Two days later, Sam dropped by the hospital to visit Pamela, unable to shake the guilt he felt for having dragged her into their mess. She was weak and sleepy, so pumped full of painkillers he couldn't be sure she recognized him. She gave him a big smile, though, slipped the hand that wasn't hooked up to an IV around behind him so she could squeeze his ass, chuckled when he jumped a little.
"You know, you did me a favor, Grumpy," she winced as the movement jarred her stitches. "Jesse was an asshole. I needed to dump him but just couldn't be bothered. I'm no good at long-term relationships." She managed to open one eye so she could peer up at Sam, smirking a little. "You and Dean, on the other hand...That's the real deal. Don't you dare let that go. You two almost make me believe in fairy tales. No pun intended."
Sam felt more than a little responsible for making sure Pamela's life worked out, and he wasn't feeling too comfortable about leaving her in Pontiac, where at least one demon could report on her whereabouts. The idea of Hell sending another demon after her was enough for Sam to call Bobby, with Dean's wholehearted approval, and see if Bobby could help them get Pamela relocated.
"Now you call," Bobby groused over the phone. "Not a word for a year, not so much as a goddamn Christmas card, and now you need my help."
"Sorry, Bobby," Sam let out a long breath, more relieved than he wanted to admit just to hear the older hunter's voice. "It's been a little crazy."
"When isn't it a little crazy with you boys?" Bobby huffed. "Where's Dean? He with you?"
"He's right here, Bobby, yeah," Sam glanced over to where Dean was sitting at the motel table, cleaning his gun. Again. Ever since the run-in with the Jesse-demon, Dean had been on hyper-alert, checking and double-checking their weapons, reciting the Latin exorcism rite under his breath, determined to be twice as prepared for the next time.
"Well, thank God for small favors," Bobby commented. "You have any idea how bad things were after you left?"
"I think I got an idea, yeah," Sam winced, guilt climbing up the back of his skull, scratching behind his eyeballs.
"Yeah, well, just don't do that again. That boy needs you. Losing you is like losing a lung. He don't function too good without it."
"I gotcha, Bobby," Sam assured him. "So, about Pamela..."
Once Sam had explained the short version of what had happened at Pamela's apartment and conveyed his concern about her being targeted by another demon, Bobby was all too willing to help. He promised to drive down the next day, help Pamela gather her stuff, let her stay at his place until she was on her feet again.
Sam had a feeling Bobby and Pamela would get along just fine, and Dean agreed. It was a little like welcoming an adoptive sister into the fold, and they were both painfully aware of the kinds of conversations Bobby and Pamela were likely to have, with the brothers as the main topic. But they both agreed they owed it to Pamela, agreed that bringing her into the family was the least they could do after what she'd suffered, and almost died for, to help them.
Sam and Dean had a harder time agreeing on what to do about what they'd learned. Dean wanted to bring John into the loop, maybe Bobby too, use the demon's name to summon it, find a way to kill it.
"You can't kill a demon, Dean," Sam protested. "You can exorcise it, send it back to Hell, but you can't destroy it."
"Maybe Dad knows something we don't about that," Dean said. "He's been tracking this thing for years. Maybe if we tell him what we found out, he'll know what to do to kill it. This may be the intel he's been waiting for."
"You want to tell him what Jesse said about me, too?" Sam demanded. "About Azazel coming for me in three years? About my fucking destiny?"
"Sam," Dean shook his head. "Demons lie. Dad would be the first to tell you that."
"Yeah, except when they don't," Sam shot back. "Which you and I both know from experience. And so does John."
"I can't keep this from Dad," Dean insisted, although Sam could see him wince a little as he remembered exactly what Sam was referring to, that demon in Bobby's basement three years ago, taunting Dean for having more-than-brotherly feelings for Sam. "It's too big. He needs to know. We don't have to tell him everything – all that demon prophecy crap is just bullshit anyway. You're not opening the gates of Hell or anything else for those sons-o-bitches. And now we know when Azazel's coming, we can be ready for the bastard. Like Dad always says, 'preparation is nine-tenths of the game.'"
Sam shook his head, unconvinced, and frankly spooked as hell if he thought about it too much, but Dean's presence was a balm on his jangled nerves; his brother's steady confidence in their ability to beat this thing, however misguided and naive it might be, was just the salve on his conscience that Sam needed. It anchored him, kept him grounded when his mind began to dwell too deep on the dark things that were revealed to them over the past week.
They decided to take on one more hunt before the summer ended, before Sam returned to Stanford to continue his studies.
"I'll be around this time," Dean assured him. "Not going far. But you need to get that degree, go on being part of that world as long as you can. You're preparing for life afterwards, Sam, after all this is over. The normal life you'll be able to live someday."
Sam doubted that would ever be possible, after all they'd seen and gone through, but he conceded that there was a kind of logic in his returning to school, getting his degree. They would need the skills he was gaining, learning to mingle and fit in with different socio-economic types. He could see how it might be handy for him to be able to socialize with future doctors and lawyers and morticians, how being comfortable with educated people could help them work cases, do the job they were supposed to do.
