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The Fire I Breathe

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Everything changes in a dead, dusty cabin in the middle of nowhere. The electric is crap but functional, and salt lines stand at every door and window. Just another normal night of fun and adventure except for the yellow-eyed gloat that hangs unnatural on John Winchester's face.

It's a victorious smirk echoed by the smell of sulfur, and Sam wants to tear the cabin apart, needs to get free of this wall, because no. No, it doesn't get to go down this way, and that yellow-eyed bastard needs to get the fuck away from his brother, his dad, his family right the hell now. Sam's blood is singing with the need to kill, and the demon just laughs at him, a malicious chuckle wearing a voice it's got no right to.

"Make the gun float to you there, psychic boy," the thing says.

There's too much confidence in its voice, and Sam knows there's nothing he can do. No way he can use his abilities to get them out of this, except the next second he does.

He doesn't need the gun.

It's not the overwhelming explosion he expects when he finally opens himself to the power. There's only a soft, muffled little snap somewhere at the base of his spine. The flipping of a switch at the sight of his brother bleeding out against the wall, and something inside of Sam just moves.

Those yellow eyes look different now, startled and terrified, and it's not enough. Sam doesn't speak, just strides silently forward. He feels power fill him up and spill over. Feels it coming from somewhere dark, somewhere so far down his mind shies away from it, and he doesn't goddamn care.

He sinks the power straight into the demon and drags it out into the air, feels it twist and writhe against his hold.

It's just a black whirl of smoke. A twisting, billowing mess of ash same as every other demon they've faced, and Sam makes it bow. Cloud of smoke, and he's not sure how that works, but he does it just the same, feels its rage beating against his skull.

Then he wipes the yellow-eyed son of a bitch out of existence.

~*~*~*~*~*~

John doesn't stick around long after they hit civilization. A week to make sure Dean's really okay, not secretly bleeding his way to a silent, stoic death. Dean has been quiet since the cabin, and Sam wonders what part of the mess he's freaking out about.

He's not sure what he expects from their father now that it's over. Mission accomplished, vendetta finally had, and Sam's always wondered what sort of life the man planned on returning to.

Figures he goes right back to the hunt.

Dean's checked out of the hospital, but still not in much condition to travel, and Sam's not as surprised as he should be to wake up and find the truck loaded up and his dad looking spooked.

It's terrifying, because John Winchester's game face is not supposed to fall. Not ever. Not like Dean's does sometimes. Not like Sam's face that barely got the hang of it in the first place. But for just a second before he notices Sam's presence in the parking lot, John Winchester looks indecisive and terrified.

"You're leaving," says Sam, and his voice sounds flat even to him.

"I have to." Sam can almost read the hesitation in his father's eyes. "There's still stuff out there needs killing, Sammy."

"That's not why you're going."

It's a jagged moment between them, pavement warm on Sam's bare feet. He's sure it's just another impasse between them, one more bullshit fight that neither of them can win, and he feels a twitch of power in his blood to match the quick spike of rage. It scares him so much he shuts it right back down, but maybe his dad saw something in his eyes, because suddenly the air between them feels different.

"You're right," says John. His face is still painfully neutral. "That's not why I'm going."

Sam doesn't want to think about the cabin. He wishes the memory felt more like a dream or even, god forbid, one of his nightmares. He wants the lurch of angry power in his blood to fade away, and so far it's still clear like crystal with the inevitable threat of sharp, shattered edges.

But Sam wonders what he looked like. Wonders what his dad saw in him that's got the man freaked enough to run out while Dean is still recovering.

"Will you be back?" Sam asks.

"Yeah, Sammy. I'll be back," says John, reassuring clap on the shoulder before he gets in the car and drives away.

Sam doesn't quite believe him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean seems surprised that Sam doesn't want to be dropped off in California once they're back on the road. Pleased, but surprised, and Sam realizes his brother isn't just wearing some façade of totally-not-freaked-out. Dean really was unconscious by the time Sam pulled off his freak-ass mind mojo.

Sam's pretty much completely okay with that.

Hunting now that the demon's gone feels eerily like hunting before the shit hit the fan. Sam thinks it should be different now. Everything's changed, right? The thing they've been searching for, running from, fighting their entire lives is gone. That should mean something.

But Dean is just relieved, and he throws himself into each hunt with the same jittery fervor as always. Drags Sam right along with him, and Sam, for his part, doesn't protest.

He also doesn't mention the power. No reason for Dean to know. Not yet. Not when Sam plans to get rid of it just as soon as he can figure how. It's no big deal.

Until it kind of is, and Sam finally has to fess up. He can usually keep the power down, keep it quiet in his blood and out of the way. Like anger management, except with dark energy zipping through his body instead of rage.

But fighting down the power doesn't keep the abilities from manifesting. Abilities. Plural. Because whatever he pulled off in that cabin, that's not all he can do.

He breaks a door down to get to Dean once. Plays it cool and distracts his brother afterwards, but Sam knows that door was reinforced. Shouldn't have come apart for anything short of major explosives, and on the way out he glimpses the indentations his fingers left on one side. That night he tries to do it again and can't, and he decides to feel relieved.

The visions continue, but they've got no connection to him anymore. Just the faces of people that need help, and for awhile Sam makes sure they're in the right place at the right time. But the look in Dean's eyes makes him uncomfortable, so he stops after a few. Pushes them out of his head and ignores them like everything else that's Totally Not Happening To Him.

Dean doesn't stay clueless for long, probably figures out something is up well before he gets frustrated enough to corner Sam about it. Give his baby brother time to fess up all on his own, but in the end Sam makes him ask.

