Sam woke up with a start, sweating, breathing hard, Dean's desperate shout ringing in his ears. There was a faint smell of smoke in his nostrils, fading now that he was awake, and he grasped at the edges of the dream, sitting up in the bed and rubbing his eyelids with the heels of his hands.
Dean's in trouble, his sleep-addled mind cried. Dean's in trouble, and he needs my help.
It was the fourth time that week. The dream was always the same: Dean trapped in a burning building, frantically shouting Sam's name. Sam tried to go in to rescue him but the heat and flame drove him back. His lungs filled with smoke and he started to pass out, then he woke up.
He considered calling Dean, making sure he was okay. Sam's dreams had always had a way of merging with reality in strange and unsettling ways, although never dangerous ones. But Missouri and Pamela had warned him; psychics could see things that might happen, sometimes. Visions. But although Sam had had psychic abilities all his life, so far they'd been limited to reading some people's minds and moving small objects telekinetically, although never anything very large or heavy. Neither ability was very reliable. He could read some minds, but not others. Not Dean's, for example, although John and Bobby were open books.
The only other psychic power he'd ever had – and he didn't really even think about it as a psychic power because it was so weird and personal – was the elaborate dream-world of his memories, a comfortable middle-class childhood growing up with Dean and their parents in their house in Lawrence, Kansas. He was as certain of that childhood as he was of his "real" childhood of loneliness and foster-care and sporadic demon-possessed individuals who seemed to be keeping an eye on him as he grew. Sam knew he was stolen away from that first life when he was a baby, he knew his mother was murdered trying to stop the Yellow-Eyed Demon from taking him, and he knew that his dad and Dean went into the hunting life to try to avenge what they thought were two deaths, thinking Sam had perished in the fire that the demon set after killing Mary Winchester.
But Sam hadn't known anything about all that, probably never would have, if some freaky coincidence hadn't brought Sam and Dean together one day seven years before, when Sam was twelve and living with a foster family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sam still thought back on that day, of the miracle of meeting his dream-brother in the flesh on a hot, dusty road, of the overwhelming feeling of connection between the boys that Dean obviously felt too. When subsequent events conspired to bring them together more permanently, it had felt so right. It didn't really take another psychic to explain to Sam that the intense closeness between Sam and Dean was a special psychic bond formed when two soul-twins are united. Sam already knew, instinctively, that he and Dean were meant to be together. It was the natural order of things.
Until the day Bobby Singer uncovered their genetic relationship and Sam's dream became reality. Which would have been wonderful – perfect, really – except that the thing between Sam and Dean had become physical by that time, so that Bobby's revelation gave an ugly, twisted name to the thing that had been going on between the sheets over the past couple of years, since Sam turned sixteen. Dean was horrified, repulsed, devastated, out the door before Sam could stop him, and Sam did the only thing he could think of to try to make it right.
Palo Alto in the middle of the summer, a month before school started, was hot and muggy and unpleasant. Sam was miserable, poor, and full of self-loathing, wearing his sense of failure and isolation like a shield. His desperation drove him to wander the streets of San Francisco and Palo Alto, ostensibly to look for a job, but in reality being reckless and consumed with self-pity, missing Dean so much he could barely function. He hung out with street-kids and drug-pushers, sleeping in doorways and parks, listening to buskers and eating from food trucks until his money ran out, not caring if he got jumped or rolled, counting on his hunter's instincts and his size to keep him from getting into serious trouble, self-destructively hoping someone would beat him up.
Dean haunted his dreams, so he avoided sleep as much as possible. He followed the street-kids to rave clubs and rock shows, hanging around the stage door until someone came out so they could slip in, rock the night away in a mosh-pit before stumbling out into the cool night air, sharing a bottle of Jack or cheap vodka until they collapsed together in a heap under an overpass or in a parking garage tunnel, keeping each other warm until dawn. Sam felt almost at home in the company of these homeless waifs, most of whom were runaways, younger than he, often from surprisingly "normal" middle-class homes. He rarely met other orphans who had spent most of their lives in foster homes, as he had, and when he did those kids were almost impossibly asocial, feral loners. The other kids avoided them like the plague because they were unpredictable, dangerous, prone to attacking each other with knives, furiously fighting to the death over something as trivial as a perceived insult or a wrong look, seemingly hot-wired for violence.
It struck Sam as odd that he had more in common with the kids from nice homes than the ones who had been raised without family ties or support. Yet he understood that his own subconscious had protected him, had provided the stability and structure that had been lacking in his waking life, so that it was as if he had been raised in the security of a loving home. Until he saw the difference first-hand, it hadn't occurred to him how lucky he was, how fortunate that his freaky psychic dream-world had saved him from growing up to become one of these barely-human creatures, angry and full of hatred for anything and anyone whose lot in life was more privileged.
