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The Theory of Relativity

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Dean kept waiting for Sam to leave again. He knew it was wrong of him — Sam had been there when he’d needed him most — but a little part of him just couldn’t help it. Dean had chased Sam like the tide, unable to stop him from leaving and never quite ready for it when he came crashing back. Dean wasn’t sure why it would be any different now. He wasn’t sure he’d know how to deal with it if it were. 

*

Her whole life Mary has always wrinkled her nose when someone says they got pregnant by accident. The word accident implies something you have no control over — and pregnancy, being completely preventable, is definitely not one of those things. She thinks of how awful it would be for a kid to grow up always hearing that they were an accident — even if their lives were otherwise perfect, hearing that your parents had you with no more forethought than goes into falling off a bike or rear-ending a car can’t be a pleasant experience. That being said, her first pregnancy certainly hadn’t been planned. But Mary never once thinks of it as an accident.

She and John had talked about having a family before, of course, so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise — she knew they both wanted kids, but neither of them had wanted them right away. John was still looking for a steady job and Mary was still too upset about the sudden death of her parents to think about starting a family of her own. Not that their deaths were something that Mary would ever have been ready for, but her parents had both been pretty young and in good health. No, she and John just weren’t ready for kids yet. 

At first, she ignores her missed period, chalking it up to the stress of moving and married life. She soon finds it hard, however, to ignore waking up with the desire to spend the rest of the day with her head in the toilet. Her nausea, and the fact that it’s gone before noon most days, finally convinces her to take a pregnancy test. As she waits to read the result, she tells herself she will be happy about it either way. It’s not an accident; it’s just a surprise. Just a little earlier than they had planned. She runs her hand down her stomach and rests it there. She imagines she can feel something growing — her body changing in a million tiny different ways to accommodate another life. She knows in that moment, before she even sees the two pink lines, that she is pregnant. On her road; in the family way. Mary is scared and completely unprepared, but the tears she cries have nothing to do with fear. They will name their child after her mother. 

She doesn’t know how to tell John at first. John is stressed about not being able to hold a job, and she can see his desire to be everything he thinks she needs eating away at him. It seems like it will never be the right time to tell him that their life plan — as flexible as it they had made it to allow for any number of unplanned occurrences — is going to need a very serious revision before the end of nine months’ time.

At home during the day, Mary starts to turn the spare room into a nursery. She goes garbage picking and finds a rocking chair. She paints the room white, but makes sure the accents are colorful. She wants the baby’s room to be warm, but not too stifling. Sometimes she catches herself talking to the baby out loud as she goes about her day. Not whole conversations or anything, just little things here and there, like, “Are you going to let Mommy eat this sandwich?” or, “How do you feel about this quilt?” She rubs her belly a lot too, anticipating the day that it is no longer toned. She’s just waiting for the first visual signs of life, for the day she will no longer be able to hide it from John.

Mary tells him before it gets to that point. She makes all his favorite foods for dinner and sets the table with the china she’d found during her last garage sale hunt. John comes home with good news of his own: he’s been hired by a mechanic and won’t have to do contract work anymore. Not a moment too soon. Unable to bring herself to say anything during dinner and risk ruining John’s good mood, she just blurts it out while clearing plates and waits at the sink for some kind of a reaction from him. John’s always been a vocal person. Hearing nothing, she turns around to see his face and jumps when she realizes he’s gotten up from the table and is right behind her. He puts his hands on her waist. 

“You’re having my baby?”

Mary laughs nervously, unsure of what he’s thinking. “I mean, barring immaculate conception—“

John cuts her off with a kiss on the lips. “You’re having my baby,” he says. This time there is no question in his voice.

“Yes,” Mary says, unable to keep from smiling. “We’re having a baby, John. Together.”

As soon as Dean turns three, John starts talking about having another kid. They’re in a good place financially. The repairs they needed to do on the house have all been done and they certainly have the room for another baby, he says. John doesn’t want there to be too many years between them. He explains to her one night that he wants there to be enough years for their younger child to know they can always count on their older brother, but few enough years that they can grow up friends. She agrees, recognizing the wisdom in his words. Neither of them have any siblings, so getting this part right is important to them. She agrees to try for another if John agrees to let her name it after her father. 

Mary starts feeling guilty shortly thereafter. Before she met John, Mary’s family had been involved in a life she had never approved of. She swore to herself that she would do everything in her power to leave that life and never look back. John, fresh from Vietnam and so eager to try for the unattainable American dream, had been exactly what she was looking for. She should have known getting out would never be so easy. To be sure that she and John would be able to get away, she’d had to make a deal. Might as well have sold her soul. She’d never told John, and the promise she’d made had been easy to forget in the face of a white picket fence and a two-car garage. But thinking about the time she has left until someone comes to collect on her deal, Mary starts to feel overwhelmingly guilty about bringing another life into the world. She starts to worry that her time is limited. 

“John,” she says, shaking him awake in the middle of the night, “John, wake up.”

John wakes up right away, a habit he’s had a hard time breaking himself of since the war. “Mary, are you ok?”

“Tell me you could do this on your own.”

“What?” he asks, starting to sit up in bed.

She puts her hand on his chest, forcing him back down, and rests her head so that she can hear the steady beat of his heart. “If something happened to me, tell me you could do this on your own.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you, Mary. Why are you talking like that?”

She doesn’t know why, but it’s suddenly urgently important to her that he answers the question. “I guess I just had a bad dream and now it’s got me thinking. Just tell me that you could handle this.”

John reaches one hand up and curls it around the back of her head protectively. “Mary, I don’t know what I’d do without you, but I swear that I would do everything the best I could.”

“Ok, John,” she says, kissing his chest. “Ok.”

It’ll have to be enough. 

After they start trying for another baby in earnest, Mary has a dream one night. She dreams that Dean and a boy named Sam — their second son — come to visit her. They just show up at her house, completely unannounced. Dean and Sam are both grown — Dean is even driving John’s beloved car — but she is still the same age. They’re beautiful. Dean looks so much like her and still so much like the little boy she knows now. Physically, Sam is harder to place. The stubborn set of his jaw though, that’s all John. Sam wears his hair long in a way she’s sure John would hate and she gets a little thrill at knowing that her youngest son is going to butt heads with his father. 

They look tired, like their life has been rougher than any mother would wish on her sons. She knows they’re trying to warn her about something, but she can’t make out what they’re saying. She’s too overwhelmed at having them in front of her. She tries to touch them — to rest a hand on Dean’s strong jaw, to tuck Sam’s hair behind his ears — but she can never get close enough. She wakes in the morning, tears soaking through John’s shirt right above his heart. 

Dean had been unplanned, a surprise she’s been thankful for every day of her life since then, but they are planning for Sam. Mary and John will have their second child and he will know that he is loved. When she finally gets pregnant, she knows, again, without checking. She can feel her body starting to change this time too. She knows it will be a boy. She thinks about the future, with all its uncertainties, and the dread nearly overwhelms her. But then she remembers her son. 

Sam will be tall and broad; his eyes will be neither hers nor John’s, and they’ll change in the light; he will know his brother loves him. She remembers Sam, his strong hands and the way she had wanted to take the sadness out of his eyes. She thinks he’s worth it.

She asks Dean later that day if he wants a younger sibling to play with. He considers it for a long time before answering. 

“As long as it gets to be my baby,” he finally decides on.

Mary smiles. “Your baby?” She asks, intrigued.

Dean nods. “You and Daddy already had one. I want one now. I want to teach him all the things I know.”

Mary kisses Dean’s forehead, pleased with his answer. She knows he’s going to be a great older brother. Sam is going to need one. 

*

There was never supposed to be life after the Apocalypse. Dean always thought the Apocalypse would end bloody and that he’d go out swinging, just another casualty of war. When it was all said and done, the end was certainly bloody but it wasn’t The End after all. Even after they decided to keep fighting, to do it the Winchester way, Dean wasn’t supposed to live to tell the tale. And Sam, Sam certainly wasn’t supposed to write books (plural) about it. But before Detroit even, Dean had caught Sam half a dozen times scribbling away in some notebook — when he’d even picked one up Dean wasn’t sure — napkins and scrawled on receipts sticking out the sides, a sure sign that Sam had been at this for even longer than Dean realized. 

“Writing love poems, Sammy?” Dean said in the car one day. They’d been driving to Bobby’s, more out of habit than any real hope that Bobby had stumbled across the key to killing the devil, when curiosity finally got the better of him.

Sam rolled his eyes in response, but was otherwise undeterred.

“Was that a no? Oh, right, you’re writing about how Lucifer wants to wear you to the prom.”

“Yes, Dean, that’s exactly it. Here, let me read you an excerpt.” 

Sam began flipping through the pages for dramatic effect. Stubborn bastard, Dean thought. 

“Here’s a good one,” Sam said, voice rising an octave. “’Dear Diary, Lucifer wants to wear me to the prom this year, but I don’t trust him to pick the right shoes. If only I could be sure that he would know how to accessorize, my decision would be so much easier. Thanks for listening. You’re the only one I can talk to. XOXO. Love, Sam.’”

“Jesus, you really are a girl,” Dean said, valiantly trying to hold back a laugh. They were both being ridiculous, he knew, but it felt good. They were joking about the end of days without trying to reopen old wounds between them. He wondered if Sam realized they were doing it.1

Sam broke first. “Jerk,” he said, smiling broadly.

“Bitch.”

Dean hadn’t paid much attention to the notebook after that. Every once in a while he would see Sam scrawling in it, rushing to put it away when Dean came out of the bathroom in the morning, or sitting at the motel table, pencil between his teeth, apparently lost in thought as Dean walked through the door with food for them. Mostly, though, Dean had just kind of forgotten about it. There had been more pressing concerns at the time, and if Dean did get a little curious now and again, it never mattered enough for him to try and sneak a peek. As helpful as a little insight into Sam’s thoughts would have been, he didn’t think it was worth sacrificing the hard won trust they’d built between them.

And good thing, Dean thought. It wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. Just about a year after the Apocalypse, when they were still hunting ghosts and the occasional demon, unsure of what to do with themselves but too wired to just stop, Sam started sneaking out again. This time, he knew, there was nothing to keep Sam there. 

When Sam came clean, it was definitely a major curveball.

“I’m going to be published,” Sam said without preamble. 

“What?”

“My work, it’s being published.”

Dean wasn’t quite sure what question he should ask first, so he settled for repeating himself. “What?”

“I wrote a book. Anchor Books is publishing it.”

“Uh huh.”

“While we were driving. Well, while you were driving. While you were sleeping, too. After we ganked Lucifer.”

“Lucifer inspired you to write a book?” Dean asked, mildly horrified. All Lucifer had inspired him to do was make better friends with Jim Beam.

“I don’t know. Not exactly. It was just something I used to joke about, and then for some reason I felt like I needed to do it.”

“I think I need a drink,” Dean said, walking toward what passed for a kitchen in their motel room. “You’re not just dicking with me, right?”

Sam’s smile was hesitant as he shook his head.

Dean grabbed a beer out of the cooler and paused for a second, considering. He grabbed another before sitting down. 

“So when do I get to read it?”

