"Knew you were comin' the minute I woke up this morning," Missouri said. "Had to bake my special apple-blueberry pie because I know it's your favorite."
John smiled warmly as he hugged the plump woman.
"You remembered," he breathed, clearly pleased.
"You haven't changed, John Winchester," Missouri shook her head again. "Same big handsome barn of a man you always were on the outside. Same vengeful jack-ass on the inside." She glanced at Dean, and John nodded.
"My son, Dean," he said. "And this is Sam."
Missouri's eyebrows went up when she looked at Dean. "Well, didn't you grow up pretty," she commented. "Not so funny-looking after all." Then her gaze fell on Sam and her eyebrows stayed permanently raised, her mouth falling open a little.
"Well, this, I did not expect," she said, and Sam's skin tingled, the hair on the back of his neck raised. "Mm, mm, mm. I did not see this comin'."
It took Sam a minute to realize she hadn't spoken out loud. His eyes widened, and Missouri smiled a little knowing smile, and Sam tried not to freak out because he could see she knew he heard her.
"Sam's a psychic too," John explained, and Missouri nodded.
"You don't say," she pressed her lips together, put her hands on her hips, and nodded toward her sitting room. "Y'all can come in and sit down while I get your pie," she said. "Then you can tell me why you think you're here."
"What does she mean, 'why we think we're here?'" Dean groused when they were seated and Missouri had left the room. "Why are we here, Dad?"
"Missouri Moseley is the psychic who helped me figure out what had happened to your mother and your brother," John explained, his jaw set in a way that belied the strong emotions Sam could sense, the memories of fire and heat in his head. "She introduced me to the supernatural world, helped me connect with other hunters. If anybody can help us figure out what happened to Sam in that clinic, it'll be her."
"Here we are," Missouri said as she returned with two plates, each bearing a steaming slice of freshly-baked pie. "Just out of the oven. Sam, you can come help me in the kitchen."
Sam obeyed before he even realized what he was doing, giving a surprised shrug to Dean as he left the room, finding a look of doubt and confusion on Dean's face as the older boy's attention was clearly torn between Sam and the plate of pie in his hands.
Missouri closed the door to the kitchen when they were inside and gestured to a chair at the small table against the wall, where a glass of soy milk and a piece of pie sat waiting.
"You can eat yours in here," she said brusquely. "I've got more trouble comin', and I've got baking to do."
Sam sat down, watched as Missouri turned her back and busied herself stirring and mixing. His heart was pounding and his palms were sweating and the hair on the back of his neck was standing up even taller. He deliberately made his mind as blank as possible, trying not to read Missouri's at the same time, but he knew she was reading him like a book, and it made him more nervous than he would admit, even to himself. He ate his pie and waited, and after a couple of minutes she turned and looked down at him with narrowed eyes.
"You and Dean have a special bond," she announced abruptly. "You both sense it. He's psychic too. He don't know it, but he is, and you can't tell him because he couldn't handle it. You hear what I'm sayin'?"
Sam nodded, closing his mouth because it had dropped all the way open when she said the word "psychic" and shock flooded his veins like ice water.
"Is that why I can't read him?" Sam asked, and Missouri gave a short nod.
"He's shielding hisself," she said. "He does it without even knowin' he's doin' it. I can read him 'cause he don't care about me. I ain't important to him. But you... You're everything he never knew he wanted. You two boys were made for each other."
Sam felt the flush rise in his cheeks, up his neck, across his chest. He knew what she was saying was true, he'd always known it. But it was the first time he'd heard someone else acknowledge it, and finding out how Dean felt about him was almost more than Sam could stand.
Missouri put her mixing bowl down on the table and sat down heavily in the chair next to him, laying her soft warm hand on his arm. "And those dreams? They started when you were suffering somethin' awful." Missouri's face clouded, and she frowned deeply. "Your dreams kept you sane. Kept you from goin' over the edge into darkness. They were your mind's way of coping with what your body was going through."
"But how could I do that?" Sam asked. "How did I know about Dean before I met him?"
Missouri smiled, reached over and touched his cheek. "Ah, child, you's such a baby. Those people at that Project didn't teach you nothin', did they?" She sighed, sat back in her chair and reached for the mixing bowl, starting to stir as she spoke. "Dean's your soul-mate. Your soul knows his 'cuz that's the way it works."
"But the house," Sam went on. "The car. It was like I was living my life with him, growing up with him."
Missouri sighed again, watching her mixture turn and turn in the bowl. "Your mind made up a way for you to be together," she shrugged. "You built up a story for yourself in the only way you could. Being brothers was safe and comforting. It's your soul's way of being close to Dean: growing up together, sharing your lives from the start that way."
"But Dean didn't dream about me," Sam protested. "He doesn't have those memories of being brothers like I do."
Missouri shook her head, raised her eyes, and gave him a look that was something between a warning and a smirk. "You've got that boy wrapped around your little finger and you know it," she said. "You just go easy on him, y'hear? He breaks easier than you do."
Sam lowered his eyes to his plate, blushing furiously for reasons he didn't fully understand.
"'Sides," Missouri went on. "It's just as well you're not brothers."
"What do you mean?" Sam looked up sharply, and Missouri shook her head, pushing herself to her feet and wiping her hands on her apron.
"You'll see in a couple of years or so," she answered inscrutably. "Come on, let's hear those Winchester boys lie about what they're doing here."
She winked at Sam as she headed out the door and he followed, flushed with Missouri's revelations about Dean, feeling a little guilty about that because he was pretty sure Dean wasn't going to get the same personal interview, wouldn't find out about their being "soul-mates" unless Sam told him.
Which was an utterly terrifying thought that pre-occupied Sam's thoughts for the rest of the visit, completely obscuring John's questions about Sam's psychic abilities and any memories he might have about the creepy clinic on the university campus. But he heard it when Missouri assured John that Sam had ‘a heart of gold,’ and his soul was ‘pure.’