Because if there was one thing Sam was beginning to see, it was that there was no escape. Sam had been marked from birth, or shortly after, and this was who he was meant to be. He was meant to fight the thing that tried to claim him, the thing that stole him out of his crib and killed his mother that night, the monster that destroyed Dean's happy childhood and separated the brothers before they even had a chance to get to know each other. Yet, somehow, they had found each other. Somehow, they reunited despite the demon's plan to keep them apart, to excise Dean from Sam's mind in childhood when his dreams gave him back the brother he didn't know he'd lost.
Dean and Sam together wasn't part of Azazel's plan, of that Sam was absolutely certain. Nor were Dean's psychic abilities, Sam felt fairly sure about that as well. The fact was, Dean was Sam's secret weapon, or maybe more accurately his shield, the unpredicted spanner in Azazel's works. The demon had never paid Dean much heed, except as an annoying distraction. Sam believed now that Azazel had planned their break-up, just as he had twice before, setting them up to run in horror and disgust from each other when they discovered they'd been committing incest.
But Azazel hadn't planned on their soul-bond, on the strength of their union. He hadn't understood that it wasn't just about sex, this thing between them.
Not that the sex wasn't important.
Sam's head was messing with him again. They were in a bar, two weeks later, having salted and burned the bones of the vengeful spirit they'd just finished hunting. It was a good hunt, fairly straight-forward, and this time nobody got hurt. Sam and Dean were getting better at working together, reading each other's signals, moving in sync on a job so that things unfolded almost seamlessly until the work was done.
There hadn't been anything unusual or remarkable about the job, other than the obvious, so the brothers were feeling confident, on familiar territory again after all the chaos of the demon revelations. Dean's injuries had healed, both physical and mental, and he was keeping his psychic sensibilities tightly repressed for the time being, which Sam respected. It had been more terrifying than Sam wanted to think about, watching Dean locked inside his own mind, struggling with the memories of the most traumatic event in his life. Sam couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to see the horror of that night replayed in living color, yet to be helpless to stop it.
Yeah, Sam could totally respect Dean's not talking about it.
They didn't talk about John, either. Sam knew Dean had talked to his father, had repeated much of what happened that night in Pontiac. John had agreed to Sam going back to school, not that Sam needed John's approval for that. Sam understood that from John's point of view, Sam was relatively safe and contained at Stanford. He'd pretty much told him so himself over the phone the previous fall. As long as Sam stayed where he could be found and checked on regularly, even John had to admit to the benefits of at least one Winchester getting a good education.
"So, you gonna hook up with that roommate of yours?" Dean asked conversationally. They were both about three beers in, and Dean had just ordered tequila shots. The place was enough of a dive that the bartender barely looked at their fake IDs. They sat side by side at the bar, shoulders just touching, Sam trying not to stare too long at Dean's perfect face in the mirror behind the bar.
"Hell no," Sam shook his head, blushed involuntarily. "That's definitely not happening."
"Why no?" Dean insisted, jaw tightening as he jostled Sam's shoulder. "He's nice-looking, for a guy, I guess. Plus, he seemed to care about you. You like that kind of thing."
"Shut up," Sam looked down at his beer, played with the label. "I already told him I'm not interested. We're just friends."
"Huh," Dean took a swig of his beer, raised an eyebrow. "Well, there's a lot of smart, good-looking guys on that campus. I'm sure you'll find somebody."
"Can we not talk about this?" Sam complained.
Dean shrugged. "It's just, tomorrow when I drop you off, I hate to think of you all lonely and moping around for the next three years. Y'know?"
"I'll be busy," Sam reminded him. "Studying. Not a lot of time for anything else."
"There's always time for something else, Sam," Dean winked. "The body has needs. You repress and deny yourself too much, you get sick. Don't wanna have to come visit you in the hospital again."
"Oh my God, Dean. Abstinence from sex cannot make you sick." Sam was so wishing Dean would drop this conversation it wasn't even funny.
"I'm pretty sure it can, Sam," Dean argued. "Ya gotta keep those pipes clean, baby! For peak performance, you need a regular engine flush. Keeps all the parts well-lubed and working smooth."
"Good thing you're a mechanic and not a doctor," Sam said. "Your medical advice needs a little tuning."
"Ah-ha-ha-ha, college boy," Dean slammed back the first of the shots. "Let's see how much better your puns sound after some lime-juice."
Sam wasn't sure this was a good idea, but after three shots he wasn't thinking about much of anything except how nice it felt when Dean's shoulder brushed his, or when his hand pushed another shot glass into Sam's. When Dean leaned close, Sam was overwhelmed by the smell of his aftershave, tinged with sweat and leather and that spicy hair-gel he used, and Sam leaned after him when Dean pulled back, chasing the smell into the crook of Dean's neck, closing his eyes so he could inhale deeply, hold that part of Dean inside him for as long as he could. Dean was still talking, going on about classic cars and the work he did with Bobby at his salvage yard over the past year, the cars he helped restore. Sam sighed, finally letting his breath out, keeping his head on Dean's shoulder, his eyes closed so he could savor the warmth radiating off Dean's neck, wondering if he could get away with scooting in and pressing his face there, maybe even his lips...
"Dean!" A booming male voice cut through the haze of his daydream, shocked Sam into opening his eyes. "Fancy meeting you here!"
