"My mom sold this car years ago," he said. "How did you – ?"
"It's mine now," Dean said, letting Sam's hand go so he could pat the roof, put his flashlight away. "When Dad bought his truck, he gave me the keys for my twenty-first birthday. She's a beaut, ain't she?"
"She sure is," Sam agreed, sliding his hand along the roof and down the edge of the windshield before grasping the handle of the passenger door. "But I don't understand. How can this be here? Did we slip back into your time-stream somewhere between here and the house?"
Dean shrugged, already slipping into the driver's seat, patting the dash. "Don't know, don't care," he admitted, checking the glove compartment, under the seat for his tape box. Everything was right where he'd left it. He peered up at Sam, who was standing with his hand still on the handle of the passenger door, glancing back over his shoulder toward the woods from which they'd just come. "You comin'?"
Sam hesitated another moment, then shook his head. "I shouldn't be here," he said. "This isn't my timeline."
"Get in the car, Sam," Dean ordered, and Sam reluctantly obeyed, much to Dean's relief. Maybe he was naturally good at being a big brother, whether he'd had a lifetime of practice or not. The car immediately smelled different, smelled like Sam. It was a sweaty, salty, earthy smell that Dean was suddenly sure he'd been missing all his life.
"Where are we going?" Sam asked as Dean started the car, the Impala's engine roaring to life more easily than usual, as if she'd been waiting for Sam, too, and now that he was here, the car could finally give her top performance.
"Back to the motel," Dean answered as he pulled onto the highway, back toward town. "I've got all our research there. I need to see if Dad checked in."
Dean glanced at Sam's profile, unable to shake the feeling of familiarity, of rightness, that his presence gave him. Dean was already feeling more confident, more sure of himself than he'd ever felt in his life.
"One step at a time, Sammy, one step at a time."
Dean was aware of Sam turning to stare at him, tilting his head and frowning uncertainly.
"What did you just call me?" he asked.
"Sammy," Dean answered with a quizzical glance at Sam's intense stare. "That's your name, i'n't it?"
Sam shook his head. "My mom's the only one who calls me that," he said softly. "I mean, she did call me that. She was the only one who did."
Dean shifted awkwardly in his seat, clutching the steering wheel. He took a deep breath full of Sam, reveling in his increasing feeling of relief, of gratitude that Sam was here.
"Hey, sorry, man," he mumbled, not really sorry at all. "It just felt right, is all."
"Yeah," Sam breathed, confusion furrowing his brow. "Yeah, it did."
They drove in silence the rest of the way, and Dean sensed Sam's anxiety, could see it in the tense set of his shoulders and the way he braced himself on the dash with his good hand. The little frown between Sam's eyes deepened as they neared town, and Dean could almost feel his confusion, his fear that all of this was some kind of dream, that he would wake up in that lonely cabin in the woods any minute now, bereft and missing more than just his mom.
"Hey," Dean spoke up finally when he just couldn't stand it anymore, needing to offer the kid some kind of comfort if it killed him. "It's gonna be fine. You'll see. I'm here now, and I ain't goin' anywhere." It sounded weird, even to his ears, like he was reminding Sam that he'd been rescued, that Dean had swept in like a knight on a black horse and hauled his ass out of that crazy, haunted world and back into Dean's reality, which is exactly what had happened, at least from Dean's point of view.
Dean's words had the desired effect, however; Sam visibly relaxed, the little frown smoothing out and giving way to a slight smile, a brief glance that conveyed Sam's gratitude, his relief at being rescued, if that's what this was.
"Soon as we get back to the motel, you're getting some sleep," Dean instructed, surprising himself again with his need to care for the kid, at the ease with which he took charge. "We'll come back in the morning, when it's daylight, and check out the area where your house is. Figure out what's going on."
"Yeah, okay," Sam nodded, falling easily into the role of little brother, following Dean's lead like it was the most natural thing in the world. He gazed out the window as the lights of the town came into view, and as Dean slowed the car at the town limits Sam stared at the buildings as if he was seeing them for the first time.
"That old gas station shut down years ago," he said as they rolled past the tiny two-pumps-with-a-garage business, quiet and lifeless at this hour, but with its lights still on.
