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-you are my sunshine, my only sunshine-

“Sam, stop it.” Dean pushed at his little brother’s hands where they grabbed at the sleeve of his t-shirt. He tried to go back to reading the Hellblazer comic book he won off a bet with Johnny Leroux in his third-grade class, but Sam was like a happy little octopus, clingy and impossible to move.

-you make me happy when skies are gray-

“Ugh, stop singing. That song is for babies.” He shoved Sam off his lap and the kid landed on the floor with an oof. Dean sighed and held out his hand to help Sam up, but he slapped it away.

“M’not a baby.” Sam blew at his unruly bangs, but they fell back over his eyes which were already wet with tears. “Gonna find Maria. She likes my singing - she’s my friend.”

“Fine. Go see your friend then.”

The motel maids, Maria and Gert, were nice enough ladies. They let Sam follow them around in the afternoon while they made beds and hung towels, patting his head like a stray puppy. If Dean left the door open, he could usually keep tabs on Sam thanks to all the noise he made.

Already bored, Dean flipped the page of his comic book as Sam stood up. “I heard Maria cleaning rooms down the way. I'll come for you in a few minutes and we’ll grab some ice cream. Okay, Sammy?”

The pout on Sam's face disappeared, replaced by dimples. “Okay, Dean.”

-you'll never know, dear, how much I love you-

The motel room door hung open behind Sam, and Dean could still hear his brother singing that stupid song as he walked away. He shook his head and flipped the page of his comic.

-please don't take my sunshine away-

***

The pushpin sank into the crumbling drywall. Dean smoothed out the flyer carefully, its yellowed edges curling at the corners. Sam's xeroxed face smiled back at him from the photo, one of the few that their father had carried in his wallet until it had to be sacrificed for the search efforts.

Dean turned back to the folder laid open on the mattress and picked up another pin and another sheet of paper. This time the pushpin sank in too easily as if there was a hole behind the blue-striped wallpaper, so he moved the sheet over an inch, before the pin went in and Dean was satisfied it would hold.

Each piece of paper, each crime scene photo and witness list was carefully displayed on that motel wall, a tribute to the pain that haunted Dean every day.

John was the one who gathered the evidence those first frantic months. All the other hunts that they tackled without stopping once for broken bones or long-buried grief because people needed to be saved were irrelevant when faced with Sam’s loss. His father was meticulous in all things, so it only made sense that he would leave no stone unturned. He spoke to witnesses, other hunters, even called up a psychic friend of his, Missouri Moseley, to gather every theory or scrap of information that might help him to see a pattern. Missouri told John that she couldn’t see a monster or demon involved in any of this, and that she was sure that Sam was still alive.

“Don’t give up hope,” was the last thing she said to John.

The folder with all of Sam’s information was never far, tucked away in the glove compartment of the Impala, easy access in case they got a lead from another hunter or some word from a detective. John would lean over Dean to pop the compartment open and pull out the folder, taking a few notes on the sheets inside.

Through the years, Dean noticed that his father pulled it out less frequently, sometimes not for months. Despite Missouri’s words, John seemed to have written off the possibility of ever finding Sam alive. The growing stack of notes and evidence grew heavy in John’s hands, a constant reminder of his failure. As the miles and the years went by, the file and the guilt remained tucked out of sight.

But Dean never forgot it. He couldn’t forget his brother. After John's death, the file folder was no longer hidden. It rode shotgun with Dean, the flash of manila always present in the corner of his eye. Sometimes he would pull out the missing poster and place it on top, so he could see that familiar smile, the unruly hair, and smile back at it as if Sammy were riding shotgun with him. Ghosts of his missing brother and dead father surrounded him in the Impala day after day, as he drove one back road after another.

Months after John's death, after working a poltergeist case in West Virginia and killing a wendigo in Montana, Dean ended up in this motel room with his first bit of hope. Facial recognition software had popped a lead on their number one suspect in Sam’s disappearance, and Dean had thrown his duffels bags in the Impala’s trunk that night and raced back across the country to Minnesota.

Now, as he stood in another dingy motel room, Dean stepped back from the wall to look at the cluster of familiar information pinned up there, his eyes and fingertips caressing all the bits and pieces once more.

Today would be different. Today, the hunt for Sam was back on.

***

Back in 1988, there was a series of ritualistic killings in Des Moines, Iowa. The Winchesters were there, but only to check out a vengeful spirit that refused to leave the city's historical museum. John hated these cases. All those donated bits of history sitting in glass cases at the museum belonged to a real person once, and sifting through them to find the right one to match this spirit took a few weeks and a few painful coffee dates with the museum curator.