Dean jerked as a tall, dark-haired man put his hand on Dean's shoulder, moving in on Dean's other side. Sam lifted his head, blinking and staring as the man slid his hand along Dean's back, smiled so that dimples creased his cheeks, and Sam felt an overwhelming surge of rage as Dean flicked a guilty glance at him.
"Hey, Pete," Dean acknowledged the man - the huge, overpowering jerk, as Sam henceforth referred to him.
"Wow, what are the chances?" the guy went on, and now he was actually rubbing Dean's back, the bastard. "Where've you been? You look good."
The asshole actually had the nerve to lean in, right next to Dean's ear, murmur, "I missed you," in a manner that was way, way too familiar.
"Excuse me?" Sam was on his feet before he had a chance to think about what he was doing, pressing up against Dean's other side so Pete the Jerk would get the message, so that Pete the Jerk would get the full effect of Sam's height and build.
Pete looked up, surprised, like he'd just noticed Sam was there.
"Sammy, let it go," Dean's hand was on Sam's arm, a light pressure.
Pete's eyes widened as he looked at Sam, then he grinned big, dimples on display again, running a hand through his long hair as he let his eyes wander up and down Sam's tall frame.
"Sammy?" he repeated. "You're Sam? Of course you are."
Sam's fists clenched; he could feel his jaw tighten and his chest heave as every inch of his body got ready to fight, alcoholic haze be damned.
"Hey, don't mind me, man," Pete took a step back, put his hands up, placating. "It's you he wants, don't think I don't get that. I was just a cheap substitute."
Pete put his hands on Dean's shoulder again, but this time the touch was casual, light. "Hey, Dean, I wish you all the best. I really do, man." His eyes flicked up to Sam as he took his hands away, backed up. "Good luck to both of you."
Sam watched as Pete the Jerk backed away a few more steps, face and hands open in surrender, taking his smarmy, stupid-ass skinny-college-boy act back to the little table in a dark corner of the bar, where a couple of other skinny college boys sat watching.
"That?" Sam gestured after Pete the Jerk as he turned incredulously toward Dean again. "You replaced me with that?"
Dean's face flushed red to the tips of his ears. "It was a fling," he growled. "Lasted a couple of months. Three, tops."
"Who picked up who?" Sam demanded.
"Who do you think?" Dean glared. "Look Sam, you were gone. I was messed up. These things happen. It's over. It's all over."
"You let that jerk fuck you," Sam stated flatly, watched Dean's face as he flinched.
"Jeez, Sammy, keep it down!" Dean lurched to his feet, pulled out his wallet, slammed some bills down on the bar. "Come on. Time to go."
Sam followed Dean out of the bar, clenching and unclenching his teeth and fists, fury and helpless rage cutting through the alcohol, keeping him almost steady on his feet until they were outside, until the cool late summer air accosted his senses and cleared his thoughts.
He was going back to school tomorrow, and Dean would find someone to replace him again, in his bed if not in his heart. The reality of that eventuality hit Sam like a freight train, knocked all the air out of his lungs for a minute so that he had to stop, gasp for breath. He leaned over, put his hands on his knees, sucked in air through his nose and out through his mouth, just trying to calm his pounding heart. After a moment he could see Dean's boots move into his line of vision, felt Dean's hand on his back, soothing.
"Hey, lightweight," Dean murmured. "You need to learn to drink. Dulls the pain, man. Washes all the bad stuff away."
Sam shook his head, fighting back the tears at the edges of his vision. "Don't wanna," he gritted out, heaving himself up, shaking Dean's hand off as he pulled himself up to his full height, right up in Dean's personal space. "Don't wanna dull it, Dean. Need to feel it. Need to feel you inside me. Like a brand. Need it to hurt."
Dean blinked up at him, apprehensive, helpless against the onslaught of Sam's emotions for a moment, that skittish expression that reminded Sam he'd always had the upper hand in their relationship, that when push came to shove Dean couldn't resist Sam's needs, Sam's desires. Dean was programmed to give in to Sam, always would be.
Dean's glance dropped to Sam's mouth, his lips parting like an invitation, his tongue darting out to lick them as he swallowed, adam's apple bobbing enticingly, and Sam leaned in, slipping his hands up to cup Dean's face, thumb skimming over Dean's full, lower lip, glistening with spit.
"Just this one time," Sam pushed himself against Dean so their bodies were flush, so that Dean had to grab onto Sam's biceps just to keep from falling backwards. "Just give me this last memory, Dean. This last night. I swear I'll – I'll leave you alone after that. I'll never touch you again if that's what you want..."
"Yes," Dean let the word slip out in a rush, interrupting. "God, yes. Just shut up already."
Tears slipped out of Sam's eyes then, sliding unnoticed down his cheeks as he stared in disbelief at Dean's beautiful, beloved face. He studied every strong yet delicate feature for another moment before parting his lips, leaning in to capture Dean's generous mouth. A sob rose out of his chest as Dean's eager tongue touched his, as Dean's fingers tangled into the hair at the back of his neck, deepening the kiss, ravaging Sam's mouth like a starving man, like a man who had waited beyond his capacity for tolerance for the one thing that kept him alive. The one thing that he needed more than air, or food, or sustenance of any kind.
