So that was it. Dean stared at the ceiling. It was mostly same as in the other forty-three master bedrooms in town. The whole community had been built by the same developer: there were six layouts, three wall materials, two kinds of roofs, and twenty-eight other women among the owners, twenty-seven of whom he'd already slept with, some more than once, before getting to Mrs. Ballantine.
She was sitting up and patting her grey hair with an uncertain, nervous expression. She hadn't been the best, Dean thought clinically, but she definitely hadn't been the worst, either. And it'd taken him a full sixteen go-rounds to find a way to talk her into it, which put her up pretty high on the overall rankings.
"I'm sorry to—" she said, faintly. "Would you—I'm sorry—it's just, my husband—in half an hour or so—"
Actually, Mr. Ballantine would be back in about five minutes, Dean knew: he came home from work early today because of a small trash can fire in the office. Not that it would matter in the long run. Sometimes Dean stuck around for the husbands, just for the sake of what little adrenaline the fight would dredge up, if they were assholes who deserved it, but there was no reason to put the Ballantines through that. He got up out of bed and pulled on his jeans and his shirt. "I'll see you around," he said.
"Yes, well," she said, still staring at him like she couldn't quite believe what she'd done.
Dean tossed her off a salute and opened the window and jumped out, ignoring her gasp behind him. The two-story drop jarred his knees, and he tumbled a little and tore a hole in his jacket, but it'd be okay by tomorrow. He passed Mr. Ballantine on the sidewalk and gave the guy a friendly wave, "How's it going?" Mr Ballantine raised a hand back, vaguely puzzled expression.
Dean stopped in the main intersection of the community and looked down the block at Tina and Jessie Murray playing street hockey with Wesley Peters and Mei Chang. The Murrays were going to win four to three when their mom called them in for dinner, unless Dean went and gave Mei a pep talk that made her score a couple goals.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned away, onto the main road that ran from the gatehouse to the lake. LAKEVILLE LANES! Your Sanctuary From The World! the sales billboard by the entrance read, framed by smiling families and houses surrounded by autumn trees. There weren't that many trees around the houses, though; they'd mostly been bulldozed out of the way. But the developers had kept a fringe of woods all around the community and the far side of the lake, on a strip of ground too narrow to build on. Dean had gotten to know it pretty well. They'd walked the whole length of it inch by inch, trying to get out.
Sam was sitting on the dock jutting into the lake with his feet hanging over into the water and a bucket of fish next to him. He pulled it over to make room as soon as Dean walked out onto the dock. Dean opened his mouth and shut it again without asking "How're they biting?" He knew how they were biting. It was always out of the same group of sixteen fish, and one occasional frog.
"Pineapple and cayenne pepper tonight?" he said instead, putting down the can and the spice bottle; he'd snagged them out of Mrs. Ballantine's kitchen during the work-up to the seduction.
"Yeah," Sam said listlessly.
Dean glanced at him. "Something wrong?"
Sam looked down at the fishing pole. He'd started out stealing Mr. Thow's super-deluxe rod and fly-fishing kit out of the guy's garage, along with three books on fishing. Now he was down to using just a stick and some thread and a hand-whittled hook. "Rachel told me to leave her alone," he said.
"Huh?" Dean said, blinking.
Sam's mouth twitched, trying to put together a smile. It didn't work out. "She, uh. I guess I freaked her out a little. She thinks I'm some kind of stalker."
"Oh," Dean said. "Well, you've known her—uh—" he hurried on; they hadn't counted up how long it had been in days, and he didn't want to, either. "You've known her a lot longer than she's known you."
"Yeah," Sam said.
Dean shrugged and bumped shoulders with him. "Dude, let it go. Tomorrow's a new day."
"You don't get it," Sam said. "It's just going to get worse. I mean, there's no point if—if I'm always pretending I don't know—if I'm lying to her all the time, and we're never getting anywhere new—" He stopped, and said quietly, "I thought about telling her the truth."
"She's not gonna believe you," Dean said.
"I could convince her," Sam said. "But I'd have to do it every single day. And every time it'd freak her out, and she'd just—" He stopped and shook his head. "I wanted—I thought I could get to know her, but I haven't. I've studied her, but that's not real. We're not friends because I learned how to play her like a violin. If we got out of this loop tomorrow, and she never saw me again, she wouldn't remember me. Except maybe as a creepy guy who tried to mack on her once. There's no point," he repeated. "There's no point to any of this. "
He sounded so defeated and flat that Dean started to get worried. Sam had gotten him really scared once, after they'd spent Christ knew how many rounds trying to bust out and they'd come to the end, tried everything they could think of and then some. The days had started to blur together, and they'd taken a few days off here and there to stretch out the last faint hopes, and then one day Dean had found Sam looking at his gun, considering.