When the murders of three young mothers hit the local news, John's ears perked up. He became drinking buddies with one of the detectives who was in charge of the case, and one night after a few beers, he lifted the guy’s keys and helped himself to copies of the crime scene photos and police report. You never knew when a serial killer with an odd m.o. would turn out to be a monster of the supernatural kind.

The cases had some distinct hallmarks; the bodies were found chained up in the basements of abandoned houses, a black hood over their faces, a hundred shallow cuts made by a very sharp knife before a killing strike up to the heart from right below where the ribcage ended. The victims had suffered over a few days; their screams probably muffled by the duct tape over their mouths. No evidence of sexual assault but the penetrative nature of the wounds spoke volumes about the killer’s psyche.

Given a quick glance at the facts, there was an obvious physical type: three pretty blond women in their late twenties or early thirties. John’s detective buddy said that they had another thing in common: all three were crappy mothers. Louise Sharpe forgot to pick up her son at a birthday party the week before and no one knew how to get a hold of her for three hours. Jacquie Holden made a scene at her son’s band concert, throwing drunk angry insults at the other parents when someone asked her to leave. Andrea Ianello was seen twisting her kid’s wrist and shoving him in the car in the school parking lot. The media and the community agreed - none of these women would have won mother-of-the-year awards, but they didn’t deserved to be tortured and killed for it.

Based on the pilfered interviews and evidence, John came to the conclusion that it was a person who was killing these women. Sick and twisted, but just a person, and something human was best left to the police.

Dean didn't remember much about the murders at the time. He was just nine, more interested in comic books and Star Trek reruns on their black-and-white tv than serial killers and bad mothers.

And Sam? Well, Dean's little brother was interested in anything Dean was interested in. It could be annoying, having a kid who wanted to hold your hand in public or who sang goofy songs out loud while they drove hours down empty two-lane roads. Dean didn't hate it, not like the other boys at whatever school they were at this month. Those kids complained about their brothers, but Sam laughed at all his jokes, ate anything that Dean gave him, and sometimes late at night when one of those Midwest thunderstorms would roll through, light flashing blue white through the motel window and thunder shaking the door in its frame, Sam would snuggle in tight and wrap his arms around Dean's neck and whisper in that soft little boy voice, “I love you, De.”

“I love you, too, squirt.”

Yeah, it could be nice having a little brother sometimes.

***

The Des Moines police didn't have many good leads at the time. Their best suspect was a young elementary school teacher, someone who had interactions with the two moms at the local school and was new to the community. Michael Kelley had altercations with each victim over their parenting, but nothing more than a few cutting remarks. John’s detective friend said they made notes in their files but were never able to prove anything.

Later that week, a third woman was murdered and another child left motherless. The teacher disappeared the next day. There was no evidence to connect him to the murders, just the coincidence of timing, the vagaries of witness impressions, and the bad taste left in the detective's mouth.

But when a five-year old boy went missing out of a motel parking lot on the same day as the last murder, the police looked more closely at Kelley. The fact that the substitute teacher was temporarily staying at the same hotel as the Winchesters was enough to look at Kelley for Sam’s kidnapping, but the FBI profiler called in to consult on the murders dismissed the idea. Their suspect was a serial murderer and a loner, not a pedophile or kidnapper. If the guy was fleeing a possible murder wrap, why take a kid with him?

As the profiler pointed out, Sam’s father and his brother made better suspects. John appeared to be an itinerant drifter, who often disappeared and was barely able to handle two young boys alone. Theories around the police station bullpen centered around a case of physical abuse that went too far, or an accident that was covered up by the older boy while John was out of town. John and Dean were brought in for interviews. John didn’t give up much information, but the detectives saw that a lot with career criminals that didn’t want the police digging into their backgrounds. The motel staff insisted that neither the father or brother would hurt Sam, and the older brother’s distress about finding the kid seemed all too real.

The lead detective on the serial murder case, John’s drinking buddy, finally got his colleagues to drop their investigation into the Winchesters and focus on the missing P.E. teacher. It was too much of a coincidence that the guy blew town without a word after the last murder and that Sam was missing from the last place Michael Kelley had been seen.

John Winchester didn’t like coincidences anymore than the police. Yet he couldn’t shake the belief that of all the things that could happen to Sam, it seemed more likely that his son was taken by demon or a monster looking for revenge than a random snatching. He made calls to other hunters and psychics constantly as those first miserable days waiting turned into weeks in Des Moines. That sliver of doubt, that the Winchesters had been touched by a human monster, was enough for John to agree to Dean distributing missing flyers all over town.

All they got in return for their efforts was a lot of sympathy. The worst day in Dean’s young life when they packed up and left Des Moines. John and Dean didn’t say a word to each other all the way to Bobby’s house in Sioux Falls.

