So Dean had lived his life atoning for the loss of a sibling he couldn't save.
No surprise there, but at least the cause of the fire was listed as accidental. The electrical system in the house had malfunctioned, and the fire had started in the attic, right above the nursery. By the time the parents discovered it, the entire room was involved.
After the fire, the family had moved, but Dean had later married and moved his own family back to the home.
Strange choice, Sam considered, an eery tingling creeping up his spine. Normally, people who survived a fire where a family member died moved as far as possible from the scene of the tragedy, instinctively avoiding any residual energy from the lost loved one, which was why hauntings weren't more common than they were. If more people stayed where the ghosts of their loved ones lingered, ghost-hunting would be a much more common profession.
Which begged the question, why had Dean moved back there?
The question nagged Sam for the next several weeks, as he went about his business, hunting and researching mostly run-of-the-mill hauntings and monster-sightings. Working without a partner was tricky, more dangerous, but it suited his need for self- punishment, and for awhile it was enough just to solve a few cases and save a few people.
And he was determined to leave his brother alone, let him have his life without Sam as he had hoped he would.
Nevertheless, he couldn't help checking in on Dean, reading the local paper, following the police dispatches for Lawrence for any mention of rescue missions which might mention Dean by name.
And there were quite a few. Dean was good at his job, and not just getting cats out of trees and patching up kids who got hit by fly balls on the playground. He had assisted with serious situations, helped people out of burning buildings, cut people out of mangled car accidents, in one case talked down a deranged gunman in a school classroom. The man was a decorated hero, which shouldn't have surprised Sam, but made his chest fill with pride anyway.
That was the Dean he knew growing up, Sam thought to himself. The big brother who could do anything. The brother he assumed would do great things, just because he was Sam's personal hero and he assumed he was everybody else's too.
Then Dean's parents had been killed, just last year, in a plane crash on their way to catch a cruise ship out of Miami, where they were planning to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary.
That had made the paper because of what had happened just a few months later, when tragedy had struck the Winchester family again.
Emily Winchester had been hit by a truck on her way home from work at the local preschool. Killed outright, she hadn't suffered, which was a blessing. She left her husband of ten years, Dean Winchester, and their five-year-old son, Sam.
Tragedy seemed to follow Dean Winchester around, the newspaper noted, reminding readers of the fiery death of Dean's baby brother back in 1983, in the same house where Dean and his family had lived for the past five years.
Almost seemed like a curse, the article noted.
Sam had to read that last line twice, then forced himself to think rationally, as if this were another case of possible supernatural phenomena.
Because really, what were the chances that one man would lose his brother, his parents, and his wife -- the first in the house that he had moved back to after twenty-five years, and the last three after moving back there?
It did seem a little unusual. Even normal people seemed to think there might be something supernatural going on.
And if Sam didn't know any better, he'd guess there was a vengeful spirit at work here.
Only that would mean that the vengeful spirit was in the house.
Suddenly, Sam knew he where his next case would be.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Lawrence. Children were out on their bikes, neighbors were cutting their lawns. When Sam pulled up outside the old Winchester family home, he sat quietly for a few moments, just imagining what it must have been like for Dean to live here.
Then he saw him.
Little dark-haired child on a big-wheels, pumping the wheels hard up and down the driveway next to the familiar shape of the sleek black Chevy.
Sam sat and watched the boy for another minute or two, watched him pump his little legs vigorously, serious, focused expression on his little face.
Then the front door of the house opened and Dean came out.
Sam sucked in a breath, involuntarily clutching the steering wheel, feeling his whole body go tense and break out in a cold sweat. Dean was wearing a tee-shirt and jeans -- looked fit and healthy, if a little thin, and was wearing gloves and carrying a pair of gigantic gardening shears, which made Sam choke back a laugh. The thought of Dean gardening was sending all kinds of signals through his system, mostly pleasant, he realized with a start of surprise.
Sam watched as Dean started shearing some of the shrubs along the front of the house, yelled something to his son -- his son! -- about staying out of the street, threw a glance toward Sam, who was parked across the street but obvious and in sight, and suddenly Sam realized how vulnerable he was, how visible.