"That place burned to the ground last year," Sam noted as they passed a hardware store a block further down. "The paint and cleaning fluid in there went off like a bomb. The whole block caught fire, would've been a total loss if we didn't all get in there and help put it out. Nearest fire station's twenty miles south, in Putnam.
"My first girl-friend waits tables there," Sam went on as they passed the diner before the motel, and Dean shot a glance at Sam's profile. He ate in that diner just yesterday, and the waitress was at least fifty. Nevertheless, Sam's words send a little adrenaline rush of something surprisingly akin to jealousy through Dean's body, and he felt his cheeks flush hot as he pulled into the motel parking lot.
"You hungry?" Dean asked as he unlocked the door to the room, led the way inside, gestured at the box of half-eaten pizza on the table. The lamp between the beds was still lit, and Dean could see his dad's bed hadn't been slept in. He shrugged his jacket off and dropped it on the other bed, turning to Sam expectantly.
Sam stood in the open doorway, staring, and it took Dean a minute to realize how strange the scene must appear from an outsider's point of view. Photocopied newspaper clippings were taped and tacked to the wall over the table, the table itself littered with more papers and a map, along with the pizza and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. The floor was covered with dirty socks and underwear, along with a pair of jeans that Dean had shucked before crashing on the bed the night before.
"What?" Dean demanded, immediately defensive. "We're in the middle of a case, what can I say?" He huffed out a nervous laugh. "Dad and I are a couple of bachelors, after all. It's not like I had a mom doing my laundry, growing up."
Sam shook his head. "No, that's not it," he said. "You – you and your dad are like – this is like you're some kind of x-files investigators, or something."
"Hunters," Dean corrected. "Remember? This is what we do. We hunt down monsters and end them. We investigate reports of supernatural activity, and we try to stop it. That's our job."
"I thought your job was to find out what happened to Mom and me," Sam said, and Dean nodded.
"Yeah, well, that's the final goal, but in the meantime we put down evil. Stop bad things from happening." Dean grabbed his duffel off the bed, scrounged inside it until he pulled out a flip-phone, checked it for messages. Nothing. Found his third phone, checked it. Still nothing. "Come on, you can have my bed."
"Where are you going?" Sam demanded, glancing at the bed with a sudden flush in his cheeks, then back at Dean.
"Just gonna go out for some smokes," Dean grabbed his jacket. Suddenly, being in the little room alone with Sam and all his miles of legs and tan skin just didn't seem like such a good idea after all. Or maybe it just seemed like too much of a good idea. Whichever, Dean suddenly needed to move, goddamn it.
"You smoke?" Sam squeaked, accusing, making Dean feel warm and worried about, which was new.
"Yeah, so?" Dean shrugged. "It's not like I'm gonna live long enough to get lung cancer."
"I'll come with you," Sam insisted, and Dean shrugged again.
In the convenience store, Sam recognized the clerk.
"Hey, Doug, how's it going? How's your mom?"
The guy looked at Sam uncomfortably for a moment, then asked, "Do I know you?"
Sam blinked in surprise. "Yeah, man," he answered. "We went to school together. My mom used to buy eggs from your mom. I come in here like once a week for milk....?" He gave up as the guy continued to look worried, flicking his eyes back and forth between Sam and Dean without making eye contact, obviously stressing that maybe they were here to rob him.
"Camel filters," Dean interrupted, pulling bills from his wallet. "And a large coffee. Black. You want anything?" He raised an eyebrow at Sam, who shook his head, then laid the bills on the counter. The clerk visibly relaxed, back in familiar territory.
"Coffee's back there," he nodded toward the back of the store as he rang up Dean's order and laid the cigarettes on the counter. "I just brewed the first pot this morning."
"Great timing." Dean gave the clerk a small smile as he took his change and pocketed the cigarettes, and Doug smiled back tentatively. He shot a nervous glance at Sam, and Dean could feel him watching them as they walked to the back of the store to fill Dean's coffee cup. Sam was frowning, clearly pretty freaked.
"I really do know that guy," Sam protested weakly.
"Don't worry about it," Dean said as he poured the coffee, then rummaged around until he found the right-sized plastic lid.