Years slipped by, painted red with the blood of monsters and loneliness. Dean and John worked side by side, mostly in silence, shackled together in their loss and purpose, and to the memory of Sam. Grief turned the father and son into an efficient killing team, and they handled cases back to back without relief.

Other hunters expressed their respect and victims their gratitude for the Winchesters, but only at an arm's length, sensing that the father and son lived on the edge. If the two of them stopped moving, stopped hunting, they would be able to feel the hole left behind by Sam and drop off into darkness.

Being left alone was fine with them. John and Dean had each other, while Sam had no one.

Until three months ago. It wasn't a rugaru or wendigo that brought down the mighty John Winchester. Cardiac arrest took Dean's father outside their motel room in Evanston, Wyoming. John had gone out for burgers while Dean took a shower; it wasn't until he saw the flashing red and white of the ambulance lights through the curtain that he knew something was wrong, something that couldn't be fixed by the battlefield dressing of gauze strips or dental floss stitches. Dean lost himself in the floating shock of the moment, sitting on that curb in a dirty parking lot as they pulled a sheet over John's face. He couldn't move and he couldn't speak even when the EMTs approached, their words lost to the air.

Dean couldn't face going back inside the motel room again and curled up in the back seat of the Impala that night. He dreamt of another motel and parking lot, another loss.

In his dreams, he could still feel those little boy fingers wrapped tight in the cotton of his t-shirt, and he could catch those fingers and pull his brother off the floor where he fell. They would go for ice cream, and he would let Sam hold his hand while they walked down the street. That was how it should have been. Instead, Sam disappeared like fog on the early morning blacktop. In the dream, as in real life, Dean ran from one room to the next, banging on the cheap wood doors, twisting the brass door knobs, yelling out for his brother. It was the only sound in the quiet parking lot that day, while the maids were making up rooms in the back and no one had seen Sam.

-please don't take my sunshine away-

***

The house at 283 Sycamore Street was nice enough, but not so nice it drew attention. Brown paint and a faded yellow front porch blended in with all the other houses in Mankato, Minnesota. The front door and side yard of this particular house were partially hidden from view due to two large weeping willow trees, and there was a side entrance into the house from the garage. The perfect set-up for coming and going unobtrusively.

Dean sat in the Impala, drumming his fingers against the wheel as he watched the neighborhood. A mother ran by with her baby in one of those jogging strollers, and Dean tipped his head to appreciate the view, her hips swinging side to side, until she turned the corner out of sight. If his recon here was a bust, maybe he would go back to the bar again tonight, see if he could find Gloria (or was it Joy?). Gloria, with her beautiful curves and sarcastic comments, served up a good pour.

Other than Running Mom, it was quiet as the afternoon sun deepened its gold light. Dean cricked his neck to the side and picked up a newspaper clipping he had photocopied at the library earlier. A picture of Michael Kelley, now calling himself Steven Shane, stared back at him from the Mankato Free Press article about the new P.E. teacher at one of the elementary schools in town. Normal face, brown hair, blue eyes and a shy smile - the kind of guy you would trust with your sister. One you wouldn't notice in a crowd.

A screen door banged and Dean looked up from the paper. There was motion outside of Kelley’s house, and Dean set aside the file, wondering whether he would recognize this bastard in person after twelve, almost thirteen years. He didn't remember him from Des Moines, but the guy lived a few doors down from them in the motel, so odds were good that they had run into each other.

But the person that walked across the yard was not Michael Kelley. It was Sam Winchester.

It didn't matter that Dean hadn't seen him since Sam was five. This was his brother. His Sam. Same mop of brown hair. Same dimply smile. Only now it sat on six and a half feet of almost grown man loping across the grass lawn to a mailbox at the curb.

Dean was unable to move; the fingers he had been tapping on the wheel hung in the air. He could hear his heart pounding and the blood rushing through his ears, but couldn’t move.

Sam dropped open the metal door of the mailbox and looked inside. He pulled out some flyers and flipped a few envelopes over to read the return addresses. His nose - that same nose that Dean kissed before bed every night - scrunched up in disinterest. Flipping the envelopes back over, Sam glanced up across the road, and Dean's world stopped spinning, all of it focused on this moment.

C’mon, Sam, look at me. Look at the car. You spent five years playing and napping in the backseat here. LOOK. Dean's fingers curled around the steering wheel, gripping it until his knuckles turned white. LOOK AT ME.

Something passed over Sam's face - curiosity over a stranger, admiration of the car - but Dean didn’t know what. Sam was here and alive, and yet he couldn't read the kid anymore. When Sam was little, Dean knew every emotion his little brother had, and when he was hungry or tired or upset, Dean could do something to make it all better.

