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Smart People Who Do Dumb Things

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Smart People Who Do Dumb Things
By Candle Beck

 

This is the first time Sam came home drunk:

They were squatting in an abandoned house outside Flint. Thieves and vandals had already been through, the copper wire torn out of the walls and leaving open gashes behind, autographed with scrawls of black spray paint. No heat and it was cold, just about livable but give it a week or two and they'd be losing toes overnight.

It wasn't even eight o'clock yet, and John was already passed out in the windowless back bedroom he'd claimed as his own. He was just a couple days removed from a bad hunt, a dislocated shoulder, a thousand-mile drive. Dean had made him eat, fixed him whiskey and flat soda until the lines smoothed off his father's forehead, and he staggered off to sleep.

Now Dean was mostly trying to keep quiet. He was wrapped in two blankets, sitting Indian-style on the floor with a car magazine spread out in front of him. He couldn't concentrate. He'd been staring at the same bee-colored Lamborghini for about five minutes. His mind couldn't seem to settle on any one thing, but that was hardly new.

Someone fell against the front door, and Dean tensed under his blankets. He wished he'd thought to get a gun, but he'd been cold, tired, not thinking right. Dean cocked his head, heard something like snuffling laughter outside. The door rattled in its frame and then sprang open and Sam came slewing in, hanging on to the knob for dear life. Sam was laughing, a massive grin broken across his face.

Dean said, "Hey, shut up," and stood. The blankets hung on him like a small boy's cape and Dean shrugged them off. He'd rather be cold than look ridiculous.

Sam was still sniggering, chortling with both hands mashed against his mouth. Dean got close enough and caught the wild amber scent in the air.

"Holy shit, are you drunk?" Dean asked, aghast.

Sam shook his head so hard his hair whipped into his eyes and drew tears. He blinked furiously up at his brother, swaying on his feet. Sam's face was splotchy red, eyes half-lidded and still lit up like sparklers.

"I am definitely not drunk," Sam said, and then he lost his balance and canted forward into Dean sharply. Dean caught him by the shoulders, pushed him back into the door.

Sam's head lolled back, and he smiled at Dean. Dean was angry, but not as much as he felt like he should be.

"Who the hell is buying you booze, you look like a ten year old."

"Hey," Sam said, jabbing a finger into Dean's chest. "I am fourteen, and you know I'm fourteen because you got me a cupcake."

Dean was stymied by that for a minute, snagged by the wide-eyed blurry way Sam was looking at him: remember? remember, dean? Dean knocked Sam's hand away, scowling at him.

"What if Dad was awake, huh? What'd he think about seeing you like this?"

Sam's face crumpled slightly, but he played it off, waved his hand dismissively with a pfft sound.

"Hafta be awake, wouldn't he, awake and not drunk himself and he isn't those things."

Dean didn't want to hear it. Sam was slurring, mouth clumsy and reckless. Dean wasn't going to listen to him when he was like this.

"You were supposed to be doing your goddamn homework, you--it's a fucking Tuesday, Sam. Guess what, you're not hanging out with those preppie kids anymore."

A dark expression flashed across Sam's face, frustrated rage as black as the bottom of a well. His hands slammed against Dean's chest, shoved him backwards. Dean had sixty pounds on his little brother but he still stumbled, almost fell.

"You can't make me," Sam said, too loud again and making Dean's pulse fracture. "I'm not a child and you're not, you're not supposed to say that stuff to me. It's none of your business."

Dean stared at him in disbelief. "Are you fucking retarded? You are my business."

"No," and Sam reached up, grabbing Dean's shoulders, small hands too strong already. "I'm not anymore, I'm something different now."

And then Sam rose onto his tiptoes and kissed Dean on the mouth. Dean jerked back immediately, panic firing huge and incomprehensible in him. He pushed Sam away instinctively and too hard, and Sam tripped, fell to his knees. Dean gaped down at him, his brain exploding, and Sam moaned, wrapped his arms around his stomach and got violently sick on the carpet.

Dean wanted to kick him, shake him, scream. The awful stench crowded the room, and Sam was dry heaving, coughing hard. The narrow hooked line of Sam's back was trembling like the house was twenty degrees colder. Dean's blood was rioting, speeding through his veins.

"What the hell is wrong with you," Dean said, meaning to sound furious but it didn't come out like that, instead all weak and halting.

Sam shook his head. "So many things."

Dean wiped his forearm across his mouth unconsciously. Sam looked so small curled up on his knees on the carpet, head hanging and his hair falling straight across his eyes.

"Get up, just, come on." Dean grabbed Sam's shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Sam stood with a pronounced list to the side, blinking at Dean with his eyes sticky-looking and ashamed, mouth warped from the rotten taste.

Dean pushed his brother in the general direction of the bathroom. His heart was pounding for some reason that was most likely leftover adrenaline from Sam kissing him. Sam had kissed him. Dean felt like a huge balloon had popped in his mind, leaving him deafened and dumbfounded, just blown the fuck away.

They had big five gallon jugs in place of running water, and Dean told Sam, "Wash out your mouth," then leaned against the wall outside the bathroom with both hands pressed to his eyes, listening to Sam comply.

Sam couldn't be fucked up that badly. It wasn't possible; Dean would have seen it. It must have been another one of those fucking riddles he liked to play, doing one thing when he meant another and if Dean didn't decipher it properly Sam would walk around looking like no one loved him. Nothing involving Sam was ever straightforward.

"Get a shirt out of the dirty clothes and clean this mess up," Dean said when Sam came out with his face scrubbed and damp. Dean's voice was shaky but he couldn't worry about that right now. "Then you're gonna sleep it off so you're in shape for me to kick your ass tomorrow."

Sam's head swiveled, a bad-tempered sneer on his face as he looked back at Dean, eyes half-lidded and cloudy. "You talk so fuckin' big."

"You watch your goddamn mouth, Sammy."

Dean shoved Sam into their bedroom, which didn't have a door but instead they'd tacked up a filthy purplish sheet that was always getting yanked down. Sam stumbled but didn't fall, jerking his shoulders up and back and holding his hands out like he was on a tightrope. Dean watched him from the doorway, a hot desperate feeling in his stomach. Sam looked like any other drunk kid, clumsy and unstable as he knelt by the dirty clothes bag and fumbled for the zip. Sam looked just like he always had. Maybe a little more ashamed, but that was all.

Shirt in hand, Sam bumped into Dean in the doorway, mumbled with his eyes downcast, "Sorry."

Dean closed a fist in Sam's hair, saw Sam's face screw up in pained anticipation but Dean didn't pull, held his brother with the slightest tugging pressure and told him, "Don't pull this shit again, all right?"

Sam nodded very carefully, testing Dean's grip and seeming to find it to his liking. He kept darting quick looks at Dean and it made him look terrified, hunted, but that couldn't be right.

Sam had to know that Dean would forgive him.

*

This is the first time Sam stayed out all night:

It was summertime on the high plains of Colorado. Their dad had been hunting redcaps for three weeks; they'd gotten a blank postcard a couple days before so they knew they didn't have to worry yet. Dean worked on a road crew laying blacktop all day and it was like the seventh circle of hell. The air was deadly dry, kept Dean's lips and hands chapped and sore. He was itchy, in a foul mood and with a headache to boot because his useless little brother had broken his sunglasses a few days ago and Dean had been squinting into the sun ever since.

