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

Roses in the Rain - Part One

The dude was seriously the most gorgeous person, male or female, that Dean had ever laid eyes on.

It freaked him out a little because he usually didn't look at guys; hell, he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he'd noticed a good-looking guy. But this kid was – yeah, he was young, that much Dean could tell. Early twenties maybe. Definitely younger than Dean. Tall, lanky, with mile-long legs and fingers and what looked like a strong, broad-shouldered upper body, although he was covered in two or three shirts and a jacket so it wasn't easy to tell about his build. The way he moved, still a little awkward and coltish, gave away his youth, but Dean had the overall impression of strength in the way the guy shrugged his shoulders and swung his arms, trying to belie an underlying physical prowess, maybe. The kid was used to his height, but aware of how it affected people; his hunched posture and sheepish expression were practiced attempts to disarm anyone who might feel threatened by this overgrown man-child.

And in the end, that's what gave him away. The kid was probably ripped under all those shirts, Dean decided. He was probably a god-damn body-builder. It was a bit of a wild guess, but given how carefully the boy was hiding his body, and the fact that he was out here seemingly by himself in the middle of the night...

Something wasn't right here.

"Hold it right there!" Dean had his Colt pulled and trained on the guy before either of them had a chance to second-guess the other.

"Woah, hey!" The kid raised his hands and took a step back, eyes going wide and fixed on the gun.

"What are you doing out here?" Dean demanded sternly.

"I live here," the kid stammered, eyes flicking up to meet Dean's, full of apprehension, then back down at the gun.

"In the woods?" Dean shook his head. "You live in the woods?"

"Yeah, right through there," the kid answered, tipping his head in the direction of the light Dean had noticed earlier, keeping his hands up.

"Alone? You live alone? All the way out here?"

In the moment before he answered, the kid hesitated, and Dean knew he was going to hear a lie.

"Yeah," the kid took a deep breath. "I mean, now I do. My mom – my mom died last year. Now it's just me."

"Are you human?" Dean growled, not backing down, sure the kid was hiding something.

"What? Am I – ? What?" the boy seemed appropriately confused by the question, but Dean needed to be sure.

"You heard me," he said. "There's something in these woods, something that's been taking people. It's got my dad. So I'm asking you, are you human?"

"Yeah," the kid said, frowning, uncertain, maybe just a tad too comfortable with the notion. "Yeah, I'm human. I'm Sam."

If the name threw him for a second, flooding Dean's mind with memories of heat and smoke and bone-crushing grief, plunging Dean momentarily back into that horrible night twenty-two years before, the night his mother and baby brother died, Dean didn't show it. There wasn't a day went by when Dean didn't think about them, wonder what his little brother would be like, if he'd lived.

Nothing like this tall, gangly man-boy with the warm, slanted eyes and stupid floppy hair, that's for damn sure. Not his Sam.

Dean shifted his feet, steadying the gun with one hand while he reached into his jacket with the other.

"Okay, Sam," he said softly. "Let's just test that theory. You with me? Hold still another minute..."

Before Sam could react, Dean flipped the lid on his flask of holy water and flung the contents single-handedly into the kid's face. Sam jumped back with a startled yelp, blinking his eyes open but keeping his hands raised, obviously fighting the urge to wipe his face.

"What was that?" he demanded, soft pink mouth agape. Holy water dripped from his eyelashes, his pointed nose, his cleft chin. He shook his head and his hair flopped in wet strands around his angular face, sticking to his high forehead. Damn, this kid was fuckin' adorable.

"Not a demon," Dean said by way of an answer, then pulled a small silver blade from the same pocket of his jacket. "Now, I need to cut you."

"The hell you do!" Sam huffed, his big body shaking a little as he breathed, whether from fear or simple indignation, Dean couldn't be sure.

"Need to be sure you're not a werewolf," Dean explained. "Or a shape-shifter."

"A what or a what?" Sam stared. "Are you kidding me? Or are you just as crazy as you are good-looking?"

Dean raised an eyebrow. "You think I'm good-looking?" Why the hell did it matter?

It mattered. Damn it, Dean, focus!

Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, like you haven't heard it before," he huffed, and Dean had to fight the grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"Are you flirting with me?" Dean suggested. "I think you're flirting with me." Again, why did it matter?

"Maybe I'm just trying to get you to put down the gun." Sam dipped his chin, looked up at Dean from under his bangs, and now Dean was sure that Sam was flirting with him. He was also sure the kid could see that the attraction was mutual.

