Actions

Work Header

Crawl Space

Work Text:

A week before Dean’s twenty-first birthday, they move again.

Sam has time to say goodbye to his English teacher. He hasn't made friends; they were in town less than two months, and he’s pretty sure he won’t even be remembered in a week’s time. He’s taken empty seats in the backs of classrooms and hidden behind his too-long bangs, knowing he wouldn’t be there long.

‘Ms Grey?’ he says after his final class, hugging his books to his chest as he approaches her desk.

‘Sam.’ She smiles warmly at him, collecting papers on her desk into a neat pile. ‘Everything okay?’

‘Uh, no. I mean, yes. It’s just, we’re leaving town, my family and I. And I, I guess I just wanted to say thank you. For everything. I’ve really enjoyed your class.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. Is everything all right?’

‘What? Oh, yes. It’s all good. My dad, he, uh, travels a lot for work.’

‘I see.’ There’s a small, awkward silence. Then, she looks at the books he’s holding. ‘Those are library books, aren't they?’

‘Yes. I’m just going to return them.’ He feels a little guilty that she seems to think he’s going to skip town with the books.

‘That’s not why I asked, Sam.’ She tilts her head toward the topmost book. ‘I was just remembering the essay you wrote on that play last week. You seemed to really like it.’

‘I did. Uh, I do. I really liked what you said about it. About… inhibitions and rules.’

His teacher smiles. ‘I noticed.’ Opening her briefcase, she takes out a slim book and puts it on the desk. ‘Take my copy,’ she says. ‘I have a feeling you'll want to read it again.’

‘I…’ Sam swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. ‘I can’t take your book.’

‘I’ll get another,’ she insists, pushing the book gently toward him.

 

 

‘Dean, I swear I’ll sit in the back seat if you don't keep your hands off my book.’

‘Seriously, what’s it about?’ Dean says around the gum he’s chewing, flooring the accelerator.

‘You don't really want to know.’ Sam glances up through the windshield. Dad’s truck is visible in the distance, a small black blur on the road ahead. ‘You’re just bored.’ He shifts his gaze to Dean. ‘And don't chew gum and talk at the same time. It’s gross.’

‘You’re gross.’ Dean leans over and gives the side of Sam’s head a parody of a nuzzle. ‘Shut up unless you want gum in your hair.’

‘Screw you,’ Sam says, feigning disinterest, but he shifts closer to his door anyway. He wouldn’t put it past Dean to actually spit the gum into his hair.

 

 

They stop at a diner for a late lunch. Sam can tell Dad’s miles away, even though he’s sitting right across from them.

‘Dad?’ Dean prompts.

‘You said something?’

Sam and Dean exchange a glance. ‘Yeah,’ Dean says. ‘Why are we going to Bobby’s? Is it a case?’

‘Maybe.’ Dad gives them a smile. Sam can tell it’s forced. ‘You boys need a break anyway.’

‘I didn't need a break from school,’ Sam points out. Dean kicks him under the table, and he shuts up.

‘You can go to school in Sioux Falls,’ Dad says, startling them both.

‘We going to be there awhile, then?’ Dean asks, stealing a fry off Sam’s plate.

‘Maybe. I’ll know more when we get there.’ Dad throws down a couple of bills. ‘Finish up or we won’t get there tonight.’

‘But we’re still a couple hundred miles away, and I’m kinda beat,’ Dean protests. ‘Can’t we stop somewhere for the night?’

Dad gets to his feet. ‘Sam can drive for a while if you’re too tired.’ His tone brooks no arguments, and Dean shuts up.

 

 

‘So why d’you think Dad’s in such a hurry to get to Bobby’s?’ Sam asks.

‘No clue,’ Dean grunts.

‘You want me to drive for a bit?’ Sam asks. He likes to drive—it isn't often he’s practically invited to—but he’s engrossed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he doesn't want to drive tonight unless Dean really isn't up to it.

‘Nah, I’m good. You keep your nose in your book, you giant geek.’

Sam clicks on his book-light—a Christmas gift from Dean, possibly the best his brother’s ever given him—and settles in for the ride. ‘Seriously,’ he says. ‘Tell me if you're too tired. Don't be stupid and macho and get us killed.’

Dean puts on AC/DC in retaliation.

 

 

They reach Bobby’s a little after midnight. Dad's truck is already parked outside, incongruously shiny among all the junkers in the yard. Dean parks next to it, careful to leave space for Dad to pull the vehicle out if he needs to.

Sam’s expecting Bobby to greet them with hugs as he usually does, but Dad and Bobby are deep in a discussion and don't seem to want to be disturbed. ‘There’s food in the kitchen if you boys are hungry,’ Bobby says in lieu of a greeting.

Sam’s curious about the books piled between the two men on the desk, but Dean tugs at his sleeve and makes him follow him to the kitchen.

‘What?’ Sam asks, annoyed, as Dean turns around to look at him.

‘Let them do what they have to do, okay?’

‘Since when are you so eager to stay out of other people’s business?’

‘It’s not that.’ Dean takes the lid off a pan on the counter, revealing congealing pasta. Making a face, he puts the pan in the oven to heat.

‘Then what?’

‘I think…’ Dean glances toward the study and lowers his voice. ‘I think they might be talking about us.’

‘Us?’ Sam asks blankly. ‘What about us?’

‘I don't know, okay?’ Dean says in an annoyed whisper. ‘It’s just. Dad’s been acting a bit cagey.’

‘More than usual, you mean?’

‘Don’t be a bitch,’ Dean says automatically, and Sam lets out a little sigh of frustration. Dean’s so used to playing the peacemaker between him and Dad that Sam sometimes wonders if his brother overcompensates for Dad’s gruffness.

‘You know I didn't mean it like that,’ he says. ‘Tell me what you meant?’

‘He was talking to Bobby earlier. On the phone. A couple times, before we skipped town. He wouldn't talk in front of me.’

‘You think it’s about Mom?’ Sam’s voice comes out small. He knows Dean hates it when he mentions Mom, but it’s what they're both thinking.

Dean’s head jerks up sharply at that, as though he hadn't expected Sam to mention their mother. The oven dings just then, startling them both.

Dean doesn't answer. He gets up, shrugs out of his jacket and tosses it over the back of his chair. Sam watches him get two plates and dish out the food.

‘If it’s about Mom,’ Sam begins.

‘Talk a little louder, why don't you?’ Dean cuts him off, still in that angry-whisper voice.

‘Sorry,’ Sam whispers back. ‘If it’s about Mom, why wouldn't he tell us?’

‘I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want to say anything until he knows more.’

Sam just nods, taking a bite of his pasta even though he isn't the slightest bit hungry.

 

 

There’s an invisible knot at the base of Sam’s stomach. He knows it isn't really there, not physiologically, but sometimes it’s so real that it makes everything else seem phony in comparison. It swells up when Sam worries about stuff, and Sam worries about stuff a lot. He worries when Dad and Dean go hunting and leave him behind. (He was fourteen when Dad finally decided that Sam could be trusted to take care of himself if left alone.)

At times like these—whenever it seems as though there’s a chance they may find a lead on Mom’s killer—he worries about Dad. His imagination is better than technicolor, showing him various scenarios in which his father gets himself killed chasing after a monster. He’s been having nightmares about monsters all his life, even before he knew they were real.

Now, he isn't small enough to climb into Dean’s bed as he did when he was younger and woke trembling in the middle of the night, but sometimes he wishes he were.

‘Dude, stop thinking so loudly,’ Dean complains from his bed. They're sharing the room they usually do at Bobby’s place. It has two mismatched beds—one bed and a divan, actually—and a heap of cartons piled in a corner. Sam takes the divan, which is smaller, although he’s grown almost a foot in the last eighteen months and is just a couple of inches from catching up with Dean’s six-foot-plus height.

‘I can’t sleep.’ Sam turns over so he can face Dean.

‘I figured, princess. You want me to get that pea out from under your mattress?’

‘Ha-fucking-ha. You aren't sleeping either.’

‘I would if you’d stop thinking so loudly.’

Sam pushes off the covers and goes to sit on the windowsill, looking out at the yard. The moon’s almost full and everything looks silvery. When he was little he could fit comfortably on the broad sill, often curling up there with a book. Now, he has to hold on to the edge with one hand to keep himself perched in place.

Behind him, he hears Dean sigh. The sheets rustle as his brother gets up. He comes to stand beside Sam, so close that if Sam let go of his handhold, he wouldn't fall. He doesn't say anything, but he’s a wall of reassurance.

‘Go to sleep, Sammy,’ he says after a while, turning around and going back to bed. Sam follows suit, and this time sleep comes more easily. Sam’s last conscious thought is that maybe Dean didn't say anything because they’ve never really known how to talk to each other about Mom.

 

 

As usual, Sam and Dean start to go a little stir-crazy after being holed up in Bobby’s house for over a day. Dean deals with it by messing around with the Impala. Sam hovers in the house, torn between going back to his book and trying to figure out what Dad and Bobby are investigating.

‘Sam, why don't you go to the library in town?’ Dad says finally.

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ Bobby asks. Dad shoots him a glare.

‘Why isn't it a good idea?’ Sam looks from Dad to Bobby. ‘What aren't you guys telling us?’

‘It’s not your concern,’ Dad says shortly.

‘Like hell it isn’t,’ Sam says, catching the look on Bobby’s face.

‘Sam, I said—’

‘John,’ Bobby says. ‘Maybe we should—’

‘You say another word, so help me god.’

‘They have a right to—’

‘They're my sons.’ And that’s the end of the discussion.

 

 

‘It’s about us,’ Sam confirms. He sits down on the porch steps and watches Dean wash the car.

‘I know, genius.’ Dean doesn't even bother to look up.

‘So what are we gonna do about it?’

Dean shrugs. ‘Wait.’

‘Wait? That the best you got?’ The words come out as a sneer, but Sam doesn't wish he could take them back. His annoyance with his family is like needles pricking under his skin these days, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before they push through and tear everything to pieces. Antagonizing Dean is just one of the ways in which he copes.

‘Let’s train,’ Dean says abruptly, throwing down his washcloth and disappearing into the garage.

 

 

Training had been much easier when Sam was younger. As a sixteen-year-old, he’s kind of hyper-aware of his body, and it doesn't take much for his imagination to turn seemingly innocuous things into sexual ones. He’s been learning about what turns him on, and most of his fantasies leave him with a sick, twisted feeling in his gut that conveniently disappears when he’s jerking off but returns full force as soon as he’s come off his high.

When he enters the garage, Dean pounces on him from behind. It’s a trick he’s learned recently, surprising Sam when he’s expecting it least. He should have been expecting it now, but he’s distracted and Dean takes him down easily, manhandling him to his knees and pinning his arms behind his back.

‘Getting sloppy, little bro.’ His breath is warm and noisy against Sam’s ear.

‘Get off me, you asshole!’ Sam squirms desperately, but Dean’s hold is like iron.

‘Is that what you're going to say to a monster about to eat you?’

‘I’m not seven, Dean.’ Sam thrusts his head back, hoping to catch Dean by surprise and maybe bruise his nose for good measure, but Dean just dodges and laughs. Sam struggles futilely, his breath getting quicker as he hears the clink of the cuffs a moment before Dean gets them around his wrists.

Dean gets to his feet, panting a little from the struggle, leaving Sam on his knees with his arms pinned behind his back. ‘I should put this in ice.’ He holds up the key. ‘Hang it in front of you and let you wait for it to melt.’

Sam’s heart nearly stops at those words. He’s imagined that particular scenario so many times that it’s practically ingrained into his brain. It’s something he’s been longing to try out but hasn't quite dared to. What if he had to get free before the ice melted or had a cramp?

‘Hey,’ Dean says, his voice surprisingly gentle. ‘You with me?’

‘Yeah,’ Sam says, dry-mouthed. He doesn't meet Dean’s eyes. ‘How long do I have?’

‘Three minutes,’ Dean says, placing the key in front of Sam.

‘You make it way too easy,’ Sam scoffs.

‘Clock’s ticking, Sammy. Get to it.’

Sam turns around on his knees, his back to Dean. Learning how to get out of handcuffs is a pointless exercise, in his opinion, but Dad has insisted on teaching them how to get loose. Sam suspects it’s because not all the monsters they chase are supernatural beings.

Ignoring the low thrum of arousal under his skin from being cuffed, he searches with his fingers for the key. After a minute of fruitless searching, he turns around in frustration to see the key dangling from Dean’s hand.

‘You cheating fucker.’

‘You turn your back on a bad guy, and you think he’s gonna play fair?’ Dean asks with his eyebrows raised.

‘But you already caught me!’

‘Doesn’t mean I can’t get nastier.’ Dean drops the key on the floor. ‘Try again. Keep an eye on me this time. Don't let me do anything you can’t observe.’

Keeping his eyes on Dean, Sam inches forward on his knees this time, trying to maneuver his body so that the key is under him. Just when his fingertips graze the cold metal, Dean steps out of his line of vision.

‘Dean,’ Sam groans in frustration.

‘You really think I’d make it that easy?’

‘I hate you,’ Sam says, his fingers scrabbling to get the key before Dean does, but it’s hopeless. Dean reaches under him and snags the key deftly, dangling it from his fingers once more.

‘Let’s try this again,’ he says, his mouth shaping into a wicked grin. ‘And make sure it isn't too easy.’

‘Like you've been easy on me so far.’ Sam tries to turn around when Dean moves behind him, but before he knows it, Dean’s wrapping something over his eyes—a bandana, probably—and tying it off behind his head.

‘I can’t do this,’ Sam says, tugging at his cuffs in frustration.

‘Stop that. You'll hurt yourself.’ Sam senses that Dean is kneeling behind him. ‘Use your other senses. Listen.’ The last word is spoken almost directly into his ear.

Sam listens. He hears the tiny sound the key makes as it hits the floor. It sounds like it’s just a couple of inches behind him. Moving back, he puts his hands on the floor and manages to curl his fingers around the key. ‘Yes!’

‘Good boy,’ Dean says. He doesn't usually use the phrase seriously. ‘Now get the cuffs open.’

It takes a few minutes, and despite the January chill in the air, Sam’s sweating by the time he gets the key into the lock and twists it. The cuffs still attached to his left wrist, he reaches up with his right hand and rips the blindfold off. ‘How’d I do?’

Dean glances at his watch, even though they both know Sam took well over three minutes. ‘Good. You did good, Sammy.’

The praise curls around Sam like warmth, and for once he doesn't even mind that Dean called him ‘Sammy’.

 

 

Their sparring is interrupted by Dad calling them from the house. Sam brushes himself off and follows Dean inside, still on an adrenaline high from the exercise.

‘We’re going to see Missouri,’ Dad says when they're both sitting side by side on the couch.

