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Doubt the Stars Are Fire

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————
Fall, 2005

Sam wouldn't go so far as to say he's got his life together. But he's pretty sure the direction he's going is a good one. Graduation is in sight, his LSAT score is disgustingly good, and the letter from Stanford Law says the last step is an interview. Sam is good at interviews. He just has to charm them all the way to helpless smiles and convince them he's the perfect candidate for that full ride.

Sam isn't driven to study law. Not exactly. But there's nothing else calling to him either, and law school looks like a challenge. It also makes Jess happy. His incredible girlfriend, the one he just might convince to marry him; who's majoring in public relations and needs a man with a smart job and nice suits.

He watches her sleep sometimes, and thinks that might not make such a bad happy ending.

He's got a life of his own, safe and quiet. It might not be enough to fill in the inevitable missing pieces, but it comes damn close; and it's near enough to peace that he thinks he could be happy. Genuinely. All he ever needs is more time. If he gets the urge sometimes to pick up his cell and dial a familiar number, that's just a matter of willpower. Hold out until the urge passes or Jess comes home to distract him, and maybe that's one more battle won.

It could also be postponing the inevitable.

When Halloween rolls through, the holiday brings Dean with it.

The night is late, or maybe early; darkest hours of the morning, and Sam should figure it out the second the first punch is thrown. He doesn't work it through that fast. Not until he's pinned, a spike of moonlight illuminating his brother's face. "Easy, tiger," flows too smoothly from Dean's lips.

Seeing Dean is a breath of air and a kick to the kidneys all at once, and Sam doesn't know what to think as he fights back—wins—and then offers Dean an arm up.

Looking for a beer, and could've used the phone, and somehow the whole conversation is two steps ahead of him. The light is startling and sudden, and Jess can probably tell just how far off he's been thrown. Her quick eyes narrow at introductions he never expected to make.

"Your brother Dean?" she asks, a hopeful glint in her eye, like she thinks maybe Sam will finally tell her about more than the mere existence of his family. It's not going to happen, but Sam still feels guilty as hell when he says, "Jess, excuse us. We have to go outside."

Sam's gotten good at denial in the past couple years, and when Dean tells him Dad is missing, he ignores the twin stabs of instinct and panic. Dean's just being paranoid, and everything is fine. It's just like the dreams, which are nothing but stress.

"He's always missing," Sam hears himself say, following in step behind Dean all the way out to the car. "And he's always fine."

"Not for this long," says Dean, and Sam knows he's right. Even through the deliberate wall of denial. Something is wrong.

"Wow," says Sam, trying to keep the hint of bitterness out of his voice. "You must really be freaked to come ask for my help."

"Yeah, well," says Dean, shoulders moving in an uncomfortable shrug. "I can't do this alone."

"Yes you can."

"I don't want to." Dean says it too fast, and that's not goddamn fair. Dean doesn't get to say things like that, or bite the tip of his tongue like he's thinking, or stand there looking up at Sam like his acquiescence is a foregone conclusion.

Sam knows he's lost this conversation. He's going to tell Jess some safe, bullshit story and drive off with Dean. Inevitable. But Sam promises himself that no matter what, he's coming back and putting everything behind him.

Again.

 

————
Fall, 2001

It may have been Sam to make the first move, but Dean would be a liar if he claimed the idea had never crossed his mind. It was a recent revelation, and one he mostly didn't think about. Thoughts like that—thoughts about Sam like that—had no place in his head.

The problem was, Sam had changed a lot in the past year. Too much, maybe, for Dean to keep up. This high school sat well with the youngest Winchester. A little town where smart kids could be cool and soccer was the sport to play. They'd moved in last spring, and now Sam was starting his senior year, playing goalie. Backbone of the team, and the fact that he was sprouting like a goddamn giant made him perfect for the post. There wasn't a single corner of that goal he couldn't reach, and with John always on their asses about training, Sam's lanky limbs were already sturdy with muscle.

Not that Dean noticed.

Even if he did, Dean didn't get to see Sam manning the goal all that often. He didn't make it to many games, what with his hours at the garage and all the hunts in the time between. Sam never gave Dean crap about it. Dean's steady job was the reason they had been able to stay put so long, even with their dad always out on one hunt or another.

No, Sam never needled Dean about all the missed soccer games. But it didn't stop him tearing into their dad about that and everything else. Didn't stop John yelling right back about family and responsibility and the goddamn dangerous world out there.

The trickle of tension that had been creeping up between Sam and John over the last couple years finally exploded in Sam's senior year, nothing now but constant fights and collision-locked horns; and Dean never really got a moment's escape from the ringing in his ears that signaled one more shouting match. Same argument as a dozen before it.

Today was no different from the rest. Even from the front step of their small apartment, slouched in on himself and waiting out the storm, Dean could hear every word.

When the door slammed open and shut behind him, Dean didn't jump. He had this fight memorized, and he knew the second Sam would be making a stormy exit. Never a retreat.

"Hey," said Dean, straightening his shoulders and squinting into the sun. He caught the flash of red jersey and black-on-black checkered shorts as Sam moved into his peripheral vision.

"Hey," said Sam, low and dark and grudging.

"I'll drive you to the game." Halfway across town, and Dean stood, keys in hand, even though the calendar on the fridge said the game wasn't for hours yet. "I got the afternoon off work."

"Doesn't Dad want you to train?" Sam asked, a hint of challenge in his voice.

"Probably," said Dean, even though the honest answer was 'no.' Sam knew it, too, but Dean still saw some of the tightness leave his brother's shoulders.

"Can we go somewhere else first?"

Even standing at his full height Dean had to look up a little to meet Sam's eyes, but he nodded. Herded his brother toward the little gray Honda he'd been driving since last winter—Dad only handed over the keys to his car when a hunt was involved—and started driving.

Since their second day in this town, 'somewhere else' had meant a gravel-pit lot about seven miles past the outskirts. There was tall grass on one side, a gritty marsh on the other, and a stand of trees blocking off the view of County B. It was probably city property, but in the dozens of times since they first pulled in, Sam and Dean had never seen a single soul there.

It was the perfect place to let Sam cool down before the game. No good to let him play when he was all riled and angry. Experience dictated that the game would not go well, and Sam would come out of defeat that much surlier for his efforts.

The gravel crunched familiar beneath the tires, the wind light but cool through the open windows, and Dean killed the engine with a casual twist of his wrist. He bit his tongue against the urge to suggest that maybe Sam should let up on Dad. He'd had said as much before. Sam never wanted to hear it.

"You actually gonna stay for the game?" Sam asked, so much hopeful smile in his voice that Dean marveled at how quick his brother could cool off.

"You planning to make it worth my while?" Dean asked, easy smirk in place as he stretched back against the seat and rolled his shoulders. "I don't know if I can stand to watch another crushing defeat."

The sun glared brightly through the windshield, and for a moment when Dean looked up it illuminated the strangest look on Sam's face. A confused intensity that made Dean's eyes narrow, his own expression part concern, part suspicion.

The look disappeared quickly enough, replaced by the expected rolling eyes of Sam's righteous irritation.

"For god's sake, Dean, coach was trying to give Ethan a chance. He didn't even put me in that game. It wasn't my fault we lost."

"It was painful, Sammy."

"No shit," said Sam, but Dean didn't miss the fond hint of warmth in his voice. Didn't miss the smirk as Sam tossed the car door open and stepped out into a wash of direct sunlight. Sam stretched, ridiculous span of limbs, and Dean watched—edgy with the quiet realization that Sam was becoming a whole new mystery. Unpredictable and a little bit rebellious; and sure, it was ironic that Sam's rebellion took the form of straight-A's and a letter in soccer. It didn't stop Dean from wondering how well he even knew his brother anymore.

"You coming or what?" demanded Sam, and Dean finally followed his lead. Crunch of sand and gravel beneath his feet as he moved around the front of the car. Sam was already perched on the hood, feet propped on the bumper, and Dean slid right into place beside him. He kept his mouth shut, because for the moment he had no idea what to say. Plenty of topics came to mind, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was trip into a fight with Sam. Much better to stare straight ahead and be glad for his brother's company.

