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Sam walked out of the airport terminal, looking around for his father's truck. John hadn't actually said he would meet Sam. But the truck was there, and John waited beside it, leaning casually against the polished black. Sam waved and headed over there, carrying his bag over his shoulder. The bag didn't weigh much: it was just a change of clothing and bathroom essentials. Everything else he usually travelled with - the weapons and books and demon-fighting gear - he'd left in the Impala.

He'd been surprised when John admitted he was staying near Palo Alto. Surprised...and worried. Whatever the reason his dad was here three days before the anniversary of Jessica's death, it couldn't be anything good. Sam wondered if this was the reason John hadn't called him. He wondered if he really wanted to be here. But he'd come because he was scared. Something was happening to him, and for the first time in Sam's life, Dean had slammed up a wall between them and Sam couldn't ask him for help. But even Dean had noticed something was wrong. Sam had grown up believing there was no supernatural problem his dad couldn't handle. So here he was, about to test that theory, big-time.

John straightened up as Sam approached. "Have you spoken to your brother?" he asked.

"Hi, Dad. Good to see you."

"I mean it, Sammy. Dean called me, frantic because you'd taken off. If you haven't spoken to him since you left, call now. Let him know you're okay."

Sam shook his head. "If he talked to you, he knows I'm okay."

"Sammy."

Sam sighed, not even certain why he was still so mad at Dean. "Alright. Fine. I'll call him." Sam handed his bag to John while he made the call. Dean's voicemail answered him. "Hey, Dean, it's me. Just calling to let you know I'm in Cali. I'll call again when I can. Uh...I guess that's all. Bye." He climbed into the truck beside his dad.

John started the engine. "You want to talk while I drive?"

Sam hesitated. "Um. What did Dean tell you?"

John turned in his seat to look at Sam. "Son, I will answer that, but I want to hear your side of this first."

Sam swallowed. "Okay. Then it should wait until...well, until you're not driving."

"John gave him a quick smile, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "That bad?"

Sam shrugged. "That's what I hope you can tell me."

***

The motel room was on the second floor, about halfway along the row of blue-painted doors. John unlocked the door and entered ahead of Sam. "Help yourself to a cold one," he tossed back over his shoulder.

The room was stiflingly hot and Sam appreciated the offer of a cold beer. He glanced around the room. It was the kind of place John chose when he was planning to stay for a while. There was a king-sized bed and a kitchenette with a breakfast table. Sam saw some protective symbols scratched on the paint above the door, but there was no sign of salt at the windows and doors. Sam concluded John was just being careful: he wasn't worried about any specific threat.

Sam opened the refrigerator and found it well-stocked with bottled beer. He extracted two bottles, cracked them both open and sat down at the breakfast table.

"Thanks, Sam." John accepted the second beer.

Sam watched him raise the bottle. He noticed the moisture already gathering on the bottle, dripping down the sides in thin rivulets. John wrapped his lips around the bottle neck, upending it and taking a long drink.

Sam realised he was staring and tore his gaze away. Shit.

"What's wrong?" John asked him.

Sam, caught, looked down at the scratched table top. "I'm sorry. I...I didn't expect this."

"A beer?" John sounded genuinely puzzled.

"No. I..." Sam drank his beer. "I thought I could come here and...and you'd just be my dad."

John frowned. "And I'm not your father because...?" Then he met Sam's eyes and his frown vanished. "Oh. You mean since we...?"

"Yeah."

John raised the bottle to his lips again and drank about a third of it. He set the bottle down and drew in a deep breath. When he finally turned his gaze to Sam, his eyes were flint-hard, his expression guarded. "Alright. Is this embarrassment over what happened, or are you still feeling...something...sexual?"

Sam choked. "Jesus, Dad!"

"I guess that answers the question. It's totally normal, Sam."

"Normal?"

John leaned back in his chair. He looked toward Sam, but he was looking through him, or past him, not meeting Sam's eyes. "Last time it was you under the curse. I was the one who had to..."

"I remember," Sam interrupted quickly. He couldn't keep the old resentment out of his voice. He remembered it too well. He'd been twelve, not just a virgin but quite naïve about sex. Dean talked about it a lot, but Sam had never even kissed a girl. He didn't remember the attack, but he recalled feeling sick and weak afterward. He remembered begging John to help him. He remembered John stripping him, the weight of John's body above him. He remembered the pain. Worst of all, Sam remembered the way John used to watch him, after, with desire in his eyes. Sam had been afraid of his own father. He tried to hide behind Dean, wishing he could tell his brother what he feared. He never could. John was Dean's hero: it would have destroyed him.

John regarded him thoughtfully. "My point is, afterward, Sam, I felt what I think you're feeling now. Having sex under the influence of something supernatural...best I can tell it works like an addiction. It's hard not to dwell on the experience and it's normal to want it again."

Sam gazed at him. Addiction. It made sense, but...

Pain lanced through Sam's head and he dropped the bottle of beer. For a moment, there was nothing but the pain. Sam couldn't see, couldn't think. Then it was gone as quickly as it came, leaving only dizziness in its wake.

Sam came back to himself to find John holding him. The bottle of beer had spilled over the table. Beer dripped over the edge, soaking into Sam's pants.

"Sammy. Sam, can you hear me?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. I'm okay." John's body was warm against his back, supporting him. But Sam's cock reacted to that touch, his blood rushing south.

"A vision?" John asked apprehensively.

"No. No, it's just a headache." Sam turned his head a little, resting his temple against John's chest. It had been so very long since he'd been able to seek comfort from his father. The pain of the headache was gone but they always left him feeling weak. For a moment, he wanted to be a small boy again, safe in his daddy's arms. Then he smelled John's sweat and the musk of his body and there was nothing childlike about the memory that crashed in on him then.