Sam's instincts told him to behave normally, to reassure this father that his son was safe with the strange man sitting in a parked car right across the street -- of course the father would notice that and come out of the house with gardening shears! -- and Sam waved to the dad as he got out of his car, trying to hunch over so his height and bulk wouldn't seem too threatening.
"Hey," he called to Dean. "I -- I'm new in the neighborhood."
Sam put his hand out as he crossed the street, smiling his most reassuring smile as Dean watched him warily, clutching the shears like a blade, albeit pointed downward.
"Name's Sam," Sam said. "Sam -- Colt."
The name slipped out before he could think, before he could take it back.
Because it was such a goddamn stupid fake name. How did it come out so easily?
But Dean was already smiling, relaxing as he took Sam's hand.
"Colt, huh?" he grinned up at Sam as Sam struggled to hold onto his composure in the face of that beautiful smile, that warm grip. "Well, that's a funny thing, 'cause my name's Winchester. Dean Winchester."
Sam felt his face heat, felt his grin spread from ear to ear, had to lower his gaze.
"Wow," he tried for surprise, worried that Dean could see through it. "That's amazing. What are the chances?"
Sam flicked his gaze back up to Dean face, watched as the mesmerizing green eyes held his for another minute, then faltered as Dean's cheeks reddened. He suddenly realized he was still holding Dean's hand, so he drew back, looked away, cleared his throat.
"So what brings you to Lawrence, Sam?"
"Uh -- the university, actually," Sam was more overwhelmed by Dean's presence than he had expected to be, and it took a lot of concentration to focus. "I'm thinking about going back to school."
Dean nodded. "Good school," he commented, then seemed to notice something on Sam's neck. One of his old scars, probably. "You serve?" he asked, surprising Sam again.
Was his PTSD so obvious?
Sam nodded briefly. "Two tours," he answered, always the easiest answer when he got outted as a combatant, never exactly sure how it was he gave it away so easily. But that meant --
"You?" Sam asked, and Dean nodded.
"Two tours in Afghanistan," he revealed. "Right out of high school."
They exchanged unit information and Sam could see Dean visibly relax, his willingness to trust a fellow soldier obvious in a way that made Sam feel a little guilty for lying.
Until the sound of buzzing and plastic wheels crunching and rattling somewhere near his ankles reminded him of the youngest Winchester, who had rounded the rear end of the Impala and was now making a beeline for his father.
"Hey," Sam smiled down at the little guy as he stopped his vehicle less than a foot away, staring from his dad to the strange, tall man on his sidewalk, standing directly in his path. "How's it going?"
"This is my son, Sam," Dean said, gazing fondly at the little boy, then frowning slightly. "Sam, this is Mr. Colt. He has the same name as you. What do you think about that?"
The little boy looked up at his uncle -- Uncle Sam, what do you know? -- and Sam tried to smile, tried to seem as small and non-threatening as possible, but the little guy did not look convinced. He didn't smile, just stared hard at Sam for a minute before turning his big wheels around again and buzzing off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.
Dean stared after him, smile gone now, eyes distant. He turned back to Sam after a minute, but Sam had seen the pain there, the grief. It made him wince inside, and he had to struggle to contain the urge to express comfort to this man who was no longer his brother.
"He lost his mom a few months ago," Dean explained, seemed to need to make an excuse for his son's asocial behavior. And the way he put it, the loss put off on the little boy, nothing about the fact that this was Dean's loss too, that the lost person had in fact been Dean's wife -- it was so Dean, so familiar, that it brought tears to Sam's eyes, and he had to struggle to keep them from falling.
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said quietly, and Dean looked up at him sharply.
"She wasn't my wife," he said. "Emily and I have been separated almost two years now."
Sam was surprised. Not that it made her death any easier, but somehow Dean's life had been full of more loss than Sam had imagined.
"What about you?" Dean asked. "You have family in the area?"
Sam raised his eyebrows. How had the conversation turned so personal all of a sudden?