"Just give me your damn arm," Dean growled. "Let's do this, then I'll put the gun down."

"No!" Sam shook his head, floppy hair flying everywhere. "I'm not letting you cut me! That's crazy!"

"We can stand here all night," Dean warned.

Sam frowned, then shifted his feet, squared his shoulders and jaw, put his hands down and folded his arms across his chest defiantly. "Fine," he said.

"Fine," Dean glared, widening his stance and squaring his own jaw. "You know, I could just shoot you, then cut you."

"No, you won't." Sam tipped his chin up stubbornly.

"I could," Dean insisted, and Sam shook his head.

"But you won't," he repeated. "If you were gonna shoot me, you would've done it already. Besides, you're still hoping I can help you find your dad."

"Can you?" Dean demanded. "Have you seen him?"

"Uh-uh," Sam shook his head. "Put the gun down first. And no cutting."

"No way," Dean shook his head. "And if you know where my dad is, you better tell me, or I'll – "

"You'll what?" Sam put his hands on his hips, shifted his feet. "You'll shoot me? When you haven't even figured out whether I'm human or not?"

"Are you?" Dean asked.

Suddenly, before Dean had a chance to react, Sam made a grab for the blade. Dean jumped back, but not before Sam managed to cut himself; Dean could feel the blade slicing into the meat of Sam's palm as he yanked the knife away, leaving Sam holding up his hand so Dean could see the thick, red blood oozing from the wound.

"There, okay?" Sam challenged. "That what you needed to see?"

Dean lowered his gun, flipped on the safety, and returned it to his waistband.

"Yeah," he nodded. "That's what I needed to see." He squinted up at Sam as he wiped the blade on his thigh, then returned it to his jacket pocket. "That was a fool move, there, kiddo. I could've really hurt you."

Sam shrugged as Dean pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket and handed it to Sam, watched as Sam wound the cloth around his hand.

"You got any disinfectant for that?" Dean asked, feeling more contrite than he probably should about hurting the boy.

Sam shrugged again. "Back at the cabin," he nodded his head toward the light. "You – you can come see where I live, if you want."

Something about the hopeful look on the kid's face, coupled with Dean's innate curiosity and – hell, why doesn't he just admit it to himself? Something about this kid just turned Dean way the hell on. Like every switch in the room had been flipped. And it wasn't just sexual, although yeah, Dean Junior had definitely been showing some serious interest ever since he first laid eyes on Sam. But it was more than that. There was something about this kid that made Dean feel alive, fired up, energy sparking through his veins like some kind of life force. When Sam looked at him, it was as if Dean mattered, as if Dean was someone important.

But that was just insane. Dean and Sam had just met; Sam barely knew him. Dean was just doing that thing he'd done all his life, looking for his dead baby brother in every kid he met.

And this wasn't him.

"Okay," Dean heard himself saying, just to watch the kid's face relax into the most blinding dimpled grin Dean had ever seen. "Let's get you cleaned up, then we'll see what's what."

Checking out the kid's house was part of the job, wasn't it? After all, the intel he'd already gathered said there was nobody living in these woods. They were haunted, folks said. The disappearances over the years had the local people spooked.

Which begged the question: "So where are you from, Sam? Originally, I mean."

They were in the cabin, a surprisingly homey little place with a fire burning cheerfully in the fireplace, a hunting rifle mounted above it, and a couple of armchairs with a braided rug on the floor in front of it. A comfortable-looking double bed was pushed against one wall, the kitchen area with a table and two chairs lined the opposite, and Dean could see a door next to the fireplace that probably led into a bathroom, or maybe a bedroom. Sam's mother's room, Dean guessed, unused now but left exactly the way it was before she died.

Morbid, Dean scolded himself. Poor kid.

Sam pulled a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a box of bandages out of a kitchen cupboard, then sat down at the table with a clean towel to dress his wound.

"Oh...around, I guess," Sam winced as he peeled the kerchief off his hand. The wound looked messy, deeper than Dean had thought at first as he watched Sam try to uncurl his fingers.

"Here, let me do it," Dean insisted, sliding into the chair across from the kid and grabbing his arm before Sam could so much as protest. Sam looked startled at the touch, like Dean had electrocuted him or something, and his eyes flew to Dean's face in alarm.

"Did you feel that?" he asked, eyes wide.