"No," he'd said, "no fucking way, Sam, don't you even goddamn think about it—"
"And what if there's no way out?" Sam said. "Dean, what if we never—"
"We're not there yet, by a long shot," Dean said, and took the gun out of Sam's hands. "Okay, so just banging on the walls isn't getting us out. We need to get to know the place, know everyone in it—"
He'd figured that would mash Sam's buttons anyway, and a little fast talking had got Sam with the program. It had been working pretty well for a while, and Dean had even nudged Rachel at Sam and stayed strictly hands-off with her, and since she was the third hottest chick in the place that had been a real noble gesture. But if that was falling apart—
"Look," Dean said, "maybe she just wasn't the one, you know? Hey, how about Alexis in 481 Beech, with all the crystals and the aura stuff. I bet she wouldn't get freaked out, she'd just figure you're her soulmate or something—" Also she was more than happy to try anything at all in the sack, not that Dean was going to mention that little fact to Sam right now—
Sam laughed, short, like it hurt. "Right, so I can learn how to manipulate somebody else. You're talking about her like she's in the window at a shopping mall—"
Oh, Christ. Dean rolled his eyes. "Dude, if you don't want it, forget it; if she doesn't want it, forget it. Otherwise, everybody has a good time, everyone goes to bed happy. Anyway, Sam, it doesn't matter. Reset in the morning, it never happened, so—"
"So why bother in the first place?" Sam said. "Dean, don't you get it—that's the problem. It doesn't matter, none of this matters—none of this is real." He ducked his head a little, smiling, weird and hard and unamused. "Maybe you're not real."
"Uh, excuse me?" Dean said.
"Maybe this is all just a—a hallucination," Sam said. "Maybe I'm going crazy somewhere on the outside, and I'm just trapped in my own head—"
"Dude!" Dean said, pissed off. "I'm right here!"
"That's what you'd say if—"
Dean shoved Sam into the lake, and dumped out the bucket of fish on top of him, which felt great for about thirty seconds, and then Sam quit spluttering back up and just let himself—"Goddammit, Sam!" Dean yelled, and dived in after him. The lake wasn't that deep here, but dark and cold with the sun already mostly behind the trees, and Sam's face with his eyes closed was slipping away into green dark. Dean grabbed him by the shirtfront and kicked furiously back up to the surface, Sam coughing helplessly as they broke out into the air. Dean hooked an arm around Sam's neck and dragged him to the shore, heaved them both out over the mossy rocks. He shoved Sam up the pebbly gritty beach, hard, and flopped over onto his own back panting.
"God fucking dammit," he said finally, just a warmup, but when he rolled over to really give it to Sam, Sam was huddled up in a miserable wet ball, already cold and shivering, hair plastered down all around his face and his mouth just hanging slack and helpless. "Sammy," Dean said, more gently, and crawled over to him.
"I can't—" Sam said, "I can't keep—"
"Okay," Dean said, and he put his hand out slowly, half-cautious, and put it on Sam's back. Sam didn't jerk away, and Dean rubbed his back up and down a little. "Okay," he repeated, trying to be soothing.
"Maybe nothing would even happen," Sam said after a minute. "That one time Pat Lennox had the heart attack—"
"We're not taking the chance," Dean said. "They're the ones looping, we're just stuck on the track." Sam twitched a little. "Goddammit, Sam, yeah, we're stuck. I'm not a freaking figment."
Sam still had his head bent, that dull, hopeless look in his eyes. He didn't say anything. Dean swallowed and said, "I was the one who slashed the tires."
"What're you talking about?" Sam said, without much interest.
"In Liscomb," Dean said. "That town in Iowa. Day we were supposed to leave—"
That at least brought Sam's head up sharp. "What? Wait, what, you—" His eyes got huge. "You slashed the tires?"
"Yeah, well," Dean said, uncomfortably. Saying it out loud made him feel like maybe Dad was going to rise up from beyond the grave and beat the hell out of him belatedly.
"But," Sam said, helplessly, "but you wanted to go, you were psyched for the hunt—I was the one who wanted to stay—"
"I didn't want to be stuck with you bitching all five hundred miles in the car," Dean said.
Sam paid no attention, not even enough to pause. "Holy shit, you totally lied to Dad—"
"Okay, whatever, point is," Dean said, "not in a million years would you've come up with—"
"So why?" Sam interrupted. "Why did—you did it so I could go to the—? But you thought the dance was stupid, you gave me shit for it the whole week after—"
"Goddammit, I thought you were gonna get laid," Dean yelled. "You kept moaning about how you couldn't ditch whatsername, Lynn, the day before, how freaking important it was, and then you got home at ten and you didn't even get to second base—"
"Dean! I don't believe you! I was fifteen!"
"I got it done by fourteen," Dean said. "How the hell was I supposed to know you were planning to wear white to the wedding? Seriously, I still can't believe you bitched like that just because you couldn't go to a freaking sock hop and drink hawaiian punch."
Sam made a face. Then he put up his hand and wiped away water from his eyes, dragged his wet sleeve across his forehead, not really a lot of help, and sighed. "All right," he said, after a minute. "Fine. I never would've come up with that."
"Thank you," Dean said, and slumped sitting next to him.
After a minute, Sam looked over at him. "Seriously, you're not just making this up?"
"Dude," Dean said. "I was scared shitless for a month after Dad was gonna find out. I even threw away the knife I did it with."
Sam sat there silently, and then he repeated, "You slashed the Impala's tires just so I could go to a school dance."
"There was a new set of white wall tires on sale at the garage," Dean muttered defensively.
"Okay." Sam huffed a little laugh. "Thanks."
They sat staring out across the lake while the sun ducked down behind the trees on the far side. "Listen," Dean said finally, after it was dark. "We're gonna take a break."
Sam raised his eyebrows. "From what?"
