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you feel your heart taking root in your body

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Cherry. It's midnight and they're packing up, Dad already disappearing out to the car. The engine comes to life and the room is awash in red and Sam's found cherry chapstick in his duffel.

"Dean," he calls and she turns quick, spinning on her toes with a knife in her hand. He tosses the chapstick to her and she catches it neatly before hefting her own bag, her hair flying around her in a disheveled circle. She shoves the knife inside the duffel and Sam doesn’t think about how the chapstick ended up in his bag.

He sweeps the room last and tries to get her bag from her, help her put it in the trunk, but she rolls her eyes at his awkward chivalry, shoving at his arm. "Dude, I can carry this. I’ve carried your fat ass before."

"Yeah, when I was four," Sam retorts, shutting the trunk and she rolls her eyes again, “like you’re so damn old now, grandpa, 14 going on 60,” catching the motel door with her foot in a complicated maneuver as she uncaps the chapstick, swiping it over her mouth. Her leg swings, the door shuts and this is another motel left to drift behind them in their wake and Sam's climbing into the back seat when she pushes at him, "go on, move over."

He obliges, but not before pushing her back with the flat of his hand and she trips, squawks, "Oh you little pipsqueak," the momentum of the fight carrying her into the car, the wind slamming the door shut and Dad takes off before they can get settled.

The car rumbles through town and Dean opens the door over the running road, shuts it properly and speed-jabs Sam in the shoulder, ratta-tat-tat.

Sam catches glimpses of his sister in the passing streetlights, like a specter revealed out of the shadows, and she looks other, supernatural, her eyes big and luminous in the dark like a sprite Sam once saw when he was nine.

The chopped ends of her hair are caught in the chapstick smeared on her lips and Sam smells cherry as she leans forward, fist against his chest.

"Just you wait, Sammy, one of these days you'll be bigger'n me and I will still take your ass down."

"You wish, Dean," he stutters because he hadn't thought of that, he will be taller than Dean, outsizing his big sister who holds up the world with her smile and laugh and hands. He’s closing in on her height already, even with his shrimpish knobby frame and he can’t picture a day without her being larger than life.

Her sideways fist knocks on his sternum like she wants to see who's home. "Oh, it's a challenge, baby boy, I cannot wait to knock you out. I’ve been waitin’ years. You'll prolly go down like a ton of bricks."

"One Punch Winchester, huh."

"I'll hafta yell timber. If a tree falls in the forest."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"Your face doesn't make sense," Dean smirks, dragging her hair up into a tangled ponytail she holds captive in her hands and for a second, Sam thinks she looks helpless, her face open, hands behind her head, chest unprotected and he stutters again, shut up, Dean.

She laughs when he doesn't have a proper fiery comeback and kicks off her unlaced boots to put her feet on the seat, knees bent, her gaze tipped to see the moon.

His sister will be fragile some day and Sam doesn't want to see it happen.

Dad skips through the radio, settling on an oldies station. Dean doesn't look at Sam again, the balls of her feet nudging his leg, her toes curling against his thigh where she's braced herself.

And Sam doesn't smell cherries.

-

He has to look down to see her. He remembers when he had to look up.

She isn’t hard to find in a crowd. Her dark blonde hair like a messy glory around her head, straight strands, those razor-sheared ends she makes with the knives in a nervous bad habit. Her eyes caught like water in her face. He sees more than one head turn to follow her, their gaze on her curves, compact, full and round like her lips, her mouth red with cherry chapstick.

It pisses him off.

He’s the little brother, burning with righteous indignation at how they watch her, her breasts bouncing in tiny temptation movements as her hips sway with their stutter hitched swing because one of her knees is still healing from chasing a black dog over half-buried tombstones. He’s the little brother, just a hair over six foot, and he’s learning what his height can do for him.

But Dean doesn’t look at him any different, her smile with the extra curl on one side, just for him, all for him, the same way she looked at him when he was five, eight, eleven, fifteen, and now on his birthday, seventeen.

She’s chewing gum, blowing huge pink bubbles as she walks to him, a hand up to shade her eyes. “Sammy, you ready. Big plans for your birthday, baby boy.”

The local kids are staring, backpacks slung on their shoulders, halfway down their backs and he wants to wipe them all from this minute, this hour, this whole damn day, because he can hear the whispers start like a rushing omen wind.

“Yeah, Dean, big plans, eh? What, you gonna spring for pay-per-view,” he says, sliding an arm around her shoulders and she grabs his wrist where it hangs on her, fingers hot on his skin.