"Dean," said Sam, and suddenly his voice was disconcertingly hesitant. "Can I ask you something?"

The cautious tone threw Dean off; sent him spinning straight into nervous-as-hell territory, but when he turned to look at Sam, there was determination in his brother's eyes.

"Sure," he said, because somehow 'you just did' wasn't an appropriate response this time.

"Don't freak out, okay? You have to promise me you won't freak out."

Which was a ridiculous thing to ask, since Dean was halfway there already. The last time he heard that tone, Sam had just gotten his driver's license and wrecked Dean's car—a Subaru back then. The time before that Dean didn't even want to think about, and he was nothing if not good at pattern recognition. That tone never meant good news.

But Dean squared his shoulders against the edge of worry, and he said, "I won't freak out."

Sam hesitated a moment, even after that. Chewed on his lip in an unconscious gesture—one that Dean tried not to notice—and finally broke eye contact to say, "I know it's weird. And I used to think it was just me being a freak. But now I'm pretty sure you've been thinking it, too."

"Huh?" said Dean, because he was pretty sure Sam's words hadn't included actual information.

Sam laughed, a self-conscious sound, and Dean slid an inch closer as he tried to decide just how worried he should be. He ducked his head, tried to get Sam to look at him, but maybe that was a bad idea, too. His breath caught right in his throat when Sam's eyes locked onto him, hard and bright and suddenly too close as Sam turned to stare him down.

"Are you really gonna make me ask flat out?" said Sam.

'Ask what flat out?' Dean wanted to say, or maybe 'Where the hell are you going with this, dude?' But he was starting to feel less confused than he ought to. Implication rang heavy in Sam's voice, something Dean didn't need to remind himself he wasn't thinking. No way was Sam asking what Dean's brain thought it was hearing.

Time was caught in a startled standstill, stretched tight in the air between them, and suddenly Dean could feel everything. The heavy sun, the thin whisper of wind across his neck, the soft puff of breath as Sam exhaled. The hood felt hot beneath his hands, and Dean's rational brain was telling him to retreat while he could.

Sam moved first, smooth and quick, and suddenly Dean's head held no space for retreat. Not with Sam's mouth warm and solid, pressed to Dean's own like something easy. Like it was anything but this, brothers side by side on the hood of a car, closer than they had any right to be.

Sam scooted nearer, just a matter of inches, but enough that their knees knocked together. Sam's hand was sneaky and sure, settling on Dean's knee just long enough to be sure it wouldn't make him bolt before sliding fractionally higher.

Dean felt the hint of Sam's tongue, felt his own lips part at the suggestion; but his upstairs brain was finally catching up. He had just enough time to register the first exploration of Sam's tongue, and then he was gone. Yanking away with such force that there wasn't enough hood to land on, and he ended up on his ass with gravel beneath his palms. Staring up at Sam with his heart running a thousand beats per minute behind his ribs.

Sam looked flushed and a little bit winded. But not apologetic; not even a little bit ashamed. Dean swallowed hard and had no idea what to say.

He finally settled for, "come on," as he got to his feet and moved for the driver's side door. "You'll be late for your game."

Later Dean planned to do the only sensible thing and freak the hell out. He would do it when Sam wasn't around to see. He'd promised, after all.

 

————
Fall, 2005

For weeks after the fire, Sam is too numb to think, let alone think about Dean. There's nothing but empty white noise in his head, except when he's dreaming. The dreams are worse, so he doesn't sleep.

There are hunts, but he doesn't really feel them. Just processes the world on automatic, reflexes as honed and sharp as ever. He barely has to pretend not to notice Dean's worried stare, because all Sam feels is cold. Cold and sometimes angry, as they hunt a monster in the woods and a drowned boy in a lake.

The twitch of jealousy is startling and unexpected when Andrea kisses Dean goodbye. A sensation that's fleeting but real, a little bit familiar, and it's the first Sam really feels since visiting Jessica's grave.

Later they wind up on a plane with a demon, and Sam doesn't like realizing that there are things he doesn't know about his brother. He had no idea Dean was afraid to fly. It hits him low and solid, a gut punch that leaves him reeling, and he's not sure whether to feel guilty or betrayed. Maybe neither, but it terrifies him to see Dean so scared. Sam's never known his brother like this.

He does what he can to calm Dean down, and it works well enough. Because Dean is a soldier at heart, and they both know how to get a job done. They take out the demon, and nobody on the flight dies.

But the thing's words haunt Sam that night. 'Even now she's burning.' Sam tries not to sleep, but it's a losing battle. He still dreams of Jess and fire, and it's the same as every night before.

When he wakes up, Dean is there with coffee. His brother moves cautiously, and he doesn't touch Sam as he hands over the beverage.

 

————
Fall, 2001

The game was a bust, lost by three goals at least, but Dean stayed all the way through. John showed up at halftime, maybe guilty from the fight. It felt wrong and weird, sitting by his dad on the bleachers after what he'd just done with Sam. The paranoid part of his brain said his dad could tell just by looking at him.

But still, John was there, and it gave Dean an excuse to duck out as soon as the whistle blew to end the game. He mumbled something about an errand and took off, relieved at the excuse to put off being alone with Sam. His brother was a talker, and Dean did not want to talk about it.

He avoided Sam for two solid weeks. There was no way to stay completely clear of him, but getting up early and coming home late kept their paths just disparate enough. John had hunts lined up two weekends in a row, and of course Dean's presence was required. It was easy enough to keep Sam at arm's length, even as he watched the frustration grow behind his brother's eyes.

Sam surprised him at the garage on a Tuesday, and his greeting made Dean conk his head on the undercarriage of a white Mustang.

"Dude," he said, rubbing the sore spot as he slid free and sat up. "Surprising a guy under a car? Not cool."

"Sorry," said Sam, but his smirk said otherwise.

"What do you want, asshole," said Dean, even though he wasn't really that annoyed. "And it better be good for the bruise you just gave me. I know where you sleep."

"Yeah," said Sam, tone low and intense. "You do."

Dean tried not to stare. This wasn't the time to freeze up, not with Sam looking down at him with that expression on his face.

"Did you need something?" Dean finally asked, standing from the cement floor without Sam's offered hand. "Or are you just here to waste my time."

"Schedule says you get off work in twenty minutes. I thought maybe I could catch a ride home with you."

Dean choked back the urge to laugh, because Sam wasn't even pretending to be subtle. The high school was on the opposite end of town from the garage, their current apartment smack in the middle. The giant clock on the front wall read three thirty, and Sam must have hitched a ride with a friend to make it here so fast. Or maybe he skipped his last class and walked it. Either way, there was no missing Sam's intent or the stubborn set of shoulders.

"I can't," Dean hedged. He ignored the jab of guilt and lied right through his teeth to say, "We got an emergency job in, needs to be fixed by morning. I have to stay and work."

"How long?" Sam asked, stepping closer. Not too close. There were other people in sight, and even Sam at his most plaintive was too smart to pull anything here.

"No idea," said Dean. "It could be hours."

Dean was sure Sam could see right through him. No way he bought Dean's bullshit story. But he turned and skulked out of the garage, presumably to walk home. Dean clocked out right on schedule, because there wasn't anything else for him to do. He killed an extra three hours at the Starbucks down the street. It meant dinner was late, but John didn't complain. Sam sat surly and silent the entire meal, and Dean didn't taste a single bite.

That night he wasn't nearly surprised enough when his bedroom door clicked softly open and shut. He didn't hear anything after that, but that didn't mean Sam wasn't approaching. Winchesters knew how to move without making a sound.

He pretended sleep, even though it was pointless. Even though Sam settled in right behind him under the covers and had to know that Dean was awake. The silence passed with an electric anticipation, and Dean caught his lower lip in his teeth. Waited it out, because he refused to be the first to speak.

"You promised you wouldn't freak out," Sam whispered, voice a quiet breath on the back of Dean's neck.

"Go back to bed, Sam." A useless command, but Dean had to try.

"You're avoiding me. If you're pissed at me just say so." It was a cheap shot, because Sam had to know Dean wasn't angry. Angry Dean yelled and glared and burned Sam's breakfast on purpose. He didn't spend two weeks staying completely out of Sam's way. Sam was a smart boy, capable of putting two and two together and coming to the conclusion that Dean was freaked to hell. Not angry.