Sam tried befriending one of them, but the kid turned on him after confessing a life spent in abusive home after abusive home, finally pulling a knife, screaming at Sam for being a "stuck-up, fucked-up rich kid" who thought he was being "so cool, slumming it with the homies." Sam's hunter's reflexes ensured he avoided serious injury, but he was careful not to make the same mistake twice, ignoring his own instinct to try to help and heal these lost souls. And the experience reminded him yet again that he had much to be grateful for, that however messed-up his family was, at least they loved him. Or at least, his dream-family had loved him. And, for a few years anyway, he'd had love in his real life as well.
But of course none of that mattered now, since he'd left.
When school started, Sam registered and moved into the dorms at Stanford, leaving his street-life behind. Within the first week he found a work-study job on campus, shelving books in the library, earning spending money for books and incidentals. His financial aid package included room and board, and suddenly Sam was eating well, running or working out when he wasn't holed up in his favorite corner of the library, losing himself in his studies. At first his classmates tried to include him when they went out for coffee or back to their rooms to drink after class, but by the end of the first week they stopped asking. Similarly, Sam avoided going back to his room until late, when most of his dorm mates were already sleeping or passed out. He slept as little as he could, got up early to find coffee and get back to his books, the only thing besides intense exercise that helped to keep his mind off Dean.
Sam was such a ghost in his own living quarters that the night a phone call came in on the hall phone no one knew who "Sam Winchester" was, so they hung up. When Sam got back to his room that night his roommate was still awake, listening to music with his headphones on and the lights off.
"Your dad called," Brady announced as Sam started to undress.
Sam jumped. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of conversations he'd had with Tyson Brady since they'd met the day they both moved into the little dorm room. Brady, as he called himself because he hated his first name, was a serious, focused pre-med student from Eastern Washington State, who had every intention of studying just as hard if not harder than Sam. He had little time for socializing, so Sam figured they were well-matched. The snippets of background Sam read from Brady's mind showed him a stable upbringing in a strict Christian farming family, bordering on fundamentalist. His father was a silent, hard-working man with a high-school education; his mother was an intense, short-tempered former school-teacher with two master's degrees and high ambitions for her only son.
Tyson Brady was attracted to Sam, a fact that he broadcast by watching Sam with longing whenever Sam had his back turned, so loudly and intensely in the forefront of his mind that it was impossible for Sam to shut out. But Brady was used to bottling up his sexual identity, which he believed he inherited from his mother, and Sam knew he didn't really need to worry that Brady might suddenly come on to him. Brady was repressed, in more ways than one, and Sam was enough of a dick to be more than happy to leave things that way between them.
"What?" Sam was fairly certain he'd heard correctly, but the words simply made no sense.
"Your dad called," Brady repeated. "Nobody knew who you were, so they told him he had the wrong number."
Sam hesitated, frowning in confusion. "My dad...?"
"John Winchester? That's your dad, isn't it?" Brady clarified. "He said his name was John Winchester, and he was calling to talk to his son."
Sam folded his jeans, put them down on the chair next to the bed.
"Huh," he huffed bitterly. "Yeah, he's my dad, all right. Biologically, anyway."
"Ouch," Brady winced. "Not too close, I'm guessing."
Sam pulled the covers back on his bed, flopped down with one arm behind his head, the other hand on his chest, over his tee-shirt.
"The man's an asshole," Sam said, closing his eyes.
"Guess you won't be calling him back, then," Brady noted wryly.
Sam gave a soft grunt, hoping Brady wouldn't pursue the topic, and was rewarded by Brady's deep sigh of satisfaction. Brady was feeling good, like he was finally connecting with Sam, and Sam didn't have the heart to discourage him, to warn him that it really wasn't worth it because Sam was a lost cause, would always be too wrapped up in Dean and his grief at losing Dean to notice anyone else. Ever.
John Winchester called three more times that week before somebody got wise and figured out who Sam was, informed John that his son usually got in late and left early, so when the phone rang at 2:00 a.m. everyone knew who it was. By that time, the entire floor knew that Sam Winchester's father was trying to reach him, and everyone on the floor had finally figured out that Sam was the guy who was never there.
"He sounded pretty pissed this time," Brady told Sam when he picked up the phone the third time John called. "Your dad is one mean son-of-a-bitch."
"He's not my dad," Sam grumbled, trying to deflect the inevitable questions. "He's just the guy who dumped me and my brother in motels and paid some bills."
"Wow," Brady breathed. "Harsh, man. Sounds like you had a rough time, growing up."
Sam said nothing, flung his arm over his eyes as he lay in his bed, hoping Brady would let it go.
Sam was almost asleep when the phone rang. He could hear it, distantly, almost as if it was the start of a really bad dream, but he was so bone-tired he couldn't move, didn't respond at all until someone pounded on the door and yelled, "Winchester! Phone call!"
