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Crown and Anchor Me (or let me sail away)

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It's Christmas Eve and Sam's packing, sorting through his clothes and placing aside the things that are too worn or too small or too covered in stains of blood or monster entrails to bother taking along. It's snowing and he wonders if it's going to be bad enough to keep them there another night. Not that it makes a difference. He hasn't cared about Christmas since he was nine years old.

The walls of the old farmhouse are thin, the insulation close to nonexistent, the heating vents big and drafty and better at carrying sound than warm air. He can hear Dean and his father talking, Dean's voice low and soothing, their dad's voice like gravel. Sam doesn't care. It's the middle of the school year and he'd promised that they wouldn't leave Indiana before June. It's Sam's fault for believing him.

His hands are shaking a little bit as he folds his gray and red hoodie and places it at the bottom of his duffle bag. It's just because it's cold in the stupid farmhouse, not because of the twenty minute screaming match he'd just had with his father. It would be stupid to be upset about the fight. He'd known he wouldn't get his way even when it began, but it had felt good. He hadn't been able to hold it back, hadn't been able to stop himself from pointing out what a fucking liar his father was, how selfish and self-absorbed he was, how he cared more about revenge than his own flesh and blood.

He's not sorry for anything he said. He hadn't been expecting his father to suddenly grow quiet. He hadn't expected that look on his dad's face, something that would have been regret if his dad had the capability to feel it. He hadn't expected to win the screaming match but it's not like he cares if he hurt his father's feelings. His father doesn't give a shit about him anyway, has never liked him the way he likes Dean. Sam doesn't care. He's not sorry and he meant every word. The only pain in him is from his growing limbs that have ached at the joint for over a year.

He's nearly finished packing--doesn't have much--when he feels Dean's presence in the doorway. He ignores it for as long as he can, keeps packing like he doesn't know Dean's there.

Dean sighs. When Sam finally gives and glances over, he looks tired. He rubs his hand over his face.

"He promised," Sam whispers. He's not going to cry.

"Sammy--"

"My name is Sam," he snaps, the familiar words rolling quickly off his tongue. "And he promised me. He went back on his word, so you try and tell me I'm not allowed to be pissed about that."

"There's a hunt."

"I don't care. There are hunts everywhere. Don't tell me he can't find another one here in Indiana. Don't tell me he can't find one in Illinois."

"You don't--"

"I'm sick of talking about this. It doesn't matter. Nothing I say or want ever matters. He promised me, but that didn't matter either because everything else is more important to him than I am."

"That's not--"

"If he gave a shit, he would have kept his word and you know it."

"It's not like that, Sammy."

"My name is Sam. Christ. Is it really that hard for you to remember? I know you never made it out of high school, but you'd think you could remember your own brother's name."

"You're a mean little shit sometimes, you know that?"

"Yeah, well. Like father like son." Sam goes through his books, tossing the ones he's already read to the floor, where they'll stay. He wonders sometimes what the people who come in after them think of the possessions they leave behind with each move, if they give any clues about their lives. He looks at the things he's discarded, textbooks and worn out folders, books he's read, clothes he'll no longer wear. He wonders if anybody bothers to care at all or if they just pick everything up and toss it right into the trash.

Dean stays there in the doorway for a few more minutes, then sighs and walks away. It's his room, too, but he's already packed. He'd packed right away when their dad had told them to. Dean and their dad never fight. Sam wonders how in the hell they can get along so well when they're nothing alike.

He finishes packing and flips off the light and crawls into bed. He doesn't sleep, just sits with his back against the headboard, watching hard crystals of snow hit the windowpane. He tries to be like Dean, tries to be a good soldier, but he can't do it. It makes him feel like he's drowning and anything--even the screaming fights with his father that are getting more and more frequent--is better than that feeling of drowning, of losing himself to somebody else's will and whims.

"You packed?" Dean asks, coming into the room and flipping on the light.

Sam blinks against the sudden glare and rubs his eyes.

"We're on the road 5am sharp," Dean tells him, "so if you're not--"

"I'm packed, OK?" Sam snaps. "God."

Dean sighs, and in the reflection in the window Sam can see him scratch his head. He sits down on his bed and leans over to untie his boots. "He's doing the best he can," he says softly.

"No, he's not."

Dean sits up and fixes Sam with a hard glare. Sam has to take a deep breath and shore himself up to glare back. Fighting with his father is easy, like breathing. Fighting with Dean takes work.

"He's doing the best he knows how," Sam says, giving just a little bit for Dean's benefit. "That's not the same thing as doing the best he can."

Dean frowns and shakes his head, finishes unlacing his boots. He toes them off, stands up and pulls off his sweater, unbuttons his jeans. Sam slides down into bed, turns his back to Dean, won't let himself look. He hears Dean unzip his duffle, knows he's putting his clothes inside, taking out sweats and a t-shirt to sleep in. Sam doesn't let himself look because he already knows the curves and flat planes of Dean's body, knows the look of his strong thighs and the trail of hair that peeks out above the waistband of his briefs. He doesn't let himself look because he hates it, hates himself for feeling the way he does, hates the thing that's seemingly crawled inside him and turned him into something he's afraid to name.

He feels the dip of the bed but doesn't look up until he feels Dean nudging his foot.

"Hey," Dean says softly. "Sammy...Sam. It's going to be OK."

Sam nods but doesn't say anything because it's really not.

Past midnight, Dean's breathing is slow and regular. Sam's still awake, ache in his chest and stomach and groin. He slips his hand beneath the sheets, strokes himself, tries not to think about the way Dean's body feels pressed against his when they spar. He tries not to think about Dean's broad shoulders and strong hands and gorgeous fucking mouth. He tries not to think about Dean, but like always, he fails, and he comes silently, teeth clenched tight, no sound except the snow against the window.

Eight o'clock the next morning and they've been on the road over three hours. Dean pulls into a gas station for more coffee and Sam stays in the car, watches their father in his truck using the stop as a chance to make another call. Sam doesn't know where they're headed, but it doesn't matter. Wherever they're going, they won't stay long. He hopes they're headed someplace warm.

"They had some of that flavored shit you like," Dean says as he gets back into the car. He hands Sam a cup of coffee that smells sweet like sugar and hazelnut, rich with milk.

"Thanks," Sam says softly. He knows it's a peace offering and there's nothing he can do but accept it, even though Dean's not the one in the wrong.

"Open the glove box."

Sam does, and there's a package wrapped in newspaper. He opens it and smiles. It's a pair of navy blue Converse high tops, and they're not even second hand. He can smell the new canvas and rubber; the laces are still folded up down by the toe. "They're awesome," he says.

"Yeah, well. I hope they fit. You're growing like somebody slipped fertilizer into your bloodstream."

Sam reaches under his seat and shoves his present at Dean. It's wrapped in a paper bag, which he knows is lame, but it's all he had. It's nothing much, just a new whetstone for Dean's knives since the old one's so thin it's about to crack. Dean seems to like it, though, ruffles Sam's hair and gives him a soft, happy grin.

Dean starts the car and they're back on the interstate when he says, "I know it's the middle of the school year. I tried to get him to stay until May, but--"

"It's OK," Sam says quickly. "It's not...it doesn't matter." And it doesn't really. He never liked Indiana that much, anyway, it was just the principle of the thing. He can feel Dean looking at him, so he turns and says, "Really, Dean. I'm all right."

Dean doesn't look like he believes him, but he nods and that's the end of it.

Three days later they're at a mountain lodge in Washington state, blizzard coming in, and they're lucky to get the one small room they do. There's only one bed and the couch doesn't pull out. Their father takes the couch and that leaves Sam in a double bed next to Dean. Dean's asleep, their father's asleep, and Sam aches in his growing bones and deep in his chest. They slept together a lot when they were kids, before Dean hit puberty and sometimes even after, before Sam started to grow and didn't ever stop. He's used to the smell of Dean's sleep-warmed skin, is used to his sweat and his breath and the feel of him there, so close. It used to make him feel safe.

Sam doesn't know when it started, when the way he loves Dean twisted and turned ugly. It's such a part of him, suffused through him down into his bones, that he thinks maybe it's always been there. He thinks maybe he was just born wrong.

The room's just light enough that he can make out the features of Dean's face, so close to his own. It hurts him sometimes, physically hurts him how beautiful Dean is. It overwhelms him and there's nothing he can do. He can't get away, can't release the ache, can't do anything but shake with fear and desire.

"Sammy?" Dean's voice is quiet, thick with sleep. "Sammy, what's wrong?"

Sam presses his face into his pillow once he realizes that, shit, he's crying. He feels the ache all through himself, the need to touch Dean, kiss him, confess the truth. He can't catch his breath and he lets out a low sob.

"Jesus, Sammy, you OK?" Dean's voice is still quiet so he doesn't wake their father. "You hurt?" He presses his hand to Sam's shoulder and that's it, Sam can't take any more. He bats Dean's hand away harder than he has to, hits Dean's shoulder and arms and chest, then scrambles out of bed and into the bathroom. He locks the door behind him and sits in the dark on the bathroom floor, knees pulled to his chest, back to the tub. He sees the shadows at the crack where the bathroom door doesn't quite meet the linoleum, closes his eyes tight and presses his cheek to his arm.

Dean tries the doorknob, sighs when it doesn't turn. "The fuck's going on Sam?" he asks in a stern whisper that carries through the door like it's made of paper.

"Go away."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Go away."

Dean doesn't say anything, but Sam knows he's still there, crouched by the door.

Sam sniffles and sucks in a shaky breath. He grits his teeth and tries to stop his tears.

"You're freaking me out, man. Open the door."

"Go away."

"Seriously, Sam. Open this door or I'll open it for you."

He can't. He can't face Dean. He can't breathe. He buries his face in his arms and waits for Dean to kick the door down, waits for his father's angry voice to ask what the hell is going on.

Dean doesn't kick the door down. Sam hears a soft scrape, then a click, then the door's open and Dean's holding up a paperclip for Sam to see. He closes the door behind him without turning on the lights. He sits down and presses his back to the door, pulling his knees up to mirror Sam. "So," he says. "You gonna talk to me?"

Sam shakes his head, lays his head back down on his knees.

"Are you doing drugs?"

"No."

"I'm grasping at straws here, Sammy. Something's wrong, something's really wrong and I don't...I can't fix it if you won't tell me what it is."

"You can't fix it," Sam whispers. "Nobody can."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I'm what's broken."

Sam hears Dean's sudden intake of breath. "Sam," he whispers, and Sam looks up even though he can't see anything in the dark of the bathroom because Dean sounds like he's about to cry, and Dean never cries. "Sammy, Jesus. You're not...fuck. You can talk to me. You know that, right? You can tell me anything."

Sam can't say anything, can't tell Dean it's not true because then Dean would want to know why. He gives in to the sobs that have been threatening to burst out all night. His chest feels like it might explode and his throat aches and he hurts so bad that he doesn't even fight it when Dean scoots next to him, wraps his arms around Sam's shoulders, pulls him close.

Sam presses his face to Dean's chest and cries, clings to Dean's t-shirt, lets Dean rub circles on his back. It's not even about wanting or sex or desire, it's just that he's never had anybody to take care of him except Dean, and when he hurts as much as he does, all he wants is Dean to take the hurt away.

"Hey," Dean whispers. "Hey, Sammy, shhh, it's OK." He kisses the top of Sam's head, strokes his hair, rubs his back. "It's OK," he says over and over again.

Sam cries until he can't anymore, knows he's probably gotten tears and snot all over Dean's t-shirt but he's too exhausted to care.

"Maybe," Dean begins, his whisper ghosting against Sam's temple. "Maybe you should see somebody. A doctor. Somebody you can talk to."

Sam nods. He doesn't know if it will help, but needs something, some way to get the ugliness out of him.

Dean urges him back to bed after a few more minutes and Sam, exhausted, falls asleep hard.

The next morning, Dean and John are already up and gone by the time Sam wakes. He vaguely remembers Dean smacking him on the head, telling him to hurry up if he wanted breakfast, but that could have been hours earlier.

Sam takes his time--long, hot showers with no one banging on the door are a luxury few and far between. It's already ten o'clock by the time his hair's dry and he's ready to leave the room.

The world outside is crisp white, huge mounds of snow everywhere he looks, covering the cars and the roofs and making the large pine trees bend beneath its weight.

It's so beautiful it takes his breath away a little bit and he stands there outside the door for a few minutes just taking it in. It's so beautiful and clean that he can hardly remember why he was so upset the night before, though he still feels like an idiot and his stomach drops a little bit when he sees Dean tromping down one of the few cleared pathways.

Dean doesn't say anything about his breakdown, though, just hands him a Styrofoam box. Sam pops it open and there's waffles and fresh fruit and bacon inside, and he grins at Dean and says, "Thanks," before tugging off a glove with his teeth and digging in with his bare hands.

Dean laughs and shakes his head. "You could go inside, you know," he says. "Eat at a table like a normal human being."

"Nah," says Sam, and he sits down right there in a snow bank to finish his breakfast. "It's gorgeous. I've never seen snow like this."

Dean stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks around. "Whatever," he says, but Sam can tell Dean thinks it's cool, too.

Most everyone else is eager to get back on the road, get to wherever they were going before the blizzard came in. Everybody's tense and snapping at each other, but Sam feels happy for once. They don't have anywhere to go and the lodge is giving them a discount on their room since John helped fix one of their plow trucks and Sam and Dean help the stranded motorists dig their cars out of the parking lot.

It's hard work, but Sam doesn't mind it. It's not that cold out, barely below freezing, and he likes being out in the fresh air, likes working by Dean's side.

That night, Sam sprawls on the bed, tired and full and warm. The lodge restaurant had been serving pot roast and the waitress had slipped Sam and Dean seconds, ruffled Dean's hair and said something to John about growing boys and knowing perfectly well how much two teenagers ate. The second helping was fantastic, but the best part had been seeing the horrified expression on Dean's face after she'd ruffled his hair.