It was a good thing the motel was just down the block, because neither of them was capable of waiting for the thing they had denied themselves for almost a year, the thing they both thought they'd never have again. Sam wouldn't give it a name; didn't want to jinx it now that Dean was willing, now that Dean was practically crawling into his pants and under his shirts to touch him with hot, trembling hands, and Sam didn't have it in him to wonder where this would lead, how they would deal with this in the morning when they were both sober again, when they would have to face the reality of a new separation.
Tonight it was just them. Not like before, not like when they didn't know they were brothers, when they could fuck with impunity, careless of what the world thought or whether they would have forever. Not like when Sam worried that Dean would grow tired of him and leave, when he couldn't quite believe in the thing between them, the soul-bond thing, worried it wouldn't last or wasn't strong enough to endure. Not like when Sam couldn't imagine being with Dean forever because he didn't dare.
Now Sam could see they were in it for the long haul, or at least the foreseeable future. Dean had always been loyal to a fault where family was concerned, and Sam was family now. They were stuck with each other, soul-bond or not. Dean would never leave his own brother, would always be there for him. Sam didn't need to worry that anything he did would drive Dean away, because Dean would always forgive him, would always want him back.
After they stumbled into the motel room, Sam slammed Dean up against the door, devoured his mouth as he pulled Dean's jacket off, then his shirt, taking his mouth away only long enough to lift Dean's tee-shirt off over his head. Dean pushed at Sam's shirts as he chased Sam's lips with his own until and Sam had to pull back as he shrugged his shirt off, pulled his tee-shirt off impatiently, taking Dean's head in his hands again as he leaned back in for more kisses. The familiar scratch of Dean's unshaven jaw against his was tantalizing, bordering on painful, and Sam tore his mouth away long enough to tip Dean's head back so Sam could mouth along Dean's throat, licking and sucking as he ran his hands over the smooth skin of Dean's chest, his sides and belly, skimming along the waistband of his jeans. When Sam's hand slipped down over Dean's jean-covered erection, Dean stiffened and let out a strangled moan, thrusting up against Sam's hand.
It was all the invitation Sam needed. He dropped to his knees, hands working frantically at Dean's belt, at the button and zipper on his jeans.
"Okay, Sammy, okay." Dean carded his hands through Sam's hair, over and over, letting the strands slide between his fingers, combing Sam's bangs back like it was his favorite thing to do, like it was something he'd been itching to do and thinking about for months. When Sam finally managed to push Dean's jeans and boxers down over his hips, fisting his cock as it sprang free, Sam slid his tongue around the base of the head and into the slit, glancing up to watch Dean's face as he swallowed his cock.
"Jesus fuck," Dean hissed, slamming his head back against the door and squeezing his eyes shut, hand fisting almost painfully in Sam's hair.
Sam smirked around a mouthful of cock, concentrating on opening and relaxing his throat so he could take more in, almost masochistic in his determination to give Dean the blow job of his life, the one he would never forget, no matter how many he received in the future. Tears squeezed out of the edges of his eyes as Dean's cock hit the back of Sam's throat, cutting off his air-flow, and Sam hollowed out his cheeks, sucked down hard as he took an ass-cheek in each hand and kneaded the firm muscles, urging Dean to push deeper into his mouth and throat.
"Fuck, Sammy," Dean gasped as his hips pumped, reflexive and shallow. "Your mouth. So good. So good for me."
Dean's hand worked through Sam's hair, caressed his cheek, swiped through tears and spit as Sam slid his fingers into Dean's crack, brushed over his hole.
"Fuck!" Dean's cock pulsed in Sam's mouth and his fingers tightened in Sam's hair again as his head tipped back against the door, jaw clenched, the tendons in his neck bulging as he grit his teeth. That was all the encouragement Sam needed. In a single smooth movement Sam released Dean's dick, yanked Dean's jeans and boxers down to his ankles, and manhandled him awkwardly towards the bed.
"Naked," Sam growled, instincts taking over. "Now."
Dean fell back on the bed with an audible "umpf" as Sam stood over him to strip out of the rest of his clothes. Dean sat up to struggle with his boots, barely taking his eyes off Sam as he toed out of his sneakers, pulled his socks off, then wiggled out of his jeans and boxers, pushing them down off his hips without any particular finesse. Dean's eyes got big when Sam's cock bobbed free; he leaned forward as if he planned to return the favor of the blow job, but Sam pushed him onto his back on the bed and climbed on top, stroking himself as Dean watched.
"Gonna fuck you, Dean," Sam breathed as he loomed over the man spread out under him, leaning down to rub the head of his cock against Dean's lips, watching Dean's eyes widen and go dark. "Gonna take what's mine. Gonna ruin you for any other guy."
Dean's breath hitched and his tongue flicked out, licking along the slit of Sam's dick, lubricating it so Sam could slide it more easily over Dean's plush lips. Dean's eyes fluttered closed and Sam watched his lashes fan along his freckled cheek, lacy and delicate. In the stark street-light through the curtains, Dean's features were even more ethereal than usual, waif-like and pale, like one of Sam's dreams come temporarily to life. Sam had the distinct impression that none of this was real, that it couldn't be happening. Dean was too thin, too light, his skin too fragile and soft. This wasn't real.