"Jesus," Brady muttered sleepily from the other bed. "Those things should be illegal."
"Winchester!" Pound, pound, pound.
"Yeah," Sam croaked, then cleared his throat as he struggled to get up. "Coming!"
The hall light was blinding, so Sam could barely see the face of the dorm mate who had awoken him, but he could tell the guy was pissed off.
"You need to give your dad your cell number, dude," the guy said irritably. "I'm sick o' answering that goddamn phone. Thing needs to be disconnected. Who uses landlines anymore anyway?"
"Apparently, my dad does," Sam muttered darkly as he stumbled down the hall to the phone, rubbing his eyes and running his hands through his hair. My dad. Two words Sam never imagined uttering together. Now he's said them three times in one week.
"This is Sam," he said into the receiver. He heard the quick intake of breath on the other end of the line, and for some reason he imagined John tearing up, but he couldn't knew his psychic ability didn't work long distance, so that couldn't be right.
"Sam," John breathed out. "Missed you, son."
Sam sucked in a breath. "You knew where to find me, John," he emphasized the distance in their relationship precisely because John was playing the family card, which seemed wrong on too many levels, and it made Sam mad.
"You were off the grid, kid," John promptly got on board, matched Sam's tone. "You disappeared without a trace. We knew where you said you were going, but that was over a month ago. When I contacted the university, they didn't know where you were, said you hadn't registered yet. So where the hell did you go, Sam? Where've you been?"
Sam drew in a deep breath, trying not to lose his temper. "What business is it of yours?" he demanded. "You're not my father. Not really. You didn't raise me." He felt the cold rush of power the words gave him, the ability to hurt John like a new-found gift. Or a weapon.
"You listen to me, Sam Winchester," John growled down the line, menacing and intense. "You are every bit my son, same as Dean. And I've raised you since you were twelve years old, so don't give me that crap. You're a hunter. You know what's out there. There's things gunning for you, and you know it. You take off like that, ditch the only people who can protect you, the only people who know how to watch your back – that's just reckless stupidity. You can't afford to be reckless and stupid, you got me?"
"I've got a right to live my own life, John," Sam reminded him. "I've got a right to try to make it on my own. I'm doing fine by myself, as a matter of fact. I don't need you. I don't need your whole crazy, mixed up world..." I don't need Dean, he couldn't quite say, because it wouldn't be true. He'd always need Dean. Always.
"That thing that took you when you were a baby isn't done with you, Sam," John said grimly. "It's got plans for you. Big plans. Now that I know what really happened to you, I'm finding all kinds of correlations. Other kids who disappeared the same way, all around the same time. Fires in other nurseries, other mothers who died. This is big, Sam, and you are right smack in the middle of it."
Ice-water flooded his veins, darkness clouded his vision, little sparkly circles appearing at the edges of his sight as he grew dizzy, reality starting to slip away with John's words.
Because he knew they were true. Sam knew with every fiber of his being that the demon that kidnapped him the night his mother died had a purpose for him. And removing him from his family was key to fulfilling his purpose. Sam was not meant to have anything resembling a normal upbringing. It was part of his destiny to be an orphan with no siblings, to have no family ties at all.
And Sam knew without a doubt that he had foiled the demon's plans for him, the day he met Dean. Finding Dean out in the middle of that South Dakota cornfield had not been part of the plan. In fact, the demons had found out about his dreams of Dean and done their best to excise his brother from his mind. They tried to cut off even the psychic support Sam got from his dream-brother, whose existence Sam had kept secret as long as he could remember, until the day a demon posing as Sam's psychiatrist discovered Sam's secret and removed even the memory of the dreams from his mind.
Sam had spent four years living with a foster-family, being trained up for some purpose he never clearly understood by people who turned out to be shape-shifters. He'd been lonely, missing a part of himself he didn't even know he'd lost, until that day he met Dean and everything made sense again.
"Sam?" John had been calling his name for several seconds, while Sam had been lost in his own mind, his memories.
"Yeah, I'm still here," Sam breathed out. "I hear you."
"Now listen to me," John went on. "You stay where you are, keep doing what you're doing, but you don't disappear again, you got me? You keep in touch. Until I figure this thing out, I need to know where I can find you."
John took a deep breath, let it out hard. "Dean told me you can recognize them. He says you can tell when someone's possessed, so you watch yourself, y'hear? If one of those black-eyed sons-o'-bitches starts following you around, you let me know, all right? We know they like to keep an eye on you, we just don't know why yet. Until we figure it out, you watch yourself, and call me if you see one. Or call Dean."
A thrill like lust, but painful, stabbed through Sam's guts at the thought of his brother, and he was suddenly choked with emotion, breaking out in a sweat, making the phone slippery and hard to hold.
"Dean – " he choked out. "Is he – "
"He's fine, Sam," John assured him. "Been a little under the weather lately, worried about you, of course, but he'll be fine."
