to remember. When he ordered his brother to face his emotions head on instead of pushing them away.

Oh God, this is all his fault.

“S-Sam,” Dean manages, and then Hands steps forward, cutting off Sam’s view of his brother.

“We’re just talkin’, buddy,” he says, smiling at Sam drunkenly. Like they’re friends. Like he wasn’t just molesting Dean.

“You need to leave,” Sam growls. “Now.

Dean makes a tiny, choked noise, and Sam shoves Hands aside to see that one of the other two men—a dark-haired asshole in a black t-shirt and jeans—has tilted Dean’s head back and is touching his lips. The hand that Dean was pressing to his temple is now clutching at the man’s wrist, but he can’t seem to pull himself together enough to do more than hang on weakly.

Sam has a split-second of crystal clear thought where he understands that it’s a good thing he isn’t armed right now and then everything is drowned out by a flood of red. The only thing stopping him from shoving that fuck’s head through the pool table is the fact that he’s too furious to remember how to move.

He hears himself speak, as though from a great distance. “Get your fucking hands off him.”

“Take it easy, buddy,” Hands says, clapping a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “We’re gonna pay him.”

Sam thought he couldn’t get any angrier, but turns out he was wrong because now it feels like his skin is on fire with it.

“He’s not a whore.” His voice comes out quietly: almost rationally. Dean knows what that means—Sam can see dawning awareness battling with the fear in his brother’s eyes—but these other bozos have no idea. None at all.

Sam’s pretty okay with that.

“Yeah right,” the third guy—graying hair, beer belly hanging over the waistband of his jeans—laughs. “He’ll take money to fuck on camera, he’ll take money to fuck off camera.”

“Or we could set up our own recording studio back at my place,” Black T-Shirt puts in. “I got a camcorder. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Sammy?”

It’s the sound of his borrowed name that does it.

One moment Sam is locked in place by the force of his rage and the next he’s grabbing Hands’ hand off his shoulder and snapping the man’s wrist. His consciousness rides the cresting fury long enough for him to see his fist crash into Beer Belly’s nose and then red fogs everything over. Hands melts into Dad into Black T-Shirt into Dad into Beer Belly into Dad again. Eventually, the shifting mess in Sam’s mind settles on his own face: that stupid, selfish Sam who left Dean to get raped. That son of a bitch. That fucking bastard.

It’s Dean who brings Sam back to himself. Dean pressed up against his back with one arm flung around Sam’s chest and one hand clutching his shoulder as he fights to pull Sam backwards.

“Stop!” Dean’s yelling. “Jesus Christ, Sam, stop!”

Sam looks down and the guy (not his Stanford self at all, but Black T-Shirt) is curled up into a small, protective ball. For a moment, Sam doesn’t think the man is alive, but then Black T-Shirt uncurls slightly, and moans. Beer Belly and Hands are on the floor as well, unconscious, and he can’t tell if Beer Belly is breathing, and God, Hands’ right hand is a mess. Sam doesn’t remember any of the fight clearly, but you can’t fuck someone’s hand up quite that thoroughly without stomping on it, so he must have.

His own hands ache, and when he looks down, his knuckles are bloodied and swollen. Aside from Black T-Shirt’s low groans and Sam’s own breathing and Dean’s whispered, repetitive, “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” the bar is eerily quiet, and Sam, stumbling a little against his brother, looks around to find that they’re the center of attention.

Some of the bar’s patrons have cell phones out, which means that the police are on the way, of course they are, Sam just assaulted these guys, might have killed one of them, who knows, he fucking deserves to get caught, deserves to go to jail. His eyes, slipping back and forth over the crowd, find their waitress’ face, and Sands is crying silently with one hand pressed to her mouth.

“Come on,” Dean mutters, pulling at Sam. He sways uncertainly with his own vehemence, still too drunk to move well. Sam isn’t sure how his brother managed to get up from his seat and over here in the first place. “Sam, come on, we have to get out of here!”

But Sam isn’t going anywhere. He doesn’t deserve to get off Scot-free for this. He doesn’t deserve to get off Scot-free for what he let happen to Dean.

Sam!” Dean insists, tugging harder. “Please, Sammy, come on. Don’t you fucking do this to me, you promised you’d stay, you fucking promised.”

As Sam turns his head to look at his brother, he hears the first, faint sound of approaching sirens. Dean’s eyes are still wide. He looks panicked. Looks more frightened than he was when the guy currently moaning on the floor was touching him. Looks fucking petrified that the cops are going to come and arrest Sam and lock him up.

Part of Sam is desperate for that to happen, but most of his attention is already turning from the men on the floor to his brother. To Dean, who isn’t going to shake this drunken blur for another day at least. To Dean, who is cut up deep inside and who isn’t even going to bother trying to staunch the blood flow on his own. To Dean, who needs him.

“Okay,” Sam breathes. When he unclenches his hands, his knuckles crack painfully. “Okay.”

“C’mon,” Dean demands again, and this time Sam obeys.

Chapter Text

They stop back at the motel long enough to get their things from the room (Sam changes while his brother packs: there's blood on his clothes, blood everywhere) and then drive south. Dean falls asleep in the passenger seat almost immediately, but Sam keeps driving until daybreak, when he finally pulls over and checks them into another motel. The clerk, obviously unused to having to handle the night shift, looks at Sam’s hands with puffy eyes and doesn’t ask questions. Not that it would have mattered if he did. The bar fight wasn’t noteworthy enough for news to have traveled this far south.

Dean is still sleeping when Sam returns to the car—slouched up against the passenger door with his mouth hanging open. When Sam opens the door to get his brother out, expecting the seat belt to keep Dean more or less upright, Dean drops out. Apparently, he wasn’t alert enough to strap himself in when they left and Sam didn’t think to check on him.

Sam is half-stunned by the knowledge that his brother would have gone right through the windshield if there had been an accident, but he still manages to catch him, and that’s how Dean wakes: brought up short from his fall by Sam’s chest. Sam waits for his brother to panic at the unexpected contact, but Dean just blinks up at him for a moment and then lets his weight rest more firmly in Sam’s hands. Sam’s bloodied, bruised hands that don’t deserve that kind of trust.

“Dean,” Sam says. If his voice comes out sounding a little choked, then Dean is probably still too drunk to notice. “We’re here. I need you to help me get you into the room.”

“Yeah,” Dean sighs and then, after a brief hesitation, gets himself moving. He’s a little steadier on his feet than he was back at the bar, and moving around seems to revitalize him further. Once they’re inside the room, he’s actually awake enough to insist on looking at Sam’s hands.

Sam would rather clean himself up in private, but his brother seems to be rapidly sobering up (Bobby’s information on the venom’s half-life was obviously a little off) and he has always been mulishly stubborn about being the one to patch Sam up when he gets injured. It would take more energy than Sam has at present to talk Dean out of playing medic, so he sits down on the bed across from the one his brother took and holds his hands out.

Dean mercilessly pokes at Sam’s knuckles and moves his fingers around for him, which hurts like a bitch, but Sam doesn’t protest. While he doesn’t feel quite as bleak as he did back at the Spur, he still recognizes that he deserves a little pain. Dean pauses in his inspection, frowning, and then lifts Sam’s left hand toward his face and squints at it. A moment later, he’s picking something small and white out of the skin between Sam’s second and third knuckles.

Part of a tooth.

Dean lets the bit of bone fall to the carpet and then leans back, releasing Sam’s hands. “Nothing looks broken or dislocated, but you should probably ice those.”

Sam nods in assent and thinks about getting up to wash the blood off. Once he gets past the initial sting, all that cool water will feel good against his abused skin. And Dean’s right: he needs to ice his hands to keep the swelling down. But in the end he’s just too damned tired to move.

After a few minutes of numb silence, Dean says, “You scared me in there.”

Sam’s too worn out to feel adequately guilty for that. His “I’m sorry” comes out sounding flat and less genuine than he means it to.

“They weren’t actually doing anything,” Dean adds, actually sounding puzzled, and deep inside of Sam that continually burning pilot light of anger flares a little.

“They were touching you. They don’t get to touch you.”

He can’t even begin to describe how their drunken presumption made him feel—how Dean’s obvious panic made him feel. He isn’t sure he even remembers just how insanely furious seeing Dean hurt like that made him. The emotion was just too intense to properly recall.

“Sam—” Dean starts, leaning forward and scrubbing his face with his hands.

“I want to kill him.”

The words are out before Sam realizes he’s going to say them, flat and toneless. For a moment, he’s confused— why the hell did he pick now of all times to bring this up?—and then he realizes that it’s because this is the only way he can say what he has to without completely losing it. Only now, when he’s exhausted enough that the anger that would normally be a towering inferno feels no worse than a sullen burn.

“What?” Brow furrowed, Dean lifts his head from his hands. “Who?”

“The guy who—” Fuck, Sam can’t say it. Bad enough he has to think it. “—who hurt you. In Vegas.”

Dean goes stiff.

“I think about it all the time,” Sam continues. “About going there and—and finding him. Or about burning the whole damn studio to the ground. It. Sometimes it scares me, how much I want to—the things I want to do to him. For touching you. For daring. It makes me sick to think about it. It makes me—Fuck, I’m so fucking angry.”

Sam is. Even now he can feel it—that slow-burning wrath that makes him think about knives and blood. It flares higher as he focuses on it, as though his attention is a fuel-soaked log he tossed into the flames.

“At me?” Dean asks, sounding subdued.

Sam isn’t sure what Dean is talking about. Pulling himself from his thoughts, he looks at his brother and says, “What?”

“Are you angry at me?” Dean asks again. While his voice is dull and accepting, his expression is timid: that of a dog that has been kicked one too many times to expect anything else.

“No,” Sam breathes out, wishing he could exhale the sudden bloom of pain in his chest as easily as that word. “God, no, Dean. With that sick asshole. And—and with Dad.”

The fear on Dean’s face disappears immediately at the mention of their father. Instead he’s frowning, disturbed by the perceived (and meant, oh yes it was) accusation and defensive on behalf of his hero. The way that he should have been on his own behalf and wasn’t.

“Dad didn’t do anything wrong.”

Sam’s anger gives a hiccupping pulse and rouses further, giving him the energy to push to his feet. “Jesus Christ, Dean!” he yells. “Stop making excuses for the man.”

“I’m not!” Dean protests as he looks up. “It’s not Dad’s fault he got hurt, Sam.”

“It’s his fault you were there at all,” Sam snaps back, definitive.

For Sam, any question of guilt is always going to come down to that. To the fact that, instead of sending them to live with their Aunt and Uncle out in Ohio when Mom was killed, Dad decided to toss both of them in the backseat of the Impala and drag them along on his unswerving quest for vengeance. It’s always going to come down to the fact that the man chose to raise them as soldiers instead of as his sons. It’s going to come down to the fact that he forced Dean to grow up fast, and hard, and didn’t seem to care what kind of damage he did by putting so much responsibility on such young shoulders.

“I don’t want to have this talk again, Sam,” Dean says, sounding tired. “I don’t want to fight with you about Dad anymore.”

A few moments ago, Sam would have sighed and agreed with his brother, but now that his anger has reawakened he feels testy enough to say, “Fine. Say you’re right. Say it isn’t Dad’s fault he got hurt. Well, you know what, Dean? If you were that strapped for cash, then he should have called Bobby or Pastor Jim for help. Hell, even Caleb could’ve lent a hand. You know that guy’d give Dad the shirt of his back if he asked!”

In the face of Sam’s anger, Dean colors a little and looks away. He should be jumping to his feet and shouting back. Should be slamming Sam into the wall and telling him to stop being such a dick. If he doesn’t have the energy right now to manage that, then he should at least be quietly fuming.

It’s infuriating how goddamned docile he’s being.

“He didn’t know how bad it was,” Dean mumbles, picking at his jeans with his fingers. “I didn’t—I didn’t tell him.”

Of course he didn’t. Sam shouldn’t have expected anything else from his noble, loyal, stupidly self-sacrificing brother. But Sam knows—he knows—that telling Dad wouldn’t have changed anything for his brother because Dad wouldn’t have cared. Dad would have done what he always did when things got tight: yelled at Dean for complaining in the first place and then told him to take care of it.

Which would have put everything right back to square one. By not telling Dad about the problem, Dean just skipped a few steps in the natural process and saved himself an unnecessary rebuke.

“It’s not his fault,” Dean says again, and Sam doesn’t know whether to throttle his brother or pull him into a hug and not let go.

Instead, he sighs and sits down on the bed next to him. “It isn’t your fault, either.”

“I know that,” Dean scoffs, but he waited a shade too long for the claim to be believable. Sam looks at the profile of his brother’s face and knows exactly what he’s thinking because this right here is textbook Dean Winchester.

Should’ve been smarter, faster, better. Shouldn’t have let him get the drop on me. Should have fought him off.

Dean’s making everything his own fault, just like he did when Sam was ten and broke his leg falling out of a tree. Just like he did when Dad used the last of their ready cash to buy himself a bottle of Johnny Walker and there wasn’t anything left over to buy dinner.

It’s always Dean’s fault in his own mind. Always. Sam could take his gun into the bathroom right now and shoot himself in the leg and Dean would still find some way to take the blame for Sam’s injury. It’s frustrating. Frustrating and so very goddamned depressing to hear the confirmation that Dean has been blaming himself for getting raped.

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Sam says, “You were already hurt, you were distracted by what you just went through, and you weren’t expecting to be attacked there. It wasn’t your fault, Dean.”

There’s new tension in the line of Dean’s jaw: a warning sign that Sam is happy to see because it signals the return of his brother instead of the rundown machine he was talking to before. He pauses—both because he doesn’t want to have to say the rest out loud and because he wants to give Dean a chance to respond—and then says, “You didn’t ask to be raped.”

Dean’s calm breaks like a wave against a rocky cliff face and he pushes to his feet to stride away from Sam with agitated steps.

“Of course I fucking asked for it!” he shouts. “I was in a strange place without backup and I dropped my guard. It was a rookie fucking mistake, Sam: you can’t ask for much more trouble than that.”

It’s one thing to know that Dean is blaming himself and another completely to hear him actually say that he asked for it—to hear those words spoken in that scathing, furious tone. Tears threaten as Sam’s stomach heaves, and his anger snarls inside of him, and he can’t let himself succumb to any of it. Not when Dean so very obviously needs him.

Fighting to keep his voice calm and certain, Sam says, “I saw the movie, Dean. I know what you went through. Jesus, man, I’m surprised that you were even able to walk after that: no way you were in any condition to fight.”

Dean casts a withering glance in Sam’s direction before going back to pacing with both hands hooked behind his head. The glance tips Sam from horrified sorrow over into angry frustration and his voice is cutting as he says, “You were probably in shock, for fuck’s sake. You know, shock? That thing that makes it impossible to keep your guard up no matter how good you are?”

Dean shoots him another look, this one hostile with skepticism. “Shock? From what?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Dean. Maybe from having sex with another man for the first time in a room full of strangers?”

Something about that stops Dean. Just stops him dead right where he is. His face wavers for a moment between rage and pain and then Dean clenches his jaw and it smoothes out again. Shutting down.

“It was just sex,” he says flatly.

No, Sam thinks desperately. No, don’t do this. Don’t go away in your head where I can’t reach you.

“No, it wasn’t,” he says, getting up and taking a step forward. “And you goddamned well know it. And I’ll tell you something else, Dean: the rest of the assholes at that studio are really fucking lucky that I’m too busy trying to help you to do anything about them right now because, to be honest, I’m not feeling all that generous toward them either.”

There’s a minute shift in Dean’s eyes, a flicker of some emotion that isn’t quite visible enough for Sam to get a read on. Then, still in that dull voice, he says, “They were just doing their jobs.”

“No they weren’t!” Sam yells. He knows that raising his voice isn’t going to get his point across any better than talking rationally would, and might actually shut Dean down further, but he can’t help himself. He’s too angry.

“Their job is to look out for their actors, damn it!” he continues. “They’re supposed to make sure that no one involved has any doubts about being there. I watched your audition tape, man. You obviously weren’t comfortable with what they wanted from you, but they hired you anyway. They’re supposed to make sure that they’re offering a consensual piece of adult entertainment, but they took one look at your face and your body and they signed you right up because they knew they’d make a shitload of money.”

“Hey, I picked up the phone and called them, Sam,” Dean says, jerking a thumb at his chest. His face is still a little stiff, but he’s thawing, thank God. He’s coming back out. “I decided to go to that audition, I decided to take the job. I decided, Sam. That makes it pretty damned consensual.”

“You can’t make a choice when you don’t have any other options,” Sam maintains, pushing. “And there was no way you were going back to Dad without that money. You’d cut your own arm off before you let him down.”

Dean laughs, harsh and a little wild. “Only you would make that sound like a bad thing.”

“He isn’t worth it, man! He’s not worth that kind of blind devotion. Not when all he’s ever done is treat you like some wind-up soldier.”

They have had these conversations before—had them almost every night before Sam left for Stanford—but Sam doesn’t think he’s ever going to stop feeling relieved when he actually says those words out loud instead of inside his head. One of these days, damn it, he’s going to get through to his brother. He’s going to say the words and have Dean believe him.

But that day isn’t going to be today. He can tell from the hard edge to his brother’s gaze even before Dean says, “We’re not doing this now, Sam,” and turns away.

Sam isn’t going to let his brother sidestep this entire conversation because of a technical foul. Jogging forward, he steps into his brother’s path and says, “Fine. We won’t talk about Dad. But I want to know, Dean. I want you to tell me why you’re so goddamned desperate to exonerate everyone but yourself.”

“Because it’s my fault,” Dean growls, angling to push past him. He sounds angry but his eyes are too wide for that. His breathing is labored.

Sensing that he’s beginning to get somewhere, Sam takes a step sideways and puts himself in his brother’s path again. “Not good enough,” he says. “Why can’t you admit that you didn’t do anything wrong?”

“Because I did, damn it! I fucked up, it’s my goddamned fault. Now leave it alone, Sam. Jesus Christ.” Dean turns around, not so much walking in the opposite direction as fleeing in it, and Sam darts out a hand to stop him.

“You don’t blame the people we help, Dean. You don’t blame them for being attacked. Why is this different?”

And Dean breaks.

“Because I’m not a fucking victim, Sam!” he yells, wrenching his arm free and turning to face him. “I’m not—I’m not a goddamned—” He’s crying—tears spilling hot down his cheeks and face contorted in mingled pain and anger—and now he gives Sam his back again and walks over to sit down on the bed and put his face in his hands.

Stunned, Sam stands in the middle of the room and watches his brother weep. God, he should have known. Should have remembered how much pride Dean used to take in his strength—should have remembered that Dean saw himself as a soldier and not a civilian. Not ever, for all his insecurities and flaws, as someone who could be victimized.

Dean takes a slow, shuddering breath and lifts his head. He’s still crying, and the eyes he turns on Sam are desolate. “I can’t do that, Sammy,” he says thickly. “If I’m—I can’t be that. I can’t.”

Finally, Sam works through his shock enough to do what he should have done from the start and follows his brother over to the bed. Dean watches him come, and his expression is wrecked and pleading and mistrustful, but he doesn’t flee and he doesn’t flinch when Sam sits down next to him and puts an arm around his shoulders.

For several, tense seconds, he resists the draw, but then he folds: turning and pressing his face against Sam’s neck and weakly groping at his shirt. Dean’s skin is feverish and damp from his tears, and his shoulders shake under the weight of Sam’s arm as he begins to cry in earnest. Sam runs his hand up and down his brother’s far arm while he cries, and makes soothing noises, and waits for Dean to become calm enough to hear him again.

When his brother’s sobs have trickled off to sniffles, he says, “Being hurt doesn’t make you any weaker, Dean. It doesn’t make you a victim.”

Dean lets out a disbelieving scoff against Sam’s shoulder.

“No one can make you a victim,” Sam repeats. “Not unless you let them.” He hesitates for a moment—doesn’t want to set his brother off again—but in the end he can’t let the chance pass him by and says, “But right now, that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

Dean immediately pulls against the circle of his arms and Sam, after a moment of arguing with himself, relaxes his grip to let his brother go. He expects Dean to storm outside or maybe just circle the room as he restlessly searches for a way to escape from the memories inside his head. Instead, when Dean stands up, he doesn’t move further than a few, slow steps away. His hand is up at his scar, but for the first time since the cabin, Dean isn’t trying to run from himself.

“What else am I supposed to do?” he mumbles after a moment, eyes downcast.

Stop touching your scar, for starters, Sam thinks, but doesn’t say. He’s learned his lesson on that count, anyway. Instead, he says, “You’re supposed to fight this. You’re supposed to let me help you.”

“I am.”

“No, you’re tolerating me, Dean. And yeah, things are going more smoothly than they were, but you aren’t—you can’t get through this without talking, and that’s the one thing you refuse to do.”

“You never asked, Sam!” Dean yells. “I’ve been waiting for you to do your thing and ask, but you were too busy being pissed off to get your head out of your ass!”

“I—” That can’t be true, can it? Sam would have asked. He must have asked.

Only now that he thinks of it, he doesn’t actually remember bringing it up.

Swallowing, he nods. “Well, I’m asking now.”

“Okay,” Dean says. His voice is still sharp, but he breathes out, slow and measured, and when he speaks again he sounds a little calmer. “Okay, but not tonight. I’m fucking wasted, man.”

Privately, Sam agrees. He’s worn out as well—by the fight and the drive and this conversation—and he wants to be able to think in a straight line when Dean finally opens up and talks to him. But he also doesn’t want to leave them with a vague ‘someday’ because then it would be far too easy for Dean to stall and postpone and squirrel himself back away behind his walls.

“Tomorrow,” Sam suggests.

Dean nods again, more decisively this time, and lowers his hand from his temple. “Yeah, okay. Tomorrow.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam ices his knuckles while his brother showers and then, when Dean comes out, takes his own turn under the spray. The warm water feels good on his muscles, which have gone painfully stiff, and as his body relaxes his thoughts begin to fuzz out around the edges. It’s like trying to think through a thick towel, and he ends up stumbling through the rest of his nightly routine of floss, brush and gargle in a semi-stupor.

Dean is already in bed with the lights are off when Sam comes back out. After a quick glance to make sure that his brother is resting all right, Sam heads over to the other bed and pulls back the sheets.

“What’re you doing?”

Sam jumps, startled by the voice, and then looks over his shoulder to find his brother sitting up in bed on one elbow and watching him. That muzzy, sleepwalking feeling has receded some thanks to his scare, and he’s awake enough to be leery of the studied non-expression on his brother’s face.

“Uh. Going to sleep?” he tries.

“Thought we said no take backs.”

Despite his new return to alertness, it takes Sam a moment to figure out what his brother is talking about. Then he flushes with warmth. He never actually thought Dean would still want this once the venom had worn off, and especially not now, when he must still feel so raw and awkward and exposed. But when he takes a tentative step toward his brother’s bed, Dean edges back to make room for him and lifts the covers up.

As far as Sam can tell, his brother is wearing boxers and that’s it.

Oh God.

“Dean, I—I want to, but I don’t know if I can—”

“I can deal with a little wood, Sam,” Dean says. “Just don’t grope my ass and we’ll be good.”

Sam’s pretty sure that he isn’t (quite) desperate enough to go around groping people in his sleep, and he wants this, wants to be able to sleep with Dean’s warmth radiating into his skin, and so he carefully climbs into the bed next to his brother and lies down on his side. The mattress shifts slightly as Dean pulls the covers back up and then shakes as he moves forward to press himself up against Sam’s back.

“Let me?”

As if there was ever a question.

“Yeah,” Sam sighs.

The word has barely left his lips before Dean is shoving one foot between Sam’s ankles and forcing an arm beneath his shoulders. When Dean’s other arm drapes over his side, Sam leans back into the solid warmth of his brother’s chest and takes a deep, steadying breath.

“I love you,” he whispers.

Dean is silent for a moment and then, with the hint of a smile in his voice, he says, “You’re such a girl.”

It’s depressing how much it makes Sam’s chest ache to hear those familiar, teasing words from his brother. When he breathes in, the ache intensifies, and when he exhales it moves from his chest up into his throat and lodges there heavily. He has to swallow a few times before he’s finally able to say, “This from the guy who’s treating me like an oversized teddy bear.”

“Yeah, well, you’re playing the oversized teddy bear,” Dean mutters back, but his voice is already trailing sleep and Sam can tell from the slight shift in his brother’s breathing that he’s out seconds later.

He exhales, placing his hand over Dean’s where it rests on his chest, and follows.

Chapter Text

Neither of them brings it up during their separate but paralleled morning routines. Or over breakfast. Or when they check out of the motel. Or as Dean pulls them out onto the interstate again, this time heading east.

They don’t stop for lunch, which doesn’t much matter because Sam isn’t hungry. He actually regrets eating as much as he did at breakfast: the pancakes are sitting uneasy in his stomach and the orange juice tastes sour on the back of his tongue. When Dean finally pulls off the highway and starts speeding down back roads, Sam doesn’t ask why.

Instead, Sam rests his head against the window and tries to calm himself down by reminding himself that he already knows what happened to Dean. Things can’t possibly get any worse. Except this is Dean, who seems to attract sorrow like the gleam of gold attracts magpies, and Sam can’t shake the fear that it can get worse. It can actually get a lot worse.

By the time Dean finally pulls over, on the edge of a wide field miles from any recent human habitation, Sam is anxious enough that he’s sweating. He can’t seem to stop his leg from bouncing, no matter how much he concentrates on it. Dean turns off the engine and gets out without looking over, walks around to the hood of the car and leans against it. Sam looks at the sturdy outline of his brother’s back for a moment—broad shoulders, built to bear loads but never this jagged, diffuse weight that hasn’t settled on them but in them, inside Dean’s very bones—and then makes himself follow.

Sam has spent his life traveling dusty back roads just like this isolated stretch that Dean finally settled on, and so he knows how empty America can be when glimpsed from the right angle. It never stops surprising him, though. He keeps expecting the world to look smaller now that he’s grown, and instead it’s gone and expanded at an exponential rate until Sam is both sitting here beside his brother and stranded miles away. He casts his eyes over to Dean’s profile and Dean seems to recede further—remote as a distant, pale star.

But it isn’t the physical space that’s bothering Sam. It’s the time. The sordid, bruising combination of years and long miles.

Sam turns his face away as he settles down more firmly on the hood. He mimics Dean’s stance: feet planted solidly in the dust and hands shoved into his pockets. He keeps his head up and his eyes out on the long grass in the field in front of them, green and growing with the return of spring. There are birds singing somewhere—maybe in the few trees dotting what must have been farmland at some point. Maybe they’re ground birds, though, hidden in the rustling grass. The sun is warm on Sam’s skin, like false promises of safety and happiness. He shuts his eyes and breathes.

“I don’t know how to do this,” Dean says.

Sam opens his eyes again and chances another look to his left. Dean glows here, beautiful, but he doesn’t seem any closer than before. His scar is a white, glaring imperfection at his temple.

“I don’t know how to start,” Dean adds when Sam doesn’t say anything.

“Wherever you want to,” Sam says finally.

Dean is silent for almost a minute and then he says, “It smelled like vomit and rotten eggs. From the quiche, I guess.” The corner of his mouth twitches. “Tasted better going down than it did coming up.”

Taking a deep, shaky breath he continues, “That’s what I was thinking about when he knocked. I was—I could get the vomit out, but I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of that smell. I think I was—maybe I was gonna check under the sink to see if there was any cleaner I could use. And then the door opened and I—I could have looked. In the mirror, I could have looked, maybe seen the fucker’s face, but I was crying and I knew he’d see me back so I was staring down at the sink instead.”

Dean’s crying now. Not horribly—not enough for it to seep into his voice—but soft, almost gentle tears that make his cheeks and eyes shimmer in the sunlight. It feels wrong somehow to be watching Dean like this, feels like a violation, and Sam shifts his gaze away.

“I told him to get out, but he just—he grabbed the back of my head and he slammed my face into the mirror. It didn’t hurt for a few seconds—I think because I was trying to figure out what the fuck was going on—but then the cut stung like a mother and my skull was fucking pounding. He didn’t even have to push me down on the floor, I just—all he did was let go of me and I couldn’t, my legs weren’t working anymore and I just kinda went.”

Sam thought it was bad listening to this the first time, but he hadn’t been aware of how much the hypnotic trance was shielding him: shielding them both. Because that Dean had been in the moment, too confused by what was happening to give a coherent account. This Dean has had time to turn those memories and sensations over in his head and is able to fill in blanks that Sam really wishes could be left vague.

But as much as he doesn’t want to hear it, Dean needs this. And that’s always going to trump any of Sam’s own reservations.

“It—I dunno, I think maybe I wasn’t fighting back at first because I didn’t know what was going on. I mean, I felt him push me over on my stomach and—and p-pull my pants down, but I—wasn’t until he was i-inside me that I realized wh-what he wanted, and th-then I c-couldn’t. I d-don’t know, I couldn’t re-remember how to fuh-fight or something. All I c-could do wuh-was l-lie there.”

He stops, and when Sam glances over, he finds his brother grimacing in pain and massaging his temple. He remembers what happened the last time he pointed that out, but he can’t let it pass right now. Not when Dean is in enough pain already, reliving the nightmare.

“Does it still hurt?” he asks.

“What?” Dean asks, glancing at him without taking his hand down.

“Before I put you under, I asked you about the scar and you—you told me it hurt. That you touched it because it hurt.”

Dean looks surprised, and then confused, and then—as he realizes why Sam is asking this now—nauseous. But he doesn’t flip out the way he did when Sam pointed it out last time: only brings his hand down to clutch at his thigh and nods.

“Yeah,” he whispers. “Yeah, it hurts. Fucking aches.”

“Can I—” Sam starts, and then hesitates. There’s a difference between sharing a bed at night and asking for permission to touch Dean when the memories of his violation are so fresh and vivid in his mind.

“It’s share and care time, Sammy. Just spit it out.”

“It helped before, when I massaged your neck.”

Dean blinks as though he’d forgotten, which is quite possible. The first time Sam used that trick Dean was drunk off his ass. The second time, Dean wasn’t exactly in a coherent frame of mind. After a couple of seconds, Dean swings his face away and leans there without moving. He hasn’t given Sam the go-ahead, not exactly, but Sam doesn’t think Dean is capable of doing that right now. This—the equivalent of a dog baring its throat—is the closest he can come.

Tentatively at first, in case he isn’t reading his brother correctly, Sam lays a hand on Dean’s neck. Dean flinches minutely, but he doesn’t pull away and he doesn’t yell at Sam for touching when he has no right to, and so Sam slowly starts to rub at the pressure points with his thumb and forefinger. He can feel the exact moment it starts to work because Dean’s neck muscles go loose under his hand and his brother’s head sags.

“Better?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Dean breathes. “Where the fuck did you learn to do that?”

“Massage class. I wanted to surprise Jess for our anniversary.” Had, too. God, those had been some good weeks.

“Oh.” Silence falls between them for a moment and then Dean says, “I called for you.”

Sam’s fingers stutter to a stop without his permission.

“I’m not telling you this to hurt you, Sam, but you—you said I should talk, so I’m talking. And that’s part of it.”

“Okay,” Sam manages. If his voice sounds a little hoarse, then Dean isn’t going to call him on it.

“Can you—with your fingers, can you keep—”

Sam’s chest pulses with conflicting pride and pain at the request. On the one hand, this is the first time Dean has willingly asked for something for himself. On the other, the fact that the pain is bad enough to push his brother to that is nothing less than crushing.

“Yeah, sure,” he agrees hoarsely, and starts up again.

“Anyway, since I couldn’t—since I couldn’t move, it was all I could think to—no. No, never mind. I wasn’t thinking, I was just—I wanted someone to stop him. I wanted someone to come save me. So I kept calling. You and Dad, mostly. I think, couple of other people. Bobby, maybe. Maybe Mom.”

Jesus Christ. Sam is seriously rethinking his own ability to listen to this.

“Fucker didn’t seem to care about the noise. He just.” Dean’s breath hitches and Sam can hear his tears now, thick and wet in his voice. “He just kept going. And then he started—started talking to me. Messing with my head while he fucked me. Told me Daddy couldn’t help me and that you—you’d left me alone.”

The thought of that son of a bitch taking Dean’s cries for help and spinning them around into weapons makes Sam’s gut burn. He’s grateful for the anger, which is far more comfortable than his horrified sorrow, and clings to it.

“Then he s-started c-calling me a wh-whore. Said he was gonna ‘take me for a spin’. That I wasn’t anything but a t-toy.”

Sammy’s toy, Sam thinks for no reason at all, and shudders. His hand stills again on his brother’s neck, but Dean is too lost in the past to protest.

“Fucker kept saying my name, only he was—like you and Dad used to call me, when I was a kid, and he was—fucking hurt, like, I don’t know, I thought it hurt before, when we were shooting, but it, it felt—”

But Sam isn’t listening anymore. He’s too busy kicking himself in the ass for not realizing sooner: for not picking up on it when Dean first told Sam what happened to him when he was in that trace.

Saying Dean’s name. Dean’s childhood nickname.

When everyone on the movie set only knew Dean as Sam Stallion.

Sam moves suddenly, stepping around to Dean’s other side and gripping his shoulders. Dean’s face is a mess—splotchy and tear-streaked—and his eyes are red. There’s a part of Sam that wants to let this go until later, when Dean is more grounded, but the startled, coiled rage constricting his chest forces him to say, “Your name? Dean, are you sure?”

Dean shakes free of Sam and strides away while wiping at his face. “Yes, I’m fucking sure. I wish like hell I wasn’t, but I—every fucking syllable, Sam. Thanks to you, I remember everything.” It comes out angry, and while Sam doesn’t blame him and would have apologized if this had been any other time, this is too important to ignore.

“He called you Dean.”

“Yes!” Dean spits without turning around. “Why the fuck are you so hung up on that? It’s my goddamned name, Sam.”

“But they didn’t know that. The people at the studio, they all knew you as Sam Stallion. Unless—unless you told someone your real name for insurance or billing or something?”

But Dean is turning around now, and his expression is nothing but stunned. “No, I—I used another name. I didn’t want Dad to ... to ...” Eyes widening, he scrubs his hand across his mouth.

“Dean, he knew you,” Sam says, and Dean’s shoulders shake once and then he turns around and throws up.

Sam scrambles over to his brother’s side as quickly as he can, crouching next to him and resting a gentle hand at the small of his back. When Dean finally stops puking, he spits, trying to clean the taste from his tongue, and then wipes at his mouth again while he mutters, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” under his breath.

“Shh,” Sam says. “Shh, Dean.”

He tugs at his brother’s shoulder, trying to get Dean to face him, but Dean jerks away from him to fall on his side in the dirt.

“Okay,” Sam says instantly, holding his hands up with his palms facing outward. “I’m not going to touch you, okay?”

“Just—just gimme a few minutes. Christ.”

“Okay. I’m gonna see if there’s any water in the car.”

Sam isn’t sure how he feels as he rifles through their things—whether he’s more angry or sad or betrayed because anyone Dean knows well enough to be familiar with that childish nickname, Sam knows as well. This isn’t a spur of the moment crime anymore: it has malicious, hungry intent. Someone either followed Dean to Vegas or ran into him there. Someone—someone trusted—caught Dean in an uncharacteristic moment of weakness and used it to take something they had been wanting from him.

For how long? Years? Since he was the kid that nickname belonged to? The possibility is enough to make Sam feel like puking as well, but he manages to hold it together for his brother’s sake. He isn’t going to do Dean any good by falling apart right now.

Eventually, Sam finds a flask of holy water in the trunk and brings it back around to the front of the car. Dean is still on the ground, but he’s sitting up and he looks a little more in control of himself. His hands shake slightly when he accepts the flask from Sam, but then again Sam’s hands aren’t too steady either.

Dean grimaces at the first pull—the water can’t taste too good after sitting in their trunk all this time—but it still has to be better than the taste of vomit. He sloshes the water around for a while, spits, and then takes a second swig. When he spits out this second mouthful, he puts the cap back on the flask and holds it up to Sam. Sam slips the flask into his back pocket and then holds out his hand again. Not demanding, just asking. Testing the waters.

Dean just looks up at him dully and doesn’t move.

Sam gives his brother a couple of moments to think it over, but when it becomes clear that Dean either doesn’t want to or isn’t capable of accepting the offer, he starts to lower his hand back to his side. Unexpectedly, Dean’s hand shoots out and catches Sam’s forearm. Something deep in Sam’s chest loosens as he closes his own hand around his brother’s wrist and pulls Dean to his feet.

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” Dean says as he dusts himself off.

“You’ve had other things on your mind.”

Dean’s mouth quirks humorlessly. “Yeah.”

Sam chews on the question for a few moments—this is bound to upset Dean—but in the end he isn’t capable of dropping it. Not when he’s so fucking close to having a target for his rage.

“Dean, who knew you were going to Vegas?”

“Just Caleb,” Dean answers wearily. “I needed some stake money.”

Caleb. Caleb with his easy-going smile and his closet of guns and his easy way around a knife. Caleb, who taught them both everything he knew about close contact fighting while John looked on, evaluating their every move. Caleb, who used to take them out for ice cream, and whom Dean looked up to: whom Dean admired and respected.

Sam’s going to kill him.

His murderous impulses must show on his face because Dean shakes his head. “It wasn’t Caleb.”

And Sam wants to believe that, he does, so he says, “Okay, then who did you run into in Vegas? Who saw you there?”

“I didn’t see anyone while I was there, but there has to—there’s some other explanation.”

God, Dean’s stubborn expression hurts. “Look, man, I don’t want to believe it anymore than you do, but Caleb’s the only one who—”

“It wasn’t Caleb,” Dean maintains.

“How do you know, Dean? You never saw his face!”

“Because Caleb’s practically bald, Sam!” Dean shoots back. “Always has been. I got my hand on this fucker’s hair: pulled hard enough to tear some out. It wasn’t him.”

Sam frowns against the growing anxiety in his stomach. “When?”

“What?”

“When did you grab his hair?” Sam clarifies. Because Dean just said he was on his stomach: said he couldn’t move. There was no way he was going to be able to get a firm enough grip on his attacker’s hair to rip some out.

Dean’s face brightens with comprehension and then smoothes out again deliberately as he looks away and says, “The second time, he—”

“The second time?” Sam can barely get the words out through his horror, but somehow he manages it.

Dean’s jaw works, but he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t look at Sam. Out in the field, somewhere, the birds are still singing.

“How many times were there?” Sam demands finally. He isn’t sure that he wants to know—scratch that, he knows he doesn’t want to know—but at the same time, he knows he has to ask. He never suspected this, not when once was bad enough. Not when once was way too fucking much.

“Dean!” Sam barks when Dean doesn’t answer, and his brother flinches. A pang of guilt stabs through Sam’s chest, but he ignores it to repeat, “How many times were there?”

“Three or four, maybe.”

Three or four, maybe?” Sam repeats. He’s shouting, he knows he is, but he seems to have lost control of his voice. He’s too furious to control it—not at Dean, and God, he hopes Dean knows that, but he’s raging all the same. His hands ache with the need to rend and cut. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I d-don’t remember exactly.”

“You don’t remem—”

“I blacked out, okay?” Dean shouts, tears streaming from his eyes. “Sorry I can’t give you a fucking play by play, but I blacked the fuck out!”

Sam’s anger deflates and he reaches out. “Dean, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t!” Dean snarls, twisting back. “Don’t you. You want all the nasty details, Sam? Fine. He fucked me.” Holding up one hand, he counts them off on his fingers. “On my stomach on the floor. On my back on the floor. Up against the wall. I came that time, which is when I blacked out for a while. When I came back around, I was bent over the edge of the bathtub. He finished and he made me come again and then he left.”

Sam’s crying himself now, hard enough that it’s getting difficult to see to reach for his brother. “Dean,” he whispers.

Dean slaps his hand away. “Fuck you, Sam. You fucking left me to that, you—”

“I’m sorry,” Sam says again, and it feels like his ribcage is crushing his lungs and heart. “I’m so fucking sorry.” He tries for Dean again—needs to feel that Dean is still here, still miraculously in one piece—and this time he gets a hold of his brother’s jacket. Dean pushes at him as he steps in, but only weakly, and when Sam manages to get his arms around him Dean gives up fighting and clings back.

Sam loses track of time as they stand there, both of them weeping and hanging on to one another desperately. He does know that Dean somehow quiets first—maybe because he’s used to having these memories by now, maybe because he’s just stronger than Sam and always has been. For whatever reason, Dean quiets first and then his grip shifts on Sam, one hand reaching up to stroke his hair while Sam buries his face against Dean’s shoulder and weeps.

“Shh,” Dean murmurs. “S’okay, Sammy. S’okay, I’m here. We’re gonna be okay.”

And maybe that’s all Sam has been waiting for to really let go. That statement of faith from his brother: the sign that, somewhere inside, Dean is still whole enough for hope. He’s sobbing now, expelling months of useless rage and pain while his brother holds him. It’s backwards and wrong and he knows it—knows that he should be comforting Dean and not the other way round—but at the same time the world finally feels like it’s spinning correctly again.

This is what he remembers. Dean holding him, strong and sure and so very, very steady. Dean wiping away his tears and promising him that it would be okay, that they were going to leave the bullies behind and the next school would be better, that Dad was coming home, that they both were.

But there’s a part of Sam that knows that those days are past, and understands that that’s right and natural and good: that he can’t keep leaning on Dean’s borrowed strength. And so he fights for control of his own emotions: fights to shove them back into their proper, restrained places. It takes him a while, but he finally manages to lift his head. He kisses Dean’s cheek—means it to be a brief, light press of lips before he disengages and steps back. Before he can manage that, though, Dean turns his head and catches Sam’s lips with his own.

There’s nothing sexual about it. There’s too much salt between them right now—the revelations are too fresh and raw. No, this kiss is all about comfort and promises. This is Dean’s way of apologizing for his earlier anger, and his accusation. It’s his way of saying, I love you, I still love you, always and forever. Sam kisses him back and tries to meet him vow for vow. He isn’t sure he manages it—it’s all but impossible to match the devotion in Dean’s trembling lips—but from the warmth in his brother’s eyes as he finally eases back, he does well enough.

“I’m sorry,” is the first thing out of his mouth.

“Sorry looking,” Dean replies immediately.

Sam reads it for the acceptance it is and doesn’t push his luck.

“I’m going to kill him,” he says instead. “I don’t give a fuck if it turns out to be Bobby. I’m gonna tear the son of a bitch’s dick off.”

Dean laughs at that—weak, but genuine. “Aw, that’s sweet, honey. You gonna wrap it up in a little red bow for me too?”

Sam doesn’t say anything—can’t—but he lets the seriousness of his intent show on his face and Dean’s smile dies.

“I don’t want you to do that,” he says after a moment. “Not you.”

“He has to pay, Dean,” Sam insists, and is slightly mollified by his brother’s nod.

“Yeah. But you’re not gonna turn into that person, dude. Not for me. Not over this. I’d rather let that bastard fuck me every day for the rest of my life, do you hear me?”

The set of Dean’s mouth tells Sam that his brother means it and his rage flutters inside of him, looking for some way past the boundary Dean just set. He searches for some way to explain to his brother that he needs this, needs that vengeance as much as he needs air, and can’t come up with anything. Finally, he has to turn away, jaw clenching and unclenching convulsively.

Dean immediately steps up behind him and slides an arm around Sam’s stomach. Sam tenses—the last thing he wants when he’s this angry is for his brother to be touching him—but he doesn’t push Dean away. He isn’t sure he knows how to push Dean away.

“I’m not saying you can’t have your pound of flesh, Sam. But neither of us is killing anyone. We don’t cross that line. Promise me.”

Sam swallows thickly and doesn’t say anything.

“Promise me, Sammy.”

“I promise,” he mumbles, and wishes he didn’t mean it. He wishes Dean weren’t so good at reading him—wishes Dean didn’t know exactly what to do and say to trap his rage behind a barrier of love.

Dean is silent for a moment more, probably weighing the truth in Sam’s promise, and then he says, “I went to a clinic.”

Sam stiffens. “You—”

“I was—there was some bleeding. After.”

Dean may know how to read Sam, but Sam knows Dean right back and he isn’t so much reading between the lines on that one as he is reading the giant, blinking billboard. ‘Clinic’ means hospital in Dean-speak. ‘Some bleeding’, therefore, means that there was a lot of blood. Means that the son of a bitch managed to tear him up inside despite the fact that Dean had just taken two cocks at once. Fucker had to have been deliberately trying to hurt him to do something like that.

Dean’s hand strokes Sam’s stomach, like he can tell where Sam’s mind is. Probably reading Sam’s breathing patterns since he can’t see his face.

“I’m okay,” Sam manages, resting one hand on top of his brother’s and threading their fingers together. “So the hos—the clinic?”

“They might have done a kit. I don’t—it’s a little fuzzy. But I think they did a kit.”

“He didn’t ...”

“Wear a condom? No. So if you think you’re ready to handle yourself, we can go find out what they know.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Three hours later, Sam is sitting in the passenger seat waiting for Dean to finish gassing up when Dean’s phone beeps in his discarded jacket. Sam leans over the seat back to paw through sun-warmed leather and finds the phone and pulls it out. When he flips it open, he sees that it’s a text message from Dad.

The man sent them coordinates.

To another asylum, maybe: so that Sam can try to violate his brother again. Or to some hick town where Dean can be offered up as a sacrifice. Or maybe the coordinates lead to some other childhood fuck up that Dad can slap Dean in the face with when he’s already down.

If Dean sees this message, then no matter how willing at present he is to hunt down the bastard who raped him, he’s going to put his own issues on the back burner and run off on whatever wild goose chase Dad wants to send them on. If Dean sees this, then he’s going to insist on going, even though neither of them is in any shape to hunt right now. They’re both bloody and raw inside, and Sam can’t seem to get a grip on his anger, and it would be a complete and utter disaster.

After a quick glance to make sure his brother is still staring off at the horizon, he quickly texts back, -fuck you asshole-, and then turns the phone off and opens his door just wide enough to drop it on the asphalt. With any luck, Dean will think he left it at the last motel, or that he lost it when they were having their heart to heart in the middle of nowhere. And then Sam will suggest that his phone will be good enough for a couple of days, and Dean will agree, and he’ll have bought them both some breathing space.

Dean gets back in the car and Sam hastily shuts his own door.

“Getting some air?” Dean asks.

“Yeah,” Sam answers. He’s surprised by how steady his voice is. “It’s getting warm again.”

Dean nods. “You wanna drive with the windows down for a bit?”

It’s probably still a little too cold for that, but Sam smiles at his brother and answers, “Sounds good.”

And then they’re off again, chasing the sunset toward Vegas.

Chapter Text

Sam was right about the ‘clinic’ being a hospital. Desert Springs Hospital, to be exact. It’s less than ten blocks from the studio where Dean shot the movie.

Sam was worried he was going to have to convince Dean to let him do this on his own, but Dean just parks in one of the hospital lots and pushes his sunglasses higher on his nose and says, “I’ll wait here.” Sam suspects that his brother’s reasons for waiting in the car are different from his own, which are purely logistical. If anyone recognizes Dean as the rape victim who staggered in to get patched up and then wandered out again before the police could take his statement, then the whole F.B.I. agent thing is going to fall right through the cracks on them.

Sam has seen far too many emergency rooms in his day, and he’s familiar enough with them to be able to tell the difference between out-of-control busy and ‘we’ve got this’ busy. When he steps through the electric doors into the air-conditioned, pristine waiting room, it doesn’t take more than a glance to see that today, thankfully, it’s the latter.