That press of memories sat heavy on his chest, but before he could breathe again, Sam was gone, walking back into the house, as if he'd never been there at all.

Dean released his sweaty grip on the steering wheel. The desire to run after Sam was so strong and yet he was held in place. Despite all the hope that Dean had held onto through the years, his belief that Sam was alive, there was always a small dark voice in the back of his brain picking at him, insisting he was a fool, that Sam was gone forever. Dean refused to examine it too closely, never enough time or emotion to waste on that outcome. Now, he could sweep it aside completely and grab onto the fact that Sam was alive, looking healthy and happy, and unaware that John and Dean's world had collapsed after he was gone, or that Dean had nothing left except the car he sat in and and the leather jacket he wore.

He wrenched the key in the ignition and punched the accelerator, making the Impala’s engine roar, a beast eating up the road in the twilight.

***

“You wanna another cup?”

Dean blinked at his coffee mug and back up at the waitress. “What?”

She wiggled the half-filled carafe at him. “Coffee?” He shook his head and she turned to the next table.

Dean had driven from the house blindly, nothing but Sam in his thoughts until he pulled into the motel parking lot. He couldn’t face the empty room yet so he walked down the block to the diner. His roast beef sandwich sat untouched and his coffee had gone cold.

His brother was alive. This was what he wanted more than anything; what he had dreamed of for years. Still the reality had knocked him on his ass. He knew the stats about serial killers: for every Kathy Kleiner or Bryan Hartnell, there were dozens of victims that never survived. If Michael Kelley had taken his little brother that day, Sam should have been dead a long time ago.

Sam was alive and hope bubbled up past the layers of crust that grief had formed around his heart. Dean lifted the cold coffee to his lips, planning out scenarios of how he could reach out to Sam. If he couldn’t convince him of the truth, he would need an extraction plan, a way to pull him out from the devil’s grip.

Outside the diner window, a familiar head of brown hair appeared and Dean froze. Sam was getting out of the passenger seat of a car in the restaurant’s parking lot, smiling and talking to the older man with him. Michael Kelley pocketed his car keys and glanced up at the restaurant sign with a frown, shaking his head at something that Sam said.

It was as if thinking about his brother had summoned Sam to his side. Dean hid his face, looking down at his half-eaten plate as the two walked into the restaurant. He glanced up again as the two approached to sit at a table near by.

Sam looked good, as tall as Dean always thought he would be. The kid made him think of a young horse, gracefulness hidden beneath a coat of awkward. When they left this town behind, Dean would need to push the Impala’s seat back to make room for those long legs.

When they were little, John used to play helicopter with Sam, laying on the bed and swinging him around easily. Sam would giggle and kick his legs, asking, again Daddy again. John would bop him on the nose, proud to say that his younger son took after him, with his dark hair and dimples and relentlessness. Dean instead was like his mother, all fair looks and softness. There was pride in that statement, too, but tinged with a sadness that John could never lose and Dean could not avoid.

In the diner, Michael indicated which seat Sam should take. They sat and pulled out the menus.

The cool Formica tabletop under Dean’s palms was the only thing grounding him. The itch to grab Sam and throw him in the car was a compulsion. Dean needed to speak to his brother alone first, and then figure out how to bring Michael down. What he wanted was to put a bullet in the guy’s head for all the damage he had done, but John had strict rules about killing only monsters, not humans. They were in the business of saving people and taking revenge on the thing that killed Mary, not acting as judge and executioner for people. As Dean stared at Michael, he wondered what John would say now about that.

Michael’s hand was gripped firmly around Sam's wrist as they talked hushed and low, surrounded by the other customers. Sam's brow creased as he listened to the man, his expression such an echo of that last day -- m’not a baby -- that Dean pushed away from the table, chair legs scraping sharp against the checkered linoleum floor.

He threw a few bills down to cover his tab. The only way out was to walk behind Michael’s chair. It would be so easy to knock the guy to the ground and hear the meat of his face hit Dean’s knuckles, or snap his wrist and feel the bone crack as it was yanked away from Sam. Dean reached out as he walked by, grazing his fingertips along the chair back, seeing Sam’s dark hair floating in his peripheral vision, but didn’t look back as he walked out into the parking lot.

Dean knew where they were going. He needed to wait for darkness to fall.

***

All the evidence pinned to the wall in his motel room looked the same as it did that morning, but in the fading evening light, it hung static and no longer containing the mystery that had ruined his family’s lives. Dean ran his fingers over the bits of paper tacked up there, before turning back to the bed where he began to throw his clothes and weapons back in the two duffels that travelled with him everywhere.

