Title: Hidden Beneath Shade
Characters/Pairing: Sam/Dean, John, Bobby, etc.
Genre: (historical) fantasy
Warnings: sibling incest, terrible parents, brief mention of (sexual) abuse/neglect
Word count: 14k
Summary: Sam has always known he was a prince, that his father is a king, and that the king sent him far away for protection's sake. As a young man and heir to the kingdom, he knows he must return to the land of his birth, but his journey takes an unforeseeable turn when he is saved from a demon attack by a man hidden in the trees- a man at one with the forest itself.
The tower bells rang out.
People tore through the streets, searching for their spouses and calling for their children. Merchants packed up their wares and fled from the town square – a prime target.
Everyone in the kingdom had been warned of the looming threat, but while the borders had been left open should anyone have wanted to leave in advance, nearly every family had at least one member in the service of the king who would be required to fight when the time arose. And that time was nigh, so confirmed by the clanging of the giant copper bells, all the way up in the castle tower.
Rumour had it that the enemy had flying beasts that would come down from the skies like demonic angels and obliterate them all. Those in the legions told them not to worry, they promised to protect them, but the townsfolk knew impending doom when they saw it.
In the throne room King John faced his closest advisors and highest-ranked subjects. He barked orders left and right, the gravest of expressions darkening his face. He gave a final order to Commander Turner to take charge of the army, and he pulled Captain Singer and his Queen's head maidservant to the side while the rest of the room's occupants dispersed.
"What's goin' on?" Ellen spoke up first, "And don't you dare spin me some half-assed story to placate me."
John shared a look with Bobby, and sighed.
"Azazel's been gathering forces for months. And not just his demon army, but all manner of dark creatures. We've been keeping a close eye on them, but we got word today that their steady march north has finally turned into an all-out run."
"They'll be here before tomorrow's out, most likely," Bobby added, "Thankfully we've been preparing for it, so we've got more than a few tricks up our sleeves."
"But they'll be expecting that, am I right?"
"Right," John agreed, "Which is why I have a favour to ask from you both."
Bobby growled. "Don't you dare, John Winchester."
"I have to, Bobby. It has to be done. I have to take precautions for my family, just as I take precautions for my people." The king's heart was heavy as he looked between the two people he trusted most besides his wife and child. The demons were coming for him, to not act would be the most irresponsible thing he could do. "I need you both to take Mary and Sam and flee from here before it's too late. Send out a couple of riders ahead of you to make sure the way is clear, then assemble a small troupe for yourself, no more than a couple of others for protection. Dress yourselves as commoners. Mary will have to be disguised – Ellen, perhaps you can colour her hair with charcoal? Bobby, I want you to strap Sam to your chest, keep him close while you ride. And I want you to take Impala—"
"M'Lord, Impala is your horse! Besides, a steed that size will only attract attention."
"That may be, but he's also the fastest in the kingdom. Desperate times call for quick getaways. Ellen, hurry now and ready Mary for travel, I'll stop by shortly to say my farewells."
John waited in silence as the maidservant hurried to do as she was bid. Mary would likely protest that he would not be riding with them, but it was John's place to be here with his army, to lead as was his due. Anyway, Ellen would know how best to sway her – just as any mother, Mary would do anything for her child.
"Bobby," John turned to the Captain, imploring him to accept his desperate plea, "You must take Sam far from here. Go West if you can, the Campbell's will take you in. I need to be here to stare Azazel in the face. I will show him I'm not afraid, and I will send him scampering back to the South with his tail between his legs."
"Somehow I don't think it'll be so easy," Bobby said, half muttering under his breath, "You don't know what his intentions are. For all you know he could just keep you surrounded instead of attacking, keep you stuck here like an island 'til all your stocks run out. Burn all the crops, poison the water supply, watch you from a safe distance until you die where you stand. It could take years."
"I'm not going to let that happen. At the very least I have to bide my time until Sam is old enough to defend himself, old enough to rule."
"If you manage to live that long."
"They haven't killed me yet," John said with a smirk. Azazel had tried, many times over, but John Winchester had so far refused to go to his death. "You will teach him, won't you Bobby? Teach my Sam to fight like a warrior, how to rule like a real king, with heart and mind. Remind him every day that there's a kingdom here that awaits his return."
"Of course," Bobby agreed, though obviously still hesitant. He glanced about the room to make sure they were alone before he broached his next question, knowing that the king would likely take to it unkindly. "What about the boy?"
"No, John. The other boy."
A fire built of anger and resentment flared bright in the king's eyes. "There is no other boy."
Trees stretched up toward the heavens. So large and hulking that they obscured the sky that lay beyond it, and cast an unwelcoming grey light over the ground way down below. Streams of air wormed their way through the boughs above, whistling as they cut through the thick growth, singing a song of mystery and foreboding. They warned travellers to turn back, that the way was not safe, but those who needed to journey from west to east had little choice but to brave the chilling atmosphere of the forest.
Sam found himself continually patting his horse to encourage it onwards. Even before they'd entered into the wood, Rumsfeld had stamped his feet in refusal. It had taken a handful of feed and several minutes of coaxing before the horse had agreed to continue on, while Gabriel's Loki had huffed haughtily and trotted ahead like it was no big deal. Gabriel clearly had much better control of his horse, but Sam placated himself mentally with the reasoning that he'd never actually travelled this far from the Campbell township before, despite that he was supposedly going 'home' for the first time since he was an infant.
It angered him that it had taken until his father had fallen ill for him to be allowed to return to his place of birth. More so that he nearly hadn’t found out about it at all. Though he'd been happy and excitable as a child, Sam had grown quieter and more studious as he'd entered into his teens. The misfortunes of his life had taken their toll, leaving their taint on his soul and causing him to withdraw into himself more often than not. He'd learned the value of listening, especially from behind doors and through keyholes, and it was by way of this method of eavesdropping that he'd heard Gabriel read aloud the message Bobby had sent by carrier pigeon.
His uncle had received word from the Winchester kingdom nearly two weeks ago and had taken off on his horse suddenly in the middle of the night. It reminded Sam of a similar time long ago, when he'd found Bobby saddling up his old horse, Impala, and he'd told Sam he had to run an errand in order to help somebody. Nearly three months had passed by the time he'd returned, looking haggard and more strained than Sam had ever seen him. He'd never talked about what had happened on that 'errand', but constantly thereafter Sam would sometimes catch his uncle staring at him with an impossible sadness in his eyes.
On this occasion, Sam had pondered endlessly over what might send Bobby running off in a hurry like that – had the previous 'errand' somehow popped up again? He'd received his answer after listening in on Gabriel, though, and what he'd heard had shaken him to the core. His father, King John Winchester, had taken ill with some strange malady which none of his healers could cure, and apparently his health grew worse by the day. Sam had watched on through the gap in the wall as Gabriel had paced the room a dozen times before falling heavily onto a chair, his head in his hands.
At the time Sam hadn't been sure what the issue was. Surely they should have been riding toward the Winchester kingdom in haste? When the afternoon had passed and Gabriel hadn't said a word about it, Sam took matters into his own hands and had readied a travel pack and saddled his horse, with the intent that he would ride to the kingdom on his own if he had to. Once he'd led the horse outside the township through one of the unmanned side gates, he'd found Gabriel already there waiting for him.
"I figured you must have heard me," the warrior had said, "I knew someone was out there, and you've gotten so good at sneaking around lately."
Few words had been said as they headed on their way, though Sam had gotten the feeling Gabriel was accompanying him reluctantly. Even now as they trekked their way through the forest Gabriel had admitted little more than that he was only trying to protect Sam.
