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Waiting for Rain

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January 1999 - Hastings, Nebraska

Sam breathed in the cold air, watching the gentle rise and fall of his sleeping brother's chest. Dean's face was hidden in darkness, but Sam knew every line, every freckle, imagined (but only imagined, no one can know, Dean can't know) tracing his fingertips along the sharp jawline, the rounded cheekbone, the gentle curve of his brother's upper lip. Imagined huddling in the safe warmth of that broad chest, feeling Dean's hand comb his hair the way he would when they were young, when Sam woke from the nightmares he pretended not to remember.

A snore from the other side of the room broke Sam's reverie. He pushed his face back into the pillow and willed himself not to move, to lie there, careful and still, to avoid jostling the pain in his back or the memories in his head.

"What were you thinking, Sam? You almost got your brother killed!" John's eyes glittered.

Sam glanced toward the door, willing Dean to return early, to stay out late, to save him, to never, never know his desperate shame. Sam hung his head. "I'm sorry, sir." There was no defense; there was never any defense. He had learned that early. A black eye was much harder to hide from Dean than a few belt marks on his back.

"Shirt off," John barked, and Sam hurried to obey. "On your knees."

Sam knelt, hands on the floor, and bit his lip against the coming pain. John did not disappoint. "You worthless piece of shit. I've hauled your ass around for fifteen years, fifteen fucking years, and this is how you repay me? You try to kill my son? The one good thing Mary left me? That vamp should have killed you instead." Harsh belt strokes punctuated his words.

Sam shuddered and searched for the corner of his mind he always found during John's discipline, the place that was warm and dark, smelling of whiskey, leather, and aftershave. The place without fear or humiliation or pain.

Moments or hours later - Sam never knows how long- he felt John's boot on his ribs, knocking him over. "Put your shirt back on," the older man said. "And get your ass into bed. Don't you dare breathe a word to Dean. He doesn't need to know the truth about you. That boy's suffered enough."

Sam pulled his t-shirt over his head, wincing at the pain. He crawled into bed on his stomach and huddled under the thin motel blanket, hoping his father hadn't drawn blood this time. Hoping that Dean wouldn't see.

---

Dean flashed the red-headed bartender a smile and the fake i.d. that had yet to fail him. "Whatever's on tap, sweetheart."

"Sure thing, hon," she said, drawing him a glass of thin, cheap beer. "You starting a tab?"

Dean grinned. "Guess that depends. How long's your shift?"

She chuckled. "Nice try, cutie, but my guy there doesn't take kindly to strange men sniffing around." She gestured to the heavily muscled cook. "Get yourself a table and give Nancy a try if you're lonely. She's a waitress here, the blonde one, and word is she's looking to rebound from her asshole ex-boyfriend."

Dean winked and slipped her some cash, moving to sit at a little table in the corner. He glanced around until he found Nancy, who was flirting with a table of bikers in the back. She was cute enough, Dean thought, in a tired, small-town way, and her eyes were pretty even if her lipstick was too bright.

His thoughts drifted. The hunt hadn't gone well from the start. Muddled research had led them to burn the wrong bones and to let their guard down, exposing them to attack from the still very active and pissed-off spirit. To make things worse, Sam's reluctance to follow one of John's commands had very nearly gotten Dean killed.

He sighed. John was angry with Sam, he knew. He probably shouldn't have left them alone together. But damn it, he was tired of intervening, tired of navigating John's control issues and Sam's mood swings. He never knew whether Sam would meet John's orders with a flash of anger or with slumped indifference and couldn't understand Sam's lack of respect for their father.

Dean felt a twinge of guilt. John was hard on Sam, much harder than he had ever been on Dean, and while sometimes he felt Sam deserved it, he couldn't help wishing John would ease up.

Nancy caught his eye and sauntered over. "Now, what's a guy like you doin' out alone on a night like this?" she asked, her hand on her hip.

He gulped down the rest of his beer and gave her a tired smile. "Just heading out."

---

Sam was asleep when Dean returned to the motel. His father was cleaning his shotgun.

"Hey, dad."

"Son."

"You and Sam hash things out ok?"

John sighed. "Yeah, think so. It was partially my fault, I know. I'd hoped he was ready to join us for a simple salt and burn, but I should have know he wasn't. Too soft and stubborn."

Dean winced. "Yeah, ok."

John put his shotgun down and stood, shrugging on his coat. "I'm gonna get myself a beer or two now that you're back. Let Sam sleep." And he was gone.

Dean kicked off his shoes and climbed into the bed he was sharing with his younger brother. He looked over at Sam and sighed. "Sammy, why you gotta piss him off like that? He knows what he's doing. He's been at this a lot longer than we have. Just, just give him a break now and then, ok?"

Sam's breathing didn't change, and Dean sighed again. He stretched out and tugged some of the blanket over himself, and was fast asleep.

 

May 1999 - Kirksville, Missouri

Sam brushed his hair out of his face, squinting in the poor light of the school library. He glanced at his watch. Almost five. The library would be closing soon. He shoved his books and papers into his backpack and stood, stretching the cramps out of his long legs.

The streets were busy this time of year. The late spring warmth seemed to bring everyone out from hiding - young couples walking hand-in-hand, groups of laughing teenagers on their way to catch a movie, exhausted mothers pushing strollers full of bouncing children.

Sam just felt lonely. John (Sam had stopped thinking of him as a father years ago, at least in his head) was gone on a hunt, and had wanted Sam to stay in school. At least he had left Dean behind, too, this time. Things were always better when Dean was there. Except Dean had seemed different lately. A little distant, a little less warm. It was nothing drastic, and Sam couldn't tell if his imagination was just running wild, comparing the Dean that was with the Dean Sam wanted.

He allowed his mind to go there more often now. His feelings for Dean helped wall off the loneliness and shame that threatened to engulf him. Not that he was even sure what those feelings were, just that they were turning in a decidedly unbrotherly direction. In quiet moments like this, without books or conversation to distract him, he found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss Dean, to taste the whiskey on his breath, to press his arms around him and never let go.

They had a studio apartment this time. John's current job was actually a series of connected jobs, and he expected it to take a couple months. Dean had found temporary work at the local mechanic, and the extra income meant a step up from the grimy motels they usually frequented.

A small step up, Sam granted to himself, as he climbed the fire escape. The apartment itself wasn't too bad, small and shabby but clean. But the air in this part of town was heavy, the arguments loud and dangerous, and Sam had to block the memories it stirred.

---

Dean grinned to himself as he finished taping the small package shut. He'd left the repair shop early today to surprise Sam, and had even cooked a halfway decent spaghetti dinner.

Although he was annoyed his dad hadn't seen fit to include him on this latest hunt, he was glad to spend some time with his brother. Sam had been, well, moody lately, quiet and withdrawn, and he'd been hoping a break from constantly moving would cheer him up. It seemed to be working. They'd been here for three weeks now, and Sam was happier than he'd been in a long time. He kept busy at school and seemed to be getting along well with his classmates. He smiled more often and even laughed now and again.

Dean remembered the night before, when he'd told some dumb joke just to get a rise out of Sam. They were sitting at the tiny kitchen table, picking at the remainders of their takeout dinner, taking jabs at each other. It was friendly though, and easy, without a trace of the moodiness and tension that seemed ever-present of late. Dean took a typical crack at Sam's lack of sexual experience, and Sam had surprised him with a deep, throaty laugh.

Dean shivered at the memory, at how beautiful Sam had been with his hair thrown back from his face and his features lit with happiness. At how he'd suddenly noticed that his kid brother was no longer a kid. The awkward gangliness that had been Sam for so long had begun to fill out, to deepen into something more.

He shook his head. Cool it, Winchester.

At that moment, Sam walked through the door. He grunted a greeting at Dean before tossing his backpack on the floor. "Heard from Dad?"

"Yeah, Sam. He'll be a few more weeks. And either way, he says you can finish the school year here."

Sam looked up. "Really?"

"Yeah, really, kid." Dean smiled at him. "Now, c'mon. I know you didn't eat lunch, and I got paid today, so how about an early dinner? I made spaghetti."

"Ok, Dean, thanks." Sam glanced down at the table, noticing the brightly colored package. "What's that?"

Dean laughed and snatched it away. "Nope! Birthday dinner first, presents later."

Sam frowned. "What?"

"Dude, don't tell me you forgot your own frickin' birthday!"

Sam blinked in confusion and tilted his head. "Huh." He stabbed a finger at Dean and smiled broadly. "You got me a present? Let me see!" He grabbed for the package.

"No way. Dinner first." Dean dangled it out of his reach, and suddenly they were on the floor wrestling, and Sam was stronger than Dean remembered, and he smelled like soap and freshly-cut grass, and Dean was distracted just long enough for Sam to pin him down and grab his present away.

Sam ignored the pounding of his heart and the blood rushing in his ears that he knew was something more than exertion, something dangerous, and picked apart the wrapping. Inside, sheathed, was a beautiful hunting knife.

"Dean." His voice was hushed, awed. He turned it over in his hands. The blade was long and tapered, curving slightly at the tip, with a wooden handle covered in carefully-etched sigils. He looked up at Dean. "It's perfect. It's just, perfect. Where did you find it?"

Dean blushed. "I made it."

"You what? When?"

"Last summer, actually, when we were hanging out at Bobby's. He knew a guy in town who made hunters' knives, said he could teach me. I made all kinds of excuses to get out there without you noticing. Can't believe you never caught me." He grinned proudly.

Sam caught his gaze and held it for a moment, until Dean felt that familiar wrong thing flutter in his gut and looked away.

---

That night in bed, Sam's mind raced. Dean had blushed, he was pretty sure. Dean had made him a knife, spent his free time months ago learning how to make a knife for him, for Sam, and then blushed when he gave it to him. He'd blushed. And it was beautiful. So soft and red and vulnerable, creeping up his face, betraying the fact that Dean felt something for him, something more than duty. And even if Dean's feelings were miles away from his own, that was enough.

Chapter Text

Over the next several weeks, Sam busied himself with school. There were exams, and then there were final exams, and that was good. Dean had been kind but distant since giving him the knife, and Sam really didn't need to be thinking about Dean. So, school.

For once, he'd been at the same school long enough to make a few friends. Well, one friend. And Sam was pretty sure the guy wanted to be more than friends. But that was ok; they wouldn't be sticking around much longer anyway.

Joel Wilkins was a fellow sophomore from the other side of town, the side with garages and lawns and children's toys neatly hidden inside prefabricated plastic sheds. He wore clothing purchased specifically for him and brought milk cartons and pudding cups to lunch. He was quiet and skinny, unassuming, and very, very smart.

Sam was clear from the outset that his life in Kirksville was temporary, that he wasn't looking to form any attachments. That hadn't seemed to matter to Joel. He showed Sam the ropes, helped him with his classwork, and generally just stuck around. He'd even invited him over a few times, though Sam had never reciprocated.

This particular Friday, Sam and Joel were in the school library comparing history notes, when Sam glanced at his watch. He groaned. "Dude, we gotta go. They're closing up."

Joel looked up from his notebook. "We're not even halfway through," he protested. "Why don't you come back to my place with me so we can finish up?"

Sam considered. "Nah, I gotta go home. My brother's expecting me."

Joel's face fell. "Yeah, whatever. Ok."

They were walking out into the school parking lot when something made Sam hesitate. He quickly glanced around and saw three seniors approaching. Sam knew their faces. "Joel," he said in a low voice. "Get outta here."

Joel looked at him, surprised. "What?"

"Go home. Now."

The big, blonde guy in the middle stepped closer and laughed. "What's the matter, Sammy-o? You and your little boyfriend nervous?"

Sam shook Joel's arm. "Run. Now!"

"But what...."

"Run!" Finally, Joel listened and sprinted away.

Blondie laughed again. "Little faggot can't handle himself, huh? Left you behind to do the dirty work?"

Sam stepped away and felt the wall at his back. The three men came closer, leering.

---

"Night, Preston," Dean called, grabbing his bag and heading out the door.

"Night, Dean. See you Monday."

Dean enjoyed working at the mechanic's. Cars were complex but straightforward. You found the problem; you fixed the problem. No emotional complications.

But he was ready to be out of this shithole town anyway. John was due back in a couple days, and Dean had never been more glad. He was ready to be on the road again, ready to fight, ready to get away from whatever it was that had turned his baby brother into an object of desire.

As he walked, he willed his thoughts away from Sam and toward their next hunt. John had never left him behind for anywhere near this long, not since he'd dropped out of high school anyway, and he didn't like it. It was a fun life to toy with awhile, new and curious, but it wasn't his. He knew Sam still had a couple weeks left of school, but Dad had to agree that Sam could manage himself now, right? Or maybe they could squeeze in a hunt together before graduation.

He rounded the corner toward their apartment and stiffened. Someone was sitting on the fire escape, head between his knees. Dean put his hand on the knife in his pocket and slowly approached.

Suddenly, he noticed the familiar shaggy hair and worn-out sneakers. "Sammy?"

Sam looked up. "Hey, Dean." He grinned crookedly. "I think I need some help up the stairs."

Sam's left eye was swollen shut and his knuckles were bloody. He looked awful. "Sammy, what the hell?"

Sam grinned again. "You should see the other guys. Seriously, dude, just help me up the stairs. I think I twisted my knee."

"Ok, but...wait. Other guys? Plural?"

Sam rolled his eyes. Eye. Dean couldn't tell if the other one had rolled or not. "Just help me get up, ok?"

Dean frowned at him. "Fine. But you are sure as hell gonna explain yourself when we get up there." Dean ran his arm under Sam's shoulders and hoisted him up, pretending to ignore the barely suppressed groan. Then he carefully led his baby brother up the stairs.

The heat of Sam's body pressed against him felt more significant than it should, stirred something it shouldn't. He could smell Sam, all soap and fresh air and sweat and blood, and it made him dizzy.

He steadied Sam in their small kitchen and eased him into a chair. Squatting down, he took Sam's jaw in his hand to asses the damage. Dean ran his fingers along the battered cheekbone and the delicate bones around Sam's bruised eye, bringing them to rest, hesitantly, slowly, on the soft skin just behind the jawline. Sam swallowed.

"Well kid, you look like hell, but I don't think it's broken. Take off your shirt and let me see what else they did to you."

The magic of Dean's fingers on his face was gone. Take off your shirt. Memories flooded in, memories Sam usually kept safely locked away, but he had been vulnerable under Dean's spell, and the memories had escaped, and he wrapped his arms around himself against the shame and refused. “I'm fine. Just a little roughed up.” His voice was weak.

Dean gripped his shoulders. “Sam. C'mon. I know you're a blushing virgin, but now isn't the time for one of your little privacy stunts. I gotta see what they did so I know how bad the damage is.”

For a minute, it looked like Sam would continue to refuse. He looked up suddenly, catching Dean's gaze. There was a desperate pleading in those eyes that Dean didn't recognize, that vanished as quickly as it came, hidden once again behind rumpled hair. Sam, gingerly, obeyed.

Dean squatted down for a better view and hissed. The kid looked like he'd gone ten rounds with someone twice his size. He gently pressed into the bruising mottling Sam's ribcage and hipbone, noting his reaction. “Don't think they're broken,” he grunted.

Dean stood and moved behind Sam, angling his brother into the light of the lone ceiling bulb. “They get any kidney shots in?”

“Nah,” Sam said. “Don't think so.”

Something was wrong. Dean squinted, moving in closer, and suddenly stopped. His breath caught in his throat.

There were fine, white ridges crisscrossing nearly every inch of his brother's back. Old scars. The worry that Dean had pushed to the edges of his mind struggled for dominance. He reached out, then hesitated, before tracing a finger along a particularly defined mark running between Sam's shoulderblades. “Sam.” His voice was low.

Sam didn't hear. Dean was gripping his shoulder and running feather-light touches along his back, and there was a familiar ache growing inside him, and an uncomfortable tightness in his jeans. He closed his eyes.

“Sammy.” More desperate.

Sam craned his neck and met Dean's eyes, searching for an echo of the terrible hope that was clouding his mind. The fear he saw there startled him. “What?”

“Sammy, what are these?”

And the good bad feeling was gone, had never been there, of course, because all there had ever been was a barbed-wire coil of shame and self-loathing and desperate anger. Dean suspects. Dean can't know. There's too much, there's too much, and if Dean knows, if Dean knows and Sam shook his head to regain control because he had to think of something, say something that would make Dean leave this alone.

It took a minute, but Sam was finally able to unclench his jaw enough to say “Don't worry about it, Dean. They're old. Long time ago.”

Sam could tell Dean didn't like it, but he let it go, he let it go thank God, and simply glanced at him in frustration before tossing him his shirt.

“So what, then, you got jumped by a couple of jackasses on the way home from school?”

Sam snorted, feeling safer underneath the thin cotton of his shirt. “Yeah, something like that. Three of them actually.” When Dean raised an eyebrow, he continued. “I know 'em. Dick jocks. They don't like Joel, and they don't like me hanging around Joel.”

“They beat Joel up too?”

The concern in Dean's voice made Sam quick to reassure him. “No, no, I got him to leave in time. And no, Dean, I don't need you to go knock any heads. I took care of them.” Sam stood, groaning. “Now if you don't mind, I'd really like a hot shower.”

Dean's motion to help was met with a glare. “Get off me, dude. I can manage to walk to the bathroom by myself.”

---

Sam stood under the water and willed his half-erection away. What the hell. He'd known he was using Dean to wall off the filth inside him, known the Dean in his mind had warped somehow away from brother to something more, known he should stop. And now that Dean, the real Dean, the warmth and the safety and the acceptance had mixed with the more Dean and joined the sickness that was apparently Sam. He leaned over and retched on the shower floor.

---

Something is wrong. The thought snaked around Dean's mind unbidden, echoing itself against his inability to think of anything else. Something is wrong.

He sat in Sam's recently vacated chair and sighed. There was too much going on here. Sam, getting jumped on the way home from school. And why? Because some jocks didn't like his friend? Dean knew bullies could be unpredictable, but Sam hadn't been an easy target for years. Why would they bother? And Sam was clearly keeping secrets. Something had happened that had hurt him, something he hadn't told Dean. Sam had brushed it off well; that kid was capable of lying to anyone. Well, anyone except Dean. And Dean could tell that something was wrong. Something is wrong.

And then there was the something that was pressing against Dean's pants, something that had apparently found arousal in the scars and bruises littered freely over Sam's muscled torso. Dean groaned and let his head fall back against the chair, then lifted it up and whacked it back harder. He needed a hunt. Dad, get back soon.

---

Unseen by the boys, dark eyes glittered in the kitchen window.

Chapter Text

Not two miles away, John paced the length of his cramped motel room. He'd returned early, his hunt finished cleaner and quicker than he'd expected. He'd been in a good mood, excited with his plans to surprise Dean. The memory of his anticipation forced out a barked laugh.

He'd always known Sam was no good, that lying, sniveling little shit. Sam had manipulated Dean for years, artfully pretending helplessness and adoration to force Dean's affection. But this. This. Dean didn't know it yet, John could tell, but there was too much in those gentle touches and heavy eyelids, and John knew what Sam was doing.

He slammed his fist into the wall, heart pounding. How long had this been going on? How long had Sam been using his brother as more than a shield? And what the hell was he supposed to do now? As much as he'd like to, he couldn't just charge in there blindly. Nothing definite had happened yet, he was pretty sure, and Sam had twisted his brother too well. If John so much as laid a finger on Sam, Dean would jump to his defense, and he couldn't risk damaging the loyalty he'd earned from his older son. He punched the wall again.

