The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road

It's a Not-So-Wonderful Life - Chapter 4

The next few months went by in a blur. Sam was busy -- deliberately kept busy -- hunting anything and everything he could find, working himself nearly to death to atone for his colossal mistakes, his idiotic asshole behavior.

At first he had to force himself not to check up on Dean -- not to look at the Lawrence newspaper on-line, in case Dean was mentioned for another one of his acts of heroic bravery on duty. Similarly, he resisted the urge to check his messages, instinctively understanding that Dean would not call, would not text, would not contact him in any way.

Sam did his best to bury his grief in his work, pushing himself beyond normal limits so that he knew he was making himself sick, not sleeping, not eating, in danger of getting himself injured or killed on a job.

Yet his pride wouldn't let him reach out to any of his old contacts, partly because he was afraid none of the hunters he used to know were alive in this reality, but mostly because he felt he deserved his loneliness, deserved to be abandoned and forgotten and to die someday not long from now, forever unknown and unsung.

* *
When his cell rang Sam was slumped over the table in the bunker's library, having passed out on his laptop after another late night researching. The phone's insistent ring had been going on for awhile, he realized as he fumbled to open the call, his fingers shaky and awkward with sleep. Sam pretty much slept on the floor or the table these days; it had been so long since he'd had a decent night's sleep in a real bed he couldn't remember. Didn't care. Mostly he caught naps, passing out on the table like this time, or in the car on a job. He knew it was bad; knew he was growing weaker and sicker; didn't care.

Calls came in once in awhile, mostly referrals from cases he'd worked on -- so the call didn't surprise him. But the voice on it did.


Sam was awake like a shot, cold water flooding his veins.

He'd know that voice anywhere.

"Dean?" he breathed, a sudden rush of emotion threatening to collapse his lungs.

"Yeah -- hey, I need your help," Dean sounded winded, like he'd been running. "My son is missing."

Sam choked back the sob rising in his throat, dragged his hand through his hair to clear his head.

"Uh -- ok," he reached for the cup of left-over coffee on the table, struggling with emotional overload and waking himself up enough to think straight. "How long?"

"It's been five days, Sam," Dean's voice was choked, and Sam knew he was fighting back a sob. "The cops are giving up. I know how these things go. They're switching to recovery mode, giving up on the rescue mission."

Sam sucked in a breath. "I'm sorry, Dean," he whispered. "But I'm not sure how I can help -- "

"It's a thing, Sam," Dean sounded fierce now. "Something -- something not human. It took him. I know it, and I need you to find it."

Sam had heard that story before. Desperate people who knew about the supernatural world often assumed it was something preternatural going on when it was usually -- or at least mostly -- just some human evil. Humans could be monsters too, as Sam knew well.

And this sounded like another case of a grieving parent who just couldn't accept that something so terrible -- but natural nevertheless -- could happen.

But this was Dean, and Sam was not about to let his brother suffer alone.

"Ok," he answered finally. "What makes you think it's something supernatural, Dean? I mean, you're a professional. You know how these things usually go -- "

"This is different, Sam," Dean was practically growling now. "It took him in the middle of the night, out of bed. The window was open. There's a blue handprint on the windowsill. It's glowing."

Sam's brain made its usually gear-grinding file-checking thing as he considered the possibilities.

"You mean like a djinn," he suggested, forgetting for a moment that Dean didn't have the background or memories to make sense of his theory. "But those don't -- they dwell in dark, abandoned buildings. They don't take people out of their beds."

"This one did," Dean insisted. "Please come, Sam. I know what you think, but this is my son. And I know it's something supernatural. I had a dream -- something's going on, ok?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Sam nodded automatically. "I'll be there in a couple of hours."

* *
Sam showered and changed quickly -- it had been days and he knew he reeked -- and when he looked at himself in the mirror, he noticed the dark hollows under his eyes, how his face had thinned, the pale sickly pallor of his skin. When he pulled his jeans on he had to tighten the belt, knew he'd lost a lot of weight. Even finding clean clothes that fit him was a challenge. Most of his shirts hung off his shoulders like they were made for someone much bigger; he swam in his jacket too, looking weirdly small for someone who was so tall. Sunken and skeletal.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, but he wasn't hungry. His stomach fluttered but it had nothing to do with food. The thought of seeing Dean again was doing strange things to his insides. To his head. His heart.