"Thinking we might settle in," John says that night. "Got a line on a nice little house. Haven't seen it yet, of course, but it seems like it'll serve our purposes. Only two bedrooms, and I know I said we'd get each of you your own room next time, so I figured I could camp out on the couch."

"We don't mind sharing," Dean says around a mouthful of toothpaste. He spits into the sink and rinses his mouth. "No reason for you to sleep on the couch."

Sam realizes his father is looking at him, and he just shrugs. "I don't mind sharing with Dean, even if he does fart in his sleep."

John laughs at that and Dean throws his shorts at Sam's head, which Sam ducks and tosses back at him. He feels good. He feels normal. He thinks maybe he can have a fresh start.

They move into the house on the edge of town a few days later. It's small, but not the smallest place they've lived by any means. It's got a detached two-car garage and a big backyard, storm windows and good insulation so that Sam never has to worry about sitting in a draft.

He's just finished unpacking his duffle when he hears Dean and their dad talking in the kitchen. They always talk about him like he's not there, like he doesn't really exist.

"...no way, Dean. If there's something wrong with Sam, we handle it. You know that. We keep it in the family. You want to bring Child Services down on our heads?"

He hears Dean huff, can imagine the way Dean's running his fingers through his hair. "He's not...Dad. God. I don't know what to do, all right? He's cracking up."

"He's a teenager. Teenagers are difficult."

"Not like this! I wasn't ever like this."

"I know. And I appreciate that, but Sam's...we'll stay here for a while, all right? Maybe you were right. Maybe we shouldn't have left Indiana so soon."

"It's not Indiana. It's...he's not..." Sam expects Dean to tell their father about him locking himself in the bathroom at the lodge, about how he'd sobbed into Dean's shoulder, but he doesn't. He says, "I don't know how to help him, and you're not even trying. You don't want him to see somebody, fine, but I'm not doing this on my own anymore."

Sam expects their father to argue, to order Dean around, to get angry, but he doesn't. He doesn't say anything at all, not for a long time. Finally he says, "Your mom got like this sometimes." His voice is soft and full of pain. "Sammy's...you got her looks, but Sammy, he's just like her."

Sam can hear the clink of glass, knows that their dad's pouring at least one drink, probably two. He'd given Dean his first beer at fourteen but Sam knows he'll be twenty-one before his father lets him drink.

"God, that woman had a mouth on her." He says it reverently. "We'd get in a fight and I can rage but, hell. She could use words like weapons, so exact, a surgical strike. She did it just the way Sam does now."

"You guys fought?" Dean asks. His voice is just as soft as their father's and Sam has to strain to hear.

Their father laughs. "Of course we did. You love somebody enough to marry them, to start a family, you're going to fight. She never backed down. She was...she was fierce." He laughs, but Sam can hear the tears in the back of his throat.

Sam doesn't want to hear any more, doesn't want to hear their dad get drunk as he tells stories about a mother Sam can't even remember. He pulls on his coat and shouts, "I'm going outside!"

It's cold out, but it's not a bitter cold. He spends a few minutes walking around the yard, looking through the garage windows and eyeing the ancient, dilapidated remains of a tree house near the fence. There aren't any houses behind theirs and over the fence is a perfect view of the mountains.

He climbs the mound of snow on the front edge of the yard and slides down onto the sidewalk. On the right, one of his neighbors is shoveling his driveway. Sam waves but turns left, walks for blocks in the quiet stillness of the small town.

There's more snow than Indiana but it doesn't feel as cold. He kind of wishes they'd gone someplace warm, Arizona or Texas or something, but it doesn't matter much. They'll probably be gone before the snow melts, anyway.

There's a playground six blocks from the house. It's small and the equipment is old, but Sam sits on one of the swings, anyway, and gazes at the mountains as he pushes himself back and forth. They've never really lived anywhere with mountains before, mostly sticking to flat, Midwestern plains.

The mountains are beautiful and Sam wonders if he would have liked his mom, if they would have been like Dean and their dad, able to communicate through looks and shrugs, no words necessary. He doesn't know, wants to be able to say that he'd like her, but he's not sure. She's impossible to imagine. Every time he tries, she's just not there.

When Sam gets back to the house, his cheeks burn from the sudden change from cold to warm. It feels kind of nice. His dads on the couch, drinking and staring at the TV without watching it. Dean's in the kitchen finishing up dinner and Sam's not surprised when their dad opts to stay in the TV room drinking instead of joining them.

"So," Dean says. He shovels a forkful of rice into his mouth. "What do you think of Snow Pass?"

Sam shrugs. Small towns are all the same, it's just the little details that change.

"There was a help wanted sign down at the auto body place," Dean tells him.

Sam smirks and raises his eyebrows. "You'd get a job? A real job like a normal person?"

Dean shrugs and shovels more food into his mouth. "Could be interesting. I'll try anything once."

"What about not talking with your mouth full?" Sam asks. "You think you could try that?"

Dean squints at him, but takes a big gulp of milk and swallows before saying, "Bitch."

Sam looks over his shoulder at where their dad's drinking his dinner and staring sadly into the distance.

"Hey," Dean says, nudging Sam's foot with his. "I'll make him eat something later. Don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried about it," Sam says, but he his. He always is. He sometimes wishes genies were real the way they were in stories, three wishes and all that. He'd wish for a normal life, the kind of life where monsters didn't exist and they lived in the same town for years at a time and his father didn't wind up at the bottom of a bottle every other night.

He'd wish for the kind of life where the stubble on his brother's chin didn't make his breath catch in his throat and he never had to lie about his name or where he was from and, hell, if Sam's wishing, he'd wish for a life where his mother never died. They'd live in Lawrence, and his dad wouldn't drink too much, and Dean would have been able to be a kid instead of having to raise Sam, and everything would be all right.

"Hey," Dean says, nudging Sam's foot again. "Turn that gigantic brain of yours off for one night, OK? I'll get the bottle from him after a while and make him eat and get him to bed."

"I know you will," Sam says, because that's what Dean does. He takes care of everything, always has.

"So just eat and stop worrying," Dean tells him.

Sam thinks if he's really wishing, he should wish that Dean wasn't his brother because he's just...God. Mouth stuffed full of food or not, the way he looks in his tight long-sleeved t-shirt and three days stubble and casual slouch is so good that it hurts Sam all the way down to his bones.

Dean takes him shopping the next day for school supplies. He doesn't need much, just pens and a couple folders. If he just rips out the pages he's already written on, most of his notebooks from Indiana will work just fine.

Snow Pass is a really small town, the general store connected right to the diner and Sam can hear girls giggling and whispering about Dean as he picks out black ballpoint pens and folders in shades of blue and green.

They get cheeseburgers and fries and slices of hot peach pie with vanilla ice cream and Sam eats most of it without a word.

"You all right?" Dean asks as he finishes off his pie.

"I think most of the girls at that table over there want to sleep with you," Sam tells him.

Dean barks out a laugh, shakes his head. "Christ, Sammy."

"They haven't stopped looking at you since we came in."

"Yeah, well, I'm not looking to go to jail any time soon. Besides, we're gonna play by the rules this time, right? I might even get an actual job, so..." He shrugs. "You gonna eat that?"

Sam stabs his fork into the last of his pie and grins at Dean and says, "Hell, yes."

School starts a week and a half later and it's typical. The other kids have all known each other since they were in diapers and they're so used to their own cliques that it doesn't even occur to them to let Sam in. He tries to convince himself that he doesn't mind. He's used to being on the outside, and at least he can get some reading done while he eats lunch alone.

He's mostly finished with his lukewarm sloppy joe when someone sits down across from him at the empty lunch table. "Hi. You're Sam, right?"

Sam glances up. The girl sitting down across from him is Cora Hamilton. He knows her name because everybody knows her name. She's a senior, the head cheerleader, Homecoming Queen, blah, blah, blah. Every small town has one.

"He won't date you," Sam says, looking back down at his book. He flips a page. It's US History for sophomores at Snow Pass High School. It had been European History for sophomores in Indiana, and he wants to catch up.

"What?" she asks. Her laugh is pretty, like the rest of her.

"My brother. He doesn't date high school girls."

"How do you know I'm not hitting on you?"

Sam looks up at her and raises one eyebrow. Cora laughs again and nods. "OK," she says. "Busted." She's wearing her cheerleading uniform and a tiny gold cross hangs from a chain around her neck. She says, "It wouldn't hurt to introduce me, would it?"

"And have my family run out of town because my brother violated the sheriff's daughter? That would hurt."

She laughs again, shakes her head. "Who said anything about violation?" she asks. She blushes as she says it. "I just thought he was cute. I didn't say I wanted to...do that."

"And that's why Dean doesn't date high school girls," Sam tells her.

She nods and steals a French fry from his plate. "So," she says after a minute. "You seem to know a lot about me and all I know about you is that your name's Sam and you have a cute older brother who is, apparently, a pig."

This time it's Sam's turn to laugh. "There's not much to know, really, and you don't need to bother. We move a lot. I'll probably be gone by the end of the semester."

"That sucks," says Cora, and she seems to mean it. "Come on." She tugs his US History book away from him. "I'll introduce you to some people. Eating lunch alone sucks, too."

Since she stole his textbook, Sam doesn't have any choice but to follow. Cora introduces him to her friends, her younger brother, Aaron, who's a sophomore, too. Everybody's really nice and Sam tries to fight it, but he starts to like Snow Pass against his will.

 

Dean always takes the bed nearest the window. Sam knows it's because Dean thinks he's a baby, that he needs to be protected, but he doesn't really mind. Sam's bed is always warmer that way, and he's been freezing ever since he lost his baby fat and his bones started to grow nearly too fast for his skin. Besides, he likes looking out the window and being able to see Dean at the same time.

He's decided he's going to let his stupid infatuation with Dean go. He doesn't know how--loves Dean so much it hurts him, sometimes--but he will. He'll just ignore it. He'll focus on something else. He'll ignore it until it withers away and dies and then he'll be OK again.

"I hate my job," Dean says, throwing himself across the room onto his bed.

"You love your job." Sam doesn't look up from the book he's studying. He's not going to look to see what Dean's wearing or if he's got a smear of grease on his cheek or whether or not he's wearing shoes.

"OK," Dean admits, "as far as civilian jobs go, mine doesn't completely suck. But, my God, Sam, you would not believe the condition some of the cars I see are in. No regular oil changes, no regular tune-ups--I drained transmission fluid today that looked like three-week old coffee. With grounds. It should be illegal."

"It should," Sam says.

"Are you mocking me?"

Sam sighs and looks up from his book. No grease smears. Dean looks scrubbed clean even though he just got home. Sam's throat tightens and he looks back down quickly. "Not mocking," he says. "I just think people shouldn't be allowed to have something they can't take care of."

"Exactly. You're not so stupid after all."

Sam rolls his eyes.

"Dude," Dean says, his voice switching to a low whisper, "that girl Alicia was waiting outside the garage when I got off and--"

"No," Sam says sharply. "I don't want to hear one of your perverted stories, Dean."

"You say that like I tell them all the time." Dean crosses his arms over his chest.

Sam nods, "Yeah. That's 'cause you do."

"I imply," says Dean. "I make use of innuendo. That is not the same thing as giving you details."

Sam laughs. Dean tries to play the dumb high school dropout a lot of the time, but when he uses words like "innuendo" Sam's reminded of what an act it is. "So what makes you want to give me details now?"

"I didn't say details. Just, well, religious experience, Sammy. Seriously. I may never look at women in the same way."

"Did she have tentacles?" Sam asks, deadpan. "Are you into that? Because I'm not going to judge if you're into that."

"Smartass," Dean says, whipping a pillow at Sam's head. Sam catches it and whips it back.

The first thing Sam has to do, he thinks, is spend less time at home. Because when he's home all the time, he sees Dean all the time, and if he's going to let it go he has to keep his mind off it.

When Dean yawns and stretches and closes his eyes to nap after a full day's work and whatever life altering sex he'd just had, Sam flips a page in his notebook and gazes down at the blank page. He thinks for a moment, pen poised in his hand, then begins to write.

1. Outside activities
a. clubs
b. sports
c. job

He's already found out that the track team doesn't start practicing until March, and it's too late in the season to join the basketball team, but he might be able to find something.

There's nothing much to do in Snow Pass but snowmobile or hang out at the YMCA after school. There's no way Sam could ever afford a snowmobile of his own, but he does have the fifteen dollars it takes to register for the after school program. He goes with Aaron to play half-court basketball, noting the study lounge and the game room on the way.

The whole building smells like chlorine from the pool in the basement, and the hallways to the locker rooms are small and humid, stripes painted in mustard yellow and burnt orange and avocado green along the walls, turning into arrows that tell them where to go. The yellow stripe peels off early, says "Women" and points down another long hall. The orange stripe flips overhead, going across the ceiling and ending at the doors to the men's locker room. The green stripe continues to a short stairwell and a dark door that's always locked, the sign saying, "Pool."

Aaron tries to tell Sam that the pool is haunted, that the reason no one's allowed down there is because the ghost of a kid who drowned after cracking his head on the side. The place doesn't feel haunted, though, no flickering lights or sudden temperature changes, so Sam just shrugs it off and smiles when Aaron gets annoyed that Sam doesn't believe him.

Sam doesn't love basketball, not the way he loves track or soccer, but he's pretty good at it. He's the tallest sophomore, taller even than most of the juniors and seniors, and he's not easily intimidated. A guy on the other team is the kind of guy you can just look at and know he's a poor sport and a cheater. Sure enough, he throws elbows like they're going out of style, so Sam offers to guard him; he figures if the guy's going to be aggressive, he might as well be covered by somebody who won't back down or stoop to his level. Sam takes an elbow in the ribs and one in the back without even blinking, but he kind of wants to tell the asshole that he'll take him outside and show him how to spar if it's a contact sport he's interested in.