“I’m hurt, real hurt, injured even you would suggest something so fucking lame,” Dean says, not realizing she’s leading him away, leading him from the mayhem of a potential battlefield and he stares down each and every motherfucker before moving to shield her with his body, careful not to press her because she’ll crack him good across the jaw if she knows what he’s up to.

He hasn’t gotten used to it, this sudden murderous surge that happens around Dean in public; it started when he woke up one day and was standing in the crooked kitchen of their rented house, teasingly holding a plate out of Dean’s reach and she said between gritted teeth, “Sam, you dumbass sasquatch, gimme the damn plate,” her small hand outstretched, his big sister standing on her tippytoes as she made little grunting noises, resisting the urge to jump and Sam almost dropped the plate, he was bigger than her and when the fuck did that happen.

They’d gone out for groceries, “we’re out of bacon, Sam, bacon, oh, and hot dogs,” and some asshole in a parked pickup whistled at Dean as they walked by and then Sam saw the bastard whistler’s eyes widen behind the windshield as Sam stopped, feeling the push in his bones as his shoulders went back, learning his height again like Dad told him to and he was ready to punch the whistler’s teeth in, see if you can whistle through that giant hole in your face, you look like a huge asshole, asshole, but then Dean was saying, “Hey, chicken legs, let’s go, you’ve got homework and I’ve got guns to clean,” and his expression must have been something awful because she smirked, “Careful, you don’t want your ugly mug to get stuck like that. Not sure you could get any uglier, but I don’t want you to go ‘round tryin’.”

Now it happens constantly, the push and heat of quick-flare anger and Sam’s left confused when the tide goes out in his blood and Dean acts like she doesn’t notice, maybe she doesn’t, like she doesn’t seem to feel everyone’s eyes on her.

“Thought we’d bowl, maybe take in a movie if there’s anything good,” Dean says, sliding into the Impala, popping her gum and her gum is watermelon, no other flavor, like the Jolly Ranchers scattered over the seat, Sam smells the sticky watermelon flavor as she continues, “Grab a bite to eat. Burgers or pizza or…”

“You pick,” Sam says, shaking out the itch in his limbs, the way he gets in proximity to Dean these days, it’s fucking hot this May and she shrugs, “You’re the birthday boy.”

She urges the Impala away from the school, that damn school and he sees a few of the jocks pointing at the car, fuck them and their predatory grins.

They go bowling because Dean lit up in a surreptitious sort of way when he chose, like it wasn’t supposed to be her idea and there’s a food menu when they get to their lane, the last lane at the end away from everyone else. Dean claps her hands like a little girl, ecstatic, “nachos, Sammy, we gotta get some nachos, with everything, extra onions and jalapenos, and oh, get a couple of burgers too, if they’re not dripping with grease, I’m sendin’ ‘em back,” and when Sam gets back from placing their order at the counter with its crooked letter marquee, Dean’s got their bowling profiles set as DEAN and NERD.

“Really, Dean.”

“You gotta accept who you are, dude, you gotta accept how much you wanna make love to an encyclopedia. If you don’t, your forbidden, dirty geek love might tear you apart, and,” Dean sniffs dramatically, hand dabbing at her eyes, “I just can’t let you do that to yourself, what kind of sister would I be?”

“How are we related.”

“Luck of the draw, buddy, enjoy it.”

And he does, determined to squash her like a bug. He’s strong and she’s stubborn, and they’re dueling, spares and strikes and as they both tire, the easily-missed pins. But this is the best time, under dim fluorescent lights, with the odd bouncing rumble from other lanes, the fake cheese smell of the nachos zinged with the sting of jalapenos, the dry chemical odor of their shoes and Dean laughing, jumping up and down after a strike, air guitaring with wild swings of her arms, tongue flicking out like a backstage pass-favored member of the Kiss Army.

Sam just smirks and smirks and smirks, letting the tugging itch of Dean’s happiness and smack talk sink into memory because he’s had the feeling that this might not last, something will take it from him, the jut of his sister’s chin as she concentrates, the intensity as she hunkers down to follow the ball’s progress, her utter unabashed glee when the pins fall.

“’Nother game, sparky, ‘nother game, you just barely squeaked by that time,” Dean says, “be glad it’s your birthday and I’m being so nice as to let you win. Set it up, I gotta go piss.”

