February 8th, 2015

Wet Sam

AmyPond45's Fics

Welcome to my journal, dedicated to my no-longer-newfound love: the TV show Supernatural! Here there be lotsa Winchesters, mostly of the Wincest variety, sometimes explicit, sometimes just really really brotherly. I like my Wincest with a LOT of schmoop and a huge dollop of angst with some hotness on top, and although I like many of the other characters in the show, right now I seem to be pretty focused on Sam-n-Dean. Links to my fics on LJ and AO3 will be listed here. Long fics (20K+) are listed first, shorter ones further down. In order of original posting date (in other words, the worst stuff is on the bottom). It's all Wincest unless otherwise noted.

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Short Fics:

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Walker in pink

Should You Ever Leave - Chapter 1

Sam was in the dungeon of the bunker, performing his fifth locator spell, when he heard the screams.



"Dean?"



He'd know that voice anywhere.



Sam was up the stairs like a shot, letting his legs carry him toward the screams on pure adrenaline and instinct, skidding around the corner into the library and down the hall to Dean's room --



The room was dark, and it took Sam a minute for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, but he could see the figure huddled on the floor in the corner because he was wearing a white bathrobe.



"Dean?"



The figure screamed again, curling his body into a tight ball, hands in front of his face to ward away something unseen. He was shaking, turning as far away as he could as Sam approached.



"Hey, it's okay, it's me," Sam murmured, moving slowly and cautiously toward his brother, hands out in a calming gesture. "Take it easy. You're okay. It's just me."



Sam could see now that Dean was basically naked except for the robe, and maybe a pair of boxers. His chest gleamed in the meager light from the hallway, and his feet were bare. When he lifted his face for a moment Sam could see that his hair was wet, and he wore some kind of headband which held his hair back from his face --



Sam gave an encouraging smile when he caught Dean's eye, stopped in his tracks by the look of abject terror in Dean's expression.



"Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god -- "



The litany of panic poured from Dean's lips as he hid his face against the wall again, putting his hands up as if the thing that terrified him was right there in the room with him. As if the thing he was most afraid of was --



"Hey, Dean," Sam knelt down cautiously, not daring to move any closer. "It's just me, buddy. I'm not gonna hurt you. Not gonna let anybody hurt you. It's okay."



What the hell had happened?



It had been two months since Sam had seen his brother. Two months since Dean had died in Sam's arms. Two months since the night his body had disappeared from this very room. Sam had spent every waking moment searching for him since, chasing down every lead, performing rituals and spells and interviewing endless witnesses.



And Sam had done everything, literally and absolutely everything, short of killing someone, to get his brother back. This last spell had been a particularly complicated and dangerous one -- he'd had to use his own blood, Dean's DNA (luckily a few stray hairs had been left behind on his hairbrush and pillow) and the blood of a demon he had trapped and tortured, something Sam would never have done before this.



But Dean's death and disappearance had changed everything for Sam. Faced again with a future without Dean, Sam was determined he would never stop looking, even if it killed him. Especially if it killed him. Even if it meant that what came back to him wasn't really Dean anymore.



Or was damaged beyond anything Sam could do to heal or help.



Dean was whimpering now, so at least the screaming had stopped, but the pained muttering continued, as if he was making an effort to calm himself.



Sam stayed where he was, squatting a few feet away, murmuring reassuring sounds as Dean's breathing slowed, his mutters finally reduced to whispers, then stopped altogether.



"Hey, Dean," Sam tried getting through again once Dean was quiet, watched as his brother spread his fingers apart, opening one emerald green eye to stare out at Sam.



Sam smiled, nodding.



"That's it," he said softly. "See? It's just me. It's just me, Dean."



"Why do you keep calling me that?"



Dean's voice was muffled behind his own hands, but at least he was speaking, at least he seemed calmer.



Sam shrugged, pushing down the dread nudging at the back of his mind.



"It's your name," Sam explained gently, wondering if Dean's confusion was indicative of some kind of brain damage or -- or worse.



But at least he was talking. That was a good sign, wasn't it?



Dean took a deep, shaky breath, let it out slowly, letting his hands slip down over his knees, clutching them to his chest.



"No, it's not," he said, shaking his head sharply. "You know that. So why are you calling me that? What's happening? Where are we?"



"We're in the bunker, Dean," Sam explained, nodding. "This is your room, remember?"



Dean shook his head sharply again.



"No, it's a t.v. set," he insisted. "It's just a t.v. set. It's not supposed to be real."



Sam frowned. Something wasn't right here. Bad dreams or hallucinations were one thing, but this sounded like a full-blown delusion, a transposing of one reality onto another --



"What's the last thing you remember?" he asked.



Dean looked up at him, winced, shook his head again, then looked away at a corner of the room.



"I lay down for a minute -- we were between scenes and it was gonna take awhile to set up the next shot, and I was up late last night so I figured I could just catch a couple of minutes of shut-eye. Then I wake up and everybody's gone and the set is wrong, man. There's no way out. Everything's wrong! It's some kind of big joke! Somebody's decided to play a stupid fucking joke on me and I need it to stop! Now!"



Dean was working himself up into another panic attack, and out of sheer instinct Sam moved closer, laid gentle hands on his brother's shoulder and neck, trying to calm him.



Usually it worked. Usually Sam's touch was the one thing that got through to Dean when he was like this. Sam's touch and Sam's voice were the magic antidotes to anything that ailed Dean.



But this time it just wasn't happening. If anything, Sam's touch was the thing that was making Dean's freak-out even worse.



"No!" he jumped away. "Don't hurt me! Please! Oh god oh god oh god oh god --"



"Not gonna hurt you," Sam shook his head, his exasperation with the situation finally breaking through his caution. "Dean, what's wrong with you? You're home. You're safe here."



"No, no, not home, not home," Dean insisted, scrambling away from Sam with a wild look on his face. "I'm not him, damn it. I'm not -- you're not -- "



He stopped suddenly, peered up at Sam with wide eyes, realization dawning.



"You're not him, are you?" Dean said, tentative. "You're -- you're -- Oh my god, how is this happening?"



"Dean, calm down -- " Sam moved forward again, determined to stop this panic attack from escalating again.



"No," Dean started to pull himself up, stumbled, fell heavily on his ass, stared up at Sam, blinking. "No, listen to me. I'm not him, okay? I'm not -- I'm not Dean, goddamn it."



Sam felt like he'd been slapped.



Of course. Of course this wasn't Dean. Why the hell hadn't he figured that out before?



Then who -- or what -- was this half-naked man cowering in the corner of Dean's bedroom?



The man read the sudden fury in Sam's face, his eyes widening as he tried frantically to scramble away again.



"No no no no -- I can explain -- please don't hurt me! Please!"



But Sam had already grabbed the man by the lapels, was already hauling him to his feet, shoving him back against the wall, anger and frustration rising like a tidal wave from the depths of his soul.



"What have you done with my brother?"



The words roared out of Sam's chest with the force of a cannon, and the man's head snapped back, hit the wall hard.



"Ow!" he moaned. "Please, stop! Okay? I can explain! Don't hurt me! Let me go and I'll explain!"



Sam was shaking the man and shoving him against the wall, and now he could smell it -- something expensive, some kind of styling gel or cologne or something -- nothing like the earthy sweat and leather and Old Spice smell of his brother. The guy was wearing some serious product.



"Tell me," Sam bellowed. "Tell me right now why I shouldn't just end you?"



"No, no no no no," the man winced. "Please -- I think I know what's happening. It's insane but I think -- You -- You're Sam Winchester, aren't you?"



Sam shoved his face right up close, hauled the man up on the wall so he was on his toes, almost suspended with Sam pressed against him.



"You bet your goddamn life I'm Sam Winchester," Sam snarled. "Now who the hell are you?"



"J -- Jensen -- Jensen Ackles," the man stuttered, trembling violently in Sam's grasp. "I'm an actor."



Sam's eyes narrowed as the information sunk in, the name bringing back memories of something that happened years ago --



The t.v. show. Fake Castiel. Fake Ruby, for godssake. That freaky alternative universe where there was no magic, no supernatural. Just a shitty little t.v. show starring a couple of douche-bag actors.



Sam loosened his grip slightly, backed off so the guy -- Jensen Ackles -- could take a breath. The actor relaxed a little, eyes flicking up to Sam's, wincing, looking away again, still clearly trembling and scared shitless.



And so obviously not Dean, now that Sam knew the truth, that he couldn't help staring, noting the differences.



"No, you're not my brother," he breathed out, letting go of the man and backing away. "I can see that now. You're that actor. From that t.v. show."



Jensen straightened his robe, pulling it closed over his bare chest, crossing his arms in an attempt to appear less nervous. He nodded, then glanced up at Sam again.



"So what are you doing here?" Sam asked. "How did you -- "



Suddenly Sam knew.



"Oh my god," he murmured. "You and Dean share DNA -- alternate universe, same DNA -- how is that possible?"



Jensen shook his head.



"You tell me, man," he said. "You're the brilliant big-brained geek. I just act."



"But you have -- obviously you're not -- " Sam's brain was working hard to make sense of this, because it simply didn't make sense.



Finally he shook his head.



"No, that can't be it, because you don't have the same ancestry. Your parents are different. This isn't biological. This is something else. Plus, you and I aren't related -- "



Sam peered at Jensen skeptically. "Are we? I mean, the other actor -- he's not your brother, right? The one who plays Sam?"



Jensen's eyes got big, and he actually stared straight at Sam for the first time, shocked.



Then he looked away again, shaking his head and shifting his feet nervously.



"God, no," Jensen breathed. "Jared and I aren't even friends."



"Huh," Sam nodded, remembering that other time. "That's right. Wow. This is -- "



He was about to say "weird," but he caught himself. When had weird ever been unusual for the Winchesters? And the opportunities here, if he could just figure this out, were enormous.



But first, there was a shivering civilian standing in front of him, a scared and completely freaked-out guy who needed some reassurance.



"Hey." Sam tried to soften his voice, put on his most sympathetic expression. "How about we find you some clothes, get you something to eat. Then we'll figure this out, okay? Does that sound good?"



Jensen raised his eyes, and the doubtful look there puzzled Sam. It was like the guy thought he was being the butt of a cruel joke. Like he was used to being a punching bag. For Sam.



Or Jared, the actor who played Sam.



Sam held Jensen's gaze intently, as he would when he worked with a traumatized victim at a crime scene, and finally it seemed to work a little. Jensen's facial expression went from tense and terrified to resigned and bewildered, and he gave a little nod as he looked away, seemed to be trying to collect himself.



"Okay," he agreed.



Sam opened drawers, pulled out Dean's jeans and a tee-shirt, laid them on the bed.



"Okay," he turned to Jensen, who was hugging himself and watching Sam. "I'll leave you to it. You know how to find the kitchen, right?"



Jensen nodded, looking so lost and sad that Sam couldn't help reaching out, couldn't help laying a reassuring hand on the actor's shoulder.



"Hey," Sam spoke gently, and Jensen looked up, wide-eyed and bewildered. "It'll be okay. We'll figure this out. We'll get you home, okay? I promise."



Jensen's face softened and his eyes suddenly glistened and for a minute Sam thought he was going to cry, so Sam patted him, then squeezed his shoulder, looking away awkwardly.



Because he did not need this strange man with his brother's face and body bursting into tears and needing comfort right now.



Sam so did not need that.



*



In the kitchen Sam scrambled some eggs, fried some bacon, made fresh black coffee and toast. When Jensen finally appeared -- what was he doing in there that took almost twenty minutes? -- Sam struggled not to jump. In Dean's jeans and black tee-shirt Jensen looked good. Really, really good.



Of course he looks good. He's an actor, Sam reminded himself. It's his job to look good.



Still, Jensen's appearance rattled Sam to the core in ways he didn't want to think about too deeply.



Because, the thing was, Sam was missing his brother something awful.



And suddenly, here was this look-alike in his kitchen, and it was -- it was unsettling.



To say the least.



"I can't eat that," Jensen noted, looking at the bacon and eggs on the table, obviously set out for him with the coffee.



Sam raised his eyebrows.



"Why? What's wrong with it?"



"I'm vegan," Jensen said. "I don't eat animal products."



Sam stared at the actor in disbelief.



"You're kidding me," he said. "They cast an actor to play Dean who doesn't eat meat."



Jensen shrugged.



"So how do you even play all those scenes in the diners with the cheeseburgers and the barbecue and steak and -- "



Jensen lifted his eyebrows, taking Sam's breath away because his eyes were so green and looked so much like Dean's.



"It's called acting," Jensen said. "They use soy for the burgers. Usually they cut the scene so I can spit it out anyway. If I ate the way Dean does I couldn't fit through the diner door, much less these jeans."



Sam did not want to touch that comment with a ten-foot pole, not least because Jensen looked so damn good in Dean's jeans and it was totally messing with his mind.



Because he was not thinking about balling his brother, so there was no way he could be thinking about fucking this douche-bag actor.



No fuckin' way.



"Okay," Sam nodded, trying his best to show how calm he could be if he tried really, really hard. "So what can you eat?"



Jensen shifted his feet, looked awkward, like he fully expected Sam to take every advantage of any weakness he showed.



"Salad," Jensen suggested slowly. "Fresh fruit, fresh veggies, soy milk products, coffee. Oh yeah, lots of coffee."



Sam reached over and plucked the cup of java from the table, shoved it into Jensen's hand.



"Good. Here," he offered, trying hard to ignore the reaction he couldn't avoid when his fingers brushed Jensen's.



Damn it.



"Thanks," Jensen acknowledged, hands closing in around the mug of hot coffee like an anchor, letting it pull a moment of normalcy into the mix. "I'll just wake up now, thank you very much."



Sam turned away, determined not to let Jensen's presence affect him, knowing in his heart that was a losing battle.



"Not a dream, I'm afraid," Sam said softly, scooping up the plate of food and dumping it into the compost bin at the end of the counter.



Cuz Sam Winchester could garden with the best of 'em, and composting was totally part of the program.



Except that he'd been spending the past couple of months tracking down spells and leads to get his brother back, so the gardening and whatever else domestically was taking a bit of a backseat.



Okay, then.



"Okay, I think I get how you got here," Sam turned back to the actor, who was sipping the coffee and staring at him over the rim of the cup.



So not fair.



"You and Dean are clearly identical in every physical sense," he continued, thinking it through as he talked so he didn't have to admit how affected he was by those green eyes. "And don't ask me how that's possible, since you don't have the same parents. Right?"



Jensen shook his head, and Sam nodded.



"Okay, so it's a classic doppelgänger scenario," Sam went on. "You and Dean prove the theory that we all have an identical twin in another universe. Except in this case, there's this crazy coincidence that you and Dean actually have something in common -- namely, the story of our lives, which is fiction in your universe."



Jensen was still staring at him over the rim of his mug, and Sam felt his cheeks grow hot. He cleared his throat and shifted his feet in an obvious attempt to hide his body's reaction, but Jensen was watching him too intently not to notice



"You're really not him, are you?"



Jensen's question was so out-of-the-blue and unexpected that it took Sam a second to readjust, frowning in an effort to follow the words.



"Who?" he asked.



"Jared," Jensen clarified. "You're really not Jared."



Jensen's eyes dropped to Sam's crotch, then slowly raised to his mouth before meeting his eyes again, this time with a come-hither smirk that made Sam instantly hard as a rock.



Sam cleared his throat, shifted awkwardly, put one hand on his hip and ran the other through his hair, cleared his throat again.



"No," he agreed. "We already established that."



"You don't hate me," Jensen continued.



"Dude, I don't even know you," Sam huffed out a laugh. "Hate's a pretty strong emotion. Not exactly something you can muster for someone you barely know."



He looked speculatively at Jensen.



"Why does he hate you? You seem like a nice enough guy."



Jensen shook his head, looked away, a grim smile turning up the corners of his mouth but not quite reaching his eyes.



"It's a long story," he said. "We have to project this camaraderie on screen, you know? Everybody thinks we're best friends. The network likes it that way. Feeds the fan following. Two hot guys playing brothers, best friends in real life. Sells advertising. It's good for business."



Sam couldn't stop watching the actor's mouth as he talked, wanted him to keep talking just so he could keep watching. He was so distracted he barely heard the question.



"So where's your brother?"



"Huh?" Sam shook his head, dragging his gaze away so he could focus.



"Your brother? Dean? Tall, good-looking, crush on his younger sibling?"



Sam blushed to the roots of his hair, lowered his chin to his chest in a last-ditch effort to hide his response.



Jensen made a low chuckle, and when Sam raised his eyes the actor was smiling, crows feet at the edges of his eyes, straight white teeth showing.



"Man, you've got it bad," Jensen noted. "You and Dean are really doin' the deed. It's like every bad fan fiction fantasy come true, am I right? Wow." He shook his head, still grinning. "Can't say I'm surprised, and I'm definitely not saying you two don't deserve it, after all you've been through. But incest is -- wow."



Sam moved so fast Jensen didn't have a chance. He grabbed the actor's shirt in his hands and shoved him hard against the wall, sending the coffee cup crashing to the ground, where it shattered spectacularly.



"Shut up!" Sam bellowed. "You don't get to judge! You don't have a fuckin' clue! Who the hell do you think you are? Just because you play Dean in some stupid t.v. show, you think you know him? You think you understand us? How dare you, you little shit."



Sam shook the man soundly, for emphasis, and was rewarded with the return of abject terror to Jensen's handsome face.



"Hey, I'm sorry, man," Jensen stuttered, his whole body shaking in Sam's grasp. "I didn't mean -- sorry. No disrespect, seriously."



More satisfied by Jensen's fear than he probably should be, Sam nodded, stepped back, released the actor and let his eyes drop to the floor for a minute, ignoring the mess.



"Sorry. I'm a little on edge lately," he mumbled as he shuffled his feet and ran a hand through his hair, self-soothing to calm himself down. "Dean's missing, and I've been trying everything I can think of to find him -- And now I've got you to try to deal with --"



"Dean's missing?" Jensen repeated. "Wait -- is this right after he turned into a demon? Are we in the middle of the hiatus right now? Is that what this is?"



Sam stared, shaken to the core, unable to comprehend Jensen's words because they seemed so nonsensical.



"What? Dean turned into a demon? What are you talking about?"



Jensen nodded, taking a step sideways to position himself out of Sam's reach.



"At the end of Season Nine," he said. "Dean died, right? Metatron killed him. That just happened, am I right?"



Sam nodded slowly.



"Two months ago," he said. "I've been looking for him ever since."



Then it hit him.



"But -- " Sam's brain was spinning. "Dean has the tattoo. He can't be possessed."



Jensen was shaking his head, tiny smile turning up the corners of his mouth again.



"Not possessed," he said. "He IS a demon. Like Cain. Scary, out-for-nobody-but-himself, super-strong, care-free. And you can't find him because he doesn't want to be found, Sam. Cuz he's a monster now. He's the thing y'all used to hunt and kill."



Sam heard Jensen's words, understood what he was saying, and in his heart he knew it was true, but that didn't prepare him for the crushing weight of grief and devastation he was suddenly experiencing.



It pinned him in place, making it difficult to move.



"How do you know?" Sam breathed out, only now realizing that he'd taken a step backwards, hit the table with the backs of his legs.



He grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself, his legs threatening to give out on him all of a sudden.



Jensen was watching him, sympathy winning out over the trepidation in his eyes.



"It's in the script," he said gently. "I'm sorry, man. We've already been filming. We've got the third episode in the can already."



"Wait -- so you know everything that's gonna happen," Sam clarified.



Jensen tilted his head, shrugged.



"I've got a general idea," he admitted. "I've read the scripts for the first few episodes, and they've given us the story arc for the season."



Sam ran a hand through his hair.



"You're like Chuck Shurley or something," he suggested, desperation making him grasp at straws. "You're like a prophet."



Jensen shook his head.



"No, I'm not a fictional character," he insisted. "And I'm not a writer. Those guys are the gods of this thing, not me."



"Wait -- what did you just say?"



Jensen lifted his eyebrows, shrugged.



"I'm not a fictional character," he repeated.



"No, the other thing. The writers."



Sam was already bounding out of the kitchen and into the library, Jensen on his heels. Sam grabbed his laptop, slid into his seat.



"Those guys might exist here," Sam said. "Maybe one of them can help us figure out what's happening."



"I can tell you what's happening," Jensen insisted. "But you're not gonna like it."



"Dean being a demon isn't bad enough?" Sam snapped.



"Unfortunately not," Jensen admitted. "He's not the real monster in this story, Sam."



"What?" Sam looked up, confused. "What are you talking about? Who's the real monster then?"



"Well now, that would be you," Jensen shrugged, backing up to give Sam some room to absorb his words, his accusation.



Sam glared, waiting for Jensen to continue. The actor managed to look smug and a little bit apologetic at the same time, and Sam struggled with the urge to hit the man.



Or kiss the damn smirk off his pretty face, whichever.



"I don't know why I'm even listening to you," Sam went for the bitch face.



Jensen shook his head.



"You're gonna get really desperate, Sam," he explained. "Another month or two go by and no Dean, and you start torturing people for information, doing whatever it takes to find your brother."



"No way," Sam shook his head. "Not gonna happen."



Jensen shook his head again.



"It's in the script," he said. "It's already been filmed. Sorry, Sam. It's a done deal."



Something in Jensen's words struck a nerve in Sam, made him catch his breath and shake his head, overwhelmed by a sense of deja-vu.



This conversation was too familiar, too much like other conversations with other creatures -- and Jensen might be human and a civilian, but his very existence was a supernatural event, and therefore he -- Jensen -- was a kind of supernatural creature. Something that shouldn't exist, but did.



Then it hit him. This was a lot like those asshole angels, like Zachariah telling him all those years ago that he couldn't escape his fate. That he and Dean were destined to bring on the apocalypse.



"No," Sam breathed out now, raising his eyes to Jensen's, feeling the familiar Winchester stubbornness well up inside him. "No, that's not how it's gonna be. I'm changing it. Right now."



Jensen's eyes widened in surprise.



"You can't," he insisted. "It's already been filmed."



"Well, it hasn't happened here yet, in this universe, so that proves we're not perfectly parallel. Your being here proves that, right? Or did the actor who plays Dean magically appear in the middle of the bunker one summer day in your world? In one of the scripts?"



Jensen was still staring, seemingly mesmerized by Sam's intent gaze. Then he swallowed, and Sam couldn't help letting his eyes drop, watching Jensen's throat move.



"No, that's true," Jensen agreed softly.



Sam tore his gaze away, turned back to his laptop.



"Okay, then," he said, clearing his throat. "Let's get to work. I need to know everything you can tell me about how the story unfolds in your timeline. What are the names of those writers?"

Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 1

For a full minute after Jensen opens his eyes, he thinks it didn't work.

He's lying on his back on the bed in Dean's room, and he can still see Sam's face in his mind, can still feel Sam's hand on his shoulder, warm and impossibly real.

Then he hears noise out in the hall -- voices.

"Where is he?"

"I think he feel asleep in Dean's room again."

"Why is he always doing that?"

"I guess it's comfortable. And he's tired. These eighteen-hour days are brutal. We'll just -- "

Jensen waits till they arrive in the doorway, then he grins at them and gives a little wave.

"Hey guys," Jensen greets his PA, Lynn, and the AD for the current episode -- Jack, he thinks, peering up at them blearily.

"Hey -- " Jack waves back, looking a little stunned. He's got a crush on Jensen about a mile wide. It's pretty obvious to everybody, but Jensen's too tired to wink at him.

"They're ready for you in the library," Lynn says.

Then she seems to notice how out-of-it Jensen is and steps forward, worry creasing her already anxious face.

"Are you okay?" she asks solicitously. "Can I get you anything?"

"No, no, I'm fine."

Jensen is not fine. In fact, the ordinary moment in which he's suddenly finding himself is giving him a serious case of the shakes.

Shock, he thinks wildly. I'm going into shock.

"Just give me a minute."

He turns onto his side on the bed, pushes himself up facing away from the two crew members, puts a hand to his head to stop the sudden rush of blood, the dizziness. Spots hover in front of his eyes and there's a roaring sound in his head, just behind his eardrums. He's pushing himself up, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, and he can sense the exact moment everything slows down, blackness washes up and over him and he's falling, the floor rushing up to meet him as he collapses.

"Oh my God!"

"Jensen!"

"Somebody call Jeremy -- "

Then he's out.

*

When he comes to, he hears the voices first.

"It's that crazy vegan diet," someone -- maybe Kelly, the makeup girl? -- suggests. "Not enough iron."

"He's thin," somebody else -- Jack. It's Jack this time. "He looks like he's lost weight."

"In the past hour?" That's Guy, the director. "He's only been in here for an hour or so, right? What did you do to him?"

"Me? Nothing," Lynn protests. "I left him alone. He said he needed a little rest, so I let him rest."

She sounds defensive. Jensen really ought to speak up for her. This isn't her fault.

"Did somebody call a doctor?" Guy again, demanding.

"He's on his way," another PA -- Sean -- speaks up timidly.

Then Jensen hears someone else approaching, familiar footsteps, heavy boots, stopping in the doorway --

Jensen feels his heart stop for a minute as the familiar voice speaks.

"What's going on? Why's everybody in here?"

Jensen turns instinctively toward the voice of his co-star, not even fully awake yet -- some part of his brain telling him it's Sam -- the other part, the major part, knows it's Jared.

Jared.

Jensen opens his eyes, looks straight into Jared's frowning gaze, feels his lips twitch into the beginnings of a smile as the familiar warmth of being in Jared's presence rushes through his body and settles in his chest.

Jared holds his gaze for a minute, and Jensen imagines he sees something there -- some spark of concern or care or --

Then Jared flicks his eyes away, his frown deepening.

"What's wrong with him?" he demands, glaring around the room expectantly.

"He passed out," Lynn says.

"It's classic exhaustion," Jack suggests. "He's overworked."

"Yeah, join the club," Kelly huffs under her breath.

"Okay, everybody," Guy claps his hands. "Let's move out and give Jensen some space. We'll take an hour, let the doctor do his thing, then we'll see where we are. Right? Jack, you're with me."

Jensen closes his eyes, more relieved than he wants to admit as the crew reluctantly files out, Lynn patting his shoulder reassuringly as she goes.

Then he's alone. Alone until the doctor comes.

But not.

"Real smooth, asshole," Jared's voice cuts through the fog, startling Jensen into reality again. "You do realize you're pushing back the entire production schedule here with your prima-donna fuckery."

Jensen cracks one eye open, stares up at his co-star, resisting the urge to flinch. Jared is still standing in the doorway, arms crossed, leaning against the frame with that disgusted look on his face.

I know what you look like naked, Jensen thinks smugly. I know what you look like when you come.

It gives him confidence.

"It's all real, Jay," he says quietly.

Jared's frown deepens a notch, if that were possible.

"What's real?" he asks. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"The ghosts, the demons, you and me -- Sam and Dean -- everything. It's all real. I was there. I just spent over a week there."

Jared's eyes widen, he uncrosses his arms and shifts his feet, puts his hands on his waist and shakes his head a little, like a dog shaking the water of out its ears. He blinks twice and tilts his head at Jensen, so he's looking at him almost sideways.

"Come again?" he huffs, then shakes his head again. "What the fuck are you saying?"

Jensen gazes steadily at him, both eyes open now but only at half-mast.

He's so tired, so damn tired. He could sleep for a week.

"I don't care if you believe me," Jensen swallows, focuses on getting the words out, making Jared hear him. "It's true."

"Oh my god," Jared breathes softly. "You're -- you're really losing it. It's finally gotten to you."

He stares at Jensen blankly for another minute, then shakes his head, lifts one hand in a gesture of disbelief and dismissal.

"I can't deal with this right now."

"Jared -- "

Jensen lifts a hand toward his co-star, but it's so heavy, his arm feels like it's buried in concrete.

"What do we have here?"

It's the doctor, crowding past Jared to move into the room, brisk and professional as he sits down on the bed and takes Jensen's wrist, checking for his pulse, pulls his sleeve up so he can take his blood pressure. He sticks a thermometer under his tongue.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Ackles?" he asks as he listens to Jensen's heart with his stethoscope, pushing his over-shirt out of the way.

Jensen winces as the man pushes down on his skin, still a little tender where his new tattoo is still healing.

The doctor notices.

"Huh," he mutters, pulling on Jensen's tee-shirt. "What do we have here? Mind if I take a look?"

Jensen lifts his arms, lets the man push up his tee-shirt so he can see the tattoo.

Jared sucks in a breath.

"Oh my god, is that real?" he gasps.

Jensen looks up at him, hovering over the doctor's shoulder, sudden anxiety rushing through him as he realizes how naked and vulnerable he is right now, his bare chest exposed to Jared's scrutiny as the doctor pokes the skin over his heart.

Jensen closes his eyes, whimpers just a little.

"Does that hurt?" the doctor asks.

Jensen shakes his head, turns away from Jared's intense gaze, burrowing his face against his own up-stretched arm.

"Well, it's fresh, and looks like it's healing all right, but I'll give you a three-day dose of antibiotics just in case," the doctor says matter-of-factly, pulling Jensen's tee-shirt back down, covering him up again.

Thank God.

The doctor pulls the thermometer from Jensen's mouth, checks it.

"Your pulse is pretty fast, heart-beat's a little irregular, blood pressure unusually low, skin seems a little cold and clammy -- Mr. Ackles, did something unusual just happen to you? Because I'd swear you're exhibiting all the symptoms of shock," he stands. "And I'm diagnosing general exhaustion right now, unless you have something specific you can pin this on."

He lifts his eyebrows expectantly, but Jensen just shakes his head a little, closes his eyes against Jared's unflinching stare.

The doctor nods.

"Alright then, I'm recommending bed rest and observation for the next twenty-four hours."

He turns to Jared.

"Somebody should keep an eye on him, make sure he drinks plenty of clear fluids. He should eat something, especially when he takes these pills."

He hands the bottle to Jared like it's the most natural thing in the world, Jared being Jensen's nurse.

As if.

"Oh no," Jared tries to hand the bottle back, steps away like he's been punched. "I'm not -- "

That's when Lynn and Jack and Guy come back, crowding into the little room and looking concerned and asking questions.

Jared hands the bottle to Lynn and hightails it out of the room, casting one more hard look at Jensen before he goes.

Jensen imagines something in his eyes that almost looks like panic, like he's been caught having feelings he didn't know he had, or at least didn't want anybody to see.

But of course it's just Jensen's imagination.

*

Production halts for the rest of that day, then the next day the schedule's changed so they're filming scenes without Jensen, which means rescheduling everybody who normally had that day off, including a disgruntled Misha Collins, who was spending time with his family and seems less than happy to be called in earlier than expected.

Jensen huddles in his trailer, sipping tea and meditating, trying to get his equilibrium back.

Jared actually has the nerve to stop in and check on him, which is so completely weird for him that all they can do is stare awkwardly at each other until Jared gets mad and storms off again, muttering.

"Just be ready for tomorrow. I need my weekend off."

Lynn tries to talk him into going home, but Jensen is terrified of the thought of going back to his lonely little apartment, forced to face this thing all by himself there, away from work with all its normalcy and natural distractions.

Away from Jared.

Jensen knows he needs to talk to somebody, but when Jeremy sends a counseling psychologist "just to listen, if you need it," (and it makes Jensen furious because he's just sure Jared told Jeremy about his "delusion," the bastard) Jensen surprises himself by pulling a Dean Winchester and going all stoic and tough and insisting he's fine. He's just a little tired, is all. Just needs a day to recoup. He'll be back in business tomorrow, good as new.

And he must be better than he thinks because the woman totally buys what he's selling and leaves him alone.

But of course, what else can she do? He's goddamn Dean Winchester, damn it. If he says he's good, he's good.

But of course he's not Dean. So obviously not Dean. Sam could see that, even when he was fooling himself so he could get a little comfort, even when he was using Jensen so he could pretend he had his brother back.

And Jensen let himself be used because who was he kidding? Getting to fuck Sam Winchester was the most amazing goddamn thing he'd ever done. Hands down. Getting to touch all that warm, hard, scarred flesh, having those sharp hazel eyes looking at him with so much heat and affection, watching his mouth move as he spoke those perfect Sam lines -- only they weren't lines because they were really Sam's words -- getting to run his hands through all that long, soft hair.

Living to tell the story.

Jensen huffs out a laugh as he realizes he's probably the only person in the universe (besides Dean, of course) who has survived after fucking Sam Winchester.

But then, this isn't Sam's universe. Maybe if Jensen had stayed there, he'd be dead.

Of course he'd be dead. He was ridiculously out of his element there. Anybody would be. That place simply should not exist.

But now Jensen knows it does. And that's just about the trippiest thing ever.

And Jensen was there, and those things happened; he has the tattoo and a week of weight-loss to prove it, along with a sore ass and some pretty intense hickeys.

Weird how time moves differently here. How in this world only an hour passed for a whole week in that one.

Of course, the timelines weren't even matched up. There it's still the middle of last summer, while here it's almost Christmas.

Jensen spares an hour or so speculating about how things are going over there in Sam's world. He wonders how Sam will find his brother now that Jensen gave away all the story and changed things so drastically over there.

He's sure of one thing: Sam won't stop looking. And he'll eventually find Dean and they'll be together again, the way they're meant to be.

While back over here, in reality, Jensen and Jared are still sworn enemies.

Damn it.

Damn it all to hell.

*

It's stupidly embarrassing, the way the entire crew bursts into spontaneous applause the next morning when Jensen shows up for his call, bright and early and ready to go. Everyone seems so relieved he's okay, so glad to be back on a normal schedule, and so grateful that one of the show's leads isn't having a total and complete nervous breakdown which would bring production to a grinding halt -- possibly forever -- that by the end of the day Jensen is feeling more than a little guilty.

But also pretty good about being able to keep it together, get through the day, and reclaim some normalcy.

Because really, normal never felt so good. Jensen promises himself he will never, ever, take normal for granted again.

He catches Jared staring at him more than once that first day back, but he doesn't take the bait.

After what Jensen's been through, Jared Padalecki and his bullying assholishness just doesn't scare him anymore. The fact is, he's learned first hand that there are a lot scarier things out there than a pissed-off co-star who thinks he's God's gift to mankind. A co-star who's jealous and pissed-off because he's not the only star of this thing. Because there is no Sam without Dean.

Jensen knows that now with such confidence he can feel it radiate off him even when he's not in character.

Jared senses it too.

"What's up with you?" Jared asks when they're on set later that day, blocking yet another scene in a bar.

Jensen raises one eyebrow and gives a small shrug.

"You seem -- different," Jared hisses.

Jensen shrugs again.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says, keeping his voice low so the crew can't hear what they're saying.

Jared shakes his head.

"You seem -- more relaxed," Jared tries again. "Mellow. Not so skittish and jumpy."

Jensen looks down at his mark, shakes his head once, doesn't answer.

"Oh my God," Jared sucks in a breath, suddenly all animated and excited. "Did you get laid? Is that what happened?"

Jensen looks up at him sharply. Was it that obvious?

"Oh my God, you did!" Jared exclaims excitedly. "Wow! Mr. Tight-ass Ackles finally gets some action! Am I right? Oh my God! Who was it? Was it that kid in the lighting department? I knew it! Oh wow."

Jensen waits for a pause in Jared's run-on sentences, then he holds Jared's gaze with a steely stare, daring him to look away.

"I fucked Sam Winchester," he says when he feels he's got Jared's full attention, "in the ass."

He watches Jared's eyes widen for a minute, gets the satisfaction of seeing the effect his words have on the man's equilibrium, sees the doubt flicker in those hazel orbs for a second before the familiar look of irritation and frustration returns.

"Asshole," Jared mutters.

"Takes one to know one," Jensen shoots back.

*

But the thing is, Jared's right. Jensen isn't so nervous all the time anymore.

Mostly, he thinks, it's because he's not afraid of Jared now. After the things he's seen, that other world, and Sam telling him things he never would have thought of on his own -- things about Jared that Jensen would never have dared to think about because he was so busy feeling like a creep and a jerk for messing everything up between them all those years ago. Permanently, he thought.

But that was before.

Sam said Jared had feelings for Jensen, and Sam's words just would not leave Jensen's mind.

Maybe Sam was right. Maybe Jensen was still carrying a torch for Jared, even after that colossal rejection and all of Jared's taunts and bullying ever since.

But maybe -- just maybe -- Jared felt something too.

And if that was even the tiniest bit possible, well, Jensen might just have the tiniest bit of an upper hand.

Finally.

NEXT CHAPTER - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 2

Which is when Jensen has the shock of his life the following week at the mid-season wrap party which doubles as a holiday party.

It's their tenth year, so all the cast and crew from past years are invited and it's a really big deal. Some of them are working other gigs and can't make it, but Jensen's really glad to see some of his old friends who can be there, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jim Beaver in particular.

There's the obligatory speeches from Jim Michaels and Jeremy Carver, then Jensen and Jared have to pose with the big Congratulations! cake before cutting it together, Jared's big warm hand over Jensen's on the knife like it's a goddamn wedding cake. But of course they've done it before so it's just auto-pilot, nothing personal, and they don't even look at each other when they're standing so close, Jensen shivering a little as Jared's big sweaty body radiates a giant shell of heat around him as he presses up against Jensen's back.

As soon as it's done and all the photos have been snapped Jensen slips away to the bar, grabs himself a whiskey and absconds with the bottle. He nurses it in a corner, as far from Jared as he can get, trying to shake the feeling of familiarity and rightness that being pressed against Jared always gives him.

That's where he is when Genevieve Cortese finds him, and Jensen does not want to talk to her but she's insistent. She's clearly been looking for him, and she's talking to him really intensely about something, but it takes Jensen a minute to realize she's blaming him for her marriage breaking up.

"Wh -- what?" Jensen squints a little, making an extra effort to focus through the alcohol-induced haze he's inflicted on himself.

"He's obsessed with you, asshole," Gen accuses, clearly pissed off but trying to be sassy. "All he ever did was talk about you -- Jensen this and Jensen that -- until I wanted to puke. I finally told him he needed to see a shrink and talk about this -- this thing he has about you, because I was just sick of hearing it. It totally destroyed our marriage."

"That's crazy," Jensen protests. "He hates me."