Protect. Bobby used that word a lot. Sam still wondered from what he was being protected. As they'd travelled closer to Winchester territory it had occurred to Sam that his knowledge of his father and the kingdom itself was completely biased. He'd only ever been told of the positive things – the bravery, the successes. Gabriel, Ellen and Bobby had nary a bad word to say. Although, at least they talked about his father. His mother on the other hand… She had apparently died protecting him when they had fled the castle in Sam's infancy. Whenever Sam brought her up the subject was immediately changed or some other distraction was placed in front of him.
He considered the possibility that he may not get the chance to meet his father either. Gabriel had received Bobby's message well over a week ago – the time it took to travel between the two locations. The message hadn't given an exact description of his father's condition, only that he was 'worsening', which meant that there was certainly the possibility that he could be already gone by the time Sam arrived. And to think that Gabriel hadn't been going to tell him…
"What is it?"
Sam snatched his head up to look at Gabriel, riding parallel to him on his horse.
"What is what?"
"Your breathing changed and your shoulders tensed. It was brief but hard to miss when it's so eerily quiet out here. Something crossed your mind that bothered you – care to share?"
Sam dropped his head again, patting Rumsfeld on the neck for the umpteenth time. If there was anyone in his life he could truly confide in… "Something just occurred to me and I'm worried that it might be true. You and Bobby and Ellen have only ever talked about my father in a positive light. That's all well and good but no man is that perfect, especially a man in that kind of position. You've raised me with the notion that I'd return to my father's kingdom one day, that I would take my place at his side. When that happened, surely you realised that the image of him you'd built in my mind would start to crumble… unless it was never intended that I would meet him in the first place."
Gabriel was silent for a time, until he suddenly chuckled under his breath.
"You've always been too smart for your own good, you know that?"
As quickly as it appeared, the grin on Sam's lips slipped away again. Gabriel's confirmation of his suspicions only brought about further questions as to what kind of situation lay ahead.
"There's probably a lot we should have told you," the warrior went on, "But after everything, I guess we only wanted to remember the good things. As to your father, for the time I knew him at least, he was a gruff man. Some might say commanding and impersonal. Stubborn to a fault. And he can hold a grudge like no one I've ever known. You threaten him? You better prepare yourself for a threat in return – tenfold."
"He sounds intense."
"That's one way of putting it. Many would likely call him an insensitive bastard. Not that they don't respect him, because that's something he's always received in abundance."
"Will he like me, do you think?"
"I don't know, Sam," Gabriel sighed. "After he sent us off that day, I don't think he ever expected to see you – or us – again despite his intentions. And no doubt he would have plenty to say over how we've taught you. Not only has your capacity to fight never been tested in battle, but you're more the academic type and determined to think your own thoughts. The only one who ever really got away with doing that was Bobby."
Nodding, Sam let the topic slip away. He had more questions, of course, but he needed to process what Gabriel had already given him before he could take anything else in.
They continued along the leafy path that wound back and forth through the trees like a python. Every now and then one of the horses would stutter in its steps, as though it had sensed something close, but then realised stopping wasn't an option. Sam kept his eyes and ears open but never heard a peep from anything apart from Gabriel or the horses. Like the warrior had said, the silence was eerie. There were no birds, no creatures, no bubbling from a nearby stream, only the faint whistles of the wind through the tree tops.
The sky turned darker as the day drew towards its end. They were so close to the walls of the Winchester kingdom, and yet just far enough that they would have to stop in the wood overnight. They were just discussing how much further they could travel before they would be forced to stop, when Gabriel's voice choked to a stop mid-sentence. Sam glanced across to see what was the matter, only to be met with the sight of an arrow perfectly placed through the centre of the warrior's chest.
The reins fell from Sam's grip as the shock set in. He reached across to grab onto the other man's leg but the touch unsettled his body atop the horse, and he began to fall. Sam lunged after him, refusing to believe that his teacher could simply be gone like that, with one single arrow, the shaft not even the width of his little finger. He grabbed a hold of Gabriel's belt and hung on, but a sudden jolt wracked his body and next thing Sam himself was falling, the belt no longer in his hand as it had been a moment ago.
Sam felt as though he were floating mid-air when he noticed the arrow shaft impaling his shoulder. There was a moment of complete numbness before the pain quickly swept through his body, and finally he let go the scream he'd been holding inside, the horrific sound of it spooking the horses and sending them dashing off chaotically through the trees, hooves pounding the forest floor.
He met the ground with a thud, the whole of him screaming with hurt. Blood had soaked the front of his shirt and the sight of it made his head swim. He forced his eyes away only to find the crumpled body of Gabriel lying just across the way, having been flung to the side by Loki as he ran off. He supposed he should have been grateful that he couldn't see the warrior's lifeless face, but the arrow and the blood staining his clothes was enough clench Sam's heart like someone had wrapped their fist around it, his breaths coming in harsh, exaggerated pants.
Something cut through the air overhead, what sounded like another arrow. And another. What were they aiming for? The horses? The strangest thoughts flitted through his mind. Perhaps the mix of pain and sorrow had sent him into a state of delusion, for it certainly sounded as if the arrows he could hear were being let loose from nearby, which made no sense at all. That would have to mean there was someone defending them, but Sam had heard no footsteps, had sensed no others in the vicinity.
Sam's breathing became laboured with fear, and he passed out to the sound of something thudding onto the ground just by his feet.
Sam blinked his eyes open to the grey of the morning, weak light trickling down on him from between the small gaps in the tree tops. He winced a little at first, but forced himself to blink until he’d adjusted, intent on assessing his surroundings. The memories were still in the process of returning to him but he remembered particularly the sight of Gabriel’s impaled body falling lifelessly to the ground, and the sound of the arrows cutting through the air around him. The thought sent an unsettling chill through his body, the passage of time from then until Sam’s waking was one great big span of blankness.
Glancing around he found himself to be not so much below the tree tops as in them. The swirling branches with their adornments of washed-out green were so close he could probably have reached out and touched them if he wanted to. Beneath his body was a pallet of blankets and then a floor of wooden planks - sturdy but not uncomfortable to lie on, and they felt smooth with wear beneath his hands.
A sound from nearby caught Sam’s attention and he instinctively turned towards it, but pain suddenly spiked through his shoulder like he’d been poked with a hot iron, dulling his vision for a moment. He couldn’t help the resulting groan that escaped through clenched teeth and he knew that whoever was close by had surely heard it.
And sure enough, not a moment later there came the tapping of feet over wood, quickly approaching. Sam couldn’t lift his head enough to discern which direction it was coming from, so he tucked his good arm under him and tried to lever his torso upright - he couldn’t let himself be caught unawares. He didn’t get far, however, before two hands were on him, pressing him back onto the floor. Sam struggled for just a moment, letting it go when he realised he couldn’t win.
“You’re hurt. You shouldn’t move.”
Curious green eyes stared back at him. Green eyes set into a handsome face and framed with a mane of unruly blonde hair. The man knelt by Sam wearing a scant vest and trousers made entirely of leather scraps that looked as though they’d been hand sewn. The rest of him was miles of bare skin, marred by scars here and there, and paler than Sam might have expected.
He opened his mouth to ask what the man was talking about, except that nothing came out. And then suddenly it came back to him - the arrow that had lodged itself in his shoulder and thrown him from his horse. Looking down, he noted that his coat was gone leaving him in the simple - albeit blood-stained - shirt he’d worn beneath, the collar of which was ripped to one side, exposing his skin. Plastered over where the arrow had pierced him was a layer of mushy green that looked like porridge. He reached over to touch it but a lightning-fast hand clamped onto his wrist, holding him back.
“Don’t touch it.”
Sam frowned and snatched his hand away.
“You look a little young to be a healer.”
The man sat back on his haunches and turned up his nose.
"I ain't no physician but I know how to treat battle wounds well as anyone."