Dean was holding the kid's hand in his now, examining the wound, reaching for the clean towel to wipe away the blood. He barely looked up from his work as he answered.

"Feel what?"

But he had. He'd felt a little jolt of – something – pass between them when he touched Sam's arm. Static electricity, maybe. And now that they were skin-to-skin, with Sam's huge open hand lying in Dean's as he cleaned the wound carefully, there was this weird tingling sensation that moved from the point of contact up his arm to his shoulder and straight across his chest, up his neck –

"Who are you?" Sam asked nonsensically. "Do I know you?"

Exactly the words on the tip of Dean's tongue, but they didn't make sense, so he shook his head a little, kept working. "I don't think so." But yeah, it was a feeling of familiarity, this weird tingling thing, or deja vu, like Dean had done this before. Like Dean knew this kid.

"I feel like I know you," Sam echoed Dean's unspoken thoughts. "When you touched me – I had a flash of memory. Of you, doing this before. Patching me up after we – "

Sam looked up, confusion furrowing his brow, and Dean could feel him staring. Dean kept his eyes on his work, but he could feel Sam studying him, could feel him trying to figure something out. Then Sam turned his head, stared at the rifle over the fireplace, and Dean glanced up just to feast his eyes on the kid's mesmerizing profile, familiarity washing over him like homesickness. Exactly like homesickness.

Sam turned back, caught Dean's gaze, and held it. "You're a hunter," he stated flatly. "You hunt things. Things like werewolves and vampires. You're like a male model Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

How do you know that? Dean held Sam's gaze another moment before looking down at the kid's hand, tying off the gauze over the bandage. "I don't know what you're talking about," he lied, hiding his surprise at the kid's insight.

"Yes, you do," Sam protested irritably. "You and I are connected. We're supposed to be together. We're – " Sam squeezed his eyes shut suddenly, bent double with a cry of pain, his good hand pinching the bridge of his nose.

Dean didn't hesitate. He sank to his knees on the floor in front of the kid, hands on Sam's knees, his arms, peering up into Sam's face, murmuring softly, "Hey, hey. You okay? What's wrong?" before he even realized what he was doing. Sam was trembling with pain, his face scrunched as he squeezed the bridge of his nose, a thin trickle of blood sliding sluggishly out of one nostril.

"Jesus, kid, what is it?" Dean murmured, overwhelmed by the urge to comfort, to protect, to fix whatever was wrong with the most important person in his life – What the fuck?

Before he had time to think through his own response, to face how utterly weird it was to have such a strong emotional reaction to someone he barely knew, Sam's eyes flew open and he grabbed fistfuls of Dean's jacket, pulling him in and holding him with a gaze full of wonder and recognition.

"Dean," he breathed, good hand slipping up to cup Dean's face, eyes flicking back and forth between Dean's because they were so close. Dean felt his mouth fall open in shock as the feeling of familiarity and homesickness overwhelmed him, and Sam's gaze flicked down to follow the movement, his own lips parted and damp with spit.

Dean had never wanted to kiss someone so badly in all his life.

But he still had his wits about him. "How do you know my name?" he demanded roughly, pulling away an inch, so their mouths weren't quite so close. "What's going on here, Sam?"

"I don't know," Sam whined, tears squeezing out of the corners of his eyes. "My – my brother's name was Dean – "

"Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa," Dean jerked back like he'd been punched, and Sam's hands fell away. "I am not your fuckin' brother, okay? There is no possible way that could be true. My brother's dead! He died when he was a baby. I remember the fire!" He stood up swiftly, grabbed the towel off the table and handed it to Sam, gesturing at his nosebleed, which had stopped as quickly as it started.

Sam dabbed at the blood, then looked up at Dean, his face streaked with tears. "My mother pulled me out of the fire that killed my dad and my brother when I was a baby," he said.

"What?" Dean stared. "What are you talking about?"

Sam nodded. "She raised me to protect myself. To watch out for – "

"For what, Sam?" Dean was still staring, not believing what he was hearing.

Sam wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then directed his gaze up at Dean again, all youth and vulnerability, and Dean had to physically resist the urge to fall to his knees and gather the kid into his arms.

"Monsters," Sam finished. "Well, not real ones, obviously. Human monsters. She said they killed my dad and my brother. They would come for me too, and I had to be prepared."