"There's no more evil in this boy here than there is in you," she admonished John, then glanced at Dean. "You neither. This boy's had some twisted things happen to him, that's for sure, but he's strong. He's a survivor, like yourselves. You'd be lucky to have him on your team, and stupid not to." She pointed her forefinger at John. "Don't be a damn fool, John Winchester."
John smiled and looked down, dimples showing.
"I won't," John assured her, glancing up at Sam, nodding once, and Sam could sense John's acquiescence, the beginnings of trust.
"County records have him born Samuel J. Smith, mother Cheryl Smith, father unknown, July 18, 1983, in Duluth," Bobby told them the next evening, when they were back in Sioux Falls going over the case. The case at the moment being Sam. Sam could read Bobby's determination, his concern for John and especially for Dean, and his growing fondness for Sam, and Sam had decided he liked the gruff-mannered hunter. He listened patiently as Bobby recounted the only "official" record of his short existence. "The hospital pediatrician gave him his first shots, then there's nothing until he enrolled in school here in 1991. Foster-mother Karen Richards enrolled him at Sioux Falls Elementary, using that birth certificate, a forged certificate of guardianship, and a forged immunization record showing Sam's shots from a county clinic in Duluth that doesn't even exist."
"In other words, we got squat," John muttered grimly.
"Well, I've also got the mother's death certificate," Bobby says, looking even more grim. "Drug overdose, New Year's Eve, 1987."
"Kid was four years old," John breathed, glancing at Sam, who was squeezed between Dean and the arm of the couch. Same as Dean, Sam could hear John think to himself, as clearly as if he'd said it out loud. Same as me when my dad left.
"Then we got nothing on him between the ages of four and eight, when he enrolled in the third grade here," Bobby went on. "He just finished the sixth grade. He's a good student, described by teachers as shy and aloof, but apparently he can hold his own in a fight cuz he's been in a few and mostly comes out on top, according to the principal. This is all in his school records. I can't exactly go around interviewing teachers in the summer. Everybody knows me around here, and not in a good way, if you know what I mean."
Sam could read bits and pieces of Bobby's past in the hunter's mind, could sense the tragedy and alcoholism, the violence of his childhood and the fairly recent violent death of his wife. It was all sadder than he could handle, like John Winchester's life, and Sam was beginning to get the sense that hunters were not happy people, in general.
"No, that's all right," John shook his head. "We've got enough. This whole thing is just one big, ugly, stinking dead end."
"What do we do now, Dad?" Dean asked, and Sam could feel the tension in his body where Dean was pressed against him. Sam had woken up after a nightmare the night before and Dean had been right there, soothing him and whispering away the memory of fire, of George dead on the floor and Zoe's soft fur soaked in blood.
"We get back to work," John answered brusquely. "I've got a lead on a possible demon-possession two states over. You've got a month before school starts...We leave today."
"What about Sam? We bring him with us, right?"
Now it was Sam's turn to tense, holding his body as still and stiff as a board as he waited for John Winchester to pronounce judgment on his future. John glanced at Sam, and Sam could read the doubt and uncertainty, could see himself through John's eyes, how small and helpless he looked.
"We can't take a kid on the road," John protested gruffly. "It's not safe."
"You took me on the road when I was only four years old," Dean reminded him.
"That's different," John shook his head. "You're my son. I needed to keep you safe. Teach you to protect yourself. After what happened to your mother and your brother, you were all I had."
"Sam's family is dead," Dean reminded his father. "We had a hand in that. We're responsible for his being alone in the world, unprotected. We owe it to him to take him in, try to give him a home. We...we're all he has."
John shook his head. "He's not a hunter."
"We can train him," Dean insisted. "We can teach him how to protect himself. And he's not completely defenseless, I can vouch for that. He knows a lot of wrestling moves, and he's a black belt in karate. Plus, he can help us. You saw what he can do back at that clinic. He's got real mojo. He's like Zelda Rubenstein and the Karate Kid in one package, plus Matthew Broderick in War Games. I'll bet he can hack anything."
John scrubbed his hand over his face, other hand on his hip. Sam held his breath, tried to make himself small, huddling a little against Dean's side, hands clenched between his knees, shoulders hunched, waiting, trying not to read all the doubts in John's mind. John glanced at Bobby, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
"Dean's got a point," Bobby offered. "Kid's got a real talent for computers. He'd be pretty useful to have around, on a job."
John threw his hands up, blew out a breath. "All right!" he growled. "All right. He's in. But you're in charge of him, Dean. He's your responsibility, y'hear? I'm done raising kids. Done."
"Yes, sir," Dean agreed, relief smoothing the tension from his familiar face, making Sam's chest fill with warmth.
"He'll need to go to school," John said. "You're in charge of getting him enrolled wherever, getting him back and forth each day, keeping track of all his homework and shit. I already did all that once, with you. I'm not raising another kid."
"Yes, sir," Dean agreed, nodding vigorously, obviously trying and failing to hide how delighted he was.
And just like that, Sam Smith became Sam Winchester.
That night, Sam woke up screaming, images of dead George staring wide-eyed at him, Jack and Zoe lying on the green lawn in front of his house, and the house was burning. Always burning. Dean was there, as he would be from now on, Sam knew, holding him, keeping him sane. Dean was there like his dream-brother had always been, but more alive and vital. More defined. And although Sam couldn't read his mind, he knew that this Dean felt the same way. Sam and Dean had found each other again, despite everything, just like Missouri said. It was just the way it was supposed to be.
"You know what this is, don't you?" Bobby said later that night, when he and John stood over the sleeping boys, Sam still awake enough to hear them. "It's like he's got his brother back, after all these years. The brother he was meant to grow up with."
"Yeah, I get that," John agreed grimly.
"It's a good thing," Bobby prompted.