"Hey, Dean, if I really have crossed over to your reality, we could have a problem," Sam announced as they left the store and Dean stopped to light up.
"Yeah? What's the problem?" Dean asked as he took a long drag, letting the familiar rush of nicotine flood his system, taking the edge off his mounting anxiety.
"My being here upsets the balance between time streams," Sam said. "At least from what I've read. I can't stay here long."
"What d'ya mean?" Dean peered at him as he blew smoke in the other direction. "Why not?" The idea of Sam being a permanent companion, a fellow hunter-in-arms, someone who would always be there with him – Dean didn't even want to admit how much that idea had already grown on him, made him happier than he'd been in years. Hell, maybe forever. So the notion that it couldn't last – well, okay, that did sound more like the kind of luck Dean was used to, come to think of it.
"It's just not the way the universe works," Sam shrugged. "I'm not supposed to be here. I have to go back."
"Or what? You'll suddenly wink out of existence? Like all those poor folks who walked into the woods by your house over the years? Like – " Like Dad, he almost said but couldn't. Just couldn't. Not thinking that.
"I don't know," Sam answered. "I just know I have to go back. The longer I stay, the more out of balance the universe becomes; the bigger the rift. At least that's the theory. Things start to unravel."
So let 'em unravel, Dean thought. Let the whole damn thing fall apart, as long as Sam can stay.
"Huh," he said out loud, taking a last drag on his cigarette, staring out at the sliver of light on the eastern horizon as the darkness inside him slipped icy fingers around his heart and squeezed. "So how long have we got? Before you disappear on me, I mean."
Sam looked out at the horizon, squinting a little, then shook his head. "I don't know," he answered. "A few hours? A day? Probably not much longer than that."
Dean shook his head. "There's gotta be another way," he muttered, heading back to the motel with Sam at his heels. There's gotta be a way to keep you with me, he couldn't quite say. "I gotta call Bobby."
"You do know what time it is," Bobby barked when he finally picked up the phone. He was grumpier than usual when Dean explained what had happened, how he'd lost his dad but found his brother, and now it looked like he was going to lose both of them if he didn't figure out a way to reverse the spell or whatever was causing all the disappearances and time-stream overlapping in the first place.
"Sounds like the kid's mother bound the whole area with some kind of protection spell, all right," Bobby agreed. "I've never heard of something that can transport intruders into alternate universes, though. Something that powerful requires a lot of energy. Probably all focused around that house. You see any other markings? On the trees, maybe?"
"Yeah." Dean shuffled the papers on the table, looking for photographs of the sigils found carved into tree-trunks in the area of the disappearances. When he found what he was looking for he spread the pictures on top of the pile.
"You seen these before?" he asked Sam, who suddenly hovered behind him, looking over his shoulder. Sam's heat, his breath, the brush of his arm as he reached around Dean to move one of the sheets of paper, orienting it at a forty-five degree angle, made Dean's whole body tremble. He took a sip of his coffee to steady himself. Embarrassing, was what it was. Like he was in fuckin' high school again.
"That design is in my house," Sam said. "It's on the woodwork over our door."
"Uh-huh," Dean agreed. "And how about this one?"
Sam nodded again.
"You hear that, Bobby?"
"Dean, that kid has to go back," Bobby warned him. "You have to reverse the spell that brought him here."
"Yeah, I already got the memo," Dean sighed, sudden weariness threatening to overtake him despite the nicotine and caffeine he was pumping into his body. "You think if I can do that, Dad will come back?"
"It's worth a shot," Bobby acknowledged. "You'll need to use your blood for the spell. That's what binds it. Do it in the place your dad disappeared, where all that blood-bound spell-work is. Where the house is in that other time-stream. That's the focal point for all the power."
"Jesus, Bobby, I'm not a goddamn witch!" Dean groused, seriously hating the way this plan sounded.
"Maybe not, but it's your mother in that other universe who created this thing," Bobby reminded him. "It's her blood. And her blood flows in your veins, so if anyone can reverse it..."
"And Dad's blood-bound to me," Dean nodded. "I get that part. It's just so fuckin' weird. To think it's my family started this thing. So now I gotta stop it."
"You're kinda the only one who can, Dean," Bobby grunted. "Okay, listen. I'll find a spell you can use. Call me back in a couple of hours."