Sam knew it was a lie, even without reading John's mind. He could feel Dean's suffering like a palpable thing, like it was something inside him. Sam had hurt his brother. It was Sam's fault Dean was in pain, and there might never be a way to fix that.
Sam stumbled back to bed that night and every night after, keeping his dreams at bay by not sleeping until he absolutely had to, until he was dead on his feet, then dragging himself out of bed in the mornings before he had a chance to dream. It wasn't healthy, probably wasn't possible to continue indefinitely, but for the time being avoiding his dreams was the only way Sam could deal with the misery of losing Dean, the only way he could bear the grief of being away from him.
About a week after the call from John Winchester, a package arrived in the mail with a cell phone inside. John clearly wanted Sam to be reachable from now on, had obviously found the broken pieces of Sam's old cell in Bobby Singer's driveway and was willing to pay (though probably with a fake credit card) to keep Sam on a leash. Sam briefly considered throwing the phone away, but then considered the possibility that Dean might call, so he settled with putting it away in a drawer and trying to forget about it.
In fact, there came a time, late that fall, after Brady and the other students in his dorm went home for Thanksgiving break and Sam was alone, when he pulled out the phone and used it. More than once.
"Why you been such a stranger this past year, boy?" Missouri Moseley's sharp accusation hit Sam like a warm bath, comforting and homey and everything he'd been missing. "You got something you wanna tell me?"
Sam felt tears well up, choke in his throat, so he paused before answering, knew instantly he wouldn't lie or sugar-coat this, not to Missouri, not to someone who knew him almost better than he knew himself.
"We're brothers," he gasped, his voice coming out half-sobbing. "Dean's my brother, Miz Moseley. In real life."
"Well," Missouri took a deep breath. "Ain't that somethin'."
"You didn't know," Sam confirmed.
"No, Sam, I'll admit I did not," Missouri answered. "Your soul-bond is so bright, it just out-shines everything else between you two."
"I knew," Sam said bitterly. "I knew, and I let things happen. Things Dean never wanted. And now – " Sam took a deep breath. "Now, I need to know if there's a way to reverse it."
"Reverse what, boy?" Missouri's sympathy was almost too much for Sam to bear, was more than he deserved.
"The soul-bond thing. I need to set Dean free. It's not fair to him, and I – I have to let him go."
There was silence on the other end of the line for almost a full minute, or so it seemed to Sam, who began to wonder if Missouri had hung up on him, until she finally spoke.
"Now you listen here, Sam Winchester." Missouri spoke low and steady, her normally high-pitched voice unexpectedly heated. "The soul-bond between you and Dean is a gift, you hear me? Not many people have it. It's something I've never seen and only ever heard tell of a long, long time ago, before you two were born. It's special. Powerful. You can't just throw it away."
Tears leaked down Sam's cheeks, into his ears as he leaned his head back against the wall, pulled his knees up to his chest. "I can't keep living like this," he choked out, knowing how pathetic he sounded.
"Yes, you can,'' Missouri soothed quietly. "Just like before. You put one foot in front of the other and you keep walking. You and Dean will find a way, I promise you that. Just give it time."
"He hates me," Sam sobbed, giving in to the urge to wallow, despising himself as he did it.
"No, honey, he don't," Missouri assured him. "He can't. It ain't in him. There ain't nothing, not heaven or hell or God hisself, can come between you two. Not really. You're stuck with each other. So you just dry your tears and pull yourself together."
Sam did his best to wipe his face with his sleeve, making a mess of his shirt in the process.
"Now, you're gonna put the phone away and get some rest, you hear me?" Missouri went on as if she was in the room with him, as if she could see him.
Sam was suddenly so tired all he could think about was sleep.
"You'll get up in the morning, and you'll keep going, and you'll do it again the day after that, until Dean comes back. You hear what I'm sayin' to you?"
Sam took a shuddering breath, wiped his eyes again, exhaustion seeping through his bones, making his limbs feel leaden.
"Sam? You still there?" Missouri's voice was starting to fade, and Sam nodded sleepily, clinging to the comforting sound of her voice like it was some kind of aural life-boat, curling onto his side on the bed. "Sam?"
"Yes, ma'am, I hear you," Sam breathed as consciousness began to slip away.
"Good night, Sam," Missouri murmured softly. "Sweet dreams, now."
Sam was vaguely aware of the heavy sound of his own breathing as he drifted off into the longest, deepest sleep he'd had in months.
He called Missouri three more times over the next month, homesick and miserable, and each time she assured him there was no cure for his and Dean's soul-bond, that somehow they would come together again. Each time, her voice helped to soothe and strengthen Sam's aching heart, and each time he fell deeply asleep afterwards.