He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to say it, but it was apparently the right answer, because Sam started talking about advance proofs and his agent and how hard it had been to shop a manuscript when he had no permanent address. Since when did Sam have an agent? More importantly, when the hell had he even had time to write a manuscript? Dean was having a hard time keeping up long before Sam even got to the part about how much money he’d be making.

After their talk, he knew Sam was still waiting for him to have a small meltdown about the book, but Dean had spent 40 years in Hell and the better part of a year chasing the devil — call him crazy, but a book deal didn’t quite register as a threat. Sam was wary until the morning he’d woken up to find a copy of The Feather to Fly on the pillow next to him, “Sign it, bitch,” hastily scrawled on hotel stationery and stuck to the dust jacket. 

Dean, Sam had written, I’m sorry I (literally) turned you into a girl in this book. Don’t sue for defamation of character — I made sure she had all your bad habits. — Sam

They kept hunting for a little while after that. It wasn’t like Sam had become the next Zac Efron, so they weren’t in danger of him being recognized or anything, but eventually it didn’t make sense for him to keep traveling around the country. His book was selling well and receiving even better reviews. Hunting had been Dean’s life. He knew it was only a matter of time before Sam asked him to just stop driving. 

In the end, it took longer than Dean thought it might for Sam to bring it up. When he finally broached the subject, he started by telling Dean that his agent was based in New York, and suggested that it would probably be best if they “moved within a reasonable distance of a major metropolis.” Calls for interviews were coming in more frequently, and though they could almost always be done over the phone, making contacts was easier in person. 

“You know, just for a little while,” Sam said, gaze fixed on the road before them. 

“So you want to move to New York?” Dean asked.

“You don’t have to come,” Sam said.

“As long as we don’t have to live in the city,” Dean said, replying as if Sam had never spoken. 

“Just like that?

“Yeah, Sammy, just like that. Hell, I could probably use a vacation.” 

At the time he hadn’t thought twice before answering, but more and more lately he wondered if Sam wasn’t just offering Dean an out, but trying to find one for himself. 

*

They rented a house in East Moriches bigger than what they were used to, but still pretty small for a house. There were two bedrooms, each on its own side of the house, and the kitchen looked like it’d been halved in favor of expanding the living room. There was a porch in the front and a wooden deck in the back that, along with the bathrooms and most of the plumbing, had certainly seen better days. 

Nearly three years later, they were still on Long Island, and if Dean were being honest, he had to admit there was a certain unexpected appeal to the peace their new life offered. He loved the sound his baby made as she pulled into the driveway and the way he could always count on the second stair to creak. He loved that there was no one around eight months out of the year, and that when the summer crowd arrived, they at least brought cold beer as a peace offering. They kept renting the house at Sam’s insistence. He still said that they’d be getting back on the road, that the move was never meant to be permanent. Dean knew Sam was doing it for his benefit, but it was one promise he’d never had any intention of holding Sam to. 

He’d tried the occasional hunt at first, but had gotten used to having Sam around, and filling shotgun shells with rock salt had quickly started to feel like a chore. He’d tried doing a little mechanic work too, but there wasn’t much demand for the service in their tiny town, and no one was hiring long-term employees. 

“You know we have money, right? You don’t have to get a job, Dean,” Sam said.

“When has it ever been about the money, man? I’d run credit card scams again if I had to.” 

Sam looked away, unable to meet Dean’s eyes.

“You don’t have to know what you want to do right now,” Sam said after a moment. He looked at Dean, but Dean had nothing to say and the silence stretched out between them, endless. Sam knocked his knuckles on the table before walking away. They never talked about it again.

When Sam started writing again, Dean unofficially appointed himself the neighborhood handyman and did whatever mechanic work he could find during the busy summer months. Measuring their lives in years had so rarely felt appropriate to Dean. Three years was a long time, he realized. Three years was long enough for The Feather to Fly to become a New York Times bestseller and to stay on the list for a year; long enough for Sam to write a second book; long enough for Dean to start wondering when his brother would realize he didn’t have to invite Dean everywhere with him. Dean had a sneaking suspicion that Sam was just doing it to return the favor for every time Dad had made Dean awkwardly bring Sam along when they were kids. 

“Are you coming with me to the release party?” Sam asked over pizza and garlic rolls.

“I don’t know, Sam. Are you ever gonna let me read it?”

“You don’t have to read my books, Dean.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “We’re a long way from sitting through a crappy production of Our Town. If someone’s going to pay you to write, I’m sure as hell going to read it.” When Sam didn’t say anything, Dean continued, “What else am I going to do with my day?”

Sam laughed at that. “Well, you’re certainly not cleaning the house.”

Dean put on his best shit-eating grin. “You got that right.”

“I want you to read it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Guess I’m just kind of nervous about this one.”

“But it’s already won the Pulitzer Prize and it hasn’t even been published.”

Sam scowled and threw a napkin at him, which Dean easily ducked. 

“I just… this one’s more personal than the last one. It means a lot to me.”

“More personal? You wrote a book about drug addiction and fucking a demon because you thought it was the only way to save the world.” Dean paused for a moment. “Though, to be fair, I guess you did leave out the demon part.”

“This one’s about us.”

“Us?”

“Growing up on the road and stuff,” Sam said. “You know, our lives.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Just tell me you didn’t make me a chick this time.”

Sam smiled. “Not this time.”

Dean noticed his dimple right away and, for a moment, Sam looked like his baby brother again. They cleaned up after dinner without talking about the book, but Dean found a new copy of The Theory of Relativity on the kitchen table as he stumbled in for an a.m. caffeine fix the next morning. Sam left a note on the cover.

Let me know what you think. — S

Dean took a minute to run his fingers over the raised lettering on the cover. Opening the book, he read the summary on the cover flap. He learned that the book was told from a bunch of different people’s perspectives. The characters all had different names from their real life counterparts, of course, but, having lived it, Dean didn’t think it was too hard to figure out who was who. He found himself mentally replacing the names as he went without even thinking about it.

Tom and Sean? Really, Sam?, he thought. He’d always thought Sam was a little subtler than that. Maybe he’d been giving the kid too much credit. 

He flipped through the first couple of pages, stopping to read the inscription. There was a quote by Albert Einstein — clearly Sam’s inspiration for the title — that read, “Relativity teaches us the connections between different descriptions of one and the same reality.” And, on the next page, a dedication that felt like a punch in the gut. 

To Jess, without whom I may not be here, and to Dean, without whom there is no doubt of that.

Dean sat down to read.

*

In the moments before John Winchester is set to pull into the driveway and drop his children off for the summer, Bobby Singer begins to wonder what in the hell he was thinking agreeing to this in the first place. He never had kids of his own; never really wanted them, if he’s being honest. And he’s especially glad now: what kind of life is this to force on a kid? He’s not sure how John does it — living his life on the road with two boys growing up in the back seat. By leaving the kids, when he gets the chance, with mostly retired people too stupid to say no, Bobby thinks, laughing to himself. And, honestly, that’s the real problem. Bobby owns a junkyard. What are two kids going to do at his house for an entire summer? 

There are hundreds of things for the boys to get themselves into around the house, but none of them suitable. What if one of them gets locked in the back of a truck playing hide and seek? Dogs aren’t the only things that die in hot cars. And won’t that be fun to explain to John, Bobby thinks. “I’m sorry I let your kid play in a minefield, but it’s probably better than growing up on the road anyway” isn’t exactly something you find on condolence cards. 

They’re good kids, though, Bobby’s met them both before — Dean, the older one, is probably around nine or ten, Bobby’s guessing, and Sam, Dean’s younger brother, can’t be any older than five or six. Dean’s got mischief in his eyes, but John has him well trained, and Sam’s got Dean. The two of them are quite the pair. Maybe Bobby can use their seemingly inexhaustible energy for some good old-fashioned child labor; he’s got a garage that needs cleaning out and a book collection that could probably stand to be alphabetized. Sam’s got to know the alphabet at six, right?

Crunching gravel alerts Bobby of their arrival and it’s not long before he hears the slamming of car doors and the breathless laughter of two little boys, no doubt racing to see who can make it to the front porch first. John looks tired when Bobby opens the door, each time more ragged than the last.

“Thanks,” John says, dropping a duffel bag on the floor. “I got good information on whoever it was that did it to, you know, Mary,” John stutters, sparing a glance at Dean and Sam. “I couldn’t let a lead like this go.”

Bobby nods, understanding, and the urge to caution rises up and momentarily renders him unable to speak.

John squats down next to Dean and Sam, each of his hands resting on one of their shoulders. “You boys listen to everything Bobby tells you, ok? And don’t get into any trouble,” he says, eyes trained on Dean. “Take care of Sammy, alright?”

“You know I will, Dad,” Dean says as he straightens his slumped shoulders, standing taller.

“Why can’t we go with you?” Sam asks, worrying his lower lip between the only one of his front teeth that’s filled in yet. 

One hand still on Sam’s shoulder, John brings the other over to ruffle his hair. “This will be better for you boys, more fun than the inside of motels, and I’ll worry less. Ok, Sammy?”

“Ok,” Sam says, inching closer to Dean.

“Good,” John says. With one final nod and a squeeze to Dean’s shoulder, he takes his leave.

*

The first couple of weeks pass without incident. Sam sleeps late most days, but on the mornings when Bobby stops in to check on them, he often finds Dean awake as the sun rises, sitting up against the headboard and watching the sun come up. 

Bobby had assumed that as soon as John left Dean would be wreaking havoc on the junkyard, but they’ve both been pretty cautious. More reserved than any boys their age should be, as far as Bobby’s concerned. It takes about three weeks for them to settle in, though — for Dean to start waking up at noon, for the sound of heavy footfalls on the second floor to become commonplace, for accidents where things get broken to start happening. 

Bobby can live with a few less vases and picture frames — frankly, he had expected it when he told John he’d watch the kids and it’s not like the knickknacks were doing anything but collecting dust anyway — but unfortunately, one of the things that gets broken is Sam’s ankle. 

From what Bobby is able to gather, they were playing some variation of hide and seek, but with territories and conquest (it’s all a little over Bobby’s head), and Dean had climbed up on top of one of the cars to start claiming his land. Sam had apparently found this to be a great injustice, as Dean already had his own height working to his advantage and could thus scout the land better without needing to climb on the car. Upset, Sam had decided to climb up on to a car of his own and, on his way up, had gotten his foot caught in an open window. He lost his footing, but when he fell, his leg remained stuck in the window. Dean had helped him out and run screaming back to Bobby’s. At least he’d known not to try to move Sam. 

The wait at the hospital is interminable. Sam’s a kid and it’s pretty clear his ankle is totally fucked — it’s swollen up to about the size of Bobby’s head — so the staff tries to expedite things for him, but there’s still a lot of waiting around while Sam whimpers in pain and Dean grows progressively more frightened. 

“Sam’s gonna be fine, you know,” Bobby says, reaching out to place a hand on the back of Dean’s neck.

“You don’t know that,” Dean says, still refusing to look up from where his eyes are trained on the floor.

“I do know that. Kids get hurt all the time. He’ll be laid up for six weeks and then he’ll be back to running around as usual. He’ll be fine,” Bobby says, punctuating it with a squeeze.

“It’s my fault,” Dean says, voice barely audible.