And when Sam pulled up to the house in Lawrence, the familiar shape of the classic car that had been his only home in the driveway, making his head swim with homesickness, he was overcome by a feeling of deja vu. It had been six months, but when Dean opened the door to his knock Sam wanted to collapse into his arms and never leave.

Instead, he shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at his brother, unsure whether to speak or shake his hand.

Dean stared back for a moment, then dropped his gaze to take in Sam's emaciated frame, frowning, before returning his gaze to Sam's face.

"Hey," Sam said awkwardly, finally.

"Hey," Dean lowered his eyes, stepping back with a welcoming gesture.

"Come in," he said, his familiar deep voice sending shivers up and down Sam's spine.

That's when he noticed the two women sitting in the living room. They looked up expectantly when he walked in, and he recognized the blond. Beth. Her eyes were red from crying, and she was holding a crumpled tissue in her hand.

Sam shifted his feet and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, awkward in the face of such raw grief.

"This is my sister, Beth," Dean introduced as he moved up behind Sam, almost but not quite brushing his shoulder with his own. "And her partner, Chrissy."

"Hey," Sam nodded to each of the women, sharing a quick glance with Chrissy, whose short dark hair and protective stance toward Beth pegged her as the stronger, older half of their relationship.

"This is Sam," Dean continued, and from the way he introduced Sam, it was fairly clear they all knew -- something.

"So you're the one who got rid of the ghost," Chrissy clarified, and Sam glanced at Dean before nodding. "And this kind of thing is what you do. Hunting supernatural things."

"Yeah," Sam agreed.

"Dean says you have a working theory about what happened to our little guy," Chrissy went on, clearly in charge.

Sam took a deep breath, nodded. "Yeah, it sounds like something we've -- I've -- encountered before," he said. "Although they don't usually take kids out of their beds in the middle of the night. That's usually something a little more -- human, I'm afraid."

Chrissy nodded. "The cops have exhausted that angle," she said. "They've interviewed every drifter, every registered sex offender, every teacher and friend and parent of a friend -- they've been especially thorough since it's one of their own."

Dean cleared his throat. "Sam knows that," he assured her. "He knows I wouldn't have called him except as a last resort."

Dean's words were like a bucket of ice-water poured over his head, and Sam had to make a serious effort not to cringe. He hunched his shoulders, needing to make himself as small as possible.

That's when he caught Beth's eye. She was watching him, noticed his reaction to Dean's cruelty, sucked in a little breath, her blue eyes sparkling with tears.

So she didn't know they were brothers, Sam realized. But she knew there was something between them. Dean had clearly made that obvious to her sometime in the past six months.

"I need to see his room," Sam said, half turning to Dean but keeping his eyes lowered, unable to face the disdain in the older man's beautiful green eyes.

"OK, sure," Dean turned, leading the way upstairs. Sam shot a parting glance at Beth, gave her a slight smile, was rewarded with a small smile in return.

So she was an ally. Huh.

When he entered little Sam's room he could see the hand-print right away. The feeling of deja vu was strong here too, and Sam could almost sense the residual energy of fractured realities centering in this room. Baby Sam Winchester had died here. Dean's son -- Sam's namesake -- had clearly attracted something supernatural. More than once. All of Sam's hunter's instincts told him this was so, and he was too caught up in the sudden confirmation of this line of thought to register that Dean had his hand on his shoulder, was speaking to him.

"Sam? You ok?"

Sam lifted his eyes, met Dean's gaze, read real concern there.

"You named him Sam," he heard himself say, and his voice sounded far away and a little distorted. "Did you know about me?"

Dean's look of surprise gave him away, and Sam choked out a strangled sob, reaching for the door frame to keep himself from collapsing.

"Oh God -- " he sobbed out, tears falling freely down his cheeks. "That's why this is happening."

"What are you talking about?" Dean demanded, taking Sam by the shoulders and shaking him a little. "Are you saying this has something to do with my son? My dreams of you -- they have something to do with why my boy was taken?"

Sam was shaking, stumbling against the door frame, fighting to stay upright, overcome by that other reality crashing in on them.

"They were visions, Dean," he gasped, wiping his sleeve across his eyes to clear his vision. "You were having visions. Of me. Of our life together. Before your son was even born!"