"Yeah, maybe." John sounded reluctant, but Sam could hear the relief in his voice too, and he could hear it in his head: When I'm gone, at least he'll have this kid.
Three years passed in the relative security of the Winchester family unit. Once John accepted Sam into the extended family he was allowed access to the family secrets, which mostly amounted to meeting a lot of back-woods survivalist types who happened to be hunters because it already fit their nobody-tells-me-what-to-do lifestyles. Somebody named Caleb provided all the weapons, mostly black-market and mostly untraceable.
Under the radar, Sam continued his training. He'd already had top-notch wrestling and martial arts classes; now he focused on weapons and monster anatomy. How to kill it, how to bring it down so it could be killed. Dean stepped into the role of mentor, teaching Sam everything he knew about loading, shooting, and caring for various firearms, starting with a small rifle, then moving on to shotguns and handguns. Dean taught Sam to fight dirty, which was his only recourse in certain situations, given his size. The boys spent whole afternoons rolling around in the dirt behind whatever motel or abandoned house they were squatting in, sparring and wrestling, getting the one-on-one moves down until Dean was convinced Sam could protect himself in a fight.
"But if you can, you run," Dean warned him on more than one occasion, no matter how well Sam was able to pin the larger boy. "You get away. Most monsters, they're after blood. They're more powerful than they look, stronger than they are big. So you just get away, use what I showed you. You got me?"
And Sam nodded, sweat dripping into his eyes, his body sore and pumped with adrenaline from scuffling with Dean, his skin hot and tight from Dean's touch. It felt good to be bruised and exhausted, felt like a kind of relief he couldn't get any other way, and he welcomed it as often as he could get it. After a year or two of living with Dean, sharing the same sleeping space, often the same bed, spending every hour together except the ones when Sam was in school and his whole body tingled with the need to be close to Dean again, Sam finally faced the reality that he had an addiction problem, and his drug was Dean. He had always loved Dean, even when he'd only been a dream, but now, with the added hormonal chaos of adolescence, Sam's love had turned into a serious craving. He was consumed, obsessed with constant thoughts of Dean's hands, his ass, his broad back and shoulders, his chest and strong, muscled legs.
By the time Sam was fourteen he understood that he was in love with Dean, and it was more than just a little boy crush. He watched Dean all the time, even when Dean didn't notice. Especially then, and when Dean was sleeping. Sam was hard just thinking about Dean, and it wasn't easy to hide. It made him blush, shift himself uncomfortably, and Dean noticed. Of course he noticed, and his teasing responses just made it worse.
"I'm awesome," Dean would say when he caught Sam staring. Or, "I know, I'm adorable." And his grin would light up his face, make his freckles stand out on his nose, his green eyes sparkle mischievously. Sam fantasized about grabbing Dean and shoving him up against the wall and just laying one on him, just to see those beautiful long-lashed eyes widen in surprise, just to feel Dean's plump lips against his, if only once. Sam knew it would only be that one time because Dean was clearly not into guys, seemed only interested in girls that way, although he was warm and affectionate with Sam, never seemed to hesitate to sling an arm around his shoulders and pull him in for a quick hug, or to ruffle his hair and plant a smacking kiss on the top of his head. Even the time Dean walked in on Sam while he was jerking off in the motel bathroom, moaning Dean's name because he thought Dean and John had left for the diner for breakfast already. Dean just raised his eyebrows and smirked, "Better remember to lock the door from now on, Sammy." But of course Sam jerked off later to the memory of Dean coming in and finding him with his pants down, fantasized that Dean's passing glance at Sam's dick had been something longer and more meaningful.
Sam could swear Dean knew how he felt. He was sure Dean heard Sam moaning his name that time, and those times Dean caught him staring, Dean seemed pleased with the attention. He seemed to like being the center of Sam's world, the object of his devotion.
At night, with John passed out after a hunt and a bottle of Jack, snoring hard on the other bed, Dean spooned Sam against his chest, buried his face in Sam's hair, breathing deeply while Sam lay as still as he could, hoping Dean wouldn't notice how turned on he was. He was pretty sure this was a comfort thing for Dean, that Sam's small body was like a substitute teddy bear for the boy who had sucked his thumb until he was almost nine years old, according to John's memories.
John seemed to appreciate Sam's presence because it gave Dean a companion, someone besides John to focus on, and John was grateful for that because it had always been such a heavy responsibility, raising Dean, filling all the emptiness in his young life all by himself. Finally sharing that hole with somebody else made John grateful to Sam, took the pressure off a little. John had always felt Dean was too clingy, too needy. By the time Dean was eighteen, John was done. His job raising Dean was over. John was only too glad to abdicate responsibility for Dean's emotional life, to let Sam take over the role of Dean's anchor.
The summer Sam turned fifteen, he made his first kill. He'd already been on hunts with John and Dean, but he'd stayed in the car, provided back-up only if absolutely necessary. He'd learned a lot about triage, how to clean and bandage various wounds, how to treat them so they didn't get infected. He'd had an eyeful and a handful of more of Dean's body than he could have imagined, just patching him up after a hunt, and he'd learned how to touch Dean without losing it, how to focus on what needed doing to avoid falling apart.
But the moment he looked the werewolf in the eyes and pulled his trigger, sending his silver bullet straight into the creature's heart, watched the startled look on its face as it crumpled to the ground, letting Dean go just a moment before it sank its teeth into Dean's neck...that was a defining moment for Sam, the moment he crossed the line and became a hunter.
Dean was ecstatic, wanted to celebrate Sam's first kill with a six-pack of beer and some porn back at the motel immediately. John thumped Sam on the back and smiled, gave him a look of genuine warmth for the first time.
"Congratulations, son," John said, emphasizing the family bond in a way he hadn't done before.