“What’s that, son?”

“It’s my fault. I should have never let Sam climb up on the car. I shoulda known he would want to do it after I did it.”

Bobby waits a moment before answering, trying to think of the right answer. “Your brother does look up to you, Dean, and it’s good that you know you have to try to set a good example. This wasn’t your fault though, ok? Accidents happen, kids get hurt.” Bobby pauses. “But maybe no more playing in the junkyard from now on, alright?”

Dean’s eyes start to water and Bobby thinks he’s probably said the wrong thing. “Sam’s going to get over this. Neither of you will even remember that this happened pretty soon.”

Dean shakes his head and brings his knees up, curling into himself. Parenting is exactly as hard as Bobby had always imagined it might be.

When they finally get a room, as they’re waiting for Sam’s cast to set, Bobby leaves Dean with Sam and goes off to find some coffee for himself and some juice or something for the kids. He’s sure they’ll be fine in the room and he could use a minute to just let his composure fall. The accident could have been so much worse. He already doesn’t know how to tell John what happened and though Dean seems intent on taking all the blame, Bobby’s pretty sure a good deal of it should lie with him. He finds a vending machine and gets two apple juices, and then spots one that brews coffee. He pumps it full of quarters and tries to keep his brain from wandering to all the terrible what ifs as the machine splutters to life, drip-drip-drip numbing his mind. 

When he gets back to the room, Dean has his forehead pressed against Sam’s shoulder, hospital chair pulled as close to the bed as can be. At first Bobby thinks Dean might have fallen asleep watching Sam, who’s out from the painkillers they gave him, but he hears whispering as he’s about to open the door and decides against it — decides to just listen.

“I’m never going to let anything hurt you again, Sammy, ok?” Dean says. His voice is so full of conviction that Bobby’s heart clenches. He wants to tell Dean not to make promises he can’t keep — not to make promises he’ll drive himself crazy trying to live up to — but he just keeps listening instead. “I know this is my fault and I’m going to make sure you stay safe from now on. I’m watching out for you. Just don’t be mad at me, alright? I’ll do better next time.” Dean’s voice breaks a little as he pleads with Sam to forgive him. 

“Your brother’s not mad at you,” Bobby says, unable to stop himself from announcing his presence.

Dean’s head shoots up from its place on Sam’s shoulder and he furiously begins wiping at his eyes. “He might be.”

“He’s not.”

“Well, he should be.”

“Dean, your brother probably blames himself. He knows you two kids were just playing.”

Dean looks away. “Dad gave me one thing to do, and I messed it up. I always mess it up. How am I supposed to protect Sam from the really bad things if I can’t even protect him from me?”

Bobby hesitates for a moment before leaving the room. 

*

Dean turns into a bit of a tyrant when they get Sam home. He gives Sam the pillow right off his bed and takes a few from the couch, making a stack at the end of Sam’s bed so that his leg can always be elevated. He tears through all of Bobby’s bookshelves, trying to find stuff suitable to read to Sam and, coming up blank, goes with some of the better illustrated mythology books, so that he can make up dozens of stories, monsters suspiciously agreeable and not at all frightening in the tales he weaves. He finds a piece of plywood in the garage, starts using it as a tray to bring Sam all his meals for the first couple of weeks. Dean’s unafraid to mouth off at Bobby when he delays clearing the house of anything that Sam might be able to trip over, further injuring himself. Though he looks contrite immediately after he does it, Dean still sends Bobby stern glances until Bobby finally gets around to making sure the house is empty of any obstacles that might threaten a boy still getting the hang of his crutches. Dean even makes a little calendar on the back of their door with a piece of chalk he finds lying around, marking all the dates the doctor had told Bobby that Sam should come back for follow ups. If Bobby had been considering skipping those, there’s no way he’ll get away with it now. He would be tempted to laugh if he weren’t so sure that Dean is completely serious.

Bobby knows John pretty well and can’t imagine either of the boys are coddled. He doesn’t know if Sam takes to all the attention like a pig in mud because it’s more than he’s gotten in his life up to then, or because he’s used to being smothered by Dean. Bobby suspects it might be a little of both, though if he had to pick one, he’d guess the former. It’s clear that Dean’s played caretaker before, but his single-minded attention to the task is more than a little disconcerting to Bobby. He’s only 10, after all. 

From what the doctors tell him, Sam’s ankle is healing fine and should be just about ready to get the cast off by the time John is set to come to pick them up. Bobby still doesn’t hear Dean laugh again until the next summer they spend at his house. 

*

Things between them were weird for a few days after Sam left the book on their kitchen table, but Dean didn’t really know how to fix it. It certainly wasn’t the first time they hadn’t known how to behave around each other, and at least they had some room between them this time. Dean had always hated the inevitable and unconscious recoil that happened when they accidentally broached each other’s space while they were fighting.

Honestly, he was kind of glad he and Sam weren’t talking. He’d been reading The Theory of Relativity while Sam was out during the day — no doubt dealing with the thousands of details that came with a book release now that he was Sam Winchester, Well-Respected Author — and Dean hadn’t known what to make of it. If they had been talking, Sam might start asking questions about whether Dean was enjoying it, or what he thought of the parts of their childhood that he had chosen to focus on, and Dean didn’t know what he’d tell Sam. He wouldn’t have known what to answer. And there was nothing he hated more lately than sounding stupid around Sam. Sam, who had made a place for himself in the world with his words while Dean could barely articulate just how fucking strange it was to be reading about their lives. Weirder than reading some of the Carver Edlund books even; it was hard to forget that it was his brother who had written this one.

Dean was learning a lot of things about Sam from reading it — things he never realized ever crossed Sam’s mind, things he never realized Sam knew about. Dean had never felt more protective of Sam than he had when Sam broke his ankle that first summer at Bobby’s and still, more than twenty years later, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been his fault. Sam was no worse for wear in the long run, of course, but it had been his responsibility to look out for Sam and he’d failed. Reading The Theory of Relativity, Dean had been reminded of it all: he saw how attentive he’d been, how worried for Sam he was at the time, how embarrassingly concerned he was that Sam would never forgive him. His throat burned just thinking about it.

He wondered with no small amount of apprehension if Sam had attempted to write things from Sean’s point of view. He wouldn’t be too surprised, he guessed, but Dean hoped he never had to see what Sam thought a day in his head was like. Without ever telling it from Dean’s perspective, he’d already laid Dean bare. Sam was already too close for comfort as it was — he had it all exactly right. Dean had never meant to be that obvious.

*

Mornings had always been the most routine part of Dean’s day. 

Before, mornings meant alarms and coffee and shaving at the sink while he waited for Sam to be done with the shower. Dean would have to bang on the door at least once — tell Sam he might not take so long if he cut his damn hair. Sam didn’t even take long showers, not really at least, but Dean could never resist. Sam’s response varied from day to day, but more often than not he would just pretend not to hear him. Dean would start the coffee before entering the bathroom, making a scene of batting the steam out of his face, and Sam would have a cup waiting for him when he got out. The coffee was always black, though the sugar content depended on how much Sam liked him that day. 

Mornings had changed very little since moving out to Long Island. He had more time now, but that seemed to be a running theme. Dean still set an alarm every day, even when he had nowhere to be. If there was nothing immediate, he’d press snooze at least once (more often twice or three times), always pleased with himself at the tiny act of rebellion. Dean threw the sheets off and, scratching his stomach, made his way directly to the kitchen to start the coffee. Sometimes, on the days when Sam had something really early, there would already be a pot waiting, but making the coffee still fell to Dean most of the time. 

He checked the cabinet and, finding the tin of Maxwell House empty save for a few grinds, cursed himself for forgetting to pick some up the last time he was at Waldbaums. He saw a small bag of Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut nestled in the back — no doubt a remnant from the last time Sam had done the grocery shopping while they were fighting — and grudgingly measured out three tablespoons. The paper wasn’t on their table yet and Dean took it as a sign that Sam was still sleeping. He opened the fridge and inside found the better half a carton of eggs and decided to use them to make breakfast. He had the time.

Using a fork, Dean dripped the egg into the pan, watching it whiten. He poured the rest out of the bowl, closing his eyes as he listened to it sizzle. He’d always loved that sound. He poured coffee into the mugs they had gotten each other their first Christmas in the house. In the morning, they were one Female Body Inspector, one Handsome Devil.

Dejectedly, he stared at the eggs in the pan. One day he would learn how to make them fluffy. 

Dean heard a door open on the other side of the house and, as he was bringing their food to the table, Sam laid the newspaper in front of him in offering. Dean handed Sam his mug and watched as Sam smiled through heavy-lidded eyes. Wordlessly, Dean took the sports and entertainment sections in return for a plate of eggs and toast. 

When Sam was finished with it, Dean checked the local news section out of habit. He saw a story on the front page — small and printed on the bottom corner — about a woman and her two kids, the three found dead inside their home. Dean followed the story to the fourth page, where he found the rest of the known details — Not very many, he thought — about their deaths. Doors were all locked; the husband had died a year earlier in a car accident his wife had been lucky to survive. A weapon had yet to be identified. Nearly thirty years of training had Dean coming up with possibilities almost immediately — a vengeful spirit was the most likely, he thought, but he wouldn’t rule out a poltergeist or demonic possession. It had probably just been a mother at the end of her rope. Idly, he wondered if the newspaper story would be enough to attract any hunters to the case, and vowed to check it out if he saw another story like it. 

Dean got up, washed his plate in the sink. Sam finished his breakfast and brushed Dean’s shoulder in thanks on his way out, stopping to refill his mug before leaving. Putting the local section aside, Dean started in on the entertainment section, turning to the reviews. He’d been wondering if the new Ridley Scott movie was worth seeing.

*

“I was thinking maybe we should buy another car,” Sam said, returning his coffee mug to the kitchen.

Dean froze and put down the sports section. No good conversation had ever started that way, as far as he was concerned. “What’s wrong with the Impala?”

“Nothing’s wrong with the Impala. I think we should get another car — a second car.”

“A second car.”

“Yes.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know, Dean. Does it actually make sense for us to only have one car?”

“Been working out so far.”

“What if I have something to get to while you’re out? Or what if you’re on a hunt and I want to buy groceries or something?”

“I haven’t been on a hunt in a year, Sam.” It was true.

“Oh, come on, Dean. That’s not the point. I just think it would be more convenient. You wouldn’t have to drive me anywhere. You could finally be free to do your own thing. Whatever you wanted. Why not get a second car?”

Dean didn’t think the offer sounded as tempting as it probably should have. “It’d be your car, Sam. Do whatever you want.” 

“I’m asking you because I want your opinion. I’m not just going to go out and buy a car.”

“You could,” Dean said. It came out sounding more like an accusation than he’d intended.

“But I wouldn’t.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Yeah, Dean, maybe I should.”

Sam got up to do the dishes and Dean knew the conversation was over. He walked to his bedroom, but, looking around, couldn’t find anything to do. He could brood, of course, but that would probably be what Sam would expect him to do (it was definitely what Sam himself would do) and Dean Winchester did not brood. He saw The Theory of Relativity lying on his dresser, Sam’s note sticking out of the top. It made a good bookmark. He couldn’t even read because he didn’t want Sam to know he’d started it.