They were staying in a huge rambling ranch house, long tiled hallways that echoed when you walked down them, big empty rooms flooded with sun in the morning. The house's owner was in debt to their father in some way, and Dean didn't trouble himself to know the details. He was just happy to have his own room for once.

Dean came home from the road crew mainly to change before going out drinking. He stuck his head in Sam's door and his brother was listening to Dean's old Walkman and reading a monster-sized book that could totally brain a guy. Dean flapped a hand in his peripheral vision until Sam looked up and pulled his headphones off.

"You're home," Sam said unnecessarily.

"Cameo appearance, really. You wanna go test out that new fake ID I got you?"

Sam's eyes flashed, his face plainly lit up with yes for a moment before his shoulders fell slightly and he shrugged, intentionally casual about it. "Probably not. I mean, I, I would, I do want to, but there's just--I got this book."

Sam hefted the book, and Dean rolled his eyes.

"Dude, it's summer. Could you at least try to be less of a geek? It's not just embarrassing for you, you know."

Sam scowled. "Go to hell, Dean."

"Nah, think it's gonna be the Wildcat," Dean said. "They got dollar shots."

"Well whoop de doo," Sam muttered, face buried in his book again, and Dean was done wasting valuable drinking time on him. He let Sam's bedroom door slam behind him.

Showers took twice as long since he'd been working on the highway, but it was essential. Dean's skin was tinged gray from the tar-like asphalt, his hair gritty. When he was clean he padded to the kitchen in a towel and whipped up a couple of peanut butter sandwiches that he ate standing over the sink because there were no clean plates. Usually Dean wouldn't care about a few crumbs, but John had told them specifically not to mess the place up.

He didn't look in on Sam again before he left, didn't let himself worry like he would have even a year ago, back when Sam was still shorter than him. Sam was sixteen years old and getting stronger by the day. He was armed with a 9mm, protected by salt, and he could take care of himself; Sam had told him so a thousand times.

Dean wore his cleanest shirt, his new boots. It was payday on the big ranches and all the hands showed up at the Wildcat, five men for every woman but Dean didn't really see that hurting his chances much. Wheel of Fortune was on the single scratchy television, and Dean broke the ice with the easiest-looking girl in the place by telling her how plastic surgery had ruined Vanna White for him and it was infuriating.

It was a good night. Dean got half-drunk, got sucked off in the backseat of his car before nine o'clock, and then he went back inside to play some pinball. He got four extra balls in one game, and then he won the match. Nobody ever won the match.

He had to cut his free game short, though, when a few good ol' boys started jawing over the pool table, first just shoving at each other but then one of them broke his cue stick against another man's skull, and it was on. Thrown bottles and glasses filled the air along with the smell of sweat and raw liquor, wild-making.

Dean left his beer half-empty and hightailed it out the back door before the cops showed up. Dean's ID was as fake as his kid brother's, and the gun tucked in his belt had had the serial numbers filed off. John's top three rules were: watch out for your brother, don't get hurt, don't get arrested. Dean always did his very best to abide.

When he got home, Sam wasn't there. Dean walked every foot of the house looking for him, checked every closet and under every bed, still kinda buzzed but mostly bewildered, staving off worry and fear and anger. This gigantic crackerbox of a house had never stopped secretly freaking Dean out. There were so many places to hide.

Sam hadn't left a note, nor any sign of struggle. The salt lines were unbroken and so there was no reason to think that Sam had been taken by something. Dean got the army flashlight and checked the dirt driveway, found tire tracks that weren't the Impala's. Someone had taken Sam.

Dean sobered up the rest of the way. He decided that between fear and anger he was gonna have to take the latter, all the black thoughts in his mind starting to go splintery and sharp. Sam hadn't been taken at all. He'd gone conscious and unbound.

Dean didn't sleep at all. He sat on the front porch in the dark for most of the night, watching the road and popping his thumb in and out of joint in a sped-up rhythm. It was flat for fifty miles in every direction, and the passing cars started as pinprick points of light that grew into highbeams. Dean had to watch the lights approach for so long, too long to hold his breath.

He was in a dense waking dream involving Sam and coal-colored pools of water, and he broke the surface gasping for air, realized he could see his hands again. The sun was coming up. Dean was warped from sitting on the steps so long, a heavy trench dug across his lower back. His mouth tasted dreadful, his throat squeezed down to almost nothing.

Dean heard the car before he saw it. His eyes weren't really in focus anymore, but he knew the sound of a shot muffler pretty well. In some distant unexplored way he could feel Sam getting closer to him.

The car was a trashy red thing with shiny star stickers peppered on the windows, driven by a girl Dean had never seen before with Sam riding shotgun, eyes locked on Dean as they came to a stop in the front drive. Dean watched the two of them exchange a couple of words, watched Sam put his hand on the girl's shoulder or her cheek or something and Dean's stomach turned over in an extremely disquieting way.

Sam was hunch-shouldered as he came to face his brother, the girl's car massacring the quiet as she drove off. Dean didn't stand, overcome suddenly with a stifling rage that kept him still and silent, hands in white-knuckled fists.

"Dude, I'm really sorry," Sam said at once. "I swear, I thought I was just going out for an hour, things just, they got kinda crazy."

Then Sam grinned accidentally, let a huge joyous expression fill his face for a second and it made something snap in Dean.

He lunged off the porch, shoved from the inside. Sam's eyes went wide as the grin vanished off his face, and he stopped dead.

"Things got kinda fuckin' crazy?" Dean shouted at him, his mind awhirl. "So crazy you just forgot to fucking come home?"

Sam shook his head, held up his hands like he thought Dean might hit him, which was a fairly reasonable thing to think.

"I was always gonna come home, man, just, just calm down. I, uh, I lost track of time. I might have fallen asleep."

Dean shook his head, stupefied and knowing he shouldn't be: all the clues were there but he didn't want to put them together. It felt like a protective measure, his mind shielding him.

"Fell asleep where?" Dean demanded.

The daylight was growing on Sam's face, making him look flushed. The corners of his mouth twitched restlessly, and then Sam told him with excitement buzzing all through him:

"Her bed, dude. I, we, I did it finally."

Sam let the grin break on his face again, and it sent a wave of red washing down over Dean's vision. He was going to punch Sam just so he wouldn't have to fucking look at it anymore, or claw his own eyes out, something.

"But you're gay," Dean said, and was immediately aghast. He certainly hadn't meant for that to be his first accusation.

Sam blinked at him, purely confounded with his mouth hanging open a little and making him look radically young. "What?"

"You're-" and thank god Dean managed to catch himself, biting down hard on his tongue. He and Sam stared at each other for a few excruciating seconds.

Only very rarely did Dean allow himself to think about that time Sam had come home drunk and kissed him. Usually only when he was drunk himself, if he wanted to be honest about it, but it hardly mattered--he'd explained it away long ago. Sam was gay and being a gay teenager trapped in truckstop America probably fucked a person up, especially when your dad was Dad, and Sam had been wasted so naturally he had done something stupid, acted out, and there wasn't anything wrong with that. It was all totally understandable.