And Sam's chest should've swollen with pride; he should've been basking under Dean's praise, gloating about his first kill like an old pro. He should've been feeling grateful to finally be in the club, the one full of monster-killing hunters who were dedicated to making the world a little safer, one kill at a time.
But all Sam could think about was George and Carl and the others, lying dead in that burning warehouse three years back. They hadn't been attacking anyone, hadn't been trying to bite Dean's neck off or eat his heart out. Yeah, they'd apparently killed people and assumed their identities, and no, they shouldn't have done that. But their monstrousness hadn't been evident to Sam, nor had it been an immediate threat to the community, other than the possibility that some of them had been assuming other identities in order to acquire wealth and intel. The fact that the hunters had been tipped off that a nest of shifters was living at the warehouse was a complete fluke. The shifters could've gone on indefinitely if that hadn't happened. They weren't hurting anyone, at least not directly.
This was different. Something was threatening Dean, Sam knew what to do, and he did it. Pretty straight-forward. Silver bullet to the heart. Sam didn't feel he deserved to be congratulated for something that had to be done, but here Dean was, going on and on in the car on the drive back to the motel, acting like Sam had just made the winning basket in a ball game or something.
"I was fourteen, first time I killed something like that," Dean was telling him. "Werewolf, same as you. Those mothers can be vicious. This one was fully changed, teeth bared, the whole nine yards, just coming at me. Wasn't sure I could hold my gun steady, and it took two shots, but that mother was on the ground. I shot him one more time for good measure. Then he was dead, all right. Son-of-a-bitch was deader than a doornail. Burned the corpse all by myself."
"Threw up all over my tools doing it," John commented dryly.
"You were alone?" Sam gaped.
Dean nodded. "It was part of a pack, and Dad had killed the rest of them, then took off to follow another lead. I was supposed to stay behind and clean up, but then this hairy fucker showed up. Must've been out eating hearts and come back to find his family dead. Pissed him off pretty bad."
Sam read the guilt in John's mind, saw him flinch a little.
"You did good, Dean," John praised. "You did the job the way I taught you."
Dean nodded, clearly soaking up the praise.
"Except for the throwing up part," John added, and Dean's face fell a little. "You were always hurling, on those early hunts. It was a problem."
"Not any more," Dean insisted. "I just needed more practice. Fifteen kills later, guts of steel." He pounded his abs for emphasis, and John shook his head.
"Too cocky, Dean," he reprimanded. "Always too cocky. You shouldn't have let that thing grab you back there. You knew it was in there, you knew you needed to stay alert, yet it managed to grab you from behind. From behind, Dean. That means you were moving too fast, hadn't checked the room before you went in."
"Sam had my back," Dean protested.
"Yeah, well you're just lucky he did, is all I'm saying," John groused. "You let your guard down. Next time, Sam might not be there."
I'll always be there, Sam thought fiercely. I'll always have Dean's back, if he needs me. Sam felt very protective of Dean when John grilled him like this. It made Sam angrier than he liked to admit. Dean was a good hunter, a superb teacher, and Sam resented the way John was constantly taking him down a peg, meting out just enough praise to keep Dean coming back for more, then laying on the criticism. It felt deeply unfair.
Later, after showers in the motel and injuries tended and patched, John left for the bar and the boys collapsed together on the other bed, too exhausted to talk. Dean flung his arm over Sam as he always did, pulling him in, holding his smaller body tucked against Dean's, pushing his face into the crook of Sam's shoulder, just keeping him safe and close. Sam willed himself to relax, to tolerate Dean's closeness, taking it for the sexless affection he was sure it was intended to be, grasping at images of dead fish and old men's butts to keep his dick from fattening too obviously. When Dean snuggled closer, pushing his crotch into Sam's hip and pressing his lips against Sam's shoulder, Sam held his breath, counted to one hundred, and waited for Dean to fall asleep, waited for the inevitable evening of his breath and the subtle release of his hold on Sam. When Sam was convinced that Dean had fallen asleep, he shifted carefully away from him, knowing there was no way in hell he could find sleep with Dean's dick pressed against him, even with two layers of cotton in between.
And it took awhile, but Sam finally drifted into an uneasy doze, aware of Dean's every move, his every breath, needing it to help him counter the memory of fear and rage in that werewolf's eyes the moment before Sam killed it.
A couple of days later, John handed over the keys to the Impala to his son, admonished him to "take care of her," and turned to climb into his new used GMC pick-up truck. Sam could read the goodbyes in John's every gesture, didn't even need to read his mind, to hear him say, "Well, that's done."
"See ya around, boys," John waved to them from the cab, then drove off in a smoky roar of exhaust.
Dean looked down at the keys, then back up at the road where John had gone, his mouth slack with shock.
"Did he just – ?" Dean stuttered, and Sam nodded.
"I think so," he answered, and Dean turned to stare at him sharply.
"Did he say anything else?" Dean asked. "In his mind, I mean." What the hell? Sam could hear the confusion in Dean's words, even if he couldn't read his mind.
Sam shook his head. "He's got some idea he's done with parenting," Sam said. "He figures you're grown now, graduated from high school, on your own. He – he feels free."
The last part made Sam wince, because he knew it would hurt, and he almost wished he could take it back because Dean's face fell immediately, then the shuttered look came into his eyes and his jaw clenched.
"Yeah, okay," Dean nodded tightly. "I'm nineteen now. And a half. I'm an adult."
He looked down at Sam, assessing and thoughtful for a moment, then he shook his head and the little smirk returned to the edges of his mouth, he reached up and slung a loose arm around Sam's shoulders and pulled him in.
"Guess it's just you and me now, kid," Dean said as Sam slid his arm around Dean's waist because it felt like the right thing to do, even if it made every inch of Sam's skin feel hot and tight, made his dick harden painfully. "Come on, let's get some breakfast."
Dean was quiet over breakfast, and Sam watched him, as he always did when Dean was too preoccupied to notice. When Dean glanced at him, he seemed startled that Sam was still there, that Dean wasn't alone.