There are a handful of people waiting to be seen—a man who has sliced his hand open; a lady with pale skin and a damp cloth covering her eyes; a kid sitting in his father’s lap (the kid looks like he might have a broken foot, the father looks like he might start breaking heads if his son isn’t seen in a couple of minutes); a man who’s either going through withdrawal or is very, very sick; a scattering of other people who must be waiting for friends or family members—but the scene is missing the sharp edge of haste that would have made Sam feel guilty about walking up to the intake desk and flashing his fake badge to get some attention.

Not guilty enough to have stopped him, not where Dean’s concerned, but still.

“I’m Agent Angus—” He manages, barely, to say the name without grimacing: next time he’s making the badges. “—and I need to ask a couple of questions about a possible sexual assault victim who was treated here a few years ago.”

The girl behind the desk—long dark hair, too-straight nose, slightly bulging eyes—looks up at him with her mouth hanging open. It makes her look more than a little slow. Then she blinks and says, “March fifteenth two-thousand and two.”

She doesn’t seem old enough to have been working here then, but from the speed that she rattled that date off, Sam can tell that she was. This plain, dull-looking girl was maybe sitting right behind this very counter when Dean stumbled through the doors.

If his brother’s entrance was memorable enough for Sam’s vague statement to elicit such an immediate response, then it’s a very good thing that Dean's waiting out in the car, instead of standing in here where she can get a good look at him.

Sam very carefully doesn’t think about what his brother must have looked like to warrant that kind of instant recall. Instead, he slips Agent Angus’ smile—serious and a little sad—onto his lips and nods. “That’s the one.”

“Is he okay?” the girl blurts. “He isn’t—he isn’t dead, or in trouble or anything?”

Sam’s first, instinctual reaction to that question is unblinking, proprietary jealousy. This girl doesn’t have any stake in Dean’s life, damn it. She doesn’t get to look up at Sam like that: like her entire world hinges on his answer. Hinges on Dean being okay.

Then rationality rushes back in.

God, Sam should be thanking her. He should be grateful that someone was looking after Dean on that day. He can’t even remember what he was doing on March 15th, when his brother was ripped apart so thoroughly and mercilessly.

The girl is still looking up at him desperately and, in addition to feeling bad about his jealousy, now Sam is shamed by his initial, unintentionally cruel thoughts about her appearance. He didn’t come prepared to tell anyone anything—was planning on sticking to the tried but true ‘that’s classified’—but he can’t deny this girl an answer. Not when she looks as though Dean has been troubling her dreams for the past four years.

“He’s fine,” he admits. “But I can’t tell you more than that.”

“Oh thank God,” the girl exhales, and then, unexpectedly, bursts into tears.

Crap.

“Oh, hey, don’t—Miss?” Sam glances around for help from the people in the waiting room, but although they’re watching with interest, none of them seem inclined to get involved. Thankfully, when he turns back to the weeping girl, help is finally arriving in the form of an older, heavyset black woman wearing nurse’s pinks.

“Emma?” the woman calls. “Emma, honey, what’s wrong?”

“He’s okay!” the girl—Emma—sobs through her tears. “H-he’s okay.”

The fact that the nurse doesn’t look confused by that announcement tells Sam that he has stepped into something more complicated than he thought. Stupid not to have expected it, really, because Dean is involved and nothing is ever as simple as it should be when it comes to his brother.

“How about you go on into the bathroom and calm yourself down,” the nurse—Claire, Sam reads on her nametag—suggests. “I’ll get James to cover the desk for a few minutes while I assist—” She glances at Sam with one eyebrow raised.

“Agent Angus,” Sam offers, flashing his badge again.

“—this young man.”

Emma sniffs and nods, but she insists on thanking Sam and hugging him clumsily over the desk before she allows herself to be herded away. Half a minute later, a sour-faced male nurse slumps over to her station to glare at Sam in a manner that he’s beginning to think he deserves.

He knew it was bad—everything Dean has told him made him painfully aware of that—but he obviously doesn’t have a clear enough picture of just how bad it was. Not if the mere mention of his brother is getting this kind of reaction.

God, how messed up was Dean when he stumbled in here, anyway?

Between Mr. Cheerful, the waiting room filled with over-curious family members and Sam’s own increasing guilt, he’s more than a little grateful when Claire finally returns to bring him somewhere private so they can talk. He expects to be taken to an office, or possibly an empty curtain. Instead, she hustles him into a room marked ‘Supplies’ and slams the door behind her.

Sam’s pretty sure that he’s in trouble.

“Okay, buddy,” Claire announces, standing between Sam and the door with her arms crossed beneath her overly ample breasts. “Who are you? And this time you can leave your crackerjack badge out of it. You want to try lying, you try it with someone that ain’t trying to raise three boys on her own in the middle of Vegas.”

As Sam opens his mouth to protest, she adds, “And you even think of lying to me again and I don’t care how handsome you are, I’m siccing the police on you.”

Sam shuts his mouth again, turning over possible responses in his head. On the one hand, if he tells Claire the truth, then she’ll be within her rights to turn him in for impersonating an F.B.I. agent. But Sam doesn’t think she’s kidding about calling the cops if he doesn’t admit to the lie either, which leaves him damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

When he continues to hesitate, searching for a path that won’t include the authorities, Claire turns around to reach for the door handle.

“Wait!” Sam blurts, reaching after her.

She glances over her shoulder—a question that turns into a warning when she sees that he’s trying to grab her arm. He immediately takes a step back and shoves his hands into his pockets, where his healing knuckles throb and ache.

“He’s my brother,” Sam admits, throwing himself on her mercy and praying that he’s doing the right thing.

Claire’s stern expression melts. Turning around to face him again, she breathes, “Oh, honey. I am so sorry.”

“I didn’t—he just told me about it about a month ago, and he didn’t—he doesn’t want to go to the police, but I just—I can’t let that son of a bitch get away with it.”

There’s enough truth in the words not to set off Claire’s internal lie detector, and she reaches out to lay a hand on his arm. Sam isn’t sure whether the attempt at comfort makes him want to break down crying or lash out.

Taking a deep breath to center himself, he says, “He told me you might have done a kit.”

Claire nods as she takes her hand back. “I was here when they brought him in—me and Emma and Henry and a couple of others who’ve moved on to greener pastures. Emma and I ran the kit. He didn’t seem to want any of the men near him, not that I blame him.”

That’s already more than Sam needs to hear—he already feels enough like a voyeur: invasive, prying at things he’s sure Dean doesn’t want him to know—but the question is out before he can stop himself. The question is, after all, the reason that Sam insisted on coming here first instead of going straight to the cops.

“How bad was it? He won’t—he won’t tell me.”

Not that Sam has bothered asking. He knows better than to ask Dean that question, which is at once so starkly practical and painfully unquantifiable. The stiffness in his brother’s posture whenever they have come close to skirting the issue has been warning enough to keep his mouth shut on the subject.

Claire bites her lower lip as she hedges, “I don’t know that it’s my place to say if your brother doesn’t want you to know, but I think you can guess from Emma’s reaction that he wasn’t a pretty sight.”

“Please,” Sam urges. His throat has gone tight and his stomach is reeling unpleasantly.

This isn’t going to be easy to hear and he knows it. None of it has been anything close to easy. Dean’s going to kill him if he ever finds out that Sam grilled the nursing staff like this, and Sam knows that too. Sam knows both of those facts and he’s still pushing, which makes him both a bastard and a masochist.

But he doesn’t have a choice. He has to ask because he needs to know exactly how much pain and suffering he needs to take out of that raping son of a bitch’s hide. He needs to know how much payment is due so that he can calculate proper interest and pay the fucker off in full.

Sam made a promise to his brother four days ago by a nameless field but, unlike Dean, he’s broken promises before. With each second that has passed since he stepped through the emergency doors, it has become clearer and clearer to him that he’s going to break this one as well.

Claire is still regarding him doubtfully, so Sam adds, “Please, he’s—he’s hurting inside, and if I don’t know how bad it was, I won’t know how to help him.”

He forces his face into the expression that always makes Dean cave: the one that used to make Jess laugh and shove him out of bed and tell him he’d have to try a lot harder than that to impress someone who grew up with four younger brothers. It’s one of the few differences between the two loves of Sam’s life, but then again Jess didn’t have Dean’s Prime Directive ground into her until it was a mantra beating at the back of her mind with every pump of her heart.

Keep Sam healthy keep him happy keep him safe.

Sam half expects Claire to tell him to save the eyes for someone who isn’t raising three boys in the middle of Vegas, but instead her expression softens again and she sighs.

“He was a mess,” she admits. “We see a lot of messed up shit in here, but I don’t blame Emma for getting shook up like she did over him. When he walked hisself in, I wasn’t sure how that boy was still upright. All rights he should’ve been unconscious, amount of blood he’d lost—and not from that nasty cut on his forehead either, if you follow.”

Sam follows all right. He follows better than he wants to. Silently, he curls his hands into fists inside of his pockets. One of his healing knuckles pops.

“We stopped the bleeding, put a couple more pints of blood in him and stitched him up. Then Emma and I ran the kit while Harold called it in. Your brother was out cold by the time the police got here, no small mercy, so they said they’d wait out in the waiting room until he woke up. Emma volunteered to sit with your brother so that he wouldn’t be frightened when he did come around. People who have been ... attacked ... can sometimes react poorly to waking up alone in strange places.”

Sam nods. He’s seen that himself—not with Dean but with civilians, with the people they’ve saved just a little too late. Sometimes, when those survivors wake up, they remember the nightmare first and see the world around them only as a pale afterthought.

“She told me he came out of it around midnight,” Claire continues. “He seemed fairly lucid; asked if she’d get him some water. Emma said she didn’t like the way he looked, but she thought he was too beat up to do anything, and anyway someone had to fetch the officers, so she went down the hall. She couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes, but when she got back he was gone.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know how in God’s name he got past the police in his condition, but Emma’s been sick with guilt over it: she was certain your brother went and threw hisself in front of a car or off a bridge. Or maybe went back to the bastard who put him in here.”

She’s looking at Sam like she expects answers, and as much as he’s struggling to process what she just told him—to force rational thought through the warring grief and rage—Sam supposes she deserves them.

“He didn’t,” he says hoarsely. “He went back to our Dad and he—he blocked it out. For a long time. He just remembered about a month ago. We—we’re dealing with it.”

Claire nods once, pursing her lips. Then she says, “If you have some sort of vigilante revenge idea, don’t. You go ahead and call the police, and you ask if they got anything off the kit we sent over. You even go ahead and tell them to press charges if they haven’t yet—your brother shouldn’t need to testify: we got more than enough evidence from him when he dragged hisself in here. But you do not go after him on your own.”

“I already promised my brother I wasn’t going to do anything,” Sam responds, which isn’t precisely a lie.

But Claire shakes her head, glowering at him.

“I could give a rat’s ass if someone put a bullet in the back of that animal’s head,” she announces fiercely. “But you didn’t see your brother. You don’t do something like that to another human being if you’re sane. This man, whoever he is, is nothing more than a rabid dog. You’re a big guy, buddy, but you go looking for him and you’re gonna get hurt.”

“I can take care of myself,” Sam announces. His voice is soft, but something in his tone catches Claire’s attention and she peers at him more closely.

“You’re going to do it anyway,” she accuses.

“He’s my brother,” Sam replies. It’s the only response he has. The only one he needs.

Claire sighs, crossing herself, and then says, “You go after him and you shoot to kill. Right here.” Going up on her tiptoes, she manages to poke Sam in the middle of his forehead with one finger. “You take him out quick and clean, just like any other rabid dog.”

But Sam doesn’t think he can do that anymore. Coming here—asking these questions—was a bad idea. They should have done what Dean wanted to do and gone straight to the police station. But Sam wanted to look into the eyes of the people who were there. He wanted a chance to ask the question he asked Claire, the question he’s never going to be able to ask his brother: how bad was it?

Well, now he knows. And he has a feeling that the son of a bitch’s end is going to be miles distant from ‘quick and clean’.

“I’ll be careful,” he says.

Claire regards him darkly. “You do anything to put your brother back in that animal’s sights and I will hunt you down and shoot you myself.”

Sam hasn’t thought of that, actually. Hasn’t considered that this quest for vengeance might be dangerous to Dean. It makes him hesitate for all of three seconds and then his determination firms. When they find the bastard, Sam will just leave his brother in the motel room while he handles things himself. And if Dean seems like a flight risk, then Sam will handcuff him to the toilet seat. Hell, he’ll drug his brother if that’s what it’s going to take to keep him safe.

“I won’t let him get hurt again,” he says, and wishes he could make it true. He wishes that he could use the words to bind Dean to himself and move them both far from the line of fire. But Dean is never going to submit to that—is never going to give up hunting, which is more dangerous by far than their current quest—and Sam has to admit that there’s a part of him that wouldn’t want him to.

Hunting is part of what makes Dean Dean. It makes him the man Sam loves. And as much as it kills Sam to watch his brother continually put his neck on the line, he isn’t going to be the one who takes that away from him.

But he thinks the words again anyway, like a talisman. Like a prayer.

I promise I won’t let him get hurt. I promise I’ll keep him safe.

And I promise that I’m going to gut that son of a bitch and feed him his own goddamned cock before I let him die.

Amen.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Thanks to modern technology, Sam doesn’t have to go through the dog and pony show at the station to get a look at the case files. All he has to do is hack into the LVPD database from the motel room while Dean feigns disinterest on one of the beds.

Although they have been sleeping together since Wichita, they still ask for two queens at check in. Maybe because neither of them feels secure in their tentative arrangement yet. Maybe because the second bed is damned convenient for storage and weapon cleanings, which is what Dean is currently using it for. Normally, the way that his brother is all but fondling their guns would be a distraction for Sam, but right now he’s too focused on slipping past the LVPD’s firewall to pay much attention.

He smiles grimly as he finally manages it and announces, “I’m in.”

“What do you want, a medal?” Dean mutters, exchanging the Taurus for his favored Colt. But Sam can hear the nerves in his brother’s voice.

It takes a few minutes to figure out the idiosyncrasies of this particular system and from there it’s smooth sailing. Sam locates the search engine and selects the File By Date option. Types in 03-15-2002 and hits Enter. A few seconds later, the server kicks back over three hundred different entries from that day. Sam sorts by type and there are three first-degree sexual assaults listed. One outstanding, two closed. Sam checks the outstanding case first, but the victim was a twenty-three year old stripper from a bar off the main strip.

Heart hammering in his chest, he clicks on the first of the closed cases. Another girl.

The third file is Dean’s.

Sam skims it, letting bits and piece of information wash over him. Unknown Caucasian male, approximately 20 to 25 years of age ... admitted to Desert Springs Hospital at 7:24 p.m. ... laceration to the right temple ... concussion ... severe trauma to the anal tract congruent with forced penetration ... torso covered with abrasions ... possible bite marks ...

And there, towards the bottom of the report, is the name that Sam has been looking for.

Frank Hanson.

For an instant, Sam’s world narrows to a blinding, burning pinprick of triumphant rage.

Then he reads further and deflates. All of his strength, all of his determination and confidence, run out of him like blood and leave him hollow. His insides ache. He feels empty. Burnt out. Ruined.

He doesn’t even realize that he has started to cry until Dean’s hands close on his shoulders.

“Hey,” Dean says, kneading his muscles. “Hey, it’s okay. Wh-whoever it is, we can—”

“You don’t—” Sam chokes on his tears, swallows, and then tries again. “He’s dead. He’s no one at fucking all and he’s already fucking dead.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The most difficult part of Sam’s plan is untangling himself from Dean’s arms without waking his brother up, but even that isn’t too tough to manage. Dean’s worn out from his own tears: from the emotional wasteland in which they have both been left stranded after gearing up for a confrontation that’s never going to come.

Frank Hanson.

It’s a normal enough name. Unexpectedly unfamiliar.

Dean thinks that he might remember the man, vaguely, from set. Some nervous, twitchy prop wrangler who stuttered and blushed when their hands accidentally met while he was handing Dean a cock ring.

As Sam fishes the keys out of his brother’s coat pocket and lets himself out of the room, he wonders yet again whether Dean is remembering the right man. Maybe, maybe not. The nerves make it unlikely, but they also could have been nothing more than an act meant to lull Dean into a false sense of security. Then again, Dean could honestly be confused. After all, that day wasn’t wine and roses for him even before Hanson shoved him headfirst into the bathroom mirror and scrambled his brains.

Reading through the file more carefully has only left Sam with more questions than answers. Hanson’s last known place of employment is, in fact, listed as Moon Media. He was thirty-five years old when he raped Dean. Still thirty-five at the time of his death, which trailed that act of violence by no more than four days. He went quietly in his sleep: the officers sent to bring him in for questioning in the sexual assault and subsequent disappearance of an unidentified Caucasian male are the ones who found his body.

Sam has no goddamned clue how the son of a bitch found out Dean’s name. He supposes that tossing that “o” onto the tail end could have been an accident of coincidence, but the name itself ... that’s more troubling. Troubling enough that Sam doesn’t know whether the sick knot in his chest—the knot telling him he has unfinished business—stems from the mystery surrounding his brother’s name or if it’s just the normal frustrated rage anyone would feel after being denied retribution.

A heart attack, of all things. A fucking heart attack.

It’s too late for Sam to do anything that will satisfy his bloodlust—and really, to call it anything else would be lying—but he has to do something or he’s going to snap.

Hence, the plan.

Putting the Impala into neutral, Sam pushes it far enough away from their room that he feels confident his brother won’t be able to hear the engine. Dean can sleep through a hell of a lot of noise, but when it comes to his baby he’s on a hair trigger. It’s a lesson Sam is pretty sure he helped teach his brother.

Shout obscenities at your father and Dean mutters to himself and turns over. Business as usual.

Get into the habit of pushing your father into leaving for the nearest bar, though, and Dean learns pretty fucking fast to jerk awake at the first growl of the engine.

Even though he has moved the Impala a good distance from the room, Sam watches their front door nervously as he turns the key in the ignition. He’s going to tell Dean about this excursion, of course, but not until it’s done. He isn’t sure Dean would approve of this and he needs it. He needs something.

When he pulls up in front thirty minutes later, the graveyard looks like any other graveyard. When he reaches it six minutes after that, the grave looks like any other grave. It’s only Sam who is made different by the frustrated, furious strain in his muscles as he digs.

It takes longer without Dean here to help, which Sam didn’t plan on. He’s too used to having his brother there to back him up to have factored in his absence, and what he guessed might take two hours instead takes three and a half. Finally, though, he brings the spade down and is rewarded with the welcome thunk of wood.

Sam discards the shovel to wipe clear the last bit of dirt with hands that are shaking in mingled exhaustion and rage. The revealed casket is locked, but the shovel is easy enough to retrieve and a few blows from the business end crack the hinges loose and then Sam is yanking the lid open. The smell hits him immediately—gassy stench of decomp that has been trapped in here for years. The body itself is mostly bones and parchment skin wrapped in a dapper suit. The eye sockets stare up blindly.

This is everything that’s left of Dean’s rapist. This is what’s left of the man who took Sam’s beautiful, bright brother and shattered him. This is the man who damped Dean’s instinctual joy and zest for life. This is the fucking son of a bitch who died before Sam could send him screaming to Hell.

Without thinking, Sam reaches out and twists the bastard’s head around so that he doesn’t have to look at those empty, mocking sockets or that too-wide skeletal grin. Then, wiping his hand off on his pants, he clambers back out of the grave and retrieves the gas can he left by the tombstone.

The gas goes down first, leaving a faint, wet shimmer over the remains. Then, after a quick glance around to make sure that he’s still alone, Sam unzips and lets loose. It isn’t anywhere near enough, drenching the man’s body in gasoline and piss and, in a few moments, burning the whole sorry mess, and Sam realizes that he’s crying weakly as he tucks himself away.

“You son of a bitch,” he mutters. “If I could—if I knew how to bring you back, I would.”

It isn’t really a question of knowledge, of course, but of Dean’s willingness to go along with something like that. Sneaking away for a little grave desecration is one thing, but Sam doesn’t think he could get away with performing black magic under his brother’s nose.

Groping in his jacket pocket, he finds the book of matches he brought along and pulls it out. His hands are trembling so violently that he fumbles the first match, almost burning himself in the process. The second lights successfully, but snuffs out before it hits the body. Before he can try a third—and Sam’s going to burn through as many matches as it takes, damn it—a familiar voice makes him freeze.

“Sam.”

Still crying, Sam shuts his eyes. He doesn’t move as strong hands close around his and take the matches away. When Dean’s voice comes again, he’s farther away: up by the headstone.

“This him?”

“Yeah,” Sam breathes. “Dean, I—”

“Shut up.”

Dean’s voice is toneless and Sam opens his eyes again in an attempt to gauge his brother’s mood. Dean is turned toward him, but he isn’t looking at Sam: he’s staring down into the open grave. His face is at once clearly visible and yet completely unreadable. Sam has no clue what’s going on behind his brother’s flat eyes.

After a few seconds, and still without looking up, Dean says, “I get that you’re pissed, but this is mine, Sam. This is mine.”

Somehow, Sam never considered the fact that Dean might need revenge just as much as he does. Might need it more, actually: he lived through it.

Sam wipes at his eyes with the back of one hand. “Yeah,” he manages. “Sorry. I wasn’t—I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, you weren’t,” Dean agrees, and then his jaw firms. A single tear slips down from his right eye: shines as bright as his scar in the moonlight. He opens his mouth and shuts it again. Opens it once more and then, swallowing thickly, clenches his teeth together and gives his head a shake.

There aren’t any words for something like this, not really.

Bowing his head for a moment, Dean takes a deep breath. Then he takes out a fresh match—hands steady and sure—and lights it. The flame casts flickering shadows across his face, making the scar at his temple seem to writhe. When Dean drops it, the match stays lit and Hanson’s body goes up like a dry piece of timber.

“Give me the shovel,” he rasps, holding out his hand.

Sam doesn’t know what his brother wants the tool for, but he retrieves it and brings it over anyway, glancing down at the flames while he walks around the grave. Dean takes the shovel and hefts it in his hands for a moment, as though considering its weight. Then, without warning, he spins and slams it into the headstone.

Sparks fly from the granite and there’s an echoing clang—too loud for this hour of the morning, even in the middle of a graveyard. Sam reaches for his brother’s arm.

“Dean, someone’s going to hea—”

Clang.

As Dean winds up again, Sam gives up on trying to get him to stop and ducks back out of the way to avoid being struck himself. Dean brings the shovel down on the headstone three more times. On the final blow, he strikes the stone hard enough that the shovel’s head flies free and tumbles off into the grass. There are deep grooves on the headstone now: rough, gouged wounds in the granite that obscure Hanson’s name.

Dean stands there breathing deeply for a moment and then, dropping the broken shovel handle, turns around and finally looks at Sam. He’s crying freely, not even trying to hide it, and Sam moves without thinking to pull his brother into a hug. It might be a stupid idea—he has no way of knowing whether his brother has worked out enough of his frustration on the stone—but Sam’s instincts are good and Dean grips the back of his jacket tightly to hold him close.

He shakes in Sam’s arms, breathing gone ragged and pained, and Sam closes his eyes against the flickering glow of fire from the open grave. Turning his head, he presses his forehead against the side of his brother’s face and holds him tighter as Dean scrambles for a better hold on his jacket.

Dean is solid and warm in his arms, but Sam knows how close his brother came to not being here, how close he came to bleeding out in some filthy bathroom with the smell of his own vomit in his mouth, and he can’t seem to get a firm enough grip either.

Sam doesn’t know how long they stay there before reality intrudes, but eventually he realizes that they’re standing next to a desecrated grave and that, sooner rather than later, the police are going to show up. He still can’t make himself let go, but he does manage to open his mouth and say, “We should get going. Someone might have heard that and called the cops.”

For a few seconds, Dean doesn’t seem to have heard him. Then, reluctantly, he loosens his grip. Sam has to remind himself that he can’t actually spend the rest of his life holding onto Dean before he can do the same.

“I’m driving,” Dean announces, wiping his eyes.

Sam nods. He doesn’t bother asking Dean how he got here—neither one of them is above stealing a car when the need arises—or how Dean knew where to go—it probably took his brother all of ten seconds to figure out where Sam was when he woke up alone. He just digs the keys to the Impala out of his jacket pocket and hands them over.

“Feel any better?” he asks, kicking the shovel handle into the grave to burn along with Hanson as he follows his brother toward the road.

“Not really, no.”

“Yeah,” Sam sighs. “Me neither.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Back at the motel, Dean makes Sam shower before he lets him into bed. Once Sam finally slides under the sheets, though, his brother snakes out an arm to pull him close, chest to chest. That much is business as usual these days.

The way that Dean bites gently at the side of Sam’s neck isn’t business-like or usual.

“Dean,” Sam starts, gripping his brother’s shoulders with the intent to push him off.

“No,” Dean insists, holding on. “No, I want this. I’m not letting that son of a bitch take this away from me.”

He bites down again, a little harder this time, and Sam shudders.

“He won’t,” he promises wildly. “Dean, he won’t but you need more time, you need—”

“Don’t tell me what I need, Sam,” Dean growls, nipping at Sam’s collarbone hard enough to make him give a full-bodied jerk. “You get bucked, you get back on the horse.”

“H-how much horse are we talking about here?” Sam manages, but his hands are already moving, sliding over Dean’s shoulders and down the curve of his back. When his hand brushes the waistband of his brother’s boxers, Dean stiffens and stills against him.

Sam freezes as well, but doesn’t move his hand. “Dean?”

“Not that much,” Dean says, and then swallows thickly. “Can we—I just want to try making out for a while. That okay?”

Sam wants Dean more than he’s wanted anything before in his entire life. More than he ever wanted Stanford. More than he ever wanted to be a normal kid with a safe, boring life. He wants to hold his brother down and fill him up and show him how good sex can be when you’re with someone who loves you. But he still feels more relieved than disappointed by his brother’s answer.

Sam can’t turn Dean down, but he also knows that it would make him sick to touch his brother with the scent of burning flesh still so strong in his nose. It would tarnish this moment—tarnish them.

“I think we can try that,” he says gratefully, moving his hand back up into safe territory and tugging Dean closer.

His brother’s lips taste warm and faintly bitter—Dean must have taken a few swigs of alcohol to calm himself down while Sam was showering. He lets Sam take the lead, keeping his mouth pliant and his body supple.

Fully conscious of the magnitude of his brother’s trust, Sam starts with short, almost chaste kisses while he strokes Dean’s back through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. In response, Dean tentatively slips his own hand up beneath Sam’s shirt to touch his skin. Encouraged by his brother’s initiative, Sam carefully increases the pressure of his mouth. His tongue first traces and then parts Dean’s lips.

Dean’s breathing stutters a little as Sam’s tongue starts to dip into his mouth, and Sam pauses to ask, “You okay?”

“Yes,” Dean growls. He sounds annoyed rather than afraid, with a hint of something that Sam wants—badly—to believe is arousal.

Sam kisses his brother briefly to placate him, and then says, “If it gets to be too much, just tap me three times, okay?”

“Yes, Christ, just kiss me already.”

That isn’t an order Sam needs to hear twice (except for how, yeah, he sort of did) and he moves in again, more confidently this time. The kiss is deeper as Dean tilts into it, but still as gentle as Sam knows how to make it. Mindful of what happened the last time Dean tried one of these experiments, Sam holds himself back as best as he can: concentrating on his brother’s reactions rather than his own. He thinks he’s doing pretty well until Dean jerks his head back.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks, starting to lift his hands from his brother’s body.

Then Dean’s hand pushes down into Sam’s boxers to cup his ass. Sam’s dick goes from languidly enjoying itself to overexcited in point six seconds and he gasps. Dean looks a little guilty—probably over starting something he isn’t going to follow through on—but the annoyance furrowing his brow is stronger.

“I’m not gonna break,” he growls, and Sam lets himself go.

He’s still mindful enough to roll over onto his back and drag Dean on top of him rather than crushing his brother into the mattress, but this time he doesn’t so much kiss Dean as he fucks his tongue into his mouth. Dean’s back muscles bunch as he kisses back, and Sam can’t seem to get enough of the way his brother feels, warm and flexing against him. Then Dean shifts positions, letting one knee drop down between Sam’s legs, and Sam makes a helpless moan into his brother’s mouth as Dean’s thigh pushes up against his cock.

Dean, the fucker, laughs into the kiss.

It’s enough of a goad that Sam thrusts up without thinking about it, and when Dean doesn’t seem to mind, his second thrust is more deliberate. His brother makes an encouraging noise into his mouth—and if Dean isn’t hard, then he isn’t panicked either—so Sam drops his hands down to his brother’s hips and holds Dean against him while thrusting up. They’re both panting in between kisses now, and Dean has started to shudder, and Sam is so overloaded with sensation that it takes him a few seconds to realize that Dean has stopped responding and is frantically slapping his shoulder.

Immediately, Sam opens his fingers and Dean rolls over and off, pinching the bridge of his nose with his left hand and pressing the heel of his right against his scar.

Goddamn it.

“Sorry. Fuck, Dean, I’m sorry.”

“S’okay,” Dean answers, tension gravelling his voice. “Not your fault, I just—guess I’m not ready for that.” He bites his lower lip and then rolls onto his side, facing away from Sam and mumbling into the pillow.

Sam is distracted enough by the return of the suffocating weight in his chest that it takes a few moments for his brother’s words to penetrate. Then, not sure that he heard right, he asks, “What?”

“Can you do your neck thing?” Dean says again, louder this time.

“I—sure. Yeah.” Rolling onto his side himself, Sam starts to massage the nape of his brother’s neck and Dean slowly relaxes. Sam waits until his brother has quieted, until his own rapid heartbeat has slowed, and then asks, “Was it good until I held you in place?”

Because that’s what set Dean off: has to be.

“Yeah,” Dean breathes out. He sounds better now: voice lazy with sleep. “I like kissing you when you aren’t holding back like a pussy.”

Sam laughs at that, the way that he’s supposed to. “Jerk.”

“Bitch.”

They’re quiet for a few minutes and then, when Sam realizes Dean is in danger of drifting off, he whispers, “Dean?”

“Mmm?”

“Can I hold you?”

It isn’t the way they normally do this—Dean doesn’t like feeling restrained these days, as their recent make-out session just demonstrated—but Sam has to ask. Nothing is going to dull the ache in his chest, but going to sleep with the solid weight of his brother is his arms might ward off the nightmares at least.

Dean is quiet long enough that Sam is beginning to wonder whether his brother already fell asleep and then he says, “Okay.”

Hardly daring to breathe, Sam eases closer. Dean shifts up long enough for Sam to slide an arm beneath his body and then lies down again. When Sam drapes his other arm over his brother’s chest, Dean stiffens briefly and then leans back into him with no further sign of alarm.

Still, Sam can’t help checking, “You good?”

“I will be if you shut up and let me sleep,” Dean mutters.

Sam presses a gentle kiss to the nape of his brother’s neck and obeys. He stays awake while Dean drifts off, letting his brother’s scent chase away the last traces of smoke from his mouth and throat. When Dean’s breathing has evened out, Sam scrunches closer and rests his forehead against the back of his brother's head.

“I love you so much,” he whispers.

Dean, sleeping, doesn’t respond, but the way that he lies so secure and trusting in Sam’s arms already says everything anyway.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes with a confused start. He has no idea why he woke so suddenly, and the fact that Dean is stirring in his arms isn’t helping any. Not when his brother is shifting against him and making sleepy, protesting noises, and all of Sam’s blood is being redirected down to his cock instead of to his brain where he needs it.

Then there’s a loud thud on the door and a very familiar—and very pissed off—voice shouting, “Dean!”

Sam’s eyes widen in comprehension, and Dean jerks upright beside him, pulling free of Sam's arms. Dean stares at the door with an expression not just of shock but of horror: mouth open and skin pale. Sam is too surprised to figure out how he feels about Dad being here (how the hell did the man even know where to find them?), but he knows exactly how he feels about seeing that look on his brother's face. Sitting up himself, he reaches out to rest a comforting hand between Dean's shoulder blades.

“Dean,” he starts, and his brother flinches away from the first brush of contact so violently that he falls off the side of the bed.

“Open the fucking door!” Dad shouts, pounding again.

The speed with which Dean pops up would be comical if he weren’t so clearly terrified. If he hadn’t just flinched away from Sam’s touch like Sam were some sort of leper.

Sam isn’t thrilled with their father’s tone of voice either (it leaves his stomach clenched in the instinctive, childish dread of punishment), but he doesn’t understand why his brother is so upset. He’s also completely unprepared for the way Dean suddenly dives back onto the bed, scrambles over him (kneeing Sam in the stomach on the way) and off the other side.

Sam curls in on himself, grimacing and trying to catch his breath. It takes him a couple tries, but when he’s sure that he isn’t going to pass out from oxygen deprivation he rolls over onto his other side. He intends to tell Dean to stop acting like a freak, but then he sees what his brother is doing and comprehension makes the words congeal in his mouth.

All of their stuff has been shoved off of the other bed and onto the floor, and now Dean is yanking back the covers and shaking them and punching the pillows and generally doing his best to make the bed look slept in. He mutters under his breath as he works: letting forth a steady stream of swears in a shaky, low voice.

“Shit shit shit. Fucking fuck. Fuck.

Funny how it never occurred to Sam that there was anything wrong with Dad walking in to find them sharing a bed. Or maybe it did occur to him and he just didn’t give a shit how the man would react.

“Now, Dean!” Dad bellows again, and Dean shoots a glance over his shoulder at Sam and stops swearing long enough to hiss, “Get off your ass and help me!”

It’s too goddamned early for this—not even a hint of dawn outside the curtained window—and now that Sam is starting to wake up enough to consciously take in their father’s presence instead of just relying on instinct, he has a few things he wants to say to the man. Ignoring his brother’s demand, he tosses back the covers and gets out of the bed, heading for the door.

Dean catches his arm before he’s more than halfway there. When Sam stops and turns his face back toward his brother, Dean looks even wilder than before.

“You can’t tell him,” he insists.

It isn’t a conversation they’ve had before. They haven’t needed to have it. From the moment Sam figured out what happened to Dean—what put that scar on his forehead—he knew that his brother wouldn’t want anyone else to know what happened to him. Especially not Dad.

Sam has done enough research over the past few months to know where the urge to hide the attack is coming from—it’s a normal response for trauma victims: a stage of secretive shame that has to be conquered before any real healing can begin. He has also done enough research to know that he can’t push Dean past the shame, that outing him at this point would do far more damage to his brother than good. He knows all of this—more, he understands—but the knowledge of Hanson’s escape is too close, and Sam’s frustrated, futile rage needs some kind of target. He needs someone he can get his hands on—someone he can bleed.

If that someone is Dad—who is, after Hanson and Sam himself, the person most responsible for Dean’s rape—then so much the better.

So instead of backing down, Sam replies, “He needs to know what he did,” and starts to pull his arm free.

Before he can manage it, there’s a whoosh of air as the floor rushes up to meet his back. Sam grunts at the impact—grunts again when Dean’s knee lands on his stomach. Dean’s face swings into view between Sam and the ceiling and Dean’s hand pushes down on Sam’s chest, pinning him in place. The whole thing happens quickly enough that Sam isn’t even sure exactly which Judo move his brother used to take him down.

Dean has always been good at hand to hand combat—likes to get up close and personal with his opponent—but ever since Sam came back from Stanford he’s been a nigh unstoppable force. As he looks up into his brother’s panicked eyes, for the first time Sam wonders whether there’s a more sinister reason than fighting preference for Dean’s improvement. He wonders whether Dean’s subconscious remembered enough of what happened in that bathroom to drive him to this in an attempt to make sure it never happened again.

The possibility, which feels more and more certain with every beat of Sam’s heart, leaves Sam’s chest tight with a mixture of rage and sorrow. He’s a heartbeat away from crying when Dad pounds on the door again while yelling, “Don’t make me break it down, boy!”

The sound of their father’s voice brings the anger back twofold and, eyes narrowing, Sam pushes up against his brother’s hold.

“No!” Dean insists, straining to keep him in place. “You don’t get to fucking decide who knows.”

Dean looks angry as well as afraid now: eyes sharp and brow furrowed. It’s the anger that does it—that glimpse of the unflinching resolution at Dean’s center that reminds Sam that he’s behaving like a prick and that his brother is right.

Sam doesn’t get to decide, not about this.

Much as he’d like to.

“Fine,” he bites out. “But I’m not taking any of his shit.”

Dean gives Sam an exasperated, angry look like he wants to smack Sam around the room until he falls in line, but then he glances at the door (how it isn’t buckling under the force of Dad’s blows, Sam has no idea) and his face smoothes out into weary resignation.

“Get the door,” he says, shoving to his feet (and not being too fussy how much his knee digs into Sam’s stomach in the process, either) and heading back toward the beds.

Sam pushes up to his elbows and cranes his neck around to watch as his brother climbs into the unused bed and pulls the sheets up to his waist. Dean’s posture makes the whole thing look ridiculously staged, and even in the dim room Sam can see that there are clearly two separate indentations on the pillows of the other bed—the one they actually slept in. Then again, for all that Dad has a hawk’s meticulous eye for details, he’s also good at ignoring things he doesn’t want to see.

The fact that his two sons spent the night in the same bed is probably going to fall right into that category.

“Last chance!” Dad thunders.

Sam,” Dean hisses, making an imperious, frantic gesture toward the door.

Sam doesn’t know whether it’s going to make a difference at this point whether he opens the door or whether they wait for their father to pick the lock or break it down, but he’s eager enough for a confrontation that he pushes up and heads over anyway.

Maybe he isn’t allowed to tell Dad about Dean’s rape or bring up the movie, but that still leaves him with more than enough room to maneuver the man into the fight he’s been longing for. Muscles vibrating with anticipation, Sam flips the overhead light on and then reaches out and unlocks the door.

Before he even has a chance to get his hand on the knob, Dad is shoving his way inside the room. The man casts a single, dark look in Sam’s direction as he strides forward and then dismisses him, focusing his attention on Dean.

“Why the hell aren’t you in Harrisberg?” he demands.

It’s clear from the way that Dean is blinking up at their father that he has no clue what he’s talking about, but Sam is suddenly a whole lot less curious about why Dad showed up on their doorstep than he was a moment ago. He hasn’t thought about it in a few days, but now the coordinates, and his furious reply, and Dean’s subsequently ditched phone are front and center in his mind. If Dad wants to chew someone out for blatant disrespect or for not following orders, then he’s yelling at the wrong son.

Just like always.

Sam’s rage flares higher and he takes a step after their father, pushing the door shut behind him as he does so. This is the perfect excuse for the fight Sam wants: the perfect chance to turn Dad’s anger in the right direction and meet the man blow for blow. Then Dean shifts on the bed, awkward in his confusion. The motion catches Sam’s eyes and attention, and he hesitates.

Dad doesn’t know what happened to Dean’s phone, but then again neither does Dean. And it wouldn’t take a psychic to figure out that Dean isn’t going to react well to the confession Sam wants to make. No, Dean is going to be pissed, and he’s going to feel betrayed, and he’s going to shut Sam out right when he needs him the most.

Dean's just starting to learn how to lean on Sam the way he so obviously needs to. Taking that support away when he's so off balance and wounded (and let’s not forget whose fault that is, who ripped those wounds wide open again) would be disastrous.

Sam doesn’t think that his brother is the suicidal type, but he doesn’t want to find out. Not now, not fucking ever. So, as much as the unfairness of it burns in his gut—as much as his rage is heating his skin and making it difficult to think—he keeps his mouth shut.

“Harrisberg?” Dean says. His forehead crinkles as he tries to connect the dots—futilely, of course, because Sam is the one holding the pencil.

“I sent you coordinates almost a week ago,” Dad shouts. “And now I find you lounging around in Vegas? Get up when I’m talking to you.”

Dean doesn’t even hesitate before sliding out of the bed and standing. He looks so young in his boxers and worn t-shirt and tousled hair and sleep-creased face. At this moment, there is nothing of Dad in him, nothing of the hunter. Sam’s memories of his mother’s ghost are already hazy, but he can see her in Dean now, sees her reflection, and he wonders if that might explain the way Dad is always pushing Dean, and shoving at him, and trying to slice every last bit of softness away until there’s nothing but stone left.

He wonders if Dad is trying to tilt Dean’s mirror far enough from Mary to stop reflecting his own shattered heart.

“I haven’t—”

“People are dying, Dean,” Dad barks, and the way Dean flinches instantly kills any pity Sam might have had for their father. “They’re dying because you disobeyed a direct order, do you understand that?”

Dad stops then, clearly expecting some kind of answer, and Sam waits for his brother to set the man straight by telling him about the lost phone.

But Dean doesn’t. Dean looks shaken and shamed, like he actually believes that he’s guilty as charged, and now his eyes fall a little as he says, “Yes, sir.”

Sam wants to believe that his brother is just saying that because he knows it’s what Dad wants to hear, but he knows better. Dean isn’t lying. He isn’t trying to placate the man.

He honestly believes that this is his fault.

Stunned by his brother’s acquiescence, Sam gropes after comprehension. It takes him a few moments—sometimes trying to follow Dean’s thought process is a little like piecing together a puzzle while wearing a blindfold—but then, painfully, everything snaps into place.

Dean believes he’s guilty as charged because, despite how distracted he has been by his own life—by coming back to Vegas, by searching out his rapist—he thinks that he should have remembered to check his messages. They had Sam’s phone, after all. They could have used it to call Dean’s voicemail.

It’s a ridiculous bit of logic, twisted round on itself like a rabbit warren, and it’s so goddamned Dean that Sam wants to scream.

His hands were already curled into fists, but now they tighten until the healing skin on his knuckles goes tight and his bones ache. Then Dad’s words start to filter in again—“even begin to cover how goddamned disrespectful you were with that text”—and Dean fucking knows that part isn’t his fault, but he’s still standing there taking it like a beaten dog and Sam can’t take it anymore.

“He lost it.”

Dad turns slightly at the sound of Sam’s voice, and while it’s clear that most of his attention is still on Dean, he’s at least giving Sam his profile now. “Excuse me?”

Behind their father, Dean shoots Sam a look that’s part concern (at how thin Sam’s voice sounds, probably), part warning not to interfere. Sam ignores him. Dean lost the right to handle this when he decided to accept guilt that isn’t his to bear.

Standing up straighter, he says, “Dean lost his phone. It isn’t his fault that he hasn’t gotten any of your messages. Sir.”

Dad turns further at that final, insolent word, and Sam can see that he finally has their father’s full attention. The man’s eyes are glittering: his jaw is set in a tight, hard line.

For a long moment in which Sam knows and doesn’t care that the furious jumble of his emotions is obvious on his face, they regard each other soberly. Then Dad’s eyes narrow into a shuttered, dark expression that he can’t read.

Sam expects their father to start chewing him out now—for interfering, for his tone of voice—but instead Dad turns back to Dean and asks, “That true?”

“Yeah,” Dean answers, still looking at Sam with that terse warning in his eyes.

Sam wonders how long it will take his brother to stop expecting a betrayal every time he opens his mouth around their father. He wonders how long it will be before not making that betrayal is natural and effortless for him: how long it will take to bury Dean’s secret in the darkness of his unrelenting anger.

“You still should have checked your messages,” Dad says almost immediately. “I trained you better than that, Dean.”

“I know,” Dean says, and of course he does: his twisted, self-loathing psyche got him there miles ahead of everyone else. “I forgot.”

“I need to know you have my back. I have to know that I can send a job your way and have it taken care of. People are counting on us, we can’t—”

“You could have called me.”

Dean and Dad look over at the sound of Sam’s voice, both of them wearing the same expression of surprise. It’s annoying and, despite his anger, a little painful. Black sheep or not, Sam is a member of this family, damn it. The looks that he’s getting right now, though, are coming from two interlocking halves of a partnership that he doesn’t fit into.

It sends him back to the way things were before Stanford, when Dean and Dad moved like two people sharing the same heartbeat: Dad leading the way and Dean just a breath behind, constant and competent and faithful. They had their own language back then—a coded system of glances and words that Sam was never quite able to crack.

Sam has told his brother more than once that he wasn’t the reason Sam left, but he realizes now that he wasn’t being entirely truthful.

Dad drove him away. His own subconscious desires drove him away. Their suffocating, unsafe life drove him away.

But this played its part in his flight as well—this alienated, lonely feeling. In the end, after all of the accusations and the recriminations and the verbal abuse, the real reason that Sam couldn’t let his brother broker another cease fire was that he just couldn’t stomach having his nose rubbed into how well Dean and Dad fit together anymore. He couldn’t handle the way that everything else became eclipsed for Dean whenever Dad was around—the way that Sam himself seemed to fade away, unwanted, when his brother and father sat down to talk strategy or went out back to train. He was sick and tired of constantly competing for Dean’s affection and finishing in second place.

As Sam continues to look from his brother’s face to their father’s, though, he realizes that he was wrong: they aren’t wearing the same expression. They’re both surprised, yes, but in Dean’s eyes that surprise is tempered by realization and understanding. Dad's just startled that Sam interrupted his brother’s dressing down for a second time.

It’s a tiny difference, but at the same time it’s earth shattering because it tells Sam, firmly and with no room for doubt, whose Dean is now.

Mine, Sam thinks with a little pulse of warmth. You had him when we were growing up, but you threw him away, you son of a bitch, and he’s mine now. And I’m not giving him back.

“You could have called me when Dean didn’t answer,” Sam repeats, clarifying for their father’s sake, and now, belatedly, sees understanding seep in. He wouldn’t have picked up even if the man had called, so it’s irrational to feel so slighted by how easily their father dismissed him, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

Dad didn’t even try. Like asking Sam for help wasn’t even up for consideration.

“Why didn’t you call Sammy?” Dean asks, shifting his eyes from Sam to their father.

Dad blinks, glances over his shoulder at Dean, and then looks back at Sam. There’s a wry twist to his lips and more knowledge in his eyes than Sam was prepared to see there. The combination makes him shift uneasily.

“Because Sam made it pretty clear how he felt about me. I knew he wouldn’t pick up.”

“All due respect, Dad, but that’s crap.”

Odd, that sounded like Dean’s voice.

When Sam tears his eyes from their father to check, he’s certain that he’ll find Dean looking back with that hurt, exasperated expression that he always wears when Sam steps too far out of line. He’s certain that his mind is playing tricks on him, that the dark knowledge in Dad’s eyes unsettled him enough that he spoke without knowing. He knows, although he heard his brother’s gravel-rough tone rather than the mellower timber of his own voice, that the words were his and not Dean’s.

But Dean isn’t looking at him. Dean is staring at Dad with his face set into defiant, almost angry lines, and now he opens his mouth and adds, “I know you two don’t get along, but Sam isn’t gonna let people die just because he’s angry with you.”

If Sam weren’t too stunned to move, the unflinching faith in his brother’s voice would make him wince. Because Sam may be feeling slightly guilty that people have died while he and Dean were rooting around in Vegas, but he isn’t going to lose sleep over it. He honestly doesn’t know what he would have done if Dad had called: if he had sent a text or e-mailed over the fresh obituaries. He’d like to think that he at least would have passed the information on to Bobby, but he can’t be sure. After all, he could have sent Bobby the coordinates after that first text and he didn’t. He didn’t even think about it.

When Dean is hurting, he just ... he loses sight of everything else.

Which, he supposes, makes him just as single-minded as their father. After all, is what Dad is doing for Mary any different from what Sam is so desperate to do for Dean?