"Since that night at the cabin," Sam finally confesses, and Dean stares at him from the driver's seat, horizon stationary and bathed in moonlight around them.

"What's been since the cabin? Dude, the demon is dead."

"I know that, Dean. I killed it."

"Yeah. That's a good thing, remember? It killed Mom and Jessica. Been trying to kill us for like a year."

"I know that."

"Then you wanna tell me why you're suddenly freaking out about killing it?"

"Because I didn't do it with the colt." He catches the startled whites of Dean's eyes and knows that's the vital piece of information his brother was lacking. Dad took the gun with him when he bolted.

"Then how did you do it?" Dean asks, knuckles white on the wheel.

"I don't know. I just did it." Sam tries to bite his tongue, but in the end it's probably better to get it out now. Clear the air and give his brother the chance to take off like Dad. "I think I could do it again."

"Holy shit," says Dean, but he's already got his patented Nothing-Can-Freak-Me-Out face on.

Sam doesn't mention more. Doesn't say one damn word about the quiet undercurrent of power he's fighting to ignore, the one that hums like an unfamiliar melody in the back of his head when he lets his guard down.

"Yeah," is all he says.

Dean looks away and starts driving. Doesn't stop until the sun is poking over the treetops to the East.

Sam watches him all night and can't take his eyes away.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Hunting is easier once he stops trying to hide every little slip of an ability from Dean. He's still fighting them down, holding back, burying them away with that not-quite-a-song in his blood, and it gets easier to do as weeks turn into months all over again.

But one day he notices that the shit they're hunting has started to look at him differently. Reverently, almost, and that freaks him out well past the mess in his own head. He doesn't mention it to Dean.

Not until the day they fight an actual dragon and Sam almost loses his brother for real. The dragon is a small, wiry thing. All black scales and razor sharp teeth, more like a lizard than Sam was expecting. He sees it too late, too far away as it ducks out of the bushes and dives straight for Dean's throat.

"STOP!" Sam hears himself yell, and doesn't even register that it instantly obeys. Just that Dean isn't dead. Sam takes a second, the dragon slithering down and away from its intended attack trajectory, and he doesn't care that it's prostrating itself before him. He just wants it dead. A quick, well aimed blow. Easy on a stationary target.

Dean is just staring at him when he finally backs away from the corpse.

"Dude, stop looking at me like that." Sam doesn't mean to sound petulant, but he can't deal with this. Not now. Not when all he's got space for in his head is the fact that Dean is still breathing.

His brother shakes himself out of it quickly, but the moment is still all awkward air between them.

"Let's get out of here," Dean finally says, reaching to tug at Sam's sleeve. "I need a drink, and you're covered in dragon goo."

It's true. Both parts. Dean obviously needs a drink, preferably a stiff one. And Sam feels filthy. The little beast bled everywhere when he stabbed it, dark syrupy fluid, and he's got ichor all over his pants and shoes.

"Yeah," he says, suddenly feeling wigged out and numb.

He follows Dean's nudging direction all the way back to the car, and cleans up in the cramped motel shower while Dean heads right back out the door.

That night Sam sleeps like the damned. Dean doesn't return until dawn.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The trend continues, to Sam's consternation and Dean's mounting concern. Sam can see it in his brother's eyes in those less guarded moments, when he thinks Sam isn't paying attention. Monsters and beasts and things doing exactly what Sam says, creepy and eager to please, and Sam can tell it freaks his brother right out.

As well it goddamn should.

They exorcise a demon in Tulsa, first one since their world almost ended in a ragged cabin in the middle of nowhere. It sneers and snarls and laughs at them as they corner it the old-fashioned way, using fists and feet and brute force to shove it into the devil's trap underfoot. The pretty blonde meatsuit it's wearing might already be dead for all they know.

"Come on," says Dean, handing Dad's journal over, already open to an exorcism. Sam clears his throat and finds his place.

"Too bad," says the demon, and even though Sam knows he should just start reading, he looks up and meets void-black eyes.

"What?"

"It's just such a waste of potential." The thing laughs outright. "You know, there are still others out there waiting. Hopeless dreamers, all of them."

"Waiting for what?" Sam asks, ignoring the warning expression on Dean's face.

"For the Boy King to step up and take his throne."

"Sam."

Dean's voice is what Sam needs to cut through the pulse of panic in his ears, and he tries not to feel the swell of something down deep as he reads the words of the exorcism.

It's over quickly, screaming swirl of ash and smoke sent on its way.

The body's dead, and that's not really a surprise.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Their dad stays gone but stays in touch, and his infrequent phone calls are half sanity line, half the maddening itch of feeling like they're right back where they started. Except for the part where Sam's burning up inside from all the things he's keeping tamped down and away. It's never just the nightmares anymore, and he laughs out loud when he realizes he's wistfully longing for the days when the yellow-eyed demon's visions were all he had to contend with.

It earns him a funny look from Dean, quirked sideways from across the diner table.

Sam can sometimes read people now. Thoughts, feelings, whatever's floating closest to the surface. Sometimes he can see deeper, uses it without knowing what he's doing. Sometimes he does it to Dean, and draws up hard and fast when he realizes, making his head spin and his heart pound. He hasn't seen anything he's not supposed to yet, but every once in awhile he comes too damn close. It's a line he doesn't want to cross.

"You okay, man?" Dean asks, draws his attention back to the diner and their squeaky little booth. Dean's plate is empty, and half of Sam's French fries are gone even though he's pretty sure he hasn't touched his own food.