Dean stared, opened his mouth, closed it again. "Oh, no, this is just nuts," he muttered finally. "This doesn't make any sense! You can't be – " He shook his head, tore his gaze away and stared around the cabin wildly, paced a few steps just to be moving, goddamn it, then turned back and scrubbed a hand over his face.

"You – you got a picture of your mom?" he asked, hating that his voice was shaking. Hell, his hand was shaking as he pointed it at Sam. This was just beyond insane.

Sam nodded dumbly and pointed toward the closed door next to the fireplace. "After she died, I put away everything in her room. All my pictures of her. They're in there."

It was her. Older, tougher-looking, with dyed black hair cropped short, looking grimly into the camera, one hand on young Sam's bony shoulder, the other clutching an army-issue duffel. In another picture she was holding a hunting rifle, the same one mounted over the fireplace in the living room. In another picture she was staring defiantly into the camera, quirk on one corner of her mouth the only indication that Sam was the photographer. There were a few blurry snapshots taken when she must've been younger, when Sam was a less experienced photographer; in every one she was wearing jeans or camouflage, in several she was holding weapons. She looked weary, hardened, nothing like the mother Dean remembered, the sweet, smiling woman who cuddled with him as she read him bed-time stories and cut the crusts off his peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. This Mary Winchester was one tough customer.

When he found the picture of himself at age two, perched on a prop counter-top between his proud, smiling parents, he almost lost it. He remembered the picture – not the day it was taken, but afterwards, because Mary kept it framed next to her bed. It was the only professional studio photograph of the little family, taken at a Sears Portrait Studio with a coupon from the Sunday paper. He remembered Mary smiling as he studied the picture one night after story-time.

"Where's Sam, Mommy? Where's Sam in this picture?" his four-year-old self had asked.

"He wasn't here yet," Mary answered. "Now that he is, we'll have to go back and take another one, won't we? A picture of the whole family. You and me and Sam and Daddy."

The photograph was lost the night of the fire, and Dean had forgotten all about it. Until now.

"That's the only picture she had of you," Sam said when Dean brought the photograph back into the living room, laid it down on the table. "She said it was the only one that survived the fire."

"I remember the fire," Dean said. "It started in the nursery. Dad said something evil did it. He said there were monsters in the world, real ones, and we had to hunt down the thing that killed our family. We had a responsibility to – to rid the world of as many monsters as we could, to stop that kind of evil from happening to another family."

Sam shook his head. "Mom told me that the bad men tried to kill us all that night, then set the fire to cover their tracks. She managed to escape with me, but we had to hide out here, where no one would find us. She was sure they would come after us, if they knew where we were. She was just trying to keep us safe."

"So you spent every day of the past twenty-two years in this cabin in the woods? Being safe?" Dean wasn't sure whether he wanted to be sick or if he was just plain shocked.

Sam huffed out a breath. "Hell, no," he grinned a little lopsidedly. Adorably. "I woulda gone crazy locked up in this place. I went to a boarding school for awhile in high school, then spent four years at Stanford University. Well, three, I guess, 'cause when Mom got sick I had to come home. She needed me. Now that she's gone, I just – I haven't had the heart to go back and finish my degree. I'm starting to wonder if I ever will."

"Huh." Dean sat down on the chair opposite Sam at the table. "You can't be my brother. This is some weird coincidence or something." He was staring down at the photograph of himself and his parents. "My dad would never lie about something like that. And I was there. I remember. I heard Mom scream. It woke me up, and there was smoke everywhere so I got up and went out into the hall and Dad grabbed me, picked me up and ran down the stairs and outside and the nursery just exploded. I dreamed about it every night for months afterwards. Sometimes I still do."

Sam was watching him with such empathy on his young face, his colorful eyes so soft, it made Dean's chest ache. "I always figured the bad men were mafia, or drug lords of some kind," he said. "Figured maybe her family was involved with something that got them killed. They killed her parents first, then when she married Dad she stayed off their radar for awhile, until they found us."

Dean gave a little shake of his head. "No way you're my brother," he said resolutely. "My mom would never leave me like that, just take off with my baby brother and never let us know. And my Dad's whole life has been based on getting revenge on the monsters that killed them. He's sure they died that night. There's a grave. Not that I can remember visiting it. There was probably a funeral, all that. I just don't remember."

"I buried her out back," Sam said softly. "She left instructions. She wanted to be buried on the grounds, so her spirit could watch out for me. So she could always keep watch on this place."