But almost as soon as he has asked himself the question, the answer comes back. Yes. Yes of course it’s different. Dean’s still alive: he can still be saved, there’s still something to gain from vengeance—a more valid goal than just Sam’s own peace of mind.

If Sam has to burn everything between him and his brother’s happiness, then he will. He’ll do it gladly and consequences be damned.

Dad sighs, bringing Sam’s attention back to the present. Their father wipes a rough hand over his face and his shoulders sag with a weary slump. For the first time, Dad looks mortal. He looks old—if not defeated, then at least in retreat. Although never quite the god that he was for Dean, Dad was still an imposing, dominant force on Sam’s childhood and, despite his anger, Sam feels a little saddened by the revelation.

“What’s done is done,” Dad says finally, his voice heavy with exhaustion.

The open defiance on Dean’s face shifts into something more conciliatory as he offers, “We could leave now, if you need—”

“No,” Dad answers, shaking his head. “I called Caleb. He’s handling it.”

He turns and walks over to the bed that Sam shared with his brother last night. Then, heaving his breath out in a sigh, he lowers himself down to sit on the edge of the mattress. If he could remember how, Sam would laugh at the horrified look their father's choice of seats puts on Dean's face.

“I could use some coffee,” Dad says, and looks up at Dean, who quickly schools his expression. “Maybe some breakfast.”

There’s an undercurrent of command in the words, which makes Sam bristle, but Dean is already grabbing a pair of jeans off the floor and saying, “Sure, Sam and I can—”

“Sam stays here. He and I need to talk.”

Dean stills at that, and his hands clench nervously around his jeans. The look he shoots Sam is a wretched mix of worry and pleading and expectation, like he wants Sam to fix this. And there’s a part of Sam that wants to fix it—a part of him that wants to tell their father that anything he wants to say to Sam, Dean can hear as well. But his anger hasn’t subsided at all—may actually have gotten worse, what with the way Dad was just talking to his brother—and there are things that Sam wants to say to their father that he doesn’t want Dean to hear.

Besides, Dad never had a problem chewing Sam out in front of Dean before. If he’s asking for privacy now, then he’s probably doing it out of the same instinct to protect Dean that’s driving Sam. It’s too little too late, as far as Sam is concerned, but he can’t deny that he feels a tiny pulse of gratitude that they’re on the same page in at least one respect.

Looking coolly back at his brother, he says, “I think I saw a McDonalds a couple of blocks away.”

Dean’s mouth goes thin at that, and his eyes go wounded and hurt. But he doesn’t resist any further. He just turns away, finishes gathering his clothes, and takes himself to the bathroom to change. Sam wants to take his brother’s arm as Dean brushes past, say something to soften what Dean must view as a betrayal, but his brother might see that as a crack in Sam’s resolve when it isn’t anything of the sort.

It’s for his own good, he reminds himself, and then flinches as Dean slams the door shut behind him. After a few moments of awkward silence, he crosses to sit down on the newly-rumpled bed across from Dad.

They wait without speaking—without looking at each other, really, and never mind that they’re face-to-face and less than two feet apart. It’s the kind of situation that should get awkward fast, should leave Sam fidgeting and restless, but now that the moment of confrontation has come, he’s calm beneath his anger.

Dean looks pissed off when he comes out of the bathroom several minutes later, but Sam knows that the anger is just a mask to cover up the fear beneath. He tries to communicate with his eyes that he isn’t going to spill any secrets, but it’s difficult to get the message through when his brother refuses to look at him.

“Have fun with your secret powwow,” Dean mutters, grabbing his keys off the table. “And try not to kill each other.”

“Dean,” Dad calls as Dean pulls the door open.

Dean pauses but doesn’t turn around.

“Take your time.”

If the way Dean slams the door shut behind him doesn’t wake up their neighbors, then the way he peels out of the parking lot definitely does. Good thing this is the kind of establishment where the inhabitants know how to mind their own business.

Dad waits until the painful sound of the Impala’s tires has faded into the distance and then says, “You can be pissed at me all you want, Sam, but don’t you ever fuck around with your brother’s phone again. There are lives at stake. And you ever have something you want to say to me, you say it to my face like a man and don’t hide behind voice mail and text messages.”

Sam is surprised by the excellent grasp their father has on just how Dean’s phone was ‘lost’, but his anger is stronger and so he ignores the questions flashing through his head to say, “That’s fucking rich, coming from you.”

“Watch your fucking mouth,” Dad warns, and Sam has had it with the man’s double standards.

Softly and clearly, he says, “Fuck you.”

Dad’s eyes flash as he pushes to his feet. “What was that?” he asks in a low, threatening voice.

Dad never hit Sam before, never hit either of them when they weren’t training. Even during those last, turbulent months before Stanford, Dad never even came close to crossing that line. Sam can tell that he’s thinking about it now, though.

He has no way of knowing whether that’s because all of his jabs over the last five months have been enough to push the man over the edge, or whether Dad is stressed out by other matters, and he doesn’t care. All he knows is that their father is rapidly losing what little control over his temper he used to have.

Good. Fucking excellent.

“You heard me.”

Dad reaches down, grabbing hold of Sam’s t-shirt and using it to haul him to his feet. This close to the man, Sam realizes that they’re more evenly matched than they used to be. Dad is still more heavily built, more experienced, but Sam is taller, has reach and youth on his side.

“Any particular reason you’re trying to piss me off right now?” Dad asks, his voice a low growl.

“You gonna take a swing or are you just going to grand stand all day?” Sam shoots back, jutting his chin out and offering a target.

Dad’s hand tightens on his shirt and Sam is certain that the man is going to do it. He’s going to punch Sam the way Sam wants him to and then Sam will be able to tell Dean, in all honesty, that Dad started it. You can’t ever prepare to be struck, not really, but Sam braces himself anyway.

And Dad releases him with a muttered curse and walks away.

“I don’t understand why the hell you’re so difficult,” Dad says as he goes. “Your brother was never this disrespectful, not even when he was a teenager.”

“That’s the problem,” Sam announces, squaring his shoulders and taking a step after their father. “He should have been. He should have told you to go to hell. Then he wouldn’t—”

He shuts his mouth on it at the last second, but Dad turns around again anyway, eyes sharp. Like a hound on a blood trail.

“Then he wouldn’t what?”

Sam glares back at their father silently.

“Is that what this is about? Dean? You got a bee in your bonnet over the fact that your brother knows how to follow orders?” He pauses for a fraction of a heartbeat and then adds, “Or are you still pissed about the movie?”

Shock washes through Sam, freezing, and is swept away again by a torrent of fury. He suspected—was almost certain—but hearing it out loud. Hearing Dad admit it is just ... it ...

“You did know,” he breathes finally. “You son of a bitch. How the fuck could you let him do that?”

“I didn’t ‘let’ him do anything. Your brother’s a grown man. It was his own decision, and he knew what he was getting into. If you want to be mad at someone, you put the blame where it belongs.”

“Oh, cut the crap,” Sam spits. “Dean did it for you and you know it! You’ve got him so brainwashed he’d put a fucking bullet in himself if you asked him to. Spreading his legs and letting someone fuck him was never even a question!”

“Your brother took that job of his own free will,” Dad shoots back. “I didn’t ask him to do anything.”

Sam can’t believe that the man is trying to hide behind that excuse. He lets his scorn show on his face as he says, “You didn’t have to. Dean knows what’s expected of him. You drilled it into him often enough when he was a kid.”

“What do you want me to do, Sam?” Dad demands, spreading his arms wide. “Am I thrilled with the choice he made? No, of course not. But it happened. It’s over. There’s no point in drudging up the past. It won’t change anything and it’s just going to make Dean uncomfortable.”

“Make him—” Sam repeats, and the rest of it gets caught in his throat. He makes an absurd, wild noise to clear it and then finishes, “Do you have any idea how much that messed him up?”

It isn’t the movie that’s the problem of course, not really. But then again it is. Because if Dean had never done the movie, Hanson never would have clapped eyes on him. Never would have even dreamed of touching him.

Making the movie made Dean accessible.

“He seems to be handling himself just fine,” Dad returns. “You’re the one with the problem. Hell, Sammy, you’re acting like a jealous lover instead of his brother.”

The words are pointed, like an accusation, and even in the midst of Sam’s rage they bring him up short. He pushes his emotions aside to look at their father—really look at him—and Dad is studying him with an odd, measuring expression. The man’s body is tense and still as he stands there. His eyes flicker with apprehension—apprehension and something that looks horribly like disgust.

That wasn’t an idle taunt.

Sam’s stomach tightens. He feels caught out—exposed in a way he never expected to be, not by Dad. Looks like the man is a little less willfully blind than Sam thought. He wonders how long this suspicion has been growing in their father’s mind—before Stanford or only since, when Sam’s proprietary, resentful attitude must have tipped him off? He resists the urge to glance guiltily back at the bed.

And that is guilt he’s feeling, and shame, and maybe he isn’t quite so blasé about his feelings for Dean as he thought he was. His newfound uncertainty digs at him, makes him want to take a step back and drop his eyes. But Dean is the best-goddamned thing that ever happened to him, and hell if Sam is going to let their father make him feel bad about it.

He clings to his determination, letting it fan his anger, and says, “Why don’t you just come out and ask what you want to. Go ahead and ask if we’re fucking.”

“Are you?” Dad’s voice is quiet and deadly serious.

Sam dared him, but he didn’t believe their father would actually take him up on it. Didn’t think he’d have the guts. Now that the question has been asked, he wants to say ‘yes’. He wants to throw all of those kisses and the frail, stolen moments he’s had with his brother into their father’s face: wants to make Dad turn tail and run from his sons’ sickening, incestuous relationship.

But Dean. God, Dean would be wrecked if he did that. He’d be devastated and lost in the face of their father’s disgust.

“No,” Sam says finally. His voice is choked with emotion, though, and Dad doesn’t look convinced. Dad is going to worry at this like a dog with a bone unless Sam can wrest this conversation back onto safer paths.

Seizing his anger like a shield, Sam steps forward and continues, “You want to know why I care so much, John? I care because Dean’s my brother and he’s hurting. He isn’t ‘fine’. He isn’t even close. Jesus Christ, do you have any idea what he went through?”

There are still questions in Dad’s eyes, but they don’t seem quite as penetrating or immediate and he allows himself to be diverted. “I saw the movie, yes.”

Sam’s stomach jerks and he isn’t sure whether it’s anger or disgust or horror or jealousy. Dad, of all people, had no goddamned right to see Dean like that. To see him stripped and spread open and fucked out.

But maybe Sam is hearing the man wrong. Maybe he only means that he watched enough of the beginning to recognize his son.

“The whole thing?” he asks, checking.

Dad looks him steadily in the eyes and says, “Yes.”

The wretched confusion in Sam’s stomach bubbles over into his chest: hot and maddening. He imagines Dad sitting in some ratty motel armchair watching Dean shudder and shake: listening to Dean’s moans. Dad saw it, saw how goddamned exposed Dean was, should have known how badly that would fuck with Dean’s head even if he didn’t—couldn’t—have known about the rape, and he’s still denying responsibility. Sam swallows twice and the boiling rage beneath his skin comes out in a sharp nod, in the rapid tapping his right fist against his thigh.

“Did you jerk off to it?” he demands. He isn’t serious—Dad’s an asshole but in this way, at least, he’s a decent father—but he needs to wound and the words are closest weapons to hand.

Sam expects their father to be appalled by the accusation, or at least angered, but the man just lifts his head a little higher and replies, “Did you?”

And just like that, Sam is back in his Stanford apartment with his dick in his hand and alcohol in his blood and his brother’s voice in his ear and Jesus, he did that. He did what he accused Dad of—did worse, because he didn’t just ignore his brother’s pain, he got off on it. He got off on Dean being stuffed full with two cocks, which were both prelude to and unknowing preparation for his second, more ruinous violation.

In that moment, Sam aches with how much he hates himself. The hate runs too deep to be borne, is too intense, and it has to go somewhere or he’s going to explode. He struggles with himself for a moment, fighting to breathe, and then a circuit in his chest overloads and everything flips over from self-loathing to rage.

Dad is still watching him, still cataloguing Sam’s response, still testing him, and so Sam does the only logical thing and punches the man. He feels a little more centered after, watching their father split blood out onto the carpet. Feels like he’s managed to put this confrontation back onto the road where it belongs.

“That what you’ve been bucking for, Sammy?” Dad asks. He’s smiling slightly to himself. It isn’t a nice expression. “You want to take this outside?”

“Yes, sir,” Sam answers instantly.

Dad nods, shrugging out of his jacket and dropping it on the floor. Then, without so much as a second's hesitation, he turns and heads for the door. The long-barreled pistol tucked down the back of his pants bunches his t-shirt as he moves.

“Get some pants on. I’ll be waiting.”

Chapter Text

When Sam steps out of the motel room, he sees Dad’s truck before he notices anything else. The black Sierra Grande is kind of hard to miss, actually, parked right in front of their room the way it is. It takes Sam a couple more moments of squinting into the uncertain, predawn light to locate their father around the back of the truck, placing something inside a weapons’ compartment. The gun he had on him, probably, and it’s just fucking typical that Dad will treat a gun with that kind of careful reverence and yet is unable to show even the least bit of tenderness when it comes to his own son.

As Dad shuts and locks the compartment, though, Sam doesn’t comment. His anger has gone underground—all but hidden beneath the same veneer of calm that grips him when he knows there’s going to be a fight. It took years to train that kind of concentration into himself, and he has never been able to make it instinctual the way it is for Dean and Dad. Perhaps because the detached sensation of calm frightens him too much—or maybe it’s what he might be capable of while separated from his emotions that scares him.

This morning, he’s grateful for the training.

It might keep him from putting their father in the hospital.

Dad has to know Sam’s standing on the sidewalk, but he doesn’t spare him so much as a glance before striding away toward the far side of the motel. Even Sam has to acknowledge that it makes sense to take this somewhere a little more secluded and private. After all, the locals might know how to keep their heads down, that doesn’t mean a patrol car won’t swing past and spot them. Better to move out of sight of the main road.

More importantly, Dean could return at any moment. He’s going to know they fought, of course, but knowing about it and having to see it are two completely different things. Sam would prefer to spare his brother from the latter, at least.

He strolls after their father—who has reached the relative privacy of the side of the motel and is stripping down to his undershirt—and looks the man over with a critical, evaluating eye. Without all the layers, Dad is slimmer: not much bulkier than Dean. They have the same build: tall and yet somehow still compact. Boxers’ bodies crisscrossed with the scars of the trade. As usual, Sam is the odd man out—taller than either of them. Lankier. Built for speed rather than endurance. But he’s bulked up since Dad trained him last, and he can see their father noting the difference as he performs his own assessment of Sam.

“How do you want to do this?” Dad asks finally.

In answer, Sam smiles, steps forward, and takes a swing.

Dad ducks out of the way, moving with the effortless grace of a man ten years his junior, and comes back with an upper cut of his own. Sam blocks that first strike with a downward cross, but he misses the left hook punch Dad throws a second later. It comes in low and hard, slamming into Sam’s side and forcing the air from his lungs in a painful grunt. He instinctively dances back a couple of steps—you get hit, you back up and regroup—and regards their father warily.

Seasoned doesn’t necessarily mean slow or stupid, he reminds himself, circling to the left and noting how carefully their father mirrors him. The words are Dad’s, barked out years ago during some lesson or other, just like Sam’s punches are Dad’s.

Some fathers teach their sons to play baseball. Some teach them to fish. Dad taught his sons to fight. He turned Sam and Dean into weapons—his weapons. Despite his calm, Sam’s anger led him to forget that fact—forget how familiar the man is with how Sam fights. What his weaknesses are.

But it’s been four years, and Sam isn’t the same person he was then. He isn’t the same fighter.

“Sloppy, Sammy,” Dad calls. “Gotta watch that left side of yours.”

The needling is no different from when they were training, and despite his understanding that things have changed—that he has changed—for a second Sam’s mind plays a trick on him and slips sideways, dumping him into the past. He’s all of fifteen years old—gangly and awkward with it—and nothing is ever going to be good enough, not for Dad. He’s never going to be good enough to make Dean’s worshipful, brilliant gaze follow him the way it follows their father.

Sam jerks himself back to the present, but it’s too late, damage done. The calm has slipped, removing anything resembling rationality or reason from his mind. This time, when he darts in he isn’t thinking about strategy. Isn’t thinking about anything but landing a blow and making it hurt.

Fighting their father is nothing like fighting those men at the bar, and not just because Sam is fully conscious of his actions this time. Those men were working schleps who wouldn’t know a roundhouse kick from a crescent. Dad is an ex-marine, and he has been trained in hand-to-hand combat not only by the military, but also by long years of fighting in a guerilla war against things that usually outclass him in strength and speed.

It shows.

As they circle each other on the grassy margin by the side of the motel, Sam throws punch after punch but nothing connects. Nothing connects because Dad is always one second ahead of him, blocking each punch and countering with an attempt of his own. For his own part, Sam is blocking those as well—good thing, too, because Dad isn’t holding back, not at fucking all.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes for Sam’s forearms to go numb from the shock of repeated impact. Dad's arms can’t be feeling much better, but he shows no sign of slowing. Seems perfectly content to do this until the skin from their elbows to their wrists is mottled black and blue.

Painful as that might be, it isn’t anywhere near enough damage for Sam, and so he changes it up, twisting and lashing out with a sidekick. This time he does connect—solidly—with their father’s ribs. Dad grunts, hunching over slightly and dropping his guard. When Sam closes to take advantage of the opening, though, Dad barrels forward and drives his shoulder into Sam’s stomach, knocking him back.

They part again, circling and wary.

“This making you feel better?” Dad asks. He looks almost as angry as Sam feels, glowering around a lower lip that is slightly swollen from Sam’s first punch. “Dean’s not giving you what you want so you gotta take all that frustration out on someone else?”

Sam can’t believe that their father is still pushing him on that—can’t believe that Dad has stooped to using Dean as a distraction. Enraged, he lurches forward again with a wild swipe that Dad dances away from.

“You son of a bitch,” Sam growls, turning and pursuing.

Dad barks out a short, harsh laugh and lets him close before snaking back out of range. Sam has never been so desperate to connect before, but it’s like tying to hit smoke. Dad’s experience and speed is one problem, his own desperation is another—it’s making him sloppy, leaves him telegraphing every strike well in advance. He knows he has to calm down, has to center himself, but he can’t remember how.

Finally, Dad gets bored of playing tag and darts in to connect with a right hook that Sam can’t quite duck in time. The blow clips Sam’s cheek and makes both eyes water, leaving him nearly blind. He stumbles back, blinking through the tears and certain that Dad is going to follow up with a more solid blow.

But the attack doesn’t come, and when Sam can see again Dad is several feet away. Just standing there. Guard down and lazy with how soundly he’s whipping Sam’s ass. When he sees that he has Sam’s attention, he says, “What did you expect me to do? Dean and I weren’t even in the same state when he decided to make that movie.”

“You never should’ve let him go to Vegas in the first place,” Sam spits, circling close again and looking for an opening. “You should have been there for him, damn it!”

“I was flat on my back and high on painkillers at the time, Sam,” Dad answers. As he turns in place, keeping track of Sam's position, his mouth twists in an ugly, superior grin. “Where the fuck were you?”

The question—accusation, really—hits Sam in the gut and knocks the wind from him. He freezes, stunned by an overwhelming wave of guilt (my fault, left him to that, should have been there, should have stopped it). He’s vaguely aware of Dad moving in, of Dad’s fist speeding toward his face, and it never even occurs to him that he ought to block the blow.

Sam’s vision splashes with white and pain flares, hot and immediate, along the line of his jaw. His whole body jerks to the side with the force of the blow, and his hand comes up automatically to cradle his face. There’s blood in his mouth: he bit his tongue or his cheek, but he can’t sort out which. For the second time, Dad should be following up on his advantage and isn’t. He’s still in fighting stance, guard up, but he stands back and waits for Sam to pull himself together. Toying with him.

Fucking bastard.

As Sam lowers his hand and starts to straighten, their father adds, “You think Dean ever would’ve done something that stupid if you hadn’t abandoned him to run off and play Joe Normal?”

No, Sam thinks, and with the thunder of a million black, fluttering wings, all of his self-hatred and guilt comes crashing back in and roosts in his chest. The weight of it is dragging him down, making it impossible to breathe, and it’s out of self-defense more than anything else that he lurches forward with a wild swing at their father’s face.

John sidesteps the blow and then catches Sam’s wrist. Yanking Sam’s arm up and behind his back, he slings his other arm around Sam’s neck. The strain in Sam’s shoulder and wrist tells him that Dad could crack his arm without any effort, while the press of their father’s arm against his throat forces him to struggle for the air he needs.

The smart thing to do in this situation would be to play dead until Dad loosens up on him, but Sam is beyond logic. He’s too hurt, too guilty, too angry to do anything but fight the hold.

Bringing his free hand up, he pulls at their father’s arm. In response, Dad tightens up even further and suddenly breathing isn’t just difficult anymore, it’s impossible. Sam continues to struggle as his vision starts to swim. The rage inside of him has a bitter, unpleasant taste now—the same taste it carried yesterday when he realized just how out of reach Dean’s rapist is. It’s the taste of futility, coating his tongue and his throat and his heart as his struggles continue to weaken.

Then Dad’s breath huffs hot on his ear as he says, “Why don’t you just give up, Sammy? That’s your M.O., isn’t it? Things get a little too hard and you bail?”

There’s no reason for the goad. Sam is well and truly beaten; Dad has won. This is just more of that old, competitive bullshit—the one-ups-manship that turned all of their fights into such vicious battles when Sam was growing up. Neither of them ever knows when to stop once they get going. They’re too eager to let the anger in, too stubborn to let it out.

Now that extra, unnecessary jab gives Sam the strength to toss his head back into their father’s face. He connects solidly—Dad obviously wasn’t expecting him to have that much fight left in him—and both Dad’s arm around his throat and Dad’s hold on his wrist loosen. Sam jerks free, taking in deep, gasping breaths to clear his head and his vision.

Now would be a good time to go in for the kill—Dad’s bent over with his hands cupping his nose, and Sam can see blood running through the man’s fingers—but Sam is too exhausted to manage it. Can’t see straight even if he had the energy to attack. By the time he has recovered, Dad has also straightened. The man’s nose is still dripping blood onto his lips and beard, but Sam doesn’t think it’s broken.

Not yet, anyway.

Dad wipes some of the blood away and then says, “You never looked back, did you? You never even gave us a second thought.” When his head lifts, his jaw is clenched. His eyes are bitter and challenging. “You want to blame someone for what happened to Dean, you take a good look in the goddamned mirror.”

Mirrors, Sam thinks, and images flash through his head like jagged shards.

Dean on his knees in a darkened antique shop with broken, gleaming bits of mirror surrounding him and blood streaking his cheeks and his hand shoved against that fucking scar—

—Dean tied to a chair and raving about mirrors—didn’t know why, not then, didn’t remember, but he knew enough to be desperate that Sam stay away from them, that he stay safe

—Dean tracing the dangerous edges of a slice of broken glass on a windowsill in Chicago: no emotion in his face, no life, eyes distant and shuttered and dead—

—Dean’s expression as he woke up in the cabin, as he remembered, and God Sam has never seen anything so horrifying in his life and Dad is ... he’s—fuck—he’s fucking mocking that, mocking Dean—

—and Sam lets out a guttural roar and charges in again.

Like a lightning strike in sand, the blazing heat of his anger has melted his thoughts to glass. Everything is distorted in his view, warped by the heat and imperfect bubbles. Everything is distant, kept remote by that thick sheet of molten sand.

Sam has never managed this level of detachment before, and it’s eerie. Like watching someone else’s hands moving underwater. There’s a furious static at the edges of his thoughts, crackle of ozone and heat. The lightning is going to crash back down sooner or later—never strikes the same place twice unless you’re a Winchester—but right now he stands in the eye of the storm as he fights.

They’re evenly matched again, Sam notes with a clinical eye. Now that his rage has been bottled back up, they have returned to the punch-block-punch routine of their initial engagement. But they’re both moving a little slower now—too winded and hurt to keep up with the anger goading them on.

“How many times did you watch it?” John pants as he goes on the attack again. “Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?”

Sam’s protective calm shakes with the accusation, but he manages to block a fourth blow and then counters with a series of his own punches, backing their father up across their battleground.

John grunts as he retreats and then prods, “You got your own copy stashed away somewhere right now?”

On the liquid flush of rage that jab provokes, Sam manages to drive an uppercut into their father’s stomach. Dad’s return punch catches him in his shoulder: hard and well placed enough to deaden his left arm. Snarling, Sam responds by throwing a hook punch with his right. Dad catches the punch, tucking Sam’s wrist between his arm and his body to keep him close.

Dad doesn’t usually resort to this tactic, but Sam has seen his brother fight often enough to recognize the setup for what it is and he tries to back away. He isn’t—quite—fast enough to avoid the head butt.

Copper blooms in Sam’s mouth and the cool glass covering his thoughts shatters as Dad releases him. Staggering back, Sam blinks rapidly and tenses for the follow-up attack. His shoulder stings and his head pounds, but he’s still more annoyed than anything else when it doesn’t come. He’s sick and fucking tired of Dad playing with him like this. Squinting through the pain, he glowers in the man’s direction and finds their father shaking his head with a slightly dazed expression.

Even when executed correctly, head butts hurt—which is one of the reasons Sam never bothered to learn this particular maneuver himself. After all, what was the sense in using an attack that would injure him as well as his opponent? But Dad looks more than a little disoriented, worse than Dean normally does, which tells Sam that he changed the angle enough when he backed up that Dad scrambled his own brains with the attack.

“Fuck,” Dad mutters to himself as he shakes his head again.

Good, Sam thinks, better fucking hurt. He wants to hurl a barb of his own in the lull, something that will cut their father as deeply as their father’s words have been cutting him, and can’t come up with anything. At any rate, he’s still too angry to speak—throat pulled tight and choked with something that feels hot and tastes like sulfur.

When Dad lifts his head a minute later, his eyes are lucid again. They’re also angrier than Sam has ever seen them. There’s an ugly twist to their father’s mouth: something disgusted and almost cruel.

“I should’ve seen it sooner,” Dad spits. “The way you watched him, the way you—” His mouth twitches, like he’s trying not to throw up, and he drags the back of his hand across it. “I didn’t want to see it. No father wants to see that kind of sickness in his son. But you, you didn’t seem to care whether I knew or not. Panting after your brother like a bitch in heat.”

God, had Sam been so obvious? Could he have been, when he hadn’t even recognized the desire in himself? Maybe. And maybe that was why Dad started taking Dean along on jobs and leaving Sam behind. Maybe that was why Dad started making an effort to keep his eldest son’s eyes firmly on the hunt and his obedience unquestionable. Maybe that was one of the reasons he was always so ready and willing to fight with Sam at the drop of a hat.

“The night you said you were going to Stanford was the best goddamned night of my life,” Dad continues, and Sam can’t quite stop himself from flinching. Their father’s eyes, ever sharp, glimmer with satisfaction at the reaction. “Too bad you didn’t stay gone. Dean’s better off without you slowing him down and messing with his head. He was on his way to becoming a damned fine hunter before you got your hands on him.”

Suddenly, Sam’s chest is a mess: anger and guilt and hurt and shame tangled inextricably together and making him ache. He tries to separate the anger out, to bring it back to the front where it belongs, but Dad is looking at him—no, he’s sneering at him—and Sam knew he would never get their father’s approval but he never counted on this. He makes a second, weak attempt to hide what Dad’s words have done to him, but the grim, triumphant smile stretching their father’s lips tells him that he’s failing there as well.

“Not the way you wanted to, though, huh, Sammy?” Dad pushes. “Must really piss you off, knowing someone else got there first.”

There’s no one word to categorize what that taunt does to Sam. No word strong enough to describe the fury that lashes through him. No word dark enough to encompass the hatred it invokes (for Hanson, for Dad, for Sam himself). No word desolate enough to give voice to the sorrow choking his throat.

One moment Sam is frozen in place by the sheer violence of his reaction and the next his bewildering, painful emotions are bypassing his brain and seizing control of his body and launching him forward.

Dad tries to get his hands up to defend himself, but from Sam’s perspective the man seems to be moving in slow motion. He lands two vicious punches to their father’s stomach before the man’s hands have even curled into fists. When Dad starts to drop his arms again in a downward cross block, Sam shifts his attack higher, cracking their father across the cheek and then landing a solid blow to his mouth.

Dad’s hands fly to his face and he turns a little to one side, offering Sam his profile. Sam’s vision narrows in on the corner of their father’s jaw and this time he pivots when he connects, putting all of his weight behind the blow. Dad is knocked back by the force of it. Crumpling gracelessly, he sprawls on the pavement in a daze.

It’s still not enough.

Stepping over their father, Sam drops to his knees and gets a fist in their father’s shirt. When he hauls Dad up, the man’s eyes are already focusing again, mirroring the rage Sam knows must be burning in his own. There’s blood dribbling out of their father’s mouth; a fresh stream trickling from his nose. A bruised flush is spreading across the left side of his face where Sam punched him and the area around his eye has already begun to swell.

Infuriatingly, he’s still smiling.

“You can beat the crap out of me all you want,” Dad manages. “Doesn’t make Dean any less broken in.”

The last, fraying thread of Sam’s restraint snaps.

“He was raped, you son of a bitch!” he yells. “Someone caught him in the bathroom after they were done filming and they fucked him hard enough and long enough that he almost bled out, so don’t you fucking talk to me about broken in, you—you fucking—”

Even through a fresh flood of tears, Sam can see comprehension blooming across their father’s face. Dad is still beneath him, frozen in horror, but the man flinches with his eyes as understanding settles inside of his chest. Sam has never seen their father cry—not once in his entire life—but he's crying now: helpless, silent tears.

Dad cries just like Dean.

Sam sags, letting their father’s shirt slip from his hands. All of his rage has deserted him. Dad’s tears run red with blood as they fall, and the sight sickens Sam—leaves him cold and hollowed out and weary. Crying harder himself, he falls to the side, off of their father's body and onto the pavement.

Dad’s eyes continue to track him, and the man’s expression is as horrified and shocked and close to broken as Sam has ever seen. He's finally silent, thank God, but those dark, wretched eyes are pleading with Sam anyway: begging him to take it back, to say it’s a lie. Those eyes are praying for absolution that Sam can’t—won’t—give.

And then Dad’s gaze slips to the side, back toward the motel, and the pain on his face sharpens. Sam knows, even before he looks himself, what he’s going to see.

Dean is standing at the end of the sidewalk. He’s carrying a tray of coffee in one hand and a white McDonald’s bag in the other and wearing his bruised, battered heart on his face.

Shock.

Desolation.

There’s no betrayal there, not yet—the knowledge of what just happened hasn’t quite sunk in—but it’s coming, oh yes it is, and how the fuck could Sam have done this to him?

The breath that caught when he turned to look at his brother stutters out again and he scrambles to his feet. “Dean,” he chokes out.

The sound of his name makes his brother jerk as though he’s been shot, and awareness filters in through the shock fogging his eyes. Dean’s hands open, spilling coffee everywhere and dropping the bag onto the pavement, and he turns and runs.

“Dean!” Sam calls again, louder, and sprints after his brother. He rounds the side of the motel just in time to see Dean sliding behind the wheel of the Impala. His brother is already pulling the door shut—hastily enough that his foot barely clears the running board in time.

Putting on an extra burst of speed—it’s useless, but Sam can’t help himself—he yells, “Dean, wait!”

The Impala reverses out of its parking spot with a jerky, uncontrolled motion, and Sam adjusts his course. If he can just get to the car, if he can just get the door open ... His fingers brush sleek, black metal and then there’s a squeal of tires and the unpleasant smell of burnt rubber and the Impala jerks away. Sam chases it for a couple of futile steps and then stumbles to a stop and watches as Dean roars out of the parking lot and onto the street. There’s a red light at the intersection, but in these last few minutes of darkness before dawn there’s no traffic—not that it would have mattered if there were.

Dean ploughs right through the red light without slowing, and a moment later he’s gone.

Chapter Text

When he finally stops crying, Sam lets himself back into their room and calls the hospital. He asks the answering service for Claire in Emergency, crossing his fingers, and—for once—comes out lucky.

“This is Claire Collins.”

Sam felt collected enough a moment ago, but at the sound of her voice he starts crying again and can’t get the words out through his tears.

His grief is clearly audible over the line and Claire’s voice, when it comes again, is sharp with fear. “Who is this? Is it my boys? Did something happen to my boys?”

“No,” Sam manages. “No, it’s—it’s S-Sam Winchester. From y-yesterday.”

“The brother,” Claire says, placing his voice immediately. Now that she knows her boys are safe, her own voice has steadied and the rich timber of it warms Sam’s chest. He doesn’t know her, has no real right to take comfort from a stranger when Dean is God knows where doing God knows what, but he closes his eyes and lets her competence wash over him, soothing. “What happened, honey?”

“It’s Dean. My br-brother. He—he—”

“Okay, honey, I need you to do something for me. I need you to take a deep breath and count back from ten, okay? Can you do that?”

Sam nods, realizes she can’t see him over the phone, and croaks, “Yeah.” He does as she asks, and although he doesn’t feel any better afterwards he's able to say, “He left. I don’t know where he is, and he doesn’t have a phone so I can’t call him, and I don’t know what to do.”

That’s pretty much the understatement of the year—right now, thinking is difficult enough that Sam is lucky he remembered how to work the phone. He realizes that he left their father outside. It’s been almost half an hour, and he wonders whether Dad is still sprawled on the pavement. He wonders whether the man feels as wretched as Sam does.

“He was upset?” Claire wants to know. “About something in particular?”

“Me, I—I told our dad. Dean didn’t—he didn’t want anyone to know.” On the other end of the phone, Claire’s silence is damning and Sam hastens to add, “I didn’t mean to. We were fighting and it just came out.”

“Are you worried for his safety?”

Oh God.

Sam’s breath catches in his throat and he presses a hand over his eyes, which feel hot and swollen from all of the crying he’s been doing. He thinks of the way that Dean sped out of the parking lot—so reckless—and of the hopeless, shattered expression on his brother’s face.

“Yes,” he rasps.

“Okay, I’m going to put you on hold for a minute while I call my cousin. He’s on the force—works out of Cheyenne, but he should be able to pull some strings with his friends downtown and get some men out there looking for your brother.”

“No!” Sam blurts, straightening. His hand drops to his side. “No cops.”

“Honey, I know he doesn’t want people to know, but you need to think about his safety first here.”

“It’s not—” Sam swallows and then, with the shaking steps of an invalid, goes over to sit down on the bed. “He’s legally dead. About half a year ago, he—”

It occurs to him, suddenly: how incredibly stupid this is. He has no reason to trust this woman, doesn’t even know her last name. And he knows how he sounds. How the story of their lives sounds to anyone who hasn’t been dragged, kicking and bloodied and screaming, into the violent, strange world all hunters inhabit.

“Sam?” Claire prods into the silence. “Talk to me.”

“You know what, forget it,” Sam answers. “I don’t—I don’t know why I called.”

He hangs up without waiting for her response. Then, tossing the phone on the bed behind him, he leans forward and puts his face in his hands. God, he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. The police are his best bet to locate Dean in a city this size before he does something stupid, but the police are also going to toss Dean in a cell before you can say murder one.

Sure, they think he’s dead right now. Sure, there’s a grave with a body in it and Dean’s name on the headstone.

But Sam is more than familiar with the topography of his brother’s luck. If he brings the police in on this, then one thing will lead to another and, somehow, Dean is going to wind up standing trial for a series of brutal murders he never committed. Sam might as well deliver the lethal injection himself.

An unexpected knock on the door brings his head up with a rush of hope before he remembers that Dean wouldn’t bother knocking. He looks at the closed door dully, waiting for whoever it is to announce themselves.

A moment later, their father’s hoarse, subdued voice calls, “Sam? You in there?”

Dad is probably the last person Sam wants to see right now, but there’s a chance that his mind is marginally more functional than Sam’s—a chance that Dad can figure out how to help (find) Dean—and so Sam forces himself to get up and let their father inside.

This time, instead of barreling his way past, Dad slumps into the room with his head lowered. What little Sam can see of their father’s face is enough to tell him Dad is hurting—blood smeared everywhere, one eye swollen almost completely shut. The man is clearly the loser in their fight, and any other time Sam would feel a bitter twinge of satisfaction at that fact. Right now he’s too worried about Dean to give a shit.

Dad comes far enough into the room for Sam to shut the door behind him and then, tonelessly, asks, “Where’d he go?” His good eye is locked on the bed where Dean supposedly slept last night.

“I don’t—” A fresh wave of panic rushes through him—painful, like shards of ice in his veins—and Sam gives a single, involuntary shudder before finishing, “I don’t know.”

Dad nods. “He gonna come back?”

Sam struggles with himself for a moment and then sinks into something that feels like apathy but is probably just shock. “I don’t know.”

Dad’s head comes up a little at that, as though he’s going to say something. Knowing Dad, it isn’t going to be anything good. If Sam hears one more word about his brother—or about how this is all his fault for leaving—then his calm is going to shatter into a thousand vicious pieces and their fight in the parking lot outside is going to look like a friendly tussle.

But Dad doesn’t say anything. Instead, he shuffles over to Dean’s bed with the weary steps of an old man. When he sits down, it’s with a grimace that reopens the cut on his bottom lip and makes Sam’s bones pulse dully in sympathy. For the first time, Sam can clearly see their father’s face and Dad is still crying: leaking silent, steady tears as he runs his fingers over the hurriedly mussed sheets of what should have been Dean’s bed.

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I swear to God, Sammy, I didn’t—”

“You didn’t look,” Sam answers, voice flat and final.

It’s a little unfair, considering how desperately Dean was hiding it even from himself—how deep Sam had to dig to get at the truth—but only a little. Because Sam was able to see that something was wrong with his brother within weeks after Jess’ death, even if he never guessed how deep the wound ran. Even if he couldn’t give the infection a name.

Dad was there with Dean right after Vegas, when the damage would have been fresh and Dean less practiced at suppressing it, and what did the man do? He started sending Dean out on his own. He abandoned his oldest son when Dean needed his family the most.

Dad doesn’t even hesitate before nodding in acceptance of the rebuke. His mouth twitches in an uncomfortable way that leaves Sam uncertain whether their father is trying to smile or scream. The flash he gets of the man’s teeth is streaked with red: a bloody grimace.

“He wasn’t—I’m not trying to make excuses, but he was already—you don’t know what he was like, after you left. He kept getting into fights—every goddamned night, it seemed. Wouldn’t talk to me unless we were working on a case, and even then he—he never said anything straight out, but I could tell he blamed me for pushing you away. And I didn’t—he said he was going to Vegas to work the tables, and that’s it. I wouldn’t have—even if it was just the movie and not the, the other, I wouldn’t’ve let him go. If I knew.”

Sam has seen their father in plenty of unbalanced emotional states—most of them involving either anger, or alcohol, or a woman—but this is the first time he’s ever seen Dad so genuinely distraught. It catches Sam by surprise, and the sullen thrum of anger that was energizing him quiets without warning. He makes it over to a chair before collapsing heavily and leaning back with his legs sprawled in front of him.

“Dean didn’t know himself when he left,” he says. “He met a producer when he was there.”

Dad nods, accepting the information if not the halfhearted absolution, and then continues, “After, when I found out—when I saw the movie—he seemed. He seemed better, and I didn’t want to—I didn’t want to upset him again.” He laughs bitterly through his tears, wiping a hand over his mouth. “No, that’s not true,” he corrects as he sets his hand back down on the bed. “I just. I didn’t know what to say. What the hell do you say about something like that?”

It’s uncomfortably close to what Sam was asking himself so many months ago and he can’t meet their father’s bleary, lopsided gaze. He can’t have been misjudging the man this entire time, can he? Can’t have been blaming Dad so that he wouldn’t have to acknowledge his own role in what happened.

“And I’m—God, I’m sorry, Sam. For what I said about you two. I was—I was angry, but I know that doesn’t—it doesn’t excuse anything, and I don’t—I was wrong.”

It takes Sam a few moments to understand what their father is apologizing for and then he’s shaken by a disastrous impulse to burst out laughing. It’s funny as hell that spilling the beans about Dean’s rape was all it took to convince the man he was wrong about Sam’s relationship with his brother—one truth burying another—but laughing right now would upset the precarious balance between them. The last thing that Sam needs right now is to get into another shouting match with their father.

He bites down on the inside of his cheek, savagely, and tastes blood. The pain twines around that copper taste and clears his head, black humor dissipating like the stain of blood in fresh water. The hollow ache of sorrow replaces it and Sam leans forward, elbows on his knees as he runs his hands through his hair. He wonders whether Dean would feel any better about being betrayed if he knew that it had served to put Dad off their scent.

Sam doesn’t know which Dean would consider more damning—their relationship or the rape—and he isn’t ever going to find out unless he locates his brother before Dean does something stupid. Not that he will. Do something stupid. Because surely if Dean were the type to do anything he would have done so already. He wouldn’t wait until now, when he’s starting to get better.

But there’s still a wretched, nervous twist in Sam’s stomach that he can’t seem to quiet, and an invisible countdown keeping time with his pulse.

Yes, he told Claire. Yes, I’m worried about Dean’s safety, and God help him he is.

“These past few months haven’t been easy,” Dad announces, drawing Sam’s attention back. “I’ve been—there’s things you don’t—fuck, this isn’t coming out right. I just—Sammy, I don’t know where my head was at. Never do when it comes to you, for some reason.”

Sam stares dumbly at their father. There’s more awkwardness in Dad’s frame now than before, shoulders slumping and hands as restless as Dean’s when he’s upset, and after a few moments Sam realizes that their father is still waiting for his apology to be acknowledged, if not accepted.

In the face of Dean’s disappearance, holding onto his anger strikes Sam as petty and unwarranted.

“You aren’t any easier to figure out,” he says, which is vaguely accusatory but the best he can manage, even now. It seems to be enough, though, because some of the tension eases from Dad’s body.

Neither one of them has mentioned the rape. Not directly. Not really. But it’s in the room with them anyway—not an elephant or a ghost, but a week-old corpse, reeking and obvious. Sam wishes like hell that he could salt and burn it.

He tilts his head minutely to one side as he continues to look at their father, wondering how the man is feeling—how he’s dealing with that sickening, devastating smell. He tries to remember how he felt when he found out and can’t mange that either. The revelation is too far away, or maybe his mind is shielding him from the force of those emotions.

“You have any idea where he went?” John says finally.

It seems like almost too much of an effort, but Sam manages to shake his head anyway. “No.”

“Is he going to come back?”

Sam frowns slightly at the disorienting wash of deja vu—they’ve done this before, haven’t they? Before he can remember where or when Dad gives himself a shake and, rubbing one hand gingerly over his face, mutters, “Sorry, I don’t—I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Sam does. It’s the same thing that’s wrong with him: the same numbing, isolating fog clouding his own mind and getting in the way of rational thought and turning the world into something pale and grey. It’s shock—shock mingled with just enough horror to give everything that nightmarish tilt.

Sam can’t keep looking at the wounded bewilderment in their father’s good eye, so he turns his own face away. There’s a subdued glow behind the thick motel curtains, which he knows would translate into a glare if he pulled them open.

Outside, somewhere, Dean has seen another day dawn bright and clear.

Sam wonders what that light looks like to his brother. If the sun feels like it’s mocking him. If the brilliance reminds him of hospital walls and the too-bright glare of overhead fluorescents.

“I’m going to go look for him,” he announces abruptly.

“How the hell do you think you’re gonna find him in a city this size?” Dad asks, shifting a little on the bed as Sam stands.

“I don’t know,” Sam admits, grabbing his jacket off the back of a nearby chair. “But I can’t just sit here.”

Dad nods and starts to rise as well. “I’ll go with you.”

“No,” Sam says. It comes out sharper than he means, but the word stops Dad mid-rise. There’s hurt around the edges of the anger in their father’s gaze, and Sam hastens to explain, “Dean isn’t going to want to see you right now. If you’re with me, he’ll run again.”

There’s no guarantee Dean is going to let Sam get close either, of course—not after the magnitude of his betrayal—but he has a better chance if Dad isn’t trailing after him. Maybe he’ll get lucky and Dean’s anger will win out over his pain. Maybe Dean will let Sam come within striking range. Sam will willingly take however many hits Dean thinks he needs, so long as that particular beating ends with his brother wrapped firm and secure in his arms.

Dad looks confused again, but he nods. “Yeah, okay,” he sighs. He doesn’t so much sit down as his knees give out on him, dropping him back onto the bed. “I’ll wait here in case he comes back,” he adds, lifting up a little so that he can dig a keychain out of his pocket. “You can take my truck.”

Sam doesn’t want to—Dean knows what Dad’s truck looks like, might rabbit before he figures out Dad isn’t the one behind the wheel—but his other option is to steal a car and he really doesn’t want to have to worry about dodging cops while searching for his brother. So when Dad tosses the keychain over, Sam catches it and gives a tight-lipped nod. Palming the keys, he starts for the door.

“Sam.”

Sam glances over his shoulder.

“If you don’t want to get pulled over, you should clean yourself up first.”

It takes Sam a couple of moments to understand what their father is saying, but the meaning eventually penetrates and he wanders into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. His lips are bloody and there’s a red crust around his nose, on his chin. He doesn’t know when that happened—when Dad head butted him, probably. Washing his face off hurts, but not as much as he suspects Dad’s will when he takes his own turn in here. A small solace, maybe, but Sam will take what he can get right now.

He dabs his face dry afterwards—purple already blooming across his cheekbone and up over his left eye, darker bruises across his throat—and then heads for the door again. Dad is still sitting on the bed, but he must have gotten up at some point because he’s holding Dean’s discarded shirt in his hands.

Sam remembers watching Dean strip that shirt off last night, his back turned on Sam in a defensive hunch. That was just moments before Sam went into the bathroom to take his shower, which was minutes before he got into bed with his brother, which was only seconds before Dean pressed up against his back and—

Jesus Christ, how could he have done this to his brother? How the fuck could he have betrayed his confidence like this?

Turning his face away sharply, Sam lengthens his strides as far as he’s able. He needs to be out there right now, finding Dean so that he can apologize. So that he can keep him safe. But as he opens the door, their father’s voice makes him hesitate.

“Sammy. You find him and you bring him back here.”

Sam clenches his jaw against the painful upwelling in his throat. After a couple of seconds, it passes and he’s able to rasp, “Yes, sir.”

Their father is silent as Sam steps forward into the sunlight and pulls the door shut behind him.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam drives past the hospital first, compulsively and thoughtlessly, and then over to the Moon Media complex. There’s an Impala in the parking lot, but it’s only ten years old and a faded red color, so Sam continues on without stopping. Following the posted signs, he drives further downtown to the main strip, scanning cars and pedestrians as he goes and hoping to catch sight of his brother.

He sees no less than ten Elvis impersonators—there must be a convention—and an equal number of women who look like they’re selling their time by the hour. Probably on their way home after a night of hard work. Whenever he catches a flash of metallic black, or a leather coat with an upturned collar, his heart leaps and his foot slams down on the break. He nearly causes an accident when he catches the two together near the MGM Grand, but the black belongs to a ‘66 Pontiac GTO, and the leather jacket to a forty-something cowboy with sideburns and a mullet.

Finally, driven by a desperation approaching panic, Sam points their father’s truck toward the outskirts of town and drives to the cemetery where Hanson is buried. There are police swarming all over the man’s gravesite: yellow tape blowing in the wind as they try to piece together what happened. Either the desecration went unnoticed until the groundskeeper’s arrival or Claire put in that call to her brother after all, giving this particular crime scene a great deal more importance than it would otherwise have.