"So I see," Sam said, his eyes slipping to the blonde's shoulder where the evidence of several deep gashes disfigured the meat of his shoulder.
The man jerked back, apparently uncomfortable beneath Sam's casual scrutiny of his past wounds. After a moment's pause he rolled back onto his heels and pushed himself to his feet, striding off somewhere to Sam's left before returning with a cup carved out of wood and a cloth pouch. Sam made no complaint as the man helped him sit up enough to take a sip of water and swallow down a couple of dry biscuits. Those brief movements took their toll however, and Sam was grateful to be laid back onto the floor again, his eyes drooping with weariness.
"Are you going to tell me your name?" Sam asked, his voice barely rising above an exhausted whisper, "Or will I have to keep thinking of you as just 'man'?"
"Dean," the blonde grumbled, his head turning away.
"I'm Sam. So Dean, would you mind telling me how long I've been out?"
"Less than a day."
"And where are we, exactly?"
"Not far from the road."
"Right." Sam pursed his lips, frustrated by the lack of information he was getting. "And when I'm healed enough you're going to help me get to the city walls, aren't you?"
Dean turned back to face him and Sam watched in real time as the blonde's eyes grew dark, any traces of kindness they'd once possessed instantly fading away into the ether. He said nothing as Dean stretched up to his full height, his fists clenching by his sides, and then turned and strode away without a word. Seemingly it wasn't to be the day for answers, only yet more questions.
When Sam woke next the same murky, grey light was present in the sky. The branches surrounding the platform he was on felt as though they were almost leaning in over him, as if he were the only source of warmth nearby and they were pushing their cold hands toward him, rubbing their palms together.
Glancing to the other side of the room – if it could even be called a room – Sam found Dean sitting on the floor with his back against a tree trunk, his lips parted and his eyes closed as he breathed the steady breaths of a man in a deep sleep. He looked tired, the dark smudges under his eyes didn't help, and gradually Sam began to recall images of Dean hovering over his wound, hovering over him, dripping water into his mouth and pressing a damp cloth to his forehead.
Sam groaned with annoyance – he must have developed a fever because of his injury. He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious for, or what kind of damage had been done to his shoulder, but he'd still made it out the other side. Dean had seemingly tended him the whole way through, kept him hydrated and as comfortable as possible until the fever broke. He must have been fairly ill if he could barely remember more than a few moments here and there, but now Sam decided he felt fine, if incredibly fatigued. He had no idea why Dean – a complete stranger – was helping him to such an extent, but until the other man revealed any other motivations he might have had, Sam decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. It wasn't as if he had anything to offer Dean, besides.
"You're awake," Dean croaked, shifting positions and wincing when several parts of his body cracked all at once.
"And lucid," Sam added.
"You've been out for near three days al—"
"You in a hurry or somethin'?"
Sam bit his lip and looked away, his heart racing a little in his chest. He honestly didn't know the answer to that, nor if he should be telling Dean about any of it. On the one hand, his father, the king, was reportedly very ill and could theoretically pass at any time, but on the other… Sam wasn't entirely sure if he even wanted to go any more, if he could even bring himself to look into the eyes of the man that had sent him away to 'safety' without any intention of bringing him back. What sort of father didn't even want to meet his own son?
"Not sure. Maybe," was the best Sam could manage.
He heard Dean snort and then get to his feet, his footsteps padding away across the wooden planks that must have led to a second platform. All was quiet for a time but for the wind that skipped through the trees, rustling the leaves and branches and disturbing the stillness of the twilight. The foliage that surrounded Sam's 'room' however, was somehow dense enough to keep most of the cold air out, and before he knew it he was drifting off again, jumping awake when a hand suddenly grasped at his shoulder.
"Hey, 's only me," Dean said, one hand pressing down on Sam's chest to hold him still, "Just drink this tea and I'll let you sleep again, 'kay?"
Sam let himself be pulled into a sitting position, his head swirling a moment before it settled. He took the cup from Dean's outstretched hand and sipped at the warm drink. It was bitter and earthy, crude compared to the teas Ellen had given to him in the past, but it went down easy so he didn't complain. He kept his head down but watched out the corner of his eye as Dean fiddled with the contents of a tinderbox and took several tries to light a single candle. Sam couldn't help but wonder at Dean's apparent clumsiness at what he considered a fairly commonplace skill – did he usually use something other than a candle? If so, what else was there? And did that mean he was only lighting it for Sam's benefit?
"What else do you use, if not a candle?"
"Huh?" Dean looked up in confusion, the candle finally glowing with a small but steady flame.
"Most people could do that in a single strike, so I'm merely wondering if you don't use candles very often."
"Oh, well," Dean set the candle aside, the base sitting in a holder made from what looked like a dried lump of clay, "No, I don't. I don't really need it."
"Nope. Living out here… I've adapted or somethin', so I can see really well in the dark. And if I need to get somewhere, then the trees show me the way."
Dean froze as though just realising what he'd actually said, and then shook his head of the thought. "Just, never mind, okay?"
Saying nothing, Sam pondered over whether the other man had meant his words metaphorically or if maybe living in the wild all by himself had made Dean a little… strange. Everything that had happened so far in Dean's presence had been pretty normal – relatively speaking – apart from the whole heaven-knew-how-far up above the ground they were thing. Not that Sam was afraid of heights or anything, but it was a precarious position to be in, with only a few slats of wood separating him from the dozens of feet between him and the forest floor.
The sound of Dean shifting tore Sam away from his thoughts and he was handed a threadbare blanket to throw across his body, which he thankfully managed to do one-handed, deciding it was still too soon to try moving his left arm about too much. He got himself as comfortable as possible and settled down to rest, though watching Dean wrap a blanket around his body and tuck himself back against the same tree trunk suddenly seemed a whole lot more interesting. The blonde soon had his head tilted down and his eyes closed, but Sam could tell that he wasn't yet asleep. The candlelight made all of Dean's unique details stand out in stark relief, and even if he could feel Sam's eyes roaming over him, he said nothing and made no move to pull away as he had before.
Sam took his time inspecting all those parts of Dean that weren't concealed by the blanket – the slim but lithely muscled frame, strong shoulders, sharp jaw… His hair looked almost orange in the light of the flame. It was messy and unkempt, had probably not seen a comb for years, and the uneven lengths of it suggested that Dean probably kept it short with a knife and his own two hands. But more than anything Sam couldn't take his eyes from Dean's skin and the scars that marked it. All through his childhood he'd been tempted with stories of great battles and war heroes – even Bobby had excited him with crazy stories about how he'd come by all the scars that littered his aging body. For all that he'd been trained to fight and to lead; Sam had not once seen a true battle with his own eyes. It made him want to ask Dean how he'd gotten them all the more, he wanted to touch each one in turn and ask what sort of weapon had inflicted it, but it was surely too soon to bring up such a conversation, and definitely too soon to start touching Dean without some kind of warning.
Warmth bloomed in his stomach unexpectedly and Sam willed his body to remain calm. Here, alone with a man he barely knew anything about, lit by the glow of a single candle… It sounded a little like one of those romantic tales Ellen had always loved gushing about with her fellow townswomen, but Sam knew that as captivating as Dean might be, he had to let the fantasy go before it got in the way. Hell, Sam didn't even know if Dean would even be interested in such a thing. Ellen had warned him once to be careful in his pursuits, since not everyone was as free-thinking as Sam.
He had been with girls before, of course, and had even lost his innocence to one at the tender age of fifteen. And then there had been that stable boy he'd met with in secret several times, and they'd fooled around together in an empty horse stall late at night, getting hay stuck in their hair and the back of their pants. He had been sweet to look at, for certain, but that boy hadn't enraptured Sam in quite the way Dean was doing right then, just by sitting there, wrapped in tight leather and a worn woollen blanket. Even while he was still as a statue, there was something wild and reckless about him, exotic – Sam could practically taste it.