"Peachy," he says, and they both know it's a lie.

Dean stands to pay their bill, and Sam watches him go. Doesn't try to be discreet about it, even though he knows it's really goddamn sketchy to be looking this hard at his brother. He can't help it anymore. Somewhere in the last tattered month or so, Sam has started to need Dean like air.

He should maybe feel sick with it. There's this sense that he ought to have an unpleasant pit in his stomach to accompany these new uncomfortable revelations, but he's got nothing. His stomach's been roiling for months, and maybe there's just not space in him for more anxiety. No more energy to feel the way he probably should about having new and inappropriate ideas.

He can deal. Dean's not going anywhere.

As long as Sam can keep him close, he'll be fine.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Things turn over again when his brother screws up in Beverly, Massachusetts and ends up with an entire pack of hellhounds gunning for his soul. One more incident just like a hundred others, his brother sticking his neck on the line and just begging to pay the price for it.

But this time feels different. Sam can feel the pack's power, and Dean is going to die. For real, no way around it if Sam can't intervene, and there's no time.

Sam shouldn't be able to see the damn things, but he blinks a couple times and there they are. Circling Dean, and it figures the Winchesters have gotten themselves cornered in an alley. Sloppy.

Red fire glints in coal-black eyes, and not one of them is paying Sam any heed. Not when the promise of fresh blood is there and calling to them.

Their power thrills along his nerves, and something like instinct has him opening up to welcome it. The sensation is dark and slimy, like oil on his skin, but it shrinks to nothing when he finally lets the hushed little melody in the back of his head sing itself open, wide and needy. It's a harsh crescendo, andante to frantic presto in the space of a heartbeat, and he doesn't even try to rein the power in.

It lashes out at the dogs, lays its own commanding claim, Sam's claim, and suddenly the entire pack is looking straight at him. No more eyes for Dean, and he wonders if it's his turn. If they've decided he's a tastier target and he's about to die.

But they don't approach him like prey.

Slow shuffle of twisted paws, and they all hunch down like puppies at his feet. Like Sam's attention is all they could want in the world.

He doesn't give himself time to overthink it, and deliberately doesn't look at Dean when the things' master strolls into the alleyway on a cocky stride. Right to the edge of the pack. The body it's wearing is beautiful, dark and tall and curvy. Her eyes glow red.

"Sam Winchester," she purrs. "Not bad. But not good enough. He's mine."

Sam feels the sneer spread across his face, the expression not quite his own, but the indignant lash of power from right down in his core, that's all him. She takes a step back, but her smirk holds steady.

"You're nothing, boy."

"And you can't have him."

All it takes is a thought, and the pack jumps to it. They tear her to pieces so fast her face doesn't have the chance to register her shock. They rip her apart, host body and all.

It's a breaking point all its own.

Sam can't look at Dean once it's done, once he sends the hellhounds slinking their way back into the night. He doesn't try to end them. He's sure now he could have, but they won't be coming back for Dean and Sam doesn't give a flying cricket's ass what they do now. He gets that he's a little screwed up.

Back in their room is worse. He can't look at anything but Dean once they're indoors, and it's equally impossible to keep his brother's thoughts out of his head. He tries like hell, but he's too tuned in. Too close. Too desperate to know his brother doesn't see a monster in his eyes.

There's no sign of the word 'monster', but Dean is definitely thirty kinds of freaked. Wearing that same stupid bullshit face as always, reassurances hot on his tongue, and Sam doesn't want to hear it.

"Don't," he says, and starts stuffing things in his duffel.

"Sammy, come on. Don't be an idiot." Dean is all in his way, pushing and stubborn and trying to get Sam to look at him, but Sam just keeps packing.

"I have to go," he says.

"Go where? Seriously, dude, you're freaking me out here."

Sam laughs. Incredulous and a little bit insane, and he says, "Now I'm freaking you out? What about before, Dean? What about all the things you should be freaking out about?"

Dean's expression goes stiff at that, and this time Sam manages to block out the predictable range of reactions.

"This is crazy, you can't just take off! Stop being a moron and put the bag down. We can figure it out."

Sam's got a hundred different responses to that, all of them useless. Dean is standing right in his path, no way to the door but through his brother and no way is this going down without a fight.

"Move," says Sam, because he might as well try. He isn't surprised when Dean stands firm. It's a silent impasse, and he sees Dean bracing for an inevitable blow, ready to let Sam throw the first punch.

Sam doesn't deliver. He's got other, better ideas.

His duffel hits the floor with a dull thump, and he leans right in, takes Dean's face in both his hands, and kisses him.

It's nothing like he imagined it. Dean doesn't go all soft and pliant in his arms, doesn't open for him fast and greedy like Sam's guiltiest daydreams. Dean doesn't go stiff and furious either, doesn't draw instantly away, scalded and betrayed, or punch him in the face for his trouble. Dean just stands there and takes it, which is almost worse.

It doesn't stop Sam from coaxing his brother's mouth open with his tongue, doesn't stop him licking his way past his brother's lips to memorize the taste of him. He's got an inkling this is all he'll ever get, and Sam is weak enough to take what he can.

He opens his mind up to the rapid-fire assault of Dean's thoughts, suddenly too much to try and block out, and it's exactly everything he expects. Noisy panic, guilt, confusion.

It's a mess, and Sam shoves the cacophony back out of his head as he lets his hands fall away and takes a deliberate step back. Puts a foot and a half of space between them and isn't surprised when Dean can't even look at him.

All the opening Sam needs, and he scoops up his duffel and heads for the door while Dean is still reeling.