It was a stupid, faint hope to begin with, and the probability of Dean’s presence drops to pretty much nil with the addition of the police, but Sam still parks across the street and scans the surrounding area. If nothing else, it’s as good a spot as any to stop while he figures out where to try next.

As he watches the police work, it occurs to him that he’s been looking in the wrong places.

Dean’s upset. He’s hurting. He isn’t going to go to somewhere that will disturb him even more. No, he’s going to seek out somewhere comforting. Somewhere safe.

If there’s anywhere that fits that description in Vegas, then Sam doesn’t know where it is. Hell, he can count the number of places where Dean feels safe in the continental US on one hand.

He’s beginning to think that he should call Claire back and to hell with his fears of police involvement—he and Dad can always break Dean out of jail if they need to—when his phone rings.

Sam fumbles it out of his pocket and looks down, stupidly expecting Dean’s name to pop up on the caller ID. But Dean’s phone is miles away, lost, and it isn’t Dean. It’s Dad. Probably calling for a status update. Sam considers ignoring the call and then picks up anyway.

“Hey,” he answers wearily. “I haven’t found him yet. I’m thinking we should call—”

“I know where he is.”

Sam sits up straighter. “What? How?”

“Same way I found you boys in the first place,” Dad answers, and he sounds a little embarrassed now. “I, uh, put a GPS system in the Impala.”

Sam guesses that their father expects him to be upset by that information, and he is, just not for the reason Dad’s thinking. “Why the hell didn’t you use it sooner?” he demands, already reaching for the ignition.

“I was a little distracted,” John snaps as the engine rumbles to life. “Do you want to yell at me, or do you want to go find your brother?”

Glowering at the steering wheel, Sam puts the truck into first gear and pulls back onto the road. “Where am I going?”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam doesn’t recognize the address when Dad rattles it off to him, and he’s still clueless twenty minutes later when he pulls into a CVS parking lot next to his brother’s car. No way in a million years did Dean run away to hide out in the middle of a drug store—especially this drug store, which is a symbol of corporate America and represents everything Dean hates about ‘normal’.

For a moment Sam worries that his brother knew about the GPS and ditched the Impala here for another ride. Thumping his hands against the steering wheel in impotent frustration, he looks up and down the street for some hint of where his brother might have gone from here and stiffens as his eyes catch on a sign about half a block down on the other side of the road.

The Starlite Motel looks about as appetizing as Sam remembers it being fifteen years ago, back when it was still open for business and they spent a week in one of its sweltering, filthy rooms.

The parking lot where he and Dean played tag between rusting station wagons and old pick-up trucks has become a jungle of weeds and cracked asphalt. The blue and white sign towering over the entrance—the lights on it weren’t working even then—now reads S rl e ot l, and the building itself is a blind facade, its windows covered up by rotting boards. Graffiti—gang signs, Sam guesses—covers the numberless room doors, which were red when they stayed here and are now a dusty pink.

It’s the most beautiful thing Sam has ever seen.

Heart beating too quickly, he gets out of the truck and jogs toward his brother.

It’s easy enough to understand why Sam didn’t remember the place until now: one crappy motel is much like another, after all, and every city looked the same when he was eight. Half the time, he didn’t even know what city he was in—didn’t care as long as Dean was there. As long as he didn’t have to face a new school and new classmates on his own.

It was summer when they stayed here—for a hunt? or was Dad just after some fast cash?—which meant that he and Dean were left mostly to their own devices. The neighborhood wasn’t the greatest even then, so Dean kept them both confined to motel property—Dad’s orders, or maybe just common sense. In the mornings, when it was still relatively cool, they usually hung out in the room and watched cable on the TV set (everyone was green, Sam remembers suddenly, like Martians, and Dean kept making him laugh by shouting out ‘Marvin’ every time someone said their name). In the afternoon, when the sun was high and the room was really starting to heat up (no A/C, not even in Vegas, not in a dump like this), they headed out back to the pool, where Dean finally—after years of promises—taught Sam to swim.

There’s no fence cordoning off the property in front, but the back has been wrapped by a high, metal chain link number with barbed wire on the top. Sam walks alongside the fence until he finds scuff marks in the dirt, sees a scrap of flannel waving from a razor at the top of the fence, and then takes his jacket off and tosses it up. He follows, careful of the wire, and then drops down on the other side.

Here, there are broken beer bottles and the stubby ends of cigarettes and blunts mixed in with the weeds. Sam also spots several twisted spoons caked with brown guck and bits of tubing scattered everywhere like worms after a spring rain. Suddenly thankful for the relative safety of the daylight, he retrieves his jacket from the top of the fence and shoulders it back on (won’t need it soon, it’s already a little warm for even the light fabric) before following the path worn through the yellowed weeds around to the back of the motel.

Some industrious junkie brought a couch back here, and there’s trash littered everywhere: the sun catches on glass and aluminum and sparkles back, dazzling. The pool is still there, but cracked and dry. The ladder Sam clambered down more times than he could count has been ripped away—years ago, judging by the bird’s nests built into the holes left behind by the ladder’s bolts.

Dean is sitting on the edge of the pool with his back to Sam and his head lowered.

“Dean,” Sam says, but if his brother hears him then he doesn’t respond.

Something about the way Dean is sitting makes Sam move carefully, easing forward until he can see the profile of his brother’s face, which is blank as he stares down into the bottom of the pool. One more step and Sam can also see the gun Dean is cradling in his lap.

It’s one thing, thinking abstractly about Dean not being safe on his own. It’s another to actually see his brother sitting here with his favorite, pearl-handled Colt resting lightly on one thigh.

Horror rears up from Sam’s gut to strangle him—he can’t move, can’t speak, can’t fucking breathe. He’s too terrified that he’s going to do the wrong thing and drive Dean to put a bullet in his head.

Silence stretches out between them, thick like tar. The sunlight streaming down makes the entire scene surreal—or maybe that’s the empty Cheetos bag hung up on a patch of weeds at the bottom of the pool. Dean is staring in that direction, but he isn’t watching the bag. He’s looking at the decomposing body of some sort of animal several feet to the bag’s left. It’s too big to be a rat—someone’s lost cat, maybe.

God, how long has Dean been sitting here staring death in the face?

“You remember this place, Sammy?” Dean asks abruptly. His voice is calm and detached—empty, like he’s already gone—and that’s probably the most terrifying thing of all. “That lady with the—you know, all the romance novels? Sat in a chair next to the pool. She used to get so pissed at us. Kept asking where our mother was.”

“Dean,” Sam whispers, taking an unconscious step forward.

“Don’t,” Dean chokes out. His hand tights on the Colt where it’s resting on his thigh and Sam brings himself up short. After a moment, his brother swallows and relaxes minutely, continuing, “I wonder what happened to her.”

Christ, Sam can’t take this.

“Please,” he tries. “Dean, give me the gun.”

“No.”

Fuck. Sam’s eyes are burning for what feels the hundredth time this morning, but he blinks through the unshed tears and fights to focus. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say now, but he knows—oh God, he knows he has to get this just right. He has to not fuck up just this once.

“Can you—I just want to talk, okay? Can you just put it down while we talk?”

Dean cocks his head slightly but doesn’t take his eyes off the decomposing cat. When he speaks, his voice is still eerily calm. “No. I don’t think so.”

Sam can’t quite keep the choked, desperate noise inside of his throat where it belongs. His lungs seem to have shrunk several sizes—he can’t get any air—and his heart is beating fast enough that it’s going to come right out of his chest in a moment.

“You don’t want to do this, man,” he says. “Just—I know you’re hurting, Dean, and I’m so sorry. I—I didn’t mean to say anything, I swear to God.”

“Yeah, I bet you didn’t mean to slam your fist into Dad’s face, either.”

Sam licks his lips, rushing through responses and discarding each one, and his mouth answers before his brain can tell it to shut the fuck up. “No,” he says, “That one I did mean.”

For a moment, he thinks he’s tipped Dean over the edge, but instead his brother lets out a short, bitter laugh. It’s an improvement over the blank facade he was wearing before.

“But we talked,” Sam adds. “We—we’re good now.”

“Gee, if I’d known that all it took to get you two to play nice was to let someone pound my ass, I would’ve done it years ago.”

“Dean,” Sam chokes out and then takes a jerking, desperate step forward as Dean lifts the Colt from his lap. “No, wait!” he blurts, catching himself before his feet can take him any closer—push this any further in the wrong direction.

Sam might as well not be there for all the attention Dean pays. He’s too busy studying the gun in his hand: feeling the weight of it and adjusting his grip on the ivory handle. His thumb slides back and forth over the safety, restless.

“I thought about it, you know,” he says conversationally. “Back at the cabin when you made me remember. That first night, I took this out and I put it in my mouth and I—God, I wanted to pull the trigger so fucking bad.”

Sam is going to throw up. Or scream. All of the nerves and horror snarling through his chest and stomach have to go somewhere. Christ, he can’t—he can’t do this. He can’t bury his brother. Not today, not fucking ever.

“You want to know why I didn’t?” Dean continues. “You want to know why I pussied out?” He turns his head—not exactly looking at Sam, but coming closer to it—and answers, “Cause I knew you’d have to tell Dad why I did it.” He’s smiling—a brittle, sardonic expression. “Guess the ship’s sailed on that one now, huh?”

“I fucked up,” Sam says quickly. “I know I fucked up, but you can’t do this, Dean. You can’t.”

“All I have to do is put it in my mouth and pull the trigger,” Dean says. His smile is leaking into his voice, filling it with a wretched mix of self-loathing and mockery. “Even I can’t screw something like that up.”

His index finger shifts, curling around the trigger.

Sam’s sweating, but he’s cold—so very, very cold—as he says, “If you do that, then he wins, Dean. Do you hear me? He wins.”

Dean is quiet long enough that Sam is beginning to think he got through and then his brother says, “He already won, Sam. Now I just—I just want it to stop.” His voice cracks on the last word, but it’s the way his thumb is starting to press on the safety that makes Sam’s muscles clench.

“He hasn’t won, and it will stop,” Sam insists, putting all of the faith he can muster into his voice. “Dean, you’re getting better, man. Last night alone—God, you’re doing so much better.”

“When?” Dean scoffs. “When I was going Untouchables on Hanson’s gravestone or when I couldn’t even handle a little make out session?”

“When you let me hold you,” Sam answers. “When you trusted me enough to fall asleep like that.”

“Yeah, well, I won’t make that mistake again,” Dean says, but he doesn’t sound sure and more importantly he hesitated. Sam chances a step forward and then freezes again when his brother thumbs off the safety and barks, “Stay back!”

“Dean,” he pleads. He can’t do anything about the tears anymore—they’re coming whether he wants them or not. “Please. You can’t do this. You can’t leave me.” His voice cracks on the last few words, pouring out all of his misery and his desperation, and Dean flinches. He’s still holding the Colt up, barrel pointed vaguely in the direction of his face, but his grip on the trigger wasn’t firm enough and it doesn’t go off. As Sam watches, a single tear slips from his brother’s left eye to slide down his cheek.

“I need you,” Sam says, pressing harder at the sign of his brother’s weakening resolve. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Dean, I can’t—without you, I can’t. There’s no fucking point.”

Dean’s hand is trembling on the gun now, and another tear slips after the first one. “Don’t do this to me, Sam,” he whispers, voice hoarse.

Fuck that, Sam thinks, and takes another step closer. Between all of his fits and starts, he’s almost there now: almost in grabbing range. “You pull the trigger, Dean, and I swear to God I will be right behind you. Then Dad can bury two sons for the price of one.”

Sam isn’t sure which threat tips the scales in his favor—whether it’s the thought of Sam’s lifeless body or of Dad’s grief that drives that choked, despairing sound from Dean’s throat and makes him bury his face in his hands. Dean is still holding the gun, but it’s an absent grip. His finger isn’t on the trigger anymore and the barrel is pointed harmlessly off to one side.

With a final, soft step, Sam crouches beside his brother. When he reaches out to take the gun, Dean lets him have it. Sam carefully puts the safety back on before tossing the Colt away, making a mental note to pick it up again when they leave. Then he turns back to his brother and rests one hand lightly on the back of Dean’s bowed neck.

“Shh, it’s okay,” he murmurs.

Dean turns, blindly flailing out for Sam and almost knocking him into the pool. Sam catches himself on one knee before he can go over and opens his arms, letting his brother shove in close and bury his face against Sam’s chest. One of Dean’s hands clenches in Sam’s t-shirt while the other reaches up to grab the back of his neck. He isn’t just crying now but sobbing, his entire body shaking with the force of his pain.

“I’ve got you, man,” Sam murmurs, stroking a hand down his brother’s back. “Everything’s gonna be okay. I’ve got you.”

It takes him a few minutes to realize that Dean is trying to talk through his tears: begging, broken words: “D-don’t leave, Suh-Sammy. Don’t luh-luh-leave me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sam promises, craning his neck so that he can kiss the top of his brother’s head. “You and me, man.”

Sam isn’t sure whether his brother hears him, but the litany shifts regardless, blurring into gasping apologies.

“I’m—I’m sorry. God, Sam, I’m so—so fucking s-sorry.”

“S’okay,” Sam soothes as he continues to stroke his hand up and down the line of his brother’s spine. “You didn’t do anything. You’re okay.”

“I was going to,” Dean insists. “I w-wanted to, but I—I cuh—c-couldn’t—couldn’t luh-luh—”

Couldn’t leave you, Sam thinks, and shuts his eyes against an overwhelming flood of relief.

“It h-hurts, Sammy. It—so d-damn muh-much. I—I can’t—”

“I know,” he says, holding Dean tighter. “I know, baby.”

Chapter Text

Dean comes away from the Starlite Motel easily enough once he’s calmed down.

Sam is pretty sure that the crisis has passed, but the Colt is safely tucked down the back of his pants instead of his brother’s, just in case. He pauses in the CVS parking lot, considering the Impala and wondering if he should ride back with Dean—they can always come back for Dad’s truck later. Such an obvious lack of trust might be enough to snap Dean out of the apathetic resignation he’s currently displaying, though, and Sam isn’t quite ready to deal with anything else.

The thought of letting Dean drive himself back to the motel in a fully-armed car seems equally disastrous, of course, so Sam’s first order of business is to get both vehicles behind the building and out of sight. Back here, shielded by a high wooden fence on three sides and the blank facade of the CVS on the other, Sam begins to transfer their arsenal from the Impala to Dad’s truck.

Dean sits passively in the Impala’s driver’s seat. He turned the engine off when Sam asked him to, but left the radio on—Sam can hear the familiar melody of Kashmir spilling from Dean’s lowered window into the late morning air while he works. Once the trunk is empty, Sam moves around to the front and opens his brother’s door.

Although he has to know what Sam’s after, Dean continues to stare bleakly out the windshield. Sam might not as well be there for all the attention his brother is paying him. After giving Dean a couple of minutes to at least acknowledge his presence, Sam sighs and says, “Dean.”

“I’m not gonna do anything,” Dean mumbles, his voice almost inaudible beneath the music. “Promised I wouldn’t.”

Dean did promise—he promised by the side of the pool right before Sam pulled him to his feet—and while Sam wants to believe his brother, he isn’t taking any chances. Not with Dean.

He wants to explain that he isn’t doing this because he doesn’t trust his brother and can’t. Because the Dean he knows would never even have considered giving up the way he almost did today, and Sam’s faith is shaken—not in Dean, but in his own understanding of who his brother is. He wonders where his childhood hero—invincible, strong and brave—has disappeared to.

Was that Dean ever real at all, or was he just a figment of Sam’s imagination?

Thankfully, his brother doesn’t make him say anything else—protest lodged, he slides his seat back and widens his legs so that Sam can get down underneath the dash and retrieve the gun stashed there. Sam stares studiously at the pedals as he feels for the catch holding the weapon in place, but he’s acutely aware of how close his right hand—planted on the seat between Dean’s legs for balance—is to his brother’s crotch. By the time he straightens, mission accomplished, his cheeks are slightly flushed.

Without having to be asked, Dean reaches over and pops open the glove compartment as well. Sam debates going around the other side of the car to get this gun, but it’s easier to lean across his brother and retrieve the final pistol that way.

Now that he has what he needs, Sam eases back out of the car. He tries to figure out what to do with the guns while Dean slides his seat forward again and ends up holding both awkwardly in one hand—he doesn’t want to step away from his brother yet, and there isn’t any more room down the back of his pants, where Dean’s Colt is still resting. Leaning his right forearm against the roof of the car, Sam watches as his brother resituates himself.

After an inordinate amount of shifting, Dean finally places both hands on the steering wheel and squints out at the bright world on the other side of the windshield. There’s a beat of near silence, broken only by the sound of the radio, and then he says, “I feel naked.”

Sam recognizes the attempt at levity in his brother’s words, and he tries to crack a smile but can’t quite manage it. Maybe they’ll be able to laugh about this someday, but not for a good, long while yet. Not for years.

Tightening his mouth, Dean reaches out to shut his door and Sam steps back to let him.

“I’m going to follow you back,” Sam announces as his brother fastens his seatbelt. He expects his brother to glower at the announcement, but Dean’s weary expression doesn’t so much as flicker.

“I’m not gonna run.”

“I know. I just don’t know how to get back to the motel from here.”

Nothing in Dean’s answering nod indicates that he recognized Sam’s words as either a joke or as an attempt to make this a little easier on both of them by providing the illusion of normalcy. It’s just a nod, absent and uncaring.

“I’ll do my best not to drive off any bridges.”

Sam’s throat constricts. “That’s not funny,” he manages after a couple of seconds.

Dean shrugs and keeps on staring out the front windshield.

Finally, Sam says, “Try to stick to the speed limit for once,” and then turns away and walks back over to Dad’s truck.

Whether because of Sam’s request or because Dean isn’t actually in any hurry to get back to Dad, he drives pathetically slow. Other cars keep on zooming past on their left—even on two lane roads where passing is clearly prohibited. Sam hasn’t heard so many horns in his life—or been sworn at so many times. More abuse is hurled Dean’s way, since he’s the one in front holding up traffic, but as far as Sam can tell his brother doesn’t so much as flip someone the bird in response.

Louder than the horns and the swearing is the rattle of the guns in the truck’s glove compartment—Sam couldn’t fit everything into their father’s weapon trunk. More distracting than the other drivers and the rattling combined is the cold, unyielding shape of the Colt pressing into the small of Sam's back.

Dad gave that gun to Dean on his sixteenth birthday, and Sam can’t help but wonder now whether his brother chose the Colt deliberately or whether it was just the closest thing at hand. It’s something he doesn’t think he’ll ever feel comfortable asking—not even if he and Dean live to see a hundred—and wondering about it is making him sick to his stomach, so he does his best to concentrate on the road. The constant glint of sunlight off the Impala’s trunk keeps reminding Sam of another reflection, though—light on polished metal, sunburst flare at the end of a barrel—and despite the rising heat of the day, he shivers.

It’s a little after noon when they finally pull back into the Sandlot Terrace Motel parking lot, and Sam relaxes a little as he pulls up next to his brother in front of their room. Dad may not be his favorite person—especially when it comes to handling Dean—but Sam’s still relieved not to be dealing with this on his own anymore. Over the past few months, he’s lost track of the number of times he picked up the phone to call Radison, or to dial one of the rape assistance hotlines he’s seen advertised—or Christ, to give Bobby a shout—only to hang up without disturbing the empty dial tone.

Much as Sam knows that Dean needs outside help, he can’t shake the feeling that this is family business. It’s too personal—too intimate—to bring in outsiders when Dean is anything less than one hundred percent on board with the idea.

Sam’s already out of the truck and halfway to the room when he realizes his brother isn’t following him. He turns around and the Impala’s engine is off, Dean a shadowy, stationary figure behind the blur of light obscuring the windshield. Wordlessly, Sam steps back down off the sidewalk and gets in on the passenger side.

Dean is fiddling with his scar and biting his lip, eyes downcast. He doesn’t say anything when Sam shuts the door behind him, doesn’t glance over, but Sam can tell from the shift in his brother’s breathing that Dean’s well aware of his presence. It’s hot in here—stifling—and it’s clear that Dean didn’t turn on the AC on the drive over because his t-shirt is pretty much plastered to his chest beneath the flannel that he hasn’t bothered taking off. Sam hasn’t been in here for more than a couple of seconds himself and already his hair is starting to stick to the back of his neck.

When it’s clear that Dean is willing to sit there until they both roast, Sam takes it upon himself to say, “So, there’s air conditioning inside.”

“I can’t do this,” Dean blurts. The words are abrupt, and blunt with fear.

Sam already knows where this is going, but he also knows that Dean needs to say it out loud, so he ignores his own rising discomfort to ask, “Can’t do what?”

This,” Dean says, finally glancing over. His eyes are frightened, but that’s a welcome relief after the emotionless automaton who almost shot himself this morning and the submissive mannequin Sam had to deal with after. “Dad,” Dean adds before Sam can ask for clarification. “I can’t.”

He grimaces, rubbing furiously at his forehead, and Sam can’t stand it anymore. Reaching over, he catches his brother’s wrist. Sam’s fingers slip a little against Dean’s sweat-slicked skin, and if Dean pulled away he could escape Sam’s touch easily. Instead, he stills, resting his fingertips at his temple, and when Sam tries to draw his hand down, he only resists for a moment before complying.

Sam considers letting go of his brother’s wrist now that Dean isn’t worrying at his scar, but the contact seems to be helping a little, so he brings his brother’s hand over and places it on his own leg instead. It’s really too hot for touching, but Sam knows that the heat isn’t to blame for the way Dean stiffens. He gentles his fingers, stroking over the delicate bones in his brother’s wrist.

“S’okay,” he says, reassuring. “I told you, you can touch me.”

Dean licks his lips once, nervously, and then slides his hand more firmly into place around Sam’s thigh. This was Sam’s idea—and from the way that Dean is starting to look steadier, it was a good one—but he’s beginning to wonder how smart it was to shift his brother’s fixation like this. Dean’s too distressed to mean anything by it, but the way he’s rubbing at Sam’s inner thigh is making Sam’s groin heat and his cock swell.

It’s sense-memory—Jess used to do this when she was in the mood, used to make a game of it with him in restaurants and movie theaters and once, memorably, in the middle of Professor Riggs’ Masterpieces of English Lit class. Jess’ touch never hit him like this, though, never got to him this quickly or deeply. Maybe because her teasing was deliberate and Dean’s is accidental. Maybe because Dean’s fingers are digging in just a little more firmly than Jess could manage. Or maybe just because it’s Dean.

Whatever the reason, the strokes go straight to Sam’s cock—do not pass Sam’s brain, do not collect so much as an ounce of restraint—and it’s that as much as the heat that leaves him light-headed and flushed. Dean notices Sam’s condition almost immediately—sees the press of Sam’s cock against the inseam of his right pants leg, or maybe notices the hitch in his breath—and hesitates.

“Sorry,” he says, lifting his hand.

Sam traps it again with a hand of his own before Dean can move away and insists, “It’s fine.” At his brother’s skeptical look, he adds, “I mean, I’m gonna have to jerk off in the bathroom later, but I was sort of planning on doing that anyway.”

Dean doesn’t exactly laugh at the joke, but he slides his hand back into place, so Sam considers it a win.

“Now, let’s try that again,” Sam says, settling back into the seat and trying not to think about the sweat running down his back. “What can’t you do?”

Dean drops his eyes, but he doesn’t stop moving his hand and his voice is steady as he answers, “I don’t think I can handle it right now. Seeing Dad.”

Yeah, Sam guessed that was the problem. Personally, he could give a damn whether he ever talks to their father again, but Dean has always measured his worth by just how perfectly he can conform to their father’s expectations and Sam is pretty sure that, as wrecked as Dean feels right now, the prospect of never seeing Dad again would be enough to have him reaching for another gun—promise or no promise.

Dean needs Dad. More importantly, he needs Dad’s approval and reassurance. Sam is going to make sure that his brother gets all three if he has to beat it out of the man.

Keeping his voice gentle, he points out, “You have to face him sometime.”

“I know, I just—” Dean swallows as he tightens his hand on Sam’s thigh.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Sam expects his brother to fight him on that—to hide behind the usual ‘I laugh in the face of fear’ crap—but instead Dean says, “I can’t—he’s gonna be disgusted with me, and I can’t—”

“Woah!” Sam blurts. He isn’t really feeling the heat anymore: too astonished by his brother’s response. “Woah. Dean, you—you’re kidding, right? You don’t honestly think Dad’s gonna be disgusted with you. Right?”

Only Dean does think that: Sam can tell from the way his brother won’t meet his eyes.

Reaching up with one hand, he cups Dean’s cheek and draws their foreheads together. Too hot for this much contact—Sam knows that objectively even if he can’t feel it—but heat isn’t what has Dean cutting his eyes to the left. Toward their room.

Belatedly, it occurs to Sam that Dad might be watching from the window.

While Dean’s hand on Sam’s thigh is hidden by the dash, anything above the waist is going to be more than visible enough to reawaken all of their father’s old suspicions. Especially if Sam takes this where he wants to. But he can’t find it in himself to care.

If this is what it’s going to take to get through to Dean, then this is what he’s going to do. Dad can just suck it up.

“Dean, he isn’t,” Sam murmurs, stroking his brother’s cheek with his knuckles and nuzzling their noses together. “He loves you.”

Dean shakes his head slightly in denial even as he relaxes into the touch. Shifting his hand from his brother’s cheek to the nape of his neck, Sam holds him still.

“Dad loves you,” he repeats more firmly, giving Dean a little shake for emphasis. “Everything’s going to be okay. And I’ll be right next to you the whole time. If you need me to, you just give the word and I’ll kick him out.”

“I can take care of myself,” Dean says, but the words aren’t even convincing enough to be blustery, and he sounds so terribly young, and Sam can’t hold back anymore.

Tilting his face, he kisses Dean once, lightly, on the mouth. Dean kisses back immediately—no skill for once, just fumbling need. It’s probably the most genuine physical response Sam has ever gotten from his brother. He wants to pursue it—see how far Dean can take this—but he’s too aware of how exposed they are and the memory of Dean holding a gun in his hand and contemplating the release of death is still too fresh.

When Sam pulls back, Dean chases his mouth for a moment before catching himself and sucking his lower lip back between his teeth instead.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t have your back,” Sam says. He squeezes the slick nape of Dean’s neck one final time and then lets his hand fall away.

For a couple of seconds, Dean studies him—Sam isn’t sure whether his brother is searching for a hint of mockery or if he’s looking for a reason to trust—and then he nods, hauling in a deep breath of overheated air. Sam watches as he goes about the business of rebuilding his walls with painstaking care.

Dean’s jaw firms first. Then his head lifts and the stress lines at the corners of his mouth ease. His forehead smoothes out. Dean closes himself off piece by piece until he’s almost a complete cipher. He can’t finish the job, though. Can’t lock his emotions out of his eyes, which are wet and wounded and so anxious it makes Sam’s chest ache.

Sam doesn’t like the idea of his brother going in to face Dad with so much vulnerability showing, but he doesn’t say anything as Dean finally climbs out of the car. He and Dad may have reached an uneasy truce as far as Dean is concerned, but Sam still doesn’t trust the man not to fuck it up without some kind of tangible reminder of how fragile Dean is. He wonders if he should have called ahead while they were driving back and told Dad about the gun—that would have guaranteed the man’s best behavior.

But Sam doesn’t think that their father is up to handling that news gracefully right now. Not coming so fast on the heels of this morning’s unpleasant revelation.

Sam is just going to have to keep a close watch on his brother for the next few days, possibly call up Claire again (if she’s still willing to talk to him after he spazzed out on her earlier) and get some information on any support systems or resources he could use to monitor or safeguard his brother’s emotional state. Come to think of it, after the events of the last twenty-four hours Dean might be willing to try some light medication.

Sam makes a mental note to bring it up later, once the hurdle of facing Dad is over with and they’re alone again, and then joins his brother on the sidewalk. Dean has made it around to the front of the car, but he’s stalled out again there, standing with his hands shoved in his pockets while he stares at the door to their room like a stray cat might watch a rabid, growling dog.

“You want me to go in first?” Sam asks, stepping close enough to bump their shoulders together.

Dean shoots him a glance that has as much annoyance in it as fear and steps forward without answering. The pride that tugs at Sam’s chest as he follows his brother into their room is only slightly muted by the weight of Dean’s pistol at the small of his back.

Sam is already searching for their father before he finishes clearing the threshold, and he finds him sitting on the bed that he and his brother shared last night with a familiar book in his hands. That book used to be Dad’s, before he left it behind for Dean. It used to be a field journal until Dean went and turned it into a Bible—the only holy book he gives a shit about, Sam’s sure.

Dad has his old journal open to what Sam thinks is the section on reapers. His left hand is splayed across one of the pages, and he’s running the fingertips of his other hand over the careful, ponderous notes Dean left in the margins. Sam remembers his brother writing them. Remembers staring so intently at him—alive and whole and making notes when he was all but buried days before—that Dean got pissed and hurled a pillow at his face.

As Sam steps into the room behind his brother, Dad shuts the journal with guilty haste (better fucking feel guilty for that, for leaving Sam hanging when Dean was dying, for being willing to let Dean go out like that without a word of comfort from their father) and tosses it onto the mattress to his left. When he stands, the daylight from the open door cuts through the gloom and illuminates his face fully.

Sam saw the damage before, but not this clearly and sure as hell not with his brother in the room. He looks again now with a sinking feeling in his gut.

Dad’s left eye is swollen shut and his nose is red and puffy. There’s dried blood caked in his nostrils and more on his split lip and his cheek is horribly bruised. He's had worse, sure, but not from Sam.

Not at the hands of his son.

Sam wishes that he had it in him to feel guilty on his own behalf instead of his brother’s, but he has to admit that he doesn’t. He’s ashamed only because Dean is less than a foot in front of him, looking at the evidence of Sam’s fury. Dean’s probably too upset right now to feel much of anything about Dad’s condition, but he’ll get around to it eventually, and then Sam is going to have to deal with the perplexed disappointment and hurt in his brother’s eyes.

Sam shifts a little at the thought, but although he’s standing directly in Dad’s line of sight, the man doesn’t seem to notice. All of his attention is riveted on Dean. Sam can’t read their father’s expression through the damage, and he can tell from the way his brother’s hand starts to lift up to his temple that Dean’s just as clueless. Dean catches himself almost immediately, forcing his hand down again, but Sam notes the tension bunching his brother’s shoulders and cording his neck and knows how much the restraint costs him.

Quietly, Sam shuts the door behind himself. Dean and Dad are both frozen, caught out by each other’s gazes, but Dean is the only one who flinches when Sam flicks the overhead light on. His brother seems to shrink in the artificial illumination, shifting his weight uncomfortably and dropping his gaze to the floor. His right hand clenches as though it wants to lift again.

Still wearing that unreadable expression, Dad starts forward. He walks toward Dean using the same, careful gait he employed years ago when he was rounding up a skittish horse after a job in Texas. It hurts to see Dad taking such care, hurts more to know that Dean needs it—to watch his brother take a single, nervous step backward before catching himself. Dean’s breathing has sped noticeably, and by the time Dad stands before him, Sam can smell the pungent, sour scent of his brother’s fear lying thick in the air.

For a moment, Dad stands there, his eyes heavy on Dean’s downturned face, and then he lifts one hand.

Dean flinches at the movement—an abrupt jerk that he’s seconds late in aborting—and then catches himself and holds as still as he can when his muscles are trembling so badly. Dad pauses, the skin around his eyes and mouth creasing with a flash of pain, and then pushes the emotion from his face with obvious effort.

When he reaches again, his hand lifts molasses slow. His fingers brush Dean’s chin—lightly at first and then, when Dean doesn’t pull away, closing in a firmer grip. With steady, gentle pressure, Dad tilts Dean’s head up and over, and Sam’s breath catches as he realizes what Dad is doing—just what part of Dean’s face has so caught his attention.

He and Dad didn’t talk about Dean’s rape—not directly—and so Dad doesn’t know exactly how Dean got that scar, but the man isn’t an idiot. He knows when Dean showed up with that wound, and now that he knows what happened in Vegas he’s more than capable of putting two and two together and figuring out that the souvenir isn’t from anything as innocuous as a bar fight.

Dean has stopped trembling beneath their father’s examination, but Sam isn’t sure that the stone stillness gripping his brother now is any better. Dean’s muscles are rigid enough that Sam's body aches with sympathy, and later? When he finally relaxes? He's gonna be sore as hell—even if he manages to avoid pulling anything.

As Dad’s other hand lifts to his face as well, Dean’s throat works. Dad’s fingertips brush the scar, tracing its hooked path, and Dean’s eyes flutter closed.

“I’m so sorry,” John whispers. “God, Dean, I am so damned sorry.”

“I shouldn’t have let it happen,” Dean mumbles, still standing at attention while he stares at the back of his eyelids. “M’ sorry, I—I fucked up.”

Sam thought Dad looked distraught before, but he was wrong. He has never seen their father look so stricken, like a man staring at his own damnation. He didn’t think Dad was capable of that much remorse and pain.

“No,” Dad chokes out.

When Dean mistakes the word for a rebuke and tries to pull away, Dad releases his face and throws an arm around Dean’s shoulders instead, yanking him into a tight hug.

“It’s not your fault, son,” he rumbles, cupping the back of Dean’s head with his other hand to keep him from pulling away. “It’s not your fault.”

Sam has been telling his brother that very thing for months, but there’s a part of Dean that isn’t ever going to accept anyone but their father as an authority on the double-edged question of guilt and responsibility. It isn’t until now, until this moment, that Dean believes the words. Sam sees the acceptance sink into his brother’s bones, sees the burden of guilt lift from his shoulders. He doesn’t know whether Dean is ever going to allow himself to be completely absolved, but Dad’s words—or maybe the firmness of his embrace—has alleviated the heaviest, most unbearable strain.

Dean doesn’t make a sound, but there are tears streaming down his face as he bunches the back of Dad’s shirt in both fists like he’s terrified that Dad is going to pull away, that their father is going to take his absolution back. Dad makes low, soothing noises as Dean cries, and holds him, and as Sam watches he wonders where this man has come from, this man who is more father than soldier. He wonders if this John Winchester has been there all along, hidden just below the surface—shoved to one side for the expediency of revenge.

Sam wonders, for the first time, what kind of man their father would have been if Mary hadn’t burned in front of his eyes so many years ago.

He’s still reeling from the revelation five minutes later, when Dean quiets. After all the turbulence over the past few days, Dean is worn out mind, body and soul, and his eyelids are drooping when Dad carefully disengages from the embrace.

“Sam,” Dad says, glancing over, and here is the father Sam knows—stiffly awkward with Dean so heavy and thoughtless in his arms.

Sam prods himself into motion, stepping forward to take his brother from their father’s hands. Dean comes to him easily, tucking his face in against Sam’s neck and brushing his skin with slightly parted, wet lips. It’s unintentional—Dean’s all but asleep on his feet—but it still sends an electric thrill down to Sam's cock. He clenches his jaw sternly, telling his libido to sit down and shut up, and very carefully doesn’t look at their father as he walks Dean over to the bed furthest from the door.

“Stay,” Dean murmurs as Sam sits him down. He gets a hand on the hem of Sam’s shirt and tugs at it. “Sammy.”

Sam’s cheeks heat. He’s painfully aware of their father’s presence as he pries Dean’s hand loose and tilts him over onto his side. “Gotta talk to Dad, okay, man?” he says softly.

Dean’s eyes, which were slipping shut, open again at that. He looks past Sam to Dad and then, licking his lips, nods. “Don’t hit him again,” he mutters.

“I won’t,” Sam promises. Not tonight, anyway. He considers the sheets trapped beneath his brother’s body and then grabs the comforter off the other bed instead.

“Sammy,” Dean yawns as Sam smoothes the comforter out over his body. The word is sloppy with sleep, but insistent enough that Sam’s heart beats a little quicker as he leans close.

“Yeah,” he says, resting one hand on his brother’s forehead.

“Don’t tell him.”

For a moment, Sam can’t figure out what Dean’s worried about—he can’t think Sam is in any danger of telling Dad about them—but then he moves slightly and the gun digs into his spine. Ah. Sam doesn’t want to upset his brother when he’s on the verge of much-needed sleep, but he can’t lie to Dean either and, after what he just saw, he’s reevaluating Dad’s tolerance for the news. Tonight, tomorrow morning at the latest, Sam’s going to have to tell him.

“You know I gotta, dude,” he says, stroking Dean’s hair.

Sam expects his brother to protest or panic, but Dean is apparently more exhausted than he thought because his face only creases for a moment and then eases out again—into acceptance if not agreement.

“’S gonna be mad,” he says, rolling onto his side and offering Sam his back.

“No one’s mad at you, Dean,” Sam promises. He knows that he shouldn’t—not with Dad watching—but he moves his hand down to the back of his brother’s neck and starts massaging anyway. A little more of the tension slips from Dean’s body and he makes an uncategorizable, sleepy noise, and then goes quiet. Sam stays where he is for a few more minutes, gently massaging his brother’s neck until he’s certain that Dean is asleep, and then straightens and turns to face their father.

While Sam was taking care of his brother, Dad moved to sit in one of the chairs at the table, and now he has one elbow propped on the tabletop as he leans his head in his hand. He’s watching just like Sam knew he was, but there isn’t any suspicion on his face. Looks like Dean’s current emotional state has gained them a little bit of leeway.

“Tell me what?” Dad asks as Sam lowers himself into the seat across the table.

Well, no one ever accused John Winchester of being hard of hearing.

Sam would have liked a few more hours to figure out how to break the news gently, but Dad's like a fisher cat when it comes to secrets. Now that he knows that there’s information to be had, he’s going to sink his teeth into Sam and he isn’t going to let go until he gets what he wants. Sam’s hackles raise instinctively at their father’s authoritative attitude, but he’s too exhausted to make something of it. Besides, this is one secret he definitely doesn’t want to carry.

Keeping his expression neutral, he pulls Dean’s Colt out from the small of his back and lays it between them on the table.

Dad looks at the gun blankly and then comprehension flickers in his good eye and his breath catches. “He was ...” He trails off, unable to say it. Sam can tell that he doesn’t really want to be thinking it either.

“He was close.”

“Jesus,” Dad breathes, and wipes his mouth with one hand. He shuts his eye briefly, forehead creasing, and then nods. “Okay, tell me everything.”

Sam tells him most of it.

He leaves out everything about his new, tenuous relationship with his brother, of course, and he tries to soften anything that smacks of his own, burning resentment toward their father, skims over the fight in the bar, but otherwise he’s as blunt as he can be. He tells Dad everything he knows about the rape itself, assembling the fragmented pieces that he pulled from his unwilling brother over the past few months into a horrible whole. He tells Dad about Claire and Emma, and then he pulls up the police file (complete with pictures taken at the hospital that he was careful not to let Dean see) and lets their father read through it.

“He’s dead,” Dad says when he gets there, and Sam hears his own frustrated rage echoed in their father’s voice.

“Yeah.”

Dad’s jaw clenches and he reads on for several more minutes, silently. Then, finally, he pushes the laptop away and sits back in his chair. His gaze slides past Sam to Dean, who has contorted himself into one of those impossibly uncomfortable looking positions that he’s so fond of. Some of the comforter is bunched beneath his right arm and he has his nose buried in it, like he’s smelling it. Sam flushes as he realizes that that’s exactly what his brother is doing because that’s their comforter, has Sam’s scent all over it, and God, all he wants to do is go over there and slip into the comforter’s place where he belongs—let Dean wrap close around him the way his brother clearly wants to.

“How did he find out Dean’s name?” Dad asks.

“I don’t know,” Sam answers, tearing his own eyes away from his brother and turning around again to face their father.

“Did you talk to his next of kin?” Dad’s voice is detached, and Sam is struck by a hundred different memories, each one earmarked by that very same, businesslike tone.

Dad. Dad with the scent of a fresh hunt in his nose. Dad bulldozing over anything and everything between him and this week’s creature feature.

Dad’s trying to turn Dean into a case.

Sam’s anger, which was banked by the shock that ended their earlier confrontation, rekindles. His voice is sharp when he says, “What the fuck does it matter? It isn’t going to change anything. Dean still got raped. He’s still hurt. Talking to Hanson’s sister isn’t going to fix him.”

Dad frowns, and Sam can see him laboriously trying to break through his hunter mindset so that he can follow Sam’s logic. Finally, he grunts, “I never said it would fix him. But this—it doesn’t strike you as odd, Hanson dying right before the police brought him in for questioning?”

“No,” Sam says flatly. “Because that’s how Dean’s luck runs. He gets screwed and then he gets screwed over.”

Dad’s frown deepens as he leans toward Sam across the table. “Your brother gets attacked, and you’re going to just chalk it up to bad luck? Just like that?”

“No, I’m gonna chalk it up to his father not giving enough of a damn about him to make sure he values himself enough to stay safe.” Dad flushes with hurt and anger and Sam forces himself to temper the accusation by adding, “And to his brother running off and leaving him alone. We did this to him, Dad—you and me—and we can’t just pass the blame off onto something supernatural because last time I checked, ghouls don’t rape people. Barghests and wendigos and black dogs don’t rape people. People rape people. There’s no case. Stop looking for one.”

Dad stares at him for a long moment, and Sam is sure that the man is going to argue. Part of him wants Dad to argue—the same part that believes that there’s more at work here than plain bad luck. There’s the way that Hanson knew Dean’s name, for one, and then there’s the sheer savagery of the attack itself. How Hanson could have injured Dean so badly when he was already stretched wide by the film shoot, Sam still doesn’t know.

And then there’s ... there’s that indefinable unease that he wakes with sometimes, when his dreams have been particularly bad. The unease that makes him think of other dreams he’s had—of Jess, of Jenny, of Max. His nightmares these days don’t taste quite the same—don’t leave his head pounding for hours afterwards the way the premonitions do—but there’s a chilled pit in his stomach that wants to connect them anyway. If only he could remember what they're about, instead of being left with no more than a vague, sullied impression.

He doesn’t even know why he’s fighting Dad so strenuously on this—it would make sense to check, at the very least, except ... Except that Sam doesn’t want there to be anything more to this. He very nearly hasn’t been able to handle this much. Dean is coming apart at the seams faster than Sam can stitch him up and Sam himself has been sliding into the kind of mindless fury that’s going to get someone killed sooner or later and neither one of them can take much more. One more stick and the camel, the caravan, and the whole fucking desert is gonna collapse beneath the weight.

The police have evidence that Hanson raped Dean. They have solid, irrefutable proof. Sam believes that Hanson is their man.

If there’s any more to it than that, then let it rest. Not—not forever, just until Dean has grown strong enough to bear the weight. Just long enough for Sam to catch his goddamned breath.

He opens his mouth to offer the compromise—give it a few months, give Dean some time to recover before we stir this up any more—but their father beats him to it.

“You’re right, Sammy,” Dad says. “I’ve just been so caught up in chasing down the damned demon. It’s got me jumping at shadows.”

Something stirs deep inside of Sam and suddenly he’s less sure than ever. He wishes he could backtrack and take back his objection—stupid, it’s so fucking stupid to wait when Sam wants his hands on anyone who had anything to do with Dean’s defilement yesterday—but instead he hears himself ask, “Is that where you’ve been?”

Dad hesitates, good eye turning toward Dean again. “I’d rather wait and tell you both at once.”

Some of Sam’s instinctual unease falls away before the rush of protective concern that fills him at that announcement. “Dean doesn’t need—”

“This is exactly what your brother needs,” Dad disagrees before Sam can finish. “It’ll get his mind off things for a while.”

“Get his—he was raped, Dad!” Sam shouts, anger surging bright and hot to the front of his mind. Behind him, Dean makes a soft, protesting noise, and Sam forces himself to lower his voice as he continues, “That isn’t going to go away just because you wave a hunt in front of his nose!”

“What do you want him to do, Sammy?” Dad shoots back. “Sit around and stew on it some more? You want to give him more time to think up reasons to reach for a gun? Or do you want to give him a reason to live? A purpose?”

As much as Sam hates to admit it, Dad’s right.

Sam has been so busy trying to figure out how to fix his brother that he lost sight of the single most defining factor in Dean’s life.

Hunting isn’t a job for Dean: it’s an identity. An identity that Sam has steadily been pushing them away from while he chases after his brother’s pain and repeatedly drags it out into the open.

And Dean does need that. He needs to lance the wound every once in a while so that it won’t fester. But he’s clearly been unraveling over the past few days, right underneath Sam’s nose, and Sam thinks that Dad is right about why Dean came so close to ending things. Dad finding out may have been bad—was certainly the primary trigger—but Sam laid the groundwork for that breakdown by focusing his brother so completely on his pain until it was the only thing Dean could see: terrible and all-consuming.

Dean needs to remember that there’s more for him out there. He needs to remember why life is worth living. He needs, most of all, to be reminded of the depths of his own strength.

Pushing him into a hunt would never have occurred to Sam, whose relationship with that bloody world is complicated at best, but now that Dad has brought it up, Sam has to acknowledge that his brother always loved hunting in a way he never did. Not even Dad approaches the job with such obvious pleasure—it’s an obligation for him, a sacred duty.

Dean comes alive when he hunts. He gets off on it. When he hunts, Dean is—he’s—he’s fucking breathtaking, is what he is.

“I’m not saying we ignore it,” Dad continues more softly. “But he needs something else to focus on for a while.”

“You’re right,” Sam says. It hurts his pride more than he’d like to make that concession, but he manages it for his brother’s sake.

Dad looks surprised by his rapid agreement, but he doesn’t say anything and there’s none of the smugness Sam was dreading.

After a moment, Sam clears his throat and asks, “So, does this mean you’re sticking around for a while?”

Dad purses his split lips and then nods. “If that’s okay,” he says, voice cautious. “I want to be here for Dean, but I—you and me being at each other’s throats the whole time is only going to upset him more.”

It isn’t anything but the truth. Sam isn’t sure there’s a whole lot they can do about that, but he supposes that he owes it to his brother to try.

“I’ll try to control myself if you do,” he offers.

The corner of Dad’s mouth twitches wryly and he extends his hand over the table. “Deal.”

As Sam takes their father’s hand, he notices the way that his own hand is no longer swallowed up, notes how similar their grips are: almost identical. It makes him look a little more carefully at their father’s face. He’s searching for signs of himself there, but instead he catches a hint of something else—something dark and doubting and searching.

For a moment, Sam’s almost positive that Dad is looking at him like a potential threat.

Then the corner of their father’s mouth inches up and he says, “You gonna shake on it, boy, or are we gonna have to arm wrestle?”

Sam’s mouth twitches in return and he tightens his grip. “Like you could take me,” he jokes, giving Dad’s hand a firm pump before letting go.

Dad’s gripping his fingers again before he can go anywhere, and the tentative smile on the man's face has become a grin. “Oh, now you’re in for it. Best two out of three.”

If it feels a little like he's assessing Sam’s strength during the impromptu contest that follows, Sam’s too busy enjoying the quiet, stress free moment to care.

Chapter Text

Sam makes sure that he’s the first thing Dean sees when he finally opens his eyes again three hours later. He’s lying inches from his brother, close enough to touch if Dean looks like he needs the contact, if he looks distressed. But Dean’s sleep was mostly deep and, as far as Sam can tell, completely dreamless, and he wakes with little fuss, blinking muzzily at Sam a couple of times before closing his eyes again.

“How long you been watching me?” he mumbles, words slurring together with the lingering clumsiness of sleep.