Then Dean's eyes fluttered open and he looked up at Sam with unadulterated lust, his pupils blown dark, and Sam had to fight to control the desire to fuck into Dean's mouth, just to watch those full lips wrapped around his dick. Dean's hands were on Sam's hips, bracing himself for the inevitable, and for a second or two Sam considered it, let his dick slip inside that warm, wet mouth and thrust shallowly as Dean gazed up at him.
"That's it," Sam breathed. "Get it nice and wet. That's it."
Then he sat back, pulling his dick out of Dean's mouth and letting the head caress Dean's lips one last time as he backed up, crawling backwards down Dean's body, mouth dragging along Dean's chest and abs till he settled between Dean's legs. He ignored Dean's dick as he suckled his balls, then licked a long flat stripe under them, pushing Dean's thighs back so he could reach his hole. Dean cried out, startled as Sam thrust his tongue into the tight space, tasting the rich, dark flavor, the earthy musk that was all Dean. Sam grabbed Dean's hand, guided it to his dick so that Dean could jerk himself as Sam devoured his hole, working it with his mouth and tongue till it was loose enough to add a finger.
"You got any stuff?" he asked when he lifted his head, looked up Dean's long body to his face, slack and flush with pleasure.
Dean nodded, reached with his free hand into the bedside drawer, pulled out the little tube of lubricant and handed it to Sam, who made quick work of warming it with his hands, tipping Dean's thigh up as he thrust his fingers one at a time into Dean's hole, working it till he found the spot that made Dean gasp and arch off the bed, eyes fluttering as his lips parted, hand clutching the blankets reflexively.
"Good," Sam murmured approvingly. "That's it. So good."
Sam kept thrusting and scissoring into Dean with one hand as he used the other to lubricate his own dick, watching Dean's reactions carefully. When he lined up the head of his dick and pushed, Dean tensed up and his eyes flew open, wild and almost animal in their intensity.
"Gonna fuck you now, Dean," Sam breathed. "You ready?"
Dean nodded frantically, pushing down on Sam's dick so the head slipped past the tight muscle, so that Sam was inside.
Holy shit. Sam was inside his brother. Inside Dean. Home. Where he belonged.
The effort it took to avoid thrusting deep, to keep from just slamming home into Dean's body, was beyond anything Sam had ever experienced. He was overwhelmed by his own emotions, by the waves of feeling pounding against the inside of his head, threatening to drown them both. He could feel Dean all around him, could hear him in his head, incoherent babbling mostly, curses and endearments punctuated by Sam's name over and over.
Dean recovered first. "Do it!" He grit his teeth fiercely as he grabbed Sam's biceps, thrust his hips up, and Sam slid all the way in, burying himself balls deep. Sam heard himself groan deep and long, more like a growl, and Dean made a low, rough grunt that sounded punched out of his chest as all the air left his body. They stared at each other for a moment, the shock of their joining almost more emotional than physical. Then Sam leaned down to kiss Dean's swollen lips and Dean allowed it, kissed back for nearly a minute before wrenching his mouth away, arching up against Sam restlessly.
"Come on, Sam, come on, damn you!" he commanded, voice rough, wrecked, as he squirmed and thrust ineffectually, reaching down to grab behind his knees, pulling his legs back to give Sam a better angle.
Sam didn't need to be asked twice. His body knew exactly what it wanted, thrusting slow and shallow at first, then increasing the speed and urgency until he was fucking into Dean at a brutal pace, hitting his prostate every time. The choked sob ripped out of Sam's chest matched Dean's deep, guttural grunt as they reached orgasm almost simultaneously, Dean coming untouched all over his belly and chest. Sam had a brief feeling of weightlessness as he released deep inside Dean, and as his consciousness flickered he had the distinct impression of Dean's voice in his head again, babbling words that made no sense but that made Sam feel loved, adored even, as he never had before.
When Sam came back to himself he seemed to be drifting, almost as if he'd left his body, like he had in Pamela's apartment, hovering over the bed with Dean's presence all around him, in his head, shifting around his body so that he felt young and small again, wrapped up in Dean's embrace, held safe and warm and cared for. He lay his head against Dean's chest, ear pressed where he could hear Dean's heart, the frantic pounding slowing till the beat was strong and steady as sleep overcame him.
When Sam was sure Dean was sleeping, when he couldn't feel him in his head anymore, Sam got up carefully to go to the bathroom, came back with a warm washcloth to clean Dean off. He ran the tips of his fingers over the scars on Dean's chest, slipped his hand against Dean's side where the beast had almost gutted him last winter, willing himself to prevent the horrible wound in absentia, to go back to the moment before it happened so he could stop the monster from hurting his brother, to be there this time so he could have Dean's back.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as he leaned down to press his lips to the scar. Never again, brother. Never again.
He left the note where Dean would see it when he woke up, would understand instantly that Sam was gone.
I know you didn't mean last night to happen, and I'm sorry I pushed you into doing something you feel is wrong. It won't ever feel wrong to me, just so you know. But I'm pretty fucked up.
Please don't hunt without me again. Call me whenever you need back-up, okay? You have my number. I promise I'll always pick up.
As he pulled the door shut softly behind him, Sam's attention was caught by a family who were loading an older-model Ford station-wagon four doors down. The mother, a pretty, slim blond with a harried expression and a diaper bag over her shoulder, was herding two little boys into the back seat of the car, where a toddler was already strapped into a car seat, his chubby fingers playing with a brightly-colored rubber chew-toy. The father was a tall, dark-haired man with a grim set to his jaw who was busy packing bags into the car's rear compartment.