He doesn't plan on going completely to ground. Just getting out. Finding somewhere else to be. He needs somewhere to hide from this without the constant reminders that he's wrong inside, and he knows he can't do it hunting. Can't do it with Dean.

His brother will give him plenty of space now, would probably give him the whole damn planet to himself if he could, and Sam thinks maybe that's what he needs.

He hops the first bus departing from the rickety little station, and tries like hell not to look back.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The attempt never feels right, but Sam puts everything he's got into building another life from scratch. He makes himself a new identity, one that's already completed undergrad, and gets himself into law school.

It's not a new plan, not even a good plan, but it's the only plan he's got.

Getting good grades is easy, and half the time he's not sure if it's his smarts or his secret abilities. He's got this weird power of command thing going for him now, and it somehow manages to be creepier than anything else he's discovered he can do. Absorbing people's thoughts, that's just invasive. But sometimes this tone sneaks into his voice, and people smile and nod and do exactly as he asks. He can override free will, and that turns out to be its own special level of freak. He tries not to use it, just like all the other oddities, and clings to normalcy like the lifeline it isn't.

Dean doesn't try to call him during his first year, but Sam's not deluded enough to think his brother's not around. He joins half a dozen student organizations, runs for the Student Bar Association, and writes on to Law Review even though he's got the best grades in his class. Stays in the library until eleven o'clock every night, pretending he doesn't feel things watching him from the shadows.

He figures on going into criminal defense, even though it's not his favorite subject. The most anything holds for him is detached fascination, and when a cute girl from his torts class asks him out he says yes. Dates her by rote, says all the right words, and tries not to think about the fact that she's nothing to him but a potential victim that he'll probably have to save from the shadows.

Dean's number shows up on an incoming call during Sam's fourth semester finals. When he tries to answer, the call doesn't connect. Instinct tells him it heralds disaster, but he doesn't return the call.

He's less surprised than he should be when the fire alarm goes off halfway through his third exam. He takes his computer with him when he leaves the building, but doesn't bother with his textbooks. Something tells him he won't need them anymore.

The fleet of fire trucks isn't enough to stop the spread as fire erupts from every corner of the school. Sam watches with the rest of the students and professors from the sidewalk across the street. There's no way everybody got out in time. It hurts watching the building burn, but it's mostly surreal.

There's no sound, no movement in his peripheral vision, no reason for him to know Dean is suddenly standing there, a foot behind and to the right.

"I'm sorry," he says, and Sam hears everything in it. Feels relief and real emotion flood through him when his brother steps closer, and it's been almost two years since anything flickered through the numb haze of faking this life.

"Did you know?" Sam asks. No accusation in his tone, just resigned curiosity.

"No."

"You tried to call me."

"Yeah." Dean scuffs his shoe in the dirt. "There were signs and stuff. I didn't know what they meant."

"But you were in the area."

"I'm always in the area."

Sam turns away from the sight of dancing flame and moves back from the crowd, knows Dean is right behind him, decked out in that constant leather jacket despite the bright spring sun.

It's been inevitable, he knows. Maybe not the fire, and he's perversely relieved at the twinge of guilt. People might be dead and it's probably his fault. But this. Dean. Back to hunting. All that's been inevitable, and Sam suddenly knows it.

Trying to run from the power isn't going to work. Been there, done that, tried to cut that life out of himself, and it still came back for him. The school will burn completely down, no stopping a fire that's not even natural.

"Where are you parked?" Sam asks, pausing when he finally reaches empty sidewalk.

"Just off Milton."

They walk as fast as they can without looking suspicious, and when they reach the car Dean gives Sam an indecipherable look.

"I wish you could have all that, Sammy."

"Yeah." Sam has to look away. "Me, too." He's not sure he means it.

The car is warm from the sun, baked through and home, and Sam settles in and melts against the passenger seat. He waits until he feels the engine rev, lets Dean pull out between traffic and start to drive, god only knows where.

"So. How's Dad?"

~*~*~*~*~*~

Once they're back to hunting, Sam stops fighting. There's this high, stubborn wall he's cobbled together to try and hold off the power, and he finally knocks it down. It never really helped anyway, all full of holes and letting the abilities sneak through. Letting it go is a physical relief that Sam wasn't quite expecting.

For the first couple days, it's just too much, and thank god he's got Dean to help contain the chaos. He's been fighting it so long he doesn't know how to direct it, and for three straight weeks Dean camps them out in the middle of Tahoe National Forest while Sam gets his shit together.

One ability at a time, and it feels like learning to use limbs he never knew existed. His head throbs for days after getting a handle on the telekinesis, and by the time he's got the inhuman strength under control his whole body aches. Dean insists Sam practice the command voice on him, and they fight over it for two days until Sam capitulates. He has to give in eventually, because really, what alternatives do they have? Better to spend a day and a half making Dean sit (stand, walk, whistle, dance) than to accidentally make his brother do something he doesn't want because Sam doesn't have the control.

It still feels like betrayal, and it hurts like hell to watch Dean smile and obey his every command.

"Okay," says Dean once they've done all but the telepathy. "That it?"

Sam nods. He hasn't actually told Dean about that one, because he's managed to figure it out mostly on his own. He's good at blocking people out, anyway, and once they're back among the anonymous multitudes of civilization he'll work on more active use. He doesn't know what Dean would say if he knew. His brother probably wouldn't invite Sam into his head, but Sam wasn't really expecting him to volunteer for the role of sock puppet so he could practice the mind control either. It's a fight he doesn't want to have and an invasion he's still not comfortable with, so for the moment he keeps it to himself.