"Thanks, Bobby," Dean smiled grimly. "I owe you."
"You can thank me when it works," Bobby said. "Not that I'm dying to see that selfish son-of-a-bitch father of yours again, in this life or the next."
"Oh I know," Dean grimaced. "Thanks again."
When Dean flipped the phone closed and looked up at Sam, his brother was watching him, had been for some time.
"What? I got a booger hanging outta my nose?"
Sam blushed, lowered his eyes, big grin making his dimples and teeth show. "No," he sighed. "I was just – " He raised his eyes again, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling with a film of tears. "I was just trying to memorize your face. So I don't forget you."
"Well, that's morbid as all hell," Dean grumbled.
"Dean, if we're successful in sending me back, you and I will never see each other again." Sam's jaw was working like he was fighting down a lump in his throat.
"If this works, you may not even remember you had a brother," Dean tried for a shrug, failed. Sam's eyes welled with tears then, and something in Dean just could not stand that. Couldn't stand being the cause of his kid brother's misery.
"Come on, Sam, it's not that bad," Dean gave Sam's shoulder a playful shove, then pushed in close and grabbed the lapels of his jacket, giving Sam a cocky grin. "You won't even know what you're missing."
"Dean – " Sam kept his head down, his eyes lowered, but Dean could see the tears on the tips of his eyelashes, heard the choking moan in his voice. "All my life, I knew something was missing. I missed you, and I didn't even know it. Till I saw you in the woods..."
"Sam." Dean couldn't keep the lump from rising in his own throat, couldn't seem to manage another word. They stood like that for another minute, breathing each other's air, and Dean was vaguely aware of how unbrotherly it was to be standing flush against Sam's body, holding him there, soaking in his heat, wanting and ignoring the ache in his groin because it matched the ache in his heart. He felt Sam suck in a breath, felt it against his chest like it was his own body doing it, knowing Sam was breathing him in because he wanted to do the same thing, just fill his lungs with Sam's essence. He was dizzy with it, losing himself in Sam till he wasn't sure where his own body ended and Sam's began, was quickly forgetting why kissing your brother wasn't right, how there could ever be anything wrong with crawling under Sam's clothes, under his skin, just to drown in everything Sam.
Dean wasn't sure when he'd raised his face, started nosing into Sam's jaw; he'd closed his eyes, the better to draw Sam's intoxicating scent into his body, and Sam's breath hitched as Dean's lips brushed his pulse point, sandpaper stubble rough against his mouth. Sam's heart-rate was speeding up, he was exhaling in short panting breaths, his hands on Dean's shoulders, holding him steady. Dean pressed his lips against the warm flesh at the juncture of Sam's neck and shoulder, the taste of Sam's skin exploding along his tongue, his nose buried in Sam's sweat-soaked throat, Sam's hair tickling his cheek. He rested there for what seemed like an eternity, hoping against everything that he could stay there forever, buried in Sam, never having another rational thought as long as he lived.
Sam's arms had slipped around him at some point; Dean's hands had slipped down to Sam's waist, and their bodies were pressed so close that Dean could feel Sam's hard length pressed into his belly, knew Sam could feel his erection too, not that there could ever be any doubt about how much they wanted each other. Duh. They were two young, healthy, virile American males, always ready for sex. Didn't mean anything.
This was more than that. Or that, too, but not just that.
How could it mean so much, having this man in his arms? How did his body and his heart know so much better than his head that this beautiful boy was his? But of course, Dean didn't deserve this. Never had. This – this perfection had been lost to him twenty-two years ago. He had lost it when that baby died. It was his fault the baby died. If he'd woken up earlier, if he'd gone into that hallway a minute or two sooner, he could've saved the baby. He could've saved his little brother. But he didn't. He failed. His baby boy died. He couldn't have him. Not then, and definitely not now. This was just some sick punishment, designed to remind him of his failure...
"Dean." Sam's lips against his ear brought him back into the moment, made him realize he was crying, trembling in Sam's arms. Losing it. "Dean, hey."
And with a monumental effort to hold to a moral high-ground that Dean didn't even believe in anymore – why the hell shouldn't he give in to the need to collapse on the bed with Sam right now? – Dean pushed back, chuckling nervously, wiping his eyes with his sleeve, unable to meet Sam's eyes.