Dean shook his head. "How is that possible?" he insisted, confirming Sam's every word. "I didn't even know you."

"But when I showed up here that day, you knew," Sam clarified. "You recognized me. I could see it in your face. You accepted me right away because you knew."

Dean's face fell, and Sam knew he was right.

"What does this have to do with my son? Where's my boy?"

Sam shook his head. "It came for him because he's your son, Dean," Sam explained. "It's keeping him because he's a Winchester. Because he's one of us. It knows who you are, don't you see? Who you really are."

"Who I really am -- " Dean frowned.

"Your dreams, Dean," Sam insisted. "You're a hunter. Like me. We hunt together. And chances are, we've hunted this thing, whatever it is, and now it's taken your kid out of some kind of revenge or payback -- because that's why we don't have friends or family in our life. Because we put them in danger. Because everyone around us gets hurt or -- or dies."

"Hey," Dean put his palm against Sam's cheek, his other hand against Sam's neck, fingers tangled in his hair, making him go still, staring helplessly into Dean's eyes.

"Look at me, buddy," Dean's deep voice rumbled soothingly, his touch pouring warmth and security into Sam's skin, steadying him. "I need you to pull it together, Sam, ok? I need you to help me find my son."

Sam stared silently for a minute, fighting the urge to fall apart, to just collapse into his brother's arms and never leave.

In the end it was Dean's faith in him that gave him the courage to soldier on. Dean believed in him. Needed his help. Trusted him to get the job done. And no matter how little faith he had in his ability to do anything right, he knew he had to try. Or die in the attempt.

"OK," he nodded finally, sucking in a breath and squaring his shoulders, pulling himself up so he could stand without leaning on the doorframe. "Let's get to work."

Dean released him then, retreating back into himself, his eyes regaining their distant look, worry and strain creasing his forehead, the overwhelming need to protect the ones he loved taking precedent over every other impulse.

Except now that prime directive wasn't centered on Sam. Now Dean was thinking about his boy again, which was right. Which was as it should be. The little boy had replaced Sam in Dean's heart, and that was appropriate, of course. That was what children were for, Sam told himself firmly as he followed Dean back down the stairs and into the living room.

"We need to find out where the thing has your boy," Sam said as the women looked up at him expectantly. "Djinn like abandoned buildings. Somewhere they can slowly drain their victims without being disturbed."

Sam and Chrissy spent the next hour researching possibilities while Beth made sandwiches and Dean paced the room, went outside to mow the lawn, didn't stop moving.

When Beth set a plate of sandwiches on the table in front of Sam she put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently.

"You need to eat something," she said softly.

Sam glanced up at her gratefully, noting how much she looked like Mary. How odd that in this reality Mary's surviving children were the ones who looked like her. It was Dad's son who was dead, no trace of his dark hair and gigantic body in either of these fair, freckled siblings, beautiful as they both were.

It took them a little over an hour to come up with a list of likely locations. Of those, only a handful lacked security guards or other intermittent human presence which might make them possible djinn lairs. The closest was on the University campus -- an old science building which had been shut down in the past year when a brand new one was built.

"Let's go," Dean said when Sam told him what he'd found.

Sam shook his head. "I'll go," he insisted. "Alone."

"Like hell," Dean spat back. "I'm coming with you."

"Dean, these things are dangerous."

"I can handle myself," Dean insisted. "I know my way around a gun."

Sam sighed. "Djinn have to be killed with a silver knife dipped in lamb's blood. You have any of those lying around?"

"Do you?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Sam tried not to look smug, but with Dean staring him down with that superior older brother expression on his face it wasn't easy. They were standing at the open trunk of Sam's car, Dean's eyes widening as he perused the arsenal contained inside.

"You've got to be freakin' kidding me," Dean breathed as Sam pulled out the necessary blade and a vial of nasty-looking red stuff. "Don't let Beth see this. She likes you now, but that won't last if she finds out you're the unabomber."

Sam tucked the blade and vial into his jacket, closed the trunk, then crossed around to the driver's door.

"I'll be back in an hour," he said as he climbed into the driver's seat.

"No way," Dean announced, already yanking the passenger door open. "You're an idiot if you think I'm gonna let you go in there alone."

"Dean, I can't let you come with me," Sam insisted. "You don't have the training. You'll just be a liability. You need to let me do my job."