He doesn’t expect me to read it anyway, Dean thought. He would just keep reading the book every time Sam went out and then shake his head when Sam asked him if he’d gotten around to it. Maybe Sam would be disappointed and Dean would have to watch his eyes grow increasingly dim each time he asked, until Sam stopped wondering all together. 

“He probably won’t even be surprised,” Dean heard himself say to the empty room. 

He gave his room another look and grabbed the keys off his dresser. It had been a while since he’d gone for a drive.

*

He drove into town, made it all the way to Main Street before he remembered there wasn’t really anything to do in East Moriches and it was a little early to stop at a bar, even for him. He passed the sign with the town’s official motto boldly printed on it -- Long Island’s Best Kept Secret! -- and laughed to himself, not a little bit bitter. It was only the best-kept secret because there was no one to tell. No one to tell and nothing to do, Dean thought, immediately feeling bad about it. Note to self: avoid exclamation marks. May cause sudden rage.

He drove down Montauk Highway, just looking at the storefronts. A few stores were getting ready for the summer rush, drab displays being replaced with bold primary colors, small “Now Hiring” signs hanging next to bright yellow suns. He saw a spot open right in front of Moriches Bay Deli and decided to pull in. Thinking — which was markedly different from brooding, of course — was best done over some sort of food and away from the house, where Sam’s thinly veiled satisfaction would be hard to avoid. 

He sat at the counter and saw four half-eaten plates a few spots down, but from what he could see, he was the only person in the place. He ordered a drink and asked the waitress for a burger and fries. When she came back with his Coke, he saw Leah Russell walking out of the bathroom, three kids in tow. Leah and Frank owned the corner house on Sam and Dean’s block, the only other couple on their side of the street that lived in East Moriches year round. Their three kids — a girl and two boys; Dean could never remember all their names — played in the water behind their houses a lot. Dean saw them when he sat on the deck, cold beer in hand. He’d even built sand castles with them once, though he was pretty sure he was more of a hindrance to the kids than any sort of help. The Russells organized a big block party every year for the Fourth of July and had an even bigger annual end of summer party over Labor Day weekend. Sam and Dean were always invited, and Dean and Frank had hit it off immediately when Frank said upon meeting him, “I think having your car on the street raised all our property values. She’s a beauty.” Dean was more than willing to extend respect to anyone who showed a proper appreciation for his baby.

“Mom, can I go get ice cream, please? Please?” The middle one said. If Dean had to guess, he’d say he was around 12.

“Only if you go with your brother and sister,” Leah said, already reaching for her purse. “Just don’t get too much, or none of you will be able to eat dinner, and your father’s cooking tonight.”

“That’s the point, Mom,” the girl replied. 

Leah smiled fondly as she watched her kids walk out of the restaurant, sighing a little, probably in relief. He thanked god he’d never have to deal with teenagers of his own. High school was bad enough the first time. 

Leah noticed him as she turned back to their plates. 

“Oh, hi, Dean. How are you?” She said. She always seemed genuinely pleased to see him.

“Pretty good, Mrs. Russell,” Dean said, giving her his most charming smile and trying to make it reach his eyes.

“Please, Dean, call me Leah. How many times do I have to ask? I’m not that much older than you.”

Dean bristled. She was plenty older than him, thank you very much, but he just gave her a small smile and a nod. “I’ll remember that next time, Leah.”

“Good,” she said. “I think I saw Sam while I was getting ready for work. Well, not Sam Sam. I saw him on the news. I heard he has another book coming out?”

It had been a bit of a shock to the neighborhood to find out that Sam Winchester, author of The Feather to Fly, was the same Sam Winchester who lived three houses down. Dean was still a little surprised every time he found out someone recognized his brother, and that when they did, they didn’t all want to kill him. Granted, with The Theory of Relativity, that was poised to change. 

He wasn’t too sure what demographics even read Sam’s books, but apparently Leah’s book club had read The Feather to Fly the summer before, after seeing it top the charts each week, and they had asked Sam to speak at their next book club meeting when they found out that the author was their neighbor. 

“Yeah,” Dean said, “new book. It comes out in two weeks.”

“We’ll have to make it our first book this summer. Maybe we could even have Sam stop by for the discussion again. If it works with his schedule of course,” she added after a minute.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if he’s in town,” Dean said. Sam had complained for hours about how he was never going back there after his last appearance at their book club — something about how now the neighbors all thought they had a former drug addict living on the block and would look at him suspiciously forever — and it gave Dean no small amount of satisfaction to volunteer Sam for another night of their slow torture.

“Is he doing a lot of press for it?”

“It’s mostly just been local stations. And the national magazines that want to interview him all have offices in the city, so he hasn’t been traveling too much. But he’s been planning his book tour for the summer.”

“Oh, how nice,” she said. “Are you going with him?”

“Uh, we talked about it some, but I’m not sure how interesting that’d be for me.”

“I don’t know, I think it could be kind of romantic to get away for a little while. No one else around, you know? Frank and I would kill for that,” Leah said, signaling for the waitress to bring the check. “I’m sure Sam would love to have you with him, to have a familiar face while he’s out.”

Dean laughed, a hollow sound. “I don’t think a summer on a bus together is what we need. I’d probably just get in the way.”

Leah reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “What are you gonna do for the summer on your own? Any plans?”

Someone was feeling chatty. “Nothing lined up yet, really. I’ve been looking to go back to work.” 

“You could take some classes at the community college,” she suggested. “They actually have a pretty big selection.”

“School was never really my thing,” Dean said. “That was more Sam’s thing. I was glad to be done with it and never look back.”

“Oh, nothing for credit,” she said. “They have a great selection of leisure classes, over the summer especially. Rachel and I did yoga together last year, and I’m thinking of doing an Italian cooking class this time. The girls and I are planning to do it together. We’d love to have you.”

“A cooking class?”

“You know, just to add a little something to our repertoires. We get an excuse to go out every week and the guys don’t complain about staying home to watch the kids, because they get to reap the benefits of it.” Leah seemed to sense his uncertainty. “Unless Sam’s the one who does the cooking? I just assumed… since you and Frank grilled—“

“No, um, we split the cooking,” Dean replied. She was backtracking and seemed embarrassed, but Dean wanted her to know she hadn’t offended him by implying he was the one who cooked. And then it all suddenly clicked for Dean. A hundred insinuations, dozens of casual references, and Dean had never realized that’s what she’d been assuming the whole time. Wouldn’t be the first time, his brain supplied helpfully. 

Taking his silence as her cue, Leah continued.

“Well, definitely let me know if you’re interested,” she said, getting up to go. “I’ll stop by the house with the course catalog.” 

“Sure,” Dean said. “Just leave it in the mailbox if no one’s home.”

“Will do,” she said. 

She turned and waved as she left.

*

A funny thing happens to Sam his senior year of high school. He doesn’t apply to college on a whim or anything. He knows he doesn’t want to live his life on the road forever — frankly, as far as he’s concerned, the sooner he’s done with it the better — and he knows going to school is the only way he’ll ever get far enough to escape it all. College is the only chance he has to make something of himself. 

He applies to no less than a dozen colleges, most of them state schools, but he’ll go anywhere that will take him. He applies across the Midwest — Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin all get applications. There are a few reach schools thrown in too, schools he doesn’t know how he’ll get into and, on the off-chance that he does get in, they’re schools he doesn’t know how he’ll pay for. He can’t exactly see asking John to fill out the FAFSA. It’s not like this whole college thing isn’t a little crazy anyway, so Sam decides not to let cost stop him from trying. This is his only shot. 

He applies to Berkeley and Stanford and even UCLA. He’s going to school to get away and you can’t get much further than California before you drive into the ocean. He picks up two part-time jobs his senior year to help pay for the cost of applications and, on those weeks when Dean is off on a hunt with Dad, Sam eats pasta more nights than not, because that way he always has extra grocery money left over. Nothing pleases him more than using Dad’s money to help him pay for the cost of college, even if it’s just one or two of the application fees.

What’s funny about it all isn’t the acceptance letters; he’s not surprised that he gets into college, or that he finds a way to pay for it. No, what’s funny is that it all goes according to plan. Until Dean.

*

Dean picks Sam up from school April 15th and he’s sure Dean doesn’t realize what the date is. Dean has no idea why Sam’s so anxious that he’s practically buzzing in the passenger seat.

“How was school, Sammy?” Dean asks. 

“Fine,” Sam replies. It’s not like he ever gives a different answer, but Sam thinks asking is a habit Dean will never break himself of.

Dean nods. “Looking forward to the summer?”

“Looking forward to getting out of here more than anything.”

“I understand that,” Dean says. “But I’m sure once you graduate we’ll be packing it all right up anyway. There’s no way Dad will want to stay much longer if there isn’t a reason to.”

“Good for you,” Sam says, unable to keep his annoyance out of his voice, “but I’m talking about getting out out, Dean. I’m going to college, remember?”

Dean’s knuckles clench almost imperceptibly on the steering wheel, but Sam’s been watching Dean his whole life. He knows what to look for, knows every one of Dean’s tells.

“I thought we were over that, Sammy.”

“Maybe you were over it, Dean, but I’ve been waiting to hear back from Stanford since November, and if I’m lucky, there will be a nice, fat envelope waiting for me in the mailbox when we get home today.”

Dean is silent for a moment and Sam wonders briefly if he should say something, but ultimately decides against it. Dean will speak up when he’s ready. Until then, Sam knows to just let him think.

Two blocks from their rented house, Dean finally speaks.

“If you get in to Stanford, are you going to go?” 

“Yeah, Dean, I am,” Sam says, voice quiet.

Dean nods. “You ever gonna call you brother while you’re away?”

“Dean—“

“Nevermind,” Dean says, interrupting Sam before he can get even a word of reassurance in.

“No, come on—“ Sam insists. 

“Sam, really. Leave it,” Dean says.

Sam knows better than to push it when Dean sounds like that. They spend the rest of the drive in silence.

*

Sam gets in to Stanford and even figures out how to pay for it. He gets a scholarship for first generation college students that he had almost forgotten he’d applied for (unlike his college applications, this application was on a whim). John might not have had tax returns Sam could go over to complete financial aid forms, but it wouldn’t be too hard to verify that John Winchester and Mary Campbell had never gone to college, so Sam wrote an essay about all the things he hoped college would help him achieve. Upon reading it again, he realizes that the essay probably made his life sound a little more messed up than he had intended. He and Dean make it work, after all. They always have. 

He doesn’t tell Dad about Stanford because he’s not sure how to bring it up, but he leaves his acceptance letter on the table after he mails in his deposit. Dad will find it when he’s looking through the mail for new credit card applications and they can fight about it then. Sam doesn’t think it’s worth it to start the fight now, when there are months until he’s set to leave anyway. 

Dean’s the only one in town for his graduation, because Dad can’t be bothered to make it back.

“Don’t be like that, Sammy,” Dean says, but it’s half-hearted at best and the withering glance Sam shoots him is enough to shut him up.

“This is my high school graduation, Dean. I know this doesn’t mean anything to you guys, but this means something to me. And Dad should respect that.”