“That was weak, Dean, weak. Maybe this time you’ll actually give me a challenge,” he calls after her and she flips him off without looking and he grins so hard, he’s biting his tongue. Dean’s a lady when she’s faking it, smoothing on the charm like a debutante, but she’s a tomboy at heart, not afraid to run her mouth, cuss a blue streak and do a shot of whatever alcohol’s in front of her, and Sam thinks it sets her apart from all the girls he ever met, all the girls he’s ever talked to, kissed, all the girls from his daydreams.

Dean’s real. The other girls aren’t, all of them counterfeit in some way.

Some kids from school, it’s a small town and the bowling alley’s a hangout, some kids from school and they spot Dean headed to the restrooms, one of ‘em calling out, “Hey, gorgeous,” and she salutes, Sam figures she probably winks, before she points and he can hear her over the sound of a strike, “You got good taste.”

Dean likes her boys big and athletic, her girls tiny with tight waists and bird wrists, “I appreciate beauty when I see it,” she’s always telling Sam, “I’m a lover and a fighter,” and Sam pictures her as the heroine, kicking ass and taking names and at the end of the movie, she gets the other lead, be it boy or girl, with a sigh and a cocky wink, she gets what she wants because she takes it.

One of the kids gets up, following on Dean’s trail and Sam doesn’t, he doesn’t want the boy talking to her, touching her, no one she’s ever been with is good enough, even for that short time she gives them, especially for what she gives them, Sam doesn’t want to know, but the red surge is rising in his chest, filling his lungs, and.

Sam, I won’t get hurt, I’m careful, she said, after he yelled at her, three in the morning, her boots stumbling across an uneven wooden floor, her breath like a benediction of tequila on his forehead as she held his face in her hands.

He’s restless, forever restless around Dean now and he doesn’t know why, it’s killing him, and he gets crazy ideas, late at night, like maybe if he puts enough space between them, enough air and molecules and time, it’ll go away. He’ll be able to stand it, being around his sister.

“Sam?”

She’s standing there, hand on her hip, peering down at him where he’s slumped in a chair, poking at the congealed nachos.

“Some punk-ass idiot tried to get me into the men’s room,” she says, almost to herself, “a kid, a dumb kid thinks he’s gonna get me to just open my mouth and–“

“Hey, you wanna get outta here,” Sam says, because he knows where that sentence is going, has heard it in the halls, Winchester’s sister, man, you seen her, that mouth she’s got on her, and she looks surprised, but nods, waves her fingers in a vague gesture.

“Sure, let’s go,” she says, tousling his hair as he reaches out to flick her ponytail. “Ice cream. On me.”

The ice cream parlor isn’t far from the soccer field, the lights coming on early for the night game and they clamber up past the small clumps of families and girlfriends and friends to the top of the bleachers, the metal chilly against Sam’s skin and Dean shivers, snapping her waffle cone in her teeth.

He sits above her, legs wide, elbows hunched on his knees and she sits in the sprawled comfortable V he’s made, keeping herself in the big coltish circle of his legs and arms.

They don’t talk, the night breeze shifting around them and he takes a moment to watch her, strands of hair fallen out of her ponytail, drifting around her cheeks.

She glances at him, eyes shot electric by the lights overhead, bright-shining and burning.

“Happy birthday, Sammy.”

-

At the bus stop, Dean doesn’t cry. The car is ticking cool as they lean against it and the door is cold and he can’t feel her warmth next to him.

She’s not small, 5’6” – 5’7”, she can fight, she shoots better than anyone he’s ever met and has a distracted habit of twirling knives in her fingers, the blade so close to cutting her, she knows what she’s doing better than he does. He’s not leaving her vulnerable. He’s not leaving her behind.

He’s not leaving her.

She doesn’t say a word, kicking at the gravel with her dusty boots, her man feet he likes to rib her about, long and narrow with fine bones and monkey toes she covers with nail polish, usually a dark color, nothing candyland glossy, Sam, it’ll help your hand-eye coordination and your patience, now paint my toes, bitch, and why is he stuck thinking about her feet, he should be apologizing again, he should be explaining again, he should be asking her to come with him again.

At the last moment, when he slings his bag on his shoulder, she grabs his arm, strong fingers digging into his muscle, maybe there’ll be bruises when he gets to California, and she’s fragile as he looks down at her, here, have some more coffee, maybe it’ll stunt your growth, stop fucking growing, you mutant.

She’s fragile, pale under the freckles across her nose, pointy like a witch he told her once and at twelve, she already packed a mean punch.

She’s shaking and that scares the shit out of him.

“Dean.”

Her lips form the word no, but nothing comes out and she swallows.