"Fuck you, Sam," Dean slammed the door shut with a loud whack. "I've had plenty of training, thanks to Uncle Sam. Two tours! Hand-to-hand combat! So fuck you and your liability. I've got your back, asshole, whether you want me or not."

"Dean -- "

"It's my son, Sam. My son!"

The fierce determination and Winchester stubbornness were so familiar, combined with the fact that this was Dean, Big Brother who had always led every hunt, and it felt so right that he was here, right beside Sam where he belonged, and in the end Sam just sighed, couldn't maintain his resistance, clamped his mouth shut and started the car.

* *
The building was bigger than Sam had imagined, full of empty classrooms and old, long-unused labs. As much as Sam hated to, he agreed when Dean suggested they split up, cover more territory. Armed with bloody silver knives and flashlights, they moved silently away from each other, coming back together after they had covered one floor, moving on to the next.

Sam was beginning to think he'd got it wrong, this wasn't the right building after all, when he found what he was looking for. Little Sam was hanging by his wrists on a hook in a broom closet in the basement, unconscious but alive. He managed to cut the boy down, gather him in his arms and back out of the closet before the djinn attacked.

With Little Sam's inert body hindering his movements Sam barely had a chance to draw his blade with one hand while cradling the boy with the other arm, launching himself hard toward the monster as its poisonous hands reached for his neck and face, aiming for bare skin. In the split second before the djinn touched him Sam was aware that his blade had hit its mark, sunk deep into the creature's body.

Then the poison did its work and Sam was suddenly alone, back in the bunker.


"So how was your trip?"

The familiar, sarcastic voice came from behind him, but when Sam whirled to face Gabriel he wasn't there.

Then he turned back and there he was, sitting in Sam's chair at the table, leaning back with his legs up on the table, crossed at the ankles, grinning.

"You -- " Sam was shaking, clenching his fists, breathing hard. "You said he wouldn't know me. But he did! He does! And now it's all messed up because he remembers and he hates me!"

"You just saved his son's life, Sam," Gabriel reminded him. "I don't think he hates you."

"But he was supposed to have a normal life!" Sam wailed. "I need him to forget all this!"

Gabriel shook his head, swinging his legs down and scooting the chair back so he could get up, pace next to the table.

"You're forgetting the whole soul-mate thing, Sam," Gabriel scolded. "I did too, actually, which is why this is turning out so different from what I imagined. But hey, that's what makes it fun!"

"I needed him to forget me," Sam insisted, running his hands through his hair, collapsing into the chair across the table and burying his head in his hands.

"And so he did, for awhile," Gabriel confirmed brightly. "Till his son came along and he started dreaming about you. Funny how that happens -- having kids brings up all sorts of issues we bury inside ourselves, never even know are there till the idea of having a kid -- a legacy -- makes it all come rushing out."

Sam frowned. "So you're saying Dean's dreams of me started when Little Sam was born."

"Before, actually," Gabriel agreed. "He dreamed about the house. Saving you from the fire."

Sam stared. "That's why he moved back to the house?"

Gabriel shrugged. "Biggest childhood trauma for him was surviving that night when you died," he said. "Dean spent his whole life atoning for that. His career choice. Having the chance to do good in the world, all that crap."

"But -- " Sam felt tears welling up in his eyes. Ignored them as they started to fall. "But he -- things started to go bad for him after that. Mom and Dad died. His wife."

"His wife left him because he started to think he was gay," Gabriel smirked. "Wow! Dreaming about grown-up you was turning him on! Who knew? I just love dirty movies. Never knew I was gonna get to guest star in one, especially one with you two as the main characters, but what can I say? I didn't write the book, I just get to look at the porn."

"Shut up!" Sam wailed. "This is not funny! It's awful. Dean's life is all fucked up, and I didn't even exist in it. I thought removing myself would make things better for him."

"And so it did, my friend," Gabriel's voice had softened. "So it did."

"How can you say that?" Sam demanded. "He was targeted by the djinn. Supernatural things are coming for him because of me. His family is dead. He's right back where he started."

"He has a sister and a son he didn't have before," Gabriel reminded him. "He grew up in a loving, supportive family. He's never been to Hell, or killed anyone outside of combat duty, and he's spent the past ten years saving people and making the world a better place. No Mark of Cain, no monsters or angels or evil things that go bump in the night, for the most part. Sounds like a good deal to me, but if you want me to put things back the way they were -- "

Gabriel lifted his fingers, ready to snap.