They're back on the road for all of two days before they find another hunt, and even though ogres are slimier than Sam expected, it's ridiculously easy. They've got so many advantages now that it's not much of a challenge. Sam holds it where it stands, immobilized with his mind, while Dean lops its head off with a machete.

And that's how the next six hunts go, quick and painless, and Sam feels the power settle into his bones, dark but comfortable. It feels like temptation, because he knows there's more he can do. Bigger things, some of them unforgivable, and now that the wall is gone, he constantly wonders what it might be like.

But he's got Dean, and looking at his brother still manages to eclipse everything else. Keeps him somewhere near reality, even if sometimes it's like he's barely holding on.

"Dude," says Dean, across the room at a weathered little table. "Find a hobby. I'm not that interesting."

Sam blinks, blushes, was totally staring. It should be the most awkward moment in the history of ever, just like every other time Dean has caught him staring. They've never discussed the incident that coincided with Sam's departure. He's pretty sure they're never going to.

So yes, should be awkward, but it's really not, Dean already buried back in his research. His eyes are darting back and forth across the computer screen, and Sam can tell he's reading tiny text, probably scanned newsprint, and they'll have a new hunt by the end of the day.

"Hey, Dean?"

"What?"

Sam's actually not sure what he means to say. 'So, remember that time I kissed you?' Or maybe 'Did you know I could read your mind if I wanted?' So much potential for disaster, and he's not sure why he opened his mouth.

"Never mind," he says instead.

"Freak," Dean mumbles, but a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth as he says it.

"Yeah," Sam concedes, and flops bonelessly back on the bed.

~*~*~*~*~*~

It's a noisy bar in the middle of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, gaudy decorations and photos hanging along every wall, and Sam's still nowhere near drunk enough for his cheap mug of beer to taste good. He's had plenty of the stuff, and he's starting to think maybe he can't get drunk anymore.

"Dude, this sucks."

"Cheer up." Dean thumps him on the shoulder with his free hand and leans on the bar to signal for another round. "A couple more and it'll taste great."

"No, man. It won't." Dean gives him a funny look, and Sam sighs with righteous irritation. "It's not working."

"What do you mean it's not working? It's beer."

"Exactly," says Sam. And even though he hasn't done much explaining, Dean seems to get it. Pushes his own half-finished drink aside and ignores the new ones that the bartender sets in front of them.

"Seriously?" he asks, eyes blinking wider than usual but no other signs of intoxication. Sam just nods.

Dean lets out a long, sympathetic whistle, and the horrified look on his face is comically exaggerated. Sam blames the booze for that one.

"Not cool," Dean mutters, and isn't that the understatement of the century. Freaky-ass powers come to call, a constant rush of darker things under his skin, the whining, hungry urge to make out with his brother, and Sam can't even drink it away. The world's never been fair, but Sam's never felt quite so affronted by the inequity before.

"You're telling me."

"Come on," says Dean, tossing a haphazardly counted pile of bills on the bar. "Let's get out of here, this is totally pointless."

"Half pointless," Sam clarifies helpfully, watching as Dean shoves up from his stool. "You can still get drunk."

"Yeah." Dean rolls his eyes. "Because that's any fun without watching you make a drunken ass of yourself."

That's a good point, actually, and Sam turns on his stool. Leans back against the bar, and the angle is just so, just enough that his eyes are right on level with Dean's. There's something in his brother's expression that Sam can't quite read, and he doesn't want to move until he gets it. It's important, Sam can tell that much, and for just a second he considers cheating. Banishes the thought just as quickly, because even though he's got no compunctions about using his abilities on the rest of the world, he's still got no place rummaging around in Dean's head.

"Dean," he says, surprised at how badly the confession wants out. He knows he has his brother's attention, every ounce of it, and he breathes deep to whisper, "I can read thoughts, too."

Dean's eyes go startle-wide, and he leans in a little, like he thinks he might've misheard. The uncertain tilt of his head enunciates his confusion, and he says, "Come again?"

"Thoughts. Feelings. I figured out how to control it a while ago. I just… thought you should know."

"You thought I should know now," says Dean, but it's not really accusation that darkens his voice. Sam nods a little bit helplessly. Watches a new uncertainty settle across Dean's features.

"Dean, what is it?" he asks.

"Nothing." Dean shifts his weight in a way that Sam knows means he's about to bolt.

"Dean," he says, reaches out with his hands even though he could prevent his brother's retreat without lifting a finger. Dean slumps, resigned to Sam's hold on both his arms. "Dean, what?"

It takes a beat too long, but Dean finally asks, "Do you read my mind?"

"No," says Sam, calmer than he expects to sound. This was the big secret, and he's got nothing else to hide now. "Sometimes back before I got the hang of it, but never on purpose. And not since Tahoe."

Dean nods, the instant tension draining gradually from his shoulders. Sam can tell he wants to know why this one had to stay a secret, but that part's not important, and Dean will probably just smack him upside the head for being an idiot. So he keeps his mouth shut and watches a more pensive look weigh down his brother's features.

"Okay," says Dean, and kisses him.

It's a heart's blink of an instant, Dean barely close enough to hold onto, and suddenly he's right up in Sam's space, shoving him hard against the bar and licking the taste of beer off his tongue. Sam's okay with that, with the fact that Dean tastes so much better than this crap beer or anything else he can goddamn imagine, and his brother's body fits comfortable and perfect between his knees.

They're fast on the verge of an inappropriate public display, but that's not what finally drags Sam back down.