On tiptoe, fuck, she is small, fuck, Sam, you are doomed, she puts a hand over his mouth and finds his gaze, holds it. As if she’s searching, trying to tell him something.

Quick like she’s drawing a gun, she slides her palm up, covers his eyes and in the blackness, he feels warm lips against his jaw and she says something, but there’s no sound, just the movement against his skin.

He smells cherries.

Then, he can see again, she’s stepped away, taking her little hands with her.

-

He’s in class again, this one class he drunkenly signed up for because it’d be an easy A, because it’s Ancient Creatures And Folklore or some shit he’s known since he was six; he has a love-hate relationship with this class and some days he can’t wait to go, wrapped in the familiar feel of the names of monsters, chimera, siren, lorelai, were, like drawing a ratty-worn blanket around him and some days he can’t wait to get out, because.

He’s been gone. He thinks of her all the fucking time. He dreams in screaming vivid color of her running, bleeding, her gun too slippery in her hands and her knife lost somewhere along the dark road of her desperate getaway. He dreams of her mouth open, her eyes flaring in surprise as a viciously curved claw pierces the hollow of her throat or the cavity of her heart. He dreams of black bruises and broken bones and ugly marring stitches.

For a long time, he’d wake up and see a blonde head on the pillow next to him and he’d think, Dean, and Jess would say, Sam, what is it. And he’d think, Jess, fuck, Jess.

Sam had to teach himself, when he woke to the warm body sharing his bed, when he woke to the blonde hair trailing tangled over his arm, he’d think, Jess. And inevitably, right after, as if his brain was an unruly puppy chasing him with nips of its teeth, he’d think, Dean.

He’s in this class, staring at the woodcut of a wraith, they look nothing like that, and without warning, he’s about to laugh, crack his head open and let his laughter pour out for everyone to see, these pampered protected fuckers who have no fucking clue.

He’s been gone. Sam gathers up his book and papers, ready to shove them into his backpack (a present from Jess, it doesn’t have bloodstains) and flee like the shadows he knows exist in the world, he’s about to leave when he sees what he’s been doodling.

A girl, a gun held at an insolent angle as if to say I betcha I can shoot that box of fries out of your hand c’mon, a tiny line quick-flicked into a smirk, AC/DC on her shirt and her hair in low pigtails, Dean only wore her hair in pigtails once on a dare; it was Halloween and she dressed like a cheerleader, the whole nine yards, this is so utterly fucking stupid, Sammy, why’d I fucking let you talk me into this; you chose dare, Dean, shoulda picked truth, but she walked away with so much candy and free drinks, her hand in Sam’s because she was too drunk to talk let alone walk, her skirt flipping flirty around her thighs.

Jess wants to go to a Halloween party tonight and Sam hates Halloween, but he thinks he loves Jess; she pouted this morning in the bathroom, so he’ll go, but he draws the line at dressing up. Halloween is a shitty holiday and if people knew -- if only --

He’ll take a knife tonight though he hasn’t carried one in, in, in five months. Maybe six. He’s lost count. Out of nowhere, he feels ashamed.

Sam bolts from the class, he always sits in the back, no harm no foul.

In the hallway, he balances the notebook on his knee and tears out the doodle of his sister. He folds the paper, folds it again, folds it again, again, again, again, until his fingers hurt. He puts it in his wallet and thinks, Halloween, what the ever-loving hell.

At the apartment, Jess pushes her hair back behind her ear to kiss him. She doesn’t wear chapstick, she wears lip gloss, it’s a whole different concept, she explained it to him once, maybe.

Her mouth is red, but.

Her fingers are cold on his chin.

-

Sam’s fighting in the dark, fast, frenetic, it’s all instinct and muscle memory and too late he feels the foot hook his ankle.

He lands hard, waiting on a heavy exhale, and then she’s leaning over him. Her eyes are laughing at him, you stupid moron, and her grin is little girl wicked in its happiness.

“Dean.”

She leans her weight on him where she’s holding him down, his shoulder blades pressing into the floor and the fight’s gone out of him instantly.

She dropped him like a ton of bricks.

If a tree falls in the forest.

-

She’s wearing a baseball cap. She twisted her hair in her hands, steering with her knees, and yanked the cap down over the mass of dark blonde, but strands are slipping from the hole in the back. John Deere, green and yellow and white, and Sam wonders what feed store gas station she got that from. She doesn’t usually wear caps, unless they’re hunting at night and she disguises herself as a boy. The bill is just crooked, just off-center of her temples and face and Sam imagines her looking in a mirror, shaping and curving the bill with her hands. He fiddles with the cassettes in the shoebox on his lap.