As he threw the straps of the bags over his shoulder, he glanced back at the wall and smiled. He could do this - convince Sam to come with him and leave Michael alive for the police. The need for retribution burned red inside him now. Dean would hurt the man who took his brother all those years ago, maybe cut off the hand that held Sam’s wrist earlier today, but he and Sam would be miles away when he made the anonymous call to the police and told them where to find the serial killer that had murder three women in this town, and about the hotel room that held evidence of so many other victims. It would be enough for them to put away a serial killer for life.

It was how his dad would have done it.

***

It was 10 pm in suburbia, and all the good families were tucked safely behind their locked front doors and drawn living room curtains; their only concern was what television shows to watch while drinking the last of the dregs of a bottle of supermarket red. They didn't know about the creatures that lurked in their neighborhood after dark, or the monster that lived next door to them in the daylight hours either.

Dean was a shadow along the edge of the yard, hidden beneath the fluttering branches of the willow trees and the broad leaves of the hydrangeas, out of reach of the circle of gold light that fell from the living room window. Several of the outdoor lights around the Kelley house were dark, their light bulbs removed. Better for the neighbors not to see what happened here at 283 Sycamore.

The wait in the shadows was no different than hundreds of hunts. The possibility of discovery was imminent whether it was an errant patrol car, the head of the neighbor watch or your prey stepping outside with the garbage, but Dean was good at staying in the shadows, just out of reach.

Inside the living room, watching tv and drinking a Bud long-neck, was the devil himself. Twelve dead women killed over the past twelve years lay at that man’s feet, and here he was, watching a football game. Michael Kelley’s white hands were harmless and soft, wrapped around that brown beer bottle. He looked the same as the school ID photo in John's file from twelve years ago - not a bad looking guy, tall with brown curly hair, now shot through with a few grays. At a quick glance, Dean could see where people would assume that he and Sam were related.

He crossed the shadows of the driveway and slid into place next to the living room window. The inside of the house was bare except for the furniture, the tv, and a stack of still-sealed packing boxes in the corner of the room.

Michael’s attention was drawn away from the tv and Dean could see his mouth move, talking to someone out of sight: Sam. His brother appeared, another scowl on his face. He stood next to Michael's chair and set his hands on his hips, nodding along with whatever Michael was saying. The glass window let the soft hum of the rest of their argument bleed through. Dean couldn't catch most of what was being said, until Sam’s voice rose loud enough to make it through the glass.

“Don't worry, Dad, I won't mess things up for you.”

Dean closed his eyes for a moment before reaching around behind his back to pull out his gun, willing himself not to shoot through the glass.

Inside, Michael reached up and gripped Sam's forearm, continuing to talk. The look on Sam’s face became a passing thundercloud, before it settled back into a phony half-smile. Sam pulled his arm away and started to walk towards the back of the house. Dean turned away and moved smoothly through the shadows at the side of the house, hoping to see Sam walk out a back door.

Instead, a small lamp came on in the back bedroom and Sam's face was lit from beneath. Dean realized that he was wrong about one thing - there was no way someone could mistake his brother for Michael's son. The man out front had none of the presence - the fucking beauty - that Sam had. The dark hair and dimples marked him as John's kid all the way.

Sam peeled off his t-shirt and unbuckled his belt in that nightstand glow and Dean drew closer to the window to watch. He tracked his brother moving from the closet where he threw his clothes inside, back over to the side of the bed. Sam’s bedroom was as bare as the living room out front, no posters on the wall, no baseball mitts or hockey sticks on the ground. It struck Dean that Sam probably lived his life on the move as much as his real family did. The kid never stood a chance to be normal, no matter what destiny threw at him.

As Sam shimmied out of his jeans, Dean brought his hand up under his t-shirt to touch the new tattoo on his chest, a birthday present from Bobby to protect him against possession. Looking at Sam’s flawless skin, Dean ran his fingers over the scattering of scars the covered his chest and stomach. Each one was a reminder of hunts with their father, each one carefully tended and stitched by John's hand. He might not be as smooth as Sam, but he felt pride in those marks, like notches on a hunter’s belt.

How Sam ended up without scars after living under the same roof with a monster all these years was a miracle to Dean.

The kid stretched like a cat in that dim light, a slow and satisfying movement that made his back muscles ripple. Dean smiled, thinking of Sam swimming in the YMCA pool with laughing friends and lifeguards, his muscles lean as he moved through the water and his skin golden in the sun.