It's the memory of another kiss, empty confrontation in a bland motel room, and Sam remembers the look on his brother's face that day. Remembers worse the cacophony of shattered, guilty betrayal he picked up from his brother's thoughts.

It's enough to make him push Dean away, meet the murky, indecipherable stare when his brother's eyes lock onto him.

The interruption stretches tight between them, and Sam tries not to stare at Dean's mouth. A dozen things he should say, and he can't because he doesn't know where to start. Maybe with how utterly, totally wrong this is, and the fact that of all the things Dean thinks he needs to give, this shouldn't be one of them.

Dean is still standing too close, right in the splay of Sam's legs, and the moment aches with how badly Sam wants to pull him back in and take what's being offered.

"No," he says instead. Agony. Want. Everything narrows to the sight of Dean drawing his lower lip between his teeth in a gesture completely unconscious. "Dean, you don't want this."

"You sure about that, Sherlock?" Dean asks, but he backs off. Sam has room to breathe again, and he only then realizes he hasn't been. No room for air in his lungs with Dean's proximity playing all along his skin. "Come on," says Dean. "No point staying here if we can't get you drunk."

Sam follows obediently out the door, thoughts a jagged tumult. He keeps his hands stuffed deep in his pockets and keeps them to himself.

~*~*~*~*~*~

He doesn't know if it's supposed to end there, but he's not really surprised when it doesn't. The next morning he wakes to extra weight sharing his bed, and rolls over to find Dean watching him, quiet and thoughtful. His brother is spread out on his side above the covers, propped on one elbow.

"Dean?" Sam asks, voice thick with sleep. He blinks, tries to clear his head, can't quite figure out what he's supposed to do now.

"Hear me out, okay?" says Dean. "You said you could read thoughts."

"Yeah…" Sam feels trepidation lodge low in his spine as he watches the wide green of his brother's eyes.

"I want you to read mine."

"No," Sam says, instant and instinctive, and he's already putting extra, desperate inches between them. "Dean, no. I can't do that, not to you. You don't--"

Dean's mouth is sharp with the flavor of mint toothpaste, and Sam grunts surprise into the kiss even as Dean pushes him back against the pillow.

He lets it happen longer than he should, longer than he did last night, and his hands reach out, greedy to touch. God, he's only got so much willpower, and Dean is trampling all over the last of it, opening and inviting, letting Sam's tongue memorize the contours of his mouth, and it's so perfect Sam almost forgets he's not letting Dean do this.

He groans when Dean draws back, but reality has him yanking his hands clear in the next panicked instant.

Dean shifts to straddle him, won't let him hide the unnecessary evidence of want, and Sam forces himself to meet his brother's eyes.

"Dean," he whispers, swallows past a suddenly dry throat. "You can't keep doing this, man. I'm not strong enough."

"You're an idiot." Dean's face is flushed, but his eyes are clear. "What do you think this is, anyway? You think I'm trying to be some kind of martyr?"

"You'd do anything for me, Dean," Sam whispers, his cheeks burning hot.

"Maybe," Dean concedes halfway. "But not this time. I can be a selfish asshole, too, y'know."

Sam shakes his head, can't wrap his brain around a world where his brother wants the same from him, and if he just woke up why does this feel too surreal to be anything but a dream?

Dean leans in close, right hand sliding to rest on Sam's heart, and says, "See for yourself."

It's another invitation into his head, and Sam still can't do it. He just stares, caught in the headlights of Dean's steady gaze, and there's so much advantage he could take if he lets his guard down for even an instant.

"Sam," says Dean, and this time his voice is harder. Insistent. "Enough. What secrets could I possibly have left?"

It's the tone that does it, not the logic, and Sam's fingers tighten on his brother's forearms as he lets the last of his barriers drop. Dean's thoughts are chaotic but clear, bright beacon of intent and hope, and Sam suddenly feels like an idiot and an ass.

Two years is a long time. Apparently it's long enough, and of course Dean worked through all that shit while Sam was gone. Sam left his brother with nothing but his own messed up thoughts for company, and maybe he'd hoped their dad would come back once he was gone, but he still can't avoid the rush of guilt at leaving Dean alone with a mess that belonged to both of them.

"Okay?" asks Dean, and the question draws Sam back.

Sam nods, mute with surprise.

This time when Dean kisses him, Sam lets go.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam knows Dean has kept their dad informed about almost everything, Sam's abilities and the rest of it, everything except one new, vital piece of information that John can't possibly understand. His continuing absence used to make Sam edgy, still makes him wonder what the man knows, because John Winchester always keeps his distance for a reason.

But after the shift in his relationship with Dean, their father's absence is as much welcome relief as it is nerve-wracking concern. They're still shifting hunt to hunt, the anxious thrum of power under Sam's skin a heavy constant, but Sam has Dean all to himself. Doesn't need to worry about being cautious when he slips into his brother's bed and touches him in ways the laws of both man and God forbid. Their father's potential disapproval isn't a factor, because he isn't there.

Until he is, and with all Sam's powers he thinks this he should have seen coming.

It's not as bad as it could be. They could be naked, after all. But it's bad enough.

Back from a hunt, bubbling with energy after a kill that went down smooth and easy, simple like they always go lately, and Sam's got the usual rush of energy singing in his veins. It threatens to swell, same as always, and it's habit and instinct reaching for Dean to silence the discord.