Aaron grins at the way Sam brushes the guy's aggressive guarding off, passes to him and whoops when Sam jumps and shoots a textbook perfect three pointer. On the way down, the guy gives Sam an elbow in the neck that hurts like a bitch.

"God damn it," Sam says, hand to his neck, even as the ref blows his whistle and the guy says, "It was an accident."

"The hell it was," Sam snaps. Another two inches over and the guy would have gotten him in the windpipe.

"It was an accident," they guy insists, throwing innocent eyes at the ref.

"That's it, Mark," says the ref in a weary voice. "You're gone."

"What?"

"Every damn week I tell you to keep your elbows to yourself and every damn week you play like you're looking to draw blood. You've had enough warnings. You're gone and you're not coming back."

"This is bullshit," the guy, Mark, snaps.

"Get off my court. You show up tomorrow and I'll throw you out again. Understand?"

"Fucking bullshit," Mark says again, but he stalks towards the locker rooms without much more of a fight, and nobody on either team seems sorry to lose him.

"You all right?" the ref asks, peeling Sam's hand away from his neck. "You breathing OK?"

"He just got me in the muscle," Sam says. "I'll be fine."

"Ice it down. There's packs on the shelf in my office."

Sam nods and follows the guy's outstretched arm to a door off the side of the courts. Just down a short hall there's an office on the left with the door open and the light on. Sam sticks his head in, sees the first aid gear on a shelf on the far wall, and grabs one of the chemical ice packs. He snaps the capsule, shakes it up, and places it against his neck, then looks around the ref's office.

He's obviously more than just a ref, since it says "Program Director" on his door and he's got a diploma on his wall from the University of Washington. Christopher James Watrous, the diploma says, awarded a Master of Public Administration.

"What's that mean?" Sam asks, tapping the diploma frame, not looking over his shoulder when the ref, Mr. Watrous, walks in.

"It means I'm underpaid, overworked, drowning in debt, but happy," Mr. Watrous tells him. "Let me see where he got you."

Sam pulls the ice pack away and tips his head to the side and then notices that, hey, Mr. Watrous is pretty built. He's got strong forearms with sparse brown hairs, thick biceps, broad shoulders. Sam winces a little bit when his cool, dry fingers prod the bruise, and it's kind of hard to swallow. He's never really been that attracted to another guy before, not any guy besides Dean, and he's not quite sure what to do about it. He decides just to ignore it and feels a little relieved when Mr. Watrous steps back and pronounces him bruised but otherwise all right.

"You're Sam, right?" he asks.

Sam presses the ice pack to his neck again and nods. "Yeah."

"I'm CJ. I'm sorry about Mark. He's not a bad kid, he's just got issues."

"Who doesn't?" Sam asks. He doesn't care what Mark's problem is, he'd just rather not take any more dirty hits from the guy.

He gets a couple free throws once he gets back onto the court and the rest of the game goes well. CJ gives him another icepack after the game and Cora coos over him when she comes to pick him and Aaron up, touching the spreading bruise with cool, delicate fingers.

When Sam gets home nobody else is there and he's hungry, so he gets dinner started, throws the pork chops Dean had bought the day before into a casserole dish, covers them with sliced potatoes and onions, seasons the whole thing with salt and lots of black pepper.

He sits at the kitchen table and does his homework, eats two apples and a cheese sandwich in the hour it takes for Dean to get home.

"Dude, making an honest living sucks balls," Dean calls out as he removes his boots by the front door. He wanders into the kitchen, stretching his arms above his head, and Sam pointedly doesn't look at where his Henley rides up exposing a sliver of skin. He's heading towards the fridge when he detours sharply and tips Sam's head up, exposing the bruise on his neck. "The hell happened?"

"I'm fine. I played basketball at the Y after school and one of the guys was all elbows."

"You kick his ass?"

Sam smiles wearily and shakes his head. "Is that always your answer to everything?"

"If you didn't kick his ass, I'll kick his ass. You can't let somebody get away with that."

"They ejected him from the game for it. Actually, I'm pretty sure they banned him from the Y. There are rules and consequences in most of life, Dean, apart from kicking ass and taking names."

Dean furrows his brow, like he's thinking about it. "Yeah. Well. Kicking ass is way more fun. You sure you're OK?"

Sam turns back to his trig homework. "I'm sure."

Dean opens the fridge, stares inside for a moment, then pulls back and turns towards the oven. He flips the oven light on and peers through the door. "What...did you...?"

"I've seen you make baked pork chops and potatoes a million times, Dean. I'm pretty sure I'll have the recipe memorized for the rest of my life."

"You don't have to cook, Sam. I know I'm home later than you're used to, but--"

"Seriously, Dean," Sam says, looking up at him. "Not a big deal. I'm fifteen. I can handle a gun. I don't think I'm going to burn myself on the stove."

"It's not..." Dean frowns and runs his fingers through his hair.

"Did you not want baked pork chops and potatoes for dinner tonight?"

"No, I did."

"So what's the problem?"

"You spend all day at school. You don't have to come home and cook."

"And you spend all day at work. How about from now on whoever gets home first starts dinner? It'll probably be you most days, anyway, since I went ahead and signed up for that afterschool thing at the Y."

Dean crosses his arms over his chest and looks annoyed but finally sighs and gives in. "Fine." He moves around the kitchen for a little while like he's not sure what to do if he's not taking care of Sam, then finally gives in and cracks a beer and leans over Sam's shoulder too close just to annoy him.

"Fifty seven," Dean says loudly right next to Sam's ear.

Sam's working on his Spanish homework, so he's pretty damn sure the answer isn't fifty seven. "Dean? Will you quit?"

Dean snatches Sam's worksheet off the table and skims over it, lets loose with a rapid string of purring Spanish that Sam only understands half of.

"I'm pretty sure there'd be a parent-teacher conference involved if I told my Spanish teacher to such my dick," Sam says, snatching the worksheet back. "Stop being such a jerk."

"You're a jerk," Dean says with a grin.

Sam sighs and grabs the beer from Dean's hand, takes a long swig, then hands it back. "Go watch TV or something."

"Sammy," Dean says, looking at the beer in his hand, then at Sam with a spark that might be pride. "I cannot believe you just did that."

"You're driving me to the brink of insanity. Go watch TV or look at porn or clean your guns and let me finish my homework."

"You're driving me to the brink of insanity," Dean mutters as he wanders away. His comebacks are never very good after he's had to spend an entire day doing actual work.

Sam shifts in his chair and tries to ignore the hardon he's got from Dean's proximity and the sound of his voice speaking Spanish and the way his breath had felt against Sam's ear. He definitely needs to crash in the study lounge before coming home, get as much as he can done without the distraction of Dean around.

That night he dreams about Dean kissing his neck, right where the bruise is, and whispering soft words of encouragement as Sam parts his lips and takes CJs cock into his mouth. He wakes up with a gasp, shoves his hand down into his briefs and comes with the first stroke, biting his lip hard to keep back a groan.

Back when Dean hit puberty, Sam had been horrified. "You're gross," he'd declared once Dean explained to him what sex was, that not only did Dean get close enough to girls to touch them, that he kissed them on purpose, and sometimes they took each other's clothes off. "Girls are gross and sex is gross and I'm never going to do it."

Dean had sighed and shaken his head. "You'll change your tune one day, Sam. One day, it's gonna be all you can think about. Trust me."

Sam had rolled his eyes and been completely disgusted. Now, though, he knows Dean was right. He thinks about sex all the time. Everything makes him think about sex--from cheerleading uniforms, to cars, to guns. He imagines what his French teacher's boobs must look like. He follows the long line of Kasie Harrington's leg from the heel of her shoe to the hem of her denim miniskirt and he's instantly aroused.

He thinks about what it must look like in the girls' locker room, bare legs and bellies, breasts curving up over the tops of bras. He doesn't look in his own locker room, doesn't let his gaze linger on bare shoulders and strong backs, asses and bulges and glimpses of bare hip and thigh where towels don't cover.

Pretty much any time he looks at a girl he wonders if she's done it, if she liked it, if she'd ever want to do it with him. He looks at guys and wonders what it would be like to kiss them, to feel their muscles against his own, to feel them hard against him. There's not a day he doesn't think about sex, not an hour, sometimes it feels like there's not even a minute when he's not thinking about it. If he hadn't seen Dean go through the same thing, he'd worry he'd been taken under the spell of a succubus.

Dean, though, had girlfriends when he was Sam's age, had probably slept with at least ten of them by the time he was sixteen. Sam doesn't have anybody, just himself, just his hand in the shower every morning and sometimes after school. Just his hand at night, silent beneath the sheets, biting his lip so Dean won't hear.

He's had sex ed. in three different school districts so even if he hadn't had Dean to tell him, he'd know it was normal to jerk off. He just doesn't know if it's normal to do it so much, if other guys sometimes have to do it four or five times a day.

He knows it's normal to be curious about guys, too. Dean hadn't ever mentioned it thank God, but it had been right there in his textbook in Jefferson Heights, that sometimes teenagers wondered about people of their same gender. He looks up bisexual in the dictionary hoping for something to go on, but it doesn't really shed any light on the subject, and only the first definition really pertains to him, anyway.

It had always been sort of academic before, Dean the only actual guy Sam had ever been interested in. He starts thinking about it more, though, starts considering guys he knows. Aaron's too short, which Sam thinks maybe makes him a jerk, but it's true; they wouldn't be able to make out without Sam getting a crick in his neck.

Most of the guys in his grade are too short, which isn't really fair since he hit his growth spurt early, but he thinks about it as he walks through the halls of his high school, learns to identify the things that attract him--muscles and stubble and pretty much half the guys who hang out in the end of the far hallway near the auto shop. The fact that Dean spent most of his time in auto shop isn't lost on him.

He's exhausted the Friday morning before some big game--he doesn't really keep track of Snow Pass basketball--and he's half grateful that he doesn't have to feign alertness through Spanish and half annoyed that he has to sit through another stupid pep rally at a high school he'll leave behind in a couple of months.

He leans his elbows on the empty bleacher behind him and watches all the pep and pomp sleepily. Cora's pretty, leading the cheerleading squad, but she's not his type. He wonders how anyone could think that Cora was the most beautiful girl in the school when Natalie Powell's sitting right there in the fourth row, dark hair falling around her shoulders, book hidden low to the side. She's a junior, but Sam's in her pre-calc class; math's the only thing he's managed to stay ahead in with all their moves.

He sits behind Natalie in pre-calc, sometimes can't concentrate when she's got her hair pulled up and he can see the soft, pale nape of her neck.

He cranes his neck to see if he can tell what she's reading. He can't see the title of the book but he likes that she's reading during a pep rally, anyway.

"She's a weirdo," Aaron whispers to him.

"What?"

"Natalie. You're always looking at her. She's weird."

"You're weird," Sam says.

"I mean it."

"She's interesting," Sam says, and Aaron rolls his eyes. He goes back to watching the pep rally, though, doesn't want to be stalkery and weird, staring at Natalie all the time. He thinks he doesn't really have a physical type, though he seems to have a strong preference for guys that look like men instead of boys. He thinks about all the girls he's had crushes on before and thinks that the only thing they have in common is not being stupid.

"You look like shit," Aaron tells him.

"I didn't really sleep last night," Sam says. "My brother snores like a freakin' grizzly."

It's mostly true. Dean does snore like a grizzly when he's drunk. Only it hadn't been snoring that had kept him awake, it had been his father's surprise five AM readiness drill. Sam's pretty sure that waking your kids up and making them jog five miles in the dark in the snow is probably illegal.

The cheerleaders start urging everyone to their feet and any other day Sam might enjoy being part of a group for once, but he's too tired. He stands when the people around him do, but instead of screaming out chants he yawns and wonders if he should take a nap after school and then finish his homework, or just finish his homework first and then go to bed early. He glances down towards Natalie and freezes mid-yawn when he realizes that she's looking back at him. She flashes him an amused smile, and Sam's stomach does a backflip that keeps him breathless for the rest of the day.

In the end, he doesn't nap or do his homework. Aaron nags at him until he agrees to come to the Y, where they're going to play dodgeball. Sam's amazing at dodgeball, loves diving for the ball, rolling up to his feet in one smooth motion, choosing his target and letting the ball fly in less than a second. He's not a bully about it, not like a lot of the other athletic guys he's known. He doesn't throw full strength at most people, just hard enough to graze them. When it's down to him and Aaron against three other guys, though, it turns to murder and Sam's laughing hard as he leaps and twists out of the way, grabs the ball like a ricochet and lets it fly back hard and fast, leaving red marks on thighs and shoulders.

After the third game of dodgeball, everybody decides they'd rather shoot hoops instead. Sam hits the showers and then crashes in the study room. Everybody else in the study lounge is laughing and talking and not studying at all, but Sam doesn't mind. He's had years to get used to focusing with chaos going on around him: practicing multiplication tables in the back seat of the Impala, only the light of the full moon and passing cars to read by; memorizing Latin verbs with Motorhead blaring in the next room.

It takes him a second to realize someone's talking to him. He looks up and it's CJ, the youth director.

"Sorry," Sam says. "I was in my own world there. What did you say?"

CJ smiles and leans against an empty study desk. "I just asked if it's your family that moved into the rental on Whistler."

"Uh, yeah," Sam says, surprised. "How'd you know?"

"Because we're neighbors."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'm in the green bungalow to the east."

Sam nods. It's right on the other side of the fence, next to the garage. "I don't think I've ever seen you."

"I only noticed you this morning, piling out of that pickup at the crack of dawn." CJ smiles at him. "You know, that's the time most people leave the house, not get home."