Always, Sam thinks, but he’s pretty sure that isn’t what his brother meant, so he says, “Couple of hours.”

“Stalker,” Dean mutters. “Next thing you know, you’re gonna be tattooing my name on your ass and sniffing my underwear. Such a perv.”

Sam huffs out a soft laugh at the taunt—thoughtlessly, but he would have done it deliberately if he’d known it would bring such a contented twitch of his brother’s lips. Without pausing to think about it, Sam puts a hand on his brother’s cheek and shifts forward.

Dean’s mouth opens for him easily, and his lips are pliant beneath Sam’s. It’s just a brief kiss—nothing more than a taste, really—but Sam’s heart is already pounding when he eases back and opens his eyes again.

Dean is watching him with an indefinable expression—there’s sorrow there, yes, and that shadowed pain that never quite leaves Dean’s gaze these days, but there’s something else as well. Something new that Sam hasn’t seen cast in his direction before. Something tremulous and warm that is doing funny things to Sam’s chest and stomach.

“Where’s Dad?” Dean asks after a moment.

“He took the room next door. You want me to get him?”

It’s a rhetorical question—partly because Sam’s sure his brother is going to want to talk to Dad, partly because he promised he’d get the man the moment Dean woke up—and Sam starts to move without waiting for an answer. He halts, surprised, when Dean grabs his wrist.

“What?” he asks, propping himself up on one elbow and looking down at his brother.

Dean’s tongue eases out to lick across his lower lip. There’s a certain self-awareness to the motion that tells Sam it’s deliberate and, with a sudden jolt, he understands what the new emotion in his brother’s eyes is.

Arousal.

“Are you—” he starts, but the ‘sure’ is lost in his sharp inhalation as Dean draws his hand down to his crotch and presses.

Dean kicked the comforter off about an hour into his nap, so there’s nothing between Sam’s hand and his brother’s dick but a stiff layer of denim. Dean isn’t fully hard—he isn’t even mostly hard—but he isn’t soft either.

Sam’s exhalation is shaky as he adjusts his hand to cup his brother more firmly and rubs him through his jeans. Dean pushes up into the pressure, his own breathing labored, and his grip slacks on Sam’s wrist. He isn’t meeting Sam’s eyes anymore, gaze fastened on an unimportant spot on Sam’s collarbone, but he isn’t trying to hide anything. From the flush creeping across his cheeks and reddening the tips of his ears—from the way he’s rocking his hips forward in time with Sam’s careful strokes—Sam can tell that his brother’s enjoying himself. He’s enjoying this.

An image of Dean writhing between the restraining weights of two bodies intrudes, followed by the alcohol-blurred memory of Dean rocking down helplessly against Sam, and Sam pushes them both away. The image that replaces those first troubling flashes—Dean sitting on the edge of the Starlite Motel’s empty pool, Colt in hand and sunlight on his shoulders—is the one that makes Sam falter.

Not now, he thinks, fighting back the worry and guilt and concern that rise with the memory. It’s a surprisingly difficult task, even with Dean so obviously willing in front of him. Sam is nothing if not stubborn, though, and he manages it, relaxing back into the moment as he slides his hand a little lower to push against Dean’s balls as well.

He watches, entranced, as Dean’s eyes slip shut and his head tilts back. Watches the clench of his brother’s jaw and flutter of his lashes. Watches Dean’s lips part around each labored breath. Watches the surprised pleasure that ripples across his brother’s face like wind across a mountain lake.

The sound of their breathing is too loud in the quiet room, too intense, and suddenly Sam is desperate to break the silence, to make this feel less crucial to both of them than it actually is. His voice comes out in a dry rasp.

“Is that good?”

“’S good,” Dean agrees, and then his whole body seems to lengthen as he rolls his hips forward into Sam’s hand.

His upturned shoulder twitches with the strain of the stretch in a way that reminds Sam of just how tightly his brother was holding himself before. Although he can’t see Dean’s skin through the layers of cotton and flannel, he can still read the lingering stiffness of overworked muscles in his brother’s posture. Giving the half-hard bulge of Dean’s cock one final squeeze, Sam pulls his hand away and sits up.

Dean immediately grunts, annoyed, and opens his eyes. “Dude—”

“I’m not stopping,” Sam tells him, voice coming out muffled as he pulls his shirt over his head. “I’m just—let me try this my way?”

Dean can’t seem to figure out where to look as Sam tosses his shirt on the floor. He seems to be trying to meet Sam’s eyes, but Sam’s chest and stomach are apparently more than a little distracting because Dean’s gaze keeps getting caught up there instead. Even in the midst of everything else, Sam can’t help feeling a tiny flare of pride. He’s worked his ass off to overcome the string bean blueprints encoded into his DNA, and this is the first time Dean has given any hint he recognizes the extra bulk. The faint, sexual twist to the revelation is just a bonus.

If Sam were a little more confident, this is when he’d make a joke at his brother’s expense—trot out one of the lines he’s heard Dean use a hundred times over the years, something along the lines of ‘See something you like, baby?’

But he isn’t confident, and Dean is starting to look flustered, and Sam can feel the moment slipping away from them.

Then Dean clears his throat and asks, “Your way doesn’t involve a sheep or a goat or anything, does it?”

“Ha ha,” Sam says dryly, but his chest feels lighter than it has all week.

Despite those light, over-the-jeans caresses, he wasn’t sure he was reading Dean right until now, until his brother is looking up at him and teasing him with that fond warmth in his eyes. As if that weren’t enough, Dean turns over so that he can prop himself up with both elbows. The new sprawl of his legs makes the line of his half-hard cock even more obvious than before. When he sees the direction of Sam’s gaze, he smirks.

Dean wants this. He actually, honest to God wants Sam touching him.

“Take off your clothes,” Sam says, the words made abrupt by his eagerness. Without waiting for his brother to comply, he slides off the bed and hurries over to his bag.

Sam has been rummaging through it for a couple of minutes—never can find anything when he wants to—when he realizes that there isn’t any noise coming from the bed behind him. Pausing in his search, he turns around to find Dean still fully clothed. His brother is sitting up now, leaning against the headboard as he frowns down at his lap.

“Dean?” Sam calls. The butterflies in his stomach have become snakes again, and his skin is cold. God, how could he have fucked this up so damned fast?

“How, uh, how naked are we talking here?” Dean asks. As Sam tries to figure out what’s going on in his beautiful, damaged brother’s head, Dean looks up and adds, “I mean, I’m not trying to be a dick here, I just. I’ve never. You know, we haven’t. Uh, we haven’t done the whole naked thing before.”

It’s literally the last thing Sam was expecting to hear.

“What are you talking about?” he asks, perplexed. “I’ve seen you naked tons of times, dude.”

“Not like this. Not—” Dean’s throat works and drops his eyes. “It’s different.”

Different, Sam thinks. There’s a bitter, resentful taste in his mouth and an ache in his chest. Things are different these days. Hanson made them different.

“I was gonna give you a massage,” he says, trying to keep his voice light. “If you’re up for that.”

“Really?” Dean asks. Anxiety lingers in his eyes as he looks at Sam, but his expression has perked up a little.

“Really. It’d be easier if you took at least the flannel off, but if you want, you can leave everything on.”

“No, I can—that's fine,” Dean agrees, already moving. Sam watches his brother shrug out of his outer shirt and then turns back to his bag.

Despite Dean’s acquiescence, the bitter taste in Sam’s mouth has thickened. His stomach is queasy from the doubts and recriminations tumbling around in his head. He’s pushing Dean too fast—shouldn’t be touching him at all, no matter what Dean thinks he wants—but he isn’t strong enough to say no. Not after he just came so close to losing his brother for good. He needs to feel Dean—needs to get his hands on his brother and reassure himself that Dean is here, that he's going to be okay.

He finds what he was looking for in one of the side pockets and turns around in time to see Dean’s pants join both of his shirts on the floor. The unexpected sight kicks Sam low and hard in the gut, shocking him into stillness. His eyes alone continue to move, flicking up and down his brother’s body in restless wonder.

Strong, slightly bowed legs leading to slender hips and flat stomach and broad chest and shoulders. Pale skin everywhere, lightly flecked with freckles and the white, puckered lines of old wounds. Faint, dark trail of hair running down from Dean’s navel to disappear beneath the low waistband of the boxers that are the only thing standing between Sam and a complete and utter system failure.

Sam has seen more of his brother than this countless times before—growing up on the road didn’t leave a whole lot of room for modesty. He saw Dean just like this a few nights ago, when Dean held up the covers so that Sam could slide into bed. But that was barely a glimpse in a darkened room. That was casual on Dean’s part, almost platonic.

Dean was right. This is different.

Beneath the scrutiny, Dean shifts in an abortive attempt to cover himself up and then closes his hand around his thigh and forces himself to sit still. His whole body seems to be flushing, and his eyes are locked on the bedspread, and Sam is seconds away from calling the whole thing off and screw his libido, when he realizes that his brother isn’t upset. That isn’t fear he’s reading in his brother’s posture. Those aren’t old memories making Dean swallow and duck his head.

Dean isn’t anxious. He’s shy.

Sam’s eyes are drifting again—he can’t help himself—and Dean seems to feel the gaze moving across his skin. He shivers, muscles flexing and bunching. His throat arches as he turns his face away, graceful and lovely. After a torturous, silent moment where Sam is seriously considering falling to his knees, his brother hauls in a breath and looks back again.

There’s a hint of Dean’s old bravado in his eyes—that reckless facade he wears whenever he’s feeling out of his element—and as he catches Sam’s gaze with his own, his jaw firms and his chin lifts. Sam’s heart beats out an alarming tattoo against his ribcage—he can’t handle this, can’t handle Dean sitting there mostly naked and looking at him with such steady challenge.

Where the hell did he ever get the idea he was good enough for his brother?

Then Dean’s eyes drop to Sam’s hand. “Wow,” he deadpans. “You sure know how to romance a guy.”

Sam glances down at the container of Icy Hot and blushes. It seemed like a good idea a second ago, but now he’s really wishing that he hadn’t bothered. He hasn’t felt like this much of a jackass since he spent his savings fixing the apartment’s plumbing and had to take Jess out to a birthday dinner at Burger King. Jess deserved better then and Dean deserves better now, but all Sam has to offer is this old container of pungent medication.

He needs it, Sam reminds himself. It helps that he can see how sore and tight Dean’s muscles are, now that they’ve been laid bare. Sam’s good with massages, but he isn’t a professional and he’s going to need all the help he can get if he wants to do anything for his brother. He can always pick up some real massage oil to use next time—preferably something edible so that he won’t have to resist the inevitable urge to taste once he has Dean shining and slick and loose underneath him.

“Lay down and roll over,” he says, moving back toward the bed.

“What’s the magic word?”

Dean is hiding again, burying nerves beneath humor. Sam should be used to it—Dean’s been doing this his whole life—but for some reason it stops him dead. After chasing the source of his discomfort down for a couple of heartbeats, he finds it in a memory of Stanford.

Last year, Jess went to Cancun for spring break and returned with the crazy idea that she had to lose weight. Since Sam’s all but helpless when it comes to feeding himself, that meant that he was stuck eating her fat free cottage cheese and yogurt and salad dressing and potato chips. It’s the milk he’s remembering now, though: the milk and how it tasted like crap until he got used to it. And how goddamned strange it tasted when Jess got over her momentary insanity two months later and switched back to whole.

Dean’s behavior is striking him as odd for the same reason that first glass of whole milk tasted scummy and wrong. His brother has been defenseless since the cabin—since Sam’s post-hypnotic command that he face his emotions instead of hiding from them. But that order is finally wearing off (or maybe he’s getting better, maybe he’s healing) and Sam is going to feel off balance until he gets used to Dean’s normal coping methods again.

In some ways, he’s relieved—Dean needs his defenses, as that night in the bar proved, and he never meant to change his brother so fundamentally with the command in the first place. But he’s also more than a little alarmed, especially after the events of this morning.

Now more than ever, Sam needs to know where Dean is emotionally. He needs Dean to be honest with him, doesn’t have the time or the energy to waste cutting through the bullshit to get at the pain beneath. Fuck, he’s going to have to watch more closely than ever to make sure Dean isn’t backsliding.

His brother seems mostly okay right now, though, and Sam isn’t going to ruin the present by worrying about the future, so he shakes himself and says, “Dude, I’m offering to give you a free massage. You should be kissing my ass.”

“You first, bitch,” Dean responds immediately, rolling over and shaking his butt. It’s probably supposed to look silly—Dean going for a laugh—but as far as Sam is concerned it’s impossible for his brother to look like an idiot when sex is involved. He forces out a laugh anyway, and if it sounds a little strained, then Dean is lucky he isn’t dropping the Icy Hot and climbing on the bed and yanking those ragged boxers down and licking his brother open and slick.

Sam’s dick wasn’t exactly limp before Dean’s little display, but if he straddles his brother now his erection is going to be really fucking noticeable. He was already uncertain about the wisdom of putting Dean in that position, considering Dean’s past and how agitated he gets when he’s even the least bit restrained; now it seems about as smart a move as locking a claustrophobic inside a coffin. On the other hand, trying to give a deep tissue massage from the side is awkward as hell, and Dean ... Dean’s going to feel insulted if Sam doesn’t at least give this a try.

Stupid Winchester pride.

As Sam puts one knee on the bed, Dean twists his head around and peers doubtfully at him. “You’re gonna get that crap all over yourself,” he points out.

For a couple of seconds, Sam isn’t sure what his brother is talking about.

Then Dean rolls his eyes and prods, “The Icy Hot?”

Oh. Sam blinks down at the container in his hand, uncertain.

Snorting, Dean sits up and reaches out and, before Sam has really figured out what’s going on, his brother’s hands are on the waistband of his jeans. Dean was joking a second ago, but he’s deathly serious now, fingers skirting in from Sam’s hips to meet at the fastening.

Which is about the time Sam’s brain catches up with current events and he shoots a hand out, clamping down on Dean’s right wrist.

“I’ve gotten worse things than Icy Hot on my jeans before,” he says.

They’re close enough for Sam to draw in his brother’s spent air with every breath, close enough for him to count the freckles on Dean’s nose or the yellow flecks (not light like the sun, but rich and deep, like a lion’s pelt) in his vivid green irises. He’s close enough to see his brother’s pupils flare as Dean tries to focus on his face, and then Dean’s eyelids lower as he drops his eyes. His hands are trembling against Sam’s bare stomach, and anxiety is pouring off him and chilling the air.

“Dean,” Sam starts softly, but before he can finish Dean says, in a breathy, nervous rush, “Yeah well, I know how you hate to do laundry.”

“I don’t mind,” Sam insists, unable to stop himself from rubbing his thumb against his brother’s pulse.
He isn’t exactly talking about the laundry, and he can tell from Dean’s prolonged silence that his brother understands that, but Dean still isn’t moving away. Finally, Dean swallows and nods with a hint of his old determination.

“Yeah, well, maybe I do.”

His wrist twists suddenly in Sam’s grip as he fumbles for the top button, and Sam reflexively tightens up, stilling him again.

Dean.”

“You’re not going to hurt me, Sam.” It isn’t a question, but the stiff posture of Dean’s shoulders indicates that he’s waiting for an answer anyway.

The statement is debatable, considering their history—seems like all Sam ever does is hurt his brother, and if Dean has somehow overlooked that fact then Sam sure as hell hasn’t. Neither has Dad, judging from his earlier words. Some of them were empty barbs fashioned and hurled out of anger, but some of them (where were you, abandoned him, damned fine hunter before you got your hands on him) hit a little too close to home to be anything but true.

If Sam really loved Dean the way he claims, he’d leave. Dad’s here now, he’d take care of Dean, make sure he gets the treatment he needs.

“Sammy?” It’s too soft to be a whisper: a timid word riding his brother’s breath. Sam’s surprised he even heard it over the pounding of his heart.

“No,” Sam agrees, voice choked and low with how much he hates himself for doing this, for not being strong enough. “No, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Dean’s shoulders sag with relief at the promise (which Sam has already broken, he’s broken it a hundred times over). “Okay, then,” he breathes, and reaches for the button again.

Sam can’t bring himself to release his brother’s wrist, but his grip has loosened involuntarily and Dean is able to thumb the top button loose and pull the zipper down. As the pressure of the denim eases off of his erection, Sam bites the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning and holds himself painfully still. He can’t control his cock, though, and at an accidental brush of his brother’s knuckle it twitches violently.

Dean doesn’t jerk away, but his full-bodied flinch is bad enough and Sam’s throat is aching as he releases his brother’s wrist.

“I, uh, I think you can get the rest for yourself,” Dean says as he moves away.

Torn between self-hatred at his inability to let his brother go the way he should and frustration that this isn’t ending with Dean’s hand wrapped around him, or Dean’s mouth sucking him off, or Dean’s ass clenching tight and warm against him, Sam pushes back off the bed with his knee.

He doesn’t know how he can even be thinking about sex right now, how he can be that callous in the face of Dean’s obvious nerves. But Dean’s—fuck, no matter how he came by it, Dean’s shy vulnerability is pushing buttons Sam never knew he had. He wants to protect, yes, and cherish, but he also wants to claim—he wants to mark so that there aren’t any more mistakes in the future, so that everyone can look at Dean and see that he’s off limits, that he’s already fucking owned.

The impulse leaves him feeling so guilty and wretched that his erection is wilting. All of the aroused heat that was there moments ago has gone cold and damp. Sam would like nothing more than to back up thirty minutes and stop this whole thing before it gets started, but it’s a little late for that. He considers putting a halt to it anyway—Dean will be royally pissed, but he’ll get over it—and then looks at his brother.

Dean is lying on his stomach again, chin resting on the pillow he has bunched up between his arms. He’s going for nonchalant, but it’s coming across as skittish, and why the hell is he even agreeing to try this?

The answer comes a second later, honest and stinging.

Dean is doing this to prove to himself that he can. This whole scenario is about comfort from Sam’s point of view, but Dean is looking at it like a test. Sam doesn’t know what the penalty for failing is in his brother’s head, but it can’t be anything good.

You can do this, he tells himself, tightening his grip on the Icy Hot. Dean wants you to do this.

Getting his jeans off is still terrifying as hell.

Slowly, Sam gets back on the bed and eases one leg over his brother’s body. And freezes.

Objectively, he understands that they aren’t going to get anywhere until he drops down, but he can’t quite get the command through to his muscles. It keeps getting caught in a net of imaginings that feel like memories: Dean facedown on the floor, blood slicking one side of his face and getting in his eyes; Dean dazed and uncomprehending as his pants are yanked down and—

“Better not be charging by the hour, dude,” Dean says, jarring Sam from his thoughts. He looks down at the tense lines of his brother’s back, and his own broad thighs, and the bulge of his cock, which is still wilted from all of the apprehension tumbling around inside of him, and firms his jaw. This time, when Sam tells himself to sit down, the message gets through.

As expected, Dean’s breathing goes ragged as he feels Sam’s weight across his ass and upper thighs. He grips the pillow with white-knuckled hands, and the muscles in his back cord and twitch violently enough that Sam’s back is aching in sympathy.

All he wants to do is lift up again, but that isn’t going to accomplish anything in the long run, and so he forces himself to stay where he is. Reaching out, he rests a hand on his brother’s side and says, “Hey, man, it’s okay. It’s just me. I’m not going to hurt you, remember?”

“Sam?” Dean breathes, and he sounds confused enough that Sam suspects that his brother is halfway to a flashback.

“One and only,” he answers, trying to keep his voice light. “You ready for the best massage of your life? Swear to God, dude, you’re gonna be boneless when I’m done. Gonna be worshipping my hands.”

Dean is silent long enough that Sam is beginning to think that joking was the wrong way to go, but then he snorts weakly and mutters, “You wish.”

Relief washes through Sam, cool and refreshing, and he manages something resembling a real smile. “Hey, it’s a fact of life. I’m just that awesome.”

Dean is still far tenser than Sam would like, but at least he sounds firmly centered in the here and now as he says, “Oh yeah? Put your money where your mouth is, bitch.”

“Jerk,” Sam responds automatically, and then adds, “Terms?”

“Laundry duty for a month.”

It feels sort of like hustling a townie at pool, but Dean is right: Sam doesn’t really like doing laundry. Besides, much as he complains about the chore, Dean is just plain better at it. Everything comes out feeling softer and smelling cleaner when it’s his turn.

“You’re on,” Sam agrees, uncapping the Icy Hot and releasing the sudden, eyewatering scent of medicated mint.

Dean shifts a little beneath him, adjusting his grip on the pillow, and then mutters, “I’m gonna smell like a fucking peppermint patty.”

Scooping out two fingerfulls of white paste, Sam smears it over his hands. “Could be worse: I could be using strawberry-scented oil.”

“Do and you die,” Dean threatens, and then tenses even more as Sam’s hands drop down onto his shoulders. “Fuck.”

“Just try and relax.”

“I am relaxed,” Dean shoots back, like Sam can’t feel the tension vibrating beneath his hands as he starts to knead.

Sam doesn’t argue with his brother, though. Instead, he concentrates on feeling for the pressure points he knows will bring relief while taking care to soothe the Icy Hot into Dean’s skin. At first, his brother’s back is like silk-sheathed rock beneath his hands: all stubborn strength and stiffness. Gradually, though, as Sam settles in to work and Dean gets used to his weight, he starts to relax.

Now that Dean isn’t actively tensing, it’s easier to find the knots. Sam hones in on the first one and starts kneading. The muscle comes loose all at once, like a cut cord, and Dean’s entire back ripples with the release.

“What the fuck?” he swears, trying to tense again.

Sam keeps his fingers moving, forestalling the urge by pressing just right on a second knot and releasing that one as well. Dean swears a second time, shivering.

“I know it feels weird, but you’re gonna have to go with me on this, okay?” Sam tells him, regooping his hands before seeking out knot number three.

“That fucking hurts, asshole,” Dean complains, but he isn’t fighting to get away and he isn’t telling Sam to stop.

“You’ve got a lot of knots,” Sam explains, digging both thumbs into a stubborn lump and rubbing. “Once I loosen them up, you should start feeling better.”

Dean gasps as the lump shudders and eases out and then, through clenched teeth, says, “You sure you passed this class? You didn’t flunk out, right?”

“I passed,” Sam answers shortly. Between his efforts to work out all the damage Dean did to himself over the last couple of days and his brother’s verbal prods, the proximity of Dean’s ass to his cock isn’t a huge issue anymore. Neither is the guilt coiled in his chest.

Sam isn’t sure whether he’s more annoyed or more concerned, but he knows that he isn’t horny.

“Cause it feels like you flunked out,” Dean notes.

Definitely more annoyed.

“Jesus Christ, Dean, can you just shut up and let me work?” Sam demands, letting his exasperation color his voice.

“Just checking,” Dean grumbles, but he shuts up after that, only letting out the occasional grunt as Sam finds and releases another knot.

Sam counts sixteen in all between the nape of his brother’s neck and the small of his back, which is ridiculous, and then takes another scoop of Icy Hot and works his way back up. Some of Dean’s knots are playing hard to get and have reformed on him, but they loosen almost immediately the second time around and by his third pass his brother’s back is nice and lax. Sam shifts his rhythm, moving his hands in pleasurable rather than therapeutic rhythms, and this time the noise Dean makes is warm and slippery and loose.

Sam’s concern and annoyance both seep away as his hands move across his brother’s skin, leaving him with nothing to focus on except how soft Dean feels, how warm. The Icy Hot is covering up his brother’s scent, too sharp to be at all sexual, but Sam’s libido doesn’t seem to mind. He’s hardening again, slowly but surely: keeps wondering what it would feel like to lean down and drape himself over his brother. Keeps wondering what Dean would do right now if he slid their bodies together and bit a teasing love-bite into the sensitive skin just beneath Dean’s ear.

Clenching his jaw, Sam eases off of his brother. He reapplies another glop of the Icy Hot to his hands and then, carefully, encircles Dean’s right thigh. Dean stirs, head lifting as he tries to tense, and Sam moves one hand from his brother’s thigh to his back and strokes.

“Still me,” he reassures as he starts massaging the sturdy muscle beneath his fingers. “Gonna make you feel good, okay?”

“Mmph,” Dean manages, which could mean any number of things, but he isn’t trying to move any more and Sam thinks he can see a lazy smile on his brother’s half-hidden mouth. It’s as clear a green flag as Dean has given him lately and Sam feels justified in lifting his hand from his brother’s back and returning his attention to his thigh.

There are more knots here, of course, and Dean’s leg twitches as Sam works them out, but he doesn’t protest. Sam works carefully as he moves his hands down one leg and up the other—he’s less practiced with these muscles, doesn’t want to fuck up and leave Dean aching—but eventually his brother is completely lax. When Sam casts a glance up Dean’s body to his face, his brother’s eyes are closed and his mouth is hanging open.

“Dean?” he tries, stroking a hand up and down his brother’s calf.

“Mm?”

“You awake, man?”

“Why’d you stop?”

Sam can’t help grinning at the thoughtless response, and his chest expands with warmth. He knew this was a good idea. “Want me to get your front?”

In answer, Dean flops over and lies there in an undignified sprawl.

Still smiling, Sam starts to reach for the Icy Hot again and then freezes, eyes caught on the bulge in his brother’s boxers. Before he’s had time to think it through, he reaches out and rests his hand over the bulge, marveling at the feel of his brother’s semi-hard cock through the worn fabric. Dean’s hips move at the touch, driving his cock more firmly against Sam’s hand, and he moans softly. When Sam glances at his brother’s face, Dean’s eyes are open, filled with lazy warmth.

“You gonna finish?” Dean asks, and he could mean any number of things except for the intent in his gaze. Except for the way he rolls up against Sam’s hand again in thoughtless demand.

Sam wants nothing more than to push Dean’s boxers down and jerk him off, but he’s pretty sure that the Icy Hot on his hands would make that a more extreme experience than he means it to be. Besides, there’s something so fragile in the air right now, and Dean’s cock, which is stuck in that half-hard state of staticy arousal, feels vulnerable beneath Sam’s palm. He isn’t sure his brother will be able to achieve anything more, even with Sam’s hands and mouth at his disposal. God, even this much, after months of nothing but panic and disinterest, is nothing short of a miracle.

Sam doesn’t want to push his brother into something he isn’t ready for, but he doesn’t want to shut Dean off either, not if he’s somehow capable of more. Opting for the middle ground, he straddles his brother again. Dean tenses as Sam’s weight drops down on him, but there’s no real panic in it this time, and the tension rolls right back out of him as Sam bears down with a careful pulse of his lower body.

Sam’s hard himself, leaking precome into his boxers, and the feel of Dean’s cock so close to his own is maddening. Arousal makes his vision blur and his pulse speed. Luckily, Sam doesn’t need to see in order to continue: doesn’t need to think once his hands are back in place on his brother’s chest.

It’s different than it was with Jess—easier, not having to dig through breast to get to the muscle beneath. It’s harder, too, because Dean is more responsive than Jess ever was. He shifts with each pass of Sam’s fingers, shudders when Sam’s thumb brushes against his nipple. He seems to have gotten used to the shock of release, and now, whenever Sam loosens a knot, Dean responds by letting out a moan and bucking up against him.

None of which is doing anything for Sam’s concentration or for his determination not to rip both of their boxers off and take Dean right now.

“Christ, you’re sensitive,” he breathes.

“S’not—fuck—not normal?” Dean wants to know. Bringing one of his hands up, he wraps it around Sam’s thigh and holds on.

“If everyone reacted this strongly to deep tissue massages, they’d charge a hell of a lot more for them,” Sam replies, digging his thumb into the muscle just below his brother's left nipple.

Dean squirms, moaning with a helplessness that makes Sam’s cock jerk in his boxers. His eyes, which were half-lidded with pleasure, fly open. He looks dazed, looks decadent and fuckable, and Sam can’t help it anymore.

Dropping forward, he slides both arms around his brother and grips his ass, holding him close while rolling his own hips and grinding their cocks together. Dean makes another soft, whining noise, and Sam catches the sound in his own mouth before covering his brother’s lips and kissing him. Dean’s hand shifts from Sam’s leg to his side, clutching, and there’s no mistaking it for anything but desire, no mistaking the thrust of Dean’s tongue into his mouth as anything but hunger.

Sam kisses his brother back while thrusting down—pull of damp cotton across his cock, teasing brush of Dean’s half-erection—and then, driven by a deep-rooted, hungry impulse, pulls his mouth free. He isn’t so far gone as to forget that Dad is next door, that Dad is going to be seeing them within the hour, and it’s Dean’s collarbone that he latches onto and not his neck.

It’s debatable whether Dean understands what Sam’s after, but he tilts up for it anyway, twisting his head back into the pillow and pushing his chest up while Sam sucks and bites and does everything he can to ensure that the skin between his lips and teeth will be purple and sensitive for days. His brother’s hand finds Sam’s hair and grips and that’s it, Sam grinds down once more and comes, shaking, in his boxers.

The fire trembling through him should dampen now, but instead he feels as feverish as ever as he crawls backwards down his brother’s body. His orgasm is still rolling through him, his cock is twitching out its last few pathetic spurts, and they’re not done here. They’re not done until Dean feels this with him.

Adjusting his grip on Dean’s ass, Sam nuzzles against his brother’s boxers. Above him, Dean makes a wordless cry that cuts off as Sam bites down. Sam mouths frantically at his brother’s cock through the worn fabric, tasting cotton, and the faint, bitter transfer of his own climax, and a medicinal aftertaste that has to be from the Icy Hot. Dean’s thighs are trembling, and Sam would be concerned that it’s a sign of distress except for the way they’re parting, except for the way his brother’s legs are coming up to frame Sam’s body, except for the way Dean’s hands are gripping Sam’s hair and keeping him close while he thrusts up.

“Sam,” Dean pants. “Fuck, Sammy.”

He isn’t getting any harder, but that’s because there’s too much between them, it has to be, and Sam doesn’t hesitate before sitting up and yanking his brother’s boxers off. He’s back down where he needs to be a second later, before Dean can protest the absence, opening his mouth and swallowing down his brother’s cock.

Dean’s a big guy, but he’s only half-erect and it isn’t too difficult for Sam to fit everything into his mouth. He holds his brother there for a moment, giving himself a chance to savor the weight and taste, and then gives a soft moan and brings his tongue into play, licking slowly from root to tip.

Dean may not have been all that articulate before, but the noises he’s making now have lost any pretense at coherence. His hands are in Sam’s hair again, tugging while Sam licks and sucks and uses every trick he knows to bring his brother off.

But Dean isn’t getting any harder—actually seems to be softening—and finally his hands fall away from Sam’s head. Sam knows what that means, but he shuts his eyes against the knowledge and keeps trying until Dean’s voice, strained but gentle, says, “It’s not happening, dude.”

No, Sam can do this. He can. He can fix this.

“Sam,” Dean says again, getting a hand in Sam’s hair again and pulling. “Give it up.”

Sam isn’t ready to give up yet, but he recognizes that he’ll probably keep trying until his jaw locks, and—more importantly—he recognizes that Dean needs him to stop. His face feels wet as he pulls off, and he realizes with a dull kind of surprise that he’s crying.

“C’mere,” Dean says, leaning down and pulling on his shoulder. Sam resists—he tries to, anyway—but that works about as well as it always does and he ends up stretched out next to his brother with Dean’s hand combing through his hair as Dean kisses him.

“You are so getting a tip,” Dean mumbles against his lips, and despite the crushing weight of failure, Sam laughs.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Twenty minutes later, he tosses his brother a quick smile and steps into a fresh pair of boxers. Now that Sam isn’t caught up in a tumult of emotion, he understands what a huge step it was for Dean to get hard at all: for Dean to enjoy something so sexual in nature, even briefly. His chest is as stupid as ever, of course, and it still aches with the knowledge that he couldn’t get his brother off, but the warm glow of pride is stronger.

Dean is fucking amazing.

As Sam leans over to pull his jeans back up, he’s startled by the sudden weight of his brother’s body draped over his. He staggers forward a few steps before catching himself and straightening. Dean slides his arms around Sam’s stomach and drops his head down onto his shoulder.

Um.

“Not that, uh, not that I don’t like this, but what the hell, Dean?”

“Mmm?” Dean says, nosing at the side of Sam’s face and kissing his jaw.

“You. You’re—this morning, you were—” Sam takes a breath and then makes himself say it. “—you were a couple of seconds away from blowing your brains out and now you’re ... not,” he finishes weakly.

Dean is still and silent, but Sam can sense the shift in his brother’s mood anyway. It’s subtle—a tension in Dean’s arms that wasn’t there before, a drop in the room’s ambient temperature, a shift in his brother’s breathing. Then Dean is pulling away.

Cursing himself for ruining the moment, Sam turns and catches his brother’s hand. Dean is looking down at the floor, expressionless. He doesn’t fight Sam’s grip.

“I’m just—I’m just trying to understand, all right?” Sam says.

Dean sighs. “I don’t know what to tell you, Sam. Sometimes, I—sometimes I feel fine.”

“And other times?” Sam prods.

Dean lifts his gaze, and the eyes he fixes Sam with are brutally honest. “Other times I wish I bled out before I got to the hospital.”

Dean is here now, he’s warm and safe and they just had sex—or as close as they could come, anyway—but Sam’s chest still goes agonizingly tight with panic. “You have to stay,” he blurts. “Promise me. Promise me you won’t try to hurt yourself again.”

Dean’s eyes cut to the side and he starts to pull away. “We’ve been over this.”

“Dean,” Sam says—just that, but it stops his brother cold.

“I already promised you, dude,” Dean tries, but the way that he isn’t looking at Sam is making Sam’s insides squirm. Is making him wonder in a more concrete way just how sincere Dean was when he made that promise.

“Do it again,” he demands. “And this time, I want you to mean it.”

“What the fuck does it matter?” Dean mutters. “You already got rid of all the weapons.”

Dean was awake and aware for the Impala’s disarming, but Sam is surprised by how quickly he noticed the missing weapons bag from their room. The accusation in his brother’s voice throws him, makes him want to apologize, but he manages to fight down the urge and ask, “Can you blame me?”

That gets him a scowl. “For treating me like a liar? Yeah, I think I can blame you for that.”

“Then tell me, Dean,” Sam presses, moving even closer. “Tell me that when you promised me you wouldn’t try anything again you meant it. Look me in the eye and tell me that and I’ll get everything back from Dad.”

Dean keeps glowering at the floor and Sam’s stomach plummets.

“You can’t, can you?”

Dean’s jaw tightens. “Sam—”

“No. No more bullshit. Either we’re in this together or we’re going out together, but you make a choice and you stick with it.” Part of Sam is horrified by his own words, but he’s too upset to stop himself. He can’t handle worrying about Dean’s safety on top of everything else. He just can’t.

“It’s not that simple,” Dean says after a moment.

Make it that simple.”

Dean pulls free with a grimace, bringing his hand up to press against his scar. Sam wants to slap his brother’s hand back down again, but he’s already pushing hard enough without complicating matters further.

“Right now I’m fine,” Dean says as he moves away. “I can breathe, I can—I feel like I’m getting better.”

“You are,” Sam insists.

“But,” Dean continues, with a warning glance in Sam’s direction. “I can’t—I can’t make promises when I don’t know how I’m gonna feel tomorrow—or hell, in five minutes. Everything keeps shifting around on me, and I don’t—I can’t trust this feeling. What if it’s just an illusion, and I’m not—what if I can’t get better? I can’t go through life like this, man. I won’t.”

“And if you weren’t getting better, or if you were getting worse, I’d pull the trigger for you,” Sam says. He doesn’t add that he’d be one bullet behind his brother. If Dean doesn’t know that yet, he isn’t ever going to.

Dean’s watching him now, hand stilled at his temple. His expression is wary, but hope has begun to creep in at the edges.

“But you are getting better,” Sam continues. “And I get that you can’t see that clearly right now, but I can, and you have to trust me on that.”

“I do trust you,” Dean says as he finally lowers his hand.

“Then promise me.”

After a long, measuring look, Dean nods. “Okay.”

“And you have to tell me when you’re thinking about it.”

“Dude,” Dean protests, wrinkling his face in embarrassment.

“I know you hate talking about your feelings, but I think the fact that I found you with a loaded gun in your lap this morning entitles me to a little warning.”

The words are harsh—deliberately so—and Sam is thankful to see his brother flush as he nods. It’s probably not his best moment, using Dean’s tendency towards guilt against him, but if it’s going to keep his brother breathing then Sam doesn’t really care.

He watches Dean a moment longer, trying to decide whether there’s anything else he wants to add to the list while they’re having this discussion, and then turns away to retrieve his shirt. He can’t really do anything more short of putting his brother into a padded, suicide-proof room, and if they’re going to go hunting the way Dad wants to, that’s going to be a little difficult.

God, they’re going to have to give Dean a weapon—no way around it, he can’t go out unarmed and leaving him behind like a useless kid is going to do more to damage him than all of Sam’s fuck ups put together.

Cross that bridge when you get to it, Sam advises himself as he pulls his t-shirt on.

Dean is silent while Sam finds a clean overshirt, and then, when Sam starts to put his right arm in the sleeve, he asks, “Did you tell him?”

No need to ask ‘who’ or ‘what’.

“Yes,” Sam answers without pausing.

“Was he pissed?”

Sam’s beginning to wish he never questioned his brother’s mood in the first place. Dean’s happiness was out of place and discomforting, but it was preferable to the ache that his brother’s messed-up psyche is leaving inside of him now.

“Sam?”

“No, he wasn’t,” Sam says, turning around so that his brother can read the truth on his face. Of course, that means that Dean can read his distress as well, but Sam’s thinking that it might be good for Dean to see how concerned people are for him right now.

Predictably, his brother drops his eyes and shifts.

Sam fixes him with a steady gaze as he adds, “He’s worried about you. We both are.”

Dean’s hands curl into fists and then open again. Shutting his eyes, he whispers, “I hate this.”

Sam isn’t sure whether he’s reading his brother right, but he steps closer anyway. When he touches Dean’s shoulder, Dean moves into him without hesitation and, feeling more confident, Sam reaches up to stroke his brother’s hair.

“You’re getting better,” he says. Maybe Dean needs to hear that out loud more often. Maybe they both do. “We’re gonna get through this, man.”

“Sap,” Dean mutters, but Sam’s words have eased the tension that was beginning to reclaim his body.

Dropping his hand down from Dean’s hair to rub at his back, Sam says, “Dude, you’ve gotta stop tensing up. You’re gonna undo all my hard work.”

“Guess you’re just gonna have to put in overtime then, huh?” Dean says, and there’s more than a little of his old cheekiness in his voice. When he pulls back out of Sam’s arms, he’s smiling. Looks steadier than he has in a long time.

Sam’s going to get whiplash trying to keep up with his brother’s mood swings.

“We should probably go over to Dad’s room,” he suggests while the suggesting’s good. “He wanted to see us when you woke up, and it’s a little, uh, fragrant, over here.”

He isn’t talking about the Icy Hot, and Dean knows it, but his brother sniffs at his own shoulder and wrinkles his nose.

“Yeah, that reminds me,” he says, “First chance we get, we’re stopping and getting you some real massage oil—unscented, I’m not using any of that frou-frou vanilla crap.”

Privately, Sam thinks his brother would enjoy something with a little kick to it—cinnamon, maybe—but he figures that there’ll be plenty of time later on to introduce Dean to the varied splendors of flavored oils.

“Okay.”

Dean eyes Sam like he isn’t sure whether to believe him or not and then, giving his head a shake, starts for the door. “I mean it, dude—I find anything scented in your bag, and I’m spiking your coffee with Ex-Lax.”

Chapter Text

Dad must have been waiting for Sam’s knock because the man is opening the door almost before Sam has finished lowering his hand.

“Is he—” Dad starts, and then stops as he takes in Dean, standing close enough to Sam that their shoulders are bumping. For a few moments, their father is visibly confused, and Sam feels a stab of pity.

He’s never thought of Dad as an old man before, but their father has never worn his years so heavily. Now—whether because of their fight, or the shock of his eldest son’s rape, or Dean’s teetering emotional instability—those years are like a solid weight pressing down on his shoulders.

Dad has never seemed at such a loss before either. He always knew exactly what to do when Sam was growing up, knew what to say. Now he stands speechless in the doorway of his motel room. There’s grey at his temples, more streaking his beard. Sam wonders how long it’s going to take his father’s face to heal up.

“Sam said you wanted to talk,” Dean says finally, breaking the ice. It’s a little too belated to rescue the moment.

“Yeah,” Dad agrees, shaking himself. “Yeah, I—” He gives them both a second, considering look with his good eye and then nods. “Come on in,” he offers, stepping back.

Sam lets Dean go first and then has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing when Dad wrinkles his nose and asks, “Which one of you boys smells like an after dinner mint?”

“I pulled some muscles,” Dean replies without missing a beat. He’s in the middle of the room, turning in a slow circle as he examines the walls, and his obvious distraction gives the words the credence they need.

“What’d you do, use the whole jar?” Dad grumbles as he shuts the door behind Sam, but if Dean makes any response Sam doesn’t hear it. He’s too busy copying his brother’s earlier movement, taking in their father’s redecorating.

Pinning his research to the walls is one of Dad’s habits that Dean (thank God) never picked up. Sam guesses that if he asked, Dean would probably say that he likes to be able to shuffle his notes around until they’re in the right order. He wouldn’t mention the deeper reason—the one Sam sees on his brother’s face every time Dean looks at their father’s walls—but they both know the truth.

Dad’s version of wallpaper turns the closest thing Dean has ever had to a home into a war zone, and the relentless determination evident in each tack and pushpin leaves him, for all his admiration, feeling cold and a little sad.

Dad’s only been in here for a couple of hours, but that was more than enough time for him to settle in, and the ugly, duck-and-reeds wallpaper has all but disappeared beneath a sea of information—pages torn from a library book in haste, computer print outs, weather reports, obits, and ream after ream of Dad’s careful, precise handwriting. John Winchester’s notes, his thoughts and theories, spread across the walls in a pattern that makes sense in his own mind and nowhere else. Even Bobby, who always understood Dad better than anyone else, used to shake his head in confusion at the chaos.

Little as he likes the habit, Dean’s the only one who ever managed to crack the code.

Now, as Sam turns from the walls to meet his brother’s gaze, he can tell that Dean has already ferreted his way through the bewildering cipher. Dean’s eyes are wide. He looks shocked: winded. He also looks more like himself than he has in months, and although Sam would like to think that their recent activities in the other room are responsible for that, he knows that it’s this. It’s the hunt.

Apparently, Dad was right about what Dean needed.

As thrilled as Sam is to see his brother perking up like this, he can’t help but feel a tiny, bitter sting at the back of his throat.

“The demon?” Dean says, sounding both terrified and exhilarated. “You’re tracking the demon?”

Dad gives a grim nod of acknowledgement and then says, “Sit down, boys.”

Dean is already sitting on the bed that’s clear of Dad’s belongings by the time Sam realizes he isn’t moving. Instead, he’s staring at his father with his back straight and his mouth set in a stubborn, thin line.

“Sam,” Dad says, warning in his tone, and it’s so fucking stupid to be arguing over this—Sam knows that—but he can’t figure out how to make himself back down.

“Here we go,” Dean mutters wearily to his left, and the sound of his brother’s voice makes Sam start.

Guilt floods in and drains the tension from his shoulders. It dampens the burning in his gut. He starts for the bed at the same time as Dad says, “Nevermind, you can stand if you want to. Just that this might take awhile.”

Dean is looking at both of them like they’ve each sprouted another head, or are possibly possessed. When he opens his mouth a second later and says, “Christo,” Sam isn’t all that surprised.

“Very funny,” he mutters, sitting down beside his brother. The mattress is in terrible condition, and the added weight slides them together, but he doesn’t try to move away and neither does Dean, who’s still looking shocked and slightly suspicious.

“I’m not kidding,” Dean says, glancing back and forth between them. “I’ve seen you two tear into each other over less than that before, so what gives?”

Sam isn’t doing anything wrong, but he feels caught out anyway. Rational or not, well intentioned or not, the bargain he struck with their father is going to feel like a slap in the face to his brother. Dean’s going to resent them both for this—for ‘babying’ him.

Sweating lightly, Sam searches for an answer that will make sense without hurting Dean and comes up blank. And they’ve already lost the moment to play the ‘what conspiracy, I don’t see any conspiracy’ card because both he and Dad have been silent far too long in the face of Dean’s suspicion. Besides, Sam’s pretty sure that ‘hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar’ doesn’t even begin to describe the expression on his face.

They should have been ready for this, damn it! Should have had some kind of story in place because of course Dean was going to notice something was up—he’s been defusing confrontations between them ever since Sam was old enough to talk.

Then, out of nowhere, Dad says, “Sam and I talked. We’re putting our differences aside until the demon is dead.”

It’s possibly the one lie Dean would buy.

Sam can see the sympathy when Dean glances at him—the memory of Jess’ death in his brother’s eyes—but none of that softness seeps into Dean’s voice when he snorts, “We’ll see how long that lasts.” Leaning forward, he rests his forearms on his knees and returns his attention expectantly to Dad.

The position must be stretching Dean’s lower back, but there isn’t so much as a twitch of discomfort on his face, and Sam’s chest warms. Physical comfort seems like such a small thing in comparison to everything else that Dean's dealing with, but these days Sam will take what he can get. It’s gratifying to see his brother so relaxed—to know that he was able to give Dean that much, at least.

“So,” Dean says, returning them to the matter at hand, “When you say ‘dead’, you mean ...”

With a grave expression, Dad pulls a gun out from the small of his back and holds it up so they can both get a good look. It’s the same gun he had before, Sam realizes: the same one Dad put into his truck’s weapons’ compartment before their fight. Sam didn’t take much notice of the weapon then—it wasn’t possible to see that clearly through the blur of his anger—but he’s rational enough now and the gun is old. An antique.

“Is that a Colt?” Dean asks, and Dad, still not speaking, steps forward.

When Sam realizes what their father intends to do, the 'don’t' rises hot and heavy in his throat. God, they just finished disarming Dean and Dad wants to give him another gun? The man was on board with the intervention a couple of hours ago—he took the weapons bag away without argument—and Sam doesn’t know where the hell their father's common sense went.

He can’t get his protest out past the sudden, clenching fear filling his throat, but he must make some kind of noise because Dad glances at him as he holds the gun out, handle first, toward Dean. There’s a warning in their father's good eye—somewhere between ‘don’t fuck this up, Sammy’ and ‘trust me, I know what I’m doing’.

Sam suspects that the man actually went a little senile while Dean was napping, but he keeps his mouth shut anyway. After all, they’re going to have to give Dean a weapon eventually. This way, they’ll both be within grabbing distance if something goes wrong.

That logic doesn’t make it any easier to watch his brother reach out and take what Dad is offering, though.

The transfer carries more weight than it should, even taking into account Sam’s reservations. He’s seen their father hand Dean dozens of guns. He’s seen Dad hand over plastic explosives, and machetes—and once, two delicate, fluted bottles filled with chemicals that, when combined, would eat their way through metal and flesh and bone.

Dad has given Dean the power of death time and again—he’s painted his eldest son’s hands as red as his own, left Dean’s fingertips dripping—but watching it happen has never left such a pit in Sam’s stomach before. It’s never left him so devastatingly conscious of the power in his brother’s hands.

Sam would like to blame the shift on Dean’s recent suicide attempt, but he’d be lying to himself. Because that’s the root of his concern, and of the nauseous twist in his stomach, but it isn’t responsible for the way his heart is beating. It isn’t responsible for the shivers rippling his skin.