"Yeah, hey. How about some chow? The diner's open for breakfast by now. We've got at least an hour before I gotta call Bobby again."
Dean still had his eyes lowered, so he didn't see the flash of disappointment in Sam's face, but he felt it when Sam stepped close again, voice low and velvety smooth. "Or we could stay here," he suggested softly. "Make some memories neither of us will ever forget."
Dean chuckled low in his throat, didn't back down but didn't look up either, knowing the look he'd see in Sam's eyes if he did, half-afraid he couldn't resist it. "You're talking to an old con man here, brother," he said. "I've heard every end-of-the-world line in the book. Used most of them at least once. And that one was – that one." He raised his eyes, cocky grin firmly in place, read the hurt and disappointment in Sam's face. He had to tilt his head back a little because Sam was standing so close.
"Yeah, no way I'm having a goddamn one-night stand with my own brother, man," he growled, going for tough, lowering his eyes again. "I may be broken, but I ain't stupid. Well, not that stupid, anyway." He glanced up, and of course there were goddamn tears in the kid's eyes again, so he took a deep breath, said the first thing that came to mind. "That's not the way it is between us, Sam, you hear me? If we were gonna have a lifetime together, that's one thing. But I don't want to leave you with some half-cocked quickie to remember me by. You deserve better than that." You're worth so much more than that, he finished silently.
Sam stared miserably another moment, all tear-filled unhappy longing and pink cheeks, and Dean stared back, willing him to get it, relieved when Sam finally nodded once, lowered his eyes, jaw working as he stepped back.
"Me too," he said, sucking in a long, shaky breath, like he was agreeing to something more intimate, something even more profound than what Dean had been able to say out loud. "Me too, Dean."
"Now come on," Dean clapped a hand onto Sam's shoulder. "The blueberry pancakes at this diner are to die for."
Sam winced a little at Dean's word choice, Dean raised an eyebrow and shrugged, and the next hour passed companionably, the brothers knocking knees under the diner table, Sam staring in shock at the waitress, who was obviously not his old girlfriend. Dean tried not to think about how easy things were between them, how good it felt to share a simple meal with this man whose presence felt so familiar, so right. He tried hard not to think about how different his life would have been if Sam had always been there, how much less lonely and desperate for companionship he might've been. How many fewer one-night stands might have happened, how many fewer stupid risks he might have taken, how less crappy everything might've seemed in general, if he'd had someone to share it with. He watched Sam eat, smile, and talk, and imagined him little, imagined him as a teenager, was flooded with pride at the man he'd become, even though he'd had nothing to do with it. Mom had done good, she'd done right by Sam. She'd kept him safe, encouraged him to have as close to a normal life as possible, given their situation as permanent fugitives from god-only-knew-what in their world. Maybe she knew a thing or two about hunting – Dean was fairly convinced she knew something, given the intricacy of the spell-work he'd seen – but she'd kept the monsters at bay, protected Sam from all the supernatural creeps, armed him well against the human ones. Sam's life was good, Dean decided. He'd turned out fine without Dean.
"Hey, uh, if this works?" Dean said when they'd finished their meal and were sipping their coffee as they waited for the waitress to return with their change. "If this works and you get back, you need to go back and finish that degree, y'hear me? I'm pretty sure that's what Mom would want."
Sam took a deep breath, let it out slowly, nodded. "I know," he agreed. He let his thumb run along the rim of the cup as Dean watched.
"You get that degree, get a good job, find a girl," Dean went on, feeling a little piece of himself breaking into sharp edges as he spoke. "Settle down someplace safe, someplace far away from here. Whatever it was that came after your family, it's long gone by now. As far as I can see, you're free to live your life. So – if we get you back there, that's what you need to do. Your big brother says so."
Dean saw the flash of doubt in Sam's eyes, watched in fascination as Sam buried it, nodded stiffly. "You're right," he said. "Yeah. I'll do that."
"What?" Dean pressed. "Is there something I'm missing here? Something you're not telling me?"
"Naw, it's fine," Sam shook his head sharply. "It's nothing."