Sam rolls his eyes. "Seriously. My dad was a Marine. He believes in things like five AM runs to keep us on our toes."

"Brutal," CJ says. "I grew up on Air Forces bases, so I know how bad that sucks."

"It's not like I enlisted," Sam says. "It's not like I'm actually a soldier. It's not like he's a soldier. He hasn't been a Marine for twenty years."

CJ shakes his head. "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

"I guess," Sam says. He fiddles with his pen, rolls it between his fingers.

"I'll let you get back to your homework," CJ tells him. "You seemed to be pretty into it before I distracted you. Just, if you ever need a break from the barracks, come on by."

"I couldn't," Sam says.

"Seriously. I've always got soda and frozen pizza, and even a hoop in the driveway once the ice melts."

Sam grins. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, OK."

Cora shows up half an hour later to pick him and Aaron up. She's talking excitedly about the game as she drives Sam home but he's not really listening. He doesn't know most of the people she's talking about, and he suspects that she's talking more for herself than for him or Aaron. Sam's in the back seat of her white '93 Chevy Cavalier convertible. He has to kind of sit sideways in the tiny back seat to make room for his legs, but he doesn't mind. It's better than walking the twenty minutes home from school, anyway.

"So you're coming tonight, right?" she asks as she pulls into Sam's driveway.

"I don't know, I think I'll just crash," he says. He slaps Aaron on the back of the head to make him open the door and slide the seat forward enough for Sam to get out.

"Don't crash, loser," Aaron says, elbowing Sam in the ribs when he climbs out of the car. Sam presses on the back of the seat, crushing Aaron in the process, and laughs when Aaron's arms flail helplessly.

He lets go of the seat and steps back, out of Aaron's range. "I might be there, but don't count on me, OK?"

Cora sighs and says, "OK." She looks towards the garage, which is empty. "You could, uh, bring your brother."

"Dean? At a high school basketball game? That's so not going to happen."

"Doesn't he have any school spirit?" Cora asks.

"He didn't have school spirit when he was in high school," Sam tells her. "He definitely doesn't have any now."

Cora frowns but doesn't say anything else and Aaron pulls the door closed. Sam waves at them as they back out of the driveway. He glances at the green bungalow to the left, then heads inside and drops his backpack by the front door, shrugs off his coat and heads into the kitchen. There's something in the crock pot that smells good. He lifts the lid and sniffs at the steam, sees it's roast with carrots and celery and onion and big chunks of potatoes, then puts the lid back on. He's hungry and the roast won't be done until Dean's home at least, so he makes himself a peanut butter sandwich and eats that and an apple and a whole bunch of celery dipped straight into the peanut butter jar.

He washes his hands and goes to grab his backpack, and his father's sitting in his chair in the living room, hunched over his journal. "Who was that girl that gave you a ride home?" he asks.

"Cora Hamilton."

"Hmmm," his father says. He flips a page in his journal and doesn't seem to have any further questions, so Sam takes his backpack into the kitchen and starts on his homework.

An hour and half later, Sam hears his father say, "Dean, come here," as soon as Dean gets in the front door. There's some hushed conversation and Sam catches the words ride home and girl. He rolls his eyes. Only his father would find something suspicious about him getting a ride home with a girl. He probably thinks she's a demon.

Dean groans and though Sam can't hear the words, he can tell from the tone that Dean's not happy.

They argue for a while in hushed voices. He hears Dean say that he just got of work, damnit, but then he sighs and Sam knows Dean's given in. Dean always gives in and does whatever their father wants him to.

They both walk past the kitchen and Dean stops. Their father keeps walking, goes into his room and shuts the door.

"I didn't sign up for this!" Dean shouts at his father's retreating form. He sighs, then, and rakes his fingers though his hair. He has a smudge of grease on his chin that Sam wants to rub away. "So," he says, turning to face Sam.

Sam feels nervous, suddenly, like the feeling he gets when something's watching him from the shadows. "So?" he asks.

Dean pulls out the kitchen chair on the other side of the table and straddles it. He leans his arms on the back of the chair. "I think we should talk about sex."

Sam swallows hard. "I...what?"

"Sex, Sammy. We should talk about it."

"I'm, um, I'm actually reading a biology textbook right now," Sam tells him. He gestures towards the book to prove his point. "Not to mention the fact that I've had Sex Ed. More than once. I know what sex is and we really don't have to talk about it."

Dean blows a puff of air out between his lips and nods. "Yeah. Look. It's not like I'm chomping at the bit over this, either." He sighs. "I could just give you Dad's sex talk if you want. It's pretty simple."

Sam thinks he'd rather crawl beneath the table and die.

"Wear a condom," Dean says.

"Duh," says Sam.

"That's Dad's sex talk. The one I got, anyway. The one you get from him goes something like, 'Dean, I think you should talk to Sam about girls.'"

Sam winces and looks down at his textbook. He supposes it could be worse. He could have to talk about sex with his dad.

"So, condoms," says Dean. "You say 'duh' now, but when the time comes and she's willing and you're ready and there's no condom within five miles, you're going to be tempted to rethink that. You're going to think one time without a condom can't hurt but, seriously? AIDS, the clap, a kid, nobody wants any of that, Sammy. You hear me?"

Sam nods. He can feel the blood heating his cheeks.

"And there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Sex is a beautiful, natural thing, and that was a great talk." He gets up and spins he chair back around, rubs the back of his neck. "Man, I need a beer."

Sam stares down at his textbook trying to concentrate on mitochondrial DNA while Dean opens the fridge and pulls out a beer. He pops it open against the edge of the counter and drains half of it at once.

"So," says Dean. "You, uh...that was good, right? I mean protection's important and that's all...you know the details, right?"

Sam nods. He does. In theory.

"Do you have any questions for me?" He looks like the last thing he wants is for Sam to ask him something.

"Nope." Sam shakes his head. "No, I think we're good. Condoms. Gonna use 'em. Good talk."

"Great."

"Only, I'm never getting laid." Sam hates it when his mouth moves before he gives it permission to. It's almost worth it, though, to watch Dean struggle not to spew beer out his nose.

"OK," Dean says after a hard swallow. He coughs a couple times, thumps his chest. "Went down the wrong pipe, there."

"I'm serious, Dean. How many girls had you slept with by the time you were my age?"

"It's not quantity that matters, Sam--"

"As long as the quantity's greater than zero, you mean."

Dean sighs and sits down, rubs his hand over his hair. "Look. Don't stress about this, OK? It'll happen when it happens."

Sam huffs out an annoyed breath. He doesn't need platitudes.

"I didn't know you were that worried about it. Because if you are, I can arrange--"

"I'm not worried," Sam says. "I just..." He sighs. "It's all I can think about. I can't concentrate on school, I can't concentrating on basketball, I jerk off, like, six times a day--"

"Six?" Dean asks. He chuckles softly and looks impressed.

"It's not funny. It's...I don't know. Freakish."

Dean waves his hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. Eventually things'll calm down, all right? You'll stop getting a hard on every time the wind blows the right way, I promise."

Sam groans and drops his face into his hands. He wishes he just would have kept his mouth shut.

"Every single guy your age is going through the same thing. I went through the same thing."

"You had girls to have sex with when you were going through it."

"Because I went out and got them. They're not just going to fall into your lap, OK? It takes an effort. Not much of an effort if you're lucky, and as good looking as I am--"

Sam looks up at him with a withering glare.

"You have to make the effort, Sam. Talk to some of those girls who giggle when you walk by. It's unnerving, I know, but the giggling's actually a good thing. Girls giggle when they talk about you, and they only talk about you if they notice you."

"Notice that I'm a freak."

"I've seen the way those girls look at you when I drop you off in the mornings. They don't think you're a freak."

"Really?"

"Really." And Dean doesn't seem to be lying, either. It floods Sam with relief. Dean never holds back when he thinks Sam's a freak, always takes every advantage to tease him about girls. If he honestly thinks Sam has a chance at having a girlfriend, though, then Sam believes him.

He considers asking Dean exactly how he's supposed to go out and get the girl, but he's had enough humiliation for the night and Dean seems to be glad to be finished with the whole conversation, anyway. Instead of asking he just goes back to his biology homework and tries to keep his mind of the idea of Natalie Powell maybe possibly liking him back.

"Dean," their father says from the hallway. He and Sam have been circling around each other since the fight in Indiana. Sam can't decide if he likes his father's distance or not.

Dean gets up and Sam finishes his homework and listens to their low, murmured voices. It's a calm back and forth with the undercurrent of energy that means they're planning a hunt. He considers getting up and asking what the hunt's about, but he's not sure he wants to know. He's not sure his father would tell him. He still treats Sam like a civilian most days, like he's too stupid to understand.

"Hey," Dean says later that night while Sam's getting ready for bed. "You gonna be OK on your own this weekend?"

"Sure," says Sam. Because he's fifteen years old and he knows how to salt windows and doors, knows how to put up protective sigils, knows how to handle a gun.

"OK. We're, uh, driving over to Olympia to see about a car tomorrow," Dean says. As far as lies go, it's one of his worst.

"Have fun," Sam says, a little annoyed that Dean thinks he has to lie to Sam to protect him but mostly relieved that he doesn't have to join them on the hunt. He doesn't ask where they're really going, what they're hunting. The details never make it better. He sifts through the papers on his father's desk after they leave, anyway, doesn't find much. Bigfoot lore, notations about werewolves that follow astrological patterns that have nothing to do with the moon, a spell to protect against creatures that want to eat your eyes, or maybe want to force-feed you eyes. Sam's Sumerian isn't good enough for him to be completely sure.

He gets into bed and cracks open his book, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, which isn't for school but is turning out to be really freaking beautiful. Sam wonders what Dean would say if Sam told him he thought a book was beautiful. He'd probably tell Sam not to get paper cuts on his dick.

He reads for a while, then loses focus and fidgets for a while and finally gives the book up. The house seems too empty. He gets up and makes sure the wards are secure and all the salt lines are in place. He makes himself a sandwich. He eats half of it and decides he's not hungry. He refuses to worry about Dean or their dad.

He watches TV, but there's nothing on except a crafting show and a rerun of Family Matters. He wonders what the hunt is about, goes back to his Dad's room and feels like he's doing something wrong as he reads every piece of paper tacked up neatly on the wall, studies every photograph and drawing.

There's a spate of unexplained suicides in central Oregon. There are pages of copies from books describing vrykolakas. There are photographs of women and men who have gone missing near Sekiu. There's no way for Sam to tell where Dean and their father have gone, what they're hunting.

He thinks about jerking off, now that he's alone and can take his time, but he's not in the mood. He heads back to the family room to watch whatever stupid thing is on TV when he sees movement out the big front picture window. It's CJ, he can see that now, even though he's wrapped up in a big coat and hat and scarf. He's shoveling the sidewalk in front of Sam's house, and Sam hurries for his boots, pulls on his coat and hat and heads out the side door to grab the shovel from the garage.

"Need help?" he asks, and doesn't wait for a response before he starts working on clearing away the few gentle inches they'd received overnight.

"Hey," CJ says with a grin. "I was gonna hit down to the end of the block, then go snowshoeing. You in?"

"I don't know how to snowshoe ," Sam admits.

"Well, we can't have that. You have to run laps at five in the morning but you don't know how to snowshoe? Sounds like that Marine father of yours is getting sloppy."

Sam laughs and they clear the rest of the sidewalk in less than ten minutes.

When Sam thinks of snowshoes, he thinks of large ovals strung like tennis rackets. Instead, CJ hands him a pair of powder-coated aluminum and a steel snowshoes that look like something out of a spy novel. They snap on easily over his boots and after five minutes instruction in CJ's back yard, they're off towards the mountains. It's a little awkward at first, widening his stance enough to keep from knocking them together, but once he gets the hang of it he can walk and run just like it's nothing, just like he'd always been doing it.

"You feel like you can go four miles there and back?" CJ asks him.

"Easy," says Sam.

"Cool. I'll take you on my favorite trail. It's awesome."

They head past the tree line and into the forest, mostly narrow spruce with some hemlock pine. It's so quiet and so beautiful, Sam forgets that's he's worried about Dean and just focuses on the world around him, snow covered and silent, no sound except bird song and their feet in the snow.

After a few miles, Sam can hear water, and they end up parallel to a small stream, half iced over, still gurgling over rocks beneath patches of ice and snow.

"I was born in Texas," CJ tells him, "but we moved before I was a year old. I've lived on bases in seventeen states, plus stints in Italy and Korea, never knowing how long we'd be there or where we'd go next."

"It's just, like, pack up, son, we're moving on," Sam says, shaking his head.

"Exactly. Chin up. Good little soldier. We ended up at McChord when I was sixteen, that's near Tacoma, and I decided I didn't want to move anymore."

"Just like that?" Sam asks.

"No. There was a lot of fighting. My mom was pretty freaked out when I told her I wanted to move out on my own. But I did it, graduated early, paid my way through college."

"You didn't miss them?" Sam asks. He can't imagine a life without Dean, without their dad.

"Of course I did. But it was time for me to move on, to be on my own. I still miss them sometimes, but it's not like we never see each other. It's a lot easier to get along with your father when you don't have to live with him."

Sam thinks about that for a moment. "You don't know my dad," he says. "I don't think we'll ever get along."

"You'd be surprised."

"Seriously. I'm never going to be like Dean, and that's all he wants. Another Dean, another good soldier who's willing to follow orders and," he pauses. "I don't mean that Dean doesn't have a mind of his own, because he does. It's just...I don't know. They get along. They're nothing alike and they get along and I don't understand."

"Tell me about Dean."