No, this is something deeper and more instinctual. It’s been stirred up by the gun, relic though it seems, and now he’s being forced to look at his brother in an entirely different light.

Dean has always been a hero to Sam. He’s been the white knight and the gunslinger. But somehow the violent side of those personas has always been buried beneath Dean’s jokes and his swagger and the fact that Sam knows him, that he’s the annoying older brother who once held Sam down in the backseat so he could burp in his face.

Now, for the first time, Sam looks at Dean and sees the weapon. Their father has forged his older brother into something both more and less than a soldier, something with a fierce, diamond core that can’t be shattered by any amount of violation or pain. Dean may be broken by everything he’s gone through, he may even be irrevocably damaged, but he’s still dangerous. He’s still a killer.

Sam has been so focused on his brother’s pain that he forgot Dean’s strength.

It’s hitting him again now, in the wake of his realization, and he’s left breathless as his brother strokes an assessing hand down the barrel. Breathless and, for some reason, a little afraid. Afraid of Dean, which is so ludicrous he doesn’t know what to do with the emotion.

“Does this thing even work?” Dean asks, lifting the Colt and sighting down the barrel.

“It’s got a hell of a kick, but yeah, it works.” Dad’s answer is paired with a slight smile, like there’s a story there, and his voice holds the same, quiet triumph it always does after a particularly difficult victory.

Dean looks up at the familiar tone, one eyebrow raised skeptically. As he shifts the look over to Sam, the skepticism deepens into a question. That look implies solidarity, implies the same us-against-the-world mentality that Sam has always longed for from his brother, and his fear falls away. With a slight lift of his shoulders, he signifies that Dean’s bet is as good as his regarding Dad’s sanity.

Because handing Dean a gun is stupid, but Dad’s acting like the piece of crap is their salvation instead of salvage, and that’s all sorts of crazy.

On the other hand, this is Dad. Sam doesn’t much care for it, but the same faith in the man's competence that always fills Dean resides in his own chest as well. Whatever else their father may be, he’s always been one hell of a hunter.

Even reduced to only one working eye, Dad still manages to take them both in with the same, fond look as he relates, “Back in 1835, when Halley’s comet was overhead, the night those men died at the Alamo, they say Samuel Colt made a gun—a special gun. He made it for a hunter—a man like us, only on horseback. The story goes, he made thirteen bullets.”

Unlucky number thirteen, Sam thinks. But it’s also a powerful number. Talismanic. That odd, cornered feeling that formed in his stomach when Dad handed the gun to his brother strengthens and he tightens his grip on his thighs.

“This hunter used the gun a half dozen times before he disappeared,” Dad continues. “The gun along with him. Friend of mine found it about thirty years ago, and I ... inherited it last month.”

His mouth quirks with the same, secretive humor Sam has always associated with their father and then Dad sobers again as he announces, “They say this gun can kill anything.”

Dean frowns as he looks more carefully at the gun. “Kill anything, like supernatural anything?” he asks.

“Like the demon,” Sam puts in softly. He’s slightly surprised by the sound of his own voice, and then more surprised by the soft glow of pride that warms his chest when Dad nods at him. The feeling eases the irrational fear and allows Sam to relax a little.

“Yeah,” Dad agrees. “Like the demon.”

Sam doesn’t know what to say to that, and from the heavy silence that falls it seems his brother is equally clueless. As the quiet deepens between them, Sam loses the last, lingering threads of fear amidst his rising discomfort. Pursing his lips, he shifts on the bed and is pathetically comforted by the creak of broken bedsprings.

As usual, it’s Dean who breaks the stalemate.

“Does it work?” he asks, looking up again at Dad. He asked the question already, but it didn’t have this weight to it then: didn’t mean precisely the same thing as it does now.

Slowly, Dad’s split lips widen into a broad grin. The expression—all pride and triumph and a certain amount of boyish glee—takes about twenty years off his face. “Yeah, it works. Works on vampires, anyway.”

Sam blinks—Dad always told them that vampires were nothing but a myth—but he doesn’t have a chance to pursue that line of questioning because his brother is laughing next to him, soft and wondering and genuine.

“Holy shit,” Dean says. For the first time in months, there’s nothing of the rape in his eyes: nothing but amazed reverence as he looks down at the gun in his hands. “Holy shit, this—Dad, you actually found it. You figured out how to destroy the demon for good.”

Dean didn’t actually need any more reasons to strengthen his hero worship, but not even Sam can begrudge him this one. The demon has caused their family so much pain. It killed Mary, set the three of them on this blood-soaked path, murdered Jess—and that bitch Meg in Chicago was connected to it, Sam is sure: the bitch who clawed them up and put her hands all over Dean like he wasn’t anything but a (toy) piece of meat. And now ... now the means to end all of that—to take their revenge and fucking finally be able to rest—is in Dean’s hands. Dad put it there.

If Sam thought his legs would hold him, he’d be over there hugging the man.

“This is it,” he agrees, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder and squeezing. “We find the demon and put a bullet in it and then we can—we can—Dean, we can actually have a real life.”

Sam hasn’t dared consider it until now, thought he and Dean were stuck in this world forever. He was ready for that, made his peace with it in New Paltz, but suddenly there’s a whole world of opportunities opening out in front of him—in front of them both.

Sam can go back to school. Dean can too if he wants, he can—an engineer, maybe. He’d be good at that. Or, hell, med school. Dean’s certainly proved himself in that capacity often enough in the field; he’s got steady hands and a sharp eye and an instinctual knack for finding the source of the blood loss, or the slurred speech, or the blurry vision.

And they can—they can get an apartment. Fuck, a house. Something that’s theirs, somewhere quiet and safe, and they can actually have the dog they wanted when they were kids, and speaking of kids, they can have those too. Surrogates, adoption, something. They can work the details out later.

From the doe-startled eyes Dean has turned on Sam, he’s just as overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities spreading out before them.

Sam starts to pull Dean toward him with the hand on his shoulder and then remembers that they aren’t alone. A second after that, he hears his earlier words echoing back to him in his head and realizes how they must have sounded to their father. How ungrateful and confrontational and belittling they must have rung.

Turning an apologetic look on the man, Sam opens his mouth to explain and then hesitates, surprised by the soft smile on their father’s face.

Dad regards him steadily for a couple of seconds and then says, “I don’t think I ever told you this, Sam, but the day you were born, you know what I did?”

“No ...” Sam says slowly. He isn’t sure where his father is going with this, but even though experience tells him it can’t be anywhere good, Dad’s expression is as mild as it ever is—almost tender. Once again, he finds himself catching a glimpse of the John Winchester who might have been their father without the demon’s interference, and it leaves him just as unsettled and sad as it did before.

“I put a hundred bucks into a savings account for you.” Nodding to Dean, Dad adds, “Did the same thing for you, Dean. College funds. And every month I’d put in another hundred dollars until ... Anyway, my point is, boys, that this—this is never the life that I wanted for either of you.”

Sam feels like he’s been waiting all his life to hear those words from their father. Distantly, he acknowledges that Dean’s muscles have gone painfully tense beneath his hand, but he’s too focused on Dad to even try figuring out what that means. Dad’s attention, Sam can tell, is similarly fixed on him. Trying to mend bridges that Sam believed were ruined beyond repair.

He tells himself to accept the offering and move on, but his stupid, mulish mouth opens and asks, “Then why’d you get so mad when I left?”

The question comes out sounding more hurt than argumentative, and he realizes belatedly that it isn’t anger driving him—isn’t resentment either. It’s the desperate, young part of himself that has always wanted to fit in—the part that has always yearned for his father’s affection and gone unnoticed. It’s the part of him that is still wounded and aching from their father’s earlier words (best goddamned night of my life) and wants, more than anything, to be assured that they weren’t true.

Dad’s smile fades and he glances down before looking back up at Sam and saying, “You gotta understand something. After your mother passed, all I saw was evil, everywhere. And all I cared about was keeping you boys alive. I wanted you prepared—ready. So somewhere along the line, I uh. I stopped being your father. And I—I became your drill sergeant.”

It’s an accusation Sam has hurled at Dad countless times. One he never expected to hear back from the man as part of an apology.

“So when you said that you wanted to go away to school, all I could think about—my only thought was that you were going to be alone, vulnerable.”

A knot deep inside Sam’s chest loosens at the confession. The wound that Dad’s earlier words left can’t ever be completely erased, but the honest pain in their father’s face eases its ache. For the first time in a long while, Sam sits beneath Dad’s gaze and feels loved.

Dad shakes his head, moisture shining in his good eye, and continues, “Sammy, it just—it never occurred to me what you wanted. I just couldn’t accept the fact that you and me—we’re just different.”

It’s a ridiculous statement and Sam surprises himself by laughing.

“What?” Dad asks. It’s difficult to read his expression through the bruises and the swelling, but Sam can tell from the stiffness in their father’s voice that he’s feeling defensive.

Before the man can make the short move from defensive to angry, Sam says, “We’re not that different.”

He’s thinking about the drinking, about the desperate need to protect the love of their lives, about the burning thirst for revenge that has choked Dad ever since that night in the nursery and Sam ever since he found out what happened to his brother when he was alone and no one was on guard.

Dad’s eyes are sad, though, and Sam knows that their father thinks he means Jess and Mary. And those lost women are a part of it, but they aren’t at the heart of their similarity, which Sam is just beginning to understand reaches all the way down to the essential core of who he is.

In some ways—in the important ways—he’s more a reflection of Dad than Dean ever will be.

“I guess you’re right, son,” Dad says. The sorrow in his eyes is starting to leak into his voice, but Sam isn’t ready to let the darkness back in yet.

“So,” he says, making his own voice deceptively light and throwing his arm all the way around Dean’s shoulders to bring his brother back into the conversation. “Whatever happened to those college funds?”

The tilt of Dad’s lips says that he’s well aware of what Sam is doing, and there’s a glimmer of mischief in his eye as he answers, “Spent it on ammo.”

Sam expected as much, and it’s the predictability of the answer as much as any real amusement that makes him laugh. Dad joins him, and it takes Sam a couple of moments to realize that Dean isn’t there with them. Oh, his body is, but Dean is stone still and silent, and now that Sam is starting to pay attention to him again, he realizes that his brother is radiating tension.

“Dean,” he says, breaking off from his laughter immediately. “Hey, you okay?”

Dean is offering Sam his profile, which means that Sam has only half an expression to work with, but it doesn’t take much to read anger in the way that his brother moves, suddenly, shrugging Sam’s arm away and striding over to stare at the far wall. He drops the Colt on the table as he passes it. Rubs his hands against his jeans as though he was holding something dirty.

“Dean? Son?” Dad tries, exchanging a worried look with Sam.

“You’re tracking it, right?” Dean asks without turning around. He’s standing in front of a map of the States, a rainbow of pushpins stuck into it like acupuncture needles.

Sam meets his father’s eyes a second time and then stands himself. He feels a little winded as he walks toward his brother: bewildered by Dean’s unexpected sourness. These days, dealing with Dean is sort of like being strapped into a roller coaster, but there’s usually a logical reason for the shifts. Dean’s been after Sam and Dad to kiss and make up for years—now that they have, he should be happy, not ... not whatever this is.

“Hey, man, what’s wrong?” Sam asks, keeping his voice gentle as he rests a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

Dean shakes him off without turning around, more violently this time, and grits out, “Nothing. I’m fine. You two are so eager to have this over with, let’s do it. Then you can both get on with your lives.”

Understanding hits Sam low and hard, and from their father’s audible inhalation behind him, he isn’t the only one.

“Dean,” he says, floundering and awkward. He wants to reach out again and doesn’t quite dare. “Dean, we aren’t—I mean, this isn’t—”

“We’re not leaving you,” Dad says, baldly, and Sam winces at how it sounds out loud. Hastily, he scrambles for something to soften the announcement.

“We’re still gonna be a family, Dean,” he says. “We’re just. We’ll be normal. Safe.”

Dean turns around at that, which relieves Sam until he sees his brother’s face. He’s pretty sure that Dean hasn’t been this angry since he slugged Sam in the cabin and then walked out on him.

“And what’s that gonna look like, Sam?” Dean snarls. “Huh? You gonna go back to school?” His eyes lift and cut to the side, seeking Dad and digging in. “You gonna find yourself another garage?”

Sam is starting to see where this is going and he wishes, more than anything, that he could rewind the conversation and send it down a different path.

“I ... haven’t thought that far ahead,” Dad says. “I guess it’s a possibility.”

He sounds as reluctant to contribute to Dean’s vitriol as Sam is, but Sam can tell from the confusion coloring their father’s voice that Dad still has no idea why Dean is so upset. Sam’s own stomach is twisting in on itself. His chest feels cracked and bloody. Dean’s eyes swing back to him—cutting, demanding confirmation—and Sam flinches.

“I’m not leaving you,” he says, but there’s a constriction in his throat and the words come out weaker than he intends. They sound like a lie even to his own ears.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do, huh?” Dean demands. “What can I do?”

And there it is, laid out there for everyone to see, and Sam doesn’t have to be looking at Dad to know there’s stunned pain in the man’s eyes.

“Anything you want,” Sam tries. He means it, of course he does, but he knows even before his brother’s cutting laugh that Dean isn’t going to buy into it.

“That’s rich coming from you,” Dean spits. “Thought I was ‘daddy’s good little solider’. Thought I wasn’t good for anything but taking orders.”

Sam jerks at the sharpness of the words. He should have been ready for the attack, which has been four years in coming, but somehow Dean has managed to ambush him anyway. The words sound even worse coming out of his brother’s mouth than they did the first time around, when they were Sam’s.

He wants to explain, wants to say that he was angry and young and stupid and, most of all, scared. He was leaving for Stanford in the morning and fucking terrified of losing Dean, of being alone, and everyone says stupid shit when they’re scared, they lash out to hurt those closest to them before they can be hurt themselves and God, Dean, he never meant it, never meant any of it. Sam wants to apologize—for that fight and for all the others since or before—and can barely breathe through the pain in his chest.

“What am I supposed to do, huh?” Dean repeats, voice louder and rougher as he works himself up. “’M I supposed to get some factory job? Stand on an assembly line fucking around with widgets every day? Am I supposed to flip burgers at some grease pit? Go ahead and tell me what the fuck I’m qualified for! I don’t have a diploma. Hell, thanks to that son of a bitch in St. Louis, I don’t even have a fucking birth certificate or social security number! So you go ahead and tell me just what normal, safe job I can do.”

“Dean,” Dad tries, but Dean’s eyes are locked on Sam. Sam sees the biting intent in them before Dean opens his mouth, but there’s no time to shield himself from what’s coming.

“Maybe I should set myself up on a corner somewhere,” Dean sneers. “I’m so pretty, right? Must be people out there willing to pay for it instead of taking it. How about it, Sam, you could be my pimp.”

Sam punches him. He blinks afterwards, shocked, and looks down at his own fist, which doesn’t feel like it’s attached to his arm. Dean rubs at his jaw, body tilted away but eyes still burning and locked on Sam as he spits blood onto the carpet.

“See?” he pants. “You’ve already got the swing down. Be a fucking natural.”

“You’re not a whore,” Sam says. He sounds angrier than he feels, which he understands isn’t a great sign. He can’t help himself, though: Dean knows where all of his buttons are and he’s busy kicking them with all the strength he can muster.

“No, I’m not,” Dean agrees, straightening and dropping his hand. “I’m a hunter. That’s what I do. It’s who I am.” He looks back and forth between Dad and Sam, still angry, but Sam thinks that the brunt of his rage has passed: exhaustion and worthless, aching sorrow already creeping in around the edges.

“That’s not—Dean, that’s never what I wanted for you,” Dad says. His voice sounds horribly thick and wet, and Sam is filled with the sick certainty that their father is crying. “I just—I want you to be able to have a home, a family.”

“I have a family,” Dean shoots back.

“A wife, son,” Dad presses as he steps up beside Sam. “Kids.”

Dean’s eyes flick to Sam and back to their father quickly enough that Sam would have thought he imagined it if not for the guilty twitch of his brother’s Adam’s apple. In his current mood, there’s no saying whether Dean would be willing to uptilt everything—and he could, all it would take is a couple of words. Or hell, he could just grab Sam and yank him in for a kiss. That’d do the trick.

Sam thinks, for a couple of awful, endless seconds, that Dean is considering it. Then his brother sags, all the energy running out of him and leaving him dulled. The hand he lifts to rub at his scar is a weary afterthought.

“Doesn’t matter,” he mutters. “You can do what you want.” Then, glancing at Sam with an expression terribly close to apathy, he finishes, “You both can."

Chapter Text

Sam couldn’t say anything before, not with Dad standing right there, but as soon as he and Dean are back in the privacy of their own room, he blurts, “I’m not going anywhere.”

With the same, weary blankness he wore all through Dad’s explanation of weather signs and power outages, Dean says, “Yeah, okay,” and keeps heading for the beds.

He lies down on the one they shared last night, which Sam wants to see as a good sign. He has to admit, though, that it might just be because the sheets in the other bed are still smeared with Icy Hot. Squaring his jaw, he follows his brother over.

When he sits down on the edge of the mattress, Dean rolls over and offers Sam his back. It’s a childish enough move that Sam has to consciously resist the urge to sigh in exasperation. Goddamn it, why can’t this ever be easy?

“I’m not gonna lie, Dean,” he says. “School’s an option. But I don’t have to leave you to go. We could—we could get an apartment, maybe. Somewhere off campus.”

Dean hunches further away and doesn’t say anything.

“And we could—I mean, not for a while, but if you wanted kids, we could, I don’t know, adopt or something.” Now that Sam is thinking more clearly, he knows that would look really fucking weird to Dad—would probably reawaken those old suspicions—but he’s confident that, between the two of them, he and Dean can think up an explanation.

He expects Dean’s objection to center on his supposed dislike of children—which is a load of bullshit if Sam ever heard one—but instead Dean snorts and then says, “I can’t even handle a hypothetical conversation and you want to give me a kid to fuck up. Yeah, great idea.”

“You’re already dealing with a lot of crap, Dean, and Dad and I blindsided you with the—with the retirement thing.”

“Retirement,” Dean huffs humorlessly. “Yeah, right.”

He’s uncurled a little, but the entire line of his body is a warning not to press further. Sam wishes he could listen, but he isn’t leaving his brother alone when he’s like this. Dean’s only going to twist things further askew in his head until he’s convinced that Sam and Dad are both itching to ditch the worthless, broken member of the family at the first opportunity.

“You weren’t actually planning on hunting when you’re Dad’s age, were you?” Sam asks.

“Sam, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I swear to God—”

“Just answer the question and I’ll leave you alone.”

Dean’s silent for a moment and then he says, “No.”

Something in his brother’s voice tells Sam that the word is meant as an answer and not a refusal.

“Then you must’ve had some sort of plan—something, you know, some kind of idea of what you’d—”

“I never planned on hunting when I was Dad’s age because I never figured I’d get out of my twenties,” Dean interrupts. “Hunting isn’t one of those gigs that comes with a pension plan.”

Sam startles, shaken by that declaration, much the way that he supposes Dean means him to be, but his brother isn’t saying it just to be cruel. He’s saying it because it’s the truth.

Sam tries to figure out how to explain to Dean that he’s going to have to come to grips with the concept of getting old, because he isn’t dying before he’s thirty, or forty, or fifty—or fuck, sixty—but all the explanations he’s coming up with get stuck somewhere between “need you” and “you’re mine” and sound a little too possessive even in the privacy of his own mind.

As Sam searches for more acceptable words, Dean adds, “I’m okay with it. And not just—y’know, because of the thing. I’ve always been fine with it. I don’t—I don’t want to be the last man standing, Sammy, and if that means laying my life down for you or Dad, then I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”

Great. Because Sam didn’t already have enough reasons to worry about his brother’s safety.

“Yeah, well, if Dad and I both quit, then I guess that isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” he tries.

Dean doesn’t respond.

“So, starting from the assumption that you’re still gonna be stuck with me when you’re fifty—”

“You said you’d leave me alone.”

“I lied. So, starting from that assumption, what do you want to do? When the demon’s dead?”

Dean is silent.

“I can outwait you, Dean, you know I can.”

It’s true. Stubbornness is a Winchester family tradition, but Sam received more than his fair share of that particular trait. It came in handy when they were kids and Sam wanted his brother’s attention. Worked whenever Dad wasn’t around, anyway.

Dean shifts a little on the bed and then says, “I’d make a crappy dad.”

Sam knows that his brother is trying to distract him, but that doesn’t lessen the ache in his chest. Makes it sharper, actually, because Dean wouldn’t have been able to come up with that statement so quickly if he hadn’t already been thinking it. He has no idea how his brother can believe that about himself, after everything he did for Sam when they were growing up.

God, Dean would make a fucking awesome father—as long as there was someone around to make sure the kids weren’t eating pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But that’s another conversation for another time. Right now, Sam refuses to let himself be sidetracked.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he points out.

Dean actually rolls over a little at that, twisting far enough around to look Sam in the eye as he says, “I want to hunt, okay? I want things to go back to how they were before you left us. I want us to be a fucking family, alright?” He looks at Sam a moment longer and then lays down again, burying his head into the pillow. “Now fuck off and let me sleep.”

Sam doesn’t budge. “Dean, we are a family.”

“Christ,” Dean mutters. He sounds annoyed, but his feelings must run deeper than that because his hand is starting to lift to his forehead.

Sam isn’t in the mood to sit here and watch his brother prod at the tangible reminder of his nightmare. Reaching over Dean’s body, he catches his brother’s wrist and holds it still and steady.

“You’re still my brother,” he says. “And Dad’s our father, and that isn’t going to change no matter what we’re all doing.”

Dean doesn’t respond, but his breathing has sped a little and Sam realizes that between the press of his body and his grip on Dean’s wrist, he’s all but pinning his brother to the bed. Trusting in Dean’s stubborn streak to keep him in place, Sam releases his brother long enough to lie down beside him, and then rests one hand against the small of Dean’s back.

“Besides,” he adds, doing his best to keep his voice light and teasing. “You don’t really want Dad around all the time, do you?”

Dean doesn't agree, but then again he isn't lashing out or running either, so Sam takes a chance and presses his mouth to the side of his brother’s throat. Dean shivers once before relaxing and tilting into the kiss.

“Looking over our shoulders,” Sam continues as he covers his brother’s throat with slow, gentle kisses. “Barging in at all hours ... taking turns doing the laundry ...”

Dean rolls over in a sudden movement, grabbing both of Sam’s wrists and pinning him against the mattress. His expression is an interesting mix of pissed off and uncertain and intrigued.

“Dad never did the laundry,” he points out, flexing his hands around Sam’s wrists.

Lying passively beneath his brother’s grip, Sam returns, “You want to give him a chance to start?”

Dean’s answering grin is unexpected and sharp. “I’m not the one with jizz caked on the inside of his boxers.”

“Not this time,” Sam responds. It’s half challenge, half promise, but instead of reassuring Dean further, it makes his smile falter. A moment later, he releases Sam and sits up.

“You’re awful confident,” he notes. “I mean, we don’t know for sure whether I’ll ever be able to get it up again, let alone shoot.”

“Well, there’s always Viagra,” Sam says flippantly.

Dean’s eyes widen and his mouth falls open in an expression of shock. For a single, horrible moment, Sam is sure that he misjudged his brother’s mood. Then Dean’s eyes narrow and Sam finds himself flailing out as his brother tries to push him off the side of the bed. He catches himself on the edge, barely, and pushes Dean back, and then it’s on.

Five minutes and two headlocks later, Sam finds himself stuck with his hands wrenched behind his back and his face smushed up into his brother’s armpit.

There are times when sex with Dean is the last thing on his mind.

“Dude, gross!” he protests, trying to get an arm free. “Let go already!”

But Dean just tightens up on him, stilling his struggles, and singsongs, “Rules, Sammy.”

“Okay! Okay! Dean Winchester is the awesomest big brother ever!”

“And?”

“And Sam Winchester is a sparkly princess!”

“Damn straight,” Dean agrees triumphantly and, finally loosening his grip, sets Sam free.

Sam coughs as he rolls away, only half in jest. “Dude, you really need to shower,” he announces, waving a hand in front of his face.

“You offering to scrub my back?” Dean asks. It starts off as a joke, but by the time he finishes speaking all of the levity has gone out of his voice. The question lies between them, heavy and awkward with unspoken meaning, and Dean shifts uncomfortably as he turns his head to stare at the wall.

“Do you want me to?” Sam asks after a few moments.

Dean sucks his bottom lip between his teeth and bites down, indecisive. It’s an unconsciously sensual look for him—that goddamned mouth again—and Sam’s groin heats. He should look away—Dean doesn’t mean to be doing this, and it’s wrong and invasive to be getting off on an absent expression—but before he can make himself drop his eyes, Dean glances back and offers, “I don’t know. Maybe?”

After Dean’s blowup in Dad’s room, ‘maybe’ isn’t good enough, no matter how much Sam might want to snatch up every opportunity his brother offers. Putting his hands behind his head, he closes his eyes and says, “Rain check.”

The room is silent enough that Sam would think Dean already left, but the stillness of the mattress is a dead giveaway that his brother hasn’t gone anywhere. He feigns sleep, hoping that Dean will get the picture and go shower before his already waning willpower becomes nonexistent, and eventually Dean shifts and clears his throat.

Apparently, they aren’t done talking yet.

Cracking one eye open, Sam finds his brother regarding him with a serious expression. “Yeah?”

“I’m sorry about before,” Dean answers. “What I said. I don’t—I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Sam does. As far as his research has led him to believe, the anger and the hostility are typical responses from someone in the process of recovering from trauma. Dean’s manic highs and depressed lows aren’t unusual either. In his case, though, everything is exaggerated by a lifetime of low self-esteem and an almost fanatic need to deny his own emotions.

Soldiers aren’t afraid. They don’t feel pain, or sorrow, or anything that might get in the way of their duty.

Sam doesn’t remember Dad telling Dean any of those rules, which are clearly bullshit, but he guesses that he can see how his brother might have inferred them. After all, they spent their childhood and adolescence being rewarded and praised for unflinching bravery and steady obedience. Dad never actually punished either of them for being human, but Sam knows intimately just how much a single, disappointed look from the man can hurt—and Dean didn’t have any other role models to counteract that lesson.

Sam was lucky. He had Dean.

Although his brother is the one who taught Sam that it's okay to cry, and to feel weak, and to look for comfort from others, Dean’s incapable of allowing himself the same leeway. There’s an emotional disconnect somewhere deep inside of him—some switch that got flipped and welded into place.

Now all of the emotions that the rape stirred up are summoning others in their wake, dragging all of the skeletons Dean has spent his whole life trying to hide out into the light. He may have started to rebuild his defenses, but they aren’t as strong as they used to be, and in the face of such overwhelming emotions they keep failing him.

And each fresh failure only upsets him more.

This afternoon wasn’t Dean’s first extreme reaction to stress, and it won’t be the last. Things are likely to get even worse before they get better—all of the literature agrees on that cheerful fact. But everything Sam has read—and every one of his instincts—also says that the storms will diminish, and then come less frequently, and finally cease altogether.

If he can keep his brother alive that long.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” he says, looking at the slight discoloration on Dean’s jaw. “Next time I piss you off, you’ve got a free pass.”

If anything, though, Sam’s apology only disturbs Dean more. Frowning, he demands, “How can you just shrug it off, man? How can you just—Christ, Sammy, I’d leave me if I could.”

“I love you, Dean,” Sam answers, ignoring the pang his brother’s words set off in his chest and sitting up on his elbows. “I’m not gonna ditch you when you need me the most.”

“I’m acting like a chick on the rag,” Dean mutters as he drags a hand through his hair.

“Hey.” Sam reaches out and rests a hand on his brother’s calf. “You’re going through a lot right now, dude. No one expects you to be perfect. Hell, I’d be more worried if you weren’t snapping at us.”

“I guess. It’s—” Dean’s face tightens and he reaches up, brushing his fingertips against his scar. Sam tenses, but before he can do anything about it Dean drops his hand again to make a vague, all-encompassing gesture. “The whole talking thing, it’s not—I’m not good at it.”

“You’re doing fine.”

“No, Sam, I’m not,” Dean insists, glowering. “I can’t—earlier, with you and Dad, I think I—I got so pissed off because I knew I couldn’t, cause I didn’t know how to put it into words. I can’t—I can’t fucking talk to you!” He slams one hand down on the bed, hard enough that the whole mattress shakes.

Sam wants to respond, wants to move his hand up and down Dean’s lower leg in a calming caress, but he senses that his brother isn’t done yet. Pursing his lips, he limits himself to light circles with his thumb and waits for Dean to speak.

Finally, Dean says, “You and Dad, you talk about—settling down. Stopping. And then you, with the—the apartment.”

“You don’t want a home?” Sam guesses, confused.

But Dean shakes his head. “It’s not—I have a home. I’ve got the Impala, and I’ve got you and Dad. I don’t. I mean, I remember before, with Mom. I remember a little. But it isn’t—I don’t know how to—like with Cassie, when I was there, I couldn’t—I—”

He breaks off with a frustrated grunt, but Sam doesn’t need to hear any more. He thinks he knows what Dean is talking about now: what had his brother’s heart beating too quickly in his chest and left him feeling trapped and claustrophobic enough to lash out. He knows what triggered this latest outburst because, for those first three months at Stanford, he felt the same way.

“You don’t know how to stop moving,” he says, and Dean looks at him, startled. “You stay in one place longer than a week and it starts feeling like you’ve got ants under your skin. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to go wrong, for an attack. And when nothing happens, it only gets worse.”

“How do you—”

Sam laughs. “Dean, I grew up the same way you did, remember? It’s just—it’s habit. It gets better.”

For a moment he thinks that he’s managed to calm his brother down again, but then Dean’s scowl deepens. “What if I don’t want it to get better?” he challenges. “What’s wrong with the way I am now?”

“Nothing,” Sam answers instantly, shifting his hand higher on his brother’s leg and tightening his grip. “If you’re really, honestly happy, then nothing. But I’ve seen the way you look at kids, dude. I saw how you were with Michael and Lucas.”

Dean looks away at that, and his scowl eases as the tips of his ears go red. Sam could produce further evidence if he wanted—hell, the way Dean looked at the empty playgrounds as they were driving out of Fitchburg alone would be enough for even the most skeptical jury to convict him of having a soft spot for kids. He’s pretty sure he already made his point, though, so instead he just finishes, as gently as possible, “You can’t raise a family on the road.”

Dean licks his lips and starts, “Dad—”

“Dean.”

Sam’s warning tone is apparently enough to override even Dean’s hero worship—or maybe, just maybe, Sam’s beginning to make headway as far as their father’s infallibility is concerned—because Dean shuts up and swallows thickly. After a couple of moments, he glances at Sam and, with a weak smile, offers, “You turned out okay.”

Sam hesitates—in no world is Dean going to take this well—and then points out, “I’m in love with my big brother, dude.”

Sure enough, Dean’s moving almost before Sam has finished speaking. Sam lurches after his brother, catching his wrist and hanging on despite Dean’s attempts to shake him off.

“Hey,” he says, keeping his voice soft.

Dean tosses his head, skittish, and tries to pull away again. A muscle in his jaw is twitching violently and his free hand—the one Sam isn’t holding onto with a death grip—is up at his temple.

“Hey,” Sam repeats, more firmly this time, and grabs his brother’s other wrist as well.

“Let go,” Dean rasps. He’s averting his face, enough tension in him to cord his throat, but his struggles are weakening.

“Stop trying to run away from me and I will.”

“Fuck you,” Dean chokes out.

Sam is hyperaware, heart pounding in his chest and eyes locked on what he can make out of his brother’s face. He doesn’t want to panic Dean, but he can’t let him run either—not before he can finish explaining himself—so he takes a chance and transfers both of his brother’s wrists into his right hand before tightening up again. Luckily, Dean’s upset enough that he misses the opportunity to get away.

When Sam brushes his brother’s cheek with his left hand a moment later, Dean flinches. Then, catching himself, he stills. He isn’t struggling anymore, but his entire body is shaking with minute tremors. His pulse flutters wildly against Sam’s palm. Shifting his grip so that his brother’s heartbeat isn’t quite so noticeable and distracting, Sam strokes Dean’s cheek a second time.

“Dean,” he says. His brother shakes his head slightly and Sam slides his hand around to cup the back of Dean’s neck. “Dean,” he calls again.

What?” Dean manages, his voice strangled and reluctant.

Now that he’s certain he has his brother’s attention, Sam says, “I’m not ashamed of it.”

Dean makes a thick, incredulous scoffing noise.

“I’m not ashamed of it,” Sam insists. “And I don’t want it any other way. Dean, I love you. I love you so fucking much.”

Dean’s face is still turned away from him, but Sam can see enough of his brother’s cheek to know that he’s crying, noiseless and slow. He hates himself a little for bringing this out into the open where neither one of them can ignore it anymore, but he can’t deny that it’s necessary. They can’t avoid this forever.

A year from now, ten, twenty—they’re still going to be brothers. Dad will still be their father, and the same blood is still going to be running in their veins. The bond of family can’t be dissolved by man or magic or even God. The ugly, vicious name for what they’re doing—the word both he and Dean have been careful to avoid—isn’t ever going to go away.

“I’m in love with you,” Sam repeats, fighting to keep his voice steady. “And I’ve made my peace with that. It’s—this isn’t going to change, okay? You’re it for me. And you make me so happy sometimes that I can’t—I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

He strokes Dean’s cheek again, and this time Dean tilts his face into the touch, seeking comfort. He’s still crying, both eyes squeezed shut so that he doesn’t have to look at Sam. Sam’s own eyes water at the sight, and a hot, painful lump rises in his throat.

Taking a measured breath, he continues, “But it’s fucked up. We both know it’s fucked up. And I don’t know how much of that is how we were raised, and how much is just us, but, Dean. Dean, you can’t want this for anyone else.”

“No,” Dean chokes out, shaking his head. “No, I—course not.”

He sounds absolutely miserable, and looks worse, neither of which were Sam’s intention when he started this conversation. The lump in his throat swells, and as he feels the first, hot tears slip down his own cheeks, he releases Dean’s wrists in order to cup his brother’s face with both hands. Leaning in, he presses their mouths together and Dean opens for him. Dean fumbles for Sam’s face and kisses him back with deep, shuddering licks and feverish nips.

In the end, it’s Sam who breaks away, tears running silently down his cheeks. He turns his face to the side but doesn’t move away, resting his forehead against his brother’s as he breathes, “Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”

“Sam,” Dean says helplessly. “I—”

No,” Sam growls, tightening his grip on his brother’s face. “I started this, Dean, I—if it’s anyone’s fault then it’s mine. You didn’t—you didn’t do anything wrong, man.”

“I should’ve, when you were a kid, I should’ve—”

“Should’ve what, Dean?” Sam asks, lifting his head enough to look in his brother’s eyes. “Should’ve taken care of me? Should’ve taught me right from wrong? Should’ve been a better brother? Jesus Christ, man, you did all that! You—everything good I am, I learned from you, you know that, right?”

Predictably, Dean clenches his jaw and shakes his head. “No, you—you’re right. It’s fucked up. I did this to you, I—”

Sam kisses him again—fiercely, just to shut him up—and then says, “It isn’t your fault.”

Dean’s face scrunches—a wretched cross between self-disgust and despair—and Sam grabs the back of his brother’s head before he can shake it.

“It isn’t,” he insists. “God, Dean, what the hell do you think you did? Touch me in a bad place? Because you didn’t.”

“Well I must’ve done something, Sam!” Dean shouts, jerking away with an abrupt movement. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

Exasperation pushes aside Sam’s pain and guilt and concern. “Okay, fine. You want to be that way? Then you can explain to me why Dylan Errols broke my heart in tenth grade.”

Dean hesitates at the edge of the bed. “What?” he says.

“You want to take credit for me being in love with you? Fine. But you better be ready to answer for every crush I ever had, Dean. Go ahead and explain how you made me bi, cause I’d love to know how that message got through when you were dicking everything with a skirt in a ten mile radius.”

Dean looks confused for a second and then, stubbornly, shakes his head. “That’s different.”

“How?”

Dean struggles with the question for a moment and then blurts, “It just—it just is, damn it!”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Sam replies, “Look, I know you aren’t going to let it go right now, but I just—I want you to consider the possibility that not every messed up thing I do is your fault. I get to screw up on my own sometimes, dude.”

Dean drops his eyes to the mattress between them for a moment, clearly thinking it through—clearly trying—but when he looks up again Sam can tell that his brother is still determined to blame himself. He doesn’t say anything, though, and after a moment the pain in his eyes dulls as he buries the burden of guilt deep inside where Sam can’t get at it.

Damn it, Dean.

“Look,” Sam says, trying to shift the subject back into more comfortable roads. “If you don’t want kids, that’s one thing. If you’re just dragging your feet because you think you’d suck at it, then you’re being an idiot.”

“Aren’t you a little young for your biological clock to be ticking?” Dean mutters. He’s going for scornful, but he’s still a little too shaky to be convincing.

“Sure,” Sam agrees. “But I’m not talking about doing anything now. I just—I want you to start thinking about what you want out of life.” As Dean opens his mouth, Sam hastens to add, “Other than hunting. And settling down doesn’t mean that you have to give that up, Dean. I mean, Bobby’s got a base of operations and he’s one of the best hunters we know, right?”

Dean straightens at that, his eyes going almost comically wide and startled. As though the thought never occurred to him. Probably didn’t. He’s had other things on his mind.

Dean’s off balance now, doubting his own beliefs, and Sam could probably push him into facing up to a few more harsh truths if he tries. He could rip his brother’s worldview apart and set him on the path toward discovering a new, healthier outlook.

A year ago, he wouldn’t even have hesitated. He might even have—consciously or not—prodded Dean in a direction that’s better aligned with what he wants for himself.

But Sam is older now—painfully so—and he knows better. Pushing Dean when he’s this weak is only going to damage him more in the long run. More than that, it isn’t fair—for once in his life, Dean should be able to decide for himself instead of doing his best to be the man everyone else wants him to be.

So instead of making any of the comments that are jouncing around inside of him, Sam says, “Just think about it, okay? Figure out what you want. Then we’ll find a way to get there.”

Dean looks at him blankly and then deadpans, “I want to be a ballerina.”

Sam has no way of knowing whether the joke indicates that Dean is actually feeling better or if it’s just another defense mechanism, but his chest gives a hopeful, aching pulse anyway. Letting a smile lift the corners of his lips, he reaches out and shoves at his brother’s shoulder. “Go shower, twinkle toes.”

“With a pink tutu,” Dean adds, not budging. His face is just as expressionless as before, but there’s a twinkle of humor in his eyes now and Sam’s grin widens.

“Very manly.”

“Takes a man to—”

“Wear pink and prance around like a sissy, yeah, I know.”

Dean’s impassive mask finally cracks as he grins, wide and genuine. “You’re just jealous because you don’t have my delicate ankles.”

“Dean ...”

“Showering.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Dean comes out of the shower, he goes over to the far bed without looking at Sam. Judging from the stiff set of his shoulders as he begins to strip the mattress, unceremoniously dumping the Icy Hot-crusted sheets on the floor, the light mood he went into the bathroom with has evaporated. Sam doesn’t know why he expected otherwise.

This is the way Dean operates these days, after all. It’s like living in the depths of an overgrown forest. Occasionally, wind will stir the branches enough to let in a shaft of sunlight, but only for a moment, and then the gloom returns, more oppressive than before.

It’s frustrating, and maddening, and none of it is Dean’s fault.

Understanding that doesn’t make Sam any happier about the situation, and there’s a growing pit in his stomach as he watches his brother finish stripping the bed. The revealed mattress is a dirty, grayish-pink color, and stained with things Sam doesn’t want to think about, but they’ve slept on worse. He's disgusted but not at all surprised when Dean lies down on the mattress and rolls over to face the wall.

Sam shifts where he’s sitting on the bed they shared last night. He doesn’t mean to say anything—Dean’s making himself quite clear—but he has this problem where he can’t control his mouth and so he finds himself asking, “What’re you doing?”

“Sleeping.”

Sam’s capable of letting it go at that, he really is.

Okay, maybe not.

“I thought—Dean, I thought we agreed that we were—”

He stops. Mostly because he isn’t sure where he’s going with that sentence. That they were dating? Sleeping together? Boyfriends? Platonic cuddlers?

“Dad’s next door,” Dean says into the silence. Like that explains anything after Dean let Sam dry hump him like a horny teenager a couple of hours ago—after Sam had Dean’s cock in his mouth. This isn’t about Dad. Dad is just a convenient excuse.

But Sam can’t find it in him to push his brother any further today.

“You can have this bed,” he offers instead. “It’s my fault the sheets got ruined.”

“I’m good here.”

Sam looks at the stubborn line of his brother’s back for a moment longer before sliding off the bed and pulling off the flat sheet. “At least take this to cover up the mattress,” he says, holding it out.

Dean has to know that he’s standing there—Sam wasn’t exactly being stealthy or quiet with his movements—but he doesn’t turn around. From this angle, Sam can see that his brother’s eyes are firmly shut.

“I’m good.”

“It’s filthy,” Sam protests, and his own skin crawls at the sight of his brother lying there: at the thought of Dean’s clean, pale legs and arms and—inevitably when his shirt rides up in the night—stomach coming in contact with something that looks like it was last cleaned when Regan was president.

Dean opens his eyes at that, finally, and turns his head around enough to look at Sam. Sam doesn’t like the flat, dull quality to his brother’s gaze. Whatever Dean’s mind did to him when he was alone in the bathroom has rubbed off what little shine he’s been able to win back, leaving him scuffed and sullied.

“So am I,” he says.

It’s so horrifyingly wrong that Sam can’t even begin to figure out how to argue with him. And Dean wouldn’t be able to hear him right now even if Sam could find the words—not with that expression on his face. Not with that deadness in his eyes—doll eyes have more life than his brother’s do right now, a shark’s are more human.

Finally, Sam gets his mouth working again and says, “We’re going to talk about this in the morning.”

“Fantastic,” Dean grunts, turning away again and dropping his head back down on the pillow. “Looking forward to it.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam dreams again that night.

It’s the same nightmare that’s been plaguing him off and on since the cabin—the one he only remembers when he’s asleep—but this time, he isn’t watching Dean’s defilement. He’s participating in it.

Sam is slicking his fingers in the blood streaming from the fresh cut on his brother’s temple, he’s biting down on Dean’s right nipple hard enough to break the skin, he’s shoving Dean’s legs wider and thrusting in, he’s pulling out and dragging him over to the wall and reseating himself. There are words coming from his mouth—horrible, vile taunts—and it’s those words as much as anything else that are making Dean shake like he is, but Sam (Hanson) has his hand on his brother’s cock and he’s pounding against Dean’s prostate unerringly.

Dean’s cries don’t so much change as they shift tenor.

When he says ‘stop’ now he doesn’t mean the rape so much as he means this—Sam’s (Hanson’s) hand on his cock making him enjoy it, at least a little—and Hanson (Sam) wants to stop, he’s desperate to stop, but he can’t, he can’t make himself—oh God what is he doing? Everything smells funny, like rotten eggs, and there’s a bitter, wrong taste in his mouth beneath the copper, and he’s still doing this. He’s hurting this guy, this kid, this beautiful, beautiful creature who can’t get his eyes to focus past the pain or maybe there’s damage from the mirror (concussion? aneurism?). There’s blood in one eye, but the other is still greengreengreen, and the guy (SamStallionDeanPretty) is moaning and begging Hanson (Sam) not to make him come. Hanson forces Dean-o’s head to one side (look ma, no hands!) and tongues at the gash on his temple, widening it, deepening it, letting the blood flow, and the guy does come, and the sound he makes, the sound is indescribable, it—

Sam jerks awake with a scream in his throat. He’s lashing out before he knows what he’s doing, but Dean is ready for him: uses the hand he had on Sam’s shoulder—the hand he was shaking him with—to block the blow and then shoves him back down against the bed, forearm pressed against his throat.

“Sam!” he barks. “Calm down, it’s me.”

Sam is aware enough to know that now, of course, and he stills immediately. He’s panting, and his heartbeat is pulsing through his skull, but more importantly he’s nauseous—fuck, he’s gonna hurl for sure this time. The nightmare is already fading, just like it always does, but he remembers enough to know that it was wrong—and to be ashamed about the thick, throbbing line of his cock pressing against his boxers.

“Lemme up,” he chokes. “Gotta—bathroom—”

Dean lets him go.

Sam makes it to the toilet—barely—and the force of his nausea cramps his stomach and esophagus. He shakes as he pukes, sweat slicking his shirt to his skin and dripping from his hair. When he’s done, he slumps down next to the toilet and rests his forehead against one weak, shaking arm. His erection, thank god, has wilted, but he still hunches in over himself a little, as though he can hide the sickness that made it rise in the first place. The dream is all but gone now, having left behind only an amber blur and a vague impression of guilty dread, but he can still feel it clinging to his skin like noxious pond scum.

Dean is standing in the doorway, a blacker shape against the darkness. Sam can’t see his brother’s face, but he knows that Dean is watching him—can feel his steady regard and wants to slink away from it, wants to hide himself. He hunches further, ignoring the strain it puts on the small of his back, and turns his face away.

“You were talking in your sleep,” Dean says.

Sam doesn’t want to know, but his brother is still standing there, waiting, while silence and darkness bear down on Sam from all sides, so he croaks out, “What did I say?”

Seconds tick past—maybe minutes, it’s hard to tell—before Dean answers, “You were begging someone to stop you.”

It isn’t what Sam was expecting, not at all, and his head comes up. Blinking, he strains against the darkness in an effort to make out his brother’s expression. As though Dean senses the attempt, he tilts his face away: Sam can tell from the way the shadowed lump of his brother’s head shifts.

“You remember what you were dreaming?” Dean asks after a moment.

“No,” Sam rasps. Wasn’t anything good, though. He knows that much.

“You okay now?”

No. Not in the slightest. But Sam can’t articulate what’s wrong with him—nothing more than a complaint of a bitter taste in his mouth, detectable even through the vomit, and the whiff of rotten eggs in the air—and Dean clearly doesn’t want to hear anyway.

“Yeah,” Sam exhales.

Dean nods and disappears from the bathroom doorway without another word. Sam shifts up far enough to flush the toilet and then sits back down again. Resting his forehead against the toilet seat, he shuts his eyes and waits for his heartbeat to slow, for the bitter pall of the nightmare to lift.

It’s a long time before he goes back to bed.

Chapter Text

When Sam wakes up in the morning, Dean is already gone. Confused and a little frightened by his brother’s absence, Sam glances at the clock on the nightstand and sees that it’s late—well past nine thirty and approaching ten. With a soft curse, he tosses back the sheet and rolls out of bed.

The note Sam finds taped to the back of the motel door—with dad, don’t freak—calms his rising nerves, but the damage has already been done. Between the late hour and the shock of waking to find Dean missing, his thoughts are muzzy as he stumbles through his morning routine. A dull ache throbs behind both of his eyes—something close but not identical to the pain that always plagues him after his visions. Sam finishes as quickly as he can and then knocks back a couple of aspirin before pulling on his shoes and heading next door.

Dean is sitting on Dad’s rumpled bed with folders and notebooks scattered around him. His hair looks mussed and soft—no gel today—and he’s still wearing the faded black t-shirt he had on last night when he went to sleep. Sam would be willing to bet that his brother has the same boxers on as well, and the evidence of Dean’s eagerness to escape their room before Sam woke up leaves a sour taste in Sam’s mouth. Dean doesn’t even acknowledge Sam’s arrival, continuing to leaf though a stack of meteorological graphs instead.