Dean pulls him in for a rare hug and Sam takes a second to just breathe Dean in, the smell of leather mixing with something darker, distinctively masculine and undeniably Dean. To Sam, nothing has ever smelled more like home. 

Sam could lose himself in the moment, and very nearly does until Dean says, “I’m sorry Dad won’t be there, but you know I will. I wouldn’t miss it, Sammy. If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me.”

Sam breathes him in one last time. He’s convinced every time will be the last now. “I know, Dean.”

Graduation itself is pretty boring, but Dean promises to let him get drunk afterward, and even though Sam rolls his eyes, he endures the stifling heat because he’s pretty excited, if only because he’ll get to spend the time with his brother. And who thought having a graduation ceremony outside, while we all have to wear these ridiculous robes in the middle of Indiana in June, was a good idea anyway?, Sam thinks.

*

“I always knew you would leave,” Dean says.

They’ve both had too much to drink, evidenced by the near-empty cases of beer on the coffee table in front of them, and though Sam is curious as to where Dean is going with this, he feels morally obligated to stop him before he says something he’ll regret later. Like when he’s sober. 

“Dean-“

“No, Sam, I really want to say this,” Dean says, looking him right in the eyes. Dean’s own eyes are a little glassy and Sam’s willing to bet it’s not all from the alcohol.

“I always knew you would leave,” Dean begins again, “and I always told myself that if you did, that would mean I had done right by you.” 

Sam doesn’t want to interrupt, but he’s not sure what Dean is trying to say.

“At first, I didn’t know to question it. I did what Dad asked, because that’s what he needed. And then you — you’ve never been afraid of him. And, well, I like to think that some of that was me, because if one of us was doing it right, then the other didn’t have to. Maybe I’m just giving myself too much credit, but whenever I wished for things to be different, I told myself that you’d make it right.”

“Dean—“ Sam feels his eyes water. 

“You don’t have to say anything, Sammy,” Dean says, standing up. He goes to ruffle Sam’s hair, but his hand lingers, carding his fingers through the thick strands. Sam leans into the touch. “I think it might be time for a haircut.” 

Sam hums in agreement, reluctant to pull away from Dean. Dean stops touching his hair and brings his hand down to cup Sam’s face. Sam meets his brother’s eyes — all their shine is gone now, pupils blown wide so only a thin ring of green is visible, but it makes the contrast that much greater. For an instant Sam thinks Dean might kiss him, even tilts his head up in invitation, but Dean looks away as soon as Sam moves.

“Get some sleep,” Dean says, stepping away. He knocks his beer into Sam’s on the table. “And clean up some of this mess.”

*

The next morning Sam wakes up with a killer headache and the sensation that he swallowed twenty cotton balls during the night. Overall, he’s not too much worse for wear. When he finally shuffles in to the kitchen for breakfast, Dean has the nerve to laugh at him as he squints against the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window. 

“Jerk,” Sam says.

“Bitch,” Dean answers instantly. “You’re the one who can’t hold your liquor.”

“Me? I’m not the one using drinking as an excuse to have a chick flick moment.”

Dean immediately tenses up and Sam mentally kicks himself. 

“So you remember that,” Dean says, looking at the counter.

“Dean—“

“Can we not talk about this?”

It’s enough to set Sam off. “You know, I don’t think that’s going to work this time, Dean. We’ve been at this for months. We’ve barely talked all year, you finally give me some clue as to what you’ve been thinking, and now you don’t want to talk about it. Well too damn bad, Dean. You’re not the only one calling the shots here.”

Dean looks up at Sam, surprise clearly etched across his face. It’s not a look he sees often, but Sam recognizes it immediately anyway.

Sam walks toward Dean, steps in the vee between his legs. 

“Sam—“

“You don’t want to talk, that’s fine,” Sam says and leans in to trace Dean’s bottom lip with his index finger, breath ghosting against Dean’s mouth. Dean inhales sharply, breathing Sam in.

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Sam says against Dean’s lips, “but we’re certainly not ignoring it.”

Sam pulls back. Anger made him bold, but he’s afraid he’s gone too far. Something in Dean must snap, because he pulls Sam back in for a kiss, fingers tightening almost painfully on Sam’s scalp. Sam licks Dean’s mouth eagerly, moaning in appreciation when Dean rubs his own tongue alongside Sam’s. 

Sam’s hands are everywhere, but Dean’s are still in Sam’s hair, as if loosening his grip might mean Sam pulling away. Sam pulls back for a moment to tug at Dean’s shirt. He wants it off immediately, wants to trace the freckles he’s seen across Dean’s shoulders every morning for nearly 18 years.

“Not here,” Dean says, catching his breath. “Upstairs.”

Sam goes willingly.

Afterward, Sam rests his head on Dean’s bare chest. He’s tired and sticky and wasn’t sure he’d be welcome, but Dean hasn’t pushed him away and Sam refuses to be the first one to break contact between them. Dean’s drawing designs in the sweat on Sam’s back, already drying under the cool fan, just endless, mindless patterns mapping the distance between Sam’s shoulder blades. 

“I made the mistake of thinking you were mine,” Dean whispers. Sam’s not entirely sure he’s meant to hear it. He doesn’t respond, but he can’t stop himself from thinking, It’s not a mistake.

*

Dad gets back two weeks later and finds the letter from Stanford. The hunt must have gone badly, because he won’t even listen to Dean, just yells at Sam until he’s hoarse. Sam is quiet for longer than he’d usually be — he’s been biding his time for months — but there’s only so much crap he can take before he snaps back. When Sam moves toward the door to go outside and let John cool off, John screams that if he walks out the door, he’s never to come back. 

Sam might not have let the door slam behind him if he’d thought John was serious — if he’d known it would be the last time he would see the inside of that house. 

*

Leah dropped off the course catalog for Suffolk Community College with a note attached that read Dean, Remember what I said about Around the Tuscan Table! It’s on page 55, you should check it out. The girls and I could use a little testosterone. — Leah. Sam would think he was banging the neighbor’s wife (and all her friends) if he saw it, so he quickly crumbled the note and threw it in the trash, immediately feeling pretty smug about avoiding the fight.

See?, Dean thought. Not such an old dog after all.

Dean looked it over while Sam was in the city for a meeting, turning directly to the vocational section. There were music and language classes, even some courses for seniors called the “55 and Up Club.” Dean laughed to himself as he imagined what the classes might consist of with a label like that, and quickly glanced over the ones for kids and teens. He stopped to consider the recreation classes, even checking to see when the sailing courses were being offered. He thought sailing could be good, what with all the water around them. Another emergency skill to have.

When he got to the cooking section, he wasn’t sure what made him stop, but he did. He’d cooked for Sam when they were younger — if opening a can of Chef Boyardee and a bag of Funyuns could be considered cooking — but it was hard to do anything too involved on their budget and with the limited resources provided in a motel kitchen. Once they’d gotten old enough to go out on their own, Dean had rarely bothered with preparing their meals. Why go through the effort when diners were quicker and easier? He’d always kind of missed the feeling that came with preparing meals, with knowing he had helped ensure their survival, even in such a small way. 

And Dean certainly liked eating well enough. He thought he might like learning to make some of the stuff he consumed.

Dean reminded himself to avoid the one with Tuscany in the title. He might be taking Leah’s crazy suggestion seriously, but spending three nights a week over the summer with a group of sexually frustrated middle aged women — women who think you’re fucking your brother, Dean’s brain added — was not how he wanted to spend his time. He mentally crossed out all of the other Italian classes too, just to be safe. 

Dean made a face at “Healthy Cooking” and “Meatless Delights” (the latter of which had “Vegetarian Cooking” printed in parentheses next to it, as if the meatless part hadn’t clued him in), but stopped at “Magnificent Desserts” and “Cooking Under Fire.” Both seemed like classes he could definitely be interested in. He imagined what they might make in a course called Magnificent Desserts. There was no way they could have a whole class about awesome desserts and not learn to make at least one pie. Pie would be awesome. And with a name like “Cooking Under Fire,” it sounded like they might have bombs going off in the kitchen while the students tried to prepare their meals. Dean thought it might come in handy for him if he ever had to cook during a hunt — might be fun just for the action — but when he tried to think of who else that class might interest, he figured his initial conception was probably way off base. Dean decided it was probably a class for mothers, so that they could learn to keep cooking while their kids were interrupting them. Or perhaps one of those tie-in classes, where they tried to get guys interested in the things their wives wanted them to do.

And maybe I should just start with “Basic Cooking Skills,” Dean thought. He probably couldn’t go wrong with that. Dean hoped next semester they offered a class that was all about pie making. It would be seasonally appropriate in the fall, after all.

He began filling out the registration form before thinking it might be best to talk it over with Sam, and then got annoyed with himself for wanting to involve his brother in every detail of his pathetic life. The Apocalypse was over. They were no longer supposed to need each other like that — Dean wasn’t supposed to still need Sam like that. He was sitting at home waiting to ask his brother for permission to take a fucking cooking class and he didn’t even really know where Sam was.

Sam told him they had a few more details about the tour to iron out and not to expect him home before dinner, but that was all he had said. He imagined they were probably trying to find an except from the book Sam could read aloud during his tour. They should probably just call a loss on the whole thing. Dean had finished The Theory of Relativity just that morning and was possibly a little bitter about the fact that Sam hadn’t warned him that he’d written the story of Dean’s twisted love for him. And while Sam was giving warnings, it probably wouldn’t have been too much to ask that Sam make sure Dean understood that he’d be taking liberties with actual events. 

Maybe the fact that Sam turned you into the jealous girlfriend in his last book should have been warning enough that he was not only aware of your inappropriate lust, but was also largely unconcerned with factual accuracy, Dean thought. Sam’s books were being sold in the fiction section.

Disgusted, Dean tossed the course catalog to the side. Nowhere was safe. Even Dean’s thoughts were inclined to take Sam’s side. How was a guy supposed to win at anything if he couldn’t even win inside his own head?

The phone rang as Dean was getting up to put the course book in his room, away from any place Sam would be able to find it before Dean was ready to talk about it. 

“Hello,” Dean answered.

“Mr. Winchester?” a female voice said.

“No, this is his brother. Mr. Winchester is unavailable.”

“Are you not also Mr. Winchester?” she asked. Dean could hear the smile in her voice.

“Uh, yeah, I am. I just meant that I’m probably not the Mr. Winchester you’re looking for.”

“It is Dean, right?”

“Yeah, um, yes, this is Dean.”

“Good. Mr. Winchester—“

“Dean.”

“Dean, I’m Angela Bowen, a reporter with the New York Post. We’re doing an article on your brother, Sam,” she said.

“Yeah, Sam’s not here,” Dean began before she cut him off again.

“That’s fine, Dean. I was hoping I could speak to you for a little bit?”

Dean’s eyes narrowed. “Me?”

“We’re profiling your brother, so it’s more of an interest piece than an interview. Like a spotlight on Sam. We want to talk to people who know him, and you seemed like the obvious first choice.”

“Oh, right, obviously,” Dean said.

“We want to talk about your relationship with your brother a little bit.”

“Uh huh.”

“So is it ok if I ask you some questions, or should I say that his brother couldn’t be reached for comment?”