Sam shrugs. "I don't...he's just Dean. Our mom died when I was a baby. I don't remember her. But ever since then, Dean's taken care of me. He gets me. I mean, yeah, he makes fun of me for liking school and getting good grades and not sleeping with every slutty girl I meet, but he doesn't mean it, not really. He gets that I'm different and he doesn't try to punish me for it. My dad, though, it's like he keeps trying to slam me into this mold and I just won't fit and he won't stop trying to force me into it, getting pissed at me every time he realizes I'm not the right shape. Dean lets me be myself. Mostly. He probably wouldn't talk to me for a week if he knew I was telling you all of this."

"Why's that?"

"Because if there's a problem, we keep it in the family. We don't let anyone else in. It's like me and Dean and our dad, that's the entire world, and it's..." Sam sighs.

"Suffocating," CJ says

Sam nods. He was going to say "safe," but it's suffocating, too.

The last half mile is steeper than the previous parts, so they don't talk much, CJ just gives him tips on how to climb in snowshoes and suddenly they're over a rise and Sam's gazing down into an untouched, pristine basin, perfectly smooth lake filling its center. It's frozen over on the far side, the ice becoming thinner and then nonexistent towards the near shore.

"I love this place," CJ says. "You should see it after the snow melt, asters and bluebells everywhere, it smells, God, it's like heaven."

It is a little bit. They hike down around the lake's edge, stop for a while and eat the protein bars CJ kept in the inside pocket of his coat. On the hike back, they're halfway there when a snowball hits Sam on the shoulder. He turns and sees CJ grinning at him, whoops with laughter as he gathers up snow and shows CJ what a real snowball assault feels like, from somebody who's actually been trained in offensive combat.

"I say we bake up, like, three pizzas and see if there's a game on," CJ says when they get to his backyard.

"I have homework," Sam says.

"And I have paperwork. Bring it over."

Sam grins at him and nods, "Yeah, OK." He eats an entire pepperoni pizza by himself and finishes off nearly a liter of soda. He tries to convince CJ that he's old enough for a beer, but CJ just raises an eyebrow and hands him another Coke.

He spends Sunday at CJ's, too, reading his book and not thinking about where Dean is or if he's all right.

Monday he walks to school and calls Dean's cell phone, says, "Where the hell are you, you idiot? I have to walk in the freezing cold because you haven't gotten your ass home. Next time, I'll drive the Impala by myself, swear to God." He doesn't ask Dean if he's alright.

He goes to the Y after school, lets Cora drive him home, and when he sees his dad's truck in the driveway he doesn't let anyone else see how relieved he is. His dad's in his room going through research and Dean's stretched out on the couch, ice pack on his shoulder, battered but alive and Sam thinks that, really, sometimes that's all that matters.

 

The weeks pass like that, school and the Y, rides home with Cora when he doesn't feel like staying late to study, rides home with CJ when he does. His dad's almost always gone, either physically or in his room researching or so drunk he might as well not even be there. Dean drives him to school and fucks women he picks up in bars and works at the garage and perfects his crock pot recipes and joins their dad on hunts some weekends, when it means he won't be gone too long.

"You finish your homework?" Dean asks as he comes into the family room and sits down slowly on the far end of the couch. He's been moving slow for a while, ever since he and their dad got back from "seeing about another car." Like Sam's stupid enough to believe that going to look at a car is something that results in gashes on his father's forearm or a bruise that's pretty much continuous from the small of Dean's back to the curve of his shoulder.

"Sammy, hey," Dean says, snapping his fingers. "Homework?"

"It's Friday," Sam says, because that's less lame than admitting that, yes, he sat down right after school and worked on it until he was completely done.

Dean sighs and props one foot up on the coffee table and drinks his beer. "What we watching?"

"I don't know. Something about fish."

"Really?" Dean doesn't seem enthused.

"Our other choice is some movie of the week about a woman running from her past."

"Fish it is, then."

They only get two channels, Washington Public Television and a grainy version of the ABC affiliate from Mount Vernon. Sam doesn't really mind, and at least nobody in Snow Pass gets cable, so it's not like his friends think he's weird for not getting references to South Park or MTV.

"Dad say how long he was going to be gone?" Sam asks.

Dean hesitates, and Sam rolls his eyes.

"It's not like I haven't noticed he's gone hunting. It's not like I didn't know you went hunting last weekend. It's not like I'm going to cry myself to sleep until he gets back."

"You cried the last time," Dean says with a smirk.

"My eyes were watering because you had the radioactive farts."

Dean laughs softly into his beer. "That was pretty foul."

"It was nastier then that time you splattered me in goblin spleen. And probably just as flammable."

Dean snorts and nods, "Yeah, even made me gag, once. Last time I eat an entire bowl of guacamole by myself, I'll tell you that."

"You're a pig," Sam says, reaching for Dean's beer.

Dean holds his beer out of reach and pushes Sam's hand away. "Get your own, mooch," he says.

"Seriously?"

Dean shrugs. "Sure. Just don't tell Dad. And just one."

Sam's up and off the couch before Dean can change his mind. He grabs a beer from the fridge and pops the top off against the edge of the counter the way Dean taught him, then settles back onto the couch with a grin.

"Wait for it," Dean says.

"What?" Sam asks, then cringes as Dean leans to one side and rips a fart. "You're so fucking sick," he says, laughing.

Dean laughs, too, and clinks his bottle against Sam's, and they settle in for a night of watching a PBS special about the lifecycle of trout.

The next morning, Sam's awoken by the flick of the overhead light and his father's voice saying, "Up, boys, get a move on."

Dean's up and struggling into his jeans, just as sleep-clumsy as Sam but less stubborn.

"Time's it?" Sam asks groggily. There's no light coming through the window.

"Time to stop bitching and start moving," his father says. "I want you boys front and center, cold weather gear, two minutes."

Sam'd go back to sleep if he could, but he doesn't know why they're in a hurry or what they're doing. Most likely, it's just a training drill, but if it's not, any reluctance on Sam's part could get them killed. He pulls on his flannel-lined jeans, thick socks, the thermal shirt Dean throws at him. His fingers feel thick and slow as he ties the laces of his hunting boots. He's pulling on his sweater as he hurries down the hall, Dean behind him hopping on one foot and struggling with his boot.

Sam pulls on his heaviest parka, gloves and mittens and a ski mask already in it's pockets. "Out to the truck," his dad says with a pat on Sam's arm. "Hurry up, Dean, time's wasting."

At least the truck had been running for a while and the inside's mostly warm. He slides onto the narrow second seat and waits and a minute later Dean slides into the passenger seat with his head ducked low and their father's still lecturing him about untying the goddamn knots in his goddamn laces as he walks around the front of the truck and gets in.

"Leaving your laces like that is sloppy, Dean, and far less than what I expect from you. Mistakes like that take seconds off response time, and seconds are crucial. You know that."

"Yes, sir," is all Dean says and Sam wants to reach up and squeeze Dean's shoulder but he knows Dean will shove his hand away if he tries.

They drive in silence like they always do. Dean plays music when it's just him and Sam, but their dad thinks it's a distraction and prefers silence to keep them sharp.

Sam's dad drives in silence, but he never looks over his shoulder, rarely checks the rearview, is alert more than tense. There's nothing after them, no reason they had to hustle at the ass crack of dawn out into the cold. They're just training, and it burns low in Sam's gut.

It's not fair. He was sleeping. People need to sleep. It's been scientifically proven. Sleep deprivation is dangerous and unhealthy. And it's fucking cold outside. And he needs to study for his US History test on Tuesday.

They end up in some wilderness preserve and it's a familiar game: hunt or be hunted. They've got thirty minutes where they have to split up, go separate directions, and after that the hunt is on, last person standing wins.

Dean's got his favorite guns tucked in the holsters hidden beneath his jacket, his father's got his Ruger, and Sam grabs a bow and a quiver of arrows just to be contrary. His father always fucking bitches about his bow skills despite the fact that he's better than Dean, better than their father, even, who'd just never bothered to notice how much Sam had improved.

The snow is mostly pristine, which is a bitch. Sam sticks close to the sides of the trees, makes paths with his eyes before he steps, making sure to place his feet only on the needles and dirt that had been protected from the snowfall, never to step on the snow itself. When he runs out of bare forest floor and has to step onto the snow, he steps backwards or sideways so anyone tracking him won't be able to tell which direction he's going. He doubles back a few times, makes false starts. It doesn't matter. Dean always kills him, and then their dad always kills Dean.

He's tired of walking, so when he sees a fallen bigleaf maple, its root system bare and arching and sheltered by the pendulous branches of a hemlock, he doesn't have to think twice about stopping. Getting into the shelter is going to be the hard part since it's covered with snow on all sides. Sam ends up climbing a cedar, scraping his palms but good as he pulls himself onto a red alder branch and hangs there, moving hand over hand until he's nearly above the root shelter. He swings back and forth for a minute, until he's got the right trajectory, then lets go and lands neatly in the mouth of the shelter.

Only then does it occur to him that he might not be the only creature who thinks the shelter looks cozy. He breathes slowly, pushes aside the hemlock branches, and peers inside. There is, thankfully, no sleeping black bear or cougar or bobcat.

He slides into the shelter and it's even bigger than it looked on the outside. It's a good six feet deep and four or five wide, and though there's a bit of snow on the lip, the back of the shelter is pure dirt and pine needles. He snaps away any twigs that could scrape his face or poke his eye, then settles down into the far corner to wait.

His stomach rumbles, and he looks up and wonders if bigleaf maple root is edible. He doubts it, and he's not stupid enough to try it and find out. He knows he can chew hemlock needles, but they're bitter and it's not like he's desperate for vitamin C; he just wants a nice turkey sandwich.

He sits in the back of the shelter for what feels like three or four hours. He watches the shadows change on the snow and tugs his arms into his parka to keep warm and tries to review all the details of James Madison's presidency. He's going to be so pissed if he gets less than an A on his test.

He's nearly dozing when he hears the near silent crunch of a footstep. He kneels up and feels for his quiver. He strings one arrow and moves as silently as he can on his knees towards the front of the shelter. He's camouflaged by the pendulous hemlock branches and he's lucky enough that the opening faces east so the sun's behind him.

He sees his father's form crouching low and slow along the tree line, reaching up to touch the bark of the cedar Sam had climbed earlier. There's a scuff there that Sam hadn't even noticed, but it doesn't matter. His dad's looking up into the tree with a grin on his face as he reaches for his gun and Sam pulls the bow taut and lets the arrow fly. It sings through the air and impacts the cedar hard at the level of his dad's eyebrows, scattering bark and wood. Sam's dad jumps back, looks at the arrow stunned for a moment, then turns towards Sam's shelter and begins to laugh.

"Tell me you're in there, Sam," he says, "and I'm not under attack from survivalists."

"That was a kill shot," Sam says, pushing the hemlock branches away. "I hit the red line."

"Sure as hell did. Christ, Dean, did you see that?"

As Sam steps forward out of the shelter he sees Dean ten steps behind their dad, fists in his pockets and huge grin on his face.

"How the hell did you get in there?" their dad asks.

"Climbed up, swung down," Sam says.

"How'd you know there wasn't a mountain lion sleeping in there?"

"No tracks," Sam says with a shrug. The lie rolls off his tongue easily, as lies to his father always do, and it's far better than telling the truth and getting chewed out for not planning ahead.

His dad acts like it's some huge breakthrough, like suddenly Sam's become a real hunter like him and Dean. Sam can't decide if he should be proud of himself for putting the smile on his father's face or angry that once again, his dad only seems to give a shit when Sam fits his father's idea of a perfect soldier.

The next weekend he doesn't even lie to Sam, tells him they're heading south to hunt a poltergeist, invites Sam along.

Sam looks up from the paper he's writing on the Trail of Tears and says, "Um...do I have to?"

His father's face falls but Dean steps in, says, "Nah, Sammy, you stay here and hold down the fort, play with Barbies, cry at movies of the week, whatever girl stuff you do when we're off working."

Sam gives him the finger and Dean ruffles his hair and Sam's left blissfully alone to finish his paper. Once he's done he heads over to CJ's and says, "I owe you a couple pizzas."

CJ laughs and invites him in. "I told you, the food's always going to be on me. I was just about to grill up some steaks if you want one."

Sam bites his lower lip. Accepting pizza is one thing, eating somebody else's steak is another.

"Seriously, Sam, I've got tons. My brother raises beef and buffalo in South Dakota and I've got an entire freezer in my garage full of nothing but meat."

"If you're sure," Sam says.

"I'm sure," CJ tells him, and invites him in for steak and potatoes and green beans from a can.

Once they've gorged themselves, they crash on the couch and CJ puts on a CD of a woman singing to sparse backup tracks.

"Her voice is weird," Sam says.

"You're a heathen," CJ tells him. "This is Joni Mitchell. This is one of the best albums of all time."

"Dean says the same thing about Black Sabbath's Paranoid."

CJ mulls over that. "I'd put it in my top 200, probably."

"Yeah, he's got it at, like, number three. Right below Metallica's Black Album and anything by AC/DC."

"Huh," says CJ. He shakes his head and doesn't make any further comment on Dean's taste in music. "So, who are you taking to the Spring Fling?"

Sam groans and shakes his head.

"What?"

"I don't know. Nobody? I don't know how to dance."

"No guy your age knows how to dance, that's not the point."

"What is the point?"

"Getting out there and embarrassing yourself so that when you're old like me, you'll be thankful you're not a teenager."

"You're not old," Sam says.

"Old enough. I'll be thirty in a few years."

"Oh, you're ancient. You're going to need a walker."

"Don't change the subject. There has to be somebody you want to ask."

Sam thinks about Natalie Powell, wonders if Dean would loan him the Impala for the night. "Not really."

"Are you kidding me?"

"I'm not very good with girls," Sam admits.

CJ smiles at him, shrugs. "That comes with time. And experience."

"I wouldn't even know what to do." And he wants CJ to take him up on it, knows he won't but wants him to offer to show Sam the ropes.