"Again, you're talking to an old con man here, Sammy," Dean reminded him. "I can tell when somebody's lying to me. I'm pretty damn good at it, in fact."
Sam sighed, thumb rubbing back and forth along the cup rim. "It's these headaches I keep having," he confessed. "Like in the cabin before. I have these dreams. Then sometimes I have these intense headaches, like you saw me having before, with these – these visions. Nosebleeds."
"Yeah, almost forgot about that," Dean admitted.
"That's weird, right?" Sam asked, looking up at Dean hopefully, like Dean would know how to fix it. "I mean, that's not normal. It's something that isn't supposed to happen to normal people."
Dean frowned. Damn it.
"I don't know," he hedged. "There's that woman they based the t.v. show on, the one with Patricia Arquette. She's the real deal, isn't she? A real – psychic, or whatever. Maybe you're just one of those."
But Dean knew better. It was too much of a coincidence, Sam having visions, despite being raised without knowledge of the supernatural world. That couldn't just happen for no reason. Not in Dean's experience. Not to mention the magic Bermuda Triangle in the woods around Sam's house...
Sam was shaking his head. "I don't know, Dean," he said doubtfully. "I never had psychic abilities before my mom died. It's like her death triggered it."
Or maybe her life protected you from it, Dean thought unhelpfully, since there really wasn't time for them to figure this out, and they both knew it.
"I'm sure it's nothing supernatural," Dean said with as much conviction as he could muster. "Maybe it's something medical, though, so you probably oughta get it checked out by a doctor. If we had time – "
Sam nodded, his face still screwed up in that adorable doubtful expression that made Dean want to –
Never mind. Not happening. Not in this life, anyway.
At the appointed hour, Dean called Bobby. The spell needed a few herbal ingredients, nothing they couldn't collect from the local pharmacy and the little grocery store on the edge of town. Within the hour they were on the road back to the scene of their meeting, having decided that was as good a place as any to perform the spell. Dean drew the circle with the designated sigil in the dirt and they both stepped inside it, adding their blood as a final ingredient to the mixture in the little silver bowl on the ground at their feet. Just before Dean dropped a lit match into the bowl but after he'd said the words of the spell, Sam slipped his bandaged hand behind Dean's neck and leaned in. The kiss was over before Dean could react, leaving Dean's mouth tingling and warm, leaving him wanting so much more.
"Just in case," Sam breathed as he released Dean and leaned back. Dean's eyes flicked down to Sam's mouth, mesmerized by the slick shine of his lips as his tongue swiped along the lower one, tasting Dean there. Dean nodded, speechless, struggling to fight the lust and need and sheer power of his feelings for Sam, this brother he'd barely known who was now about to leave him for good, if they were successful.
Fuck his life.
Dean struck the match, watched as the flame flared to life, dropping it into the bowl before glancing back up at Sam, needing to see him if it was last thing he ever did.
The bowl exploded. Or at least Dean figured that's what must've happened, because one minute he was looking at Sam, who was staring back at him with his mouth open and a little crease of worry on his brow, and the next Dean was lying flat on his back in the dirt, pine needles sticking through the back of his shirt, head pounding. The sun was still high in the sky, and the light through the trees was pretty much the same, so Dean knew he hadn't been out for long, but his body was stiff, like he'd hit the ground hard and had been lying on it for awhile. His arm itched where he'd drawn blood earlier, and his lips tingled like they'd been rubbed raw with sandpaper.
Sam had kissed him.
Dean pushed up on his elbows, ignoring his pounding headache, needing to evaluate the situation – Hell, who was he fooling? He needed to see if Sam was okay, if he was still here.
Sam lay on his back about six feet away, unconscious. The bowl was gone, but Dean thought he could see residue from its contents scattered around the site. Both brothers had apparently been blown clear of the spell circle, and whatever had caused that had also cleared the sigil Dean had drawn. Nothing else seemed out of place.
Outwardly, anyway. Inside Dean's head, things were a little scrambled. No, make that really fuckin' messed up. His memories were all wrong, for one thing. He seemed to have two separate memories of pretty much everything up to the point where he first walked into these woods six hours ago. His life, the one where he and Sam were raised by their dad after their mom died, and the other guy's life, the one where Sam and his mom died when Sam was a baby, and it was just Dean and his dad for the past twenty-two years.