"Are you really that disgusted by me?" Sam asked when Dean let the silence persist. It was almost as startling as the kiss itself, the idea that Sam thought Dean was disgusted with him. Maybe he was being played, but Dean knew he had to make Sam understand which of them was the sick freak here.

It wasn't Sam. Sam was young and confused. Dean had no excuse.

He shifted from his side, scooting towards the far edge of the bed as he turned to face his brother. The moon was big and bright tonight, and it cast enough light through the window for Dean to see Sam's face. Defiance and uncertainty counterbalanced each other in the flash of Sam's eyes.

"It's not you I'm disgusted with."

Sam's face softened at that, and it was too much like pity. Dean hated seeing that look on his brother's face, almost as much as he hated wondering what was going through his head right now.

"So, what, this is your fault somehow?" Sam asked, and now his tone was incredulous. Soft disbelief. "Are you cracked, Dean?"

"Yeah, maybe. You’re my brother, Sam."

"Thanks," Sam muttered. "Glad you pointed that out. It might've slipped by me otherwise."

"You know we can't do this."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure we can." Sam shifted closer. "And you haven't said you don't want to."

"It's wrong."

"So's credit card fraud."

"You know that's not even in the same ballpark."

Sam fell silent, and Dean wondered for a moment if he'd won.

He should have known better than to underestimate Sam's persistence. Another shift and shuffle, and suddenly there was no space between them. Just Sam, pressed in close with his head tucked against Dean's chest and a hand over Dean's heart. There wasn't enough air, the room restrictive and hot, and Dean couldn't breathe.

"I know I'm not supposed to want this, Dean. We're not supposed to want this. But you can't tell me that you don't, and I'm sick of pretending it away."

"You don't know what you're asking for."

"The hell I don't."

It occurred to Dean that his choices were to give in or go mad. He'd be no good to anyone insane, least of all Sam.

Even though it was a poor excuse, he felt it crumble the last of his willpower away.

Sam must have sensed his moment of surrender, or maybe he was just testing the waters. Either way, he draw back just far enough to meet Dean's eyes. Mingled breath and heady anticipation, and Dean made Sam come to him.

It was a softer kiss than the sunny afternoon outside of town. Tentative question in every new touch, and Sam's hair was soft between Dean's fingers. He cupped his brother's face and guided Sam along. When Sam's tongue teased at the seam of his lips, Dean didn't hesitate to let him in. It was warm and soft and even romantic, so long as Dean didn't think about the lines he was crossing.

He let Sam be the one to draw away, transfixed by the sight as Sam licked his lips and blinked into the moonlight.

"Go to bed, Sam," he whispered, softer than a command. They both knew Sam couldn't stay.

"Promise you'll stop avoiding me," Sam demanded. He had his stubborn face on, and now that Dean had given in, it was nearly impossible to pull his hand away.

"I promise," he said, and watched Sam reluctantly retreat.

Dean already knew neither one of them was going to sleep.

 

————
Fall, 2005

Sam wakes already fighting for air, the bite of rope harsh at his throat and everywhere else. He's immobilized, bound tight with his back to metal, and he can barely shift enough to breathe. The air is damp and rank, and he almost wishes he could suffocate instead.

He catches sight of Dean in his peripheral vision, only it's not Dean. He knew that above ground, but he hesitated anyway. He couldn't take the shot. Now he's kicking himself, swallowing hard as this monster mimicking Dean's face moves towards him, then backhands him hard.

"Where is he?" Sam demands, and his voice feels hoarse in his throat. "Where's Dean?"

"I wouldn't worry about him," the thing says. "I'd worry about you."

"Where is he?" Sam says again, slowly this time. Because like hell he's going to be bullied, even if he is tied up in a goddamn sewer.

"You don't really wanna know," it says with a derisive snort. "I swear, the more I learn about you and your family… I thought I came from a bad background."

"What do you mean 'learn'?" asks Sam, unpleasant flutter in his stomach. He watches, fascinated, as the thing raises a hand to its head, face twisting in pain. It shifts and twitches, clenching and unclenching its hand, pressing a palm to its forehead. Finally it raises a trembling fist and looks at him.

"He's sure got issues with you." Which, Sam has to admit, isn't news. "Do you even know the half of it? Man, I'm a selfish freak, but you…" It trails off, and Sam feels bile rise in his throat. He wants to know how much this thing knows. Worse, he wants the hint of insight that it's teasing at.

He knows better than to ask.

"It's not fair, is it," the thing continues. "You got to go to college, he had to stay home. I mean I had to stay home. With Dad. You think I didn't have dreams of my own? But Dad needed me. Where the hell were you?"

Sam almost rises to the bait, almost starts shouting back about the day he took off, but this isn't Dean. This isn't Dean, and Dean might be—probably is—in trouble somewhere, and Sam goes for his most threatening voice as he says, "Where is my brother."

"I'm your brother." The thing leans right into his space, props its hands on Sam's knees, and even knowing this isn't Dean, Sam's head still spins a little with the proximity. "See, deep down, I'm just jealous. You got friends, you could have a life. Me, I know I'm a freak. And sooner or later everyone is going to leave me."

"That's not fair," says Sam.

"No? You took off fast enough. Really hurt my feelings, baby brother." It backs off then, grabs a tarp from the ground nearby. "But still, this life? It's not without its perks."

Sam doesn't bother responding, even though his stomach clenches when the thing says, "You know Dean would bang her if he had the chance." He meets the thing's stare head on and hopes his silence looks defiant. All it gets him is an amused smirk.

"Let's see what happens."

 

————
Winter, 2001

Apparently all Sam needed was Dean's okay, because after that second kiss he didn't immediately push for more. Dean half expected his brother to try something the next time they had the house to themselves, horny teenagers being the beasts they were.

But Sam was surprisingly patient. Not exactly following Dean's pace, because Dean wasn't setting any pace at all. But for a while it was only stolen kisses and wrapping around each other to watch television on the couch. Dean felt greedy, desperate for every moment with Sam; and the rest of the time he tried not to wonder if he was screwing his brother up all the worse for it.

John and Sam still fought, and if anything the fights were worse. Louder and angrier, and sometimes Dean wondered how the little apartment could contain that much fury. Dad wanted Sam to quit soccer so he'd have more time for training. Sam didn't want to learn bow hunting. Dean's head spun all the goddamn time from trying to maintain some measure of peace.

On the first day of Sam's winter break, Dean stumbled in at the tail end of a row. The kitchen rang icy with silence, and he didn't need to know what the fight was about. There were only so many topics in rotation, and Dean was getting sick of the reruns.

It was a tossup who would storm out of the room, and Dean waited for that second shoe to drop. John and Sam hadn't even spared him a glance, and the smoldering glowers could only drag out for so long. It was John that finally retreated.

His boots were loud on the hall floor, and the front door slammed jarringly behind him. A familiar engine rev signaled the Impala pulling out, and Dean gave a tired sigh.

Sam stood taut and angry by the sink. That muscle in his jaw was twitching, throat working in a silent swallow, and Dean gave him space. Better not to interrupt Sam when he was this fresh from a fight. The vitriol tended to leak out everywhere, and always left Sam saying things he didn't mean.

When Sam finally looked at him, his eyes were dark and tired. The flash of fury was gone, so Dean approached.

"Hey," he said, laying a hand on Sam's shoulder. He slid his thumb back and forth across the fabric of Sam's sleeve and hoped the gesture was a soothing one.

Sam drew a shaky breath, then grabbed Dean by the hand. There was no questioning the implicit command as his brother led the way along the hall and into Dean's room. The door closed on a slam, and Dean found himself pressed against it. Sam's hands held him there, firm direction, as his brother kissed him deep and hard.

It was a different kiss than the dozen or so they had shared so far. It was all manic energy, raw want and frantic edges, and Dean felt trapped as Sam's tongue dove past his lips. Sam was looking for something here, and Dean needed to keep his head on straight long enough to figure out what.