Dean sighed, knowing she’d cornered him pretty good. He was losing his touch. If she’d read the book, he knew exactly how “no comment” would sound. “No, that would be fine. As long as you know that I could stop answering at any time.”

“Of course, Mr. Winchester. Whatever you want.”

Dean was almost certain she had meant that as a threat. “So, go for it.”

“You’re Sam’s older brother, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“And you guys had an unconventional childhood, right?”

“Are you going to interview me or am I being cross examined?”

“We’re getting there, Mr. Winchester. I’m just laying some of the foundation.”

“You don’t have to remind me, I remember living it.”

“So you did have an unconventional childhood.”

“For certain values of the word unconventional, I guess, yeah.”

“Have you read The Theory of Relativity yet?”

“Just finished it this morning,” Dean said. “I have an autographed copy.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh, yeah,” Dean said. “It took some persuading, but I convinced him I wasn’t going to turn around and sell it on eBay.”

Angela laughed. “Did you enjoy it?”

“I think it’s probably his best work. And I liked it better than The Feather to Fly.”

“But did you enjoy reading it?”

“I thought it was really well done.”

“What specifically did you like about it?”

“Look,” Dean said, “I’m not an art critic. I don’t even have a college degree. I just know what I like and I liked this book. It was kind of awesome — just because I knew I was reading a book my little brother wrote — but it’s kind of tough to get through.”

“What did you think about the controversial subject matter?”

Dean had been instructed by Sam’s publicist on how to answer questions like this one just in case anyone had wanted to talk to him when The Feather to Fly came out. He’d been taught to offer a completely true non-answer, but had never had cause to put his PR training to use. 

“I don’t think it was too shocking. Sam’s never strayed away from ‘controversial subject matter,’ whatever that means. He’s never been one to ignore the gritty stuff in favor of a happy ending.”

“So you think The Theory of Relativity doesn’t have a happy ending?”

“Have you read it? How could it? I don’t think there’s any way for that to end but disaster.”

“Most critics seem to be split on that one, so I think it’s interesting that you think they’re doomed,” Angela replied.

“Yeah, like I said, I’m not a critic. I’m just telling you, I don’t see any way for that relationship to end well.”

“Given the similarities in the novel to your own lives, would you say this book made you question your relationship with Sam?”

“Excuse me?”

“In the book Tom and Sean grow up on the road, Tom goes to college and leaves Sean behind, and then they take a journey cross country to find each other again after their Dad dies. As you said earlier, I believe, you remember living it. My question is, did it make you wonder if Sam was talking about you when he wrote the novel?”

“That’s not exactly how our lives went. This isn’t some kind of a memoir and I never once thought Sam might be having improper thoughts about me, or whatever it is that you’re implying. Sam’s book isn’t real. He made the story up. Had it been autobiographical, you wouldn’t be able to pick it up in the fiction section of a bookstore.”

“So you’re saying that you and Sam are not involved the way Tom and Sean are?”

Dean doesn’t even bother trying to come up with an answer before hanging up on her. He really should talk to Sam before he agrees to any interviews. 


*

Dean slammed the phone down on the cradle and turned to find that Sam had been standing directly behind him, in the doorway to their kitchen. Sam had apparently come in while Dean was on the phone with the reporter, which explained why Dean hadn’t heard him. Sam looked torn between concern and laughter. Dean wondered how long he’d been standing there.

“Long enough,” Sam said.

“Did I ask that question out loud?”

He was pretty sure that was something he’d only said in his head.

Sam shook his head. “I just knew you were thinking it.”

“Guess I won’t bother saying anything then.”

“I hear you finished the book.”

Dean nodded, a little afraid to say anything. He’d told Angela Bowen more than he’d ever wanted to say on the subject.

“I don’t think silence is going to work. Not this time at least. I think it’s time we finally talk,” Sam said, an ironic smile on his face. “Don’t you, Dean?”

Dean sighed. It was pretty hard to avoid Sam when he was on a mission. “Your place or mine?”

Sam finally let laughter win over. “I think it’s best if we do it on neutral ground. Let’s take twenty and then meet me in the kitchen, ok? And try not to look like it’s a death sentence.”

“Why the fuck not,” Dean said, not a little bit defeated. At least he would have time to gather his thoughts. 

*

It takes Jess nearly two years, but she finally figures out what Sam saw in her, what made him cling to her so desperately so early on. She knows she’s smart — even smart for Stanford — and funny in the right company. She’s maybe too tall for average, but with her long blonde hair and light eyes, she knows she’s attractive. Her parents always said any guy would be lucky to have her, and Jess is inclined to agree with them. 

But none of it quite explains why an 18-year-old boy looked at her a year and a half ago like she held his future in her hands, shadowed eyes nearly as afraid of her rejection as they were desperate for acceptance. It takes Dean Winchester driving back into Sam’s life to make Jess see. Dean driving into town is like the last piece of a puzzle; the key in a lock after a thousand failed attempts.

*

Sam’s friend Brady had officially introduced them to each other, but Jess never lets on that she’s been watching Sam since their art history class together the quarter before. She doesn’t even feel a little bit bad about it either — that class had been boring as hell and Sam, all green eyes and that perpetual need for a haircut, had certainly been a nice distraction. They went out for coffee two or three times, and Jess liked him more each time she saw him. The attraction had already been there for her, but there was more to it now. Sam always listened to her when she spoke: she felt like she could say anything to him and he would never judge her or dismiss her opinions. She got an internship at the Cantor Art Museum the summer before their junior year, and Sam spent every summer working on campus. Even though they were both busy, they were also the only people they still knew in Palo Alto, and without their friends around, they got even closer.

Despite all the time they spent together, Jess never felt like she knew all of Sam. She knew everything about his life at Stanford, but very little about what he was like growing up. She thought he might have been a terrible geek in school, with bad skin and pants a few inches too short, but she had found a few scattered pictures around his apartment of his family, and despite a pretty major growth spurt some time during high school, they looked like the perfect family. She was sure that, in this case at least, appearances had to be deceiving. Sam would have talked about them if there hadn’t been something to hide.

“Tell me about your family,” Jess had said one night as they were lying in Sam’s bed together. She had her head at the foot of the bed and her feet in Sam’s lap. 

Sam looked up sharply from the book he was studying from. “What do you want to know about them?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ever talk about them? I don’t even know your brother’s name, Sam.”

“It’s Dean,” Sam said softly. “My brother’s name is Dean.”

“Dean,” Jess said, testing it out. It was a good name. “Tell me something else about them.”

“Not much to tell,” Sam said. 

He didn’t elaborate immediately, but he closed the book he was studying from. Jess knew she had won this time, thought that maybe they were finally going to have the conversation she’d been waiting for. Maybe she would finally understand those parts of Sam he kept hidden from her. 

“My mom died when I was a baby and my dad couldn’t handle it. He was in Vietnam and I guess the stress of her death made him crack a little. He packed Dean and I into a car soon after and we never looked back. I spent my whole life waiting until the next time we would move. Anytime I ever got comfortable somewhere, we’d just pack it in, so I stopped letting myself care. My dad drank a lot and he’d go away for weeks at a time, so Dean practically raised me,” Sam said. “Is that what you wanted to know?”

Jess remembers the way her stomach had clenched at Sam’s words. “Sam—“

“We don’t need to talk about it. I’m ok, obviously. I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?”

Jess thought there was a big difference between “ok” and “here,” but she didn’t call him on it. “Why don’t you ever talk to your brother? I’ve never even heard you say his name.”

Sam took his hands off her feet and looked up at the ceiling, the dresser in front of their bed — anywhere but her eyes. 

“You don’t have to answer that,” Jess hastened to add.

“I called him a few times,” Sam said after another minute. “He calls me too, sometimes. When he’s drunk. He always pretends he doesn’t remember and I don’t want to deal with it, so I let him get away with it.”

Jess waited in silence to see if Sam would say anything else. She hadn’t wanted to risk stopping him before he was done.

“I don’t even know which one of us did more wrong by the other in the end. I think he blames himself and I’m a coward because I let him.”

“Oh, Sam,” Jess had said, unable to stop herself. He looked at her then, as if just remembering that she was in the room too. Sam shook his head and she knew he was done talking. He had squeezed her calf before walking out of the room to let her know that they were fine. She appreciated the gesture. 

*

By their junior year, Jess still has an apartment of her own, but she practically lives at Sam’s anyway. Right before Christmas break she overhears a conversation between Sam and Dean. From what she gathers, Sam is pretty shocked that Dean is calling him in the middle of the day. 

“Here? In Palo Alto?” she hears Sam say. “Why? Is there a hunt?”

She’s pretty sure Sam mentioned something about his dad’s disappearances often being extended hunting trips, so she wonders if Dean’s calling to warn Sam that his father is in town. What he would be hunting in Palo Alto, Jess isn’t exactly sure.

“Um, no,” Sam says into the phone, “I think that would be fine. Yeah, sure, that works. Do you know where you’re going? Uh, alright. Yeah. I’ll meet you then. Sure thing.”

He looks more than a little bewildered when he hangs up the phone. “I have plans with my brother.”

Jess is a little shocked too. “With Dean?”

“That’s the one,” Sam says.

“What are you guys gonna do? Is he coming here?”

Sam almost looks apologetic. “I was just going to meet him at a bar on University. I didn’t want to bring him back here, because I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I haven’t seen him in almost two years, Jess.”

Jess nods. “I don’t think that’s a bad idea.”

He wraps his long arms around her, pulling her into a hug. “Will you be here when I get back?”

“If you want me to be. I can go back to my place if you think you’ll need to be alone.”

“I want you here,” Sam whispers into the top of her head.

If she’s being honest, she had hoped Sam wouldn’t take her up on her offer. She can’t shake the feeling that Sam will need her here, that if she goes home, she’ll miss the chance at learning something about Sam that she rarely has the chance to glimpse. 

“Then that’s exactly where I’ll be.”

He pulls back a little to kiss her forehead and then lets her go. “Thanks,” he says.

Her smile is her only reply.

When Sam comes home, she hears the door open and the sound of footfalls on the stairs — he wastes no time running to his bedroom to find her. She checks the clock and sees that he’s been out for over four hours. She’s lying on their bed studying for the test she has in Late Modern Art the next day when Sam bangs open the door. His eyes shine brightly and his cheeks are flushed. She suspects he and Dean may have done a little drinking while they were together, but it’s not like she hadn’t expected it. 

He strips his sweatshirt and t-shirt off before he even manages to shut the door and Jess gets out of bed to make sure he’s ok.

“I’m fine,” he says, pulling her into a kiss by the neck of her shirt. “I’m fine.”

“Mhmm,” Jess says. She wants to protest, to insist that he can’t be fine, but the way Sam’s thumb is rubbing up her side, coming dangerously close to her breast but never making contact, distracts her. If this is what Sam needs from her now, she can try and force the conversation out of him later.

“Do you want this, baby?” he says.

“Want whatever you’ll give me,” Jess answers, breaking away from his kiss.

Sam’s eyes are predatory and he bites her neck to let her know that he understood her. Jess moans. His left hand slips under her shirt, finally making contact with her breast. He runs the pads of his fingers over her nipple and then pinches it between his thumb and forefinger, making her gasp.

“You like this?”