John moved away, just a little. "Sam," he said gently. "No, Sam."

Sam curled one arm around John's chest, holding on to his shirt to prevent John putting more distance between them. "Dad, how long will I feel like this? How long did you?"

There was a hitch in John's breath when he answered, "It gets easier to ignore after a while." He stroked Sam's hair gently, something he hadn't done since Sam was a small boy. "I'm still waiting for it to go away."

Sam looked up at his father. The resignation in John's voice was frightening. Then the full meaning hit Sam. Would he feel like this forever? Oh, god... He swallowed. There was only one thing he could say to that.

"Dad, why...? If both of us have the same feelings, the same need...why can't we...?"

"Because you're my son." John pulled away from him, his face set. "Damn it, Sammy. You saved my soul from Hell and now you want to send me there?"

An image flashed into Sam's mind then, a long-forgotten memory, perhaps.

John sat on a pew near the front of Pastor Jim's church in Minnesota. John's hands rested on the back of the pew in front of him and he was leaning his forehead on his hands, as if in prayer. But he wasn't praying. Pastor Jim sat beside him, one hand resting lightly on John's back. The scene was lit only by the candles on the altar and in the apse behind, so Sam couldn't see their expressions clearly. It must have been after the Sunday evening service, because the rich smell of incense was still strong in the air.

John raised his head slowly, gazing at the altar cross, but seeing nothing.

Pastor Jim said quietly, "John, God knows what's in your heart. He won't condemn you for doing what had to be done to save your son. If he's that harsh a judge, we're both fighting on the wrong side."

John turned his head toward Jim. "You don't mean that."

"I do. Love is not a sin, John."

"Is that what this is, Pastor? Love?"

"If it were anything else, John, you wouldn't be hurting like this."

Sam met his father's eyes, understanding. "You don't go to Hell for how you choose to love, Dad. If that were true...we're fighting for the wrong team."

John's eyes widened. "Why did you say that?" he asked sharply.

"Because it's true, Dad."

"No, I meant, why those words?"

"I...I don't know," Sam answered weakly. He wasn't sure why that particular memory came to him, but Sam didn't think John would be happy to know he'd been eavesdropping on such a private conversation. "Is it important?"

John shook his head. "No. But Sammy, what you're asking..."

Sam stood up so he was face to face with John instead of looking up at him. "I'm not asking. I'm saying there's nothing wrong with consensual sex between adults. Dad, if you feel what I'm feeling right now... God, I feel half-insane with this! How can you not...?"

John reached up and brushed a lock of hair back from Sam's face. It was a small gesture, but it made the breath stop in Sam's throat. There was nothing fatherly in that touch, or in the sudden heat in John's eyes. Sam took a step closer and John's eyes followed his every movement. Sam was taller than his father. Not by much, but enough that, standing so close, John had to look up to him. There was less certainty in John's eyes now. He looked almost... But Sam couldn't even think the word, vulnerable. It just didn't fit his image of John Winchester.

Sam ran his hand up John's arm, elbow to shoulder. Coarse cloth over warm, solid muscle. When John didn't pull away, Sam moved his hand upward, cupping the back of John's neck. Would Dad let Sam kiss him? Sam wanted to say something, to ask permission, but the words wouldn't come. He was afraid of the answer. So he leaned closer, horribly aware of his cock hardening in anticipation. He felt...strong. This thing between him and his father, this thing they'd never dared to name, it gave him power over John. Even if John pushed him away, Sam would remember this.

He let out his breath, slowly, knowing John would feel it soft and warm against his skin. The tight ball of need Sam had been battling for a month broke open inside him. He saw John lick his lips and knew, then, that John wouldn't refuse him anything. The conscience that held John back for so long was crumbling.

Sam kissed his father. The first touch of lips was hesitant, but an instant later John grabbed his shoulders with both hands, jerking their bodies together. His mouth crushed Sam's and he shoved him backward, shoved not just with hands but with his whole body. Sam's buttocks slammed into the table. Spilled beer soaked into his pants but Sam barely noticed. He kissed John hard, tasting beer and sweat, his tongue thrusting against John's. John bit Sam's lower lip, not to hurt, just a scrape of teeth on flesh. Sam tore his mouth away and pushed John back, just as John had shoved him. He drove John's back into the refrigerator door. Sam got his hands between their bodies and worked at the buckle of John's belt. He could feel John's erection hard against his thigh. He wanted it.

John twisted his body away from the refrigerator, forcing Sam to move with him, reversing their positions again so Sam was pinned against the sink. He captured Sam's mouth again.

Sam should have known it would be like this. Everything - work, play or love - was always like this between them. A fight for dominance. This time, Sam intended to win. His fingers popped the buttons of John's pants. He pulled his mouth away from the kiss long enough to speak.

"Fuck me," Sam demanded. He hooked his fingers inside John's pants and shoved them down, underwear and all, to his thighs. "Fuck me. Fuck my mouth."

John smiled a fierce assent. He moved back, just enough for Sam to move. Sam sank to his knees, his hands curving around John's bare hips. The skin was hot under his palms.

When they had sex before, it was a desperate rush of flesh and heat. neither of them had been completely in his right mind. This was different. The need burned hotter, but Sam knew exactly what he was doing.

Sam licked his lips, looking up to his father's face. He saw all lust there, a match for his own fire. For a moment, Sam remembered fearing that look and got a flash of how truly beyond all normal boundaries this was. But he was past caring, and he could smell the musk of his father's swollen cock, right before his face. His month-long fantasy made real. Sam drew in a deep breath of that scent and leaned in closer. He wrapped his lips around the head of John's cock and took his first taste.