"From everything," Dean said. "From everybody else. Look, this isn't so bad. There's the model house, nobody's there all day. We'll figure out how to crack the alarm system, get comfortable, pick stuff up around the neighborhood. It'll take us half an hour each morning, we'll get set up, settle in—What? Dude, you're the one who always had a hard-on for living in a place like this."
"We're not living here, Dean," Sam said. "We're just—"
"Come on, we'll get ourselves some food, whatever we're in the mood for—pick up some books, some movies. What else would you be doing?" Dean said, waving a hand around at suburbia as the crickets started chirping chirpily. "Not hunting zombies, that's for sure."
Sam opened his mouth and shut it again, helplessly.
"Yeah, see," Dean said. "Let's go. I'm hungry, and my ass hurts sitting on these rocks."
"Hey, I'd caught us dinner," Sam said, but he let Dean pull him up.
The reset happened at 3:26 AM by Sam's cellphone clock. They'd tried fighting through it over and over, but it didn't make a difference. Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, when the clock ticked over they were gone, and Dean would wake up at 8:39 AM, back in the model house where they'd been squatting, crashed out next to Sam on the flowery quilt on the king-size in the master suite. They'd gotten into the habit of going to sleep there too: made it feel just a little more like a new day.
This morning he yawned and rolled over onto his side, and they slept in until 10. Around then Mrs. Lippin started vacuuming upstairs, and they could walk in the back door and raid her giant Kitchen-Aid fridge for eggs and bacon and OJ, borrow the toaster and some plates and cutlery. Dean fried it all up and Sam made coffee and put out the plates in the eat-in kitchen with its aggressively cheery Laura Ashley curtains and sturdy oak table and cushioned chairs. "Those have got to go," Dean mumbled a mouthful of toast and scrambled eggs, pointing at the curtains.
"Huh?" Sam said, looking up at them.
"Dude, it's floral print," Dean said.
"Since when do you care?"
"Since it's our place," Dean said. "What'd you think of those green ones, upstairs at 215 Laurel?"
"Uh," Sam said, "yeah, sure, I guess," so after they cleaned up they went and got them and put them up. "We're just gonna have to redo this tomorrow," he said, looking up while Dean worked on getting the curtains straight.
"So?" Dean said. "Takes ten minutes all told, now we know how. You got something more urgent to do?"
"Okay, okay, fine," Sam said. "I'm just saying—"
Dean jumped down from the sill. "There. Come on, tell me you don't think that's better."
Sam looked up, and then he shrugged a little, helplessly. "Yeah, I guess."
"Awesome," Dean said, rubbing his hands together. "So come on, what do you want to do? Want to pick up some books or something?" He had to keep Sam moving. Sam moving wasn't thinking, or at least not as much; wasn't moping himself into something Dean couldn't protect him from.
They snagged a shelf-ful of DVDs and the flat-screen TV and Playstation 3 from 73 Maple, where the family was out of town. "We could just play here," Sam said, but he didn't argue a lot when Dean insisted. They lugged it all across the yard and set it up in the living room. Then Sam even went out on his own and brought back microwave popcorn and rum and coke—okay, so he wanted girly drinks, whatever, Dean could deal—and some big pillowy floor cushions from Lisa Tangier's den.
They took turns playing Oblivion for a while, and then switched to a two-person racing game. Dean flipped through every available car until he found one as close as he could to his baby and picked black. Sam rolled his eyes and went with a hilarious electric-blue dune buggy that Dean made fun of nonstop until the race started and five seconds in the buggy bounced right over a mud puddle and the car got stuck. "Oh, somebody didn't want to bother reading the manual," Sam crowed, and zoomed off ahead while Dean was still trying to figure out how to reverse. He won by about a minute and a half, and refused to play again just so he could lord it over Dean.
"Fine," Dean said. "Winner makes lunch. I want Indian."
Sam had already opened his mouth to argue, but his forehead wrinkled, successfully distracted. "You want what?"
"Curry, vindaloo, whatever," Dean said. "There's the Gupta family down on Willow, you can pick stuff up there."
"I don't know how to make Indian food!" Sam said.
"Good time to start figuring it out, then," Dean said, and shoved the Oblivion disk back into the game drive.
Sam muttered, but he went out and then came back with a couple of bags full of stuff and a cookbook and started banging around in the kitchen. It got a little scorched-smelling by the end, but it went down easy with rice and beer, and Sam had some yellow curry sauce clumped in his hair and hadn't noticed it yet, so Dean was pretty satisfied.
"Not bad, Sammy," Dean said.
Sam was nudging a couple last pieces of chicken around on his plate. He said softly, "I did some cooking, back at Stanford."
Sam shrugged a little. "Cheapest way to eat was this off-campus co-op I found out about—it was about thirty of us, everybody chipped in, worked three nights a week. I only did clean-up to start, but, uh, Jess was on cooking detail, so—"
"Sammy, you sly dog," Dean said, proudly. "That how you guys met?"
"No, we—" Sam paused, fork held over his plate, and then his mouth quirked a little and he said, "I'll tell you tomorrow."
Dean blinked, and then he got it, and he looked down at his plate and tried not to be obvious about heaving out his breath with relief. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, do that."
Dean had four years of hunting and scoring to tell Sam about, going into loving detail about the good parts until Sam yelled, "Dean, I seriously don't want to know!" and threw pillows at him. Sam told him about classes, made Dean read the books from his English Lit classes and discuss them, Jesus. That turned out okay once Dean got the hang of the whole analysis jargon out of self-defense: then he just took the stupidest position he could think of and defended it. It was awesome, it drove Sam completely up the wall.