"Come on," he said to the boys. "Listen to your mother. We need to get on the road if we're gonna make it home by suppertime."
"Okay, Daddy," the older of the two boys nodded solemnly, taking his little brother by the hand and pulling him into the car.
"I wanna sit behind Mom," the younger boy complained, and his brother relented immediately, ran around the car to the other side, pulled open the door so he could jump in next to the toddler.
Sam watched as the toddler dropped his toy and the older boy bent to pick it up, blew on it before handing it back to the child.
"I want Booz!" the younger boy cried as his mother strapped him in, handed the diaper bag to her husband.
"I know where he is!" yelled the older boy, jumping out of the car to run back into the motel room, running back out two seconds later with a much-loved, soft blue stuffed puppy and handing to his mother.
"Thank you, Justin," the mother said as she handed the plush toy to the younger boy, who snuggled it and immediately began sucking his thumb. "Good job. Now, can you get yourself strapped in?"
"Yes, I can!" Justin ran around to his side of the car and climbed in again, yanking the door shut behind him. Sam watched as he pulled the seat-belt over his shoulder, struggled with it for a few seconds with a frown of concentration on his freckled face before snapping it into place. He looked up with a smile of pure satisfaction and pride then, meeting Sam's eyes, and Sam couldn't help smiling back. The boy's eyes were green, deep pools of translucent sea-water, deep enough to swim in.
Sam was aware of catching the father's attention, looked up to meet the man's curious, wary glance. Sam had been watching the family for no more than a minute, but it was long enough; he knew it was time to move on, to shrug his duffel over his shoulder and turn away, walk off toward the highway to try to hitch a ride with a trucker.
Then the man spoke.
"She yours?" he nodded toward the Impala, and Sam sucked in a breath, shook his head.
"My brother's," he answered, following the man's appreciative gaze.
"She's a beaut, all right," the man said, his voice sounding almost wistful. He glanced at the rear license plate and raised an eyebrow. "You're a long way from home."
Which is when it struck Sam that he wasn't, actually. He glanced at the closed motel-room door, then back at the man with the nice family, his three little boys and his beautiful wife and an old, beat-up car with California plates. Suddenly, Sam knew what he had to do.
He nodded at the man and smiled. "Have a good trip," he waved, dropping his duffel next to the car before heading back into the room. If he was lucky, Dean would still be asleep. Sam could fix this.
Dean was up, dressed in boxers and a tee-shirt, sitting on the edge of the bed with Sam's letter in his hand. He looked up when the door opened, and for a brief moment Sam caught a look so vulnerable and full of pain it made Sam's legs weak, made his knees buckle. Then his expression changed, shut down, replaced by the familiar ironic mask, the tough-guy devil-may-care face that Dean put on when he was hurting too much to admit it, even to himself.
"Hey." Sam steeled himself, shutting the door behind him. "I just – I was going for coffee – "
Dean's eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched.
"So where's the coffee, Sam?" Dean demanded. "Huh?"
"I forgot my wallet," Sam hedged, knowing how lame he sounded.
"Yeah? Then what's with the note?" Dean lifted the paper toward him, shaking it a little. "You just gonna pull another fast one there, Wylie Coyote? Runnin' for the hills? Just like last time?"
"No!" Sam protested. "I just – I figured you wouldn't want to talk about it. Figured it would be easier if I just – "
"Easier if you just left? Huh? Easier for who, Sam? Haven't we already been through all this?"
Sam shifted his feet, ran a hand over the scruff on his jaw, put the other hand on his hip. He nodded, taking a deep breath, forcing himself to let it out slow. "Yeah," he agreed, meeting Dean's eyes, trying not to flinch. "Yeah, and you're right. Running isn't the answer."
Dean glared, silent and accusing, and Sam took another deep breath, shifted his feet again. "I don't wanna wreck this, Dean," Sam said, going for broke. "You're my brother. Whatever else we are to each other, whatever else there is between us, that's the main thing. That's what really matters. And if I just fucked it all up..."
Dean glared at him for another moment, and Sam could feel himself starting to choke up, getting ready to beg forgiveness, whatever it took.
Then Dean blinked, looked down at the paper in his hand, shook his head. "You didn't," he said quietly, more to the paper than to Sam. "We didn't. We made a mistake, that's all. It happens." He cleared his throat, looked up at Sam, and the anger was gone, replaced by renewed determination. "Old habits die hard."
Something about Dean's face, the obvious struggle it took to forgive himself for what had happened, never mind forgiving Sam, choked Sam up even more. He closed his eyes and the tears slipped freely down his cheeks as he nodded his agreement, sentencing their sex life to its locked box again, helping to nail shut the door.
Sickest of all, Sam knew he could never do it by himself. If Dean ever gave in again, like he had last night, Sam would never be able to stop himself. He would never want to. Their lives going forward might consist of any number of slip-ups like the one they had had last night, and Sam would savor every one, would carry them in his heart and his memory like precious relics, to be pulled out frequently and remembered with reverence and gratitude, to help confirm in his mind that Dean's love was absolute, all-encompassing, complete. Sam and Dean were everything to each other, even if Dean's moral compass needed some limits.