When Sam's knee nudged its way between his thighs, Dean was almost lost. He'd been a goddamn monk so far, guilt and responsibility working their inevitable restraint, and suddenly his dick had every cue to take an interest in the proceedings. Sam's thigh was a maddening pressure, steady and just a hint of friction, and god but Dean wanted more.

"Easy, tiger," he whispered, words mumbled against Sam's mouth. He did what he could to gentle the kiss, soothing Sam's frantic energy along with it. Sam's enormous hands bracketed Dean's face in a stubborn hold, as if either of them needed reminding of just who was in control here. Dean had no delusions that it was him.

Sam stopped kissing him to bite at his throat, sucking nibbles that were bound to mark him up like crazy, but it didn't matter. Dean was the king of random hookups—at least he had been until this thing with Sam. No one would question the collection of hickeys.

"Want to touch you," Sam breathed against his ear, and suddenly one of Sam's hands was resting on Dean's stomach like a question.

"Do it," said Dean. He sucked in an unsteady breath as Sam unbuttoned his fly, the soft snickt of his zipper too loud in the warm quiet. Sam didn't hesitate in his objective; just slid a hand down the front of Dean's pants, right past the waistband of his boxers, and closed his fingers around Dean's dick.

Dean suddenly felt fourteen and clumsy, like he could come just from that first touch. But he held his ground, felt himself growing impossibly hard in Sam's hand as his brother slipped into a steady, sliding rhythm. Absolutely maddening, and Dean threw his head back against the door. Sam seemed to take that as an invitation, judging by the warm path his lips took along Dean's throat, and it was too much at once until the world exploded behind his eyes. Sam's hand moved with him, up to the edge and over, until Dean's spent dick decided that was enough, and he drew Sam's hand away.

He felt boneless and sated and sticky, Sam still kissing along his throat, his jaw, his face. Dean dropped his forehead to his brother's shoulder, and when he finally opened his eyes he had a clear view of the tent Sam was still sporting in his own jeans.

A moment of eye contact was all it took; an electric heat that communicated too much at once. Without surrendering Sam's gaze for a second, Dean dropped to his knees.

 

————
Winter, 2005

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Sam knows that something is wrong. He's been angry before, but never like this. It's a blind, burning rage that blocks out everything else. He thrills at making Dean jump, just smirks when his brother says "Man, answer me when I'm calling you!" Sam knows he should tell Dean what he saw, but he doesn't say a word about Doctor Ellicott.

He gives all the right responses, blank and unhelpful as Dean rattles on about secret labs and the doctor's logbook, and tries to steer Dean away from the secret door. He doesn't want to share this with his brother. Worse, he doesn't want it taken away. He feels liberated, free to run with the fury in his blood.

When Dean finds the whisper of airflow and the hidden panel, Sam raises his shotgun and says "Step back from the door."

"Sam, put the gun down," says Dean, but he doesn't look surprised.

"No." Because all Sam wants is for Dean to get it. Maybe grovel and apologize for all of the things he's ever done to piss Sam off. For dragging him back into this life, for barking orders like he's Dad and then turning around and responding to a stupid set of coordinates when it's the only contact they've had with the man; and maybe for everything that came before.

"I knew it," says Dean. "Ellicott did something to you."

"For once in your life, just shut your mouth."

"What are you gonna do, Sam?" Dean taunts him. "Gun's filled with rock salt. It's not gonna kill me."

It's still satisfying to pull the trigger, to watch Dean fly back through the door and hit his head on the cement floor behind it.

"No," says Sam, even though Dean conks out on impact. "But it'll hurt like hell."

He stands watch for the short span of minutes Dean is out. Thinks about waking him with a well aimed kick, or shooting him again just for the hell of it. The rage is louder now, like a song in the back of his head, and Sam swallows hard when he watches Dean cough himself awake.

"Sam," Dean rasps, already checking for injuries and trying to move away. "We've got to burn Ellicott's bones, and this will all be over. You'll be back to normal."

"I am normal," says Sam. Because there's a crystalline clarity that's settled in beside the fury, and everything in his mind is lit like a city skyline. "I'm just telling the truth for the first time."

"Look, I get it. You're pissed about Dad—"

"This isn't just about Dad," Sam snarls, and finally he gets a hint of surprise.

"Then what the hell, Sam?" asks Dean, and the fact he doesn't understand just makes Sam want to beat it into him. But he holds his ground, gun trained on his brother. Sam's nose is still bleeding, but he can't be bothered to wipe it away.

"It's about everything, Dean," says Sam, teeth clenching. "It's your stupid soldier routine and your hypocrisy and fucking everything! I'm sick of doing what you tell me to, and of the fact you're not even trying to find Dad, and you make me so. Goddamn. Angry." Sam's teeth are grinding with every word, his eyes practically on fire as he stares Dean down, and it's not enough. Nowhere near.

"So what are you gonna do?" Dean asks. "You gonna kill me?"

"Maybe," Sam snarls, and he steps closer as he says it. The shotgun is steady in his hands, and it won't be enough to take Dean out for real, but it's a start.

"Then here," says Dean, and he reaches into his coat. Pulls out a handgun and offers it up like supplication. "I'll make it easier for you. Go on. Take it. Real bullets are gonna work a hell of a lot better than rock salt."

Maybe he thinks Sam is bluffing, or maybe he really doesn't care if Sam shoots him. Either way, Sam hesitates until Dean snaps, "Take it!" The metal is warm in his hands when he snatches it away.

"I always figured you hated me," says Dean. "I mean, you had to, right? To do what you did? What other explanation could there be? But enough to kill me, Sam? Really? Then fine. Go ahead and pull the trigger."

Sam hesitates again, and he can't tell if he's savoring the moment or just uncertain. His blood beats senseless in his veins, his brother's face pale as Sam takes aim and holds the gun steady.

"Do it!" snarls Dean, like he doesn't believe Sam will follow through, and Sam pulls the trigger. Once, twice, a third time as he realizes the weapon isn't loaded. His face twists, fresh swell of fury, and he's not fast enough to fight both Dean and gravity when his brother pulls him off balance and knocks him on his ass with a punch. His jaw stings from the impact of Dean's fist, and he almost, almost gets to his feet. But Dean beats him to it, and all Sam sees is a fist moving through the air before everything goes black.

Hours later, standing in new daylight, Sam says, "I didn't mean it. Any of it."

"You didn't, huh." Dean's tone is skeptical.

"Do we need to talk about this?" Sam asks, and he secretly hopes the answer is yes. There are a hell of a lot of things they're not talking about, things that shouldn't go without saying, and he tastes a new flavor of terror at the idea that Dean really thinks Sam hates him.

But Dean says no, and what can they do besides get in the car and drive away?

 

————
Winter, 2002

The key to whatever he and Sam had was discretion, because they would never be able to put things right if their dad found out. Worse, the town was a tightly knit little cornerstone of Midwest community, and everyone knew the Winchesters. If anyone caught so much as a glimpse of them, the conclusion was foregone, and it wasn't a happy ending.

It limited the time they had, and even when they had the apartment to themselves Dean was on constant edge, waiting for the sound of the Impala outside. Sam never seemed worried enough, and at first Dean just figured his brother was leaving all the worrying to him. It made sense. Dean was good at worrying.

He changed his mind on a Sunday, late February with the stubborn beating of winter outside the apartment. Dad was due back from a job, and Sam had three AP tests to study for.

Except Sam seemed more interested in studying Dean than his exam subjects—English, Spanish and calculus—and Dean didn't really mind being the center of his brother's focus. Not with Sam spread half across his lap with the study materials, and he minded even less when Sam gave up the pretense at working and stood.

"You coming or what?" Sam asked, and it didn't even matter whether it was Sam's room or Dean's that they ended up in. Just that there was a bed, all the better for Sam to tip Dean onto his back and crawl right up into his space. Mostly just kissing at first, and then enough friction to drive him a little out of his mind. Dean knew he tended towards embarrassing sounds when Sam wound him up like this. Low and needy in his throat, like he couldn't ever get enough.

Sam's hand was down the front of Dean's pants, jacking him from slow madness up to a desperate edge, when Dean's ears caught the familiar rumble of an engine outside. It was muffled through the wall, but unmistakable—even through the distracted haze of so-damn-close as Sam kept right on working him.