Sometimes, not as often, usually when they'd gone out for a walk and were lying out by the lake—the spot where you could just barely see a slice of hilltops out past the forest, the late afternoon sun heating up the air, their bellies full and both of them half-drifting—then, sometimes, Sam would start talking about one of his friends. His voice would get soft and torn, and Dean's stomach would clench up, except he wanted every word—he wanted to know that Sam, the one who'd been happy and safe and had everything he'd ever wanted.
Sometimes Sam didn't talk, though, and some of those times, without thinking about it, Dean's mouth would open up and he'd find himself talking about Dad. Sam would roll up on his elbows next to him to listen, looking down at him. Dean didn't look back, just kept staring up at the clouds he knew by heart, and let the words climb up out of him. He told Sam about Dad teaching him how to take care of his weapons, how to shoot, how to hunt—stuff Sam hadn't gotten until years later and not as hard, because that had been Dean's job, helping Dad to keep Sam safe, and that meant keeping Sam innocent for long as they could.
And then one day they were lying in the sun and they'd had Mexican for lunch, hot as they could make it, and he felt like he was sweating through his skull, and when Sam said, "I don't get why he told you and not me," Dean heard himself say, "He loved you better."
He shut his mouth on it, but it was too late. Sam was reaching for him, but Dean rolled up sitting and onto his feet, walking away, and fuck, fuck, he couldn't—he couldn't lose it too, if he started losing it in here, he was going to pull Sam right down with him. "No, I don't," Dean said over his shoulder, trying to make his breathing even out; he was panting like he was getting ready to sprint for his life and he couldn't stop it. "I don't mean that. I pushed, that was all. I remembered Mom, I kept asking him where she was. I knew he didn't want to talk about it, I knew, I just—I couldn't help—" and Sam's hands were on his shoulders.
This was fucking bad, this was a disaster, and he had to shake Sam off and get a grip, except he was six years old again with the smell of alcohol in his face, huge hands gripping his shoulders, and Dad was screaming at him, telling him a monster had taken mom, a monster had taken her and was going to take him, take Sammy, if Dean didn't listen, didn't—
"Dean," Sam was saying, and Sam was pulling him down to the grass—Dean tried to fight it, but Sam just clung on and tipped them both over into the grass, and then he threw a leg over Dean's flailing attempt to kick loose, and wrapped Dean up tight and held him in close, and whispered stuff that didn't make any sense, just "Dean, Dean, 'm here," over and over, and Dean put his arm around Sam's neck and pressed his face up into Sam's shoulder and let it crack out of him like water running, even though he knew he was so fucked, because he was never putting this back together again.
Sam didn't want to let him go until Dean finally shoved him off hard enough to make him fall back flat, and stood up. "I'm going for a walk," Dean said, and went into the forest. It got quieter the deeper he went into the trees, the old dark branches closing ranks against him, needles underfoot soft and silent. They prickled through his shirt, tore at his jeans, but he kept pushing in, even though they'd tried this a hundred times, a thousand times maybe, trying for a weak spot with the sharp crisp smell of evergreen choking him and the feeling of hands gripping his shoulders.
He ripped at the trees and the branches, felt his nails tear and break, but it didn't matter, none of it mattered. Blood was trickling down his neck. The cover overhead was so thick the sunlight was going, last rays vanishing while he shoved and kicked in. They'd gone in here with axes, with fire and chainsaws, even tried driving the Richardsons' Hummer straight through. It always happened the same way, the forest growing into his path, everything around him getting darker and darker. He was all in darkness pretty soon, blood and sweat and pine stinging in his eyes and bitter on his tongue, but he kept going. In eight hours he'd wake up again anyway, like he hadn't even tried at all.
He couldn't stop being angry, after. He didn't know why he hadn't remembered it before. He hadn't thought about it for a long time. Now he couldn't quit thinking about it, and it kept him pissed all the time.
He woke up with his jaw already clenching up and went to sleep wound tight as wire, and Sam lay quiet and carefully still next to him, curled up away and small. Dean knew he was being an asshole to Sam. He'd snap at anything Sam said, avoided him for half the day or more, left him alone and went back out into the neighborhood—fucked one of the women or another, the easy ones; he'd have dinner with them, drink a bottle of vodka and come stumbling back into the house in the dark, ten after three, and throw himself down next to Sam just in time to shut his eyes and wake up again.
He knew he was being an asshole. Sam couldn't handle it on his own in here; Sam was already on the edge, not talking to anyone else and acting like he'd been shut up in a coffin, but Dean couldn't stop. Dad wasn't there to be pissed at, so Sam was the only one left. Sam, who'd walked out on him, who'd gone after everything Dean had never even gotten to try for, taking away everything Dean had sweated and cried and bled to protect. He wanted Sam to get mad back, so he'd have an excuse to unload on him. Dean thought about it calculatingly, sometimes. It would reset anyway, so he wouldn't have to hold back the way he always had, going easy on little Sammy, even after little Sammy wasn't little anymore. He could just—he could just pound Sam, show him how little those five inches were really worth against someone who fucking knew what he was doing because he'd been working at it all his life, because Dean had had a job to do, to take care of the little ungrateful spoiled shit Dad had always coddled and protected—
But Sam wouldn't get fucking mad. Sam just answered him with a soft voice, open hands, backing off far as Dean would push him. Dean got so fucking pissed that finally he spent a few days and bagged Rachel after all. He talked her into sneaking into the model house with him, and he took her upstairs and fucked her on the king-size, noisily, knowing Sam was downstairs listening. He left the sheets messed up and sticky and didn't bother getting dressed again after she left, just pulled on his boxers and went downstairs.