Dean winced. "You know, that's the way vengeful spirits operate," he said carefully. "Your mom could be one now, especially if she thinks something's coming for you."

Sam shook his head. "Mom would never hurt anybody," he insisted.

"Unless she thought something or someone was trying to hurt you," Dean persisted. "You said yourself she did everything she could to protect you, brought you here and taught you how to protect yourself – " He felt his eyes widen as the thought hit him. "She brought you here twenty-two years ago, right?"

Sam nodded.

"That's when the disappearances started," Dean continued. "Abandoned cars on the highway, folks apparently walking off into the woods, never showing up again – "

"Dean, there's no way Mom had anything to do with that," Sam shook his head. "Nobody ever comes here. You'd think I'd know if they had. You're our first visitor in twenty-two years."

"This house isn't even supposed to be here," Dean insisted. "It's not on any maps, or past police reports on the missing people, nothing."

"That's absurd," Sam huffed out a breath. "We've been here the whole time. We've got electricity, sewer, we pay taxes to the town. Mom buys groceries at the little Stop-n-Shop on the main road. Well, she did, I mean. The clerk there knows us. We've always kept to ourselves, but we're not total hermits. I went to the public school for a few years, after Mom decided it was safe enough. The town folk know us."

"I think I'd have found out if there was a Sam and Mary Winchester living in the woods near the spot on the highway I was investigating," Dean accused, frustration and doubt making his cheeks flush hot.

"Campbell," Sam frowned. "Our last name's Campbell."

"She must've changed it to keep anybody from finding you," Dean suggested, then shook his head sharply. "Why am I buying into this? In any way? There's just no way both our stories can be true. Somebody's lying."

Sam was staring at the photograph, eyes flicking back and forth as he struggled with a sudden idea, and Dean watched, waited, wanting to trust this kid with everything he had, even though he knew he probably shouldn't.

"Or maybe two realities have overlapped," Sam said finally. "Maybe both stories are true."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Dean glared.

"Well, there's a theory, or a lot of theories actually, that anything that can happen, will happen. That any choice we make has infinite possibilities. So all of those different outcomes exist simultaneously, in separate realities. And there's the possibility for overlap sometimes, for convergence between parallel realities. Something causes them to slip together for awhile, giving us a feeling of deja vu, a sense of familiarity. It's usually very brief, because the realities are similar but also completely different, so it only lasts a moment or two until the timelines diverge again and we go on with our lives."

Dean stared. "So you're saying I've somehow slipped into another reality? Yours?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm saying it's a theory," he answered.

"Well, that's just about the craziest – " Dean stopped himself, noticing for the first time the design-work in the wood of the door and window frames. "Sam, you said your Mom did everything she could to protect you."

Sam nodded.

"So maybe she knew how to ward against evil," Dean went on. "Maybe those designs are some kind of spell-work."

Sam's turned and looked at the woodwork, frowning. "You're saying my mother was a witch?" he scoffed doubtfully.

"No, no, just a person who knew a few things," Dean said. "White magic. Protection spells." He peered carefully at Sam's neck, at the leather string hanging around it, under his shirts. "She ever give you something to wear all the time? Man-jewelry? You know, like a special bracelet or something to wear around your neck? A ring, maybe?"

Sam touched the cord lying against his skin, pulled out a little brass horned-head amulet hanging from it so Dean could see.

"Just this," he said. "She gave it to me when I was eight. For Christmas. Just before I started school. She'd been homeschooling me up till then, but she decided to enroll me in the local public school cuz she said I was too smart for her." He smiled, lowered his eyes, and Dean watched as Sam's cheeks flushed. When he lifted his eyes again, they were covered with a film of tears. "It was my first time away from her, and she wanted me to have something to remind me of her, something I could have with me all the time. She said when I felt scared or homesick, I should wrap my hand around this and it would get warm because it was full of her love. It would give me strength." Sam looked up, blinking tears away, meeting Dean's eyes. "I've never taken it off since."

Dean swallowed, more moved than he cared to admit. He cleared his throat, tearing his eyes away from Sam's grief with difficulty, getting up to check out the carvings on the door and windows. Definitely spell-work, the designs themselves stained darker than the wood, as if they were sealed with...

Dean pulled his hand back before making contact with the wood, but he could feel it anyway. The air was buzzing with it, like an electrical charge.

"She warded this house using her own blood." Dean shook his head to clear it. "Maybe that's why I was able to come here, when all those other poor schmucks just...I don't know...winked out of existence or something."