"Did he..." Dean started to ask finally, then shook his head as if to clear it. "Is he coming back?"
Sam took a deep breath, willing the tears burning the backs of his eyes not to fall. He was angry at John, mad at him for hurting Dean this way, for leaving Sam to be his defender.
"He figures you and he can team up sometimes," Sam nodded. "He knows he can always come to you when he needs help with a job. He trusts and respects you as a hunter, Dean. He's...he's proud of you. Feels he did right by you." Sam deliberately left out the other things John was thinking when he left: his relief, his gratitude that Sam could take over as Dean's companion, the fact that he'd been thinking about leaving for awhile now, since Dean turned eighteen, but he had waited till Sam made his first kill so he could be confident of Sam's ability to protect Dean, if necessary. John was convinced of Sam's devotion; he'd obviously noticed Sam's embarrassing crush on his son and decided that was enough to keep Sam by Dean's side, to keep him safe.
John was also more determined than ever to find the thing that had killed his wife and son, and he didn't need anything, or anyone, holding him back. He knew he was getting older, his reflexes already weren't what they were, and he would need every ounce of strength and stamina to go after that yellow-eyed thing. Sam had seen it, in John's memories. He'd seen the beautiful blond woman pinned to the ceiling and burning, the monster leaning over the baby's crib. He'd felt John's fear and frustration, his sense of failure at not being able to save them.
"Well, he did," Dean agreed thoughtfully now, bravely tamping down on his obvious grief and shock. "I just thought I'd have him around a little longer. Figured once I turned eighteen and became a man, you know, that he'd...that we'd be a real team."
Sam lowered his head to hide his anger and frustration at John. He couldn't tell Dean that John had just been biding his time over the past year, waiting for the opportunity to abandon ship and high-tail it out of Dodge. It was so unfair! He knew Dean had been hoping for a partnership of equals, and all the time it had been John's intention to shed the parenting trap at the first opportunity.
"Well, now I know why he dumped us here," Dean continued after taking another bite of his pancakes, staring out the window at the cornfield across the road, shimmering in the August heat. "Bumfuck, Iowa has got to be about the safest, most boring place on the planet." He glanced up at Sam, who was frowning, still feeling mad as hell at John. "What?" Dean demanded. "It was good enough for James T. Kirk, it's good enough for us. Maybe you'll grow up to be a starship captain, Sam."
Sam sighed, trying not to blush, as he always did when Dean turned the full force of his attention on Sam. Dean seemed to have this idea that Sam was smart and had real promise, could do things with his life that Dean had never dared to dream about. Dean was proud of Sam's talents, his academic success, his increasingly obvious athleticism. Dean had even gotten used to the psychic stuff, boasted to John about their "human EMF reader." Sam had made himself very useful in the past couple of years on cases, reading witnesses's minds, helping them get to the heart of a case in half the time.
Sam sensed that it bothered John that Sam could read his mind, when he thought about it, but John rarely said anything. And for the most part, Sam was so careful to avoid John's thoughts, trying to respect his privacy, that it surprised him when John referred to it, expected Sam to know what he was planning ahead of time. And no matter how Sam assured John that he didn't pry into John's mind, he could tell it made John uneasy to think that he could. Sam suspected the mind-reading was part of John's reason for leaving, but there was no way in hell he would tell that to Dean.
Life without John Winchester was...different. The house John had left them in had belonged to an old hunter who had left it to Bill Harvelle when he died. Bill had originally planned to raise his own family there, but his wife had nixed that plan in favor of opening a business in Nebraska, and there was no arguing with Ellen Harvelle when she set her mind to something. So the largely ramshackle old place had been mostly abandoned, stocked with survivalist gear and left for hunters to use as a safe-house.
Dean enrolled Sam in school as a high-school sophomore, got himself a job at the local Quik-Lube, and found a girl-friend, all in the space of a week. Once he put his mind to it, Dean was good at ‘settling down,’ or at least that's the way it looked from Sam's point of view. On the inside, Dean was obviously in denial. He seemed angry all the time, slamming plates around when he prepared meals, slamming the washing machine and dryer doors shut when he did laundry. He was often gone when Sam came home from school, although there was always a note, mostly cryptic, just a scrawl to let Sam know he was, "Out with Tracy. Don't wait up. D."
Sam tried out for soccer that fall, made the team and played hard. He tried out for the school play in the winter, since he was too short for basketball; he got cast and stayed after school for practices every day. During school vacations, while Dean was at work or with Tracy (or Suzie or Stacie or Erin), Sam wrote stories, poems, book and theatre reviews, hung out at the local newspaper until somebody took pity on him and gave him a part-time job as a copy boy.
Sam didn't let on how badly he missed Dean, missed the closeness they'd had before, when Dean was confident enough of his dad's love to give some to Sam. He didn't let on how much it hurt, watching Dean going out with girls, sometimes staying out all night, coming home stinking of perfume and alcohol and sex, barely glancing at Sam as he climbed the stairs to his own room and slammed the door. On Dean's twentieth birthday, when Sam bought a cake mix and baked a lumpy, lopsided cake and left it on the table for Dean with a big "Happy Birthday!" card next to it, Sam didn't even cry when he came downstairs the next morning to find it still on the table where he left it, Dean still out, possibly "celebrating" without him.
Late that spring, just over nine months after he left, John Winchester showed up on their doorstep.
"Got a case," he told Sam. "Need you boys to come along, give me some back-up."
Of course, Dean was out, and getting ahold of him wasn't easy, so that by the time he finally staggered home late that night, drunk and covered in lipstick, John wasn't exactly happy to see him.
"You were supposed to be training, not partying," John scolded angrily. "I need you boys sharp, ready to step in when there's a job to do."