And Sam was determined to honor those limits with every ounce of strength in his body. Forever, if necessary.
* // *
They drove in silence most of the day, pulling into a McDonald's drive-through for lunch so they didn't have to sit across a table from each other. When they pulled up in front of the student dorms at Stanford that afternoon, Dean waited for Sam to grab his bags, and for a moment Sam was afraid Dean would just peel away from the curb, unable even to say goodbye. When he didn’t, Sam put one hand flat on the roof of the car, leaned down so he could look in at Dean through the open passenger-side window.
“Thanks, Dean,” he said softly. “For everything.”
Dean rolled his eyes, wrinkled his nose, squinted straight ahead out the front windshield, so that Sam could tell he was fighting some strong emotions. “You never have to say that to me, Sam,” he said. “You know that.”
Sam smiled, nodded, straightened up and patted the roof of the car. “See ya around, Dean,” he said, almost hopefully, trusting that even after last night, Dean would want to see him again.
“Hey, Sam?” Dean called, and Sam leaned down into the window a little too eagerly, fighting back the ridiculous hope that Dean was going to ask him to stay, to get back in the car and come away with him after all. But Dean had got himself under control now, so he could turn and look Sam square in the eye this time. “We make a helluva team, Sam.”
Sam sucked in a deep breath, relieved and disappointed at the same time. “Yeah, we do,” he agreed, giving Dean a shaky smile.
“And don't forget, Thanksgiving at Bobby’s,” Dean reminded him, like forgetting the next time they knew they'd be together was ever an option.
"Right," Sam agreed. "Thanksgiving at Bobby's." Sam attempted another weak smile, fighting the urge to cry so it probably came out more like a grimace.
Dean nodded, turned away to squint out the front windshield again, and Sam stepped back, giving the car one last pat as Dean pulled away from the curb. Sam watched until the car was out of sight, then he leaned down to gather his bags and head into the dorms to meet his new roommate.
* // *
Sophomore year at Stanford was different. Sam was more focused, had fewer general requirements to satisfy so he could begin taking the classes he wanted to for his pre-law emphasis. He still worked out hard, ate healthy, but he began to find it easier to socialize.
Brady had moved off campus for his second year, into a house with some other pre-med students, all serious, hard-working students like Brady. He greeted Sam with a wry smile and a firm hand-shake, obviously over Sam and now left with a lot of embarrassment over his freshman crush. Sam put him at ease as best he could, assuring him they could get together for drinks sometime, never intending to follow through. And Sam could see by the relieved look on Brady's face that he knew he'd never have to.
Sam was more than a little surprised to be greeted in the cafeteria by a tall, leggy blonde who looked oddly familiar.
"I'm Jessica," she announced with a smile that lit up her green eyes and drew his attention to her full lips. "Mind if I join you?"
Sam had just recognized her as the girl in Brady's mind, the one Brady had confided in about his crush on Sam, when she added, "I'm a friend of Tyson Brady's."
When Sam lifted an eyebrow, Jessica flopped her tray with its cheeseburger and fries on the table in front of him and sat down, knocking his knees casually under the table.
"Don't worry," she said. "I know he's over you. He told me so. I didn't want to get in the way before. You know, if something was meant to happen between you two. But now I feel like I already know you, and I'm kind of intrigued. Is that creepy?"
Sam grinned despite himself, ducking his head and pushing his food around with his fork. "Not at all," he said, and Jessica laughed, the sound as warm and musical as he remembered from Brady's mind.
"You are adorable," she said, reaching up to swipe Sam's bangs back from his face. "Did anybody ever tell you that?"
Sam looked up at her, considering. "You do know I'm gay, right?" he said softly, and Jessica sighed.
"Yeah, the gorgeous ones always are," she shrugged. "But don't worry. I'll be your convenience date when you need one, and you can be my pretend boyfriend, so my mom will stop bugging me every time she calls."
Sam's grin broadened. He was completely charmed by Jessica's infectious smile, her easy manner.
"Okay, it's a deal," he agreed, and just like that Sam and Jessica were best friends.
Six weeks later, Sam woke up from another nightmare, and it was about Dean, and he just couldn't shake it. Four times in one week was too many for this to be just a coincidence. And even though he hadn't spoken to Dean since that afternoon almost two months ago, even though he knew they had a mostly-unspoken agreement to get together for school breaks and it wasn't even Thanksgiving yet, Sam picked up the phone and called his brother.
"Sam." Dean picked up after the second ring, and his voice made Sam's insides turn to molten glue, all sticky and hot, memories of Dean's hands and lips and ass, all those pink scars where the black dog bit into him..."You drunk?"
"What?" Sam frowned, glanced at the clock. "It's seven-thirty in the morning, Dean."
"Yeah?" Dean countered. "So are you drunk?"
"No," Sam snapped irritably. "Are you?"
"You called me, remember?" Dean answered, like that explained his question.
Sam took a deep breath, let it out slow, fighting to keep down his frustration. "I know," he answered finally. "I've been having this dream. All week."
"Clowns or midgets?" Dean asked promptly, nonsensical.