"Because it's your blood too," Sam suggested. "Because we're brothers."

Dean turned and stared at Sam, unable to shake the intense attraction he felt for the kid no matter how he tried. An attraction that was inappropriate as all hell, as it turned out.

"I have to find my dad," Dean muttered, lowering his eyes, fighting the urge to grab Sam and never let him go.

"Let me come with you," Sam stood up, looming over Dean abruptly, practically twitching with energy and determination. "He's my dad, too. We can look for him together."

"No way," Dean shook his head. "What I do is too dangerous for civilians. I can't be worried about you all the time."

"I can fight," Sam protested. "Mom trained me. I can handle a gun. I'm good with knives."

Dean stared up into the kid's face, watched his jaw clench stubbornly. "How did Mom even know about those things?"

Sam shook his head. "I don't know, but she was good. She wanted me to be able to protect myself. Sent me to a military camp three summers in a row. I can shoot."

"I'll bet you can," Dean said, grin tugging at the corners of his mouth despite himself. His eyes swept down over Sam's tall frame, considering for the first time what it might be like to have a partner, someone younger, who looked up to him, who would follow his lead and trust him implicitly. Someone tall and strong and well-trained, who would have his back in a fight or a tight situation. Someone smart and used to doing research, who had the patience and the perseverance to study the lore and figure out the connections between clues on a case. Dean was frankly shocked at how right the whole idea felt. Like it was the way things were supposed to be. Like the decision had already been made.

Sam was watching him, slanted eyes all dewy and hopeful, pink lips soft and slightly parted, and Dean's eyes dropped to Sam's mouth as the tip of his tongue peeked out between his teeth.

"I feel like I'm supposed to say yes," Dean suggested, raising his eyes to Sam's. "Then I'm supposed to kiss you."

Sam's eyes softened and his lips turned up, dimples and teeth showing, cheeks flushing pink.

"Technically, we're not really brothers," Sam said softly. "My brother died. So did yours."

Dean's eyes dropped to Sam's mouth again, watching it move as Sam spoke the words, made them sound like a pretty damned explicit invitation. He swallowed, licked his lips, knew Sam was watching, felt him lean closer, his good hand coming up to hold Dean's chin. At the last possible moment, and with no small amount of reluctance, Dean took Sam's hand away, held it longer than necessary as he shook his head, finding it hard to look Sam in the eye.

"I need to find my dad," Dean muttered. "He's all I've got. He's counting on me."

Sam let out a long sigh, and he was standing so close Dean could feel it, the soft brush of Sam's breath on his cheek. It occurred to Dean, not for the first time, that this whole thing was some kind of enchantment, designed to keep him distracted.

No enchantment could be so perfect. No monster could know Dean's heart so well.

"Come on," Dean tugged on the kid's hand, then released it slowly, letting his fingers drag along Sam's skin, keeping contact till the last possible moment. "I need to test this theory of yours, Einstein. Need to make sure my baby's still up on the road."

The fire had burned low in the time they'd been in the house, and when Sam switched off the overhead light the room was cast in long, dark shadows, the only light coming from the glowing embers in the fireplace. In the doorway Sam paused, looking back at the room as if for the last time while Dean reached into his jacket for his flashlight. Without the light from the house windows, and given the late hour, the darkness of the forest seemed impenetrable, oppressive. He turned back just in time to catch Sam grabbing the photograph off the table, slipping it into his jacket pocket.

"Okay, I'm ready." Sam took a deep breath, squaring his shoulders stoically.

"Hey, man, it's not like this place is gonna disappear as soon as we leave," Dean bluffed, feeling the need to reassure the kid even though he wasn't at all convinced he believed what he was saying. "You'll be back."

Sam gave a stiff nod, lips pressed tight, closing the door behind them with a firm click. As Dean turned to lead the way up the path toward the road, he felt Sam's hand slip into his, lacing their fingers together, and he allowed it, squeezing Sam's fingers to allay the doubts he couldn't quite shake.

"Just in case," Sam murmured.

Dean nodded, relishing the physical contact more than he dared to admit. Sam had just lost his mother, had never known any other family; suddenly finding a brother from another dimension, however impossibly, must seem like some kind of recompense for the loneliness and isolation of his existence. No wonder he didn't want to let Dean go. And Dean was starting to think there wasn't any way he would let Sam go, either, now that he'd found him. Not if he could help it.


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