Get a grip, Winchester. Think.

He sank onto the edge of the bed, his mind racing, planning. He needed to talk to Sam. The one good thing he could say about that little fuck is that he knew his place. He knew he was shit, and he took his beatings like a man.

John cocked his head. Sam probably did care about Dean, actually, in his own sick way. John knew better than anyone what Sam had been willing to take, willing to do for his older brother. He could use that. But he had to get Sam alone.

Suddenly, John grinned. Yes. Tomorrow was Saturday. Dean would be at Preston's little junk shop, and if he knew Sam, he'd be nose-deep in some book or another. Yes.

---

Sam closed his history textbook, leaning back in his chair with a groan. He'd only been at this for an hour, but the pounding in his skull from last night's fight was insistent. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples, searching for relief.

There was a knock at the door. Sam sighed, glad for the distraction. Joel was probably coming to check on him. Sam walked over to the door, steeling himself for an unpleasant conversation, and jerked it open. His breath caught. “Dad.”

John grunted and pushed his way inside. “Sam. We need to talk.”

Sam was wary now. His breath was shallow, and the pain in his head made it hard to think. Had he done something wrong? His grades were good, not that John cared, and he hadn't been in trouble at school. Had Dean called their father about the fight? Did John think he started it? “Dad, I didn't...I was just defending myself....”

“Shut it, Sam.” John grabbed Sam's shoulders and pushed him down in the chair, claiming the other seat for himself. His gaze was level and controlled, and Sam couldn't help but shy away from it.

“Dad, I....”

John's hand whipped around and caught Sam backhanded on his already bruised cheek. “I said shut it. I'm talking now. You look me in the eye, and you hear what I have to say, and you just shut it.”

Sam's eyes crept up to meet his father's, clamping down the fear and pain that scratched at his throat. He swallowed hard, and nodded.

John, satisfied with his son's submission, continued. “I saw you two last night.” He glared at Sam, silent for a moment, then continued. “I saw what you were doing to your brother.”

Sam opened his mouth, nearly forgetting John's order, then clamped it shut, shaking his head furiously. His protest broke the thin veneer of calm John had managed to erect.

John rose, glowering, and smashed his hand down on the table. “Goddamnit, Sam! I've been as patient with you as any man could stand to be! I've fed you, sheltered you, tried to make something halfway decent out of you, and now you're sneaking around eye-fucking your own brother? What's the endgame here, Sam? You want to weasel yourself into your brother's pants? What the hell for?”

Sam was silent, shaking, his mouth opening and closing as tears coursed down his face. John looked at him, and the shame and desperation he saw broke through his anger, reshaping the situation into one clear explanation.

John closed his eyes and spoke, his voice low, his hands trembling. “You want to damn him with you.”

John sat back down, fury spent, eyes on the floor. “Here's how this will go. Tomorrow, Dean and I are leaving on a hunt. You will stay here and finish the semester. When we get back, you'll be gone. There will be a note from you for Dean. I'll tell you exactly what to say. And we will never, never see you again.”

John leaned back in his chair, gazing at the ceiling. “I mean it Sam. I'm done. I let you worm your way into this family, I let you distract yourself with school, hell, I even let you steal my son's affection. But I'm done. I see you again, I'll shoot you. You talk to Dean about this, I'll shoot you. I'm done.”

Suddenly, John looked at Sam and grinned savagely. “You know what the best part is? After a few weeks free from you, I won't even need the threats. Without you twisting and worming around, Dean will see what you've done to him, and he'll hate you himself.”

The room was silent. Sam couldn't breathe. John stood and casually backhanded Sam, knocking him to the floor.

Chapter Text

June 1999 – Somewhere in Kentucky

Sam stumbled out of the truck, not bothering with thanks. He looked around, forgetting the name of the town the man had given him. The sun was high, the air thick and heavy. It made his head spin. Sam squinted and shook his head, struggling to think clearly. Gas station. He walked inside, grabbed a water bottle and a protein bar, and tossed them at the woman behind the counter. His hand dug into his pocket for a few crumpled bills.

She looked at him, concerned. His eyes were too bright, too empty, his lips swollen and pink. “You ok, sweetie?”

Sam took the change she offered and stumbled back outside, ignoring her question. He fumbled with the lid of the water bottle, hands shaking, then sloshed a bit into his mouth. He swished for a moment; leaned over; spat. Twice more, then he took a long drink, savoring the cool liquid on his throat. The protein bar was crammed into his pocket with his dwindling supply of cash while Sam assessed his surroundings. Then he picked a direction and walked.

South. Have to go south. Warm. Sam hesitated, confused. He was hot already. He shook his head again, muttering to himself. He was too hot, too hungry to change plans now. South. For a moment, he considered the protein bar in his pocket. But he'd be hungrier later.

Same time – A nondescript motel along Route 63 in Iowa

They were far enough out of town for there to be silence. Real silence, broken only by the occasional passing semi and the soft snores drifting from the other bed. Assured by the sounds of his father's sleep, Dean crept into the bathroom, easing the door closed before he switched on the light. He pulled a crumpled scrap of paper from his pocket and sat on the toilet lid to read.

Dean,

I can't do this anymore. I just can't. I'm not a hunter, never was. I hate all of this.

I'm leaving. Don't come looking for me. You won't find me. And if you do, I'll just run again. Leave me alone, let me build whatever scrap of a normal life I can. If you find me, I'll just have to start all over. Please don't do that to me. Please.

Dean, I love you. But I see the way you look at me, and...and Dean, I can't. I can't be that for you.

Please just leave me alone. You know I can take care of myself. I'll keep the knife on me always.

Sam

Dean could barely make out the words through the tears in his eyes, but it didn't matter. They were engraved onto his heart. It had become a ritual of his, reading this letter every night during the weeks since they'd come back and found Sammy gone. Gone. It was his penance, this letter, not that it helped much. The guilt and the shame and the piercing loss always returned, like the tide, eager to engulf him once more.

But he deserved it. He clung to the pain that kept him afloat. Sammy was gone. He'd run away. He'd run from Dean.

And for once, he thinks, Sammy had been able to deceive him. He'd seemed so excited that night that John returned. Happy to see his father. Happy to stay in school. Happy for Dean to go on that damned hunt.

At least he had finished the school year. Dean had discreetly checked. He wasn't sure, though, when exactly Sam had skipped town. Kid knew how to cover his tracks.

The worst, the absolute worst part, he thinks (as he does every night), is that maybe he could have found Sam, talked to him, brought him back, if only...if only....

But I see the way you look at me, and...and Dean, I can't. I can't be that for you.

Dean lingered in the cold bathroom for hours, feeling the wash of pain and sorrow, and fiercely, desperately clinging to it. He'd stow it all later, when the hunt was on. Now, he just felt.

January 2000 – Atlanta, Georgia

Sam stuffed his hands into the pockets of his flannel jacket as he trudged back home. Home. Sam snorted, bitterly. What was home? The unremembered house abandoned when a rogue vampire dined on his mother? The isolated summers locked in survivalist cabins while John explored the secrets of the dark? The string of moldy motel rooms haunted by his father's hatred? He figured the rattrap apartment where he spent his nights now was as much of a home as any of the others. And it was cheap, probably illegally so, though he paid the landlord a bit extra to play his father at parent/teacher functions.

It was early yet, but he wasn't working tonight. Not tonight. Tonight was for perching on the roof with the stars and the bottle of Maker's Mark he'd splurged on earlier. Tonight was Dean's birthday.

Sam hadn't let himself think about Dean much since he'd left his family. He couldn't. There was too much there, it would swallow him whole if he let it, and he needed to survive. He needed to survive for Dean, though chances were that bridge had burned for good.

He thought of the letter John had made him write. Of all the things he had endured at his father's hand, that was the worst, the most excruciatingly shameful. He could deal with pain, with humiliation. They were familiar, and, if not welcome, at least not frightening. But that....

I see the way you look at me, and...and Dean, I can't. I can't be that for you.

He closed the door to his tiny apartment, sliding the bolt shut behind him. He dropped his bag, then climbed out the kitchen window and onto the narrow ledge, hoisting himself up to the flat roof. He could drink up here, safely, and then sleep until sobriety claimed him again.

For the first time, Sam allowed himself to think about that letter. John had practically dictated it word for word. He'd had a purpose for every piece. But what was the purpose for that?

The whole point of the letter, Sam knew, was to convince Dean not to follow Sam. And John had to have known that would take something pretty powerful, because Dean had always put Sam first. So what was the point of including....

Oh. Shit.

Sam closed his eyes and imagined Dean. His powerful shoulders, his capable hands, the strength that had only ever been a threat to anyone threatening Sam. He traced imaginary fingers along Dean's square jawline, through his soft hair, down the firm lines of his chest. He leaned in, smelling him, soaking up the scents of worn leather and safety and suddenly he thought he smelled him for real. His eyes flew open. Only darkness looked back.

Well, darkness, and city lights, and the scattering of stars visible through the smog. Sam sighed and took a long pull of whiskey, because he knew now what that letter had meant. What John had seen. He had seen love and desire in Sam's eyes that night, and he had seen the same in Dean's.

August 2000 – Bisbee, Arizona

Dean bit his lip and swore. Fucking hell, it was hot. Damned poltergeist could've picked somewhere hospitable to haunt. They'd been two weeks hunting this thing, verifying details, checking history, scouting location. Wish geek boy were here. Research would've gone faster.

He could think about Sam now without crumbling under the pain. His daily rite of self-castigation had helped, actually, forming his grief into something solid and foundational inside him, something that couldn't knock him by surprise because it was always there.

Dean's phone rang. “Dad.”

“Son.”

They didn't talk much anymore, grunting out only the words necessary for the hunt. “Find anything?”

“Yeah, I think I've got it. I'll text you the address. I've got to pick up some ingredients for the cleansing. We'll take this bastard out tonight.”

Dean hung up. It wasn't necessary to acknowledge his father's directions. Acknowledgment was assumed.

He kicked the dust up a bit as he headed back to the bar to kill some time. Maybe hustle a game or two. Extra cash was always welcome.

The brunette behind the bar looked surprised to see him again, torn between giving him another shot and avoiding a second sharp rejection. She chose the latter. Well enough. He didn't have the energy to feign interest.

Dean grabbed his beer and settled at the corner table, hoping to avoid small talk. There weren't enough people here for pool. Least they could do was let him drink in peace.

What he wouldn't give to have Sammy here with him, knocking back a beer in this hellscape town. He would take it all, the fights with their father, the sulky bitch-fits, the endless nagging about vegetables and exercise, if it would make their family whole again. Hell, he would even take the restless ache that, even now with Sammy gone, led to near daily jerk-offs in cold showers.

Sam was a bright kid, and he had been right: he really could take care of himself. Maybe it was better for him to be gone. For Sam, at least. But the longer he was gone, the more that ache inside Dean grew, stretching itself out until he thought he might suffocate.

Dean figured he knew what it meant to die of a broken heart. It wasn't the sudden, keening agony that got you. It was the human in you slipping out in a slow, relentless draining.

June 2001 – Atlanta, Georgia

The late afternoon sunlight trickled through paper-thin curtains onto the boy's face. Sam wrinkled his nose and yawned. “Mmph.” He stretched his long limbs and held it, breathing deeply. Then he opened his eyes.

He had a lot to do. But it took him a minute to focus, to convince himself that this was real. He sat up and glared at the white envelope on his kitchen table, daring it to vanish. It didn't.

Stanford, he thought. He was going to Stanford.

He was leaving at the end of the month for California, which only left ten days to pack and plan and earn as much cash as he possibly could. His scholarship would cover tuition, thanks to his good grades and the bribe he had slipped his landlord for putting together some fake W-2s for the FAFSA. But he still had to pay for housing and food, and the books he would need, and some halfway decent clothing, and....

Stop.

First things first. He had to arrange the bus ticket, because he sure as hell wasn't hitchhiking all the way there. He had enough cash on hand for the ticket at least.

Sam grinned. This was real. He'd finished high school; he was going to college. And sure, maybe he wasn't going about things in the most traditional way. But he was making it work. He was surviving. And once he had a college degree, he could put down roots and get a real job. And by then, if he was lucky, John would be dead. Maybe he would have a chance to find Dean.

He often thought about that, about John dying. He didn't want to do the deed himself - if I ever see that bastard's face I'll stick a knife in it - but he'd sure be pleased if someone else did it for him. He could be dead already, Sam mused. Definitely possible. John was a good hunter, but he was getting older, and hunters don't make it to old age. He never once wondered if Dean was dead. He wasn't. Sam knew.

He rummaged through the heap of clothing by his bed and yanked out some ripped jeans and a wife-beater, pulling them on as he stumbled to the bathroom to prepare for the day.

His morning routine complete, Sam squinted at himself in the mirror. He was thinner than he should be for his height, he knew, but it worked for him. The thin smudge of eyeliner and the glisten of his lipgloss pulled his look together well. He wouldn't be able to play the twink much longer if he kept growing, but for now, it worked.

He knew it was unlikely that Dean would be thrilled to see him, whatever he had felt before. But once John was gone, maybe they could try being brothers again. Not living or working together, definitely not...not that other thing. Maybe just phone calls and the occasional card at Christmas. That would be enough, Sam told himself. That would be enough.

Same time – Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Dean watched the flaming pyre with dry eyes. Bobby stood to the side, glancing at him tenderly as if he expected Dean might shatter.

Dean wasn't going to shatter. He hadn't before; he certainly wouldn't now. Things with John had never been the same since Sam left. He supposed he should probably blame Sam for some of that, but he didn't.

Sam was a constant ache in his soul now, but Dean hardly noticed anymore. He couldn't remember anything different. His whole life, it seemed, had been protecting Sam, desiring Sam, punishing himself with the nightly reminder of Sam's abandonment. Sam.

And yet, he realized, firelight in his eyes, it had always been John he'd blamed. Not for any reason he could name – John had loved and missed Sam too, he knew. But after that first night, they never spoke of him, never discussed searching for him, never mentioned the gaping hole in their family Sam had left behind.

He blinked at his father's burning corpse. He should blame Sam. Sam had left. But somehow, it was John he hated.

Chapter Text

July 2003 – San Francisco, California

Sam squinted against the afternoon sunlight as he pressed down the street, hunching his shoulders to avoid the other pedestrians. Catching sight of his destination, he smirked. Brewed Awakenings. It never failed to amuse him.

He stepped inside the doorway, blinking at the sudden lack of light. A short and fitful night had left him exhausted, but he had too much to do before evening called him back to the streets. He shook himself awake and headed in.

The man behind the counter grinned in recognition, his brown eyes soft and warm. “Well, if it isn't Sammy the sweetheart of San Francisco! Been awhile, bud.”

Sam grinned. “Hey, Gabe.”

“Let me guess, the usual.” Gabriel sighed, his disappointment loud and dramatic. “You know, at some point you're going to have to let me try to impress you.” He squirted a dollop of whipped cream onto his finger and popped it into his mouth, sucking suggestively.

Sam just laughed and shook his head. “Never gonna happen, Gabe. I'm not interested, and I don't let my friends pay.”

Gabe was one of the few people who knew what Sam did for a living and didn't seem to care. That had shocked Sam initially. The barista's flirtation had been relentless when Sam first started showing up at the cafe, and when Sam finally broke and muttered something about propositioning an off-duty hooker, the last thing he'd expected to hear was Gabriel's rolling laugh. It hadn't changed Gabe's behavior, though, and Sam had come to recognize the advances as good-natured and harmless.

More surprising to Sam than the acceptance itself was how much that acceptance meant. He had thought himself beyond the reach of others' opinions, but to have someone look past his defenses without disgust or pity, well, it felt good.

“Yeah,” he responded to Gabe's initial question. “The usual. But put an extra shot in it today.”

Gabe's eyebrows rose. “You want a large coffee with three shots of espresso? The johns must be keeping you busy.”

Sam ran his fingers through his hair. “You have no idea. I've only got six weeks before school starts, and I still have a lot to study before then.”

Gabe snorted. “I can only imagine the difficulty of getting anything into that Cro-Magnon skull of yours. What are you working on today?”

“Oh, the usual. Traditional medicine, ancient religious practices, aboriginal art. You know me. I'm all over the place.”

“That's one way of putting it.” He handed Sam his coffee. “Better get crackin'.”

Sam slumped into his favorite corner booth and closed his eyes, fingertips pressing lightly at his temples. He could feel a headache coming on. It had been too many late nights, too many nightmares, too many damn books.

I want this, he reminded himself. And he did, it was true. Slowly, painfully, he was piecing together a life for himself that he could actually imagine living. His studies, both in school and out, took him in numerous directions, but the goal was always the same.

Opening his eyes, Sam grabbed his messenger bag. He pulled out his laptop, then dug past the clothes he'd need later that night and withdrew a careworn leather journal. He set to work.

---

Sam returned the next day, earlier than usual and limping slightly.

Gabe was busy cleaning the steam wands on his antique espresso machine when Sam walked in. He turned at the sound of the door and grinned. “Sammy! Miss me so soon?”

Sam leaned against the counter, head bowed. “Just give me a coffee please, Gabe. Same as yesterday. I have to catch the bus back to Palo Alto in half an hour.”

“Oh c'mon, baby, don't be like that! Gimme some sugar.” Gabe puckered his lips and leaned in to fake a kiss, but stopped himself with a jerk. He set his dishcloth down and gently reached his hands around Sam's jaw, tilting his face into the light. “What happened to you?”

Sam's left eye was swollen shut, and there were painful looking bite marks littering his neck. He shook himself free from the barista's grasp. “Nothing I can't deal with,” he grunted. “Although a cup of coffee certainly wouldn't hurt.”

Gabe nodded tightly and turned to fulfill Sam's request. He didn't speak again until he'd handed Sam his drink. “Why don't you stay here with me for the day, get some rest, let me clean you up?”

“I cleaned up,” Sam said, grinning weakly. He gestured at his clothes, palms outstretched, pretending to joke.

Gabe met his gaze, unsmiling. “Please.”

Sam looked down and shrugged. “Nah, thanks man. I've got a shift at the bar this afternoon.” He paid for his drink. “See you next week, Gabe.”

Gabe didn't respond.

---

It was nearly three o'clock before Sam stumbled into his apartment. He locked the door and leaned back against it, closing his eyes.

“Sam, is that you?”

Damn. He'd hoped she'd be asleep. “Hey, Jess.”

Jessica Moore was a blond pre-med student from Connecticut. They'd been roommates ever since her clipped Craigslist ad had caught Sam's eye two years ago.

“Looking for a gay, male Stanford student to split rent. Tight budget. Serious replies only, please.”

Sam blinked at his computer screen and grinned. This sounded promising. He wouldn't have considered it had the email address provided not included her obviously feminine name. He typed her a quick reply.

“Hey, saw your Craigslist ad. Think I might fit the bill. Want to meet for coffee and discuss?”

He'd been nervous about finding a roommate. It would save money, money he desperately needed. But it didn't come without risks.

When he saw her waiting inside the campus coffee shop, he was immediately relieved. He stuck out his hand. “Hey. I'm Sam.”

They chatted lightly for awhile, where are you from, what are you studying, any siblings? But when it came time to discuss their expectations in rooming together, the conversation turned serious.

“So, I have to ask,” Sam said lightly, “Why gay and male?”