Sam rubbed absently at the front of his black boxer briefs before throwing himself on the bed, and Dean looked away. He and Dad had an unspoken code of privacy all those years, living like they did in a single motel room with two beds. You kept your eyes on the ground or looked away when moving in and out of the bathroom, and beating off was done in the shower or quietly under the covers in the dark. When Dean hit puberty, he would hook up with girls at parties or the back seat of the car. As he got older and his curiosity grew, it was men in bars and back alleys.

But now, with Sam only a few feet away, he couldn’t look away for long. The kid was laid out on the top of his bed, running his hand along his still-a-boy-soft stomach and abs. When his hand moved beneath the waistband, Sam’s head tilted back and the lamplight danced off the motion, throwing his jawline and cheekbones in sharp relief.

Sam’s cock was hidden under the black cotton but Dean could see his hand slowly stroking, while those soft abs began to tighten in response. Sam’s other hand wandered up to his nipple, tweaking the nub of it, while his tongue flicked out to lick his open pink lips. The window was single pane glass, and this close Dean could hear a soft rhythmic moan, private and wanton. He wanted to smash that plane of glass with his fist, grab Sam and pull him through. They could jump in the Impala and leave this town tonight.

But right now, in this moment, there was nothing else for Dean but the sight of Sam. The curve of his spine arched off the bed and the tip of his cock peeking out from the top of his hand as he stroked down inside the top of his boxers. Dean stepped around a bush by the window to get a better look, just close enough to be inside the light shining from the window, when the back of his head felt like it had exploded. He fell to his knees and then toppled into the short grass. Everything went dark and the smell of dirt filled his nose. His last thought was of Sam.

I’m so sorry, Sam. You need to know - I found you.

***

He woke to stifling blackness, the smell of dirt replaced by the smell of laundry soap.

Material rubbed against his cheeks, blocking out all the light, and his hands clenched uselessly trying to remove it. As he moved, rough rope scratched at his wrists, and underneath the hood, duct tape pulled at his mouth. He didn’t waste any energy in trying to yell, because he was stuck, trussed up like another one of Michael’s victims.

If that weren’t bad enough, the chill on his skin meant that Dad's leather jacket had been stripped off and left somewhere. He’d find that jacket right after he killed this bastard.

Listening for any sounds was useless through the cloth hood, so Dean jumped when a hand came to rest on his chest. He froze and waited for a blow to come, the sweep of a knife, but fingers stroked his t-shirt in soft circles instead.

So, that’s how it was gonna be. Huh.

The hood was pulled off and Sam's face appeared over him, his hair ringed in light from the overhead bulb.

“It's you, isn't it?” The wandering fingers changed to the warm press of a palm in the chill of the basement.

Dean nodded slowly.

Sam glanced over his shoulder at the stairwell before he held Dean’s cheek and started to peel the duct tape off slowly. “You need to be quiet, okay? He might hear.”

Dean nodded again, afraid to speak, not wanting to bring down the monster or to frighten off his brother.

“That car - the black one - is it yours?” He hesitated, then began to untie the ropes around Dean's wrists. “You're him.”

Released from his bonds, Dean swung his legs over the edge of the worktable and sat up facing Sam. “Him who?”

A smile crept across Sam's face, and Dean knew - it was something real and just for him. “You’re my brother. I recognized you out on the street. I dreamed you'd come. Every day I dreamed.”

“Sam.” Dean reached out in response, wanting to pull him in for a hug. He held back, waiting for Sam to respond when he was ready.

“Michael said he used to see me with an older boy at the motel. Before he saved me.”

“Saved you?” They didn't have time for this talk, about everything that happened, but it was impossible for Dean to hold it in. “He took you from us!”

Sam shushed Dean with his finger pressed against Dean’s lips.

“Knew it wasn't true. Knew you'd come for me.” Sam whispered and huddled closer, head down as his hands rested on Dean’s thighs. “He made me call him father, said that you guys couldn’t take care of me. Told me I was lucky that he came along.”

Dean lifted Sam's face, so much bigger now but it still sat perfectly in his palms. “It's okay, Sam. I got you.”

Finally, he pulled his brother in for a hug that had been waiting twelve years. Cupping the back of Sam's head, Dean buried his nose in those curls and the smell of some fancy shampoo, and the feeling of Sam in his arms overwhelmed him. He kissed Sam's temple, and his brother twisted to meet him, their lips meeting. It was soft and sweet, until it became something more, and Sam’s tongue pushed inside his mouth. Dean let out a surprised groan at the contact and let himself sink into it, let that touch fill the hole inside him. He pushed into the kiss, gripping the back of Sam’s biceps to keep him in place, as if he might try to leave Dean again. When they broke apart for air, Sam smiled and Dean pulled back.

“Sam, wait--” Dean whispered. He should be protesting or explaining all this to his brother, how fucked up these feelings were, but he couldn’t get the words out, his stomach queasy with how much he needed his brother in this moment.