‘Missouri?’ Dean asks blankly. ‘What’s in Missouri?’

‘Not the state,’ Bobby clarifies. ‘The person. Missouri Moseley lives in Kansas.’

‘Lawrence, to be precise,’ Dad adds.

‘Is this about Mom?’ Sam can’t hold himself back any longer.

Dad and Bobby exchange glances. ‘I don't know yet, Sam,’ Dad says. ‘But I don’t think so. It may be something else.’

‘If it’s not about Mom, then why are we going to Kansas?’ Dean asks.

‘Because Missouri is a psychic.’

‘Why do we need to see a psychic?’ Sam presses.

He doesn't miss the way Dad and Bobby are exchanging looks, as though trying to decide how much to tell the boys. ‘Dad,’ Sam says. ‘Please.’

Dad takes a deep breath and sits down in a chair close to Sam’s spot on the sofa. ‘You remember a couple weeks ago, when you had that school thing and I couldn't make it because I was on a hunt?’ he asks. There’s something like regret in his voice, and Sam feels a little regret himself. He’d made Dad feel guilty about it for days.

Sam nods, and Dad continues. ‘I caught a demon. It wasn't your regular kind.’

‘What kind was it?’ Dean asks. Dad’s looking at Sam as though trying to figure out how to say what’s coming next. He’s not looking at Dean at all. Sam shifts closer to his brother.

‘A crossroads demon. They… pretty much steal people’s souls. This one told me something that happened years ago. Before your Mom and I got married.’

Sam doesn't realize he’s been scrabbling for a hold on the couch until Dean’s fingers grasp his.

‘What happened, Dad?’ Dean’s voice is steady, his hand gripping Sam’s, and Sam’s never been more grateful to have his brother next to him.

Dad scrubs a hand over his tired, unshaven face. ‘I don't exactly know. The demon didn't say much. Except that it might have something to do with you, Sam.’

‘Mom died because of me?’

‘No! No, not that. The thing that killed her may have been a demon. I’m almost positive it was a demon pretty high up on the food chain. If I’m right, then this demon targeted more children your age, Sam. He…’ Dad pauses for a moment. Sam’s coiled so tight that the knot in his stomach feels like a balloon about to burst.

‘Targeted?’ Dean breaks in before Sam can say a word. ‘What do you mean, targeted? How? For what?’

‘I don't know exactly how. That’s why we’re going to see Missouri.’ In a gesture of rare tenderness, Dad reaches out and smooths Sam’s hair back from his face. ‘She’ll be able to tell us more.’

 

 

Sam can’t sleep at all that night.

‘Thinking about it won’t help,’ Dean points out.

‘How would you know? You aren't the one who got Mom killed.’

Dean refuses to rise to the bait. ‘Sam, Dad said it wasn't your fault.’

‘How? How was it not my fault, if the demon murdered Mom because she was trying to protect me from him?’

‘We don't know what happened, Sam. You heard Dad. He doesn't know anything for sure.’

‘I know.’ Sam wraps his arms around his knees. ‘I know it’s true. I can feel it in my gut.’

‘No, you can feel your anxiety in your gut.’ Dean comes over and wraps an arm around his shoulders. Sam turns blindly into him, pressing his face into Dean’s neck. He takes in a huge breath, but it still feels as though he isn't getting enough air.

‘Breathe,’ Dean says, rubbing between his shoulder blades. ‘Just breathe, Sammy. It’s going to be okay.’

It’s easier said than done, but after a while Sam’s breathing slows to something approaching normal.

‘I’m gonna ask you something,’ Dean says. ‘Don’t hit me, okay?’

‘Ask me what?’

‘When was the last time you… you know.’ Dean makes a vaguely obscene gesture with his hand.

‘Dean, are you asking me about sex?’

‘’Course not, Sammy. I know you haven't had sex.’ Dean grins. ‘Not with another person, anyway.’

‘So you're asking me when I last—dude, that stuff’s private!’

‘It’s the best stress-buster I know, okay? That’s why I asked. You need some alone time, the bathroom’s all yours. Hell, if you need a bed I’ll leave you to it and sleep on the couch.’

‘Stress-buster?’ Sam asks, incredulous. ‘We could be talking about the thing that killed Mom, and you want me to jerk off?’

‘Exactly,’ Dean says. ‘We could be talking about the thing that killed Mom and pretty much fucked up our entire lives. You don't have any control over any of that. None of it.’

‘So?’

‘So, you gotta find the things you can control, Sam. Find your own space where nothing can touch you, no matter how small the space is. Me, I don't know what sort of hunt Dad’s going to take me on next. I can’t control that stuff. But I can take care of my wheels. I can train myself—’

‘And me,’ Sam puts in, beginning to catch on.

‘And you,’ Dean says, ruffling his hair. ‘Make sure we give the best we got so we can kick it in the ass every single time. You know what I mean?’

‘I think so. Still don't know what it has to do with… you know.’

Dean just smiles and taps his fingertip against his temple. ‘Your own space, remember? Trust me. It helps.’ He winks and shifts to his own bed.

 

 

‘Sammy.’ Dad’s hand is on his shoulder, shaking him awake.

‘Dad?’ Sam looks at Dean’s empty bed. ‘What’s the matter? Is it time to go?’

‘Change of plans,’ Dad says. ‘Bobby and I are going to Lawrence. You stay and do as your brother says, all right?’

He’s gone before Sam has even woken up completely.

 

 

‘Good and bad are strange categories. Sometimes context is everything.’

He remembers the word his English teacher had said. He thinks they mean more to him than they could to anyone else. With nothing else to do, he and Dean keep training. He knows Dad’s told Dean more about what’s going on than he’s told Sam, but Dean isn't talking. Sam knows he thinks he's doing the right thing by keeping information from Sam, but at the same time, Sam wishes he could knock some sense into him.

 

 

They’re sparring in the living room the next afternoon when everything goes to hell.

Dean has him in a very effective headlock and Sam knows he’s lost this round. He leans back against Dean for a moment, catching his breath, and then Dean gets to his feet and gives him a hand up.

He doesn't know what makes him do it, but the next moment he’s leaning in and pressing his lips to Dean’s.

‘Dean,’ Sam says. He’s terrified, but it’s like looking at a scene in a film that he has no control over.

Dean stays very still for a second. Then, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and looks at the wetness on it as though it’s blood, or worse.

Before Sam can move, the same hand hits him hard, right across the face.

Sam goes sprawling back, the force of the blow and its complete unexpectedness catching him by surprise. He falls on the couch, his gaze on Dean’s face, shocked into stillness.

‘Dean—’

‘Shut up. Shut the fuck up.’ Dean’s on him in a second, straddling Sam’s thighs, his hand closing around Sam’s throat. He squeezes hard and shakes Sam so hard that he thinks his bones might rattle. ‘What’ve you done to my brother? Who are you?’

Sam tries to choke out Dean’s name, but Dean’s large hand is cutting off his air supply. His arms try to flail, but one of them is pinned under him and the other is trapped between his body and Dean’s, bones feeling brittle as chalk under Dean’s onslaught.

‘Tell me!’ Dean roars, his face terrified, and Sam lets out a sob.

‘Please,’ Sam tries to say, but both of Dean’s thumbs are digging into his windpipe now. His tears, oblivious to his inability to breathe, are somehow finding their way down his cheeks.

The phone starts ringing.

Dean looks up with his hands still locked around Sam’s throat, his eyes wild. Sam takes advantage of his distraction to knee him in the stomach, taking great gulps of air as Dean’s hold loosens.

But it isn't for nothing that Dean prides himself on his prowess as a fighter. Before Sam has time to sit up, Dean’s on him again, flipping him over and wrenching his arms behind his back.

‘Dean, for fuck’s sake, it’s me!’

‘I said shut the fuck up,’ Dean says. His merciless, unerring hand finds and pinches a nerve in Sam’s neck, and Sam’s world goes black.

 

 

He dreams he’s in a small tunnel. It’s almost completely dark and very claustrophobic.

He hears it before his eyes get used to the darkness: someone breathing too loudly in the damp, confined space.

‘Hello?’ He crawls toward the sound; the ceiling is too low for him to stand.

The labored breathing quiets immediately. ‘Who’s there?’ A woman’s voice, its pitch betraying her nervousness.

‘I… I’m not sure, actually.’

‘Dean?’ She crawls into view. ‘It’s Dean, isn't it?’

He holds back, suspicious. ‘I thought you said you didn't know who was there?’

‘You told me yesterday. Your name, I mean.’ She pushes grimy dark hair off her face. ‘I’m Lily. At least I think that’s my name.’

‘Wait, I told you yesterday? How long have we been here? And where is here, anyway?’

‘I don’t know, all right? I’m stuck here, same as you.’

‘I just got here,’ he says. ‘I’ve never seen you before.’

‘You forget.’ The girl—Lily?—swipes angrily at her tears, smudging the dirt over her face. ‘You always forget, Dean.’

Dean. The name’s terribly familiar, like it’s a part of him. ‘I told you my name is Dean?’

‘You were saying it the first time I saw you. Over and over again.’

 

 

‘Dean,’ Sam says. It comes out sounding like ‘D’n,’ the consonants sticking together and the vowels silenced by his hoarse throat.

There’s something lumpy and sort-of soft under him. He blinks up at the ceiling a few times before his vision comes into focus. He’s lying on the mattress in Bobby’s panic room.

He swings his legs off the bed and stumbles to his feet, lurching a little and almost falling as he makes his way to the door. ‘Dean!’ He pounds on the heavy metal. ‘Open the door, damn it!’

Dean appears almost immediately, as though he’d been hovering around waiting for Sam to wake up. The small cover over the peephole is slid aside, and Dean peers in. ‘Sam?’

‘Of course it’s Sam! Who else did you lock in here?’ Sam kicks at the door, anger and confusion boiling inside him.

‘Sam, if it’s you, I’m sorry. I really am.’ Dean sounds like his puppy just died, and Sam’s anger softens a little when he hears the tone of Dean’s voice. Being alert to Dean in pain is one of his default states.

‘Dean, come on. Who else would I be?’ Something strikes him. ‘Was that Dad on the phone? What did he say?’

Dean stays silent, still looking at Sam through the peephole.

‘He said something to you before he left, didn't he? Something about me. Something that’s making you think you can’t trust me.’

‘It’s not like that,’ Dean says, but he doesn't meet Sam’s eyes.

‘It’s exactly like that.’ Sam jams his hands into his pockets. ‘I need to use the bathroom.’

‘I’ll bring you a bucket.’ Dean starts moving away.

‘I am not peeing in a fucking bucket,’ Sam snarls after him. ‘I’ll hold it till my bladder bursts, and it'll all be on you.’

‘Stop acting childish,’ Dean says, but he stays.

‘Dean, please.’ Sam steps as close to the door as he can, curling his fingers around the narrow bars. ‘Please. Tell me what’s going on. Tell me what Dad said to make you so afraid of me.’

‘Afraid of you?’ Dean sneers. ‘I’m not afraid of you, little brother. It’s what’s inside you that can’t be allowed to run around loose.’

It’s like he’s just upended a bucket of ice over Sam’s head. ‘What’s inside me?’ he asks in a whisper.

Dean opens his mouth as if to answer, but then takes a step back from the door. ‘Step away from the door. Go to the bed and sit on your hands.’

‘Dean, what—’

‘You wanna be let out of there, you do as I say.’

Sam nods and does as instructed. He keeps a close eye on the door as he hears the clink of keys. He can take a chance and run at Dean as soon as he steps in. It may be his only opportunity for freedom.

But at the same time, he knows from hearing Dean’s voice and seeing the anguish on his face that he’s scared sick. Not for himself, but for Sam. Because he thinks that something inside Sam is controlling him. Sam has two choices now: either make his bid for freedom and let Dean think he’s possessed or whatever, or stay and be a prisoner but retain some hope of convincing Dean that he’s fine, that he’s Sam.

He sits on his hands and watches Dean come in.

Dean is holding the shotgun with the rock salt bullets, the muzzle pointed unwaveringly at Sam’s chest. ‘Don’t think I won’t use it.’ He takes out the handcuffs that they’d used while sparring and tosses them on the bed. ‘Put them on.’

‘Dean—’

Dean cocks the gun. ‘Do it or eat a mouthful of salt.’

‘I’m human. Salt won’t hurt me.’

‘Just do it or I’m out of here.’

‘Very mature,’ Sam sneers, but he does as asked.

Dean inclines his head toward the door, keeping the gun trained. ‘Walk ahead of me.’

Sam stares at him for a moment. ‘You’re serious about this.’

‘Walk.’

Dean’s face is expressionless, but Sam knows the look in his eyes. He’s terrified for Sam, and Sam feels the last of his anger drain away. ‘All right,’ he says quietly. ‘Don’t worry about me, Dean. I’m fine, I swear.’

‘Just go,’ Dean says, gesturing with the gun this time.

Sam nods and walks out of the room. He can feel the gun trained on his back, Dean’s gaze boring into his skull as though his brother wishes he could see right into Sam’s head and determine for himself that Sam’s all right.

‘Just what did Dad say to you, anyway?’ Sam asks when they reach the top of the stairs.

‘That’s for me to know. Go use the bathroom. If you try to close the door, I’ll blow it open.’

Sam holds up his cuffed hands. ‘I’m supposed to go like this?’

‘You’re a smart kid. You'll figure it out.’

‘Jerk.’ Sam deliberately uses the word, hoping for Dean’s standard response, but Dean doesn't take the bait.

‘You gonna watch me pee?’ He asks when Dean follows him to the door. ‘Kinky.’

‘Stop trying to rile me up.’ Dean’s expression doesn't change. ‘If you’re Sam, you'll know why it’s necessary.’

‘I am Sam, and I don’t know, so help me understand!’

‘Just do your business and we’ll talk, okay?’ Dean sounds weary, and Sam takes pity on him. He turns his back to Dean and leaves the door ajar while he pees, open just enough so Dean can see that he’s not trying to get away.

Sam zips himself up and washes his hands as best he can. ‘I’m hungry,’ he says. ‘How long was I out, anyway?’

‘A couple of hours.’ Dean has the grace to look contrite. ‘Does it hurt?’

‘I’m fine,’ Sam says shortly.

‘Come on.’ Dean tries to put his hand on Sam’s back, but Sam flinches away. He isn't going to let Dean off that easy. Dean sighs. ‘I’ll make you a sandwich.’

They eat sitting at the kitchen table, Sam’s hands still cuffed. When he’s finished his sandwich and glass of milk, he looks at Dean. ‘What did Dad say?’

‘You have demon blood in you.’

The words come out so matter-of-factly that Sam has trouble processing them for a moment. ‘He—I what?’