Slowly, he sucked John's cock into his mouth, as deeply as he could. It wasn't as much as he knew John wanted, because he wasn't sure he could take it. Sam wasn't very experienced at this, or skilled. The blunt head of John's cock hit the back of his throat and Sam struggled to control his gag reflex. He began to draw back but John's hand on the back of his head stopped him. John pushed into his mouth insistently. Sam had asked for this. He'd begged for it, but this was more than he imagined. It was overwhelming. The thick cock filling his mouth, John's fingers threaded through his hair, gripping tightly. It wasn't painful, but it could be. John held him there, forcing him to take it.

Yes, there was force, but Sam could feel the tremors in John's muscles beneath his hands. He felt John's battle with his needs and knew that he, Sam, was still the one in control here.

And he loved it. He loved the slide of hot, heavy flesh on his tongue. He loved the bitter-edged taste of it, and the darkly musk scent. He loved the small pain of John's grip on his hair, loved it because it told him how close to the edge John was. And Sam was doing it to him.

John thrust hard into his mouth, and Sam choked a little on that one. John groaned, his hand forcing Sam closer to him, thrusting hard again and just when Sam thought it was too much John's hand made a fist in his hair, and he climaxed, filling Sam's mouth with his come. Sam couldn't swallow it all and didn't try. He sat back on his heels, raising a hand to wipe his mouth.

John knelt beside him. He traced Sam's lips with his finger. "Sam," he said.

Sam caught John's hand in his own and pressed it against his groin, showing John without words that this wasn't over, that he was still hard and eager.

***

They ended up in the bed, where Sam discovered that, despite John's age, he had a hell of a fast recovery time. Eventually, though, they both slept.

Sam woke to find John still beside him, close enough for Sam to feel the radiant heat of his body. Sam opened his eyes.

"Hey," He yawned. "What time is it?"

"Almost nine," John answered.

Sam smiled, a little awkwardly. "Wow." He stretched his arms above his head. "Do you realise we've been together - without Dean - for nearly six hours...and we haven't started yelling at each other yet. That must be a record."

The remark earned him a chuckle from his dad. "You're right," John admitted. He rolled over, leaned over the side of the bed and came back up with his pants in his hand. "I'm hungry," he declared. "You?"

Sam wasn't sure what to read into the question, so he simply answered it. "I could eat."

"Good. Take a shower if you want, and get dressed. There's a diner down the road. Then you can tell me why you really came here, and why you had to abandon Dean to come."

John's matter-of-fact tone told Sam that this...whatever it was, was over. At least for a while. He nodded, climbed out of bed and headed for the shower.

***

The diner was a classy joint...about fifteen years earlier. Done out in a retro-fifties style: all chrome edges and curves, pastel colours...but it had all faded over the years until it looked like all the other roadside diners Sam had seen over the years: run down and miserable.

The diner was almost deserted when they arrived. Sam selected a table next to the jukebox and fed it with what change he had in his pockets. He selected music at random, not interested in listening, only in making sure he and John couldn't be overheard. He let John order for them both.

John returned with a black coffee for himself and a cappuccino for Sam.

"Thanks," Sam accepted the coffee. "Where do you want me to start?"

"You never could give a report for shit." John looked grim. "Dean told me you've been getting headaches. Are they all as bad as what happened back at the motel?"

Sam shook his head, relieved to be able to start there. "No, mostly it's just a couple of seconds pain, then it's gone. They've been getting worse."

"When did it start?"

"I...I'm not sure." Sam frowned. "I started getting headaches around September last year. I put it down to stress because I was waiting on my LSAT score." He smiled, self-mocking. "I had a lot riding on that." A lot of stuff that didn't matter any more. "Then I got nightmares about Jess dying. And...well, you know how that turned out."

"I know," John answered quietly.

"A few months ago, I started having visions. The visions hurt, just like these headaches."

"So it's the same kind of pain? Exactly the same?"

"Yes. But I'm not seeing anything."

John looked up as the waitress brought their food. He waited until she left, then met Sam's eyes. "Believe it or not, that's a relief. From what Dean said, I was thinking we should consult a neurologist."

Sam's stomach turned over. That hadn't occurred to him. He'd become so accustomed to the supernatural in his life... He swallowed. "Maybe we should. I didn't think about that."

"We'll consider it, Sammy. Let's hear the rest."

The cappuccino was suddenly tasteless in Sam's mouth. He couldn't put this off any longer.

"Dean and I were doing an exorcism. It was a tough one, Dad. I mean, we've done exorcisms before, but this time...nothing worked. We tried for hours, all through the night."

John nodded. "I've found a few like that. Usually means the demon had some help getting in there."

"I figured." Sam felt a small flare of guilt, knowing he'd left Jefferson City without truly finishing the hunt. They should have stayed to find out how that demon got into the kid, or it could happen again, to someone else. He continued the story. "Dean...he was afraid the girl would die, so he came up with something..."

"Reckless?" John suggested.

"Stupid," Sam corrected. "He tried to get the demon to possess him instead."

John dropped his fork. "He did what?"

"We had the demon trapped in a salt circle. Dean got this idea in his head that if one of us went into the circle, the demon would let the girl go. Jump bodies. I tried to stop him, but..."

"When Dean gets an idea in his head, he's hard to hold back."

Sam smiled. "Ain't that the truth."

"Just tell me what happened, son."

Sam sipped his cappuccino, ignoring the food in front of him. He couldn't eat. "Well, Dean's plan kinda worked. He went into the circle and there was all this black smoke. I...um...I pushed Dean out of the circle."