The minutes drifted on, the candle melted down, and Sam nodded off to the thought that Dean's skin might've been less pale if only the sun could break through the near-impenetrable greyness of the forest.
Bobby saw a familiar bird circle overhead and he hurried to the watch tower to receive the message it carried. Despite distance and time, he and Rufus – who remained John Winchester's first Commander – had continuously exchanged messages in secret in order to keep each other informed.
He wasn't sure if the king knew of their correspondence or not, but there was plenty to be said that was better kept from John's knowledge. In fact, they often hid their words behind a code they had devised long ago, in case their messages should ever be intercepted – and so far, so good.
The current message however, wasn't so good. It was the third of its kind in a row and it had Bobby fraught with worry. He'd always known there were certain topics that were never up for discussion when it came to the king. And one such topic had recently become a full-blown issue, to which the king had taken drastic measures.
It had been going on eleven years since he'd last been in the East country and it was looking like a good time to be taking a quick trip back. He scribbled a brief message back to Rufus and passed it to the bird handler, then made his way to the stables and started saddling up a certain black horse. Some manner of excuse was going to be required for him to leave without trouble so he had to think fast. He had no intention of going within the kingdom's walls, so there was no reason to notify the king. If all he'd been told was true he had only to go so far as the bordering forest, and no doubt Rufus would try and meet him there.
The crunch of light footsteps on hay came up behind him and Bobby turned to find the young prince looking excitable as ever.
"Uncle Bobby, Uncle Bobby! I saw you going into the stables! Will you take me for a ride?"
"Ah, I'm sorry, kiddo," he said regrettably, "It looks like I've got an errand to run, but I can't take you with me this time."
"Oh," the boy's face fell, "It must be something important, then."
Bobby sighed. "Wish I could tell ya just how important, but I can't. It's lookin' like I might hafta sneak out while no one's around… Where's your aunty Ellen?"
"They said she's staying in bed today. She's sick again."
"What about Gabriel?" Bobby asked after the other warrior who had come with them all those years ago. The two of them still had an amiable, if slightly prickly relationship, but Bobby had always considered the man as intelligent and loyal as they came, especially when it came to keeping the Winchester family safe.
"He can't be far. I saw him just a minute ago."
"Right, well we best find 'im so I can explain an' make sure he c'n look after you while I'm gone."
Sam's eyes brightened. "I'm sure he'll say yes. He says it's just a job, but I think he really likes teaching me how to fight like a real warrior! He said he wanted to teach me about poisons and other weapons, too!"
Bobby gave a half-smile, grateful that Gabriel was keen to teach the prince so much – he knew the boy would probably need it one day. With a grunt, Bobby got down onto his knees so he could look Sam right in the eye. He wasn't sure if this was the right time, but he couldn't take the chance that if he didn't make it back for some reason, that Sam might never know. "Reckon you c'n keep a secret, Sam?"
The prince nodded eagerly.
"I need t' tell you a story – a true story. It's very important, okay? But after I tell y' today, we c'n never speak of it again."
Days passed and Dean proved as good a healer as Sam had ever encountered. Not that he'd encountered all that many, but Sam considered himself impressed that he could move his arm about and even pick up light objects by the end of the first week – he was just so glad it wasn't his right arm.
It took time to get him back on his feet, however. At first Dean had to practically carry him just so he could move to a separate platform that acted as a bathroom, and then nearly carried him all the way back to the pallet Sam already considered his bed. Sam was determined to not be an invalid longer than necessary, and so forced himself upright more than he probably should have, if only to make his legs remember their actual life's purpose.
Dean seemed excessively worried at first, mother-henning him enough that he almost wanted to call him 'Ellen' as a joke, despite the fact that Dean wouldn't even get it. But the day he managed to hobble to the adjoining platform to relieve himself and hobble back all on his own, he got the widest smile from Dean in return – it gave Sam so much strength he felt he could suddenly run a whole league. He was a little sad that there was no longer an excuse for Dean to put his arms around him, but he knew it wasn't easy for the other man to lug him around – Sam wasn't an overly muscled guy, but he was marginally taller and most certainly bigger-boned in comparison to Dean. That day was also the same day that Sam saw the sun for the first time since he had entered the forest just over a week before. All the days in between had been filled with a misty grey light, filtering down between the few gaps in the trees but providing no warmth or energy like the blazing yellow sun Sam was used to seeing.
The next morning Sam woke to a sharp heat touching upon his cheek, and found thick fingers of sunlight spilling down onto the platform, the surrounding trees having somehow spread themselves out more allowing both the light and the day's breezy air to flow through. He had just sat himself upright when footsteps padded his way, Dean appearing from amongst the maze of many platforms and walkways that were hidden up there amongst the treetops.
"It's so bright suddenly," Sam said in greeting.
"Must be a good day, then," Dean replied with a grin. "How 'bout we get you back down to the ground? We've gone through all the changes of clothes you had in your pack, so if we go to the lake nearby we can wash you and your clothes at the same time."
The promise of a bath sounded like the greatest idea Sam had ever heard, and he followed Dean down to a lower platform where they descended to the ground via a rope ladder. Dean showed him a stone construction he'd built to keep a low fire constantly burning, and then led him along a well-trodden path that brought them to a clear lake, a small waterfall trickling down over a rock ledge at the far side.
They both removed their clothing and stepped into the cool of the water, Sam hanging back a moment so he could watch Dean from behind, the flex of muscles playing over the expanse of his back.
"You like watching me," Dean said suddenly, his head tilted to the side though he made no move to turn around.
"I feel you watching me all the time, 'specially at night when you should be sleeping… Do you like what you see?"
Sam exhaled a shaky breath. "I do."
Something tensed in Dean's shoulders. "You can touch me if you want."
Taking a couple of steps forward, moving within reaching distance of Dean's back, Sam could see that there was nothing relaxed or at ease about the way he was standing. Rather, he was coiled tight as a spring, like he was waiting for the oncoming assault.
"I won't touch you if you don't want me to."
"No, no," Dean forced himself to take a breath, shaking his head as he released some of the strain pulling at his body, "I want you to touch me, honest."
Sam hesitated but raised his right hand anyway, gently pressing his palm over the back of Dean's shoulder blade and letting his fingers slide over the raised edges of scar tissue scattered here and there. Dean eventually loosened up and leaned back into the caressing touches, before turning around and urging Sam's left hand to join in. Dean made no effort to conceal his own assessment of Sam's body, but soon chose to focus on the healing wound at the juncture of Sam's shoulder. He scraped away the dried green paste that had concealed the injury and washed the tender pink skin that had formed in its place, his finger tracing the edges of the mark as though he couldn’t quite believe it.
"Must be all that weird tea you made me drink," Sam joked.
A smile tugged at the edge of Dean's mouth. "Yeah, must be."
The touches continued until Dean broke away to retrieve a bar of handmade soap from nearby, and they washed themselves efficiently before returning to the shoreline and doing the same to their clothes.
In the evening they ate the fire-roasted meat of a small bird Dean had felled with a single arrow, and they retreated to bed in the same way as they had every night – Sam lying on a small pallet of blankets while Dean propped himself against the tree trunk. He was getting more adept at lighting candles – which he seemed to have accumulated quite a stock of being that he didn't really use them – and Sam applauded when he managed to strike the flint just right and light the wick in one go.
After the excitement of the day, Sam found himself asleep in minutes, but he was awakened again suddenly when Dean's voice dragged him back to the surface from amid a thick blackness. Sam nearly jumped up from the floor, and he could feel his heart thumping in his chest. It took a moment for him to get his bearings, and then Dean was vocalising what he already knew.