‘That’s what the psychic told him. He said it made sense given what the crossroads demon had said, too. He said a demon killed Mom and put his blood in you.’

‘And you believe this crap?’

‘It’s not crap. Dad wouldn't believe it if it wasn't true.’

‘And Dad can never make mistakes, right?’

‘No. Not like this. He wouldn't risk you unless he was sure.’

‘Risk me? Dean, did Dad ask you to kill me?’

‘What? No. Jesus. No. He just said to keep you locked up till he gets back.’ Dean doesn't meet Sam’s gaze.

‘You’re lying.’

‘It’s the truth.’

‘Fuck you. I know you, and you're not telling the truth. Fuck. He really did ask you to kill me.’

‘You don't know what you're saying, okay? Dad wouldn't ask me to do that. He knows—he just wouldn’t.’

‘No, but he would ask you to keep me locked up until he comes and does it himself.’

‘No one’s killing Sam,’ Dean says evenly, his gaze finally meeting Sam’s.

‘But you don't think I’m Sam. Would you kill me if you thought I’d turned into a demon? Huh? Would you kill me to save me from a monster?’

‘No,’ Dean says, not taking his eyes off Sam’s. ‘I would never kill my brother. And I wouldn't let anyone else hurt him either.’

‘You’re talking about me like I’m not even here.’

‘Did you listen to a word I said? You have demon blood in you.’

‘We don't know that.’

‘We do. I’m positive. Dad wouldn't have told me if he wasn't sure.’

Sam nods, his vision blurring. This time it’s Sam who turns his head away.

 

 

He wakes up in a dream, and he’s back in the tunnel. It’s dead silent this time, and it doesn't sound as though anyone else is around.

‘Lily?’ he calls.

‘Dean?’ she responds from somewhere in the darkness. A moment later he hears a scuffling sound, and she crawls toward him. ‘I thought you weren't coming back. You’ve been away so long.’

‘I was just here a couple hours ago.’

She shakes her head. ‘I haven't seen you since yesterday.’

‘Lily, I think I’m dreaming this. I’m dreaming you.’

In response, she crawls right up to him and pinches his arm hard.

‘Ow!’

‘That feel like a dream to you?’

‘If it’s not a dream, what else could it be? I’m not really here.’

‘Then where are you?’

‘I’m not—I don’t know. It’s like I know, but the knowledge is only there in my subconscious. You know?’

‘No, I don’t. You're not making any sense.’

‘If I’m really here, then why don't you find me here all the time? Why do I come and go?’

‘Hey, wait a minute,’ she says. ‘You remember my name this time. You remember being here earlier?’

‘Yeah. It’s starting to—I don’t know, I’m starting to remember things when I’m here. And my name’s not Dean. It’s Sam.’

She frowns. ‘Then why did you say it was Dean?’

‘I don’t think I did,’ he says, trying to explain. ‘I think I was calling for Dean. He—uh, he’s someone I trust with my life.’

‘Is he trapped somewhere here too?’

‘God, I hope not.’

‘You don't know where he is?’

‘I don't even know where I am.’

‘But you're sure your name is Sam?’

‘Yeah, pretty sure.’

‘How?’

‘What?’

‘How are you so sure your name is Sam? What if it’s really Dean?’

Before he can answer, Lily’s gaze turns to something beyond him. He turns to follow it, but can only make out an unnatural blackness. Although there isn't a sound to be heard, he feels almost literally frozen, as though something huge and ominous is moving toward them out of the pitch-black darkness.

‘He’s back,’ Lily whispers, her eyes huge and dark.

‘Who?’

‘The—’

 

 

‘Dean!’

Beside him, Dean startles awake in his chair. ‘What—why did you scream?’

Sam shakes his head to try to clear it. ‘I don't know. Nightmare. I think.’

‘You think? What were you dreaming about?’

‘I can’t remember, okay?’ Sam snaps. He fucking hates this. He’s strapped down to the bed at wrists and ankles, and although Dean hasn't made them tight enough to cut into his skin, it’s difficult trying to sleep without being able to change position.

‘I can remember just fine what I was just dreaming of.’

‘What was it? Were you fucking some girl whose name you didn't know? Someone you didn't even plan to say goodbye to when you skipped town?’

‘I’d much rather fuck someone anonymous than my little brother, and if you were really Sam, you'd know that. You're just proving that you're some sick fuck who’s taken over my brother’s body.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Sam says, stung. ‘You’re not being fair. You’re not even trying to understand.’

‘I understand better than you think.’

‘No, you don’t. You're the one who’s proving that he’s a stupid high school dropout who doesn't have two fucking brain cells to rub together.’ He regrets the words the moment they come out of his mouth, but the damage has been done.

Dean stares at him as though he can’t believe what he just heard, his expressive eyes shining with hurt and betrayal.

Then he gets up and slams the door behind him.

‘Dean, I’m sorry. Please!’

Dean reopens the door, and for a moment of blessed relief, Sam thinks he’s changed his mind. Then he sees that Dean is putting a bucket in a corner of the room.

‘There’s your bathroom,’ he says, freeing one of Sam’s wrists. By the time Sam gets the rest of his restraints off, he’s long gone, the key turned in the lock with a resolute click.

Dean doesn't return that night, not even to give Sam anything to eat or drink. He screams until his voice is hoarse and kicks the door with all his strength, but only succeeds in tiring himself out. When he’s exhausted himself, he throws himself on the mattress and sinks into sleep.

 

 

‘Can you remember now?’ Lily asks.

He shakes his head. ‘My name is Sam,’ he tries saying, but he isn't convinced. There’s a new memory in his head, something that wasn’t there in his last dream. A snippet of a conversation.

‘Dean, I want to see Frost's house.’

‘Sure, you giant geek.’

The voices he remembers sound alike enough that he wonders if the other speaker is a relative, a twin. Maybe he’s like the man in the iron mask, waiting for his brother. Or is it his brother who's waiting for him?

‘Maybe Dean’s your boyfriend,’ Lily says.

‘Why would you say that?’

She shrugs. ‘Just a vibe I get from you. Or maybe because I know my girlfriend’s somewhere out there, looking for me.’

‘Your girlfriend?’

She smiles, tells him not to worry because she's pretty sure he isn't her type.

He almost smiles, but doesn't because there’s not enough space inside him for much aside from terror. Through it all, he senses that there’s a person-shaped space next to him. Someone who should be there, someone vital like a limb, and sometimes he can just see them from the corner of his eye. The features dissolve before he can identify them, eyes flickering with a color that's lost before he can give it a name.

 

 

Sam doesn't use the bucket. He’d learned early on that there was a kind of pleasure in holding it anyway, a pressing need that brought itself into sharp focus and sent everything else to the background, blurring his worries into distorted shapes that he couldn't distinguish from each other.

Dean comes in without a word, a plate of food in his hand and a bottle of water tucked under the arm that’s holding the gun.

‘I need the bathroom.’

Dean looks at him in surprise. ‘You didn't use the bucket.’

‘I said I wasn't going to use the fucking bucket.’

‘In case you haven't noticed, you aren't the one giving orders here.’

‘You think I’m some kind of demon because I said something unkind to you? We do that all the time, Dean. I can’t—you can’t keep me locked up in here. Please. I haven't done anything wrong.’ Except kiss you and make you think I’m a monster, because only monsters hit on their brothers.

‘Sam would never do the stuff you've done.’

‘Maybe you just don't know me as well as you think.’

Dean just gestures with the shotgun. ‘Get back.’

‘No, Dean. You aren't listening.’ He takes a step toward Dean, who cocks the gun in warning. ‘Really? You're going to shoot me in the chest? Even blank bullets hurt. You really going to take that sort of a chance with me? And don't you dare fucking say I’m not your brother.’

‘Look, if you're Sam, you aren't making this easy for me, all right? You think I like locking you up and threatening you?’

‘Then don't do it, you asshole!’

‘What would you do? Huh? What would you do if Dad told you I was probably possessed by a demon? Would you let me walk around loose?’

‘I’d trust you.’

‘No, Sam, you wouldn’t. You wouldn't let me free if you thought I could be a danger to myself and others.’

Sam tries a different tactic. ‘When’s Dad getting back?’

Dean narrows his eyes. ‘Why are you asking?’

‘Because I’d rather be killed than be locked up for one more freaking second.’

‘No one’s killing you, Sam. Come on.’

‘You said it yourself.’

‘I said no such thing.’ Dean tosses him the handcuffs again. ‘Put them on if you want to be taken upstairs.’

Sam watches very carefully to see if Dean will reveal where the keys are. He doesn’t. It doesn't matter, because there are other ways to get out of cuffs, and Dean’s taught them to Sam himself. All he needs is to grab a paperclip from Bobby’s desk.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Dean says they make their way up the stairs.

‘You a mind reader now?’

Dean lets out an almost-laugh. ‘No, but I know you, little brother. Don't you try to get away from me.’

‘Why? So you can lock me up and starve me again?’

They enter the kitchen and Dean guides him to a chair, rolling his eyes. ‘Don't be so melodramatic. I didn't starve you.’

‘I haven't eaten since that sandwich yesterday. And I really need to pee.’

Dean tilts his head toward the bathroom. ‘Knock yourself out.’

Since the bathroom is clearly in Dean’s line of vision, there’s nothing Sam can do but finish his business and go back to the kitchen. Dean hasn't cooked, but he’s brought out some frozen stuff Bobby left in the fridge and heated it in the oven, so there’s actual food instead of a hastily thrown together sandwich this time. There’s also a glass of ice-cold orange juice, and Sam slurps it down thirstily.

Guilt written all over his face, Dean pours him some more.

‘I need you to listen to me,’ Sam says through a mouthful of chicken.

‘Don’t start.’

‘No, you listen, Dean. I know something’s wrong with me, all right? But it’s not what you think. At least I think it isn’t.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘I’ve been having these dreams. But they’re more like visions. I think they're real.’

‘Visions? Of what?’

‘I’m trapped somewhere dark and cramped. And there’s a girl who’s a prisoner there. I think she’s real. I think she’s trapped somewhere and I need to help her.’

‘Who’s this girl?’

‘I only know her first name. Lily. Oh, and she’s gay.’

Dean raises his eyebrows. ‘How would you know that?’

‘Because she told me. She said her girlfriend’s probably looking for her.’

‘How do you know it’s real? That she’s real?’

‘I don’t know. I just know. It feels really different from a regular dream.’

‘If you have no clue where she is, then you can’t get her out even if she is real.’

‘I know that. Maybe I can try to figure it out when I have the dream again. Vision. Whatever. The problem is that I don't remember stuff properly when I’m there. I wasn't even sure of my own name the first time. She thought my name was Dean.’

‘Why would she think that?’

‘I don't remember. But I think I was calling your name. Maybe I was calling out for help. And she thought I was telling her my name.’

Dean doesn't comment on that. ‘You said ‘the first time.’ How many times have you had the dream?’

‘It’s not the same dream. She—Lily said I keep returning there, but time passes differently for her. I went there twice yesterday but the second time she said she hadn't seen me since the previous day. And there was something coming for us. It felt like some sort of monster.’

‘A monster? What kind of monster?’

‘I don't know. It was all dark but I could sense it. It felt… really creepy. Like it was going to suck my soul out or something.’

‘What happened?’

‘I woke up.’ Sam swallows and looks away, ashamed. ‘I didn't sleep all night. I didn't want to go back there and get caught.’

‘You think something’ll happen to you for real if this thing gets you in your dream?’

‘I don’t know, okay? I don't know anything right know. All I know is my brother thinks I’m a monster and I’m having weird dreams.’

‘I don’t think you're a—’

‘Save it for Dad,’ Sam says shortly. ‘You wouldn't have treated me the way you have if you didn't think I was some kind of demon.’

‘Sam, you have to understand. I don't want to hurt you. I would never hurt you. I’m doing this to protect you.’

‘Protect me from what? We don't even know what we’re dealing with here!’

‘That’s the problem, isn't it? Don't you see? If we knew what we were dealing with we could've fixed it by now.’

‘And what if there’s no fixing me, huh? What if Dad says I’m some kind of demon? How will you fix me then? How will you ‘protect’ me? By putting a bullet through my head for my own good? That’s what Dad told you, isn't it? That I’d have to be killed if I couldn't be saved?’

‘It’s not like that. You know Dad would never hurt you, any more than I would.’

‘But what if I’m not me, Dean? I mean, these dreams have to mean something, right? What if they mean that I’m not human? That I never was? Are you going to live with an abomination and call it your brother?’

‘Stop talking like that.’ Dean slams his hand down on the table. ‘Whatever happens, we will figure out a way.’

‘Talk to Dad. Go talk to him now. Tell him about my dreams and see what he has to say.’

‘All right, I will.’ Dean uncuffs one of Sam’s hands and locks the cuff around one of the table legs instead. ‘Stay here,’ he says unnecessarily.

Sam’s almost livid now. He also has a way of escape, because he can easily slide the cuff down the leg of the table and get it out. He does so as quietly as possible, going up to the door and listening to Dean’s side of the conversation.

Dean’s quiet except for the occasional sound he makes to show Dad that he’s listening.

‘But—’ Whatever Dean’s going to say is obviously cut short by their father.

‘Dad, no.’ Dean sounds resolute. ‘I’m not locking him up again. It’s killing him.’ He listens for a minute. ‘But—’

A moment later, Dean hangs up the phone with a curse. Sam’s about to back away from the door when he hears Dean making another call, this time to Bobby.

This time he can’t make out the conversation because Dean’s talking very softly, almost as though he’s aware that Sam’s listening.

‘You can come out now,’ Dean says, raising his voice when he hangs up.

Sam pushes open the door, the cuffs still dangling from one of his wrists. ‘What did Bobby say?’ he asks, not seeing any point in pretending he hasn't been listening.

‘Don’t you want to know what Dad said?’

‘I can imagine,’ Sam says bitterly.

‘Give him some credit, Sam. He is your father, you know. He doesn't want to hurt you.’

‘But he said you have to keep me locked up, right?’

‘He said being locked up wouldn't hurt you. And he’s right.’

‘No, he isn’t. I told you about my dreams. What if that thing gets me and Lily?’

‘He doesn't think the dreams are real.’

‘Of course he doesn’t. When has he ever taken me seriously?’

‘Let’s not get into that now, okay?’ Dean says, his voice surprisingly gentle. ‘You trust me, right?’

Sam hesitates. ‘I trust you to do what Dad says. You’ve always been the good little soldier.’

‘You mean I’ve always been the grunt who takes orders. And you've always been the smart one who knows better than anyone else.’

‘I know better what’s right for me.’

‘And what’s that?’

‘To get out of here. Out of this life. Away from Dad’s orders and his mission.’