His brother laughs, struggles to get the door open with Sam's hands interfering and distracting. The hinge creaks, soft slam and click as they lock up behind themselves and step into the shadowed quiet of their latest brief abode. The only light comes from outside, full moon shining in useless patches through tiny windows, and Sam doesn't give his eyes time to adjust before he kisses Dean.

It's breathless and intense, everything he needs to quiet the insistent surge of potential in his blood, and he groans as Dean wraps around him and mumbles unintelligible reassurances against his lips. The same reassurances murmur through his mind, easy slide of Dean's thoughts against his own, and there's not enough touch to be had, not enough heat in his brother's skin to ever satiate him.

A soft cough sounds from the shadows, and it's so familiar that they're apart in the fissure of a second, ten feet suddenly separating them as their eyes adjust to the darkness.

Sam hears Dean's 'Oh shit' echo in his head, but the room is painfully silent. For dragging minutes the sole sound is a quick click of the bedside lamp from the shadows where their father stands.

Sam blinks at the sudden light, sees his brother do the same, and the look on their dad's face is all shattered, shutdown fury. Terror, too, and it's all Sam can do to keep from stretching out and deliberately catching his father's thoughts. Even if that weren't a line he needed to hold to, Sam wouldn't need to use his abilities to know what's going through John Winchester's head in that moment.

"Dad," says Sam, because Dean is still frozen. Mussed from the kiss and lips parted in surprise, and Sam doesn't know what else to say.

"Boys." Ice and fury, and Sam's pretty sure that tone would terrify him if it were an emotion he were still capable of. He can feel it pouring off of Dean, though, and it's too much at once. It's enough that, for the first time in weeks, Sam wishes he could block it out.

Another moment of silence. Then three, then five. Finally the inevitable. "You want to tell me what this is?"

"Pretty much what it looks like," says Sam before Dean can answer. His brother might lie, might try to protect him, and Sam knows that can't help now. It hurts to see that look on his father's face, something so far beyond disappointment there aren't human words for it, and Sam can tell Dean's going to be sick any second. John's steps are heavy as he approaches, warning in his stride until he stops two feet in front of Sam and tilts his head up to meet his youngest's eyes.

"Dad," says Dean, picks that moment to chime in. "This isn't Sam's fault."

All it earns him is a quick jerk of a glance before Sam's got that look centered on him again.

"Well?" John asks, too quiet, and his eyes mirror the question. Even without opening to his father's thoughts, Sam feels the shadowed edge of despair.

"Of course it's my fault," says Sam. "What do you want me to say, Dad? If I tell you it's not what it looks like, we'll all know I'm lying. You want me to say it anyway? That what you saw wasn't anything? That I'm not fucking Dean?" He's regretting the words even as they fly out of his mouth, panicked and unrehearsed, and yeah, all he's got is the truth, but this isn't how it should be coming out. Their dad deserves better.

The fist that connects with his jaw isn't a surprise, but Sam doesn't try to block the impact. Keeps to his feet and only afterwards raises one hand to wipe the blood away.

The expression on his father's face has lost its veneer of icy calm, flashes newly broken in the half-light of the bedside lamp. Sam can't tell how much is attributable to the revelation about his sons and how much is guilt for the hand raised in anger.

Sam watches straight through the immediate retreat, and stares at the door long after it's slammed shut.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam knows better than to try and confront his father right away. And he knows Dean is torn, half wants to follow their dad straight out the door, and Sam can feel the conflict rolling off of him with the guilt and shame and everything else.

"Easy," says Sam, coaxing and prodding until he can maneuver Dean down onto the bed. One bed, because that's what they've been getting lately. He doesn't make any moves, not like he's in the mood, not like it'd be a good idea anyway with Dean this spooked. Sam just holds him, soothing motion of his hands up and down his brother's arms.

"Shit, Sam," Dean whispers, moving in close and burying his face against Sam's throat. "What'd we just do? He wasn't supposed to--"

"I know," Sam interrupts, gentling slide of his hand along Dean's back now, and he can feel the tremors all along his brother's spine. 'We'll figure it out' he wants to say, but he knows Dean won't believe him. So he holds him close and silent, until one or both of them falls asleep.

Sam gives it three full days before he slips into the night to make an attempt at fixing things. Dean is asleep in their room, helped a little bit along by a gentle application of Sam's well-refined powers. An inevitable twinge of guilt, but Sam doesn't see any way around it. Dean won't stand for him setting off alone to confront their father, and Sam knows he can't have Dean along for this conversation.

It doesn't take Sam long to hunt him down, not with his abilities honed and sharp, John Winchester the most familiar blip on his radar after Dean. He expects to find the man drinking, but despite the glass of whiskey at hand, his dad is stonewall sober, apparently got the heavy drinking out of the way in the last three days. He acknowledges Sam's presence with a silent glance, then leads the way back to his own place.

"I assume you're here because you think there's something worth explaining." John grabs a couple of warm beers and hands one to Sam before slouching into a moth-eaten chair.

Sam sits in the other one and suddenly doesn't know where to start. He's been running scenarios in his head for days, but now he's starting from ground zero.

"I'm sorry," he says, soft and heartfelt, and watches in quiet awe as the glint of confrontation fades from his father's eyes. It's replaced almost instantly by something darker, heavier, broken, and Sam's got no goddamn idea how to fix it.

"So where did I go wrong?" It's a shattered question, all jagged edges and despair, and Sam's got nothing but the truth to offer.

"I don't know that you did."

Dark fragment of a chuckle, a miserable sound, and John shakes his head. "Something like this doesn't just up and happen one day, Sammy."

"No. But that doesn't mean…" He doesn't know how to explain it, and he knows he's only got one shot at this. "I know you think it's sick, Dad, but there's so much more to it than that."