"He's in love with you, you stupid jerk," Gen glares, stamping her foot for emphasis. "You two have this crazy, mixed up thing that neither of you wants to acknowledge for some god-awful reason I don't even want to understand, but there it is. Take it from an ex-wife who did her damnedest to get her husband to take his mind off his one true love and failed utterly. And you know what? I don't even care anymore. I thought I did. I thought I hated you for awhile, but now you know what I think?"

Jensen's sucking down his drink, trying not to encourage her, looking desperately around for a way to escape, but she's got him pinned. She's going to say what she has to say to him no matter what and that's just the way it is.

"I think you two deserve each other," Gen proclaims with her hands on her hips and a bob of her abundantly coiffed head. All those long dark ringlets bounce as she nods, her generous mouth twisting into a sneer.

"You and Jared are two of the most stubborn assholes the world has ever known, and if you don't end up together it's just because you're both too bull-headed and stupid to admit how perfect you are for each other. And I am done, done, done caring about either one of you. God, I wish I never auditioned for this show in the first place. Worst decision I ever made."

"You don't mean that," Jensen says with a little shake of his head. "You and Jared had a really good thing. Just because it didn't last -- "

Gen's eyes fill with tears and she shakes her head violently.

"It was always you, Jensen, you jerk. I loved him, but he never loved anyone but you. And he can't even admit it to himself. God, this is so fucked up."

She wipes the back of her hand across her cheek, smearing mascara and foundation everywhere.

Jensen hands her his glass, only half-full, then reaches down to retrieve the bottle he stashed behind a chair, takes a swig.

"He'd slip up sometimes," Genevieve says after taking a long drink. "He'd call me Jen. I knew he meant you, not me. It was a way he had of saying your name -- and our names may sound the same, but when he says yours there's this longing there -- "

She chokes out a sob and Jensen fills her glass, glances around desperately for a way out again. He so does not need Jared's ex-wife falling apart in front of him right now.

Damn it damn it damn it.

"Listen, Gen -- uh, Genevieve," Jensen stammers. "You're gonna be okay. Maybe we can find you someplace to sit down, take it easy -- "

"Don't patronize me, Jensen," Genevieve snarls at him. "I am not a child. I know what I'm talking about."

Jensen flinches, ready to duck the blow she looks ready to aim at his jaw. Or worse. Maybe she'll throw the glass at him. That would be dramatic.

But Genevieve just takes a deep breath, steadying herself, takes another quick sip of the whiskey.

"It took me over a year to get past the anger. To stop feeling sorry for myself so I could go on with my life."

She's not even looking at him now, just gazing off to the side, into the distance of her own memory.

"I could never have done this then, or even last year. But when this invitation came, I knew I had to come. I had to tell you how it was because -- "

She pauses as her eyes fill with tears again and she hands Jensen the glass so she can pull out a tissue from her little purse, dabs daintily at her eyes.

"I want him to be happy, Jensen, I actually want that for him now, even after all he put us through. All he put you through. And I just know the bits and pieces he told me about, so I can only guess what an asshole he's been to you."

Jensen feels himself flush, looks away uncomfortably.

"Gen -- That's not -- I don't -- "

"Just shut up and listen, okay?" she interrupts before he can form a coherent protest. "I came here to say this, and I'm gonna say it. I'm almost done."

So Jensen closes his mouth, raises his eyes and tries to be polite, tries to be a good southern gentleman like his momma taught him, lets the lady speak, no matter how painful it is.

"I need you to know this stuff because I'm fine now. I've got a new husband and he's the love of my life and everything worked out for me, so -- "

She dabs at her eye again, looks up at Jensen with a little shake of her head.

"So I'm just enough of an idiot to wish my ex-husband well, now that things have worked out for me. I can't tell you what to do, obviously. I just wanted you to know. Now it's up to you. Jared already knows what I think, not that it matters. But now at least you're even. Now he can't keep pretending he couldn't care less, because you know the truth."

She shakes her head a little, looks away from him.

"I don't quite have it in me to wish you the best, Jensen, I'm sure you can see that. But at least now I've got this off my chest I can move on. Get a little closure on all this."

She opens her arms in an expansive gesture, taking in the cavernous space with its Supernatural signage and its lighted stage with the huge cake and all the holiday decorations.

"I hope I never see this place again as long as I live," she says dramatically, throwing her head back so her long dark hair bounces around her. "Goodbye, Jensen. Thanks for the drink."

Jensen watches as she whirls around, then walks deliberately away from him on her six-inch heels, like a model on a runway, each step placed perfectly in front of the other.

He watches until she meets up with a tall, dark-haired man with a kind, handsome face who greets her with a smile and an intimate dip of his head, and Jensen lets himself feel relief as the man slips his arm around Genevieve, pulling her in close as they walk away together.

He's trying not to think too hard about what she just said to him, half-way to deciding she'd been drinking and it was all in her head anyway, when he's startled by a familiar voice.

"What was that about?"

Jensen nearly jumps out of his skin.

Jared is standing behind him -- how the hell did he manage to creep up behind him anyway?! -- staring over his shoulder after his ex-wife and her new husband.

"What?"

Jensen's first instinct is to lie, to just make something up that has nothing to do with anything.

But then he remembers what Sam Winchester said, and he finds he's got more courage than he thought he had.

"Oh, that?" he shrugs noncommittally. "Not much. She seems to think I broke up your marriage. Thinks you're in love with me."

"She what?" Jared's expression is priceless, flushing red with embarrassment, maximum dimpled grimace warring with stunned surprise.

"Yeah," Jensen nods, taking a sip from his glass. "So are you? In love with me?"

He says the last with a raised eyebrow, staring up at Jared with frank expectation, trying to keep the smirk from twisting his lips too obviously.

But Jared reads his expression expertly, and Jensen's reminded of how well they really know each other, how well they get each other after almost ten years of working together practically all day, every day. Jared understands every facial tic and tone of voice, every nuance in his posture and body language.

Nobody knows Jensen as well as Jared does.

And up until fairly recently, Jensen thought nobody hated him more.

"You're such an asshole," Jared breathes, shaking his head.

But he says it without real malice, almost as a reflex. In fact, if Jensen didn't know any better, he'd say Jared was emoting some exasperated brotherly affection, something at least a little akin to Sam's feelings for Dean.

Or maybe he's just relieved that Jensen didn't seem to be taking what Genevieve said too seriously.

Huh.

Because Jared's stunned embarrassment can't possibly be the response of somebody whose secret obsession has suddenly been exposed, right? To the object of his obsession, no less?

Well? Right?

"Clearly I'm not drunk enough to get through the rest of this evening," Jensen says now, holding up his nearly empty bottle. "Time to find another bottle. Wanna come?"

And, surprisingly, Jared does.

*

They're off the next morning to a convention in Seattle, the last one of the year. They have six weeks off before filming starts again, so Jensen plans to head down to Los Angeles to hang out with family and friends there for awhile and Jared's heading back to Texas.

They decide to ride together to the airport in the morning for the sake of convenience, nothing more. Jensen rests his head back against the seat and lets himself doze, and Jared does whatever Jared does with his phone -- probably tweeting about his and Jensen's supposed friendship and all the fun things they do together.

Turns out they booked the same flight, so they end up sitting together on the plane, and Jared tweets some more, just for PR purposes.

Jensen mostly sleeps on the two-hour flight, still trying to catch up on sleep lost the night before.

He's not trying to avoid thinking about what Genevieve said, no way.

And it's not making Jensen intensely aware of Jared's body in the seat next to his. Nuh-uh.

Jensen is really not hyper-conscious of Jared's arm brushing his a sum total of sixteen times during the flight. Nope. Not.

And when they land at SeaTac and there's a group of fans waiting to greet them Jensen does not think about the way Jared leans into him when they pose for a few quick pictures together with a fan or two, and it really doesn't affect him in the least when a fan asks them to put their arms around each other for a shot or two and Jared just happens to press his cheek to Jensen's head as he pulls him against his overheated body --

No no no.

'Cause Jensen is a professional and this is all for show. Yup. Nothing real about it at all.

Then comes the awkward moment when they get to the hotel and some idiot hotel worker has booked them into the same room, and of course the hotel is booked solid and at the moment there's nothing else available.

And Jensen tries not to let his surprise show when Jared doesn't blow a gasket at the hotel clerk over the mistake, as he usually would. In fact, Jared's weirdly calm acceptance of the situation might almost be considered suspicious if it weren't so convenient. And if Jensen didn't know better he might think Jared is kinda happy about this particular turn of events.

Because now they're actually sharing a living space for the first time in six years -- for the first time since that night Jensen never wants to think about again as long as he lives, although he recently shared it with Sam Winchester -- post-coitally, no less.

Life is definitely stranger than fiction.

Especially when fiction turns out to be real life.

Stop, Jensen scolds himself sharply as he unpacks his meager belongings and stows them in the hotel room closet. Not thinking about this.

The good thing is the room is a suite, so Jensen gallantly offers to take the sleeper-sofa in the sitting room and give Jared the king-size bed in the bedroom, so it's all good.

And the craziest thing about all of this is that Jared's continued presence isn't making Jensen all tense and uncomfortable like it usually does. In fact, if he's being completely honest with himself, he has to admit it's not miserable at all.

It's a little bit nice, actually.

*

They're supposed to be up early for the breakfast panel the next morning, so Jensen does his meditation and his yoga exercises, orders a salad and a glass of wine from room service, and turns in early.

He can hear Jared crashing around in the other room, doing typically noisy, physical things before slamming the door and leaving such complete silence in his wake Jensen finds himself straining to hear any lingering sound, just to give his ears something to do.

But it's no use. Jared has gone out, and Jensen can't be sure whether he should be feeling relief or disappointment.

No way. There is no way he can be wishing Jared asked him to go with him. Not a chance.

He finishes his exercises, takes a nice long shower, puts on clean shorts and a tee-shirt and climbs into the sofa bed, turning out all of the lights except the one in the bathroom, hoping Jared can find his way in the gloom.

He's almost asleep when the door slams and Jared barrels around the other room for a few minutes, then softly opens the door from the bedroom. Jensen lies as still as he can, pretending to be deeply asleep, and Jared seems to stand for a long time in the doorway -- maybe letting his eyes adjust to the dimness? Because no way is he watching Jensen sleep, right? -- before he creeps across the room to go into the bathroom, banging his shin with a loudly whispered curse on the corner of the oddly-placed coffee-table.

"Fuck-shit-fuck-shit-fuck-shit!"

And Jensen falls asleep with a smile turning up his mouth and Jared's curse in his ears.

*

They manage to move around each other fairly gracefully in the morning -- well, gracefully isn't really a word Jensen would associate with Jared, but anyway.

They're escorted to the green room a half-hour before their morning appearance, and Jensen is on his third cup of coffee by the time they hit the stage, which is really more of a platform on one end of a bland, brown-and-beige conference room, designed for business conferences, not classic-rock-styled horror shows for denim-and-flannel-and-leather-clad t.v. fans.

It feels different now, doing their thing in front of an audience, knowing what Jensen now knows about the Supernatural world. As he looks out on the expectant, excited faces of his fans, he's wildly tempted to just tell them, imagines the looks on their faces and the collective gasp -- like Becky in that episode -- "I knew it!"

But he holds back, deciding it's probably not a good idea to go public with his experience in that other world. He's pretty sure the powers-that-be wouldn't hold it against him, would let him get away with it and chalk it up to just another of his eccentric behaviors (and he's pretty sure they're used to most of those by now).

But Jared might.

Not that he cares what Jared thinks. No, he really doesn't.

But he decides not to say anything anyway. Just because.

Jared's doing that flirty, handsy thing he does at convention appearances, and it's such a natural thing, their convention act, and Jensen's so used to doing it in public he lets his mind wander, doesn't even worry about it anymore the way he used to.

Except Jared seems to be touching him more than usual today, and when he looks over at his co-star, who's talking a blue streak as usual but has his hand on Jensen's arm like he's forgotten it's there, Jensen waits till Jared returns his gaze before dropping his eyes rather pointedly to the offending hand.

The audience titters as Jared looks down, seems to notice he's been touching Jensen non-stop for the past ten minutes, and actually looks surprised.

"Oh, sorry," he improvises -- and Jensen can tell he's really surprised, but the audience probably figures it's part of the show. "You looked like you needed a little contact."

He pulls his hand away, but a moment later he's got it back on Jensen's shoulder as he starts telling another story.

Jensen looks out at the audience and blinks. They laugh, of course, going along with what must seem natural and ordinary -- Jared and Jensen being such good friends in public, deliberately feeding into their fantasies that J2 is a thing. It's all part of the act Jensen and Jared have done a million times before over the years, vaguely suggestive but always family-friendly, never crossing that all-important line.

But this time Jensen is acutely aware of the weight and heat of Jared's hand, and he's pretty sure that it's intentional.

When they finally leave the stage, Jared leaves his hand on Jensen's back longer than necessary, after the doors close behind them and there's no one to see them anymore except the convention employees who couldn't care less.

*

There's a meet-and-greet after, followed by lunch with somebody from a media outlet who asks endless questions about Dean's motivations in the first half of the season and what the plans are for the second half of Season Ten. Jensen does his usual media thing through both meetings, ignoring his instinct to glance around the room until he can catch Jared's eye. He doesn't have to, cuz he can hear Jared loud and clear -- like he's right there under his nose, in fact, and yeah. Jensen's pretty sure he can smell him too. Guy sweats and huffs like a freakin' bull.

The afternoon photo-ops and panel go pretty much as expected. Jensen does more of his thing of pretending Jared's not being a little more solicitous than usual. Jared touches him way more than usual. But otherwise they get through it just fine -- the fans seem entertained and satisfied. Someone even comments that they seem so much closer than their characters this season, and it's nice to see.

Jared and Jensen exchange a look, and Jensen swears there's something real behind the smirk on his co-star's face for once, but he doesn't let him see that he sees.

Jared gets up, steps over and lays a big ol' hug on him, made awkward because of the angle; he has to practically bend in half to lean down far enough to do it. Jensen accepts the contact, sits absolutely still and stares all resigned at the audience, not quite rolling his eyes as he does, and they get the chorus of "awwwws" Jared was clearly going for while Jensen tries hard not to take a deep breath, not to pull too much of Jared's sweaty male scent into his system.

When they leave Jensen waits for Jared to say something nasty or cutting, to negate the display of fraternal affection as he so often does. Jensen's so used to Jared doing this that he's learned to prepare for it, to harden himself into a tight little shield against the snark he's used to getting from Jared.

But this time, Jared is silent. This time, there's none of that.

And instead of protecting himself, Jensen's thinking about what Sam told him. Then he thinks about Genevieve's weird accusations and Jared's behavior over the past week.

"What?" Jared demands as they make their way back to their room for showers.

Jensen shakes his head, but he leaves the little smile on his lips and in his eyes. He can feel it.

"Nothing," he says, and Jared frowns. "You're just -- different, is all."

Jared huffs out a breath as they pile into the elevator, just them and a couple of Creation bodyguard types, silent and bored.

"No more different than you," Jared returns. "You're like somebody else entirely."

"Yeah?" Jensen thinks about that. Did that other universe really affect him that much? Is he a changed man after that experience?

Is it so obvious to Jared?

"Yeah," Jared confirms. "Like somebody took down the big sign on your forehead that screamed 'kick me' all the time."

Jensen's eyebrows shoot up. Really? Everybody saw him as some kind of victim?

"Well, you're not so angry all the time," Jensen counters, because it's true. He hasn't witnessed one of Jared's usual temper tantrums all week.

"Huh," Jared thinks about that, then nods. "Maybe I am getting better dealing with my anger issues. I've been seeing someone."

Jensen looks at him in surprise. That he was not expecting, and it shouldn't make him feel a stab of jealousy, no sir.

Jared reads his look and shakes his head quickly.

"No, I mean I'm seeing a therapist," he clarifies, and Jensen does not breathe a sigh of relief, no way in hell.

"Oh," he says instead, and an awkward silence descends for the duration of the elevator ride.

And Jensen is really not thinking about his own reaction to the notion that Jared is dating someone. He really does not care, he tells himself repeatedly as they enter their rooms and he lets Jared have first dibs on the shower because Jared is a huge sweaty mess and Jensen isn't thinking about that. Or about how much washing Jared's gonna have to do to clean himself up.

No no no.

*

Jensen stayed in the night before because this is the night his friend's band is in town and he's promised himself he would go see them before he flies out in the morning.

He fully expects Jared to leave tonight, so he's surprised when Jared hovers around, orders food, turns on the t.v. It feels a little awkward -- no, a lot awkward -- to feel Jared's eyes on him every time he goes back and forth from the closet to the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt under his flannel, not deliberately but just because it feels comfortable. He's pumped and excited to get out, to see Steve and Chris and the band, to get that high that only live music gives him. Maybe he'll get to sing with them a little. They'll have an extra guitar and they'll go back to Steve's hotel after to jam, and he's really looking forward to getting lost in the music.

Jared's staring at him with an expression that's dark and brooding and hungry, and Jensen can't stand it.

"What?" he demands finally, stopping in front of Jared with a questioning gesture. "Aren't you flying out tonight?"

Jared lowers his eyes, shakes his head.

"Damn airline fucked up again," he says miserably. "I'm stuck here till morning."

Oh. Damn. Jared does have the worst luck with airlines, that's something Jensen cannot deny.

"So -- " he cannot believe what he's about to say. "Come out with me. I'm going to see KANE."

Jared shakes his head.

"I'll just be a nuisance," he protests. "They're your friends. They don't like me."

Actually, he has a point there. Steve and Chris are good friends, and they've been pretty protective of Jensen over the years, especially where Jared is concerned.

But this is Jensen's life. He gets to call the shots.

"Yeah, well, they're just being good buddies," Jensen says. "Watching out for me."

"They think I'm a jerk," Jared says.

Jensen shrugs.

"Well, you are," he says. "Or at least, you were. Not such a jerk right now, so come on out and have some fun. No sense being stuck here alone all night."

And damn it if Jared doesn't look so grateful it almost melts Jensen's heart.

Almost.

And that's how Jared and Jensen end up out on the town together in Seattle, crowding into the sweaty, noisy club where bodies are pressed wall-to-wall and they can't help being pressed up against each other, jostling their drinks and making their way to the stage, dancing together side-by-side as they move to the music.

Steve sees them right away, lifts his eyebrows in a smile, mouths "Jenny! My man!" then darts a worried look at Jared, frowns a little.

Jensen raises his glass in a mock salute, shrugs as he tips his head toward Jared, big grin plastered ear-to-ear because damn! This feels good!

Chris sees them too, glares pointedly at Jared, changes the set list so that the next song is about an abusive relationship.

Not subtle, that Christian Kane, Jensen thinks with a little smirk and a glance at Jared, who obviously gets it and actually has the decency to look a little chagrined.

Well. That's different.

Two or three drinks later, Jensen's more than ready when Chris welcomes him up onto the stage to sing, offers him his guitar. When the band launches into "The Weight," Jensen feels Jared's eyes on him, feels him standing still among all the moving bodies, just watching.

Half-way through the song, Jensen looks up at his co-star, makes eye contact just long enough to acknowledge Jared's offer of a truce, if not an apology. And in the moment, as Jared looks back his gratitude, Jensen lets the warmth of real connection flood his chest for the first time in years.

And just like that, without exchanging a single word, he knows they're gonna be okay.

Not best friends, maybe, but no longer sworn enemies.

*

Later, when they tumble into taxis for the ride back to the hotel, Jared's plastered to his side, and Jensen realizes he's not anxious or nervous around Jared anymore. Hasn't been for the whole week since he got back, actually. The past is finally in the past, and he and Jared have really moved on.

It's almost like that night all those years ago never even happened.

Because before that, they were real buddies. They hit it off. They enjoyed each other's company and spent every waking minute together, those first three years or so. Lived together and everything.

Until Jensen had to go and spoil it all by getting drunk and hitting on Jared too hard one night and Jared freaked out and --

Not thinking about that now.

Because now it's good again for the first time in over six years, and Jensen definitely doesn't want to spoil it again.

Ever.

CHAPTER THREE - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 3

When they wake up the next morning it's snowing. Jared's already up, showered, has the coffee going. Hands Jensen a cup and gives him the weather report while he's still in bed, rubbing his eyes and blinking at the white light from the window as Jared draws the shade.

"Blizzard," Jared is saying, flipping on the t.v. so Jensen can see the weather report for himself. "I already checked with the airport. Planes are grounded. All flights canceled. This entire city is just shut down, man. It's a nightmare."

"How long?" Jensen asks, clearing his throat and trying to sit up, which isn't easy with how groggy he feels and a cup of hot coffee in his hand.

"They think it'll pass by later today," Jared answers. "Or just turn to rain. But they've got to get the roads cleared. Seattle never deals well with snow. They don't have the equipment."

"What about Portland?" Jensen suggests. "Is it snowing there?"

Jared shakes his head.

"Just here, of course."

"So we drive to Portland, catch our flights from there," Jensen suggests, running his free hand through his hair. "I'm hitting the shower. You get us a car rental."

And just like that, they're moving in sync again.

It feels so natural, like the way they work when they're on set, and Jensen takes a minute as he's soaping himself up in the shower to be grateful for Jared's sudden cordiality. It makes their current situation about a million times easier. If they deal with this together, the whole thing becomes manageable, not such a monumental pain in the ass.

More of a slightly-less-than-monumental pain in the ass.

And Jared not arguing or blowing him off when Jensen asks him to do something -- that's so new it feels strange, but also a huge relief. Because there was a time, long ago, that Jared really looked up to Jensen, really admired him and wanted his approval all the time. Jensen doesn't even want to think about how much he misses that. How much he liked playing Jared's big brother. How natural it felt, not like acting at all.

And if Jensen finds himself jerking off in the warm water because thinking about Jared as he washes himself has made him hard as a rock, well -- that's just a necessary part of helping himself relax and prepare for the stress of the day to come -- since he won't have time for his usual yoga and tai-chi exercises if he's stuck in a car with Jared.

Being stuck in a car with Jared somehow doesn't sound as bad as he expected it would, and he comes hard thinking about how Jared smells in closed-in spaces, something he's intimately familiar with after almost ten years on this show.

*

When they pick up the car it's not the four-wheel drive vehicle they would have preferred -- every car rental company in Seattle is out of those right now, apparently. So they find themselves crammed into a late-model Chevy Impala, of all things. It's billed as a family sedan, but the leg-room is nowhere near enough for two tall men, and Jared insists on driving because he's damned if he's going to fold his long legs into the passenger seat leg-well and just sit there.

Jensen doesn't mind giving Jared control. He figures it'll be a chance for him to get a little more shut-eye. Plus Jared has had more experience driving in snow than Jensen has, since he did a lot of skiing in Colorado growing up.

It's a slow drive getting out of the city, and Jared curses a lot and slams the flat of his hand against the steering wheel so much Jensen gives up on sleeping for the first hour or so.

But then they're on I-5 and at least they seem to be moving, albeit at a snail's pace, and Jensen finds he can nod off to the soothing sound of the windshield wipers slapping the glass, the tires sloshing through slushy snow as they move slowly but steadily southward down the interstate.

*

"Fuck!"

Jared's cursing has been going on awhile, Jensen realizes as he starts awake after what must be at least another hour or so because he's stiff and his mouth is dry from hanging open.

"Fuck! Goddamn it! Fuck!"

Jared's hand slams against the steering wheel for emphasis.

Jensen takes a deep breath, closes his mouth and salivates deliberately before pushing himself away from the window he was leaning on and sits up, blinking and rubbing his eyes.

Outside the car everything is white.

The snow has blanketed the trees on either side of the road as well as the road in front and behind them.

The road is completely empty of cars.

This is not I-5, Jensen realizes. They're on some kind of two-lane mountain road, as far as Jensen can tell, and they are totally alone.

"Where are we?" he asks, tamping down the panic rising in his chest.

"My phone said I could take this short-cut," Jared explains with a gesture at the road. "I-5 was so jammed and I was afraid we were gonna get stuck so I took this side-road and -- "

The car is still moving, tires crunching on packed snow, but nobody has plowed this road, and the snow is getting steadily deeper, and --

"Turn back," Jensen says, glancing over his shoulder at the way they came. "We can turn back."

"It's been just like this for the past hour," Jared shakes his head. "Except now the snow is getting really deep and I think if we turn around we'll just get stuck. My phone says it's only five miles on this road -- "

Jensen pulls out his phone, holds it up, and --

"You getting any signal?" he asks, because Jensen is not.

Jared says nothing, so Jensen turns to him, stares at the familiar profile.

Jared is staring resolutely at the road, jaw clenched, hands clutching the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles are white.

"Jay?" Jensen prods, struggling to keep the hysteria out of his voice.

Jared's jaw works angrily for a moment, then he gives a tiny shake of his head.

"Jared -- " Jensen lets a breath out, stares ahead for a minute to gather his wits, resisting the urge to start screaming. "You need to turn around right now, man. We're lost and we don't have a phone and there's nobody on this road. This -- "

He gulps down his panic, tries again.

"This isn't good," he finishes lamely.

"It was only five miles," Jared mutters, sounding bewildered and freaked-out at the same time, like somebody played a huge practical joke on him and he's just now getting to the punch line. "I just kept thinking one more mile, one more mile, we'll be there -- we'll get back to the main road -- "

"Jared," Jensen keeps saying his co-star's name as a way to steady himself as much as to get Jared's attention. "How many miles have we gone on this road?"

"Five miles," Jared's shaking his head, not answering. "It said five miles."

"Jared!"

Jared clamps his mouth shut, shakes his head again, glances at Jensen before staring back at the road.

"Thirty-seven miles," he answers softly, letting out a long sigh. His shoulders sag and he seems to deflate into himself, hunching over the wheel in defeat.

"Shit," Jensen breathes.

Which is when the car stops moving.

Jared tries gunning the engine, rocks the car back and forth, shifting from reverse to first.

Nothing. There is something like three feet of snow in the road all around them, and the wind is blowing drifts around the car and it's snowing heavily.

They're stuck.

"Okay," Jensen says when the it's clear the car isn't going anywhere. "So we wait for the plow."

He flips on the radio, searching for a station, but they're apparently out of range of all radio signals as well as cell-phone towers, which makes no sense. They might as well be on the moon.

"Did you ever pass another car on this road?" Jensen finally asks.

He has to turn and look at Jared again to get him to answer, and even then all he gets is Jared shaking his head again.

"Any houses? Any signs of life at all?"

Again with the head-shaking, and Jensen closes his eyes against the urge to blame, to start chastising and cursing and tearing into Jared for his stupidity and stubbornness in the face of his obvious mistake.

But he doesn't, because doing so will only make things worse, and Jensen doesn't need Jared breaking down or yelling at him right now.

Or starting to cry, for God's sake.

"Okay," Jensen tries when he's regained his zen and feels a little calmer. "This isn't supposed to last more than a few hours, right? So we stay here, run the heater off and on to keep warm, drink melted snow if we really need to, although we need to try to warm it before we drink it so we don't lower our body temperatures. We can put more clothes on. Layers are good."

"Huddle together for warmth as a last resort," Jared adds, and Jensen looks sharply at him but there's no sarcasm in Jared's expression. In fact, he looks so lost and young it makes Jensen's chest ache.

"Right," he agrees, giving Jared a little reassuring smile. "As a last resort."

They sit silently for a few minutes, watching the snow, which isn't showing any signs of letting up. If anything, it seems to be getting heavier, and Jensen begins to wonder if it might eventually bury the car completely.

The thought of being buried in snow is messing with Jensen's natural claustrophobia and he has to close his eyes and take deep breaths to fight it down. When he opens them again Jared is staring at him.

"We can walk out," Jared says, as if he's reading Jensen's mind. "It's only one o'clock in the afternoon. If we start now, head back toward the main road, we should be there in about six or seven hours."

Jensen raises his eyebrows.

"Really? We can walk five or six miles an hour? In heavy snow?" Jensen shakes his head doubtfully. "I don't know about you, pal, but that's my comfortable jogging rate on a smooth surface with no hills. Not sure I could pull off a jog in this stuff. Or keep it up for six hours straight."

Jared bites his bottom lip, nods.

"Right," he says. "I wasn't thinking about how the snow would slow us down."

"And freeze our butts off," Jensen adds helpfully. "We're not exactly dressed for this weather."

"Damn it!" Jared slams his hand against the steering wheel again. "What the hell was I thinking?"

"Well, I don't know," Jensen offers slowly, not wanting to piss Jared off, given their extremely tight proximity. "But like you said, you thought you were taking a short-cut. Accidents happen."

Jared stares at the snow silently for a moment, then turns to Jensen, frowning.

"You're not mad," he notes speculatively. "If our positions were reversed, I would be furious with you."

Jensen shrugs noncommittally.

"Getting mad doesn't help the situation," he notes easily. "And if our positions were reversed, I never would've taken that short-cut."

Jared snorts.

"No, you wouldn't," he agrees. "You never do anything unless you're one-hundred-percent sure it will work first."

Jensen considers this for a moment.

"Are you telling me I don't take risks?" he suggests cautiously. "Cuz last time I checked, pretty much everything about our jobs is doing that."

"Not talking about the job," Jared grouses, looking away so Jensen's staring at his profile again.

"Oh?" Jensen pushes, although he has a prickly feeling that tells him he probably shouldn't. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Jared flushes, his skin reddening as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, and Jensen's suddenly thinking about what Genevieve told him, then what Sam told him, and suddenly Jensen's feeling a flush rise on his own skin and it's actually getting a little too warm in the car.

"Never mind," he mutters, as much to let Jared off the hook as to change the subject -- whatever the subject was supposed to be that he suddenly feels sure he doesn't want to talk about.

Because hell yes, he did take a risk all those years ago, and look where it got them?

Not not NOT going there.

*

They spend the next three hours waiting for the snow to stop. Jared gets out of the car a couple of times -- once to piss, once to dig out the back of the car using his duffel bag as a shovel, which doesn't really work very well but gives him something to do. They agree they should take turns doing this, since if the exhaust pipe becomes completely covered they could asphyxiate. Or at least that's what Jensen tells himself so that he has an excuse to get out of the damn car once in awhile. It's bitterly cold, and neither of them brought much in the way of extra clothing -- they always travel light when they do these weekend conventions -- but they each have an extra shirt they put on, and Jared has his beanie, so at least he's got something to cover his head, which he graciously loans to Jensen whenever it's his turn to get out of the car. Neither of them has appropriate footwear, and Jensen's expensive leather boots are soaked through after the first outing, as well as his jeans up to the knee, and he sits shivering and wet for ten minutes while Jared blasts the heat in the car to dry him but it doesn't really work and he feels like a damp dog. Pretty sure he smells like one too, cuz Jared does.

There's no food, of course, and neither of them has eaten since breakfast, so by late afternoon they're fighting off the first pangs of serious hunger and resisting the urge to drink melted snow just to give their bellies something to gnaw on. Luckily they have Jensen's Starbucks cup from that morning's coffee run, and Jared fills it with snow, then lets it sit in the car for an hour and melt, holding it in front of the heat vents until it's just water, without any ice left. They take turns sipping the cold water, and it does help their dehydration a little, but it also makes them hungrier.

Around 4:00 it starts to get dark. It's almost winter, after all, and the days are getting shorter. Which means, the night will be really, really long. The thought of sitting in the car all night is beginning to look inevitable, and not fun.

That's when Jared comes up with the idea that ends up changing everything.

"We could walk back a mile or two, see if we can get cell service," he suggests.

Jensen thinks about this as he watches the thickening, blowing snow, the darkening sky.

"I'll go," he says, hunching his jacket around him and preparing to launch himself out into the blizzard.

"Hell, no!" Jared retorts. "We both go. I can't stay here while you're out there in that."

Jensen turns the full force of his gaze on Jared, who looks a little desperate along with his usual bitchiness.

"One of us should stay in case the plow comes," Jensen points out. "Maybe it'll come from the opposite direction, you know?"

"So I'll go," Jared insists. "I've got a head covering. You'll lose body heat faster. Also I'm bigger. Hotter."

Jensen's bites back the sassy response he would've delivered if the situation weren't so dire.

"How long do you think it'll take before you freeze to death?" Jensen asks. "Outside, I mean. How long do you think it'll take before you just drop from exposure?"

"I dunno," Jared shrugs. "Maybe a couple of hours, maybe more if I can keep moving."

"So you would walk for an hour, then turn around and come back," Jensen clarifies, and Jared nods.

"That's right," he agrees. "Be back in two hours."

Jensen considers this, imagines being alone in the cold car, waiting for Jared to come back, for two whole hours. He knows instinctively that Jared will push himself and it will be longer. Jared won't be able to help himself. He'll get out there and he'll keep going, telling himself that any minute he'll get that signal. If he can just walk for five more minutes --

And what if he doesn't come back? What if the two hours go by and there's no Jared? Then three or four hours --

Jensen's talking himself out of this plan pretty quickly.

Then the car runs out of gas.

"Seriously?"

Jared tries to start the car for a minute, clearly not facing the obvious -- which Jensen had assumed would be happening at some point but really hadn't wanted to think too much about because without the engine the car's battery would only last another hour at most and then they'd be facing a long night in a freezing car and Jensen had not wanted to think about the inevitability of that because it just didn't help anything.

Jared slams his hand against the steering wheel, against the dash, against the door and window -- and Jensen waits it out, lets Jared just bang out his frustration on the car until he's done, breathing hard, shoving his hair out of his face and finally turning a desperate, half-crazed stare on his co-star.

For a minute Jensen thinks he's going to break down -- say he's sorry, maybe, or start to cry -- but he just stares at Jensen with an expression so lost and bewildered and young that it reminds Jensen of the kid he was when they first met, how he looked up to Jensen then and treated him like a big brother.

Until Jensen betrayed that trust by trying to seduce him.

"We both go," Jensen says now, holding Jared's gaze steadily, willing him to remember how things used to be between them, how Jared always trusted Jensen's judgement and assumed Jensen knew best.

Not that he really did, of course, but Jensen's good at being steady when he needs to be. And right now, in this situation, he needs to be really, really steady.

Even if he's freaking out on the inside.

"We can't just sit here," Jensen tries again. "And I'm not letting you go out there alone. So we both go, we spend an hour trying to find a signal, then we turn around and come back here for the night. Try to stay warm."

Jensen watches Jared's face as he considers their options now that the car has completely died on them, or at least will be completely dead within the hour, even if they ration the heat. Jensen can see the moment Jared agrees to his plan, agrees to let Jensen come with him, even if it means they'll both freeze to death out there, with night coming on fast.

Having something to do, not just sitting still anymore, gives both of them a lift. It's not much of a plan -- walking for an hour at most, they promise themselves, before giving up and coming back to the shelter of the car, where they'll wait out the night huddled together for warmth, and Jensen is enough of a perv to let his mind imagine the scene because they'll probably have to take off some clothing and go skin to skin in the backseat to maximize their body heat and take turns moving around to keep all surfaces covered and keep the blood flowing through their limbs.

Even so, without adequate clothing and blankets -- Jensen can hear his grandfather's voice in his head, reminding him never to drive out into the country anywhere without blankets and flashlights and water and an empty gas can in the trunk and now he's done exactly that and he's let his grandfather down and it hurts almost as much as the idea of freezing to death in the back of a Chevy Impala in the middle of a freak snowstorm somewhere in Washington state.

Jensen can imagine the headline when they're found half-naked and frozen to death in the back of that car, and maybe that's what drives him out into the snow in the first place. He really doesn't want to end that way.

"Let's do it," Jared shivers once they're side-by-side in the blizzard, staring back down the snow-covered road, blinking against the icy snow blowing in their faces.

Jensen has wrapped his extra shirt around his head, pulls it over his face and tucks it in, leaving only his eyes exposed to the freezing wind. He's put his extra socks on his feet, so his hands are bare, but he tucks them into his armpits, under his jacket as they begin trudging down the road.

The snow is knee-high and shifting, so that they sink with every step, and it's agonizingly slow-going and exhausting, but the car disappears behind them after about ten minutes. They stop every five minutes or so to check for cell service, but by the end of the allotted hour Jensen's phone battery is dangerously low. Neither of them wants to turn back at that point, and now it's getting seriously dark, but the snow is bright and they can still see the road ahead of them so they keep going, never stopping to question whether it's the right thing to do. It's too windy to talk anyway, and it's better to stay huddled in their meager clothing, not try to lift their faces out of their jackets long enough to speak.

After another hour has passed Jensen can't feel his feet anymore and he stumbles. Jared's right there, helping him up, big strong hands on his bicep, around his back, hauling him up. Jensen's amazed to find he can still stand on his own, because he's suddenly aware of feeling incredibly tired, overwhelmingly drowsy.

Jared pulls out his phone, checks it as they stand huddled together, breathing each other's air for warmth.

Jared's eyes lift to Jensen's and he shakes his head, then leans in so his lips are close to Jensen's ear.

"We should head back," he yells against the wind.

Jensen wants to answer no, he thinks he'll just lie down in the soft snow right here and take a nap, thank you, but he can't feel his lips anymore. Can't feel his ears. Can't feel his cheeks or fingers or thighs -- in fact his lower entire body all the way to his waist is beyond numb, beyond cold, starting to feel warm and cozy again. But vaguely painful too.

It's weird, freezing to death. Jensen wonders distantly if his mind will register when it really happens, or if he'll be asleep by then. He imagines he's already frost-bitten, and it makes him sad to think of all the attention lavished on his face over the years, since a huge part of his job as a t.v. actor was to have perfect skin and teeth and regular features. All that, so that his nose and ears and lips and cheeks would go black with frostbite.

What an asshole he must be to be thinking about his looks at a time like this.

He's aware of turning around, heading back the way they came, back to the relative protection of that shitty car -- feeling defeat in every step, even if he can't feel his feet.

Ha. Making puns is good. Jokes at a time like this are good.

They've walked forever, all night it feels like, and he's vaguely aware that Jared is holding him up, Jared's arm is around his back, Jared's hand is still on his bicep and he wishes he could feel it because he always wants to feel Jared's hands on him, he always loves it when Jared touches him. Jensen's so sleepy he can't hold his head up anymore, so he lets it fall onto Jared's shoulder, leaves it there and closes his eyes.

Jared doesn't seem to notice for awhile, but finally he stops, shakes Jensen a little, calls his name directly into his ear.