"Yes, sir," Dean tried to pull himself together, tried to look like he hadn't been out all night screwing around, and Sam almost felt sorry for him, standing there swaying on his feet, fighting back tears at the sight of the father he hadn't seen for the good part of a year.
"Go on," John waved a hand at him, shaking his head. "Go take a shower. Get some rest. We head out in the morning."
Dean nodded, turned to obey his dad's order, stumbled and almost fell on the stairs, and Sam was right there, instinct just kicking in, ducking under Dean's arm so the older boy could lean on him, let Sam help him up the stairs.
"He's back," Dean muttered as they reached Dean's bedroom door and Sam opened it, pulled the other boy inside, shut it behind them. "He came back."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, trying to dampen his annoyance as he dumped Dean on the bed and pulled his legs up so Sam could remove his boots for him.
"He needs my help," Dean slurred, watching Sam with a look of wonder in his eyes that nearly broke Sam's heart. "Wants us to help him with a case."
"That's what it looks like," Sam agreed, pulling the unlaced boots off Dean's feet and reaching down to pull the blanket up, meaning to cover Dean and leave him to sleep it off.
But Dean grabbed Sam's wrists as Sam started to pull away, and when Sam raised his eyes questioningly, Dean was looking at him with such naked hope, such relief, that all Sam could do was huff out a breath and shake his head.
"Sam, I'm all he has," Dean choked out, his eyes filling with tears, making him seem even more desperate and vulnerable. "He needs me."
Sam didn't have the heart to tell Dean that John Winchester didn't need anybody, least of all the son he had dumped unceremoniously nine months before. Sam couldn't say what he knew to be true, that John was back only temporarily because he'd burned so many bridges with so many other hunters that Dean was his last resort when he needed back-up, not the first person he thought of. Sam couldn't stand it, watching Dean get his hopes up, believing his dad had come back for him, would finally make good on his promise to make Dean his partner. Dean had never felt adequate, first because he'd been too young and too small, and later because he just couldn't measure up to his dad's expectations, no matter how hard he tried. This was all painfully obvious to Sam, and he didn't need to read Dean's mind to see it.
It was hard enough reading John's mind, knowing John didn't need Dean at all, was just using him because he could, because he didn't have anybody else and this was a two-man job. He definitely didn't plan to stay. In fact, John had already built a life away from Dean, had a woman and a little boy he pretended to have a "normal" life with, people who knew nothing about his secret life as a hunter. It turned Sam's stomach, knowing these things about John and feeling guilty for not telling Dean. But he couldn't tell Dean. Sam felt sure it would break him, and Dean had been barely holding on these past few months as it was, had become such a shell of his former self Sam barely recognized him in the self-destructive, reckless young man Dean had become since his dad left.
So Sam nodded, his eyes skittering away from Dean's, unable to look at the blind faith there. Dean kept hold of Sam's wrists, though, and when Dean coaxed, "Hey, Sam," in that quiet way that made Sam's whole body shiver with need, he dared to look up, met Dean's look of hope with one of his own.
"I haven't been fair to you these past months, kid," Dean said, his voice still slurred with drink. "It's supposed to be you and me against the world, remember? And I kinda let that slide a little."
Sam felt his cheeks grow hot, suddenly hyper-aware of Dean's hands on his wrists, of the way he was half kneeling over Dean's prone form, one foot still on the floor.
"Gonna make it up to you, Sammy," Dean promised, his voice low, almost purring, and Sam raised his eyes, hoping beyond hope that Dean meant what Sam wanted more than anything in the world. Dean's look was fond, his eyes soft, and Sam's gaze dropped to Dean's mouth without his control, imagining for about the billionth time what it would feel like to suck on that plush bottom lip. "Gonna drive up to Chicago for a Cubs game," Dean murmured, and Sam could hardly understand the words because he was so fascinated by the movement of those mesmerizing lips. "Maybe go see Ozzy."
Sam swallowed, breathing out slowly and licking his lips as he raised his eyes to Dean's again, calculating the distance between their mouths, factoring in Dean's diminished reflexes in his inebriated state, trying to decide whether he had time to steal the kiss he'd been wanting for over two years now.
"What d'ya say, Sammy?" Dean's mouth was saying, still slurring, sleepy now, eyes starting to droop shut. "Just you and me. Sound good?"
"Sounds good, Dean," Sam murmured quietly as Dean's eyes slid shut for good and he started to snore almost immediately. "Sounds real good."
In the morning Dean was a new man. He was up ahead of Sam, ahead of John, making coffee, scrambling eggs, packed duffel ready and waiting at the door. Sam stood in the doorway of the kitchen, blinking in the early morning light, running his hand through his hair, bare feet shuffling along the floor as he took a seat at the kitchen table.
"Your dad up yet?" he asked as Dean set a plate of eggs and a steaming mug of black coffee in front of him.
"He's doing a weapons check," Dean nodded, looking chipper and somehow happier than Sam had seem him for some time. He'd showered, and his hair was still damp, making it seem darker against his pale skin, making his freckles stand out and his eyes seem bigger, brighter.
Dean was too beautiful to look at, Sam decided as he lowered his eyes to his coffee. Especially this early in the morning.
"So Bobby's got a lead on another demon," Sam offered conversationally, and Dean nodded, piling eggs onto another plate and sliding into the seat across the table, dumping salt and pepper and catsup onto the eggs while Sam tried not to flinch.
"Looks like," Dean agreed, shoveling a forkful of bloody-colored eggs into his mouth, grinning as he noted the look of disgust on Sam's face. "Freak storms, crop failures, all the omens." He opened his mouth so Sam could get a view of the mess inside, and Sam cringed, pushed his own plate away.
"Yuck, Dean," Sam complained. "How am I supposed to eat with you doing that?"