Dean put his hand up to his chest to find the little amulet hanging by its leather string, the amulet Sam had given him when they were kids. The relief Dean felt as his hand closed around the familiar weight was almost too much; he could feel the memories of that other life receding under the sheer palpability of the little brass talisman.
But where were his memories of the past six hours? He remembered stopping by the side of the road, he and Sam climbing down the bank into the woods, sticking together rather than separating because they knew that was the smart thing to do – Then nothing. Well, not completely nothing. Dean could remember like it was some kind of dream living that other life, meeting Sam as if he was a complete stranger, going into his house, the house he shared with their mother...
Sam's low moan sent Dean scampering over the ground to his brother's side, smoothing the hair back from his sweat-damp forehead, pressing the fingers of his other hand against Sam's throat, finding his pulse easily from years of practice. Sam's skin felt warm and smooth, damp with sweat as usual, the most familiar thing in Dean's life. Not exotic, not strange, not unusually attractive –
Sam kissed him.
Dean pushed that memory down, far down, under all the other memories of their long life together – Sam as a baby, Dean struggling to lift him as he wiggled to toddle free, Dean cleaning Sam off after he fell in the mud. Tying his shoes on the first day of school. Squatting down so Sam could climb on his back, so Dean could carry him piggy-back through the woods as they followed their dad, always moving, always going somewhere, never settling down or staying in one place more than a month or two. Years and years like that, mostly on their own, always together.
Nothing like the bone-crushing loneliness of that other life, those other memories; that Dean had sought comfort and companionship wherever he could get it, had grown into a bruised and broken version of himself. Well, more bruised and broken, anyway. Throwing himself at strangers had provided only temporary relief from the grief-soaked misery of that existence. In Dean's real life, he'd had a taste of that in the years Sam was at Stanford, and that had been more than enough. Getting Sam back had been everything, the possibility of losing him again had been a source of continual anxiety in the couple of months since Jessica's death.
Sam had kissed him.
No, not gonna think about that. That was some kind of weird dream, or spell-induced hallucination. It hadn't really happened, no matter how tingly his lips felt. That was just some residual effect of the dream. It had to be.
"Dean?" Sam's eyes were fluttering open, and Dean only had a moment to consider whether it was possible for two people to share the same hallucination because Sam was gasping, sitting up and grabbing onto him, pulling him in for a bone-crushing hug that went on and on. "Oh my God! You're still here! Oh thank God!"
Dean was off-balance, on his knees in the dirt with Sam wrapped around him like some kind of gigantic tree-monster, limbs everywhere, mouth pressed against Dean's ear, and Dean let it happen for awhile because yeah – a part of him had believed he'd never see Sam again, which was beyond awful. But that was confusing, because of course Sam was there the whole time, right? Those memories weren't real.
Sam was pulling back, finally, still holding Dean's shoulders, frowning at Dean and squinting like he was trying to see through him, trying to see someone else behind the familiar features. Which meant maybe Sam's memories were weird, too.
Not thinking about that.
"What – what happened?" Sam stammered, pulling his gaze away slowly, like he was reluctant to let Dean out of his sight, like he might disappear any moment. Dean watched as Sam took in the scene, still holding onto Dean, eyes flicking back and forth and brow knitting in concentration.
"What do you remember?" Dean asked. Not putting words in his mouth, no sir.
Sam looked thoughtful for a moment, then took one hand off Dean so he could touch his own neck, and Dean knew what he was thinking, especially when Sam's gaze fell on Dean's chest, at the amulet swinging there on its cord.
"I gave that to you for Christmas when I was eight," Sam said, and Dean nodded.
"That's right," he agreed.
Sam looked up, squinting at the sky. "How long was I out?"
Okay, we can play it this way. At least for now.
"A few hours, I think," Dean hedged. "How do you feel?"
"Like shit," Sam acknowledged, rolling his shoulders. "Like I hit the ground hard and I've been lying here for hours." He rubbed his neck with the hand not still holding onto Dean. "What happened?" he asked again.