"No!" Sam jumped to his feet, frantic. "No! Just -- can't you make him forget me? Can't you save him from me? From us? All this perversity and corruption -- he doesn't deserve that. Can't I just be dead? I died in that fire. Why can't I just stay dead?"

"Sam, Sam, Sam," Gabriel shook his head. "You always were such a whiner. Don't you think it's time to grow up a little? Your brother loves you. You and he are clearly destined to be together. Even an archangel can't change that. So for the love of all things bromantic -- or at least pervy and porny -- accept your fate already, dude! Embrace your inner sex god! Get with the chick-flick moment and go love your brother as you were obviously meant to do. And for God's sake, get over yourself, Sam. Lighten up and live a little! Believe me, nobody, but nobody gets the kind of chance for a do-over that you're getting here. It's completely unheard of. So if you don't get on board with the plan, you better watch out, because it's definitely getting on board with you.

"Oooh, love the image," Gabriel shivered. "And I'd love to stick around and see how you and your brother make out -- heh heh -- but I gotta go! Things to do, people to see, lives to mess up and corrupt! So goodbye, Sam. Hope you get it right this time!"

And he was gone, and this time the world went with him, crumbling into darkness with that feeling of vertigo that Sam had missed before, light and consciousness fading so that Sam was aware he wasn't in the bunker anymore a second before everything went completely black.

* *

The voice was soothing, deep, familiar in all the right ways, and Sam's consciousness was drawn toward it like a fly to honey, needy and hungry and hopeful.

Then he was aware of light, sounds, the feel of something tugging his arm, a warm hand in his. As his eyes fluttered open Sam recognized the smells and knew he was in a hospital, an intravenous tube stuck in his arm, his brother sitting by his bed.

Holding his hand.

"Dean," the word slipped out on a breath, like a prayer, and he realized his throat was sore, mouth dry and unused to speech.

"Hey, Sammy," Dean murmured, and the word was a salve on his wounded soul.

Sam managed a weak smile, squeezed Dean's hand, let his eyes flutter closed again, savoring the moment.

"Water," he croaked, and Dean pulled his hand away -- no! -- reached for the cup of ice water on the bedside cart, used both hands to push the straw between Sam's cracked lips.

"There ya go," Dean murmured as Sam took a sip, letting the cool moisture spread over his dry tongue and throat.

As Dean pulled the cup away again Sam blinked up at him, tried clearing his throat, wincing at the soreness.

"How long?" he croaked, dreading the answer.

"Almost three days," Dean answered. "When we brought you in you were dehydrated, starving. It took awhile to just get enough fluid into your body to get things working again. It was touch and go for awhile there, buddy."

"Little Sam -- "

Dean's lips curved up and his eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled.

"He's fine," Dean said. "Bounced right back, good as new. Doesn't remember a thing about what happened, except you."

"Me?" Sam frowned.

Dean nodded. "The djinn gave him a lifetime of memories of you," he said. "He thinks you've been living with us for the past five years. Doesn't remember his mother at all. Which is a little sad, I guess, but I'm not complaining. Just grateful to have him back, is all."

Sam decided he could live with that, weird as it was.

"The djinn -- "

"You killed it, Sam," Dean said. "You and me and the girls are the only ones who know what it really was. When the cops got there all they found was an old drifter who'd had a heart attack after you stabbed him. I pulled some strings with my friends on the force, so there won't be any charges, no more investigation."

Then Dean leaned in so swiftly Sam didn't have time to react before his lips were pressed to Sam's, chaste and firm and with only the barest pressure before he pulled back.

"Thank you," Dean breathed, gratitude and something else shining in his green eyes.

Sam felt his eyes fill with tears, his hands itching with the need to reach up and pull Dean down on top of him, to kiss and kiss those soft lips and never ever stop.

But the sound of shuffling feet and someone coughing in the doorway intruded on his plans, made Dean pull away and stand up, turn so they could both see Beth and Chrissy in the doorway, smiling shyly.

And between them, holding Beth's hand, Little Sam was positively beaming at him.

"Uncle Sam!" the boy exclaimed, wiggling away from his aunt to throw himself across the room and straight onto the bed.