And Jensen tries to open his eyes, he really does, but there are icicles on his eyelashes and raising his eyelids feels like the hardest thing he's ever had to do. He does it though, for Jared, so he can look up into Jared's wind-chapped face, Jared's own eyelashes dusted with snow, his soft hazel eyes with the worried lines around the corners.

"Stay awake!" Jared yells at him over the wind. "Come on, man, don't pass out on me. I can't carry you in this!"

"It's okay," Jensen tries to say, but his mouth is frozen and he's not sure if any sound comes out. "I'll just lie down here and wait. You can come back for me later."

He's sinking down into the soft snow and it feels warm, like the softest blankets, and Jensen is so sleepy all he can think about is lying down and resting here where the snow is so deep and almost warm --

Jensen can hear Jared yelling his name, and he can sort of feel Jared pulling on him, trying to get him to stand up, but it's just no use. Jared needs to just leave him here, he thinks. Why can't he just leave him here? Just for a little while?

"Jensen! Come on!" Jared is kneeling down in the snow next to him, yelling right into his ear. "There's a house! I can see a house! Come on, man. It's right over here -- just a few steps away! You can lie down there! Come on, Jen, just a little further, man. Please! Please don't do this to me!"

Jensen tries to smile at him, reassure him that he's okay, it's all okay. He's fairly sure that Jared is exaggerating. Things aren't that dire. Jared can go, and Jensen can stay, and it will all be better in the morning after Jensen has had a good night's sleep.

But he knows he's dying too, cuz he can feel the pain every once in awhile, and also he knows he's cold, it just likes to trick him into feeling he's warm, and his grandfather's voice is there saying "Jensen Ross, I did not work so hard for this family so that you can lie down in the snow and go to sleep on the job. No sir, I did not."

And Jensen is trying. He knows he owes it to his pioneer ancestors who worked so hard to make a hard-scrabble living out of the Texas dust and dirt and Remember-the-Alamo history, goddamn it.

But it feels so good to lie in the soft snow, and all Jensen wants is a little rest --

That's when Jared gets belligerent.

"Jensen Ross Ackles, you get up right this minute, you hear me? You get your lame ass up right now!"

Jensen tries to turn his head so he can look at Jared for the last time -- he's so beautiful and Jensen doesn't want to forget how beautiful Jared is -- he wishes he could have told him so. Jared knows he's good-looking, of course, but to Jensen he's just perfect. He will carry this image of that beautiful perfect person with whom he had the good fortune of being cast to his grave.

Because Jensen always knew it was some kind of strange fate that brought him and Jared together. There was something magical at work. Something --

Something supernatural.

Okay, he said it.

Or thought it, at least. And now, thinking it makes it real, isn't that what they said in the show? If enough people believed something was real, it could be literally brought into existence?

And Jensen was there, in that world. He and Sam Winchester were together, even if it was only a lonely substitute for the person they both wished to be with -- their worlds collided, man. That was what happened. Sam and Jensen were a thing, if only for a week or so. Sam Winchester was real.

"Sam -- "

Jensen opens his eyes -- just a crack -- and finds Sam there, looking down, all naked and hard muscles and scars and soft hazel eyes boring into his --

"Don't you die on me, Jensen," Sam says sternly, frowning at him with that intense gaze that is uniquely Sam's. "Don't you dare die on me, man."

Jensen smiles, just a little, because it's beyond wonderful to see Sam. Jensen has been missing him, these past couple of weeks.

"You were right," he says softly. "I never stopped loving him.

"You were right."

CHAPTER FOUR - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 4

Voices. Jensen can hear voices. One is familiar -- one is Sam -- no, it's Jared. Jensen can hear the edge in the voice that tells him it's Jared.

The other voice is a woman's, but it's the gravelly, ornery voice of an old woman -- or a smoker. Both, maybe.

"We need to get all these wet, cold clothes off him," she's saying. "Warm him up slowly."

Jensen can smell wood burning, and it's a good smell. Comforting. He can see light through his eyelids too, but he's too tired to open his eyes. The snow has stopped, and somehow he knows he's inside, not lying in the soft snow anymore, but laid out on something firm and slightly elevated. A couch, maybe. Somebody is tugging and pulling on his clothes, and he wants to wake up enough to help but he just can't. He's so tired, so sleepy --

"I can't get his boots off," Jared is whining. "The laces are frozen solid."

"Here, I'll do it," the woman's voice says. "You go warm up your hands. Run them under cool water, then gradually warmer water. Not too hot! You'll literally burn yourself!"

Jensen senses Jared moving away and it makes him tense on the inside. He wants Jared to stay close. Some stranger is pulling his clothes off and he wants Jared, damn it.

"You boys really did a number on yourselves," the old woman is muttering as she pulls and tugs on Jensen's boots. "Another hour out in this and you'd both be frozen solid. Whose damn fool plan was it to leave your car again?"

"Mine," Jared answers from the kitchen sink, where he's running water over his hands. "We were trying to find cell service."

Somehow Jensen knows they're in a house. He remembers Jared saying something about seeing one, so now they must be inside it. And it must belong to this strange woman and she let them in, two tall frozen under-dressed dudes with icicles hanging off of them. She must've taken pity on them and actually allowed them to come into her home.

What the hell is she doing living up here in these woods, anyway?

"Well, you're lucky you found my place, that's all I can say." She's finally got Jensen's boots off, peels the socks off after. "Your friend here is on the edge of losing his toes."

She does something else, down at his feet, and Jensen thinks he hears water splashing, then he feels pressure, so maybe she's wrapping his feet in a wet wash cloth or something.

"I don't have a real way to treat hypothermia except to get dry clothes and blankets on him and hope for the best," she says. "He probably needs to be in a hospital, but you boys can't go anywhere until this storm stops. Where are you from, anyway?"

"Texas," Jared says, and his voice is closer now, so Jensen relaxes a little, knowing he's right there, tugging on his jacket, sitting Jensen up as he pulls it off, laying him down gently so he can pull off his button-down.

"Two Texas boys lost in a Washington snowstorm," the old woman is muttering. "Now I've heard everything."

Her voice is moving away, muttering about getting more blankets, and Jared is working on Jensen's jeans, trying to get his freezing fingers to work so he can get the button undone, pull down the zipper.

Jensen opens his eyes. There's no way he can sleep through Jared taking his pants off. Been waiting for -- well, for fucking-ever -- for that to happen.

Jared looks up, meets his eyes, smiles a little, looking all nervous and anxious. His hair is wet and his face is red with cold but the icicles are gone. His own clothes look pretty wet though, and it's obvious he needs to get out of his own wet clothes but he's tending to Jensen first and it makes Jensen's chest ache.

"Hey," he croaks out, trying to smile, reaching down to cover Jared's hands with his own. The old woman has wrapped his hands in what looks like strips of old wet dishtowels, and he can't feel a thing so it's a useless gesture, but Jared gets it. He stops what he's doing for a minute, takes a long shaky breath and closes his eyes.

"Thought you were dying, Jen," he breathes quietly. "Thought you were gonna die out there and leave me."

He opens his eyes, finds Jensen still gazing at him, and that's when Jared starts to shiver.

"Here, let me do that," the voice of the old woman says, and then she moves into Jensen's view and she's this little wizened thing in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and almost-white hair with these piercing blue eyes and her arms full of blankets.

"Well look who's awake!" she exclaims when she sees Jensen looking up at her. "And isn't he a handsome one. Well, that's something. It must be my birthday."

She puts the blankets down, pushes Jared aside, unbuttons and unzips Jensen's jeans and pulls them off with more strength than a woman her size should have.

"Don't worry," she assures Jensen, as if he had it in him to resist. "I have two sons and I've had two husbands, so there's nothing I haven't already seen.

"There, now we can get these blankets on him," she mutters, pulling blankets up and over and around Jensen, tucking them in as tightly as she can without rubbing on his skin.

Not that he can feel a thing anyway.

"Now you -- " she glances up at Jared as she's tucking. "You get your wet clothes off. Strip down to your tee-shirt, your shorts -- just like Romeo here -- then you can get under the covers with him and you two can just warm each other up. That's the best way. No warm bath yet -- this fella's too sleepy for that, plus the shock might give him a heart-attack. So just body heat for awhile. You can sleep. I'll make you some warm soup for when you wake up."

Jared's already pulling his wet clothes off, and Jensen's drifting in and out of sleep, half-watching because he really doesn't want to miss Jared getting undressed in front of him, but he's so sleepy --

"Thank you, Ms. -- " Jared hesitates, obviously doesn't know her name, and she fills in as she heads into the kitchen.

"Winchester," the old woman says. "Like the rifle. Donna Winchester."

Now Jensen can pass out.

*

He wakes up because his skin is on fire. Literally. All over.

Jensen tries to move his arms and legs but he's pinned down, immovable. He's wrapped up in blankets and Jared, whose arms and legs are all around him, holding him close against his ridiculously over-heated tree-trunk of a body, sound asleep with the blankets around them both.

It should be hot, should be Jensen's best fuckin' wet-dream ever, but Jensen's in so much pain he can't squeeze even an ounce of pleasure out of this. The fire feels like it's under his skin, burning its way out -- no, more like fire ants, scratching their way out -- either way it's what he imagines Hell feels like and it's fuckin' awful.

"Mrumpf," he tries to curse, tries to push against Jared's huge, sleeping frame, feels tears smarting his eyes and running down his cheeks and the salt stings like a son-if-a-bitch. "Goddamn it!"

Jensen's lips are cracked and painful, his cheeks and chin and nose feel like they're being rubbed with sandpaper -- no, raw sand. And when he tries to wiggle his way out of Jared's embrace it feels like his skin is rubbing off.

"Fuck, Jay! Wake up! Fuck!"

Then Jared moves and it's even worse; Jensen can't control the scream that rises out of his throat and Jared's eyes snap open and his face is literally right there, so that Jensen is pretty sure Jared had his chin resting on Jensen's head and they were sleeping with Jensen's face pretty much pressed into Jared's warm throat only now he's like a furnace and Jensen feels consumed by heat and it's too much -- he's suffocating and burning up and the ants are crawling all over him, stinging and biting and --

"Wuh -- "

Jared blinks, moves awkwardly, seems to understand that Jensen is in serious pain -- finally! -- and moves his gargantuan limbs so that he's getting up off the couch backwards, murmuring "damn it, oh god, sorry, shit, fuck" and blushing all over himself like he's beyond embarrassed to wake up to find himself wrapped around Jensen like a giant squid.

He stumbles a little and ends up on his ass on the floor, and Jensen gets a glimpse of the source of Jared's embarrassment in the rather sizable tent in Jared's shorts before Jared grabs a blanket to cover himself, cursing again.

If Jensen wasn't in so much pain he would probably say something snarky and smirky, and it's tempting even though Jensen can't think straight because the ants are literally playing lawn croquet just under the surface of his skin --

"How're you boys doing in here?"

It's Mrs. Winchester, bless her bat-shit-crazy little heart, standing in the doorway with two cups of something steaming in her hands.

Jared looks up at her from his sitting position on the floor -- now he's cross-legged and has the blanket in his lap -- and he's using that Sam Winchester sincerity thing and it makes him look so goddamn cute Jensen wants to puke (except the ants are still marching seventeen-thousand by seventeen-thousand so it's kinda hard) --

"I made you some soup," the old woman is saying, coming into the room and setting the mugs down on the coffee table. She looks at Jensen, who is wincing and sweating with pain, and murmurs, "Well, you're looking better. I'll bet it hurts, doesn't it?"

Goddamn right it does, Jensen thinks but is too consumed with his efforts to avoid screaming in agony to say anything coherent.

"I'll get you some Tylenol," Mrs. Winchester -- Donna, his brain provides helpfully -- says. "Now that your blood is moving again you can try sipping this soup, warming yourself up on the inside. Take it slow, though. You don't want to overdo it."

She looks down at Jared and shakes her head.

"You did good, son. His skin is looking better. Now that the feeling is back he's gonna be very sensitive for awhile, so don't touch him. Any friction on his skin will cause terrible pain. But pain is a good thing. As long as there's pain, the nerves are still functioning."

She smiles at Jensen.

"Which is a good thing, beautiful, because we wouldn't want the doctors to have to cut off any of those perfect features now, would we?"

Jensen stares at her, tries to say something but his lips are cracked and the ants are tap-dancing on his face now.

He's relieved when she leaves, comes back in a few minutes with the pills and a glass of water, hands them to Jared.

"Have him drink something first," she instructs. "He's dehydrated. Then he can take the pills and sip the soup if he's up to it. I'm going to bed, but if you boys need anything, you just holler. I'm a pretty light sleeper these days, have been ever since my Jack passed away."

"Thank you, Ms. Winchester," Jared remembers his manners, and the old woman smiles approvingly.

"It's Mrs.," she corrects. "Proud to be Mrs. John Henry Winchester, I'll tell you. Love of my life, best thing that ever happened to me, marrying that man, even if it took most of my life to find him."

The old woman shakes her head, smiling at memories and only half-aware that anyone's listening.

"We found each other late in life, my Jack and me," she explains. "Both of us married and divorced, six kids between us, all grown now. I have eight grandchildren, he has two. We were old already -- in our sixties -- but we both knew it when we met. This was the one. This was finally the one we were both meant to be with."

She glances at Jared, then at Jensen, and a little smile touches her lips.

"You're both young," she says almost wistfully. "You don't yet see how short life is. When I was your age, I'm not sure I would've recognized Jack like I did when I got older. I was so full of myself, believing I was something or somebody, and a man like Jack who was so simple and steady and good -- I just wouldn't have realized how special that is. I thought I needed Heathcliff. I thought I needed some star-crossed passionate tragedy."

She shakes her head, looks at them both, and Jensen's trying to listen -- really, he is! But the ants --

The old woman startles a little, yanking herself out of her own memories. She makes a dismissive gesture and turns to leave the room.

"I'm off to bed," she says. "You two need your rest too. Just holler if you need anything. I'll leave the fire going -- you're welcome to keep feeding it if you want to. You know a little about wood stoves?"

She spends another minute or two showing Jared how to stoke the fire, then leaves them alone again, casting one last glance at Jensen, her expression speculative and pensive.

"You really are the prettiest thing I ever saw," she mutters, half to herself. "God's gift, no doubt about that."

She winks at Jared, and Jensen wonders if he got it wrong and she actually does know who they are.

Because up until that moment he was pretty sure she didn't have a clue about them. And why would she? There's no t.v. in the house, she's not part of the demographic their show appeals to -- well, apart from being female, of course -- and she seems to be completely unself-conscious about the fact that her name, and her husband's name, are too coincidental to be real.

Just fiction being stranger than life again, Jensen thinks. Nothing new there.

It's twenty minutes after the Tylenol finally kicks in and Jensen's managed to sip a little of the soup that the ants finally settle down and let him fall heavily, deeply, and blissfully asleep.

*

He sleeps for hours.

At some point Jensen becomes conscious enough to hear Jared and the old woman talking. She's telling Jared about her husband, who looked like Clint Eastwood and died of a sudden heart-attack five years ago, after ten years of marriage. He was a former rancher and farmer whose family had been original pioneers to this area in the 1850s, but he had lost the farm in the early sixties and moved his family to Portland, where he became an executive with the power company, a job he hated. After his divorce he retired early, moved back to the area his family had first homesteaded, built this cabin and became a beekeeper along with his youngest son, who had inherited the business from his maternal grandfather.

Donna's story was different. She had been an actress of some success, had lived twenty-five years in Los Angeles before moving home to the Seattle area, where her sister still lived. There she had met Jack Winchester, and her life had forever changed. Now she lives alone in the house they had shared for ten years, driving down to the public library in town for audio books, which she listens to as she paints and knits and does her housework. Audio books are the best, she tells Jared, because they're performed by actors who have wonderful read-aloud voices. She has several she listens to over and over, but one of her favorites is "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, read by Patrick Stewart.

"Now there's an actor whose voice I will never get tired of listening to," she tells Jared.

Besides, her eyes are getting bad, so it's easier for her to listen to the books than to read them.

"They keep me company," she says. "It's like having someone else in the house."

At some point she asks Jared what he does, and Jared tells her.

"Well, that explains the pretty faces," she nods. "And why you too are both so skinny. What t.v. shows have you been in? Not that I would know them -- I haven't watched t.v. in fifteen years, at least. And it's been longer than that since I was in the business myself."

Jared briefly explains about the show, and she's impressed.

"You two are the leads?" she murmurs appreciatively. "That's a gig that's hard to get. Congratulations."

"Yeah," Jared's soft voice is warming Jensen's soul, and he's only half-listening to the words. "Here's the weird thing. Our characters are Sam and Dean Winchester. In the show. Our father is John Winchester."

Donna is silent for a moment, taking that in. Jensen can hear a metallic clicking sound, and he's pretty sure she's knitting.

"Well, isn't that something," she says finally. "You know what they say about coincidences."

"No, what?" Jared asks.

"They're spiritual puns," Donna nods sagely. "God's having a little joke here. Looks like this whole experience was designed to teach you two a lesson."

"A lesson?" Jared sounds confused. "About what? How not to get lost in a snowstorm?"

"Maybe," Donna says with what sounds like a small smile. "If there's one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's never to take anything for granted. It's all a gift. Be grateful. Don't let the good things pass you by. And don't miss the most important thing of all, because it's probably right under your nose and you're too busy taking it for granted to recognize it for what it is."

"Huh," Jared's nodding, and Jensen almost opens his eyes because he sorta wants to see Jared's face right now, to see whether he's looking at Jensen.

He thinks maybe he is.

CHAPTER FIVE - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 5

When Jensen wakes up again it's daylight, but still snowing. The white-out outside the windows is still blowing, and he pulls the blankets around himself instinctively as he moves to sit up, holding his head against the throbbing ache there.

Jared's asleep, sprawled across an armchair on the other side of the room, his head tipped back, exposing his long neck, covered with another day's beard. He's wearing some loose-fitting jeans that are too short for him, a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pullover sweater and heavy wool socks.

He looks a little ridiculous in the ill-fitting clothes, but it warms Jensen's chest to see him looking so vulnerable and wiped out. It's a rare thing to see his hyper-energetic co-star actually sleeping, and Jensen doesn't mind the view one bit.

He reaches for the glass of water on the table, wincing against the soreness in his muscles, the tingling in his fingers and toes. He holds one hand up in front of his face, wiggles the fingers experimentally. Everything still works, he's grateful to see, and he can even feel the tips of his fingers. At least on the right hand. The left is calloused from guitar playing, so that's just normal. The fingers look a little red with cold, and they itch a little, but it's not bad. Same with his toes, he finds as he lifts the blanket to take a look. Somebody put heavy wool socks on his feet, and they actually feel warm, not too itchy or tingly either, so he figures he's good.

Dodged the bullet. Again.

Luck does seem to follow him around, Jensen thinks, considering all the good things he has to be grateful for.

Nothing like poor old Dean Winchester, the schmuck.

"You're awake!"

It's Donna, coming into the room from the kitchen with a plate of sandwiches. She smiles at him, puts down the plate and a glass of milk on the coffee table.

"How are you feeling?"

"Better," Jensen croaks, then clears his throat and tries again. "Better. Uh -- thank you. For everything."

Donna shrugs, gestures dismissively.

"You don't have to thank me," she insists. "Nobody but a monster would've let you boys freeze to death out there. I'm just glad you found my house. That feels like some kind of miracle, I gotta say. I'm back from the road a ways. Nobody ever finds this place."

Jensen reaches for the milk, takes a sip, realizes he's starving and puts it down so he can reach for the sandwich. The blankets slip down and he realizes he's not wearing a shirt. He doesn't remember getting that naked, and he blushes a little.

"Your color is coming back," Donna notes, then recognizes his discomfort for modesty and smiles. "Your clothes are in the dryer. So are his, so I gave him some of my husband's old clothes. I'll go get you some if you're ready to get dressed."

"Thank you," Jensen says through a mouthful of the best sandwich he's ever tasted in his entire life, even if it does have turkey and cheese on it.

Donna smiles, nods toward Jared.

"He was up most of the night, just watching you," she says softly, so as not to wake Jared. "You're pretty important to him, anybody can see that."

She leaves again, to rustle up some clothes for Jensen, and he finds himself enjoying his non-vegan meal way too much, so that he's not even aware that Jared's awake and staring at him until he finally lifts his eyes from his plate as he finishes the food and reaches for the milk again.

"You're eating meat," Jared states, like it isn't obvious. "And dairy."

"Starving," Jensen answers defensively. "Starving men can't afford to be picky about what they eat."

Jared snorts, shakes his head, and mutters something about how he "never believed it anyway."

Donna comes back with a shirt and sweater and another pair of jeans for Jensen, then leaves again, making some comment about trying the phone to see if it's working yet.

"She has a phone?" Jensen asks as he pulls on the clothes, wincing only a little as they rub against his sensitive skin.

"Land line," Jared nods. "It's been down, though. She thinks she can take her snowmobile and head down the mountain for help once the snow stops."

Jensen gazes silently out the window for a minute, then looks back at Jared, clears his throat.

"I guess you sort of saved my life last night, like the song says," he notes awkwardly. "Thanks."

"You don't ever have to say that," Jared deadpans. "Not to me."

Jensen feels his face crack into a smile, looks down at his hands, shakes his head a little.

"Yeah, well, I do, actually, because you're not Sam, and you didn't have to do what you did."

"Yeah, I did," Jared answers firmly. "Jensen, I know I've been an asshole these past few years, but you have to understand, I never stopped caring about you. I -- "

He hesitates for a second, and Jensen looks up, watches Jared's face as he struggles to find words to express his mixed-up feelings.

"You are probably the most important person in my life, okay?" he says finally, catching Jensen's eyes so he knows Jared's being completely honest. "I think you always have been. I've just been too stupid and stubborn to admit it. Especially to myself. So -- "

Jared huffs out a laugh, stares out the window for a minute as he composes himself, and Jensen just watches him, thinking he will never grow tired of watching him.

"So this is me apologizing, okay? This is me saying I'm sorry for being such a jerk all those years. It was a really bad habit and I let it get too easy and it was just wrong, man. And I'm sorry if I hurt you -- "

"Shut up," Jensen says, putting a hand up to stop Jared's babbling, which is getting damned embarrassing. "You sound like a Taylor Swift song now."

Jared's face collapses into the most glorious grin, all dimples and sunshine, and Jensen has to struggle to keep from smiling right along with him.

Jared shakes his head, still grinning shyly for another minute, then lifts his eyes to Jensen. His eyes soften when he reads Jensen's expression, and he nods almost imperceptibly.

"So we're good?" he asks.

Jensen nods, squaring his jaw and raising his eyebrows in a look he's fairly sure Jared knows well.

"We're good," he agrees firmly, and he means it.

*

The snow finally stops mid-afternoon, and Donna bundles up and heads out on her snowmobile, leaving them with more sandwiches and instructions to keep trying the phone but for godssake to stay put.

Jared and Jensen play cards, Jensen does his yoga exercises, Jared goes outside -- bundled in appropriate borrowed outerwear this time -- and brings in more wood for the fire. They eat sandwiches and drink water, re-hydrating themselves thoroughly. They sit close at the kitchen table and rub shoulders when they move.

Jensen can't imagine sleeping anymore, but when Jared starts reading aloud to him from a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver he nods off, wakes up an hour later with his head on Jared's shoulder, almost cuddling with Jared on the couch in front of the wood stove.

It's getting dark, but Donna still hasn't returned.

Then the phone rings. The land-line phone in Donna's kitchen.

It's Donna, and she's fine, but the mountain road is closed and they're not letting her come back up, so she's going to stay in town for the night with her sister.

"There's plenty of food and water," she tells them. "And even a little whiskey in the cupboard, if you're up to it. I'll be up with the snow-plow first thing in the morning. You boys get your rest. You're welcome to sleep on my bed if you want; it'll probably be more comfortable than the couch."

Jared puts the phone down, turns and looks at Jensen, standing in the doorway listening to Jared's side of the conversation.

"Phone's up," he says unnecessarily. "We should call our families, let them know we're okay."

Jensen calls his mom, who is intensely relieved to hear from him; the speculation about what happened to them has been making her imagine the worst. Jensen feels terrible for putting her through that, explains about the snowstorm and the wrong turn and the dead cell-phones and Donna Winchester, and it's almost too much for Donna Ackles to take in. So Jensen promises he'll call her first thing when he gets back to civilization tomorrow, and hands the phone to Jared.

After Jared calls his folks he makes himself and Jensen another sandwich and they sit side-by-side on the couch, eating and listening to music on Donna's old-fashioned vinyl turntable. Their clothes have dried, but Jensen finds an old pair of sweatpants and a comfortable tee-shirt in Donna's drawers which must have belonged to her husband, who was clearly about Jensen's size. He finds a photograph of Jack Winchester on the bureau and studies it -- the long, lean, elderly gentleman looking back at him does indeed resemble Clint Eastwood; in the photograph he's carrying a rifle and looks defiantly into the camera, and Jensen is struck again by the weird way life and fiction seem to blend at times.

When he returns to the living room Jared is already into the whiskey. He pours a glass for Jensen and pulls out the scrapbook he found tucked into Donna's bookcase.

"Take a look at this."

He invites Jensen to join him on the couch with a pat to the place next to him, and Jensen complies, rubbing against Jared's shoulder as he takes the glass and sits down, letting Jared spread the book open across both their knees.

It's full of old newspaper and magazine clippings, along with a few publicity stills of a stunning young woman with strawberry-blond hair and blue eyes. Jensen stares at the photographs and sees the resemblance right away, recognizes the posed head-shots every actor is required to submit when going up for a role. The faded clippings go back to the late 1940s, when a young Donna Murray performed off-Broadway in New York, receiving rave reviews before obviously deciding -- or being told by somebody -- that she should be in Hollywood. The next few pages of the scrapbook contain call sheets for a variety of B-grade movies from the 1950s, most of which are long-forgotten now, black-and-white science-fiction films and second-rate detective and horror stories. Then, starting around 1954, there are clippings from local newspapers and magazines listing television programs, some mentioning a guest star named Donna Murray, some grainy photographs featuring television stages with a group of actors in costume, one of whom was probably Donna. Again, most of the shows are long-forgotten, second-rate and with short runs, but here and there is a mention of something impressive. Episodes of The Twilight Zone, Dragnet, and The Andy Griffith Show most notably.

In the sixties and seventies Donna's career was clearly winding down. She is mentioned in Variety as the wife of Walter Thomas, a studio executive for Twentieth-Century Fox, and they are pictured with their four children -- two girls and two boys. Donna still looks like a starlet, with all the trappings of the day -- perfect figure, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect posture and smile -- and she was clearly still working as a model and acting in commercials well into her forties. The last clipping in the book is of Donna posing for a magazine ad for Turbo-Clean, a floor-waxing product. The magazine is dated June, 1978, when Donna must have been about 46 years old.

"And that's all she wrote," Jared notes as he flips through the last few pages of the scrapbook, all empty and yellowing. He takes another sip of his whiskey as Jensen closes the book, feeling sad and reverent at the same time.

"So her marriage must've broken up right around that time," he suggests thoughtfully, taking a long sip of his own whiskey.

Jared nods.

"And then she moved here and started over," Jensen adds. "Brave lady."

"Her kids are probably still in California," Jared suggests. "It must make them crazy, her being a hermit in a cabin in the woods in Washington."

"If she was my mother I'd be a little afraid of her," Jensen admits. "She's pretty formidable. Maybe it's a good thing she moved so far away."

"Heh," Jared agrees with a chuckle, taking another sip of his drink.

He leans back against the couch, letting his knees splay open so that his left thigh is pressed to Jensen's, and Jensen resists the urge to pull away because it just feels so good. And because it feels like such a natural gesture, like Jared is just being comfortable, not sexual, and Jensen so much wants to be comfortable with Jared again, the way it used to be between them, all those years ago.

Before Jensen fucked it all to hell between them.

The whiskey is warming his insides and making everything a little hazy, but in a good way, and he barely notices when Jared slips his arm over the back of the couch, just leaning back and stretching his ginormous arms. And when Jared's left arm is suddenly warm against his shoulders because Jared has turned toward him a little, Jensen lets himself go with it and turns to meet Jared's eyes with a small, sad smile, still relaxed, still easy with the physical proximity that feels so normal again, thank God.

And when he holds Jared's gaze a moment longer than absolutely necessary, it still feels good, still feels like they're reclaiming that earlier bond, back when they were just good friends -- no, the best of friends. When they both felt they had found a kindred spirit and yeah, it was corny as hell but they were young and obviously had these unspoken, platonic crushes on each other and it made the job easier so they let it grow and grow and become something deeper until --

Jensen's not quite sure how Jared's face got so close, or how his hand is slowly sliding along Jensen's jaw, or how Jared's lowering his eyes to Jensen's lips and parting his own as if he had every intention of --

There's a split second when Jensen knows exactly what's happening, despite the whiskey and the euphoria of their newly reclaimed friendship -- Jensen knows exactly what's coming but he's letting it happen and the part of his brain that is screaming 'Yes! Finally!" is winning out over the years of self-discipline and denial and refusal to EVER go back to that other time, that moment when he had so badly screwed everything up between them.

But this time it's Jared who's leaning it, Jared who is holding Jensen's face steady so he could tilt his head to the right angle and slot their mouths together, and Jensen's letting him do it, knows with every fiber of his being that he's allowing Jared to kiss him, not resisting as he should, not protesting and pushing away.

The moment their lips meet, Jensen's propelled back to that other time, that moment when he initiated this with Jared, all those years ago, and the first electric shock of recognition -- the first aha! moment between them had confirmed everything Jensen had guessed to be true from the moment he first met Jared.

They were meant to be.

It's crazy; Jensen's told himself that often enough over the years. The hallucination of a sex-crazed overly-sensitive imagination -- Jensen's mother always warned him that his over-active imagination would get him trouble, and now it had. Now it had talked him into believing that Jared felt at least some of the connection, at least a little of the rightness of their finding each other. That the moment they met had driven a stake through Jared's heart too, had screamed in Jared's ear as loudly as it had in Jensen's -- THIS IS IT. HE'S THE ONE!

But when Jared pushed him away that time, horrified and repulsed and full of vitriol because Jared played football in high school in Texas and he was absolutely, definitely, one-hundred percent NOT GAY and he was full of disgust and anger and -- now Jensen recognized it for what it was -- sheer terror because somebody had actually assumed that he could be attracted to a man.

But now he's kissing Jensen, has in fact totally and completely initiated the kiss, and Jensen's letting it happen because -- OH GOD YES IT FEELS SO RIGHT -- even after all these years, it's so obviously what they were meant for.

Jensen lets his lips part as Jared pushes his tongue inside, deepening the kiss, licking into Jensen's mouth with increasing excitement, and Jensen lets him, allows Jared to maul his mouth, sloppy and desperate and needy, making sexy little moans deep in his throat. But when Jared finally comes up for air Jensen pulls back, slipping his hands through Jared's hair and holding his head so he could see his face.

"Hey, hey, hold on a minute," he murmurs, and his lips feel slick and swollen, just as Jared opens his lust-blown eyes, looking dazed and flushed, his lips parted and so, so pink and wet.

"What?" Jared gasps, trying to lean in again.

But Jensen holds his head, forces him to look up and meet Jensen's gaze.

"Are you sure, Jared?" Jensen says. "Are you sure this is what you want? Cuz last time I checked it pretty clearly wasn't. You sure this isn't the whiskey talkin'?"

"Jen -- please -- " Jared pants, his eyes fluttering closed, moving his hips unconsciously toward Jensen, and when Jensen lets his eyes drop for a moment he can see the evidence of Jared's need in the impressive bulge in his jeans.

"Yeah, I can see you're horny," Jensen nods. "But I need you to explain this to me, Jay. I need you to use your words, okay? Cuz this was not okay the last time I checked, and I'm not going down that road again. Okay? You get me?"

Jared swallows, close-mouthed, and nods, opening his eyes again to gaze steadily at Jensen, tries to get his thrusting hips under control.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, I was a jerk," he breathes, clearly making an effort to steady himself. "I knew I liked girls cuz I'd always had girlfriends but until you it never occurred to me that I might like guys too. I just didn't know, and then -- when you kissed me -- Jensen, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. In six years. I think about you all the time, man. I just do. It's -- it's -- no matter how I tried getting you out of my system -- and I tried, goddamn it, because I knew I screwed up and I could never ask you to think about me like that again after what I did -- and it made me so angry and I took it out on you which was just so fucked up -- I'm so sorry, man -- "

The emotions are welling up in his eyes now, grief and desire all mixed together, and it makes Jensen's chest ache so he just leans in and presses his lips gently to Jared's, chaste and sweet.

"It's okay, Jay," he murmurs against Jared's lips. "I guess I always knew. I was just waiting for you, buddy. Always. Right here. I'm right here, Jay."

Jared's long moan is his only vocal response, and as Jensen tilts his head, tugs a little on Jared's hair, Jared is right there, leaning in, hungry mouth and tongue plunging into Jensen's, needy and pulsing with pent-up desire, huge long-fingered hands everywhere as the floodgates open and they go at it like they're literally starving.

Which, as Jensen considers with his last rational brain-cell, they sort of are, since this thing between them has been building for-fucking-ever.

Jared pushes Jensen back on the couch, his mouth leaving Jensen's only long enough to press his lips against Jensen's cheeks, his eyelids, the cleft in his chin, gulping in lungfuls of air before capturing Jensen's mouth again, tongue plunging deep inside, opening Jensen so wide his jaw begins to ache, mapping out every inch of the inside of Jensen's mouth with his long tongue.

Jensen spreads his legs as Jared wiggles his body between them then starts up a steady grinding against his groin as his huge hands hold Jensen's head, turning his face as Jared pulls back again, exposing Jensen's neck. Jared makes an incoherent growling noise as he buries his face in Jensen's throat, lips and teeth working at the tender skin below his ear, sucking marks into Jensen's neck that will be hard to explain away tomorrow but he doesn't care, lets Jared do it because it's Jared and he's finally here in his arms where he belongs.

Jared's hands are up under his shirt, thumbs rubbing over his nipples, hardening them, then Jared is shoving the shirt up to his armpits and Jensen raises his arms and scoots up so Jared can remove his shirt, then look down at him, sprawled out on his back with Jared's huge hands spread wide on his chest.

"So beautiful," Jared breathes as he gazes at Jensen, eyes heated and dark, cheeks flushed.

"Not so bad yourself," Jensen notes with a smirk, and Jared's face bursts forth in a dimpled grin that heats Jensen's chest as if it were made of sunshine. It's a cliche, he knows, but it's one that totally captures the blinding warmth of Jared's smile, and it's the most beautiful thing Jensen has ever seen. Makes his eyes water uncontrollably and his bottom lip quiver.

Jared lets the pad of his thumb trace the tattoo over Jensen's heart, his face melting into an expression of dazed wonder.

"You were really there," Jared breathes. It's a statement, rather than a question, and Jensen nods. "With him. With Sam. He's real."

Jensen searches Jared's face for a trace of sarcasm, but it's not there. He's just taking Jensen's word for it, sight unseen. However insane it may be, that other world exists somewhere, it parallels this one, and that's just how it is.

"How did Kripke know?" Jared wonders, and Jensen shakes his head.

"I don't think there's any way to explain it," he answers truthfully. "I don't think Eric had any idea. Maybe it wouldn't exist if he didn't create it. Maybe that's the catch-22. Or maybe it was always there, and Eric just got lucky."

"But Sam and Dean -- they're a thing over there?"

"Oh yeah," Jensen nods. "Definitely."

Jared shakes his head, lowers his mouth to the tattoo, traces it with his tongue carefully, reverently, as if it might still be painful (it isn't). When he lets his tongue wander across Jensen's chest, takes one beaded nipple into his mouth so he can suckle, Jensen can't prevent the stab of lust it sends shuddering through his body. He hears himself moan as he pushes up into Jared's mouth, then almost keens as Jared takes the nub between his teeth and tugs.

Jared's sliding one of his giant paws down between Jensen's legs, squeezing gently through the fabric, and Jensen bucks up into his grasp, increasing the friction and encouraging Jared's touch. Jared's mouth moves to Jensen's other nipple as his hand finds the waistband of the sweatpants and pushes underneath, ignoring his straining cock for a moment as his long fingers slip down behind his balls, find his hole, push against it with one dry finger.

"Fuck!"

Jensen's expletive bursts forth and his legs fall open. Jared withdraws his finger long enough to push Jensen's sweatpants off and Jensen kicks them to the floor, spreading his legs as Jared pushes one knee back, caressing his crack and pushing gently against his hole again.

"Is this what you want?" Jared murmurs, lifting his head from where he's still mouthing Jensen's chest, leaving marks across his pecs and belly. "Do you need me to fuck you, Jen?"

An incoherent gasp escapes Jensen's lips as his head falls back. He shuts his eyes against the need to come, to just shoot his wad all over Jared's chin and cheeks and mouth.

Jensen opens his eyes a crack, looks down at Jared looking up at him, almost loses it again.

"Take off your shirt," he rasps out. "Need to see you."

Jared kneels back between Jensen's legs and pulls his shirt off over his head, looks down at Jensen with a slight smirk.

"Fuck," Jensen groans, his hand finding his bursting cock reflexively as he gazes at the expanse of Jared's broad chest, his tight abs. His shoulders have beefed up again after his injury and he looks better than all of Jensen's wet dreams over the past six years -- looks even better than Sam Winchester, which shouldn't be possible.

"Now your jeans," Jensen gasps. "Wanna see all of you."

Jared obeys eagerly, and Jensen admires the way his arms bulge and strain as he undresses himself, gets a good glimpse of firm strong ass before Jared climbs back between his legs, thigh muscles flexing, cock straining.

Jared kneels up and takes his cock in his hand, smirking down at Jensen, who is stroking his own cock without even being aware of it.

"So, who's bigger?" he asks with a wink, sliding his long fingers up and down his own hard length. "Sam or me?"

"Oh God," Jensen breathes. "Don't ask me that." You two could be twins, he thinks, except for the scars.

"Think you could take us both?" Jared suggests, letting his tongue slip lasciviously along his bottom lip.