But Sam was looking at him like he was speaking in tongues, eyebrows climbing high. He said, "Why would you think-" and then it visibly clicked into place for him and he cut himself off, drew in a sharp breath.

"What, because I kissed you?" Sam said, and Dean flinched with his whole body. They were three miles from their closest neighbor and he still wanted to tell Sam to keep his goddam voice down. Better yet, just shut up entirely.

Sam was doing something very like smiling, shaking his head with a look that said Dean was too dimwitted to live.

"That wasn't because you're a guy, Dean."

Fear leapt through Dean, drew him taut as a wire. His eyes skittered away from Sam, raked across the flat expanse of land, featureless in the gray light of dawn. A wild ruckus filled his body, his heart rattling against its cage.

"Just don't," Dean said, and swallowed past a sudden obstruction. He flicked a glance at Sam and his brother was watching him with painstaking concentration, eyes narrowed and unnerving. Dean tried again. "Girl's no kinda excuse, anyway. I, I fucked one at the bar earlier, still managed to get my ass home."

Sam reached for the back of his neck, rubbing uncertainly and Dean recognized that like a blow to the head: it was a common gesture of his own.

"Well, it was the first time for me," Sam said in a twisted-up voice that did bad things to Dean. "I'm sure you can remember what that was like."

Sam waited for Dean to come back at him but Dean was thwarted, distracted by the idea that Sam had kissed him for some reason other than drunken rebellious experimentation, that it hadn't been metaphorical but instead literal, sincere.

Huffing out a breath, Sam dropped his head and walked past Dean into the house, footsteps echoing hollowly on the wooden porch. Dean followed him inside in a trance, thinking that it couldn't end like this. Sam was in the kitchen rummaging after a bowl of cereal, and Dean leaned in the doorway, completely exhausted all at once.

Without looking up, Sam said, "You're not gonna tell Dad, right?"

Dean let his head rest on the jamb, sighing. "No. I'd get in as much trouble for leaving you alone."

"Which is ridiculous, by the way. I'm too old for that kinda thing."

"Apparently not," Dean said sharply.

He was sick of watching Sam move around the kitchen, through the spill of gold light that was growing stronger by the second. Sam's body was looser, easier, his shoulders relaxed and that stick taken out of his ass for once, and it made Dean awkward, a hot scraping feeling in his stomach.

"Anyway," Dean continued, sounding rough. "Now that I know you're not dead, I'm gonna get some fuckin' sleep. You think you can manage to be here when I wake up?"

Sam sneered, dripping spoonful of Froot Loops in his hand. "God knows I wouldn't want to miss any of this awesome time we're having."

"Shut up," Dean said. He looked at the hair curling crazily against Sam's neck and his hands itched, so he looked away. "Stop doing stupid shit, Sammy."

He turned away, head pounding, and almost missed Sam mumbling under his breath, "I'll do what I want," as a bolt of ice shivered down Dean's spine.

*

This is the first time Sam fucked up the car:

It was almost exactly one year later, and the Winchesters were chasing a witch bird through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sam and Dean kept up with their father the first couple of days, hauling ass through the thick underbrush with their cheeks and hands scored by branches, their packs heavy as gold on their backs. John was a broad back leading the way, checking back over his shoulder for his sons every few minutes like clockwork. They slept in four-hour increments, Sam and Dean rolled together for warmth and John sitting up with a blanket over his shoulders and a gun in his lap, doing his freaky soldier half-doze thing.

Then on the third day Sam tripped over a root coming down a hill and flew, tumbled down the uneven slope with supplies and T-shirts knocked out of his pack. He fetched up hard against a tree and groaned, curled up with his hands pressed to his chest.

Dean shouted and John cursed, both of them rushing for Sam. There were leaves in Sam's hair and dirt all over him. He was trying to push himself up but it didn't seem to be working.

John laid his hands on Sam, found two cracked ribs that made Sam hiss like fire between his teeth. Dean crouched next to his brother and berated him for being a klutz and generally lame. He picked crap out of Sam's hair, went to gather the stuff that had fallen out of his pack.

John said, "That's it for you, Sammy," and dug into his bag for bandages.

"No, I'm okay, I can do it," Sam said, still flat on his back. His eyes flitted to Dean, demanding that Dean take his side but Dean kept his mouth shut. He could see how Sam winced with pain at every breath.

John shook his head, brooking no argument. "All you can do for busted ribs is wrap 'em and rest. You push it you'll only make it worse. Here, Dean, help him sit up."

Dean slid in behind his brother, holding him lightly as John got his shirt off and set to bandaging his ribs. Sam's skin was slick with sweat even under the cool of the trees, so Dean knew he was in more pain than he was letting on. It took him a full minute to get his shirt back on.

They veered off the witch bird's trail and hiked down to the nearest road. John gave a handful of pain pills to Sam, both working credit cards and a fistful of cash to Dean, told them to hitchhike into Asheville and take a room under the usual procedures, and wait for him there.

They waited for two weeks. The motel had ten television channels and mostly static on the radio. There were poorly-painted landscapes on the walls, one particularly offensive study of a black bear and her cub. Sam was installed on the bed closest to the bathroom, growing piles of books and magazines around him, the little handheld plastic games Dean got for him at the dollar store that always broke within a day.

Dean waited on Sam like a fucking butler, orange juice in the mornings and Oreos in the afternoons, a particular tone in Sam's voice when he said, "Deeean," all low and faintly whining. By the fourth day Dean was standing automatically every time Sam said his name like that. It wasn't pleasant.

But he couldn't complain because Sam already had that pretty well covered. Sam was bored and he was too hot and there was nothing on television and he didn't want those Doritos, he wanted the cool ranch kind. Sam was ten years too old for this shit, and Dean told him so in so many words, maybe a few profanities slipped in for effect. Sam harrumphed and glowered and tried the silent treatment but he wasn't really the type; Sam always had too much to say.

Cabin fever came on more quickly than usual. Sam was living in his sweat pants and a thin sleeveless undershirt and Dean had trouble concentrating when they were playing cards or hangman, eyes skating across Sam's arms and the wearily broken lines of his legs. Dean couldn't look at him for too long.

He went out to make some money over a pool table and deliberately stayed out too late, got drunk enough that he would have to sober up before driving. Dean didn't think about Sam, or anyway that was his story for now. He rubbed his fingertips up with blue chalk and left a perfect set of prints on the wall, thinking that now there was proof he'd been here once.

There was a girl later on, because Dean was trying to get rid of this intolerable buzzing in the back of his mind, this terrible itch to see Sam that had been an equally strong drive to get the fuck out of the room just two short hours ago. It was something close to guilt and that was Dean's least favorite emotion in the whole wide world, so he found a girl to take his mind off it.

It didn't really work. She was pretty and sweet enough, that killer drawl, but her face was fuzzy in Dean's mind every time he wasn't looking directly at her, her skin soft and smelling of overpowering roses. He took her to the alley and pushed up her skirt, her arms hung loose around his neck. Dean tried to do right by her but didn't quite buy her act and figured he wasn't what she was looking for, either.