* // *
During winter break Sam found a temporary job off campus, brushing off Brady's invitation to come home with him for Christmas. The more Sam got to know Brady, the more he realized he needed to be careful. The young man was really smitten, embarrassing Sam with his vivid daydreams of Sam's body all naked and willing, waking Sam with needy little noises and sighs. Sam could hear Brady arguing with himself, broadcasting his lust and longing with such shameless abandon it made Sam wonder if Brady knew that Sam could read minds. It certainly seemed that Brady was hoping Sam would pick up on his hints, which were becoming less and less subtle. In his mind, Sam could hear bits and pieces of Brady's discussions with a girl he confided in, a girl with sunny blond hair and bright green eyes. Sam could see the girl's face in Brady's mind, heard him call her "Jess," as he told her about his colossal crush on his roommate.
"The guy's a monk," Brady complained. "He never goes out. Never even hangs out at all, as far as I can tell."
"So get him drunk," Jess suggested. "Make him loosen up."
"Yeah, like that's gonna happen," Brady huffed out a breath. "He never comes back to the room until it's so late everybody else is asleep anyway. Then he's up and out the door before anyone else wakes up."
"So catch him when he first gets in one night," Jess insisted. "The guy has to take a break sometime. Nobody works non-stop."
"Sam does," Brady grumbled. "He's a machine."
"Now you've got me curious," Jess took a sip of her coffee, looking speculative all of a sudden. "I think I might have to meet this Sam Winchester."
"No way," Brady shook his head. "The guy's gay. I'm sure of it."
Jess raised her eyebrows. "Do tell," she insisted, and Brady lowered his head, blushing a little.
"He carries a picture in his wallet," Brady confessed. "It's a guy. Gorgeous guy. Looks a little like you, actually. But definitely a guy."
Jess frowned. "Maybe it's his brother," she suggested, and Brady shook his head sharply.
"You carry a picture of your brother in your wallet? No. Didn't think so."
"Huh." Jess took another sip of her coffee.
Sam knew he should call Brady on the looking-through-Sam's-wallet thing. But he also understood, probably would've been just as curious about his roommate if the guy never talked to him, never spent any time around him, and was the most attractive and appealing person Sam had ever known.
But that would be Dean, at least that last part, so Sam let it go.
By spring Sam was a wreck. By exercising and eating right he had mostly kept himself from collapsing, but the sleeplessness finally caught up with him and one morning he couldn't get up. His body was wracked with fever, chills, and a cough that would just not go away. His head felt like it had been stuffed with miniature bowling balls that kept rolling around and slamming into each other, causing sharp, piercing pain that would not stop. His mind shut down, refused to process the voices and images that raced around inside, sending him the same thought over and over and over, like a beacon.
Dean. Need Dean.
In his fevered state, Sam was vaguely aware of Brady getting up, asking him if he was okay. Sam thought he might've said something, but his throat was incredibly sore and his mouth felt like it was full of marbles. He couldn't be sure he did anything but lie there with his eyes closed, breathing funny because his sinuses were so congested.
It must've been late afternoon when Brady woke him up, worriedly asking if he needed anything, if he should get something for him. Sam tried to shake his head, tried to respond intelligibly, but he was so deep in his fever-dreams he couldn't tell for sure if Brady even heard him. His brain was playing tricks on him; one minute he was sitting across a table in a diner with Dean, his freckled face stuffed with a bite of one of the biggest, juiciest burgers Sam had ever seen, a look of such bliss in his eyes it was as if he was having the best sex of his life. Then he was looking up from between Sam's legs, his mouth full of Sam's dick, the same look in his eyes, his cheeks smeared with Sam's pre-come.
Then Sam was lying on the beach at the lake and it was the middle of the afternoon, Dean lying beside him, fingers laced with Sam's. He turned his head, stared at Dean's perfect profile, watched his lips part enticingly, his eyelashes brushing his cheek as his eyes moved subtly under his closed eyelids, like he knew Sam was watching. Dean turned his head toward Sam and opened his eyes, and Sam's breath caught in his throat, a stab of lust shot straight to his groin as Dean gazed at him, running his pink tongue over his lips, making them wet and juicy so that Sam wanted to suck on them. Needed to.
Then they were in the water, Dean bobbing a short distance away, hair all wet and dripping, grinning lasciviously at him. Sam lunged, meaning to grab hold of a slippery arm or leg, anything he could get, but Dean ducked away, slipping under the surface of the water like a fish, resurfacing several feet away with a laugh, eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Come back here, jerk," Sam challenged, and Dean's lips curled up in a teasing grin.
"Come and get me, bitch," he answered, ducking under as Sam lunged again. This time when Sam came up for air, the surface of the lake was as still as a mirror, no sign of Dean anywhere. He waited for what felt like too long, treading water and turning round and round, trying to find a ripple, some sign of movement, but the water was completely still.