Jensen closes his eyes against the sudden stab of lust caused by Jared's words, bucks up into his own hand.

"You could suck my dick while he fucks your ass," Jared suggests darkly. "Then we could switch."

Jensen squeezes his dick, holds his breath, fighting to hold back the urge to come.

"Jesus, Jared," he breathes out when he's got control again. "Shut the fuck up."

Jared gives a low chuckle, lets his eyes wander down Jensen's body, stroking himself almost languidly.

"Imagine you like this all the time, man," he murmurs. "All spread out and hot for me. Never thought I'd really get it. Thought I'd scared you off for good."

Jensen looks up at him, sees the wonder glittering in Jared's dark eyes, nothing like Sam's tragic misery, Sam's sad longing for his missing brother, Jensen's inability to fill that gaping hole a haunting reminder of the hole in his own life -- a six-foot-four man-sized hole which is suddenly filled with this flesh-and-blood miracle kneeling between his legs --

Jensen reaches down, grabs Jared's wrist.

"Come here," he orders, and Jared obeys, letting go of his dick and crawling back up Jensen's body, pressing himself alongside Jensen and pulling him in at the same time with one huge, powerful arm around Jensen's waist, the other hand cupping Jensen's face as their lips meet for another long, soul-wrenching kiss.

For awhile they grind together, making out like their lives depend on it, like they've been waiting all their lives for this moment and maybe they almost let it go by and they need to make up for all the lost time but they've got the rest of their lives and --

"You got any stuff?" Jared gasps when he comes up for air, biting and sucking big wet kisses along Jensen's stubbled jaw.

"Not exactly expecting this," Jensen growls back, arching his neck so Jared can mouth his adam's apple, lick along his neck to his ear.

"So we bareback then?" Jared grunts into Jensen's ear.

"Ha," Jensen huffs out a laugh. "Not a chance."

"Blow jobs then," Jared declares, capturing Jensen's mouth again. Their tongues battle for dominance, Jared's giant hands pawing at Jensen's hair and face, rubbing his thumb along Jensen's cheekbones as he mauls his mouth eagerly.

Jensen arches his body into Jared's, cries out as Jared releases his mouth and slides his hand down between their bellies, grasping Jensen's dick and thumbing the slit as he kisses Jensen's throat, then his collarbone. Jared moves backwards down Jensen's body, kissing his sternum, then his belly, kneeling between Jensen's legs again with his goal fairly obvious, jacking Jensen's dick the whole time.

Jensen opens his eyes so he can watch as Jared's mouth closes around the head of his cock, sucking gently before letting it go with a pop so he can lick down the length, curl his tongue around the underside and into the slit.

"Fuck!"

Jensen arches his back as the sensations stab through his body, lets his legs fall open even wider to give Jared room to maneuver.

Jared licks down Jensen's dick to his balls, backing himself off the edge of the couch as he sucks first one, then the other into his mouth, rolling them on his tongue before letting them go. He kneels on the floor and pushes Jensen's legs back, exposing his ass-crack, licking down the center until he reaches his destination. eliciting more curses as he pushes his tongue into Jensen's hole, then starts a steady rhythm of tongue-fucking that makes Jensen writhe and grab his dick, cursing in gibberish as Jared reaches for Jensen's cock, pushing his hand away, jacking it in time with his tongue thrusts.

"Jared -- let me suck your -- Jay -- "

But Jared has his own ideas, using the flat of his tongue to completely lubricate Jensen's hole before adding one long, lean finger, thoroughly slick with spit. Once he's got his finger inserted in Jensen's hole, stretching and moving until he's got a rhythm going, then Jared finally inserts another finger and begins scissoring, slowly and carefully at first, dragging his mouth away so he can lick Jensen's balls again, tongue at his perineum until Jensen's a writhing, moaning mess, begging Jared to let him suck his giant dick already.

"Gonna make you come first, Jen," Jared promises as he closes his mouth around the head of Jensen's throbbing cock, then lowers his mouth on it, hollowing out his cheeks and opening his throat till Jensen's almost completely enclosed between Jared's pink, wet lips.

The tight heat of it has Jensen gasping, fighting the urge to thrust, and when his dick hits the back of Jared's throat, making his eyes fill with tears, it's quite possibly the hottest thing Jensen has ever seen.

Then Jared lifts his eyes, catches Jensen's gaze, and thrusts his fingers deep into Jensen's body, long fingers of his other hand wrapped around the base of Jensen's cock and Jensen just loses it -- makes himself hold Jared's gaze as he starts to black out with the intensity -- tries to choke out a warning but Jared is pistoning his fingers and jacking his dick and sucking like there's no tomorrow and --

Jensen hears himself making that long, deep, guttural groan that he can't control when he comes -- and comes, and comes -- because this is Jared and he's finally finally FINALLY having sex with Jared Padalecki and Jensen wishes Sam Winchester was here now so he could just see it.

No, not that. Oh god, he really could not deal with that right now.

"I think I love you," Jared whispers in his ear, and Jensen startles a little because he didn't realize he'd blacked out so long that Jared had time to climb up and press his body against Jensen's again.

"Jay -- " Jensen breathes out, so boneless he can hardly move, drifting in and out of consciousness as he tries to focus on Jared's face hovering over his.

"I think I've always been in love with you," Jared's admission just spills out of him as Jensen tries to focus, blinks once or twice before his eyes slide shut again and he's drifting, just drifting after that incredible blow job -- never had a blow job that good, he reflects distantly as he feels Jared's lips on his, tastes himself in Jared's mouth.

"I think I just didn't believe I could be in love with a guy," Jared says. "All my life I assumed I was straight. I mean, I could see when a guy was attractive, sure, but I figured everybody did that, right? But you -- you were beyond perfect. When I first saw you, I got a hard-on right away. It's never gone away. Jensen, I still have the hard-on I got for you the first time I met you. Do you know how much it hurts by now?"

Jensen blinks, tries harder to focus. He knows he should reciprocate, reaches half-heartedly down to Jared's dick.

Jared's hand covers his and the younger man shakes his head.

"Later," he whispers, stays hovering over Jensen, just gazing down at him like he can't stop staring, like the secrets of the universe can be found in Jensen Ackles' face.

"I mean, did you always know you were gay, Jen? Did you?"

He seems to be asking a serious question, and Jensen does the best he can to think clearly, nods.

"Yep, always," he answers, his lips strangely numb, limbs so heavy he can hardly feel them.

"Wow," Jared breathes. "I just thought -- I mean, it was so confusing when you kissed me -- I'd never thought -- but of course I couldn't stop getting hard for you, so I guess I should've figured it out, but -- "

"Jared," Jensen interrupts, reaching up to press his fingers against Jared's lips. "Can we talk about this in the morning? Can we?"

Jared stops talking, staring down at Jensen with a look at once so helpless, so overwrought and full of confusion it breaks Jensen's heart. Poor kid, thirty-two years old and in the midst of a sexual identity crisis -- Jensen reaches up, cups Jared's face, pulls him in for a long, languid kiss.

"It's okay, buddy, it's just me," Jensen murmurs when he releases Jared's mouth, lets him come up for air so he's just staring down at Jensen, lips kiss-swollen and eyes dazed and tear-filled. "I always knew you'd come around. I was just waiting for you."

Jared stares then, disbelief and something like terror flitting across his soft, hazel eyes as he frowns, trying to take in what Jensen's saying.

"You are such an asshole," he breathes out incredulously, and Jensen feels his face crack into a jaw-breaking smile.

"Takes one to know one," he answers smoothly, softly, so that Jared can see the humor and fondness in his gaze, triggering that blinding grin that Jensen needed -- oh, so needed!

Then Jensen is reaching up and pulling Jared down so he can reach his lips again, silencing any further pronouncements or confessions or sarcastic comments -- just making Jared kiss him so that he remembers who had this thing right in the first place, how long it took Jared to figure out what he really wanted, and whose assessment of the situation between them was right on the money from the get-go.

Because Jensen is just too tired to discuss it anymore, too tired to go over the sixty-dozen opportunities for mind-blowing sex that they missed over the past six years.

Yeah, not making that mistake again.

*

Some time in the night Jensen wakes up to the sounds of Jared jerking off; he's kneeling between Jensen's legs again, just jacking himself as he looks down at Jensen's nakedness, shaking the couch with his movements, making delicious little breathy panting noises.

As sleepy as he is, Jensen can't just watch. His dick is hard and twitching at the sight of Jared and all of his incredible muscles and sweat-slicked skin on his knees, and he reaches down, slips his hand over Jared's as he scoots himself up, then leans down so he can press his lips to the seeping head of Jared's enormous dick.

"Fuck," Jared spits, clenching the base of his dick and shuddering with tension. "Your mouth, Jen. Fuck!"

Jensen's on his knees now, mouth still attached to Jared's cock. He pushes Jared back so he's on his back on the couch, long legs spread wide, and Jensen's the one kneeling, pushing Jared's hand aside so he can grasp the base of Jared's dick and show the boy how to get the job done right.

Jared swears like a sailor, slides his hands through Jensen's hair, bucks his hips up so that Jensen almost chokes and his eyes water. This dick is so huge and Jensen's jaws are pretty flexible but he's not sure how much longer he can take it --

"Fuhhhhhk!" Jared tenses for a split second, not nearly long enough for Jensen to remove his mouth before it's filled with the warm, briny taste of Jared's come and Jared's holding Jensen's head so all he can do is swallow, and he knows he's fucked but now they're even 'cuz Jared swallowed his so at least now they're both fucked.

So he swallows every last drop, just suckles the hell out of Jared's softening dick until it slips out of his mouth and Jared is breathing hard, murmuring his name and pulling him up so they're pressed chest to chest again, Jared eagerly kissing him, licking his mouth and murmuring against his lips.

"Best thing ever," Jared slips his arms around Jensen, hugs him close so that Jensen's face is crushed against his throat and he's tasting sweat and Jared. "So amazing. You are so amazing."

"Well, you'd better be clean," Jensen mutters. "Cuz I know I am. Not that you bothered to ask."

"No, it's okay, I'm clean," Jared assures him. "Gen and I were completely monogamous, and I haven't -- I mean, there hasn't been anyone else since she and I -- I mean, it's okay. I'm clean."

"Hmmm," Jensen murmurs sleepily, letting his eyes slip closed again as he breathes in Jared's warm, damp skin and decides he could definitely sleep this way, pretty sure he's halfway there.

But Jared isn't done talking, of course.

"Hey, Jensen? It may be too soon for you, but I'm pretty sure this is it for me. Okay? Just so you know. I want this -- I want us. For good. I'm thirty-two now, I'm not a kid anymore. And I -- You're it for me, man. Just so you know."

"Hmmmm," Jensen shifts closer, slips one leg between Jared's legs, snuggles his face against Jared's throat, presses his lips there.

"Jensen? I mean it," Jared tries again. "This isn't just a one-time thing for me. If you'll have me, this is what I want. For good."

Jensen pats Jared's cheek and presses a kiss against his throat.

"Shut up and sleep now, Jare," he murmurs.

Jared's arms tighten around him and he nuzzles the top of Jensen's head.

"'Kay," he sighs. "Okay, Jen."


CHAPTER SIX - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 6

When Jensen wakes up it's cold. They've let the fire go out, and even with the storm finally passed and early-morning sunlight streaming in the windows, it's cold, cold, cold.

Jared's like a furnace pressed along the front of his body, but his back, even with the blankets over them, is just too damn cold.

Jared stirs, and Jensen can tell the minute he comes to consciousness because he stiffens a little, momentarily disoriented before he remembers.

"Oh," he sighs then, sounding happy if groggy, and tightens his arms around Jensen, letting one large hand wander down his back to the curve of his ass. "Hey."

Jensen's cheek must feel like sandpaper against Jared's collarbone, so he soothes the rash with his lips, running his tongue over the mark he left there last night.

Last night.

Oh god, last night they had sex. Well, blow jobs with finger penetration, but still --

Jensen's so hard he's afraid his dick might slice a piece out of Jared's hip.

Jared feels it, slips his hand down between their bodies, gets a grip on Jensen's dick, making him gasp.

"You want me to take care of this?" he smiles into Jensen's hair.

Jensen tips his head back so he can look up, meet Jared's heated gaze, dimpled smile a little crooked with sleep and sex. His hair is a tangled mess, and Jensen decides he needs to make it that way more often.

"It's cold," he notes. "Fire went out."

"I think I can fix that," Jared teases, and before Jensen can protest he's scooting down the couch and taking Jensen's cock in his mouth and it's like last night all over again and Jensen just moans and writhes and lets Jared warm him up, swallow him down like he's the best-tasting treat ever.

Afterwards, Jared tucks the blankets around Jensen and lets him doze while he jumps up, pulls his clothes on, and gets the fire going again in the wood stove, then finds something for them to eat and brings it back to the couch, sitting on the floor with his back against it while he eats.

Jensen runs his fingers through Jared's hair, combing out the tangles and feeling ridiculously lazy and content, not even hungry yet, just basking in the warm glow of this new thing between them as the stove slowly warms the room.

When Jared finishes his food he turns to Jensen, his eyes sparkling.

"Come on, sleepy-head," he teases. "The snow-plow will be here soon. What d'ya say to a little hand-job in the shower?"

"Oh god," Jensen groans, closing his eyes and throwing his arm over them dramatically. "You're insatiable."

"Pretty much," Jared agrees cheerfully.

So they have more mind-blowing sex in the shower and afterwards they get dressed but they can't keep their hands off each other and neither can stop smiling and the sound of the snowplow outside is the only thing that prevents them from going at it again.

They watch from the window as the plows go by, first one clearing one side of the road, the one behind clearing the opposite side. Right behind them comes a pick-up truck with a plow hitched to the front, a snowmobile in the back. Jensen watches as the pick-up turns into Donna Winchester's driveway, plow lowering to push the snow aside as it comes toward the house.

Jensen feels Jared's hand on his lower back, warm and possessive as Jared stands so close behind him it's like being enveloped in a cocoon of heated reassurance and constant promise.

Jensen feels like the Grinch, the way his heart just keeps expanding. He's sure it's changing something fundamental inside him, this miracle that is Jared's sudden admission of love and devotion. It doesn't feel real. It's like waking up in Wonderland.

The pick-up pulls up to the door and now Jensen can see Donna and another woman in the cab. Donna waves when she sees him and Jared in the window, and Jensen raises his hand to gesture back as Donna and the strange woman get out of the cab, wade through the deep snow to the front porch, fling open the door.

And just like that, reality shatters the illusion of Jensen's perfect little dream-world, the one where he and Jared finally find each other and live happily ever after.

Because Jensen can see in Donna's face that she knows. She knows Jared and Jensen are together. She's always known, since she first let them into the house. It's not a secret anymore, if it ever was.

"Well look at you," Donna's blue eyes sparkle as she stomps the snow off her boots. "You're up and about and looking mighty fine, I must say."

She turns her gaze on Jared and nods.

"Good work, Texas," she says with a smile. "You fixed your friend. Doesn't look like he'll need a hospital after all."

She turns to the other woman, starts to introduce her, but the other woman is just staring at Jared and Jensen with that look they've both seen about a bazillion times --

"Oh my god," she stutters. "No way."

"This is my niece, Kathy," Donna says, frowning. "Kathy, what's wrong with you? Say hello to Mr. Texas and his friend here."

"You -- you're -- " is about all Kathy can say, and Jensen smiles reassuringly, puts his hand out, feeling Jared's hand rub his back slightly.

"Nice to meet you, Kathy," he says, waiting patiently for her to get herself under control.

"Oh my god," she says again, then glances down at his hand and finally manages to reach out and take it. "You're -- you're him. You're really him."

"Probably," Jensen agrees, giving her his most disarming smile.

Donna is still staring at her, and Kathy finally recovers enough to shake Jensen's hand, then remembers she shouldn't just keep holding it indefinitely, so she lets it go.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she mutters. "It's just -- Aunt Donna, don't you know who these guys are?"

"Well, my memory isn't what it used to be," Donna admits. "I'm sure they told me their names, I just forgot. They're from Texas, I remember that."

"This is -- they're Sam and Dean," Kathy explains. "I mean, they play Sam and Dean. Just about my favorite t.v. characters of all time. I can't believe you're standing in my aunt's living room. This is -- this is epic."

Kathy blushes, finally tears her eyes away from Jensen's face to look up at Jared, shaking her head a little as if she's waking up from a dream.

"Hi," she greets him, and Jared nods at her, tight-lipped, his hand still pressed possessively against Jensen's back. "I mean, it's so good to meet you. I'm sorry to be such a goof -- I really do know the difference between fantasy and reality."

"That makes one of us," Jensen mutters softly, and Jared steps right in, covering for him smoothly, like it was all choreographed ahead of time.

"Do you have any shovels?" he asks. "Our car is buried in snow about a mile up the road. We could sure use some shovels to dig it out."

"Oh yeah, of course!" Kathy becomes practical all of a sudden. "I keep a couple in my truck, and Aunt Donna has a couple here -- I'll drive you up."

"Oh, that's not really necessary," Jensen says politely. "We can walk."

"Oh, no, I insist," Kathy says. "It's no trouble at all. And Aunt Donna and I can help dig you out. Won't take any time at all if there's four of us."

"And we're out of gas," Jensen remembers, and Kathy nods.

"Got that, too," she assures him. "Never go anywhere without an extra can of gas in the back. Tools, spark-plugs, battery cables -- extra water, blankets -- Up here you never know when you're gonna get stuck out in the middle of nowhere and need to survive a night in the cab of the truck."

Jensen just nods, Jared rolls his eyes, and they follow Kathy out to her pick-up.

They can't all ride in the cab, so Jared gallantly offers to ride the mile in the truck-bed, after he and Jensen lift the snowmobile out. Donna makes both men borrow her husband's heavy jackets, scarves, and gloves, and Jensen's fine leather boots are so badly damaged Donna insists he wear a pair of her husband's boots too. Otherwise they're both wearing the clothes they came into the house wearing, washed and dried like they never went through a snowstorm in the first place.

It takes them less than an hour to dig out the car, which was buried almost completely in a snowbank after the plows went around it and managed to pile even more snow on top of it. They brush off the roof with the long-handled brushes that Kathy keeps in her truck -- Jensen figures this gal keeps pretty much everything in that truck except maybe the kitchen sink -- and fill the tank with gas, then use Kathy's battery cables to jump start the car's almost-dead battery.

The physical labor warms them up, and the sunshine and sparkling snow make everything look fresh and bright, so that when they're finally ready to say goodbye to Donna and Kathy Jensen is feeling almost euphoric. Donna tries to make them keep the borrowed outerwear, but Jensen insists she take it back, just in case somebody else gets stuck in the snow up here and needs her help the way they did.

Kathy promises to follow them down the mountain, just to be sure they get back to the main road safely. Then Jensen gathers Donna into a hug, thanks her for everything and kisses her wrinkled cheek. She's tiny and birdlike in his arms, almost not even there, like a child, and Jensen's amazed again at the strength and courage of this one little old woman and the miracle of her haven from the storm just being there for them at the last possible moment.

Donna clings tightly to Jensen, prolongs the hug before releasing him. There's a film of tears in her eyes.

"You make me think of my son," she says. "He's an actor too. Always a bright boy, but too much of a risk-taker sometimes. You have that quality too."

She releases Jensen so she can give Jared a hug -- he has to bend almost in half to hug her because she's only about five-foot-two.

"You take care of this one," she says to Jared when she releases him. "I've rarely seen two people as devoted to each other as you two are. It's a gift. Don't waste it."

"We won't," Jared assures her with conviction, glancing at Jensen over her head.

Jensen nods silently, turns to Kathy, who puts her hand out awkwardly. Jensen smiles reassuringly at her and pulls her in for a hug too, and when Jared follows suit he suggests a picture, making Kathy blush because she hadn't wanted to presume --

So they take another minute to pose with Kathy while Donna fiddles with Kathy's phone, taking an awkwardly long time before she figures out how to make it take a picture. Then Jensen asks Kathy to take one of him and Jared with Donna, and she does, promising to email the picture to the address he taps into her phone, since his and Jared's phone are both dead.

Finally, they climb back into the Impala -- Jensen driving this time by silent agreement -- and Donna and Kathy get back into the pick-up truck. The road is packed with plowed snow, so they take it slow, but they're off the mountain within the hour and waving in the rearview mirror to Kathy and Donna as they pull onto the main road, then easily find the little gas station that Kathy recommended.

As Jensen pumps the gas Jared goes into the little convenience store and comes back with a car-charger for their phones, then they take turns making follow-up calls to their families. Jensen also calls Steve, letting him know they're okay, and listens while Chris grabs the phone away and yells at him for being such an idiot as to get lost in a snowstorm.

"And with that asshole Padalecki, goddamn it!" Chris rants, his anger barely masking his underlying relief. "No wonder you got lost. How could you even get into a car with that guy? What were you thinking?"

"It's okay, Chris," Jensen assures him. "We survived. That's the main thing. I'll explain it all later, I promise."

"You better," Chris fumes, but his voice has softened. "Just glad you're alive and in one piece, man."

"Me too," Jensen agrees. "Me too."

He ends the call, puts the phone down, looks up at Jared.

"You didn't tell him," Jared states, and Jensen shakes his head. They're still in the little parking lot of the gas station, engine running to keep the battery from dying and the phone charged.

"We have to tell them," Jared insists. "We have to tell our families. The crew back in Vancouver."

Jensen nods slowly.

"We will," he promises. "I just want to wait until we see them. It'll take some adjusting for my family and friends, not to mention the SPN family."

"You want to go public with this?" Jared's eyes widen. "You want everybody to know about us?"

Jensen takes a deep breath, shakes his head a little.

"I don't want to live a lie anymore, Jared," he says softly. "They'll want us to hide it, to keep them guessing. It's what they always want. As long as nobody knows the truth, everybody can keep their little fantasies."

"Like Destiel," Jared scoffs. "As if."

"Or just us being straight," Jensen shrugs. "I've never come out, Jay. My agent has always advised against it, and I've always listened to him because I needed to work. You, Steve, Chris, my family -- you're the only ones who know for sure. Otherwise it's all just rumor and conjecture."

Jared puts his hand over Jensen's, tangles their fingers together, and Jensen realizes he never wants to be not touching Jared again.

"I'll back you one-hundred percent, whatever you decide to do," Jared says firmly. "I mean it. And if it all goes south -- well, we'll figure something out. We can start a business together. I've got enough saved to get us started doing practically anything. I mean, we always knew this gig couldn't go on forever, right? So even if it ends next year, we can do something else. I never thought I'd keep acting after this anyway."

"Really?" Jensen is stunned. "You'd just chuck it? Not stay in the business at all?"

Jared shrugs.

"Not if it isn't with you," he says without a moment's hesitation. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I love my job. But when I think back over the past ten years, what I think about most is how lucky I was to get to work with you and the rest of the Supernatural cast and crew. It's totally spoiled me for any future gigs; I'd like to think I'm smart enough to just admit that to myself."

Jared takes a deep breath, lets it out, furrows his brow.

"Because it doesn't get any better than this, Jensen, that's the thing I'm pretty damn sure of," Jared goes on. "And there's no repeats. No way am I ever getting another acting job as good as this one, because anything I do from now on would probably be without you. And I don't want to work in this business if I'm not working with you."

Jensen stares at him, still not quite believing what he's hearing.

"Jesus, Jared, that's pretty dramatic," Jensen shakes his head. "I'm not sure I -- "

"I'm pretty sure you just said the same thing, Jen," Jared interrupts. "Of course, there's always the possibility they'll extend the show indefinitely."

"Ha," Jensen feels his face fold into a smile, watches Jared's corresponding grin spread all over his beautiful face. "You know, you really are something. You know that, right?"

"That's exactly what I tell myself every morning when I look in the mirror," Jared deadpans, and Jensen snatches his hand away so he can punch his co-star on the shoulder.

"Fuck you," Jensen says, smiling so broadly it hurts.

"Counting on it," Jared answers, reaching up to slip his hand along Jensen's jaw, curling his fingers around the back of Jensen's neck and leaning in at the same time.

Their lips meet with a shock of actual static electricity, so that the kiss starts with a little sting and a jolt, then quickly evolves into something deep and full of promise. Jensen moans, shifts a little to relieve the sudden ache in his groin. He's never going to not kiss Jared again, he thinks as Jared's tongue sweeps into his mouth.

They manage to keep off of each other long enough to drive to Portland, return the rental car and check into a hotel where they book their flights home. The thought of separating is too much for either of them, so they decide to fly to LA together to visit Jensen's family, then on to Austin to visit Jared's family. Jensen's mother is predictably skeptical about Jared -- she vividly remembers the summer Jensen spent moping and depressed after things went bad between him and Jared six years ago, and although she never knew the details, she couldn't help blaming Jared for doing that to her son. It won't be easy for Jared to win back her trust, but Jensen figures if they can get Mama Ackles on board with this new thing between them, it'll be all down-hill from there.

And Jared is nothing if not determined to show everybody just how committed he is. He's totally ready to admit his past mistake and accept the blame for wrecking things all those years ago.

"I'm just grateful Jensen will still have me, after all that," he tells Mrs. Ackles when they're finally sitting across the table from Jensen's parents in Los Angeles a couple of days later. "I know I don't deserve him. All I can say in my defense is that I was young and stupid, and I made a terrible mistake. I just hope y'all can forgive me."

Donna Ackles purses her lips, doesn't look convinced, and Jensen can see it'll take her awhile, but eventually he's fairly sure she'll see how happy he is and will finally accept Jared, even if she may never quite trust him again.

After the chilly reception in Los Angeles, Jensen finds himself folded into the Padalecki family like he was always part of the tribe. There are cousins and parents and siblings with wives and children and it's a little overwhelming. Jensen finds himself gathered into bear-hug after bear-hug by Jared's tall, enthusiastic family members, and Jared's mother is positively effusive in her relief to see her son finally doing what he should have done in the first place.

"I always knew it," she claims when she corners Jensen in the kitchen where he's come in to help her prepare the food for the huge holiday gathering in their honor that she just threw together at the last minute.

"From the first time I met you, Jensen, I could see how he looked at you. I could see what you meant to him. He didn't see it, but I did. I always knew you two were made for each other. I always believed it would happen one day."

"Thank you, Mrs. Padalecki," Jensen blushes as he takes the cutting board and vegetables she offers him.

"Sharon," she corrects. "I told you the first time I met you to call me Sharon. We're family. Took long enough, but now we're really family."

She pats him on the cheek, slips an arm around his waist and squeezes, releases him to go back to her salad-making, leaving Jensen to cut up the vegetables.

"He's a stubborn boy," she says conspiratorially, as if she's revealing a deep secret and not simply stating the obvious. "That's why it took him so long to figure out how he really felt. But now the stubborn thing is good because he's true blue all the way, Jensen. Once he makes his mind up like he has about you now, that's it for him. You never have to worry. He's yours for life."

"I hope so," Jensen smiles shyly, meaning it with every fiber of his being.

Later, when Jared's family finally lets them leave, Jensen's so wired and high on all the love and attention he can't come down, so they go out to a bar where there's a band playing, and it turns out Jared knows one of the guys in the band so Jensen finds himself up on the stage after a few drinks, playing guitar and singing along, getting lost in the music the way he loves to do.

And when he looks out at the packed dance-floor he finds Jared right away because he's head-and-shoulders above everyone else and he's standing stock still, just staring at him the way he did that night in Seattle, only now there's such pride and wonder in his face, the kind of stunned realization Jensen still feels whenever he looks over and sees Jared sitting there, remembers with a start that they're together now, he can reach out and take Jared's hand or lean in and kiss Jared and it will be okay. Jared wants him. Jared needs him. Jared loves him.

Jensen is euphoric with a sense of endless possibility, the promise of a future that seems brighter and more glorious than he could have imagined, now that he has Jared. Now that his life is complete.

Finally.

CHAPTER SEVEN - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

What a Fool Believes - Chapter 7

After the hiatus Jared and Jensen return to Vancouver together, and it's obvious to everyone what has happened to them.

Not that they've kept it secret. Jensen is adamant on that point, and despite his agent's strong protests, he goes public with their relationship just after the airing of the mid-season finale.

The fans are ecstatic, of course. It's like their greatest fantasy come true, and the tweets of support and congratulations pour in until Twitter has to shut down its servers temporarily so they can figure out a way to accommodate the onslaught. At their first convention appearance after this the fans give them standing ovations, led by Misha Collins, Rob Benedict, and Richard Speight.

The powers-that-be, however, are less pleased. Seems it's not okay for the two co-stars to be gay for each other in real life because they play brothers in the show and incest is really, really not okay on a CW show with a large teenage audience, and the PTB don't seem to be able to separate reality from fiction, so they assume their young audience can't either.

They are renewed for one more year, but with clear indications that Season 11 will be their last.

"I've always wanted to be a vintner," Jared tells Jensen the night they get the news.

They're in bed in their apartment in Vancouver, sipping red wine and watching sports recaps with the sound mostly turned down.

"Yeah, okay," Jensen agrees, taking another sip of his wine. "We can do that."

"The conventions will probably go on for awhile," Jared adds. "There'll be income from that."

"Right," Jensen nods.

"You'll always be able to get work, Jen," Jared says. "There will always be parts available for you, if you want them."

"Maybe," Jensen shrugs. "Probably."

"Plus we can do charity work," Jared suggests. "There are always charities looking for spokespersons. We could do that together. Not much money in it, maybe, but it would be a good thing to do."

"Yep."

Jared sips his wine silently for another minute.

"We should get married," he says softly.

Jensen turns his head at that, raises an eyebrow.

"Come again?"

Jared shrugs.

"I want to," he says simply. "I want everybody to see my ring on your finger. I want everybody to know how much I love you."

"I think we've made it pretty clear, Jared," Jensen notes. "I don't think there's anybody left to tell it to."

Jared shifts uncomfortably, gets that stubborn set to his jaw and that frown that Jensen knows too well.

"I want to be married to you," he insists quietly. "I want it to be official."

Jensen is still looking at him, relishing the warm feeling in his chest that's always there now when he looks at Jared. No more apprehension, no more tension. No more fear or out-right terror of what Jared might do or say --

Although Jared never ceases to surprise him, the way he's doing now.

After the initial shock of their union, it's taken Jensen a few months to become really comfortable with their new relationship. Old habits die hard, and part of him still can't quite believe Jared isn't going to suddenly change his mind and leave.

Not that he'd given any indication of that. On the contrary; Jared has been solicitous, loving, full of devotion and adoration -- not to mention rabidly enthusiastic about everything to do with sex --

It still gives him a little thrill to catch Jared's eye across a room, watch his hazel eyes widen and his face break into a smile. It's still a bit of a shock every time Jared touches him in public, from putting a hand on the small of his back, to leaning over to whisper something intimate into his ear. He still starts a little when Jared's hand closes over his, when Jared comes up behind him and rests his chin on Jensen's shoulder or wraps his arms around him and kisses his ear and jaw. And the first time Jared greeted him in a restaurant with an open-mouthed kiss and a quick squeeze of his ass, grinding into him as he did -- Jensen was so startled all he could do was stare after Jared released him, fighting down the flush in his cheeks as Jared guided him to their table, aware of eyes on them all over the room.

Yeah, this new thing was taking some getting used to.

Not that he's complaining; it definitely beats the way things were before. Openly-affectionate Jared beats pissed-off asshole Jared by about a million to one. And Jensen's learning to trust this new version of the man he's been in love with for as long as he can remember.

It's just different, having Jared actually love him back. Having Jared want to live with him, be with him all the time, even when they're off work.

And now, having Jared want to marry him.

"I'm not gonna say no, Jay," Jensen says now, taking Jared's hand in his and giving it a warm squeeze. "I just think I need a little more adjustment time. I need to take things a little slower than you do. It's the way I'm made."

"I know it is," Jared nods sagely, like he's already thought this through carefully instead of just pulling it out of his ass, as Jensen suspects. "That's why we have a long engagement. Announce it to our families first, wait awhile before we go public. I know my mother, and she's gonna want to plan a big wedding, so -- "

"Wait, so that means you're the girl?" Jensen interrupts, and Jared pulls his hand free so he can punch Jensen's shoulder.

"No! I'm just saying, your mom might not be so keen on wedding-planning, and I know my mom loves to plan parties. She'll be in her element if we let her do this."

He sets his wine-glass down so he can turn completely toward his lover, lean in close for a long, gentle kiss, holding Jensen's face between his huge hands. Jensen relaxes into the kiss, smiles warmly at Jared as he pulls away, damp lips parted and eyes dark with need.

"So what do you say?" Jared breathes, panting a little. "Will you marry me, Jensen Ackles?"

Jensen gazes back, trying to still the pounding of his heart, the slight trembling of his lips as he parts them, lets his tongue swipe along the lower one, fully aware of his effect on Jared even before he sucks in a ragged breath and makes a low moaning noise in this throat.

"Yeah," Jensen whispers, then clears his throat and tries again. "Yeah, Jared, I will."

There's not much talking after that, and Jensen is just fine with that, since having Jared Padalecki and his incredible body all to himself is still something Jensen cannot get enough of.

And he's pretty sure he never will.

*

Things actually end up moving ahead more quickly than Jensen initially intended, and honestly, he's okay with that after all. The engagement parties are a little embarrassing, as is the solid gold ring Jared gives him, but in the end he's just grateful it doesn't have any fruity diamonds or other stones on it and that really it looks pretty basic and masculine for an engagement ring, not showy at all.

Jared knows him, and for that Jensen is more grateful than he wants to admit.

They get married in a beautiful resort on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge in June. Jensen's family is there, but it's definitely a Padalecki party -- huge and overflowing and joyful. Many of the still-shell-shocked cast and crew of the show attend, still shaking their heads at the insanity that is the Ackles-Padalecki relationship.

Misha Collins contributes a giant ice sculpture in the shape of an erect penis, which is proudly displayed in the center of one of the buffet tables, then tweets selfies licking it to all his followers.

Genevieve Cortese has the good grace to attend, scaring the shit out of Jensen for all of five minutes when he realizes she's in the room before she comes up to him with a little smile and kisses his cheek.

"Told you so," she says smugly, then offers her congratulations to her ex-husband before sauntering off to the bar.

Donna Winchester and her niece are also in attendance, and as soon as she sees him Donna marches right up to Jensen and punches him on the arm.

"Ow!" he stares at her. "What was that for?"

"For all the stuff, Romeo!" she says, referring to the gifts Jensen and Jared had sent, after checking with Kathy to find out what Donna needed, namely a new generator, new dishwasher, new washer and dryer, and a new snow-blower. "You don't just buy a girl a bunch of stuff! Who do you think you are?"

"You can sell it," Jensen assures her. "It's yours. For saving our lives. Not that we can ever repay you for that -- "

"Exactly," she snaps. "A simple 'thank you' is worth a million dollars worth of stuff, Pretty Boy."

"Thank you, Mrs. Winchester, really," Jensen says, putting on his most sincere smile.

"It's Donna," she says sharply. "And you don't have to thank me. You never did."

Then she hugs Jared, tells them to take care of each other, and wanders off toward the buffet table, eyeing the ice sculpture critically.

*

Jared and Jensen slip away quietly before the party's over, take the elevator to their suite, turn off the lights and open the curtains of the floor-length windows with the stunning view of the Columbia River. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a moment, sharing a bottle of champagne, just admiring the view. It's dark, but the night is full of stars and the lawn spreads out far and wide toward the river and the dark hills on the other side, giving the scene a deceptively quiet stillness that stands in stark contrast to the activity and noise of the day they've just had. Jared slips his hand into Jensen's and they stand like that for another minute, until Jensen makes the first move.

Turning slightly toward his husband he raises his glass in salute.

"Congratulations, Mr. Ackles-Padalecki," he smiles up at Jared, whose eyes are glistening in the gloom.

"Congratulations to you as well, Mr. Ackles-Padalecki," Jared returns, and they clink glasses and take a sip, stare shyly at each other for another moment.

"We don't really have to use that long hyphenated name, do we?" Jensen asks "I always hated hyphenated names."

Jared grins broadly. "Nope. I'm taking yours. It's already legal."

"No way," Jensen stares, shocked. "You signed the marriage certificate like that?"

"Yep," Jared confirms. "You didn't even notice, huh?"

Jensen stares another minute, then feels his face warm into a smile.

"Which proves once and for all that you really are the girl," he grins up at Jared.

"Which explains the big dick," Jared nods. "And all the topping."

"Shut up!" Jensen grouses. "I top!"

Jared tilts his head skeptically.

"I do!" Jensen insists. "You just don't like to bottom, that's all."

"Good thing you don't have that problem," Jared teases, and Jensen flushes to the roots of his hair. "Of course, I'm pretty new to the whole gay sex thing."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jensen demands.

"Well, I'm just saying the bottoming thing might grow on me if we practice a little more," Jared suggests tentatively.

"Really?" Jensen stares, catches Jared's eye, and they both collapse into laughter, vividly recalling Jared's one and only attempt to bottom over the past six months of their sex-life, at his complete and utter inability to keep still enough to let Jensen lick him, much less stick anything into his ass. It was definitely a comedy neither of them is quite ready to repeat.

"Or not," Jared gasps when he can finally grab a breath again.

Once they're both calm again Jensen deliberately puts their glasses down and reaches up to loosen Jared's tie, slipping it loose and batting Jared's hands away as he started to unbutton his shirt.

"Nope," Jensen says firmly. "It's our wedding night and I'm going to undress you."

"Okay," Jared breathes, and it obviously takes him considerable effort to stand still while Jensen removes his tie, then his shirt, sliding it down over his shoulders with deliberate slowness. He lets Jared unbutton his own cuffs -- or rather, remove the gold cufflinks since this is a tux and yeah.

"Lift your arms," Jensen instructs when he starts to lift Jared's tee-shirt, revealing just an inch or two of belly at first, then working the tee-shirt up, up till he's pulling it over Jared's head, messing his hair and making it stick up all over. Jared shakes his head like a wet dog when the tee-shirt joins his dress-shirt on the floor, and starts to reach up to run his hands through his hair to smooth it down but Jensen grabs his hands.

"Stop," he insists. "Let me."