‘You don't mean that.’

‘I do. Look in my bag if you don't believe me. See the college brochures I’ve been collecting all year. I even have a letter of reference from my last English teacher.’

Dean looks like Sam’s just slapped him. ‘You’re leaving?’

‘Did you seriously expect me to stay, Dean? With the way things have been between me and Dad? You think I want to live my life this way?’

‘I thought we mattered to you. We’re family, Sam, and—’

‘That doesn't explain everything. It’s not an excuse to pull your kids out of school and drag them all over the country chasing something you don't even know exists.’

‘Something killed Mom, and that something is still out there.’

‘Well, killing it won’t bring her back. How do you think she’d feel if she knew how Dad was treating us, Dean? Do you think she’d want this life for us?’

‘I don't know what she’d want, because she’s not here. But Dad is. He’s all we have, Sam.’

‘No, he’s all you have. Because he matters more to you than anything. Because you'll drop everything and follow his orders just to be a good son.’

‘That’s not true.’ Dean takes a deep breath, his hands clenched. ‘There’s nothing I would put in front of you, Sam. Ever.’

‘You have a funny way of showing it.’

‘Let me finish, and I’ll show you how serious I am about helping you. It’s why I spoke to Bobby.’

Sam remains mutinously silent, glaring at Dean.

‘I can’t let you free, Sam. I’m with Dad on that. But I remember Bobby saying something about dream-walking. You remember that?’

‘No. When was that?’

‘A few years ago. Maybe you were too little then. Anyway. I remember he told us about a case in which he actually had to get into someone’s head to help them out. I asked him about it. He used a root, an African one—I can’t remember the name.’

‘How’s that going to help? I’m already having the dreams.’

‘Yeah. But next time you dream of that monster, I’m going to be right there with you.’

 

 

‘You really think this is a good idea?’ Sam asks, fidgeting with his restraints.

Dean shrugs. ‘I don't know about good or bad, Sam. This is the best I’ve got. I’m not going to let you face that thing alone.’

‘So what're you going to do? Wait for me to fall asleep and then drink that stuff?’

‘Yeah, that’s about right.’

Sam’s silent for a while. ‘Do I have to be tied down again? What if it affects my dream in some way?’

‘It didn't make any difference last time, right? So it shouldn't this time either.’

‘And you believe me when I say I’m Sam? And not some sort of monster?’

‘We’ll deal with this stuff one thing at a time, okay? I can’t think about that demon blood stuff right now, Sammy. I don't know what to do about it. You're just going to have to believe me when I say that all I want is to keep you safe.’

‘I believe you about that, Dean. I just don't believe that what you may do to keep me safe is the best for me. And if you keep me locked up here without giving me a choice, then—’

‘Hey.’ Dean cuts him off, putting a hand on his shoulder. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you. I won’t let anyone take away your choices. You have to believe me.’

‘You’re taking away my choices right now,’ Sam points out, yanking on the straps to prove his point.

‘Okay, look at it this way. If you have the demon blood in you and some demon decides to take control of your body, do you really want him to walk out of here wearing you like a suit? What would happen to your choices then? And he’d probably kill me first for good measure. Can you imagine that? A demon using your hands, your body, to rip my guts out?’

‘Okay, okay, jeez. Enough already.’ Sam turns his head so his gaze is on the ceiling. ‘Can I ask you something?’

‘You should sleep.’

‘Just one question.’

Dean sighs. ‘Fine.’

‘Why did you think I wasn't me? That I was—possessed or something? Was it just because, you know?’

‘Because you kissed me?’ Dean says bluntly, and Sam winces at his tone.

‘Yeah, that.’ Sam swallows. ‘I know you think it was disgusting, but…’

‘It wasn't like that.’

‘Then why? You—you hit me so hard. I never thought I—that you'd do that. Not to me. Ever.’

‘I’m sorry, Sam. I made sure you fell on the couch though, right?’

Despite himself, Sam lets out a laugh. ‘Yeah, you did. You just. I don’t know. Caught me by surprise.’

‘I’ll make it up to you,’ Dean promises. ‘Now go to sleep.’

‘Don’t know if I can. I’m too wired.’

‘You want me to give you something to help you sleep?’

It’s tempting, but Sam shakes his head. ‘What if it affects the dream somehow? What if that thing gets me and I can’t wake up?’

‘Nothing’s going to get you. I promise.’

‘Don’t make promises you can’t keep.’

‘Just watch me.’

 

 

‘Where have you been?’ Lily asks.

‘Getting help.’ Sam crawls over to her and sees that she’s cradling one of her arms with the other. ‘Are you hurt?’

‘Son of a bitch kicked me,’ she says, straightening a little from her protective hunch, and Sam sees a dark bruise on her forearm that looks a lot like a boot-print.

‘He wears boots?’ Sam asks in surprise.

‘I guess? Why is that surprising?’

‘I just. I don't know, I thought he was something else.’

‘Like a demon?’

‘What,’ says a voice from the darkness beyond them. ‘do you know about demons?’

Lily lets out a little gasp of surprise.

‘Dean! You made it!’ Sam wants to crawl over to his brother and throw his arms around him, and has to force himself to hold back.

‘Looks like it,’ Dean says. ‘You must be Lily. I’m Dean.’

‘How did you get here?’

‘Same way he did,’ Dean says, inclining his head toward Sam. ‘Well, kind of, anyway.’ He grins. ‘Let’s just say I’m the man of his dreams.’

‘Very clever,’ Sam huffs, but he can’t keep from smiling. With Dean here next to him, the darkness feels a lot less ominous.

‘Are you hurt?’ Dean asks Lily.

‘Yeah, that jerk kicked me when I tried to run.’

‘Run?’ Sam asks. ‘Run where? Did you find a way out?’

‘There’s a door at the end of the passage,’ Lily explains. ‘It’s always so dark, I couldn't see it before. Then he came to give me food and I tried to make a break for it.’

‘That was the first time he came to feed you? How long have you been here?’ Dean asks.

‘At least three days,’ Lily says. ‘I’ve kinda lost track but it can’t be much more than that.’

‘And that asshole hasn't given you any food or water for that long?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Dean, look at the bruise on her arm,’ Sam says.

‘It looks like…’ Dean leans in for a closer look. ‘Holy shit. It’s human?’

‘Looks like it.’ Sam swallows. It’s one thing to hunt monsters who couldn't care less about human lives, but another entirely to face a human who acts like a monster.

‘Could he be possessed?’

‘He’s not possessed,’ Lily says, surprising them both. ‘Yeah, I know about demons, as I said before. But I don’t think this guy is possessed.’

‘How can you be sure?’ Sam asks. ‘Do you know him?’

‘Yeah. I think so. I think it’s my uncle.’

‘Your uncle’s done this to you? But why?’

‘I think… This is gonna sound weird, but I think he thinks I’m possessed.’

Something clicks into place inside Sam’s head. ‘I think I get it. My dad had me locked up because he thinks a demon’s gotten inside me.’

‘Sam,’ Dean begins. ‘It’s not the same—’

‘Yes, it is.’ Sam cuts him off. ‘It’s exactly what Lily’s describing. Isn’t it?’ He turns to her.

‘I don't know about you, but I’ve been having weird dreams and things. My uncle. He—he’s a churchgoer. He was already very angry when I came out to him. My girlfriend was with me. For, you know, moral support or whatever. I thought he was going to hit her. He asked her to leave. I think he must’ve put something in my food to knock me out. When I came to, I was in here.’

Filled with horror at the thought of what Lily’s uncle must have done, Sam refuses to think about Dad’s reaction to his own visions. What would Dad do if he found out? Would he lock Sam up for good, like Lily’s uncle had done to her? What if he found out that Sam had kissed Dean? Would he, like Dean, think that Sam was possessed by a demon?

‘Do you recognize this place?’ he asks Lily. ‘Is this part of the house you live in?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never been here before. I don’t live with my uncle. My girlfriend and I live together in an apartment on campus. She goes to college here.’

‘This is obviously part of a basement,’ Dean says, feeling the walls. ‘A crawl space. Do you know if your uncle’s house has a basement?’

‘Probably. Can we find a way out?’

‘Even if we could,’ Dean says, ‘you wouldn't really be getting out.’

‘Why not?’

Sam watches Dean’s face, trying to understand what he means. Dean waits quite patiently for the other two to figure it out.

‘Because…’ Sam says.

‘I’m dreaming,’ Lily finishes.

‘Yeah.’ Dean nods. ‘I don’t see how else you and Sam could both be here.’

‘But I’m here even when I’m awake.’ She turns to Sam. ‘Where are you?’

‘Right now,’ Sam says, ‘I’m a prisoner too. In the basement of a guy who’s very much like an uncle.’

‘Sam, it’s not the same,’ Dean says, but guilt is etched into his face.

Sam ignores him. ‘I’m tied down to a bed,’ he continues. ‘I’m handcuffed and let out to use the bathroom and eat, but when I’m done I’m taken right back.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Lily says softly, putting her hand on his arm. She lets out a sudden, humorless laugh. ‘As you can see, I kinda know how you feel.’ She looks at Dean. ‘How did you get here? Are you dreaming, too? Has someone locked you up too?’

‘I’m dreaming too. In a way,’ Dean says. He looks so anguished that Sam feels a little bad for him, but his anger at the situation hasn't dissipated yet.

‘So what do I do? Can you get word to someone when you wake up?’ Lily asks Sam.

‘I’ll do better than that. I’ll get you out myself,’ Sam promises. He doesn't look at Dean.

‘I don’t know how you can do that when you're a prisoner too,’ Lily says with a small smile. ‘But if you can get word to my girlfriend, she can call the cops. Her name’s Charlie. Charlie Bradbury. We live at Stanford University. Crothers Hall.’

 

 

‘Dean?’ Sam’s still groggy when he wakes up.

Dean’s not moving. He’s slumped in his chair next to Sam’s bed.

‘Dean!’ Sam’s scrabbling fingers can just about reach Dean’s leg. His fingertips brush against the denim of Dean’s jeans. ‘Dean, wake up!’

Sam’s almost frantic when Dean lets out a small sound. ‘Sam?’ He opens his eyes, but doesn't lift his head up. ‘You… you okay?’

‘I’m fine, Dean, but you don't look so good.’ Sam pulls hard at his restraints, but they hold fast. ‘Dean!’

‘’M awake,’ Dean mutters. He tries to get up, but falls back limply into his chair.

‘Dean, listen. Listen to me. You have to untie me. I don’t know what was in that stuff you drank, but I think you need a doctor.’

‘I’m fine,’ Dean says, but he almost falls over when he tries to get to his feet. His hand brushes against Sam’s a couple of times as he struggles to reach the strap binding Sam’s wrist to the bed frame. His skin is cold and clammy. Sam watches helplessly as he struggles for a minute before finally loosening the strap.

Sam’s out of his restraints in record time, swinging his legs off the bed and kneeling in front of Dean. ‘Dean. Hey.’ He takes Dean’s face in his hands. ‘Come on. I’m taking you to the—’

‘Bobby—said this might happen,’ Dean says, his eyes struggling to flutter open. ‘Just—just need to sleep it off, he said.’

Sam puts his hands under Dean’s armpits and moves him over to the bed, helping him to sit on the edge.

‘Dean. Hey, it’s okay, I’ve got you.’ Sam rubs Dean’s back, trying to help. ‘Are you sure you’re okay? Should—should I call Dad or Bobby?’

‘Nah.’ Dean looks up at him, as though he’s had a sudden thought. ‘Why are you still here?’

Sam stares at him. ‘What?’

Dean waves toward the door. ‘You could’ve run. You still can. I don’t think my legs are working yet. I won’t try to stop you. I’ll tell Dad I let you go.’

‘You’re an idiot.’ Sam gets to his feet and puts his hand on Dean’s shoulder. ‘Can you walk?’

‘Yeah.’ Dean gets to his feet and sways a little.

Sam gets under one of his arms, pulling it across his shoulders, and puts his own arm around Dean’s waist. ‘Come on.’

Sam gets him settled on the couch and covers him with a blanket. Dean sleeps for three hours, but Sam doesn't worry because his breathing is steady and effortless, his skin far less clammy to the touch now.

 

 

Dean sits up and groans, dropping his head in his hands. ‘I have a mother of a headache.’ He glances up at Sam. ‘You still here?’

‘Stop asking me that.’ Sam gets him a glass of water and a couple of paracetamol.

‘If I were you,’ Dean says when he’s swallowed the pills, ‘I’d be a couple towns away by now.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. You'd be right with me. And I’m not leaving you like this, so quit asking.’

‘Sam—’

‘I called Lily’s girlfriend. Charlie. Found her in the phone book. She’s real, Dean. Which means it’s all true. Lily’s really trapped somewhere. Charlie didn't pick up, so I left a voicemail.’

Dean looks at him. ‘You want to go help rescue Lily, don't you.’ It’s not a question.

‘Yeah. She’s just like me, Dean. And she needs help.’

‘She’s not like you.’

‘She’s locked up just like I… like I was.’

‘She’s a prisoner in the dark, Sam. I never left you.’

‘Yeah, you did. When I… said those things.’

‘I was never very far away. And I didn't mean to leave you all night. I fell asleep on the couch. I was meaning to get you out before dinner.’

‘That’s not my point.’ Sam tries to find the words to explain what he means. ‘Dad freaked out and told you to lock me up, and you did. Even though… I don’t know, Dean. You… you’ve always looked out for me, but you stopped the moment you thought something was wrong with me. What happens to Lily, whose uncle was never looking out for her in the first place? How bad do you think he’s going to treat her?’

‘I didn't stop looking out for you.’ Dean looks up at him. Sam’s standing at the door, his arms crossed, leaning against the jamb. ‘Sam, you have to believe me. I would never hurt you.’

‘We’ve been through this before. I said I believe you. I just don't believe that you’ll see me the same way you always did if you get proof that I have demon blood in me. I think you'll do what Dad says and keep me locked up if you think I could be a danger to myself. And I won’t allow that, Dean. I can’t live like that. Two days of it was bad enough.’

‘You said… something about college applications.’

‘Yeah,’ Sam says, his voice soft. ‘I’m leaving, Dean. That was always the plan.’

‘Funny. I thought the plan was to save people and hunt things.’

‘The family business isn't for me, Dean. I’ve known that for years, and I thought you did too.’

‘I haven't given it much thought, to be honest. But I guess deep down I always kinda knew you'd leave someday. I just. I didn't want to think about it.’

Sam sits down next to him, rubbing his forehead. ‘You don't have to think about it right now. We’ve got work to do.’

‘How are you feeling?’ Dean asks suddenly.

‘You mean do I think I’m going to turn into a demon anytime soon?’