Sam oohfed out a breath, put his arms around the small body as he was hugged tightly, found himself grinning till his face hurt as Dean admonished the boy.

"Hold on there, Tiger. Be gentle. Uncle Sam's just woke up. He's still not feeling too good."

"It's ok," Sam laughed, hugging the boy as well as he could with the i.v. line getting in the way and his limbs not working as well as they should. "I'm suddenly feeling a lot better."

"I knew you'd be ok," Little Sam crowed. "Now we can go home, right?" He looked up at his dad expectantly, and Dean ruffled his hair.

"Sure, sport," he said fondly. "Pretty soon now."

Dean looked up and met Sam's eyes, and the hopeful look Sam read there made his chest ache.

But before he could speak, before he could answer Dean's unspoken question, Beth was there, bending down to kiss his cheek.

"Thanks, Sam," she said. "What you did -- all I can say is thank you." She drew back, squeezed his shoulder once, then turned to Dean and put her hand on his arm. "Be good to this guy," she told her brother. "He's a keeper."

Sam felt tears smarting in his eyes again, found he was too choked up to answer, managed to exchange a smile with Chrissy, who was standing back, watching the family while clearly fighting tears of her own.

* *
When they were alone again and Sam had a chance to ask Dean what had happened, how it was that Sam had survived the djinn poison, Dean smirked and admitted he had administered the antidote himself.

"But that didn't make up for the fact that you had already nearly killed yourself," Dean admonished. "Your body was so run down and exhausted -- do you even remember the last time you ate or drank anything? Or had a decent night's sleep?"

Sam was sitting in the bedside chair, still so weak he couldn't do much more than get up to use the john -- with Dean's help -- but he was damned if he would spend one more minute in that damn hospital bed, strapped down with an i.v. and a damn catheter, for godssake.

"But I don't understand," Sam frowned. "Why did the djinn take Little Sam? And why give him dreams of me? It just doesn't make sense. Usually those things give you your fondest wish in some kind of elaborate fantasy, make you want to stay there so they can feed. Or else they give you nightmares and feed off your fear. How could I be Little Sam's fondest wish? He didn't even know me. It don't get it."

Dean shrugged. "Maybe the djinn isn't used to reading kids' minds. Maybe he read it wrong."

Sam stared, Dean's words giving him an idea. "Or maybe the djinn was reading your mind instead," he suggested, then blushed when he realized what he was saying.

Dean lowered his eyes, his cheeks reddening just enough for Sam to know he was thinking the same thing.

"Sam," Dean slid into the other chair, facing his brother so that his knees almost touched Sam's. "We need to talk."

Sam watched as Dean leaned forward, elbows on his knees, scrubbed a hand over his face before looking back up at Sam, wincing a little as he read the dread and apprehension there.

"I want you to know, I will always be grateful for what you did," Dean said, and Sam felt his stomach sink. "You saving my son's life -- it's not something I can ever repay."

Dean lowered his eyes, shifted nervously in his chair, and Sam couldn't take it another minute. Knew he had to do whatever it took to relieve Dean's discomfort. It just wasn't fair for him to suffer like this when it was all Sam's fault.

"It's ok, Dean," he said quietly. "I get it. You don't have to explain. And you don't owe me. I mean that."

Sam took a deep breath, forced himself to raise his eyes to Dean's. "I'll get out of here as soon as they release me. I won't bother you guys again. I promise."

"What?" Dean looked startled, eyes wide. "What are you talking about? You can't leave. We -- we need you, Sam. My son needs you. You're part of the family now. Beth would -- damn, she'd definitely kill me if I let you leave."

Sam felt relief flow through his veins, closed his eyes and took another deep breath.

"No -- that's not what I meant. Jesus." Dean shook his head, shifted again. "It's just -- I'm not sure how I feel about the whole brother thing. I mean, my brother's dead, man. And I have some memories of you but it's not -- there's nothing brotherly about my memories, dude."

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "It was pretty fucked up."

Dean frowned. "Are you sure about all that? You know for a fact we -- you and me -- and hunting -- all the stuff with ghosts and monsters -- "

Sam nodded. "Yeah, Dean, I'm sure. Everything I told you about growing up -- for me, the Impala was home. You and Dad were my family. He trained us to be hunters. It was what we did."

Dean shook his head. "Until I started having those dreams -- visions, whatever -- I didn't know any of that existed."