And he can see the tension in Jared's shoulders, the effort it takes him not to reach up and do it himself as Jensen slips his fingers through Jared's long mane of hair, combing it down so it lies fairly flat, tucks it behind his ears. He leaves his hands on Jared's face after, thumbing his cheekbones, staring into Jared's warm hazel eyes, lowering his gaze to Jared's parted pink lips before pulling his face down so he can kiss them, stepping right up against Jared's bare chest as he does. His own crisp white dress shirt slides along Jared's tan skin with a vague rustling sound as Jared's arms wrap around him, holding him close as they kiss, slow, languid, meaningful. They've got all night, and Jensen's determined to make it a memorable one, force Jared to drag out every moment, not just charge through it like he usually does.

And Jared is teachable, that much has become clear over the past few months. He may have started out their personal life together with something like a bull-in-a-china-shop attitude, crashing around almost blindly in his eagerness and excitement, always demanding and rarely listening when Jensen tells him to take it slow, draw it out, take it in.

Just be in the moment.

But lately he's gotten better. He waits with something akin to patience sometimes when Jensen asks him to, he lets Jensen just remove all of the gadgets, turn off the t.v., sit quietly with him and watch the snow fall or the fire burning, just reflect, bask in each other's companionship and their shared gratitude to have found each other, to be together.

Now when Jensen pulls back, ends the kiss and takes a step back so he can return to undressing the taller man, Jared lets him, kicks off his shoes as Jensen reaches for the clasp on his trousers, slides the zipper down slowly, reaches his hands under the waistband to push the material down over Jared's hips, letting the trousers pool on the floor at his ankles, followed by his boxer briefs.

"On the bed," Jensen growls, sliding his hands over Jared's generous pecs and giving him a little push.

Jared obeys eagerly, spreads himself out on his back across the bed, watching Jensen with his beautiful slanted eyes. Jensen climbs onto the bed after him, still fully clothed, and straddles Jared's hips, taking one huge wrist in each hand and bending his arms at the elbow as he leans down to capture Jared's mouth with his.

Jared bucks up against him, dick already hard and throbbing, seeking friction as Jensen kisses him, holding his wrists next to his head. But Jensen keeps his body carefully elevated, doesn't sink down on top of Jared, keeping his wrists clasped in Jensen's hands as he deepens the kiss, making Jared moan with need.

Jensen releases Jared's mouth and kisses down his jaw, sucks and licks and lets his teeth scrape the stubble there, dips his tongue into the cleft of Jared's chin.

"Fuck, Jensen, let me touch you," Jared gasps, hips bucking up and head tipping back so Jensen has access to his gorgeous neck.

Jensen smiles against Jared's skin, hums deep in his throat as he runs his tongue along the shell of Jared's ear, feeling him shiver.

"Do you trust me?" he rumbles low into Jared's ear, eliciting another shiver, another gasp.

"Do you?" Jensen squeezes Jared's wrists, takes his earlobe into his mouth and sucks, then bites down a little for emphasis.

"Yes," Jared breathes out. "Yeah, I do."

And Jensen just has to kiss him again for that, long and deep and hard, so that his head's spinning a little when he finally pulls back, breathing hard.

"Stay like that," he orders, squeezing Jared's wrists again. "Stay."

Jared's face is flushed and beautiful, his eyelids fluttering, pink lips parted and swollen, dizzied by Jensen's attention. He manages a short nod, swallows and licks his lips, opens his eyes to gaze up at Jensen as the older man releases his wrists, satisfied that Jared will obey his order. Jensen holds Jared's gaze as he straightens up and reaches for his own tie, slowly loosening it, then pulling it free as he reaches for Jared's wrists, wraps the silk tie around one, then the other wrist, binding them together over Jared's head. He ties the end to the bed springs, laying almost completely on top of Jared has he does so, and Jared stays still the whole time, bucking only a little when Jensen's clothed body comes in contact with his engorged cock, gasping Jensen's name as he does.

Once Jensen's tested the knot he leans back to get a good look at Jared's bound form, decides it's the sexiest damn thing he's ever seen. Jared strains against the knot a little, gets this wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights look when he realizes he's actually stuck -- the knot's holding pretty well -- and Jensen smiles, watching Jared's muscles tense and ripple and release, the veins on his arms bulging and relaxing again.

Yep, definitely hot.

"What're you gonna do?" Jared asks, a little breathless after his efforts to free himself.

"Gonna fuck you," Jensen says, keeping his voice low and intense. "And this time, you're gonna let me."

"God," Jared exhales, cheeks flushing as his eyes flutter closed, squirming uncontrollably. He buries his face in his arm as his hips surge up off the bed, make contact with Jensen's spread thighs.

Jensen backs off the bed, watches Jared as he undresses, waits till Jared's looking before he licks his lips, holding Jared's gaze the entire time, so that the younger man gasps and bucks up, eyes slipping closed again so he misses Jensen's triumphant smile.

Once he's naked, Jensen begins a slow seduction of Jared's entire body, working his way down from his neck with his hands and mouth, stealing long, languid kisses from his lips, teasing his nipples with his tongue and teeth, mouthing a trail down his chest, sliding his hands along the smooth, silken skin over his ribcage. When he finally settles between Jared's spread legs he takes his time, sucking into the crease of his groin, taking sharp little nips along his inner thighs, making Jared gasp. He takes his time, leaves Jared's cock and balls untouched until he's covered every other inch of skin with his mouth and tongue, sucking and biting and licking thoroughly, pushing Jared's bent knees back so he can lick below his balls, thoroughly ministering to the sensitive skin of his crack, around his hole before licking back up to his balls, sucking on them for awhile as Jared moans and writhes, then kneeling up between his legs and catching Jared's eye as he takes his dick between his lips.

"Aw, fuck!" Jared exhales as Jensen sucks him down, deep-throating expertly because he can and he knows he's pretty fuckin' awesome at this and he's proud of it, even while his jaw aches and his eyes smart with tears.

Jared tries to watch because it's his favorite thing ever, or so he tells Jensen every time he does it -- but he's already so sensitized he has to concentrate on not coming as soon as Jensen's mouth is on his dick, so he squeezes his eyes closed and hisses and writhes and mostly just comes completely apart under Jensen's mouth and hands, which was the idea in the first place so it's all good.

After the blow-job it still takes a lot of tonguing to get Jared loose and relaxed enough to take Jensen's lubed fingers, then the head of Jensen's dick, but Jensen is patient and persistent, and when Jensen's fingers finally rub against Jared's prostate he gives a satisfying jerk and curses a bloody streak, legs falling open in invitation, giving in completely to sensation as Jensen had suspected he would if he could just get past those initial Padalecki defenses.

"Knew it," Jensen murmurs as he caresses Jared's nipple with his tongue, feeling it bead as he pulls it into his mouth, then tugs gently with his teeth. "So sensitive."

He's holding himself still, just inside Jared's body, waiting for him to adjust, giving Jared a chance to tense up and resist.

When he doesn't, just spreads himself even wider, surges up into Jensen's mouth, the older man slides in, slow and careful, working Jared's chest and throat with his mouth, stroking long, soothing caresses up his sides, up to Jared's bound arms. And when he bottoms out and he's balls deep inside Jared he captures Jared's pink mouth again, swallowing his little gasping breaths and caressing his jaw as he kisses him, deep and possessing. Jared starts a little as he tastes himself on Jensen's tongue, then he feels Jared's dick swelling against his belly and he smiles against Jared's mouth, taking almost as much pleasure in Jared's surrender as he does in the feel of Jared's tight heat around his dick.

"Gonna release you now," Jensen murmurs against Jared's mouth, reaching up to untie the knot that started the lesson, finally letting Jared touch him. "You did good."

He pulls back a little after Jared's arms come down around him, thrusting slowly in and out of Jared's tight hole as Jared's hands move over body, then slide up to hold his head so he can watch Jensen's face as his orgasm builds. Jared cries out as Jensen's dick hits his prostate, throwing his head back and closing his eyes against the sudden spine-melting pleasure that he's feeling for the first time in his life. And watching it happen -- knowing he's the one putting that look on Jared's face, just giving him this new experience that is so intense and real and almost unbearable -- Jensen feels such love for Jared it makes his chest swell and his dick twitch and he's done.

Not even fully aware of doing it as his orgasm surges through him, Jensen rears up and goes completely rigid, utterly a single choked syllable as he comes and comes and comes, harder than he can remember ever coming before, the knowledge of Jared's trust and love for him making the moment almost too much.

Later, after they clean up and lie curled around each other in the dark, naked and warm and sleepy, Jared huffs out a laugh, curling his fingers in Jensen's hair.

"What?" Jensen opens his eyes, smiles at Jared's wide-eyed gaze. Jared looks so young in the dim light, like that boy Jensen first fell in love with all those years ago, that fresh-faced kid with all of his innocent belief in life, in the world, in Jensen. Just trusting that good things would always happen for him. And Jensen remembers wishing he could keep him that way, safe from pain or disappointment or unhappiness, just keep Jared smiling his wide-eyed, dimpled smile forever.

"It's our wedding night," Jared grins.

Jensen smiles wider, nods, wiggles down into the mattress a little. closes his eyes.

"Yeah," he agrees, feeling ridiculously proud of himself suddenly.

He feels Jared's expectant gaze on him, so he cracks open an eye.

"What?" he asks again, watches Jared shake his head a little.

"Well, that was my first time," he says like it should be obvious and Jensen's just being deliberately dense.

Jensen blinks, honestly taken aback, because it just hadn't occurred to him that Jared could be so old-fashioned.

It's cute, he decides immediately. Definitely cute.

"Yeah," Jensen agrees. "I'm awesome."

Jared blushes, lowers his eyes and grins broadly enough to light the whole room.

"You're an asshole," he breathes with a slight shake of his head.

"Yeah, but I'm your asshole, and you're my blushing bride," Jensen snarks back, grinning so hard his face hurts.

"Oh my god, you're so dead for calling me that," Jared breathes, grabbing Jensen to tickle him before he can get away, sending them both rolling across the bed, grabbing at each other's ribs and armpits and ticklish surfaces until they're both gasping and breathless with laughter.

All of which ends in more sex, of course, which is entirely appropriate, since it's their wedding night.

And Jensen decides he really wouldn't have it any other way.

*

He dreams he's in a diner in New Mexico, sitting across the table from Sam Winchester, who is going on and on about his latest research on a new hybrid monster that eats cattle but leaves the hearts.

"It's like a cross between a chupacabra and a werewolf," Sam is saying as he takes another bite from his plate of rice and beans and some kind of burrito thing covered in green enchilada sauce.

Jensen looks down at his own plate, notes the remains of a beef burrito smothered in sour cream, pushes it away in disgust.

That's when he notices his hands. The strange callouses, the scarred knuckles, the silver ring on the right one -- they're the hands of a man who's spent his life doing hard physical labor.

They're Dean Winchester's hands.

"What's wrong?" Sam asks, noticing the way Jensen is staring at his hands with what must be a look of surprise. "Dean? What's wrong?"

He looks up at Sam, stares at him helplessly, and in that way that only happens in dreams, Sam gets it. Understands what's happened, knows who he is.

"Jensen?"

He doesn't seem upset, doesn't look worried or freaked out, just a little surprised as Jensen nods.

"Hi Sam."

"What are you doing here?" Sam asks, then interrupts himself. "Wait, how are you here?"

"You tell me," Jensen shakes his head a little. "I was asleep -- it's my wedding night. I must be dreaming. Although I have to say, this is more of a nightmare."

But Sam doesn't get all freaky, doesn't seem nearly as worried or concerned as Jensen thinks he should be if this were real. In fact, Sam smiles a little and shakes his head.

Yep, definitely a dream.

"Wedding night, huh?" Sam repeats. "So -- everything worked out with you and -- that Polish actor?"

Jensen grins, relaxing a little. It's just a dream. Gonna wake up. Nothin' to worry about. Not stuck here.

"Yeah," he confirms. "Me and Fake You were officially married today. Gonna live happily ever after, goddamn it."

Sam's still smiling softly, looks down at his food, then up out the window.

"That's good," he says, nodding. "I'm glad it worked out."

"How 'bout you, Sam?" Jensen asks. "Everything okay? I guess you got your brother back."

Sam lifts his eyebrows, takes a deep breath, huffs it out as he raises his eyes to Jensen again.

"Yeah, I did," he confirms. "No thanks to you, though. Took me another six months after you left before he came back."

"He came back?" Jensen repeats, frowning.

"Yep," Sam nods. "Decided he couldn't live without me after all, what d'ya know?"

"No surprise there," Jensen nods. "But what about the demon thing? He cured now?"

"Not exactly," Sam frowns a little. "He's still demonic, still has the Mark, but it's manageable. It's something we can deal with."

"Huh," Jensen purses his lips doubtfully. "Not exactly the way things worked out in our world."

"Yeah, well, in your world our lives are just a t.v. show," Sam reminds him. "This is real. Things are different here."

Jensen has to concede the point, nods, realizes he doesn't really want all the details anyway.

He gazes at Sam silently for a moment as Sam takes another bite of his food, sips his beer.

"You look good, Sam," he comments.

Sam looks up at him sharply, then his face softens and he blushes a little and lowers his gaze.

"Thanks," he says. "So do you."

They sit in companionable silence for a minute, and Jensen wonders why he hasn't woken up yet.

Then he remembers he has something to tell Sam.

"They canceled the show," Jensen reveals, and Sam looks up in surprise.

"Oh no," he says. "I'm sorry. You're gonna be looking for work again." And I put that tattoo on your chest, Jensen can see Sam thinking but not saying.

Jensen grins, shakes his head.

"Doesn't matter," he says. "Jared and I will figure something out. He wants to start a winery. Grow grapes. We've got our eye on a bit of acreage out in Eastern Washington. It's miles from anything, but there's a little airport in Walla Walla, so we're good. I'll probably still manage to land some guest starring jobs if I want them, and I've had a standing invitation to join a friend's folk-rock band, so maybe now's my chance to really give that a shot. I'm still fairly young, time enough to start a new career if I want. I've been insanely lucky so far, and I never imagined the show would go on as long as it has, so I really can't complain."

Sam is looking at him, his gaze fond and soft.

"You've changed," Sam says. "You're more confident. More sure of yourself. It suits you."

Jensen nods.

"I guess we've all changed," he agrees.

The waitress comes up, offers them more coffee and water, asks about dessert, and Jensen orders a piece of blueberry pie because he suspects Dean would appreciate it and he's not planning to stay.

"I know I messed things up for you and Dean, and I'm sorry for that," he tells Sam after the waitress leaves again. "But I gotta say, coming here and facing this place for a week and a half -- well, it was no picnic, that's for sure. But it showed me I could survive something pretty traumatic, and yeah -- I think it changed me. I think I'm a stronger person for having been here. With you. I'm probably a better man than I was before. So -- so thanks, Sam."

Sam shifts uncomfortably, looks down at his plate.

"You don't have to say that," he mutters, pushing the food around with his fork.

"Yeah," Jensen argues. "Yeah, I do. And I mean it. I'll always be grateful to you, Sam Winchester, for saving my life. And you know what? There's a lot of people in this world who would say that to you, if they had the chance. Don't ever think there isn't."

Sam lifts his eyes, gives Jensen that skeptical, half-hurt expression that is so uniquely Sam it makes Jensen's chest hurt.

"And your brother is one lucky guy," Jensen adds, because he knows Dean. Knows he doesn't tell Sam enough how much he means to him. How important Sam is. "And don't worry, he knows he's a lucky bastard, just for having you. You're more than he deserves, and he knows it."

"Dean is a hero," Sam argues. "He's my hero. He faces everything head on, never stops or breaks down or takes a break, just keeps working to make the world a little better, a little safer for everybody except himself. He's the most self-less person I know. He gives and gives and gives, and the world just piles more shit on him and he keeps on giving anyway."

Sam takes a deep breath, shakes his head a little as if he's not used to expressing himself so passionately, and Jensen loves him for it, loves that Sam can lose himself in talking about the thing that means the most to him.

"The least I can do is to support him," Sam goes on. " To always have his back. It's the very least I can do for a man who's given everything."

"Not everything," Jensen reminds him. "He has you. And for Dean, you are everything."

Sam stares at him for a moment, then shakes his head again as if he's clearing it.

"I feel like I'm supposed to kiss you now," Sam says, the corners of his mouth turning up just a little as he ducks his head almost shyly.

Jensen shakes his head, grinning despite himself.

"Well, that's the way the scene ends in a typical romantic comedy," he agrees. "But you and Dean aren't exactly a typical romantic couple, so -- " His grin widens. "Besides, I'm a married man now."

"Go home to your husband, Jensen," Sam says softly. "Your work here is done."

And just like that -- and when he remembers the dream in the morning Jensen swears it was a magical event somehow conjured by Sam maybe, however accidentally, or maybe some residual after-effect of his earlier visit to Sam's world -- Jensen's home again, without even having to tap his ruby slippers together or anything.

Because if he really thinks about it hard enough, Jensen has to admit that Kansas isn't such a bad place after all. Or anywhere ordinary and natural, as a matter of fact, as long as Jared's there.

As long as Jared and Jensen are together, as they were always meant to be. Maybe they're not hunting things and saving people, but they kind of saved each other, and really that's not such a small thing.

That's not nothing at all, Jensen decides as he watches his husband take a sip of his coffee while he checks out the latest news and sports on his laptop, the morning sun on his hair making some of the strands look dark red and lustrous, his eyes full of color.

Jared looks up, catches his eye, and smiles.

THE END

BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 1

The men are tall.

One of them is taller than the other, but they are both huge. Dean has to tip his head way back, almost fall over backwards, to see all the way up to their faces.

Maybe Daddy is taller than the shorter one, but he's definitely shorter than the taller one.

The shorter man is frowning, and he looks stern. Dean feels his chest fill and his eyes smart with tears because the man does not look happy and he's sure he's going to be in trouble.

The other man is smiling at him though, and there are dimples in his cheeks. He glances at his friend, shoots him an unhappy look like the one Dean's mother gives him when Dean has made a mess on the kitchen floor -- and then the smiling man is kneeling down in front of him, so Dean doesn't have to look up so far.

He's still twice as tall as Dean, though, and Dean still has to crane his neck to look up at him.

"Hey, Dean," the smiling man says. "I'm Sam."

Dean feels his face break into a smile.

"That's my brother's name!" he says excitedly, and the tall man's eyes crinkle and his smile widens.

"I know," he says softly.

Just then the baby makes a little fussing noise. Dean turns to the basket where his brother lies. He bends down and smiles at the baby, who looks up at him, starts to smile back, then fusses again, flailing his little arms and kicking his little legs.

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean says to the baby -- his baby, he thinks. Sammy is his baby brother.

Dean looks up at the tall man with the dimples.

"He's hungry," Dean says. "I need to feed him."

"Okay," Tall Sam looks around, glances up at Frowning Man.

"Baby needs to eat," he says to his friend, who frowns deeper.

"What do I look like, Mary Poppins?" Tall Sam's friend growls.

Baby Sam is starting to fuss louder now. Dean knows what to do, but he's afraid to leave his baby brother alone in the room with these strange men, even if the one kneeling in front of him seems nice. His dad tells him all the time, "Dean, don't trust anyone. You hear me?" so he's afraid, wants to go wake up Dad but he's afraid to leave --

"Hey, Dean," Tall Sam says to get his attention. He seems to understand Dean's distress.

"Where's the baby's food? Is it in the kitchen?"

Dean nods, relieved. "There's bottles in the refrigerator," he says.

Tall Sam nods at his friend and raises his eyebrows expectantly.

Frowning Man sighs, rolls his eyes, then stalks off toward the kitchen.

Baby Sam has worked himself into a serious fit by the time Frowning Man comes back with the bottle, and it's still cold.

"You have to warm it up," Dean says as Frowning Man hands him the bottle.

Frowning Man grabs the bottle back, glares at Tall Sam.

"Bossy," he mutters, and Tall Sam raises his eyebrows, shrugs.

Tall Sam is sitting back on his heels now, so he's not quite so tall, and Dean feels comfortable enough to reach into the basket and pull Baby Sam out. Tall Sam starts to help him, but Dean yanks the baby away instinctively. Baby Sam's gotten big in the the last month, since Mommy burned up in the fire, and now he's wiggly and able to sit up and roll around and it's getting harder for Dean to just pick him up like this.

But he does it. He will always be able to hold his baby brother. He's got determination, that's what Daddy says.

Frowning Man comes back with the warm bottle -- "Not too hot!" Dean thinks, and he's surprised when he tests the bottle and it's just right -- how does Frowning Man know how to do that when Dean didn't tell him? Dean has Baby Sam on his lap -- he's criss-cross-apple-sauce on the floor with the baby in his arms just the right way and Baby Sam grabs the bottle with both hands as Dean puts it into his mouth, takes long, hungry pulls as his eyes glaze over in contentment and his whole body relaxes in Dean's arms.

Dean looks up proudly and Tall Sam is smiling at him, but his eyes are sad.

"Where's your dad, Dean?" Tall Sam asks, and Dean feels defensive. Daddy's sleeping again -- he sleeps a lot since Mommy burned up. But he's afraid to tell Tall Sam that, because it might make Tall Sam take him away.

"Daddy says I can't answer questions about us," Dean says. "He says it's not safe."

Tall Sam frowns a little, and Frowning Man nods.

"Damn straight," Frowning Man says, and his voice sounds angry. "It's not. You shouldn't even be talking to us. You know better."

"Dean," Tall Sam rolls his eyes and looks annoyed. "He's four years old."

"So?" Frowning Man challenges. "He's got to learn. Fast. I had to learn everything right out of the gate -- how to lie and be secretive and never to talk to strangers or answer questions. How do you think we survived, Sam? How do you think we stayed out of foster care in those early years?"

"I'm starting to think we survived because we were there," Tall Sam suggests. "Us. Big us, I mean."

Frowning Man stops pacing, stares down at Dean and Baby Sam silently for a moment.

Dean stares back at him, trying to be brave. He doesn't like Frowning Man. Wants Frowning Man to go away and leave them alone.

"Is your name Dean too?" Dean asks, knowing he needs to show Frowning Man he's a big boy and he can be tough like Daddy taught him to be.

"Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact," Frowning Man says. "You got a problem with that?"

"Dean!" Tall Sam scolds. "This is a four-year-old you're talking to. Turn off the bad cop thing or take a walk! Now!"

Big Dean shakes his head. "Yeah, well the last time I talked to myself in another timeline the guy was a major douche."

"Yeah, but this one is a little boy," Tall Sam insists. "So tone it down."

Baby Sam has finished his bottle, and Dean knows what to do. He hauls the baby up to sitting and stars patting his back.

"Now he has to burp," he tells Tall Sam, who raises his eyebrows skeptically.

"Here, let me do that," Big Dean says, and Dean looks up as Big Dean squats down in front of him, reaching for Dean's baby brother.

Dean pulls away instinctively, clutching Baby Sam. Big Dean has a clean diaper cloth over his shoulder and he's not frowning anymore, just encouraging Dean with his deep voice and his big green eyes and his expression that's not mean after all, it's more like he's just used to being obeyed, he's used to being the boss, and he's being gentle all of a sudden, and Dean suddenly feels like he can trust him, like he wouldn't hurt Baby Sam no matter what.

"It's okay," Tall Sam smiles reassuringly at Dean. "He knows what he's doing."

"Well, it's been a few years," Big Dean mutters, "But yeah, I think I remember how to burp a baby."

Big Dean's big hands slip around Baby Sam, under his armpits, and lift him away from Dean, who feels suddenly cold and lonely and helpless. He watches with tears slipping down his cheeks as Big Dean settles the baby against his shoulder, stands, patting Baby Sam on the back, murmuring "That's it, Sammy, I gotcha. That's it, big guy."

"He needs his diaper changed too," Dean says helpfully.

Big Dean looks shocked for a moment, and Tall Sam chokes on a laugh. Baby Sam takes that moment to let forth with the contents of his last few mouthfuls, regurgitating all over Big Dean's cloth-covered shoulder.

"He's got a sensitive tummy," Dean explains. He lisps on the word "sensitive" and it makes him blush, ashamed he can't yet speak like a big boy.

Big Dean lifts his eyebrows, glances at Tall Sam.

"You don't say," Big Dean says, then reaches up and wipes the baby's mouth with a corner of the cloth, murmuring, "You got a problem tummy there, bud? Don't worry, you're doomed to a lifetime of salads and veggie burgers and being a real pain in the ass for your big brother, so you better start getting used to it."

Big Dean looks down at Dean.

"Where's his diapers?"

Dean scrambles up, fetches the diaper bag, spreads a pad on the couch. "I change him in here when Daddy's sleeping," Dean says.

Tall Sam and Big Dean exchange looks.

"So your dad's sleeping?" Tall Sam clarifies. "At 4:00 in the afternoon?"

Dean nods. He's starting to trust these tall men, probably more than he should, but there's something about them that feels familiar, and watching Big Dean take care of Baby Sam with so much care and gentleness is starting to win him over in a big way. Anybody who looks at his baby brother that way can't be all bad.

Tall Sam and Big Dean exchange looks again.

"Is there anyone else who looks after you?" Tall Sam asks. "A nanny, or a babysitter?"

Dean shakes his head.

"You know there wasn't, Sam," Big Dean says as he lays the baby on his back on the couch, holds him down as he unfastens his diaper, making a colossal face as he does it. But he soldiers on, doing a really good job of it in the end, and Dean is impressed, even a little relieved because yeah, he can do it all by himself, but Baby Sam is big and wiggly and sometimes Dean ends up making a mess and having to clean it up before Dad sees and gets mad.

Big Dean has Baby Sammy neatly diapered and dressed in a clean onesie and back safely in Dean’s arms before Dean can say “boo,” like Mommy used to say. Big Dean goes off to wash his hands, which is when the bedroom door opens and Daddy comes out. He’s got his gun trained on Tall Sam, and his face is mad, madder than Dean’s ever seen it.

Dean holds Sammy tight as Tall Sam raises his hands slowly, stays crouched on the floor. His eyebrows go up and his eyes get wet, like he’s gonna cry.

“Who are you?” Daddy demands in his gruffest voice. “What do you want?”

“Hey,” Tall Sam says. “It’s okay. We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re here to help.”

“We?” Daddy takes a step closer, raising the gun and holding it tight, and Dean can tell he means business, so Tall Sam better watch out.

Tall Sam is looking over Daddy’s shoulder, behind Daddy, ‘cause there’s Big Dean, standing in the bathroom doorway.

“Hey, John,” Big Dean says quietly.

Daddy whirls around, starts to crouch, then lowers his gun.

“Dean?” Daddy’s lowering the gun all the way now, recognizing Big Dean, and Dean feels relieved because it means he was right to trust these men after all, and Daddy won’t get mad because he let Big Dean help him with Sammy.

"Wait -- you remember me?" Big Dean looks surprised.

"Course I do," Daddy says. "You helped me buy my car. How could I forget that? And last year, when you come to town looking for a job -- "

"Wait, what?"

Now Big Dean looks thoroughly confused.

"Hey, I'm sorry about that," Daddy says. "Are you still looking for work? Is that what you're doing here? How did you get in?”

He’s putting the safety back on the gun, locking it away in the box on the table.

Big Dean glances past Daddy, looks straight at him, and Dean feels like he’s gonna cry because Big Dean is gonna tell on him.

But instead he says, “The door was unlocked. We let ourselves in.”

And Daddy believes him, just looks upset, swiping his hand over his face.

“God, I really had too much to drink,” he mutters.

“Yeah, we heard about – about your wife,” Dean murmurs sympathetically. “We’re so sorry, man.”

Daddy looks at him, then over at Tall Sam, who is still kneeling on the floor next to Dean. Tall Sam looks like he's gonna cry, and Dean feels sorry for him.

“We?” Daddy says. “Who’s this?”

“I’m Sam,” Tall Sam says, rising awkwardly to his feet so he can stride forward, puts his hand out. He still looks really sad, but excited at the same time, like he'd really rather give Daddy a big hug, but he settles for grabbing his hand firmly and holding it for a minute. "It's so good to see you."

Daddy lets Tall Sam hold his hand for a minute, looking up at him a little dazedly, then he looks back at Dean.

“You’re – wait, you guys are – “

“We’re hunters, yeah,” Tall Sam nods. “We’re here to help.”

“Hunters,” Daddy repeats, looking confused.

“We think you know that what happened last month wasn’t natural,” Big Dean says. “We think you’ve probably already talked to Missouri Mosely, and you’re getting some sense for how crazy it is. How not normal. Am I right?”

Daddy swipes his hand over his face again.

“Yeah, I get that,” he agrees. “What I saw that night – what happened to Mary – “ Daddy’s eyes fill with tears and they start running down his cheeks.

"We hunt things that do that," Tall Sam says softly. "It's our job."

"So -- " Daddy hesitates, looks from one to the other man, frowning. "So you're saying that the thing that did that to Mary -- "

"It was a demon, yeah," Big Dean says. "An extra-special evil kind of demon. It made a deal with Mom -- with Mary -- ten years ago. Your life for hers."

"It did what?" Daddy looks shocked, and Dean wishes he could give him a hug, but Baby Sam has fallen asleep in his lap and he's heavy and Dean can't move now. "Don't wake the baby," Mommy always said when Dean got too rowdy in the house. Now he bends close and kisses the baby on his forehead, and Baby Sam's hand clutches reflexively around his index finger, holding Dean's hand tight against his little chest.

"Look, we can tell you the whole story, but right now you need to come with us," Tall Sam is saying, and Dean can see he's trying to stop Big Dean from saying something else that might hurt Daddy's feelings worse.

"What?" Daddy frowns. "Why?"

"You're in danger," Tall Sam says, his voice calm and reasonable, but Dean can see the serious look in his face, and it makes him feel scared and brave at the same time.

Maybe Tall Sam is a superhero, he thinks suddenly. Maybe he's here to save us. Maybe he can bring Mommy back.

Big Dean is nodding. "The thing that killed Mom -- Mary -- it'll come back," he says gruffly. "It'll come for you and -- your boys. It's already killed your neighbors, your friends, Mary's family, everyone you know or who might take you in after this."

Daddy's eyes grow wide, and he stares from one to the other of the men but doesn't speak. Dean thinks he looks like a little boy suddenly, like somebody Dean knows in his preschool class who's just found out he he's being left alone for the first time.

"Dean," Daddy says, and Dean looks up, thinking Daddy means him, but he's looking at Big Dean, looking at him like he's just now seeing him for the first time.

"You -- " then Daddy looks at Tall Sam, his eyes widening. "You two -- How do you know all this?"

His tone is demanding, and Dean wishes he could answer, wishes he could obey, but he knows it's up to Tall Sam and Big Dean to answer, and he's amazed to watch grown-up men act like little boys because he can see the way they blush and look away and act like they did something wrong, as if they're little kids and they're feeling caught and guilty, just like he felt last month when he was in the garage looking in Daddy's tool-chest when he knew he shouldn't be there, when Daddy said, "Dean, you stay out of the garage unless I'm with you, you hear me?"

Big Dean and Tall Sam are exchanging nervous glances, silently debating something. Dean can see the minute they agree, the second their faces go serious and their jaws set and they give each other a slight nod, then turn back to Daddy.

"We're from your future," Big Dean says. "From 2014."

He takes a big breath, then blurts out, "We're your sons."

Daddy doesn't look as surprised as Dean thinks he should. He raises his eyebrows, looks back and forth between Big Dean and Tall Sam, then looks down at Dean and Baby Sam.

Dean wants to blurt out, "No you're not!" because he and Baby Sam are Daddy's sons, not these grown up men.

But he doesn't want to wake Baby Sam, and besides, he's sure Daddy will say it anyway, so he's even more surprised when Daddy shakes his head a little, like he's clearing it, like he's letting go of a lot of his earlier conceptions of normal and ordinary.

And Dean can see it the minute Daddy decides to go with the weird and unnatural, the minute Daddy decides to accept what he's just heard.

Then he's looking down at Dean, smiling a little.

"It's okay, Dean," he says gently. "These men are family. We're gonna be okay."

Big Dean and Tall Sam seem surprised and grateful at the same time, and now Tall Sam really does hug Daddy, and Dean can see tears on his dimpled cheeks, hears Daddy say "It's all right, son," to Big Dean when he hugs him too.

"I've kinda lost my skepticism of all things crazy," Daddy says as he releases Big Dean, squeezes his shoulder. There are tears on Big Dean's face too. "Seems like after what's happened in the past month, anything's possible. So time travel, huh?"

Big Dean nods.

"And not for the first time," Daddy says, and Big Dean nods again.

"This is actually our third trip. Well, my third trip anyway," Big Dean says. "Sam and I came back a few years ago to try to stop an angel from killing Mom. Another angel wiped your memories, so you don't even remember that time. And I guess I'm gonna come back again, based on what you just said about me being here last year. 'Cause I don't remember that."

"Angels too?" Daddy raises his eyebrows. "But that's a good thing, isn't it?"

Big Dean and Tall Sam exchange glances again, and Big Dean shifts his feet awkwardly.

"Not so much," he says.

"Most angels are dicks, actually," Tall Sam says.

"Look," Big Dean looks serious and frowny again. "You raised us to be hunters, and we recently found out something that made us think we're supposed to be here now, to help you get out of harm's way and survive this thing that's happened. You've got friends in this timeline -- hunters -- who can help you stay under the radar, and that's what you need to do. That, and raise these kids. Us."

Big Dean looks over, meets Dean's eye, stares for a solid minute while Dean does his best to stare bravely back.

Then Big Dean winks at him. Dean hugs Baby Sam, leans down to kiss him again, then rocks back and forth, feeling better suddenly.

Daddy's looking back and forth between Tall Sam and Big Dean, trying to decide something, then he nods.

"Okay," he agrees. "We'll come with you. Can we swing by the house first? I want to pick up a few things."

"We wouldn't advise it," Tall Sam says. "We know for a fact there are spirits and other things there, drawn by the demon's presence there last month. It's not safe for you there."

Daddy nods. "That's what Missouri said," he agrees. "Okay, then. I'll just pack together the stuff we have here."

Which was when the bad thing happened.

* *
Dean thought about it later, when they were safely in the car and driving away fast, because at the time it makes no sense.

Three men burst into the apartment, and two of them try to grab Daddy while one heads straight for Dean and Baby Sam. Dean feels a scream rise in his throat but he's suddenly grabbed up by Tall Sam, who presses him and Baby Sam against his huge chest and carries them out the door, down the stairs to the car.

But not before he sees Big Dean grab those two men, twist a knife -- or maybe it's a small
sword -- first into one and then the other one of the men who have Daddy.

Then Tall Sam's putting him into the backseat of the car, kneeling down to meet his eyes.

"Stay here," he tells Dean, face serious and firm, and Dean nods.

"Daddy!" he squeaks out pitifully, and Tall Sam nods.

"I'm gonna go get your Daddy," he says. "You just stay here, okay, Dean?"

Dean nods, feeling tears smarting in his eyes as Tall Sam closes the door on him and runs back into the apartment building.

It's only a few minutes, but it feels like forever to Dean before Tall Sam comes back.

He and Big Dean have Daddy between them, and they're carrying him a little because he's hurt. There's blood on his shirt, and Dean remembers that one of the bad men was stabbed in the back right in front of Daddy; maybe it's the bad man's blood.

Big Dean opens the back door of the car, and he and Tall Sam hustle Daddy inside, gently laying him against the backseat, next to Dean and Baby Sam.

"You're gonna be okay," Big Dean is saying. "It's just a scratch. We'll get you to the bunker, get you fixed up."

Daddy nods, and now Dean can see he's clutching his chest, and there's a lot of blood there, all over his hand. Tall Sam is taking his over-shirt off, wadding it up and pushing it against the wound, puts Daddy's hand on top of it, scoots in next to him so that Dean is pressed up against the door, holding Baby Sam, and Daddy's pressed up against him on the other side. Tall Sam has his hand over Daddy's, holding it there.

Big Dean is in the driver's seat, starting the car.

"He needs a hospital, Dean," Tall Sam says, and his face looks worried. "He's gonna bleed out."

"No hospitals," Big Dean growls. "Gotta stay under the radar."

"Dean -- "

"You saw those demons, Sam," Big Dean growls louder. "They were hell-bent on killing. There'll be more. They'll be waiting for us at the hospital. The bunker is our only chance."

Tall Sam doesn't answer, just bites his bottom lip and frowns. Daddy's eyes are fluttering, like he's about to fall asleep, and he's breathing funny. Tall Sam catches Dean's eye, smiles a little at him.

"Everything's gonna be okay, Dean," he says. "We're gonna fix your dad."

Dean nods, trying to show Tall Sam how brave he is. He watches the back of Big Dean's head as Big Dean drives, watches his jaw tense when he turns his head.

"Dean," Daddy's voice is soft, and when Dean looks at him he's smiling a little, but he looks sleepy.

"Take care of your brother."

Dean hugs Baby Sam and nods.

"I will, Daddy," he says because he knows that's what Daddy wants him to say.

Daddy nods, takes a breath but starts to cough. Tall Sam has his arm around him.

"Dad?" Tall Sam's voice sounds worried.

Daddy doesn't open his eyes again, but the coughing stops and his whole body relaxes, his head falls over onto Tall Sam's shoulder and he goes still, like he's fallen asleep.

"Dad?" Tall Sam calls again, louder and panicked now. He presses his fingers into the side of Daddy's neck, under his ear.

"Dean!" Tall Sam barks at Big Dean. "Hospital! Now!"

Big Dean is glaring at them in the rearview mirror, half turns in his seat to check out the situation for himself, then he's stepping on the gas and turning the car around, speeding up and making Daddy press hard against Dean, so it almost hurts because he's being squished. Dean holds tight to Baby Sam, who is still sleeping and Dean is so glad of that because if he was awake he would be wiggling and Dean thinks he probably couldn't hold onto him with the car going so fast and rocking back and forth as they go around corners.

Then the hospital looms in front of them. Flashing lights remind Dean of the night at their house a month ago, and he feels chilly and scared. The car screeches to a stop and Big Dean jumps out, leaves the car door open as he yanks open the back door, helps Tall Sam pull Daddy out. Tall Sam is trying to pick Daddy up, Big Dean is calling Daddy "Dad!" and "John!" and trying to get him to wake up, and finally they're both carrying Daddy toward the emergency entrance. Big Dean calls back to Dean to "Stay there! Don't move!" and then they're all gone, through the sliding doors into the hospital.