"Uh, no," he lied easily. "I grew up in Texas. San Antonio. My folks passed away a while back. Nobody else."
"So we're both orphans," Dean commented. "My folks are gone too."
"Huh," Sam nodded, feeling awkward again. Dean was looking at him, in fact had been looking at him a lot, and Sam was beginning to wonder if there was something he was missing.
"Hey, you want a beer?" Dean asked suddenly. "I'm just about to knock off for the day. Yard work is good exercise, but it's boring as all crap."
Sam had the feeling he should refuse, should claim he needed to get back. But instead he found himself accepting, found himself sitting on the front step next to Dean with a beer in his hand, rubbing shoulders and listening as Dean talked about his life, his job, his son.
And when an hour had passed and Sam knew he really should be going, Dean asked him to stay for dinner, insisting when Sam half-heartedly protested, so that within the hour he found himself in the kitchen, making a salad while Dean grilled burgers, watched solemnly and silently by the pint-sized version of Sam who sat quietly on the floor, playing with little plastic army men until Dean told him to wash up for supper.
And afterwards, helping Dean clean up, Dean brushed up against him a couple of times and Sam had the feeling that was not accidental, but it felt so good he ignored it, let it happen and assumed it was just Dean being Dean because really, what else could it be?
But then it was time for Junior to go to bed, and there really was no reasonable excuse for Sam to stay another minute. Except that Dean was protesting again, asking him to hang out while he put his son to bed, and Sam kept shaking his head because at this point he knew he was crossing a line, knew Dean must see that his desire to be near him was beyond the bounds of simple neighborly friendliness.
And that was when Dean put his hand on Sam's wrist, making him look up, startled, straight into Dean's beautiful eyes, where he could see the heat and the intensity there, unmistakable, and Dean said, "Stay. Please."
So he did, heart pounding and palms sweating as he waited for Dean to put his son to bed, drinking another beer to steady his nerves.
He was checking out Dean's vinyl record collection -- all classic rock albums, why wasn't he surprised? -- so he didn't hear Dean enter the room till he was suddenly right behind him, making Sam jump, and he was glad he'd already put his beer down because otherwise he would have dropped it. And Dean was right there, so close Sam could feel his heat, and Dean was just looking at him with those eyes like clear pools of tropical ocean -- warm and wet and deepest, bottomless green --
Sam realized he was holding his breath, so he let it out slowly, through parted lips, his tongue unconsciously flicking out to lick his lips, and Dean's eyes lowered to his mouth and Sam was just lost. He leaned toward Dean without even thinking about it, and in the split second before the inevitable happened, Dean's eyes flicked back up to Sam's and they were full of confusion and uncertainty and Sam felt himself smiling his reassurance, letting his dimples show and Dean was relaxing, leaning in, filling Sam's vision so he had to close his eyes, overwhelmed by Dean's nearness after all these months of being away from him, starving for him.
"I'm not gay," Dean whispered, his breath ghosting across Sam's cheek.
Sam shook his head a little, keeping his eyes closed and his face tipped down, afraid to move.
"Neither am I," he whispered back.
"So why -- what's happening?"
Sam was holding his breath again, his body clenched, so it took a minute to register that Dean was touching him, warm, calloused hands on his face, fingers slipping into his hair, gentle and exploring and so, so careful, like he was afraid Sam would break. Or disappear.
Sam held himself perfectly still, even as Dean's thumb skimmed over his lips, even as Dean tilted his face so he could get the angle right, even as Dean's lips finally -- finally! -- pressed against his -- soft, tentative, parted just enough to pull Sam's top lip between them.
When he felt Dean's tongue dart out to taste him Sam shuddered, kissing back as carefully as he could, just enough to let Dean feel him sucking lightly on his full, luscious bottom lip, licking his tongue along the seam where their mouths met.
Sam felt Dean's answering shudder, heard the low moan in his throat, felt it against his lips in the second before Dean pulled away, leaning his head back to look up at Sam. Sam's eyes fluttered open then, hyper-aware of Dean's hands on the back of his neck, sliding down his shoulders and around his back, pulling him in.