“Music me, baby boy,” she says, fingers curling gimme gimme and Sam gimme gimmes, picking one at random, blind draw. Zeppelin, and she sighs like everything is finally right with the world.

Four months with California behind them and he’s watching her, catching when she’s watching him, her gaze worried, but she’d chew her tongue off before she went motherly concerned on him, doing her best with all the fast food and insults she can think of, trying to needle him out, calling him Sammy.

In his cotton-ball numbness, he knows what she’s doing and he’s fine, really, he’s completely fucking fine, he just needs to shoot something.

The wind is loud and Dean sings underneath it, wah-wahing the guitar parts, fingers tapping out the drum beats, her blue-black nail polish chipped and flaking.

Sam knows when they stop next, she’ll take off the cap, fingercomb her hair out, shaking it with her hands until it falls into some semblance of order when she looks in the rearview, lips pursed at her reflection and sure enough, when she kills the engine, she does exactly that and Sam marvels at how much he’s never forgotten.

That night, they trip over each other getting into the motel room, bleary and exhausted, Dean driving almost sixteen hours to some bullshit location, more bullshit coordinates from Dad and can’t the man fucking communicate properly with his own damn kids, fuck, Sam’s pissed and Dean puts her palms flat on his chest and pushes.

“Go. Shower,” she says, “you smell like a jock strap,” and Sam’s not touching that with a ten-foot pole, “What the hell, Dean, gross, seriously, I don’t need the graphic,” that’s good enough.

“Don’t glare at me, Neanderthal, you stink so bad, I might suffocate.”

“And you smell like roses.”

“All the time, every part of me.”

“Didn’t know driving for so long made you delusional, Dean.”

“Fuck you, Sam, and your b.o.”

He makes a halfhearted effort to stuff her face in his armpit, but she yowls and he lets her shove him sideways.

The shower helps, oddly, Sam lets himself stand under the spray, lost, and he barely remembers to get out to save Dean some hot water.

She’s asleep. She’s wearing his hoodie, the one he’s been hunkered in all day, and it’s zipped up to her chin, the hood pulled over her head. He’s still damp, water dripping from his hair down his back and he can feel every drop because it looks like she’s not wearing anything else, curled on her side, swallowed in the hoodie, but then she shifts, leg sliding bent and she’s got her black boxers on, and he lets out a breath and he lets out another in surprise, because, what.

She murmurs something, turning her cheek and Sam finds a pair of faded sweatpants, an old bleach-blotched t-shirt to sleep in and he scrubs his hair with the towel before sliding in behind her.

He pulls her back against him, arm tight around her waist, and she says, “There’s a perfectly good bed over there, Bigfoot, or did you lose your damn eyesight.”

“Guess I got lost,” he says, which is not what he meant to say and she snorts, kicking at him with her heels.

“Dude, you’re gonna take up the whole bed, have you seen yourself lately, Jolly Green, I’ll be lucky if you don’t roll over on me and kill me in my sleep,” she retorts, then her whole body stiffens, and she’s muttering fuck fuck fuck, but Sam isn’t made of glass, she knows that, so he traps her legs with his.

“Shut up, Dean. Go to sleep. Beauty rest and all that jazz.”

She’s quiet and Sam counts in his head, then she says, “You aren’t saying what I think you’re saying ‘cause you know I’ll hafta kick your ass if you’re stupid enough to say what I think you’re saying,” and she elbows him, but he grabs her arm, and they’re in a ridiculous sort of draw, it’s hard to fight like this in an awkward tangled position on a sagging bed, all she can do is try to kick him again.

He tucks her closer and says, “If you don’t sleep, you’ll be too tired to get behind the wheel, so I’ll hafta to drive tomorrow,” and she huffs loudly, “In your dreams,” but doesn’t fight, miracle of miracles. As he falls asleep, he can smell them, her scent from her skin and his own from the hoodie, them traveling with California behind them.

-

Two days after they find Dad and he fucking leaves again, they’re in a bar and Dean’s giving him shit, “you gonna keep nursin’ that beer, that isn’t a baby bottle, Sammy,” in between enthusiastic shots. She wanted to hustle pool, but Sam’s still a little rusty, so she proceeds to school him all over again like when they were teenagers. “Best two out of three,” he says, pointing his pool cue at her and she smirks.

“I don’t think you can handle it, but you’re on.”

Her over-the-top cheating antics make him laugh, the last few months are in the past; her smile is cocky triumphant and he wipes it off her face when he taps the eight ball in.