Sam was sitting in the kitchen with a beer, staring at it. Dean went by him and went to the fridge, and Sam said, thank fucking God, Sam said, "Dean," with his voice hard and tight, and maybe now, finally, and Dean's hand was already curling into a fist, and then Sam said, "Dean, I'm sorry, I know—you've earned it, and I'm trying to give you the time—" and Sam was crying when Dean turned around.
"You think you're giving me anything?" Dean said, snarling—fucking weepy bitch, getting snot all over himself instead of just fucking standing up—
"I know it's not fair," Sam said, "but I can't, I can't—if you keep hating me, I can't do this—"
"Maybe that's not my problem anymore," Dean said, and it tasted good in his mouth, almost like throwing a punch. It was as close as he was going to get, anyway, so he took himself a beer and went back into the den and shoved a movie into the DVD player Sam had hauled over that morning, along with the TV and the curtains.
The next day he went out early, leaving Sam stretched out asleep on the bed behind him. In the mornings Sam looked peaceful and well-rested, hand on his stomach, long legs stretched out, taking up too much room in the bed like he had a right to his space and Dean's too. Dean could wake him up with an elbow or a shove and Sam would pull back in like a turtle soon as he opened his eyes, but right now all Dean wanted was to get away from Sam looking like that. He walked a circuit of the neighborhood and got back to the house. The Laura Ashley curtains were still in the windows and there wasn't a TV in the den, and upstairs Sam hadn't gotten out of bed. Dean glanced in just once and saw him curled on his side.
He was still there when Dean came back that night, and he didn't get out of bed the next day either, or the one after that. Then he stopped even changing positions, just lay on his back staring at the ceiling, blank-eyed; and after a few more days he stopped even opening his eyes. It took Dean a while to realize that Sam wasn't moving the whole day. Sam didn't lose weight. He didn't starve. Every morning he was there looking just fine. He just didn't move or speak or do anything, and finally Dean threw a glass into the sink and went back upstairs after breakfast and snarled, "All right, jackass, get the fuck out of bed."
Sam didn't even twitch. Dean shoved him and he was dead weight, lying there eyes closed, and when Dean peeled back his eyelids roughly, Sam's pupils didn't focus on him. "Fuck you," Dean said, dragging him out of bed and dumping him on the floor. "Fuck you, Sam, you don't fucking get to—" and Sam still wasn't moving, just lying there in a rag-doll heap the way Dean had left him, nobody home, and a pounding started in Dean's head, scared drumming beat echoing inside him from his chest.
He hauled Sam into the bathroom and dunked him in cold water, tried slapping him, hard enough that the fifth time there was blood on Dean's fingers and Sam's mouth, staining the water pink. "No," Dean said. "Sam. Sammy." He pulled Sam down the stairs, heels thumping, and dragged him outside into the sun and left him there. Bob Grossman's garage had most of a disassembled car in it, spare battery and wires and everything, and Dean shoved it into a trash bag and lugged it back to the yard.
"Last chance, Sammy," Dean said, swallowing, looping the wires around the terminals. Sam was still dripping wet from the bathtub, and Dean stretched both Sam's arms out down along his sides. "I'm seriously gonna do this, dude, so you better wake up."
Sam still didn't move, and Dean checked the wires, got a spark and clenched his jaw, and put them down to Sam's thumbs. The shock made Sam's whole upper body twitch and jump like a marionette, sick spastic jerking that made Dean's throat tighten up, because it was like—it was like—"Don't you fucking do this to me," he said, and hit Sam again. Sam made a low faint noise somewhere in his throat, but he still didn't move.
Dean yanked Sam's shirt open and shoved his t-shirt up to his armpits. In fifteen minutes Mrs. Calander was going to come by walking her dog and see them, and he didn't fucking care. He shut his eyes and put the wires to Sam's nipples, and Sam made another small painful noise, nothing coherent, but his hands twitched upward protectively. "I'll do it again, Sam, fucking bitch, you don't move—" Dean said, raggedly, and Sam—Sam was finally moving, slow and clumsy like he'd forgotten how but moving, trying to curl on his side, low trapped animal sound down in his throat, and Dean dropped the wires and pulled Sam up to him. "Sam, Sam, come on, Sam—"
Sam didn't talk for another week, although he sat up and moved and ate what Dean put in front of him, Campbell's Alphabet and Chef Boyardee. Dean talked for both of them the whole time, running commentary, telling Sam what their neighbors had been doing, making shit up like they weren't doing exactly what they'd been doing the last ten thousand days all the same. He didn't leave Sam alone for a minute: as soon as his eyes opened he was shaking Sam up and awake and out of bed, downstairs for a walk around the block, back to the kitchen to eat, back outside again—kept Sam moving all day, until it was nighttime and he took Sam back upstairs and lay down with him, his arm around Sam's chest and his throat raw because he was still talking the whole time.