After that, Dean went straight home.

Sam was asleep, or at least faking it pretty well. Dean undressed carefully in the patchy dark, slow and quiet as he could be, eyes stuck to his brother's long chest and stomach, his bare shoulders. There was a roughness in his throat that he wanted to blame on the cigarette he'd cadged off the girl after they'd fixed their clothes and had to stand there like they knew each other now.

Dean dragged his gaze up Sam's body one last time, glinted off his face and Sam's eyes were open, watching him with a damning shine. Dean froze in place.

"Hey Dean," Sam said softly.

Dean swallowed, stuttered for a second. "Hey Sam."

There was a long moment when nobody said anything. Dean stared at Sam and Sam stared back and it was awkward beyond words but somehow Dean couldn't move. Sam had one hand curled on his own hip, and Dean noticed distantly that he had his fingers crossed. Dean didn't know what he was supposed to do. Sam was looking at him, waiting for him. Dean couldn't even think.

Sam said, "Dean," in a sandpaper voice, and Dean snapped out of it, jerked towards his own bed.

"Tomorrow," Dean said, fast and mush-mouthed. "We, we oughta do something. You're not a total gimp, you can, like, sit carefully and watch a movie or something. We'll find something."

Dean buried himself in the bed, pulled the sheets up to his chin. Sam was probably still watching him. Dean could never all the way forget that Sam had once had a crush on him, and the worst were these moments when all Sam was doing was looking.

Eventually Sam said, "A drive-in movie," and Dean heaved out a relieved gust of air.

"Okay sure. Drive-in movie, fuckin' A."

Dean snuck a look and Sam was smiling happily, lying on his back for his ribs but with his head turned to the side. His eyes were unreadable, so dark they looked chipped out of ebony. Dean rolled over, putting his back to Sam and his hand to his own chest so he could feel how his heart was beating all staggered and uneven.

The drive-in movie was a good idea, as it turned out. They got there an hour before sunset because they were driving each other up the motel room walls and Sam kept nagging him about getting there early to get a good spot. They got candy and beer at a supermarket, Sam walking down the aisles as gingerly as an old man, and Dean made fun of him easier than drawing breath.

In the ridged dirt lot Dean pulled in backwards because the trunk was steel-reinforced and wasn't going to dent when they sat on it. Sam had brought a blanket to keep their asses from going totally numb. Dean was going to have Twizzlers and a corndog for dinner and he was really looking forward to that.

To kill the time they played crazy eights with the jokers in as wild draw fours like in Uno, haphazard card stack growing between them on the blanket. Sam was only supposed to take one pain pill but Dean was pretty sure his brother had indulged a bit more than that. Sam was half-sprawled on the back windshield, breathing without a flinch and grinning dopily at Dean, shiny red Twizzler hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

Some of the newer drive-ins used a radio station you could tune into for the audio, but this place still had the old-fashioned metal speakers the size of oblong softballs, which were better in every way except sound quality. Dean hung the speaker on the outside of the front window and Sam said that drive-in movies were supposed to sound scuffed and staticky like that, like they were being transmitted from hundreds of miles away.

The movie was some predictable streetfighter thing starring Steven Seagal. It was the kind of thing that encouraged a person not to think, just absorb. There were themes of betrayal and revenge. There was terrible dialogue and female assassins in black catsuits. It was all Dean could have hoped for, and he relaxed on the car, felt the claustrophobia and anxiety sink out of his body.

Sam said, "That's not how you're supposed to do a roundhouse."

"Don't have to tell me."

"Leaving his whole body open like that, and with three other guys coming at him. Stupid, like, suicidally stupid." Sam took a sip of beer (Dean was only letting him have two because of the pills). "I kinda hope he loses now."

Dean smirked. "You wanna bet on it? Because I would take that action in a second, dude."

"No, you can never bet against the guy whose name is above the title, this is something I've learned."

Sam paused, let his shoulder tilt against Dean's as if the physical contact helped him think. Dean put up with it, pressed back thinking about equal and opposite reactions, the stuff on Sam's physics homework last year. Sam was warmer than the tangible summer air, his shoulder comfortably bony against Dean's own.

"It's someone's job, you know, like, fight consultant or whatever," Sam said. "We would be really good at that."

"Yeah?" Dean said, content to listen to Sam go off on one of his elaborate flights of fancy, all these impossible lives Sam dreamed up for them.

"Teach these Hollywood punks how real men fight, you know. And weapons too! Dudes are never using the right gun for the job in these movies."

Dean grinned up at the huge screen. They were bathed in the palest kind of light, flickering like water over the Impala and the two of them sitting on the trunk.

"Well, you show 'em, Sammy."

Sam dug his elbow into Dean's side painlessly. Dean looked over at him and realized how close Sam had gotten, just inches away with his eyes fixed on Dean's mouth. Dean jerked back instinctively, his stomach wrenching. Sam's eyes widened, black and silver, and the muscle tensed in his jaw, a determined look solidifying on his face. Sam leaned towards his brother, and for maybe a tenth of a second Dean actually considered it, closing his eyes and learning how Sam would fit their mouths together, just letting it happen, and then he yanked away, slid hard to the side and almost fell off the car.

Dean stood shakily, hands flat on the smooth metal. Bombs were exploding in technicolor on the movie screen, people screaming from the other speakers, from every direction.

Without looking, Dean said, "I'm gonna get some popcorn," and Sam said his name like a curse, a filthy word that he had to spit out of his mouth. Dean shivered, ducking his head down and to the side. There was something gone so badly wrong with Sam, and if Dean couldn't fix it he could at least not let it get him too.

As he strode off, hurried and protected by drawn-up shoulders, Dean heard Sam saying with frustration revving his voice, "Goddamn it," and he thought Sam would probably be chasing after him if his ribs weren't broken.

Dean reeled around in a panic for a minute, kicking up gravel and almost hyperventilating. There was a red-colored fog in his mind, carbonation running through his veins. His hands shook so hard it seemed certain that they would shatter.

The concessions window glowed yellow and safe-looking, and Dean stumbled over. The movie blared on in the background, made everything sound muddied.

The girl Dean had bought his corndog from earlier was still leaning on her elbows over the counter, watching the movie and snapping her gum. Her hair was bleached and showing roots, wrecked at the ends from too much twirling. She smiled big when Dean came up, saying like molasses, "Well, hi stranger."

Dean turned his face on. It was automatic, that very specific god-it's-good-to-see-something-so-pretty look that he'd had locked down at fifteen years old. Every girl got easier after that look, every single one.

This one was no different, blushing in the mix of fluorescents and muggy light from the yellow-screened bulb outside the window. Dean said something about the movie, something wholly forgettable, and put his arm up on the counter, angled his body that much closer to hers. He was still working on autopilot, charm skimmed off the top of his mind while underneath he was nerve-wracked and more than a little terrified.

The girl was leaning forward far enough that the view was getting pretty interesting, and they were talking about god knows what, really just flirting back and forth in that defensively hyperaware way, and then Sam said sharply from behind:

"How's it coming on that popcorn, Dean?"