"I know," Sam breathed. "I'm sorry, Dean. I really am. If I could've kept all that out of your life I would have. I tried."

"The thing is," Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm not good at this whole talking about feelings thing -- "

Sam nodded, waited patiently while Dean turned his head toward the window, seemed to gather his thoughts again.

"What I'm trying to say is, I didn't grow up with a brother. I had a little sister. I had a mom and a dad and I married my childhood sweetheart. So if you're telling me you're my brother --and I know you are; I can feel it in my bones -- but the thing is, I don't know you that way. As a brother, I mean. Hell, I barely know you at all."

Sam lowered his head, stared at his hands clasped in his lap, fidgeting restlessly.

"I know," he whispered. "I know, Dean. It's my fault. I -- I made a deal with somebody who changed reality so that you wouldn't know me. I forgot about the soul-mates thing, or I think you never would've known me at all."

Dean stared at him, but Sam couldn't return his gaze, feeling the shame burning in his chest, the sense of failure at not being able to do this one thing right -- this thing that could've saved his brother so much pain.

But Dean wasn't having it.

"Not know you?" he repeated incredulously. "You made a deal so I wouldn't know you at all? Do you have any idea how empty my life would be without you? Do you?"

Sam raised his eyes, stared back at his brother's intense, almost angry expression.

"You're a moron, Sam," Dean growled fiercely. "Do you even know what an idiot you are? I'm in love with you. You think if you erased yourself from my life that I could be happy? Without you?"

Sam's mouth dropped open, ready with an excuse, an apology. But then he realized what Dean had just said and all he could do was stare.

Then Sam shook his head, trying to clear it.

"You don't get it, Dean," he said. "These things -- supernatural things -- they know about you. That djinn -- that thing in your house six months ago -- the curse that killed your wife and your parents -- this stuff will keep coming for you. If I stay with you it'll only get worse. I'm putting you and Little Sam and Beth and Chrissy in danger, man. I can't -- I can't live with that."

"Ok, now you're a moron and a bastard," Dean pushed to his feet, crossed to the window, stared out with his back to Sam, and Sam watched his broad shoulders heave as Dean fought for control over his feelings.

Finally he turned, just enough so Sam could see his profile, still unable or unwilling to face Sam, who waited with baited breath and broken heart for his brother to grasp the reality he had just laid out for him, waited for him to accept it as he had.

"OK, here's the thing," Dean said, rubbing the back of his neck, his jaw clenched and angry. "Since you left six months ago, the djinn was the first supernatural thing that happened. So you stopped the thing in our house, whatever it was. You did that."

He raised his eyes, turned to face Sam again, clenched his fists before going on.

"And as for my folks and Emily, that was just bad luck, man. Coincidence. Maybe it was connected to the ghost thing, maybe it wasn't. But the fact is, the only supernatural thing in my life right now is you. You shouldn't even exist."

Dean moved quickly, suddenly got close, yanking the arms of Sam's chair and leaning down so he was right in Sam's face, grabbed his chin when Sam wouldn't meet his eyes, forced him to look up.

And when he did, what Sam saw was such raw emotion, such love and need and devotion, it took his breath away, started the waterworks.

"Did you hear what I said to you, Sam Colt or Sam Winchester or whoever the fuck you are? 'Cause I'm not good with the whole feelings thing, and I'm damned if I'm gonna repeat myself. You got me?"

Sam nodded, tears streaming down, unable to stop shaking with stupid, snotty sobbing.

Dean grabbed him by his shirt and dragged him up to standing so he could pull him into his arms, and Sam collapsed, giving in to Dean's warmth and solidity and security, to Dean's smell and strong arms and broad shoulders just holding his greater weight.

"God, you're just a giant bag of bones," Dean murmured against his ear, hands stroking up and down Sam's back. "Beth is gonna wanna cook for you for a month."

And Sam felt himself laughing through his sobs, almost hysterical with relief.

Until Dean's mouth found his and there was no more talking for awhile.

* * *
When Dean brought Sam home the next day, Beth and Chrissy and Little Sam were there waiting. He got hugs all around, Little Sam crawling all over him begging for rides -- "Like we always do, Uncle Sam!" -- Beth putting plate after plate of food in front of him, the house full of the smells of good cooking, Chrissy smiling and smiling at him.