"Sounds like a sensible move."

"No, Dad. I mean I pushed him. Without touching him."

"Psychically?" John's tone was suddenly sharp.

Sam nodded.

"I didn't know you could do that." It was an accusation.

"I didn't tell you because I've only done it once before, and I thought that was a fluke. Anyway, I think you should hear the rest before we fight over it."

"I'm listening."

"Dean hit the wall and he must have hit his head because he just went down. It was crazy in there and I..."

Terri screamed, black smoke flooding from her. Every other time Sam had seen this, the smoke poured from the victim's mouth. This was different. It flowed out with her scream, but not just from her mouth. Smoke came from her eyes, even her fingertips. It engulfed the girl and Dean, hemmed in by the salt as if they both stood within a glass cylinder.

It had nowhere to go but into Dean. Sam panicked. He couldn't let it have Dean. Not Dean. "No!" he yelled.

Sam felt the power punch out of him. It sent a needle of pain through his skull, and sent Dean flying into the wall. Sam ran toward the demon, glancing back to make sure Dean was okay.

He stopped at the edge of the salt circle. The smoke was crowding back around Terri; she writhed on the bed, fighting it, but losing. The words of the ritual were gone from Sam's mind. He shouted it, irrational with fear.

"Leave her alone, you bitch! Fuck off back to Hell!"

He met John's eyes and said it as calmly as he could. "My head hurt so bad I could barely even see, but... I told the demon to leave the girl alone and go back to Hell. And...it did."

John just looked at him. "Come again?"

"I told the demon to get out of that little girl. No power, no Latin. I just yelled it. And the demon did what I told it to do. But...that's impossible, isn't it?" Humans can't control demons. Sam knew that. So if what he thought happened really did happen...what did that make him?

"Are you gonna eat that?" John asked.

Sam looked down at his plate. He picked up a French fry and popped it into his mouth. "I guess I'm not hungry. Dad?"

"How many demons have you and Dean run into this past year?"

Sam frowned, thinking. "Uh...Meg and the demon that crashed Flight 2485. There were some other demons around when we came for you in Jefferson City. And..." And you, Sam thought, but he didn't say it.

"...And the Yellow-Eyed Demon," John concluded for him. "So a lot of them. Any of 'em do what you tell 'em?"

"No!"

"Think about it, son."

Sam did. The demon on Flight 2485 they just exorcised. The one Dean killed in Jefferson City had been trying to kill Sam. Meg...she never did what Sam wanted. Although...she had plenty of chances to kill him and she didn't.

"I don't think so, Dad."

"So this is something new." John nodded. "You really should eat, son."

Sam ignored the suggestion. "Dad, when we were at Bobby's place, you said the demon did something to me when I was a baby. Do you know what? I mean, am I supposed to turn evil, or..."

"Sammy." John interrupted curtly. "The only person who witnessed what the demon did to you was your mother. It's why she was killed. I've searched all your life for someone who might have survived one of those fires. It's never happened. No one lived to tell the tale except the demon, and now it's dead too. There is no way to know what it did to you."

"Does my psychic ability come from the demon?"

John was silent for a moment. "I believe you were chosen because you were born with some psychic ability. So, no, the demon didn't create it in you."

"Then what is this? What's happening to me?"

John met Sam's eyes, his expression serious. "I don't have any easy answers, Sam. I expected your abilities to become more powerful. That on its own isn't something to be afraid of and it certainly doesn't make you less than human. Do you remember Abby Raddings?"

Sam thought. "The name is familiar but...oh, wait. That haunted school in Maine?"

"That's right. You were only eight or nine. Abby was the most impressive psychic I've met and as human as I am. Still..." he frowned, "telling demons what to do. That's a new one."

Sam swallowed. If John Winchester didn't know the answers, he really was on his own.

***

Crossing the parking lot, Sam took a deep breath of the California air. There was that slight tang of the nearby Pacific, the warm currents of the air. It wasn't "home" to Sam but the nostalgia was strong. He'd lived for four years in California and seriously considered spending the rest of his life here. Being so close to Palo Alto in his father's company just felt weird.

"Hey, Dad?" Sam fell into step beside John. "Why are you in Palo Alto? Are you hunting something here?"

John unlocked the truck. "No, Sam, it's not - " He broke off abruptly.

Sam tensed. He wasn't armed; John probably was. "What is it?" he asked, speaking quietly and moving out of John's line of fire. He tried to make the movement seem casual.

"Maybe nothing." John shrugged off his leather coat and dropped it on the truck seat. His voice still low, he instructed, "Stay here, Sam. There's a gun under the dash. If you have to use it, shoot to kill."

What the hell? Sam didn't argue. He could feel it now; someone was out there. Whether it was experience, his psychic ability or simply imagination he didn't know but whatever - or whoever - was watching felt hostile. "Yes, sir," he answered. He watched John walk away from him.

The person standing in the shadows beside the diner was about John's height but slimmer through the shoulders. At first, Sam thought it was a woman: all he could see of the figure was long, platinum-blonde hair beneath a wide-brimmed hat. A nearly full-length grey coat obscured any other identifying features. Sam couldn't make out a face. Was it a woman?

John moved across the parking lot, leaving a clear line of fire between Sam and the stranger. He was being very careful. Sam felt under the dash for the gun. He found it without taking his eyes off the grey-coated figure. It was a .357 Magnum - overkill for a human opponent, but a logical backup gun for John, whose enemies were rarely human. Sam slid the clip out and checked the ammo because you always, always check that a gun is loaded, even though he knew his dad would never travel with an empty gun. The clip was full, and there was a round ready in the chamber. Sam kept the gun in his hand, not aimed, but ready.