Jess's face tightened before she answered. “I was...hurt...by my last boyfriend. I'm not looking to hook up with anyone for awhile. I figured it would be easiest if I lived with someone who wouldn't be interested and who wouldn't bring home anyone who was.”

“Oh, ok.” Sam said. “Makes sense. I have to tell you, though, I probably won't be bringing anyone home at all.” Seeing the question in her eyes, he worked up his courage. “I'm a hooker.” Her slight frown hurried him on. “But not here. I head to San Francisco on the weekends. Here, I'm just a bartender.”

Her lips twitched. “A Stanford student, a bartender, and a hooker?”

He gave her a quick nod. She didn't seem as put off as he'd expected, but he didn't let himself cherish too much hope.

She looked at him for a moment before she spoke. “Why?”

“Why?” he repeated, confused. It was a simple question, and a surprising one. He decided to stick with the dependable lie he'd used for years. “I was sixteen when my dad found out I was gay. He kicked me out of the house. I didn't know anyone...we moved around a lot....” he stammered a bit through this part, but it wasn't an act. “Anyway, I had to put myself through high school somehow, and I didn't know what else to do. I'll be done once I've got my degree.”

Jess was quiet, thinking. Then she looked at him and smiled. “Ok.”

“Ok?”

“Yeah, ok.”

She went on for awhile about how perfect it was, really, because they could pretend to be a couple to deflect any interested parties. Sam only half-listened to her, confused by the sudden loosening in his chest. She knew he was a hooker, and all she said was“ok?”

“Sam, are you ok?” Jess asked again.

Sam blinked, unaware she'd been speaking. “Yeah, hey, sorry. I had to close up for Crowley.”

Jessica snorted. “He shouldn't make you work so late.” Jess didn't like Crowley much.

“It's good money,” Sam said simply. “But I'm really tired. See you in the morning, ok?”

“Yeah, ok. Night, Sam.”

He knew that in the morning he'd have to explain about his black eye and the less-than-scrupulous john who'd given it to him, but for now, he could just sleep.

---

Dean drove the Impala into the motel parking lot and switched off the motor. Eugene, Oregon. Ugh. He didn't like the west coast, never had. Give him middle America any day. But it made sense that Bobby had tossed him the San Francisco case, since he'd just finished ganking that werewolf in Seattle, and Eugene was as good of a place as any to hole up for the night. He booked himself a room.

After bringing in his gear, Dean settled on the bed and punched a number into his phone.

“Singer's Salvage?”

“Hey, Bobby, it's Dean. Any news on Sam?”

Bobby sighed. “Dean, you just asked me to find him three hours ago. So no, you idjit. No news on Sam.”

Dean ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, I know. Sorry, Bobby. I just...it's been four years, you know? I keep thinking that maybe he'll be ready now to give me another chance.”

“Give you another chance at what? You were only ever good to that boy, and you know it.”

“Bobby, you don't know everything. But it doesn't matter. Just let me know if you find anything.”

“You know I will, son. You in California yet?”

“Oregon. I'm gonna get some sleep and head out in the morning.”

“All right then. Take care of yourself, boy.”

“Yeah, I will, Bobby. Thanks.”

Dean closed his phone. He knew Bobby didn't understand his sudden anxiety after four years of radio silence. He'd been considering contacting his brother for awhile now, but he'd been reluctant to make the first move. Sam's note had been clear. Please just leave me alone.

Was it too much to hope that after four years he could see his brother without making him feel the need to run?

He'd known he shouldn't ask Bobby to pry, but he'd been pushed past his hesitation by a sudden throbbing in the ache he now thought of as not-Sam. He couldn't explain to the older hunter, but he knew. Something was wrong. Something is wrong.

Eyes heavy with sleep, Dean pulled the worn paper from his pocket.

Dean,

I can't do this anymore. I just can't.

---

Dean arrived in San Francisco much earlier than planned. He'd woken abruptly at three, unsure why and unable to drift back to sleep. Damned insomnia's good for something I guess. He drove around for awhile, looking for a good place to eat and start on his research. Finally something caught his eye.

Brewed Awakenings. He snorted. Assholes. But the sign promised free wi-fi and fresh pastries, and Dean figured he'd dealt with assholes all his life. Why stop now?

Still, he wasn't prepared for the grating enthusiasm of the upbeat barista. “Hey there, sport! What can I get ya?”

Sport? “Coffee, black. And something to eat that isn't a damned scone.”

His rudeness didn't seem to have the desired effect. The guy's smile grew. “Sure thing! You want a sandwich or a pastry? If it's sweets you're after, you gotta try the apple turnovers. Oh, baby.”

Dean squinted at him. “Sure. Apple turnover. And a sandwich.” Sensing the barista's question, Dean cut him off. “Don't care what kind. No lettuce.”

But the guy just laughed. “I gotcha, sweetheart. I'll make you a sandwich that'll make you feel real nice.”

Bewildered, Dean handed him his credit card and waited. Was this guy hitting on him? As if he could hear Dean's thoughts, the barista caught his eye and winked, sliding the card back over the counter smoothly. Dean mumbled his thanks, grabbed the coffee, and found himself a seat.

Dean opened his laptop and pulled up the email from Bobby. Four dead hookers in San Francisco, all of them tall, young, and male, and completely drained of their blood. He'd thought vampire immediately, of course, but there was an oddity: the police had found DNA evidence on all of the bodies, all from the same guy. No one in the system.

It was a weird one, to be sure. He'd never heard of vampires having a type, or being interested in raping their victims beforehand. Dean sighed and settled in to poke at the dark recesses of the internet until it afforded him some answers.

It took hours, but he finally found something. He pulled out his phone and dialed Bobby.

“Singer's Salvage?”

“Damnit, Bobby, get caller id already, would you?”

“Hello to you, too, Dean.”

Dean sniffed. “Anyway, Bobby, I think I found something. Ever hear of a dhampir?”

“Dhampir? Yeah, sure. Never heard of anyone huntin' one, though. They're rare as fuck.”

“Yeah, well, I think this might be our guy. You know the lore, right?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “Dude vampire gets with human chick. Chick ends up pregnant. Usually, nothing happens, but every now and then baby vamp makes it. That's a dhampir. Half-human, half-vamp. They stay human for awhile, but the thirst and the powers kick in when they turn thirty.”

He could hear Bobby's waning patience over the phone. “Son, I know all that. Why're you telling me?”

“Because, Bobby, listen. I think that's what I'm hunting. A dhampir. Like I said, they've got the vamp thirst, but they've got the human thirst, too. For sex. And they usually develop a type based on whoever they were with when they turned vamp.”

The phone was silent for a minute. “Hm.”

Dean groaned. “C'mon, Bobby, I'm gonna need more than a 'hm.' What do you think? Could this be it?”

“I don't know, Dean. It sounds right to me. Just, no one I know of has ever seen one, and the lore has them over in eastern Europe.” Hearing Dean's protest, he continued. “Not saying you're not right. Just be careful. Read anything about how to kill it?”

“Yeah. Same as a vamp. You cut its blood-sucking head off.”

“All right, son. You know where it's been hunting?”

“No, but I can find out.”

“Ok then. Be careful.”

---

It didn't take Dean long to find the necessary information. All the bodies had been found on the infamous Polk Street in the equally infamous Tenderloin District, San Francisco's seediest underbelly. The whole area reeked of drugs and sex, but Polk Street was special. Polk Street was where you went to find runaway kids selling themselves for their next meal.

Dean waited until dark to head out. He was angry, eager to vent his rage on the half-breed vamp who got his rocks off fucking and killing kids.

His anger only grew as he neared his destination. The whole place was crawling with streetwalkers, young and old, male and female, clean and...well, he'd need a hot bath when this was over. It wasn't the hookers who pissed him off, though. Them he could understand. Hunger and despair will drive a person to anything. But the fat, leering businessmen cruising around in their sleek cars....

Focus, Winchester. Remember who you're hunting.

He turned down Polk Street, and, sure enough, there were the kids. Some of them didn't look old enough to be out of middle school. Christ.

Dean glanced around and hid himself in the shadows of the walls. He'd have to stalk the whole area, he figured, tonight and every night after until he found his prey.

---

It had been hours, and Dean had seen nothing. Well, nothing except douchebags in expensive cars picking up kids. The whole district was filthy, and he could feel it coating his skin and clawing at his eyes. He just wanted to leave.

Then someone screamed. Dean abandoned the shadows, sprinting toward the sound. He yelled at the kids to run, Fucking run, damn it! and they scattered like flies. But then there was a taller one who didn't, who raced ahead of him down the street.

Dean screamed at him, but the boy ran faster, and then Dean saw the figure huddled over the body on the ground, mouth on neck. He pulled his knife from his belt, but the kid motherfucking stupid kid fucking run goddamnit run got there first and threw himself at the creature.

The boys arms tightened around its neck, but the dhampir was strong of course he's strong run away you idiot it's a fucking vampire and it threw him against the wall, stabbing its teeth into the base of his neck.

Dean screamed again, his bottled-up fury echoing against the cracking walls, and it turned and dropped the boy. It hissed at Dean, crossing its arms petulantly, red lips twisted into a sneer. He slowed, waiting for its advance, hoping somehow to gain the upper hand, and suddenly the sneer was gone and there was a hand gripping its dark hair and a glint of silver at its throat.

The head thumped on the street.

Dean stopped, unable to think, unable to breathe, when he saw the kid drop the knife and slump against the wall, blood dripping from his neck. Jerked to awareness, Dean raced to him, catching him before he fell. He yanked his shirt over his head and held it to the boy's bleeding neck, easing him to the ground. “Hey, hey, you ok? Here, we gotta slow the bleeding so I can get you to a hospital. Hey kid, you with me?”

Dean brushed the kid's bangs from his face and found himself staring into slanted, hazel eyes.

He froze.

“Sammy?”

Chapter Text

Warm.

Hurts.

What hurts?

Oh Sammy, Sammy. God, I've missed you.

Safe.

What? No, not safe. Never safe.

He struggled, tried to struggle. Something weighed him down.

Why is it so dark?

Sammy, please. I'll do whatever you want. Just...just please.

Hurts.

Something heavy on his eyes. He tugged at it.

Sammy?

Awareness flooded his skull, and the heavy thing on his eyes was gone. He opened them.

Someone was looking at him. He blinked. Blinked again. The blurry figure took shape.

“Dean?” His voice cracked.

Relief washed over the man's face. “Hey there, Sammy. You're awake.”

Sam frowned. This was not like his usual dreams about Dean. This Dean was different, strong but ragged, hesitant to touch him. He closed his eyes, deciding he liked the other dream Dean better.

A hand on his face. “Sammy? You gotta stay with me for awhile, ok? Let me get you some water, make sure you don't have a concussion. Ok? I promise I'll let you sleep in a little bit.”

Dream Dean never said anything like that. He opened his eyes. “Dean?” he asked again.

“Yeah, Sammy, I'm here. You want something to drink? We can sit you up a bit.”

Sam nodded, not really listening. He still wasn't sure what was going on. Either he was having a weird new dream about Dean checking him for a concussion, or Dean was actually here, checking him for a concussion. He couldn't decide which was less likely.

As Dean or not-Dean tenderly eased him up against the pillows, Sam made up his mind. There were only three constants in his dreams. Angry John was one. The greasy, predatory men who purchased his evening hours were another. And, of course, Dean. But Dean dreams were hot. Safe, sure, but hot. Passionate and hopeful and hot. This Dean seemed scared, careful and delicate. So this wasn't a dream.

“Dean. You're here.” Sam glanced around, wondering at his surroundings. “Where's here?”

Dean gave a nervous laugh. “My motel room.” He looked at Sam hard, seemed about to say something, but stopped, choosing instead to ask, “What do you remember?”

Sam closed his eyes, searching for the memories. “Um, I was...there was...there was something killing hookers. Something...oh, a dhampir.” He looked at Dean suddenly. “Did I get it?”

Dean smiled then, affectionate. “Yeah, you did, kid.” He ruffled Sam's hair. “You got it. It knocked you around a bit, got its teeth in you, but I don't think you lost too much blood. You'll be fine, probably just woozy for awhile.”

Sam pushed himself up against the pillows, thinking quietly. He turned to Dean. “How did you know where to find me?”

“I didn't. Bobby sent me down to hunt the same thing.”

“Oh.” Something occurred to him. He pulled his knees into his chest and looked at Dean warily. “Where's Dad?”

Here it is. Dean had been dreading this conversation, the panic in his brother's eyes. He sat down heavily on the bed and stared at the wall. “He died, Sam. Couple years ago. Hunt gone wrong.”

He looked at Sam then, fearing the look of hurt and regret he knew would be there. But it wasn't. The wariness dissipated, and, if anything, Sam looked relieved. “Oh.”

Dean wondered at that, then stood, his gaze trained back on the wall. “Sam, I know...I know I'm...I didn't mean to intrude on your life. I promise. I just...please, please let me help you get back on your feet, at least, and...and then it's up to you. Whatever you want. I'll stick around, or I'll go, or...whatever you want. Just please let me make sure you're ok first.”

Sam's eyes were unreadable. “Yeah,” he said. “I'd like that.”

Something inside Dean cracked. What did that mean? What would he like? Those eyes, god, he'd dreamed about those eyes for years and never once had they been so beautiful.

“But hey, Dean, I've got a place down in Palo Alto. I'd like to go there, I think. Motels give me....” he shivered.

Dean's face fell. Sam wanted to go.

Sam saw the hurt in his brother's eyes, and added, hastily, “You can come, too. There's no extra bed, but the couch is comfortable, and I know Jess will be cool with it. Please, Dean. It's not you, I just...I don't want to be here.” He gestured at the walls.

Dean nodded, and the uncertainty in his face broke Sam's heart.

Sam remembered something. “Wait, my bag. I dropped my bag in the alley. I need....”

“It's here, Sammy. I found it. I'll get it for you.”

Sam watched his brother move across the room. Dean was the same, but there was a stiffness in his shoulders that Sam didn't recognize, as if he was holding something in, protecting something with his body that might explode and destroy him at any moment. He grabbed the bag and turned toward Sam, and there were new lines in his face, and his eyes spoke of vulnerability warring with strength.

“Here ya go, Sammy.”

Sam poked around in the bag, glad to see his laptop intact. He pulled out a t-shirt and his other pair of jeans. “I want to change my clothes before we go back.”

Dean laughed then, openly, and Sam realized how much he'd missed that sound. “Yeah, figured you might. That's some disguise you got going on there.”

Disguise? Sam's eyebrows furrowed. What did he mean? Then it hit him. Dean didn't know. Dean thought he'd been undercover for the hunt. Ok, ok, that's good. If Dean didn't know, then he might not leave. He feigned a laugh.

When they were settled in the Impala, Sam ran his hands along the familiar leather seat. Memories flooded through him. Wrestling with Dean in the back seat. Falling asleep to the sound of his brother's steady heartbeat and the comfort of his strong arms. Lying on the hood of the car and counting the stars. He'd forgotten how many good memories there had been.

He looked at Dean, wondering, not daring to voice what he longed to say. Start small, he thought. He cleared his throat. “So what have you been doing?”

“Hunting,” Dean said simply. “With Dad for awhile, then by myself. Bobby helps out sometimes.”

Sam nodded. That made sense. “Do you...have anyone?”

Dean squinted at him. “What do you mean, have anyone? Like, anyone special?”

Sam nodded again.

Dean laughed, but it was hollow, and his smile didn't reach his eyes. “Nah, little brother. You know how it is.”

He did.

---

When they pulled up to the address Sam had given him, Dean observed his brother's apartment in silence. It wasn't the worst part of town, but it seemed...tired. World-weary. There was a bar, a little livelier than he'd expect in this neighborhood. College hangout, he figured.

Sam walked to the door next to the bar and unlocked it. “It's up here.” Dean followed, hoisting their bags on his shoulders. Sam had protested that he could carry his own stuff, but had stopped at Dean's look. “I don't know if Jess'll be here or not. She's my roommate. She's cool. Don't hit on her, though, ok?”

Dean smiled wanly. “I'll do my best, kid.”

The apartment itself wasn't terrible. It was small, bordering on cramped, and a little rundown, but Dean could see where Sam had put effort into fixing it up. There was a living area with a couch and a tv and not much else. The kitchen was tiny, but obviously well-loved.

Sam noticed Dean's look and smiled. “Jess likes to cook.” He gestured toward the first door in the short hallway. “You can take my room. I'll be fine on the couch.”

Dean snorted. “Like hell I will. This is your place, and I've slept on worse than a couch. You know that. Besides, you're still recovering.” He saw the weariness in his brother's eyes and decided talking could wait. “Why don't you get some sleep. You got anywhere to be today?”

Sam hesitated. It was Saturday, a good time to catch high-paying out-of-towners. But he could use a day off. “Nah.”

“Ok then. Sleep first, talk later. I could stand a few hours myself.”

Sam disappeared into the room he'd pointed out to Dean and returned with a blanket and pillow. “Here,” he said, tossing them at Dean. “If you get hungry, help yourself to whatever. There's coffee in the cupboard.”

“Ok, kid. See you in a bit.”

---

Dean woke up later to the sound of a key in the lock. He was on his feet in seconds, hand grabbing for his knife. The door opened, and a determined-looking blonde strolled in. She saw him and froze.

“What the hell? Who are you? Why are you in my house?” She noticed the knife, and her voice turned low, threatening. “What did you do to him, you sick bastard? Sam? Sam!”

Sam stumbled out of his room, blinking sleep from his eyes. “What....oh hey, Jess.” He shook his head, trying to clear it.

She skirted the wall, keeping her distance from Dean as she moved toward Sam. “Sam, who is this? Are you ok?”

“Yeah, hey, it's ok, Jess. That's Dean, my brother.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why is he waving a knife at me?”

Sam saw Dean's confusion, his defensive stance. “Dean, man, it's ok. You can put the knife away. This is Jess.” He rubbed his eyes, wearily. “He just gets like that, Jess. Over-protective. It's ok.”

She muttered something that sounded like “over-protective my ass.”

Sam sighed at her. “C'mon, Jess. It's fine. Are you staying in tonight? I really need some time to catch up with my brother.”

She looked like she was deciding whether to believe him. “No, just dropping off my work stuff. I'm meeting some friends for dinner.”

---

The apartment was quiet. The brothers settled on the couch, neither sure what to say. Dean figured he'd go first. “So Jess. She's feisty.”

Sam chuckled. “Yeah.”

Ok, that was a start. What next? “What're you doing in Palo Alto?”

A question with an answer. Good. “I'm a student here. At Stanford.”

Dean looked shocked. “Stanford? Really?”

“Yeah, I'm here on a scholarship. Studying anthropology. I've only got two years left.”

That was unexpected. Dean grinned. “That's awesome! You did it, Sam. You made it work. You got your normal life.” Then he realized what that meant, and everything went numb. He leaned his head on the couch. “I won't bother you, I promise. Just let me make sure you're ok, and I'll be gone. But...if it's all right with you, can I call sometimes? Just to know you're alive?”

Sam looked at him, but Dean refused to meet his gaze. He sighed. “Dean, there's something I need to tell you. I wanted to tell you before, as soon as I figured it out. I should have, but I was scared. I...But Dad's gone, and I need to tell you. I don't know...It'll change things, Dean. Maybe for the worst. But you deserve to know.”

Dean said nothing, eyes glued to the ceiling.

Sam swallowed his fear. “Dean, that letter. I...I didn't write it. I mean, I did, but...but Dad told me what to say. Told me I had to.”