It’s odd seeing him so engrossed in research. Normally, Dean has to be bullied or blackmailed into it, and then he spends the whole time complaining and searching for an excuse to do something else. Anything else. Sam isn’t used to this version of his brother, who has obviously settled in for the long haul and is even now adding notations to Dad’s journal.

“Coffee?” Dad asks, drawing Sam’s attention over to the table where their father sits. When Dad sees that he has Sam’s attention, he lifts a Styrofoam cup in clear offer. “Should still be warm at least.”

Sam hesitates, casting another concerned look at his brother, and then goes over to join their father.

“Thanks.” Accepting the cup, he sits down where he can see both his father and his brother at the same time. Then, softly and out of the corner of his mouth, he asks, “How long has he been doing that?”

“Woke me up around five,” Dad answers, keeping his voice just as low. It feels wrong, talking about Dean like he isn’t even in the room, but Sam’s off balance enough that the slight, nagging guilt is the least of his worries.

Last night, Dean went to bed upset. He was upset when Sam woke them both up with his nightmare, and judging by his uncharacteristic behavior this morning he’s still upset now. Of course, Dean’s newfound interest in research might be nothing more than an eagerness to get back to hunting. His preoccupation might be genuine instead of an attempt at avoidance.

“Did he ... did he do this with you? After I left?” Sam asks hopefully as he watches his brother fit the end of the pen in his mouth and chew on it.

“The gung-ho research assistant stuff?” Dad says, and he’s watching Dean too. His left eye is a little better today, but the swelling hasn’t gone down enough for Sam to read any emotion. He has to rely on their father’s right eye for that, and the weary sorrow he finds there tells him that Dad hasn’t been doing anything this morning except watching his eldest son. Sam wonders if Dean feels awkward at all, or if he’s even noticed the scrutiny past his own pain.

That isn’t a comfortable thought, and Sam shifts a little in his chair. Over on the bed, Dean puts down the meteorological reports and opens a folder full of newspaper clippings. The only indication he gives that he knows anyone else is in the room is the overzealous rustling of the clippings as he flips through them—probably an attempt to drown out the low, indecipherable murmur of Sam and Dad's voices.

“Yeah, that,” Sam agrees in a hushed whisper. He hopes like hell that Dad will say yes, that he’ll say ‘someone had to pick up your slack, Sammy’, that he’ll say anything to make this a return to routine instead of another symptom.

But Dad shakes his head.

“Guess you’re rubbing off on him,” he observes. From the faint furrow on his brow, though, it’s apparent that he guesses nothing of the sort.

“Guess so,” Sam echoes dully.

Dad’s eyes cut towards him and, for a moment, their gazes meet in perfect understanding. It’s the first time their father has looked closely at Sam all morning, and almost immediately his eyes sharpen. His slight frown deepens.

“You feeling all right, Sammy? You look pale.”

“Headache,” Sam answers as he takes a sip of his lukewarm coffee. “I, uh, didn’t sleep well.”

Dad continues to frown at him—like he isn’t sure Sam’s telling the truth, like he expects there’s something else going on. Sam’s about to call their father on his paranoid, hunter’s bullshit when the man gives his head a little shake and slumps back in his chair.

“Yeah,” Dad sighs, returning his gaze to Dean. “I know the feeling.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean researches unfalteringly through lunch and all the way up to dinner. Then, finally, he crawls off the bed and stretches in an absent, thoughtless way that draws his t-shirt up, baring a strip of his stomach. Mindful of his father’s presence, Sam does his best not to stare.

After a brief debate, they decide on Chinese and, surprisingly, Dad offers to go pick it up. The meaningful glance he gives Sam as he leaves goes a long way toward explaining the uncharacteristic gesture, though: Dad is leaving them alone together because he wants Sam to get Dean to talk. Sam expects his brother to protest the move (Dad isn’t being the least bit subtle) or at least to try to get their father to bring him along, but he seems to have reconciled himself with the fact that he’s going to have to face Sam sometime.

That doesn’t make it any less awkward when Dad shuts the door behind him on his way out.

Sam is left standing by the window, self-conscious and uncomfortable, while his brother moves around the room replacing the graphs and clippings he took down to work with today. He can feel the time slipping through his fingers—Dad’s going to drive slowly, and he might even detour to a local bar for half an hour, but he’s still going to come back at some point and they need to have things settled between them before the man walks through the door. Sam just doesn’t know how to begin.

As the silence stretches out, it gets harder and harder to find the words to break it, and Sam is considering calling for a do-over when Dean finally throws the papers in his hands to the floor. It’s an abrupt, violent movement that seems to come out of nowhere, and Sam jumps. Dean looks a little surprised by it himself, but covers the expression up almost immediately. As his brother bends down to start picking things up again, Sam prods himself into motion and hurries over as well.

“Here, let me hel—”

“I got it,” Dean says, jerking a clipping out of Sam’s hand. His voice isn’t a growl—not quite—but there’s enough warning in it that Sam sits back on his heels and puts his hands safely on his thighs where they’re less likely to get stepped on or smacked.

He isn’t doing anything—he’s just sitting there quietly, close enough to see the dark, exhausted smudges beneath his brother’s eyes—but his presence is obviously upsetting Dean because his movements get sharper and sharper. He keeps fumbling the papers he’s already collected, dropping some of them back to the floor in the process, and he’s starting to sweat.

Sam hates that he’s the reason his brother is acting so flustered, and he considers moving away, but he doesn’t want to draw any more attention to himself. Dean’s already aware enough of him as it is.

Finally, just when Sam thinks he’ll scream if Dean drops one more chart, his brother clenches his hands into fists, crumpling the sheets he’s holding, and says, “I can’t do this.”

“I can get them for you if you want.”

The words are out of Sam’s mouth before he realizes that Dean probably isn’t talking about picking up the papers. Sure enough, his brother gives a humorless little laugh and tosses what little he’s managed to gather back on the floor.

“I don’t give a shit about the papers,” he says, still staring at his knees. “I’m talking about us. This. You and me, it—it isn’t working.”

Sam’s first, shaming reaction is a burst of needy panic that makes him want to throw himself on top of Dean and hold on until his brother recants. He locks down on the impulse before he actually moves, thank God, and then takes a couple of seconds to regain control of his breathing before be asks in a carefully controlled voice, “What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. It just isn’t.”

But Dean still isn’t looking at him—he hasn’t looked directly at Sam once all day, not even when they were figuring out what to have for dinner. Dean’s well aware that his eyes are the weak chink in his armor, giving away things he’d rather keep hidden, and so his lowered lashes and the reluctant clench of his jaw indicate that he does know. He just doesn’t want to say.

Learning Dean’s reasons might not change anything, of course. It might actually damn Sam further—make him feel like more of a worthless shit than he already does—but that doesn’t make Sam any less eager to know. Because there’s a chance that Sam can fix this if he knows what’s wrong. Some (okay, most) of his reasons for keeping them together are selfish, but his own needs and desires aren’t the end of this particular story.

This thing between them isn’t pretty. It isn’t normal, and it sure as hell isn’t easy. But it is working.

Sam knows that it’s working because Dean’s getting better, whether his brother can see that for himself right now or not.

He wants to press for a reason, but he knows from experience that the harder Dean’s pressed, the more he shuts down. Occasionally, he cracks open from the pressure before that happens, but the best tactic to use when Dean’s clamming up has always been silence. Dean can’t take the quiet—drives himself to speak more quickly and honestly than Sam could ever manage.

It’s hard as hell keeping his mouth shut, especially with all of the emotions jumbling around inside of him, but Sam bites the inside of his cheek and clenches his jaw.

After a few minutes, Dean starts to fidget just like Sam knew he would. He shifts his weight on his knees, and drums his fingers against his thigh, and eventually reaches out and starts shuffling the papers into a pile in front of him. A nervous tic jumps in his cheek, pulling the muscle there tight and then relaxing it again.

Finally, without pausing in his work, Dean grudgingly elaborates, “You deserve someone normal.”

His voice sounds a little less hostile and a little more pleading—drop it, Sammy, just let me go—and Sam feels safe enough to try helping with the papers again. When his brother doesn’t snatch the clippings away from him this time, the dread in his chest eases a little.

“Define normal,” he says, reaching for a National Weather Service-issued report on annual rainfall in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

Dean actually glances up at that, and the quick flash of his eyes is somehow both miserable and annoyed at the same time.

“Someone you can settle down with without worrying about getting arrested for moral indecency,” he grunts, picking up his pile with his left hand and adding papers to it without taking any care not to wrinkle them. “Someone you can raise kids with. Someone who isn’t your brother.”

There are still a couple of pieces on the floor, but Dean pushes up with the word, which seems to sum up everything wrong between them and yet doesn’t even begin to explain what they are to each other. Papers in hand, he heads for the table.

Sam hurriedly grabs the last few sheets—a couple of newspaper articles, a map of the United States littered with red dots and Dad’s concise handwriting—and then gets up to follow. “I don’t think that’s really what’s bothering you.”

“Gee, you caught me, Sam,” Dean shoots back sarcastically as he drops his stack on the table. “I’m actually thrilled with the whole incest thing we’ve got going on here.”

It’s the first time either of them has said the word out loud, and it sounds even worse than Sam thought it would. But of course that’s Dean’s intent—he’s using it as a goad, trying to get Sam riled up enough to forget whatever argument he might have prepared—so Sam ignores the sick feeling it conjures in his stomach.

When he puts his own collection of papers on top of his brother’s, the move puts them shoulder-to-shoulder. Sam pauses, giving Dean the chance to shy away if he’s going to, but Dean just rests both hands on the table and leans forward, dropping his head with an almost inaudible sigh.

“I think this is about what we did yesterday,” Sam announces softly.

Because he’s had time to think about it—has been turning it over in the back of his mind all day while Dean messed around with reports and charts and newspaper articles—and it’s the only logical conclusion.

Yes, Dean needed reassuring after the morning he had. Yes, he was feeling good at the time—the burgeoning erection he managed to achieve proved that much.

But something made his cock wilt in Sam’s mouth, and now that he’s thinking about it more objectively, Sam isn’t sure anymore how much of Dean’s affectionate display after the fact was real and how much was a calculated attempt to make Sam think it was real. Or maybe Dean was trying to deceive himself with the performance. Maybe he was trying to convince himself, for just a few minutes more, that everything was all right.

The way that Dean curls his fingers beneath his hands on the table confirms Sam’s suspicions and guilt bites at the back of his mouth, bitter and nauseating. He should have known better than to touch Dean like that. He never should have let things go so far.

Sam wants to beg forgiveness—he’s supposed to be the rational one here, he’s supposed to be looking out for his brother—but this conversation isn’t about him, so he swallows the frantic pleas swelling in his throat and says only, “I pushed too fast. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”

Dean doesn’t lift his head, but he does turn it, looking up at Sam from the corner of his eyes. And Sam is going to have to reevaluate his theory that Dean’s eyes are the windows to his secrets because there isn’t any kind of recognizable emotion in that look at all. His voice is just as unreadable as he repeats, “You’re sorry.”

“Yes,” Sam agrees.

“Sorry for giving me a blowjob.”

Well, that and everything else, but there’s no reason to complicate things. “Yes.”

Dean regards Sam for a moment longer and then drops his head even lower, chin brushing against his chest with a heavy exhalation. He looks up again almost immediately, avoiding Sam, and pushes off from the table. His hand lifts as he walks away, going to his temple—to the scar. Sam has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from commenting on it.

“See, that’s what I mean,” Dean says. “That’s fucked up, Sam. I’m fucked up. You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

As he nears the wall, Dean stops but doesn’t turn around. His hand is still raised, working the phantom ache at his temple, and there’s a defeated slump to his shoulders. But for the first time all day, Sam feels the faint, prickling beginnings of hope.

If that’s all this is—if this is just Dean trying to be noble for Sam’s sake—then there’s no problem at all. Sam isn’t going to lose this. He isn’t going to lose Dean.

Fighting to keep his desperation out of his voice, he says, “I think that’s my decision.”

“I’m serious, man,” Dean snaps, turning around and dropping his hand. His expression has thawed, and now Sam can read self-disgust there, and fear, and pain, and—most alarming of all—resignation. “I’m a freak,” Dean adds bitterly. “You can do better.”

“We’re both freaks,” Sam offers, only half-joking, but his brother shakes his head and the determined set of his mouth stiffens.

“No, you aren’t, Sam. I mean, yeah, the whole psychic thing is a little weird, but you can’t help that, and I—you said it yourself, man, I don’t—” He swallows, hand coming up to rub at the grimace on his mouth, and then finishes, “I’m a sick fuck.”

“What?” Sam blurts. He knows that his face isn’t hiding anything, and Dean is undoubtedly reading the appalled horror there as disgust, but he’s too shocked by his brother’s accusation to dissemble. “I never said that!” he protests.

“You—yesterday,” Dean maintains. “I—I asked if—when you were, y’know.” He makes a vague gesture to his chest, which doesn’t actually clarify anything, and then, with a short, exasperated sigh—as though Sam is being deliberately obtuse—grunts, “The massage thing, remember?”

Ok, now Sam knows when Dean’s talking about, even if he’s still completely lost as to the what. He might have been a little distracted by all the naked skin beneath him, but he’d sure as hell remember having said anything remotely negative to his brother, and he didn’t.

“I was there, Dean,” he says. “Of course I remember. But I never said anything like that.” The words come out hard, edged with the anger of the unjustly accused.

Dean’s chin juts out and he lifts his head, defiant. Sam would really appreciate it if—just once—his brother could apply that kind of determination to something other than beating himself down.

“I asked if it was normal,” Dean says. “What I was feeling. And you—”

“I said no,” Sam finishes, chest twisting with guilt. He should have known that Dean would take his answer and twist it around in his head.

Dean smiles at him—sad and knowing—and the expression makes Sam want to shake his brother until Dean gets his head on straight.

“Dean, normal—I don’t think that means the same thing to you as it does to me,” he says instead, trying to both look and sound as reasonable as he can. “When it comes to—to sexual triggers, I don’t think there is a normal. Different people get turned on by different things, and what works for one person can shut someone else down completely. I mean, the girls you’ve been with—they all like the same thing in bed?”

Dean’s face scrunches in confusion for a moment before smoothing out again. The return to non-expression is a vast improvement over the smile he was offering Sam before. “No.”

“Enjoying the massage doesn’t make you a freak,” Sam argues, borrowing his brother’s words. “It doesn’t make you sick.”

Dean looks at him and there’s something going on in those eyes. Sam’s sure that his words are getting through to his brother. He’s being heard.

Then Dean says, “I came, Sam. That son of a bitch was raping me and I came twice. That’s pretty much the definition of sick freak.”

Sam should have seen this coming from a mile away, but somehow he missed it. The words—an attack, really—twist in his stomach violently enough that he throws up a little in his mouth. He swallows reflexively, fighting down the nausea, and moves forward without thinking.

“God, Dean, how can you—you’re not sick, man, you—”

“I liked it,” Dean spits. The blank mask of his face has finally cracked wide open, and it isn’t hatred or even disgust that Sam sees there: it’s loathing. Loathing and humiliated, cringing shame.

Sam’s in range now, reaching, and one of his hands actually brushes his brother’s shoulder before Dean seems to realize what he’s doing and snaps backward. In his haste to get away, Dean trips over his own feet and falls into the wall, where he catches himself after a brief scramble. He clings there, breathing shallowly and warning Sam to keep back with the hostile line of his body as shreds of their father’s new wallpapering drift down around him.

“I’m sorry,” Sam says, holding his hands up and out in a placating gesture even though his brother’s face is turned away, forehead pressed into the wall like he can melt through and out the other side. “I’m not going to touch you, okay? I just. I just need you to listen to me.”

“I liked it,” Dean says again. His voice is softer this time—less confrontational—but that only makes it worse. “That son of a bitch raped me and I got off on it, Sam. What the hell can you say to make that all right?” When he twists his head to look at Sam, his eyes are wet. Begging.

Sam’s not all that far from crying himself—seems like tears are only a heartbeat away these days—and his voice is choked as he says, “God, Dean, I wish—I wish I could say something to make you better. If I could, I would—fuck, you have to know I would do anything to fix you. I would—anything it took. But I—Dean, nothing I say can make it all right.”

Dean is wilting in front of him, crushed beneath the weight of Sam’s words, which he’s clearly reading as repudiation, and Sam hastens to add, “I can’t make it all right because how you’re feeling? That’s inside of you, man. No one else can change that but you.” He takes a deep breath and then, firming his jaw, says, “But I can tell you that you didn’t like it.”

“Sam,” Dean chokes out, starting to shake his head in denial.

“You didn’t,” Sam says, and has to shove his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out again. “Dean, you’re not the only person to orgasm during rape. It doesn’t mean you liked it, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean you wanted it. It means that your body responded to stimulation.”

“Stimulation,” Dean spits, flicking his eyes up sharply. “That what you call it when someone fucks your ass with a knife?”

Sam’s stomach plummets and all the spit in his mouth dries up. He doesn’t remember reading anything like that in the police report, but it would explain the damage, which was staggering considering how loose Dean would have been when he was attacked.

“He didn’t—”

“No.” Dean shakes his head, mouth twisting bitterly. “No, but that’s what it felt like. I’ve never—it fucking hurt, okay? It hurt like hell and I still—” He doesn’t say it this time, snapping his mouth shut and pursing his lips before pulling himself upright. “So you go ahead and tell me how that’s normal.”

Dean clearly doesn’t expect the challenge in his eyes to be met, but not even having his hands in his pockets is enough to detour Sam this time. Yanking his right hand free, he reaches out and grips his brother’s upper arm, holding on tightly enough to establish a connection but not so firmly that Dean can’t get away if he needs to.

“You can’t judge yourself based on how your body responds to trauma,” Sam says firmly. “There are a thousand explanations for that kind of thing. I mean, your brain could have gotten confused and switched the signals, you could have—”

“’fore.”

Sam almost doesn’t catch the word, mumbled the way it is while Dean stares at his own chest.

“What?” he asks, moving his thumb in a light, reassuring circle against his brother’s skin. “I didn’t quite—”

“Before,” Dean repeats, louder this time. His head lifts, eyes seeking out Sam’s. “I got off on it before. Being hurt.”

For a moment, Sam honestly forgets how to breathe. He doesn’t know what kind of expression is on his face, but whatever it is, it makes Dean lick his lips and shift nervously.

“Not—not a lot,” Dean hastens to add. “Not like that, but I, uh.” His eyes fall again and his cheeks flush.

Sam has never felt so invasive before, and he knows that he shouldn’t be touching Dean while Dean makes this confession, but he can’t make his hand open.

“I did nipple clamps a couple of times,” Dean mumbles. “And this one girl, she wanted to spank me, and I figured—hey, I’ll try anything once, and I—I came without anything else.”

An image of Dean kneeling naked on a bed rises in front of Sam’s eyes. His brother’s nipples are bruised and swollen and sore between the teeth of the clamps, which are connected by a black, metal chain that looks so pretty against all that pale skin. Dean’s cock is hard and dripping, and his ass is bright red from being struck. The flesh there will be feverish to the touch, and Dean’s cheeks will twitch beneath Sam’s hands as kneads them, and he’ll make the most incredible, beautiful hissing noises.

Sam comes back to himself in the next instant—ashamed and a little nauseous and a lot turned on—and is really, really thankful that his brother isn’t actually looking at him right now. Dean’s silent for a moment, maybe waiting for Sam to make some kind of judgment call—‘that’s pretty sick all right’, or maybe even, ‘it’s okay to feel like that’—but Sam’s too busy fighting with his treacherous libido to offer anything constructive.

Eventually Dean nods.

“So I figure—I figure I’m just fucked up, that I’m a freak.” He hesitates and then, tilting his face further away, says, “Maybe that’s why he picked me. Hanson. Maybe he—maybe he saw that I’m sick, and he—he knew I’d get off on it. Maybe I didn’t fight because part of me wanted it.”

Sam can’t feel anything but horrified at that statement. The warm burn of arousal in his groin immediately goes cold and sickened. His chest tightens and gives one of the sore, deep-seated pulses he’s starting to expect. Pulling his left hand from his pocket, he holds Dean by both arms and ducks his head in an attempt to catch his brother’s eye.

“Dean, look at me,” he begs.

With grudging reluctance, Dean obeys. There’s a cringing quality to his gaze, as though he expects to be struck at any moment.

As though he expects Sam to tell him that he’s right.

“I don’t give a fuck what Hanson saw,” Sam says. His voice comes out angrier than he means it to, but he can’t help himself. His hands are aching with the need to punch someone. “It doesn’t matter. Because you never gave him permission. You said ‘no’, Dean, end of story. Or does ‘no’ stop meaning that just because you like to mix a little pain with your pleasure?”

“It’s sick,” Dean whispers, starting to drop his eyes again.

“Hey,” Sam says, and gives his brother a little shake to get his attention again. “You calling me a pervert?”

The lost, damned expression on Dean’s face is tempered with a faint, questioning hope as he meets Sam’s gaze.

Sam looks back at his brother with a calm confidence that he doesn’t actually feel. “You think you’re the only one in this family with less than vanilla tastes in bed?”

Dean’s expression wavers, running through a bewildering array of emotions before settling somewhere between hopeful and ‘Sammy, you dog!’. Licking his lips, he says, “You, ah ... you like ... ”

Before he can work up the courage to actually ask, Sam says, “I’m not having a conversation about sexual preferences with you right now. I just want you to understand that this isn’t about whether you prefer missionary or doggie style or—or, hell, Dean, if you’ve ever had any rape fantasies. Because this? What Hanson did to you? You didn’t ask for that. You never gave him permission to touch you.”

“I—”

“An orgasm isn’t permission, Dean,” Sam insists, rolling right over what was undoubtedly meant as an objection. “It doesn’t validate what he did, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you wanted it. And you have to believe that, man, because otherwise you’re never going to get better.”

Dean breaks away from him then—removing himself from Sam’s grip gently, but firmly—and walks past him toward the window. He lifts one shaking hand to brush his temple before clutching the windowsill.

After a couple of minutes, he says, “I know what you’re saying, Sammy, and it—it makes sense, sort of, but I. I don’t know that I believe it.”

“You have to find a way,” Sam says. “Because I can say it until I’m blue in the face—and I will, I’ll keep saying it until it sinks in—but you need to figure out how to believe for yourself.”

Much as it breaks Sam’s heart not to be able to do that for his brother.

Dean nods without turning around. “Yeah, I get that,” he sighs. “I’ve just ... Dude, you know I’ve never really been one for that faith crap.”

Sam blows out a slow, shaky breath and makes himself smile. “First time for everything.”

Dean nods again and doesn’t speak, but for once Sam isn’t tempted to push. He can tell that his brother is thinking about it—that he actually listened to what Sam had to say, even if it wasn’t something he’s ready to hear—and there isn’t really anything else he can do right now. He just has to hope it was enough.

Clearing his throat, Sam sits down on the bed Dean was using as a desk and leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “Yesterday was too much too fast,” he says.

Dean is silent, and for a moment Sam doesn’t think his brother heard him—or maybe Dean’s just not ready to finish this conversation. Then Dean sighs and says, “Yeah.”

“You have to tell me,” Sam insists. “Before I go too far, not after. I’m not a mind reader.”

“I know,” Dean says, running a hand through his hair as he turns away from the window. “I just—I don’t know, okay? When you’re kissing me—and then, yesterday, when you were, y’know, it felt good. I was—it felt good, okay? But then I just, I don’t know, I started thinking about actually coming, and then I—” He pauses to wipe his lips with the back of his hand and then finishes, “I was thinking about the bathroom, and how I came then, and I just. It made me want to puke.”

And that ... actually makes a whole lot of sense.

“You felt guilty for liking it,” Sam says.

Dean blinks at him, startled. “I. Yeah, I guess. I shouldn’t feel like that, not after what happened. It doesn’t—it’s not normal.”

There’s that word again. Sam doesn’t know when his brother got so hung on falling into the ‘normal’ category when he’s spent his entire life sneering at it, but he really could have done without this extra complication. He could try to convince Dean yet again that ‘normal’ doesn’t exist, but it took him twenty-two years to figure that out for himself and he can’t expect to convert his brother overnight.

Maybe he can use Dean’s preoccupation with the concept against him.

“Enjoying that kind of thing is actually a sign that you’re getting better,” he offers. “It’s a sign that you’re getting back to normal, not moving away from it.”

“I know that,” Dean replies with a hint of a scowl. “It’s just ... it’s hard to remember.”

Sam isn’t at all sure that Dean does know that, but he isn’t going to argue the point right now. He watches, considering, as his brother wanders back over to the table and rifles through the papers with nervous fingers.

“How much can you handle before you start feeling sick?”

Dean shrugs without looking over at him. “I don’t know. Uh. I like kissing you, but sometimes it—it depends. Sometimes I’m fine, but then other times I just ...”

The paper shuffling is getting more and more agitated as he speaks, and finally Sam can’t take it anymore and gets up to join his brother by the table.

“Okay,” he says, closing one hand around his brother’s wrist and stilling Dean’s hand. When he rubs his thumb against the inside of his brother’s wrist, Dean’s pulse is racing. “Okay, we’re gonna back up. Just kissing. And when you’re good with that—always, not just sometimes—we can try a little more.”

Pressing his lips together in a grimace, Dean stares at the table and mutters, “This is stupid.”

“No, it isn’t,” Sam argues, but the way that Dean is still refusing to look at him tells him that his brother isn’t buying that. He casts his mind around for a way to explain in Dean-speak and then asks, “When Dad hurt his leg, you didn’t expect him to start running again the next day, did you?”

A tiny furrow appears between Dean’s eyes. “No.”

“He had to work up to it, right?” Sam presses. “Had to go to the psychical therapist, do exercises, take it a little bit at a time.”

Dean glances at Sam finally, looking annoyed with himself for getting caught so easily. “That’s different.”

“How?”

They both know Dean doesn’t have an answer, but Dean looks for one anyway, scowling as he flounders around for a way to refute Sam’s argument. Finally, he sighs. With the same bad grace he always shows when he’s been out maneuvered, he grunts, “Just kissing?”

Sam nods.

“Where does sharing a bed fall on the therapy spectrum?”

Sam’s very, very careful to keep the victorious joy bouncing around in his chest out of his expression. “You tell me, man. You’re the one who knows how you’re feeling.”

Dean’s silent for a moment, thinking, and when he speaks again he sounds slightly less grudging. “It’s like kissing, I guess. Usually it makes me feel better.”

“And other times it doesn’t?” Sam guesses. “Like last night?”

Dean looks away, shrugging, but he doesn’t deny it and—unwittingly or not—he’s leaning his body toward Sam’s. Sam takes his cue from his brother’s body language and not his stony silence and moves closer.

“I’m never going to turn you away,” he says, standing close enough to feel the heat coming off of his brother’s body. “But if you can’t handle it, if you don’t want to be touched, I’m not going to be angry. Or hurt. We have to get two beds for Dad, anyway.”

“He’s sticking around?” Dean asks, still looking away and pretending that Sam’s on the other side of the room instead of crowded up against him.

Although Sam gets the feeling that his brother already knows the answer, he says, “Yeah.”

“He shouldn’t,” Dean mutters. “It’s still too dangerous and we—I’m a liability.”

Shifting to one side, Sam releases his brother’s wrist to wrap an arm around his waist instead. When Dean doesn’t punch him, he hugs his brother more firmly against his chest and rests his chin on Dean’s shoulder. “He wants to help.”

“I don’t need his help,” Dean snaps, resentful and tense. “I’m handling it.”

Sam didn’t want to bring it up again, but if he doesn’t head this off at the pass then Dean’s going to be sullen for weeks, and so he sighs, “Dean, I caught you with a gun in your lap yesterday.”

“I wasn’t going to do anything.”

That’s a different story than Dean was singing yesterday, and the tension in his body is also branding him a big fat liar, but Sam got his point across, and he isn’t going to force his brother to admit it out loud. Instead, he says, “Humor him, okay? If it gets dangerous enough, he’ll leave. You know he will.”

Sam isn’t sure he believes that anymore himself. He might have believed it of the old Dad, but their father has been a different man these past few days—or maybe it’s Sam who’s changed. Maybe he’s finally old enough to understand, at least a little, why Dad does the things he does. However it happened, Sam isn’t sure anymore that their father is capable of leaving when Dean is hurting this badly.

But the lie reassures Dean the way that it was intended to, and his brother relaxes a little in his arms.

“So,” Sam says, reaching out with one hand to lift a page from the pile on the table while continuing to hold Dean close with the other. “You find anything interesting?”

That isn’t really what he’s asking and he hopes that Dean knows it—that his brother can hear the ‘we okay?’ loud and clear because Sam can’t bring himself to ask directly.

“There’s some definite patterns like Dad said,” Dean answers, reaching out with his right hand to fish a report out of the pile. “Here.”

Sam accepts the report from his brother, but all of his attention is focused on Dean’s other hand—on his left, which has dropped down to settle on top of Sam’s where it’s resting on Dean’s stomach.

Yeah, we’re good.

Reassured, Sam kisses the side of his brother’s neck and then releases him so that he can sit down in one of the wooden chairs. Dean is smiling as he takes a seat on the other side of the table—hesitant, but genuine.

“Weather’s the biggest tip-off,” he says, gesturing to the paper in Sam’s hand.

Sam looks down to follow along as Dean explains about thunderstorms and electrical strikes and temperature dips, and is only slightly distracted by the way that his brother’s ankle hooks around his beneath the table.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean spends another two days reviewing Dad’s research, but by the end of the third afternoon it’s clear to everyone that he’s become bored with the exercise. When Dad drops a newspaper on the table alongside the coffee tray the next morning—there’s a headline circled in red: ‘Clarton Lake Claims Third Victim’—Dean perks up like a little kid in an ice cream parlor.

Sam’s not sure he’s ready to trust his brother with a weapon, but he realizes that that’s going to be a difficult step no matter how long they wait. Besides, there’s nothing more for them in Vegas: no reason to stay so close to the sight of Dean’s violation.

At least they won’t be going after the demon right out of the gate.

It isn’t for lack of trying, of course—he and Dad have been scouring weather reports while Dean searched through Dad’s notes for new patterns—but Sam can’t claim to be anything but relieved by the fact that they’re postponing that particular hunt. Dean isn’t anywhere near ready.

Dad has voiced his frustration over the son of a bitch’s abrupt disappearance over and over again (Sam’s heard about Salvation, Iowa, often enough that he almost feels like he watched the Holts burn with his own eyes) but his complaints seem empty. His righteous anger is authentic enough, of course, but his words are stilted. False.

It’s weird, but Sam has a feeling that Dad doesn’t want to rush into that confrontation any more than he does. He’s probably just as worried as Sam about how Dean’s going to hold up when faced with his mother’s killer.

Medication might help with that, and Dad and Sam have talked about it several times over the past few days. Sam’s also talked around the possibility with his brother once or twice, but Dean ignored every hint.

Now, while Dean packs and he does some long-distance reconnaissance on the web, Sam uses his brother’s high spirits as an opportunity to broach the subject directly.

“Hey, Dean?”

“Mm?”

“I was thinking—”

“No, I’m not putting on a gold bikini and prancing around the motel room,” Dean says, not so much as glancing up from his bag.

“Ha ha,” Sam mutters, mostly because his brother’s expecting the response. Before Dean can derail the conversation again, he continues, “I was thinking about medication.”

Dean goes still.

“It wouldn’t have to be much, just—maybe a light sedative to help you sleep, or, uh, something to help with the anxiety?”

The warning in his brother’s eyes as he lifts his head should be enough to shut Sam up, but of course his mouth keeps going anyway.

“There are even some natural remedies we can try,” he babbles. “St John’s wort is supposed to be pretty good, and we wouldn’t need to fake a prescription to get it.”

“No.” Dean’s refusal is flat and final.

Sam can feel his chance to convince his brother slipping away from him, and he gropes after it desperately. “Dean, please. I know you think taking medication makes you weak or something, but it—”

“No means no, Sam,” Dean interrupts. His voice is a hostile sneer. “Isn’t that what you keep telling me?”

The barb hits Sam low in his gut, where it’s supposed to, and he swallows the rest of his pleas. Dropping his eyes before his brother’s cold, satisfied smile, he waits for Dean to go back to packing.

Eventually, Dean does.

In the icy expanse of the silence between them, Sam shivers.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

An hour later, Sam twitches the curtain aside and glancing out the window to make sure that his brother and father are still busy loading the Impala. When he’s relatively sure that he has a couple minutes of privacy, he lets the curtain fall shut again and pulls out his cell phone. This time he dials the ER directly, having pulled the number off the hospital website yesterday when Dean and Dad were out picking up lunch.

Sam isn’t even sure why he’s calling—he doesn’t know this woman, she’s a stranger he met in passing—but he still feels a little let down when he asks for Claire and the pleasant, androgynous voice on the other end of the line answers, “It’s her day off.”

“Oh,” Sam says, heading over to the table and picking up his bag.

His disappointment must have leaked into his voice because the receptionist offers, “I can take a message, if you want?”

Dean, of course, picks that moment to poke his head back into the room and call, “What’s the hold up, dude?”

It’s the first thing he’s said to Sam since their argument, but there’s no lingering rancor in his voice. Sam has a moment to feel relieved that Dean let him off the hook so easily and then his brother notices the cell phone.

“Who’re you talking to?” Dean asks, just as the receptionist prods Sam with an impersonal, “Sir?”

“Yeah,” Sam says, answering the receptionist. Under the pretense of scanning the room to make sure neither of them left anything behind, he turns his back on his brother. “Can you just let her know that I found my brother and he’s gonna be fine? And, uh, tell her thanks. For everything.”

“And you are?”

Sam can feel his brother’s eyes eating into the back of his head and it makes him hesitate. With Dean standing so close, he can’t very well identify himself as ‘the rape victim’s brother’—not if he wants Dean to talk to him anytime within the next few months. Although Sam doesn’t know whether he could bring himself to say it as plainly as that even if Dean weren’t here.

Finally, he settles on, “Tell her it’s her friend from the FBI.”

If she can’t place him from that, then he had no business calling in the first place.

“I didn’t know Claire knew any—”

Sam hangs up on the suddenly interested receptionist and shoves his phone into his back pocket before turning around to face his brother.

“Do I want to know?” Dean asks tonelessly.

Sam could lie, but Dean heard more than enough of the conversation, and he’d only be hanging himself if he tried. “No,” he admits.

Dean nods and taps the back of the door with one hand. “Okay, then,” he says heartily.

Sam’s pathetically grateful for his brother’s casual forgiveness, which he’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve. He’s about to say as much when Dean’s mouth turns up into the shit-eating grin that always gets them in so much trouble with the police.

“Oh crap, what?” Sam blurts, tensing.

Dean’s grin widens. “If you don’t get your ass in the car in the next thirty seconds, you’re riding with Dad.”

It’s possible that Sam read forgiveness into Dean’s puckish attitude a little too soon.

He pictures being shut up in the truck’s cab with their father—listening to 70’s rock between bouts of NPR, trying to make small talk and managing little more than limping, stilted observations on the road or the weather, rehashing the three or four facts they have on their current case over and over again—and thinks that he’d almost prefer to be punished by his brother’s silence.

“One,” Dean drawls, starting the count.

Sam almost bowls him over getting out the door.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It’s two days to Clarton, another to figure out that they’re dealing with a kelpie, and then two more to hunt the creature down and dispatch it.

Dean deals the killing blow, confident and whole in the moment. He swings the iron machete like it’s a natural extension of his arm, easy as breathing, and Sam’s too busy trying to keep his head above water to worry that his brother will turn the blade on himself.

Dean’s at his side a moment later.

Plunging the machete deeply into the ground, he grabs Sam’s collar and hauls him onto the shore. As Sam coughs up brackish water, Dean hooks an arm low around his waist and pulls him further onto dry land. Off to Sam’s right, there’s a wan flicker of fire as Dad lights the kelpie’s corpse.

“Have a nice swim?” Dean pants in Sam’s ear.

Sam’s still choking on stagnant lake water, but between coughs he manages to let out a rough laugh.

And just like that, they’re off and running.

Chapter Text

It’s almost like old times. Almost, with a few minor adjustments that leave Sam actually enjoying himself. The open road and the tight-knit feel of family are the same, and the familiar adrenaline rush of the hunts, but ...

But.

Instead of barking orders, Dad asks. He brings Sam into their war councils, praises him for his research, trains with him morning and afternoon. When Sam nails a zombie with a make-shift blow torch in Clarkson, Indiana, he even gets a warm slap on the shoulder and a “damn fine job, son” from their father. The man slips up occasionally, of course—falls back into his old, infuriating habits—but he always catches himself before it goes too far.

For the first time, instead of feeling suffocated and claustrophobic beneath the Us-Against-the-World mentality, Sam feels embraced by it. He thinks he might understand a little now what Dean meant when he said that he already had a home.

Dean himself is clearly thriving on Dad’s presence—on having his family again, not just together but the closest to functional that they’ve ever been. The rough, forward-back progression he was making shifts into slow but steady improvement. He smiles more often and more genuinely. He touches his scar less frequently, leaving it alone for days at time. His confidence is returning with every slain monster, every saved life.

They always get two rooms, which means that Sam is able to share a bed with his brother as often as Dean wants him. The nights Dean can’t handle the contact are few and far between—and really, Sam is proud of how much his brother managed to keep it together after that frenzied chase through the fun house’s mirror room.

When they do sleep together, Sam wakes his brother in the morning with chaste, feather-soft touches along his jaw and cheekbones. Dean blinks awake with a sleepy smile and, more often than not, leans in to initiate a lazy make-out session. If those sessions sometimes leave Sam frustrated and aching in sensitive places, he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind because of the look they put on his brother’s face—because each languid kiss is teaching Dean that this is okay, that he’s safe, that Sam will keep him safe.

It hurts to know that Dean still has shadowed moments, when Sam can read in his brother’s eyes that he’s thinking the thoughts he voiced in Vegas—freak, my fault, wanted it—but Sam’s heart no longer kicks in his chest whenever his brother is around weapons. That particular bridge appears to have been crossed and burned behind them, and good riddance. He still gets nervous whenever Dean handles the Colt, which has taken on almost talismanic significance in their triad, but that’s a different kind of anxiety—not just for Dean but for all of them, for the confrontation that clings to the horizon like a heat mirage.

Sam hasn’t had much experience with demons—that’s more Bobby Singer’s bag than theirs—but he’s seen enough to know they scare him. One look into those beetle black eyes and his stomach drops in on itself and his breath crystallizes in his throat.

When Sam thinks of demons, he thinks of leaden, burnt skies, and dead grass the color of rust, and sonorous echoing voices speaking in syllables that make human ears bleed. He thinks of the darkness of space, and how cold the void, and how impossibly, inconceivably wide, and that’s the place where demons reside in his mind. In twisted dreamscapes and impossibilities.

Demons are more than unnatural. They’re Other.

Sam doesn’t want to have anything to do with the fucking things.

Oh, he isn’t bowing out of this fight—he wants some vengeance of his own for Jess, and for being forced into this world to begin with. He also wants answers. He wants to know what he and Max Miller have in common, and why the demon is so very interested in them. He wants to know why the two blonde, beautiful women in his life ended up bleeding and burnt on a ceiling.

Sam’s beginning to think that their father might know something about that. It’s in the man’s silences sometimes: in the way that Sam catches Dad looking at him every once in a while, with his face stiffened into an expression of cautious concern. As though Sam is a gun that might misfire at any moment and for no reason whatsoever.

No matter how much Sam wants to know, or how desperately he wants to put an end to the uncertain pit in his stomach, he never asks.

He’s too afraid that this new, open version of his father will answer.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

And the miles roll out behind them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Amarillo, Texas, Dean insists on stopping at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Sam isn’t surprised when his brother easily conquers the restaurant’s 72 oz Steak Challenge, consuming the whole monstrosity in a little under fifty minutes. Dean beams as he stuffs the last forkful in his mouth and lifts both hands in triumph.

Suddenly, people are pressing in from every side to offer shoulder claps and congratulations, and Dean, wide-eyed, moves closer to Sam and hunches his shoulders in an attempt to make himself smaller. Sam finds himself unconsciously shifting in an attempt to stay between Dean and his well-wishers, while Dad performs the same service on Dean’s other side.

The whole dance leaves a sour taste in his mouth—Dean should have enjoyed his victory. He should have been able to lean back in his chair and pat his stomach and belch and flirt shamelessly with the waitress when she refilled his beer. Instead, he’s all but hiding behind Sam and Dad, and when they finally get back to the safety of the Impala, Sam puts a hand on his brother’s neck and finds him shaking.

He’s sure, then, that the entire night is going to be a bust, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to lift Dean’s spirits anyway. He pops the Black Album into the cassette player and talks pretty much nonstop about their last hunt—compliments about the way Dean handled the churel, mostly.

By the time they get back to the motel, Dean is sitting tall behind the wheel again. One hour later, Sam and Dad are getting goofy, proud smiles from him as they sit around Dad’s motel room and tease him about his bottomless pit of a stomach. When they turn in three hours after that, Dean folds himself around Sam with a contented sigh.

Sam ends up chalking that one down as a win.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Clarkson, Louisiana, their main witness takes one look at Dean and falls in love. The man, Greg Larkman, is the quintessential gay stereotype: a delicate-boned, slender hairdresser with frosted hair and a pink scarf around his neck and a Chinese Crested that takes an instant dislike to Dean.

Dean’s too annoyed with the dog barking and bouncing around his feet to notice the puppy eyes Greg is throwing him—Sam can see the urge to punt the Crested across the room in every twitch of his brother’s legs. Luckily for the dog, Greg picks it up before Dean gives in to the impulse, hugging the yapping Crested to his chest and going on and on about how Fifi is an excellent judge of character, and how it’s clear Dean is a wonderful man because she obviously adores him.

Giving Fifi—and Fifi’s bared teeth—a wary look, Dean offers Greg a wide, insincere smile and mutters, “Yeah, the feeling’s mutual.”

It isn’t until Greg makes his sixth attempt to ask Dean out for a drink that Dean catches on. He peers across the low coffee table while Greg twitters on about this FABulous new bar downtown and then, finally, his eyes widen in understanding.

Sam shifts in his own seat, ready to intervene when needed—he spent the entire interview waiting for his brother to figure it out and preparing for the panic attack that would inevitably follow.

Dean does tense, and his mouth goes uneasy and tight, but all he says is, “Sorry, I’m not gay.”

“Oh,” Greg says, deflating.

And that’s that.

After, when they’re back in the Impala and on their way to meet up with Dad, Sam rests his hand lightly on the back of his brother’s neck and says, “I’m proud of you.”

Dean rolls his eyes.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In Dalton, Oklahoma, they rid Diane Fletcher’s ranch of a particularly nasty black dog. Diane is twenty-six, athletic and sassy. Dad likes her instantly. Despite the warm, interested way she looks at Dean, Sam likes her too.

They stay at the ranch during the hunt, and for once there’s no reason to hide who they are or what they do—Diane got Dad’s number from an old boyfriend and called them in herself. It’s weird, getting up in the morning and coming down to breakfast to find Dean and Dad cleaning shotguns at the kitchen table while Diane fries steak on the stove. Strangely domestic.

Diane doesn’t try to poke her nose into their business—says that’s their job, not hers, and she knows better than to get her fool self killed—but once the dog’s dead she challenges them to come out riding with her. Dad takes to the horses with a natural ease that he claims comes from visiting his grandfather’s farm every summer when he was growing up, but Sam spends a miserable four hours getting laughed at and helped back into the saddle by a girl half his size. Dean’s just as lost and grumpy as Sam, complaining about his horse and asking why the hell people bother doing this when they have cars.

Diane throws back her head and laughs with the same open confidence that marks everything she does. Then, maneuvering her horse close enough to Dean’s to brush their legs together, she says, “Give me a couple months to work with you, sugar. You’ll swear off cars for good.”

From the heated curve of her smile, it’s clear that she’s offering to let Dean ride more than horses, and Sam can tell his brother understands that. Dean’s quicker at picking up cues from women than from men—probably because he’s never been interested in another guy aside from Sam.

Sam wants to tell Diane to back the fuck off, Dean’s taken, but Dad is watching. Dad is less than four feet away and watching with a hopeful, approving expression, so Sam just tightens his grip on the reins and bites down on the inside of his cheek. His horse, Marigold, is a placid old thing, but Sam’s sudden stiffness disturbs her enough that she gives a nervous prance. The unexpected movement dislodges Sam from her back and sends him crashing to the ground.

Again.

In the ensuing commotion and laughter—only you’d figure out how to fall off something that isn’t even moving, Sammy—Diane’s offer goes unanswered.

When Dean doesn’t raise the subject again on his own, Diane’s smart enough to let the matter drop, but Sam can tell that she’s still thinking about it as she hugs them all goodbye. She saves Dean for last, and holds onto him the longest. From the passenger seat of the Impala, where Sam’s already waiting, he’s pretty sure that he sees her sniff his brother’s neck.

When Dean finally starts to pull away a couple of moments later, Diane’s right hand drops down from his shoulder and she gooses him with a mischievous grin.

Dean jumps, but doesn’t jerk away. Blushing, he lifts his right hand—Sam tenses—and then ducks his head a little and rubs the back of his neck while he mumbles something Sam doesn’t catch.

Diane laughs and hugs him again before finally stepping back and giving them all a wave. As Dean heads toward the driver’s side of the Impala, she cups her hands around her mouth and shouts, “Hey, Winchester Senior! Your son’s got a nice ass!”

Even the tips of Dean’s ears are pink as he gets into the car, and his shoulders are hunched, but Sam can tell it’s from embarrassment and not any genuine distress. He doesn’t understand how he can be more upset by Diane’s words than his brother.

“Watch who you’re calling ‘senior’, girl!” Dad shouts as he revs past the Impala and down the drive, but he’s grinning good-naturedly and waving out the window. Probably picturing the 2.5 grandchildren Dean and Diane are supposed to give him.

Sam fumes all the way to Ohio.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Four days later, while they’re wrapping up a case in Dayton, Sam nearly has his head taken off by a hubcap. Dean tackles him to the ground just in time, and the rusted, serrated metal thunks into the auto shop’s wall behind them instead. Dad lights up the car pit a moment later, burning away the last, lingering traces of blood where the lift failed seven months ago and crushed one of the shop’s mechanics into paste.

“You okay?” Dean demands. His hands are moving all over Sam’s chest: patting, feeling for signs of injury.

“Fine,” Sam pants.

In truth, he’s a little winded from being slammed down onto the concrete floor by his brother, but that’s in no way distracting enough to make him overlook the fact that Dean is practically feeling him up right now. The adrenaline rush from the hunt isn’t helping matters, and Sam can feel his cock stirring. Getting up onto his elbows, he makes a weak attempt to push his brother off and Dean yanks him closer and kisses him.

Sam is hyperaware of their father’s presence only a few feet away—and yeah, Dad is staring down into the burning pit right now, but he could turn around at any second, what the fuck does Dean think he’s doing? The kiss only lasts a couple of seconds, but it feels longer. Feels like forever. Then Dean plants a hand in the center of Sam’s chest and shoves him back down against the cement floor.

“Ow!” Sam complains.

Dad does turn around at that, one eyebrow raised as he tucks the book of matches back into his shirt pocket. “You boys okay?”

“Yeah,” Sam says at the same time that Dean responds, “I think Sammy broke a nail.”