"Sam," Dean gasped, fingers clenching in the fabric of Sam's shirt as his brother leaned over him and kissed a wet trail along his jaw. "Sam, gotta stop, Dad is—"

A kiss to cut him off, and Dean moaned into Sam's mouth, back arching tight off the bed until Sam shoved him right back down again, fingers still sliding with the perfect pressure, playing Dean's body like a goddamn musical instrument.

The front door slammed open and closed with its usual vigor, loud enough to carry through the entire apartment. Equally familiar was the abrupt thump of John's boots in the corner and the bright jangle of keys being tossed on the counter. He was probably rustling through the fridge now, looking for leftovers to heat up.

"Sam" hissed Dean, when he finally had space to speak. He pitched his voice low, as careful as he could when his entire world was focused on more immediate sensations. "Fuck, Sam, Dad will hear us!"

"Shhh," murmured Sam, nuzzling against Dean's throat. Just a little more, a little harder, Sam's pace picking up to bring him over the edge.

Dean bit down hard on his brother's shoulder to keep quiet as he came.

John was in the shower when Dean finally emerged into the hallway, and Dean was guiltily glad for it. That was too goddamn close, and Dean knew it. If they hadn't checked in by phone that afternoon, John would have felt a need to announce his return. He might even have stuck his head into Sam's room, looking for his boys. Dean felt reasonably sure the world would have ended right there.

But it was more than just the close call that had Dean's heart stuck in his throat as he threw on his coat and drove out into the early evening dark. It was Sam, and the fact that his brother didn't seem the slightest bit fazed by the near disaster. The fact that Sam hadn't stopped, hadn't even flinched at the sound of the car or the front door. That Sam continued on, completely undeterred, when Dean should have seen panic reflected right back at him.

The night was dry, deep winter cold, and Dean pulled on a pair of gloves as he got out of his car—'somewhere else'—not sure why this was where he'd come to think. The gravel was slippery with patches of ice, the wind barely deterred by the nearby stand of trees. Dean perched on the hood of his car and hunched his shoulders up to his ears against the chill.

It all came down to Sam, and Dean didn't like the thoughts suddenly making their way into his head. Because what did he know about Sam's motivations? Jack squat was what. Dean couldn't really fathom a reason for Sam to pursue him, much less continue on with whatever this was.

Problem was, there weren't many ways to interpret what had just gone down. Dean had shame and guilt to spare for the both of them, and plenty of terror at the thought of John learning what he and Sam got up to. His brother was exactly the opposite—completely unapologetic. Like it might just be no big deal if they were discovered. Like Sam honestly didn't care if John caught them.

Like maybe he even hoped the man would.

Dean's blood chilled at the thought, colder than even the winter night allowed, and he couldn't banish the thought. It made too much sense, tracked too well with the evidence. He'd never been clear on Sam's intentions, beyond his brother's insistence that he wanted this. There had never been any pretense at explaining why.

Dean didn't particularly like this new insight, but he couldn't ignore it either. The fact was, his brother had always had a strange sense of rebellion. Why shouldn't his relationship with Dean be one more fuck you to their father.

Dean shivered, nowhere near warm enough in his jacket, and choked on the urge to be sick.

 

————
Winter, 2005

Back at the motel, with the asylum about a hundred miles behind them, Sam lets Dean have the first shower. It seems only fair, what with the chest full of rock salt and the fact it's Sam's fault. The time his brother spends scrubbing himself clean lets Sam think, brain turning over and over again to the sound of running water.

When Dean comes out, he goes straight for his duffel and a clean set of clothes.

"You can't be serious," says Sam, as Dean pulls a fresh shirt over his head. "You're going out now?" Because they've been up all night and are due to crash out, and Dean would be donning sleepwear if he weren't planning to be elsewhere.

"Need a drink," says Dean, and something in Sam's chest snaps tight. Dean doesn't want to talk, but Sam's pretty sure they need to.

"No," he says, and gets between Dean and the door.

Dean stops just in front of him, eyebrows high but a flash of anger in his expression. His shoulders tense, like he's gauging his tactical options. Sam knows that look well enough.

"You want to take a swing at me, fine," he says, crossing his arms. "I'd say you owe me a couple, it's only fair. But you're not leaving." 'Until we work this out,' he almost adds, but figures it's better left without saying.

"Get out of my way," says Dean, and Sam knows the low, dangerous tone of the words. He also knows it's an empty threat. If Dean were going to hit him, he'd have done it already. He wouldn't be giving Sam a warning first.

"No," says Sam. He watches his brother register the impasse.

They stand there, frozen and ridiculous, until Sam decides that's enough. He takes a step towards Dean, and Dean's step back is probably instinct. Another matched set of steps, and then Sam reaches up to shove. Dean loses his balance and falls backwards, catches himself on the edge of the bed where he sits and stares startled up at Sam.

"There," says Sam, and he pulls a chair from beside the window so that he can sit between Dean and the door. "That wasn't so hard. Now will you talk to me?"

Dean eyes him for a moment, like he's still considering an escape attempt, but Sam knows he's won for the time being. The door is directly at his back, locked and latched and chain in place, and the only way out is through him.

"Nothing to talk about, man," says Dean, shifting to sit more comfortably on the mattress edge. "That wasn't you back there."

"I'm not talking about me," says Sam, because he had the whole span of Dean's shower to work this through. He doesn't apologize again, because it's not what either of them needs.

"Then what the hell are we talking about?" asks Dean, and his face is suddenly tight with uncertainty.

"You," says Sam. "You weren't under Dr. Ellicott's mind control."

"Yeah, so? Pretty sure I didn't shoot you, either."

"No," says Sam. "But I remember what you said."

Dean looks at him, silent confusion written across his face.

"Dean," Sam says, maybe too softly. "Why would you think I hated you?"

Dean's expression slams closed at the question, instant shields, and Sam can see every defense sliding into place. Sam knows his brother's emotional battle stance when he sees it, and they're not going to get anywhere like this. Sam can ask a hundred questions, and Dean will deflect every single one of them. Unless Sam can get Dean to really hear him, and he knows he's only got one shot at this.

He's out of his chair in a heartbeat, across the floor and kneeling at his brother's feet. It puts him too close, closer than he has any right to be. But even though Dean looks off-balance, questions in his eyes, he doesn't draw away.

"Dean, tell me why," Sam whispers. Not 'why did you end it,' though he wants to know that, too. "Why on earth would I hate you?" Because Sam's been angry for years—it took so goddamn long to put everything behind him and fall in love again—but he never hated his brother.

"I don't know," says Dean. His eyes are open and honest, and Sam swallows hard.

"Then why do you think it?" Sam demands.

"Because how else could you do it, Sammy? I get that you were always pissed at Dad, but there had to be better ways to spite him than…" Now it's Dean swallowing hard, tapering off and leaving Sam cold. "You used me, Sammy. If you didn't hate me, then how could you do it?"

Sam is stuck and befuddled, wondering what the hell Dean is talking about, until the revelation hits home. It's insane, but he gets it, exactly what his brother thinks. Dean's not just talking about the sex. He thinks Sam was trying to use him against their dad, and the realization sits cold and sick in Sam's belly. He doesn't have the slightest idea how they came to this, has even less idea how to fix it, and when Dean shoves past him to stand up, Sam is almost too frozen to move.

He's a step behind, following his brother to the door, and he puts a hand on a retreating shoulder; says, "Dean" with all the feeling he doesn't know how else to convey.

Dean stills at the touch, then shrugs him off almost violently. He says, "Don't touch me, Sam," with a finality that singes the air between them.

Sam watches him go and feels empty.

 

————
Spring, 2002

In the end, Dean was too much of a coward to end things quickly. He told himself at first that he just wasn't sure. How could he end things with Sam when he might be reading everything wrong? If it was going to tear them apart—and there was no other way it could go—didn't Dean owe it to them to be absolutely sure?

But the more honest version of the truth was that Dean didn't want to let go of what he had. The guilt and shame and worry—even the knowledge that Sam must hate him to play this game—they couldn't outweigh the way he felt with Sam's hands on him. His instincts were a mess of conflict, and his craving for Sam kept winning out, even as the months passed and John almost found out, time after goddamn time.