"It doesn't matter," CJ tells him. "When it happens, you just know."

"Really? Because I'm, if you haven't noticed I have limbs that aren't exactly under my complete control and I'm kind of a nerd and I never even have time to get to know anybody before we're leaving again and--"

"Sam," CJ whispers, and turns his body towards his. He leans in a little bit and his eyes go soft and unfocused.

Sam licks his lips, swallows hard. His heart's beating fast. He knows what's going to happen and he takes another deep breath and tells himself just to let go, just to let it happen. Then CJ's hand is on his thigh and he whispers, "Sam," and their mouths are pressed softly together.

Sam doesn't know what to do with his hands, just leaves them where they are as CJ kisses him over and over again, his tongue slipping into Sam's mouth.

"You're so beautiful," CJ whispers and Sam doesn't believe him, but he wants to. He's never been the good-looking one.

He finally places his hands on CJ's shoulders as they kiss, just goes with whatever happens, lets CJ take off his shirt and press him back onto the couch.

CJ breaks the kiss, pulls back. "I don't want to pressure you."

"You're not."

"Because you don't...you really don't have to do this if you don't want to. Or if you're unsure. Even a little bit."

"I'm not," Sam says. "I'm not unsure." It's a lie but he's a good liar. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing, likes the way CJ's body feels against him but isn't crazy for it. He kisses CJ again and it feels like he's in biology lab or something, taking notes on stimulus-response, seeing what happens when he bites CJ's lower lip or when he sinks his nails into the skin of CJ's back.

"Can I take your shirt off?" CJ asks after a few minutes of kissing.

Sam's a little breathless, nods his assent. He's a little shy, can't decide if he should be aroused by CJ's touch or ashamed of his scrawny frame. His breath hitches as CJ's hands slide down his bare chest, brush over his nipples, his ticklish ribs.

"You're really sexy," CJ says, and that's weird, it's embarrassing, like he's talking about someone else.

"I'm not," Sam says.

"Yeah," CJ kisses him again. "You really are." He takes Sam's hand, presses it between his legs. "You feel that? You feel what you do to me?"

Sam does, feels the hard ridge of CJ's erection against his palm. He presses down a bit, rubs at it, and CJ whispers, "Yeah," and slides his hands back up Sam's ribs. Sam shivers, and only a little bit is because it tickles.

Sam's so hard, straining against his fly, all the blood deserting his brain and leaving him with the idea that this is a really, really good idea. He thinks this is maybe the best idea anyone's ever had, the decision he and CJ made to make out.

"Can I see it?" Sam asks.

"If you want."

Sam nods and CJ leans back, unzips his fly and shoves his jeans and boxers down and there it is. Sam's never seen another erect dick before, one not his own, not in real life, anyway.

"Can I...?" Sam's hand is hovering close.

"Go for it."

Sam touches CJ's dick tentatively, feels dizzy with how turned on he is, wraps his fingers around it and it's familiar and strange all at the same time. It feels like his own dick and totally not like his dick, the angle and the smooth circumcision scar at the base of the head.

"I'm not," he starts. "Do you mind if I'm not cut?"

"Fuck, no," CJ says, leans forward to kiss him, kisses him over and over again, pressing him back onto the couch.

Sam covers his face with his hands as CJ unfastens his fly, lifts his hips when CJ tugs at his jeans and then he's naked, right there in CJ's living room. He's naked and turned on in front of another person for the first time and it just feels normal. He's not shy at all.

"See?" CJ asks, stroking Sam's cock slowly. "Told you that you'd just know what to do."

"Do I?" Sam asks. "I'm doing OK?"

"Mmm." CJ runs his hands up Sam's thighs, his hips, back down again. "Fuck, your cock's fucking gorgeous."

Heat spikes through Sam at that. "Yeah?" He wants to believe it so badly.

"Yeah," CJ says, taking it in his hand. "I could take a picture, hang the print on my wall. You're like art, Sam." He dips his head and takes Sam's dick into his mouth and Sam groans and closes his eyes, breath coming quick and shallow, high in his chest. He whimpers and his toes curl and it feels so amazing, better than he ever imagined.

CJ licks Sam's dick from the base to the tip, does it again, sucks on Sam's balls and Sam shudders, can't keep from crying out. He's dizzy with it, feels like he might pass out or float away.

"Every time I look at you," CJ murmurs, kissing the inside of Sam's thigh. "Every time I saw you all I could think of was how fucking gorgeous you are, how sexy, how bad I wanted you." He slides his tongue over the head of Sam's dick. "Knew I couldn't have you. Knew I wasn't even supposed to want you."

Sam thinks about Dean, the way he wants Dean, every time he sees him. He wants that so badly for himself. He wants to love somebody and have them love him back. He wants to stay in this state of shaking arousal for the rest of his life. He wants to come so bad.

"Please," Sam gasps. "CJ. Fuck. Please."

CJ takes Sam's dick into his mouth again, slides his lips up and down the shaft, sucks gently, strokes Sam's stomach and thighs and balls and it feels like forever, like something that can never end, feels so soon when Sam starts to shake and his toes curl so hard they start to cramp and he gasps, "Oh, God, now, I'm going to, now."

CJ groans around Sam's cock, lets Sam come in his mouth, keeps his lips wrapped tight around Sam's cock and Sam can feel him swallowing and he shudders and shakes his way through it. He can barely keep his eyes open, watches through slitted lids as CJ kneels on the couch between Sam's legs, jerking himself off rapidly.

CJ comes with a low groan, spunk landing in spurts on Sam's stomach and chest. Sam feels like he's watching it from outside himself, like it can't really be real.

"Jesus Christ, you hot little fucker," CJ growls, taking Sam by the arm and pulling him up, kissing him hard. "Come on," he say, and pulls Sam to his feet.

Sam follows him, laughing, down the hall and into CJ's darkened bedroom. They fall onto the unmade bed and kiss lazily and Sam's entire body feels weightless and warm and perfect. Sam sighs as their kisses trail off, keeps his eyes closed and drifts. Neither one of them moves until Sam feels a strange, cold prickle beneath his ribcage. He shifts restlessly, unable to find a comfortable position.

"Hey," CJ whispers, sliding next to him, draping his arm over Sam's hips. "You all right?"

Sam nods. He's starting to feel weird, naked and exposed and a little ashamed of himself. He tries to push it away, tries to get the lazy afterglow back.

"You sure?"

He nods again, doesn't open his eyes or speak. CJ sighs and curls up against him and Sam wants to pull away from CJ's hot, sweaty touch, but he doesn't. He keeps his eyes closed and focuses on slowing his breathing, tries to fight the urge to just fight his way out and run. He waits what he estimates is fifteen minutes and tries to slip away, out from under CJ's arm. He hasn't waited long enough, though, because CJ sits up and reaches for him.

"Hey," his voice is soft.

Sam sits on the edge of the bed and looks around for his clothes, only remembers that they're still in the living room when CJ's hand closes around his wrist.

"Hey," CJ says again. "Sam. What's going on?"

Sam shrugs. "Nothing," he says. "I should just...I should get home." He doesn't look back as he stands up and heads down the hall and into the living room. His jeans are there, crumpled on the floor along with his underwear. He pulls them on at the same time, quick like he would during a drill. He grabs his shirt off the couch, pulls it over his head and starts looking for his shoes. He tries to ignore CJ standing in the hallway in nothing but a pair of boxers.

"I'm sorry," CJ says.

Sam finds his shoes and sits on the edge of the coffee table as he puts them on.

"I forget how young you are. We shouldn't have...I shouldn't have..."

"I'm not a kid," Sam snaps as his fingers fumble with his laces. He gives up on tying them and just leaves them hanging free. "And you didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do. All right?"

CJ sighs. He looks like he wants to say more but Sam doesn't give him a chance, grabs his coat and is out the door before CJ can say another word.

He wants to cry but he won't let himself because that would be stupid. He had sex. He's not supposed to feel like crying just because he had sex. With a guy he thought was hot. With a guy he wanted to have sex with. And he'd liked it. There's no reason for him to have a hollow ache in his chest like the fear of being left behind.

He takes a shower and breathes slowly and evenly, the way Pastor Jim taught him when he was meditating. He climbs into his bed, tosses and turns. Gives up and climbs into Dean's bed, wraps his arms around Dean's pillow and burrows beneath the covers, breathes in the scent of sleep and sweat and gun oil, the smell that means Dean. He hugs Dean's pillow close to his chest and refuses to let himself cry until finally he falls asleep.

He hides indoors the next day, can't wait until Dean and his dad get home from the hunt. They get home that afternoon and when Sam asks about the poltergeist, Dean says, "Cakewalk, Sammy," and heads off to take a shower.

Sam looks out the window towards CJs house and wonders if what he'd done the night before counts and means he's not a virgin anymore. He wonders what Dean would say if Sam told him that he'd gotten a blow job. He wonders if he could tell the story with enough vagueness that Dean wouldn't know Sam had been with a guy. In the end he says nothing and goes to school on Monday and if Aaron thinks it's weird that he'd rather walk home alone than go to the Y, he doesn't say anything.

Sam wakes up slowly the following Thursday night, vaguely aware of Dean's hand on his shoulder. "What?" he asks.

"Sammy, hey, come on." Dean's voice is soft. "Wake up, Sam."

"I'm up," he says, though his eyes are still closed and he hasn't lifted his head from his pillow.

"Up and at 'em, Sammy. We gotta get moving."

"What?" he struggles to open his eyes. "What's going on? We're moving?" It's four o'clock in the morning. "Why?"

"We're not moving. Just get up, Sam. Dad's been hurt. We need to get to the hospital."

Sam's wide awake, then, sits up and shoves his covers away and grabs for the clothes he keeps by the side of the bed for occasions just like this, occasions where he has to be ready to go at a moment's notice. His hands are shaking and his skin runs alternately cold and hot. He doesn't ask, just gets dressed and pulls on his coat and boots and follows Dean out to the Impala without a word.

He pulls his legs up, heels on the edge of the seat, curls in on himself as Dean backs out of the driveway. Dean had started the car before waking him, but it's still freezing. He tells himself the cold is the only reason he's shaking.

"What happened?" he finally asks.

"Don't know. Got the next of kin call from the hospital. He's in surgery, that's all I know."

"What was he hunting?"

"We thought it was a werewolf but the pattern wasn't right. Vilkacis, maybe, or an ulfheonar."

Sam pictures his father with his throat torn out and shakes his head, tries to think of anything else. He doesn't want Dean to know how scared he is so he stares out the window into the darkness and worries his lower lip and doesn't cry.

It takes over half an hour to get to Mount Vernon, even with Dean pushing the Impala as fast as she can go over the snowy roads. Then they're at the Skagit Valley hospital and Dean's charging in and charming receptionists and nurses to wheedle as much information out of them as possible and Sam's standing behind him with his hands stuffed in his pockets, his eyes on the blue and white swirled industrial carpet.

When Dean gestures for Sam to sit down in the waiting room and follows a solemn faced nurse to talk in private down the hall, Sam goes to find coffee because he can't just sit down and wait. The cafeteria's not open, it's still too early, but there's a vending machine and Sam gets bad black coffee for Dean and bad coffee with sugar and cream for himself.

"What did she say?" he asks when he finds Dean sitting on the edge of one of the waiting room chairs, elbows braced on his knees.

Dean takes the coffee from Sam's hand with a grateful nod. "They think he probably got attacked by something, a wolf or mountain lion, maybe. He's lost a lot of blood. She didn't know much more than that."

Sam nods. It's what they both expected. They don't talk much after that, just drink their coffee and wait.

Sam hates the way hospitals smell, like infections and blood, bleach and fear. He'd broken his arm a year before when a poltergeist threw him down a flight of stairs like he was a rag doll and his arm broke in six different places. He had to have surgery, had to have pins put in to keep his bones together, and when he finally got out of the hospital he couldn't get the smell off his skin for weeks.

Dean had meningitis when he was twelve, spiked a fever so high they thought it might cook his brain. Sam was supposed to be too young to visit him but even at eight he was too stubborn to accept no for an answer. He remembers sitting next to Dean, watching his drugged, fevered sleep, holding his hand and praying for him to be OK.

Dean was seventeen the time the poltergeist sent a knife blade five inches into Dean's abdomen. It missed most everything important, but it was still a nasty stab wound and he'd been unconscious for nearly two days. It was the most scared Sam remembers being. It was even more terrifying than sitting there at Skagit Valley Memorial waiting to hear if his Dad was going to live or die.

He thinks maybe that's when it started, thinks maybe that's when he realized that he loved Dean more than he should.

He dozes for a bit, half sleeps and wakes every now and again to see Dean drinking more coffee or pacing the floor or staring at his hands.

The sun is up by the time the doctor comes to talk to them. She pulls Dean to the side and their voices are soft and Sam doesn't even care that they're treating him like a child. He doesn't want to know, just wants Dean to make everything OK again.

"He's out of surgery," Dean tells him. "He's not awake, probably won't be for a while."

"Can we see him?"

"Not yet."

"Is he going to be OK?"

"Of course," Dean says, but Sam's not sure he means it.

Sam bunches his coat into a makeshift pillow and curls up on the floor near the wall. He doesn't think he'll actually sleep, but if he curls up and hides away then maybe he won't start to cry, and he can't cry in front of Dean.

He hates this so much, is always terrified that when Dean and their dad leave on a hunt that one or both of them won't be coming back. He wants to find his father and confess all his secrets, apologize for disobeying him, apologize for always talking back. He doesn't know what he'd do if his father died thinking Sam didn't love him.

He does sleep, feels better when he wakes, less like his world is caving in. Dean's still there in the waiting room, standing by the window and gazing out at the snow.