"Sam, you awake? You were having a nightmare."
Sam nodded and took a deep breath. "Yeah, I know. I'm fine."
Dean's voice sounded shaky, and Sam took his time adjusting to the waning candlelight and looking around the edges of the platform. The faint light wasn't allowing him to see clearly, but he could tell there was something strange about what he was seeing. It came to him all in a rush and Sam nearly collided with Dean as he sat up like a shot, his breath stuck in his throat.
"Dean… Wha-… what's wrong… with the trees?"
The branches had crept their way inside the edge of the platform and were… the best way Sam could describe it was trembling, as if they'd been dipped in icy water and couldn’t get warm again.
Glancing about, Dean sat back and forced himself to calm down. Immediately the trees seemed to relax, and a brief gust of wind whipped through the air – a collective sigh of relief.
"I… Sorry. I was worried when it took me a while to wake you."
Sam gaped as he realised what the other man was implying.
"But you-… that's…"
"Impossible, right?" Dean huffed a laugh. "I don't know how, but I'm connected to this forest, Sammy. I've fought here, bled here, cried here… Now when I feel something, it just… reacts."
Sam took a second to process such a wild revelation. What Dean was suggesting was literally not possible, yet the more he considered it, the more it made perfect sense. "So when the sun came out yesterday…"
"It was because I was happy."
"Of course it was."
Dean moved to grab his wrist, but stopped himself halfway. "You're okay now, right? I'm not exactly… practiced when it comes to comforting people."
A thought crossed his mind and Sam shuffled to the very edge of his pallet and tugged on Dean's blanket, urging him down beside him. Dean looked utterly uncomfortable at first, like he wasn't sure where to put his limbs, but quickly acclimatised to the new arrangement.
"The thing with comfort is, it doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes just being close to a person is enough."
Dean shifted in closer after that, and it was just as Sam was teetering on the edge of sleep that Dean swooped in and kissed him.
They'd been indulging in each other's bodies for hours and had fallen asleep with sticky hands and the scent of come lingering in the air. But something out there in the forest had disturbed the still of the night, and Dean had woken in an instant.
Sam came awake just as Dean had disentangled their limbs and was pulling his leathers back on, weariness clouding his senses though he could gather enough to know that the other man was in some kind of hurry.
"Nothing to worry about. Just go back to sleep, alright?"
"Not until you tell me where you're off to."
Dean's lips pursed, but whatever he saw in Sam's eyes told him that the vague answer he'd intended to give wasn't going to be good enough.
"The forest. It lets me know when something's wrong. I feel it in here," he tapped his chest over his ribcage. "Right now there's a small pack of demons just to the west of the road. I'm just going to go deal with them – it shouldn't take me long."
He was gone before Sam could get another word out, leaping through the trees like a bird in flight. The ensuing wait was a long one despite Dean's assurances, and the grey light of morning was just starting to peak through the treetops when he finally returned, dropping heavily onto the platform onto his knees.
Sam was at his side in an instant and laid the man out on his back, pulling apart the two sides of his vest – which was going to need some stitching up in its own right. Dotting Dean's torso and arms were numerous jagged cuts which looked to have bled profusely, leaving his skin stained with smudges of dry, cracked red.
"S'okay, Sammy... Not as bad... as it looks."
Not bad my ass, Sam thought to himself, retrieving the small wooden box that - up until yesterday - had been used exclusively to house all the supplies needed to tend Sam's arrow wound. He still had no idea how the injury had healed so quickly, but he was beginning to think it had something to do with Dean's strange 'connection' to the Purgatory forest.
Regardless, it was not the time for idle contemplation, and Sam took some of the items from the box, dampening a clean cloth in order to wipe the dried and drying blood away. He let go an audible breath once he found that most of the mess had wiped away cleanly, and just as Dean had said, the wounds were generally shallow and indeed not as bad as they looked.
"Told you so," Dean teased, already sounding much more in control, "You shoulda seen the other guy."
"Got an elbow to the gut, so I was a little winded. There was more of them than I thought there'd be, and they were expecting me - it's taken them a while, but I think they've finally figured out what they're up against."
Grinning, Sam continued to sponge Dean down, though his cheered expression immediately fell the moment he pressed on a spot in Dean's stomach, and got a high-pitched yelp in return.
"Uh, I guess that's where the elbow went in."
Sam sighed in defeat and sat back on his heels. "Are you sure you're alright? I realise this must be something you do a lot, since I've already been warned of the high volume of demons that lurk around this close to the city walls, but I wasn't here before, and now that I am... Well, I won't put up with you hurting yourself this way."
"And now that you're here," Dean parroted, his face softening, "How long do you intend on putting up with me?"
Words suddenly got stuck in Sam's throat, the vulnerability in Dean's eyes pulling at his heartstrings. He could certainly see it from the other man's perspective - out here, all alone, he must have been desperate for company sometimes. And then along comes Sam, and Sam inserts himself into his life like a missing puzzle piece, neat and easy, but as quickly as he came, Sam wants to leave again. And how unfair is that?
He almost doesn't want to leave, either. Not that he resents his current life in any way, not that he's so desperate for some sort of escape, but there's just something about the feeling of being near Dean that he can't explain, something that feels right and gives him a sense of purpose. Maybe he'd give this so-called life a chance if he didn't have an ailing father to introduce himself to, or a kingdom that needed it's rightful heir. His upbringing with Bobby and Ellen had always had that obligation of 'leading his people' lingering behind it, and just at this point he couldn't find quite enough reason to turn his back on his birthright, though it was a near thing.
"I'm guessing that's a 'not long', then," Dean said with a sigh, clearly disappointed with Sam's silence.
"I'm sorry. I came here with a purpose and I can't turn my back on it just yet, not until I get some answers... But I'll stay for a few more days. Just until I know you're really alright."
Dean nodded with a vague smile, and then pushed himself upright with a grunt. He threw his tattered vest to one side, and Sam's crimson-stained cloth to the other, and leaned in close.
Sam's mouth twisted in confusion. "What do I know?"
"I'm gonna be really sore tomorrow - covered in bruises, too weak to get up, my bones will be aching..." He began lowering himself back down to the floor, grabbing Sam's wrist at the same time and pulling him over to lean atop the blonde's body. "But right now I'm still riding the high of that fight, can still feel the thrill of it coursing through me, 's like I'm so far up there nothin' can touch me."
Something sparked inside Sam listening to those impassioned words, and Dean must have seen a glimmer of it in his eyes, because then he was manhandling Sam to kneel between his legs and pulling his fingers to his lips so he could lick at them - nipping and mouthing at the tip of each digit.
Sam gulped, losing any sense of cohesive thought as he watched Dean do to his fingers something akin to what he'd done to Sam's cock the night before. It was obscene, yet it only made him want more, and Sam wondered if this was what it was like to be properly seduced - a sailor lured to the shore by a Siren's call.
He let it go on for as long as he could stand it, the effects of it stirring way down below his belly, but the moment he felt a foot hook around the back of his thigh, Sam felt the hesitation kick in. To be so close to Dean - he wanted it badly, but surely it would only make it harder to leave in the end.
"No, don't," Dean pleaded, grasping at the front of Sam's shirt before Sam even realised he'd been pulling away.
"Dean, I think-"
"Don't think. Please don't think," the blonde shook his head emphatically, "I get that you have'ta leave, I get it. But you brought the sun in for the first time in a long time, y'know? An' I just wanna be able t' say I had all of you before you left. So, please."
Sam surged forward and crashed their lips together, finally lowering his body down so they were pressed together from thigh to chest. Dean arched up into him, rolling their hips in a circle, and Sam groaned into the other man's mouth, aroused by the thick length of Dean's cock that was nudging insistently at his abdomen, even through the layers of their clothing. Sam decided that that wouldn't do, and he slowly disentangled himself, leaving a row of bites down the pale column of Dean's throat as he pulled away.