“More, Sam,” she says, already breathless. 

His mouth moves to the other side of her neck, biting up to her jaw. He traces the line with his tongue, makes his way to her mouth. Sam bites her bottom lip hard enough to hurt and his tongue licks away the sting. He lets her go, but puts his hands on her waist to keep her in place.

“Take your shirt off.” 

She immediately complies and reaches for her panties too, but Sam’s hands stop her. 

“Get on the bed, but leave those on. I want to see how wet I’m making you.”

Jess can only nod in response. She lies back on the bed and pulls her knees up as Sam follows — she watches him watch her. “See something you like?” Jess says.

Sam crawls on the bed toward her, pausing at her feet. He puts each of his hands on one of her knees and says, “Spread you legs for me, baby.”

Jess can feel her face flush as she does what she’s told.

“That’s it,” he says, running his fingers down her thigh. His hands reach her underwear and he pauses to rub her through the thin cotton. “I can feel you.” He slips a finger between her folds, finding her clit. He flicks his finger over it softly, teasing.

“Sam,” Jess moans.

“What is it?” he says, one hand still on her thigh, the other still touching her almost carelessly.

“Touch me.”

“I am touching you,” he says, eyes dark. “Tell me what you want.”

Her heart pounds. “Inside. Touch me inside.”

Sam presses a kiss to her knee and takes his hand out of her underwear. He slips them off her hips and spreads her legs further. Jess can hear her pulse pounding in her ears and feels her breathing pick up.

“That’s it,” he says, “Just like that. Let me hear what I’m doing to you.”

With one hand keeping her thighs spread, he finds her clit again with the thumb of the other hand, starting a circular motion. When she moans, he puts a finger inside her. Jess starts writhing and he adds another.

“I’m going to fuck you,” Sam says, fingers already making good on the promise.

“Please,” Jess begs.

Sam removes his fingers and flips her over, using his hand on her stomach to drag her onto her knees, and slides into her in one stroke. None of this is new, but it’s certainly not the same. He grabs her hips and pounds into her, a relentless rhythm. His fingers tighten with every thrust and she moans when she thinks of the bruises she’ll find as she climbs into the shower tomorrow morning, the apology Sam will lick into her skin. She touches herself while he fucks into her, but eventually gives up and just lets him set the pace. She doesn’t know how long it lasts, but knows he’s close when he starts to lose the rhythm.

“I’m going to come inside you,” Sam says, biting her neck, and that fact alone is still new enough that it drives her over the edge. Sam thrusts again once, twice, and she feels him pulse inside her, collapsing onto her back. They lay there in silence. 

“Mine,” he whispers into the skin of her neck, still on top of her. She hums her agreement, too exhausted to do much more, but as Sam pulls her close, nose breathing in the skin of her neck, Jess isn’t fully convinced she’s the one he was talking to. Sam’s come drying between her thighs, she’s never felt closer to him, nor more like he’s a stranger.

*

Dean spends the first couple of minutes of the twenty Sam allotted him half-jokingly, half-seriously considering writing out a speech of all the things he needs to say. It’s not really his style, but it would ensure that he said all the things he’d been planning. The lesson here is never to talk to reporters, Dean thought. He could have just played dumb forever, but no, he had to open his big, stupid mouth, and now here they were.

Dean kept glancing at the clock on his bedside table, unable to make himself leave the room before exactly twenty minutes had passed, even though he was only succeeding at making himself feel sick. 

Sam was already in the kitchen when Dean got there, leaning casually against the sink. Dean had every intention of being the one to break the silence between them, but once again, it was Sam who made the first move. He didn’t waste any time talking around the subject.

“I probably should have told you what The Theory of Relativity was about,” Sam said.

Dean felt his face flush. “It might have been good to know that you were thinking of telling everyone that I am in big gay love with my brother, yes.”

“I just didn’t want you to — wait. What?”

“You wrote a whole fucking book about my inappropriate love for you and how it’s warped you forever. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you warn me next time you’re planning something like this,” Dean said.

“That’s what the book was about to you?”

Dean stared blankly at Sam. “So Tom and Sean weren’t your attempts at topping some of my worst fake names for us? I mean, really. Sean is only one letter off from Dean. It wasn’t that hard to replace the names as I was reading.”

“But it sounds completely different,” Sam insisted. 

“But it looks exactly the same.”

“I think you’re just looking for it.”

“And now that you wrote The Theory of Relativity about my inappropriate love, half the reporters in the country are going to be looking for it too.”

Sam blinked. “You may have a point.”

“Oh, you think?”

“Believe it or not,” Sam said, “that wasn’t my intention.”

“What was your intention?”

“It wasn’t even about you.”

“I read the book, Sam. I think I understood enough of it to know that’s exactly what this book is about.”

“It is about you, but not in the way you think.”

“I read it, Sam. And sometimes, when I read, I can even analyze what’s on the pages I’m reading. Sometimes all it takes is a GED to figure out what’s going on. You’re going to have a hard time convincing me, as someone who lived through a lot of the shit that happened in your little book, that it isn’t about me — about us. Which, by the way, you clearly weren’t too concerned with accuracy, because I never would have laid a hand on you while you were in high school.”

“The whole book is about me, Dean. About the way I felt about you. It’s fiction.”

“You wrote a book about your fictional feelings for me?”

“No, Dean, that scene is fictional. The book is fictional. Those are fictionalized accounts of what happened in our lives meant to suit my authorial purposes.” 

“Which weren’t to expose the hidden lust you thought I was harboring for you.” It’s not a question.

“I wrote you a fucking three hundred and fifty page love letter, Dean.”

“What?”

“You didn’t ‘ruin me with your love’ or whatever other self-sacrificial martyr bullshit thought you’re having, so you can stop that right now,” Sam said. “I didn’t tell you what the book was about because how the hell do you even say that to someone? I thought maybe you’d never read the book and you’d never know. Maybe you’d wonder why people were giving us weird looks when we went out sometimes, but I’d make some joke about it and you’d say it must be my stupid face, and everything would be just fine. But I’d know that at least I put it out there if you ever wanted to read it.” 

“So you were never going to say anything?”

“You’re miserable here, Dean.”

“What?”

“How was I supposed to say anything when I felt guilty about keeping you here?”

“That’s not right.”

“It’s not like it’s something you can just bring up in casual conversation, Dean. I wrote that whole damn book, and now here we are.”

“Ok,” Dean said.

Sam sighed and looked at his feet, all the fight gone out of him. “Ok.”

“I want to buy this house,” Dean said. He thought it was only fair that he start making a few proclamations on his own, since Sam seemed so hell bent on honesty. “I want to buy this house and I want to redo the deck and paint the porch and fix the front step, because the creaking is slowly driving me nuts.”

“What?”

It was apparently Sam’s turn to be the one who was confused by the direction their conversation had taken.

“I don’t want to rent this house anymore. I don’t want you to keep promising me that we’ll get back on the road, that we’ll go back to hunting — that’s been bullshit since the fist minute you said it three years ago.”

Sam blushed. “Dean, you know—“

“It was never a promise I expected you to keep, Sammy. I know you wanted to be able to mean it and that was enough. I knew that when we moved here, it was what you needed to do and that if you wanted to keep writing, we would probably have to stay. I knew that going into this.”

“But once the book tour is over—“

“I don’t even want to hunt anymore, Sam. Though I would not say no to a road trip. Some place they don’t have any Asian fusion restaurants.”

Sam smiled. “We can do that. We can definitely do that in the fall.”

Dean nodded. “As long as it doesn’t conflict with my pie making class.”

Sam’s eyes widened and he titled his head. At another time, his resemblance to a confused dog might have been funny. Eh, it’s pretty funny now, Dean thought.

“I’m taking a pie making class in the fall.”

“I understood that much,” Sam said. “I guess the better question would have been, ‘Why are you taking pie making in the fall?’”

“Because there isn’t a single place in a twenty mile radius of here that makes a decent piece of pie, Sammy, and you know I love me some pie,” Dean said. “If we’re going to stay, someone is going to have to learn to make pie. And I figure that someone should be me. You know, just something to pass the time.”

“How did you come up with the idea?”

“I got to talking to Leah Russell while she was at Moriches Bay Deli the other day. She told me she and her friends were taking Tuscan Tables or something and invited me along. She seemed to be under the impression that you and I have been, uh, involved this whole time, so she thought I might want to learn some new dishes to have waiting for you when you’ve had a hard day at the office.” Dean shook his head. “She also seemed to think that your job is hard, which makes her 0-for-2 as far as assumptions go.”

“Are you gonna take the class with her?”

“I didn’t even consider it. I am thinking of registering for ‘Magnificent Desserts,’ though. It’ll have to be a substitute until pie making starts. And I did sign you up to talk at their first book club meeting this summer, after they read The Theory of Relativity.”

“That should definitely make for an interesting meeting after they read the book. You know, since we’re involved and all.”

Dean laughed. “That’s what I’m saying.”

“Let’s do it,” Sam said, smiling. “Let’s buy the house.”

“Ok,” Dean said. 

*

Two guys walk into a bar. They’re not the first guys to walk in that night, not by a long shot, but they are the first ones to catch Ian’s attention. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about them, though they don’t quite fit — at least not with the crowd at the bar. The bar is full of regulars: the same college kids that come in Thursday to Saturday and a handful of locals who round out the crowd the other nights of the week. Ian has made his living off watching people; from knowing what they want, knowing how they’ll behave, and knowing if leaving them to drink alone all night or if offering an impartial ear will get him the bigger tip after last call. He watches the two men as they walk through his bar.

They stand close together, bodies turned slightly toward each other, cutting off the rest of the bar. The shorter one looks a little older, but not for any reason that Ian can place. He scans the bar as they walk in, clearly looking for something. At first Ian thinks they might be out-of-towners visiting friends, but when he sees the man’s face light up, Ian knows from the direction the man’s looking that he’s spotted the pool tables.

The taller one shakes his head, smiling fondly as his friend makes his way to the back corner of the bar. Ian’s seen people get pushed around for less. 

“Dean,” the tall one says, speaking only once, waiting for the man to turn around. 

The music is loud and the patrons are louder. Ian doesn’t think the man will be heard unless he yells, but Dean’s reaction is swift. “What is it, Sammy?”

“What are you drinking tonight?”

“Just a beer,” Dean says over his shoulder, eyes still set on the pool table.

Sam walks up the bar, takes a look at what’s on tap. “I’ll have an El Sol, if you’ve got it, and a Miller Light.”

“Sure,” Ian says easily, glancing quickly at Dean, who has already inserted himself into a game of pool. Light beer, Ian thinks, pretty bold statement.

Sam takes a seat when Ian brings over their beers, placing them both on napkins. Ian lets his curiosity get the better of him.

“Where you from?”

Sam looks up sharply and considers him before answering. “All over, really.”

“We don’t get too many imports and you boys don’t look like new students, it being mid-term and all.”

“No, I guess we don’t,” Sam says, a small smile working its way onto his face. “We’re just stopping in.”

“On your way somewhere?”

“We were, I think. Not quite sure where we’re headed now.”

Ian nods, knows better than to press it any further. “Well, there ain’t much to do here.”