Dean huddles in the back seat of the car with Baby Sam, trying not to cry. He wonders if Daddy will wake up, come out to get him, or if he'll have to sleep here.

His tummy rumbles and he has to go to the bathroom. He's trying to be good, stay where Big Dean told him to, but he's starting to think he has to go so bad he might pee in his pants, and that would get on the car and Daddy would be really mad, so he puts Baby Sam down carefully on the seat beside him and starts pulling on the door handle.

That's when Big Dean comes back. He's frowning and he looks tired, but he leans in the back door and raises his eyebrows at Dean, and Dean can see he's trying not to yell at him.

"You okay?" he asks, and Dean nods. "Good. You hungry? Need a bathroom?"

Dean nods again, vigorously this time, and Big Dean nods.

"Okay, here's the thing," he says. "I'm gonna park the car, then I'm taking you in with me, you and the baby. We'll get some chow, we'll hang out for awhile, make sure Dad's okay. Then we'll see what we're gonna do next. Sound good?"

Dean nods and Big Dean slaps the roof of the car, straightens and slams the car door shut, crosses around to the driver's seat.

Later, when Dean's gone to the bathroom and had a hamburger in the hospital cafeteria, Big Dean sits him down in a chair in the waiting room and he falls asleep with Big Dean's arm around him, holding Baby Sam and leaning against Big Dean's big, warm body that feels almost like Daddy's and smells like him too.

In his sleep he hears voices, hears somebody talking to Big Dean.

"So you're John's brothers," a strange man says. "Funny John never mentioned he had brothers. We tried to help him find some family to help him out last month when his wife died. He said he didn't have any family."

"We're his dad's second family," Big Dean says. "Half-brothers. Different mothers. We didn't grow up together. We just found out about what happened a little while ago. Got here as soon as we could."

"And you say these men attacked you -- right in front of John's apartment building?"

"Probably looking for drugs, money," Tall Sam says. "We surprised them, I think. They seemed pretty strung out."

"Okay, you two stay put," the stranger said. "We've got some guys going over to check the apartment out, then we'll need to ask you some more questions."

"Not goin' anywhere, officer," Big Dean says. "We just got here."

Dean can hear footsteps as the policeman walks away, then Big Dean and Tall Sam move closer, so they're standing right next to the chair where he's sleeping.

"Dean, we gotta get outta here," Tall Sam says, speaking in an urgent whispery voice. "When they check out that apartment and find those bodies -- "

"We can't just leave Dad here," Big Dean hisses back.

"We're gonna have to," Tall Sam insists. "He needs a blood transfusion and surgery. Doctor said the knife nicked his lung. He's gonna be in intensive care for at least a few days. We can't stay here."

"You go," Big Dean says. "Take the kids. Get to the bunker. I'll stay with Dad. I can stay out of the way, nobody will know I'm here. Then when Dad's well enough I'll bring him to the bunker."

"Dean, if they catch you -- " Tall Sam sighs.

"They won't," Big Dean snaps. "Here."

Even though Dean's eyes are closed he can tell that Big Dean is handing Baby Sam to Tall Sam, who scoops him up and holds him in one arm. Somehow Dean can tell Big Dean doesn't want to hand the baby over, does it reluctantly.

Dean can't really say he likes Big Dean, but he sure understands him.

"Now go," Big Dean says. "Before the cops come back. Get out of here."

Then Tall Sam is leaning down, murmuring,"Dean?" in his ear, and Dean rolls over, opens his eyes a little. He's so sleepy.

"Come on, big guy," Tall Sam says. "We're going home."

Dean lets Tall Sam pick him up, settle him against his shoulder while he's carrying Baby Sam in his other arm. Tall Sam's shoulder is big and strong and smells good, and Dean rests his cheek there, hooks his arm around Tall Sam's neck, fingers of one hand tangled in Tall Sam's long hair. It feels safe, pressed warm and snug against Tall Sam's massive chest, and Dean slips back into sleep on deep breaths of Tall Sam's spicy scent, barely even noticing when he's laid down in the back seat of the car with Baby Sam in his arms, the baby's familiar smell merely a slight mutation of Tall Sam's, so that Dean feels engulfed in Sam, Sam, Sam.

PART TWO - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 2

Dean barely wakes when the car stops and Tall Sam scoops him up and settles him on his shoulder again, carries him into a room where there's a bed. It smells dusty, and when Tall Sam tucks him in, the blanket and pillow smell dusty too.

"Sleep tight, Dean," Tall Sam murmurs as he presses his lips to Dean's forehead. "You're safe here."

Dean reaches out and there's the baby, just as it should be. Tall Sam's laid the baby right there next to him, and Dean scoots in, presses his face into Sam's hair, breathes deep.

The next thing he knows, he's waking up in a strange dark room. He's been crying in his sleep; the pillow is damp under his cheek. Baby Sam is sucking on his fingers; Dean feels the baby's chest rise and fall under his hand as he breathes. The only sounds are Sam's soft sucking noises. He climbs off the bed carefully, finding the floor with his bare feet, shuffles toward the door where there's a light on underneath, hoping it's the bathroom.

Outside is a long, dimly-lit hallway, full of doors just like the one he's coming out of. The doors are all closed. He can hear a voice now, speaking low and intense, from somewhere down the hall, so he follows it, turns a corner and finds the bathroom. When he's done he comes out into the hall again, panics. He can't remember where his door is, the room with the bed and baby Sam. On instinct he pads down the hallway toward the voice, rounds another corner into a big room with tall ceilings. Tall Sam is sitting at a big table, a pile of papers and books in front of him on the table, and he's talking on a telephone. It's an old, antique kind with a big handle and a long thick cord attaching the handle to the cradle where the dial sits.

"No, Dean, I had to page you," Tall Sam is saying into the phone. He pauses a moment as the person -- Big Dean, probably -- answers, then Tall Sam shakes his head, looks irritated. "Cells don't work. No cell service in 1983, duh. No internet either. I'm looking at a pile of books and files, trying to find the spell. Manually. I gotta tell ya, Dean, we could be stuck here for awhile."

He looks up then, notices Dean standing in the entryway, fighting the urge to put his thumb in his mouth.

Tall Sam's eyes soften, and he smiles a little.

"Hey, I gotta go," he says into the phone. "I gotta take the kids shopping. They need stuff."

He pauses again, listening, then frowns into the phone.

"I don't know, Dean," Tall Sam's voice is annoyed again. "Food, clothes, diapers, for godssake. Stuff. Okay? We'll go to Walmart or something. No big deal. Just keep an eye on Dad, okay? Get him home for Christmas. And call me."

Tall Sam hangs up the phone, smiles at Dean.

"Hey, buddy," he says. "You sleep okay?"

Dean shakes his head, feels the tears well in his eyes.

Tall Sam frowns a little, gets up and crosses the room, kneels down in front of Dean so they're almost eye-to-eye.

"What's wrong?" Tall Sam asks. "Bad dream?"

Dean nods, feels tears slide down his cheeks, reaches up instinctively for a hug.

Tall Sam puts his arms around him, patting his back a little awkwardly, seeming to find it hard to know what to do with his long, long arms, since they could wrap around Dean twice and still have room for more.

It works, though, feels good, comforting, as Dean knew it would after being carried in Tall Sam's arms already. It's a place he feels safe, like he does with Daddy, only different.

"Okay," Tall Sam murmurs softly. "You're okay now, Dean. Nothing can hurt you here."

He holds Dean for another minute, then gently pulls back, wipes his own eyes, smiles and shakes his head.

"You're so little and helpless this way," Tall Sam, as if he's talking to someone else. "I just never realized how really little you were when all of this happened."

"I'm four years old," Dean holds up his fingers to show Tall Sam, because it's not like he's three or something.

Tall Sam nods, smiles softly.

"I know," he nods. "You're a big boy. I know."

Dean blinks, watches Tall Sam's almond-shaped eyes and soft lips as he speaks, not understanding but feeling a familiar warmth in his chest like he gets when Daddy or Mommy are hugging him. It makes him remember what Big Dean told the policeman in the hospital, and suddenly he thinks he understands.

Tall Sam loves him, just like Daddy and Mommy do, because he's family. That explains why Tall Sam feels so familiar.

"Are you my daddy's brother?" Dean asks. "Are you and Big Dean in my family?"

He feels a sudden surge of hope, wishes it were true more than anything. Needs it to be true. Dean's never had an uncle, or a grandmother, or anyone besides Daddy and Mommy and Baby Sam. Other kids at his preschool have those things, they talked about visiting grandparents, having holiday dinners with cousins and aunts and uncles. It always sounded so warm and wonderful to have so many people loving you, not just the two or three people who live with you. The most important people, of course, are your mommy and daddy and sisters and brothers, but Dean's got so few, and on Christmas there's just them --

Which leads him to follow up his earlier questions -- and Tall Sam is staring at him with his eyebrows lifted, obviously struggling to come up with something to say -- so Dean bursts out with it.

"Are you gonna be here for Christmas? Are you here to have Christmas with us?"

It fills him with such hope -- the idea that he could have a big Christmas like his preschool friends do, with cookies and pie and kids laughing and running around and he could climb on anyone's lap and he would be welcome -- Dean is too excited suddenly.

Tall Sam's mouth falls open and he gives a funny little frown, like he's trying to decide whether he should say something but then decides to say something else.

Then he makes up his mind and nods.

"Yeah, Dean," he says softly. "We'll have a big Christmas. Would you like that?"

Dean nods, and he can tell his eyes are shining with tears because Tall Sam smiles broadly, and his face crinkles and dimples and shines like the sun, so that Dean almost has to look away because Tall Sam is so beautiful suddenly, too bright to look at directly.

Then Dean hears Baby Sam crying, and he turns toward the sound, grabbing Tall Sam's hand.

"Sam's crying," he says, and Tall Sam looks confused for a minute, then he hears it too and stands up to follow along.

"Wow," he mutters. "You could hear that."

Like it's such a surprise that Dean knows in his bones when Baby Sam needs him.

But for Dean it's obvious. Who else can take care of Baby Sam, now that Mommy's gone? And Daddy's sick and sleeping all the time, and now he's in the hospital -- of course it's up to Dean.

Luckily there was a diaper bag in the car with unmixed formula, because Baby Sam needs his diaper changed and he's hungry. When the essentials are taken care of, Dean eats his own breakfast and Tall Sam bundles them into the car for the drive to the store, which turns out to be a K-mart, as Tall Sam mutters out loud to Dean, because "there weren't Walmarts yet in 1983," which is just another funny nonsensical thing like a lot of things Tall Sam says, so Dean ignores it.

It's cold out -- mid-December in Kansas is always cold -- but there are blankets and extra clothes in the trunk of the Impala, so it's all good. Dean left his coat in the apartment, though, and the only clothes for Baby Sam are a couple of spare onesies in the diaper bag, so he gets the blanket and wraps it around his brother before they drive to town.

At K-mart, Tall Sam straps the baby into his car-seat, then puts the car-seat in the shopping cart the way Dean shows him. Tall Sam seems to need Dean to tell him what to do a lot, and Dean is fine with that because Tall Sam might be grown up, but he obviously doesn't know anything about babies. They find the baby aisle and load up on diapers, baby clothes and baby food.

"Sam eats real baby food now," Dean explains to Tall Sam. "He needs a high chair so he can sit up when he eats."

So they find a big box with a high-chair inside, then they find the bottles and formula and put those in the cart too.

A grandmotherly-looking woman offers to help them and Tall Sam gets defensive and nervous, bundling Dean and the baby into the cart quickly and moving away across the store at top speed, barely looking back at the woman.

"Can't trust people," he mutters. "This happened before. Never talk to strangers, especially when buying baby stuff."

Dean nods solemnly.

"That's what Daddy says," he agrees, and Tall Sam stops dead, stares at him for a minute, shakes his head.

"Oh my god," he says softly. "This is how it started, isn't it? All the paranoia. Dad was preaching it at you from the very beginning."

Dean looks at Tall Sam, waiting for his words to make sense.

Tall Sam shakes his head.

"Never mind," he says dismissively. "Let's get this stuff and get home."

Dean feels instantly sad because Tall Sam forgot. He forgot Christmas.

"What? What's wrong?" Tall Sam is right there, tuned in to Dean like he's the other half of his soul, like he understands Dean better than he understands himself.

Dean feels his lip quiver, but he refuses to cry, manages to mutter, "You said we could have a big Christmas."

Tall Sam's face clears immediately.

"Right," he says. "Absolutely. Come on, let's go get a Christmas tree."

Dean feels his face relax into a big grin. He knew Tall Sam wouldn't lie to him. He knew it!

The store is full of Christmas items. It's a little overwhelming how much glitter and lights and red-and-green bows there are everywhere. Tall Sam grabs stuff off the shelves without looking very closely, and by the time they reach the check-out line they're tired and Baby Sam is fussy and they have to wait and wait and wait because it's Christmas season at K-mart and that's the way it is.

Then Tall Sam's credit cards don't work, so he has to pay cash, and they end up leaving the high chair because Tall Sam doesn't have enough money, and they get a lot of irritated looks from the people in line behind them because Baby Sam is wailing by this time and Dean wants to climb up on his seat so he can just hold and rock that baby but Tall Sam's afraid he'll fall so he won't let him but he does it anyway while Tall Sam is dealing with the harried check-out guy and sure enough, Baby Sam settles down right away with Dean up there practically on top of him.

The entire store bursts into applause, and a chorus of "awwww"s rise around them, but when Tall Sam turns to see what all the commotion is about and Dean's perched awkwardly on the baby's seat, murmuring comforting words and sounds and kissing Baby Sam's plump little cheeks and fingers, Tall Sam looks shocked, just stares blankly for a minute like he can't quite believe what he's seeing.

"You've got a special little boy there, mister," the store manager says.

"And that baby sure loves his big brother," comments the lady behind them in line.

"I never saw a baby stop crying so fast," another woman agrees.

"It's like he's flipped a switch or something," the check-out guy says. "Like magic."

Tall Sam frowns at the check-out guy, reaches up and pulls Dean off the top of the cart, holding him in one arm as he pushes the cart out of the store at top speed.

"Way to be inconspicuous, Sam," he mutters to himself as he finds the car, dumps Dean and Baby Sam in the back seat, then starts loading the trunk with all the baby and Christmas stuff. It's freezing in the car so Dean pulls the blanket around the baby, starts to climb up onto his seat to keep him warm.

Tall Sam is in the driver's seat, glancing at Dean in the rearview mirror, when he remembers.

"Oh shit," he says. "I was gonna buy you a coat."

He finds the other blanket, tucks it around Dean and the baby, starts to leave them huddled in the backseat while he goes back into the store to buy the coat.

But he's ambushed by a plump, middle-aged lady who wants him to join her "mom's club" because "Dads are welcome too!" and she watched him with "those two adorable little boys" in the store and she's sure he could use some support.

Tall Sam looks horrified at her, backs away muttering "no thanks, no thanks," and gets into the driver's seat as fast as he can, pulling out of there in such a hurry the tires screech.

"We'll get you a coat later," he says to Dean in the rearview mirror, and Dean just nods.

* *
When they get back to the bunker, Dean shows Tall Sam how to feed the baby with the tiny spoon and some Cheerios. They forgot to buy a bib, so Tall Sam tucks a towel around Baby Sam's front. The baby pulls it off, of course, and gets himself covered with baby food and drool, so with Tall Sam's help Dean changes the baby's clothes after he eats, then gets him ready for a nap. They don't have a crib, and Baby Sam is rolling around and sitting up pretty well now, so they cobble together a makeshift pen in a corner of the room where Dean can sit and rock with the baby until he falls asleep, then puts him down gently on the blanket on a rug with pillows and books all around to keep him from hurting himself.

Tall Sam watches as Dean takes care of the baby, then pads over to Tall Sam and climbs into his lap, tucking his head under Tall Sam's chin and resting his head against his chest, where he can feel his heart beating.

It takes Tall Sam a minute, but then he's got his arms around Dean, presses his face into his hair and breathes. They sit like that for a few minutes, silently, until they're sure the baby is asleep. Then Dean's stomach rumbles.

"Come on," Tall Sam whispers. "Let's get you some lunch."

While Dean eats his peanut butter and jelly sandwich Tall Sam makes another phone call. Dean listens as Tall Sam's voice rises and falls, and he knows he's talking to Big Dean because he's used to the way Tall Sam talks to his partner now. Tall Sam sounds irritated at first, then pleading and whiny. Finally his voice gets soft and quiet, and he answers in monosyllables with a lot of pauses as he listens to Big Dean being reassuring and confident and in control.

They spend the afternoon decorating. Tall Sam brings in the funny-looking little Christmas tree they bought, and Dean helps him put on tinsel and lights and sparkly ornaments. When it's done they stand back, stare at the wobbly, lopsided little tree hesitantly.

"It's probably not exactly what you're used to," Tall Sam suggests. "I'm sure your mom's trees were pretty awesome."

Dean slips his hand into Tall Sam's and smiles up at him, speechless with happiness. Feeling a little sad too, but he's starting to get used to that.

Tall Sam smiles down.

"Kinda more like A Charlie Brown Christmas than It's a Wonderful Life," he says with a shrug. "Sorry."

"Do you think Santa can find us here?" Dean asks, looking around for a chimney and not seeing one. That makes him frown, and he looks up at Tall Sam expectantly.

Tall Sam's face changes expression a few times, like he's trying to decide how to answer and changes his mind a lot before he does.

Finally he squats down in front of Dean and looks him in the eye, all serious and thoughtful.

"I'm sure he will, Dean," Tall Sam says. "Don't worry. When you get up Christmas morning, there'll be presents. Just like always. Okay?"

Dean nods, then puts his arms around Tall Sam's neck and hugs him because he looks like he needs it.

Tall Sam hugs him back, and his hugs are getting better, like he's starting to get used to hugging a four-year-old and it's not so awkward.

Baby Sam is fussing so Dean spends some time playing with him, brings him over to the tree so he can look at the lights and the sparkly decorations. Baby Sam reaches for the tree and seems so delighted by it that it makes even Tall Sam laugh. Tall Sam finds some old phonograph records with Christmas music on them, and he makes hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper.

Nobody wants to leave the room with the Christmas tree, but finally it's time for bed. Tall Sam makes a secure area on the bed in the same room where they slept last night -- "It's your room, Dean," Tall Sam assures him -- and Baby Sam goes to sleep in Dean's arms just like he always does now. Then Tall Sam makes him brush his teeth, wash up and put on the pajamas they bought at K-mart. He lets Dean stay up a little while since he's a big boy, and Tall Sam reads him a story from the shelf in the library, curled up in a big chair with Dean on his lap where he can see the pictures. Dean's belly is full, the Christmas tree is pretty, and Tall Sam's lap is warm and secure, and Dean falls asleep before they're even done with one chapter of the strange story about the little girl who leaves her Kansas home for a strange new world called Oz.

NEXT CHAPTER - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 3

The next day is spent much like the first, and the day after that. Dean explores the bunker a little bit, opening doors and peering into strange, dark, dusty rooms. Tall Sam shows him the garage full of old cars, and he plays in one for awhile, imagining he's driving, imagining he's fixing it like his dad can do. Tall Sam teaches him to play cards, takes him to the recreation room, which has a pool table. Tall Sam stands him on a chair so he can reach the table, shows him how to hold the cue, laughs at him because it's so awkward and his hands are so small he keeps dropping it.

"You can't even imagine what a great pool player you're gonna be someday, Dean," Tall Sam laughs as he reaches around from behind and helps Dean position the cue again, lines it up with the ball, helps him shoot. With Tall Sam's help, he plays pretty well, and it makes Dean's chest glow with pride because Tall Sam looks so pleased.

"Only seems fair I get to teach you, since you taught me," he says with a grin, and Dean smiles back, uncomprehending as ever but needing to keep Tall Sam smiling. Needing to keep his eyes soft and his cheeks dimpling like that because it's definitely the best thing in the world.

Besides Baby Sam and Daddy, of course.

When Dean wakes up crying on the third night in the bunker, Tall Sam is right there, soothing Dean's brow and wiping away the tears as the memories of fire and screaming and heat and running away with Baby Sam heavy in his arms slowly fade. He knows he was crying for his mom because Tall Sam is saying, "It's okay, Dean. I know you miss Mom, I know it's tough, buddy. But you're gonna be okay. You just gotta trust me on that. You're gonna be okay."

Tall Sam rocks and soothes him until Dean falls asleep again, his face buried against Tall Sam's warm, solid chest.

* *

They fall into a routine by the fifth day, Tall Sam doing his research in the library on the big table while Dean plays with Baby Sam on the floor, dangling measuring spoons and other shiny objects in front of the baby to make him reach and laugh. Dean loves to make the baby laugh. It's the best thing ever.

Tall Sam talks to Big Dean on the phone every day. His calls always start out worried and anxious, and by the end his voice lowers and Dean can't hear every word but he gets by the tone of Tall Sam's voice that he's resigned to waiting yet another day.

"Dad's gonna be fine," he tells Dean. "He pulled through the surgery and he's on the mend. They just need to keep him under observation for another twenty-four hours, make sure there's no infection. And no smoking again, ever. But I don't remember Dad smoking, do you?"

Dean shakes his head. He's learned to accept Tall Sam's way of referring to Daddy as "Dad." Doesn't question it. Dean's become so used to Tall Sam he pretty much accepts everything about him. He's already forgotten a time before he arrived in Dean's life, even though it's only been a few days. Life with Baby Sam and Tall Sam has become Dean's new normal.

Tall Sam makes grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for Dean for supper, leaving Baby Sam in the corner on the floor of the kitchen with his pots and pans and spoons. The baby happily bangs away while Tall Sam goes into the library to call Big Dean. Baby Sam bangs and bangs, then looks up and catches Dean watching him, laughs. Baby Sam's eyes are the same color as Tall Sam's -- kinda green, kinda brown, kinda gold, even a little blue. And when he laughs Dean can see the tiny indents in his cheeks that will someday grow into big dimples.

After supper Dean puts the baby down for the night, rocking him on the bed like he always does until Baby Sam falls asleep, then sliding down off the bed and stacking pillows around him so he doesn't fall off.

When he comes out into the hall Tall Sam is still talking on the phone to Big Dean, his voice rising and falling, and when Dean shuffles into the library Tall Sam looks up, smiles at Dean.

"Yeah, I gotta go," he says into the phone. "Just get here when you get here."

After he hangs up Tall Sam crosses the rom, puts his hand on Dean's head, smoothing back his hair and smiling down at him.

"You need a haircut," he says fondly, slipping his fingers through Dean's long mop. "Come on, while the baby's sleeping. Let's get you fixed up."

Dean finds himself in the bathroom, sitting on a chair on top of a table in front of the mirror, while Sam spreads a tablecloth over him, then goes to work on the back of his head. He's good at it, knows just how to cut the long strawberry blond strands of Dean's hair, so pretty soon the floor is littered with soft, curling baby hair.

Mommy will be so mad, Dean thinks. Mommy always liked his long hair, didn't want Daddy to get it cut. But Daddy would grumble, "You're gonna give him a complex, Mary. The kids at school are gonna think he's a girl."

Daddy will be happy now.

When he's done Tall Sam turns the chair back and forth, getting a good look at the sides of Dean's head, making sure everything is even. It's short, up off Dean's ears and forehead now, and it makes him look older, he thinks. Makes his green eyes and freckles stand out in his pale face.

"There," Tall Sam says finally, satisfied. "Now you look like yourself. Still little, but you. Definitely you."

Tall Sam reaches into his pocket, pulls out something that looks like a thick piece of black glass, fiddles with it before reaching it out in front of him and Dean. He leans down, so he's pressing his cheek against Dean's, his arm with the piece of glass extended straight out in front of them.

The glass flashes and Dean jumps, rubs his cheek on Tall Sam's scruff, and it's like sandpaper and hurts a little, but he doesn't complain. Tall Sam pulls away immediately, though, and looks apologetic.

"Sorry," Tall Sam says. "I needed a record of this moment. It's sorta historical. I hope you'll forgive me someday, Dean."

Dean blinks up at him, then smiles.

"It's okay," he assures Tall Sam, although he has no idea what he's agreeing to. "Don't worry."

Tall Sam goes still, stares at him silently for a moment, then reaches down and slides his thumb across Dean's cheek, cupping his chin so he can tilt his face up.

"Missouri was wrong," he says softly. "You're not funny-looking at all."

Dean feels an embarrassed blush rise in his cheeks, but Tall Sam is smiling again so Dean decides to let it go.

That's the moment when he hears voices, out in the hall, coming from the library.

Tall Sam hears them too, reaches out to pull the cloth off and pick Dean up, holding him as they move out into the hall, following the sound.

Big Dean is coming down the stairs into the library, yelling "Sam! Sammy!"

And with him, leaning heavily on him and limping and looking tired and sick -- it's Daddy.

Dean wiggles out of Tall Sam's arms, drops to the floor, runs across the room, flings himself against his father like there's nothing else, ever. He's got his arms tight around Daddy's legs and he's holding on for dear life, shaking with grief and shock because he had begun to think he'd never see Daddy again. That he was gone forever, like Mommy.

John Winchester holds still for a moment, letting his grown son support him as his little son hugs him, tries not to let on how weak and sick he still feels. He's got one arm slung across Big Dean's shoulders, and now he puts his other hand on Little Dean's head, mutters, "Hey, Dean," softly as he caresses the boy's tawny head.

Dean holds tight for another minute, then turns his face up. Daddy smiles reassuringly.

"It's okay, Dean," Daddy says. "I'm gonna be okay."

He lifts his head, looks across the room at Tall Sam, who's got tears in his eyes again.

"We're all gonna be okay," Daddy says, glancing at Big Dean, who nods once, looks down at Little Dean, then up at Tall Sam.

"Nice haircut," he comments, raising his eyebrows at Tall Sam, who's staring at Big Dean with something like the way Daddy used to look at Mommy, like he's looking at the sun and the moon and his whole world right there in one person.

Daddy's tired, but he wants an update, so Big Dean helps him sit down at the table in the library. Dean stays close, stands right next to Daddy's chair.

Big Dean takes one look at the Christmas tree, then turns to Tall Sam.

"Really? You got a Christmas tree?" he says to Tall Sam. "What the hell, Sam?"

Tall Sam is still looking stunned and tearful, staring at Big Dean like he's a parched traveler in a desert and Big Dean is a big cool class of water. He's got a similar look for Daddy, even if it's not quite so hungry.

But he recovers quickly, swiping his sleeve across his eyes and inhaling a big sniffly breath.

"Yeah," Tall Sam nods. "The kids need a little Christmas cheer, after what they've been through. You got a problem with that?"

Big Dean snorts derisively. "We never had Christmas, Sam. Not after Mom died. Never. It's just some pansy-assed made-up excuse to spend money and make people feel like crap because they can't afford shit. You know that. What're you trying to do, make it worse?"

Big Dean glares at Tall Sam, then at Dean, who's crawled into Daddy's lap and huddles in, safe and warm and sure of his father's love.

"No, Christmas is good," Daddy says, hugging Dean close with one arm. "Normal is good. It's crazy enough, finding out what you boys take for granted. Hell, I'm still taking it all in, trying to get it straight in my mind."

He looks up at Tall Sam, smiles a little, and that's when Dean realizes that Daddy looks like Tall Sam. They have the same dimples.

"You did good, son," Daddy says to Tall Sam. "Thank you."

Tall Sam turns red, tears up again, looks like he's gonna start crying in earnest.

Then Daddy gets serious, puts Dean down with a quick kiss and a soft word, but it's firm, it's an order, so Dean knows he has to obey.

"Go play now. Grown-ups got some talking to do."

Dean retreats into his corner of the room, exchanging a glance with Tall Sam, who smiles kindly and nods at him, so Dean knows he's okay with this. He's as happy to see Daddy as Dean is, and Dean has the feeling he wishes he could give Daddy a big hug but he doesn't. Maybe it's because he's grown up and grown men don't hug each other much, Dean considers.

But later, after the men have talked and Big Dean helps Daddy get to bed, since they checked out of the hospital early and Daddy really needs another week to recover so it's agreed they'll all stay here together till Daddy gets better -- until after Christmas -- and Tall Sam tucks Dean into bed with a kiss -- then Dean hears voices in the hall and he creeps out of bed, meaning to go to the bathroom and get a drink of water.

But instead he stops in the shadow of the doorway because he sees them -- Big Dean and Tall Sam -- in the hall, talking in low voices, heads bent together, leaning into each other like they're two halves of one person.

"We have to protect them, Dean," Tall Sam is saying. "We're clearly meant to be here. I can't see how they -- how we -- even survived this first year. Azazel was on a rampage, killed everyone Dad knew -- no wonder he got out of Lawrence so fast."

"I called Pastor Jim," Big Dean says. "As soon as Dad's up to it, we need to take them to Minnesota, to Jim Murphy's place. He's expecting us."

Big Dean hesitates for a moment, then looks up, and Dean can see his eyes shining.

"He remembers us, Sam," Big Dean is saying. "Like we were here before. Another time. We made another trip to this time, I guess. Maybe we were laying the groundwork for this or something."

"Wait -- he remembers us? As in us us?" Tall Sam clarifies.

"No! God, no," Big Dean says. "Pastor Jim just thinks we're hunters who are looking for a place to hide a family for a few years, till the kids get old enough to be a little less helpless. He's definitely on board with it. Got a house all set up for them to live -- for us to live -- I sorta remember this, Sam. I think we stayed there till I was about seven or eight."

Tall Sam nods, looks grim. "So Dad's okay with it? You told him?"

Big Dean nods. "'Course I did," he mutters. "He's Dad. Can't keep something like this from him. He needs to know what he's up against."

Tall Sam nods again. "How'd he take it?"

"How'd'ya think he took it?" Big Dean grouses. "Like I said, he's Dad. He may have just lost his wife in a terrible, tragic supernatural event, but he's tough. He's a marine. He's gonna survive."

"He just survived a demon attack on his life," Tall Sam says. "I don't think that happened the first time. Makes me wonder if there's other things we've altered just by being here."

"How do you know that didn't happen the first time?" Big Dean asks. "I mean, I don't remember it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. My memories of that time are pretty hazy. It's possible that Azazel sent his demons to kill Dad as a way to orphan us, make us more vulnerable and isolated. That's what happened to some of those other psychic kids, remember? A lot of them ended up orphans, adopted, stuff like that. So what if that's what Azazel was planning with us?"

Tall Sam stares silently for a minute, then shakes his head.

"So you're saying if we hadn't been there to save Dad from that attack, we'd have been orphans right off the bat. Adopted by strangers. Raised like that psycho kid from Saginaw -- "

"Max," Big Dean fills in.

"Max, right," Tall Sam nods.

They're both silent for a minute, and Dean holds his breath, willing them not to notice him.

They don't. They're far too wrapped up in their own memories. And in each other.

"Wow," Tall Sam says eventually.

Big Dean nods.

"Yeah," he agrees.

"You know, we could tell Dad," Tall Sam says finally. Big Dean looks up, raises his eyebrows. "About the demon blood, I mean. We know he finds out somehow. Maybe we told him."

Big Dean is shaking his head.

"No," he mutters, then "No, no, no," a little louder, firm.

"I just think he has a right to know if his own son is a -- "

"No!" Big Dean barks, grabs Tall Sam's shirts in his fists and shakes him, shoves him against the wall and glares up at him fiercely. "No, Sam, he does not need to know that. Not now."

Tall Sam swallows, his lips part and his face flushes. He holds Big Dean's gaze for a minute, then lowers his eyes to his mouth.

Dean feels embarrassed suddenly, like he's watching something he's not supposed to, something secret and private. He backs up slowly, being as quiet as he can, and pads back to bed, leaving the door slightly ajar.

There's no more sound from the hallway, and Dean curls his body around his sleeping brother, snuggles close so he can take deep breaths of his warm baby smell, lets it lull him to sleep, hoping this time the nightmares will stay away.

* *

When he wakes up Baby Sam is already awake, flailing his arms and making raspberries.

Dean gives his brother a kiss, then climbs off the bed and heads down the hall to the bathroom, then the kitchen.

Big Dean is there, making something in a frying pan that smells like onions.

"Hey, Mini Me," he growls in greeting.

Dean ignores him, takes a bottle out of the refrigerator, pads over to the sink, pulls a chair up so he can climb up and turn on the hot water, lets it run a minute, pulls a pan off the sideboard and sticks the bottle in a pan of hot water to warm.

Big Dean watches him, eyebrow raised.

"Need any help?" he barks, and Dean shakes his head.

"Okay then," Big Dean nods, turns back to his pan of onions and eggs, all scrambled up and smelling pretty good.

Dean stands on the chair, waiting for the bottle to warm, trying not to look at Big Dean's broad back.

Big Dean finishes cooking, scoops the food onto a couple of plates, turns back to Dean, holding out the steaming food.

"You hungry?" he asks.

Dean hesitates. The food smells so good, like Mommy's cooking. But he doesn't like Big Dean, senses that Big Dean doesn't like him either, and he's reluctant to eat before he feeds the baby anyway.

"Come on," Big Dean coaxes, gesturing toward the table. "While the bottle warms. Just a couple of bites. It's damn good, you can count on that."

Big Dean puts the plates on the table, finds a couple of forks, pours Dean a glass of juice, sits down at the other place and starts pouring salt on the scrambled eggs.

Dean's stomach gets the better of him and he climbs down, pulls the chair over to the table, climbs back up on his knees at the table, reaches for the salt.

Big Dean has mixed onions and bacon bits with the eggs, and they taste incredible. Big Dean grins at him as he takes a bite, takes another bite, then shovels the whole plate into his mouth hungrily, despite how hot the eggs are and how they burn the roof of his mouth.

"That's it," Big Dean nods. "Good, huh?"

Dean just nods because his mouth is full and he can't speak. He drinks his juice, climbs off the chair, pulls it over to the sink again so he can reach the bottle, climbs down with it and heads toward the door. He's almost out when he remembers his manners.

He turns back to see Big Dean watching him, an amused frown creasing his brow.

"Thank you," he says solemnly. "It was good."

"You're welcome, little man," Big Dean says with a satisfied nod. "Come back tomorrow morning and I'll show you how to make it for yourself."

Dean nods, then hurries back to his room with the bottle. He's afraid he's been gone too long, but Baby Sam is still playing with his toes, practicing turning over on the bed, and luckily he hasn't managed to scoot off the edge yet. He grins at Dean and grabs at the bottle as Dean hands it to him, sucking it into his mouth in one big slurp.

"Big Dean can be nice," he tells Sam. "Tall Sam likes him, so maybe he's okay."

Baby Sam's eyes are at half-mast and he's pretty focused on his bottle, so he doesn't answer.

PART FOUR - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 4

The next week passes pretty uneventfully, which is just fine with Dean. Daddy needs to get well, so he does a lot of resting and sleeping at first. Dean takes care of Baby Sam while Big Dean and Tall Sam go into town for more supplies. Tall Sam spends a lot of time reading and looking through files in the library, so he doesn't have as much time to spend with Dean. Also, he spends a lot of time with Big Dean, now that Big Dean's here.

It makes Dean a little jealous. Tall Sam watches Big Dean's every move when he's in the room, doesn't even notice Dean much anymore. For his part, Big Dean's always putting his hand on Tall Sam's shoulder when he leans over the table to look at something Tall Sam's reading. He stands close when he talks to Tall Sam, lowering his head and brushing his hand against Tall Sam's almost unconsciously as he speaks, his voice low and soft. Once in awhile he reaches up and pushes Tall Sam's hair out of his eyes, smiling a little.

Watching how affectionate they are with each other, Dean decides he got their relationship wrong. They must be married, he decides, like Mommy and Daddy, not work partners.

But that doesn't seem quite right either, and not just because they're boys and everybody knows boys can't marry other boys.

"Is Big Dean your boyfriend?" he asks Tall Sam one day when Tall Sam is tucking him in, which at least he still does even though Daddy's back.

Tall Sam frowns.

"He's my brother," Tall Sam says, looking slightly annoyed, like it's something he's heard before.

Then Dean understands.

"Like me and Sammy," Dean suggests, and Tall Sam smiles broadly.

"Exactly," he agrees. "That's exactly right, Dean."

He leans down and presses his lips to Dean's forehead.

"Now get some sleep," Tall Sam says. "Sweet dreams."

* *

Daddy's well enough to start exercising by the end of the week, so Dean and Big Dean take him down to the shooting range for some target practice. Daddy fits some headphones over Dean's ears to protect them, tells him to stand back and watch, but to stay well out of the way of any kick-backs or accidental ricochets.

"You're gonna need to know how to handle a gun, Dean," Daddy tells him. "But your hands are still too small, and with your body weight the kick will just knock you flat. We gotta wait a couple of years."

"So watch and learn, little man," Big Dean adds, winking at him.

Big Dean and Daddy get off several shots, Big Dean hitting the bulls-eye every time, Daddy's shots a little wide, before Daddy puts the safety back on the gun and turns to look at Dean.

Dean's got his hands over the headphones on his ears, tears streaming down his face because the sound is so deafening it makes his head feel like it's gonna explode.

Big Dean looks over at him, frowns.

"Ya gotta get used to the noise, kid," he says. "You're gonna be hearing a lot of it."

Daddy shakes his head.

"Maybe that's enough for today," he suggests. "I think we can both see I'm out of practice."

Big Dean grins broadly.

"Well, I gotta say I never saw you not hit a target until today," he agrees. "It's a little weird for me, too."

"Don't get used to it," Daddy growls menacingly. "I was the best marksman in my unit."

Big Dean nods, serious again.

"Yes, sir," he agrees. "That's what you always said. That's what I've always seen, and I don't doubt it for a second."

"All right, then," Daddy nods. "Just so we're clear. This -- " he waves his hand at the target. "This is just a result of the injury, and it's why I have to keep coming down here every day while it heals. But for now I think maybe we should do something that requires a little less accuracy."

They hit the gym for a little basketball, and this time Daddy's got the upper hand. He's taller than Big Dean, and manages to grab the rebound every time. It makes Dean proud, watching Daddy handle the ball so confidently, and Big Dean finally puts his hands up in surrender.