Dean spun around. He knocked the straw dispenser off the counter with his elbow, straws rolling crazily over the dirt like ghostly long fingers. Sam was standing with one hand pressed flat to his broken ribs, the other a lethal fist at his side. His face was mostly in shadow but every rigid line of his body radiated a blinding rage.

Dean took a step forward unconsciously, hand half-rising to calm him down, but Sam turned on his heel and stalked away, slow and painful with his shoulders pulled straight.

"Sam," Dean said, following his brother and trying to fight a baffling tide of guilt-stricken fear that made no sense. Dean wasn't the one acting crazy. "I, I wasn't gonna ditch you or something."

"No," Sam said, turning his head with a sneer. "You were just gonna get her to suck you off, right? And then come back and not sit so close to me anymore, and pretend like nothing fucking happened."

Dean faltered, fell a few feet back from Sam before saying hoarsely, "Nothing has happened."

It was the wrong thing, clearly, because Sam made this guttural sound, something animalistic in it, prehistoric, like there were no possible words to describe his livid dismay.

Sam stomped up the row where the Impala was parked, and Dean trailed a few feet back, not daring to speak. Steven Seagal was bleeding heavily on the screen. All around them the speakers with panting with agonized exertion. When Sam stopped short a dozen feet away, Dean almost walked into his back.

Sam stood looking up at the massive screen for a long moment. Dean stared at his profile, washed and ageless in the shimmery light, wondering how someone who looked so perfect on the outside could be so screwed up underneath.

"I know it's not just me, Dean," Sam told him. "It wouldn't feel like this if it were just me."

Dean shook his head, too fast and half-desperate. "I'm not--I can't, Sam."

"You absolutely can. I promise you."

Dean opened his mouth but nothing came out. His chest felt rickety, pounded out of shape by his ceaselessly battering heart. Sam said these things and he never thought about the damage he was doing. Sam was always convinced that his was the only right course of action, like it should be obvious. It came from him being so goddamn smart, and that was a fucking curse.

Dean shut his eyes. He could almost feel the shifting movie light on his face, soft as feathers, and he told his brother, "It's not gonna be like that."

Sam made another inarticulate sound of pure frustration. Dean didn't see him bend awkwardly to scoop a rock off the ground, but he opened his eyes in time to watch Sam's arm whip forward in an aborted hook, a cry of pain wrenched out of him. The rock flew straight and true, exploded the Impala's front windshield into a crazy white-veined starburst.

Someone in one of the other cars screamed. Dean felt a huge hand clenched around his throat, squeezing off his air and making him dizzy with shock. He stared at the glittering web of light that his windshield had become. Beside him Sam was breathing heavily with pain and growing fear as he realized what he'd done.

Dean couldn't even gather himself enough for anger. He was smashed as good as the windshield, blown away and no use to anybody right now.

The girl from the concessions window came hurrying towards them, bouncing up and down over the small dirt hills that separated the rows. A couple of dad-types had gotten out of their cars and were hollering at Sam and Dean about the ruckus, thinking it was a different kind of fight. Dean couldn't deal with this place anymore, and he grabbed Sam's arm, not even caring much when Sam gasped under his breath at being jarred.

"Get in the goddamn car, you fuck," Dean said, voice like a scar.

They left without delay. The starburst was mostly on Sam's side and Dean could drive as long as nothing critical happened to his right. The world looked eerie through the busted windshield, icy and alien and ominous.

Dean squeezed the steering wheel to make the veins hump out of the backs of his hands like snakes on the sidewalk. He was sure he was angry but it was like the emotion was too big to be properly felt. Dean was more like physically stunned, stopped dead in his tracks. He didn't look at Sam and he didn't speak to him, never mind the too-fast whistle of Sam's breath, the twitch of his fingers against his leg. Dean's eyes fell to the shattered side of the road, thinking for just a moment about how pretty everything looked through broken glass.

In the motel parking lot Sam didn't move to get out of the car, watching Dean silently, still fucking waiting.

"Listen," Dean said low, his head bowed. "I can't let you--can't let you get away with this shit, all right? Like, the car? The fucking car, dude," and Dean's voice might have broken just a tad, eyes catching on the wrecked windshield.

Sam heaved a sigh, slouched against the door, but he had the grace say shortly, "I'm sorry about that."

Dean paused. "Just that?"

"Yeah Dean." Sam swallowed audibly. "I'm not sorry about the rest of it."

Dean stared at his hands wrapped around the wheel, studied the hungry way the bones of his knuckles pressed against the skin. He was maybe holding on too tightly.

"See, that's not really okay," Dean managed. "You. You have to know that it isn't okay, Sam."

It shouldn't need to be said. Sam should just know it like every other person on the planet knew it: you don't fuck your only brother. And Dean was scared again because what if Sam actually were a sociopath or something, what if he just didn't care?

Sam let loose another weary sigh. "Yeah, I've been through that already. I've been through all of it already. This is. It's nothing new for me, man. And it's not going away."

Heat flooded over Dean, prickled his skin and brought tingling color into his face. He dug his teeth into his lip, his stomach twisting slow and heavy-feeling and Dean wished he could believe it was disgust.

"I can't," Dean said in a whisper. Sam hissed, still not happy with that answer.

"Can't isn't the same as don't want to."

"You're right," Dean answered, and got out of the car, got his feet on solid ground again.

The fresh air hit him like a slap. Away from the lights of the drive-in Dean could see the stars again, and he tipped his head back, breathed deep. Sam's door shut with an aborted chocking sound that meant it wasn't all the way closed, and Dean listened to him shuffling across the parking lot, a few seconds later the sharp clap of the room door slamming.

Dean would have to go in and deal with Sam in a minute, Sam and this ridiculous thing he wanted from Dean, but for now he was just gonna stand here and not think about any of it. There was a beer-colored moon and stars upon stars, crowding out the black spaces.

Dean stared up at the sky, wishing with everything in him that he could be up there for once, so sick of this wretched earthbound life.

*

This is the first time Sam left a mark:

Sam got a full-ride to Stanford and towards the end of summer he told his family he was leaving. It was a Wednesday night. Dean would always remember that it had been a Wednesday night, although he couldn't begin to understand why it mattered.

They were in Bakersfield, California. Sam had found them the hunt, crop circles even though everyone and their mom knew crop circles were bogus. But Sam had pretty much insisted, coming home with sheaves of photocopies and computer print-outs until John had scratched his beard and said, "Hell, Sammy, if it's that important to you," and then gave Dean a look like, crazy kid we got here, huh? And Dean had grinned back, rolled his eyes a little.

Of course the crop circles actually were bogus. They were in Bakersfield because it was as close as Sam could get without flat-out making something up. Which had probably been his Plan B.

Dean stood in the kitchen and watched Sam and their dad yell at each other. Sam had his acceptance letter in his hand, crumpled from how tight his grip was. Dean felt curiously drained, made out of empty glass.

John told Sam that family comes first, and Dean found himself nodding his head in unconscious agreement. Sam's eyes skipped past their father and landed on Dean, a wild unhinged look on his face that was part plea and part condemnation and Dean didn't know which was worse.