"Sam--"

"No, hear me out. Please." He waits, holds his tongue again until his father nods. "It's… I think it was inevitable. Not before, but after everything that's gone down, we need each other." He can see the retort in his father's eyes, 'not like this you don't', but John keeps his mouth shut.

"Things are different now," Sam says, struggling to keep his voice above a whisper. A heater clanks and turns on somewhere behind him. "You know the things I can do now, Dad. All the stakes are higher. I think there's something wrong inside of me, and Dean… he's the only thing keeping together." There's something in his father's eyes now, nothing like understanding but more than Sam's had to work with this entire conversation, more than he'd quite managed to hope for.

"He's your brother, Sam."

"Been there. Dealt with that." He doesn't intend it to sound flip, and hopefully his meaning comes across because, as points go, it's an important one.

The silence is thick with consideration, still echoing with something like despair, but his dad is really looking at him for the first time since a dark motel room three days behind them.

"You know there's nothing he wouldn't do for you," John says, voice heavy with the implication. "Nothing."

"Yeah," says Sam. "But that's not what this is."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I'd know. He can't hide things from me anymore." Sam's uncomfortable admitting this much, feels too personal a confession even though his dad's got every right to know. "Anyone else it's more difficult to read, but Dean… I haven't been able to block him out for months."

Another moment, long and gauging, and Sam can tell this is the breaking point. This is where things go horribly wrong or as well as they can, and his whole body thrums with waiting on his father's next words.

"And you're both sure about this?" John asks, dread and resignation in his eyes. It's something Sam can work with, and he nods.

"Yeah."

"Sammy." He suddenly looks away, suddenly can't look at Sam. "I can't--"

"I know." Because Sam is pretty sure he knows all the things his father is about to say. "And we won't make you deal with it, I swear. But we're… You're our dad. Please don't make an ultimatum out of it." Sam's voice is barely a whisper when he says, "There's no other way this can go."

When John looks at him again, Sam can almost read beyond the grim intensity and the slouch of his shoulders. It's surrender, or something like it, and Sam thinks maybe it's enough for hope.

"We gonna be okay?" he finally asks, has to, because he's not quite sure what to read from John's expression.

"We're gonna try."

It's as much of a truce as they'll reach, and it's sure as hell more than Sam had any right to ask.

He's surprised when his dad stands with him and draws him into a firm hug. It's a little bit desperate, the splinters of John's thoughts bleeding through Sam's barriers, but there's hope there, too. Sam can't tell if it's his own or his father's, but it's enough.

The night is cold and windy when he steps back outside, the door closing behind him with a soft click, and he feels his father's eyes follow him to the Impala.

He gets on the road and aims for the quickest route out of town. Dean will be awake by now, and he'll probably be freaked.

Sam drives fast.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean is hard at work pacing a rut into the mottled green carpet when Sam steps back into the room. His eyes are void of accusation but heavy with concern, and when he turns there's a manic edge to the motion that says Sam stayed gone almost too long.

The riled mess of Dean's thoughts is louder up close, but Sam's been listening to it since he pulled back into town. It's nothing unexpected, not even anything new, and Sam feels most of it match his own thoughts. He toes his shoes off by the door, shucks his jacket over the back of a chair, and turns to give Dean his full attention.

"Lucky he can't disinherit a son that's legally dead," Dean says, self-defensive sneer already in place and of course he knows exactly where Sam's been. "What's he plan on doing with you?"

First things first, and Sam strides forward to pull Dean against him. Right into a kiss that's meant to reassure, but apparently nonverbal's not going to work so well tonight. Dean pulls away and gives him a wide, worried look.

"Sam, what'd you do?"

It stings that he has to ask, but Sam swallows it back and says, "I just talked to him. We didn't get into fisticuffs, dude." Dean's touch is gentle, fingers along the bruise Sam forgot he's been sporting, and it makes the point eloquently enough. Dean is perfectly justified to worry, and Sam shakes his head, too tired to be amused at the irony.

"Seriously, Dean. We just talked."

"About what? You, what, just explained it to him?" Dean's face shines incredulous in the gaudy overhead light. "And he didn't punch you in the face?"

"Pretty much." Dean is stiff in his arms, but Sam draws him in and holds tight anyway. "I told him how it is. He didn't like it. But he's gonna try, Dean. He'll try to let it go."

"So his sons are sleeping together, and he's just gonna learn to be okay with that?"

"Probably not. But we'll be more careful, and he'll look the other way if he has to. We'll work it out."

Dean's shoulders slump, his whole body collapsing into Sam's embrace. When he pulls back to meet Sam's gaze, his eyes are searching, darting back and forth and looking for something Sam isn't sure how to give him.

"Look at you, being the crazy optimist," Dean finally says. "I thought for sure the world had beaten that out of you by now."

Sam laughs, easier than he's felt in over three days, and says "Yeah, me too."

The second kiss is a suggestion, and Sam doesn't hesitate. Doesn't break away as he undresses them both with hands and powers, kissing deep and possessive. He doesn't need to stake out his claim, because Dean is already his, and the mantra of his brother's thoughts washes through him as they move further into the room.

It's a familiar dance by now, and as Sam takes his brother to bed he ignores the sensation that something bigger hangs ominous on the horizon.

Sam refuses to think about that right now. He's got his family. He's got Dean beneath his hands and the whole night ahead of them. He's got a kernel of hope at their father's forgiveness.

The Winchesters will take on the world if they have to, and that's all Sam needs to know.