Dean's chest was heaving as he let his head drop to the floor, but Sam made no complaint, he was happy to do all the work if Dean was going to lay there enticingly like that, his skin flushed and beading with sweat. He'd thought many times over the preceding days that Dean had a wild look about him, but never so much as he did in that moment - with limbs splayed and his eyes shaded with lust, Sam decided he'd never seen anything quite as dangerous as that.
Un-looping the laces of Dean's pants, Sam rolled the leather down his long, nimble legs and cast the clothing out of view. Dean's body was a dream - toned and perfectly shaped and <i>eager</i> for touch. Sam held himself back, though, waiting until he'd divested himself of his own clothes before he gave in to temptation. The first skin-to-skin connection was like a burning-hot heat, and both of them gasped as their bodies slotted together - the perfect fit.
Dean reached down to grab at their dicks, encircling the two shafts with a single palm and pulling with tight jerks. The drag of dry skin was a heady mix of pleasure and pain, and Sam was glad Dean dropped his hand away after only a few strokes, as he likely would have lost himself then and there if he'd continued.
"Want you in here," Dean breathed, and Sam glanced down to see the other man's fingers circling teasingly around his hole. Sam had never done that before, not even with the stable boy. They had done plenty of other things together, but they'd never progressed quite that far, and the prospect of doing it with Dean for the first time excited him more than he could say.
Dean's free hand stretched to the side and he scrabbled around inside the medical box, retrieving a small stone pot which he uncorked and let the contained oil pour all over his fingers. He brought it down to join his other hand at the crux of his legs, and immediately began thrusting two slick fingers into the tight ring of his entrance, panting all the while. Sam was struck speechless by the enthralling sight, mesmerised by the steady probing of two, and then three fingers into the tightness of Dean's body. He imagined it would be hot inside, like a slender mouth sucking him in. No doubt he'd lose his mind once he finally got to push in there, but there was just something he had to get out before his ability to speak was robbed of him altogether.
"Before I leave, will you teach me to hunt?"
Dean's eyes flicked up to stare at him, jewel-green that was bright with need.
"I'm good with knives, and I'm okay with a bow and arrow, and I want to go out hunting with you."
"Yeah," Dean said, though his voice was shaky at best, "Anything you want, Sammy."
Next thing Sam knew he was being flung onto his back with a thud, the air rushing out of his lungs. Dean swiftly situated himself over his hips and took Sam's cock in hand, angling it to one side so he could press straight down. The muscle of Dean's hole stretched wide over the head of his dick, and Sam whimpered as he was swallowed whole, Dean sliding down to sit flush with Sam's hips.
"Fuck, Sam, fuck. Knew you'd feel amazing."
Sam merely nodded in agreement, having lost his voice as he'd known he would. He slipped his hands over the smooth skin of Dean's legs and dug his fingernails into the thick flesh, desperately hanging on. Somehow their roles had completely reversed and now Dean was the one taking charge, doing all the work, but admittedly Sam didn't think he'd be much good to anyone at this point, and just let his head drop back, enjoying the ride. Dean's thighs flexed and hardened beneath his palms with each rise and fall, and Sam did what he could to bear some of the weight, eventually getting the hang of things and lifting his hips up, pulling Dean down hard onto his cock and gasping when their bodies slapped together.
Moaning and puffing with abandon, Dean took his own cock in hand and started jerking it wildly. The flesh was thick and red and it glistened with the leftover oil that Dean's hand smeared across it. Sam thought it looked delicious and was torn between watching it and watching the emotions play out on Dean's face, but he found himself stuck on the vision of the almost pained expression that assaulted Dean's features as he finally found his climax. Time seemed to speed up yet slow down all at once as the pressure around Sam's dick increased tenfold, and then pulsed frantically over his length. Dean cried out and spilled his release all over Sam's stomach, the sight of it all prompting Sam to suddenly spend himself, hard throbs of his cock shooting his seed into the slick heat of Dean's ass.
Boneless, Dean slumped over with exhaustion, Sam catching him easily and rolling them onto their sides. The blonde was asleep within moments, the toll on his body from the demon hunting and then the sex was just all too much for one day, but Sam had no qualms with watching over the wildling as he slept.
"Okay. I promise," Sam agreed.
"Right," Bobby sighed, hoping that Sam would remember his words, and might one day understand the gravity of what he was about to reveal. "Back in the Winchester Kingdom – your real home – there was another young boy there, just a few years older than yourself. His mother was a weak-hearted woman and manipulated the king – your father – to get what she wanted. I've told you before that your father respects honesty, haven't I?"
"Yes," the prince nodded. He always liked to hear more about his father, the king.
"Well, when the woman ended up pregnant an' birthed that child, your father became very angry because even though he loved her, she'd lied to 'im. Your father initially thought that the son she'd borne might be a good thing – it's always seen as a fortunate thing when a king's first child is a boy – an' so your father tried to make amends, especially because he an' the woman weren't married. But one day the woman disappeared, vanished into thin air, an' so your father grew to hate the boy. Every time he looked at the kid he'd see his mother's face an' think of all the heartache and pain she'd caused him. Even so the boy vied for his father's time, but the king mostly refused him."
Sam blinked, a little shocked to hear of this new side to his father – everyone he asked always said how good and fair he was. "What happened to the boy? Is he okay? He must be lonely without a mother."
"You're probably right, kiddo. An' I thought he was alright, but I got a message today that said he might be in some trouble."
Understanding came over the prince's face. "That's where you're going, then? You're going to help him?"
"Well, I'm gonna try."
"Will you see my father?"
Bobby deflated a little. "Probably not, son. Not this time."
It was the heat of midday, the sun's light pouring down over them and the pure green of the trees danced about in the breeze. Neither of them were asleep any longer. Sam had dozed only lightly, and Dean had woken from his exhausted slumber, but neither had moved past wrapping their arms around the other.
"Can I ask you about something?"
Sam made the sacrifice of breaking their comfortable silence. Whilst Dean had slept, he had taken the chance to think over many things, both important and not so much, and more than anything he realised that he could not go on without knowing why Dean did what he did. Yes, he wanted to hunt with Dean just once before he left, but Dean would still go on hunting thereafter and Sam needed a reason why.
"You might hate me for it, but I have to take that chance... I want to know why you're here. In the forest. Alone."
As expected, Dean tensed in his arms. He tried to fling himself away but Sam was ready for it and held him close even as he struggled.
"Ugh, fine," Dean huffed, letting his body go lax once again, "But just lemme talk, okay? If you interrupt I'll stop."
Sam nodded and waited for him to begin.
"I'm in exile. From the city. And I have been since I was fourteen." Dean heaved a breath before continuing. "The king-"
Sam swallowed down a gasp.
"-was the one who threw me out. I lived in close quarters with him, my mother knew him pretty well, but he never liked me for whatever reason. I could never do anything right and he seemed to take great relish in scolding me whenever he could. Of course, that just made me act out all the more, because the wrong kind of attention was better than no attention at all."
Dean ducked his head and buried his face against the bare skin of Sam's chest.
"I always looked a bit strange compared to the other kids around. Foreign, maybe. My skin and my eyes made me 'pretty' instead of 'handsome'. Which, funnily enough, eventually got me that wrong sort of attention I craved. The demons were attacking in full force back then, so there were always soldiers around. Once particular Lieutenant took a strong liking to me and we began getting to know each other intimately. It was always so secretive, meeting in hidden places and passing messages... It was fun at first. But he started getting obsessive. He wanted to get his name tattooed on me and weird things like that. I kept saying no, but one day he decided that wasn't an acceptable answer.