And Sam wasn't sure when he'd slid his arms around the other man, but somehow they were hugging, bodies pressed together as intimately as they ever had been, familiar and warm and oh thank God -- to have Dean in his arms again! Dean's chin on his shoulder, Sam stooped just enough to bury his face in Dean's neck, pressing his lips into the warm skin, breathing in Dean's familiar smell.
It might have been hours. It might have been only a minute or two. But when Dean finally drew back Sam followed, unconsciously needing to pull him in again, angling his face towards Dean to re-capture his mouth.
"No," Dean put one hand firmly against Sam's chest, pushing against him, putting distance between them, and every fiber of Sam's being screamed Yes! -- needing the contact like air or food or water -- just needing Dean, blinking in confusion as Dean pushed him away, held him firmly at arm's length, his face set.
It took Sam a minute to adjust, but then he recovered, stepped back, letting Dean set the pace again.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean to -- to come on to you like that."
Dean lifted his eyebrows. "I came on to you," he said, surprise lighting his eyes. "I've never done that before. No," as Sam's face must have registered his own surprise. "I haven't. I don't understand why you seem so -- so familiar. It's like we've done this before. It seemed like what we always do."
Sam pressed his lips together, looked away, unable to meet Dean's eyes.
"I'm not gay," Dean said again, a little dazedly.
"No, I know," Sam agreed. "Neither am I. It -- it's ok. I think we -- I think we just have to take it slow."
"Yeah," Dean seemed relieved. "I mean, it's not like I want to sleep with you or anything."
Sam lifted his eyes, meeting Dean's confused gaze for a minute, then lowering his eyes as he felt the heat rush to his cheeks, his groin.
"Right," he agreed, shifting uncomfortably to ease the ache in his jeans. "Absolutely. Me neither."
"Ok then," Dean nodded, his voice shaking a little. "How 'bout another beer?"
"Nah, I think I'm ok," Sam said. "I really should go."
Dean was silent, so that Sam had to look up, face the devastated expression in the other man's eyes.
Oh God. He couldn't do it. He couldn't.
"You -- you have a girlfriend," Dean stated. "You have somebody."
Sam hesitated. That would work. He could lie, put an end to this right now.
Except he couldn't.
Shaking his head, Sam took a deep breath, ran his hands through his hair, just getting a grip.
Because really, what the hell was he doing?
"No," he breathed out. "Nobody. Not for a long time."
The relief on Dean's face was classic, which only made Sam feel guiltier, of course. Damn.
"Ok, well, that's settled, then," Dean said, huffing out a breath and shifting a little so that Sam knew he was just as hard as Sam.
"So, you got a place to stay?" Dean went on.
And Sam could hear the offer, knew he was powerless to refuse.
But he was saved from answering by a blood curdling scream from upstairs, from the little boy's room.
Dean and Sam exchanged a quick glance -- communicating silently as they always had --- before Dean was bounding up the stairs with Sam right behind him.
As they reached the child's door there was another scream, followed by a loud bang, as if something heavy was being thrown against the wall.
"Sam!" Dean bellowed, grabbing the door handle, finding it locked. The child screamed again, and Dean wedged his shoulder against the door and pushed, and when the door didn't budge he backed up and gave a swift, hard kick to the lock, breaking it easily and bursting into the room, Sam on his heels.
The room was in chaos. Toys and clothes strewn all over the floor, furniture upturned, books flying into walls. Dean dodged a flying lamp as he rushed across the room to gather his son into his arms, the boy still huddled in his bed with his knees pulled up to his chin, a look of wild-eyed terror on his face. With the little boy safely in his arms, Dean charged back out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door. Sam hesitated only a moment -- the hunter in him needing to do something, kill something, stop whatever it was that was happening -- before following his brother and nephew out the front door.
But not before he noticed the temperature drop in the boy's room. Definitely a vengeful spirit of some kind.
Dean was bundling his son into the backseat of the car, all business and swift, self-confident movements.
"It's all right, Sam," he assured the boy. "I've got you. You're ok."