Dean grinned wider and seemed so pleased with himself that it was hard for Sam not to smile too. Being visibly gross was a coping mechanism for Dean; it was such a contrast to his natural perfection that Dean seemed to do it on purpose, to remind anyone watching (and everyone was always watching) that he wasn't just a pretty face, that there was a person behind all that gorgeousness. It always made Sam blush because it was yet more proof that Dean understood his effect on Sam, was dealing with it by momentarily shattering the illusion, daring Sam to crush on this goofy guy who chewed his food with his mouth open.
But of course Sam was so far gone down that road that he was pretty sure it wouldn't matter if Dean's pores started oozing black goo and his mouth became a permanent garbage disposal. Being in love with Dean was apparently something Sam didn't have much say over; it seemed to be something that was a permanent state of being for Sam, and no amount of revolting displays of hideousness was going to undermine that.
Bobby Singer had another demon trapped in his basement.
This time the demon was possessing a deputy from the Sheriff's department who had come to Bobby's house to kill him, or maybe possess him, Bobby wasn't sure which. Bobby had managed to lure the demon downstairs, into his trap, then subdue it with holy water while he called John Winchester, who immediately dropped everything to head back to Sioux Falls, stopping overnight only long enough to collect his son and almost-sixteen-year-old Sam.
"You've grown," Bobby noted when he greeted them at the door. He was staring at Sam warily, which he explained as soon as John and the two boys entered the house.
"The thing in my basement is asking for you, Sam," Bobby said. "It came here thinking I would know where to find you."
Cold terror rushed through Sam's system like ice water; he could read Bobby's consternation, his memories of the demon coming to his door, asking if he knew where he could find Sam, Bobby's immediate suspicion prompting him to answer in the affirmative, that Sam was downstairs in the basement, studying. Sam saw the moment the demon realized he'd been tricked, could see the rage and frustration in the deputy's face, his eyes turning coal black.
John was staring darkly at Sam, his earliest suspicions about the boy rekindled, and Sam could read anger there too at the thought that maybe Sam had been tricking them all this time, that John had made a bad call letting Sam join the Winchesters three years ago.
Then Sam felt Dean move up behind him, almost pressing his chest against Sam's back, so that Sam could feel his heat, could feel his breath on the back of Sam's neck. It struck Sam that he had grown almost as tall as Dean over this past year, and now Dean no longer towered over him, no longer even had that head-and-shoulders advantage that made Sam feel so safe and cared-for. Instead, Dean's larger size was now evident more as bulk than height; Dean was a solid wall of hard, lean muscle, whereas Sam's body still retained the lithe, coltish promise of a teenager who hadn't yet reached his full height, and wasn't likely to do so for awhile yet.
"What does it want with Sam?" Dean asked, his voice going a step lower, growling protectively, sending shivers up Sam's spine.
"It says it has a message for him," Bobby answered, equal parts spooked and worried. "It'll only deliver the message in person. Wants to be sure Sam's really still alive. Won't take my word for it."
"So what are we waiting for?" Sam heard his own voice break, doing that shaky adolescent thing that it did sometimes when he was stressed, and he snapped his mouth shut, clenching his fists and trying to convey a toughness and bravado he didn't feel. He took a step forward, turned to look Dean in the eye, daring him to stop the younger boy. "Let's find out what it wants."
The thing was tied to a chair positioned carefully dead center over a painted sigil, ‘a devil's trap,’ Bobby explained to the boys, for whom this was a first demon encounter. The things were rare, Sam knew. He also knew Bobby's wife had been possessed by one, making Bobby a special kind of expert on demons.
The demon had its head down, its eyes closed, and Sam could see in Bobby's memories that Bobby had already been torturing it with holy water, trying to get it to answer his questions. The four hunters stood in a group just outside the devil's trap, Dean a step ahead of Sam, positioning himself between Sam and the demon, John and Bobby on his other side.
"We get what we need from it, then we exorcise it," John growled, taking command of the situation. "And don't forget: demons lie. Whatever it says, keep that in mind. Are we clear?"
Sam and Dean exchanged glances, then nodded, and Sam took a deep breath.
"Okay, here goes nothin'," Bobby grumbled, raising his vial of holy water.
The moment the water hit the demon, its body jerked. Steam rolled off wet sizzling skin and an inhuman moaning growl rose out of the demon's throat. It threw its head back, eyes squeezed shut, neck muscles strained, teeth clenched, and it pulled violently on its bindings. Sam had the impression of great strength, over and above what an average human should have. He also had the impression of fear, confusion, memories of killing a uniformed partner, someone cared for and mourned, something that had happened recently...
"He's alive in there," the words punched out of Sam with a shocked breath. "There's a person in there."
Bobby nodded grimly. "Deputy Mansfield. He's an old friend. Good man."
"We...we have to save him," Sam protested. "He's suffering."
"We're gonna do what we can, son," John agreed. "But first, we need the demon possessing him to give us some answers."
Sam wanted to protest, "To hell with the demon, there's a man in there. We have to help him." But he felt Dean's hand close around his wrist, steadying him, and he hesitated.
Then the demon opened its eyes and stared straight at him, and Sam froze, sheer terror replacing every other emotion. The demon's eyes were solid black and shiny like obsidian, but Sam could feel it staring at him, could feel its twisted rage focused purely on Sam.
"We've been looking for you, Sam Winchester," the demon snarled, its voice hoarse, wrecked, like it had been screaming for hours. "You've been a hard one to find."
"'We'," John repeated. "Who's 'we'? Why have you been looking for Sam?"
The demon's lips turned into a grin. Its teeth were streaked with blood, like it had been biting its tongue or the inside of its mouth. It turned its head just enough so that Sam could feel its focus shifting to John.
"And here's Daddy," it snarled, insidiously. It ran its tongue over its teeth slowly, licking the blood there. "We should have known you'd find him. You been sampling the goods, Johnny? Having a little taste of this tender veal? Huh? Hard to resist, isn't he? All that innocence and sweetness. No wonder you had to hit the road, get away, with this succulent treat right under your nose. Must've taken some real willpower to resist the temptation to hit that, eh, John-boy?"