Dean looked at him then, confusion stark in his eyes.

“He saw...he saw us that night. Remember? The night you patched me up. And he saw how I looked at you, and I guess how you looked at me, too, but I didn't know, I swear, I didn't piece it together until later. I thought it was just me.”

Dean just kept staring.

“He came the next day, told me to leave. Said he'd shoot me if I didn't, if I told you. He made me write the letter, and...Dean, god, I know you can't understand, but I believed him. Dad, he...he wasn't what he seemed, not to me at least.” He looked at Dean, hard. “Dean, if I tell you this, it'll change things. Do you hear me? It'll ruin something for you. I can't do that unless you want me to.” He waited for Dean's reply.

For a moment, it looked like there wouldn't be one. Then Dean gave a tiny nod. “Tell me.”

Sam turned away and closed his eyes, sinking back into the couch. “Dean, Dad hated me. For as long as I can remember. The first time he hit me, I was seven. He started with the belt soon after.”

The scars. Oh god, those scars.

“Dean, it was hell. He used to make me....” Sam was shaking now. “He'd tell me to take off my shirt, make me kneel down, hit me with his belt. I felt...pathetic. You know? Letting him do that to me. But I couldn't tell you, I couldn't, I needed you Dean, and I was selfish, I know, so goddamn selfish, and I knew you loved him, and I couldn't take that away. But when he said he'd shoot me...god, Dean, he meant it, and I had to go. And I didn't know, I thought you'd hate me if you knew. So I left.”

Sam opened his eyes then, and looked at Dean, searching for revulsion in his face. But it wasn't there. He could see the guilt, the anguish, but underneath that, hidden far away, there was that look he'd seen so many years ago.

Dean couldn't think. What was Sam saying? Dad...Sam...oh god, oh god, oh god. He was lost in a chaos of fear, agony, hope. What? He clung to the hope, but it slipped, it tugged away. He grabbed for it desperately but it slid from his grasp, it was gone, and

There were lips on his mouth, a hand cupping his neck. The smell of Sam, warm and clean, and he forgot the storm, reached to touch the cheek so close to his own, and lost himself.

Chapter Text

What the hell did I do?

There was no coming back from this.

Sam trembled under the weight of his brother asleep in his arms. Dean had crashed just after the kiss, his head heavy on Sam's chest. Comforting, accusing. Sam didn't know which.

He couldn't breathe.

Faint music from Crowley's bar crept through the floorboards, beckoning him. He needed a drink.

It was tough enough to leave a room without Dean noticing, much less escape from underneath him, but Sam managed. He scribbled a quick note on the refrigerator whiteboard should Dean wake before he returned. Downstairs. Drinking. And he was out.

Sam was relieved to see Crowley working the bar. Nearly everyone disliked the man, Sam knew, and with good reason. His notion of conversation resembled a battle of wits more than anything else, and his wit tended toward the cruel. But underneath the barbs was a surprising well of tenderness and compassion when he chose to tap it. Crowley had driven to San Francisco more than once to help Sam after a particularly abusive encounter.

“Hey Crowley.”

“Well hello, Moose,” the older man returned. “What a pleasure.” He tapped his watch. “You aren't due for another, oh, sixteen hours.”

Sam slumped into a stool, palms flat on the laminated bar. “Just here to drink.”

Crowley eyed him as he poured a double. He slid it across the counter. Sam immediately tipped it back.

“You look tired, Moose. Trouble in paradise?”

Sam ignored him.

“You know, if it's all that traveling that's getting to you, you're always welcome to peddle your wares here.”

Sam drank again.

“There are plenty of pretty college boys willing to pay for an old-fashioned hay romp.”

The glass slammed on the counter. “Leave it, Crowley. I'm not in the mood.”

Crowley wrinkled his nose. “Always so cheerful, Moose.”

Sam finished his whiskey and slid the glass to Crowley with a grunt. He watched it fill with liquor once more. “My brother's in town.”

“Well that is interesting news. Sammy Winchester has a brother. And here I thought you were a little lost lamb, all alone in the world. Pray tell, what brings Brother Winchester to our little corner of purgatory?”

“Work. We met by accident.”

Crowley's mouth twitched. “How very Pretty Women of you.”

“No, not that.” Sam stared at his whiskey. “He doesn't know.”

“Ah, I see. Afraid he'll be ashamed of you, hm?” Crowley gripped Sam by the jaw and caught his gaze, amusement gone from his eyes. “How long since you've seen him?”

Sam pulled away. “Four years,” he muttered.

“Has he contacted you at all, ever?”

Sam gave a silent shake of his head.

Crowley sighed and walked around the bar, claiming the stool next to Sam. “Look at me, Sam, and listen. You've got your secrets, and I don't pry. Your background remains a fascinating mystery. But I do happen to know that your id is fake. It's not even a particularly good fake. Which means you're what, twenty?”

Sam looked cornered.

“Relax, Moose, I'm hardly going to ship you off to the authorities. Your job is secure. I'm just making my point. You haven't seen or heard from the Winchester clan since you were sixteen. Am I correct?”

Sam nodded.

“And I think, knowing you as I do, that your departure was not, shall we say, self-motivated. True?”

Another nod.

“Then to hell with them, Sam. Let them think what they want. Don't spoil your pretty face with worry.”

Sam massaged his temples and sighed. “It's not like that, Crowley. Dean didn't know. He thought I ran away. He...god, he thought I hated him.”

He could see the pieces clicking into place in Crowley's mind. “So Papa Winchester is the villain in your little fairy tale.” He stood and returned to his place behind the bar, pouring a drink for himself. “God bless homophobia.”

They drank in silence for a good while, stopping only for the occasional customer. When his panic was sufficiently subdued by the alcohol's buzz, Sam stood to leave.

“Sam.” Crowley's voice was rough, quiet. “You're a good kid.”

Sam met his eyes briefly and left.

---

The minutes ticked by as Sam stared at the ceiling. Sleep, apparently, did not plan to visit tonight.

Sam flopped to his stomach and buried his face in the pillow. He wanted his brother back, to share a few beers, to remember old times. He even missed hunting together. He wanted all of that, and then, at the end of the day, he wanted to kiss that pretty little mouth and fuck him silly. I am so screwed.

He was pretty sure Dean felt similarly. But what did it matter? No one likes sloppy seconds.

He closed his eyes and glared at his brain. If it wasn't going to let him sleep, he might as well put it to work. He sat up and grabbed his laptop and journal from the nightstand, flicking on the light. Ancient Balkan folklore, here I come.

---

When Dean awoke that morning, his first awareness was absence. Sam was gone. He sat up. “Sam?”

The voice that called from the bathroom was cheerful. “In here, Dean. Gonna take a shower. I smell like blood and fucking Polk Street.” Dean laughed.

Jessica stumbled into the kitchen to brew some coffee, ignoring him pointedly.

“Morning, sweetheart.” He gave her his most charming smile.

She just scowled. “Fuck off.”

Dean watched her storm back to her room, puzzled. Then he went to the bathroom and knocked. “Mind if I come in, princess? Nature calls.”

Sam grunted his permission.

Dean finished his business, then closed the toilet lid and sat. “Dude, we gotta talk.”

The water switched off. “Toss me a towel then.” Dean complied.

Sam pushed aside the shower curtain and stepped out, towel around his waist. He leaned against the sink and waited.

Dean ignored his body's response to Sam's muscled chest. “I get the feeling Jess doesn't like me much.”

“Oh.” Sam thought for a minute. “That's probably my fault, actually.” Sensing Dean's confusion, he continued. “I had to come up with some story to tell people, you know? So the old standby is that I got kicked out for being gay. Jess probably thinks you went along with it. Don't worry; I'll clear things up.”

Dean snorted. “Don't tell me that works for you.”

“What works?”

Dean raised his palms, incredulous. “The gay thing. Nobody's gonna buy that.”

Sam struggled not to laugh. “It works fine. It's also true.”

Dean cocked his head. “Huh.”

A thought crossed Sam's mind, and he glanced at Dean, concerned. “Is that going to be a problem? I mean, does it bother you that I like dudes?”

Dean smiled lazily. “Nah, Sammy. I've played both sides myself. I just never figured you for it. I guess that does explain your eternal lack of interest in hot chicks, though.”

Sam punched his arm and laughed. “C'mon, let me go talk to Jess. Then, food. We've got bacon.”

Sam disappeared into Jess's room, still in his towel. Dean heard muffled voices, his brother's earnest tone clear even if the words weren't. When Sam returned, he beamed at Dean. “We're all good. Bacon?”

Dean snorted. “Go put some clothes on, bitch.”

“Jerk.”

The morning passed easily. They traded stories from their time apart and laughed at old jokes. Dean noticed the exhaustion in his brother's eyes and the evasiveness shaping his answers, but he let it slide. There would be time later for tough conversation; he knew Sam's life couldn't have been easy. For now, he just wanted to enjoy his brother.

When Jessica joined them for lunch, she didn't look particularly apologetic, but she didn't try to stab Dean either. He considered that a victory.

Neither brother felt like addressing the kiss.

---

Dean watched his brother from across the bar as he joked with a customer. Damn, that kid can act. He'd seen Sam's weariness grow as the day passed, knew he hadn't slept. But no one would have guessed he was having anything other than a great time. No one but Dean, that is. Dean had always been able to read Sam.

A dark-haired man strolled over to Dean's table, his examination obvious. “You must be big brother Winchester. I'm Crowley.” He stuck out his hand.

Dean shook it. “Dean.”

“So you're the squirrel to Sam's moose.” He nodded, as if it made perfect sense.

What?

“And now you've found your puppy. If I might ask, what do you plan on doing with him?”

Fucking weirdo. “With Sam, you mean? What business is that of yours?”

To Dean's surprise, Crowley laughed. “None at all. Exactly right. But I must admit, I've taken something of an interest in young master Samuel.”

Dean couldn't decide if that was creepy or comforting. As he formed his retort, he noticed a commotion at the bar. A broad-shouldered frat type was leaning over the bar at Sam, leering suggestively, his voice loud.

“Just give me the usual, pretty boy, unless you've got something special in mind? I hear you're...” his eyes drifted to Sam's crotch “...very good at what you do.”

Before Dean could react, Crowley had the boy by his collar and was dragging him to the door. “My apologies, five-o, but I really must insist you leave. I can't have anyone harassing my staff.”

The guy protested. “Little slut was asking for it.”

“I'm sure he was. Good night to you, sir.” Crowley shoved him out the door.

Dean went to Sam. “You ok, kiddo?”

Sam laughed. “I'm fine, Dean. It happens. I am, after all, a pretty boy.” Sam's tone was light, mocking, but there was a hard undercurrent that scared Dean.

Crowley walked up behind them. “Moose, we need to talk.” He looked pointedly at Dean.

Dean moved to give them some distance but kept close enough to hear the conversation.

“That's the third time this month.” Crowley's jaw was set, his eyes unreadable.

Sam glared at him. “What do you want me to do, Crowley? Find another job?”

“Don't be dramatic, Moose.”

Sam threw up his hands. “What can I say, Crowley? It happens. I'm used to it. If it doesn't bother you, then don't worry about it. It certainly doesn't bother me.”

Dean stared at his hands, his face blank, but worry tickled at the corners of his mind.

---

The next morning at breakfast, Sam announced he was heading to San Francisco. Dean's suggestion to accompany him was quickly shot down with terse mutters about needing to study and meeting up with friends.

Dean examined his brother's face. The circles under Sam's eyes were darker, and the lines around his mouth were deep. Another sleepless night. “What do you want me to do here?”

Sam frowned at him, exasperated. “I don't know, Dean. Whatever you usually do. Get drunk. Find a hunt. Whatever. I'll be back at Crowley's Thursday afternoon.” He grabbed his bag and stalked out the door.

Dean rubbed his thumbs on the hard porcelain of his coffee mug, thinking.

---

Sam leaned against the lamppost, thumbs in his pockets. He'd abandoned the twink look awhile back when a rough night convinced him that the strength to defend himself was worth more than the extra cash.

He hid his caution under an affected indolence as the black sedan approached, parking across the seat. Shifting his hips, he began a slow saunter when a familiar figure jumped out. Damn it. The prick from the bar.

“Pretty boy.” The man smirked. “Thought you'd seen the last of me, huh?”

Sam's knife was out in flash. “Fuck off.”

“Now, now. That's no way to treat a customer.”

With the corner of his eye he watched three more men approach, one of them training a gun at his head.

“Easy, easy,” crooned the man in front of him. “Just slide your knife over here so we don't have to mess up that pretty face.”

Sam didn't hesitate, dropping the knife and pushing it carefully away. Four men plus gun beats knife. He'd been here before.

The man kicked his knife down the alley and grinned. “Good boy.” He grabbed Sam's shoulders and shoved him against the wall. Something metallic flashed, and Sam blinked. He was handcuffed to a pipe.

The man bent down, eye-level with Sam. His smile was chilling. “Now you and I, sugar, got a lot to discuss.”

Chapter Text

Dean wondered if he should leave.

He'd been in bed Sam's bed for hours, unable to sleep. Maybe it's the bed.

Something was wrong with Sam. Why was something always wrong with Sam?

He closed his eyes and saw Sam as a baby, asleep in his crib, thin beams of sunlight crossing his pursed lips. His mother was by his side, whispering about his new brother. Dean had thought he was an angel. It was his earliest memory.

There was something special about Sam, always had been. He was clean somehow. Pure. As if an unseen light radiated from his skin, driving away the shadows.

As if that light made the shadows angry, afraid. Made them claw and scratch at his baby brother, demanding entrance.

When Dean looked in Sam's eyes now, the depth of raw, contradictory emotion there stunned him. He saw anger and hurt, fear and courage, shame and desperate pride. He couldn't see one hint of darkness.

Sam had been through hell and remained whole. Had taken the bloody rags tossed to him by Fate and stitched them into a delicate tapestry of a life.

And then Dean had come crashing in.

He thought back to that night Sam had mentioned, the night that had begun the slow rending of his soul. His brother, beaten, afraid of something more than his attackers. Those slender scars. He'd known then, beyond doubt, that Sam was somehow more to him. That what he wanted from Sam could never be his. He'd never imagined until the kiss that kiss that maybe Sam wanted it, too.

Dean opened his eyes and stared at the window, unseeing. There wasn't much in this world that the Winchesters shied away from. Dean knew he had marks by just about every sin in God's little black book. But he wasn't sure he could add brother-fucking to the list. Especially not if it meant damning Sam alongside him.

What if he was the shadows' final play in their quest to extinguish Sam's light?

---

It was early morning when Dean's phone rang, jolting him from his not-sleep. He scrabbled at it, working it open. “Hello?” he grumbled.

“Dean-o?” The chirpy voice startled him. It sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it.

“Who is this?” he asked, wary.

“Relax, mother bear. I'm a friend of Sammy's.”

Dean sat up. “What do you want?”

“You really know how to turn on the charm, don't you.” A chuckle, then the voice turned serious. “Look, I don't know what happened, but I think Sam needs you. He called me to come pick him up, but now he won't talk to me, won't let me touch him. When I suggested a hospital he punched me in the face. He made me swear on my mother's grave not to call you, but lucky for you, I hated the bitch. I got your number from his phone.”

Dean couldn't speak.

“I'll give you my address. Hurry, Dean. It looks bad.”

---

Dean pounded on the door, heart racing. They were so close. He'd found Sam, he'd kissed him god and now he was hurt, just like last time he was hurt and Dean hadn't stopped it. “Open the fucking door!”

Someone fumbled with the lock. “Cool your jets, caveman. I'm coming.” The door opened. “I'm Gabe, by the way. Thanks for asking.”

Dean felt a flash of recognition as he pushed past the bloody-nosed man. “Where is Sam?”

Gabe rolled his eyes. “He's upstairs, bucko. But listen....”

Dean ignored him, charging up the steps. “Sam! Sam!” He heard a rustle behind the bedroom door and shoved it open.

“What the hell, Dean?” Sam's back was to the corner, panic wild in his eyes. “Fucking Gabriel. Fuck you, Gabe! Do you hear me? Fuck you!”

Dean paused in the middle of the room. It was too dark to see Sam's injuries, but the moonlight glinting from the window revealed the terror on his face. His brother was near hysterics.

Dean held up his palms reassuringly. “Sammy, it's me. Ok? I'm not going to hurt you.” He moved closer.

Sam snarled at him, pulling tighter into the wall.

Think wounded animal, Winchester. “Sammy, you gotta listen to me, ok? I need to see if you're hurt. I won't touch you without your permission. Can I come closer now?”

The shaking didn't stop, but some of the defensiveness fell from his shoulders.

“I'm going to help you to the bed, ok? Just sit you down. Then I'm going to turn on the light so I can make sure you're ok. Can you do that with me?”

Sam gave a barely perceptible nod.

“Ok, Sam. We'll move real slow. Just like this.” He helped Sam to the bed and switched on the light. The pounding of his heart slowed. Sam looked ok. Then he noticed his wrists, raw and bloody.

“Sammy, can I take off your shirt? It looks like you hurt your wrists. I need to see if there's anything else. Is that ok?”

There was no answer, but Sam allowed Dean to unbutton his flannel and slip it over his arms.

Dean fought the urge to vomit. Sam's arms were covered in shallow wounds sliced into delicate patterns, and his wife-beater was soaked in blood. He swallowed. “Ok, Sammy. I'm gonna need to take this shirt off, too. It's gonna hurt, Sammy, but I gotta see what's underneath, ok?”

Sam didn't speak. The ferocity was gone, and he was trembling faintly, his eyes glassy. His forehead glistened with sweat.

With excruciating tenderness, Dean peeled the bloody shirt over Sam's head. Similar cuts littered his chest. Dean blinked away the spinning in his head and focused on his brother. “All right, Sammy, I'm gonna take care of you. You just sit tight for a minute.”

He turned to call for Gabe, but the shorter man was already there, holding a stack of towels. Dean nodded his thanks and returned to Sam. He wrapped him up gently.

Makeshift bandages in place, Dean knelt in front of Sam. “Sammy, you need to go to a hospital.”

Sam's eyes lit. “I'll fucking kill you, Dean.” His voice was weak, but he sounded serious.

Dean sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Ok, Sam.” He thought for a minute. “What about a clinic? There's a doc I know works with hunters. Not even an hour away.”

Sam seemed to consider it. “Fine.”

Dean turned to Gabe. “Can you help me get him in the car?” He blinked. “Oh, you're the coffee shop guy.”

Gabe snorted. “Yes, and yes. But I'm coming with you.”

“No way in hell.”

Gabe's bright eyes were unusually solemn. “Dean, I know you don't know me, but I take care of Sam, when he decides to let me anyway. And I....” He hesitated a long moment, considering. “I know what kind of hunters' clinic you're going to. My mom grew up in the life. Left it for my dad. But she made sure we knew what was out there in the dark.”

His eyes drifted to Sam. “I made Sam the first time I helped him out of a tight spot. Recognized his tattoo. I never said anything to him, though; I could tell he was running.”

He leaned against the wall and sighed. “Dean, Sam never breathed a word to me about any kind of family, and suddenly you show up.” He looked at Dean then, eyes hard. “Understand this. I won't allow you to take Sam anywhere without me. I don't know you from Adam. I come along, or I call the cops. Your choice.”

Dean stared at him, shocked into silence. Finally, he nodded.