"After that we would argue all the time and he hit me a few times, too. He kept calling me 'child', which I hated. I started going around looking for other men who might want me, but he found out and confronted me about it. He was the angriest I'd ever seen him and he tried to force himself on me, but we'd made so much noise that people came looking and thankfully interrupted the whole thing. It was then brought to the attention of the king and the Lieutenant claimed that I'd bewitched him and led him on. Naturally, everyone believed him and not me - I was always the one causing trouble, so..."
"So he threw you straight out?" Sam hadn't meant to speak, but he couldn't help himself by that stage. Thankfully, Dean carried on regardless.
"Straight out into Purgatory. I was dumped right outside the city walls with a little food, some clothes and not much else. I figured they expected me to either die or come crawling back on my knees. I'm proud to say I did neither."
Sam was on tenterhooks. "How did you survive?"
"I was completely lost at first, but I found out fairly quick that there were people who were actually on my side. I don't know how they knew where I was, but now and then I'd find baskets of food and blankets and tools and whatnot. That gave me the sliver of hope I needed, I guess."
"But what about up here - all these platforms in the trees? And the demon hunting thing?" Sam couldn't stop the questions falling from his lips. He was just so in awe of Dean's strength in the face of all that had been done wrong by him, and it pained Sam to his core that his own father was probably more to blame than anyone. He dared not tell Dean his true identity now that he knew the consequences would be dire, but he did wonder at Dean's own identity since his mother was apparently so close to the crown.
"I'm getting there," Dean said, exasperated, "There was a townsman that helped me put up the first couple of platforms. I learned quick so I was able to do the rest myself. Got real good at climbing trees in a hurry, too. As for the hunting... I dunno. It was something to do? The demons were coming closer and closer to the city walls by then, and if I'd let it be I probably would've been dead in no time. The people that left me food would sometimes leave weapons and things as well, so I took up arms and basically taught myself how to fight."
Dean finally looked up and Sam stared back owlishly. "You're amazing, you know that?"
"Cut the crap," Dean spat, forcing his way out of Sam's hold and pushing himself up to his feet. He picked his leathers up from the floor and pulled them back on, and sighed in defeat when he realised the tragic state his vest was in. He then threw Sam's clothing straight at him and gestured for him to dress. Sam would have preferred to remain where he was, and continue to stare at the other man's fine form, now peppered with purpling bruises and scabbed-over cuts that somehow charmed Sam's vision of him even more.
"Where are we going?"
"I've had my dose of deep and meaningful for the day, so now it's your turn."
Sam tugged on his trousers and slipped his shirt over his shoulders, though didn't bother to button it up. "What do you mean?"
"You've been with me over a week now and you haven't..."
Looking back at Dean blankly, Sam could see that blonde was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"You'll see when we get there, I guess."
Sam followed Dean down to the ground and along a path they hadn't taken before. They pulled berries from a shrub they passed by, which had apparently bloomed under the sudden bout of sun over the past couple of days. He couldn't help but giggle when they each bit into their handful of deep red fruits, excess juice splashing their faces and staining their lips. However, Dean remained solemn throughout their walk, and Sam couldn't get him to react beyond shooting Sam a contemplative stare.
He realised why soon enough. When they rounded a boulder and came to the edge of a large clearing, the only feature of note being a low-rising hill with a neat pile of rocks on it. A perfectly rectangular pile of rocks. He'd seen a similar formation several times in his life, but only ever when...
Sam's heart split in his chest. Liquid pain poured out and into his blood, infecting him.
He didn't even notice until he found himself kneeling in front of the grave, that Dean had caught him before he'd hit the ground and all-but carried him across the clearing - the act oddly reminiscent of their first few days together. Time passed in a haze, and the air was thick, like swimming through syrup. Sam let his grief flow, soaked the ground with it, and felt the guilt press down on his back. Why did Gabriel have to die when Sam had lived? And why did Sam have to be so weak that he couldn't even manage to think of Gabriel's name past that once on the first day, let alone to speak it aloud.
So now he did. He chanted the name of his friend and mentor until his voice dried up and his body went numb.
The next day passed under the constant threat of rain. There was no sun to be seen and the wind was chilled, so Sam and Dean remained in the trees, wrapped up in blankets and wrapped around each other. It was perfect weather for mourning, after all.
Sam had endured a fitful, if lengthy, sleep, though he didn't feel all that much better for it. And he got the feeling that Dean hadn't slept at all, that he'd spent the night holding Sam instead, like it was his duty.
"I'm sorry about Gabe. He was so full of life."
"Yeah," Sam sighed, "Me t--"
He sat up with a start, staring wide-eyed at Dean, who in turn was staring out into the forest with a wistful look about him.
"Gabe used to show me little magic tricks when I was a kid. He'd pull marbles out from behind my ear, stuff like that."
Sam worked his jaw, but had trouble getting his voice to follow. "How do you even--?"
"Sam, do you hear that?"
His head was spinning with all of Dean's drastic changes of topic and mood, and Sam had a hard time following what precisely he was referring to.
"Listen. Out there."
They sat in silence for several minutes, until Sam finally heard what Dean must have been talking about. Every so often there would be a sequence of far-off thuds, rising and falling in speed, until it would be quiet again. It didn't twig what exactly he was listening to until the noises moved a little closer and there was something to be heard besides the thumping.
"The king's horses," Dean corrected.
Sam scoffed. "How can you possibly--"
"I know because I know where they are and I know what they're looking for."
Sam whirled back to face Dean, finally noticing the profound melancholy that hung over him like a cloud. Did he figure these kings-men had come to take him away just like that? Did they even know Sam was there? No, Sam figured that there was something deeper than that going on in Dean's thoughts, he could sense it somehow.
"You're my brother," Dean answered, before Sam even had a chance to ask the question.
"Don't be ridiculous. That's not possible!"
"I lied earlier... I said my mother was close to the king, but what I meant was that they were involved. King John was going to marry my mother except that she disappeared before he could do so. She betrayed him, left me there to rot, and he never treated me the same after that. He emerged from his dark mood somewhat when your mother came along - Mary was real nice to me whenever she got a chance, y'know - but then they had to send you away and he just went back to how he was before. Mary actually told me that she was going to introduce us once you were born, but in the end I never even go to know your name."
Dean sighed and looked away. "I gotta admit, I think it was a good thing I got tossed out here - at least I'm free."
"Hell, Dean," Sam choked on his words and had to force them past his lips, "I don't know what to say."
"I don't think there's anything to say. Do you?"
"I think there's plenty to say. Like about how those men down there can search all they like, but I'm not going to the castle until I'm good and ready. And I should tell you that Bobby and Ellen spent my whole life telling me how amazing my father was, but it wasn't until I directly asked Gabriel that I even got an inkling as to how much of a bastard he is. He sent me to the West with no intention that I would ever return while he was still alive, did you know that!"
Dean sat there, gaping at him, and likely just as shocked that he'd raised his voice like that. He shook his head with amazement and Sam purposely took a deep breath to calm himself. There was still so much they needed to find out about one another, and nothing to be gained by falling into a childish shouting match.
"Something else that needs to be said," Sam went on, "Is that now that I know who you are, it changes nothing."
"Are you joking? This changes everything, Sam."
"Then tell me when you realised who I really was. Because it wasn't just this morning, was it?"
A beat passed where Dean was frozen, didn't even blink, but then he suddenly curled in on himself, wrapping his arms around his knees.
"The first moment I saw him I recognised Gabriel. He features pretty significantly in my more pleasant childhood memories. But it didn't click why you would have been travelling with him until I took you to his grave, saw how you mourned him. I didn't know he'd left with the king's newborn son back on that day, but it occurred to me yesterday that maybe he had. Hearing the search party this morning just confirmed my suspicions."