"Dean!" Sam thrashed desperately, diving and surfacing, looking for some trace of his brother in the murky water, becoming more and more frantic as the minutes ticked by and Dean was still gone, maybe pulled under by something that wouldn't let him go, maybe drowning.
"Sam! Sam! Hey!" A voice was calling him but it wasn't Dean's voice so Sam ignored it, kept diving, kept shouting for Dean. "Hey, I'm gonna get somebody. You're really sick, man. I'm gonna get you some help, okay?"
Sam vaguely recognized the voice – it was Tyson, the boy next door who had a crush on him.
No, that wasn't quite right. Tyson was that boy at school who was always picking on him, the bully who taunted him because he didn't have a mom or dad.
"What happened, Sam? Did they take one look at you and run away?" The boy took a swing at him, and Sam easily deflected it, kick-boxed the boy in the stomach, made him double over, moaning. Sam ducked back, fists up defensively, bouncing and loose on the balls of his feet, ready if the kid came back for more.
He didn't, and once again Sam was grateful for his training, the martial arts lessons he'd taken every Saturday for four years, the moves Dean had taught him recently.
Sam looked up, across the playground, and there he was, wrapped in that huge leather jacket which was too warm on such a brilliant spring day, hands in his pockets, leaning against a tree, watching Sam with a smirk on his lips and a twinkle in his eye.
"Sam? Sam, can you hear me?" Another voice was speaking to him from somewhere off in the distance, or right behind him, Sam couldn't be sure because he didn't really care. He was watching Dean, would always watch Dean, would never, ever take his eyes off his brother ever again.
"Sam? We're gonna get you to the hospital, okay? The ambulance is on its way. You're gonna be all right."
Sam started across the playground, toward Dean, wishing the voice would shut up. But there were always voices in Sam's head, had been from the time he was a baby, and for the most part he'd learned to ignore them, so he could ignore this one, too.
Except now Dean was turning away from him, moving into the shadows behind the tree, and Sam couldn't see him anymore. He tried to pick up his pace so he could follow, but his legs were suddenly so heavy he could barely lift them. They felt like they were encased in rapidly drying cement, and no matter how he struggled, he couldn't seem to move forward at all.
"Dean! Dean! Stop! Wait!" Sam was panicking again, thrashing desperately in his effort to free himself, to get to Dean, but somehow the harder he tried, the more permanently his limbs seemed to stick to the ground.
"Sam! Stop! Here, hold him down. Get his legs!"
Something pinched Sam's arm and he looked down, annoyed, frustrated beyond measure because his legs had become tree-trunks, rooted in the ground, and his whole body was turning into something solid and organic, bending in the breeze but otherwise unmoving. He reached out toward where Dean had disappeared, stretching and watching helplessly as his arms turned into branches, sprouted leaves...
The sky was darkening, or Sam's eyes were closing, he wasn't sure which. He felt a soft breeze brush his ear like lips, heard Dean's voice whisper, "I'm here, Sammy; I'm right here, buddy."
Then everything went dark.
Sam woke up in a hospital, hooked up to machines, his throat painfully dry, his limbs heavy and sore, like he'd been encased in concrete for a week.
None of that mattered, though, because sitting in the recliner at the side of the bed, looking impossibly young and vulnerable in sleep, was Dean.
Sam's chest constricted and a lump rose in his throat, making it impossible to swallow, even if there had been any moisture there in the first place. Tears stung the edges of his vision and he blinked them away irritably, needing to see Dean, to watch his brother as he slept, head tipped back and throat exposed, lips parted, those long eyelashes fanning across his freckled cheeks.
Please God, let him stay, Sam pleaded silently. Let him see that things can be okay between us, if he just gives it a shot.
Sam lay silently bargaining, praying to a God he'd never believed in, promising anything, everything, willing to give Dean up forever, if only he'd stay. And too soon, probably no more than a minute or two, Dean stirred, closed his mouth and swallowed, opened his eyes, blinking and shifting in the chair, frowning as he sat up, finally caught Sam's gaze.
"Hey," Dean's face softened, his expression open and relaxed, clearly caught off guard at first, maybe because he was still half asleep. Then he seemed to remember and he frowned, looking away from Sam as he seemed to recall the current state of their relationship. When his eyes lifted to Sam's again they were wary, full of the pain of remembered betrayal, of things gone so wrong he wasn't even capable of facing them.
"How're ya feelin'?" Dean asked, his expression closed off and distant, eyes shifting away like he couldn't look at Sam's face for very long at a time for fear of what he might see there.
Sam opened his mouth, tried to say something, wanting to reassure Dean that he was unbearably grateful to see him, terrified that Dean's presence was just a figment of his wacked-out imagination, another hallucination sent to taunt him. But the only sound that came out was a dry hack, a half-sound that made his throat more sore.