“Too bad, Dean, we shoulda bet something.”

“Shut your face, Sam,” she retorts, flipping him off and sticking out her tongue.

At some point, she runs her fingers along the nape of his neck, nails scratching lightly, just to watch him shiver, an old trick as a big sister, and then she disappears towards the bathroom.

And now it’s been too long, she’s been gone too long, and the panic is starting to eat at Sam’s stomach, tiny claws pricking their way up his throat until he spots her, crowded against a wall by a beer-bellied hick. Shit, he should’ve been paying attention, Dean’s, she’s, she’s all he’s got left. Sam’s striding over before he knows he’s even moving and he can hear her hiss, “I said fuck off,” before she punches the guy, a clean sock across his mouth.

The guy hollers and grabs her, shaking her, “sharp little teeth, you fucking hellcat,” and Sam jerks the guy away, Dean slipping from his grasp with a practiced twist, her weight shifted like she’s about to knee this guy in the nuts.

The guy glares at Sam and says, “What, you wanna share,” and holy fucking fuck, that ages-ago fury rises razor-sharp in Sam, except now he knows exactly what he’s capable of and he puts his fists in the fucker’s face, over and over and over, then Dean’s holding his arm back, her voice low and urgent, “Sam, Sam, c’mon.”

She’s got her gun trained on the rest of the bar and it slams into Sam that his hands are bloody, he’s just pummeled a drunk bastard almost into the floor and the bartender’s fumbling for the shotgun somewhere around his knees. His sister’s got her gun trained, itching to put a bullet into someone; she’s tipping close to drunk and she twisted her ankle on the last hunt, she can’t run.

Sam isn’t numb anymore. This is where he belongs.

He snatches Dean up, she’s not tiny, but he’s suddenly holding all of Dean at once, he doesn’t trip and she doesn’t blink, simply turns in his arms to keep everyone back with her favorite gun, the light glinting off the barrel and her breath is coming fast against his face as he gets them outside and to the car.

“Put me down, Sam, it’s okay, put me down,” she’s murmuring into his throat, but they’re not out of danger yet, shit, this went sideways too damn fast, they haven’t been in a bar fight in years, Dean flirting her way into alcohol for her underage brother and someone saying something about her ass or his baby face and once in a truly horrific moment burned into his brain, a guy making a black-voiced comment about Sam’s potential ability to take it and like it, which ended right quick because Dean almost shot the guy in the head.

Instead, he settles her on the trunk of the car because he doesn’t have the keys, he realizes it at the same time he realizes he’s saying, what the fuck, Dean, what the fuck as she scrabbles at her pockets, never letting go of the gun and never saying sorry except for how she kind of keens his name, Sammy.

“Not your fault,” Sam says stupidly, because it isn’t, his sister like a pot of honey and everyone circles around and he should be protecting her, he should be paying attention, he’d get his ass handed to him by Dad for the shit he’s pulled tonight, though Dean thinks it’s the other way around, she’s protecting him, the way her fingers find his swollen bloody knuckles once he’s gotten her in the car with the engine going and the tires throwing dust. He knows because he’s never forgotten.

She keeps touching him as he drives, trying to soothe him, hand on his chest and Sam’s arms are shaking, he feels the onrush of adrenaline, it’s not slowing, even when they’re at the motel. He carries her inside, ignoring her annoyed burst, “what the hell, Sam, I can fucking walk, you hulking pair of stilts,” and nothing’s okay, nothing slows down until the light’s on, the door’s locked and she’s sitting on the edge of her bed with a torn expression on her face.

He ends up kneeling by her on the disgusting carpet, forehead pressed to the ugly comforter and after a minute, there are fingers in his hair, stroking, like when he had nightmares.

“Glad we haven’t lost our touch,” Dean says, “we really know how to liven up the party.”

He laughs, nodding against her palm. “You shoulda shot him.”

“Nah, I was too busy playing damsel in distress,” she spits without venom.

“His face needed some reconstructive surgery,” Sam says, “maybe a little dental work.”

She chuckles, but it isn’t the laugh he was going for, maybe because he half meant what he said, and when he glances at her, she’s biting her lip.

“You get it all outta your system,” Dean asks. He can see in her eyes what she means, the green dark, she’s noticed the anger he holds like an oil spill alight, she’s angry she let him put himself in harm’s way.

Right now, she’s okay, she’s safe, he’s safe and he nods, “Yeah, Dean.”

The gun glints in her hand and she doesn’t look convinced and more than anything, more than anything in the moment, Sam needs her to believe him, believe in him, and he’s here, he’s with her now, she needs to understand it.