Sam pursed his lips. "So you at least had a pretty good idea who I was, yet you still held me all night, cared for me like a lover."
Dean paused, then shook his head. "We can't. I'm an exile. You're the heir to the throne. And I've heard the king's deathly ill, besides. You can't just waltz back in there and tell him to get fucked."
Sam grinned. "Watch me."
"...What have I got myself into?" Dean lamented, mostly to himself. He got to his feet and disappeared to another platform for a moment, and returned with a small pouch in hand. He let it fall to Sam's lap.
"Maybe I oughta be wishing death upon him, but give him that. Tell him it'll help."
They don't let Dean through the gates, just like he'd tried to explain to Sam. The moment the gatekeepers saw him they started shouting at him obscenely, and Sam had to admit he was wrong and ended up crossing into the city on his own. The men didn't believe him at first, when he'd told them who he was, but at the mention of Bobby and Gabriel's names they began to change their tune - a runner was sent off immediately to inform the castle, and Sam was patted down for any weapons, but thankfully nothing was taken from him.
He followed the men through the streets, people stopping in their tracks and whispering amongst themselves, clearly speculating as to his identity. Something must have caught on, however, because the idle whispers quickly became harried words followed by audible gasps. Had they really figured it out so quickly, or was it mere conjecture? He knew for certain that there was nothing on his person that would distinguish him as being noble in any way, but of course, for all he knew, he could have been the spitting image of his father…
He ignored the gossiping townsfolk and trudged on until they came to the castle walls. Clipped words transpired between the men around him and those guarding the main gate, but Sam paid it no heed – he was far too distracted by the sight of the castle itself, such was its great size and its many towers and levels. He could almost have imagined the top of it floating amongst the clouds, for never in his young life had he ever since a structure so big. He would have continued to stare, too, had rough hands not gripped his shoulders and pushed him onward, into the confines of what – in another lifetime – would have been his home.
Sam was escorted through a never-ending maze of lavishly-carpeted corridors and spiral staircases, before he was finally brought to a rather unassuming wooden door and urged to step inside. He found himself standing before a man sitting upright in bed, his robe and sheets were impossibly rumpled but his posture was straight and his shoulders square. The man's face was gaunt and pale with sickness, his chin and cheeks covered with several days' worth of beard-growth, but somehow he still exuded an air of regality, clearly too used to putting on a face for his guests.
The 'face' slipped however, the moment the man's eyes got a good look at Sam. The slip lasted but a few moments and then the king's mask was back in place.
"Is that you, my Sam?"
Sam blinked, biting down on the defensive response he'd instinctively wanted to throw back at his father. He refused to let his anger and disappointment get the better of him, but by the same token that didn't require him to be overly pleasant about it, either.
"Yes, I am Sam," he said flatly, wondering how his father would take his demeanour.
King John paused briefly and seemed to gather that Sam was not so impressed. Apparently two could play at that game.
"Going by Gabriel's message you should have been here two weeks ago."
He kept his expression blank, and while the king tried to do the same, the flicker of surprise that crossed his face didn't go unnoticed by Sam.
"So, Gabriel's dead…"
"We were attacked by demons."
The king raised a brow with interest. "And you've been missing ever since."
"Then where have you been?" His father played along.
"Waylaid. I, too, was injured in the attack."
"And what of your horses? Could you not have ridden to safety? Here in my castle we have the most knowledgeable physicians in the land – they could have stitched you up with nary a scar."
"I was taken care of just fine, thank you."
Sam couldn't help but notice the shadow that began to darken his father's features, the tightening of his jaw as he clenched his teeth – his anger was brewing just as Sam had intended. He wanted some straight, honest answers and getting them from such a controlled man as the king? Getting him riled-up and heated with fury was the only way. His grandfather Samuel, who had lorded over the town where he'd grown up, had been just the same.
"My men," John began, his nostrils flaring, "They said that the outcast brought you to the gates."
It was hard to ignore the way his father spat that one word. "Outcast?" Sam feigned ignorance for a moment. "Oh, wait! You mean your son. Well, yes, they'd be right."
"You are my only son," the king hissed, his pale skin flushed red with anger.
"As a king, naturally you are free to proclaim whatever you wish. But even a king does not have the power to make a truth untrue. And the blood and body of a man are truth. Dean is your son, and he is true. He is my brother, and possibly the truest thing I've ever known. Being that you seem incapable of it, I intend to cherish him enough for the both of us."
Silence pervaded the large bedroom, and Sam was on his toes, ready to turn and walk straight back out the way he'd come, but his father's words stopped him.
"And what do you have to gain by joining him in such a life?" John slumped back against the headboard, clearly beginning to lose whatever strength he'd initially drummed up for their meeting. "He lives in exile, he has nothing. He lives in a damn tree for crying out loud! I gave him a chance once, and he went against my wishes, spited me in a way I refuse to put up with. I punished him as I saw fit and he has to live with that. You, though. You are the rightful prince and deserve all the luxuries I can provide. You are my only son and will be king one day."
Sam felt his own anger bubbling up from his stomach, and knew that there must have been a vein visibly pulsing on his temple. He was so close to snapping, but knew he had to rein himself in for just a little longer.
"Despite the luxuries that are my supposed prerogative," he said, the words forced out through his gritted teeth, "If that is the kind of code you live by then I'd rather go back and live in that damn tree than remain here with such a gross excuse for a king!"
"Don't you walk out on me, boy!" his father threatened, "You have no idea what—"
"I know enough! You're plagued by your past and you can't even look at Dean because all you can see is his mother's face. I pity you, that you would let such fear suffocate you so completely."
The king finally broke eye contact and looked down at his hands where they were clenched in his lap. He sighed. "I'm sorry we had to meet this way—"
"You weren't going to meet me at all, if I understand things correctly," Sam cut in.
"That's true. But I thought it was for the best, to protect you. This is a dangerous land. We've been fighting to keep the demons out as long as you've been alive. And now I know I will die soon. You can do what you like up until then, and when you take the crown you will be able to change things in whatever way pleases you. Maybe you will even find a way to send the demons back where they came from. Now, leave me. I am tired."
Sam nodded in acceptance and then remembered the pouch tied to his belt. He took a step forward and tossed it onto the bed at his father's feet.
"A gift from Dean. You may find it helpful, for all that you probably don't deserve it. And I am going to live in the trees with him. We're going to be wild and free together, and we're going to hunt demons with our bare hands, drive them back from the city just as Dean's been doing for the past decade – all on his own."
He didn't wait to see the surprise pass over the king's face, merely turned and strode out the door without looking back. He made it a dozen strides down the hallway when he came face to face with none other than Bobby.
"No need t' say anything, Sam. Y'know I never thought I'd live t' see the day when someone'd have the balls to stand up to your dad. Not t' mention that it's good to see someone else on Dean's side for once."
"Uh, yeah… Thanks, I guess?"
Bobby huffed. "Come with me, kid. I got some supplies y' can take back to the treehouse."
Sam skipped through the treetops like a dancer, light as a leaf on the breeze. He felt a pulse in the vicinity of his heart, and let the forest guide him to where it needed him to be.
Down below he could see part of the demon pack, creeping amongst the tree trunks as they prepared to launch an assault. This was the closest Azazel's followers had ventured toward the city in months, but he and Dean were always ready for them and always itching for a good fight.
There was a sudden snap, and all went still... and then a loud thud as one of the demons to his right dropped like an oversized stone. Sam glanced across and spotted Dean nocking a second arrow. They shared a grin before the blonde loosed the slender shaft, taking out another of the demons below.
Not to be outdone, Sam scrambled down the side of the tree and unsheathed his favourite blade - those demon bastards were trespassing on their land, and their advancement stopped right there.