Dean kept count, and after the thirteenth near miss he realized he couldn't justify it any longer. No way they were all just accidents; Sam wasn't that stupid. Worse, if they kept on like this, discovery was inevitable.

Dean realized with a sick jolt that he had no choice. He had to end it.

Sam graduated in late May, and both Dean and John showed up an hour early for the ceremony for good seats. Dean pretended not to see the proud tears in his father's eyes, and they both laughed and congratulated Sam and had cake when they got home. Dean wondered if his performance rang flat.

The school district was hosting an all night party at the old middle school, with root beer floats and bingo and a real live hypnotist.

Dean drove Sam out to the real party instead. The one Lacey Andrews was hosting in her family's enormous farmhouse just off of Highway 6. Her parents were out of the state, and Lacey's older brother had hooked her up with enough beer to drown the entire town. It was supposed to be the bash of the century, and Dean invited himself along to play designated driver.

High schoolers could be stupid. Dean figured on doing his best to make sure none of Sam's classmates—or Sam himself for that matter—met a stupid end.

It didn't take many beers for Sam to get tipsy, but Dean didn't comment. He kept his brother in his peripheral vision but gave him space. There was plenty of party to go around, and even though Dean's own easy smile was a cheap front, he was pretty sure Sam's enjoyment of the party was genuine. Sam was having a blast, and Dean didn't plan on nosing in on his fun.

Dean let his attention slip sometime after midnight, because he was too damn tired to multitask. He laughed at all the appropriate intervals as an endless parade of drunken seniors—usually girls—chatted him up, and he took one slow sip after another from the single bottle of beer he'd been working all night.

 

"Hey," said Sam, suddenly at his elbow, and Dean jumped about a foot in the air. Usually his brother couldn't sneak up on him like that.

A hot blush snuck across his face as Sam draped an arm over his shoulder and leaned in close, closer than he should with so many potential witnesses. The gangly redhead that had been telling Dean about bartending school laughed, but backed off like he knew claimed turf when he saw it. Dean did his best to keep his expression light, to look like this wasn't anything untoward. Just his drunk and affectionate baby brother leaning on him for support.

"Having fun?" Sam whispered, and his lips brushed Dean's ear with the words. Intimate enough to send a burst of shivers along Dean's spine, along with a desperate urge to touch. Sam was bold on the best of days, but tonight he was drunk, and the kiss he planted on Dean's jaw was quick, warm suggestion.

"Easy, tiger," Dean murmured, carefully withdrawing from Sam's space. Sam wasn't sloppy drunk, so the sudden lack of a body to lean on didn't throw him off balance. But he was far enough toasted that Dean could tell the stern face he put on didn't even register. Sam was eyeing him up and down like Christmas dinner, and Dean swallowed hard against the urge to do something stupid. "Trust me, you don't want this audience."

The words did nothing to dull the determined look on his brother's face, and suddenly Sam was grabbing him by the arm and steering him through the house. Behind the kitchen and up the stairs, around a couple of corners and through an open door. It was obviously a guest bedroom, tucked in a quiet wing of the house, with curtains that matched the pillows that matched the sheets that went perfectly with the cushions on the rocking chair. Sam closed the door, a predatory look on his face, and Dean let himself fall.

The bed was squishy soft when Sam laid him back, malleable beneath him as he arched and canted to get free of his pants and boxers. Sam was heavy on top of him, all hungry kisses and familiar hands, and the air was warm against Dean's naked skin. But not as warm as Sam, silken smooth and rubbing up against him, Dean's name exhaled on a groan. Dean rocked up to meet him, Sam's dick hard alongside his own, but something felt different tonight.

"Turn over," Sam whispered, and Dean's hips stuttered to a stop. Sam had asked before, half a dozen times until he finally gave up. Dean had always said no, that last invisible line not to be crossed. It was easier that way. Sure, he was a sick freak, doing god only knew what with his baby brother. But never fucking him. Never letting Sam fuck him.

Dean could see the plea in his brother's eyes, wide and hopeful above him, and he knew Sam was only asking because he was drunk. Sober Sam wanted it, would probably give a kidney for it, but was done doing the asking when Dean always said no.

Dean knew he wasn't going to say no this time.

He complied without a word, letting Sam's hands guide him over onto his stomach. Sam grabbed a pillow from the head of the bed and set it beneath Dean's hips, breathing a kiss into the skin at the nape of his neck.

They hadn't come prepared for this, and spit wasn't nearly enough to smooth the way. But Sam seemed too intent to care, and Dean wasn't going to let a little pain deter him now. He bit his knuckles when Sam drew his fingers away and slid into him. Sam was big, but not that big, and Dean didn't think it should hurt as much as it did, the steady burn as Sam moved, maddeningly slowly. Inch by incremental inch, and Dean exhaled sharply when Sam finally had no further to go.

"You okay?" whispered Sam, wild concern in his voice alongside a hint of desperation. He held perfectly still inside of Dean, whole body vibrating with the willpower it must be taking to give Dean time to adjust; to hold back from drawing out and thrusting mindlessly back in again.

"Yeah," said Dean, and it was mostly true. His dick was still hard, an aching need between his legs, and it was almost too much. His brother was a solid weight on top of him, warm and tense with want, breath uneven and hot, and Dean was half high with knowing that the dick spearing him open belonged to Sam.

When Sam began to move again, it was pleasure and pain all at once, fire splitting Dean wide and bursts of ohgodperfect when Sam's thrusts lined up just right. He could tell Sam was trying to be careful, keeping it slow for as long as he could, but in the end he degenerated into a manic rhythm, not even pulling all the way out before the next thrust drove him deep.

"Fuck, Sammy!" Dean hissed, then gasped aloud when Sam slid a hand across his flank, down Dean's stomach to grasp his unspent erection. Sam barely got his fingers around his straining dick before Dean lost it, mess of come across his stomach and the bedspread. Sam dropped him and leaned back, hands sliding along Dean's sides to find better purchase as his rhythm went ragged, last desperate thrusts into Dean's welcoming body, and he came with his brother's name on his lips.

The next morning, Dean had a collection of bruises in all the places Sam's hands had held him down.

 

————
Spring, 2006

The duffel is heavy on Sam's back as he steps into the room, just in time to hear Dean say, "We think we have a lead on the thing that killed Mom. It's in a warehouse. 1435 West Eerie. Dad, if you get this, get to Chicago as soon as you can."

"Voicemail?" Sam asks, even though it's a stupid question. Their father never answers his phone, why would he start now?

"Yeah," says Dean. "Geez, what'd you get?" Because Sam's carrying pretty much the entire contents of the trunk, paranoid at the fact they have no idea what they're up against. They're edgy and mostly quiet as they check and load the weapons, the duffel and its contents spread out across one bed. Their banter is nervous, their usual back and forth tinted by the fact that they're both pretending not to be freaked. Pretending tonight doesn't have the potential to change everything, maybe even put the world back to something like normal.

"What if we did?" Sam finds himself asking, a thrill running through him at the thought. "What if this whole thing was over tonight? Man, I'd sleep for a month. Go back to school. Be a person again."

"You want to go back to school?" Dean asks. He says it on a delay. Quiet. Sam doesn't like the hint of betrayal he sees in his brother's eyes.

"Yeah," he says. "Once we're done hunting."

After a pause long enough to hint that Dean has something to say, all his brother says is, "Huh."

"Why?" Sam demands. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"No," says Dean. "No, it's great. Good for you."

"I mean… what are you going to do when it's over?" Sam realizes suddenly that he's got no idea what his brother would want from a life that isn't filled with hunting demons and ghosts and every other evil thing in existence.

"It's never gonna be over. There will always be something to hunt." And there's Sam's answer.

"But there's got to be something you want for yourself."

"Yeah, I don't want you to leave the second this thing's over, Sam!"

Dean moves away then, turns just enough that he doesn't have to look Sam in the eye after his outburst. Sam aches with the fact he can see how much his brother is hurting, and he's got no idea how to fix it.

"Dude," he says, and doesn't know what to do.