John stopped a short distance from the other person. Sam heard them speaking. Both kept their voices down, too quiet for Sam to hear their words, but he caught the tone and both voices were masculine. That was one question answered.

He saw John move slightly, just a twitch of his shoulders as if he'd almost turned to look back at Sam. Sam tensed.

Pain stabbed through Sam's skull, sudden and blinding.

No! Not now! God, not now!

Sam's hand convulsed around the gun and it went off, recoiling in his hand like a live thing. Sam dropped it as he fell to his knees, clutching his head as if that would help. His vision blurred and then...

John, beneath him amid tangled sheets, cried out in orgasm -

Dean, with tears filling his eyes, aimed a gun at...at something -

Terrible hatred in John's eyes, a look that said something must suffer and die, but he turned his back on whatever it was and walked away -

A knife on a table next to an empty whiskey bottle. John's hand reached for the knife. He drew back his sleeve and laid the sharp blade over his wrist.

A deafening gunshot shattered Sam's vision. He thought his head would explode with the pain but somehow he shoved the vision away. He felt around blindly for the gun he'd dropped and found it as his eyesight returned. He heard another shot and pulled himself up to peer over the truck's hood. He saw the grey-coated man aiming the gun his way and ducked down.

He hadn't seen John. Dad! Where's Dad? Sam returned fire, three rapid shots, using the truck as cover. He looked for his dad and saw him on the ground. He thought he saw blood.

If you have to shoot, John had told him, shoot to kill.

Sam ducked back down and took a deep breath to steady his nerves and his aim. He fixed the scene in his mind, making sure he knew exactly where John was lying so there was no danger of shooting him by mistake. Then he sprang up and fired.

The man was gone.

Sam's ears were ringing with echoes of gunfire. He looked again for the man but saw nothing and no more shots came. He ran to John's side. In the light from the diner's windows he could see blood on the ground.

"Dad! Dad!"

John was lying face down on the asphalt. He wasn't moving. Sam tried to lift him to see the injury. There wasn't much time. Someone in the diner was sure to be calling the cops.

John groaned.

"Dad? Talk to me!" There was blood on John's shirt, a lot of it, but in the darkness Sam couldn't see where the injury was.

"I'm okay, Sammy."

Relief washed over him. "Thank god. I need to get you out of here, okay?" Sam curled one arm around John's shoulders and tried to lift him. His hand slipped in John's blood.

John shouted in pain.

"Sorry! Dad, I'm sorry, but we've got to get out of here." Sam slid his hand beneath John's armpit and helped him up. He felt John's struggle to stay silent but John seemed able to stand. It was only a few steps to the truck. Sam helped John get inside, ran around to the other door and jumped in. Sam drove. He could hear police sirens in the distance.

***

It looked bad.

John's shirt was soaked through with blood. There was a wound near the top of his right arm - Sam couldn't tell through the blood if it was the arm or the shoulder - and another on John's neck. For an instant, the neck wound filled Sam with panic...then he realised it couldn't be as bad as it seemed. If a vital vein or artery was compromised, John would have bled out in the truck. So relax, deal with it.

Sam began unbuttoning John's shirt. "Dad, where's your medkit?"

"Closet," John said through gritted teeth. He sat up a little to help Sam strip off the shirt. "I'm okay, son," he assured him unconvincingly.

Sam snorted. "You're as bad as Dean. Let me see." Sam turned John's head to the side so he could examine the neck wound. It was a bullet graze, deep enough to bleed badly but not life-threatening. John had been very, very lucky.

"He was trying to kill you," Sam commented. Geez, Sammy, obvious much? It was Dean's voice in his head and Sam stifled a smile. He should call Dean and let him know John was hurt. Sam had to tear John's t-shirt to see the shoulder wound. That, too, wasn't as bad as it could have been. The bullet went right through the muscle but at least it wasn't lodged inside. "Dad, do you want a real doctor for this?"

John was silent for a moment. "That's your call, Sam. Can you handle it?"

"I think so," Sam answered, but he knew he could. He had plenty of experience patching up Dean and his father. The arm wound needed a couple of stitches to be sure the muscle would heal correctly. The rest was easy.

Sam gathered the things he needed in silence. He started by cleaning the drying blood away from the neck wound. It was still bleeding, but slowly. Nothing to worry about. "Dad, who the hell was that guy?"

John turned his head away to give Sam better access to the wound. "I'll explain later, Sam."

"Why not now? You're not going anywhere for a while." Sam poured iodine onto a cloth and raised it to the wound.

John winced at the first touch. "His name is Kelly O'Brien. And don't let the hair fool you. He's as good a hunter as you'll ever meet."

"He's a hunter? Why would he want you dead?" Sam taped a dressing over the wound.

"He doesn't. If he wanted to kill me, Sam, at that range he couldn't have missed." John held still while Sam dressed his wound. "Though while we're on the subject, where the hell were you? I thought you were watching my back!"

Sam was surprised John hadn't brought that up sooner. He avoided John's eyes automatically. "I had another headache. Worst timing ever, I know."

John swore. "Alright. Sam, I need you to do something for me and there isn't time to discuss it, understand?"

Sam began cleaning the wound on John's arm. "I need to finish this first."

"Yeah. Now listen, Sammy. It's likely O'Brien is watching us. I need to to go back to the diner without him seeing you."

"I can climb out the window. But why?"

"I want to know what kind of ammo he was using."

Sam blinked, holding the iodine-soaked cloth over John's wound. "You want me to go back to the diner, in the dark, and find the rounds he fired?" With an effort, he stopped himself adding why? to the end of that sentence.