"Fuck," Dean muttered, getting up to grab a plastic cup with a straw sticking out of the top, leaning over Sam and placing the straw carefully between his lips. "The doctor said you'd be all dried out. Here, sip on this."
Sam closed his lips around the straw obediently, sucking a little of the ice chips and water into his mouth, letting it coat his throat as it went down. But he was mostly trying to catch Dean's eye, wishing he had the strength to raise a hand, to take the cup for himself, maybe let his fingers brush against Dean's. Just that barest of contact...
"It's been a little touch and go here, Sam," Dean said quietly, still not meeting Sam's eyes as he stepped back, taking the cup with him. Sam wanted to reach up and grab his wrist, could almost make himself do it, wanted it so bad he could swear he felt a little psychic bolt of power shoot out. Dean stopped abruptly, like he'd been grabbed, and his eyes flicked up to Sam's, held them for a moment, frowning and confused.
Then he gave a little shake of his head and his eyes flicked away again. "Not goin' anywhere, Sam," he said. "Not till you get better, anyway."
Sam closed his eyes briefly, willed himself to relax. When he opened his eyes again Dean was headed toward the door, and Sam panicked, sent out another bolt of power that stopped Dean in his tracks, made him turn and stare at Sam, frowning quizzically.
"I'm just gonna get the doctor, Sam," Dean explained. "Just let him know you're awake. You've been unconscious for three days, dude. Pneumonia. Pretty severe case, they said. They've had you hooked up to oxygen, antibiotics, all that shit. Your fever was 104 degrees for like days, man. Good thing your roommate decided to call 911 or you – well, it wasn't good."
Dean shifted his feet, wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, wouldn't look at Sam again.
How did you know to come? Sam sent out the thought using the same bolt of power he'd used before, projecting the words he couldn't say aloud.
Dean lifted his eyes in surprise, clearly a little freaked. "You put my cell number down for an emergency contact," he said. "The hospital called me."
And you came, Sam sent out, gratitude and disbelief almost crowding out the words themselves.
"Of course I came, Sam," Dean shook his head a little, as if to clear it, as if he was suddenly overwhelmed by feelings he knew weren't his own. Sam's feelings. "What did you expect? You're my brother. We're family. Now, stop doing that and rest, okay? I'm gonna go tell the doctor. I'll be right back, promise."
Sam tried to nod, managed to close his eyes so he didn't have to watch Dean leaving the room.
Brother. Family. Not lover. Not boyfriend. Not love of my life. Dean would never allow that again, now that he knew they were brothers. Sam would never again touch Dean with need and desire, would never hold him close, never press his lips against Dean's warm, freckled skin...
Sam felt bereft all over again, as if the moment of their parting was fresh, not almost nine months old. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the tears leak out of the corners, down his cheeks, into his ears, making his hair wet.
"What do we have here?" The jovial voice of the doctor coming into the room, Dean at her heels, made Sam open his eyes. His vision was blurred by his tears, but he could see Dean hesitate, look away awkwardly, unwilling or unable to face Sam's misery. Dean was closed to him as always, and Sam swore he wouldn't burden Dean with his own feelings, only projecting his thoughts because he couldn't communicate any other way, and it was something he just knew would work with Dean, although he'd never tried that before. He'd never had to. Dean had always understood him, had always read him like a book, without any psychic mojo. Dean was tuned in to Sam and Sam's needs like a radio receiver that was tuned specifically to Sam's frequency.
While the doctor checked his vitals, his lungs, his throat and meds, Sam watched Dean. His brother stood back, hovering just out of the doctor's way, watchful but not meeting Sam's gaze, carefully not looking at his tear-stained face.
"Well, I think you're going to be fine, Mr. Winchester," the doctor said finally, looping her stethoscope around her neck after listening to his chest carefully for a few seconds. "Your lungs sound much clearer, and your fever's gone. We'll just keep you here another day, give you time to recover." She lay a hand on Sam's arm, and her gentle concern almost started Sam crying again. "Your brother here has kept watch the whole time you were unconscious, you know," she said, nodding at Dean, a soft smile curling her lips. "We finally brought the recliner in just so he could get some rest. He wouldn't leave your side. You're lucky to have someone like him in your life. A lot of our patients don't."
She left instructions with Dean to help Sam slowly rehydrate, to let him suck on the ice chips if he wanted to soothe his sore throat and dry mouth. After she was gone Dean stood awkwardly at the foot of the bed for another minute and Sam watched him, sure he could keep watching Dean forever.
But Dean was clearly uncomfortable, was wishing he could do something, anything, to avoid looking at Sam or, God forbid, talking to him.
"I'll just – " Dean cleared his throat, gestured to the door. "Your roommate's here, in the waiting room. I'll just go let him know you're awake. He's been asking about you."
No! Wait! Dean, please! Talk to me! Sam's desperation projected his words on another bolt of power, and Dean stopped, looked up at him.