"Any news?" Sam asks, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. From the light coming through the windows it feels like ten or eleven o'clock already.

"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," Dean says with a smirk. It means he hasn't heard anything.

"Let's go get breakfast."

Dean purses his lips.

"We'll tell the nurses we're going to be in the cafeteria and to come get us if anything changes. You know you want bacon."

Dean agrees grudgingly, and Sam feels a little less helpless. He can't do anything for his dad but at least he can take care of Dean, make sure he eats.

When they get back from breakfast, the nurse tells them they can go in to see their dad. Sam steels himself for the worst, but it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. His dad's sitting up a little bit, pale but still strong. The thing, whatever it was, had mauled his leg and his ribs but missed any internal organs.

"You boys get something to eat?" is the first thing he asks.

"Yes, sir," they chorus.

"Good. The doctors say they want to keep me a week. I'm going to give it a day."

"Right. No use in being hasty," Sam says. His father either doesn't pick up on his sarcasm or chooses to ignore it.

"Now you boys get home, get back to work and school."

"But--" Dean begins.

"That's an order. I'm fine and I don't need you here fussing over me when you can be back home getting on with what needs to get done."

"Yes, sir," Dean says softly. He purses his lips and obviously wants to say more, but he doesn't. Sam wants to press his fingers into the bandages over his father's ribs until he cries out and admits that he gives a shit that Dean and Sam showed up to make sure he was alive.

They drive home in near silence and Sam gazes out the window and thinks about the way it had felt to be naked in CJ's arms and he realizes that he probably wants to do it again, all weirdness aside.

 

The next day after work, Dean takes off for Mount Vernon again. Sam offers to come but Dean shakes his head, tells Sam not to worry about it.

His dad's in the hospital. His dad could have died. Sam's not sure how he's supposed to not worry about things.

After dark he gazes out the window for a long time, then heads over to CJ's

"My dad's in the hospital," he says when CJ opens the door.

"Shit. Are you OK? Is he OK?"

Sam nods. "He'll be fine. He got hurt when he was out hunting. He was in surgery for hours but they say he's going to be OK. I don't know."

"Come in," says CJ. "You want something to eat?"

Sam shakes his head.

"You sure? You can have anything that's in the fridge."

Sam opens the fridge and takes out a beer, pops the cap open against the edge of the counter.

"Sam," CJ says, his voice low. "You can't--"

"What? I'm too young for beer but old enough to fuck?"

CJ sighs.

Sam drinks half the beer, tries not to think about what would happen if his father died.

"I never did anything like that before," Sam whispers. He picks at the corner of the beer label with his thumbnail.

"Not with anyone?"

Sam shakes his head.

"I shouldn't have...Christ. I've been kicking myself for days, Sam. I wish I could take it back."

"You didn't make me, you know."

CJ rubs his hands over his face.

Sam shakes his head. "It's just...I don't know. I liked it. But maybe it was too fast."

"This isn't...God. I don't just go around wanting the kids I meet at work," CJ tells him. "I know this is fucked up. I know you're too young. That doesn't change the way I feel around you."

Sam nods. "I wanna do it again. I wanna...I don't know. We can go slower?"

"Yeah," says CJ. "Yeah, of course."

Sam leaves his beer on the kitchen table, moves forward and places his hands on CJ's chest. He can feel the muscles through CJ's henley, can feel his heart beating. "We can just, standing here like this, this won't be too fast."

CJ slides his arms around Sam's waist, pulls him close. He smells like soap and cedar. Sam presses his face against CJ's neck, sighs as CJ rubs his lower back gently.

"You really like the way I look?" Sam asks softly.

"God. Yeah. You're...you don't even know, do you?"

"Know what?"

"How attractive you are."

"I'm not."

"You really are."

Sam smiles, maybe believes it a little bit. It feels good to believe.

"I didn't notice you right away. Well, I did, but I didn't really take notice until halfway through the basketball game that day, when you were guarding Mark Farrell. I watched the way you protected the rest of the team from him, watched you deflect his anger--"

"And his elbows," Sam says.

CJ smiles. Sam can feel it against his temple. "And his elbows. I was so impressed with the way you handled things. It wasn't until after, when I was checking to see how bad he'd hurt you, that it really hit me how gorgeous you were. Your eyes and your mouth, and I thought...you blushed a little bit, when I was touching your neck."

"I did?"

"Yeah."

"I was looking at your arms. I was really blushing?"

"A little bit." CJ pulls back and smiles at Sam. "Kind of like right now."

"God," Sam says, trying to twist away.

"Hey, hey, don't," CJ whispers. "I like it, all right? You look, it just makes you sexier, the way you blush sometimes. It makes me want to kiss you until you're flushed all over."

"Promise?" Sam asks. He can feel the heat in his cheeks, feel the blood rushing down into his cock.

CJ nods and Sam tips his head up and closes his eyes, lets himself fall into the kiss, part his lips when he feels CJ's tongue. He moans when CJ's hands slide down his back, grips his ass, pull him up close. He thinks that maybe they could make out, thinks that if they kept their clothes on they could even stretch out on CJ's bed and kiss and touch each other all night long.

Sam jumps when the back door slams open, when he sees Dean standing there with his hand on the gun tucked into the waistband of his pants.

"You're gonna want to get your hands off my little brother right about now," says Dean.

"Jesus!" Sam snaps. "Don't you know how to knock?"

"Go home, Sammy," Dean says darkly. "Now."

"I'm not a dog," Sam tells him. "You can't just give me commands and expect me to wag my fucking tail."

"You've wagged your tail enough tonight," Dean says. "Go home." He's not kidding, either. His eyes are dark and fierce.

"I hate you!" Sam shouts, stalking past CJ's broken back door.

"I'm used to it!" Dean shouts back.

Sam stomps into the house, slams the front door behind him, stands in the living room shaking with shame and rage. He hopes Dean doesn't shoot CJ, mostly because he doesn't like it when they're on the run.

"Did you have to kick the fucking door down?" he asks when he hears Dean come through the front door a few minutes later.

"I saw him through the window," Dean says. "He was grabbing you."

Sam sits down hard on the couch and doesn't say anything.

"Christ, Sammy," Dean says, raking his fingers through his hair. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Sam crosses his arms over his chest and grits his teeth and stares at the floor.

"That guy...Christ. You don't...I don't even..." He sits down on the coffee table and leans towards Sam, his arms resting on his knees. "Look, I know that he's our neighbor and he probably made you think he was this cool guy or whatever, but that wasn't...he wanted to do stuff to you, Sam. He wasn't giving you beer just because he's a cool guy. He was trying to get you drunk so he could fuck around with you."

Sam looks up at Dean, his nostrils flared. "I'm not an idiot," he says.

Dean looks baffled. "There's easier ways to get beer."

"I wasn't there for the beer."

Dean's silent for a long time. Finally he asks, "Did you have sex with him?"

"Why does it even matter?"

"Because I'm going to fucking kill him if he laid a finger on you. Did you sleep with him?"

Sam clenches his jaw and glares at Dean.

"He's a fucking pedophile!" Dean cries.

"I'm not a little kid!"

"You're a hell of a lot younger than he is."

"At least he's around!" Sam shouts back. "At least he gives a shit about me. He cares about me, cares about how I'm doing in school, listens to me and cares about what I think."

Dean looks like Sam's just slapped him. He looks like Sam's just shot him in the chest. His face goes pale and his mouth moves but no sound comes out.

"I didn't mean it like that," Sam says, regretting the words. He knows Dean cares, knows Dean cares more about him than anyone else in the world. "I didn't mean...I know that you...I just..." He pulls his knees to his chest and buries his face in them. He wishes he wasn't so tall, wishes he were still small enough to hide. "I want somebody to love me," he whispers, and it sounds pathetic even to him.

Dean's quiet for a while and Sam's starting to think that he's left, but then Dean sighs.

Sam looks up at him. Dean's still sitting on the coffee table, staring down at his hands, lips pursed.

"Are you pissed at me?" Sam asks.

Dean shakes his head but doesn't say anything.

"Are you going to tell Dad?"

Dean shakes his head again.

"Say something."

"What am I supposed to say, Sammy?"

It's on the tip of Sam's tongue to correct him, to object to the use of the stupid nickname, but he stays silent.

"What am I supposed to say? That I fucked up? Yeah, OK, I fucked up."

"What?" Sam asks.

"I'm supposed to be watching you and because I'm too wrapped up in my own shit, you fall into the hands of this fucking..." Dean shakes his head. "That what you want me to say, Sam? That this is my fault?"

"It's not your fault!" Sam snaps. "God! It doesn't have anything to do with you."

"You said yourself you want somebody to pay attention to you. That's me, Sam. I'm the one who's supposed to ask you how school's going and, I don't know, go to your soccer games and put your fucking report card on the fridge. And I didn't do that well enough, obviously, so--"

"Can you stop making everything about you?" Sam asks. "Give your ego a fucking break for once. The only way this is about you is how I fucking hate the way I'm invisible when you're around."

"Sammy," Dean says, reaching out for him, and Sam can't handle it. He wants Dean to say, You're beautiful, Sammy. He wants Dean to tell him that he's gorgeous and sexy and that Dean's glad Sam's invisible because that way no one but Dean can look at him. He wants Dean to say so many things that he'll never say, and he can't take whatever pity is going to come out of Dean's mouth so he slaps Dean's hand away and shoves up off the couch and slams his bedroom door behind him as hard as he can before throwing himself onto his bed.

He expects Dean to be right behind him, expects the door to slam open and Dean to be there at the foot of his bed shouting at him. There's nothing but silence, though. He can't even hear Dean moving around. He curls onto his side and watches the door. After an hour he starts willing Dean to come after him, but he won't. Sam's pushed him too far. He always pushes at Dean, always takes things out on Dean, and Dean's never walked away from him, not once. Sam doesn't know what he's going to do if Dean walks away now, if finally Sam did something Dean can't forgive him for.

He presses his face to his pillow, terrified and heartbroken, and he hates the sobs that well up within him but he can't stop them, can't help but cry himself to sleep.

It's the middle of the night when he wakes, and Dean's there, sitting on the edge of his bed. "Hey," Sam whispers.

Dean sighs. Sam's never seen him look so tired. "I'm going to," Dean starts. "I'll take better care of you from now on, OK?"

"It's not about that," Sam whispers. "You don't have to take care of me."

Dean reaches out, smoothes Sam's hair off his forehead. "Course I do. It's my job." He pulls his hand back and lets it drop into his lap. "I'm not very good at saying stuff like this, but I think you need to hear it. There's a difference, Sam, between somebody who wants you and somebody who loves you."

Sam closes his eyes in shame.

"And there's nothing wrong with having sex just because you want to. It's a good thing, OK? Totally natural. But you have to know the difference, you have to know that sleeping with somebody isn't going to make them love you."

"I know," Sam whispers. He's on the verge of tears but he won't cry, he won't let himself.

"And you have to...you can't make somebody think you love them when you don't. You have to be honest, all the time, OK? You can't take advantage of anybody and you can't let anybody take advantage of you."

"He didn't," Sam says.

Dean sighs deeply.

Sam opens his eyes, reaches out to touch Dean's hand. Dean's chewing on his lower lip and gazing down at the floor. "Are you mad that I like guys?" he asks softly.

Dean shakes his head.

"I didn't want to tell you. I didn't know how to tell you."

"Is that what you've been so upset about these past few months?" Dean asks him. "When you said that you were broken, is that what you meant? Because you're not, you're not broken."

"I really am."

"You're not. This doesn't...it doesn't matter, OK? Everything's fine. You're normal, Sam."

"I'm so far from normal it's not even funny."

"It doesn't matter if you like guys, it doesn't--"

Sam surges up, presses his mouth against Dean's. For a second, Sam thinks Dean's going to kiss him back, but then Dean pushes him away.

"What was that?" Dean asks, hand at his mouth like he's really not sure.

"I'm in love with you."

Dean doesn't move, doesn't even breathe for a long moment. He sucks in a sharp breath, then, shakes his head. "Sam--"

"I mean it. I'm not...I didn't want to tell you. I thought I'd rather die before I told you but I can't...I don't care. I don't care anymore because I love you so much I can't breathe." He sits up and scoots until his back is against the headboard. He wraps his arms around his legs and presses his face to his knees. He can't look at Dean, can't bear the disgust he knows is going to be written plain on his face.

"I know I'm a freak," he whispers, eyes closed tight. He'd cry if he had any energy left. "I know I'm fucked up, but I can't change it. I can't make it go away. I'm in love with you and it's never going to stop."

Dean doesn't say anything. Sam feels his hand on his shoulder for a moment, but then it drops away.

"Sam," Dean says finally, voice broken. "I didn't...fuck. Look at me."

Sam shakes his head.

"Come on, Sammy. Look at me."

Sam lifts his head and opens his eyes and Dean's gazing at him gently, not with disgust or hate or fear, and something inside Sam eases open. "Do you hate me?" he asks.

Dean shakes his head. His eyes are shiny, like he's about to cry. "Could never hate you. Not ever. No matter what. You got that?"

Sam nods.

"I mean it. I could never hate you, Sam."

"What am I supposed to do?" Sam asks. "I've tried to stop, Dean. I've tried so hard and I can't...I'm never gonna stop feeling this way."

"We'll figure it out," Dean says, and he seems so sure of himself that some of the ache eases from Sam's chest. "Go to sleep," he says.

"Will you stay with me?" Sam asks.

"I'm always right here," Dean says. He moves to his own bed, though, maybe knowing what Sam really wanted was for the two of them to sleep next to each other, but maybe not.

Sam slides back down into his bed and turns to face Dean, closes his eyes and listens to Dean moving around, getting ready for bed. He wants to say more, wants to tell Dean how sorry he is and that he's trying to change and that he can't help it and it won't ever stop because Dean's so beautiful and good and strong that Sam will never be able to fall out of love with him.