"What? No, Dean, it's about you," Sam answered. "You in a burning house. I keep trying to get you out, but I can't find you."
"I'm right here, Sam," Dean said. "Not lost. Not dead. Wishing I could've slept another hour or two..."
"I know," Sam sighed. "I miss you, I guess. Sorry."
Sam could hear Dean taking a deep breath, letting it out slow, just like Sam did a minute before.
"I know," Dean said finally. "Me, too."
"You're not hunting alone, are you?" Sam asked.
"Livin' at Bobby's at the moment," Dean answered. "He's got me running errands for him. Doin' recon missions with Travis and Rusty, mostly."
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "That's good. That sounds good, Dean."
"Miss you, though," Dean admitted, and Sam swallowed hard, fighting the tears stinging the backs of his eyes. "We make a pretty good team, all things considered."
"Yeah," Sam breathed, grateful for the reminder of Dean's parting words from two months ago. "Yeah, we do." He cleared his throat. "So, how's Bobby?"
"He's good. He's been helping me with the research on your deal. Psychic kids, yellow-eyed demons, nursery fires. We've managed to locate a couple of the kids."
"Yeah?" Sam sucked in a breath, tried not to drop the phone because his heart was pounding and his palms were sweating. "What did you find?"
"Not much," Dean answered. "They're not psychic, Sam. Not like you at all. Messed up, unhappy, but not psychic. It's fuckin' weird."
"What does John think?"
Dean was silent so long Sam wondered if the call had been dropped.
"Dad's gone A.W.O.L. again," Dean said finally. "Haven't heard from him in over a month now."
"Why am I not surprised?" Sam rolled his eyes.
"I don't know, Sam," Dean said, sounding worried. "After I gave him the thing's name, he started researching conjuring spells. I'm thinking he's trying to summon it."
"Alone," Sam huffed out a breath. "Right. What an ass."
"I guess he can't be being very successful or we'd have heard," Dean went on. "You'd hear something. Voices or something. Another demon. You haven't seen any demons lately, have you, Sam?"
Sam shook his head. "No," he admitted. "Not one. It's like – " He bit his lips, cutting himself off because his sudden thought was creeping him out.
"It's like what?" Dean prodded.
Sam huffed out a breath, let the words out in a rush. "It's like things are going along the right path again, the way they're meant to be. The way the demons want the story to go." Sam chewed on a nail, frowning. "You haven't had any more visions, have you?"
"Hell, no," Dean scoffed, then added after a short pause, "Nothin' I can't handle, anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sam demanded. "Dean? You're having more visions? And you didn't tell me?"
"Forget it, Sam," Dean snapped. "It's nothing bad. You'd think it's all good, in fact, knowing you, but that's all I'm gonna say."
"Dean? What the hell?"
"No way," Dean sounded adamant. "You're gonna have to trust me on this, college boy; just let it go. Maybe I'll tell you about it when I see you. Thanksgiving at Bobby's, remember?"
How could Sam forget? He'd been counting the days – okay, maybe the hours till Dean would come collect him.
"Okay," Sam sighed. "Yeah, I remember."
"So study hard and get good grades and I'll see you in a few weeks," Dean said, and Sam knew it was his cue to say goodbye.
"Yeah, okay," Sam sighed again.
"You take good care of yourself, Sammy," Dean said, trying to dismiss him again. "Y'hear?"
Sam nodded, sniffled as the tears start streaming unchecked down his cheeks. He swiped at them irritably with the back of his hand. “Yeah,” he tried to say, but his voice choked off.
"I'm gonna hang up now, Sam," Dean said, his voice soft because he could obviously hear Sam crying.
"Can I call you again?" Sam choked out, giving up on trying to contain his sobs.
"'Course you can, Sammy," Dean answered. "Anytime. I'm always right here, you know that. Always right here for you. Not goin' anywhere. Okay?"
"Okay," Sam sobbed.
"Always here, little brother," Dean soothed, and now Sam was weeping openly, unable to tell whether Dean was still there listening or not. Sam couldn't seem to stop now that the waterworks had started; it was like a dam breaking. All the pent-up stress of leaving – again – just pouring forth. All the guilt Sam felt gnawing away inside, the misery of his childhood compounded by about a hundred percent now that they knew that he really was a freak, that in fact the other children weren't like him after all, that there was something uniquely horrifying about Sam Winchester, and the demonic forces in play to use him were just getting started.
Sam had worn himself out by the time he cried himself dry. He curled up on the bed, dried the last of his tears on the edge of his sheet, still holding the phone to his ear, his breathing slowly evening out, deepening. His eyes slipped closed and he could see Dean in his mind, driving with one hand on the wheel, the other hand holding the phone to his ear, just listening.
"Dean?" Sam whispered, his voice hoarse from crying.
"Right here, little brother," Dean's voice answered promptly, and Sam heaved a deep sigh of relief.
"You don't have to come," Sam choked out. "I'll be okay."
"I know," Dean said gruffly. "Found a case in Sausalito. I'll be there in about three hours."
"Okay," Sam sighed, the relief palpable in his voice. "Thanks."
Sam put the phone down, took a deep breath. Dean was coming. Dean would always be there. Sam and Dean were in this together, no matter what happened. No matter what horrible, sick, terrifying shit-storms were coming their way, they would weather them together.
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