‘It’s not a joke, Sam. It’s real.’

‘Forgive me if I can’t take it too seriously. I don't feel any different, Dean. I’m still me.’

‘What about your dreams? Visions. Whatever. You never had them before.’

‘Does having them make me a bad person? Does it make me a monster?’

‘’Course it doesn’t.’ Dean sounds weary. ‘But you have to admit it’s not exactly normal.’

‘And when have our lives been normal, exactly?’

‘You know what I mean, Sam.’

‘I don't know, Dean. I don't know what normal is. Maybe this is my normal, you know? Maybe it’s what I am. Whatever it is that’s in me, it’s a part of me. It’s not some monster that has to be killed. If you kill the monster, you'll kill me.’

‘No one is going to hurt you.’

‘You keep saying that, but I don't believe it.’

‘You don't trust me.’

‘Maybe I don’t. Maybe I don't trust you to accept me for what I am. Whatever I turn out to be.’

‘Maybe you're right,’ Dean says, surprising Sam. ‘I’m the grunt, right? I’ll just take orders, even if those orders are to kill you.’

‘I never said that. Stop putting words in my mouth.’

Dean doesn't respond. After a minute of silence Sam says, ‘You need to sleep some more?’

‘Yeah, I guess. Let’s eat first.’

Sam digs into the freezer and pulls out a pan of frozen lasagna. He’s itching to go and find Lily, but he knows that Dean isn't in any state to drive for hours. Even if Sam drives, he should let Dean rest for the night. It crosses his mind that he can make a run for it the moment Dean falls asleep, but he knows he won’t be able to leave Dean behind.

‘Give me a couple hours,’ Dean says, pushing his plate away and standing up. He doesn't sway this time. ‘We’ll leave as soon as it’s light, okay? Just gimme a bit of time.’

‘Yeah,’ Sam says. He watches Dean stumble up the stairs, already half-asleep, and feels a rush of affection for him. This is Dean’s way of showing him that he trusts Sam not to run away in the middle of the night, and Sam can’t bring himself to break that trust.

He makes himself a strong, giant mug of coffee, sits on the couch, and waits for dawn.

 

 

‘You get any sleep at all?’ Dean yawns, pushing his hands back through his hair.

‘I’m good,’ Sam says in lieu of answering the question. ‘You sure you want to do this with me?’

‘Would you rather I stay behind?’ Dean takes a large gulp of coffee.

‘No, but what will Dad say when he comes back and finds us both gone?’

‘We’ll worry about that when it happens.’ Dean finishes his coffee and rinses his mug in the sink. ‘You ready to go?’

‘Yeah.’

Five minutes later they’re on the road. Despite the cold morning breeze, Sam keeps his window rolled down and lets the wind ruffle his hair. It’s exhilarating to be out of the panic room and back on the road with Dean. He realizes with a jolt that Dean’s twenty-first birthday is just a couple of days away. There was so much he’d planned to do, to make sure Dean had a good birthday, and now he may never get to do any of it.

He glances quickly at Dean’s profile. Dean’s hands are strong on the wheel, and Sam knows without having to look that his fingertips are lightly callused from all the years of handling weapons.

‘Something on my face?’ Dean asks, obviously feeling Sam’s gaze on him.

‘Uh, no. I was just—sorry.’

Dean gives him a strange look, but he doesn't comment further.

Sam curls up against his window. The wind is definitely cold on his skin now and getting colder by the second, but he needs it to stay awake. It would never do to fall asleep now. At the same time, another part of him wants desperately to check on Lily, to see if she’s all right. He thinks of being in the cramped, claustrophobic space and decides that Dean was right. Lily’s situation is not the same as Sam’s. In fact, no one’s situation would be the same as Sam’s unless they had a Dean, and Sam’s the only one who has a Dean.

‘Thank you,’ he murmurs. The words are whipped away by the wind, but he knows Dean’s heard them.

Dean is silent for so long that Sam wonders if maybe he didn't hear him after all. But then Dean clears his throat, as though searching for words. ‘What for?’

‘You know. For not treating me the way Lily’s uncle is treating her.’

Dean’s looking straight out through the windshield at the road, his hands clenched on the steering wheel. ‘I hit you and locked you up and starved you.’ He lets out a hollow laugh. ‘Don’t thank me for that, Sam.’

‘You didn't starve me. And you thought I was… that I wasn't me. You were only trying to do what was best for me.’

‘So now you think I was right.’

Sam pulls away a little from the window. ‘I don't know what to think, Dean. If Dad’s right about me, then—then I don’t know what I should do. Maybe you were right. I should just be locked up so I can’t hurt anyone.’

‘We don't know that you're going to hurt anyone. We don't even know for sure what Dad thinks.’ Dean glances at Sam. ‘Let’s not jump the gun, okay?’

Sam nods, pulling his collar up.

‘And put the window up. You must be freezing.’

‘I don’t want to fall asleep.’

‘I won’t let you fall asleep. Put up the window and talk to me.’

Sam dutifully rolls up the window, and immediately feels much warmer. ‘Talk to you about what?’

‘I don’t know. Anything. That play you were reading. By Shakespeare?’

A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

‘Yeah. It’s the one with the love potion and everyone falling in love with the first person they see, right?’

Sam smiles. ‘Right.’

‘And there’s a guy called Asshat or something?’

Sam grins. ‘Bottom. And you knew that.’

‘Whatever, man. Bottom, Asshat, it’s all the same.’

‘Bottom is part of a group of performers. They do this… play within the play.’

‘Yeah?’ Dean sounds interested. He offers Sam a stick of gum, and Sam takes it. Anything to stay awake.

‘My teacher said these really interesting things about the play. See, these characters, they’re from Athens. She said Athens represents city life, the rules and regulations of society. And then they go into the forest and these fairies mess with their heads, and they end up falling for the first people they see.’

‘Because of the love potion,’ Dean says smugly.

‘You know your Shakespeare,’ Sam says with a smile. ‘Yeah, because of the potion. Here’s the interesting thing. She said the forest represents a space in which those regulations don't hold. It’s like they're outside the ‘normal’ zone, and they don't have the same inhibitions anymore that they do when they live by society’s rules.’

Sam’s been thinking a lot about that. He knows Dean’s smart, much smarter than he gives himself credit for, and he wonders if Dean will get what he’s trying to say.

‘So, let me see if I have this right.’ Dean chews on his gum for a minute. ‘The city—Athens, whatever—is like ‘normal’ life. And the forest is like… anything that’s not ‘normal’ by the usual standards.’

‘Yeah.’ He waits for Dean to go on.

‘So we’—Dean gestures between Sam and himself—‘live in the forest. Pretty much all the time.’

Sam closes his eyes briefly, relief rushing through him. ‘Exactly.’

‘So we don't have the same inhibitions others do,’ Dean continues thoughtfully. ‘Or we shouldn’t.’

‘I don't know about should and shouldn't, but yeah. That’s what I thought.’

‘And that’s why you kissed me. Not because of the demon thing.’

Sam squeezes his eyes shut and turns his face toward his window. It still hurts too much to think of the way Dean had lashed out at him.

‘Hey,’ Dean says, putting his hand on Sam’s knee. ‘I’m sorry, Sammy. I just need to know that it was all you, you know?’

‘I think so,’ Sam whispers.

‘What d’you mean, you think so?’

‘What if… what if it wasn't me at all? What if it was something inside me that made me act like that?’

‘You really believe that?’

‘I don’t know what to believe, Dean.’ He scrubs his fists against his sleepy eyes. ‘If it’s—if I’m tainted, somehow, I don’t want to drag you into that. It’s better if—if I’m locked up, or if I go away.’

‘What does your gut tell you, Sammy?’

‘I… when I kissed you, I didn't know about that demon blood stuff. I—I was just doing what I—what I really wanted to do. I—I don’t know about right or wrong, Dean.’ He’s silent for a minute, and then he asks a question that’s been clamoring to get out of his mind for a while now. ‘What did you think, Dean? When you… when you reacted. What were you thinking?’

Instead of answering right away, Dean says, ‘I’m hungry. Let’s stop for a bite? We’ll make it real quick.’

Sam nods. He’s hungry too, but he knows this is one of those times in which food is just functional. They stop at a diner to use the rest room and eat. Dean wolfs down his usual greasy fare while Sam nibbles on some waffles.

‘Eat up,’ Dean says with his mouth full, gesturing with his fork to Sam’s plate. ‘Starving yourself won’t help Lily. Hey, you hear back from the girlfriend?’

‘No.’ Sam spears another bite of waffles with his fork and shoves it into his mouth.

‘I said to eat. Not to tear into it like it’s prey,’ Dean says, amused.

‘I don’t have my phone. You took it away when you locked me up, remember? And you haven’t answered my question,’ Sam shoots back, chewing mutinously.

‘I know.’ Dean pushes his hand back through his hair, ruffling up the spikes.

Sam wants to touch them so badly it hurts. He looks away, forcing himself to focus his attention on his plate.

‘I didn't know what to think, but there’s no excuse for what I did. I should've known what was going on in that giant brain of yours. My head was just so full of what Dad had said that I—I guess I just sort of snapped. I shouldn't have hit you, Sam. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.’ Dean reaches across the table and then his hand is on Sam’s, holding on warm and tight.

Sam clings to him, his vision full of Dean’s earnest face. At that moment, with his insides filled with warmth, he feels as though he could take on the Devil himself if Dean were to keep looking at him like that.

 

 

They reach Charlie’s apartment a little before noon. It’s in a pretty complex just inside the university campus on the fourth floor, the building full of sunlight and potted plants lining the corridors.

‘Your kinda place, huh?’ Dean asks with a smile.

‘Yeah, it… it’s great.’ Sam loves plants and natural light, although if he’s honest with himself, he doesn't want to live in an apartment. He’d rather have a house of his own in which he can keep dogs, and maybe even a couple of cats. He doesn't know how Dean feels about it and has never brought it up.

‘You can have one like this when you get into college,’ Dean says conversationally, looking up at the ivy that’s curled over the doorway. Sam’s stunned into silence. Before he can respond, the door opens.

‘Yes?’ The young woman who’s opened the door is around Dean’s age, maybe a little younger. She has pretty red hair that falls in tangles around her face.

‘Charlie?’ Dean asks.

‘Who wants to know?’

‘I’m Dean, and this is Sam. We left you a voicemail?’

‘I haven't checked my messages.’

Sam knows she’s lying, and he can take a pretty good guess why. ‘It’s about Lily,’ he says gently. ‘As I said on the phone.’

‘What about her?’ Charlie asks, her voice tight.

‘Can we talk inside?’ Sam asks, lowering his voice. ‘Because this is going to sound kinda crazy.’

‘I don’t know you two, and you sure as hell aren't coming inside.’

‘Then leave the door open,’ Dean says. ‘Please, it’s important. We think we may know where she is.’

Charlie looks from Dean to Sam, and then finally takes a deep breath. ‘Fine. But don’t go any further than the sofa.’ She picks up a cordless phone from the table. ‘Or I’m calling the cops.’

‘Fair enough,’ Dean says, and they follow her inside.

 

 

‘So let me get this straight. You think you saw Lily in a dream? And she told you to come find me?’

‘You don't sound very surprised,’ Dean points out. ‘Have strange things been happening around Lily?’

‘I—yeah, you could say that.’ She doesn't elaborate. ‘And you say she’s in her uncle’s basement?’

‘That’s what she thinks, yeah.’

‘But I took the cops there. They said they searched the entire house.’

‘Are you sure?’ Sam asks. ‘Did they go into the basement?’

‘They must have. It’s their job, right?’

‘What if the crawl space is hidden?’ Dean puts in.

‘Crawl space?’ Charlie asks.

‘The space she’s in,’ Sam says. ‘If my dreams are accurate. She’s in some kind of crawl space. Maybe the entrance to it is hidden in such a way that the cops could've missed it, even if they searched the basement.’

‘If that’s true,’ Charlie says, going even paler, ‘then she could still be trapped there. I need to go back.’

‘And we’re going with you,’ Sam says, giving her his best reassuring smile. She returns it weakly.

Sam can’t blame her for being paranoid. If Dean had been missing, he wouldn't have trusted anyone either.

 

 

Charlie gives them the directions to Joe Baker’s house as they drive. ‘Lily’s parents died when she was little,’ she says. ‘Just one of the many things we have in common. Joe is her dad’s brother. He was appointed her legal guardian, but she always thought that he resented her because she inherited all of her parents’ money and possessions. He wasn't even mentioned in the will. Turn left here.’ She points toward a narrow road.

‘Things weren't good between him and his brother?’ Dean asks, making the turn.

‘I guess not. She doesn't speak much about it. But he’s her only family, so she keeps in touch with him.’ Charlie looks down at her hands. ‘I—she didn't want to tell him about us. I’m the one who’s been pushing her to include him. I. I felt that she was lucky to have at least one surviving member of her family. I thought—oh god, I thought it would be good for her to involve that asshole in her life. If I hadn't…’ her voice trails off, and Sam knows she’s fighting back tears.

‘Hey,’ Sam says, turning around so he can look at her properly. ‘Listen to me. It’s not your fault, okay? You couldn't have known.’

‘Rationally, I know that.’ Charlie puts her hand on his arm. ‘But thanks for trying to make me feel better. I appreciate it. It’s right around the corner,’ she says to Dean. ‘I think you’d better park here.’

They park the car in an empty plot and proceed on foot. ‘If he’s home,’ Charlie whispers, ‘I’ll ring the doorbell and distract him. There’s an entrance into the basement from the back that you guys can break in through.’

They turn the corner to find a large two-story house. It’s clearly seen better days. The paint is peeling and the plants in the garden are unkempt and withering. ‘The house is Lily’s too,’ she whispers to them. ‘She moved in with me a couple months ago. The asshat couldn’t care less where she lives.’

Sam holds back a chuckle at her words, and Dean winks at him. If nothing else, Dean and Charlie are going to get along fine.

‘I don’t think he’s home,’ Charlie says, pointing to an empty spot in front of the house. ‘His truck’s usually parked there.’

‘Let’s invite ourselves in through the back, then.’ Dean pulls out his little case of tools. Charlie looks at it, her brows arching. ‘You guys professional lock-pickers or something?’

‘Or something,’ Dean says with a grin.

The entrance to the basement clearly hasn't been used in a long time. It’s a slanted door built into the ground and locked with a rusted chain. Dean ignores the chain and works on the lock, hunching over the door.

‘So what’s your story?’ Charlie asks in a low voice as they watch Dean work. ‘You said you were having visions?’

‘Just the dreams,’ Sam says. ‘They felt more like visions though. I can’t explain it.’

Charlie nods. ‘That’s kinda how it started with Lily, too.’