"Baseball was more my thing," he admits.

Daddy's breathing pretty hard, wipes his face with a towel, nods at Big Dean.

"You play in high school?" he asks.

Big Dean looks at him silently for a minute, then shakes his head, glancing over at Dean.

"Just t-ball when I was little, then some Little League," he says. "We never stayed put long enough -- "

He breaks off, stares at the floor, then shakes his head.

"Never mind," he mutters. "Doesn't matter."

Daddy looks stunned, stares at him, then at Dean, shuffles his feet and scrubs the towel over his sweaty face again.

"Jesus, Dean," he says. "I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. I can see it wasn't easy for you, growing up."

Big Dean shakes his head vehemently.

"You did your best, Dad," he says fiercely. "I never doubted that for a second. You were right to keep us moving. Staying in one spot for any length of time, we wouldn't have made it. You did what you had to do."

Daddy shakes his head a little. "It's all still so new," he admits. "Looking ahead, all I can think about is keeping my kids safe, learning everything I can about this fucked up world full of monsters and demons. Figure out how to hunt down and kill that thing that killed Mary."

"I know, Dad," Big Dean agrees. "And you will."

"You know that for a fact, Dean?"

Daddy looks him in the eye, and Big Dean looks away, which is how Dean knows he's gonna lie.

"Yeah, Dad," Big Dean mutters. "I know it for a fact."

Daddy nods, satisfied. It's what he wants to hear, and Daddy is good at that -- getting people to say what he wants them to say.

Even if it isn't true.

* *

While Daddy and Big Dean head off to the showers, Dean goes up to the library to help Tall Sam, who's been babysitting so Dean can have a little time with his dad.

Tall Sam is so relieved to see him it makes Dean want to hug him. So he does, holding on for a long time because now that Big Dean is back he feels like he doesn't get to spend much time with Tall Sam anymore and he's missing that.

"He's really fussy," Tall Sam complains, handing the baby to Dean. "Every time I tried to put him down so I could get back to work, he started to cry. No matter what I did. I tried feeding him, he wasn't hungry. I tried changing him, he peed on me."

Baby Sam looks up at Dean and smiles his big, mostly-toothless grin. Dean smiles back proudly, looks up at Tall Sam, who's scowling a little.

"Oh, now he's happy," Tall Sam grouses.

Dean can't help feeling proud that he's the only one his baby brother loves. It's a big responsibility, but it's a good thing too.

"Okay," Tall Sam is watching him smiling at the baby, watches the baby reach up and grab Dean's nose. "Okay, I get it. I remember. You and Dad are his whole world, Dean. And it's like he knows that, even when he's too young to form a coherent thought yet."

Tall Sam shakes his head. "You know, seeing it from the outside like this, it's no wonder Dad kept us moving around all the time. We were creepy kids, right from the start."

Dean blinks up at Tall Sam, not understanding, but feeling vaguely insulted anyway.

"Mommy says we're special," he insists, and Tall Sam's eyes widen for a moment, then he shakes his head.

"Okay," Tall Sam nods. "Not creepy. Just special. I get it, Dean."

He puts his hand on Dean's head, ruffles his now-short hair.

"I get it," he says again, softly.

* *
The next week is spent helping Dad recover, letting him get back in shape and slowly learn to use his muscles again. Big Dean decides to train him as a hunter, the way his dad trained him, so they spend hours in the gym and the shooting range, sparring and practicing their skills. Big Dean is older and more experienced than Daddy, but Daddy's a quick learner and he's very competitive, so he makes good progress. He's got the advantage in terms of height and weight, so by the end of the week he starts winning their wrestling matches, despite the fact that Big Dean is clearly giving it all he's got.

Dean watches sometimes, then mock-wrestles with Baby Sam, who laughs and laughs until they both collapse in giggles on the floor.

Tall Sam spends every spare moment researching, pouring through files, obsessed with finding the spell that will send him and Big Dean home again.

Although Dean can't understand why he wants to leave so badly. Dean's starting to get used to this strange new life with this strange new family he didn't even know he had before. And Daddy's happier too, not drinking so much and smiling at him again, tossing him up in the air and catching him and making him laugh out loud like he used to before Mommy got burned up. Daddy likes to win, and whenever he beats Big Dean at something he slaps him on the back and smiles so broadly his face dimples and cracks open and it makes Big Dean smile back.

And Big Dean doesn't seem to mind. He seems content to lose, like it's more normal for him that way. He's got this haunted look on his face sometimes when he looks at Daddy that makes Dean look away because it's scary and sad and makes him think about Mommy.

When Big Dean catches him looking he frowns at Dean, like it's Dean's fault they're all here in the first place.

On the day before Christmas Tall Sam takes him and Baby Sam into town again so he can buy a present for his dad. He picks out a sterling silver jackknife in the hardware store, and Tall Sam picks up a compass for Big Dean, "so he can always find his way in a storm."

They forget to buy wrapping paper and bows, so they just wrap the gifts in the bags they came in, ripped inside out and with the gift's recipient written on the paper in black magic marker. Back at the bunker, they put the presents under the Christmas tree, then stand back to view their handiwork. The two little brown-paper-wrapped packages under the scrappy little tree look pretty pathetic, but Dean thinks it's the best thing he's ever seen.

Tall Sam hugs him when he says that, kisses his cheek and rubs his scruff on his tender skin, but Dean doesn't mind.

They bought a package of Toll House cookies and a Sara Lee frozen apple pie in town, because Dean says Mommy always baked cookies and pie for Christmas. They bake the cookies first, so they can eat them while the pie's baking, and Tall Sam puts some Christmas music on the old gramophone. Then Tall Sam starts reading "A Christmas Carol" out loud while Dean and Baby Sam play on the floor in front of the tree. He's just finished the first chapter when Daddy and Big Dean come in with Chinese take-out and a bottle of whiskey.

"A Christmas Carol?" Big Dean scoffs. "Really?"

"It's about ghosts, Dean," Tall Sam protests. "I figured you'd approve."

Big Dean rolls his eyes as he puts the bags on the table, then catches a whiff of the smell of baking and his eyes go wide.

"Pie?" he almost stutters in his excitement. "You're baking a pie?"

Tall Sam looks smug, exchanges a surreptitious wink and thumbs-up with Dean, who's climbing into Daddy's lap so he can reach the table better.

"Okay, but the music has got to go," Big Dean insists. "Stuff sounds like old toothpaste commercials."

Dean thinks it's kinda nice, actually, so he's glad when Tall Sam ignores his brother and leaves the music on.

And Big Dean doesn't mention it again, so he mustn't really mind it that much either.

After they eat the take-out, the cookies, and the pie, and the men share the whiskey and start singing along with the music, Dean picks up Baby Sam and dances with him around the room, which makes everybody smile and Baby Sam laughs and laughs.

When it starts to get late Daddy bathes Dean and Baby Sam in the big claw-foot bathtub -- Baby Sam sitting in a porcelain serving bowl they found in the kitchen. Mommy always bathed them together like that, every day since Baby Sam started to be able to sit up, since it took less effort to clean them both at the same time. Daddy finds a big soft towel to gather Dean into afterwards so he can carry him to his room while Tall Sam carries the baby. Then Dean rocks Baby Sam to sleep like always. Daddy lets Dean stay up late tonight, since it's Christmas Eve, and he sits in front of the tree in Daddy's lap while Tall Sam and Big Dean read "A Christmas Carol," Big Dean doing the voices of the ghosts with remarkable expression. Dean watches the brothers huddle together over the book, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, and it's comforting for some reason he can't explain. He's getting drowsy, leaning back against Daddy's broad chest, feeling warm and safe and only a little homesick.

* *
Dean wakes up screaming.

He feels the heat of the flames, hears the roar of the fire, smells the smoke. He's sobbing, his chest rising and falling in huge heaves, and his throat is sore from screaming. He knows he's been calling "Mommy! Mommy!" because he can hear his own voice echoing in his ears and it hurts because it's so loud.

This time he's managed to wake Baby Sam, who's wailing next to him, and he's shaking so bad it takes a minute or two before he can get his bearings in the dark, reach out to touch the baby. Sam's cries soften a little when Dean touches him, but he's pretty freaked out, and Dean can't stop sobbing loudly himself, which doesn't help.

Then the door flies open and Tall Sam bursts in, scoops Dean into his arms.

"Hey, Dean, it's okay. You're safe. It's okay."

Dean's torn between letting himself be comforted and comforting Baby Sam, who's wailing louder now that Dean's not touching him anymore.

Then another shadow moves into the room, bends over the bed, and suddenly Big Dean is there, gathering up Baby Sam and murmuring softly to him. Baby Sam quiets almost immediately, and Dean feels himself relax in response, lets himself cling to Tall Sam and cry into his shirt as Tall Sam strokes his hair and back.

"I knew we shouldn't have read that stupid ghost story before he went to sleep," Tall Sam shakes his head. "I'm such an ass."

"Shut up," Big Dean says. "It was a good story. Kid needs to learn to deal with scary."

"I'm not afraid of ghosts," Dean chokes out, feeling defiant whenever Big Dean is in the room. He pushes away from Tall Sam and wipes his eyes with his sleeve.

"There, see?" Big Dean says to Tall Sam. "This was just another nightmare. I had 'em all the time at first. For years. Not a big deal."

Tall Sam shakes his head.

"You'd just lost your mother, Dean," he says darkly. "In a really awful way. I still can't see how you ever got over something like that."

"I had you, didn't I?" Big Dean shrugs. "You and Dad."

Big Dean rocks Baby Sam in his arms, looking down at the baby and smiling a little.

"Ain't that so, Sammy?" Big Dean murmurs to the baby. "I had you, didn't I?"

Baby Sam grins up at him, his little body wiggling with joy, arms flailing a little until one tiny fist connects with Big Dean's jaw.

Big Dean pretends to be hurt, makes a face and jerks his jaw to the side as if the baby had really managed to land a good one.

Baby Sam giggles delightedly, does it again, gets the same response from Big Dean, and the game is on.

Tall Sam pulls Dean into his lap again, wipes his eyes with a tissue.

"And I guess you had us too," he mutters to Dean, smiling a little as he watches Dean watching Baby Sam and Big Dean.

PART FIVE - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 5

Turns out Daddy had a little more whiskey than he should have, and he's still asleep when Tall Sam and Big Dean carry the children into the library to show them what's there for them.

The room is dark -- it's still early morning and the bunker is underground so it's always dark anyway -- but the tree is lit, and Dean can see several bulky packages shoved haphazardly under and around the scraggly little bush.

He wriggles excitedly out of Tall Sam's arms, runs to the tree, sliding to his knees and grabbing the first package.

"He came! Santa came!" Dean exclaims, his chest so full of hope and joy he can hardly contain it.

"Well, the truth is, -- " Big Dean starts to say something but Tall Sam stamps on his foot, so that all that comes out is "Ow!"

"Merry Christmas, Dean," Tall Sam says.

There's a firetruck that makes real siren noises, and a train-set that he'll need help putting together, and a couple of baby toys for Sam that Dean gets to open too, since Sam's too little to know better and would rather play with the wrapping paper anyway.

The last thing he opens is a baseball and a mitt, and they're old, the mitt worn and soft.

"Belonged to my dad," Big Dean says. "He gave them to me when I was about your age. Figured they probably belong to you now."

Tall Sam is staring at Big Dean like he's seeing him for the first time.

"I'm not even gonna ask how you found those," he says, and Big Dean shrugs.

"Swung by the old house," he mutters. "While Dad was in the hospital. Knew there'd be a few things he needed."

Big Dean and Tall Sam exchange gifts, but Dean doesn't pay much attention as they grouse and complain and bump shoulders and pretend they're not pleased when they so obviously are.

Dean's too busy playing with his new firetruck, deep in his fantasy of becoming a fireman so he can save people from burning up in fires.

He's still playing with the firetruck an hour later when Daddy finally gets up, comes into the room, looking bleary-eyed and sad from his own night of bad dreams.

Dean jumps up, grabbing his package from under the tree.

"This one's for you, Daddy," he says. "From me."

Dad takes the badly-wrapped little gift, turns it over a few times, looks up at Dean with tears in his eyes.

"I can open it for you," Dean offers. "Can I?"

Daddy nods, so Dean tears opens the package, hands him the knife.

"See? It's one you can keep in your pocket, like the one you had at home."

Daddy nods again, watches Dean pull open the knife, demonstrate all its parts, close it up again and hand it back so Daddy can put it in his pocket.

"Thanks, son," Daddy smiles a little, wipes tears off his cheeks.

It makes Dean sad to see Daddy cry, so he hugs Daddy quickly and runs back to his firetruck.

That's when Big Dean hands his package to Daddy. Dad looks up at his grown son with a questioning look as he takes the bulky gift, and Big Dean doesn't quite look him in the eye.

"Figured you might need this," he says.

Dad opens the package, frowning. Big Dean stands back, shifting his feet nervously, and Tall Sam is frowning too, clearly not knowing what to expect.

It's a leather coat. The leather is a little worn and soft, and it clearly isn't brand new, but it's not old either. It's in good condition and obviously good quality.

Daddy holds it up, nodding his admiration, as Tall Sam sucks in a breath.

"Dean -- is that -- I thought you lost that years ago," he says, staring.

Big Dean nods.

"I did," he agrees. "I found this in the Salvation Army store in Lawrence."

Daddy stands up, slips the coat on. It's a good fit, looks right on him somehow.

"You wore this all the time while I was growing up," Big Dean tells him with a shrug. "Something tells me you'll be needing it now."

Daddy looks up at him, his face serious and a little mystified.

"Thanks, Dean," he says softly.

Tall Sam is still staring; now he shakes his head.

"The chances of this are just too great to be mere coincidence," he notes. "That jacket is a one-of-a-kind."

"Like you said, Sam," Dean shrugs. "We're supposed to be here."

* * *

The weeks between Christmas and Dean's fifth birthday are spent routinely. Daddy and Big Dean and sometimes Tall Sam train together in the gym or the shooting range, and when Big Dean figures he's ready he takes Daddy out on his first hunt. Tall Sam balks at being left behind, but in the end he stays because he can't argue with the fact that somebody needs to stay with Dean and Baby Sam, and he doesn't exactly trust Big Dean with his four-year-old self.

Dean's fine with that. Tall Sam is teaching him how to read, and he's learning fast and getting good and it makes Tall Sam happy and proud and that's just better than anything.

Baby Sam is growing too. He gets up on his hands and knees and rocks now, and Dean encourages him to crawl, but mostly he just scoots on his tummy or rolls when he wants to get somewhere. Tall Sam watches him sometimes with a bemused look on his face, like he can't quite understand how the baby can be so little and helpless, like he expected him to have horns and a tail.

Daddy and Big Dean come back from the hunt all sweaty and dirty and flush with victory. Dean only half-listens as they describe their adventures to Tall Sam; something about a poltergeist in an old airplane hanger which was terrorizing pilots and flight-school students.

Tall Sam seems vaguely jealous and frowns a lot as he watches Daddy and Big Dean together. Later Dean hears Big Dean and Tall Sam talking together quietly in the hall outside his room as he's falling asleep, and he can hear the complaining tone in Tall Sam's voice, the soothing tone in Big Dean's.

"He's learning a lot, and fast," Big Dean insists. "I introduced him to Caleb yesterday. Can you believe that? And Caleb wants us to meet Bobby."

"Dean, you can't take Dad to South Dakota," Tall Sam says. "There's no way you introduce him to Bobby."

"Yes, there is, Sam," Big Dean says. "I don't know what to tell you, but this is clearly how it's supposed to happen. I'm supposed to introduce Dad to the whole hunters' network, get him acclimated. Train him. You gotta admit, there's a certain poetic justice to it."

"Dean, we can't stay here," Tall Sam reminds him. "Dad can't stay here. Do you remember this place? Do you?"

Big Dean sighs.

"I don't know what I remember, Sam," he says finally. "It's pretty fuzzy for awhile after Mom died. I know we left Lawrence in a hurry. Maybe now I can see why. But after that -- I think I just took everything pretty much for granted. Trusted Dad to keep us safe. I know we stayed somewhere for awhile with these hunters -- "

He pauses, like he's thinking hard, trying to remember.

"Was it us, Dean? Do you remember us?" Tall Sam almost whispers, like he's half afraid of the answer.

Big Dean's silent another minute, and Dean imagines him scrubbing his hand over his face, frowning.

"I remember getting a firetruck for Christmas. And a bike for my birthday. But those guys we stayed with for awhile -- one of them was a real asshole. I remember thinking he didn't like me. He thought Dad would be better off without kids holding him back. He took Dad away on hunting trips and I can remember being scared they might not come back, that Dad would just take off with the guy and leave us. I remember feeling like a burden."

Tall Sam lets out a breath, and they're both silent for another minute.

"Do you remember me?" Tall Sam asks finally.

Dean imagines Big Dean shaking his head.

"But memory's a funny thing, Sam. Just because I don't remember you doesn't mean you weren't there. It just means you didn't do anything memorable, which is probably a good thing. And obviously you were there. I mean, Dad wouldn't have just left us alone while he went on a hunting trip. Not when we were so little."

Tall Sam sighs.

"So, any idea how long before we went to stay with Pastor Jim?"

"I remember kindergarten," Big Dean says. "I didn't like it 'cause everybody kept asking where my mom was. Then we must've moved because in first grade I got in trouble for lying because I told everybody my mom was at home sick."

"So sometime between now and next fall -- " Tall Sam suggests, then he's interrupted by Big Dean, who snaps his fingers suddenly.

"I remember your first birthday, Sam," he says. "You got cake all over yourself. And Tall Man was there -- no, not Tall Man, I just called him that. Tall Man and Big Mean."

Big Dean sucks in a breath, lets it out slow.

"Tall Sam and Big Dean," he whispers. "See, you were there. I remember you after all."

* *
The next day is Dean's fifth birthday.

The bike is waiting for him in the library when he gets up, a big blue bow taped to the handlebars.

Daddy and Tall Sam take him down to the gym and let him ride the bike, help him balance and ride in circles a few times until he gets the hang of balancing on it without Daddy's hand on the back of the seat. Big Dean comes in to get Daddy and they take off together, leaving Tall Sam with Dean and the baby again. Daddy's not there when Dean finally starts riding without help; it's Tall Sam who claps and shares his excitement when he's balancing on two wheels and steering the bike around the room by himself.

And it's Tall Sam who picks him up when he crashes, skinning his knee on the rough concrete floor. Tall Sam's hands are warm and gentle; Tall Sam knows a lot about cleaning and bandaging wounds, and Dean only winces a little when Tall Sam fixes him up and wipes the tears from his cheeks.

When it snows the following week, Tall Sam takes Dean and the baby outside to build a snowman. Then he brings them inside again and serves them hot chocolate with marshmallows. Big Dean comes into the kitchen while they're sitting at the table, sipping the sweet brew from steaming mugs.

"Cocoa and marshmallows, huh?" Big Dean smirks. "Just like mom used to make."

"That's what you always said," Tall Sam answers. "Nothin' goes with snow like cocoa and marshmallows."

Big Dean stops, stares at him with a funny look on his face.

"You know, I don't remember mom actually giving me cocoa," he says.

Tall Sam shrugs. "So maybe she never did," he suggests. "Maybe you're remembering this."

Big Dean thinks about that for a minute, then shakes his head.

"Whatever," he grunts.

* *

Tall Sam helps Dean put together his train set, and Dean plays for hours on the floor in the library while Tall Sam works at the table. Baby Sam sleeps in the portable playpen they found on another trip to Kmart, this one at night when virtually nobody's around to comment on the tall "dad" and his two small children.

Daddy and Big Dean are gone a lot, sometimes for several days at a time. Their absences make Tall Sam grumpy. He worries about them, mutters "Pick up the phone, goddamn it," if more than a day goes by without a call. When they finally get home Tall Sam acts mad and sulky, slams doors. Big Dean teases him, bumps shoulders, and at first Tall Sam resists and sulks harder, but then Dean catches them in the hall outside his room again, and Big Dean has Tall Sam pressed up against the wall, bracing himself with one hand, leaning into Tall Sam as he murmurs softly. Tall Sam's head is bent, listening, and when Big Dean's other hand comes up to touch Tall Sam's face, Tall Sam leans into it, slumps forward into Big Dean's arms and presses his face into Big Dean's neck. They stay still like that for a moment, and Dean tries to slip by into his room as quietly as he can, but Big Dean hears him, starts a little and turns his head, catches Dean's eye, frowns.

"You got someplace you gotta be, shorty?" he growls.

Tall Sam lifts his head, looks at Dean over Big Dean's shoulder. His eyes are red-rimmed and his cheeks look wet, like he's been crying.

"Hey little buddy," Tall Sam sniffs, clearing his throat. "You have a bad dream again?"

Dean shakes his head.

"Need a glass of water?" Tall Sam asks.

Again, Dean shakes his head.

Tall Sam disentangles himself from Big Dean's embrace, pushing him gently away so he can cross the hall, squats down to Dean's height.

"You want me to put you back to bed?" Tall Sam asks, and this time Dean nods, slips his hand into Tall Sam's. Tall Sam smiles, rises smoothly to his feet again, turns to lead Dean back into his room.

Big Dean is watching with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face, and when he catches Dean's eye again he winks.

"You're gonna give that kid a complex, Sam," he notes. "He's gonna grow up looking for you in every woman he meets."

"Shut up," Tall Sam grouses, but he says it fondly, not like he really minds.

Big Dean grins broadly, winks again at Dean.

After Tall Sam tucks him in and gives him another kiss, Dean turns over to snuggle into his baby brother, kisses his soft cheek.

"I love you, Sam," he whispers.

He knows the baby's sleeping, but he hopes he can hear him anyway.

PART SIX - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 6

Baby Sam is growing too fast.

He starts crawling in the middle of February, and by March 1st he's pulling himself up on chairs, table legs, bookcases. He cruises around the library by holding onto the edges of things and moving sideways, planting his wobbly legs firmly before leaning his weight into his next step. By the middle of March he's standing without holding onto anything, just out of reach of both the last solid surface and the next one, hovering there in limbo while he reaches and tries lifting his foot tentatively.

Most of the time when he tries to take a step he loses his balance and falls down plop on his well-padded bottom. He sits there for a moment before turning onto all fours and crawling to his next destination, then pulling himself up and starting all over again.

The day he manages to pull down an entire pile of books and papers from the library table is when they all realize how endangered he is.

He's not badly hurt, just a little stunned, but he sits and cries with such indignation and accusation -- as if it's Dean's fault those stupid books fell on him.

And Dean feels terrible because he was playing with his firetruck when it happened and didn't catch him in time. Baby Sam won't let him hug or console him at first, just cries louder, and Dean feels even worse until Big Dean picks him up, scolding gently.

"Okay, you little terror," he says to the baby. "You're okay. No need to make everybody feel guilty."

The night he falls off the bed and wakes everybody up with his screaming is the night they realize he has to sleep in a crib from then on.

"So now we know what really happened to you," Big Dean says as they tuck the baby in.

"Very funny," Tall Sam mutters.

Dean finds it impossible to get back to sleep without his brother next to him, so he climbs into the tiny crib, and that's where Daddy finds him in the morning.

"I don't know how I coulda done it without you boys," Daddy says at the breakfast table that morning. They finally got a high-chair for baby Sam -- just to have something to keep him still for a few minutes so he's not tearing all over the bunker getting himself hurt is such a relief!

Dean's eating his bowl of Cheerios and Daddy's spooning applesauce into Baby Sam's mouth.

Tall Sam shakes his head.

"I don't know, Dad," he says. "I really don't."

"I guess we'll never know," Big Dean adds, taking a sip of his coffee and bumping his knee against his brother's under the table.

Then Baby Sam starts walking.

Dean's right there when he takes his first step, sits down -- plop! with a surprised look on his face. Then he tries it again. And again.

By the end of the day he's got the hang of it. He's at the end of a line of bookcases and he's reaching for the chair but it's a little too far so he takes one step, two, three steps in a row and he's at the chair, slapping the seat and bouncing up and down on his short little legs, grinning at Dean.

"He's walking!" Dean shouts excitedly. "Sammy's walking!"

Daddy's on dish duty that day so he's in the kitchen and comes running, Big Dean on his heels.

"Now we're in trouble," Big Dean comments dryly.

And so they are. Up until now the most dangerous thing in the bunker was the stairs out of the library. Now the baby's mobility makes it virtually impossible to keep tabs on him every second. He moves too fast. And his new height and ability to reach things on counters and desktops and tables means they all have to be doubly aware of leaving knives or other sharp metal objects lying around. Never mind actual weapons.

None of the drawers or cabinets are baby-proof, and all the baby wants to do is open things, reach inside, pull out whatever his little fingers can grab hold of, and put it in his mouth.

Dean takes to following the baby around all day, watching out for him. Tall Sam helps, taking dangerous objects out of the baby's hands and mouth and putting them away high over his head, which frustrates Baby Sam to no end. He stops being a happy, contented baby and starts being a demanding, easily-annoyed toddler. His temper tantrums bring the household to its knees, send Daddy and Big Dean out the door and leave Tall Sam and Dean to deal with the emotional turmoil of living with a walking baby.

Tall Sam stops researching, stops trying to get anything done. Dean stops playing with his toys. They live for Baby Sam's nap times, when they can both decompress a little.

"It would be easier if the bunker had some actual baby-proofing," Tall Sam complains to Big Dean one night in the hall outside Dean's room, which is where they seem to carry on most of their private conversations. Sometimes Dean wonders what they do in their room, because it sure isn't talking. They seem to need to do all the talking in the hall.

"You know, like those plastic gates and those little plastic door-handle covers and latches for the cabinets," Tall Sam continues. "I caught him sitting on the floor of the bathroom getting ready to drink a bottle of bleach yesterday."

"What the hell, Sam?" Big Dean sounds shocked. "How the hell did he get ahold of a bottle of bleach?"

"Believe me, this baby finds things I never thought to go looking for in the first place," Tall Sam says. "And I spend all my time following him around, keeping him out of trouble. I have no time to look for that spell anymore. I'm starting to think we're stuck here, at least until the baby starts school. Maybe by that time I can find a little time for research again."

"Or maybe you can just wait for him to find it," Dean growls. "Looks like he's finding everything else."

Big Dean turns his glare on Little Dean, who's trying to slip back into the shadows of his room.

"And what about you?" Big Dean demands. "Where were you while your baby brother was almost killing himself?"

"Dean -- " Tall Sam puts his hand on Big Dean's chest, trying to get him to back off. "It's not his fault. Kid follows his brother around like he's on a leash or something."

"Yeah?" Big Dean looks skeptical, throws another glare at Dean. "You better learn to watch out for that little brother of yours, kid, if you want to keep him safe. I did my job in that department; now let's see if you can do yours."

"Dean, I'm serious," Tall Sam frowns. "I don't see how we can ever leave. Dad's a mess, and Dean's still too little to manage by himself."

Big Dean shakes his head.

"I was shopping, cooking, washing clothes, and carrying you everywhere on my bike by the time I was eight years old," he insists gruffly.

"Exactly," Tall Sam nods. "You were eight. Not five. You were taking care of a four-year-old, not a baby or a toddler. There's a difference."

"What are you saying, Sam?" Big Dean growls. "You think I didn't do a good enough job? Because I didn't do everything for you when you were a baby? Because I had some help?"

"No, Dean, that's not what I'm saying," Tall Sam insists. "I'm saying these kids are not going to make it unless they have a lot of backup. For at least the next three years."

"Three years -- Sam, we can't stay here for three years, we've got responsibilities!"

"Exactly," Tall Sam agrees. "We need to get them settled with Pastor Jim. Soon. So I can get back to finding that spell and we can go home."

"After this hunt tomorrow," Big Dean promises. "We'll see how it goes."

*
How it goes is not good.

Daddy and Big Dean come home from the hunt early, after only a day in the field. They're both bruised and bleeding, and they both look pretty freaked out.

"Things were waiting for us," Big Dean explains to Tall Sam, right in front of the kids this time, not even waiting to talk in the hall. "They ambushed us. Knew Dad by name."

Dean brings bandages, needles, dental floss, a big bowl of warm water. Daddy and Big Dean take their shirts off, wash the blood off at the kitchen sink, then sit in chairs at the table while Tall Sam stitches up their wounds, assisted by Dean and a bottle of Jack.

"So it's what we said? Azazel's trying to kill off the families? That's why he's after Dad?" Tall Sam suggests.

"I'm not so sure it's just that anymore, Sam," Big Dean says, shaking his head.

"What then?" Tall Sam demands as he finishes his stitching, reaches for the bandage Dean hands him. "What else could it be?"

Big Dean and Daddy exchange glances, then Daddy looks down at Dean, his eyes sad.

"It's just a theory," Daddy says.

Tall Sam glances at Dean, frowns.

"What? What's the theory?"

"It's me, Sam," Big Dean says. "It's after me. I'm the primary target."

Tall Sam shakes his head, confused.

"What are you talking about, Dean?" he demands. "Azazel doesn't even know you're here. How can he?"

Big Dean takes a swig from the bottle of Jack, flexes his shoulder and winces as he gets up.

"I'm already here, Sam, in this timeline. I'm fuckin' five years old. Easy pickings."

Three sets of eyes turn and gaze down at Dean. He wants to put his thumb in his mouth so bad he can taste it, but he doesn't. He wants Daddy to see how brave he is.

Daddy puts his hand on the top of Dean's head, gives him a reassuring smile.

"You know that thing about messing with the timeline?" Big Dean is going on. "Well, I already did."

"What?" Tall Sam's confused. "How?"

"Listen to me," Big Dean takes a deep breath. "When I met Azazel in 1973, I told him I was gonna be the one who kills him. He knows it was gonna be me. He knows who I am. You get me?"

Tall Sam stares, his face changing as he understands what Big Dean is saying.

"No," he shakes his head, but Dean can see he isn't really disagreeing. "No way."

"So I already fucked it up, Sam, you get me? Which explains why those demons attacked us in Lawrence. It explains why we got ambushed today. They're after this helpless little twerp here." He glances at Dean, who's doing his best to pretend he's not listening.

"You don't know that," Tall Sam sounds shaken.

Big Dean nods.

"Our whole lives growing up -- on the run because that demon was sending evil after us -- after me -- it's all my fault. Because I couldn't keep my fuckin' mouth shut."

"You were face to face with him, Dean," Tall Sam looks sucker-punched, his voice sounds desperate. "He was gonna kill you. He was gonna end you right there, in the past, and I wasn't there. I would never have even known what happened to you."

"Well, that didn't happen," Big Dean says. "But here's the thing. The damage is done. Azazel knows. What did happen in 1973 is Azazel made that deal with Mom because of me, and now he's gunning for me -- his future killer -- right now, in the past."

"Dean, that's just insane," Tall Sam protests. "Azazel is a monomaniacal demon general. He's King of Hell. He's not gonna care about one small boy who might grow up to kill him. His ego's so big -- he's so sure of himself -- he probably didn't even believe you when you told him you were gonna kill him someday. He probably figured you were making that up."

"Maybe," Big Dean mutters, clearly unconvinced. "But I think we need to find out. Dad and I are going out again tomorrow."

"What? No! No way!" Tall Sam looks shocked, and Big Dean puts his hands up, gestures for him to stop.

"Listen to me," he demands. "We need to find us a demon. Ask it some questions. See if our theory holds water."

"Dean, no," Tall Sam insists. "After what happened today -- "

"We'll be ready," Big Dean says. "I've been explaining about devil's traps and demon mojo to Dad. He's been up against them twice now. We can do this."

"Dean -- "

"We need answers, damn it," Big Dean growls. "And I hope to god I'm wrong, I really do."

That gets Tall Sam, finally convinces him, and he stands down, shifts his feet and puts his hands on his hips, looks down at Dean, glances up at Daddy.

He huffs out a breath. "Yeah, 'cuz the odds are ever in our favor," he quips sarcastically.

Big Dean nods grimly, exchanges a look with Daddy, who still has his hand on Dean's head, gently stroking his hair.

"We head out in the morning."

Tall Sam puts the kids to bed so Daddy and Big Dean can talk strategy and plan for tomorrow's hunt.

"Do you love Big Dean?" Dean asks when he's tucked in and Tall Sam has pressed his lips to Dean's forehead, like he always does.

Tall Sam hesitates, and Dean can see his eyes shine in the dark as he considers Dean's question.

Then he nods.

"Yeah, Dean," he says softly. "Yeah, I do. A lot. Too much, probably."

Dean nods.

"Like I love Sammy," he says.

Tall Sam ruffles his hair, lays his hand on his cheek for a moment, just looks at him before he finally nods, pulls his hand away.

"Yeah, Dean," he breathes. "Just like that."

After Tall Sam leaves the room Dean climbs out of bed and pads to the crib, climbs into it and curls himself around his brother.

He's out before he can count to ten.

PART SEVEN - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 8

In the morning they're gone.

Dean fights the urge to cry so he can be a big boy and show Uncle Bobby how to do things like feed Baby Sam and change his diaper. Uncle Bobby makes faces a lot, curses as Baby Sam gets into his stuff, makes a mess of his house.

"You're a menace, you know that, kid?" he says to Baby Sam as he picks up another armload of papers that the baby has pulled down off his desk. "Of all the monsters I've learned about in the past two years, you are the scariest."

"He's not a monster," Dean lisps defensively. "He's my brudder."

Uncle Bobby just shakes his head, makes more comments about what a holy terror Sam is, and he never seems to get the knack of caring for the baby, so Dean really has his hands full. It's awkward having to tell the strange grown-up that he needs to feed Sam now, or change him, or put him down for his nap, so Dean just does it himself, and by the end of the day he's pretty tired. He pulls Sam into the crib and sings to him, and he's only vaguely aware of Uncle Bobby checking on them, turning out the light, because he's pretty much asleep by that time.

*

The next day passes a lot like the first. Then the one after that. By the end of the week they're in a routine, Uncle Bobby doing the cooking and cleaning up after the baby, Dean taking care of Sam. Daddy calls to check in on them every day, making his report "from the field," and asks Dean if he's keeping the home fires burning.

Dean bites back the terror he feels the first time Daddy asks that question, protests that "There's no home fire here, Daddy. I've got my firetruck."

"Good boy," Daddy answers. "You keep your brother safe. That's your job right now."

"Yes, Daddy," Dean nods.

"All right then, I got somebody who wants to talk to you."

He puts Tall Sam on the phone.

"Hey, Dean."

"Hi," Dean feels warm all over, although he's already forgetting what Tall Sam looks like.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine," Dean looks at Baby Sam, who's sitting on the floor of the kitchen with a spoon in his mouth, stacking bowls.

"How's the baby?" Tall Sam asks.

"He drools a lot," Dean says.

"That's because his teeth are coming in," Tall Sam says. "The one-year molars. Those are the big ones in the back. Soon he'll be able to eat everything you eat."

"He already does that," Dean says. "Yesterday he ate most of my hamburger. Then he threw up."

Tall Sam chuckles.

"Yeah, sorry about that. He's never gonna be very good with hamburgers."

Another day, another phone call, Uncle Bobby talks to Big Dean for a long time, exchanging information about demon activity, omens, other stuff Dean doesn't understand.

"Where are you?" Uncle Bobby asks, then huffs a breath at Big Dean's answer.

"They're headed to Salvation, Iowa," he tells Dean when he gets off the phone. "You can't make this stuff up."

The next day when Daddy calls, he passes the phone to Tall Sam pretty quick.

"Are you practicing your reading?" Tall Sam asks.

Dean nods, then remembers Daddy telling him people can't see you when you talk on the phone, so he says, "Yes, but Sammy keeps trying to grab the book."

"Put him in the playpen with a toy for awhile," Tall Sam instructs. "You need to practice what I taught you. Okay? Can you do that, Dean?"

Dean nods.

"When are you coming home?" he asks plaintively.

"It'll just be another day or two now," Tall Sam says. "We're gonna bring your dad home safe and sound, I promise. Okay?"

"Okay," Dean nods.

"Listen, Dean," Tall Sam says. "I want you to remember one thing, okay? Can you do that for me?"

Dean nods, then says "Yes."

"No matter what happens, no matter how things go here, you are a really special little kid, you hear me? Don't ever let anybody tell you anything else. Least of all you. It's been a real privilege to know you, Dean Winchester."

Tall Sam pauses, and his last words come out sounding choked, like something went down the wrong pipe.

"One more thing," Tall Sam says when he gets his voice back. "Your little brother is gonna grow up and you are gonna be everything to him someday, okay? Everything. It may take him awhile to figure that out, but eventually he will. So don't forget that, okay? Sam loves you. He always will."

Dean's mind is starting to wander, because Tall Sam is just saying stuff he already knows, and he doesn't really understand why grown-ups get so sad-sounding sometimes.

So he just nods, says "Okay," and "Bye" and waits politely for Tall Sam to say the same thing.

He waits and waits, but finally Tall Sam sniffles and takes a deep breath.

"Okay. It's gonna be okay," he says. "We'll be home soon, I promise. You have my word."

But the next day they don't call.

Uncle Bobby mutters a lot all day, keeps looking at the phone. Finally he takes the boys into town for groceries, then stops at the playground to let them run around. Dean puts Sam in a baby swing and pushes him, then climbs onto the big-boy swing next to him and pumps his legs, trying to show Sam how to make the swing go.

When they get back to Bobby's place Dean puts Sam down for his nap, then he climbs up on the chair at the table with his reading book and his pencil and paper, practices writing "Dean Winchester" over and over, then tries "Sam Winchester" a few times.

Uncle Bobby cleans his guns, looks grim, stares at the phone a lot.

After supper Dean gets his reading book out again while Uncle Bobby makes a couple of phone calls. When he gets off the phone after the second call he seems worried, a little shocked.

"Omen activity's stopped," he tells Dean. "All's quiet, and I got no idea what that means."

Dean nods and goes back to his reading, sounding the words out slowly like Tall Sam taught him. Baby Sam is practicing climbing onto and off of one of the big chairs, looking pleased as punch when he gets up on it and manages to sit there like a big boy, his chubby bare legs sticking straight out in front of him, little dimpled hands clutching the arm-rests, looking like a tyrannical baby king.

The next day comes and there's still no sign of the hunters. Uncle Bobby charges around the house, slamming doors and cursing.