“That’s ok,” Sam says after a moment’s hesitation. Ian can tell he’s been caught watching. Sam narrows his eyes. “He’s happy with a couple cold beers and a good game of pool. We’re just taking the night off.”

Ian nods, leaving to take orders from the girls who just sat down at the other end of the bar. Dean comes back over after Sam’s had time to order another Miller for himself. 

“Thanks,” he says, taking a long pull of his beer. 

“No problem,” Sam says.

The sit in silence — Dean drinking his beer, Sam watching. They keep their eyes on the crowd and on the door. Ian thinks they watch people almost as well as he does. 

Sam takes a sip of his beer and Dean orders him another. 

“I’m good,” Sam says.

“You’re ready for another.”

Sam looks at the bottle. “Maybe you’re right.”

“We gonna stay here tonight?” Dean asks.

“I’m fine to drive, if that’s what you want to do.”

Dean considers it. “I don’t know where to go next. We could spend the night.”

Sam nods. “It’s not like we’re doing anything here though.”

“I wanna take some time. There are things I want us to do.”

When Sam nudges Dean’s thigh with his knee, leaning in, Ian turns his head away, busying himself with wiping down glasses. He can’t see them anymore, but he hears them more clearly. The fact that he’s no longer watching makes him feel better about how much attention he’s been paying them. 

“It’s ok to not be ok, you know.”

“I saw a motel right off the exit.”

“Dean—“

“We’ll figure out where we’re going tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to know. We don’t have to know.”

There’s silence for a moment. Straining, Ian hears the hollow sound of an empty bottle being placed on the bar. “Order me another beer when the bartender comes back,” Dean says. 

Ian listens for the sound of the barstool scraping across the floor, as familiar to him now as the sound of running water. He’s heard it all, of course, but he gives Sam a moment before coming back. He takes in the empty bottles.

“Another round?”

“That’d be great,” Sam says, watching the pool tables in the mirror.

When Ian comes back with the drinks, Sam tosses a few bills down on the lacquered wood. He grabs both beers.

“Think I’m gonna go play some pool,” he says. 

“You kids have fun.”

“Thanks,” Sam says, eyes bright. 

Ian watches as Sam walks toward the back of the bar, immediately finding Dean. He watches, smiles as Dean turns around before Sam has spoken a word. He leaves them in peace the rest of the night. He’s seen enough.

Two guys walk into a bar. There’s distance between them; none of it seems to matter. They leave together.

 

 

Epilogue

 

Like Driving A Car At Night: A TIME Magazine Interview with Author Sam Winchester

With the publication of 2011’s  The Feather to Fly , Sam Winchester became one of the hottest names in fiction.  The Feather to Fly , his first novel, spent nearly a year on the New York Times bestseller list, and made a reappearance upon its release to paperback. After releasing  The Theory of Relativity , he’s also become one of the most controversial authors of his generation. Winchester sat down with TIME to talk about his most recent work, his relationship with his own brother, and his plans for the future. 

TIME: When did you decide you wanted to be an author?

WINCHESTER: Being an author was never the plan. I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember, but things happened in my personal life that made that goal seem pretty impossible. When things looked like they might be settling back into some semblance of normal, I lost myself for a little while. I didn’t know what to do. I started writing because it was easy and it killed the time. If my body didn’t have an amazing resistance to carsickness, I might never have written a book. I think almost all of that first book was written in the front seat of my brother’s car.

Let’s get this question out of the way. What made you want to write the gay incest novel? 

You know, that’s not exactly the way the book started out. I had some issues I was trying to deal with and I decided to write some of it down, and before I knew it, I’d written a whole novel. I thought at first that the fact that Tom and Sean were in love with each other would be incidental to the plot — the whole book would be about family and the terrible and wonderful things they do to each other, and the gay thing would just happen to be in the background. More of a “what if” thing than the central story of the novel. But then I realized it would be totally impossible to craft the story that way. The thing that best defines who these characters are is their relationship with each other. Once I recognized that, I knew I had to make their relationship central to the plot.

On the topic of the way the book is formatted, you never tell the story from the older brother’s point of view. I kept expecting it and never got it. Why did you choose to write it like that?

I wanted the readers to be able to make their own minds up about Sean and the way he felt about Tom. I thought really getting into Sean’s head like that would be a little invasive, would put too much of the story on the page. I wanted there to be questions about their relationship — about the ending, and how Sean and Tom do, or don’t, work it all out. 

Who was the hardest narrator to write?

That’s a tough one. I think they all presented their own unique challenges. Like with Tom, I had to make sure I was getting the voices right over the course of his life. The book starts before he’s born and ends when he’s in his twenties, so his voice has to change a lot — and we witness that change on the page — so I wanted to make sure I was never writing him too old or too young, and I never wanted the change to be too drastic. I think there’s a tendency to dismiss teenagers — I know I’ve been criticized for having Tom be a little too sharp — but I think we all forget that we were teenagers once, and though we didn’t know as much as we thought we did, we were paying more attention than the people around us gave us credit for.

But I guess the one I struggled the most with writing Tom's mother. My own mother died when I was really young and I never had any real maternal influences or figures in my life. I didn’t spend a lot of time around girls until college, and they weren’t too concerned with taking care of me, so I had to do a bit of research to get the emotions right. 

What I find challenging about your work — or particularly challenging — is that if you’ve been paying attention, you aren’t exactly sure these two characters could, or should even, be with other people. I found myself rooting for them, but I was definitely a little unsettled. 

I’m glad you felt that way. I did too.

Did you do it on purpose?

On the one hand, why read something if you’re not being challenged in some way? Why stick with the book if you’re not being forced to reconsider something you think you know? So in that respect, I did do it on purpose. On the other hand, I’m not sure these characters would have the same love for each other, or have the same relationship, had they not had the upbringing they did. It makes it safer for the reader in a way. These two have been ruined for other people. Is it sad and upsetting to realize they’ll never have “normal” relationships with other people? Absolutely. But their relationship is really the only thing these two characters know. They’re not as troubled as the audience. [laughs] Well, they’re not troubled by the same things the audience is troubled by. 

Tell us about your writing process.

I don’t really have a set process. I’m lucky because I can write anywhere. When I was in school, my friends were always jealous of me because I could work on my papers at the library, or in my room, or outside. It didn’t even have to be quiet. Just something I learned while I was growing up, I guess. So when I started writing  The Feather to Fly , my brother and I were still kind of living on the road, and I wrote it everywhere — in the car, in motel rooms, in greasy spoon diners. I don’t even think Dean realized I was writing a book until I told him I was going to be published. 

When I started writing The Theory of Relativity though, we had moved to Long Island and writing there was kind of weird for me. It was always so quiet, I actually had a hard time sitting at a table and focusing. [laughs] Who has that problem, you know? But I got used to it, and it helped that the summer started, because there’s always people outside enjoying the beach. I took my laptop out on to the deck and just fell in love with writing there. Whenever I start writing again, I’m sure that’s where I’ll try first. I’m just glad we never set up an office for me. 

You live with your brother, so I have to ask: Does he ever look at you suspiciously?

[laughs] You mean does he ever look at me like he’s wondering if I’m about to put the moves on him? When 
The Theory of Relativity  came out, he looked at me strangely all the time. My poor brother had no idea how to deal with this book at first. But he knows the difference between fact and fiction. He knows what’s real and what’s made up. I mean, he hasn’t threatened to move out yet at least, so I don’t think he’s actually too concerned with untoward advances. 

Tom and Sean’s relationship is very vivid and, especially in the first half of the book, very heart-warming. Was it intentional to turn their relationship around like that? 

Yes and no. Their relationship is supposed to be heart-warming. Sean loves his brother and essentially becomes everything to Tom, but even as it’s tender, it’s at the beginning that things get turned around for them. I intended to have this other element of their relationship be something you could trace all the way through. Do you expect it at the beginning? Of course not. But their warm childhood relationship, in spite of everything they had faced, undoubtedly sets the foundation for the change in their relationship later on in the story. I didn’t want either facet of their relationship to be absent at any point. I didn’t want the tenderness to be gone after it became sexual, and I wanted the reader to be able to look back and say, “Yeah, maybe it was going to happen all along.”

This is your second work and already you’re being labeled as a one-time fluke and the voice of a new generation in literature. How do you deal with that?

God, let’s hope I’m not the voice of a new generation. Can you imagine? Honestly, I think either claim is ridiculous. I’ve given up on trying to keep track of what critics think. It makes me happy when people enjoy what I write, or if they’ve been challenged by it, definitely. Going in to  The Feather to Fly , I wrote for me, I wrote because I had to, because I had no idea how else to make sense of everything. So I took a step back and wrote a novel. With  The Theory of Relativity , I took another step back, distanced myself a little more, and wrote again. I wrote for absolution. I always knew what I was writing wouldn’t appeal to everyone and that has certainly proved true, but it helped me and I know there are people responding to it. That’s what’s important to me. 

My brother has been really protective, I have to say. He’s more defensive than I am. When Newsday panned The Theory of Relativity, he took the review right out of the paper, so as I was trying to finish reading an article from the front page of the section, I turned to page seven and saw it didn’t exist. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened, but I eventually caught on. He likes when reviewers make exaggerated claims like, “He’s the best thing to happen to literature since Nabokov.” He circles them and puts it on our refrigerator. I haven’t decided if it’s encouragement or if he’s making fun of me. Knowing Dean, probably a little of both. 

With the controversy surrounding The Theory of Relativity, you’ve become pretty high profile. What has it been like to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight?

It hasn’t really been too bad. I don’t really get recognized when I go out. I think it’s because people expect the author of The Great American Incest Novel to look more like Stephen King. We do get reporters calling the house and stuff sometimes, and Dean likes to hang up on them. Like I said, he can’t quite shake that big brother thing. That’s been pretty weird to get used to, to think that there are people who want to know more about me, people who have questions about my personal life now. 

The book tour has definitely been the craziest part though. It’s really gratifying to actually get to see the people who have enjoyed my work, but I can definitely say sometimes they get a little excited. I’ve heard more life stories in the past year than I can remember. And it was really strange trying to decide on an excerpt for the reading. I’ve been sticking to one of the opening sections — the first summer Sean and Tom spend with Bobby. I’ve also had to get used to being on my own after living with someone for so long. We talked about Dean coming with me just for the company, but he’s been taking cooking classes and the end of my tour overlapped with his second pie making class.

Second? Like Advanced Pie-making?

[laughs] No, he’s taking the first one for a second time. Pie is one of Dean’s three great loves in this world and I don’t think he’ll ever be good at making it himself. He’s been great at everything else he tried, but pie remains elusive. He’s taken to calling it his “flighty temptress.”

Any plans for the future?

As soon as the book tour wraps, I’m going home.  

Where’s home?

Long Island. We’ve been calling it home since the first book was published. Dean and I recently bought the house we had been renting, but it still needs a lot of work, so we’ll be doing the repairs ourselves for the foreseeable future. Dean inherited this 1967 Impala from our dad — it’s one of his other three great loves — and I bought him all new parts for his last birthday. That was a big project for him, so we’ll probably take a road trip when we need a break from interior decorating. See the Grand Canyon maybe. Somewhere along the way I’ll start writing again and we’ll go from there.