---

Jim Murphy owned and operated a small clinic just outside Sausalito. He didn't get much business these days, but that was fine; he was supposed to be retired anyway. The space worked for him, though, and since he'd installed a small bedroom in the back, he seldom found reason to go home. Enough people came through to keep him occupied between the occasional visiting hunter who needed medical care away from prying eyes.

He sat at his desk writing, a custom of his during the long stretches of the night when slumber eluded him. He was just about to give sleep another try when his phone rang.

He didn't recognize the number. “Jim Murphy speaking.”

A gruff voice answered. “Hey Jim. It's Dean Winchester.”

Jim smiled. He'd always had a soft spot for John's son. “Dean boy, how are you? It's been a long time.”

“Jim, it's Sam. He's hurt bad. We're forty minutes out. Can you meet us at the clinic?”

“Yeah, I'm actually here already.” He frowned, confused. “What do you mean it's Sam? You found him?”

“Couple days ago. Listen, I gotta go. Just be ready for us, ok?”

The call disconnected.

Jim stood and hurried into the clinic, worry lining his face. He'd never met the youngest Winchester. He knew from other hunters that the boy had run away some time back, but John had refused to discuss it.

He bustled about his preparations, wishing he knew what he was preparing for.

---

Jim met them in the parking lot with a gurney. Dean was grateful. Sam had lost consciousness on the drive. The doctor wheeled him efficiently into the back room of the clinic, Gabe trailing behind.

Once Sam was settled, Jim turned around and placed his hands on Dean's shoulders. “Son, I know it's going to be tough, but I need you to wait outside. You too,” he said, indicating Gabe. “This will be much easier on Sam if I can work unimpeded.”

Jim could see the battle in Dean's mind and prepared himself for a fight. But Dean reluctantly nodded.

The two sat in silence for a long time. Dean's jaw clenched as he glared at the wall, refusing to acknowledge Gabe's concerned glances. Finally, Jim opened the door and called Dean in. Gabe stood to follow, but the fierceness in Dean's eyes stopped him. He sat back down.

Jim closed the door behind them and regarded Dean. He sighed.

“First off, Dean, he's going to be ok. Physically at least. He's sedated now, and he'll wake on his own soon. But you need to be prepared for some psychological trauma in the months ahead.”

Dean held his gaze but remained silent.

“He's got lacerations covering his chest and arms. I'm assuming you saw those?” At Dean's curt nod, he continued. “They're done in some kind of pattern. Intentional. Someone wanted him to hurt.”

Dean felt bile rising in his throat.

“He's pretty bruised up along his ribs and back, and his wrists are torn to hell. Handcuffs would be my guess. Looks like he struggled hard. But all of that should be pretty easy to take care of.”

The doctor swallowed, and Dean could tell he was holding something back. “Tell me.”

Jim breathed in deep. “There are two major points of concern, psychologically speaking, aside from the knife wounds. Dean, someone's been beating that boy up for a long time. He's got scars all over his back, from a belt or a whip. Covered in them.”

“Dad.” Dean spat the word out like a bad taste.

That shook Jim. He'd known John to be a tough old bastard, but....

Dean interrupted his thoughts. “What else?”

“I don't know how to tell you this, son, but Sam's been sexually assaulted. Tonight, violently. But from the scarring, it's been multiple times, going back years.”

The room spun, blood rushing from Dean's head. Someone was gripping his shoulders, holding him upright, saying something. He tried to swat them away, but his hand didn't respond. Sammy, no. No, no, no....

He realized he was speaking aloud and clamped his jaw. Jim's face hovered inches from his own. “Dean?” The doctor was shaking him. “Listen to me, son. Sam's gonna be ok. But he needs you now. Needs you to be strong. Can you do that for him?”

Dean began to nod but was stopped by an overwhelming need to vomit. He leaned over the trash can and retched.

Jim eased him back up, offering him a tissue. “You with me now, son?”

Dean closed his eyes, fists clenched. He took a moment to feel, to lose himself in the nauseous swell of his consciousness. He sank into it, deep; let it creep into his ears and eyes and mouth until it was him and he was gone.

When he finally looked up, his eyes were steel.

Chapter Text

“When can I take him home?”

Jim blinked. He knew the signs of a coming panic attack, and Dean had presented them all. But the man who held his gaze now was pure calm.

“Jim,” Dean repeated, “When can I take him home?”

He shook himself back to the conversation at hand. “As nothing's broken and he's not concussed, he can leave as soon as he's awake. But first I need to get you some drugs and ointment and make sure you're absolutely clear on his follow-up care.”

Dean nodded. “Of course.”

“And Dean, I know you don't want to think about this right now,” the doctor said, laying a hand on his shoulder, “But you'll need to bring him back in a couple weeks and again six months after to be tested.”

Something flashed in Dean's eyes, but all he said was “ok.” Jim began collecting supplies.

Gabe stuck his head in briefly to say he had to leave for work. Dean nodded, and they were alone.

Dean allowed his mind to wander. He wondered if he should have called the cops. Probably. But Sam had punched Gabe in the nose simply for mentioning a hospital.

His phone rang. He looked at the id. Bobby. Damn it. He'd forgotten to call Bobby.

He stepped outside the door. “Hey, Bobby.”

“Dean. I found him.”

Dean laughed then, a humorless, grating release. “Yeah. Me, too.”

He could hear Bobby's confusion over the phone. “What do you mean, 'me, too?' You found Sam? And you didn't call me? Boy, I oughta come over there and....”

“Yeah, I know, Bobby. I'm sorry.” He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, head resting on his knees. “It's just been a couple days. He was hunting that half-breed, too. Got it before I could.” He closed his eyes against the threatening tears. “It's just been...a lot...you know? I know I should've called, and I'm sorry. I just can't believe I found him.”

Bobby's gruff voice was surprisingly gentle. “I know, son. I know. It's ok.” The line went quiet before he spoke again. “How's he look?”

“He was fine when I got here, but something happened. I don't know what. Some friend of Sam's called me to come get him. We're at Jim's clinic. In Sausalito. He's knocked up pretty bad, but Jim says he'll be ok.”

I don't know how to tell you this, son, but Sam's been sexually assaulted. Tonight, violently. But from the scarring, it's been multiple times, going back years.

No. It was up to Sam what people knew.

Something occurred to Dean. “How'd you find him?”

Bobby sniffed. “I know my job, boy.”

“Bobby, I need to know what you found. I need to know how to help Sam. Something is wrong, not just tonight. But he won't talk to me. Kid evades questions like a pro. I gotta help him, Bobby. I can't let him down again. So please, tell me. How'd you find him?”

The old hunter hesitated briefly. “Well, he finished high school in Atlanta. Didn't even bother with a fake name. I got an address for you, if you want it. Where he stayed.” There was a pause on the line. “He's got a record there. It's not long, mostly just hunter stuff, though it don't look like he went outside the city much. Must've just taken out what got too close.”

“Most of it? What else, Bobby?”

Bobby sighed. “You're not gonna like it, son.”

“Don't care. Tell me.”

“You gotta promise you'll go easy on him. He was a scared kid, Dean. Now maybe he shouldn't have run away, but you know as well as I do that your daddy was always hard on that boy.”

“John is not my father.”

Bobby had never heard so much hate. “Dean...”

“Sam didn't run away. John kicked him out. Promised him a bullet in the brain if he came back.” Dean's voice was stiff. “Guess he never got over Sam surviving that vamp attack. Beat him for years. It's a good thing for him he's dead already.”

Bobby was stunned.

Something occurred to Dean. “Did you know?” He forced the words out through clenched teeth.

“Fuck, Dean, you know I didn't. If that bastard was still kicking, I'd hunt him myself.”

Dean sagged with relief. “I know, Bobby. Just had to be sure.” He thought for a second. “But there's something else. What don't you want to tell me?”

Bobby sighed. “Ok, son. But be gentle.” There was a brief moment of silence before he continued. “From the rap sheet, it looks like Sam was turning tricks to survive. Cops picked him up on it a couple times.”

Dean knew he should feel something, but he wasn't sure why. What had Bobby said? Something about Sammy. His Sammy, lost and alone, with nothing but himself to trade. Nothing but his body's price tag between himself and hunger. His baby brother, abandoned, desperate, giving himself over to those greedy eyes and oh god those clothes, he hadn't just been hunting that night, he'd been working, he'd known about the dead hookers because he'd seen it and it could have been him it could have been him and he'd gone to San Francisco again and been hurt again, and Dean knew, he knew where Gabe had found him because he could see it in his head, those hungry eyes, preying on Sam, and Dean not there to protect him.

“Dean? You there?”

Dean laughed then, full and horrible, and dropped his phone to the floor because what else was there to say?

He looked through the doorway at Sam, and in that moment he knew his brother like he never had. The kiss, hungry and hopeful; the walls to keep Dean out. He saw Sam, afraid and ashamed, wanting his brother but thinking his brother could never want him. Not if he knew.

And he swore to himself, then, that nothing else mattered, nothing in this whole godforsaken world, but making Sammy see himself through Dean's eyes. Making Sammy see that the filth and the shame weren't his. They could cling and could scratch for years god, years but they never got in, could never get in, because Dean saw Sam, and Sam was nothing but light.

---

Sam woke up pissed. Everything hurt, his fucking brain even hurt, and he had a vague recollection of Gabe ratting him out.

He opened his eyes. Dean was there. Fucking Gabe. “Hey, big brother.” Spite dripped from his words.

“Sammy. You're awake.” Dean looked unnaturally calm.

“Yeah, I'm awake. Why are you here?”

Dean blinked. “You're hurt. I'm here.” His surprise seemed genuine, but Sam didn't buy it.

“Doc say when I can leave?”

“Soon as you woke up. I got all the stuff you'll need.” He held up a paper bag.

Sam pushed off the blanket and struggled to his feet, shoving Dean aside when he tried to help. “Where are my clothes?”

“I got em, Sam. Let me help you get dressed, and we can go. Jim's gone already. Got a house call in town.”

Sam snorted. “Been dressing myself a long time, big brother.” He snatched the bag from Dean. “You did your duty. You can go.”

“Not going anywhere, Sammy. And you're gonna let me help you with those clothes. Don't want Jim to have to stitch you up again.”

Sam wanted to protest, but his body refused. He slumped into Dean and let him work.

The drive to Palo Alto was silent and tense. Sam stared out the window, refusing to speak, and after the first few minutes, Dean stopped pushing. He didn't try again until they were climbing the stairs to Sam's apartment.

“Jess called when she couldn't reach you. She's dropping out for awhile. Something about needing to help her dad. Figured I could take her room.”

Sam's eyes were on him then, hot and fierce. “I'm fine, Dean. I've been fine without you for four fucking years, and I certainly don't need your help now.”

“I know you don't.” Dean's voice was quiet. “But I need you, and unless you can force me out, I'm staying.”

Sam had no response.

Dean could feel the anger in his brother's shoulders as he helped him to the couch. He knelt in front of him, choosing his words carefully. “Sam, something inside me broke when you left. All those years, hunting with John...Sam, I didn't even know, but I hated him.”

Sam's hazel eyes were on him, unblinking.

“When I saw you in that alley, god Sammy, it was my second chance. I let you go before. It's not happening again.”

A grin crept along Sam's mouth, cruel and mocking. “Handsome hero saves damsel in distress, and damsel spreads her legs in thanks.” He parted his thighs, hand cupping his crotch. “This what you want Dean?”

He wanted to run. He couldn't watch this. Sam, hurting and broken, throwing himself at Dean to drive him away.

“Got a surprise for you, big brother.” Sam leaned closer, hot breath on Dean's neck. “You wouldn't be the first. Or the second, or the hundredth. Lotsa guys been there before you. I let 'em in.”

Sam nipped at Dean's collarbone. “History teacher, when I was twelve, threatening to call CPS 'cause he knew John was gone. Motel manager, offering an alternative to kicking me out when the bill came due. The occasional truck stop, when the money ran out and I was still alone. When I got to Atlanta, I figured I might as well make it official.”

His tongue lapped at Dean's shoulder. Dean shivered, but it wasn't desire. “Done pretty well for myself, too. Know what they like. That what you want, big brother? Want me to make you feel real nice?”

Dean pushed him back then, tears bright in his eyes. “I know, Sam.”

Sam stilled.

“I know what you had to do, Sam. And I don't care.”

He started to protest, but Dean's mouth caught his hard, swallowing the sound.

The world spun. He wanted to fight, to push Dean away, but his mind screamed yes and no and Dean and oh god Dean didn't deserve this, couldn't want this, but the tongue just pressed harder and those lips, rough and sweet, and thought disappeared and Sam couldn't stop, couldn't control his parting lips or the hand that snaked around Dean's neck, pulling him in.

Chapter Text

The universe contracted, collapsed, shrank in on itself until nothing was except Sam and his tongue in Sam's mouth. A moan vibrated somewhere deep in Dean's chest as he explored, hungry and desperate. Sam was softness and warmth and deliciously wet, and the more he pressed, the faster Sam breathed beneath him. His tongue twined with Sam's and he sucked hard, wanting Sam to taste him, to know him with the same clarity he knew Sam.

Sam pulled away, shaking. “Dean.”

“Shhh.” Dean pressed a finger to his lips, but Sam turned his head.

“No,” he insisted. “Listen.”

Dean frowned and sat back on his heels.

“Dean,” he paused, struggling for words. “I want this. I mean, I've always wanted this, wanted you. But as soon as I knew that what I wanted was...this,” he gestured aimlessly, “Dean, that's when I lost everything.”

He continued, breathless. “I'd give almost anything to have this, but not you. I can't lose you. And Dean, I will. Maybe not today. But when you realize, when you see what I am....Dean, you won't be able to stay, and then I'll have nothing, not even hope. I survived because of you, Dean, because I had hope, however small, that someday my brother would be mine again. But if you see me, really see me, and leave...I'd die. I would. I would die.” There was no drama in his words, no hint of theater. It was the truth spoken in quiet resignation.

Dean felt his heart crumbling, and he grasped Sam's face in his hands. “Sam. Sammy.” His voice was husky. “Sammy, I do see you. I see you exactly as you are. Do you know what I see?”

Sam's face was blank, despair in his eyes.

He traced his finger along Sam's cheekbone, stirring memories of that night, that terrible, beautiful night that had changed everything. “I see beauty. Those eyes, damnit Sammy, they've been there, haunting me, since the night you left. You see the world with those eyes in all its horror and splendor and give it nothing but goodness in return.”

He shifted his weight, hand pressed lightly on Sam's chest. “I see hope. I see a heart crushed and abused and hoping anyway, because it doesn't know how else to live.”

Sam couldn't move.

Dean sat on the couch and held Sam's hands in his, tracing vague patterns on his palms. “And I see strength. You are so fucking strong, baby brother. The world knocks you down and you get right back up, and you're none the worse for it. Not a scratch on your soul. No matter what someone does to you, no matter how they hurt you, they can't change you, because you are just too goddamn tough.”

Sam was trembling then, his eyes wide and wet.

Dean touched his face once more. “So yeah, Sammy. I see you. I know what you've done, what's been done to you. And I'm not going anywhere, not unless you make me. I love you, baby brother. Always will.”

Sam slumped into his arms, sobbing loud and messy, and Dean smoothed his hair and whispered comfort in his ear. “I'm here, Sammy. I'm here.”

---

Sam dropped the bottle on the table, struggling not to laugh through the beer in his mouth. It tipped and rolled to the floor, splashing foam everywhere. He laughed harder.

Crowley scowled from behind the bar, but there was mirth in his eyes, and something else. Relief? Dean wondered if he'd misjudged the man.

Dean clapped Sam on the back, grinning. God, it was fun to get a rise out of the kid. “You ok there, Sammy?”

Sam snorted, swallowing his mouthful of beer. Then he smiled, and Dean felt his heart drop. It was Sammy, his Sammy, here and happy. “Crowley's gonna kill me.”

“Nah, that prissy English stiff don't stand a chance against a Winchester.”

Sam giggled, eyes wide. “Scottish, Dean. He's Scottish. For god's sake, don't let him hear you say that.” He stood from the stool and slipped on the beer, nearly losing his balance.

“How much have you had to drink, Samantha? Maybe it's time we got you home.”

Sam shook him off. “Nah, Dean, m'fine. Just gotta hit the head.” He stumbled off.

Dean smiled to himself. So Sammy is a happy drunk. Good to know.

Crowley sidled over to their table. “Evening, Squirrel.” He eyed the mess distastefully. “Must you and Moose behave so barbarically? This is a family establishment, you know.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “It's a college bar, Crowley. Spilled beer gives it..” he waved his hand, thinking, “ambiance. Gives it ambiance.”

“I see Moose has been giving you vocabulary lessons. Very good. You're progressing nicely.”

Dean wrinkled his nose.

Crowley moved to sit in Sam's stool. “But enough foreplay. We have matters to discuss.” He looked at Dean and continued. “I asked before what you planned to do with Sam. I'm asking again.”

Dean bristled, humor gone. “Answer's the same. What the hell business is it of yours?”

“Ah, Dean, but it is my business. Sam has been in my employ for two years now, and I like to think we've become friends. His well-being is most definitely my business.”

He leaned toward Dean, something unsettling in his gaze. “Tell me this, Squirrel. Where were you when I caught Sam, newly hired, sneaking leftovers from the kitchen, unable to persuade him on pain of losing his job to tell me when he'd had his last meal? Where were you when I found him sleeping in the bloody alley, too exhausted to manage the stairs? And where were you, big brother Winchester, when he came to work with a black eye or a telltale limp, or when he called me from our fair city, ashamed to ask for help?”

He brushed off Dean's protests. “I know, I know. Sam shared the whole bloody tale. Your father was an animal, blah blah blah. Very sad, I'm sure. But tell me, Dean Winchester, what exactly do you intend to do with Sam now?”

Dean swallowed but met his glare unflinching. “You want to know my plans? Fine. I'm moving in, getting a job. I'm gonna make sure he eats and finishes school. And I'm gonna get him off the motherfucking streets if I have to hogtie him myself to do it.”

Crowley weighed him with his eyes, then nodded, satisfied. “Very well. Now I do hope you're planning to regale me with tales of kid Moose. I would so love to add some embarrassing tidbits to my arsenal.”

Dean blinked at the sudden change of tone, then noticed Sam returning from the bathroom. He leaned back and played along. “Did Sammy ever tell you about his first kiss? Girl named Ellie something. Man, did that she-devil have the hots for him. Chased him all around the playground til she backed him in a corner. And little Sammy, he just....”

Sam groaned and punched Dean's arm. “Shut up, Dean.” But he smiled.

“Never fear, Moose,” said Crowley. “Your humiliating childhood secrets are safe with me. Cross my heart.”

Dean stood and grabbed his coat. “All right, Casanova. Let's get you home.”

Sam was still happy-drunk when Dean settled him into bed. “Get some sleep, kiddo.”

“C'mon, Dean, give us a kiss.” He puckered his lips.

Dean laughed and shook his head. “Sleep, Sam. Time enough for that tomorrow.”

---

Dean woke with a start. Where am I? He looked around. Couch. Sam's place.

Another scream.

Sam? “Sammy?” He bolted towards the sound.

Sam was in bed, writhing, sheets tangled around his legs.

Dean rushed to his side, panic rising. “Sam, Sammy, hey, you're ok.” He stroked gentle circles on his brother's face. “I'm here, Sammy. You're ok. It's just a dream.”

Sam sucked in air and screamed again. Dean's heart thudded. “C'mon, Sammy. You gotta wake up. It's just a dream.”