The phone rings.

Uncle Bobby knocks over a chair to answer it, barks "Yeah?" into the mouthpiece.

He listens for a moment, and his eyes go wide.

"You sure? Rufus, are you sure? 'Cuz I got these kids here and if they just lost their family, I gotta know."

Dean's sitting on the floor with his firetruck while Sammy chews on one of Uncle Bobby's slippers.

"Yeah, well okay, if you say so, 'cuz I got instructions to put these kids in a truck and high-tail it to a storm-shelter in Kansas if that thing got away, and I --

That's when the familiar rumble of the Impala's engine reaches Dean's ears. He looks up, excitement surging through him.

"Daddy!"

"I gotta go, Rufus," Uncle Bobby says. "I think they're here."

Dean's already up and running across the room to the door, has his hand on the knob when it opens on its own, sending him jumping back a few steps.

Daddy and Tall Sam stagger into the room, holding Big Dean between them, his arms across their shoulders. Big Dean looks battered, one eye swollen shut, his lips and one cheek cut and bleeding, the other one bruised dark and purple.

Tall Sam doesn't look much better, and Daddy's pretty messed up too, but he manages to smile a little at Dean as they stop in the doorway.

"We got him," Daddy says. "We killed the bastard."

*

"Cornered the son-of-a-bitch at the Talley ranch," Daddy explains later, once they've got Big Dean laid on the couch and checked his wounds. They all need cleaning and bandaging, so Dean's got his hands full fetching supplies and helping Uncle Bobby and Tall Sam, who's in the best shape of the three and still has use of both his hands.

"He was getting ready to infect another baby," Daddy goes on. "Laid a devil's trap in the kid's room, caught him in the act. Sam rescued the kid while Dean and I took him down."

Big Dean has three cracked ribs and a broken knee cap -- apparently the demon slammed him into a wall and them stomped on his leg while beating on his face pretty well. Fortunately, he was so distracted by Big Dean he never saw the other two, didn't expect Tall Sam to grab him from behind, hauling him backwards off his brother so Daddy could get his shot.

The details go right over Dean's head. He's too overwhelmed by all the blood. When the men strip their jackets and shirts off there are more wounds, more blood. Daddy tells Dean he's seen worse, as Tall Sam stitches up the gash in his shoulder. Daddy's left hand is broken, and he's pretty banged up and bruised, but nothing that won't heal, he assures Dean.

"I'll be fine," he ruffles Dean's hair, pulls him in for a hug once he's fairly well cleaned and bandaged.

And Dean goes, hugs his Dad as tight as he dares, squeezes his eyes shut to hold back the tears.

Later, when they're all bedded down -- Daddy sharing Uncle Bobby's room, the elder Sam and Dean on the couch and floor of the living room, little Dean and Baby Sam in the crib in the hall -- Dean is almost asleep when he overhears them talking.

"Thought I'd lost you," Tall Sam whispers.

Big Dean makes a groaning noise.

"Ow! Not so tight, Sam."

"The way he kept slamming your head against the floor -- and when you stopped moving -- "

"Damn it, I'm fine. Stop sniveling," Big Dean mutters. "You're getting the pillow wet."

"I just lost it, Dean," Tall Sam goes on, and his voice is a little muffled, like he's got his face pressed against Big Dean's shoulder. "I saw red. I didn't know what I was doing."

"Well, whatever it was, you done good, Sam," Big Dean mutters. "Happy birthday."

Tall Sam makes a surprised snorting sound.

"It's not my -- shit. It's my birthday. Wow. Huh. Killed that bastard on my birthday."

"Yeah," Big Dean agrees. "Helluva birthday present, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah," Tall Sam breathes. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it."

They're quiet for a moment, then Tall Sam huffs out a breath.

"So what now?"

"What'd'ya'mean?" Big Dean growled.

"Well, these kids are still vulnerable. Just because we killed Azazel -- hell, maybe just because we killed him -- there'll be fall-out. What do we do next?"

Big Dean shifts, moans a little because it hurts to move.

"Sorry. Oh shit, Dean, I'm sorry," Tall Sam mutters.

"Fuck you you're sorry," Big Dean grumbles. "You ever been flailed on by a demon general? 'Cause I gotta tell you, it sucks ass."

"No, I know," Tall Sam says sympathetically,. "I get it, Dean. I'm sorry. Oh my god, I'm so sorry -- "

"Ow! That's my sore arm!"

"Sorry."

The sound of moaning and creaking springs finally stops, Big Dean finally finding a way to lie comfortably.

"So -- " Tall Sam tries again quietly.. "What do we do now?"

Big Dean sucks in a big breath, shifts again before answering.

"Right now? Right now we get some sleep. Tomorrow we get a birthday cake."

"Seriously?" Tall Sam sounds irritated and pleased at the same time.

"Ow, goddamn it, stop hugging me! Let me sleep!"

"Can't let you sleep," Tall Sam says. "You've got a concussion. I have to help you stay awake."

"Ow! Not the leg!"

"Sorry," Tall Sam mutters. "Can't give you more pain meds 'cuz they'll just make you sleepy."

"Fuck," Big Dean moans. "Just stop touching me!"

"Can't," Tall Sam says petulantly. "Need to make sure you're okay."

"I hurt everywhere, Sam. Fuckin' everywhere, okay? Everything hurts."

"Everything?" Tall Sam murmurs.

Big Dean gasps, makes a funny little noise low in his throat.

"Not everything," he agrees. "That doesn't hurt."

"Hmm," Tall Sam says. "How 'bout this?"

Big Dean gasps again.

"No, that doesn't hurt either," he says, his voice sounding a little choked and gravelly.

"Feels okay?" Tall Sam pushes.

Big Dean give a low moaning sound and doesn't answer.

They don't speak again, and after awhile Dean pulls his brother's small body against him and kisses the back of his neck. Within a few minutes he falls asleep feeling all safe and warm and at home.

*

The next day they have a birthday party.

Baby Sam gets cake all over himself, all over the table and chairs and floor and Dean and Daddy, who's holding him in his lap as he takes handfuls of the sugary stuff and crams them in his mouth.

Then he throws up.

Uncle Bobby can't wait to get rid of them. He's grumpy and happy at the same time, relieved the demon's dead and excited to share the news with his network of hunters. He's even more relieved when it's decided that Daddy should head to Minnesota with the kids the next day, leaving Big Dean to recover for awhile. And of course Tall Sam will stay with his brother, so the next morning they say their goodbyes on Uncle Bobby's porch.

The men give each other hearty handshakes and pat each other on the back, wincing a little at the soreness of their pulled muscles and bruises.

Tall Sam squats down to Dean's height, looks him in the eye.

"You remember what I told you, Dean," he says. "You're a great kid. You're gonna be a really good man someday. I promise."

Dean nods, puts his hand out to shake Tall Sam's. Tall Sam looks down at Dean's hand, takes it between both of his and squeezes for a minute, then puts his hand on Dean's shoulder and leans in to place a kiss on his forehead.

"Take it easy, kid," he murmurs. "Have a good life."

"I will," Dean promises, because he can see it matters to Tall Sam.

"Good luck, son," Daddy says as he shakes Tall Sam's hand. "Thanks for -- Just thanks."

Tall Sam pulls Daddy in for a hug, and there are tears in his eyes. He nods as he releases Daddy, watches them as they walk to the car, where Baby Sam is already strapped into his car seat in the back. Dean crawls in beside him, lets Sam pull his hair and pat his head. The baby kicks his chubby little legs restlessly, anxious for the car to start and the familiar rumble of the engine to help him relax and fall asleep.

Dean turns around and stares out the back window as they drive away, watching Tall Sam on the porch until they finally turn a corner and he's gone.

PART NINE - BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 9

Dean wakes with a start.

It takes him a minute to remember where he is -- fuck, who he is -- because the dream still clinging to the edges of his consciousness is unbelievably vivid, like a memory only in bright colors and on a huge screen with Dolby surround-sound.

Then he realizes it's Sam's birthday.

He reaches instinctively across the bed but Sam's not there, just the rumpled sheet and pillow with the indentation of his head still in it. Dean grabs the pillow and buries his face in it, breathing in Sam's familiar smell.

Gone for a run, he figures, rolling over with the pillow still clutched against him, his mind running over the details of the strange dream as he lets himself doze for another minute or two, surrounded by the warmth and security of brother and home.

When he finally stumbles into the kitchen for coffee it's clear he's the last one up.

John Winchester is at the table, sipping coffee and reading the morning paper. He nods at Dean as he comes in, bathrobe loosely tied, slippers shuffling on the stone floor.

"Morning," Dean greets his father.

John grunts, doesn't look up as Dean pours his cup of coffee, heads into the library.

The tall, lanky grey-haired man sitting at the table looks up from his laptop, smiles at Dean from behind his glasses. As he does, his face relaxes into dimples and his hazel eyes sparkle.

Dean puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezes gently as he passes him to take the chair opposite.

"Happy Birthday, Uncle Sam," he greets the older man fondly.

"Thanks, Dean," his uncle smiles back. "Sixty-one and still kicking. Older than I ever expected to be, that's for damn sure."

"Found a case for us?" Dean asks as he takes a sip of his coffee.

"Maybe," Uncle Sam -- Tall Sam, Dean fills in, remembering his dream -- nods at him. "Possible chupacabra attacking cattle at a ranch in Oregon. Ranchers have ruled out coyotes or bears, since the only thing left behind is the skeleton. Consumes the entire cow, right down to the bones."

Dean nods. "It attacking people?"

Uncle Sam shakes his shaggy head. "Not yet, but you know how these things are. They get hungry enough and brave enough, they can be pretty dangerous."

"Okay," Dean nods. "Sammy and I will get on it. We'll start out right after breakfast."

"Start out where?"

The voice behind him is as familiar as his own, and Dean doesn't even look up as his other uncle -- Big Dean, he remembers as he recalls his dream again, enters the room from the direction of the garage, where he spends most of his time when he's home.

"Uncle Sam's found us a job in Oregon," Dean says gruffly. Uncle Dean has never liked him much, he knows that, and he has to admit the feeling is at least partly mutual. But they tolerate each other.

Uncle Dean exchanges a look with his brother as he finds another chair, sits down carefully, sticking his bum leg out in front of him. Dean can tell it pains him, but he's not admitting it, any more than he lets any of his old injuries bother him. At least not in front of his nephew.

"Hey, you two were in my dream last night," Dean announces, mostly because he's impulsive and the damn dream is still haunting him.

"Yeah? What did you dream about?" Uncle Sam asks, raising an eyebrow..

"Sam was a baby," Dean says. "So I guess I must've been about four, and it was just after Mom died. You two rescued us from some attacking demons."

"That's right," Uncle Sam nods. "We did."

"You set us up, took care of us, trained Dad," Dean goes on. "Then you killed that thing that killed Mom."

Uncle Sam and Uncle Dean exchange glances.

"That's right, Dean," Uncle Sam agrees. "That's what happened. Are you remembering some of that?"

Dean shrugs, suddenly uncomfortable.

"I guess I am," he admits warily. "It wasn't exactly a happy time. I was pretty miserable, I think. Missed Mom a lot. Had a lot of nightmares about her death."

"Uh huh," Uncle Sam nods, gazing at him with a steady, sympathetic expression.

Dean takes another sip of his coffee, glances at Uncle Dean, who's frowning, as usual. Uncle Dean has always been grumpy, but in recent years his gloomy attitude has become an entrenched part of his character, so that Dean rarely remembers him smiling or laughing, although he knows he can -- sometimes when Dean walks in on his uncle when he's alone with his brother, there's something of the happier, more contented man lurking just under the surface of his self-loathing and resentment, a resentment he seems to aim specifically at Dean.

Dean clears his throat, realizes he has something important he needs to say, but isn't sure how to say it. Not with the way Uncle Dean is glaring openly at him.

"What is your problem?" he says now, glaring back at Uncle Dean. "Why the hell do you hate me so much?"

Uncle Dean glowers for another second, then his lips turn up in a smirk.

"I think you know the answer to that, Mini-Me," Uncle Dean answers smoothly.

"Yeah, yeah," Dean snaps. "You're me. I get that. And you think I've had it so much easier than you did because you killed that demon for us early on, so we didn't have a lifetime of suffering and misery like you did."

"Oh, you don't know the half of it, pal," Uncle Dean growls, lowering his voice to its most menacing. "You may think you know the supernatural world, but if you'd seen half the things I have it would make your toes curl, permanently."

"Dean -- " Uncle Sam puts his hand on his brother's arm in warning. "It's all done now. Just let it go."

"Shut it, Sam," Uncle Dean shakes his arm free. "Kid needs to know." He points his finger at Dean for emphasis."Your little brother never had to go to Hell with an archangel riding his ass. Your little brother never had a fuckin' demon blood addiction. Your little brother never died in your arms -- "

"Dean!" Uncle Sam protests. "Stop! He knows!"

"Yeah? Good. 'Cuz he needs to understand how goddamn lucky he is, because -- "

"Thank you, all right?" Dean raises his voice to be heard over his uncles' bickering, and they both stop, stare at him.

"I'm grateful. I am." Dean continues. "I know what you did. What you sacrificed. Sam and I can never repay that. You saved Dad, for goddsake! I get it, and I just wish there was some way I could go back and fix it for you like you did for us. I tried, goddamn it, as you well know. I tried to go back. Spell didn't work, but I tried! Sam and I did everything we could to try to fix it. And we ain't done trying, I can promise you that. 'Cuz you guys are family, and there ain't nothin' I wouldn't do for my family."

Uncle Sam has tears in his eyes, and he's nodding, and Uncle Dean stares for another minute, then looks away, muttering crossly.

"What's up with all the yelling?" Dad comes in with his newspaper, glaring at them each in turn, then they all look up as a voice greets them from the doorway.

"What's a guy gotta do to get a cup of coffee around here?"

It's Bobby, hailing them from the top of the bunker's stairs, Sam on his heels, grinning broadly.

"Found him outside," Sam says, clapping Bobby on the shoulder and sending sweat spraying everywhere.

"Happy birthday, Sam," Uncle Dean bellows, brightening immediately at the sight of his favorite nephew.

"Thanks," Sam grins even more broadly, bounds down the stairs two at a time, then strides into the library, where he clasps Uncle Dean's hand, then reaches a hand over to ruffle Uncle Sam's hair.

"Birthday wishes for you, too, Uncle," he says jovially, then reaches his arms out to his brother.

"No way," Dean shakes his head as sweat splatters everywhere. "Shower first, hugs later."

Sam lifts his eyebrows, shrugs.

"Your loss," he agrees cheerfully. "I'll see you in ten." He waves to all assembled, then bounds off toward the showers.

"That kid has too much energy," Bobby grouses, but he's smiling. They're all smiling. Sam does that to people, just by being in the room.

"It's all that college," Dad announces. "The more education you have, the less common sense."

"Thank God for that," Bobby says. "If the kid had common sense too, he'd be pretty-much perfect. And nobody needs to be that perfect."

"I'll be the judge of that, Singer," Dad says, but he's smiling too.

"So did anybody get him a gift?" Bobby asks, then looks around the room at the Winchesters -- all four of them -- who are looking down, looking away, avoiding each other's eyes.

All but Uncle Sam, who says "I did."

"What?" Dean's shocked, and feels more than a little guilty suddenly because he managed to not have a gift for either his Uncle or his brother, and that takes some doing.

Uncle Sam nods. "It's something I had as a kid. Figured he might like it."

Now everybody's staring at him, and Uncle Dean says, "What? Another amulet? Like he needs one of those. Kid goes around oozing luck and happy thoughts. Definitely doesn't need magical protection. The whole universe is on his side, as far as I can tell."

"Not an amulet," Uncle Sam smiles a little. "Something more basic. Something I spent hours playing with when I was little. I think I was hoping it would save me."

They're all curious as hell, but they wait, with typical hunter stoicism, until Sam comes back, clean and dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans, hair still wet and neatly combed back, face flushed.

"What? What did I miss?" he asks, looking expectantly from face to face.

"Uncle Sam got you a present," Dean says, unable to keep the smirk off of his face, the teasing out of his voice.

Sam looks at him, and Dean feels the familiar heat forming a tight knot in his belly. He will always feel it when Sam looks at him, he realizes. It's what Uncle Sam told him when he was a kid, when he first realized he was in love with his brother.

"Don't fight it, Dean," Uncle Sam said then, his gaze serious and solemn. "It's something we can't control. Dean and I have tried, believe me, and it only ends up in lies and betrayal and misery. You two have a chance to do it right. Really love each other. That's what we learned, although it took years of misery to figure it out. Much easier if you just get into the habit of loving and trusting each other from the start. We're soul-mated. God or whatever made us this way. I don't know why, but I do know that fighting it makes it worse. Way worse."

Dean smiles at his brother, shrugs a little, watches as if from a great distance as Uncle Sam hands Dean's brother his gift. His Legacy, he realizes, wondering only after the fact where the hell that thought came from.

Sam unwraps the gift, looking at least five times at his brother, as if Dean knows what the hell it is and must be in on the joke because if not then what the hell --

It's an airplane. An old, battered model airplane that looks like it's definitely seen better days, like it's been in storage for years, covered in dust and only recently wiped off.

And it's amazing.

Sam touches the plastic toy reverently, like it represents something so important he can't even express.

"This -- " he starts, then stops because his face shifts, his eyes fill with tears. He looks up at Uncle Sam, who is gazing at him with such intent, like he's willing him to understand something, waiting for him to get the joke.

"What the hell, Sam?" Uncle Dean barges in, sounding irrationally terrified and more than a little upset. "How did you -- Where the fuck did you get that thing?"

Uncle Sam's looking at his brother now, shaking his head as tears run down his cheeks. He has to take off his glasses, wipes them on his sleeve, just so he can see.

"I found it," he says. "I found it in the storage room. How did it even get there? I can't even -- We were here before, Dean. Even before we were here this time. Do you get it? We were already here."

"I gave you that when you were like -- " Uncle Dean thinks for a minute. "When you were twelve, man. Yeah. You were twelve. You had this fixation with flying, remember? From when you were really little. Always dreaming about flying, and then that time you jumped off the shed and broke your arm -- So I bought that thing with the money that I was supposed to be saving for food while Dad was in Kentucky hunting werewolves -- "

"I remember," Uncle Sam nods, shifts his gaze to his nephew, who's holding the airplane like it's some kind of talisman, something so special he can't even.

He's reading the lettering on the side, worn and rubbed from much handling. Somebody has painted something on the side, and Dean leans in, trying to make it out, fails.

"It says 'Rosebud,'" Sam says with a little smile. He lifts his eyes to Uncle Sam's, smiling broader. "It's a joke."

Uncle Sam shrugs.

"I used to think my life was a joke," he says with just a hint of the old bitterness. "One big fat meaningless cosmic joke, played on me and Dean starting the day I was born."

He looks at Sam, at Dean, at his brother, at Dad, at Bobby, then back at Sam.

"I don't think that anymore," he says with a little smile. "Happy birthday, Sam."

* *

EPILOGUE



Life goes on pretty normally after Sam's 31st birthday, or at least as normally as it has for the past thirty years or so. Dean's never quite sure what all the differences are, but from what he gets from his uncles -- mostly Uncle Sam -- things in that other timeline were pretty fucked up.

So yeah, he's grateful.

Sometimes he wishes he could go back, fix things from before his mother died, but Uncle Sam has explained that the deal his mother made happened way before his birth, that to go all the way back to 1973 and fix that could change things too radically. They might never have been born. Apparently there were angels involved in bringing John and Mary Winchester together, although in this timeline there's never been a sign of angel interference at all.

That's a good thing, Uncle Sam assures Dean, so he doesn't pry too deeply because really -- angels?! What the fuck?! Hard enough having to deal with the ghosts and monsters and occasional demons he and Sam hunt every day. No reason to bring something crazy like angels into the mix.

Ever.

It's a relief not to have to mess with the time traveling anyway. For awhile after he found out who his uncles really were and where they came from -- sometime around his twelfth birthday, when they came to stay for a few weeks so Uncle Dean could recover from a really nasty hunting accident which put him out of commission for several months -- Dean wondered why they had never returned to their own time. Uncle Sam explained that they had tried, spent the first few years trying everything they could to reverse the spell that brought them back thirty years in time in the first place. But nothing worked. They were able to make a couple of short trips into the recent past, which they did to set things right there, but the future was forever closed to them. Apparently they had changed the timeline irrevocably, so the spells to take them foreword in time just didn't work anymore. Uncle Sam figured they were probably created by angels in the first place, and since there were no angels now, then yeah.

So the older Winchester brothers spent their time hunting, traveling town to town, coming back to Blue Earth for birthdays and Christmas, calling to check on them pretty regularly. Evil still had them in its crosshairs, and at a certain point it was time to move on, then keep moving for awhile, but by that time Sam was in Kindergarten and not so impossibly little anymore. And the bunker was about the safest home base they could possibly ask for, so eventually they moved back there, finished school. Sam went to college, took his four years away from his family to get his bearings and make sense of his life. Dean and John kept hunting, and one day the older Winchester brothers came home to stay. They were in their fifties by then, and retirement didn't seem so bad as long as they could still be useful in the family business.

Which of course they could, being without compare the best hunters who ever lived, not to mention men of letters with a better knowledge and understanding of the supernatural world than anyone alive.

And when the day comes in 2013 that a door opens in the bunker and Henry Winchester steps through, they're all ready for him, not to mention the evil thing that comes out after him. They dispatch the Knight of Hell in one clean beheading, burning the body and scattering the ashes over a hundred and fifty miles of open prairie land in central Kansas.

Another win.

Dean still misses his mother sometimes, remembers her soft smile and the way she tucked his hair behind his ear and called him her "love." He fantasizes about finding the right spell that could take him back in time to that moment before she made her deal, aim the colt right between that demon bastard's eyes and pull the trigger. It wouldn't even know what hit him. Would never know Dean Winchester was supposed to kill him in the future, in another timeline. In two other timelines, as a matter of fact. But this time he would get that bastard before it got his mother, or his baby brother. Save his mom. Keep Sammy clean.

But he would need Sam's help to find the spell, and Sam would never agree to tempt fate that way. He would argue that things have turned out pretty well, considering. And they'd be incredibly stupid to try and mess with that.

And knowing what he knows about his uncles' lives in that other timeline, Dean would have to agree.

Still, he thinks about it. Fantasizes about saving the people he loves.

After all, that's what Winchesters do, isn't it?

BACK TO MASTERPOST
Walker in pink

You Can't Go Home Again - MASTERPOST

Title: You Can't Go Home Again
Author: amypond45
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 27,799
Warnings: Established Wincest, not explicit
Summary: Sam and Dean find evidence they time-traveled to 1983 to rescue their younger selves and their father after their mother died. Many silly, cuddly moments ensue, and while they're at it, they find a way to fix things for their dad. Happy endings!

PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR -
PART FIVE - PART SIX - PART SEVEN - PART EIGHT - PART NINE

READ IT ON AO3
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You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 7

The next day, Daddy and Big Dean leave early. They're gone for almost a week this time, and when they return Daddy looks shell-shocked and devastated.

"We had to zero-dark-thirty his ass," Big Dean explains to Tall Sam after Daddy goes off to take a shower. "It was pretty brutal. Got the intel we needed and exorcised the demon, but the human host died. Dad was pretty spooked."

He takes a big breath, looking up at his brother with big green eyes.

"First time's a bitch, Sammy."

Tall Sam shifts uncomfortably.

"I guess he had to learn somehow," he says softly. "At least you were there."

Dean's lying in the crib with the baby, supposed to be sleeping, but the door is open because otherwise Dean wakes up in the dark and sometimes that causes him to freak out, so Tall Sam insists they leave it open.

Big Dean has his back against the wall, and Tall Sam stands almost pressed against him, head bent and body slightly hunched over so they're breathing each other's air. Big Dean lowers his chin, and now the space between them is almost heart-shaped.

"I found Daniel Elkins," he says quietly.

Tall Sam shifts uncomfortably, pulls back so he can look at his brother's face a moment, shrugs.

"So?"

"So, I've got the colt. You remember? The gun that kills -- "

"Yeah, so?" Tall Sam interrupts querulously.

"So I'm saying we kill Azazel now. In this timeline. We hunt him down while we can. Now."

Tall Sam shakes his head.

"Dean, that's insane," he says irritably.

"It's not insane, it's smart," Big Dean insists. "We know what he was doing this past year. We know which kids he was feeding his special ovaltine to."

"Dean -- " Tall Sam shifts his feet uncomfortably again.

"We follow his trail," Big Dean's on a roll, not gonna be interrupted. "We set a trap for him. We know he wants me dead. Little me. But he doesn't know we're here. Isn't expecting us to come looking for him -- "

"Dean!" Tall Sam barks, puts a hand on Big Dean's shoulder, and Big Dean stops, looks up at him.

"What?"

"We can't kill Azazel in this timeline," he says, lowering his voice. "If we do, it changes everything. Dad's entire life while we were growing up. Our lives growing up."

Big Dean nods.

"Yeah, what's your point, Sam?"

"My point is -- if we don't grow up the way we did, we don't become who we are. Dad doesn't spend his life on the road chasing down leads, with us in tow. Everything turns out differently."

Big Dean nods again.

"Yeah, I still don't see your point, Sam," he says. "Seems to me if we kill Azazel now, things could be a helluva lot better. These little kids grow up a little more normally. Dad doesn't spend the next twenty-two years drinking and hunting and ending up dead. You wanna tell me the downside of that? Huh? 'Cuz I gotta say, I just don't see it."

Tall Sam sighs, shakes his head, moves away and paces a little so that Big Dean has to turn to keep facing him.

"You can't save him," Tall Sam says softly.

"I can try," Big Dean argues. "Maybe I can stop that bastard from making that deal right here, right now. Maybe I can't, but I gotta try, Sam. Hell, he isn't even expecting it to happen for another twenty years. We go after him now, we've got the element of surprise, plus years of knowledge and experience he won't expect us to have. We'd be fools not to take advantage of that."

Tall Sam is silent for a moment, and Dean watches his face, fascinated by the play of emotions that move across it as he's thinking about what Big Dean's saying. He can't see Big Dean's now, but he can imagine the stubborn set of his jaw, the determined, half-crazed look in his big green eyes.

"Sam, listen to me," Big Dean tries another tack, speaks with a low intensity that makes Dean's spine tingle. "If we do this now, we save all those kids and their families. Put a stop to all of it. You hear me, Sam? We kill that son-of-a-bitch now, nobody else has to suffer like we did. It'll be over. For good."

Tall Sam is still turned toward Dean, and Dean can see the minute he surrenders, drops his eyes, squares his jaw and shifts his feet.

"You do realize Dad won't let us go without him," he says slowly, carefully.

Big Dean starts to shake his head in protest but Tall Sam interrupts before he can say anything.

"No, Dean, you know Dad. He's not gonna wanna be left out of this," he says.

Big Dean's still shaking his head.

"He's not ready," he says. "He almost got himself killed this time. He doesn't have the chops yet for this kind of hunt."

"Doesn't matter," Tall Sam insists. "We need to take him. He needs to be a part of this. He's gonna wanna look that bastard in the eye when you pull the trigger. You know that. It's the only way it'll ever be over for him."

Big Dean is silent again for a minute

"And you know, what? He's right. We do this, we do it together."

"Sam -- "

"No, Dean, I mean it," Tall Sam presses. "Here's the plan. We get out there, track that thing down and kill it, then we all drive up to Minnesota, to Pastor Jim's. Leave Dad and the kids there. Then we come back here, find the spell to get us home. That's all. That's how it's gotta be, Dean."

Big Dean doesn't move, and Dean imagines him trying to stare his brother down. But Tall Sam doesn't flinch, his jaw stays set, his eyes hold Big Dean's without blinking. He doesn't back down, and finally it's Big Dean who nods, lowers his eyes, scrubs a hand over his face.

"Okay," he agrees with a small shrug of his broad shoulders. "Okay, Sam. We'll do it your way. We'll leave in the morning."

"Fine," Tall Sam nods.

"But we're not taking the kids," Big Dean says.

Tall Sam considers, then nods. "Right. Obviously. So what do we do with them?"

Big Dean turns, looks into the dark room where Dean and Sam are sleeping, then back at Tall Sam. There's a twinkle in his eye and he's smiling a little.

"I think I have an idea," he says. "Come to bed and I'll tell you."

*

In the morning Sam wakes up first, pats Dean's head and pulls on his ear to get him to wake up, chanting "Dee Dee Dee" and blowing raspberries against his cheek.

Dean climbs out of the crib, then pulls Sam over the side so they fall in a heap together on the floor, Sam on top, still chanting happily.

"Dee Dee Dee."

It's his first word, and it makes Dean proud, even if it's a little annoying sometimes. He says "Da Da Da" too, whenever Daddy's in the room. In fact, at first he called Dean "Da Da," which was funny, because he said it even when Daddy wasn't around, so Dean knew he meant him. But now he can say "Dee" and it's clear.

He takes a clean diaper out of the bag, tackles his wiggling brother, and manages to change him. He has to sit on him to do it, but Sam tolerates it, doesn't really seem to mind. He wraps the used diaper in a plastic bag and heads out the door to the bathroom. Sam toddles after him, pulls a washcloth off the sink and sits down plop on the floor with the washcloth in his mouth while Dean does his business.

Usually Tall Sam greets him in the hall by this time, but he's half-way to the library before he remembers.

Tall Sam and Big Dean are leaving this morning. Daddy too.

That's when he hears shouting.

"Goddamn it, boys, I said no!" Daddy's yelling at Tall Sam and Big Dean. Dean stops in the entry to the library, stoops to try to stop Sam from toddling ahead of him. "We do this, we do it together, you hear me?"

Tall Sam raises his eyebrows, gives his brother a look that says, "See? I told you so."

Big Dean ignores him.

"Dad, this is a powerful demon we're talking about here," he argues. "It's not something that's easy to kill."

"It's the son-of-a-bitch who killed my wife, damn it," Daddy growls. "I have a right to be the one that kills it."

"Dad -- "

Tall Sam sees Dean and Baby Sam in the doorway, tips his head and raises his eyebrows in warning.

Daddy glances over, sees Dean and Baby Sam, frowns.

"Dean, take your brother into the kitchen and get him something to eat," Daddy orders, and Dean scurries to obey. But he can still hear them.

"Dad, we can't all go," Tall Sam is saying. "The kids -- "

"So we take the kids to that friend of yours in Minnesota. Jim, is it? We leave them there, we do the hunt. Together."

They're silent, considering. Dean wants to cry suddenly. They're talking about leaving him and Sam with a stranger so they can do something that might get them killed, and Dean is just not okay with that. Wants to scream, "No!"

But he doesn't. He helps Sam get into his high chair, gives him some Cheerios, makes himself a bowl with milk and sugar, climbs into his chair to eat.

"There isn't time, Dad," Big Dean's saying. "The trail goes cold after a year, and the year's almost up."

"Why a year? What's it doing?" Daddy asks.

There's another pause, then Dean hears Tall Sam take a deep breath.

"It's going after babies born in 1983," he says. "In twenty-three years, one of them opens the Gates of Hell, lets a shitload of demons out."

"Sam!" Big Dean barks. "Shut the fuck up!"

"What, Dean?" Sam challenges. "You think we can keep that secret? Now that you've decided we're going after Azazel now? You just want Dad to go in blind? Like he did to us all those years ago? Well I'm sorry, but I don't think that was the right way to do it. Not then, not now. If we're all going after Azazel, we all deserve to know everything about him, just like with any other case. No secrets. No misguided attempts to protect each other by withholding information."

"Sam -- "

"No, Dean, let him talk," Daddy interrupts. "He's right. I need to know the whole story. Even if you think it might affect the timeline or whatever. I need to understand what we're up against. I need to know why a demon is going after my infant son, goddamn it. Why it killed my wife."

"Dad -- " Big Dean protests, huffs out a frustrated breath. "Damn it!"

He pauses, gets his bearings, shakes his head.

"Dad," Tall Sam interrupts. "What you need to understand is that Azazel bled his demon blood into me when I was a baby. He -- "

"Sam!" Dean barks. "Enough!"

The silence is palpable, and Dean imagines the three of them, standing in a triangle in the middle of the library, staring at each other with varying expressions of shock and anger and, in Tall Sam's case, stubborn suffering.

"He did what?" Daddy breathes.

"He did it to all the babies," Tall Sam says. "He needs us to open the Gates of Hell for him in twenty-three years. Those of us who survive. One of us will do it."

"Sam, are you saying you -- " Daddy's voice sounds strangled, choked. "Are you the one who does this thing?"

"Not technically, no," Tall Sam sighs. "But I'm there. So's Dean. So are you, actually."

"But we can stop it, Dad," Big Dean chimes in. "It doesn't have to go down that way. If we kill Azazel now, none of it will happen. We stop it, all of it, right here, right now. And I've got the thing that does it."

Dean can hear him pat his jacket pocket.

Daddy sucks in a breath. There's a long pause, and Dean imagines Daddy's face, grim and set, glancing from one to the other of the men, wincing only slightly when he looks at Tall Sam.

"Okay," he says finally. "How do we find the bastard?"

"We need a public library," Tall Sam says.

"And I need to make a phone call to an old friend in South Dakota," Dean adds. "We don't have time to drive all the way to Minnesota, but Sioux Falls is only five hours away. And I know somebody there who can keep these kids safe."



*
They pack up after breakfast, hit the road with Daddy driving, Tall Sam folded into the back seat with Dean in the middle and Baby Sam in his car seat. It's a bit of a tight squeeze, but Daddy insists that they all stay together, not go in separate cars, so they leave the stolen Toyota Corolla by the side of the road.

When they get to Lincoln, Big Dean takes Daddy to a tattoo parlor so he can get an anti-possession tattoo. He wants to take Dean too, but Daddy nixes that idea. Meanwhile, Tall Sam takes Dean and Sam to the public library, lets them play in the Children's Room while he does his research. When they all meet up again Daddy looks a little pale, and his shoulder has a bandage on it. They've still got some traveling to do, but luckily Baby Sam falls asleep as soon as they hit the road again, so the drive to Omaha and then on to Sioux Falls is fairly quiet.

Bobby Singer's house is messy and full of books and smells funny. He stares at them blankly as they wait on his porch -- three tall hunters with a toddler and a little boy -- and listens to Big Dean explain who they are and where they came from. Then he explains why they're there.

"So let me get this straight," Singer looks from one to the other of them, then down at Dean, winces a little. "You say you're from the future and we're old friends there."

"The oldest," Big Dean nods. "I can barely remember a time before I knew you."

"Mister, you don't look very old -- "

"I'm thirty-five," Big Dean says. "And I can promise you, we go way back."

"Well seein' as how I'm younger than that, I don't see how that's possible," Singer says skeptically.

"Time travel's a bitch," Big Dean shrugs. "I'm older than my own father right now. Figure that one out."

"Yeah, I don't think I want to," Singer's eyes widen as he looks from Big Dean to Daddy and back again. "And you say you've got a lead on whatever's been setting those house fires and killing those families?"

"It's a demon," Tall Sam says. "And yeah, we've got some leads. We're gonna hunt it."

"A demon?" Bobby looks equal parts shocked and skeptical. "Are you sure?"

Big Dean nods.

"As sure as we are that it was a demon that killed your wife, Bobby," he says gently. "And we're also pretty sure you're gonna wanna help us bring this one down."

Bobby stares at them like he's not sure whether to cry or slam the door on them. Maybe both.

But there must be something in Big Dean's face that he trusts, something that makes him believe them despite himself. That and the fact that Baby Sam is blowing raspberries at him, reaching for his cap with chubby, drool-slick fingers, flashing his dimpled smile and chanting "bah bah bah bah" like he knows him.

"Okay, come on in," Bobby accedes reluctantly. "But don't touch anything. I'm in the middle of an important case and I've got all my research just where I want it."

So of course the first thing Baby Sam does is make a mess, cruising around the room as soon as Daddy puts him down, grabbing papers and books and dumping everything on the floor before Tall Sam gets a chance to set up the portable crib and sticks the baby in it with some toys.

By that time Bobby's been properly scolded for not running the usual tests on them to be sure they're not demons themselves, and he's staring at Big Dean and Tall Sam with amazement as they run down the list of monsters and creatures they have first-hand knowledge of.

"You boys need to stay for at least a week," Bobby says when they stop for air for a minute. "I need at least that long to pick your brains on all this crap. Hell, I'm just getting started understanding the supernatural world. You boys have been living your whole lives in it."

"Learned a helluva lot about it from you, old man," Big Dean says. "Growing up, we spent weeks right here, learning from you."

Tall Sam and and Big Dean head into town to the public library to do some more research and pick up some supplies. Bobby feeds the kids macaroni and cheese for dinner while he and Daddy share a bottle of whiskey and exchange hunting stories. When Tall Sam and Big Dean get back they take the bottle away, help Bobby grill some steaks, then Daddy and Tall Sam bathe and put little Sam and Dean to bed.

Daddy explains to Dean that he needs to be a good soldier and man up while Daddy's gone hunting.

"Can you do that for me, Dean?" Daddy asks. "Stay here and look after your brother for me for a few days? I need to know I can count on you."

And Dean nods, says "Yes, sir," and doesn't cry, because he's a man now and Daddy needs him to be a good little soldier and Baby Sam needs him to protect him and keep him safe while Daddy's gone.

He lays awake for a long time, listening to the voices rise and fall, catching bits and pieces of the conversation as he huddles around his baby brother like a human shield, guarding him against the world.

PART EIGHT - BACK TO MASTERPOST
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Snowstorms and Fan Fiction

Spent the day inside, baking cookies, watching the snow fall, posting fan fiction. School is canceled for tomorrow, so with both kids home I may not get any more time to myself, so at least I got several stories imported from AO3 today. Thanks to the wonderful elwarre, who helped me remember how to code (something I haven't done while raising kids so it's been awhile!) I get a little obsessive when I have a project (my personality type sorta comes out Sam Winchester every time) so I've still got work to do, but have mostly managed to import my ten best fics so I'm hoping to get some feedback. Or at least they're posted here in time for the challenges I have on my calendar cuz I have deadlines and they're not about work or kids! I feel so free!