"I'm sorry," was the first thing Sam said, whispered to Dean in the dark, five minutes to midnight when Dean's voice had given out. Dean let out a breath he'd been holding maybe for a week or maybe twenty years, and he used it to say, "Sam."
Sam got steadily better after that. Nothing had gone wrong with his body, snail-shell still in top working condition even if the snail had gotten seriously fucked up for a while. Dean felt the same way. He could bounce up in the morning on a dime, even if by the end of the day he felt like somebody had been beating on him with a sledgehammer, every joint aching. He wasn't angry anymore, but he still felt hollow, like someone had scooped out his insides and replaced his bones with dry wood, and he'd break if somebody pushed him the wrong way.
They didn't forage out much anymore. They slipped through the neighborhood like ghosts themselves, picked up food and took it out to the lake shore and spent the whole day there together. They sparred a little to work up enough of a sweat to make it worth swimming, and then they crawled out and lay on the grass naked and damp to dry off in the sun. "He did the best he could," Dean said, finally.
"Don't," Sam said. "Don't you defend him, Dean, not right now. I don't care if it's true. It wasn't good enough."
Dean shut his eyes. "I can't—"
"Yeah, you can be pissed at him," Sam said. "We're on our own now. It's just us. He's not gonna come back and save us no matter how big a hero he was."
"Save us," Dean muttered, and sat up with his arms propped on his knees, looking around. The houses stood in their neat rows, a few curved streets put in because someone had told the developer that made people pay more. There were fluffy white clouds overhead, blue sky, and nothing but the old, dark evergreen forest behind them. "Doesn't look like safety's the problem."
Sam's mouth quirked a little. "It kind of is. Long as we kept moving—"
"Yeah," Dean said.
He didn't feel stir crazy anymore. Mostly he just wanted to lie in the sun and sleep all day, Sam in arm's reach, roast beef sandwich for lunch, nothing he had to think about. Sam seemed to be down with that plan too.
Slowly they got back into the habit of trading stories, except now they weren't about the years Sam had been gone or too young, but the years in-between. The two of them alone together more often than not, Dad out hunting and training them when he was around, standing back while they sparred and ran and shot. They knew all the everyday details, the places they'd lived, the schools they'd gone to, the food they'd eaten, but Sam told Dean about the kids in Belleview that had gotten on his case, and the librarian who always gave him an extra glass of milk and a plate of cookies when Sam crept in at recess to hide out.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Dean demanded. "Dude, for that matter, why didn't you beat the crap out of them? Don't tell me you couldn't take a few punks, even at twelve."
"And then everyone would be watching out for me," Sam said. "They'd look at me and I'd be a fighter, someone they were afraid of."
"Damn straight," Dean said.
Sam shrugged. "Anyway, I liked the cookies."
Dean told Sam about the cheerleader who'd sneered a no at him in Bret's Folly, back when he'd been thirteen. "I asked her why, and I didn't have the right jeans or something stupid-ass like that, I don't even remember," Dean said. "First and last time I tried to date. Man, I was glad when I got old enough to make it with girls who were looking for only one thing."
"So that was it?" Sam said. "You got shot down once and—"
"Hey, I get shot down plenty," Dean said. "Even Mighty Casey strikes out once in a while, dude. All I'm saying is, I don't waste my time with chicks who're looking for more than I've got."
"I had more time to waste when I didn't have to be looking out for your sorry ass," Dean said, looking away. Sam could read that any way he wanted. "And you saw how great that worked out. Look, Sammy, it's just not gonna happen that way, not as long as we're hunting." Sam looked at him. "What? We'll get out of here."
Sam laughed a little and let his head droop. "You seriously think so?"
"Sure I do," Dean said. "We're just catching our breath. We'll get back in the game soon."
"Yeah," Sam said, "sure."
Dean turned his head and looked back at the stupid sleepy neighborhood. "This getting it out of your system, at least?"
"This isn't what it'd be like for real," Sam said.
"Close enough," Dean said. " The same people saying the same things, day in and day out—that's the rat race, that's how it goes."
"Our own place for real," Sam said quietly. "Furniture we picked, food we bought at the store, stuff we wanted—"
"How much stuff do you need? You can't get off your ass to pick up a TV in the morning these days."
"It's not the things. It's knowing that if I go out in the morning and come back at night, you'll be there, and if you're not, it's not because you're bleeding to death somewhere in a ditch or getting syphilis at the nearest bar. It's knowing what we're gonna eat tomorrow and where we're gonna sleep—"
"Well, you got all that here, then, so I don't know why you're bitching about it."
"It's having that and building something on top of it," Sam said. "This place, this isn't any different than being on the road. We just don't have the distraction of different scenery. We're not really going anywhere, either way."
"We've been from one end of the country to another," Dean said. "Where the hell do you want to go?"
"Up," Sam said.
That was typical, and Dean didn't know what the hell to do with it. Yeah, he got it, Sam wanted a house and a career and kids and a dog, but Dean couldn't give Sam that even if they weren't stuck on repeat.
"You even ask me if I want to ditch you—" Sam said, before Dean had even managed to open his mouth, so Dean turned it into a cough and said, "Dude, I don't care if you want to, I'm not leaving you on your own again, you can barely tie your shoes in the morning," and Sam rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah, see, how could I get by without this kind of personal affirmation."