Sam shoots his brother a warning glare—how the fuck can Dean be making jokes when he just, Sam’s lips are still tingling from that kiss, damn it, and Dean has to feel his cock throbbing where their lower bodies are still tangled together, and Dad is looking at them. Maybe a month ago, when their father first came back into their lives, Sam wouldn’t have cared if the man found out what they were up to, but that was then and this is now, as the saying goes. He’s just getting to know Dad—doesn’t want to lose him again. And Sam knows that Dean doesn’t want to alienate their father either, so what the hell is he playing at?

But Dad doesn’t seem to think there’s anything abnormal about the way that Dean is still blanketing Sam with his weight. He just snorts, shaking his head with a slight smile, and says, “Then get your asses in gear and stop horsing around. There’s a couple of beers down at the bar with our names on them. I’m buying.”

He turns away without waiting for them to comply, and so he misses the way that the teasing levity slides off of Dean’s face as he looks down at Sam. Misses the fingertips that Dean trails solemnly but swiftly across Sam’s throat before pushing up to his feet and holding out a hand.

Sam has to palm his cock, adjusting it so that it lies more smoothly against the inseam of his right pants leg, before accepting. He isn’t really surprised when his brother yanks a little too hard, sending Sam stumbling into Dean’s chest once he’s on his feet. Dean’s eyes are serious and dark as he holds Sam there. His mouth is unsmiling.

Without looking around to check for Dad—although Sam’s sure that his brother knows where the man is, that he’s been tracking the sound of his movements—Dean presses his lips to the side of Sam’s throat. Sam holds still, eyes locked on their father’s retreating back and cock throbbing against his inner thigh, as his brother opens his mouth and bites down delicately. Dean pauses and then, dragging his teeth lightly along Sam’s skin, draws off.

Sam is still trying to catch his breath when his brother releases him and turns away to follow Dad out.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They beg off the beer. Or rather, Dean begs off the beer for the both of them while Sam stands silently at his side. Sam isn’t sure what sort of expression is on his face while his brother talks about being tired and getting an early start in the morning, but it must dovetail well enough with Dean’s story not to raise alarms because Dad looks disappointed, but not suspicious, as he nods.

The drive back to the motel is stiflingly silent. Dean doesn’t seem to feel like talking and Sam doesn’t know what to say. He keeps reaching up to touch the patch of skin Dean bit, even after the last traces of his brother’s saliva has dried. He replays Dean’s expression in his mind, trying to decipher the look in his brother’s eyes. Trying to figure out what just happened. What’s still happening.

Sam is no closer to understanding when he steps inside their motel room, and then Dean makes things even more confusing by shoving him against the wall and all but mauling Sam’s mouth before the door has even finished closing.

“Mmph!” Sam says, surprised, and gets his hands on Dean’s biceps. It takes a couple of seconds to push his brother off—mostly because Sam’s conflicted about whether he actually wants to succeed—but finally he’s able to suck in a quick, gasping breath and say, “What are you—”

That’s as far as he gets before Dean forces himself forward again and starts reminding Sam why it is so very, very easy to forget himself when he’s with his brother. This time, Sam can’t help kissing back—it’s a reflexive response to the demand in his brother’s lips—and one of his hands snakes down to grip Dean’s ass and pull him close.

Instantly, the weight of Dean’s body—the warmth of his mouth—is gone. He hasn’t gone far, though: leaning close and staring directly back into Sam’s eyes. The deep, forest green of Dean’s irises is distracting, and it takes Sam a while to realize that his brother has pinned both of his hands to the wall on either side of his face. Licking his lips, he flexes his hands against Dean’s grasp and his brother clenches up on him with a low growl.

“No touching.”

No—how the fuck does Dean think that’s even remotely fair, jumping Sam out of the blue and then telling him he can’t actually have what his brother is throwing at him? Dean’s messed up right now, sure, and that earns him some allowances, but it doesn’t excuse deliberate cruelty. And if Dean hasn’t already crossed that line, then he’s rapidly approaching it.

“What the hell, man?” Sam manages.

Still staring into Sam’s eyes with an intensity that leaves him shaken, Dean says, “You almost died.”

Sam blinks, puzzled. “I—well, yeah. I’ve almost died lots of times.”

“Not since I—” Dean starts, and then bites down hard on the rest of the sentence.

Sam has no idea what his brother was going to say—what turning point they’ve passed that’s making Dean react so strongly—but he knows that his brother needs him. Something put that driving need in Dean’s eyes, and now it’s up to Sam to sooth him.

“Dean,” he says, expression softening. “I’m okay, man, I—”

“No,” Dean interrupts with a shake of his head. “I don’t want—I don’t want to talk about it. I just.” He grimaces, dropping his eyes, but doesn’t step back. Doesn’t release Sam’s wrists.

Sam gives his brother a couple of minutes to compose his thoughts, but eventually it becomes clear that Dean isn’t going to continue without prompting.

“You just what?”

“I need this.” The words are reluctant. Dragging. Dean sounds angry, but Sam knows instinctively that the emotion isn’t directed at him. “I need to feel you, that you’re okay. But I can’t—” He takes a ragged breath and finishes, “You touch me and it only makes things worse.”

It’s difficult not to be hurt by that announcement, but Sam does his best to push the pain to one side. He knows—intellectually, anyway—that it isn’t about him. It’s about Dean’s memories. Dean’s pain. It’s about that fucker Hanson.

“Just tell me what you need,” Sam says. He tries to keep the worst of the hurt out of his voice—tries not to let Dean hear how deeply his brother’s words have affected him—but he isn’t sure that it makes a difference. Now that he has a better idea where Dean’s head is at, it’s pathetically easy to read him—the harshness of his breathing, the wideness of his eyes, the pallor of his skin. He reads fear there. Panic. Desperation.

Dean’s way past deciphering the nuances of tone.

“I need you to stay there and let me do this,” Dean answers, still not meeting Sam’s eyes. There’s a hesitancy about him suddenly, as though he thinks Sam is going to deny him, turn him away.

He should know by now that denying him anything is impossible.

“Okay.”

Dean’s eyes flicker up at that, surprise pushing back some of the fear, and Sam meets his brother’s transparent, frantic expression with calm devotion. Slowly, some of the tension eases out of Dean’s face and his grip on Sam’s wrists loosens. When Sam still doesn’t move, Dean’s hands reluctantly fall away.

Now that he’s free, Sam is all but vibrating with the need to touch, but he stays still like he promised, waiting for his brother to do what he has to. Dean shifts a little and that’s it. He seems stalled out, hesitant and awkward, and eventually it occurs to Sam that his brother is waiting for more explicit permission.

“You can touch me,” he says—just that, but apparently it’s enough.

Dean immediately moves in again, covering Sam’s mouth with his own and stealing Sam’s breath. Sam kisses back—that much hasn’t been forbidden, which is a damned good thing because Sam wouldn’t be able to help himself even if it was. When Dean’s hands land on his waist and push up beneath his t-shirt, Sam moans inarticulately into the kiss.

God, Dean is doing the most obscene things with his lips and his tongue, and now he’s dragging his hands all over Sam’s skin as well. Rough, demanding gropes move up and down Sam’s sides, across his stomach, around to his back. Finally, Dean cups Sam’s shoulder blades with his palms and pulls Sam forward against him.

The new position leaves Sam’s cock—hard, because of course he’s fucking hard—snugged up against his brother’s hipbone, but Dean doesn’t seem to mind. Dean actually seems to have been going for just that because, before Sam can process the shift, his brother starts rubbing against him in rhythmic thrusts.

If this gets any better, Sam is going to explode.

Dean pulls back just enough to mutter, “Let me, let me,” against Sam’s lips, and Sam doesn’t know what more he can offer than this, what Dean is asking for, but then his brother’s hands slide down his back and onto his stomach and those are Dean’s clever fingers opening up Sam’s pants and this is, it’s—

“No,” Sam groans, but it’s all he can manage. He isn’t strong enough to actually push Dean away, and his hips are moving without his permission, helping Dean slide denim and cotton down in a single push. Christ, this is going to fuck Dean up so badly, and they were doing so well, but Sam wants, and all he can manage when his brother’s hand closes on his cock is a ragged whimper.

“I need you,” Dean pants, and kisses the moan from Sam’s lips as he starts to pump his hand. “I need you to give me this.”

God, Sam wants to give Dean this, but he doesn’t know—he can’t—

“Show me,” Dean demands. “Show me you need me too—fucking—come on, Sammy—said you couldn’t touch, never said you couldn’t move.”

Dean tightens his grip, just this side of painful, and Sam only has so much willpower. With a shudder, he bucks his hips forward, sliding his cock through his brother’s hand.

“That’s it,” Dean murmurs, encouraging. “Just like that, come on.”

He catches Sam’s mouth again, and fuck, Sam can’t get enough air. His head is spinning, his lungs burning, and he doesn’t care because Dean is sucking on his tongue and Dean’s heavy silver ring keeps dragging against Sam’s cock as he pumps his hips and God, Sam wants to touch ...

Dropping his hands down to his sides, he clutches at the wall. The way that the faded, striped wallpaper peels beneath his nails only drives him to dig in deeper, as though he can reach through the plaster and into the neighboring room if he tries hard enough. He’s probably bruising his fingertips all to hell, but it doesn’t matter—he’ll do anything to keep from putting his hands on Dean’s body the way he wants to.

Sam can feel his orgasm edging in now, building low in his gut and spreading through his body in warm shudders. He tries to get his mouth free so that he can warn Dean, but his brother isn’t having any of it. Instead, Dean presses his mouth down more firmly over Sam’s, fucking his tongue forward as his strokes speed. Sam makes a muffled, pleasure-pained noise and comes, shooting all over his brother’s fingers.

In the midst of Sam’s orgasm, Dean’s other hand fumbles into his hair. Getting a firm grip, Dean yanks Sam’s head to one side. He releases Sam’s mouth (leaving Sam’s final, choked moans to spill directly into the air) and bites down again on the exposed line of his neck. He’s less careful this time, and even through the last, dizzying gusts of his orgasm Sam can tell that Dean intends this bite to leave a mark.

“Not,” Sam gasps, and then groans as his brother strokes Sam’s spent cock, coating it with semen. “N-not there. Dean. Dad’ll see.”

He doesn’t think Dean will hear him—isn’t sure Dean is capable of hearing him. But Dean must, because he immediately releases Sam’s hair in order to jerk the collar of his t-shirt down instead. He pulls violently enough that the thin material tears, giving him access to the line of Sam’s collarbone.

This time, when his brother lowers his head, Sam doesn’t protest.

He winces at the sting—and at the scrape of Dean’s teeth dragging against his bone—but doesn’t make a sound. Dean worries at Sam’s collarbone—not one mark, but several, like his claim will be stronger the more he leaves—and then, finally, lifts his head and lets go of Sam’s cock and staggers backwards.

Dean’s eyes are wide on Sam’s neck, his breathing ragged. His right hand is slick and shiny with Sam’s come, his lips red and swollen from their kisses. But he seems calmer. Less raw.

Sam has to swallow a couple of times before he can speak.

“You owe me a new shirt.”

It’s a joke—an effort to break the tension between them—but Dean doesn’t seem to have heard. He’s still staring, looking winded and stunned, and Sam drags one hand off the wall and (nonchalantly, he hopes) uses it to cover his softening cock.

“Dean? You okay?”

“I—” Dean says and then stops. He’s staring at Sam’s crotch now, and Sam can see it hitting his brother. What he just did. Sam tenses, ready to grab him if he tries to run.

Dean’s gaze shifts from Sam’s crotch to his own come-coated hand, which he lifts and flexes. When he raises his eyes again, they’re opaque and unreadable. He steps forward to wipe his hand on Sam’s shirt and then grabs the torn collar and stretches it down, moving the material so he can see the blooming bruises on Sam’s skin. Sam holds himself very, very still and does his best not to breathe.

“Yeah,” Dean says finally, ghosting one finger over Sam’s collarbone and setting off an ache. “I’m okay.”

His eyes lift to Sam’s, and they’ve thawed—not all the way, but enough for Sam to read truth there, and wonder, and a faint trace of heat. He sags against the wall, relieved.

Then Dean says, “I want you to mark me,” and Sam’s stomach drops through the floor.

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“This—Dean, this was a lot for one day, okay?” Sam stammers.

He really, really wishes he’d pulled up his pants when he had the space to do so. Now Dean is right in front of him, crowding him up against the wall and demanding that Sam do what he’s wanted to for so long.

Sam’s always had a short recovery time but this is ridiculous.

Pushing more firmly down on his insatiable cock, he clears his throat and says, “I get that you, uh, you were scared. With the hubcap thing. But—”

“Not pussying out on me, are you, Sammy?” Dean taunts with a small, private smile. Stepping back, he draws his shirt off in a smooth motion and drops it on the floor. Then, holding his arms out, he says, “Pick a spot. Anywhere you can see and Dad can’t.”

Sam isn’t about to take what Dean’s offering, but Dean is rarely so unselfconscious and he can’t stop himself from looking. His eyes flit over his brother’s chest, down to his stomach, across the crest of his hipbones where they rise just above the waist of Dean’s jeans.

God, he’s gorgeous.

Sam knows why Dean thinks he’s asking for this—it’s Dean’s way of trying to make their relationship more concrete, make their claim on each other something real that he can see, something he can touch. And maybe there are elements of that in Dean’s reasoning.

But this is also his fear of abandonment raising its ugly head. It’s his belief that he isn’t good enough and never will be. Marking isn’t a kink for Dean. It’s a safety blanket.

Sam wants it badly enough himself that he would probably mark Dean anyway, except for how he can’t stop thinking about the photos attached to his brother’s police file.

Dean’s torso littered with bites. His bruised back. The purple smudges on the insides of his thighs.

Dean’s asking for it this time—it’s going to be Sam’s mouth leaving the mark—but the process is going to feel the same.

If Sam were still at the mercy of his libido, the way he was when he marked Dean’s collarbone in Vegas, then they wouldn’t be having this conversation. Dean would already be pinned down on the bed, hands held above his head while Sam licked and bit his way across his brother’s chest and stomach.

And all of their hard-won progress would be destroyed in a second.

But Sam has learned a degree of control since then, and he’s able to put his hardening cock almost completely out of his mind as he contemplates the decision before him.

Dean is asking for this—says he needs it, and maybe he does. But it’s a small miracle that he isn’t already freaking out about jerking Sam off, and who knows how he’s gonna feel in a couple of minutes, when he’s had enough time to think it over.

“You want me to pick?” Dean prods. “Make it easy for you?”

Sam chews the words reluctantly in his mouth for a moment—Dean’s not going to like this—and then says, “You’re not ready.”

Sure enough, the easy-going smile falls off Dean’s face like a landslide.

“Bullshit,” he spits. “You don’t get to decide that, Sam. You don’t get to tell me when!”

“You aren’t the only one who can say no,” Sam points out in return. It’s callous and he knows it—he means it to be, means to drive Dean a little closer to that wounded headspace so that he’ll realize what he’s asking for.

Sam expects his brother to get angry. He expects him to grimace and reach for his scar.

Instead, Dean shuts down. His eyes go blank and dead.

“Fine,” he says, turning away and reaching for his shirt.

Pausing only to yank up his pants, Sam stumbles after him. “I want to,” he says, glancing away from Dean long enough to do up his zipper. “God, Dean, I’d tattoo my name on your ass if you’d let me, I just—I don’t want to hurt you.”

Dean stands there stiffly for a moment, t-shirt in hand and back to Sam, and then says in a cold, clipped voice, “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I could handle it.”

Sam should be shot for even considering giving in, but Dean is taking the refusal even worse than Sam thought he would. He’s gone and twisted Sam’s decision into some kind of judgment on his own progress—which is frustratingly ridiculous, but Sam can already tell that he isn’t going to be able to talk Dean around from this one. At this point, submitting to his brother’s demands seems to be the lesser of two evils.

“You pick.”

Dean glances back at that, uncertain and surprised. The t-shirt dangles, forgotten, from his right hand. “What?”

“I’ll do it,” Sam says, holding his brother’s eyes. “But you pick where.”

Dean looks at Sam over his shoulder, searching for the catch and about as trusting as Charlie Brown whenever Lucy offers to hold the football for him. Then, slowly, he turns around. His hand opens and the t-shirt falls back to the floor.

When Dean steps forward, the deliberate intent of the motion makes Sam nervous. He sort of wants to crack a joke to diffuse the tension, but that’s always been more Dean’s thing than his. He really wants to take it back, but he ... he can’t. Dean wants this—he needs it—and, if Sam is going to be completely honest with himself, he isn’t the only one.

Maybe this ritual (because that’s what it is, whether they’ve done it before or not; timeless and seared into their bones) is what Sam needs to get Diane out of his head.

Dean comes to a halt in front of him and stands there, staring into Sam’s eyes as though trying to gauge his sincerity. His jaw twitches minutely and then he reaches out and puts a hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam lets himself be pushed down; he goes to his knees in front of his brother while tilting his face up, careful not to break eye contact. Dean’s eyes are darker than ever as he shifts his hand from Sam’s shoulder to his hair—the color of evergreens beneath a stormy sky.

“I love you,” Sam says. He doesn’t mean to speak, but the words come out anyway, natural as breathing.

Something flickers in Dean’s gaze at the declaration and his grip tightens on Sam’s hair. As he begins to draw Sam in, Sam’s heart flutters alarmingly. He can’t take this any more—can’t handle the naked need on Dean’s face—so he lets his eyes slide shut.

Dean pulls Sam in until Sam can feel the heat from his brother's stomach on his face. The pressure slacks then, but a moment later there are fingers on Sam’s jaw, angling his face the way Dean wants it. Sam can smell sex, an overpowering musk from Dean’s hand on his skin, and his cock gives an interested twitch.

The fingers on his jaw fall away and Dean pushes at the back of Sam’s head again, urging him forward with the gentle pressure of his fingers. At the first brush of skin against his lips, Sam opens his mouth and bites down. His teeth scrape against bone—Dean’s hip, then—and he adjusts before his brother’s hiss registers, shallowing the bite and settling himself more firmly into place. His left hand lifts to rest tentatively on Dean’s right hip for balance. The other curls around his own upper thigh, a necessary grounding technique.

Sam pauses there, letting Dean adjust to his presence and waiting for a signal that his brother’s ready for him to continue. After a couple of seconds, permission comes in the form of Dean’s right hand stroking lightly through his hair while Dean’s left comes to rest on his shoulder. Sam licks the skin in his mouth in acknowledgement and then goes to work.

He’s as gentle as he can be while doing his job, concentration split between his brother’s hipbone and Dean’s hands on his skin. He has to trust that Dean will let him know if something goes wrong. His brother’s grip does tighten as Sam starts—fingers digging into Sam’s collarbone hard enough to bruise. The pressure would make Sam pause if Dean weren’t using Sam’s hair to jerk Sam’s face more firmly against his hip at the same time.

God, Dean smells good.

Sam holds on a little more tightly himself while he sucks on his brother’s skin, enjoying every hitch in Dean’s breath, every twitch of his muscles. Mine, he thinks, nipping with his teeth. You’re mine.

When he finally draws back and opens his eyes three minutes later, the slick patch of skin stretched across Dean’s hipbone is already purpling.

“Fuck,” Dean mutters.

His right hand is still tangled in Sam’s hair while his left rhythmically kneads Sam’s shoulder, and Sam leans in again without thinking. He licks a tender, slow line from his brother’s belly button over to his hip, where he latches onto his mark and sucks. Dean hisses, bucking, and both of his hands tighten. Sam lifts his right hand from his thigh so that he can cradle his brother’s waist with both arms and bites down again.

This time, Dean lets out a shaky laugh and pulls back. “Down, boy,” he says, pushing at Sam’s shoulder.

“Sorry,” Sam apologizes as he lets his brother go.

Shrugging, Dean takes another step back. There’s still an edge of fear to his expression, but his anxiety is already fading as he looks down and presses his fingers against his moist skin. The flicker of pleasure-pain that passes over his face as he touches the mark goes straight to Sam’s cock and his stomach trembles, heated.

Dean doesn’t look at him, concentrating on his bruised skin and on slowing his breath. When he drops his hand and starts decisively for the bathroom several minutes later, Sam can tell from his brother's gait that this is over. Dean has what he wants and is moving on. The stern set of his shoulders denies even the possibility of further discussion.

But Sam has one more thing to say before he lets his brother shut this particular door.

“Dean.”

Dean pauses in the bathroom doorway, face tilted to the right and angled down toward the floor.

“I’m yours too—you know that, right?”

Dean’s fingers play across the doorframe for a moment and then settle. He turns his head back, offering Sam his profile. Letting Sam see the faint trace of a smile on his lips.

“Yeah, Sammy. I know.”

Chapter Text

It happens whenever they’re sparring anywhere even remotely civilized—the local boys seem to scent entertainment on the air and appear out of nowhere to watch. Sam used to feel self-conscious beneath the weight of all those eyes, back when he was closer to their own age, but he’s older now—more self-confident or, perhaps, just more jaded—and it’s easy to tune the world out and focus in on the business of winning.

Sparring with Dad is different than fighting with him. There’s no change in intensity—Dad didn’t hold back then, and he isn’t holding back now either—but the man’s focus is different. He’s worried less about scoring a hit and more about studying Sam’s technique. When he darts in to slap a hand against Sam’s shoulder or stomach, it’s intended to instruct rather than injure. That doesn’t mean that Dad’s taking it easy on him, of course—this isn’t a game, and pain provides excellent motivation to improve.

In fact, the third time Dad darts forward to land a stinging slap on Sam’s left side, Sam’s just quick enough to stumble back out of range.

“Better,” Dad says, coming out of his fighting posture. He isn’t smiling, though, and a moment later the expected reprimand comes. “But you’re not trying hard enough, Sammy. Never would’ve kicked my ass in Vegas if you were this sloppy.”

A couple of months ago, the rebuke would have set off another argument, but Sam’s gotten to know their father better in the last few weeks, and he’s able to recognize the concern in the man’s eyes. He can finally read love into the way that Dad continually pushes him to do his best. It’s been a difficult, strange shift to make in his head—disorienting as hell to finally grasp that their father doesn’t push them so hard because he’s a controlling asshole (not just because, anyway), but because he’s worried about their safety. This is the only way he knows how to keep them safe.

“Sorry,” Sam pants. “Late night.” He expects Dad to point out that the things they hunt aren’t going to care if he has a late night—will probably be thrilled if Sam is tired or sick or wounded—but instead Dad’s expression softens.

“Bad night?” From the hush in his voice, it’s clear that it isn’t Sam’s night Dad’s asking about.

As far as Sam knows, though, Dean had a relatively good night. He slept deeply enough not to wake with Sam, and he didn’t so much as stir when Sam slid out of his arms and hurried into the bathroom to throw up in the toilet and wash the sweat from his body. Sam doesn’t remember what terror woke him, but he remembers how he felt in that moment when he was tearing free from the nightmare.

The room had seemed alien and strange and hostile, filled with a thick smoke. It lay over everything, saturating the air with a nauseating reek. Made Sam’s head spin. Dean’s arm felt like a dead weight where it was carelessly tossed over Sam’s side—no, not dead. Restrained.

Because Dean seemed to be moving in that haze between dream and waking. His forearm seemed to flex, as though straining against some invisible chain. To Sam’s groggy eyes, Dean’s wrist looked bruised and chafed—the flesh there was raw, as though he’d been struggling for a long while. And suddenly, the bruising looked like finger marks, like a claim of ownership, and Sam’s breath came faster.

But in that moment, the worst had been the way Sam felt inside—unsettled and dangerous and hungry. His cock was hard and aching in his boxers, and Dean was pressed up close and warm against his back, and God, Sam had just ... he wanted.

The smoke fled before he could actually do anything, sucked from the air even as he began to lift his head from the pillow, and Sam came back to himself with a harsh gasp. The dream was gone then, every last trace, but he still remembered the desire. He remembered how he hadn’t particularly cared if Dean wanted it or not (no, that’s not true: better if he didn’t, if he fought), and there had been a part of him that was screaming even in the midst of his daze, but the hunger was stronger, greedy and grasping.

And that was when he ripped himself from his brother’s arms (and recalling now how little he cared whether Dean woke, Sam marvels that his brother managed to sleep through his panic) and stumbled into the bathroom to spend the next four hours in a shaking, guilty fugue.

The smoke was yellow, Sam remembers unexpectedly. It was yellow and it smelled like rotten eggs. Like sulfur.

It comes together just like that—with a sudden, shocking jolt—and Sam stumbles a little under the weight of realization. Dad’s there immediately, gripping his elbow and holding him upright.

“Sammy?” he says, pitching his voice low to evade the straining ears of their audience. “What’s wrong?”

Sam shakes his head—not refusal to answer, just an attempt to clear it. He doesn’t even know where to begin—how to ask their father whether he’s ever heard of a demonic haunting without Dad flipping out on him. God, how did it get past the salt?

And how long has this been going on?

“I think—” Sam starts, lifting his head, and that’s when he catches sight of his brother.

Dean’s leaning against the building in the thin strip of shade cast by the overhanging roof. He has his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed in a squint as he watches them. Even glimpsed through the shadow, his expression is grave, and Sam knows, deep in his gut, what his brother came out here to tell them.

“Dean,” he says, and Dad’s attention immediately snaps outward as he turns to search for his eldest son.

Sam knows exactly when their father spots Dean—can feel it in the tension that stiffens the man’s body. They separate without discussion, Dad dropping Sam’s elbow and Sam squaring his shoulders as they head for the motel. Their gaits match, an unconscious accident that makes Sam feel uneasy—he’s never felt less like their father than he does right now, in the wake of his understanding of how monumentally stupid he’s been for the past—god, how long? And what does it say about him that he can’t even begin to answer that question?

As soon as he sees that his silent summons has been noticed and acknowledged, Dean turns and makes his way back inside Dad’s room where he was researching while Sam and Dad trained. Any other day he might have been outside watching—maybe calling pointers or encouragements or taunts—but he’s been uncharacteristically subdued all morning. Sam offered the small reassurances he was allowed, but the second time he went to massage Dean’s neck and got shrugged away, he took the hint and gave his brother the space he seemed to want. Even ran interference for Dean when Dad got the idea that a family training session was in order, convincing the man that he needed some one-on-one work and letting Dean stay behind in their father’s room to comb through weather patterns and news reports from across the country.

As Sam negotiates the admiration of their young audience with Dad, he finds himself, stupidly, wondering how long Dean stood there watching them spar with his news weighing heavy and cold inside of him.

By the time they make it back to the room, Sam’s stomach has twisted into new, nauseating shapes. His heart is pounding and his skin feels cold and clammy, despite the unseasonal warmth of the day. He has to squint in the sudden gloom of the motel room, straining sun-dazzled eyes to locate his brother. After a moment, he spots the blurred shadow of Dean sitting at the table with the laptop open in front of him.

“You found him,” Dad says, kicking the door shut and moving past Sam to look over his eldest son’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Dean answers. “I think so, anyway.”

Sam’s eyes are adjusting now, but it doesn’t help him decipher his brother’s expression as he taps the screen.

“Alexandria, Minnesota,” Dean announces. “They’ve had the crop circles, cattle mutilations and temperature fluctuations. And yesterday they had a freak lightning storm—electricity came down out of a clear sky and hit an elementary school. Killed a couple of kids.”

“It’s him,” Dad agrees, leaning on the back of Dean’s chair. Grim triumph gleams from his eyes as he looks over at Sam. “We’ve got the son of a bitch.”

Sam tries to work up the proper emotions, but everything is moving a little too fast for him. Months of waiting, and drifting, and suddenly they’re hurtling toward the confrontation like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. It’d be a complicated, difficult moment even if it weren’t coming so quick on the heels of his recent, unpleasant realization.

Dad’s already in motion, rushing around like a miniature cyclone as he grabs things and tosses them into his bag. Sam wants to shout—wants to yell for him to just hold on for a goddamned second—and he’s working up to actually doing so when a hand closes around his upper arm. He jumps, and only just stops himself from shoving his brother up against the wall in a chokehold. Dean takes one look at Sam’s face—at his wide eyes and hectic cheeks—and frowns.

“Come on,” he says softly, tugging Sam toward the door. “We have to pack.”

“Dean,” Sam chokes out.

“We’ll talk in the room,” Dean answers as he maneuvers Sam in front of him, keeping a light hold on his arm and resting his other hand at the small of Sam’s back.

It’s more contact than he’s offered all morning, and it calms Sam enough to let Dean walk him outside and down a couple of doors to their own room. He expects Dean to let him go once they’re inside, but Dean keeps a firm grip on him, leading him over to the bed they’ve been sharing and sitting him down on the mattress before crouching in front of him with a concerned expression.

“Sam?” he says, putting a hand on Sam’s knee. “Hey, man, I’m gonna be fine, okay? I’m ready for this. We’re gonna take that son of a bitch out, no sweat.”

Sam takes a couple of seconds to process that and then blinks, coming out of his panicked stupor a little in the face of his brother’s earnest attempt to soothe.

“No,” he says. “Dean, I’m not. I’m not worried about that.”

Except now that Dean’s brought it up, he is worried about that. He’s worried about that a lot. Damn it.

“Then what’s wrong?” Dean asks, frowning. “And don’t say ‘nothing’. You’re white as a sheet, dude. I seriously thought you were gonna pass out in there.”

That isn’t all Dean thought Sam was going to do, and Sam knows it—he saw the minute flinch in his brother’s eyes before Sam reined in his initial, violent response to Dean’s touch. But if Dean’s willing to pass over that for both their sakes, then Sam’s more than willing to let him. Anyway, there are more pressing things to deal with right now.

“I—you’re not going to like it,” Sam says, and then pauses to drag a hand through his hair. “I don’t even—fuck, I don’t know how to say it.” Or rather, he does, but he doesn’t know if he can. If he can get the words out.

“Hey, it’s me here. Whatever it is, just spit it out and we’ll deal with it. Right?” There’s a subtle uncertainty to that final question—Dean’s faith in their relationship faltering in a way that’s normal but still makes Sam’s chest go hollow and hurt.

There was never any doubt that Sam was going to tell his brother what he just figured out—Sam’d have to be a moron to keep something like this to himself—but Dean has just given him the motivation to take a shaky breath and spit it out without any more delays.

“I think I’m being targeted. By a demon.”

Dean tenses, insecurity disappearing beneath a professional, strong mask. It’s the face he wears for strangers sometimes, and Sam tries not to feel hurt by seeing it directed his way.

“What, like the demon?” his brother demands, voice gruff.

“No. Yes. I don’t know.”

“You’d better fucking know, Sam!” Dean yells, pushing to his feet. The words are a harsh bark, angry, and although Sam knows his brother is only shouting because he’s scared, he hunches in on himself a little anyway. “What the fuck do you mean by ‘targeted’?”

“I’ve been having nightmares,” Sam answers. He keeps his voice low and even, hoping that his own softness will temper Dean’s response. Hoping that it will keep the wildly oscillating emotions in his own chest in check.

Dean nods curtly and makes a ‘get on with it’ motion with one hand. “So I noticed.”

“And sometimes, when I wake up, there’s a—a smell. Sulfur.”

Dean swears under his breath at that, turning away while wiping a hand over his mouth.

While his brother’s back is turned and he can get the words out without having to deal with Dean’s eyes, Sam adds, “And I—when I wake up, I don’t really feel like myself.”

“Like you’re possessed?” Dean demands, turning back sharply to look at Sam again.

“I don’t know,” Sam answers. “I don’t—I don’t think so.”

But Dean strides over to their weapons bag with a grim expression and fishes out their canteen of holy water. His movements are sharp, as though he wants to cut the air with his body, and Sam has no idea what’s going through his brother’s mind right now, but he knows he’s afraid. Not of Dean, not really, but of the potential he sees in his brother at this moment. It makes him think, again, of the side of his brother he never really acknowledged before Dad handed over the Colt in Vegas.

Dean the soldier.

Dean the weapon.

Dean the killer.

When Dean returns and thrusts the canteen in Sam’s face, Sam flinches a little at the ferocity of the action. Dean keeps looking at him without a word, all of his thoughts and emotions locked up tight behind a flat, forbidding expression. It occurs to Sam that Dean will stand there waiting as long as it takes, that his eyes won’t even flicker, and his smile is forced as he reaches up and takes the canteen.

With shaking hands, he unscrews the cap and pours a trickle of water into one outstretched palm. It feels just like it always did—like nothing, like tap water—and although Sam didn’t expect anything different, he feels his chest ease a little anyway. When he casts a glance up at his brother, though—see? no smoke—Dean hasn’t relaxed at all.

“Drink it.”

Dean’s expression may not be giving anything away, but there’s a recognizable tremor of nerves in his voice. Sam’s not feeling great himself, of course, and his own anxiety is making him mulish in a way he knows he shouldn’t be right now. Not when Dean feels so foreign and threatening.

But that knowledge doesn’t stop him from wrinkling his nose and protesting, “It’s been sitting in the car for months, man!”

“Drink it, Sammy,” Dean says again. This time, there’s a hint of pleading in the words, and Sam notices with a shock that his brother’s right hand is creeping around to the small of his back. He doesn’t know what weapon Dean has hidden there—probably not a gun, not in such a populated area, in daylight—but he knows his brother is carrying something.

Dean hasn’t gone unarmed since Sam agreed to start keeping the weapons bag in the room with them again.

“Would you really hurt me if I refused?” Sam asks softly. It’s a stupid thing to focus on, and an even stupider thing to feel hurt by—Dean’s just being practical, and there’s a part of Sam that’s relieved to see Dean’s blind devotion doesn’t reach quite this far—but he can’t help himself.

For a moment, as he looks up into his brother’s eyes, he thinks that the answer is going to be yes. Then, as Sam watches, the harsh outline of the killer smudges and blurs back into his brother, familiar and loved. With a voiceless sigh, Dean puts his hands in front of him.

“No,” he breathes, pleading with his eyes for Sam not to make him regret that decision.

And Sam understands, finally, that no matter how dangerous his brother is, he’s a weapon that is never going to be turned on Sam. Dean would self-destruct before hurting him.

Sam is stunned by the realization that all of Dean’s violence—all of his darkness—is bent towards protecting him. He’s staggered by the newfound understanding that Dean is dedicated to his protection, no matter what the cost to Dean himself. It’s wonderful, and terrifying, and so goddamn humbling that he can’t meet his brother’s eyes as he lifts the canteen to his lips.

The water tastes just as foul as Sam knew it would, but he makes himself swallow a mouthful and then takes another swig, opening his mouth this time to let Dean see the water on his tongue before swallowing.

Dean sags immediately, tension running out of him as he sinks down on the bed across from Sam. His hands are shaking as he leans forward on his knees and rubs at his face.

Sam wishes that he felt as relieved as his brother seems to be by the proof that he isn’t carrying around any passengers, but he can’t. He can’t because he remembers all too well how it feels to wake up from one of those dreams.

“This doesn’t solve anything,” he points out as he screws the cap back on and sets the canteen down on the bed beside him.

“No,” Dean agrees, lifting his head again. “I know that, I just. Fuck, man, you scared me.”

Sam lets out a hoarse laugh. “I scared you? How the fuck do you think I feel?”

Grimacing, Dean says, “Yeah, sorry. So, uh, nightmares?”

Sam doesn’t trust himself to speak around the swollen lump of nerves in his throat, so he nods instead.

“What about?”

That requires actual words, so Sam swallows and rasps, “I don’t remember.” Off of Dean’s skeptical look, he repeats more strongly, “I don’t, Dean. I wake up, and sometimes there’s—there’s a feeling, but that’s it. No images. No sounds. Nothing.”

“Come on, man, you’ve gotta give me something more than ‘it smells like sulfur and I feel funny’. Cause that ain’t demonic, it’s indigestion.”

“Don’t joke,” Sam snaps, pushing off the bed and pacing away to put some distance between them. “Don’t you fucking joke about this, Dean. You don’t know what it feels like, you don’t—” The words catch in his throat, bulky and sharp-edged, and he has to swallow before he can make himself say it. “You don’t know what it makes me want to do to you.”

When he sneaks a glance back at his brother, Dean has gone pale. He’s still smiling weakly, though, and now he says, “What, like stick your smelly pit in my face? Cause that’d be pretty damned evil.”

Sam doesn’t want to say it—he doesn’t want to go there—but Dean’s still clinging to denial and has his defense mechanisms running full steam, and Sam needs him to admit that they have a problem. He needs Dean in his corner on this one, needs his brother to bring the weapon and the soldier to bear on whatever’s causing his nightmares.

He needs his big brother to ride in and save the day, the way he always has.

So he steels himself and draws himself up to his full height and says, “I wake up hard, Dean. Every single time I wake up so fucking horny that I don’t care whether you’re interested. Because I know I could make you. I know that I could hold you down and fuck you regardless of whether you want it or not.”

That wipes the smile off of Dean’s face.

Sam feels a little liberated by the admission, which he wasn’t expecting, but his relief is all but submerged in a vicious surge of triumph at having finally exposed himself for what he is. Now Dean knows what he’s been spending his nights with, and he’ll cast Sam away like he should—to the other bed if not to their father’s room. He’ll put an end to this mockery of a relationship before it goes too far. Oh God, please, Dean has to put an end to it because Sam sure as hell can’t and Dean won’t—he isn’t safe around Sam, that much has just become abundantly clear.

Except ... except Dean doesn’t actually look very surprised. Disturbed, sure, but ... but there’s too much understanding there. Too much dull resignation.

“You knew,” he whispers.

Dean turns his face further away at that, jaw tight and leg jouncing up and down like an out of control piston.

Anger blossoms in Sam’s stomach, warm and liquid, and he strides across the room to grab Dean by the front of his shirt and haul him to his feet.

“You knew!” he shouts, shaking his brother. “You fucking knew what was going on and you still got into bed with me! Do you have a fucking death wish, Dean? Do you—Jesus, do you hate yourself that much?”

Dean hangs limply in Sam’s grip and lets himself be shaken. The eyes he raises to meet Sam’s are soft, and fill Sam with the desire to rip and hurt and tear until Dean figures it out. Until he gets it through his thick skull that Sam isn’t to be trusted, that he isn’t fucking safe. With a growl, he spins them and shoves Dean toward the wall, heedless of the way his brother’s body knocks the lamp from the nightstand in the process—of the awkward way Dean ends up half-sitting on the stand with the alarm clock propping up one ass cheek. He has a hand around Sam’s wrist now, but not to fight. Just to hang on and give himself a little balance.

The continuing submission just makes Sam even more furious.

“You’d let me do anything to you, wouldn’t you?” he snarls, and then shakes Dean hard enough that his whole body jerks. The radio on the clock blares to life, blasting some generic pop song Sam has never heard before. He isn’t really hearing it now, too focused on his brother’s eyes, which are way too fucking calm.

“Answer me!” he yells, and his whole body is vibrating with rage—or maybe it’s terror, yes, that feels right. It’s terror and horror and the weight—the crushing, damning weight—of responsibility that he never asked for and doesn’t want.

Dean can’t just hand himself over like this. He can’t. Sam thought he wanted his brother's devotion—thought he wanted a lot of things, but he doesn’t, not like this. It’s too much, too selfless, and Sam can’t fucking handle this. He can’t even take care of himself, let alone someone as precious and fragile as Dean.

He’ll break him. He’ll break Dean, inevitably, whether he wants to or not.

But Dean’s still looking at him with that steady, soft faith, and the hand on Sam’s wrist is sliding up his arm to cup his cheek.

Sam bares his teeth and tosses his head, shaking Dean’s hand free. “Don’t!” he says, and it’s meant to come out a growl, but instead his voice is shaking, and weak, and he can taste salt on his lips. Oh God, is he crying? Dean’s hand brushes his face again, and then strokes through his hair, and Sam is, he’s crying in weak, hurt gasps.

“You would never hurt me,” Dean says.

“You don’t—Dean, you don’t know that!” Sam insists. He should be punching Dean—should be proving it—but instead his grip has weakened and now, as the pop song fades into another, Dean’s hand slides around to cup the back of Sam’s neck.

“Yeah, I really do,” Dean says, and kisses him.

It’s a light kiss, and chaste, but there’s no hesitation in it and Sam finds himself falling with a weightless, wild sensation. He kisses Dean back, silently making an endless litany of promises that he knows he can’t keep but wishes he could. God, he wishes, more than anything, that he could be strong enough—good enough—to be the man his brother clearly thinks he is.

But touching Dean is as calming as it always is, and eventually Sam’s chest stops aching so fiercely and his tears dry up. He doesn’t resist when Dean unhooks Sam’s right hand from his t-shirt and moves it down to Dean’s left hip. Sam reads permission in the motion and automatically eases his fingers up beneath his brother’s t-shirt to touch his skin.

The bruise doesn’t feel any different from the rest of Dean, but Sam has refreshed the mark often enough over the last month to know exactly where it is. Dean strokes Sam’s wrist reassuringly a couple of times before reaching out to rest his fingers over his own mark, which shifted around for the first couple weeks but finally settled in a mirroring position on Sam’s hip. The dull ache that the pressure of Dean’s fingers sets off is calming.

Brings him down faster than Sam has any right to expect. Grounds him.

“You wouldn’t hurt me, man,” Dean repeats. “You don’t have it in you.”

God, Sam wishes he could believe that as readily as his brother.

“You aren’t,” he whispers, keeping his eyes lowered. “You aren’t worried that I’ll—”

“No,” Dean answers firmly. “Now go plant your ass on the bed and start talking.”

Sam doesn’t want to give up the connection they have right now, but he eases away slowly anyway—Dean can’t be comfortable perched where he is. Sure enough, Dean grimaces a little when he climbs off the nightstand, which brings a guilty twinge to Sam’s chest, and then rubs an absent hand over his ass as he turns around to shut the radio off. For once, thankfully, the sight isn’t even remotely appealing.

Sam does as Dean says and tells his brother everything he can remember while Dean finishes righting the lamp (bent a little but not broken), and starts moving around the room and packing their things. He doesn’t spare himself at all in his recitation, telling Dean every dark thought he’s ever entertained in that smoke-filled world just after waking. But Dean doesn’t flinch, and Sam is left wondering how much his brother heard of his dreams—if he talked during them, if he ever said anything.

He knows he did at least once, in Vegas, and it makes him think again about the way Dean seemed to sleep right through last night, despite the frantic, careless way Sam bolted from his arms. It makes him regard his brother’s mood this morning in a completely different light—makes him wonder if Dean actually kept watch with Sam those four hours he spent in the bathroom. If maybe his brother was lying out in their bed, awake and cold and waiting for Sam to pull himself together and creep back out into his arms.

He doesn’t ask, though. He’s not quite that much of a masochist.

Whether Dean is disturbed by Sam’s words or not, when Sam has finished talking he makes it a point to come over and kiss him again, deep and thorough.

“That’s not you, Sam,” he says when he’s done, still bent over and holding Sam’s face. “You gotta remember that, okay?”

Sam’s more reassured by his brother’s confidence than he really wants to be, and he shifts a little on the mattress, shamed by his own willingness to lean on Dean’s strength yet again. “Okay,” he mumbles.

Giving Sam a quick smile, Dean ruffles his hair in a way that reminds Sam of countless noogies when they were growing up, and then heads into the bathroom. “You think this has anything to do with your Jennifer Love Hewitt impersonation?” he calls through the open door.

“What?”

“The psychic stuff, dumbass.”

“Uh, I didn’t even think about that,” Sam admits, feeling like ten different kinds of moron.

There’s a clatter from the bathroom—Dean dropping something—and his brother swears softly before calling back, “So think about it now.”

It doesn’t take long to do as Dean asks, and when Dean emerges a moment later with a baggie stuffed full of toothbrushes and pastes and shaving supplies, Sam says, “Maybe. Fuck, probably.”

Dean nods, crossing the room and shoving the baggie into his bag. He zips the bag closed and then turns around to pin Sam with a look.

“We can’t tell Dad.”

Sam blinks. After a couple of moments, he shakes himself and says, “Could you repeat that? Cause I could have sworn you just said that we can’t tell Dad.”

“I did,” Dean confirms, unsmiling. “We tell Dad that you’re having dreams that are possibly demonic in nature and apocalyptic isn’t gonna be a strong enough word for how he’ll react.”

“But Dean, we can’t go after the demon when I might be compromised!” Sam argues.

Dean lifts one eyebrow and mouths ‘compromised’ to himself as though Sam said something funny and then shakes his head. “I’m not so sure I buy that it’s a demon, dude,” he announces dismissively. “I mean, it’s more likely that you picked up an incubus or something, all that sexual frustration you’re carrying around.”

Sam opens his mouth to argue—mostly because he doesn’t like the bitterness in Dean’s voice, like he’s blaming himself for Sam’s frustration—and Dean cuts him off by continuing, “I’m not saying we go in blind. I’ll give Bobby a call on our way to Alexandria. He’s gotta have a way we can check, maybe a protective charm or something you can try. But you do not want to bring Dad in on this too soon, Sam.”

There’s more than a hint of warning in Dean’s tone and it catches Sam’s attention.

“You’re not just saying that, are you?” he asks.

The guilty way that Dean drops his eyes and carries his bag over to the table to continue packing tells Sam that he’s right.

“So what happened?”

“Nothing.” Clipped, almost angry. And very obviously false.

“I thought you weren’t going to lie to me anymore,” Sam accuses softly.

Dean sighs at that, dropping his head forward and leaning on the edge of the table. “It was a long time ago, Sam, okay? And you and Dad have been—you’re doing better, and I don’t want to set you off again.”

Sam gets that, he does, but he isn’t going to ignore their father’s mistakes just because he’s discovered a newfound respect for the man. And he especially isn’t going to ignore any of Dad’s mistakes that involve Dean.

“Was it you?” he presses. “Was there something—did something happen while I was gone?”

“What, you mean aside from the rape?” Dean snaps, and then immediately pinches the bridge of his nose with one hand and turns away, offering Sam his back. “I’m sorry. That was ... I’m sorry.”

Feeling like even more of an asshole than a moment ago, Sam waves his brother’s apology off with one hand. “That’s okay, I shouldn’t have pushed. If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.”

Dean’s silent for a moment, unmoving, and then he says, “His name was Ferguson. I don’t know if that’s his first or last name, never asked. We ran into him on a hunt—some South American demigod was running around New Mexico driving people cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs—and we’re talking about the homicidal brand of crazy, not the fun, imaginary friend kind.”

Even though Dean isn’t looking at him, Sam nods.

“Anyway, long story short something Ferguson said made Dad think the son of a bitch had gotten to him. He told Ferguson to turn around and put his hands up on the wall, and Ferguson told Dad to go fuck himself, and ... yeah.”

Dean turns his head then to look at Sam. “There wasn’t a cure, Sam. It isn’t like Dad could’ve dropped the guy off at the nearest loony bin. He would’ve—if he was nuts, he would’ve torn the head off of every orderly who came in to give him his shot.”

If he was nuts,” Sam echoes.

Shrugging with studied nonchalance, Dean turns away again. “He probably was. He was acting funny, anyway. Doesn’t matter now. I just—I don’t want to jump the gun on this, okay?”

“You really think Dad’d hurt me?”

“No,” Dean replies. No hesitation, which means he believes it, even if Sam isn’t quite so convinced. “I don’t. But this is one time I can’t handle being wrong, okay?”

Sam doesn’t have to struggle at all to understand. His brother’s biggest fear has always been losing one of them—Dean’s never dissembled about that. And Sam just handed him a new fear that dwarfs his previous ‘worst’ tenfold. He can’t even begin to imagine how Dean would react if it came down to a choice between the two of them. If he had to pick a side and watch while one of the most important people in his life ki