She’s his good thing in the world.

All his life.

His fingers don’t curl properly when he cups her face and kisses her.

Her mouth is warm and he tastes whiskey instead of cherries before he’s jerking back, falling away staggered, leaving thin streaks of blood on her cheeks.

And he can’t say anything, what the fuck can he say to make this okay, make it any shade of better and Dean reaches for him, as if she’s going to console him again, it’s alright, battlefield emotion, adrenaline and shit, but no no no no no, he might have meant it when he kissed her and he stands so fast he’s dizzy.

Sam kicks off his shoes and climbs into his bed, his bed alone, fully-clothed, his back to Dean, eyes closed, trying to stretch his fingers into something that used to resemble his hands.

He listens to her get ready for bed, the way she shuffles to test her weight on her ankle, brushes her teeth, sets a glass of water and some aspirin on the nightstand between them, and it feels like she’s watching him before the light goes out.

He sleeps, somehow.

When he wakes in the morning, there’s a blonde head on the pillow next to him and he thinks, Dean.

Oh fuck, he remembers, he kissed her, after all these years, all the times he felt like he was coming apart around her, he’s shot and killed for her, sewed her up, fought with her, his hands ache and he beat that guy for her, they’ve been fitting together, brother and sister again, and last night he kissed her.

He’s rolling away, he needs to leave and save her again, like he’s wanted to do, be her hero, like she’s done for him, and then she says, “Sammy?”

She sounds so sleepy and warm, a copy of nights before when he’d scream in his sleep, and she says, “Sammy?”

“Dean, you – I –“

She grabs a fistful of his shirt, pulling herself to him and the sheets slip down, he can see she’s wearing his hoodie, then she’s clambering on top of him, straddling his hips.

“Dean –“

“Lemme see your hands,” she says, sitting up a little, thighs squeezing around him for balance and he looks at the ceiling, surrenders his hands. Her fingertips skim lightly over the knuckles, cut and puffy, and she’s breathing on his skin as she traces each one of his fingers, slow, a sliding caress that doesn’t end and Sam might cry, she smells like the two of them.

“Are they sore?” she asks and he glances at her, swallowing, her eyes big and shot clear like she’s scared, so Sam tries to scoot away and apologize for, for, for whatever this is, but she shakes her head, thighs tight to hold him in place.

She puts a hand over his mouth and says, “Do they hurt,” so all he can do is nod, and she hisses between her teeth. “You shouldn’t’ve – if I’d seen him, if I’d noticed that motherfucking douchebag following me – shit, I’m.”

Then she covers his eyes, an echo, and this time, she kisses him and when she licks at him, nudges him with her tongue, saying his name, he kisses her back and she tastes like cherries.

When he unzips the hoodie to slide his hands inside, she’s not wearing anything underneath it except the amulet he gave her so long ago, and she whimpers, whispers baby boy.

-

Her grief for their father is a vicious, visceral thing she carries on her like the amulet resting hard against her chest.

She puts the car back together in silence and Sam sits with her, hour after slow hour, day after whitewashed day.

She won’t let Sam touch her. But she’s in his bed when he wakes up.

Today, he watches her sleep, scrunched down in the sheet, scrunched up into the pillow, face pushed against his shoulder. He doesn’t move, just listens to her breathe and he remembers.

How her mouth was smeared slick red, her blood leaving her weak, but her gaze never left his in the rearview. How when he woke in the wreck, his first thought was for his sister, thrown around dangerous in the backseat. How her freckles stood out on her face, amongst the bandages and tubes.

And Sam needed her to come back. He was the one gone before and it was a huge fucking mistake, she needed to know that, she had to come back so he could tell her.

She couldn’t leave him then, and she can’t leave him now, sleeping, looking so young with her hair spread out like sparrow feathers.

Dad, Dad didn’t fucking understand, which wasn’t anything new, but he also, he didn’t know and Sam couldn’t tell him about, about.

Sam needed her to wake up and kiss him and hook her fingers in his jeans with that sly smirk, he wanted to make her shake and sigh, always so warm when she slid her body against his.

Dean sighs in her sleep here in this motel, miles and weeks away from that bleak hospital and Sam smiles.

He thinks about how he was about to start praying, making deals, if she comes back I won’t touch her, if she comes back I’ll never look at her, if she comes back I’ll leave, just please bring her back.

The Ouija board worked, Dean there across from him and Sam would’ve collapsed if he hadn’t been sitting on that cold hospital floor, and he promised, “Dean, we’ll fix this. We will.”