‘Started? There was more?’

‘Yeah. Weird stuff. She—I don’t know, exactly. She started thinking she might have some weird powers or something.’

‘Powers? What kind of powers?’

Charlie swallows. ‘The kind that would make her kill,’ she says in a whisper. At the look on Sam’s face, she continues quickly. ‘She’s not—she’s not a murderer, Sam. She just—we were both just trying to make sense of what was happening to her.’

‘Got it,’ Dean says just then. ‘If you two are done standing there and letting me do all the work, shall we go in?’

Sam rolls his eyes. ‘Lead on, Sherlock.’

After Dean and Charlie have gone in, Sam pulls the doors shut from the inside. If anyone takes a close look they'll see that the lock and chain have been removed, but he hopes that nothing will be noticeable from a distance if the door isn't gaping open.

‘Good thinking,’ Dean whispers, nudging his shoulder, and Sam glows a little from the praise.

There isn't much light in the basement, although there are windows on the top near the ceiling that let in a little sunlight. They have their flashlights too. Sam puts his on and shines it in the corner opposite the windows, where the light doesn't quite reach. The entire basement is piled high with boxes.

‘If there’s a hidden passage,’ Charlie says, ‘there must be some indication of where it is. Look for a spot where the dust is messed up or gone.’

They try following her advice, but the thick layer of dust on the floor already has a lot of footprints, no doubt from when the cops searched the place.

‘Look for any signs that some of the stuff has been moved,’ Dean says.

‘Over here,’ Sam calls. ‘I think these boxes might have been moved recently. I need more light.’

Dean and Charlie come over, and with the light of all three flashlights, they can see scuff marks in the dirt on the floor.

‘Wait.’ Charlie puts her hand on Sam’s arm. ‘Listen.’

Sam hears it too: the sound of a car engine.

‘He’s back,’ Charlie says in a whisper.

They hear the car door slam.

‘Don’t panic,’ Sam whispers back, clutching her arm. ‘It’s three against one.’

‘He might be possessed,’ Dean says. ‘You guys keep looking. I’ll go out and distract him.’

‘Dean, no,’ Sam says in a furious whisper. ‘We have to stick together.’

‘And what if he finds us down here and locks us all up? Sticking together won’t do us any good then.’

‘Maybe I should go out and distract him,’ Charlie offers.

‘No,’ Dean says immediately. ‘I’m not going to risk you. Besides, we’ve dealt with demons before. You haven’t.’

‘You got the holy water on you?’ Sam asks.

Dean pats his pocket. ‘Right here, Sammy. Not to worry. Keep looking, okay?’

Sam nods, his throat tightening. ‘Be careful.’

‘I’m always careful.’ Dean pulls Sam into a brief, tight hug. ‘Back before you know it.’ He claps Charlie on the back and heads off without another word.

‘Help me with the boxes,’ Charlie says, already tugging at them.

Tearing his mind off Dean, Sam starts pulling boxes away from the wall. It only takes a minute or two before they clear a space in front of the wall.

A space that has absolutely nothing on it except more peeling paint. ‘There’s no door here,’ Sam says, frustrated.

‘There has to be.’ Charlie steps up to the wall and runs her hands over the concrete. ‘There’s—’ she starts, but before she can continue, the floor beneath her gives way and she drops with a startled cry.

‘Charlie!’

‘I guess I found the door,’ she calls up in a low voice.

‘You okay?’

‘I think I twisted my ankle a little, but I’m fine. It’s a pretty short drop.’

Sam shines his flashlight on the hole in the floor and sees that it’s a trapdoor that the boxes were hiding. No wonder the cops had found nothing. They hadn't known what they were looking for.

Holding his flashlight in his mouth, he climbs down the rusted rungs set along the side of the wall. It’s not a far climb at all, and he guesses that the hole is no more than ten feet deep.

‘Sam!’ He hears a very welcome voice when he drops down to the floor.

‘Lily!’ She looks even worse than she did in his last dream, her hair hanging around her face in grimy strands and a new bruise across her cheek. ‘The bastard hit you again,’ Sam says, rage rising up inside him.

He senses that Lily is not really the hugging kind, but Sam is, so he gives her a quick hug and releases her from his arms. ‘I’m so glad to see you.’

‘Me too.’ She’s clutching Charlie’s hand tightly, and she gives Sam a watery smile. ‘I wasn't even sure if you were real.’

‘I wasn't sure you were real either, but I had to come and see for myself.’

‘Well, isn't this touching,’ a voice sneers from above their heads.

Sam looks up to see a swarthy, unshaven man grinning down at them from the trapdoor.

Charlie immediately puts herself in front of Lily. ‘You’re going to jail for this, you bastard.’

‘I don’t think so, pretty girl,’ the man says. He looks at Sam. ‘Sam Winchester, I presume.’

‘How do you know my name?’

‘Your friend up there’s a real talker.’ The man laughs. ‘At least he was before I bashed his brains in.’ He looks at Charlie. ‘So, you thought you'd bring a couple of fags to help you get your little girlfriend out? Wrong move, dyke.’ He pulls out a small pistol and points it at her. ‘See, I need these two brats, but I don't need you. Just like I didn't need that kid I just wasted.’

‘Get away from the door!’ Sam pulls Lily and Charlie further into the passage. They're all on their knees now, the cold stone floor above their heads.

His heart is pounding so loudly that he can’t think, an unending chorus of DeanDeanDean running through his head. ‘Stay away from the door,’ he manages to say. ‘If he comes down here, we can take him.’

Joe Baker doesn't seem to care much either way. He fires a shot into the well, making them all jump. ‘You’ll have to come out of there sometime,’ he says as a parting shot. ‘And when you do, I’ll be waiting.’ The door slams shut, leaving them in darkness.

Sam and Charlie switch their flashlights on, pointing them at the low ceiling to spread the light as much as possible. ‘You keep yours on,’ Sam says, switching his light off. ‘We may need to save our batteries.’

‘Was he talking about Dean?’ Lily asks, her voice shaky.

‘Yeah,’ Sam says. His eyes are stinging.

‘There’s no reception down here,’ Charlie says, checking her phone. She crawls closer to Lily, slipping her hand into her girlfriend’s.

‘I know you’re worried about Dean,’ Lily says, looking at Sam. ‘I know there isn't much I can say to make you feel better, but there’s this. Joe lies about stuff all the time. He’s been taunting me saying he killed Charlie.’

‘So there’s hope for Dean?’ Charlie says.

‘I don’t know, but maybe. Don't give up yet, Sam. Hope is everything. It’s what’s gotten me through the last few days. I kept telling myself that I was going to get out of here. And then when he told me that Charlie was dead, I told myself it couldn't be true. That even if it was, I would get out of here and kill him for hurting her.’

Sam just nods. It feels as though someone’s stabbed him in the heart with an ice-pick, and the pain won’t go away until he finds Dean again.

‘So how long have you guys been together?’ Charlie asks, putting a hand on his arm.

Sam gives her a small smile, grateful that she’s trying to keep him occupied. ‘Uh, I wouldn't say we’re together, exactly. I kissed him and he—uh, he kinda punched me.’

‘He did?’ Charlie says in surprise. ‘But he—I don’t know, he just seems so protective of you.’

‘Yeah. We, uh, we go way back. It’s like he’s been looking out for me my whole life, you know?’ Sam doesn't know if he should say anything about Dean being his brother. He’s not sure that anyone else would ever understand.

‘Still, I don't see why he had to punch you.’ Charlie glances at Lily with a worried expression. Lily’s leaning back against the wall, her knees pulled up to her chest, her eyes closed.

Sam nods to show her that he understands her worry, not wanting to say anything out loud. Lily probably needs a hospital after being starved and dehydrated for days.

‘It’s kind of complicated,’ he says in response to Charlie’s comment. ‘We were raised by hunters. My dad’s one. He found out a few days back that I may have demon blood in me. He thinks it has something to do with why my mom was killed when I was a baby. They, uh, my dad and a hunting buddy of his. They’ve gone to look for answers. Dean was supposed to make sure I didn't do anything… evil, I guess. When I kissed him, he thought it was the demon blood that was making me hit on him.’

Charlie nods as though she understands all too well what Sam is saying. ‘I guess Lily is the same, which is why she’s been able to communicate with you and the others through her dreams.’

‘Others? What others?’

‘She didn't tell you? There are at least two more, apart from you. She was communicating with them through her dreams even before she got trapped in here. She told me about them. One was a girl named Ava. The other was some dude whose name I can’t remember right now. Jacob, Joseph, something like that.’

‘Jake,’ Lily says, opening her eyes. She runs her tongue over her lips. ‘Don’t suppose you guys have a six-pack hidden somewhere?’

‘Sorry,’ Charlie says. ‘I should've thought to bring some water.’

‘We’ll get out of here,’ Sam says. ‘Just hang on. If Dean’s okay, he’ll have us out of here soon.’

‘Shouldn’t we try to do something, though?’ Charlie asks. Her unspoken words hang in the air. If Dean’s dead, then no one’s coming to help them.

‘Joe said he needs Lily and me,’ Sam says, trying desperately to keep his mind off Dean. His imagination doesn't help, supplying him with dozens of images of Dean being killed in various ways. ‘Maybe I should just go out there and try to talk to him.’

‘He said he needs you alive. That doesn't mean he can’t hurt you,’ Charlie points out.

Sam falls back into silence. There’s really nothing more to say.

‘Maybe I should try Jake or Ava,’ Lily says.

‘Do they know you're in here?’

‘I’m not sure. You’re the only one I can remember dreaming of since I’ve been trapped here. I still don’t really have the hang of it. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own name when I’m dreaming, and there are times when I wake up and don’t remember what I was dreaming of.’ She looks at Charlie. ‘You remember the first time I saw Ava? I think we scared the hell out of each other. I dreamed I was right in her bedroom. That was one of the dreams I remembered as soon as I woke up.’

‘How do you do that? Get into someone’s dream?’ Sam asks.

‘I don’t think I can get into just anyone’s dreams, and I can’t really control it. I can’t get into Charlie’s dreams. We’ve tried. I think it’s just us ‘special children,’ you know?’

‘Special children?’

‘Jake uses the phrase,’ Lily says. ‘He says he met someone who told him there’s a whole bunch of us with special powers or something.’

‘It was so weird when you showed up at my door,’ Charlie says. ‘It was like I knew others like Lily existed, but I wasn't sure if they were all just in her dreams. And then there you were.’

‘I told you they were real,’ Lily says, and her tone tells Sam that it’s an old argument between them.

‘So what’s Dean’s story?’ Lily asks him. ‘How were you both in the same dream? I’m assuming you both have the powers? Although that would be weird, because Dean’s older than the rest of us, isn’t he?’

‘Uh, no, he doesn’t. Dean took some stuff so he could get into my dream. It’s called dream walking.’

‘That is so cool. I’m trying that too,’ Charlie says immediately.

Before anyone can respond, they hear the trap door opening.

‘What should we do?’ Charlie whispers. ‘Try to take him down?’

‘Hello?’ a voice calls. It’s not Joe Baker. ‘Anyone down here? Lily?’

‘I know that voice,’ Lily says. She crawls out of the passage and into the well. ‘Jake!’

They hear Jake let out a whoop. ‘I knew you were real!’

Sam and Charlie crawl out into the well too, and see that Jake is giving Lily a hand up.

‘Did you see anyone else up there?’ Sam calls up, unable to help himself. His anxiety for Dean is like bile in his throat now, and he’s afraid he’ll throw up if he doesn't find Dean.

‘You Sam?’ Jake asks. ‘There’s a guy outside who told me you were in here. He’s hurt pretty bad, from the looks of it.’

‘Dean.’ Sam’s heart clenches. Dean’s alive. Dean’s hurt.

He makes sure Charlie is also out of the passage safely before he’s up and running for the steps. He doesn't pause to look around the house, but runs straight for the door.

Dean’s sitting on the sidewalk outside. One side of his head is covered in blood, and he’s resting his head in one shaking hand.

‘Dean. Dean.’ Sam falls to his knees next to him, pulling his hand away. He sucks in his breath. There’s a deep gash just above Dean’s left temple, and it’s bleeding freely.

‘Hey, baby boy.’ Dean’s voice is slurred. His hands reach out to pat Sam’s face. ‘You’re okay? Are you okay?’

‘I think you’re concussed,’ Sam says, holding on to Dean’s shoulders.

‘I’m fine.’ Dean rests one bloody hand against Sam’s cheek, thumb running over his cheekbone. ‘You’re okay,’ he says again. He wraps his hand around the nape of Sam’s neck and pulls him down, pressing his lips to Sam’s temple. Sam lets him, feeling as though he’s about to collapse from relief himself.

‘I’m good, Dean.’ Sam lets Dean fall against him, wrapping his arms around his brother. Dean feels wonderfully solid and warm against him. It isn't until he feels wetness in Dean’s hair that Sam realizes he’s crying. ‘Gonna fix you up,’ he promises.

‘Watch out for him,’ Dean says suddenly. Sam looks up to find Dean’s gaze on Jake, who’s helping Lily out of the house. ‘He’s with Baker.’

‘What? You sure?’

‘He came up behind me when I was about to get the sleazebag,’ Dean says.

‘He’s the one who hurt you? Jake?’

‘He said it was a mistake.’ Dean’s voice is low, and Sam’s not sure if it’s because he’s badly hurt or because he doesn't want Jake to hear him. ‘I’m not sure I believe him. Baker took off when Jake brought me down.’

‘I’m going to break his face,’ Sam says, starting to get up, but Dean pulls him back down.

‘Don’t say anything yet,’ he murmurs. ‘We gotta see what game he’s playing.’

‘He’s not going to get away with what he did to you,’ Sam vows. ‘But yeah, let’s see to you first. I think you're gonna need stitches.’

 

 

‘How is she?’ Sam asks when Charlie comes out of Lily’s hospital room.

‘Sleeping it off,’ Charlie sits down next to him and runs her hands wearily through her hair. ‘They gave her a mild sedative and she’s on an IV. She’s going to be okay. How’s Dean?’ She nods toward Dean, who’s dozing in the chair next to Sam’s.

‘He’s good too. Needed twelve stitches, but they don't think he has a concussion. Gonna keep an eye on him just in case.’

‘I heard that,’ Dean says groggily, opening his eyes. ‘Hey, Charlie.’

‘Hey, Dean.’ She smiles warmly at him. ‘Why don't you go sleep in an actual bed, huh? We can talk when you and Lily have rested.’ She turns to Sam and hands him a bunch of keys. ‘Here, you can use the apartment.’

‘You sure? We can get a motel room.’