The silence is painfully long, and Dean's back is a taut line of tension as he leans on the dresser. Sam waits him out, because for once he knows better than to cut in with questions. He waits until Dean turns and finally looks at him again, and then he waits a little longer.

"Why do you think I drag you everywhere?" Dean finally asks. "Huh? Why do you think I came and got you at Stanford in the first place?"

"Because Dad was in trouble," says Sam, careful to keep his tone one of quiet befuddlement. "Because you wanted to try and find the thing that killed Mom."

"Yes, that. But it's more than that, man." Dean breaks eye contact for a moment, and it's a long silence before he finally turns to face Sam full on. "You and me and Dad… I want us to be together again. I want us to be a family again."

"Dean. We are a family. I'd do anything for you." Sam's chest hurts with how true it is, and how useless at the same time when it can't make Dean stop looking at him like this. "But things will never be the way they were before."

"Could be," Dean says, a painful quiet hope weighing the words down.

"I don't want them to be," says Sam, and watches his brother shatter.

He thinks about leaving it there. He could shut up now, and they could smooth this whole conversation right over. Go into this fight and be done with it. But Dean deserves better, and Sam has to try.

"I love you too much, Dean," he finally says. "I love you wrong. And I can't stay this way."

"Sam—" says Dean, startled.

"I want something from you that you've made it clear you're not okay with, and I'm sorry. But I'm not strong enough for this."

Dean is staring at him differently now, a wash of confusion that makes Sam wonder if he's suddenly speaking in tongues.

"Sam," says Dean. "What the hell are you saying, man? You never really wanted… that from me." And suddenly they're back in that stupid little town, Sam's world bright with hurt and heartbreak. But this time he knows the score.

"I did," he says. "I do. I don't know where our wires got crossed, but it was never about Dad or… rebelling or any of that bullshit."

"Come on, Sammy, I'm not that stupid." Dean's eyes are wet and red, but Sam can tell no tears are going to fall. His brother is too stubborn for that. "So many close calls… Dad almost caught us a dozen times over. If it wasn't deliberate, then what the hell?" Sam can't tell if the question is a challenge or a plea; maybe somewhere halfway between. Dean is baiting him, trying to rile him up, but at the same time Dean is begging him for a different explanation. For something better than the conclusions Sam wishes he could go back and erase.

For a moment, Sam doesn't think he can say it out loud. It's sappy and stupid, and it puts everything out on the table. If he says it and Dean doesn't believe him, then there's nothing left to fix. But he swallows hard and straightens his shoulders.

Looks Dean straight in the eyes and says, "I was eighteen and head-over-heels in love with my big brother. Is it really that hard to believe it made me stupid sometimes?" Because that's the truth, out and open. Sam was too wrapped up in Dean to worry about consequences, and he gets now that it was selfish. But he can't undo it, can't fix it, and he hopes like hell his brother can read the truth off him now.

They stand like that for ten interminable minutes, Dean's eyes searching for something. When his gaze finally drops, Sam reads it for acceptance, and he breathes a sigh of relief. If Dean doesn't believe him, he's at least got reasonable doubt. Sam wishes there were more time. There's no reopening this discussion once it closes, and no way Sam can put things right between them tonight. There are too many years done wrong between them, and too big a showdown waiting for them in that warehouse.

Dean still clearly doesn't want him, and for the moment they have a demon to kill. Everything else will have to wait.

 

————
Summer, 2002

June flew two weeks past before Dean finally broke things off with Sam, the delay as much from his own terror as the fact that their dad was home longer than usual between hunts. But having John around so much crystallized things for Dean, because Sam's graduation had no impact on the tension running between father and son. The two were still at each others' throats, and Dean was still caught in the middle.

Dean finally drove with Sam out to the gravel lot off County B, because it didn't feel right to have this conversation at home. When he killed the engine, he had no idea where to start.

"Dean, what?" asked Sam, because of course the kid was astute enough to know something big was up. Dean's uncomfortable silence coupled with the past two weeks of avoidance, and Sam had to smell the doom in the air. His voice was cautious, but Dean could hear something more like terror beneath it.

"I think we should stop," Dean finally said, reluctantly prying his hands from the steering wheel and forcing himself to look his little brother in the eye.

"Stop what?" asked Sam, and Dean couldn't tell if he was being willfully oblivious or genuinely confused.

"This. Us. Everything. I'm… calling it off. We're done, okay?"

"Oh my god," said Sam, realization a reluctant flash behind his eyes. "Dean, you can't just… break up with me!" His voice rang more with disbelief than anger.

"I'm pretty sure that's what I'm doing, Sammy."

"Why?" Sam asked, suddenly quiet.

Dean thought about confronting Sam with the truth. He could make Sam fess up to everything, lay it all out and really drive it home. He could, but it was the last thing he wanted to do. It would destroy them. And screwed up as everything had become, Sam was still his brother. There was no getting around that, and Dean didn't think his heart could take it if Sam admitted any of that shit aloud.

"Because it's wrong," Dean finally answered. He tasted bile in his throat, acrid like this entire goddamn conversation. The look on Sam's face said he didn't buy it.

"No." Sam shook his head. "No, it's always been wrong, so why now? It's been months, Dean. Why do you get to make this call now?"

"Because one of us has to make it," Dean snapped. "Because I can't stand looking Dad in the eye and lying to him all the time, and I'm sick of sneaking around, and it's wrong."

"No," Sam whispered, and then he was moving; grabbing Dean and kissing him, shoving him back against the driver's side door. It was all Dean could do not to grab Sam right back, but Dean held himself impassive until Sam made a shattered sound and drew back. Sam's eyes were wide and wet, whole body shaking, and he said, "We both want this."

Dean looked his brother in the eye and said, "I don't." It was the hardest lie he'd ever told.

Sam got out of the car after that and refused to get back in, no matter how Dean cajoled him.

"I'll walk home," Sam insisted.

"It's a ten mile hike."

"I don't care," said Sam, then turned and started walking.

Dean took the hint and drove away. He didn't have any particular destination in mind. All he knew was he didn't want to be at home right now. Dad would be there, would want to know why Sam wasn't with him. Dean didn't trust his poker face right now, sure as hell not against his father.

Picking a direction and driving had always worked well enough, so he did that.

He ended up in a cafe the next town over, and no matter how much he drank, every sip of coffee tasted like ash.

 

————
Spring, 2006

In Richardson, Texas, they outsmart two geeks to take out a Tulpa, and things feel so close to normal between them that Sam doesn't quite believe it.

The pranks are juvenile and familiar, obnoxious and over the top like a hundred times when they were kids. The itching powder is a cheap shot—no fair going for a guy's junk, no matter what rules you play by—but Sam is pretty sure the super glue trumps all. They call truce on their way out of town, and it's the closest Sam has come to feeling like he really has his brother back.

It's stupid to hope, idiotic to act on it, but he's got a history of stupid where Dean is involved. After bidding Ed and Harry a heartfelt farewell, Sam takes the wheel and drives all of three hours before finding a place to crash out for the night.

He barely waits for the door to close before kissing Dean.

A rational corner of his brain knows he's going to get hit in the face for his trouble, but rational doesn't cut it when he's got smiles and laughter and Dean shining in his face. Even if all it gets him is a black eye, Sam is helpless to hold his ground.

He's almost too startled to respond when Dean kisses him back instead of pushing him away. Dean's mouth opens for him, compliant and willing, like Sam has stumbled upon the best idea ever and Dean is happy to be along for the ride.

It's like kindling and brushfire, immediate ignition, and Sam drags Dean flush against him. Holds him close and commands the kiss, angling Dean's head so Sam's got the perfect angle for his tongue to dive past eagerly parted lips and reclaim lost territory. He remembers this, and wants this, and he's suddenly lightheaded with thinking he can have it again.

They get most of the way naked and all the way to the bed, but Sam is too frantic with need for this to be anything like coordinated. All he wants is the feel of Dean's hands on him, Dean's mouth right where it is on his throat, his mouth, his jaw. He wants Dean just like this, and they rut against each other like the world is ending and there's not enough touch to be had.