"You never did this before, Sam," he said, giving his head a little shake. "You never communicated like that with me before."
I never had to, Sam projected. You were always right here. I could always talk out loud to you.
"Sammy, I – " Dean hesitated, his face clouding for a minute, and Sam waited, trying to be patient. "There's nothing to say, really. I freaked, you left. Seemed like the reasonable thing to do at the time."
And now? Sam projected.
"I don't know, Sam," Dean shook his head a little. "I'd like to think we can be brothers, y'know? See each other at Christmas, maybe call on each other's birthdays, send a card once in a while..."
The tears started flowing down Sam's cheeks before he could stop them, this time making his chest heave with sobs.
"Hey, hey," Dean stepped closer, reached down to put his hand on Sam's shoulder, squeezing gently. The gesture felt awkward and impersonal, and instead of feeling comforted, Sam felt even more desolate. Abandoned.
"I'm gonna call the nurse," Dean announced, and Sam started, staring wildly up, projecting, Wait!" and trying to reach out to grab Dean's arm...
"Sam, listen to me," Dean relented, covering Sam's reaching hand with his own, returning it to the bed, keeping his own hand on top of Sam's for another minute. He was frowning, intense, if a little freaked out. "We are always gonna mean a lot to each other, okay? Nothing can change that. The crazy thing is, you knew. You knew all along, and I didn't believe you. When you told me about your freaky dreams, I just thought you had an overactive imagination, y'know? But you knew."
Sam took a shaky breath, nodded, tried to turn his hand over so he could tangle his fingers with Dean's, but Dean pulled his hand away and stepped back from the bed.
"I'll tell you one thing," Dean went on, not looking at Sam again, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans, like he was afraid he might touch Sam again otherwise. "I'm never doubting that freaky psychic thing of yours again. You've got some serious mojo there, dude. This thing you're doing today? Never seen that before. You holding out on me, Sam? Is there other stuff you want to tell me about?"
Sam lifted his eyebrows, then frowned. Like what? he projected.
"Well, Dad thinks maybe you know more about the Yellow-Eyed Demon than you let on," Dean shrugged. "He thinks maybe your dreams or memories or something could help us find him."
Sam shook his head violently. No! he projected. I don't remember a thing about that, Dean. I was a baby. How could I?
"Yeah, well, that's what I told him," Dean nodded. "But you know Dad. He gets an idea in his head, he's like a dog with an old bone. He thinks maybe we could find somebody who could hypnotize you, help recover your memories that way."
Sam stared. Dean, that's crazy. Babies don't have memories. They don't have words. There wouldn't be anything there except basic sense memories. Hunger, discomfort, sleepiness. Nothing verbal. Nothing John could use.
"That's what I told him," Dean nodded. "But he's pretty persistent. Don't be surprised if he shows up here one day soon with some dude in a hippie costume, dangling a crystal in front of your face."
Sam rolled his eyes. John's an asshole, Sam projected irritably.
"Hey, hey, that's our dad you're talking about," Dean protested. "Well, thinking about, I mean. Whatever. Anyway, have some respect, man."
And because Sam didn't want Dean to know just what a bastard John Winchester was, just how little he cared for his oldest son compared with how much Dean idolized his father, Sam closed his mind, concentrated on an image of puppies and kittens to clear his head.
"Hey," Dean patted Sam's shoulder. "I really do need to get out of here for a while. I'm just gonna let the nurse know she can come in, clean you up a little so you can see your roommate without your face being all messy like that. I think the guy likes you."
Dean gave a wink as he said that last thing, and oh no, no way was Dean actually insinuating that he and Brady...Just the thought gave Sam the willies, made his veins fill with ice water. How could Dean just casually pass him off like that? Like there was another right guy out there, if only Sam would give it half a chance? What the fuck...
But Dean was out the door before Sam could project another coherent thought at him, leaving Sam to fume silently, which, okay, maybe fuming was better than crying, and maybe being furious with Dean for trying to fob him off on another guy was a slight improvement over the morbid, self-pitying thing Sam had going before.
But in the end it had the effect of making Sam more miserable than ever, of confirming the fact that Dean had closed the door on them, that Dean was done with him, and henceforth their relationship would consist only of appropriate brotherly behavior. Dean wanted Sam to move on, was hoping he would find love somewhere else, with someone else, and that was just not okay.
Because Sam was pretty damn sure there would never ever be anyone he could love or want in the way he loved and wanted Dean. Dean's rejection, his obvious attempt to re-direct Sam's romantic interest onto someone new, ultimately just hurt like hell, no two ways around it. It caused waves of fresh misery to flow through Sam's veins and straight out his over-used tear-ducts, so that he was crying again by the time the nurse came in to clean him up, and there didn't seem to be anything she could do or say that would make it stop.
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