They tossed pebbles into the lake. "It's a little hard to go from Most Wanted to Most Stable," Dean said, and Sam said quietly, "I know."
"I didn't do it on purpose," Dean said to Sam, a few days after that.
"Huh?" Sam said.
"The whole FBI thing. I didn't do it so you'd—"
"Shut up, Dean," Sam said.
"I had a crush on you," Sam said one day, eyes closed and chewing on a birch twig.
"What?" Dean said.
"In eighth grade," Sam said. "The year Dad moved us so much and I kept growing—"
"Yeah, you'd be up four inches every time we got to a new place," Dean said. "You had a crush on me? Like, a want-to-make-out crush?"
Sam shrugged a little. "I was thirteen, Dean, I didn't know what I wanted."
"Dude, gross," Dean said, and then smirked. "I get it though, Sammy, don't beat yourself up. I'm just uncontrollably hot—"
"I got better," Sam said, throwing the twig at him.
"Uh huh," Dean said, flipping it back. "So you'd totally turn me down if, say, I offered you a blow job—"
"Shut up," Sam said, shading his eyes so he could open them and glare. "That's seriously not cool, I haven't gotten laid in—" He shook his head. "I don't even know how long we've been in here."
"You haven't bagged anyone in here since Rachel?" Dean said, and Sam looked sort of awkward and then Dean said, "You didn't bag Rachel? Dude, what the hell were you waiting for—"
"It was a first date every time!" Sam said. "She's not that kind of—" and he stopped and went quiet, and Dean's stomach turned over. He ran a hand over his mouth, and then he pushed Sam flat again and went for his jeans.
"Dean!" Sam yelped, staring, and thank god, that silence had been broken. He tried to squirm away, but Dean kept him pinned at the shoulder and the thigh. "What are you doing!"
"Relax," Dean said, lightheaded with relief, "tomorrow it won't have happened."
"What?" Sam said, his voice going high as Dean got his hand inside Sam's shorts. Sam kept batting at him weakly, but Dean had a grip on Sam's dick, or at least what he was assuming was Sam's dick; he wasn't pulling it out to check. He worked Sam steadily up and down, and Sam stopped trying to shove him off and just clenched one fist into the front of Dean's shirt and hung on, panting. "Dean," he said. "Dean."
"That's it," Dean said. "Like that, Sammy. I've got you."
Afterwards, Sam lay quiescent and not saying anything, still panting and open-mouthed and radiating heat through his clothes even while the sun went down. Dean wiped his hand on the grass and lay down again next to him, his heart rate easing back down little by little. He was just getting ready to kick Sam's foot, suggest they should move inside, and then Sam said thoughtfully, "It won't have happened tomorrow," almost a question.
"Yeah," Dean said hurriedly, because that was important to get clear, so Sam wouldn't freak out on him, and then Sam rolled over and onto him, and pressed him down into the grass.
So maybe Dean hadn't exactly thought this one through. The problem was, once he'd gone there and given Sam a reason why going there was okay, it was tricky to take it back without messing them up. But if you took it too far—and Sam was taking it so far he was in another galaxy by now—you ended up like this, taking it up the ass from your kid brother with a vibrator he'd stolen from a chick you'd banged seventeen times while he sixty-nined you. "Oh, Jesus," Dean said, pulling off to breathe when Sam raised the setting.
"Good?" Sam asked, pausing long enough to kiss Dean's thigh.
"Yeah," Dean said. "Yeah, Jesus, please," and okay, fine, so he hadn't tried all that hard to take it back, whatever.
Dean hadn't ever expected Sam to make him feel pathetically vanilla, but it turned out Sam had two settings, yes and no, and once he was at yes, everything was on the table. "Hey," Sam added, while they were catching their breath after that round, "next, I want to—"
"Holy fuck no," Dean said involuntarily, as Sam went into detail. Sam turned his head and started grinning broad and bright. He didn't even have to say chicken, it was all over his face. Dean scowled. "Fine, bitch," he muttered, so they—okay, he wasn't even going to think about that one.
Sam curled up sleepily next to him after, arm over Dean's waist. They'd showered it all off, and Dean was clean and warm and pancake-limp, his hair still a little damp on the pillows. It was just getting to be dark outside. "Tomorrow," Sam said, "can we, uh," and that was a bad sign, that Sam was bothering to ask at all, but then Sam said the shining magic words, "three-way."
"Hell, yeah," Dean said, except he should have trusted his instincts, because Sam wanted to try everyone in turn, and he didn't see a reason to stop with the chicks. Or with three, for that matter.
They worked through everyone in town again. Sam had a little chart he drew up every morning to check off combinations, and he took them through in alphabetical order so he wouldn't lose track from day to day. "Dude, it's not a freaking game of Clue," Dean said, staring at it sadly over his coffee. They were on Mike Alonzo and Geoffrey Ballantine.
"Yeah, it kind of is," Sam said absently, around the pen cap in his mouth, while he drew more lines. "I mean, it doesn't matter, so we might as well keep score."
And okay, Dean wasn't going to be a bad sport or anything, it was at least a challenge getting all of Sam's crazy combinations, whether or not the sex was the most awesome thing in the world. Dean was fine with it, he was an adventurous kind of guy, except one day they were on the truly awesome combo of Alexis and Irina and Stacey that he'd been looking forward to for God only knew how long, and he watched Sam drawing up the chart and blurted, "Hey, look, can we—let's skip it for a few days."