"If you wait for daylight he'll see you."

Sam threaded a needle. "Okay, hold still." He stayed silent while he did this part, so he could concentrate. He sewed the entry and exit wounds closed then reached for a bandage. "Why is the ammo important?"

"It will tell me what he wants. Sam, just follow orders. I'll explain when you get back."

There would be cops all over the place and all of Sam's fake IDs were still in the Impala. Sam didn't object out loud, though. He just nodded. "Okay."

"Go armed and remember my orders from earlier," John said.

Shoot to kill. Sam tied off the bandage. "If this O'Brien guy is a real threat one of us should call Dean."

"I'll take care of that." John examined the bandage. "Good job," he said approvingly.

Sam stood and checked his gun. He jacked a round into the chamber. "What if he comes here while I'm gone?"

"I don't think he will," John answered. He sat up, and pulled out the Magnum. "But I'll be ready," John concluded grimly.

Sam nodded. "Right." He headed for the back window.

***

Sam walked to the diner because that seemed the best way to avoid being followed. So it took him several hours to get there, find what John wanted, and walk back. By the time he reached the motel, the parking lot was illuminated only by the neon sign. Sam kept to the shadows as he approached the room. He could see no one, but that didn't mean no one was there.

He tapped on the door and called softly, "It's Sam."

A few moments later John unlocked the door and opened it. He was holding the gun.

"You took your time," John groused, setting the gun down on the kitchen table.

Sam closed and locked the door. He pulled the spent rounds he'd found out of his pocket and offered them to John. "I couldn't tell for sure in the dark, but I think they're iron."

John took the rounds from Sam's hand. "That's what I was afraid of."

There was a slight tremor in his hand, Sam noticed. It made him look more closely at his father. He was a little pale and his eyes were bloodshot, dark shadows forming beneath them.

"You look like shit," he observed bluntly.

"Thanks," John answered drily.

"Did you call Dean?"

"He's on his way."

That was a relief, Sam thought, but then he remembered his vision. Dean crying and aiming his gun. He swallowed back his need for answers. "Dad, you need to sleep. I'll take point."

It was a measure of John's exhaustion that he didn't argue with Sam. He left the gun on the table and went to bed.

Sam made coffee and moved a chair so he could watch both the door and John. John was asleep in moments. Sam checked his gun nervously. Maybe when John woke, he would finally tell Sam what the hell was going on?

What were they doing in Palo Alto?

Why would a hunter be hunting John Winchester?

Why was Sam still seeing visions of John committing suicide?

Was Dean crying in his vision because John was dead?

Most urgently of all, how could Sam change the destiny he kept seeing in his visions?

Sam stayed there, keeping watch while his father slept, until morning.

***

Sam emerged from the shower feeling much better, despite having not slept. He felt better still when he smelled toast and eggs cooking. The smell took him right back to his childhood: the cheap apartments and motels might have changed, but the breakfast never did: Eggs, over-easy on toast, plus whatever else might be in the food cupboard. John used to joke it was the only thing he could cook. Sam was smiling as he pulled the clean t-shirt over his wet hair.

John set a plate and coffee in front of him. "Thanks for standing watch last night."

"Are you feeling better?" Sam attacked the food ravenously. He hadn't eaten much the day before.

John grinned. "It's just a couple of scratches. You did a good job with them. What about you, Sammy. Do you need sleep?"

Sam swallowed a mouthful of toast. "I think I'm okay. As long as I sleep tonight." He reached for the coffee. "I do want to know what's going on, Dad."

John sat down at the table. He was wearing a dark blue shirt that covered his shoulder wound completely, but the white dressing on his neck was still visible above the collar. "O'Brien wasn't looking for me. He was looking for the man who killed the yellow-eyed demon. He knew I was involved so he assumed I did it. I told him I didn't and I don't know who did."

Suddenly the coffee was tasteless in Sam's mouth. "Then it's me he's looking for. But why?"

"He didn't make that clear," John answered evasively.

Sam narrowed his eyes. "Dad!"

"It's the truth, Sammy. But," John laid the spent iron bullets on the table between them, "these should tell you something."

Sam frowned. "We use iron bullets against some supernatural creatures," he began, remembering the shtriga he fought with Dean.

"If you prepare them right, you can use bullets like these to force a demon to show itself. Some hunters think they're more reliable than holy water. I don't use them because it's the possessed person who gets hurt."

Sam felt his eyes widen as he understood what his father was saying. "You think O'Brien shot you because he thinks you're possessed?" And, on the heels of that came fear. Could Dad be possessed? Because it happened before and Sam hadn't known... Then Sam realised. "No. He thinks I am."

"That's my guess. He didn't tell me much before he started shooting."

Sam swallowed. "Do you think..." (he's gonna kill me) "...he's still watching us?"

"O'Brien won't let go of a hunt, but he's also not a man who'll shoot you in the back. We've got some time to find out what he wants. But there's something else, Sam. I, uh, oh, hell." John stood up abruptly and reached for a large envelope he'd left on top of the refrigerator. "Take a look at this while you eat." He added more toast to Sam's plate. "I need to make a phone call."

"Thanks." Sam drew the envelope toward himself and opened it. There were six sheets of paper inside: newspaper articles, a couple of pages from legal documents and a property advertisement. With a shock, Sam recognised the building where he'd lived with Jessica.

"Dad, what is this?" Sam asked, but John was already on the phone. Damn.

Sam read through the advertisement first. It was dated March 2007 and advertised newly refurbished apartments for rent. Refurbished? Rebuilt would be more accurate: the fire that started when Jessica died didn't leave much of the top two storeys. Sam swallowed hard.