Dean pulled away, backed onto his feet so he could push himself to standing, then stuck a hand out so Sam could pull himself up, ignoring the little thrill of sensation underlying the normal feel of Sam's skin. He wondered vaguely if it'd always felt this way, touching Sam, and he was suddenly sure that it had, but something had changed.
"I guess we got whacked by whatever spell or curse hangs over this place," Dean suggested, noncommittal, not meeting Sam's eyes. "Guess it's a good thing we're both still here."
"So – we didn't just spend the last few hours trying to reverse the spell?" Sam frowned. "'Cuz I've got these weird memories – "
"No!" Dean cut him off sharply. "That's not what happened. No weird memories. We came here to investigate the area, got blasted, knocked out, end of story. Let's go."
"But don't you think we still need to investigate the area? Find out what happened to those other people?" Sam was circling the little clearing, searching for clues.
Dean shook his head, checking his pockets to be sure everything was where it was supposed to be. He pulled out his car keys and dangled them in front of Sam's face. "Nope. I think we need to cut our losses and get the hell outta here," he said firmly. "You can't solve 'em all, Sammy, and this one is just one of those weird ones that got away. Really weird."
"What happened to 'Weird is what we do?'" Sam protested as Dean turned away, leading the way back up the hill toward the road.
"Yeah, well, this ain't the kind of weird we do do," Dean growled, then snickered. "Do do. Heh."
"But the house – I think there's a house back there," Sam protested, but at least he was following Dean.
"Nope," Dean shook his head as he climbed the bank onto the road. "There's nothing, remember? We checked the maps back at the motel before we got here." Damn, his head hurt. But at least his memory wasn't so foggy now. He just had to pretend the last six hours hadn't happened, that's all. It was was all some kind of freaky dream...
Because it hadn't. There wasn't a house in those woods. There wasn't a gorgeous young stranger who turned out to be his long-lost brother, and there wasn't a kiss. Nope, nope, nope.
Dean's baby was just where he'd left her. As he slid into the driver's side, he checked under his seat for his gun, found it where he'd left it, and tried not to think about the fact that he'd taken it with him into those woods six hours ago. Weird, but nothing he couldn't forget about. Sam's stare, however, was a little harder to ignore, especially because he knew Sam remembered that he was packing when they investigated the woods – together – last night. Sam didn't say anything, though, just frowned and stared at him for awhile as he started the car, pulled onto the road back toward town.
They drove in silence for a full minute before Sam spoke.
"She was beautiful, Dean," he said. "She was brave and strong and good. She could do anything; hunt and trap and fish, dig a garden, patch a roof. She was tough. She'd been through a lot, but she never let it affect her basic belief that people could be good. You're a lot like her."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Dean growled, fighting the urge to give in, to just admit to Sam that he knew exactly what he was talking about.
"Yes, you do." Sam was a stubborn little bitch, Dean'd give him that. Sam held up his hand, and damn it if there wasn't a bandage there, just like the one in Dean's dream. "It happened," Sam went on. "You may chose to deny it, and I get that, but it did happen. It wasn't just a dream, or whatever you think it was."
"So you cut your hand," Dean shrugged. "Happens all the time."
"I'm betting there's a little slice on your forearm, too," Sam suggested. "You used your blood to work the spell."
Dean clenched his jaw, shook his head a little, hands kneading the steering wheel. He could feel the sting of the cut on his arm, taunting him.
"It's over, Sam," he said firmly. "Whatever happened back there, it's over. We need to get our heads back in the game, keep looking for Dad."
Sam nodded, lips curling up in a smug smile, making Dean want to wipe that look right off the kid's face, hating himself for putting it there.
Because yeah, it happened. And Dean knew Sam was thinking about the kiss, he just knew Sam was gonna bring it up again, and there wasn't a damn thing Dean could do to stop him. Yeah, it happened, and Dean was just sick enough to want it to happen again. But that didn't mean it was going to happen again. No sir. No fuckin' way.
No way in hell.
Having Sam with him, by his side – well, that was worth a lifetime of unrequited lust, if that's what it came down to. So if Dean had to face his perverted desire for his own brother at some point down the line, well, it beat the alternative. Beat not having a brother, that was for damn sure.
They would deal with it when they had to, and not a minute before.
Right now, they had work to do.
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