And Dean -- Dean with his arms crossed, leaning against the doorframe, watching him silently with a slight smile on his lips, wearing the most amazing henley that just accentuated his muscular chest and arms --

Finally, Beth seemed to realize Sam was getting tired, pulled Chrissy out the door, taking Little Sam with them so Sam could rest and he and Dean could be alone.

As she brushed her lips over his cheek, Beth whispered, "He thought about you all the time while you were gone. Don't let him pretend he didn't."

Sam smiled broadly as she released him, ducking his head shyly, and he could tell she was charmed as she squeezed his biceps and turned to her partner and Little Sam, ushering them out the door with promises of ice cream and playgrounds.

When they were alone Sam lifted his eyes to his brother's and recognized the expression of barely-concealed panic in them before Dean looked away, clearing his throat nervously.

"Beer?" he asked without looking at Sam.

"Yeah," Sam nodded, relieved.

"Maybe there's a game on," Dean suggested as he came back with the beers.

"Yeah," Sam agreed again, following Dean into the living room and into the chair that had once been their dad's.

There wasn't, so Dean flipped through the channels idly for a few minutes while Sam let himself drift off in the comfortable chair, smells of Dad and Dean and home all around.

* * *
"Hey," Dean's deep voice startled him and Sam realized he had fallen asleep. The t.v. was off and Dean was standing in front of him, offering his hand. Sam took it without thinking and let Dean haul him to his feet.

"Must've been that last beer," Sam muttered, blinking sleepily.

"Come on," Dean smiled. "Let's get you to bed."

At the door to the guest room Dean paused.

"Bed's made. I'll get you some towels." He was looking down, away, but still holding Sam's hand, and when Sam tugged him closer Dean's eyes fluttered up to his face helplessly.

"Sam, I -- I'm not -- I don't -- "

"I know," Sam whispered as he leaned in for Dean's lips, cupping his face as he kissed him.

He felt Dean relax under his hands, press closer with a low moan, slip his arms around Sam and deepen the kiss.

Sam pushed him back against the door, kissing all resistance away, and Dean reached behind him for the doorknob, opened the door, let Sam walk him backwards into the guest room, let Sam kick the door shut behind them, still kissing.

When Dean tore his mouth away it was only to pull his shirt off over his head, slip his hands up under Sam's tee-shirt as Sam shrugged out of his flannel, then let Dean pull off the tee, spread his hands flat against Sam's bare chest.

"So many scars," Dean murmured as he caressed Sam's skin, rubbing his thumb over the old wounds one by one, green eyes wide.

Sam let him explore, let him learn Sam's body, his chest aching with sense memories.

"In my dreams you were always tan," Dean said with a dazed smile. "Your body was all muscles and tan skin. No scars."

Dean looked up from his mapping and met Sam's eyes. "What happened to you, Sam?"

Sam felt his eyes fill in the face of that direct gaze, squeezed them shut for a moment to keep the waterworks from starting.

"Been in a few fights, I guess," he shrugged.

"Yeah, I see that," Dean agreed, frown deepening.

"You sewed me up where I couldn't reach," Sam commented, twisting around so Dean could see the scars on his back.

Dean examined the skin there with gentle, expert fingers, muttering, "Not bad."

Sam tolerated his touch for another moment before twisting back around and catching Dean's wrists in his hands, placing them on his hips so he could take Dean's face in his hands again. Dean met his gaze reluctantly, still slightly dazed, hesitant.

"Missed you," Sam breathed, leaning in to press his lips to Dean's. Still missing you, he thought silently as he moved his hands down Dean's neck and shoulders, finding his skin smooth and unblemished, lacking the scars Sam remembered too well.

When Dean drew back the next time it was so they could undress completely, stare at each other some more. For Sam, it was like coming home, regaining the intimacy he had lost with the person he loved most. For Dean, it was all new, with the hazy memory of five years of visions contrasting with reality in strange and confusing ways.

"Hey, it's ok," Sam murmured encouragingly, moving in closer to let Dean feel his heat. "We can take it slow."

"I've never -- I don't -- " Dean's gaze flicked back up to Sam's face from its long examination of Sam's body. "Sam, I'm not gay."

"Shhh," Sam leaned in again, capturing Dean's mouth tenderly, kissing along his jaw to his ear as he pressed closer and Dean held on for dear life. "It's just us. Don't worry. Just us."


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