Sam watched them from the front lawn, then looked back up at the sound of glass shattering in the upstairs window. The boy's room. Spirit still venting.
Dean looked up, caught Sam's eye, and Sam knew. This wasn't new. This had happened before.
But of course Dean didn't know that Sam understood ghosts; Sam could see the desperation in Dean's face which could only mean that Dean was afraid this was scaring Sam away.
The house was quiet now; the broken window seemed to take some wind out of the thing's sails, and the only sound was the quiet crying of Dean's little son and Dean's quiet, rumbling reassurances.
Sam put his hands on his waist and shifted his stance, going for something light as he said, "Looks like you've got a poltergeist."
Dean looked up sharply, frowning, clearly expecting Sam to be laughing, or freaked out. Maybe both. When he saw Sam looking back with sympathy and sincerity instead, Dean relaxed visibly and shook his head.
"I don't know what it is," he admitted. "It's been happening for awhile. Missouri thinks it's partly vengeful spirit, part something else."
Sam was so surprised to hear his brother talking about the supernatural in such frank terms, it took him a minute to register the reference to the old psychic their dad had consulted all those years ago.
"Wait -- " he said finally. "You have Missouri Mosely helping you with this?"
Dean looked up again, surprised.
"You know her?" he asked.
Sam gave a shrug.
"Well, yeah," he admitted. "She's pretty famous, I guess. Really knows her stuff."
Little Sam's whimpers had quieted finally; he had obviously fallen asleep. Dean climbed back out of the back seat of the car and shut the door as quietly as he could.
"I'm gonna take him to my sister's," he said to Sam, who suddenly felt all the air rush out of his lungs. "You're welcome to ride along. Then I'm gonna come back here and clean up."
Sam was so stunned at the notion of a sister that all he could do was nod, crossing around the car to climb into the passenger seat.
It felt so normal, so ordinary and comforting, just riding shotgun in the old car with Dean's profile right there next to him, and the knot in Sam's chest loosened a little as he glanced over, unable to stop staring once he started, till Dean obviously felt his eyes on him and glanced back with eyebrows raised.
"What?" he asked, and Sam shook his head.
"Nothin," he answered. "You were just so cool back there. I mean, in the face of the whole ghost thing. Most people would've been pretty freaked."
"Guess I'm not most people." Dean said with a little grin that was unbelievably adorable. "Seriously, in my line of work I deal with a lot of weird stuff. Granted, most of it's human. Not a lot of ghosts. That is a little unusual."
"How long has it been happening?" Sam asked, watched Dean shrug and look slightly uncomfortable.
"About five years," he admitted, and Sam nearly choked.
"What?" he stared. "You've been living in a haunted house for five years and you haven't done anything about it? And you're still living there?"
"What do you want me to do?" he demanded. "Call Ghostbusters? It's not exactly a common pest control problem, Sam. Besides, at first it was just little things. Stuff wasn't where we left it. Sometimes pictures were upside down or fell off the wall. Little stuff. For a long time. Only started seeing patterns after it got worse. And it only got like that -- like what you just saw -- in the past year or so."
"So you called Missouri," Sam clarified.
"She came over, walked through the house. Said the thing seemed to be centered in Sam's room."
"And Sam's room was where -- " Sam couldn't say it, but he had his suspicions.
Dean took his hand off the steering wheel, wiped it on his jeans, then through his hair before putting it back on the wheel.
Sam knew that gesture. Dean was uncomfortable, reluctant to reveal something, needed to throw a fierce frown at Sam for even pushing it.
But then he seemed to see something in Sam's face that reassured him.
"Thirty years ago, my baby brother died in that room," Dean said. "There was a short in the electrical system. Not a lot of fire, but the room was full of smoke and he just suffocated."
Sam drew a deep breath, let it out slowly.
"So it's a baby ghost," he said quietly. "Irrational, emotional, stuck in the veil, probably dormant for years until you all moved back in and triggered it."
Dean shot another glance at him.