Sam looked up at him, a little puzzled. "Sure." He added, "Dean, you know, we can skip anyone you're not into—"
"Nah, it's not that, I just want—" Dean said, and stopped just in time, swallowing. "Just want to savor it," he finished, instead of saying just want to be with you, which he couldn't say. That wasn't okay, that was so far from okay he couldn't even let himself think about it for too long, and he sure as hell couldn't put it out there for Sam to think about.
"Okay," Sam said, and balled up the chart for the trash without hesitating. "Lake?"
"Yeah," Dean said, and they went and made themselves sandwiches and headed to their usual spot. They lazed out, knotting fishing line into a net mostly for the hell of it, and tossing back the little guys they caught. After lunch, Sam stripped down naked in the sun and laid Dean out on his back and stripped him too, one piece at a time, chasing it with his mouth. Sam set down slow and sleepy kisses all along his neck, licking his tongue into the hollow of Dean's collarbone and pushing his nose into it, mouthing Dean's shoulders and biting at the curves of his armpits. Dean couldn't fucking move to save his life. He lay there and just took it, shaking with how much he wanted it, Sam's tongue licking at the old banshee-sickle scar across his ribs, Sam's thumb rubbing restlessly and without rhythm across his nipple, over and over until it was tender and almost sore.
"Sam," Dean said, hoarse. If Sam didn't shut him up pretty soon, he was going to fuck everything up, he was going to say something stupid and crazy, but Sam was moving on to his hipbones and looked like he was planning to settle in for a while, one big hand spread wide over Dean's abs, poking at Dean's navel idly with a finger while he bit at the muscle built over Dean's hip. "Dean," Sam answered him, deep and satisfied, and rubbed a broad flat-palmed stroke over Dean's chest.
"Yeah," Dean said, and then he shut his eyes and said, "Sam, I don't want to, with—not—"
It didn't make any sense, but Sam got it anyway. His hands stopped moving, and he held still, breathing out steady and warm over Dean's side, and then he said in a low, choked voice, "Okay," and then he was crawling up to start kissing Dean, over and over. Dean was shoving his pants down frantically and hauling Sam in closer, and it mattered, it mattered more than anything in the whole fucking world—
Dean jerked awake half-blind, to a yellow flashlight shining in his eyes. "What the fuck," a voice he didn't know was saying, and there was a big dark man-shaped blob standing over him he couldn't make out and Sam stirring next to him, mumbling, "Dean?"
"Jesus Christ. Yeah, Marty, it's Phil. I got them. Call 911, it's a couple of fucking fags, they're just lying out here naked," the guy with the flashlight said, into the radio he was holding, and there was a security patrol car sitting by the curb twelve feet away from them, amber lights on top strobing around.
"What," Sam stuttered, staring up at the guard, "what time—" and Dean was already grabbing for his pants, his cellphone—4:23 AM glowed up at him in neon green.
"Holy fucking shit," Dean said, and then he knocked the rentacop's leg out from under him and took away the flashlight and his gun, and Sam grabbed his shirt and tied the guy's arms behind his back with it, and Dean stuffed a sock in his mouth.
They scrambled into their clothes as they ran, hopping over the grass blindly: they didn't need light to find their way. Sam raced upstairs for their gear while Dean heaved open the garage door and backed out the Impala, and Sam came down and shoved the duffels into the back seat and slammed the door. "Go!" Sam said. Dean peeled out, and they cleared the gate and made it onto Route 36 in five minutes, the police car turning into the community in the rearview mirror.
Sam just sat there, one hand clutching the dashboard. "Are we really—"
"Shut up, shut up," Dean said, driving as fast as he fucking could. "Not until—" they got to the 24-hour McDonalds at the intersection with 119, and he had the car parked in the lot and five minutes later the sleepy, surly, goddamn beautiful checkout girl had handed him four buckets of hot fresh fries, four Big Macs in the sack, and they sat down at a table and ate and ate, ketchup and salt and special sauce all over their fingers, golden arches glowing bright and tacky and plastic overhead, cars going by randomly outside every couple of minutes.
"Oh my God," Sam said, and put down the last half-burger and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and started crying.
"Jesus, Sam, don't, I'll," Dean said, and then he had to shove all his food out of the way too and put his face in his hands.
The McDonalds crew eyed them a little, but apparently they'd seen weirder than a couple of guys breaking down over french fries at four in the morning. After a while, Dean managed to get his shit together and shove all the leftovers back into the sack, and Sam scrubbed his face dry with napkins, and they staggered back out into the lot and sat in the car.
"So, what the fuck," Dean said after a while. "What kind of fucked-up higher power did all that just to make us—"
Sam was shaking his head. "Some kind of curse," he said thickly, still stuffed up from crying. He blotted his nose on his sleeve. "We'll—we'll look into it, just, for now, can we—"
"Yeah," Dean said. All he wanted was to get the hell out of here, too. He put the Impala in gear and pulled out to the exit. "Which way are we headed?" He looked out at the road, then back at Sam, who was looking at him with soft, soft eyes.
Don't chick-flick me now, Sammy, he almost said, but it was just habit. He reached out instead and curled a hand around Sam's head and pulled him in for a kiss, long and slow and hungry.
= End =