Sam slips his hand down Dean's shorts and closes his fingers around the heavy warmth of Dean's dick. His brother bucks up into the touch, head tossed back to bare a stretch of throat that Sam doesn't even try to resist. He kisses a trail along the offered skin, all the way to that spot just below Dean's ear, and his own hips rock forward in a needy rhythm, grinding his erection against Dean's thigh. They've both got nothing but low grunts and inarticulate gasps, and Sam is lost already.

They don't last long, but they cross the finish line together, and Sam drops boneless across Dean's chest. He buries his face against his brother's neck and breathes him in, sated and safe and grateful.

He knows it's not going to be that easy, but he's still startled when Dean shoves him away and ducks into the bathroom. He doesn't slam the door, so he's not angry, but Sam doesn't need a fancy psych degree to know his brother is freaked. Doesn't need any help figuring out that there's no easy fix to this.

When Dean emerges, Sam is already pretending to sleep. He can at least give his brother that.

 

————
Summer, 2002

That night Dean waited until sundown to make his way home, nearly five hours killed with nothing but an endless cup of coffee and a discarded crossword puzzle.

The apartment was dull and quiet, which made sense if Sam was sulking in his room. He should be long back by now, but he could have taken off again. There were half a dozen haunts that Sam had dibs on, and it was early enough that most of them would still be open. Just the same, Dean braced himself as he entered the kitchen.

John was at the table, a glass of whiskey at hand and an open bottle of the good stuff beside him. It sent a new stab of worry deep into Dean's gut, and all he could think to say was, "Hey, Dad. What's wrong?" He hoped like hell his father hadn't figured him out.

There was too long a pause before an answer came, a silence that dragged out and made the hairs on the back of Dean's neck stand on end. John finally sighed heavily and tossed back the last of his drink before filling the glass right back up again.

"You're brother's gone, Dean," he said, and Dean's blood ran cold at the words.

"Gone?" The room was bottoming out, air suddenly stifling, and Dean leaned on the table for support. "Gone where?"

"California. He got a full ride from Stanford. He's not coming back, son." John waved at a giant envelope on the table, return address emblazoned with an impressive official logo.

Dean reached for it with numb fingers and pulled out the fancy letter inside, but all the words blurred together after 'I take great pleasure in offering you admission to the Stanford Class of 2006.'

He crumpled the paper in his hands, envelope and all, and let it drop to the floor.

"How could you just let him leave?" Dean couldn't look his father in the eye.

"How was I supposed to stop him?" John asked, and there was tired resignation in his voice.

"You fought," Dean whispered.

"Of course we did," said John, and this time there was an edge of despair.

Dean nodded, face feeling tight and hot. When his feet finally decided to move, he couldn't retreat fast enough. There was too much hallway between him and the privacy of his room, and he slammed his door shut loudly behind him.

He fell to his knees too hard, would probably have bruises in the morning.

When he buried his face in his hands, he discovered he couldn't even cry.

 

————
Spring, 2006

It's after the Striga that Sam finally gets Dean to talk to him. Cutting it too close to death has a way of opening his brother up, however reluctantly. Sam still hears a little boy's voice in his head saying, 'You have a brother? And you'd do anything for him?' Sam didn't need to hear Dean say it to know the answer was yes.

So he surprises Dean the next morning, with donuts, coffee and questions. It's not a fair tactic. Dean's never been quick in the morning, and Sam knows it. But he sits on the other bed across from Dean, and dives in before his brother can think to bolt.

"You've got every right to be pissed at me for jerking you off last week, dude," he says, crude and blunt, and pretends he doesn't notice when Dean nearly chokes on his coffee. "But I don't think that's what this is."

"What what is?" asks Dean. His voice is carefully neutral, and scratchy with sleep.

"Whatever it is you're pretending not to freak out about," says Sam. "I can see right through you, so you might as well admit you've got a problem. Next step is telling me what it is."

"Sam—" Dean says, and there's warning in his voice. Sam doesn't want to hear it.

"Please," he says, and even though it's quiet he succeeds at cutting his brother off. "Look, I know sharing and caring isn't your thing, but you've gotta help me out here. I'm right, aren't I? You're not mad I jumped you. It's something else."

Dean looks away, and it's all the concession Sam needs. It's enough of an opening to work with, and he leans forward; intent and a little bit pleading.

"Tell me," he says.

He watches Dean's throat work around a swallow, and he waits with the patience of a goddamn saint for Dean to look him in the eye. Sam holds his tongue, because Dean is the one that needs to do the talking here.

"You left."

It's a sucker punch to the gut, and Sam can't believe he was this far off the mark. Of all the issues he might have predicted tripping Dean up, Sam figured this one took a back seat to the incest and their dad and everything else. But Dean is looking at him, and Sam realizes this is it. This is the crux of their crisis.

"Dean," he says. "What the hell else was I supposed to do? You couldn't possibly have thought I would stay, after…" He trails off, because that's a conversation he doesn't want to dig back up.

"You knew before that," says Dean. "I saw the date on that acceptance letter. You knew for months, and you never said a word."

"Dean—"

"I gotta know, Sam. You say it wasn't about Dad, fine. I believe you. But what was the point of any of it, if you figured on ditching me all along?" And Sam can read the other questions in his brother's eyes. Sam left once. What's to stop him from doing it again?

"I never planned on ditching you."

"Really," says Dean, voice heavy with skepticism.

"I wanted you to come with me," Sam blurts.

Dean's wide-eyed blink of surprise is priceless.

"Don't you think filling me in on that fact might have made a little more sense?"

"Not really," says Sam. "I figured I'd have a better chance of convincing you if I caught you off guard. I planned on waiting until August and surprising you, had an apartment lined up and everything."

"Really?"

"I'd show you the lease, but it sort of burned up in the fire."

Dean is giving him a different look now, really thinking it through, and Sam bites his tongue to keep from speaking. Clearly he's crap at anticipating his brother's issues. He needs to not stick his foot in his mouth when there's still so much potential to screw things up worse.

"What about after the demon is dead?" asks Dean. "You said you wanted to go back to school. You can't tell me you've changed your mind about that already."

"I can't want both at the same time?"

"You want to leave, Sam! You said so, flat out."

"You know why I wanted out, Dean? Because I knew there was no way in hell you'd ever want me back. How was I supposed to stick around knowing that?" Sam is practically falling off the bed he's leaning so far forward, and he finally just goes with it, hitting his knees in the small patch of floor between the beds. "Tell me I was wrong."

Dean's face is conflicted, his eyes unreadable even from this close.

"Before I left," Sam whispers, setting his hands on Dean's knees and leaning closer. "You said you didn't want this. Was that true?"

"No," says Dean, and it sounds like confession.

"What about now?" Sam asks "Tell me I was wrong, Dean. Tell me you want this."

"I want this," Dean whispers, and his eyes are bright with the gradual dawn of revelation.

"I'm not going anywhere," says Sam. "You and me, Dean, that's all I want."

"What about school?" asks Dean, and it's half tease, half trepidation.

"School can wait. Besides, I might still convince you to give academia a try."

"Not likely," Dean says with a snort, but his eyes are shining and a small smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth.

"Anyway, that's for later," says Sam, and now he's smiling, too. "We've got more important things to do right now. Are we in this together, or what?"

"Yeah," says Dean. "I think we are." He leans in for a kiss, barely has to tilt his head down for it because even on his knees Sam is plenty tall. Their lips meet, easy and intimate, and Dean's hand finds its way into Sam's hair.

Barely a beat passes before Sam is jerking away from the kiss, laughter on his tongue to keep Dean from worrying he's done something wrong. His brother looks at him with startled consternation, eyebrows knit together in surprise.

"Dude," says Sam. "You have the worst morning breath. Go brush your teeth or something."

Dean grumbles as he stands, deliberately knocking Sam over on his way past. Sam keeps laughing, even once the bathroom door closes on an exaggerated slam. Dean will forgive him, and Sam will make it up to him with a blowjob anyway.

In the meantime, Sam drinks his coffee and marvels at the fact that they might just be okay. There's still their father to find, and a demon to kill, and everything is still a mess.

But he has Dean back, and that's a good place to start.

——fin——

"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
     ~Hamlet's letter to Ophelia