"That's what Missouri said," he agreed. "Only she said it was something else too. Not just the baby's spirit. There was something angry and vengeful. Something that was attracted by the baby's spirit but was separate from it. It seems to focus on Sam."
He turned the car into the driveway of a nice suburban home -- nicer than Dean's house -- and shut off the engine. Turning to Sam, he said,
"It's after my son, Sam, and I have to stop it."
"I think I can help you," he said, and Dean raised his eyebrows. "It's sort of what I do."
"You're a ghost-buster?" Dean gaped at him. "Are you kidding me?"
Sam was saved from answering by the porch light on the house switching on suddenly and the front door opening, revealing a sleepy-looking blond woman wrapped in a dressing gown.
"Dean?" she squinted into the gloom of the driveway.
Dean was already out of the car, opening the rear door to gather his sleeping son into his arms.
Sam watched, spellbound, as Dean carried the child to the front door, spoke quietly to the woman, and they all disappeared inside. Sam waited patiently, processing the fact that Dean had a sister. Younger sister, by the look of her, which meant she was younger than Sam. Which meant that John and Mary had had another child after losing their baby. Which meant that Dean had grown up with a sibling after all. A sister. What a different family dynamic that would have created for Dean, he mused. Not to mention his parents.
Sam suddenly felt small and insignificant, an intruder on this only-slightly-less-than-perfect world. A world where the only real tragedy had been alleviated by the birth of another sibling, who wasn't a replacement for their loss, of course, but must have been a real comfort to the family nonetheless. Must have helped John recover from his own sense of crushing guilt over what had happened to Mary's baby.
John Winchester might even have been a happy man in this scenario. Might even have learned to forgive himself. Or at least not to blame his son, not lay the weight of his own failure on Dean's four-year-old shoulders.
The front door opened and Dean came out, turned back to say something to the blond woman, who put her hand on his arm for a minute before withdrawing into the house.
Sam watched as Dean headed back to the car, slipped into the driver's seat next to him.
"Beth will take care of him," he said. "I don't know what I'd do without her."
"Nice house," Sam commented as Dean backed the car out of the driveway, turned toward home.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Her girlfriend is some big shot administrator at the university. Makes twice my salary. And of course they don't have kids. It's nice for Beth, and I'm happy for her. She misses Mom a lot, so I'm glad she has Chrissy. They're good for each other."
Sam couldn't keep his eyes off Dean's profile, wave after wave of homesickness crashing over him.
Dean noticed after a minute, glanced at him, smiled grimly.
"You're thinking the gay thing runs in families," he said, and Sam sucked in a breath.
"Uh, no," he admitted. "Wasn't thinking that at all. I was -- " He hesitated, so that Dean glanced at him again, prompted "What?" and Sam had to say "I was missing my brother, actually."
Dean frowned. "You have a brother?"
"Huh," Dean grunted. "Older or younger?"
"He -- he's older," Sam said. "Four years."
And for some reason, now that the dam had broken, Sam couldn't stop talking.
"I always looked up to him, you know? He was -- he was my hero. He was always there, always taking care of me, watching out for me. Hell, he practically raised me."
"Where were your folks?" Dean seemed genuinely curious.
"My -- my mom died when I was a baby," Sam explained. "And my dad -- he went kinda crazy with grief, I guess. Took us on the road. We never had much. Dad took jobs wherever he could, left us alone for days sometimes. So it was just me and my brother a lot of the time while I was growing up. The two of us against the world."
"Wow, man, I'm sorry," Dean breathed sympathetically. "Must've been tough."
Sam watched Dean's profile for a moment before answering.
"Nah, it was all I knew. And my brother -- he was everything to me. He was amazing."
"Family's the most important thing," he agreed. "When the chips are down, sometimes they're the only thing you can count on. Like I said, I don't know what I'd do without Beth."
Sam felt the tears smarting at the back of his eyes and had to look away, drew the back of his hand over his cheeks to wipe the moisture off. Damn if he was gonna start crying in front of this man who didn't even know him. And how weird was it that he could actually grieve for something that was sitting right next to him in the car he'd been riding in his whole life.
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