He shook Sam's shoulders, but Sam fought harder, pushing Dean away. “No, no, please. Please, don't. Please. Please.”

Dean climbed into bed with his brother, wrapping him in strong arms, careful not to hurt him. “Shhh, Sammy,” he whispered in Sam's ear. His hand tangled in Sam's long hair, stroking like he had when they were young. “It's ok. It's ok. Just a dream.” He held Sam close, shaking, mixing his soothing murmurs with Sam's desperate pleas.

Slowly, reluctantly, Sam's frenzy turned feeble. Dean tightened his hold and breathed Sam's scent, tears coursing down his face. “I'm here, baby brother. I'm here. No one's gonna hurt you. I'm here now. I'm here.”

It seemed an eternity before Sam opened his eyes. “Dean?” His voice was hoarse.

“Yeah, Sammy, I'm here. You had a dream.”

Sam stared, panting. Sweat clung to his forehead, and drops of blood glistened on his chest from reopened wounds.

“Just a dream, Sammy. You're ok now.”

Sam struggled to sit. “Dean.”

“Yeah, Sammy?”

He dropped his face in his hands. “Oh god, Dean.”

Dean's rubbed assurance on Sam's back. “Wanna talk about it?”

Sam shook his head. “No, not really. Not at all. God, Dean,” he repeated. “I'm so screwed.”

“Aw, come on, Sam. Everybody has nightmares.”

Sam mumbled through his hands. “Not what I mean.”

“Ok. Then what?”

Sam looked up with bloodshot eyes. “Dean, I told you I want this, and I do. I really do. But....” He glanced around frantically, searching for answers. “But I don't know if I can. I don't know how. I know how to act, how to get a john off fast, but I don't know how to want it. I mean, I want you, I do. It's just,” he sighed, weakly. “Pathetic, I know.”

“No, it's not.” Dean squeezed Sam's shoulders. “Sammy, I'm gonna ask you a question, but you don't have to answer unless you want to, ok?”

Sam met his eyes, confused. “Ok?”

“You ever been with someone you wanted to be with? Someone who wasn't paying you or forcing you?”

Sam froze.

“You don't have to answer unless you want to.”

Sam shook his head, dejected. “No. I mean, I want to answer. But no, I haven't.” He closed his eyes, waiting for pity, for derision. But none came.

Dean wrestled his anger under control. Sam needs you. He kept his voice level. “That's ok, Sammy. But you need to know that it's different when you want it. It shouldn't hurt or make you scared. And you and me? There's no rush. We'll take our time. And even if we never get there, I'm sticking around.” Gently, he turned Sam's face toward his own. “Sammy, I could never hurt you or do something you don't want. You're it for me, ok? I'll take whatever you want to give.”

He leaned down and kissed Sam's cheek. “Don't worry about it, ok Sammy? We'll figure this out. We've got plenty of time.” He rose from the bed but a hand caught his wrist.

“Dean?” Sam whispered. “Stay with me?”

All of the love he felt, the desire, the drive to protect converged in Dean's heart. “Yeah, baby brother. I will.”

---

Breakfast the next morning was quiet but peaceful. Each anticipated the other's motions and desires like they'd never been apart. Dean noticed Sam picking at his food, but remained silent, content that Sam seemed to feel rested. He obviously wanted to say something, but Dean would let him take his time.

Finally, Sam looked up from his plate. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Sammy?”

“What are you going to do now?”

The question was simply stated, but its childlike yearning tugged at Dean's heart. “Well, for starters, I'm gonna move into Jess's room, soon as she gets her stuff out of there. And I'm gonna get a job so I can help out some.”

Sam's face fell. “You don't need to protect me, Dean.”

Dean tilted his head. “Course I do, Sammy. You're my brother.” He scooted closer and placed his hand on Sam's knee. “Sammy, look at me. I know you don't need me. But you gotta let me try anyway. It's my job. I don't know what I'll do with myself if you don't let me try.” He leaned back. “And besides, if we're going to, I don't know, do this thing, we have to find another way to keep food on the table. You're mine now, and I don't share.”

Sam blushed.

Dean gave a crooked grin. “You're cute when you blush.”

Sam blushed harder, and Dean took pity. “So, Sammy, anthropology. Not even sure I know what that means. What do you wanna do with it?”

Sam looked up through his bangs, obviously still embarrassed. “You'll make fun of me.”

“Promise I won't. Cross my heart.”

“Fine.” Sam set his jaw and looked away. “Anthropology. It's the study of humanity. History, evolution, lots of cultural stuff. That's what my degree will be in, but it's really just a backdrop for the rest of my studies.”

Dean was intrigued. “What do you mean?”

Sam still wouldn't meet his eyes. “I have this dream, you know, of building a place for hunters, like a supply depot. Somewhere safe where they can stock up on ingredients, do their research, find jobs, catch gossip, whatever. All in one place. So I'm studying all kinds of stuff. Basic medicine, hoodoo, hunter history and lore, the works.” He looked down at his hands.

“Sam,” Dean breathed. “That's awesome. Where do you wanna do it? God, can you imagine if we'd had that growing up? Someplace central to come back to? Sammy. You're incredible, you know that?”

Sam looked up, reluctant and shy. “You like it?”

“I love it, Sammy. It's perfect.”

Sam's smile lit the whole room.

“Will you let me come along? I know you don't need my help, but Sammy. If I could have a home with you, stay in the life, take some hunts as they came along, that's like a dream, Sam. It's fucking perfect.”

“Yeah, Dean. I'd like that.”

The next hours were full of ideas and hopes, answers and questions. At one point, Dean grew so intense that Sam laughed and reminded him they had at least two years to figure it out. They built a tentative plan, determining what they needed to learn and collect before they broke ground.

It seemed unreal to Sam. Insubstantial. He wanted this, sure. He'd worked and struggled and sacrificed to make it happen. But it had been a back-up life. His Plan B. But now...now Dean was here, sharing it with him, and he couldn't believe his good fortune.

---

The room was dark and stuffy, reeking of tobacco. A man sat in the corner, smoke drifting lazily around him. His eyes were closed, but pleasure was evident on his face.

“Hey Blake.” Another man, larger, with square features and a grunt's thickness.

Blake opened his eyes, annoyed. “What do you want, Chris?”

The larger man hesitated, clearly reluctant to bother his boss. “Your daddy called. Wants to know if you're coming for dinner.”

Blake smirked. “Yeah, sure. Tell him I'll be there. Gotta keep the old man happy.”

Chris nodded but didn't leave.

“You got something else to say?”

He blushed. “Sorry, Blake. Just thought you'd wanna know.” He paused. “He's got someone with him now. Saw them at the bar. Think it might be his brother.”

Blake snorted. “And?”

“It's just, I dunno, Blake. He looks like trouble.”

Blake sighed and patted the man's head. “Don't worry, Chrissy. We'll figure it out. I've marked that boy. He's mine.”

His face relaxed into a confident sneer. “Mine.”

Chapter Text

The night was cool. Stars winked above, their edges hazy. Jess was packing up with her mom, and the brothers had climbed to the roof to give them some privacy.

Sam leaned against the guardrail. “Hey, Dean. You remember your twenty-first birthday?”

Dean scratched his neck absently. “Sure, Sam. Why?”

Sam studied the sky. “It was the first time I really thought about you, you know, after I left.”

“Gee thanks, Sam.”

“You know that's not what I mean.” He sighed. “It was tough, ok? I hooked my way out to Atlanta. Knew I'd have to get someplace warm. Got in the school system there.”

A star fell overhead. “Wasn't long before they figured out what I did. Didn't matter; they couldn't do anything unless they caught me at it. But it didn't exactly make me friend material.”

Dean watched him silently.

“Anyway, it was tough. I couldn't think about you, Dean, not and keep going. It was too much. But that night, your birthday, I sat on my roof with a bottle of whiskey and let myself remember. Thought you were there at one point.”

Dean closed his eyes. “Saw you sometimes, too, Sammy.”

Sam's throat tightened, and he struggled to continue. “I thought about that letter, really thought about it, about why John had me write it. That's when I figured it out. What he saw, I mean. But I never guessed you'd still feel that way.”

“Yeah, Sammy, I know. But I do.” Dean rubbed his palms together. “I remember that birthday. John didn't, of course. Never really did holidays after you left. I waited til he passed out and got myself drunk in the parking lot.”

They sat there awhile, unwilling to break the silence. On the street below, someone laughed.

Dean spoke first. “Sammy?”

“Yeah?”

“I know you don't want to, but I need you to tell me what happened in San Francisco. I need to know.”

Sam was quiet a long time. “Car pulled up while I was working. I recognized the guy that jumped out so I grabbed my knife. But he had three more with him, one with a gun. And I lost the knife.”

Dean felt his pulse quicken.

“He handcuffed me to a pipe, cut off my clothes. First they took turns...you know.” He closed his eyes. “Then he carved me up. Think he said something about making me his, but it was hazy. I was pretty out of it by that point.”

He looked to Dean, expecting a response, but Dean said nothing. “Anyway, I woke up sometime after that. Not sure how long I was out. The handcuffs were gone, and my bag was still there. Found my knife a little ways down the alley. I dug some clean clothes from my bag and called Gabe.” He shrugged as if that was it.

“Why didn't you call me?” Dean's voice was quiet.

Sam gazed ahead. “I thought if you knew what I was, you'd leave.”

“Not gonna leave.”

“I know.”

Dean thought a moment, his stomach tense. “Wait, you said you recognized him?”

Another shrug.

“Sammy, hang on a minute. You know the creep that did this to you?”

Sam clenched his jaw tight.

Dean's anger rose. “What the hell, Sam?” He leaned over and grabbed Sam's chin, forcing him to meet his eyes. “Tell me.”

Nothing.

“Sam Winchester, you fucking tell me. Now.”

“Let me go, Dean.” He sounded petulant.

Dean let him go, and Sam stalked away. Dean stood, shaking. “What the hell is wrong with you? Some dude you know rapes you and slices you open and what? You're gonna do nothing? Why? You think it doesn't matter, that you deserved it? Sammy, whatever crap you're thinking right now, just stop.”

Sam whirled to face Dean, fists clenched. “I'm not an idiot, Dean. Nobody deserves that.”

“Then why the fuck won't you tell me?” He knew he was yelling, knew he should stop. But his mind was dark with rage and screaming adrenaline. He had to know.

Sam flinched at Dean's anger, wilting a little. The air felt thick in his throat. “Because it doesn't matter, Dean.” He closed his eyes against his brother's towering fury. “You haven't lived this. You don't know. I can call the cops, sure. Report him. You know what's gonna happen? Nada. No one gives a fuck about a messed-up hooker. And even if they found him, what then? Yeah, I know who he is. Still doesn't matter. It's my word against his.”

Something in Dean's silence caught Sam's heart. He looked to his brother, and suddenly his anger was gone.

Dean was crying. He was staring at Sam, wide-eyed, ragged sobs wracking his body.

Sam didn't know what to do. Dean was the strong one, the protector. But now he was crying, broken and afraid. Sam had made him cry. He trembled, hesitant, then pulled his brother close. “Dean, hey, it's ok. I'm here, and I'm ok. It's all over.” His hand went to Dean's back, patting awkwardly.

After awhile, Dean pulled away and returned to his spot by the guardrail. Sam followed.

“Sammy?” Dean's voice was hoarse.

“Yeah, Dean?”

“Will you please just tell me? I won't do anything unless you want me to.”

Sam had never heard his brother so timid, so scared, and it broke his resolve. “The guy from the bar,” he said simply. “The one Crowley threw out.”

There was no answer. They sat for awhile in the heavy darkness, lost in their separate thoughts. Sam leaned against Dean's shoulder.

“Dean?”

“Hm.”

Sam struggled to put his thought into words. “I know you have questions. About my life, I mean. I was gone a long time.”

“Yeah, you were.”

“You can ask, if you want. Anything. I want you to know, it's just...Guess I don't know where to start.”

It was a long while before Dean spoke. “Did you have anyone? Anyone watching out for you?”

The question surprised Sam. “Yeah, guess I did. When I hitched to Atlanta, a couple guys gave me rides without asking for anything. One even gave me some cash.”

He paused, remembering. “There was a lady in Atlanta who'd sometimes catch me on my way home from school. Never said anything, just shoved a bag of groceries in my hand and left. And Jess was pretty cool about it. I told her right off. Thought it was something a roommate should know. And Crowley, of course.

“But Gabe was the first who didn't care. Didn't look at me like I was trash or...or worse, like I needed his pity. He'd help me out when I asked for it, but he never pushed. I know he's weird, Dean, but he's a good guy.”

A ghost of a smile played at the corners of Dean's mouth. “I'm glad, Sammy.”

They sat for awhile, counting the stars, content in their shared silence.

---

The next afternoon they split up. Sam was working the bar, and Dean was job-hunting.

Dean wasn't happy to be leaving Sam, but he needed work. There was a repair shop in town that specialized in older cars, and they were hiring. It sounded perfect.

He flicked on the wipers against the drizzling rain. Sam was with Crowley. He'd be ok.

---

Water dripped from the roof as he huddled beneath the overhang, gazing in the bar window. Blake smiled to himself. Hot damn, that boy is beautiful. He watched the shaggy hair dance around surprisingly delicate features as the boy moved, fixing drinks and laughing with customers. That laugh. He threw his head back when he laughed, exposing his vulnerable throat, as if he were just begging begging so pretty for someone to claim him. Blake's smile grew. He knew just the man for the job.

He sauntered inside, eyes sharp for the Scottish bouncer. Didn't seem to be there. He looked over to the bar and met the boy's hazel eyes, slanted like a fox's, begging to be owned.

The boy gasped and dropped a glass. The shatter was loud in the relative quiet. Scotty came then, shoving Blake outside. He said something, but Blake didn't listen. He hadn't planned to drink anyway. Just wanted to remind pretty boy he was still there.

---

Sam was shaking. Someone was tugging on his arm, saying something. Crowley? He couldn't hear, couldn't speak. His mind was empty of all but panic. He didn't know why. The wall loomed invitingly, and he leaned against it, sinking to the floor, huddling against himself in the safety of the corner.

---

Dean grinned as he climbed into the Impala. The interview had gone well, and the owner seemed cool. Mike, an older man with sprawling tattoos, had given him the job right off, told him to start next week. This could work, Dean thought, pleased.

His phone rang, number unknown. He answered it cheerfully, excitement still bubbling in his chest. “Dean Winchester here.”

“Squirrel, it's Crowley.”

Excitement shifted swiftly to anxiety. “What's wrong? Where's Sam?”

“Young Samuel is here and unharmed. No need for panic. He seems, however, a little spooked. You might want to come.”

The line cut off. Tires screeched as he pulled from the parking lot. Hang on, Sammy. I'm coming.

---

Dean charged into the bar, eyes wild. The few customers milling around sensed his rage and shied away. His heart thudded in time with his brain's insistent chant. Sam Sam Sam

He spotted Crowley hovering over something in the corner. Sam? “Sammy!”

Dean was there in seconds, shoving Crowley aside. He knelt and grabbed Sam's hands as they scrabbled at his chest. “Sammy? What is it? What happened?”

Sam didn't answer. He just looked at Dean, eyes wide and glassy, mouth slightly open. His breath came sharp and quick.

Dean turned to Crowley. “What the hell happened to him?”

Crowley's face was brooding. “I'm not entirely sure. He seemed cheery, not his usual peevish self at all. Then that penthouse moron waltzed in. I tossed him on his ear before he got to Sam, of course. But Sammy here collapsed.”

Dean moved until he was inches from Crowley's face. “If that bastard steps foot in here again,” he breathed, “Shoot him.”

He turned back to Sam, replacing his fury with uneasy concern. Sammy needs you. “Hey, Sammy, it's me. I got you.”

Sam looked at him, lost. “He was here, Dean.”

The childish whisper twisted knife-like in Dean's gut. “I know, Sammy. But he's gone now. You're ok. C'mon. Let's get you home.”

---

Dean called Mike to say he'd need a few more weeks. Then he called Bobby to see who they knew that could identify the man in the security footage he'd gotten off Crowley.

His baby brother was huddled in bed, whimpering softly. Someone had taken Sam's strength and shattered it. Dean's resolve grew, unable to regret his broken promise. He was going to find that son of a bitch if it killed him.

The hunt was on.

Chapter Text

The next two days were hell.

Sam was withdrawn, cagey. He felt helpless and hated it. The pain in his chest and arms had eased some, though Jim had warned him the cuts might scar. Sitting was agony, but he stubbornly refused to do anything about it.

He dragged himself to the bathroom, ignoring the sharp ache, and sought his reflection in the mirror. Angry red lines circled about his chest and upper arms, winding just over the backs of his shoulders. He snorted. Even without Dean, he couldn't go back to hooking after this. No one would pick up a guy who looked like he'd been through some creepy tribal manhood ritual.

Sam shuffled back to bed. Where was Dean anyway? He'd been avoiding Sam, and that hurt more than anything his assailant had done. Not that he could blame his brother. Dean had to be tired of saving him all the time. No one wanted a sniveling ex-hooker in bed.

He sighed and grabbed at the pill bottles on his nightstand, swallowing a few of them dry. If he was going to be stuck in this bed anyway, he might as well try to sleep.

---

Dean stood in Sam's alleyway, phone pressed to his ear. “I don't know, Bobby. He won't talk to me. How am I supposed to bring it up?”

Bobby's silent disapproval burned.

“Whatever, Bobby. Let me deal with Sam. What did you find?”

“Nothin' much from the tape you sent, but I got a guy lookin' at it. Name's Ash. Real computer whiz. If anyone can find the bastard, he can. Got somethin' off that picture you sent of Sam, though.”

Dean straightened. “Really?”

“Yeah. Not sure what to make of it.”

“Make of what?”

Bobby sighed. “Two dead bodies, that's what. Both male, both carved up like Sam, but all over. First was a student at Berkley. Filed a police report 'bout the rape and assault then turned up dead two weeks later. Other one was a Vegas hooker. No report filed beforehand, but the coroner said some of the wounds'd had time to heal.”

Deans blood went cold. “How did they die?”

“Son, you're with Sam now. These poor souls don't look like they had nobody. Sam'll be ok.”

“How did they die, Bobby?”

There was a pause before Bobby answered. “Bled out. Chest wounds were light, like Sam, but he made 'em deeper further down.”

Tears gathered in Dean's eyes. What the hell. He'd never cried so much as he had in the last week. Apparently, being with Sam had turned him into a lumbering infant.

Keep it together, Winchester. Time for that later. He shook himself. “Then we gotta find him fast. Email me that Ash guy's number so I can call him. And keep me posted.”

“Course. You doing ok, kid?”

Dean just grunted and ended the call.

He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. Fucking hell. He knew he had to tell Sam soon but wasn't sure he could stomach adding another layer of hurt to those wounded eyes. Dean grimaced. Not like Sam wanted him around anyway. His mind drifted.

“Sammy, where's Dad?” Ten-year-old Sam was on the floor, propped against the grimy wall of the motel room. Dean had just returned from picking up breakfast and was hoping to get them to school on time for once.

Sam refused to meet his eyes. “Left.”

Dean slid down the wall to sit by his brother. “Where'd he go?”

Sam flinched away, just a bit, but enough that Dean noticed. “I dunno, Dean. Roseville, probably.”

That made sense. There was a werewolf stalking the neighboring Michigan suburb, and when John had to leave his boys behind, his first choice was always an unaffected nearby town. Though he usually took time for goodbyes before he left.