The scrape of a chair on the floor above brought the two of them back to reality. They held their positions and their breath, looking up at the ceiling.

Sam broke the silence with a whisper. “He saw you in the backyard. Watching me.” Sam's eyes wandered off to the side; a blush rose on his cheeks that was visible even in the dim basement light. “It’s how he caught you.”

It would do no good to deny that Dean had been watching. His brother would know soon enough how messed up Dean really was - the things he slaughtered, the women he fucked, the lies he had told. Add kissing his kidnapped brother to that list and being voyeur wasn't the worst thing he'd done since John died.

He started to release Sam’s face but his brother cupped his hands and held them in place, his eyes wide with uncertainty, not wanting to break their connection.

“We need to leave now,” Dean said, pushing Sam back. He jumped down from the table, scanning the room for possible weapons, maybe a back door escape rather than the cellar stairs, when he spotted a workshop bench in the corner. An array of tools hung from a pegboard at the back, too neat in its organization for Dean’s taste, clinical and fussy. A red-brown stain marred the wooden top and the faint smell of chlorine hung in the air.

Sam's tongue darted out, wetting his lips. “Terrible things have happened here.”

Dean paused before moving over to the workbench. Despite the order of the room, there was a smell of death here that no amount of cleaner could get rid of. He touched the rust-colored stain on the bench, and then raised his eyes to the shelf above. A large hunting knife sat alone there. Its carved bone handle with its deep grooves and curves was a work of art, but was out of place amongst the rubber and metal of the Craftsman tool set.

“I know all about the women that bastard has murdered.”

Dean pulled the knife down and wrapped his fingers around the handle, pressing the edge of the blade to his thumb pad to test the sharpness. A spot of red welled up bright in the darkness.

“You don’t know everything.” Sam said, huddling close at Dean’s shoulder, his breath warm and moist, eyes glued to the spot of blood.

Sam raised Dean's thumb to his mouth, and started to suck on the tip. It was all kinds of wrong, but stepping away from his brother after all this time wasn't an option. Where would he fall back to? An empty motel room and empty front seat.

Sam pulled Dean’s finger out of his mouth. “I’m pretty sure Michael wants to kill me”

“That's not going to happen.” Dean’s voice came out thick and rough. “Not if we kill him first.”

***

There was only one way out of the basement. They walked quietly up the rough wooden staircase, and Sam took the knife from Dean, holding his finger up to his lips as they emerged into the golden light of the kitchen. Dean waffled on the plan. He would love to track down Michael and cause him as much pain as possible, but now that he had Sam with him, the best idea would be to sneak out the back door. Get Sam to safety and then he would come back to deal with this guy.

Too bad neither of those plans was going to work.

“Sam. What do you think you’re doing?” Michael's voice was calm and his posture at the kitchen table was relaxed, one arm up on the tabletop, fingers tapping on the rim of a half-filled glass of orange juice. “I thought I said to leave him downstairs until I decide what to do.”

“I know, Dad.” Sam sounded every bit the petulant teenager at first, as he shifted the knife out of Michael’s view. “But, did you know? Who he is?”

Dean moved around Sam and locked eyes with this man, the one who took his everything. He half expected the black eyes of a demon or the glint of a shifter, because who would take a child from its family. Only a monster. Instead, Michael tilted his head to the side and smiled.

“Of course, this is your brother. That scrubby boy with the con artist father staying at my motel.”

Dean didn't even feel he was moving, until he had one fist wrapped in the front of Michael's shirt. He stopped when he felt the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed against his ribs.

“I think you should sit down.”

Dean stepped back from the gun in Michael’s hands, arms raised in the air. Sam skittered off to the side, his face carefully blank but his fingers convulsing nervously around the knife at his side. Dean sat down on the other kitchen chair facing Michael.

“The minute I saw that car in the diner parking lot, I recognized it.” Michael spoke calmly, but the corner of his lips twitched. He waved the gun at Dean. “I’m not an idiot. The only reason you're not dead is Sam would be upset, and I don’t like to upset Sam. Besides, it’s not your fault your dad didn't raise you right.”

“Our dad raised us just fine,” Dean spit out. “You don’t know anything.”

“I saw enough to know. He left you alone, and left you in charge of this one.” He glanced fondly at Sam, who looked away. “Trust me, I know a bad parent when I see one. I make it my business to notice.”

Dean stared him down across the table, fingers itching for a weapon. He had never killed a human before. Dad was clear on the rules, but he had never been in this situation.

“The real question is why did Sam want to find you,” Michael continued. “We drove up and down the street while he decided where we should eat, before he picked that restaurant. He wanted to see you. And I have to ask myself why?”