"You're sick." It was Dean, stepping forward, fists clenched, shaking with rage of his own, spitting and shaking and looking for all the world like he meant to throw himself at the demon and choke the throat that produced the foul words, make it take them all back. Sam grabbed his arm at the last minute, and John put an arm out in front of both boys, a fence to keep them from getting too close.
"Dean," the demon hissed, its attention riveted to John's son now. "Ever the problem child. Always getting in the way of Daddy's plans. But you can't stay away, can you? You just won't stay gone. Why don't you tell him, Dean? Why don't you tell Sam how you really feel about him? Huh? Afraid he might leave you? Afraid he might see what a perverted, sick, twisted bastard you really are and just leave?"
"All right, that's enough!" John bellowed, shooting a warning glance at Dean, whose face was a mask of shock, all color drained from it so his freckles stood out in stark relief and his eyes seemed huge. "Now you listen to me, you sick fuck. Bobby said you had a message for Sam. So say what you have to say so we can send your evil ass right back to hell, where you belong."
"Don't you wanna know what happened to your wife and baby, John?" the demon taunted, turning its black eyes toward John again. "Don't you care about why we gutted and roasted pretty little Mary that night? Aren't you just dying to know the truth?"
John stiffened, and his jaw set dangerously. Sam could hear the agony in his mind as he relived the memories of that night, as he grasped the demon's words, confusion and desperation battling his former resolve.
"What do you know about that, you son-of-a-bitch?" John growled, his voice low and almost as hoarse as the demon's.
"Only what I've heard," the demon answered, grinning wider. "Only enough to know you're playing your part perfectly, Johnny. Playing right into our father's hands. You keep on this path, everything's gonna work out exactly the way it's supposed to. And it'll be all your fault, John-boy. It'll be all because of you and your beautiful, perfect little family."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" John demanded furiously. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough," the demon taunted. "Won't be long now."
The demon turned its head so that its black eyes were trained on Sam again. Sam felt the fear and confusion of the human inside, but the demon's mind itself was nothing but chaos, nothing Sam could read or hear clearly, just the sensation of evil and malicious intent.
"Now we know where to find you, Sammy," the demon said. "We won't lose you again, I can promise you that."
Then the demon threw its head back, opened its mouth, and roiling black smoke poured out, filling the area inside the devil's trap, shivering and expanding as if it were fighting to get out, shooting flickers of flame like lightning against the edges of the trap. The four hunters shrank back instinctively when the demon smoke poured forth, and Sam could hear moaning and distant screaming, as if the demon carried a part of hell with it wherever it went. A sensation of roaring fire and the smell of sulfur filled Sam's head, threatening to overwhelm him, and he grabbed onto Dean without even thinking about it, unsurprised to find Dean already clutching his arm.
When the demon was gone, the human sat slumped and unconscious in his chair, and it took a minute for the hunters to adjust to the sudden silence, the sudden emptiness in the room after such a display of power. Bobby took action first, stepping into the devil's trap to check for a pulse, muttering, "He's still alive," as he worked quickly to loosen the cords binding the now un-possessed human.
With Sam's help, Bobby lifted the unconscious man out of the chair and laid him gently on the floor, checking his body for injuries as John went upstairs to put in the anonymous call to 911.
"Roger and I go way back," Bobby said. "He was the first on the scene after your family died that day, Sam. The demon must've known that, must've possessed him to find out what happened to you." He shook his head. "This is big, Sam. Demons don't mess around. They'll be back."
Sam was already shivering, fighting the tears smarting in his eyes. He shook his head, looking down at the man on the floor, helplessness and fear threatening to overwhelm him again.
"I don't understand," he stammered. "Why me? What does it want with me?"
"Your crazy psychic mojo, maybe?" Bobby suggested. "Maybe it wants to possess you so it can use that power somehow? I don't know." Bobby put his hand into his vest pocket, pulled out a necklace with a charm hanging on it, handed it to Sam. "Here. Put this on."
Sam took the charm, saw that it was a little brass amulet in the shape of a horned bull's head, or possibly a human face wearing a horned helmet, hanging on a leather thong. It felt solid and cool in his hand, and it thrummed with power.
"What is it?" he asked as he slipped it on over his head, felt a strange sense of calm that was almost courage flow through him.
"It's a protection amulet," Bobby answered. "Figuring you might need it." He glanced over at Dean, still standing off to one side, unusually quiet and moody. "Plus, you've got Dean," Bobby went on. "Ain't that right, boy?"
Dean's head whipped up like he'd been slapped, and he blinked a couple of times as if to clear it. He frowned at Bobby for a moment before letting his gaze flick to Sam, then quickly away again, as if he couldn't quite bring himself to look at the other boy.
"Hell yeah, that's right," he muttered in a shadow of his usual bravado. "You've got me."
But he didn't look at Sam when he said it, just pursed his lips and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, and Sam couldn't help the flush of shame that crept into his cheeks. He felt exposed, laid bare, confirmed in his own self-hatred and despair. The demon had said "they" had been looking for him, and now "they" had found him and weren't gonna lose him again. Sam felt his heart sinking, felt the horror of the truth creeping into his very bones. That Sam had the attention of a demon was proof enough that there was something wrong with him, that all that talk by George and Carl about how "special" he was, how he could help people, was a lie to keep him in line, to get him to cooperate so that "they" could get him to do what they wanted. And Sam didn't need to know what it was that "they" wanted to know that it was bad, that he was bad. He was a freak, devil's spawn, just as those taunting kids had always said. Missouri Moseley was wrong. His soul wasn't pure. There was something that drew evil to him, and that couldn't be good.
And Dean knew it.
ON TO PART FOUR - Back to Masterpost