He heard John say, "You tellin' me O'Brien knows somethin' you don't, Bobby? That's a first." There was a pause and then, in a very different tone, John said, "You're serious."

Sam closed his eyes, blocking out his father's voice. This was a hunt. Just like in Lawrence. He picked up the first article. It was dated May and described a fire in the newly rebuilt apartment building. No one had died. There wasn't even any real damage. It was just an electrical fire, remarkable only because it happened exactly six months after the tragic death of a young student in the same building.

The second article described another fire, this one in August. The next sheet of paper was a photocopy of a legal complaint alleging negligence on the part of the building's owner due to numerous faults in the wiring and structure. The last two papers were copies of fire department reports, both confirming that the fires were electrical in nature.

Sam frowned as he re-read the papers. It did seem like more than coincidence, but would he have thought so if he didn't know a demon killed Jess? There were no deaths since hers, no serious injuries, no mysterious disappearances. The tenants' complaints about the wiring were suggestive of a haunting, though. It explained why John was paying attention to what would otherwise seem a trivial incident.

On the other hand, Sam also knew the history of the building. He knew it in detail, in fact, because he'd checked it out thoroughly before he moved in there with Jess. He wasn't willing to risk having to hunt something in his own home. So he was quite certain that the only violent death which ever happened there was Jessica. The implications were...disturbing.

John walked back toward Sam, turning his phone off as he moved. "What do you think, son?"

Sam slipped the papers back into their envelope. "I don't know. Dad, you're not thinking that Jessica's spirit...?" He couldn't finish the sentence. He couldn't bear to think of what he'd have to do if...

"Sammy, no," John answered gently. He sat down beside Sam. "Do you think it's possible, Sam? I mean, was she that kind of woman?"

"No! No way!"

"So trust that. Do you remember what Missouri told you about our old house in Lawrence?"

Sam did remember. "She said the house was visited by true evil, and that left the house wounded. And wounds become infected." He looked up, meeting his father's eyes. "The psychic remnants from what the demon did to Jess have attracted...I don't know, something else to the building."

"I think it's possible, yes," John agreed.

There was something more. Sam could see it in John's look. What was he missing? He knew John wouldn't tell him. He expected Sam to work this out for himself.

The fire in Lawrence destroyed half of the house. Sam was just a baby, of course, but he knew from Dean that there wasn't even enough left of their mother's body to bury. Just a pile of ashes. Mary's brother paid for a plot and put up a headstone in her memory but nothing was buried there.

The fire in Palo Alto was just as intense, but the fire department responded quickly and the damage to the building wasn't quite as extensive. Jessica's parents had something to bury... Sam didn't think about that at the time, but he knew what that meant. A violent death, a murder, could give rise to an angry spirit. Yes, even a person as lovely as Jessica. It was possible. He had been doing this job for a long time: he had to acknowledge that.

Sam swallowed. "It could be Jess."

John rested one hand on Sam's shoulder. "Maybe her spirit is still around, son, but there's no reason to think she's the cause of these fires. It doesn't fit the facts."

Sam nodded unhappily. John's hand on his shoulder was warm, a reminder of intimacies shared. Sam seized on that touch as a distraction. He reached across the table to John and kissed him.

John made a small sound as their lips met, a sound that became a groan of desire and crumbling barriers. They stood together, moving into each other's arms and Sam found he could bury the memory of Jessica's sweet body in another kind of lust.

***

Sam woke to find John watching him. He smiled up at his father, feeling his cock harden anew at the warmth of John's body so close. He rolled onto his side, closer to John. He half-expected John to push him away but John leaned down to meet Sam's kiss. Heat pooled low in Sam's body, not with urgency this time but something more content. Comfortable. Slow. John's hand slid down Sam's body, drifting over his buttocks.

It was Sam who pulled away. "God, Dad. Please don't." It was too comfortable. He was fucking his father. It shouldn't be comfortable.

Instantly, John drew back. "You started it."

Sam rolled away, pulling the comforter with him. "I know I did, but we can't do this. You know we can't."

John actually looked hurt. "When did we switch places on this?"

Sam managed a smile. Dad was right: yesterday it was him who insisted this was okay. And he'd initiated the sex today. But now... "Dad, I meant everything I said yesterday. But we can't...we can't pretend this is normal. We can't be...lovers." He swallowed.

John nodded. "I know that. Now tell me why."

Sam rolled his eyes. "This isn't training, Dad!"

"Tell me. I want to hear your reasoning."

Sam sighed. "It's one thing for us to fuck. But if we try to make this...I don't know, something, we'll lose Dean. I don't think either of us is willing to make that sacrifice."

John reached down to the floor for his pants. "It might be too late for that."

Sam began to dress, too. "Dean's freaked by this, but I think I can make it okay. I mean, he understands curses. If I can get him to listen, he'll understand. But only if it's a rare thing."

John looked back over his shoulder; a gesture so like Dean it was almost disturbing. He smiled. "You're getting wise in your old age."

Sam, wasn't sure whether he should feel insulted or complimented. He pulled on his jeans.

***

"What do you want me to do?" Sam looked up at the apartment building. Last time he'd been here was a week after the fire. The place had been a mess. Now it looked as if the fire never even happened. Sam half expected to see Jess waiting in the doorway.

"You need to ask?" John said.

"No." Truthfully, Sam wanted to know whether his father expected him to use his psychic ability to check this out. But looking up at the building he realised the question was redundant. He wouldn't be able to turn it off. Not here. Unconsciously, Sam reached up and touched his forehead where he'd felt Jessica's blood fall on him. He could still see her eyes staring out of the darkness above him in the moment before the world exploded into flames.