Michael raised the gun, pointing it dead center on Dean’s chest.

Sam stepped forward, his hand raised. “Dad, I didn’t know--”

“Try again.” Michael’s expression pinched tightly. “And don’t treat me like I’m stupid. You were going to leave me, weren't you, Sam?”

“What? No!”

At Sam's response, Michael raised and cocked the gun at Dean, and Sam dropped to his knees beside the chair, reaching out to touch Michael’s leg. His voice climbed high in panic. “Wait, wait, I saw him parked on the street and recognized the car. I wanted to know who he was, why he was here.”

“That's all I wanted. The truth, Sam.” He reached out and ran his fingers through Sam’s hair, dropping his aim at Dean. “Aren’t I good enough for you, Sam? Didn’t I take care of you all these years? Do you really think that piece of trash who was your father could have given you everything that I did? He would never have cared for you like I did.”

Dean’s stomach lurched as the bastard tucked a piece of Sam's hair behind his ear. As if this monster had any right to love Sam. “You only stole him away from us, forced him to go with you.”

Michael tucked Sam's chin up to raise his face up. “You're mine. I made you, didn't I? I taught you all the things you needed to know. How to take care of yourself and how to take care of the terrible people who destroy their children’s lives.”

A flush rose in Sam's cheeks, and Michael laughed and leaned down to continue. “Your brother doesn't know that yet, does he? All the things you've done to help me. Such a perfect boy, everyone wants to come to your rescue. But no one knows how much you liked it - the pain.”

Dean looked away from the gun barrel to find Sam's eyes, but his brother had turned away. “Sam?”

Michael’s fingers were running through Sam's hair again, smoothing out his curls, but then clenched them tight to pull his head up. “Now, be a good boy, Sam, and take him back downstairs.”

Michael released him and Sam wiped his nose on his sleeve, but didn’t move from his position next to the chair. “What are you going to do to him?”

He tapped the tip of Sam’s nose with his index finger. “Guess I’ll have to clean up after your mess this time, won’t I?”

Dean tensed in his chair, too far away to attack and unwilling to move while the guy had Sam so close to him. He couldn’t risk Sam’s life after only having him back in his life for a few hours. “You bastard. Do you really think Sam is going to stay with you now?”

A flash of metal got his attention and Dean cringed back in his chair, expecting a gunshot to rip into him. Instead, the knife in Sam’s hand struck just below Michael’s rib cage. Dean watched as the blade slid in smoothly, before it stopped halfway down the shaft. Sam adjusted the angle upward and plunged it in up to the hilt.

Michael's eyes flew open wide, and he grabbed Sam's shoulder, confusion racing across his face. He opened his mouth to say something but coughed up a small stream of blood instead, specks of it spattered across Sam’s cheeks and nose.

“No, Michael, you taught me more than enough.”

Sam’s face was incandescent in his rage, and Dean thought he’d never seen anything more terrible and beautiful in his life.

The hand that held onto Sam's shoulder dropped away, and Michael's head fell forward, his chin resting on his chest, where a large blood stain was spreading from the wound. It was quiet in the kitchen for that moment, until Sam rested his palm against the bloody shirt and pulled the blade out with a soft, wet noise. He stood and picked up a yellow dish towel from the counter, wiping off the blade and handle and dropping it on the counter.

“We should get going. We’ve got about twelve hours before someone finds him,” Sam said, calm. “I don’t really need to take anything with me.”

Dean stared at Sam’s hands and sleeves which were still covered in blood, and then looked over at the body slumped across the table. Dean had seen plenty of kill strokes to the heart with their Dad and other hunters, and it took skill and practice to do it right. His mind turned away from that thought and focused on getting Sam away from this house and this life right now.

***

The two of them climbed in the Impala and Dean sat at the wheel, adrenalin shaking him in a way no hunt had ever caused. He felt the pull of fingers at his jacket sleeve, and looked down to see the smeared blood along Sam’s knuckles, a half-crescent of dark red under his nails. That would wash off, but Michael’s blood had soaked his brother’s shirt sleeve up to the elbow.

“You need to take that off. We should burn it. I have an extra shirt in my bag that you can wear. When we hit Sioux Falls, we’ll pick you up some new clothes, okay? Get you something to eat.”

The fingers pulled once more, insistent for his attention. “You came for me.”

Dean looked up at his brother’s little boy-wide eyes. A spot of blood sat on Sam’s face next to the mole Dean would kiss goodnight as a child.

“Of course, Sam.” He turned to grip the steering wheel, eager to look away, eager to get on the road. “I will always come for you. Always.”