Dean tossed a bag of food to his brother. “We gotta eat in the car or we'll be late. Come on.”

Sam pulled on another long-sleeved shirt and a jacket and hoisted his backpack over his shoulder, wordlessly following Dean to the Impala. He settled himself stiffly against the old leather seat and tossed his bag on the floor. Dean glanced at him in the mirror as he started the car, concern mounting.

“You getting sick or something?”

Sam just stared out the window, ignoring both Dean and his food.

Dean sighed but decided not to push. No one in this world was as stubborn as his brother when he set his mind to something. He turned the conversation in another direction. “So I'll see you around five after soccer practice?”

Sam shrugged. “Nah, I'll be done by three. Decided to drop soccer.”

Dean frowned. Sam loved soccer, loved anything, really, that colored his life with a bit of normalcy. “Why? Thought you were having fun.” He nudged his brother's shoulder. “Dad say something?”

Sam turned to him then, eyes flashing. “No, Dean. Dad did not say anything. I'm perfectly capable of making my own choices. And, like I said, I have decided to drop soccer.”

“Sammy, don't be a bitch. What's going on?”

Sam slumped in his seat, fire gone. “What's the point, Dean? We'll be here, what, two more weeks? If we're lucky. This is life. I might as well get used to it.”

Dean had no reply. That's what he'd wanted for Sam, after all. If he'd just accept life as a hunter it wouldn't bother him so much. But Sammy had always been different, he knew, and while Dean would never admit it, he loved that his brother wanted more. Wanted better. “Sammy....”

“Can it, Dean. Just take me to school.”

Dean smiled, nostalgic. Even at ten Sam was an articulate little twit.

Something about the memory caught in his mind. He mulled it over, confused. There was nothing particularly unusual about that day. As long as Dean could remember Sam had been volatile and moody, picking up hobbies and interests avidly but tiring of them the next day. It was a perfectly normal....

His stomach churned. Dad.

He scoured the memory now with new perspective. Sam had loved soccer. Always. He'd never mentioned participating again, but he'd caught what games he could on grainy motel televisions. Dean gagged as realization flooded through him. John's sudden departure. Sam's rigid shoulders. The slight dampness he'd identified as sweat before the added shirts.

He tried to retch on the cracked sidewalk but nothing came.

Had that been blood? Had John discovered Sam's interest and beaten him raw for it? How many times, how many hundreds of similar mornings had Sammy been hurt and Dean clueless?

He retraced the steps of their childhood with growing desperation. Sam's brief stint with high school theater. His gradual loss of interest in making or meeting friends. His joyless determination to train hard and well.

Had that all been John?

Dean closed his eyes against the dizziness.

How much of what he thought of as Sam was nothing more than broken spirit and John's relentless belt? How often had he mistaken Sam's fierce isolation for normal teenage hormones?

With fresh resolve Dean stood and opened his eyes. He knew what Sam was doing now, what Sam had always done. He was cradling his pain and vulnerability behind an impregnable wall, frantically pushing Dean away.

And Dean wouldn't have it.

---

Sam was jerked from his sleep by the vague press of someone behind him. He leapt up, grasping at the emptiness beneath the pillow where his knife should be.

Dean sat on the bed, all feigned innocence, Sam's knife dangling idly in one hand. “Looking for this, Samantha?”

“What the hell, Dean? I could have killed you.”

Dean looked amused. “Nah, baby brother. I know all your tricks.”

Sam glared at him. “Go away, Dean.”

The amusement disappeared, replaced by a surprisingly tender firmness. “Sit down, Sammy. Got something I need to tell you.”

Sam hesitated before sinking to the bed. Dean was going to leave at some point. Might as well get this over with.

But Dean just looked at him, intense and expressionless, and leaned forward, brushing his lips against Sam's own.

Sam sputtered and pulled away. “Dean....”

He was cut off by a firm hand tugging him forward and a warm mouth sealing his shut.

“Sammy, I want this,” Dean murmured through the kiss. “Nothing will ever make me not want this. Just shut up.”

And Sam did.

Dean pulled him closer and slid one hand into his hair. His tongue pressed inquiringly against Sam's lips, and after the briefest hesitation, Sam let him in.

Time disappeared. They crushed together, heedless and desperate, mouth on mouth. Sam felt Dean's hardness against his own and thrust into it. A heady moan spurred him on, and he ground faster, inhibitions gone. He sucked on Dean's tongue, pulling it into his mouth, savoring the taste. He'd imagined it for years, but it was different, better, and he wanted more, needed more, and he slid down his brother and scrabbled frantically at his jeans.

Dean pushed him back against the bed and straddled his legs, raw hunger in his gaze. “You first,” he growled, and the huskiness in his voice shot straight to Sam's groin.

Dean's tongue flicked under the hem of Sam's shirt as he undid his jeans, sliding them over his brother's hips. His boxers were next, and Sam felt suddenly free, his erection bobbing heavily. Dean grunted in appreciation. “Look at you, baby brother. So fucking needy.”

Sam moaned and bucked his hips feebly. “God, Dean, please,” he whimpered. “Please.”

Dean smiled at him lazily, pupils blown black. “Tell me what you want, baby boy. I'll give you anything, but you gotta tell me. Need to hear you say it.”

Sam was shaking, desperate, his untouched cock driving him mad. “Fuck, Dean, please,” he whispered. “Need you. Please, please. Just touch me.”

“Whatever you say, Sammy.” Dean reached one finger to the bead of pre-come glistening on Sam's slit and brought it to his mouth, sucking slowly. His eyes rolled back in his head. “God, Sammy, you taste so good. Been wanting to taste you forever.”

And suddenly Sam was engulfed in heat and pressure, and he bucked, frantic. Dean pressed him into the bed with his arm and continued to suck, circling Sam's length with his tongue. Sam was sweet and earthy and so fucking hard, and Dean's cock twitched in response.

Sam felt the pressure mounting and tried to push Dean away, mumbling incoherently, but Dean just shoved him back and sucked harder, and the world fell away. Sam exploded in a burst of white heat and stabbing ecstasy.

Dean swallowed him greedily, hungry for the bitter saltiness that was his brother. Sam keened, and apparently that was all it took to push Dean over the edge, and he came untouched like a desperate teenager.

---

“I'm going after him.” Dean felt the words escape his mouth, heard the sounds shaped by his voice. He silently begged every higher power he could name to erase them.

They had fallen asleep in Sam's bed, blissed out and exhausted. Lazy afternoon sunlight pooled along the curtains, and Sam had just begun to stir against Dean's chest.

Sam pulled away and stretched. He ran a hand through his hair, blinking sleep from his eyes. His lips were kiss-swollen and pink. “Who?”

Dean considered lying. He knew Sam wasn't awake enough to press him on it. No. Sam needed to know.

“That son of a bitch that sliced you up.”

“Oh. Ok.” Sam rubbed his eyes.

What? Dean stared at him. He'd been expecting a fight or at least an eyeful of Sam's patented bitch-face. But Sam just looked peaceful. Dean squinted. “So what? You're ok with this now?”

Sam sighed and turned to face him. “Dean, I'm too lazy to fight. So yeah, ok. Let's find him.”

They took their time, kissing and teasing, showering together. Sam came again, Dean's mouth on his neck and his fingers tight on his cock. Then he sank to his knees and looked through his lashes, eyes innocent and wide, water dripping from his hair. He opened his mouth perfect motherfucking mouth and swallowed him whole, and Dean collapsed against the shower wall, helpless against this unforeseen pleasure.

Dean grumbled as they sat down to lunch. “God, Sammy, I'm like a teenager around you. Barely holding it together.”

Sam laughed, full and beautiful, and pressed his hand on Dean's crotch.

Dean moaned and shoved him away. “Sammy, come on. We gotta eat sometime, and we need to put together a plan.”

That sobered him up. “Yeah, ok. What do you know so far?”

Dean recounted what Bobby had told him, flinching a little when he got to the victims' deaths.

Sam nodded. “Ok. So Bobby thinks this Ash guy can find him. Good. What then?”

“Then we kill him.”

Sam looked at him, surprised. “Dean, we don't kill humans. What was that, rule number three in the Winchester handbook?”

Dean met his eyes. “Sure. In John's handbook.” He emphasized their father's name with distaste. “And I'd kill him too if that ghoul hadn't gotten him first.”

Sam blinked, and suddenly he was a kid again, hopeful and uncertain. “Really?”

“Really.” Dean's gaze was firm. “We hunt monsters, and that's what John was. This guy is too.”

Sam was speechless. Dean had adored their father. He'd never imagined that if it came to it, if Dean had to choose...suddenly, something occurred to him. “Dean, what does Bobby know?”

Dean eyed his brother. “Pretty much everything.” The betrayed look Sam gave him stung. “Sam, listen. I asked Bobby to look for you days before I came to California. Shoulda done it sooner, but I didn't think you'd want me to. When I found you, everything happened so fast I forgot to tell Bobby. He called when you were with Jim.

“He'd found a lot, Sam. Your address here, your school record. Even your police file in Atlanta. That's how I knew. Bobby told me.” That seemed only to increase Sam's agitation. “Sammy, listen. Bobby, he doesn't care. He didn't even want to tell me. Thought I'd be mad. He begged me to go easy on you.” He reached over and placed a tentative hand on Sam's. “You don't know Bobby like I do. He's good people. And the other hunters, all they know is we're looking for an evil sumbitch that's out to get you. That's it. I swear.”

Before he could gauge Sam's reaction, his phone rang. He shot a look at Sam and answered. “Dean Winchester.”

A confident drawl answered him. “Dean, it's Ash. Bobby gave me your number.”

“Oh hey, Ash. What you got?”

There was a crackling on the line. “Dean, we got 'im.”

Chapter Text

Taut wire touches clay, wheedling, digging. The barest pressure on yielding mud.

He's detailing Perseus' cloak today. It surprised him when he realized he loved the cloak best. He'd been drawn to Puget's masterpiece first by the Gorgon's head, the imminent rape, the mewling babe swept to the sea.

Not everyone sees what he does in the image. He knows that. The horror of the baroque is hidden from most eyes. But he sees.

He sees predatory glances up chaste skirts. Delicate scrollwork carved by schizophrenic hands. Psychotic possessiveness glinting in Madonna's eyes.

Even Bach's organ is famous for haunting.

He knows that Perseus is no hero, no savior. His rescue is not of Andromeda but of squandered beauty. She is too perfect, too pure, to be defiled haphazardly.

And that cloak, its intricate folds caught in a bare speck of time, frozen between heartbeats in a violent storm, the sea, rising and burning, the fierce, whipping wind, Perseus' own brutal lust.

Puget captured that moment in the cloak, and it's his to recreate, unabashed fury unveiled with the gentlest touch.

Her face is yet undone, and its blankness irks him. The clay there is thick and dull and nothing like the fragile blankness of her breasts and thighs, the long stretches of flawless skin that beg for his knife, make him ache like imminent orgasm.

He feels that ache and embraces it, because this is art, this longing, this potential. The twining of agony and ecstasy and perfect, limitless freedom that will never be pursued, that will hover eternal at the fringes of reality, untarnished by the corporeal and mundane.

Andromeda belongs to Puget, not him, her final moment of perfection too good for his knife. He can play here, dabble in recreation. But his mastery lies elsewhere. He belongs not here but in the shadows, toying with the back-alley pretties that make up his canvas.

---

A band of heat splits his back. Again. Again.

He can't find the warm space. The belt is too fast.

His nails catch and crack on cold tile. He opens his mouth but he has no mouth, his mouth is gone, and he can't cry, can't beg, can't

Again.

It's the same, always, forever, and he can't get away, and the words rain down, carving and slicing, the words on his soul and the belt on his back.

The warm space is gone and his mouth is gone and everything is gone but the pain and the slicing away and if he can only endure for the tiniest bit longer then maybe just maybe he too can be gone.

A desperate shuddering pulls Dean from his sleep and he wonders why, why is he shaking but it's not him it's Sam and

The boot to his side is familiar and welcome and hope for reprieve if only the boot finds his penance complete, if only the belt is enough no smashing no cracking his ribs or his jaw not his jaw Dean will see Dean can't know, he has no mouth and he can't tell Dean

Sammy is crying and pressed to Dean's chest but the shaking gets worse, the tears don't stop, and

The boot doesn't smash and he looks for the face and the rage but the face is gone, too, no, no the face can't be gone it can't all be gone but the face has changed and the rage is now madness and sharp glass and lust and

Dean's rocking him now, begging, clutching his hair and kissing his ear

The boot is a knife and the eyes are insane and he knows now that the boot and the belt and the words were bad but they never were hell because this is hell and he wants to be gone with the boot and the belt but now this is hell and gone is gone, too

Sam never wakes but the quivering slows and Dean clutches him, anguished and raw, and his tears mix with Sam's long into the cold hours of the night.

---

Sam sat at the table, breakfast untouched, hands pressing knots from his neck. “It's weak, Dean. You know it is. If you won't let me come, at least take a few more days to scope the place out.”

“Sammy.” He leaned back in his chair and sighed. They'd been over this three times now. “Gotta be tonight. You'll be fine here with Gabe.”

Sam looked at him, eyes haunted and hooded. “Not worried about me.”

Ash had given them a name - “It's Blake Oswell, spoiled rich brat and art school drop-out” - an address, and the likely identities of the three sidekicks. Dean knew it wasn't enough, that more intel would help, but Gabe would be here and Crowley downstairs and he'd found pictures online of those other two men, carved and bloody, and the hunt was tonight. Good plan or no.

And besides, he was a hunter, armed with blade and gun and years of killing ghosts and ghouls that stretched back until that was all he knew. What was one man?

They didn't speak of the nightmare. Dean wondered if Sam remembered, if he was ashamed, or if maybe the nightmares were something routine like brushing teeth that didn't merit a mention.

He felt split in two, three maybe, anger and anguish and cold determination. It steeped beneath the surface, though, covered in a numb certainty that it ended tonight. It ended tonight, and Sam would be free, he'd have that life he deserved and Dean would be there to ruin anyone who said otherwise.

The minutes ticked by as they played through the gestures of normalcy, showering, eating, checking the mail. Around noon they gave up and crawled into bed, silent and together.

There was no heat in their touches, just quiet desperation. Small frightened kisses and shared heartbeats until the sun dipped away.

Gabe knocked at dusk and Sam let him wait on the stairs while he clutched Dean to his chest, breathing his scent and tracing prayers on the small of his back. His hands balled in Dean's shirt and clung, pleading, and Dean stroked his hair and ghost-kissed his neck and murmured sweet, hopeful promises in his ear. Time drifted sideways, the air thin and breathless, and then Dean was gone.

---

Sam joined Gabe on the couch and offered him a beer, neither of them really listening as George Clooney crooned his constant sorrow on the color-worn tv. “Thanks for coming, Gabe.”

Gabe snorted. “You know I never turn down free beer, Sammy-o.” The concern in his eyes belied his tone, and he slipped an arm along the couch and down around Sam's shoulders.

Sam's neck flushed red and embarrassed. “I don't need a babysitter every time big brother goes out.”

Gabe rolled his eyes. “Not a nanny. Got it.” He chugged his beer. “Did it ever occur to you, princess, that it's not all about you? That maybe I'm here to give Dean some peace of mind, because Odin knows it's not unlikely that art-house Hannibal Lecter goes all slicey-slicey once he notices Dean's vamoosed?”

Sam glared at him. “You're a dick.”

“You want my dick.”

Sam muttered into his beer. He looked at Gabe all stretched on the couch and wondered. “Why didn't you tell me you were a hunter?”

Gabe grinned at him lopsided. “Not a hunter, bright eyes. Just a sexually-frustrated, demon-savvy barista.”

It was Sam's turn to snort. “You know what I mean.”

Gabe set his beer on the coffee table and looked at him thoughtfully. “Sammy-o, I know a runaway when I see one. You wanna get all Holden Caulfield on the creepy-crawlies, I'm sure as hell gonna let you.”

They sat in silence awhile, but it was less awkward now. Companionable. Grateful applause roared through the speakers when Clooney finished his song. Sam stretched and rose to his feet.

“Where are you off to, Samantha?”

He smirked. “Gotta pee, Gabe. Wanna hold it for me?” He sauntered off, ignoring whatever snarky retort Gabe had to offer and shut himself in the bathroom. The door was solid and welcoming, and he leaned against it, closing his eyes. Gabe shouted something unintelligible from the living room.

Sam counted one hundred slowly, forcing his heart-rate down. Calm purpose replaced nerves as he retraced his coming steps. Carefully, quietly, he opened the toilet tank and reached with two fingers, fishing out a dripping plastic bag.

---

A car honked in the distance as Dean peered around the corner, heart pounding. This was it.

A small, abandoned office space served as Blake's current nest. The outside was all crumbling brick and torn vinyl overhang, but light peeked through the cracked blinds, and Dean could see smoke and warm wood inside. A bar sat at one end of the room, well-stocked by the looks of it, and there were scattered easels and half-finished sculptures throughout. The far wall was coated in thick paint – a man standing, proud and naked, scars like filigree along his thighs. Dean shivered.

Blake hovered inside by a brown lump of clay, cigarette clamped in his mouth. He noted two other men, one at the bar and one slouching outside the door.

Tonight. Tonight it would end in blood and vengeance for Sam. Little Sammy, left alone with his father's wrath, left alone with the greedy eyes, the psychopath's knife; Sam who shined bright in the scratching shadows, not alone anymore. Dean felt the anger pulse in his veins as he crept toward the guard, knife clutched in his hand.

A sharp pain in his skull and the world went black.

---

Gabe stretched idly on the couch, nursing his beer. Clooney bellowed on the tv: “I'll tell you what I am - I'm the damn paterfamilias!” He smirked. Such a good movie.

The sound of running water continued uninterrupted in the bathroom. Gabe frowned. Sam had been in there a long time.

He pounded on the door, waggling his eyebrows. “Sammy, baby, don't shut me outt! Love like that's made to be shared. You know I'm always happy to lend you a hand.”

No other noise but the water.

He knocked again, more insistently. “Sam? C'mon, your beer's getting warm and the movie reel's spinning. Don't wanna miss the sexy sirens, do you?”

Still no response.

He rattled the doorknob and found it unlocked. The door opened, hesitantly. “Sammy, you in there?”

Water rushed from the sink, hot gone cold, and the toilet tank sat ajar. The busy sounds of a California evening drifted through the open window. Sam was gone.

---

Something bit at his wrists, pounded his skull. His ears buzzed, unable to distinguish sounds. Knocked out, Dean guessed. It'll come back.

He smelled tobacco and warm earth and the pleasant burn of wet paint. Waited for his ears to clear.

He kept his neck loose and let his head loll, resisting the urge to struggle. Don't let 'em know you're awake 'til you've learned all you can.

Individual sounds poked through the buzz. The snick of a lighter, the drag of a chair. Someone in front of him, shifting weight nervously. He tugged at the knots on his hands, testing their strength.

“Oh, I know you're awake, hero boy. No need for the act.” The voice drawled, lazy and threat-pleasant like a shark's grin. Dean cracked his eyes.

The man in front of him was short and solid with thick worry lines between dull eyes. He stumbled at a shove from Blake. “Sit down, Chrissy. You're blocking my view.” The man moved to the edge of the room. Blake grabbed Dean's chin, forcing it up. “Well, look at you. Almost as pretty as your brother.” He chuckled, soothingly. “There, there, don't you worry. Not gonna carve you up. You're not my type. I'll let you die nice and quick once you've served your purpose.”