She was there, but he couldn’t touch her, he couldn’t see her, he didn’t know when she left the room.

“Sammy,” Dean murmurs, alive, warm, toes stretching, curling along his leg.

Because. Because Dad saved her, his life for hers, because Sam couldn’t.

When he kissed her that first time, his hands busted and painful from wanting to be her warrior, when he kissed her, it didn’t feel like dying.

After she opened her eyes in that white hospital bed, after Sam found Dad dead, she cried against Sam’s chest, and when he kissed her, salt, holy salt, it felt like dying.

She tells him in no uncertain terms he didn’t make any bargains with anyone, so he needs to fucking talk to her, make eye contact, and have her back in order for them to keep hunting. “You didn’t trade anything –“ she says, then stops, voice thick. “You got me anyway.”

It’s only after several miles down the road, a few hunts done and gone, and Sam’s daily words over and over about how he’s glad she’s here, alive, with him, it’s only after that, one day she walks out of the shower, naked and dripping, and bruises his mouth with her teeth.

He’s slow with her, doesn’t stop touching her, hands on her always, slicking away water, kissing her until she’s crying, keening with his name caught between them and he takes his time to make sure she knows how much he missed her.

He says it, lips hard on her skin, I missed you, and she nods, her knife-cut hair tickling him. He asks if she feels guilty, and he can see it in her eyes, but he figures out she feels guilty over living instead of dying, not anything they’re doing together, not how tight-tangled they’re becoming.

She says, “Let’s get on the road and kill some evil,” and he does everything he can to find her some evil to kill.

Each mile is easier, each sign and flock of birds and shadow of a gas station before sunset.

Her grief is heavy, harder than his, but she kisses him every day like she’s coming back to life.

The next morning, he trips over a blanket and she laughs.

-

Some days, they hunt and it’s as if the potential trajectory from their life before California has come true, is propelling them forward at a star’s speed.

They hunt and get drunk and Dean likes to bait boys in bars, then point to Sam and say, “That’s my boyfriend, yeah, that really big guy, the one built like the Chrysler Building, yeah, you try to touch me again and he’ll kick your ass.”

It makes Sam feel ridiculous and possessive all at once, and usually on those nights, he’s crazy gone for Dean, wanting her all the time, until they can get back to the motel and he can fuck her.

It happens during the day too, his need like a growing storm and the air is broken, electrical charges filling the cracks, she’s breathing fast behind the wheel and when they stop, he picks her up, palming her ass, her legs wrapping around his waist and after some messy attempts involving walls and gravity, Dean sheds her jeans, gets his fly open, and pushes aside her underwear, guiding him inside her.

She moans so pretty for him.

A tilt of her hips and Sam’s never had anything like this, never known something so completely overwhelming.

He stands closer to her, slings an arm around her easier, takes up her space because it’s his to claim, and Dean shakes him off, rolling her eyes, but sometimes, she presses against him.

But some days, she’ll pull over on the shoulder, throw the car in park, and open the door without a word. Sam likes to walk a little ways from the car, stretch his legs because his knees will ache and his back will pop in an alarming way. And Dean will climb onto the trunk of the car, chin in her hand, balancing on her leg and stare out at the land. Sam’s seen it, her eyes going soft as if she’s watching something he doesn’t know is there, ghosts only she’s attuned to, and a chill goes through him, settling scared in his belly.

“Dean,” he says, one afternoon when she’s lost to him, wandering in her head, and he has to say her name three more times before she hears him.

“What.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Sam, I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“I’m just telling you.” He knows how stubborn she is because he’s just as stubborn and they clash like knives against whetstones, sharpening and honing and cutting each other.

“And I’m just telling you that I don’t wanna fucking talk about it, alright?” She’s not yelling, but close, her voice rising high like it does when they’re hunting and she can’t see him. “I’m not some fucking porcelain figurine, Sam! I’m not going to break. Shit! But you gotta, you gotta just leave it alone. Do this for me.”

She looks like she’s fighting to not cry and he wants to smother her sadness out, hug her until she’s screaming and ready to punch him, something, anything, and it’s only going to make it worse, but he reaches for her.

Dean pulls away, hopping down from the car and she takes off along the shoulder of the road. Walking, her head tipped back so she doesn’t see where she’s going, her hair sliding over her shoulder blades.

He waits. Keeps an eye on her figure, a dark smudge against the day, and he wants her to come back, but he won’t call her.

He waits and the car grows warm from the sunlight.