"Dad?"

"Sam."

"After Mom died, did you ever go back to the house?"

John was silent for a long time. "I went back twice," he said eventually. "The morning after the fire Mike came with me to see what we could salvage: clothing, Dean's toys, that kind of thing. The second time was with Missouri. She opened my eyes to what really happened. I never looked back after that."

Sam nodded, understanding. "Neither can I," he said, and climbed out of the truck.

The mailboxes in the lobby looked just the same as they had a year before. A "T Edwards" had replaced "Moore/Winchester". In fact, most of the names were unfamiliar. One, Sam recognised. K. Bradley, apartment 2B. Sam smiled to himself. That was a good place to start.

Sam knocked on the door of 2B. He could hear music from inside: Britney Spears in her jailbait phase. A few moments later the door opened to reveal a girl Sam's age. She was wearing a black bra, tight shorts and a towel wrapped around her hair. She looked at Sam for a moment, then let out a loud scream.

"Oh, my god! Sam!"

Sam couldn't help smiling. "Hi, Trish."

She threw herself into his arms. "Sam!" She yelled back over her shoulder. "Kev, it's Sam Winchester!" Then, to Sam, "Are you back? Please tell me you're back."

Sam shook his head, avoiding her attempt to hug him. "Only for a couple of days. How have you been? How's Kevin?"

"We're awesome!" She raised a hand, dangling her fingers in front of his eyes so he couldn't fail to notice the ring.

Sam smiled again. "You finally got engaged? Congratulations."

"Come in, Sam. Where have you been all year?"

Sam followed her into the apartment. "Well, my brother took me on a road trip..."

***

By the time Sam emerged from the building, darkness was falling. John was waiting in the truck. He couldn't have been waiting the whole time, Sam was sure, but it seemed that way: the truck was parked exactly where he'd left it.

Sam climbed in. "I think the building's clean," he reported.

"Are you sure?" John sounded surprised.

"No. But I talked with some people who live there and I checked everywhere I could reach with the EMF. I got no reading, Dad."

John started the engine. "What did the tenants say?"

"There are a lot of electrical problems. They think it's a problem with the cabling but three inspectors have come up empty. The weird thing is, that's the only weird thing. I couldn't...sense anything strange, there's no EMF. I think maybe this one really is just faulty wiring."

John nodded. "Okay. We'll hang around a few days, just to be sure."

It was November 1st. The anniversary of Jessica's death was tomorrow. Sam agreed, understanding what John wasn't saying aloud: that if something supernatural was in that building, November 2nd would likely be the day it would show itself. He could stick around that long.

***

1.14am, November 2nd

The Impala's engine rumbled as Dean turned into the motel parking lot. He saw John's truck and steered into the space beside it. He'd known John would be at this motel. It was the same place he stayed every time he came to Palo Alto.

He shut off the engine and the music and leaned back in the seat for a moment. Dean was ready to fall into bed: he'd been driving almost twenty hours with breaks only to refuel the car. No rest for the wicked, he thought. The door swung open with its usual squeak and Dean climbed out. He looked up at the motel building. He didn't know his dad's room number but he knew there would be some sign. John never stayed anywhere without using some kind of supernatural protection and Dean would find it. He pulled a small flashlight from his jacket pocket and made for the stairs.

It was too late for Dean to get a room of his own, but he could share with Sam. Unless Sam was with Dad. Oh, hell, if they were in bed together again...but they wouldn't. No freaking way. Not this time.

The distinctive click of a gun being cocked sent Dean darting into the nearest wall. He flattened his body against the bricks, snapping the flashlight off and going for his gun. His eyes scanned the darkness. He saw no one, so he looked for the darkest places. The shaded area below the neon motel sign - no, that was too far away to be the source of that click. Behind one of the cars? Yes, that was possible. Or the space beneath the stairs. Yes. There. Dean started to aim the gun.

A man emerged from under the staircase, moving slowly but purposefully into Dean's view. The first thing Dean noticed was his gun, which was pointing squarely at Dean's head. The man wore a long, grey coat and a wide-brimmed fedora which hid his face in shadow. Dean kept his body still. He couldn't hide, so he had no choice but to wait, and look for his chance to make a move.

"Drop the gun." The man's voice was a smooth baritone, the tone neutral.

Dean hesitated, hating to give up his only weapon in an unknown situation, but what choice did he have? He thumbed the safety on and released the gun so it dangled loosely from his index finger. Moving slowly, making sure both of his hands were visible to the watching man, Dean held the gun out to his side. He tried for a friendly smile. "Dude, what's the deal?"

"Drop. It." The man insisted.

Dean deliberately let the gun fall from shoulder-height. It hit the concrete with a loud clatter. Dean hoped his Dad or Sam would hear it. It was the best he could do. He lowered his arm slowly, keeping his gaze on the man's gun.

"Dean Winchester," the man said, and it wasn't a question. "We need to talk."

Dean shook his head. "I ain't tellin' you a damn thing," he said defiantly. Maybe if he made the dude angry he would make a mistake...

The grey-coated man moved closer to Dean, though not close enough for Dean to make a move. "Let me put that another way," he suggested. "If you want both your father and your brother to live out this week, then you need to hear what I know."

Invisible fingers squeezed Dean's heart tightly. "Dude, if you hurt my - " he began hotly.

"Spare me the threats," the man interrupted smoothly. "I'm not the thing you need to fear, Dean Winchester. Shut up and listen."

Dean listened.

End of You Can't Go Home Again.

The series concludes in What Lies Beneath