"Family's not supposed to be like this," Sam said, looking right at Dean and it made Dean cower, hiding his face behind his hand.

"Don't do this, Sam," John said, a warning.

"It's already done."

Sam turned his back then, went into the bedroom that he and Dean shared. John ripped his eyes away from where his youngest son had just been and looked over at Dean. John looked gutted. He looked torn in half.

Dean said, "I'll," and then nothing else, just walked on nerveless legs across the room, down the short hall to the bedroom. Sam already had his duffel packed up on the floor. He was stuffing odds and ends into his backpack, books and a butterfly knife and the green plastic alarm clock shaped like the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo that Dean had gotten him when he was ten. That stupid goofy clock had somehow survived eight years in the crushing grind that was their life, still barking Sam awake every morning.

Sam glanced at Dean, hair hanging in front of his eyes. "I took five hundred dollars from the emergency stash."

"What?" Dean said, feeling dazed.

"Five hundred dollars, Dean. And that Beretta you never use anymore. And your Skynyrd T-shirt, the red one."

"Jesus, shut up," Dean breathed out. Sam stopped for a second, his chest hitching and his hands hidden in the backpack. "I don't care what you've taken. What. What the fuck are you doing?"

"Was I not clear on that?" Sam started packing again, jamming sweat socks and boxes of ammunition into the corners. Dean wanted to grab his hands, make him fucking stop.

"Don't, don't-"

"No, actually, I think I will," Sam said, a near-hysterical tone in his voice for just a second. "You don't know what it's like for me in this house, Dean, in all of these fucking houses. It's the same room over and over again and Dad and you, and nothing else, and I can't do it anymore."

Sam took a shuddering breath, and then snarled, showed his teeth in a malicious grin. "I don't want to."

That shut Dean up pretty effectively. Sam wasn't pulling punches; someone could get seriously hurt here.

Sam finished packing, stood in the middle of the room with his whole life in two bags on his back. He looked at Dean, mouth set implacably because Sam was going to be a man worthy of the name: he was going through with this no matter what. His hair was still too long, hung in front of his eyes and when Sam brushed it back with the side of his wrist Dean though that he could have been seven years old again.

"Will you give me a ride to the bus station?" Sam asked.

"No," Dean said, then almost immediately, "Yes, I mean yes," because otherwise Sam would leave right now, and Dean wasn't ready yet.

Sam blinked fast, like he hadn't really thought Dean would. Dean kept thinking that Sam didn't know him at all.

Back in the kitchen John had the whiskey bottle out and a couple of shots behind him, righteous courage flooding his face, and he stood up from the table already starting to roar. Sam kept his head down, moved fast for the back door, not answering their father, not even sparing him a glance.

John said, desperation laced all through it, "You walk out that door, Sammy, don't ever come back."

For one single instant, Dean wanted to punch his dad in the face. But that passed.

Sam's shoulders broke downwards, and he didn't hesitate in the slightest, right through the door and into the night. John made a choked sound but Dean couldn't worry about him right now. Dean could only save one thing at a time.

He followed his brother. Sam was slumped over on the Impala, big duffel slid off his shoulder and his forehead flat on the smooth black metal of the hood. Sam was breathing in and out raggedly, as if in crippling pain, but when Dean came up to him he straightened, pushed his hair back and turned away. Neither of them said anything until they were in the car and moving.

"This is so fuckin' stupid, Sam," Dean said, taking the turn out of the driveway of the house they were squatting in. "This is like the stupidest thing you've ever done."

"Wow, that's not true at all." Sam pressed his thumb to the window to make fog appear around it. "You obviously haven't been paying much attention these past couple of years."

"Stop it," Dean snapped. "Quit making fucking jokes, what the fuck is wrong with you? Did you even see what you just did to Dad?"

"Yes," Sam said plainly, emotionless. Dean gritted his teeth.

"Look, it's not--you don't need to do this, whatever's gone wrong-"

"You motherfucker, it's everything, would you fucking listen to me for once."

Dean bit through the inside of his cheek. The hard metal taste of blood coated his mouth and he swallowed, already sick to his stomach. He punched the steering wheel a few times just because he had to punch something. His mouth hurt, suddenly abused and sore.

"Goddamn it, Sam," Dean said, meaning for it to be enraged still but it came out weak and small, not half of what he'd intended.

Sam sighed, a rusty sound, and rubbed his hand across his face. "I know."

Then they were quiet. Dean's throat jammed with variations on don't go, but he wasn't going to do that. Lie cheat and steal, but never beg, and for a long moment Dean wished he were a different man entirely.

That passed too.

Inside the blinding light of the bus station, Sam pulled the ticket out of his back pocket and Dean thought about Sam walking around with that on him all day, all week maybe, touching it through his jeans over and over again to make sure it was still there. Dean thought that Sam must have been planning this for months.

Sam checked the time on the schedule board, folded the ticket up and stuck it back in his pocket. He pulled his lower lip between his teeth, old nervous habit, and glanced at Dean with a guarded look in his eyes. Dean was just staring at him, blatant and not caring who saw or what they might think.

"I got about forty minutes," Sam said. "You should-" and his voice was thin and boyish before he roughly cleared his throat and continued, "You should go back. I think. I think it would be really bad if you were here."

Dean shook his head, meaning, it will be really bad regardless, but his mouth said, "Okay."

"And-"

Sam cut himself off, his face falling sharply as if fully appreciating what he was doing for the first time. He looked at Dean, stricken, and then dropped his bags on the ground and grabbed Dean in a tight embrace.

Dean's arms were around Sam in a fraction of a second, pure instinct. Sam had his face buried in Dean's shoulder and Dean could feel him breathing out fast and hot. He could feel each of Sam's fingers pressing a trench on his back. Dean turned his face into the side of his brother's head, eyes shut very tight.

This was really happening. A big silver-blue bus was waiting out the open double doors, and in less than an hour Sam was going to get on, cram his backpack into the overhead rack and take the window seat. Sam was going to rest his head on the glass and look down at the spot where he had last seen his brother, and when the bus pulled away, Sam would go with it. This wasn't a dream or the worst prank of all time, wasn't a vicious spell cast on Sam that would wane with the moon. It was nothing other than what it was.

Then Sam slid his hands up, shaped them around Dean's head, the nape of his neck. Sam held him still, opened his mouth on Dean's throat, just under the line of his jaw.

Dean's whole body jerked, a gasp flying out of him. Sam's mouth was searing, working carefully at one specific spot. Dean could feel Sam's teeth, the slick drag of his lower lip. He could feel Sam's fingers flexing on his neck, making him go shivery.

Sam bit and sucked until there was a dull wanting ache in the pit of Dean's stomach, and a dark purple mark shaped just under the line of his jaw. Dean held on to Sam, forearms latched against his sides. Dean shuddered under his brother's hands.

Sam was leaving. Dean let it happen.

*

This is the first time:

They were someplace that didn't have a name. It was a vast landscape of dirt and thousands of prickly desert bushes, small stunted green trees and low mountains the color of twilight lining the horizon. If there were a gun to his head, Dean would have probably guessed eastern Nevada. But that situation was unlikely to transpire.