‘Nonsense.’ She pushes the keys into his hand. ‘Guest room’s all set up.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’m going to stay for a bit. Don't want to leave her just yet.’

Sam gives her a hug. ‘I understand.’

She holds him tight for a moment before pulling back. ‘Thank you. Both of you.’

 

 

‘You hungry?’ Sam asks, looking into the guest room.

Dean’s leaning back against the pillows, legs stretched out. ‘Nah. Probably puke it all back up.’ He opens his eyes. ‘You get something to eat?’

‘I’m good.’ Sam doesn't think he can stomach anything either.

Dean studies his face. ‘You sure?’

‘I’m not the one who got his head cracked open, so yeah.’

Dean pats the bed next to him. ‘Come here.’

Sam goes obediently, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

‘Not like that,’ Dean says, tugging at his sleeve. ‘Lie down.’

‘I can take the sofa.’

‘Bed’s big enough for two, Sammy. Don’t worry, I won’t molest you in your sleep.’

Sam pulls away, his face flushing. ‘That’s not funny.’

‘It is. Just a bit,’ Dean says with a grin.

‘You’re high on your pain meds.’

‘And you're just being stupid. Just lie down, will you?’

‘You’ll wake up and think I snuck into your bed when you were asleep.’

‘Then I’ll just kick your ass out of bed, and everything’ll be the same as usual.’

Sam sighs, too tired to argue. ‘Fine. But move over. I’m not snuggling.’

‘Aww, Sammy. And I thought you liked me that way.’

‘Dean, I swear, if you don't shut the fuck up, I’ll smother you in your sleep.’

‘No, you won’t.’ Dean ruffles Sam’s hair. ‘You love me.’

Before Sam can respond, Dean’s out like a light. Sam looks at him and gently pulls away a strand of hair that’s sticking to his bandage. Then he rests his head on the pillow next to Dean’s and lets himself sink into sleep.

 

 

He dreams that he’s in the hospital, sitting next to Lily’s bed.

‘You summon me or something?’ he asks.

Lily lets out a laugh. ‘Nah. I think you’re getting good at dream walking by yourself.’

‘You feeling better?’

‘Much.’ Lily smiles. ‘Charlie’s been so good to me. Dean being good to you?’

‘I think I’m the one who’s supposed to be taking care of him,’ Sam says, smiling back.

‘You know what I mean. You were so scared before we got out. I know how you feel, remember? I was locked up there thinking Charlie might be dead.’

‘I remember,’ Sam says.

‘We’ll take care of them,’ Lily says, and it sounds like a promise.

 

 

He wakes with his legs tangled with Dean’s, and Dean propped up on an elbow, his fingers playing with Sam’s hair.

‘Morning, princess.’

‘Dean, what're you doing?’ Sam asks, still half-asleep.

‘Keeping the sunlight off your delicate face.’ Dean makes a show of cupping his hand over Sam’s face, shielding it from the morning light.

Sam bats his hand away. ‘Very funny.’ He untangles himself from Dean, feeling horribly self-conscious, and gets up. ‘You feel up to showering?’

‘Why, you wanna join me?’ Dean wiggles his eyebrows.

‘Seriously, what the hell has gotten into you?’

‘I thought something from hell had gotten into you?’ Dean says with a straight face.

Sam pummels him in the chest with a pillow, mindful of his bandage, and goes off in search of breakfast with Dean’s laughter following him into the corridor.

 

 

He finds eggs and cheese in the fridge and a fresh loaf on the counter and makes a mental note of the stuff he needs to replace as he breaks eggs into a pan. He makes the eggs the way Dean likes them, the yolks broken in the pan and cooked until they aren't runny any more.

Dean comes in just as the coffee is done. He takes an appreciative whiff. ‘My kingdom for a coffee,’ he says.

‘A simple ‘please’ would be enough.’ Sam sets a mug down in front of him and goes back to making toast.

‘You pissed off at me?’ Dean asks after he’s taken a sip. ‘I was just messing with you, Sammy.’

‘Don’t call me Sammy,’ Sam says automatically.

Dean doesn't seem to have the patience to deal with Sam’s annoyance, and he answers tersely. ‘Fine. Sam. Where the hell did that Jake guy disappear to?’

Sam shrugs. ‘I dunno. He took off when we got to the hospital. But Lily can probably track him down easily enough. I think he knows something we don’t. Lily said he referred to us as ‘special children’.’

‘That doesn't sound creepy and perverted at all.’

‘He told her he met someone who knows something. Maybe a demon. Maybe even the demon.’

‘The one who killed Mom.’

‘Yeah.’ Sam sets their plates on the table and sits across from Dean. ‘We need to tell Dad.’

‘I’ll head out soon.’

Sam doesn't miss that Dean hasn't said ‘we’. ‘You okay to drive?’

‘Yeah, I’m good.’ Dean focuses his attention on devouring his eggs, and suddenly Sam knows that he doesn't want Dean to leave this way, when things are so strained between them. It was only minutes ago that Dean had been teasing him about showering together.

‘Hey,’ he says, nudging Dean’s foot with his own. ‘I’m sorry.’

Dean doesn't look up. ‘What for?’

‘For just—I don’t know. Everything. Putting you on the spot. Making you face Dad.’

‘You’re not making me do anything, and you don't have to be sorry.’

There’s a bit of a silence, in which Sam actually appreciates that Dean’s not looking at him because he can take the time to look at Dean. ‘You washed your hair,’ he says in surprise.

‘So?’

‘How’d you do that without getting your bandage wet?’

‘I’m a freaking genius, that’s how.’ Dean looks up and gives him a quick grin, and Sam melts a little with relief.

Sam gets himself a second cup of coffee while Dean’s still finishing his first. He’s about to sit down when Dean pushes his plate away and holds out his hand. Surprised, Sam puts his own into it without thinking.

Dean tugs him close. ‘We good?’

‘Yeah, Dean. ’Course we are.’

‘Then come sit.’ He puts his hands on Sam’s waist and guides him closer.

‘You mean…’

‘Yeah. Sit on my lap.’

‘Dean.’ Sam’s heart is pounding. ‘You’re hurt.’

‘I promise you I’m not hurting right now. I just want you over here.’

Sam goes with it, straddling Dean’s thighs. Dean keeps his hands lightly on Sam’s waist. ‘I think we have some unfinished business, don't you?’ he says.

‘Like what?’ Sam says, his voice barely rising above a whisper.

Dean presses him closer, his hands sliding up Sam’s back, slow and gentle, stopping at Sam’s shoulders and massaging at the knots there.

‘Mm.’ Sam drops his forehead to Dean’s, careful not to jostle his bandage.

‘Feel good?’

‘Feels great.’

‘You’re so tense,’ Dean murmurs, still kneading Sam’s shoulders with strong, steady hands. ‘It’s just me, Sam. You don't have to be nervous around me.’

‘I know.’ Sam’s eyes are closed, his senses focused on Dean’s hands, his voice. He links his hands at the base of Dean’s neck, fingers stroking into the soft, thick hair at Dean’s nape.

‘You’re adorable,’ Dean says with a soft chuckle, brushing his lips across the bridge of Sam’s nose. ‘You started this, and now you're too shy to look at me?’

‘Hey,’ Sam protests, opening his eyes. ‘I am not shy.’

‘Then tell me,’ Dean says with a grin. ‘Tell me everything.’

‘Tell you what?’

‘Since when have you wanted to kiss me?’

‘Dean,’ Sam says, flushing.

‘Adorable,’ Dean says again, squeezing Sam’s shoulders. ‘Since when?’

‘You’ll laugh.’

‘I won’t, I swear. You can punch me in the face if I do. I give you permission.’

‘I think I've wanted to do it forever.’

‘That’s not a straight answer.’

‘Okay, then. Since I was twelve or so, I guess.’

Dean’s eyes widen. ‘Twelve?’

‘Yeah. I remember I—don’t you dare laugh at me, Dean—there was this one time I came home from school and you—you were making out with this girl on the couch.’

‘I remember.’

‘Yeah. She was on top of you and you had your hand down her shorts.’

‘Yeah. Like this.’ Dean’s hand slips down to the small of Sam’s back, fingertips easing under his jeans and sliding under the elastic band of his briefs. Sam sucks in a sharp breath. ‘This okay?’ Dean asks. ‘Am I—should I stop?’

‘No.’ Sam takes a noisy breath through his mouth, his lips apart. ‘I… I like your hand. There. Uh, you know.’

‘Go on. I had my hand in her shorts?’

‘Yeah,’ Sam says, swallowing. ‘The way you were kissing. Putting your tongues in each other’s mouths. I’d only seen that in movies.’

‘Mm-hm.’ Dean noses along the side of Sam’s face, nuzzling lightly against his cheek. Under Sam’s clothes, Dean’s fingertips caress his skin, not moving any lower.

‘I—I must’ve made a sound or something, because you stopped kissing and she lifted her head and saw me. She didn't freak out or anything. She just got up and straightened her top and smiled at me.’

‘She was pretty fucking cool,’ Dean agrees.

‘It was only later that I realized that it wasn't you I’d been jealous of.’

‘Wish I’d known,’ Dean says. His face is tilted up to Sam’s, so close that Sam’s bangs are brushing against his forehead. His fingers keep making lazy little circles just below the waistband of Sam’s briefs. ‘My little brother, lusting after me.’

Sam snorts. ‘You’d’ve freaked out.’

‘Tell me about the handcuffs,’ Dean says, changing the subject abruptly.

Sam gasps, and Dean smirks. ‘Didn’t think I’d noticed, did you? Thought you were being so clever.’ He nudges Sam’s head up, runs his nose down the column of Sam’s throat.

‘Dean.’ Sam’s clutching at his hair now, his breath reduced to a low, frantic rhythm.

‘Does it turn you on, little brother?’

‘Yes.’ Sam presses against Dean. ‘Dean. Fuck.’

‘Open your mouth,’ Dean orders gently.

Sam obeys instantly, mindless to everything but Dean. Dean’s finger slips into his mouth. Sam’s too unfocused to really suck on it but Dean doesn't seem to mind. He pets Sam’s tongue with his finger, getting it wet.

‘I’d ask you to go get the cuffs from the car,’ Dean says, ‘but I don’t think I could let you go anywhere right now.’ He nuzzles his way to Sam’s earlobe and nips it lightly with his teeth. ‘At least not until I’ve made you come.’

‘Dean,’ Sam says, his world narrowed to one word in such sharp focus that it’s almost painful to say it. His insides feel like they’re about to burst out of his skin.

‘Ssh,’ Dean murmurs, pressing his lips to Sam’s ear. ‘I’ve got you.’ He nudges Sam’s head back up. ‘Hey. Hey, sweetheart. Can you unbutton your jeans for me?’

Sam does it without thinking, his forehead pressed to Dean’s. They both look down as Sam pushes the hem of his t-shirt up and out of the way, and undoes the button. ‘Zipper too?’ he whispers.

‘Yeah. All the way, baby. Just like that.’ The V of Sam’s jeans falls open and Dean brings his knuckles against the front of Sam’s black underwear, rubbing against him. ‘This okay?’ he murmurs.

‘’S fucking awesome.’ Sam’s proud of himself for getting the words out. He’s surprised they actually sound somewhat like words.

Dean chuckles, a low, warming sound. He slides his finger back between Sam’s lips. ‘You ever had anything inside you?’ His other hand slides further down, cupping Sam’s ass and squeezing, leaving no doubt as to what he means.

‘Mm,’ Sam says around Dean’s finger.

‘That a yes?’ Dean withdraws his finger, tracing saliva over Sam’s lips, drawing the shape of his mouth.

‘Yeah,’ Sam says, hoarse.

‘You done this with another guy?’

‘Jesus, Dean. No. Of course not.’

‘With a girl?’

‘Just kissing.’

Dean relaxes, letting his finger slip back into Sam’s mouth. Sam’s too turned on to be annoyed at him and besides, his possessiveness is kind of hot. ‘Just you, then? Your fingers?’

‘Mmm.’

‘Anything else?’ Dean’s lips curve into a wicked smile when Sam flushes.

‘I won’t tell you that even with my dying breath.’

‘Aww, Sammy, you're no fun.’ Dean nips at Sam’s earlobe again. ‘I have my ways of making you talk, you know.’

‘I’ll never tell. Never.’ Sam gasps again when Dean lowers his wet finger to rub at Sam’s hole.

‘Yeah?’ Dean says, and Sam knows this is a different conversation, that Dean’s asking for permission.

‘Please,’ he begs, pushing back against Dean’s hand.

‘Fuck, Sam.’ Dean caresses his hole in tiny circles. ‘So fucking responsive. I wish you could see your eyes right now. It’s like you’re on every drug ever.’

‘Don’t need them.’ Sam lets out a moan as Dean’s fingertip slides into him. ‘Just you.’

‘You have me,’ Dean says like he’s making a promise. ‘Put your hands behind my neck. Imagine they're cuffed, okay?’

‘Yeah,’ Sam says, licking his dry lips. He links his fingers behind Dean’s neck, pressing his wrists together like they’re cuffed. Obeying Dean’s orders.

‘God, the things I wanna do to you.’ Dean’s other hand is back against Sam’s underwear, knuckles rubbing him through the thin cotton. ‘Tilt your head up.’ He nips at the soft skin of Sam’s throat, and then sucks in a bruise there. ‘Feel like marking you all over.’

Sam clutches at Dean’s hair, rocking between his hands. Dean’s finger is sliding in and out of him now in shallow thrusts. ‘Just like that,’ Dean encourages, kissing his way back to Sam’s ear. ‘You like that? Fucking yourself on my finger?’

‘You’re driving me crazy.’ The words come out as a rasp. Sam’s eyes are shut tight, his fingers clenched in Dean’s hair as he keeps rocking back and forth.

‘What d’you think you're doing to me?’ Dean sounds wrecked, and Sam opens his eyes to look down at his face. He looks wrecked too, his forehead beaded with sweat, the muscles in his arms taut and standing out.

‘Good,’ Sam says viciously. Dean’s his to break, to put together again. Sam pushes himself down on Dean’s finger until he’s impaled to the knuckle, letting out a sob of relief. Dean gets with the program and starts fingering him faster, his almost-dry finger moving ruthlessly in and out of Sam.

‘Just like that,’ Sam gasps out as Dean cups him through his underwear and squeezes.

‘Kiss me,’ Dean orders, and Sam’s mouth is on his in an instant, lips parting for Dean’s tongue. Dean stabs it into his mouth and Sam sucks on it like he’s starving for it. Which he is, in a way.

‘Can you come like this?’ Dean says into his mouth when they part for air. His hands haven't stopped moving, and Sam is having serious trouble thinking.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Just… just keep talking to me.’