Dean cursed, but his tongue was thick and refused to comply. Blake's lips curved in sympathy. “Aw, big brother, you're ok. That pretty pink tongue of yours'll work fine soon enough.” He dropped Dean's jaw and turned, pacing the room languidly. Thin trails of smoke followed his path. He settled against the corner.

Blood rushed in Dean's ears as he fought the rising panic. He worked his tongue and the rope at his wrists, struggling to loosen both. The bonds held firm. “What do you want from me, you fucking son of a bitch?”

Blake pushed from the wall and traipsed toward Dean. He was quick now, laziness gone, and he twitched to an unheard music. He crouched at Dean's side, eyes glinting, and licked a long, slow stripe up Dean's neck. Dean shuddered.

“Oh, you know, brother boy.” Hot breath in Dean's ear. “You're bait.”

Dean whipped his head around, but Blake was too fast. He clicked his tongue and squinted. “Easy there, tiger.” His tongue fluttered, lizard-like. “If you're real good, I'll let you watch.”

Dean lunged against the ropes, tearing the skin at his wrists. He screamed threats and profanity until Blake shoved a dirty cloth into his mouth. Another rope then, tight on his jaw, holding the gag in place. Dean's eyes rolled, wild.

“That's better.” Blake resumed his pacing. “You can't even imagine, can you, the sweetness of the screams. Thin and desperate, throaty and hoarse, a regular thirty-one flavors of terror. Love 'em all. Love the slow drip of blood, the long white thighs just begging for my hands. Heady, delicious whimpers when I turn 'em over and fuck 'em broken, mmm.” He took a long sigh. “Nothing like it.”

Dean thought he might suffocate. There wasn't enough oxygen in this damned room, and the light was white and hot, and he wondered if maybe his heart could beat loud enough to drown out Blake's words.

Blake looked at him sideways, savoring his torment.

Dean's phone chirped on the bar.

Blake cocked an eyebrow, hunger clear on his face. “That'll be baby brother now.” He answered the phone. “What can I do for you, sweet thing?”

Dean couldn't make out the words, but the buzz on the line was angry and sharp.

Blake's nostrils curled. “Put pretty boy on the phone. You bore me.”

More angry buzzing.

Blake pulled a gun from his jacket and clicked the safety against the phone's mouthpiece. “Hear that? Locked and loaded. Give me pretty boy or big brother bites it.”

The other line paused for a moment, and the buzzing turned desperate.

Blake's chuckle burned ice-cold in Dean's gut. “Lost 'im, huh? Pretty boy get away from you? Heh. Good enough. You stay put though, or I'll shove my gun up big brother's tight little ass and unload it. Might anyway. Don't tempt me.”

He dropped the phone and leered at Dean. “Any minute now.”

---

Sam stared down from the roof, panting. The climb up hadn't been easy. No fire escapes on these old buildings. He counted two men, one by the front door, one lurking around back. His mind raced. Dean should be here by now, and if those men were still there.... No. Focus.

He heaved himself over the far side of the building, fingers clutched tight on the edge. His feet found holds, blind but sure as he inched down the wall. This he knew. This he could do.

He had run from hunting but could never escape the hunter inside. His instincts were sharp, attuned to every noise, every twitch of movement. He crept to the man in the back, trusting shadow to hide him. A streetlight stood on the corner, and he stopped at the line in the darkness, waiting.

The man before him was watchful but lazy, unused to real threat. He lounged against the wall, humming to himself, digging in his pockets. His hand found a pack of Pall Malls and tugged one free. He flicked a lighter with his thumb.

Sensing his opportunity, Sam crouched and felt at the ground. His fingers closed around a broken chunk of brick, and he threw it, hard. It flew over the man, slamming the wall beyond him, and the man turned toward the sound. One fluid movement and Sam was behind him, gouging his knife on his throat.

The body slumped to the ground, silent.

Sam turned his attention to the man at the front, hesitating. He'd surely heard the sound, would come to inspect it, could come from either direction. He listened for footsteps and heard them behind him, felt hot breath at his neck. This man was much better. His knife flashed and caught the man's thigh, dropping him, then finished the job at his neck.

Two down, two to go.

He pushed up against the wall, feeling for notches. Two men inside, and he couldn't take them both, not without risking Dean. Dean, who had almost certainly gone in, guns blazing, but there was noise through the window, chilling laughter, and it wasn't Dean's.

His arms burned as he pulled onto another roof. He ignored them, didn't even notice the blood oozing from reopened cuts. There was an access door here, and he reached it, digging for his lockpick. No thought now, movements practiced and steady.

The stairway was dark and musty, thick with scents of old paper and urine. He snaked down soundlessly, listening, listening. Paused at the ground floor. More laughter and muffled rage. He glanced around.

The room was big and cluttered with abandoned cubicles. Sam hid behind one, kicked the box in the corner. Waited.

Sharp commands from behind the door, and it opened, a thick shadow in the spilling light. Sam peered through a hole in his hiding place. This man was big and moved slow, but slowness could deceive, he knew, and it never paid to discount the threat of extra bulk.

The man thumped in the room, not bothering with silence. Sam couldn't see him anymore but he could hear, hear the heavy footsteps nearing him, passing him, pausing. His knife slid easy into the man's spine, but it wasn't enough, and this one twisted and grunted before the kill came true.

Sam froze.

The laughter came again. A voice, the voice. “Hello, there pretty boy. Glad you could join us.”

He couldn't move, couldn't breathe. His eyes clouded with remembered sights, sticky blood on flashing metal. The smell of sex and dirt and heavy bodies.

“Got big brother in here. Why don't you come on in?”

Dean. The panic was gone, trumped by the blood of the hunter. He slid the gore-slick knife into his jacket and strode into the light, easy grin on his face. “Hiya Blake.”

Blake snorted. “Been researching me, huh pretty boy?” He eyed Sam curiously. “Gone and grew yourself some balls, I see. Don't like me playin' with big brother?”

Memories flashed again through the wall in Sam's mind but they lacked any power. Fear couldn't reach him now. His lips curled in a sneer as he met Blake's eyes. “Always had 'em, Blake. You remember.” He grabbed at his crotch and thrust his hips.

Dean panicked then, screaming desperately through the gag. Sam ignored him and moved closer.

“Uh-uh, pretty boy. Be still and let me look at you.” Blake jabbed the gun at his chest.

Sam felt laughter rise in his throat, but it wasn't hysteria. This was too easy. He'd feared the worst, feared Dean dead or threatened, feared he'd fail to save his brother. But Blake's focus was on Sam and the gun on his skin and he twisted away, snatching the gun and firing.

Blake fell to the ground, a perfect hole through his head.

Chapter Text

There were thin tendrils of smoke. Pooling blood, still warm, not yet sticky. Sam stared at the face, but it wasn't Blake, it was John. It was Blake and John and that motel manager and his history teacher and the greasy, leering faces of all the men who haunted him, men getting off on power or sex or fear.

Yeah, baby, open up. Open that pretty pink mouth for me.

Fucking waste of space, Sam. Wish to hell I'd left you to that vamp.

Shhhh, honey. Don't fight it. I'll make it good for you. No one needs to know.

You like it, don't you, pretty boy. Love my knife on your skin. Cuts so smooth, so clean.

Another voice, muffled. Frantic. Sam's mind snapped back. Dean. “Dean! Oh my god, Dean, are you ok?” The rush of his blood made his fingers thick, stubborn. He fumbled at the knots on Dean's wrists. “Oh Dean, oh god, oh god.”

He worked the rope at Dean's ankles while Dean loosened his gag. “Sammy. You're ok.” Dean's voice was hoarse with anguished relief. He pulled Sam up and examined his face, eyes searching, fearing. “Oh Sammy.”

Their mouths met, hard, and Sam tasted bile and salt and blood, but it didn't matter. Dean was alive. Blake was dead and Dean was alive and he was here.

Dean's arms claimed him, forcing him closer. He leaned in and smelled Dean's sweat and the angle was wrong and his legs still hurt but it didn't matter, it didn't matter because Dean was here.

“Sammy, thought I'd failed you. Thought you were gonna die.”

“Never gonna die, Dean. Not til you do.”

And then there was silence, and holding, pressing, fierce-gentle clutches of still-here and safe and together. They weaved into one at the edge of the world as darkness and waves surrounded them, swarming, fire and blood and aching betrayal, and eyes, all the eyes, the lust and the hate and the yellow-black-red smoke of demons and vampires and spit-silver knives, swelling like music or storm clouds and rising, rising, cavernous mouth to swallow them whole. The tiniest tremor cracked the world and it melted away, collapsed into dust that rained and collected in impotent drifts, dissolved into nothing for nothing was but them and together and here.

Their breathing had slowed in time with each other's, and the room smelt of blood and gunpowder, and Sam felt the burn in his thighs. He pushed away reluctantly.

Dean took his offered hand and pulled himself to his feet. “Ugh. Bastard got me good.”

Sam's eyes were concerned. “You ok? What did he do to you?”

Dean smiled at him. “Yeah, Sammy, I'm ok. Head hurts where he clocked me, and my wrists are torn to hell, but I'm ok. You?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah.”

They surveyed the room together. Blood from Blake's forehead mottled the floor, and Chris was next door and two more in the street. They gathered the rope and the gun and the bodies and packed it all tight in the Impala. Thank god it was dark.

Sam spoke briefly with Gabe. When the call ended, Dean looked at him curiously. “What did he say?”

Sam snorted. “Well, he's pissed as hell that I snuck out, but I'm sure in a couple days he'll get over it enough to be glad we're ok. He'll be here in an hour to clean the place up.” He looked at his brother. “Said he called you when he saw I was gone but got Blake instead.”

“Hm. Wondered who was on the phone.” The thick scent of blood caught the back of his throat. “What the hell are we supposed to do with four dead bodies?”

Sam paused, considering. “There's a game refuge not too far away. We could get in there, dig a grave, and light 'em up.”

Dean nodded. “Lead the way, Sammy. Sounds like a plan.”

---

They stretched on the ground, observing in silence the wax and wane of the flames.

“Had a hunter's funeral for Dad. For John.”

Sam looked at him then, but Dean kept his eyes on the fire.

“Me 'n Bobby. We were all three working a nest of ghouls in North Dakota. John got separated, got his throat slit. Drove back down to Bobby's for the pyre.”

Sam was silent, watching.

Dean chewed his lip as he thought. “You gotta believe me, Sammy, I didn't know, not really. Didn't know what he did, what he made you do. But I think a part of me did. Not the details of it, just that he was bad. Evil. You left, and I felt like I should blame you, you know? I mean, all I knew was that you'd run away. But I never blamed you. John, though.” The flames hissed and cracked. “I hated John.”

Sam still didn't speak.

“I torched his corpse, and I didn't cry, didn't feel nothing. Seemed right, him dying. And I didn't even know.”

The smoke from the fire was thick with the sweetness of death and rot, and they watched it climb through the trees. Sam sat up a bit and reached for his back, pulling out the old black handgun he'd had as a kid. He eyed it, thoughtful. “Dean, I kept this, all this time, tucked in a bag in my toilet tank. Always there, just in case, you know? It's the one John used to leave with me when you two'd go off on a hunt.”

He ran his thumb on the smooth barrel, warm from the skin of his back. “Always hated it. It was John, it was hunting with John, hiding from you. Fished it out today. Just in case. Always just in case.” He clicked open the cylinder, dumping the bullets, and tossed it to Dean. “Don't want it anymore. Didn't need it tonight.”

Sam sighed and leaned back, eyes on the stars. “Remember my sixteenth birthday? That knife you gave me? Always kept that, too, but close, on my belt. Always within reach. That's what I used tonight.” He pulled the knife from his jacket and wiped it clean on the dewy grass. The glare of the fire caught the cool metal and reflected back in Sam's eyes.

He traced the delicate etching on the blade's handle. “Don't think I ever really wanted to be done with hunting. Just done with John.”

They stayed there together, hands brushed close, as the fire burned down in the frail light of morning.

---

Dean fell on Sam's bed, heavy. They were finally clean. Sam hovered over him, eying the length of his naked body. “You're really ok?”

“I'm really ok, Sammy.” Dean grabbed his brother and pulled him down, wrapping him tight in his arms. “C'mere.”

For a moment that was it, Sam's head on Dean's chest, bewitched by the beat of his brother's heart. Dean's fingers skimmed along Sam's back leaving clusters of warmth in the faintly numb places Sam realized were scars. The hands disappeared and he felt a slight push as Dean maneuvered him down to the bed on his stomach.

He realized then, that they were both naked, naked in bed, and he trembled. Liquid desire met familiar dread as Dean straddled him, curling their calves together. He wanted this, needed this, but he felt the brush of hair on Dean's strong legs and dip of the bed and memory pummeled his hunger away. He shivered.

“Shhh, Sammy, it's me. Not gonna hurt you. Never gonna hurt you.” Dean leaned and kissed the top of his head. “Let me take care of you.”

The weight shifted slightly as Dean slid back and there, right there, at the vulnerable dip between his angular shoulderblades was a warm, wet heat. Dean was kissing him.

Dean kissed and soothed along Sam's back, tracing the pathway of ancient white scars. “I'm here, Sammy.” Lips brushed into the curve of his rib. “Be here forever.” The flick of a tongue in the small of his back. “Never gonna leave.”

Dean traced and retraced the old, thin scars. Sam closed his eyes to see in his mind those perfect pink lips on his own damaged flesh and he shivered again but the fear was gone.

Dean turned him gently, nestling him into the pillows. Another kiss pressed in his collarbone hollow. Three more questing the length of his neck. A final kiss lost in the shell of his ear as hot breath chased the memories away. “I won't let anyone hurt you again.”

And finally, finally those magical lips crushed at his mouth and he moaned with want. He clutched Dean close as their mouths worked together, the push and shove of masculine tongues and the salt-sweet smell of Dean and of home.

May 2006: Lawrence, KS

They settled on Lawrence, Kansas. It was hard on Dean at first. There were days he hardly spoke, his shoulders tight as they'd been when he'd first found Sam. But the length between those days grew as time passed, and their reasons had been good. It was close to both Kansas City and Topeka and sat right off Interstate-70, the long, insistent highway that forged across most of the continental US.

They'd spent summers here while Sam finished school. Hot, sweaty days of sawing and hammering; cool nights researching, building collections. Dean had discovered a talent with wood that rivaled his skill with cars.

The structures were solid and airy. Their house perched on a gentle slope dotted with trees, and three small bunkhouses circled the pond in the back. A generous garden stretched to the side, away from the pond and the threat of its swell in the hot summer rains.

The main show, though, was the sprawling storefront off to the side. The front door opened on a sunlit room stuffed with jars and flasks and dust-specked boxes. Herbs were hung from the ceiling and braided by windows, and warding and devils-traps littered the walls. A mortar and pestle sat on the counter near jugs of holy water, and off to the side was a long glass case, displaying the knives Dean had continued to make. Below that lay bins of silver and salt.

The room to the back was the library, Sam's pride and joy. He'd spent hours collecting and recording hunter lore and had tucked all his treasures on the overflowing shelves.

The town afforded them occasional work. The aging mechanic valued Dean's help and remembered John fondly from years ago, before the hunter's mind had been twisted with loss. Sam tutored at the high school and earned love and respect from the kids he'd met.

Most of their money came from the stockroom, as they'd come to call it. Hunters had begun trickling through long before it was finished. Some needed medical attention from Sam, others just longed for a place to sleep safe. All of them, though, were delighted as kids when they entered the stockroom and took in the wealth of available supplies. They'd begun to call, looking for jobs or just checking in, and Sam kept tabs on all who came through.

They'd been here a year, settling together, and the bad days for Dean were all but gone. He'd hunt now sporadically, having finally convinced himself Sam would be safe. He was on a hunt now, due back tonight.

Three years since they'd united, and Dean had been patient, loving and tender and holding himself back. But Sam was ready. It was time.

He sat on the couch in their tiny house, waiting and trying to read. A dinner for Dean was warm in the oven, and crickets had begun their chirping outside. He smiled at the thud of his heart, happy to know it was desire and want, that Dean had driven the fear away.

The door opened abruptly, and Dean thumped in. He looked tired and sweaty, but Sam saw no blood. He rushed to his brother and pulled him close.

Dean pushed him back against the wall and pressed their lips together, his mouth hungry and firm. A tongue prodded at the seal of his lips and Sam let it in, and they stood there together, exploring, tasting, claiming. A thigh pushed up hard between his legs and Sam lost control.

Dean scooped him up and dropped him in bed, and his gut ached sharp when they drew apart to undress. But Dean was back soon, naked and perfect, and they tangled together on top of their sheets.

Dean's mouth closed on his ear. “Tell me what you want, baby boy.” He gripped Sam's cock and began to rub.

Sam groaned and thrust up into Dean's hand. “Need you in me, Dean.”

Dean nibbled along the shell of Sam's ear and stroked Sam's cock once more. “Spread your legs for me, Sammy, nice and wide. Open 'em up for me. Show me how much you need it.”

Dean breathed in hard as Sam complied, his baby brother, shameless and desperate, spread out beneath him. He kept his mouth tight against Sam's ear as his finger circled the little pink hole. It was slick. “God, Sammy,” he gasped. “You lube yourself up for me already?” Sam nodded and pushed against Dean's finger. They shuddered together.

“Tell me, Sammy. Tell me all about how you slicked up your tight little ass for your brother.”

Sam gasped and shook and his voice was hoarse. “I...” Dean pushed his finger deep inside and began to rock in and out. “God, Dean, I came in here...ugh...after I showered and...oh, oh, oh fuck, Dean...and I got on the bed and closed my eyes and....” Sam arched his back as a second finger joined the first. “And I thought about you, slicking me up...ah, Dean, please....” A third finger, and Dean felt for the hidden little nub and scraped it with his nail. Sam screamed.

“Keep going, baby boy. Wanna hear it.” He rubbed it again, and Sam squirmed on his hand.

“Oh god, Dean, I, uh, I slicked it up good 'cause I...ugh...I'm ready now. Want you to...want your dick in my ass.”

Dean froze. Hunger burned in his belly and he couldn't find air. “What?”

Sam pushed himself down onto Dean's fingers and moaned. “I'm ready, Dean. Want you. Please.”

That was all it took. The want and the need he'd kept caged for so long were finally free, and he lined himself up against Sam's hole and sank in deep.

---

They tangled together, sweaty and spent, and slept through the night. Sam woke to gradual sunlight and birdsong, hot and safe in his brother's arms. He wiggled a bit, careful not to wake Dean, and turned to face him.

A sheen of sweat coated Dean's chest as it rose and fell, gentle and content in their shared bed. A warm beam of sunlight bathed his face.

Sam stared at that familiar face, the long-lashed eyes, the pouty lips. He counted the freckles dusting Dean's cheeks though he knew their sum already. He was here, really here, wrapped in Dean's arms. It was unimaginable.

He closed his eyes and searched deep in his memory for that terrible longing he'd felt lifetimes ago. The ache, the emptiness, the desperate, tentative hope. It wasn't there.

He thought of the pond outside their house, and the wide, dry fields that stretched behind it. The soil would crumble in the burning sun, dry and dusty. It would lie there, dormant and seemingly lifeless, until a summer storm rolled around to wake it once more. His heart was that field, he realized now, finally full, finally whole after its long, long waiting for rain.

Fin