It was just another highway. It was the first day of a twenty-five hundred mile drive, Carson City to Lancaster County, PA, where there was an absurdly Victorian ghost-in-the-attic story developing. It was wintertime and the sun was pale gold in color, the sky over-starched blue. It was someplace in between.

Sam was keeping himself entertained writing lists: American presidents in chronological order, then alphabetically, then by state of birth. Every country in the world, and then their capitals. The kings of England, the fights historical. World Series winners all the way back to when Babe Ruth was a pitcher. The fifty states, their capitals and state birds and mottos, the Latin ones properly spelled and everything, because Sam couldn't just be a little dorky; god forbid he give it less than his all.

Dean didn't make fun of Sam too badly for it, grateful for anything that kept Sam quiet and occupied when they were six hours into a fourteen-hour day. When Sam got bored he could make a drive hell, jittering his knee and tapping his fingers and bitching until Dean wanted to muzzle him. It was a peace of mind sort of thing. Dean's affection for driving was the least complicated thing about him; he just honestly enjoyed everything about it, loud music and crashing wind at ninety miles an hour with the windows down, endless roads, endless country.

He was singing along with the tape under his breath, flying along the black strip painted down the middle of the bristling land. Dean thought about how every time he saw film of some pristine piece of the world (Sam and his damn Planet Earth obsession), it looked unnatural to him because there was no clear straight line down the heart of it, no road. Dean didn't like to think about those kind of places.

Dean was in a generally good mood. This attic ghost thing sounded like cake, and they were overdue for that, after the past couple months run ragged on werewolves and malicious sprites and that one town with all the possessed stray cats (almost indistinguishable from regular cats, was the bitch of the thing). He and Sam had been sniping at each other the past few days but they'd been better since they got on the road. The road always helped.

Sam muttered something that sounded like eureka, and lowered his notebook. He blinked out the windshield as if surprised to find that they were moving. Dean smirked with the side of his face Sam couldn't see. It always took Sam's brain a second to wake up out of its trivia-riddled daze.

"How far to food?" Sam asked.

"Like a hundred miles," Dean answered, noticed Sam giving him the hairy eyeball, and added, "Not being a smartass, we're literally a hundred miles from anything. Unless you've decided you can eat dinner at gas stations again."

Sam blanched, tongue caught between his teeth. "No way. You ruined it for me, dude, that time with the teriyaki beef jerky and the Sno-Balls? That was traumatic."

Dean slapped his own belly. "Iron stomach, Sammy. I could probably eat Tupperware."

"So wrong," Sam mumbled, but he was half-smiling, trying to hide it by angling his face away as if Dean didn't know him better than that.

"We should try to make Salt Lake before stopping," Dean said, his mind happily occupied calculating speed and distance and time. "Manage that, and I think I can get us to Cheyenne for the night."

"I think that's crazy talk."

"And that's why you're not allowed to drive."

"Oh, wow, what a crushing disappointment."

Sam stretched his arms out, laid his fingers down on the dashboard. He twisted the stiffness out of his shoulders, making a satisfied rumbling sound from deep in his chest. Dean watched him out of the corner of his eye, the flex and give of Sam's forearms drenched in watery sunlight.

Dean cleared his throat. "You wanna play twenty questions?"

Sam sighed, but straightened up, said, "Yeah okay."

"I'm going first. Wait a minute. Okay, I got it."

"Animal, vegetable, or mineral?" Sam asked.

"Mineral. One."

"Are you a vehicle?"

"No. Two."

"Are you a weapon?"

Dean cursed inwardly. "Yes. Three."

"Are you a handgun?"

"No. Four."

"Are you a different kind of gun?"

"Motherfucker. Yes. Five."

"Machine gun."

"Fuck."

Sam was laughing. "My god, Dean, be more predictable."

"That was a lucky guess." Dean shot his brother a dirty look, feeling kinda stupid and totally transparent.

"Yeah, five of them in a row. Maybe we should find a casino real quick."

"Maybe you should shut your mouth before I give you a smack." Dean waved a threatening hand, but Sam was unfazed, grinning at him. Dean's stomach tightened, never really comfortable when Sam had that look on his face.

"My turn now," Sam said. "Animal, one. And you're gonna lose, by the way."

Dean scowled at him. "Keep your opinions to yourself, because no one cares. Is it a person?"

"Yep. Two."

"Is it a dude?"

"Yeah. Three."

"Do we know him? I mean, have we met him ever?"

"No. That was two questions, but I'll give it to you. Four."

"Don't do me any favors, bitch." Dean rubbed his thumb on the steering wheel, thinking. He could feel Sam watching him, studying and weighted. Sam watched him like that a lot when Dean was driving. It made Dean's skin tingle, weirdly pleasant.

Mentally scrolling through the box of tapes under Sam's seat, Dean asked, "Is he a musician?"

"No, and that's five. One more, buddy." Sam wove his fingers together and bent them palms-out to crack the knuckles, tasting his victory in the air.

Dean took a blind shot. "Steve McQueen."

"Nope! Aaaaand . . . you lose."

Like the intolerable brat that he was, Sam threw an L up on his forehead, grinning at Dean. For some stupid reason Dean wasn't even irritated with him.

"Dude, only twelve year old girls still do that," Dean said, driving with his wrists and stealing glances over at his brother as often as he could get away with.

Sam immediately brought his hands together and popped a W with fingers and thumbs. He looked terribly amused with himself, pressing his lips together to muffle his snickering. Dean rolled his eyes, forced himself to stare straight ahead at the speeding highway, the semi-trucks trundling in the right lane that he blew past too fast to even read their license plates. He couldn't let Sam distract him so badly.

"You still wanna try to get it? I mean, you'll lose some more, but you gotta be used to that by now."

"Oh har de har." Dean squeezed the perfect ring of the wheel, fingers set into the notches as if it had been made from a mold of his hands. "Was I at least in the ballpark?"

"You were, shockingly," Sam said, tipping his eyebrows up significantly. "That's seven."

Dean guessed Paul Newman and Lee Majors and then got smart about it and narrowed down the time frame. Action stars of the nineties, and with eighteen questions asked Dean had eliminated Jean-Claude van Damme, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, and pretty much everybody who'd ever been in a Jerry Bruckheimer picture.

There was a creeping itch on the back of Dean's neck, and he scratched at it absently. Ahead of them were iron-colored clouds in great thick upward sweeps. They were driving towards rain.

"Sylvester Stallone," Dean said, digging deep.

"Really more of an eighties action star, I'd say. Nineteen."

"Dude, Judge Dredd. So you can just go to hell."

Sam smirked, tipped his head back on the side of the car. His body was slouched, bent towards his brother. He was watching Dean so carefully.

"Two more, Dean," Sam said in a strange low voice.

Dean swallowed, stole a look at Sam out of the corner of his eye. The game was starting to feel like a backwards-running clock, a countdown.

"Will Smith," Dean said.

"Not even close. Last shot, man."

"I know, obviously. Shut up and let me think."

It wasn't going to help. Dean was going to lose, convinced of it by the mocking angle of Sam's mouth, the casual way his arm was up on the back of the seat, big hand hanging down close to Dean's shoulder. Dean wanted to quit playing but he hadn't been able to get away with that since Sam was six and unthinkingly agreed with everything Dean said.