Dean chuckles again, and Sam thinks it just might be the sexiest sound he’s ever heard. Working Sam with both his hands, he lays out a fantasy of stripping Sam bare and cuffing his hands and licking his ass, slapping it with his belt. ‘Gag you good and tight so you can’t make a sound,’ he promises, and it’s more than enough to tip Sam over the edge into sheer bliss. He pretty much screams into Dean’s mouth as Dean kisses him savagely through his orgasm, his capable hands never stopping what they’re doing to Sam’s body.

The kiss goes on long after Sam is wrung dry. Dean slides his finger carefully out of Sam’s hole and gives Sam’s lower lip a last gentle bite before he breaks the kiss. ‘Good?’ he asks, his gaze searching Sam’s face.

Sam cups Dean’s face in his hands and kisses him again, just a soft press of lips on lips. ‘Perfect.’ He’s still breathing as though he’s just run a mile.

‘Easy,’ Dean murmurs, rubbing his back. Sam curls against him, resting his cheek against Dean’s chest. Dean keeps rubbing his back, his other hand petting Sam’s hair.

‘You haven't come,’ Sam says after a minute, raising his head, his eyes wide.

Dean gives him a sheepish grin. ‘I kinda did.’

‘You—when?’

‘When you lost it and started kissing me.’

‘That’s.’ Sam stares down at him in awe. ‘Wow, Dean.’

‘Wow is about right.’ Dean brushes Sam’s hair out of his eyes, the gesture so tender after what they’ve just said and done that Sam closes his eyes for a moment, wanting to preserve it in his memory forever.

‘Guess we both need a shower now,’ Dean says with a laugh, wrapping his arms around Sam and squeezing him tight, and Sam’s sure that this is what happiness feels like.

 

 

They visit Lily and Charlie at the hospital, making a quick stop at the supermarket on the way. Sam buys eggs and other stuff to replace what they’ve used, and Dean gets some fruit to take to the hospital.

‘Wow, thanks, guys,’ Charlie says, taking the bag full of grapes, apples and pears from Sam.

‘Way better than flowers,’ Lily says approvingly, accepting a bunch of grapes and popping three into her mouth. She’s sitting up and looks bright and cheerful.

‘She hates flowers,’ Charlie says, rolling her eyes. She smiles at Sam. ‘You look happy.’

‘I am,’ Sam says, giving her a grin. ‘Thanks.’

‘And you look way more happy than you should,’ Lily says, looking at Dean. ‘Considering you're the walking wounded.’

Dean shrugs. ‘What can I say? I’m glad my boy here is fine, and you're out of that hell-hole. Any word about Jake or your uncle?’

‘The cops came by this morning,’ Charlie says. ‘They don't have anything on Joe yet.’

‘Jake’ll turn up, I guess.’ Lily doesn't sound too fazed by his absence.

‘You should be careful around him,’ Dean says seriously. ‘Don’t trust him.’

‘I’m not planning on it,’ Lily assures him. ‘But he has answers I need.’ She looks at Sam. ‘Answers we both need.’

Sam nods. ‘I want to meet Ava too. Maybe if we all figure out what we have in common, we can beat this thing.’

Charlie and Lily exchange a glance, as though they've talked about this. ‘The guest room’s yours as long as you want it, Sam,’ Lily says. ‘And you, Dean.’

‘Thank you,’ Sam says, genuinely moved. ‘I think—I think I might take you up on that offer.’

‘What?’ Dean looks surprised.

‘Joe Baker knew my name, Dean. He said you told him, but I’m guessing he was lying?’

‘I didn’t exactly get the chance to chat with him. Jake got me before I could do anything.’

‘I thought as much. Baker knows stuff, Dean. I can’t—I can’t just walk away while he’s still out there.’

‘I guess your mind’s made up, then,’ Dean says shortly, getting to his feet. ‘I’ll get us some lunch.’ He leaves the room without looking at Sam.

 

 

That evening, after Lily is discharged from the hospital, Dean drives them all back to the apartment, Leaving the girls to rest in their bedroom, Sam and Dean go back to the guest room.

‘Let me change your bandage,’ Sam says.

Dean makes a sound of assent and sits on the edge of the bed, watching Sam pull out the extra dressings he'd picked up at the hospital. Sam gently peels off the gauze covering Dean’s wound. ‘It looks good,’ he says, dabbing ointment on it and replacing the bandage with a fresh one. ‘You should rest for a bit. You look beat. I’ll go get us some food.’

Dean catches hold of his wrist. ‘Don’t leave the apartment.’

‘Dean, I won’t go far.’

‘Just—listen to me on this. Don’t leave, okay?’

‘I guess I can order takeout,’ Sam says, and it's only then that Dean relaxes his hold.

‘Good,’ he says sleepily.

‘I’ll wake you in a while,’ Sam says, leaning down to kiss his forehead. ‘Sleep.’

 

 

Sam keeps his word. He doesn't want to disturb the girls, so he looks around in the kitchen and finds some takeout menus. He chooses one for a Thai restaurant and orders both green and red curry and steamed rice and vegetables, and then cracks open one of the beers they’d bought that day and sits at the kitchen table.

It’s just past sundown and the orange glow of the sun is still on the horizon, bathing the kitchen in light. The ordinariness of things surprises Sam sometimes. The sun’s setting just as it does on any other day, as though his world hasn't just been shattered in both good and bad ways.

Suddenly, he feels that Dean is way too far away from him. He goes back into the bedroom to find Dean sound asleep, breathing noisily through his nose. Sam curls up next to him, sipping at his beer.

 

 

Dinner is a satisfying affair. Charlie compliments Sam on his food choices as though he were the chef, and Dean takes every opportunity to both steal food off Sam’s plate and feed him from his own, his fingers lingering at Sam’s lips. Sam doesn't even have to feel embarrassed at the open display of affection because Lily and Charlie are even worse than them, giving each other sips of wine and stealing kisses between bites of food.

After dessert—a tub of crème brûlée flavored ice-cream that Charlie digs out of the freezer and slices of cold apple and cheese, washed down with the rest of the wine—Dean gets to his feet. ‘I should be going. It’s a pretty long drive back.’

‘You’re leaving now?’ Charlie asks, sounding disappointed. ‘I thought you'd stay till the morning.’

‘People back home must be worried,’ Dean says. ‘And there are answers to be found, like you said. I gotta go talk to my dad.’ He glances at Sam.

‘Yeah,’ Sam says. ‘I’ll help you get your stuff.’

 

 

‘There are some extra dressings in the bag,’ Sam says, watching Dean put his few belongings into his duffel. ‘Change it when you get there, okay?’

‘You sure you don't wanna come with?’ Dean asks, zipping up his bag.

‘I’m not sure,’ Sam says honestly. ‘But I—I don’t know, Dean. If I go back and he locks me up I—I don’t know what I’ll do.’

‘I’ll look out for you. You know I will.’

Sam lets out a breath, sitting down at the edge of the bed. ‘Dean, I…’

‘No, I get it.’ Dean’s voice is soft. ‘You don’t trust me to disobey Dad’s orders and take your side.’ He puts his hand on top of Sam’s head in a brief caress. ‘Take care of yourself, Sammy.’

Then he’s gone and the room is instantly too quiet, too dark.

Sam keeps sitting for a minute, almost gasping for breath, his hands clutching the bed frame. Then he gets to his feet and goes out.

Charlie and Lily are at the door, obviously just having said goodbye to Dean.

‘I’ll be right back,’ he says.

‘Take your time,’ Charlie says, her eyes full of sympathy.

He finds Dean shutting the trunk. 'Hey,' Dean says. 'You okay?'

Sam considers saying he's fine, but then shakes his head.

'C'mere.' Dean opens his arms and Sam steps into them, burying his face in Dean's neck.

‘It's all right,’ Dean murmurs, holding him tight. 'You're going to be just fine.'

‘I need you.’ Sam’s voice is muffled against Dean’s skin.

‘I'm not leaving you, Sammy. I'll be back, okay? I promise.’

Sam lifts his head and pulls Dean to him, pressing their mouths together. Dean kisses back instantly, his hands cupping Sam’s face. ‘Thought you were going to leave,’ Sam says, his hands fisted into Dean’s shirt. ‘Thought you’d leave just like that, without—without even—’

‘Ssh,’ Dean says, pulling him close, his fingers running through Sam’s hair over and over. ‘I’m right here. And I’ll be back before you know it. I promise.’

It could've been fine, Sam thinks as he watches the Impala speed away from him.

It would all have been fine if he'd loved Dean just a little bit less.

 

 

Sam wakes up the next day and reaches for Dean before remembering that he’s back in Sioux Falls. ‘Happy birthday, big brother,’ he says out loud, and the bitter taste in his mouth is more than just morning breath.

He calls Dean after breakfast, using the landline because his phone is back at Bobby’s place. Dean doesn’t pick up, and Sam doesn’t leave a voicemail.

Lily has to go down to the station to make an official statement and insists that Charlie go to her classes, so Sam accompanies her.

‘You look like you're going to a funeral, if you don’t mind my saying so,’ Lily comments as they climb into her jeep.

Sam winces. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t apologize,’ Lily says, waving it away. ‘Charlie and I broke up once for like two weeks. It felt like a century. Worst time of my life.’

‘Even after what just happened to you?’

‘Even with that. But you and Dean haven’t broken up, right?’

Sam stares through the windshield at the traffic. ‘I don’t think so. But he—uh, he didn't say when he’d be back.’

‘He has things to do, right? There was a legit reason for him to leave?’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Then I guess you can give him the benefit of the doubt.’

‘Still doesn’t make me feel less crappy,’ Sam says with a rueful smile.

‘We’ll pick up some more ice cream on the way back. It may not make you miss him less, but at least it’s better to be miserable with ice cream than without, right?’

Sam can’t argue with that.

 

 

As it turns out, Sam needn't have worried.

‘Looks like you won’t be needing the ice cream after all,’ Lily says with a smile as they pull onto her street. Sam follows her gaze and sees the Impala outside her building.

‘Dean!’ He’s out of the jeep before the engine stops running.

Dean’s at the trunk, just as he was when Sam had come downstairs the previous night, his heart in pieces.

‘Hey, Sammy. Miss me?’ Dean says with a grin. ‘Oof!’

Sam launches himself at Dean and hugs him tight. ‘You came back!’

‘’Course I did. I said I was going to, didn't I?’

‘I thought you might take days. Weeks. I—I called and you didn't pick up.’

‘Shit. I left my phone in the car. Sorry, Sam.’

‘It’s okay.’ Sam turns around as Lily passes them on her way up.

‘Take your time,’ she says with a grin. ‘We’ll see you inside, yeah?’

Sam waves to her and turns back to Dean. ‘What happened? Did you even get to Bobby’s place?’

‘Yeah.’ Dean scrubs a hand over his face. ‘Get in the car.’ Seeing the look on Sam’s face, he adds quickly, ‘Not taking you anywhere, Sammy. Just need to sit for a while, okay? I haven’t slept and I’ve been driving pretty much non-stop.’

They sit in the back seat, where Dean tells Sam his story. ‘Dad and Bobby had just gotten back when I arrived. As we thought, Dad was pretty livid that I’d left you with strangers. Gave me a real earful.’

Sam puts his hand into Dean’s and squeezes. He can’t even begin to count the number of sacrifices that Dean’s made for him, and he knows that going against Dad’s rules doesn't come easy to Dean at all.

‘I’ll tell you the details later,’ Dean says, yawning. ‘Sorry. Where was I? Yeah, they said they met the psychic. Missouri. She found this kid called Max and was able to figure some stuff out. She thinks that the thing that killed Mom is a demon called Azazel, who poisoned you and several other kids with his blood when you were babies. She doesn't know what for, but we can guess it’s nothing good.’

Although he’d been almost certain it was true, it still shocks Sam to get confirmation of the fact. ‘So I—I’m not going to turn into a demon or anything?’

‘Dad doesn't think so, but he says you need to go back. He says it’s not safe for you out here.’

‘Did you tell him about Lily and Jake and the others? That we have a real chance to find answers here?’

‘Yeah, but after what Jake did I don't know if we should go down that route, Sam.’

‘Lily said he met the guy who did this to us. He probably met this Azazel himself.’

‘We don’t know that,’ Dean says in a reasonable tone of voice, but Sam isn't really in a mood to be reasonable.

‘So—what? You expect me to just go back and give up on the one lead I have? To be locked up like some sort of monster while Dad continues on his crusade?’

‘I didn't say that.’

‘Then what are you saying?’

‘Listen, Sam. I need you to cut me a little slack here, okay? I’m on your side. That’s why I didn’t stay at Bobby’s. I told Dad you need time. I told him I’d look out for you, but he has to trust you to make your own decisions.’

‘I take it that didn't go very well.’

‘Yeah.’ Dean lets out a humorless laugh. ‘He said that if I left, I shouldn't come back.’

‘He didn't mean it,’ Sam says, squeezing Dean’s hand.

‘Yeah, I know,’ Dean says wearily. ‘He says stuff like that when he’s angry.’

‘So you just—what? Turned around and drove all the way back?’

‘Pretty much, yeah.’

‘You should've at least gotten some sleep,’ Sam scolds gently, lifting Dean’s hand to his mouth and kissing his palm. ‘Hey, where’s your ring?’

‘Oh. I forgot.’ Dean slips his hand into his pocket and pulls out the silver ring.

‘Why’d you take it off?’

‘I made a stop on the way.’ Dean holds out the ring, tilting it so it catches the light, and Sam sees a small row of symbols inscribed on the inside. ‘Found those in one of Bobby’s books a while ago. They’re sigils. For protection.’

‘You had those inscribed on your ring?’

‘I wanted you to have it, okay? As—I don’t know, I don’t know if they’ll help, but they’re supposed to protect the wearer from demons. I know you don’t think I look out for you the way I should, but—’

‘That’s not true,’ Sam cuts in. ‘You—you look out for me more than anyone else, Dean. You—fuck, you’re my whole world.’ He presses closer to Dean. ‘I can’t do this without you, you know that, you have to know that.’

‘Wear the ring,’ Dean says. ‘I won’t let you down, Sammy.’

Sam holds out his hand, and Dean slips the ring on to his finger. ‘Doesn’t mean we’re married, or anything.’ He pushes Sam back against the seat and flops over him. ‘Fuck, I’m so tired.’

Sam wraps his arms around Dean, holding him close against his chest. ‘We’ll go upstairs in a minute.’

‘Gotta get our own place,’ Dean says, butting his head against Sam’s chin, and Sam threads his fingers through Dean’s hair.

‘Happy twenty-first, Dean,’ Sam murmurs. Dean says something indistinct in response, already half-asleep, and Sam smiles against his hair, tightening his arms around Dean.

 

—end