He doesn't think he'll be able to sleep, but then he does. He wakes with the sun coming bright through the window and gets out of bed slowly, shuffles into the kitchen where Dean's got a thick layer of newspaper spread over the kitchen table and his guns in pieces across it.

"Why didn't you wake me for school?" he asks.

"Because it's Saturday," Dean says. He takes a deep breath and reaches for the cylinder of a revolver. He doesn't look at Sam.

"Oh." Sam thinks about breakfast but his stomach lurches and he sits down across from Dean instead.

"Leaded all to shit," Dean mutters as he inspects the cylinder. He doesn't curse their father, but Sam knows how much his hard use and infrequent cleaning of the guns wears on Dean.

Sam picks up a cleaning rod and screws a patch holder onto the end. The solvent's next to Dean's left elbow so he reaches across the table for it. Dean freezes for a moment, Sam freezes in response, and then forces himself to move, to pick up the solvent and set it down in front of him. He doesn't look up, just starts cleaning the bore of the Walther P99.

They don't speak, just spend the morning cleaning the guns in silence. Sam starts to cry after nearly an hour of tense silence, but he stops it quick, chokes it back and bites his lip hard and looks away. Dean doesn't say anything and Sam thinks he can feel Dean's eyes on him but he doesn't look up to check.

They're not going to talk about it. Sam doesn't even have to ask to know that Dean's going to pretend that it never happened, that Sam never told him the truth.

"You coming to visit Dad?" Dean asks once they've reassembled and stored the guns.

"Homework," Sam whispers. Really, he just can't stand the idea of an hour trapped in the car with Dean so quietly angry.

Dean nods and looks relieved, like he doesn't want to spend an hour both ways trapped in the car with Sam, either. "Stick around here, OK?" he asks. "Don't go running off with your friends."

He means Don't go over to CJ's, but saying it would mean acknowledging everything that had happened the night before.

"Yeah," Sam says. "OK."

When Dean leaves, Sam goes to the back pantry and pulls the bottle of whiskey down from the ceiling beams. His father's hiding places are predictable and easy to find. He takes a swig, then another, coughs and sputters and feels the warmth spreading through his belly, the calm spreading through his chest. He understands it, then, a little bit anyway. He understands why his dad drinks so much, why that oblivion would be so tempting.

He recaps the bottle and puts it back. He's not going to be like that. He's not going to numb himself no matter how bad he hurts. So Dean's not in love with him, so what? He knew that anyway, that Dean didn't feel the same. The important thing is that he didn't kill Sam when he found out, didn't want to put him down like the other monsters he fights.

He'd missed a day of school, doesn't know what his assignments are for the weekend. He thinks about calling Aaron to find out, but he doesn't. He thinks that maybe it's best if he just lets his friendships with Aaron and Cora fade away, thinks that will hurt less than the sudden break when his Dad tells him it's time to move on.

After dark he heads over to CJ's. He's not home, but Sam picks the lock easily and curls up in the armchair to wait. It's only an hour or so until he hears CJ's car in the driveway, then CJ's key in the lock.

"Hey," Sam says when CJ sets his bag down by the front door.

"Jesus Christ," CJ says, placing a hand over his heart. "I thought for a second you were your brother back to make good on his threat to kill me."

"Did he draw his gun?" Sam asks. "I'm sorry if he did. He can be really protective."

"He owns a gun?"

"He's not really going to kill you."

"Yeah, well, he seemed pretty damn set on it last night. Jesus Christ, Sam. You really shouldn't be here."

"He's not going to kill you," Sam says.

"Yeah, well, I can't decide which would be worse--that or ending up in jail."

"He's not going to kill you and he's definitely not going to call the cops."

"Well, maybe he should." CJ takes his laptop out of its bag and walks it over to the coffee table, plugs it in next to the TV. "I work with kids, Sam. That's my fucking job, and I can't go around..." He sighs. "I thought we were an exception to the rule, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the rules are in place for exactly these sorts of situations."

Sam sits forward on his chair. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that not only am I ten years older than you, I'm in a position of authority, and I can't...it's fucked up, Sam, no matter how attracted to you I am. I can't be that guy. I can't take advantage of you."

"You're not," Sam says. "You didn't."

"But we can't--"

"I know." He leans back in the chair and looks down at his hands, picks at the dried skin around his thumbnail. "We probably won't be here much longer, anyway. My dad'll probably want to move on as soon as he's out of the hospital. He promised we'd stay until the end of the year, but..." Sam shrugs. He doesn't want to move again, likes the fantasy of putting down roots, of really letting Aaron and Cora in instead of just pretending to. He likes the fantasy of CJ being his boyfriend.

"Sam," CJ says, kneeling on the floor in front of him. He places his hand over Sam's. "You don't have to...you can have your own life."

Sam shakes his head. He's not going to cry.

"I know it's scary, but one day you'll find a place and it'll be the right place. And you'll stay when they move on."

"I won't," Sam whispers. He can't live without Dean.

"You will. And one day you'll realize it. But you're still a kid, and I...I don't know. I saw myself in you. I let myself believe that I was different, that we could do this and it wouldn't be a bad thing."

Sam turns his hand over, palm up, squeezes CJ's hand. "It's never been a bad thing. Even if we don't...it's not like I'm ever going to look back and wish I'd never met you."

CJ leans and kisses Sam's fingers. "You should go."

"I could stay." He doesn't just mean for the night. He wonders if he could do it, if he could stay in Snow Pass and watch Dean and their father drive away.

CJ shakes his head. Pulls away from Sam and stands up. "I'll see you around, all right?"

Sam's not sure he wants to see CJ around. He feels like if he can't have everything he doesn't want anything at all. He says, "Yeah. Of course." He touches the broken hinge on his way out the door but he doesn't look back.

He brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed but he doesn't sleep. He hears Dean get in near midnight, hears him trying to be quiet as he fixes himself dinner and watches a little TV. Sam stays in bed with his eyes closed, hurts so much inside that it's pushed past pain and made him calm.

When Dean slips into their room Sam opens his eyes a slit, watches Dean trying to be quiet as he strips out of his clothes and pulls on sweats.

"I'm never going to have anybody, am I?" Sam asks.

Dean stills. Sam had startled him. He returns to fluid movement in the next second, pulls on his t-shirt and sits on the edge of his bed. He takes his socks off and tosses them towards the corner of the room. "Hey," he says.

"Are we leaving when Dad gets out?"

Dean purses his lips.

"Because the hunt's over, right? The big hunt? The reason he came here, that's what he fought in the woods."

Dean nods.

"Did he kill it?"

Dean nods again.

"So we're leaving."

"We'll stay until summer."

It's not the first time Dean's promised him something he couldn't make good on, but he knows Dean will try his hardest to make it true.

"I'm never going to have anybody, Dean. Not the way Dad and Mom had each other. I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life."

"Jesus, Sam. You say that like you haven't had me and Dad protecting you your entire life."

"I don't want you to protect me anymore. You can't, not really. Not from the stuff that really hurts. I'd rather walk into a nest of ghuls than feel the way I do right now."

"Sammy," Dean says, and for the first time Sam hears it as the endearment it's meant to be. It's not Dean thinking he's still twelve and fat and weak, it's Dean's way of saying I love you.

"Do you love me?"

Dean looks away from him. "How can you even ask me that? How can you not fucking know that, Sam?"

"I know you love me, I just..." Sam turns onto his side, props himself up on his elbow to see Dean better. "Do you ever feel the same way I feel about you?"

Dean shakes his head. It's not an answer and he won't meet Sam's eyes.

"I have to know, Dean. I have to know if I'm the only one who's this fucked up."

"It doesn't matter," Dean says darkly. "How I feel doesn't matter, OK?"

"It does."

"It doesn't. Because taking care of you, putting you first, that's my job."

"That's a fucked up job."

Dean shrugs, moves to sit on the edge of Sam's bed. "Beats fixing cars for minimum wage."

"I'm not going to be able to do it, to be like you," Sam whispers. "I can't just see somebody I want to have sex with and fuck them and walk away. It would probably be easier if I could, but I don't think I can."

Dean sighs and reaches out, strokes Sam's hair gently. "You'll find somebody," he says.

Sam closes his eyes. He can't help it, the way he shudders when Dean's hand brushes his skin, can't help the small gasp Dean's touch provokes.

"I..." Dean pulls his hand away. "Oh."

"I'm sorry," Sam whispers. His cock is thick and heavy, filling quickly with blood. Just having Dean so close is always going to make him want. His breath catches in his throat and his hips rock as if of their own volition.

"I can..." Dean's voice is so soft Sam can hardly hear him. "I can take care of you. If you want."

Sam can't speak, doesn't know what to say, just looks at him pleadingly and whimpers when Dean peels the covers back.

"It's OK," Dean murmurs. "You just...anything you want, OK? And any time you want me to stop, just say the word."

"Please," Sam says, reaching out and cupping the back of Dean's head in his hand. He wants Dean to kiss him. He wants Dean to tell him how gorgeous he is. He wants Dean to never stop touching him ever.

Dean slides off the bed, onto his knees, tips his head and mouths Sam's cock through his boxers and that's it. Sam drops his head back and moans and his fingers twist in the sheets so hard it's painful.

"Hey," Dean whispers, kissing Sam's stomach gently as he eases his boxers down. "It's OK. It's OK, Sammy. I got you."

And when he actually feels the wet heat of Dean's mouth on him, feels Dean's tongue flat against the underside of his dick, Sam groans from somewhere deep inside and wants to just thrust up into Dean's mouth over and over again, would if Dean didn't have his arm draped over Sam's hips, holding him down.

"It's OK, Sammy," Dean whispers when he pulls off, keeps his hand stroking at the same rhythm, kisses the tip over and over again. "It's OK. I got you. I got you. I promise."

Sam comes quickly, not much of a warning except a gasped, "Dean," just seconds before. Dean takes it in stride, jerks him hard and fast right up next to his face, murmurs things like, "That's it," and, "Come on, Sammy," and Sam's entire body shakes and his vision goes slightly black.

He props himself up on his elbows when he starts getting blood back into his brain, looks down at Dean so fucking beautiful, Sam's come right there on his cheek and neck and shoulder.

"Sorry," Sam whispers, reaching out to touch Dean's face, to feel it, make sure it's real.

Dean just closes his eyes, shudders even as Sam's fingers rub the come into his skin.

"Come here," Sam says.

Dean shakes his head, pulls away and stands up. Sam can see how hard he is, tenting out the front of his sweats, and he's never wanted anything so bad.

"Dean," he says, and Dean just shakes his head. "Let me."

"Go to sleep, Sam. All right? Just...you can sleep now, right?"

"You're hard."

"Doesn't matter."

"Of course it does."

Dean shakes his head, takes another step back. "This isn't about me, OK? This can't, if this ever happens again, it can't ever be about me."

Dean's such an idiot sometimes, thinks he's being selfless by sucking Sam off and denying himself any pleasure. Sam's hazy from orgasm but his reflexes are still faster than Dean's, who's not getting much blood to his brain. He pushes himself out of bed, grabs Dean's shirt and uses his forward momentum to propel them both onto Dean's bed, works his hand into Dean's sweats and jerks him quick and hard.

"Don't," Dean gasps but his hips snap up and he moans.

"Tell me you mean that," Sam says, kissing Dean's mouth, then his cheek and his earlobe when Dean twists his face away. "Tell me you really want me to stop."

Dean grunts, gasps, "I can't," then shoves his hand down to cover Sam's. He doesn't force Sam's hand away, just increases the pressure and shows Sam what he wants, how he likes it. "I need," he whimpers. "Fuck, Sam, I need..."

"Yeah," Sam says. His wrist aches a little bit from the strange angle and his other arm is crushed beneath Dean's shoulder but he doesn't stop. He's got Dean's cock in his hand and Dean's panting and moaning and so, so close. Dean comes quietly, biting his lower lip so hard it turns white, shaking in Sam's embrace.

Sam keeps stroking him, coaxes out every drop until Dean winces and pushes his hand away.

"Don't," Sam tells him. "Don't feel guilty."

Dean sighs and the look in his eyes is wild, like he's trapped.

"You wanted it too, right? We both had the same secret?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me."

"Sammy."

"Tell me the truth. Tell me if you feel the same way I do or if I was just a pity fuck."

"Jesus--"

"I deserve that much, at least."

"Stop fucking with my head, OK? Just let me--"

"Tell me."

"Yeah. I feel it, too. You happy now?" Dean drops his head back against the pillow.

"Yes," Sam says honestly, and Dean peeks up at him through slitted eyes. "What? I am."

"You're a freak."

Sam kisses him then. Finally. Kisses him over and over again, soft little kisses until Dean stop fighting it and kisses him back. He shifts and pulls his arm out from beneath Dean, doesn't stop kissing him.

Dean grumbles something about Sam hogging the covers as they both drift towards sleep, but he doesn't push Sam away, doesn't tell him to go back to his own bed. His hand is heavy and gentle as it presses to the small of Sam's back and holds him there, warm and close.

Sam turns his head and kisses Dean's jaw and thinks, Oh. This is what it's supposed to be like.

Dean's curled around him, mostly asleep, cradling Sam to his chest. Sam's so happy he can't stop smiling, even with his eyes closed, even when he's trying to sleep. He feels stupid and sappy, like every lame song on the radio, like lying in Dean's arms is everything he's longed for his entire life, like it's home.

"When I go to college, will you come with me?" he asks, his smile fading.

"Mmm?"

"I want you to come with me. When I go to school. I want you there with me and I want a life. A normal life. Will you do that with me?"

"Mmm," Dean says, pulling Sam in tighter. "Never let you go, Sammy."

Sam smiles again, nips at Dean's jaw, sighs happily, and drifts towards sleep.