"Goddamn it," Dean said. "The fucking Governator."

"Bzzzzt," Sam hummed quietly, under his breath. "Sucks to be you, bro."

"Who the hell was it?" Dean demanded, not liking Sam's inscrutability, that faintly superior expression on his face like he was playing Dean, setting him up for some brilliant fall.

Sam didn't answer for a long moment, and Dean shot him a glare, got ready to repeat the question at twice the volume but then Sam was saying:

"Steven Seagal. It, it was Steven Seagal, man, how did you not get that?"

Dean didn't respond, couldn't really. His hands were leeched of blood, ghost-pale and wrapped too tight around the wheel. His tongue felt stuck to the roof of his mouth. Dean hadn't seen more than two seconds of a Steven Seagal movie in seven years. The man's career, his entire existence, was stashed away with all the other stuff Dean wasn't allowed to think about.

Five or six miles flashed past. Dean's eyes were dust-dry and scratchy as hell because he kept forgetting to blink. The curtain was down in Dean's mind and he was remembering gravel under his feet, movie violence grunting from dozens of metal speakers, Sam silver-eyed and ethereal in the light of the big screen. Fucking Steven Seagal, leaving his front open and telegraphing every move like he was trying to lose, and Sam so angry, so full of disbelief, refusing to accept that Dean had told him no.

Dean didn't know what the fuck Sam was playing at. He jerked his eyes over to his brother and Sam had one knee pulled up and resting on the dashboard. He was gnawing on his thumbnail, catching Dean's gaze immediately. Something hot and bright rushed through Dean and he willfully mistook it for anger.

"What the fuck, Sam?"

Sam flinched almost imperceptibly. "What? You lost, get over it."

"Fuck you, answer me. What the fuck do you mean, Steven Seagal? Is that supposed to be fuckin' funny?"

Sam flinched worse, hand jerking against the seat as he pulled back in a bit. He took his eyes off Dean, fixed them on the highway.

"I wasn't--I didn't mean anything by it," Sam said, but he was lying, a blind man could tell he was lying.

"Don't, don't fuckin'-" and Dean didn't know what he wanted to say except don't make me think about it, and Sam would read too much into that. "Just don't."

Sam huffed, crossed his arms over his chest. His cheeks were fired with shame, mouth chipped into a sad curve and his shoulders hunched down. He stayed quiet, hurt. Dean's old friend guilt curled up in his chest, kicked his heart aside and made itself right at home.

Sam had only been fucking around. He'd probably thought it was funny, because Sam had a screwed up sense of humor sometimes. Ha ha, remember when I was a kid and I kept trying to get you to fuck me? It was a twisted black comedy for the whole family to enjoy. Dean shouldn't have come down on him so hard.

Then Sam said, "It still really bothers you, huh?" and his voice sounded dead.

"What?" Dean said, immediately stalling.

"Don't play dumb, it's annoying." Sam ran a hand through his hair, anxious but mostly covering. "You can't even hear Steven Seagal's name, I didn't. I didn't know it still bothered you that much."

"I'm not--it's not," and Dean stopped talking because he could tell it was going to end in disaster. He didn't let himself think about this stuff for a fucking reason.

"Look, I'm sorry," Sam said to the highway. Out of the corner of his eye Dean could see Sam's hands shaking. "I, I've wanted to tell you, ever since we. Ever since you came to get me. I shouldn't have pushed you like that, that was fucked up. I was fucked up. And I won't, you don't have to worry about me doing anything like that ever again. I mean, I was just a kid. I was. I was a really dumb kid, okay?"

Dean's hands moved on their own, sliding the Impala into the right lane and then carefully onto the shoulder. He came to a stop and put the car in park, breath coming fast and shallow and sweat broken out on the back of his neck. Trucks went bombing past like low-flying meteorites. Dean was somewhere between panic-crazed and giddy.

The thing was, Sam hadn't been a dumb kid. Fucked up and bitter and possessed of no filter between brain and mouth, but that didn't make the unthinkable things he'd said to Dean any less sincere. Dean had had four years on his own to think about the mark Sam had left on his throat, the starry look in his brother's eyes that night at the drive-in, Sam telling him, I know it's not just me. Dean had had to bury it all away because it was true, every goddamn word of it. There was nothing Sam wanted that Dean didn't want too. But Sam had been gone, so Dean couldn't let it matter.

"Dean?" Sam was hushed, church-toned. Sam was here now.

Dean let out a slow breath. He looked at his hands, then the road, then his brother. Sam was watching him like Dean would disappear if he looked away. Dean got a thick warm feeling in his stomach, his mouth going dry.

"You only apologized for the method," Dean said, and unbuckled his seat belt.

"W-what?"

"You only said you were sorry you pushed, not for trying in the first place." Dean licked his lips, terrified under his skin but hiding it, please god let him be hiding it. Sam's gaze dropped to track the move of his tongue, then riveted back on Dean's eyes again.

"Yeah, I," Sam said, stammering a little. "I know what I said."

"Figured you did."

Dean slid across the seat, saw Sam's whole body go briefly tense and then relax like a button had been pressed somewhere inside him. Sam was still staring at Dean, eyes wide and dark at how close Dean had gotten.

"Dean," Sam breathed out, that reckless teenage gleam back at his edges. "Holy shit, are you serious?"

"Shut up," Dean said, and then they grabbed each other's collars and were kissing, kissing, deep and hard and without any hesitation. It wasn't like a first kiss at all. Sam's tongue curled behind Dean's teeth. Dean's fingers were entirely hidden in Sam's hair.

Sam moaned against Dean's mouth and shoved him backwards onto the seat, crawling after with one leg slotting between his brother's. Dean's head racked against the door and he hissed, yanked Sam's hair a little.

"Careful, Sammy,"

"Be quiet," Sam said, smiling hugely before leaning down and kissing him again. Dean tilted his head back as Sam licked into his mouth, Sam's fingers skidding down Dean's throat. His hips were pressing down into Dean's, slow killing grind that left Dean's mind fractured and unreliable.

"Jesus, do you even know," Sam muttered, lips on the line of Dean's jaw.

Dean abandoned whatever minor shreds of dignity he had left and hooked his leg around Sam's back, arched his body into his brother's with a long drawn-out groan. Dean was already halfway there and Sam hadn't even done anything yet.

"I, I didn't think you still-" Dean managed, but then he didn't really want to say it so instead he sucked Sam's lower lip between his teeth, swallowed Sam's gasp.

"I did, I do," Sam answered, hurried and abstracted with his hands working clumsily at Dean's belt and fly. "I mean, always, it's always for me."

Sam slipped his fingers under Dean's shorts, took him in both hands. Dean started having trouble breathing, and he touched his forehead to Sam's cheek, his eyes closed. It was so good, just impossibly good, Sam's huge hands shaping Dean how he wanted, making him into this brand-new thing.

"Yeah," Dean said indistinctly, open-mouthed against his brother's throat. "For me too."

Sam laughed, sounding like something flung joyfully off a roof, told him, "I know," and that was how Dean knew it was true.

THE END